Friday, July 1, 2022

Indie puzzle highlights: June 2022

June 2: THE MINION PUZZLE (meatdaddy69420, crosstina aquafina, and kate schmate, crosstina aquafina)

June 4: Colorado (Patrick Blindauer, Vox)

June 5: An Escalating Challenge (Ryan Patrick Smith, Real Puzzling Stuff)

June 17: Chasm No 12 (Themeless) (Ryan McCarty, McGrids)

June 27: themeless xxiii ("summer breeze #2") (Brooke Husic, xwords by a ladee)









THE MINION PUZZLE (meatdaddy69420, crosstina aquafina, and kate schmate)

I, a 32-year-old man, unironically love the Minions, so a puzzle shaped like a Minion is a shoo-in for my writeups. But this puzzle happens to be very entertaining to boot, as you'd expect when it's created by a Triforce consisting of three of crossworld's most chaotic and funniest clue-writers. I can't even quote some of the clues here because the formatting is too zany (check out the clues for WALLS OF TEXT and ATE, for two examples).

Colorado (Patrick Blindauer)

It's not often that you come across a totally original theme that's nonetheless simple and elegant, but this is such a theme. As the title hints, you have to color the letters A, D, and O when they appear in the grid, and if you do so, you'll get a rectangle in the shape of the state of Colorado. Naturally, this involves two grid spanners that consist entirely of those letters - the Rolling Stones song DOO DOO DOO DOO DOO and DAD DAD DAD DAD DAD, clued as [Repetitive cry to a male parent]. That latter one might be faintly ridiculous, but of course it's needed to make the theme work, and as a dad myself, it's a cry I've heard many a time.

The really impressive thing about this puzzle is that by necessity it avoids A, D, and O in the rest of the grid. It's hard to enough to avoid a single vowel outside of the theme entries, so avoiding two vowels must have been exceptionally difficult.

An Escalating Challenge (Ryan Patrick Smith)

An auspicious start to Ryan's new blog! This one's got a wide-open grid, the kind of grid where there's nowhere for the constructor to hide, and yet it's both extremely smooth and packed with good stuff. I like the stack of CAPTCHA/SAMESIES/GURU NANAK intersecting CINEPHILE, but there's interesting stuff in every section, even the little 5x5 corners (SAHEL, T-POSE). It might be the stair-stacks of 6s that are hardest to pull off - it's easy to rely heavily on suffixes like -S and -ED when making those, and much harder to work in more varied fill like MEDLEY, FIDDLY, and HOT TIP.

Chasm No 12 (Themeless) (Ryan McCarty)

Another classic wide-open center from Ryan, with colorful stuff like ZAZIE BEETZ, LOCAVORE, CHATBOTS, FANFESTS, and TINDER DATE. Though Ryan's chasm grids are always impressive, the cluing in this one is equally impressive: [Word often seen before art in old manuscripts] is a clever way of cluing THOU, and I also love [Cannes cans] for DERRIERES, [Where you may meet your match?] for TINDER DATE, [Crypt keeper?] for URN, and [Takes a lighter course load?] for DIETS.

themeless xxiii ("summer breeze #2") (Brooke Husic)

For the summer, Brooke is taking a vacation from experimental clues, so we get a relatively breezy themeless this month. But her easy puzzles show just as care as her ultra-hard ones. There's very little wasted space here, with lots of great long entries like BEYCHELLA, IS IT THOUGH, FLAMING COCKTAIL, PARASOCIAL, ARE WE CLEAR, NOTES APP, and WHO IS SHE. And even though there are few super hard clues, there are plenty of excellent clues, including [Vibrator in bed, maybe] for PHONE ALARM and [Phrase that's legally concerning?] for IN RE.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Puzzle #179: Bearing the Cross

(pdf, puz, pdf solution)

One night I dreamed that I was walking along the beach with God, and scenes from my crossword-solving life flashed across the sky. For each square, there were two clues to help me: one Across clue, and one Down clue.

But looking back at the scenes, I noticed that sometimes, during the most difficult parts of my solves, there was only one clue. I asked God, "Why, during the most obscure and polysyllabic words, did you abandon me?" He replied "When you saw only one clue, it was then that I carried you."

Monday, June 20, 2022

Puzzle #178: Break It Up

Gilbert Sorrentino's metafictional masterpiece, Mulligan Stew, includes the following blurb for a fictional book called Harewell M. Dovely by James Patton:

"Historians have traced the crossword puzzle back to the time of the Pharaohs, but never has this most fascinating time-passer been examined so lovingly as in this exhaustive critical biography of the world's greatest puzzle champion and analyst, Harewell M. Dovely. Mr. Patton, who describes himself as 'a great fan but only a duffer,' has, in this mesmerizing life of the nonpareil word genius, deftly incorporated irrestisible historical anecdote into the story of Dovely's career. You will read:

  • how Marie Antoinette worked a crossword puzzle in the tumbril that carried her to her death
  • how Pablo Picasso hit upon the idea for Cubism while doing a crossword puzzle in the Revue des Deux Mondes
  • why The New York Times was responsible for cutting short the brilliant career of Clint Hartung
  • what role the crossword puzzle played at Gettysburgh
And there are literally hundreds of other unknown anecdotes, many of them unearthed from Dovely's journals and notebooks, to which Mr. Patton had complete access.

Included is an appendix which reproduces the dozen greatest puzzles of all time (with their solutions): from the diagramless 'killer' that Socrates worried in his prison cell to the little stumper from Boys' Life that soothed President Hoover just after the Great Crash of '29."

