10/30/09

MGWCC #074 -- HELL MONTH PUZZLE #5 -- Friday, October 30, 2009 -- "65 to Stay Alive"

THE FINAL BATTLE:

With one mighty swing, almost a hundred more culled from our ranks -- by neither cats nor a fanged monster, but by poisoned candy. Our unseen enemy strikes always in the manner least expected.

There is but one struggle remaining, yet only a handful -- 57 of us -- left standing to surmount it. We steel ourselves against what must be the greatest battle of the five, but I find myself pondering a most curious idea: might our enemy, in his sinister bloodlust, not consider posing a simpler challenge than we assume, tempting us to blunder our chances away by overthought?




LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:

Zounds -- we're down to double digits! Just 57 entrants found the very hidden piece of Halloween candy in last week's puzzle, a ZAGNUT bar. So if you found it you can feel proud, but if you didn't don't feel too bad -- a lot of very good solvers missed it, too. Solution at left.



The puzzle's theme was deeply hidden, but three subtle and intended hints pointed solvers towards it -- as did one extremely subtle and unintended hint.

The three nudges I put in on purpose were:

1) the bizarre entry SIX BARS across the middle of the grid.

2) the title ("Outrageous Death").

3) the instructions hint that the answer "is not a trick."

Well if it's not a trick, and we're nearing Halloween, then it must be...a treat, right? And six bars must therefore mean not taverns but candy bars. And looking around the grid, a solver might notice that six entries, with a quick change of one letter, turn into six candy bars:

ZOUNDS --> MOUNDS
CLARA --> CLARK
GAY DAY --> PAYDAY
TWIN --> TWIX
MAUS --> MARS
STICKERS --> SNICKERS

Those six replacement letters, properly anagrammed, spelled last week's contest answer bar, the delicious yet tough to find these days ZAGNUT. Hey, Hershey, market that thing better!

And what about the title? It's an extension of the theme, with the NUTRAGEOUS and HEATH bars concealed by the letters O and D (and, as several solvers pointed out, O.D.'ing on chocolate is an all too common indulgence).

Finally, what was that fourth hint, the very subtle one? It takes a thief to catch one, and it takes a crossword constructor to catch a hint this small. While sending in his correct answer, the great Trip Payne writes:

I knew there had to be a reason you didn't go with CLAYS/DYE/WES and AMP/MAPS!

(Instead of the clumsy CLARA/DRE/WEA and AMU/MAUS, he means.)

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 57 correct entries submitted, is Elissa Grossman of Santa Monica, Calif. Elissa has made my day by choosing as her prize an autographed copy of the Pocket Idiot's Guide to Kaidoku.


THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:


This week's contest answer is a popular Halloween costume that's five letters long. 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 (937 members now!) here.



Happy Halloween -- solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.

10/23/09

MGWCC #073 -- HELL MONTH PUZZLE #4 -- Friday, October 23, 2009 -- "Outrageous Death"


LESS THAN HALF REMAINED ALIVE:

A clowder of fierce cats struck first, and now a horrible vampire. Our once-mighty band of 327 is reduced, in a mere two weeks' time, to 156.

Those who remain are weary and frightened, but I exhort them nonetheless -- exhort them to be bold in the face of two challenges ahead. Though secretly, in my private thoughts, I wonder if their fate is not in the hands of a power greater than they know -- and the tasks that await us, more daunting than those that have come before.

Never would I utter such words aloud, but I deem it likely that the total remaining alive after this week will require only two numbers to express...



LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:

NOSFERATU, writes Roger Ebert in this review, is a scarier sounding word than "Dracula."

It's also a much handier word to use when writing a letter bank crossword, as last week's puzzle showed. 156 solvers noticed that the only nine letters in the entire puzzle grid were those which comprise the seminal horror classic NOSFERATU, which made it last week's contest answer word. Solution at left.



Judging by their e-mails, a non-trivial percentage of solvers who found the correct contest answer did so without realizing that the entire grid used only that ennead of letters. They'd noticed the title (with its red herring alliteration) and the four longest entries in the grid, but hadn't seen that the fill ignores 17 letters of the alphabet as well.

Four solvers even noticed a red herring I hadn't intended: at 43-across, the Creedence Clearwater Revival classic FORTUNATE SON anagrams to NOT NOSFERATU! Now that's meta-meta.

I probably won't try to sneak another letter bank puzzle by you for a few years -- it'll be the cruciverbal equivalent of an underhand serve, its surprise value requiring much time to recover.

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 156 correct entries submitted, is Karl Wallulis of Walla Walla, Wash. Karl has selected as his prize an autographed copy of Literary Crosswords.

ERRATUM:

Many solvers pointed out that NOTE at 66-across is incorrectly clued as {Part of n.b.}. As co-consul of the Walt Whitman High School Latin Club (1988-89) I am duly ashamed. The answer should have been NOTA (or BENE) but not the English NOTE.


THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:


This week's contest answer is six letters long (this is not a trick!). 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. [UPDATE, 10/23, 5:30 PM ET: Only 11 correct answers so far, compared to 34 at this time last week. Hell Month is hell!][UPDATE #2, 10/24, 2:10 PM: 24 hours in and still just 21 correct entries.]

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 (931 members now!) here.



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

10/16/09

MGWCC #072 -- HELL MONTH PUZZLE #3 -- Friday, Oct. 16, 2009 -- "Frustrates for Fun"



DARKNESS FALLS:

The sky grows darker over the past week, does it not? We lost 93 of our friends within this span -- it horrifies me to think of what they endured.

And it horrifies me to ponder that we may lose a similar number to the challenge that beckons...


LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:

Recently an ebon feline (a quintet of them, in fact!) intersected thy personal journey -- or, more familiarly, a BLACK CAT CROSSED YOUR PATH, which was last week's contest answer phrase.



The cats in question were:

SYLVESTER (from old cartoons)
SCRATCHY (from "The Simpsons")
SOCKS (from the Clinton White House)
FELIX (cartoons)
ALONZO (from T.S. Eliot and the musical "Cats")

These five clues were asterisked, as was PERSONAL JOURNEY across the middle, which led 234 solvers to correctly peg the contest answer phrase.



I was lenient on phrasing -- pretty much anything with "black cat," "path" and some form of "cross" was counted as correct ("a black cat crossing my path," "black cats crossing one's path," etc.). I even accepted the entry "Crossing paths with a black cat," which has all the elements but doesn't sound quite right.

Were all the cats black? Yes, but no. As you can see from the shots above, all five of them have some white fur as well. I would have preferred using all-black cats but I didn't feel it affected the play of the meta, so I went with the ones in the grid (in a concession to the impure fur of this quintet, I counted as correct those three entries who submitted only some form of "a cat crossing your path" without mentioning its color).

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 234 correct entries submitted, is Rachel Pleasants of Cambridge, Mass. Rachel has selected as her prize an autographed copy of Gridlock.


THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:


This week's contest answer is the name of a well-known horror film. 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 (916 members now!) here.



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

10/9/09

MGWCC #071 -- HELL MONTH PUZZLE #2 -- Friday, Oct. 9, 2009 -- "Walk in Fear"


A DESCENT INTO THE MAELSTROM:

The first week wasn't very difficult, was it? You kept your wits about you, didn't succumb to the temptation of panic, and rather quickly arrived at the correct solution.

It seemed almost too simple...perhaps it was a period of calm before the terrifying maelstrom...


THE WEEK BEFORE LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:

Old business: MGWCC #069 saw twelve entrants submit "freestyle crosswords," the term that will gradually replace "t****less crosswords" (let the Soviet-style airbrushing of language begin) in the lexicon.

All twelve will receive a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set, while one of the twelve chosen at random wins that week's normal book prize. Our eleven stationery winners from that week are:

Ed Brody -- Cambridge, Mass.

Norm Chafetz -- Austin, Tex.

Russ Cooper -- Phoenix, Ariz.

Jason Feng -- Richmond, B.C.

Mark Halpin -- Cold Spring, Ky.

Robert Hartford -- Stow, Mass.

Whitney Luther and Trey Stockard -- Portland, Ore.

Leigh Newman -- Bloomfield, Conn.

Christy Meisler -- Somerville, Mass.

Jerry Rosman -- Henderson, Nev.

Jed Scott -- Rockford, Mich.


And the book prize winner (whose last name was in that puzzle's grid!):

Sam Donaldson -- Kenmore, Wash.

Congratulations to all winners! I think I'll write a freestyle crossword this weekend in their honor.

LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:


You folks sure know your POE! A record-obliterating 327 correct entries came in bearing the morose Marylander's name (old record was 250). Solution below.



Hell Month solvers got there by noticing that the puzzle's five theme entries all concealed the letters R-A-V-E-N:

CONTRAVENE
VENTNOR AVENUE
INTRAVENOUS DRIP
BRAVE NEW WORLD
COBRA VENOM

So many RAVENs could only mean one author, the only author with an NFL team named for his oeuvre: EDGAR ALLAN POE, which was Hell Month contest answer #1.

Naturally no penalty to those who submitted only POE, nor to those 81 entrants who spelled the writer's middle name as ALLEN (forgivable, since references weren't allowed).


Leo Stein writes:

Quoth the Raven, "I'm in ur theme answers"

While Anne Ulanov sent this in:

Thought this might interest you:


http://www.utexas.edu/opa/blogs/culturalcompass/

Apparently they will post a picture of someone at UTexas or someone famous reading Poe, every day throughout October. (See Robert De Niro on 9/24.)

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from those 327 correct entries, is Jack Gaede of Minneapolis, Minn. In addition to a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set, Jack will also receive a copy of Patrick Blindauer's upcoming suite of holiday puzzles.

IMPORTANT RULE CHANGE:

Last week I stated that the rules for Hell Month forbad use of any external references, including books, websites, and people.

But as I began looking over the upcoming Hell Month puzzles, I realized that those rules were too strict. While none of the puzzles unambiguously requires references, several of them and their metas might be unfairly harsh without them, even for Hell Month.

