Monday, April 1, 2019

Indie puzzle highlights: March 2019

Welcome to the latest installment of my indie puzzle highlights! Without any ado, here are my favorite puzzles from this month that aren't covered on Crossword Fiend:

March 2: Themeless 87 (Erik Agard, Glutton for Pun)

Another stellar themeless from Erik, as if we expected anything less. The number of great clues in this one is astounding. Highlights include [Standard operating procedure] as a clue for ANESTHESIA (it was also cleverly used as a clue for FLAG CODE in one of Erik's puzzles last year), [Artery uncloggers] for CARPOOLS, [Refuse to tap out] for ASHES, and [Take in a movie] for HEIST. But my favorite was [Square footage] for a four-letter entry - not AREA, as you'd naturally assume, but SYNC, which deviously reinterprets "square" as a verb.

March 4: You Snooze... (Matt Gaffney, New York Magazine)

My favorite piece of crossword news in the last month was that Matt Gaffney's crossword for New York Magazine are finally available for free online. My favorite of the month was his March 4 offering, whose theme entries are phrases that lose the letter Z, with the revealer LOSE A LITTLE SLEEP. Tons of colorful themers, including BOO THE CLOWN, IT'S FREEING IN HERE, and IGGY STARDUST. Good fill, too, including ADJUSTABLE, PASS THE BAR, and ROAD WINS.

March 9: In Control (Bryant White, Spyscape)

This puzzle was inspired by Get Smart; the phrase CONE OF SILENCE zigzagged through the grid to form the shape of the Cone of Silence under which Maxwell Smart and the Chief sit on the show, with SMART and CHIEF in the appropriate positions. SHOE PHONE and WOULD YOU BELIEVE rounded out the theme. A very nice visual theme, complemented by some nice fill like WET SNOW and solid cluing, including [Oxford mark] for SCUFF.

March 11: Aries Cryptic #11 (Andrew Ries, Aries Cryptic)

Andrew's work is consistently good, but this one was my favorite of his puzzles this month. There were two real standouts for me in the clues: [Stream content at no charge, capturing what's right and wrong] for FRESHWATER, and [Rays catcher bungled A's bunt hit, leading to error and run] for SUNBATHER.

March 11: Turn Around (Chris Adams, arctan(x)words)

Chris takes a bit of crosswordese and turns it into a delightful theme, where the revealer UIE indicates that U and E are added to phrases to make the theme entries. There's a good dose of wackiness in the theme entries: STATUE POINTS, GUY MONTAGUE, ROMAN J. ISRAELESQUE, VALUE KILMER, and GIGUE ECONOMY. Some very fresh fill too, including QUESTLOVE, BOARD EXAM, and FANDOMS.

March 21: Untitled (Caleb Madison, The Atlantic)

Impressively, this 8x8 themeless had no fewer than six 8-letter entries I really liked, which is a lot to stuff into such a small grid: SCALAWAG, SET PIECE, BUCK WILD, AI WEIWEI, CLAPBACK, and STEINWAY.

March 21: Puzzle No. 3493 (Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto, The Nation)

This week's cryptic from The Nation had a mini-theme: the last down entry was LAST, clued as [Like this clue, what can precede each of 11 diagram entries to make a phrase]. And indeed, Joshua and Henri managed to squeeze BREATH, WORD, RITES, DITCH, CALL, RESORT, SUPPER, NAME, GASP, LEGS, and HURRAH into the grid. Plenty of great clues as usual, but my favorite was the genius &lit clue [Observer at core, following star and moon motions!] for ASTRONOMER.

March 25: Band Weaving (Patrick Berry, A-Frame Games)

At the ACPT, Patrick presented a tribute to crossword legend Mike Shenk by combining two puzzle types that Mike invented: Marching Bands and Spell Weaving. This is surely one of Patrick's most jaw-dropping constructions, which is saying a lot. A couple of dozen squares in this one appear in no fewer than four different words, rather than the usual two, making the grid astronomically more difficult to fill than a normal crossword, but Patrick does it seemingly without breaking a sweat.

