I'd been thinking about transitioning to Solver from Across Lite for some time now, but I'd been dragging my feet a little. Leave it to my latest guest puzzler to do the pushing for me. Really glad to have this one from Alex Boisvert of Los Angeles. It really shows off some of the nicer features of Solver.
I know what you're saying: BEQ, I don't want to install new software when most of the puzzles I solve are Across Lite (.puz) files. Why should I change software just to run these new Solver files (.jpz)? No need to fear, Solver runs .puz files. It's just that the .jpz files are so, so much more versatile. And other syndicates are making the switch to it soon enough (CrossSynergy should be making it official any day now if they don't already). If I may quote today's guest contributor from a comment he made on Amy Reynaldo's site, he makes the real argument for Solver so much better than I can:
"The advantages of .jpz over .puz deserve their own blog post. But in short — the new format will indeed allow constructors to do things they can’t do now, like shaded squares, bold/italicized clues, unusual numbering schemes, etc. Basically, just about any puzzle that looks different in print than electronically could look the correct way with a .jpz file."
Bingo. Anyway, from now on, I will be offering the puzzles in Across Lite, Crossword Solver and PDF formats.
Now, onto the interview. Heads up there are some slight spoilers.
BEQ: Give me a quick history of your puzzlemaking.
Alex: In ... 2005? Yes, 2005, I started writing crosswords after a friend showed me one he had written for his girlfriend. I immediately noticed problems with it (two-letter entries, unchecked squares) and I thought maybe I could do it. So I sent a few off to Rich Norris [of the L.A. Times], and got back some pleasant rejection letters. I thought one of the puzzles he rejected might be up Will Shortz's alley, so I sent it to him, he took it, and I was off!
BEQ: You're another puzzler with a math background. Tell me a little bit about that, but try not to hurt my brain so much.
Alex: I studied a field called "algebraic geometry", which sounds like stuff you might have learned in high school, but is actually a tad more advanced ... it's, um, well, I never know how to describe it, so I'll let Wikipedia do my dirty work. Right now I work for a defense contractor, writing algorithms to analyze hyperspectral imagery (Wikipedia to the rescue again!).
BEQ: Would you describe your puzzles as "mathy?" I'm thinking this one, for sure, with the weird wraparound. As well as the constraint-heavy American flag puzzle.
Alex: As far as my puzzles being "mathy," I guess that's fair to say, because I think everything I do is "mathy" in some sense. I can't get away from it.
I think my puzzles generally fall into two categories: the easy Monday-type puzzle and the insane rule-bending puzzle. I like to make the easy puzzles because my friends who aren't into crosswords can do them without feeling dumb. And I like to make the rule-bending crosswords because ... well, because sometimes it seems like that's the only way to get published anymore! Some days it feels like all the "normal" themes have been done, so you've got to go a bit crazy to catch an editor's eye.
BEQ: You're still selling puzzle from last weekend's Crosswords LA Tournament. If any BEQ.com readers haven't done them yet, you get eight puzzles for $5 and all the money is going to charity. So go get 'em. Anyway, how'd the LA Tournament go?
Alex: It was fun! At least, I presume, since I was in the scoring room the whole day. We had some technical issues, but we managed to determine the top 3 finishers in all the relevant divisions. And let me just say: Jordan Chodorow is the fastest solver no one's ever heard of. I'd put him up against anyone in the country on an easy puzzle on paper.
BEQ: Since this guest puzzle has a video game theme, give me your top 5 all time.
Alex: Tetris, Super Mario World, Super Metroid, Ocarina of Time, Bioshock.
BEQ: I'm about to be a father in a few months. You have two kids. Calm me down/prepare me.
Alex: Ha! Stop me if you've heard this before, but preparing you is impossible. As far as calming you down - some prospective parents are worried about waking up at night, or changing their routines, or whatnot, because it just feels like there are more things they'll have to do. And it's true -- but it doesn't feel like a responsibility when you're a parent. It's just this thing that you do. You just do it. It becomes the new normal really fast.