Monday, June 7, 2021

Puzzle #136: A Puzzle for the Knowing Ones

This week's puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) comes with an appendix, but there are spoilers so don't look at it until you've finished solving! Many thanks to Norah Sharpe and Dob Olino for giving this one a test solve.


Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Indie puzzle highlights: May 2021

May 9: Themeless 10 (Michael, Southern Crosswords)

May 10: Inject It Into My Veins! (Themeless) (Adam Aaronson and Paolo Pasco, Aaronson)

May 16: Let It Burn (Yacob Yonas and Ross Trudeau, Rossword Puzzles)

May 17: Chasm No. 3 (Ryan McCarty, McGrids)

May 17: It's a Stretch! (Themeless) (C. L. Rimkus, Just Gridding)

May 18: Freestyle 614 (Tim Croce, club72)

May 21: Voiced by Keith David (Quin Abarr, Puzzles By Quin)

May 22: Easy Peasy (Norah Sharpe and David Ritterskamp, Norah's Puzzles)

May 24: I Am an American (Hoang-Kim Vu and Erica Hsiung Wojcik, USA Today)

May 27: themeless x (Brooke Husic, xwords by a ladee)

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Themeless 10 (Michael)

In the New Yorker lately, Elizabeth Gorski has been doing occasional puzzles with 3(!) sets of triple-stacked 15s, and Michael has taken a page out of her book here. With this kind of grid, it's a real challenge to keep the fill clean while still having interesting 15s, and Michael does a stellar job - highlights among the 15s include HETERONORMATIVE, AUSTRALIAN RULES (clued as [What Chicken Smallhorn played]), and WHATCHAMACALLIT. Sure, there are some that are there because of their convenient letters - but even SATELLITE STATES has a clever clue, [Bloc parties?]. There's also good diversity in the short fill, with plenty of women and people of color represented.

Inject It Into My Veins! (Adam Aaronson and Paolo Pasco)

As delightful as you'd expect from this duo. It's anchored by a stagger-stack with FAUCI OUCHIE atop EEVEELUTION and underneath SQUARESPACE - a cornucopia of unlikely letter combinations. Some genius clues, too, including [One in a college dorm bathroom, often] for PLY and [They get shot down] for FEET PICS.

Let It Burn (Yacob Yonas and Ross Trudeau)

This May was probably my favorite month in Rosswords history, and not just because he posted a stacked-theme puzzle inspired by some of my recent work. All of Ross's puzzles this month were creative and fun, but I'm choosing to highlight this collab with Yacob Yonas. The revealer is WHERE THERE'S/SMOKE, THERE'S FIRE, indicating that three squares in the grid can be filled either with the word SMOKE or the word FIRE to create valid entries. Rebus themes are hard enough to pull off well, but a double rebus is much trickier, and indeed Yacob and Ross reported that they left practically zero other possibilities on the cutting room floor. The themers are: SMOKE EATER/SMOKE HOUSE or FIRE EATER/FIREHOUSE, SMOKESCREEN/SMOKE BREAK or FIRE SCREEN/FIREBREAK, and SMOKEHOLE/SMOKE WEED or FIREHOLE/FIREWEED. All those, plus a two-part stacked revealer, without even putting much of a strain on the fill.

Chasm No. 3 (Ryan McCarty)

Ryan does it again - a stack of five 9s going across (CRANBERRY, THE REAL ME, WHADJA SAY, DIET COKES, SILK SONIC) intersecting a stack of five 9s going down (LIVE CHATS, SACRED COD, STAR JONES, SNEAK INTO, BASE COATS), and not a bad one in the bunch. In turn, the corners of that center chasm lead into other wide-open sections with plenty of 9s, including THE KRAKEN, OTAMATONE, VUVUZELAS, and DIGITALIS. A stunning feat!

It's a Stretch! (C. L. Rimkus)

Claire Rimkus and Rachel Fabi have teamed up on a new site, and the first puzzle is a real humdinger. It's absolutely packed with colorful entries (GIVE ME A MINUTE, ONSCREEN ROMANCE, MAYBE DON'T, READ THE ROOM, SPELLS IT OUT, etc.) and brilliant clues ([Getting off without a hitch?] for PREMARITAL SEX, [It's a pain in the neck sometimes] for HALTER TOP). I especially love the clue for NBA, [Org. that should technically have an "M" at the beginning], which is absolutely mystifying at first glance but comes with a great aha moment.

Freestyle 614 (Tim Croce)

I wonder if it's a coincidence that my favorite of Tim's recent themelesses also happens to be the first puzzle that defies the title of his site and goes above 72 words (it's a 16x15 grid with 73 words). Tim has a massive seed list filled with rarely- or never-used entries, and the central stack in this one features three entries from that list: MOMMY MAKEOVER, AS GOOD A TIME AS ANY, and SHAGGY DEFENSE. Outside of the stack, there's lots of other fresh stuff, including VENMO ME, DOGE TOKENS, I'M DYIN' HERE, GAMER TAG, and LIE LIKE A RUG.

Voiced by Keith David (Quin Abarr)

A lovely little 10x9 grid with a clever gimmick: the left half of the grid (shaded in blue) is made entirely with letters typed with the left hand, and the right half (shaded in red) is made entirely with letters typed with the right hand. Since a lot of the most useful letters (including A, E, R, S, and T) are on the left side of the keyboard, the right half of this puzzle must have been particularly hard to pull off. Quin's notes about the inspiration behind the puzzle are worth a read too.

Easy Peasy (Norah Sharpe and David Ritterskamp)

An absolutely wild gimmick: every entry in the grid is duped in the clue for a different entry. They range from straightforward, like [Tree with thorny leaves] for PINE (duplicating THORNY), to zany, like the clue for THORNY itself ([Like a stenocactus], duplicating the entry STENOS). Norah mentions that she and David went through many, many iterations to make it work, and I'm not surprised. It's all anchored by a perfect two-part revealer, too: SUPER clued as [What this puzzle hopes to be...], next to DUPER clued as [...and what it really is]. Incidentally, Norah's a great supporter of indie constructors, particularly newer ones, and she also published two other excellent collaborations in May, with Steve Barrios and Kate Leiserson

I Am an American (Hoang-Kim Vu and Erica Hsiung Wojcik)

A lovely celebration of API Heritage Month, featuring the people at the center of three seminal Supreme Court cases: WONG KIM ARK ([Person in an 1898 case affirming birthright citizenship]), FRED KOREMATSU ([Person in a 1944 case contesting the internment of Japanese Americans]), and BHAGAT/SINGH THIND ([Person in a 1923 case challenging citizenship eligibility]). We also get a bonus shoutout to EMMA Gee, who co-founded the organization that popularized the term "Asian American," in the fill. Unusually for the USAT, all the theme entries are proper names, but (as always for the USAT) the puzzle is crafted to be accessible for any solver.

themeless x (Brooke Husic)

At least in the experimental version, this was one of the hardest Brooke themelesses yet, at least for me. But hard in a really satisfying way, with lots of great aha moments (particularly realizing that [Not quite straight] was KINSEY TWO. Some stellar clues, including [Black and white drawing] for STALEMATE and [Corrupt drive?] for VICE. Unsurprisingly, there's some cool poetry content, including SAEED Jones and a fresh Issa Kobayashi angle for ISSA.