June 30, 2005

Thursday bundle

Nice batch of puzzles for a Thursday, as usual. I love Thursdays because the puzzles get more interesting and because Friday and Saturday puzzles are drawing nigh.

I whizzed through the NYT puzzle last night, and enjoyed being faster than the other usual suspects. Except for sarameon (I know who she really is, but I don't know if she wants everybody knowing)—she doesn't usually show up right at 10:00, and when she does, it's to give me a whupping when I am attempting to give everyone else a whupping. The nerve! (Are there really people who still don't think women are as competitive as men?) Apparently Joe DiPietro had some sort of constructor's block for a year or two, but it's great to have his puzzles regularly. Now, the NYT forum's 12:00 spoiler rule is not in effect here. So if you don't want specifics, come back later. The theme was quirky. The middle two entries were more fun to read aloud—reminded me of the old SNL skit with the Chicago sports fans, speaking of "Da Bullss" and "Da Bearss" and also "Rick Mearss" (with the [s] sound being used in lieu of a [z] sound). Even better than the theme entries, in my opinion, were the 9-letter entries crossing them: FULLMOUTH, TABLESALT, KEPTHOUSE, PLACETOGO. Not to mention a great set of clues overall.

This morning I tackled the LAT, CrosSynergy, and NYS, setting a goal of 13:30 for all three. Darn it all! Took me 14:01. I liked the Chinese theme of Rich Norris's CS puzzle, particularly YANGTZEDOODLE. Perfect timing for the puzzle to come out just before the big Yankee Doodle holiday, the Fourth of July, so we can all change the lyrics. (I'm sticking with "stuck a feather in his cap," though. No "hat.")

I finally got back to my stack of puzzle books and did a few puzzles from the NYT Omnibus. Sixty down, just 941 to go!


June 29, 2005


Will Shortz and a variety of others suggested ways to up the challenge of easy crosswords, including trying to improve on your fastest time for a given weekday. I'm trying out my own twist on that. I solve the LA Times, CrosSynergy, and New York Sun puzzles each morning in Across Lite. (I know a lot of people like to solve the week's NYSs all at once on Monday, but then what have you got to look forward to?) Since the LAT and CS are unlikely to be that hard, even by the time Friday rolls around, why not bundle them with the NYS and shoot for a cumulative time to beat? For Tuesday, I guesstimated 11:00, and finished the three puzzles in 10:37. Today, the goal was 12:30, and I finished in 11:58.

I seldom do the Creators Syndicate puzzles (Stan Newman) because they're not available in Across Lite. (I have been printing out the Saturday Stumper lately, though.) Yesterday I printed out Monday, Tuesday, and last Thursday, and covered up the across clues. For the Thursday puzzle, I did have to peek at three across clues, but everything else could be filled in with jsut the downs.

I don't suppose constructors try to put their cleverest clues into just the across column or just the downs?

I haven't touched any puzzle books lately—must be a dog days/laziness thing. I have done a few cryptics in Games or Games World of Puzzles at bedtime. Mostly they're much slower going than standard crosswords, but there was one by Harvey Estes that I just zipped through. It had a three-star difficulty rating (like all cryptics, perhaps?) but I got every answer almost instantly. Is this a wavelength thing, or a cryptic that was actually written to be easier??


June 27, 2005

Finally finished!

When Eric Berlin asked for volunteer puzzle reviewers several months ago, I jumped at the chance. (This was before I spent $94 on puzzle books.) I received 28 Sunday-size Crosswords Club puzzles and rating forms on which to record my impressions. My favorite part of the form was the 1-to-10 scale ranging from "too easy" to "too difficult." The hardest ones I gave an 8 or 9 to, but if a puzzle is fair, in my mind there's no such thing as "too difficult." "Deliciously difficult" or "a worthy challenge," yes, but not "too difficult." I solved the last puzzle this morning. Truthfully, I'm glad to be rid of the burden. I generally prefer late-week themeless puzzles to Sunday puzzles (the exception being those with brilliant themes, like that crazy Frank Longo anagram one in the NYT a couple months ago).

