28 November 2008

But wait, there's more ...

Glad you enjoyed my last post! Here are answers to questions :

Roxie asked : How was it done before? Multiple Scrabble sets and then patient copying onto graph paper, then typesetting, then excruciating editing?

Word search puzzles are actually not too difficult to write by hand (there's even a whole chapter in my Dummies book on how to do this!) - if you write your list of words out in grid paper, so you can see which letters come first, second, third etc, it's not too bad. You can write a medium-sized one from start to finish in an hour or two. The key is to avoid too many overlapping words.

Crosswords by hand - now that's a MUCH harder proposition!!

Chamber's Crossword Completer : Alternate Letter Word List
was (and still is) very helpful. It lists words by letter pattern (A_A_, then A_B_, then A_C_ etc; and then _A_A, _A_B, _A_C etc - up to 17 or 18 letter words), so you can use this to find words that fit into the puzzle (word search or crossword). Very good for compiling (as well as solving) crosswords. This is what I used when I started out writing crosswords, over 20 years ago!

Still Roxie : So, do you do five puzzles of one type a day, or is it better to mix them up and keep your brain fresh?

I mix them up, at most I'd do two of the same sort in one day. Some of the Quiz Words are so huge and complicated, I spend most of the day working on just one or two puzzles, which skews my daily tally (and makes me panic!).

Penny said : OMFG!!!! How do you do it without going insane??!!!

What is this going of which you speak? ;)

Emma said : What a cool post! I'd often wondered how it was done.

Glad you enjoyed it! Keep in mind that this is just how I do them (and there are no instruction books out there, as a puzzle writer you have to figure out the method for yourself). Many (most?) of word searches you'll find in puzzle books nowadays are entirely computer generated. The writer simply puts in a set of words, and the computer does the rest.

Programs can do an OK job of creating a word search, but there tend to be certain patterns within the puzzle (eg words starting with the same letter clustering together), and the 'back fill' letters can be repetitive. I think a hand-crafted one is better!

Here is one of my Winder Words under construction - this is the only puzzle type in the book which I still have to construct by hand, as the words twist around in right angles (not in straight lines). I don't know of any software that can handle this style puzzle, and it's too complex a job for Hubby to add into my software quickly. So it's back to the grid paper, pencil, and eraser, and counting letters!

Creating the finished artwork in Illustrator is also harder, especially the Answer file which I have to create by hand (in the program) rather than it being automatically generated by Project X.

The big challenge with these puzzles is to avoid multiple choices for a single word. The orange-circled letters are the starts of words. The tiny letters in the top of some squares are the letters which must NOT appear in that square, to avoid a particular word being able to be found along several paths. Even with this, sometimes it's unavoidable. I also have to check these by hand, which is a pretty tedious task.

Can you tell I've hit a bit of a wall? Two posts in two days, procrastination city .... I'm having trouble staying focused, getting to my daily targets at the moment, and am seriously exhausted. I can have a bit of time off this weekend, but also need to get work done both days.

27 November 2008

What I'm Doing

I thought you might be interested in seeing the process I'm going through for each one of the 253 puzzles in this book ... this is how I created the knitting-themed Hidden Word Search puzzle for Word Searches for Dummies :

1. First of all I have to write a word list of 'on topic' words. This is a plain text file in BBEdit, and generally has at least 200 words, and generally many more (up to ~2,000). To do this I scour the Interbets, use the lists and articles on Wikipedia, a good thesaurus or two, and other reference works. I need to clean up the lists so my puzzle program can use them - they have to be all lower case, with no spaces, accented characters, hyphens, punctuation etc. I use the Grep commands in BBEdit a lot.

Writing the theme word list can take anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours. The lists are a real asset to me, as I can reuse them in the future.

2. Next I open up a new puzzle in my custom software Project X, written by my pet programmer-extraordinaire, Hubby. (It's not available for sale, sorry, it's my professional advantage!). The naming system for the book is fairly complex and has to be accurate. I make sure the file name is correct and that the grid is the right size (17 x 17 for this puzzle) by checking my Excel spreadsheet of all the puzzles planned for the book.

3. I select the "knitting words" word list, and start adding words to the grid! The longest words go in first. As you can see, when I click on a square, the dialog box shows me all the words from my 'themed list' that can be put in the space. I choose the word I want (every word is chosen by me, none of them are placed by the computer).