Your intrepid constructor has laboriously tracked down and translated the crossword that inspired Picasso's unprecedented technique of breaking objects up into parts and presenting them from different angles (pdf, puz, pdf solution). In this puzzle, 14 entries are too long for their slots and have to be split into two parts, the second of which will be found elsewhere in the grid. In each case, both parts will be valid crossword entries: for example, CONESTOGA might be split into CONES and TOGA. The first letters of those 14 entries, in grid order, will spell out a phrase that would be a good title for this puzzle (if it wasn't already taken).

Monday, June 6, 2022

Puzzle #177: Verse Jumping

Today's puzzle is inspired by Everything Everywhere All at Once, a movie that I didn't particularly like (*ducks to avoid being pelted by fruit*) but which provides excellent crossword fodder. In the movie, the smallest decision can end up completely altering the trajectory of the universe, and that's just what happens in this puzzle. Depending on the choices you make at the beginning, you'll be presented with one of four different crosswords, each inspired by a different universe from the movie. (You don't have to have seen the movie to enjoy the puzzles, I think, though if you haven't the themes will probably seem bizarrely random.)

No puz, pdf, or embedded solve this time, but thanks to the wizardry of Alex Boisvert, you can give it a solve over at And speaking of Alex, he's raising money for pediatric cancer research, and has written five custom crosswords that he'll give to anyone who donates here. Check it out!

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Indie puzzle highlights: May 2022

May 2: l.o.r.d. far quads (themeless) (ada nicolle, luckystreak xwords)

May 9: Crossword.puz (May Huang, Lil AVC X)

May 19: Four Square (Joe Deeney, Crucinova)

May 22: Hit the Low Notes (Jessie Bullock and Ross Trudeau, Rossword Puzzles)

May 22: Stereo (Ben Tolkin, Nautilus Puzzles)

May 24: The Terminal Puzzle (Malaika Handa, Vulture)

May 26: spring kiss (zinna mon, zinna mon)









l.o.r.d. far quads (Ada Nicolle)

The problem with Ada is that not only is she ridiculously prolific, her puzzles are also consistently good, so it's hard to know which ones to highlight. But she made it easy for me specifically this month, since I love a puzzle that's entirely based on an extremely silly pun title. As the title indicates, the unusually tall grid features quad stacks that are very far away from each other, each of which starts with L, O, R, and D: LAB ANIMAL, OTAMATONE, ROBINSONS, and DIAGNOSES at the top, and LEFT SHARK, OPERA ARIA, RESILIENT, and DESPERADO. On their own merits, they're certainly not the most exciting stacks that Ada's ever put together, but in the context of the title, they delight me.

Crossword.puz (May Huang)

It'll be interesting to see how Lil AVC X develops over time. The midi format can be constraining; the 9x9s I write for Vox usually have mini-themes, but rarely have anything similar to a theme you'd find in a 15x15, just because of their size. But Lil AVC X doesn't have such a specific size constraint, which allows for a lot of variety: purely themeless midis, puzzles with mini-themes, and puzzles with more ambitious themes. I always appreciate when a constructor can fit something like a standard theme into a midi grid, and May does just that here. The theme entries are phrases that have been truncated so they look like file names: CHESS.MOV clued as [File description: "Sicilian Defense tutorial clip"], WEDDING.GIF clued as [File description: "Dancing down the aisle meme"], and TIDAL.WAV clued as [File description: "Soothing ocean sounds"].

Four Square (Joe Deeney)

This is the second Tetris-related puzzle featured on Crucinova, but it doesn't feel like a retread of the first. The gimmick here is that all the possible TETROMINO shapes are found in the grid, spelled out using the letters used to describe those shapes. For example, the T-shaped tetromino is spelled out with the T's from PITT THE YOUNGER crossing HUTT. The fact that this theme is even possible is somewhat of a wild coincidence, since most letters aren't amenable to doubling or tripling. I like that Joe had to reach for some rarely seen entries, including J. J. JOHNSON and I'M HENRY VIII I AM, to pull off the theme.

Hit the Low Notes (Jessie Bullock and Ross Trudeau)

I've often praised Ross's mind for perfect theme revealers, so it's notable that, according to Ross's notes accompanying this puzzle, it was Jessie who hit upon the revealer for this puzzle: BASS SAX, which homophonically indicates that each theme entry has a homophone for "sax" at its base (PAPER SACKS, GOLDMAN SACHS, AMNIOTIC SACS, ANDREW SAKS). That revealer elevates what would otherwise be a pretty standard theme - though it's also nice that "sax" is a word that you wouldn't expect to have four distinct homophones that can all be incorporated into crossworthy entries.

Stereo (Ben Tolkin)

I'm a sucker for puzzles where the revealer is itself a theme entry. I actually once submitted a puzzle with this theme concept to the NYT, and I think it got lost in the mail, but it's all for the best, because Ben's execution here is much better than mine was. The theme is SURROUND SOUND, and all the theme entries, including the revealer, are surrounded by the letters SOUND - SOUVENIR STAND, SOLID GROUND, and SOUTH ISLAND. Most constructors would be satisfied with that, but Ben puts the puzzle itself in surround sound by including the letters AMP in all four corners (in the entries AMPS, CHAMP, AMPLE, and DAMP). That's the kind of extra-mile concept that I really appreciate.

