Crossword of the Month, December 2015

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for December 2015. Note that if a puzzle requires a subscription to solve, clicking on the title below will lead to a review of the puzzle. If no subscription is required, clicking on the title below will lead to the puzzle itself.

In chronological order, our five nominees are:

Year-Ending Roman Orgy by Pete Muller. Muller Monthly Music Meta, December 6th, 2015.

pm-head-shot1-150x150

Seven Roman numerals hide in the theme entries, spelling out the meta answer. Remarkably, no other I, V, X, L, C, D, or M appears anywhere else in the grid. Don’t try this at home.

Untitled by Jacob Stulberg. The New York Times, December 9th, 2015.

JacobStulberg

Not very complex, but based on an intriguing linguistic point: three familiar words mean “lightning” in Hebrew, French, and German.

Untitled by David Kwong. The New York Times, December 17th, 2015.

DavidKwong

Four pairs of DICE on the across atomize into DIE and DIE on the downs.

Same Difference by Patrick Berry. The Wall Street Journal, December
18th, 2015.

Berry

Five clues serve for two answers apiece, but vive la différence for their entries.

Game Theory by Ben Tausig. American Values Club Xword, December 31st, 2015.

BenTausig

The best of the four puzzles in an ambitious “Monopoly” project, where this constructor wrote four related December 31st crosswords for the AVCX, the New York Times, Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website, and BuzzFeed.

And the winner is…
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Patrick Berry for Same Difference.

An easy but elegant meta: first the solver must notice that five pairs of entries in the grid share a clue, such as [Overseeing a child’s development, say] for both PARENTING and PREGNANT.

Insight #2: that those five pairs differ from each other by one letter after anagramming, such as the additional I in the example above.

And then the final insight: that those five differing letters spell meta answer TWINS, which the five sets indeed are (fraternal, not identical).

An original and clean meta-idea, whose secrets reveal themselves in a logical and satisfying sequence. Each turn in the path is subtly concealed, but the correctness of the path is never in doubt once it’s found.

This is a model of what an easier contest crossword should look like, and my choice for December 2015’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

December 2015 — Patrick Berry, The Wall Street Journal
November 2015 — Evan Birnholz, American Values Club Crossword
October 2015 — Christopher King, Chris Words
September 2015 — David Steinberg, Chronicle of Higher Education
August 2015 — Patrick Berry, MGWCC
July 2015 — Jeff Chen, American Values Club Crossword
June 2015 — Erik Agard, American Values Club Crossword
May 2015 — Patrick Berry, Fireball Crosswords
April 2015 — Joe Krozel and Timothy Polin, The New York Times
March 2015 — Jeremy Newton, The New York Times
February 2015 — Byron Walden, The New York Times
January 2015 — Jill Denny and Jeff Chen, The New York Times
December 2014 — Pete Muller, Muller Monthly Music Meta
November 2014 — Tom McCoy, The New York Times
October 2014 — Caleb Madison, American Values Club Crossword
September 2014 — Peter Broda, Fireball Crosswords; Francis Heaney, MGWCC (tie)
August 2014 — Josh Knapp, The Washington Post
July 2014 — David Phillips, The New York Times
June 2014 — Patrick Blindauer, www.patrickblindauer.com
May 2014 — Sam Donaldson, Fireball Crosswords
April 2014 — Patrick Blindauer, www.patrickblindauer.com
March 2014 — Brendan Emmett Quigley, American Values Club Crossword
February 2014 — Neville Fogarty, www.nevillefogarty.wordpress.com
January 2014 — Peter Broda, The Cross Nerd
December 2013 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
November 2013 — Pete Muller, Muller Monthly Music Meta
October 2013 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
September 2013 — Anna Shechtman, American Values Club Crossword

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Crossword of the Month, November 2015

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for November 2015. Note that if a puzzle requires a subscription to solve, clicking on the title below will lead to a review of the puzzle. If no subscription is required, clicking on the title below will lead to the puzzle itself.

In chronological order, our five nominees are:

Pass the Hat by Dave Sullivan and Janie Smulyan. Fireball Crosswords, November 11th, 2015.

sullivan smulyan

Amusing theme concept with one of those titles you have to take literally.

Heads of State by Brendan Emmett Quigley. American Values Club Crossword, November 18th, 2015.

