Monday, December 20, 2021

Puzzle #161: (Un)pronounced

It's been a couple weeks since I've had the inspiration for a new puzzle, but I'm back with a new themed puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) - happy solving!

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Indie puzzle highlights: November 2021

November 1: Untitled (Nam Jin Yoon, Boswords)

November 2: Freestyle 629 (Tim Croce, club72)

November 13: a little ooh-la-la (themeless) (C. L. Rimkus, Just Gridding)

November 17: Fourteen (Norah Sharpe, Norah's Puzzles)

November 22: Themeless 17 (Mollie Cowger, Crosswords from Outer Space)

November 23: Sink or Swim (Enrique Henestroza Anguiano, Crosswords Club)

November 23: Untitled (Christopher Adams, 7xwords)

November 30: Shrek Is Love (Themeless #14) (Adam Aaronson,









Untitled (Nam Jin Yoon)

I don't get to feature Nam Jin much on here because he doesn't have an indie site, but he's one of the best themeless constructors around. To see why, all you have to do is take a look at this grid: it's a mere 64 words, but extremely smooth, and the eight long entries which all interlock in an intricate pattern are all colorful: MECHANICAL BULL (excellently clued as [It's designed to throw you off]), SERIAL MONOGAMY, SINGLE FILE, HOUSE PARTY, TINDER DATE, PAPER ROUTE, VERSION CONTROL, and YOU'RE TELLING ME. There are very few constructor who could pull a grid like this off with such aplomb.

Freestyle 659 (Tim Croce)

It's amazing that, after more than 600 themelesses, Tim still manages to pack each of his grids with multiple never-before-seen entries. This one's anchored by the delightful center stack of TWITTER DRAMA, YOU'RE CRUSHING IT, and SHREDDED PORK, with highlights including IS THAT HOW I SOUND elsewhere in the grid. Even the short fill includes some strikingly unusual stuff, including SO YES, MIC'D, and PISS UP.

a little ooh-la-la (themeless) (C. L. Rimkus)

A beautiful triple-stack of IS THIS SEAT TAKEN, NO WALK IN THE PARK, and SPOILED THE PARTY. Remarkably, every entry that intersects the stack is at least 5 letters long - including such entries as MAKE A MENTAL NOTE, ALMOST THERE, and MASKED BALLS. Not a single wasted long space, and very few sacrifices in the short fill to make it work; one of the most impressive constructions I've seen in a long time.

Fourteen (Norah Sharpe)

Norah's been participating in NaCroWriMo, writing a crossword every day for the month of November. A really wide variety of stuff, including anagrammies and cryptics, but my favorite is this midi with a delightful mini-theme of SIZE QUEEN and SHORT KING. Lots of fun stuff in the surrounding fill, too, including the edible trifecta of BOMB POP, CUPCAKE, and TEMPURA.

Themeless 17 (Mollie Cowger)

It's been a while since Mollie posted a new themeless, and I'm glad she's back, because this one's got all the clever clues I expect from her: [Expansive period piece?] for MAXI PAD, [Social distancing measure?] for TEN FOOT POLE, [Equal substitute] for SPLENDA, [Sign of how far you've come] for ODOMETER, [It is what "It" is] for HORROR MOVIE, and so on. Also lovely is the symmetrical pair of INFINITY POOL and I PITY THE FOOL, which is fun to try to say five times fast.

Sink or Swim (Enrique Henestroza Anguiano)

A lovely and architecturally complex theme: the revealer is A DROP IN THE OCEAN, with the names of all five of the world's oceans hidden in the grid, starting out horizontally but then taking a vertical drop. For example, PACIFIC starts in the across entry PACE LAP, and dives into the down entry NONSPECIFIC. Intersecting theme entries are always a challenge, and the revealer of this one even intersects with one of the other theme entries (ARCHIVAL INK, which contains the first part of ARCTIC). It's a nice touch that all of the oceans are represented, and the fill doesn't suffer despite the constraints of the theme.

This seems like a good opportunity for a reminder that the Crosswords Club is now online! You can subscribe here, and it's well worth the money.

Untitled (Christopher Adams)

Surely the only cross"word" I've highlighted that doesn't have any actual letters. This one's bound to be polarizing, since the squares are all filled with numbers and there's lots of math involved. Sample clue: [Prime whose first three digits are p^q and whose last three digits are q^p (for primes p, q whose value is left as an exercise for the reader)]. But remarkably, Christopher makes it so that everything is gettable with the assistance of a calculator and some persistence. What's really impressive is the variety of different skills it tests: from math skills like converting from base 10 to hexadecimal and figuring out what numbers are divisible by 11 to trivia skills like knowing THX 1138. (Ironically, a solver might get through all the math stuff and then be undone by a crossing of two trivia clues, though the trivia stuff clued is all pretty famous.)

Shrek Is Love (Themeless #14) (Adam Aaronson)

Another triple stack where every crosser is at least 5 letters! We've got LEAVE IT TO CHANCE, INSOMNIA COOKIES, and COLLEGE REUNIONS, and there are absolutely no weak points in the intersecting downs. Plenty of good stuff elsewhere, too, including ASSCLOWNS and IT'S A ME, but the real highlight is the genius clue [Cool beans] for ICED LATTE.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Puzzle #160: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

Last week's puzzle didn't have a theme, so to make up for it, this week's puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) has two of them. Happy solving!

Monday, November 22, 2021

Monday, November 15, 2021

Crossings meta solution

Last week's puzzle was a meta with some pretty detailed instructions. Let's repeat them here: "The grid depicts a certain problem, but it can't be solved as is. One way to solve the problem is to destroy one of the objects shown in the grid; if you destroy the right one, then you'll be able to spell out a word for what's left after you destroy it - that word is the meta answer."

Here's the grid in question:

As the KONIGSBERG entry at 56-Across tells you, the grid depicts the Seven Bridges of Konigsberg problem. That classic problem involved crossing the seven bridges spanning the Pregel River in Konigsberg, with the catch being that you have to cross each bridge exactly once in a single trip without doubling back. The great mathematician Leonhard Euler proved that there was no solution.

But as the instructions indicate, the problem is solvable if you get rid of one of the bridges. There are multiple bridges you could destroy to solve the problem, but only one of those solutions gives you a path that spells out a word: destroying the G leaves you with DEBRIS, starting in the bottom right and traveling in a counterclockwise spiral. Congrats to everyone who figured it out!


Monday, November 8, 2021

Puzzle #158: Crossings (meta)

This week, we've got a metapuzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution)! The grid depicts a certain problem, but it can't be solved as is. One way to solve the problem is to destroy one of the objects shown in the grid; if you destroy the right one, then you'll be able to spell out a word for what's left after you destroy it - that word is the meta answer.

The solution will be posted next week. In the meantime, feel free to email me with guesses/questions/etc.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Puzzle #157: Monster Mash (by Richard Shlakman)

This week, I'm happy to host an appropriately spooky guest puzzle by Richard Shlakman (pdf, puz, pdf solution). Richard's an esteemed frequent collaborator of mine - you might have solved puzzles by us recently in AVCX and Crucinova. A version of this puzzle was originally accepted at the Chronicle of Higher Education before they canceled their crossword, so it's finding a home here. Richard wanted to add that he's honored to have it featured as a guest puzzle here - and I'm honored to host it!

Indie puzzle highlights: October 2021

October 8: There's a Double Meaning in That (Jesse Lansner, JKL Crosswords)

October 10: "I Can't Hear You!" (Jessie Bullock and Ross Trudeau, Rossword Puzzles)

October 18: Untitled (Byron Walden, Boswords)

October 19: Child's Play (Chris Piuma, Wordgarbler)

October 24: Untitled (Ada Nicolle, Crosscord)

October 27: themeless xv ("for you, a gift") (Brooke Husic, xwords by a ladee)

October 28: Another Effing Vowel Progression (Brian Thomas, Puzzles That Need a Home)

October 28: It's Alive! (Chandi Deitmer, Crucinova)

October 28: forever in your heart (themeless) (Jenna LaFleur and Ada Nicolle, luckystreak xwords)









There's a Double Meaning in That (Jesse Lansner)

Inspired by the names of the main lovers in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Beatrice and Benedick, Jesse constructed a Schrodinger theme taking advantage of the fact that the two names have half their letters in common. They're both in the grid, but each slot can correctly be filled with either name, meaning that there are a total of eight Schrodinger squares. That's a lot, and you'd expect some of the dual-purpose clues to be real stretches, but impressively, they're all smooth as silk. [Make the beast with two backs] works for BONE just as well as it does for BONK, [Nickel source] works just as well for MINT as it does for MINE, and so on.

