Monday, December 7, 2015

Puzzle #25 Solution

RG2015.25 Hardest/Harder - Solution

RG2015.25 Easier/Easiest - Solution

B2 was the seed here, just because it's such an odd term and I came up with a good attendant clue for it. The bottom rows were a bear to complete, as I recall. Some weeks you have it easier than others. This one was memorably a struggle, and I gave in even after acknowledging a dupe of sorts at the K1 entry and the first medium bloom in intersects. I'm usually pickier about disallowing dupes, but considering I've never gotten a piece of hate mail pointing one out (there was a TELL dupe in the northern regions in this same puzzle, too), I think it's further down the scale of priorities than I may have once perceived.

Puzzle #24 - Solution

RG2015.24 Hardest/Harder - Solution

RG2015.24 Easier/Easiest - Solution

This one came together nicely for me. Row A was the seed, but I was thrilled to fit in the colloquial B2 and H2, as well as the fresh and edgy D2, H2, and J2. My favorite clue was probably G2. Hope you enjoyed it.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Puzzle #23 Solution

RG2015.23 Hardest/Harder - Solution

RG2015.23 Easier/Easiest - Solution

I like how this one came together, particularly the top couple of rows. B1 was the seed, and I was also happy to get A, C2, D2, and E2 in there. F1 could have been clued more generally, but I'm a Seinfeld sucker, so apologies to those who aren't. Love me some good K1s too in real life.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Puzzle #22 Solution

RG2015.22 Hardest/Harder - Solution

RG2015.22 Easier/Easiest - Solution

B1 was the seed, which then enabled a couple of especially long entries at C2 and E2. Those can be fun, especially because 16 letter entries are rare in standard crosswords, what with the conventional size of a grid is 15 letters long. But that has the downside of necessitating short Row entries like B2, which goes against one of the more endearing qualities of Rows Gardens, that they avoid the short 3-, 4-, and 5-letter entries that generally make up 75% of a standard crossword. Hopefully the trade-off here was worth it.

Puzzle #21 Solution (and a Sandwiches recap)

RG2015.21 Hardest/Harder - Solution

Row A was the seed on this puzzle; I originally planned to clue him in reference to "teaming up" with LeBron James in 2015...but I didn't want the clue to be too much of a stretchy misdirect, as I ended up going with a clever clue at B2. So I just clued it straight. 

Thanks to everyone who submitted an answer to the Sandwiches contest! There were 73 entries, all of which correctly tabbed TOOTHPICK as the correct answer. Congratulations to Jamie Kroening, who was randomly selected as the winner of a free one-year subscription. 

For those who would like more of these puzzles, I'm honestly not quite sure of the future direction I'll take with the format. I would like to explore it deeper (I actually came up with a spin-off of the Sandwiches format before I originally wrote the first one, so stay tuned for that), but it's not likely that I'll be doing many of these, at least in the near future. 

One thing that solvers pointed out as a drawback was the use of some short fill that tends to be overused in standard crosswords, and I totally agree with this criticism. It's one of the best traits of a Rows Garden, that typically the shortest entries are six letters long, and you don't get bogged down with the 3- and 4-letter entries that most crosswords are rife in. 

I like having a meta element tie things together in a Sandwiches (and constructing the first one, I found it was not too difficult to pull this off. Much harder task in a Rows Garden, for instance). So I would envision that the size of future Sandwiches are variable and will be sized in order to accommodate a meta answer of some sort. I like the rectangular shape of the grid (to keep with the sandwich theme), but don't be surprised if future puzzles are 11 or 13 letters tall rather than 9, as was the case in the debut puzzle. 

Thanks again for all those entered - I really appreciated all the feedback. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

New Variety Puzzle Format: Sandwiches (And a Contest!)

I've been tinkering with the idea of a new puzzle format for a few years now, and I think I hit upon something that I can sink my teeth into, so to speak. It's called "Sandwiches," and you can try your hand at it by downloading the PDF file below. Instructions are included with the PDF.

I would like as much feedback as possible for this debut, so I made it a contest which requires you to e-mail me (wink-wink) in order to enter. So feel free to include your thoughts and comments regarding the format. I had a couple test-solvers give initial feedback, but the amount of people that have actually solved one of these is still very small, so I do appreciate any commentary you have.

As mentioned in the PDF, I will do a random drawing of all the correct entries I receive by the end of the day next Monday, October 19th. One lucky entrant will have the choice of a free one-year Rows Garden subscription or a one-year AriesXword subscription.

