That Puzzle Guy's Blog Yes, I know your grandmother does crosswords too


Post of the century

This is my hundredth post since the relaunch of! Only took me a friggin' year and a half.

But never mind that arbitrary milestone. You need to know about this weekend's Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest! Our annual gathering in Morgan Hill will feature the usual one-two punch of talks on Saturday and competitions on Sunday, featuring both crosswords and logic puzzles. I'll be wrapping up the Saturday session with a talk on current trends in the world of puzzling, and there's lots of other interesting stuff to see. Sunday's contests will have future New York Times crosswords and hand-crafted logic puzzles from Thomas Snyder, so the quality will be high. What's more, my company is sponsoring the event, and it's all for the good of the Morgan Hill Library Foundation. Hope to see you there!


Logically speaking

Thought I'd point you all to a few intriguing developments in the logic puzzle world.

If you like big puzzles, check out the fun test currently happening at Logic Masters India. This one has a bit of a different structure in that the test will be open for a whole week instead of the usual weekend, and you can do each puzzle when you feel like it instead of storming through the test in one shot. You'll be scored on how quickly you can submit the correct answer after accessing each PDF. I haven't yet decided if I'll participate; it depends on how many of my other obligations I can see to this weekend!

Another popular logic puzzle competition is coming up in the form of Sudokucup 7. This is always a fun challenge, one I look forward to undertaking after it's over. (I can't compete for real because of the Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest; stay tuned for my preview of that!)

Lastly, it's been a while since I checked in on Palmer Mebane's blog; though his puzzles are excellent, I find them too tough to get to all of them. However, his Puzzle Pack Series looks like something I can't miss. Looking over the first pack, which features Slitherlink puzzles, I see conventional and easier puzzles as well as plenty of variants and big brutes. Check it out.

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The play’s the thing

Upon my return from the 2012 MIT Mystery Hunt, life was very quick to slam all of my free time into oblivion, and it is just now that I find the time to contribute my write-up to the growing pile of Hunt recaps.

As many solvers inferred from the teaser poster, this year's theme was indeed The Producers. Borbonicus and Bodley (the characters' new names; nobody would be willing to do business with Bialystock and Bloom, of course) enlisted the Hunt teams to create some really terrible musicals, which for some reason entailed solving lots of puzzles. Each play had two rounds. A metapuzzle answer would give an important element of the show, and another "critic" round would tell us one quality the theater critic would be sure to hate. Once we (Luck, Stuck On Two Open Puzzles) had these two answers, we incorporated them into a scene performed at the headquarters of Codex, this year's designing team. Surprise surprise, the show was invariably a big hit, and we tried again with the next play (and more puzzles).

We did this six times, at which point Borbonicus and Bodley changed tactics. Clearly, to get out of this mess, we'd have to put on an actually good musical. To that end, we solved a couple more puzzles to get a show-stopping song as well as a way to bribe the critics; the latter turned out to be free tickets. Then the endgame began.

The team attended a gathering at Codex HQ, where we needed to determine what specific tickets each of the six critics desired. Once we had them under our thumbs, we performed our play, which, in a stunning development, went over disastrously. Borbonicus and Bodley, in their desperation, resolved to steal a Tony Award, and, armed with some information dropped by a sympathetic critic, we went searching. Following a sort of scavenger hunt in Lobby 7 and dealing with some information disguised as a room number, we located the Tony (this year's Hunt coin) at the corner of Kresge Auditorium... or at least we would have if Manic Sages hadn't reached it first.

It was a great time as usual; after the jump, I'll talk more about the puzzles I spent significant periods of time on. I'll also have some final thoughts on the Hunt and my own experience with it.

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Solving up to Boston

The first few weeks of the year are always a chaotic time for me. Depending on when I return home from celebrating the winter holidays in Connecticut, I have about a scant week and a half before I fly right back east again for the MIT Mystery Hunt. Why do I do this? Because, simply put, this is one of my favorite weekends of the year. I spend two straight days (at least) solving satisfying and wildly creative puzzles with smart, fun people. There's nothing else quite like it. When this post hits the website, I'll already be in Boston, seeing friends and eagerly counting down the hours to Friday's launch.

If you're a Hunt neophyte, or if you're just curious about what all this is about, my bullet points from last year's preview still pretty much hold. This year's organizers may contribute a logistical enhancement or two, like last year's hard end time, but by and large it will be the same sort of experience we all know and love.