"I Can't Hear You!" (Jessie Bullock and Ross Trudeau)

Ross is like, irritatingly good at coming up with crossword themes, so much so that he often just posts them on Twitter instead of actually publishing them as crosswords. Thankfully, Jessie is around to rein him in. This one plays on the phrase IN ONE EAR AND/OUT THE OTHER, and features pieces of advice that appear to enter an ear-shaped arrangement of black squares and emerge from another one: NEVER LET THE SUN GO/DOWN ON AN ARGUMENT, FAKE IT TIL/YOU MAKE IT, TRUST YOUR/INSTINCTS, and LET GO OF/THE PAST. It's not the first theme that plays on that phrase, but it's an excellent and inventive execution.

Untitled (Byron Walden)

Unsurprisingly, this competition crossword from Byron is a real challenger. This one has an incredible density of clever wordplay clues, starting at 1-Across with [Seafood sub] for the zany-looking answer KRAB WITH A K. We've also got [Place where the party is rarely a surprise] for SAFE SEAT, [Monkey on your back, maybe] for TATTOO, [Natural numbers?] for OPIATES, [Pop group that defeated Mayor Bloomberg in court in 2013] for BIG SODA, [Spelling mixup?] for POTION, [Spit takes?] for OPINE, and more.

Child's Play (Chris Piuma)

A delightful little 9x9 with a trap that I fell right into. There are four unchecked squares going around in a circle in the middle of the grid, and they're all rebus squares. If you start at the top, the first three of them are all DUCK rebus squares specifically - PSYDUCK, GEODUCK, and DUCKPIN. So I automatically filled DUCK in the last rebus square, but no, [Big fat zero] is GOOSE EGG, not DUCK EGG. A lovely aha moment when I figured out what was wrong, and it's amazing that Chris managed to work such an inventive theme into such a small space.

themeless xv ("for you, a gift") (Brooke Husic)

Brooke's themelesses often have visually striking layouts, but I think this is my favorite one yet, with a big gift-bow shape in the center that looks like it's gravitationally attracting the northern and eastern fingers toward it. Of course, the contents of the grid are good too, filled with a wide variety of interesting content (JUDIT Polgar, ARXIV, TURTLE ISLANDPEDA,  etc.) and stuffed full of colloquial phrases (DON'T BE MAD BUT, ANY TAKERS, GET IN HERE) and good clues - [Hides in plain sight?] for TIPIS, [E user descriptor, perhaps] for AGENDER, [(The) friend group, perhaps] for LADS, and many more.

Untitled (Ada Nicolle)

OK, this one isn't actually a full-blown, solvable crossword, but I'm including it here for two reasons. First, this is the puzzle that Ada used to come out as trans to the crossword Discord server, the day after coming out publicly during a standup set - and we love a good, heartwarming story like that. Second, just look at that grid (pasted below for those who aren't on Discord) - a five-deep stagger-stack where every entry is good, crossed by great stuff like MARIO MARIO, RECAPTCHA, and APPLE CRISP.

Another Effing Vowel Progression (Brian Thomas)

I love a theme that has a twist in the last theme entry, and all the better if the twist works as a punchline; this puzzle is a perfect example. We've got a standard phonetic vowel progression theme - RACKET, WRECK-IT RALPH, RICKETY, ROCKET LEAGUE... but there's nothing good that starts with the sounds "rucket," so the last theme entry is FUCK IT, clued as ["Crap, can't quite finish the theme.. *shrug* ... might as well post the puzzle anyways"]. It's a beautiful coincidence that there are good possibilities for the first four vowels but none for the last, making for an extremely elegant theme.

It's Alive! (Chandi Deitmer)

The thing with grid art is that it's really hard to make the grid actually look like what you want it to look like, when all you've got to work with is a pretty small rectangular array of black-and-white squares. But the grid art in this one practically pops out, in thanks to both Chandi's precise grid design and to Crucinova's willingness to include colored squares in the grid. The grid depicts FRANKENSTEIN, which also ties into the revealer, I'VE CREATED A MONSTER. In six parts of the grid, there's a conflict between the letters provided by the across and down entries - to resolve that conflict, you have to put both letters in the square like some sort of Frankenstein's monster. When you do that, the squares spell out the name of a monster (YETI, OGRE, WEREWOLF, KRAKEN, GOBLIN, and ZOMBIE). Really ingenious in both conception and execution.

forever in your heart (themeless) (Jenna LaFleur and Ada Nicolle)

A very unusual grid with stacks of 12s at the top and bottom, which you don't see every day. The bottom stack is a great punchline, too, with HAVING A BLAST clued as [Throwing the sickest party, perhaps] over EVENT PLANNER clued as [One organizing the sickest party, perhaps] over WAS THAT TODAY clued as ["Did I just miss the sick party?"]. The rest of the puzzle is excellent, too, filled with evocative clues for even the most common entries (like [As of 2014, one can end with .horse] for URL).

Monday, October 25, 2021

Puzzle #156: Freestyle 16 (with Brooke Husic)

Today's puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) is a challenging freestyle collab with Brooke Husic. She's also got the current USA Today puzzle, which she made with Chandi Deitmer, and since it's the 25th, her next blog puzzle is coming up in a couple days. Also, keep an eye out for more from me and Brooke soon!

Monday, October 18, 2021

Puzzle #155: Imaginary

I've been posting a bunch of big puzzles lately, so here's an extra-small puzzle to balance things out (pdf, puz, pdf solution). Happy solving!

Monday, October 11, 2021

Puzzle #154: Freestyle 15

This week's puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) is another big freestyle. I wanted to see if I could do intersecting stagger-stacks of five 11s, like I did in the 21x21 freeform freestyle, but this time in a symmetrical grid. It turns out to be very difficult!

Friday, October 1, 2021

Indie puzzle highlights: September 2021

It's been a particularly excellent month for indies, it seems, and the main reason that the list isn't particularly long is that I've had a very hectic week! Rest assured that if your puzzle doesn't appear on the list, it doesn't mean that I didn't love it (true every month, in fact, but especially true this month.)

September 3: Themeless (Erik Agard and Brooke Husic, Just Gridding)

September 4: You Are Reading This Puzzle's Title (Franci Dimitrovska, cross worms)

September 8: True Colors (Brian Thomas, Puzzles That Need a Home)

September 13: This May Get Ugly (Themeless) (C. L. Rimkus, Just Gridding)

September 15: CONTROVERSY at the NEW YORK TIMES (Chris Piuma, Norah's Puzzles)

September 21: Phistomefel Ring (Christopher Adams feat. Ricky Cruz)

September 27: themeless xiv ("real hot girl shit" (reprise)) (Brooke Husic, xwords by a ladee)

September 27: What Are You Waiting For? (Themeless) (Ada Nicolle, luckystreak+)









Themeless (Erik Agard and Brooke Husic)

As you'd expect from the byline, a stunningly gridded and clued puzzle. The corners are very chunky but the fill doesn't suffer for it, and there's an incredible density of subtly great clues: [Present at a video conference?] for ONLINE, [Fantasy roster?] for MONSTERS, [Part of a low-stakes game?] for HORSESHOE, [Less money up front?] for ECONO, [Point taken?] for DEMERIT, etc. It's a perfect example of something that both Brooke and Erik excel at, which is making a themeless interesting not (purely) via flashy fill, but with well-thought-out cluing for even not obviously inspiring entries like ECONO.

You Are Reading This Puzzle's Title (Franci Dimitrovska)

Franci breaks in her brand-new blog with a hilarious puzzle. The revealer is 4TH WALL BREAKER, clued as [Violator of typical theatrical convention, or the next in a sequence hinted by 20, 34, and 42-Across]. Those across entries are SULTAN MEHMED II (the conqueror who broke through the walls of Constantine), the KOOL-AID MAN (who advertising mascot who smashes through walls), and Gunter SCHABOWSKI (the politician who accidentally declared the Berlin Wall open too early during a press conference). So the next entry in the sequence would indeed be a fourth wall-breaker. It's a really funny theme with a delightful variety of theme answers, and the revealer is a clever nod to the fact that revealers often break the fourth wall, in a way, by explicitly referring to the fact that they're part of a crossword. There's plenty of fun stuff in the fill, too, including LASER SHOW, GNOMEO and Juliet, BROSTEP, and a LIME TWIST.

