Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!
By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.
May 30 marked the first (hopefully annual!) Indie 500 Crossword Tournament, hosted in Washington, D.C. by constructors Erik Agard, Peter Broda, Neville Fogarty, Andy Kravis, Evan Birnholz, and Finn Vigeland.
While I couldn’t attend the tournament, I did download the tournament puzzles, and after a few weeks, I had the opportunity to sit down and tackle the six puzzles prepared for the event. And today, after a few weeks’ reflection, I thought I’d offer my thoughts on those puzzles, both for the organizers and for any interested PuzzleNationers who might be considering participating in the future.
[Note: I solved the PDF versions of these puzzles, which apparently differed in some ways from the PUZ versions.]
Puzzle 1: Welcome to D.C. by Erik Agard
The opening puzzle offered a solid challenge, utilizing the colors for the various lines of the Washington Metro as clues for the themed entries. (For instance, “Red Line” led you to the answer BASE PATH.)
Agard’s effort set the tone for the rest of the tournament with a some accessible pop culture-fueled clues as well as a fleet of strong, fair clues most puzzlers should have no difficulty cracking. A few more obscure references were made — an Internet meme and a Hunger Games “ship” name among them — but without hindering fair cluing.
Interesting grid entries included GINSU, YOUSE GUYS, and NIQAB, and my favorite clue was probably “Summer’s end?” for TOTAL.
Puzzle 2: Looseness of the Vowels by Peter Broda
Broda’s puzzle incorporated shared boxes — some grid squares were divided in half, allowing two vowels to be placed instead of one — and answering each themed clue required a two-word phrase that shared every consonant.
(For instance, clue 52 Across read “With 52 Across, what David Ortiz practices that annoys his neighbors?” And the grid, once filled, read B[I/A]GP[A/I]P[IE]S, a.k.a. BIG PAPI’S BAGPIPES. This is why the clue cites itself in “With 52 Across,” so that the solver knows the answer word applies twice)
Those neat touches of wordplay weren’t the only tough crossings, however. The crossing of two unusual phrases in BE GENTLE with LAYS STAX actually forced me to abandon the puzzle at one point and return to it later to complete.
Interesting grid entries included TV CHEF, ICE KING, and VISA BILL, and my favorite clue was “Former red giant” for USSR. (Being a science and astronomy geek, I was instantly misled by this one.)
Puzzle 3: Candy Bars by Finn Vigeland
Finn was chosen as the guest constructor to join the five fierce puzzlers who organized the Indie 500, and I was thoroughly impressed with the very clever construction of his grid. In Finn’s puzzle, certain paired black squares were replaced with a graphic of a candy bar, and it was up to the solver to deduce that each entry, either down or across, that touched the candy bar was missing either C, Y, or both.
[The candy bars were in color in the PDF, but I printed them in b and w for solving.]
For instance, in this section of the grid, DIS and ALL (clued as “Checker, for one” and “Word after straight or male, in social justice conversations,” respectively) were actually DISC and ALLY when you added the CY. [Get it? CandY bar?] Similarly, REST and ALTA were actually CREST and YALTA, and the across entry CLING WRAP was actually the theme entry CYCLING WRAP.
This was my favorite of the six puzzles in the tournament, one with a great hook and excellent execution.
Interesting grid entries included SENIOR GALA, DOT GOV, OH BEHAVE!, and PT BOATS, and my favorite clue was easily “Brian who crosswords would have you believe is the only musician worth knowing (other than 97-Across, maybe)” for ENO. (97-Across was, predictably, ONO.)
Puzzle 4: A Cute Puzzle by Andy Kravis
After a pair of heavy-thinking puzzles, Puzzle 4 was an excellent palate cleanser difficulty-wise, complete with solid cluing and some fun entries. Kravis’s puzzle had solvers adding an accented E to the end of themed entries in order to complete them. For instance, “A giant leap for elephant-kind?” was JUMBOJETE.
A well-constructed puzzle (quite possibly designed to lure solvers into a false sense of security before Puzzle 5 walloped them), this was probably the most accessible puzzle of the six, one that casual solvers would quite enjoy.
Interesting grid entries included MINAJ, TEAM USA, KOOPA, and A-MINUS, and my favorite clues were the mildly-risque pair of “Prince Albert’s can?” for both ARSE and LOO.
Puzzle 5: Swap Meet by Neville Fogarty
Apparently, whether it’s the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament or the Indie 500, Puzzle 5 shall forever be a beast of a solve.
Fogarty’s puzzle was by far the toughest of the six, and I admit, it took me forever to uncover the hook: antonyms which crossed at the same starting box were swapped. For instance, 1-Across was “Numbskulled” for THICK and 1-Down was “Dilute” for THIN, but you had to place THICK as 1-Down and THIN as 1-Across.
Beyond that, challenging crossings like IDEA MAN and LAD MAG kept me guessing, and the creative grid entries left few crossword standards for any struggling solvers.
Interesting grid entries included ONE SEC, SHAKY CAM, FAIR GAME, XKCD, and IRISH STEW, and my favorite clue was probably “Number for the troops” for OVER THERE.
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Penny Dell Crosswords App? This concludes our shameless plug.]
Puzzle 6: The Final Lap by Evan Birnholz
The closing puzzle of the tournament was offered in two difficulty levels: the Inside Track (designated for solvers who finished in the top 25% of the field in a crossword tournament with published standings in the past 5 years) and the Outside Track (designated for everyone else). I opted for the Outside Track, then looked over the cluing for the Inside Track.
This themeless closer was no layup, though; no matter which track you were on, the cluing relied on solid trivia knowledge and classic puzzle-solving skill. (Kudos to Evan for crafting a solid grid with tough AND tougher clues. And for dropping a much-appreciated Army of Darkness reference in the Inside Track clues.)
Interesting grid entries included WHAT ON EARTH?, MOON UNIT, EDIT MENU, and PIE CHART, and my favorite clue (among many I quite liked) was probably “Things a benched player might work on during practice” for ETUDES.
Overall, I thought the Indie 500 was an impressive series of puzzles, rich with cleverness and style. Puzzle 5 easily rivaled ACPT’s Puzzle 5 in terms of difficulty, and the cluing was topnotch. I look forward to its return next year, and hopefully some of you will join me in accepting the Indie 500 challenge!
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