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It took me a while to figure out exactly what was going on, but it finally dawned on me that Patrick selected phrases/long words, which form different phrases/long words when you delete two letters. For example, "Red wine drinker's paradise?" is SHANGRI-LA SANGRIA. I'll admit that at first I thought it seemed arbitrary to just pick any two letters to remove, but as I went along, it felt more and more like a puzzle within a puzzle; like I was in The Matrix. Darn glad I took the blue pill, because each of the 12 (!) theme entries was a fun challenge within itself.
Normally when there's such high theme content, the fill breaks down all over and Agent Smith is signaled to clean up the glitches in The Matrix. I mean, Patrick stacks theme answers atop each other, and then overlaps more themers atop those! But instead of glitching out, he went all Neo on us today, smoothing the experience with a WEST BERLIN, KLUTZ, CSI: MIAMI, AT REST, OSPREYS, etc., showing us that he knows crossword-fu.
It wasn't perfect, but as we all know from The Machines' experience, total perfection makes humans skeptical, and we think that there's a conspiracy going on. So the TEENA MARIE / ELAM / MARNIE crosses in the southeast corner placate us, leaving us with the impression that our slightly flawed world is still real.
A final note of technical commentary: look at all the cheater squares (black squares which don't affect the word count) Patrick uses. Some have said that cheaters make a puzzle less elegant; that they're a crutch. In some cases, like in some themeless puzzles, I find them to be visually inelegant. But Patrick has said a few times that he'll always choose to add cheaters if it makes the fill smoother. I did notice the preponderance of cheaters (five pairs) at first, but I completely forgot about it as I went. 21x puzzles are so much harder to fill cleanly than 15x's, so I think for this puzzle, Patrick's decision to use so many cheaters is sound.
Fantastic work . Often times I get tired in the middle of doing a Sunday puzzle because it feels like the same old thing over and over again. But even though today's puzzle took me well over my usual time (about 30 minutes vs my usual 15-20), I relished the experience and looked forward to writing all about it. More smooth, fun, uber-professional Sunday puzzles like this, please!
P.S. If you haven't seen The Matrix a few hundred times yet, I forgive you. Maybe. And don't take the red pill.
– puzzle by Patrick Berry
Excellent Monday puzzle from Kevin. It's not often that a Monday carries a novel theme, one I've never seen before. Bravo for breaking the mold! Neat to see this collection of well-known bumper sticker starters, each one immediately apparent to me. Even better, I couldn't think of any others right away that would fit in. Consistency and specificity, that's excellent theme work.
Far more impressive though, is the quality of his construction. It starts with the fact that the four themers are of inconvenient lengths (12 and 13), which makes grid layout challenging from the start. But Kevin sets it up so that he takes advantage of these lengths, using the black squares in rows 4 and 12 to end long downs (SIDE BENEFIT and DNA SAMPLING).
Then look at the sheer quantity of long downs: TEAHOUSE/EXPELLED, FUTURAMA/IN HEAVEN stacked together, along with RHESUS, MILADY, SANDPIT, BAD OMEN. With so much packed in, I'd expect a host of ugly entries (especially around the stacked long downs), but I didn't notice anything during my solve. Going through a second time I saw the unseemly ERGS, but that was it. Just amazing how clean and Monday-friendly this thing is.
Will brings up an interesting point about PLEB. To me, PLEB is perfectly fine — it's more esoteric entries like AMOUR PROPRE that I don't care to see in a Monday puzzle. So much about crosswords is subjective, isn't it?
Finally, I always enjoy getting a constructor's personality shining through the puzzle, and seeing FUTURAMA, CHANG (another dude who looks like Kevin, Joon and me), SATAY, all felt Kevin-ish. Man, that's some good stuff. Great way to start the week.*I'm also the good-looking one.
