Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Snowflake #1

Snowflake #1 - PDF | Solution (PDF) 

Back with the last variety puzzle of the year! I was recently solving this old Hex variety cryptic and thought it would be fun to make a fully interlocking grid using the same snowflake framework. So the end result is not a cryptic, mind you, just a standard variety puzzle with a bonus message to unravel. Testers thought this was a nice moderate challenge - not too difficult but with a satisfying bit of resistance. PDF only for this format - hope you enjoy!

The monthly bundles have been updated through December, and I've also bundled up the 2021 Second Half bundles for both Aries Rows Garden and Aries Freestyle. ARG Year 9 and AF Year 5 kicks off next week, and a reminder that subscriptions are always open! I'd love if you joined the weekly fun. 

Thanks for stopping by and solving in 2021! Personally speaking it was a challenging year, and I'm grateful to have this outlet and I'm especially grateful for the support of all solvers. I hope the puzzles provided a healthy distraction this year! Here's for a better 2022.

Happy solving!    

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Twists & Turns #6

Twists & Turns #6 - Standard (PDF) | Harder (PDF) | Standard (JPZ) | Solution (PDF)

It's been a little bit since I've posted a Twists & Turns puzzle, so here's another! As I mentioned back in March when I posted the last one, I have been working on a T&T project that I hoped would be ready by summer. Well, it's definitely past summer and I'm still working on that project. It'll get there eventually so stay patient! 

As usual I've posted both a Standard and Harder version of the puzzle. For those new to the format, start with the Standard version; for those experienced with T&Ts and looking for and extra challenge, try the Harder version which lists the Twists clues alphabetically. There's also a JPZ file for digital solving, though keep in mind this version is only available in the Standard difficulty. Download the file and then head over to Crossword Nexus to use their JPZ solver. 

A reminder that subscriptions for Aries Rows Garden and Aries Freestyle are always open! Also, monthly bundles are a good way to get a small taste of what you'll get as a subscriber - the monthly bundles have been updated through November.

Happy solving, and Happy Thanksgiving! 

Thursday, October 28, 2021

From A to Z #1

From A to Z #1 - PDF | Solution (PDF)

To commemorate my recent move to AZ, I thought it would be appropriate to try a From A to Z variety puzzle. To my knowledge this is a format developed by Will Shortz - do correct me if I'm wrong on that. PDF only for this format, and instructions are included on the PDF. 

This was a fun format to construct. Even with unchecked squares involved, the grid was challenging to construct and the cluing conceit allows for some fun misdirection. The format has an ideal amount of constraints - the rules are tight enough that it doesn't feel too loose, yet there's also enough leeway built in that it's not overly challenging to construct as well. Which is a formula for a good variety format! Let me know what you think - I'd be very happy to revisit this format if solvers especially want to solve them.

October monthly bundles are now available! Also, here's a reminder that subscriptions for Aries Rows Garden and Aries Freestyle are always open.

Happy solving!  

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Double or Nothing #2

Double or Nothing #2 - PDF | PDF (Grayscale) | Solution PDF

Back with a Double or Nothing puzzle! This is another format developed by the great Patrick Berry. It's a fun twist on a freestyle crossword - each square in the puzzle either contains zero or two letters. There's a bit of logic involved with figuring out how to place the answers which adds a nice extra layer of challenge. PDF only for this format. Hope you enjoy!

A reminder that subscriptions for Aries Rows Garden and Aries Freestyle are always open! Still a bit to go in September so check back in early October for the September monthly bundles. 10/10 UPDATE: September monthly bundles are now posted!

Happy solving!

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Marching Bands #2

Aries Marching Bands #2 - PDF | JPZ | Solution (PDF)

Back with a Marching Bands puzzle this month! It took a bit of elbow grease but I'm happy with how this grid came together. The best part of a Marching Bands puzzle is getting long entries included in the bands, so Band A was especially fun to get construct. Coincidentally, Marching Bands creator Mike Shenk had an MB in this past weekend's Wall Street Journal, so give that a shot if you haven't already.  

There's a PDF as well as a JPZ file above; to solve digitally, first download the JPZ file, then visit the Crossword Nexus Solver, upload the file, and solve away! 

Still have one more week to go in August, so check back next week when the August monthly bundles are posted. [9/2 UPDATE: Monthly bundles are now updated through August!]
Happy solving!

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Aries Cryptic #32 - "Left Behind" (Contest)

Aries Cryptic #32 - "Left Behind" - PDF | Intro to Cryptics (PDF)  | Solution

Back with another variety cryptic, and it's a contest! There are full instructions on the PDF, and be sure to email your final answer by Thursday, August 12th for a chance to win a two-month Aries subscription. I'll pick both a current subscriber and a non-subscriber as winners, and I'll post the solution once the contest period is over. Special thanks to Neville Fogarty for suggesting this puzzle's title.

