Wednesday, June 30, 2021

LGBTQIA+ Inclusion

A double-post for Pride!

First up, super proud of last Tuesday's Universal Crossword, "Symbolism," which you can currently still solve on the Universal interface by clicking on the little calendar button and selecting June 22, or via .puz.  I got really excited by the theme, which is kind of an inside joke for regular crossword solvers, so I'm really happy that it could be part of #UniversalXwordPride and that people seemed to like it.

After this year's virtual ACPT, there was a fun queer crossword meet-up for puzzle people to hang out and play some games.  Welllllll, one of those games may have turned into a full-blown (meta)puzzle collab from me, David Gold, and Z---and this is Z's debut puzzle!

Quick little meta built in, feel free to brag to us here or on Twitter when you have it, and to suggest other fun themers. Happy solving and happy Pride!

PDF and .puz

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Multiple Choice

This one was included in the fantastic ACPT Virtual Table organized by Rachel Fabi and Nate Cardin a few weeks ago, but I'm finally putting up an actual post for it!

I want to go to there

At Lollapuzzoolla back in 20...17(!?), I overheard Sam Ezersky talking about a 15-letter entry he wanted to debut in a puzzle.  He meant it for a themeless grid, but I immediately assumed it was going to be a flashy theme revealer and started brainstorming possible themers with and/or at him.  I didn't end up shamelessly stealing his 15, but Sam was super nice about talking through the theme a bit along the way.

Back then I hadn't actually made any puzzles yet, and this was a pretty tough theme to tackle as a newbie, so it ended up getting backburnered while I figured out the basics.  Finally circled back around to it for real last year, and got a few rounds of really helpful feedback on various drafts from some friends and editors.  I'm really happy to have followed through and really proud of the final version---it is definitely my trickiest puzzle so far.

If you give it a solve, let me know over on Twitter to help relieve my crippling insecurities.  Hope it's a fun one!



Thursday, February 11, 2021

Coming Together

Note: For anyone with potentially delicate sensibilities, this puzzle qualifies as a crassword!

Publishing puzzles two months in a row---take that, impostor syndrome!

Uh, wait, where did this image come from?

Randomly started thinking how terrible a theme idea this would be, and mentioned the only entry I'd been able to come up so far to Lily Geller, assuming it would just be a one-off joke. Then she came up with another one and made the idea actually seem plausible. So, when you realize what the theme is, please jot down your complaints and pop them in the mail to Lily Geller at 4 Privet Drive, Natick, MA 01760.

What does this even have to do with---ohhhh, that's terrible.

We had a lot of fun trying to come up with possible themers, but because of  constraints in the concept, it's a pretty narrow set, with some non-symmetrical orphans that just didn't seem to fit.  And since the concept really lives or dies based on whether the themers eventually click and give that "aha!" moment, we felt like we had to be strict on what was allowed, which ruled out a bunch of others.  I definitely love the final themer set, but the list of rejected entries also has some absolute gold. If only there was a good way to share them...

Well that's just juvenile.  I love it.

Thanks to Lily for brainstorming and vetting many, many iterations of the grid, as always, and to Brett Rose, Rob Becker, and Monica Iyer for a ton of good test-solving feedback.  It was especially hard to guess from inside the construction what would and wouldn't click with this one, so the theme and some cluing angles very much benefited from the extra tightening.  I also outright stole a couple clue ideas, no regerts.

This one's sneaky.

I would also like to make clear that I am NOT above emotional manipulation.  Please solve this for my birthday and let me know what you think.  Come on people, I wanna see at least one "OMG" and one disappointed "David." by the end of the day! 

You wouldn't want to disappoint this good bubbeleh, would you?


Thursday, January 28, 2021

Reply Guys

*yawn* I was just resting my eyes after that August post, did I miss anything important? 

Oof, been a while since I posted anything---just lucky that I don't have any subscribers to be disappointed in me. I think between pandemic and the election all of my fun productivity energy got emptied, but I'm starting to circle back to half- or mostly-finished puzzles from 2020, and check all those indecipherable notes I've been leaving myself about new theme ideas. So I'll try and get back in the habit for 2021, at least one *something* a month. Today I've got a collab with Jesse Lansner!

