Friday 26 December 2014

Trigger Warning

Happy holidays everybody. I posted a pretty tough meta puzzle last week, and between then and yesterday morning 21 answers were submitted for the Anny Get Your Gun meta contest puzzle; 19 of them were correct. If you're wondering about the intended answer, head over to the Meta Solutions page.

I randomly selected one of the correct entries, and it turned out to belong to Dominick Talvacchio. You'll recall that I was offering a 2015 indie puzzle subscription as a prize; Dominick made a wise choice (I'm pretty there isn't an unwise one though) and opted for a subscription to Matt Gaffney's Weekly Crossword Contest. Congrats to Dominick and all solvers, and thanks to everyone for taking part! I'm working on another meta right now and I should have it up in the next week or so. Sorry, I work a lot slower now than I used to.

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Present Arms

Contest time at the Cross Nerd. Get the meta answer in to me (peter.bananarchy at gmail) by Christmas morning (12:01am CST, Dec 25, 2014, specifically). Despite the timing, though, the meta and puzzle have nothing to do with the holiday season, and may even be downright un-christmas-y. I came up with the idea and wrote the puzzle a little while ago, but just now got around to finishing up the cluing and putting the finishing touches on it. Anyway, hope you have some fun with it. It's about a week 2.5 or 3 on the MGWCC scale, if that means anything to you, and the puzzle itself is probably in the range of a Thursday NYT.

Oh yeah, and the prizes. One randomly selected entrant with the correct answer will receive their choice of one 2015 indie crossword subscription. What would you like to solve? Tough-as-nails themed and themeless by top-tier constructors and edited by one of the brightest in the business? Get the Fireball. Clever and intricate and beautiful meta puzzles? Go with Matt Gaffney's Weekly Crossword Contest. Hip and sassy offerings of the highest quality with surprise after surprise (random contests, crazy variants, collabs with celebs, etc)? American Values is your jam. Easyish and approachable but nevertheless solid and lively? Dig AriesXWord. Or maybe you don't want a crossword at all. Then check out some of the most elegant and challenging Rows Gardens you'll see anywhere, also by Aries aka Andrew Ries. Am I missing anyone?

Good luck, and check back here on the 25th for the answer and announcement of the winner. And just fyi, I've got a few more metas in the works, so keep your eyes peeled in the new year.

Lastly, don't forget to consider submitting a puzzle for the Indie 500 if you haven't already. We've had a number of submissions thrown our way and we're having trouble resisting the urge to solve them all. The deadline is Jan 15; lots of time for you, but way too much time for us!

Oh, just one more thing, I swear. See that knock-out clue for 15-Across? All Erik Agard. Mofo's a cluing wizard.

More words, crossed and otherwise, on xmas.

Anny Get Your Gun
The meta answer is a firearms manufacturer.


Sunday 16 November 2014

Show Us What Ya Got

We're now taking submissions for the Indie 500 tournament! The 5 organizers (Andy, Erik, Evan, Neville, and myself) will each write a puzzle, but the sixth one will be by one of you. We're open to pretty much anything, but the only caveat is that you must be suitably indie. Our idea of indie is explained in more detail over at the tournament site. Hit up the SUBMIT page for all the info. And be sure to drop us a line on the CONTACT page if you haven't already; we'll add your name to the mailing list and keep you up to date.

Got another vowelless for you today. As always, two versions are available: one with answer lengths given and one without. And Y is not a part of any answer. Enjoy!

More words, crossed and otherwise, whenever I get around to it.

PDF (with answer lengths)
PUZ (with answer lengths)
PDF (no hints)
PUZ (no hints)
Full Answers

Wednesday 22 October 2014

I collaborated with Erik Agard on his latest freestyle puzzle. Before you go thinking that I somehow acquired a sense of humour since we last spoke, I should tell you that EA wrote all of the clues. Dude is a cluing savant. In fact, he filled most of the grid, too, which was surely no mean feat. I'm struggling to remember what I actually did on this puzzle. I can't even take credit for title. Anyway, enjoy!

Friday 15 August 2014

Writing to you from beautiful and scenic Denver, Colorado, and I'm about to head out to sample the local libations so I'll keep this brief. Been a while since I've had a puzzle for you, but I figured I should throw something up here since I mentioned the site (and my "voice" or whatever) in my constructor's notes for the Sat NYT. Bit saucier, this one; I'll understand if we can't be friends anymore.

More words, crossed and otherwise, sometime later on...

Puzzle: Freestyle #36

Sunday 20 July 2014

So you may have noticed that nothing's been happening here. I really should have posted something sooner, but then I just didn't. Anyway, I've been busy lately with a lot of stuff that I'm really excited about, but unfortunately writing puzzles for this blog is not one of them. It's something I still enjoy doing, but I've got a lot of other priorities at the moment and just can't justify busting my ass to stick to the regular schedule. I really don't like to rush and cut corners on these puzzles either. I've decided to continue the Cross Nerd puzzles on an aperiodic when-I-feel-like-it schedule a la Todd McClary's Unthemely series. I was working on a large freestyle several weeks ago that I'll post soon, once I find some time to write the rest of the clues. Sign up for the Google Group to have the puzzles emailed to you whenever they're ready. Otherwise, check back now and again and there may be something new here. Ciao for now!

