That Puzzle Guy's Blog This is not a clue


Square dealing

If it's Daylight Savings Time weekend, it's probably time for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. This year is the 37th edition of the annual competition, and, almost incredibly to me, I'll be attending for the 13th time.

Much of the sentiment I expressed in last year's preview still holds true. The disappointment I felt about my failure in the 2013 final hasn't led to more practice or a greater hunger. While I have mixed up my tough-puzzle solving with this book and the occasional attempt to solve a triple-stack crossword with Down clues only, I've done nothing in the way of speed-solving on paper. I'll probably do a bit of it on the plane just to get back into the groove, if indeed that groove is still there.

With my perfect-solve streak now standing a nice round zero, I consider this sort of a proving year for me. Do I have the skills to threaten to get on stage, or can I not just flip that switch anymore? Plus, I want to gauge my mental outlook on the event; it certainly seems like I don't relish the hunt like I once did. I don't enjoy my spiking nerves or the "rivalries" in a group I consider first and foremost to be a friendly one. I don't like being a focus of attention for attendees or media coverage. Yes, this tournament is somewhat of a tradition for me, and I do look forward to seeing friends, and I do find it hard to tear myself away as long as the possibility of the title is there. Plenty of pros and cons, really.

As for the general outlook on how the tournament will proceed, stop me if you've heard this one: Dan Feyer is the favorite, trying to match the record of five straight titles immediately after I did it. What's more, Dan has just moved to San Francisco to challenge my recent West Region supremacy, which means there's a solid chance that, for the first time ever, I will leave the tournament without a first-place trophy of any kind. That prospect is a bummer, sure, but it doesn't really change anything for me; my approach has been "championship or bust" for a good decade now. Snagging a spot in the final is likelier to get harder than easier, with a goodly number of hungry players eager for their chance after three straight years of Dan, Anne Erdmann, and me up there. So expect Puzzle 7 to be a tense one among the tightly bunched top competitors. As I implied in the opening sentence, between the time zone change and the lost DST hour, that 9 AM puzzle will feel like 5 AM to us Pacific folk. I can't say it's had much of an effect in the past, but in a tight situation, any mental slip could be costly. If advance scouting is your thing, here's a list of this year's constructors. Let the speculation as to the ordering begin!

Once more unto the breach, friends. See you in Brooklyn.


Down the rabbit hole

Happy 2014, everyone! Yes, it's almost the end of January, but, as I've alluded to, I'm not posting much these days. It's time, though for my recap of the MIT Mystery Hunt, which rebounded from a difficult 2013 with a very successful event put on by Team [entire text of Atlas Shrugged]. I enjoyed myself thoroughly, and Team Luck finished in what many consider "best place," i.e. second, the highest team that doesn't have to design next year's Hunt. Congratulations to Random, assuming they actually wanted to do it! [More after the jump.]

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American Values: Working on holidays

Hey, it's Christmas! Need a fun diversion to enjoy with your family and friends, or possibly to get away from your family and friends? Well, the last American Values Club crossword drops today and it happens to be mine. Buy it for a buck, or, better yet, buy a subscription. Better still, buy a subscription for one or more loved ones!

And while we're on the subject of crossword-related gifts, Winner's Circle Crosswords remains very much available! Yes, it may be a bit late for Christmas, but hey, no reason you can't surprise someone with, say, a Groundhog Day present or something.


Puzzle of the century

(Everybody's already made the "One Hundred Years of Solvitude" joke already, okay? Let's just move on.)

I return to the blogosphere today to commemorate what most of my readers already know: Exactly a century ago, Arthur Wynne's "Word-Cross Puzzle" appeared in the New York World, birthing the pastime we know and love today. The articles and special puzzles are almost too plentiful to run down; the crossword even made it into the Google doodle on Friday!

For my part, I'll take a little time here to look into the future. The crossword has undergone a great deal of evolution in a hundred years and that should continue in some fashion. The easiest prediction to make, I think, is the continued rise of online and independent distribution. Solvers these days are spoiled for choice; they don't have to turn to a major newspaper to find a good challenge. Between online-only syndicates, blogs, and Kickstarter projects, a web browser is all you need to access quality puzzles. This is undoubtedly a good thing; in time, I believe the best puzzles will rise to the top and the prestige of the old institutions will matter less and less. However, I expect that making a living from puzzle constructing will remain a rarity.

