Monday, October 14, 2019

Puzzle #107: Freestyle 8

New freestyle for y'all this week (pdf, puz, pdf solution). Normally with a triple-stacked grid like this one, I'd have the stacked 15s running horizontally... but most of my favorite clues are down clues, so I've flipped the grid in case there are any downs-only solvers out there.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Indie puzzle highlights: September 2019

We've got a lot of great puzzles to cover this month, starting with a throwback to August, because the at-home solving deadline for Lollapuzzoola was in September, so I didn't want to spoil the puzzles before then. Appropriate, since the theme for this year's Lollapuzzoola was time travel!

August 17: Saving Face (Maddie Gillespie and Doug Peterson, Lollapuzzoola)

This one had a tricky theme which is a little hard to describe: the words WATCH, SUNDIAL, and CLOCK need to be squeezed in between columns of the grid in order to GATHER THE PIECES and COMPLETE THE TIMELINE; making things even trickier, the letters in those words have to be removed from some of the clues in order for them to make sense. A really hard puzzle with a satisfying aha, though I definitely don't envy the solvers in the downs-only division.

August 17: Tense Situation (C. C. Burnikel, Lollapuzzoola)

This is a C. C. joint, so it's unsurprisingly much easier than Saving Face, and unsurprisingly really well constructed. The theme involves changing the tense of verbs and reinterpreting them, with wacky results: TURKEY SHOT, STAGE DOVE, NANCY DRAW, LIE LADY LIE, GOOGLE DROVE, and LOSING GRIND. The theme layout is intricate, with intersecting themers, but C. C. still managed to fit in the nice long down entries STONE COLD and BYZANTINE.

On to September!

September 2: Silent Night (Ross Trudeau, Rossword Puzzles)

Ross represents the phrase LOST SLEEP with three theme entries with silent Z's: LAISSEZ-FAIRE, RENDEZVOUS POINT, and SZECHUAN LAMB. A simple but elegant theme, leaving room for lots of fun fill like TEARS OF JOY, BEAST MODE, BJORK, JDATE, CHALKY, and DR. CLAW.

September 2: On the Clock (Christopher Adams, arctan(x)words)

This one's got an aesthetically beautiful, minimalist grid pattern: an 8x17 rectangle where the only black squares are four L shapes near the center. It's nearly themeless, but also has a simple yet elegant theme, progressing from LABOR DAY to WORK WEEK to MAN MONTH.

September 4: Year 2 Puzzle 36 (Andrew Ries, Aries Freestyle)

Usually the real attraction for me in Andrew's themelesses is the cluing, and there are some great clues in this one, including [They treat people badly] for QUACKS and [Gala producer] for APPLE TREE. But the fun long fill, including DOG SWEATER, UNDERBELLY, MEAT MARKET, and COAT POCKET, is what made this my favorite Aries Freestyle of the month.

September 5: JKL M 'n' O (Jesse Lansner & Ken Stern, ft. Laura Braunstein, JKL Crosswords)

Honestly, this one could have made my list just based on the title alone. But it's also a great encapsulation of the indie spirit: check out the story behind the theme on Jesse's site. The theme involves the sound MO being added to phrases: CONSUMMATE PROMO, VENMO DIAGRAM, COMO PARENTING, CHEWING GUMMO, and EMO PLURIBUS UNUM (that last one's a little nonsensical, but wacky enough that I'll give it a pass). In the fill, I really liked MCELROY, LACROIX, Youssou N'DOUR, and PLONK.

September 6: Untitled (Caleb Madison, The Atlantic)

Caleb manages to pack a ton of good stuff into this 9x9 themeless, including JOJO SIWA, KINKAJOUS, SKELETOR, SHARK WEEK, and KILLJOY.

September 8: Themeless 1 (Brian Thomas, Puzzles That Need a Home)

Brian gets off to a good start with the first puzzle on his new site. There are two clues that I absolutely loved: [Draft dodgers?] for TEETOTALERS, and the devious [Make a comic book?] for BOO OFF STAGE. Loved seeing GWEN STEFANI's full name in the grid, too.

September 17: Themeless 45 (Stella Zawistowski and Andy Kravis, Cruciverbalist at Law)

A surprise offering on Andy's site, which hadn't updated in a very long time. If you didn't know that Stella is into fashion, you might be able to guess from GLAMAZON, BALL GOWN, and VERA WANG; she also works her classical music fandom into the grid with OPERA BOX. A smooth themeless that really shows off the personality of the constructors, with bonus fill like DON'T I KNOW YOU, BLAH BLAH BLAH, BUY A VOWEL, and AMY MARCH.

September 19: Wait for It (Sid Sivakumar, Sid's Grids)

Sid's been a prolific poster so far, and there are several of his puzzles I could have chosen. Many of theme are bite-sized mini or midis, though, and this one's larger, allowing the fill to shine more. The theme visualizes THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM by having four storms (DERECHO, TYPHOON, CYCLONE, and TORNADO) preceded by blank spaces; the highlights from the fill include ZODIAC, REAL MCCOY, ZIPLOC, and GHOST FOREST (a term I didn't know, but an extremely inferrable one). Plus, a delightfully specific clue for ONE: [Average number of times a sloth poops per week].

September 23: Vwllss Crsswrd (Peter Broda, Outside the Box)

Much like Rows Gardens, but even more so, vowelless crosswords offer the opportunity for a grid that's full of long, colorful phrases and free of short crosswordese. Case in point: LET ME DO THE TALKING, IT'S ALL COMING BACK TO ME NOW, CHILDLIKE WONDER, SURGICAL PRECISION, PIGEON DROPPINGS, TASTEFUL NUDES, KILLER CLOWN, ARMCHAIR GENERALS, CROOKED COP, and RECORD SCRATCH are just some of the delightful entries in this offering from Peter, who's also got a collection of vowelless crosswords you can buy here.

September 24: [untitled goose crossword] (Paolo Pasco)

Another memetic crossword that Paolo just dropped on Twitter, this one's inspired by Untitled Goose Game, a video game in which you play as a goose whose mission is to annoy people. I haven't played the game, since I live in Canada and I can experience goose annoyance in real life just by going for a walk, but you don't have to have played it to appreciate the theme, which involves the word HONK, reparsed as H ON K, in various squares. The affected across answers have two clues, one for H and one for K - for example, one of the entries is either SHIMMER or SKIMMER. The affected down entries have the string HK in them - for example, the H/K in SHIMMER/SKIMMER crosses OSHKOSH.

September 26: Puzzle No. 3511 (Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto, The Nation)

Clever gimmick to this cryptic; fourteen of the answers in the grid are IRONCLAD, meaning that you have to surround them with FE before entering them for the wordplay portion of the clue to make sense. For instance, [Wild, wild rice] clues FIERCE, though the [wild rice] portion of the clue indicates just IERC. Similarly, [Rip off HarperCollins' chief] clues FLEECE, because LEEC is Harper LEE plus the first letter of Collins.

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!