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Slipping and Sliding

A thousand apologies, but no puzzle this week. I'll try to get one up by the weekend, but no guarantees. Reasons include: surprise road trip to the twin cities over the weekend, crazy week at work, gig on Friday, long weekend and possible camping this weekend, and summer in general. Luckily, my man Erik Agard has you covered with a three-puzzle meta suite.

Thanks to the Minnesota puzzle crew for a very enjoyable Sunday afternoon nerd-out and tournament, and special thanks to the wonderful Andrew Ries for putting us up and putting up with us after a long day's drive on Friday night. The puzzles at the tournament were all top-notch, and the people were even better. I particularly enjoyed the one by Andy Kravis and the final themeless punisher by Victor Barocas. You can purchase all 7 puzzles for only $5 here:

Since the schedule here is so unpredictable, you might want to consider joining the Google group by clicking on the link in the menu to the right. That way you'll never miss a puzzle.

More words soon...

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Puff Puff? Pass

I didn't quite finish the puzzle last night, so I'm posting this on my lunch break. I'll try to keep it brief.

I was almost completely finished this puzzle a few days early this week, actually, save for a few clues. A few entries in each puzzle always scream out for a bit of devious wordplay, and I like to let those simmer a bit in the old brainpan to minimize the chances of missing a perfect cluing opportunity. In the end, I didn't come up with anything too terribly clever for this puzzle, but I'm still glad I didn't rush it and overall I suppose I'm happy with how it turned out.

Also, I've been smoke-free for one week and I couldn't be happier about it. 10/10, would recommend. I'd like to say I was motivated by health concerns, or financial concerns, or even aromatic concerns, but, while these were certainly concerns of mine, it was a new romantic interest that finally pushed me past the tipping point. Ladies love the buttless chaps, after all.

Oh, and lastly this looks cool so I think I'll attend and you should too. Still need to finalize plans with my travel companion, but the outlook is very good.

More words, crossed and otherwise, two weeks hence.

Puzzle: Freestyle #35

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Here, There Be Giants

Been a while since I've posted a vowelless, so here's a vowelless for you. For whatever reason, I'm in a mood to talk shop, so here's how this one was made:

As you may know, I'm a fan of classic video games. I've recently gotten back into the Mario series (started working on my Super Mario World speedrunning strats just this week), and I was inspired by world 4, "Big Island" (or "Giant World" as we used to call it), from Super Mario Bros. 3. The gimmick there was that the enemies and objects in the environment were doubled in size. As far as I can tell, they simply took the sprites for the koopas, blocks, pipes, clouds, etc. and blew them up so that each pixel became a 2x2 block of pixels. I thought that that would be cool to do in a crossword, so I started playing around and sketching out typical arrangements of black squares using 2x2 blocks where there would normally be single blocks. Well, it turns out that your standard 15x15 grid (or 16x16 grid, in the case of this week's puzzle) doesn't allow for too many different arrangements in that style. Either there's too much white space or 2-letter entries are forced. However, one particular layout seemed like it would be fillable as a vowelless at least: a 2x4 "finger" jutting out perpendicular to each edge, each with a diagonally offset 2x2 block on the end. I liked the look of it, so I went to work on the fill. After a proof-of-concept fill or two (I always throw a couple seeds in and hit autofill at first just to make sure that the thing is fillable at all) I went to work finding eight good entries, or at least promising stubs, for the central region, since that was the most constrained area and I knew I wouldn't be able to change much in there once I had a couple of corners filled. Playing around with more proof-of-concept fills for each corner in turn, I noticed that pretty much any pair of long entries I had running into them allowed for at least a few possibilities even without the thick fingers of black squares. So, I said to hell with the "Giant World" idea and slimmed down those bands of black squares (turning the already fearsome 4x10 corners into 4x10+an 8). From there, finding the optimal fills for the corners was academic (i.e. I brainstormed/searched possibilities for entries based on stubs, threw a few in as seeds and threw the rest into my wordlist, examined all fills available given my list, and picked the ones I liked the best, occasionally noticing and filling in absences in my wordlist. Sorry to take all the magic out of it).

My first seed was 8-down (well, it was ?-across but I flipped the grid halfway through to fill what were the vertical corners. The hardest part of constructing vowelless grids is figuring out and remembering what the hell each crazy string of consonants actually represents, and having the longest entries read horizontal makes it a bit easier, I find. I also wrote a handy script that maps the vowelless entries -which may include wildcards- to any corresponding full entries, but it's faster if I can do it by sight). It's not only something that interests me, but also an example of one of my favourite types of vowelless entry: while the phrase itself may be unfamiliar to most solvers, the thing it refers to will be familiar to most, and it can be parsed out one word at a time with the right clue. And plus, it might be kind of cool to learn that that thing with which you probably have some experience is indeed a capital-T Thing with an accepted name and everything. Trivia clues are a cornerstone of crosswords, but they generally don't work as well in vowellesses, at least in their traditional form of [Some interesting bit of trivia that nobody knows] cluing THE SUBJECT OF THE TRIVIA. In my experience of solving vowellesses, an unknown entry is actually easier to figure out than a known entry with an obtuse clue, so I prefer the reverse trivia clue, which has the form [A description of something that you're familiar with but hadn't thought much about] cluing THE ACTUAL NAME FOR THAT THING WHICH YOU PROBABLY DIDN'T KNOW BUT IS MADE UP OF COMMON AND GUESSABLE WORDS.

