Crossword of the Month, July 2016

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for July 2016. 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:

A Little Back-and-Forth by Byron Walden. American Values Club Crossword, July 6th, 2016.

ByronWalden

A strange and amusing puzzle, like something from a Henry Hook book.

Match Game by Chris King. Chris Words, July 10th, 2016.

chrisking

I’ll stop writing “yet another beautiful and labyrinthine meta from this constructor” when he stops writing beautiful and labyrinthine metas. If you want to skip to the solution there’s an amusing write-up of this puzzle (by last month’s CotM winner) here.

Untitled by Byron Walden. The New York Times, July 16th, 2016.

ByronWalden

He’s also one of the best themeless writers.

Writer’s Block by Evan Birnholz. The Washington Post, July 17th, 2016.

EvanBirnholz

The title here is literal: five black squares in the grid take the surname of a famous author — Harper LEE, Amy TAN, Stephen KING, Anne RICE, and R.L. STINE — which is then used in surrounding entries.

We Got One! by Chris King. Chris Words, July 17th, 2016.

chrisking

This guy’s blog is like a neighborhood restaurant that does no publicity or advertising and has no tourist trade, but the same 200 people eat there every week because it’s phenomenal.

Chris’s audience might well be measured best in dozens and I don’t think he’s ever published in a newspaper or magazine, but there it is every week, creative and clever, like clockwork…and I think he’s quite happy with his small audience, in fact.

This puzzle’s theme is just phrases with the first names of the original “Ghostbusters” characters. But then at 58-Across something unexpected happens: the answer is REMAKE, and the clue is a URL which, when followed, takes you to a second crossword, this one themed using the characters’ names from the recent remake (with all female leads, hence the name changes).

And the winner is…
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Byron Walden for A Little Back-and-Forth.

There are some ZIGs and ZAGs in here, in two senses. The grid is altered with four diagonals, and then ZIG and ZAG occupy all of them, running both ways in the grid via nonsensical theme entries like BENGHAZIGATE PIZZA GIRL and MITZI GAYNOR’S ZAGNUT BAR.

And then there’s the usual wide-open and idiosyncratic Walden fill around it.

Quite an odd duck but also a whole lot of fun to figure out, and my choice for July 2016’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

July 2016 — Byron Walden, American Values Club Crossword
June 2016 — Erik Agard, Glutton for Pun
May 2016 — Dan Schoenholz, The New York Times; Andrew Zhou, The New York Times (tie)
April 2016 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
March 2016 — Andrew Ries, Aries Puzzles
February 2016 — Jacob Stulberg, The New York Times
January 2016 — Andrew Ries, Fireball Crosswords
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, June 2016

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for June 2016. 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:

No Seconds for Me, Thanks by Jeff Chen. American Values Club Xword, June 12th, 2016.

Chen

Like something out of GAMES Magazine‘s 1980s heyday, with a Mike Shenk or Henry Hook byline. Most entries gain a new second letter, like CATTAILS becoming COATTAILS, or BY GEORGE! becoming BOY GEORGE.

But where two second letters of entries cross, they lose their seconds, like STAG becoming SAG and KNIT becoming KIT. Those seven instances spell out contest answer ON A DIET — since there are no seconds for those on a diet!

Clip Show by Erik Agard. Glutton for Pun, June 16th, 2016.

agard

An idea so original that it can never be repeated.

Traffic Intersections by David Woolf. The New York Times, June 19th, 2016.

DavidWoolf

Six black squares serves as traffic lights, with answers stopping at or proceeding through them depending on whether the square is GREEN or RED. With one clever exception: RUNNING A (RED) LIGHT, which disobeys the both traffic law and the rules of the theme itself.

Advance Directives by Jeff Chen. MGWCC, June 21st, 2016.

Chen

Just two each of the letters N, S, E, and W appear in the grid; travel one square from each in the indicated direction and the fitting contest answer appears, with perfect symmetry. Subtle, and like a Magic Eye puzzle: difficult to see, then impossible to un-see.

The Calendar Method by Chris King. MGWCC, June 28th 2016.

chrisking

Another beautiful and labyrinthine meta from this constructor. Each step is logical and requires a key insight — and comes with a strong enough click to assure solvers they’re on the right path.

And the winner is…
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Erik Agard for Clip Show.

For the benefit of those who wish to try it I won’t explain the extremely amusing central gimmick behind this puzzle here. But you can solve it by clicking its title above, or just read an explanation of its many secrets here. And I do strongly recommend you follow the author’s advice and solve it in Across Lite.