Spoiler ahead: Don't read this if you're reviewing the puzzles for Eric but haven't gotten through the 12th puzzle yet. My favorite puzzle in the batch was called "Introduction to Rock and Roll." I'm hoping Eric will reveal the constructor's identity when the review process is complete (the forms are all due later this summer), because I don't know who to rave about. The theme was an intricate one: the first word of each multi-word theme entry could be followed by "rock" or "roll"—i.e., PLYMOUTHVALIANT yields Plymouth Rock, and KAISERWILHELMII (is that one in the Cruciverb database?) yields Kaiser roll. There were 10 theme entries (accounting for 110 squares), and they alternated between "rock" entries and "roll" ones. How cool is that? What's more, one of the non-theme entries was VROOM, and the clues were fresh and creative overall.


June 24, 2005

The winner is...

Susan Hoffman! The judging process consisted of looking at the list of clues for each word and identifying the best one or two clues for word. Susan had one clue:

ASP: "A striking end to a classic love affair"

that I thought rocked. I kind of liked the ones that pulled ASP from ASPIRE (Tom Ratcliffe) and ASPHALT (the now-eminent Co Crocker), but those probably wouldn't pass muster for a standard daily crossword.

Susan's other two entries were my second-favorite clues for those words:

ONES: "Half of the average digital database"
OREO: "Takes a lickin' and keeps on splittin'"

Great job, Susan! E-mail me with your address, and I'll send your book. Maybe you can solve the book of puzzles in your Hoffman spa.

Other clues that I especially enjoyed were the Toms' (McCormick and Ratcliffe) TOMEI: "Costanza's crush" (T.R.) and "Costanza's obsession" (T.McC.); Dave P.'s OREO: "Little dipper in a milky way," ONES: "Eleven couples," and ABET: "Second a base man"; JBo's OLEO: "Bar with no alcohol" and NTH: "Degree not earned at school"; Tom McCormick's TARS: "Feathers forerunner?"; Bob Stigger's ONES: "Beauty pageant long-shots" (despite the antifeminist overtones); Tom Ratcliffe's OLEO: "You can believe it's not butter"; Ron's NTH: "Series finale, say"; and Gary's EMIR: "The Meop of the Ancient Mariner?" (because "meop" sounds funny).

Thanks for playing, everyone!


June 22, 2005

Contest Deadline: Noon Thursday

Folks, you've been cracking me up with your clues. But all good things must come to an end, so let's wrap this puppy up by noon Thursday. If you want to throw your hat in the ring, please post your entry in the comments for the post below this one. Thanks, y'all!


June 20, 2005

Contest 2: Electric Boogaloo

(Isn't it a cryin' shame that ELECTRICBOOGALOO is 16 letters long and not 15?)

All right, let's give away NYT Tough Crossword Puzzles, Volume 12 to a worthy someone. Pick any three of the following stale crossword entries and devise clever clues for them:


Post your clues in the comments section. Good luck!


June 16, 2005

The Cruciverb contest

Man, I could have won a free copy of Marc Romano's Crossworld in the Cruciverb contest, if not for a technical glitch—I filled in the contest puzzle in about 5 minutes but got an error message when I tried to submit. Of course, I got that error message after the 9:00 contest had already ended, since I didn't head over to Cruciverb until after I did tomorrow's NYT puzzle at 10:00. But still...

What's up with Manny Nosowsky making an appearance in the timed applet only when it's his own puzzle? And does it rankle when other people are faster than he is at his own puzzle? (This time, Manny and I tied.) It's a beautiful grid, but it didn't put up nearly as much resistance as I thought it would. Here's hoping Will was just softening everyone up before foisting an extra-tough Saturday puzzle on us.


The envelope, please

Volume 7 of the toughest NYT puzzles goes to (drum roll, please) Dan, for his tragicomic haiku:

Puzzle 1 begins.
Take a deep breath. Scan the grid.
Amy's hand goes up.

The prize is awarded in recognition of the haiku's humor and reverential attitude toward this blog's proprietor. (Flattery will get you everywhere.) Dan, please e-mail me your address (available via the profile to the right), and I'll get that book on its way to you.

