Good luck to everyone participating in the US Puzzle Championship on Saturday. I'm taking a weekend trip and will be unable to do it this year. That's extremely annoying, but it's not like I'd have a great shot to make the team anyway. I'll simulate test conditions at some later point and report my theoretical score and which impossibly stupid entry error I would've made.
In other news, Alex and I are mindful of the saying "Always leave them wanting more," so Crossword Race is drawing to at least a temporary close after six episodes. Here they are in one place for your repeated viewing pleasure.
Ha ha! Classic.
Some time ago, on Wired's Decode blog, I wrote about an immersive and, frankly, very weird alternate reality game in San Francisco called Games of Nonchalance. The game drew to a close more than two years ago, but remains etched on the memories of those who experienced it. Adding to the mystique of this unique creation is The Institute, a new film by Spencer McCall. I was lucky enough to take in this documentary recently at a small screening in the city.
The movie weaves interviews with player-shot footage to paint a picture of each phase of the Games of Nonchalance. The places and situations and characters, as depicted, largely retain the mystery that surrounded them when the game was active; thus, the film blurs the line between fact and fiction just as a good ARG does. Particularly intriguing are those interviews, which feature designers, devoted participants, and others. Certainly, we get insightful statements from game masters Jeff Hull, Sara Thacher, and Uriah Findley, as well as from several people who seem genuine in their immersion in the experience. However, reality isn't quite so clear in a few other cases. A man named Kelvin Williams talks about going so far down the rabbit hole that he broke into a house and became stuck in the labyrinthine basement, where he remained until he was found and rescued by other players. Some cursory research indicates that Williams is a character, but his story is presented as matter-of-factly as the others. Even weirder are the interviews with "Organeil," who took the experience extremely seriously, and, he claims, was so betrayed by it that he became a shut-in.
It's moments like that in the film that really poke at the viewer's mind. The Games of Nonchalance may have been rooted in fantasy, but the effects they could have, and did have, on many players are very real. For some it was a mere diversion, but for others it was much more. Knowing about the latter might make the former group wonder: Was it really just a game?
Ultimately, The Institute may be best appreciated by those who played and are looking to revisit that small, strange chapter in their lives. It is, though, a well-crafted and engaging movie, and I'd recommend it to anyone who's interested in a good story that spills into the real world. Screenings are very limited right now, but wider distribution, including through Netflix, should be coming soon, so look out for it. If you pay attention, you might even catch a bread crumb hinting at the designers' next project...
In ascending order.
2: That was the League of Extraordinary Puzzlemen's global rank in the DASH 5 results! I'm thrilled, considering we were but a three-man team, as evidenced by our loss of some time on the very parallelizable Find puzzle. It was a fun day in Half Moon Bay; thanks to the DASH crew!
6: Continuing with the rankings, this was Cluefenshmirtz Evil Inc.'s finish at the Shinteki Decathlon this past Saturday. We got through all the main puzzles and several of the bonus challenges at the end location, so I think we did great. Thanks to the Shinteki gang for another fantastic event! (I hope to have big recaps of both DASH 5 and Decathlon 8 soon, but you know how long that typically takes on this blog.)
9: I'm also very happy with my US Sudoku Test ranking; top ten in the USA is always a good result for me. There's still a very intimidating barrier between me and the top American solvers, but I consider performances like this one encouraging.
45: That's the number of puzzles in a planned book of cryptic crosswords contributed by luminaries of the art. They're spearheaded by Roger Wolff, who has experience with this kind of thing. As so many puzzlemakers have, Roger has turned to Kickstarter to get this venture going. You can sign up for an electronic or a physical copy of the eventual book, and there are cool color-changing pencils and coffee mugs to be had as well. Let's get more cryptics into the world!
The American Values Club Crossword, to which I am a contributor, has taken to Reddit to get some more great ideas for our puzzles. Of course, the best suggestions will not go unrewarded! Check it out, Redditors, and please upvote us!
In logic news, I managed to score exactly 200 points on the US Sudoku Team Qualifying Test, albeit outside of the official testing time for Americans seeking a spot on the squad. Four puzzles eluded me in the alloted two and a half hours, but I was still very pleased with my performance, as I was still scoring points in the waning minutes instead of being stuck on everything left. Official results should be out soon!
