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.

* * *

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!

Project Zep!


Patrick Merrell has a Kickstarter campaign for a project that will showcase his talents as a puzzle maker and a graphic designer. He is accepting pledges for the creation of a book titled Zep: the Curse of the Evil Dr. Sumac Who Lives Next Door). The book will be geared toward kids but also contain a hidden puzzle to intrigue adult readers. Support the project here.

Also, here’s a quick wordplay puzzle: The word BISMARCK is the bank* of the headline phrase of a McDonald’s banner ad I saw this morning. The phrase’s enumeration is (5 2 4) and is one that McDonald’s could use maybe once a year. What is the phrase?

* A “bank” means that the answer phrase contains the letters B, I, S, M, A, R, C, and K, with repetitions of one or more of those letters.

AUTOFILL PROJECT: delta v. Delpy


Default: 356452
Default with Spaces: 140122

NOTES: Ravishly blogger Nikki Gloudeman posted an article this week about the sexism in crosswords. She begins by describing a recent Liz Gorski New York Times puzzle in which Will Shortz replaced the original grid entry DELPY with DELTA. From this casual dismissal of an Oscar-nominated actress, Gloudeman launches into a discussion of the causes and consequences of gender disparity among puzzle constructors and editors. I enjoyed the article and find the topic of puzzles and culture interesting, though I support Will in his grid alteration at least from a perspective of entry fill scores in my database: delta (70) versus Delpy (55). Followers of the Autofill Project know that I tend to score proper names rather low, regardless of race, creed, or gender. Aside from big-name outliers with interesting letters — the IGGYAZALEAs and ALEXTREBEKs — most famous names are entered in the 50-60 range. My scoring does not reflect a disdain for celebrity. Famous names make up a significant majority of database additions, and I appreciate Boyhood star Ellar (50) Coltrane and Sierota (50) siblings who make up the pop group Echosmith for making a constructor’s job a little easier, but I find common nouns almost always more interesting to clue and deserving of higher priority in the fill process.



(Visual Trivia)

Six players are each given a stack of cards and an easel with an identification number. Each easel is positioned such that a card placed on it can be seen by the other five players but not its own player. When prompted by the moderator all players place the top cards of their stacks on the easels. The moderator asks a question; the correct answer is depicted on one of the six cards. Players must determine the answer card; if it the players own unseen card then it must be determined by process of elimination. Players answer by noting number of the easel holding the correct card and entering this number by a signaling device that registers the order of entered answers. A correct answer scores 1 points plus 1 point for every subsequently entered answer. An incorrect answer loses 1 point with an additional deduction of 1 point for every subsequently entered answer. The player whose easel holds the correct card scores double for a correct answer. Players have the option of a “no answer” entry which scores zero. The game comprises a round of twenty questions followed by a second round of twenty questions in which each question has two correct answers, and final bonus question.

Sixth Sense Faces

Which of these faces can be represented by an emoticon that includes a semicolon?

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When developing Concentration for minicon play, I brainstormed a few matching game systems that determine when a team earned the chance to guess the picture rebus. One idea involved visual multiple-choice quizzes in which a team would find two related images out of a group of six. The idea was rejected for Concentration but it formed the basic game mechanic for Sixth Sense. I started working on Sixth Sense by writing content without a solid idea of the game mechanism. Matt Jones suggested an “Indian Poker” system that worked well in fleshing out a multiple-round structure in which the visual matching pairs content would constitute a second round to follow a round of single-image questions. The final round came from an experimental game I tried at minicon in which players had to answer trivia questions using cross-referenced information in questions posed to their opponents. The signaling system was Split Second board game mechanism made from rubber-band activated answer paddles. The game was presented at the 2006 NPL convention in San Antonio and enjoyed success among both players and spectators. Darren Rigby made his own version of Sixth Sense that debuted at the Ann Arbor convention the following year. He added some clever bonus rounds and much simpler signaling system using modified playing cards.


PUZZLE: Rice Milk #10


ONE WORD (11) / FOUR-WORD PHRASE (“1 3 3 4”)

The mild ONE WORD drops put in my eye
Blurred my vision; my doc explained why:
“Optic nerves, when sedated,
Make the pupil dilated.”
FOUR-WORD PHRASE (my ironic reply).

Comments contain the answer to Rice Milk #9 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.