Puzzle 20: Freestyle 13. Does something stick out to you in this puzzle?

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Word count: 70
Mean word length: 5.43

Perhaps, by now, you’ve figured out why I’m posting another crossword today after the one yesterday. It’s because (spoiler alert if you haven’t done it yet; highlight to read text) I had this puzzle ready to go, but the extraordinary events of the Super Bowl and the way my beloved New England Patriots won, coupled with the realization that SUPER BOWL XLIX and MALCOLM BUTLER had the same number of letters, meant that I just had to create a puzzle to commemorate the occasion (end spoiler alert).

The unusual configuration of this puzzle owes to a couple of 12-letter seed entries that I wanted to put into this puzzle. 12-letter entries sometimes force the constructor into a multitude of 3-letter answers, which I don’t want to do; I don’t think you’ll ever see me put a 12-letter entry in the fourth row or column. But those two 12s were in a list of seed entries that I keep as a note on my phone; I couldn’t just leave them be, right?

This time, I actually had three seed entries from that aforementioned list: the two 12s at 22-Across and 47-Across, as well as 33-Down. There was a mini-seed at 10-Down; it had made its way into my word list while on a OneLook.com excursion (yes, I have some of those from time to time), but I most certainly did not expect it to work when I laid it in there. That was the last section I constructed in this puzzle, and I had already gone through several unsuccessful options in that area. 62-Across was also a mini-seed for the bottom-right corner.

This puzzle comes in at 70 words, but I had a couple of opportunities to make it 72, which you’ll see from the grid; whenever I’m at 70, though, I’m almost always unwilling to make it 72 if the addition of a pair of blocks would add 4 three-letter words to the grid. I’ll only do it when there’s no other option and the fill would get really ugly otherwise.

My favorite thing that I learned from this puzzle is the quote at 21-Across (yeah, not much in terms of trivia here, which I suppose may be a good thing)… it obviously amused me such to the point that I had to use it in the clue.

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! What did you like? What could I do better? How come I can’t tell the free world from a living hell? Can a hipster’s car run on coconut oil? Does Mr. Peanut live a double life as a pimp and just forget to take off his costume for his day job?

As always, share this link! Pass it around! New puzzle on Friday!

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Puzzle 19: Freestyle 12. Dancing sharks not included.

Last week’s freestyle solution

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Get the PUZ here!

Word count: 72
Mean word length: 5.19

You may wonder why I use the term “freestyle” instead of “themeless” to describe my puzzles, and this is a prime example. There is a sort of a theme running through this… not strong enough to make a true themed puzzle, but strong enough that I can’t call this “themeless”. I think it more accurately describes the process of creating this kind of puzzle… “themeless” brings to mind, for me, the image of a rudderless ship out adrift.

I definitely want to mention that there will be another freestyle puzzle posted tomorrow, for reasons that you may see upon solving this puzzle; also, I have a variety offering that I want to post this Friday.

You may notice that there’s a slightly lower mean word length than what I’ve been posting lately — which means more black squares (38) than normal — and there’s a good reason for that, which you’ll find out by doing this puzzle. There was a definite need to place all of those black squares exactly where they are, instead of having a bit of freedom to move a lot of them around.

I definitely don’t have to tell you what the seeds for this puzzle were; I didn’t really have any mini-seeds in the construction process. It’s not at all that the fill was all forced into place, but I had to be just a bit less “freewheeling” with the fill than with my other offerings.

My favorite thing that I learned from this puzzle was definitely the fact in the clue at 6-Down. The natural world is so fascinating to me.

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! What did you like? What could I do better? What do you want from me when I just want to restart? Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? Do you ever get the sinking feeling that all of your friends are beginning to believe that you’re an android?

As always, share this link! Pass it around! New variety puzzle on Friday, too!

Puzzle 18: Vowelless Word Search. Solve the puzzle, but you can’t buy a vowel.

Last Friday’s Freestyle 16 solution

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To switch it up here, I did a simple word search here. Wait… simple? No, not really. I can’t just do a straightforward word search, can I? Of course not. Behind this link is a word search, but my change-up is that I’ve taken out all of the vowels! I hid 65 world capitals in this word search, but I took out all the vowels beforehand and confined it to only those with four or more consonants and those that didn’t contain a Y. Also, including a word list would have defeated the point; the puzzle is not only to find the disemvoweled capitals, but also to figure out which ones are in the puzzle in the first place.

