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15 July 2011 @ 12:01 am
Friday Puzzle #110 - Across or Down? Here or There?  
This is part 4 of a "Better Know the USPC" preview series. The United States Puzzle Championship is scheduled for August 27th, 1PM EDT.

Type: Crisscross

USPC History: A mostly standard crisscross (a word fill-in with a provided grid) has appeared every year except for 2007. In 1999 a cryptic-style grid was used with denser packing but every other time an open grid has appeared. Will Shortz has provided six of these, Shawn Kennedy one, and Craig Kasper the rest.

A few variations have also appeared over the years. Crisscross Clash in 2005 from Craig Kasper had some answers overlap at the first/last letters and was a much much harder form of this type of puzzle since answer lengths were not useful until you concatenated some words together. Craig also made the Crisscross pairs puzzle in 2008 that partially inspired this week's Friday Puzzle. There, pairs of words with a single letter change were presented and you had to figure out which word was actually used. Finally, Dave Tuller made a variation in 2008, the Ampers& Crisscross, where all words contained the string AND and sometimes this became & before entry. 2010 brought a puzzle with numbers instead of words, but one that functionally solved after an initial Aha! exactly as a standard crisscross.

Strategy/Notation tips: In a totally "standard" crisscross, my technique is to write most but not all of the word as I'm figuring out what is forced, and certainly much less when I'm sure I'm on the correct path, probably just the crossing letters and a line through the rest so I know I've marked that word off the list below. This is what that can look like when I'm done.

Keeping track of what words are being used in the grid is key. On a guess path, this is a dot next to the word on the word list. After it's on a sure path, it's a dark cross-out. Some years I'm only on sure paths with these crisscrosses. Other years it is more trail and error at the start.

Almost always there is a full loop of words that is worth focusing your attention on. There are usually two words that cross at their first letters, and you want to consider all possible pairs that can go there. The later letters that also must start words are the simplest to check next, so taking a quick mental survey of all the letters that ever appear in the first position is how I get started. On the more extremely interlinked grids, like Unlucky Sevens, and Ampers& crisscross, the first step I do is build any possible loops I can find on scratch paper. Once I get a full square of 8 words in Unlucky Sevens, or three of the four loops as in Ampers& crisscross, then I finally start to slot things in on the test paper, knowing things that look good are true 95+% of the time with these.

Of course, other crisscross grids (like the Writer's Block from 2009 or the puzzle below) do not have such strong interlocking pairs of equal length words. On this other type of crisscross, noting word lengths and less common lengths is the place to start. Find where a less common word length crosses another less common length, preferably the exact same size, and map out what is possible. If there is only one possibility, write it in. If there are only two, then write the potential letter pairs (upper left = option 1, lower right = option 2) for each word at the crossing positions. Even if there are more than two but they only allow one or two letters at farther away positions, it is worth writing this info in now as you will come back to this spot later and not have to repeat your search.

Comments: As with the word search, this is a type that is underrepresented at the WPC despite being on the "approved rules of variety and fairness" for puzzles at WPF events. Some might complain that using the Roman alphabet is an advantage for western competitors but just using this alphabet is not the real concern and is not outlawed. The problem is using words from a specific language or source that might be much better known for some country's competitors compared to another. This isn't a concern for the USPC, but is at the international level. Certain hosts, notably the Polish organizers last year, have come up with fair solutions to present fill-ins, such as their Even/Odd crisscross with numbers (and an observable no repeat constraint).

I like these puzzles. I think I like the variety word fills even more (which do not provide a strict grid of used squares and/or which allow non-linear word entry, and I'll likely cover those separately down the line). But crisscrosses are a refreshing change from all the logic and arithmetic types that appear, and mostly require looking at large streams of data for outliers. I do this for a living, I suppose, when looking at massive amounts of sequencing data. So using this skill in a puzzle is a place I will always feel comfortable and probably also always gain time over other competitors except our talented core of players like Roger Barkan and Zack Butler who themselves are great crossword solvers.

My favorite source of crisscross puzzles are actually the Number Skeletons from Nikoli which have no words at all, but which have fairly creative and elegant work-ins. But on the USPC I like seeing interesting themes based on language, like the one with lots of B words from several years ago.

About this puzzle: This is probably the first puzzle I've written that would be thrown out of consideration for an actual USPC, both for being too long and for being a bit less elegantly constrained as grids like the "Unlucky Sevens" with 28 words that interlink at 4 letters. But I wanted to explore a word theme that is a kind of counterpart to the Crisscross twins from 2008. There, you had pairs of two words and only one went into the grid; here, I wanted to have pairs of words and only one went into each of two grids. I then listed a lot of common as well as more playful "A or B" pairs, and got as much interlinking as I could manage. I probably got too many crossings at uninteresting letters like vowels, but I don't make word puzzles for a living so I'll just say I did my best and I hope you can enjoy it.

Enter the words/phrases into the crisscross grids across and down, one letter per square, ignoring spaces. One member of each pair will go in the TOP grid, the other in the BOTTOM grid.

Click here for a pdf of this puzzle

Grant FikesGrant Fikes on July 19th, 2011 03:04 am (UTC)

The constraint that each word pair must be split between the two grids was not necessary for solving the puzzle. Gripe gripe bitch bitch moan moan.

You do better.

TheSubr– I mean mathgrant