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.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Puzzle #100: The Withering Away of the State

We've finally hit Puzzle #100 here on the blog, which means of course that it's time for a puzzle inspired by Marxist theory (pdf, puz, pdf solution)! And coincidentally, the 100th subscriber puzzle will also be going out this week - if you're not signed up, what are you waiting for?

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!