Thursday, May 21, 2020

Aries Cryptic #26

Aries Cryptic #26 - PUZ | PDF | PDF (Grayscale) | Solution

Here's the cryptic for the month. This puzzle started with the northwest corner, first cluing 2-Down and 9-Across. I took the slow approach cluing this puzzle, working on a clue or two a day over a couple of weeks. Hope you enjoy!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Aries Throwback - "Play With Your Food"

Aries Throwback - "Play With Your Food" - PUZ | PDF | PDF (Grayscale) | Solution

Here's this month's Throwback puzzle, titled "Play With Your Food," which was originally published for Aries Xword in 2017. This should play on the easier side. It's nice to have a break from the tougher puzzles once in a while. Hope you enjoy!

Thursday, May 7, 2020

May FREEstyle

May 2020 FREEstyle - PUZ | PDF | PDF (Grayscale) | Solution PDF

Thanks for all the feedback regarding last week's Twists & Turns! Back with a standard Freestyle this week. This puzzle is a 70-word, 28-block puzzle. 7-Down was the seed entry here, and I especially like how the center section feeds into the northeast and southwest sections of the grid.

Happy solving!

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Twists & Turns #3

Twists & Turns #3 - Standard Version PDF | Harder Version PDF | Standard Version JPZ SOLUTION PDF

Back with another Twists & Turns puzzle! The first two of these seemed to be very well-received by solvers, so it's important to keep these coming.

As with the last T&T, the puzzle is offered in two difficulty levels. The Standard version lists the Twist clues in grid order, left to right and top to bottom, while the Harder version lists the Twist clues in alphabetical order. I recommend the Standard version for solvers new to the format and non-experts  - if I were solving these, I'd prefer the Standard version myself. But I know many of you are looking for an extra challenge, so for experts and gluttons for punishment, give the Harder version a try.

For now, these puzzles are PDF only. I imagine that a JPZ version can be created for these; however, I don't even know how to begin creating a JPZ file from scratch. For those who are technically adept at creating JPZ files, I'd be interested in a tutorial to show me the ropes! Send me an email if you would be willing to walk me through the process.

UPDATE: Thanks to Jeff Davidson for creating a JPZ version! I've added a link above. After downloading the file, use the JPZ solving applet on Crossword Nexus to solve. The JPZ file only supports the Standard version of the puzzle. I've given the JPZ version a test run and it works pretty well. Thanks so much Jeff!

As before, the more feedback the better for this new format - feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email directly. Each solving experience gives me greater insight into how the format plays, so whether you enjoyed it or - equally important - if you didn't enjoy it, your feedback is much appreciated.

Happy solving!

Thursday, April 23, 2020


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

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

Here's this months Rows Garden. This puzzle started with the colloquial entry at C2, and other favorite entries in this grid include F1, G2, and H2. Happy solving!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Aries Cryptic #25

Aries Cryptic #25 - PUZ | PDF | PDF (Grayscale) | Solution

Here's this month's Cryptic. This one started with the 12-Across entry. When writing a block cryptic, I start with cluing the longest entries and end with the shortest, filling the grid as I go along. Usually the puzzle comes together one quadrant at a time; here 12-Across was followed by 9-Down, then 5- and 15-Across, always making sure that there are viable filling options for the shorter entries. Then I tackled the southwest quadrant in a similar fashion, then moving to the long entries in the northwest and southeast. The two four-letter answers at 11- and 24-Across were the last clues written. This approach is unlike all other puzzles that I write, which present a much clearer grid-first, cluing-second division of labor.

Happy solving!

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Aries Throwback - "That's Debatable"

Aries Throwback - "That's Debatable" - PUZ | PDF | PDF (Grayscale) | Solution

Here's this month's Throwback puzzle, titled "That's Debatable," which was originally published in February 2019 in The Growler magazine. Happy solving!

Thursday, April 2, 2020

April FREEstyle

April 2020 FREEstyle - PUZ | PDF | PDF (Grayscale) | Solution

Here's the FREEstyle for April! This puzzle started with the center stack, which was built around the entry at 34-Across. Hope you enjoy!

If you're looking for more puzzles, for the month of April, all Monthly Bundles are 50% off! Also can hit up the free Rows Garden archive - there are over 120 free Rows Gardens for your solving (and re-solving) pleasure.

Happy solving!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020


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

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

Here's the FREE RG for the month! This puzzle started with the colloquial phrase at C1. Other entries I enjoyed including were D2, E1, G1, and I2, all of which have very few, if any, previous appearances in crosswords. Hope you enjoy!

