The Zotmeister

solving the puzzle of life one entry at a time

Apr. 22nd, 2015

03:50 pm - Puzzle 68: The One Ring

See Puzzle 3 for most of the instructions. I've added two additional elements here (and I lack the time to properly update the full rules to include them right now): when the loop is completed, all green checkmarks must be inside the loop and all red 'X's must be outside the loop.

I was a year late with my "35" puzzle, so I figured I should be a year early with this one. Of course, some of you may have seen this a year even earlier, as it was a perk in my IndieGogo campaign for my upcoming book. That was, in fact, the reason I crafted it in the first place - otherwise, I wouldn't have bothered. Although I suppose I'm thankful to have endured yet another twelve months, I'm finding little celebratory in this number steadily increasing. Don't expect another one of these six years from now… - ZM


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Apr. 3rd, 2014

01:46 am - Is this thing on?

Is anyone still keeping eyes here, perchance? I've largely moved to Twitter, but I do have plans to resurrect this journal at some point. Now is definitely not the time, though - my situation is frankly rather dire. If you'd like to help, or if you want to see what puzzle construction I'll be up to over the next couple of months - and boy howdy will I ever be making puzzles - then (if you haven't already) please check out my Indiegogo campaign; it only has just over 48 hours left as I'm typing this. - ZM

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Jun. 8th, 2012

12:58 am - Puzzle 2 - Minecraft Edition


Current Music: "This Is It", Mel Blanc
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May. 2nd, 2012

04:27 pm - Puzzles 61-7: Seeking Syren^WScotchy

See Puzzle 14 for instructions; you can ignore the little gray letters. That will get you through the first six, anyhow; Puzzle 67 is "some assembly required". Permit me to explain.

For all of my puzzle followers that are not familiar with the MIT Mystery Hunt, here's a brief rundown for the both of you: Every year since 1981, during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend (which coincides with their Independent Activity Period), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been the home of a puzzle competition, which over the years has grown into the largest gathering of its kind. Dozens of teams with dozens of members stay up all night solving puzzles and metapuzzles in their quest for "the coin", with the prize being the honor - and heavy responsibility - of running the Hunt (and making all the puzzles for it) the following year.

Although I'd known about the Hunt for some time, it wasn't until 2009 that I actually got around to attending. As a member of the very appropriately named team Beginner's Luck, I found myself up at 3 AM Monday - after having trudged through snow and corridors for hours - when we located the Covertly Operational Inversion Node (or C.O.I.N.) and won. I created two "puzzles" for the 2010 Hunt; the seven grids below all constitute just one "puzzle" in Hunt terms. (I also created one "subpuzzle" for another's "puzzle". I'll stop putting that word in quotes now.) The graphics for the puzzles are the exact same ones originally used for the Hunt.

All Hunt puzzles reduce to a single solution phrase - often a single word - to be determined by following some manner of uncovered logic. I say "uncovered" as instructions are usually intentionally lacking, typically only alluded to by titles or flavortext, leaving solvers to try to find some internal consistency or pattern to follow in order to "extract" the final answer. You've probably noticed if you've peeked below that the first six grids all have peculiar titles; the seventh has a title as well, but you'll have to solve it first to learn it. That is the solution phrase for the entire puzzle, the one word all this reduces to. (Incidentally, this puzzle was made around - and inspired by - that answer word; in creating a Hunt metapuzzle, certain phrases are called for to be answers to puzzles, and this particular word is one of great significance to Zotanna, which is why I jumped at the chance to make its puzzle.)

Now I know what you purists are thinking: "I'm here for true DEDUCTIVE LOGIC, and I can't have that if I can't have RULES! I don't even know you anymore!!". You can relax: despite my apparent redefining of 'puzzle' in that last paragraph, I'm not changing the style of my journal puzzles one bit. This is still seven puzzles to me, which is why I've numbered them as such and am presenting them the way I am. I've felt for some time that these are fantastic little grids that deserve to be considered independently, and so here they are. However, I also find a certain beauty in the reveal of putting it all together to make that last grid, so I compromised with myself: I'll post the puzzles all at once as a heptaptych, and leave the final puzzle disassembled at first, letting those who are interested try to piece it together. Over the next few days, I'll add hints in the comments for those who want to put it together but are struggling; within the week a full set of instructions will be given, and lastly a week from today I'll put up the fully assembled Puzzle 67 without the answer-extraction bits so that both camps can appreciate the puzzles for what they are. I will likely only be doing this sort of thing again if my team wins the Hunt again.

So let's get to it, shall we? The rules are unchanged, but for thematic purposes (and for the final puzzle) I need to point out that instead of seeking Syren in these first six, you're seeking spirits - that is, bottles of alcohol (I'll explain later) - and the given title of each of these grids is the name of the spirit hiding within.

Puzzle 61

I made this first one with the fact that it'd be the very first Seeking Syren most of its solvers will have done in mind as I was making it; I kept it very simple and tried to make it as interesting an introduction as possible by squeezing in as many nodes as possible.

Puzzle 62

This one is actually my favorite of the bunch. I felt it important to show off a key nuance of the rules early on, while the grids were still on the easier side; this is probably the greatest "S-reveal" that can possibly be made. You'll see what I mean.

Puzzle 63

It was around here that I decided I'd try to make each of the six lead-in puzzles two-color, using each of the possible combinations once. I also figured this was the right place to put the requisite "backwards" puzzle, especially given the nature of the preceding one. There needed to be at least one of these to drive home the importance of actually solving these completely rather than just finding the spirit and moving on.

