Monday, June 7, 2021

Puzzle #136: A Puzzle for the Knowing Ones

This week's puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) comes with an appendix, but there are spoilers so don't look at it until you've finished solving! Many thanks to Norah Sharpe and Dob Olino for giving this one a test solve.


Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Indie puzzle highlights: May 2021

May 9: Themeless 10 (Michael, Southern Crosswords)

May 10: Inject It Into My Veins! (Themeless) (Adam Aaronson and Paolo Pasco, Aaronson)

May 16: Let It Burn (Yacob Yonas and Ross Trudeau, Rossword Puzzles)

May 17: Chasm No. 3 (Ryan McCarty, McGrids)

May 17: It's a Stretch! (Themeless) (C. L. Rimkus, Just Gridding)

May 18: Freestyle 614 (Tim Croce, club72)

May 21: Voiced by Keith David (Quin Abarr, Puzzles By Quin)

May 22: Easy Peasy (Norah Sharpe and David Ritterskamp, Norah's Puzzles)

May 24: I Am an American (Hoang-Kim Vu and Erica Hsiung Wojcik, USA Today)

May 27: themeless x (Brooke Husic, xwords by a ladee)

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Themeless 10 (Michael)

In the New Yorker lately, Elizabeth Gorski has been doing occasional puzzles with 3(!) sets of triple-stacked 15s, and Michael has taken a page out of her book here. With this kind of grid, it's a real challenge to keep the fill clean while still having interesting 15s, and Michael does a stellar job - highlights among the 15s include HETERONORMATIVE, AUSTRALIAN RULES (clued as [What Chicken Smallhorn played]), and WHATCHAMACALLIT. Sure, there are some that are there because of their convenient letters - but even SATELLITE STATES has a clever clue, [Bloc parties?]. There's also good diversity in the short fill, with plenty of women and people of color represented.

Inject It Into My Veins! (Adam Aaronson and Paolo Pasco)

As delightful as you'd expect from this duo. It's anchored by a stagger-stack with FAUCI OUCHIE atop EEVEELUTION and underneath SQUARESPACE - a cornucopia of unlikely letter combinations. Some genius clues, too, including [One in a college dorm bathroom, often] for PLY and [They get shot down] for FEET PICS.

Let It Burn (Yacob Yonas and Ross Trudeau)

This May was probably my favorite month in Rosswords history, and not just because he posted a stacked-theme puzzle inspired by some of my recent work. All of Ross's puzzles this month were creative and fun, but I'm choosing to highlight this collab with Yacob Yonas. The revealer is WHERE THERE'S/SMOKE, THERE'S FIRE, indicating that three squares in the grid can be filled either with the word SMOKE or the word FIRE to create valid entries. Rebus themes are hard enough to pull off well, but a double rebus is much trickier, and indeed Yacob and Ross reported that they left practically zero other possibilities on the cutting room floor. The themers are: SMOKE EATER/SMOKE HOUSE or FIRE EATER/FIREHOUSE, SMOKESCREEN/SMOKE BREAK or FIRE SCREEN/FIREBREAK, and SMOKEHOLE/SMOKE WEED or FIREHOLE/FIREWEED. All those, plus a two-part stacked revealer, without even putting much of a strain on the fill.

Chasm No. 3 (Ryan McCarty)

Ryan does it again - a stack of five 9s going across (CRANBERRY, THE REAL ME, WHADJA SAY, DIET COKES, SILK SONIC) intersecting a stack of five 9s going down (LIVE CHATS, SACRED COD, STAR JONES, SNEAK INTO, BASE COATS), and not a bad one in the bunch. In turn, the corners of that center chasm lead into other wide-open sections with plenty of 9s, including THE KRAKEN, OTAMATONE, VUVUZELAS, and DIGITALIS. A stunning feat!