UPDATE: Thanks to all 102 solvers to submit a correct answer, and congrats to winners Arnold Reich and Louis Lana! I've added the solution file up top. 

I've updated the monthly bundles through July so be sure to scoop those up if you're not already a subscriber. Speaking of which, subscriptions are always open!

Happy solving!

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Diagramless #2

Diagramless #2 - PDF | PUZ | Solution PDF

Back with another Diagramless puzzle! I've got a PDF (with hints included on pages 2 and 3, so be sure not to print those pages if you're looking to save paper), and there's also a PUZ file for digital solvers. Across Lite is no good for diagramlesses, but both the Diagnil or Xword solving programs allow for digital diagramless solving. After downloading the PUZ file you can open the file in either of those programs and solve away. UPDATE: You can also upload the PUZ file and play in the solving interface if you'd rather not download an extra program. Thanks for the tip Alex B.! 

I have had this puzzle idea on ice for a while; my thought for the longest time was to make a variety cryptic out of it, but I felt the elements didn't quite come together well enough for a cryptic. I think the diagramless format works well for this concept, particularly for the visual element - as always, I'm happy to hear your thoughts!

There's still one week to go in June so I don't have June Rows Garden/Freestyle bundles yet, but check back once July rolls around for those June bundles as well as the 2021 First Half  bundles. A reminder that subscriptions are always open!

This year I've also enjoyed writing cryptics for The Browser newsletter. They're block cryptics but I've been channeling Hex's National Post cryptics and featuring themes in these puzzles over the last few months. And I'm just one member of the crack team of cryptic constructors shepherded by editor Dan Feyer. There's a special 20% off subscription offer for puzzlers available - be sure to subscribe if you aren't already!

Happy solving!   

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Puns & Anagrams #3

Puns & Anagrams #3 - PUZ | PDF | PDF (Grayscale) | Solution 

Back with another Puns & Anagrams puzzle! I've mentioned before that P&As are a tough format to categorize. They were inspired by cryptics but are a wholly different format that does its own thing. No clue in this puzzle is an acceptable clue in a cryptic. Here's another recap of the major distinguishing features of a Puns & Anagrams puzzle: 

1) Fully interlocking grid. Unlike standard block cryptics, where roughly 50% of the squares are checked by crossing entries, P&A grids qualify as standard themeless crossword grids, with a max of 72 entries in the grid. Every square is a part of an across and down entry. This affords solvers many more opportunities to solve an entry than a cryptic does, which helps explain some of the looseness of P&A clues.

2) Anagram clues (which comprise about half of the clues in a P&A) do not include anagram indicators, which are required for cryptics. In addition, homophones of letters (or groups of letters) included in the anagram are fair game. So, the word "sea" could signal a C to be included in the anagram; the word "seize" could signal multiple Cs to be included in the anagram; and "seedy" could signal the letters CD to be included in the anagram. The best anagram clues incorporate an anagram into a natural-reading definitional hint for the entry.

3) While anagram clues will include a definitional hint to the entry, non-anagram clues do not require a definitional hint. Non-anagram clues will include cryptic tropes such as hidden words, containers, and homophones, as well as more P&A-typical conventions as visual rebuses, puns, and fill-in-the-blanks.

It's also important to note that the clue syntax is structured as clues are structured in a standard crossword - that is, there is an imperative function of the clues that many cryptic clues lack. Cryptic clues are often structured like a random sentence, and its surface sense doesn't "ask" the solver any inherent question in the clue. P&A clues do contain this imperative function, and this is another reason that I find the format closer to a parody of a standard crossword than a cryptic. 

I'm running long now, but I do think it's important to codify the rules of P&As more clearly and explain the philosophy that I employ when writing these offbeat puzzles. This puzzle started with the long entries at 25- and 54-Across, which are my favorites of this puzzle. As always, any and all comments are much appreciated!

Also, I've updated the archive to include May bundles for Aries Rows Garden and Aries Freestyle. And a reminder that Aries subscriptions are always open for the truly dedicated solver.

Happy solving!

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Combinations #1

Combinations #1 - JPZ | PUZPDF | PDF (Grayscale) | Solution (PDF)

I have something new for the variety puzzle this month, a crossword variant called "Combinations." Instructions are included on the PDF and I have a JPZ and PUZ files for digital solving - you can use Crossword Nexus or Xword for solving JPZ files. Instructions are included in the Notepad in the digital versions.

This format evolved from a couple of separate ideas I had been developing over the last few months. Any and all feedback is highly encouraged! I'm wondering if there is a future with this format so comments on the solving experience would be very helpful. Hope you enjoy!

I've also added the April bundles for Rows Garden and Freestyle - check those out if you're interested in what to expect with a subscription

Happy solving!

