# A PuzzleNation First Look: Setka

Making a new puzzle is challenging. You have to strike a balance between established solving styles (those that are familiar and effective) and innovative twists, mechanics, and variations, all without making the puzzle too convoluted, too tedious, too easy, or too hard.

In the world of crosswords, some variant success stories include Double Trouble, cryptic crosswords, Brick by Brick, and diagramless. With Sudoku, there are variants like Extreme Sudoku (aka X-Sudoku or Diagonal Sudoku), Samurai Sudoku, and Word Sudoku.

I’m always on the lookout for new puzzles and variations to try out, so when the folks behind Setka contacted me, I was more than happy to try out their puzzle brand and explore their signature attempt to combine Sudoku and clued-puzzle elements.

In short, Setka puzzles start with a single word. The consonants of that word not only form the answers to the clues, but also provide the letters to place in the accompanying grid.

For example, if the starting word was INFORM, the key letters would be N, F, R, and M. Every clue answer would feature one or more of those letters. The answer words, like the starting word, ignore the vowels. So you could have answers like NeaR, MoRoN, or MaiNFRaMe. (In the case of duplicate letters, like ReRaN, any duplicates are dropped, so the key letters here would be RN.)

And since there are four letters, there would be an accompanying 4×4 grid for you to fill in, where no letter is repeated in any row or column, Sudoku-style.

To place the letters, the clues are numbered, and the relevant cells in the grid are numbered to match. So, for NeaR (let’s say it’s clue 2), there would be two neighboring cells in the grid with a number 2 in them, and you could place the letters as RN or NR. Words that are three letters or above can read backward, forward, or in an L-shape in the grid.

This mechanic separates Setka from other clued or letter-placement puzzles, because you need both the clue answer AND the Sudoku no-repeats rule in order to complete a grid. Without the clue answers, there can be alternate solves where grid letters swap. And without the Sudoku-style placement, it would be virtually impossible to actually place the answer letters into the grid, because there’s more than one way to do so.

The cluing style alternates between standard crossword-style clues (but usually longer and a little more conversational or trivia-based) and fill-in-the-blank clues. The clues also fit the theme established by the starting word. For instance, the clues above all have to do with kids, which fits the puzzle’s theme word, CHILD.

It takes time to get used to seeking out answer words from the given consonants (since you have to supply any vowels or duplicate consonants missing in order to come up with the correct answer word), but once you’re a few puzzles in, it becomes second nature and a fun component to the solving experience.

Setka puzzles range in size from 4×4 to 7×7, with its signature size being 5×5. Honestly, 5×5 is really where it becomes a proper puzzle. With a 4×4 grid, once you have a few letters placed, it becomes an elementary logic puzzle and you don’t really need the clues.

[A selection of Setka sizes and themes.]

The puzzle itself is reminiscent of another puzzle we tried late last year — Cluedoku — but Setka’s letter-based theme and smaller grids make for a far more sustainable puzzle going forward, and the mechanic of placing the words in the grid (rather than just individual letters/numbers) adds an intriguing wrinkle to the solve.

All in all, I enjoyed trying out Setka — I solved a half-dozen or so puzzles to get a feel for different sizes and difficulties — and I think they’ve forged an engaging and clever combination of crossword-style cluing and Sudoku-style solving.

You can try Setka for yourself on their website, either playing interactive versions of Setka on the site or printing and solving PDF copies of Setka puzzles. They also offer a subscription where you can receive a Setka puzzle each week along with news and updates.

What do you think of Setka, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.

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# A crossword like you’ve never seen before

When someone sends me a link, claiming they’ve uncovered the most difficult crossword they’ve ever seen, I’m usually skeptical.

I mean, I’ve seen some diabolical crosswords in my day. From puzzle 5 at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and the meta-puzzles lurking in Matt Gaffney‘s Weekly Crossword Contests to the Diagramless and Double Trouble crosswords offered by our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles, it’s hardly tough to find challenging crosswords these days.

But this puzzle, originally created for the 2013 MIT Mystery Puzzle Hunt and made solvable (and rotatable!) online by Greg Grothaus, might just take the cake:

As you can see, there are clues across three sides of the hexagonal grid: the across clues, the down-to-the-left clues, and the up-to-the-left clues.

But these clues are unlike anything I’ve seen before.

It turns out that these are regexps, or regular expressions, sequences of characters and symbols that represent search commands in computer science.

Now, anyone who has used graphing features in Excel or crossword-solving aids on websites like XWordInfo, Crossword Tracker, or OneLook is probably familiar with simple versions of regexp. For instance, if you search C?S?B?, you’ll probably end up with CASABA as the likely top answer.

Of course, the ones in this puzzle are far more complicated, but the overlapping clues in three directions make this something of a logic puzzle as well, since you’ll be able to disregard certain answers because they won’t fit the other clues (as you do in crosswords with the across and down crossings in the grid).

But if, like me, you don’t know much about reading regexp, well then, you’ve got yourself a grid full of Naticks.

If anyone out there is savvy with regexp, let me know how taxing this puzzle is. Because, for me right now, it’s like doing a crossword in a foreign language.

But I’m not the only one who feels this way. When I first checked out the post on Gizmodo, they titled it “Can You Solve This Beautifully Nerdy Crossword Puzzle?” and I laughed out loud when the very first comment simply read “Nope.”

Glad to see I’m not alone here.

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