Weekly status update [0054/????]

Beep boop.

  • I finished up Russian Doll on Netflix, which was absolutely fantastic and should be watched by everyone reading this. Yes, even you. I also started on season three of The Expanse now that it’s free on Amazon Prime and have been enjoying it quite a bit.
  • As rambled about at length earlier this week, I finished up the last of the Ezio Trilogy games this weekend and am not touching another Assassin’s Creed game until the remaster of III comes out in March. I’m not really looking forward to it–III is not a very good game–but I’ve already decided that I’m not going to be platinuming it, so the experience will at least be mostly casual rather than the completionist torture that the last few ended up being.
  • Most evenings have continued to be filled with playing Earth Defense Force 4.1 online with friends, which is actually a quite pleasant way to fill the time. I’ve even started streaming it on occasion, and several people have tuned in that aren’t personal friends. Exciting!
  • Time spent not on the television has mostly been devoted to reading. I finished up The Prestige, which was fantastic, then moved on to Wonder, which was a nice light read. Then I read In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan, which was so good. Like, seriously. So good. It’s a LGBT coming-of-age portal fantasy novel that’s way, way more than the sum of its parts, and I liked it so much that I did something I don’t know that I’ve ever done before: I read it twice. (I did read another book in the middle, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Moon, which sadly was neither part of his Mars trilogy universe nor particularly memorable.) I mean, I’ve re-read books plenty of times in my life; Greg Egan’s Quarantine is basically falling apart due to how many times I’ve read my copy. But twice in the span of three days? Never that I know of. So good.
  • Still puzzlin’.
  • There were mysterious clanky noises coming from the heat pump outside. It took a long time (too long) for my landlord to get someone out to check it, and by that point it was no longer making mysterious clanky noises. We shall have to see if it starts up again. I hate this particular song and dance.
  • Despite the fact that it was Valentine’s Day, I still managed to play a bit of Tabletop Simulator with a friend Thursday night. Won at Dominion, lost at Lost Cities.

Boop beep.

Weekly status update [0053/????]

To misquote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “It’s just some week, you know?” With one major exception, which I’ll put at the end even though it happened early in the week, because I like drama.

  • Most of which I spent playing video games. Most evenings involved the B-movie joys of Earth Defense Force 4.1. Late Thursday night I played Overcooked! 2 with a pair of friends who were couch co-op-ing it in Portland and a third friend back in Louisiana, and it works… amazingly well. So few games support a mix of same-room and different-room players, but Overcooked! 2 makes it seem easy. I’ll likely have more to say about the game later, but: it’s great, assuming you have at least one other person to play with. Lastly, I apparently got over the samey-ness of Assassin’s Creed very quickly, because I reinstalled The Ezio Trilogy and spent, like, sixteen hours yesterday playing Revelations. (That’s why this isn’t going up until Saturday; I was up until 6am playing.) It’s… fine? The controls still suck, but Istanbul makes for a fascinating setting.
  • Somewhere between board games and videogames lies Tabletop Simulator. We had the first of what will hopefully be many scheduled game nights with it on Thursday; only one other person showed up, but that’s fine, because there are plenty of excellent two-player games. (If you’re likely to be available at 6:30pm Eastern on Thursdays, hit me up and I’ll send you the appropriate Discord link.) TTS continues to be an utter mess to control, but the ability to play board games every week again makes me put up with its jank.
  • I’ve also been watching a bit of TV; specifically, Russian Doll on Netflix, via a recommendation from an old coworker. It is very good, at least to the halfway point. I should have finished it by now, but see above as to why I haven’t.
  • I picked up a book with a tiny bit more regularity this week than in several months prior. I’m about halfway through Christopher Priest’s The Prestige, which was made into one of my favorite movies of all time (and possibly my favorite Christopher Nolan movie). It’s a very different beast from said film, but quite good so far, even if not very far in I think I would have figured out one of the big twists in both works. (Of course, I know it from the film, so it’s a bit cheaty to say that.)
  • I’ve done puzzles again too. I’ve been working through a Japanese variety book from my favorite puzzle company, Nikoli, doing one of each type of puzzle before looping back to the start of the book. I’ve done 17 of each now, and the difficulty progression is real. When I started, the dozen puzzle types took me a total of around thirty to forty-five minutes to finish, or three to four minutes a puzzle. The last loop was over three hours, breaking fifteen minutes a puzzle, although really it’s one or two types that take me 30+ minutes along with some that are still pretty quick to solve. This is my regular reminder that puzzles are crazy cheap entertainment; I’ve put something like 20-30 hours into the book, paid ~$14 for it, and still have another 10+ hours to go.
  • The diet’s been very swingy recently, and I decided that–at least for the moment–the positive-feedback parts of having a scale outweigh the negatives of becoming a numbers-driven beast. So I bought one, and promptly got back on the wagon, and apparently lost 10 pounds in four days. A lot of that is excess water-and-waste weight, but still, it was the shot in the arm I needed to get back on the stick more consistently. And I have no compunction about putting the scale in the closet if it starts being a bad influence.
  • The major exception to the not-much-new: I did my taxes last Saturday, and was pleased to see I’d be getting money back from the federal government for the first time in years. And then… I got another W-2 on Monday, for a deferred compensation plan that apparently is tracked in a completely different way than I expected. Oops. Now I have to file amended tax returns for both the state and the IRS. I was in a flop-sweat panic for a while on Monday, until I did the numbers… and realized that it means the US Government owes me another thousand dollars because of the second W-2. With them owing me money rather than the other way around, I’m a lot less worried. I’m gonna wait until March to file the amended returns, just in case something else comes in… and I’ve learned my lesson about doing my taxes early, I guess. Bleh.

