Friday, February 1, 2019

Indie puzzle highlights: January 2019

This year, I actually started keeping track of all the indie crosswords I solve, so I decided to start a new feature on the blog: every month, I'll highlight some of my favorite crosswords of the past month.

"Indie" is a bit of a misnomer here: I'm just going to include puzzles that don't get covered on Diary of a Crossword Fiend. So that means I won't be including indies like Gorski, Jonesin', and BEQ, but I'm also going to be including some non-indie publications that don't get covered elsewhere.

This month, I took a look at: Universal, The Atlantic, Outside the Box, Aries Freestyle, Aries Cryptic, Spyscape, Monday Fills, arctan(x)words, club72, I Dreamed a Theme, Grids These Days, Glutton for Pun, and Chris Words. In future months, I'll probably both add and subtract some from this list. If you have any suggestions for venues I should add, let me know! (But my spreadsheet has 93 crosswords for January, and that's not including crosswords I solve that are covered on Crossword Fiend, so no guarantees!)

On to this month's highlights (spoilers abound, of course):

January 3: Themeless 86 (Erik Agard, Glutton for Pun)

Erik only posted one puzzle this year, but it was a treat: a 21x21 themeless. Brutally difficult cluing, so much so that joon pahk was nearly undone by it solving downs-only. Anyone who knows me knows that a puzzle that includes Joanna NEWSOM is automatically going to be in my good books, but there was lots of other good stuff, too: ON T clued as [Taking a hormone, for short]; a stack of COAST TO COAST, ON THE UP-AND-UP, and MELON BALLERS; MOREHOUSE MAN; and much more. Some things that were obscure (at least to me), including ESPN's Mina KIMES, but a very fun and tough solve.

January 11: "Hear! Hear!" (Tracy Gray, Universal)

The theme for this one was double homophones: GNUS CRUISE, MINI PURL, A BRONC'S TAIL, RAZE CANE, and BUY THE WHEY. Impressive that Tracy found so many short phrases with two homophones in them, and there's lots of great fill too, including STUBBLE, STYLISH, EPIDURALMAN CAVE, and FERENGI.

January 13: It All Worked Out (Paolo Pasco, Grids These Days)

The theme was phrases starting with synonyms for "muscular" (RIPPED OFF, BUILT TO LAST, JACKED UP, and CUT AND PASTE), with the revealer HIT THE GYM. (Side note: someone needs to make a Schrodinger puzzle where the answer to the clue [Jacked] can be STOLE or SWOLE.) A nice enough theme, but what I really liked about this one was a set of three delightful bits of fill: ZONKEYMETACRITIC, and SCOOCH OVER.

January 18: Untitled (Caleb Madison, The Atlantic)

Caleb does a mini-puzzle for The Atlantic every weekday, with the puzzles getting bigger and harder (from 5x5 to 9x9) throughout the week. Caleb's a good constructor so they're good crosswords, though it's rare I can get terribly excited about a themeless mini. Still, he often manages to get a lot of good entries into the Friday offerings. This one, for example, has DOUBLE TAP, CHILL PILL, ALBATROSS, ZEN MASTER, INTROVERT, and TONGUE-TIE - not bad for a 9x9 grid!

January 21: Mix and Match (joon pahk, Outside the Box)

joon's Rows Gardens are always good, but I had trouble picking one to highlight. So instead I'm going to highlight a new type of variety puzzle he invented, called Mix and Match. The clues are all single words, and each entry is an anagram of one clue and a synonym of another clue; it's entered in a square whose number is the sum of the numbers of the two clues. For example: IRIDESCENT is an anagram of [Indiscreet] and a synonym of [Shimmery]. It looks simple, but I imagine it was no easy task to fill a grid only using single-word entries that have common anagrams. My other favorites: TRUCULENT ([Unclutter] and [Defiant]] and MONOGRAMS ([Groomsman] and [Initials]).

January 22: Something Followed (Amanda Chung and Karl Ni, I Dreamed a Theme)

After not posting for a while, Amanda and Karl blessed us with three crosswords in a two-day period. This one was my favorite; it hid the names of four types of bread in rebus squares, with the revealer BREADCRUMBS. The theme entries were all great: SPIT AND POLISH crossing CAPITAN (pita bread), DEFLATEGATE crossing FLATTER (flatbread), PER YEAR crossing TEARY-EYED (rye bread), and KITTY-CORNER crossing UNICORN (cornbread). I also liked HOME ICE in the fill. There was one short fill entry I wasn't familiar with: NONI, which is apparently a type of fruit that's used in a lot of supplements and such. Seems obscure to me, but maybe it'll be the next ACAI!

January 25: Speak Up (Zhouqin Burnikel, Universal)

A fabulous topical theme based on the TIME Person of the Year 2017: the SILENCE BREAKERS who spoke out against sexual assault. The theme entries "break" words referring to silence: HUSH in HIGH SCHOOL CRUSH, LULL in LUCILLE BALL, CALM in COCONUT PALM, and QUIET in QUICK ON ONE'S FEET. I normally don't care for phrases with "one's," but this (like the rest of the theme entries) is super colorful. Also loved BE PATIENT and TIGHT-KNIT in the fill.

January 26: Character Actors (Paolo Pasco, Universal)

Paolo completes an excellent one-two punch from Universal. The theme entries are actors punningly reimagined as punctuation marks: CARET TOP, COLON FARRELL, and TILDE SWINTON, with the revealer TYPECAST. A rare example of a puzzle where both the title and the revealer perfectly encapsulate the theme. Great to see ALEX AND ANI instead of just ANI in the fill, as well as LOOKIE HERE, THAT'S GOOD, and HETERO.

January 27: ffs (Christopher Adams, arctan(x)words)

Chris posts a lot of puzzles with very simple themes but a huge amount of theme content, and this is a great example. The theme is just phrases with the initials FF. There are so many I'm not going to list them all, but my favorites were FYRE FESTIVAL (topical because of the dueling Netflix and Hulu docs), FATHER FIGURE, FANTASY FOOTBALL, FLAGRANT FOUL, and FOSBURY FLOP with the brilliant clue [Dick move?]. Fill highlights include STUDMUFFIN, TECHNO FUNK, and BANKSY.

Those were my favorites! Let me know in the comments if there were others that you think deserve some kudos.


  1. I'll invite you to consider Dave Murchie's Monday Fills in your rotation - I find them consistent quality and themes that are a touch less obvious, which I like. I also solve David Bywaters on Saturdays, but will note that there's not a ton of theme diversity - lots of stuff like an EF~T switch revealed by EFFORT. Adam Nicolle at hasn't published in a bit, but I liked his first few.

    As for this month's actual puzzles, Erik's was wonderful of course. My sweet spot in difficulty/tedium is somewhere between Mix and Match and its forerunner Two Out of Three Ain't Bad, but I loved it all the same. I felt that CC's Universal Puzzle was the best of hers in the last week of January when she also had one each in LAT, NYT, and WSJ

    1. I'd forgotten about the Bywaters puzzles, thanks for the reminder! I have been following Dave Murchie's puzzles (and Adam Nicolle's too, when they get posted).