I know I’ve succeeded in creating a challenging puzzle when I showed it to Christine on the computer screen, and she just sighed one of those “you’re a mad scientist” sighs and shook her head. Yes, I think this ranges on the difficult side. But I hope you find it challenging but fair.  After all, my satisfaction in creating puzzles is not to stump people, but to only provide enough of a resistance so that there is a sense of satisfaction in solving the puzzle when that resistance is overcome.

I’ll be back with another crossword puzzle, of course, on Tuesday. The answer to Freestyle Puzzle 11 will appear there too. But I hope this will tide you over until then.

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! Let me know how you did! What did you like? What could I do better? Does it ever drive you crazy just how fast the night changes? Why do we drive on a highway, but get high on a driveway? If you eat at an expensive Mexican restaurant, will that make you expel premium gas?

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Puzzle 17: Freestyle 11. Snow time like the present!

Last Tuesday’s freestyle solution

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Get the PUZ here!

Word count: 71
Mean word length: 5.75

I’d like to express B I G thanks to Sam Ezersky for shouting out my puzzle from last Friday. I highly recommend that you do two things on this page: do his very cool freestyle puzzle, and, when you’re done with it, read his notes on the construction of that puzzle. It’s a very nice anatomy of the thought process that goes into constructing a freestyle puzzle. Well done!

As I’m writing this, there is a travel ban for all non-essential traffic in the state of Massachusetts due to a major winter storm. There is not, thank goodness, a ban on all web traffic in Massachusetts, though… so I feel safe in posting this today without being ticketed.

As you can see by the odd-numbered word count, I stretched this one to 16×15 again to fit the answer in the middle. Constructing a 16×15 while still keeping the word count under 72 is, as I’ve said before, a bit more difficult to do — more difficult than you’d think for just adding one column — so I only do it when there’s a 16 that I really really want to put in a puzzle. It was a little easier, actually, that I had two vertical 15s in this puzzle, because it enabled me to close off the corners a little more and still keep the word count down; I didn’t originally plan on having those 15s, but it worked out better with them than without.

The major seed for this puzzle, obviously, was 37-Across; I didn’t need to tell you that. Other seeds were 1-Across and 16-Across. They were going to go in the upper left stack no matter what, once I discovered that they fit well together. The 15s weren’t really mini-seeds, because they only happened to be one of a few that fit the pattern when I took out the pair of blocks to make them 15s. Same with 34-Across… it was one of only a few that fit in that particular spot as I was constructing it. Yes, 60-Across was a mini-seed… other than that, I didn’t really have any others.

My favorite thing that I learned from this puzzle was that the company in 13-Down made military trucks as well as what I knew them for.

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! What did you like? What could I do better? Is it any wonder I’m tired? Did Dr. Watson ever say, “Wassup, Holmes”? Wouldn’t you like to hear an all-ukulele Nirvana cover band called the Grass Kurts?

As always, share this link! Pass it around! New puzzle on Friday!

Puzzle 16: Freestyle 10. Do you feel the pressure?

Last week’s Wordominoes solution

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Get the PUZ here!

Word count: 72
Mean word length: 5.39

I interrupt my regularly-scheduled variety puzzle to bring you this late-breaking crossword. No, seriously, I had a variety puzzle planned out for this week (you’ll see it next week), but events recent to this puzzle prompted me to make this one special. Why? Because… reasons. You’ll see upon doing the puzzle.

The seed for this puzzle was obvious. It’s the reason I broke out of my normality and did an 11-stack… it was because I had to. Heck, it’s the reason I’m posting a crossword puzzle today instead of the usual variety puzzle. This one actually wasn’t too bad to fill manually, considering it was an 11-stack… perhaps it was because I started at the bottom? I felt like the seed entry was better suited as a starting point where it was, so I started there. That actually wasn’t the only seed in this puzzle… 12-Down was as well, because I found it fascinating that those things actually exist now. The mini-seeds were 51-Across and, in turn, 28-Down. 51-Across was the reason I had to break up the stacks in the lower left and upper right; I’d originally planned them as triple 10-stacks, but I constructed the lower right first, which forced me to put that block in to break up the stack. With that kind of answer, tho, I’m happy to break a stack like that.

My favorite thing that I learned from this puzzle was a tie: as I said above, that the thing at 12-Across actually exists, and that 51-Across actually wrote a book… which was called THAT. Just the phrase “mint guy” in a book title is enough to make it hilarious. Plus, I knew the factoid at 22-Down, but I just had to include it as a clue… crazy fact, right?

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! What did you like? What could I do better? Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses? When you go to the eye doctor’s office, have you ever tried to pronounce the rows in the eye chart as though they were single words? Have you ever been befriended by a rogue band of five-legged squirrels?

As always, share this link! Pass it around! New freestyle, as usual, on Monday!

