Bon Voyage


Yesterday the puzzle-solving team Pleasure Krewes — comprising Joe Cabrera, Jenny Gutbezahl, Trip Payne, Dave Shukan, Marc Spraragen, and myself — completed Foggy Brume’s brilliant Puzzle Boat 2 extravaganza. Our team’s tropical expedition lasted just over a week. The hectic schedules of the Pleasure Krewes crew afforded only a few opportunities for co-solving; for the most part we worked independently and logged our progress on a shared Google spreadsheet. The breakthrough on the final “meta-meta” puzzle came during a Sunday evening session when several of us were chatting in the spreadsheet. Joe made a comment that reminded me of a suggested puzzle answer made earlier by Jenny. I observed the connection between Joe’s comment and Jenny’s answer, which led Marc to draw upon the discovery and we all began brainstorming all the way to the finish line — a true group effort!

There are lots of fantastic puzzle experiences going on this extravaganza — emphasis on “lots.” The puzzle list contains rafts of innovative grid puzzle variants, twists on abstract-logic forms, audio puzzles, visual puzzles, trivia quizzes, and research challenges. One of my favorite puzzles features an web interface and is clearly a response to an infamous puzzle featured in the 2013 MIT Mystery Hunt. If you didn’t sign up this extravaganza, don’t miss the boat! I strongly encourage you to assemble a team of solvers (6-8 is recommended) and give it a try. If you’re still working on the extravaganza I encourage you to see it through to the endgame, which is very satisfying!

In other puzzle extravaganza news, don’t forget to sign up for The 2014 Triple Play Puzzles Puzzle Extravaganza, constructed by my talented Pleasure Krewes crewmate Trip Payne. Based on the earlier Triple Play Puzzles extravaganzas, this third installment, due August 1, is sure to be a winner.




Default: 342764
Default with Spaces: 124114

NOTES: I’ve been busy this week with Puzzle Boat and I just printed my curriculum materials for Patrick Blindauer’s Xword University, but I added a few hundred entries to the databases. In Notes I’ve been looking at actors and characters from TV series and decided to start with prime-time shows with long runs. I have most of the goof stuff from The Simpsons (I’ll go back and do some cleanup later) so I looked at Gunsmoke, Law&Order, and Lassie. Despite their long runs these shows didn’t seem to produce a very interesting crossword vocabulary the way The Simpsons has. I did get Long Branch Saloon (75) and Lennie Briscoe (70) and a few other interesting long entries and names.

LISTS: There have been lots of posts on the word-list share doc over the last few days and I’m still going through the new material. Nice new additions include galvanized tub (70), iDevice (70), lickety-split (70), and romance novel (80). One list contained the entries attract mode, display mode, and show mode. I’m familiar with the first two but not the third, and I couldn’t find solid support on Google. Is show mode a well-used term in computers and gaming?

PUZZLE: Rice Milk #2


FIRST (5 2 4) / SECOND (11)

I’ve a good FIRST: I know me quite well.
On my thoughts, feelings, morals I dwell.
I’ve committed no crime,
No war plans at this time,
I am SECOND; I don’t even smell!

Comments contain the answer to Rice Milk #1 and may contain other spoilers. For information on solving transposals and other “flat” (verse puzzle) types, visit the National Puzzlers’ League’s Online Guide to the Enigma.




Two stacks of cards are created. In one stack each card contains a category and in the other each card contains a set of eight different letters. Players form teams of three. Each team takes a turn drawing three category cards and one letters card. Using a determined order of rotation, the first player chooses a category aloud, the second chooses a letter, and the third gives an answer fitting and category and starting with the chosen letter. Each player in the rotation must choose or answer without coaching from teammates. If the other teams approve of the answer then the first player crosses out the letter on the card and the second player starts a new rotation. If the answer is invalid or the player in the answer position passes then the same rotation restarts with the first two players choosing a new category and/or letter. Categories may be reused (or not used) at the team’s discretion but letters are not reused after being crossed out. The team’s goal is to cross out all eight letters as quickly as possible.

