Monday, August 15, 2022

Puzzle #183: Ghost Forest (with Brooke Husic)

This week I've got a collab with my frequent partner-in-crime, Brooke Husic (pdf, puz, pdf solution). Keep an eye out later this week for an even bigger puzzle with our byline! And if you want to solve more puzzles by me and Brooke but not ones that we made together, you should come to Lollapuzzoola on the 27th.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Indie puzzle highlights: July 2022

July 8: We Back (Themeless) (Ricky Cruz, Cruzzles)

July 17: focus on the details (themeless) (Ada Nicolle, luckystreak xwords)

July 19: Come Together (Emet Ozar, Crosswords Club)

July 19: invisible string (Lila Goldenberg and Rose Sloan, Crafty Crosswords)

July 25: Color Code (Alina Abidi, Lil AVC X)

July 26: You Complete Me (Jack Murtagh, Lil AVC X)

July 27: Turtle Island (Dob Olino and Kate Chin Park, crosswords schmosswords)

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We Back (Themeless) (Ricky Cruz)

Since he posts so infrequently these days, every Ricky Cruz puzzle is a special treat, packed with both creative fill (CHRONONAUT, FALL DAMAGE, WHAAM) and ingenious clues ([Harmonic motion] for CHECKMATE, [Made a top ten hit???] for HIGH-FIVED, [Comes down with something during a cold season?] for SLEDS, [Poetic units making up this clue] for IAMBI, [Maestro's area] for ESCUELA). In this puzzle, I particularly like the evocative conversational clues for common words, including ["We are buying this"] for NEED and [Correction to a statement that no longer holds true] for WAS.

focus on the details (themeless) (Ada Nicolle)

In the notes for this puzzle, Ada says that she's practicing her hard-puzzle skills, and indeed this is a style of wide-open grid with chunky corners that I'm not used to seeing from Ada. With the assistance of some asymmetry, though, she pulls it off with aplomb. The NW corner is the wild stack of BROWNIES/TOY POODLE/UNDERTALE/BEER MILER/STRAINERS. Elsewhere, there's the creative fill that I expect from Ada, including PHOTO SET, San FRANSOKYO, and LMK.  

Come Together (Emet Ozar)

I was idly thinking the other day that MAKE ENDS MEET would be a good revealer, but I couldn't think of a good way of implementing it. Then came along this puzzle, which cleverly uses diagonal symmetry to create four pairs of entries where the words ENDS meet at the end: THE BENDS/BARTENDS, PAY DIVIDENDS/FALSE FRIENDS, URBAN LEGENDS/MARKET TRENDS, and MAKE ENDS MEET/LONG WEEKENDS. In the last pair, they don't actually meet at the end, because otherwise the revealer would work, but this only makes the construction more impressive, since it requires two pairs of long overlapping entries in the SE corner. Both clever and architecturally intricate.

invisible string (Lila Goldenberg and Rose Sloan)

A lovely little 11x11 puzzle with a very entertaining cluing voice. Indie puzzles with long clues can sometimes drag over the span of a 15x15 solve, but this one's just the right size to be perfectly enjoyable. Clue highlights: [Create a cool hacking device that disables passcodes and laser grids, e.g.] for ABET, [Accessory that might be placed on an ear to denote a female teddy bear and a neck to denote a male teddy bear, because apparently even teddy bears are subject to the gender binary] for BOW, [It goes up to 11, in what is widely considered to be the worst "Star Trek" episode] for WARP SPEED, [What, according to the NYT, keeps a watch on you, proving them to be pocket watch haters] for STRAP, and many more. I also really enjoyed seeing RAVELRY and VEVO in the fill.

Color Code (Alina Abidi)

This is about the Platonic ideal of a themed midi, for me. It's got an original, tightly executed theme, plus great fill and cluing throughout. As the title hints at, the theme answers are phrases that are a programming language plus a color, with the clues being the syntax for how you'd print that color in the language. For example, RUBY RED is clued as [print "Sweet grapefruit variety";]. Aesthetically, I love the fact that all the theme entries (the others are GO GREEN and BASIC BLACK) are alliterative. The use of an asymmetrical grid allows Alina to maximize the amount of colorful fill, which includes BOUNCY BALL, CARBOLOADED, STYLE ICONS, and BAD KNEE.

You Complete Me (Jack Murtagh)

Lil AVC X is on a roll! This puzzle is only available as a PDF, which tends to annoy me as someone who doesn't currently have a printer hooked up. But on the other hand, PDF-only puzzles often have gimmicks that make it worthwhile, and this one is a prime example. The crossword resembles a JIGSAW/PUZZLE; various chunks have been removed from the rectangular grid and are clued separately as miniature puzzles. For example, the NW corner starts with ENDASH and NOODLE stacked on each other, but the END and second O have been removed, forming a mini-puzzle consisting of the words END and NO crossed. Finally, a big chunk has been removed from the middle of the grid, but is not clued separately - that chunk, aptly, consists of the words MISSING/PIECE. A beautifully creative use of the medium.