The name of today's puzzle, "Reply Guys," is obviously taken from our fledgling tag team wrestling duo. We're terrible. But I'm glad we were able to add to the current trend of puzzles that started as fun, dumb ideas on Crossword Twitter, where a crowdsource or joke can quickly turn into a surprisingly legit joint for The Blogs(TM).

The idea for this one got bounced around a year and a half ago.  For an idea of the timeline, we had a themer set within hours, a grid for the themers within days, and then *checks notes* 8 months to fill the grid?!  Okay, it's possible we put this one on the back-back-back-back-burner.  But hopefully the end result is better because we took our time!  We split responsibilities on filling the (over-sized) grid and on cluing, so the end result should be a pretty good blend of our styles.  And without a deadline, we managed to squash some late-arising dupes and a couple gluey entries with a helper square that ONLY made us rejigger the literal central core of the grid.  Easy peasy!

Make sure to let us know "Thanks, I hate it" in the comments and on Twitter!

Also, here's a puppy.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Let's Roll

Going to just barely get a new puzzle posted for August!  Surprisingly, I don't really have a complicated or sappy story about coming up with this theme, so it might be a shorter blog post that lets you just get to the puzzle?  

First things first, at the start of the month, Amanda Rafkin published our collab puzzle Cutting Edge on her blog, Brain Candy, that I hope everyone checks out.  It was really great working with Amanda, and the puzzle definitely has both of our personalities in it.  Plus a tricky theme, but once you solve the mystery we think the payoff is pretty fun.  Tell her I sent you!

The idea for this blog was puzzles that are either too nerdy or too tricky to quite make sense elsewhere, and I think today's puzzle lives up to the promise.  This one's for the crossnerds.  The idea for the gimmick makes me chuckle, so it was a fun one to put together—actually, I might have had slightly too much nerd fun in some of the cluing?

That's pretty much all I've got for today's post, hope it's a smooth solve—and I promise I'll be more long-winded and confusing again next month!

P.S. I think I should start including photos of my brother and sister-in-law's new puppy, Shadow, in these posts.


PDF: Let's Roll

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Cheater Squares

This blog promised nerdy puzzles, and this blog provides nerdy puzzles.

But first things first, anyone who hasn't already should absolutely be getting Grids for Good, the charity pack organized by Evan Birnholz and released earlier this month to raise money for COVID- and racial justice-related charities.  Showing a receipt for a donation of $10 or more gets you 42 puzzles, from some of the best constructors in the game.  I was also included in the pack, presumably due to some sort of oversight.  Honestly, it's a great cause, and I'm really proud to have been part of it.  Plus, if you're really feeling the lack of in-person puzzle tournaments, my The Vine Comedy puzzle may give you some of that feeling of drinking and playing Celebrities at the bar---the theme came together way better than I expected, so I hope it gets a laugh! 

For anyone who doesn't know, "cheater squares" refers to black squares in a crossword that could be removed without changing the total number of words---it can make a particular spot easier to fill by shortening two entries and making it so they don't have to cross.  As long as the puzzle isn't way too heavy on black squares already, they can really help to smooth out some fill.  But...they sound kind of bad?  So there has been a bit of a campaign recently to give them a new name, like "helper squares," so that newer constructors don't feel pushed away from or judged for using them.  Since this post is about games, I'll suggest we call them Corner Nerfs!

But this puzzle?  Oh, yeah, this puzzle's themers are definitely cheating.  Brainstormed the idea with Lily Geller, who assured me that---Contra my instinct---this theme is not, in fact, super-dumb.  But it is most definitely niche, which is why it would be ridiculous at any publication or outlet, and perfect for the blog.  Given the theme, this will probably play a lot easier for folks who know a bit about (classic) video games, so thanks to test-solvers Jesse Lansner and Nate Cardin for their notes on how to smooth out parts of the solve.  The final version could be a bit of a workout for video game agnostics, but hopefully still fair and fun, so it's allowed to be a little tough.  If you have trouble, just take the puzzle out and blow on it, that usually works.

