Hold Onto Your Butts (#36)


First of all, I hope you enjoy this week’s puzzle. I thoroughly enjoyed making it, and I hope you’ll get a kick out of it. There is a nice visual element to it, so be sure to check out the PDF, even if you solve the PUZ version.

All right, the meta puzzle.

Poker 1 Solution  Poker 2 Solution

The instructions from last week as follows: For this seventh meta crossword, we’re coming to you mid-contest from Ana and Bob, who are playing against each other. Ana’s puzzle begins with the 1-Across clue “Hallmark buy”, and Bob’s puzzle begins with the 1-Across clue “Quail and deer”. The rest of the clues are listed alphabetically, so the clue that corresponds to a certain puzzle is yours to figure out. The answer to this meta puzzle are the answers to the questions “Who won?” and “How much did they win by?”. Be specific with your answers.

This puzzle is called a Siamese Twins crossword, where two lists of clues are provided, and you have to figure out which clue goes with each puzzle.

The first clue to solving the puzzle is provided at 1-Across. Ana’s puzzle has the clue “Hallmark buy” for CARD. Bob’s puzzle has the clue “Quail and deer” for GAME. These two words make CARD GAME, a hint to what our game might be.

The two puzzles seem to have five theme answers each. Ana’s puzzle has GARDEN HOSE, CHESS BOXING, BASEBALL TONIGHT, COUNTRY MILE, and OPEN LETTER. Bob’s puzzle has PURPLE RAIN, HOPE AGAINST, GOLF TOURNAMENTS, DAVID CARUSO, and TURKEY COMA. No other obvious clues are given for the theme entries.

However, 23-Down has the clue [ ___ flush (something not found in this puzzle)] for ROYAL. A royal flush is an element from poker, so it appears that the game Ana and Bob are playing is poker.

So, in order to find out who won, we have to construct the two hands (as seen in the title) that Ana and Bob had. A playing card has two important factors: its rank and its suit.

It must be observed that each of these two word theme entries all begin with a word that can be followed by a card suit. For example, GARDEN HOSE can be transformed into GARDEN SPADE.

The other word in the title is “Count”, which is how you can find the rank for the cards. Counting the number of letters in the first word gets you the rank of the card for that theme entry. So, the word GARDEN can be interpreted as a “six of spades”.

The transformations of the theme answers are:

Ana’s hand

Bob’s hand

And thus, two poker hands are made.

Looking at the two constructed hands, Ana has a straight, and Bob has two pair. So, the correct answer to this meta is Ana won, and she won with a straight beating a two pair. Correct entries had to have both of these parts to be deemed correct.

This second question was phrased in a way where it was not obvious what game Ana and Bob were playing. I wanted the CARD GAME revealer to be a big indicator what game they were playing, so I tried to give a vague-enough meta question to let the puzzle have the big reveal.

This was a tough puzzle, not going to lie. I knew that a Siamese Twins puzzle is always a tricky thing no matter what, and then the matter of finding the two poker hands is another tricky leap, but well done solvers who got it all. There were 10 correct answers all together, but there were so many incorrect attempts. The most common error was just seeing which of Ana and Bob received more of the clues by their alphabetical position. Some other methods did get there involved bridge and seeing if the suit for one theme entry beat out the other theme entry, another involved estimating the amount of time involved which each of the theme answers and noting that Ana would have more time, and another entry saying that Ana won by a “country mile” (not mentioning the suits and ranks part). While they were all noble attempts, the poker process is definitely the best solution.

So, 10 readers submitted Ana winning with her straight. This week’s randomly selected winner was Roger Barkan. He will join Jon Delfin, John L. Wilson, Jim Quinlan, Eric Maddy, Andy Keller, and David Cole in a future section of the site. He will also win a T-shirt from the 2015 USC Puzzle Hunt in a size of his choice! I hope to have more physical prizes in future installments of the meta.

I know this was an intensive exercise, but I hope you enjoyed it. I’ve always been a huge card games nut, and I was excited to come up with a meta puzzle that involved card games that had not been done yet.

Mark my words: the next time we have a meta, it’ll feel like a Week 1 Gaffney. I’m not sure what week this puzzle would have been.

On an admin note, there will not be a new puzzle next week. The next puzzle will be July 12th. However, there will be two things published until that new puzzle.
-My Indie 500 Back Track (see the pun there?). Expect that this Thursday or Friday.
-A new installment of the X-word Files! This time, we’re going geographic, and I don’t think I could interview a more qualified person to talk about next week’s subject than the person I got. It’s going to be great.

Thanks everyone. Enjoy the new puzzle!


Meta: I Could Count on Two Hands (#35)


Welcome back everyone. We at Chris Words keep on chugging, and now we made it to another cycle. And since this puzzle ends with a 0 or 5, it’s time for a meta puzzle!