The Terminal Puzzle (Malaika Handa)

This is my first time highlighting the relatively new Vulture puzzle, but they're consistently enjoyable. They're themeless or lightly themed 10x10s, packed with pop culture content; what sets them apart from most similar venues is the editors' encouragement of opinionated clues. Malaika also sometimes goes for ambitious grid patterns, which tend to be the ones that stand out to me. I love the delicious bottom stack in this one (COCONUT OIL, ORANGE SEED, MANGO LASSI), and the top stack is quite nice too (LINED PAPER, CHE GUEVARA, DEWGARITAS).

spring kiss (zinna mon)

This puzzle is really a complete aesthetic experience, a breath of fresh air in every respect. In PuzzleMe, the grid is decked out in calming pastel colors and the black squares are depicted as flowers and branches, plus a little sun at the top. And the clues are just generally full of soothing good vibes: [flower with floppy bunny ear petals] for IRIS, [a time for peach blossom decor in hanoi] for TET, ["if you ever need a shoulder to cry on, ___"] for I'M HERE, [___ hour (when the sun blesses selfies)] for GOLDEN, and [simple act of charity in islam] for SMILE are some examples.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Puzzle #176: Freestyle 17

It's been a little while since I've posted a classic themeless, so here's one (pdf, puz, pdf solution) - happy solving!

Monday, May 9, 2022

Puzzle #175: Early March

With this week's puzzle, I've gone to the dark side and constructed an asymmetrical themed puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution). Which is weird, because it's a totally basic theme with hundreds of possible theme entries, which doesn't seem like a good reason to break symmetry at all...

In other news, this Wednesday I'll be hosting a variety cryptic Twitch stream with Letters to Margaret author Hayley Gold and some special guests - tune into at 9:00 PM Eastern! If you want to print the cryptic out to solve yourself, there's a pdf here.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Puzzle #174: I Get Knocked Down, But I Get Up Again

No .puz or applet for this week's puzzle (pdf, jpz, pdf solution), but there's a PDF as usual, plus a .jpz, which you can solve online using the Crossword Nexus solver. Happy solving!

There are two themelesses published last week that I'm really proud of: the Wednesday New Yorker and the AVCX+. If you haven't solved them, I'd love if you checked them out.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Indie puzzle highlights: April 2022

April 1: "April Fools!" (Et Tu, Etui?, AVCX+)

April 14: Wet Ass Puzzle (Malaika Handa, AVCX+)

April 14: themeless no. 13 (crosstina aquafina, crosstina aquafina)

April 15: Rosanna (Alex Boisvert and Quiara Vasquez, Crossword Nexus)

April 28: to whom tf it may concern (kate chin park, crosswords schmosswords)









"April Fools!" (Et Tu, Etui?)

I didn't realize how much I missed Et Tu's work until I solved this April Fools' Day puzzle that's like a vowelless crossword on steroids. Every answer is stripped of all of its letters except E, T, U, and I, which allows for a ludicrously wide-open grid. More importantly, like a vowelless crossword but even more so, it allows for a crossword where practically all the fill is fun long stuff, with nary a bit of crosswordese in sight: IS MAYONNAISE AN INSTRUMENT, IT'S MORE LIKELY THAN YOU THINK, CURSE YOU PERRY THE PLATYPUS, NEED SOME ICE FOR THAT BURN, NO ONE OUTPIZZAS THE HUT, WE LIVE IN A SOCIETY, UNLIMITED TALK AND TEXT, and so much more. A delightful from start to finish, especially because of Et Tu's inimitable cluing style. Plus, the whole thing doubles as a loss meme.

Wet Ass Puzzle (Malaika Handa)

It's not easy to make a triple-stack where all three 15s are seed-worthy, but Malaika does just that with REAL HOT GIRL SHIT/MALE ENHANCEMENT/AND MAKE IT SNAPPY. But even if you do, the pressures of the central stack can radiate outward through the grid, leaving little room for other goodness. Admirably, Malaika manages to create a grid pattern that's both aesthetically pleasing and not focused merely on the triple-stack - it also features a pair of stacks of 10s, including fun entries like WHALE RIDER and I DON'T WANNA.

themeless no. 13 (crosstina aquafina)

The key to humor is specificity, and this puzzle demonstrates that in spades. I mean, there are a million ways to clue ESSAY, but who else would come up with [at 8ft 2in tall, with traits of an apex predator (eyes on the front of his head, e.g.) and "the mind of a 6 year-old" we frankly do not know what big bird is capable of. in this ___ i will]? Or [drawn out cries of grief, or anger, or both if you're the ghost that came with my c. 1886 apartment] for WAILS? Or [lit. fiction conceits that boldly ask "what if batman and catwoman had actually met at a starbucks?" or "suppose [redacted memphis grizzlies center] and crosstina were secret agents who accidentally fell in love"] for AUS? This puzzle is just a rollicking good time.

Rosanna (Alex Boisvert and Quiara Vasquez)

This is the final entry in Alex's Yacht Rock series, featuring one puzzle inspired by each of the 12 episodes in the Yacht Rock series on YouTube. The series as a whole is an excellent illustration of the benefits of working under constraints; Alex shows that pretty much any phrase can be the inspiration for an entertaining theme. This one, a collaboration with Quiara Vasquez, has the revealer GHOST NOTES, clued as [Feature of Jeff Porcaro's "Rosanna Shuffle", and also of this puzzle]. Each of the theme entries contains the names of two solfege notes that, when removed, produce another word or phrase: FREELANCER becomes FENCER, TENDONITIS becomes TENNIS, SKI RESORTS becomes SKIRTS, and - my personal favorite find - DOLORES DEL RIO becomes LOS DEL RIO. I appreciate that Alex and Quiara went the extra mile by using pairs of notes, when a more basic version of the theme would have worked just as well.

