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Monday Book Review: Crossworld: One Man’s Journey into America’s Crossword Obsession March 15, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in Book Reviews, Book vs. Movie.
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In my opinion, crossword puzzles are a fun diversion from the stresses of every day life. I first started doing the New York Times Daily crossword puzzles during high school, when, through some newspaper readership program, stacks of NY Times were delivered to the school for students’ use. Always a lover of games and puzzles, I was instantly attracted to the Times’ crossword, a perfect balance of challenge and the satisfaction of achievement. Over the years, my obsession with the NY Times puzzle waxed and waned, depending on the availability of the newspaper (and whether I could get a copy for free!).

In 2005, I found Marc Romano’s book, Crossworld: One Man’s Journey into America’s Crossword Obsession in the “New and Interesting” Display at my local library, and immediately upset the composition of the display by borrowing it – and though I felt bad about leaving the empty space, I knew the librarian would be happy someone was interested in what she had put out. I didn’t get a chance to read the book before its due date, so I dutifully returned it for the next reader, and stopped at the bookstore to buy my own copy – which in the last 5 years, I have picked up and put down at least a dozen times.

I kept giving the book another chance, because I truly love doing crossword puzzles, and there were more than a few bits about the history of puzzles in America, Will Shortz’ personal puzzle ephemera collection, and tips about crossword puzzle construction and solving. I was also curious to read about the author’s first-hand account of a rookie’s experience at the American Crossword Tournament, for which he had trained by doing over 2,000 puzzles. Unfortunately, I despised the tone of the author, and could only handle reading his extremely arrogant yet still somehow self-loathing babble for so long. He brags about how cool it is of him to take his Thomas Pynchon novel down to the bar rather than make conversation with any of the introverted tournament competitors, and drinks a neat scotch and soda while awaiting the “cool kids” to arrive in the bar. Oh – and let me not forget to mention, the “cool kids” crowd, or “Cru” (a take on crew, from “cruciverbalist”, a designer or aficionado of crossword puzzles) is headed up by one of the author’s favorite young constructors, Brendan Emmett Quigley, upon whom Romano can barely conceal his massive man-crush. The entire section of the book about the tournament itself was spent either noting what a bad idea it was to take so many anti-anxiety pills and thus be floating around in a cloud, or mooning over where is Brendan now, and how is Brendan scoring and look at all the groupies Brendan has, and on and on.

Several years ago, I learned that Will Shortz, editor of the NY Times Crossword Puzzle, has been coordinating the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament since 1978. The 33rd annual tournament was held just a few weeks ago in Brooklyn, NY, and the event has grown to be a weekend-long expo-like extravaganza, with vendors hawking all kinds of crossword-themed paraphernalia, game-related activities, receptions and ceremonies. The Tournament was the focus of a 2006 documentary, Wordplay, which undoubtedly led to the increase in the tournament’s popularity which precipitated a move from the Stamford Marriott venue which had hosted the tournament for 30 years, to the larger Brooklyn Bridge Marriott. A solid documentary, Wordplay was an intriguing peek into the world of crossword constructors and solvers, though possibly, only because I was already interested!

Even if you are interested in Crossword Puzzles, or the Tournament, you ought to skip this book and rent the movie. Wordplay was a great documentary that covered substantially the same ground, minus the attitude.

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Microsoft Surface: the future of tables February 11, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in Technology can do anything.
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I like games. Pretty much all games of any kind. Tabletop, board, video and card games. I like puzzles too, even those tricky logic puzzles with the strange grids full of dots and crosses. So, every once in awhile I pick up the current issue of Games Magazine. I grabbed one the other day, and I’m so glad I did because (besides the hours of nerdy puzzle solving pleasure) the first article was a preview of the Microsoft Surface.

I haven’t come across this before, although I’m sure I must have at least seen the idea in some sci-fi movie. It’s essentially a table, the surface of which is a sort-of touchscreen, but which can interact with objects, as well as fingers. There’s tons of potential applications, a few of which you can see in this video:

The article in Games Magazine of course, was more focused on how the Microsoft Surface could revolutionize tabletop games – with digital boards and physical pieces. One idea is to use digital pieces as well, especially for table games in bars, where pieces inevitably get lost. The units are still extremely expensive, so I doubt I’ll get to try one anytime soon, though the article mentions some hotels (such as Sheraton Hotels) are starting to buy them for guest use. If you didn’t already feel like we’re in the future – this is sure to do it!

The Birth of a Puzzler October 23, 2009

Posted by dataduchess in Uncategorized.
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Earlier this week, Oct. 21 actually, was the birthday of Martin Gardner, creator of many books full of mathematical and logic puzzles. He turned 95. For over half a century he has been inspiring and stumping puzzlers and thinkers. In honor of Gardner’s birthday, GeekDad over at Wired.com wrote a post about Gardner, his puzzles and their influence on his life.