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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Meet the Daily POP Crosswords Constructors: Pam Klawitter

One of the Daily POP Crosswords app’s best features is the level of involvement from topnotch constructors. We’ve assembled one heck of a team when it comes to creating terrific, exciting, fresh themed crosswords.

And over the last month or so, we’ve been introducing you to some of them. You might not recognize every name at first, but rest assured… they’re all doing amazing work on these puzzles and deserve a little time in the limelight.

In this installment, allow us to introduce you to constructor Pam Klawitter!

How did you get started in puzzles?

I guess you’d say being a crossword constructor is my post-teaching “retirement career.” I’ve always loved all types of puzzles, and after spending many years teaching gifted students who are masters of all things word-related, I was sure it would be a simple task to teach myself how to construct a crossword puzzle. Not true! It was evident in my earliest puzzles, that I needed lots of assistance. I give full credit to the editors that stuck it out and guided me through the process.

I persevered and finally had my very first puzzle published in The Washington Post in 2007. That was followed by my first Los Angeles Times and New York Times puzzles in 2008. After that, there was no going back!

It surprises me now to say I’ve had over 400 puzzles published in a variety of venues. Being a regular constructor for The Crosswords Club is how I began working with Patti Varol. With 100+ puzzles under my belt there, I am really happy that she asked me to be a part of this new group.

What problems have you encountered in constructing crosswords?

I would have to say that, for me, coming up with the themes has always been the easiest part of this journey. Getting exactly the right fill — not so much!

Thankfully, Patti and several other editors have had the patience of Job in allowing me to keep at it until I get it right. While many words could fill the boxes, it’s hard to find the perfect mix of interesting yet not obscure nor too difficult fill. That’s been a real learning process!

Starting out, it was hard to find cohesive themes, but now that I’ve been at it a while, I find that theme ideas are EVERYWHERE! This is evidenced by the stacks of scraps of paper and sticky notes with ideas scribbled on them that surround me like Pig-Pen’s cloud of dust!

What do you enjoy about Daily POP Crosswords?

I love the Daily POP Crosswords puzzles because they are a bit more straightforward than Sunday-size puzzles, thus a bit easier to fill. (For me, that’s a definite plus!)

I also love the pop culture aspect of these puzzles, which allows for all sorts of up-to- the-minute themes. I’ve learned so much! Book Smarts and TV Time are probably my favorite categories.


A huge thank you to Pam for her time! Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for her puzzles in the Daily POP Crosswords app, free to download for both iOS and Android users!

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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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Meet the Daily POP Crosswords Constructors: Bonnie L. Gentry

One of the Daily POP Crosswords app’s best features is the level of involvement from topnotch constructors. We’ve assembled one heck of a team when it comes to creating terrific, exciting, fresh themed crosswords.

And over the next few weeks, we’ll be introducing you to some of them. Some names you may know, some you may not, but they’re all doing amazing work on these puzzles and deserve a little time in the limelight.

In this installment, allow us to introduce you to constructor Bonnie L. Gentry!

How did you get started in crosswords?

I sold my first puzzle in 2003 to The Los Angeles Times after I discovered a community of crossword constructors on the website Cruciverb.com. It had style sheets and contact information so I gave it a shot.

I have since been published in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Crosswords Club, and several crossword books. I also construct a two-page newspaper crossword each Thanksgiving for numerous newspapers.

I’m only a casual solver. I enjoy constructing much more. I tried only twice to compete in a national crossword tournament (ACPT), but ranked miserably. Switching to judging was far easier.

What do you enjoy about working on Daily POP Crosswords?

I love doing the research. I learn something new for every theme I do. I like that it’s a learning experience for me as both a constructor and a solver. This is quite different than traditional crosswords that rely more on wordplay.

Patti Varol is an amazing editor. Her insight makes me a better constructor. Also the volume of work she does is just staggering.

I love that the majority of constructors are women, although there are some great men as well.

I also solve the puzzles on Daily POP Crosswords every day. They are simple enough for any level but they all give an “Aha Moment” when I solve them.

Is there a particular theme day that appeals to you most or that you enjoy working on?

I enjoy sports themes the best. I’m a big fan of all sports and I’m an enthusiastic spectator. Football is probably my favorite sport.

When I do Book Smart themes, it introduces me to books I hadn’t thought much about and has led me to read new books.

I enjoyed learning new things about David Bowie in an upcoming puzzle I made. But the downside is a particular song keeps playing in my head. (But I won’t say which one, because it’s a spoiler.)


A huge thank you to Bonnie for her time! Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for her puzzles in the Daily POP Crosswords app, free to download for both iOS and Android users!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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Meet the Daily POP Crosswords Constructors: Angela Halsted

One of the Daily POP Crosswords app’s best features is the level of involvement from topnotch constructors. We’ve assembled one heck of a team when it comes to creating terrific, exciting, fresh themed crosswords.

And over the next few weeks, we’ll be introducing you to some of them. Some names you may know, some you may not, but they’re all doing amazing work on these puzzles and deserve a little time in the limelight.

In this installment, allow us to introduce you to constructor Angela Halsted!

How did you get started in crosswords?

I solved crosswords off and on when I was a kid but it wasn’t until 2006 that I got obsessed with them. I don’t even remember what puzzle I was doing, but I was Googling for an answer and came upon the Rex Parker blog. I loved the blog and I loved all the commentary, and that made me want to solve puzzles every day so I could participate.

