ACPT 2017-Tournament and Talent Show

In what has become a lovely yearly habit for me, I recently attended the 2017 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament out in Stamford, CT. With it being my 4th year, I now know my way around the tournament and hotel, have met some great people that I always look forward to seeing year after year, and have some helpful data to see the progress my solving skills are making. But overall, I just have a lot of fun.

First, the progress: This year, I finished 336th out of 619, putting me in the 54th percentile, my second best showing. Besides one stupid error (which cost me about 20 places in the rankings), I don't feel bad. The puzzles were decidedly harder this year. As usual, puzzle 5 destroyed me with a super complicated double theme. Puzzle 3, supposedly an easier one, left me somewhat flummoxed with names of elements I've never heard of. Puzzles 1, 4, and 6 I aced and had just 1 square wrong on each of 2 and 7. So, overall, I'm not displeased—room to improve but still a strong enough showing.

But the real fun of the tournament, for me at least, was the talent show. Since my first trip to the ACPT, I've been brewing this act combining my love of juggling and love of crosswords. This year, after poking at it here and there over the years, it all came together and I had a chance to present it. It was a hit, with people really appreciating the nerdiness as much as the talent. I'm excited to work out the kinks and get a few more run throughs to really solidify it. Then the hope is to add it to our upcoming summer shows. I'm sure the reception won't be nearly as great as it was with a room full of hardcore crossworders, but hopefully it will stand on its own. See for yourself!


Thanks to all who made the ACPT such a fun and successful event! Hope to see you all again next year!
Thursday March 30 2017File under: crosswords, video, juggling

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My Crossword in the Orange County Register

Recently, I had one of my crosswords published in the Orange County Register family of papers down in Southern California, my 9th-ish puzzle publication to date. While the paper doesn't have the circulation of the NYT or WSJ therefore not quite the prestige (or payday) of having a puzzle published, I still feel proud and honored to have a puzzle featured.

We have all heard how tough the newspaper publishing industry is these days. Perhaps because of that, most papers run only syndicated puzzles from one of a very few syndicates, meaning the market for crossword constructors is rather small. The Orange County Register bucks this trend and publishes its own puzzle weekly. It is a great counterpoint to the highly competitive other venues from a constructor's point of view. Additionally, working with the editor, David Steinberg, was really great. All around, just a great thing they've got going there.

One of my favorite parts of getting a puzzle published is framing it up for my ever-growing crossword wall. Since puzzle creation isn't much of a money maker (making up only 3.3% of my yearly income last year (details here)), it is having these reminders of my accomplishment that helps keep me cranking at the rather tedious process of making puzzles. And while the wall is filling up, I've still got enough space to keep striving to get more puzzles published. I've got my hopes high for the upcoming year. As always, stay tuned here for any developments.

Oh, and if you want to do my latest puzzle and don't live in the OCR distribution area, download a copy here to print at home. It also features a neat bio and picture, a real neat personal touch!.
Saturday February 11 2017File under: crosswords

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My Crossword Resume Grows

Just this week, Simon & Schuster Mega Crossword Puzzle Book #16 was released and contained 2 of my puzzles! It's my first puzzles published in book form and, while no NYT or WSJ, it's still exciting. The book contains puzzles by well known names in the industry*. If you've been meaning to re-up your crossword game, pick yourself up a copy (preferably from your local bookstore, but here's the amazon link just in case).

This represents my seventh published venue for a puzzle: Every time I have a puzzle published, I get a little giddy. It represents so much to me: accomplishment of a goal, persistence, recognition that what I've made is worthy, and so much more. Each new venue is another notch on that accomplishment list, and it just makes me smile. I've got my sights set on the next puzzle and the next venue, so stay tuned. In the meantime, go do a crossword.

Thursday November 17 2016File under: crosswords

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Wall Street Journal Crossword

Today I got another big notch in my crossword bedpost with my first Wall Street Journal puzzle. Coming shortly on the heels of my big NYT puzzle debut last week, it has a week of crossword accomplishments that has been so fun to sit back and enjoy.

