Monday, September 9, 2019

Puzzle #106: Back in Black

I promise one of these days I'll post another full-size puzzle, but in the meantime here's a mini (pdf, puz, pdf solution) to tide you over.

In other news, two new puzzle sites popped up this week: Sid Sivakumar created Sid's Grids and has already posted 5(!) puzzles in 5 days, and Brian Thomas created Puzzles That Need a Home, where he's posted a really fun themeless. Check them out!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Indie puzzle highlights: August 2019

There are a couple of puzzles from Lollapuzzoola that I'd like to highlight this month, but the solve-at-home deadline hasn't passed yet so I don't want to spoil them. Stay tuned next month for those ones!

August 4: Freestyle 115 (Christopher Adams, arctan(x)words)

Lots of colorful 10-letter entries in this one, including KEYTAR BEAR (who I'd never heard of, but which is perfectly inferrable), MUNCHAUSEN, TILT-A-WHIRL, and TRASH PANDA. (Improbably, this isn't the only themeless from August to include TRASH PANDA - Tim Croce's most recent themeless does too.)

August 7: Year 2 Puzzle 32 (Andrew Ries, Aries Freestyle)

I'm biased in favor of this one because ERIE is clued as [Lake near London], referencing my hometown of London, Ontario. But there's lots to like aside from that, including SEX TAPE clued as [Action movie], SWATCHES clued as [They may be felt, in two senses], and the great poem DOVER BEACH.

August 18: Them's Fightin' Words (Ross Trudeau, Rossword Puzzles)

A very clever theme: We've got phrases that include foreign-language words for "war" (C'EST LA GUERRE, BLITZKRIEG BOP, and ANTEBELLUM ERA), with the revealer THIS MEANS WAR. Good fill, too, with the highlights being the 10s VOODOO DOLL and NEXT PLEASE.

August 19: A Hire Purpose (Peter Rubin, Wired)

Part of the reason I'm including this one is just to highlight Peter Rubin's excellent article about representation in crosswords, whih discusses the work of people like Rebecca Falcon, Ben Tausig, and the Inkubator crew. But Peter actually wrote his own crossword for the article about THE PIPELINE MYTH - clued, with cross-references to the other themers - as [Ridiculous excuse for why so many CEOS (including MUSK and COOK) kinda look ALL THE SAME]. There are a few infelicities, including a quite segmented grid, but this is astounding work for a beginner. In keeping with the article's themes, he includes ENBY (short for "non-binary") and UMAR (a hugely important figure in Muslim history, but an entry that's never been used in the NYT).

August 25: Road Blocks (Matt Gaffney, New York Magazine)

A NYC-centric theme, as we often see in the New York Magazine puzzles: all the theme entries (TACOMA WASHINGTON, BRADLEY COOPER, MODERN TIMES, MIAMI HERALD, LAND OF LINCOLN, THE EUROPEAN UNION) end in the names of SQUARES in Manhattan. What makes this puzzle stand out is the stairstep grid pattern, which tends to lend itself to sparkling midlength fill. This puzzle's got it in spades, including MILIEU, FERVENT, SQUID, SPURTED, SCREW UP, and CHIMERA. Not much to dislike either, though Matt tends to be more willing to use partials than most, so we've got the somewhat awkward ICE ON here.

August 26: Cryptic (Erik Agard, Outside the Box)

Erik presents a cryptic where every clue is related to hip-hop - reminds me of a lot of the old Cox & Rathvon cryptics where the clues are all themed. I've never tried to construct this kind of cryptic, but I imagine it's a real challenge. It features one of the smoothest clues I've ever seen ([House of Pain debuts "Jump Around" for HOP), and other great stuff like [Vines of Salt-N-Pepa dancing] for PEA PLANTS, [Try to beat around French Montana, say] for BETA-TEST, and ["Started from the Bottom" took 100 takes] for DETRACTS.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Indie puzzle highlights: July 2019

July 1: Puns & Anagrams (Andy Kravis ft. Erik Agard, Outside the Box)

I have to admit, Puns & Anagrams puzzles aren't really my thing. They're often basically a less rigorous form of cryptic, and I'd rather just solve a normal cryptic. But at their best, they take advantage of the looser format to entertain in ways that typical crosswords can't. This one's a case in point; it's got a huge variety of different types of wordplay in the clues (MIC is [Seis addition], OUT COLD is [Opposite of in heat], PRELAW is [Place for Coles], SLACKER is [Aimle peron], etc.). The clue for BOLSHOI, [Wherein a dancer gambols, hoists their partner], is an especial delight.

