Games: Puzzle Baron’s Acrostics

I don’t remember exactly how I found the website for Puzzle Baron’s Acrostics. (I think I had been looking at the crossword puzzle feature of the Wall Street Journal; maybe it was linked from there.) But once I found it, I immediately bookmarked it. And I have lost count of how many times I have been back in the past few days, or how many puzzles I have solved.

I’ve liked acrostics since I first learned how to do them in books of variety puzzles as a child. But the one time I found a book of just acrostics, they were so hard that I’m not sure I ever managed to finish a single one. (I think they were reprinted from the New York Times, which has very difficult acrostic puzzles.) Recently I have discovered that the Wall Street Journal’s Saturday puzzle is sometimes an acrostic, and I can solve those, even if it does take me at least an hour, usually two or three (over the course of the weekend).

Puzzle Baron’s acrostic puzzles are considerably easier. I have only twice asked for a hint (three random letters are revealed), and those were in the first four puzzles I solved there. But they are still challenging enough to be enjoyable. I never manage to get all the clues on the first time through the list (unlike easy crossword puzzles where I rarely get stuck even for a brief time). Some of them even have me stumped for a few minutes.

One way they are easier is that the quotations are shorter and there are fewer clues. Sometimes fewer clues does not mean easier – if you can only solve two clues out of a dozen, it’s really no easier than if you solve four out of two dozen. But in general these are also easier clues – sometimes I do get at least half of them on the first time through. (Sometimes I think I have gotten more than half, but there is usually at least one that turns out not to work.)

Having the puzzle automatically transfer letters from the clues to the grid, or from the grid to the clues, is a bigger help than I thought it would be. It seems that almost every time I work an acrostic on paper, I manage to misplace at least one letter, a mistake that makes it hard to solve the puzzle and which I do not discover until I am just about finished.

It’s also great to be able to guess letters that I’m not sure of, knowing that I can change them several times without having to worry about making holes in the paper from erasing too many times. Though it’s annoying to have to go back and re-type letters because the program apparently cannot keep up with me if I type too fast, and it overwrites one letter with the next one I type.

And these acrostics fill in punctuation, which is not ordinarily done – at least not in the acrostics I have worked on before. That makes it easier to start to make sense of the quotation – though I can still be thrown off by a quotation that does not follow all the rules of grammar I learned in school.

These acrostics do still follow the convention of having the first letters of clues (the answers to them, that is) spell out the name of the author of the quote and/or the work in which it is found. That made me start wondering – just how does one go about creating this kind of puzzle? I recently read a book about crossword puzzle construction, and that seems difficult enough, but creating an acrostic must be even more difficult.

The writer of this blog post certainly seems to think so. As a matter of fact, he compares the difficulty of constructing an acrostic with the difficulty of constructing an electric car, and concludes that the car is the easier project. I don’t know how tongue-in-cheek that might be, but his post details all the reasons I think the puzzles must be difficult to create. (He states that they can have no more than 26 clues, since the clues are traditionally listed as A, B, C, etc. rather than 1, 2, 3, etc. But I am sure I have done acrostics with clues that went past Z into AA, AB, etc.)

This article doesn’t tell much about the process of constructing an acrostic, but it does include some interesting history, not just of acrostic puzzles, but of acrostics in general.

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