PUZZLE: Unthemely #57



Also, if you’re interested in trivia quizzes, you might be interested in my recent contributions to the Sporcle website. Movie Star Constellations combines film and astronomy trivia. It’s a bit tricky in places and a list of the 88 constellations would make a helpful reference when taking the quiz. Sports Terms A-Z is a general knowledge quiz of terms from Webster’s Sports Dictionary. And as the end of the year is regarded as a season of fellowship, I’ll make the reminder that I enjoy connecting with friends on Sporcle and invite readers with Sporcle accounts to touch base with me through the Sporcle “Connections” page.



Default: 3557521
Default with Spaces: 141219

NOTES: The protests surrounding the killing and grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri, have introduced die-in (10) to new discussions. I prefer related protest form teach-in (70) as a database addition. News items about 2014 additions in the Oxford English Dictionary has been posted recently and included shabby chic (70), digital footprint (75), and jel (45). An interesting addition to the post-Thanksgiving Advent calendar of commerce is Sofa Sunday (72), a mobile device precursor to Cyber Monday, I can see the concept catching on, but I’m not sure about the term.

LISTS: The sharedoc is cooling down for the end of the year but I still have plenty of material to add. Favorites in the most recent batch include exact change (80), Fitbit (70), and team mascot (75). Peter Broda shared the word trapline (55), which means “a line or series of traps” according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition. The word forms half of an interesting metathesis wordplay base that I don’t believe has been used in The Enigma, the National Puzzlers’ League magazine that features wordplay poems called flats. Anyone want to try a Rice Milk verse that includes “trapline”?



(Murder Mystery)

Players portray guests at the birthday party of Lucky the Cat, a tycoon in both legitimate and criminal enterprises and general scoundrel. The party takes place in and around a fishing cabin in remote woods. During a game of hide and seek, the guests disburse and eventually discover the lifeless body of Lucky, an apparent victim of multiple axe wounds. Players trade clues and help the local police detective identify the murderer in their midst.

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Who Killed Lucky was the first murder mystery game I wrote as a college student. The game was a gift for my friend Timothy Conard who requested the activity for his birthday party in October 1989. Timothy offered his parent’s cabin outside Ottawa, Kansas, as a setting, and provided an invitation list made up mostly of mutual friends from Ottawa University’s theatre department. The murder victim was inspired by an actual cat that managed to crawl into the theater department’s storage shed the previous summer. The cat, unable to get out, eventually died and was discovered by faculty weeks laters when the fall semester began. As a sick joke, several students appointed the dead cat as the theatre department mascot and gave him the name “Lucky.” For the mystery game, I opted to make Lucky an over-the-top villain: mafioso, gambler, industrial thief, smuggler, blackmailer, killer, womanizer. The characterization provided a range of murder motives but also presented a revisionist view of our department mascot with a more exotic lifestyle than anyone could imagine. The colorful cast of suspects included rock star Sidney Chartwell, film star Va Va Glamor, archaeologist Coberland Ankh, garbage collector Dumpice DeBree, and foreign diplomat Grand Duchess Olga Tizzledink. I played the hapless police detective Huxley Err. Detective Err, and members of his family, would be featured in future Ottawa mystery games and became the first of my puzzle personas, a group that would later include characters such as John Ratite and Monsieur Trompe L’Oeil.

In the earlier mystery game Last Night of Arabia our writing committee produced the solution text and divided the text, sentence by sentence, randomly among the players. For this mystery I adapted the clues to fit the characters, i.e. assigning information that would be logically known by the restaurateur, the doctor, etc. Each players was assigned five clues in the categories Character Descriptions, During the Search, Rumors from the Past, Recent Observations, and Questions. Players started the game with their descriptions and then collected the remaining clues in any order at predetermined intervals. A stuffed cat covered with red paint was hidden near the cabin for the players to stumble upon, but the dark woods, while effectively creepy, proved a hindrance for finding corpses and I ultimately coaxed a few people in the right direction to get the game moving. Players who interviewed enough people were able to put together a story involving poet Acrid Nimbus whose wife had an affair with Lucky and was eventually murdered. A majority of players correctly identified Nimbus as the murderer, including Scott Cunningham who played the part.

I created Who Killed Lucky on a network terminal in the university computer lab. I may have had a saved copy on a floppy disk at one time but my only record of this game currently is a dot matrix printout of the clue list.

Club 72 / Puzzle Links


Tim Croce has joined the blogroll of independent puzzlemakers with his new site Club 72. Tim has demonstrated that he plans to offer variety puzzles through the site as well as standard crosswords. Check it out!

