The Indie 500 – A Back Track

Happy Fourth of July everyone!

FireworksI think enough time has passed for a spoiler-laden review of the Indie 500 tournament, so why not now?

The Indie 500 was my first crossword tournament ever. I haven’t ever made it to ACPT, and there aren’t really any locations near me that have tournaments (get on your game Atlanta!). But, this was the event I knew I wanted to go to. The biggest reason I wanted to go was to meet the constructors. I’ve been reading their work for so long, and their work is the reason why I started this blog at all. Playing a tournament was also fun, as I wanted to see just how well I could do.

One reason I write crosswords is so that I also get better at crosswords themselves. So, this event marked to see how well I could solve these puzzles.

Here we go, let’s knock them out, one by one. One really awesome thing done for this tournament is a digital representation of the crosswords, so I can see what I did right and wrong. You can see the leaderboard and subsequent digitalizations [here].

Note: The puzzle on the left was my puzzle, the one on the right was the correct solution. I spent more or less maximum time on each puzzle. I hope to improve.

Puzzle 1 – “Welcome to D.C.” by Erik Agard

This puzzle was awesome. No lie, it was my favorite puzzle of the set. Flipping over the paper revealed colored clues specifically clues that just read ___ LINE, where the blank was filled by a color also used as one of the DC Metro lines. The theme answers were:

49-Across: [RED LINE] = BASEPATH

In my book, each of these lines are amazing puns. Discovering each of these puns was fantastic. STATISTICS for SILVER LINE is so great, with the “silver” being Nate Silver. The rest of the puns fell pretty quick, except for one.

There are many phrases and words I’ve never heard of, and crossword puzzles love to point this out at me. And for some reason, I couldn’t place what the BLUE LINE clue could mean. I had written down “Nine on a one”, which I didn’t know what that meant, but it seemed….like maybe a thing. The crossing there was at 53-Across [Part of a ring in which a GEM is set]. And I had B?ZEL. I knew it had to be a vowel, and A seemed like a good choice there. It happened to be an E, cause BEZEL is the word there. Blame it on me not having terribly expensive bling. Even typing this out, I should have tried reading the vowels until I landed on NINE ONE ONE, but I guess I blame it on feeling rushed. Ah well.

Maybe I’m biased, since I’ve always loved the DC Metro map, but this was just an awesome puzzle. Having seven theme entries, with two going down is quite a construction feat. So good.

Also a great clue – 65-Across: [SOMETHING SELF-REFERENTIAL ABOUT OUR SCORING SYSTEM. DON’T FORGET TO WRITE THIS CLUE] for LAP. Damn, I do love a good meta reference. And this clue speaks to me, as I often leave similar notes in my software while cluing.

Puzzle 2 –  “Looseness of the Vowels” by Peter Broda

This puzzle also had a visual element, namely the diagonal lines in 10 different squares. The clues for these combined two phrases whose differences were only found in the vowels. For example, 43-Down: [With 43-Down, reason for taking a bathroom break during a bank stick-up?] was HOSTAGE HAS TO GO, with the vowels sharing the same square. So, lots of theme answers, with my favorites including PATRICK’S PET ROCKS (which clued Spongebob), BIG PAPI’S BAGPIPES, and SHORT SHART.

SHORT SHART. Welcome to the Indie 500. I await the day where the Grey Lady publishes SHART in a crossword. More than anything, I enjoyed explaining to some of the older participants at the event what a SHART was. My definition was “It’s a portmanteau. It’s when you fart, and a little bit comes out.”

Lots of things I didn’t know. AVERS and TEASE UP stand out on this puzzle. Also [Cubes and others] for NISSANS. This is why I solve puzzles. Now I know that a Nissan Cube is a thing.

Also great clues – 1-Down: [One mixing in a studio] for TV CHEF and 44-Across: [School house?] for FISH TANK. Great clues for both. I think lots of people loved the 1-Down especially.

Puzzle 3 – “Candy Bars” by Finn Vigeland

We now come to Finn Vigeland’s puzzle, who received a cool $500 for his winning entry in the Indie 500 puzzle contest. And a winner it was.

The puzzle itself was stylized with five candy bars found in the puzzle, which represented “C and Y”. The down clues on both side of the candy bars clued as if including either the C or Y (see the picture above to fully see how that might have worked). But, the across clues added the CY as part of the clues themselves. 65-Across [Conflicts with huge blows?] = CYCLONE WARS, 98-Across [Tenure of a self-satisfied pontiff?] = PROUD PAPACY, 41-Across [Character who would have pretty dramatically changed the ending of of “Pride and Prejudice”?] = GAY DARCY.

That last one tripped me up. While yes, GAYDAR is a thing, I did not come up with it. And part of that was the down clue was a reference to “Homeland”. Never seen that show, so BO?D looked like BOND to me.

Never heard of the DC’s area NOVA or what a DIVE BOMBER is. I’m pretty sure I had DIRT BOMBER there, but they didn’t read my writing right. I still don’t understand the phrase TO A MAN. Learn new things.

This was a great puzzle. The +CY on the phrases was fantastic, and each one were very smooth with a fun new phrase. The color visual element was also great bonus element. Something I didn’t realize until after the tournament was that the puzzle is really perfectly solvable without knowing the CY part. Every down word could leave out the C or Y, so PARSEC is PARSE or YEATS is now EATS.

Amazing construction, with lots of pieces that came together. Well deserved $500. In all honesty, Finn was the big winner of the tournament.

Puzzle 4 – “A Cute Puzzle” by Andy Kravis

Nice, straightforward theme where the French “e” was added to the end of phrases. MIDAS TOUCH become MIDAS TOUCHÉ . JUMBO JET becomes JUMBO JETÉ . IT’S PAT becomes IT’S PATÉ .

