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Samuel A. Donaldson
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with Jeff Chen comments

See the answer words debuted by Samuel A. Donaldson.


25 puzzles by Samuel A. Donaldson

Sun 8/7/2016ANCHOR LINES
OPALSHAUNCALVEAPBS
NOSEPABSTATEAMLIRA
TOPSTORIESGLAREANOS
ACCRUDDBREAKINGNEWS
PHARISEESORRADRIANI
EVANAGOGUNASPEN
DETAILSARESKETCHYPYE
AROMACANTOZEEILES
BIOSUFCREFISADNESS
ACLSPOONERISMROT
THELATESTBACKTOYOU
IDOTHEJONESESENS
GALLOPSSLAGNINLEIA
ISAYATEOCHOAPESCI
MISTRAFFICANDWEATHER
MATRIBFAUMAASNO
EMPANELBUSTASTINESS
FILMATELEVENLOANAAH
INASABARESTANDINGBY
VOCETONGAFRITOAERO
ERESSYKESWINOSGRAF

Kooky interpretations of "common" lines from news reporters, i.e. FILM AT ELEVEN referring to what happens if you take your film canister to a one-hour place at 10. (Do those still exist, BTW?)

I liked the themers that involved 1.) big changes in meaning, and 2.) very common lines heard on TV. BREAKING NEWS was the standout for me, in that it's flashed onto news shows all the time, plus BREAKING is changed in meaning from "just happened" to "cracking into pieces." Fun one.

DETAILS ARE SKETCHY is entertaining when referring to an actual courtroom artist, but I have a tough time believing that this line is used often enough to be common. And TRAFFIC AND WEATHER is a great phrase heard all the time, but the clue doesn't change its meaning at all. So some of these themers didn't work very for me.

Interesting bonus fill in SPOONERISM and THE JONESES, both colorful. I did hitch on both, since they're longer than THE LATEST and BACK TO YOU, which are themers — I scratched my head for the longest time, trying to figure out how THE JONESES was thematic. That's a common problem with running long bonus fill in the across direction. Yes, solvers like me really ought to be able to pick out the theme answers by the cluing, but I still find the layout inelegant.

I did like a lot of the vertical bonus fill though, with the GIMME FIVE / ASIA MINOR / LAST PLACE a great triple in the southwest. Almost 100% worth the price of IN AS, ERES, and MIS for me — if only there hadn't already been two other inelegant partials throughout the grid, AS NO and ON AT. So maybe 95% worth it to me.

I generally like Sam's "kooky interpretations of regular phrases" puzzles, but given some of the issues I brought up above, I didn't like this one as much as some of his others.

Tue 7/12/2016
LABATTORCSANT
ALLPROACAIPOE
SLIPANDFALLPOX
EISFEESCEMENT
RESTFULSUNRA
VIPNATTERED
HASACGOTTISTU
ACADRUMBABIAS
LETBALDYDANSK
TRUELIFEGUS
RYANSMURKIER
INDEBTOONAOXO
PEABROKENBONES
AMYEEROELVIRA
DOSREEKREACTS

Few people make me laugh like Sam. His self-deprecating humor makes him one of my very favorite people in the crossworld. I can't tell you how hard I laughed when Sam posted a series of comments from haters about one of his puzzles ... followed by "Sharpen your pencil and come see what all the accolades are about!" Dang, I love him.

Today, he gives us some BROKEN BONES after a SLIP AND FALL, using sets of diagonal black squares to represent breaks. I like how he used longish entries in which he hid his bones, TRUE LIFE and MURKIER making for a great pair to hide FE/MUR. Fun to get a few colorful entries right in the middle of the puzzle among all those theme answers, with GOTTI, RUMBA, BALDY. (One of my favorite moments at the ACPT this year was having breakfast with Sam and Doug Peterson, all three of us middle-aged (but young at heart) baldies.)

It was slightly confusing to see UL/NA/TI/BIA all "connected," but it was kind of cool how much themage Sam packed into the center of the puzzle. Four bones and eight answers is very tough to squeeze into just seven rows! Okay, I didn't like HAS AC as a theme answer — pretty arbitrary — but RESTFUL and NATTERED are fun.

Given how much Sam packed in — the eight central answers plus SLIP AND FALL and BROKEN BONES — it's a pretty smooth grid. Some NOM DE (inelegant partial), EIS (deep German), ACAD (abbr.), ROSAS (plural name or deep Spanish) is pretty good, given the constraints. And to get bonuses in CALCUTTA, SILENT I, BLABBER, GUNNER, SUN RA, is much appreciated.

I think there's something tying the four bones together — very common ones that break upon a SLIP AND FALL? — but that seemed a little macabre. Not sure that older people who've slipped and fallen want to be reminded of it. Still, a fun implementation, seeing those bones "break" across those sharp diagonal black lines.

