showing 25 out of 50 POW selections from 2/8/2014 to 7/24/2014
I couldn't visualize how David put this together! So I reconstructed his puzzle skeleton, which helped me understand much better. It's actually a 72-word grid with crossing themers, a really tough puzzle to pull off. To get this to work, and on a debut puzzle no less... super impressive.
I might have liked the revealer to be placed in the horizontal direction, which is easy to do by "flipping" the puzzle about a line from the NW to the SE (any crossword can be flipped like this and still have all the answers read correctly). For me, it would have been so nice to have the puzzle flipped like this, so that the revealer had been in the usual location. I'm so used to having most revealers running horizontally, located somewhere around the bottom of the puzzle. I'm such a creature of habit.
When I construct, I always look for the most constrained and/or biggest chunk of space I need to fill. Notice how the north and south, with their 6x3 chunks and the themers bordering them, stick out? That's where I'd typically start filling, as they'd be among the hardest parts to fill, if not the hardest. The rest of the puzzle is quite smooth, darn impressive given the 72-word nature of it and the crossing themers, so it was a bit unfortunate that ECARTE reared its ugly head right off the bat, and in the south we get SDI (which Will has mentioned that he's on the verge of not allowing anymore), OSH, TAVI, and the crossing I got wrong, PETER TOSH / SOLANO. I expect to not get a lot of pop music references, but I'm from California and hadn't heard of SOLANO. I don't think I'll be the only solver to have issues there.
All in all, an impressive debut. Great idea and pretty darn good execution.
– puzzle by David Phillips
A nice construction today, one with few glue entries. I really appreciate that on Mondays, where I feel it's so important to be friendly to a novice NYT crossword-solving audience. It's nice to get in good long fill like SCALENE, PAGE LAYOUT, FOGHORN, but even nicer to only have a few bits of A DIME, IS IN. Welcoming to a newer solver. It's clear that MaryEllen took care in filling her grid, and the extra effort is much appreciated.
I used to think MITRE and OCULI "aren't Monday words," but my philosophy has shifted over time. Being the crossword for an educated NYT audience, I believe it's acceptable to have semi-esoteric words if the crossings are all fair. And some would argue that the MITRE (the Pope's hat, for example) is something the NYT audience ought to know.
OCULI is tougher — if you don't know Mauna LOA, you might be in trouble. I think this is the one problematic spot of the puzzle. Note how OCULI crosses three themers? Nothing else can fit the O?U?I pattern. So I'd prefer to see the four themers spread out more, which would allow for more black squares separating them, and thus more flexibility in filling. It would likely mean that the long across fill (PAGE LAYOUT and CONFINED TO) would need to be broken up, but I don't mind that, since I found it to be inelegant for those answers to be almost as long as the themers.
Finally, I'm sure friends will ask me if it bothers me that I had a very similar theme in the LAT back in late 2011. (Answers at C.C.'s Crossword Corner site.) The answer is no. Two constructors come up with similar or even identical ideas all the time. The cruciverb.com database is great for checking to make sure your theme hasn't been done before in non-NYT outlets, but it usually lags a few months behind, so I bet MaryEllen wouldn't have found my themers in a search when she was constructing hers. Additionally, there is some overlap between NYT and LAT solvers, but they're largely different audiences.
The truth is out there!
– puzzle by MaryEllen Uthlaut
In just four published puzzles, I've picked two of Tom's as Puzzles of the Week now. Not bad sir, not bad at all. As Jim and I discussed, Tom's a constructor to watch. I've enjoyed my correspondence with him — seems like he has the right attitude: humble and willing to listen, learn and drive himself to improve. Hoping to see a lot more from him.
Liz Gorski's rebus interpretation of the Stein quote was another fun one. I appreciate Tom's new interpretation, taking things a step further.
Another thing I admired about this puzzle was its scientific tone. It's not going to RESONATE well with everyone, but I personally enjoyed seeing ENTROPY, LIGAND, and TITRATES in there, triggering good memories of college chem and physics classes. I bet it will trigger shudders for others, but you can't satisfy everyone. HATERS GONNA HATE, as they say.
I did wonder if this would have made a better weekday puzzle. A 21x can get a bit tedious to solve if there's not some factor that forces it to use an oversize grid. A visual element often does that for me. Grid art is another reason I find compelling. For me, the best Sunday puzzles are those that absolutely, positively, cannot be done in a normal 15x. All in all, I thought it was really nice to get all those snappy theme answers today, but it did get (pun intended) a little repetitive.
Neat idea, well laid out (great spacing between his themers and the central element), some strong, smooth fill and cluing, and a neat visual element. A winner of a Sunday in my book.
– puzzle by Tom McCoy
This PB was no different, giving me such unadulterated pleasure. So instead of qualitatively analyzing the puzzle as per my usual, I'm going to do something different: attempting to QUANTIFY why this work is so good.
People often ask me how they can get a themeless puzzle into the NYT, so I've given this a lot of thought. I've come up with a formula that I'll revise and evolve over time, hopefully keeping it simple enough for the non-mathy types. As a finance guy most recently, I liken the evaluation process to the decision whether or not to acquire a company. You buy something for its ASSETS, ignore the neutral stuff, and discount for its LIABILITIES. You can then put a price on ASSETS minus LIABILITIES, yeah? (Roughly.) For me, I think the odds of an acceptance become high when:
What do I mean by ASSETS? Stuff that sings. This is subjective, of course, but here's my assessment of the snappy answers Patrick provides us today, each of which I'll count as one point each:
And the liabilities? Things like partials, abbreviations, esoteric foreign words, pluralized names, etc. Each one will count as one point, except for "puzzle-killers," ug-ug-ugly answers which effectively take a puzzle out of consideration all by itself (RSI, for example, which killed one of my themeless submissions). Here's my assessment of Patrick's liabilities today:
The final count: ASSETS = 15, LIABILITIES = 0. So, Patrick meets the first criteria with flying colors. And the second criteria? ASSETS minus LIABILITIES = 15. As an analyst, I'd put a STRONG BUY recommendation on this one. (Never mind the fact that there's no price already set, you smart-aleck broker/analyst types.)
