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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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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Crossword of the Month, February 2015

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for February 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:

Man of Letters by Peter Gordon. Fireball Crosswords, February 1st, 2015.

PeterGordon

[Note: Due to logistical problems with blogging live metas, a contest crossword will be counted from this point forward here as being published during the month of its deadline, not the month of its actual publication (if they differ). This puzzle is the first example of this new policy.]

This unique meta uses a reverse letter bank: instead of focusing on what letters appear in the grid, the meta hinges on the six letters that don’t make an appearance.

Untitled by Joe Krozel. The New York Times, February 3rd, 2015.

JoeKrozel

Like something out of Games Magazine‘s Pencilwise section from its 1980s heyday: each across entry is a word from an acronym or initialism, represented in its clue by an asterisk replacing its missing first letter.

Hush, Little Baby by Erik Agard and Amy Reynaldo. Fireball Crosswords, February 4th, 2015.

agardreynaldo

Eight silent letters in the grid spell the word CHILDREN, who should be, as the grid-spanning saying goes, SEEN AND NOT HEARD.

Untitled by Byron Walden. The New York Times, February 7th, 2015.

ByronWalden

Majestic freestyle from one of the very best; the southeast corner in particular is mind-blowing.

Double-Headers by Andrew Ries. American Values Club Crossword, February 15th, 2015.

ries

Schrödinger variant where the first letter of theme entries gets chopped, with an apt revealer.

And the winner is…

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Byron Walden for Untitled.

This masterwork teems with what makes freestyles fun: unexpected letter combinations that make you think you’ve made a mistake even when you haven’t; lively multiword entries; evil, misdirecting clues; and a ton of high-value letters (the four highest-value of which are amusingly clustered contiguously in that phenomenal southeast). Not to mention a lovely, efficient grid devoid
of cheater squares.

Beautifully crafted, and my choice for February 2015’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

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 2015

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for January 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 Jill Denny and Jeff Chen. The New York Times, January 1st, 2015.

DennyChen

Power concept and execution from a husband-and-wife team.

Untitled by David Steinberg. The New York Times, January 2nd, 2015.

steinberg

I have a strong freestyle preference against grids like this: extremely wide-open, database-driven, and highly compartmentalized. But I’m glad to make an exception for this masterpiece, whose center is especially impressive and clean.

Musical Buildup by Sam Ezersky. The Grid Kid, January 5th, 2015.

SamEzersky

Ambitious and intricate music meta from one of the newest indie sites. If Pete Muller ever retires, The Grid Kid might reasonably fill his shoes.

Untitled by Timothy Polin. The New York Times, January 22nd, 2015.

TimothyPolin

Are you a member of the Fifth Column? The theme entries in this unique theme concept are. They’re all fifths (May, Jupiter, Deuteronomy, etc.) and they all fill five(!) columns in the grid. Amusing.

Hidden Gem by Evan Birnholz. Devil Cross, January 31st, 2015.

EvanBirnholz

Meta with a nice a-ha moment; I won’t comment on it specifically since it’s still live until February 6th.

And the winner is…
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Jill Denny and Jeff Chen for Untitled.

Sometimes the best way to generate a new idea is to combine two known ideas, and that’s what we’ve got here.

You’ve perhaps seen puzzles where the placement of two entries (or parts of entries) suggest a phrase, such as TWO stacked beneath the letters PAR here suggesting “two under par.”

Less familiar but still known is the idea of part of an entry clued as if it were something else logically inferable, as with TWO replacing the word “Eagle” in the entry THE TWO HAS LANDED.

Completely unique, as far as I know, and very beautiful, is combining the two like this. The solver must realize that the words EAGLE, BOGEY and BIRDIE are to replace the number ONE or TWO depending on whether they lie under or over the letters PAR. And the crossword gods indicated their approval for the idea by providing the perfect 15-letter revealer, PAR FOR THE COURSE.

This is a beautifully multi-layered theme idea, maximized skillfully by the constructors, and my choice for January 2015’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

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 2014

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for December 2014. 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:

Road Trips by Pete Muller. Muller Monthly Music Meta, December 2nd, 2014.

pm-head-shot1-150x150

Magnificent map meta.

Make a Buck by Andrew Ries. Fireball Crosswords, December 3rd, 2014.

ries

Unusual two-way rebus, where a pair of BIT squares on the downs form a QUARTER on the acrosses.

Untitled by Josh Knapp. The New York Times, December 6th, 2014.

knapp

Remember, kids: the three most important things in a freestyle grid are 1) quality fill, 2) quality fill, and 3) quality fill.

Untitled by John Lieb. The Los Angeles Times, December 25th, 2014.

JohnLieb

Nominating this for CotM feels a bit like nominating “Napoleon Dynamite” for Best Picture, but there it is. The goofy charm of the word ELF sitting on the grid’s seven three-square shelves won out in the end.