I’ve said before that I’m pretty change- and surprise-averse, and this week epitomizes that sort of thing: a lot of “much the same” along with one “oh sweet merciful deity what I have I done?” moment that makes the whole thing stick in the mind. At least for now. I’d say that a little variety is a good thing… but I’d definitely have preferred this been a dull week from start to finish.

Weekly status update [0048/????]

And thus ends my last full week back in Louisiana. Barring catastrophe, I’ll be back in Lenoir next Friday… and already missing the delicious food I’ll be leaving behind.

And friends and family too, of course. Mustn’t forget them.

  • The rate of boardgame play slowed down dramatically this past week, but I’ve still managed to fit in some more games of Dominion and even a round of Antike II. Tomorrow’s the yearly game night where we play bourré until the wee hours of the morning, a high point of every holiday trip back home.
  • The massive amounts of TV consumption, on the other hand, continued unabated. Watching the last season of The Americans was almost as good the second time around as it was the first; we then pivoted to two other shows which we’ve also finished. The first, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, was extraordinarily good. It’s an Amy Sherman-Palladino joint, and hoo boy is it basically everything I ever wanted in a TV show: non-stop Amy S-P comic hijinks, tons of gorgeous period detail, and copious use of the F word. Strong recommend. The other show is The Last Kingdom, one of the drops in the sea of under-advertised Netflix shows. I only learned about it thanks to a random Reddit thread, in fact. It’s basically a “real life” Game of Thrones-lite, set in the 9th Century in a pre-unification England. It’s good but not great, but the visuals are fantastic, the soundtrack is solid, and the action is engaging. Perfect holiday watching, in other words.
  • I’ve made a concerted effort on this trip to eat out less than I tend to when I’m back home, but I still have to hit up some of my favorite restaurants while I’m back in town. Honorable mention goes to the Central arm of Cafe Phoenicia, which has stepped up their game considerably over the last couple of years; it was good enough that I didn’t feel the need to go all the way across town for my usual Albasha fix. But the true winner of this past week was Fleur de Lis, my favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the world. I was compelled to write a snarky 5-star review for the place on Google Maps, but can’t find a good way to link it here; I trust your ability to find it. Also, order your pizza “well done” there. Your belly will thank you.
  • Even though I’ve been sleeping late most days, I’ve also been fitting in a bunch of naps in the early afternoons. And: naps are amazing. We should all nap more.
  • Not so much on the videogame or puzzle front; it turns out that sitting at my mother’s table doing puzzles is a rapid recipe for major back pain for me now, which… sucks. And I’ve just got better things to do (or, at least, more social things) than play solo on my PS4 while I’m here. That said, what little I’ve done continues to be effectively joint: an old puzzle game or two on my DS, or Picross 3D Round 2 on my 3DS.
  • After nearly twenty years of having essentially the same webhosting solution, I’ve moved my sites (including this blog, of course). It’s with the same ISP, Pair Networks, but I’ve switched to their modern shared hosting solution, as the plan I was on hasn’t actually been offered for years. The net result is that I’m going to save ~$100 a year and am actually on newer hardware besides. Other than a short service interruption early Friday afternoon, the transition’s been smooth, and as always their customer support has been nothing but highly responsive to the minor issues I’ve had. I had never changed over before due to time-value of money arguments, but with retirement my time’s become quite a bit cheaper, and my worry about the longevity of the old platform was steadily increasing. All good now! If you see any issues with this blog, please let me know.