A fun little story behind this Wall Street Journal puzzle: I have had my eyes set on getting a WSJ puzzle published ever since they started doing daily puzzles about a year ago*. While out at the Crossword Tournament this spring, I made a point to seek out Mike Shenk, the WSJ puzzle editor, and shake his hand in hopes it might get my name noticed when my puzzle crossed his desk. He explained that it wasn't him that did the culling, but he'd try to mention me to his assistant who did. Sure enough, 2 weeks later, I got the e-mail with my puzzle's acceptance. Whether or not my deliberate socializing helped my puzzle or if it was accepted on its merits alone, I'll never know. But it's a fun story nonetheless.

As always, I encourage you to support the people and publications that support crossword creators by going out and buying a copy of the puzzle. It's in today (June 7th, 2016) Wall Street Journal. But if you missed your chance, you can download a copy of the PDF here. Once you've done the puzzle (or if you get stuck), you can go read the review/solution at Diary of a Crossword Fiend. This one also got a gereally encouraging review, which started with the awesome line "Wren Schultz completes the hat trick today for getting a puzzle published in all three major dailies".

This crossword publication thing is pretty neat. Knowing that there are people out there doing (and hopefully enjoying) something that I've created and worked hard on really makes me feel great. And so much because of that, I hope to keep creating crosswords and getting them published. Stay tuned!
Wednesday June 8 2016File under: crosswords

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My First New York Times Crossword Puzzle

Today is a big day in my world—like really big. Today is the day my first crossword gets published in the New York Times. This is like getting drafted by your favorite NBA team (but with way less money). Or winning the lottery (but with way less money). Or performing on stage at Carnegie Hall (but, again, with way less money). This is a dream come true, an accomplishment that I've diligently worked towards and finally achieved.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. All the mushy stuff aside, it's still pretty neat. It was over 3.5 years ago that I first submitted a puzzle to the NYT (post here). Since then, I've gotten puzzles in various other publications (L.A. Times, Chronicle of Higher Ed (twice!), Uptown Puzzle Club) and learned lots in the process (through the help of some really great editors). This puzzle was maybe my fourth NYT submission (and actually a reworking of a previously submitted theme) and an idea I've been stoked on for a long time. So 11 months after I printed it out and sent it in, here we are.

Crossword folks always want the juicy details of what crossword creation and getting published is like. And while they might not be at all juicy, here are a few details. NYT pays $300 for a daily crossword. (Others generally pay less.) This crossword probably took me 40+ hours to create (accounting for making the rejected first version and the totally reworked second version, cluing, printing, communicating, etc.). That works out to less than minimum wage. The editor has final say on the grid and clues. Will Shortz (the NYT puzzle editor) changed one square in the grid and about 80% of the clues. That's his job, to tweak clues to account for difficulty, audience, style, etc. And I get that. But some of the clues I liked better before (ex: mine: Great Scott! vs. his: Scott in 1857 news* or mine: Glass with glasses vs. his: Part of a financial portfolio (for short)*. It's kind of funny, not really understanding all the clues to your own puzzle. But that's the way the game works, and as I get more savvy, I'm sure my clues will be tweaked less and less.

Another really neat thing about this experience is all the attention my puzzle gets out in the blogosphere. I'm writing this the night before it comes out and I've already read 4 reviews, all of which were more good than bad (xwordinfo.com, NYTs Word Play blog, Diary of a Crossword Fiend, and Rex Parker). I was actually pretty nervous about these reviews as my last puzzle (in the Chronicle of Higher Ed) got somewhat panned in its review, but I was really pleased with how this one was received. (I think it helped that many of the reviewers are constructors themselves so can appreciate the difficulty of the theme.)