Not to give too much away, but: your hands may tremble and your adrenaline may flow at a couple of key points along this solve, and you might feel like Indiana Jones shining his flashlight into a long-lost ancient tomb. It’s that cool.

In terms of sheer creativity you’d be hard-pressed to name a constructor who outshines Erik Agard these days, and he certainly scored a direct hit here. Among tough competition, “Clip Show” is my choice for June 2016’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

June 2016 — Erik Agard, Glutton for Pun
May 2016 — Dan Schoenholz, The New York Times; Andrew Zhou, The New York Times (tie)
April 2016 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
March 2016 — Andrew Ries, Aries Puzzles
February 2016 — Jacob Stulberg, The New York Times
January 2016 — Andrew Ries, Fireball Crosswords
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 Valu

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Crossword of the Month, May 2016

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for May 2016. 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:

Squished Bugs by Erik Agard. Glutton for Pun, May 5th, 2016.

agard

OK everyone, no more Timothy Parker crosswords. But this is a fine one to end the mini-trend on.

Untitled by Dan Schoenholz. The New York Times, May 9th, 2016.

DanSchoenholz

How has no one thought of this simple but clever idea before? An outstanding early-week puzzle, where the key word in a state nickname is found in the the first part of a phrase, and the state abbreviation is found in the second part.

Untitled by Zhouqin Burnikel. The New York Times, May 18th, 2016.

ZhouqinBurnikel

Another nice early-week puzzle: FORESEES, FORTIES, and FORAYS might be parsed as “four C’s,” “four T’s, and four A’s,” and then the three theme entries contain just that.

Pro touch: each of the three reveal words crosses the relevant theme entry.

Cross References by Paul Coulter. Fireball Crosswords, May 25th, 2016.

Union Game 001

Theme entries make no sense until you realize they’ve been cross-bred with a crossing answer. For instance: [Having as much love as the creator of “Jeopardy!”?] = GRIFFIN-HEARTED, which is the word “lion-hearted” crossed with an EAGLE at 1-Down.

Untitled by Andrew Zhou. The New York Times, May 26th, 2016.

AndrewZhou

How has no one thought of this simple but clever idea before? An outstanding mid-week puzzle, where (letter + word) phrases have their letter incorrectly but legitimately reassigned.

And the winner is…
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Dan Schoenholz for Untitled and Andrew Zhou for Untitled (tie).

For the second time in 33 months we have a tie. I could not find a good reason to choose between these two, each of which has a simple, clear, and highly elegant insight at its core.

In the Schoenholz, he finds a completely new idea in the well-worn territory of U.S. state nicknames: Hawaii is the Aloha State, and ALOHA SHIRT conceals state abbreviation HI in its second word. Similarly, California is the Golden State, and GOLDEN CALF conceals CA. And so forth. Excellent and novel.

In the Zhou, phrases like V-signs, T-bars, and B-sides are extended to VITAL SIGNS, TAPAS BARS, and BLINDSIDES. Not what they stand for in their shortened form, but that’s the whole point.

Each of this pair argues strongly against the idea that all the good uncomplicated themes have already been done, and they share the honors as May 2016’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

May 2016 — Dan Schoenholz, The New York Times; Andrew Zhou, The New York Times (tie)
April 2016 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
March 2016 — Andrew Ries, Aries Puzzles
February 2016 — Jacob Stulberg, The New York Times
January 2016 — Andrew Ries, Fireball Crosswords
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, April 2016

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for April 2016. 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:

Getting Duped by Francis Heaney. American Values Club Crossword, April 2nd, 2016.

Heaney

Plagiarism really makes crossword constructors mad … and creative.

Untitled by John Lieb. The New York Times, April 7th, 2016.

JohnLieb

About this constructor’s previous CotM nomination I wrote: “Nominating this for CotM feels a bit like nominating ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ for Best Picture, but there it is.”

That holds for this puzzle as well: it’s so goofy you can’t help but like it. Six PAL rebus squares populate the grid, which must naturally be written in smaller-than-usual letters. They are tied together with the Scarface line: SAY HELLO TO MY / LITTLE FRIEND.

I laughed when I first saw it, and am laughing again as I’m typing these words. Merl would’ve approved!

Something in the Water by Randolph Ross. The New York Times, April 10th, 2016.

RandolphRoss

Very clever geography theme: five boats sit atop a fitting body of water, like an OIL TANKER over the ARABIAN SEA and a GONDOLA on the GRAND CANAL.

Pro touch, since this constructor is a longtime pro: the sixth body of water, the ATLANTIC OCEAN, has its U-BOAT underneath.

Crossword #842 by Brendan Emmett Quigley. www.brendanemmettquigley.com, April 18th, 2016.

