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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Island Disc

The last frisbee tournament I went to was a hat tournament on the island of Maui (posted about here). It was a great excuse to have a little vacation under the guise of competition and exercise. Two plus years later, I found myself packing up the tent, water bottle, and this time an ankle brace, and again heading out to an island for a hat-style tournament.

The Disc Divot tournament in Friday Harbor was a little closer to home, and a little less frisbee focused, but I couldn't have asked for a better weekend. We played frolf on the amazing Roche Harbor course, played pick-up with new fun people, played stick cup and other lawn games, swam in the local lake, barbecued, and watched an outdoor drive-in style movie, all set against the gorgeous backdrop of the San Juan Islands. The weather was perfect and it was a much needed excuse to re-visit a spectacular place so close to home that I often forget it is even there.

So a big thanks to Brendan and his crew for putting it together and I greatly look forward to next year's fun!
Monday June 15 2015File under: frisbee, games

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Anacortes Disc Golf Course

What better activity to fill the gorgeous Sunday of Memorial Day weekend than a nice round of frisbee golf. Even more exciting is that it was my first time playing the Anacortes Frisbee Golf Course! For years I had heard talk of plans to put it in here or there, but never materializing. Finally, though, it is a real thing—9 holes complete with official innova baskets!

We were a group of 6 which was proved really helpful for spotting and searching for errant discs. The course is dense with plenty of undergrowth making for more time spent looking for discs than actually throwing. If you are planning on checking it out, I do recommend long pants and close-toed shoes. The hope is that after the frolfers have their way for a while, it will keep the undergrowth in check, esp. the super invasive ivy.

The course was fun with short-ish holes (having pro and beginner tee "boxes") that covered some beautiful forest. And being walkable/bikeable from downtown is a definite plus as well. The downside, however, is the dense underbrush in which we lost 3 discs in only 7 holes. (We had to cut the course short because we spent so much time looking for lost discs.)

I'll definitely play it again. A course is always more fun after the first time, because you start to get to know the pitfalls and shortcuts of the course. Plus, you're more apt to find one of your old lost discs! So if you're ever passing through town and looking for a fun little adventure, check out the Anacortes Disc Golf Course.
Monday May 25 2015File under: Anacortes, games

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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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My Crossword Mug Puzzle

Yeehaw! I'm super stoked to announce the publication of my second crossword puzzle! Rather than the traditional newspaper crossword, this one is written for a mug produced by the good folks over at Unemployed Philosophers Guild. The way it works is this: they made a mug with a static crossword grid on it. Every month, they produce a new puzzle that fits that grid. Mug owners download the new set of clues and solve each month's puzzle, right on the mug!

Creating a puzzle for a predetermined grid (esp. one of such non-standard dimensions) was a new challenge for me. To make it even more difficult, the editor requested a quote based puzzle. To find a popular quote that fit the very specific enumeration of the grid, I first tried just pouring through quotes. After my eyes could stand it no longer, I wrote a computer program to check quotes if they could fit*. Finally I found one and wrote the puzzle around it. While the quote might not be the most famous or moving one in the world, the grid allowed for all sorts of interesting fill which made the puzzle turn out great, IMO.

So how can you do the puzzle? Well, you could always head over to UPG and order yourself a mug (or check out their other clever wares). If your mug drawer is full up, then I suppose you could just download a printable version here.

And, for posterity, here's a screenshot of the puzzle on their website (complete with ridiculous bio) in case the internet ever dissolves and BdW is the only site left.

(The post about my first published puzzle, and the long road to publication, can be found here)

Sunday January 18 2015File under: games, crosswords

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My Crossword Car

Why did I construct a giant changeable crossword on the top of my car? I like crosswords (as attested to here and here). I like fun things. And why not? If you can't do something silly every now and again, what fun is life?

A word about the process: first Della and I expertly* spray painted a white square atop the car. Then I meticulously divided the grid using a sharpie (and electrical tape for the outer border). The grid is 15x15, so standard daily size. Next, I bought some scrap magnetic material (from the nice folks at Chazzzam Signs & Graphics in Bellingham), like the stuff from those decal signs on the sides of construction trucks, and cut it into squares then painted them black. I used magnetic material for the black squares so that the grid arrangement can be changed to facilitate different puzzles. With the remaining magnetic material, I made the numbers.

The idea is that random passersby can collaboratively solve the puzzle using those little fridge alphabet magnets. I will post the clues on the window and provide a little step stool to reach the middle of the grid. I foresee it mostly being unveiled at festivals and other semi-controlled parking areas, but maybe airport parking lots, park & rides, and even right out on the street will prove feasible.

I wrote a custom car-themed puzzle to debut the project. The puzzle turned out pretty good, with only one answer I don't care much for. You can download the puzzle here (or .puz format here). Or you can stalk my car and do it in the wild!

And no good, fun, silly project is complete without a few glamour shots.

Thursday September 25 2014File under: games, transport

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Hosting Trivia

I recently got to live out one of my long time dreams: hosting pub trivia! I've hosted trivias before: at my Christmas party, on Chautauqua, at an ex-teacher*'s anniversary party. But never have I done it all official like: with prizes, in a bar, with lots of strangers weighing potential answers to questions from my brain. It was a great. And not only was it great for me, it seemed that the attendees had a good time too.

So not only was this just checking off the dream of hosting a real bar trivia, it was hosting it at one of the best trivia places around. Scratch that: not one of but the best trivia place around. Will, the host at the Longhorn Saloon in Edison, WA, writes some of the best trivia, is the liveliest host, and creates the best atmosphere of any trivia I've ever been to (and that's saying a lot, because from last check over at the trivia database, I've been to 12 other locations just this year!). Anyway, to fill in for Will was quite an honor. I sure hope I did it justice.

