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Samuel A. Donaldson
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with Jeff Chen comments

See the answer words debuted by Samuel A. Donaldson.


18 puzzles by Samuel A. Donaldson

★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