to whom tf it may concern (Kate Chin Park)

Kate's blog post describes this puzzle as having been written in a fugue state, which makes sense; it has a totally chaotic energy, with several things that would probably annoy me in a vacuum but which work in the context of many more delightfully zany things. A pun clue with 13 question marks, a bunch of wildly specific and long clues, some crassword clues ([Cumming on stage and screen] for ALAN), plus, of course, some straight-up genius wordplay clues ([Touch the heart] for PRESS LIKE and [Periodic backups?] for LINERS). As always, I appreciate Kate's angry political consciousness, exemplified in clues like [Legal theft by landlords] for RENT MONEY.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Puzzle #173: Let's Get Physical (variety cryptic)

In a change of pace, this week's puzzle is a variety cryptic (pdf, ipuz, pdf solution)! Instead of a .puz, there's an .ipuz, which can be opened on sites like the Crossword Nexus solver and

Don't be intimated by the complicated-looking instructions - I've tried to make this an accessible solve for people who are new to variety cryptics. Most clues use only one wordplay mechanism, and for theme-related reasons almost all of the entries are fully-checked. Plus, unlike in most variety cryptics, all the answers are entered in the grid normally, with no manipulation necessary until after you're done solving.

Thanks to Will Heisenberg - I mean Eisenberg - for giving this a test-solve.


Tired of the proliferation of "Schrödinger puzzles" when "Heisenberg puzzles" are nowhere to be found, a mad scientist who subscribes to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics has cursed this puzzle so that its clues and answers exist in a state of superposition until it is observed. When you opened this file, you collapsed that superposition into one of two possible states. Eleven squares are affected, but luckily, the clues to the eleven affected entries have also changed correspondingly, so the answers to all the clues can still be entered normally.

There's no way to directly observe the other possible state of the grid, but armed with the knowledge that every entry is a regular, uncapitalized English word or phrase, you should be able to figure it out. If you do so, you'll reveal the name of the culprit.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Puzzle #171: Liquidation (with meatdaddy)

This week's puzzle is a collab with fellow linguistics person meatdaddy (pdf, puz, pdf solution)! Predictably, it's got a linguistics-inspired theme. I had a blast writing some meatdaddy-style clues for this one.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Indie puzzle highlights: March 2022

March 3: Making Headlines (Patrick Berry, A-Frame Games)

March 4: Real Firecracker (Ryan McCarty and Brooke Husic, AVCX+)

March 7: Mother Tongues (meatdaddy69420 and crosstina aquafina, The Deli Counter)

March 14: guess who's back! (themeless) (Ada Nicolle, luckystreak xwords)

March 16: explosion (Kate Chin Park and John Lieb, crosswords schmosswords)

March 30: Tabula Rasa (meatdaddy69420 and friends, The Deli Counter)

March 30: In Memoriam (Ann Shan and Brooke Husic, Washington Post)









Making Headlines (Patrick Berry)

It's a Patrick Berry meta suite, so there are a number of beautifully constructed puzzles I could have chosen, but I'm sticking with one. Each theme answer in this puzzle is a phrase whose initials spell out a word: WHO AM I TO SAY (WAITS), HAVE A NICE DAY (HAND), BREAKS INTO A SMILE (BIAS), CAME OUT ON TOP (COOT), and PIE IN THE SKY (PITS). As it happens, all those words also appear in the grid, and taking the initials of their clues, in order, gives you the meta answer, CLASS PHOTOS. A really simple but elegant concept, and Patrick fits five long theme entries plus five extra words in the grid without breaking a sweat. (Not only that, the suite contains a meta-meta that involves material from all the previous puzzles, so in fact there's even more thematic material in the grid, but you wouldn't know it from how clean the fill is.)

Real Firecracker (Ryan McCarty and Brooke Husic)

A stunner of a grid with a layout that you rarely see, featuring intersecting triple-stacks of 11s enabled by diagonal symmetry: SWISS FRANCS/CRACKLEWARE/AIN'T I WOMAN crosses NAMING NAMES/CRAZY IN LOVE/SENATE AIDES. As you'd expect from the byline, the grid is packet with excellent fill (ZITKALA-SA, ALT TEXT, EXTRA LIFE) and clues ([Shifts out of neutral?] for TAKES SIDES, [Come again?] for RECUR), and covers a lot of different cultural ground.

Mother Tongues (meatdaddy69420 and crosstina aquafina)

As an indie constructor, I'm always happy when I can come up with a fun, irreverent angle for a common fill entry. Then I solve a puzzle like this one that has a fun, irreverent angle for pretty much every entry: [oh, you spent $600 on a camera? should we call everyone? should we have a party? should we invite bella hadid?] for SLR, [___ flings, tide pod competitors for a more discerning palate...soapy forward, but i detect a 'moonlight breeze' undertone] for GAIN, ["no cops at our ___" *sponsored by wells fargo*] for PRIDE PARADE... I could go on, but I won't, because I'm too lazy to quote literally every clue in the puzzle. Oh and some of the answers are in Furbish, I guess that's an important detail, though I solved it without understanding them at all and still had a great time.

guess who's back! (themeless) (Ada Nicolle)