True Colors (Brian Thomas)

Intriguingly, the applet version of this puzzle is available in both Dark Mode and Light Mode. Given that, plus the title, I should have cottoned onto the theme, but I didn't get it until the solve was done. The puzzle is inspired by THE DRESS, that viral image that some people saw as black and blue, and some people saw as white and gold. Naturally, the central theme entry is a Schrodinger, which can be either BLACK AND BLUE or WHITE AND GOLD. (Aptly, I happened to solve the Light Mode version, and I'm on team #whiteandgold, but ironically I ended up with BLACK AND BLUE in the grid.) Schrodinger themes are never easy to pull off, and this one's got an awful lot of Schrodinger squares, but Brian does an excellent job of it; I especially love [Eastern ___] for BLOC/BLOT and [They shouldn't be making high pitched squeals] for AUTOS/ALTOS.

This May Get Ugly (Themeless) (C. L. Rimkus)

This 16x14 themeless is anchored by six spanners, of lengths that you don't usually see, thanks to the slightly unusual size. All the spanners are good, and most of them are spiced up by excellent clues: [Long-running cable features?] for EXTENSION CORDS, [Equipment that measures different strokes for different folks] for ROWING MACHINES, [It's really shitty work] for DIAPER CHANGING, etc. Both architecturally impressive and fun!


The title of this themeless refers to the delightful central spanner, BADONKADONKGATE, clued as [Ongoing controversy that Sam Ezersky could resolve today by adding one very legitimate word to the NYT Spelling Bee word list]. But what really makes this puzzle stand out is Chris's conversational cluing voice, which is one of the most recognizable in the game. The most specifically Piumian clue here is [Usually I get this plain or with garlic, but I recently had it with sesame, and it was kinda brilliant?] for NAAN, but others include [Feel like a sicky poo] for AIL, [Make Muffles less itchy] for DEFLEA, [Charming town in Newfoundland and/or sex toy] for DILDO, [Does a little of this, a little of that...] for DABBLES, [NSFW clam] for GEODUCK, and [Award for the best British person pretending to be a British person] for BAFTA.

Phistomefel Ring (Christopher Adams feat. Ricky Cruz)

It's so rare to see a crossword concept that's 100% original, but I think this one qualifies. The title refers to an advanced Sudoku strategy: in a Sudoku grid, the 2x2 chunks in the four corners collectively contain the same set of numbers as the middle ring of 16 squares. In this crossword analogue, the middle ring is highlighted, and the entries that contain some of those corner squares are left unclued. So you have to use the Phistomefel ring to figure out what letters go in the corners, armed with the knowledge that all the unclued entries are ordinary, uncapitalized English words. An ingenious crossword/Sudoku blend, and really satisfying to solve.

themeless xiv ("real hot girl shit" (reprise)) (Brooke Husic)

Brooke celebrates her blog's first birthday with one of my favorites of her grids so far. Just chock full of interesting/fun stuff, including THEY SAID YES, PREHAB, YARNBOMB, SAMOSA CHAAT, and the central seed, the absolutely zany-looking BODY-ODY-ODY-ODY. The cluing is great as usual; [Mutual love] for ZERO-ZERO is one of my favorite clues of the year.

what are you waiting for? (themeless) (Ada Nicolle)

A 25x25 themeless sounds like a slog, but it's a tribute to Ada's skill that this one is fun throughout. It's anchored by a stagger-stack of GENDER-NEUTRAL PRONOUN, YOU MUST BE FUN AT PARTIES, and NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT, but there are highlights in every section of the grid, including NO SKIP, STARDEW VALLEY, SNAPSTERPIECE, and PROTOGALAXY. But the key to making a puzzle this huge consistently fun is to put care into the clues for the short fill, too, which Ada always does; my favorites include [BBC and chill, say] for SNOG and [There's a lot to unpack here!] for U-HAUL.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Puzzle #153: Theme and Variations

I've often heard people say they don't like most Sunday-size puzzles because once they figure out the theme, there are no more aha moments but there's still a lot of grid left to fill in. Well, whatever else you might say about this week's puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution), you can't say that there's only one aha moment!

Monday, September 20, 2021

Puzzle #152: No Lies Detected (freestyle by Richard D. Allen and Kate Chin Park)

This week's puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) is a guest freestyle by Richard D. Allen and Kate Chin Park, who you may know from their own excellent sites, Lexicon Devil and crosswords schmosswords. It's a fun one - happy solving!

Monday, September 13, 2021

Puzzle #151: Freeform Freestyle 11

To wrap up the freeform freestyle series, we've got a big 21x21 grid (pdf, puz, pdf solution). Fear not - to make up for the extra size, I've pitched the cluing easier than the 15x15 freeform freestyles. By the way, I haven't been mentioning this in every post, but Brooke tested this one, as she's tested every puzzle in this series, and her feedback has been invaluable. Happy solving!

Monday, September 6, 2021

Puzzle #150: Every Which Way

This puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) is sort of a spiritual sequel to the last themed puzzle I posted, I suppose. (This one's also themed, though it doesn't look like it at first glance.) Thanks to Norah and Frisco for test-solving!

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Indie puzzle highlights: August 2021

August 1: Getting Medieval (Enrique Henestroza Anguiano, Datalexic)

August 6: Just the Grid #2 (C. L. Rimkus + R. E. Fabi + 30 crowdsourced clue authors, Just Gridding)

August 10: Left Out (Juliana Tringali Golden, Vox)

August 11: Idiot Box (Kate Leiserson and Rebecca Goldstein, Crosswords Schmosswords)

August 13: You Might Drop Dead (Quiara Vasquez, club72)

August 15: Themeless 31 (Paolo Pasco and Erik Agard, Grids These Days)

August 16: Fireworks (Christopher Adams, arctan(x)words)

August 21: Get the Message (Sid Sivakumar, Lollapuzzoola)

August 21: Connecting... (Brooke Husic, Lollapuzzoola)









Getting Medieval (Enrique Henestroza Anguiano)

I haven't highlighted them much here, but I'm always a fan of Enrique's themes. They often use a basic theme type, but with an extra touch of elegance that takes them over the top. This one is a perfect example, and the theme is best explained by just giving the themers: [Actress who jousts at Medieval Times?] is KEIRA KNIGHTLEY, [Actor who pronounces edicts at Medieval Times?] is BEN KINGSLEY, and [Actor who gives blessings at Medieval Times?] is JASON PRIESTLEY. An exceptionally tight set, all ending in -LEY - one of those theme sets that's so elegant it seems like it must have emerged from the constructor's head fully-formed.

Just the Grid #2 (C. L. Rimkus + R. E. Fabi + 30 crowdsourced clue authors)

On Just Gridding, Claire and Rachel occasionally run an experiment where they provide an unclued grid and then solicit clues from anyone who wants to submit them. It's a fun way to change things up; it's the sort of experiment where the results might be a weird, Frankensteinesque pastiche, but this one turned out really well. In part, that's because of Claire's beautiful grid, which stacks 15s while still managing a super-clean fill and some fun long bonuses. But it's also, of course, because of the crowdsources clues. There's great stuff like ["I need some space"] for SCOOT OVER, [Passing remark?] for I'M NOT INTERESTED, [Showstopper?] for COMMERCIAL BREAK, and [Ring around the nose-y?] for PIERCING. Even AM SO, probably the only real weak point in the fill, is spiced up with a fun clue: ["I ___ smart, S-M-R-T... I mean S-M-A-R-T" - Homer Simpson].

Left Out (Juliana Tringali Golden)

I almost always include mini-themes in my 9x9s for Vox, but they're usually just a pair of entries that sound similar or have some other basic connection. Juliana very often goes for outside-the-box mini-themes of the sort that you more commonly seen in larger puzzles, which adds a welcome layer of creativity. In this one, there's an L-shaped block of black squares on the left, and you have to pretend that the black squares are filled with L's for the clues to make sense. For example, 1-Down is STILL LIFE, with the three L's forming the backbone of the chunk of black squares. Also not to be missed in Juliana's puzzle from August 17, in which the word ROLLERCOASTER snakes through the grid like a rollercoaster.