All of that said, I hope you find the puzzle enjoyable and not too unsolvable, because otherwise it will be eminently obvious that I'm out to lunch here.

More words, crossed and otherwise, in two weeks.

Oh, and as usual, Y is not a part of any answer.

Puzzle: Vowelless #11
PDF (with full answer enumerations - EASIER)
PUZ (with full answer enumerations - EASIER)
PDF (without enumerations - HARDER)
PUZ (without enumerations - HARDER)

Full Answers

Wednesday 14 May 2014

I Am The Walrus?

New puzzle day!

...however, I've decided to scale back operations a bit here. Beginning this week, I'll be posting puzzles fortnightly rather than weekly. Join the Google Group if you'd like to have the puzzles mailed out to you. Link to the right, or right here, I guess. I hope you don't mind. I've simply got too many things on the go at the moment, and summer is fast approaching to boot. I'm raising my standards for these puzzles all the time, and consequently it takes me a lot longer to write them. Well, it takes a little longer, but I agonize over picky little details, the validity of certain answers, whether or not I've gone too far with a clue, etc. In the end I'm still rarely completely happy with the puzzles, but I then probably never would be. Point is, this all adds up to more time than I generally have/want to devote to constructing as of late, so fortnightly it is.

This weekend, a long one for us, I'll be attending my first ever Lebowski Fest. It'll likely be a small one, but should be a hoot. Plus, looking at list of attendees on the Facebook event, it turns out I have more Achievers in my circle of friends than I realized, so I should be in good company. Sadly, though, two of my closest Lebowski-loving compadres, Drew and, believe it or not, Donnie, are out of town. Anyway, I just heard about it and I need to whip up a costume toot suite. I've got the hair and the build for Jesus, but no purple leisure suit, alas. Maybe Smokey? Who else has long hair in the movie? If I didn't have hair at all I'd definitely have to go as Knox Harrington, the video artist.

Anyway, today's puzzle is tough as nails. Tried to go Newsday Stumper hard on this one; see how you make out. I was having some fun with the cluing...maybe too much fun in some cases. Hope it's at least fair.

More words, crossed and otherwise, in two weeks.

Puzzle: Freestyle #34

Tuesday 6 May 2014

It's All Been Done

Well, I've had a full two weeks, and what do I have to show for it? Nothing. At least on the crossword front. Been very busy, in fact, with a number of other undertakings, large and small. Unfortunately, I can't really talk about the puzzle-related ones just yet, but all will be revealed soon. Anyway, it all adds up to no new puzzle this week, but instead of just leaving you with resounding disappointment and a short tease of a write-up I figured I'd dig one out of the archives for you. I know that many of you weren't around for the first incarnation of The Cross Nerd, back in 2011/2012, so I feel reasonably fine running an oldie but a goodie for y'all. Actually, this one was near the end of that first run. I was too embarrassed to post some of the earlier ones, but this one is stylistically and technically similar to my current offerings.

Oh, and speaking of back in the day, shout-outs to scientist, Facebook trivia guru, and Cross Nerd OG Brandon Hensley for a delightful and kooky Thursday NYT puzzle last week (and his NYT debut!). Keep it up, Brandon!

I'll definitely be back next week with a new puzzle (I had one about half-done for this week, but don't have a lot of time to complete and polish it up), although I am giving some serious thought to ramping down to a fortnightly schedule over the summer. What do you think?

More words, crossed and otherwise, next week.

Puzzle: Freestyle #21

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Testing, testing

Busy times here at Cross Nerd HQ. Final exam on Monday for which I'm woefully under-prepared, a gig with a new band on Friday for which we're woefully under-prepared, and moving day on Wednesday for which... well, you get the idea. Luckily some of my old crap is still in boxes from the last time I moved. My new crap maybe I'll just throw out. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I probably won't be posting a puzzle next week. You might have noticed that these posts having been getting farther and farther from their original Tuesday morning timeslot with every passing week. Hopefully I can catch up with this short break. Actually, I'm fine with posting sometime around the middle of the week and not worrying too much about a fixed schedule, but I do worry about the quality suffering. Last week's puzzle contained a few grievous errors and I may have missed the mark a bit with the cluing. A few very fine solvers found it tougher than usual and a little lackluster so I've got to up my game.

