Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Polka Your Eyes Out

Not much to report this week. One of the highlights of the weekend was hitting up a Ukrainian Festival down the road from my house. I was curious when I heard what sounded vaguely like the Tetris theme on my front step. When I decided to investigate some time later, the band was actually playing the A Music from Tetris as part of a Weird Al-esque polka medley (or whatever the Ukranian variant of polka is. I should know this; I am somewheres around half Ukranian).

In crossword news, happy (belated) 60th birthday, Will Shortz!

Today's puzzle is 15x15 and themed. I considered offering it as a print-only puzzle because no electronic form can portray the solution exactly as I envision it. But, since I know that printing is a pain in the ass and/or ecologically objectionable to some solvers, I'll just strongly recommend that you solve the print version but offer you both. See the solutions page for the grid as it was meant to look. Also, if you think the clue for 30-Down sucks, well, you'd be right, but know that I struggled for a while with that one. Another example of hey-I-found-a-great-entry-not-in-my-database-that-bails-me-out-of-a-tight-spot-but-how-the-hell-do-you-clue-it. If you have a better idea I'm all ears. Lastly, I hope you'll forgive me for yet another Game of Thrones clue. I'm currently obsessed (just started the fifth book, which is bittersweet because I know that I'll devour it and then be left hanging for God-only-knows how many more years before the series is concluded). Oh, and of course I know that the book series is called "A Song of Ice and Fire," but I wager that more people know it by the TV series name.

More words, crossed and otherwise, next Tuesday.

Puzzle: Inflexions
Rating: XW-14A
Difficulty: Moderate/kinda tricky

Download the PDF file here and the PUZ file here, or solve or download the Across Lite puzzle and/or software from the embedded app below.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Those Cultured Moose Javians

I like sleep a lot, but I rarely get enough of it during the week. So, on Friday, I fell asleep reading A Feast for Crows (that would have never happened if I was still on A Storm of Swords. That shit was gripping to the point of addiction, but the story's kind of in a slump now. Fellow Throne-philes, tell me it picks up again!) after work and woke up at midnight. Since I wasn't about to go out at that point and didn't feel like going back to sleep, I stayed up the whole night filling this week's grid. That was fortunate, really, because I don't know when I would have done it had I gone out carousing on Friday like I intended. The rest of the weekend was jampacked. Show with my band Ink Road on Saturday out at the beach, along with our BFFs Indigo Joseph and Fur Eel (indie rock fans, check 'em out. Barring implosions and/or "creative differences", both bands are poised to take over the world, and deservedly so. Indigo Joseph play intelligent and zany indie rock, while Fur Eel keep it tight and funky with grade-A chops. Where that young whippersnapper Travis Reshaur learned to play bass with such taste and maturity I'll never know). Camped out at the beach after a fair amount of whooping-it-up, nursed a hangover all morning, and then caught the matinee performance of Pirates of Penzance in Moose Jaw, of all places. It was extremely well done, and I've still got the "Modern Major-General" song stuck in my head. Capped off the weekend with a couple sets of tennis with my buddy Donnie. We're pretty evenly matched (i.e. he's almost as lousy as I am. Sorry Donnie), so it's always a good hit.

Oh, and thanks again to Erik Agard for the interview and guest puzzle last week.

On to today's puzzle. I seem to recall promising a themed puzzle for this week, but, to be honest, I've had a bit of writer's block lately. I'm having trouble coming up with solid and innovative theme ideas, and, once Friday rolled around and I still had nothing, I got to work on a themeless. Of course, any of the tried-and-true workhorse themes would do in a pinch, but my goal with this series is continual improvement. If I'm going to do a themed puzzle, I want it to be more original and clever than the last. If you'll permit me to toot my own horn for a minute, I think I've whipped up some neat themes here and I want the next one to be even better. While falling back on a themeless may seem like kind of a cop out, I also want the themelesses/freestyles to improve, so don't go thinking I've been slacking. It's a 15x15, believe it or not (17 themelesses and this is the first 15x15), with only 66 words (my first sub-70!). There are a few questionable entries, but nothing too dodgy and overall I'm pretty darn happy with the fill. Wish I could have avoided the "helper" squares and squeezed one or two of the meta contest-winners' entries in this one (god knows I tried), but neither were happening. Oh, and this motherfucker is tough, and a little saucy too boot. Don't say I didn't warn you.

More words, crossed and otherwise, next Tuesday.

Puzzle: Themeless #17
Rating: XW-18A
Difficulty: Brutal

Download the PDF file here and the PUZ file here, or solve or download the Across Lite puzzle and/or software from the embedded app below.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Regarding Agard

How do ya like that? I didn't even have to write a puzzle this week and I still barely have the post up before 2 in the morning. Ladies and gents, today's Cross Nerd puzzle is an offering from Mr. Erik Agard. As welcome an addition to the cruciverse as you could ask for, 18-year-old Erik came into prominence earlier this year by snagging the B Division bronze at the ACPT and has since solidified his place in puzzledom by demonstrating his formidable construction chops. For starters, you may remember him from week 4 of Guest Constructor Month over at MGWCC. Furthermore, his Anoa Place mini-series of 14 witty puzzles is not to be missed. The themes are tight and amusing and the grids ably filled, but the hilarious clues are the piece de resistance, IMO. But what do I know? Let's hear a little from the man himself:

Peter: What got you into puzzles, and how long have you been at it?