Thursday, April 22, 2021

ACPT Week - Free Rows Garden + Freestyle

Aries Rows Garden #8.15 - Hardest (PDF) | Harder (PDF) | Easier (PDF) | Easiest (PDF) | Solution (PDF) | RGZ (For use in the Rows Garden app for iPad/iPhoneAndroid, and Amazon Fire)

Aries Freestyle #4.15 - PUZ | PDF | PDF (Grayscale) | Solution (PDF)

It's the weekend of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament! The ACPT is a annual puzzling tradition, and this year makes its online debut. While I won't be able to compete in the tournament this year, I did want to take the opportunity to welcome new visitors to the site and share some free puzzles (as is standard when attending the tournament).

An Aries subscription is available in two formats: Rows Garden and Freestyle. I've got a recent puzzle of each posted above - these are puzzles from a few weeks ago. Happy solving! 

I've also updated the monthly bundles through March so check those out if you want a taste of what you'll get as a subscriber. There's also the Rows Garden archive and additional side projects available in the Crossword archive

Good luck to all solvers this weekend! New variety puzzle next week. 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Twists & Turns #5

Twists & Turns #5 - Harder (PDF) | Standard (PDF) | Standard (JPZ) | Solution (PDF)

Back with another Twists & Turns! To recap, the PDFs are available in Standard and Harder versions; the Harder version lists the Twist clues alphabetically, so if you're looking for an extra challenge, go for the Harder version. If this is your first attempt at a T&T, try the gentler Standard version. To solve digitally,  first download the JPZ file, and then visit Crossword Nexus and select the JPZ file that you just downloaded and solve away! Note that the JPZ file is only available in the Standard version. 

I've begun work on a Twists & Turns project that I hope will be available in the early summer. It's fun to explore the different possibilities of the format, including different sizes and thematic variations. As the format is still maturing, any and all feedback is encouraged! Feel free to drop a comment below or shoot me an email with any feedback - positive or negative - that you may have. 

And finally a note that Rows Garden and Freestyle subscriptions are always open! Yearly and monthly bundles are also available. Treat yourself to a subscription or bundle for more puzzling goodness!

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Hockey Game Solution and Contest winners

Aries Cryptic #31 - Solution (PDF) 

Thanks for all how entered into the Hockey Game contest! There were 83 correct submissions, and the two winners picked at random are Mary Maynard and Gerald Becker. Congrats Mary and Gerald! They've won two-month Aries subscriptions as their prize. See above for a PDF of the solution. 

Speaking of subscriptions, Rows Garden and Freestyle subscriptions are always open! It's been a great start to the new year. Of note the Freestyle difficulty has been bumped up so if you're craving a challenging themeless puzzle be sure to snap up a subscription. 

I've also updated the Monthly Bundles to include the first few months of 2021. If you'd like a taste of what you'd get every week as a subscriber, pick up a monthly bundle or two!

And finally, since January I've been writing a monthly-ish block cryptic for The Browser - click here for subscription details.

Back in a few weeks with this month's variety puzzle - I've got a Twists & Turns lined up! 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Aries Cryptic #31 - Hockey Game

 Aries Cryptic #31 - "Hockey Game" - PDF | Introduction to Cryptics (PDF) | Solution (PDF)

Back with a variety cryptic this month! This cryptic is titled "Hockey Game," and it's inspired by the "medley"-style cryptics that I primarily associate with the great Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon. If you're interested in some of Hex's medleys, here's one from 1983 and another from 2006.  These kinds of variety cryptics tend to play pretty tough, so get ready for a real workout!

It was fun to conceptualize a puzzle around hockey, which I love but aside from Bobby Orr gets pretty short shrift in puzzles. I get it - it's a niche sport and so I tend not to reference hockey all that much in my work. And if you're not a hockey fan, don't worry - there's no obscure hockey knowledge required to solve this puzzle. As always, hope you enjoy! 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Marching Bands #1

Marching Bands #1 - PDF | JPZ | Solution (PDF) 

I've got a Marching Bands for the variety puzzle this month! This format, developed by the great Mike Shenk, regularly appears in the Wall Street Journal and you can also subscribe to bi-weekly Marching Bands from Brendan Emmett Quigley. If you like the format you should give the Patrick Berry puzzle "Twister" a try - it definitely plays like a Marching Bands, but there's an extra layer or two and the payoff is really satisfying. "Twister" was probably my favorite variety puzzle from 2020, so it's highly recommended if you haven't solved it already.  

I've got a PDF for paper solvers and a JPZ option for digital solvers - just save the JPZ file and then open it Crossword Nexus to solve online. 

Now that 2020 is over I've updated the Rows Garden and Freestyle archives to include the 2020 Second Half puzzles, so be sure to check those out. If you're interested in a smaller bite, I've also updated the Monthly Bundles through December. And of course Rows Garden and Freestyle subscriptions are always open! Get yourself a subscription in order to get weekly puzzles delivered straight to your email inbox.

Happy solving!