Hope you enjoy the puzzle: DOWNLOAD "SANDWICHES"

Monday, September 28, 2015

Puzzle #20 Solution

RG2015.20 Hardest/Harder - Solution

RG2015.20 Easier/Easiest - Solution

B1 turned out to be a tough seed to work with. I came very close to being able to use ORTHODOX at B2, which would have been a great antonym to balance out with B1, but alas it wasn't in the cards. Also liked to include E1, H2, I1, and I2.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Puzzle #19 Solution

RG2015.19 Hardest/Harder - Solution

RG2015.19 Easier/Easiest - Solution

Apologies for such a late post. I've been falling behind so much on puzzling in general, solving along with constructing, and I honestly just forgot about posting the solution until now. I hope to get better at posting the solutions in a timely manner.

You may be wondering when the next Indie Puzzle Round-Up will be posted. The sad thing is I haven't been keeping up with solving too much lately. I've checked out on some subscription stuff and I did the first few Wall Street Journal dailies to see what that was like, but I haven't been solving nearly enough to post a proper recap. Still great stuff there, as usual, so be sure to head over to the sites listed on the blogroll if you want some high-quality puzzling.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Puzzle #18 Solution

2015.18 Hardest/Harder - Solution

2015.18 Easier/Easiest - Solution

B2 was the seed entry - been on the list of possible seeds for a while, and I happened upon a nice clue for it recently, so that explains its usage in the entry. I was surprised to find just how popular B2 is - this infographic shows that it's first or tied for first for the most popular liquor in fifteen states across the US. Also surprised to see it was first produced in 1984 - I hadn't ever heard of it until about five years ago, and its popularity has apparently skyrocketed since then, so hopefully it wasn't too much of a toughie for you (though I think the lack of the E in the second word may have caused some struggles).

Monday, August 17, 2015

Puzzle #17 Solution

RG2015.17 Hardest/Harder - Solution

RG2015.17 Easier/Easiest - Solution

This may have been the best puzzle of the bunch this year so far. At the very least, I think Row B is the best Row I've dropped in a while. B1 was the seed, and I was very fortunate to be able to include B2 as well (with a colorful Row A answer as well). I realize it was a bit car-heavy, what with Row D and the entry at I2, so I apologize to non-drivers.

The puzzle recap takes a back seat, however, to saying a few words about Merl Reagle, the legendary constructor who passed unexpectedly last Saturday. I never was able to meet Merl in person, even though I did trek to the ACPT for a couple of tournaments, and only had brief interactions with him over e-mail. I'm now regretting I was unable to know Merl better, based on the accounts of other crossworders that had the pleasure of having a long friendship with him.

But I feel indebted to Merl for blazing a trail for independent puzzlers and I've tried to implement the elements of his business plan as I've forged ahead in my puzzle career. For instance, where I have had the negotiating power, I've retained rights (or at least a portion of them) to my puzzles, something that I took from Merl's playbook so to speak. These sorts of considerations create an ecosystem whereby the puzzle constructor can break free from the chains of traditional media and work independently. In many senses, Merl was the original "indie."

Aside from his business savvy, he was a master humorist who imbued his crosswords with his rich personality. If you were stripped of an author's byline prior to solving, you'd still probably figure out it was a Merl puzzle by the time you hit the first theme entry. That's the mark of a true auteur, and his basic philosophy of a puzzle as primarily an entertainment is something I try to keep in mind at all times. In this regard it's difficult to find a constructor that hasn't been influenced by Merl.

The world of puzzles was lucky to have such a presence, and it now has a chasm without him in it. Rest in peace, Merl.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Indie Puzzle Round-Up #3

Between a couple of vacations and lots of work, I haven't had too many opportunities to solve a bunch of puzzles lately, but I was able to catch up a bit this weekend. Let's do a quick recap.

-Nice little run of puzzles for Evan Birnholz, proprietor of Devil Cross. His Themeless 25 was a joy to solve - the grid layout offered the opportunity to stack 12s, 13s and 14s, which you don't see every day, and the fill was clean as a whistle. Then his latest, "That's a Real Stretch," features an innovative theme executed professionally, and even included a photographic hint in the PDF version (not theme related). Quite a "hot" streak for Devil Cross! (See what I did there?)

-Lollapuzzoola definitely counts as an indie when it comes to crossword tournaments, especially when you consider the puzzles themselves. I wish I could give it a proper review, but based on a long night of "research" in various Big Apple pubs the night before, I happened to arrive at the tournament just a hair late, and missed out on the first three puzzles. I won't spoil anything further except to say that Joon Pahk and Kevin Der's puzzles were outstanding, and that tournament organizers Brian Cimmet and Patrick Blindauer may have a good problem at hand, in that their venue (the basement of All Souls Church in Manhattan) may be getting too small for their crowd. Really fun experience, even if just for half of it. Congrats to Francis Heaney who took the crown!