I’ll likely be heading out early morning Tuesday or Wednesday; one of the nice things about being retired and driving here is that I don’t really have to decide just yet. I’ll post a quick update when I make it home.

Weekly status update [0047/????]

Sorry about the lack of a mid-week post. On the other hand: holidays.

  • Lots of time spent with family over the last week. My oldest sister and uncle stayed over at Mom’s for Christmas Eve, and we added my nephew and his SO for Christmas night, so it was a pleasantly packed house in the evenings. My younger-older sister and her spouse showed up for Christmas Day, and various other friends and extended family members drifted in and out of the house over the days. This is one of the nicest things about being “back home:” seeing everyone.
  • I’ve also played a metric ton of board games, mostly with the neighbors (and in particular their youngest son, who now works at the same place where I did as a student at LSU). He and I have played a bunch of two-player stuff, and we’ve played bigger games with more of his family. Some highlights are:
    • the new Dominion expansion (Renaissance), which I got for Christmas, and which feels like another Adventures/Empires level endeavor;
    • Evil High Priest, which came in right before I left to come home, and which is a solid take on worker placement with some take-that mechanics added in;
    • Spirit Island, a serious step up for my neighbors, but one that went over surprisingly well despite its length. (I’ve played it before, but am always happy to play it more frequently.)
  • I’ve also been watching TV with my mother, a long-standing tradition. We just finished the third season of Travelers last night, which left me really, really hoping they get renewed for a fourth season. We’re also watching the last season of The Americans together and are almost done with it as well. (If you read what I wrote before, you understand why I don’t mind watching it again.)
  • There’s been a bit of a puzzle/videogame combination thing going, in that what gaming I’ve done has been on my DS and 3DS; specifically, the Nikoli Nurikabe game on the former, where I only have ~15 puzzles (out of 300) before I’m finally done, and Picross 3D Round 2 on the latter, where I’m deep in the postgame. I’m on weirdly difficult puzzles in both, though, and have put them down for the last few days.
  • Food. So much food. A lot of it has been delicious junk food–I ordered a ton of stuff from the Tootsie company direct (link withheld so that I’m at least less responsible for your irresponsibility) and the usual Airheads and Gold-n-Chees)–but my mother is a fantastic cook and I’ve been taking heavy advantage of her culinary skills. I’ve actually only eaten out twice since I’ve been here, which has got to be a record low. There are too many tasty things to eat at the house to leave.
  • I’ve even done a bit of writing. It’s awful and private, but it’s writing nevertheless.

I’ll be hanging out mostly by myself for the next couple of days, while the family is off elsewhere, which is a surprisingly pleasant break in the middle of my visit. But I’m looking forward to them being back as well. All in all, it’s been a nice, if a bit hectic, visit, and one I look forward to continuing. There are lots more board games to play, after all.

Weekly status update [0045/????]

I could say that snow interrupted my plans, but that would require me to have plans to begin with.