4. As you can see, when the grid gets heavily filled in, there can be places where there are NO options (from the themed word list, anyway). At times like this, I'll try seeing if any words will fit from a different direction, or change words in the grid.

5. The grid is nearly full, and ready for the secret hidden answer to be put in! While writing I keep checking the word list, to ensure I don't put any words in twice, and that there's a reasonably good spread of starting letters across the alphabet.

I have 19 leftover letters, and luckily I find a great 'hidden message' right away. It is almost never this quick - it can take hours to find something apt that fits the spaces. Sometimes I end up adjusting the grid (adding or deleting words) to accommodate a good message. A lot of the time I start with a message in mind, and fill in the grid until I've got the right number of spaces left.

6. The hidden message letters show up on a brown background. The yellow dots mark the start of words, and the red dots are the ends of words.

7. Once the grid is filled, I have to check it. First of all I check for duplicate words against the puzzle's word list - this scan has revealed that the word knit occurs 3 times in the grid (and it gives me the coordinates so I can find them quickly). This particular duplication isn't a problem, thankfully, because I haven't put the word knit in the word list as a single word (it occurs as part of longer words). Other duplications can be a problem though, in which case I have to go back to the puzzle and change words, and recheck.

The last scan of the grid is against my 'rude words' list (yeah, that one was fun to write!) - it makes sure there aren't any swear words accidentally created in the grid. Again, if there is a problem word in there, I have to edit the grid (ie go back to Step 3) and try again.

8. Phew - all the scans are good, so I can start on creating the artwork. I save the grid as a PDF, and the Answer grid version as a PDF as well. The word list is saved and put into a Word document. I edit this final puzzle word list to put back the spaces, accented characters, hyphens and so on.

9. The PDF files are put into Illustrator - this is the Answer file (the hidden message letters are circled). I have a template file, and have programmed actions to process the graphics to be of consistent sizes and so on. These files are saved both as EPS (for the Wiley layout team) and PDF (for my editors) files.

10. As you can see, there are quite a few files for each puzzle. I package the finished set of files into a zipped archive, and e-mail it off to my lovely project editor Sarah at Wiley in Indianapolis. Then I go to my Excel spreadsheet, write a Hint for the puzzle (there is a whole chapter of Hints, one for each puzzle), write something (hopefully) witty for the puzzle's Title, note down the Hidden Message answer in another file, and mark the puzzle as done.

Next ...

This is just one of 8 different styles of word search puzzles I'm writing for the book - each one has different things I have to do (for example : Quiz Word Searches involve writing a quiz question for every word in the puzzle word list; Scrambled Words involve jumbling up each word in the final word list; and Story Word Searches involve writing a 450 word article first, running it past Sarah, and using the words from the final approved article as the theme word list to create the puzzle). I need to average 5 puzzles per day to meet the deadline.

26 November 2008

Aussie CafePress

Good news! CafePress now has Aussie (and UK and Canadian) shops - so if you go to my Knitting Art shop, and you're in Australia (or the UK or Canada), it should automagically default to Australian (or UK or Canadian) dollars, and postage costs will be LOCAL. This is a HUGE saving. Just in time for Chrissie :)

I just got myself one of these mugs, and I must say it is very lovely - the image is glazed properly, and all shiny and pretty.

One of these days, post-book, I will put brush to paper again, and get some new paintings up!

135 puzzles done, 118 to go. I have no life away from this computer ...

23 November 2008

The Postcard Project

I heard about Elizabeth McClung's Postcard Project through Olivia ... and was delighted to receive an email from Elizabeth within hours of writing to her (I suspect she never sleeps!). She is on a mission to send out a special custom-made postcard to anyone and everyone who needs or wants one - as a way of connecting, and a deliberate act of kindness. She is, quite frankly, amazing.

This is one of the postcards she sent to our family (we all got one!) ... pop on over and read about her project and you can ask for - yes - a special postcard!

18 November 2008

Greetings from Earth

I subscribe to G Magazine - and was thrilled to hear last week that a short note I sent in is going to be published next month! It's about how using a fountain pen (with a refillable ink bladder) is even more environmentally friendly than using pencils. As a thank you, they sent me a pressie! Some gorgeous cards, wrapping paper and gift tags from Earth Greetings! They are really wonderful, and all printed with vegetable-based inks on recycled paper.