Choke Cards

* * *

Choke is based on the bonus round of “Get Rich Quick!”, a failed game show pilot from 1977. The structure seemed suitable for a spontaneous parlor game like charades or Pyramid. We played it after-hours parlor game at my first LA miniconvention and at a few subsequent gatherings. I initially suggested timing game sessions for scoring purposes but quickly discovered that the game leans toward being a casual, noncompetitive activity.

Goings-On: The 2013 Orca Awards


The winners of The 2013 Orcas, awards recognizing achievement in crossword puzzle construction, have been posted on Amy Reynaldo’s Diary of a Crossword Fiend. Some excellent puzzles and constructors are represented among the nominees. Congratulations to Constructor of the Year Francis Heaney and all of the other winners!



Default: 342444
Default with Spaces: 123733

NOTES: Finding it missing from Default I added retweet (70) and its inflections. While looking at some old Cosmos episodes I added Mars Hill (55), the site of Flagstaff’s Lowell Observatory and a possible letter change base. A news article on robots programmed to solve Rubik’s cubes prompted the probationary addition of speedcubing (72).

LISTS: Still working on the 11-letter entries from Peter Broda’s list, with recent additions of lip piercing (75), Olympic flag (75), and Shaolin monk (70). I also added pescetarian (55) as a variant spelling. Mark Diehl sent a theme list of candies, including many brands. A few of the entries were earlier than my time, but I remember the Toffifay (65) “…is too good for kids” commercial jingle from childhood, and Lik-M-Aid (70) was a classic masochistic confection that turned my schoolmates’ tongues into bloody pulps. What’s your favorite childhood candy?




Eight, ten, or twelve players are split into two groups: Xs and Ys. In each round players must identify a particular location within a graphic image. Members of the X group guess the location along the horizontal axis while members of the Y group guess along the vertical axis. Players divide into pairs of one X and one Y and share their guesses to form ordered pairs. The correct location is revealed and players score based on the distance from the guessed coordinate to the correct one (a low score, representing a short distance, is better than a high score). Player partnerships vary in subsequent rounds and the individual player who finishes the game with the lowest score wins.

* * *

Coordination was inspired by my publishing job, which includes working with maps. The first edition of Coordination, with 12 rounds, was presented after-hours at the 2003 NPL convention in Indianapolis, with a sequel presented the following year in Boston. A ten-round version was presented on the main program of the 2007 Ann Arbor convention. The game was a popular favorite and generated discussions of game-play variations (alternate scoring methods or the use of polar coordinates instead of Cartesian coordinates) and prospects of amateur and commercial adaptations. A few NPLers incorporated elements of Coordination into other trivia games; aside from that, the game has slipped quietly into the archives after a short, successful run.


This image was used in the first edition of the game. Players needed to identify where the R.M.S. Titanic collided with an iceberg and sunk. It’s an ideal question type because players not familiar with the specific longitude and latitude of the collision can still make reasonable estimates from basic historical and geographical knowledge.

PUZZLE: Unthemely #50



I received my packet of ACPT puzzles in the mail this weekend. It was nice to finally put clues to the grid scans I looked at last week, and fully appreciate the quality of puzzles offered at this year’s tournament. I solved Mike Shenk’s playoff puzzle, using the A clues, in 21:07. Now I can watch the YouTube videos and admire how much faster the tournament finalists solved it.




Default: 342146
Default with Spaces: 123422

NOTES: Trip Payne asked about concerns related to possibly short-lived neologisms, specifically the assignment of fill scores and usage in crossword puzzles. The question prompted some thinking and inspired me to create a new Autofill Project scoring category. I’ve started assigning scores ending in a 2, in particular 72 and 52, to probationary entries. The scores are intended to put the entries in fill range, but in way that makes them easy to filter for adjusting/deleting later on. The 72 score is for nascent slang, e.g. bikini medicine (72) and pop-up storm (72). The 52 score is for proper names that would have been scored in the 50s or 60s previously, e.g. Adele Nazeem (52).

LISTS: I added some entries from Peter Broda and Dave Shukan. Peter’s lists often betray his musical background; I added China cymbal (60) and crash cymbal (70) this week. Dave’s list introduced me to Timbits (65), the Tim Hortons brand of doughnut holes. I have never eaten a Tim Hortons doughnut, but I may have to seek out a location when I’m Vancouver next summer, if not sooner.