7/31/09

MGWCC #061 -- Friday, July 31, 2009 -- "Not to Give Anything Away, But..."

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 61 of my contest. If you're new to the contest and would like to enter, please see the site FAQ on the left sidebar for instructions.

LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:

A paradox here at MGWCC: only 81 correct entries came in this week, yet many of those entrants complained that the metapuzzle was too easy! How can it be that the meta was such a snap for so many, yet aggravatingly ungettable for so many others?



Answer: last week's meta was a "hidden in plain sight" trick you either spotted right off the bat or had a difficult time finding at all. It was indeed rather simple once you saw it: four of the puzzle's clues led to no corresponding answer in the grid. They were:

33-A {Enter (by)}
45-A {Submitting}
28-D {Any}
47-D {Large island}

Nudged to these four clues by the puzzle's four theme entries -- HIT A DEAD END, LEAD NOWHERE, PUT TOGETHER, and FOUR OF A KIND -- solvers put together these four of a kind that lead nowhere and got "Enter by submitting any large island" (an island being like these four clues and their answers -- "Can't Get There From Here," which was the puzzle's title). Solution at top left.

81 solvers sent in the names of their favorite large islands, which were:

GREENLAND -- 20 entries
MADAGASCAR -- 17 entries
HAWAI'I -- 7 entries
AUSTRALIA -- 4 entries (is that an island? Hmmm...)
SUMATRA -- 4 entries
NEW GUINEA -- 3 entries
CUBA -- 3 entries
MARTHA'S VINEYARD -- 3 entries (OK, not really a "large island" but two entrants had just returned from vacation there and one lives nearby)

...and then a handful of IRELAND, HONSHU, TASMANIA, ICELAND, LUZON, VANCOUVER, ELLESMERE, and so on.

Naturally a few smartass entries came in as well, like PANGAEA from Anna Gundlach and this from Tyler Hinman, while Jed Scott submitted SODOR, which is apparently the home island of Thomas the Tank Engine.

Motivated by circumstances, incidentally, Jed was a particularly dedicated MGWCC solver this week. He writes:

I'm teaching at Interlochen Arts Camp this week and, while I have computer access, I don't have a printer. Since Across Lite wasn't available I had to resort to a novel approach to solve the puzzle. I submit a photo below as proof.















Jed wasn't the only one to send in a photo of their puzzle. Greggo Johnson writes:

Well the crossword wasn't a problem, but the meta fucked me hard. The fact that you couldn't solve the meta with across lite and the answer was of no specific length confused the hell out of me. Even if one of these was a red herring, I still couldn't solve it. Trying to deal with the fact that you had to print this out to solve it, I cut out the crossword and folded it every which way. Eventually I just folded it into a crappy origami crane (picture attached).

I'm going to kick myself when I see the answer.
















HOW I CAME UP WITH THE META:


Solvers direct their energy in one of two ways while tackling a puzzle: 1) they either spot a specific grid entry they'd like to get and look at its clue, or 2) they see a specific clue they know and find its place in the grid to fill it in.

I noticed recently that 2) is used more often at the beginning of a solve, while the solver is trying to gain a toehold in the grid, while strategy 1) logically grows dominant in the later stages of a solve, when the solver has gotten a few letters to work with.

So I wondered: if I snuck a few fake clues in, would anyone notice? They'd only be likely to catch them in early stages of the solve, while favoring strategy 2). Later on there'd be less reason to notice the phonies, since their eyes would tend to travel from specific grid entries to their specific clues.

It was critical, I realized, that the phony clues be bland and innocuous so they didn't stand out during the early, gaining-a-toehold stage of the solve. For example, I rejected having the hidden message read "Enter by submitting any Beatles album," because the fake clue {Beatles album} would send solvers to check the grid for the entry's length, hoping it was four (for "Help!") or seven (for "Let It Be" or "Hey Jude") for instance. But a vague clue like {Large island} wasn't likely to send anyone to the grid with a confident "Hey, I know that!"

Intriguingly, the guy who submitted the first entry (check the update I posted last week -- he got the meta right away and couldn't believe I'd lobbed such a softball as a fourth-of-the-monther) told me he uses an unusual technique: at the beginning of each puzzle, he methodically reads through all the across and then all the down clues, one by one, in order. Odd, perhaps -- but perfect for catching this meta very quickly.

The clue trick also explains why I couldn't provide an Across Lite version with last week's puzzle -- the program can't handle clues that don't lead to a grid entry.

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 81 correct entries submitted, is Mike S. of Florence, Ore. Mike will receive a copy of The New York Sun Crosswords #21, signed by its groundbreaking editor Peter Gordon.

THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:

I didn't realize how tough last week's meta would be; I'd predicted about 125 correct entries. So far this month there's been a nice, gradual, orderly decline: 232 entries the first week, 171 the second, 148 the third, and then 81 last week. I'm not sure we'll get fewer than 81 this week -- but let's find out, shall we? It is the fifth Friday, after all...

This week's contest answer is a familiar two-word question. E-mail it to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Tuesday at noon ET. Please put the contest answer in the subject line of your e-mail.

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite download the free software here, then join the burgeoning Google Group (718 members!) here.



Solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.

7/24/09

MGWCC #060 -- Friday, July 24, 2009 -- "Can't Get There From Here"


Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 60 of my contest. If you're new to the contest and would like to enter, please see the site FAQ on the left sidebar for instructions.

[IMPORTANT SOLVING UPDATE -- 7/24, 5:15 PM ET: a solver has mentioned that his printout of today's puzzle has heavy black bars running along several lines in the middle rows and columns of the puzzle grid. Not sure if everyone is getting these, but this is NOT part of the puzzle or the meta, it's just a printing issue.]


LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:


148 solvers added a single penstroke to five everyday phrases last week, coming up with goofy new phrases. They were:

EPIC FAILURE became ERIC FAILURE (add a stroke to the P in EPIC)
KOSHER DELI became KOSHER DELT (add a stroke to the I in DELI)
CRACKLIN' OAT BRAN became CRACKLIN' QAT BRAN (add a stroke to the O in OAT)
PRAY FOR A MIRACLE became BRAY FOR A MIRACLE (add a stroke to the P in PRAY)
MY LEFT FOOT became MY LEET FOOT (add a stroke to the F in LEFT -- by far the favorite theme entry, judging by e-mails)

Take those five replacement letters, and you get RTQBE, which anagrams to Q*BERT, which was last week's contest answer. Answers were accepted as correct with or without the asterisk. Puzzle solution at top left.

Several solvers had never heard of QAT -- but Scrabble players have! In addition to being a stimulant chewed in several Arabic-speaking countries, it's also one of the handiest words allowed in Scrabble.

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 148 correct entries submitted, is Spencer Thomas of Ann Arbor, Mich. Spencer has selected as his prize an autographed copy of Gridlock.

E-MAIL OF THE WEEK:

Gavin Glenn Harris writes:

Here's a funny story. I am [in my mid-30s] and of course my younger brothers and I played the Atari 2600 like crazy. My mum was always yelling at us to turn it off and go play outside.

One day we all came home from school, and I guess Mum had lost track of what time it was because we caught her playing Q*bert like a madwoman. The look on her face was like a cornered animal: scared, surprised and angry. But after she was outed, the four of us bonded quite a bit with Q*bert, Pitfall (her favourite), Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man and Burgertime.

It was so cool to see my mother getting into video games as intensely as we did. By the way, she still plays games, albeit on her laptop.


ONE THING:

Interesting things going on over at Alex Boisvert's Kaidoku blog (new puzzles by Alex every Thursday and by me every Monday).

"You always hurt the one you love," says the old song -- and could it be that Alex, a fan of Kaidoku, has unintentionally killed the game by creating a snazzy new solving applet? One of the finer points of solving Kaidoku with pencil and paper is that it's very difficult to brute-force your way to a solution in a well-made puzzle. Keeping track of what guesses you've made, plus the physical logistics of the amount of erasing required, made playing Kaidoku hunches a risky game.

No more. Alex's beautiful solving applet now fills in all letters for a given number once the solver inputs a single letter as their guess. As commenters on the blog have noted, this now makes brute force a much more potent solving strategy.

Are Alex and I abandoning ship? Quite the opposite -- we're upping the ante. Starting with next Thursday's post the puzzles are going to get tougher. So head on over and enjoy the applet while the puzzles are still (relatively) easy -- pretty soon it's no more Mr. Nice Guys in Kaidokuland.


THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:


This week's contest answer is of no specific length. Note: There is no Across Lite version of MGWCC available this week (I'll tell you why in next week's post). To make up for the inconvenience of having to print the puzzle out, I'm extending the contest entry deadline one full day. E-mail your entry to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Wednesday at noon ET. Please put the contest answer in the subject line of your e-mail. [UPDATE, 7/24, 2:25 PM ET -- only one correct entry so far, two hours after posting. And that entrant wrote that this week's meta was "Far easier than I'd expect for the fourth week of the month"!!][IMPORTANT SOLVING UPDATE -- 7/24, 5:15 PM ET: a solver has mentioned that his printout of this week's puzzle has heavy black bars running along several lines in the middle rows and columns of the puzzle grid. Not sure if everyone is getting these, but this is NOT part of the puzzle or the meta, it's just a printing issue.]


