Default: 360510
Default with Spaces: 144341

NOTES: The annual Oscars telecast is a common source of new entries for the database. I didn’t get much from this year’s ceremony other than an crossword clue writer’s appreciation for Best Foreign Film winner Ida. I read an article a few days before about the Pawscars (70) awarded by the American Humane Society for distinguished achievement by animals in film. For example, the animal actor Tug who plays Milky White in Into the Woods won the award for Best Magical Cow — it was a lock, but I’m happy that the Sondheim musical film got something. The latest neologism to emerge in discourse of asexual rights groups appears to be amatonormativity (70). The term is used, often critically, to label laws, policies, and cultural artifacts that privilege romantic pluralism over singleness. I like the idea better than the word, which takes a few attempts to land the pronunciation.

LISTS: Some nice additions from the most recent batch of Mark Diehl ten-letter entries include guitar cases (73)human drama (75), and line of duty (75). I felt like I should turn in my Generation-X membership card when I realized that H R Pufnstuf (75) was not already in Default. Pufnstuf, Witchiepoo, and the other characters of the Sid and Marty Krofft oeuvre shaped and warped my childhood. My coworker Karen was also a Punfnstuf fan and she cheers me up occasionally by coming to my office to perform the “Mechanical Boy” dance. Here’s the late, great Jack Wild doing the original.

A-Frame Games


Puzzler Patrick Berry has renovated his website A-Frame Games to highlight books and puzzles for sale. His online store is advertising two new products. Crossword Constructor’s Handbook is a downloadable PDF version of his 2004 book Crossword Puzzle Challenges for Dummies. The manual on constructing and selling crossword puzzles has been significantly revised from its original version and contains 70 original puzzles (both themed and themeless) as a bonus. Vicious Circle is a mini-ganza of five original puzzles and a meta. Solvers who submit correct answers to the meta will be added to a drawing for a series of $100 prizes. An upgraded purchase of the mini-ganza includes three original bonus puzzles. The deadline for mini-ganza contest submissions is April 25.

Check out the website and spread the word!

PUZZLE: Rice Milk #15


BEGIN (4 3 2) / END (5 4)

Though we pledged to avoid getting fatter
And confess if we ate sweets of batter,
I BEGIN you last week:
A small END did I sneak.
Though ’twas just, one could say, absent matter.

The solution includes a variant spelling.

Comments contain the answer to Rice Milk #14 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.



(Puzzle Hunt)

Players are told of a bug infestation in their current location. They must search the location to find 16 puzzles to solve; the solution to each puzzle is the name of a bug. Players must write these bug names on blanks on a provided answer sheet. Letters in highlighted blanks spell a special instruction, and after completing the instruction players can discover what they need to get rid of all the bugs.


* * *

My game parties of the early 2000s were modeled after evening programs at a National Puzzlers’ League convention: three short group games featuring some combination of trivia, wordplay, or groupthink. In 2007 I decided to try a puzzle hunt, inspired by similar hunts I’d played at NPL Conventions and other places. I chose to host the hunt in my condo so I could serve my usual buffet and cocktails and also have the option of presenting a bonus group game if the hunt finished quickly. The condo setting made me think of domestic hunt themes, eventually leading to the appealing image of players in the roles of amateur exterminators. I chose SWAT TEAM as the final answer phrase and created a meta in which players would use a hole punch to remove red bugs from the answer sheet, overlay the answer sheet on the instruction sheet, and read the answer in the holes. The instruction phrase HOLE PUNCH RED BUGS contains 16 letters so I made a list of 16 bugs containing the necessary letters and set about making a puzzle to go with each bug.

Because many of the party guests were beginning puzzlers I made many of the puzzles easy, such as a letter maze spelling the answer LOUSE or a simple picture clue of a Volkswagen BEETLE. My iPod contained directed players to a song clip from “High Hopes” (ANT) and a business card labeled EXTERMINATE included my cell number with a voice-mail message telling callers to delete four letters from the card. Many puzzles were placed in appropriate places of the condo: a GRASSHOPPER recipe on the bar, a MOTH ball scent-identification puzzle in the clothes closet, and a picture of a ukulele set on top of a large dictionary open to the page with the definition (and etymology) of the word “ukulele.” Some of the puzzles were a bit more challenging but I was liberal with hints and teams were able to deduce the meta instruction with a few missing bug names. The difficulty was pitched at a proper level and players all enjoyed trying a variation on the traditional party game format.