But not this week! A few unfortunate crossings and some substandard fill in this one, I'm afraid, although I think there's some fun stuff in there too. Plus, there's a bit of a mini theme going on. I wanted to flesh it out into a full theme, but I couldn't think of two more tight answers (had one that kind of worked, though). Anyway, see what you think.

More words, crossed and otherwise, in two weeks.

Puzzle: Freestyle #33

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Watch Rick and Morty's a darn good show, I've recently learned. Concluded binge-watching the 11-episode run while making the grid for this puzzle. Funny stuff and it starts to wade in some heavier and darker waters later in the season. Highly recommended.

Just another vowelless this week. Trying to make the clues more fair and straight-forward and the grid more diabolical and deceptive than the last as always. Inspired by all the sci-fi cartoons, I was thinking of trying out some alternate dimensions for this puzzle. However, I remembered that Erik Agard has been approaching his goal of a sub-10 solve on these (ridic!) and I'd hate to mess with his progress. So 15x15 it is. Regular symmetry because I'm lazy.

You know the drill: no Y in any answer.

More words, crossed and otherwise, next week.

UPDATE: the original files I posted had a few errors. They've since been corrected and reposted. Carry on.

Puzzle: Vowelless #10
PDF (no hints)
PUZ (no hints)
PDF (with lengths - easier)
PUZ (with lengths - easier)

Full Answers

Wednesday 9 April 2014


Finally got this puzzle done! Wrestled with this grid for a long time, and made some large-scale last-minute changes to the bottom half yesterday. Kind of got burnt out cluing this one and wasn't feeling as inspired as I sometimes am, so forgive me if you find it a little dry and maybe on the easy side. The pdf comes in two flavours today: large print 2 pages and small print 1 page.

Oh, and this one has nothing to do with castles or chess, just a plain old freestyle.

More words, crossed and otherwise, next week.

Puzzle: Freestyle #32
PDF (one page)
PDF (two pages)

Thursday 3 April 2014

You're still here?

Sorry for the delay, folks. If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm ok with having a bit of a flexible schedule here, but I still don't like to let things get too out of control. Seems that life keeps wanting to intervene, as of late, so I hope you'll bear with me. 

Gearing up for a busy weekend of music: 3 gigs in 3 days, with 2 different bands. Two local gigs, including the debut of my latest project, a really loud trio called Kafkaless, and one show just south of the border in Plentywood, Montana which I know distressingly little about. Oh well, should be fun. I haven't been to Plentywood for years, but I always have a great time there so it'll be nice to get back. Objectively it's not much to write home about, but when you live in southern Saskatchewan it's a wonderland of cheap beer, smokes, and seedy hotel rooms just a hop skip and a border crossing away. True story: 5 of us went down there for a bachelor party many moons ago and bought a round for the whole bar because liquor was like 1/6th the price we were used to paying in Regina. I think we each spent under $20, and it was almost certainly the only thing that kept us long-haired nerds from getting roughed up by drunken hicks.

The puzzle that I planned to use this week still isn't finished since it ended up getting quite large (I'll run it next week). Instead, I dusted off this one that I started a while back and finished it up. I wasn't too excited about the grid at first, which is why I had shelved it, but it's ok I guess, and I tried to spice it up with some devilish cluing. Speaking of which, if you want to see an actual quality themeless puzzle, check out Evan Birnholz's latest offering. One of the smoothest grids I've seen in a long time (seriously, it's Berry smooth), yet with no shortage of awesome shit. Seriously, dude's got chops.

One more thing: only after this grid was filled and partially clued did I realize that there's another 12-letter entry that could use more-or-less the same clue (or at least most of the same clue words) as 14-down. Might've made a good symmetrical mini-theme, but to be honest you might start to wonder about me if I ran a mini-theme like that. Maybe you wonder about me as it is, I dunno.

More words, crossed and otherwise, next week.

Puzzle: Freestyle #31

Difficulty: Harder than usual, I think

Tuesday 1 April 2014


Post and puzzle will be up tomorrow evening. Sorry for the delay, grid got out of hand this week. See you then.

Wednesday 26 March 2014


Should be sleeping right now, so just a puzzle and no write-up this week.

More (many more) words, crossed and otherwise, next week.

Update: I should have at least mentioned the origin of this week's grid. Shout-outs to Frank Longo for his astonishingly wide open Fireball themeless last week. An amazing feat of construction. I started with the intention of using the exact same grid because filling it with vowelless entries seemed like a tough yet doable challenge. I was able to autofill it starting with a few seeds as a proof-of-concept, but it wasn't giving me enough room to play once I started hand-filling, so I added a few extra black squares to lower the constraints. And now you know the rest of the story...

Puzzle: Vowelless #9 (NOTE: as always, Y is not a part of any answer)
PDF (no hints - harder)
PUZ (no hints - harder)
PDF (with full answer lengths given - easier)
PUZ (with full answer lengths given - easier)

Full Answers

Tuesday 18 March 2014


Sorry about the skipped week there. I had a freestyle mostly finished, but didn't have quite enough time to devote to polishing it to my standards. The wonderful feedback I've received from y'all has really encouraged me to up my game, but as a result I spend much much longer on each puzzle because I hate to have an off week. Excuses, excuses.

