The 2012 Orca Awards

Hard to believe any of the winners will have room for this in their trophy rooms. (Designed by Douglas Coupland.)

We’re back on the black and white carpet, just minutes from the start of the 2012 Orca Awards! Just like last year, this year’s Orca ceremony promises lots of surprises and special moments, including the Margaret Farrar Award for constructor of the year. New this year is the award for Most Divisive Puzzle as well as a special Lifetime Achievement Award. The ceremony concludes with the award for Best Crossword of 2012.

As we get settled into our seats, let’s review some of the basic logistics. Nominees for Best Crossword were determined based on the star ratings awarded by readers of this blog. As you can see from the “Best Crosswords of 2012″ tab up top, the nominees for this award may not have the highest overall average star rating among eligible puzzles, and that may be due to any number of factors, including the number of ratings received by a puzzle, our completely arbitrary rule that no constructor can have more than two puzzles in the running for any single crossword award, and our equally arbitrary desire to sample from several of the best crossword venues.

The nominees for all other awards were selected even more arbitrarily, so there’s no need to think that they’re the product of some definitive empirical research. Reasonable minds will differ, of course, but hopefully everyone will appreciate the really nice puzzles to which we are about to pay tribute.

Ooh, the lights in the lobby have flickered, so it’s time for the Orcas! See you after the jump.

Welcome to the 2012 Orca Awards! The first award is for Best Easy Crossword. Here to present the nominees and name the winner, please welcome Nick and Nora’s dog, Asta:

My preferred answers to [Pound sound] are ARF, BOW WOW, YIP, YELP, and MY NAME IS EZRA.

It’s an honor to present the first Orca Award. Surprised I can talk? You should be more surprised I’m alive! I just turned 567 in dog years. Let’s see you present an award at that age.

Where was I? Oh, right. Every solver enters the wonderful world of crosswords through easy puzzles. They give us a sense of accomplishment and a hunger for additional challenge. More importantly, they…

SQUIRREL!

As I was saying, they introduce us to the marvels of wordplay through accessible entries and themes that are both straightforward and entertaining. This year’s nominees were both fun to solve and marvels to behold. Here, then, are the nominees for Best Easy Crossword (in order of date of publication in 2012):

  • Untitled, by Bill Thompson (LAT, April 12). “Cap and trade” is a well-known method related to reducing pollution emissions, but in this puzzle it serves another function altogether. In the grid’s four longest answers (NIGHT SCHOOL, BOTTLE UP, ICE SHOWS, and SKY MAGAZINE), CAP can follow each of the first words (night cap, bottle cap, ice cap, sky cap) and TRADE can precede each of the last words (trade school, trade up, trade shows, trade magazine). For extra elegance, the theme revealer sits at the center of the grid, where CAP intersects TRADE. This puzzle successfully reduces harmful emissions by making you forget about all the stinky crosswords you’ve ever solved in your life.
  • Untitled, by Lynn Lempel (NYT, April 16). One of the Queens of Monday, Lynn Lempel, leaves us feeling “sort” of hungry in this Monday puzzle. It features five food-related terms for various “sorts” of people: STUD MUFFIN (the [Sexy sort]), BIG ENCHILADA (the [Influential sort]), GOOD EGG (the [Amiable sort]), HUMAN PRETZEL (the [Supple sort]), and SWEETIE PIE (the [Precious sort]). Fun theme + food + the usual “Lempel-ian” smoothness in the fill = a model easy crossword.
  • Untitled, by Ed Sessa (LAT, June 19). Each of the first three theme entries is the [Start of a nursery rhyme]: JACK AND JILL, LONDON BRIDGE, and HUMPTY DUMPTY. What have they in common? The familiar [End to a nursery rhyme]: ALL FALL DOWN. For extra oomph, the theme entries are in the Downs (hence, they all “fall Down”). The fill sports QUASARS, X-FACTOR, SLOSH, SPLURGE, BUM RAP, and lots of other goodness too.
  • Untitled, by Jeff Chen (LAT, July 2). Perhaps the secret lies in the grid’s left-right symmetry. Or maybe it’s just German engineering. The puzzle’s theme is VWS, but not the cars. Instead, it honors individuals with the initials V.W.: VIRGINIA WOOLF, VERA WANG, VANNA WHITE, and VANESSA WILLIAMS. Left-right symmetry lets you dispense with the requirement that the theme entries break into symmetrical pairs–you just stick every entry in the center of the grid. But wait, you can’t have even-lettered answers like VERA WANG and VANNA WHITE in the middle of an odd-sized grid, can you? Sure you can, if you’re name is Jeff “I Laugh at Your Obstacles” Chen. You just stick a black square between the first and last names–it still works because Vera’s name and Vanna’s name split evenly. The more I study this puzzle, the more I love it and hate myself for lacking these kind of constructing chops.
  • Untitled, by Michael David (NYT, December 10). The central Down, SIDELINES, is [Where to find coaches at football games…or a description of the answers to the 16 starred clues]. Yep, each of those 16 answers can precede LINE (FLAT line, DATE line, ASSEMBLY line, CONGA line, BOTTOM line, and eleven more). But what makes this puzzle unbelievably awesome is this: all 16 “line” starters are in the three left columns and the three right columns of the grid (the grid’s “sidelines”), and every single Down answer in those six columns is a theme answer. Um, I would have been thrilled to pull off this gimmick in just the outer columns. To do it in the outer three columns on each side? That’s bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

And the Best Easy Crossword is… Untitled, by Jeff Chen (LAT, July 2)! It got 13 five-star ratings from blog readers, and it should have received 13 more. Congratulations to Jeff and to all of the nominees!

Next up is the award for Best Freestyle Crossword, and here to present it is the new Coca-Cola Freestyle vending machine.

A Ben Tausig impersonator poses with the Coke Freestyle soda pop dispenser.

Thank you, thank you. You know, I have a lot in common with themeless crosswords. I contain over 125 Coke beverage products; the standard daily crossword grid has 225 squares. Using my special custom flavor add-ons, you can make thousands of unique drinks; using their technical, linguistic, and artistic skills, themeless puzzle constructors can make thousands of lively entries dance together in awe-inspiring stacks and fun intersections. And for both of us, our Barq’s is worse than our Sprite!