Puzzle 64

Things start to get technical around here. The constraints I had to adhere to forced some things about the nature of the later grids, which naturally led to harder puzzles as I needed to use more tricky techniques to get them to work. Figuring out the logic of the "islands" starts to become a greater driving factor here.

Puzzle 65

If I recall correctly, this one was actually the last of these initial six I made, but I felt it was the easier of the two, so I presented it first. This is probably the most Nurikabe-like puzzle here.

Puzzle 66

It had to get truly difficult sometime.

Puzzle 67

And so we arrive at the final grid...

...which obviously has seen better days. What happened to the node count? For that matter, what happened to the givens?! And not only is the 'S' showing, but it's freaking PURPLE! Well, when you're an alcoholic starship engineer that gets drunk, passes out, and then needs to appear in a Mystery Hunt puzzle, this is apparently the result. Who knew.

Scotchy was but one crew member of the Brass Rat that successfully escaped from Zyzzlvaria during the events of the 2009 Hunt, and the 2010 Hunt paid homage to some past Hunts, that one included - which entailed giving each crew member another puzzle. Upon blacking out whilst celebrating the previous year's escape, Scotchy dreamt e found emself in a parody of my old Sanctum Puzzler contests (which I've mentioned before [Detritus - please excuse the broken image link in that entry, that's Cox's fault]). Es envisioned conversation with our classic protagonist went thusly:

     Lady Lyght apparently isn't here. Perhaps I should return to my Sanct- ...What in my father's name...

    Stupid transporter malfunction! Captain, are you okay? Look at all this mist everywhe- wait, you're not Captain Blastoid! Who are you, where are we, and where's the rest of my crew?

     Uh... you may call me Lady Terran, we are on an astral plane, and 'not here' is the best I can do for that last one.

    A plane? I don't see the controls anywhere...

     ...It's not the kind that flies. This is a magical dimension, not a physical location - and it would seem your presence has corrupted it. Has your spirit been traumatized recently?

    I just got BACK from being stranded - this is far too sobering for me... wait, where's my booze? I've lost it all! NOOOOOOOO!

     ...Ah! That explains it - it's your spirits that have gone astray! They must be on parallel planes interlaced with this one... Indeed! I can sense them. Six bottles, yes? Give me a moment and I'll recover them for you.

    Thank you! I'm not sure how I could repay you...

     Oh, no need. There is knowledge to be had from any journey, even errands such as this; that is sufficient reward for myself. I warn you, do not move from there until I've repaired the plane - trust me, you wouldn't want to wander into a deadly cloud of ambiguity. Once I'm done, I should be able to reveal the safe way across to me here, and in following it you will attain what you seek.

    Thank you very much - will do. But please hurry - I must be hallucinating from withdrawal, as I swear we're talking in colors...

Contained within that purposefully garish text lies all the information needed to reassemble Puzzle 67 - you just have to think about it the right way - and solving it will reveal its title. Fair warning: this sucker is TOUGH!

One last bit of business needed to be carried out: since I made a Sanctum Puzzler, I had to award a Puzzling Otato, traditionally given to the most curious response the puzzle generated. I was going to offer it to the first person that got the reference at the Hunt, but no one did, so I decided to give it to Mike Selinker, who sort of inspired me to make a latter-day Sanctum Puzzler in the first place (and to be fair wasn't at the Hunt that year, so wouldn't have had the chance otherwise). Long story short - ambiguity intended - e asked for it. The game of Sanctum may be gone now, and who knows if it will ever return, but the memories shall remain.... - ZM

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Current Music: the theme to G. I. Joe (go ahead, ask me why, I dare you)
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Apr. 30th, 2012

11:58 pm - Puzzle 60: The One Ring

See Puzzle 3 for instructions.

When Palmer Mebane "paid homage" to my 30×30 The One Ring (Puzzle 30) with es Loop of Death not long before my thirty-fifth birthday, e inspired me to start work on a 35×35 follow-up. Apparently, I missed my original deadline by about a year. This last year of my life has been one of the strangest, most tormenting, and downright freakiest I've yet endured, and good riddance to it. Despite the tremendous size on display here, the puzzle is largely smooth sailing; my hopefully-obvious aesthetic restrictions guided the design rather than any desire to make a particularly challenging puzzle.

I'd also like to take this serendipitous opportunity to wish a happy 35th birthday to my most distant closest friend, Robyn O'Neil. I create all my puzzles first as graphite on paper, and some (myself included) may refer to them as artful, but I daresay my most complex works are doomed to pale in comparison to what Robyn accomplishes in the medium. - ZM

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Current Music: "Say You Will", Fleetwood Mac
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Apr. 6th, 2012

02:03 pm - Puzzle 59: Totally Rooked

Be careful, Michael.

- KITT, Knight Rider

See Puzzle 41 for instructions. This puzzle, made for Mike "[ profile] projectyl" Sylvia, just serendipitously happens to include something permitting me to make a horrible pun of a reference to an Eighties TV show - which is irresistible, naturally, so there you go. The nightrider is a so-called "fairy chess" piece, something that typically only exists in chess puzzles. ...Oh, hey, look, this is a puzzle based on chess! Well, okay then! It moves as a knight can, but can leap more than once, as long as all leaps are in the same direction (think vectors) and all cells it leaps into on the way are empty (think backgammon - each step the piece takes has to "touch down" onto a free spot). For example, pretend the cell to the immediate right of the '0' on the top row had a nightrider. It would be able to "rook" exactly seven cells - its own, two off to the left, and four downward. Obviously, all upward directions leave the grid; the two remaining rightward directions immediately hit walls after just one knight move; heading downward (and angling left) has no problem hopping OVER walls a couple times, but is stopped before it would LAND on one on the leftmost column; the last direction supports two leaps before the grid would be exited.