An oversized and slightly asymmetrical grid, all to enable a fantastic triple-stack in the center. ["Guess who's back, baby!"] for PEEKABOO I SEE YOU is one of the best clue-answer pairings I've seen in ages, and the stack is rounded out by ONCE-LER ASK BLOGS (I'll have to take Ada's word for it that those are a thing, but I'm delighted by the entry anyway) and TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT. As usual with Ada's puzzles, there's lots of ultra-fresh internet stuff in the shorter fill, including IAMAGIF SET and SMP (clued as Dream SMP, the Minecraft server), plus plenty of fun long stuff, including KEEBLER ELVES, REWARDS CARD, and MIITOPIA.

explosion (Kate Chin Park and John Lieb)

It's a testament to the quality of the grid that I genuinely have no idea what the seeds were or even how many there were: the long answers are JUDGY PANTS, SUNDAY SCARIES, I HAVE RECEIPTS, AND I MEAN IT, FAN THEORIES, BIORE STRIP, NAOMI OSAKA, and BLANK STARES, pretty much all of which are potential candidates (and the mid-length entries EA SPORTS and LOVE TAPS are fun, too). The grid pattern is chosen to maximize the impact of those long entries; there are nine separate sections consisting largely of 4s and 5s, allowing for flexibility in the short fill that lets the long fill shine.

Tabula Rasa (meatdaddy69420 and friends)

A project the likes of which I've never seen before: meatdaddy made a grid and send it to a bunch of their friends to write clues for as a way of showcasing the variety of cluing voices out there. Many of the aforementioned friends are among the best cluers now working, and the grid lends itself to fun cluing with entries like TINDER DATE, LOVE LETTER, FACE REVEAL, CROSSPOSTS, MICRODOSES, CRISS ANGEL, and UPDOG. I'm not going to run down the best clues here because, well, it's a treasure trove which you should just explore yourself.

In Memoriam (Ann Shan and Brooke Husic)

For Women's History Month, Patti Varol curated a set of puzzles for the Washington Post, one per Wednesday for the month of March. I particularly enjoyed this tribute to some women who we've recently lost: Lani Guinier (author of THE MINER'S CANARY), bell hooks (author of TALKING BACK), and Yolanda Lopez (artist of the GUADALUPE SERIES). There are only three theme entries (plus the bonus SARAH Weddington, allowing for the fill to really shine (LOVE THAT, BIG ASK, YES YOU, KUKUI NUT, and LABNEH were highlights). There are lots of other women featured in the fill and clues, too, including Margie JOSEPH, the ALOHA 'OE writer Lili'uokalani, and SNCC field secretary Fannie Lou Hamer.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Indie puzzle highlights: February 2022

February 2: "It's-a Meal!" (Steve Mossberg and Mike Lieberman, Square Pursuit)

February 6: Graduation Exercises (Adesina O. Koiki, Boswords)

February 10: themeless 17: swoops (Mollie Cowger and Malaika Handa, girlbosswords)

February 13: happy valentine's day from crosstina aquafina (crosstina aquafina, crosstina aquafina)

February 15: hey, how about a nice hawaiian punch? (Christopher Adams, arctan(x)words)

February 27: themeless xix ("holes in the house") (Brooke Husic, xwords by a ladee)

February 27: Too Soon (Brooke Husic, Just Gridding)









"It's-a Meal!" (Steve Mossberg and Mike Lieberman)

A delightfully specific, and perfectly titled, theme: phrases beginning "X of" have their first two words replaced with a soundalike food item ending in "-a" (DOSA REALITYTAPA THE NINTHPIZZA MY HEART, and CHALLAH FAME). Super fun theme and super fun fill to go along with it, including BOYZ II MENPLANKTONCLIP SHOW, and HAYSTACK.

Graduation Exercises (Adesina O. Koiki)

The trickiest themed puzzle from this year's Boswords Winter Wondersolve was this one, inspired the phrase "sliding scales." The theme entries contain types of scales which literally slide down the grid diagonally. For example, BATHROOM HUMOR has to be entered as B HUMOR, with with word BATHROOM sliding seven rows down from the B. Amazingly, there are five of those in a 19x15 grid, which is a remarkable feat of construction - all the letters in the scale words are used in three words, instead of just two.

themeless 17: swoops (Mollie Cowger and Malaika Handa)

As delightful as you'd expect from the byline. The title refers to the very aesthetically pleasing layout, with swooping trails of black squares that divide the grid into three chunks. The cluing really shines: [Place of honor for a sitting president] is a subtly clever clue for LINCOLN MEMORIAL, as is [Purchase made in anticipation of getting A's] for TRAINING BRA. I also adore the cute ["Hey you! Look over here, but be a little sneaky about it"] for PSST.

happy valentine's day from crosstina aquafina (crosstina aquafina)

Kelsey Dixon, aka crosstina aquafina, gives us a beautiful heart-shaped grid filled with Valentine's-adjacent entries. Crosstina is the funniest cluer in the game right now, bar none, managing to add verve to pretty much any clue. Just look at 1-Across: DRAG, clued as ["we're all born naked and the rest is ___" - ru paul, known fracker]. Other great clues include [email suffix that will get you a free premium membership to, in case you were wondering] for EDU, [like a salt or battery?] for ALKALINE, [engaged in detail-oriented yardwork, there is no other possible definition for this, don't look at me like that] for EDGED, and many more. The fill also includes my favorite 100 gecs song, STUPID HORSE, which means automatic inclusion in my roundup.

hey, how about a nice hawaiian punch? (Christopher Adams)

