Wednesday, December 25, 2019

December FREE RG, and Aries Puzzles Year in Review

I’ve got a long Year in Review post that follows, but first off, here’s the December FREE RG. This puzzle started with the New Years’-inspired entry in Row A. Hope you enjoy!

December FREE RG - PDF: Hardest | Harder | Easier | Easiest | Solution

December FREE RG - RGZ (for solving in the Rows Garden app for iPad/iPhoneAndroid, and Kindle Fire)


This was quite a landmark year at Aries Puzzles headquarters! Both Aries Rows Garden and Aries Freestyle successfully transitioned to weekly-delivered services, and in addition, free weekly Thursday puzzles were introduced in April. In total, Aries Puzzles published 153 puzzles in 2019, counting both email-delivered subscription puzzles and free website puzzles, by far the most prolific year to date. Let’s run down the highlights of 2019, season by season, with handy links included for those who may have missed these puzzles the first time around.

WINTER (January-March): The year started off with a bang right away on January 1-2 for the launch of Year 6 of Aries Rows Garden and Year 2 of Aries Freestyle. Rows Garden solvers were excited for the launch of the Rows Garden app for iOS, which offered a new option for solving Aries Rows Garden puzzles. On the website, I wrote long-form essays on crosswordese movies, and in particular the 1983 Mr. T. comedy D.C. Cab. Upon re-reading these just now, it reminds me that I need to resurrect this bit, if for no other reason than to lament the recent loss of Ulee himself, Peter Fonda. In February I published the first Puns & Anagrams puzzle on the site; if you dig P&As, be sure to also check out the pair of P&As that I wrote for the New York Times this year. March saw the lone variety cryptic published this year, titled “Entertainment Options,” and I wrote up a post acknowledging the two Orca nominations earned by Aries Freestyle. Speaking of Aries Freestyle, March ended as C.C. Burnikel crafted the first guest Freestyle of the year.

SPRING (April-June): April began with the launch of free weekly puzzles on the site every Thursday, and I launched the Aries Puzzles page on Facebook. I waxed poetic about The French Lieutenant’s Woman in a Rows Garden email and had a couple of lovely interactions with subscribers about that film as a result.  The second guest Freestyle, written by Peter Wentz, was published in late May. Also published in May was the debut of Twists & Turns, a puzzle format that I developed. The creation of a new format was perhaps the most exciting thing that I accomplished this year. I published the second T&T in October and am working on a writing more of them as we speak! Stay tuned for more news in that realm.

SUMMER (July-September): Things started to heat up come summertime – the July 3rd Freestyle featured a clue that one subscriber reported as “one of my favorite all-time clues.” The third guest Freestyle of the year was published in late July, this one written by Stella Zawistowski. I may have taken a week’s vacation in August, but Aries Puzzles takes no vacation, so it was business as usual. The Rows Garden app debuted its Android version, opening yet another avenue for Rows Garden solving. The end of August saw the publishing of a Double or Nothing puzzle, and I once again got to appreciate the difficulty that is writing a Patrick Berry-invented format (a tip to the kids: if, like me, you think that a Triple or Nothing puzzle “shouldn’t be that tough” to write, think again). In September, the New York Times ran a long-form interview with me on Wordplay, their crossword blog. For the year, I had ten puzzles published in the Times – seven themelesses, one Sunday themed puzzle, and two Puns & Anagrams.

