Grant's Review Corner: Volume 9

First, an update on the previous edition of Grant's Review Corner: the puzzles I was paid to write for Kakuro Conquest have not appeared yet in almost two years. However, I have signs of life from the other end, and have decided not to post the puzzles here, and instead to wait for them to appear on Kakuro Conquest for my readers to enjoy there. (Maybe I'll post them on here if said readers want to print them out.)

My mother, a breast cancer survivor, has experienced a phenomenon called "chemo brain" where one suddenly loses a great portion of one's mental faculties after chemotherapy. While she has been intending to get her brain active again using books like this one, it seems that her hectic schedule makes this impossible without my active involvement in encouraging her and finding puzzles she can actually do. I can't really gripe about finding this excuse to spend quality time with her; I enjoy watching light bulbs go off in people's heads from time to time, and some of the simpler puzzle types in this book have provided such experiences. Maybe I'll get a finger on how to write puzzles that she can enjoy and other people can enjoy, too (which will become easier if somehow I can train her to solve harder puzzles, such as easy Sudoku puzzles). However, my mother recently got herself a different book which, after working one puzzle together, I've felt the need to vent about. Hey, blog content!

This is the cover of the book Mom got. On the positive side, the "for Dummies" series was responsible for helping me learn about WordPerfect and Windows growing up; I actually read those books for fun. (Ahh, WordPerfect. We thought you were the best, and then we learned that we could do word processing without even paying money with OpenOffice, my preferred tool for the job nowadays.) On the downside, we have Timothy Parker, who is famous for doing work for the lackluster game show Merv Griffin's Crosswords and, as a crossword editor, allowed puzzles with two-letter words, unchecked letters, and divided grids, which are a big no-no in crosswords (unless you have a good reason, such as a puzzle that revels in rule-breaking as its theme). I don't always agree with Eric Berlin's philosophy, but this post by him summarizes why the name Timothy Parker might make some puzzle experts cringe here. A puzzle community contact has said of him, "Timothy is to crossword editing as I would be to Hollywood-style stunt driving, if I was determined to do it my way and not listen to anyone else." I consider this about as scathing of a comment as the time I said I'd rather play Minesweeper with real-life mines while dodging durians, so despite what I'm sure are good faith efforts on Parker's part to be a good contributor to the realm of puzzles, perhaps he's not cut out for the job. (Of course, people who are bad at their job often improve, and I hope someone can point to evidence that Parker has improved significantly so I don't feel as bad sullying his name.) [Edit 2017-01-22: You will note that this article was written years before Timothy Parker's crossword plagiarism scandal turned him into quite possibly the single most hated name in puzzledom.]

Notice the lovely Target Sudoku on the cover. The goal of Target Sudoku is to place numbers 1-8 in the grid so every ring of the grid and every pair of adjacent slices contains the numbers 1-8. It doesn't take long to realize this is equivalent to solving two independent 4x4 Latin squares (not Sudoku, because there's no box constraint), which is only made challenging (at least, for the beginning solver) by the awkward presentation. There's an entire book of Target Sudoku for Dummies, which reeks to me of "we wanted to cash in on Sudoku without quality". Yawn. Also, what the hell is a 9 doing there? We also see a pedestrian word search grid and completed crossword grid (which thankfully doesn't correspond to a puzzle in the book, or else it would defeat the point of the answer key being inside the book).

After a million pages (or a dozen) about the importance of exercising the brain and some URL's to visit for the purpose, we get into actual puzzles. We start with four pedestrian "logic puzzles" of this variety:
The intended answer to this chestnut is that Alexander juggles the gold, which doesn't quite mesh with actual science. I think the better answer is for Alexander to pull out his magic map to get to the other side, as in King's Quest. All magicians have magic maps, right? (Also, if you're an idiot like me and wondering why magicians are expected to juggle, read this.) There's also that classic puzzle about two people being born on the same date not being twins because they're part of a set of triplets, which is like saying a figure isn't a quadrilateral because it's a square.

Then we get four riddles; I'm not a riddle fan, for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. Either I find them too easy or too hard, and without the luxury of chipping away at a solution gradually, it doesn't feel like progress comes quickly. I won't count this against the book, since it's personal taste more than being flawed.

Next are eight cryptograms. In case you forgot, here are the rules.