Cute attack - this is Rincewind enjoying a cracker!

Q2 deadline has been met, now I'm into writing for my third quarter (75 puzzles in 3 weeks, again). At least I'm past the halfway mark. And I have a cover!

14 November 2008

A little bamboo

I'm making a little tank top using the purple bamboo (Lincraft Bamboozle) which was once, briefly, an Ogee Lace Skirt. Using the basic v-necked tank top pattern from Knitting Lingerie Style, and adding a lace pattern to the lower section to help the yarn go further. The lace pattern is the one from the Lacy Summer Socks pattern in the same book. It's lovely because it sits perfectly flat without blocking!

Am nearly halfway through The Book - my second quarter deadline is Monday. I'm seriously exhausted by Thursday each week, but have to keep going. My Technical Editor has started reviewing the puzzles, which is rather exciting (this is the job I did for Wiley on another book earlier on this year). Sorry, very brain dead here, can't think of anything clever or even interesting to say, or remember any news. Just wanted to reassure you I'm still alive! Nighty night!

Saturday Morning - War Time!

I'm trying very hard to set up a modest vegetable garden, I've made lovely no dig garden beds, lots of mulch, and have spinach, parsley, sage, mint, rhubarb, and so on already growing well. I've been raising seeds for summer crops inside, and when they got big enough, planted them out. Only to have them utterly chewed to bits by the next day! Aaargh!

At first I thought it might be cabbage white caterpillars ... I sprinkled with Derris Dust ... this helped a little, but didn't really stop the wholesale destruction that was now across the entire veggie garden, even the established plants were being attacked heavily! There were no shiny snail or slug trails either. See what I mean?

Last night Hubby and I did a midnight raid - took our torches out and checked the beds. WELL. Bloody EARWIGS! They were swarming over the entire garden, and clearly chewing away. Every plant had dozens of the little beasties all over them! I've never seen so many earwigs in one place! This poor doomed zucchini seedling (my baby!) had 10 on the job (I've circled them in orange).

So pyrethrum spray was next (yes, I sprayed immediately, around 11pm, catch the buggers unawares!). I did a bit of research online, and made a trap using oil and soy sauce, in a margarine container (holes around the top edge, put the lid back on, set down into the soil). This morning my few remaining seedlings (I think it's only the cucumbers left) are intact, hurrah! And I've caught some earwigs in my trap too.

I had no idea that earwigs could do this amount of damage to a garden, but there you go, you learn something new every day ... I had been noticing a fair few earwigs around, in the house and so on, but generally I don't worry about them too much. Obviously this 'glut' of earwigs isn't helpful for a veggie garden, though! Hopefully now I can counteract and get my veggie garden growing again!

(ETA to fix the link to Earwigs)

05 November 2008

Springing Forward

Despite working like a mad thing on The Book (7 am to 7 pm most days!), I do get a bit of knitting time in front of the telly most nights.

Who'd have thunk it - when you work regularly on one project (my Spring Forward socks), they get finished quickly! The first sock is done, and I'm only about 6 cm off the end of the second one ....

Here's how to knit the heel flap using magic loop ... just back and forth as you'd expect, with the instep stitches sitting there quietly, waiting their own turn.

And checkout today's Questionable Content! LOL, infinitely recursive spacetime doilies and cashmeredynamics!

When I need a break from writing I've been working on this Escher jigsaw - FINALLY finished yesterday; I think it took a month! A tad insane, all that black, grey and white!

A few weekends ago my sister, her hubby and young Ben came over for a picnic - it's still such a novelty and a wonderful treat having them living in the same city as us! Ben (who is nearly 3!) helped put the candles in his daddy's birthday cake ... what a cutie. He's still not really sure about me, I think I sound too much like his mum, so he's very shy - but we're slowly getting there.

And finally - CONGRATULATIONS to America on voting in Obama - we're utterly thrilled! A momentous day.

OK, back to puzzles. All the text is written (I'll see it all again in January, during the Author Review). Puzzle tally : 67 written, 165 to go! In 7 weeks.