Idiot Box (Kate Leiserson and Rebecca Goldstein)

Yet another example of Rebecca's skill with gridding tough themes, and of Kate's cluing chops. This one has the revealer CIRCLE JERK, clued pointedly as [All-male closed rotation, like the constructor roster for the WSJ's puzzles, or a description of something depicted four times in this puzzle], and the themers have circled rebus squares that contain synonyms for "jerk": PIMIEN(TO OL)IVE crossing (TOO L)EGIT TO QUIT, OU(T WIT)H IT crossing EXPER(T WIT)NESS, D(O A F)AVOR crossing G(O AF)TER, and JON(AS S)ALK crossing SMOOTH (AS S)ILK. Lots of colorful phrases, and the jerks are elegantly split across multiple words in every case. Despite all the theme real estate, the grid is beautiful filled, with bonuses like FOOT TRAFFIC, GOTTA JET, and SKELETOR. Toss in some fun cluing (including the equally pointed pair of [.puz alternative] for PDF and [.puz alternative, per the NYT] for APP), and you've got a great puzzle.

You Might Drop Dead (Quiara Vasquez)

Quiara Vasquez takes the third guest spot on Tim Croce's club72 with a crossword that skillfully emulates Tim's vibe, while injecting it with her own style. Like most of Tim's puzzles, it's filled with unusual seed entries, including in the relatively short fill (MAN PAIN, BRUJX - the latter of which is clued with the absolutely incredible wordplay find [Modern-day witch that's pronounced like two witch-y verbs]). And it's really tough, tougher for me than most of Tim's recent puzzles. Some of the clue highlights are [Enter the matrix?] for PRINT, [March leader?] for ONE SEED, the zany [Madder and madder] for REDS, and [It'll make you say "oh"] for both AHA MOMENT and the intersecting OMICRON.

Themeless 31 (Paolo Pasco and Erik Agard)

Paolo and Erik together make for an all-star byline, especially in the cluing department, and this collaboration doesn't disappoint. [Movable type] for ITINERANT, [Soccer goal] for CUP, [You complete me!] for TASK, [They can be folded and ripped] for ARMS, ["Bus pass"? People at these sure hope it doesn't] for STOPS, [Get dark outside?] for SEAR, [Translated for] for PARA, [White woman, perhaps?] for WINE MOM, and [Apse stores???] for BASILICAS are good examples of Erik's concisely brilliant misdirects and Paolo's wacky humor. (Though I could be wrong about who wrote which clues! Well, except [Newsom in a lot of music news-om! Before you get mad just remember this clue could've been written by Erik. You're really gonna get mad at a possible Erik clue?] for JOANNA. Pretty sure that was Paolo's.)

Fireworks (Christopher Adams)

This one's a mostly-themeless joint seeded with an absolutely brilliant pair of clues/entries: KATY PERRY clued as ["Baby, you're a firework" singer], and GENDER REVEAL PARTY clued as ["Baby, you're a firework!" singer?]. That alone would be enough, but it also features one of my favorite recent clues. As a nod to Brooke Husic's recent clue for ANAGRAM, [Anemone, to name one], Chris repurposes the very same clue for his entry POLYP, sort of a double fakeout for solvers who are now familiar with the genre of tricky clues for ANAGRAM and expecting that clue to fall into that genre.

Get the Message (Sid Sivakumar)

Lollapuzzoola competitors were thoroughly warned that there might be a rebus puzzle in the tournament, and indeed there was. This one has texting abbreviations in the rebus squares, with the clues for the theme entries appropriately incorporating fake CHATBOXes. For instance, TTYL is rebused in KI(TTY L)ITTER and NA(TTY L)IGHT, the latter of which is clued as [Cheap brewski yeeted (are_you_gridding_463: cya!) into the stratosphere in 2011]. The other theme entries are just as colorful: I DON'(T MI)ND and BA(T MI)TZVAH, ZER(O TO H)ERO and G(O TO H)ELL, DEM(I MO)ORE and SCI-F(I MO)VIE, and LABO(R OF L)OVE and HYD(ROFL)ASK. The choice of theme entries necessitates left-right symmetry, which is always challenging to pull off, but Sid makes it look easy, with squeaky-clean fill and plenty of fun entries.

Connecting... (Brooke Husic)

This puzzle is one for the ages - I doubt I'll solve a better crossword all year. Filling the traditionally difficult Puzzle 4 slot at Lollapuzzoola, this one's got a brilliant conceit. Most of the down clues just consist of a gif of three dots, as if the clues are loading, but in fact what's going on is that all the down clues for a given column have been concatenated together in the slot for the bottom-most clue in that column. For example, the middle column has the entries OPTIMAL and PORTION, clued as [The best part], since [The best] is a clue for OPTIMAL and [Part] is a clue for PORTION. What makes this especially devious is that all of the resulting clues are grammatical, and many of them read just like normal, single clues - [Hold still] for HUG plus STATIONARY, for example, or [A+ hosts] for ALPHA plus AND plus MCS. It's a genius concept, but it's also a tour-de-force of construction, since the conceit means that pretty much none of the down entries can be proper names, partial phrases, abbreviations, or anything else with limited, specific cluing options. Truly remarkable work.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Puzzle #149: Freeform Freestyle 10

It's the last 15x15 entry in the freeform freestyle series (pdf, puz, pdf solution)! Coming up next: a bonus 21x21 freeform freestyle which is probably my favorite of all of them.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Puzzle #148: Flight Interruption

It's been a while since I've done stacked theme entries, so: here's a puzzle with stacked theme entries (pdf, puz, pdf solution). I'm quite proud of the theme's multiple levels. Important note: if you're solving the .puz or in the applet, the letter X is your friend.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Puzzle #147: Freeform Freestyle 9

I'd planned to post a themed puzzle this week, but I haven't had time to clue it yet. So it's time for another freeform freestyle (pdf, puz, pdf solution)! This one's a 65-worder which started out with the big 8x5 chunk in the northwest. Happy solving!

Monday, August 9, 2021

Puzzle #146: Freeform Freestyle 8

A new asymmetrical themeless (pdf, puz, pdf solution) this week, featuring stacked 13s and some chunky black square patterns. Enjoy!

Monday, August 2, 2021

Puzzle #145: Sorry, Wrong Number

We've got a themed puzzle this week (pdf, puz, pdf solution). The PDF has a little visual bonus, but it doesn't impact the solve at all, so it'll work just as well in the applet or the .puz file. Happy solving!

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Indie puzzle highlights: July 2021

July 4: A Day at the Races (Ross Trudeau, Rossword Puzzles)

July 5: Themeless 12 (Mollie Cowger, Crosswords from Outer Space)

July 16: X Games (Ricky Cruz, Cruzzles)

July 19: presented with great enthusiasm (themeless) (Ada Nicolle, luckystreak+)

July 20: A Challenging Segue - Themeless #3 (Lyle Broughton, Jack of All Squares)

July 22: Quadripoint (Michael Buerke, Crucinova)

July 22: Untitled (Paolo Pasco, The Atlantic)

July 25: Art Heist (Chandi Deitmer, Boswords)

July 28: Themeless #56 (Brian Thomas and Brooke Husic, Puzzles That Need a Home)









A Day at the Races (Ross Trudeau)

I love a highly constrained theme that forces the constructor to break out some new tricks, and this is a prime example. It's also a really original theme concept: near the right side of the grid, running vertically, is THE FINISH LINE, which is intersected by four horizontal theme entries. Those theme entries (DOG AND PONY SHOWS, HORSESHOE PITS, BRONCO STADIUM, and ITALIAN STALLION) all contain words for horses, and the kicker is that exactly one of the horses (the STALLION) is crossing the finish line, making it the winner of the race. Ross notes that he had practically no leeway in the construction of this theme: since the grid's symmetrical, THE FINISH LINE has to have a counterpart which also crosses four theme entries on the left side of the grid. Nonetheless, he managed to fill the grid with a minimum of glue, which feels like wizardry.