  • That said, yeah, it sure did snow quite a bit.  I ended up stuck at home from Saturday afternoon until Tuesday morning.  Fortunately the power never went out, and I had procured enough supplies that it wasn’t a problem (in fact, I’m still working through said supplies–by which I mean junk food, of course–and it looks like I’ll finish just in time for my trip home next week).
  • I got the oil changed in my car Tuesday (which was honestly the only reason I left home that day; otherwise I would have waited until Wednesday… except see below).  Now my vehicle is as ready as I can get it for the long jaunt home.  I may have gotten stuck in the snow in the service station parking lot, but I won’t tell if you don’t.
  • We also had an extended game night Tuesday night, which meant I had to get rolling anyhow.  We played Terraforming Mars.  It was a fine, if underwhelming, experience.  The game is an engine builder, which is one of my favorite types, but honestly it just felt like it had way more surface complexity (and subsequently took a long time to play) without necessarily providing a lot more in the way of actual enjoyment.  I think the time would be better spent on three games of Race for the Galaxy.
  • Speaking of board games, we also had an “online game night” on Thursday.  Sadly several people didn’t actually get their setup tested beforehand, so what should have been a group of six people ended up being a group of three due to technical issues.  We played Dominion and Century: Spice Road, both of which I like a lot.
  • I finished up The Labyrinth Index, which was very good, if very dark.  I’ve intentionally not started anything new since.  I plan on bringing my Kindle home for the holidays, and probably reading several of the Wheel of Time novels on it while I’m there.
  • I’ve continued to play Tametsi off and on as, really, the only videogame I’m currently into.  It’s been scratching both the game and the puzzle itch.
  • It dawned on me Wednesday that the sixth (and final) season of The Americans might be on Amazon Prime Video at this point.  Sure enough, it was.  I ended up watching all ten episodes back-to-back, something I hadn’t done in ages.  The last episode was one of the best hours of television I’ve ever seen, and the season reaffirmed just how good the show was; I’ll be writing a “Here’s a Thing” for it sometime soon.  But, uh, just watch it if you haven’t already.

Tomorrow’s the holiday party, which I’ve thankfully managed to wrangle a ride for; I wasn’t excited about having to drive to Asheville this weekend and then an additional 13+ hours come Wednesday for the trip back home.  I’m already feeling apprehensive about all of it, but that’s pretty typical for me.  I’ll manage.  Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up my posting schedule while I’m back in Louisiana, but I make no promises.  In any event: still not bored!

Weekly status update [0044/????]

Another quiet week; I’ll try to be less blather-y than last time.

  • I finally finished Ash.  It was definitely worth the read, even though I probably did permanent damage to my eyesight with that damn book.  It’s hard to recommend, though, given its length… but I’ll recommend it anyway.  Gritty, clever, and moving, it made for a superb read.  And if nothing else it’ll take you ages and feel like an accomplishment when you’re done!
  • I’m now reading The Labyrinth Index, the eighth book in the Laundry Files series.  It’s very good so far, although the setting is very, very bleak (for reasons that are pretty major spoilers for the series as a whole).  Despite it being a much quicker read than Ash–how can it not be?–I find myself putting it aside constantly to do something else.  It’s not the book’s fault; it’s that I’m pretty drained on the reading front.  I’m gonna finish it in the next day or two, though.
  • As mentioned earlier this week, the puzzle stuff I’ve been working on with Krazydad went live on his site.  We’re now working on… something else, that may or may not result in further puzzling goodness.  Further news as events warrant.
  • I’ve continued to poke my way through Tametsi, which is fantastic but also intensely brain-burning.  After uninstalling all of the free-to-play stuff on my PS4, I… basically haven’t booted it up since, other than to buy the new Williams pinball table pack for Pinball FX3.
  • I finished up a book of sudoku puzzles I had been working on off-and-on for, like, four years.  Well, mostly finished.  The last three puzzles suddenly required a bunch of advanced techniques that the other 209 didn’t; I know how to do those techniques, mind you, but I felt it was a betrayal of confidence in the structure of the magazine and called it quits.  One down, a million to go…
  • I’m not really watching anything on TV right now other than keeping up with The Good Place.  You are watching The Good Place, right?  It’s fantastic.

This weekend looks to be very ugly here, with incoming snow-storms.  I’ve prepped as much as is reasonable and am heading to bed early now just in case.  Hopefully I just end up snowed in rather than, y’know, snowed in and freezing.  We shall see!

Ripples and effects

This is just a quick note: the puzzles that I’ve been working on with Krazydad–Ripple Effects, as made not-very-famous by Nikoli–went live this evening!  You can even solve them online, no need for a printer.  The online version can be found here, and if you’re the sort that would rather print them out and solve them the old fashioned way, the PDFs are here.  I will definitely be doing a Phil’s Puzzle Primer on them soon, so stay tuned, but there are instructions in both places that will help you get started.  Enjoy!  And you may even see more collaboration the two of us in the future.  We’re currently discussing a new puzzle type of my own devising.  We’ll see what happens.