Will, if you're reading this, perhaps you could comment? Am I close in my assessment methodology or way off?
It's a thing of beauty, especially considering it's a wide-open 66-worder. (That's another point in the ASSETS column, actually.) And the cluing for IRISH PUB, ESCARGOT, BIPED, POT... For all those constructors looking to get published in the NYT, I'd suggest studying this one in detail. Try deconstructing and reconstructing it to see what you can learn through the process. Many of the great artists copied the masters for years before finally coming into their own, and that process was key to their emergence, right? Well done, Patrick, another beauty from the master.
– puzzle by Patrick Berry
I had the pleasure of meeting Patrick two American Crossword Tournament Puzzles ago, where he had authored a devious construction that tripped up many solvers. Today's is much more straightforward, three grid-spanning entries containing "LESS" and re-interpreted with funny results. Sense of humor is hit and miss (just ask my poor wife) but these three all made me laugh. Each one of them is a strong base phrase, and I thought each of the re-interpretations was clever.
People might complain that there are only three theme answers. This was certainly the norm ten years ago, so it did seem like a throwback at first. But when it comes to "wacky" puzzles (themers designed to generate a laugh) I'd much rather have three strong line-drives than two homers, a base on balls, and a batter hit by pitch. I'm not sure what that last one really means in terms of crossword answers, but I can think of a few "wacky" themers I've winced at in the past.
And look what freedom the fewer than normal number of themers opens up. Patrick, the consummate professional constructor, takes full advantage of it, giving us three pairs of long downs, all great: GREEK MYTH / SLAPSTICK, LEGOLAND / BUS ROUTE, THE DUDE / OBSCENE. And if that wasn't enough, he grabs hold of two six-letter entries to give us MRS WHO and NO SALT. Along with CT SCAN and OH BOY worked into the grid, that's the way to jazz up a puzzle.
Like any puzzle, it's not perfect, at least in this ultra-picky constructor's eyes. Those west and east sections get highly constrained considering the SLAPSTICK / CT SCAN borders on the east, for example. I'm not a big fan of ENGS, as I've preferred to call myself an ENGR. So perhaps I would have preferred SKI instead of ABE and ASEA instead of ADDS, turning ENGS into INGA. But that's a matter of personal taste. In the west, seeing OST bugged me. I like some foreign words if they're relatively common, but OST and ANGE and ESEL (a Germanl donkey) strike me as quite inelegant. There are other options there, why not use them? Of course, this is also subjective — I'm sure there are German scholars who will be writing in.
Finally, as if I didn't already admire the puzzle enough, two clues that sparkled. [Round one] had to be some sort of boxing-related answer? Nope — FATSO! Hopefully that word itself won't offend people, but it's a perfect misdirectional clue for one exhibiting an ovoidal nature. And to start a puzzle with [Breather] which just had to be REST was devious. I loved figuring out that I was totally wrong, LUNG indeed being a type of "breather."
Wednesdays can be hard, straddling the line between being relatively accessible and relatively clever. This puzzle does it really well.
– puzzle by Patrick Merrell
TWENTY QUESTIONS is a really nice entry for the theme. And I believe there are twenty question, although I got a little tired of counting at around three, so I'll trust that it adds up. As Bill Clinton said, it's just arithmetic. All that counting made me TOO TIRED TO THINK. So I suppose that's kind of thematic?
Generally it played like a themeless, which was a nice change of pace for a Thursday. I typically seek out the crazy, twisty type of puzzle on Thursdays, the ones that break your brain as you struggle to figure out what the heck is going on (and then gasp when you find out the insanity in the creator's head). But I know that's not everyone's preference, and lots of people love themelesses, so this will be especially good for them.
Like with most themeless puzzles, there's a huge amount of solid long stuff. EROTIC ART, SPIT AND POLISH, CONTORTIONIST, and my favorite, CUE STICKS. That last one was made even better with a brilliant clue, referring to the opening break of a pool game. Love, love, love that kind of cluing!
And also as with most themeless puzzles, there are such big open white spaces that there will be some compromises. Inside the question mark was my first guess as to where we'd see a little crunchiness, but Tim actually does amazingly well there. NEAPS isn't pretty, but it's a single glue entry that enables the snazz of GRANDPARENTS, THIN AS A RAIL, CAN IT BE, etc. Really impressed with the care he put into that section.
I was a little surprised to see the blips pop up in the NW and NE corners. There was enough of the APER / ALAR, ISSA, PREX kind of stuff that I almost wish Tim had broken up POWER LINE and MONETIZES to give us a net of two more words with a cleaner overall fill. Tough though — it is a treat for the eyes to see such big open areas on the sides of the puzzle. And I do love the word MONETIZES. It's so "Shark Tank," my favorite show on TV.
Overall, I love the amazing visual spectacle of the grid. Perhaps some untapped potential, although I'm not sure how more thematic material could have been incorporated. A memorable piece of grid art, to be sure.
– puzzle by Timothy Polin
A few months ago, I started to realize that I was letting my constructor's brain take over my daily analysis, going robotically through to figure out what could have been done better. Things changed when there was a puzzle I thought had too many compromises, but which Jim didn't mind because it "delighted him." That made me revisit my criteria on what makes a puzzle "good." Puzzles are a fun thing for me, and elevating that "delight factor" (DF) as my number one criteria has also elevated my puzzling joy. So to see a theme like this, where WIDE RECEIVER is interpreted as [T e l e p h o n e h a n d s e t] = great pleasure for me. All four of these themers really did it for me, and to have STRETCHED OUT as both a themer AND a revealer = brilliant.