Sun 7/3/2016SHUNNED
ADESTEAWOLANDSODOI
OILPANTBONENORADUNN
ROLANDASNERSTAYSMAD
TRICKYDICTIONUNEPRE
ASSETALIDIRTPORTION
JOEYSHACATSWEPT
POPUPSTSATONORES
AVONSTRAWMANSION
MELCAGEKOBETRECOOL
PRETTYINGBEAVPORNO
EENIEFDICTRIOALBEN
RATONYALLSCHILLING
STANTONNAILTIXATOB
SWEETNLOTIONRATE
RARELTRKIMAISLED
EWOKSIANAIMGYNT
BASETENSIONEPASALMA
ESSALCBONUSTRACTION
CHATROOMZUNISRAINON
CINERAMAELANDBLOUSE
ANODYNESDISKSENSES

Some fun results in Sam's sound changes. I particularly like the ones involving 1.) an interesting spelling change, 2.) a strong base phrase, and 3.) a humorous result. TRICKY DICTION is my favorite, hitting all three criteria. ("Tricky Dick" is one of Nixon's nicknames.) BONUS TRACTION (from "bonus track") works great as well — the resulting phrase makes me picture a group of MBAs at a tire company, brainstorming new ad campaigns.

SWEET N LOTION is a fun spelling change with a good base phrase ("Sweet ‘N Low"), but the result feels stilted, as it feels like it should be "sweets" (plural) in order to make it work. BASE TENSION is a funny phrase, but simply adding SION to BASE TEN feels a bit simple.

Some nice gridwork, those big NE / SW corners containing some colorful answers. It's tough enough to execute on a triple stack of eight-letter answers, but when you "turn the corner" and have to work with three more long answers intersecting the stack, it's even harder. I love NOT UP TO IT, and AND SO DO I is pretty good. I wonder if NORA DUNN's career has really made her gridworthy? And STAYS MAD felt a touch arbitrary at first, but upon further thought, it seems legit — not nearly as strong as HOLDS A GRUDGE, but it works.

In the opposite corner, I love CINERAMA and CHATROOM. NET INCOME and ROSSANO felt more neutral than positive to me, but executing on such a big space without resorting to a bunch of crossword glue is pretty darn good. ELOAN is marginal, but it is a real company.

A few dabs of crossword glue here and there, but it's all pretty minor — the usual ALC, LEROI, ENDY, SHA, UNAS kind of stuff. And Sam does a nice job of incorporating some bonuses throughout the grid: TANK TOP, TIMESINK, the cool name TRE COOL, even the fun (and tough to spell) ABSCISSA.

All in all, it's enough for me to give Sam a ten (tion).

Sat 1/30/2016
MAMABEARDOUBLE
ALACARTEAUKLET
WORNDOWNWREATH
SPEEDDATINGCHA
EERBRACKEN
OBAMASPIANOS
BABELVISIGOTHS
INSTWIPEDPOOL
SATIRIZESTENOR
AMIDSTSHREDS
SPIEGELONE
IONVEALMARSALA
CREPEYONPATROL
ETRADESIPPYCUP
MOSSADSAYYESTO

I always learn something new from Brad's puzzles, and today was no different. I always smile at Sam's goofiness shining through his puzzles, and again, today was no different. Great combination these two bring us today, entries from all walks of life. Very cool to get such a wide range, from the RIG VEDA and DAWN RAID all the way to SIPPY CUPs and OUR GANG.

The VISZLA

There's a ton of entries/clues I was unfamiliar with, so I'll explain them:

  • MOSSAD is Israel's intelligence agency, not just a generic [Spy group]. I imagine including "Israel" in the clue would have made it too easy?
  • The VIZSLA hunting dog contains such a weird string of letters. Just think if Sam and Brad had used the MAGYAR VIZSLA!
  • I follow stock markets pretty closely, so DAWN RAID was somewhat familiar. It's too bad the clue couldn't have been longer and more interesting due to space limitations, explaining how it's a tactic sometimes used in takeover attempts, to sneakily build up a large stake before the target company notices.
  • SPIEGEL apparently is a mail-order company … right here in America! Perhaps it's not as big here in the West Coast. Or for us folks that buy new clothes once in … never.

I like that Sam and Brad were careful with their crossings. With so much material that felt unfamiliar to me, they still managed to assemble the grid in such a way that I was able to successfully finish. SPIEGEL / VIZSLA / RIGVEDA was almost a guess, but other options like SPIETEL or SPIEGEF just didn't seem as much of a recognizable name as SPIEGEL.

