Thursday, December 1, 2022

Indie puzzle highlights: November 2022

It's a hectic time for me, so a short post this month!

November 2: The Anti Puzzle (Malaika Handa, Vulture)

November 15: Freestyle 763 (Tim Croce, club72)

November 17: Strip Poker (Quiara Vasquez, QVXwordz)

November 28: Untitled (Kate Chin Park and Chandi Deitmer, Boswords)









The Anti Puzzle (Malaika Handa)

As always, I love the ability of Vulture puzzles to stuff in tons of pop culture references while still remaining largely accessible: [Focal points of that one Kumail Nanjiani photo] for ABS, [Press Ctrl while playing "Fortnite"] for CROUCH, ["___, Please" (video game where the player is an immigration officer)] for PAPERS, etc. But of course, the star of this puzzle is the clue-of-the-year contender [Get a load of this guy?] for SPERM DONOR.

Freestyle 763 (Tim Croce)

The 763rd(!!) themeless on club72 is a classic Croce grid: three fresh in-the-language phrases stacked in the center (A LIFETIME AGO, WORD TRAVELS FAST, WHAT'S ONE MORE). I'm amazed at Tim's seemingly endless ability to pick up on these phrases; it's a constant reminder of how much of our everyday language is still relatively untapped by crosswords and wordlists. Elsewhere, he always manages to squeeze in creative stuff into the short fill, too - like WWJD and BIEBS.

Strip Poker (Quiara Vasquez)

Entries with the letters BAR in them have the BAR raised vertically above them - e.g. WEREWOLF BAR MITZVAH is written as WEREWOLF MITZVAH, with BARFING crossing the F in the center. The other themers are BAROQUE POP, BARBIECORE, and BARITE squeezed in the corner. The grid design is really smart here: Quiara's split the revealer, RAISING THE BAR, across three entries in the same row to avoid having to deal with an awkward 13-length revealer. And there's a remarkable quartet of long downs that span most of the grid: BICULTURAL, KEEBLER ELVES, RACHEL ZEGLER, and HAVANA CUBA. The kind of construction I've come to expect from Quiara, where the theme is cool but the grid is also laid out to maximize the non-theme coolness.

Untitled (Kate Chin Park and Chandi Deitmer)

The Boswords fall themeless leagues are always top-notch, but they were really firing on all cylinders this time, as evidenced by the fact that this is the third puzzle from the league to feature in my roundups. The grid is a stunner, with fabulous long entries like BERGY BITS, WOWIE ZOWIE, DID I DO THAT, EXSQUEEZE ME, UP AND COMER, DATE SPOTS, and OVER TO YOU. And, as befits the championship puzzle, there are a ton of devious misdirects in the cluing: [Hike the interest rate of?] for SEX UP, [Wrestling with a lack of humanity] for ROBOT SUMO, [Small gas giant] for QATAR, and [Image problem?] for REBUS.

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