-I had the pleasure to meet Sam Ezersky of Grid Kid fame on Friday, and was pretty astounded to learn that he doesn't use constructing software (such as Crossword Compiler, CrossFire, etc). That makes his themeless puzzles that much more amazing, especially low word count offerings like his Freestyle 16. A 64-worder! There are some short entries that aren't desirable in the puzzle, but they're easily offset by several stellar long entries. Very impressive stuff.

-While Buzzfeed doesn't qualify as an independent source, I think it's fair to say that it will adopt an independent spirit, what with Caleb Madison in the editor's chair. Based on my experience of working with Caleb, he's got very high standards, especially when it comes to fill, so I expect their upcoming daily puzzle to be of top-notch quality.

Along with Buzzfeed, the Wall Street Journal is also going daily. The emergence of two new dailies has the potential to be a game changer. I know it's somewhat fashionable to rag on the New York Times crossword nowadays, and I won't do too much of that, except to say that I canceled my subscription about a year and a half ago and haven't regretted that decision a whole lot. The Times is still a high-quality crossword, and being that it is trying to be a puzzle for a mass audience, it usually does a very good job of that. But I'm a hardcore solver, and my tastes are going to be much better satisfied with a puzzle geared towards hardcore solvers, like Fireball and the AV Club. That's why I love the indies so much too.

I equate the Times puzzle with the 1967 version of Doctor Dolittle - it was a Best Picture nominee that year, alongside The Graduate, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Bonnie and Clyde, and In the Heat of the Night. Those latter four were landmark films, both aesthetically and culturally; in comparison, Doctor Dolittle represented the old guard, a conservative example of film-making that has hardly stood the test of time. Bonnie and Clyde revolutionized film editing, and I once argued that The Graduate ushered in the era of postmodernism in American film -- its influence is still seen today. The influence of the Times puzzle and Shortz himself cannot be understated; however, its competitors have since taken the reins in terms of shifting the paradigm.

We'll have to see what the Buzzfeed puzzle will look like, and how the Wall Street Journal will fare moving to a daily format. I'm especially excited about the WSJ - it's got the power of having a formidable print presence, has an excellent, experienced editor in place (Mike Shenk), and already has nurtured a dedicated puzzle audience, so it's reasonable to expect the Journal to be a legitimate Times competitor. The best thing is that this kind of competition benefits everyone - solvers, editors, and constructors alike. Such an exciting time to be a crossword constructor right now!

'Til next time.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Puzzle #16 Solution

RG2015.16 Hardest/Harder - Solution

RG2015.16 Easier/Easiest - Solution

Been totally buried in work lately so this is a short late post. B2 was the seed, with its attendant clue. Liked getting a couple of Qs in this puzzle, the clues on D1 and G2; upon reflection I thought there may have been a few too many names/proper nouns in this puzzle for my liking. What'd you think?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Puzzle #15 Solution

RG2015.15 Hardest/Harder - Solution

RG2015.15 Easier/Easiest - Solution

Posting early as I'm on vacation and wi-fi is at a premium...

Not much to add today. I originally planned to use BOOK ON TAPE for the seed entry, with the same clue that I ended up using for Row A, but then I realized a) it's not 1995 and b) most cars nowadays don't even have the capability to play cassette tapes. So I felt wise to use a more up-to-date term. Aside from that, I liked the clues at D1 and E1, and got a kick out of debuting J2.

Stay cool!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Indie Puzzle Round-Up #2

I got some good feedback regarding the first Indie Round-Up, so here we are for round two.

- I was mostly emboldened to write this review based on my solve of Patrick Berry's variety cryptic "Middle of the Road," which he wrote for the annual NPL convention. It took me over two hours to complete, so it's very difficult, and I know there are some who are turned off by cryptics, but...all I have to say is it's tough for me to think of a better puzzle I've solved in the last, say, five years. It's for sure a Top 5 All-Timer. I will not go into details on the puzzle because to spoil it would be blasphemous. I'll just say there was about three huge "a-ha's," to the point where I audibly commented "Oh my god." To borrow from Dave Eggers, it's truly a heartbreaking work of staggering genius.

In regards to cryptics, it took me forever to really take to them. Even when I knew the basic rules, it was still very difficult to understand the cluing styles, especially when liberties are taken by some authors. If you struggle with cryptics like I once did (and still do, to an extent), do yourself a favor and not check out British cryptics, unless you'd like to go slowly insane. For beginners, stick to block cryptics and do many of them. I found Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's block cryptics to be my primary entry to learning the ropes. I pored the New York Times Sunday variety archives (when I still subscribed to the NYT puzzles) and did most of Cox and Rathvon's work there.

Then I discovered variety cryptics and my appreciation of the art form really took off there. I did a lot of variety cryptics around 2012 because I was preparing to write one for my "Print Media Isn't Dead" meta suite that year. I find it similar to very tough themeless puzzles in that at first glance the task seems impossible to solve one of these. But chip away and chip away, and I find that once you hit the tipping point of a variety (once you grasp the gimmick and have enough letters in the grid to help you with the others), it becomes much easier to complete.

