That Puzzle Guy's Blog See that book on the right, there? You should buy it.

23Dec/11Off

An extra kick

The Kickstarter website has really caught on with the puzzlemaking community, and another one has come up, this one from prolific constructor Trip Payne. If the project is funded (and, at its current pace, it's certainly looking good), Trip promises an extravaganza, as it's called, with twelve puzzles plus the meta. What's more, bumping your pledge up a little will get you one or more big, meaty bonus crosswords in the form of a themeless, a cryptic, and/or an always quirkily entertaining Something Different puzzle. Increase it a little more and Trip will throw in a couple of his autographed puzzle books. I've eagerly become a backer and I look forward to the results!

As Trip points out, there won't be pure logic/math puzzles, but I've got your fix for that. On my way home to Connecticut for the holidays, I very much enjoyed the Best of LMI sudoku test at Logic Masters India. Nothing was outrageously difficult and there were a few gorgeous solves; I think my favorite was Outside Killer. Give it a try!

1Dec/11Off

Regent developments

For a while now, I've been thinking that I'd do a guest post on a crossword-reviewing blog someday. Well, that day has finally come, as I take over the duties on Rex Parker's blog. What did I like? What did I not like? What strained attempts at humor do I make? Read and find out!

I also wanted to point out a fun month-long challenge over at The Griddle. David Millar has created a sudoku advent calendar. Check back every day before Christmas for new clues!

16Nov/11Off

Solid gold

The World Puzzle Championship is over, and it brought more triumphs for Team USA! The team title went to the Americans as they just staved off a stiff challenge from Germany, and young Palmer Mebane captured the first of what promises to be several individual championships. Americans Thomas Snyder and Wei-Hwa Huang also made the top four. Fantastic job, guys! Maybe someday I'll get to join you, though I must admit that my prospects look bleaker each year.

Moving to word puzzles, Andrew Ries has now been posting free Rows Garden puzzles for one year. To mark the occasion, Andrew is giving some of his tip jar income this week to charities. These puzzles are worthy of donations in any event, so do consider contributing to encourage Andrew's craft and to help worthy causes to boot.

11Nov/11Off

Armchair puzzler

Well, apparently I haven't yet coordinated my Lumos Labs work schedule to allow much time for blogging. It's just as well, as unfortunately it seems I'm on the sidelines when it comes to recent puzzle events. I turned 27 this past weekend, and due to plans around that, I had to miss the World Henchmen game. On top of that, the highly anticipated Dr. When is coming in March, and would you believe it, I have a cruise planned for exactly the week covering the two weekends of play. Yes, I know I shouldn't be complaining about going on a cruise, but missing out on yet another awesome overnight game has me depressed all the same. When does my Bay Area Puzzle Hunter card get revoked? Maybe I can get in on a playtest. Get at me, Game Control.

Casting an eye to international affairs, the World Sudoku Championship and World Puzzle Championship are currently taking place in Eger, Hungary, the same city to which I journeyed as a member of the USA's B-team in 2005. Sadly, I'm not there this time around, and have had to rely on better solvers' blogs to keep abreast of the contests. The WSC wrapped up on Tuesday, and heartiest congratulations are in order for Thomas Snyder, who pulled out a convincing win to capture his third individual title. In the team competition, the US made the podium, taking third. May the Americans' domination continue in the WPC! USA! USA! USA!

14Oct/11Off

Double time

For the first time, I'm posting to this blog from Mexico! I'm here helping the Shinteki crew run their game at the annual Lobby Conference. The big event went down yesterday, and it was very busy and a lot of fun. Now it's time for some fun before I return to the Bay on Sunday.

I had to get in here and advise you about a couple of fun puzzle sets this weekend. All of us here in our condo are eagerly anticipating Intercoastal Altercations 5, in which we'll participate as the ChaiseLand Enchiladas. I've never done this event before, but previous editions have earned high praise, and I'm enjoying the pre-puzzles we've seen so far.

If solo competitions are more your thing, check out this weekend's Double Decathlon, created by Thomas Snyder for Logic Masters India. I doubt I'll be able to participate in the live contest, but Thomas is my favorite logic puzzle constructor and I'll be sure to enjoy his work later.

