PUZZLE: Rice Milk #23


ONE (5 7) / DONE (12)

Politicians with clearness of throat
Oft dissemble, distort, and misquote.
When the pol with fine ONE
Utters claims steeped in DONE,
Give the more certain “dark-hoarse” your vote!

Comments contain the answer to Rice Milk #22 and may contain other spoilers. For information on solving transposals and other “flat” (verse puzzle) types, visit the National Puzzlers’ League’s Online Guide to the Enigma.




Each round of the game features a common, four-letter crossword entry in which all four letters are different. Three of the letters making up the entry are chosen, and the most common words starting with these letters that appear in crossword clues for the entry (according to Matt Ginsburg’s clue database of major crossword puzzle sources) are presented to the players. Using this information, players must determine 1) the crossword entry and 2) the most common crossword clue word starting with the remaining letter. For example, given the clue words TITLE, SOVEREIGN, and AUTOCRAT, a player must guess the crossword entry TSAR and the most common R-word that appears in crossword clues for TSAR, which is RUSSIAN. Related forms of the missing clue word, e.g. RUSSIA for RUSSIAN, are accepted as correct.

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Clue by Four title image

While ostensibly a wordplay puzzle, Clue by Four was presented as the warm-up group game at the Crosswords LA tournament in 2013. The audience was divided in half and the first half to raise ten hands was eligible to answer. Additional examples of game rounds appear below. The enumeration of the missing clue words is provided, as it was in the 2013 game session.






PUZZLE: Rice Milk #22


LEFT (7 5) / RIGHT (12)

I’d been LEFT how to conquer store clerks
In a book that limns haggling’s perks.
So I shopped, made some deals,
RIGHT the clerks, got some steals,
Beat them all! (…or “the mall!”…either works).

Comments contain the answer to Rice Milk #21 and may contain other spoilers. For information on solving transposals and other “flat” (verse puzzle) types, visit the National Puzzlers’ League’s Online Guide to the Enigma.

PUZZLE: Unthemely #87



I have an update on my upcoming book of themeless crossword puzzles. I have received a draft of the cover design.


It’s a sharp cover design but I confess that I laughed out loud when I saw it because it’s something of a departure from my personality. The book drops in 2016.

Enjoy the puzzle!




Default: 363766
Default with Spaces: 147680

NOTES: I first heard of the online fantasy sports company Draft Kings (75) a few years ago when it was a sponsor of Rob Cesternino’s podcast. Even as its advertising became more and more ubiquitous I didn’t think of adding it to my Notepad until its recent online gambling issues , along with those of FanDuel (70), made headlines.  Word Spy suggests that droneport (72), a facility for drone takeoffs and landings, will soon be widespread phenomenon. I’m still wondering when drones are going to start arriving at my condo with package deliveries. If the drones can keep the squirrels away I may increase my mail-order purchases.

GRIDS: My most recent Unthemely puzzle includes the entry SETSONEDGE. I added the entry to the grid with the assumption that  it was a common transitive verbal phrase that can be used on a person, i.e. “it sets me on edge.”  While writing clues I discovered that Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary only sanctions “(one’s) teeth” as the object of phrase. Other online references and previously published crossword clues also support the “teeth, not person” application. I opted to clue the entry based on my original assumption, believing that “set (one) on edge” is a colloquial, if technically incorrect, usage in the English speaking world. BEQ recently produced a crossword with the entry put on edge (65), and he also clued it as a transitive verbal phrase applicable to a person. Readers, do you agree with these clue approaches?

PUZZLES: Unthemely #86



Several months ago I contracted with Puzzlewright Press to create a book of 15×15 themeless crossword puzzles. The book contains some new puzzles and some puzzles published on this blog in the Unthemely series. I submitted the completed manuscript in October and am proud to announce that Fresh Freestyle Crosswords will be available in bookstores in 2016!

Because the book contains several of the older Unthemely crosswords I have removed the download links for all such puzzles on the blog’s Puzzle page. I may refurbish some of these older puzzles that were not used in the book and post them as future Unthemely series offerings.

Birnholz Helms Sunday WP Magazine / WSJ Meta Crossword


This week the Washington Post announced that Evan Birnholz will take over constructing duties of its Sunday magazine crossword puzzle. The position was previously held by Merl Reagle who passed away in August. The new gig will require Evan to cut back on Devil Cross blog posts and to take a leave of absence from his co-organizational role in the Indie 500 Crossword Tournament. I will miss the regular puzzle updates on his blog but I am incredibly happy for Evan and know his talents will preserve the high level of puzzle quality associated with the Washington Post Sunday magazine.

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My first meta crossword puzzle for the Wall Street Journal appeared today. The puzzle, “Menu Substitutions,” is available in PDF format here. It’s already received the Amy Goldstein seal of approval, and I hope you enjoy it as well.

