Puzzle 42: Freestyle 25. You wanna piece of this?

Last week’s freestyle solution

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Word count: 72
Mean word length: 5.33

Have something you wanna say? Got a question? Want to do a guest freestyle? Want to collaborate on a freestyle? Want to just say hello? Hit me up by email!

The structure for this puzzle is a little unusual for me, because I don’t usually like to build sections like those semi-closed-off areas in the northwest and southeast. (As I recall, I’ve only done something like that a couple of times on this site.) Those sections are a little more wide-open than you usually see — usually, the “choke point” of the closed-off section is 3 letters wide, but this time it’s 4 letters wide (at 24-Across and 44-Across, in this puzzle). The reason it’s 4 letters wide is because I really wanted the nice interlock between 3-Down/27-Across and 37-Across/23-Down, and the seed at 3-Down is 11 letters long. If I’d put the answer at 3-Down in the third column, that would have forced me to put a three-block bar in rows 4 and 12, which would have forced a pair of three stacking three-letter answers in the northeast and southwest. (I prefer not to have stacks of two or more threes in the corners.) Thus, 3-Down is in the 4th column, which forced me to keep those corners at least four squares wide.

I often talk about my seed list for answers, but I also have a seed list for clues. 23-Down was in the seed clue list, so I was glad to get that clue-answer pair out there.

You can probably guess what novel inspired the entry at 37-Across, but I won’t give it away here… no spoilers!

My favorite thing that I learned from this puzzle is, by far, the tidbit at 1-Down. I could have gone in many different directions with that clue, of course, but that fact in the clue was too good to pass up. Wow.

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! What did you like? What could I do better?

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Puzzle 41: Themed Puzzle 1, “Highlights”. It’s good to mix it up once in a while.

Last Friday’s Freestyle 23 solution

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Surprise! I decided to mix it up a little bit and include a themed crossword for the first time on this site. I mentioned in my last post that the freestyle puzzle I constructed was done entirely by hand; I continued in that vein for this one. This was also entirely constructed by hand.

However, instead of talking about the puzzle in this post, I’d like to put in my two cents about the discussion generated from the April 14, 2015, New York Times puzzle. If you’re reading this, you’re almost certainly familiar with it by now. If you don’t know about it, every letter in that whole 15×15 puzzle grid by Bruce Haight is one of eight different letters: AEIGHRST (including the central revealer, EIGHT). The grid was riddled with entries that are widely considered awkward, if not straight-up crosswordese.

The discussion, thus, gravitated toward two main opposing sides: (a) It’s All About The Fill™, or (b) the constructor should be given some leeway in terms of questionable fill if the thematic concept requires it and is pushing the bounds of creativity. (Both of these viewpoints are perfectly valid and sane points of view!) For some reason, we as a society like to make things either black or white; if you’re not with one side, you’re with the other, and there is very little gray area, very little room for discussion in the middle. It seemed like the solvers either loved the puzzle because they loved the idea of every word within an eight-letter set, or they hated the puzzle because of the many cringe-inducing entries.

As you know if you’ve visited this site before, you know that I am all about that fill (‘bout that fill, no clutter) in my freestyle puzzles. I have no tolerance for partial phrases, plural abbreviations, and other such entries in my constructions – they aren’t even in my word list. Thus, it may surprise you to learn that I am not in the camp that this puzzle had too many bad entries to be publishable in such a  wide-reaching venue as the New York Times.

For starters, I was curious, so I set out to see if I could, for lack of a better way to put it,  do better. I used the same constraints – same eight letters, same number of words and black squares. The only difference is that my word list has no partial phrases, no plural abbreviations, and not that much crosswordese, so I wasn’t using any of that. After quite a few hours of trying… frankly, I couldn’t do better than the grid in the New York Times. In the interest of full disclosure, I was going to post that puzzle alongside the one I already made for today. However, since I couldn’t get the fill close to a quality that I would consider to publish on my site, I decided not to go through with it. I’m not saying that if I can’t do better, no one can, but my one-person effort was enough to prove to myself that it would be a very difficult task to complete a “clean” grid under those constraints.

But, but, but: does that mean that, if it’s difficult or impossible to execute a good puzzle idea with squeaky-clean, or reasonably clean, fill, that the idea should be abandoned or relegated to a site with less of an audience? The very fact that there’s an argument about this issue means that not everybody will think an idea, or its execution, is good… and not everybody will think an idea, or its execution, is bad. Some people think that some bad fill is completely unforgivable no matter how good the idea is. Some people think that a good puzzle idea is worth a bit of detritus in the fill. Is it the editor’s job to cull only the puzzles from the submission pile that will please everyone all the time (as if that were even possible)? Is it the editor’s job to print puzzles that will always cater to one set of tastes or another? If it were either of those things, no editor would last too long. When you cater to such a wide audience as the set of New York Times crossword puzzle solvers is, should you play it safe? The puzzle would get boring if you do. Is it even possible to play it safe to such a wide and varied audience? Of course not.