So now you want to do the puzzle, eh? What, you mean you weren't waiting for Starbucks to open so you could pick up your copy of the NYT? That's okay. You can download the PDF of the puzzle here (but I do encourage you to support those who make the puzzles possibly by buying a paper every now and again). The puzzle will also run in syndicated version in about 5 weeks, so you can catch a copy of it then too.
Wednesday June 1 2016File under: crosswords

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Chronicle Crossword Number 2

Earlier this month, I had a crossword published in the Chronicle of Higher Education (my fifth published puzzle for anyone that's counting). While it was my second puzzle with CHE (the first being Pi Row Technics last Pi Day (covered here)), it was my first with them to actually get printed (since the previous one coincided with an online only publication).

The publication of this puzzle coincided perfectly with the crossword tournament. It was neat, when chatting with people, to mention "Did you see today's CHE puzzle? Yeah, I did that." (No one had, but that's okay.) It was also neat to shake hands with the editor (best. editor. evar.) and discuss the review* .

Since I am still relatively new at this crossword publishing thing, the novelty of having something I made be printed for millions—okay, hundreds—to solve hasn't worn off (and possibly never will). To this end, I wanted to track down a copy to frame for my wall and save for posterity. This task proved much more difficult than you might think. Visits and calls to university book stores, news and magazine stands, and university libraries all turned up empty. While it was a fun exercise in pre-internet sleuthing, it was a bit of a let down, not only because I wanted to see my handy work in print, but also knowing that there are so few copies out there for people to solve*. I ended up getting a university library (one of the few to carry it) to set aside a copy that they can give me instead of throwing away at the end of the month. Luckily, after all the running around, the magazine itself sent me a couple copies so I've at least got the wall hanging copy worked out.

With all this analysis, I can only imagine you're now ready to have a crack at the puzzle yourself. Download the PDF of "Code of Silence" here. Or if you want the .puz file, go to the Chronicle's Crossword Page. I hope you enjoy!
Tuesday April 12 2016File under: crosswords

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Puzzle 5 Pride at the Crossword Tournament

I recently attended the American Crossword Puzzle tournament in Stamford, CT. It was my third adventure in surrounding myself with all the wonderful crossword madness and once again, it was great! I continue to meet the big names in the crossword world which makes me feel all the more invested and inspired. This time I talked my dad into having a go at the tourney as well. It was fun to see this glimpse into the subculture of crosswording through his eyes.

The tournament consists of 7 puzzles* varying in size and difficulty. The puzzle that stands out every year is the dreaded Puzzle 5, a puzzle so notorious it generates tributes and parodies that dominate the talent show and can change the standings drastically. In years past, I've fallen victim, ending with a grid that is more empty than filled and walking away questioning my crossword chops. This year, however, I'm so proud to report, that I nailed it: a completely full grid and not a single error!

It's hard to understate this personal achievement. The gal sitting in front of me, someone who has attended the tournament for more than 10 years, said completing puzzle 5, much less doing so perfectly, was a life goal of hers (which she also attained this year). The puzzle had a very tricky theme than involved words making multiple 90° turns and using parts of words backwards—it was a really well crafty, witty puzzle.

The improved performance on Puzzle 5, combined with the fact I had only 3 squares wrong in the whole tournament, boosted me in the standings, helping me finish almost 100 places higher this year than last, at 287/576, putting me squarely in the middle of the pack (50th percentile (vs. 61st from 2015 and 64th in 2014)). Not that my primary goal at the tourney is high achievement (I really go with business in mind to expand my crossword constructing empire (kind of)), but doing well always feels good.

So now, to my crossword resume, amongst the various published puzzles I've had, I can add a completed puzzle 5. I'll take it.
Tuesday April 5 2016File under: games, crosswords

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Another Published Crossword

My march towards a "career" in crossword construction continues, albeit more slowly than I would like. My fourth published crossword came out this week, this time in The Uptown Puzzle Club, a subscription service "offering its members substance and quality with five original crossword puzzles per month." I was a member of the club way back for a couple years and then picked up again recently. It's nice to always have a high quality puzzle around.

