PUZZLE: Unthemely #93



Speed has recently become topic of relevance in my life as a puzzle. I often take a leisurely approach to puzzles constructed in my spare time — the Unthemely crosswords published this year being an exaggerated example. But the puzzles constructed for my livelihood are all associated with deadlines, and I sometimes struggle to decide whether to spend a short amount of time creating something acceptable or spend more time to give more exceptional quality to the final product. In either approach, I realize that I’m slow and easily distracted.

Speed is also a relevant issue in solving puzzles, as in this weekend’s Lollapuzzoola tournament in New York. Competitive solvers are evaluated on both speed and accuracy, though accuracy is rarely a pack separator in the qualifying rounds. I secured a seat in the tournament but didn’t have a particular competition agenda. My finish in June’s Indie 500 tournament suggested that I’m on the same plateau as my last ACPT performance in 2008. With nothing to prove, I told the LPZ organizers that I would forfeit my seat and serve as a tournament assistant if they needed more volunteers. Brian Cimmet contacted me saying that he could use more help and there were certainly plenty of stand-bys hoping for competitor seats in the sold-out tournament. So I’ll employ “be more speedier” skills as a runner and judge rather than a solver, and I’m happy to see Manhattan and the tournament regulars after an absence of several years. To all those competing, Godspeed! (and not Toddspeed).


PUZZLE: Unthemely #92



34-Down was the seed entry in this puzzle. I learned it from a friend who offered to make some intellectual property available for a work project. The fill came together pretty quickly and I managed to include some additional first-time (for me) entries. Happy solving!

PUZZLE: Rice Milk #26


FIRST (3-5) / SECOND (4 4)

Stephen Bannon, who feels sitcoms lack
A FIRST viewpoint, will bring SECOND back.
To play Donald and Ann,
Trump and Coulter’s the plan.
It’s a black-and-white show (minus black).

Comments contain the answer to Rice Milk #25 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 #91



Sheesh, it’s been a long time since I worked on a crossword puzzle. To give you an idea of how long this themeless grid has been sitting on my desktop, the original seed entry at 1-Across was the hip, trending term POKESTOP. The seed, along with a majority of the grid’s top half, was replaced due to a partial dupe discovered after the first fill attempt.

Michael Sharp’s crossword-themed podcast  On the Grid, which has apparently and unfortunately petered out after a single episode (ETA: Lena Webb reports, in the comments, that a new On the Grid episode will soon be posted.), included a discussion on terms with an E- (for electronic) prefix, such as EMAIL, EZINE, EFILE, and ECIG. Michael asked guests which of these terms are still in common use and which are passe, and should therefore be removed from crossword fill consideration. I thought about that discussion when cluing 44-Across. The entry has a few approaches and the one I chose seems to have rapidly declining relevance among younger generations.

On the topic of blogs and podcasts, I’ve added Dan Katz’s blog Puzzlevaria to my links list. Dan’s posts focus on long-form puzzle periodicals and events such as P&A Magazine and MIT Mystery Hunt. The blogosphere boasts numerous analysis and review sites for crossword puzzles, and I’m glad that a similar site has now been created for hunt puzzles.

Finally, I want to plug a new puzzle book by friend and occasional LaaP commenter Roger Barkan. Colossal Cave Collection, published by Grandmaster Puzzles, is a book of Cave puzzles. Jeffrey Schwartz describes this abstract logic puzzle type as “Paint by Numbers on steroids.” The page linked above includes a free donwloadable sampler. I’m still getting my sea legs with this puzzle type but I did manage to solve the first puzzle using a hint, indexed in the back of the book, and a fair amount of erasing.

PUZZLE: Unthemely #90



For the past eight months all of my income has been derived from the puzzle industry, with the exception of some monthly contributions to the household-expenses kitty made by my mother and condo-mate Sybil. I’ve had aspirations to be a full-time “professional puzzler” for decades but I don’t feel like I’ve made deliberate efforts to attain that particular status. It’s a life that I fell into by serendipity. The responsibilities of puzzle room development for Puzzah!, crossword construction for professional outlets, and program coordination for the National Puzzlers’ League drain my creativity. Working on the Unthemely crossword series is something of a busman’s holiday. The grid for Unthemely #90 sat half-filled on my desktop for over two months. Over the last two weeks I finally got around to finishing the grid and writing the clues.

On the subject of Unthemely crosswords, I want to remind you that my book Fresh Freestyle Crosswords will be released later this year. I recently received the first review copy and am very pleased with

PUZZLE: Rice Milk #25


FIRST (6 6) / SECOND (4 2 6)

“For your Mother’s Day breakfast in bed,
I’ve beat eggs for a FIRST,” cried King Oed.
“As you eat, I will sing
SECOND‘ just like the King.”
“Too much ham,” was what Jocasta said.

Comments contain the answer to Rice Milk #24 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 #89



The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is about two months away. One of the highlights of this year’s evening entertainments is an Escape Room designed by Eric Berlin. I won’t be attending the tournament and I’m curious to see what Eric comes up with for this activity. Escape rooms are trendy at the moment and the label offers commercial value for a range of puzzle and game tie-in enterprises. Puzzle books based on escape rooms are being planned (Christopher Manson’s Maze could be a prototype of the genre) and “Host a Murder Mystery” box games are being re-branded as “Host an Escape Room.” Among business that offer escape rooms, there is a great variety in the level of theme, and by “theme” I mean physical and sensory immersive detail. This variety introduces an interesting question: what is the difference between an escape room and a puzzle activity that is inspired by the concept of an escape room? Different people would have different answers to the question based on experience and expectations. Participants of Eric’s ACPT activity may describe their experiences in various terms but I’m sure they will all have a great time.