That's not to say my constructor's mentality ever turns off (darn you, stupid brain!). I couldn't help but notice that there wasn't as much in terms of long fill as there could have been. It was interesting to read Tom's note to that regard. OLD STYLE and SPLENDID are indeed very good entries, as are MAJESTY and RICHTER, but it would have been splendid indeed if Tom had managed to work in another pair of 8's.
And there's really not much that's glue-y in this grid. Pretty well polished. But as I recently told a co-constructor, I have a hard time with "good enough" fill, always (OCD-like) trying for the absolute best possible. So seeing A TRIP, which could have been ATRIA (and possibly allowed for MY EYE! where HYENA is) made me pause. In general, I expect 78-word puzzles to have almost perfect fill, unless the theme density or other constraints necessitate otherwise.
So a well executed puzzle, with a pinch of unfulfilled potential. Knowing that Tom's a CS guy, I have a feeling he'll be upping his game as his constructor career rises.
Overall, I return to what's really important: DF = high.
ADDED NOTE: I corresponded with Tom about that east section, and it turns out he missed that possible improvement because he did this grid by hand. Wow! My first grid by hand was a complete disaster, including the wild entry SUN SON (it sounded like "a thing" at the time). One big advantage of computer-aided design is finding and improving these little sections is much quicker than doing so by hand.
– puzzle by Tom McCoy
The "replace-a-letter" and "add-a-letter" and "subtract-a-letter" type themes are still fine as long as they produce humorous resulting themers, but I so very much appreciate Patrick's desire to push the envelope. This could have easily been "change a C to an X" type theme for example, but he goes above and beyond to find themers which have a nice base (SMILEY FACES) as well as a funny outcome (SMILEY FAXES). And the X doubling as a "strikeout" in the clue is a pretty cool idea.
I would have liked the crossing answers to display an equal propensity to change (with funny results) when X'ed, though. I found it slightly unsatisfying that TIC didn't become TIX, for example. That would have been much harder to accomplish, perhaps having themers cross? Anyway, could just be a personal desire. Even without that extra layer I still quite enjoyed the solve, because...
Patrick always does such a fine job of filling his grids. Sundays are notoriously difficult to smoothly fill, but he both incorporates strong long fill and minimizes his glue-type entries. You might think the latter is achieved through brute force, auto-fill, whatever, but it's often determined very early on, when the constructors fixes their initial skeleton of black squares. With certain arrangements, you're almost never going to get "good fill," so figuring out that initial skeleton is 75% of the work. Patrick always does a great job of maximizing his spacing, and in this case (10 themers!) it's even more impressive that he has very few highly constrained spots in his grid.
That other 25%... check out the NE and SW corners. To have triple-stacked 8's with TWO themers running through each is no small feat. It is helpful that he can swap LESSER APES with BODY DOUBLE (same with THE ART OF WAR and SKIP TO MY LOU) and I'll bet he tried the permutations to figure out which would give smoother fills. He doesn't incorporate many Scrabbly letters, but I'd much rather see clean fill instead of hiccups caused by a J/Q/X/Z. The resulting corners are clean as a whistle, with just a MLLE and an OCT in total.
Finally, the clues. A puzzle can be ultra-smooth but still suffer if the clues are drab (or too dictionary-ish). This is especially important in a Sunday, where a half-dozen great clues can greatly enhance a puzzle. [Sucker?] for VAMPIRE. The clue for I'M FINE evoking images of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" ("tis only a flesh wound!"). [Raised on books?] for EMBOSSED. And the beautiful [Give a piece to] for arm ("piece" being slang for gun). The clues made my solving experience even better.
All in all, a wonderful solve.
ADDED NOTE: I can't believe I missed this. The crossed out letters spell CROSSED OUT. So, so, SO cool! And forget what I said about being able to swap out LESSER APES and BODY DOUBLE — making those NE and SW corners even more impressive!
– puzzle by Patrick Berry
It's easy as a constructor to fall back upon standard methodology in grid design (or even just use grids out of a grid library), so I really like seeing constructors push boundaries. I'm not sure I would have ever come up with the same grid design as Tim, especially considering how he carefully packed everything in. Some crossings will be natural given the simple theme — themers crossed through part of the "AS A" is a natural way to do that — but look how Tim crosses FAT AS A COW and BALD AS A COOT and SLY AS A FOX. Very cool.
And with seven themers, it's altogether too easy to call it good once you can fit them all in. So I really like the extra step, squeezing in BASS ALE over LOCAL PUB and TRASHBIN and ART DECO, all nice answers. As I go back and study this grid, I still have a hard time wrapping my head around how Tim managed to get everything so tightly packed. It's a Tetris-like solution.
There are blips here and there, not surprising due to the level-ridiculous constraints. BIG AS A WHALE overlapping BUSY AS A BEE is naturally going to be problematic, for instance. The ?HS?? pattern is not particularly friendly, so the OH SAY partial is one of the only options there. Our crossword monkey friend ABU shows up too, but that's an impressively low number of glue entries. Tim's work in the west section is remarkably clean, only UGA raising an eyebrow, at least until I remembered how cutely ugly the UGA bulldog mascot is.
Not a mind-blowing theme, but a great example of how to pull something off with panache.
– puzzle by Tim Croce
I really appreciate how Peter isn't okay with resting on his laurels, but instead pushes his envelope. The best part of XWord Info for me is corresponding with all the constructors, and I absolutely love when someone comments about striving for growth. Even better is when that impulse is spurred on by the desire to give the solver a better quality product. So seeing Peter's notes about trying for four quality "seed" entries did it for me.