I love a two-part theme, and this is a great one: inspired by the Elton John/Dua Lipa song COLD HEART/PNAU REMIX, it's got theme entries that (a) have C in the exact center and (b) have an anagram of PNAU hidden in them. We've got UNPACKING, PAUNCHIER, JUAN PONCE DE LEON, UP AND COMING, and SINGLE-OCCUPANCY. The 19x15 grid is very dense with theme, but Christopher manages to fit in plenty of good stuff, including MINT JULEP next to TOP SURGERY, and HEADCANON, for which Ricky Cruz provided the excellent clue [Take for oneself?].

themeless xix ("holes in the house") (Brooke Husic)

My favorite Brooke themeless in a while, mainly because of the sheer density of genius clues: we start out with a bang at 1-Across with [Bloody good time] for PERIOD SEX, and we also have [Third party, say] for BASE RUNNER, [Vaporware?] for E-CIGARETTE, [Conversation you can't stand to have] for PILLOW TALK, [Helpful inits. when you want to focus on a particular subject] for SLR, and [Guess not?] for ASK. The fill is also a delightful, starting with the NW stack of the aforementioned PERIOD SEX, LEMON JUICE, and DOMINATRIX, and also including FLOW STATE and TRIP SITTER.

Too Soon (Brooke Husic)

Is this the first roundup to feature two puzzles from the same constructor and the same date? Quite possibly, but there's no way I could cut either of these puzzles. This one makes it for the brilliant simplicity of its concept: Brooke clued a puzzle, then made a version where only 15% of each clue is available (since a six-week abortion ban works out to about 15% of the way through pregnancy); of course, it's completely unsolvable. Then she made a version where 67.5% of each clue is available, corresponding to the start of the third trimester. It's not trivial to solve, but it's doable. A very striking way of making a point!

Monday, February 28, 2022

Puzzle #169: Is the Puzzle Half Empty or Half Full?

In case you missed it, I added a little email signup to the sidebar of the blog. If you drop your address there, you'll get a monthly email linking to all my published puzzles from the last month, with some details and my personal recommendations for my faves.

Anyway, about the puzzle: personally, I think it's half full, but you be the judge (pdf, puz, pdf solution).

Monday, February 21, 2022

Puzzle #168: Forging Links

Sunday-sized joint this week (pdf, puz, pdf solution). Say what you will about Sundays, but they do allow for the only good answer to the clue [Playground retort].

Monday, February 7, 2022

Puzzle #167: Wait for It

If you can't figure out the theme of this week's puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution), just wait until you get to the revealer, which will surely explain everything.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Indie puzzle highlights: January 2022

January 2: Mini Pangram (Joah, Crosshare)

January 11: a wee little puzzle (Kate Chin Park and Brian Thomas, crosswords schmosswords)

January 16: my breakfast (Zaneb, zinna mon)

January 16: A Well Built Crossword (Katherine Baicker and Ross Trudeau, Rossword Puzzles)

January 17: Chasm No 8 (Themeless) (Ryan McCarty, McGrids)

January 19: Free Association 56 (Trent Evans, Grid Therapy)

January 20: (Sweet Goodbyes): Exit West (Parker Higgins, QVXwordz)









Mini Pangram (Joah)

A 5x5 pangram? It's impossible to do without including two letters in one square, which would seem to be a fatally inelegant flaw - but here, the rebus square is elegantly motivated conceptually, not just there out of necessity. In the upper left, we have ABC, with a corresponding XYZ in the lower right. And in the middle, we have the rebus TO in the middle of FUTONS, so that the circled squares along the main diagonal spell out A TO Z. An exceptionally clever execution.

a wee little puzzle (Kate Chin Park and Brian Thomas)

The title refers not to the puzzle's size, which is the standard 15x15, but to the paired entries of PISS CHRIST (clued as [#1 museum piece?]) and POTTY TRAIN (clued as [Get going?]). Kate and Brian are both excellent cluers, so of course the highlights don't stop there. My favorite is the absolutely genius [See one's way out?] for POPEMOBILE, but other great ones include [Fight of fancy?] for LOVE TRIANGLE, [Stand-up guy?] for PENIS, [Breaking point?] for CUE, [Portland-to-Portland direction] for EAST, [By each other's side til the end] for PARALLEL, [Minnie skirt pattern] for POLKA DOTS, and [Tearing sound] for SNIFFLE.

my breakfast (Zaneb)

Does what it says on the tin - the theme entries are everything the constructor had for breakfast that morning (MOCHA, SHAKSHOUKA, an EGG TART, and some BABKA). Zaneb's site is one of several relatively new crossword sites that expertly foreground fun, typically with all-lowercase clues written in a conversational style (crosstina aquafina also does this extremely well). I frankly love the idea of turning your breakfast into a crossword, and the cluing is delightful: [cutesy shortening of "babies"] for BBS, [psychologist whose last name contains his first name so i'm not gonna give it to you] for ERIK, and a clue for IPA that's actually written in IPA are highlights. It's also great to see ISA [___ ibn maryam (aka jesus)] in the grid.

A Well Built Puzzle (Katherine Baicker and Ross Trudeau)

Puzzles on Rossword Puzzles typically have uncannily tight themes, and this is a perfect example: the revealer is MUSCLE-BOUND, indicating that the theme entries both start and end with names/nicknames of muscles: (LAT)INA AR(ABS), (BI)CYCLE S(QUAD), and (TRIP)LE W(HAMMY). I'd never have imagined that such a theme set was possible, but Katherine and Ross managed to make it work. The cluing is also fun and creative - I'm especially fond of [It'll run you out of Beantown on a rail] for the old staple ACELA.

