(I signed up for this book as a Kickstarter. At about the same time, I also signed up for another Kickstarter, the Year of Puzzles. That project periodically sends out puzzles. It's also leading up to a meta-puzzle. But I probably won't even try that meta-puzzle. I printed out and solved those puzzles as they came in, over the course of months… and now those printouts are scattered. It was pretty nice that the Maze of Games arrived as a big book; it forced me to keep everything together. Hmm, maybe I should wait for the Year of Puzzles to finish, and then do it all at once so I don't lose track of my notes again. Anyhow: book form factor, handy.)
Posting this just in case it shows up later as a Shinteki puzzle site, you know?
Why read this book now? Nowadays, when I want to make a crossword puzzle, I load up Crossword Compiler, click a button, and let the computer fill in my grid with answers that, y'know, cross. (OK, I'm exaggerating the ease. Since I work on puzzlehunts, I make puzzlehunt-ish crosswords, by which I mean "gimmick crosswords". To make the gimmick work, I probably need to do some prep. Like if the gimmick is something numeric such that LONDONENGLAND should be written in the grid as LOND1NGLAD and FORTWORTH as FOR2RTH, I have to start by constructing a word list so that Crossword Compiler understands that, for this puzzle, LOND1NGLAD is a valid answer.) This book has plenty of advice that I won't use. E.g., when fitting answers into a crossword puzzle by hand, favor answers that alternate vowel/consonant, since these tend to fit into crosswords better. That's a good rule of thumb when you're working by hand and using your brain; but when a computer can try all the possible "crossings" in a minute, it's less useful. And yet, this book's still useful today.
Crossword puzzle fans will point out a flaw in my reasoning above, and in so doing point out the first useful thing I learned from this book. Crossword puzzle fans will point out: The best crossword puzzles are hand-constructed. So the whole premise of saying that the book might not be useful since it concentrates on by-hand puzzle construction must be wrong. Well… yes and no. I make crosswords that will be used in puzzlehunts. People don't complete these crosswords. They fill in a third of the answers, someone sees F□□R■N□M□D■S□□P in the diagonal, figures out that's FOUR-NAMED SOAP, and folks set aside the grid, figure out DAYS O4 LIVES and… Darned few folks will go back, look at that grid, fill the rest in, and tut-tut over mediocre word choices. I can get away with some things that I couldn't if I were a professional puzzle constructor trying to sell stand-on-their-own-merits crosswords to Will Shortz. And this book told me something I didn't know about making crosswords by hand: even if I were to get good at it, it would still take a really long time to make one puzzle. The book doesn't really point this out explicitly, but you can't help but notice the word "hours" popping up. Hours for this stage of construction; hours for that stage.
With practice, crossword construction gets easier, but it doesn't get easy. Good to know. If you don't plan to make enough crosswords in the future to justify training up, need a high-quality grid, and you value your time, maybe you should hire a pro.
But even if you're just jockeying a computer, this book will help. It has advice on what to do if you get partway through constructing a puzzle and it's just not coming together. This happens on the computer, too; it's just faster. Sometimes you choose a grid, lay in your theme answers, press the "fill" button and… the computer gives up. Or it generates something that's bad even by my low standards. Maybe you can salvage your idea by tweaking the grid: when you laid your theme answers into that arbitrarily-chosen grid, did that mean the computer was going to have to choose a word ending in J? Maybe you should figure out a grid layout that puts that J at the start of a word instead. (Crossword Compiler does a great job of "trying all the words" to find those that will fit into a grid; it doesn't have a notion of "trying all the grid layouts" to find one that will work best with a set of theme answers.)
This book talks about the core of puzzle construction; even though I skimp on the details of exquisite puzzling, there was stuff in here I could use. And if you're a by-hand puzzle constructor (or if this book inspires you to become one), there's even more good advice.
Adventure Design Group: Presentation and conversation with JP LeBreton and Brandon Dillon (Double Fine)I'm up past my bedtime, so just some scribbled notes. They're both game nerds from the computer/video game company Double Fine. They've both come up with project ideas interesting enough such that I voted for 'em. (DoubleFine does some wonderfully transparent things, including their "Amnesia Fortnight" in which any DoubleFiner can pitch a game idea; fans can vote on which of those pitches get built into whatever-can-get-done-in-two-weeks prototypes. This year, the Fortnight was recorded by documentary filmmakers.) Actually—that's kinda why I got less out this Adventure Design Group than others: I knew too much going in. But it wasn't a waste of time. Allen Cohn was there, Tyler Hinman was there. There were more game programmers and fewer experience-designers in the audience. Anyhow, what did I learn?
They're both interested in making platforms for amateurs to create games. The whole point of Hack 'n' Slash (the game) is that it's tweakable; but perhaps there should be a way for players to share their mods with the world. DOOM is an old, now open-sourced shoot-em-up game that allows you to tell any story you want, as long as it's about a space marine shooting demons. But open source makes interesting things possible: DECK, the Doom Engine Creator's Kit aims to add some new art to doom, with some less-shoot-y choices; it aims to make games that flow like Doom, but perhaps with a storyline based on something other than demon eradication.
This talk was hosted by the Communications Design Group instead of the usual Go Game HQ. I don't know what those people do, but some of it must be interesting since they had some hexaflexagons attached to a wall. (How can an org named Communications Design Group not have a findable web page in 2014? And yet it seems to be true.)
As we walked from South Park back to Market Street and civilization, Tyler assured me that Puzzle Break is fun times, worth playing. And he says there's a game setting up in Richmond. And he says Egnor says there's one in Santa Clara. Maybe it's time to add a page to the BANG wiki keeping track of them? Or I could sleep.