Loved two clues:

  • [What isn't working?] confused the heck out of me, even after I filled in METIME. Took a while to realize it was ME TIME!
  • [Shorts popular in the 1920s and ‘30s] made me put an S at the end. And then I went through cargo shorts, jeans shorts, etc. until it finally dawned on me that it was referring to movie shorts. Just beautiful.

Just on the edge of too much crossword glue for my taste in INST, PORTO (tough to clue any other way), EER, ALOP, etc. but a great variety of entries to tickle all parts of my brain.

Sun 11/22/2015RIGHT ON, RIGHT ON!
BLIMPLIBIDOHIPHOP
ANIMALSEMERILARRIVE
SAMURAITASKEDRIOTER
TIPPINGPGESTSASMARA
NANOBOTPAARSWAT
SMOKESIRSHOWMETALI
PALISHNEDIPSOHALLO
ONYXAZTECANSWELLS
TCMAVEDUNDEEAMO
TAPSENSPAIDTHROUGHT
ELIWADESUTAHNOOH
RACEAGAINSTTALEEONE
RNASOPHIALAYDEN
AMIDSTRUMBAEDIFSO
WICCAAMOIERSSCOOTS
HRHMOVINGTAIDONRYE
AGALMICAARMCURL
TAMALEDRDRESNOOKERC
SUMTERROUGESCARIBOU
IGETITOLMECSELEVATE
TERESAPLATESDDAYS

Sam Donaldson is the man. Excuse me — The Man. (Whichever is the good one.) We finalized the last revisions for this puzzle during the 2015 ACPT, where Sam provided no end of entertainment with his crazy bets. 70-1 odds that he could pick seven names, one of which would win the ACPT? Sure, he'll put $10 on that! (He won.) 300-1 odds that Lynn Lempel didn't write Puzzle #5? Heck yeah, he put $10 on that too! (He won that as well.)

He was able to go back home and tell his wife that he won an easy $20. But man oh man, was he sweating it when 1.) Kiran Kedlaya showed up, finishing fourth and 2.) Puzzles 1-4 were NOT written by Lynn Lempel. I would have paid Will pretty much any sum of money for him to announce that Lynn wrote Puzzle #5.

Writing a puzzle with Sam is almost as fun as watching him squirm. Good times, good times.

P.S. Grid was pretty hard — trying to figure out how to squeeze in all those long, turning answers was a bear. But once I hit on SHOW ME THE MONEY intersecting PAID THROUGH THE NOSE, it was only a matter of (many dozens of) hours after that.

P.P.S. I've fixed up the answers so they appear in the database correctly — SNOOKERC to SNOOKERCUE and CUE to RIGHTONCUE, e.g. Hope everyone figured out that the "RIGHT ON, RIGHT ON!" title was a good hint!

Thu 11/5/2015
MANEROCITYPCT
PLINTHASIAERA
ALLIEFAMILYAIR
AYESUNITSET
LONGMONTHS
HOEDELEVEHOUR
DOZDELIAGEONE
AMOSLAMARATCO
TENTHSBUYSELS
EVEORIZONOGRE
ILLSEETAXI
PDANAIFJAPE
FEYHIGHERPOWER
FOEEPEEOTELLO
TSRFORMSASSES

I always enjoy hearing Sam's voice come through in his puzzles. Today brings us such nice colloquial clues: ["I'm right here, you know"] for AHEM and ["Am I the only one …"] for IS IT ME. Also great to get OH FUN, something I can imagine Sam saying.

ALL IN THE FAMILY cast

Onto the puzzle! Sam interprets HIGHER POWER as "phrases containing NTH; those three letters get raised above the answer." The bizarre-looking ALLIEFAMILY is actually ALL IN THE FAMILY, with the answer turning up, heading right, jogging back SW, and finishing out. Some nice themers, with ELEVENTH HOUR and EVENT HORIZON both strong.

(Minor ding for NTH and ELEVENTH being too similar for my taste.)

Pretty good execution considering the difficulties of filling around those themers. When you fold answers up like this, it creates many constraints in the crossings. The area around ELEVENTH HOUR is actually quite good, with the snappy PEA SHOOTER (I do like NEW SHOOTER as well) and CRIES UNCLE worked in there. Including those parallel long downs makes that region even tougher to fill cleanly and zestily, so only a NEG and an ATCO (and the arbitrary-ish AGE ONE) is a win.

The areas around the other two themers didn't come out quite as well, with the odd ENISLE up top and STOL (short take-off and landing) down below. Still, that's not bad considering how tough it is to work with these folded types of answers.

Some great clues:

  • The TENTHS column is indeed beside the (decimal) point! Gold star for this one.
  • [Beast of Borden] is ELSIE, Borden's "spokescow."
  • FLAGs get waved at the Olympics, but EPEEs do as well. Nice deception.

