Friday, May 31, 2019

Indie puzzle highlights: May 2019

This month's edition comes just in time for the Indie 500! And it was a great month for crosswords, as you'll see.

May 1: Year 2 Puzzle 18 (Andrew Ries, Aries Freestyle)

Some typically devious cluing from Andrew, including [Dawn accumulation] for SUDS (I was trying to figure out how to make DEW four letters) and [Grant paper] for FIFTY DOLLAR BILL. Plus plenty of fun fill like COFFEE DATE, STILL GOT IT, and MAELSTROM.

May 4: I Die All the Time (Rebecca Falcon)

This puzzle's got a niche theme inspired by Russian Doll, but it was still an absolute delight for me, who'se never seen an episode of the show. A perfect blend of form and content: much like the protagonist of Russian Doll, the solver must tread carefully or they'll have to start all over from the beginning - if you type in a wrong letter, all your work is obliterated and you have to start afresh. This puzzle is a great encapsulation of the indie spirit, both in its theme and in fill like TERF (clued concisely as [Woman who doesn't support all women, initially]) and LABIA.

May 6: The Purloined Letters (Where on the Globe Is Carmen Sandiego?)

The organizers of the Indie 500 put together an excellent meta suite called Where on the Globe Is Carla Sacramento? about a world traveler who is most definitely distinct from the trademarked character of Carmen Sandiego. The puzzles were written by Andy Kravis, Angela Olson Halsted, Erik Agard, Neville Fogarty, and Peter Broda, and none of them have individual bylines, so I suspect they were all written collaboratively. The whole suite's worth your time, but my favorite was the fourth and hardest puzzle, "The Purloined Letters." I won't spoil the intricate theme, but I will highlight some of the fun fill that the grid's packed with, including SCHMOOZE, JIMJAMS, PUB GRUB, LAKE POETS, PIFFLE, PRINCESS DI, and I'M RIGHT HERE.

May 8: Year 2 Puzzle 19 (Andrew Ries, Aries Freestyle)

Yep, Andrew knocked it out of the park two weeks in a row. [Spade work?] for FILM NOIR and [Hammered out?] for DRUNK IN PUBLIC were my favorite clues, and SAD BUT TRUE, TWEETSTORM, BUTTERNUT, CANKLES, and NUM LOCK were my favorite fill entries.

May 26: Asea Stories (Matt Gaffney, New York Magazine)

Very tight 21x21 theme from Matt here: phrases with the prefix a- added to words, but where all the resulting phrases are sea-related: ROOT BEER AFLOAT, IRONING ABOARD, JERSEY ASHORE, CONTINENTAL ADRIFT, HOWARD ASTERN (which could also have been HOWARD ASHORE, if not for the dupe!), COMMON AGROUND, and ANN TAYLOR ALOFT. Okay, the sea connection in that last one's more of a stretch (it's got a crow's nest-related clue), but still an impressive set of themers. Matt's NY Mag puzzles generally have solid fill throughout but not much in the way of flashy fill, and this one's no exception, but there is a nice fresh clue for the crossword stalwart ACES: [Serena slams].

May 27: Squarefree 4 (Christopher Adams, Squarefree)

Chris just released a suite of themeless puzzles in non-square sizes, with the appropriately mathy title Squarefree. If you like Chris's usual themelesses (I do, since the trivia is usually up my alley), you'll like these. I won't spoil any content at all, but my favorite was the 4th puzzle, particularly its central down entry.

May 29: Year 2 Puzzle 22 (Peter Wentz, Aries Freestyle)

Before you accuse me of Andrew Ries favoritism: hey, this one's by a guest constructor! Peter is an excellent themeless constructor, and this one's full of his trademark sizzle: PALAZZO PANTS, JANUARY JONES, POP SCIENCE, SCOTCH MIST, and THE COLONEL included.

May 29: A+hea+c od the Burve (Nate Cardin)

Yes, despite not having a puzzle site, Nate makes the list yet again with a delightfully zany puzzle. Nate's job as a teacher inspired this puzzle about GRADE/INFLATION, in which all the clues look like they've been typed by someone drunk because all their A's have been replaced with A+'s, B's replaced with A's, and so forth. And tying the theme together is the icing on the cake: NO F'S GIVEN.

May 30: Puzzle No. 3501 (Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto, The Nation)

No fancy mini-themes or anything in this cryptic, but typically great work from Joshua and Henri. My favorite clues:

- [Commercial break without purpose] for ADRIFT
- [Confused, having expanded outside small band at second-rate university] for DISCOMBOBULATED
- [Beat of young reporter including legislature's opening] for CLUB
- [Like a bit of sapphire amid mere counterfeit jewelry] for RESEMBLING

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