3Oct/11Off

Mr. Consistency

Before I dive into the recent United States Sudoku Championship, a personal note. This past Friday was a bittersweet occasion, as it was my last day with Google. It was very difficult to leave the great people I got to see each day, but I'm excited to be joining Lumos Labs at the end of this month! It should give me a great opportunity to use my puzzling/gaming brain on the job!

Now, back to somewhat less successful endeavors. You'll recall my tenth-place finish in the US Puzzle Championship, and I duplicated that ranking in the sudoku equivalent. Unfortunately, I felt much more disappointed in myself this time than I did for the USPC. Let's break it down.

I started, logically enough, with the four classic sudoku at the front of the test. I wouldn't call them all easy, but they went fairly quickly and I was very pleased with how things were going. I moved on to the Diagonal, getting almost all the way there when disaster struck. I had an error somewhere. In retrospect, I probably didn't have to back up too far to root it out, but in the heat of the moment, I felt I had no choice but to start over. Absolutely devastating to my momentum and psyche; I really don't think I was the same for the rest of the test. This only worsened when I made another mistake on the Odd, although thankfully that one was very close to the beginning. I later went back and successfully completed both puzzles, but the damage was done.

My other successes:

  • Killer: Almost screwed up a couple times, but got there; it was very nice.
  • Tight Fit: Neat theme.
  • Parquet: Pretty easy, but felt a tad slower than it should have been.
  • Sudo-Kurve: A struggle; it was frequently difficult to find the one next step.
  • Arrow: Breezy and enjoyable.
  • Bent Diagonal: My only solve that made use of bifurcation, an impressive-sounding word for guessing.
  • Parity: Tough in the middle, but a good self-esteem boost overall.

I knew I was falling short based on the last 45 minutes or so of the test; I was hopping around and having no luck anywhere. The only reason I banked any points at all was because I got Bent Diagonal to the point where guessing was worth it. My biggest time vampire was the Irregular; my last-ditch guess with a few minutes left was wrong, and there was no time to go back down the other branch. I also spent a fair amount of time on Keypad with no luck; I couldn't find much outside the center third. 0-9 got a brief attempt but was abandoned at the first sticking point. Primrose, Pair Product, and S As Not In Sudoku were virtually ignored.

As for the Just One Cell puzzles, they got only brief looks, which was sufficient to get the first one. I figured the latter two would require more effort than I was prepared to expend, so I was content to grab the four points from the easier one. I really don't care for these puzzles; they seem like much more fun for the constructor than the solver. The former gets to use a cool technique without worrying about making a whole puzzle around it, while the latter doesn't get the satisfaction of filling in all the blank spaces.

The good news is that I once again avoided the demoralizing answer-entry error, so I collected all 159 points I deserved. But for yet another test, the glass ceiling separating me from the top solvers is obvious. If I'm ever going to make the US team for one of these competitions, I need to get better, and I'm not really sure how to do it.

Above all: Thomas Snyder and Wei-Hwa Huang put together an excellent test; hopefully I'll be able to go back at some point and enjoy the puzzles that eluded me during the competition. You should try them too!

18Sep/11Off

Tests of wits

First of all, if the link in my previous entry to my 2010 Bay Area Crossword Tournament puzzle was broken when you looked at it, try it again. I put up the wrong version at first.

The 53rd Equinox Party was last night, and we saluted the 53rd card in the deck, the joker. Lots of laughs were had. The games:

  • A mixer in which we formed a chain of "parent" and "child" words, with each child having all the letters of both its parents minus the same letter from each. These extra letters spelled a final joke.
  • Solving clues to answers that each contained multiple J's, with circled letters giving a punchline.
  • Finding words in a Boggle board (with one wild card in the center), then using those words, along with a library of short words, to form a fortune cookie, a commandment, a headline, etc. Some surprisingly elegant and hilarious quips were generated.
  • A neat puzzle that used a grid of words for a variety of joker-themed wordplay, with a nice payoff.
  • Trying to come up with words that contained all the letters in an ever-growing list of randomly drawn Scrabble tiles. (I won one round with REALPHABETIZING.)
  • Cluing well-known jokes to the rest of the group with a punchline for a joke that rhymed with the original. For example, "Because the warty creature's gum disease was interfering with her pagan rituals" would clue the game's title, "Why Did the Wiccan Floss the Toad?"