I did like seeing those NTHs raised one row, but I didn't quite buy HIGHER POWER as a solid rationale for the serpentine path each themer took. I'm probably taking it too literally, but to me, HIGHER POWER might have been NTH sitting on top of SQUARE and CUBE — powers of two and three — or FIRE, WILL, SOLAR and other different types of powers. It was fun to scratch my head as I tried to figure out the trick, though.

Fri 8/28/2015
LAWYERUPLESMIZ
ONEONONEUNTAME
GOPUBLICAYESIR
ESTREETSNAPSTO
ERSFANPEA
BEFOGCODSEXTS
LARKIDIDNTDOIT
OREPARSLEYDOA
CLASSMATESHUNK
SYKESTEDPASSE
SONJEDVAS
STUDIESGETAHIT
LATESTFIRECODE
AGORAEENDNOTES
TENSORWAITWHAT

What a perfect start to the puzzle; a clever doubling up of the phrase "court battle" in cluing two adjacent entries. LAWYER UP is a great enough answer in itself, but when paired with ONE ON ONE and a completely different meaning of "court battle," that duo becomes a real standout. The fact that Sam is a law professor is icing on the cake.

Anyone else intrigued by the "Who would have won a ONE ON ONE game in their prime, MJ or LBJ" debate?

Tough to fill those big 4x8 corners. I absolutely love what Sam did with the lower right, working in FIRE CODE, WAIT WHAT? and HAS A COW so smoothly. Very impressive.

Although I loved the LAWYER UP / ONE ON ONE pairing, I wasn't so hot on the LOGE / E STREET crossing, as I was unable to pull out the word LOGE from my addled brain. O STREET seemed reasonable enough. And ANOS certainly isn't terrible, but for a themeless grid, the singular ANO is minor and the plural ANOS is somewhat less minor.

Anyone else stymied by [Subject to a hissy fit]? I glossed over the clue, reading "subject" as a noun instead of a verb. FREAK OUT ON makes a lot more sense if you think of the latter meaning.

Some really strong entries, the colorful I DIDN'T DO IT, MASS EXODUS, even the shortie but goodie LES MIZ. I personally like to see the (assets - liabilities) quantity at 10 or more, so the appearance of some of the usual suspects (NES, DOA, ISAO, PSS, etc.) as well as the oddity of UNTAME brought that result to a level not quite as high as I like to see.

Still though, I find it a lot of fun to get a constructor's personality and tastes showing through, and that opening pair was a perfect example.

POW Sun 6/7/2015THE CALL OF THE RACE
UPCASISIMPACTSODS
STEADIESTGUITARUNIT
EARLYLEADAFLAMEREDA
PHILSYOSTFADINGFAST
ALPOWOLFCLEFTS
ONTHEOUTSIDECOHORT
ICEAXESACSFORAERA
SOMNIROSEBARONSRET
ESPCLOTHBACKSTRETCH
OBSESSAUSTACHOO
GURUGAINSGROUNDHENS
OHARAOKLAVOODOO
TURNFORHOMEKUDZUTSP
TRYLYSINEKALETOHOE
OATETESTUNAACCENT
ABACUSMAKESACHARGE
VOTENOVAILSKOR
INTHEMONEYAITSVIOLA
ALOEOBERONBYALENGTH
LAOSVIAGRAMCDONALDS
SYSTATRESTSOSASES

★ Wait! Wasn't yesterday's puzzle the POW!? I had such a tough time choosing between yesterday's and today's puzzle that I decided to reject the Tyranny of Or.

Such an entertaining Sunday puzzle (and timely, given American Pharoah's historic Triple Crown win on Saturday)! Stories connect people over the generations, so I like it when my crossword spins a tale, entertaining me from the start to finish. Sam takes common calls heard in horse racing and puts on a wordplay twist with appropriate horse names. The tale of Ace Detective taking the EARLY LEAD, all the way to Inseam winning BY A LENGTH = I was amused the whole way through.

Wait. This is temporary, isn't it?

Nice job on the longer fill, too. It's unusual to see fill as long as TEMPORARY TATTOOS and ONE AFTER THE OTHER, which is too bad — they add so much to the solving experience. A bunch more long guys in DUTCH OVEN, MCDONALDS, OYE COMO VA, and DYSLEXICS similarly enhance the solve.

Interesting that this is a 142-word grid, higher than Will's usual maximum of 140. I did notice that there seemed to be more short words than usual, especially in the middle of the puzzle, but it didn't bother me too much. Once in a while I think allowing 142 or even 144 is perfectly fine if it allows for something special in the theme or for cleaner fill.

