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.

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