Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Indie puzzle highlights: January 2023

January 1: Proofreading (Ross Trudeau, Rossword Puzzles)

January 7: Mother Country (Andrew Ries, Vox)

January 15: Themeless 5 (Amanda Rafkin, The Modern Crossword)

January 27: themeless xxx ("thirty, flirty, and thriving") (Brooke Husic, xwords by a ladee)

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Proofreading (Ross Trudeau)

This puzzle takes an exceptionally common, basic theme type (hidden words) and elevates it not by adding any extra wrinkles to the construction but by using a creative revealer that provides a great aha moment. The theme entries have mysterious clues like [Tradition that describes itself as "Protestant, yet Catholic" (5/15, 33.3%) and [Whiteboard go-with (3/14, 21.4%), and the mystery is solved by the revealer ALCOHOL BY VOLUME, which indicates that the theme entries (E(PISCO)PALIANISM, D(RY E)RASE MARKER, JET EN(GIN)E, STEEL D(RUM), and ST(ABS IN THE) BACK) have liquors hidden in them and the parenthetical numbers indicate the just how much of the theme entries consist of alcohol. A simple but satisfying twist.

Mother Country (Andrew Ries)

A delightful original theme, of a type that we rarely see. As the title hints, the theme entries all contain the word MA followed by the name of a country: MANNY (MACHAD)O, EX (MACHINA), THO(MAS PAIN)E, CA(MACHILE), and (MAIN DIA)GONAL. Andrew's also a cryptic setter, and I wonder if that's what inspired the theme - it's easy to imagine cryptic clues with the phrase "mother country" in them for these entries. In any case, it works great as a non-cryptic theme too, and leads to some impressively long hidden strings.

Themeless 5 (Amanda Rafkin)

A delightful themeless with some fun spanners like MAKE IT MAKE SENSE and THE REVIEWS ARE IN, but the real attraction is the irreverent clues, including [Person who sort of has your back?] for BUTT DOUBLE, [Seemingly the only synonym not in the title "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day"] for LOUSY, [www.stuffonmycat.com, for one] for URL, and [Bread that very nicely holds everything inside so the entire contents of your sandwich don't fall out the back] for PITA. It's great to see a mainstream-ish venue that encourages this kind of cluing voice!

themeless xxx ("thirty, flirty, and thriving") (Brooke Husic)

This one's somewhat gentle, as experimental puzzles go - it's even got a few gimme clues that provide footholds. But it's no less delightful than a typical experimental puzzle; in fact, I think it's got more top-notch clues than the average one. [Three to get ready] for PHONE WALLET KEYS, [Members-only jacket?] for CONDOM, and [Like a trail blazer?] for GORPCORE - and that's before we even get out of the NW corner. Also just a lot of stuff that I personally love to see, including ROSALIA, NLP, and clues referencing The Waste Land and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Puzzle #199: Shoddy Work (variety cryptic)

Today's puzzle is a variety cryptic (pdf, puz, pdf solution)! I think it's a fairly gentle one, with a good number of straightforward clues (relatively, anyway - variety cryptics are rarely easy), so if you're intimidated by tough VCs, why not give this one a try? Many thanks to Hayley and Steve for testing.

Instructions:

It turns out hiring unlicensed contractors to build this grid for me was a mistake. At a number of intersections, they chose Across and Down entries that have incompatible letters, and instead of fixing them, they just left the pesky squares blank. Luckily, they left the discarded Across letters lying around, so once you've finished solving the puzzle, you can place those same letters in the blank spaces in a different order so that the resulting Across and Down entries are all ordinary English words. In the original grid order, those Across letters will spell out a description of the contractors' work, and in the new grid order, they will spell out a description of your work.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Puzzle #198: We're Everywhere

I went with left-right symmetry for today's puzzle (pdf, puz, pdf solution) so I could wrangle a tricky theme. I love left-right symmetry because the grids always look a bit wacky! This one looks kind of like a robot to me.

Monday, January 9, 2023

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Indie puzzle highlights: December 2022

December 2: puzzle #106.5 is a mood (themeless) (Ada Nicolle, luckystreak+)

December 8: We're Not Going Anywhere (Jeff Chen, Crucinova)

December 10: Making the Cut (Paolo Pasco, Taylor Made Crosswords)

December 10: The Full Spectrum (Elise Corbin, Cruciverbology)

December 19: Sounds About Right (Andy Kravis, The New Yorker)

December 21: themeless no. 20 (crosstina aquafina, crosstina aquafina)

December 30: America's Finest Crossword (Will Eisenberg and Alex Boisvert, Half-Baked Puzzles)

December 31: Themeless #80 (can't touch this) (Brian Thomas, Puzzles That Need a Home)

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puzzle #106.5 is a mood (themeless) (Ada Nicolle)

Yet another Ada puzzle where creative goodness lurks around every corner. At the top we have the excellent stack of TRIVIA GAMES/CHOSEN FAMILY/HAPPY BELATED, mirrored by IGPAY ATINLAY/TESTIMONIALS/HRTIVERSARY (which looks rather zany in the grid) at the bottom. That would be enough for most constructors, but Ada packs in all sorts of original stuff in the mid-length fill, including DJ Khaled's Father of ASAHD, TITTY skittles, and EATALY.

