Sunday, August 1, 2021

Indie puzzle highlights: July 2021

July 4: A Day at the Races (Ross Trudeau, Rossword Puzzles)

July 5: Themeless 12 (Mollie Cowger, Crosswords from Outer Space)

July 16: X Games (Ricky Cruz, Cruzzles)

July 19: presented with great enthusiasm (themeless) (Ada Nicolle, luckystreak+)

July 20: A Challenging Segue - Themeless #3 (Lyle Broughton, Jack of All Squares)

July 22: Quadripoint (Michael Buerke, Crucinova)

July 22: Untitled (Paolo Pasco, The Atlantic)

July 25: Art Heist (Chandi Deitmer, Boswords)

July 28: Themeless #56 (Brian Thomas and Brooke Husic, Puzzles That Need a Home)









A Day at the Races (Ross Trudeau)

I love a highly constrained theme that forces the constructor to break out some new tricks, and this is a prime example. It's also a really original theme concept: near the right side of the grid, running vertically, is THE FINISH LINE, which is intersected by four horizontal theme entries. Those theme entries (DOG AND PONY SHOWS, HORSESHOE PITS, BRONCO STADIUM, and ITALIAN STALLION) all contain words for horses, and the kicker is that exactly one of the horses (the STALLION) is crossing the finish line, making it the winner of the race. Ross notes that he had practically no leeway in the construction of this theme: since the grid's symmetrical, THE FINISH LINE has to have a counterpart which also crosses four theme entries on the left side of the grid. Nonetheless, he managed to fill the grid with a minimum of glue, which feels like wizardry.

Themeless 12 (Mollie Cowger)

Just impossibly good cluing from Mollie on this one. I mean, look at this list:

[Material for building a table]: RAW DATA
[Galaxies outshine them, per some modern sources]: IPHONES
[Disguise on the cover of many a mystery novel]: PEN NAME
[Hardly digging in one's heels]: ON TIPTOE
[Left hanging, say]: WET
[Sign of possession in "Jennifer's Body"]: APOSTROPHE
[Place for horsing around?]: CAROUSEL
[Prone to slow eating?]: EROSIVE
[House of representatives?]: EMBASSY
[Leaves on the skin, say]: TATS
[Traffic-stoppers]: BRAKES
[Body shots?]: STEROIDS
[Where to find some stone cold studs]: SNOW TIRES

X Games (Ricky Cruz)

With this meta contest puzzle, Ricky once again proves he's one of the most inventive constructors out there. There have been other tic-tac-toe-based metas (I did one myself once, but way less interestingly than this), but this one's really elegantly and creatively conceived. I won't explain the theme here, since Ricky's got his own thorough explanation, complete with diagrams, in this post.

presented with great enthusiasm (themeless) (Ada Nicolle)

A classic Ada Nicolle grid, in that it's anchored with a stagger-stack of three colorful and modern long entries in the center - in this case, GENDER EUPHORIA, SEASON PREMIERE, and Z-LIST CELEBRITY, which is quite possible my favorite of Ada's stacks so far. Nobody does these stacks like Ada; they always have three bangers, and the rest of the grid is always constructed beautifully and cleanly around them - and this one is no exception.

A Challenging Segue - Themeless #3 (Lyle Broughton)

This puzzle was constructed around two absolutely god-tier clues: [Two-factor authentication?] for PRIMALITY TEST and [Relief sculpture?] for MANNEKEN PIS. Those alone would be worth the price of admission, but the rest of the grid is smooth as silk, with lots of fun entries like FRENEMIES, HAVING A MOMENT, and WE HAD A DEAL. Beautiful work!

Quadripoint (Michael Buerke)

This one really takes advantage of the freedom offered by Crucinova. I've seen at least one Four Corners-themed puzzle before, but the constraints of a typical newspaper crossword really limit the extent to which you can represent the Four Corners in a grid. Here, Michael breaks out of those constraints in spectacular fashion, presenting us with four adjoining sections, each with the approximate shape of one of the Four Corners states. Not only that, each state has a flag attached to a flagpole made out of bars, at the approximate location of the state's capital - and the positioning of the flags creates four unclued two-letter entries, which are the postal abbreviations for the four states. To top it all off, the word FOUR appears at the intersection of the four states, tying everything together. It's a tricky construction, because there are no black squares and no bars inside the states other than the ones that make up the flagpoles, so there are some wide-open chunks, but it's filled impressively well given the constraints.

Untitled (Paolo Pasco)

It's easy to phone it in on a mini/midi grid, but Paolo never does - his grids are always sparkling and smooth. This one's got a whopping eight 8-letter entries (THE FORCE, HUMANOID, I LIKE YOU, BID ADIEU, IRONED ON, NEWSDESK, FAKE FANS, ONE-SIDED), but all the short fill is still clean, and there's even a fun clue for the old staple IRE ([This is madness!]). Also, the first words of the 1-Across entries in the five mini puzzles from this week spell out a message.

Art Heist (Chandi Deitmer)

On the same day that her fantastically ambitious NYT debut came out, Chandi was featured as the constructor of the challenging Puzzle 4 from Boswords. The names of artists have been "stolen" from the theme entries, so that the letters from their names have to be ignored when solving the downs. This is always a tough theme type to construct, but Chandi's unfazed, working in some long artist names in colorful theme entries like HOR(MONE T)HERAPY, HOO(KAH LO)UNGE, and BO(DEGA S)ANDWICH, and even making room for fun long fill like BOARD SHORTS and STUNT DRIVER.

Themeless #56 (Brian Thomas and Brooke Husic)

This isn't the first time that Brian and Brooke have used this general grid pattern, and it seems to be a successful formula. Those stairsteps of 5s in the middle allow for really smooth fill without sacrificing flow between the sections of the grid, and there are very few 3s and 4s, so we get a clean puzzle without many short repeaters. The cluing is, unsurprisingly, great: [Spit takes?] for DNA TESTS, [They might grind on each other all night] for MOLARS, [Wet blanket at Thanksgiving dinner?] for GRAVY, and [Tries to pull a fast one?] for SPEEDRUNS are among the highlights.

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