Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Indie puzzle highlights: January 2022

January 2: Mini Pangram (Joah, Crosshare)

January 11: a wee little puzzle (Kate Chin Park and Brian Thomas, crosswords schmosswords)

January 16: my breakfast (Zaneb, zinna mon)

January 16: A Well Built Crossword (Katherine Baicker and Ross Trudeau, Rossword Puzzles)

January 17: Chasm No 8 (Themeless) (Ryan McCarty, McGrids)

January 19: Free Association 56 (Trent Evans, Grid Therapy)

January 20: (Sweet Goodbyes): Exit West (Parker Higgins, QVXwordz)









Mini Pangram (Joah)

A 5x5 pangram? It's impossible to do without including two letters in one square, which would seem to be a fatally inelegant flaw - but here, the rebus square is elegantly motivated conceptually, not just there out of necessity. In the upper left, we have ABC, with a corresponding XYZ in the lower right. And in the middle, we have the rebus TO in the middle of FUTONS, so that the circled squares along the main diagonal spell out A TO Z. An exceptionally clever execution.

a wee little puzzle (Kate Chin Park and Brian Thomas)

The title refers not to the puzzle's size, which is the standard 15x15, but to the paired entries of PISS CHRIST (clued as [#1 museum piece?]) and POTTY TRAIN (clued as [Get going?]). Kate and Brian are both excellent cluers, so of course the highlights don't stop there. My favorite is the absolutely genius [See one's way out?] for POPEMOBILE, but other great ones include [Fight of fancy?] for LOVE TRIANGLE, [Stand-up guy?] for PENIS, [Breaking point?] for CUE, [Portland-to-Portland direction] for EAST, [By each other's side til the end] for PARALLEL, [Minnie skirt pattern] for POLKA DOTS, and [Tearing sound] for SNIFFLE.

my breakfast (Zaneb)

Does what it says on the tin - the theme entries are everything the constructor had for breakfast that morning (MOCHA, SHAKSHOUKA, an EGG TART, and some BABKA). Zaneb's site is one of several relatively new crossword sites that expertly foreground fun, typically with all-lowercase clues written in a conversational style (crosstina aquafina also does this extremely well). I frankly love the idea of turning your breakfast into a crossword, and the cluing is delightful: [cutesy shortening of "babies"] for BBS, [psychologist whose last name contains his first name so i'm not gonna give it to you] for ERIK, and a clue for IPA that's actually written in IPA are highlights. It's also great to see ISA [___ ibn maryam (aka jesus)] in the grid.

A Well Built Puzzle (Katherine Baicker and Ross Trudeau)

Puzzles on Rossword Puzzles typically have uncannily tight themes, and this is a perfect example: the revealer is MUSCLE-BOUND, indicating that the theme entries both start and end with names/nicknames of muscles: (LAT)INA AR(ABS), (BI)CYCLE S(QUAD), and (TRIP)LE W(HAMMY). I'd never have imagined that such a theme set was possible, but Katherine and Ross managed to make it work. The cluing is also fun and creative - I'm especially fond of [It'll run you out of Beantown on a rail] for the old staple ACELA.

Chasm No 8 (Themeless) (Ryan McCarty)

Nobody does a wide-open center like Ryan. Very often, his chasms feature intersecting stacks of five 9s in the center, and there's nary a stretch in the bunch. In this one, we've got TELESCOPE/BRIDE-TO-BE/BEAT 'EM UPS/DUNCE CAPS/FIRE EMOJI intersecting NOT A TRACE/LINE ITEMS/CALDECOTT/LEE MAJORS/STUPIDITY. Most impressively, everything flows smoothly into the corners of the grid too; there are only four black squares aside from the ones that are necessary to act as scaffolding for the center - and Ryan still managed to fit good stuff like FLEXJOBS, ANTIFA, and BURKINIS into those corners.

Free Association 56 (Trent Evans)

If I don't highlight Trent's work as much as I should, it's because his puzzles aren't flashy or hyper-difficult, but they are reliably smooth and bouncy. This one is a great example of what he excels at: Weintraubian grids filled with conversational phrases. Impressively, there are three such 15-letter across entries (DON'T GET ANY IDEAS, I MUST BE DREAMING, and YOU HAD TO BE THERE), and two conversational long downs that intersect with all three of them (GLAD TO HEAR IT, SPOILER ALERT). Throw in some more fun stuff like BUNNY EARS and MAN OH MAN, with no sacrifices in the short fill, and you've got yourself an excellent puzzle.

(Sweet Goodbyes): Exit West (Parker Higgins)

I love an architecturally complex theme, and this one definitely qualifies. It's inspired by the Steely Dan lyric CALIFORNIA/TUMBLES/INTO THE SEA, which is stacked in the center of the grid. The theme entries all have the letters CA on their left side (i.e. their west coast), but those letters have been "swallowed up" by the intersecting down entry, which is the name of a sea. For example, [Chemically corrosive] is a clue for CAUSTIC, but you have to enter it into the grid as RUSTIC, since the CA has been swallowed up by the R of NORTH. There are four such theme answers, and fitting them all plus a triple-stacked revealer in the center is no mean feat.

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