Erik: My math teacher from high school, David Stein, is a puzzle genius and ACPT-goer. I’ve kind of been doing puzzles my whole life, but it was his class - about 4 years ago now - that got me really hooked.

P: Aside from (American-style) crosswords, which other sorts of puzzles do you solve?

E: I do the occasional Rows Garden (Andrew Ries is amazing). My grandfather is big into acrostics, so I try those. But I’m a bit of an idiot savant, even within the puzzle world - really only good at the one thing.

P: Where have you been published?

E: One LAT puzzle. One Week 4 puzzle at Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest. More to come.

P: After such an impressive debut showing at the 2012 ACPT I’m willing to bet you’ll be back for 2013. Improving on this year’s performance would be tough; how do you think your chances look? Got any other tournaments/prizes in your sights?

E: Wild horses couldn’t keep me away. Well, they could, really, but I’m not anticipating that being a huge problem. I’ve gotten a bit faster since March, but also a bit stupider, so if (big if) I can manage to stay error-free, I like my chances.

P: Do you do any sort of training for solving (recording your times, purposely filling in knowledge gaps, etc.)?

E: I have a spreadsheet of my LAT times. But I don’t really do anything with it, so I haven’t quite figured out how it actually helps. As for the latter, I would never do anything like that. That sounds too much like studying. Ask any one of my classmates how I am about studying.

P: I really enjoyed the Anoa Place mini-series, and it sounds like I’m not alone. Can we expect another installment any time soon?

E: Appreciate that. And I like the term “mini-series,” I may just have to steal that in future. A lot of the puzzles on Anoa Place started out as NYT/LAT rejects; at the moment, I’m working on getting more puzzles rejected so I’ll have stock for a sequel.

P: Whose work do you admire as a constructor and enjoy as a solver?

E: Not sure I can separate my constructing, solving, and editing perspectives anymore. I got a lot of love for a lot of constructors in the game, but my top 5: Gaffney, BEQ, Norris, Gordon, Tausig.

P: What are your thoughts on eye-catching/wide-open grids, convention-shirking themes/gimmicks, etc.? Is it all about the solver, or do you think that grids and gimmicks that push the boundaries and challenge constructors are important as well?

E: It is vitally important for the evolution of crosswords that people keep doing new, cool shit. Convention is made to be shirked. But - with the odd exception - not in the newspaper. Put it in a book or something.

P: Tell me about your approach to construction. What tools do you use, what do you do with a deadline and a lack of ideas, what qualities do you look for in a seed entry or long fill, etc?

E: I am very, very dependent on autofill. It is my life support system. But I write my own clues wherever possible. I’m not really a deadline-meeting kind of guy, but in the vein of one of my favorite writers, a bath always helps.

P: What sorts of crosswords do you wish you saw more of in the cruciverse? Less of?

E: More indie constructors. Less Oreo centennial puzzles. I’ve done at least 5.

Thanks for the thoughts and the puzzle, Erik. But especially the puzzle; my weekend was gloriously free of clue-writing. It was Folk Fest in Regina, to which I have obligations as a volunteer, beer- and music-consumer, and soaker-up of sun.

More words, crossed and otherwise, next Tuesday.

Puzzle: Not Now...

Rating: XW-PG

Difficulty: Medium-hard

Download the PDF file here and the PUZ file here, or solve or download the Across Lite puzzle and/or software from the embedded app below.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

It's OK to Pick Your Nose if it's Sunburned and Peeling

Spent the entire long weekend (for some reason, yesterday was "Saskatchewan Day," so we all had the day off) up at Good Spirit Lake with my best mates. Weather was perfect: sunny and hot for the most part, but it rained just enough for me to dust off my old boy scout skillz and whip up a shelter out of a few tarps, some twine, and the trees. I love camping, but it's one of those things that I never think to just go and do, so I only end up doing it when it's planned as an event like this. The best part about camping is that, although you may not do that much in a day, all of your routine tasks takes a lot longer than you're used to and they feel like huge accomplishments. Preparing an edible meal and cleaning up afterward, brewing coffee, shaving and freshening up, getting in and out of bed, etc. They all get their moment in the sun when you're camping; for that one weekend they're not merely requisite chores to be grudgingly performed, they're all of a sudden sources of struggle, challenge, achievement, and personal satisfaction. If you're up and active with a breakfast in your belly and caffeine in your brain by 10am, it's already been a successful day.

Whilst kicking it by the fire, I also had the pleasure of double- and triple-teaming a good number of Martin Ashwood-Smith's Triple Stack Crosswords with a few of my puzzling buddies, which same buddies also inspired and offered a few ideas for the clues on my puzzle for this week. Give it up one time for Drew Lawn, Steven Buchan, and Keegan Downie, everybody.

Can't wait to sleep in my own bed again, so I gotta go.

More words, crossed and otherwise, along with a guest puzzle, next Tuesday.

Puzzle: Themeless #16

Rating: XW-PG13

Difficulty: Sorta difficult, but not as tough as last week

Download the PDF file here and the PUZ file here, or solve or download the Across Lite puzzle and/or software from the embedded app below.