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.

ElizabethCGorski

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.

TomMcCoy

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.

hinman

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).

And the winner is…
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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.

pm-head-shot1

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.

CalebMadison

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

And the winner is…
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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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Crossword of the Month, September 2014

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

Cross Hatching by Peter Broda. Fireball Crosswords, September 11th, 2014.

PeterBroda

In most months, this strikingly original two-way rebus would have won Crossword of the Month with room to spare. Eleven squares in the grid represent the letters EGG on the across and just a normal single letter on the down. Each down is a kind of bird, though, visually dropped from its egg, and the eleven hatches spell the Beatles song FREE AS A BIRD. Remarkably clever, novel, and well-executed.

Untitled by Joel Fagliano. The New York Times, September 18th, 2014.

fagliano

The least clarifying clarifications imaginable make for an amusing theme.

Untitled by Erik Agard. The New York Times, September 20th, 2014.

agard

That odd duck called the “themed themeless” pays an entertaining visit. The grid looks freestyle, but a subtle mini-theme lurks herein.

Mismatched Socks by Byron Walden. American Values Club Crossword, September 24th, 2014.

ByronWalden

An archetypal Byron Walden puzzle: unique theme, lots of it, and a wide-open grid masterfully woven around it.

Repeat Offenders by Francis Heaney. MGWCC, September 26th, 2014.

Heaney

In most months, this strikingly original concept would have won Crossword of the Month with room to spare. The author goes out of his way to flout the crossword guideline that the same word should not appear in both the grid and in a clue.

And the winner is…
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Peter Broda for Cross Hatching and Francis Heaney for Repeat Offenders (tie).

I told myself we’d never have a tie in Crossword of the Month, but here it is. My admiration for both of these puzzles is such that leaving one without the CotM would rankle more than going against precedent.

In the Broda puzzle, we have the lovely visual element of the bird eggs hatching downward, and then the apt reveal phrase. That the downs stand for simply the bird’s first letter in the two-way rebus is another surprising and amusing factor.

In the Heaney, he breaks the no-duplications rule in as funny a way as possible: in ten cases, crossing entries conceal each other in their clues. Then ten squares where those pairs cross spell out the fitting answer to the meta: RECIDIVISM.

Ties will be an extremely rare result here, but these two puzzles were of a special class, and they share the honors as September’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

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 2014

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for August 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 Ashton Anderson and James Mulhern. The New York Times, August 1st, 2014.

AndersonMulhern

This is the most appealing kind of freestyle crossword, with the emphasis placed on maximizing the number of marquee entries instead of on low word count (70 here, not particularly low).

Character Study by Evan Birnholz. Devil Cross, August 5th, 2014.

EvanBirnholz

Quite a challenge the constructor set himself here, using the letter N exactly 64(!) times to hint at this contest puzzle’s answer.

Untitled by Lynn Lempel. The New York Times, August 5th, 2014.

LynnLempel

Lynn Lempel is earning a reputation as a constructor of close-to-perfect early week puzzles, and this why-hasn’t-someone-done-that-before? idea is a good example.

Party Hopping by Ben Tausig. The American Values Club Crossword, Aug. 27th, 2014.

BenTausig

Crossword writers can find wordplay in just about anything. Here, six real-life cases of politicians switching parties form the basis of this amusing and well-executed theme idea.

Post Puzzler #230 by Josh Knapp. The Washington Post, August 31st, 2014.

knapp

As with the other freestyle nominated this month, this puzzle focuses on loading plenty of killer entries into the grid without many fill compromises at all.

And the winner is…
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Josh Knapp for Post Puzzler #230.

Only the second time a themeless has won CoTM, but this one has it all: the many marquee entries, the clean fill, and even a little joke from the author, who inserts J.K. (his initials) into the grid four times along symmetrical diagonals. And all ten (!) entries of 9+ letters are either marquee or close to it in my book.

Outstanding work, and my choice for August 2014′s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

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 2014

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for July 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 Luke Vaughn. The New York Times, July 3rd, 2014.

