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!)

Monday, June 17, 2019

Puzzle #103: Musical Numbers

This week's puzzle is a meta (pdf, puz, pdf solution), and the meta answer is a symphony. As always, email my at my address in the sidebar to submit your answer, for hints, etc., and the answer will be posted next week. Good luck!

Friday, May 31, 2019

Indie puzzle highlights: May 2019

This month's edition comes just in time for the Indie 500! And it was a great month for crosswords, as you'll see.

May 1: Year 2 Puzzle 18 (Andrew Ries, Aries Freestyle)

Some typically devious cluing from Andrew, including [Dawn accumulation] for SUDS (I was trying to figure out how to make DEW four letters) and [Grant paper] for FIFTY DOLLAR BILL. Plus plenty of fun fill like COFFEE DATE, STILL GOT IT, and MAELSTROM.

May 4: I Die All the Time (Rebecca Falcon)

This puzzle's got a niche theme inspired by Russian Doll, but it was still an absolute delight for me, who'se never seen an episode of the show. A perfect blend of form and content: much like the protagonist of Russian Doll, the solver must tread carefully or they'll have to start all over from the beginning - if you type in a wrong letter, all your work is obliterated and you have to start afresh. This puzzle is a great encapsulation of the indie spirit, both in its theme and in fill like TERF (clued concisely as [Woman who doesn't support all women, initially]) and LABIA.

May 6: The Purloined Letters (Where on the Globe Is Carmen Sandiego?)

The organizers of the Indie 500 put together an excellent meta suite called Where on the Globe Is Carla Sacramento? about a world traveler who is most definitely distinct from the trademarked character of Carmen Sandiego. The puzzles were written by Andy Kravis, Angela Olson Halsted, Erik Agard, Neville Fogarty, and Peter Broda, and none of them have individual bylines, so I suspect they were all written collaboratively. The whole suite's worth your time, but my favorite was the fourth and hardest puzzle, "The Purloined Letters." I won't spoil the intricate theme, but I will highlight some of the fun fill that the grid's packed with, including SCHMOOZE, JIMJAMS, PUB GRUB, LAKE POETS, PIFFLE, PRINCESS DI, and I'M RIGHT HERE.

May 8: Year 2 Puzzle 19 (Andrew Ries, Aries Freestyle)

Yep, Andrew knocked it out of the park two weeks in a row. [Spade work?] for FILM NOIR and [Hammered out?] for DRUNK IN PUBLIC were my favorite clues, and SAD BUT TRUE, TWEETSTORM, BUTTERNUT, CANKLES, and NUM LOCK were my favorite fill entries.

May 26: Asea Stories (Matt Gaffney, New York Magazine)

Very tight 21x21 theme from Matt here: phrases with the prefix a- added to words, but where all the resulting phrases are sea-related: ROOT BEER AFLOAT, IRONING ABOARD, JERSEY ASHORE, CONTINENTAL ADRIFT, HOWARD ASTERN (which could also have been HOWARD ASHORE, if not for the dupe!), COMMON AGROUND, and ANN TAYLOR ALOFT. Okay, the sea connection in that last one's more of a stretch (it's got a crow's nest-related clue), but still an impressive set of themers. Matt's NY Mag puzzles generally have solid fill throughout but not much in the way of flashy fill, and this one's no exception, but there is a nice fresh clue for the crossword stalwart ACES: [Serena slams].

May 27: Squarefree 4 (Christopher Adams, Squarefree)

Chris just released a suite of themeless puzzles in non-square sizes, with the appropriately mathy title Squarefree. If you like Chris's usual themelesses (I do, since the trivia is usually up my alley), you'll like these. I won't spoil any content at all, but my favorite was the 4th puzzle, particularly its central down entry.

May 29: Year 2 Puzzle 22 (Peter Wentz, Aries Freestyle)

Before you accuse me of Andrew Ries favoritism: hey, this one's by a guest constructor! Peter is an excellent themeless constructor, and this one's full of his trademark sizzle: PALAZZO PANTS, JANUARY JONES, POP SCIENCE, SCOTCH MIST, and THE COLONEL included.

May 29: A+hea+c od the Burve (Nate Cardin)

Yes, despite not having a puzzle site, Nate makes the list yet again with a delightfully zany puzzle. Nate's job as a teacher inspired this puzzle about GRADE/INFLATION, in which all the clues look like they've been typed by someone drunk because all their A's have been replaced with A+'s, B's replaced with A's, and so forth. And tying the theme together is the icing on the cake: NO F'S GIVEN.

