AUTOFILL PROJECT: There’s a Skeeter on my Peter


Default: 354159
Default with Spaces: 137689

NOTES: I liked Michael Che (70) on The Daily Show and I wish him well on his new job at Saturday Night Live — it’s great when celebs with crossword-handy surnames succeed. Neologisms that I’m monitoring include outrospection (72), infobesoty (72), and pup nup (72) which is the equivalent of marital pre-nup for pet custody.

LISTS: I made some progress on my Diehl list over the weekend as Broda added some more to the sharedoc. Nice additions include flower vase (75), jury pool (80), low gravity (80), pool cover (75), and spa day (75). I learned a lot of novelty songs as a kid but had never come across There’s a Skeeter on my Peter (45) until it showed up in the sharedoc. Some Internet research suggests that the song is sung to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” though this YouTube playlist demonstrates the many variations in melody and lyrics that the song undergoes in practice.

CURRICULUM VITAE: Charades with Monsieur Trompe L’Oeil


(Guessing game)

Players solve a series of charades based on phrases and titles chosen by a moderator and acted by “professional” mime Monsieur Trompe L’Oeil. In the introductory round, players discover that Monsieur L’Oeil is nearsighted and, when reading the charade answers printed on the moderator’s cards, tends to misinterpret words as letter changes. So, he might read “The Right Stuff” as “The Fight Staff” and act out a scene of combat with a quarterstaff. Players must take the letter changes into account as they try to guess the original phrases and titles based on Monsieur Trompe L’Oeil’s strange performances.


* * *

This charades variant arose out of a desire to create a performance-piece game presentation similar to conceptual Jeopardy! games presented by Guy Jacobson and Greg Pliska. Todd Rew, an experienced actor, was an ideal accomplice. He contacted the program director for LA minicons and proposed a charades game without giving away the gimmick. At the minicon Todd ad-libbed the entire verbal presentation, including a plausible story about a professional mime he met through community theater. I had slipped into the bathroom, changed into my costume, and stumbled into the performance area on cue. The eight pantomime routines were prepared in advance. Seven were correctly identified by at least one player; the one stumper was the phrase “Time heals all wounds” (misread as “Mime hears ale pounds”).


AUTOFILL PROJECT: pasta fazool


Default: 353181
Default with Spaces: 136694

NOTES: In the wake of the recent vote for Scottish independence I added Saltire (55) to my Notepad. I suspect the heraldic term was already in Default, though the term, which also references the Scottish national flag, might have become more prominent had the vote gone the other way. Drought shaming (70), a form of persecution against violators of water restrictions, is a term that seems to gaining traction in the current California drought, though the idea has existed in covenant communities of Denver, and other places, for quite some time. In the Billboard charts I noticed Lil John’s single Bend Ova (72) as a possible, albeit raunchy, clue option for OVA.

LISTS: Most of my recent sharedoc additions come from Broada, Diehl, and Shukan. Some nice additions include Bullwinkle J Moose (85), poutinerie (60), croquembouche (75), Throwback Thursday (70), and Denver Mint (80). I added pasta fazool at 55 thinking that the misspelling of “pasta e fagioli” is popular enough to have in-the-language status. It reminds me of “cold slaw” from one of Patrick Berry’s lists — the salad traditionally garnished with eggcorns. Maybe there’s a crossword theme in here about menu misspellings, like “Cesar salad” and “vinegarette.” What other popular misspellings do you see in menus?

Ian’s Labyrinth (Part 3)


This Post contains SPOILERS of puzzles that appear the book The Maze of Games by Mike Selinker, specifically ones in Chapter 1: Diamonds in the Rough.

I visited my family in Glenwood Springs last weekend and spent some time hanging out with Ian and solving puzzles. Since I don’t have text messages to reference I summarize our puzzle sessions without quotations.