This puzzle was a nice break to the brain busters we’ve seen for the last three (and a nice welcome back after the lunch break). I knocked out much of the puzzle, but got trouble in the NW section. The main reason there is not ever hearing the word MASSÉ  before, so [Billiards shot with a nuclear amount of english?] for ATOMIC MASSÉ  just didn’t ring any bells.

PIMLICO [Racetrack that hosts the Preakness] was mighty upsetting that I didn’t know. I should know that. I’m good at sports knowledge. But that one escaped me. Damn it.

Other letters there were just guesses. OTOE for HOPI [Southwestern Native American people]. AUDIT for INTRO [Survey course, for short]. LIMBO for STOOP [Find out how low you can go?]. Man, even those these were all wrong, don’t they look right? Also, not watching “The Brady Bunch” hurt me on 1-Across for how Cindy Brady talked.

Also a great clue – 40-Across: [“___ Many Cooks” (viral comedy short originally aired on Adult Swim in 2014)] for TOO. I’m glad “Too Many Cooks” made it to the tournament.

Puzzle 5 – “Swap Meet” by Neville Fogarty

Oof. This was the hardest one of the bunch, and I think my grid displays that.

The theme of this puzzle boils down to clues that both begin in the same letter. The Across and Down for those squares make up a “___ and ___” phrase, but the two words were switched. The “1” square began both THICK and THIN, but 1-Across [Numbskulled] was THIN, and 1-Down [Dilute] was THICK.

Lots of paired phrases. In order, THICK and THIN, DUSK and DAWN, SILLY and SERIOUS, VICE and VIRTUE, WAX and WANE, HARM and HELP, NAUGHTY and NICE, and GIVE and GET. That’s a lot of themers.

I just never got this theme. That is probably most evident with the ?AX and ?ANE combo near the center. In hindsight, this is a fantastic puzzle. I was glad that Eric Maddy was able to point out to me what the hell the theme was, while after throwing in a towel.

In the list of “things I don’t know”, I’ll throw in SHAKY CAM, IRISH STEW, COD CAKE, CAIRNS, RATTAN, ENESCO, and NESCAFE. I know I should have known ENESCO, but I didn’t know it then.

Plus, this is the puzzle where I almost won best wrong answer. 64-Across was clued [“Chico and the Man” setting]. I know the S and the A(somehow) are right, so I’m left with ??S??A. I’ll have you know that I was born in 1992, so this reference was completely lost on me. At this point, I need to make ??S??A a geographic place.

After some brainstorming, BOSNIA is what I came up with. To be fair, “Chico and the Man” could easily be a work of 20th century German literature. As a test: take the titles “Beneath the Wheel”, “Peter Camenzind”, “The Glass Bead Game”, “Baretta”, “Demian”, and “Gertrude”. One was a 70s ABC detective drama, and the rest are Hermann Hesse novels. Can you pick out the right one?

EAST LA isn’t a place that’s out my radar. I was trying to play Wheel of Fortune to find a one-word city, state, or country. Besides EASTLA and BOSNIA, the only other locations that fit are LUSAKA, NASHUA, and RUSSIA. BOSNIA has letters that seem to be fine as final letters, so I went with it. It happens.

Fun puzzle, despite not knowing it. Hope to see more Neville soon enough.

Puzzle 6 – “The Final Lap” by Evan Birnholz

This puzzle was the final puzzle, only solved officially by the top finishers of the Inside Track and Outside Track. Sorry for no digital graphic here.

Evan wrote a fine puzzle here. The triple stack in the middle had the wonderful phrases WHAT ON EARTH, PHOTO FINISH, and PIECE OF CAKE. The puzzle was also littered with lots of other awesome things like PENALTY BOX, MOON UNIT, EDIT MENU, PIE CHART, and XRATED. And of course, lots of crazy cluings. [Tight end?] for PHOTO FINISH. [Sales figure, perhaps?] for PIE CHART. Such a nice puzzle to end the event on.

The two finals races were also a sight to see. The Outside Track featured a fast finish by Andrew Miller, but he unfortunately left two squares blank in his SE section. I had to make the comment that “I feel like I saw this in a movie once“. But Joshua Himmelsbach ended up winning the Outside Track.

The Inside Track featured the three heavy hitters of Eric Maddy, joon pahk, and Amy Reynaldo. Long story short, joon pahk is a machine. Such an amazing solve, especially with those clues. Well done joon.

Other notes about the event:
-I’m glad I got to meet so many amazing people at the event, both colleagues and fans of the site. Thanks to all of you who let me know that you enjoy my puzzles. I write this blog for viewers like you.
-The pie was delicious! They had the small pie-like things, and they were amazing. They promised pie, and they delivered.
-This is on my page on the website leaderboard. How awesome is that?
-I won Worst Handwriting at the event, which is investigated in the previous blog posts [here] and [here].
-My table at the event rocked. I’m glad I got to hang out with the wonderful people that were at my table.
-My song selection was “Wagon Wheel” by Darius Rucker.
-This event was SO FUN, and I hope that next year will involve going to both ACPT and hopefully the second iteration of the Indie 500.

That’s all I have for now. Join us tomorrow, as we look at another piece of crosswordese in a new edition of “The X-word Files”.

Thanks everyone! And congrats to the organizers of the Indie 500.

Chris King, #061


2 thoughts on “The Indie 500 – A Back Track

  1. Thanks for the great re-cap, Chris. It took me right back to that fun day (and those puzzles!). As two of the “older” folk you had to explain SHART to, we enjoyed sitting at your table and hope to see you there next year. Keep up the good work!

    Amy (& Owen)


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