Monday, December 30, 2019

Puzzle #111: But really tho (guest puzzle by Nate Cardin)

For the last crossword of 2019, I'm delighted to present a guest puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) by Nate Cardin. Nate edits the fantastic Queer Qrosswords packs, of which the second one came out not long ago - if you haven't bought it yet, what are you waiting for? He's also asked me to plug the Inkubator, which is now entering its second year, and which you should definitely subscribe to.

Nate's puzzle is a 14x13, and it's available in the usual formats, though because of the theme I recommend solving it online below or as a PDF. Enjoy!

Monday, December 9, 2019

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Indie puzzle highlights: November 2019

November 4: 9x9 Mini #2 (Trent H. Evans, Grid Therapy)

I have to admit I hadn't been keeping up with Trent's puzzles until a few days ago - I don't think they're indexed on Crossword Butler, so I'd forgotten he was still updating. So it's entirely possible I've missed some great stuff in the last couple months! Anyway, I went back and solved the puzzles from November, and this mini was my favorite; it manages to fit six lively 9s in a 9x9 grid (BEAST MODE, BABY SHARK, WORE A WIRE, ACAI BERRY, KATE SPADE, and LOOK ALIVE) without putting strain on the short fill - HAW is the only less-than-ideal entry.

November 13: Year 2 Puzzle 46 (Andrew Ries, Aries Freestyle)

Andrew rarely uses sizes other than 15x15 for his themelesses, but this time we've got a 17x15 grid to fit the marquee clue/answer pair: [Theory of relativity?] cluing LIKE FATHER LIKE SON. Lots of other clever clues in this one, including:

- [Score sheet?] for RUBRIC
- [Storm center] for KEYARENA, where the Seattle Storm play, at least when it's not being renovated
- [Band originally from New York] for ONEIDA
- [Food label advocate, maybe] for ROOMMATE
- [Ended for a while] for LONG GONE
[Lit before] for ERE
- [Theater box?] for NERDS

November 18: Breaking Barriers (Andy Kravis and Anna Gundlach, Outside the Box)

This contest puzzle is a "going too far" puzzle, in which many of the entries have too many letters, with the extra letters being placed in the black (or gray, in this case) squares. And this one's a meta, where the letters in the black squares spell out a question: Whose middle initial stood for "Pay it no mind"? The answer is the barrier-breaking activist Marsha P. Johnson, who literally broke barriers by shattering a cop car's windshield with a brick at Stonewall. (Her last name, incidentally, comes from the Howard Johnson's chain of restaurants, of all places.) A clever use of the "going too far" gimmick, with the topical long answers GAYBORHOOD and TRANSGENDER thrown in for good measure.

November 18: Nautical (Christopher Adams, arctan(x)words)

A beautiful example of a simple theme where there are very few possible theme answers, and they're all in the grid. Chris adds the suffix -naut to phrases to get various countries' words for space explorers; we've got American ASTRONAUT POPS, Russian COSMONAUT KRAMER, and Chinese TAIKONAUT DRUM. Some nice highlights in the fill, too, including IMPRESS ME, SIT STILL, BIG AND TALL, and US VS THEM.

November 23: Freestyle 116 (Christopher Adams, arctan(x)words)

Yep, Chris was on a roll this month. This one's a 23x17 freestyle with tons of lively entries. This is an example of one where your mileage might vary considerably. As Chris's puzzles often do, this one relies heavily on pop cultural names, which could be a trivia slog if you're not on his wavelength. Fortunately, I very much am on his wavelength, so I enjoyed entries like ERASERHEAD, the Jedi HIGH COUNCIL, DANA SCULLY, WILL TOLEDO, CTHULHU, LIL ROMEO, the PHOENIX SUNS, and STEELY DAN. But it's not all proper names: there's good stuff like BANJOLELE, PSEUDOCODE, FLUMMOX, and ERIN GO BRAGH too.

November 26: Year 5 Rows Garden 13 (Joon Pahk, Outside the Box)

As I've said here many times before, Joon always does good work, but this one had the highest proportion of lively fill this month, I think: topical TURKEY DAY, BATTERING RAM, BARE MINIMUM, PRETTIFIES, EGGNOG LATTE, PIECEMEAL, HUNG BY A THREAD... A couple of nice clues in [Green light collector?] for SOLAR PANEL and [Places where people barely get their feet wet?] for NUDE BEACHES, too.