But seriously. Freestyle crosswords are where the adults play. They don’t need themes, they don’t need constraints. They make the rules by breaking the rules. Here are this year’s nominees for Best Freestyle Crossword:

  • Themeless Monday, by Brendan Emmett Quigley (BEQ, April 9), discussed more extensively below as it’s one of the nominees for Best Crossword.
  • The Post Puzzler #106, by Doug Peterson (WaPo, April 15), built around two fresh 14-letter entries, MISSILE COMMAND and MICROBREWERIES, with supporting roles played by XANADU, KLEENEX, MAIL ORDER, DRY ICE, and TRUE RIB. Fourteen-letter entries are often orphans in freestyle puzzles, as they don’t lend themselves to stacking very easily. Doug shows us that they can make for an attractive and challenging puzzle. Hail to the 14s!
  • Stretch Those Quads, by Matt Jones (Jonesin’, May 8), a 15×16 grid featuring a quad-stack along the equator containing superb stuff like WHAT CAN I DO YA FOR and A THING OF THE PAST, together with two pairs of 15s up top and down below (starring WILMA FLINTSTONE, a BOLOGNA SANDWICH, and a SECRET HANDSHAKE). It’s hip to diss the quad-stacks, but this puzzle proved they don’t have to be simply technical achievements–they can also be fun.
  • Untitled, by Patrick Berry (NYT, May 19), featuring MALCOLM X, BANANARAMA, LILYPADS, MAD-LIBS, GOOSING, HANGING OUT, CALICO CAT, and I GO CRAZY. It’s a terrific themeless puzzle made all the more awesome by what’s not in the grid: the letter E! As Andrew Ries said in the comments on this blog, “it wasn’t the fact that there weren’t E’s in the grid, it’s the smoothness of the grid overall that doesn’t scream out ‘I’m missing the most common English letter!’ that made it a 5-star puzzle for me.” This Patrick Berry kid has a bright future in crosswords.
  • Untitled, by Josh Knapp (NYT, June 22), featuring BUZZKILL, UNION DUES, LUMMOX, COOKIE JAR, TOTEM POLE, WHAT A GUY, CRASH PAD, and FAT JOE, among lots of other sparkly entries. It also had one of the best clues from 2012: [Flip one's lid?] for BLINK. I thought Jeffrey’s comment said it best: “This puzzle would be better if… I got nothing. 5 stars.”
  • Themeless 57, by Peter Gordon (Fireball Crosswords, November 29), the puzzle that introduced many happy solvers to EPIZEUXIS and contained entries like B.S. DEGREES, APOLLO XII, RADIO SONG, DAN JANSEN, GROSS OUT, STUDS TERKEL, and UV INDEX. Oh, and there’s the fact that EPIZEUXIS is stacked with LIME GREEN and IN A MUDDLE. See? It’s all about location, location, location.

And the Best Freestyle Crossword is… Themeless Monday by Brendan Emmett Quigley (BEQ, April 9)! It had an impressive 4.75 average star rating from the discerning readers of this blog, where freestyle puzzles tend to struggle in comparison to themed puzzles and contest puzzles. Congratulations to all of the nominees.

The next award honors big grids, so we’ve called in two presenters for the task. Please welcome the world’s most famous musicians according to crosswords–meeting for the first time ever on our stage–Brian Eno and Yoko Ono! Eno, Ono. Ono, Eno.

Ms. Ono in her black and white best.

Brian: Yeah, that bit didn’t work for Letterman, either. Yoko, it is an honor to share the stage with you as we give out the award for Best Sunday-sized crossword.

Yoko: Thank you, Brian. I am a big fan of crosswords, and not just because my first and last names appear in 30 percent of them. That’s right, I’m a dedicated solver, too. Here’s a little known fact–if you look carefully in that famous photo from our bed-in, you’ll see that John Lennon and I were working on a New York Times Sunday puzzle. The theme was HAIR PEACE. We thought that was especially creative, though some other substances might have contributed to that.

Brian: Wait, you and John were solving the New York Times puzzle? Even though you were in Amsterdam?

Yoko: Oh, we were everywhere that day, Brian. In Amsterdam, in New York, in London, in Tokyo, in Bruges, in the ocean, in the desert, in love, in peace, throughout the galaxy…everywhere.

Mr. Eno sports a little color for the occasion. Very fashion forward.

Brian: Okay, then. Forget I asked. Let’s just move along. Here are the nominees for Best Sunday-sized Crossword:

  • Get Over It, by Merl Reagle (Syndicated, February 19). This one’s a nominee for Best Crossword, so a detailed discussion awaits.
  • The Meaning of It, by Patrick Berry (NYT, August 12). Common idioms containing the word “it” get clued in both the literal and idiomatic sense. So, for example, PUT A CORK IN IT is clued as ["Talking isn't going to reseal that wine bottle!"] and THAT TEARS IT is clued as ["How dare you climb a barbed-wire fence wearing my sweater!"]. Take eleven total theme entries, add fun fill (AERONAUT, ANTES UP, TWEENER, PAWS AT) and great clues ([Furry feller?] for BEAVER and [Conversation opener?] for MOUTH) and there you go–one of the best crosswords of the year.
  • The Lady Vanishes, by Elizabeth C. Gorski (WSJ, August 17). Nearly 101 years before this puzzle was published, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” was STOLEN FROM THE LOUVRE (the entry in the middle of the grid). To commemorate this occasion, we have a puzzle in which the eight letters in “Mona Lisa” disappear (in sequence) from the starts of words in eight common expressions to form whimsical new ones. First, for instance, “Melba toast” becomes ELBA TOAST, clued as ["Here's to you, Napoleon!" perhaps?]. Then “popular opinion” slims down to POPULAR PINION, the [Rack's well-liked partner?]. With supporting fill referencing the Mona Lisa like SMILE and ITALY, the puzzle’s theme becomes apparent. It’s a subtract-a-letter theme and a tribute theme rolled into one, with bonus thematic material lurking about. No wonder solvers loved it so.
  • On the Flip Side, by Patrick Blindauer (WSJ, November 9). You know the expression “turn that frown upside down?” This puzzle interprets the letter M as a frown that gets flipped into a W seven times over, resulting in theme entries like DAWN YANKEES, WADE IN THE SHADE, THREE ON A WATCH, KISS AND WAKE UP, and A BEAUTIFUL WIND. (Note that Patrick Blindauer and WSJ editor Mike Shenk resisted the flatulence-related clue on that last one, opting instead for [Movie about the most gorgeous oboe?].) There’s just as much fun in the fill, as the grid contains both I AM NOT and ARE TOO, along with goodies like LON CHANEY, PIED-A-TERRE, AMNESTY, LENT AN EAR, and ALL-FEMALE. Plus there’s [Pea coat, at times] as a clue for WASABI. That’s gold, Jerry!
  • The Guy on the Right, by Merl Reagle (Syndicated, December 30). Ever notice how some common words end with letters that spell the name of a guy? Me neither, but fortunately Merl Reagle did. Just insert a comma at the right spot and you get the correct answers: ["You're no __, __"] (FUN, GUS). ["I smell a __, __"] (RAT, CHET). My favorites: ["With your popularity, you'll be easy to __, __"] (ELECT, RON) and ["You're looking __, __"] (CHIC, KEN). What the theme entries lack in length they more than make up for in quantity, what with 15 theme entries, all in the Across position, no less.