March 26: [Cue FRIENDS Theme Song] (Nate Cardin)

Nate doesn't have an indie site, but the ACPT inspired him to dash off this puzzle with an amicable theme, in which words are reparsed as groups of friends: CORK'S CREW, BUMP KIN, OX FAM, CAR PALS, and TASTE BUDS. It's only a 13x13 grid, but Nate manages to fit in lots of good stuff in the fill, including PREMARITAL SEX, JACKALOPE, and KTHX. [Gettsyburg address?] as a clue for EDU is also very nice. This puzzle made me wish we saw Nate's byline more often!

Monday, March 25, 2019

Puzzle #99: Triple J

New themed puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) this week; recap of my favorite puzzles from March coming next week (maybe a couple days later than normal). Enjoy!

Monday, March 11, 2019

National Sports meta solution

Last week's meta asked you identify a two-word drink which would complete the theme. So, what were the theme entries? Well, there were four obvious theme entries: the four longest across entries were all the names of famous athletes: JERRY RICE, LIONEL MESSI, AYRTON SENNA, and SAMMY SOSA. That takes care of the "sports" part of the title.

What about the "national" part? Well, SOMALIA is a country, but that's a bit of a red herring. In fact, SOMALIA is a theme entry, but only because it contains a country, namely MALI. And there are two other symmetrically placed across entries that contain the names of countries: S(USA)NNA and R(OMAN)CE.

In each case, you can replace the hidden country with a single letter to get the last name of one of the athletes:

Lionel MESSI is the only one missing a partner. So we need a two-word drink which has a country in place of one letter in his last name, which means the solution is M(ANGO LA)SSI. A very tough meta, so congrats to all who figured it out!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Puzzle #98: National Sports (meta)

A sports-related crossword (pdf, puz, pdf solution) on Bewilderingly? I know, I'm as surprised as you are. But this one required no actual sports knowledge to construct, and the meta requires no actual sports knowledge to solve, either. The meta answer is a two-word drink which would complete the theme. As always, my email's open if you've got the answer or if you want a nudge in the right direction. Answer next week!

Friday, March 1, 2019

Indie puzzle highlights: February 2019

Welcome to the second installment of indie puzzle highlights! Like last month, I'll be running down some of my favorite puzzles from the previous month published in venues not covered on Crossword Fiend. That means that unlike January, I won't be including the Universal puzzles, since Crossword Fiend covers those now. But I have added a few more puzzles to the rotation, including David Alfred Bywaters' puzzles and Matt Gaffney's puzzles for The Week. On to the list:

February 2-5: Happy Grid-hog Day! (Paolo Pasco, Grids These Days)

On February 2, Paolo published a Punxsutawney Phil-themed crossword for Groundhog Day. Pretty straightforward theme, with Phil's name spread across the entries PUT NEXT TO, KAMA SUTRA, WORKING MEMORY, and STEPCHILD. Solid stuff as Paolo's always is, but I wasn't planning on include it in my highlights.

But then on February 3, Paolo published another crossword called "Happy Grid-hog Day!" This one features entries that RESTARTED, like Bill Murray's day in Groundhog Day: C-CUP OF JOE, D-DAY BREAK, T-TOP OF THE HEAP, and B-BALL GOWN. (Fun fill in this one included BALLYHOO, THE MOLE, KUSH, and Phineas and FERB.) It appeared that Paolo had become stuck in a time loop!

He was still stuck in the time loop on February 4. The revealer for that day's "Happy Grid-hog Day!" was AGAIN AND AGAIN, which was reparsed as "A gain and A gain," with theme entries gaining two A's: PORK ARUBA, I'M TIARAED, SAUNA BURN, and BULL PAEAN.

On February 5, we got a hand-written puzzle, on which Paolo, driven mad by being stuck in the time loop, had written a meta based on the three other puzzles. I won't spoil it here since he hasn't posted the answer (he could still be stuck in that time loop, for all I now!), but it was a delightful cap on a delightfully zany series of puzzles.

