That Puzzle Guy's Blog I like other things too

31Mar/11Off

Opening with the closer

Happy Opening Day, everyone! Looking forward to an exciting baseball season and hoping my Braves can do more damage with the bats while maintaining their great pitching. I'm also rooting for the Sports Illustrated cover curse.

Today is a very special day for a different but related reason: I am making an increasingly rare appearance in the New York Times, this time with my good friend Jeremy Horwitz. How is this related to Opening Day? Well, to find out, you'll have to check out the puzzle, then read this article to get the cool story behind it. (I emphasize that order; the article has some big spoilers for the crossword.)

Play ball!

29Mar/11Off

Programming note

It's once again my turn in CrosSynergy today, but there's been a format change to that puzzle; it can no longer be read in Across Lite. Fortunately, Antony Lewis, creator of the amazing Crossword Compiler, has fashioned a solving tool that can read this new format as well as .puz files and several other types. Find out more in today's post at Amy Reynaldo's blog; you can also find a link to my puzzle there.

It's been a few weeks since I've mentioned a Logic Masters India contest, but they answered the call this weekend with a Spring Sudoku test. Once again, I didn't find the time to take part in the actual competition, but these look like fun puzzles and I'll probably give them a shot on my own.

I also have a new post at Wired's Decode blog, this one discussing Games of Nonchalance, a San Francisco-based ARG that is coming to an end in less than two weeks. I am among the lucky group that will get to attend their April 10th finale, so don't expect this to be my final word on this immersive game.

22Mar/11Off

Silver streak

In news broken on this website, the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament was held this past weekend in Brooklyn. After a suspenseful series of ups and downs in the first seven puzzles, followed by a not-so-suspenseful final showdown, I captured second place. Full breakdown of the affair after the jump, and you best believe there are spoilers.

16Mar/11Off

Showdown in Brooklyn

So, it turns out that my newest Onion puzzle is running this week, not next week as I originally thought. Have fun with it.

But more important matters are at hand. This weekend, at last, is the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, which again returns to the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott. I say "at last" because this year's tournament was shifted back to March after sneaking into February over the course of the last few years, so about thirteen months have passed since the last event. Top solvers around the country are surely eager to get the competition rolling.

Everyone knows about the main tournament, but the extracurriculars this year include a cryptic crossword contest featuring a few British solving champions and a puzzle adaptation of The Amazing Race in addition to a few creative exploits. Full disclosure: I'm not attending the Friday night program in order to save some money, but the promise of some quality cryptics made it a difficult decision. Should be a good time.

New in 2011 is the early release of the constructors for this year's event. It's a mix of the usual suspects (Jacobson, Reagle, Shenk, etc.) and some new names. Speculation over who made which puzzle (particularly the notorious Puzzle #5) gets a big head start this year.

The favorite this weekend is surely Dan Feyer, who took my crown last year after a dominant performance. His insane solving regimen has continued apace, so there's no reason to believe he should be any less difficult to beat than in 2010. I must admit that it's rather nice not to have the target on my back anymore.

So how do I like my own chances? Honestly, I don't. This will be my tenth tournament since my debut in 2001 (I missed 2002) and the level of competition has only increased in that span. Meanwhile, my own preparation has decreased dramatically in the last few years; the only speed-solving I've done on paper in recent months is going through the competition puzzles at the Alameda tournament and Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest. I'll bring my Maura Jacobson book on my trip and get in a bit of practice that way, but overall life has done a pretty good job of knocking speed-solving back in my priority queue. Of course, I still have a chance to win, I'm going to try like hell to win, and I'll be disappointed if I don't win. My primary goal, though, is to stay loose and enjoy the company of my puzzling family.

It's on, folks. See you soon!

14Mar/11Off

Prey for reign

First of all, it's my turn in CrosSynergy. It's not themed on Pi Day; sue me.

