Monday, October 28, 2019

Puzzle #108: Freestyle 9

Inspired by Sid Sivakumar's recent 21x21 themeless toughie (itself inspired by an earlier Erik Agard doozie), I've whipped up a Sunday-sized themeless challenge (pdf, puz, pdf solution). It's a toughie too, though I suspect a bit easier than Sid and Erik's. And like Sid, I've provided a downs-only version (pdf, puz) for people who want an extra challenge.

In other puzzly news, Matt Jackson, who you may know from his stellar run on Jeopardy!, and who I know because I've lost to him many times at Quizbowl, has a new website where he'll be posting puzzles. Check it out!

Monday, October 14, 2019

Puzzle #107: Freestyle 8

New freestyle for y'all this week (pdf, puz, pdf solution). Normally with a triple-stacked grid like this one, I'd have the stacked 15s running horizontally... but most of my favorite clues are down clues, so I've flipped the grid in case there are any downs-only solvers out there.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Indie puzzle highlights: September 2019

We've got a lot of great puzzles to cover this month, starting with a throwback to August, because the at-home solving deadline for Lollapuzzoola was in September, so I didn't want to spoil the puzzles before then. Appropriate, since the theme for this year's Lollapuzzoola was time travel!

August 17: Saving Face (Maddie Gillespie and Doug Peterson, Lollapuzzoola)

This one had a tricky theme which is a little hard to describe: the words WATCH, SUNDIAL, and CLOCK need to be squeezed in between columns of the grid in order to GATHER THE PIECES and COMPLETE THE TIMELINE; making things even trickier, the letters in those words have to be removed from some of the clues in order for them to make sense. A really hard puzzle with a satisfying aha, though I definitely don't envy the solvers in the downs-only division.

August 17: Tense Situation (C. C. Burnikel, Lollapuzzoola)

This is a C. C. joint, so it's unsurprisingly much easier than Saving Face, and unsurprisingly really well constructed. The theme involves changing the tense of verbs and reinterpreting them, with wacky results: TURKEY SHOT, STAGE DOVE, NANCY DRAW, LIE LADY LIE, GOOGLE DROVE, and LOSING GRIND. The theme layout is intricate, with intersecting themers, but C. C. still managed to fit in the nice long down entries STONE COLD and BYZANTINE.

On to September!

September 2: Silent Night (Ross Trudeau, Rossword Puzzles)

Ross represents the phrase LOST SLEEP with three theme entries with silent Z's: LAISSEZ-FAIRE, RENDEZVOUS POINT, and SZECHUAN LAMB. A simple but elegant theme, leaving room for lots of fun fill like TEARS OF JOY, BEAST MODE, BJORK, JDATE, CHALKY, and DR. CLAW.

September 2: On the Clock (Christopher Adams, arctan(x)words)

This one's got an aesthetically beautiful, minimalist grid pattern: an 8x17 rectangle where the only black squares are four L shapes near the center. It's nearly themeless, but also has a simple yet elegant theme, progressing from LABOR DAY to WORK WEEK to MAN MONTH.

September 4: Year 2 Puzzle 36 (Andrew Ries, Aries Freestyle)

Usually the real attraction for me in Andrew's themelesses is the cluing, and there are some great clues in this one, including [They treat people badly] for QUACKS and [Gala producer] for APPLE TREE. But the fun long fill, including DOG SWEATER, UNDERBELLY, MEAT MARKET, and COAT POCKET, is what made this my favorite Aries Freestyle of the month.

September 5: JKL M 'n' O (Jesse Lansner & Ken Stern, ft. Laura Braunstein, JKL Crosswords)

Honestly, this one could have made my list just based on the title alone. But it's also a great encapsulation of the indie spirit: check out the story behind the theme on Jesse's site. The theme involves the sound MO being added to phrases: CONSUMMATE PROMO, VENMO DIAGRAM, COMO PARENTING, CHEWING GUMMO, and EMO PLURIBUS UNUM (that last one's a little nonsensical, but wacky enough that I'll give it a pass). In the fill, I really liked MCELROY, LACROIX, Youssou N'DOUR, and PLONK.

September 6: Untitled (Caleb Madison, The Atlantic)

Caleb manages to pack a ton of good stuff into this 9x9 themeless, including JOJO SIWA, KINKAJOUS, SKELETOR, SHARK WEEK, and KILLJOY.

September 8: Themeless 1 (Brian Thomas, Puzzles That Need a Home)

Brian gets off to a good start with the first puzzle on his new site. There are two clues that I absolutely loved: [Draft dodgers?] for TEETOTALERS, and the devious [Make a comic book?] for BOO OFF STAGE. Loved seeing GWEN STEFANI's full name in the grid, too.

September 17: Themeless 45 (Stella Zawistowski and Andy Kravis, Cruciverbalist at Law)

A surprise offering on Andy's site, which hadn't updated in a very long time. If you didn't know that Stella is into fashion, you might be able to guess from GLAMAZON, BALL GOWN, and VERA WANG; she also works her classical music fandom into the grid with OPERA BOX. A smooth themeless that really shows off the personality of the constructors, with bonus fill like DON'T I KNOW YOU, BLAH BLAH BLAH, BUY A VOWEL, and AMY MARCH.

September 19: Wait for It (Sid Sivakumar, Sid's Grids)

Sid's been a prolific poster so far, and there are several of his puzzles I could have chosen. Many of theme are bite-sized mini or midis, though, and this one's larger, allowing the fill to shine more. The theme visualizes THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM by having four storms (DERECHO, TYPHOON, CYCLONE, and TORNADO) preceded by blank spaces; the highlights from the fill include ZODIAC, REAL MCCOY, ZIPLOC, and GHOST FOREST (a term I didn't know, but an extremely inferrable one). Plus, a delightfully specific clue for ONE: [Average number of times a sloth poops per week].

September 23: Vwllss Crsswrd (Peter Broda, Outside the Box)

Much like Rows Gardens, but even more so, vowelless crosswords offer the opportunity for a grid that's full of long, colorful phrases and free of short crosswordese. Case in point: LET ME DO THE TALKING, IT'S ALL COMING BACK TO ME NOW, CHILDLIKE WONDER, SURGICAL PRECISION, PIGEON DROPPINGS, TASTEFUL NUDES, KILLER CLOWN, ARMCHAIR GENERALS, CROOKED COP, and RECORD SCRATCH are just some of the delightful entries in this offering from Peter, who's also got a collection of vowelless crosswords you can buy here.

September 24: [untitled goose crossword] (Paolo Pasco)

Another memetic crossword that Paolo just dropped on Twitter, this one's inspired by Untitled Goose Game, a video game in which you play as a goose whose mission is to annoy people. I haven't played the game, since I live in Canada and I can experience goose annoyance in real life just by going for a walk, but you don't have to have played it to appreciate the theme, which involves the word HONK, reparsed as H ON K, in various squares. The affected across answers have two clues, one for H and one for K - for example, one of the entries is either SHIMMER or SKIMMER. The affected down entries have the string HK in them - for example, the H/K in SHIMMER/SKIMMER crosses OSHKOSH.

September 26: Puzzle No. 3511 (Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto, The Nation)

Clever gimmick to this cryptic; fourteen of the answers in the grid are IRONCLAD, meaning that you have to surround them with FE before entering them for the wordplay portion of the clue to make sense. For instance, [Wild, wild rice] clues FIERCE, though the [wild rice] portion of the clue indicates just IERC. Similarly, [Rip off HarperCollins' chief] clues FLEECE, because LEEC is Harper LEE plus the first letter of Collins.