February 3: Take a Picture It Will Last Longer (Amanda Chung and Karl Ni, I Dreamed a Theme)

Amanda and Karl seem to have a knack for reimagining the morphology of words - see their recent NYT puzzle where they reimagined MATTRESS as a feminine form of MATTER, BUTTRESS as a feminine form of BUTTER, etc. This puzzle reimagines -IE words as "selfie"-type neologisms for types of photos: SHRIMP/ON THE BARBIE, COLORADO ROCKIE, FAST FOOD JUNKIE, VEGAN COOKIE. A simple but original theme.

February 7: Puzzle No. 3489 (Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto, The Nation)

I've started doing Joshua and Henri's cryptics for The Nation. They're old hands at this so I expected greatness, and I wasn't disappointed. What I most liked were the entries that used creative mechanisms instead of just the standard anagrams, concatenations, etc. Highlights:

HOOPLA: [Controversy setting back Arabic translation: Winnie ___] (Imagining "Winnie al Pooh" as the Arabic version of "Winnie the Pooh")
MEDEA: [Sorceress's concept: I became an object] (the subject "I" becoming the object "me"
BETIDE: [Happen to act as a detergent]

I also liked MARGOT FONTEYN, whose clue plays on the fact that her name in reverse starts with the Russian and English words for "no." (Now I'm imagining a Russian ballet impresario palindromically shouting "Nyet! No Fonteyn!") Knowing that Joshua is a classical music critic, I wanted to drop MORTON FELDMAN in that spot - it's remarkable how many letters they have in common.

February 8: Imprecise Measurements (Francis Heaney, Wordnik)

Wordnik's got a new newsletter, and it features a Francis Heaney puzzle! It's always exciting to see his byline. The theme of this one is simple but colorful, and it's exactly what it sounds like from the title: the themers are PITTANCE, CRAPLOAD, SCINTILLA, and SHOVELFUL. The fill sparkles, with entries like WHOOP IT UP, Dwight SCHRUTE, "SO CUTE!", CRONUTS, and ALL THUMBS. All thumbs up for this one!

February 10: Initial Changes (Chris King, Chris Words)

One of those wish-I'd-thought-of-it themes: initials in famous people's names are changed to a different letter and fused to the name that follows: MARY OBLIGE (my favorite, and what I'm guessing was the inspiration for this theme), CROSS PEROT, KNIGHT SHYAMALAN, ROBERT GLEE, and IRON HUBBARD. Fun fill includes LAY AN EGG and UPTEMPO.

February 15: "You're Pushing It!" (Tim Croce, club72)

It's rare that Tim publishes a themed puzzle on his site (this was something like the seventh one, and he's published more than 400 themelesses), so I figured there must be a special occasion. And the occasion was very special indeed! The theme announced the birth of Tim's son, NATHAN MARK Croce, with a clever mechanism. The central across entry instructs you to CONNECT THE O'S, and if you connect all the O's in the grid, you'll get an image of the "male" symbol. Quite a feat of construction, especially given that CONNECT THE O'S itself has two symmetrically placed O's that are part of the theme. Congratulations, Tim!

February 17: Winding Numbers (Christopher Adams, arctan(x)words)

Some squares in this puzzle had different letters in the across and down answers; the instructions tell us that those letters will spell out two shapes. This one took me a few minutes after I finished the grid to figure out, because you can't just read the letters from left to right and top to bottom: instead, they form a FIBONACCI SPIRAL (which, indeed, is the shape spelled out by the across entries). The down entries spell out GOLDEN RECTANGLE, which is the shape of the grid. Very clever theme, and there's plenty of crunchy fill to keep people who aren't into math entertained: DISASTER PORN, LEX LUTHOR, SHAZAM, ADORBS, ZUMBA, and THE END IS NEAR are the higlights.

