Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Pangram and An Idea

Duly noted: Randy Sowell's NYT Monday pangram, nothing ... ummm ... picayune ... about it. And that was the entry (picayune) I puzzled over the most ... what on earth could "pica_ _ _ _" possibly be? Must have made a mistake in the crossings. Nope, no mistake. But, dang it, then what could that be? "Picay_ _ _" didn't solve the mystery, though you would lthink it would. Only when I filled in the U of "erupt" did the light dawn.

Spotted several fellow solvers -- not all working away at the Times puzzle -- throughout the day yesterday which gave rise to an idea for a contest I could do with this blog. This would involve choosing winning words, getting appropriate inexpensive yet fun prizes, handing out bookmarks, and hoping I don't attract spam.

I am notoriously shy . . . yet those puzzle-working strangers I've spoken to -- breaking their puzzle concentration -- have been invariably pleasant and friendly.

So I shall give it some more thought. I have the bookmark all designed, though!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sunday's Specialty

It's a Split Decision by George Bredehorn, wherein there are no clues other than pairs of letters which words *don't* share: PRison and UNison, for instance.

I didn't quite finish this ... I'm stuck on the pair __ __ A __ RY and __ __ A __ TZ. The only word I can think of that ends in "tz" is ritz but, of course, that's not it. I want the first of the pair to be starRY, but that doesn't morph into starTZ.

That one and two others kept me from finishing the puzzle, but the rest of it went down fairly quickly. I was glad I had my pencil handy for it, though. It was a nice warm-up for the main event at the head of the page, "Closing the Deal" by Joon Pahk and Matt Mater. I started at the bottom and worked my way up in the puzzle as on the page ... have yet to finish it, however, as other weekend pursuits called. But I do have all week to return to it.

Friday's Whine

So all right, okay, I should have known the Princess of Alderaan; Jabba the Hutt must have frozen my brain for the day.

However ... someone please explain me how amaretto and sloe gin are "Alabama Slammers." Or, rather, why specifically Alabama?

I suppose I should google it ...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

No-Google Friday

So, after the excitement of the ACPT, after re-solving all the tourney puzzles, after taking a stab at KenKen and not finding the joy in it, after taking a longish vacation from puzzling in general, I decided to jump back in with a NYTimes puzzle on, of course, the second-toughest day of the week, Friday.

So I opened the Times to a David Lawrence Wilk challenge featuring 10 -- count 'em! -- 10 15-letter entries, a feat I just had to sit back and admire (honestly, I don't know how constructors manage to find 15-letter phrases that will stack & cross like this!) before diving in. With a pen. Because I hadn't brought a pencil with me on my ride to work. So I tried to fill in the blanks *lightly* while despairing of ever filling in trivia type entries like "Carol Kane's role on 'Taxi'". Oh, I watched "Taxi" religiously back in the day ... but ... yanno, I'm gettin' old and forgetful. Heh.

True to my usual Friday experience, I managed a few entries before having to get to actual paying work. When I returned to the puzzle, I was excited to fill in one of the 15-letter entries ... then the 2nd one fell ... and I was off and running, even in spite of some misdirected wrong entries: I'd filled in "kin," for instance, for the "Fathers and sons" clue. Wrong! All right, then it must be "men," right? Wrong! (If you must know -- turn your head if you don't want to see -- it's "hes" which is, IMHO, hardly a legitimate plural, but it's only a minor groan for the crossing 3-stacker payoff.)

The upshot is that I *almost* -- I came this||close -- finished the puzzle with nary a tour to Google. Where I stumbled is in the lower left where I know nothing about a "Royal from the planet Alderaan" nor who was the Oscar nominee for "Stand and Deliver" in 1988.

Still ... I'm pleased. And off now to pick up the Saturday Times (in spite of my online subscription to the puzzles, I still prefer the old-school pen[cil]-and-paper experience) to see what challenge awaits within ...

Boston Tourney in April

Don't forget the puzzle tournament to be held at the Harvard University Science Center in Boston on Sunday, April 5, from 1-4 p.m. It's free to attend, $10 in advance if you want to compete, which you can do as individual or get together with a friend to solve as a pair. Will Shortz will preside, and prizes are signed books. Only 3 hours for a tournament sounds intense but it also sounds very fun. I briefly considered attending but that would be 4 hours on the bus each way for 3 hours at the tourney. Add the cost of bus fare, and I'm afraid I have to pass. Darn.

I very much like the idea of solving pairs. I enjoy tackling a puzzle, especially a large Sunday or a tough Friday or Saturday, with friends, but so rarely get to do that.

Otherwise solving is such a lonely pursuit. (Cue violins.)

If you're in Boston, or closer to Boston than I am, read all about it here -- then definitely go!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Grumpy Friday

Mumble mumble grumble gripe ...

Friday's NYTimes puzzle always defeats me when it is more of a trivia contest than an encounter with words / wordplay. I both feel these are cultural things I ought to know and that there's no way I (or any one person) could keep track of these minutiae.

And so I turn to Google but I don't want to turn to Google, I want to solve on the subway or sitting at a table in Starbucks or Connecticut Muffin, time on my hands, a cuppa coffee on the table, and, nope, no laptop in sight, sorry.

All I can do is sigh deeply.

And wish I knew more.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Life Lessons

Constructor Matt Ginsberg reported, on the Cruciverb mail list, a close encounter of the conversationalist kind he had with a travel mate as he was on his way home from the ACPT. He told the story of Tyler Hinman's nail-biter finish; and she related the story to her profession, which involves helping folks build confidence. Here's her take on the tale.

That memorable A Level Finals competition brought back memories of my own, from long ago, although it was Trip Payne's flub, not Tyler's win, that so resonated with me.

One thing I was good at, in my childhood, was spelling. So I was pretty good at spelling bees, and I was very, very bad at losing them: embarassed, upset, mad at myself, I'd erupt in unstoppable tears with each missed word. Fast forward to 8th grade and, finally, a school-wide win that sent me to the big deal: the all-city finals. Which I proceeded to totally blow on an easy-peasy word I'll never forget: pursue. I managed to control the tears, but I'm sure my disappointment was written all over my face, as my teacher-escort bought me an ice cream cone on the way back to school and my classroom, which I was not looking forward to enter after decidedly *not* winning any glory for the class. Well sir. Waiting for me behind the classroom door was a party. In my honor. Smiles and cheers and welcoming words despite the loss. And, on reflection, lesson learned: that there is thrill in winning, certainly, but the joy of the competition ... and the road to improvement ... is simply in the participation.

I'm still gonna do better than 635 next year, tho! Yeah!