This grid has its minor flaws, the SNO / FRA / ESL kind of stuff (TEC doesn't bug me at all), but look at the goodness that it allows for. The center in itself is fantastic, NOODLED AROUND being such a fun, colloquial phrase. Thirteen letter entries are often very difficult to incorporate in both themed and themeless puzzles, so it's neat to get this treat. Having it sandwiched by THE WHO SELL OUT and JIMMY SWAGGART was both fun and a funny juxtaposition. JIMMY SWAGGART NOODLED AROUND... I need say no more.
Grids with 13-13-13 (or similar) middle arrangements can be a little dry, as that can stop up many puzzles with the heavy constraints. Peter deploys his black squares wisely though, isolating the SW and NE corners so they can be filled with strong stuff, same goes for the NW and SE. Segmenting one's grid to work with subsections often makes filling much easier.
Oh yeah — there was THE WOMB. I didn't care at all for that entry, which opens the door for just about any THE ___ entry, i.e. THE BOOK, THE PEAR, THE DOOR. I'm a big fan of entries that can stand by themselves like THE STAND (Stephen King's book), but I'd prefer to show THE WOMB THE DOOR.
Finally, two clues I loved. [Round stopper, for short] had me thinking about bathtub plugs, the ace of clubs (defensive "stoppers" are very important in contract bridge no trump contracts), even food items that stop you up. Ahem. I've said too much. Great misdirection from the real answer... a boxing round. And [Merrie Melodies sheepdog] may seem like a pedestrian clue to many , but for me it brought back fond memories of Sam and Ralph, the sheepdog and coyote, clocking in and out of their "day jobs."
Very nice work today. G'night, SAM. G'night, Ralph.
– puzzle by Peter Wentz
Brad, who is soon taking over the helm at the Chronicle of Higher Education's crossword, is as exacting and detailed with today's puzzle as ever. The construction itself is quite nice, with an artist I didn't know but should have, PAOLO VERONESE, straight across the middle. That's flanked by CAMEL CAVALRY, an awesome term in itself, and CAMERA TRIPOD, an already good entry made even better by the misdirectional [Stand for a photo]. I considered answers to the effect of STRIKE A POSE and PUT ON UGLY SWEATERS TO TAKE A FAMILY PHOTO AT JC PENNEY before getting it. Lovely that it didn't even need the telltale question mark, which would have given away some of the cleverness.
This type of arrangement, with central marquee answers (an 11-13-11 with two crossing 12's!), can often mean that the corners of the puzzle suffer. Not today. I absolutely love the NE corner, with the aforementioned BRUCE LEE next to BUGBEARS and SNEER AT. Reminds me of the way BRUCE LEE used to SNEER AT opponents before beating the living *@#$@#& out of them.
Once in a while, I tremble at Brad's byline, because I know there will be an entry or two that I don't know, or a piece of trivia that I just can't get without figuring out every cross. But today I really enjoyed working to pull out the pirate LAFITTE from my cobwebs, and actually being able to work out the beautiful LUCK BE A LADY from the clue. Sometimes the puzzle gets you, but today, I got the puzzle. Neat feeling.
There are few bits that I didn't care for, OREM and OTB always make me shrug, for example. But other that than, Brad keeps the grid amazingly clean. I wonder if people will gripe about FTLBS, but for me, I really liked it. Granted, I'm an engineer by education and it was a very common sight when I was practicing. And no one would ever write it out as "foot pounds" (we engineers like our efficiency). A rare example where I like the abbreviation much better than the full answer in a crossword grid.
Finally, [Group living at zero latitude?]. Beautiful. I knew something fishy was going on, what with the question mark, but what a clever repurposing of "latitude," nothing to do with geographic position but everything to do with level of strictness. Bravo!
– puzzle by Brad Wilber
With just three theme entries today (and one of them only 7 letters long), the puzzle did feel a little light. I was glad then to see Matthew utilize his long answer slots wisely. Check out COWGIRL, UNDERDOG, PA SYSTEM, LOST SOUL, SO AND SO, even X AND Y. It went a long way to making me feel like I was getting my money's worth from the puzzle. I also appreciated that Matthew took care in his fill, leaving us with few enough glue entries that I didn't particularly notice an excess. Now that I look at grid again, I do notice NCO and CTR straight across the top which is unfortunate, but there's really very little ugliness here. He even throws us two X's and a Z without torturing those areas. Nice.
I would complain about SNORERS, but 50% of my household is a SNORER. Ahem. It might be me; not saying. Throw in that my favorite Pokemon is the Snorlax (or as my poor wife calls me, "The Snormax")...
I probably have said too much.
One item that caught my attention is probably something no one else would even consider, so I feel a little silly for bringing it up. A puzzle like this, involving logic and symmetry, to me begs for left-right symmetry. Especially considering all the black squares on the perimeter are already set up that way, just a few blocks could have been switched around to make a mirror symmetry arrangement. Granted, I'm partial to that type of symmetry in the first place, but it felt to me like it would have been spot-on for this exercise in logic.
Another thought that cropped up was that it would have been nice to have this puzzle a bit more complicated, as are many logic puzzles. Then again, the best paradoxes are those that are simply stated.
Finally, I'll end with a great clue: [Places for mobiles] made me think about where people need cell phones, and it took me the longest time to figure out that it wasn't referring to mobile phones but actual mobiles (hanging over many cribs).
Nice fill, really fun theme, a winner in my book. That last statement is indeed not false.
– puzzle by Matthew Lees
What's really outstanding about this puzzle is how effectively Sam manages to use his long spots. Everything from MAKES A MESS to TOP HONORS to SLAM DANCED to SAY HEY KID, such awesome answers in the corners. But it doesn't stop there — ALASKAN KING CRAB across the middle? MURDER INC, one of my favorite entries in recent memory as a connector? Out of 17 (!) slots for 8+ long entries, I really liked (or loved) 13 of them, and the other four were fine. A really impressive hit rate.
