Monday 2 January 2012

Welcome to the Future

Let me start off with big ups to Amy at Crossword Fiend for the front page referral. I got in touch with her last week and asked her to surreptitiously throw a link up on her back pages, so the front page hype was a nice surprise. That brought in a lot of new solvers, and a lot of valuable feedback. Mostly, people were gung-ho about the puzzles but hated the look of the site. I aim to please, so the black-on-white and "teenage diary" font are gone forever. When I have a little time I'll spruce the place up a little beyond the current "default" look-and-feel, but for the time being I just want a functional and legible site. Thanks for the honest feedback, folks, and I hope I didn't scare anyone off for good.

The holiday season has been a hoot and a half. Got the fam-damily together, caught up with all my friends, celebrated my dad's 60th birthday (somewhat to his chagrin, but he seemed to be having fun as the night went on), and played gigs on Friday and Saturday night. Speaking of which, Saturday night's performance allowed me the unique opportunity to sit in with my own band. Had our flaky drummer bail a day before the show, and couldn't find a last-minute fill-in (it was NYE, after all). To improve our chances of rounding out the band, I offered to sit in on drums if we could find a replacement bass player instead. The dude we found turned out to be unreal (when I asked him if he knew all of the 50s/60s/70s cover tunes we do, his response was "I played all these songs before they were famous"), and I think the band actually sounded better than it ever did with our usual line-up (oh, and we had a new lead guitarist as well). Now, you big city folks may not understand, but for me performing over-played cover songs for a bunch of old sots in a small-town country bar is a good night out. If you play well, you'll never have a more appreciative audience, and if you suck, you'll never have to see those people again.

Another themed puzzle this week. I'm thinking of alternating themed and themeless, but not as a rule; at any rate there will be another themeless next week with 90% certainty. A couple firsts for me here: first puzzle with stacked theme entries, and the first one I've made using Crossword Compiler. Stacked themes have always terrified me, and this was certainly not my go-to grid choice. However, I was pretty attached to all of the long-ish entries, and after trying a heap of other layouts, this one just worked the best, and the stack crossers aren't TOO godawful (ok, there are a few "ouch!" entries in there that the constructor in me isn't thrilled about, but from a solver's perspective everything should be fair and gettable). Actually, I should clarify one thing: for me the pride of losing my stack-theme v-card is offset by my realization that I actually just found the grid that suits my one and only construction trick. I need grids where the short entries are forced by the givens, but where entire large sections are cordoned off and constraint-free and the long supporting fill is open for whatever vulgarity/buzz-word I want to throw in. That's all the chops I got, right there. I've made it my NY resolution to attempt a more connected, homogeneous, "pudding"-style grid at some point, but don't hold your breath. As for the use of Crossword Compiler, I'll first say that I understand where the mentors, sages, gurus, and such on the cru forums are coming from when they dissuade new constructors from a reliance on auto-fill, and I'm awfully glad that I started without such a crutch. To get the fill I wanted, I found myself using CC to construct in exactly the same way I did without it, just faster. That is, each entry is still handpicked, using regular-expression matching to find options I hadn't considered. CC allowed my to work on the final copy from the get-go, alleviating the need for preparing the puzzle in an idiosyncratic and intermediate paper form before whipping up the final electronic formats, which saved a bunch of time. Other than that, business as usual. FWIW, that's my CC experience. The role of software construction-aids is a topic of endless debate in the community, and I don't think I have anything new to contribute, so I'll leave it at that.

Also, getting rid of the difficulty rating, because metaphors aren't my strong suit and I try to make all the puzzles about the same anyway.

Share and enjoy; new puzzle next Tuesday.

Puzzle: A Load of Bs
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.

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