With "Middle of the Road," the primary mechanism of the puzzle entailed not disclosing word lengths, which increased the difficulty exponentially, and also involved unannounced blank squares in the grid, which certainly didn't ease things up any more either. So after the first hour, I may have had 90% of the grid empty  - though I had made headway with nearly a half of the clues, I still didn't know how to accurately enter them into the grid. So it became partially a logic puzzle as well as a cryptic. Once I had made inroads with a few of the columns, though, the puzzle unfolded much more quickly after that. The last few mechanisms of the puzzle just blew the mind away. I still can't quite believe how Patrick pulled it all off so well and made it appear so effortless. It truly gives me hope for the human race.

- Not an indie, but a relevant thought related to the above: I solved the Harper's variety cryptic when I was visiting my brother's on Friday. Terrible. Don't solve that puzzle if you want to get into cryptics. Richard Maltby, I assume, likes to put garbage obscurities in his grids (because he does it about five times in every puzzle), and he's waaaay too stretchy in his clues. I mean, some of them are clever, but he has no respect for surface senses and he includes too many irrelevant clue words (in particular the bridge words from the literal to the wordplay clues). Berry's worst puzzle is at least ten times better than Maltby's best. Ugh.

- Back to business: I enjoyed Andy Kravis' "Overlapping Universes" that he posted on July 8th. It's a small puzzle (11x11) whose theme is pop-culture-based, so some may not appreciate it based on cultural unfamiliarity. But I got a nice "a-ha" from it, both from a trivia standpoint and then from a crossword constructor's standpoint. Very nice.

- Chris King's site Chris Words was a welcome addition to indie-land last year. Chris is a budding constructor whose skills have noticeably approved over the last few months. He has a set rotation offering themed, themeless, and meta puzzles. I thought his latest, "Themeless Eight," was a smooth solve with some clever clues. I especially liked the northwest corner, with the topical entry at 1-Across. Keep up the good work, Chris!

That's it for this week. I'll be on vacation all of next week and then I'm doing Lollapuzzoola the following week, so I'm not sure when the next Round-Up will be. Maybe a post-Lolla write-up? That's probably what I'll do. Talk to you then!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Puzzle #14 Solution

RG2015.14 Hardest/Harder - Solution

RG2015.14 Easier/Easiest - Solution

There are always 60 entries in a standard Rows Garden - 22 Rows entries and 38 Blooms. I make a concerted effort to avoid duplicate answers in the grid; in the last year I've taken to listing out the Blooms entries in the margin of my penciled grid as I'm writing the puzzle, in hopes to catch dupes before I move on with writing the grid. This practice was instituted because I've been burned before with finding a dupe (or a past tense of a dupe), such as finding MADE UP and REMAKE in a grid, which happened once years ago and I still remember because I literally had to tear out about 3/4 of the grid to fix it. So I've stepped up my vigilance in avoiding these annoyances, etc.

So I'm writing the 58th of the 60 clues in this puzzle, and my heart sinks. CHOSEN and CHOOSE are both in the grid, and while the former isn't completely buried in the middle of the grid, it was positioned where not many other possibilities lay, and the idea of grid surgery on July 4th was not my idea of fun. So I found the Japanese name of Korea (which was used on world maps for decades during Japan's ruling of Korea) and ran with it. Convenient/lucky for me, maybe not so cool for solvers. Apologies for that.

Other than that, the clue for E2 might be my favorite clue I've come up with lately. Interestingly, I came across this grid sorting through some old papers. I had Row A, B2, and C2 filled in and then I apparently abandoned the grid; I honestly have no idea when I first did work on this puzzle. Good thing I didn't put some only-relevant-in-2012 entry in the grid or it would have seen the bottom of a waste bin!

Several solvers said this one was on the tough side; how'd it treat you?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Indie Puzzle Round-Up

I'd like to start a semi-regular feature for the site: a recap of some of the stellar work going on in the world of indie puzzle-making. I'm not sure how often I'll do this (I realize I'm too frequently late with posting RG solutions), but I'm thinking every couple weeks. And I won't be able to touch on all of the impressive indie puzzle sites every week - it's a burgeoning venture, and at times I lag behind. But I want to give some benediction to some puzzle authors that may not get the pub that they deserve. Expect these recaps to be more stream-of-consciousness than anything, and I want to avoid puzzle spoilers (I want you to try these puzzles yourself!), so I'll try to be vague enough in my summaries while still being intriguing.

