Tuesday 15 May 2012

Size Matters Not

In case you haven't noticed, I'm all about the themeless puzzles of unconvential size. In fact, though I've constructed a few, I've yet to run a 15x15 themeless on this site. While I will concede that themes may best be tightened and rendered elegant under certain constraints and adherence to tradition, I feel that themeless grids should be made to fit the entries, as the entries are their raison d'etre. Of course, in general, the placement of black squares in themelesses of any size, conventional or not, is determined at least somewhat by the entries. My point, though, is that with so many great potential entries with 16+ letters (big entries need lovin too), why limit yourself? The only real issue I can see with this is that maybe either the allotted print area or the solving software will not allow for oblong and/or large grids. The print argument I can understand, but it's becoming less and less of an issue as more and more electronic-only puzzle markets are popping up. As for the solving software argument, to my knowledge if you're using any of the common solving programs then you don't have to worry (until you get to ludicrous dimensions like T Campbell's Ubercross C-Spot. As an aside, I had the pleasure of meeting him at the ACPT and having an interesting discussion about the challenges of constructing such a monster. That bitch has NO repeated words!).

I guess maybe if you're a speed solver you want puzzle formats to be consistent so that you can meaningfully compare times. Then again, themelesses run the gamut from around 72 to 52 words anyway (which is a huge difference if you're just considering the number of clues to parse), and solving a puzzle with 3 triple-stacks is quite different from solving a clover-leaf-style grid with mostly 6-7 letter entries, even if their word counts are identical. Plus, the speed demons will still solve each one in 5 minutes and the universe will be at peace. In a similar vein, since the typical metrics of block and word count kind of go out the window when dealing with grids of strange dimensions, editors would have to come up with new limits for acceptable grids. That's the nice thing about this site, though: I don't have an editor (which admittedly sucks sometimes), and I can construct whatever I want. I don't really have any extra time to prepare submissions for major markets, but having this sort of freedom does make up for it. By the same token, I've played around a bit with asymmetrical themelesses. Again, it's nice to have the freedom to be able to make the grid accommodate the seed entries you want, but on the other hand, as any artist will tell you, working with fewer constraints requires more creativity. I have a hard enough time deciding on the best possible fill as it is, so in the interests of actually completing a puzzle every week I tend to favour having symmetry constrain my entries somewhat. Plus, I do actually value grids that are pleasing to the eye (which mine rarely are, but anyway...), and though asymmetrical grids can obviously be nice to look at (recall Liz Gorski's Guggenheim gem from 2009), a good asymmetrical grid therefore still imposes constraints.

Today's themeless is, true to form, a 19x13. Had a few 19-letter entries laying around that needed a home (although I ended up scrapping most of them and finding new ones during the construction process), and 13 was a nice height that didn't force the layout too much (smaller puzzles are actually tougher sometimes, since forbidding 3-letter entries and grid partitioning really limits your black square placement as the grid shrinks), but also kept the number of clues I had to write at a manageable number. I would have liked to have a couple fewer black squares and short answers (there are a bunch of 9s and a handful of 6-8s, but there are 40 4-letter entries!), but at the same time I'm sure the fill wouldn't have turned out so clean were that the case. It's not outstanding as it is, but there's nothing too atrocious in there. I was happy that at least one of the four corner stacks has a CAP quotient (Crosswordese, abbrevs., and partials - thanks to pannonica for that) of exactly zero. Enjoy!

More words, crossed and otherwise, next Tuesday.

Puzzle: Themeless #11
Rating: XW-PG
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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