Chasm No 8 (Themeless) (Ryan McCarty)

Nobody does a wide-open center like Ryan. Very often, his chasms feature intersecting stacks of five 9s in the center, and there's nary a stretch in the bunch. In this one, we've got TELESCOPE/BRIDE-TO-BE/BEAT 'EM UPS/DUNCE CAPS/FIRE EMOJI intersecting NOT A TRACE/LINE ITEMS/CALDECOTT/LEE MAJORS/STUPIDITY. Most impressively, everything flows smoothly into the corners of the grid too; there are only four black squares aside from the ones that are necessary to act as scaffolding for the center - and Ryan still managed to fit good stuff like FLEXJOBS, ANTIFA, and BURKINIS into those corners.

Free Association 56 (Trent Evans)

If I don't highlight Trent's work as much as I should, it's because his puzzles aren't flashy or hyper-difficult, but they are reliably smooth and bouncy. This one is a great example of what he excels at: Weintraubian grids filled with conversational phrases. Impressively, there are three such 15-letter across entries (DON'T GET ANY IDEAS, I MUST BE DREAMING, and YOU HAD TO BE THERE), and two conversational long downs that intersect with all three of them (GLAD TO HEAR IT, SPOILER ALERT). Throw in some more fun stuff like BUNNY EARS and MAN OH MAN, with no sacrifices in the short fill, and you've got yourself an excellent puzzle.

(Sweet Goodbyes): Exit West (Parker Higgins)

I love an architecturally complex theme, and this one definitely qualifies. It's inspired by the Steely Dan lyric CALIFORNIA/TUMBLES/INTO THE SEA, which is stacked in the center of the grid. The theme entries all have the letters CA on their left side (i.e. their west coast), but those letters have been "swallowed up" by the intersecting down entry, which is the name of a sea. For example, [Chemically corrosive] is a clue for CAUSTIC, but you have to enter it into the grid as RUSTIC, since the CA has been swallowed up by the R of NORTH. There are four such theme answers, and fitting them all plus a triple-stacked revealer in the center is no mean feat.

Monday, January 31, 2022

Puzzle #166: Well Kept Secrets (by Rose Sloan and Norah Sharpe)

This week's puzzle (pdf, puz) is a guest joint by Rose Sloan and Norah Sharpe. Rose and Norah say: "We're so happy that Will agreed to host our third collaboration. The theme for this one was birthed in a Twitch stream - thanks to momes for the inspiration! ;)" More spoiler-y thoughts from Rose below the puz.










Rose says: "It was delightful to get to work with a grid and a theme that are more technically complicated. The first thing I did when making this grid was write simple Python scripts to create two word lists: one consisting only of long entries that had no vowels other than E, the other consisting of all entries not containing E. I played around with the theme set and grid until I was able to get a grid that had all the Es in the theme entries crossed and that was otherwise fillable using the "no Es" list, and we went from there. It definitely took a few tries to come to a filled grid that we really liked, but we're super happy with the end result, and hope you are too!"

Monday, January 24, 2022

Puzzle #165: Duet Freestyle (with Brooke Husic)

This week's puzzle is a duet with the one and only Brooke Husic (pdf, puz, pdf solution). It's a challenging one - a good warmup for the very challenging experimental puzzle that Brooke will drop in a few days.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Puzzle #164: Round and Round

No puz this week because the grid's got some fancy elements that don't work in puz form, but I'll link a .jpz instead (pdf, jpz, pdf solution). (You should really solve in the applet below or on the PDF, but the .jpz is mainly provided for people who like to have puz-like files for their records.)

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Puzzle #163: Well That Was Anticlimactic

It's the third day of the year and here is my third puzzle of the year (pdf, puz, pdf solution)! You can also check out my January 1 puzzle in Vox and my January 2 puzzle in The Browser.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Indie puzzle highlights: December 2021

It's been a wonderful year for puzzles, and signs point to 2022 being an even better one. In 2022, I'm hoping to branch out a bit in terms of solving and dip into some puzzles sources I've been ignoring. In particular, I've found it hard to keep up with what the good stuff on Crosshare is. If anyone has any recommendations for Crosshare creators that you think I'd particularly like, please let me know!

December 3: Just ... No (Kate Chin Park, Crosswords Schmosswords)

December 19: Untitled (Quiara Vasquez, 7xwords)

December 21: a moiety fine puzzle (themeless) (Erik Agard and Claire L. Rimkus, Just Gridding)

December 24: "Do They Come in Other Styles?" (Paolo Pasco, Grids These Days)

December 27: The Impossible Crossword (Megan Amram and Paolo Pasco, The New Yorker)

December 27: themeless xvii ("the feminine urge") (Brooke Husic, xwords by a ladee)

December 29: themeless 16 (colonnades) (Rafa Musa and Malaika Handa, girlbosswords)

December 30: LaughCry (Quiara Vasquez, Crucinova)









Just ... No (Kate Chin Park)

I've praised Kate's cluing chops on here before, but this puzzle is a great display of her gridding skills as well. It's anchored by stacks of DIRTY COMPUTER/THESE GO TO ELEVEN and SEE INSTRUCTIONS/EXCELLENT TAKE, but the rest of the fill is both very clean and packed with entertaining mid-length entries (ALT TEXT, NEW COKE, PORK BUN, etc.). Oh, and the cluing is unsurprisingly great too: [Some fruity centerpieces?] for PEACH PITS, [Top gear?] for TOUPEE, and the title clue, [Just ... no] for AMORAL. (Admittedly, Kate had to explain that last one to me, but I think it's genius.)