Untitled by Xan Vongsathorn. The New York Times, December 25th, 2014.

XanVongsathorn

MIXED (NUT)S is the theme, with each of the six possible permutations of those three letters occupying a rebus square.

And the winner is…
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Pete Muller for Road Trips.

A stunning meta, and the only puzzle at Crossword Fiend to get a perfect score in 2014 (out of over 1,000 crosswords that passed the 10-vote threshold).

The solver is given a mix tape for each of three road trips, and told that they’re looking for a famous band. Solution: each of the songs on the three tapes references a geographic location in the U.S.; driving those three routes on separate trips, your car would spell out the “NIИ” logo of meta answer Nine Inch Nails.

Crushed me that I was unable to puzzle that one out, but its originality and execution make it a clear choice among tough competition for December’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

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 2014

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for November 2014. 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 Trip Payne. The New York Times, November 1st, 2014.

payne1

Smart theme idea and typically well executed, and with an amusing history you can read by clicking the title.

Ballot Boxes by Liz Gorski. Crossword Nation, November 3rd, 2014.

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We’ve seen things go in box form before, but it’s not usually a 2×3, and they’re not usually symmetrical, and there aren’t usually this many of them, and the revealer doesn’t usually fit so well right across the middle, and the end result doesn’t always visually resemble the revealer (a ballot). Whew!

Mind the Gaps by Patrick Berry. Fireball Crosswords, Wednesday, November 5th, 2014.

Berry

Finely-wrought metapuzzle whose missing letters spell an apt phrase.

Colorful Characters by Tom McCoy. The New York Times, November 9th, 2014.

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Only this constructor’s seventh published crossword, if I’m counting right. Like hitting for the cycle in your seventh Major League game.

Open Up! by Tyler Hinman. American Values Club Crossword, November 26th, 2014.

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One of the quickest solvers in the country shows that he’s also one of the best constructors. 24 windows of an Advent Calendar open up for the solver, bringing both disappointment and amusement (both on purpose).

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Tom McCoy for Colorful Characters.

A real thing of beauty: four large, colored letters appear in the grid, formed by self-referencing entries. For example, the J in the lower-right corner is formed by BERRY, RIBBON and MOON, but clued to “blueberry,” “blue ribbon,” and “Blue Moon.” And this isn’t arbitrary: that’s a BLUE JAY (i.e. the letter J), which appears elsewhere in the grid.

The others are a YELLOW SEA (the letter C), a BLACK EYE (the letter I) and GREEN TEA (the letter T). And all four color-revealing phrases are placed symmetrically in the (lovely) grid, as is the helpful reveal FORM LETTERS.

If a three-hour movie is bad then it’s bad, but if it’s good then it’s a grand thing. This ambitious and magnificent puzzle is that, and my choice for November’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

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 2014

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for October 2014. 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:

Orange Is the New Black by Brendan Emmett Quigley. www.brendanemmettquigley.com, October 2nd, 2014.

BrendanEmmettQuigley

Title-driven two-way rebus: four squares in the grid are a rebus ORANGE one way and a “new” black square the other; this new black square divides its entry into two valid answers to the single clue. Nicely done.

Stack ‘Em Up by Pete Muller. Muller Monthly Music Meta, October 7th, 2014.

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A clever contest crossword with an unusual aspect: the symmetry of the puzzle’s theme entries emerges only after you’ve uncovered the meta.

Untitled by Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen. The New York Times, October 8th, 2014.

GuizzoChen

The word MAN progresses downward through the grid in five 15-letter theme entries, where, pulling double duty, THE DESCENT OF MAN both reveals the theme and completes its pattern.

A Few Short Words by Patrick Berry. Fireball Crosswords, October 23rd, 2014.

Berry

A crushword puzzle on acid: 27 (!) symmetrically-placed squares contain a full word in them (and comprise the puzzle’s five theme entries).

Spirituals by Caleb Madison. American Values Club Crossword, October 29th, 2014.

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A bizarre and unique creation, with novel aspects in its clues, theme and fill.

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Caleb Madison for Spirituals.

Are ELVIS Presley and TUPAC Shakur really dead? Both are alive in this Halloween-week puzzle, where their names spookily emerge in rows of five black squares.

The wicked twist: all twenty (!) of the down entries on either side of the re-animated musicians form cluable words — and their clues are, in fact, cloaked by parentheses within the main clue. This echoes their undead state amusingly; for example, ABE is clued as [Fi(rst) v(ictim of his own broth)er], with [Fiver] serving as slang for a five-dollar bill (an “Abe”), while it becomes [First victim of his own brother] for ABEL, whose L is the second letter in ELVIS.

There are also two theme entries, DEAD BEATS and SOUL MUSIC, explaining the idea further.

Unique, strange and skillfully executed, and my choice for October’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

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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