Here are my five nominees for Crossword of the Month for January 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:
Numbers Game by Pete Muller. Muller Monthly Music Meta, Dec. 31st, 2013.
Complex and mysterious meta that revealed its secrets one after the next. [Note: although this puzzle was published on Dec. 31st, I couldn't have included it in the December Crossword of the Month post because I didn't solve it in time. So it's been bumped up to the month in which I and most others actually solved it.]
One Liner by Erik Agard. Glutton for Pun, Jan. 8th, 2014.
Indie puzzle writers can do whatever they want, including use a grid that measures 67×5 squares if they deem it worthwhile. It was here.
Untitled by Patrick Berry. The New York Times, Jan. 10th, 2014.
An archetypal Berry themeless, with a low word count, wide-open grid, and very clean fill.
Untitled by Lynn Lempel. The New York Times, Jan. 13th, 2014.
A fine example of an easy crossword done well: novel theme, clean fill, fun reveal.
Themeless #27 by Peter Broda. The Cross Nerd, Jan. 20th, 2014.
Again, indie puzzle writers can do whatever they want, and that includes freestyle puzzles.
Peter Broda for Themeless #27.
There goes the neighborhood, but this oddball piece of work was my favorite solve of the month.
Themeless puzzles seem to be bifurcating into silky-smooth, wide-open, more database-driven grids on one hand (such as the Berry nominated this month) and highly idiosyncratic, marquee-answer-packed, bizarrely clued grids like this one on the other (Erik Agard is another practitioner of this style).
I can appreciate both approaches, but an excellent specimen of the latter grabs you by the lapels and shakes the craziest words and phrases out of your brain, while remaining no stranger to classical content. This wild energy won’t suit everyone’s tastes, but it does make for an unforgettable solve, and earns this puzzle my pick for January’s Crossword of the Month.
(I won’t ruin the experience by providing spoilers, but I will warn you here about 63-Across; it’s not for the faint of heart).
Full list of Crossword of the Month winners:
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