That Puzzle Guy's Blog This is not a clue


To the rescue

Last week, I returned from the annual National Puzzlers' League convention, which this year was held in Portland, Maine. As usual, I had a fantastic time solving and socializing with my puzzling family, and I still have a pile of cryptics I never got to!

The capstone to the convention is the Saturday night extravaganza, in which attendees work in teams of four to solve a big set of interconnected puzzles, leading to a satisfying final meta answer. This year's event took a different approach; while there was a small group of people heading up the design, every puzzle was constructed by a different NPL member. These contributors could still play in the extravaganza; they just had to recuse themselves from helping with their own puzzle. I was one of the people approached to make a puzzle, and I did so, but due to an abundance of grid puzzles, it was left on the cutting-room floor. But hey, that's what the Internet is for; I've posted it here for your enjoyment. As with all hunt-style puzzles, you seek a single word or short phrase as your final answer, and I warn you that this puzzle is completely untested and unedited. You can contact me if you see something I really should change.

Looking ahead, here's another reminder of the upcoming Lollapuzzoola crossword tournament in New York City. I've test-solved the first drafts of the puzzles and I can say that some fun challenges await you. I once again will fail to attend because I am super-lame. You should go so you can be not super-lame.


The heat is on

There's been some radio silence around here of late, as I've been traveling every two weeks like clockwork for the last month and a half to various places for various reasons. I finally get a bit of a breather after one more trip, but it's one I'm very excited to take! Tomorrow, I'll fly to Austin for this year's National Puzzlers' League convention! This will be #7 for me, as I've made it to every one since I foolishly delayed attending my first one until 2007. This year's hosts have done a great job getting ready for our gathering and compiling a list of sights we might want to see when we're not in the hotel solving puzzles and socializing. I hope to get out at least a little bit without melting or actually bursting into flames; my SPF 50 is at the ready and will prove invaluable. I hope to see as much of my puzzler family there as possible!

Plenty more puzzle fun to come in July as well, so expect posting to pick up!

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Spend a night with Puzzlewright!

In the email carrying this week's Fireball Crossword, Peter Gordon announced the Barnes & Noble puzzle events to which I alluded a couple entries ago. So here are the details!

In twenty stores across the country, Sterling Publishing's Puzzlewright brand will sponsor a night of puzzles and games, hosted by yours truly and some of my puzzler friends. There will be group challenges drawn from Puzzlewright books as well as crossword and sudoku contests. Winners get books and all attendees get a snazzy Puzzlewright pencil! You don't have to register and it's completely free, so check out the list of events and get to the one nearest you. I hope to see many of you on November 13th in Emeryville!


Notes from all over

Here's a bunch of small items for you.

BACFill went very well; fifty contestants showed up in support of Families of SMA, and the venue was a big step up from a high-school cafeteria. Congratulations to champion Jordan Chodorow!

I forgot to talk about the NPL mini-convention in Las Vegas. It was once again great fun; we enjoyed some original games and puzzles as well as much of the fine food and drink that America's Playground has to offer. My girlfriend and I also mixed in a show, namely the Mythbusters: Behind the Myths show. Good times all around. One of the big puzzle-solving highlights was Mark Halpin's Labor Day extravaganza. It seemed a little bit easier this year; our group of nine polished it off in a few hours. However, it was still quite challenging and every bit as creative and well-made as in previous years. You still have some time to noodle on it before answers are posted, so have a go, and be sure to drop something in the tip jar to thank Mark for his great work.

If you're a Bay Area puzzler and you missed out on BANG 33, the rerun is on September 29th. It was a fun event in support of a good cause, so put a team together and get out there.

Last but not least, there's yet another website for quality independent crosswords. Erik Agard is a rising star in the crossworld; give his creations, including his newest contest, a try.



It's my least favorite week of the year: the week immediately following the National Puzzlers' League convention. I had a fantastic time with my second family. Highlights included playing terrific homemade games (both totally original and adapted from game shows), solving clever paper puzzles alone and in pairs (I still have quite a few left), meeting some new friends, and finishing second in the Saturday night extravaganza, this year deftly constructed by Francis Heaney, Rick Rubinstein, and Eric Berlin, whose Con write-up I recommend if you want a more in-depth account. That last victory (well, near-victory) earned me my only trip to this year's prize table, but I snagged one of those neat clipboards with the clear pocket in the back. There was a very slick-looking quick-reference for NPL puzzle types in there, and I've added a code sheet, an important tool for any puzzle hunter.

I pick the puzzling right back up this weekend, as I'm off to the Berkeley Mystery Hunt. This year, the League of Extraordinary Puzzlemen will be a bit more well-manned as we add a few girlfriends and colleagues. We're optimistic we can eclipse last year's not-quite finish.

