Lockdown: Griddle me this

Sunday’s a bit easier to remember since it was just yesterday. I got about five and a half hours of sleep, two of them good, the rest bad. Then got up for a little and went back to bed for another couple of hours of good sleep. This is not a good way to live.

Worked a few puzzles as I thought about the rest of my day.

Boring puzzle minutiae follows. You’re warned.

Across and down

I subscribe to the New York Times crossword puzzle. You can subscribe just to the puzzle without subscribing to the magazine, as tends of thousands of people do. It’s a silly, mostly meaningless hobby for most of us* but a genuine revenue stream for the Grey Lady, and for this reason it also puts a lot of resources toward making it worthwhile. I just renewed my subscription for my fourth year and deeply wish I’d subscribed years earlier.

The puzzles are online, with a pretty good web interface. Although nothing beats solving on paper with a Pilot V5 extra-fine steel-tipped pen, solving online is quicker and much, much better for the solver who’s still learning to solve. The interface includes a timer, cumulative statistics for this week’s times (broken down by days of the week), and my personal best times for each day.

As you know, the puzzle starts easy Monday and gets progressively harder through Saturday. Sunday is the big puzzle, so it’s difficult that way, but the solving difficulty is usually the same as Thursday.

Until I started solving digitally, I was solving Mondays in twelve to fifteen minutes. I confidently solved most Tuesdays in fifteen to twenty minutes. I was about 50-50 on completing Wednesdays. I very seldom completed a Thursday, and considered myself lucky if I could get two good sections for Friday and Saturday.

Now, completing a puzzle is expected, no matter what day of the week it is, although I’m still learning. February was my first month ever completing puzzles for an entire calendar month. This is what my stats page looks like now.

T stands for this week. B stands for best. A stands for average. Ignore the B time for Friday; that was a glitch and I’m super annoyed about it. My real Friday B is nine minutes and change.

There are a couple of cheats. When you employ them, you break your solving streak. The puzzle tells you, when you’ve filled the squares, whether or not you’ve solved it. If you haven’t, you can keep working, and if you find and correct your error, the streak is still alive. This is why I sometimes differentiate between my “successful” solves and my “clean” solves. Clean solves are correct when I type that last letter. If I have to find and correct my errors, it’s merely successful.

For cheats, you can “check puzzle” which turns red any bad letters you’ve typed. You can also just “check square” and “check word.” If you’re at a total loss, you can “reveal square,” “reveal word,” and “reveal puzzle.” I hate when I have to reveal square! I really dislike having to check puzzle, but I accept I’m still learning and this is going to happen sometimes.

I’m just suuuuuuuper happy to know I don’t check puzzle as much as I used to. It’s usually two or three puzzles a month, usually a Saturday or Sunday.

My subscription lets me look back at all the puzzles I’ve done, including the ones I left unfinished. In my first year, that was most Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. I can complete these puzzles whenever, which I’ll often do on rainy bored days.

I also have access to the entire archive of puzzles. I don’t know how far back the archives go, because until recently I seldom went backward. The daily puzzle and the occasional rewind to finish unfinished puzzles was enough for me, especially with the Spelling Bee added to my daily routine.

But I’m solving the puzzles more quickly now, so for the past few weeks, I have gone back to work on old puzzles. This is March, so when I’m itching to do a puzzle, I look back to March 2020. I didn’t leave any puzzles unfinished. I actually don’t have to look; I did all the puzzles in 2020 and most of the puzzles in 2019. So now I’m back to March 2018.

This is what my archive looks like for March 2019.

Yellow squares are successful solves. Blue squares used cheats.

This is my archive for March 2020.

That blue square on a MONDAY drives me crazy! Aaaaaaaaack.

And this is what my archive looks like for March 2018, the archived month I’m working on this month.