AUTUMN (October-December): The chill of fall started to creep in, and speaking of chills and creeps, I reminisced about Creepy Crosswords in the Throwback puzzle for October. Also in October, Aries Rows Garden ran a rare Meta Contest – congrats again to Jenny Gutbezahl on winning the three-month subscription extension as the randomly-selected winner of that contest! On the Aries Freestyle side, Caitlin Reid contributed the fourth guest Freestyle of the year at the beginning of October. In November, I wrote a current-events puzzle for the news website Vox; there’s still a chance that more could come of that opportunity, so do write them and demand that I write puzzles for them, if you are so inclined. Going back into the nostalgia file, the November Throwback celebrated a special ten-year anniversary for Aries Puzzles. Holiday-themed puzzles were prominently featured throughout the autumn season; Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s all got acknowledgments in Rows Gardens and Freestyles. And technically we’re still not done with 2019, as there is a 53rd Rows Garden and a 53rd Freestyle – a guest puzzle written by Neville Fogarty and Doug Peterson – to be sent next week. 

As December winds down, things are moving steadily but smoothly here at Aries Puzzles HQ. I’m primed for 2020, for the next decade, and for what’s to come after that. If you’ve solved all 153 puzzles this year, or this is the first post that you’ve ever read on this site, I hope you’ll be back for more! My mission each year is to improve on the previous year, and while this year will be tough to top, I’ll do my very best to try. As always, thanks for solving!


Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Aries Cryptic #21

Here's the cryptic for this month! This puzzle started with the North Pole-inspired entry at 15-Across. My favorite clue might be 23-Across. Hope you enjoy!

Aries Cryptic #21 - PUZ | PDF | PDF (Grayscale) | Solution

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Aries Throwback - "Fluctuating Temps"

Going back to one of the very last Aries Xword puzzles, a seasonal offering titled "Fluctuating Temps." This is an extra sized 17x16 puzzle, and features some challenging cluing - be prepared for a workout with this one.

Happy solving!

Fluctuating Temps - PUZ | PDF | PDF (Grayscale) | Solution

Thursday, December 5, 2019

December FREEstyle

Here's the December FREEstyle, which is a 68-word, 32-block puzzle.

This puzzle started with the entry at 37-Across. I find this site especially interesting in that it is an attempt to separate the sports page from the newspaper and turn it into a standalone entity. A fancy term for this is "dis-aggregation," according to the Internet, and dis-aggregation is something that the world of independent and online crossword puzzles are also attempting. The history of the crossword puzzle is intrinsically tied to newspapers, and as more and more print versions of newspapers fully transition to online spaces, it is uncertain which print newspaper traditions will also make the jump into a new age of media. I think that crosswords are doing well to make this transition, but there is still a ways to go, and news media will still likely be the primary lifeforce of the crossword puzzle, at least in the near future. However, like the website referenced at 37-Across, independent puzzle sources represent a unique challenge to the traditional model, and I for one am excited to be a part of this still-developing landscape.

A reminder that while subscriptions to Aries Rows Garden and Aries Freestyle are always open, there is a special gift subscription offer running through the holiday season. If you purchase one subscription, you can purchase a second gift subscription for 50% off! For more details, check out the Subscriptions page.

Happy solving!

December FREEstyle - PUZ | PDF | PDF (Grayscale) | | Solution

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

November FREE RG

Back with this month's FREE RG! Aries Rows Garden subscribers will find the clue at C1 familiar if they already solved the subscriber puzzle on Tuesday. Happy solving, and Happy Thanksgiving to those celebrating!

November FREE RG - PDF: Hardest | Harder | Easier | Easiest | | Solution

November FREE RG - RGZ (for solving in the Rows Garden app for iPad/iPhoneAndroid, and Kindle Fire)

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Aries Cryptic #20

Here's this month's cryptic! I had a lot of fun cluing this puzzle - hope you enjoy!

Aries Cryptic #20 - PUZ | PDF | PDF (Grayscale) | Solution

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Aries Throwback - "Land O' Flakes"

This month's Throwback puzzle is a bit of a nostalgic milestone for me - this month marks the ten-year anniversary of Minnesota Crosswords, which was my first major crossword project, and which technically led to the birth of Aries Puzzles as a legal entity.