Two of them in particular strike me as terribly edited, having accidentally spied the solutions (thanks for not having a buffer between the last puzzle and the answers, guys!).
I think it should be a sin to publish cryptograms without ample space between lines to write one's answer. Plus, the hyphen in IGLJAQMXT doesn't belong there (if you solve the cryptogram, you'll know why), and puzzle 14 forgot the rule that a letter can't represent itself, which is glaringly obvious because my first instinct was that the single-letter word A must really be I. (A actually stands for itself.) The presence of cryptograms isn't entirely unwelcome, but the presentation is lacking.

Next are some word scrambles, and here's the one that reeks of bad editing:
First of all, this anagram goes in the wrong direction; one should start with an anagram (like CASH LOST IN 'EM) and end with a familiar phrase (SLOT MACHINES), not the other way around. That's just how they work the best. Also, note how the line breaks foul up everything and make it CASH LO STIN'EM. I didn't know STIN'EM was a word.

Next are four pedestrian word searches, about which I'll only say this: pick a font and stick to it!

And finally, here's the one puzzle my mother and I actually solved together: a crossword. I'll attempt a Rex Parker impersonation here to present my opinion.
Constructor: I assume Timothy Parker himself?

Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: Female parents  — many different names for a female parent (MOTHER, MAMA, MAMMY, MOMMA, MOMMY, MAMMA, MOM).

Theme answers:

  • 20A: Nobel Peace Prize winner of 1979 (MOTHER TERESA)
  • 29A: Really big singer? (MAMA CASS)
  • 38A: Al Capp's Pansy Yokum (MAMMY)
  • 43A: House owner in a Martin Lawrence comedy (BIG MOMMA)
  • 51A: Term of endearment (MOMMY DEAREST)
  • 29D: "____ mia!" (MAMMA)
  • 38D: Maternal palindrome (MOM)
 Word of the Day: MOUE (53D: Pouty look) —
Definition of MOUE :  a little grimace :  pout / Origin of MOUE French, from Middle French — more at mow / First Known Use: 1850 (m-w)
I'm middling on these theme, since a lot of the affectionate nicknames for a mother are so similar, making MOTHER feel like an oddball in this context. Also, the theme entry MOM isn't symmetrically opposite another one, almost as though it wasn't intended as a theme entry. The grid is solid for an ordinary crossword, but this is supposed to be an "easy" crossword in a "for Dummies" book. I have no idea how much has to do with my mother having chemo brain, seeing as it took her 6 minutes to recall that the religion that Muslims follow is ISLAM (49D: Sunni religion), and she even suggested the facepalm-worthy BUDDHA. This is definitely harder than the crossword we did in Brain Games, where I probably did 8% of the grid filling-in and not 30% of it. I'm no dummy, but I had to look up MOUE to make sure it was a word. Also, do LOAMS and OMPHALOS really belong in a crossword aimed at dummies? My mother hasn't even heard of IAMBS before, and I assumed those were common knowledge. I lack the TEMERITY to task my mother with the "Tough" crossword if this is "Easy".

The cluing reeked something awful in a couple of spots; Term of endearment for MOMMY DEAREST irked me because of the obvious etymological cousinhood via the word DEAR, and I'm not fond of answers appearing in other clues, such as ONCE in 45D: "Once upon a midnight ____. . .". Please tell me I'm just a terrible judge of crosswords, and these clues are all right.

In closing, we get two Sudoku puzzles, a Tricky and a Tough (why put these in a "for Dummies" book when you don't have room for a bunch of easy puzzles for warming up, or solving techniques to aid the new solver?), and three pointless Target Sudoku.

Can you see why I'd confiscate this book to review it after solving that crossword? I think such a small book needs fewer pages of fluff ("this is why you should use your brain") and more puzzles, perhaps of a particular focus instead of paltry amounts of various types. Also, the book should probably be bigger.

In closing, please follow me on Twitter so you can retweet amazing tweets like this one.


Alex said...

I also notice the puzzle on the cover has a "phrases ending in a 'doo' sound" which is fine, but there's a clear dupe of the non-theme AS I DO with the 3-Down themer, which I assume is DERRING-DO. Maybe it only bothers me.

Glenn Dallas said...

I think your assessment is SPOT-ON. That is not an easy puzzle, and such repetition between clues and entries just smacks of lazy construction. What a waste.

Grant Fikes said...

Glenn Dallas: Thanks for the feedback and the confirmation that I'm not crazy. Honestly, I think the difficulty of this puzzle would be fair if it were in a different publication and the MOMMY DEAREST and ONCE issues were fixed. However, in this context, it's too hard for the target audience, and I can state this from experience because my mother and I have solved easier (but still well-made and entertaining) puzzles together.

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