BrendanEmmettQuigley

What happens when a great freestyle master feels like showing off: just 64 entries, yet brimming with lively fill and close to 100% dreck-free.


Untitled
by Kurt Krauss. The New York Times, April 28th, 2016.

KurtKrauss

We’ve seen words run in different directions in different parts of the grid before, but perhaps never this intricately. TURNSTILE and the four axial 7-letter entries give you the idea, as words head north/south and east/west depending on which quadrant they’re in.

And the winner is…
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Francis Heaney for Getting Duped.

From disgrace comes beauty, again! For the second month in a row, our winner is a pair of crosswords inspired by the plagiarism of now former USA Today Crossword Editor Timothy Parker.

As with last month’s CotM winner, this was an intricate concept, complete with a set-up puzzle that is then creatively plagiarized in the punch line puzzle. In this case the conceit is that a COPY EDITOR hired by the AVCX’s editor, Ben Tausig, has misunderstood that job description to be that he should copy another constructor’s work.

Amazingly, this constructor has hidden two separate hidden messages in the second grid via two completely different mechanisms: the letters covered by newly-added black squares in the second grid spell OTHER GRID UNDER X; follow those instructions by seeking out the ten letters appearing under the ten X’s in the grid, and you get contest answer COPY EDITOR. Read the full write-up here for all the intricacies of this devious plot.

Francis Heaney does not write a lot of crosswords, but when he does step up to the plate he certainly swings for the fences. This one landed in the upper deck, and presented me little challenge in naming it April 2016’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

April 2016 — Francis Heaney, American Values Club Crossword
March 2016 — Andrew Ries, Aries Puzzles
February 2016 — Jacob Stulberg, The New York Times
January 2016 — Andrew Ries, Fireball Crosswords
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, March 2016

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for March 2016. 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 Andrew Zhou. The New York Times, March 3rd, 2016.

AndrewZhou

Architecturally intricate two-way rebus where equivalent musical notes share a square (most amusingly where an E-flat hides in Tom Brady’s DEFLATEGATE).

Untitled by Martin Ashwood-Smith. The New York Times, March 11th, 2016.

MartinAshwood-Smith

A stunning freestyle grid from a constructor who’s been pioneering such grids since the 1980s.

Copy That by Andrew Ries. Aries Puzzles, March 12th, 2016.

ries

This crossword is an instant classic, one I’ll remember years from now with both a grin at its cleverness and a rueful shake of the head that it bears a byline not my own.


Connection Problem
by Evan Birnholz. The Washington Post, March 13th, 2016.

EvanBirnholz

The letters URL hide in each theme entry, but then aren’t used on the crossing entries. Why? Because there’s a MISSING LINK (!). Note the elegant touch that each crossing entry is cluable with or without its U, R, or L.

Downs Only by Erik Agard. Glutton for Pun, March 16th, 2016.

agard

Solving using the down clues only is now a thing among crossword folk, and you can’t help but laugh at the identity of the movie villain this meta reveals (click the puzzle’s title for a link to the puzzle and a summary of its solution).

And the winner is…
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Andrew Ries for Copy That.

Oh, how I wish I’d thought of this idea myself. It’s simple, elegant, timely, hilarious, original, and perfectly executed.

A little background: USA Today Crossword Editor Timothy Parker recently came under fire for, among other things, swiping crossword themes whole from the New York Times, and changing a few words in the upper-left corner of a grid, then re-christening the result as a new crossword. Very bad habits, to be sure.

Andrew’s remarkable gibe at this malfeasance came in the form of two crosswords, sent simultaneously to Aries Puzzles subscribers. The first puzzle, entitled “Can You Read Me?”, was unremarkable, like the set-up to a joke’s punch line. It was simply a well-known quote about the struggles involved in good writing: I CAN’T WRITE FIVE / WORDS BUT THAT / I CHANGE SEVEN, along with the quote’s source, writer DOROTHY PARKER. Here is the solved grid:

ries1

The second puzzle is our “Copy That,” which features almost the exact same grid as our original, but with precisely seven words changed — including the author of the quote, which has shifted from DOROTHY PARKER to TIMOTHY PARKER! See here:

ries2

Note that three of these seven word changes came in the upper-left, mimicking Parker’s habit of changing grid entries in that most prominent part of the grid. Hilarious.

The number of coincidences existing needed to make this work — the perfect quote, that it cleaves nicely in the grid along with the author’s name, the authors’ names being only three letters off (and the same number of letters), that exactly seven words could be changed in the first grid to produce the second — almost gives the impression that the author discovered this theme rather than created it, as a scientist discovers a chemical element. It’s that perfect. And then he got it into publication with the timeliness that only independent puzzles can pull off — and as a final gag, one of the changed words in the lower left is ARIES, which is both the author’s first initial + last name, and the name of his crossword feature.

