Games: Puzzle Baron’s Acrostics

September 29, 2012

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.

Job and identity

July 13, 2012

I don’t think of myself primarily as what I do at work. At least I didn’t think I did. If asked how I think of who/what I am, I think about being a mother, a pastor’s wife, and a child of God. Even if someone asks specifically about my job, it’s hard to sum it up in a few words because what I do right now is help in several different areas – areas that will have to manage without my help once my position is eliminated in about a month.

So I was surprised, recently, to realize how much it bothers me to be losing this rather ill-defined set of responsibilities. It’s not just the financial impact and the difficulty of finding another job in this uncertain economy – though it is discouraging not to get responses regarding any of the few jobs I’ve found to apply for. (I did finally get one “you do not meet the requirements of the position” form letter from the corporation I currently work for, regarding a position in another department.)

Suddenly there is a lack of a sense of purpose to what I am doing at work. I no longer feel part of a team that I am trying to help succeed. The co-workers to whom I have mentioned this assure me I am still part of the team and they appreciate the work I do, but the sense of being “in this together” is gone for me. I feel like a temporary employee, someone who is working here for the time being but has no future here.

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Books: From Square One

July 7, 2012

Sometimes I try to think what subject I could conceivably write a book about. It would need to be something that I have enough interest in to do a lot of research. Sometime recently, I decided the general subject would be words. But that’s too broad. Maybe word games?

Even that covers a lot of territory. And there are probably a lot of books written on the topic already. Just a few weeks ago I saw one in the library – and would have checked it out if I hadn’t already had a pile of other books I planned to read. What about a particular word game, such as Scrabble? But any decent book about Scrabble would have to include Scrabble tournaments, and those do not interest me at all.

Then I thought of crosswords. Those are done for one’s own satisfaction, rather than to win competitions (or so I thought). There are different kinds of crossword puzzles, and there are all sorts of interesting tangents one could take, using the unusual words and clues one encounters in these puzzles. Plus, I had long wondered, just how does one create a crossword puzzle?

But were there already books written on the subject? I checked the library catalog, and found an entry for From Square One by Dean Olsher. It sounded fascinating, so I eagerly checked it out, and just finished reading it this week. It’s a short book, with a mix of all sorts of information (and opinions) about crosswords, the people who make them, and the people who solve them.

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Can you train your brain?

April 27, 2011

I’m not sure how I came across the Lumosity website a few days ago. However it was, I was intrigued by the idea of playing games that would somehow train my brain to help me remember things better or think faster or have better spatial sense. The site claims there is solid science behind their brain-training program, and from the little I read it sounded plausible.

And there was nothing to lose by signing up for a free trial. So far I’ve done two of the three free training sessions, and the games have been fun. Challenging enough to feel as though I might be doing something of benefit for my brain, but not so hard that I can’t feel good about my score. Of course, I’m sure the games are designed for exactly that reaction, so that people will be willing to pay for a subscription to unlock of the website’s features.

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Games: Electric Box

October 31, 2010

At my son Al’s insistence, I went to and looked for a game on my own. I quickly found Electric Box, and have been enjoying it until I got stuck on level 8. It’s similar to some other games I have seen where you have to put together components to make a system work. But instead of moving an object or the contraption itself, what needs to be moved is electrical current.

Actually, I have to amend that statement about not moving parts of the system. One component available at some levels is an electro magnet (although the picture looks like a simple horseshoe magnet, it only operates when current is provided to its location). The magnet can pull other components out of their initial position, which can mess up your plans but is also necessary to make certain levels work.

Other components, at least at the levels I have completed, are teapots and steam detectors, laser devices and laser detectors, water dispensers and water turbines, and light bulbs and solar panels. All of these work in pairs, one component providing the “fuel” that the other component turns into electric current. Of course, the first component needs power to get started, which comes from the main power supply. From there on, you have to make sure the power gets to the next component that needs it.

There are also fans, which can move steam from where it is rising from the teapot to another spot to position it for the steam detector. And there are mirrors, which don’t require any power, and can reflect the laser light around obstacles. These immovable blocks, found in some levels, block air, steam, light, and apparently also rain and moving bots, though I haven’t yet encountered those last two. They do allow wires and electrical current to pass through, however.

One odd component is a “charger light,” that first requires power to charge it but then requires that the power but removed for it to generate light. (I suppose there may be such a component in the real world but I don’t remember ever encountering one.) On level 8, where I am currently stuck, there is and IPS battery, which can be charged up and continue to provide power after other power sources are removed.

That battery would be useful if there were an electro magnet that were moving my steam detector from its position. But there is no magnet on level 8, so I haven’t figured out what to do with the battery yet. Or with the fan, since if I try to use it to redirect the steam from the teapot, either the steam detector gets the steam and there’s none left for the fan to blow, or – if I position the fan where it will get the steam before the steam detector does – there’s no power to turn on the fan to begin with.