The first time I decided to comment on the blog, I was required to have a username. I wasn’t very creative and I just felt like I was in a hurry to share my thoughts, so I typed in “PuzzleGirl.” Pretty boring. But it’s stuck all these years!

I submitted my first puzzle to The New York Times in December 2008. It was… terrible. But I knew it was something I could be good at if I kept trying. My first published puzzle was a collaboration with Michael Sharp in The Los Angeles Times in January 2011. Since then, I have had puzzles published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The AV Club, The Wall Street Journal, and other venues. Most of those are collaborations with Doug Peterson, though I’ve also collaborated with Jeff Chen and Erik Agard.

The part I have the most trouble with when constructing is coming up with the theme. I think that’s why I collaborate so much. For me, it’s a lot easier (and more fun) to brainstorm and hone a theme with a partner.

What do you enjoy about working on Daily POP Crosswords?

Oh, speaking of themes, one reason I like writing puzzles for Daily POP Crosswords so much is that the themes can be very simple, which I can handle! Also, I feel like I’m getting a lot of practice generating themes so maybe I’ll get better at it with puzzles for other venues too.

But the best thing about writing for Daily POP Crosswords is working with Patti Varol. She is a phenomenal editor. She is so smart, so efficient, and so motivated. I have a blast talking with her about puzzles and I’m learning a LOT from her.

I also really love being a part of this project because the puzzles are accessible to new solvers. That’s who these puzzles target and I hope they appeal to people who might be really interested in trying crosswords but are intimidated by harder puzzles.

When I had my first Friday themeless published in The New York Times earlier this year, I couldn’t really distribute it to my co-workers, you know? It was hard and probably would have just made them feel bad about themselves. But I’m constantly telling people about Daily POP Crosswords because I know the puzzles are accessible to new solvers and there’s a possibility they’ll get hooked!

I guess the last thing I want to mention is that Patti has assembled a great group of constructors that includes many women. She is also very open to themes about women. And I like that because crossword publishing and construction are generally male-dominated.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Some of my best friends are male crossword constructors. But it’s nice to see someone branching out a little. I hope Daily POP Crosswords will inspire women solvers to take up constructing. That would be amazing.


A huge thank you to Angela for her time! Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for her puzzles in the Daily POP Crosswords app, free to download for both iOS and Android users!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

Meet the Daily POP Crosswords Constructors: Mark McClain

One of the Daily POP Crossword app’s best features is the level of involvement from topnotch constructors. We’ve assembled one heck of a team when it comes to creating terrific, exciting, fresh themed crosswords.

And over the next few weeks, we’d like to introduce you to some of them. Some names you may know, some you may not, but they’re all doing amazing work on these puzzles and deserve a little time in the limelight.

For our first installment, allow us to introduce you to constructor Mark McClain!

How did you get started in puzzles?

I’m a longtime fan of crosswords, but I only started constructing puzzles about four years ago. That probably makes me the newbie of the Daily POP Crosswords constructors. But I’m not a newbie otherwise, in fact I may be oldest of the crew (I was in college when the Beatles hit the music scene in the US).

My first published puzzle appeared in October 2014 in the Los Angeles Times, and since then I’ve sold nearly 200 puzzles to over a dozen venues, including a few in Penny Press magazines and The Crosswords Club.

Believe it or not, there are many crossword constructors who don’t really spend much time solving puzzles. I’m not one of them. I solve nearly every puzzle published by the venues that I regularly contribute to. It’s not only fun, but also keeps me up to date on what publishers are using both in terms of themes and vocabulary.

What do you enjoy about working on Daily POP Crosswords?

Patti Varol is a great editor and a lot of fun to work with. She published my very first “Sunday-size” puzzle in the Uptown Puzzle Club in February 2015 (it was a collaboration with Brad Wilber). I was thrilled when she invited me to work on this project.

It’s great that we have resolved to avoid using the crosswordese and obscure entries that still permeate some crossword outlets. This keeps the Daily POP Crosswords puzzles accessible to just about anyone who tries to tackle them. If there’s a word in there you don’t know, then I want it to be one you can actually use in real life once you’ve learned it.

I hate that some crossword constructors and editors seem to be stuck in the ’70s (or worse), and Daily POP Crosswords is the antithesis of that with the focus (mainly) on the current pop culture scene. Sure, there was a lot of great stuff way back when, but today there are so many talented musicians, actors, athletes and writers, and I’m glad to be involved in casting some light on their work in a fun puzzle format. Keeps me feeling young.

Having said that, I also appreciate that we have the “Remember When” category where we can reprise some of those great performers and events of yesteryear (I have one coming next month on the 50-year anniversary of one of my favorite movies of all time).

Is there a particular theme day that appeals to you most or that you enjoy working on?

I particularly appreciate the “Sports and Games” category, as I’m a big sports fan, and hate getting my wrist slapped for having too many sports references in puzzles (God forbid you’d actually submit a sports-themed puzzle).

I love trivia and lists (my partner Diana sometimes calls me List Man). It is really fun digging into the various resources to ferret out a good set of entries that will make a theme for a Daily POP Crosswords puzzle. I find it to be a lot more enjoyable than coming up with one of those tricky wordplay themes that many editors like to use these days.

The app is dynamite (does anyone still say that?). I already had the Penny Dell Crosswords app from PuzzleNation, which I use fairly often, so I was familiar with the basic design. I must admit that most of the time I am a paper solver, but I will definitly be on the Daily POP app on a regular basis.


A huge thank you to Mark for his time! Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for his puzzles in the Daily POP Crosswords app, free to download for both iOS and Android users!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!