So where do you draw the line between what is publishable and what isn’t? What I find disappointing (but not shocking) is that there is a not insignificant number of crossword puzzle solvers and constructors – especially some (but not all) of those with the loudest voices in the critics’ community and some who follow them – who find a definite place to draw this line, and even be confrontational about where they draw this line. (Of course, it’s well known that the most confrontational and controversial public voice is going to be the one that gets the biggest audience… that’s just the way it goes.) This is disappointing to me because, as a group, crossword people are the most open-minded people, the people most amenable to diversity of creative expression and interpretation of ideas, of any set of people that I know. This theoretical line shouldn’t be a razor-thin jet-black line drawn in permanent ink; I thought the only black-and-white lines in this art form were within the crossword grid. It shouldn’t even be a line; the gray area is so diffuse that I couldn’t even begin to tell where it starts and ends.

Do I think there were way, way too many bad entries in this puzzle grid? Yes, of course I do. Do I think that the creative idea of this puzzle justified the huge pile of bad fill in the grid? No, of course I don’t. There were lots of demerits, and I found myself cringing quite often solving that puzzle. I frankly didn’t enjoy the solve at all because of those bad entries. But do I think that this puzzle absolutely, positively should have been passed over for this venue because I didn’t enjoy solving it? No! Just because I didn’t enjoy the solve, just because I think that it had too much bad fill for my tastes, doesn’t mean that it’s an awful puzzle; I’m not so egotistical to think that my standards are the standards by which a puzzle should be judged for publishing. Just because I didn’t enjoy the solve doesn’t mean that nobody else who solves the puzzles in this venue will; many people did enjoy it. If I hate eating tuna tartare because I don’t like some of the ingredients, does that mean that I should throw a fit, say that it’s the worst food ever, and opine that I think that it shouldn’t be served at my favorite restaurant, even if I know that a lot of other people who eat there enjoy it? If I were the Michelin-star chef who made the dish, and I heard this complaining, should I stop serving it on my menu because I’m afraid that some people aren’t going to like the way it tastes?

I can come at this issue not only from a solver’s perspective but also a constructor’s view. Case in point: I constructed a puzzle a while ago that found a home here. I’ll be honest: I don’t think that I, personally, would enjoy solving this if I weren’t the constructor. Ironic, right? When I constructed the puzzle, I knew that some people would definitely not like it; I also knew that some people would definitely really like it. Did I sit on it because it was a “stunt”? No. Did I sit on it because I was afraid of the segment of the solving population that I knew wasn’t going to like it? No. Conversely, did I send it out because I wanted to be a showoff? No! Just like solvers like to solve puzzles after they’re constructed, constructors like to solve puzzles within puzzles as they’re being constructed. “How can I work within my constraints to complete this grid with these extreme self-imposed restrictions? And will these constraints be so ridiculous that no solver could ever like this?”

Even though it didn’t sit well with some solvers, including me, it was still clearly enjoyed by many, and it carved out another little niche within the domain of the cruciverbal arts. Those can’t be bad things, can they?

Puzzle 40: Freestyle 24. Handcrafted from only the finest letters.

Last Tuesday’s Freestyle 22 solution

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Word count: 70
Mean word length: 5.43

Have something you wanna say? Got a question? Want to do a guest freestyle? Want to collaborate on a freestyle? Want to just say hello? Hit me up by email!

This one has a very interesting history to it. The seed for this puzzle, which is the entry you now see at 17-Across, started at 1-Across. I started on my app and put that entry at 1-Across and went to work with manual construction. I had the whole northwest corner down into the west side of the puzzle done, but it just wasn’t coming out like I wanted. I tore it out, went back up into the northwest, tried a few other stacks, but something was just not right. I just wasn’t happy with any of what I came up with. So I did what any rational crossword constructor would do (right…?): I scrapped the app approach and took out a pencil and a sheet of graph paper. The new perspective, as it does in solving, did wonders for my construction. I decided to put the seed answer in the third row, and went to work by hand: I ended up with a completely different block formation and finished the grid by hand in about 3-4 hours.

As will happen with hand construction, the route I took to construct this grid went all over the place. It generally started in the upper left and lower right, and generally ended in the upper right and lower left, but my attention jumped around throughout the construction of the grid. Besides 17-Across, my only other seed was 55-Across. A couple mini-seeds sprang up, of course, as in 11-Down and 60-Across. Also, I gave a couple of shouts to Barcelona, which was my first ever, at 30 years old, trip outside of the United States. (I’d go back again in a heartbeat too.)

My favorite thing that I learned from this puzzle is that 11-Down is actually a trademarked term, not just a widespread nickname.

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! What did you like? What could I do better?

As always, share this link! Pass it around! New puzzle on Friday!

Puzzle 39: Freestyle 23. Every good puzzle has a definite genesis.

Last week’s Going Numberless solution

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Word count: 70
Mean word length: 5.46

Have something you wanna say? Got a question? Want to do a guest freestyle? Want to collaborate on a freestyle? Want to just say hello? Hit me up by email!

