Crosswords LA / Henry Hook

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I’m a little behind but I wanted to congratulate champion Eric Maddy and finalists Brian Fodera and Jon Berman for their phenomenal performance in the recent Crosswords LA tournament held on the UCLA campus. I also want to thank tournament director Elissa Grossman for her tireless efforts in organizing the tournament and for entrusting me with the “puzzle wrangler” position. The tournament constructors: Andrea Carla Michaels, Patti Varol, Jeffrey Harris, Samuel Donaldson, Trip Payne, Joel Elkins, Ronald Allen, C.C. Burnikel, and Doug Peterson made my job easy. The tournament included a warmup by Marc Spararagen and Dake Shukan and and team puzzle by John Doppler Schiff but the highlight for me (and I apologize if this is a spoiler) was the tribute to Merl Reagle in the form of a tournament puzzle constructed in his style. The reveal of that puzzle elicited murmurs of appreciation and applause for constructor Trip Payne.

On the topic of crossword memorials, I have been reading in social media memories of puzzle genius Henry Hook who passed away this week. Like Merl, Henry was a figure that I didn’t have a strong personal friendship with, but he was a pleasantly familiar byline in my early days of solving Games Magazine. I also remember his game show activities from ACPT, such as a Hollywood Squares game where he put his Games Magazine colleagues on the stage to weigh in on clever trivia questions. Rest in peace, Double-H.

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AUTOFILL PROJECT: Oxboard

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Default: 363528
Default with Spaces: 147435

NOTES: My Notepad additions have been slowing down over the last few months. I guess I’m noticing fewer new names in the news and I’m being more judicious with entries that I encounter in other crossword puzzles. Recent celebrity additions include Estonian tennis star Anett (45) Kontaveit and singer Hailee (50) Steinfeld. I’m also pleased that Desi Lydic (60) has joined Trevor Noah’s team of Daily Show correspondents, though it looks like she will be out on maternity leave shortly. I recently heard a news piece on the food desert (75) situation facing communities that are too rural to have access to grocery stores with fresh produce. And, with the approach of the day that Marty McFly traveled to the then-future in Back to the Future II, I have added Oxboard (70).Sure, they’re not hoverboards but I guess they’re as close as 2015 technology and marketing can get. I do see a lot of youngsters cruising around on them in Downtown Denver.

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PUZZLE: Unthemely #85

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DOWNLOADABLE PUZZLE: Unthemely #85 (PUZ) (PDF)

I finished up the clues for this puzzle just about the time that Foggy Brume’s Puzzle Boat 3 went live, so I understand if some puzzle fans don’t make this Unthemely puzzle a top priority.

While brainstorming clues for 47-Across I wondered if the answer had any notable appearances in movies or television shows. I queried Google and discovered this website. Well played, Internet. I’ll have to play around with that site at a later date. For now, enjoy the puzzle — I’ve got to catch up with my Puzzle Boat crew.

Into the Void

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The most recent contest puzzle presented by Fireball Crosswords was a construction of mine titled “Into the Void.” It was my first meta crossword and a few people emailed me with questions about the puzzle, so I decided to post a bit of background on how this puzzle came together.

Over a year ago I was thinking about ideas for contest puzzle to feature on Life as a Puzzle and I got the idea of a “limbo” puzzle in which the letters L, I, M, B, and O appeared beneath entries that would represent limbo sticks. I wondered if the LIMBO letters could be presented as ambiguous curtailments of the down entries and realized SUPER/B would be a nice option for the B. Options for the other letters materialized and a managed to put all of the theme material into a workable grid with a bit of rough fill in the center section. I liked the way the draft turned out and decided to try submitting to Fireball rather than using it on the blog. Peter Gordon test-solved it and liked the overall gimmick. He encouraged me to make some revisions and resubmit it.

The puzzle had a few problems. In the original draft I used BEAMMEUPMRSCOTT as the central theme entry. Peter asked if this was a legitimate quotation from a “Star Trek” episode or film. A number on online trivia sources claim that “Beam me up, Scottie” was never used while “Beam me up, Mr. Scott” was the actual phrase. After searching through several online scripts I discovered that neither of those forms was ever uttered by Captain Kirk, and I needed to find a replacement entry that was 15 letters long, contained a synonym for “stick,” and had a P for the eighth letter. I came up with STAFFSUPPORTERS, which miraculously fit in the grid with minimal refill problems. The other problem came with the test-solving. Peter gave the puzzle, which had the working title “Underachievement,” to several solvers. They invariably reported that they guessed the answer LIMBO based on the title and the theme acrosses but did not find the hidden letter gimmick. Peter and I went back and forth on alternate methods for titles and meta instructions. We finally changed the puzzle to “Into the Void,” exploiting the other meaning of limbo that relates to the placement of the hidden letters in black squares. I suspect that some solvers did not even notice the references to the limbo dance until after figuring out the answer.

It was an exhausting exercise getting the puzzle ready for market, but I’m glad it worked out and that I have the experience of constructing a meta crossword in my curriculum vitae.