This is the first of the super-tough puzzles.  I… strongly recommend you don’t start there.

Weekly status update [0043/????]

This week was even more low-key than last week, with one major exception.  And that’s fine by me.

  • I’m still reading Ash: A Secret History.  It’s very, very good, and also very, very long; I’m on page 716 as I write this, which is almost precisely two-thirds of the way through the book.  Most days I manage somewhere between fifty and a hundred and fifty pages.  It’ll be done soon, and it’s likely the last (physical) book I read this year; I’ll jump to my Kindle, because…
  • …the power went out at my house Saturday morning at 3am and was off until around 2pm.  It was cold.  I ended up bundling under two blankets on my recliner and starting the second Wheel of Time book on my Kindle, which was half-charged.  (Thanks, battery pack I still have from my job!  You kept my phone and my Kindle going.)  Fortunately the power did come back on before I had to find somewhere else to crash for the evening.
  • Most evenings have been spent watching Twitch, and specifically NickCapricorn, a small streamer who has been playing various classic games.  I do mean small; it’s not uncommon for there to only be one or two of us active in his chat.  But he’s a nice guy and he keeps up conversation… and he’s currently playing StarTropics, one of my favorite old NES games, for the first time.  It’s been a delight watching him do so very badly at it.
  • I continued working with Krazydad on the Ripple Effect implementation, by which I mean I wrote a bit of code and did quite a lot more test solving of puzzles while he messed with a bunch of parameters.  I suspect the new puzzle type will be going up on his website relatively soon, which is pretty exciting.  They’re not quite as good as human-made ones… but I now have code to generate an infinite number of them for the rest of my life, so that seems like a reasonable trade-off.
  • I’ve also continued to solve paper puzzles during the day, mostly as a break from reading Ash.  I’m only eight puzzles away from finishing this dang Sudoku book I’ve been working on for years.  (Of course, those eight puzzles are the hardest ones, and they generally take me half an hour or so to solve, so there’s still plenty of time left in there…)
  • And on the videogame side, I was turned on to Tametsi by folks in a puzzle-related Discord.  It’s basically “extremely hard Minesweeper,” and is very very good.  Also very cheap ($3).  I’m excited to work my way through it.  (It says that it’s Windows-only, but tametsi.exe is actually a Java JAR file, so if you know the proper incantations it’s perfectly playable on both Mac and Linux “natively.”)
  • I also put a lot of time into Let It Die this week, and particularly today.  No, I still haven’t beaten it, because I know when I do I’ll stop playing, and I still really enjoy the game hundreds (and hundreds) of hours in.  But I think I’m really, truly going to push to beat the game before I head home for the holidays.
  • After being a good boy for Thanksgiving, I utterly exploded the diet on Monday with some delicious pizza.  Well, lots of delicious pizza.  I ended up fasting for the rest of the week, breaking it this morning, which will hopefully help me get back on track.  I’ve already written off the holidays–in fact, I spent time yesterday figuring out which snacks I’m going to have shipped to my Mom’s house before I get there–so the better I do before then the less catastrophic my time home will be.  And then it’ll be back to the grind come January… but isn’t that what Januaries are for?

(As a side note, I managed to finagle the right bits to go to my old job’s holiday party one last time, mostly thanks to the efforts of a friend who still works there.  I’m looking forward to it; the party itself is always pleasant, but I started a tradition of playing card games and other fun easy group games in the lobby of the hotel until the wee hours of the morning after the party, and getting to do that one last time will be nice.  That’s not for a couple of weeks, though.)

…for a week where not a lot happened, I sure wrote a lot.  Huh.  I’ll try to be more brief next week.  Maybe my fingers just wanted to type a bunch again, now that NaNo’s over?

Phil’s Puzzle Primer: Sudoku

Sudoku gets a bad rap.