I floated my pointer over Saturday the 17th so you can see that subscribers have options to download the puzzles for solving in crossword apps, or saving as PDF so the puzzles can be printed and solved on paper, with a Pilot Precise V5 extra-fine steel-tipped pen. Which I never do.

Thoughtful readers like anyone reading this probably ask why I don’t just solve the NYT crosswords in the local paper, especially since I subscribe to the local paper. It’s because the local paper’s puzzle doesn’t have a web interface. You have to save the puzzle as a JPG, print it, and solve it that way and the resolution of the JPG is crap.

Also: the NYT puzzle in syndication is six weeks behind the puzzle in the NYT. Yep. For years, this was fine with me, but since I’ve actively pursued improvement in solving these idiotic grids, it’s not great. Whenever I had questions about a puzzle, I’d have to look six weeks back in the crossword puzzle blogs (yes; that’s a thing) and I’d have missed the conversation (also a thing). Solving in real time is critical for participation in what I will very loosely call a community.

I pay a lot of money in total for content, but there is a very real chance that, if forced to pick only one, the last subscription standing would be the NYT crossword. Although I might cheat and subscribe to the NYT if it includes the puzzle. Because news junkie.

I know you, gentle reader, are thinking I must be done with this completely unnecessary detailing of my puzzle solving habit. But wait: there’s more.

The Washington Post puts an online copy of the Los Angeles Times puzzle on the games page of its website. In real time. The LAT isn’t quiiiiite as good as the NYT in puzzle quality, but it’s way, way up there. I mean, you’re pretty much looking at puzzles by the same contructors, only maybe these are the ones not quite making the cut at NYT. I honestly don’t know what professional constructors do when they spread their submissions out, but since the NYT is the standard, I’m guessing most of them submit there first.

It’s a great puzzle too, the the WaPo’s web interface isn’t as good. It also has a timer and the same cheats, but it doesn’t keep track of your stats. There’s one other tiny difference I won’t name because I’m trying to get over it.

No; I’m not quite done. The WaPo also runs its own Sunday-only puzzle, and I think it’s also free on its website. This one’s always by the same constructor, and he’s one of the best. Creative. Clever. Challenging but accessible. He has very high standards for keeping crosswordese out of his puzzles. The WaPo only keeps the most recent six Sunday puzzles online, though, which is a pain.

Lately I’ve been a little hyperfocused on the NYT, so I haven’t done the LAT or WaPo puzzles this year. I kind of wander away sometimes, as I’ve done recently, and then wander back.

Okay I’m done for now.

Street food cred

Since I did the Sunday puzzle Saturday evening, I worked a Saturday puzzle from archive. It was most satisfying.

Packed up and went to the office, stopping at the same Korean street food joint I got dinner from last Sunday. It wasn’t as good, and I knew it wasn’t going to be. I was just kind of determined to try something different, and I prefer my wings unsauced, which is what I got last week.

Still good though. And yes, I got the gimmai again. And learned how to say gimmai, thanks to the proprietor.

I sent another draft of the athletics proposal to the development officer, updated some software, and did a little bit of housekeeping. It was good time alone in the office. Oh, I also printed up the material I needed for my shot Monday and filled out the forms while listening to my Sunday podcasts (Meet the Press and This Week with George Stephanopolous). I hate filling out forms.

Came home, did some writing, ate some leftovers, watched the last two episodes of Ted Lasso, and zoned out. Turned in around 3:30. Argh!

I wanna text you up

There was some texting in the Suzanne-Cindy-Julie group text about the Oprah interview but I only participated passively. I had zero interest.

Texted Crush Girl to see if she’d seen the Critics Choice Award winners. I knew she wouldn’t respond Sunday, and she didn’t, and it was fine.

Hit me up in the comments if you need someone to connect with in these (hopefully) waning weeks of this pandemic. Don’t pandemic untethered.

“Why do we love puzzles?”
“It’s a way to control the chaos.”
(Kelly Macdonald and Irrfan Khan in Puzzle (2018))

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