BrendanEmmettQuigley

The first square of each theme entry is a two-headed monster…that also doubles as a U.S. state.

Untitled by Natan Last. The New York Times, November 21st, 2015.

NatanLast

Normally, 9-Down alone would disqualify a themeless crossword from CotM contention. But just look at the other 65 entries!

Taking Sides on Turkey Day by Liz Gorski. Crossword Nation, November 24th, 2015.

ElizabethCGorski

The best of 2015’s crop of Thanksgiving-themed crosswords, with a cornucopia of theme entries.

Skip and Fall by Evan Birnholz. American Values Club Crossword, November 28th, 2015.

EvanBirnholz

Four boxes in the grid get special treatment.

And the winner is…
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Evan Birnholz for Skip and Fall.

The filesharing website Dropbox is this puzzle’s theme idea, with four “dropboxes” scattered around the grid. On the down entry, each of these drops southward as the letters D-R-O-P; on the across, you simply ignore, a.k.a. drop, the box altogether.

Tidy and original with a nice aha moment, and my choice for November 2015’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

November 2015 — Evan Birnholz, American Values Club Crossword
October 2015 — Christopher King, Chris Words
September 2015 — David Steinberg, Chronicle of Higher Education
August 2015 — Patrick Berry, MGWCC
July 2015 — Jeff Chen, American Values Club Crossword
June 2015 — Erik Agard, American Values Club Crossword
May 2015 — Patrick Berry, Fireball Crosswords
April 2015 — Joe Krozel and Timothy Polin, The New York Times
March 2015 — Jeremy Newton, The New York Times
February 2015 — Byron Walden, The New York Times
January 2015 — Jill Denny and Jeff Chen, The New York Times
December 2014 — Pete Muller, Muller Monthly Music Meta
November 2014 — Tom McCoy, The New York Times
October 2014 — Caleb Madison, American Values Club Crossword
September 2014 — Peter Broda, Fireball Crosswords; Francis Heaney, MGWCC (tie)
August 2014 — Josh Knapp, The Washington Post
July 2014 — David Phillips, The New York Times
June 2014 — Patrick Blindauer, www.patrickblindauer.com
May 2014 — Sam Donaldson, Fireball Crosswords
April 2014 — Patrick Blindauer, www.patrickblindauer.com
March 2014 — Brendan Emmett Quigley, American Values Club Crossword
February 2014 — Neville Fogarty, www.nevillefogarty.wordpress.com
January 2014 — Peter Broda, The Cross Nerd
December 2013 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
November 2013 — Pete Muller, Muller Monthly Music Meta
October 2013 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
September 2013 — Anna Shechtman, American Values Club Crossword

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Crossword of the Month, October 2015

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for October 2015. Note that if a puzzle requires a subscription to solve, clicking on the title below will lead to a review of the puzzle. If no subscription is required, clicking on the title below will lead to the puzzle itself.

In chronological order, our five nominees are:

Into the Void by Todd McClary. Fireball Crosswords, October 4th, 2015.

TLAAP_tile_laptop

Meta that hits all the angles: using the black squares, an unusual Schrödinger element, a humorous and satisfying “aha moment” — and even intriguing instructions!

Weird Alterations by Patrick Berry. Fireball Crosswords, October 7th, 2015.

Berry

Why has no one thought of this amusing concept before? Leave it to the constructor with more CotM nominations than anyone else.

Three Out of Four Ain’t Bad by Pete Muller. Muller Monthly Music Meta, October 11th, 2015.

pm-head-shot1-150x150

The crown jewel (thus far) in another excellent season of the Muller Meta. The author will let fans know in December if there’s going to be a Season 5. I certainly hope so.

That’s the Power of Love by Christopher King. Chris Words, October 24th, 2015.

chrisking

Yet another intricate, difficult, and beautiful meta from this constructor, which demands both on- and off-the-page insights from the solver.

Freestyle 19 by Sam Ezersky. The Grid Kid, October 27th, 2015.

SamEzersky

Power freestyle punctuating a power month of crosswords at Sam’s site.

And the winner is…
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Christopher King for That’s the Power of Love.