Untitled (Quiara Vasquez)

When this post goes up, 7xwords will have just wrapped up. Kudos to Malaika Handa for editing and posting puzzles 6 days a week(!) for an entire year(!!!). It's been awesome to see the different approaches various constructors have taken to filling the canvas of a 7x7 grid. Quiara's approach in this puzzle seems to have been "Cram a bunch of cool, rarely-seen fill into the grid," of which I approve: SENSE8 crossing 8-BIT ERA, the fabulous ANOHNI, PREHAB, and especially EA-NASIR are the highlights of this one. Admittedly, ANOHI crossing EA-NASIR is pretty much the definition of a Natick, but as a fan of both of them (insofar as one can be a fan of someone who doesn't even deliver copper of the correct grade) it's perfectly okay by me.

a moiety fine puzzle (themeless) (Erik Agard and Claire L. Rimkus)

This is one of my favorite sorts of themeless puzzles - it's got a beautifully wide open grid and is filled extremely cleanly, but there aren't a lot of obvious seed entries. Instead, it's got lots of ordinary words and phrases which lend themselves to clever cluing - and with Erik and Claire constructing, you know there will be devious clues galore. [Go "hahahaha" or "lololol"] for ALTERNATE is definitely my favorite, but I also love [Flight test?] for SIP, [One with a mounting client base?] for HORSE TRADER, [Always mugging for the camera, say] for TYPECAST, [Minecraft?] for ORE CARS, [Roadside attraction?] for CURB APPEAL, [Secret service location?] for SPEAKEASY, and many more.

"Do They Come in Other Styles?" (Paolo Pasco)

It's rare that we get a new blog puzzle from Paolo these days, so we should treasure the ones we do get. This one, admittedly, is a bit niche - if you've never seen I Think You Should Leave, you'll likely be bemused by the theme. But if you've never seen I Think You Should Leave, you should remedy that ASAP. This one is based on a sketch about T-shirts that come with a dope TUGGING KNOB so you can pull it and wreck your shirt or hurt your hand. So four theme entries include words for types of shirt, where one of the letters (always an O, to imitate the shape of the knob) has been "tugged" to the right: PALO ALTO features a POLO shirt whose O has been tugged, and similarly with BAWLING OUT and BOWLING, PERSIAN GULF and GOLF, and GEN ALPHA and ALOHA. It's an ingeniously conceived and perfectly executed theme, and of course the non-theme clues are filled with Pascovian humor: [E. major in music??] for SHEILA, [Probably the easiest vegetable to shoot by blowing through a straw] for PEA, and so on.

The Impossible Crossword (Megan Amram and Paolo Pasco)

The New Yorker is covered on Crossword Fiend, but I don't think the special holiday puzzles issue was, so it fits my 100% arbitrary definition of what crosswords are eligible for these writeups. This one is a very funny light mockery of both stuffy crossword conventions and The New Yorker's sensibility. The joke is that there are two sets of clues, one easy and one extremely hard, so you can look smart by solving it while secretly peeking at the easy clues. For instance, the hard clue for CUP is [___ product, a simple method of adjoining two cocycles of degree p and q to form a composite cocycle of degree p + q], while the easy clue is [Sippy ___]. I'm also a fan of JEST, whose easy clue is ["Infinite ___"] and whose hard clue is ["Infinite ___" (novel that's very easy to read and understand)].

themeless xvii ("the feminine urge") (Brooke Husic)

Typically inventive work from Brooke. The cluing in her experimental puzzles is always a highlight; here, my favorites include the potentially mystifying [Cu - 4] for ENE (think the Spanish alphabet), [A foundation may support many of them] for SKIN TONES, and [$ maker?] for SHIFT. This puzzle also features beautiful wide-open corners with super-clean stacks: STARBUST/HALEAKALA/I CAN'T EVEN/FINESSED, and SAWAYAMA/SO NOT OKAY/MATRILINE/the aforementioned SKIN TONES.

themeless 16 (colonnades) (Rafa Musa and Malaika Handa)

This themeless has a very aesthetically pleasing grid pattern, and Rafa and Malaika take full advantage of the wealth of long spots, with conversational fill like SO TRUE BESTIE, I MEAN COME ON, WHO'S TO SAYDO NOT REPLY, and WHAT A DEAL. The cluing is equally great, with plenty of indie flavor, some rather meta stuff: ERIE clued as ["if i ever stop making crosswords it will be so i never have to clue the word ___ again" (Rafa's comment on the cluing spreadsheet for this puzzle)] and IUDS clued as ["would prefer if you clued this one bc i don't have a uterus" (Rafa's comment on the cluing spreadsheet for this puzzle)]. The cluing also has more traditional wordplay-based delights, including [Attentive listener?] for AUDIOPHILE and the subtly-tricky-because-it's-literal-instead-of-figurative [Crowning moment] for CORONATION.

LaughCry (Quiara Vasquez)

I'm loving all the zany grid art that Crucinova has been publishing, and this is one of my favorite examples - the grid is a spot-on representation of a "crying laughing" emoji. There are some quasi-thematic entries like TRAGICOMEDY and SO FUNNY I FORGOT TO LAUGH, but this is basically a themeless, and it's packed with juicy stuff, including PIVOTED TO VIDEO, JPEGMAFIA, KINDA SUS, PRINCESS DAISY, AY CARAMBA, and ZORRO MASK. As always, Quiara's clues manage to freshen up a lot of the short fill - YOLO is clued as [#carpediem (if that was ever a thing)] and ELO is clued as [2500, for the Beth Harmon bot on], for example.