Unthemely #95



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While working on this Unthemely puzzle, I started thinking about traditional crossword specifications and the rationale behind them. Some specs serve a practical purpose. Checking all letters in a grid, for example, reduces the chances of a solver getting stuck on a single unknown answer. Some specs reflect the standards used in adjacent journalistic and entertainment practices. The rules about obscure and indelicate vocabulary fall in this category. Some specs are simply aesthetic choices invented for the medium. The rotational symmetry of black squares is such a choice.

Rather than putting crosswords rules in specific categories, suppose we rank them on a “rationale” scale of 0 to 10, where 0 represents practical/derivative and 10 represents arbitrary. The “No two-letter words” rule might rank a 3 on this scale, while “No more than 72 entries in a themeless grid” might be an 8 or 9. I have a question based on this hypothetical scale: where would you rank the rule that discourages or prohibits the duplication of words or word forms (e.g. EATS and ATECROW) in the same grid? Remember that a ranking reflects how much the rule serves a practical purpose or represents an artistic standard that extends outside the world of crossword puzzles.


Themed Crossword: Back Drops


Themed Crossword: Back Drops (PUZ) (PDF)

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I’m making slow but steady progress on the Autofill Manual Fill Project. I adjusted scores on my Default with Spaces wordlist and have started fortifying it with entries from the all-caps default list. I recently completed entries through eight letters in length, bringing Default with Spaces to 146,000 entries. The crossword in this post was a test of the word list in progress.

Roughly 40% of the entries in all-caps default are deleted or scored as unusable. The unusable entries are not added to Default with Spaces but kept in Default for administrative purposes. I adjust formatting in Microsoft Word, which has a decent interface for changing letter case. I do need to watch Word’s auto-formatting settings, particularly for apostrophes. CCWIN has some problems handling “smart” quotation marks.

The conversion process gets more laborious at this point. The Default with Spaces list is based on a list that was thoroughly developed through the eights not not much beyond that. My default list contained about 3,000 eight-letter entries not already in the Default with Spaces list. It contains over 32,000 unmatched nine-letter entries! Default with Spaces is usable for themed puzzles that don’t have many long entries in general fill but it is far from adequate for an Unthemely.


PUZZLE: Rice Milk #27


FIRST (3 4) / SECOND (5 2) / THIRD (7)

The school FIRST has positions to fill
So my mom’s trying out! Really chill!
Some might claim she’s too old
If she SECOND. That’s cold!
And a THIRD: She’s not over the hill!

Comments contain the answer to Rice Milk #26 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 #94



I’ve been taking a break from social media lately. My main concern was the time-sink, but I was also growing fatigued at Facebook and Twitter sessions that turned into acknowledgment clickfests. I still follow notifications that are directed to my email account, but I’m not sure what to do about other social media functions such as promoting the occasional puzzles and games that I post to this blog. I’ll rely on RSS feed subscriptions for now, and maybe I’ll see about easing back into social media in the future.

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.