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).

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cotm

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