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!


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