July 2: Match Fixing (Ross Trudeau, Rossword Puzzles)

Ross Trudeau's got a brand-new puzzle site, inevitably named Rossword Puzzles. I've enjoyed all the puzzles he's posted so far; this one was one of the large crop of Women's World Cup-inspired puzzles we got around this time. There might even have been too many such puzzles, but I liked this one, since I'm always a sucker for a Schrodinger grid. The grid oscillates between AMERICA and ENGLAND as the two possible winners of the final match. (Though of course, we all now know what the correct answer turns out to be.) My favorite Schrodinger clue: [An instagrammer might show this off on her arm #newaccessory! ;-)], which can clue BAE or BAG. Minor ding for the duplication of NEW and NEWS, but otherwise a great puzzle.

July 7: Out-of-Body Experiences (Paolo Pasco, Grids These Days)

This Paolo puzzle is inspired by the chest-bursting scene from Alien. In each theme entry, the string of letters CHEST is interrupting by the name of an alien bursting upwards. So CHEF'S TABLE crosses ALF at the F, RORSCHACH TESTS crosses GROOT at the T, and SNATCHES AT crosses YODA at the A. An extraordinarily weird set of mental images, if you insert those aliens into the Alien scene! The non-theme fill sparkles, too: ZEBRA SHARK, HOCKEY MASK, SURF THE WEB, HIGGS BOSON, SCENIC ROUTE, and TOP-TEN LISTS are among the lively long fill entries.

July 11: Puzzle No. 3504 (Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto, The Nation)

This one's a cryptic with a gimmick. The revealer SINGLE-MINDEDLY describes how the across entries are clued: as if all their double letters were single letters. So for example, [Spy on (stare at) wasteful endeavor] clues BOONDOGGLE, though the wordplay half of the clue suggests BOND OGLE. Similarly, [Dog returning what I threw?] cleverly clues BALL, which is the dog LAB backwards if you ignore the double L. Outside of the gimmick, there's also a great &lit clue ([Colossal volley contents!] for SALVO).

July 15: Marching Bands (Andrew Esten, Outside the Box)

Andrew fits some impressively long entries into this Marching Bands, including MORMON TABERNACLE taking up an entire band and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE overlapping the last six letters of RAGNAROK going backwards. It was cool to see half of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (WAR and PESTILENCE) make an appearance. A really nice construction.

July 26: Bigger Than Before (Paolo Pasco)

Paolo Pasco has his own puzzle site, which you read about a few paragraphs above and about a million other teams in these roundups, but he didn't publish this puzzle there, he just posted a pic on Twitter. A wise choice, because the theme is based on a viral video which, in these fast-paced times, everyone has probably already forgotten about by now. In the puzzle, the word EGG appears three times in the grid, getting bigger each time it appears. If you have no idea of the significance of that, then you're probably just not online enough, but I kind of like the idea of solving this puzzle without the original reference point. It'd basically be the nonsense absurdist humor that millennials like Paolo love so much. Plus, the word EGG is inherently funny, if you ask me.

July 27: Made or Marred (David Alfred Bywaters, New Crosswords / Old Novels)

As the name of his site suggests, David posts a new crossword and a recommendation of a forgotten Victorian novel every week. This week, he combines the two by recommending Jessie Fothergill's Made or Marred and posting a crossword inspired by the sound change in the novel's title: the themers are LAMP SHARD, PLUMBER'S SNARK, A SLAP IN THE FARCE, I'VE COME TO STAR, and HELL TO PAR. A colorful, entertaining set. David's puzzles tend to lack flash; he opts for straightforward, easy cluing and eschews most modern references. So they're rarely my favorites, but on the plus side his fill is usually very smooth, and he often highlights interesting words - in this case, entries like PERORATE and SUPPLE.