The book has been out of print for a while, but it had a nice run, and while my work has vastly improved over these ten years, I still look back fondly at that time when I wrote the book. This puzzle is mostly a fully-revamped version of the original, which appeared in the book - my standards for fill have increased a bit in the last ten years - but the theme answers are all intact, and I even wedged in a couple of extra Minnesota references for nostalgia's sake, which I hope you don't mind. 15-Across didn't need to be in the grid, but hey, a Minnesota-inspired crossword may be the best context to use that answer, so there you go.

Happy solving!

Land O' Flakes - PUZ | PDF | Grayscale PDF | Solution

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

November FREEstyle

Here's the FREEstyle for November, which is a 70-word, 29-block puzzle. I've recently started playing around with quad-stacked corners; this puzzle started with the 8-letter stacks in the northeast and southwest. Even those 6-letter stacks are fun to fill, with a couple of longer across entries intersecting them. Hope you enjoy!

November FREEstyle - PUZ | PDF | Grayscale PDF | Solution

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Twists & Turns #2

I've got another Twists & Turns for you this week! If you remember the first T&T that was published back in May, you'll see that I've added a second version this time: a Harder version which lists the Twists in alphabetical order. I had a few test solvers try the Harder version and it played pretty tough, so be forewarned if you try the Harder version. The Standard version lists the Twists in grid order, and I recommend this version for those attempting the format for the first time.

As with the first Twists & Turns, I'd love to hear as much solver feedback as possible! Especially if you tried the Harder version, it would be very valuable to get an insight on the solving experience for these puzzles. It's tough for me to gauge how the format plays as I haven't actually solved one of these myself. I do enjoy writing them and have plans in mind to explore the format in-depth (perhaps in EP form), but I'd like to get a good sense of how well solvers enjoy these puzzles before I dive in headfirst. Whether you love the puzzle or, just as importantly, if you don't, please don't hesitate to send an email or leave a comment.

Happy solving!

Twists & Turns #2 - Standard Version (PDF) | Harder Version (PDF) | Solution (PDF)

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

October FREE RG

Here's the FREE RG for October. This puzzle started with the entry at B2; it was also nice to get an additional seasonal entry in the grid at C1. Happy Halloween!

October FREE RG - RGZ (for use in the Rows Garden app for iPad/iPhoneAndroid, and Kindle Fire)

October FREE RG - PDF: Hardest | Harder | Easier | Easiest | | Solution

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Aries Cryptic #19

Here's the Cryptic for this month. Timely 1-Across entry for Halloween season! The test solvers seemed to like 2-Down the best - hope you enjoy!

Aries Cryptic #19 - PUZ | PDF | Grayscale PDF | Solution | Intro to Cryptics Guide

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Aries Throwback: "Filled with Fright"

This month's throwback is titled "Filled with Fright," and it was originally published in the book Creepy Crosswords, which you can order for purchase from the Crossword Archive. This is a timely puzzle, as we're knee deep into autumn and the Halloween season. Hope you enjoy!

"Filled with Fright" - PUZ | PDF | Grayscale PDF | Solution

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

October FREEstyle

Here's this month's FREEstyle, which is a 68-word, 28-block puzzle. If you're an Aries Freestyle subscriber, you know that I've been tinkering with freestyles with low 3-letter word counts. This is another puzzle from that binge of puzzlemaking; just four 3s to speak of in this grid. The seed entry was 18-Across, and my favorite clue might be 27-Down. Hope you enjoy!

If you're not already a Freestyle or Rows Garden subscriber, make that happen! Special pricing going on now - $5 off most subscriptions. I've also updated the Monthly Bundles through September, so if you'd like to try a sample of the puzzles you'd solve as a weekly subscriber, go ahead and buy a bundle or two.

Happy solving!

October FREEstyle: PUZ | PDF | Grayscale PDF | Solution

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

September FREE RG

Here's this month's FREE Rows Garden. This puzzle started with the entry at B2. It was nice to get C2 to stack on top of the seed entry, and my favorite clue in the bunch is probably E1. This played on the easier side for test solvers - hope you enjoy!