This writer has been constructing highly complex metas on his site, somewhat under the radar, for about a year now. He busts through the clouds with this beauty, the best of several crosswords out there celebrating the arrival of the date (October 21st, 2015) to which Michael J. Fox travels in “Back to the Future, Part II.”

I won’t explain the gimmick since you probably haven’t seen this one yet, but the author’s own write-up is here (click the title above for the puzzle itself). But I will say that the double-usage of the central across entry is a very nice touch.

Elegantly conceived and constructed, and my choice for October 2015’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

October 2015 — Christopher King, Chris Words
September 2015 — David Steinberg, Chronicle of Higher Education
August 2015 — Patrick Berry, MGWCC
July 2015 — Jeff Chen, American Values Club Crossword
June 2015 — Erik Agard, American Values Club Crossword
May 2015 — Patrick Berry, Fireball Crosswords
April 2015 — Joe Krozel and Timothy Polin, The New York Times
March 2015 — Jeremy Newton, The New York Times
February 2015 — Byron Walden, The New York Times
January 2015 — Jill Denny and Jeff Chen, The New York Times
December 2014 — Pete Muller, Muller Monthly Music Meta
November 2014 — Tom McCoy, The New York Times
October 2014 — Caleb Madison, American Values Club Crossword
September 2014 — Peter Broda, Fireball Crosswords; Francis Heaney, MGWCC (tie)
August 2014 — Josh Knapp, The Washington Post
July 2014 — David Phillips, The New York Times
June 2014 — Patrick Blindauer, www.patrickblindauer.com
May 2014 — Sam Donaldson, Fireball Crosswords
April 2014 — Patrick Blindauer, www.patrickblindauer.com
March 2014 — Brendan Emmett Quigley, American Values Club Crossword
February 2014 — Neville Fogarty, www.nevillefogarty.wordpress.com
January 2014 — Peter Broda, The Cross Nerd
December 2013 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
November 2013 — Pete Muller, Muller Monthly Music Meta
October 2013 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
September 2013 — Anna Shechtman, American Values Club Crossword

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Crossword of the Month, September 2015

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for September 2015. Note that if a puzzle requires a subscription to solve, clicking on the title below will lead to a review of the puzzle. If no subscription is required, clicking on the title below will lead to the puzzle itself.

In chronological order, our five nominees are:

Off With Their Heads by David Steinberg. Chronicle of Higher Education, September 4th, 2015.

steinberg
Complex theme idea that required precise execution (heh-heh).

Untitled by Byron Walden. The New York Times, September 5th, 2015.

ByronWalden

Free-flowing freestyle.


Double Play
by Evan Birnholz. Devil Cross, September 11th, 2015.

EvanBirnholz

Tribute puzzle to the late Merl Reagle, which incorporates a quote from the great master.

Trade-Ins by Patrick Berry. Fireball Crosswords, September 13th, 2015.

Berry

Subtle and original meta idea.

Put a Lid on It! by Jeff Chen and Jason Mueller. The New York Times, September 20th, 2015.

Chen

{Note: no picture available of Jason Mueller}

Hard to resist the charm of this idea: famous people wear their iconic hats in the grid.

And the winner is…
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David Steinberg for Off With Their Heads.

Marie ANTOINETTE gets the GUILLOTINE in this puzzle; hence the gallows humor above.

Ten symmetrically placed entries must lose their first letters to fit in the grid. These ten beheaded letters spell ANTOINETTE; the first letters of these truncated versions spell GUILLOTINE.

Well plotted out, and my choice for September 2015’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

September 2015 — David Steinberg, Chronicle of Higher Education
August 2015 — Patrick Berry, MGWCC
July 2015 — Jeff Chen, American Values Club Crossword
June 2015 — Erik Agard, American Values Club Crossword
May 2015 — Patrick Berry, Fireball Crosswords
April 2015 — Joe Krozel and Timothy Polin, The New York Times
March 2015 — Jeremy Newton, The New York Times
February 2015 — Byron Walden, The New York Times
January 2015 — Jill Denny and Jeff Chen, The New York Times
December 2014 — Pete Muller, Muller Monthly Music Meta
November 2014 — Tom McCoy, The New York Times
October 2014 — Caleb Madison, American Values Club Crossword
September 2014 — Peter Broda, Fireball Crosswords; Francis Heaney, MGWCC (tie)
August 2014 — Josh Knapp, The Washington Post
July 2014 — David Phillips, The New York Times
June 2014 — Patrick Blindauer, www.patrickblindauer.com
May 2014 — Sam Donaldson, Fireball Crosswords
April 2014 — Patrick Blindauer, www.patrickblindauer.com
March 2014 — Brendan Emmett Quigley, American Values Club Crossword
February 2014 — Neville Fogarty, www.nevillefogarty.wordpress.com
January 2014 — Peter Broda, The Cross Nerd
December 2013 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
November 2013 — Pete Muller, Muller Monthly Music Meta
October 2013 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
September 2013 — Anna Shechtman, American Values Club Crossword