As it turns out, the nightrider is a frighteningly suitable piece for Totally Rooked. The way it interacts with rooks, grid layouts, and the wall-sharing rule is alarmingly robust. It proved to be no problem whatsoever making the nightriders of an unknown quantity as well as the rooks. What lies below is a stupendously difficult puzzle that acts upon a lot of those revelations. In fact, for a variant of what is often thought of as Nikoli's easiest puzzle type - bar none - this may well be the most difficult puzzle on my journal to date, and perhaps for the forseeable future, as although this is humanly solvable entirely with deductive logic, it is truly right on the border of infeasibility. Good luck - you'll need it. - ZM

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Apr. 5th, 2012

10:50 pm - Amazing

Have you ever heard a song in a public place - say, at a restaurant - and thought it great, but couldn't make out enough of the lyrics (perhaps due to background chatter, a lousy PA system, or bad acoustics - and let's face it, some singers have horrible articulation) to be able to track it down online and learn its title and artist? Sure, every now and then the radio DJ will be remiss in providing that data, but you can usually rest assured the song will play again soon enough; in a restaurant, you're often hosed. You have no idea if or when you may ever hear it again, even if you frequent that place.

Just such a puzzle had been tormenting me for years - a puzzle I could only refer to as "that song I heard in Ruby Tuesday, like, twice". I was never able to nail it down well enough to get an ID off of it once I got back to my computer at work. And keep in mind this was when I had my old job, so when I said "years", I meant it - at least two, bare minimum, since I was unemployed that long.

After work today at my new job, I went to Ruby Tuesday for dinner. And just as I was about to fill in the tip on my receipt right before I leave, that song played. I was fortunate in that the typical dinner crowd hadn't yet arrived in force - I was the only customer not at the bar when I'd first arrived, and there were, what, three other tables occupied when I left? - so I had a better-than-average chance of making out enough of the inflected lyrics to actually be able to identify the song once and for all once I got home.

And that's exactly what I was able to do.

I solved that puzzle today, and I'm quite frankly disco-Kirby-level happy about that. But the best part about it is that the song is playable in its entirety, for free, on the artist's official website - in fact, I've linked to it below (or above, if you're on the comment page right now). So you can hear it for yourself, and even without the years of being tormented by not knowing the source! I've totally lost count of how many times I've played it tonight. It's totally stuck in my head. WHERE IT BELONGS.

This is the first time I've ever really been able to use that 'torment' tag of mine in the past tense. Man it feels good!

ObTeaser (the classic kind): Puzzle 59 is complete and will be here tomorrow. If you've been following me on Twitter, you should already know what surprise it will offer :) - ZM

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Current Music: "Amazing", Alex Lloyd
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Mar. 23rd, 2012

01:23 pm - Puzzles 55-8: Polyominous

First off, a reminder (or introduction if you missed it earlier): I'm running a contest right here on my journal right now that technically isn't a puzzle but is very puzzle-like in nature; it's called "Oxendo", and you can check it out with that very link.

Grant Fikes - aliases include "mathgrant", "foxger", and "President of the Zotmeister Fan Club" - some time back in 2008 got sick of waiting for me to make another Puzzlesmith contest (es having missed my first - and so far only - one back in 2005) and decided to open es own reader-submitted puzzle gallery. Since then, four more "Logicsmith Exhibition"s have graced es weblog, and in a surprisingly non-ironic manner, I have managed to miss all but one of those myself... but what is ironic about it is that I kept asking em over and over to do more of them. Especially given that four of them were for Polyominous puzzles - something I consider a specialty of mine (I'd also note that Grant just up and stole my name for them!), I have long thought this a serious problem. Although I still plan on some more Puzzlesmith contests of my own - and eventually getting around to remaking the images for the first one! - I figured I'd take care of this chunk of unfinished business first, and in style: behold, my first puzzle tetraptych!

See Puzzle 7 for instructions.

Puzzle 55

Grant's first Exhibition had a lovely required givens pattern for a ten-by-eighteen grid. Even with only two entries to the original Exhibition - one of which was Grant's emself - I still was surprised no one else did what I did with the grid, something that came to mind pretty much immediately. I'm sure you'll know what I mean when you get to it.

Puzzle 56

This is the one I actually managed to not miss. Grant offered up a smaller grid with a denser required givens pattern in the hopes of pulling in more submissions, and it worked. The astute may notice that my '5's here look different. That's because this image is based off of the one I originally sent to Grant, which is before I started generally using the larger digits, much less finalized my "bigalpha" font. I figured I'd leave it that way for historical purposes.

Puzzle 57

The required givens pattern for es third gallery was so cluster-friendly that I figured I had to do something fairly technical in order to make the resulting puzzle actually interesting. As is hopefully immediately apparent, I'd like to think I succeeded. With apologies to Thomas Snyder, a mindgame: try to guess before you start solving whether any implied polyominoes will require a digit other than '1' or '4' :)

Puzzle 58

Grant's fourth Exhibition is for a different puzzle type - a weird one I have no experience with - and I have no real interest in that at this time. However, es fifth and most recent gallery is arguably even weirder - instead of a givens pattern, the requirement was quantity-based: exactly four of each digit from '1' to '9' (in any rotationally-symmetric pattern). In the write-up, e seemed quite willing to dole out accolades for those squeezing in two-digit implied polyominoes; I have to admit to making this in response, although what exactly I'm trying to say with it I'll leave as an exercise for those who really ought to be doing something else with themselves.