Themeless 12 (Mollie Cowger)

Just impossibly good cluing from Mollie on this one. I mean, look at this list:

[Material for building a table]: RAW DATA
[Galaxies outshine them, per some modern sources]: IPHONES
[Disguise on the cover of many a mystery novel]: PEN NAME
[Hardly digging in one's heels]: ON TIPTOE
[Left hanging, say]: WET
[Sign of possession in "Jennifer's Body"]: APOSTROPHE
[Place for horsing around?]: CAROUSEL
[Prone to slow eating?]: EROSIVE
[House of representatives?]: EMBASSY
[Leaves on the skin, say]: TATS
[Traffic-stoppers]: BRAKES
[Body shots?]: STEROIDS
[Where to find some stone cold studs]: SNOW TIRES

X Games (Ricky Cruz)

With this meta contest puzzle, Ricky once again proves he's one of the most inventive constructors out there. There have been other tic-tac-toe-based metas (I did one myself once, but way less interestingly than this), but this one's really elegantly and creatively conceived. I won't explain the theme here, since Ricky's got his own thorough explanation, complete with diagrams, in this post.

presented with great enthusiasm (themeless) (Ada Nicolle)

A classic Ada Nicolle grid, in that it's anchored with a stagger-stack of three colorful and modern long entries in the center - in this case, GENDER EUPHORIA, SEASON PREMIERE, and Z-LIST CELEBRITY, which is quite possible my favorite of Ada's stacks so far. Nobody does these stacks like Ada; they always have three bangers, and the rest of the grid is always constructed beautifully and cleanly around them - and this one is no exception.

A Challenging Segue - Themeless #3 (Lyle Broughton)

This puzzle was constructed around two absolutely god-tier clues: [Two-factor authentication?] for PRIMALITY TEST and [Relief sculpture?] for MANNEKEN PIS. Those alone would be worth the price of admission, but the rest of the grid is smooth as silk, with lots of fun entries like FRENEMIES, HAVING A MOMENT, and WE HAD A DEAL. Beautiful work!

Quadripoint (Michael Buerke)

This one really takes advantage of the freedom offered by Crucinova. I've seen at least one Four Corners-themed puzzle before, but the constraints of a typical newspaper crossword really limit the extent to which you can represent the Four Corners in a grid. Here, Michael breaks out of those constraints in spectacular fashion, presenting us with four adjoining sections, each with the approximate shape of one of the Four Corners states. Not only that, each state has a flag attached to a flagpole made out of bars, at the approximate location of the state's capital - and the positioning of the flags creates four unclued two-letter entries, which are the postal abbreviations for the four states. To top it all off, the word FOUR appears at the intersection of the four states, tying everything together. It's a tricky construction, because there are no black squares and no bars inside the states other than the ones that make up the flagpoles, so there are some wide-open chunks, but it's filled impressively well given the constraints.

Untitled (Paolo Pasco)

It's easy to phone it in on a mini/midi grid, but Paolo never does - his grids are always sparkling and smooth. This one's got a whopping eight 8-letter entries (THE FORCE, HUMANOID, I LIKE YOU, BID ADIEU, IRONED ON, NEWSDESK, FAKE FANS, ONE-SIDED), but all the short fill is still clean, and there's even a fun clue for the old staple IRE ([This is madness!]). Also, the first words of the 1-Across entries in the five mini puzzles from this week spell out a message.

Art Heist (Chandi Deitmer)

On the same day that her fantastically ambitious NYT debut came out, Chandi was featured as the constructor of the challenging Puzzle 4 from Boswords. The names of artists have been "stolen" from the theme entries, so that the letters from their names have to be ignored when solving the downs. This is always a tough theme type to construct, but Chandi's unfazed, working in some long artist names in colorful theme entries like HOR(MONE T)HERAPY, HOO(KAH LO)UNGE, and BO(DEGA S)ANDWICH, and even making room for fun long fill like BOARD SHORTS and STUNT DRIVER.

Themeless #56 (Brian Thomas and Brooke Husic)

This isn't the first time that Brian and Brooke have used this general grid pattern, and it seems to be a successful formula. Those stairsteps of 5s in the middle allow for really smooth fill without sacrificing flow between the sections of the grid, and there are very few 3s and 4s, so we get a clean puzzle without many short repeaters. The cluing is, unsurprisingly, great: [Spit takes?] for DNA TESTS, [They might grind on each other all night] for MOLARS, [Wet blanket at Thanksgiving dinner?] for GRAVY, and [Tries to pull a fast one?] for SPEEDRUNS are among the highlights.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Puzzle #144: That's So Random (Aleatory Freestyle)

Trying something a little different with this week's freestyle (pdf, puz, pdf solution). Starting with a blank grid, I used a random number generator to choose five squares which had to be black squares, then also randomly chose five white squares and randomly chose letters which had to go in those squares - then I built a freestyle around those preselected squares, following the normal rules of crosswords. The result was a 60-worder with a weird pattern that I never would have come up with on my own. (In the applet below, the preselected black squares are in gray, and the preselected letters are in green.) A fun exercise, which I encourage other constructors to try out!


Sunday, July 25, 2021

Puzzle #143: Baby's All Grown Up

I know it's not Monday yet, but I just thought of this theme and I need to post the puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) before the joke, uh, gets old, so I whipped up a 10x11 midi in between puzzles at Boswords. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Puzzle #142: themeless: block party by Malaika Handa

I'm very excited to present a guest themeless (pdf, puz, pdf solution) from Malaika Handa, who you probably know as the brains behind the very cool 7xwords project. In addition to running 7xwords, she publishes her own puzzles at this site. She also has a crossword in the next Boswords tournament, mere days from now, and registration is open here.

Malaika reached out to me to post her puzzle here because she says "ridiculous themeless grid" is something she associates with this site. An association I'm very happy to have! And indeed, this one's got an extremely zany and eye-popping 62-word pattern.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Puzzle #141: Freeform Freestyle 7

This week's puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) is another asymmetrical themeless - enjoy!

In other news, a puzzle of mine was published last week on Crucinova, an experimental venue that dropped its first puzzle at the beginning of this month. If you're not subscribed, I recommend it - it promises to be well worth your money!

Monday, July 5, 2021

Puzzle #140: Reversible Linings

In the unlikely scenario that you're friends with me on Facebook and remember a specific post that I made back in 2018, then the theme of today's puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) will already be familiar to you. But it should be a fun solve even if it is!

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Indie puzzle highlights: June 2021

June 2: themeless twenty-eight (Ada Nicolle, luckystreak xwords)

June 6: Themeless 26 (Paolo Pasco, Grids These Days)

June 9: Untitled (Ada Nicolle, 7xwords)

June 9: What Are Thoooooose? (Christopher Adams, arctan(x)words)

June 10: Pride 2021 (Chris Piuma, Wordgarbler)

June 14: Flag Day (Joon Pahk, Outside the Box)

June 15: Pat Response (Jeffrey Harris, Jeffrey's Jottings)

June 18: I Could Go Either Way (Rebecca Goldstein, Just Gridding)

June 21: Themeless 11 (Mollie Cowger, Crosswords from Outer Space)

June 27: themeless xi (Brooke Husic, xwords by a ladee)

June 28: 🍆🍆🍆🍆🍑🍑🍑🍑 (Brian Thomas, Puzzles That Need a Home)

June 30: Final (Wyna Liu, Indie 500)









themeless twenty-eight (Ada Nicolle)

I've given Ada short shrift in these roundups, I think. The curse of consistency - she puts out a high-quality subscriber puzzle every week, and when they're always good, the individual ones stand out less. So there are multiple puzzles I could have chosen to highlight here, but I'm going with this free blog puzzle, which has a different grid layout from the central stack-based ones Ada normally uses. It enables her to include a bunch of interlaced fresh entries, including PANROMANTIC, TONE TAG, NINETIES KID, WIFED UP, and PULL OUT GAME WEAK.

Themeless 26 (Paolo Pasco)

Quite a striking-looking grid with left-right symmetry for this themeless, accommodating the fantastic central stack of SUPER MARIO MAKER, ENEMIES TO LOVERS, and SEE YA WHEN I SEE YA (with a bonus 15, TIME LAPSE VIDEOS, a few rows down). As usual with Paolo, even the less flashy entries are spiced up with clever and/or evocative clues: [What creepy twins speak in] for UNISON, ["I know you're still preaching, but I really agree with that point!"] for AMEN, [One aiming to start a relationship?] for AMOR, [One of two ending an "awkward sibling hug," per "Gravity Falls"] for PAT, etc etc etc.

