Most important news first: Registration is open for Crosswords LA! This event is only getting bigger and better, and I'll be on hand to officiate. You should be there too!
Moving back to yesterday, my friends and I attempted the 1000 Treasure Hunters event at the J-Pop festival in San Francisco's Japantown. This was the latest challenge from SCRAP, the crew behind the Real Escape Game series. It was supposed to be a relatively easygoing event, with no time limit and a drawing for prizes at the end for everyone who finished at some point during the weekend. Unfortunately, it wasn't so easy for us. One clue absolutely ate us alive, and by the time we reached the end of the hunt, the cold and our impatience and hunger got the better of us, so we bailed.
When we finally got that problem puzzle's solution, I was frustrated by what I thought were several flaws with it. One mechanism was underclued and far more intuitive for Japanese speakers to grasp than for English speakers (the game is supposed to be culture-neutral). But the biggest, in my view, involved a series of 31 number-letter pairs, presented in a 6x5 grid (seven in the top row). The placement was completely haphazard, in nothing resembling alphabetical or numerical order. Seems important, right? Well, it wasn't in the slightest. The list could have been presented in a normal order and the puzzle would have worked exactly the same. Naturally, we and many other teams spent a long time trying to make sense of what turned out to be a total red herring.
Of course, it's pretty much impossible to eliminate all false leads, and to do so would take all the puzzling out of the game. However, I thought the random ordering was pure needless noise that added nothing to the enjoyment of the game. What's your view on such obfuscation? Is it satisfying to see through the intentionally placed junk to the correct solution, or is it simply annoying?
In any case, it seems my team continues to have bad luck with games at the J-Pop festival. Nonetheless, I continue to enjoy the bulk of SCRAP's work, and I definitely appreciate their willingness to hear and act on feedback. I look forward to their next traditional Real Escape Game, Escape from the Bank!
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.
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!
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!
Well, this snuck up on me: Registration is open for DASH 5! Predictably, the Bay Area spaces filled up fast, but there should be room left in many other locations across this great land of ours, and in London as well! I highly recommend the experience.
Meanwhile, more puzzle hunts are springing up on campuses on both coasts. Starting in the east, the University of South Carolina has staged their second annual hunt, and I must admit that this is the first I'm hearing of it. I haven't had much of a look at either year's puzzles, but I heard that last year's were pretty rough in many places, while strides have been taken to improve the quality of 2013's challenges. How are people liking it?
Also returning is the Berkeley Mystery Hunt, marking its third year. This year's hunt will be staged for the Berkeley community on May 5th; those of us unaffiliated with the school will wait for this summer's rerun.
Not to be outdone by their Big Game rivals, Stanford is launching their puzzle hunt on April 20th. Like Berkeley's event, it will be modestly sized at one day. I'm looking forward to seeing what the Cardinal have cooked up...
...or at least I would if I were able to participate. Instead, I've agreed to officiate at the 5th Annual Marbles Crossword Tournament at the Stonestown Galleria in San Francisco. Come by any one of those five Marbles locations to solve future New York Times crosswords and try to win a gift card for the brain-tingling goodies at the store. You'll benefit charity on top of it all!
Continuing my tradition of blogging about events well after everybody else has stopped talking about them, here's my take on the recent American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, at which I took third-place honors. I got a little introspective with this one instead of just giving the play-by-play.
I can't imagine how or why you'd have the thought that there aren't enough Kickstarter projects for quality puzzles, but really, I'm not sure there's such a thing as too many highly-regarded puzzlemakers setting these things up. The newest one is from Neville Fogarty; he's promising a suite of crosswords based on board games. I've eagerly thrown in my tenner and look forward to the results. Between this, Patrick Berry's cryptics, Lone Shark Games' puzzle novel, Trip Payne's extravaganza, Puzzazz's year of hunt-style challenges, David Millar's logic puzzle book, and Double Fine's adventure game, there's gonna be a lot of puzzle payoff later this year! (Late addition to this entry: Millar has released the PDF of his book to his backers! Hooray!)
Thomas Snyder alerted me to a fun contest from Logic Masters India. Solvers have a week to finish the test, doing a puzzle at a time as their schedules suit them. It's set up this way because every puzzle is big; solving them in one go would be a pretty big undertaking! Hopefully I'll find the time to do this this week, but I feel like I have something to do this coming weekend...
...oh, look at that; the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament has snuck up on us again. I'll again make a quick 48-hour trip to Brooklyn in pursuit of my sixth championship. Once again, though, I don't really like my chances for a few reasons. One is the strength of the field; in addition to favorite Dan Feyer, there are at least a few people poised to make their first big push towards the top three, in addition to the crowd already clamoring for spots in the final. The number of serious title contenders very comfortably reaches double digits. Secondly, the hunger I spoke of in last year's wrap-up hasn't really manifested itself. Life remains busy, and when I've had chances to practice, I've decided I'd rather just play Super Mario Galaxy (64 of 120 stars found so far) or something instead. I'm realizing more and more that speed-solving, especially on paper, just isn't something I particularly enjoy. Lastly, because of the Pacific-Eastern time change and the tournament coinciding with the Daylight Savings change, I'm going to be solving Puzzle 7, the final opportunity to charge at a spot in the final, at what feels like 5 AM. Adrenaline will get me through it, but it's no substitute for genuine rest, especially when it comes to avoiding careless mistakes.
The good news for me is that, for whatever reason, I pull out my best solving when trying to win this tournament, and I've exceeded my low expectations with second-place finishes the last two years. Also, though most of them are on the computer, I still solve a ton of crosswords, so I have no reason to think my clue-solving skill has lapsed. And, as I know better than anyone, luck plays a hefty role in this event, from the variables in the puzzles to the knowledge gaps every solver has to the crucial difference between times of 3:59 and 4:01. To sum up, I can't say I think it'll be me lifting the bowl, but it could be. See you by the Bridge on Friday!
This weekend is the third event in the Sudoku Grand Prix, and it's Germany's turn to play host. There are some intriguing variants in the mix; hopefully I can at least keep up my current pace and perhaps do a bit better.
Also, this afternoon/evening, I'll take part in the Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt for the first time in a few years. My teammates and I will solve tricky clues and run around Chinatown and its environs to get answers. I'm playing with a strong team with a lot of experience; hopefully I can keep up with them.
In more distressing news, I'm about to be imprisoned. The Maze of Games, previously mentioned on this site, has really gained steam on Kickstarter, and the Gatekeeper is in need of new puzzlemakers for his cage. In the Wednesday update, the new wave of captives was announced, and my name is on the list. I don't know when exactly I'll be captured, but when I am, I hope people will continue to come on board with this great project to free me! Today, a cool puzzle poster was added to the pile of goodies, so if you've already contributed, consider putting in an extra ten bucks for that!