Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Indie puzzle highlights: August 2021

August 1: Getting Medieval (Enrique Henestroza Anguiano, Datalexic)

August 6: Just the Grid #2 (C. L. Rimkus + R. E. Fabi + 30 crowdsourced clue authors, Just Gridding)

August 10: Left Out (Juliana Tringali Golden, Vox)

August 11: Idiot Box (Kate Leiserson and Rebecca Goldstein, Crosswords Schmosswords)

August 13: You Might Drop Dead (Quiara Vasquez, club72)

August 15: Themeless 31 (Paolo Pasco and Erik Agard, Grids These Days)

August 16: Fireworks (Christopher Adams, arctan(x)words)

August 21: Get the Message (Sid Sivakumar, Lollapuzzoola)

August 21: Connecting... (Brooke Husic, Lollapuzzoola)









Getting Medieval (Enrique Henestroza Anguiano)

I haven't highlighted them much here, but I'm always a fan of Enrique's themes. They often use a basic theme type, but with an extra touch of elegance that takes them over the top. This one is a perfect example, and the theme is best explained by just giving the themers: [Actress who jousts at Medieval Times?] is KEIRA KNIGHTLEY, [Actor who pronounces edicts at Medieval Times?] is BEN KINGSLEY, and [Actor who gives blessings at Medieval Times?] is JASON PRIESTLEY. An exceptionally tight set, all ending in -LEY - one of those theme sets that's so elegant it seems like it must have emerged from the constructor's head fully-formed.

Just the Grid #2 (C. L. Rimkus + R. E. Fabi + 30 crowdsourced clue authors)

On Just Gridding, Claire and Rachel occasionally run an experiment where they provide an unclued grid and then solicit clues from anyone who wants to submit them. It's a fun way to change things up; it's the sort of experiment where the results might be a weird, Frankensteinesque pastiche, but this one turned out really well. In part, that's because of Claire's beautiful grid, which stacks 15s while still managing a super-clean fill and some fun long bonuses. But it's also, of course, because of the crowdsources clues. There's great stuff like ["I need some space"] for SCOOT OVER, [Passing remark?] for I'M NOT INTERESTED, [Showstopper?] for COMMERCIAL BREAK, and [Ring around the nose-y?] for PIERCING. Even AM SO, probably the only real weak point in the fill, is spiced up with a fun clue: ["I ___ smart, S-M-R-T... I mean S-M-A-R-T" - Homer Simpson].

Left Out (Juliana Tringali Golden)

I almost always include mini-themes in my 9x9s for Vox, but they're usually just a pair of entries that sound similar or have some other basic connection. Juliana very often goes for outside-the-box mini-themes of the sort that you more commonly seen in larger puzzles, which adds a welcome layer of creativity. In this one, there's an L-shaped block of black squares on the left, and you have to pretend that the black squares are filled with L's for the clues to make sense. For example, 1-Down is STILL LIFE, with the three L's forming the backbone of the chunk of black squares. Also not to be missed in Juliana's puzzle from August 17, in which the word ROLLERCOASTER snakes through the grid like a rollercoaster.

Idiot Box (Kate Leiserson and Rebecca Goldstein)

Yet another example of Rebecca's skill with gridding tough themes, and of Kate's cluing chops. This one has the revealer CIRCLE JERK, clued pointedly as [All-male closed rotation, like the constructor roster for the WSJ's puzzles, or a description of something depicted four times in this puzzle], and the themers have circled rebus squares that contain synonyms for "jerk": PIMIEN(TO OL)IVE crossing (TOO L)EGIT TO QUIT, OU(T WIT)H IT crossing EXPER(T WIT)NESS, D(O A F)AVOR crossing G(O AF)TER, and JON(AS S)ALK crossing SMOOTH (AS S)ILK. Lots of colorful phrases, and the jerks are elegantly split across multiple words in every case. Despite all the theme real estate, the grid is beautiful filled, with bonuses like FOOT TRAFFIC, GOTTA JET, and SKELETOR. Toss in some fun cluing (including the equally pointed pair of [.puz alternative] for PDF and [.puz alternative, per the NYT] for APP), and you've got a great puzzle.

