9/25/09

MGWCC #069 -- Friday, September 25th, 2009 -- "Not Themeless"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 69 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
:

Pretty much everyone dug last week's fun theme, even those many who didn't wind up solving the meta. Only 93 solvers found CHANGE BENGALS (or BENGALS CHANGE), which was last week's contest answer (solution at top left).

These solvers noticed that four sets of famous twins concealed themselves in the puzzle's four theme entries:

KON-TIKI RONDEAUX -- Tiki and Ronde Barber (football stars)
PLEIADES FLUKES -- Leia Organa and Luke Skywalker (of "Star Wars")
SCABBY HANNIBAL -- Ann Landers and Abigail "Dear Abby" van Buren (advice columnists)
JACOBIN THESAURI -- Jacob and Esau (Biblical figures)

The other famous set hiding in the grid were the original Siamese twins, Chang and Eng Bunker, concealed in 12-down and 66-across -- and, ironically, the only pair of twins separated in the grid.

T.B. writes:

Now here's a strange coincidence. My wife and I live in Durham, NC with our kids, and have thought (dreamed, really) about buying a country house somewhere within a few hours' driving distance. A couple of weeks ago she sent me this listing:

http://boone.craigslist.org/reb/1367330693.html

Someone oughta turn this into a twin-themed bed and breakfast.

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 93 correct entries received, is Laura Dove of Longmeadow, Mass. Laura has selected as her prize an autographed copy of Sip & Solve Hard Crosswords.


ONE THING:


Brendan Quigley has been having a lot of fun with themeless puzzles lately (my favorite recent one is here), so I've decided to jump on the bandwagon this week.

It's been a few years since I last constructed a themeless 15x15. It used to be my preferred form, but around 2000 I abandoned ship as database-aided constructors and their shockingly open grids convinced me that competing against the silicon monsters on their home turf was increasingly futile. But I did experience a pleasant nostalgia jumping back into the game this week, and, if you'll kindly turn a blind eye to a few three-letter clunkers in the SE corner (hey, I'm rusty), you'll likely enjoy it as well.

Speaking of themelesses: take a gander at this stunning 21x21 themeless Trip Payne just posted on his site (scroll down to puzzle #44, dated Sept. 22, 2009):

http://www.tripleplaypuzzles.com/puzzles/allpuzzles.html


When I first saw this grid a couple of days ago, a conundrum presented itself: I had always been under the (correct, as it turns out) impression that Trip doesn't use a database when writing his puzzles, yet I also couldn't believe that a human could fill such a striking grid with high-quality entries unassisted by a computer.[UPDATE: see Trip's clarification in comments on what it means to construct a puzzle "unassisted by a computer" -- I use that phrase to mean "without using autofill," not without manual access to a word list.]

Amazingly, though, that's just what Trip did. I asked him how long this grid took -- my guess was 25 hours -- but he said it was difficult to estimate, since he chipped away at it off and on over a period of several months. So perhaps my guess was conservative. At any rate, a beautiful piece of work -- take that, silicon monsters!


THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:


With last week's meta yielding only double-digit correct entries and Hell Month lurking eerily around the corner, I've decided to take a kinder, gentler and altogether different tack with this week's contest.

Despite its title, today's puzzle is indeed themeless. One problem, though: I've always disliked the phrase "themeless crossword," since it's negative, stressing what's not there (a theme) over what is there (generally livelier vocabulary than themed puzzles).

This week's contest will be to come up with a better term for "themeless crossword." The best entry will win a book from the site sidebar plus a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set -- oh, and cruciverbal immortality, since I'll start using the winning term exclusively on this site instead of "themeless."

E-mail your entry to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Tuesday at noon ET. Please put your phrase/term/neologism in the subject line of your e-mail. Note: any entry submitted will count as correct towards the monthly pen, pencil and notepad prize drawing.

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 Google Group (854 members now!) here.



Solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive. See you in HELL MONTH!

9/18/09

MGWCC #068 -- Friday, September 18, 2009 -- "Copy That"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 68 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:


Cruciverbal Controversy Contaminates Crossword Contest! is what headlines could've read last week here at MGWCC. 73 of 74 clues in last week's puzzle were alliterative (or was it 72? -- see below), and it was the answer to the one that wasn't -- ALL ALLITERATIVE -- that served as last week's contest answer.

But a veritable panoply of errata, quibbles, cooks and judgment calls added some zing to our little weekly wordfest. First we'll take care of contest details, then we'll get to the veritable panoply. Puzzle solution at top left.

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 191 correct entries received, is Linda Budzinski of Sterling, Va. Linda has selected as her prize an autographed copy of Gridlock.

There, that was easy -- Now, the various controversies, so numerous they must be elucidated with bullet points:

*** ERRATUM:

The clue for 43-across (MOJITOS) should have read {Cuban concoctions} instead of {Cuban concoction}.

