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."


Monday, June 20, 2022

Puzzle #178: Break It Up

Gilbert Sorrentino's metafictional masterpiece, Mulligan Stew, includes the following blurb for a fictional book called Harewell M. Dovely by James Patton:

"Historians have traced the crossword puzzle back to the time of the Pharaohs, but never has this most fascinating time-passer been examined so lovingly as in this exhaustive critical biography of the world's greatest puzzle champion and analyst, Harewell M. Dovely. Mr. Patton, who describes himself as 'a great fan but only a duffer,' has, in this mesmerizing life of the nonpareil word genius, deftly incorporated irrestisible historical anecdote into the story of Dovely's career. You will read:

  • how Marie Antoinette worked a crossword puzzle in the tumbril that carried her to her death
  • how Pablo Picasso hit upon the idea for Cubism while doing a crossword puzzle in the Revue des Deux Mondes
  • why The New York Times was responsible for cutting short the brilliant career of Clint Hartung
  • what role the crossword puzzle played at Gettysburgh
And there are literally hundreds of other unknown anecdotes, many of them unearthed from Dovely's journals and notebooks, to which Mr. Patton had complete access.

Included is an appendix which reproduces the dozen greatest puzzles of all time (with their solutions): from the diagramless 'killer' that Socrates worried in his prison cell to the little stumper from Boys' Life that soothed President Hoover just after the Great Crash of '29."

Your intrepid constructor has laboriously tracked down and translated the crossword that inspired Picasso's unprecedented technique of breaking objects up into parts and presenting them from different angles (pdf, puz, pdf solution). In this puzzle, 14 entries are too long for their slots and have to be split into two parts, the second of which will be found elsewhere in the grid. In each case, both parts will be valid crossword entries: for example, CONESTOGA might be split into CONES and TOGA. The first letters of those 14 entries, in grid order, will spell out a phrase that would be a good title for this puzzle (if it wasn't already taken).

Monday, June 6, 2022

Puzzle #177: Verse Jumping

Today's puzzle is inspired by Everything Everywhere All at Once, a movie that I didn't particularly like (*ducks to avoid being pelted by fruit*) but which provides excellent crossword fodder. In the movie, the smallest decision can end up completely altering the trajectory of the universe, and that's just what happens in this puzzle. Depending on the choices you make at the beginning, you'll be presented with one of four different crosswords, each inspired by a different universe from the movie. (You don't have to have seen the movie to enjoy the puzzles, I think, though if you haven't the themes will probably seem bizarrely random.)

No puz, pdf, or embedded solve this time, but thanks to the wizardry of Alex Boisvert, you can give it a solve over at https://crosswordnexus.com/puzzles/verse-jumping/. And speaking of Alex, he's raising money for pediatric cancer research, and has written five custom crosswords that he'll give to anyone who donates here. Check it out!

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Indie puzzle highlights: May 2022

May 2: l.o.r.d. far quads (themeless) (ada nicolle, luckystreak xwords)

May 9: Crossword.puz (May Huang, Lil AVC X)

May 19: Four Square (Joe Deeney, Crucinova)

May 22: Hit the Low Notes (Jessie Bullock and Ross Trudeau, Rossword Puzzles)

May 22: Stereo (Ben Tolkin, Nautilus Puzzles)

May 24: The Terminal Puzzle (Malaika Handa, Vulture)

May 26: spring kiss (zinna mon, zinna mon)

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l.o.r.d. far quads (Ada Nicolle)

The problem with Ada is that not only is she ridiculously prolific, her puzzles are also consistently good, so it's hard to know which ones to highlight. But she made it easy for me specifically this month, since I love a puzzle that's entirely based on an extremely silly pun title. As the title indicates, the unusually tall grid features quad stacks that are very far away from each other, each of which starts with L, O, R, and D: LAB ANIMAL, OTAMATONE, ROBINSONS, and DIAGNOSES at the top, and LEFT SHARK, OPERA ARIA, RESILIENT, and DESPERADO. On their own merits, they're certainly not the most exciting stacks that Ada's ever put together, but in the context of the title, they delight me.