And the Best Sunday-sized Crossword is: Get Over It, by Merl Reagle (Syndicated, February 19). It landed 18 5-star ratings from our readers, proof that it “leaped” over the over nominees this year. (You’ll like that joke later, hopefully.) But congratulations to all of the outstanding nominees.

Time now to present the first-ever Lifetime Achievement Orca for sustained excellence in crossword construction. This is the first Lifetime Achievement Orca, and we are proud to present it to today’s honoree:

The two most handsome fellows at the 2011 ACPT? That’s Bob Klahn on the right.

According to the CrosSynergy website, “Bob Klahn, a native of Buffalo, New York, grew up south of Nashville, attended Phillips Academy in Andover, and majored in mathematics at Princeton, where he discovered computers. A 41-year IT career in Wilmington, Delaware followed. A lifelong love affair with words led Bob into grid-building contests in the early ’70s, and into serious constructing in the early ’90s. Now as the manager and one of the founding members of CrosSynergy, Bob’s computer programming skills have allowed the group to develop a collaborative editorial approach to preparing and reviewing its puzzles. Bob’s hundreds of crosswords are renowned for the originality of their clues; The Wrath of Klahn Crosswords: Puzzles from the World’s Toughest Clue Writer features six dozen of them. While such crosswords led one disgruntled solver to issue a fatwa against him, on the gruntled side, solvers have said they can almost see and taste and feel his puzzles. Bob’s favorite solver comment? ‘But he seems so normal!’”

Bob’s a very normal guy, but “normal” is not the word you would use to describe his crosswords. When we see his byline on a puzzle, we know we’re in for a workout. (“Workout” is an apt metaphor, as I’ve often finished his puzzles sapped of energy and drenched in sweat.) Most of us appreciate and even learn from the lessons he puts us through, but not everyone is as enamored. Here‘s one frustrated solver’s comment on an online bulletin board from December, 2012: “I agree Bob Klahn is really bad. What happened to his spelling and grqamar????” (As they say in law school, res ipsa loquitur.) Another concerned solver weighed in: “The puzzles make no sense to anyone but him. Please stop him before he hurts himself.”

Luckily, Bob has been able to avoid self-inflicted injury for many years now. What makes a Bob Klahn puzzle so unique, of course, is his attention to clues. In a 2009 interview with the L.A. Times Crossword Corner, Bob explained how he consistently dazzles us with his fresh and knotty clues: “What’s ‘my secret?’ Simply refusing to accept the old clues, almost always feeling I can come up with something new, hating to use ‘repeaters,’ and always trying to be as entertaining as possible. Those are my standards. As a result, I’m sure I spend a lot more time writing clues than most constructors do. I’ve often spent over a half hour on a single clue; I’m willing to do that any time I feel I’m close to coming up with something that I’ll really like.”

He continues: “I can boil down ‘my secret’ to a single phrase, and there’s no question what that phrase must be: word association. That’s the cornerstone. I strongly advise all who aspire to write great clues to work at building the richest tapestry of words they can. Doing so should be a never-ending endeavor. Think about it: THE BEST CLUES BRING MULTIPLE IDEAS TOGETHER. That’s what word association does.” It’s great advice that I’m trying to follow, even though I wholly expect to fall far short of his level of cluing genius.

As of today, Bob has had 60 crosswords published in the New York Times, including the famous PUNXSUTAWNEY PHIL Groundhog Day puzzle from 1995 that he co-constructed with Sharon Klahn in which the first letter peeks up over the top of the grid just like a groundhog (I always liked the clue for that revealer, [For the outlook, look out for his look out!]). He’s had hundreds of other crosswords published in a variety of outlets, and expert solvers covet the Wrath of Klahn book mentioned in his bio. But Bob’s talents and dedication to puzzling is not limited to construction. Behind the scenes, he is the ringleader for the CrosSynergy Syndicate and he has been a fact-checker for the LAT crossword. He may also have one of the richest databases of annotated published puzzles. If you want to know whether a certain word has appeared in a crossword from the past few decades, you can start and stop by consulting with Bob.

How fitting that Bob’s first crossword with the CrosSynergy Syndicate (published May 20, 1997) had these theme entries: A NUMBER ONE, WORLD-CLASS, OUT OF SIGHT, and SUPER-DUPER. It is our honor to award the first Lifetime Achievement Award Orca to Bob Klahn. In addition, we are pleased to announce that starting next year, we will present the Bob Klahn Award for Most Outstanding Clue (though Bob’s currently the odds-on favorite to win this award). Congratulations, Bob, and thanks for many hours of vexation and entertainment. We look forward to many more in the future!

Our next award is for the Best Gimmick Puzzle. How fitting that it be presented by the King of Gimmicks. Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for the one, the only… Gallagher!

Here’s the tool I threatened to use if they didn’t let me present at the Orcas.

Gimmick puzzles push the envelope, often by making solvers do unexpected things, whether it’s writing multiple letters in a box, connecting dots, coloring boxes, folding grids, writing outside the grid, or wadding the puzzle up into a ball and tossing it in the recycle bin. 2012 was another great year for gimmick puzzles, and blog readers especially enjoyed the following nominees for Best Gimmick Puzzle:

  • Starting Overby Brendan Emmett Quigley (BEQ, January 26). The first letter in each of this puzzle’s 16-letter theme entries “starts over” the rest of the answer, as the T in TAKE IT FROM THE TOP appears at the start of 14-Across, just above the rest of the entry at 17-Across. Likewise, you’ll see a D over the top of the first letter in O A ONE-EIGHTY to form DO A ONE-EIGHTY, and you’ll find a T hovering over the first letter in URN OVER A NEW LEAF to form TURN OVER A NEW LEAF. That’s a fun interpretation of the phrase “starting over” and it allows for the rare inclusion of 16-letter answers.
  • Thinking Inside the Box, by Caleb Rasmussen (CHE, May 4). Fans of The Big Bang Theory no doubt had an advantage in this puzzle, as the show has an ongoing gag about the famous thought experiment known as “Schrodinger’s Cat,” under which a cat in a sealed box is presumed to be both alive and dead until one opens the box. In this puzzle’s center sits both a DEAD CAT and a LIVE CAT, as one can fill in the crossing Downs using either the letters from DEAD or LIVE (STEED or STEEL, SETS or SITS, AIM or VIM, CDE or CEE). It’s the BOB DOLE / CLINTON double-solution gimmick applied in the academic context of a thought experiment where indeed a cat is both LIVE and DEAD. Brilliant! The grid works in other elements from the experiment, like GEIGER COUNTER and FLASK OF POISON. As cool as it is to have two solutions at once, though, John Farmer put it well in the comments: “The true solution, I think, is to leave the four squares blank. We just don’t know.
  • Spelling Troubleby Patrick Berry (Fireball Year 3 #22, May 31). This is one of the nominees for Best Crossword, so we’ll save the elaborate write-up for later.
  • Adjusted to Fit Your Screen, by Matt Jones (Jonesin’ Crossword, September 25). This one’s also a Best Crossword nominee, so if you aren’t familiar with it you’ll have to be content with reading about it below.
  • Operators Are Standing By, by Patrick Blindauer (Patrick Blindauer’s Website Crossword, December 1). Let’s roll up our sleeves and do some math! It looks like the puzzle’s title refers to mathematical operations, especially given the theme entries. The clue for X PLUS 3Y MINUS 2Z is [=5], the clue for 2X PLUS 4Y PLUS 3Z is [=15], and the clue for 3X PLUS 5Y PLUS 6Z is [=23]. The answer, as any third grader can tell you, is that X = 4, Y= 1, and Z = 1. In other words, it’s 4-1-1, the modern number you’d dial for information, perhaps from an operator. The second interpretation of the title is nice, but it’s all the other factors that take this baby over the top. Matt Gaffney offered this list in this review of the puzzle: “1) Patrick worked eight numerals into the grid, Henry Hook-style; 2) this allowed him to create a much less simplistic algebra problem; 3) Patrick doesn’t just semi-insultingly state the solution to said simplistic problem at the end; 4) once you do solve the problem yourself, there’s an excellent “a-ha moment” awaiting. The result is a far superior experience.”