Speaking of cleaner fill, Sam did a pretty good job here. But if it meant getting rid of things like RSTU, TO HOE, OROS and OKLA/AUST so near to each other, I think I'd fine going up to 144 words. An additional pair of cheater squares to smooth things out would be fine with me too.

Loved these clues:

  • [Tool made to scale] made me think about prototypes made at half-scale. But an ICE AXE is made to scale mountains.
  • [One in a pipeline?] is a great way to describe a SURFER riding a curling wave, shooting the pipeline formed by a breaking cylinder of water.

Often I find the large Sunday format a little tedious since it takes so long to solve, but the story here kept me very entertained. I'd love to see more storybook crosswords like this.

Sat 5/30/2015
KIDSMEALFRAMED
EMINENCELADYDI
DUXELLESICONIC
SPIREATANYRATE
FETEWESTASHY
ROCSNARLSAT
ERRSORSTWISTS
DIAMONDBOLOTIE
OTTERSRANNAME
LETTUCESTED
IDOLASSTHIES
DONTERASEINLAW
INSERTERUPTIVE
ONESIELISTENED
MATTERLABORERS

A fun solve from two of my favorite people in crosswordland. Typically themelesses contain slots for 12-16 long entries (eight letters or more), as it's too difficult to work in more than that without generating compromises in fill.

Mmm, duke's ell! Er, DUXELLES. Cool word.

Not today! An amazing 20 long slots. It took me some study to figure out the engineering behind this one. It all starts from the upper left and lower right regions, which "turn the corner" into L-shapes — so daunting to fill. A total of 12 long slots in just those two corners alone!

With so many long slots, the conversion ratio (assets to total long entries) doesn't have to be as high as usual. Heck, if you put neutral words in eight of the slots, you still end up with 12 nice entries.

So how do they do? I love entries like KIDS MEAL, TIME SAVER, SMELL TEST, DIXIECRAT, IM UP FOR IT — all colorful and/or vivid chunks of language. Others like SNARLS AT, LISTENED, ADORATION, LETTUCES aren't as nice, as they provide filler for everyday conversation. And the ACE AWARD seems to me nearly a liability, given the clue which further emphasizes how outdated it is.

Overall, I'd say about 11-12 of the entries are excellent; a decent number of assets — more than enough to balance out the just a few liabilities like ASST and ENL (maybe SNERT too, although I always had a soft spot for him). Solid puzzle.

The coup de grace was the clue [Noted employee of Slate]. Surely that had to be someone working at the online zine Slate? No, it was Mr. Slate, Fred Flintstone's employer at the quarry. Such a clever misdirection.

Sun 10/5/2014TIMBER!
BBSRISQUETIPPPAYIN
RATINTURNONCEAMORE
INIASEASYASABCSOURS
ETHEPERIODSSANSKRIT
FULLTILTFATNOEETS
MERTZSEWUPPLANA
MMIAIRSTEALERSPOTS
DETESTABLEYIELDUTIL
SWALEPRANCPRESOKOA
ELLAANGERSOAPING
INFCSTUDENTSKED
OBADIAHNABOOPDAS
ZINRMARYROUNDCSINY
MESSPSHAWONIONRINGS
ANTESTOPHATSJOEGET
NACHOSAILSBURMA
AILIMPTZEASSESSED
SALMINEOBATISTEHAVE
ELIOTAHEADOFTIMEYAM
ELOPECHINONECARIDO
DYNESHINGLORENATEN
Happy Arbor Day! Wait. Arbor Day is end of April, six months away. Happy ... unArbor Day? Anyhoo, Sam gives us seven trees today, hidden within seven snappy and bendy phrases. I've highlighted them below so you can see the nice symmetrical arrangement.

Puzzles with short theme entries like ETHE/ELM/MERTZ are not for the faint of heart constructor, because using up your shot slots means you'll be required to incorporate a lot of long fill. To make things even harder, any time you have themers crossing each other (in this case, a quasi-Z-shaped arrangement) the surrounding fill is going to be a challenge due to relatively heavy constraints. Sam lays out his grid very well, spacing apart each of the seven themers so that there's not much overlap between any two. Notice how you could work on any one theme region without influencing any other too much? That's excellent use of black squares to create separation.

I really like what he did around ETH/ELM/ERTZ. To run FULL TILT, IN SPIRIT, and STEEL TRAP through that precarious region is strong work, especially considering the lack of glue required to pull it off. The other regions are also pretty good, although each tends to show minor signs of stress, an OMN here (in pharma development, "QD" is what we used; Dr. Denny-wife confirms OMN is unusual), a DSO there, a NOP loitering like a NOP-goodnik. That's to be expected with these constraints — note that these little offenders occur right at the heart of Z-bends.

