Constructors’ Favorite Crosswords from 2017!

Yesterday, I wrapped up my efforts to celebrate 2017’s contributions to the long, marvelous legacy of puzzles and games.

But before saying goodbye to 2017, I reached out to other constructors and puzzlers to ask them if they had any favorite crosswords from 2017, either of their own creation or those made by others.

So let’s check out the favorites from some world-class constructors in their own right.

Note: Wherever possible, I’ve included links to the puzzles, but for the most part, the links included filled-in grids, so if you want the full solving experience, scan for dates, outlets, and names to hunt down copies for yourself.

And remember: every single person who replied stated that there were other puzzles they loved that they knew they were leaving out, so don’t consider this in any way to be an exhaustive list. 2017 was a dynamite year for crosswords!


We’ll start off with some of crossword gentleman Doug Peterson‘s favorites:

– Monday, May 8 NY Times puzzle by Zhouqin Burnikel aka CC Burnikel. It’s an LGBTQ theme executed so nicely for a Monday. Difficulty and theme are spot-on for an easy puzzle. Lots of fresh, colloquial fill. CC is the master.

– Saturday, July 22 LA Times themeless puzzle by Erik Agard. All of Erik’s themelesses are fun, but this one stood out a bit more for me. SHIRLEY CHISHOLM, KITE-EATING TREE, TOOTHBRUSHES stacked on top of ORTHODONTISTS. Fun stuff everywhere you look.

– Wednesday, August 9 AVCX puzzle “Birthday Bash” by Francis Heaney. Broken PINATAs that have dropped their candy into the grid. It doesn’t get much better than that. ūüôā OK, slight ding for having one PINATA filled with ALTOIDS, but this was still a blast to solve.

[Image courtesy of Party Cheap.]

Several constructors, including Joanne Sullivan and Patrick Blindauer, heaped praise upon the puzzles from this year’s Lollapuzzoola event, and rightly so. They always push the envelope in terms of creativity with Lollapuzzoola, and folks went all out for the tenth year of the tournament. Blindauer cited Paolo Pasco’s tournament opener in particular as a delight.

Patrick had several other recommendations:

It’s no surprise to see New York Times puzzles getting a lot of love. George Barany cited David Steinberg’s June 8th puzzle¬†as particularly clever. Definitely not surprised to see those words associated with David.

[Image courtesy of Snark Squad.]

David Kwong sung the praises of Mark Halpin’s Labor Day Extravaganza¬†— which doesn’t contain any crosswords, but it is still very worthy of mentioning — making a point of mentioning that “the meta puzzle involving the spider’s web was so expertly constructed.”

Constructor Brendan Emmett Quigley did an entire post highlighting his favorite puzzles from the previous year, which marked the only overlap between today’s entry and my list of puzzles yesterday. As it turns out, we both enjoyed his “Next Level Shit” puzzle from November 2nd. He cited “Party Line” from September 28th and “We Have Achieved Peak Puzzle” from November 9th as two other favorites.

[Image courtesy of Arrested Development Wiki.]

To close out today’s rundown of killer puzzles, we’ve got a murderers row of recommendations from Evan Birnholz of Devil Cross and The Washington Post crossword:


Thank you to all of the fantastic constructors who offered their favorite crosswords from 2017! Please check out both these constructors AND the constructors they recommend! There are so many great puzzles out there for you if you bother to look!

Here’s to a terrific, challenging, baffling, and creative new year of puzzles to come!


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My Favorite Crosswords from 2017!

One of my New Year’s Resolutions last year was to solve more crosswords.

I wanted to sample as many outlets as possible, really immersing myself in the tricks and techniques that constructors use to create really topnotch puzzles. And I definitely solved more crosswords from more publishers than ever before.

And any time a puzzle really impressed me, or made me laugh out loud, or presented an enjoyable challenge that lingered in my mind after the solve, I put it aside in a little folder.

So now, I’d like to give those puzzles and their constructors a little love as I share my favorite crossword puzzles from 2017.


My collection started early in the year when David Steinberg celebrated the 125th anniversary of Stanford with a crossword that not only wished the university “happy birthday” in circled letters in the grid, but spelled out the number “125” when you connected the circles!

Peter Gordon marked 7/7/17 on the calendar with Fireball Newsflash Crosswords #7, and went all in on the 7s, placing three entries in the puzzle that were clued as “capital of a seven-letter country/state.”