It's a Stretch! (C. L. Rimkus)

Claire Rimkus and Rachel Fabi have teamed up on a new site, and the first puzzle is a real humdinger. It's absolutely packed with colorful entries (GIVE ME A MINUTE, ONSCREEN ROMANCE, MAYBE DON'T, READ THE ROOM, SPELLS IT OUT, etc.) and brilliant clues ([Getting off without a hitch?] for PREMARITAL SEX, [It's a pain in the neck sometimes] for HALTER TOP). I especially love the clue for NBA, [Org. that should technically have an "M" at the beginning], which is absolutely mystifying at first glance but comes with a great aha moment.

Freestyle 614 (Tim Croce)

I wonder if it's a coincidence that my favorite of Tim's recent themelesses also happens to be the first puzzle that defies the title of his site and goes above 72 words (it's a 16x15 grid with 73 words). Tim has a massive seed list filled with rarely- or never-used entries, and the central stack in this one features three entries from that list: MOMMY MAKEOVER, AS GOOD A TIME AS ANY, and SHAGGY DEFENSE. Outside of the stack, there's lots of other fresh stuff, including VENMO ME, DOGE TOKENS, I'M DYIN' HERE, GAMER TAG, and LIE LIKE A RUG.

Voiced by Keith David (Quin Abarr)

A lovely little 10x9 grid with a clever gimmick: the left half of the grid (shaded in blue) is made entirely with letters typed with the left hand, and the right half (shaded in red) is made entirely with letters typed with the right hand. Since a lot of the most useful letters (including A, E, R, S, and T) are on the left side of the keyboard, the right half of this puzzle must have been particularly hard to pull off. Quin's notes about the inspiration behind the puzzle are worth a read too.

Easy Peasy (Norah Sharpe and David Ritterskamp)

An absolutely wild gimmick: every entry in the grid is duped in the clue for a different entry. They range from straightforward, like [Tree with thorny leaves] for PINE (duplicating THORNY), to zany, like the clue for THORNY itself ([Like a stenocactus], duplicating the entry STENOS). Norah mentions that she and David went through many, many iterations to make it work, and I'm not surprised. It's all anchored by a perfect two-part revealer, too: SUPER clued as [What this puzzle hopes to be...], next to DUPER clued as [...and what it really is]. Incidentally, Norah's a great supporter of indie constructors, particularly newer ones, and she also published two other excellent collaborations in May, with Steve Barrios and Kate Leiserson

I Am an American (Hoang-Kim Vu and Erica Hsiung Wojcik)

A lovely celebration of API Heritage Month, featuring the people at the center of three seminal Supreme Court cases: WONG KIM ARK ([Person in an 1898 case affirming birthright citizenship]), FRED KOREMATSU ([Person in a 1944 case contesting the internment of Japanese Americans]), and BHAGAT/SINGH THIND ([Person in a 1923 case challenging citizenship eligibility]). We also get a bonus shoutout to EMMA Gee, who co-founded the organization that popularized the term "Asian American," in the fill. Unusually for the USAT, all the theme entries are proper names, but (as always for the USAT) the puzzle is crafted to be accessible for any solver.

themeless x (Brooke Husic)

At least in the experimental version, this was one of the hardest Brooke themelesses yet, at least for me. But hard in a really satisfying way, with lots of great aha moments (particularly realizing that [Not quite straight] was KINSEY TWO. Some stellar clues, including [Black and white drawing] for STALEMATE and [Corrupt drive?] for VICE. Unsurprisingly, there's some cool poetry content, including SAEED Jones and a fresh Issa Kobayashi angle for ISSA.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Puzzle #135: Freeform Freestyle 4

It's another asymmetrical themeless (pdf, puz, pdf solution)! Thanks as always to Brooke Husic for giving it a test ride.


Monday, May 17, 2021

Monday, May 10, 2021

Puzzle #133: Freeform Freestyle 3

It's the third puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) in my series of asymmetrical themelesses: like normal themelesses, but not as symmetrical!

