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).