Here goes:

--Big news for themeless fans: Peter Gordon is attempting to get the band back together for the Post Puzzler. The themeless challenges that appeared every Sunday in the Washington Post for 5 years were often the solving highlight of the week for me. Now Peter's going independent, launching a Kickstarter campaign. It's got a lofty funding goal, and time is ticking, so I urge themeless fans to back this project. Only 50 cents a puzzle!

--Brendan Emmett Quigley's got a boss site that he updates twice a week, but in addition to that he's started a Marching Bands subscription service that features a new puzzle every two weeks. So far, the series has been great - though I would say the difficulty has been a little on the easy side. This isn't a negative criticism, just an observation. I do love the Band entries that turn multiple corners, as they do in his latest puzzle (#5). For only $10 a year, it's a steal of a deal.

-Todd McClary continues to kick ass and take names at his site, Life As a Puzzle. His latest offering in his Unthemely series featured some spectacular clues and entries, especially at 26-D and 54-A (which I fell into a humorous yet off-color trap that I'm not sure was intentional). Another reason to back the Postmodern Puzzler is that Todd is a member of Peter's constructing cadre. Extremely high quality stuff, and for word list buffs, he regularly posts blog entries that recap his latest additions to his lists. Check it out.

-Erik Agard continues to have RIES in his word list, clearly. It showed up again in his Themeless #35; I think I've been an entry in his puzzles three times. Matt Gaffney has done it a few times too; I've told Matt that I actually think it's pretty crappy as fill goes. Erik's themelesses are always a treat, and he really is a cluing master. Congrats on his making the American Values Club constructor roster; his meta "Have a Blast" a few weeks ago was terrific on multiple levels. I especially liked it because I actually solved the meta - I seriously don't think I've ever gotten a meta when he posts them on his site. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

-I think it's safe to say that the hardest themelesses in indie puzzle land are found at Tim Croce's site, Club 72. He jam-packs a ton of fresh entries in each offering. It's a rarity for me to solve one in less than ten minutes. Much of the difficulty is because of the vibe that Tim is channeling, and it's just not in my wheelhouse. Internet memes are frequent fodder for entries in his puzzles - a bit risky, in my opinion, because they are a bit on the ephemeral side. But that's a benefit of indie puzzling - they don't need to sit around for a year or more waiting in an editor's queue. It's not uncommon for Tim to put entries in his puzzles that are based on news less than 24 hours old - like his Freestyle #38, for instance. If Caleb Madison (the new puzzle editor at Buzzfeed) wants themelesses, I think Tim would be all over that. But so far Tim's going strong, and he's prolific - he's doing two puzzles a week, with variety formats taking a major part in the fun too.

That's it for this round-up; I did five nuggets, so maybe that's what I'll do from now on. Join the discussion! Feel free to drop a comment below.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Puzzle #13 - Solution

RG2015.13 Hardest/Harder - Solution

RG2015.13 Easier/Easiest - Solution

B2 was the seed entry here. It wasn't the easiest seed to work with, as C2 was one of only a few possibilities going under that entry. Using it at B1 wasn't possible, either. Then I ended up tearing up three or four rows towards the bottom of the puzzle as a few entries weren't turning out to be all that accommodating. So overall this was a challenging grid, and I went a little tougher on the clues, too. How did it suit you?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Puzzle #12 - Solution

RG2015.12 Hardest/Harder - Solution

RG2015.12 Easier/Easiest - Solution

For the second time in four years, I made it to the finals of the Minnesota Crossword Puzzle Tournament. For the second time in four years, I took second place. Congratulations to Carl Voss, who thoroughly dominated the final themeless puzzle (constructed by Victor Barocas), and handily beat myself and third-place finisher Mike Weepie.

It was a fun time, and the itch of competitive speed solving seems to have returned. I hadn't competed in a tournament since Lollapuzzoola in 2013, but apparently I shook the rust off enough to lead the room going into the finals. I've booked my flight for August to return to Lollapuzzoola this year; now, mind you, I don't expect to get anything close to a top finish there, as some serious speed solvers will be present there. My approach this year was not to "rush" - i.e., make sure the grid is completely filled in, double-check questionable crossings, etc. - and that seemed to work, so I'll approach Lolla in the same manner.

The most important thing, especially when you're in the speed-solving purgatory that I'm in (that is, good enough to qualify for the expert/highest solving division, but nowhere near the top 10-20 solvers that actually have a chance at making a major-tournament final), is to just have fun. The stakes are already very low, so just enjoying the experience, meeting some fellow puzzlers, and solving some great puzzles are the things I most cherish about these tournaments.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Puzzle #11 Solution

RG2015.11 Hardest/Harder - Solution

RG2015.11 Easier/Easiest - Solution

Clue/entry pair at B2 was the seed. I was a little worried that I was a little too sports-heavy in the top half and a little movie/pop culture heavy in the bottom few rows; I hope I didn't inconvenience solvers too much if I probed a bit to much on individual knowledge weak spots.

