I finally had a chance to sit down and try my hand at the puzzles from the Boswords Crossword Tournament. Given the talent involved amongst the organizers and constructors — as well as the reliable puzzles featured in the previous three tournaments — 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 #1: One Direction by Ezra Lieb and John Lieb
The first of two unscored opening puzzles, this 16×14 grid was a terrific warm-up solve, designed to get the puzzly brain moving and kick off any solver ring rust that might be lingering about.
It was quick, accessible, and the grid fill flowed nicely. There were four themed entries, each containing the word EAST in some capacity (naturally, as a CT boy, PHINEAS T BARNUM was my favorite of the four). Plus, as the solver worked their way down the grid, EAST slowly migrated further east in each successive themed entry, which was a nice touch.
Interesting grid entries included JASON MOMOA, NAVAJO, DRECK, and THE FED, and my favorite clue was “Stamp with a raised design, like the Oreo’s fleur-de-lis” for EMBOSS. Seeing “Oreo” and “fleur-de-lis” together was a treat.
Practice Puzzle #2: Vowel Language by John Lieb
Boswords’ resident master of warm-up puzzles strikes again with a fun fill and a solid hook in this 16×15 grid. The themed entries were all two-word phrases where the words started with the same vowel (EARLY EDITION, e.g.), running through all five vowels (sorry, Y) as the grid was completed.
In fact, apropos for a letter-based theme, this grid was nearly a pangram (only missing J and V). Creative and interesting fill helped elevate this puzzle nicely.
Interesting grid entries included ZESTY, KENNY G, I QUIT, and MYST, and my favorite clue was “Enjoy a certain 7-Eleven drink, say” for SLURP.
Puzzle #1: Self-Contained by Malaika Handa
The tournament proper launched with this great 18×15 starter, packed with themed entries that both started and ended with the letter I. These entries were helped along by both the title (which I loved) and the revealer GIVES SIDE EYE.
Couple that with some clever cluing — both informative and wordplay clues abound in this puzzle — and you have a very strong opener to this year’s tournament.
Interesting grid entries included HYDRA, OBEY ME, SAY CHEESE, and LATVIA, and my favorite clues were “Org. that might investigate your case” for TSA, “Something popped by toasters?” for CHAMPAGNE, and “Heady challenge for Hercules?” for HYDRA.
Puzzle #2: For Your Amusement by Hoang-Kim Vu
The second tournament puzzle eschewed a wordplay-based book for a very cool visual element. This 15x grid had the word TEACUP six times in the grid, spelled out in circled loops in the grid, and even tied it all together with the word TEACUPS reading down the center of the grid.
This did mean for some difficult grid fill in order to suit the gimmick, but the puzzle remained a solid solving experience and a pleasant shift in style for a tournament that’s often quite wordplay-heavy in its themes.
Interesting grid entries included LUCIDITY, HETERO, I TRY, and ASANTE, and amidst a load of informative and colorful clues, my favorite was “Aging texting acronym that some in Gen Z replace with a skull emoji, as in ‘You kill me'” for LMAO.
Puzzle #3: Rise to the Occasion by Garrett Chalfin and Andrew Kingsley
This 17x grid utilized its themed entries’ crossings in an engaging visual manner, as the double O’s in each phrase were stacked vertically instead of being spelled out — turning DOOM AND GLOOM, for instance, into DOM and GLOM with double O-words crossing the puzzle at the O’s. This gimmick was smartly explained by the corner revealer STANDING O’S.
This was arguably the toughest puzzle of the tournament, mixing the visual element with some interesting grid fill to make Puzzle #3 a step-up in difficulty in vintage Boswords tournament style.
Interesting grid entries included PAR THREE, NO DICE, AGAWAM, and TIME WARPS, and my favorite clue was “Answer that doesn’t belong here among the Downs?” for UPS.
Puzzle #4: Art Heist by Chandi Deitmer
This 18x grid featured the names of artists hidden within larger phrases — KAHLO inside HOOKAH LOUNGE, for instance — but added an additional twist to the solve by ignoring the letters in those artists’ names for the Down entries. So, while KAHLO filled the circled letters reading across, the answers reading down (as clued) would exclude those letters.
