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.