Here's a bunch of small items for you.
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!
First things first: Les Foeldessy's new Gryptics contest is up. Go knock it out.
Now to the meat of this post: Saturday's Napa Valley Puzzle Challenge saw yet another thrilling ending to a local crossword tournament. Perennial contenders Jon Berman and Eric Maddy both made one mistake, and Jon beat Eric by a mere second! Coming in third was young newcomer Jeff Davidson... but should he have won? Read on to find out what happened and decide what you think. But don't do so until you've done Thursday's New York Times puzzle; it's a great one and you don't want to be spoiled by my description here.
Many American aficionados of the cryptic crossword will tell you that there aren't enough variety cryptics (puzzles that, in addition to cryptic clues, have some other twist for an additional payoff and/or a more difficult solve) out there. Sure, there are the Cox and Rathvon puzzles, and the one or two creations in each issue of The Enigma, and a handful of other sources, but we crave more.
Well, good news! Roger Wolff has just self-published a book of fifty variety cryptics! I'm not even close to finished with the book yet, of course, but I like what I see so far. Go order it, and pretty soon the Wolff will be at your door.
I owe you, my loyal readers, a recap! I still have to do my big write-up of the Shinteki Decathlon. It's coming, but for now, let's run down a few shorter items.
June's Gryptics contest is posted! I found it smooth sailing, so why not do it yourself and try to win a book?
Over at Matt Gaffney's crossword contest, I was defeated last week after two consecutive perfect months, which is a pretty long streak for me. Despite my semi-routine humiliation, Matt's great work can't be denied. His tip jar is open until Friday, so if you enjoy these puzzles, do consider a donation.
This weekend, I participated in BANG 33 for the benefit of Elevate Tutoring. The puzzles were top-notch and made for a very enjoyable day in San Jose. The organizer, Bob Schaffer, is planning on running the game again this summer, so do take advantage of that if you're able.
On the train back from the BANG, I finished The Lost City, which I found courtesy of Clavis Cryptica. If you're looking for a light, compact adventure in the vein of Myst and its kin, definitely give this one a shot.
Have a good week, everyone. Get after it.
Wow, have things been busy lately; I haven't had time to recap the two hunts I did over a week ago. And it sure doesn't seem likely that I'll get to it before I depart for Crosswords LA this weekend. (That event now has over a hundred registrants!) Expect a bumper post next week running through all of these events and previewing the Shinteki Decathlon.
First, thanks to all who have contributed to the great discussion on my latest post; it's already responsible for over 25% of the comments left on this blog since its relaunch. Do continue! I hope to write a follow-up post at some point.
Getting back to business, I wanted to talk about a few new puzzle books. After a visit to a Coinstar machine, I had some credit in my Amazon account waiting for me, and here's how I used it.
If you like your crosswords as modern as possible, check out word., which comes from Natan Last and his cohorts from Brown University, the epicenter of the cruciverbalist youth movement. Themes and clues don't get fresher than this, and you get quantity in addition to quality, as the book weighs in with a hefty 144 puzzles.
On the sudoku side, Thomas Snyder has come out with The Art of Sudoku, the first title under his own Grandmaster Puzzles label. Even if you think you're bored with regular sudoku, you'll still enjoy these handcrafted puzzles that mix satisfying logic with aesthetically pleasing designs. Here's hoping it's the first volume of many for the Grandmaster name.
The third book I bought, a pre-order, is Crowd-Pleasing Puzzles, a collaboration between two brilliant authors. Patrick Berry is one of the most highly regarded puzzlemakers in the country and my personal favorite constructor. Todd McClary, in addition to being a skilled and diligent crossword constructor, has brought many a brilliant game to National Puzzlers' League conventions, whether for small groups or everyone in attendance. Can't wait to see what these guys cooked up!
And finally... my own book is feeling more and more real! These are puzzles I constructed for my school papers in high school and college, with some additional polish here and there, naturally. You still have quite a while before it drops, as it looks like we're now shooting for an early 2013 release, but it's never too early to pre-order!
Are you a regular solver of Matt Gaffney's contest but wish you had more metas in your life? You'll want to check out the Muller Monthly Music Meta, a new contest from constructor Pete Muller. Between May 1st and the end of the year, you'll get nine music-themed crosswords, with increasingly difficult metas to solve. If you're successful, you'll have a chance to win free entry to next year's American Crossword Puzzle Tournament! Pete now has a warm-up puzzle for you to try, so go see what you're in for.
Meanwhile, I made this week's Onion crossword. I rather like this theme; hopefully you find it worth the effort. Have fun.
I put in a guest appearance on Good Job, Brain!, a new trivia podcast a few friends have started. Not surprisingly, the topic is words, and there's some good puzzle-related chatter in here. I had a lot of fun. Go have a listen!
I was on vacation last week, cruising around the western Caribbean. Sorry I didn't have an April Fool's joke for you; maybe next year. For now, here's a roundup catching up on the puzzle world.
I neglected to mention my participation in the Real Escape Game, a Japanese diversion that has made its way to San Francisco. I played with a few friends (sadly, one of us got pushed to another team) and a couple strangers. I'm pleased to report that our efforts were successful and we were one of just two teams in our session to win! It wasn't without a little stress; a few times, we had what seemed like a final answer, but there was still more to do. Also, at one point we had correct information that didn't really make sense because we were ahead of the game and hadn't yet learned what it meant. It made us think something was wrong. Another quibble is that the majority of the gameplay involved just sitting at the table and solving; I would have liked more moving around the room as well as an actual physical escape. Overall, though, I quite enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to the next incarnation.
In crossword and crossword-like news, Les Foeldessy has alerted me that his newest Gryptics contest is up. Enjoy the puzzle and try to win his book! Also, have you made plans to be at Crosswords LA yet? You should. We've added Brendan Emmett Quigley to the constructing roster, and, as the puzzle wrangler, I can assure you that the puzzles are of high quality.
The world of puzzle hunts is revving up too. DASH 4 is coming up later this month, the Shinteki Decathlon is in mid-May, and BANG 33, which benefits Elevate Tutoring, comes on June 2. I'm slated to play in all three! Should be fun.
As for the ongoing Black Letter Game, participants have received the second parcel. I'm getting together with my team tonight to solve it; here's hoping we meet with the success we enjoyed the first time around.
That's all I got. Have fun!