Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Acrostic puzzle for August

The quote is from a book by a well-known British author, published just this year. The theme is artificial intelligence. Happy puzzling!

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Solution to the July acrostic

"On Monday, the meetings were closed, so we all got on with maintaining the Biosphere. On Tuesday morning I was putting extra fodder in the animal bay when Gaie walked over to me. I watched as she collected a big wad of saliva in her mouth and spat in my face. She turned and walked away without a word."

[Jane] Poynter, The Human Experiment

A. Padawan
B. Own goaled
C. Yawning chasm
D. Nottingham
E. Trewsbury Mead
F. Eaten away
G. Ravaged
H. Take in
I. Howling wind
J. Established
K. How doth the little crocodile
L. Undecided
M. Murgatroyd
N. Aedes
O. New Moon
P. Edie
Q. Xanthelasma
R. Potter Heigham
S. Eiffel
T. Rain shower
U. In focus
V. Mainstay
W. Eastview
X. News pool
Y. Think about it

Conflict between Jane Poynter and Abigail Alling in Biosphere 2. I very occasionally cheat to make an acrostic work, and this is one of those occasions. I had to add the word "extra" in order to get an X, needed because of "experiment" in the title.

Friday, July 5, 2019

The three phases of acrostic compilation

        As I've now compiled 26 puzzles using computer-assist, I've come to recognize three distinct phases in the process, which generally takes about 8 to 10 (non-continuous) hours.

        I like to start with the average target length of clue words at 10, or thereabouts. Since the ideal length of the author/title string is 26 (A-Z) that means an ideal quote length is 260, obviously. I have a bank of interesting words or expressions that I'd like to use some time, and PHASE ONE consists of looking for 2 or 3 long ones from that bank that would be suitable. By "long", I mean 20 characters or even more. I've used The kindness of strangers which is 22. One day I'll find a place for Much Binding in the Marsh, 21.

        So having put in, say, 60 characters in three clue words, that reduces the average target length to (260-60)/(26-3) = 8.3 characters. So begins PHASE TWO.

        In this phase I pay very close attention to the letter frequency tables, telling me what letters I'm short of and, much more important, what letters I really must use if I don't want to be left with an impossible number of them in the end-game. I can still use my word bank but I'm very unlikely to find words longer than 10 that meet the requirements. So the task here is to think up another 18 or so words that a) preferentially use the letters my tables say I have a surplus of, and b) gradually reduce the target word length from 8.3 to 6 or 7. Letters in surplus are almost always H and T, sometimes A and E, but I'm cautious about using lots of vowels at this point.

        PHASE THREE is the end game, typically with six short words to create from about 40 letters. At this point my word bank is useless. I sometimes get help from an online anagram-maker, but it only deals in single words and I can't specify a starting letter. The technique is to try anything that comes to mind, and never be afraid of deleting words created during phase two if by so doing I farm useful letters. The long ones from phase one are pretty well set in stone now, because deleting one would increase the target word length too much.

        Useful things can be done to get rid of single letters if that helps. Of course I can use Ss to pluralize, and Ds to make past tenses, but it gets more subtle than that. For example, I had a pesky R I didn't want, so I changed IN FACT to INFARCT. Problem solved. One thing's for sure—if at this point I'm left with only as many vowels as words to create, I can't win. In practice at least 10 of the phase three letters need to be vowels.

        In the July acrostic, the phase one words are E, H, R. Phase 3 words H, P, W. Some late tweaking happened to B.

Monday, July 1, 2019

An acrostic for July

This 238-letter quote is from a book written in 2006. I had to do a slight cheat, adding a word to the quote in order to provide a letter (a Scrabble 8-pointer) that was required by the author/title but was nowhere in the quote as written. I excuse myself because this is such a super quote, revealing a situation not many people are aware of.