That Puzzle Guy's Blog Striving to end the War on Fill


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!


‘Cross the country

First of all, big congratulations are in order for Al Sanders, who, after some near misses at crossword tournaments, took top honors at Lollapuzzoola 6! Wish I could have seen it.

Shifting to a sixth annual local tourney closer to me, BACFill, the Bay Area's crossword competition, comes to Oakland on September 14th. Your registration fee, which can now be paid with a credit or debit card, will benefit Families of Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Spend part of your Saturday solving future New York Times puzzles in pursuit of the title!


It’s a Saturday in August!

When you think of crossword tournaments in New York City, well, you probably think of the big one. But you should also remember Lollapuzzoola, a light-hearted competition that will mark its sixth year on Saturday. This isn't your typical solving contest, largely because the puzzles contain more freeform creativity. There's a pizza party, too!

Puzzle Pile has an excellent interview with founder/organizer Brian Cimmet if you want to learn more. Though I won't be there because I suck, you should definitely attend if you can!


Brain bucks

We just keep innovating over at the American Values Club Crossword. Now you can buy a single puzzle for just one dollar! So if you want to solve just that one particularly brilliant puzzle that has Twitbook and Facespace abuzz, or perhaps target the work of one specific gifted constructor who has red hair and writes a puzzle blog, you can do it! I can't think of a single better use for a dollar, except for applying it towards a full subscription, of course.

I don't plug my employer often here, but I feel I'd be remiss not to mention that our updated iOS app is now live! This is a big overhaul, with major improvements throughout, so give it a look. And yes, we're working on Android; I'm just as anxious for that as you are!


Lost treasure

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!


Shining moment

Last weekend was a very successful puzzle-hunting one! The biggest thrill came on Saturday, when the League of Extraordinary Puzzlemen achieved an unlikely victory in the Berkeley Mystery Hunt! We were certain triumph would elude us when we took an unsettlingly long time on a meta, but we arrived at the final challenge with just one team leading us by mere minutes. Even then, it seemed to be a long shot. Fortunately, that puzzle was a meatball right down the heart of the plate. Yup, it was a crossword. There was a twist, of course, but with the whole team shouting out answers, it was quickly defeated; I barely ever stopped writing! We raced down to CAL 9000, a robot that wasn't willing to let Berkeley puzzler Ankur Mehta graduate and leave it behind. Using information our grid, we set up a series of mirrors, then aimed a laser through all of them to activate an interface, which accepted the puzzle's final answer. A very cool final puzzle, and a most exciting win for our team. My compatriots were kind enough to let me keep the big awesome coin and it's made a nice addition to the wall just outside my door.

The next day, I also enjoyed Lumber Party at the Octothorpean website. My teammates were unavailable, but I was able to take down the whole thing, including one backsolve, in about an hour on my own. Looking forward to more on this site!

Looking over to Kickstarter, Roger Wolff's cryptic crossword project is in its final days, and he's thrown in a hell of an enticement to help get it over the finish line. For just a $10 addition to your pledge, you can get a giant block cryptic for your wall! That's way better than some other giant crossword snoozefest. Do it!

In exciting, mysterious, creepy, possible-ARG news, something strange is going on at the Pronunciation Book channel on YouTube. After years of short, innocuous guides to American pronunciation of various words and names, the series has begun an unnerving 77-day countdown, giving us only opaque sentences and telling us that "something is going to happen." Theories abound as to what we're facing here; popular ideas involve promotions for Half-Life 3 and Halo 5 and a new Battlestar Galactica. I'll refrain from speculation, but I'll be watching with great interest, hoping for a cool ARG!


Hungry for puzzles

Less than two weeks until the arrival of Trip Payne's 2013 extravaganza! Have you signed up yet? I'm looking forward to seeing what he's cooked up for this year after 2012's fun set.

In newer news, Eric Berlin has announced the upcoming launch of an exciting puzzle magazine called Will Shortz's WordPlay. I know that this project has a lot of highly regarded puzzlers behind it, and I'm very eager to give them my money and see the first issue in January. You should be too!

Oh, hey, AV Club subscribers! It's my turn again to bring you a puzzle! The thematic density forced me to a 78-word grid, but I'm quite pleased with how the fill turned out. Hope you agree! Non-subscribers, fools that you are, can rectify this situation through that link there. We have a special 23x23 bonus puzzle coming up; don't miss it!

Lastly, I'm very pleased to have learned that Team Apetitius Giganticus is headed to our nation's capital to be tributes in The Famine Game! We have three months to prepare to enter the arena...


By the numbers

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!


We’re poets and we’re quite aware of it

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!