Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Aries Cryptic #13

Back again for this month's cryptic! This is a 15x15 block cryptic. It really is a step up in difficulty in constructing cryptics going to 15x15. In general, the longer the entry, the more difficult it becomes to clue. This grid has no entries under five letters, lots of seven- and nine-letter fact, there's no entries with an even number of letters, as I'm just noticing now. Hope you enjoy!

Aries Cryptic #13 - PUZ

Aries Cryptic #13 - PDF

Aries Cryptic #13 - SOLUTION

Intro to Cryptics Guide - PDF

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

April Throwback - "Double Threats"

For the first Aries Throwback puzzle, I've got a themed puzzle from the Aries Xword archives. Only going back to 2017 for this one, but I thought this was an appropriate puzzle to post as the NHL playoffs started on Wednesday. The first round of the NHL playoffs in particular are always great - four games a night, intense action, overtimes galore. There are no upsets come playoff time, either, evidenced by wild cards Columbus and Dallas notching road wins over division champions in Wednesday's action. I have no dog in the fight this year, so I'm adopting the Flames and the Islanders as my teams (my apologies, Flames and Islanders fans).

As for the puzzle, I did edit both the grid and the clues, so even if you solved a couple of years ago on its original release, there will be some new stuff in here for you. Hope you enjoy!

Aries Throwback - "Double Threats" - PUZ

Aries Throwback - "Double Threats" - PDF

Solution - PDF

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

April FREEstyle

Kicking off the new free Thursday puzzles with this freestyle offering. It's a 16x15 puzzle with 71 words and 28 blocks. I've included a PUZ file for computer solving and PDFs for paper-and-pencil solving, as well as the solution.

Remember to follow the Aries Puzzles page on Facebook for all updates on new puzzles. Next week I've got a themed throwback puzzle from the Aries Xword days lined up!

Happy solving,


April FREEstyle - PUZ

April FREEstyle - PDF

April FREEstyle - SOLUTION

Monday, April 1, 2019

Free Puzzles - Now Every Thursday!

Starting this Thursday, April 4th, I'll be releasing a free puzzle every Thursday right here at! Here's the tentative schedule of the puzzles that I'll be featuring on Aries Thursdays:

1st Thursday: Aries FREEstyle, a challenging original themeless crossword.
2nd Thursday: Aries Throwback, a (usually themed) puzzle from the Aries archives - these may be slightly or significantly edited from their original release.
3rd Thursday: Aries Cryptic, a challenging original block cryptic. Please note that Aries Cryptic will no longer be published on Mondays, and they'll be reduced to once-a-month from their current bi-weekly schedule. To make up for the difference, expect 15x15 block cryptics to be the norm.
4th Thursday: Aries FREE Rows Garden, a challenging original Rows Garden.
5th Thursday (when applicable): Wild card. Anything may go here, including variety cryptics, Puns & Anagrams, and a new variety format that I developed called Twists & Turns.

Check back here on Thursday for the first free puzzle!

Also, I've launched a new Aries Puzzles page on Facebook. I'll be posting on Facebook whenever I publish anything new on this site, and I'll also be posting when I send out subscription puzzles for Aries Freestyle and Aries Rows Garden. Be sure to follow the page for all Aries Puzzles updates!


Monday, March 25, 2019

Aries Cryptic #12 - "Entertainment Options"

Variety cryptic time! This is a 12x11 puzzle titled "Entertainment Options." No PUZ file this week; instead, I've prepared two PDF versions of the puzzle - an Easier version with standard cryptic enumerations, and a Harder version that only gives general notations like (2 wds.) or (Hyph.) when applicable. I'd recommend solving the Easier version if you're newer at variety cryptics. If you're a veteran to these, solve the Harder version.

Cryptic #12 - PDF (HARDER)

Cryptic #12 - PDF (EASIER)

Cryptic #12 - SOLUTION

Intro to Cryptics - PDF

Congrats to Dan Feyer on a record-setting eighth win at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament! I'll go ahead and crown Dan as "speed solver of the decade." Eight ACPT titles in the 2010s ain't too shabby. What will the 2020s hold?

Happy solving!


Monday, March 11, 2019

Aries Cryptic #11

Appropriately, Cryptic #11 is an 11x11 puzzle. Some nice clues emerged from this one, my favorite being 17-Across. Hope you enjoy!

Cryptic #11 - PUZ

Cryptic #11 - PDF

Cryptic #11 - SOLUTION

Intro to Cryptics - PDF

This year I've started offering monthly archive bundles for both subscription services (Rows Garden and Freestyle). January and February puzzles are currently available, priced at $1 per puzzle. Monthly bundles are a good way to try the weekly puzzles before fully committing to a subscription. Check it out if you'd like!

