Sunday, April 18, 2021

Puzzle #130: Incognito

A themed puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) this week! There are a mere two theme entries plus a revealer in this puzzle, so I gave myself a challenge by stacking them all in the middle.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Puzzle #129: Freestyle 15 (with Brooke Husic)

This week's puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) is yet another collab with the great Brooke Husic! Brooke has an excellent puzzle in Rachel Fabi's Baltimore Abortion Fund puzzle pack, which you should definitely get if you've been on the fence about it.


Monday, April 5, 2021

Puzzle #128: Bombs Away! (by Carly Schuna)

Today's puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) is by guest constructor Carly Schuna! Participants in the Boswords Fall Themeless League might recognize her as one of the featured solvers (in the pairs division). If you watched the Twitch stream, then you got to see her wildly impressive German wheel routine. I hope you enjoy her puzzle as much as I did!

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Indie puzzle highlights: March 2021

Tons of creative stuff this month - let's dive in!

March 5: I Fold (Malaika Handa, 7xwords)

March 8: Puzzle 118 (Max, Max Puzzles)

March 10: Tail Mix (Zhouqin Burnikel, USA Today)

March 17: Chasm No. 1 (Ryan McCarty, McGrids)

March 19: Tracking System (Patrick Berry, A-Frame Games) - no specific spoilers in writeup

March 24: Freestyle 4.12 (Andrew Ries, Aries Freestyle)

March 25: Theft! (Chris Piuma, Wordgarbler)

March 27: Digital Release (Ricky Cruz, Cruzzles)

March 28: Themeless #10 (Michael, Southern Crosswords)









I Fold (Malaika Handa)

It's been a long time since we've seen a meta that leads the solver on such a long and wonderful journey as Erik Agard's "Clip Show," which inspired Malaika to make this gem. Following in the footsteps of Chris King, she created a puzzle in the form of a paper fortune teller, which includes a word search, an unclued online crossword puzzle, some decryption, and more. A tour de force of imagination.

Puzzle 118 (Max)

I'm not sure what the smallest pangrammatic crossword is, but this one's gotta be close - it squeezes all 26 letters into a 7x7 grid without too much strain, which is a remarkable achievement.

Tail Mix (Zhouqin Burnikel)

It's always a good time for a periodic reminder of Zhouqin's mastery. Like many USA Today puzzles, this one only has three theme entries (HARD TO BEATSTILL IN BETA, AID AND ABET), which allows for squeaky-clean fill; this one has a pair of delightful stacks of long downs (RUTABAGA/ARUGULA/SIDEBAR and CHARADE/LINES UP/SALT MINE) that sparkle without compromising the fill at all.

Chasm No. 1 (Ryan McCarty)

An astonishingly wide open themeless from Ryan's new site. It's called a "chasm" because of the cavernous center, which has 3 stagger-stacked 11s crossing 5 stagger-stacked 9s. The crossings are all smooth, somehow, and Ryan even manages to squeeze in fun bonuses (BADASSERY, SMASH CAKE, EDGELORD) in the corners.

Tracking System (Patrick Berry)

In case people are still working their way through Patrick's new variety puzzle pack, I won't spoil any details. Suffice it to say, the last puzzle in the pack uses the meta answers from the previous puzzles and incorporates them all into the grid in such a way that an astoundingly large percentage of the squares are actually triple-checked. But, this being Patrick Berry, you'd never guess it from the fill, which is pristine throughout.

Freestyle 4.12 (Andrew Ries)

A really remarkable piece of construction, anchored by triple-stacked 15s (CRITICAL DARLING/AUTOMATIC FEEDER/BETTER YOU THAN ME). Quite often, running stacked 15s across the center leads to an abundance of short fill to the exclusion of interesting long fill, but these 15s are judiciously chosen, and there are all sorts of interesting long entries in the rest of the grid: OUT MAGAZINE, I HAVE NO CLUE, KATY JURADO, NO YOU DIDN'T, HIT THE ROOF, PANTOMIMED, etc.

Theft! (Chris Piuma)

The grid for this puzzle has been used for two other indies recently, and Chris decided to steal it and do something new with it. Since the black squares in the grid are all arranged in T shapes, the fill in this puzzle obeys a tricky constraint: there are no T's whatsoever. The clues, on the other hand, have exactly two T's each, though they're so smoothly worded that when I test-solved this puzzle I didn't even notice the constraint. Lovely and subtle work.

