Saturday, August 1, 2020

Indie puzzle highlights: July 2020

There's a new puzzle site called Et Tu, Etui, and it's like some sort of crossword performance art, so I don't know if I can actually judge the quality of the crosswords... but I recommend it (I think).

July 1: Themeless 12 (Erik Agard and Claire Rimkus, Grids for Good)

If you haven't yet bought Grids for Good, you should get on that; you get to solve grids and do good! There are plenty of fun puzzles in this set of more than 40(!) crosswords, but my favorite was this themeless, which has lovely representation (QUVENZHANE Wallis, WHEN THEY SEE US, BLACK PANTHER) and some devilish clues ([Taken control] for PLACEBO, [Something made to scale in a treehouse] for ROPE LADDER).

It's come to my attention that there's a Patrick Berry variety puzzle in Grids for Good! I think I missed it because I solved the puz files, not the PDFs, but it's Patrick Berry so I'll recommend it sight unseen.

July 2: Freestyle 159 (Christopher Adams, arctan(x)words)

An eye-popping grid shape anchored by two pairs of stacked entries that roll of the tongue: SAX AND VIOLINS paired with SEX AND VIOLENCE, and LOOSELEAF PAPER paired with LOSE SLEEP OVER. That puts a lot of constraint on the fill, but Chris nevertheless fits lots of other good stuff in there, including BANH MI and SENSE OF PURPOSE. Highlights in the clues are ["Truly Madly Deeply" trio] for ADVERBS and [One doing a vibe check?] for PARTY POOPER.

July 5: And the Last Shall Be First (Matt Gaffney, New York Magazine)

Not the theme I was expecting given the title (I was expecting last-to-first shifts like ASQUITH HAS QUIT or something), but a fun theme, in which the first letters of words are replaced with Z, the last letter of the alphabet. A simple enough theme, but loads of fun, not least because Z is just an inherently funny letter: we've got BABY ZOOMERS, JACK THE ZIPPER, ZILLOW FIGHT, WHO WANTS TO BE A/ZILLIONAIRE, ZEALOUS MUCH, and ZERO WORSHIP, all delightful.

July 8: Great to Hear! (Themeless) (Adam Aaronson)

Lots of modern goodies in this grid, including I LOVE THAT FOR YOU, THE SQUAD, and NONAPOLOGY. Other highlights include PIKACHU, clued as [The chosen one], KITESURF, PREREQS, and the clue [My kingdom for a horse!] that brilliantly spices up the otherwise dry answer ANIMALIA.

July 8: Capture the Flag (Steve Mossberg, Square Pursuit)

Similar to the Paolo Pasco/Ria Dhull TOM NOOK puzzle from last month, this puzzle has an eye-catching grid where six countries, clued with respect to their flags, are "captured" by nook-shaped sections of the grid. The theme entries are all only seven letters long, so the rest plays like a themeless, with a bunch of good fill entries longer than the theme entries themselves: EXTREME BEER, DULCET TONES, NUDE PAINTING, SPEED READER, and TATTOO PARLOR.

July 14: Ink In (Brooke Husic and Evan Kalish, USA Today)

More diagonal-symmetry wizardy from Brooke, this time joined by Evan Kalish. We've got the intersecting theme entries MARGARET ATWOOD, ONE DAY AT A TIME, GRETA THUNBERG, and UPSTATE NEW YORK, all of which hide the word TAT (which, unusually for the USA Today, is in the grid as a revealer, nestled ingeniously between the theme entries). On top of that, the bottom right corner has two bonus themers, DICTATE and STATUTE.

July 16: Centerpiece (Neville Fogarty)

I've highlighted some of Neville's cryptics before; he writes lovely cryptics that are accessible for beginners. This one is small and easy enough that I just solved it in my head, but it's got a simple, yet delightful and elegant, payoff.

July 25: Saturday Midi (Amanda Rafkin, Brain Candy)

Even though I've made plenty of midis myself, I admit to having a bit of a sizeist bias when it comes to crosswords; I usually find little to get excited about in minis or midis, unless they have an elegant minitheme. So it's hard for a themeless midi to impress me enough to earn a shoutout, but I really admire this one. It's got four fun intersecting 11s (CONE OF SHAME, JEWISH GUILT, SHANIA TWAIN, MACARONI ART), and there's absolutely nothing questionable in the short fill - which is much harder to pull off than you might think!

July 25: Something Different (Paolo Pasco, Grids These Days)

Few things are more delightful than a Something Different puzzle, where the answers are made up and the points don't matter. You can include entries like BIG MAN ON KRAMPUS and ACDC BBC BCC and BARE-LEGGIN' and nobody bats an eye. Paolo's got a knack for conjuring up hilarious images with his clues, which he does here with clues like ["Congratulations, you just birthed 100 lawmakers!"] for IT'S A SENATE and [What you might cry after dropping your collection of growing fungi] for MY SPORES. I think I'd pay good money for a weekly Something Different from Paolo. On the other hand, maybe the joy of Something Differents would wear off if I was solving them all the time... but on the third hand, no, these are just a blast.

July 29: Nom Nom Nom (Matt Gaffney, Daily Beast)

Matt's got his fingers in a lot of cruciverbal pies, so it's no surprise that I'm featuring puzzles of his from two different venues this month. This one reminds me of Peter Gordon's annual Oscar nominees puzzle; Matt celebrates the just-released Emmy nominations by fitting a whole bunch of them (Tracee Ellis ROSS, ALAN Arkin, ANDRE Braugher, KILLING EVE, SUCCESSION, OZARK, OLIVIA Colman, SNL, ANGELA Bassett, Cecily and Jeremy STRONG, and UZO Aduba) in an 11x11 grid. An amazing feat of construction.

July 30: Out of Left Field 18 (Jeffrey Harris, Out of Left Field)

Instead of Kosman and Picciotto, we get a guest cryptic by Jeffrey Harris this week. It has some truly elegant clues, including ["Community" character lying low] for ABED NADIR, [$0.01 deposited in bank not long ago] for RECENTLY (which cleverly repurposes the word "bank"), and [Formal agreement for Elmer Fudd, a Looney Tunes character] for TWEETY. My favorite is [Professional boxer's child support?] for PROP UP, which ingeniously splits the PUP definition ("boxer's child") between two perfectly idiomatic phrases.