July 28: Fall Colors (Matt Gaffney, New York Magazine)

This puzzle's technically not new - the New York Mag crosswords published online alternate between new puzzles and archival puzzles. So this one's from 2018 - but it's new to me, so good enough. As the title suggests, color names at the end of theme entries take a 90-degree turn and fall towards the bottom of the grid. This gives Matt an opportunity to work in some really long entries (KALAMATA OLIVE, THE WOMAN IN RED, CLEVELAND BROWN, ALL THAT GLITTERS IS NOT GOLD, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, and STAY IN THE BLACK). That's a real architectural challenge, but the fill doesn't suffer, and there are some nice bonuses, including WAFER-THIN, Lupita NYONG'O, RICE-A-RONI, and SYNTACTIC (maybe a boring entry for some, but as a former syntactician, I'm a fan).

July 28: Boswords puzzles (various constructors)

Check out this constructor lineup: John Lieb, Joon Pahk, Andrew Kingsley, Claire L. Rimkus, Finn Vigeland, Ross Trudeau, Paolo Pasco, Laura Braunstein, David Quarfoot... you know the puzzles are gonna be good. And rather than pick just one, I'm going to rep the whole set of puzzles. I'll be honest, half the reason is that my favorite puzzle was Paolo's, and I've already repped Paolo twice in this post alone. Just don't want it to get to his head, is all. But all the puzzles are good, so if you haven't checked them out, go give them a shot!

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Puzzle #104: Freestyle 7

It's been a while since I've posted a freestyle here, and I don't think I've ever posted a puzzle on Sunday instead of Monday. But, as you'll see, I just had to post this one (pdf, puz, pdf solution) today - though the relevant entry wasn't even the seed entry, actually. Enjoy!

Monday, July 1, 2019

Indie puzzle highlights: June 2019

I just became a father yesterday, so if I ever fail to post one of these roundups on the first of the month, you'll know why! But I managed to find some time today, so here we go:

June 1: Untitled (Rebecca Falcon, finals puzzle of the Indie 500)

SPOILERS for the Indie 500 - the moratorium on discussing the puzzles has been lifted, but solvers-at-home can still submit their times until July 8, so if you're one of those solvers, read no further!

The theme of this year's Indie 500 was travel, and there are some appropriately travel-related tricksy clues in Rebecca Falcon's finals puzzle, like [Stranded carrier] for DNA and [French connections] for AMIS. The travel-related WANDERLUST also gets a cleverly misleading clue, [Rover's driver]. This puzzle has just about the amount of crunchiness and challenge I expect from a finals puzzle, with clues like [Wet bar] for REEF and [It might be conducted with a baton] for MEET, and nice marquee entries like IT'S A DIRTY JOB, I LOOSENED IT, FLAT EARTH THEORY and ONOMATOPOEIA. I also love [CIA part] as a clue for INST, referencing the far better of the two famous CIAs, the Culinary Institute of America.

And it doesn't quite make my list, but I'd be remiss if I didn't at least give a brief shoutout to Yacob Yonas's puzzle, my other favorite puzzle of the tournament.

June 1: Cryptic Triptych (Neville Fogarty)

A set of five variety cryptics (also travel-related, in honor of the Indie 500) by Neville Fogarty. (And yes, it's called "Cryptic Triptych" but it has five puzzles - Neville explains it all in the PDF.) These cryptics aren't actually my personal favorites, because I like a real challenge from my cryptics and these ones are aimed towards more casual solvers. But that's precisely why they're on the list - it's relatively rare to have cryptics deliberately pitched at an easy difficulty, so puzzles like these are really valuable.

June 2: Neighborhood Watch (Matt Gaffney, New York Magazine)

This one's got a super clever New York-geography related theme: HOUSTON STREET running across the center, with "NoHo" phrases to the north (NOBODY'S HOME, NOVOTEL HOTELS, NOW HONESTLY) and "SoHo" phrases to the south (SOCIAL HOURS, SORORITY HOUSE, SOCK HOPPERS).

June 6: June FREEstyle (Andrew Ries, Aries Puzzles)

Andrew has a subscription service for freestyle puzzles, but he also sometimes posts a puzzle that puts the "free" in "freestyle." And you get way more than you pay for: colorful entries like GOD COMPLEX, WHAMMY PEDAL, AND ANOTHER THING, and THE DEFENSE RESTS, and clues like [Training for making a cat chat?] for FRENCH LESSONS.