And the cluing. As with any strong Saturday, I expect a handful of clues that push me one way and give a great a-ha when I finally find my footing. [Bond film?] was really nice ("bond" as in glue, not "Bond" as in "Bond, James Bond"), [One hanging by a thread?] made me think of SPIDERS or TRUANTS or something, so TASSEL provided me a smile.
This puzzle is not going to be for everyone, as some hold the opinion that any puzzle with a handful of GLUE entries cannot be stellar. I'd certainly agree that I'd prefer not to have ODO, ABAA, and especially A POSE (DIETZ I'm still on the fence about), but I find these well worth the price for the TEAPOT DOME / BABA O'RILEY / BOY SOPRANO / ABOUT THAT snazziness.
My one hesitation, and it was big enough that I waffled whether or not to give this the POW, was the clue for ALASKAN KING CRAB. Sometimes I feel like a clue is trying too hard, or comes off too cutesy, or in this case, a bit creepy. I'm all for fun or funny innuendo, but there was something icky to me about the juxtaposition of "luscious legs" and eating crab legs (perhaps it evoked an image of George Costanza (from "Seinfeld") mixing his favorite pleasures?). Even the "long, luscious legs" phrase made my skin crawl a bit. Surely others will laugh at this clue, but I bet there will be others like me that were uncomfortable with this language. It's too bad that it was at the centerpiece entry.
ADDED NOTE: I had an enlightening conversation with Jim, who thought the aforementioned clue was fantastic. It's always eye-opening when I hear an opinion so different from mine — nice to get the reminder that most everything in art is subjective.
Overall, I thought this puzzle was dynamite. TOP HONORS to Sam this week.
– puzzle by Sam Ezersky
1.) Sparkling entries. CALVIN AND HOBBES, RETROVIRUS, WIFESWAP, SKYBOX SEATS, PROTEST VOTE, BELT SANDER, MELON BALLS, RACE CARD, HOW DARE YOU! Need I say more? No, but I will. It's awfully difficult to get your shorter entries to shine, but OK BUT is fantastic. It's like when Brendan Emmitt Quigley debuted WHAT THE. Genius stuff.
2.) Brilliant clues. Misdirectional clues are my personal favorite, especially ones which don't have the giveaway question mark. [Fashion clothes] led me to think about YSL, IZOD, etc., but it's the simple SEW. [Mann's "Man!"] plays on the "man's man" phrase with amusing results. And I absolutely loved [Elasticity studier's subj.], as it made me feel smart to know a piece of esoteric trivia. Finally, thinking about Dana Carvey doing his impressions of PEROT on SNL made me laugh out loud. This puzzle manages to hit all the sweet spots in cluing.
3.) Quality short fill. Often the hardest criteria to manage, it's near impossible to get away without a handful of ugly entries. Layout often dictates where the tough places will be (I personally spend about as much time working with a puzzle skeleton as I do with filling), and Evan does a great job with spacing. Note how there aren't any big sections of white space that stick out? Sometimes it's pretty easy to predict where the problem spots will be, but not today. Evan's deployed his black squares masterfully, spreading out the difficult spots. Sure, he's got a WTS here, a A WAR there, but those little bits are so dispersed, I hardly noticed them.
Extremely well done. Not just a pleasure to solve, but a pleasure to review.
– puzzle by Evan Birnholz
I appreciate a good a-ha moment. The best kind is when I don't have any idea what's going on while solving, and everything snaps to at the end. It's very difficult to do this on a Monday or a Tuesday puzzle, because anything too tricky is going to escape the more novice solvers. And often when I get to the end of an early-week puzzle, it turns out to be a slight variation on a well-trafficked theme type. Today's was perfect for me, four pitches HIGH, INSIDE, LOW, and OUTSIDE which when taken together give a BASE ON BALLS (the technical term for a walk). Very nice — snappy phrases all hiding their theme material until the very end.
I also like some meat in a puzzle's fill, and Gary doesn't disappoint. He uses a traditional placement of two long downs, and both of them are really nice: DOGGIE BAG which is a great entry in itself, and MARSEILLE, classing up the joint with its reference to the classic work of literature, "The Count of Monte Cristo." Throw in some other nice shorter stuff like TIDBIT, ORCHARD, and VERDI, and that satisfies my desire in this arena. Sure, I like to have more than that if possible (ideally at least two sets of long downs), but not if it comes at the price of quality fill.
And Gary does a nice job in that arena of shorter fill. I didn't notice anything glaring as I solved, giving a clean, flowing feel to the puzzle. When I went back, I did pick up ORLON, which is so much less commonly used in everyday language than NYLON or RAYON (Google all of them to see hits), but that was really it. Some people will complain about PRECIS, but it's a common enough term in academia and certain professions. Maybe others will complain about LUMEN, but it's an extremely common term in engineering and photography (I would go on and on about the difference between luminous flux and radiant flux, but you've already fallen asleep). I think both are well worth learning if they were unfamiliar to any solvers.
Well done, Gary! I didn't want to give yet another Tuesday puzzle the POW! (this will make four Tuesdays in a row) but I thought this one hit all the right notes for what a Tuesday should be.
– puzzle by Gary Cee
Where Ian really makes a name for himself as a constructor is his ability to jam-pack snazzy fill into a puzzle with clean overall results. With five medium-length themers, many constructors would call it good to have simply one pair of long downs. Ian's moved way past that point, giving us GAS STOVE, SEES FIT, CREW TEAM with its fun clue, APE SUIT. And that's just in two of the corners!