Patrick Blindauer’s “End of the Summer” puzzle from the first edition of Piece of Cake Crosswords celebrated Labor Day with shaded entries that clued multiple down entries, depending on whether you filled the shaded space with LAB or DAY. So, for instance, you could have LAMP and BEAR or DAMP and YEAR reading down for their particular clues.

[Image courtesy of TV Tropes.]

For brazen acts of punnery, it’s hard to top Patrick Blindauer’s “For Fudd’s Sake” Piece of Cake Crosswords puzzle. Theme entries like WOOKIE MISTAKE¬†definitely had me laughing. Then throw in clues like “Instrument that becomes a dessert if you change its first letter to a J” for CELLO and “What my fiancee said to me on September 16, 2011” for I DO, and you’ve got a great solve.

Then again, there was COOLIO JETS in Brendan Emmett Quigley’s “No Big Pun Intended” crossword from March 30th, MOSTLY ARMLESS from Patrick Blindauer’s “True ‘Liza” Piece of Cake Crosswords puzzle, and entries like PIGNORAMUS, LAMBITION, and SQUIDDITCH from Patti Varol and Dave Cuzzolina’s June 30th LA Times puzzle.

And how could you resist the wordplay in Quigley’s “Next Level Shit” puzzle from November 2nd? Entries like LAKE TITICACA and SKYSCRAPER AD were purposely broken up onto ascending rows, so that CACA and CRAP(ERAD) read out on the “next level.” It was shameless and very inventive all at the same time.

[Image courtesy of Scientix Blog.]

Nobody keeps it current like Peter Gordon with his Fireball Newsflash Crosswords, and #20 from March 3rd had a lot of fun with the snafu at the Oscars, first giving us “Winner of the Oscar for Best Picture at the recent Academy Awards” as a clue for LALALAND and then correcting itself later with “There’s been a mistake! Actual winner of the Oscar for Best Picture at the recent Academy Awards” for MIDNIGHT. Beautiful trolling there.

He did something similar in the “Themeless 107” Fireball Crosswords puzzle that had HARRY ANGSTROM as an entry, and then referenced it in another clue — “Film character whose last name is roughly 95 septillion times longer than 23-Across’s?” — for BUZZ LIGHTYEAR. The science/math nerd in me popped for that one.

I’m a sucker for ladder puzzles, so when Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen snuck one into their May 5th puzzle in The Chronicle of Higher EducationAPE, APT, OPT, OAT, MAT, MAN — and an evolutionary one at that, I very much enjoyed it. The cluing only added to the fun, with clues like “Member of a Latin lover’s trio?” for AMAT and “Kiddie or chick follower” for LIT.

The Chronicle of Higher Education struck gold again on April 21st with Ed Sessa’s puzzle “That Boxed-In Feeling.” Not only did the puzzle feature several confined spaces like MRI MACHINE and PHONE BOOTH as theme entries, but CLAUSTROPHOBIA was jammed into the center of the puzzle — two letters per square — to really bring the theme home. Really nice, tight gridwork there.

(For the trifecta, I also enjoyed George Barany and Michael Hanko’s July 21st puzzle in The Chronicle, “Side Order,” which used BERMUDA TRIANGLE, TIMES SQUARE, and THE PENTAGON to complete a themed GEOMETRIC SERIES.)

Another puzzle with a lot of interplay between cluing and theme answers was Jacob Stulberg’s “Two Descents’ Worth” Fireball Crosswords puzzle. This one had entries like DRESSING, STRIPPED, and UPSIDE, which were referenced in clues for CENSURE, BASIC, and FLIPPED.

You see, the theme here was DOUBLE DOWN, so a double DRESSING down would be CENSURE, something doubly STRIPPED down would be BASIC, and being doubly UPSIDE down would be FLIPPED. I confess, it took me a while to parse out the relationships between these entries, but once I did, I was very impressed with the imagination and constructing skills necessary to make the puzzle.

[Um, no, not THAT Double Down. Image courtesy of YouTube.]

There were also some grids that really played with word placement and omission in super-clever ways.

Tracy Bennett’s “To Everything There is a Season” puzzle from the Indie 500 tournament offered a grid with four-way symmetry built around the four seasons, which all appeared within the grid. Having the clues set at 90-degree angles to coincide with word placement in the grid was a nice touch.

Timothy Polin’s “A Prynne String,” the January 13th puzzle for The Chronicle of Higher Education, had four As in the grid that “concealed” the letters RED both across and down, so LEERED AT and HUNDRED ACRE WOOD became LEEAT and HUNDACREWOOD. It took me a while to figure out the game here, and when I did, I was really impressed with the grid construction and creativity.

