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