176. Cycling Necklace

December 2, 2012

My sole foray into jewelry design (for my daughter). Vintage bicycle gear levers and thumb screws; hex coupling nut and zinc-plated chain from The Home Depot.

173. Eno

November 13, 2012

I’ve been listening to Brian Eno music this afternoon, and it’s starting to make me drowszzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

171. Noogiefest

November 5, 2012

Three days prior to Hurricane Sandy, the Ink Well Foundation organized a gaggle (or is it a doodle?) of cartoonists that descended upon Gilda’s Club in Manhattan for their annual “Noogiefest” Halloween bash. A fun time was had by all as we drew witches, superheroes, walking eyeballs, and other assorted Halloween creatures with a great group of kids and their parents.

Here are some photos from the event … including one of me modeling my vampire teeth for a Power Ranger, a princess, and an escapee from the musical Cats (they weren’t sure what to think of my teeth at first, but then insisted I keep them in).

Inkwell logo ® The Ink Well Foundation

154: 2012 ACPT Vignettes, part 1

March 19, 2012

The Winner
What can you say. Dan Feyer is amazing. Congratulations on another impressive win. And a big tip of the hat to Tyler and Anne for their great performances … not to mention (but I am going to mention) David, Al, Francis, Howard, Joon, Stella, Ellen and, well, you gotta stop somewhere. (Don Christensen photo)

Changing of the Guard
There was a changing-of-the-quard mini-theme to this year’s event: no Maura Jacobson puzzle for the first time ever, no Merl and Neal calling the finals, and no Trip Payne as a competitor. In addition, the dynamic Doug Heller, who served as head judge and webmaster for many, many years, played more of a sideline role this year.

Their full or partial absence made me appreciate them all the more.

Anne Erdmann
Anne proved once again the class and integrity of the top solvers in the ACPT. None of them wants to be given anything they haven’t earned on paper.

I happened to be in the tournament bunker with Helene Hovanec on Sunday morning when Anne Erdmann poked her head in the door. She had misgivings about her mistake on puzzle #1 being overturned the day before and insisted that it should be re-reviewed. She stated she would gladly abide by whatever was decided, but she wanted there to be no doubt that it was the right call.

The online scan doesn’t show it clearly, but looking at the actual paper, there’s no way to ignore that there’s an ascender coming down and ending in a small circle-shape. The vertical line is clearly and fairly strongly written (not just a drag of the pencil), resulting in something that looks pretty close to the lowercase “b” just below it. The ruling was regrettable but clear: It wasn’t an “o.”

As it turned out, Anne solved her way back from 4th to make the final three on stage. Good things do sometimes happen to good people.

Dr. Fill
The good Dr. added a lot of interest to this year’s tournament and generated more pre-tourney publicity than we’ve ever seen, including a front page article in The New York Times.

I had mixed feelings about Matt Ginsberg’s cyber-creation and its presence as an unofficial competitor. What Matt has accomplished is really remarkable, downright awesome. In fact, I was inspired enough that I made an unsolicited donation of a Dr. Fill logo to the cause back in May.

On the other hand, I was tapped as the constructor of puzzle #2, so Dr. Fill was the competition. Did I want to beat Dr. Fill? Yes. Some wrong answers would be satisfying. I mean, who doesn’t like to beat a computer.

But I didn’t write a puzzle to try and beat Dr. Fill.

That thought wasn’t even on the radar. And I had no instruction from Will Shortz to do so. The truth is, there was zero discussion between us about what my theme or approach would be, other than the level of difficulty to aim for. The first he knew of my puzzle was when the finished version arrived in his mailbox about three weeks before the tournament.

My only consideration was trying to make an original and interesting puzzle, hopefully one that solvers would appreciate. The humans are what the tournament is about; they’re paying the big bucks to be there, and they want the best entertainment they can get. Computers are great, but they aren’t going to come up and thank you if you write a good puzzle (you at least have a shot with humans). As Matt has repeatedly said, Dr. Fill doesn’t even know what it’s doing.

After the puzzle was constructed, I did give some thought to how Dr. Fill might fare with it. Here’s part of an email I sent to Will Shortz the day after I sent him the puzzle: “My #2 theme is one that could likely flummox Dr. Fill, although that wasn’t something I set out to do. Real solvers were the focus!”

