Monday, June 19, 2017

OFFICIAL RELEASE: The Stagger Sessions, a Crossword EP

I'm very happy to announce the release of The Stagger Sessionsa collection of twenty original themeless crosswords I wrote in the spring of 2017. All puzzles feature a staggered central stack, oriented either vertically or horizontally in each grid.

I'm conceptualizing this project as a "crossword EP," and thus the packaging of The Stagger Sessions is more reminiscent of an album of music than a standard crossword book. 

The Stagger Sessions will be available for purchase for $10 for the full EP, which includes the 30-page PDF including liner notes, the puzzles, and their solutions, as well as .puz versions of all the puzzles. In addition, individual puzzles will be available for just $1 per puzzle. 

For more details, and to purchase, visit the official Stagger Sessions website at

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


All month during June, 50% of all proceeds - subscriptions, archive purchases, and tip jar donations - will be donated to Anna Marie's Alliance, a non-profit women's and children's shelter for victims of domestic abuse that serves my community of Saint Cloud, Minnesota.

I've had the pleasure of working with Anna Marie's in the past, and they are a wonderful organization that is very much deserving of all support.

While this promotion runs through the end of June, Anna Marie's always takes donations of any amount all year long. For more info about Anna Marie's and to donate directly, visit their website here.

Thanks for your continued support!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Glutton For Pun - Themeless 72 Review

Hi everyone! I'm excited to review Erik Agard’s latest themeless puzzle (#72 in an ongoing themeless series) he released on his website, Glutton for Pun. I'll be doing something similar to this regularly starting now - reviewing independent puzzles out there, not just from Erik but from all of the lovely indie sites that you can check out on the blog's sidebar. Erik's puzzle especially grabbed me, and that's why I'm kicking off this review series with this particular puzzle. Spoilers aplenty below, so consider yourself warned. 

This was an absolute knock-out of a themeless crossword. This is a 60-word themeless, which is a severely low word count, and it’s very, very, very difficult to pull something off this clean with that low a word count. 64 words is a threshold that even expert-level crossword writers struggle to pull off successfully. Here, the 60-word feat is as smooth as silk; in fact, I didn’t even realize how low of a word count this puzzle had until I counted (three times, as it turned out, just make sure my math was correct) after I had solved the puzzle. Unreal.

The southeast section was the toughest to crack. I made the task more difficult than it should, by dropping in a (I thought) ironclad TROI at 37-Down [“Die ___ Musketiere”] DREI (yes, I had the wrong language, and yes, that’s not even how you spell “three” in French. Sue me). I did have one incorrect square: the crossing of 6-Down [Dick alternative] RICH and 16-Across [Jewish fast day] TISHA B'AV; I had RICK/TISKABAV, though I admit the H definitely looks better there, though I also admit to not being up to speed on my Jewish fast days. I’d’ve changed the clue on 6-Down to a wealthy context (or perhaps in reference to the richness of BUTTERMILK DONUTS featured so prominently in a recent puzzle run by a more mainstream crossword outlet). But this is the slightest of demerits.

Other RICH bits here: Love the SISTER ACT drop at 12D [Film with a sequel subtitled “Back in the Habit”] – funny story, I saw both Sister Act and Honey, I Blew Up the Kid as a double-feature at the Cottage Grove, Minnesota drive-in movie theater that finally closed just a few years ago. What year was that? 1992? Jeez…time flies. HD VIDEOS [4K offerings] was a juicy string of consonants to uncover. Love the that-can’t-be-right double-I in ANTI-ITCH (2D: Like some creams). Appreciated JAI ALAI (45A: Cesta punta, by another name) getting its due as a non-partial in a crossword. Favorite clue was probably 14-Down [Actress who plays Martha Kent, and who shares a name with a different Superman character] DIANE LANE. This is a great example of a tricky clue that relies on pop culture, yet the trickiness is not dependent on in-depth knowledge of the pop culture in question. I only have casual knowledge of Superman – never saw any of the movies, never saw one episode of Smallville, never read the comic books, etc. (I know, let me hear it in the comments, Superman superfans) – but I know the general gist – Lois Lane, Jimmy, the Daily Planet, Clark Kent, etc. I kept thinking Erik was hinting at an actor named LOIS something, but then when I uncovered LANE, I then latched onto DIANELANE, then I remembered that she was in one of the recent revivals of the movie franchise (looking now…ok Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice which came out last year and good lord it has made like a billion dollars at the box office and I literally have never heard of this movie. I am completely amnesiac to blockbuster action movies nowadays, but when you literally mash up two of the most successful blockbuster action series into one movie, it’s just too much, apparently. Too much.).  This is cluing brilliance, folks – not one, but two a-has for the price of none, and I didn’t need to have seen a second of the Superman movie franchise to appreciate it!  

