Monday, January 10, 2022

Puzzle #164: Round and Round

No puz this week because the grid's got some fancy elements that don't work in puz form, but I'll link a .jpz instead (pdf, jpz, pdf solution). (You should really solve in the applet below or on the PDF, but the .jpz is mainly provided for people who like to have puz-like files for their records.)

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Puzzle #163: Well That Was Anticlimactic

It's the third day of the year and here is my third puzzle of the year (pdf, puz, pdf solution)! You can also check out my January 1 puzzle in Vox and my January 2 puzzle in The Browser.


Saturday, January 1, 2022

Indie puzzle highlights: December 2021

It's been a wonderful year for puzzles, and signs point to 2022 being an even better one. In 2022, I'm hoping to branch out a bit in terms of solving and dip into some puzzles sources I've been ignoring. In particular, I've found it hard to keep up with what the good stuff on Crosshare is. If anyone has any recommendations for Crosshare creators that you think I'd particularly like, please let me know!


December 3: Just ... No (Kate Chin Park, Crosswords Schmosswords)

December 19: Untitled (Quiara Vasquez, 7xwords)

December 21: a moiety fine puzzle (themeless) (Erik Agard and Claire L. Rimkus, Just Gridding)

December 24: "Do They Come in Other Styles?" (Paolo Pasco, Grids These Days)

December 27: The Impossible Crossword (Megan Amram and Paolo Pasco, The New Yorker)

December 27: themeless xvii ("the feminine urge") (Brooke Husic, xwords by a ladee)

December 29: themeless 16 (colonnades) (Rafa Musa and Malaika Handa, girlbosswords)

December 30: LaughCry (Quiara Vasquez, Crucinova)

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Just ... No (Kate Chin Park)

I've praised Kate's cluing chops on here before, but this puzzle is a great display of her gridding skills as well. It's anchored by stacks of DIRTY COMPUTER/THESE GO TO ELEVEN and SEE INSTRUCTIONS/EXCELLENT TAKE, but the rest of the fill is both very clean and packed with entertaining mid-length entries (ALT TEXT, NEW COKE, PORK BUN, etc.). Oh, and the cluing is unsurprisingly great too: [Some fruity centerpieces?] for PEACH PITS, [Top gear?] for TOUPEE, and the title clue, [Just ... no] for AMORAL. (Admittedly, Kate had to explain that last one to me, but I think it's genius.)

Untitled (Quiara Vasquez)

When this post goes up, 7xwords will have just wrapped up. Kudos to Malaika Handa for editing and posting puzzles 6 days a week(!) for an entire year(!!!). It's been awesome to see the different approaches various constructors have taken to filling the canvas of a 7x7 grid. Quiara's approach in this puzzle seems to have been "Cram a bunch of cool, rarely-seen fill into the grid," of which I approve: SENSE8 crossing 8-BIT ERA, the fabulous ANOHNI, PREHAB, and especially EA-NASIR are the highlights of this one. Admittedly, ANOHI crossing EA-NASIR is pretty much the definition of a Natick, but as a fan of both of them (insofar as one can be a fan of someone who doesn't even deliver copper of the correct grade) it's perfectly okay by me.

a moiety fine puzzle (themeless) (Erik Agard and Claire L. Rimkus)

This is one of my favorite sorts of themeless puzzles - it's got a beautifully wide open grid and is filled extremely cleanly, but there aren't a lot of obvious seed entries. Instead, it's got lots of ordinary words and phrases which lend themselves to clever cluing - and with Erik and Claire constructing, you know there will be devious clues galore. [Go "hahahaha" or "lololol"] for ALTERNATE is definitely my favorite, but I also love [Flight test?] for SIP, [One with a mounting client base?] for HORSE TRADER, [Always mugging for the camera, say] for TYPECAST, [Minecraft?] for ORE CARS, [Roadside attraction?] for CURB APPEAL, [Secret service location?] for SPEAKEASY, and many more.

"Do They Come in Other Styles?" (Paolo Pasco)

It's rare that we get a new blog puzzle from Paolo these days, so we should treasure the ones we do get. This one, admittedly, is a bit niche - if you've never seen I Think You Should Leave, you'll likely be bemused by the theme. But if you've never seen I Think You Should Leave, you should remedy that ASAP. This one is based on a sketch about T-shirts that come with a dope TUGGING KNOB so you can pull it and wreck your shirt or hurt your hand. So four theme entries include words for types of shirt, where one of the letters (always an O, to imitate the shape of the knob) has been "tugged" to the right: PALO ALTO features a POLO shirt whose O has been tugged, and similarly with BAWLING OUT and BOWLING, PERSIAN GULF and GOLF, and GEN ALPHA and ALOHA. It's an ingeniously conceived and perfectly executed theme, and of course the non-theme clues are filled with Pascovian humor: [E. major in music??] for SHEILA, [Probably the easiest vegetable to shoot by blowing through a straw] for PEA, and so on.

