Default: 359723
Default with Spaces: 143515

NOTES: Last week’s Science Friday podcast included an interview with scientists advocating an increase in tech-free (65) lifestyle choice. Listening to podcasts was an activity excepted in their recommendations, but they suggested that spending less time on a smartphone and more time doing nothing or being bored was actually beneficial in stimulating creativity. Word Spy recently cited tech-free tourism (75) as a trend gaining momentum and mentioned digital detox (75) as a term used to describe time away from electronic devices. This week the Sporcle website introduced a badge that could be earned by taking a number of quizzes on young-adult fiction. I got 2/8 on the “Books in the Anne of Green Gables” quiz, being unfamiliar with the later books in the series including Rilla of Ingleside (70). Rilla (45) could be an useful in a pinch for a partial in a crossword puzzle.


LISTS: I made a bit of progress on Mark Diehl’s 10-letter word list this week with additions including ghost ships (75), Parseghian (55) (a warhorse figure in crosswords based on his first name but hadn’t added his last to Default), and test flight (80). The entry gopher guts (60) reminded me of a conversation I had with some coworkers about songs we learned when we were children. The topic was inspired by an episode of “The Newsroom” featuring “Shenandoah” sung by Norwegian pop star Sissel (50). We discussed other folk songs that were often introduced in elementary school choirs or campfire circles and I confirmed that “Great Green Gobs of Greasy, Grimy Gopher Guts” was associated with Boy Scouts gatherings and better known to males than females. Do you have a favorite song that you learned at school or camp?

PUZZLE: Rice Milk #13


ONE (7 6) / TWO (13)

At the flea markets, yard sales, and ONE
My wife shops for used junk by the ton,
While I wait till she’s through
Like a juror in TWO.
It gets old, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Comments contain the answer to Rice Milk #12 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.



Default: 359251
Default with Spaces: 143021

NOTES: Colorado news outlets heralded Estes Park native Tommy Caldwell who along with Kevin Jorgeson completed the first free climb of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall earlier this month. The short form of the Yosemite peak — El Cap (70) — was used in many of these stories. Word Spy recently cited examples of the acronym DMCA (40) used as a verb, i.e. to request the removal of online content by invoking the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. If anyone hears the word “DMCAing” in casual conversation let me know. At the recent MIT Mystery Hunt some teammates were trying to backsolve a puzzle answer that had the letter pattern C??C??P??  I checked Default and found CATCHUPON, CATCHUPTO, CHECKUPON, CRACKOPEN, but not the correct answer: click spam (75). I add entries liberally to Default with the hope that the database may prove a useful for finding answers to puzzles in events like the Mystery Hunt, but that resource has yet to pay out.


LISTS: Recent software updates to Google Docs makes it a bit more difficult to detect when a shared document has been updated by another user. I found additions from colleagues posted over the holidays and scored them for Default, including drawing dead (75)Jackie Paper (70)tax accountant (75), and what happened (65). I was surprised to discover Nanaimo bars (73) had been missing from Default. A Canadian friend and former coworker used to bring these to my birthday game parties. She moved back home to Toronto several years ago but she mailed a batch of bars to me when I hosted the NPL convention in 2008. I’ve seen poutine on a handful of U.S. restaurant menus but Nanaimo bars haven’t caught on south of the border. Any other Canadian food specialties that you wish would become popular in the U.S.?




Six players form two-person teams. Teammates sit opposite each other at a table. All players receive signaling devices. In each round the moderator shows an answer printed on an index card to one player of each team. A barrier is set up so that the other players cannot see the card, though these players can hear their teammates and the moderator. The moderator asks a clue question related to the answer and the players viewing the card signal to give a correct response completing the clue. For example, if the moderator asks “Where would you find this?” while showing the answer HYPOTENUSE a player would respond with “opposite the right angle of a right triangle.” If the response is correct then the teammate may try to guess the answer on the card, and if that guess is right then the team scores a point. If either the response or “blind side” guess is wrong then one of the other teams may attempt to steal. At the game’s halfway point the players’ roles switch.

* * *

This game, based on a failed game show pilot called “$10,000 Sweep,” was presented once after hours at the NPL convention in Indianapolis. The game was untitled and felt unfinished due to its lack of a final round (a la “Final Jeopardy!”) but players were willing to test the format. Darren Rigby suggested the “Blind Side” title. A final round called “Double Blind” was later developed but proved too confusing; the Double Blind concept was retooled for Sixth Sense. Tom Gazolla’s Doubles Jeopardy!, developed independently some years later, would mimic the structure of Blind Sides; the popular reception of Double Jeopardy! diminishes the need for a Blind Sides revival.

2015 MIT Mystery Hunt: 20,000 Puzzles Under the Sea


The MIT Mystery Hunt kicks off the year of events for many puzzle enthusiasts. Thousands of solvers descended on the Cambridge campus over the recent MLK weekend for a puzzle hunt titled “20,000 Puzzles Under the Sea.” The organizing team One Fish, Two Fish, Random Fish, Blue Fish invited solvers on a steampunk submarine adventure in which completing puzzles allowed solvers to explore deeper and deeper oceanic worlds. The subs eventually helped the city of Atlantis defend against the Four Seahorsemen of the Apocalypse and the grateful Atlanteans offered a valuable lodestone as a reward. As organizers, Random did a wonderful job presenting puzzles and events over the weekend. The solving team Luck, I Am Your Father was the first to reach the lodestone just before dawn on Sunday morning — congratulations, Luck!

