The Inkubator / Crosswords LA X

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Laura Braunstein is requesting submissions for an upcoming crossword puzzle subscription service. The Inkubator will feature twice-a-month publications of crossword puzzles constructed by women. Laura and Tracy Bennett will edit the puzzles and seem very open to themes and grid styles that challenge mainstream standards. Constructors may submit drafts and general questions to  inkubatorcrosswords [at] gmail.com. A crowdfunding campaign for subscriptions launches October 21.

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Crosswords LA X will be held this Sunday (October 21) at USC’s Hoffman Hall. Advance registration is closed, but a limited number of walk-in participants will be admitted on tournament day. Tournament organizer Elissa Grossman and puzzle wrangler Alex Boisvert have commissioned puzzles from some of the finest puzzlemakers in the country, and also one from me. Solve-at-home packets will be made available after the tournament and portions of the proceeds go to Reading to Kids. I’m excited to see everyone at the tournament!

 

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Ten Words / Bart Bonte Games

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My friend Max Woghiren has posted a web game called Ten Words.

The goal is to fill a five-by-five word grid one letter at a time so that as many rows and columns of the completed word grid contain a word of at least three letters. You have two letter placement options at each turn but don’t know about upcoming letters, so you have to be strategic about your choices. You can play one game per day for leaderboard consideration and additional games in a “practice” mode. I love the press-your-luck element to the game, though I tend to set up an ambitious letter skeleton and then crash and burn in a spate of vowels. Give it a try, and see if you have better luck than me.

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Eric Berlin recently turned me on to the app games of Bart Bonte. I’ve downloaded and completed What’s Inside the Box, Yellow, and Red. Each game comprises a series of puzzle “quickies” that involve pattern induction, logical sequencing, spatial reasoning, and occasional wordplay. None of the puzzles have instructions, but you can request hints. “Lights Out” variants are a bit overused, but the overall puzzle collections are clever and the aesthetics are very attractive.

 

Puzzle Your Kids Videos

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Puzzle Your Kids creator Eric Berlin posted a YouTube instructional video titled How to Make a Word Search. Eric narrates the video and mentions that this will be followed by more videos related to puzzle construction and wordplay. It’s definitely worth a view if you want to learn the basics of word search construction, but also to hear Eric’s avuncular narration and his reactions to unusual bird names. Check it out!

Women of Letters

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If, like me, you’ve gone through the Queer Qrosswords puzzle packet and are looking for a new set of crosswords that supports underrepresented puzzle creators and allied charities, visit the Woman of Letters website. The talented Patti Varol along with an equally talented slate of constructors who “happen to be women” have produced a packet of 18 puzzles. The puzzles are available to those who make a donation of at least $10 to one or more of the participating charities linked on the site. These puzzles lead to solutions that are more than just correct arrangements of letters in a grid. Keep supporting these projects!

Queer Qrosswords

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Crossword constructor Nate Cardin has organized a charity crossword project called Queer Qrosswords. By donating $10 or more to an organization that supports rights for members of the LGBTQ community, you can receive a collection of puzzles from a murderers’ row of puzzle creators who are members of the community you are supporting. The puzzles will contain clues and themes intended to balance the heteronormative cant in mainstream crosswords. In short: three great reasons to support this project. Check it out!

Choice / Damn This Traffic Jam

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I didn’t participate in last week’s MIT Mystery Hunt, but I dropped in on my team’s Slack channel throughout the weekend to monitor my team’s progress. I also accessed the Hunt website to get a sense of this year’s puzzle structure and theme. The organizing team Death & Mayhem (rebranded as Life & Order) designed a Hunt that took place inside the head of fictional puzzle enthusiast Miss Terry Hunter, with liberal references to the Pixar film Inside Out. The puzzle rounds were themed around reigning in the five anthropomorphized emotions and then retrieving four core memories, ultimately enabling Terry to go on the final runaround. The hunt, titled Head Hunters, had an engaging story and polished puzzles and metas. I was very proud of my team completing the Hunt first in a close finish with several other talented teams.

L&O used an interesting gimmick for the core memory puzzle rounds. The memories represented four different stages of Terry’s youth and adolescence. Rather than present these rounds in a uniform order for all teams, L&O allowed individual teams to choose the order. A team becoming eligible to unlock a new core memory round received cursory information on the available options and then made a selection. The structure was innovative, but also controversial. “Choose-you-own-adventure” supporters appreciated having more agency in the Hunt experience and L&O mentioned during the wrap-up meeting that the structure allowed them early vetting of the core memory rounds. Opponents of the choice system pointed out that the core memory rounds included scavenger hunts, physical puzzles, and other specialty items that are more manageable when timed with particular solving shifts. A team discovering that the chosen round is not suited to the current contingent of awake puzzlers would likely feel screwed by poor luck of the draw.

The controversy was good food for thought in my explorations of immersion and escape room design. Immersive artists would applaud the introduction of choice, but the stakes are different when the experience is a theatrical experiment or art installation such as House of Eternal Return. The Pastore home was designed to illustrate how experience is non-commutative. Impressions depend on the order in which we perceive the data. On the other hand, Pine and Gilmore in The Experience Economy warn that too much variety can be harmful in a business context because the participants become overwhelmed with choices and consequences. Business owners should strive for customization and personalize experiences with a combination of moderate client interaction and empirical research. I suspect that the Pine and Gilmore approach would have benefited Mystery Hunt teams, but it would be a dealbreaking effort for the organizing team to customize solving trajectories for a hundred participating teams.

All current Puzzah! adventures feature a strictly linear narrative. Teams must solve puzzle A before solving puzzle B. In some cases a team making good time can unlock a bonus puzzle between two puzzles on the schedule. This is an example of customization based on automated assessment of a team’s skill level. But teams still recognize that they are being leash-led down a singular path and request having more control over their journey. I have some ideas on introducing more agency in our next room, but I must keep choices manageable and benign. At the end of the day, it’s all about providing the experience of success.

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Mystery Hunt solving team Palindrome was one of the top finishers this year. Members of Palindrome constructed a practice Hunt called Damn This Traffic Jam. The Hunt was distributed among teammates earlier this month and now is publicly available on The P&A website. I finished the Hunt yesterday and enjoyed it immensely. It contains several puzzles that are suitable for beginning solvers. Check it out!