Monday, May 18, 2020

Puzzle #118: Disobedience

I don't often post midi-sized puzzles, but I do have a lot of midi-sized puzzle ideas lying around, and they seem to be all the rage these days. So here's one to tide you over until the next full-sized puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution)!

Friday, May 1, 2020

Indie puzzle highlights: April 2020

Perhaps not as great as March, but another great month!

April 4: Join the Navy (Ricky Cruz, Cruzzles)

I'm immediately won over by the fact that the title is a Simpsons reference, but the puzzle itself is fantastic too. The revealer is BACKMASKING, with the theme entries hiding Satanic terms backwards, just like that devilish rock and roll music does. So PIANO SONATAS hides a reversed SATAN, NANOMEDICINE hides a reversed DEMON, and ANNE HEGERTY hides a reversed GEHENNA, which is an amazing find. Lots of spice in the fill, too, including FRENEMY, EUROBEAT, CLOWN CAR, KNUCKLE, VAPORIZED, ZINNIA, and DAMAGED (clued as [Tattoo on the forehead of Jared Leto's Joker]).

April 8: Themeless 9 (Stella Zawistowski, Tough As Nails)

Really smooth work from Stella in this themeless, whose highlight is the stack of CHEONGSAM, BOX CAMERA, and SOPHISTRY. We've also got the topical ZOOM BOMBING, and fun clues for SHAKESPEARE ([Source of many an epic burn]) and FANNY PACK ([What Gucci calls a "belt bag" and wants $1290 for, LOL]).

April 10: Themeless (Brooke Husic, Sid's Grids)

I'm a sucker for a themeless with a weird, striking grid pattern, and this puzzle has what Brooke accurately calls a "quirky Celtic knot-esque grid." The layout means that aside from the four intersecting 15s, most of the fill is short for a themeless. But the 15s (PERSONALITY TEST, THE CHOCOLATE WAR, CHRISTMAS MARKET, and UNKNOWN UNKNOWNS) are fun, and there's some fresh stuff in the short fill too, including ENBY, ASMR, and XOXO.

April 11: Changing Places (Tom McCoy)

Incredibly niche, but a puzzle that's basically designed precisely for me. The gimmick is that the answers are written in the International Phonetic Alphabet, with one phoneme per square, which must have been incredibly hard to construct. The instructions tell you that the theme answers are puns created by a particular phonological process; from the title, I assumed that process would be metathesis, in which two sounds switch places, but it's considerably more elegant than that. Instead, they're formed by nasal place assimilation, in which a nasal consonant (like m or n) at the end of a syllable adopts the place of articulation (where in the mouth it's pronounced) of the first sound of the next syllable. So we have ROAMING GOD (where the n becomes a ng), SCREAM PLAY, DOOM BUGGIES, and PING CUSHION. The theme, in other words, is a simple letter-change theme - but only if the entries are written in the IPA! A truly ingenious use of a gimmick.

April 12: Themeless (Amanda Rafkin, Rossword Puzzles)

Another guest themeless I really liked. Chock full of modern stuff like BODY POSITIVITY, WON THE INTERNET, and TXT SLANG, and the NOSEDIVE/TAILSPIN pairing is very nice. A few excellent clues, too, including [Invasive plant?] for ENEMY SPY and [One dealing with a lot of bull] for TOREADOR.

April 14: Year 7 Puzzle 15 (Andrew Ries, Aries Rows Gardens)

I think this is the first Aries Rows Garden I've featured - his RGs are consistently good, but it's hard to compete with Joon. This one's just jam-packed with fun row entries, though - the highlights are THINGAMAJIG, TENNIS SHOES, POODLE SKIRT, STRAPLESS BRA, CAR TROUBLE, STARTER KIT, TEAM PICTURE, and UMBRELLA STAND.

April 14: On Your Marks (Sid Sivakumar, Sid's Grids)

Sid's Grids was popping this month, and there are probably like half a dozen puzzles from the site that I could have included - he's both prolific and consistently impressive. Don't want it to get to his head, though, you know? So I'll limit myself to Brooke's themeless and this one. The theme is about VIBE CHECKs, with synonyms for "vibe" (MOOD, FEELING, and ATMOSPHERE) forming checkmark shapes in the grid. Having made puzzles with similar themes before, I know how hard they are to pull off, since all the theme letters appear in three different words, not just two. Sid does it cleanly, though, and even sneaks in some colorful bonus fill, like MOUSSAKA, GOD YES, and COCOA PUFF.

