DASH 7 / Indie 500 (General, Non-Spoiler Comments)


This was a puzzle-filled weekend! The DASH Puzzle Hunt was held in 16 cities. The inaugural Indie 500 Crossword Tournament was held in Washington D.C., as was Dave Barry’s crowd-pleasing Washington Post Hunt, I participated in DASH in Denver and solved at-home versions of the Indie 500 puzzles. I plan to talk about the puzzles featured in both DASH and Indie 500 but the Indie 500 organizers have requested a two-week gag order on puzzle details in social media and I will offer the same courtesy to DASH, hoping that the puzzles will made available by mid-June. For now, some general comments about both events.

This was the seventh DASH hunt but the first presented in Denver. My friends at the puzzle room business Puzzah! were the local organizers and they did a fantastic job setting up a route through the Lower Downtown area and helping acclimate the novice teams to the hunt logistics. Puzzah! also hosted a follow-up reception at their store location. I hunted on team with NPL colleague Kristy McGowan and her friend Jennie Crittenden and we finished in second place among the Denver teams. I had lots of fun and a little too much sun — after four weeks of clouds and rain I’m still getting used to the idea that the sun shines in Colorado.

Reports from the Indie 500 tournament are being posted on the website leaderboard and social media. Congratulations to overall tournament champion Joon Pahk! I knew that the tournament was planning to have some special features such as entry music for the finalists and lots of pie but I haven’t been given many details aside from a fun video clip of tournament co-organizer Peter Broda getting a pie in the puss from randomly-selected contestant representative Joe Cabrera. I requested at-home copies of the tournament crosswords and a miniextravaganza of meta crosswords. I received the latter on Friday and solved it as DASH prep. The tournament crosswords were delivered on Sunday along with some bonus puzzles and tournament rules.

Look for my reviews in two weeks.

PUZZLE: Rice Milk #19


A (5 3) / B (8) / C (8) / D (8)

Each rotund, head-shaved monk likes to boast
Of his girth in a geek-culture post.
But the forum is D.
When it’s ordered we’ll see
If the C of the B monks A most.

Comments contain the answer to Rice Milk #18 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 given a packet that contains a map of downtown Denver and a series of puzzles. The map shows several marked locations and each puzzle can be completed with information findable at one of the locations. The puzzle solutions can be plugged into a meta puzzle that yields an answer phase confirming the players’ “street smarts.”

Skipping Stones

* * *

Street Smarts was presented in September 2008. My game party guests did well with Bug Hunt the previous year so I decided to try an outdoor “walkaround” puzzle hunt similar to ones I had played at NPL conventions and at the Dave Berry hunts in Miami and Washington. The hunt’s five puzzles could be completed in any order though the puzzle locations on the map steered most teams to start at the Pavilions and City Center Park and then return up 16th Street to the Performing Arts Complex, Skyline Park, and Union Station. I was pleased with the Pavilions puzzle: players were given a series of photos taken within the mall and had to determine the compass direction and Photoshop-removed letter associated with each photo. The letters could then be placed in a compass rose to determined an answer message. Less successful was the word maze based on the stepping stones in and around the Skyline Park fountain. It was a good puzzle concept but needed better instructions. The meta puzzle was a simple acrostic word grid and most teams were able to get the final answer after completing four of the five puzzles. The Performing Arts Complex puzzle was based on a temporary promotional banner and the Union Station puzzle involved a train photo exhibit that was removed when the station was renovated in 2014 but the other puzzles are still solvable.

PUZZLE: Unthemely #73



The seed entry at 1-Across was plucked from recent news. I have no idea if it will remain relevant, at least in the the since in which it is clued, but it was too tempting a grid-filling challenge to resist. Enjoy!