We have a number of honorable mentions to distribute as well:

• Most evocatively poetic: Vic
• Most egregious puns: Lyell
• Flagrant namedropping not designed to flatter me: Craig K.
• Best deployment of crosswordese: Gary

Thanks for playing! Now, do you have any suggestions for another contest? All I can come up with is a round of "guess what word I'm thinking of"—surely someone has a better idea. So let's hear it, and we'll give away Volume 12.


June 13, 2005

Book reviews and a contest!

From time to time, this site will include my reviews of various puzzle publications. First up is Henry Hook's Twisted Crosswords, published by Sterling and carrying the "official Mensa puzzle book" imprimatur. Henry has created 70 variety puzzles, including maze, honeycomb, cubic, spiral, pathfinder, and zigzag grids. Some puzzles are merely hard; others are wickedly tough. All are distinguished by a glut of great entries (LLCOOLJ, STIEGLITZ, AARDVARK) and creative and contemporary clues. If you're looking for a challenge and you're open to filling in answers backwards, upside-down, and at crazy angles, this is the book for you.

More standard but almost as challenging is Volume 8 of The New York Times Toughest Crossword Puzzles: 100 Saturday Puzzles (Random House). This one contains puzzles from December 1995 through November 1997, all edited by Will Shortz. The difficulty level varies considerably, but every puzzle is harder than any early-week offering. Last year, I tore through the online archives and did all the Saturday puzzles from 1998 on, so this book was a welcome addition. It includes puzzles from constructors we don't see in the Saturday paper much any more—Rich Norris, Mike Shenk, Trip Payne, and Frank Longo were some of my favorites in this volume.

I bought two other books of tough NYT puzzles that I probably don't need—everything in Volume 7 of NYT Saturday puzzles (Random House) is likely to be included in the giant New York Times Ultimate Crossword Omnibus (St. Martin's) of 1,001 puzzles, which I bought last week and have already begun devouring. At some point, I also bought Volume 12 (St. Martin's) and did just a couple puzzles—it covers October 2000 to September 2001, and darn it, I did all those puzzles online last year.

Clearly, these last two books need a new home. I am willing to give them both away, but to make it interesting, let's have two contests. To win Volume 7, write a puzzle-related haiku; the funniest one (as judged by me) wins. And what about Volume 12? I need another contest idea. Leave your haiku or contest idea in the comments.


Great Expectations

Going to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in March was a blast. When I arrived in Stamford, Connecticut, as a first-time competitor, few people had any expectations for me. I was hoping to finish in the top-30 based on my solving times on paper for the previous year's tournament puzzles. Long story short, I wound up at number 18 overall and had enough points to qualify for the B Division finals, which meant solving the finals puzzle with a fat marker on a giant board on stage. I managed to focus and pay no mind to the 500 or so people behind me, and finished the puzzle a few minutes before the other B finalists. A $200 check signed by Will Shortz and three trophies—for winning the B finals, being the top rookie, and being the top-ranked competitor from the Midwest—and a healthy degree of geek glory were mine.

With that, I was satisfied and set no expectations for the next tournament. No, wait. That's not quite right. With the 18th-place finish, I determined to shoot for the top 10 next year and the A Division finals at some point thereafter. Basically I need to speed up my solving times by one or two minutes per puzzle (the tournament involves solving seven crosswords). Past champions and contenders have generously shared their training tips, which basically means doing way more crosswords, solving them on paper rather than on the computer, and timing yourself. I've bought a bunch of crossword compilations and intend to finish every puzzle by next March. I could swear that I've gotten faster even just since March, so I just have to keep up this obsessive nonsense and I'll be well on my way.

The conventional wisdom is that it's frightfully difficult to move into the top ranks—that once you make it to 15th or 20th place, you're likely to plateau there. "Hogwash!" say I. I want to overturn that bit of conventional wisdom as well as that bit of hooey that women aren't as competitive as men. I'm out for blood (the blood cells are all square, and there are white blood cells and black blood cells, of course) and make no apologies. I may get some major comeuppance, or I just might meet my goals.