You Might Drop Dead (Quiara Vasquez)

Quiara Vasquez takes the third guest spot on Tim Croce's club72 with a crossword that skillfully emulates Tim's vibe, while injecting it with her own style. Like most of Tim's puzzles, it's filled with unusual seed entries, including in the relatively short fill (MAN PAIN, BRUJX - the latter of which is clued with the absolutely incredible wordplay find [Modern-day witch that's pronounced like two witch-y verbs]). And it's really tough, tougher for me than most of Tim's recent puzzles. Some of the clue highlights are [Enter the matrix?] for PRINT, [March leader?] for ONE SEED, the zany [Madder and madder] for REDS, and [It'll make you say "oh"] for both AHA MOMENT and the intersecting OMICRON.

Themeless 31 (Paolo Pasco and Erik Agard)

Paolo and Erik together make for an all-star byline, especially in the cluing department, and this collaboration doesn't disappoint. [Movable type] for ITINERANT, [Soccer goal] for CUP, [You complete me!] for TASK, [They can be folded and ripped] for ARMS, ["Bus pass"? People at these sure hope it doesn't] for STOPS, [Get dark outside?] for SEAR, [Translated for] for PARA, [White woman, perhaps?] for WINE MOM, and [Apse stores???] for BASILICAS are good examples of Erik's concisely brilliant misdirects and Paolo's wacky humor. (Though I could be wrong about who wrote which clues! Well, except [Newsom in a lot of music news-om! Before you get mad just remember this clue could've been written by Erik. You're really gonna get mad at a possible Erik clue?] for JOANNA. Pretty sure that was Paolo's.)

Fireworks (Christopher Adams)

This one's a mostly-themeless joint seeded with an absolutely brilliant pair of clues/entries: KATY PERRY clued as ["Baby, you're a firework" singer], and GENDER REVEAL PARTY clued as ["Baby, you're a firework!" singer?]. That alone would be enough, but it also features one of my favorite recent clues. As a nod to Brooke Husic's recent clue for ANAGRAM, [Anemone, to name one], Chris repurposes the very same clue for his entry POLYP, sort of a double fakeout for solvers who are now familiar with the genre of tricky clues for ANAGRAM and expecting that clue to fall into that genre.

Get the Message (Sid Sivakumar)

Lollapuzzoola competitors were thoroughly warned that there might be a rebus puzzle in the tournament, and indeed there was. This one has texting abbreviations in the rebus squares, with the clues for the theme entries appropriately incorporating fake CHATBOXes. For instance, TTYL is rebused in KI(TTY L)ITTER and NA(TTY L)IGHT, the latter of which is clued as [Cheap brewski yeeted (are_you_gridding_463: cya!) into the stratosphere in 2011]. The other theme entries are just as colorful: I DON'(T MI)ND and BA(T MI)TZVAH, ZER(O TO H)ERO and G(O TO H)ELL, DEM(I MO)ORE and SCI-F(I MO)VIE, and LABO(R OF L)OVE and HYD(ROFL)ASK. The choice of theme entries necessitates left-right symmetry, which is always challenging to pull off, but Sid makes it look easy, with squeaky-clean fill and plenty of fun entries.

Connecting... (Brooke Husic)

This puzzle is one for the ages - I doubt I'll solve a better crossword all year. Filling the traditionally difficult Puzzle 4 slot at Lollapuzzoola, this one's got a brilliant conceit. Most of the down clues just consist of a gif of three dots, as if the clues are loading, but in fact what's going on is that all the down clues for a given column have been concatenated together in the slot for the bottom-most clue in that column. For example, the middle column has the entries OPTIMAL and PORTION, clued as [The best part], since [The best] is a clue for OPTIMAL and [Part] is a clue for PORTION. What makes this especially devious is that all of the resulting clues are grammatical, and many of them read just like normal, single clues - [Hold still] for HUG plus STATIONARY, for example, or [A+ hosts] for ALPHA plus AND plus MCS. It's a genius concept, but it's also a tour-de-force of construction, since the conceit means that pretty much none of the down entries can be proper names, partial phrases, abbreviations, or anything else with limited, specific cluing options. Truly remarkable work.

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