Puzzle #22: Freestyle 8

Puzzle #22: “Freestyle 8”

Difficulty: Medium

Downloads:     PUZ      PDF     Last Week’s Solution

 

Happy Monday, solvers–

Gotta make a HUGE shoutout to my friend Tim Croce for beating me to the entry I wanted to debut in the Indie puzzling world by a mere three days! My goodness though…the themeless puzzle that he made around it is just a masterpiece. Soooooo many entries I loved; the puzzle will definitely be in the running for my favorite themeless of 2015. Wanna see Tim’s puzzle, and his many other incredible crossword creations? Check out his website, Club 72!

UPDATE @ 11:57 AM: Looks like Brendan Emmett Quigley used the above entry as well, in his weekly Monday themeless (which I totally dig; they’re so crunchy)! Funny how all three of us used it in the same quadrant too.

Anyway, as I was making today’s puzzle, I thought about how I had not really provided any of you all with many grid construction notes, as I usually do with my NYT offerings! So I figured I’d give it a shot here, because this freestyle is pretty representative of how I like to construct, particularly for this website. Assuming you’ve come here to solve today’s puzzle, go ahead and do that now, as I’m about to provide a great deal of spoilers in the space below! Enjoy!

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Alrighty…hoping you enjoyed the freestyle; let’s begin!

This puzzle was brought to you, as many freestyles are, by 1-Across: TRIVIA CRACK is an iPhone app that I recently became addicted to, and figured it would look excellent in a puzzle because it had some Scrabbly letters, was quite modern, and had a personal connection to me–this latter reason inspires a LOT of oddball entries that I fill in grids. Knowing that I wanted to use TRIVIA CRACK as my 1-Across, I figured it would be great to have an opposite 11-letter “seed entry” in the bottom-right. Fortunately, the DEFLATE-GATE scandal was booming in my ESPN updates, and I knew I had a perfect, zippy partner to place at 65-Across.

After choosing these two entries as my “seeds,” I experimented with various grid patterns that allowed two crunchy stacks of 11-letter entries in the top-left and bottom-right. Since I’m a manual constructor–I don’t use Crossword Compiler or any fancy “autofill” software–it takes me a lot more time to do this than most. Though after around an hour or two, I had designed the grid, minus a few squares I’d add later, with the top-left and bottom-right complete:

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Obviously, there were a few entries I was not pleased with right off the bat. CECA? Gross. GRIP ON? Contrived. I-BAR, IWO, and RAE are meh too, imho. But to me, the pluses far outweighed the minuses. And judging by the remaining spaces in the grid, this thing had potential.

Next, I decided that while VOMIT* and *FLAG could maybe allow two potentially awesome symmetrical entries, I figured that if I made too many long-answer constraints then I would get myself in filling trouble later. This same sentiment applied to the potential 15-letter central answer: while I could have experimented with entries such as STRAPPED FOR CASH (cool phrase) and JIFFY POP POPCORN (Scrabbly, yummy), I decided to prioritize the 10-letter stacks in the top-right and bottom-left, along with their intersecting 9-letter entries. Hence, I dropped three more blocks down (I don’t think I need a new picture for this), settled for US FLAG and VOMITS, and went to proceed with the top-right.

Where to start? Well, SAL???? seemed to be the gateway into what lay ahead, so in went SALAZAR shortly followed by JAZZ??????. Going for Scrabbly entries over anything else is such a novice thing, as my mentor Vic Fleming once told me, since some answers could be packed with X’s and Z’s yet be just ugly; however, I figured that if the entries in question were entertaining enough, then I’d get my way. So for all my fellow Potterheads out there, I hope you’re as enthusiastic about SALAZAR as I was! Now, the aforementioned JAZZ?????? entry made things super tough, especially if I wanted a kickass 9-letter entry running through CILANTRO. Hence, I reluctantly added another square, reducing my word count to a maximal 72. But I did not regret this in the least, as THE RANCOR (I LOVE my “Star Wars”) and ONE AND ONLY presented themselves almost instantly. There were plenty of entries that fit the current 14-Down given the other constraints, but I figured GOPRO (clued as the trendy camera brand) was the most solid option, despite ANO and ZEP (which I actually like, despite its oddness, since anything Led Zeppelin is just awesome).

