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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.

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