SPECIAL PRIZE THIS WEEK:


Instead of receiving a book written by me, next week's winner will receive a copy of The New York Sun Crosswords #21, which hasn't yet hit bookstore shelves. Peter Gordon, editor of the series (and of the late great New York Sun crossword) will autograph the winner's prize.

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite (not this week, but in future weeks) download the free software here, then join the burgeoning Google Group (708 members!) here.

If you have trouble printing out the image below, check the archives in the Google Group for more options. If that doesn't work, e-mail me.



Solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.

7/17/09

MGWCC #059 -- Friday, July 17, 2009 -- "Pick Up Lines"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 59 of my contest. If you're new to the contest and would like to enter, please see the site FAQ on the left sidebar for instructions.

LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:

Several solvers e-mailed a couple of weeks ago that they'd gotten MICHAEL JACKSON as that week's contest answer simply from the title of the puzzle ("ABC") and the contest instructions (which informed them that the answer was a 14-letter celebrity). I was determined not to make the same mistake again, and therefore restrained myself from titling last week's puzzle "2+2=4." Not that anyone could have gotten the contest answer from that, but it might have given the game away a bit two much (heh-heh).

Yet even without a big title hint, 171 solvers figured out that two two-letter words combined to form one four-letter word in five theme phrases last week. They were:

SOTO SPEAK
PLEASE GOON
DOOR DIE
PENCIL MEIN (near-unanimous favorite theme entry, judging by e-mails)
BEAT PEACE

The symmetrically-placed grid entries cluing DOOR DIE were at 1-across and 69-across, JAMB CUBE, which was last week's contest answer phrase. Note that DIE here is the rolling game piece, not the verb meaning "expire" as used in the phrase DO OR DIE. Puzzle solution at top left.

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 171 correct entries submitted, is Matthew Perez-Stable of Fairview Park, O. Matthew has selected as his prize an autographed copy of Gridlock.

ONE THING:

I not only posted a crossword puzzle contest today, I also entered one!

THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:

This week's contest answer is a famous arcade game of the 1980s. (if you're not up on your famous arcade games of the 1980s, you can find it somewhere on this list). E-mail it to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Tuesday at noon ET. Please put the contest answer in the subject line of your e-mail.

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite (download the free software here), join the burgeoning Google Group (693 members!) here:

http://groups.google.com/group/mgwcc




Solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.

7/10/09

MGWCC #058 -- Friday, July 10, 2009 -- "A Couple Coupled Couples"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 58 of my contest. If you're new to the contest and would like to enter, please see the site FAQ on the left sidebar for instructions.


LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:

You didn't think you could escape the MICHAEL JACKSON media avalanche here at MGWCC, did you? Of course not -- in fact, he was last week's contest answer phrase. Solution at top left.

232 solvers ID-ed the late gloved wonder by noticing the four THREE-LETTER HITS (38-across) that began the puzzle's four theme entries:

BENTO BOXES
PYTHAGORAS
BADEN BADEN
JAMAICA INN

All of these are MJ songs, hence the logical conclusion (zero incorrect entries received!) that he was the contest answer.

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 232 correct entries submitted, is David Stein of Silver Spring, Md. In addition to a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set, David will also receive an autographed copy of Dean Olsher's new crossword book, From Square One [Amazon][B&N].

ONE THING:

Bravo to Amy Reynaldo for her crossword constructing debut in last Sunday's New York Times (co-authored with Tony Orbach). Spoiler alert: the answer is given at the link below, as well as an explanation of the puzzle's theme:

http://crosswordfiend.blogspot.com/2009/07/sunday-75new-york-times-crossword.html

THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:

This week's contest answer phrase consists of two symmetrically-placed grid entries that, taken together, form the clue for the theme answer at 38-across. E-mail these two entries to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Tuesday at noon ET. Please put the contest answer phrase in the subject line of your e-mail.

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite (download the free software here), join the burgeoning Google Group (682 members!) here:

http://groups.google.com/group/mgwcc




Solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.

7/3/09

MGWCC #057 -- Friday, July 3, 2009 -- "ABC"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 57 of my contest. If you're new to the contest and would like to enter, please see the site FAQ on the left sidebar for instructions.



LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:


You may find this hard to believe, but I spent about five hours writing last week's Kaidoku. 103 solvers correctly puzzled it out to find the contest answer, which was KEYWORD. Solution at top left.

What did I spend all that time on? Setting a dastardly trap, of course -- a trap which, it appears, only a handful of solvers had the good manners to fall into.