For this seventh meta crossword, we’re coming to you mid-contest from Ana and Bob, who are playing against each other. Ana’s puzzle begins with the 1-Across clue “Hallmark buy”, and Bob’s puzzle begins with the 1-Across clue “Quail and deer”. The rest of the clues are listed alphabetically, so the clue that corresponds to a certain puzzle is yours to figure out. The answer to this meta puzzle are the answers to the questions “Who won?” and “How much did they win by?”. Be specific with your answers. When you think you have it, email me at cking.gow(at)gmail.com with your answer. I’ll accept answers all the way to noon ET on Saturday.

And, the winner of this contest will receive an awesome prize! The winner of this contest will not only have their name in a future section of this site, but they will also win a free T-shirt! As you may know, I operate the USC Puzzle Hunt, and for 3 years now, we have made shirts for the event. Since I still have shirts left over, you have the chance to get one! And, since the theme for the 2015 USC Puzzle Hunt was “Back to the Future”, you get this awesome shirt with a spinning license plate!


Shirts look like this, but are more highlighter yellow. Safe for trick-or-treating.


1) “The X-Word Files” is coming back for a second installment. It’ll be posted July 5th, where I’ll be taking the week off, but you’ll get a new installment with a fantastic interview. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.

2) I updated this site a little bit this week, with one of those updates being the email subscription. On the column on the right side, all the way at the bottom, you should see a place where you can subscribe via email. Make sure you subscribe and subscribe often.

3) As I pointed out on the “About Me” page of this blog, Chris Words has a rhythm to it. Every post ending with 3 or 8 is a themeless, every post ending with 5 or 0 is a meta, and the rest are themed. I strive to keep that sequence steady because I like knowing what I’m going to each week. It makes me think of good themed puzzles, and allows me to make meta puzzles which is fun. I make themeless puzzles mostly as an obligation to the indie crosswords. But, I wanted to see how do other constructors balance their themed-themeless-meta ratios. So, I created a metric that shows how often a constructor writes a themed, themeless, or meta puzzle.

On what is now and forever be called the King Index, I keep a balanced 60-20-20 index. 60% of my puzzles will be themed, 20% will be themeless, and 20% will be meta. And, as of now, that ratio will not waver. So, I decided to apply the King Index to other indie sites. Below are my findings. These numbers are accurate as of June 21st, 2015.


To find this data, I had to comb through the websites of the constructors above. Some of the numbers above might not be the obviously posted on their site, since Erik had a “Themeless Eight and Half”, Neville had five bonus puzzles plus a guest puzzle and the Indie 500 warmup, etc. Hopefully you can determine the Excel calculations I used to get that last column.

The table above does not list does not include some other prominent indie constructors, and here’s why:

-Both Matt Gaffney (just his xwordcontest.com) and Pete Muller would have a King Index of 0-0-100.
-Tim Croce features a lot of variety puzzles, many of which are not crossword puzzles, in the sense of the word. While a couple of the constructors in the table above have also done things like this, the vast majority of puzzles on their site are crosswords in the usual sense. With better research and tweaking, I could probably make a better index to accommodate variety puzzles.
-Peter Broda unfortunately doesn’t easily number his puzzles, and I didn’t have all the time to go data mining. Next time.
-BEQ’s current puzzle is numbered 755. That would be something figuring out his King Index. It could be assumed that since many of his early puzzles were only themed, he has basically done a themeless-themed pattern since then, and has offered a few contest puzzles, we could estimate it around 51-47-2. That seems about right.
-Others for other reasons.

This metric is really just indicator to see how much the constructor likes to write meta puzzles and themeless puzzles. Those two genres of crosswords are the most different to write, and it is interesting to see just how much those constructors like writing those types. Sam Ezersky has mentioned before that he loves writing themeless (or freestyle) puzzles because he gets more creative potential, and that is certainly reflected here, with more than a third of his puzzles being themeless.

Well, looking at these statistics, it appears that I share my King Index closest with Erik Agard, so that’s exciting. Maybe in a future blog post I’ll have more constructors and more data, but for now, this is the data.

4) Big thanks to friend-of-the-show Neville Fogarty for making this week’s puzzle possible! This meta puzzle involves making sure that you, the solver, don’t find out half of the answers quickly, so I needed to put a lock on the Across Lite solution. Since I can’t seem to figure out how to do that on my Mac, Neville was able to do that task for me. So, he certainly did make this puzzle possible. Thanks again Neville!

5) It’s been a tough week for South Carolina. Keep us in mind, as we always need it.

Long post, hope you enjoyed reading it. Until next week! Be sure to email me your answer!


It Takes Two (#34)


Hey everyone. As many of you know, Tom Gazzola died last week. Tom was such a powerful force in the puzzling community, serving the Pacific Northwest region so fantastically, and also being such a strong force in both the MIT Mystery Hunt and even more, the National Puzzlers’ League. This article by The Oregonian touches on many of the fields Tom was part of.