The Impossible Crossword (Megan Amram and Paolo Pasco)

The New Yorker is covered on Crossword Fiend, but I don't think the special holiday puzzles issue was, so it fits my 100% arbitrary definition of what crosswords are eligible for these writeups. This one is a very funny light mockery of both stuffy crossword conventions and The New Yorker's sensibility. The joke is that there are two sets of clues, one easy and one extremely hard, so you can look smart by solving it while secretly peeking at the easy clues. For instance, the hard clue for CUP is [___ product, a simple method of adjoining two cocycles of degree p and q to form a composite cocycle of degree p + q], while the easy clue is [Sippy ___]. I'm also a fan of JEST, whose easy clue is ["Infinite ___"] and whose hard clue is ["Infinite ___" (novel that's very easy to read and understand)].

themeless xvii ("the feminine urge") (Brooke Husic)

Typically inventive work from Brooke. The cluing in her experimental puzzles is always a highlight; here, my favorites include the potentially mystifying [Cu - 4] for ENE (think the Spanish alphabet), [A foundation may support many of them] for SKIN TONES, and [$ maker?] for SHIFT. This puzzle also features beautiful wide-open corners with super-clean stacks: STARBUST/HALEAKALA/I CAN'T EVEN/FINESSED, and SAWAYAMA/SO NOT OKAY/MATRILINE/the aforementioned SKIN TONES.

themeless 16 (colonnades) (Rafa Musa and Malaika Handa)

This themeless has a very aesthetically pleasing grid pattern, and Rafa and Malaika take full advantage of the wealth of long spots, with conversational fill like SO TRUE BESTIE, I MEAN COME ON, WHO'S TO SAYDO NOT REPLY, and WHAT A DEAL. The cluing is equally great, with plenty of indie flavor, some rather meta stuff: ERIE clued as ["if i ever stop making crosswords it will be so i never have to clue the word ___ again" (Rafa's comment on the cluing spreadsheet for this puzzle)] and IUDS clued as ["would prefer if you clued this one bc i don't have a uterus" (Rafa's comment on the cluing spreadsheet for this puzzle)]. The cluing also has more traditional wordplay-based delights, including [Attentive listener?] for AUDIOPHILE and the subtly-tricky-because-it's-literal-instead-of-figurative [Crowning moment] for CORONATION.

LaughCry (Quiara Vasquez)

I'm loving all the zany grid art that Crucinova has been publishing, and this is one of my favorite examples - the grid is a spot-on representation of a "crying laughing" emoji. There are some quasi-thematic entries like TRAGICOMEDY and SO FUNNY I FORGOT TO LAUGH, but this is basically a themeless, and it's packed with juicy stuff, including PIVOTED TO VIDEO, JPEGMAFIA, KINDA SUS, PRINCESS DAISY, AY CARAMBA, and ZORRO MASK. As always, Quiara's clues manage to freshen up a lot of the short fill - YOLO is clued as [#carpediem (if that was ever a thing)] and ELO is clued as [2500, for the Beth Harmon bot on chess.com], for example.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Puzzle #161: (Un)pronounced

It's been a couple weeks since I've had the inspiration for a new puzzle, but I'm back with a new themed puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) - happy solving!


Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Indie puzzle highlights: November 2021

November 1: Untitled (Nam Jin Yoon, Boswords)

November 2: Freestyle 629 (Tim Croce, club72)

November 13: a little ooh-la-la (themeless) (C. L. Rimkus, Just Gridding)

November 17: Fourteen (Norah Sharpe, Norah's Puzzles)

November 22: Themeless 17 (Mollie Cowger, Crosswords from Outer Space)

November 23: Sink or Swim (Enrique Henestroza Anguiano, Crosswords Club)

November 23: Untitled (Christopher Adams, 7xwords)

November 30: Shrek Is Love (Themeless #14) (Adam Aaronson, aaronson.org)

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Untitled (Nam Jin Yoon)

I don't get to feature Nam Jin much on here because he doesn't have an indie site, but he's one of the best themeless constructors around. To see why, all you have to do is take a look at this grid: it's a mere 64 words, but extremely smooth, and the eight long entries which all interlock in an intricate pattern are all colorful: MECHANICAL BULL (excellently clued as [It's designed to throw you off]), SERIAL MONOGAMY, SINGLE FILE, HOUSE PARTY, TINDER DATE, PAPER ROUTE, VERSION CONTROL, and YOU'RE TELLING ME. There are very few constructor who could pull a grid like this off with such aplomb.