My idea was to send solvers on a "false Q hunt," wherein a certain number would appear to clearly and obviously represent the letter Q, when in fact the real Q was tucked away inconspicuously elsewhere in the grid.

I pondered for a while on which letter should play the role of Q-decoy, and finally settled on G as the best choice. As any good politician can tell you, lies are more readily believed when some truth is thrown into the mix, and I realized that the Q-decoy would be more convincingly masked if the letter following it were, in fact, not a U-decoy, but the actual U itself.

G was suited magnificently for this role of Q-decoy. Everyone knows that Q is always followed by U, but not everyone realizes that the U after a Q is always followed by a vowel (yes, even in COLLOQUY, OBLOQUY and SOLILOQUY). So I needed a consonant that began many words beginning with [that consonant] + U + a vowel. G yielded GUAVA, GUESS, GUITAR, and many others, and so was called up for service as a false Q.

Having settled on the G, my next step was to come up with a GU + vowel word with a distinctive letter pattern, a letter pattern that also fit for a QU + vowel word. After some trial and error, I came up with the twins GUESSWORK and QUARRYMEN. The only other QU word that fit this pattern was QUIBBLERS, but solvers would reject that one after noticing two other QU words in the grid, QUARK and QUOTA, which fit perfectly with QUARRYMEN. LULU in the southeast corner would cement the idea in solvers' minds (I hoped) that the U and therefore the Q were correct -- the latter of which was not, of course, the incorrect QUARRYMEN / QUARK / QUOTA red herring yielding to the correct GUESSWORK / GUEST / GUIDE.

I'd taken many precautions to keep solvers from breaking in elsewhere in the grid, such as using only one O in the entire puzzle (it had to mask the incorrect M in QUARRYMEN, and vowels don't mask consonants well in Kaidoku). But one bit of incaution on my part -- using the too-distinctively patterned MILLIPEDE -- allowed many solvers to bypass my best-laid plans entirely. I hope everyone who broke through with MILLIPEDE is rightfully ashamed of themselves.

Still, a few solvers did fall right into my trap, as this comment from Jimmy D on Joon Pahk's write-up shows:

I had QUARRYMEN/QUARK/QUOTA for a while too...but I knew the 7 was an E, and once I finally(!) got MILLIPEDE, it was a breeze from there...

At the same place, commenter Wobbith added:

I fell for the QU trap hook, line, and sinker. QUARRYMEN was a gimme. Man, my eraser got a workout. Be honest now... does anybody actually do these things in ink?

So that's the story of this Kaidoku. OK, one other thing...do you know how many times I had to re-export this puzzle until it gave me the evil final touch I wanted: the G represented by the number 1?

Jed Scott writes:

Does solving this puzzle place me among the "dorky we?"

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 103 correct entries received, is Thom Diment of Glenside, Australia. By my count the international score of MGWCC winners is now Canada 4, Australia 2. Come on Brits and Kiwis, time to step up your efforts!

NEW KAIDOKU BLOG (!):

The long-awaited Kaidoku revolution is beginning! Alex Boisvert has started a new Kaidoku blog that will feature a new puzzle by him on Thursdays and by me on Mondays. Wayne Gould, eat your heart out (and Happy Birthday).

MONTHLY PRIZES:

A record 48 solvers correctly submitted all four contest answers this month. I will be notifying the ten winners over the weekend and will post their names and locations here on Monday (apologies for the delay -- extremely busy workweek here and I just now realized I hadn't picked the lucky ten yet).

UPDATE, Monday 7/6, 4:20 PM ET:

All ten June winners have now been notified. I'll give their initials here and fill them in once I get OK's from them.

Anne Erdmann -- Champaign, Ill.

Cheryl Faba -- Detroit, Mich.


David Graham -- Portland, Ore.


Seth Grossinger -- Minneapolis, Minn.

Garrett Hildebrand (Irvine Crossword Mafia member) -- Irvine, Calif.

Nick Meyer

Al Sanders -- Fort Collins, Colo.


Robin Schulte -- Portland, Me.

Justin Smith -- Germantown, Md.

Leslie & Sam Wagner -- Brooklyn, N.Y.



THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:


This week's contest answer phrase is a famous person whose first and last names total 14 letters. E-mail this person's name to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Tuesday at noon ET. Please put the contest answer in the subject line of your e-mail.

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite (download the free software here), join the burgeoning Google Group (678 members!) here:

http://groups.google.com/group/mgwcc


SPECIAL PRIZE THIS WEEK:


The winner of this week's contest will receive an autographed copy of Dean Olsher's new book, From Square One [Amazon] [B&N]. I haven't read it yet but it's getting some good buzz.



Solve well, Happy 4th, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.