And the Best Gimmick Puzzle is: Spelling Trouble, by Patrick Berry (Fireball Year 3 #22, May 31)! This baby got 19 five-star ratings from readers and an impressive 4.81 adjusted star average. More please, Patrick!

It’s now time to present the new Orca Award honoring the year’s most controversial crossword. Here to present the award for Most Divisive Crossword, just hours before he takes the stage as emcee of the Academy Awards, is Seth MacFarlane!

Actual Seth MacFarlane tweet from earlier this month: “My Zero Dark 30 torture scenario: put me in a tiny room with just a beet salad, Atlas Shrugged, wet socks, and a Wall Street Journal.” (We assume the Friday and Saturday WSJ would be okay.)

Giggity! I see that we just honored crosswords that push the envelope. Sometimes you have to do more than push it. Sometimes you have to tear it up, spit it out, stomp on it, and set it aflame. That’s how I’ve made my whole career, so I’m honored to recognize those crosswords that both entertained and enraged solvers.

A puzzle that’s a hot, smoldering pile of solid waste to one solver might be a pioneering, innovative, and (dare we say) entertaining achievement to another. The Most Divisive Crossword award honors the crossword that attracted a significant number of both high and low ratings. The ideal Most Divisive Crossword is one that would get lots of 4- and 5-star ratings, lots of 1- and 2-star ratings, and comparatively few 3-star ratings–proof that solvers generally either loved the puzzle or hated it.

Not surprisingly, the four nominees for Most Divisive Crossword come from the New York Times. (Whaddya know, the Old Gray Lady can still get down and dirty. Giggity.) Just about everyone who bothers to rate the crosswords on this blog solves the NYT–it remains the gold standard. And solvers take the NYT crossword seriously–perhaps more seriously than the puzzles available through any other outlet. So they expect a lot from the NYT. And as we know, Will Shortz is terrifically unafraid of publishing puzzles that push the medium forward. All of these elements combine to make the NYT home to this year’s most loved-and-hated-at-the-same-time crosswords. Here, then, are the four nominees for Most Divisive Crossword:

  • State Annexation, by Charles M. Deber (NYT, February 5). This Sunday puzzle was a mash-up of postal abbreviations, cross-references, and definitions. Solvers had to “annex” (add) postal abbreviations to eight of the shorter answers in the grid to form a clue for a longer answer. For instance, the clue for 22-Across was [45-Down near Baton Rouge.] The answer at 45-Down was HOOP, a [Basketball rim]. If you annex the postal abbreviation for Baton Rouge’s state, Louisiana (which is LA), to HOOP, you get HOOPLA. So the clue for 22-Across is [Hoopla], the answer to which is EXCITEMENT. Some solvers loved the hunting and gathering required to crack the puzzle, while others carped that all that “jumping around” led to underwhelming theme answers like MORAL TENET and EASTER ANIMAL. Jim Horne said in the comments, “This is one of my favorite puzzles of the year. Loved the theme, and enjoyed the whole ride.” But this one generated lots of stars in both directions: 14 ratings of 4- or 5-stars, 21 ratings of 1- or 2-stars, and just seven up the middle with three stars.
  • Untitled, by Jules P. Markey (NYT, May 10). In this Thursday puzzle, six Across entries contained four consecutive squares with circles (uh oh–you can hear the circle-haters starting to stir!). In each case, the consecutively circled squares spelled a four letter word, like ROPE inside of EUROPEANS and BAIL at the start of BAILEYS. 69-Across revealed that JUMP could precede the six four-letter words (JUMP ROPE, JUMP BAIL, and so forth). But wait, there’s more! When solving the Downs, solvers were supposed to “jump” (i.e., skip) the circled squares entirely. So while the grid looked to contain a long Down spelled MOOTORLIST, the answer was in fact MOTORIST (after you skip the first O from the crossing ROPE and then the L from the crossing BAIL). Many solvers (including yours truly) thought this extra element elevated the puzzle into something special, but others grumbled that since the circled squares were skipped in the Downs, they were all essentially unchecked squares, making it impossible to know whether the puzzle had been solved successfully. That was especially discomforting for those who didn’t know CAT BALLOU (which contained a jump “BALL”) and for the 250 million or so solvers who had never heard of SUITEMATE (containing a jump “suit” at the start). As Bruce observed in the comments, “if down answers containing circled letters were actual words (albeit not the clued answers found by jumping over the circled letters), then this would have at least given a solver a chance to get close enough to guess.” And that’s what seemed to irk people. So very generally it seems like it boiled down to this: if you could look past SUITEMATE, you loved the puzzle; if you couldn’t, you didn’t. So ultimately there were 17 ratings of 4- and 5-stars, 33 ratings of 1- and 2-stars, and just seven ratings of three stars.
  • Untitled, by Peter A. Collins (NYT, June 18). Who knew a Monday puzzle could be divisive? Was it the 16×15 grid? Was it the theme density that’s a little unusual for a Monday puzzle? Or are The Beatles just lightning rods for controversy? Whatever it was, this puzzle attracted a healthy number of 5-, 4-, 3-, 2-, and 1-star ratings. The grid contained seven(!) songs from The Beatles (LET IT BE, NOWHERE MAN, GOLDEN SLUMBERS, MICHELLE, WE CAN WORK IT OUT, REVOLUTION, and HEY JUDE). But for extra oomph, Peter Collins added another layer, again in the form of circled squares. As the explanation accompanying the puzzle stated, “When this puzzle is done, the circled letters, reading from left to right and top to bottom, will reveal who wrote the seven songs in the theme.” Each song had two or three circled squares, and when read in order they spelled LENNON and McCARTNEY. That’s pretty cool, but it appears from the comments that folks did not like this for a Monday puzzle (keep in mind that the puzzle ran on Paul McCartney’s 70th birthday), while others balked at seeing fill like RICE U, SAES, IT NO, ANI, ESO, DEO, UAL, SAINTE, ENTO, ITE, OSO, and OENO in their Monday puzzle. Check out the star ratings for the puzzle: 9 five-star ratings, 6 four-star ratings, 8 three-star ratings, 12 two-star ratings, and 5 one-star ratings. Were we all solving the same puzzle?
  • Untitled, by Alan Arbesfeld (NYT, July 19). Another Thursday puzzle, and perhaps it suffered unfairly from running at the same time as one of the puzzles nominated for Best Crossword. It might have suffered too from the fact that the theme wasn’t entirely obvious. The theme involved reinterpreting single words as three-word clues to another word. Thus, EAGLE was the clue for LINEAGE, because EAGLE looks like someone put an L IN EAGE. Likewise, SCOURING was the clue for CO IN SURING, ARETE was the clue for RET IN AE, PLATTE was the clue for T IN PLATE, GLANDS was the clue for LAND IN GS, SPECTRES was the clue for RE IN SPECTS, and ALEFS was the clue for F IN ALES. The subpar fill like RAI, ESNE, ERN, and TASM turned off more than a few solvers, and Amy observed that there are very few rare letters in the entire grid. Pannonica called it “complex and half-baked,” but Xan responded that the problem lies with the fact that the resulting words aren’t exactly stellar. Perhaps Tracy B. has the best account for the discrepancy in ratings: “One either feels quite clever or quite dull at the end of it I guess.” This one netted 19 ratings of 4- and 5-stars, 18 ratings of 1- and 2-stars, and just eight ratings of three stars.