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As I looked at the remaining bottom-left section, I figured it’d be the easiest to fill, as there were so many different options and so few major constraints: so much could go with ????ISH, and a LOT could go with ???S. So I did a little trial and error with ECHO, HOW, and SHO, and fell in love with SUGAR RUSH as soon as I came across it. ET TU, MEH, BEE, and MEN were plunked in with ease, and I decided that CONCEPT would be a good start with the new ?????PT constraint.

Still, there was so much to choose from. ??OU?????? looked like it should be ABOUT ?????, but I figured I’d lock ANOUK AIMEE (a full name, decent) in place, which left ?I??ISH and K???A, among other patterns. After several minutes, I decided to work with KING OF ROCK, one of my all-time favorite classic hip-hop tunes, and filled in SACS/ANI/SAKS in the mid-left, which was all not the best but doable. KOREA could fit in the K???A space…but ugh. This was not going to work, as long as the R in ROCK was there (?IR?ISH would only produce GIRLISH, which didn’t work with the bottom-left). And I really did not want to give up KING OF ROCK. But after a bit of Google research, I came upon KING OF COOL, a Steve McQueen sobriquet, and I was able to finish this thing up! I had a wacky entry in T-NECK, which I’d never heard of, and with T-BIRD already in the grid, it felt like a dupe…but I was still somewhat satisfied with the completed result…maybe a bit underwhelmed with the bottom-left.

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I began converting this grid into an AcrossLite PUZ file, looking over the finished grid many times more…and that bottom-left section was still eating at me. There HAD to be something better…at least something more reflective of my personality. That’s when I reconsidered the ABOUT ????? pattern once more for 26-Down. ABOUT FACES? Meh. ABOUT THAT? That’s not even 10 letters, dumbass. ABOUT A WEEK? Arbitrary. Ugh. Wait a minute. ABOUT A GIRL. A Nirvana tune IN MY ITUNES LIBRARY that I didn’t think of earlier! OMG! There was my “aha” moment, and it only got better when I learned that I could place KING OF ROCK right next to it and still fill it cleanly. And this, friends, was the final step to filling what you just solved! Normally, I would have been hesitant on placing two songs right next to each other, as I’m sure there will be several solvers that know neither, but they were too much of an “aha” moment/reflection of myself to turn down. So for those of you whose solving experience was marred by a difficult bottom-left, I apologize! But I HAD to do this. And I’m “pro-arcana” (credit: Erik Agard) at heart.

Hope this provided a bit of insight! See you all next Monday!

Sincerely,

The Grid Kid

Puzzle #21: Interwoven

Puzzle #21: “Interwoven”

Difficulty: Mild, with a bit of spice here and there

Downloads:     PUZ      PDF     Last Week’s Solution

 

Welcome back, solvers!

Hope you’re enjoying a longer weekend than usual, thanks to our good friend, MLK! Let’s all take a moment and recognize the wonderful UVA Men’s Basketball team, who is still undefeated at 17-0! Just put in my request for tickets against Duke…bring it onnnn. Anyway, with second semester classes underway, I’ve gotta dash rather abruptly, but I’ll leave you with today’s puzzle: a concept that I figured would be fun to try and execute, although it may be a bit tough to initially grok. Nevertheless, enjoy!

Sincerely,

The Grid Kid

Puzzle #20: The XX

Puzzle #20: “The XX”

Difficulty: On the easier side

Downloads:     PUZ      PDF     Last Week’s Solution

 

Good morning, all–

This is the first–and hopefully only–time I’ll have to say this, but happy Tuesday! A lot has gone down this past week, from my return to UVA to my Ravens losing in a heartbreaker. I once again want to apologize for the 24-hour delay, and I hope the puzzle above is well worth the extra wait. But before I can get to that, let’s go over last week’s meta contest, shall we?