Because the central entry is an "inconvenient length" (it sort of splits the grid into an upper and a lower half), it forces open white spaces in the NE and SW. As anyone who's tried to fill a moderate-size chunk of crossword grid knows, it's not easy to do with quality. Sure, it's a simple thing to fill a subsection so that it works, but it's another matter completely to do it without a single blemish. With only a single glue-y answer (CHA) to hold it all together, Ian still manages to work in EXACTA, TEN HUT, ECOLAW. Ian even rescues CHA with a really fun clue.
How does he do it, you might ask? Some people assume that constructors just hit a button and let the computer do the work for them. Some constructors actually do that, but the auto-fill process almost always spits out subpar fill. I've had the pleasure of working with Ian on a few grids, so I've seen that he takes a significant amount of time with every grid he makes, trying out multiple layouts, testing out dozens of possibilities in the critical junctions to figure out what will help him fill cleanly. From there, it's a matter of trial and error guided by hundreds of puzzles worth of grid-building experience to produce a clean result.
What's most impressive is Ian's track record of consistency. Whenever I see his name on a byline, I know I'm going to get a fun theme with more than a handful of long fill and a minimum of cruddy answers. This puzzle is no different, especially difficult given that the best Tuesday puzzles are smooth enough for relative beginners but interesting enough for more experienced solvers. I tip my hat to you, sir!
– puzzle by Ian Livengood
These types of squares are very difficult to pull off, so it's even more impressive that Andrew was able to incorporate so many of them. Thirteen answers are affected, with eight squares needing to work with duality. Just getting one or two to work well is hard enough, so tossing in a huge handful is incredibly impressive.
And given the theme density, I would expect the fill to suffer greatly. Not only does Andrew need to work around the themers BEST THREE / OUT OF FIVE, but he has to place five "coins" throughout the grid. Each of those "coins" requires two answers to be placed (one across, one down), and a set of intersecting across/down answers generally makes for tough constraints. When you have five of them, you're asking for trouble.
As if that wasn't enough, there's the HEADS/TAILS in the center, making the entire puzzle heavily constrained. Sure, there are a few bits like AMBI, SKAT, and OST (all in the NW area), but the grid is remarkably clean. I wondered if Andrew could have gotten rid of the OST and AMI by placing the first coin in the SW corner instead of the NW? That SW corner feels much less constrained and ripe for a "coin," although this would require a different set of dual-working answers than ISH/IST and GUSH/GUST due to length requirements.
And yes, the grid is too segmented for my taste (the entire NW and SE can be sectioned off by adding just one set of black squares, which breaks up the flow of the puzzle), but I'll happily take that sort of thing when the payoff is good enough.
My final reaction: at first I felt like there was almost a little too much going on. What with all the coins and the answer in the middle and the theme answer telling me BEST THREE OF FIVE, I wasn't sure what to look at first. I started to overthink it all, brainstorming how nice it would have been to make it some sort of predictive magic trick, or to tie the central answer to the coins themselves somehow. And then I decided to just sit back and enjoy it.
Neat idea, and a grid executed with obvious care and devotion to clean fill. Much appreciated by this solver!
– puzzle by Andrew Reynolds
So I really like today's offering. The theme is not complicated, in fact, it feels slightly thin to me given the revealer takes up two of the four long entries. But it does its job, giving two nice examples of sports terminology related to not giving up until the end. It would have been really nice to have a football-related one in there to cover the major sports (fine, Howard Barkin and the Canadian contingent, maybe a hockey one too!).
FYI, a BUZZER BEATER is when a basketball team wins a game at the last second (just beating the game-ending buzzer). A WALK-OFF HOMER is when a guy (or woman) homers in the bottom of the ninth inning (or in the bottom of an extra inning) to end the game. And as Jim pointed out to me, it's awfully nice that a WALK-OFF HOMER always happens in front of a home crowd.
(shaking my fist at stupid Kirk Gibson for beating my A's)
Where I think this puzzle shines is in the fill. Yes, there are some rough patches (I see you, ENISLE/GRE/SSR corner), but David does such a nice job of filling out the grid with long stuff (SHISHKEBAB and RICHARD III), along with Scrabbly goodness (ZAFTIG, FLOOZY, JOGGER), and new words I enjoyed picking up (XYLEM, RABAT, MANOLO; nice that they're from such different areas of knowledge). It took me longer than usual to finish this puzzle, but I enjoyed that extra duration, savoring all the fun entries like SCRUFF and its clue, HAREM and the fact that "Scheherazade" looks so crazy in the clue.
This puzzle won't do much for the non-sports fans in the audience, of course. I wonder if there would be a way to do this theme such that the themers are from different areas? Like themes related to cat-and-mouse detective stories? Or presidential elections (DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN)?
Anyway, fun to toss around ideas. I appreciated that David did something kind of different with a Tuesday, making it a very fun outing for me.
– puzzle by David Woolf
Except if Will is paying, of course.
One aspect I thought Ian did very well was in capturing elements of many different types of puzzles. Quote puzzles by themselves tend to be on the dull side (unless the quote is spectacularly funny or insightful), but not only does Ian restrict the quote part to three entries, he ties it in with the puzzle's visual. I had to work to uncover the quote, and it was totally worth it.
It's also neat when a constructor's personality and interests shine through. Ian is a sports guy, so seeing beautiful long entries like NFC SOUTH, CHICAGO BULLS, and my hometown THE NINERS was a pleasure. Some may accuse him of making the long fill too sports-oriented, but it's not like he's used TOLEDO MUDHENS or the TACOMA RAINIERS. Come on, it's THE NINERS, people! Grumble grumble, stupid play calling / decision making at the end of last year's NFC championship game, grumble grumble.
It did take me a little while to figure out the AHA MOMENT running around the light bulb, because I skipped the notepad (those just tend to seem superfluous) and tried to read it from the lower left corner going clockwise. It's the natural thing to do, right? Getting an OMAHA TNE wasn't quite doing it for me though, so I begrudgingly went back and read the notepad. Fine, I'll follow directions!
