The Puzzles of the Year: (Contains spoilers!)
I need to be a little better at noting standout puzzles, so I can recap at the end of the year. I’m sure there are dailies in the Times and the Sun, from earlier in the year, that deserve accolades. Right now, the only daily puzzle that leaps to mind is the fairly recent “Water Water Everywhere” puzzle by Lee Glickstein and Craig Kasper — unchecked spaces in the grid are all filled in with the word “water,” to make phrases with the word both in front and in back of the space. And they put a water-related quote in there as well. Great construction.
Oh wait — there was a second daily-size puzzle. Ben Tausig’s syndicated puzzle a few weeks back had an extemely clever salute to Tetris. Besides the usual theme entries, the black squares in the puzzle formed the various Tetris shapes — the L, the T, the square, and that most valuable piece of all, the straight line. I love it when the black squares are used in the theme of the puzzle — there aren’t too many crossword ideas where that can work.
But for me, the real wowzers of the year were both Sunday puzzles in the Times. The first came way back in January: “Smooth Move” by Derrick Niederman. This spectacular grid encompassed two full-size chessboards, with the pieces incorporated as rebuses within the fill. (So you had, for instance, the entry “marQUEE Names.”) The two grids were almost exactly the same, except that an unseen player had made a single move, putting the white king in mate. And CHECKMATE was worked in as theme entry as well. This is why the term “tour de force” was invented.
The other Sunday came in March, from the always innovative Patrick Merrill. His “Laboratory Maze” featured the word RAT 18 times — backwards, forwards, up and down. After completing the puzzle, you could trace a path through the grid, from corner to corner, passing over the 18 rats as you went along. Amazing.
Update: Craig Kasper has alerted me that his puzzle is even better than I thought — not only do the unchecked spaces get filled with “water” to make new words or phrases, but the two words connected by the unchecked space themselves make a phrase. (For example FIRE(water) and (water)WORKS — without the water, you have FIREWORKS.) Unbelievable.