Well, maybe I’ll figure it out tomorrow.

[11/1/10  Yup, I figured it out today. I guess I just needed to start fresh. I took a look at level 8, and figured it out almost immediately.]

Games: Sola Rola – the gravity maze

October 27, 2010

My son Al is certainly getting good at finding games I like. Today his recommendation was Sola Rola. I had no idea what a gravity maze was, but I agreed to try it. I was hooked by the end of the fifth level (there are 48).

There’s no problem seeing paths through the maze to your destination. The challenge is getting there, because you have to use gravity to move. Instead of moving directly, you  have to turn the maze – a bit like those wooden labyrinths where you had to roll the ball through the maze by tipping the maze in one direction or another.

But this one is more challenging, because there are not one but two balls. (And they’re not just balls, they’re characters called Wiz and Waz who sometimes carry on conversations.) So it’s sort of like one of those plastic maze games with two or more balls that you have to try to get both (or all) the balls in the holes. Except that those toys are generally cheaply made, and irregularities in the plastic tend to affect the balls’ behavior as much as gravity.

To add further complications, there are sometimes colored gates that the balls have to pass through, and the only way to get one through is for the other to be on a switch of the same color. Some levels have a “gravity beam” that connects Wiz and Waz. Also, Waz is bigger (and heavier) than Wiz, so you have to take that into account too.  

Right now I’m stuck on level  28, which is probably just as well as I really need to stop playing and go to bed.

Games: ClueSweeper

October 20, 2010

A lot of the computer games my son Al plays don’t interest me, and I don’t think he understands why I enjoy spending as much time as I do on the few games that I like. But yesterday when he told me he’d found a game he thought I’d enjoy, he was right!

ClueSweeper is sort of a cross between Minesweeper and Clue. You find clues by clicking on squares (well, squarish jigsaw-puzzle-shapes) on a grid, using the numbers on each piece that you’ve already clicked on to tell you how many “objects of interest” are adjacent to that piece. In that, it’s very much like Minesweeper. But unlike Minesweeper, where one wrong click ends the game, here an unlucky (or just careless) click might get you a “red herring” – a false clue that takes time off the clock.

The clues tell you characteristics of the suspects, characteristics of the Murderer – and what characteristics the Murderer does not have, to help in eliminating some of the suspects. The tough part is paying attention to the clues at the same time as deciding what space to click on next – do you work on getting as many clues as you can before time runs out, or solving the crime as fast a possible? Sometimes there are enough clues to solve it early – earning a bonus (all points are given in terms of cash earned). But if you pay attention to the clues as you get them, you can’t decide as quickly where to find more clues (and not red herrings!), and you run out of time.

Fortunately, you can still solve the crime after time runs out – you just have to do it with the clues already uncovered. Usually if I work fast at finding clues, I have enough to identify the Murderer with certainty once I have the time to read them. At the early levels, where time is much shorter, I have sometimes had to simply guess – sometimes right, sometimes wrong. If you’re wrong, you lose a chunk of cash. You can simply back out of a game and redo it (with all new clues), but then a day is added to your overall time to catch the Mastermind behind the crimes.

The nice thing about accumulating cash is that you can purchase items that make the game easier – more time to start with, less time lost for red herrings, extra cash when you solve crimes (to go buy more items), free tiles uncovered at the beginning. In some ways, that makes it easier at the higher levels, even though there are more suspects to deal with. It took me to the final level, the second time I played, to finally manage to uncover all the clues in one game.

If I have any complaint about the game, it’s that I got to the end of it so soon. Of course, I can play it again and again to try to get more cash, uncover more clues, and/or solve the crimes in less time. But as with Minesweeper, I’m sure I’ll reach a point where I’m just not going to beat my previous score except by a huge stroke of luck.

Of course, now that I’ve found one game on that I like, I’ll just have to check out more. I’m sure there are thousands of games there I won’t care for (currently they have over 34,000 free games). But there must be some more that I will like. And I don’t have to wait for Al to find them for me.

Thanks giving

November 26, 2009

I ran out of tiles and room on the board, or I would have added GAMES such as Scrabble – particularly since it gave me a way to creatively express some of what I am thankful for.

I was going to make it a crossword puzzle, and give descriptions for each word, telling why I am thankful for each. But I know some of you are not aficionados of word puzzles the way I am. Plus that would have taken a lot more time, and I still have to cook corn casserole and green bean casserole and sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes.

Most of these are self-explanatory, but I will add notes on a few of the words. Speaking of words, I was going to write WORDS, since I have so much fun with words, but I had no more S tiles. Then I realized it could mean the Word of God, so I was happy to leave it in the singular.