We're Not Going Anywhere (Jeff Chen)

A star-shaped grid whose 12 outermost entries (such as LADY GODI and MPIRE BAT) are all missing the implied letters VA, which is justified by the revealer NOVA. A simple concept, but extremely well executed, with plenty of creative clues - [Blank space?] for OUTER, [Woman on an historic streak] for the aforementioned LADY GODIVA, [Short work by a Longfellow] for SONNET,  But what I most appreciate about this puzzle is how it illustrates the power of a good title; Quiara's editor's notes point out that it's a bilingual pun referencing the urban legend that the Chevy Nova sold poorly in Spanish-speaking countries because no va means "it doesn't go" in Spanish. And of course, while the VAs have disappeared from the grid, they're not really going anywhere, since they're needed for the clues to make sense.

Making the Cut (Paolo Pasco)

A type of theme that I've long dreamed of making but never had the guts to try: one where a legitimate grid can be rearranged in some way to create another legitimate grid. Here, Paolo plays on the "sawing a woman in half" trick (hinted at by the revealers SAW THINGS and LADY PARTS): the right half of the grid has been shifted down two squares so that the words ASTOR, LIBERTY, and GAGA are split in half, always forming real crossword entries. For example, the LIB from liberty gets joined with the ATION from NATION to form LIBATION, while the ERTY joins the PROP from PROPANE to form PROPERTY. I can only imagine how hard this must have been to construct, given that every square in the central section of the grid is triple-checked. Of course, this being a Paolo puzzle, its main virtue is its entertainingness for the solver and not its impressiveness as a construction; there are all sorts of delightful clues, starting at 1-Across with [Parts that Henry Cavill "reloads, in a memetic "Mission: Impossible" fight scene].

The Full Spectrum (Elise Corbin)

I appreciate Elise's site because the puzzles are mostly science-themed, which is pretty rare, and because almost all of them are pretty high-concept; I always like a puzzle that swings for the fences. This puzzle has a gimmick entirely unlike anything I've seen before. The theme entries are types of electromagnetic radiation (GAMMA, X-RAY, VISIBLEMICROWAVE, RADIO), and they're positioned in the grid roughly in order of increasing wavelength and decreasing frequency. The kicker is that the distribution of answer lengths mirrors the electromagnetic spectrum, with many short answers and abbreviations at the topic, and fewer but longer answers at the bottom. The correspondence with the positioning of the theme entries can't be perfect due to the constraints of the gimmick, but the overall effect is nonetheless very striking.

Sounds About Right (Andy Kravis)

True, the New Yorker is about as un-indie as you can get, but since this puzzle was part of the special Cartoons & Puzzles issue, not reviewed on Crossword Fiend, it technically counts. And it's a doozy, with a gimmick that's plainly spelling out by the revealer, RHYME WITH ITS CLUE, clued as [What every answer in this puzzle will do]. It's remarkable that this is possible at all, let alone possible to do so smoothly that I got through at least a quarter of the puzzle before even noticing the gimmick. [Cheek swab, for example] for DNA SAMPLE and [N.B.A. legend O'Neal] for SHAQUILLE, for instance, are no different from clues you'd find in a regular puzzle. Naturally, there are a few stretches (both semantic and prosodic), but this is quite an achievement.

themeless no. 20 (crosstina aquafina)

Look, pretty much any crosstina puzzle is entertaining enough to make these roundups, but this one is a lock because it has the clue that made laugh more than any other clue this year, and for the entry TSK, of all things: [sound of disapproval from my test-solver when i originally clued this as 'teaspork (abbr.)']. Oh, and the rest of it is great too, with fill highlights like UNSTANNED, MAKE IT MAKE SENSE, and KOMPROMAT, and the usual smattering of hilarious clues.

America's Finest Crossword (Will Eisenberg and Alex Boisvert)

It's hard for me to get excited about a puzzle whose premise is just "I noticed that some pre-existing funny thing happens to break into a pair of answers that I can place symmetrically in a crossword." I mean, I enjoy being reminded of funny things, but there's not much to appreciate in terms of crossword-specific ingenuity, you know? But this puzzle, whose theme entries are WHOOOOOO BEARS and AAAAAGGH BEARS (the opposing columns in a classic Point-Counterpoint article in The Onion), is an exception for some reason. Maybe it's because it's such a delightfully wacky coincidence that the headlines, which could have been extended to arbitrary length, just happen to both be 13 letters long - and because most constructors wouldn't even bother to count. So in itself, the theme makes for a puzzle that really tickles my funny bone - but on top of that, every single other entry is clued as a fill-in-the-blank Onion headline, which kicks the enjoyment level up several notches.

Themeless #80 (can't touch this) (Brian Thomas)

It's really hard to make a Sunday-sized themeless that can sustain the solver's interest all the way through, but Brian cannily uses diagonal symmetry here to squeeze as much fun out of the long slots as possible. In the bottom left, NANA NANA BOO BOO/DEDICATED LANE/LEATHER DADDY crosses MAKES THE LEAP/ORAL TRADITION/ABSOLUTE MAD LAD. That kind of quality would be nigh impossible to main in the opposite corner in a grid with standard symmetry, but Brian keeps the hits going through the rest of the grid here: THAT WASN'T SO BAD, BUNCH OF HOOEY, NO-TELL MOTEL, PR NIGHTMARE, MOAN AND GROAN, and much more.