And the Most Divisive Crossword is: Untitled, by Jules Markey (NYT, May 10)! It’s not easy to have one of your puzzles so loved and so hated, so let’s all tip our caps to Jules and all of the other nominees for prompting us to think more about our puzzle preferences and for making us articulate our views as cogently as we can. Puzzles like yours are important in paving the way for more progress.

We come now to the final award, Best Crossword of 2012. The nominees were revealed in a separate post earlier this month, but let’s recap each of them here:

Get Over It, by Merl Reagle (Merl Reagle Syndicated Crossword, February 19). The winner of the Best Sunday-Sized Crossword Orca made solvers jump for joy. Merl gave us a hint with this puzzle: “the theme answers treat certain individual black squares as obstacles to, um, rise above.” In the puzzle, six phrases that include words meaning “bounding” actually have the “hurdling” word leap over a grey square before continuing to the end. (In the newspaper, these six squares were grey; if you solved online they were likely black.) The screen shot to the right highlights the “leaping” words with circles.

To make this work, of course, Merl needed to place answers with three set letters above the black squares, effectively adding to the challenge of construction. Novice solvers will enjoy the clever, fun theme, and aficionados will appreciate how the black square hurdles are symmetrically placed in the grid and that the surrounding fill doesn’t suffer. We’ve seen visual representations of words before, yes, but it’s rare to see it so well executed. Of the 21 total votes cast using this blog’s star-rating system (before some d*ck started giving 1-star ratings to most of the other Best Crossword nominees), 18 were five stars. As commenter Howard B observed, “bonuses like that are a reason I solve.” Yes they are.

Themeless Monday, by Brendan Emmett Quigley (BEQ, April 9). The only freestyle puzzle among the Best Crossword nominees (and, go figure, winner of Best Freestyle Crossword) is this 72-entry, 30-black-square themeless grid chock full of fun stuff. Two entries that stand out are NHL MOCK DRAFT and DVD BOX SET. (Did you notice both of those start with four consonants? Yet BEQ manages to top the first one with a triple-stack of sevens and features the second one nicely down the grid’s prime meridian.) Fans of high Scrabble counts will like the three Xs, three Ks, two Js (both in JANET JACKSON, Miss Jackson if you’re nasty), and a couple of Vs. More impressively, the parade of rare letters interferes not one whit with the smoothness of the fill.

Other great entries include STICK TO IT, WHAT FOR, and the stair-stepped trio of TIME BOMB, GIGOLOS, and X-FACTORS. Yet the great fill was arguably exceeded by the quality of the clues. Solvers knew they were in for a great ride right at the beginning with the terrific clue, [One who doesn't believe he's being watched?] for ATHEIST. We also liked [Avalanche forecast, perhaps?] for the NHL MOCK DRAFT, [Events that bring out the kid in you] for BIRTHS, and [Recess line] for IS TOO.

Two-thirds of the 18 ratings cast for this puzzle were of the five-star variety. Howard B said it well in the comments: “There was just insane fill in every part of that grid, lurking around every corner. Had fun solving almost every bit of it. … I have no idea how he does it.”

Spelling Trouble, by Patrick Berry (Fireball Year 3 #22, May 31). Scrabble players loved this inventive theme, described by Amy in her initial review as “two-way double-rebus action.” Let’s see why this one won the Best Gimmick Puzzle Orca just minutes ago. The circled squares in the screenshot to the right read as normal letters reading Down and as {BLANK} reading Across. Three of the Across entries are {BLANK} OUT, DRAW A {BLANK}, and WET {BLANK}ET. The fourth is part of the explanation for the four starred clues: A {BLANK} TILE IS / NEEDED TO / PLAY IT IN / SCRABBLE. The four starred answers are JUJUBE (which requires a blank tile to play in Scrabble because there’s only one J in an English Scrabble set), KAYAKED (needing a blank tile because the regular set has just one K), PUPPETS (only two Ps), and CYCLIC (just two Cs). It’s cool that the four “rebus” squares are not symmetrically placed in the grid, as it adds to the fun of finding them. Once you figure out what’s going on, it’s more fun hunting for the other examples when you don’t quite know where they are.

The puzzle’s by Patrick Berry, so you know the fill will be elegant. PICASSO, NILE BLUE, AZALEA, WEST END, BATH OIL, POP-TOP, and TTYL are among my favorites. The puzzle also had one of the best clues from the year: [Salute using feet?] for an ODE. Then there was the inventive clue for III: [It's 150° from X]. We’re used to seeing Roman numeral math problems in Fireball puzzles, but not quite like that! Commenters were piling on the praise for this puzzle (well, until Ben Tausig announced the birth of his son–then all the praise and congratulations rightly shifted in his direction). But of the 23 ratings assigned to Patrick’s puzzle, 19 of them were five stars. It was a terrific day indeed.