September FREE RG - RGZ (for use in the Rows Garden app for iPad/iPhoneAndroid, and Kindle Fire)

September FREE RG - PDF: Hardest | Harder | Easier | Easiest | | Solution

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Aries Cryptic #18

Standard block cryptic this month. It felt like this one took forever to write, and it's on the tougher side according to one of my test solvers. 11-Across was the crowd favorite clue among the testers - hope you enjoy!

Wordplay, the New York Times' crossword blog, recently published an interview with me! Check it out here.

Happy solving!

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Aries Throwback - "Making a Deposit"

For this month's Throwback puzzle, we're going all the way back to 2011 for "Making a Deposit," which was originally included in the book Michigan Crosswords. I just got word that that book is now officially out of print, after a strong eight year run, so it was fun going back in memory lane to revisit the book now.

This puzzle is based on a quirky Michigan tradition, one that was immortalized in a rare double-episode of Seinfeld. I've edited most of the Michigan-insider cluing out, so this is solvable for a general audience. Hope you enjoy!

Making a Deposit - PUZ

Making a Deposit - PDF

Making a Deposit - PDF (Grayscale)

Making a Deposit - Solution

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

September FREEstyle

Here's this month's FREEstyle - it's a 68-word, 30-block puzzle. This one started with the clue/entry pair at 33-Across. Hope you enjoy!

You'll notice on the sidebar that I've added labels to the posts for the Thursday puzzles, which will making searching through the archives for specific types of puzzles that much easier.

Happy solving!

September FREEstyle - PUZ

September FREEstyle - PDF

September FREEstyle - PDF (Grayscale)

September FREEstyle - Solution

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Double or Nothing

It's a fifth Thursday of the month, which means it's time for a wild-card variety puzzle. Here's a Double or Nothing, which is another format developed by the great Patrick Berry. These puzzles play like a themeless puzzle with one significant twist: every square in the puzzle either contains two or zero letters. You'll have to use logic in order to place answers into the grid correctly.

I actually started writing this puzzle to see if a "Triple or Nothing" could be done, but alas, that turned out to be a too hard of a challenge. I found the standard Double or Nothing tough in and of itself to create, but it was an enjoyable puzzle to write. Hope you enjoy!

Double or Nothing - PDF

Double or Nothing - Solution

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

August FREE RG

Here's this month's FREE RG. This puzzle started with the entry at B2 - I've always enjoyed that term for some reason. I also like the entries at C1, E2, F2, and J1, among others, and among the clues, I enjoyed learning that bit of trivia in D1, so that may be my favorite clue.

Good news for Rows Garden fans who are Android users - there's a new Android/Kindle Fire version of the Rows Garden app that debuted for the iPad/iPhone in January! You can get the new Android app in the Google Play store and Amazon, and you can get the iOS version in the Apple store. Once you've downloaded the app, you can click on the RGZ file that is attached below to open the puzzle in the app. Solving Rows Gardens on the iPad has become my preferred RG solving option this year, so if you haven't gotten your hands on the app yet, do so now!

New variety puzzle next week - happy solving!

August FREE RG - Hardest (PDF)

August FREE RG - Harder (PDF)

August FREE RG - Easier (PDF)

August FREE RG - Easiest (PDF)

August FREE RG - RGZ (for iPad/iPhone/Android/Kindle Fire)

August FREE RG - Solution (PDF)

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Aries Cryptic #17

Here's this month's cryptic, with a bit of a twist. There's a slight theme that will be revealed to you as you solve the puzzle. This kind of block cryptic with an added theme is something that I associate with The Nation cryptics written by Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto, so consider this to be a tribute to that form. Hope you enjoy!

