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!