Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Hello I Must Be Going

Sorry about the delayed post.  Not skimping on the puzzles, though; for your solving pleasure I've got a themed double-header to cover this week and the next.  I'll be kicking it in Texas on a bit of a holiday.  Plus, seeing as I've been doing this for nearly a year now, it seemed high time I got myself a week ahead.

The puzzles are complementary, yet distinct.  Either can be solved first.

Oh, and no online versions this time (not sure if anyone uses them anyway), since I don't want you to see both puzzles at the same time.

More words, crossed and otherwise, two Tuesdays from now.

Puzzle: "Out of Season" and "Consider Yourself Blessed"
Rating: XW-PG13
Difficulty: On the easy side

Out of Season PUZ
Consider Yourself Blessed PUZ

Out of Season PDF
Consider Yourself Blessed PDF

Coming soon...

As promised, the post is late this week.  However, also as promised, that's because I've got a double-header lined up for this week.  Still putting the finishing touches on them and I'm stuck at work for the rest of the day.  Should be up later tonight.  Before Wednesday morning for sure.

In the meantime, amuse yourselves with any and all of the wonderful puzzle sites listed in the right sidebar.  Both Erik and Neville are running contests this week, so get on those tout suite.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Yee Hah

Off to Austin, Texas next Thursday for the Fun Fun Fun Fest.  To be honest, I couldn't name five out of the hundreds of acts that are performing there, but that's not for their lack of popularity.  I know Run-DMC are going to be there, as well as David Cross from Arrested Development and Saul Williams.  I scanned the list a little while back and remember being impressed.  Really, though, my interest in the music is secondary to my interest in flying to Texas to stay in a small house and dig some live jams with 13 other people (most of whom are friends of friends I've never met).

Oh, by the way, I just googled some of the acts: Girl Talk, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Explosions in the Sky, Santigold, Deerhoof (how could I forget!), Refused, Tomahawk (hells yeah), Against Me!, Fucked Up, Converge, Air Sex Championship (wut? actually, that's on the spoken word/performance art stage.  I don't think that's a band).

Anyway, for next week, the plan is to release a set of two puzzles, which will cover the next two weeks.  They might go up a little later than usual, but they'll be 15x15 complementary, themed puzzles so hopefully they'll be worth the wait.

For this week, I promised you a theme, so here's a theme.  Actually, I promised you a cool theme, but you'll have to settle for mediocre but kinda cute.

Grid was a bear to fill, I was surprised to find.  It necessitated bumping the black square count a little high and settling for some bleh fill.  I guess this kind of theme entry arrangement is not to be taken lightly, although I'm sure Patrick Berry could have done it in a 36/76 without the cheater squares.

More words, crossed and otherwise, next Tuesday.

Puzzle: Squares Away
Rating: XW-14A (for tasteless puns mostly, rather than actual adult content)
Difficulty: Tried to make it measium and cute

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Bitch, bitch, bitch

Thanks to all who gave feedback on last week's vowelless for giving feedback on last week's vowelless.  It was my first one, and there are definitely things I'll do differently next time.  For starters, I'll try not to underestimate the difficulty of even slightly misleading clues in a vowelless puzzle.  Straightforward clues for straightforward answers in a squeaky-clean grid is where it's at, I'm learning.

As for this week's puzzle, it's yet another freestyle (read: stand-in for a theme that I couldn't think of).  Not terribly happy with this one, but mostly because of a few Natick-y crossings.  Too much paintballing and watching movies this weekend and not enough constructing, and I guess tackling a 66-word grid with less than a day before it goes live was a little too audacious.  Although I was happy with most of the individual entries, I didn't pay enough attention to some of the crossings in the grid.  For instance, the already-difficult 25-Down crosses a few difficult names, so sorry about that.  I erred on the easy side for the clues, to try and balance things out a bit.  Some fun entries in there, but I tried to keep the cluing relatively sane.  Overall, though, this puzzle lacks the consistency and structural integrity that I look for in a good freestyle grid.  I'll come up with some cool theme or other to make up for it next week, or something.

Oh, and lastly, just in time for Tuesday, see "Looper" immediately if you haven't already.  It's astonishing.

More words, crossed and otherwise, next Tuesday.

Puzzle: Freestyle #21
Rating: XW-14A
Difficulty: Some tough words, but not too much trickery

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

What this is ... or, the number of used car lot gorilla mascots on the sidewalk?