Aries Cryptic #17 - PUZ

Aries Cryptic #17 - PDF

Aries Cryptic #17 - PDF (Grayscale)

Aries Cryptic #17 - Solution

Intro to Cryptics - PDF

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

August FREEstyle

Here's this month's FREEstyle! I started this puzzle with 33-Across, which is a clue/entry pair that had been on ice for a while.

If you're liking these FREEstyles and aren't yet subscribed to Aries Freestyle, please consider it! It's a weekly freestyle that is delivered straight to your email inbox. The monthly bundles for Aries Freestyle and Aries Rows Garden are also updated through July, so if you'd like a small taste of what you'd get as a subscriber, check that out too.

Happy solving!

August FREEstyle - PUZ

August FREEstyle - PDF

August FREEstyle - Grayscale PDF

August FREEstyle - Solution

Wednesday, July 24, 2019


Back with this month's FREE RG! Row A was the seed entry for this puzzle. Among the clues, my favorites may be D1 and I2. Hope you enjoy! I'll be back next week with a Freestyle.

July FREE RG - Hardest (PDF)

July FREE RG - Harder (PDF)

July FREE RG - Easier (PDF)

July FREE RG - Easiest (PDF)

July FREE RG - RGZ (for use in the Rows Garden app for iPad/iPhone)

July FREE RG - Solution (PDF)

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Aries Cryptic #16

Here's this month's Cryptic. I started this puzzle with 13-Across - shout out to my old home state, Minnesota! I noticed a good wordplay angle with the politician in question a while back and have been saving it for a while. Though it's probably not the best clue in the puzzle - the test solvers were unanimous in their praise for 14-Down. Hope you enjoy!


Aries Cryptic #16 - PUZ

Aries Cryptic #16 - PDF

Aries Cryptic #16 - PDF (Grayscale)

Aries Cryptic #16 - Solution

Intro to Cryptics - PDF

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Aries Throwback: "Hairy Styles"

For this month's Throwback, we're going back to 2014 for this Medium-difficulty puzzle, titled "Hairy Styles."

This is another puzzle from the Aries Xword archive - if you're interested, check out Maverick Crosswords, which is a compendium of 72 puzzles from the Aries Xword archive that was published by Sterling last year.

Happy solving!


Aries Throwback - Hairy Styles - PUZ

Aries Throwback - Hairy Styles - PDF

Aries Throwback - Hairy Styles - PDF (Grayscale)

Aries Throwback - Hairy Styles - Solution

Thursday, July 4, 2019

July FREEstyle

Here's this month's FREEstyle. The clue/entry pair at 31-Across was the seed entry, and I also especially like the clues at 14- and 56-Across. Hope you enjoy!

July FREEstyle - PUZ

July FREEstyle - PDF

July FREEstyle - PDF (Grayscale)

July FREEstyle - Solution

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Aries Throwback - "On Cloud Nine"

Going back to 2015 for this month's Throwback. This puzzle is a medium-difficulty puzzle titled "On Cloud Nine." There was some light editing of the grid and substantial editing of the clues, including most of the theme clues. One thing I'm noticing is how my cluing style has evolved over the years - back in 2015, I was more willing to use wordier clues. These days, brevity is much more important to me. Hope you enjoy!


Aries Throwback - "On Cloud Nine" - PUZ

Aries Throwback - "On Cloud Nine" - PDF

Aries Throwback - "On Cloud Nine" - PDF (Grayscale)

Aries Throwback - "On Cloud Nine - Solution

Thursday, June 6, 2019

June FREEstyle

Thanks for all the comments about last week's Twists & Turns! This week I'm back with a freestyle, which is a 68-word, 32-block puzzle. I've been playing around with staggered 13s recently, and this layout saves on the black square count with the two 15-letter downs that cut through the center stack at 3- and 11-Down. This puzzle played relatively easyish for the testers - how did it treat you?

Happy solving!