I had the opportunity to solve the Indie 500 puzzles over the weekend and was really impressed by the quality of the work presented there. It was a shame that I couldn't make the tournament in person (too far, money, etc.), especially so because the puzzles were so enjoyable and I respect each of the constructors greatly. It's a fool's exercise to pick the best of the bunch, because they all were so good, but I will say that Neville Fogarty's stumper had the quintessence of a  Puzzle 5 at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament - a puzzle that puts up great resistance, even when the theme is uncovered. Great stuff there. And as a constructor, I really appreciated both Peter Broda and Finn Vigeland's puzzles from a technical standpoint. I won't go any further and divulge any particulars of the puzzle - to keep with the tournament runners' wishes - just to say that you should order them right now. $10 well spent. Here's the link to purchase: Indie 500 (Click on the Register tab and scroll to the bottom)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Puzzle #10 Solution

RG2015.10 Hardest/Harder - Solution

RG2015.10 Easier/Easiest - Solution

Not much to say about this one, largely because it'd been an eon since I wrote it. It was accepted by Will Shortz's WordPlay last August and was planning to run in the Summer 2015 issue. Unfortunately, the magazine folded after the Spring issue, and all puzzles in the pipeline were returned to their creators. Though it's a tragedy that such a great magazine went by the wayside, it actually meant that I got an "off-week," so to speak. I did edit some of the clues - most notably added the creative angle on the clue for D2, which a number of solvers stated was their favorite part of the puzzle. WordPlay's editorial preference, at least for Rows Gardens, was slanted to the Easier side of things, so I did made a conscious effort to ease up the difficulty on the clues when I submitted. Now that the puzzle was mine again, I toughened it up in places, but for the most part retained its "easier-than-most-weeks" personality.

If you're a fan of variety crosswords (Marching Bands, Some Assembly Required, etc), cryptics (variety and standard), and logic puzzles, you should check out my friend Nathan Curtis's Patreon campaign. Nathan emerged on the puzzle scene through his site Tortoiseshell Studio (where you can find some stellar free examples of his work, including a couple of Rows Gardens), and now he's going semi-pro through Patreon. Consider throwing some money Nathan's way if those types of puzzles please you.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Puzzle #9 Solution

RG2015.9 Hardest/Harder - Solution

RG2015.9 Easier/Easiest - Solution

I got incredibly lucky with this puzzle. Usually the toughest part of writing a Rows Garden grid is finishing the darn thing. It's not uncommon that the last two rows of the puzzle take as long to write as it did the previous ten rows. Here, though, I got it on the first pass - once I had locked in Row J, I tried the entry at K1, then found Row L with a convenient trigram at the bottom-left-most White Bloom, which accomodated K2 at the first attempt there. Grand total, probably five minutes on those two rows. I realize the glee that I experienced is probably not shared by too many others, but I figured I'd share it with you anyway.

B1 was the seed here, along with its built-in clue. I was happy to get a bit of a mini-theme with the A and L rows; I'd love to say that that was planned, but it never is.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Puzzle #8 Solution

RG2015.8 Hardest/Harder - Solution

RG2015.8 Easier/Easiest - Solution

Only until I made the solution for this puzzle did I realize how many debut entries there are in this puzzle. According to my databases, B1, C1, D1, D2, E1, H1, and J1 are all debuts. Now, some of those are mere plurals whose singular forms have been used, but still...something that I like to do is put in some fresh entries in each grid, and of course I try for some clever cluing for the Rows entries. Blooms entries I like to clue pretty much straightforward, to keep the difficulty level reasonable.

Row A was the seed, though mostly because of a cluing angle that I happened upon when I was cluing a puzzle for AriesXword. I ended up not using the clue because the entry in question had to be excised from the grid because of minor grid surgery during the editing phase. I decided to salvage the gist of the clue here.

Til next week!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Puzzle #7 Solution

RG2015.7 Hardest/Harder - Solution

RG2015.7 Easier/Easiest - Solution

B2 (and its accompanying clue) was the seed, and I also liked the entries as B2, D2, and I2, as well as the clues to D2, H1, and J2. I didn't like that the first three Medium blooms (crossing the Row A entry) as well as the first three White blooms were all similar in that they all started either in the top left triangle of the bloom or the bottom right. These are the easiest way to work with blooms in constructing the puzzle, and also the easiest to work with while solving; as it's the natural inclination to see those three-letter halves as the start or end of the bloom, so I like to change them up (see the ABUSES bloom in Row B, where the A starts in the bottom left and ends in the bottom center of the bloom - it's harder to parse that bloom from a solving standpoint). Sorry if this doesn't make much sense.