Good fun. Unfortunately, it appears the next one will conflict with the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Them's the breaks.

Logic competition season is really ramping up! You remember the US Puzzle Championship... well, Saturday will bring us the US Sudoku Championship, which will be in much the same format. If you think there will be less variety because we're only dealing with sudoku, think again. There is a sea of variety in the types of sudoku clues that have been invented, so you'll see a bunch of different ways of thinking called into play. The constructors are the renowned Thomas Snyder and Wei-Hwa Huang, and they're sure to bring us a great test. I'm really looking forward to seeing how I do. If you're looking for training material for the test, there are several good links on the USSC page, and Logic Masters India recently gave us an Arrow Sudoku test that looks like a lot of fun. (See? Plenty of twists on even this one sudoku type!) Good luck, all!

7Sep/11Off

September salmagundi

(There's your word of the day.)

Lots of stuff to catch up on; I wasn't blogging because I took a long weekend in Las Vegas for a National Puzzlers' League mini-convention. It was much less formally organized than a usual Con, and just attended by those members who like the idea of mixing Con with Vegas and drinking and such. Great fun.

Getting back to the grind, I once again have the joy of seeing two of my puzzles published on the same day. Go for my offerings with CrosSynergy (JPZ or PDF) and The Onion (PUZ, which has no identifying information in it for some reason).

A few more crossword-related items to touch on. It's not too late to get in on the Bay Area Crossword Puzzle Tournament, held this Saturday in Alameda for the benefit of the California Dictionary Project. If you're over there in the east, consider crossing our northern border to attend the Sarnia Crossword Tournament and help out the Organization for Literacy in Lambton. Both will use future New York Times crosswords. As usual, I'll officiate at the Alameda event. Should be fun.

Also, check out the scoop about a new crossword contest. Legendary constructor Merl Reagle brings us the National Brain Game Challenge. For just $25, you can solve some top-notch puzzles, benefit the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, and potentially win some cash-money. Top solvers and constructors at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament are not eligible, sadly, but hopefully I can get a look at these puzzles anyway.

Shifting over to logic puzzles, Logic Masters India offered a Sprint Test this past weekend. This test is unique in that many solvers were expected to finish well within the time limit; the separation in the rankings comes from the time bonus. Following my official tenth-place finish in the US Puzzle Championship and the annual realization that I flat-out need to get better at this stuff to have a chance to climb to the top, I really should actually participate in LMI tests more often. As for this one, I'll have to clock myself and see how I would have measured up.

Let's turn up the heat and look at news related to extravaganzas. With the Labor Day weekend comes Mark Halpin's annual set, and this year's edition does not disappoint. It's erudite and tough-as-nails as usual. Give it a go and consider throwing Mark a few bucks to reward his high-quality puzzles.

Finally, in just a few days comes the Microsoft Puzzle Hunt. It should be a whirlwind weekend as I race from the Alameda tournament to join my team late. Should be a great time, puzzleheads!

30Aug/11Off

Behind the test

Tonight I received an email confirming my United States Puzzle Championship score. I was relieved to see that I made no entry errors, giving me 241 points! Yes, I reported 246 in the last entry, but it turns out my Square Count answer was pretty laughably incorrect. Nonetheless, I'm very pleased with my showing and that I avoided screwing myself out of points for only the second time. After the jump, I'll break down my whirlwind solving experience.

27Aug/11Off

Puzzle placeholder

I'll have a full rundown of the USPC soon, but the test just ended and I wanted to report my tentative score, which is 246. I corrected TWO mindless entry errors on my final check; hopefully they were the only traps. Overall, I'm quite pleased; it certainly won't be even close to enough for victory, but certainly a better showing than last year.

I solved Battleships, Sudoku, Crossed Countries, Easy As ABCD, Masyu, Crack It On, Takeout, Corral, Blocks, Corral Crates, Kaku Rogue, Jumping Crossword, and Dynasty Sudoku, plus six differences in Barn Storm. I also have an answer for Square Count, but I just discovered a square I missed; hopefully I'm still within two and can collect five points.