Default: 362525
Default with Spaces: 146402

NOTES: I haven’t seen many films in the DC Comics or Marvel series but I recognize they do well at the box office and have an impact on the popular culture vocabulary. I don’t know what Ultron (55) means but it appears in an Avengers title and looks like useful crossword fill. I also have not seen any of the Fast and the Furious films but yesterday I caught the See You Again (70) video on VH1, which features a performance by Charlie Puth (50). One of my CrosSynergy colleagues called me out on my use of the entry eke by in a recent crossword draft. I had seen the phrase referenced in puzzles for decades and assumed it was a legitimate phrase, but it is not sanctioned by dictionaries and only shows up in a few articles, mainly sports commentaries, as a colloquial equivalent of “squeak by.” I rescored all forms of the phrase to 35.


LISTS: Notable additions from the sharedoc include lightcycle (75), recapper (65)people skills (80), and veggie tray (80). I like the verbal phrase nerd out (55) though I gave it a conservative fill score based on Google hits. The phrase nerd out puts a positive spin on the once derogatory term taken from Dr. Seuss’s 1950 children’s book If I Ran the Zoo. The nerd pride movement has been generally successful in re-branding the word “nerd” as a compliment. I appreciate the broader clue options for the common crossword entry NERD, but I wonder how much I can exercise those options when designing a puzzle to be easy. A puzzle constructor catering to novice solvers not only has to use simple vocabulary but must lean toward familiar, dictionary-based clue approaches, and NERD skews negative in both Webster’s and Ginsberg. What do you think? Are Monday-level solvers ready for NERD clues such as {Devoted pop culture fan} and {Many a Silicon Valley mogul}?

Tortoiseshell Studio


The puzzles of Nathan Curtis had once been available in Will Shortz Presents Wordplay magazine and on the Tortoiseshell Blog, but Wordplay magazine recently published its final issue and the blog has been dormant for months. But fear not, Tortoise fans: Nathan just gave me a heads up on his new Tortoiseshell Studio blog. The site contains some archive puzzles and will feature new puzzles following an announcement next week. I’m looking forward to the renewed access to Pathfinders, Marching Bands, and other variety puzzles that Nathan comes up with. Check it out!

PUZZLE: Unthemely #71



Alex Boisvert recently posted about the release of the Crossword Nexus HTML5 Solver that he co-developed with Alex Shpak. I haven’t experimented with the software yet though I am impressed with work that Alex has done in the past and receptive to his ruminations on the future of digital formats for puzzles. I hadn’t considered installing a online solver on this blog. I personally prefer to solve puzzles offline, but I’m curious to learn how others feel. How do you prefer to solve crossword puzzles from online sources? As printouts, in offline applications such as XWord or Across Lite, or in on-line solving apps?

PUZZLE: Rice Milk #18


WORD (9) / PHRASE (5 4)

All this PHRASE on the menu brings pleasure,
But a trim little waistline I treasure.
So from eating peach pies,
Chili, hash, ham on ryes
I have WORD — it’s a new “counter” measure.

Comments contain the answer to Rice Milk #17 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: Unthemely #70



My trip to Boston last week caused me to get behind both on puzzle construction and puzzle solving. Here are some belated links to a few notable posts on blogs of my colleagues.

Christopher King has started an interesting series on crosswordese on his Chris Words blog. The first X-words Files post covers the entry ERLE with some background on detective author Erle Stanley Gardner and the origin of his unusual first name.

Evan Birnholz recently posted on Devil Cross an enjoyable summary of Patrick Berry’s “Vicious Circle” mini extravaganza. The extravaganza is still available for purchase on Patrick’s website, though the contest has expired. Evan notes that I provided the artwork in one of the extravaganza puzzles and I appreciate his complimentary mention. I was originally concerned that the images would be ambiguous and suggested to Patrick that he would better off creating  the puzzle using printed words instead, but he was adamant that the artwork would add value to the extravaganza. Boston puzzlers that I saw last week gave positive feedback on the art, and some expressed a bit of anxiety as they struggled to come up with the final answer before the contest deadline. I couldn’t have helped any of these solvers even if I wanted to as I had test-solved the extravaganza more than six months ago and couldn’t remember how most of the puzzles worked.

Don’t forget that the Indie 500 crossword tournament co-organized by Evan takes place at the end of this month in Washington, D.C.