In other news, although I totally forgot about pi day last friday, the topic came up at work this morning and I ended up betting my colleague that I could memorize and recite pi to 1000 digits by next week. I wasn't sure at first if I could get even remotely close, but over lunch I started brainstorming various possible approaches and it seems eminently doable. My psychology education finally paid off, in fact, and I recalled the method of loci (which is similar to Sherlock Holmes' memory palace technique). And just when you thought this post couldn't get any nerdier (you're reading a crossword blog, what did you expect?), I figured that the best thing to map the digits to would be the Super Metroid any% speedrun route, since I've been drilling it for the last few weeks. It turned out to be kind of fun, actually, trying to identify patterns in the sequence of digits and then thinking up meaningful associations to the game map. Tying individual numbers to the number of enemies or platforms in a room, say, or imagining that alternating strings like 323 or 3993 could represent contours in the terrain or patterns of movement around obstacles. Seems to be working: after only about half an hour I already had 150 digits down pat, and I'm up to 250 now. Victory is mine.

Anyway, that has nothing to do with today's puzzle, which is just another freestyle. Filling it was somewhat difficult, as evidenced by the abundance of cheater ("helper") squares. I prefer the look of a grid with very few black squares, but beyond that I don't actually care about cheaters if they improve the fill significantly, as they did in this case. Hope you feel the same.

More words, crossed and otherwise, next week.

Puzzle: Freestyle #30

Wednesday 12 March 2014

Oh btw...

...did I mention that there won't be a puzzle this week? Sorry about that. With the trip last week and the tournament over the weekend I haven't had time to put anything together. We'll be back to our regular schedule next week.

Nice to meet up with many Cross Nerd solvers over the weekend. Had a nice lunch with Alex Jeffrey and Ken Crowell (jefe and oeuftete, as they're known here), got a much-needed lesson in cryptics from Alex, talked shop with Evan Birnholz, talked winter sports with Howard Barkin (who nabbed an impressive third place; go Howard!), and had some laughs with Erik Agard. Had many brief encounters with many others and met a ton of new people as well. Congrats to all of you, who are all much smarter than I am and placed much higher.

See you next week!

Tuesday 4 March 2014

No Vowels Til Brooklyn

I think I also used a variation of the Beastie's classic for my post for the week of the 2012 ACPT. Real original. By the way, if any of my FB friends were wondering about the story behind my profile pic (you probably weren't, but humour me): it was taken during a performance of "No Sleep Til Brooklyn" at the 2013 Regina Band Swap and one my rare moments at the mic. I'm shouting one of the five syllables of the shout chorus, but I'm not sure which. Band Swap is a super cool event where about 35 musicians from the local scene get assigned randomly to quintets (with hardly any consideration given to the instrumentation) and are given 24 hours to learn and then perform a 20 minute set of randomly-selected cover songs. All ticket sales go to charity and the several-hundred person venue has sold out every time. I've participated in every Band Swap to date, and it's one of the highlights of my year. New musical relationships always arise, and you discover talents you never thought you had. My bands have played, among others, "Mambo #5", The Pixies' "Where Is My Mind", "The Weight", Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi", Rihanna/Calvin Harris' "Hopeless Place", Radiohead's "Creep", and "The Log Driver's Waltz" (Canadian readers will know what I mean).

Anyway, moving right along, there's a big event this weekend and I'll be there. Come say hi! Solvers of the special ACPT puzzle I wrote last year will know that I'm tall, have long hair and a soul patch, and wear glasses. Now you know too. Also, I'll be wearing a name tag that says "Bad Motherfucker" (actually they wouldn't print that for me, so it will say "Peter Broda").

Lastly, this week's puzzle. Return to form this week with another vowelless. Big clusters of black squares in this one, but still plenty wide-open in true vwllss fashion. I started by putting together the top stack in a 14x14 grid. I was fully prepared to throw symmetry out the window for this one, as it seemed unlikely I'd be able to make a fillable grid pattern given the constraints on the black squares terminating some of the down crossers. However, I found that putting the top stack into a 15x15 (which explains the black bars on the NE and SW sides) opened things up enough that I had few constraints in the bottom half. However, after searching through the hundreds of possibilities for the bottom stack and picking my favourites, I found that I needed to tighten the center a bit by adding a bunch of cheaters to get something resembling a clean fill, which explains the thick staircase pattern. In short, this puzzle, like so many before it, was brought to you by a lot of dumb luck, computational firepower, and hours of mucking about without a clue what I'm doing.

That's all for now. I'm at a hostel in Montreal at the moment, and heading out to eat a poutine and see some live jazz in a few minutes (those may be stereotypical things to do but that's literally what I'm going to do), so I'll leave it at that. Super excited to catch up with my cruciverbal friends this weekend and hopefully meet a bunch of new solvers. I'll be at the bar any time I'm not solving.

More words, slurred and otherwise, this weekend.