For Puzzle #19, entitled “Musical Buildup,” I asked you all to figure out my all-time favorite music album. Well, the main part of the meta was far from subtle, though it was quite complicated until the concept become clearer:

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Each of the ten black squares down the middle represented a “brick,” and combined with one of the adjacent answers to make each entry legitimate (see above). As a refresher, these BRICK/answer combos are:

[Hunk in the dairy aisle] = (BRICK) CHEESE

[“Eyes Wide Shut” director, 1999] = STANLEY KU(BRICK)

[Fictional national park in a Comedy Central cartoon] = (BRICK)LEBERRY

[Work shirker] = GOLD(BRICK)

[Type of business that utilizes both physical and online installments] = (BRICK) AND CLICK

[1972 Jethro Tull concept album] = THICK AS A (BRICK)

[Critical comments] = (BRICK)BATS

[Item in a drug dealer’s van] = COCAINE (BRICK)

[Specialty with a well-cooked crust] = (BRICK) OVEN PIZZA

[Road component in an L. Frank Baum series] = YELLOW (BRICK)

Then, solvers also noticed that the unchecked squares were intentional, and that when read from top to bottom, spelled E/M/P/T/Y/S/P/A/C/E/S, or EMPTY SPACES. Any Google search with “empty spaces brick” or something similar brings up Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”…which is the answer to the meta contest!

As an added bonus–and to fill the rest of the grid with more theme material–I dropped a few extra hints to this meta alongside the “bricks/empty spaces” design. Several solvers may have also picked up on the fact that there were three pairs of symmetrically placed cross-reference answers…and indeed, this was no coincidence!

  • IN THE FLESH, though clued as [Physically present], is the title of two songs on the album.
  • CRUEL WORLD, though clued as [Opening track on Lana Del Rey’s 2014 album “Ultraviolence”], is a reference to “Goodbye Cruel World,” the final track on the first side of the album.
  • I WANNA GO HOME, though clued as [Cry from a bratty kid who isn’t enjoying day care, maybe], is an iconic lyric from “Stop,” the track that marks the climax of the album’s story.

So that’s that, and I hope you all enjoyed it! Congratulations to the whopping 101 solvers who answered correctly, and thanks to everyone who tried this out! The winner of the contest, as selected at random through a number generator, is Amy Paepke. Amy will be receiving a CD copy of “The Wall,” as promised, along with a pair of The Grid Kid beverage coasters as an extra treat!

 

…And now for this week’s puzzle, before it feels it has gotten no love: This week’s puzzle is brought to you by my lucky number. It’s pretty straightforward, as far as my stuff goes, but I had a lot of fun researching the entries to use for the theme. Have any ideas that you feel I left out? Let me know in the comments!

Sincerely,

The Grid Kid

Puzzle #19: Musical Buildup (A Contest Puzzle)

Puzzle #19: “Musical Buildup”

Difficulty: Medium

Downloads:     PUZ      PDF     Last Week’s Solution

 

Happy New Year, solvers!

Thanks to all of you that have stuck with me through 2014; it really means a lot. And to those that are just joining today, welcome! I wanted to start 2015 out with something a bit different, and for better or for worse, I’ve succeeded: this week’s puzzle is a contest puzzle, with a hidden “meta” element to it! For those of you that have never solved a meta puzzle before, all this means is that there is ANOTHER puzzle lurking within the basic crossword…there’s more to it than just a theme, fill, and clues. In other words, if you scan all aspects the puzzle carefully, you will notice that there is a “meta” answer much more important than the solution grid itself. Don’t forget that Google is your friend if you need the extra push!

TL;DR: This week’s puzzle is my very first “meta” contest puzzle! The solution to the meta is my all-time favorite music album. 

When you think you have the answer, email me (zerskyxwords@gmail.com) with your answer in the subject line. Or, if you prefer to use the “Contact” page on this site, please write the answer in ALL CAPS in the beginning of the message. Oh, and there will be a prize. One lucky correct answer will receive a copy of this week’s meta album, along with an extra little surprise! (PSA: That was not meant to be creepy or anything.) If you would like to be considered for the prize drawing, please have your answer to me by Sunday, January 11, 2014, 8:00 PM EST. 

Update: Thanks to solver Charles Montpetit for pointing out that I clearly haven’t embraced the New Year…*Sunday, January 11, 2015, 8:00 EST! Phew, now you all won’t feel as…rushed.

One last request: give me some feedback on this! Hate it? Rate it 1 star on the widget above, demand a refund from me, clean up a spill with the PDF. Love it? Leave a comment, reach out to me, tell your friends and fam.

Sincerely,

The Grid Kid