Right, so now that that's done... Logicsmith Exhibition 6, please! - ZM

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Current Music: "Peg", Steely Dan
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Jan. 24th, 2012

11:42 am - RESURRECTION!

You know what they say, the third strike is what counts...

- Adam Tensta, "Third Strike 2011"

As of this entry, all fifty-five numbered puzzles are back on my journal(s). Other images - including the Puzzlesmith 1 results - are largely absent; some of those may be returning, but some may well be permanently lost now. Time will tell. The contest puzzles in particular WILL return (I need to recreate the graphic from scratch, though).

ObTeaser (first correct answer gets to pick the type for Puzzle 76): What has exactly two dozen rooms, each with a single captive that is destroyed as soon as it is freed? [Reminder: if you'd like to pick the type for Puzzle 59, that ObTeaser is still unsolved!]

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Jan. 9th, 2012

04:59 pm - State of the Journal Address

Before I begin: the reason I've been putting the 'puzzles' tag on these updates is that many of my readers ONLY read entries with that tag, so I need to do that to keep them in the loop. That's why I've also adopted the ObTeasers, so that there would be some actual puzzly content in these entries... but as there's still one outstanding without even a single guess at it, you're still not getting another one here! Let me sweeten the pot: the first correct solver gets to choose the type of Puzzle 59; there will be some restrictions on that choice for continuity reasons, but it's otherwise a free selection. Bonus credit (of an as yet undetermined nature) will be awarded if answered in spoiler-hiding white, something LJ broke some time ago but still works in DW comments! (Okay, so the DW site skin isn't exactly white, but it's close enough for me.) The reason it'll be 59 is that I'm saving the next four slots for my first puzzle tetraptych! ...Oops, segued into the actual content. So much for "Before I begin".

Puzzle 60 will be substantial - I'll be keeping that much of the tradition going - but this time there will be no vote. It will be a The One Ring. It will likely be my largest AND easiest multiple-of-fifteen puzzle simultaneously. I do expect to reinstate the poll for future substantial offerings.

Puzzles 61 to 67 will be a heptaptych. Some of you may have seen them before, however. It occurred to me that the faster I get from 60 to 75, the sooner I have an incentive to make another big puzzle, and I like making big puzzles. Some of my best puzzles are not among my numbered offerings here, and I've decided I'd like to remedy that. I will pace them out over time for the most part.

But what about the disappearance of the first 54 puzzles, you may well ask. I made the unfortunate discovery that I'm actually missing one of my puzzle images, but it's none of those: it's the one with the results of my first (and so far only, but I'll be fixing that soon) Puzzlesmith contest. Someway, somehow, I managed to never save a local copy of that file. I have, however, located the archive I stored the original entries in and found my own composition for the contest in my notebooks, so I can create a replacement for it (and back it up this time). I shouldn't be missing anything else, and about a third of my puzzles are back up now. I'm still hoping I get a better means of storing them online than Scrapbook. ...Oh, crap. That means...

[ahem] For my fiction fans (say it with me: both of you), it actually just occurred to me that I may have no means of offering font files at present. Thankfully, the website I've borrowed my current offerings from still exists, so for the time being I can just link to their original locations. I don't intend to rely upon this; when I find a decent hosting solution, I'll make my own copies available again. (I suppose I could do something retarded with file extensions to stick them in Scrapbook, but I don't want to have to do that sort of thing and my readers shouldn't have to undo it.)

Presently, however, I'll be taking a break from stressing out over getting my journal back up to snuff and instead start stressing out over the MIT Mystery Hunt coming up this weekend, starting with how on Earth I'll be getting there... As some of you may know, my car was totalled in a collision in October (the second week of my new job!). NOT my fault, by the way. Although I've managed to make arrangements for purchasing another vehicle, it won't be available in time for the Hunt, so I'm, to condense a phrase, paddleless. Hopefully I (or one of my teammates) will think of something. - ZM

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Jan. 3rd, 2012

02:49 pm - "Excuse our dust"

As usual, my ability to do two-and-a-half things at once is being overloaded here, as I'm trying to get Dreamwidth to behave like LiveJournal in the most important ways (so far I've gotten the style for my entries and non-style for comment pages working, but entry previews aren't following suit), get my puzzles back up here (Scrapbook really is a torture - I hope DW does this right sometime soon), and transition my email address dependencies. It's slow going, to say the least.

Thank sanity for being able to escape to the Zen of Dark Souls. (JOLLY co-operation!) This could drive me nuts otherwise.