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Crossword of the Month, August 2015

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for August 2015. Note that if a puzzle requires a subscription to solve, clicking on the title below will lead to a review of the puzzle. If no subscription is required, clicking on the title below will lead to the puzzle itself.

Also, a reminder that contest crosswords are eligible for recognition here in the month of their deadline, not the month of their publication.

In chronological order, our five nominees are:

Shifting Alliances by Patrick Berry. MGWCC, August 4th, 2015.

Berry

The universal reaction to this puzzle is summed up by that modern expression of wonder: “Wow. Just wow.”

Going Off the Grid by Joon Pahk. Lollapuzzoola, August 8th, 2015.

joonpahk

Sixteen letters gravitate from the grid to their own clues — and spell an appropriate phrase, of course.

(Note: Puzzles from the annual Lollapuzzoola tournament (click puzzle title above) are only available for purchase for a limited time after each year’s tournament, and that time has passed for 2015. This crossword in particular has also not been reviewed online. Sorry about that — if the puzzle or a review of it surfaces at some point I will update this post with a link. [UPDATE: Todd McClary has a review of this crossword here; scroll down to #4.][UPDATE #2: Joon has made the puzzle itself available here.]

Untitled by David Steinberg. The New York Times, August 21st, 2015.

steinberg

Yet another impressively clean, wide-open, and lively freestyle from this constructor, who recently completed his epic project to digitize all New York Times crosswords.

Homage by Kevin Der. www.kevinder.com, August 30th, 2015.

KevinGDer

Lovely and far-ranging tribute to the late and great Merl Reagle.

Themeless Monday by Brendan Emmett Quigley. www.brendanemmettquigley.com, August 31st, 2015.

BrendanEmmettQuigley

An archetypal Quigley freestyle from his Monday series, both highly entertaining and very timely (note the central entry across).

And the winner is…
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Patrick Berry for Shifting Alliances.

Two squares in each theme entry can take either one or two letters, the middle letter shifting its allegiance based on circumstance — and with either one working on the down clues. Choosing the intended allegiance for each theme entry yields the fitting words SOLO and PARTNERS.

Hellishly complex to create, and not at all easy to solve, but wonderfully simple to describe later — I did it in two sentences above. The mechanism involved is so original and ingenious that it’s easily overlooked, as I did on my test solve, but sitting right there the whole time.

A magnificent concept, and my choice for August 2015’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

August 2015 — Patrick Berry, MGWCC
July 2015 — Jeff Chen, American Values Club Crossword
June 2015 — Erik Agard, American Values Club Crossword
May 2015 — Patrick Berry, Fireball Crosswords
April 2015 — Joe Krozel and Timothy Polin, The New York Times
March 2015 — Jeremy Newton, The New York Times
February 2015 — Byron Walden, The New York Times
January 2015 — Jill Denny and Jeff Chen, The New York Times
December 2014 — Pete Muller, Muller Monthly Music Meta
November 2014 — Tom McCoy, The New York Times
October 2014 — Caleb Madison, American Values Club Crossword
September 2014 — Peter Broda, Fireball Crosswords; Francis Heaney, MGWCC (tie)
August 2014 — Josh Knapp, The Washington Post
July 2014 — David Phillips, The New York Times
June 2014 — Patrick Blindauer, www.patrickblindauer.com
May 2014 — Sam Donaldson, Fireball Crosswords
April 2014 — Patrick Blindauer, www.patrickblindauer.com
March 2014 — Brendan Emmett Quigley, American Values Club Crossword
February 2014 — Neville Fogarty, www.nevillefogarty.wordpress.com
January 2014 — Peter Broda, The Cross Nerd
December 2013 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
November 2013 — Pete Muller, Muller Monthly Music Meta
October 2013 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
September 2013 — Anna Shechtman, American Values Club Crossword

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Crossword of the Month, July 2015

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for July 2015. Note that if a puzzle requires a subscription to solve, clicking on the title below will lead to a review of the puzzle. If no subscription is required, clicking on the title below will lead to the puzzle itself.