As with all of Ian's stuff, the fill is so smooth. He's the one who got me on a kick against partials, especially five-letter ones. It's amazing how much good stuff he packed in while avoiding ugly stuff, just some short NNE, CIR, ADE, SOC, ULT, OLEO kind of filler, barely noticable (I had to go back and search it out). I totally agree with his use of cheater squares in the middle row of the puzzle (before SEAL and after IDOS), which I'm sure made those sections smoother. That section above SEAL (where FEDORAS is) I'm sure would have been crunchier if not for that cheater square.
Can't say enough good stuff about this puzzle!
– puzzle by Ian Livengood
When I first started choosing Puzzle of the Week selections, I thought I would tend to select more Thursdays, because I like when constructors break the rules. But I've come to realize that I really appreciate Saturdays, especially the fact that the constructors and Will really up their ante when it comes to cleverness of clues. I really enjoyed the clue echo of [A line, e.g.], and [A lines, e.g.], neither of which had to do with the A-line dress.
Even the clues for some of the shorter ones: [How the description of most things usually end?] was very clever for EST, in the sense of clever, cleverer, and cleverEST. Nice to interpret the word "most" in an unexpected way.
Typically ULEE is not something I like to see in a grid, but when it's combined with BEEKEEPER ("Ulee's Gold" is a crossword classic due to the friendly nature of the ULEE pattern) I like the echo as well as the insider's nod to the crosswordy bit.
The only hitch I had was at the AUDIE / AARE crossing, but thankfully I've seen the AARE river enough in crosswords that it's nearly automatic (again, very crossword-friendly combination of letters). And from a construction standpoint, I love MUTANTS, but I wonder if a pair of cheater squares where the S is (and symmetrically the T of TAMARIN) would have allowed for a smoothing out of TBAR, RELET, and ARPEL all in the same little section. I love TAMARIN as an answer though, so the trade-off would have to be pretty good.
Saving my favorite for last, the answer and clue pair for KISSY FACE was great. "Smacked" had me thinking it was something offensive which would initiate a slap, and even when I got the KISS pat of the answer, it took me a while to see KISSY FACE. All in all, a really nice grid with some feature entries and more than a handful of wordplay clues. Beautiful stuff.
– puzzle by Ed Sessa
It's very rare to have a puzzle with diagonal symmetry. At first glance it might be hard to recognize, but draw an imaginary line from the SW to NE corner, and you'll see that the puzzle is symmetrical along that line. Check out our unusual symmetry page — only three other puzzles in the Shortz era display this diagonal symmetry. And for my money, this one stands out even further because of the clever use of black squares.
One more comment about the visual element, and I'll go onto something else, I promise. Aside from the kite, did you notice the two Tetris pieces floating in the grid? At first I thought they were a little unsightly because they have extra black squares (cheaters), but after I finished, I noticed that they looked a lot like lightning. Might just be me, but I stood up and clapped.
Because of the unusual symmetry, the theme answers had to be broken up, BENJAMIN / FRANKLIN, DISCOVERING / ELECTRICITY, and the brilliant GO FLY / A KITE to tie it all together. The necessary cross-referencing did put me off a little, but I suppose it couldn't be helped. Perhaps cutting down some of it, i.e. if 16A had just been [With 23-down, puzzle subject]? Also, DISCOVERY OF felt much more natural to my ear than DISCOVERING, but that might be six of one, half a dozen of another.
And then there's the fill. Love, love, love seeing DR DOOM in there, one of the greatest supervillains of all time, along with JA RULE, OLD TIMER, GEISHA crossing SENSEI, and the BRAINY IBM PC. Sure, there's an OLEO of the MARNE and YSER rivers, SSE, ETAT, A TEST stuff, but I personally will take that trade-off any day. I appreciate super-clean puzzles, but when I get so much snazz, I don't mind the price of admission at all. I know some people will disagree, sticking to their guns about puzzles needing to be ultra-smooth and clean of dreck, but I like this trade-off a lot. Maybe it would be possible to make this puzzle both super-clean AND totally smooth, but I doubt it given all the constraints.
Bravo! Even more fun than the time I dissected an instant camera, stupidly ignoring the WARNING: GIANT SHOCK POTENTIAL DO NOT OPEN label. I tell you what, that capacitor was much bigger than I anticipated. Thanks for nothing, BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.
– puzzle by Bruce Haight and Peter A. Collins
First, the theme. At surface level, it's a basic "add a letter sequence" concept, nothing new there. But each time the IST is added, it changes the meaning of the base word completely, i.e. CUB to CUBIST, and in a funny. STARK to STARKIST is just genius, especially given how snazzy the base phrase, STARK NAKED, is.
Often with "wacky phrase" themes, I find myself not super amused by one or more of them, but today, each one worked really well for me. Perhaps it helped that in my 20 years of playing cello, I sat in the very back of the orchestra, sleeping my way through rehearsals (I was that guy who always came in too early before the rests were over). Some might not find SLEEPER CELLISTS as amusing, but it was spot on for me. And the base phrases are all so solid: CUB REPORTERS, POMPOUS ASS, STARK NAKED, SLEEPER CELLS. Wonderful. Yes, two nouns are plural while one is singular, but that almost seemed too nit-picky to even mention.
Then we come to the fill. Typically a debut contains not as much long fill as I like to see. But CREDIT RISK is fantastic (I love business terms, so sue me), and MAIN STREET hits in the same way. Then Ruth works in EURASIA, CALYPSO, GUEVARA, and even SKI CAP, taking advantage of her 6's and 7's, which often don't get used to their full potential.