LukeVaughn

The 11 states on which MOUNT ST. HELENS rained ash in 1980 are represented by 11 ASH rebus squares in this excellent debut puzzle.

Check Your Privilege by Brendan Emmett Quigley. www.brendanemmettquigley.com, July 17th, 2014.

BrendanEmmettQuigley

Amusing take on the “check your privilege” meme, where WHITE (on the acrosses) and MAN (on the downs) cross each other (a further play on “checking,” the cruciverbal term for two letters crossing in the grid).

Untitled by Joel Fagliano. The New York Times, July 22nd, 2014.

fagliano

A novel and subtle theme: seven words are both crossed and cross-referenced in the grid, forming in-the-language words and phrases no matter which one you start with.

Untitled by David Phillips. The New York Times, July 24th, 2014.

DavidPhillips

An extremely impressive grid punctuates this clever take on the letters-in-black-squares concept.

Sour Notes by Andy Kravis. Fireball Crosswords, July 24th, 2014.

AndyKravis

A fine rendering of the swap-letters-between-entries theme idea, and on a grand scale.

And the winner is…
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David Phillips for Untitled.

The Rolling Stones song “Paint It, Black” forms the basis for this beautiful debut puzzle: the word IT goes into adjacent pairs of black squares four times, completing the grid as clued. Even if you’re familiar with the letters-in-black-squares idea, the “aha” moment is amazing since, at first glance, that would seem to make the grid too wide open to be possible. But the constructor pulled it off.

Since I gave this puzzle an A- when blogging it at Rex Parker’s site and the above-nominated Joel Fagliano puzzle an A, it may seem odd to give this one the nod. But the ambition and difficulty of making this theme work, and the elegance with which it was handled — note the symmetrical placement of the grid’s four ITs, and the lack of other ITs in the grid — make it my choice for July’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

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 2014

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

Something Is Rotten in the State of Denmark by Patrick Blindauer. www.patrickblindauer.com, June 1st, 2014.

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No big deal — just another amusing, original, and finely-executed idea from one of the very best in the business.

Flippin’ Digital by Matt Jones. Jonesin’ Crosswords, June 2nd, 2014.

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Remember turning a calculator readout upside-down to spell words when you were a kid, like 07734 becoming HELLO? This puzzle replaces numerals in phrases with their upside-down calculator letters.

Oh, You! by Byron Walden. American Values Club Crossword, June 4th, 2014.

ByronWalden

Add-a-letter themes don’t make my lists very often, but this puzzle is an exception. Its theme entries are strong, there are a lot of them, and — despite that — the grid is wide-open and dazzling. All of which makes this a textbook Byron Walden crossword.

Ten’ll Get You Twenty by Patrick Berry. Fireball Crosswords, June 18th, 2014.

Berry

Schrödingers need a novel twist to make the list, and this one delivers: a top-to-bottom chain of works-two-ways squares connect two fitting entries, essentially giving the middle of the puzzle two different solutions.

Put the Gun Down by Caleb Madison. American Values Club Crossword, June 18th, 2014.

CalebMadison

Five theme entries take a fitting, literal turn in the grid.

And the winner is…
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Patrick Blindauer for Something Is Rotten in the State of Denmark.

Like a film director manipulating the viewer’s expectations and emotions, a classic Blindauer crossword is always one step ahead of the solver.

As here: first you notice that the three theme entries are comprised of jibberish; what to make of that? Then you notice the reference to ROT-13 encoding in a clue, and surely your solve is over? But no, entering the words into a decoder produces just more jibberish, which is not what you expected. Hmmm.

After some pondering, you go back to the title: “Rotten” is actually ROT-10, and plunking the theme entries in a ROT-10 decoder reveals that jibberish to be two apt quotes from “Hamlet”: WORDS, WORDS, WORDS! and I MUST BE CRUEL / ONLY TO BE KIND.

The entire journey was planned by the constructor, with several aha! moments en route to the puzzle’s apt conclusion. A clever conception with characteristically maximized execution — each step along the way is just challenging enough, for instance — and my choice for June 2014′s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

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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