NOTE: As always, Y is not a part of any answer

Puzzle: Vowelless #8
PDF (no hints - harder)
PUZ (no hints - harder)
PDF (with full answer lengths given - easier)
PUZ (with full answer lengths given - easier)
Full Answers

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Adventure Time

Flying out to our (well, my) nation's capital on Saturday. Visiting a few friends in Ottawa, including a person who didn't exist when I was last there, and then off to bum around Montreal for a few days. Hopping a train to NYC on Thursday (because I've been late for the ACPT and cru dinner every year so far through no fault of my own), and then it's game on. I was a judge last year, which was fun, but I'll be competing this year, so you are all now officially my sworn enemies. Amazingly enough, since I rolled in 45 minutes late (I'd like to blame it on the time change but that had nothing to do with it) reeking like booze for the Sunday morning scoring session, they asked me back again this year, but I had to politely decline in favour of seeing how I've improved as a solver over the last two years. In 2012 I bagged an unremarkable 331st place finish, and I like to think that since then I've gotten better at solving than I have dumber in general. Only time will tell. Actually, speaking of time, I'm going to be taking a bit more of it on each puzzle this go-round. It turns out that I misunderstood or just didn't think about the scoring last time, and I raced to finish each puzzle at the expense of accuracy. I had pretty good times, mind you, but I made a lot of stupid little mistakes that cost me dearly. I'm hopeful that a more sensible strategy will help me rack up a few more points. Plus, I've hardly been solving at all in the last little while, so I'm a bit rusty and pushing myself to whiz through the grids is not going to end pretty.

For the second week in a row, I have for you a puzzle that I don't really think represents my typical style very well. It's a grid I filled some time ago with the intention of submitting it somewhere classy. The fill, while problem-free, imo, is decidedly non-risque. I'm pretty happy with some of the clues, though, so there's that. Anyway, I'm officially on holidays now and a midterm and a few gigs that were demanding a lot of prep time are out of the way, so I've got no excuse to step my game up for next week. Plus, I want to have something I'm proud to show off at the ACPT (I plan to have a stack of print copies to give out). Since I'll be on the road and not really sure where I'll be and when, the puzzle might go up a few days late, closer to the tournament. Don't fret, it'll be here.

More words, crossed and otherwise, next week.

Puzzle: Freestyle #29

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Sequence Breaking

I'll be straight up about today's puzzle: I dug it out of the ever-growing rejects pile. I haven't submitted anything in months, but I had a real cold streak last year where like 10 puzzles in a row got rejected. To be honest, it took a lot of the fun out of constructing for me, which partly contributed to my decision to revive the old blog here. I still get some negative/constructive feedback here which is always very welcome, but it's more than balanced by hearing about the enjoyment solvers get out of the puzzles. And I don't have to wait 6 months.

Anyway, things are still pretty hectic around Cross Nerd HQ, despite it being a long weekend in honour of...what again? Oh yeah, "family day" or some such nonsense.

Valentine's gig on friday which was fun. Actually, I was super nervous and in way over my head. It was a jazz gig with a fantastic vocalist by the name of Kaitlyn Semple (even has her own IMDB page!) and a cookin band including her old man Jack (whose no slouch on the 6-string, to put it modestly). Now, I love jazz, but I'm a hack when it comes to playing it. Not sure how I ended up on the bill for this Regina Jazz Society concert (needed to provide head shots and bios and everything), but I was sweating it in the days leading up. Went better than expected in the end, though, so I promptly got drunk.

Sunday found me at the curling rink, for, shamefully, my first real curling experience. Curling has always seemed really difficult, but I think I was getting the hang of it. Went better than expected, at least, so we promptly got drunk.

Other than that, I put off doing my not insignificant amount of homework (did I tell you I'm back at school?) by watching the new season of House of Cards and working on my Super Metroid speedrunning strats. If part of that last sentence made no sense to you, I encourage you to watch this. I don't play a lot of video games, but when I do I play the shit out of them. I got obsessed with NES Tetris for a while (the Platonic ideal of video games, if you ask me), and got good enough to bag the 42nd highest recorded score (595,000-something). I'm still shooting for the 999,999 max-out, but it's a long way off. Only about a dozen people have ever done it. Now I've gone and dug out Super Metroid, though, another one of my faves and a perennial contender for best video game ever made. I adored it as a kid but was worried it wouldn't have aged well. On the contrary, I appreciate it even more now. The moody and gritty atmosphere, haunting music, sense of isolation and exploration, and general badassery that drew me in as a youngster are still as great as ever, but I've been struck most by the sublime design of the puzzles, map, and gameplay. It's a paragon of game design, rife with subtle but ingenious ways that the player is guided worldlessly around would could have been a very confusing and frustrating world. Not only that, but it's the perfect game for speedrunning, mostly because of all the sequence-breaking you can do. You can beat the game with only 15% of the power-ups, beat all of the bosses in reverse order, etc. And that's basically without any glitches and certainly no cheating; rather, the complex controls allow for a rich array of advanced techniques that can be exploited to circumvent the "soft lock" approach to limiting progress in the world. 20 years since its release, and people are still finding new tricks and shaving time off their runs (my first and only complete run took 57 min, but a few players have gone below 30. This is a game that took me weeks as a kid). Sorry for nerding out there, I'm just a bit obsessed at the moment.