What new innovations will we see in the crossword grid itself? Well, if I knew that, I'd probably have invented it already and raked in the accolades. We've seen cryptics, code crosswords, vowelless puzzles, diagramlesses, and so forth. Even the conventional crossword has seen a slew of clever new theme types and daring new themeless constructions. With all the puzzles that get published in a given week, it's somewhat surprising that the well of ideas hasn't run dry, but it hasn't, and I expect my fellow puzzlemakers to continue to innovate. Whatever they do, though, the results had damn well better have good fill.

Best of all, the future of crosswords seems bright. I remember the days when I was at the extreme lower end of the puzzlers' age spectrum, but now, though I haven't yet hit thirty, another generation is coming up behind me. They're filling their puzzles with modern vocabulary and lively, sometimes irreverent clues, and I look forward to seeing much more.

On that happy note, go forth and celebrate the day! I plan to do so by solving some puzzles... but I suppose I do that every day.

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Plugs are alive and well!

I might not blog like I used to, but I'll never miss out on the chance to point out when it's my turn in the American Values Club rotation. It's a relatively light offering; hope you like it. And if you're not a subscriber... come on; we've been over this. Or you can buy just this one puzzle for an even buck.

I'll also take this opportunity to point out a few Kickstarter campaigns that are winding down. You have about a day left to back Matt Jones's crossword project. You can get the main set for just twenty cents a puzzle, but I recommend throwing in a little more to get the bonus pack as well. And when you're done with that, join more than 14,000 people excited for a new immersive game from Cyan. If you don't remember who they are, perhaps this next sentence will help: I'm honestly Myst-ified that this project didn't reach the goal in no time flat. I really want to see this one get to the finish line!

Lastly, congratulations to Eric LeVasseur on taking top honors at this year's Crosswords LA event. Hope everyone had fun at our new setting in Santa Monica. Did you miss the tournament? No worries; you can buy this year's puzzles to support charity.


I survived!

This may well have been the subject of much speculation, since my last post immediately preceded my participation in the perilous Famine Game. Rest assured that Team Apetitius Giganticus acquitted itself very well and emerged successful from the Capitol.

No, the reason for my month-long lapse in posting is more or less what I alluded to in a previous entry; to wit, the appeal of posting dryly about all the puzzle events I'm doing is losing its appeal for me. I'm hoping I'll be inspired to post more long-form stuff when subjects arise. We'll see how that goes. For now, here's the rundown of what's happened in the last four weeks or so:

  • I mentioned The Famine Game... it really was tremendous fun and probably the best puzzle event I've played in. The puzzles were uniformly clever and satisfying, and I can't recall a single erratum. A few were truly unique works of genius that I'll always remember. Great thanks to Todd Etter and everyone else who helped design and run the event. What a weekend!
  • A different team of mine did not enjoy similar success at the latest Real Escape Game, Escape from the Bank. I won't go into the details here, but, as I said on Twitter, I'm completely baffled as to how we let ourselves get stuck where we did; it really was a rather easy puzzle. I still shake my head when I think about it. You can talk to me privately if you want me the details; please bring me a beer when you do. The good news is that SCRAP have another game all queued up, as well as a sequel to their popular game that one team at a time does in a single room. Also, Southern Californians, the first American game, Escape from the Werewolf Village, will be staged in LA in early November!
  • My team, Friday the 13th Part VI, won the Expert division of the latest Mastermind Hunt in San Francisco! This was a whirlwind few hours of solving small puzzles and dashing around the city to get our answers. The trophy will reside with us for another year!
  • Looking ahead to this weekend, it's Crosswords LA! I'll be on hand as the puzzle wrangler, tournament official, and finals commentator. (Whew!) Join us in Santa Monica; it should be a great day!
  • In somber news, Puzzle Pile is going on a few months' hiatus for personal reasons. I know I'm not alone in wishing Bran well. We'll be eager to resume reading when he's ready to make his return.

Capitol games

Greetings sports fans! After months of anticipation, it's time for The Famine Game! I have no idea what to expect from tonight's feast or the thirty straight hours of puzzling that will begin tomorrow morning, but I am looking forward to battling fiercely alongside the rest of Team Apetitius Giganticus. Prepare to be vanquished in a manner appropriate to the context of this game, other teams!