I met Tom for the first time (and sadly the last) while at the 2015 Mystery Hunt, where both of us were on Team Luck. The picture above shows Tom on the left working on the word search we had to deal with at 3am in the morning. Tom and I shared a room at the Hyatt in Cambridge, and both of us were at the same “desk pod” in the classroom while at MIT. Tom was such a smart and clever man, and it was truly a great experience being around him. In terms of hours alone, I was with/near him for most of the Hunt weekend, simply for the two reasons above, and it saddens me greatly that this man will not be joining Team Luck when we all meet back up in January 2016.

For anyone who has seen his Facebook page in the last week, the page is filled up with stories from both puzzlers, but probably more important, the students that he taught while a math teacher. Seeing these stories truly show how important Tom was to everyone he was with.

Today’s puzzle is named “It Takes Two”, which people in NPL will recognize as the name of the game Tom would bring to the conventions. From what I can tell, it was a form of doubles Jeopardy, and was one of the highlights of the event. I’m not a member of NPL, nor have I attended one of the conventions, but I’ve decided to become a member since I’m sure it’s the right group of people for me.

Especially in this last week, a quote Tom gave to The Seattle Times was “I have found my tribe”. More than anything, this quote stands out to me. As someone who lives in a puzzle-isolated region of the United States, I also believe I have also found my tribe. Between the USC Puzzle Hunt and now the creation of this blog, I have found a new group of friends that I truly appreciate and glad that I am a part of their ranks. Granted, I still feel that I’m nowhere near the skill of colleagues (especially in the puzzle hunters and indie constructors group). But with all things, I continue to strive to become better and solving and writing puzzles, and while I know I’ll always have a ways to go, but I am glad that I have had the pleasure to talk, solve, and be a part of your life. Writing puzzles is something that I love to do, and I want others to be a part of that process. Tom felt the same way, and now he shines as one of the brightest stars.

I know I promised an Indie 500 recap today, and I’m sure I’ll write one later this week, but today is a day for remembrance. I’ll always miss Tom, but I can’t wait to see and talk to you guys again.

And if it wasn’t clear from the puzzle, the four circled letters have nothing to do with theme, but is one last dedication to Tom himself.

Thanks everyone. Meta next week. Hope to see you then.


Themeless Seven (#33)


Welcome to Week 33!

1) Please keep Portland-native puzzle person Tom Gazzola in your thoughts this week. Tom was struck by a drunk driver while jogging on Wednesday, and has been in a coma from head injuries since. Tom is a member of NPL, and was my roommate in Cambridge during the MIT Mystery Hunt in January. I know many in the puzzling community already know much of this, but please, keep Tom and his family in your thoughts this week.

2) For many of you Indie 500 participants, the questions was asked how I was able to beat joon pahk in worse handwriting? This was a question I asked myself, and I thought I’d ask Evan Birnholz, who said that he had no say in who won that award.

Well, I made him involved this week.

On Tuesday or so this week, I printed out two puzzles from Devil Cross, specifically two medium-difficulty ones (#37 and #41), and solved them as quickly as I can.

Here are those results (click for larger):

IMG_2630 IMG_2629First of all, I’m pleased with my performances on both puzzles. Perfect solve on one, one mistake on the other one. Technically, I had seen these puzzles before, as I do solve all of Evan’s puzzles (as well as the rest of the indie puzzles out there), but I’ve forgotten both theme and when I solved them. So, the times were still fair.

I’ve been solving in the same “crossword handwriting” for about a decade now. I’m consistent in my “star formation” As, my “reverse N” Hs, and my curvy Ls. I don’t actually write papers with this handwriting, but I certainly solve puzzles this way. I kind of forget what my crossword handwriting looks like, because to use the same joke I used at the event “My Helvetica has been consistent for years now”, since Across Lite does make handwriting a little more uniform.

I would say the puzzles I turned in while in DC were similar to this style of handwriting. So, was it that bad? Let me know if I truly did deserve my handwriting award.

3) A couple of projects in the works for the blog:
-Thanks to a nice suggestion by Sam Ezersky while in DC, I will publish a meta suite sometime this summer. Mind you, this will be a “puzzle hunt” type meta suite as opposed to a crossword meta suite, but it will still fill your puzzle needs. So, if you like Panda Magazine, this will be up your alley. I’ve written four puzzle hunts to date, so it’ll be nice to have some non-event puzzle hunt puzzles out there.
-I’ve been contacting people to update the X-word Files series, so I hope to have a new one sometime in the next month or so (because it both gives me a week off, and because I use it as a site traffic booster). Is there any crosswordese you’d like to see covered on here? Feel free to send me any suggestions by either comment or by email at cking.gow(at)gmail.com, but please refrain from any genus names. Because who cares about those, am I right?

Thanks everyone!