I discovered that Ian is not making any marking in his copy of the book — that may be the popular approach though I confess that I am solving all of the puzzles on the book pages in pencil. For the more involved grid puzzles he is making a photocopy of the page but in other instances he uses a spiral notebook to work out solutions. In some cases he isn’t sure at the outset which approach is more practical. His initial impression of “Stories to Be Told” was that it was a trivially simple logic maze that he could solve by tracing his finger. After a few attempts, he changed to the photocopy approach and worked with a pencil.


The two puzzles we spent the most time on over the weekend were “The Shifty, Craven Kind” and “A Giant Among Men” — the former a variety grid puzzle and the latter an acrostic. Both puzzles involve crossword-style clues, so a lot of my tutelage involved clue parsing Internet research methods. Ian is still nascent with clue style puzzles so I would try to train him on equivalency skills. He was stuck on the clue “Gets into a contest” and I silver-plattered the answer by explaining that VIE is a verb meaning to enter a contest. When Ian noted that VIE is three letters and the answer required four, I reminded him to look at the verb inflection of the clue. Of course, this focus on equivalence has some exceptions. When Ian was working on the clue {Separating: 2 wds.} he expected a clue ending in ING but instead found one ending in EEN. I coaxed him to the correct answers and then demonstrated some contextual replacement examples. The grammar of crosswords is natural when you’ve been solving them for decades but the nuances are sometimes difficult to explain to a beginner.

The research strategies made a stronger impression given that Ian is savvy with the Internet. When he didn’t know the {First Venetian in China: 2 wds.} I suggested that he Google the phrase and guaranteed that the answer would be prominent in the first hit. For {Martini ingredient} I recommended Wikipedia; he quickly found the answer and also learned whether adding vermouth makes a martini dryer or sweeter. Given an answer with the letters ?G??RA?CE, I showed him the website OneLook. I also had him set the preferences to crossword mode so {Not under consideration: 3 wds.} fell quickly with the letters ?F?TH??A?LE. The acrostic puzzle was apparently the first of that type that Ian had ever encountered. I guided him on making back-and-forth progress with the clues and the quotation, but he reached a point where his interest was waning and he started asking me to confirm guesses of the final answer. I suggested that he could Google some of the words from the quotation and look for the entire passage to fill in the missing letters. In this case, the quotation was from the Book of Judges and Ian had already deduced the word “razor” so Googling provided several versions of the passage in the early hits.

I’m still working out a strategy for Ian’s requests for answer confirmations, which can be excessive and unearned. I understand that he looks upon me as a resource but its not always clear if I’m being tapped as an experienced puzzler or an adult who simply does things for an unmotivated youngster. As I was driving back to Denver he texted me a guess to the Diamonds chapter metapuzzle (which happened to be correct). I postponed my response until Monday, but when I saw that he was confident in his guess and was already working on the puzzles in the next chapter, I confirmed that he was on the right track.

PUZZLE: Rice Milk #9


FIRST (“1’1 2 5”) / THE REST (3-2 4)

I watch movies on Amazon Prime.
Its old film catalogue is sublime!
You like FIRST with Mae West?
I’ll just type my THE REST.
You can come up and see it sometime.

Comments contain the answer to Rice Milk #8 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.




Players are given a category that has members three, four, five, six, and seven letters in length. Each player must independently decide which of these enumerations would produce the greatest number of different answers; this is the “bonus” enumeration. The player does not choose an answer for the bonus enumeration but must choose one answer for each of the other four. The players share answers for each enumeration and score 1 point for each valid answer and a number of bonus points equal to the number of different answers given by other players for the bonus enumeration.

The title of this game is a play on the parlor game Sheep; both games involve predicting the choices of one’s opponents and reward convergence over divergence. Tom Gazzola has played this game with his students and calls it simply “3-4-5-6-7,” which is reasonable simplification. I debuted the game at a minicon in Los Angeles. Some of the players noted that the larger enumerations tended to produce the higher bonus scores and speculated that always choosing 7 as the bonus enumeration would be the best strategy. That might be true unless all of the other players planned on adopting that strategy. It is true that word game categories favor the higher enumerations for the variety of valid answers and I found it challenging to come up with categories that have a number of 3-letter options. Trees, Names in the Bible, and Golf Terms were some that I used.