I'd like to say it's a special time of year, as baseball's Opening Day traditionally is a red-letter day on my calendar. This year, however, there was no such anticipation. See, I'm a fan of the Minnesota Twins. I was too young to personally remember the glory of winning World Series in 1987 and 1991, so I essentially came of age watching the club go through its horrendous 1993-2000 run, when they didn't field a winning club in any of those years, and usually lost over 90 games in those seasons. Still, I couldn't wait for the season to begin, and when it did, I made sure to watch as many games as possible. We would cook hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill to mark the occasion. As I aged and moved onto college and adult life, I did my best to continue this tradition, and it was easy to do so when the team was riding the gravy train of winning division titles and regularly competing in the American League, as they did for much of the first decade of the 21st century.

Now the team has turned into a laughingstock, a paradigm of stubborn management and pathetically old-fashioned philosophies. In an era where sabermetrics (as famously espoused in the book and movie Moneyball) have shaped the strategies of the modern baseball front office, the Twins are stuck in the old-school scout-driven methods that, while useful, are as a standalone approach falling woefully behind in today's game. The team's habit of bringing back older players that have a history with the team has translated to a "comfortable shoes" syndrome, exacerbated when the faults of these players (which are easily quantified with even basic analytic numbers) are scoffed at and rebutted by the front office by such lines as "they pass the eye test." (See the signing of Torii Hunter, the once-great defensive outfielder who has regressed in his old age to a below-average defender, for some front office pearls on how they believe Hunter can still catch 'em with the best of 'em).

The biggest culprit would normally be general manager Terry Ryan, a former scout who helmed the front office during its '90s malaise and also turned it around in the 2000s, only to resign in 2007, citing burnout. In a trademark Twins maneuver, they promoted from within in '07, handing the job to Ryan lapdog Bill Smith, whose failed tenure was the epitome of the Peter Principle. In an even more trademark Twins move, they brought Ryan back after they stripped Smith of the role after the 2011 season. In perhaps the most Twins-esque move, instead of merely firing Smith then, they reassigned him to his previous role (see also the handling of "firing" longtime manager Ron Gardenhire after last season; instead of moving on, as like any failed relationship, they embraced Gardenhire's value to the club, and the former manager put in a few appearances at spring training this season). It's "shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic" if I've ever seen it.

However, the folks most to blame here are the owners, the Pohlad family, who has permitted the echo chamber of the upper management to permeate as long as it has. The organization is supremely deaf to any outside voice. When some writers and critics ask what the team is doing to evolve in terms of analytics (which is what all of the successful clubs are doing now), they point to Jack Goin, their token stats nerd they hired a few years ago, but the fact is Goin or any other person with a new approach has little to no say in actual roster decisions. Anyone with a high school diploma and a pocket calculator could have predicted, for example, that the re-signing of Mike Pelfrey after a disastrous 2013 campaign would not have been prudent. Ryan, though, would cite such acute analytical philosophies such as the "eye test," "he can hit 95 on the radar gun," and "guys are better in the second year after Tommy John" as reasons why not only a new contract was in line for Pelfrey, but a two-year deal was warranted (sidenote: Pelfrey clearly hadn't improved health-wise in 2014, and had a 7.99 ERA in less than 24 innings before going on the shelf for good in early May).

Because the team won the American League Central six times in a nine-year span from 2002-2010 (a division that, for the exception of perhaps one season [2006], was either the worst or second-worst division in baseball), Terry Ryan and the owners received confirmation that their way worked. To an extent, they even marketed this approach, known around these parts as the "Twins Way." Forefront to this approach was solid defense, fundamentals, "small ball" and "doing the little things." (Note that this leaves out the fact that they had the best pitcher in baseball during this period, Johan Santana, and had two hitters win MVP awards. This is similar to the flaw of Moneyball, which stressed the lack of bunting and base-stealing as keys to the Oakland A's success, and ignored its top-notch pitching staff and MVP performances from such players as Miguel Tejada).

What used to work in 2002 doesn't always turn out to have the legs that you may have imagined it once had. BlackBerry used to be dominant in the mobile market; now it's a quaint device that's ridiculed if it's seen "in the wild" today. The Twins, similarly, are a BlackBerry competing in a league of Apple iPhones and Samsung Galaxys.

What should be done? Well, clearly not what was done this year. Based on outside sources such as Baseball America, the Twins have one of the strongest farm systems in baseball. As many as six or seven of their prospects would, individually, be the top prospect for many teams today. But the Twins broke camp with exactly zero of these blue-chippers on the big-league team. Outfield prospects Byron Buxton and Aaron Hicks were shipped to the minors in favor of a veteran centerfield platoon featuring Jordan Schafer (he of the career .229 batting average) and something named Shane Robinson, a 30-year-old career minor-leaguer. Cuban slugger Miguel Sano was sent down for the perennially average Trevor Plouffe, who though serviceable is far from a cornerstone on which to build the club, as Sano potentially can be. Their two best starting pitching prospects, Trevor May and Alex Meyer, were bypassed for veteran slop-tosser Tommy Milone; when free-agent signee Ervin Santana was busted for steroids last week and a spot opened in the rotation, the brass didn't take it as an opportunity to give one of their young guys a chance, but instead gave the job to Pelfrey, the latest in a series of moves that typify this backwards-minded, 2004-oriented organization.