This will be the second time I enter an instance of The Game, the third if you count my playtesting of Doctor When. The other was WarTron in Portland last year; you can read my recap of that event here and here. I'm hoping to carry forward some lessons from that game, some related to solving and some related to personal enjoyment:

  • Always investigate, or at least vocalize, a solving idea that sounds even remotely reasonable, particularly if it won't take long to decide if it's fruitful or worthless.
  • Don't leave the clue site unless you're absolutely sure you don't need to be there anymore.
  • Be prepared to revisit assumptions about how a puzzle works. (This was a big problem for me on this month's Shinteki puzzle and I'm still mad at myself about it.)
  • Rein in the adrenaline and take mental, meditative breaks between clue sites; don't burn so much energy early on!
  • Give myself a break when I don't get something I should get. (This verges on impossible for me, but I'm putting this here anyway.)

I'm sure there are others, which I hope will come to me when they're applicable.

Oh, and our team has a Twitter account, so follow that for updates, quotable quotes, and other fun. Looking forward to seeing everyone and doing battle in DC!

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Something has happened

The mysterious YouTube channel Pronunciation Book has reached the end of its 77-day countdown, about which I wrote briefly. When I awoke on Tuesday morning, the final day, I didn't know what to expect; I was just trying to enjoy the ride. That wasn't the case for many people across the Internet, who seemed to spend much of their waking lives on forums dissecting every detail of the countdown videos, the picture encoded by the buzzing therein, Pronunciation Book's previous work, and a strange Tumblr that popped up with twenty days remaining. Excitement and speculation ran high.

The channel turned out to be merely a sort of art project, in conjunction with the spam Twitter account horse_ebooks, which was also unmasked on Tuesday. The responsible parties held a one-day exhibit in a New York City gallery in which a few people sat a table, answering phone calls with horse_ebooks tweets and immediately hanging up. (Gawker posted a look at the proceedings.) More enticingly for those who want the creativity to continue, a new alternate reality game called Bear Stearns Bravo was announced in the two accounts' final releases, though the material appears to be related to neither Pronunciation Book nor horse_ebooks.

Many followers were disappointed and upset. Was that all? No grand climax or big reveal? YouTube and the forum at were besieged with angry messages. (I suppose that's normal on YouTube, but still.) I can't help but find the backlash a bit silly. The analysis of Pronunciation Book was rife with all sorts of conspiracy theories and insane leaps of logic; there's not much that would have lived up to the creators of those fanciful ideas. Some railed against the ARG, saying it was lame and that there was no way they were going to pay to play it. I disagree; I think it could be a cool experience and I'm willing to pay a measly seven bucks to dive in. I heard about but did not participate in This Is My Milwaukee, another Synydyne project, so I'm eager to experience their work firsthand this time around. In short, I think a lot of people got really carried away and are now crashing back to Earth, and frankly I think these folks need to lighten up.

See you in the Cowboy Cafe!


Back to BACFill

The Bay Area's very own crossword tournament comes back on Saturday! You can enter right at the door for a mere $35, benefiting Families of SMA. Join us in Oakland!

It's been a while since I've mentioned a new puzzle-related Kickstarter... oh, look, here's one from Matt Jones of Jonesin' Crosswords! For a mere pittance, Matt is offering a hefty pack of barred crosswords, a grid type that's very rare outside the realm of variety cryptics. I've chipped in to see Matt's good work and you should too!

To finish this entry, I'm wondering where I should go with this blog. I post only the puzzle news that lands on my radar, and often I do so quite tardily. I doubt anyone's hearing about these matters for the first time from this site. Blogs like Puzzle Pile do a much better job of casting a wider net in a more prompt fashion. Perhaps I and you would be better served by writing less frequently, but putting up nice meaty posts when I do write. These could be deep recaps of events like tournaments and hunts, or opinionated essays like The War on Fill. Based on comment count, these certainly seem to be the popular posts anyway. Plus, if I post less, perhaps I could work on putting up the occasional original puzzle here. (Don't expect weekly!) Thoughts?


Five-star puzzling

Attention American Values Club subscribers: My latest crossword comes out today! The title of this blog post refers to the difficulty level, but hopefully you think the quality is up there too. Have fun!

I'll have my own solving fun this Saturday at the day-long Elevate Tutoring hunt. I've heard nothing but good things; should be an entertaining and meaty event!