Also, a reminder that contest crosswords are eligible for recognition here in the month of their deadline, not the month of their publication.

In chronological order, our five nominees are:

Arduous Hike by Francis Heaney. American Values Club Xword, July 1st, 2015.

Heaney

Two-way rebus with a logical and novel twist: those squares are RENT on the across, but TNER on the down. Why? Because, as the reveal reveals: the RENT is going up.

Untitled by John Guzzetta. The New York Times, July 9th, 2015.

JohnGuzzetta

I think we’re nearing the saturation point on “words take a turn in the grid” themes, but I’ll make an exception for this clever take on the idea. RIGHT ON CUE is the kicker, and the grid’s five Q’s serve double-duty as right-turn extensions and as valid entries in their own right.

Time and Time Again by Evan Birnholz. MGWCC, July 21st, 2015.

EvanBirnholz

Something’s missing from the clock at the center of this complex and finely wrought meta.

Wearing Thin by Jeff Chen. American Values Club Xword, July 22nd, 2015.

Chen

A magnificently multi-layered concept, with precise and maximized execution.

Color Inside the Lines by Victor Barocas. MGWCC, July 28th, 2015.

VictorBarocas

Certain letters take on a certain color, transforming the grid into a famous piece of popular art.

And the winner is…
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Jeff Chen for Wearing Thin.

July 2015 was an absolute power month in high-end croswords, like 1939 for movies, and this was the best of the extremely impressive bunch.

Four pieces of clothing hide in the grid, either visible or invisible depending on which set of clues you use. Is that a NASCAR FAN, or a SCARF hiding in a piece of NAAN bread? Is that an IP ADDRESS, or a DRESS sitting next to an iPAD? It could be either — and, remarkably, they all work on the downs as well.

Crosswords themes often hang on a kicker phrase, such as SEE-THROUGH clothing here, but rarely are they translated this astutely into puzzle form. Marvelous work, and my choice for July 2015’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

July 2015 — Jeff Chen, American Values Club Crossword
June 2015 — Erik Agard, American Values Club Crossword
May 2015 — Patrick Berry, Fireball Crosswords
April 2015 — Joe Krozel and Timothy Polin, The New York Times
March 2015 — Jeremy Newton, The New York Times
February 2015 — Byron Walden, The New York Times
January 2015 — Jill Denny and Jeff Chen, The New York Times
December 2014 — Pete Muller, Muller Monthly Music Meta
November 2014 — Tom McCoy, The New York Times
October 2014 — Caleb Madison, American Values Club Crossword
September 2014 — Peter Broda, Fireball Crosswords; Francis Heaney, MGWCC (tie)
August 2014 — Josh Knapp, The Washington Post
July 2014 — David Phillips, The New York Times
June 2014 — Patrick Blindauer, www.patrickblindauer.com
May 2014 — Sam Donaldson, Fireball Crosswords
April 2014 — Patrick Blindauer, www.patrickblindauer.com
March 2014 — Brendan Emmett Quigley, American Values Club Crossword
February 2014 — Neville Fogarty, www.nevillefogarty.wordpress.com
January 2014 — Peter Broda, The Cross Nerd
December 2013 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
November 2013 — Pete Muller, Muller Monthly Music Meta
October 2013 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
September 2013 — Anna Shechtman, American Values Club Crossword

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Crossword of the Month, June 2015

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for June 2015. Note that if a puzzle requires a subscription to solve, clicking on the title below will lead to a review of the puzzle. If no subscription is required, clicking on the title below will lead to the puzzle itself.

In chronological order, our five nominees are:

Have a Blast! by Erik Agard. American Values Club Crossword, June 14th, 2015.

agard

No one has been nominated for Crossword of the Month more times than this constructor.


Off With Their Heads!
by Alan Arbesfeld. Fireball Crosswords, June 21st, 2015.