Needless to say, new content is on hiatus until I can get all the content I thought I already had squared away actually squared away. You're not even getting an ObTeaser this time, since the one I gave out two entries ago went unattempted. (Feel free to remedy this. Yes, there's an extra hurdle now - I'm getting to that - but maybe I'll make it worth your while.) But for the record, this is what I'm planning on unloading once all this is dealt with:

For the record, the extra spacing in bulleted lists DW throws in on comment pages (and my entry previews, given their current state of brokenness...) sort of bothers me. That's just one small element of the grand competition, though. LJ and DW may not be aware of it, but they are actually in a race with each other right now, the finish line being making sense, and the prize (if it could be called that) is the title of "Official Home of The Zotmeister's Journal". At some point, I will likely cull one instance of my journal and simply roll with the other; but for the time being, I'm going to be taking the crossposting approach to keeping both journals synchronized. That can apparently only be done in the DW-to-LJ direction at present, and OpenID only works in the opposite direction at present as well (talk about harmonious deficiencies!), so - in the interest of keeping comments consolidated, admittedly at the risk of being a tad obnoxious - I'm henceforth disabling comments on LJ entries; you'll have to comment at DW instead. It's literally the only way. LJ viewers will see a footer below, which unfortunately links directly to the DW comment page rather than the entry page itself - something I really wish could be remedied...

Anyone with issues regarding any of this can email me directly at my old address (if you have it) or my new one (on my profile) if need be. [Those well versed in the likes of S2 may be able to greatly accelerate this whole process.] I'll continue to keep everyone updated. - ZM

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Dec. 7th, 2011

11:28 pm - Update

I have a stop-gap email address set up - I actually may end up using it as my primary even after I switch ISPs. It's on my profile page, natch.

For the time being, it looks like I'll be abusing LiveJournal's own Scrapbook feature in order to get my puzzle images back up, but it definitely feels like a kludge and will likely be reworked once I encounter a better option. I also have to recreate the scaled-up puzzle images one at a time, so this will take awhile. On the plus side, it has given me the opportunity to revisit the scaling method; I'm now using a hybrid (I wish I'd thought of that sooner) that should keep both the retro-pixel feel and soft egdes without being so blurry on non-CRT displays (such as on paper...). I'm also tagging the puzzles by type as I go. As I'm typing this, only Puzzle 1 is done - tell me what you think of the new style (it's not too late for me to change it...).

ObTeaser: Consider a 3x3 Sudoku grid with the minimum number of givens needed to make it uniquely solvable (which would be 2). Now strip it of its regions, so we are left with a 3x3 Latin Square with givens matching the Sudoku in corresponding cells. That Latin Square will be uniquely solvable if and only if... Finish that sentence. - ZM

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09:58 am - Disappearance

Cox, in their infinite stupidity and once again proving they are the most appropriately named company in existence (as they are a bunch of them), decided to simply up and delete all their webspaces, without warning, no longer offering the service... nor an opportunity to find a replacement before the disappearance. As a direct result of this, all puzzles have vanished from this journal.

As if my family didn't already have enough impetus to switch to Verizon...

In the near future, I will very likely be changing email addresses - which is a process I am FAR too familiar with, but that becomes no less irritating with repetition. If anything, it gets harder and harder, with more and more services tied to that address over time. I thoroughly expect this to be an absolute bitch. I'll keep you posted. No, really, I will.

In the meantime, I'll see what I can do about getting the puzzles back up here. Please be patient.

ObTeaser: What do clouds, some expensive jackets, and Pop-Tarts have in common? - ZM

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Nov. 18th, 2011

03:42 pm - Puzzle 54: Smullyanic Dynasty

See Puzzle 4 for instructions. This being my first one of these in the new font, I figured I'd take the opportunity to also switch over to the Singularity template for the grid so that my suggestion of circling knights can actually be followed. Go figure.

Normally I'd never make a solving suggestion for a non-sample puzzle of mine, but I can't resist for this one: try to start with the center cell. It's illuminating. You don't have to - there are other break-ins - but that's where I started, and I daresay it's a pretty neat effect if you can find it. I'll leave the rest to the solver's own faculties as usual.

I'm currently wrapped up in making puzzles for a secret project, but I should have a batch to release here on my journal shortly thereafter. - ZM

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Current Music: "Frontier Psychiatrist", The Avalanches
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Nov. 2nd, 2011

10:25 am - And One Other...

I came up with a good new one of these recently:

Cherry, Strawberry, Tropical Fruit, Ice Blue, Spearmint, Honey-Lemon, and one other...

First to post the correct answer in the comments gets to choose what type of puzzle number 54 will be. - ZM

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Apr. 22nd, 2011

01:07 am - Puzzle 53: To Each Their Own

See Puzzle 18 for instructions. However, the history of the puzzle I have there is sadly incomplete. Today, I remedy this.

Naoki Inaba is quite possibly the single most underrecognized puzzlesmith alive today. For over a decade, es Puzzle Laboratory has continued to endure and expand, today featuring over 300 different puzzles, most of which are es own original creations. And by "different", I don't mean individual instances - there's over a thousand of those. I mean over 300 unique types of puzzles, making em the most prolific puzzle designer I've ever encountered, and probably the most prolific puzzle designer since Sam Loyd (and given the latter's reputation for plagiarism, maybe even greater than that!). If I may adapt an MST3K invention exchange, e's the Steve Allen of Japanese puzzle design: if you come up with a clever idea you think is new, better check the Naoki-O-Meter to see if e's already thought of that.

Es influence on my own puzzle development and appreciation cannot be understated. Along with Hirofumi Fujiwara - accomplished computer scientist and puzzlesmith in es own right, and the author of the best Sudoku construction tutorial I've ever seen - they are the brains behind Time Intermedia, the company that operated's precursor website Puzzle Japan, which (as I've noted before at the start of my memorial service) was my first true introduction to the depth and beauty of Japanese puzzle design. They are still at work together; their current website, Puzzle GeneRator JaPan (the odd capitalization stems from their URL because they're clever like that), features (among many other things) an extremely fast open-source Sudoku puzzle generator that can be programmed to limit itself to specific human-reasonable deduction techniques and can even handle jigsaw regions and irregular sizes, a series of various beginner-level puzzles of rare designs in PDF form, and the most intimidating book covers ever conceived. But I digress.