The Master Pencil is guarded by the Puzzle 
Sage deep inside the Rebus Woods

A couple fun spoiler facts I can't help sharing---hidden behind spoiler links, so don't click or hover until after you've solved!  17-Across has shown up in a bunch of tech and pop culture homages over the years, including this song from nerd-rock band Kirby Krackle.  And while 38D hasn't been around for any recent consoles, it's legacy actually includes a famous copyright litigation.  Boom, nerded and lawyered.

 Additional fun fact: I almost included album
art that had 66-Across right on the cover

Good luck!

PDF: Cheater Squares
.puz: Cheater Squares

Also, I'm experimenting with embedding an applet, just to test if it works. EDIT: After experimenting with it a bit and getting some initial feedback/assistance, I think the applet or PDF will be the easier way to solve this particular puzzle.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Island Getaway

Today's puzzle is Grid Pro Quo's first brand-new puzzle1, a collab, and a debut!

Lily and I met through a friend back in the twenty-aughts, and we've been part of a friendly puzzle group for a while now, solving the Panda Magazine Puzzle Boats together and inviting each other to Learned League.  I can't remember who peer pressured who, but last year (after Lily dominated ACPT's C Division as a rookie) we went to a workshop that Andy Kravis put together to help new and aspiring constructors learn the ropes, and decided we should work on a puzzle together, to slightly lower the odds that we'd just get frustrated and give up—Lily's debut puzzle, and not that far off for me either.

After a crossword dinner date that I guarantee you neither of our husbands was jealous about, we actually had a theme, themer set, and grid that we liked.  We spent a few days polishing tough crossings and putting together clues by text, and then just as we were finalizing the puzzle for a playtester, I opened up the NYTimes puzzle app and saw a variation on our theme---we'd been scooped!  Not only that, but we'd been scooped by Natan Last and Andy Kravis's JASA summer class that I had encouraged my aunt to take.  We got scooped by my own family, like some sort of nerdy, unwatchable soap opera.  I am confident I can blame Andy for this somehow.

But we talked it over a bit, and felt like even though our inspiration was the same, our theme was actually executed differently enough from the JASA class puzzle that it was still worth shopping aroundit would feel too duplicative for the NYT so soon, but we'd already decided during construction that some of our fill wouldn't be a great fit for them, so that was all right.  Right?

We submitted the puzzle around at a few other outlets (one at a time, natch), and got some rejections that honestly made us laugh more than anythinglike passing on it because "choosing an appropriate date to run this puzzle would be impossible."  Getting turned down is always disappointing, but sometimes it helpfully illustrates where wouldn't have been a good fit, which can soften the blow a bit.  But our favorite rejection, by far, was full of compliments for the puzzle, and just wanted us to resubmit once the JASA puzzle was a bit further in the rearview.  It was truly a more encouraging rejection than some acceptances I've gotten in my lifewhich must illustrate that it was a great fit.  Right?

Fast forward a few months, and we're getting ready to resubmit the puzzle, debating what amount of time to wait to avoid seeming too thirsty.  This time, it was Lily who DMed"I'm 80% through Friday's LATimes downs-only and .... well, you should do it."  Oh come on, we'd been scooped again?!  So before a third outlet somehow managed to spiral increasingly closer to our exact themer set, we thought it made sense to just publish on a blog for our Crossworld friends to solve and enjoy.  Right?

TWO Scoops!  Excellent source of SALT

Haha j/k there isn't actually another twist, but the point of the story is obviously that this puzzle is cursed.  If I managed to get this post online before another indie blog does the same theme again, I'll be shocked.  Solve it fast, or there's a decent chance you personally will construct and publish your own version of the theme later today.  That's just math.  And possibly some sort of hex.

PDF: Island Getaway
.PUZ: Island Getaway

Next week, a new puzzle that will truly live up to, nay, exceed this blog's promise of unpublishably nerdy themes.

1 Well...this is technically true. The best kind of true!

LGBTQIA+ Inclusion

A double-post for Pride! First up, super proud of last Tuesday's Universal Crossword, "Symbolism," which you can currently sti...