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?