May 30: Puzzle No. 3501 (Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto, The Nation)

No fancy mini-themes or anything in this cryptic, but typically great work from Joshua and Henri. My favorite clues:

- [Commercial break without purpose] for ADRIFT
- [Confused, having expanded outside small band at second-rate university] for DISCOMBOBULATED
- [Beat of young reporter including legislature's opening] for CLUB
- [Like a bit of sapphire amid mere counterfeit jewelry] for RESEMBLING

Monday, May 13, 2019

Puzzle #101: Pecking Order (with Nancy Stark)

This week we've got a collaboration with my brilliant partner-in-crime Nancy Stark (pdf, puz, png solution). Why is there a png solution instead of a pdf solution, you ask? Well, there was a glitch in exporting from Crossword Compiler - a glitch which, incidentally, also affects one square in the puz file. (Don't worry, the puz file still works, you just might not get Mr. Happy Pencil depending on how you solve it. But the embedded version below should work perfectly!)

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Indie puzzle highlights: April 2019

It's time again for a rundown of some of my favorite puzzles from the past month!

April 3: Year 2 Puzzle 14 (Andrew Ries, Aries Freestyle)

It's always tough to pick out an Andrew Ries puzzle because he's prolific but also consistent - he seemingly never puts out a bad puzzle, which makes it harder for specific ones to stand out from the pack. This one stood out for me because of a pair of brilliant clues: [Band saw?] for SAFETY IN NUMBERS and [Java-derived app] for SATAY. Lots of fun fill too, including LIFE IS GOOD, FINGERS CROSSED, and ELIZA DOOLITTLE.

April 7: I'm Gone (Paolo Pasco, Grids These Days)

Really creative theme here (no surprise from Paolo). The grid was a representation of the Bermuda Triangle (in the form of BER, MU, and DA rebus squares in the shape of a triangle). Inside the triangle there were three words (BOAT, SHIP, and LINER) which had mysteriously vanished from the grid. In an elegant touch, the new entries created by the disappearance of those letters were also legit words.

April 9: Year 4 Rows Garden 31 (Joon Pahk, Outside the Box)

Joon's Rows Garden subscription is another one of those rock-solid consistent services where it's pretty much always good, so again it's hard to choose a standout. This one's just got a lot of lively fill: the topical LORI LIGHTFOOT, CLEAN GETAWAY, CRIMSON TIDE, CASE DISMISSED, CRUMPLED UP, and ON THE SAME PAGE are the highlights.

April 22: Rumble at the Clone Factory (Paolo Pasco, Grids These Days)

Paolo again? Yeah, I know, but this one's so fun there's no way I could omit it. This puzzle's got an Us-inspired theme in which three phrases are reinterpreted to be about people fighting clones of themselves: FIGHTING CHANCES (Chance the Rapper), WAR OF THE ROSES (Rose Kennedy), and HOPE AGAINST HOPE (Hope Solo). Only three themers, but the fill more than makes up for it: FAIL UP, SWIPE LEFT, MUCH-LOVED, WORMHOLE, plus fun clues for staples like BRA, LEO, and TETES.

April 24: Rows Garden #1 (Erik Agard, Glutton for Pun)

Is this the first Rows Garden that Erik has ever constructed? If so, he's (unsurprisingly) got chops. BEYCHELLA in the top row evokes Queen Bey's incredible new live album/documentary Homecoming, and we've got some great Agardesque clues for OM NOM NOM ([Eating one's words]) and SOLAR BATTERY ([Sunny D, perhaps?]).

April 27: Short Waves (Chris Adams, arctan(x)words)

If you didn't realize that Chris is a math guy based on February's "Winding Numbers," this one should tip you off. This puzzle brings you back to your high school trig classes: there are a bunch of occurrences of SIN directly on top of COS, and since sin/cos = tan, the relevant letters are replaced with TAN in the down entries. What boggles the mind about this one is the theme density, especially in the center where (SIN)K(S IN) sits atop (COS)T(COS). But Chris still manages to sneak SARLACC, TOGA PARTY, and ANITA HILL in to spice up the fill.

A couple new additions to my solving rotation this month: PGWCC, Peter Washington's Gaffney-inspired meta site, and Adam Nicolle's "luckystreak xwords."

Peter's already posted some beautiful and intricate metas, but in each case so far there's just been too much iffy fill for any of them to make my list. That said, I know some solvers care much more about the meta mechanism itself than the fill that's required to make it work, so if you're in that camp, do check the puzzles out.

Adam's themelesses are definitely up my alley, since they're generally packed with fresh fill, even in the shorter entries. So far, each of them has had one piece of short fill that's disqualifying for me in a themeless, but that's just because I'm being really picky. Just paying attention to the good stuff, these puzzles can rival any other themelesses out there, so I fully expect to see some on my list in the future.