A Cryptic Tribute, by George Barany (CHE, June 22). If we had an Orca for Best Crossword Day of 2012, though, June 22 would be the winner. In addition to the Orca-nominated freestyle puzzle from Josh Knapp, there was this masterpiece from George Barany. It was a tribute to Alan Turing, the guy who, in the words of commenter Martin Herbach, was “the most famous code-breaker in history. He cracked the German Enigma machine during WWII, which had profound implications for the prosecution of the war. He was one of the first theorists to work on stored-program computers. He was a tragic figure who was hounded out of his field and underwent chemical castration in lieu of prison for his crime of homosexuality.” The day was a fitting occasion to commemorate Turing because he was born on June 23, 1912, meaning he would have been 100 the next day.

Appropriately, the tribute comes in the form of a cipher. 17-Across tells us that TWO LETTERS is [What eight squares in this puzzle contain, thus creating a cipher key]. You can see the eight two-letter squares in the screenshot. Using this cipher key, solvers were then BREAKING THE CODE to see that the puzzle’s honoree was not H. R. HALDEMAN, as indicated at 59-Across, but instead ALAN TURING (the H changed to an A, the E into an R, and so forth). The grid also contained PRINCETON (where Turing got his Ph.D.) and BLETCHLEY Park, where Turing did much of his work.

Herbach continues: “George Barany squeezed a lot of information about ALAN TURING and his field of cryptology into a 15×15. He made it a cipher puzzle. But first he found HRHALDEMAN to be a substitution cipher coding of ALAN TURING. So he selected the eight digrams that would effect this coding and made them rebuses. Then he constructed the puzzle. Easy.” Uh-huh.

In the comments, Mr. Barany stepped in and generously bestowed a lot of credit to the CHE editor, Patrick Berry: “An April 10 conversation with my son Michael, a graduate student at Princeton, put the Turing centennial birthday of June 23 on my radar screen. Since time was of the essence, I pitched to Patrick in late April a completely filled and clued grid that … contained as theme entries ALAN_TURING, BLETCHLEY_PARK, BREAKING_THE_CODE, and COMPUTER_SCIENCE, as well as the ‘bonus’ ENIGMA. Patrick replied and made the brilliant suggestion that we could pay true tribute to Turing by encoding his name in the puzzle. Patrick specifically suggested H.R._HALDEMAN, which at first glance seems like a name chosen at random but turns out to be the only moderately recognizable name that maps onto ALAN_TURING. During the first week of May, we traded back and forth no less than seven grids, Patrick gently guiding the project towards the kind of smooth fill for which his reputation as a solo constructor is richly deserved. … In summary, a dream collaboration!

Commenters universally loved the puzzle. As Amy observed, “This was a particularly smart puzzle-within-a-puzzle. Much more elegant than a connect-the-dots! And winding the theme up with H.R. HALDEMAN and half thinking, ‘He studied math at Princeton and someone wrote a play about him called Breaking the Code? Huh. That’s weird’—it requires working the cryptogram substitution to pay proper tribute to Alan Turing (and get the Watergate taste out of one’s mouth).” A favorite comment came from Andy: “Abandon hope, all other would-be Crosswords of the Year 2012. That CHE is just ridiculous, in the most complimentary sense of the word.”

Of those that voted, nearly everyone gave the puzzle five stars. But that raises a point that needs mention: This puzzle received an inordinately high number of votes–80 as of the end of 2012 (again, there is at least one jerk who insisted on giving most of the nominated puzzles one star after the list of nominees was announced). Given that the next three most-rated puzzles in 2012 had 64, 60, and 60 votes (two of which were NYT puzzles with substantially broader solving bases), one can’t help but find it curious that so many votes were cast for this particular puzzle and that 76 of the 80 votes were five stars. (For reference, no puzzle in 2011 had more than 66 votes.) Had this puzzle received 40, 50, or 60 votes, no one would likely question their validity. But 80 votes? That makes one say “hmm.” Because the star ratings are not used to determine the Best Crossword (they just help identify the nominees), it’s not like any “voter fraud” has affected the results of these awards. But let’s use this suspiciously unusual voting pattern as a learning moment. Going forward, let’s all resolve to use the star ratings honorably, m’kay?

That said, we should not and will not lose sight of the bigger picture here: this was easily one of the best crosswords of 2012 and well-deserving of this nomination.

Instance Messages” by Jeffrey Harris and Ian Livengood (Fireball Crosswords Year 3 #29, July 18) . The first of three contest puzzles among this year’s Best Crossword nominees is this fun offering from Jeffrey Harris and Ian Livengood. The theme required reading three capitalized clues as “clue-by-example” clues, a common feature in many crosswords. The clue for 20-Across, for instance, was not [RAMSAY] but [RAM, SAY], which leads you to the answer, PRO FOOTBALLER. [CORTISONE] should be read as [CORT IS ONE], leading to BROADWAY THEATER, and [METAL] is properly read as [M, ET AL] to get ROMAN NUMERALS. This is a great way to have some fun with a crossword staple while still offering a nice “aha” moment for solvers.

Then there’s the contest element. The instructions stated, “Two answers in this crossword could be a clue and answer in the same style as the other three theme clues and answers. What are those two answers?” That would be [BOWLEG] at 10-Down (reinterpreted as [BOWL, E.G.]) and STACY’S MOM. No, wait, it’s HAIRCUT at 45-Across. Great touch! I wonder if BOWLEG/HAIRCUT started as an extraneous fourth theme entry that just couldn’t find a partner of matching length, so it became a contest puzzle. If so, that’s a terrific way to rescue the orphaned theme entry!

The clues offer a nice mix of trivia and cleverness. [They're turned on] is a great clue for AXES, and [Back to back?] is a fun clue for ACHE (“ache” being at the back end of “backache”). On the trivia front, there’s [Book with the opening sentence "The great fish moved silently through the night water, propelled by short sweeps of its crescent tail"] for JAWS. (Crosswords not confined to shrinking space in a newspaper can make wonderful use of longer clues like this.) Another fun clue was [They say nothing when indicating fairness] for UMPS. Great clues, accessible contest, and a play on a crossword staple. This puzzle earned every one of its 12 five-star ratings and then some.

At the Present Time, by Matt Gaffney (Matt Gaffney Weekly Crossword Contest #221, August 24). Solvers in Matt’s weekly crossword contest had to “write a clue for 60-Across that completes the theme.” The answer at 60-Across was NEIL, but one had to uncover the theme to determine a suitable clue. Combine the central entry in the grid (EVERY 5 YEARS) with the puzzle’s title (“At the Present Time”) and you might see that the theme relates to traditional wedding anniversary presents.