Anyhoo, this puzzle? This was a good puzzle. What'd you think? Feel free to chime in with a comment below!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Mail Chimp!

Hi folks,

Subscribers to my Rows Garden series (which you can subscribe to here) found something a little different in their inboxes today. They received this year's Puzzle #7, but the e-mail that it came in looked a little different. That's because I have transitioned the e-mail delivery system away from using my personal e-mail account to a web-based bulk mailer called Mail Chimp. Let me briefly explain the reasons why I'm making this switch.

1) Gmail sucks at sending bulk e-mails. This is the primary reason for the change. Because of Gmail bulk sending limits, I would send out the puzzle in four or five separate e-mails, manually BCC'ing subscribers along the way. It was a tedious process that has become more tedious as my subscriber base has grown.

2) No, Gmail really sucks at sending bulk e-mails. Compounding this process was that the e-mail featured at least six attachments, and I've run into problems with subscribers having especially aggressive e-mail filters who would not receive the e-mails at all. One subscriber just cannot receive any e-mails from my Gmail account, to the point where I had to send a posted letter to the subscriber's Paypal snail mail address in order to work out a solution. And hey - I love stamps and envelopes as much as any self-respecting Luddite, but that's pretty ridiculous in 2017.

So why Mail Chimp?

1) Makes my job easier. Sending bulk e-mails through a web-based provider is a more consistent, reliable way for the puzzles the be delivered. I can hit the "Send" button just one time, and the e-mails are all delivered in a timely fashion.

2) Data is my friend. Perhaps most importantly, I gain the benefit of analytics. Using Mail Chimp, every click on every link in an email is recorded. This will give me valuable feedback as to how subscribers are using their subscription - for example, what the most popular solving difficulty is, how often large grid versions are downloaded, etc. This feature will also help resolving technical problems that solvers may encounter. The solver doesn't have to do anything additional to give me this feedback, either - but the benefits from my end are quite significant.

Now, I do anticipate there to be a few growing pains with this transition. One drawback of using a bulk mailer is that some e-mail providers automatically categorize mail sent from a bulk mailer into a Promotions or Social folder in your e-mail browser. For your convenience, if you find the puzzle in such a folder, move it to your Personal or Primary folder - wherever you find your most important e-mails - and mark the Mail Chimp e-mail address as a trusted sender.

Puzzles are now included as links in the e-mail body rather than as e-mail attachments. So far, the majority of solvers are reporting no issues accessing the puzzles. Problems that do arise usually have to do with an outdated or incompatible version of Adobe Reader, which is the most popular program used to view PDF files. If you have successfully received the puzzle e-mail but are having problems when trying to open the puzzle files, first make sure your version of Adobe is up to date. Also, I have a reported compatibility issue with Firefox; if you normally use Firefox as your browser and can't access the PDFs, try using another browser for now.

Thanks for bearing with me through this transition. In the end, I know subscribers care mainly about the puzzles, and not so much about how they are delivered. The good thing is that the Rows Gardens themselves will not change - still expect the same fun there. Hopefully Mail Chimp can help me not spend so much time and energy and frustration on the technical side of things, and focus more on creating the best puzzles I can.