AlanArbesfeld

Remove celebrities’ initials and see what’s left. HARLEY RIDE for country singer Charley Pride is an especially nice find.

A Bit of Foolery by Matt Jones. Jonesin’ Crosswords, June 23rd, 2015.

jones

Tribute to National Puzzlers’ League member Tom Gazzola, who was struck and killed by a truck in Portland last month while jogging. The theme is surname extensions on famous TOMs, and the entries had to accommodate the diagonal message WE’LL MISS YOU, MASO (Maso being Gazzola’s NPL name).

I Could Count on Two Hands by Christopher King. Chris Words, June 25th, 2015.

chrisking

Labyrinthine meta from one of the outstanding new crossword bloggers. Warning: very tough (only 10 solvers got it by the deadline).

Give Me a Ring by Jeff Chen. Chronicle of Higher Education, June 26th, 2015.

Chen

Simple but elegant construction, like the chemistry at its core. Note than there are no other C’s or H’s in the grid besides the linked sextets, plus the HCL kicker itself.

And the winner is…
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Erik Agard for Have a Blast!

When I first solved this I thought it odd that such a skilled constructor would be so arbitrary, as there appears to be no link between the meta concept and solution. The opposite turned out to be true.

Eight phrases have their last letter replaced by a B to form nonsense phrases, and the replaced letters spell DYN-O-MITE, comedian Jimmie Walker’s catchphrase from meta answer “Good Times.”

But that “Blast” in the title is really parsed B-last, which both explains the theme idea and hints at the “dyn-o-mite” mechanism. So instead of being arbitrary, the meta fits together very tightly, and in multiple ways.

Tidy and wry, and my choice for June 2015’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

June 2015 — Erik Agard, American Values Club Crossword
May 2015 — Patrick Berry, Fireball Crosswords
April 2015 — Joe Krozel and Timothy Polin, The New York Times
March 2015 — Jeremy Newton, The New York Times
February 2015 — Byron Walden, The New York Times
January 2015 — Jill Denny and Jeff Chen, The New York Times
December 2014 — Pete Muller, Muller Monthly Music Meta
November 2014 — Tom McCoy, The New York Times
October 2014 — Caleb Madison, American Values Club Crossword
September 2014 — Peter Broda, Fireball Crosswords; Francis Heaney, MGWCC (tie)
August 2014 — Josh Knapp, The Washington Post
July 2014 — David Phillips, The New York Times
June 2014 — Patrick Blindauer, www.patrickblindauer.com
May 2014 — Sam Donaldson, Fireball Crosswords
April 2014 — Patrick Blindauer, www.patrickblindauer.com
March 2014 — Brendan Emmett Quigley, American Values Club Crossword
February 2014 — Neville Fogarty, www.nevillefogarty.wordpress.com
January 2014 — Peter Broda, The Cross Nerd
December 2013 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
November 2013 — Pete Muller, Muller Monthly Music Meta
October 2013 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
September 2013 — Anna Shechtman, American Values Club Crossword

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Crossword of the Month, May 2015

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for May 2015. Note that if a puzzle requires a subscription to solve, clicking on the title below will lead to a review of the puzzle. If no subscription is required, clicking on the title below will lead to the puzzle itself.

In chronological order, our five nominees are:

Untitled by Ian Livengood. The New York Times, May 8th, 2015.

IanLivengood

Lively freestyle with a ton of marquee entries. Not to be the guy who says “Any puzzle with [some entry] is OK by me,” but any puzzle with 20-Down is OK by me.

Untitled by Jacob Stulberg. The New York Times, May 20th, 2015.

JacobStulberg

Amusing little idea, with theme entries that mess with your eyes and mind.

What’s Left? by Patrick Berry. Fireball Crosswords, May 26th, 2015.

Berry

Just because a meta is easy doesn’t mean it can’t also be beautiful.

Candy Bars by Finn Vigeland. The Indie 500, May 30th, 2015.

FinnVigeland

The best of the six very good puzzles from the Indie 500 — and not surprisingly, since it won a blind-judged contest among dozens of entrants in order to be included in the tournament.


Looseness of the Vowels
by Peter Broda. The Indie 500, May 30th, 2015.