[Image courtesy of The Odyssey Online.]

Ed Sessa makes his second appearance on the list with a March 24th Los Angeles Times puzzle that played nicely with a classic idiom — Leave no stone unturned — by hiding stones within the other theme entries. For instance, AGATE read out backwards in TILL WE MEET AGAIN. He let us in on this clever hook with the revealer NO ENOTS UNTURNED. Nicely done.

(Brendan Emmett Quigley did something similar with his “Halfbacks” puzzle from June 8th, with entries like HIGH GERARD, RADIO SIDNEY, and ALFRED PANTS, as did Erik Agard with the “Bottoms Up” puzzle from the Indie 500 Meta puzzle pack, sneaking drinks like OJ and DECAF into the down-reading entries JO WALTON and FACED THE TRUTH.)

Quigley took it a step further with his April 6th puzzle “Catch You on the Rebound,” as the themed entries required you to fill in the boxes one letter at a time, then place the rest of the letters backwards on the same line, forcing two letters to share squares. For instance, THE POINT OF NO RETURN spelled out THEPOI(NN)(TR)(OU)(FT)(NE)(OR), with RETURN reading backwards in the boxes.

Alex Eaton-Salners did a tough variation on this idea in Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords with “Kicking Off the Fourth,” as his theme entries started backwards and then doubled back on themselves. For instance, POTATOPEELER was written as ATOPEELER, with the POT reading backwards, “kicking off the fourth” letter with the A, then reading forward with the rest of the entry. NRUBBER for BURNRUBBER, EDISHES for SIDEDISHES, and AVAVOOM for VAVAVAVOOM were just some of the NINE entries that fit the pattern. A top 5 puzzle of the year for me, easily.

[Image courtesy of Shutterstock.]

And I have to close out today’s post by mentioning Alex again for his “Read the Fine Print” Fireball Crosswords puzzle. This one actually used some of the numbers within the grid as part of the entries. Box 1 was filled with a 1 for 1 CUP and 1 PIN, Box 50 helped form 50 FIRST DATES and 50 CENT, and so on. I’ve never seen the actual cluing numbers incorporated into the answers like that before. Really terrific stuff.

There were so many great, creative, well-constructed puzzles that a post like this just scratches the surface. (Especially since I’m behind on my solving for The Crosswords Club and a few other outlets!)

I’m sure I missed plenty of worthy puzzles from constructors all over. Feel free to let me know your favorites in the comments section below! (And come back tomorrow to learn some of the favorites from others in the puzzle community!)

I’m continually amazed by the innovation, reinvention, and endless possibilities clever constructors can mine from these curious collections of white and black squares.

I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us in 2018.


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Happy Crossword Puzzle Day!

Hurray Hurray it’s Crossword Day!
Calloo Callay it’s Crossword Day!
With Christmas not so far away,
please do not, to our dismay,
neglect to celebrate or say…
Happy Crossword Puzzle Day!

Yes, my friends and fellow PuzzleNationers, it’s the 104th anniversary of Arthur Wynne publishing the world’s first crossword puzzle, and we simply couldn’t let the day pass by without some sort of puzzly to-do.

So I thought I’d focus on crossword cluing, because there’s so much a constructor can do with clues. As you well know, it goes far beyond just offering a synonym or a fill-in-the-blank to get the solver moving.

No, a crafty constructor can work wonders. I once saw a crossword where every single clue started with the same letter! That’s dedication.

Recently, a constructor snuck a limerick into the first five across clues of a British-style crossword.

So, in honor of the day, here’s a sampling of the best clues I encountered over the last year. These clues are gathered from all over — including The Crosswords Club, The Los Angeles Times, Piece of Cake Crosswords, The Indie 500, Barany and Friends, and many other outlets.

As you might expect, I’m a big fan of misdirection clues, and there were some choice ones this year. For instance, Patti Varol offered “They may be called on account of rain” for CABS.

Peter Gordon clued IAMB with the brilliant “Foot in ‘the door'” while Emory Ediger challenged solvers with “Things you saw while dreaming?” for LOGS.

George Barany had several great clues this year, including “Hawaiian beach ball?” for LUAU — always nice to get a new clue for a classic crossword word! — and “His wife became a pillar of their community” for LOT.

Sarah Kampman gave us “Fresh answers, perhaps” for SASS, while Michael Shteyman played with expectations with “50/50, e.g.” as the clue for ONE.

“Hit close to home” was Mike Shenk’s terrific clue for BUNT. He also offered “Give up possession of, in a way” for PUNT and “One might be responsible for a reduced sentence” for EDITOR.