Happy solving,


Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Aries Freestyle Orca Nominees

It was humbling to see some love for Aries Freestyle in the just-released 2018 Orca Awards! The Orcas annually recognize the year's best in crossswords, and there was not only one but two Aries Freestyle puzzles included in Sam Donaldson's write-up. Freestyle #15 was nominated for Freestyle of the Year, and Freestyle #3 included a clue (35-Across, to be precise) nominated for the Clue of the Year.

Here are both of the Orca-nominated puzzles for your solving (or re-solving) enjoyment:

Freestyle #15 - PUZ

Freestyle #15 - PDF

Freestyle #15 - Solution

Freestyle #3 - PUZ

Freestyle #3- PDF

Freestyle #3 - Solution

For a service in its first year, it was quite the honor for Aries Freestyle to be included in such high company. Congrats to all of the nominees and winners, and thanks to Sam for the nominations and for the entertaining write-up - be sure to check out the full Orcas post here (spoilers abound, so be sure to solve the above puzzles first!).

Back with Cryptic #11 next week!


Monday, February 25, 2019

Cryptic #10, and some thoughts on "D.C. Cab"

Back to the good ol' cryptic this week, a full 15x15 size in fact! The first entries in the puzzle were 1-Across and 22-Across. I found the full 15x size a fresh challenge to construct - there's room for more entries, and longer entries, and generally the longer the entry the more difficult it is to clue. Hope you enjoy!

Aries Cryptic #10 - PUZ

Aries Cryptic #10 - PDF

Aries Cryptic #10 - SOLUTION

Intro to Cryptics - PDF

Revisiting my "crosswordese movies" bit from a while back, I did get around to seeing D.C. Cab. If my goal of watching these movies was to convince myself never to use these movies again in puzzles, I've so far succeeded with D.C. Cab. What an odd film...first off, crosswords would have it that this is a Mr. T film; of the 56 hits DCCAB gets in Matt Ginsberg's Clue Database, 41 of them include some reference to Mr. T. In fact, Mr. T is a minor character in the movie - even among an ensemble comedy cast, he rarely stands out (well, aside from those pants):

There's one scene late in the film where Mr. T gets to do the "let's band together and fight and win this thing!" pep talk to the rest of our scrappy, underdog gang of misfit cab drivers. It's basically three minutes of Patton sandwiched in the middle of a MadTV episode, and it's Mr. T's time to shine in the movie, but aside from that he's barely a character. But again, those pants....

If D.C. Cab is any one actor's movie, it's probably Adam Baldwin, who plays the lovable protagonist, Albert Hockenberry, who enters the zany world of the D.C. Cab Company in hopes of hitting the big-time as a cabbie in Washington, D.C. Or maybe it's a Max Gail movie; after all, he gets top billing in the end credits. Gail's performance as the owner of the cab company might be the movie's bright spot. Perhaps the main problem with D.C. Cab is that it's nobody's movie, a multi-storylined workplace sitcom written and directed by Joel Schumacher, whose similarly-plotted Car Wash script from a decade earlier surely served as a template for this movie. I'm not the biggest Schumacher fan, and this is the part of his career where frantic comedy seemed to be his niche. His previous film, The Incredible Shrinking Woman, was perhaps the cokiest of all the coky comedies of 1981, a cinematic disaster of hectic direction and shabby writing. D.C. Cab is similarly cocainey in its aesthetic, serving more as a static sitcom than a three-act film - the third act dilemma arises from nowhere and is hastily resolved. At least the gorilla on the loose in the third act of Shrinking Woman was nowhere to be found in this third act.

In the end D.C. Cab was watchable and it got some legit laughs from me, which I can't say about many comedies from this period. But for the most part, I was laughing at the movie rather than with it, and the high quotient of '80s cheese - the hacky comedians the populate the cast (Bill Maher and Paul Rodriguez included), the Giorgio Moroder music, the pants - disqualifies it as any sort of relevant film today. It's a pop culture relic, and a rather forgettable one. But it has its moments, and it has its pants.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Puns & Anagrams #1

Welcome back! As I mentioned last time, I've got a Puns & Anagrams puzzle today. See below for the links; in the PUZ version, there is one clue (36-Across) that I could only use the Notepad to replicate, so be sure to click on the Notepad for that clue.

Puns & Anagrams #1 - PUZ

Puns & Anagrams #1 - PDF

Puns & Anagrams #1 - SOLUTION

Puns & Anagrams is a format that is related to the cryptic, but stands alone and does its own thing. Will Shortz wrote a column explaining the basics of P&As a few years ago, and I can't put it much better than Will, but I'll try to sum up the most important concepts of the P&A that I keep in mind as I write these.

P&As differ from cryptics in two key ways. First, unlike cryptic clues which may read more like complete sentences, P&A clues are structured like a standard crossword clue, no matter how much wackiness the clue may entail. There is an imperative function of a standard crossword clue that the P&A must replicate; cryptic clues often lack this function. A fun characteristic of a P&A is that it can incorporate the familiar notations often seen at the ends of crossword clues (Abbr., e.g., et al., etc., cross-references, and so forth) into the wordplay itself. Keeping in mind that the clues must retain the structure of standard crossword clues, I like to think of a P&A like a parody crossword, in a similar vein to a Something Different puzzle (or "Cuckoo Crossword"), except that in a P&A, the grid is normal.