For the answer to clue above, read on.  For now, happy belated Columbus Day, Canadian Thanksgiving, or plain old Monday, depending on your situation.  I spent the long weekend getting fat by driving to Edmonton and Grande Cache and stuffing my face with lasagna, a couple Grandma feasts, and fast food.  No Turkey this year; I approved.

Grande Cache is about 12 hours from Regina.  Luckily, my new shipment of puzzle books arrived last week.  I picked up Bob Klahn's "The Wrath of Klahn," BEQ's diagramless book, and Frank Longo's vowelless book.  I'm especially digging the vowelless; so much so that I made my own over the weekend.  I liked working with the format a lot.  It's kind of like what I wish constructing a themeless were always like: tons of long entries, and the fun stuff can be plunked in with alacrity because there are few if any worries about the shorter crossing fill.  Since you fill in only the consonants and omit the vowels, many of the shorter entries can be expanded into several different words/phrases so you can avoid initialisms, abbreviations, and awkward partials, generally.  No longer are SDS, MSS, and RBS arcane abbrevs.  Now they're I SAID SO, MEIOSIS, and AIRBASE.  What's more, there are fewer possible entries of any given length (since we're working with fewer letters) but more acceptable entries. Also interesting is the difference in lengths between original and devoweled entries, so I tried to play this up a bit in the puzzle.  As an aside (SNSD), here are some stats: in my wordlist, the greatest difference between lengths is 13, for both TDNTMNTHNGFTNTGTTHTSWNG and PRLDTTHFTRNNFFN, and the greatest original/devoweled ratio is exactly 3, for DDDDD, RNDN, BGWG, WKPD, NMTP, and RPRP.  As a hint, the 2 long ones are songs, and DDDDD can be 2 different songs (original entries (highlight the following text to view): IT DONT MEAN A THING IF IT AINT GOT THAT SWING, PRELUDE TO THE AFTERNOON OF A FAUN, I DO I DO I DO I DO I DO/DOO DOO DOO DOO DOO (an ABBA hit and a Rolling Stones hit subtitled "Heartbreaker," respectively), EERIE INDIANA (a TV show), BOOGIE WOOGIE, WOOKIEEPEDIA (a Star Wars wiki), ONOMATOPOEIA, and EUROPA EUROPA (a German film)).

This is all constructing hedonism, really, but the process wasn't entirely as smooth as I just made it out to be.  I may have gotten overzealous with a few of the sections, as a few entries are weak, and one in particular (29-Across) is almost, but not quite, made up.  It seemed legit at first and a quick Googling confirms its existence outside of this grid, but on closer inspection it doesn't really work in any conventional grammatical sense and seems restricted to a fairly specific area of kinesiology.  Sorry about that; I tried to make the surrounding clues as straightforward as possible.

One thing I noticed is that the grids in Longo's book tend to be nearly homogeneous with straightforward-sounding entries that you've heard maybe a handful of times in your life and certainly have never said yourself.  Whether that's by design or a consequence of Longo's terrifyingly open fifty-something-word grids I can't say for sure; it's likely both.  Although they may not be everyday phrases, nearly every entry makes perfectly obvious sense, once you parse the bizarre consonant strings, which is definitely helpful in a wide-open vowelless puzzle.  Whereas guys like BEQ, Peter Gordon, and Matt Jones (all of whom create great themelesses) tend to write puzzles that require you to be alternatingly erudite and hip to crack, I lump Frank Longo in with themeless mavens like Todd McClary, Brad Wilber, Doug Peterson, et al. whose grids are full of crazy entries that are nevertheless very inferrable (with the right clue, of course).  I tend to prefer the latter types of grids; when you can infer an off-the-wall entry you feel a sort of deja-vu-like familiarity with it, which produces a unique feeling of pride in one's perspicacity, IMO.  While it may be fun to uncover from the crossings, a cryptic-looking entry from an unfamiliar avenue of pop culture doesn't quite elicit the same response.

Back to vowellesses.  Although this one is a themeless puzzle, I think the vowelless format offers up unique new theme opportunities.  I haven't done too much brainstorming yet, but right away I liked the idea that one entry can be two or more different phrases.  For instance, the answer to the clue in the post title could be (highlight to show): PST TTL (Post title, or Apesuit total).  That's a tricky one, but what about ["Say something, Ms. Middleton" ... or, "Be very quiet, musicians"?] for:  PPPPPP ("Pipe up, Pippa" or a hypothetical sextuple-piano score marking).  I'll work on developing a themed vowelless for a future post.  Constructors, in the interim feel free to steal and run with the idea.  I'd rather inspire someone else to do the hard work than do it myself, naturally.

