Thursday, December 1, 2022

Indie puzzle highlights: November 2022

It's a hectic time for me, so a short post this month!

November 2: The Anti Puzzle (Malaika Handa, Vulture)

November 15: Freestyle 763 (Tim Croce, club72)

November 17: Strip Poker (Quiara Vasquez, QVXwordz)

November 28: Untitled (Kate Chin Park and Chandi Deitmer, Boswords)

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The Anti Puzzle (Malaika Handa)

As always, I love the ability of Vulture puzzles to stuff in tons of pop culture references while still remaining largely accessible: [Focal points of that one Kumail Nanjiani photo] for ABS, [Press Ctrl while playing "Fortnite"] for CROUCH, ["___, Please" (video game where the player is an immigration officer)] for PAPERS, etc. But of course, the star of this puzzle is the clue-of-the-year contender [Get a load of this guy?] for SPERM DONOR.

Freestyle 763 (Tim Croce)

The 763rd(!!) themeless on club72 is a classic Croce grid: three fresh in-the-language phrases stacked in the center (A LIFETIME AGO, WORD TRAVELS FAST, WHAT'S ONE MORE). I'm amazed at Tim's seemingly endless ability to pick up on these phrases; it's a constant reminder of how much of our everyday language is still relatively untapped by crosswords and wordlists. Elsewhere, he always manages to squeeze in creative stuff into the short fill, too - like WWJD and BIEBS.

Strip Poker (Quiara Vasquez)

Entries with the letters BAR in them have the BAR raised vertically above them - e.g. WEREWOLF BAR MITZVAH is written as WEREWOLF MITZVAH, with BARFING crossing the F in the center. The other themers are BAROQUE POP, BARBIECORE, and BARITE squeezed in the corner. The grid design is really smart here: Quiara's split the revealer, RAISING THE BAR, across three entries in the same row to avoid having to deal with an awkward 13-length revealer. And there's a remarkable quartet of long downs that span most of the grid: BICULTURAL, KEEBLER ELVES, RACHEL ZEGLER, and HAVANA CUBA. The kind of construction I've come to expect from Quiara, where the theme is cool but the grid is also laid out to maximize the non-theme coolness.

Untitled (Kate Chin Park and Chandi Deitmer)

The Boswords fall themeless leagues are always top-notch, but they were really firing on all cylinders this time, as evidenced by the fact that this is the third puzzle from the league to feature in my roundups. The grid is a stunner, with fabulous long entries like BERGY BITS, WOWIE ZOWIE, DID I DO THAT, EXSQUEEZE ME, UP AND COMER, DATE SPOTS, and OVER TO YOU. And, as befits the championship puzzle, there are a ton of devious misdirects in the cluing: [Hike the interest rate of?] for SEX UP, [Wrestling with a lack of humanity] for ROBOT SUMO, [Small gas giant] for QATAR, and [Image problem?] for REBUS.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Puzzle #192: Parade Float (with Hayley Gold)

A puzzle on a day that's not a Monday (pdf, jpzpdf solution)? I know, I know, but today is Thanksgiving south of the border, so Hayley Gold and I are bringing you a special variety cryptic. You might know Hayley as the author of Letters to Margaret or as the host of my monthly variety cryptic streams, but this is the first cryptic she's written! Many thanks to Bob Stigger, Steve Mossberg, Al Sanders, Tyler Hinman, and Sean Molley for the last-minute test-solves.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Puzzle #191: The Fault in Our Stars

Ever-so-slightly asymmetrical themer placement in this one (pdf, puz, pdf solution). I just had to squeeze in as much theme material as humanly possible!

