Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Indie puzzle highlights: November 2020

November 2: First Place / Top Dog (Brooke Husic and Paolo Pasco, USA Today)

November 14: @quizletstan420 (Sara Cantor, Crosshare)

November 20: Themeless (Mollie Cowger, Happy Little Puzzles)

November 25: Year 3 Freestyle 47 (Andrew Ries, Aries Freestyle)

November 25: Natural Progression (Adam Aaronson and Sid Sivakumar, Adam Aaronson)

November 26: Themeless 2 (The Boy Is Mine) (Quiara Vasquez, QVXwordz)

plus a general spoiler-free shoutout to the Boswords Fall Themeless League









First Place / Top Dog (Brooke Husic and Paolo Pasco)

Brooke and Paolo pull off something that I don't think I've ever seen before (but please let me know in the comments if it's been done) - a puzzle with two different themes, one going across and one going down. That's an idea I've been toying with for a while, but I never got around to doing it; the combination of diagonal symmetry and the basic theme types that the USA Today tends to run allows for Brooke and Paolo to do it really smoothly. In the "First Place" theme, we have phrases starting with words that can precede "place" (GOOD AND READY, WORK OF ART, HAPPY TO HELP), and in the "Top Dog" theme, we have phrases starting with dog breeds (POODLE SKIRTS, LAB REPORT, BOXER BRIEFS). A remarkable accomplishment to add to the long list of groundbreaking work done by these two constructors.

@quizletstan420 (Sara Cantor)

I think this is the first Crosshare puzzle I've highlighted here, though various constructors have been using it to share their puzzles without having to have their own sites. Sara in particular is a prolific contributor, often of minis and midis; this puzzle is a full-sized one with a delightful theme. The revealer, YOU SHALL NOT PASS, describes what might happen if you're not prepared for the scenarios in the theme entries (OBSTACLE COURSES, BRIDGE TROLLS, MIDTERM EXAMS). I love the pop-cultural sensibility in the fill, both when it overlaps with my knowledge (KIF from Futurama, PACHA from the best Disney movie, The Emperor's New Groove) and when it doesn't (Junji ITO, BIRDO).

Themeless (Mollie Cowger)

This guest puzzle on Matthew Stock's site is a themeless with really clean fill, plenty of long highlights (OH STOP IT, BE MY GUEST, K-POP STAN, PIZZA RAT) and inclusive cluing (Octavia Butler's Parable of the TALENTS, ALICIA Garza). I also love the paired clues [Protector of the crown?] for ENAMEL and [Protector of the king] for BISHOP. Everything I want to see in a themeless, basically.

Year 3 Freestyle 47 (Andrew Ries)

A classic Andrew freestyle: a smooth grid, and challenging, clever cluing. There's an art to writing misdirecting clues that are pithy and don't stand out as obviously being tricky clues, which Andrew excels at, and this puzzle has plenty of good examples: [Orange slice] for PUMPKIN PIE, [Power outage?] for OUSTER, [Studio contract] for LEASE, [For what it's worth] for AT PAR, and [Volume unit] for PAGE are my faves.

Natural Progression (Adam Aaronson and Sid Sivakumar)

An ingenious music-nerd theme, where each theme entry STRIKES A CHORD. We have a C MAJOR chord (from bottom to top, C-E-G) in ACADEMIC MAJOR, which appears in the grid as ACADEMIGEC; an A MINOR chord (A-C-E) in EL CAMINO REAL, which appears as ELCECAEAL (surely one of the weirdest-looking theme entries of all time); and a G7 chord (G-B-D-F) in G7 SUMMIT, which appears as FDBGSUMMIT. I'm musically illiterate - I can identify a C major chord and that's about it - so I had to take the theme on faith, but the grid is smooth enough that that presents no obstacle to solving. Lots of fun cluing angles, too, including the GEESE that Sully's plane ran into, a blobfish's FINS, and NATTY Light.

Themeless 2 (The Boy Is Mine) (Quiara Vasquez)

The subtitle refers to an episode of VERZUZ TV (the puzzle's seed entry, which looks wild in a grid) featuring Brandy and Monica, the singers of "The Boy Is Mine." This themeless from Quiara's new site is a stunner, with some of the most devious cluing I've seen recently. [Frantically type?] for ADVERB and [Getting any calls?] for PHONE SEX are the trickiest, but there are also a lot of clues that are more accessible and still loads of fun, including [Store with E.L.F. on the shelf] for ULTA, [If you're on Reddit, you don't wanna geddit] for DOWNVOTE, and the tongue-twisting [Oft-bit Bic bit] for PEN CAP.

I totally neglected to include any puzzles from the Boswords Fall Themeless League in last month's post, even though the puzzles have been consistently excellent, so I'll just include a general shoutout to the league: a fantastic lineup of themelesses, edited by Brad Wilber, with top-notch and tough (in the Stormy division) cluing. Sid Sivakumar's 62-word tour de force from the finals was my favorite, but they're all very good.