Sunday, November 1, 2020

Indie puzzle highlights: October 2020

October 7:  Themeless (Sid Sivakumar, Sid's Grids)

October 11: Tag Yourself! (David Gold, Amanda Rafkin, and Finn Vigeland, Avid Puzzler)

October 12: No Dupes (Themeless) (Ada Nicolle, luckystreak+)

October 16: Neighsayers (Sophia Maymudes, Happy Little Puzzles)

October 21: Pardon Our French (Robin Stears, Crosswords Club)

October 25: A Little Bit Extra (Amanda Rafkin and Ross Trudeau, Brain Candy)

October 27: Times-Worthy (Et Tu, Etui?)

October 28: Themeless Twenty-Eight (Ada Nicolle, luckystreak xwords)









Themeless (Sid Sivakumar)

Achieves the rare feat of having a clue that makes me happy to see the entry ELS: [Football quarter?]. Aside from that, typically fun stuff from Sid, with long highlights like THIS IS A WENDY'S, BIG BLUE MARBLE, ANYONE ELSE, and CHROMATICA, and a Sivakumarian dose of Indian food with KESARI.

Tag Yourself! (David Gold, Amanda Rafkin, and Finn Vigeland)

One of the most original concepts for a variety cryptic I've ever seen: the grid is an alignment chart where the Down entries are categorized as gay, bi, or lesbian; gay entries "walk fast," meaning one of their letters is moved ahead one spot in the alphabet, bi entries "tuck their shirts in," meaning their first letter moves to a later position, and lesbian entries "call a U-haul," meaning they either gain or lose a U. The columns are correspondingly colored, which means the grid looks beautiful, too. The clues are as fresh as the theme, with my favorite being ["u kidding???? @DeltaKap"] for FRAT.

No Dupes (Themeless) (Ada Nicolle)

Ada's new themeless subscription service has been predictably great so far, but this puzzle was definitely my favourite [Canadian spelling in honour of Ada] of the month. The title "No Dupes" refers to the bottom stack, featuring CLOSE SECOND, LOS ESPOOKYS, and LOSES STEAM, which all share the string "loses." It's a zany-looking stack, and pairs nicely with the assonance of HASAN MINHAJ and ANISHINAABE on the opposite side of the grid. As usual with Ada's grids, there's fresh stuff even in the very short fill, including XAN and PSP.

Neighsayers (Sophia Maymudes)

A really tight theme featuring three HORSE GIRLS: ALEX MORGAN, FRIEDA PINTO, and MEGAN THEE STALLION. Sophia makes really clever use of diagonal symmetry to make the theme work: even though the symmetry is diagonal, all the theme entries go across, which allows for fun down entries like LOLLYGAG, SIMPATICO, and JEAN JACKETS. An architectural tour de force.

Pardon Our French (Robin Stears)

A simple theme, and one that I initially wanted to ding for a slight inconsistency. The theme is French puns: we've got WITHOUT FURTHER ADIEU, THAT IS QUITE UN OEUF, EAU FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, FRIEND OR FAUX, SHORT ON CACHE, RIGHT CLIQUE, and SUITE DREAMS. The slight inconsistency is that some of the puns use actual French words and some use English words borrowed from French, with their English meanings (e.g. cache, in the computer sense). But what matters much more is that the theme entries are consistently funny, which is hard to pull off over a 21x21 grid; like a Merl Reagle puzzle, it puts an emphasis on entertainment. Just as impressive is the grid layout, which features heavy interlock of theme entries but still has a grid design with lots of stairsteps that allows for clean fill. A grid that's very much worth studying if you ever construct 21x21s.

A Little Bit Extra (Amanda Rafkin and Ross Trudeau)

Ross is a theme machine, and this is a classic Amanda/Ross puzzle in that it's got a tightly defined theme with a perfect revealer. In this case, the revealer is FIFTH WHEELS, indicating that the theme entries are phrases that normally have four O's, with a fifth O added with wacky results: GO TO TOWN ONO, TOOTH OF WOOLF, TOOK POT SHOOTS, and NOON GMO FOODS. It's amazing that they managed to find four phrases that fit the theme, and that proliferation of O's (and complete lack of other vowels) gives the themers a fun mouthfeel.

Times Worthy (Et Tu, Etui?)

Et Tu, Etui? continues pumping out incredibly weird puzzles at an incredible rate. I have to say, sometimes they're more fun as ideas than as puzzles to actually solve, but just as often they're brilliant high-concept puzzles that are also fun. This one fell into the latter camp for me. It's a sort of chimera where the top half is a British-style cryptic puzzle and the bottom half is an American-style puzzle. Two really elegant touches: 

- The cryptic clues are actually written in British style (including answers like FAVOURITE and TYRE) and the straight clues really lay on the Americanness.
- In the row that transitions from a cryptic-style grid to an American-style grid, the unchecked letters spell out THE POND - and the Down entries that straddle the two halves are &lit clues, so that they work both as cryptic and straight clues.

Themeless Twenty-Eight (Ada Nicolle)

Yep, two themelesses by Ada Nicolle make the list this month. This one's got a beautifully smooth triple-stack of 21s in the center (A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, HEADS I WIN TAILS YOU LOSE, and HORSE LOOSE IN A HOSPITAL). I don't know off the top of my head if that's ever been done before, but in any case, it can't be easy, and the results here are sparkling. The rest of the grid's not bad, either: a lot of fresh mid-length fill, including NANDO'S, STONKS, and RACE YA.

1 comment:

  1. Super glad to see Crosswords Club in the list. I'll probably get to that puzzle sometime in May at my current rate...