*** COOK:

A "cook" is a correct alternative answer to a chess problem overlooked by the problem's author. I'm using the term the same way here since it sounds much better than "correct alternative answer."

31 solvers found a cook to last week's contest answer, namely TIRE IRON at 39-down. Its clue, {Wheel wrench}, was intended to be alliterative but isn't, since "wheel" starts with a W-sound and "wrench" starts with an R-sound [UPDATE, 9/18, 6:55 PM ET: Abby Braunsdorf cleverly suggests {Lug loosener} as a better clue]. As part of the editing process I'd gone through each entry one by one, pronouncing the words in each clue aloud, yet my eyes still managed to fool my ears on this one. Those 31 solvers who sent in TIRE IRON had their entries counted as correct (and one of them was selected as this week's winner, in fact).

*** ANOTHER COOK, BUT NOT AS GOOD AS TIRE IRON:


Two solvers sent in KERR as their contest answer, the logic being that in the clue {Stellar shooter Steve}, "shooter" starts with an SH-sound while the other two start with an S-sound. I went ahead and accepted those two, even though I felt it wasn't quite as pure a cook as TIRE IRON (see the comments section in Joon Pahk's writeup for the full back-and-forth on this one).

*** NOT A COOK:

12 solvers sent RELOJ (27-down) in as their answer. I was unable to count this one as correct, since the Mexican city/state of Oaxaca is pronounced "wa-HA-ka," making the clue {Oaxacan's watch} indisputably alliterative.

For more points and counterpoints on various aspects of this meta, see the above-linked comments section at the Crossword Fiend blog.


ONE THING:


Be afraid, be very afraid, for Hell Month is only two weeks away. If you've been unlucky enough to never win a MGWCC prize then seize your chance in October -- because everyone who correctly submits all five contest answers will receive a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set.

[in Vincent Price voice] Naturally I don't intend to send many prizes out, but ultimately, that's up to you...

THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:

This week's crossword looks like it only has four theme entries, but there's a fifth one lurking somewhere. This week's contest answer is the two grid entries which, when taken together, would make an excellent fifth theme entry. E-mail these two to me (the actual entries in the grid, not their clue numbers) 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 Google Group (845 members now!) here.



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

9/11/09

MGWCC #067 -- Friday, Sept. 11, 2009 -- "Different Drummer"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 67 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:

Life is full of paradoxes, and last week's MGWCC revealed one. Take a deep Zen breath and reflect upon this cruciverbal koan:

a) About half of all entrants opined that the puzzle was noticeably tougher than other first-of-the-monthers. Several compared it to a Saturday New York Times in terms of difficulty.

b) I received 239 correct entries, just 11 shy of the MGWCC record.

The puzzle did seem tough to me, maybe done in overcompensation for the previous week's last-of-the-monther not being tough enough for its cleanup spot. But most people still solved it, perhaps just with more of a struggle than is normal for the leadoff position. Answer at top left.

Last week's theme removed contest answer word LABOR from common phrases, like so:

BE THE POINT (belabor the point)
A TORY MOUSE (laboratory mouse)
SKILLED ERS (skilled laborers)
CAN YOU EAT E (can you elaborate?)
IOUS PROCESS (laborious process)
S OF HERCULES (Labors of Hercules)

Many solvers noted that deducing what's missing isn't so easy even when you have the six theme entries, a point unappreciated by me when I wrote the puzzle. I'd assumed that removing one five-letter word from six phrases equals a gimme meta, but there aren't any obvious giveaways among those six, and the (serendipitous) red herring "beside the point" instead of "belabor the point" sent some solvers down an errant path. But it was a Labor Day Weekend puzzle, after all, so eventually most people cracked the meta.

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 239 correct entries submitted, is William Prevor of Holland, Penna. William has selected as his prize an autographed copy of Sip & Solve Hard Crosswords.

I also awarded four MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad sets to two first-time entrants and two veteran contest participants. These randomly-selected winners are:

First-time entrants (28 entries):

Marta Ruedas -- Beirut, Lebanon

Bob Weslosky -- Port Murray, N.J.


Veteran contest participants (211 entries):

J.O. -- whereabouts unknown

Karen von Haam -- Mashpee, Mass.


This MGWCC census attempt hit a few stumbling blocks. First, I made the puzzle too hard, which likely culled a few solvers from the pack. Second, I chose a major holiday weekend, which probably culled a few more. And finally, for technical reasons unclear to me, the normal Google Group e-mail I send out each Friday apparently didn't reach a non-trivial number of solvers, which probably culled even more...and yet we still came in just shy of the record, which means I'll do this again in the near future to get a better count. Thanks to all who entered in response to my request.

THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:

Last week's puzzle was a little too tough, so this week's is going to be the softball last week should have been. Then we'll resume our regularly scheduled difficulty levels for the third and fourth weeks' puzzles -- and wait until you see October's ghoulish quintet! No one will kvetch about softballs after that! I'm calling it "Hell Month" (no joke) and there will be many special prizes...