Given the nice long stuff, I'd expect some compromises in the shorter. But not only does Ruth keep it to some measley ESE, OR A, MSGS stuff, she works in 6x3 regions at the north and south, giving us the juicy NASSAU and SEANCE. Most constructors avoid that 6x3 arrangement, preferring to stick with 5x3 because that slight widening from five to six often makes for a rougher filling challenge. No problems today, just smooth sailing.
An extremely pleasurable solve for me, and an equally pleasurable time writing up my comments. This is a fantastic example of why I really like the "open call for anyone who wants to construct" policy. Looking forward to more from Ruth.
– puzzle by Ruth B. Margolin
The aspect I like best about this puzzle is not the amazing grid, which is saying a lot. The cluing is so fun, so tricky, and gives me an incredible a-ha moment at every turn. As with most of his recent puzzles, I had to wrestle this one to the ground, taking over 30 minutes to finish, but what a feeling of accomplishment after figuring out "Provider of early projections" had nothing to do with business or political races, but the old-style CAMERA OBSCURA. And "They run out of clothing" had me thinking about colorfast issues (even though I still don't understand why laundry colors and whites need to be separated), and coming up with STREAKERS was a thrill. Add in half a dozen more top-notch clues and it's a work of art.
And then there's the grid. True, there aren't many Scrabbly letters, just a J, but I didn't care. When you incorporate GO BIG OR GO HOME, CYCLOTRONS, PROP COMIC, SHOEMAKER, and CAMERA OBSCURA all in a giant central area... it leaves me slack-jawed, gaping at the miraculous construction.
And it doesn't stop there. Look at the incredible SW corner, a wide swath of white, containing COED DORMS, GREEN TEA, CHRISTO, RED CAP, STREAKERS. I'd be pretty happy to construct to accomplish any one of these subsections in one of my themelesses (this is one area I'm trying to better develop in my own construction skill set), much less an entire puzzle like it.
When I originally started providing construction commentary, Will asked me to give both positive feedback as well as constructive criticism. The latter is almost always doable since most every puzzle requires trade-offs and judgement calls. But what am I supposed to point out today? "Panhandler, of a sort?" might not be to everyone's tastes? INIGO wasn't clued to my favorite "Princess Bride" line? I'm at a bit of a loss today.
Okay, I've run out of superlatives. There have been some good puzzles this week (and will be some more to come), but as one constructor put it, it's tough to have a puzzle run anywhere close (in date) to a Patrick Berry. It's like climbing next to the lead route-setter at my gym, who climbs routes four levels higher than I do... in his &$#!*# sneakers.
– puzzle by Patrick Berry
I enjoyed so many elements of today's puzzle. I really dug the three T's in the puzzle's black squares, and liked even more the fact that there weren't any other "free-floating" black squares in the grid. Very cool-looking. Aesthetics are subjective of course, but I really appreciated the prettiness of those three T's hanging out in the middle of the grid.
True to the three T's, Pete give us three grid-spanners, all following the same pattern: T* THE T*. I actually prefer some of Peter's original themers, TRUE TO TYPE being especially nice. I did like TRIMMING THE TREE and TELLING THE TRUTH, but TURNING THE TRICK sounded a little off to me. TURNING A TRICK (ahem, not NYT material) or DID THE TRICK sounds so much better, yeah? But Google/Bing clearly disagrees with me, "TURNED THE TRICK" getting a huge number of hits.
Minor idiosyncrasy, but I tend to prefer past tense phrases in my xws. TOLD THE TRUTH has more elegance than TELLING THE TRUTH, in my eyes at least. Often, I don't add the "-ING" variation of a phrase into my word list, unless it sounds perfectly normal to my ear (usually it doesn't though). Awfully hard to find three past tense phrases that 1.) fit the T* THE T* pattern and 2.) are long enough, though.
Best of all today: the snazzy entries! SHAR PEI, HIGH NOON, NIHILIST, STRIKE ZONE, LETHAL AGENT, AGED OUT (xwordinfo donates to Treehouse for Kids, a non-profit I volunteer for) = so much goodness. Well worth the cheap price of admission (the ERN, EPI, ENE kind of stuff). I would have liked the puzzle even more if there had been more wordplay clues. But then again, filling everything quickly in off the straightforward clues made me feel smart. (in Homer Simpson voice) I am so smart! S M R T!
Well done, I like it when a lively puzzle lets me smugly sit back and call myself the world's biggest genus.
– puzzle by Peter A. Collins
Brad ain't kidding when it comes to stacked 11's. Look what trouble they force in the NW and SE corners: six three-letter words just to start. In a themeless, more than twelve(-ish) three-letter words starts to become noticeable, and you'll almost always need a couple here and there to make a grid work.
Then there's the fact that you have all those parallel down crossings to deal with in a stack of 11's. It's easier than dealing with a triple stack of 15's, but typically triple-stacked 15's are the singular focus of a themeless. Check out today's vertical stacks (on the left and right sides), just waiting to throw a monkey wrench into things as they connect up to the stacks of 11's. But Wilberson tames them, bringing us some good BATHSHEBA and EZRA POUND... with HOMBRE running through the former!
There's a ton of other good entries, but in the interest of space, let me point out just some of the clues that sizzle. "It once had many satellites in orbit" innocently makes you think about planets and astronomy. But no, it's talking about the Soviet Socialist Republics — THAT kind of satellite. And "Dieter's beef" doesn't refer to a dieter, but a person from Germany's olden term for its government (or perhaps Dieter, a common-ish(?) name in Germany). What a way to rescue the otherwise boring ACH!
It's that type of attention to detail, to enhancing the solving experience, that makes this pair such a force. DOS could easily have been a broad "Cuts" or something, but they take care to design the tricky "Lock combinations?" And they mix in some interesting trivia with the clue for BISHOP; I found it fun to learn that the fianchetto is a chess opening. Extremely well done, I'll be studying this one further.
– puzzle by Doug Peterson and Brad Wilber