I liked the general theme idea, but I think my stupid brain is preventing me from fully appreciating it. Jim explained it as the answers moving right and dropping down for a TIMBER! wordplay moment before continuing right. I can buy that, and it works better for me after I thought about it for a while. But my noggin can't get over the idea of a tree toppling over, not falling straight down like a building being demolished. I aspire to Jim's more flexible big-picture way of interpreting the world — he has always been better than me at seeing the forest for the trees.

(insert groan here)

Overall, a smooth puzzle, with just a little glue to hold sections together. A lot of great long fill like ONION RINGS and AS EASY AS ABC — well worth hitting the "Analyze" button below to see how much great long stuff Sam worked in. He has quite a few themelesses under his belt, and I bet that experience helped immensely with this grid.

Thu 9/4/2014
CLEANINPENFIB
TILLSTORSOADO
REKLATSREEDROD
LUSTAMASEARLY
ONCESHAPE
TEMLEHORERBMOS
ARIDETHORSOPH
SIXDAYBOOKVIE
SCOTFROMARENA
EKLUMRAYARODEF
ONIONASIP
VEGASNUTSEGGO
OUIFLIPONESLID
IRSILEUMPIANO
DOTTBSPSANDOR
Sam flips his lid today, or more accurately flips his lids. Fun to uncover the crazy REKL??????? pattern and wonder what the heck was going on. Nice selection of a wide range of headgear, ranging from HELMET to SOMBRERO to ARODEF. Er, FEDORA.

Using short theme entries can be tricky. FEDORA and HELMET are such shorties that they risk getting lost among the fill. That wasn't an issue today since it became clear that there were reversed entries, but it did confuse me that the center across entry, DAYBOOK, wasn't part of the theme. I kept on wondering what type a KOOBYAD was, or what I had entered incorrectly. It would have been nice to have EIPKROP (PORKPIE) in that slot, with a current clue to Heisenberg's headgear in "Breaking Bad," for example. Incorporating one more themer would have been more work and potentially necessitated a little crossword glue, but I think it would have been worth it.

I always like seeing a constructor's personality come through, and maybe Sam's work shines to me in this way because he's one of the first constructors I met in person? The puzzle channeled Sam with OH BOY!, and LLB (Sam's a lawyer specializing in tax law) and even [Atlanta-to-Charleston dir.] was a nice nod to his recent move to GA. But the best is the clue for IRS — "Many Unhappy Returns" indeed! I really enjoy these inside looks.

Pretty nice grid, with just one spot that felt a bit wonky to me. As much as I love MIXOLOGIST, it constrains the west section quite a bit. Along with HELMET and YARMULKE, it forces three glue bits into place: TASSE, A RIDE, ERICK (who?). Perhaps there could be a better combination there with MIXOLOGIST in place, but perhaps a less snazzy entry there could have smoothed things out to better overall effect.

Very fun solve. I tip my tah to you, sir!

Wed 3/19/2014
NOHASSLEASTRAL
PREMOLARBEWARE
RUNALONGBEATIT
ZETAJAYESS
TAKEAHIKEADDTO
USASSGTSAXON
BOTOXSTAIR
BUZZOFFAMSCRAY
AXIONHYENA
SNOWGREATEND
KOLASMAKELIKEA
ITDIDSINAN
BANANAANDSPLIT
URANUSSTATUARY
MYGOSHTOYSTORE
Fun outing today from one of my favorite people in crossword-land. I appreciate that Sam tries for non-standard grid layouts, breaking the mold to deliver something different. It would never have occurred to me to break up MAKE LIKE A / BANANA / AND SPLIT. At first I thought it was odd to have a single themer spread across three grid entries, but after considering the one themer containing SPLIT is split, I grinned.

Neat theme, a bit easy for a Wednesday, as all theme answers were readily inferable once the trick became apparent. I like what Sam's done to make the puzzle harder: look at those big NW and SE corners. Typically rows 1, 2, 14, and 15 get split up into three entries a piece, because using only two entries a piece produces a much more difficult filling challenge. I wasn't a huge fan of some of the short stuff required to do it (ERG, ORU = Oral Roberts U, AST, IRR, and the awkward TYE), but it sure was nice to get some long fill in unusual places. NO HASSLE is such a fantastic opening to the puzzle! That's the kind of 1-across I aspire to.

Today's fill falls in the camp of "let some ugly stuff by in order to achieve some snazzy fill." Man oh man did I like the SW corner: I mean, MY GOSH, OLD NAG next to a SKI BUM with its awesome double-acting clue? Please sir, I want some more! I did hitch a few times though, especially at the randomISH XOX and ugly-looking SSGTS, in addition to the aforementioned short stuff.