Monday, May 3, 2021

Puzzle #132: Tight Five

This one's technically a themed puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution), but it does have kind of a themeless vibe: 66 words, with the theme entries all stacked together in the middle.


Saturday, May 1, 2021

Indie puzzle highlights: April 2021

Lots more themed puzzles in the roundup this month than usual, which is a development I welcome! Though of course, excellent indie themelesses are still being published at an astonishing rate.

April 1: [post title here] DO NOT PUBLISH EARLY (Paolo Pasco, Grids These Days)

April 9: Think Twice (Sid Sivakumar, The Juggernaut)

April 10: #Repeal (Finn Vigeland, These Puzzles Fund Abortion)

April 15: The Cruellest Month (Chris Piuma, Wordgarbler)

April 15: Stuck in Traffic (Sara Cantor, Crosshare)

April 21: Untitled (Quiara Vasquez, The Atlantic)

April 22: Knock Knock! (Adam Aaronson, Aaronson)

April 24: Well, Whaddya Say? (Kevin G. Der, American Crossword Puzzle Tournament)

April 26: Untitled (Brooke Husic, Boswords)

April 26: Themeless 7 (Mollie Cowger, Crosswords from Outer Space)

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[post title here] DO NOT PUBLISH EARLY (Paolo Pasco)

Probably the single funniest puzzle published this year that's not by Et Tu Etui (who is, of course, a real person and not a pseudonym for a prominent indie constructor). The theme is FIRST DRAFTS, where words for wind have been moved from the end to the beginning of common phrases: SELF-DISGUST becomes GUSTSELFDIS, SPARKLING ALE becomes GALESPARKLIN, and BE KIND REWIND becomes WINDBEKINDRE. But the real fun is in the clues, which are written as if they're a first draft which was decidedly not meant to be published yet. There are lots of indie constructors who are very skilled at the technical aspects of construction, but few who can hold a candle to Paolo when it comes to the pure entertainment factor.

Think Twice (Sid Sivakumar)

Sid hasn't posted much on his famous blog recently, but he's been busy: he's the editor of the new crossword for The Juggernaut, focused on South Asian culture. Sid performs a pretty impressive feat here - the wordplay mechanism of the theme (a progression from quarter to half to full to double) has nothing to with South Asia, but all the theme entries have a South Asian tie-in. We've got the cricket term QUARTER CENTURY, HALF SARI, FULL MOON, and DOUBLE KA MEETHA. Not only that, the four long down entries in the fill (SESAME OIL, COWHERDS, ROSE MILK, and SCIENTIST) all have relevant clues, too. The puzzle has a ton of resonance for South Asians, but it's still solvable by anybody, which is not an easy task.

#Repeal (Finn Vigeland)

Every puzzle in the These Puzzles Fund Abortion pack is good, but my favorite is Finn's, with a theme about repealing the Hyde Amendment. Words and phrases with the string HYDE (HYDERABAD, PHILOSOPHY/DEPARTMENT, and PACHYDERM) have the string "repealed," so that the down clues only make sense if you ignore those letters (but are legitimate crossword entries either way). I especially like the wackiness of splitting the HYDE in PHILOSOPHY DEPARTMENT across two entries. (And yes, I realize I've highlighted a lot of puzzles with this type of theme gimmick in these roundups! I guess if you're angling for a spot in one of my writeups, you know what type of theme to go for.)

The Cruellest Month (Chris Piuma)

In honor of National Poetry Month, Chris has created a puzzle absolutely packed with poetry - both in the fill and in the clues, many of which are written in a poetic style instead of straight prose. Admittedly, as someone who's a fan of many of the poets featured in the grid, including HARRYETTE MULLEN and BERNADETTE MAYER, I was predisposed to like this one, but I also just love when constructors write puzzles that really dive deeply into subjects they're passionate about. If you're not into poetry, you'll find this one difficult, but still very much worth your while.