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Indie puzzle highlights: October 2022

October 3: Getting in Shape (Brian Thomas, Puzzles That Need a Home)

October 12: Untitled (Adesina O. Koiki, Vox)

October 12: themeless no. 19 (crosstina aquafina ft. erik agard, crosstina aquafina)

October 17: Untitled (Malaika Handa, Boswords)

October 27: themeless xxvii ("ghost type") (Brooke Husic, xwords by a ladee)

October 31: Untitled (Kelsey Dixon, Boswords)

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Getting in Shape (Brian Thomas)

Two themes in one! This puzzle is inspired by Shel Silverstein's The Missing Piece Meets the Big O, with the revealer THE MISSING PIECE indicating that the main theme entries (MAKING A BIG SLASH, CHAR PERSON, BACH HEADS, STEP DANES, and COD TALKERS) are missing the letters P, I, E, C, and E, respectively. But then there's also the revealer THE BIG O, indicating that, if you connect all the occurrences of the letter O in the puzzle, they form a big O shape. An absolutely jaw-dropping feat of construction: seven regular theme entries, plus a structural theme that affects the entire grid - and THE BIG O intersects not only THE MISSING PIECE but also two other themers.

Untitled (Adesina O. Koiki)

There's an art to coming up with mini-themes for midi crosswords, and Ade's a pro - he's got a whole book of them. There's just something immensely satisfying about a perfectly matched pair of theme entries - in this case, DAWG POUND and KAT GRAHAM, which both sound like a type of pet plus a unit of weight. Exactly what I'm looking for in a 9x9 grid.

themeless no. 19 (crosstina aquafina ft. erik agard)

I remain extremely jealous of these constructors' ability to squeeze incredible clues out of even the most mundane of entries. ARR clued as [piracy notice?]. GRE clued as [academic test that kinda sorta rhymes with "theory"], setting up the punchline of SAT clued as [academic test that kinda sorta rhymes with "the undergraduate admissions racket exacerbates existing social inequalities"]. TAT clued as ["best font for PING PONG knuckle ___" (will shortz google search)]. CHEWED UP clued as [ground for da vores?]!!! Also the grid looks like an evil panda whose forehead is the excellent stack of MOOD BOARD ([felt collage]), LEAVE ON READ ([send a message to by not sending a message to]), and CHARACTER FLAW (["they care too much" or "he can't turn down a challenge" or "she's an anxious people pleaser who can't stop buying cursed amulets"]).

Untitled (Malaika Handa)

One of the most impressive themeless grids I've seen in a while, cascading with fun long answers everywhere you look: FINAL BOSSES, SHE RATES DOGS, GELATO BAR, TRUFFLE HOG, DEMISEXUAL, WHOOPIE PIES, LABRADOODLES, HOT TODDIES, BARBER POLE, WORLD TOUR... there's barely a wasted slot.

themeless xxvii ("ghost type") (Brooke Husic)

A stunner of a triple-stack: FRIENDSHIP GOALS, EMANCIPATION DAY, RESERVATION DOGS. Getting a triple-stack where all three entries are assets is tricky enough, but this stack also includes two stunning clues: [Platonic ideal?] for the top entry and [Series that was just OK in its first season?] for the bottom. There's lots of other great stuff, too, including the clue [They might drop bomb shells] for TAQUERIAS.

Untitled (Kelsey Dixon)

Another beautiful Boswords grid! It's anchored by the stagger-stack of KRABBY PATTY/MILLE BORNES/SCREAM QUEEN, intersecting the long downs of ALWAYS BE MY BABY and BLESS YOUR HEART, all excellent. I like all the interesting consonant combinations in this grid; it's not often that the central 3 crossing a stagger-stack is the likes of BBQ, and elsewhere we have things like MCNUGGET and SXSW crossing YORKSHIRE.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Puzzle #190: Autofilled

Because I never plan ahead for these things, today's puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) has nothing to do with Halloween. But hopefully you still think it's scary good!

Monday, October 24, 2022

Puzzle #189: Sound Asleep

Sometimes I like to post a silly little puzzle with nothing particularly fancy going on, and now is one of those times (pdf, puz, pdf solution). Happy solving!

Monday, October 17, 2022

Puzzle #188: May I Cut In?

This week's puzzle was inspired by a couple of works by the fabulous artist Kay Rosen. If you like crosswords (and I'm guessing that you do), I suspect you'll love her work as much as I do.

(pdf, puz, pdf solution)