Anyway, back to today: This week's contest answer is the one grid entry whose clue is different from the others! 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 Google Group (836 members now!) here.



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

9/4/09

MGWCC #066 -- Friday, Sept. 4, 2009 -- "This Isn't Gonna Work"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 66 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:


Did I underestimate the meta-solving prowess of MGWCC solvers, or did I overestimate the trickiness of phrases like WILLIAMS FLYTRAP? Either way, 185 solvers unlocked the secret combination of last week's contest answer phrase, which was 5-1-4-2-3. This sets a new record for end-of-the-month correct entries, as well as upsetting the cosmic order of August (we'd had 245-202-179 going into last week, so >179 wasn't supposed to happen).

Solvers noticed that each of the puzzle's five theme entries contained two words, either of which could precede a planet [UPDATE, 9/5, 10:00 AM: Ben Bass points out that I meant "follow" a planet, not "precede" one] to form a new two-word phrase. So we had:

WILLIAMS FLYTRAP (Venus Williams, Venus Flytrap)

BAR ATTACKS (Mars Bar, "Mars Attacks!")

RISING FLORIDA (pop band Jupiter Rising, resort city Jupiter, Florida)

ANGEL MOVER ("Earth Angel," earth mover)

DIME THERMOMETER (Mercury dime, mercury thermometer)

Put these five in the correct order -- distance from the Sun, as most solvers correctly intuited -- and you get 5 (Mercury) - 1 (Venus) - 4 (Earth) - 2 (Mars) - (3) Jupiter, or 5-1-4-2-3.

172 of the 185 correct entrants submitted 5-1-4-2-3, but over the weekend I started to notice a few 2-4-5-3-1's coming in as well. Took me a couple of minutes to figure out what was going on, but then I realized: instead of placing the numbered grid entries in planetary order, these solvers had taken the planets and placed them in grid order number.

Not precisely what I'd asked for in the instructions (which were clear about placing the grid entries in correct order, not the planets themselves), but it's intuitive enough of an alternate solution that I decided to count the eleven 2-4-5-3-1's I received as correct.

I hadn't anticipated that alternate solution, but I did guess that a few people might order the planets by size instead of proximity to the Sun. Two people submitted that entry (5-2-1-4-3) and those entries were counted as correct as well.

Jenny Meyer writes:

I'm a planetary scientist! Loved this meta.

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 185 correct entries submitted, is Lance Enfinger of Lakewood Ranch, Fla. Lance has selected as his prize an autographed copy of Sip & Solve Hard Crosswords.

MONTHLY PRIZES:


A record 90 solvers correctly submitted all four of August's contest answers (HATCHET MAN, AESOP, KAFKA SAMSA and 5-1-4-2-3). The following lucky ten were randomly chosen from that 90 and will receive a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set. Badass!

Andrea Blumberg -- Philadelphia, Penna.

Bevin Bullock -- Glendale, N.Y.

Ron Byron -- Lady Lake, Fla.

Mark Halpin -- Cold Spring, Ky.

Tyler Hinman -- San Francisco, Calif.

Patrick Jordan -- Ponca City, Okla.

Jonah Kagan -- Los Angeles, Calif.

Mark Navarrete -- Quezon City, Philippines

Jill Palmer -- Leverett, Mass.

Steve Tolopka -- Portland, Ore.


THREE THINGS:


1) My weekly Daily Beast 21x21 now has an Across Lite option, in response to many solver requests.

2) This week's Faster Times puzzle is up -- will take you 30 seconds if you follow tennis, 60 seconds if you don't.

3) Excellent week of puzzles over at the Kaidoku blog -- Alex Boisvert, Joon Pahk and I all chipped in to make a very nice set (puzzles #21, #22 and #23). Joon's puzzle took me 7 minutes and Alex's took me 9, both using the applet. Beat that!

THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS, AND SPECIAL REQUEST TO ALL SOLVERS:

I've gotten a few e-mails recently from people who solve the MGWCC each week, yet never actually enter the contest. I'm curious how many of these solvers there are, so this week only, I'm asking everyone who solves the puzzle to send in an entry so I can see more precisely just how many people do these things.

To add a little incentive, I'm offering two MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad sets this week to two randomly-chosen first-time entrants (please put the words "FIRST TIME ENTRANT" in the subject line of your e-mail, along with the contest answer word). To give equal treatment I'm also awarding two MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad sets to two randomly selected entrants who've entered MGWCC previously -- no need to put anything but the contest answer word in the subject line of your e-mail in this case. The regular weekly book prize continues this week unaffected by the additional prizes.

This week's contest answer word is five letters long and it's what's missing from this week's puzzle. Giving an extra day this week because of the holiday -- e-mail your entry to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Wednesday at noon ET.

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 Google Group (828 members now!) here.



Enjoy the long weekend, solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.