If you're looking for more variety puzzles, I highly recommend the newest suite written by the great Patrick Berry, titled "Sweet 16." Patrick released this set of mini variety puzzles in February, but I didn't have an opportunity to solve this until this past weekend. I solved all the puzzles in around four hours, which makes its $10 price more than worth it. Each of the sixteen variety types which lead to the "grand finale" delivers a strong "a-ha" moment or two within the puzzle. And once you see how everything comes together in the end, it's a truly marvelous work. There's an accessibility in this suite that I appreciate as well - not too many of the puzzles were true brain-busters, but each makes your brain work in a different, satisfying way. My favorite puzzles of the set include "Double Team," "Fitting In," "Fair Share," "Connections," and "Flower Clusters," which is a clever spin on a Rows Garden. I'll say it again: this was a terrific set of puzzles! For more info and to purchase, click here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Aries Cryptic #24

Aries Cryptic #24 - PUZ | PDF | PDF (Grayscale) | Solution | Intro to Cryptics Guide (PDF)

Here's this month's Cryptic, which was seeded by the two 12-letter entries at 4- and 11-Down. Hope you enjoy!

Also on the American cryptic front, The Nation announced it will be discontinuing its long-running cryptic at the end of the month. The good news is that The Nation cryptic writers Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto will be continuing to write their fine cryptics through Patreon starting in April. Click here for more info and to subscribe to Out of Left Field cryptics!

Happy solving,


Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Aries Throwback - "Giving Back"

Aries Throwback - "Giving Back" - PUZ | PDF | PDF (Grayscale) | Solution

Back with this month's Throwback puzzle! This puzzle, titled "Giving Back," was originally published in 2017 in The Growler magazine. This is a pretty simple theme but fun at the same time. I like that 18-Across is now more personal to me than when I originally wrote the puzzle, as one of my neighbors is from there, and as a result I see lots of that cool trident flag!

Happy solving, and stay safe out there.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

March FREEstyle

March 2020 FREEstyle - PUZ | PDF | PDF (Grayscale) | Solution

Got the March FREEstyle this week, but first let's recap the Cryptic contest from last month, "Treasure Hunt." There were 84 correct entries this time around, and the randomly-selected winner is Tim Tebbe. Tim has chosen a two-month Bundle subscription as his prize - congrats Tim! Thanks for all who solved. Here's the solution including the meta explanation:

Aries Cryptic #23 "Treasure Hunt" - Solution (PDF)

Back to the FREEstyle for this month, which is a 70-word, 29-block puzzle. This one started with the entry at 20-Across. With the 40th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice recently commemorated, I had a chance to watch the full game for the first time in many years. It was instructive to watch just how much the US was outmatched in that game, and how terrible first-period Soviet goaltending in particular was the key for the Americans to have any shot of competing. The broadcast certainly is a memorable one, and Al Michaels' play-by-play throughout the game was stellar, not just the famous call at the end of the game. Underappreciated is the color work by the then recently-retired Ken Dryden, whose voice-cracking "Unbelievable!" after Michaels' famous call punctuates the moment. Good stuff!

Monday, March 2, 2020

2019 Orca Awards - Best Freestyle winner!

The ninth annual Orca Awards have been announced! This list of the year's best in puzzling is the brainchild of Sam Donaldson at the Crossword Fiend blog, and is always a treat to read. This year was especially special, as Caitlin Reid took home Best Freestyle for her guest Aries Freestyle puzzle from last October!

One of the highlights of 2019 was working with all six guest constructors for Aries Freestyle - C.C. Burnikel, Peter Wentz, Stella Zawistowski, Neville Fogarty, and Doug Peterson, in addition to Caitlin. In the case of Caitlin's puzzle, I was particularly awed by the smoothness of the grid, but I think the puzzle was elevated even higher by the cleverness of Caitlin's clues. A true masterpiece - congrats Caitlin!

Thursday, February 27, 2020

February FREE RG

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

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

Back with this month's Rows Garden! This puzzle started with the entry at C2; while it's an entry that isn't making its debut, it lends a nice letter pattern for its intersecting blooms. For me the fun in constructing a Rows Garden isn't so much the seed entry but uncovering the best fill that emerges from the seed. Here entries like E2, F1, and G2 were pleasant surprises that resulted from the trial-and-error process of constructing the grid. Hope you enjoy!

A few days remaining to send in your answer for the Meta Cryptic contest! I've already received over 50 correct entries so far. The contest runs through 7 PM PST on Monday, March 2nd, so be sure to give it a shot!