Why the crossword instead of the variety puzzle today? It’s because I had a seed entry that I really wanted to stick in the puzzle. There’s an unexplainable feeling I get when I see a neat, fresh phrase, whether it be on TV (which was the case here), on a sign, on social media, whatever, realize it’s 15 letters long, then get that subconscious feeling that it just HAS to go into a puzzle right away. This is why I saw it on a Wednesday evening, had the grid and some of the clues done before bed that night, and had the whole thing clued by the next night. However, I didn’t want this puzzle to be a one-entry wonder: I took great care in the corners of this puzzle as well, and I hope that shows through for you, the solver.

After the obvious seed, I started in the bottom right — my original block configuration had just been a straight diagonal from bottom right to upper left with the center square open, but that diagonal morphed into the “plus sign”. Then I discovered the 13-letter entry in my list with the same middle letter as the marquee entry and was ecstatic to be able to make it fit. (This was sort of unusual in that I had the 15 going down the middle and the bottom right done before I even chose the entry across the middle. I still had it as a 15-letter entry going across until I came upon that 13. Usually I’d have the two long entries picked out before I even position the rest of the black squares.) The sequence of construction went bottom right, then upper left, then center entry, then lower left, then upper right.

Do I even have to tell you my favorite thing I learned from this puzzle? Yes, it’s the whole reason I made this puzzle!

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! What did you like? What could I do better?

As always, share this link! Pass it around! New puzzle on Tuesday!

Puzzle 38: Freestyle 22. We’re going underground.

Last week’s freestyle solution

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Word count: 72
Mean word length: 5.39

Before I get to anything else: if you haven’t already, you must, must, must go check out Sam Ezersky’s freestyle offering from 4/6/14. I don’t know how he pulled off the amount of great entries that he did, never mind that it was in a wide-open 66-word grid, never mind that it was all manual filling. This is a gem and I know you will all be as impressed as I am.

Have something you wanna say? Got a question? Want to do a guest freestyle? Want to collaborate on a freestyle? Want to just say hello? Hit me up by email!

From week to week, I usually have a choice of four or five freestyles from my bank to choose from. It’s just whatever strikes my mood that I choose to put up on a week-to-week basis. This time, it was a rather quick turnaround: I just constructed and clued this puzzle, finishing it the day before I’m posting this. There may be some recency bias, I guess you could call it; this came together quickly and I’m very happy with how it came out. There are a lot of clues in this one that I really like, too. I hope you feel the same way after you do this.

The ultimate seed with this one is probably not the one you’d think it is, but 17-Across. Other seeds were 1-Across (obviously), 18-Across, 38-Across, 58-Across, and 32-Down. Obviously the action started in the northwest, went to the middle, then went to the upper right and upper left corners and finished with the lower right. (I could afford to put off the lower right because I had 32-Down and the first 4 letters of 39-Down in place, and thus had a lot of options for 39-Down.)

My favorite thing that I learned from this puzzle is an easy choice: it’s the bit of trivia (well, it’s a little more significant than trivia) at 41-Across. I’m not a history buff by any means, so I didn’t know anything else about the person in the answer besides what most people know about this person. If you didn’t know this about him already, I think you’ll be a little surprised too.

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! What did you like? What could I do better?

As always, share this link! Pass it around! New puzzle on Friday!

Puzzle 37: Going Numberless 2. We don’t need no stinkin’ clue numbers!

(I know, I know, it’s a misquote of the movie title. I like the way it sounds better, anyway.)

Last week’s Know Your Odds solution

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I’m back with another one of these Going Numberless puzzles. In case you forgot from the first one (it was a while ago), it’s just like a regular crossword with a key difference: the clues aren’t numbered.  I’ve given you two 9×9 grids. In the first one, the clues are in alphabetical order by answer, and in the second one, they’re in alphabetical order by clue. So, I adjusted the difficulty of the clues accordingly from the first puzzle to the second.

As with the first pair of puzzles, I didn’t include any obscure bits of crosswordese or small trivia that no one should reasonably be expected to know. As with all my puzzles, I’m aiming for “tough but fair”, so let me know if you thought it wasn’t one or both of those things.

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! Let me know how you did! What did you like? What could I do better?

Hit me up by email!

As always, share this link! Pass it around! New puzzle on Tuesday!

Puzzle 36: Freestyle 21. There are no words. (Well, actually, there are a lot of them.)

Last week’s freestyle solution

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Get the PUZ here!

Word count: 72
Mean word length: 5.33

I hope everyone had fun and achieved their goals at the ACPT!

The primary seeds for this puzzle were the two 13-letter entries. 13s and 14s are the neglected lengths mainly because they force your hand with block placement just by virtue of their lengths. They usually force some long downs that have to be stacked together — this puzzle was no exception.

I managed to fit a lot of my originally-intended entries; that’s great for me, because what usually happens is that I get the pipe dream and litter the grid with seed entries, then begrudgingly hold a brief mental funeral for an entry each time I have to take it out. I don’t mind taking out seeds if it just won’t work within the grid, but I’m never happy about having to do it, of course.

My favorite thing that I learned from this puzzle is, by far, the whole situation around 38-Down. I learned far, far more about the courtship and mating process of slugs and snails than I ever thought I wanted to know. (It’s actually pretty interesting, I must say.)

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! What did you like? What could I do better?

Hit me up by email!

As always, share this link! Pass it around! New puzzle on Friday!