June 2 marked the fourth annual Indie 500 Crossword Tournament, hosted in Washington, D.C., by constructors Erik Agard, Neville Fogarty, Andy Kravis, Peter Broda, and Angela Olsen Halsted. The first tournament had a racing theme, the second had a prom theme, the third had a time theme, and this year was fashion-themed!
While I couldn’t attend the tournament, I did download the tournament puzzles, and last weekend I finally had the opportunity to sit down and tackle them. And today, I thought I’d offer my thoughts on those puzzles, for any interested PuzzleNationers who might be considering participating in the event in the future.
Before the official tournament puzzles start, there’s a warm-up puzzle, a 13x grid entitled “Top Gear” by Neville Fogarty and Erik Agard. The hook is simple and accessible — celebrity names where the first name is a type of top, like COTTON MATHER for “crop top” or SHERMAN HEMSLEY for “tank top” — and with good fill and some tricksy cluing, you’ve got a nice pace-setter for the tournament puzzles to come.
Interesting grid entries included COSTUME CHANGE, GAINER, OMEN II, and THAT TOO. My favorite clue was the Arrested Development-inspired “What you might find in a bag marked ‘DOVE – DO NOT EAT'” for BAR SOAP.
[Image courtesy of Vertigo Mag.]
#1 On the Walk by Angela Olsen Halsted
The tournament proper opened with this terrific puzzle. The grid had solid fill entries with very little crosswordese, making for a marvelous introduction to the high quality level you’ve come to expect from Indie 500 puzzles. The theme entries all contained the word CAT in shaded boxes in the grid, slowly descending the main diagonal path of the grid, making for a literal catwalk.
The comment beneath the title, “Please, no meowing,” is not only a fun hint, but a hilarious callback to the Crossword De-Cat-hlon puzzle from last year’s Lollapuzzoola tournament, which had solvers meowing out loud as part of the solving experience. (That’s immediately what came to mind for me, anyway.)
All in all, a cracking opener for the tournament.
Interesting grid entries included PREGGERS, SABRA, ANITA HILL, and IMAC. My favorite clue was “Something you shouldn’t tell a woman to do” for SMILE.
[Image courtesy of Slideshare.]
#2 Unmentionables by Anna Gundlach
Puzzle 2 immediately raised the difficulty level, layering long interesting entries along the top right and bottom left corners of the grid to challenge the solver a bit more.
Couple that with a hook that required some very tight grid construction: unclued entries (making them “unmentioned”) in the grid like BRIEFS and BRA, each of which appears under the word WEAR in the grid. So you’ve got unmentionables and underwear. A really fun and clever execution of a good hook.
Interesting grid entries included AFAIK, RED STATES, TWENTY-ONE, and ROOMBA. My favorite clue was easily “Things that might come out in a row?” for SWEAR WORDS.
#3 Mall Shook Up by Laura Braunstein
As you might expect from the title, this puzzle involved clothing stores at the mall which had been all jumbled up. For example, one line read SECRET BANANA GAP, referencing Victoria’s Secret, Banana Republic, and Baby Gap. So those missing words would end up in other jumbled store listings. Laura went above and beyond in her store mixing, probably providing the most entries I’ve ever seen in a puzzle of this style.
There was one awkward crossing that tripped me up — NEW ME crossing AD WAR — but for the most part, this was a strong puzzle to mark the halfway point for the tournament.
Interesting grid entries included MANTA RAY, NO REPLY, TONSURE, RICOTTA, and BREW PUBS. My favorite clue was “Cat in a Blake poem” for TYGER.
[Image courtesy of Garment Care.]
#4 Tailoring Instructions by Andy Kravis and Sophia Maymudes
Probably the hardest puzzle in the tournament, strictly for its cluing style for the theme entries, which felt more like Crostic clues. Each themed hint would have a straightforward clue, and then in parentheses, tailor’s instructions for how to trim or manipulate the actual answers to fit into the grid.
For instance, the clue “Setting of ‘The Hobbit’ (‘Take this one up a bit’)” takes the full answer reading down, MIDDLE EARTH, and “takes it up a bit,” excluding the bottom two letters and leaving the answer MIDDLE EAR.
Although the vocabulary of the grid itself wasn’t much harder than the usual fare, this was definitely the toughest theme to unravel. Kudos to those who did so in a timely fashion.
Interesting grid entries included GO PRO, RIHANNA, LIAISE, RAIN GOD, and TRANS AM. My favorite clues were “App for a lift but not a Lyft” for UBER and “Word after baby or before cat” for FAT.
[Image courtesy of Cyanide & Happiness.]
#5 Coin Purses by Neville Fogarty
The visual design here — featuring shaded boxes forming u’s in order to create little visual purses, complete with a coin (a box with a circle inside, waiting for a correct answer). Managing to name four five-letter purse brands — GUCCI, COACH, FENDI, and PRADA — each one with a letter inside that spelled out CASH, and the very clever revealer in the center of the grid, reading simply “moneybags.”
Interesting grid entries included IM FED UP, LEFT ARM, DINGUS, TENUTO, DINOS, and SPAMBOT. My favorite clues were probably 2 Down and 44 Down — clues reading that each entry was an anagram of the other — eventually revealing LIMEADE and EMAILED as the anagrammical pair.
#6 Addition by Subtraction by Lily Silverstein and Erik Agard
The final puzzle provided a really solid challenge for the solve, but otherwise was relatively straightforward. The revealer here was POCKET SQUARE, and indeed, there were four black squares that served as hidden pockets for missing letters throughout the grid. For instance, when applied to the bottom left corner, the answers TIE and NEON, as well as URS reading down, became TIE ONE ON and OURS.
And wouldn’t you know it, those pocket letters spelled out the word DONE when solvers were done. A challenging and worthy finale for the event.
Interesting grid entries included E-SHARP, ALDO GUCCI, ATTAQ, and ICE PLANET. My favorite clues were a tie between “Simba’s kingdom” for ANIMALIA and “Figure with two axes, perhaps” for GRAPH.
It was a strong closing puzzle — and the clues on both the Outside Track and Inside Track were well-written and clever — but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the bonus puzzles in the packet.
The Tiebreaker concept made for a theme that was brilliant in its literalness. The grid featured shaded boxes, each split by a black square, which “broke” types of ties. AS/COT (alas and cotton), BO/LO (garbo/locke), and CRA/VAT (fulcra/vats) were all tiebreakers. A marvelous visual gag. I loved it.
Overall, this was the best edition of the Indie 500 yet. The puzzles mingled the inventiveness of the previous three tournaments with strong grid design, clever clues, and a real willingness to play around with crossword conventions.
The constructors made the most of the fashion theme, resulting in some super-impressive wordplay and theme ideas. All in all, this was an engaging and worthy series of puzzles, designed to delight and challenge solvers in equal measure.
I look forward to its return next year, and hopefully some of you will join me in accepting the Indie 500 challenge!
Note: There were additional puzzles included in the puzzle packet, but since they were outside the regular tournament puzzles, I didn’t review them. But believe me, they are worth your time.
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