Monday, April 1, 2024

Puzzle #224: Left-Brained (+ Word Cloud solution)

This is the first time I've published a puzzle here on April Fools' Day. But I didn't plan ahead for it at all - no shenanigans in this one (pdf, puz, pdf solution), aside from my usual ones. Below the grid, after a spoiler space: the solution to the meta from a few weeks ago, Word Cloud.









The Word Cloud meta featured two grids that were placed back-to-back. Here's the solution to Grid A:

And Grid B:

Something that might jump out at you is that the top row of Grid A has no letters other than A and B, which suggests that that row is a guide as to which columns you should flip over. But there are also black squares in the top row, so how can the A's and B's uniquely specify which set of columns to flip? One way is if they correspond to their symmetrical counterparts in the bottom row, so the B in column 1 tells you that you need to flip over column 15. If you do that, the bottom row will spell out the meta answer, which is Joni Mitchell's BOTH SIDES, NOW. (It's also quite intuitive to just flip over the columns that have a B in the top row - since the top row is nearly palindromic, that will get you almost all of the way there too.) The answer is displayed beautifully in this picture courtesy of Kate Chin Park:

But I couldn't resist including this picture too:

Karen Spencer's assistants helping with the meta

Randomly chosen from the correct submissions was Russ Kale, who wins a crossword subscription!

Monday, March 11, 2024

Puzzle #223: Word Cloud

Yet again, today's puzzle (PDF only) is really a pair of puzzles. It's PDF-only for a specific reason - it has assembly instructions!

There are two puzzles, labeled A and B. You can either print out the PDF double-sided, or print it single-sided, and then glue the pages together so that grid B is directly behind grid A. Then, after solving the puzzles, cut out the grids and cut them into 15 strips, one for each column, making sure to keep them in the same order. Then you'll be able to solve the meta, whose answer is the song that partially inspired this puzzle. (The puzzle also has a non-meta-related theme, involving the circled letters - those circled letters have nothing to do with the meta.) If you email me the meta answer (at by March 31, you'll be entered in a draw to win a crossword subscription.

If you want your name to be entered in the draw not once but twice, you can go the extra mile in a way I'll describe below! You see, the main inspiration for this puzzle was the Clouds series by an artist whose name I'll redact here, since it's an answer to one of the clues. As a crossword constructor, I'm naturally drawn to art that uses grid patterns, and in particular I've long loved Canada's own Agnes Martin, the acknowledged master of the grid form.

Agnes Martin, Untitled (1965)

But it was only recently that I learned about Redacted Artist, who was a close friend (and possible lover) of Martin. Martin's influence on her is clear, but in her Clouds series, Redacted Artist thrusts Martin's grid forms into the third dimension by dangling threads from suspended grid structures. These works use the rigidity of the grid structure as a jumping-off point, but because of their form, they're beautifully fluid and responsive. Below is her Cloud Labyrinth - if you want to get a better sense of what it would look like in three dimensions, I recommend the 1979 short film Cloud Dance, which you can find on YouTube.

Cloud Labyrinth

To really achieve that effect, you'd have to attach the aforementioned 15 strips (still keeping them in the same order) to a fixed object, like a strip of wood or cardboard, so that they dangle and you can rotate them at will. (String and safety pins might work nicely.) Totally optional, but it might help you solve the meta, and if you send a photo of your completed creation with your meta answer, you'll double your chances of winning the prize. Good luck! 

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).