Over the years back when I had an office job (yes, I am STILL unemployed - it's tough out there), I would frequently spend downtime at Puzzle Laboratory, clicking some random link to a puzzle, trying to use my limited knowledge of the Japanese language and study of the sample puzzle to deduce the rules, and work through the three or four levels provided in es applets, which always scaled up in difficulty - and cleverness - at just the right pace, exploring the design steadily deeper as they went. It was - and still is! - a fantastic experience and challenge. After I was laid off, I hadn't visited the site for some time, but (especially after cancelling my account) I recently found myself perusing it again, when I discovered something that utterly shocked me:

Some of the puzzles had English instructions!

Sometimes I wondered if I was the only person in the country who knew the site existed. Actually, as I'm typing this right now, I'm still wondering that, although I know that once this is posted, that will change. As well it should. And should have, ages ago. Thankfully, however, as my prompt investigation uncovered, another country managed to build a bridge: Germany. Almost exactly two years ago, members of the German "Logic Masters Forum" took it unto themselves to start deducing/translating the instructions to the puzzles at Puzzle Laboratory, in what has become a grand thread titled Naoki-Projekt. Go thirteen pages in and you'll see the discussion turn multilingual, and sure enough, English translations started popping up as well. And then, as they say, a miracle occurred: Naoki emself heard of the project and joined in, and even asked if e could put the English translations developed so far directly on es site. The answer, of course, was yes. The greatest barrier between es puzzles and the world's enjoyment of them - the language barrier - officially began to break down.

Page 19 of that topic (the current last page as of this writing) revealed a fascinating bit of history. That "NIKOJI" I referenced as how I discovered this puzzle type? Well, NAOKI INABA THOUGHT OF THAT TOO! E'S EVERYWHERE! E'S EVERYWHERE! E'S EVERYW - [ahem] Sorry, what I mean to say is that the design as presented in Puzzle Communication Nikoli is not the original creation - nor by the original creator. The same puzzle design appeared on Puzzle Laboratory first, under the title of Gemini Block (so named because e used each letter exactly twice in each grid, not that the rules required this). As a matter of fact - and this isn't from the forum, but rather my own understanding of the Japanese language - given Nikoli's (and indeed Japan's) penchant for naming things with shortened phrases and that the katakana for 'gemini' actually begins with a 'j' character, I think the title 'NIKOJI' is actually short for "Nikoli's Gemini"... and I thought it was a pompous title before! That's a pretty blatant "borrowing" right there.

Well, I will certainly set the record straight, and it is with great pleasure and honor that I present the following tribute to the true history of To Each Their Own, and indeed to the man who - sometimes unwittingly! - gave me, and very much continues to give me, great inspiration in my humble art.

If you've solved my earlier puzzles of this type, you may find this one surprisingly challenging in comparison. I acquainted myself with Inaba-sensei's own examples of this design in advance of making this puzzle, and I tried to add elements of es style to my own in forging this tribute. I hope you enjoy it. - ZM

EDIT 2011-04-23 3:33 PM EDT: Added link to a Steve-O-Meter video on YouTube (for those poor bastards who didn't get the reference).

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Current Mood: reverential
Current Music: "Seasons in China: III. White Tiger", Dynasty Warriors 6 Empires
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Jan. 7th, 2011

03:13 am - Puzzle 52: Heartbreaker

"I couldn't follow suit," Tom said brokenheartedly.

- Adam R. Wood, original Tom Swifty

I love playing cards. I love collecting them; I love handling them; I love playing games with them; I love giving (and receiving) decks as gifts. I had to make Puzzle 52 based on playing cards. The problem was that there weren't any appropriate types of playing-card-based puzzles that I was aware of and liked... so I invented my own. Took awhile, but I'm quite happy with what resulted. Inspired by various card games and based on a fairly awful pun, I submit for your entertainment Heartbreaker:

To the left is an unsolved sample puzzle; to the right is the same puzzle with all the fun pre-removed. In addition to the solution (in blue), I also highlighted (in green) the heartbreaker in order to make explaining the rules (and the sample solution) that much easier.

The concise instructions: ...actually, I'm not going to bother this time - this is one of those puzzles, the kind that are relatively simple in execution but for which a rigorous explanation of the rules is, well, a real heartbreaker. Hopefully this will do:

  1. Each cell of the grid is to hold a playing card; the deck in use will be defined in the text accompanying the puzzle. Each card of the deck is to be placed in exactly one cell; the object of the puzzle is to determine the position for every card in the deck.

  2. Some cells may have a rank, or suit, or both depicted in it; the card placed in such a cell must match what's already there.

  3. Loops (in the style of Perfect Fit) may appear around some cells. I call these 'cardtouches', as Egyptologists could use a clever pun after all the obvious 'mummy' jokes and I'm going for broke on pun overload already anyhow. The cards to be placed into the cells inside a cardtouche must make a valid Rummy meld - that is to say, they must either be (a) [a 'set'] all of matching rank, but each a unique suit; or (b) [a 'run'] all of matching suit, but in sequential ranks (although the physical positioning of the cards doesn't have to match that sequence). Remember that aces are only sequential to deuces for this purpose - aces are always LOW in Rummy!