As is my wont with trivia, I thought I might post the picture round so you can play along at home. I really like how this one turned out: not too hard and not too easy. The only one nobody got was #4. Can you? (Make sure you're answering the question in the lower left hand corner!) Answers in comments below

With as much fun as I had, I truly hope that I get another crack at hosting. It takes a while to hone in difficulty, categories, etc. But it is safe to say that I now know that I don't just love playing trivia, I love creating it as well!
Saturday September 6 2014File under: games

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Tournament of Champions Champions!

Last night, at the Brown Lantern in Anacortes, the Tournament of Champions trivia night was held. It was an invite only affair that pitted the best teams of the last year and a half against each other with a different format and higher stakes*.

I'm pleased to report that our team, Poupon Parade, the team with the winningest record for the year, prevailed decisively. (For a look at our record, check out the trivia results database here.)

Big thanks to Nick (from The Business) for writing and hosting a great season of trivia and to my awesome team for just plain being smart. Here's to another great season!
Wednesday May 21 2014File under: games, Anacortes

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My First Published Crossword

Just over six years ago, I made my first crossword (covered on BdW here). Creating it was something that was on my life goals list and I was pleased as punch to be able to cross it off my list. But in doing so, I added a new goal to the list: get a crossword published. I'm happy to say that I can now cross that off the list too! Sunday's* LA Times (along with 100+ papers elsewhere around the country and the world) carried my crossword! Knowing that so many people from all over are doing a crossword that I wrote feels huge and so so great.

The process of getting a crossword published was an interesting one. I got about 5 or so rejections before I submitted one that suited them, and even with that, they wanted one of the theme clues changed*. Then there was a little back and forth involving changing a few other squares (the editor actually suggested the changes rather than just telling me what answers needed to be rewritten) and then the long wait for publication (about 4 months from my original submission). It was only upon seeing it in print that I saw how much liberty an editor actually takes in changing clues. It bascially broke down like this: 25% unchanged, 25% changed very minorly (word order or capitalization/punctuation), 25% changed a bit (different wording but the concept stayed the same), and 25% changed significantly/rewritten. Many of the changes were warranted (for difficulty, availability to readers, consistancy, etc.), but some of the changes, however, I might have pushed back on*. Oh well.

And then there was publication day. After quite some time trying to figure out where we could find a physical copy of the LA Times*, Della and I drove all the way to Seattle only to be thwarted and buying a copy of the only local paper that carried it, the South Sound News Tribune. But crossword in print is a crossword in print, and it was still pretty neat. We also picked up a copy of the Peninsula Daily out of Port Angeles which carried the puzzle as well. (To find which papers carry it, check here* or do it online here).

Another really neat thing about having a puzzle published was watching the online community respond to it. There's a blog that follows each day's puzzle with answers and discussion. Reading what people had to say about mine was pretty neat, and insightful as to what areas gave people trouble.

It's kind of a funny thing that I am so extremely proud of this thing that to anyone outside of the crossword community is barely a blip of an accomplishment. But I am and I'm okay with that. And it has been so fun that I'm going to try to do it again, this time maybe shooting for a different publication.
Tuesday May 6 2014File under: games, misc

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2014 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament

The microcultures that exist in the world can be such a neat thing. Some phenomenon that, in general culture quietly hides in the background, when a large groups of its devotee gather, it takes center stage and becomes something entirely different. Such was the case of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, held this weekend in Brooklyn, NY. I was lucky enough to attend.

As with any microculture, there were celebrities, traditions, history, and more. To begin to glimpse into that was so much fun. There was a talent show, talks on the history of crosswords and computers' roles in creation, shaping, and solving, merch*, inside jokes, and more. Then, of course, there were the puzzles.

Even for a gotta-have-a-puzzle-with-me-at-all-times guy like myself, I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of puzzles around, lying on the tables for anyone to take free. I think I've got my cereal reading library stoked for a while to come. But the reason we were all there, ostensibly, was to do the tournament puzzles: 8 puzzles varying in difficulty, size, and time allotment. The format was basically this: 3 puzzle Saturday morning, 3 Saturday afternoon, 1 Sunday morning, and one for the finalists to do on stage. We were scored first on accuracy then on speed. And the speed with which the top competitors solved them was incredible. The puzzles used were of high caliber* and would be even greater fun to solve not under the gun of the big bad clock.

As for my performance, I did alright. In terms of accuracy, I aced 3 of the 7 and got 1 square wrong on two others*. The puzzle that was my demise was the notoriously difficult Puzzle 5. And while everyone has a hard time with it, my showing was even worse than most. But in the end, I finished 369th out of 580, not bad for a first attempt. Out of the rookies, my rank was 38 of 99. Breakdown of my scores can be seen here*.

But seeing the microculture and how I stacked up against the heavy hitters wasn't the only reason I chose to attend. I wanted to network and glad hand. Getting a crossword published is a life goal of mine and while I'm making some progress on my construction through sheer brute force, chatting with other constructors, introducing myself to prominent editors, and getting to know the market should help me on the way to that dream.

A skeptical person might ask with incredulity "You came all the way across the country to do some crosswords?!?" and they would have a point. But with the wonderful experience and knowledge I gained at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, there's no question that it was worth it. I might just have to come back next year.
Sunday March 9 2014File under: games, misc

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