Puzzle 15: Freestyle 9. How do you stack up?

Last week’s freestyle solution

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Get the PUZ here!

Word count: 68 (yup, 68)
Mean word length: 5.56

Thanks very much to the inimitable Evan Birnholz for shouting out my Wordominoes puzzle! Check out Evan’s stuff… you won’t be disappointed!

Remember in my About My Puzzles page, where I said I would only “once in a great while” go to a 68 word count? Well, this is that once in a great while. Most freestyle crosswords fall under one of three configurations: those with stacks around the edges, those with stacks in the middle, and those that are some hybrid of the two. This one falls under the second category, which is a big part of the reason for that lower word count.

I’d say this is the “easiest” way to construct a lower word count grid: with the stack in the middle. The stack forced my hand into creating the cluster of threes in the upper left and lower right — I resisted going to 3’s in those corners for the longest time — but I eventually relented. I relented in part because I’m particularly careful in sections with three-letter words. Why? Well, threes are where the fill can get ugly real quick: subconsciously, we can start to think, “Oh, these are all throwaway answers, I don’t really need to spend lots of time on these,” but one INB here, one ATA there, and the ugly factor adds up fast, all of a sudden.

Owing to the central stack, I did something I don’t usually do, which is to start in the middle and work outward. The seeds were, obviously, 31-Across and 36-Across: I tried stacking them every which way until I came upon this configuration, which worked quite well and yielded an answer in the middle that I quite liked as well. The mini-seeds were at 18-Across and 51-Across, of course (where else would they be?). Also, not one day after I finished constructing and cluing this puzzle, the entry at 3-Down came up as the answer to a trivia question in a quiz show I was watching (can’t remember which one — it was probably “The Chase” — only that it wasn’t “Jeopardy!”). I felt so proud of myself for knowing.

My favorite thing that I learned from this puzzle — well, not quite from this puzzle, but I used it in this puzzle — was in the clue for 33-Down, that those creatures don’t eat at all as an adult. I saw it a little while back in some online article, and that fact stuck with me such that I had to use it in a clue when the answer came up.

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! What did you like? What could I do better? Who wears these shoes? If animal crackers suddenly came to life and realized their purpose heretofore, how crazy would the revolt be? Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate if the Huey Lewis song “Hip to be Square” were 4 minutes 16 seconds long?

As always, share this link! Pass it around! New puzzle on Friday!

Puzzle 14: Wordominoes. This’ll have you going around in circles, across, and down.

Last Friday’s Split Decisions Two Ways solution

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Like last week’s puzzle, this one also had to be constructed by hand on graph paper, and like last week’s puzzle, this one was a difficult but fun and rewarding experience to finish constructing. Essentially, each letter in this crossword is in three answers (or, as we like to call it, “triply checked”): one going across, one going down, and one moving clockwise in a “cage”. The puzzle is a 10×10 grid divided into sixteen “cages”. There are three sets of clues: one for the cages, one for the rows, and one for the columns. The clues for the cages are in order; the clues for the rows and columns are grouped by row and by column, but the groups are randomly arranged. You’ll see how it works when you open the link. So how do you go about solving this thing? It’s hard to say; there’ll probably be a strategy for each one of you who solves this puzzle.

Originally, the idea I tried to execute was to make sort of like a mix between a crossword and KenKen. This involved actually trying to make this work in an 8×8 grid WITHOUT REPEATING A LETTER IN ANY ROW OR COLUMN. Yup, I actually tried that. It took me less than a day to realize that this wasn’t  gonna happen.

I’ll be back with another crossword puzzle, of course, on Tuesday. The answer to Freestyle Puzzle 8  will appear there too. But I hope this will tide you over until then.

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! Let me know how you did! What did you like? What could I do better? Ever thought of calling when you’ve had a few? ‘Cause I always do. Shouldn’t it really be “You couldn’t even cut the tension with a knife”? Could you imagine the merciless teasing that Wee Willie Winkie must have received in school?

As always, share this link! Pass it around!

Puzzle 13: Freestyle 8. It’ll grow on you.

Last week’s freestyle solution

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Get the PUZ here!

Word count: 72
Mean word length: 5.42

Before I go anywhere else, I’d like to thank the precociously talented Adam Nicolle for his shout-out to my website. Seriously, go check his stuff out.

Something new for me this week, as far as this site goes… a ten-stack. Two pairs of ’em, actually. Obviously it was 1-Across that drove the construction of this entire puzzle. And, as you’ll see, it was a bit of a bear to get that stack to work with that entry. I’m always afraid that a 10-stack will create an overage of three-letter words, but I managed to keep those down somehow.