Crossword.puz (May Huang)

It'll be interesting to see how Lil AVC X develops over time. The midi format can be constraining; the 9x9s I write for Vox usually have mini-themes, but rarely have anything similar to a theme you'd find in a 15x15, just because of their size. But Lil AVC X doesn't have such a specific size constraint, which allows for a lot of variety: purely themeless midis, puzzles with mini-themes, and puzzles with more ambitious themes. I always appreciate when a constructor can fit something like a standard theme into a midi grid, and May does just that here. The theme entries are phrases that have been truncated so they look like file names: CHESS.MOV clued as [File description: "Sicilian Defense tutorial clip"], WEDDING.GIF clued as [File description: "Dancing down the aisle meme"], and TIDAL.WAV clued as [File description: "Soothing ocean sounds"].

Four Square (Joe Deeney)

This is the second Tetris-related puzzle featured on Crucinova, but it doesn't feel like a retread of the first. The gimmick here is that all the possible TETROMINO shapes are found in the grid, spelled out using the letters used to describe those shapes. For example, the T-shaped tetromino is spelled out with the T's from PITT THE YOUNGER crossing HUTT. The fact that this theme is even possible is somewhat of a wild coincidence, since most letters aren't amenable to doubling or tripling. I like that Joe had to reach for some rarely seen entries, including J. J. JOHNSON and I'M HENRY VIII I AM, to pull off the theme.

Hit the Low Notes (Jessie Bullock and Ross Trudeau)

I've often praised Ross's mind for perfect theme revealers, so it's notable that, according to Ross's notes accompanying this puzzle, it was Jessie who hit upon the revealer for this puzzle: BASS SAX, which homophonically indicates that each theme entry has a homophone for "sax" at its base (PAPER SACKS, GOLDMAN SACHS, AMNIOTIC SACS, ANDREW SAKS). That revealer elevates what would otherwise be a pretty standard theme - though it's also nice that "sax" is a word that you wouldn't expect to have four distinct homophones that can all be incorporated into crossworthy entries.

Stereo (Ben Tolkin)

I'm a sucker for puzzles where the revealer is itself a theme entry. I actually once submitted a puzzle with this theme concept to the NYT, and I think it got lost in the mail, but it's all for the best, because Ben's execution here is much better than mine was. The theme is SURROUND SOUND, and all the theme entries, including the revealer, are surrounded by the letters SOUND - SOUVENIR STAND, SOLID GROUND, and SOUTH ISLAND. Most constructors would be satisfied with that, but Ben puts the puzzle itself in surround sound by including the letters AMP in all four corners (in the entries AMPS, CHAMP, AMPLE, and DAMP). That's the kind of extra-mile concept that I really appreciate.

The Terminal Puzzle (Malaika Handa)

This is my first time highlighting the relatively new Vulture puzzle, but they're consistently enjoyable. They're themeless or lightly themed 10x10s, packed with pop culture content; what sets them apart from most similar venues is the editors' encouragement of opinionated clues. Malaika also sometimes goes for ambitious grid patterns, which tend to be the ones that stand out to me. I love the delicious bottom stack in this one (COCONUT OIL, ORANGE SEED, MANGO LASSI), and the top stack is quite nice too (LINED PAPER, CHE GUEVARA, DEWGARITAS).

spring kiss (zinna mon)

This puzzle is really a complete aesthetic experience, a breath of fresh air in every respect. In PuzzleMe, the grid is decked out in calming pastel colors and the black squares are depicted as flowers and branches, plus a little sun at the top. And the clues are just generally full of soothing good vibes: [flower with floppy bunny ear petals] for IRIS, [a time for peach blossom decor in hanoi] for TET, ["if you ever need a shoulder to cry on, ___"] for I'M HERE, [___ hour (when the sun blesses selfies)] for GOLDEN, and [simple act of charity in islam] for SMILE are some examples.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Puzzle #176: Freestyle 17

It's been a little while since I've posted a classic themeless, so here's one (pdf, puz, pdf solution) - happy solving!


Monday, May 9, 2022

Puzzle #175: Early March

With this week's puzzle, I've gone to the dark side and constructed an asymmetrical themed puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution). Which is weird, because it's a totally basic theme with hundreds of possible theme entries, which doesn't seem like a good reason to break symmetry at all...

In other news, this Wednesday I'll be hosting a variety cryptic Twitch stream with Letters to Margaret author Hayley Gold and some special guests - tune into https://www.twitch.tv/bewilderingly at 9:00 PM Eastern! If you want to print the cryptic out to solve yourself, there's a pdf here.