February 18: Grand Larson-y (Erik Agard and Doug Peterson, Glutton for Pun)

Absolutely bizarre-looking grid on this one: there's one row on the top that just has a single six-letter entry, and there's a huge chunk of black squares on the right into which a single entry juts. It turns out there's a good reason for this: our theme is CAPTAIN MARVEL and her tagline HIGHER, FASTER, FURTHER. HIGHER, of course, is in the top row, higher than the rest of the grid, and FURTHER is the one that juts out further than the rest of the grid. Finally, you're likely to solve FASTER faster than the rest of the grid, because the clues in its corner are drop-dead easy, while the rest of the grid is pretty knotty, with tricksy clues like [Pearl source] for TAMPAX and [Summer's hottest day] for DISCO ERA. Hilarious and original stuff.

February 25: That's So Meta (Dave Murchie, Monday Fills)

I like just how wacky the revealer clue is: [One of three things in this puzzle; or one of six things; or one of seven things if you count this thing]. The (very meta) answer is THEME ENTRY, and the theme turns out to be a rebus theme with THEME squeezed into single squares three times: LET (THEM E)AT CAKE crossing ON (THE ME)ND, PEDAL TO (THE ME)TAL crossing (THE ME)TS, and DENNIS (THE ME)NACE crossing IN (THE ME)DIA. My only quibble is that IN THE MEDIA doesn't feel entirely crossworthy to me - I'd have preferred the radio show ON THE MEDIA, but maybe Dave wanted to avoid having two ON THE ___ phrases. Nonetheless, a fun theme (with some fun fill, including ENABLER, CHEERIO, and CRIB SHEET).

And those were my favorites for the month! Let me know in the comments if you had any others.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Puzzle #97: Double Down

Recently, a lot of top solvers have taken to solving puzzles with the Down clues only for an extra challenge. This assumes that there's only one possible solution to the Down clues that results in sensical Across entries. But what if there was a puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) with two completely non-overlapping solutions?

(Note that the puz file only accepts one of the two possibilities, but they're both in the PDF solution.)

Friday, February 1, 2019

Indie puzzle highlights: January 2019

This year, I actually started keeping track of all the indie crosswords I solve, so I decided to start a new feature on the blog: every month, I'll highlight some of my favorite crosswords of the past month.

"Indie" is a bit of a misnomer here: I'm just going to include puzzles that don't get covered on Diary of a Crossword Fiend. So that means I won't be including indies like Gorski, Jonesin', and BEQ, but I'm also going to be including some non-indie publications that don't get covered elsewhere.

This month, I took a look at: Universal, The Atlantic, Outside the Box, Aries Freestyle, Aries Cryptic, Spyscape, Monday Fills, arctan(x)words, club72, I Dreamed a Theme, Grids These Days, Glutton for Pun, and Chris Words. In future months, I'll probably both add and subtract some from this list. If you have any suggestions for venues I should add, let me know! (But my spreadsheet has 93 crosswords for January, and that's not including crosswords I solve that are covered on Crossword Fiend, so no guarantees!)

On to this month's highlights (spoilers abound, of course):

January 3: Themeless 86 (Erik Agard, Glutton for Pun)

Erik only posted one puzzle this year, but it was a treat: a 21x21 themeless. Brutally difficult cluing, so much so that joon pahk was nearly undone by it solving downs-only. Anyone who knows me knows that a puzzle that includes Joanna NEWSOM is automatically going to be in my good books, but there was lots of other good stuff, too: ON T clued as [Taking a hormone, for short]; a stack of COAST TO COAST, ON THE UP-AND-UP, and MELON BALLERS; MOREHOUSE MAN; and much more. Some things that were obscure (at least to me), including ESPN's Mina KIMES, but a very fun and tough solve.

January 11: "Hear! Hear!" (Tracy Gray, Universal)

The theme for this one was double homophones: GNUS CRUISE, MINI PURL, A BRONC'S TAIL, RAZE CANE, and BUY THE WHEY. Impressive that Tracy found so many short phrases with two homophones in them, and there's lots of great fill too, including STUBBLE, STYLISH, EPIDURALMAN CAVE, and FERENGI.