Brilliantly minimalist and elegant, and my enthusiastic choice for March 2016’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

March 2016 — Andrew Ries, Aries Puzzles
February 2016 — Jacob Stulberg, The New York Times
January 2016 — Andrew Ries, Fireball Crosswords
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, February 2016

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for February 2016. 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 Zhouqin Burnikel. The New York Times, February 11th, 2016.

ZhouqinBurnikel

Parsing these one-word clues correctly is key: “Malady” only makes sense for MARIE ANTOINETTE if you realize she’s an M.A.-initialed lady, for instance, and TOM ARNOLD is a “Tamale” if you read that one as “T.A. male.”

Untitled by Bruce Haight. The New York Times, February 18th, 2016.

BruceHaight

The two giant capital I’s formed by black squares play in every (!) across answer they touch.

Untitled by Jacob Stulberg. The New York Times, February 19th, 2016.

JacobStulberg

Another interesting theme set commonality from this constructor (cf. his CotM nomination from last month).

Themeless 52 by Erik Agard. Glutton for Pun, February 24th, 2016.

agard

The best of a very good all-themelesses month at this constructor’s site.

Grand Finale by Peter A. Collins. Fireball Crosswords, February 28th, 2016.

PeterACollins

One of those contest crosswords where you wonder afterwards why it took you so long to figure out.

And the winner is…
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Jacob Stulberg for Untitled.

Eccentric and clever execution of a nice little find: Claudio MONTEVERDI and Giuseppe VERDI are clued as [17. & 18. Italian-born composer], with 18-D starting at the V — which gives us a concealed 18-Across as well.

Similarly, Jacques OFFENBACH and J.S. BACH are [34. & 35. German-born composer] and Arnold SCHOENBERG and Alban BERG are [59. & 60. Austrian-born composer].

The eccentric part is: the constructor decided to frame his sparse 10-letter / 9-letter / 10-letter theme pattern with a (lively) 70-word grid. We can indeed classify this as a “themed themeless” then, especially since two of the Across entries are longer than the longest theme entries.

An odd but amusing duck of a crossword, alertly conceived and skillfully executed, and my choice for February 2016’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

February 2016 — Jacob Stulberg, The New York Times
January 2016 — Andrew Ries, Fireball Crosswords
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, January 2016

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for January 2016. 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:

Baby Steps by Patrick Blindauer. www.patrickblindauer.com, January 1st, 2016.

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Patrick serenades his new daughter with Brahms’s “Lullaby” in crossword form, where the opening notes of that piece occupy the same places in the grid as they do on its sheet music.

Ruby Slippers by Andrew Ries. Fireball Crosswords, January 6th, 2016.

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Who says there are no completely original theme ideas left in crosswords? Andrew found a beauty.

Instructions Included Inside by Jeff Chen. Fireball Crosswords, January 13th, 2016.

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I said here a few months ago that we were nearing the saturation point on words-take-a-turn-in-the-grid themes, but this brutal solve extends the idea cleverly…

Twisting One’s Words by Jeff Chen. The New York Times, January 17th, 2016.

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…as does this one, where theme entries revolve clockwise or counterclockwise around black squares based on the mechanics of the Coriolis Force.

Pie Filling by Todd McClary. Fireball Crosswords, January 31st, 2016.

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Smart meta whose trick seems so obvious in retrospect, though I myself didn’t pick up on it until well after my solve.

And the winner is…
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Andrew Ries for Ruby Slippers.

What a beautiful and original little idea: each of the four theme entries starts with a shade of red later revealed to be a RED HERRING you must ignore. So [Pink Floyd hit with hooks (also known as “Money”)] is boxer Floyd MAYWEATHER, who gets hit with hooks, rather than a song. Similarly, [Crimson Tide and others] is DETERGENTS, [Maroon 5 head] is ABRAHAM LINCOLN — that’s the $5 bill — and [Rose Parade feature since 1986] is ASK MARILYN, the column by Marilyn vos Savant that runs in Parade Magazine.

Tricky, novel, amusing — and at the same time, not horribly difficult. That’s not an easy combination to pull off; the other four puzzles nominated this month were much more complex than “Ruby Slippers,” but this puzzle’s simple but very beautiful core idea makes it a clear choice — among tougher-than-usual competition — for January 2016’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

January 2016 — Andrew Ries, Fireball Crosswords
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, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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