Shinteki Decathlon on Saturday! Yes!
Quick post today... first off, Crossword Race Episode 5 is posted. This time, I have to solve with lots of clue words replaced by rhymes. This one's a real nailbiter, folks, so dive in.
Also, the qualifying test for the US Sudoku Team is today, and it doubles as another event in the Sudoku Grand Prix. Those seeking a place on the American team will have to do the test at 1 PM Eastern today, while international solvers can get Grand Prix points by taking it any time this weekend. I, unfortunately, will have to go the latter route, as I have a conflict today. This comes on the heels of missing the UK test because it was scheduled late and I didn't get the email. Annoying, but them's the breaks. Good luck, everyone!
Quite a few things to post about today from several areas of the puzzle world.
First off, an item from Sunday that I'd forgotten about. I made a guest appearance on Thomas Snyder's excellent Grandmaster Puzzles blog, contributing an odd logic puzzle I came up with. It's small, but might pose a decent challenge until you have the important breakthrough, so give it a try.
Another novel logic puzzle type is debuting on Nikoli's website; I've certainly never heard of it before. Meet Satogaeri. I blew through the sample puzzles and I'm interested to see what can be done with it at a harder difficulty. We were overdue for a new type on the site and I'm glad we're getting it.
On the crossword side of things, Fireball Crosswords mastermind Peter Gordon has turned to Kickstarter to continue the crosswords he contributed to The Week magazine until recently. If you like the Fireballs' style, but think you might like something a little easier and newsier, give this a look; you can get the puzzles for as little as a quarter apiece. Gordon has set an ambitious goal; I'll be keeping tabs to see if he gets there.
Hey, look, DASH 5 is on Saturday! Puzzlers in fourteen cities across America will solve the same puzzle hunt, tailored slightly to make a good walking game for each locale. A week from Saturday, it goes international, as even London gets in on the action. I'll join up with a slightly shorthanded League of Extraordinary Puzzlemen team; Dr. Sudoku's move to Seattle has trimmed our ranks. Nonetheless, I feel good about our upcoming experience in Half Moon Bay and I trust it'll be fun everywhere else too.
Lastly, on Monday, I got news that I immediately knew was going to be the best of my week. A sizable part of my childhood, The Incredible Machine, is coming back in the form of Contraption Maker, from the same team that did the original games! I'd always wondered what could happen in that game with modern technology and without some of the limitations of the versions I played. I have a large game backlog as it is, but I'll have to make room for this one!
It's been a while; you'd be correct in thinking that I've been busy. Two quick things to share with you on this Friday.
Two more episodes of CROSSWORD RACE have gone online; here's the third and the fourth. Here, you'll see a preponderance of turtles as well as the much-clamored-for Translation Party episode. Will either gimmick allow Alex his first win? Find out, and tell your friends to watch too!
Also, I joined up with Mike Selinker and Gaby Weidling from the awesome Lone Shark Games to make a puzzle hunt celebrating Wired's 20th anniversary. Search through the archives to find the answers to our clues and eventually reach the final answer! You can find the clues on Wired's Twitter feed, or catch up by looking at Mike's running list. If you like, use the #wired20 hashtag to collaborate with the hivemind; these clues are tough!
The Year of Puzzles, that is. The first fruits of Puzzazz's campaign finally reached backers today, and it's a meaty double-Spiral puzzle from Parker Lewis. This initial offering is free for everyone, so try it out if you're not already in on this. Looking forward to seeing what's next!
Elsewhere, it's my turn over at the American Values Club crossword, so if you're a subscriber, I hope you enjoy my nice 'n' easy creation. If you're not a subscriber, we're fighting. Go make it up to me by signing up.
The next episode of CROSSWORD RACE is out! In this thrilling installment, Alex withholds the grid pattern, so I have to figure it out myself. Will it put me in too big a hole? Watch and see! Also, subscribe, tell your friends, etc.
In other crossword news, consider this your final reminder for the Marbles crossword tournament! I'll be at the Stonestown Galleria on Saturday and I hope to see you there!
Here is a thing I did along with Alex Boisvert (of Crossword Nexus) using a puzzle from Brendan Emmett Quigley and the XWord software. I think it's cool and will get cooler as we do more episodes. You should watch it a bunch of times and share it just as often. Hooray.