So as Opening Day came this year, it was with a wave of apathy rather than anticipation. Ninety losses seems almost assured again, which if it happens this year would be the fifth straight reaching that figure. After Phil Hughes gave up a couple of Tigers home runs in the middle innings on Monday, I flipped the channel over to Better Call Saul re-runs. Sure, I'd already seen the episodes AMC was running. But in a similar sense I've already seen these "episodes" of Twins games too, for five years now. At least with Bob Odenkirk, you're guaranteed to be pleasantly entertained.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Puzzle #6 Solution

RG2015.6 Hardest/Harder - Solution

RG2015.6 Easier/Easiest - Solution

B2 was the seed entry here, as I wanted something timely to go along with the whole March Madness thing that a lot of people seem to enjoy. As I've mentioned before, I'm more of a hockey fan, but I will occasionally tune in for some of the college hoops action come tournament time.

I was happy with the colloquial debut at Row A, and the clues at C1 and E2.

New puzzle next Tuesday. Good luck to all ACPT competitors!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Puzzle #5 - Solution

RG2015.5 Hardest/Harder - Solution

RG2015.5 Easier/Easiest - Solution

Short post this week. I've got a ton of work to finish up this weekend before I make my second sojourn to Omaha in three months. Playoff hockey...what can I say? You go where it takes you. Like Omaha. For the second time in ninety days.

I feel like Row A seeds are becoming a bit of a rarity, but this week was one of those cases. I also liked being able to horn in B1, C2, H1, and I2. Favorite clue? Probably J1 - one of those scenarios when a clue can save an otherwise bland entry.

New puzzle next Tuesday.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Puzzle #4 - Solution

RG2015.4 Hardest/Harder - Solution

RG2015.4 Easier/Easiest - Solution

Apologies for the delayed post...been very busy around here.

B1 was the seed here. It was one of those unique situations where I came up with the clue and entry almost at the same time. Though I knew I was going to clue it as [High heat?], I debated having the answer in the singular or the plural. I ended up going with the latter, and I'm glad I did.

I was also happy to debut E2. For the longest time I had KENNEDYCURSE in that spot; though I didn't love the crossing bloom it created (PEENED), plus KENNEDYCURSE is a tough phrase to clue (not to mention the tragic implications in the entry). Plus once I landed on the final E2 entry, it enabled using the equally fresh entry at E1.

New puzzle next Tuesday!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Puzzle #3 - Solution

RG2015.3 Hardest/Harder - Solution

RG2015.3 Easier/Easiest - Solution

B1 was the seed answer here, but unfortunately for me I got "scooped" in a colleague's puzzle about a week before the puzzle was released. I won't tell you where I saw it (in case you're behind on your puzzles, I won't spoil it for you), but I should have known that the time to debut B1 was dwindling! Anyhow, I liked the clue on it, and also liked the misdirect in the clues for F2, G1, and I2. Some solvers wrote stating that this one was particularly tough - how did it treat you?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Puzzle #2 - Solution

RG 2015.2 Hardest/Harder - Solution

RG 2015.2 Easier/Easiest - Solution

Apologies for the very short post. I'm off to Colorado this week and am busy in preparations. Though we've had a very mild winter here so far (a welcome respite from last year's disastrously cold and snowy winter), a long weekend in Colorado Springs is always something to look forward to. My condolences to those stuck in the winter blizzard out east - I can certainly relate!

B2 was the seed here, and I like the cleverness I was able to wrangle out of some otherwise ordinary entries (I'm looking at you, C1 and E2). Not a ton of Scrabbly letters in this grid, and it's in these situations where cluing can deliver the freshness of a puzzle. Hope you enjoyed it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Puzzle #1 Solution

RG2015.1 Solution - Hardest/Harder

RG2015.1 Solution - Easier/Easiest

Starting the year off with a bang! We've been in a deep freeze for a while now (well, it's Minnesota, so what should I expect), and I burned through a long list of seed answers a while back, so it was a bit of a struggle to brainstorm some fresh new entries. I ended up using B1 as the seed; though I stopped watching Colbert years ago, I remember watching the first episode, and then saw the final song also featured his first guest, so I thought it'd make a good trivia clue. Also happy to work in D1, E1, F2, and J2, and I liked the clues on G1 and H1.

Hope it treated you well; welcome again to Year #2 of subscriptions.