Patrick Blindauer’s Piece of Cake Crosswords, a series designed to avoid crosswordese and welcome new solvers, allowed him to indulge in some lengthy, delightful clues:

  • Best Picture winner that becomes another Best Picture winner if you add an F to the beginning of it: ARGO
  • “Brown Eyed Girl” syllable followed by lots of la’s: SHA
  • Like some battles, or how my grandpa supposedly walked to school (both ways): UPHILL
  • Surprised cry that would be aha’s cousin if things had cousins the way crosswords seem to think they do: OHO

And no list would be complete without Brendan Emmett Quigley, who paired “Ticker tape?” with ECG.

To close out today’s entry, let’s enjoy a few clues from our friends at Penny Press that didn’t get published, but still highly entertained me.

Crossword guru Eileen Saunders gave us “Camel droppings?” for ASH, which is hilarious, and constructor Keith Yarbrough offered “Get by, barely” for STREAK.

What’s more amazing is that this is just a smattering of the excellent cluing available all across the world of crosswords. Every day, wordsmiths and constructors are bending words and wordplay to their whim. It’s fantastic stuff.

Did you have any favorite clues from crosswords this year? Let us know in the comments section below!


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Do you accept the Cryptiq challenge?

Normally, this would be a Follow-Up Friday post. But since Follow-Up Friday is all about continuing or expanding upon previous topics we’ve covered, and I suspect today’s post will be something we’ll return to in the future, it gets the nod this week.

I’ve written about puzzle contests plenty of times in the past, whether they’re single crosswords to solve or elaborate multi-step puzzle suites to unravel. Constructors are constantly innovating, and we’ve reached a point where you can tackle amazing puzzly challenges without even leaving your favorite chair.

So if you’re looking for a diabolical new puzzle series you can sink your teeth into from the comfort of your own home, Cryptiq fits the bill nicely.

Cryptiq is a collection of puzzles — available both on their website and in book form — designed to test your puzzly mettle. There are dozens of logic, deduction, and visual puzzles involved, and the designers have clearly set a very high bar for solvers.

From the Cryptiq website:

To win the game you must solve all the puzzles on the given pages on http://www.cryptiq.com or in the book Cryptiq. Once you solve the puzzles you will be left with a code that has 6 values. Be the first to enter these 6 values, in the correct order, on the code input page and you will be moved forward to the verification step. The game can only be won through skill.

After you have entered the correct code, you will be prompted to supply a written solution showing that your solve of the puzzles was not by chance. Once your solve is verified as skill, you will be declared the winner and receive the prize.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a puzzle contest that requires written explanation of the solve in order to prove your skills, but when you consider that the winning purse is $5,000 — and there’s a chance that prize could increase — the team at Cryptiq wants to be sure that someone EARNS that prize, rather than getting lucky.

[Kind of Cunning, one of Cryptiq’s many mind-bending obstacles.]

Best of all? There is no purchase necessary to enter or to win the game. Everything you need to play is right there online. (The book version costs $20, but has all the same information as the website.)

So, fellow friends and PuzzleNationers, will you accept the Cryptiq challenge? Let me know if you do! I’d love to hear about it!


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My Favorite Crosswords and Clues for 2016!

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the crossword — the one hundred and third, to be precise — and I thought I would celebrate the day by sharing some of my favorite crossword puzzles and clues from this year.

I solved more crosswords this year than any other year I can remember. From The New York Times, The LA Times, and The Washington Post to Peter Gordon‘s Fireball Newsflash Crosswords and our own Free Daily Puzzle on the Penny Dell Crosswords app, I tried to sample as many constructors and outlets as I could.

I want to start with Ben Tausig’s “Gender-Fluid” quantum puzzle from The New York Times in September. In a year that saw the Times called out several times for tone-deaf and insensitive cluing, to have a puzzle dedicated to the increasing awareness of other gender options was great.

And it certainly didn’t hurt that Ben’s grid was tightly constructed and each of the variable M or F entries worked well. (You can check out my full post on the puzzle here.)

“Eliminating the Competition” by Barany and Friends was another strong crossword with clever letterplay involved. The puzzle paid tribute to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament by dropping the letters A, C, P, and T, respectively from the four theme entries in the grid.

Not only that, but there were no As, Cs, Ps, or Ts to be found anywhere else in the puzzle grid, which I thought was not only clever, but impressively challenging as a constructing gimmick. It was one of the most ambitious grids I saw all year. (You can check out my full post on the puzzle here.)

