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Etcetera #36: Picross, Villain HQs, Instrument Architecture

Matthew Culnane
Matthew Culnane
Hello. It may be a symptom of my immedicable brain worms that when I immerse myself in a particular puzzle format its strategy seems to take over how I view the world, and it jolts me when people experience or solve things differently.
I enjoy Wordle because it is so similar to many wordgames I have played or conjured over the years. But… what is this?
In the last decade or so I’ve gained an interest in cryptic crosswords, a type of puzzle where the rules are so intertwined with the clue and solution that it can seem impenetrable to outsiders—try following Stella Zawitowski if you want to learn more about how to approach the format. Each week Stella puts out clues to be solved as well as a solution for which she solicits clues. I am taken aback by the different ways people do the latter, even for short, everyday words—here’s a recent example.
More recently I have been knee-deep in nonograms. These are logic games that are visually and procedurally at the intersection of crosswords, sudoku and Minesweeper. The puzzle is an empty grid, with each square either left blank or filled in according to clues for each row and column. Once complete the grid reveals a picture of an object. For example, a 9x9 grid might have a row marked with the clue ‘2, 4’. This means that in that row of nine squares, there is a run of two consecutive filled squares and a separate run of four filled squares. All other squares are empty. You get a clue like this for each row and each column, and you use logic of the row-column intersections to complete the grid and get your image of a bottle of sake or whatever.
Without resorting to mathematical brute force there are a limited number of techniques to solving the puzzles, so it’s not like you can compare strategies with others as with some other puzzles and games. The interesting thing for me is that when solving a puzzle I enter a flow state unlike with almost anything else. I can zip through smaller grids, filling squares at rapid pace based on pattern matching with my previous experience without ever consciously thinking about it. With larger, more complicated grids I can sit there for extended periods of time, working through permutations and carrying potential contradictions in my head while time bends and distorts and suddenly it is two weeks later and I haven’t slept or eaten.
If this sounds remotely appealing (except the dereliction of personal and familial care) then try looking for games with ‘nonogram’ or ‘hanjie’ or ‘picross’ in the title. You’ll likely find them on any platform or app store. I play Jupiter’s Picross series on my Switch (they are also available on the DS family of consoles). If you have a Switch online subscription, you can also play an older Japanese game, Mario’s Super Picross, for free using the SNES application. There is a small amount of Japanese text but it isn’t a problem.
In the time it’s taken me to write this, my friend mentioned in the first link has progressed his Wordle puzzle by a further letter. There truly is no wrong way to play.

A Brief Compendium of Modernist Homes for Movie Villains with Flawless Taste
The Sheats-Goldstein Residence in LA, used in The Big Lebowski as Jackie Treenhorn's house
The Sheats-Goldstein Residence in LA, used in The Big Lebowski as Jackie Treenhorn's house
Architecture in Music — Charles Brooks Photography
The view from inside a 1780 Lockey Hill Cello
The view from inside a 1780 Lockey Hill Cello
Mobile Phone Museum - Catalogue
  • Matthew King on the dangers of space debris: “The flip side of space exploration is the same trail of garbage that seems to follow wherever humanity ventures. But in this case, the consequences are potentially dire—and on a planetary scale.”
  • An interview with Julia Cameron, whose The Artist’s Way I read sometime in the early ‘00s. It’s a book that’s part meditation on creativity, part practical guide to unblocking it—you may have heard of 'morning pages’, for example, one of her popular practices.
  • The history of Radiohead’s Kid A and Amnesiac told through the lens of Y2K and pre-millennial tension. (podcast, 54m)
  • Part 1 of a Slate podcast (58m) about Daryl Hall and John Oates. The duo falls in and out of fashion more than most, but their hits are undeniably great. I previously knew little about their early dalliances with different genres and their creative relationship with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp.
Public Domain Review
Detail from Claude Mellan’s The Sudarium of Saint Veronica (1649) — an engraving made by *a single line*! 🤯⁠

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Matthew Culnane
Matthew Culnane @coldbrain

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