The second key difference is the grid. Since every letter in a P&A is checked twice, there's a lot more "falling into" answers than there would be in a block cryptic puzzle. Cryptics are much more rigid in their cluing structure because the solver inherently relies on each clue, since half of the squares in the grid are unchecked. In a P&A, it's possible to get most or all of an answer filled in by solving its crossing entries; hence, each P&A clue isn't required to give a straight definition, nor are anagram indicators required. This "looseness" in cluing rules is in place because the solver can rely on crossings much more so than in a block cryptic.

Hope you enjoy this change of pace - back to Cryptic #10 in two weeks!

Happy solving!

Monday, January 28, 2019

Aries Cryptic #9

Back again for Cryptic #9! I'd like to say that 8-Across was the seed entry, but I discovered that clue in the process of writing the grid, and it was one of those lightning-bolt clue moments that I've come to treasure. The name in question may not be the most familiar to everyone, but is a personal favorite of mine, which makes the discovery of the clue that much sweeter. Hope you enjoy!

I've got a Puns & Anagrams puzzle coming up next, and could use an extra test solver or two - let me know if you'd be interested!

Happy solving!

Aries Cryptic #9 - PUZ

Aries Cryptic #9 - PDF

Aries Cryptic #9 - SOLUTION

Intro to Cryptics - PDF

Monday, January 14, 2019

Aries Cryptic #8, and Crosswordese Movies

Hello again for Cryptic #8! I started this puzzle with 14-D, as I had that clue on ice for a little bit. It's not uncommon that I come across a good cluing angle for an entry, only to lose the entry in a grid change down the line. The upshot is that these can be seeded in subsequent puzzles, as was the case here. Hope you enjoy!

Aries Cryptic #8 - PUZ

Aries Cryptic #8 - PDF

Aries Cryptic #8 - SOLUTION

Intro to Cryptics - PDF

On a somewhat related note, I'm a big movie watcher, and I especially enjoy watching batches of movies with some overarching theme connecting them. This started in the summer of 2017, when I began a binge of movies released in the year 1981. I've literally lost count of how many '81s I've seen to date (I kept a journal for the first sixty or so), but it's close to a hundred at this point. I did 31 horror movies in 31 days this past October (OK, it took me 32 days, but don't tell anyone). I'm slowly making my way through all twenty or so films scored by Tangerine Dream. More recently I've taken to smaller spurts - I watched all eleven films directed by Hal Ashby, which, inspired by The Last Detail, spun off into a run of the film works of novelist/screenwriter Darryl Ponicsan.

I bring this up because I'm planning on doing a crossword-related movie spurt in the near future, and could use some help formulating the screening list. Roughly the theme of this spurt is "Movies more relevant in 2019 in crossword puzzles than as movies." This can also extend to actors/directors/film characters whose present-day crossword fame far outstrips their movie fame. Here's what I've got so far:

1. Ulee's Gold (1997)
2. D.C. Cab (1983)
3. Eleni (1985)
4. Dr. T. and the Women (2000)
5. Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
6. Lili (1953) - Gigi passing the "relevance test" by its being a Best Picture winner, IMO

Then there are the crosswordese actors to consider. In these cases, some of the movies pass the relevance test, but its usage in the crossword is most often connected with a not-very-relevant-in-2019 person. For instance, I would argue A Shot in the Dark (1964) is film-relevant as the first sequel to The Pink Panther, and is the first film in the series where Inspector Clouseau is the main character (he was a side character in the first film, fun fact). The film certainly isn't Wizard of Oz-relevant, but far more relevant than, say, D.C. Cab. However, less relevant in 2019 is the film's co-star ELKE Sommer, whose first name nonetheless is the only reason we see A Shot in the Dark referenced in crosswords nowadays. Similarly, here are some other examples:

1. The Thin Man (1934) - ASTA the dog
2. La Bamba (1987) - ESAI Morales
3. Say Anything... (1989) - IONE Skye
4. Chocolat (2000) - Lena OLIN
5. Butterfly (1982) - PIA Zadora
6. The Verdict (1982) - Milo O'SHEA

Thankfully I've already seen Butterfly, which is stunningly wretched. And I'll go to bat anyday for The Thin Man and vouch for its relevance, but let's be honest - no movie-related crosswordese list is complete without throwing a bone to ASTA.

If you have any good ideas for movies to include, I'd love to hear them! I feel like there's some obvious ones I'm missing. I realize there's a lot of debate to be had regarding relevancy and which movies to pick among actors, etc., but that's part of the fun of coming up with the list! Let me know if you have any suggestions.

Happy solving!