I would like to underscore my point about sleeping. At last year's Hunt, the vast majority of my contributions came near the beginning, when I was fresh. I refrained from pulling insane all-nighters like some people do, but I didn't rest enough nonetheless. Consequently, I spent the latter portion of the event staring blearily at things and not getting anywhere beyond what teammates had been able to do. This year, I hope to budget something resembling my usual sleeping time; it should pay off with better solving down the stretch.

I'd also like to underscore my point about showering for reasons that should be obvious. Do it, people.

Focusing on this year's Hunt, current discussion naturally revolves around the subject of the theme. There's always speculation in the days leading up to the event. This year, we again have a teaser. Many of us have reached the same conclusion about what that poster hints at, but I'll refrain from discussing that here. In any case, there's no telling how the plot will unfold. I just know I'll enjoy seeing how it plays out!

See you in Cambridge!

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New Year’s solution

You might remember my blog post about Gryptics. The puzzle has really taken off since then, as puzzlemaker Les Foeldessy has put out a book of Gryptics with Sterling Publishing. He's running a monthly contest that could win you the book, so go give it a try.

As for my own puzzles, I have the privilege of bringing you the first Onion crossword of 2012. This one underwent a little grid surgery and some back-and-forth with my editor, so if a corner or two feels Tausig-y, that's why. Hope you enjoy the final product!


Hot off the presses

I've cut out a lot from my solving regimen, but one source that's an absolute lock to stay in it is Fireball Crosswords. The themelesses are great, the themes are as innovative as you'll find anywhere, and all of the puzzles are satisfyingly tough. Editor and constructor Peter Gordon opened up subscriptions for the third year today; just $18 will get you 45 crosswords. There are tipping options if you'd like to show additional support for the great work Peter is doing, and you can even shell out for a lifetime subscription if you want. I look forward to what's in store for this year!


Cutting remarks

Welcome to 2012, everybody! It's time for New Year's Resolutions. While there's something to be said for executing such resolutions at any point during the year, I think the change in the calendar is a nice impetus as well as a time of anticipation. I for one am looking forward to continuing my work at Lumos Labs, playing games on my still-new Wii (Christmas gift-giving has bumped my total to six, plus 4,000 Wii Points), doing a comedy sketch-writing class with Killing My Lobster, and enjoying the many events, puzzle-related and otherwise, that are already filling my calendar.

As for the resolution part... well, I've decided I want to make better use of my time. The things I've mentioned are great additions, whether they're fun and unique events or neglected pastimes that represent good ways to unwind. But there are only so many hours in the day; subtractions must be made too. Therefore, I've decided to slash my daily crossword solving regimen dramatically. Lately, it's felt like more of an obligation than a pleasure, like something I just have to get through each day. That's not why I do puzzles. So I'm going to focus on the ones I really savor and leave more room for other diversions, not to mention my massive backlog of puzzle books.

You might think that, with my solving speed, I won't actually gain much time this way. Well, for one thing, I don't always blaze through the puzzles as fast I can; very often, I'm chatting online with friends and watching TV and such while I solve. Also, I estimate I'll be giving up about three dozen crosswords a week; if each one takes three minutes (quite a low estimate given the previous point and the fact that larger and tougher puzzles take longer), that's close to two hours. Wouldn't you love to cut out two hours' worth of obligation per week in favor of more fun stuff? I'm doing just that.

Another reason behind my decision is that I think solving so many crosswords may be lowering my overall appreciation of them. I first touched on this in the recent blow-up at Rex Parker's blog, and perhaps I'll write more on it in a future essay here, but to put it briefly: When one solves as much as I have solved every day, one encounters a lot more crosswordese and other imperfections intrinsic to American-style constructions, and one tires of them more quickly. Solving fewer puzzles will put less of a strain on my daily patience for such concessions.

Now, some of you may have already realized this, but yes, this does mean that the #badpuzzles tweets are no more. I've been amazed by how much people have enjoyed my snark, but I'm afraid doing it only adds more time to the pile I want to cut out. Ceasing these tweets does not represent any sort of softening of my opinion of these low-quality crosswords, nor an appeasement of the Mystery Constructor Who Hates My Guts or anyone else. I had my reasons for taking shots at these puzzles, but they are simply outweighed now.

So that's that. May your solving be swift in the 2012!

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