Untitled (Ada Nicolle)

Which 7xwords grid runs on which date is determined in advance, so it's a practically miraculous confluence of events that this puzzle worked out. Ada stacks three 7-letter theme entries: LOL NICE ([Reaction to realizing today's date is 6/9, maybe]), NICOLLE ([Constructor of this puzzle Adam]), and, sandwiched in between, ANAGRAM. We're blessed that Ada claimed the date early and managed to squeeze an absolute perfect theme into a predetermined set.

What Are Thoooooose? (Christopher Adams)

Inspired by Adam Aaronson's "Grid Charlemagne" series of Steely Dan-based puzzles, Christopher used the Steely Dan song BAD SNEAKERS as a revealer, hinting that the word SNEAKERS is anagrammed in the theme entries (WATER SNAKES, DARKNESSES, PREAKNESS, and LAKE NASSER). It's practically designed to delight me specifically, since it features three themers stacked in the middle, and not one, but two Joanna Newsom references in the clues. There's a lot that SPARKS JOY in the fill, including GRINDR, FANFIC, SUFjan Stevens, and a reference to the Jeopardy! spoof video that repeatedly uses the word JEFF.

Pride 2021 (Chris Piuma)

A gloriously raunchy pride puzzle, packed to the gills with R-rated content: BUTT STUFF stacked on IN THE REAR (crossing ASSES), GLOBAL SEED VAULT clued as [Nickname for a jetsetting power bottom?], and so much more. Everywhere you turn, there's a spicy entry - or, sometimes, a clue that tricks you into thinking there'll be a spicy entry, like [Clean up (when someone is finished)] for BUS. Chris likes to do gestalt-based themes, where instead of a set of symmetrically placed theme entries, there's lots of topical content scattered throughout the grid, and this puzzle is a masterful example of that.

Flag Day (Joon Pahk)

A remarkable variety puzzle shaped like the American flag. The rules are simple: each row and column consists of a series of entries that are clued in order. But Joon uses those entries to depicts the colors of the flag: each row contains an entry that's missing either the word RED or WHITE from the beginning, corresponding with the positions of the stripes. (For example, the top row includes REDRUM, which is entered in the grid as just RUM.) Even more impressively, the 8x6 section in the top left includes eight down entries that are missing the word BLUE, all stacked beside each other. Not only that, seven those eight entries intersect the horizontal entry SEE STARS, suggesting that the solver should use their imagination and see stars in the blue section of the grid. A remarkable feat of construction!

Pat Response (Jeffrey Harris)

First, a little preface: You might have noticed a lack of cryptics and variety puzzles in these writeups lately. I used to include Joon Pahk's Rows Gardens and Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto's cryptics regularly, for example, but it's been a while since I've highlighted either. Of course, that's not because they don't continue to put out good stuff - it's just that there are so many American-style indie crosswords to keep up with now that I have less time and attention to give to cryptics and variety puzzles. And, relatedly, it's hard for me to judge the relative quality of regular block cryptics and standard variety puzzles like Rows Gardens without taking significant extra post-solve time. So on the occasions when I do include them, there will be a bias towards puzzles from venues that also post American-style crosswords (like Jeffrey's Jottings and Square Pursuit), since those are part of my regular rotation.

Anyway, onto the puzzle! This has one of the best aha moments in recent variety cryptic memory. The instruction tell you (quite insistently) that there are five unclued answers, and the remaining clues are listed in alphabetical order by answer, with 13 of those clued including single misprints which must be corrected. The corrected letters, arranged in grid order, spell the name of a character who said the line formed by the unclued entries. Because of the various shenanigans going on, the puzzle itself is a real challenge, but a satisfying one. Once you crack it, you'll discover that there are actually only four unclued entries, which spell out the line THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS, spoken by Jean-Luc Picard on the TNG episode "Chain of Command." In that episode, Picard is interrogated by a Cardassian who tries to break him psychologically by showing him four lights and demanding that he say that there are five. And this puzzle does the exact same thing by insisting that there are four unclued answers - in British cryptic lingo, a "light" is a grid entry. A wonderful solve with lots of layers. 

I Could Go Either Way (Rebecca Goldstein)

A guest joint on Just Gridding with an excellent theme - the revealer is SWITCH, indicating that there are several squares in the puzzle that have the rebus TOP going across and BOTTOM going down. We've got TOMATO PASTE/BOTTOMLESS PIT, POTATO PANCAKE/GLASS BOTTOM BOAT, HONEST OPINION/BELL BOTTOM PANTS, and ON AUTOPILOT/HIT ROCK BOTTOM. First off, crossing your theme entries, especially long ones, makes the grid a real challenge to fill (and one of the theme entries even crosses the revealer!), but Rebecca's filled this grid cleanly and with aplomb. Second, the choice of theme entries is elegant. Of course, it would have been impossible to hide the word BOTTOM in unrelated words, so all of the down themers use the word BOTTOM as-is, but all of the across themers hide the word TOP in between words or morphemes in the phrases. Absolutely perfect execution.

Themeless 11 (Mollie Cowger)

One reason that these writeups tend to be themeless-heavy is that there's a sense in which it's "easier" to make a great themeless than a great themed puzzle: there are so many constraints on a themed puzzle and so many potential failure points. But that doesn't mean it's easy to make a great themeless, and we shouldn't be deceived by the fact that Mollie makes it look easy. She's one of a small handful of indie constructors where every one of her themelesses could be on my list: they're always smoothly and thoughtfully filled and packed with excellent clues. Naturally, as a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fan, I was won over by the D-DAY clue, but there's so much great stuff here: [Hardy purity rings?] for BOOTY CALLS, [Wheel/pendulum hybrid] for TIRE SWING, [Purchases made for future mates?] for CHESS SETS, [Adults-only zone] for EMPTY NEST, and so on.

themeless xi (Brooke Husic)

Like Mollie, Brooke published her 11th blog themeless this month, and like Mollie, every themeless she puts out is great. But they're consistent in very different ways: you always know more or less what to expect from a Mollie puzzle, whereas (at least with the experimental clues) every Brooke puzzle is a journey where you're never quite sure what awaits you. She often pushes the boundaries with foreign languages in cool ways (e.g. using the gender-neutral Spanish POBRECITE), puts in uncommon but interesting 3-letter fill (ENM, ROK, CBT), or even throws in some meta content (TWENTY-SEVENTH, clued as [Date with a lady?] because she published on the 27th of every month). This puzzle also features some truly inspired clues, including [Clipped hedge?] for THO and [Shower head?] for RAIN GOD.

🍆🍆🍆🍆🍑🍑🍑🍑 (Brian Thomas)

This puzzle is a distant second in the list of horniest puzzle in this month's lineup, but it's still great. The revealer is HORNY ON MAIN, indicating that literally horny animals are perched on top of synonyms for "main": RHINO on MAJOR LEAGUE, IBEX on TOOK THE LEAD, and UNICORN on CENTRAL BANK. It's a fun theme, one that would only fly in the indie sphere, and on top of that it's one that's a real challenge to construct (especially in the middle, where UNICORN is sandwiched between two long themers). Nonetheless, Brian fills it cleanly, and even throws in some excellent non-theme 10s, including OPEN SEASON and INNER CHILD.

Final (Wyna Liu)

For the final puzzle from this year's non-competitive Indie 500, Wyna has concocted a beautiful grid with tons of conversational answers (NOTHING PERSONAL, WHO'S WE, DON'T WAIT UP, LET'S SEE NOW, etc.). But what really elevates it (at least in the Inside Track version, the one I solved) is the devious cluing: [Still matter] for MOONSHINE is an all-timer, and [An appropriate statement, considering] for I'LL THINK ABOUT IT is one of these clues that takes a while to understand but has a great aha moment when the penny drops. [The End is near it] for DELETE KEY and [It isn't working] for LEISURE are also delightful.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Puzzle #139: Freeform Freestyle 6 (plus Humans Only meta solution)

This week's puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) is another freeform freestyle, and I think it's a pretty tough one. Enjoy! Below the applet is the solution and explanation to last week's metapuzzle, Humans Only.