Over the weekend, I finished up the five puzzles in The Nation's contest to find their next constructor. Before I reveal my endorsement (well, I guess the title gives it away, but whatever), I'd like to clarify something: I'm told that the use of anagrammatic pseudonyms was The Nation's idea, and not something the constructors necessarily condoned.

Even though I knew a majority of the puzzlemakers' identities and reputations, I did my best to judge the puzzles by themselves. Of the five, I enjoyed Barney Prey's the most. The fill was great and the clues were creative and sound. Just behind them were Cosima K. Coinpott and Remi Silk-Knee, which were just about even; with a gun to my head, I'd give the slight edge to the former. I'd put Sean-Carlo Rewind in fourth, with Nestor Nightspree bringing up the rear.

I thought those top three were a cut above the bottom two, so while my vote is for Prey, I can't argue with Coinpott or Silk-Knee. Then again, these puzzles were of the style I prefer; if one enjoys a looser sort of cluing technique, one might disagree with my assessments. What does everyone think?

12Mar/11Off

State of The Nation

In November, the world of puzzles, and cryptic crosswords in particular, lost a stalwart in Frank W. Lewis. He compiled the cryptic in The Nation for a jaw-dropping sixty-plus years. The time has come for another constructor to fill these massive shoes, and The Nation is leaving it up to the solving community. Five hopefuls have made sample puzzles, and fans can vote for their favorite. The top vote-getter earns the gig; it's as simple as that. (If you want to print the puzzles, Eric Berlin provides a friendly PDF.)

The constructors have adopted anagrammatic pseudonyms. It's been pointed out that this was a questionable attempt at anonymity, since the puzzle community is obviously going to try to solve the anagrams to come up with the candidates' identities. Indeed, at least four of the compilers have already been unmasked. You can seek out such information if you want to judge on their overall bodies of work as well as their sample puzzles, but I won't repeat it here. I can say that while I haven't solved all of the puzzles yet, I know three of the candidates to be excellent at their craft, so odds are we're in good shape.

I'll post my official endorsement(s) when I finish the samples; in the meantime, enjoy the cryptics and judge for yourselves!

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10Mar/11Off

Age of Aquarius

I've spoken highly of Shinteki in the past; their day-long puzzle events are well worth spending half of a weekend on. In May, they're bringing back their first game, Aquarius, with a few twists. Details and sign-up information went out today, so get your team together! The League of Extraordinary Puzzlemen will be taking part, except for Professor Tangram, who is grizzled enough to have seen the original edition of Aquarius. See you there!

In other news, Logic Masters India brings us another test this weekend. Looks like there are some interesting hybrids in this bunch, so test your wits.

And holy crap; the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament goes down in just over a week; I'll have a full preview in the days to come. To this point, I have done zero preparation. Curse all the other stuff in my life!

7Mar/11Off

DASH it all

I've made my triumphant return to Wired's Decode blog in previewing DASH 3, which is coming up at the end of April. I'll be taking part outside the Bay Area for a change, as I plan to be in LA for the following day's crossword tournament. Should be fun; go read the piece and learn more! (Thanks to Mike Selinker for helping me polish the article.)

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5Mar/11Off

Ring around the puzzles

As I mentioned here, the induction into the Wired Ring of Dishonor recently took place in San Francisco, and I had a hand in the ceremony. The complete write-up is now up on the Decode blog, including details on the hidden puzzles in the Underworld issue and the goings-on at Bourbon & Branch. I was responsible for the Ring Toss puzzle, so give that a shot if you haven't already.

At Logic Masters India, another Tapa Variations contest comes at us this weekend. Truth be told, I've been putting less time into these of late; I'm trying to focus more on my obscene backlog of puzzle books, which is only getting bigger. But they are quality challenges, so if you can spare some time this weekend for the competition, or later on to do them at your leisure, try them out.

Lastly, as a reminder, tonight is the Equinox party in Berkeley! Contact me if you want details about spending a few hours with some original word games and people who love them.