Monday, February 19, 2024

Monday, January 29, 2024

Friday, December 22, 2023

Musings occasioned by the end of the year

By an odd quirk of scheduling, I've got 11 puzzles scheduled, in 8 different venues, in the 11 days from December 21 to December 31 this year. This is what I do for a living, so I have to write a lot of puzzles. But I'm also kind of like the bourgeois image of the writer as Roland Barthes describes it in "The Writer on Holiday": "The writer is the prey of an inner god who speaks at all times, without bothering, tyrant that he is, with the holidays of his medium. Writers are on holiday, but their Muse is awake, and gives birth non-stop." Constructing crosswords is so ingrained in my nature that I can't turn it off. I'm about to go on an actual holiday where I'll be parenting and therefore theoretically too busy to make any puzzles for the next two weeks, but we'll see how it goes.

Anyway, all of this, plus the fact that I recently passed 1,000 entries on the spreadsheet I keep of my published crosswords since late 2016, has got me thinking... are solvers getting Nediger fatigue? I mean, probably not - the vast majority of solvers don't care about bylines, they just solve the NYT or whatever. Then there are the hardcore solvers like me, who do care about bylines. Rebecca Goldstein is published seemingly everywhere these days, but do I get Goldstein fatigue? Certainly not - her puzzles are routinely impeccably crafted with ingenious themes, so why would I?

At the same time, there are a lot of high-quality puzzles these days. A few years back, Brian Cimmet attempted to solve every puzzle published in a reputable venue over the course of a single year. It was a quixotic goal back then, but now it feels like such a feat would be downright impossible, at least for anyone with a job and/or family. And puzzles are an ephemeral medium by nature, meant to be solved once. There's no Ulysses of crosswords, revealing endless new depths even over a dozen revisits. Even the greatest crossword generally isn't something that provides a lot of food for thought after the solve is over. And so it's hard not to feel like a content mill, pumping out transient pieces of entertainment that will soon be forgotten by nearly everyone.

When I start to think that way (which is often), I'm reminded of one of my favorite authors, the Argentinian novelist César Aira. Aira writes unpredictable, slim novels and he pumps them out at an incredible rate. Every couple years, I think to check whether there's a new-to-me Aira book available, and there's usually at least one. Most recently, I read Prins, which fortuitously enough is about a prolific author of Gothic novels who decides to give up the craft because he's tired of churning out formulaic books that the public laps up; he's continued doing it for ages because he makes a living from it and because he can't think of anything else he could do.

Anyway, my state of mind isn't really like that of the protagonist of Prins (I love writing crosswords and can't imagine ever stopping). But the novel, and Aira's writing strategies more generally, do serve as a nice reminder of how lucky I am to have turned an artistic compulsion into a well-paying job, something which is increasingly rare in many disciplines. And it's something that I can do for myself and for my muse; if the solvers want to come along for the ride, so much the better. So I'm finally adding AIRA to my wordlist. Hey, I can use a different novel in the clue each time and it'll be years before I have to reuse a clue, so I'll never get tired of it. Will the solvers get tired of it? Who knows!

Monday, December 18, 2023

Puzzle #220: Great Job All Around

Themed puzzle with good vibes today (pdf, puz, pdf solution). Accidental mini-themes include food, sex, and Portuguese-language literature (the three good things in life).

Monday, December 11, 2023

Puzzles #219 and #219.5: Ambient Noise/Random Noise

I've been thinking lately about ways to make pairs of interrelated puzzles that work as cohesive wholes. Maybe I'll make an irregular series out of it? Who knows! Anyway, here's an example of what I mean by that (pdf, puz, pdf solution and also pdf, puz, pdf solution).

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Monday, November 13, 2023

Puzzle #218: Quick on the Pickup (with Brooke Husic) + puzzle suite!

I'm back with another collab with the great Brooke Husic (pdf, puz, pdf solution)! I told Brooke that I was making a puzzle suite inspired by one of my favorite things, and she came up with this theme idea as an announcement for the suite. Details about the suite below (spoilers for the revealer, so don't look until after you've solved the puzzle!).

Brooke says: "i know nothing about the topic of this puzzle except that it might make a good revealer. i'm glad will agreed and was down to include me in the promo for his pack!"


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Thanks to the good folks at A24, I recently got to see my favorite movie ever (Stop Making Sense) in IMAX, and it was everything I dreamed of and more. It inspired me to write a suite of 16 puzzles, one puzzle inspired by each song performed in the movie. (The puzzles are written just by me, with no Brooke involvement, so they're not as good as the above one, but I think they're still pretty good.) The puzzles should be enjoyable even if you've never heard a Talking Heads song (but if you haven't, you should rectify that immediately, maybe even while solving the suite).

The suite is available as a zip file here, including .puz and PDF files for each puzzle, plus a PDF file with liner notes I wrote about why I like the film so much. Thanks to the inimitable Kelsey Dixon for test-solving all of them!

Monday, October 23, 2023

Puzzle #217: The Theme of This Crossword is Phrases That End with "Act"

Yet again, it's been almost a month since my last puzzle. But here's a new puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) whose theme, as you might have surmised from the title, is phrases that end with "act."