A fine time to find a bouquet of roses: my mother's birthday (it's one of the ones with a zero) is today. Now it happens that the peonies are stealing the roses' thunder this week in the garden, but on the puzzle clipboard, Rows Gardens reign.
A Rows Garden consists of 38 six-letter hexagons called "blooms" intersected by 12 rows. The top and bottom rows are a single nine-letter entry, while the rest are composed of two answers totaling 21 letters. The rows are denoted with letters and their clues are given in order. The blooms are divided into sets of white, gray (sometimes pink), and black: their clues are arranged randomly. Furthermore, the bloom letters can be entered clockwise or counterclockwise, and they can start anywhere in the hexagon.
Rows Gardens are usually harder than most other variety crosswords, and they must be a bear to construct. Every letter is checked, and you're really constrained in the fill you can use. Got a wonderful clue for a seven-letter word? You're out of luck unless you can use it in a row.
Trip Payne and Nathan Curtis give credit to Patrick Berry for creating the Rows Garden concept, and one of Berry's is the variety puzzle in this weekend's Wall Street Journal. These puzzles really play to Berry's strengths in meshing words.
Berry is certainly the best-known constructor in this genre, but others have tried their hand too. Aries is definitely the most prolific though. He reached #156 last month (#1 is here), and he's done us the additional service of offering both hard and easy versions of each of his puzzles. The grids and the clues are the same: the only difference is that the easy puzzles list the bloom clues in the order they appear in the grid.
Nathan also happens to offer a Rows Garden, though definitely out of the ordinary. First of all, there's a meta you have to deal with: encoded in blooms letters that are not used in the intersecting row (the instructions in the puzzle make it clearer). Second, he offers both versions with both straight and cryptic clues for the same answers. He originally wrote the straight, and then was convinced to "cryptify" it. Thank you for the effort, Nathan.
Allergic to roses? There's a Fred Piscop diagramless behind the paywall at the New York Times. I'll blog the solution here on Sunday, while Deb Amlen will post comments (spoiler warning) at Wordplay.
If all those blank grids leave you hungering for a crossword that looks like a crossword (i.e. with black squares), Hex have what you want at the National Post. See Falcon's blog, though it may be late owing to Falcon being on vacation. Fittingly, some of the clues in the Hex puzzle are overseas too.
My favorite rose garden? The one at Cline Cellars in Sonoma: if you're ever in California wine country, you should visit. It's on the road back to San Francisco, between the big left-hand bend in Route 121 and Sears Point, and they're open late. It's a perfectly-placed stop for getting out of the car, tasting a few wines, walking around the garden, and bringing home a jar or three of their Mourvedre hot fudge sauce.
New York Times solution below the fold.
Here is the solution to today's New York Times diagramless by Fred Piscop. The "halved" in 71a refers to the letters PE and AR being in separate words, as indicated by the heavy bars in the grid.
While you're here, why not try one of the Rows Gardens I've linked above, or one of Hot and Trazom's cryptics? If you like different puzzle challenges, come back every week.