April 16: Snakeheads/Belted Up (Erik Agard and Aaron Shoemaker, USA Today)

The USA Today crosswords under Erik's editorship are predictable (in a good way) - it's generally going to be a very basic theme type, with squeaky clean fill and easy cluing. But I appreciate that there's the occasional puzzle with a wrinkle, like a slightly out-there theme or an unusual grid pattern. This one's unusual in that, as the title suggests, the theme works in two different ways. The theme entries (GREEN ACRES, CORN TORTILLA, GARTER STITCH, BLACK POWER) all start with words that can precede "snake" - but those words can also all predece "belt," so they do double duty. Not sure I've ever seen anything quite like it before.

April 25: Sub Division (Evan Kalish, USA Today)

On the other hand, this puzzle is completely standard. The theme involves phrases with HERO hidden in them: USHER OUT, RAISE THE ROOF, MOTHER OF PEARL, BEACH EROSION, and EITHER/OR. This one stands out because of the eight-letter theme entries which partially overlap the 12s, when the three longer theme entries would've been plenty, and also because the extra theme entries don't compromise the fill at all. In fact, there are lots of solid mid-length entries, including UNFURL, CURATOR, WASHED UP, TRAFFIC, and SHTETL, as well as Rihanna's nickname RIH, which I see in puzzles very rarely, though RIRI seems to be relatively common.

April 29: Year 3 Puzzle 17 (Andy Kravis, Aries Puzzles)

Yet another guest themeless! To this one, all I can say is CHEF'S KISS. Among the fill, I'm a fan of AQUEMINI, KAREN O, STUNT KITE, and INDOOR CAT clued as [Domestic flight risk?]. But I'm most impressed by the fresh clues for staple bits of short fill, including SIS, NED, ESS, and AFRO.

April 30: Out of Left Field #5 (Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto, Out of Left Field)

They're no longer at The Nation, but their work is as good as ever. Favorite clues:

- [Old film is strangely semi-violent] for SILENT MOVIE
- [Glass rim with Greek letter in front] for PHILIP
- [Spangle beginning to scare bobtail horse] for SEQUIN
- [Schmear spread out a bit at a time!] for SCHMEAR
- [German city renowned for its iron and tin, by the sound of it?] for ESSEN
- [Northern California: place for West Coast rapper] for TUPAC

Monday, April 27, 2020

Puzzle #117: Picture Books (with Sara Sligar)

I'm very excited to present a collaboration (pdf, puz, pdf solution) with the up-and-coming constructor Sara Sligar. Sara, as it happens, is also an up-and-coming author, whose debut novel, Take Me Apart, drops tomorrow. It's gotten a lot of buzz, and you can pre-order it here (or just order it, I suppose, if you're reading this after the day it's posted).

This puzzle, appropriately, has a literary theme; you can see a couple other literature-inspired puzzles by Sara at her website, Enjoy!

Monday, April 13, 2020

Rows Garden Meta solution

Last week's meta (solution grid) asked you to identify a minor literary character whose full name is hinted at by one of the entries in the grid. There was one crucial entry: D6, LOLITA, whose clue told you that the answer was a character in Lolita. If, like many solvers, you looked up a list of characters in that novel, one of them probably jumped out at you: Vivian Darkbloom (whose name, incidentally, is an anagram of Vladimir Nabokov!). And indeed, one of the dark bloom answers in the grid was VIVIAN, so that's your answer.

A whole bunch of solvers submitted the correct answer, and there were no incorrect guesses. Congrats to everyone who figured it out! I quite enjoyed my first attempt at constructing a Rows Garden, but it certainly wasn't easy - it's probably a form I'll return to occasionally when I'm in the mood for a challenge.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Puzzle #116: Rows Garden Meta

This puzzle is a first for me: a Rows Garden! For anyone who's not familiar, a Rows Garden is a format invented by Patrick Berry; the grid consists of 11 rows with one or two entries in each row, whose letters are also grouped into a set of flower-shaped "blooms" of six letters each. The row answers are entered normally, from left to right. The six-letter bloom answers can start in any of the six petals of the bloom, and can be entered either clockwise or counterclockwise.