The theme for this one is one of my more ambitious, and I was stoked when Patti accepted it. Constructing any [American standard]* crossword is a lot of work, but putting together a 21x21 is a real time investment. And as with any investment, it is nice to see it pay off [metaphorically, mostly. There's a pride in seeing a puzzle of one's own in print. And while there is a financial pay-off, and for UPC it is better than most, it rarely pays you enough for your time.]

I currently have a couple of puzzles into editors with the hopes of keeping on keeping on, but this is my last one scheduled for publication as of now. And with turn around times of sometimes 6 months or more (I remember working on edits of this puzzle while I was in DR bac in Dec.), it might be a while before my next ones hits the presses. Luckily this one should be enough to keep you busy for a while. If you want a copy and aren't a subscriber, let me know and I'll see what I can do.
Sunday May 31 2015File under: crosswords, work

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Puzzle Making Workshop

Last weekend, I co-taught a puzzle making workshop at the Foundry in Bellingham. My part focused on making crosswords. The workshop attendance was low but enthusiastic and everyone had a great time.

I've been hearing about the Foundry for quite some time. It is one of those makerspaces with 3D printers, sewing machines, and all sorts of creative people. Even though our workshop didn't really take advantage of any of the machines, instead just using the ample open space to meet and collaborate, the environment was perfect for the workshop. If you have an interest in making, stop on by for a tour.

As for my crossword lesson, I crafted this rough outline of how I go about constructing crosswords. Being that I've never had any formal instruction on the subject, who knows if I led the students astray. But we had a good time and they seemed interested, so I guess it was worth at least that. I ended my crossword talk with the firm threat that if any of them gets a puzzle published in the New York Times before me, they will be sorry. So come on Will, accept one of my puzzle and it won't have to come to that.

The workshop was so fun that we might just do it again. If you're interested, hit me up and I'll keep you in the loop. And if you get a puzzle in the NYT using my guidelines before me, I might just have to hit you up.
Thursday April 16 2015File under: crosswords

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My Second Attempt at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament

The large room was full of people, more than 600, but it was so quiet, you could hear each cough and sneeze of the winter* weary locals. The large countdown clock in the front of the room was ticking down, only 3 minutes into the allotted 15 minutes when the first paper shot up. A silent murmur of disbelief went through the crowd; how can someone possibly do a crossword that quickly? But this is how it goes at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Well, that's how it goes for some people, not so much for me.

I recently attended my second ACPT, which this year moved back to Stamford, CT after a couple years in Brooklyn. I go for the culture, to surround myself with others like myself that have an unhealthy affinity for the black and white beauties. I also go to rub elbows with the celebrities of the crossword world, almost like it is a professional mixer for my burgeoning career in constructing. There are lots of reasons I go, but competing isn't really one of them.

Sure, I try. I love doing puzzles, and while I don't normally try and solve them for speed, it is a neat test of this "skill" that I spend so much time "honing". And I do alright. This year, I finished 349th out of 567, putting me in the 61 percentile, a 3 percentage point rise from last year. And just like last year, I had a couple of stupid mistakes that cost me about 25 places in the ranking. My puzzle breakdown was like this: 2 perfects, 2 puzzles with 1 error, 2 with 3 errors, and then the notorious puzzle 5 where I barely filled in half the squares. Overall, I'm pleased enough but have left plenty of room for improvement for next year. (Here are the numbers, for posterity.)

Sometimes, when I think about it, it is a little excessive to travel all the way across the country just to sit in a room with other people silently solving puzzles. But the way I come away from the weekend with a huge smile and inspired in all things crossword—upping my solving game, upping my constructing games, and more—I know that while it maybe excessive, it is totally worth it. I can't wait until next year to come back again!
Monday March 30 2015File under: games, crosswords

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