...which leads me to this week's puzzle, which was supposed to be a freestyle that never got finished. Instead, it's a...wait for it....theme puzzle, believe it or not. Not the most inventive theme, but I thought it was solid enough and the fill clean enough that it might have a shot in the NYT or LAT. Not so, as it turns out. Luckily my standards are so much lower. I did go through and toughen up a few of the clues to put them more in the typical CN freestyle range. Hope you don't mind. Back to business as usual next week, most likely.

More words, crossed and otherwise, next week.

Puzzle: Up a Pole
Difficulty: Tues/Wed theme, Wed/Thurs clues

Tuesday 11 February 2014

In case you missed the announcement in the post earlier this morning: beginning this week I'll be posting the weekly puzzles on Tuesday evenings rather than first thing Tuesday morning. Adjust your schedules accordingly.

Being as it's Tuesday evening, I have a new puzzle for you. It's vowelless week once again, so I hope that's alright with you. I'm rather pleased with the way the grid turned out on this one, although I struggled with the cluing a bit.

Cluing a vowelless seems easy at first, because it's actually best not to think too hard lest you come up with something too abstruse. Too many tricky clues = impossible vowelless crossword, I've learned. However, sometimes writing easy clues is just as taxing as writing oblique head-scratchers. First, they have to be unambiguous. If a seemingly easy clue leads obviously to two or more equally valid answers, it's not easy. Second, you can only make clues for proper nouns and pop culture references so easy. I can tell you everything about a song or film or novel except its title, but if you've never heard of it then it's still no help and even correct crossing letters will look like an unintelligible dog's breakfast. I try to reference most or all of the title words in clues like that, but that's not always easy. Lastly, you don't want every clue to be a paragraph. Writing lucid and unambiguous clues is much more difficult when you have constraints on length (well, as I'm sure you noticed, I don't really have constraints, but I really do hate it when the pdf runs to 2 pages). Anyway, I'm never quite sure that I've gotten the difficulty even within the ballpark of where it should be and I agonize over some clues for ages when writing these things, tinkering with the most minute aspects of phrasing and word choice endlessly or until it's 2 in the morning and the puzzle's still not even done let alone posted. Seems to be worth the trouble, though, since I'm evidently getting better at it. A number of solvers have written in to tell me that the vowellesses are getting more approachable and fair and all-round good. Always nice to hear.

Feel free to disregard everything I've said in the last paragraph if this one is insanely unfair.

More words, crossed and otherwise, next Tuesday evening.

As usual, the letter Y is not a part of any answer.

Puzzle: Vowelless #7
PDF (without answer lengths)
PUZ (without answer lengths)
PDF (with answer lengths - EASIER)
PUZ (with answer lengths - EASIER)
Full answers

Change of plans

Since I'm running behind for the second week in a row, I've decided to officially change the release time of these puzzles from first-thing Tuesday morning to Tuesday evening at some point. I'm doing a uni course on Monday nights this semester and am just busier in general, so having a little time on Tuesday to think up a few last clues and make last minute changes will be nice.

See ya tonight.

Tuesday 4 February 2014

...and we're back

Sorry again for the late puzzle. Things have been crazy around here lately, and I was having a bit of clue-writer's-block over the weekend to boot.

I'm keeping this post short, but I would be remiss to not mention what promises to be a fabulous new addition to the indie puzzle scene. My man Evan Birnholz (who you may know from such publications as "20 under 30", the NYT, and the WSJ) has just launched the fortnightly Devil Cross with a bold and spicy freestyle. Do it!

Oh, and I think this week's puzzle is pretty tough. Went Stumper tough with some sections initially, but soften a few clues here and there so hopefully it's doable. Oh, and I noticed a dupe (same word in there twice) in the grid after it was too late to change. Oh well, it's not the same entry twice, just the same word in two entries. I just hope it doesn't diminish your enjoyment of the puzzle.

More words, crossed and otherwise, whenever I feel like it apparently.

Puzzle: Freestyle #28
Rating: XW-14A

Later, gator

Humblest apologies, but I'm running a little behind on this week's puzzle and desperately need to sleep. Puzzle will be up Tuesday evening rather than Tuesday morning. Promise you'll come back?

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Spread 'em

So it would seem that word has been spreading about these puzzles; if you're new here, welcome! I'll bring you up to speed on what you missed:
weekly puzzles, vowellesses alternating with conventional (and challenging...and sometimes NSFW) freestyle crosswords.

