Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Indie puzzle highlights: February 2023

February 12: All I Want for Christmas Is You (Brendan Emmett Quigley, The Hub)

February 17: Extra Sauce (Brandon Koppy, See 17 Across)

February 19: Secular Constitution (Ross Trudeau, Rossword Puzzles)

February 20: Untitled (Juliana Pache, Black Crossword)

February 24: Pets and Poker (Carly Schuna, AVCX+)

February 25: Themeless 32 (Paolo Pasco, Grids These Days)

February 25: 7 by 7 (Mikey G, Crosshare)

February 26: To Infinity and Beyond (Elise Corbin, Cruciverbology)

February 28: mommy don't know (themeless) (Ada Nicolle, Luckystreak+)









All I Want for Christmas Is You (Brendan Emmett Quigley)

OK, given the theme, this presumably first ran in print back in December, but it landed in my inbox in February, so I'm counting it. Despite the fact that the theme is entirely predictable based on the title, I still found it delightfully specific; the theme entries are all Christmas-related phrases with a U added, with results that are wacky in a characteristically BEQ way: MIDNIGHT UMASS, TOYS FOR TOUTS, HARK THE HERALD/ANGELS SUING, THE LITTLE/DRUMMER BUOY, DURESS AS SANTA, PAUPER CHAINS, and VIRGIN MOUTHER (that last one clued as [One who's never lip-synced before?]). I don't know if it's intentional, but I also like that SAVIOUR is in the fill: a Christmas-adjacent word that has a U in there because it's the British spelling.

Extra Sauce (Brandon Koppy)

Some really nice cluing in this themeless. Granted, [French toast] for A VOTRE SANTE is a bit of a chestnut, and I've definitely seen the misdirect in [DC paper of note] for DAILY PLANET before, but that's just scratching the surface: we've also got [Gets darker during the day] for SUNTANS, [Fun-gicide?] for PARTY POOPER, [Meal served with extra sauce] for BOOZY BRUNCH, [One picking up speed] for RADAR GUN, [Slips between the covers?] for ERRATA PAGES, and more. And it's all anchored by a pair of intersecting stagger stacks, which is always tough to pull off but is done here with aplomb.

Secular Constitution (Ross Trudeau)

"Separation of church and state" is one of those phrases that just feels like it should be a revealer, but it's one thing to notice that and another thing entirely to come up with an elegantly crafted execution, as Ross routinely does. In this case, we have the names of three churches (ANGLO-CATHOLIC, EASTERN ORTHODOX, and UNITED METHODIST) from which a state abbreviation (CA, OR, and ME, respectively) has been separated by moving up or down a row in the grid. I'm no theist but it seems like a miracle that Ross found a set that works symmetrically.

Untitled (Juliana Pache)

These minis are so consistent that I could've picked practically any of them for this roundup - they're all squeaky-clean grids packed with Black content without seeming to break a sweat. It helps that the grids are generally free of crosswordese and filled with entries that can be clued in all sorts of ways - here, for example, we've got RED clued with a Malcolm X reference, PAINT clued with an "Ice Cream Paint Job" reference, TRIED clued as part of a song by The Internet, and more.

Pets and Poker (Carly Schuna)

A really zingy, prototypically indie themeless, with lots of fresh stuff that wasn't on my wordlist but should have been: MOSHABLE, WHAT IS TIME, THICK THIRTY, CAPTION THIS. The 1-Across clue, [Catrick Swayze and Winnie the Poodle, for two] for PUNS, sets the tone for the rest of the puzzle, which is lightly fun throughout.

Themeless 32 (Paolo Pasco)

If there's any constructor who can commit to the bit, it's Paolo. Here, he completes a bit that he started exactly five years ago with a puzzle based on the Rocky Horror quote "I see you shiver with antici... pation." The original puzzle never completed the quote, but this puzzle finally brings it home with [DOT][DOT][DOT]PATION in the central Across slot. Admirable restraint - I would've waited maybe a month, if it were me. If you never saw that puzzle (in which case you should really start solving Paolo's back catalog), this one is also just great fun as a themeless.

7 by 7 (Mikey G)

This one's an ongoing meta contest so I won't spoil anything. All I'll say is that it's very elegantly conceived, in a subtle way!

To Infinity and Beyond (Elise Corbin)

Props to Elise for being one of the very few indie constructors who regularly goes all out, themewise. You can usually expect something pretty high-concept, and this is as high-concept as it gets. There are two grids that can interlock to form an infinite loop - you can place one inside the other, making legit words in each slot where the grids overlap, and you can then further place the second grid inside the first, still making legit words, ad infinitum. Whoa.

mommy don't know (themeless) (Ada Nicolle)

This puzzle gets really weird and creative in its fill: the ape onomatopoeia OOH OOH AH AH, the "men writing women" classic BREASTED BOOBILY, the textspeak OH NVM... I can't say I expected to see any of those when I opened the puzzle. The more standard stuff, like EUROVISION, THIS OLD THING, and VOICE LESSONS, is also great, but what I love about Ada's themelesses is that you never know quite what you're going to find.

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