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 Pi Day Crossword

This year's Pi Day has been getting a lot of attention, as it should. It's a once a decade event!* (If you've somehow missed all the news coverage, it's a big deal because it is 3/14/15 to correlate with 3.1415....) But as longtime BdW followers may know, Pi Day has always been a big deal here*. It is usually celebrated with the baking of a pie (or two) and a reciting of the first 50 digits, which I still remember from 9th grade*.

This year I plan to bake (and eat) a pie or two, of course. What would Pi Day be without pie? But since it is a special Pi Day, I wanted a special way to celebrate, one that I started working towards 5+ months ago. I set out to create a crossword to commemorate the day and get it published in a nationwide publication. I'm happy to say mission accomplished (ish).

My puzzle, Pi Row Technics, appears in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education online. It was slated to be in the print edition, but some quarterly insert preempted the crossword section, and since the puzzle was time sensitive, they couldn't push it to next week, so online is where it ended up. Not ideal, but as the editor pointed out, most of the solvers use the online version anyway so the audience isn't much diminished.

This marks my third published crossword and my glee is as high as it was for that first one. And with each published puzzle, I'm learning more about the industry. What was interesting about this experience was to see how many changes the editor made for publication. Besides changing ~75% of the clues, he also changed 7 grid squares. I know these changes are the editor's job, as he knows his target audience and difficulty levels, but I was surprised to see the volume of changes.

One of the downsides of CHE's online crosswords is that you need a special program to download and play them. And since I know all of you want to have a crack at it but don't want to install new software, I've created a PDF of the puzzle for you to print and solve. Just be sure to visit CHE and surf around a bit as a thank you for continuing to make my dreams of professional crossworder come true. (In case you are interested to see the before and after edit, you can see the submitted puzzle here.)

Each experience with getting a puzzle accepted amps me up to get in even deeper. I've got another puzzle slated to come out in a couple months and a few out for consideration to various places. So keep watching BdW to see the excitement unfold. In the meantime, go eat some pie and do a crossword!

(03/20/16 Edit: In preparing my 2016 Pi Day post, I noticed that I didn't post any pie pictures for this year's Pi Day post. Even with the excitement of this crossword coming out, I figured I would have celebrated the holiday properly, so I went back through my instagram feed and found this! Sometimes it's nice to be reminded that I can be very predectable.)
Saturday March 14 2015File under: crosswords, holidays

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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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