This puzzle can be downloaded as a .jpz file, which you can solve online at the Crossword Nexus Solver, or as a PDF. (Thanks to Rows Garden constructor extraordinaire Joon Pahk for creating the .jpz file.) In the PDF, the "blooms" clues for each color (light, medium, and dark) are given in the order they appear in the grid (from left to right and top to bottom).

The puzzle is also a meta! The meta answer is a minor literary character whose full name is hinted at by one of the entries in the grid. And when I say minor, I do mean minor - googling is totally allowed, and indeed expected, for the meta. Hit me up at the email on the right sidebar for hints or to submit a guess; I'll post the answer next Monday. Happy solving!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Indie puzzle highlights: March 2020

This was a fabulous month for indie puzzles, maybe the best since I started doing this thing. Constructors showed up in droves to provide social distancing entertainment, and there were a lot of gems among the bunch.

March 2: Dropping Bombs (Ricky Cruz, Cruzzles)

This is a standard P-to-F letter-change theme, but it has a delightful raison d'etre, which is that Pac-Man was originally called PUCK MAN, but the name was changed for English markets so people wouldn't change the P to an F on the arcade machines. A perfect encapsulation of Ricky's pop cultural sensibility, also on display in many of the themers: A LINK TO THE PAST, DISNEY FLUS, FICKLE RICK, TRIVIAL FURSUIT, FEZ DISPENSER, and FRANK CHANNEL. I hesitated about including this one because there's more iffy fill than I like (EILE, I TEN, ONE HR, MEDUSAN, IT'S SO), but ultimately the entertainment factor of the theme won me over. There's also some fun stuff in the fill, like JOHN CENA and PANIC BUTTON, plus ALT TABS trickily clued as [Switches to another program].

March 2: Spell Weaving (Joon Pahk, Outside the Box)

I've never constructed a Spell Weaving puzzle, so I don't know how hard it is, but I've gotta assume it's not easy to include a bunch of long words and phrases when all the entries interweave with each other. Joon makes it look easy, though, with GREEN NEW DEAL, ED SULLIVAN, MOSEY ALONG, I CAN AND I WILL, DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD, and GRADUATING CLASS.

March 7: Skylight (Christopher Adams, arctan(x)words)

Chris brings us a Schrodinger puzzle based on the fact that both MORNING STAR and EVENING STAR refer to the same object, VENUS. The central across entry doubles as both "morning star" and "evening star," with the down entries MATING/EATING, SHOOED/SHOVED, and PAYER/PAYEE doing double duty. I think this is a great theme, but in the interests of full disclosure, I once ran a puzzle with the same theme, so I may be biased. But that means I do know from experience how hard it is to come up with Schrodinger entries where one letter is a consonant and the other letter is a vowel, and Chris managed to find three smooth pairs. Highlights in the fill include OENOPHILES, POWER OUTAGE, and RONDA ROUSEY.

March 8: Themeless 13 (Brian Thomas, Puzzles That Need a Home)

A beautiful pinwheel of long entries anchors the center of this themeless, which features sparkly entries like SITZKRIEG, SLEAZEBALL, DOCUDRAMA, Courtney BARNETT, COCOTAXIS, RIOT GRRRL, and the second appearance in two days of the word OENOPHILE. And nary a scowl-inducer in the grid!

March 10: Year 5 Rows Garden 27 (Joon Pahk, Outside the Box)

Joon does it again, somehow managing to pack HERE'S THE DEAL, YABBA DABBA DOO, GENDER NEUTRAL, I GOT THIS, ROLLER COASTER, GIVE ME ONE REASON, and MAGIC NUMBER into a single Rows Garden grid.

March 10: Not All Saints (Sid Sivakumar, Brooke Husic, and Evan Kalish, Sid's Grids)

One of the great things about indie puzzledom is the quick turnaround it allows. Sid, Brooke, and Evan put together this response to the March 10 NYT puzzle in less than a day. The NYT puzzle featured people who share their names with saints in California city names, like FRANCISCO FRANCO (San Francisco) and DIEGO RIVERA (San Diego). But it noticeably lacked any of California's many Santa ___ cities, so all the themers were dudes. This puzzle makes up for it by featuring ROSA PARKS, BARBARA WALTERS, MONICA LEWINSKY, and ANITA HILL. Not only that, the fill and clues are jam-packed with dozens more women's names, all without sacrificing solvability.