One of these days, I’m gonna start at the bottom and construct upwards, but this is not that day. Some constructors have found it easier to start at the bottom; if I decide to do a triple stack here, that’s probably the way I’m going to go. Soon enough.

Besides 1-Across, I didn’t really have any seeds, but I did have two mini-seeds at 12-Down and 28-Down. I really paid attention to the crossings at 28-Down because, while I think it’s a neat entry, it may otherwise cause consternation in a less carefully-constructed corner. 27/28-Across is a tough two-stack, but not unfair, in my humble view. Also, I wasn’t thrilled to have proper names stacked together at 2/3/4-Down, but I think they’re all fair.

Without giving anything away, my favorite thing that I learned from this puzzle is that the work referenced in 25-Across was actually written in response to a bet from his publisher. I also learned that this work was banned in China for over 25 years because they thought it portrayed Marxism in a positive light to its audience. Yup.

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! What did you like? What could I do better? Tell me, where are you driving, midnite cruiser? Where is your bounty of fortune and fame? If the Jerry Springer Show covered a WWE match, would the fighting be real? What would happen if I visited an owl sanctuary and told the first female employee I saw, “Nice hooters!”?

As always, share this link! Pass it around! New puzzle on Friday!

Puzzle 12: Split Decisions Two Ways. There ARE two ways about it… four, actually.

Last Friday’s Split Ends solution

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You may be familiar with the Split Decisions puzzles that have appeared in the New York Times and elsewhere. A fine example can be found on Evan Birnholz’ site here. I’ve done a similar thing here but with a little twist… the letters where the “split decisions” happen are to be read two different ways across and down. You’ll see in the instructions if you aren’t quite familiar with this type of puzzle.

It’s easy, with a little help from the Interwebs, to find pairs of words that follow this constraint of differing only by one pair. It’s even not that hard to find two pairs of words that differ by the same four letters in two different ways as in this puzzle, thanks to the magic of the Interwebs. I even figured out a neat formatting trick to draw the grid and the “split” squares conveniently. The painstaking part was to make sure that this grid had a unique solution. That’s why you’ll see some parts of this grid that branch out like cephalopod arms — some of those “arms” were necessary to make a unique solution.

I’ll be back with another crossword puzzle, of course, on Tuesday. The answer to Freestyle Puzzle 7  will appear there too. But I hope this will tide you over until then.

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! Let me know how you did! What did you like? What could I do better? Do you think that pro football players have fantasy office worker leagues? How can SpongeBob SquarePants own his own home on a fry cook’s salary? Woke up this morning with a wine glass in my hand… whose wine? What wine? Where did I dine?

As always, share this link! Pass it around!

Puzzle 11: Freestyle 7. It’s the year of the cat.

Last week’s freestyle solution

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Get the PUZ here!

Word count: 72
Mean word length: 5.39

Back to that 8-stack structure that I find is in my wheelhouse, after last week’s 7×7 offering. I had two definite seeds in this one — 17-Across and 13-Down are the reason for this puzzle — and two mini-seeds at 39-Across and 54-Across. I started out with an 8×6 structure, but it sorta evolved into an 8×7. That doesn’t often happen to me — or in general, I’d guess — that a stack was actually LENGTHENED in order to make it work. It enabled me, however, to put the entry at 13-Down into a place that worked.

At 16-Across, I put a word in here that may be a tad bit more unusual than I’d normally like to use… but I think that’s OK every once in a while, no? Plus, I think it’s a word that people can actually use in everyday life once in a great while. It’s not like I’m using SNEE or ANOA here. (Sorry, no offense meant to enthusiasts of old daggers or Indonesian bovines.)

I feel like the cluing for this puzzle was both on the milder side (for a Saturday-strength difficulty) and on the trickier side, if that’s at all possible. 39-Across, 50-Across, 54-Across, 30-Down, 40-Down, and 44-Down are my favorite clues… the clue for 50-Across was one that I was waiting to get into a puzzle, even though I think it’s “cute” more than “clever”.

My favorite thing that I learned from this puzzle was that Sandra Bullock speaks 60-Down fluently. I’m not that big of a movie buff — not at all, actually — but it was interesting to learn about some celebrities’ fluencies that you’d never otherwise guess. Maybe some of you knew this already, but this I never would have known.

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! What did you like? What could I do better? Who gives a **** about an Oxford comma? Am I the only one here who thinks that Christoph Waltz is really an extraterrestrial? Why does anybody ask any questions anymore when we have Google?

As always, share this link! Pass it around! New puzzle on Friday!