Also, I must apologize for my lapse in maintenance for this blog. Several readers had reported broken links on the puzzle download page and I was slow in addressing these problems. The breaks were due to link suspensions on the Dropbox site that had apparently been imposed several months ago. I believe I have restored all the broken links but please keep me informed of additional problems.

Ian’s Labyrinth (Part 4)


This Post contains SPOILERS of puzzles that appear the book The Maze of Games by Mike Selinker, specifically ones in Chapter 2: Joining the Clubs. The post also references puzzles from The Puzzle Files of Larry Logic by Dan Katz, without spoilers.

Ian and I got in some Maze of Game solving while I was in Glenwood Springs for Thanksgiving weekend. Neither of us had made much progress in the book since our last get-together. I’ve been working on some new Puzzlewright Press titles, trying to finish the first edition of Cryptic All-Stars, and spending a lot of time on the Sporcle quiz site collecting badges. Ian is playing a lot of games with his friends: iPad apps and the Ascension card game. But the post-meal period of Thanksgiving provided some time for us to rejoin the Quaice siblings in their escape from the clutches of the Gatekeeper.

Ian is still a few puzzles behind me and we decided to have him continue solving from his stopping point while I observed and offered assistance when needed. His solving experience of the logic puzzle A Most Vexing Vexillology was not especially remarkable — he completed it in silence without any help — so I’ll share our experience solving logic puzzles from Dan Katz’s new book The Puzzle Files of Larry Logic. I brought a copy of this book to see how Ian would fare with grid-style logic problems. I’m not sure if he had prior experience with the puzzle type but he caught on quickly and we went through the first case to identify the Phantom posing as a substitute teacher in the Enigmaville school district. We completed the first grid together and then Ian asked to work on grid 3 alone while I worked on grid 2. We muttered our logical deductions aloud as we solved, somehow failing to distract one another. The cacophony of “Ms. Hayes first name can’t be…” “The science teacher is either…” “So since he doesn’t teach at Garfield…” “Daria, Delia, or Dolores…” “Neither Spanish nor literature…” Finally caused my sister to come in from the kitchen and cry, “Keep it down! I don’t care what subject Ms. Roosevelt teaches!” Ian pushed his luck by replying, “Roosevelt isn’t a teacher, it’s the name of a school.”
In the metapuzzle, the Phantom is revealed to be one of seven substitute teachers featured in the previous puzzles. Before we started this puzzle Ian asked, “Who would you guess is the Phantom?”
“I don’t know,” I said
“Make a guess just for fun, just to see if you got it right when we finish.”
So we both made a preliminary guess and Ian’s guess turned out to be the right answer. After we determined the identity of the Phantom I confirmed the solution by reading the answer paragraph from the back of the book.
“You know who could have solved that puzzle?” Ian asked.
“A dog with a speech impediment.”
“You know, like Scooby-Doo.”
“Oh, uh, okay.” I said, wondering if the mystery-solving dog with a speech impediment was a larger trope than I realized. I also found it interesting that Ian wanted to make a “just-for-fun” guess of the puzzle’s answer before starting. It might lead to some solving bias but is probably harmless. Do any of you engage in that practice?

IMG_1272 (1)

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Back to Maze of Games. Ian’s next puzzle was A Reading of the Minds, which he remembered me solving the last time we were together. He also remembered the puzzle’s final answer, but went through the puzzle anyway to see if he could remember all of the tarot card patterns work. One pattern contains the cards with index numbers that are perfect squares. Ian recognized that the pattern was mathematical but struggled to articulate it. He finally expressed it as the progressive addition of odd integers, which is acceptable. I would imagine that he will be covering that equivalency in school soon, unless it gets dumped by Common Core.

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Finally, we tackled the grid puzzle All Hands on Deck. Ian used OneLook to help him with crossword-style clues but since we were running short of time I volunteered to help by giving alternate clues when he got stuck and coaxing him to the answer. A sample help session would go:
“Six down. Hill denizen. Three letters. What’s a denizen?”
“It’s another word for ‘resident’.”
“Okay. Hmm.”
“So you’re looking for a three-letter resident of a hill.”
“Keep trying.”
“Hmm. what kind of bug lives in a hill?”
“ANT? Oh an anthill. yay.”