PeterBroda

Another strong puzzle from the Indie 500. No spoilers since we’re still within the two-week window of solving at home (click “Register”); but I can say that this puzzle is so evil that its constructor got pied for it.


And the winner is…

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Patrick Berry for What’s Left?

I dig an intricate and difficult meta, but there’s also great beauty in a clear, unique, and easy meta like this masterpiece.

Twelve rebus squares reveal themselves in the grid, and the solver soon discovers that they divide into three sets, each missing a member: playing card suits, music scale notes, and directional quadrants. The missing suit is “diamond,” the missing note is “la,” and the missing quadrant is northeast (NE). What’s left is meta answer DIAMOND LANE, which is also on the left on a highway (!).

A wonderfully clean and linear idea, with a super-fitting meta answer and then title to wrap it all together, and my choice for May 2015’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

May 2015 — Patrick Berry, Fireball Crosswords
April 2015 — Joe Krozel and Timothy Polin, The New York Times
March 2015 — Jeremy Newton, The New York Times
February 2015 — Byron Walden, The New York Times
January 2015 — Jill Denny and Jeff Chen, The New York Times
December 2014 — Pete Muller, Muller Monthly Music Meta
November 2014 — Tom McCoy, The New York Times
October 2014 — Caleb Madison, American Values Club Crossword
September 2014 — Peter Broda, Fireball Crosswords; Francis Heaney, MGWCC (tie)
August 2014 — Josh Knapp, The Washington Post
July 2014 — David Phillips, The New York Times
June 2014 — Patrick Blindauer, www.patrickblindauer.com
May 2014 — Sam Donaldson, Fireball Crosswords
April 2014 — Patrick Blindauer, www.patrickblindauer.com
March 2014 — Brendan Emmett Quigley, American Values Club Crossword
February 2014 — Neville Fogarty, www.nevillefogarty.wordpress.com
January 2014 — Peter Broda, The Cross Nerd
December 2013 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
November 2013 — Pete Muller, Muller Monthly Music Meta
October 2013 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
September 2013 — Anna Shechtman, American Values Club Crossword

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Crossword of the Month, April 2015

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for April 2015. Note that if a puzzle requires a subscription to solve, clicking on the title below will lead to a review of the puzzle. If no subscription is required, clicking on the title below will lead to the puzzle itself.

In chronological order, our five nominees are:

Untitled by Joe Krozel and Timothy Polin. The New York Times, April 2nd, 2015.

KrozelPolin

The black letters in the grid spell SHUT, THUS, HUTS and TUSH, which are then clues for four grid entries (!).

Untitled by Patrick Berry. The New York Times, April 3rd, 2015.

Berry

A classic Patrick Berry themeless, with a wide-open grid and zero (!) truly weak entries.

Come Together by Andy Kravis. Cruciverbalist at Law, April 11th, 2015.

AndyKravis

Very smart use of Crushword-style squares, and with a perfect title and reveal.

Double Booked by Jacob Stulberg. Chronicle of Higher Education, April 17th, 2015.

JacobStulberg

Two novelists and their title characters intertwine amusingly, with a mini-Schrödinger plot twist at the end.

Untitled by Daniel Landman. The New York Times, April 29th, 2015.

DanielLandman

Four geometric shapes reveal themselves twice in the grid — once as theme entries, and again as the shapes themselves.

And the winner is…
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cotm

Joe Krozel and Timothy Polin for Untitled.

An unpopular choice for CotM, I’m sure: this puzzle received lukewarm reviews from the pundits, mediocre ratings from solvers, and didn’t even win Jeff Chen’s Puzzle of the Week at xwordinfo.com, whose candidates are limited to New York Times puzzles! That went to the Berry nominated above.

What’s more: I personally dislike asymmetric grids (things get silly pretty quickly in life without rules) and I don’t usually dig database-driven grids (they tend to be too wide-open and the fill suffers).

So why does this win Crossword of the Month? Because its core concept is novel and beautiful. Black squares have formed letters before, and even spelled things before; but that those black square letters would anagram into four clues for four entries in the grid? That’s exceptional, and making it happen is a feat of engineering, even with a power database on your side (the task here is so daunting that I think it would’ve been impossible in the pre-database era).

