Because Steve is so often working within the confines of a variety puzzle, which either makes certain entries ineligible for me to share without further instructions or requires a simpler surface, I get to talk about his work as much as I’d like. So I figured why don’t I just call out really fun themes? (Don’t keep reading if you don’t want spoilers from his May puzzles.)
To me, the best themes–like cryptic clues–set you up to expect one sort of thing with the instructions, but then deliver you another, like how #34’s “Spring Flowers” is really about things that flow. Here, we’ve got six “duck” calls around the perimeter, as if we’re playing Duck Duck Goose, but instead there’s a different sort of game. The “ducks” here are cries to essentially watch out, and the “circle” actually refers to a key element of what’s actually happening–in five clues, the “O” is missing because the participant has effectively gotten out of the way, the one instance where there’s a hit, a hit, a palpable hit, it’s appropriately found in Bang piano with pained expression (3)–that is, P+OW. (The unclued “duck” call in this instance? GOTCHA.) Anchoring the whole thing is one of those See instructions style clues, revealing as you go what people are playing (and actively doing in those clues): DODGEBALL.
- Steve Mossberg, Square Chase #33: “The Circle Game,” 5/1/23