Freestyle 659 (Tim Croce)

It's amazing that, after more than 600 themelesses, Tim still manages to pack each of his grids with multiple never-before-seen entries. This one's anchored by the delightful center stack of TWITTER DRAMA, YOU'RE CRUSHING IT, and SHREDDED PORK, with highlights including IS THAT HOW I SOUND elsewhere in the grid. Even the short fill includes some strikingly unusual stuff, including SO YES, MIC'D, and PISS UP.

a little ooh-la-la (themeless) (C. L. Rimkus)

A beautiful triple-stack of IS THIS SEAT TAKEN, NO WALK IN THE PARK, and SPOILED THE PARTY. Remarkably, every entry that intersects the stack is at least 5 letters long - including such entries as MAKE A MENTAL NOTE, ALMOST THERE, and MASKED BALLS. Not a single wasted long space, and very few sacrifices in the short fill to make it work; one of the most impressive constructions I've seen in a long time.

Fourteen (Norah Sharpe)

Norah's been participating in NaCroWriMo, writing a crossword every day for the month of November. A really wide variety of stuff, including anagrammies and cryptics, but my favorite is this midi with a delightful mini-theme of SIZE QUEEN and SHORT KING. Lots of fun stuff in the surrounding fill, too, including the edible trifecta of BOMB POP, CUPCAKE, and TEMPURA.

Themeless 17 (Mollie Cowger)

It's been a while since Mollie posted a new themeless, and I'm glad she's back, because this one's got all the clever clues I expect from her: [Expansive period piece?] for MAXI PAD, [Social distancing measure?] for TEN FOOT POLE, [Equal substitute] for SPLENDA, [Sign of how far you've come] for ODOMETER, [It is what "It" is] for HORROR MOVIE, and so on. Also lovely is the symmetrical pair of INFINITY POOL and I PITY THE FOOL, which is fun to try to say five times fast.

Sink or Swim (Enrique Henestroza Anguiano)

A lovely and architecturally complex theme: the revealer is A DROP IN THE OCEAN, with the names of all five of the world's oceans hidden in the grid, starting out horizontally but then taking a vertical drop. For example, PACIFIC starts in the across entry PACE LAP, and dives into the down entry NONSPECIFIC. Intersecting theme entries are always a challenge, and the revealer of this one even intersects with one of the other theme entries (ARCHIVAL INK, which contains the first part of ARCTIC). It's a nice touch that all of the oceans are represented, and the fill doesn't suffer despite the constraints of the theme.

This seems like a good opportunity for a reminder that the Crosswords Club is now online! You can subscribe here, and it's well worth the money.

Untitled (Christopher Adams)

Surely the only cross"word" I've highlighted that doesn't have any actual letters. This one's bound to be polarizing, since the squares are all filled with numbers and there's lots of math involved. Sample clue: [Prime whose first three digits are p^q and whose last three digits are q^p (for primes p, q whose value is left as an exercise for the reader)]. But remarkably, Christopher makes it so that everything is gettable with the assistance of a calculator and some persistence. What's really impressive is the variety of different skills it tests: from math skills like converting from base 10 to hexadecimal and figuring out what numbers are divisible by 11 to trivia skills like knowing THX 1138. (Ironically, a solver might get through all the math stuff and then be undone by a crossing of two trivia clues, though the trivia stuff clued is all pretty famous.)

Shrek Is Love (Themeless #14) (Adam Aaronson)

Another triple stack where every crosser is at least 5 letters! We've got LEAVE IT TO CHANCE, INSOMNIA COOKIES, and COLLEGE REUNIONS, and there are absolutely no weak points in the intersecting downs. Plenty of good stuff elsewhere, too, including ASSCLOWNS and IT'S A ME, but the real highlight is the genius clue [Cool beans] for ICED LATTE.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Puzzle #160: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

Last week's puzzle didn't have a theme, so to make up for it, this week's puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) has two of them. Happy solving!