Turtle Island (Dob Olino and Kate Chin Park)

A lovely puzzle that includes the names of a couple dozen indigenous groups from North America in geographically appropriate locations within a grid shaped like North America. Both an architectural feat and a very thoughtful puzzle, particularly when it comes to the theme clues, which are varied, respectful, and interesting. This puzzle also includes the best-ever clue for UTERI: [Get ova here!].

Puzzle #182: Biased Opinion

Back to diagonal symmetry with this week's puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution). Happy solving!

Monday, July 25, 2022

Puzzle #181: You Are Here

Back with a new puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) that is quasi-themed? Quasi-themeless? Not sure, but the important thing is that it has exactly 69 words.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Puzzle #180: Clashing Colors

It's been a few weeks since my last puzzle, so here's a new one (pdf, jpz, pdf solution)! No .puz file this time, so there's a .jpz instead (and the PDFs are less pretty because I couldn't use Nam Jin Yoon's beautiful PDF generator).

Friday, July 1, 2022

Indie puzzle highlights: June 2022

June 2: THE MINION PUZZLE (meatdaddy69420, crosstina aquafina, and kate schmate, crosstina aquafina)

June 4: Colorado (Patrick Blindauer, Vox)

June 5: An Escalating Challenge (Ryan Patrick Smith, Real Puzzling Stuff)

June 17: Chasm No 12 (Themeless) (Ryan McCarty, McGrids)

June 27: themeless xxiii ("summer breeze #2") (Brooke Husic, xwords by a ladee)

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THE MINION PUZZLE (meatdaddy69420, crosstina aquafina, and kate schmate)

I, a 32-year-old man, unironically love the Minions, so a puzzle shaped like a Minion is a shoo-in for my writeups. But this puzzle happens to be very entertaining to boot, as you'd expect when it's created by a Triforce consisting of three of crossworld's most chaotic and funniest clue-writers. I can't even quote some of the clues here because the formatting is too zany (check out the clues for WALLS OF TEXT and ATE, for two examples).

Colorado (Patrick Blindauer)

It's not often that you come across a totally original theme that's nonetheless simple and elegant, but this is such a theme. As the title hints, you have to color the letters A, D, and O when they appear in the grid, and if you do so, you'll get a rectangle in the shape of the state of Colorado. Naturally, this involves two grid spanners that consist entirely of those letters - the Rolling Stones song DOO DOO DOO DOO DOO and DAD DAD DAD DAD DAD, clued as [Repetitive cry to a male parent]. That latter one might be faintly ridiculous, but of course it's needed to make the theme work, and as a dad myself, it's a cry I've heard many a time.

The really impressive thing about this puzzle is that by necessity it avoids A, D, and O in the rest of the grid. It's hard to enough to avoid a single vowel outside of the theme entries, so avoiding two vowels must have been exceptionally difficult.

An Escalating Challenge (Ryan Patrick Smith)

An auspicious start to Ryan's new blog! This one's got a wide-open grid, the kind of grid where there's nowhere for the constructor to hide, and yet it's both extremely smooth and packed with good stuff. I like the stack of CAPTCHA/SAMESIES/GURU NANAK intersecting CINEPHILE, but there's interesting stuff in every section, even the little 5x5 corners (SAHEL, T-POSE). It might be the stair-stacks of 6s that are hardest to pull off - it's easy to rely heavily on suffixes like -S and -ED when making those, and much harder to work in more varied fill like MEDLEY, FIDDLY, and HOT TIP.

Chasm No 12 (Themeless) (Ryan McCarty)

Another classic wide-open center from Ryan, with colorful stuff like ZAZIE BEETZ, LOCAVORE, CHATBOTS, FANFESTS, and TINDER DATE. Though Ryan's chasm grids are always impressive, the cluing in this one is equally impressive: [Word often seen before art in old manuscripts] is a clever way of cluing THOU, and I also love [Cannes cans] for DERRIERES, [Where you may meet your match?] for TINDER DATE, [Crypt keeper?] for URN, and [Takes a lighter course load?] for DIETS.

themeless xxiii ("summer breeze #2") (Brooke Husic)

For the summer, Brooke is taking a vacation from experimental clues, so we get a relatively breezy themeless this month. But her easy puzzles show just as care as her ultra-hard ones. There's very little wasted space here, with lots of great long entries like BEYCHELLA, IS IT THOUGH, FLAMING COCKTAIL, PARASOCIAL, ARE WE CLEAR, NOTES APP, and WHO IS SHE. And even though there are few super hard clues, there are plenty of excellent clues, including [Vibrator in bed, maybe] for PHONE ALARM and [Phrase that's legally concerning?] for IN RE.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Puzzle #179: Bearing the Cross

(pdf, puz, pdf solution)

One night I dreamed that I was walking along the beach with God, and scenes from my crossword-solving life flashed across the sky. For each square, there were two clues to help me: one Across clue, and one Down clue.

But looking back at the scenes, I noticed that sometimes, during the most difficult parts of my solves, there was only one clue. I asked God, "Why, during the most obscure and polysyllabic words, did you abandon me?" He replied "When you saw only one clue, it was then that I carried you."