On the face of it, that might seem like an absurd thing to say.  Crosswords are the only type of pencil puzzle with more widespread appeal than sudoku, and they’ve been around a hell of a lot longer.  (Word searches are certainly a thing, but most serious puzzle people don’t take them very, well, seriously, for reasons we may explore some day.)  But in the same way that I was once told by someone I otherwise respected that they had “moved on” from things like ’80s pop music to more serious auditory pursuits, it’s easy to find people who–while they may have, once, seen the appeal–find no interest in the 9×9 grid of numbers that comprise this most common of logic puzzles.

Like Mr. Too-Good-For-Depeche-Mode, they are wrong.

Anyone surprised that the first image-heavy post on my blog (and the second to ever have images at all) happens to be about puzzles doesn’t know me very well.

Sudoku looks like it’s about numbers, but it really isn’t.  I had a discussion with my mail carrier a week or so ago; I had ordered some sudoku magazines that shipped in clear plastic wrap, so you could see the cover, and she admitted to me that she had never done a sudoku, had never even tried, because “it has something to do with math?”  You know exactly the face that she was making while she said that, too.  So much of our population is genuinely intimidated by math, which is a damn shame, but that’s yet another subject.  Anyhow, I explained to her how it actually works, and she lit up.  “I understand how it works now!”  She said that with the sort of shocked pleasure usually reserved for finding a forgotten fifty-dollar bill in a jacket pocket.

So, just in case, here: To solve a sudoku, you must put the digits 1-9 in the empty cells of the grid, such that each row, each column, and each 3×3 box marked out with the thick black lines has each digit exactly once.

That’s it.  That’s all there is to sudoku.

Of course, that’s not even remotely true.  Sudoku can be trivially simple, an exercise of writing in numbers as quick as you see the missing values, or it can be extremely difficult, requiring convoluted logic (and, in the worst cases, just flat-out brute force “let’s try everything” methods) to make even the slightest bit of progress.  And that’s not counting the roughly 1.21 giga-variations of the puzzle.  Those range from the most basic (a 6×6 grid, say, or a 16×16 ones) to bewildering mashups of multiple complicated rulesets.  Interestingly, while vanilla sudoku make no use of the fact that the symbols are the digits 1 through 9, many variations actually rely on that fact… bringing math back into the whole thing.

This is far from the most complicated multi-variant sudoku I’ve ever seen, but it’s pleasantly indicative of the format.  It was also made before some terms came to dominate the language around the puzzle.  That top-right one would now be called a “jigsaw,” for example.

If there are tragedies behind the worldwide explosion in popularity of the puzzle type, they have nothing to do with the form of the puzzle itself, which can be infinitely fascinating even in its most-basic form.  The first and ultimate tragedy is that the creator of the puzzle type, a Mr. Howard Garns, passed away in 1989 before the craze became multi-national.  He would no doubt have been delighted at the proliferation of the puzzle on bookshelves and in magazines around the world.

The second tragedy is more insidious, and is part and parcel of many modern puzzle types: most of the sudoku produced in the world are computer-generated, and it shows.  They have boring solving paths, or ones that are too tightly constrained, requiring one specific deduction to make any progress at all.  And there is an enormous glut of these boring puzzles, crowding out the good ones from easy availability.  It’s always cheaper for a computer to churn out a thousand puzzles than to pay a human to make twenty, after all.

The very first sudoku (well, Number Place) puzzles, dating from 1979.  These are laughably easy if you’ve ever solved more than a couple of modern ones, but of course the format was brand new then.  Also note that even the first puzzle was actually a mild variant!

 Here’s a confession: I used to look down on sudoku.  Although I strive to be an anti-hipster in all of my tastes, I was–I say this with shame–a puzzle hipster.  Sudoku was the super-popular one; my personal favorites, like Slitherlink and Fillomino, went basically ignored.  So clearly they were superior; clearly sudoku was for weak-minded fools who couldn’t bother to learn how to do interesting puzzles.

Don’t worry.  I got better.

That said, it’s very common for people to like it and, well, no other puzzle types, really.  I personally think that that’s something of a shame–there are so many good puzzle types out there in the world–but if you’re going to pick a puzzle type to focus on, you could do much worse than sudoku.

Getting started with sudoku

If you’re totally intimidated by the format and you want a physical book, start with Djape’s Sudoku for Kids (Amazon).  They’re computer-generated, but they start out at 4×4 and get bigger from there.  There are also several variations in the book (even-odd and X, primarily), which is a good primer on some of the more common alternate sudoku types you’ll see in the wild.