Humans Only solution

Last week's meta asked you to identify a famous model. At 72 words, the grid could have easily been a themeless - so where is the theme content hidden? Well, the title suggests that you should pay attention to the central entry, RECAPTCHA, clued as [3x3 grid with the instruction "select all images with cars," e.g.], since a ReCAPTCHA is a test designed to weed out bots and allow only human users.

The "3x3" in the clue is awfully specific, which suggests that you should try dividing the grid into a 3x3 lattice. If you do that, you might notice that the string CAR appears in exactly five of the nine sections. If you select all of those sections, they form the shape of a T (as seen in the picture below), so the answer is Model T - rendering the title ironic, since the answer is a machine model, not, as you might have initially assumed, a human model.

Congrats to everyone who submitted the correct answer! The winner, chosen at random from the correct entries, is Dan Bowden.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Puzzle #138: Humans Only (meta)

This week's puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) is a meta contest. The meta answer is a famous model. You can submit your answers to the email address in the sidebar - next Monday, the 28th, I'll randomly choose one of the correct entrants, who'll win a 1-year crossword-related subscription of their choice. Good luck!

Monday, June 14, 2021

Puzzle #137: Freeform Freestyle 5

This week's freeform freestyle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) is fifth one I'm posting, but actually the first one I made. So I think the previous ones take better advantage of the lack of symmetry than this one does, but I'm still quite happy with this one.

Also, we're halfway through the freeform freestyle series! There'll be a total of 10 regular freeform freestyles in the series, followed by a special bonus puzzle at the end.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Puzzle #136: A Puzzle for the Knowing Ones

This week's puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) comes with an appendix, but there are spoilers so don't look at it until you've finished solving! Many thanks to Norah Sharpe and Dob Olino for giving this one a test solve.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Indie puzzle highlights: May 2021

May 9: Themeless 10 (Michael, Southern Crosswords)

May 10: Inject It Into My Veins! (Themeless) (Adam Aaronson and Paolo Pasco, Aaronson)

May 16: Let It Burn (Yacob Yonas and Ross Trudeau, Rossword Puzzles)

May 17: Chasm No. 3 (Ryan McCarty, McGrids)

May 17: It's a Stretch! (Themeless) (C. L. Rimkus, Just Gridding)

May 18: Freestyle 614 (Tim Croce, club72)

May 21: Voiced by Keith David (Quin Abarr, Puzzles By Quin)

May 22: Easy Peasy (Norah Sharpe and David Ritterskamp, Norah's Puzzles)

May 24: I Am an American (Hoang-Kim Vu and Erica Hsiung Wojcik, USA Today)

May 27: themeless x (Brooke Husic, xwords by a ladee)









Themeless 10 (Michael)

In the New Yorker lately, Elizabeth Gorski has been doing occasional puzzles with 3(!) sets of triple-stacked 15s, and Michael has taken a page out of her book here. With this kind of grid, it's a real challenge to keep the fill clean while still having interesting 15s, and Michael does a stellar job - highlights among the 15s include HETERONORMATIVE, AUSTRALIAN RULES (clued as [What Chicken Smallhorn played]), and WHATCHAMACALLIT. Sure, there are some that are there because of their convenient letters - but even SATELLITE STATES has a clever clue, [Bloc parties?]. There's also good diversity in the short fill, with plenty of women and people of color represented.

Inject It Into My Veins! (Adam Aaronson and Paolo Pasco)

As delightful as you'd expect from this duo. It's anchored by a stagger-stack with FAUCI OUCHIE atop EEVEELUTION and underneath SQUARESPACE - a cornucopia of unlikely letter combinations. Some genius clues, too, including [One in a college dorm bathroom, often] for PLY and [They get shot down] for FEET PICS.

Let It Burn (Yacob Yonas and Ross Trudeau)

This May was probably my favorite month in Rosswords history, and not just because he posted a stacked-theme puzzle inspired by some of my recent work. All of Ross's puzzles this month were creative and fun, but I'm choosing to highlight this collab with Yacob Yonas. The revealer is WHERE THERE'S/SMOKE, THERE'S FIRE, indicating that three squares in the grid can be filled either with the word SMOKE or the word FIRE to create valid entries. Rebus themes are hard enough to pull off well, but a double rebus is much trickier, and indeed Yacob and Ross reported that they left practically zero other possibilities on the cutting room floor. The themers are: SMOKE EATER/SMOKE HOUSE or FIRE EATER/FIREHOUSE, SMOKESCREEN/SMOKE BREAK or FIRE SCREEN/FIREBREAK, and SMOKEHOLE/SMOKE WEED or FIREHOLE/FIREWEED. All those, plus a two-part stacked revealer, without even putting much of a strain on the fill.

Chasm No. 3 (Ryan McCarty)

Ryan does it again - a stack of five 9s going across (CRANBERRY, THE REAL ME, WHADJA SAY, DIET COKES, SILK SONIC) intersecting a stack of five 9s going down (LIVE CHATS, SACRED COD, STAR JONES, SNEAK INTO, BASE COATS), and not a bad one in the bunch. In turn, the corners of that center chasm lead into other wide-open sections with plenty of 9s, including THE KRAKEN, OTAMATONE, VUVUZELAS, and DIGITALIS. A stunning feat!

It's a Stretch! (C. L. Rimkus)

Claire Rimkus and Rachel Fabi have teamed up on a new site, and the first puzzle is a real humdinger. It's absolutely packed with colorful entries (GIVE ME A MINUTE, ONSCREEN ROMANCE, MAYBE DON'T, READ THE ROOM, SPELLS IT OUT, etc.) and brilliant clues ([Getting off without a hitch?] for PREMARITAL SEX, [It's a pain in the neck sometimes] for HALTER TOP). I especially love the clue for NBA, [Org. that should technically have an "M" at the beginning], which is absolutely mystifying at first glance but comes with a great aha moment.

Freestyle 614 (Tim Croce)

I wonder if it's a coincidence that my favorite of Tim's recent themelesses also happens to be the first puzzle that defies the title of his site and goes above 72 words (it's a 16x15 grid with 73 words). Tim has a massive seed list filled with rarely- or never-used entries, and the central stack in this one features three entries from that list: MOMMY MAKEOVER, AS GOOD A TIME AS ANY, and SHAGGY DEFENSE. Outside of the stack, there's lots of other fresh stuff, including VENMO ME, DOGE TOKENS, I'M DYIN' HERE, GAMER TAG, and LIE LIKE A RUG.

Voiced by Keith David (Quin Abarr)

A lovely little 10x9 grid with a clever gimmick: the left half of the grid (shaded in blue) is made entirely with letters typed with the left hand, and the right half (shaded in red) is made entirely with letters typed with the right hand. Since a lot of the most useful letters (including A, E, R, S, and T) are on the left side of the keyboard, the right half of this puzzle must have been particularly hard to pull off. Quin's notes about the inspiration behind the puzzle are worth a read too.

Easy Peasy (Norah Sharpe and David Ritterskamp)

An absolutely wild gimmick: every entry in the grid is duped in the clue for a different entry. They range from straightforward, like [Tree with thorny leaves] for PINE (duplicating THORNY), to zany, like the clue for THORNY itself ([Like a stenocactus], duplicating the entry STENOS). Norah mentions that she and David went through many, many iterations to make it work, and I'm not surprised. It's all anchored by a perfect two-part revealer, too: SUPER clued as [What this puzzle hopes to be...], next to DUPER clued as [...and what it really is]. Incidentally, Norah's a great supporter of indie constructors, particularly newer ones, and she also published two other excellent collaborations in May, with Steve Barrios and Kate Leiserson

I Am an American (Hoang-Kim Vu and Erica Hsiung Wojcik)

A lovely celebration of API Heritage Month, featuring the people at the center of three seminal Supreme Court cases: WONG KIM ARK ([Person in an 1898 case affirming birthright citizenship]), FRED KOREMATSU ([Person in a 1944 case contesting the internment of Japanese Americans]), and BHAGAT/SINGH THIND ([Person in a 1923 case challenging citizenship eligibility]). We also get a bonus shoutout to EMMA Gee, who co-founded the organization that popularized the term "Asian American," in the fill. Unusually for the USAT, all the theme entries are proper names, but (as always for the USAT) the puzzle is crafted to be accessible for any solver.

themeless x (Brooke Husic)

At least in the experimental version, this was one of the hardest Brooke themelesses yet, at least for me. But hard in a really satisfying way, with lots of great aha moments (particularly realizing that [Not quite straight] was KINSEY TWO. Some stellar clues, including [Black and white drawing] for STALEMATE and [Corrupt drive?] for VICE. Unsurprisingly, there's some cool poetry content, including SAEED Jones and a fresh Issa Kobayashi angle for ISSA.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Puzzle #135: Freeform Freestyle 4

It's another asymmetrical themeless (pdf, puz, pdf solution)! Thanks as always to Brooke Husic for giving it a test ride.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Monday, May 10, 2021

Puzzle #133: Freeform Freestyle 3

It's the third puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) in my series of asymmetrical themelesses: like normal themelesses, but not as symmetrical!