In the world of online puzzles, I urge you to back this Kickstarter from Dave Millar, AKA The Griddle. He's looking to publish a real, physical book of his fun logical challenges. I've eagerly signed up to receive both the book and a custom puzzle just for me; an offer that's a steal at $13. Let's make this happen!

I also want to give a shout to Tortoiseshell Puzzles, variety crosswords from Nathan Curtis. Nathan, who is known in the NPL as (surprise!) Tortoise, was one of my teammates in last year's extravaganza triumph. Check out his work!



I have to start today's post with a little gloating: My team was the only one in our session to win Volume 2 of the Real Escape Game! My group of four and the pair with whom we were placed put in a total team effort; every one of us contributed at least one solve or crucial insight. A great thrill. There's more REG on the horizon, including an online event that will start obscenely early in the morning for us West Coasters. Stay tuned for that.

With that victory under my belt, my mind is firmly fixated on the National Puzzlers' League convention, which I'll begin enjoying in Portland on Wednesday. Should be a solid hundred hours among my second family and, of course, lots of great puzzles. It sure is difficult to focus on life's other responsibilities in the hours leading up to the trip! You can look forward to a recap here, of course. Hope to see many of you there!


Heading north

Let's journey up the west coast from San Francisco and visit the locations of a few upcoming puzzle events.

In the north end of my home city, the second American edition of the Real Escape Game is taking place July 5-8 at Fort Mason. This version promises to be a little more active, as players will progress through three different rooms to solve puzzles and crack the mystery. I'm excited and hopeful that my teammates and I can tally a second victory! There are still plenty of tickets available for most of the game's sessions; I recommend giving it a shot!

Berkeley is a BART ride away, and the campus there is home to the Berkeley Mystery Hunt. The second annual event will be run for the public on July 21. I really enjoyed this hunt last year; it provides Mystery Hunt flavor in the scope of a Shinteki event or a long BANG. I know my team is determined to finish this year after falling short with a somewhat undermanned team last time around.

Moving up to Napa, there's a fun puzzle event this very weekend! Reigning crossword champ Dan Feyer is hosting the Napa Valley Puzzle Challenge on June 30 at the library there. There'll be a Wordplay screening, a solving contest (I can tell you that Dan and I will not be competing), and a panel to grill, so come on up!

Looking still further north and further ahead in the calendar, I'm getting pumped for this year's National Puzzlers' League convention, undoubtedly the highlight of my summer. We're gathering in Portland July 11-15 to enjoy the vast array of puzzles and games as well as each other's company. The convention brings the latest nights of my summer for a reason!

Also in Portland, but a few weeks later, teams of eager solvers will take on the WarTron game August 3-5. It'll be a very immersive event; I'll have to make sure to stock up on sleep before my second visit to Rip City in four weeks.

Some fun weekends coming up! I remain grateful to live in what has to be the best area of the country for puzzlers. Yeah, I said it!


Festive mood

Another Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest is in the books! Thanks to everyone who came out to the talks and/or participated in the competitions, and congratulations to the winners! In particular, Jordan Chodorow and Eric Maddy continued their fierce rivalry in west coast puzzle contests, as they were two of the three finalists in both the sudoku and crossword tournaments. This time, it was a draw, as Jordan pulled away for the sudoku title while Eric squeaked out the crossword trophy.

Another recent development on the western puzzle scene is the announcement of the next installment of Iron Puzzler, in which teams have twenty-four hours to make two puzzles with the secret ingredients, then present their creations to everyone else. This year, our friends in Seattle will join the Bay Area fun; this will nicely expand the selection of paper puzzles to be shared. Get your teams together!

And lastly... LET'S GO GIANTS!!!


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!


Coming to America

I'm back from my trip to Mexico, where I had an incredible time with the Shinteki gang at the Lobby Conference. Lots of great memories were made; I've got a list of inside jokes and quotes that serve as reminders of the good times. On Saturday, we were the ChaiseLand Enchiladas, the fourth-place team in Intercoastal Altercations 5. It was a terrific set of puzzles and I'll go into them in depth when solutions are posted.

As I was in the air for all of Sunday morning, I wasn't reminded until the afternoon that that day's CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge was my creation; have a look at the JPZ or PDF file. I'm pretty pleased with how this one turned out; hope you like it too.

I also want to alert you to another puzzle event over on the east coast. Doug Gardner, creator of the Octo sudoku variant, is heading up a puzzle festival in Arlington, Virginia on November 5th. (That's my birthday; I'm almost certain the alignment is unintentional.) The model resembles that of the Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest. Will Shortz and Thomas Snyder are providing crosswords and sudoku, respectively, and Matt Gaffney will be a guest speaker. Plus, worthy causes will benefit. Check it out if you're in the area!