Alternately, install Simon Tatham’s Portable Puzzle Collection (Google Play Store | Apple App Store | Desktop) and you can dial the puzzle difficulty however you like it, from trivial 4x4s to diabolical 16x16s.  They’re computer-generated, so will never be great, but they have the distinct benefit of being free.

Getting good sudoku

…is actually quite easy despite the enormous numbers of cookie-cutter computer generated puzzles out there in the market.

Nikoli’s Original Sudoku series is easily available in the US (Amazon) at any major book-seller.  They are the company that originally popularized the puzzle, first in their native Japan and then elsewhere, and all of their puzzles are hand-made.

If you’ve done a ton of vanilla sudoku and want to stretch out a bit, Djape’s Loco Sudoku (Amazon) and its sibling Cuckoo Sudoku are full of variety, including 5-puzzle “Samurai” grids like the one above.  I’m also particularly partial to Thomas Snyder and Wei-Hua Huang’s Tight Fit Sudoku (Amazon), which has the distinct advantage of being cheap and small enough to fit in a purse.

If you feel like you’ve tapped out the vein of regular sudoku for being too easy, well, have I got the puzzle magazine for you: 超難問ナンプレ&頭脳全開数理パズル (Amazon.co.jp), which roughly translates to “Super Difficult Sudoku & Math Puzzles.”  The first puzzle in a typical issue starts at 4-star difficulty (out of five), and they go all the way to 6.  No, don’t ask me how that works.

The best overall sudoku-focused magazine that I know of is also Japanese; it’s ナンプレファン (Amazon.co.jp), or Nanpure Fan; or reasons I don’t want to get into, sudoku is called “Nanpure” in Japan by everyone but Nikoli.  Each issue has a good mix of classic sudoku and a bunch of different variants, along with a dash of random other logic puzzles.

Weekly status update [0042/????]

Ahh, the sweet return to normalcy after the pressure that is NaNo.

  • I don’t allow myself to read while I’m writing in November; it has a habit of over-influencing what I put on the page.  So, with the novel knocked out, it’s time to dig back in, right?  Well, yes and no.  I still had an enormous stack of books from the library that I had been renewing as I wrote, and when I was in the middle of reading the second post-NaNo one I realized that I kept glancing at that stack with trepidation, and (worse) I wasn’t even enjoying the book I was reading.  Not that it was a bad book!  It just felt like an obligation rather than, you know, the pleasure that reading should be.  Ugh.  So I bit the bullet and brought almost everything back to the library, knowing that I can check them out again in the new year at a more leisurely pace.  The only one I kept is Ash: A Secret History, which is famous for being the longest single-volume fantasy novel ever written.  It’s so long that the US printing is actually four books, but one of the libraries in Cardinal has the single-volume edition.  It weighs three or four pounds, easy.  So, yeah, I’m reading, and this is still a lot of book to finish in the next three weeks, but it’s just the one.
  • I’ve also jumped back into the puzzle books full-force, which has been nice.  I’m so very close to being done with a book of sudoku that I’ve been poking at off and on for something like four years, and my goal is to knock it out before I go back home for the holidays so I can swap it out for a new one.  Hopefully it won’t take as long.
  • As mentioned earlier this week, I’ve even been doing some programming, which has been nice.  I still want to jump into the rewrite of DXV’s Dudes of Stuff and Things, but I’m going to hold off on that until the new year, since I know I’m not going to work on it when I’m back home for the holidays.
  • Oh yeah, it was Thanksgiving this week, wasn’t it?  I went to a coworker’s house for the evening and made the (very hard, given my predilections) decision to not meaningfully stray from my diet, even though there were so many delicious carbs there.  So many.  But I felt better afterwards for staying strong, and I still got to hang out with friends for a while, so it all worked out.  (We also played CrossTalk, which is a fantastic family/party game.)
  • On a meta note, it seems like most of the problems with the new Gutenberg editor in WordPress have been fixed.  That’s nice!

The time when I travel back home for the holidays rapidly approaches.  I’m looking forward to it, to be sure.  If anything, Thanksgiving made me kinda excited to go back and see family and some of my old friends.  Soon!