Stuck in Traffic (Sara Cantor)

This puzzle has three unchecked, unclued squares - how are we supposed to be figure out what goes in them? Well, the first thing that jumps out is that there in a pattern of black squares that looks like a traffic light. But still, that doesn't narrow it down to one possibility - there are a few sets of words you could use to describe the three segments of a traffic light. There's a beautiful aha moment, though - the squares aren't really unchecked, since the words that you have to enter combine with the words to their left and right to make legitimate entries. For example, the top square is between GOB and PER, and entering STOP gives you GOBSTOPPER; similarly, SLOW goes between CAN'T and DOWN to make CAN'T SLOW DOWN, and GO turns CAR and BAY into CARGO BAY. One of the most original mechanisms I've seen in ages.

Untitled (Quiara Vasquez)

Usually The Atlantic only does 15x15 puzzles on Sundays, but this Wednesday puzzle is a special Earth Day-themed offering from Quiara. The theme is simple enough - our revealer, GREEN NEW DEAL, hints that the theme entries contain anagrams of GREEN - but there's an extra layer of elegance here, as all the theme entries are given ecological clues. ENERGY SECTOR is [Target of carbon taxes], RENEGOTIATE is [Talk new terms, as with the Paris Agreement], and GENERATION Z is [Greta Thunberg, et al.]. I love it when a constructor takes a theme idea with many, many possible themers and adds an extra constraint to narrow it down.

Knock Knock! (Adam Aaronson)

An elegant theme based on the memetic phrase FBI, OPEN UP. In the theme entries, the letters FBI "open up" - first they're consecutive (in DATE OF BIRTH), then separated by a single square (SOFT-BOILED), then two squares (FLY-BY-NIGHT), and finally three squares (FREEBOOTING). As an extra nice touch, there are no other occurrences of F, B, or I in the theme entries.

Well, Whaddya Say? (Kevin G. Der)

A devious theme for the notorious Puzzle 5 at the ACPT. Pairs of consecutive across answers have to be phonetically reparsed to make sense. For example, [Friend of Harry Potter] and [Mexican state bordering Texas] clue RON and CHIHUAHUA, but those don't fit in the grid - instead, you have to enter RAUNCHY and WAWA. Similarly, MANIC + INFERS = MANNEQUIN + FIRS, SCENT + ORCHESTRAL = CENTAUR + KESTREL, ZEE + BOOMERANGS = ZEBU + MERINGUES, and OWE + CRUSTACEAN = OKRA + STATION. Beautifully tric    ky, and Kevin managed to find some beautiful pairings, all of which have significant spelling changes.

Untitled (Brooke Husic)

This puzzle is a perfect encapsulation of what makes Brooke's themelesses so great. We've got a broad range of cultural and demographic references (HIAWATHA BELT, CODE RED clued as ["I need a tampon" euphemism]), fresh cluing angles even for the common short fill ([Dancer's pivoting aid, for short] for ACL, ["So ___!" ("Delish!" at some luaus] for ONO), and diagonal symmetry that allows for intersecting great long entries (SHE/HER PRONOUNS, I SHOULD HOPE NOT, VINTAGE STORE) without compromising the short fill.

Themeless 7 (Mollie Cowger)

I've liked every themeless that Mollie's posted on her site so far - they're always clean, full of fun fill, and packed with clever clues. This one accomplishes all that with just 64 words, including stacked seed entries of CERTIORARI and SAOIRSE RONAN, plus stuff like CHIWEENIES and SPACE TOURIST. The cluing might be this puzzle's strongest point - coming up with a clever and original clue for something like RAS isn't easy, but [They're generally given singles] fits the bill. Ditto [Chart-toppers?] for CEOS (think org charts). But my favorite clue is surely [Thumb between two fingers, allegedly], which made me take my fingers of the keyboard briefly to figure out that the answer was NOSE.