Here’s where it gets good: every entry starting with a multiple of five has a clue that refers to the material associated with that anniversary. The clue for 5-Across, for instance, is [Used a wood, say] for SWUNG, and wood is the traditional fifth anniversary present (in the actual puzzle, the anniversary materials were not italicized or otherwise called to the solver’s attention; after all, this was a “week 4″ contest puzzle, and the “metas” get harder as the month progresses). The clue for TOTO at 10-Down was [He barked at the Tin Man]. At 15-Across there’s ["City Slickers" co-star of Crystal] for Bruno KIRBY. This continues for the 20th, 25th, 30th, 35th, 40th, 45th, 50th, and 55th anniversaries! A little research tells the solver that the traditional 60th anniversary present is diamond, so most any clue that referenced Neil Diamond would work.

This ain’t as easy to construct as Matt makes it look (though don’t we usually say something to that effect nearly every week in our discussions of the MGWCC?). Just try to auto-fill a grid like this and then come up with sensible clues at every multiple of five that reference materials like jade, sapphire, crystal and such without making it too obvious what’s going on. You can’t. So Matt needed to find material-related words that could fit at those exact positions while maintaining standard symmetry and avoiding junk fill in the surrounding environs.

Here’s what Joon said: “this is a pretty amazing construction. i mean, i understand that there are some theme answers that don’t have a particularly strong relationship to the gift material in the clue (ELEPHANT/jade is a tenuous connection, for example; OLE/pearl is pretty weak too). but there are 12 (!) theme answers, that have to go at particular numbers in the grid, plus the EVERY 5 YEARS hint across the middle. that is an incredibly constrained grid. and yet the fill is remarkably clean, with only AFP (agence france-presse) wildly unfamiliar. this, my friends, is a tour de force. five stars and a tip of the cap.” Indeed: five stars (19 of them on the blog), a tip of the cap, and a nomination for Best Crossword.

Adjusted to Fit Your Screen, by Matt Jones (Jonesin’ Crossword, September 25). One of the things I love about iPad TABLETS (39-Across) is that they adjust themselves from portrait view to landscape view (and vice versa) when turned. Matt Jones found a way to pull off this same effect in a crossword puzzle. The theme entries look like a bunch of gibberish–ZOXHZUHEHE, NOISSIWNOOW, and EOEHMNOEHM. But each time you rotate the completed grid 90 degrees, you can read one of the answers RIGHT SIDE UP (17-Across).

Turn the grid clockwise 90 degrees and that first theme entry, ZOXHZUHEHE, becomes MIMIC NIXON, a much more suitable answer to [Do the "I am not a crook" thing with the double V-signs, for example?]. Turn it clockwise another 90 degrees and NOISSIWNOOW turns into MOON MISSION, clued as [Neil Armstrong went on one]. Turn it clockwise 90 degrees one last time and EOEHMNOEHM becomes WOWIE ZOWIE, or ["Land sakes alive that's awesome!"]. Indeed, that’s the perfect description for this puzzle!

Amy said it well in her review: “I love, love, LOVE the mind-bending, paper-spinning theme. Patrick Merrell once had a topsy-turvy crossword in Scientific American that hinged on letters that could be read as letters (the same or different) upside down, and this puzzle has a similar brilliance (fewer affected answers, but three angles!).” The puzzle got 21 star ratings when it came out, and 17 of them awarded the full five stars. In the comments, Matt Gaffney added, “Obviously this isn’t going to be the first puzzle where letters are turned on their sides, but tying the idea to tablets and having to turn your screen in four different directions to read the four theme entries is both novel and extremely elegant.” The puzzle even elicited a comment from infrequent contributor wilsch: “This week’s Jonesin’ is the most cleverly themed puzzle that I’ve done in years, and I do 20 ~ 25 puzzles per week.”

Just My Type, by Matt Gaffney (Matt Gaffney Weekly Crossword Contest #226, September 28). A mere five weeks from the awesome “At the Present Time” crossword discussed above, Matt returned with another amazing construction, this time asking solvers to name his blood type. Short of hacking into his medical records, how were solvers supposed to do that?

The key was seeing that you could alter each of seven different clues by either adding or subtracting the letters A, B, O, or AB at the start. For example, the clue for MANIPULATED at 17-Across was [Used someone’s trust for personal gain]. But you could get the same answer by adding AB at the start to make “Abused someone’s trust….” In blood type lingo, that’s an example of AB+. The clue for IN DETENTION WAS [Absent from class, perhaps,] but you could subtract the AB from the start to have [Sent from class, perhaps], thus illustrating AB-. In a similar fashion, a [Bright idea...] could be a [Right idea...] (B-), [Esophageal openings] could be [Oesophageal openings] (O+), an [Orotund] singer could be a [Rotund] singer (O-), NONVOTERS could be a [Political group] or an [Apolitical group] (A+), and [Amassed troops...] could also be [Massed troops...] (A-). The only one missing from the group is B+, which indeed turns out to be Matt’s blood type. (A good thing to know! If anything happens to Matt that would jeopardize his reaching Week #1000 in the contest, we want to make sure we have plenty of B+ blood on hand!)

Joon was under the gun in figuring out this meta, but he did offer a brief review: “geez, what a meta! seven symmetric long theme answers, covering seven of the eight blood types, with a highly elegant and well-concealed trick. wow.” Commenters agreed. Ken said it was a “great specimen of an elegant clue-based meta that also requires (or at least benefits from) solving the puzzle – and particular kudos for making the A, AB and O clues each a pair of symmetrical entries.” “This was one of Matt’s best for me,” said Paul Coulter, “just a few steps below his gloriously soaring escalator” (which, um, won the Orca for Best Crossword of 2011).

To say it was one of Matt’s best puzzles from 2012 is high praise indeed. If you click on the Best Puzzles of 2012 tab up above, you’ll see an awful lot of Matt Gaffney puzzles (11 of the top 25!). I used to wonder whether solvers gave Matt’s puzzles higher ratings to show that they “got” the metas. But over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s simply due to the fact that no one out there is consistently making crosswords this inventive, this clever, or this fun. But for the MGWCC, we very likely wouldn’t have as many crossword contests as we do in other outlets, and it’s clear that there’s a large segment of solvers that enjoy the additional adventure. Neither of Matt’s nominated puzzles won Best Crossword this year, but the foregoing should leave little doubt that Matt Gaffney richly deserves this year’s Margaret Farrar Award for Constructor of the Year. Congratulations, Matt, and many thanks for your untiring devotion to this craft! Patrick Berry in 2011, now Matt Gaffney in 2012. Whoever lands the Margaret Farrar Award in 2013 is going to be among giants.