An intelligent case of rule-breaking gimmickry, and my choice for April 2015’s Crossword of the Month. Let the recriminations begin.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

April 2015 — Joe Krozel and Timothy Polin, The New York Times
March 2015 — Jeremy Newton, The New York Times
February 2015 — Byron Walden, The New York Times
January 2015 — Jill Denny and Jeff Chen, The New York Times
December 2014 — Pete Muller, Muller Monthly Music Meta
November 2014 — Tom McCoy, The New York Times
October 2014 — Caleb Madison, American Values Club Crossword
September 2014 — Peter Broda, Fireball Crosswords; Francis Heaney, MGWCC (tie)
August 2014 — Josh Knapp, The Washington Post
July 2014 — David Phillips, The New York Times
June 2014 — Patrick Blindauer, www.patrickblindauer.com
May 2014 — Sam Donaldson, Fireball Crosswords
April 2014 — Patrick Blindauer, www.patrickblindauer.com
March 2014 — Brendan Emmett Quigley, American Values Club Crossword
February 2014 — Neville Fogarty, www.nevillefogarty.wordpress.com
January 2014 — Peter Broda, The Cross Nerd
December 2013 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
November 2013 — Pete Muller, Muller Monthly Music Meta
October 2013 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
September 2013 — Anna Shechtman, American Values Club Crossword

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Crossword of the Month, March 2015

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for March 2015. Note that if a puzzle requires a subscription to solve, clicking on the title below will lead to a review of the puzzle. If no subscription is required, clicking on the title below will lead to the puzzle itself.

In chronological order, our five nominees are:

Extended Care by Dave Sullivan. Fireball Crosswords, March 1st, 2015.

sullivan

Two leaps required on this elegant meta: figuring out why the words don’t fit in the grid, then deducing what Nobel Prize winner that leads to.

Following Commands by Sam Ezersky. The Grid Kid, March 2nd, 2015.

SamEzersky

Smart and completely unique theme concept (as far as I know). I won’t say more since you’ll want to solve this and probably haven’t already!

Untitled by Ellen Leuschner and Jeff Chen. The New York Times, March 12th, 2015.

LeuschnerChen

There’s a good reason for those unwieldy 2×2 boxes in the grid.

Upsides by Jeremy Newton. The New York Times, March 22nd, 2015.

JeremyNewton

Epic.

Untitled by Byron Walden. The New York Times, March 26th, 2015.

ByronWalden

Logical and amusing idea: the letters R-I-N-S-E rotate through the five stacked theme entries, producing the revealer RINSE CYCLE. And your standard Walden-quality grid around it (all four corners are beautiful).

And the winner is…
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Jeremy Newton for Upsides.

This is what every New York Times crossword solver hopes the Sunday puzzle will be when they open up the magazine: ambitious and surprising, with a theme idea that’s just tricky enough to figure out, and which delivers a fantastic a-ha moment once you do.

Those six innocent-looking five-letter words along the sides of the grid are actually part of four other entries climbing upward(!), which fan out like a river delta as they flow north. So the N in TETON is not only the first letter of NYSENATE on the cross, but also NORTH, NO TAX, NOT EVEN A LITTLE, and NOTE TO SELF while climbing up and over.

Pretty amazing, and my choice for March 2015’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

March 2015 — Jeremy Newton, The New York Times
February 2015 — Byron Walden, The New York Times
January 2015 — Jill Denny and Jeff Chen, The New York Times
December 2014 — Pete Muller, Muller Monthly Music Meta
November 2014 — Tom McCoy, The New York Times
October 2014 — Caleb Madison, American Values Club Crossword
September 2014 — Peter Broda, Fireball Crosswords; Francis Heaney, MGWCC (tie)
August 2014 — Josh Knapp, The Washington Post
July 2014 — David Phillips, The New York Times
June 2014 — Patrick Blindauer, www.patrickblindauer.com
May 2014 — Sam Donaldson, Fireball Crosswords
April 2014 — Patrick Blindauer, www.patrickblindauer.com
March 2014 — Brendan Emmett Quigley, American Values Club Crossword
February 2014 — Neville Fogarty, www.nevillefogarty.wordpress.com
January 2014 — Peter Broda, The Cross Nerd
December 2013 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
November 2013 — Pete Muller, Muller Monthly Music Meta
October 2013 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
September 2013 — Anna Shechtman, American Values Club Crossword

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