I also realized, upon further reflection, that a total ban on references wasn't what I was really interested in -- only a ban on hints from *other people*. So I am amending the Hell Month reference rules to read thusly:

***Printed references of any kind (books, websites, etc.) ARE allowed during Hell Month. But giving or receiving hints to/from any other competitor is strictly forbidden!

When changing rules after the game has started one must be careful not to penalize anyone who did follow the original rules. With 327 correct entries I'm not sure anyone was penalized, but if you didn't get last week's contest answer *because* you didn't use references, please send me an e-mail explaining your situation and I'll be reasonable about admitting you back into the Hell Month fold.

THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:

This week's contest answer is an unnerving event that occurs five times in this puzzle. 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 (903 members now!) here.



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

10/2/09

MGWCC #070 -- HELL MONTH PUZZLE #1 -- Friday, Oct. 2, 2009 -- "Black-Hearted"

HELL MONTH HAS BEGUN...

The days grow shorter, the temperature lowers, the evening skies assume a foreboding air -- this is nature's way at this point in the cycle.

They start showing horror movies on TV, someone makes you go to a corn maze, and Hell Month begins at MGWCC, five freaky Fridays of creepy-crawly cruciverbalism -- this is humanity's way at this point in the cycle.

If you dare to know more, seek details below. Many will enter Hell Month...but few will ultimately survive.


LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:



No theme or meta in last week's puzzle, just a pre-Hell Month palate-cleansing themeless before I make you wish I'd never been born. But there was a contest: who could come up with the best replacement for the dull and negative term "themeless crossword," hopefully stressing lively vocabulary over themelessness?

I'll divide these into three categories: 1) FUNNY BUT NO: entries that are cute or clever but not gonna replace "themeless crossword"; 2) VERY NICE: entries that were serious contenders for the prize; and 3) YOU WIN: our winning entry.

FUNNY BUT NO:

Soulfill
Thematically Challenged
Seinfeld (i.e., a crossword about nothing)
Walden (after Byron Walden)
Naked crossword
Fillocentric
THE ME-LESS crossword ("less ego involved in theme entries")
Solely lexis (I think this is a pun on "solar plexus" but not sure)
Hypothemia

VERY NICE:

Showcase crosswords
Maverick
Free-range

YOU WIN:

"Freestyle crosswords."

Simple, gets the idea across, sounds like you're out tearing up a ski slope instead of hunched over a laptop -- and the new term "freestyle crossword" has entered the American lexicon.

Only 35 Google hits for the phrase. Thought I had found a puzzle book author who'd anticipated our neologism, but it turns out that what one Robert Osborne is calling "freestyle crosswords" is what we call "skeletal crosswords":

http://www.amazon.com/Classic-Movie-Crosswords-Turner-Movies/dp/0811870936/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1249585963&sr=8-1

So, who sent in that winning entry? 11 people did. How will I decide which one wins the prize? All 11 will get a pen and pencil, while one I'll pick at random will win the weekly book prize. I'll post their names and cities next week.

MONTHLY PRIZE WINNERS:


38 people sent in correct contest answers to all four of September's puzzles. The following lucky 10 were selected at random from that group and win MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad sets. Spooky!

Don Albright -- West Chester, Penna.

John Aldape -- Boise, Ida.

Kevin Black -- Claremont, Calif.

Marcie Bunnell -- Dover, Del.

Jim Dale -- Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.

Mark Diehl -- San Jose, Calif.

John Farmer -- Woodland Hills, Calif.

Gavin Glenn Harris -- Alexandria, Va.

Gerry Tansey -- Florissant, Mo.

Lyle Wiedeman -- Lake Forest, Calif.


Congratulations to all winners.

HELL MONTH RULES:

It's HM go time! First, the two big ground rules:

1) All entrants who submit correct contest entries to each of Hell Month's five crosswords will receive a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set.

2) No references of any kind (books, websites, etc.) or assistance in any way from any other person is allowed during Hell Month at MGWCC! 11 months out of the year you can Google whatever you have to and still remain eligible for prizes. Some of you, spies tell me, even give each other hints.

NOT THIS MONTH! No hints, no help, not a word, not a single letter, not a single nudge or raised eyebrow. If a fellow contestant asks you for help, the only proper response is:

"I'm sorry [awful cheater's name here], but it's Hell Month. You know it's wrong, and I won't do it."

THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:


You may find this week's puzzle calm and placid and simple...much like the opening 15 minutes of a horror movie are calm and placid and simple. Hell Month contest answer #1 is the name of a well-known author. Send it to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Wednesday, October 7th at 12 noon ET (extending this first week's deadline by one day so I can publicize Hell Month a little longer). 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 (868 members now!) here.


SPECIAL PRIZE THIS WEEK:


One randomly-chosen winner next week will receive, instead of a book by me, a copy of Patrick Blindauer's upcoming holiday suite of puzzles. (Five bucks for 12 puzzles by one of the best cruciverbalists around -- I'm kicking in this afternoon, you think about it too!)



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