On this, the penultimate day of Orcas Week, we present the Bob Klahn Award for Most Outstanding Clue and the Margaret Farrar Constructor of the Year Award. Tomorrow, of course, is the final Orca for Best Crossword.
Here’s how Orcas Week looks so far:
- Sunday, March 1: Best Easy Crossword (won by Lynn Lempel)
- Monday, March 2: Best Sunday-Sized Crossword (won by Peter Broda)
- Tuesday, March 3: Best Freestyle Crossword (won by Patrick Berry)
- Wednesday, March 4: Best Meta/Contest Crossword (won by Francis Heaney)
- Thursday, March 5: Best Gimmick Crossword (won by Andrew Reynolds)
- Friday, March 6: Bob Klahn Award for Best Clue and Margaret Farrar Constructor of the Year Award
- Saturday, March 7: Best Crossword
Two Orcas in one post! Luckily, they are both short.
We begin with the Bob Klahn Award for Best Clue. A grid without clues is…not a puzzle. Clues have to help, entertain, and flummox solvers all at the same time. The loveliest grid would be irrevocably marred by poor, lifeless clues. Likewise, good clues can make an ordinary grid shine. So it’s appropriate to single out some of the most delightful clues from the past year.
Themes and grids are largely the province of the constructor, but clues are usually just as much the product of the puzzle’s editor as the constructor. Only they know for sure who came up with the clues we liked best, so in recognition of the hard work of editors in the cluing process, we recognize both constructors and editors for this particular award.
Here are the nominees:
- [They’ll help you break your word] for HYPHENS (On the Side of Caution?, by Henry Hook, CRooked Crosswords, March 30)
- [Coverage providers after a recession?] for HAIRPIECES (The Post Puzzler No. 218, by Doug Peterson, edited by Peter Gordon, Washington Post, June 8)
- [Cast away] for TROUPE (Saturday Stumper, by “Anna Stiga,” edited by Stanley Newman, Newsday, August 2)
- [Brother in the hood?] for MONK (The Post Puzzler No. 226, by Jeffrey Harris, edited by Peter Gordon, Washington Post, August 3)
- [Furry oyster cracker] for OTTER (Untitled, by Tim Croce, edited by Will Shortz, New York Times, December 5)
- [Pack animal?] for JOE CAMEL (Untitled, by Brad Wilber & Doug Peterson, edited by Will Shortz, New York Times, December 19)
And the 2014 Bob Klahn Award for Most Outstanding Clue goes to…
[Pack animal?] for JOE CAMEL (Untitled, by Brad Wilber & Doug Peterson, edited by Will Shortz, New York Times, December 19)! This clue was so good, I remember where I was when I saw it (seated on MARTA, one stop from home). I wanted to share it with the man sitting next to me on the train but luckily thought better of it at the last minute. Congratulations to Brad, Doug, and Will, and thanks to all of the nominees. Without you all, we wouldn’t have a clue.
Next up is the Margaret Farrar Award for Constructor of the Year. Patrick Berry was the inaugural recipient of this award in 2011. That was the year of his legendary six-day “Cross” word extravaganza in The New York Times. Matt Gaffney won the Farrar Award in 2012, in large part because he had 11 of the top 25 puzzles from that year based on this site’s star rating system. Francis Heaney won the Farrar Award last year for a slate of puzzles that were simply amazing.
As you can see, that’s a pretty elite group. Indeed, each of them was seriously considered again for this year’s Farrar Award. Patrick Berry had another great year, earning the Orca for Best Freestyle Crossword and publishing two amazing Fireball puzzles (“Ten’ll Get You Twenty” and “A Few Short Words”) that were among the 25 favorite puzzles of the year based on feedback from our readers. No one would quibble that Patrick’s face would be on Crossword’s Mount Rushmore, and no one would raise a stink if he won this award every year.
Likewise, Matt Gaffney had a terrific 2014. If anyone else had seven of the top 25 crosswords in any one year, you’d pick her or him as the favorite for this award. Matt Gaffney is so consistently good, people, that this was just an ordinary year for him! Every single week he delights and vexes nearly (or is it now over?) 1,000 solvers with his crossword contest. He also publishes a daily crossword. And he even takes the time to write insightful articles about the craft and maintain a blog wherein he announces a Crossword of the Month. No one is more prolific and more consistently entertaining.
And yes, Francis Heaney excelled yet again. He’s the only constructor with two nominations for Best Crossword, and he’s already won this year’s Orca for Best Meta/Contest Crossword. Francis may not produce as many puzzles each year as Patrick Berry and Matt Gaffney, but it’s almost like each of his puzzles is an event. Remember the comment from Joon that we pasted into the presentation for the Best Meta/Contest Crossword? It’s worth repeating: “there are some puzzles that are so brilliant that i say to myself as a sometime constructor, “i wish i’d thought of that!” and then there are francis heaney puzzles, which are so far beyond anything i could have thought of (let alone executed) that i’m just glad there’s a francis heaney and i get to solve his puzzles.”
And there are so many others that could justly claim this year’s award, like Ben Tausig for his victory lap of InkWell crosswords (not to mention his consistently good work at the helm of the American Values Crossword Club) and Pete Muller for his monthly music meta crosswords that always score (get it?) so highly with our readers. But if we keep listing them all, we’ll never get to the award. So let’s do it.
The 2014 Margaret Farrar Constructor of the Year Award goes to … Brendan Emmett Quigley! If you want to recognize a prolific constructor, it’s hard to top Brendan. He publishes two original crosswords weekly via his website, and in 2014 alone he published six puzzles in the New York Times and ten with the American Values Crossword Club. His “Draw Swords” puzzle snagged a nomination for Best Gimmick Crossword.
And if you want to recognize creativity, Brendan remains an apt honoree. As evidence of his creativity, we submit “Taking Direct Routes,” a puzzle from his website published on March 27. The central entry is your revealer, MAKE A BEELINE FOR. To fully get what’s happening in the puzzle, solvers must insert B’s on the line between the third and fourth rows of the puzzle and again on the line between the 12th and 13th rows. So solvers are literally making two “b-lines.” Now the technical prowess required to execute on this concept isn’t exactly rocket science, but that’s not the point. The point is that Brendan routinely comes up with simple, elegant angles that we don’t normally see.
Brendan is famous for his “10 Bullshit Themes” screed that ran nearly six years ago. If you read it now you’ll be struck by the fact that the theme gimmicks he skewers aren’t really seen that much anymore. By shining a light on overused tropes, perhaps he played a role in their collective demise. More to the point, Brendan was qualified to make this list precisely because he continues to find new ways to approach the craft.
Finally, it merits mention that Brendan’s puzzles are the edgiest and most topical ones out there. We’ll forego discussion of this puzzle and consider instead “Check Your Privilege” from July 17, in which five squares contain WHITE / MAN (that is, the square is WHITE reading Across and MAN reading Down). So the white man’s privilege is indeed cross-“checked” in this puzzle. And we haven’t even mentioned (until now) his consistently hip music references in clues. When you solve a BEQ puzzle, you feel like it boosts your hipster cred.
For all of these reasons, then, Brendan Emmett Quigley receives the 2014 Margaret Farrar Award for Constructor of the Year. Congratulations and warm thanks, Brendan!
Coming tomorrow, the final Orca–the award for Best Crossword.