March 13: Puzzle Twenty Four (Max Carpenter, Donkey Puzzle Tree)

Max released a bunch of new puzzles on his website in March, of which this themeless is my favorite. It's got an absolutely bonkers grid pattern, and immediately after test-solving it, I decided to try filling the same grid pattern myself - but I quickly gave up. Max manages to fill it with lively entries like CAMEO BROOCH, ITALIAN STALLION, and CLEAN AS A WHISTLE, plus off-the-wall cluing like [Marx brothers?] for PROLETARIAT, [Quintessential father-son hand-me-down] for Y CHROMOSOME, and [Hips don't lie far from it] for GROIN.

March 21: Shameless Plugs (Paolo Pasco, Grids These Days)

This puzzle is based on the well-known phenomenon that it always seems to take more than two tries to put a USB in the right way. We've got four phrases with the string USB or BSU, but somehow, it's going in the wrong direction every time! So instead of CITRUS BOWL we have CITRBSUOWL, instead of TWO THUMBS UP we have TWOTHUMUSBP, instead of SIRIUS BLACK we have SIRIBSULACK, and instead of WEB SURFERS we have WEUSBRFERS. A hilarious theme based on something that few people other than Paolo would even think to turn into a puzzle. (Also, see Sid's Grids for a cheeky response puzzle.)

March 21: Naysayers Only (Finn Vigeland, Crossword Tournament from Your Couch)

In the most amazing puzzle event of the month(/year/decade), Finn and Kevin Der created an online crossword tournament to replace the postponed ACPT, going from conception to completion in a span of about a week, including a web interface that automatically tracked people's scores, put together by Kevin. Not only that, the puzzles were excellent too. My favorite was the one written by co-organizer Finn, and I won't spoil the theme for those who haven't gotten to the puzzles. Since I was speed-solving, I didn't pay much attention to the theme entries until after I finished, but suffice it to say that at least one of the theme entries made me laugh out loud once I figured it out. The fill's great too!

March 22: Black Tie Affair (Chris King and Christopher Adams, Chris Words)

The two Chrises team up for a puzzle about penguins, and who doesn't like penguins. A simple enough concept - phrases starting with types of penguin - but the themers are long and they intersect each other in complicated ways, and we've got an oversized grid to accommodate them all (MAGELLANIC CLOUDS, KING JAMES VERSION, JACKASS THE MOVIE, MACARONI AND CHEESE, EMPEROR CONCERTO, HUMBOLDT CURRENT, CHINSTRAP BEARD, ROYAL TREATMENT, plus the month-appropriate revealer MARCH OF THE PENGUINS).

March 25: Themeless 8 (Stella Zawistowski, Tough As Nails)

As advertised, Stella's themelesses are indeed tough as nails, and it's great to have another source of brain-bending themelesses. (This one took me around twice as long as a typical themeless does.) Some of the previous puzzles on her site have relied on relative obscurities like LUCULLAN BANQUET (obscure, though a fun phrase to learn). This one doesn't as much, but it's still clearly a Stella puzzle, with classical music (TESSITURA) and fashion (DRESS RACK, trickily clued as [Gap fixture]). But it primarily gets its difficulty from crunchy cluing, which makes it a very satisfying solve; even the central across entry, STATE OF THE STATE, is very inferrable, even if you happen not to know that rather delightful phrase. My favorite of the eight themelesses so far.

March 26: Puzzle No. 3529 (Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto, The Nation)

A sad day, as this is the very last cryptic from The Nation. This puzzle is their typical solid work (my favorite clue is [Taken is given a little more than three stars?] for PIRATED), but I'm really including it for the heartfelt sendoff that Joshua and Henri give to their solvers, with the entries SEE YOU LATER, ARRIVEDERCI, AUF WIEDERSEHEN, HASTA LA VISTA, AU REVOIR, and KEEP IN TOUCH. And you can indeed keep in touch, by signing up for their upcoming weekly cryptics.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Puzzle #115: Eating Right

I had a blast at the Crossword Tournament from Your Couch this weekend - thanks so much to everyone who helped put it on! And hopefully it's not the last tournament of its kind. I'll have more to say about it in my month-end writeup, but in the meantime, here's a new puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution). Enjoy!