Monday 26 December 2011

Themeless double-header

Hope your ho ho ho was hunky dory. A little early this week, since I've got this band swap thing going on tonight, and I imagine I'll be slaving away over a hot bass for most of the night. If you're in the Greater Regina Area Tuesday night, come check it out at the Exchange. All proceeds go to Charmichael Outreach, which is a great group based just down the street from me.

Puzzle-wise, we're bucking the trend once again here at Cross Nerd central: no "Best of 2011", "Worst of 2011", "Year in Review", or "2011 Obituaries" theme, just a themeless double header. I've got nothing against the aforementioned workhorse themes, but I'm not much for tradition at the best of times, and besides, those themes tend to come off as pseudo-themeless puzzles packed with modern names, buzz-words, and trends. Since I like to pack my themeless puzzles with modern names, buzz-words, and trends, well, you get the idea. I had planned to release just the 11x13 mini-themeless #1, but, as some of you may know, Dec. 21 was an important birthday, and I felt I should commemorate it (obviously belatedly, but with the holiday goings-on and a desire to keep my posts somewhat regular, I opted to hold off until today). The 11x11 mini-themeless #2 was actually the first of the mini series, which I made a month or so ago. Remarkably, 11-Across, which originally held 13-Across, which originally held POWERRANGER, admitted the celebratory entry nicely, and the surrounding fill actually improved. This was an audacious manoeuvre and I was lucky to pull it off, but I felt that the occasion would be fittingly commemorated by pointing out the celebrant's staying power, and running its age parallel to some very contemporary answer words seemed to me the best way to do so.

As for the construction, you may be wondering about the unusual sizes. Let me begin be telling all y'all n00bs out there that themeless puzzles are expected to be somewhat more "open" than themed puzzles, and packed with juicy entries; since there's no one overarching "aha" moment, as many entries as possible should be satisfying solves in themselves. Now, I rock this shit old-school (actually middle-school is probably more accurate), and construct with pencil and paper, using, Matt Ginsberg's clue database, and my own wordlist search utility to match letter patterns for long entries and difficult corners (although I did get a copy of Crossword Compiler for Christmas, and I'm excited to give it a try). Now the point I'm trying to make is that constructing a good, satisfying themeless is difficult, especially doing it the middle-school way, and I just don't have the time to turn out a 15x15 themeless in a week. Plus, I really like the 11x13 grid design in mt #1. It's admittedly unimpressive from a construction standpoint, as I copped out of the 9-letter triple stacks in the corners and the spanning seed entries (the ones crossing in the center) completely partition the grid into four, which lowers constraints considerably. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I will take an unremarkable grid layout over fugly fill any day of the week. I was able to cram into these two puzzles a ton of original long-entries without making any serious compromises. Expect more entries in the mini-themeless series.

tl;dr - small puzzles = snappier fill. Would construct again.

Share and enjoy the puzzles, have a safe and happy New Year's Eve, and I'll see you on the first Tuesday of 2012.

Puzzle: Mini Themeless #1 & #2
Metaphorical Difficulty: Entering your password on one of those laptop keyboards that have the weird '/' keys in front of Enter and Left-Shift (seriously, have you ever tried one of those?)
Rating: XW-14A
Download the PDF and PUZ files here, or solve or download the Across Lite puzzle and/or software from the Java app below.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Merry xwords

Welcome to week two! The first week was a lulu - out of nowhere a wild 600+ hits appeared - so a big thank you to all who stopped by. Since responses have been very favourable (that was your first hint to watch for Canadian spelling in the grids - haven't actually decided if I'll stick to one or the other in matters such as -or/-our in the grids), I'll keep posting.

For the puzzle this week, I was contemplating Christmas themes, but quickly discarded them for fear of offending. Then I realized that I'm more than happy to offend people (and I'm actually kind of hoping that that's what will bring some of you back every week), just not with denomination-specific themes. This one's considerably more nsfw than the first week's, but not too gratuitous. On a par with the wonderfully sassy Onion A.V. Club puzzles in terms of difficulty and content. Also, fwiw, a heap of musicians found their way in to this grid, but I think most of you will know them all.

If you're at all interested in construction, this is how it went down: with surprising difficulty, actually. Started with 5 theme options, but the entries were grid spanners and that just wasn't happening. Pared it down to 2 15s and 2 14s, which is high but not unprecendented, but the theme-crossers just weren't there. Was not thrilled about settling on 3 themers (although the title does offer a little more thematic robustness), but I'd far rather have a featherweight theme than fugly fill. Speaking of the ballast fill, it was a bit of a slog, but I'm super picky. Had a more or less complete, dense grid, and then decided to scrap it all and add the two long down answers. Both are entries on my shortlist, so I was happy they played nicely. I've done better, but there's no horrid crosswordese (I want to establish strict standards right off the bat) and there are some gems.

