I finally had a chance to sit down and try my hand at the puzzles from the Winter Wondersolve event a few weeks ago. Given the talent involved amongst the organizers and constructors — as well as the reliable puzzles featured in previous Boswords-hosted events — I had high expectations, and I was not disappointed.
So let’s put those puzzles under the microscope and see what’s what!
Practice Puzzle: Spring Forward by John Lieb
Perennial Boswords warmup puzzle master Mr. Lieb delivers perfect warmup material with this 15x puzzle. The theme entries depict a spring thaw, as the answer phrases progress from FREEZE to COOL to WARM to MELT across the grid.
The theme itself not only fits the winter gimmick, but also feels like shaking off any cobwebs or nerves the solver may have and just getting to work. Mix that with some playful cluing and vocabulary, and you’ve got a terrific puzzle to kickstart solvers’ brains into motion.
Interesting grid entries included VAMOOSE, KEYNOTE, and OH HENRY, and my favorite clue was “Discontinued candy bar too old to have been named for Hank Aaron” for OH HENRY.
[Image courtesy of Knithacker.]
Puzzle 1: Don’t Forget Your Outerwear! by Sophie Maymudes
The tournament proper launched with this great starter, a 16×17 puzzle that mixed some fun longer entries with a tightly constructed grid that’ll have you looking “out” for the theme answers.
In this case, winter clothing items like SCARF, GLOVES, and COAT were broken up so that half of each word was on the end of a given row. For instance, answers like GLOMS ONTO and SOLVES had GLO VES at the beginning and end. Because they’re “outer” wear! This fun visual gag offered a nice change of pace from traditional themed puzzles, while remaining accessible for less experienced solvers.
Interesting grid entries included AMIIBO, TOUR BUS, ARE YOU NUTS, and PAPA SMURF, and my favorite clue was either “Affliction for the head or the heart” for ACHE or “Initials with which kids interrupt parents’ honeymoon stories, maybe” for TMI.
Puzzle 2: It’s Not THAT Cold! by Jessie Bullock and Ross Trudeau
Puzzle #2 was only a half-step or so tougher than Puzzle #1, remaining very solver friendly while still peppered with some great vocabulary. This 18x puzzle was well-constructed and had brilliant flow between the across and down entries, offering very little crosswordese for such a densely-packed grid.
The theme was all about punning in the cold, as each themed entry was clued as “Cold something?,” like “Cold war?” for SNOWBALL FIGHT or “Cold air?” for CHRISTMAS CAROL. All in all, a very fun solve.
Interesting grid entries included PANDORA, TLAIB, LAIKA, MUESLIX, and appropriately enough, XWORD, and my favorite clue was either “Underexposed film, perhaps” for INDIE or “Labor party?” for DOULA.
[Image courtesy of The Whole World is a Playground.]
Puzzle 3: The Arctic Circles by Brendan Emmett Quigley
Puzzle #3 continued to ratchet up the difficulty, but again, solving remained fair and welcoming to newer tournament competitors and less-experienced solvers. This was the toughest so far, but nothing approaching the levels of the dreaded Puzzle #5 at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, for instance.
This 18×17 puzzle featured Across entries that contained the letters IF, but solvers had to ignore them in the Down entries that crossed those letters. As explained by the revealer WHITE OUT CONDITIONS, this blizzard had you mentally “white out” those “conditions” and read the newly revised Down entry.
I could easily see this hook tripping up new solvers, but hey, what is puzzle-solving if not removing all the IFs and seeing what’s left?
Interesting grid entries included CABANA, TOP TEN, NO FUSS, and ARISTOCATS, and my favorite clue was “Exclamation with a Kermit flail” for YAY. It’s rare that you can hear an answer as you read the clue, but that’s definitely the case here.
Puzzle 4 by Joon Pahk
The tournament concludes with the toughest puzzle of the day, a 15x themeless grid that still managed to sneak in some wintry entries alongside a few devious crossings.
Two sets of clues were offered for the final puzzle — FLURRY clues on the easier side and BLIZZARD clues on the tougher side of the spectrum — but both offered their fair share of challenges for solvers of all skill levels.
One particular crossing in the upper-left section of the grid had me stumped for a while, as the Down answer MELD was clued with Mah-jongg and canasta references (neither of which I play) and I was unfamiliar with the crossing phrase IN A PET. I would have guessed correctly, but it definitely slowed down my time.
Interesting grid entries included GEYSER, MIDSCALE, SESTET, I TONYA, E-SPORTS, CAROUSE, and LOOSE CANNON. Both the easier and tougher sets of clues had some gems, so I’ll list them separately below:
- “Plot that’s rarely nefarious” for GRAPH
- “Sticks around Aspen?” for SKI POLES
- “Shake your hand?” for WAVE
- “Drip’s slower relative” for COLD BREW
- “Team who negotiates a lot?” for VALETS
- “Necessities for cross-country travel” for SKI POLES
- “Light or sound, e.g.” for WAVE
Overall, I quite enjoyed the array of puzzles assembled for this year’s Winter Wondersolve. The gradual rise in difficulty kept me interested and the fun wintry themes all felt different enough for the entire experience to feel crisp and engaging.
The themeless puzzle also felt like a strong refresher for themeless solving in general, as Boswords has their Spring Themeless League coming up soon!
Boswords has truly become the perfect host for events to introduce solvers to tournament-style puzzling, making up for difficulty with accessibility, playfulness, and straight-up solid grid construction.
It’s the right mix of challenge and creativity for solvers accustomed to NYT-style solving, and I think the constructors and organizers did one heck of a job putting together the event, building on the strong continuity of virtual events established last year by the Boswords tournament and the Fall Themeless League. A hearty tip-of-the-hat to the hardworking organizers for pulling this all off!
And I can’t wait to see what they cook up for us next.
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