January 13: It All Worked Out (Paolo Pasco, Grids These Days)

The theme was phrases starting with synonyms for "muscular" (RIPPED OFF, BUILT TO LAST, JACKED UP, and CUT AND PASTE), with the revealer HIT THE GYM. (Side note: someone needs to make a Schrodinger puzzle where the answer to the clue [Jacked] can be STOLE or SWOLE.) A nice enough theme, but what I really liked about this one was a set of three delightful bits of fill: ZONKEYMETACRITIC, and SCOOCH OVER.

January 18: Untitled (Caleb Madison, The Atlantic)

Caleb does a mini-puzzle for The Atlantic every weekday, with the puzzles getting bigger and harder (from 5x5 to 9x9) throughout the week. Caleb's a good constructor so they're good crosswords, though it's rare I can get terribly excited about a themeless mini. Still, he often manages to get a lot of good entries into the Friday offerings. This one, for example, has DOUBLE TAP, CHILL PILL, ALBATROSS, ZEN MASTER, INTROVERT, and TONGUE-TIE - not bad for a 9x9 grid!

January 21: Mix and Match (joon pahk, Outside the Box)

joon's Rows Gardens are always good, but I had trouble picking one to highlight. So instead I'm going to highlight a new type of variety puzzle he invented, called Mix and Match. The clues are all single words, and each entry is an anagram of one clue and a synonym of another clue; it's entered in a square whose number is the sum of the numbers of the two clues. For example: IRIDESCENT is an anagram of [Indiscreet] and a synonym of [Shimmery]. It looks simple, but I imagine it was no easy task to fill a grid only using single-word entries that have common anagrams. My other favorites: TRUCULENT ([Unclutter] and [Defiant]] and MONOGRAMS ([Groomsman] and [Initials]).

January 22: Something Followed (Amanda Chung and Karl Ni, I Dreamed a Theme)

After not posting for a while, Amanda and Karl blessed us with three crosswords in a two-day period. This one was my favorite; it hid the names of four types of bread in rebus squares, with the revealer BREADCRUMBS. The theme entries were all great: SPIT AND POLISH crossing CAPITAN (pita bread), DEFLATEGATE crossing FLATTER (flatbread), PER YEAR crossing TEARY-EYED (rye bread), and KITTY-CORNER crossing UNICORN (cornbread). I also liked HOME ICE in the fill. There was one short fill entry I wasn't familiar with: NONI, which is apparently a type of fruit that's used in a lot of supplements and such. Seems obscure to me, but maybe it'll be the next ACAI!

January 25: Speak Up (Zhouqin Burnikel, Universal)

A fabulous topical theme based on the TIME Person of the Year 2017: the SILENCE BREAKERS who spoke out against sexual assault. The theme entries "break" words referring to silence: HUSH in HIGH SCHOOL CRUSH, LULL in LUCILLE BALL, CALM in COCONUT PALM, and QUIET in QUICK ON ONE'S FEET. I normally don't care for phrases with "one's," but this (like the rest of the theme entries) is super colorful. Also loved BE PATIENT and TIGHT-KNIT in the fill.

January 26: Character Actors (Paolo Pasco, Universal)

Paolo completes an excellent one-two punch from Universal. The theme entries are actors punningly reimagined as punctuation marks: CARET TOP, COLON FARRELL, and TILDE SWINTON, with the revealer TYPECAST. A rare example of a puzzle where both the title and the revealer perfectly encapsulate the theme. Great to see ALEX AND ANI instead of just ANI in the fill, as well as LOOKIE HERE, THAT'S GOOD, and HETERO.

January 27: ffs (Christopher Adams, arctan(x)words)

Chris posts a lot of puzzles with very simple themes but a huge amount of theme content, and this is a great example. The theme is just phrases with the initials FF. There are so many I'm not going to list them all, but my favorites were FYRE FESTIVAL (topical because of the dueling Netflix and Hulu docs), FATHER FIGURE, FANTASY FOOTBALL, FLAGRANT FOUL, and FOSBURY FLOP with the brilliant clue [Dick move?]. Fill highlights include STUDMUFFIN, TECHNO FUNK, and BANKSY.

Those were my favorites! Let me know in the comments if there were others that you think deserve some kudos.