Hard to say which philosophy is best, the ultraclean-but-sometimes-lifeless or the zany-with-some-uggos (I don't think there's a clear right or wrong). The XOX section is a perfect example: I hadn't heard of the AXION, and I really appreciated learning something about that particular particle. But was it worth the price of XOX, the partial A SOU, and the chance that solvers will put in OXION/OZOWA or the like? I probably wouldn't have made the same decision as Sam/Will, but that's what's great about a daily puzzle with such a variety of constructors: if you don't like this trade-off, come back tomorrow and you'll get something different.

Off to make myself a banana split, which I'm pretty sure Sam and his puzzle are implicitly giving me permission to do.

POW Wed 10/16/2013
ALCAPPOHMYSYL
MOOSHUFARECOE
FLOORMATHISAUG
MAPEIRECRAG
BACONFATHERS
ICHOKEDIRAISE
NOONASIFAHS
THROWINTHETOWEL
OASHSIADARE
BEGOODANNOYED
HISPANICROOM
UTESACHTMAC
MANHERSHEYBABY
ONSEVACLEONAS
RTEXENAPTBOAT
★ A few years ago, I was working on a construction at my local bagel shop, and a guy said, "Excuse me, but is that Crossword Compiler?". My first reaction was to hide under the table and/or pretend I didn't speak English, but luckily my second reaction was to shake Sam Donaldson's hand. Little by little we started hanging out along with Jim Horne, and now Sam is one of my favorite people in all of crossword-land. Amazing how a chance meeting can turn into something so awesome.

Sam used to blog daily over at Crossword Fiend and managed to write entertaining pieces every day for about two years while reviewing the CrosSynergy puzzles. One of his best features was "Guess the Constructor", where he ranked three guesses, trying to match the puzzle's grid and cluing vibe to one of the CrosSynergy regulars. If I were to play that game with this week's seven puzzles, I think I could have picked out Sam's in a heartbeat. It's a puzzle chock-full of Donaldson personality, and for that I give it the POW.

Fun theme with a catchy revealer, working on a deeper level than usual "add-a-letter(s)" themes by adding HIS and HERS to each of two phrases. I appreciated Sam's effort to incorporate the HIS and HERS at the ends of the first two theme entries and at the beginnings of the last two. Thoughtfulness like that makes for an elegant execution.

More importantly, all aspects of the puzzle scream SAM DONALDSON! and I love it (yes, I'm biased, but what are you going to do). Sam and I have both been known to 1.) titter at juvenile jokes and 2.) enjoy greasy food, so the base phrases HEY BABY and BACON FAT made me reminisce of the good old days when Sam still lived in Seattle. You throw in I CHOKED, I RAISE right next to each other, the "No acting up!" clue for BE GOOD, "Jeez Louise!" for MAN, and "End of a lame pickup line" for OFTEN and you have yourself a Donaldson signature. BTW, it's a good thing Sam and I are both married because we'd be those two pathetic guys at the end of the bar poking each other, saying, "No, YOU go talk to her!" while giggling a la "Dumb and Dumber".

To be sure, this puzzle isn't without its flaws. I debated for a long time whether to disqualify the puzzle for POW contention solely based on the NIDI/HSIA area, but eventually all the great stuff won me over. And I do like the pairs of stacked 10's in the NE and SW corners, but the trade-off of having a lot of three-letter abbreviations (SYL sticking out) and acronyms made me wonder whether it would have been better to break up COHABITANT and YOU ARE HERE for cleaner fill, especially if it could mean improving the NIDI/HSIA region.

But overall, this puzzle gave me a tremendous smile. Full of personality and enjoyment. Can't wait to see Sam at the ACPT in 2014.

