Friday, November 1, 2019

Indie puzzle highlights: October 2019

Heads up: there will be spoilers for some Queer Qrosswords 2 puzzles in this post, so if you haven't solved them yet, be warned! (There will, of course, also be spoilers for all sorts of other puzzles, as usual.)

October 2: Year 2 Puzzle 40 (Caitlin Reid, Aries Freestyle)

Aries Freestyle brings us a guest puzzle by Caitlin Reid, very much in the Andrew Ries mode, with clever cluing ([Disappearing ink?] for FAKE TATTOOS and [Coat of arms?] for LONG SLEEVES, which could appropriately also be tattoo-related) and fresh fill (LIKE LIKE, TAKE A HIKE, SWOLE, CORKER). But what really sets this grid apart is the squeaky clean fill - there's nary an even mildly objectionable entry in the entire grid, which is quite a feat.

October 8: Year 5 Rows Garden 6 (Joon Pahk, Outside the Box)

Like many of Joon's Rows Gardens, this one's anchored by a nice clue/answer combo in the first row: SQUIRT GUN clued as [Water heater?], which is one of my favorite clues in a long while. As usual, there's plenty of fun fill in the rest of the grid, including SILHOUETTE, CORD-CUTTER, CANTALOUPES, and PUNCHING BAG.

October 11: Ride Sharing (Claire Rimkus and Andrew Kingsley, Queer Qrosswords 2)

Queer Qrosswords 2 was, unsurprisingly, a generally excellent set of crosswords, and there are probably a dozen puzzles that I was considering including in the write-up. But I managed to limit myself to three. This first one has quite an elegant theme inspired by Autostraddle; in the grid, the five-letter names of autos straddle two entries, with the first two letters taken from the end of one entry and the last two letters taken from the beginning of the next entry, with the third letter connecting them on the row above. So for instance, ACURA uses the AC of PAC and the RA of RACHEL MADDOW, connected by a U in the row above. An elegant touches: all the theme entries are all given clues with queer resonance (aside from the two mentioned already, we've got ORLANDO and GENDERS connecting DODGE, NANETTE and LAVERNE connecting TESLA, and AUTOSTRADDLE and USA connecting LEXUS). And the fact that the revealer, AUTOSTRADDLE, is itself part of the theme is especially elegant.

October 11: LGBTQIA+ (Zach D'Angelo and Christopher Adams, Queer Qrosswords 2)

Another theme concept elevated by an extra layer of elegance. In this case, the letters L, G, B, T, Q, I, and A are added to phrases with wacky results, but impressively all the theme entries have queer resonance, much like with Ride Sharing. The results are sometimes awkward but always delightfully weird: we've got MALE GLAZE, WEB GHOSTING, COMPUTER STIMULATION, SEX QED CLASSES, AGE DEIFYING, and GAGA ORDER. In the bonus fill department, there's OH NO SHE DIDN'T, the GOLDEN GLOBES, GQ STYLE, and BEEFARONI; the only bit of fill that really made me wince was the plural EEKS.

October 11: 100% That Stitch (Rachel Fabi and Finn Vigeland, Queer Qrosswords 2)

We've got a pattern here - apparently all my favorite QQ puzzles were collaborations (I also quite liked the themeless by Jenna LaFleur and Andy Kravis). This one's a trivia-based theme, but an interesting and impressively theme-dense one. It's about the sewing circle, a name for a group of lesbian and bisexual actresses from Hollywood's golden age; the grid's got Barbara STANWYCK, Joan CRAWFORD, Katharine HEPBURN, Greta GARBO, Marlene DIETRICH, Tallulah BANKHEAD, and Alla NAZIMOVA (much more obscure than the others, but she's the coiner of the term "sewing circle"). On top of that, we have both SEWING/CIRCLE as a revealer and a visual representation of the sewing circle with the six letters of the word SEWING arranged in a circle in the center of the grid. A lot going on!

October 17: Cryptic 19 (Andrew Ries, Aries Puzzles)

What really impressed me about this cryptic is the number of clues with really smooth surface sense. For example:

- [Left a musical group, admitting "I'm finished"] for ABANDONED
- [Shortage in matches leads to times of darkness] for BLACKOUTS
- [Drug laws in English] for CODEINE
- [Devastating U.S. Open defeats] for ONE-UPS
- [Protest's goal] for OBJECT

October 18: Freestyle 459 (Tim Croce, club72)

All sorts of good stuff in this grid, including SLIDE IT OVER, WELTSCHMERZ, I'LL SHUT UP, MMR VACCINE (a good reminder to get your flu shot if you haven't already!), and NOT DEAD YET. Also a couple of my favorite clues from Tim in a while: [It doesn't change when it's fixed] for RATE and [Voice that sounds like money?] for TENOR.

October 21: Some Assembly Required (Joon Pahk, Outside the Box)

Yep, another Joon puzzle on the list. The Some Assembly Required format lets the constructor include some extra-long entries, since they snake around the grid. PHOEBE WALLER-BRIDGE is the highlight here, joined by ATHLEISURE, GOLDEN OLDIE, UNAMERICAN, STYLE ICON, and LET'S ROCK.

October 24: Themeless (Sid Sivakumar, Sid's Grids)

A super-sized 21x21 themeless from Sid, featuring some brutal cluing and some fun long fill (SHAM MARRIAGES, OPEN MIC NIGHTS, RIB SPREADER, LOOSE TOOTH, PEEPING TOM). I solved it downs-only so I missed the across clues, but I'm told PRIMES was beautifully clued as [Odd bunch, with one exception]. Minor ding for duplicating MIC in OPEN MIC NIGHTS and HOT MIC, but otherwise a really smooth puzzle.

October 28: Themeless 4 (Brian Thomas, Puzzles That Need a Home)

I liked the cluing in this one especially. We've got [Cuban home] for DELI (not CASA, though I fell into that trap), [Shout that stops the action?] for SAFE WORD, and [Bit of online validation] for E-SIGNATURE. (Despite my disdain for E-MAG, I'm not one of those folks who hates seeing any e-prefixed word in the grid; E-SIGNATURE is perfectly cromulent.) I also enjoyed learning that "ghost fart" was Brian's childhood name for a FOAM PEANUT, and seeing MENA clued as Mena Massoud, who played Aladdin in the 2019 film, instead of crossword staple Mena Suvari.

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