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There are still plenty of Exquisite Fruit questions to guess. Many of the questions are easy and perhaps don’t require a posting of the answer, but do read through the questions because they are entertaining,

Exquisite High School Students


I recently had the opportunity to lead a group of high school students in some puzzle and game activities. We played some classic packaged games like Set and Squint and then I taught them Exquisite Fruit. As is often the case with newcomers to the game, the students took one round to warm up to the mechanics and then proceeded confidently and enthusiastically. Several students wrote down names of teachers and colleagues on their slips leading to inside references, but I was mainly interested to see the general topics that these teenagers would pick for answers, and the grammatical and editorial approach they would use in forming the questions. I transcribed some of the rounds below. Feel free to post answers in the comments — one answer per commenter, please. Clues with asterisks have been guessed.

1. What is a delicious thick meat fried crunchy baked on a beak and white?
2. Gotta go fast Harrison Ford in Star good person vest with a gun Chewie?
3. What is a warm cozy shirt you wear when it is comfy and warm?
4. Who is this cute snowman that is a dweeb who likes warm hugs stuff?
5. What is a planet by the earth is next month is like cheese in sky?
6. A card game that has ninja panda that is annoying actor that sells cheap?
7. The best holiday full ham food stuffy dinner food yummy gravy and turkey stuffs?
8. What is the big smelly trash car but bigger junk packed vroom vroom vroom?
9. What is the worst and has meaning nothing matters food sleep all day everyday?
* 10. What is the state with snow and colorful scenery right here smoke weed here?
11. Who is the funny guy with bad ugly poophead ugly and can’t be president?
12. Who is a detective that solves mysteries very good thinker and cool as smart?
* 13. Who is the best narrator deep voice snakes plane and Shawshank looks like gold?
14. He comes down the chimney with big chubby belly and cookies of diabetes life?
15. Are they windows can be curious minded looking at one’s retinas and corneas scratched?
16. What is the character a hard exterior body builder can be speedy car?
17. What is the yummy iphone products crushed sauce that is red green crisp?
* 18. Who is the GQ model cry baby football player with nice football player football?
19. What is the colorful stripes of different much color gay pride with color explosion?
20. A horrible movie very terrible breaking dawn that’s Kristen Stewart stupid romance Edward?
21. Is the best patriotic free large US are great free independent outrageous taxes too?
22. What is the spinning circle hip swing fun party around circle big ring sparkly?
* 23. It’s full of naked cats are everywhere my life love Netflix and turkey explore?

Crosswords LA / Henry Hook


I’m a little behind but I wanted to congratulate champion Eric Maddy and finalists Brian Fodera and Jon Berman for their phenomenal performance in the recent Crosswords LA tournament held on the UCLA campus. I also want to thank tournament director Elissa Grossman for her tireless efforts in organizing the tournament and for entrusting me with the “puzzle wrangler” position. The tournament constructors: Andrea Carla Michaels, Patti Varol, Jeffrey Harris, Samuel Donaldson, Trip Payne, Joel Elkins, Ronald Allen, C.C. Burnikel, and Doug Peterson made my job easy. The tournament included a warmup by Marc Spararagen and Dake Shukan and and team puzzle by John Doppler Schiff but the highlight for me (and I apologize if this is a spoiler) was the tribute to Merl Reagle in the form of a tournament puzzle constructed in his style. The reveal of that puzzle elicited murmurs of appreciation and applause for constructor Trip Payne.

On the topic of crossword memorials, I have been reading in social media memories of puzzle genius Henry Hook who passed away this week. Like Merl, Henry was a figure that I didn’t have a strong personal friendship with, but he was a pleasantly familiar byline in my early days of solving Games Magazine. I also remember his game show activities from ACPT, such as a Hollywood Squares game where he put his Games Magazine colleagues on the stage to weigh in on clever trivia questions. Rest in peace, Double-H.



Default: 363528
Default with Spaces: 147435

NOTES: My Notepad additions have been slowing down over the last few months. I guess I’m noticing fewer new names in the news and I’m being more judicious with entries that I encounter in other crossword puzzles. Recent celebrity additions include Estonian tennis star Anett (45) Kontaveit and singer Hailee (50) Steinfeld. I’m also pleased that Desi Lydic (60) has joined Trevor Noah’s team of Daily Show correspondents, though it looks like she will be out on maternity leave shortly. I recently heard a news piece on the food desert (75) situation facing communities that are too rural to have access to grocery stores with fresh produce. And, with the approach of the day that Marty McFly traveled to the then-future in Back to the Future II, I have added Oxboard (70).Sure, they’re not hoverboards but I guess they’re as close as 2015 technology and marketing can get. I do see a lot of youngsters cruising around on them in Downtown Denver.