Monday, May 3, 2021

Puzzle #132: Tight Five

This one's technically a themed puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution), but it does have kind of a themeless vibe: 66 words, with the theme entries all stacked together in the middle.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Indie puzzle highlights: April 2021

Lots more themed puzzles in the roundup this month than usual, which is a development I welcome! Though of course, excellent indie themelesses are still being published at an astonishing rate.

April 1: [post title here] DO NOT PUBLISH EARLY (Paolo Pasco, Grids These Days)

April 9: Think Twice (Sid Sivakumar, The Juggernaut)

April 10: #Repeal (Finn Vigeland, These Puzzles Fund Abortion)

April 15: The Cruellest Month (Chris Piuma, Wordgarbler)

April 15: Stuck in Traffic (Sara Cantor, Crosshare)

April 21: Untitled (Quiara Vasquez, The Atlantic)

April 22: Knock Knock! (Adam Aaronson, Aaronson)

April 24: Well, Whaddya Say? (Kevin G. Der, American Crossword Puzzle Tournament)

April 26: Untitled (Brooke Husic, Boswords)

April 26: Themeless 7 (Mollie Cowger, Crosswords from Outer Space)









[post title here] DO NOT PUBLISH EARLY (Paolo Pasco)

Probably the single funniest puzzle published this year that's not by Et Tu Etui (who is, of course, a real person and not a pseudonym for a prominent indie constructor). The theme is FIRST DRAFTS, where words for wind have been moved from the end to the beginning of common phrases: SELF-DISGUST becomes GUSTSELFDIS, SPARKLING ALE becomes GALESPARKLIN, and BE KIND REWIND becomes WINDBEKINDRE. But the real fun is in the clues, which are written as if they're a first draft which was decidedly not meant to be published yet. There are lots of indie constructors who are very skilled at the technical aspects of construction, but few who can hold a candle to Paolo when it comes to the pure entertainment factor.

Think Twice (Sid Sivakumar)

Sid hasn't posted much on his famous blog recently, but he's been busy: he's the editor of the new crossword for The Juggernaut, focused on South Asian culture. Sid performs a pretty impressive feat here - the wordplay mechanism of the theme (a progression from quarter to half to full to double) has nothing to with South Asia, but all the theme entries have a South Asian tie-in. We've got the cricket term QUARTER CENTURY, HALF SARI, FULL MOON, and DOUBLE KA MEETHA. Not only that, the four long down entries in the fill (SESAME OIL, COWHERDS, ROSE MILK, and SCIENTIST) all have relevant clues, too. The puzzle has a ton of resonance for South Asians, but it's still solvable by anybody, which is not an easy task.

#Repeal (Finn Vigeland)

Every puzzle in the These Puzzles Fund Abortion pack is good, but my favorite is Finn's, with a theme about repealing the Hyde Amendment. Words and phrases with the string HYDE (HYDERABAD, PHILOSOPHY/DEPARTMENT, and PACHYDERM) have the string "repealed," so that the down clues only make sense if you ignore those letters (but are legitimate crossword entries either way). I especially like the wackiness of splitting the HYDE in PHILOSOPHY DEPARTMENT across two entries. (And yes, I realize I've highlighted a lot of puzzles with this type of theme gimmick in these roundups! I guess if you're angling for a spot in one of my writeups, you know what type of theme to go for.)

The Cruellest Month (Chris Piuma)

In honor of National Poetry Month, Chris has created a puzzle absolutely packed with poetry - both in the fill and in the clues, many of which are written in a poetic style instead of straight prose. Admittedly, as someone who's a fan of many of the poets featured in the grid, including HARRYETTE MULLEN and BERNADETTE MAYER, I was predisposed to like this one, but I also just love when constructors write puzzles that really dive deeply into subjects they're passionate about. If you're not into poetry, you'll find this one difficult, but still very much worth your while.

Stuck in Traffic (Sara Cantor)

This puzzle has three unchecked, unclued squares - how are we supposed to be figure out what goes in them? Well, the first thing that jumps out is that there in a pattern of black squares that looks like a traffic light. But still, that doesn't narrow it down to one possibility - there are a few sets of words you could use to describe the three segments of a traffic light. There's a beautiful aha moment, though - the squares aren't really unchecked, since the words that you have to enter combine with the words to their left and right to make legitimate entries. For example, the top square is between GOB and PER, and entering STOP gives you GOBSTOPPER; similarly, SLOW goes between CAN'T and DOWN to make CAN'T SLOW DOWN, and GO turns CAR and BAY into CARGO BAY. One of the most original mechanisms I've seen in ages.

Untitled (Quiara Vasquez)

Usually The Atlantic only does 15x15 puzzles on Sundays, but this Wednesday puzzle is a special Earth Day-themed offering from Quiara. The theme is simple enough - our revealer, GREEN NEW DEAL, hints that the theme entries contain anagrams of GREEN - but there's an extra layer of elegance here, as all the theme entries are given ecological clues. ENERGY SECTOR is [Target of carbon taxes], RENEGOTIATE is [Talk new terms, as with the Paris Agreement], and GENERATION Z is [Greta Thunberg, et al.]. I love it when a constructor takes a theme idea with many, many possible themers and adds an extra constraint to narrow it down.

Knock Knock! (Adam Aaronson)

An elegant theme based on the memetic phrase FBI, OPEN UP. In the theme entries, the letters FBI "open up" - first they're consecutive (in DATE OF BIRTH), then separated by a single square (SOFT-BOILED), then two squares (FLY-BY-NIGHT), and finally three squares (FREEBOOTING). As an extra nice touch, there are no other occurrences of F, B, or I in the theme entries.

Well, Whaddya Say? (Kevin G. Der)

A devious theme for the notorious Puzzle 5 at the ACPT. Pairs of consecutive across answers have to be phonetically reparsed to make sense. For example, [Friend of Harry Potter] and [Mexican state bordering Texas] clue RON and CHIHUAHUA, but those don't fit in the grid - instead, you have to enter RAUNCHY and WAWA. Similarly, MANIC + INFERS = MANNEQUIN + FIRS, SCENT + ORCHESTRAL = CENTAUR + KESTREL, ZEE + BOOMERANGS = ZEBU + MERINGUES, and OWE + CRUSTACEAN = OKRA + STATION. Beautifully tric    ky, and Kevin managed to find some beautiful pairings, all of which have significant spelling changes.

Untitled (Brooke Husic)

This puzzle is a perfect encapsulation of what makes Brooke's themelesses so great. We've got a broad range of cultural and demographic references (HIAWATHA BELT, CODE RED clued as ["I need a tampon" euphemism]), fresh cluing angles even for the common short fill ([Dancer's pivoting aid, for short] for ACL, ["So ___!" ("Delish!" at some luaus] for ONO), and diagonal symmetry that allows for intersecting great long entries (SHE/HER PRONOUNS, I SHOULD HOPE NOT, VINTAGE STORE) without compromising the short fill.

Themeless 7 (Mollie Cowger)

I've liked every themeless that Mollie's posted on her site so far - they're always clean, full of fun fill, and packed with clever clues. This one accomplishes all that with just 64 words, including stacked seed entries of CERTIORARI and SAOIRSE RONAN, plus stuff like CHIWEENIES and SPACE TOURIST. The cluing might be this puzzle's strongest point - coming up with a clever and original clue for something like RAS isn't easy, but [They're generally given singles] fits the bill. Ditto [Chart-toppers?] for CEOS (think org charts). But my favorite clue is surely [Thumb between two fingers, allegedly], which made me take my fingers of the keyboard briefly to figure out that the answer was NOSE.