PUZZLE: Unthemely #62



I managed to use a couple of the entries from my seed list as the long entries in this grid. Along with finishing up the clues I spent this Presidents Day Monday visiting some other indie crossword blogs. I’m getting acquainted with the puzzles of Sam Ezersky on The Grid Kid and I completed a fun meta crossword constructed by Chris King on Chris Words. I also finished the February puzzle on the Shinteki website. Dan Katz is constructing the Shinteki Puzzles of the Month for the first half of 2015, and the two I’ve solved so far have been excellent. If you like puzzles that lack instructions and require a spark of insight, similar to meta crosswords, I recommend checking out the Shinteki Puzzle of the Month and its archives.

Some quick notes…


I constructed the Post Puzzler that appears in today’s Washington Post. You can access the crossword here. This is my last Post Puzzler crossword as the series is ending next month. It has been an excellent experience working with the masterful editor Peter Gordon and creating themeless puzzles for that venue. I will miss it.

Earlier this year I joined the CrosSynergy syndicate and have been brushing up my themed crossword skills. My first CrosSynergy puzzle will appear in May. You can access CrosSynergy puzzles on the Washington Post’s Daily Crossword page or you can get an email subscription by visiting the CrosSynergy home page.



Default: 360083
Default with Spaces: 143888

NOTES: Bibliophiles were buzzing on the Internet last week when a second novel by Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman (75), was soon to be published. For crossword constructors, the chief takeaway from this story is a new way to clue the partial SET A. The word Uberize (65) caught my eye in recent Word Spy posts. This modern slang term meaning to cut out the middle man in a business model, as with the ride-share service Uber, is a vowel-rich seven-letter word that could be useful in grids it gets traction in general discourse.

LISTS: More additions from Mark Diehl including Dodger blue (75), Dutch apple (75), field house (80), and Friars Club (75). The entry double flat (65) reminded me of a crossword theme I once worked on for the Wall Street Journal. The puzzle would have been called “Tax Collection” and the last words in the theme entries would all be types of taxes. I guess I found “double flat” in an online dictionary but never bothered to add it to Default. I eventually abandoned the puzzle but at least have the entry in my own list. I also have a reminded that I need to get my taxes done for 2014.

Aimlessly Themeless/Club 72/Crossword Solver Software Question


Crossword constructor Lena Webb launched her blog Aimlessly Themeless last week. In the blog Lena discusses her progress as a puzzlemaker since her first attempt at designing a grid in early 2014. Lena became interested in themeless crosswords after discovering how women are severely underrepresented in that category—it’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed and never understood. Check out the blog to read Lena’s story and download her puzzles.

* * *

Tim Croce has been mixing it up on his Club 72 blog with variety puzzles in addition to crosswords. His most recent variety puzzle is an anagram challenge called Two for One. I’ve figured out many of them but I need to do some “bowling pin” letter scrambled to get a complete.

* * *

For a few years I used Crossword Solver software on my home computer but I encountered a glitch last week: When I opened a puzzle file it would automatically close and reopen after about 15 seconds, deleting any letters entered in the grid. I uninstalled Solver and went back to using AcrossLite. Has anyone else experienced the glitch I described with Crossword Solver?


PUZZLE: Unthemely #61



One person has emailed a correct solution to Rice Milk #14 and one has posted an incorrect guess. Here’s a bit of info that might help: ONE is a dictionary phrase and TWO is not, though it’s an inferable term. ONE is the best entry point to the solution. If you don’t know much about the flat’s subject matter you could turn up some useful results with a Google search that includes an important clue word from the verse.

Edited to add: A correct solution has been posted in the RM14 comments.



PUZZLE: Rice Milk #14


ONE (6 5) / TWO (6 5)

Black-eyed peas, at first, rained from the sky?
And a gator dreamed up pecan pie?
Southern cooks tell these TWO
Which I don’t think are true,
And how ONE came about? That’s a lye!

Comments contain the answer to Rice Milk #13 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.