Share and enjoy the puzzle (but heed the rating), and I'll see you next Tuesday.

Puzzle: Hashtags
Metaphorical Difficulty: Christmas shopping for the hipster on your list ("it's the thought that counts" is far too mainstream to be of any comfort)
Rating: XW-MA
Download the PDF and PUZ files here, or solve or download the Across Lite puzzle and/or software from the Java app below.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Guerrilla Crosswording

UPDATE: The project was a smashing success. The grids were nearly all filled (and I saw a lot of different handwriting), and a metric fuckton of pagehits from mobile devices rolled in, thanks to the QR codes on the clue sheets. Pics and further thoughts to follow...

You'd do well to expect surprises round these parts. A new puzzle will still drop next Tuesday, right on schedule, but I've got a blog-promo project on the go that I'm too stoked about to forego an interim post.

If any of my fellow Reginans have peeped the newly renovated Lab Cafe at the UofR, you'll have surely noticed the ginormous (expect that word in a puzzle soon) Sudoko boards on the wall. Now, I think that's a great idea, but I'm not much of a Sudoko guy, so I couldn't stop my mind from wandering in the direction of alternative uses of those boards. Thusly, guerrilla crosswording was conceived. To kick off a trend that I hope will sweep the nation (and to promote the site), I'm going to be swooping in under the cover of dark at the ungodly hour of 7am on Thursday to comandeer all 3 boards for my own cruciverbal ends. For the occassion, I've prepared 3 spiffy 9x9 puzzles, tailored to the campus crowd and of graduated difficulty (to suit the boards labeled 'easy' 'medium' and 'hard'). On a personal note, this was also a great exercise for me, as designing grids to suit a particular market is an important skill for the budding constructor. Also, setting the difficulty through cluing is a real weak spot for me, so this presented itself as a tidy little etude.

If you're around the UofR campus on Thursday, stop in to the Lab Cafe, throw a couple answers on the guerrilla grids, and snap a few pics while you're there. Everyone who sends me a picture of themselves or others solving the puzzles will receive one piece of free swag (in the style of BEQ, likely something from my place that I don't want anymore), delivered right to your door. If you prove yourself loyal to the cause by interfering with any staff that try to remove the grids, I'll buy you lunch (I may limit the number of lunches I buy, if there is a lot of response).

Can't make it? I got you covered - all 3 puzzles available below. (**NOTE: the 'easy' puzzle is easy partly because of the inclusion of local trivia. Other solvers may find it rather difficult).

Metaphorical Difficulty: Varies
Rating: XW-MA

Download PDFs (all 3 in a ZIP file) here

Download PUZ files (all 4 posted so far on this site - sorry I didn't have this available earlier, but remember you can download the .puz files through the Java applets) here

Sunday 11 December 2011

Oh hai

I'm glad you're here. I'll be posting a new -FREE- crossword puzzle every Tuesday morning, and ranting and raving about any and all things crossword-related. Probably not too many reviews - Rex and Amy & her posse have that department pretty much cornered - but I'll refer you to particularly good puzzles (maybe a "week in review" sort of thing). Mostly, I'll be posting about construction and breaking into the market. I'm new to the game (just started in Sept), so I'm learning as I go. I've got submissions into the NYT (not holding my breath, though), but I'd rather be proactive.

As for the puzzles, expect anything: themed, themeless, irregular shapes and sizes, diagramless even(!), Canadian Content, bad words, jabs at hipsters, crunk references, Internet memes, and generally things that your die-hard USA Today-solving grandmother won't like.

Today's puzzle is a standard daily-sized (15x15) themed offering. New to puzzles? This one's not too tough, but check out my "For N00bs" primer page from the tabs at the top.

If you enjoy it, share it, tell your friends and family (makes a great cheap xmas gift - just sayin'), tweet about it, print it out and do it on the bus with a shit-eating grin on your face, pay it forward, go tell it on the mountain, and generally spread the word.

One last thing: feel free to discuss the answers in the comments. They're hidden from the main page.

Puzzle: Greetings and Salutations
Metaphorical Difficulty: playing frisbee with a dog who doesn't always bring it back
Rating: XW-PG13, for mild suggestive language
Print the pdf here, solve or download the Across Lite puzzle and/or software from the Java app below.