  4. Some rows and/or columns may have "signs" (a labeled arrow) pointing at them. The labels are all Poker hand ranks; the labels for the standard ranks, from weakest to strongest, are: N, 1P, 2P, 3K, S, F, FH, 4K, SF. [I'm not beyond using freak hands if they will make for an interesting puzzle; I will define any label other than these in the text accompanying a puzzle that uses one.] The strongest Poker hand that could be made with any combination of up to five cards from the row/column a sign points to must match that sign's label.

  5. Every Hearts penalty card - cards of the heart suit and Queens of Spades - must be part of a snake. That's a technical term puzzle veterans will recognize: the cells of a snake must form a chain, each orthogonally adjacent to the next. Snakes cannot touch themselves - that is to say, cells in the snake can only be orthogonally adjacent if they are consecutive in the chain, and can only be diagonally adjacent if they are two links in the chain apart. [Alternatively, they cannot comprise any two-by-two blocks of cells, nor can they enclose an area on all sides (that is, not using a grid edge to do so) leaving that area orthogonally disconnected from the rest of the grid.] If multiple snakes are to appear (as would be the case if a double deck were prescribed), they can't touch each other, either - cells belonging to different snakes cannot be adjacent, not even diagonally.

  6. Each snake must have exactly one of every rank of heart, which must all be physically in order in the snake, from ace down to whatever the lowest-ranked heart in the deck is. Remember - Ace is always HIGH in Hearts!

  7. Each snake must also have exactly one Queen of Spades as well. However, it can appear ANYWHERE in the chain - before the ace, after the lowest card, or anywhere in between, interrupting the otherwise perfect sequence of hearts. You guessed it - just as some play the card game, the Queen of Spades breaks hearts. I told you it was awful.

The deck for the sample puzzle is a mere twenty cards, just Ace through Ten in each of the four standard suits. This means it must have exactly one snake of exactly six cards, basically a heart royal flush in order with a Queen of Spades tagging along or butting in. Look at those six cards in the solution above and you'll find they're wrapped around the top of the central gap; the Spade Queen is between the Heart Jack and Ten, but the hearts are otherwise in order - Ace, King, Queen, Jack, Ten. This is what needs to happen.

That '3F' is for "three-card flush" - that is, the three cards in that column need to be the same suit. (Technically, they can't be sequential ranks either, as then it would be a three-card straight flush, but that isn't important for this puzzle.) It's actually a fairly illuminating sample puzzle - one of my better ones in my opinion - and should prove an interesting solve if you want to tackle it yourself. Of course, if you would just like a walkthrough - and after that rules definition, I wouldn't blame you - that can be arranged:

How to solve the sample puzzle )

This first full-size Heartbreaker uses a standard 52-card poker deck. In some ways it's actually easier than the sample - I tried to keep it cute as opposed to educational - but I did manage to highlight a few curiosities. Certain possibilities came to mind as I composed it, so I'll have some tricks up my sleeve - uh, no pun intended that time - for the next one. Actually, maybe the one after next, since I'm probably using a Pinochle deck next time... - ZM

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Current Music: various songs titled "Heartbreaker" (see inline comments)
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Dec. 14th, 2010

02:50 am - Puzzle 51: Totally Rooked

"I do not have too much interest in chess as a game..."

- Sherlock Holmes, The Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes

I definitely feel like one of the greatest chunks of unfinished business I left behind in the first fifty puzzles was that I never made a full one of these that was more than just an Akari. There I was, introducing a new puzzle type, and apart from a five-by-five sample, I never actually MADE one. Hell, Grant made a better one before I did... with Stratego pieces of all things... [sigh]

Well, consider that issue remedied. AND HOW. I made this one a ballbuster. I even removed an unnecessary given during testsolving.

See Puzzle 41 for instructions. You're going to need all of them this time:

That's right, unlimited queens as well as rooks, and one pesky knight to gunk up the works. You're going to have to discover some new tactics for this one, as well as learn which old ones still apply...

The astute may have noticed that my digits now look different. Due to overwhelming apathy, I have gone ahead and done what I was originally planning: now my characters are seven-by-seven pixels! Basically, I just added digits to the custom font I created for my letter-based puzzles (which used 7x7 all along) and have started using them instead. The old 5x5s may yet make future appearances in the form of two-digit numbers for some puzzles. If you have any comments regarding the change, feel free to make them, but honestly, where were they last week? Huh? HUH? Oh, forget it. (The astuter may have noticed I broke out the S2 and finally got my journal subtitle to actually SHOW on my journal, among other things...)

Just a reminder: I am no longer soliciting emailed solutions nor offering prizes for them. I do still encourage comments - public or private - regarding anything I post to this journal, puzzles or otherwise. - ZM

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Current Music: "In the Great Unknown", Mary Fahl
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Dec. 5th, 2010

02:59 am - Puzzle 50: Quantum Quadrum Quandary

Someway, somehow, I'd let over three years pass since I'd last posted a puzzle here - made particularly an asshole move given that I'd stopped at number 49. I had several things I was wanting to do with this journal around the time of Puzzle 50, and I ended up putting them off... for over three years, apparently. Well, I'm finally getting around to doing them, and so here's their harbinger; the puzzle itself is something of an homage to the way things were here, a final hurrah before pressing forward into the future.