Default: 352416
Default with Spaces: 135795

NOTES: The Merriam-Webster website has an open dictionary section where users can post new words and slang. I started monitoring the section and added some of the entries starting with A after checking with other sources. The term for nervous anxiety — abdabs (65) — is new to me but apparently has citations going back to the 1940s. Academese (65), referring to scholarly jargon, is a Google-hit favorite and apartel (55), a portmanteau of apartment and hotel, shows up in some business name and I’m curious to see if it catches on as a generic term.

LISTS: Sharedoc additions from my most recent list include going-away party (80), Silly String (80), thumb wrestling (80), and zucchini bread (80).  I was amused by slipshoddity (55), an archaic term for carelessness. The entries in lists from other constructors that I have yet to go through are mostly ten letters or longer. Scoring entries is a pleasant background activity when I’m watching television, though I realize that these longer entries have minimal practical value for standard crossword construction.

Ian’s Labyrinth (Part 2)


This Post contains SPOILERS of puzzles that appear the book The Maze of Games by Mike Selinker, specifically “All the World’s a Stage” in Chapter 1.

Hey for the second crossword in maze of game for diamonds, is the literature shakespear…

Ian’s text came after about two weeks of silence. I figured he was getting settle into the school year and I planned on working with him on TMoG in person during a trip to Glenwood Springs in mid-September. I was glad that he got back to solving on his own before then.

And how do u get the letters A thru L to only 6 letters

The author is Shakespeare and the letters in the boxes A through L form a clue that produces a six letter answer

Ian’s question about Shakespeare made me wonder what Ian knows about the Bard of Avon. He may have encountered the name in school and maybe in a popular culture reference but I doubt he’s ever read or even knows the basic play of any of the one of the plays. The puzzle’s instructions clearly identifies the themes answers and doesn’t require any advanced Shakespearean knowledge, so Ian may have been asking out of curiosity. The question about the answer letters suggested that Ian was struggling with the puzzle fill, which is understandable given his inexperience with crossword vocabulary. Given that the book doesn’t have an asnwer key I’m happy to give Ian hints.

Is the clue “both meanings” or “bolomeanings”

Neither of those but you’re close do you want to know which letters are correct?

Yes plz

So, yes, Ian had some holes in the fill. After some more letter confirmations Ian had the twelve-letter clue.

Is the 12 letter word a body part or is the answer a body part

The six letter answer

Is the final answer joints? I think it is joints

Hmm, interesting. Ian knows not of meta-crosswords where the idea of “meetings” would suggest to the experienced solver to look at intersections in the grid. He took a more direct interpretation of the clue and came up with a legitimate body-part answer.

Look for places in the grid where the Shakespeare characters “meet”


Where did you get HEARTS

By scrambling the letters I got crossing the Shakespear words. Is it right

That’s right

Yess Thanks

We’re making progress.






Default: 351618
Default with Spaces: 134966

NOTES: A news item about Justin Bieber’s latest reckless driving escapade brought the vehicle brand Can-Am (65) into my radar range. It’s good crossword fodder and also an option for cluing ATV. FX Network’s new horror series The Strain features Corey Stoll (in a bad wig) playing the main character Ephraim Goodweather (55), but he is commonly addressed as Eph (45), which gives a cluing alternative to the abbreviated New Testament epistle. Also from The Strain is the very tall Kevin Durand playing the Ukrainian health inspector Vasiliy Fet (45). I predict that Fet will replace Daryl Dixon as the predominant “meme badass” sometime in 2015. 

LISTS: New sharedoc entries came in from Alex Boisvert, Peter Broda, and Dave Shukan. I learned the word petrichor (60) referring to the smell of rain, and have heard it used in pop culture since adding it. Knowledge of biscuits and gravy (75) as a breakfast item seems to betray one’s geographic origins — it was certainly a staple of my childhood in Missouri. Other nice additions include ubergeeky (65), polo pony (75), CLIF bar (65), and lemon wedge (75).