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Word Salad

Kosman and Picciotto on their Nation puzzle, cryptic crosswords, wordplay and puzzles in general.

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Puzzling resolutions

[First, three links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines
• A Nation puzzle–solver’s blog where you can ask for and offer hints, and where every one of our clues is explained in detail.]

The new year is already a few days old, but there’s still time to mark the turning of the calendar in the traditional fashion: by making New Year’s resolutions. Naturally, we intend to eat less and exercise more in 2013 (as with so many other tasks, we’ve decided to split those two between us), and one of us has already cleaned his desk. But we also have a spate of resolutions for the Nation cryptic.

• First and foremost, we’re going to try harder to vary the types of clues found in the puzzle. The traditional standbys—anagrams, charades, double definitions and so on—will always constitute the backbone of the puzzle, but beyond those there is plenty of room for variety and experimentation.

In one of our earliest puzzles, for instance, we built a clue around the old wordplay gimmick known as the Tom Swifty. That seemed like a productive avenue, but we never returned to it. More recently, we’ve begun using the letter bank (a type of wordplay popular in the National Puzzlers’ League) as the basis for cryptic clues; more on that in a future blog post.

• Learn from abroad. For all its fecundity and bursts of brilliance, the practice of cryptic crosswords in the United States remains fairly limited in scope. Puzzling traditions from other countries can be a vibrant source of new ideas, and we’re going to redouble our efforts to import those ideas into our puzzles.

• Listen to feedback from solvers. The whole point of this exercise is to spread joy and contentment. If that’s not happening, then we’re not doing our job. So we take solver feedback very seriously, starting with our ten or so test solvers. That doesn’t necessarily mean following every suggestion, but when solvers speak with something close to one voice, it’s easy and important for us to take heed; we aim to give them more of what they want, and less of what they don’t.

• Ignore feedback from solvers. This goes hand-in-hand with the previous resolution—in a complementary fashion. Much of the feedback (as in last week’s Letters page) is mutually contradictory (“Easier puzzles!” “Harder puzzles!”). It’s the welcome hubbub of an impassioned conversation, and it’s something we love to see happen. We take it to heart when it seems helpful to do so, but less so when we are being chastised for not being someone else, or for deviating from perceived dogma. Ultimately, we must pursue our own sense of how to make the best puzzle we can—which leads directly to our last resolution…

• Have fun. There’s nothing more important in this realm, either for us or for you.

Got any puzzlers’ resolutions for 2013? Please share them here, along with any quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle or any previous puzzle. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen.

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