Digital Release (Ricky Cruz)

The theme itself is pretty ordinary - the theme entries are phrases (CLAIR DE LUNE, CHAIR WARMER, AU CONTRAIRE, SCIENCE FAIR) where the string AIR has been replaced by CO2. But the grid is presented in a murky grayscale, so that the contents of many of the squares aren't even visible unless you're highlighting the word - simulating the experience of trying to navigate through a thick smog. A brilliant way to exploit the possibilities of the PuzzleMe applet, drawing attention to the disastrous ecological impact of NFTs.

Themeless #10 (Michael)

I think this is the first of Michael's puzzles that I've featured here, though he's been posting for a while and I always enjoy his work. This one was just particularly packed with excellent clues: [What edgeplay might be] for PIG LATIN, [Cook's gadgets] for IDEVICES, [Bong hit?] for PARASITE (not the first time I've seen that one, but still fantastic), and so on. And the central across entry, CAN I GET AN AMEN, is also excellent.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Puzzle #127: Freeform Freestyle 1

 A few constructors (including Andrew Ries and Ryan McCarty) have been publishing asymmetrical themelesses lately, and as it happens, I've been stockpiling some of them for a few months now, so I thought I'd join in on the fun. Today's puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) is the first in a series of freeform freestyles. Many thanks to Brooke for test-solving!

Monday, March 1, 2021

Puzzle #126: Demi Themeless (with Brooke Husic)

 Back with another challenging collaboration with Brooke Husic (pdf, puz, pdf solution)! Many thanks to Mollie Cowger and Steve Mossberg for the test-solves.

Indie puzzle highlights: February 2021

A short post for a short month! 

February 8: Meta Shed (Brian Thomas, Puzzles That Need a Home)

February 17: Freestyle 4.7 (Andrew Ries, Aries Freestyle)

February 21: Themeless 23 (Paolo Pasco, Grids These Days)

February 21: R2D2-Like (Monday Mini #7) (Quiara Vasquez, QVXWordz)

February 27: themeless vi ("real hot girl shit") (Brooke Husic, xwords by a ladee)

February 28: Round and Round (Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon, The Hub)









Meta Shed (Brian Thomas)

Technically, this was posted in January, but the solution wasn't posted until February, and I had no hope of solving this meta suite. So I didn't know just how intricate it was until February. I won't lay out the theme(s) here, because it's so multi-layered that it would take too long, but Brian has posted the solution here. Given the conceptual complexity of this one, I'd love to see more meta suites from him!

Freestyle 4.7 (Andrew Ries)

Andrew has ramped up the difficulty of his freestyles recently, which is a welcome change given the recent decrease in difficulty of the Newsday Saturday. As I've mentioned before, he excels at pithy wordplay clues, and there are plenty of great ones in this puzzle: [Yearly collections] for ANNUAL FEES, [Dark rock variety] for DOOM METAL, [Showing character] for REALTOR, [Set amount] for REPS, and [One way to give someone credit] for INSTALLMENT PLAN are highlights. All in all, a satisfyingly hard but still smoothly filled challenge.

Themeless 23 (Paolo Pasco)

ARMPIT FART! SHORT KINGS! HYPE BEASTS! This puzzle just OOZES CHARM. Aside from the fill, it's (of course) full of Paolo's trademark fun, conversational cluing. A delight through and through.

R2D2-Like (Monday Mini #7) (Quiara Vasquez)

A lovely pair of intersecting seeds, MIU MIU and XIU XIU (with a clue referencing their great Twin Peaks cover album), anchor this mini. I also appreciate how, even in a mini with lots of common fill, Quiara always injects a lot of personality into the clues. I've mentioned my anti-mini bias, but Quiara's minis manage to be consistently engaging.

themeless vi ("real hot girl shit")

A relatively (emphasis on the relatively) easy outing from Brooke. But there's still as much creativity and care in the cluing as there is with her uber-hard themelesses. Even the cross-reference clues, which I generally am not a big fan of, feel very purposeful here. In the fill, I particularly like the matrix of interesting long answers IT HAS POCKETS, SHINKANSEN, THE THING IS, and SOUL-CRUSHING.

Round and Round (Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon)

A lovely and eye-catching visual theme, where the grid looks like an eddy/ripple pattern, and all the 9-letter across entries are related to things that go round and round: DERVISHES, CLOCKWISE, PROPELLER, PIROUETTE, CARTWHEEL, ELECTRONS, HURRICANE, MAELSTROM, and TURNSTILE. The 9-letter downs aren't part of the theme, but I did amuse myself thinking about planets as CELESTIAL/MEATBALLS.