WIT can refer both to intelligence and to humor; I am more gifted in the former than the latter, but I greatly appreciate others whose humor enriches my life. (Note that WIT is linked to LAUGHTER.)

I am thankful both for the FREEDOM I have as an American, and the FREEDOM I have in Christ.

I am thankful for the opportunity to communicate with GOD through PRAYER. And for the PRAYERs said by other people in my behalf.

PIZZA seems a bit out of place with the other, more profound things I am thankful for. But I wanted to use every tile, and I do appreciate pizza – both for it being a delicious one-dish meal (if it has lots of toppings including vegetables), and because when I am tired it is so easy to prepare dinner when I have a pizza or two in the freezer. (In case you have noticed that there appear to be two Z tiles, while Scrabble only has one – I used a blank tile, and digitally copied the Z to the blank tile.)

The final “word” in the puzzle, OXO, represents hugs and kisses. The kisses are for family members, but to all friends and family, I extend a warm hug and wishes for a blessed Thanksgiving.

Games: Super Collapse 3

November 22, 2009

I downloaded this game at the same time as Peggle Nights (both were already paid for), but waited, as usual, for an opportune time before installing it. We had company (friends of my husband) downstairs where Al and I usually play together, so I agreed to install a new game.

Super Collapse 3 is a “match 3” game, which I just learned is a type of game that goes back some two thousand years. After the fall of Rome, the idea of the game (no ancient gameboards survived) was preserved in medieval monasteries. Professors from England brought the game to America when they went to teach at Harvard. The games became very popular in America for the next two centuries. There was a popular match-3 game show in the 1950’s, but it was quickly cancelled after evidence surfaced that the producers had “fixed” the game.

I suppose there were so many inexpensive games available in the next few decades that match-3 games lost their popularity. I certainly don’t remember playing any, or even being aware of their existence, until Al started playing them on the computer. They’re relatively easy to create and easy to play.

Some of the match-3 games I have played previously (and reviewed here) are Luxor, Newton’s Nightmare, Ultra Block, and Mr. Peanut Matchup. Of these Super Collapse 3 is closest to Ultra Block, but unlike Ultra Block it has very “modes” of play. Classic mode is very similar to Ultra Block, though it differs in one helpful way: when there are no available moves the game speeds up (temporarily), so you not only don’t have to wait as long to make the next move, but you always know whether there is or isn’t a move available.

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For the challenge of it

November 16, 2009

In a recent post I quoted mountaineer George Mallory’s famous line about why he climbed mountains: “Because it’s there.” The challenge drew him irresistibly, even to his death atop Mount Everest. While I like hiking, I’ve never been drawn to dangerous climbs. But I do respond to the challenge of a good puzzle.

My sons, especially my younger son Al, do not seem to feel the same way about challenges. I am annoyed when he helps me with a puzzle I’m working on, though I try to express appreciation because I know he means to be helpful. I do not want help, I want to solve it on my own. Some of that may be pride, but it is also because it is the challenge itself that appeals to me, and to the extent that hints reduce the difficulty of solving it, they reduce my pleasure in finding the solution.

Over the years I’ve noticed that some kinds of challenges appeal to me more than others. At one time, the idea of fiendishly difficult jigsaw puzzles appealed to me. One sort has no picture, just a solid color, and only the shape of the pieces shows how to put it together. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there is The World’s Most Difficult Jigsaw Puzzle, where every piece is exactly the same shape, and only the picture provides the solution – plus the puzzle is double-sided, with the same picture on both sides! But by the time I had money of my own to purchase such puzzles, I found I was no longer interested.

I enjoy difficult crossword puzzles, but if I spend an hour on a puzzle and have only come up with a few words, not enough to help me get any more, the puzzle is simply too hard for me. I will try even longer on an acrostic, but eventually I will give up on those also if too many clues are too obscure for me to come up with even a decent guess. I can do “cross-sums” puzzles, but I find that too often, I discover three quarters of the way through that I must have made some error in logic early on, and the only way to undo it is to start completely over. So I rarely start them at all.

One kind of puzzle I enjoy is computer programming, but never purely for the sake of the challenge itself. I like doing programming that provides a useful solution to a problem, or an entertaining game to play. I work at the application level, meaning the level where the program interacts with the user, rather than at the systems level where the program simply provides a platform for other developers to write their programs.

One kind of computer puzzle I have never found an interest in is hacking. The term hacker is often used in a pejorative sense, because some hackers have used their ability to alter hijack code for malicious purposes. But at root, hacking is simply figuring out the secrets that are coded into computers and not intended for anyone but the people who put them there to know. It’s not a challenge that appeals to me, but it has a very strong appeal to many people – at least to many young men (estimates of hacker demographics indicate that about 90% are male and median age is 25).

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