That Puzzle Guy's Blog The USA Today crossword's worst nightmare


Missed opportunity

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.



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!


Viva variety

Quite a few things to post about today from several areas of the puzzle world.

First off, an item from Sunday that I'd forgotten about. I made a guest appearance on Thomas Snyder's excellent Grandmaster Puzzles blog, contributing an odd logic puzzle I came up with. It's small, but might pose a decent challenge until you have the important breakthrough, so give it a try.

Another novel logic puzzle type is debuting on Nikoli's website; I've certainly never heard of it before. Meet Satogaeri. I blew through the sample puzzles and I'm interested to see what can be done with it at a harder difficulty. We were overdue for a new type on the site and I'm glad we're getting it.

On the crossword side of things, Fireball Crosswords mastermind Peter Gordon has turned to Kickstarter to continue the crosswords he contributed to The Week magazine until recently. If you like the Fireballs' style, but think you might like something a little easier and newsier, give this a look; you can get the puzzles for as little as a quarter apiece. Gordon has set an ambitious goal; I'll be keeping tabs to see if he gets there.

Hey, look, DASH 5 is on Saturday! Puzzlers in fourteen cities across America will solve the same puzzle hunt, tailored slightly to make a good walking game for each locale. A week from Saturday, it goes international, as even London gets in on the action. I'll join up with a slightly shorthanded League of Extraordinary Puzzlemen team; Dr. Sudoku's move to Seattle has trimmed our ranks. Nonetheless, I feel good about our upcoming experience in Half Moon Bay and I trust it'll be fun everywhere else too.

Lastly, on Monday, I got news that I immediately knew was going to be the best of my week. A sizable part of my childhood, The Incredible Machine, is coming back in the form of Contraption Maker, from the same team that did the original games! I'd always wondered what could happen in that game with modern technology and without some of the limitations of the versions I played. I have a large game backlog as it is, but I'll have to make room for this one!


Games in the grid

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!


Things relevant to your interests

A few pieces of miscellany today.

Are you sick of funding great puzzle projects on Kickstarter? I don't see why you would be, but even if you are, lose that attitude pronto, because now you can fund cryptics by Patrick Berry. I rest my case.

If you're in the mood for a light puzzle extravaganza and want to donate to charity too, look at Andrew Feist's second annual contest. You have a little over a week to solve it and enter the drawing, but it certainly doesn't require that much time.

In more mysterious news, The Famine Game is coming to DC in late September. This looks to be an overnight game like Doctor When or WarTron. (Speaking of which, that game is headed to Boston in late June.) Following that exhausting experience (see my recap here and here, unless you're playing in Boston, in which case don't), I'm not sure I love the idea of traveling so far for another one. But we'll see.

Time to start getting geared up for woeful underachievement in the second Sudoku Grand Prix event. Good luck to all participants, though I need it more than you do.


The winter of our tons of content

Looks like I'm going to continue my noble tradition of posting my Mystery Hunt recap long after everyone else has done so. Hey, punctuality has never been the watchword here on That Puzzle Guy's Blog. For now, you should go read Thomas Snyder's write-up and dive into the 450+ comments. You'll quickly get a sense of the furor over this year's Hunt; I'll have my own measured take on the proceedings soon.

For now, there's a few items I'd like to hit quickly. First of all, some gloating: On Friday, my team successfully escaped from the haunted ship in the latest edition of San Francisco's Real Escape Game! Not only that, but for the first time, we solved all of the puzzles. (It's usually possible to progress and win without a few answers, so that's usually what ends up happening.) We were definitely thirsty for victory after the Great Evangelion Screwjob and our Real Escape Room failure, so it felt great. As for the game itself, the atmosphere was excellent and, with an exception or two, I thought the puzzles were clean, clever, and fun. A scant few tickets may still be available; I'd recommend picking one up if you haven't played.

Later that weekend, I participated in the first event of the Sudoku Grand Prix, a World Puzzle Federation event featuring eight online tests, each designed by a different country's puzzlers. The Czech Republic kicked things off, and I had my usual shrug-worthy performance, finishing 161st out of 581 participants with 136 out of the possible 300 points. Pushing me to the wrong side of the point total's halfway mark was an error on the first puzzle of the test, a standard 12x12 sudoku. Somehow, I got through the entire puzzle without noticing that two 8s occupied one of the answer rows. No idea where I went wrong; I didn't see an easy fix looking at it after the test. On the plus side, I didn't cost myself points with entry errors on correct solutions. So I've got that going for me, which is nice. The next competition is India's and takes place in a little under two weeks. I have to do better, but I'm not holding my breath.

I close with a new development from Monday, and it's another Kickstarter campaign. Mike Selinker, head of Lone Shark Games, is bringing a long-time puzzle project to life with the help of a talented team. It's The Maze of Games, and if you like puzzles and Choose Your Own Adventure books, this is perfect for you. As is the norm on Kickstarter, there are plenty of reward tiers to choose from. I eagerly jumped on board and can't wait for the results.


The master of logic

For a few years now, I've enjoyed excellent hand-crafted logic puzzles on Thomas Snyder's blog. And now, the start of 2013 brings the good news that Thomas is migrating his efforts to his brand-new site, Grandmaster Puzzles, and the puzzle blog therein. He's really kicking it into high gear, providing almost-daily puzzles in a variety of types. What's more, he aims to improve the prominence of high-quality handmade work amidst the ocean of unremarkable computer-generated puzzles.

I'm really excited to see what the future holds for Grandmaster Puzzles, and I'm proud to be involved as a test-solver and hopefully in other capacities as well. Get in on the ground floor!

Tagged as: , 2 Comments

Good and evil

The latter first: It's time for my latest Onion puzzle. Well, fine, it's not really evil, as such, but it's The Onion, so the usual irreverence applies. Have fun.

And now for the good: While I've been neglectful of solving the logic puzzle blogs lately, I'm going to take a look at Grant Fikes's puzzle contest for charity. You can earn entries in the drawings both by solving puzzles and by donating money to three worthy causes. Furthermore, as every charity's total reaches certain thresholds, Grant will super-size or even super-duper-size future blog puzzles. There's a lot to like about this endeavor, so let's give it lots of support!