Jekyll and Hyde (or something like that)

I solved Erik Agard’s L.A. Times puzzle today in just over 5 minutes, which is about how long it took me to solve last week’s puzzle at his personal site, where he posts every Wednesday. Except for the solving times, the two experiences had little in common.

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His Times puzzle features a conservative theme, grid and clues, which Erik (and Times editor Rich Norris) have tailored for their large audience. The wildest it gets is a DON RICKLES reference (clued as Insult comic who was a frequent Johnny Carson guest).

The most modern reference is to Zappos.com, which you must know is an online seller of SHOES. TEDS is clued with a nod to longtime TV presences Knight and Koppel, not more recent Teds like senator Cruz or sports team owner Leonsis.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. My mother, who is 73, would love this puzzle. She deserves a crossword like this — aimed at her demographic — and I’m glad that the L.A. Times provides it.

But look at the second puzzle, the one on his own site, where the mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll becomes the wildman Mr. Hyde: Erik sets the tone at 1-across right away with Screw over as the clue for DO IN, and entries referencing sitcom star AZIZ Ansari, rapper TALIB Kweli, and unfunny comic Kathy Griffin follow (not to mention the riqsue BOOB JOB).

This puzzle is also filled with hilariously goofy clues like How many crossword solvers does it take to screw in a light ___? for BULB (I don’t know the answer to that one) and Energy drink with a Relaunch flavor that was discontinued and…nope, hasn’t been relaunched for AMP. It’s not all hip and edgy, though; there are also many literary references throughout the clues, for example.

With a production time of days instead of months, Erik is also able to reference very recent news, cluing the National ZOO as Government shutdown closure and LIN as Jeremy who led the Rockets to victory in Taiwan on Sunday.

I personally find the puzzle written by the whimsical Erik Hyde more enjoyable that the one written by the reserved Erik Jekyll. But I also think it’s fantastic that the internet allows us to choose from both.

And no, “Jekyll and Hyde” isn’t really the right analogy here since crossword writers don’t suddenly turn evil when we post puzzles on our own sites as opposed to tailoring them for more general audiences. But we do get to write puzzles that express our personalities and interests more than those we write for big publications; that’s the heart of the “indie crossword” movement, and it’s an exciting thing to be a part of.

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