On the flip side — a puzzle that was more about the clues than the grid — there was the cryptic crossword from Neil Patrick Harris’s Choose Your Own Autobiography.

With clues like “Sounds like an assortment of taxis in which you were the MC (7)” (for CABARET) and “Costar a large, fake amount of money? (7)” (for FILLION), this puzzle not only rewarded attentive readers, but it severely taxed my (admittedly less-than-daunting) skills at unraveling cryptic clues. (You can check out my full post on the puzzle here.)

Oh, and on the topic of cryptic clues, I asked some constructors if there were any clues or puzzles that caught their eye this year, and David Kwong mentioned a doozy of a cryptic clue by master constructors Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon that he considered the most diabolical he’d ever seen.

The clue? “Emphatically, the key to making bozos boss? (9)”

The answer? SFORZANDO, which parses as “S for Z and O.”

That’s awesome. Doug Peterson did a variation on that in this year’s Lollapuzzoola tournament, “What Happened?”, which featured words or phrases where the letter H had been replaced with either a T or a Y. He revealed this with the entry “HISTORY” breaking down “H is T or Y.” I really dug this puzzle.

And speaking of Lollapuzzoola, I absolutely loved Francis Heaney‘s “Quote Boxes” puzzle from this year’s tournament. It was an 18×18 grid jam-packed with entries, and he used an interesting mechanic to fill the grid.

There were five 2√ó2 boxes shaded with different shapes, and each of the four cells in those 2√ó2 boxes contained a word from a famous four-word movie quote, allowing him to place longer entries in the grid. It was the highlight of Lollapuzzoola for me this year. Great stuff.

But before I get to the final crossword on my list, I’d like to run down some of my favorite crossword clues from this year.

  • “Island country that becomes a geometric solid if you change its last letter to an E” for CUBA (from Patrick Blindauer‘s Piece of Cake Crosswords. A super-long clue, but very fun.)
  • “Struggle with hopelessness?” for LISP (from Brendan Emmett Quigley)
  • “The Sky, Sun, and Stars play in it” for WNBA (from Peter Gordon)
  • “Answers, on ‘Jeopardy!'” for ASKS (I don’t recall where I saw this one. Let me know if you know, so I can correct this!)
  • “Some people do it for kicks” for KARATE (Again, no idea where I saw this one. Let me know if you know, so I can correct this!)
  • ‚ÄúCharacters often found to be up in arms?‚ÄĚ for YMCA (from Sam Trabucco’s Indie 500 puzzle)

And cluing tied into my final choice for favorite crossword of the year with Erik Agard and Joanne Sullivan’s puzzle “Do I Hear a Waltz?” from the Indie 500 tournament.

In this puzzle, the words ONE, TWO, and THREE were missing from sequential clues, providing a hidden one-two-three count for the puzzle‚Äôs titular waltz. For instance, 36-Across clued TRUMP as ‚ÄúUp,‚ÄĚ 37-Across clued BIKINI as ‚ÄúPiece, say,‚ÄĚ and 38-Across clued TITLES as ‚ÄúPeat makeup.‚ÄĚ As you‚Äôd expect, those clues make much more sense when you add the hidden one-two-three: One-up = TRUMP; Two-piece, say = BIKINI; Threepeat makeup = TITLES.

Hiding the beat within the cluing was absolutely brilliant, and one of the highlights in crosswords for me this year.

Now I’m sure there were great clues or puzzles that I missed, since I’m hardly a prolific solver. Let me know which puzzles and clues from 2016 were your favorites! I’d love to hear from you!


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Subway Time Travel edition!

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.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of puzzly events!

I’m a huge fan of events where puzzly-minded people get together and create something new. Whether it’s a festival of indie games or a Rube Goldberg machine about Passover, a prom-themed puzzle tournament or a crossword contest about a crossword contest, anything is possible when folks with a mind for puzzle fun collaborate.

The team at Improv Everywhere know this better than most, as they’ve put together some terrific live experiences to entertain unsuspecting strangers.

In the past, they’ve staged a repeating time loop at a coffee shop, recreated the opening of Star Wars on a subway, and (my personal favorite) made a cabbie the hero of a reunion¬†right out of a romantic comedy.

This time around, they faked time travel with four sets of twins. Check it out!

You can explore the full details of the prank/performance here, as well as many other “missions” from their past, but sufficed to say, it took a fair amount of puzzly skills and improvisational style to pull this off!

I wonder what delightful trickery they’ll attempt next.


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