Happy solving,


Thursday, February 20, 2020

Aries Cryptic #23 - "Treasure Hunt"

This month's Cryptic is another meta contest! It's titled "Treasure Hunt," and the meta answer is a seven-letter proper noun. There's a slightly shorter window to enter the meta contest this time - email your answer by 7 PM PST on Monday, March 2nd. As was the case with the January meta crossword, one randomly-selected entrant with a correct answer will receive a two-month Aries subscription of their choice.

The meta answer isn't super challenging to get in this case, however, cryptics are a different beast altogether than standard crosswords, so finishing the puzzle itself may be more of a challenge depending on your cryptic skills. But I expect cryptic experts will have no problem with the meta here. Whatever your solving level, I hope you enjoy this one!

Aries Cryptic #23 - "Treasure Hunt" - PUZ | PDF | PDF (Grayscale) | Intro to Cryptics Guide (PDF) | Solution

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Aries Throwback - "Communication Breakdown"

Thanks for all those who submitted an answer to the "First-Class" meta contest from last month! There were 26 correct entries along with 3 incorrect entries. The randomly-selected winner among the correct entries is Brian Hattenbach, who will receive a two-month Aries subscription of his choice! Here's the solution PDF, which includes the explanation of the meta answer:

Aries Meta "First-Class" - Solution

And here is this month's Throwback puzzle, an easyish puzzle originally published in 2015 titled "Communication Breakdown." This one has a basic theme that makes use of some fun theme answers. Hope you enjoy!

Communication Breakdown - PUZ | PDF | PDF (Grayscale) | Solution

Thursday, February 6, 2020

February FREEstyle

Here's the February FREEstyle, which is a 68-word, 34-block puzzle. This puzzle features the classic staggered 11s in the middle, which I don't do too often anymore. Always good to revisit a successful format like this. Hope you enjoy!

The January 2020 monthly bundles are now available! Special attention to the January Freestyle bundle, which includes a 21x21 freestyle that I sent to subscribers last week, if you're interested in a supersized challenge.

Also, still time to send in your answer to the "First-Class" meta crossword that was posted last week. Deadline for entries is next Wednesday, February 12th, at 7 PM PST.

Happy solving!

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

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Aries Meta - "First-Class"

For the fifth Thursday this month, I've got a meta crossword! Puzzle lovers undoubtedly are familiar with meta crosswords, whose rise to mainstream popularity over the last decade must be primarily attributed to Matt Gaffney, who writes metas for his Matt Gaffney's Weekly Crossword Contest as well as the Wall Street Journal.

This meta, titled "First-Class," is a toughie - let's figure a solid Week 4 on the Gaffney scale. Consider yourself forewarned! The meta answer is a five-letter article of clothing that's missing from the grid. Submit your answer via email by 7 PM on Wednesday, February 12th. One randomly-chosen correct entry will receive a free 2-month Aries Puzzles subscription of their choice! If the winner already is a subscriber, they would receive a 2-month extension to their subscription.

I'm considering adding meta puzzles as a regular feature of the site, so if you enjoyed this puzzle, let me know in the comments or your submission email! I've got ideas for metas involving non-standard crossword formats such as cryptics and Rows Gardens as well, so if this sounds like something you'd like to see more of around here, do let me know!

Happy solving!

Aries Meta "First Class" - PUZ | PDF | Grayscale PDF

Thursday, January 23, 2020

January FREE RG

Back with the first FREE RG of 2020 - as always, hope you enjoy!

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

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

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Aries Cryptic #22

Here's the first cryptic of 2020! This puzzle started with 22-Down, which also happened to be the test solvers' favorite clue. I also enjoy the 12-Across and 28-Across clues, as they feature wordplay techniques that aren't so common in cryptics. Hope you enjoy!

Aries Cryptic #22 - PUZ | PDF | PDF - Grayscale | Solution

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Aries Throwback - "Imperial Exit"

Back with this month's Throwback puzzle, titled "Imperial Exit," which is a 78-word, 38-block puzzle. This puzzle originally appeared in 2018 in The Growler magazine, whose puzzle I write along with Victor Barocas. The Growler is a food and drink magazine and specifically a craft beer magazine, and this puzzle is very much at home in a beer-themed publication. Cheers!

Imperial Exit - PUZ | PDF | PDF (Grayscale) | Solution

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

January FREEstyle

Here's the January FREEstyle, which is a 70-word, 30-block puzzle. This puzzle started with the squarish 6x5 chunks in the top left and bottom right. As a keep-it-simple grid challenge, it was a worthwhile exercise. Hope you enjoy!

January FREEstyle - PUZ | PDF | PDF - Grayscale | Solution