Speaking of Which, the Best Crossword of 2012 is…

Untitled, by Ben Tausig (Onion AV Club March 28). You like puzzles with unusual symmetry (say, top-bottom symmetry instead of the usual rotational symmetry)? You like puzzles where the location of the theme entries isn’t readily apparent just from looking at the grid? You like puzzles where two theme entries spring from one set of boxes? Then boy howdy does Ben Tausig have the perfect puzzle for you. Six three-letter entries have two clues, one using “up” and one using “down.” The trick is that you continue up the grid to get the answer to the “up” clue and continue down the grid for the answer to the “down” clue. Check out the highlighted 17-Across in the screenshot. The clue is [Fire up, or beat down]. If you start with the letters FLA and read up, you get FLAME (literally, a “fire” reading “up” the grid). Take the same three letters and read down to get FLAILED (literally, “beat” reading “down” the grid). To top it off, notice that the tail from FLAME and the tail from FLAILED come together to form a complete Down answer, EMAILED. Holy schnikes!

You’ll see the other theme entries at 21-Across (TRACED and TRAMP, clued as [Followed up, or stomp down]), 38-Across (GALAS and GALES, clued as [Balls up, or winds down]–beware the cheeky homophone!), 40-Across (PARROT and PARENT, clued as [Mock up, or rear down]–I might have preferred “bear down,” but whatevs), 60-Across (CARGO and CARESS, clued as [Load up, or touch down]), and 62-Across (STIRRUP and STING, clued as [Prop up, or bite down]).

Think about this for a moment: to execute this concept you need common “up” and “down” phrases for the clues, then common words for the “up” and “down” pairs that share the first three letters, and then you have to make sure the “up” and “down” tails together form a word reading down. Oh, and let’s not forget that the three-letter starts are placed symmetrically in the grid. How in bloody hell did Ben juggle all those constraints at once and make everything work out so well? Yes, the unusual symmetry helps, but I suspect Ben used that just to show off. “Sure,” he was probably thinking, “I can throw some lively stacked 11′s in there too.” You know, because the rest of it by itself was hardly remarkable.

This one averaged 4.75 stars from 48 votes, an unusually high number of votes for an Onion AV Club puzzle. That tells you people who normally didn’t rate the old Onion made sure to do so here. Two commenters hailed it as “a masterpiece,” and plenty of others piled on the praise, too. Joon says it well (and without capital letters): “i agree with the 5-star rating: the most interesting theme i have seen in a long time, combined with flawless execution and terrific fill. early puzzle of the year candidate, for sure.” Not just a candidate, Joon–it’s the Best Crossword of 2012! Congratulations, Ben, and kudos to all of the nominees! We look forward to solving more of your puzzles in 2013 and beyond.

Some 9,000 words later, that’s it for the 2012 Orcas! Many thanks to Evad for compiling all of the star ratings in an accessible format and to our den mother, Amy Reynaldo, for her dedication to this blog and to the craft. The Legal Department asked that I confirm that none of the celebrities “appearing” in this post to present awards actually did. We call it satire. Good night and good solving!

 

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10 Responses to The 2012 Orca Awards

  1. Beth says:

    Thanks, Sam. Great write up about some great puzzles!

  2. Jim Horne says:

    Congratulations to everyone on this list, and to two in particular.

    I’m glad to see Matt Gaffney celebrated with the Farrar Award. That, let’s say, uh, gentleman, has brought me more crossword frustration but also more puzzle joy than anyone else this year. And by joy I mean satisfying smugness when (ok, if) I finally unravel his tangled mess of clues. Bravo.

    Then there’s Mr. Klahn. It’s great to see a Lifetime winner be someone who, at least for me, is as appreciated for his clues as for his grids. Three quarters of his NYT puzzles are more than a decade old, so some solvers might not be as familiar with him. If you’re curious, you can try out his puzzles via my Across Lite files sorted by constructor page. Hit K and then scroll down to Bob’s name. Blue links open up Across Lite files from the NYT Premium Puzzles archives. (You can similarly collect puzzles by last year’s winner Patrick Berry or whoever your favorites happen to be, of course.)

    Don’t tell the NYT, but since they don’t make the older puzzles available, the gray links take you to a page where you can solve them online. (I still think of Bob’s “Stimulating jazz singer?” clue in this puzzle when I hear her voice on the radio.

    Finally, there seems to be an unwritten rule that editors aren’t considered for these types of awards, but sometime soon, perhaps at an ACPT dinner, raise a glass to them. Much of what you love about your favorite puzzles is because of them, their staffs, their test solvers, their fact checkers, and so on. Clink!

  3. AV says:

    Sam – you get the Orca for Wittiest Crossword Journalist (Bloggist?) for 2012! Thanks for your contributions over the year.

    What a fantastic collection of puzzles (except the divisive category, which IMHO is goofy).

    Congrats to all the constructors for producing such gems over the year – I am now convinced that I need to change my first name to Matt or Patrick so I can aspire to such greatness. (Mattrick, maybe?)

    Amen to Jim’s comment on the editorial staff for their dedication and contributions.

    Onward to ACPT … where we can compliment these constructors on how we appreciate their brilliancies!

  4. Earl says:

    Great puzzles and great write-up. Can there be a “best meta puzzle” category next year?

  5. pauer says:

    It’s an honor just to be nominated.

    I am so proud of my fellow constructors for getting the recognition they deserve. Amazing work is the true gold standard.

    Awesome write-up, Sam. Thanks for your tireless dedication to the Blog Arts, and thanks to the rest of Team Fiend, as well. Excelsior!

  6. Torbach says:

    Like Bob’s clues, I could taste and smell the year’s crosswords thanks to you, Sam – nice job! My vote for best presenter, btw, is ASTA, paws down.

    Well, off to put the finishing touches on the best crossword the world has ever …

    SQUIRREL!!

  7. pannonica says:

    Thanks for such an entertaining and extensive write-up, Sam!

  8. Chris P. says:

    Thanks Sam for the excellent post, and thanks to all the constructors and editors for the amazing puzzles. The nominee list led me to solve Ben Tausig’s puzzle of the year, as well as the Patrick Berry and BEQ nominees.

    I do have one question. Sam wrote of Ben Tausig’s winning puzzle, “This one averaged 4.75 stars from 48 votes.” But when you look at the original post from March 28, 2012, it shows the puzzle averaging 3.63 stars from 30 votes. Is there some way to explain the discrepancy? I’m not questioning the greatness of the puzzle – just curious about why the ratings are off.

  9. Sam Donaldson says:

    Thanks for your nice feedback, Chris P.

    For reasons I can neither explain nor fix, the 3.63 star average of 30 votes showing on the original post is the same vote tally as for that day’s NYT puzzle. I can’t seem to restore the original ratings for the puzzle, which really were 48 votes averaging to 4.75 stars. Maybe Evad or one of the more technically savvy Fiend-sters can correct the original post.

    • Chris P. says:

      Thanks, Sam – that answers it! That truly is a great puzzle – I appreciate your listing of it as it led to a great solving experience. : )

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