A quick note before I get into the instructions here: despite the dearth of puzzle content here as of late, I never really stopped making puzzles - I just wasn't posting them here. I've had puzzles in the last four United States Puzzle Championships, including a Sudoku variant with no givens whatsoever and no special markings in the grid either (the region shapes alone define a unique solution - I was going for the Ripple Effect effect), which I believe is a world first and is regardless the best puzzle I've yet made. If for some unfortunate reason you missed it, it's in my gallery: Sukazu

And now for something completely opposite: a Sudoku variant with a given in EVERY cell.

A partial given, mind you, but a given nonetheless. As perhaps you've noticed, I've been using my own custom "font" for the numbers in my puzzles, drawing them the same way every time from Puzzle 1 to now. To wit:

There have been a wide variety of comments regarding this. Some love the retro appeal; some find it an eyesore. But the comment that really got to me was noting that the '3' and the '8' are distinguished by only a single pixel, which (especially in a Cross Sums) I agree is a problem. But of course, it also gave me the idea for the puzzle below, so I decided Puzzle 50 would be the five-by-five-pixel swan song, and from there I'd move on to something else - I mean, even Strong Bad upgrades his computer every now and then. As for what to upgrade my graphics to, well - I have an idea in mind, but I'd like to hear what my readers would like to see, so comment away.

There are going to be several other changes here soon as well. For starters, this will be the last puzzle I will be soliciting emailed solutions or providing a prize for. Sucks, I know, but I'm also hoping to make up for this by offering more contests. I should note, however, that I'm still not expecting to have a source of income until next month, so don't hold your breath. (Donations to my PayPal account would accelerate the process and, quite frankly, make me feel very appreciated and happy. Having half a face is still a downer. But I digress.) For this puzzle, however, feel free to email me your answer, and while you're at it, tell me if you own a Nintendo DS or not.

So, without further ado: what lies below is a Sudoku puzzle where I've given you one pixel of each solution digit, with the numbers as drawn above; as usual, each digit (in this case from ZERO to nine - I figured, why should zero be left out of the final 5x5 puzzle?) must appear exactly once in each row, column, and region. Note that the red and green regions are disjoint - those are both still ten-cell regions, the smaller segments connected through cell corners in a checkered pattern - but this doesn't change the rules one bit. [In retrospect, I probably should have used a different pair of colors for those...]

As noted earlier, I have lots of other puzzles already composed that were waiting for this one to come out. Now that it has, expect a steady flow of them to follow - again, my goal is to reach one hundred by the time I'm eligible for the United States presidency. There will be some other varied content as well, the vast majority of it (hopefully...) being creative exploits. So welcome back, glad to be back, and let's have some fun, shall we? - ZM

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Current Music: "A Little Respect", Erasure
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Sep. 13th, 2010

08:03 pm - Puzzle Zero: Masyu

Why does this sort of retarded crap always seem to happen to me?

This puzzle may look familiar to you:

It's the only pure Masyu I've ever published (as opposed to whatever The One Ring happens to count as), and it's one of only four puzzles I've ever published (and likely ever will) under the GNU Free Documentation License. I created it in order to have a meaningful sample puzzle for the Wikipedia article on Masyu, and it has served that purpose for five years now. It's there now, again, but check its history, and you'll see that in July, it and its solution were replaced.

Now, I know what you're saying: those look like the same images to me, right? Well, they're the same puzzle, but the images are very much different. They are in a different format for starters - SVG instead of PNG - but that's not the real issue. Look at the attribution.

It claims it was created by one "Life of Riley".

And that it's es own work.

And that it's in the public domain.

Just so there's no ambiguity here: I composed that puzzle, and I did not surrender it to the public domain. It remains licensed by the GFDL. This is a copyright violation, and the proof lies on Wikipedia itself: my original is still there.

I posted a polite (...) message on that user's talk page, the most forceful word I used being 'insist'. Given this same user made SVG versions of my Heyawake puzzle and solution but DID attribute and license those properly, I'm hoping this was just a stupid oversight and will be remedied in short order, but I'm not about to take any chances that may result in the sacrifice of my rights. If I lose one puzzle, who's to say about the rest...

For someone more knowledgeable of Wikipedia policy than I am: I looked through the various copyright-violation-tagging methods available, but none seemed to be properly phrased for this situation. Could someone tell me how I should be marking Life of Riley's versions of my Masyu images to correctly demarcate them as license violations that need to be repaired or deleted (or, if you're an editor yourself, mark them for me)? It would mean a great deal to me.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I'd be perfectly happy if all copies of this puzzle - legit or otherwise - disappeared from all Wikimedia properties. It doesn't need to be there. I certainly don't mind it being there - after all, I put it there in the first place - and I don't mind it being spread around and used for other purposes, just as its license reads. The problem is that it's my work, it means a lot to me on a personal and professional level, and this is essentially theft. If it's going to be exposed, then my name should be on it, for better or worse.

I'm not happy I had to sign in to my Wikipedia account for the first time in four years in order to deal with this. I very much wanted to be DONE with Wikipedia. But if I don't defend this... - ZM

UPDATE: The user has recognized es mistakes; e claims it was unintentional, and I have no reason to believe otherwise. However, e also claimed to have fixed them. E hasn't. A license tag was added to only one of the two images, and neither has yet to be properly attributed (note that this also means one of the files in question hasn't been changed at all). I pointed this out to em and reiterated my request. At least I know e's working with me on this. - ZM 2010-09-14 09:35 EDT

P.S.: For those who just want to solve the puzzle but don't know the rules: it's a The One Ring where the white circles are angel dots, the black circles devil dots, and the rest of the grid cells plain dots. Or you can view the instructions on

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Current Mood: pissed off
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