One recent visitor even felt it necessary to shout out last week's puzzle by shortlisting it for his puzzle of the week. Too cool! It rightfully lost out to an exquisite Doug Peterson Stumper, but I was honoured all the same. Plus, nice to have a few more solvers drop by because of it. Now, you might have been thinking that I haven't really been trying very hard to attract more solvers, since I make somewhat unapproachable puzzles what with the inscrutable toughness and the odd unquestionably tasteless entry or clue. Well, you'd be right; my goal is not to appeal to a wide range of solvers but to rather to offer demanding and particular solvers the kinds of puzzles that I like to solve and that I wish there were more of. I like writing puzzles like that and I like running the blog because I can have that selfish prerogative. That said, without at least a few solvers running these makes no sense at all, so it's always nice to be able to share my work in the hopes that a few of you will find what's been missing in your weekly solving regimen.

Speaking of your solving regimen, it should include Erik, Andy, and Neville. Andy's most recent puzzle is particularly clever, and impressively executed. Lots of fun stuff (i.e. stuff to steal for my wordlist mwa ha ha) in there.

As for this week's puzzle, it's another vowelless. Puzzle is provided both with and without the answer lengths given as hints. Much much harder without.

NOTE: The letter Y does not appear in any answer

More words, crossed and otherwise, next Tuesday

Puzzle: Vowelless #6
Rating: XW-14A
PUZ (with lengths)
PDF (with lengths)
PUZ (no hints)
PDF (no hints)

Full Answers

Monday 20 January 2014


Crazy busy week already, so I'm going to keep this short. 

Right on the heels of probably my easiest vowelless to date, today's puzzle might be the toughest freestyle in a while. Despite it being a full 72-word grid this one kicked my ass harder than any freestyle grid in recent memory, so I guess I felt I couldn't let you guys off too easy. Then again, maybe you won't find it too bad. I did go back and throw in a few gimmes in the shorter fill after a quick test solve (yes, I test solve my own puzzles). 

Oh, and mind the R-rating on this one. The last few have been in the neighbourhood of PG/14A, but longtime solvers will know that that's fairly atypical for me. Not a ton of saltiness in this one, but definitely one entry that wouldn't pass the breakfast test (and maybe not even the BEQfast test).

More words, crossed and otherwise, next Tuesday.

Puzzle: Themeless #27
Rating: XW-R

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Berry Picking

Today's grid might look a little familiar to NYT solvers. I was so enamored with Patrick Berry's wonderful Friday puzzle that I decided to try my hand at filling his grid, albeit with a few small changes. Well, at least one big change: mine is vowelless. No way was I going to be able to even approach Berry-smoothness in the center of this one using regular old entries, but I figured I might have a chance with a vowelless. While the variant certainly presents a few of its own unique challenges to the constructor, filling wide-open spaces is considerably easier sans vowels. Fewer letters = more possible crossings, for one thing. Plus, you get a lot more words ending in less-common letters, since words with -BE, -KE, -PE, -QUE, and -VE endings lose their E. Oh, and of course you no longer have to worry about Q needing a U. All of these factors and more add up to give you a lot more freedom when filling, which is one reason I like the format. Anyway, I was able to get a pretty smooth middle in place, so I figured I'd up the challenge a little bit and remove the single blocks breaking up the vertical stacks on the left and right edges. All in all I like the way this one turned out. Less stunt-y than the last vowelless, but much cleaner. I'm pretty confident that most solvers will know all but maybe one (lookin' at you, 46-d) answer in this one, which is important in this format.

Anyway, you know the drill: no Y in any of the full answers or the grid entries, puzzle provided both with and without letter enumerations, etc. Get to it!

More words, crossed and otherwise, next week.

Puzzle: Vowelless #5
Rating: XW-14A
PDF (with enumerations)
PUZ (with enumerations)

Monday 6 January 2014

Shh, no tears. Only dreams now

Welcome to 2014. Hope your NYE celebrations were life-altering, or at least fun. Mine were good, but somewhat bittersweet. Played with one of my bands, Ink Road, for our final show after four or so years together (well, sort of. I'm one of only two original members). The gig went really well and there was a healthy crowd, but I am going to miss playing those tunes. Plus, those fellas were some of the finest musicians I've ever had the pleasure of jamming with. Oh well, at least it ended amicably and for a nonridiculous reason. Our singer/songwriter is off to seek his fortune in medicine, so I guess I can accept that.

Also, just tonight I received my signed copy of Ben Tausig's new book, The Curious History of the Crossword (I won it randomly when I renewed my AV subscription). I've only read a few chapters but I like it already. Ben's writing is insightful and lucid, the book itself looks gorgeous, and it's packed with fine puzzles by a host of top-shelf constructors. Check it out!

Today's puzzle is a regular freestyle once again, and is kind of shaped like an onion. I don't know how that happened, but the stacks in the center and the blocked out corners were intentional. I came up with the symmetrical stacks and played around with them in various conventional freestyle arrangements, bottom stack on the top and top on the bottom. Got curious about what would happen if I moved them on top of another in the center of the grid, and then filled out from there. The blocked-out corners came about because I didn't want more than 100 entries to clue.

More words, crossed and otherwise, next Tuesday.

Puzzle: Freestyle #26
Rating: XW-PG
Difficulty: Do you really need to keep asking? (i.e. hard)