Crossword of the Month, December 2013

Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for December 2013. 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:

“Turning 100” by Patrick Blindauer., Dec. 1st, 2013.


Timely and novel variation on the grid-entries-take-a-turn idea: in honor of the crossword puzzle’s 100th birthday, entries turn at each letter C (since C=100).

“One Good Turn Deserves Another” by Patrick Berry. Fireball Crosswords, Dec. 5th, 2013.


Another novel take on the same concept, with two new wrinkles: 1) grid entries are clued on their turns, but also create cluable words when they keep going straight, and 2) the ten pivot letters spell out an apt word for a “turning” puzzle: ROTISSERIE.

Untitled by David Steinberg. The New York Times, Dec. 12th, 2013.


Inventive and unexpected theme trick, requiring solvers to erase all the R’s in the grid to complete the puzzle.

“A Cut Above the Rest” by Jeff Chen.
The New York Times, Dec. 15th, 2013.


Polished construction with a great “aha moment”: the word CUT is spelled out by its own letters above the rest of the grid.

“Seasonal Staff” by Francis Heaney.
The American Values Club Crossword, Dec. 19th, 2013.


Many-layered masterwork with one beautiful and unexpected reveal after the next.

And the winner is:


Francis Heaney for “Seasonal Staff.”

This is one of the very best contest crosswords I’ve ever seen and should be considered as a candidate for Crossword of the Year. Its concept and execution are both extremely high-level.

A candy cane conceals itself among thirteen two-way rebus squares which alternate between WHITE and RED on the acrosses. The thirteen down letters spell ROCK DUO at the WHITEs and LAGERS at the REDs, which clue the meta answers the WHITE STRIPES (famous rock duo) and RED STRIPES (Jamaican lagers).

In other words: the candy cane not only forms itself in the grid, but also clues its own component parts! Amazingly clever and creative idea.

This puzzle’s novelty, intricacy, and series of revelatory moments make it the cruciverbal equivalent of a detective story, and make it my pick for December 2013’s Crossword of the Month.

Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:

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

Flag on the play


What do crosswords and football have in common? Not a whole lot, but I’m going to play football referee today and assess penalties for three crossword-writing infractions, which I’ll illustrate with recent examples. And let me first state that I myself have committed each of these infractions multiple times, so absolutely no picking on anyone intended!

Now, let’s throw some flags onto the grid(iron):

1) Clue contains part of the answer in it.

At 33-down in today’s New York Times, the answer IT’S ON ME is clued as [“Got it covered!”]. That’s a crossword no-no, since IT appears in both the answer and the clue.

These crop up in almost everyone’s puzzles from time to time, since it’s easy to let a little repeated word slip by. This is especially true when it’s concealed in a multiword answer like here (and in a slightly different form, too, with IT’S in the answer but “it” in the clue).

Hey, “it” happens. Just a small ding. Penalty: ENCROACHMENT, 5 yards.

2) Scrabble-f@#$ing.

This is an indelicate term for when a constructor goes too far out of their way to squeeze one of the high-value letters (X, Q, Z or J) into their grid. This often happens in closed-off little corners where the constructor wants to create a little magic. Check out the northeast corner of Monday’s Los Angeles Times puzzle:


The constructor had the right idea, fitting both a J and Z into this 3×4 space. But while JEDI, JAR, RITZ and HEINZ are all excellent entries, the price to pay is too high: prefix EPI, partial A PIN and the obscure DIT.

As a fellow constructor pointed out to me, JEDI/OVEN/BENZ going down would’ve kept the two expensive letters while also cleaning up the fill.


Heart was in the right place, but the execution was off. Penalty: ILLEGAL USE OF HANDS, 10 yards.

3) Missing a one-letter fix.

Constructors (and editors) strive for a clean grid, uncluttered by OLLA and UNAU and ESNE and all that other crosswordese no one will miss when it’s gone. But take a look at this one-letter miss from Monday’s New York Times, where an icky entry was easy to replace:


Can you find the one-letter fix? Just change that T to a W, getting rid of the subpar ETES (the plural of the French word for “summer”).

Sloppy and avoidable, but again, it can happen to anyone. Penalty: INTENTIONAL FACEMASK, 15 yards.

Who knew crosswords and football had so much in common?

“Murder by Meta”

Up for a cruciverbal whodunit? Check out my new Kickstarter campaign, “Murder by Meta.” Star crossword constructor Daphne Pratt is poisoned at the biggest puzzle tournament of the year, and you’ve got to solve eight meta-crosswords to unmask the guilty party.

Never solved a meta-crossword before? Don’t worry — there’s a built-in plot device to the story line that allows even a meta-newbie to solve “Murder by Meta.” You can also read my short article, “Introduction to Meta-Crossword Puzzles,” to get the general idea.

After reading that, try an easy meta to get your feet wet here. You’ll need to scroll down to “THIS WEEK’S INSTRUCTIONS,” and make sure you’re solving the puzzle entitled “State Lines.”