November 27: Untitled (Caleb Madison, The Atlantic)

This little 7x7 themeless has a beautiful 2x2 square of Z's created by the crossing of PALAZZO, LIZZO, JAZZ AGE, and DAZZLE. I find that Caleb sometimes sacrifices short fill quality in these minis for the sake of the long entries, but as with Trent's puzzle above, the short fill's pretty clean here.

And that's it! The themeless-to-themed ratio seems especially high this month, though I wouldn't be surprised if it was always pretty high; I'm pretty picky with themed puzzles, because both the theme and the fill have to impress me, and I solved a lot of puzzles this month where I really liked one but not the other.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Puzzle #109: Crossword of Now

Fair warning: this puzzle (pdf, pdf solution) is extremely inside-baseball. (Also, because the theme type is one that causes problems with Across Lite, there's no puz file, but as always you can solve it in the applet below.) Enjoy!

Friday, November 1, 2019

Indie puzzle highlights: October 2019

Heads up: there will be spoilers for some Queer Qrosswords 2 puzzles in this post, so if you haven't solved them yet, be warned! (There will, of course, also be spoilers for all sorts of other puzzles, as usual.)

October 2: Year 2 Puzzle 40 (Caitlin Reid, Aries Freestyle)

Aries Freestyle brings us a guest puzzle by Caitlin Reid, very much in the Andrew Ries mode, with clever cluing ([Disappearing ink?] for FAKE TATTOOS and [Coat of arms?] for LONG SLEEVES, which could appropriately also be tattoo-related) and fresh fill (LIKE LIKE, TAKE A HIKE, SWOLE, CORKER). But what really sets this grid apart is the squeaky clean fill - there's nary an even mildly objectionable entry in the entire grid, which is quite a feat.

October 8: Year 5 Rows Garden 6 (Joon Pahk, Outside the Box)

Like many of Joon's Rows Gardens, this one's anchored by a nice clue/answer combo in the first row: SQUIRT GUN clued as [Water heater?], which is one of my favorite clues in a long while. As usual, there's plenty of fun fill in the rest of the grid, including SILHOUETTE, CORD-CUTTER, CANTALOUPES, and PUNCHING BAG.

October 11: Ride Sharing (Claire Rimkus and Andrew Kingsley, Queer Qrosswords 2)

Queer Qrosswords 2 was, unsurprisingly, a generally excellent set of crosswords, and there are probably a dozen puzzles that I was considering including in the write-up. But I managed to limit myself to three. This first one has quite an elegant theme inspired by Autostraddle; in the grid, the five-letter names of autos straddle two entries, with the first two letters taken from the end of one entry and the last two letters taken from the beginning of the next entry, with the third letter connecting them on the row above. So for instance, ACURA uses the AC of PAC and the RA of RACHEL MADDOW, connected by a U in the row above. An elegant touches: all the theme entries are all given clues with queer resonance (aside from the two mentioned already, we've got ORLANDO and GENDERS connecting DODGE, NANETTE and LAVERNE connecting TESLA, and AUTOSTRADDLE and USA connecting LEXUS). And the fact that the revealer, AUTOSTRADDLE, is itself part of the theme is especially elegant.

October 11: LGBTQIA+ (Zach D'Angelo and Christopher Adams, Queer Qrosswords 2)

Another theme concept elevated by an extra layer of elegance. In this case, the letters L, G, B, T, Q, I, and A are added to phrases with wacky results, but impressively all the theme entries have queer resonance, much like with Ride Sharing. The results are sometimes awkward but always delightfully weird: we've got MALE GLAZE, WEB GHOSTING, COMPUTER STIMULATION, SEX QED CLASSES, AGE DEIFYING, and GAGA ORDER. In the bonus fill department, there's OH NO SHE DIDN'T, the GOLDEN GLOBES, GQ STYLE, and BEEFARONI; the only bit of fill that really made me wince was the plural EEKS.