The nicest feature of this year’s hunt was the website interface. The status of the submarine voyage was represented by an underwater map that allowed teams to scroll down further and further as the hunt progressed. The puzzles were represented by sea creatures and other submerged objects in the map. While the puzzles were divided into various rounds, all of the rounds’ puzzles were conveniently accessible on the same map, as opposed to multiple linked pages used in previous hunts. One round of the adventure — School of Fish — featured 57 puzzles. The number is excessive for a typical Hunt round but all of the fish puzzles were relatively simple and could be solved by solitary person in about ten minutes, and by a dog pile of solvers using a shared Google doc even more quickly! The meta puzzle answers provided upgrades to team submarines and the metas themselves comprised a fair number of original pure metas as well as shell metas (and with an undersea theme, shell metas are appopriate). The hunt had a few drawbacks: the events and interaction rounds gave teams hint coupons but didn’t integrate as smoothly into the main solving arc and the final runaround was bloated and caused scheduling jams when many teams finished at roughly the same time. But overall the solving experience was enjoyable and the positive innovations presented by Random will hopefully be adopted in future hunts.

20,000 Leagues was my ninth hunt on the team Setec Astronomy. Setec has operated with a no-win policy since the time I joined, but in recent years the team has struggled to come close to finishing all the rounds before the wrapup. This year we finished with a solution complete (about a dozen of the puzzles were backsolved) and were eligible to go on the final runaround before the winning team had found the lodestone “coin.” Improvements in our shared document system and accommodations for remote solvers helped with our performance. I had some printer-connection issues with my laptop so I mainly flitted around our classroom headquarters helping others with puzzles or working in shared docs on my laptop. Puzzles that I enjoyed include Erraticism, Montages (that ended with a snowman-building assignment on uncharacteristically snow-free January day), The Accumulator, MiT MYSTERY HUNT, Game, Topsy-Turvy, A Case of the Monday Crosswords, Mashup, and the metas for Chemistry Lab, Pod of Dolphins, and Golden Tower. I attended an event that involved playing charades. I was surprised to learn that many of the younger participants were unfamiliar with traditional charade cluing but was proud of myself for successfully getting a teammate to guess the answer word TEMPEST.

An issue related to Hunt solving that came up in a few postmortem conversations was personal health. A solver on another team had overexerted himself during the weekend and during the final runaround needed to be treated for dehydration. He recovered in due course but some of us wondered about our own marathon-solving behavior. For many MIT Hunters sleep deprivation is a badge of honor and a mark of distinction between serious solvers and mere “casual” ones. I was awake for a 26-hour period during the weekend but I don’t feel proud of that fact — just tired. Solving shifts can certainly be assigned so that a team can be productive without anyone being overtaxed, but if reckless, sleep-deprived solving is the only way a team of 30-40 (i.e. relatively small) can win the Hunt then I’m not in favor of Setec Astronomy changing its philosophy.

Outside of the Hunt I had a wonderful time as always seeing so many friends. I’m not sure if I will be able to do as much traveling this year so I’m happy to have got in some quality time with my puzzle peeps right off the bat.

PUZZLE: Unthemely #59



MLK weekend is traditionally the time of the MIT Mystery Hunt and I will be traveling to Cambridge to participate on campus as I have done for many years. If you will also be there I hope that I can say hello at one of the events. If there are issues with the Unthemely I am happy to receive feedback but I may not be able to address problems for a few days.


PUZZLE: Rice Milk #12


ONE (9) / OTHER (9)

Please don’t ONE on the subway, you guys!
Hogging seats with your wide-open thighs.
If your angled legs meet
Like they’re 1st & Main Street
You’ll get kicked in the OTHER — Surprise!

Comments contain the answer to Rice Milk #11 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.



Default: 3583915
Default with Spaces: 142665

NOTES: The Girl Scouts recently revealed new cookie varieties to be introduced in 2015. Trios is the one most likely to be referenced by a crossword clue, but Rah-Rah Raisins (75) and Toffee-tastic (75) could be seeds. I’m not ready to add tastic to Default as a partial. Neologism blogs have discussed winter dibs (72), the claiming of snow-shoveled spaces in a public parking lot. If the phrase gets traction, it could be an option for cluing dibs — I tend to have trouble finding a satisfying clue for that entry.


LISTS: Some nice recent additions from the sharedoc include hypercube (70), relish tray (80), and Wooly Bully (80). I discovered the old song Honey Chile (55) originally performed by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas in 1967 and later covered by the Jackson 5. The stylized “chile” spelling of “child” leans in the direction of cultural insensitivity, but given a new pronunciation I think it was be a great flavor option for barbecue sauce.

PUZZLE: Rice Milk #11


FIRST (5 5) / LAST (6 4)

Brace yourselves for a new winter vortex!
Arctic gusts have formed up in the Nort’. Ex-
Pect FIRST to LAST from there
Like cold corkscrews of air!
Drape yourselves in fleece, flannel, and Gore-Tex!

Comments contain the answer to Rice Milk #10 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.