In some cases I had be a bit more forthcoming laying the groundwork for crossword vocabulary. Ian couldn’t figure out the clue {Infinite, mathematically (3)} and was ready to erase some correct crossing entries based on the dubious NT? letter pattern. I couldn’t think of a way to simplify the clue so I simply put it forth that NTH was a thing. PRIMER {Child’s book} was another term that didn’t offer any useful simplification; I doubted he would have known any alternate definitions of the word. The puzzle’s theme answers form “quartets,” which Ian understood with minor clarification. He identified the seasons and compass directions pretty easily, and a Google search gave him the Horseman of the Apocalypse. One quartet gave him trouble.
“What is ‘phleggum’?”
“It’s pronounced ‘phlegm’.”
“It’s in one of the quartets. What is it?”
“Try Googling ‘phlegm set of four’.” Ian Googles.
“It says that ‘phlegm’ goes with ‘mucus’ and ‘snot’.”
“Okay, skip that one for now.”
Ian eventually found the keyword and then I explained the Four Humours. Ian recorded his progress in his notebook and then, with blood, bile and phlegm on our minds, we retired to the dining room for dessert.

The Imitation Game / Cryptic All-Stars, Vol. 2


A cryptography puzzle contest related to the upcoming Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game has been posted here, The deadline for entries is November 30. I’ve figured out a few of the clues but I plan to bring a copy to my sister’s house so that Ian and I can work on this over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Roger Wolff is taking orders for his second volume of Cryptic All-Stars. The puzzle volume features variety cryptics constructed by Bob Stigger, Brendan Emmett Quigley, Dan Katz, David Ellis Dickerson, David Shukan, Hayley Gold, Henri Picciotto, Henry Hook Jeffrey Harris, John de Cuevas, John Forbes, Jonathan Berkowitz, Kevin Wald, Mark L. Gottlieb, Mark Halpin, Mike Selinker, Rebecca Kornbluh, Roger Wolff, and Todd Rew. The book will be ready to ship in February 2015. Contact Roger at rogers.cryptics@gmail.com for more information.

PUZZLE: Game States


Last night I visited EightyTwo, a Los Angeles-area nightclub stocked with dozens of pinball machines and video games including many classic titles. I spotted a video game from the early 1990s and noticed something interesting. Its two-word title consists of a state that borders Arizona contained inside another state that borders Arizona; in both cases the bordering state is in shortened form. What is the arcade game?



Default: 356991
Default with Spaces: 140678

NOTES: I learned the term tinikling (65) from a recent episode of The Middle featuring the Philippine pole dance. The dance resembles a bizarre “St. Grotus Day” variation featured on Malcolm in the Middle. Has anyone seen tinikling on any others shows, and did that show have “Middle” in the title? I bought a Veggetti vegetable slicer last week and made a batch of zoodles (70) for last night’s dinner. The zucchini turned out pretty good as an occasional substitute for semolina pasta. I’ve seen Bed-Stuy (65) in a few articles recently so I added this abbreviated form of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn to the Notepad. For crosswords, the Stuy (40) partial might get the most work.

LISTS: I pulled another chunk of Diehl sharedoc entries this week, this time filtering ones that contain a W. Nice additions include design flaw (80), flower show (80), and home worlds (73). The entry hmmiwonder (50) intrigues me. The phrase seems to have more Internet usage as a hashtag identifier of a category of meme or tweet than as an actual contextual phrase. If I’m right then I don’t know the best way to clue it for a crossword or if it is even a legitimate in-the-language entry. Anyone want to weigh in on this?

Space Puzzlefest, Fireball, and Sporcle


Patrick Blindauer has announced a new project on his Puzzlefest Page: Space Puzzlefest. The crossword suite will contain about a dozen puzzles with a science fiction theme. Solvers who submit the correct meta solution will be entered in a drawing for a copy of Sun & Shadows, a poetry collection by erstwhile New York Times crossword editor Eugene T. Maleska. I recently attended a small, private reading that featured excerpts from this work and can attest that Maleska’s poetic muse is as engaging as his crossword editorship. Space Puzzlefest is currently available for preorder ($17) with a launch date TBA.

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Peter Gordon has opened subscriptions for the 2015 Fireball Crosswords series. The series comprises challenging themed and unthemed crossword puzzles and is one of the few venues outside the Gaffneyverse that offers meta-crossword contests. Subscription information can be found here.

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I’ve started contributing quizzes to the Sporcle website. My first efforts include quizzes themed on Geography and Television. Follow me (tmcay) on your Connections page if you have a Sporcle account. If you don’t have an account and you like trivia you should consider signing up. An account is free and it gives you access to features such as social networking, content creation, and challenges. Members can also earn virtual badges, and, as a point of full disclosure, your following me on the Connections page or attributing me as the person who recommended the site to you will help me earn my Friend Zone and Trendsetter badges respectively. But self-serving pleas aside, Sporcle is a marvelous site with millions of quizzes covering every topic you can think of. Come join the fun!