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.

1 comment:

  1. Chris Adams' was one of my favorites in a long time - the AHA moment was incredible. I particularly enjoyed Francis' and Chris King's, as well. I hope the Wordnik puzzles are indeed regular -- Francis' breadth of material always gives me something new to learn.