Monday, November 1, 2021

Indie puzzle highlights: October 2021

October 8: There's a Double Meaning in That (Jesse Lansner, JKL Crosswords)

October 10: "I Can't Hear You!" (Jessie Bullock and Ross Trudeau, Rossword Puzzles)

October 18: Untitled (Byron Walden, Boswords)

October 19: Child's Play (Chris Piuma, Wordgarbler)

October 24: Untitled (Ada Nicolle, Crosscord)

October 27: themeless xv ("for you, a gift") (Brooke Husic, xwords by a ladee)

October 28: Another Effing Vowel Progression (Brian Thomas, Puzzles That Need a Home)

October 28: It's Alive! (Chandi Deitmer, Crucinova)

October 28: forever in your heart (themeless) (Jenna LaFleur and Ada Nicolle, luckystreak xwords)









There's a Double Meaning in That (Jesse Lansner)

Inspired by the names of the main lovers in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Beatrice and Benedick, Jesse constructed a Schrodinger theme taking advantage of the fact that the two names have half their letters in common. They're both in the grid, but each slot can correctly be filled with either name, meaning that there are a total of eight Schrodinger squares. That's a lot, and you'd expect some of the dual-purpose clues to be real stretches, but impressively, they're all smooth as silk. [Make the beast with two backs] works for BONE just as well as it does for BONK, [Nickel source] works just as well for MINT as it does for MINE, and so on.

"I Can't Hear You!" (Jessie Bullock and Ross Trudeau)

Ross is like, irritatingly good at coming up with crossword themes, so much so that he often just posts them on Twitter instead of actually publishing them as crosswords. Thankfully, Jessie is around to rein him in. This one plays on the phrase IN ONE EAR AND/OUT THE OTHER, and features pieces of advice that appear to enter an ear-shaped arrangement of black squares and emerge from another one: NEVER LET THE SUN GO/DOWN ON AN ARGUMENT, FAKE IT TIL/YOU MAKE IT, TRUST YOUR/INSTINCTS, and LET GO OF/THE PAST. It's not the first theme that plays on that phrase, but it's an excellent and inventive execution.

Untitled (Byron Walden)

Unsurprisingly, this competition crossword from Byron is a real challenger. This one has an incredible density of clever wordplay clues, starting at 1-Across with [Seafood sub] for the zany-looking answer KRAB WITH A K. We've also got [Place where the party is rarely a surprise] for SAFE SEAT, [Monkey on your back, maybe] for TATTOO, [Natural numbers?] for OPIATES, [Pop group that defeated Mayor Bloomberg in court in 2013] for BIG SODA, [Spelling mixup?] for POTION, [Spit takes?] for OPINE, and more.

Child's Play (Chris Piuma)

A delightful little 9x9 with a trap that I fell right into. There are four unchecked squares going around in a circle in the middle of the grid, and they're all rebus squares. If you start at the top, the first three of them are all DUCK rebus squares specifically - PSYDUCK, GEODUCK, and DUCKPIN. So I automatically filled DUCK in the last rebus square, but no, [Big fat zero] is GOOSE EGG, not DUCK EGG. A lovely aha moment when I figured out what was wrong, and it's amazing that Chris managed to work such an inventive theme into such a small space.

themeless xv ("for you, a gift") (Brooke Husic)

Brooke's themelesses often have visually striking layouts, but I think this is my favorite one yet, with a big gift-bow shape in the center that looks like it's gravitationally attracting the northern and eastern fingers toward it. Of course, the contents of the grid are good too, filled with a wide variety of interesting content (JUDIT Polgar, ARXIV, TURTLE ISLANDPEDA,  etc.) and stuffed full of colloquial phrases (DON'T BE MAD BUT, ANY TAKERS, GET IN HERE) and good clues - [Hides in plain sight?] for TIPIS, [E user descriptor, perhaps] for AGENDER, [(The) friend group, perhaps] for LADS, and many more.

Untitled (Ada Nicolle)

OK, this one isn't actually a full-blown, solvable crossword, but I'm including it here for two reasons. First, this is the puzzle that Ada used to come out as trans to the crossword Discord server, the day after coming out publicly during a standup set - and we love a good, heartwarming story like that. Second, just look at that grid (pasted below for those who aren't on Discord) - a five-deep stagger-stack where every entry is good, crossed by great stuff like MARIO MARIO, RECAPTCHA, and APPLE CRISP.

Another Effing Vowel Progression (Brian Thomas)

I love a theme that has a twist in the last theme entry, and all the better if the twist works as a punchline; this puzzle is a perfect example. We've got a standard phonetic vowel progression theme - RACKET, WRECK-IT RALPH, RICKETY, ROCKET LEAGUE... but there's nothing good that starts with the sounds "rucket," so the last theme entry is FUCK IT, clued as ["Crap, can't quite finish the theme.. *shrug* ... might as well post the puzzle anyways"]. It's a beautiful coincidence that there are good possibilities for the first four vowels but none for the last, making for an extremely elegant theme.

It's Alive! (Chandi Deitmer)

The thing with grid art is that it's really hard to make the grid actually look like what you want it to look like, when all you've got to work with is a pretty small rectangular array of black-and-white squares. But the grid art in this one practically pops out, in thanks to both Chandi's precise grid design and to Crucinova's willingness to include colored squares in the grid. The grid depicts FRANKENSTEIN, which also ties into the revealer, I'VE CREATED A MONSTER. In six parts of the grid, there's a conflict between the letters provided by the across and down entries - to resolve that conflict, you have to put both letters in the square like some sort of Frankenstein's monster. When you do that, the squares spell out the name of a monster (YETI, OGRE, WEREWOLF, KRAKEN, GOBLIN, and ZOMBIE). Really ingenious in both conception and execution.

forever in your heart (themeless) (Jenna LaFleur and Ada Nicolle)

A very unusual grid with stacks of 12s at the top and bottom, which you don't see every day. The bottom stack is a great punchline, too, with HAVING A BLAST clued as [Throwing the sickest party, perhaps] over EVENT PLANNER clued as [One organizing the sickest party, perhaps] over WAS THAT TODAY clued as ["Did I just miss the sick party?"]. The rest of the puzzle is excellent, too, filled with evocative clues for even the most common entries (like [As of 2014, one can end with .horse] for URL).

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