Sunday, August 16, 2015

Indie Puzzle Round-Up #3

Between a couple of vacations and lots of work, I haven't had too many opportunities to solve a bunch of puzzles lately, but I was able to catch up a bit this weekend. Let's do a quick recap.

-Nice little run of puzzles for Evan Birnholz, proprietor of Devil Cross. His Themeless 25 was a joy to solve - the grid layout offered the opportunity to stack 12s, 13s and 14s, which you don't see every day, and the fill was clean as a whistle. Then his latest, "That's a Real Stretch," features an innovative theme executed professionally, and even included a photographic hint in the PDF version (not theme related). Quite a "hot" streak for Devil Cross! (See what I did there?)

-Lollapuzzoola definitely counts as an indie when it comes to crossword tournaments, especially when you consider the puzzles themselves. I wish I could give it a proper review, but based on a long night of "research" in various Big Apple pubs the night before, I happened to arrive at the tournament just a hair late, and missed out on the first three puzzles. I won't spoil anything further except to say that Joon Pahk and Kevin Der's puzzles were outstanding, and that tournament organizers Brian Cimmet and Patrick Blindauer may have a good problem at hand, in that their venue (the basement of All Souls Church in Manhattan) may be getting too small for their crowd. Really fun experience, even if just for half of it. Congrats to Francis Heaney who took the crown!

-I had the pleasure to meet Sam Ezersky of Grid Kid fame on Friday, and was pretty astounded to learn that he doesn't use constructing software (such as Crossword Compiler, CrossFire, etc). That makes his themeless puzzles that much more amazing, especially low word count offerings like his Freestyle 16. A 64-worder! There are some short entries that aren't desirable in the puzzle, but they're easily offset by several stellar long entries. Very impressive stuff.

-While Buzzfeed doesn't qualify as an independent source, I think it's fair to say that it will adopt an independent spirit, what with Caleb Madison in the editor's chair. Based on my experience of working with Caleb, he's got very high standards, especially when it comes to fill, so I expect their upcoming daily puzzle to be of top-notch quality.

Along with Buzzfeed, the Wall Street Journal is also going daily. The emergence of two new dailies has the potential to be a game changer. I know it's somewhat fashionable to rag on the New York Times crossword nowadays, and I won't do too much of that, except to say that I canceled my subscription about a year and a half ago and haven't regretted that decision a whole lot. The Times is still a high-quality crossword, and being that it is trying to be a puzzle for a mass audience, it usually does a very good job of that. But I'm a hardcore solver, and my tastes are going to be much better satisfied with a puzzle geared towards hardcore solvers, like Fireball and the AV Club. That's why I love the indies so much too.

I equate the Times puzzle with the 1967 version of Doctor Dolittle - it was a Best Picture nominee that year, alongside The Graduate, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Bonnie and Clyde, and In the Heat of the Night. Those latter four were landmark films, both aesthetically and culturally; in comparison, Doctor Dolittle represented the old guard, a conservative example of film-making that has hardly stood the test of time. Bonnie and Clyde revolutionized film editing, and I once argued that The Graduate ushered in the era of postmodernism in American film -- its influence is still seen today. The influence of the Times puzzle and Shortz himself cannot be understated; however, its competitors have since taken the reins in terms of shifting the paradigm.

We'll have to see what the Buzzfeed puzzle will look like, and how the Wall Street Journal will fare moving to a daily format. I'm especially excited about the WSJ - it's got the power of having a formidable print presence, has an excellent, experienced editor in place (Mike Shenk), and already has nurtured a dedicated puzzle audience, so it's reasonable to expect the Journal to be a legitimate Times competitor. The best thing is that this kind of competition benefits everyone - solvers, editors, and constructors alike. Such an exciting time to be a crossword constructor right now!

'Til next time.

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