June 7: Untitled (Caleb Madison, The Atlantic)

A super-sized 11x11 puzzle (Caleb's mini-puzzles for The Atlantic are usually no more than 9x9) about the SENECA/FALLS convention, with pleasingly-alliterative suffragist CARRIE/CHAPMAN/CATT scattered throughout the grid. And as a bonus, the puzzle reveals that the 1-Across entries in the week's four previous puzzles spell out a suffrage-related headline: WOMEN/GAIN/VOTING/RIGHTS.

June 12: Phantom Thread (Nate Cardin)

If Nate keeps putting out impossibly fresh bite-sized puzzles like this, I'll keep putting them on the list. This one's got a mini ghosting-inspired them with the memetic phrases I DON'T KNOW HER and NEW PHONE, WHO DIS, tied together by the revealer GHOST STORIES. In the fill, there's a decided rarity: a fresh-feeling four-letter entry! WE DO, clued as [What two brides might say in unison], is a perfect twist on the old staple I DO for Pride Month.

June 18: Year 4 Rows Garden 41 (Joon Pahk, Outside the Box)

I think I've mentioned before that it's hard to pick a favorite Rows Garden from Joon in a given month because they're all solid. But I'm biased towards this one because it's got the word BEWILDERED in it, plus fun entries like BORED TO DEATH, PENTHOUSE SUITE, LYCANTHROPY, and a topical shoutout to the fabulous Anais Mitchell musical HADESTOWN.

June 18: Freestyle 428 (Tim Croce, club72)

Most week, Tim posts two freestyle puzzles, but this is the first one to appear on my wrapup. That's because Tim's got a particular, easily recognizable, style, with really strong emphases on a) new entries, and b) super hard cluing. This means that his crosswords aren't always everyone's cup of tea. I usually find that, of the many new entries in any given crossword by Tim, half of them are things that feel in-the-language and crossworthy to me. But in this puzzle, nearly all the entries rang true: the colorful stuff includes "PLAY FREEBIRD!", COLOSSAL SQUID, AVOCADO OIL, BLADELESS FAN, and HALL OF DOOM. The only one that didn't land for me was SORRY DAD, which feels pretty green paint-y.

June 20: Aries Cryptic 15 (Andrew Ries, Aries Puzzles)

Some beautiful, beautiful clues in this one:

- [After changing face, bad facial feature becomes good facial feature] for DIMPLE
- [Promos for vice-free tea services] for TEASERS
- ["Saved by the Bell" extra follows season finale of "Who's the Boss?"] for SPRINGSTEEN
- [Like actors preparing to shoot "Inception"] for ONSET
- [Japanese company essential to seven in ten doctors] for NINTENDO
- [Coach bus alternative] for TRAIN
- [Break up with an irreligious one] for PAGAN

June 21: Untitled (Caleb Madison, The Atlantic)

It was a good month for Caleb! Lots of good stuff in this 9x9 grid, including JAGERBOMB, SLOW/JAMS, ARABESQUE, and SOLILOQUY. I also loved seeing the French musical genre of YE-YE in the grid.

June 27: Themeless 13 (Paolo Pasco, Grids These Days)

There are six 14-letter entries spanning the grid of this themeless, and most of them are great: KOREAN BARBECUE, IRONY POISONING, WHOOPEE CUSHION, TATIANA MASLANY, and EMOTIONAL EATER are all highlights. That's some good gridwork!

Until next month!

Monday, June 24, 2019

Musical Numbers solution

Last week's meta, Musical Numbers, asked you to identify a symphony. What were the theme entries? Well, the grid was asymmetrical, so it wasn't immediately obvious, but some googling reveals that six of the across entries are the nicknames of famous symphonies:

ROMANTIC: Bruckner's 4th (also a couple other, much less famous, ones)
POLISH: Tchaikovsky's 3rd
PASTORAL: Beethoven's 6th
TRAGIC: Mahler's 6th (or Schubert's 4th, but more on that after)
RESURRECTION: Mahler's 2nd

Phrases like "Bruckner's 4th" suggest taking the 4th letter of BRUCKNER as an extraction mechanism. If you do that for each symphony in order, you get:


CHOUAL doesn't spell anything meaningful, but CHORAL is the nickname of Beethoven's 9th, so that's our answer. (Or, as one solver submitted, the letter N!)