June FREEstyle - PUZ

June FREEstyle - PDF

June FREEstyle - Grayscale PDF

June FREEstyle - Solution

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Twists & Turns #1

I'm excited to debut a brand new variety puzzle format called Twists & Turns! I've worked hard to develop this format over the past few months and now it's time for solvers to take a crack at it.

The directions for Twists & Turns are included in the PDF below. For the maiden puzzle, I'm only offering one difficulty version, with the Twists listed in grid order, though if I write more of these, I do intend on also offering a "Harder" version that lists the Twists alphabetically (similar to a Harder Rows Garden listing the blooms alphabetically). I want solvers to get the hang of the format first, however, so this first puzzle lists the Twists in grid order.

Because this is the first ever T&T, I'd really appreciate solver feedback on this one! If you liked it, or if you didn't, I'd very much like to hear from as many solvers as possible. I really enjoyed writing this first puzzle, and I have some ideas for further exploration of this format, but you the solver are the ultimate judge, and your feedback will be extremely helpful as I consider the future of Twists & Turns. Don't hesitate to leave a comment below, or you can always send me an email too.

Happy solving!

Twists & Turns #1 - PDF

Twists & Turns #1 - Solution

Wednesday, May 22, 2019


This week I've got a Rows Garden! See below for the links for the PDFs and an RGZ file for use in the Rows Garden app for iPad and iPhone. An explanation of the four difficulty levels can be seen on the sidebar on the right side of this page.

Happy solving!


May FREE RG - Hardest (PDF)

May FREE RG - Harder (PDF)

May FREE RG - Easier (PDF)

May FREE RG - Easiest (PDF)

May FREE RG - Solution (PDF)

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Aries Throwback - "Comeback Kids"

Aries Throwback this week! Going back to 2015 for this puzzle, titled "Comeback Kids." I made a slight revision, mostly in the northwest corner, which included changing part of the first theme entry. Looking back on this puzzle, one thing I really like was the non-theme long fill, particularly 11- and 34-Down. I always made interesting non-theme fill a priority for Aries Xword puzzles; this is a good example of that effort.

If you're interested in solving more Aries Xword puzzles, be sure to check out Maverick Crosswords, which was published last year by Sterling Publishing. It's essentially a greatest hits mixtape of Aries Xword puzzles, which were originally published 2014-2017. It seems like eons have passed since I've written those puzzles, and it's always fun to look back on that early work. Hope you enjoy today's throwback!

Comeback Kids - PUZ

Comeback Kids - PDF

Comeback Kids - PDF (Grayscale)

Comeback Kids - Solution

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

May FREEstyle

This week I've got a 71-word, 33-block freestyle to share. I've really enjoyed exploring freestyle layouts with either left-right or top-bottom symmetry in the last few years; this is an example of the latter. Using atypical symmetry can accommodate some stacks of unusual lengths. I'm fairly certain this is the only 14/12/14 center stack that I've written.

You'll see that I've included a second PDF with a grayscale version of the grid, as an ink-saving option for pencil-and-paper solvers.

Happy solving!

May FREEstyle - PUZ

May FREEstyle - PDF

May FREEstyle - PDF (Grayscale)

May FREEstyle - Solution

Wednesday, April 24, 2019


This week I've got a free Rows Garden to share! As is the case with the puzzles that I send out each week to Aries Rows Garden subscribers, I offer these in four levels of difficulty: Hardest, Harder, Easier, and Easiest. See the sidebar for a description of each level, as well as general instructions for solving Rows Gardens if you're new to the format.

I've also included an RGZ file for use in the new Rows Garden app - I highly recommend this app if you've got an iPad or iPhone!

Happy solving!

Aries FREE RG - Hardest (PDF)

Aries FREE RG - Harder (PDF)

Aries FREE RG - Easier (PDF)

Aries FREE RG - Easiest (PDF)

Aries FREE RG - RGZ (for use in the Rows Garden app for iPad and iPhone)

Aries FREE RG - Solution (PDF)

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

Aries 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!