John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

Ranking the Wisconsin State Journal's puzzles

1. Daily Crossword. Crosswords are the best kind of puzzles, and the Journal runs a good one: the Los Angeles Times crossword. It's a high-quality crossword, with solid fill, clues, and themes. (And their Saturday themeless is good too.) It's not the New York Times puzzle, but what is? It earns bonus points because the features editor went to the trouble of ordering it from the Tribune Media Syndicate instead of using the super-terrible crossword offered by Universal Uclick, which syndicates all the other features on the page.

2. Wonderword. Wonderword is a themed word-search puzzle with a twist: when you found all the words, the remaining letters spell another word related to the theme. The puzzles aren't particularly difficult, but with a 15x15 grid, it takes some time to finish, giving it a certain meatiness. Points off for sometimes having a word in the grid all of whose letters are shared with other words. This wouldn't be a problem in a normal word search, where you circle the entire word, but the recommended way of solving Wonderword puzzles is to circle each individual letter, which makes it much easier to find the bonus word. The problem with that is that you can waste a lot of time looking for that one word you haven't crossed off your list if you've already circled all the letters of that word.

3. KenKen. The Journal runs two KenKens each day, a 4x4 and a 6x6. Neither is very difficult -- the 4x4 is particularly easy -- but they're a nice palette cleanser of sorts between puzzles.

4. Jumble. The Jumble is more apt to make me feel unaccountably stupid than any other puzzle on the page. I'm a pretty good Scrabble/Words with Friends player, so a scrambled-word puzzle should be a snap, but sometimes a word just eludes me for no reason I can MAHOTF. (Yes, I'm ranking it lower because sometime I have trouble solving it. This is also true of the next two. Sue me.) Plus I like bad puns as much as next guy, and the "surprise answer suggested by the cartoon" is usually good for a groan.

5. Cryptoquote. The reason the Cryptoquote doesn't rank higher is that sometimes they'll choose a quote by someone whom I've never heard of who has a letter (or multiple letters) in his or her name that appears nowhere else in the puzzle. The other day, for example, the enciphered quotation was by Baltasar Gracián, a 17th-century Spanish Jesuit priest and philosopher. I decoded the quote without too much difficulty, but was left with _ALTASA_ __ACIAN. _ALTASA_ really couldn't be anything but BALTASAR, but how can you get GRACIAN if you've never heard of the guy -- and I'm going to go out on a limb and say that most people haven't, though perhaps I'm projecting -- and there are no other Gs in the puzzle? I remember another one where I got everything except the middle initial. It was particularly frustrating because it was one of those instances where I recognized the first and last name just by the letter pattern. (Which just happened this morning, actually. For future reference, FSTZX EGZU ASSDFSZ is HENRY WARD BEECHER.)

6. Sudoku. I don't like sudoku puzzles very much. Also I'm not very good at them. I can solve them up to about midweek, and occasionally I can work through a four-star puzzle, but I usually don't even try the five-star ones. (Bizarrely, the Journal ranks difficulty on a scale of one to five stars, but there are two different kinds of five-star puzzles. Five solid-black stars is less difficult than five stars with a black outline and a white inner outline. Why not call those six-star puzzles? Got me.)

7. Whatzit? This is a very simple rebus puzzle. Its main value is that the Journal leaves a lot of white space between the puzzle and the solution, which is useful work space for solving the Jumble.

8. The Aces on Bridge. This is basically just wasted space that could be filled with, jeez, pretty much anything. Even the Universal crossword. I don't know, get back to me when I'm closer to the average age of American Contract Bridge League members (67 years old) and maybe I'll have changed my tune.
Tags: crosswords, wisconsin: madison

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