Will’s response: “As long as your primary goal is entertaining solvers, not flummoxing Dr. Fill, that’s fine.”

More to Come?
I might file a few more notes later but, if nothing else, I will make sure to include a follow-up about a paper that many of you signed at the tournament.

In the meantime, thanks to all who came up and said hello or gave me a thumbs up for my puzzle #2 (even those who waved a fist at me). It’s greatly appreciated. Also thanks to those who purchased books at my table. My nieces’ cut of the take (rounded up to reward them for their hard work) netted them a couple hundred dollars toward their cause to fight Crohn’s disease.

Go to: Vignettes, part 2

153. ACPT Table

March 12, 2012

The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament takes place this weekend, March 16-18, in Brooklyn, NY, and it promises to be another great one. Here’s a recent interview with Will Shortz (scroll down to the Shortz pic) on uber-constructor Brendan Emmett Quigley’s site.

Aside from my judging duties, I’ll have a table in the puzzle marketplace, with 20% of every sale going to support my two high-school-age nieces’ upcoming walk to fight Crohn’s disease. The two of them will be (wo)manning the table themselves.

The wares for sale will include approximately 25 different puzzle-book titles of mine (for kids and adults both) and a brand-new crossword ambigram iron-on (pictured above; it reads the same upside down) with which you can make your own ambigram t-shirt. A sheet of iron-ons is $5 and books are either $5 or $10. I hope you’ll stop by and, if nothing else, give them a smile and a thumbs up.

art © 2012 Patrick Merrell

149. Merrell Books

November 12, 2011

Out Now:
A holiday section, plus TV detectives, celebrity chefs, movie cars, chick flicks, Bradley, Cee Lo and Soffffia.

240 pages and 6 types of puzzles, with crossword champ Dan Feyer pitching in.

Coming in 2012 (for kids):
• Bob the plunger and Rollo the toilet paper roll host a book packed with unusual trivia, gross recipes and over 80 pages of fun and funny puzzles. Color illustrations throughout.

CHICKEN GAMES & PUZZLES • 144 pages with illustrations throughout. Co-written by Helene Hovanec.

HAUNTED HALLOWEEN MAZES: A Maze Adventure • For beginning solvers. Zombie mice, walking eyeballs and a floor-eating furball.

HAPPY HOLIDAY MAZES: A Maze Adventure • For beginning solvers. When Santa’s away, the elves will play.

PUZZLED PENGUINS • For beginning solvers, starring Herbert and Martha Penguin. Scholastic book club reprint, early 2012.

147. Pleasantville Tourney Recap

October 22, 2011

Will Shortz’s annual fund-raising crossword tournament is history. A sizable flock of crossword fanciers ran a gantlet (or gauntlet, if you prefer) of flying Ping-Pong balls at Mr. Shortz’s newly christened hall of the white orb, with all appearing to have found refuge in a roomy, well-lit solving room specially outfitted for the night. A wall kept the fervent paddle-wielders at bay, but the threat was ever-present via soundproof windows. An imported Chinese table tennis table full of beverages and baked goods helped calm a few frayed nerves.

My contribution for the night was unplugging one of the three coffeemakers that had overloaded the wall outlets and disabled the official display clock for the first round. I then skirted the mayhem in the outer table tennis area, located the circuit breakers and restored power. Red, gleaming numbers greeted the solvers for the remainder of the night.

Solving ensued, with some familiar faces blazing through the NYT puzzles that will appear next Monday through Wednesday. Bob Mackey, Jeffrey Schwartz and Elaine Lippman posted the fastest qualifying times in 3:05, 3:05 and ~4:30 respectively. Another perennial ringer, Ken Stern, ended up just out of the running.

Solving on the oversized boards for the finals, Bob Mackey took top honors on next Thursday’s puzzle, with Mr. Schwartz nosing out Ms. Lippman by an eye wink.

A good smattering of the puzzle-sated faithful then found their way to Will Shortz’s house nearby. Awaiting them was a generous bounty of sodas, beer and wine to wash down inviting bowls of Doritos, Ruffles, carrots and white celery. Banter filled the house with merriment. Liniment was available for any who suffered Ping-Pong ball bruises.

CLICK HERE for a great video of the event.

The windows behind which we cowered are at the top right.


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