October 11: 100% That Stitch (Rachel Fabi and Finn Vigeland, Queer Qrosswords 2)

We've got a pattern here - apparently all my favorite QQ puzzles were collaborations (I also quite liked the themeless by Jenna LaFleur and Andy Kravis). This one's a trivia-based theme, but an interesting and impressively theme-dense one. It's about the sewing circle, a name for a group of lesbian and bisexual actresses from Hollywood's golden age; the grid's got Barbara STANWYCK, Joan CRAWFORD, Katharine HEPBURN, Greta GARBO, Marlene DIETRICH, Tallulah BANKHEAD, and Alla NAZIMOVA (much more obscure than the others, but she's the coiner of the term "sewing circle"). On top of that, we have both SEWING/CIRCLE as a revealer and a visual representation of the sewing circle with the six letters of the word SEWING arranged in a circle in the center of the grid. A lot going on!

October 17: Cryptic 19 (Andrew Ries, Aries Puzzles)

What really impressed me about this cryptic is the number of clues with really smooth surface sense. For example:

- [Left a musical group, admitting "I'm finished"] for ABANDONED
- [Shortage in matches leads to times of darkness] for BLACKOUTS
- [Drug laws in English] for CODEINE
- [Devastating U.S. Open defeats] for ONE-UPS
- [Protest's goal] for OBJECT

October 18: Freestyle 459 (Tim Croce, club72)

All sorts of good stuff in this grid, including SLIDE IT OVER, WELTSCHMERZ, I'LL SHUT UP, MMR VACCINE (a good reminder to get your flu shot if you haven't already!), and NOT DEAD YET. Also a couple of my favorite clues from Tim in a while: [It doesn't change when it's fixed] for RATE and [Voice that sounds like money?] for TENOR.

October 21: Some Assembly Required (Joon Pahk, Outside the Box)

Yep, another Joon puzzle on the list. The Some Assembly Required format lets the constructor include some extra-long entries, since they snake around the grid. PHOEBE WALLER-BRIDGE is the highlight here, joined by ATHLEISURE, GOLDEN OLDIE, UNAMERICAN, STYLE ICON, and LET'S ROCK.

October 24: Themeless (Sid Sivakumar, Sid's Grids)

A super-sized 21x21 themeless from Sid, featuring some brutal cluing and some fun long fill (SHAM MARRIAGES, OPEN MIC NIGHTS, RIB SPREADER, LOOSE TOOTH, PEEPING TOM). I solved it downs-only so I missed the across clues, but I'm told PRIMES was beautifully clued as [Odd bunch, with one exception]. Minor ding for duplicating MIC in OPEN MIC NIGHTS and HOT MIC, but otherwise a really smooth puzzle.

October 28: Themeless 4 (Brian Thomas, Puzzles That Need a Home)

I liked the cluing in this one especially. We've got [Cuban home] for DELI (not CASA, though I fell into that trap), [Shout that stops the action?] for SAFE WORD, and [Bit of online validation] for E-SIGNATURE. (Despite my disdain for E-MAG, I'm not one of those folks who hates seeing any e-prefixed word in the grid; E-SIGNATURE is perfectly cromulent.) I also enjoyed learning that "ghost fart" was Brian's childhood name for a FOAM PEANUT, and seeing MENA clued as Mena Massoud, who played Aladdin in the 2019 film, instead of crossword staple Mena Suvari.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Puzzle #108: Freestyle 9

Inspired by Sid Sivakumar's recent 21x21 themeless toughie (itself inspired by an earlier Erik Agard doozie), I've whipped up a Sunday-sized themeless challenge (pdf, puz, pdf solution). It's a toughie too, though I suspect a bit easier than Sid and Erik's. And like Sid, I've provided a downs-only version (pdf, puz) for people who want an extra challenge.

In other puzzly news, Matt Jackson, who you may know from his stellar run on Jeopardy!, and who I know because I've lost to him many times at Quizbowl, has a new website where he'll be posting puzzles. Check it out!

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!

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 Ada 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.

Ada'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!

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.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Puzzle #96: Hop to It

I came up with the mini-theme to this little puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) when I was watching Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix, which means binge-watching now counts as research, right? That's what I'm telling myself, anyway.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Puzzle #95: Go Outside

If you're friends with me on Facebook, the theme of this puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) might have been spoiled for you, since it grew out of a piece of wordplay I posted there and turned into a full-blown theme with the help of Andy Kravis and a couple of others. Fair warning: it's very silly!