Wed 4/17/2013
AMACABAPOGEE
MANITOBAMINORS
UPGRADEDALEROS
CLEARANCESALE
KERITAXFAVRE
SAWSPAPIES
CAMERAREADYDDT
OHOODETREADO
REVDEPOSITSLIP
PAIDDABPIU
SPEEDCVIMRSC
BLANKETDENIAL
BOURNERHODESIA
IMFINESECURITY
ONFOOTEEKNOS
Tue 3/26/2013
ACDCACEDESILU
THELORAXINTROS
MANALIVESTRODE
FRAMEISPSANG
ETDSTNGEEWHIZ
ESAUAGHASTANO
ROXIEHINGE
LEAPINLIZARDS
DEALTPRANK
OMGINASECSAGS
HOLYCOWAHATUT
NEETEEDGLARE
GLENDABYGEORGE
PAYTONROADKILL
SWEATYOUTISEE
Sun 3/3/2013SEVEN BLURBS FOR SEVEN BIOGRAPHIES
ANTEGGMISREADSCOPE
TEETERONIONDIPCOPAY
THECOOKINGOFJOYARISE
WITGUNNSTOURERDOS
OSOSNEEDORSGETONIT
THEDESTRUCTIONOFEVE
PLAYASKATERAINWEAR
EELERETONHOSEORTS
THESPADESOFJACKNOSEE
CARTSIXILLAID
ORSTHETIMEOFNICKBMW
EDYTARAFRALEE
PARASTHERIGHTSOFBILL
ITISLRONSOLOEDSEL
NAVYPIERCAPOBRUTES
THEDARKNESSOFPRINCE
AURORASALOTHOGTRAP
ABETSSTENORALBPGA
CLOSETHEWARFAREOFART
APAIRAIRINESSALICES
WATTBAYSTATEDONKEY
Thu 10/18/2012
ANYHOOJOEPESCI
DETAINAUTOLOAN
SADDLEINTHEBACK
ASPCATARTE
SPALIEMCISID
HOLEINTHEACE
ENIACITSTBS
DARKINTHESHOT
SSTLOOPETIT
HAYINTHEROLL
ETCBARUAEXTC
DORIAUSRDA
GRASSINTHESNAKE
AMBIENCEMUTTER
RESTSTOPSPELLS
Mon 2/20/2012
ETHANBOMBSTWO
TIARAARIALEON
CENTSSALMONROE
ERGMIMEVOIDS
TRAFFICARTERY
CARELLINMATE
MADAMSPEAKER
IFSROIIDS
RULESOFORDER
KROGERONEILL
PRESIDENTSDAY
SWEEPNEATURN
LUSTAFTEROWNED
OSUSLEPTMONDO
ESPTORSOSWOON
Thu 9/15/2011
HARRESTANIMALH
BREADTHRIBEYES
RESTORECHIANTI
OCTMIOHIDRST
KISSANSELWALT
EBOATIERARNIE
NONUNIONABIDER
CORNERLOT
COSETSCULDESAC
LUCRECANEIEIO
ETESBASALNERF
ALPCENWISIMF
NOTTHATALUMNAE
SORIANOYACHTIE
HKEEPERSCHOOLH
Wed 11/10/2010
POPSLEASTSOLI
EVANAMNIOTMEN
EECUMMINGSREBS
PREFABHHMUNRO
FUDGESONION
JJABRAMSBBKING
LEROYACCTS
ONYXSTRAWRAJA
BISONNIGER
LLBEANWWJACOBS
LEILAPSEUDO
AAMILNEMITTEN
MRISCCSABATHIA
ANNIIAMSOAARP
STIRSNAPSSWEE
Sat 6/19/2010
CRAPSTABLEWOVE
HOLYPERSONANIN
EVILINTENTISAT
RECONSIDERSAVE
IRENEERUSTLER
TREKSELENE
POPESSUSTAINED
ODONJELLSNOTI
PORTFOLIOREWON
URCHINKTWO
PEERSATEUROPE
MALATHENATURAL
ETALHOLESINONE
NEILASSEENONTV
URNSNEEDLENOSE
Sat 6/5/2010
JACKPOTBABYSIT
ULANOVAONLEASH
NEMESISHOTSPUR
EPEESTEEDSPRU
AHAINMESHEW
USTAONZESPICA
BINGOHURRAY
STABLESSAPIENS
EUREKASWEET
TREYSEPICSCAD
ANASANUNOLE
DEMFRINGEORLE
ADAGIOSSLANTED
TOPICALBESIEGE
ENSNAREYAHTZEE
Sat 3/27/2010
GINORMOUSEDNAS
ADAPTABLENOOSE
LOSTSTEAMDOONE
ALASLANATURNER
NIHNAPPERS
SPOTONSTMARK
LEPERBUILTINTO
IDEMDACCAZORN
PINPRICKSJEWEL
STOCKSFOSSEY
CREASESSAG
CASTASPELLWIMP
CRAINAXISPOWER
LEMONCAMEOROLE
IRENAEMERGENCY
Wed 6/3/2009
MALARIALGANDHI
ONEHORSEIBERIA
NONSTOPSASWARM
YDSBESTETTES
SHORJONS
EPCOTSMUTHEM
ULEESALARMIMI
TWENTYSIXSTATES
IATEAMEXOLMEC
LYEGNARAFTER
JAGRAGUA
VISORACMEARC
ANTICSHOTCOCOA
IRANISICECREAM
NECTARCONCORDE
Thu 10/2/2008
RAVENSCATREAD
UPONETUBAIPSE
BATTWIRLERLISP
ICESMUTDECOR
KEROUACTROUNCE
PICKYOURPOIS
ASSETANNAVAS
WANDGANGSFETE
ATADOWNDALES
YUKTERRITORY
GREELEYAMOEBAS
ADENIPREPONT
MAYOBRAINSURGE
EYERCALFINAIR
SSSSCHEFNIXON