More words, crossed and otherwise, next Tuesday.

Oh, if you're new to vowelless puzzles here's the skinny:

  • Enter the answers as you normally would, except only write the consonants.  
  • Use every white square; don't leave blanks for the vowels.
  • To eliminate some ambiguity, no entry, original or vowelless, includes the letter Y.  
  • Watch for common short words with one consonant.  N can be ON, IN, ONE, etc., F can be OF, and T can be OUT, TO, ATE, etc.  It's tricky at first, but it comes easier with some practice.  
  • If you want some hints, the enumerations (number of letters/word in the entry) are provided in PDF format below.  Commas denote spaces between words, while hyphens denote hyphens.  
  • Good luck!

Puzzle: Vowelless #1
Rating: XW-18A
Difficulty: Mostly gimme clues, but some tough entries and it's a vowelless, so pretty difficult
Hint sheet (enumerations)
Full answers

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Rider Pride

Sorry about the missing write-up last week (assuming anyone actually reads these).  Finished writing the puzzle at like 2am and I didn't have it in me to come up with anything to write.  I came up with the theme entries a few days earlier and shelved them, then on Sunday afternoon suddenly and inexplicably became interested in trying to make a Marching Bands puzzle.  Having never made one before, I had no idea what to expect in terms of time input, so I came up with the brilliant idea to just spend the time writing a PERL script to fill one using my wordlist.  Since I was already working with a puzzle format that I was almost entirely unfamiliar with, I guess it seemed like a good idea to try and codify the construction rules using a language I'm just learning.  Not surprisingly, the whole plan went down in flames.  It turns out that the Marching Bands format presents a challenge not encountered when writing a crossword-filling program (which I've done in the past): there's no way to know in advance how many entries will fit in each band, or where the entries begin and end in each band and row.  While certainly not intractible, this problem proved a little too difficult to solve in the very limited time I had left myself.  Actually, I got it mostly working, but there were a few bugs that I didn't have time to squash.  So, I busted out the theme answers I had prepared earlier at 6:30 Monday evening and got to work filling the grid and writing close to 100 clues.  Turned out surprisingly ok (and props to Drew Lawn for inspiring the theme when by dropping the last theme answer in conversation a while back).  I doubt I've learned my lesson for good, but this week at least I finished in a comfortable amount of time.  And expect some Marching Bands in the future, though, Gods willing.

Oh, and one more thing about last week's puzzle.  I received an e-mail about an error in one of the clues, but I sort of anticipated that I would, so I figured I'd clear it up.  8-Down read [Sting wanted his, in "Money for Nothing"], which clues MTV.  But wait, wasn't Mark Knopfler the songwriter and vocalist for Dire Straits?  In fact, and I just learned this while cluing the puzzle, Sting was a guest vocalist on "Money for Nothing."  He sang the falsetto "I want my MTV" part during the intro (notice that it sounds almost identical to the refrain from "Don't Stand So Close To Me."  This was by design).  I struggled a bit with that clue, since Mark Knopfler actually wrote that line before Sting got involved, and I anticipated that no matter which one I went with some solvers would think I had made an error.  In retrospect, I should have just taken a different approach to the clue, but I thought it was a fun bit of trivia.  Oh, and here's a good source for all of this, btw.

In news not about me, Neville Fogarty's Friday puzzle was ___ing outstanding.  Hats off, Neville.  Humbling to see this caliber of stuff being put out by other young indies.

Plain-Jane 15x15 freestyle this week.  I'm happy that I was able to fill this grid reasonably cleanly, but I feel it's lacking in the sparkle department.  Maybe crossing my two seed entries in a difficult spot was ill-advised.  24-Down is a plug for Cross Nerd OG Parker Lewis, who selected the entry as his Month of Metas prize.  If you've found your way here, you're most likely a crossword junkie and have probably heard of it.  If not, take note.  I was inspired to put 35-Across in there while watching the riveting Riders-Lions game on Saturday night.  I worked a few summers as a groundskeeper with 35-Across, and his brother Chris, who's now a slotback for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, was one of my frequent homework partners in 1st-year Engineering at the U of R.  He was on the Riders' roster for their '07 Grey Cup win, which was the same year that his brother played with the Stanley Cup-winning Ducks.  These sorts of things mean a lot in a city the size of Regina.

More words, crossed and otherwise, next Tuesday.

Puzzle: Freestyle #20
Rating: XW-14A
Difficulty: Tough

 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.