But, most importantly, those circled letters STILL formed words reading down, just not the one being clued. So, for example, 4-Down was clued “Comedian whose ‘seven dirty words’ spurred a 1978 Supreme Court ruling on media censorship” gives you the answer CARLIN, but if you include the letters of two artists’ names that the down entry crosses, you get CAROLINA.
It took a little while to get used to using the letters across and ignoring them down (or, at the very least, considering the clued answers down without them while still forming the longer down words), and this made for a fun, yet challenging solve. This was a very cool and well-executed hook for the puzzle that added a lot to the traditional word-hidden-in-phrase crossword theme.
For the third year in a row, Puzzle #4 features my favorite gimmick of the tournament. What a streak!
Interesting grid entries included BEER ME, ANO NUEVO, STUNT DRIVER, and ENGULF, and my favorite clues were “Cliff notes?” for YODEL, “What a designated driver shouldn’t have to pick up?” for TAB, and “Proud papa with a cygnet ring?” for COB.
Puzzle #5: Hollywood Extras by Rob Gonsalves and Jennifer Lim
Gonsalves and Lim return to Boswords after a successful debut last year and close out the tournament’s open competition puzzles with a solid 18×17 grid, cooling the solvers down nicely after the one-two punch of puzzles 3 and 4.
This movie-themed puzzle added a letter to film titles — THE BOOK OF ELI becoming THE BOOK OF DELI, for example — and the bonus letters spelled out DRIVE, making the revealer DRIVE-IN MOVIES tie the whole puzzle together nicely.
It’s a really fun, accessible theme that allowed for some fun cluing — I particularly enjoyed MONA LISA SIMILE — and served as a nice capper for the event before the final puzzle.
Interesting grid entries included BOUGIE, GIBRALTAR, CRETAN, and LET’S EAT, and my favorite clue was “Dwarf planet beyond Pluto” for ERIS, because I will forever stand up for Pluto and Eris as planets.
Puzzle 6: Championship Themeless by Wyna Liu
For the third year in a row, a different constructor tackled the challenge of creating the final boss for Boswords, and Liu absolutely smashed it. This was a terrific 15x themeless grid, jam-packed with interesting fill and great crossings.
The strong construction was highlighted by two sets of solid clues — both the MILD and the SIZZLING clue sets had some clever entries for solvers to unravel — and all in all, this was a worthy obstacle for the eventual winners to overcome.
Interesting grid entries included UNO CARD, BLOBJECT, SUSHI CHEFS, ARTIVISTS, and BIKE RIDE (which I KEPT trying to make BICYCLE to my continuing dismay).
As for favorite clues, here’s a list:
- MILD: “Academic fire safety?” for TENURE
- SIZZLING: “Lift a paddle?” for BID
- SIZZLING: “Keeping track?” for TENURE
- SIZZLING: “Place to see a metal band?” for RING FINGER
- SIZZLING: “Number of syllables in ‘Milano’ or ‘Napoli'” for TRE
Overall, Boswords continues to impress. Between the summer tournament and the seasonal themeless leagues, Boswords has really stepped up their game over the last two years, and as always, I was impressed by the array of puzzles assembled for this year’s tournament.
There were tricky themes, visual themes, and even a teacup ride, all of which made great use of both the cluing and the grids themselves. Every puzzle made an impact, and the tournament puzzles as a whole were challenging and creative in their design without being off-putting or getting too esoteric.
While I do think this year’s tournament was a bit harder overall than previous years, Boswords remains the perfect tournament to introduce solvers to tournament-style puzzling, making up for difficulty with accessibility, playfulness, and straight-up solid grid construction.
Once again, I cannot wait to see what they cook up for us next year.
But then again, we don’t have to wait that long for more Boswords fun! At the end of the broadcast for this year’s summer tournament, they announced the roster of constructors that will be contributing to the upcoming Fall Themeless League!
That is one heck of an all-star team to look forward to! See you in October and November for this year’s Fall Themeless League!
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