– puzzle by Kevin G. Der
What a cool image, using a couple of well-placed circles to suggest a gas gauge. Sure, the dial doesn't really have an ARROW, but what would be better? NEEDLE? POINTER? Not sure. I really liked how Peter used mirror symmetry in order to place the revealer close to the bottom, so it didn't give away the trick halfway through the puzzle. When I finally uncovered RUNNING / ON EMPTY I smiled at his use of the unchecked squares E and F to represent empty and full. Very cool.
And I really like having so much good long fill. Stuff like OLD GLORY, EARSHOT, MOONBEAM (clued to Governor MOONBEAM would have been even better!), etc. If this is what Will means when he says he's looking for some puzzles with less theme density but more good long fill, I wholeheartedly agree.
And saving the best for last, being an electromechanical dork I loved seeing ELECTROMAGNETIC and FEYNMAN in the grid. Some people believe FEYNMAN was kind of arrogant and/or a jerk (if you haven't read "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" you owe it to yourself to do so) but he was both brilliant and extremely entertaining. I got a lot of pleasure out of uncovering these entries.
Very well done, Pete. Sure, there's some of ugly-looking ASSOC, ALG, TOR, and people might complain that they shouldn't have to know Ndamukong SUH, but overall, what a giant serving of win for me today.
– puzzle by Peter A. Collins
And what an audacious challenge in construction! Not only does Jean have five theme answers plus a short revealer, but she uses a 72-word grid (top of the themeless range). In these cases, the fill often suffers greatly, but Jean has put together an expert construction. It took me a long time to finish this puzzle because my cooking skills are roughly limited to opening a jar of spaghetti sauce and eating it with a spoon. But after completing it, I sat back in admiration.
The long fill is awfully nice. SPONGE BOB is a great entry, and I admire how well Jean tucked LINGERIE in the across direction — between two theme answers! I've never attempted that because it's always seemed like it would produce too many compromises, but now I'm inspired to try. And although there isn't that much else in terms of long fill, Jean uses her sixes and sevens well, with MILORD, REBOOT, ARNIES army, and a REBIRTH.
As with almost every puzzle, not everything is shiny and clean. Thankfully, Jean did well to keep it to just a few bits that were pretty easy to ignore. The military awards (OBE, DSO, DSC) are hard to keep straight, ERB isn't quite the monogram JFK or even EAP is, and while a prefix or two is fine, a six-letter one, ENVIRO, is harder to gloss over. But it's amazing how clean everything else is, even finding a way to fill those biggish NE and SW corners with good stuff. Even appeasing our Canadian overlords with the inclusion of the ALCAN highway! (shout-out to Martin Ashwood-Smith and Jeffrey Krasnick in the northern hinterlands)
Recipe puzzles tend to be awfully tough for me, but I sure enjoyed this one, especially since the result was a favorite creation of mine. Well done, POW quality.
– puzzle by Jean O'Conor
And generally such a clean puzzle! Jacob is fairly new to the construction game, which made this puzzle even more impressive. It's really hard to make a smooth puzzle, especially when you're working with five themers. And I loved hearing about his desire to push the envelope, stepping outside his comfort zone to include two long downs. Hopefully he'll continue this trend, next aiming for two or three sets of long downs. Possibly even a 74-word puzzle with a quantity of quality long fill.
I was absolutely loving the puzzle, having quickly cottoned to the clever theme and the awesome revealer, really appreciating the cleanliness of the fill...and then I hit BLAU. "When a four-letter word hasn't been used in the NYT xw crossword since 1998, there's usually a good reason," I thought. Luckily, Jim asked me why my reaction was so negative. I thought about it for a long time and decided that BLAU really isn't so different from AZUL, or even ETE/ENERO/NIE. Should those entries be more acceptable, simply because they're used all the time in xws? If that's the only reason, then my reaction shouldn't be such a knee-jerk one. Seems to me that I overreacted.
Out of curiosity, let's take a look at that region and see why BLAU occurred. The challenge starts with needing a four-letter word ending in U; only about 30 decent options available. Then, the adjacent I????A pattern (19d) is also pretty limited, IBERIA, ICE TEA, IMPALA, ITALIA being some other choices. Finally, the open area of parallel 6s in the NE is hard to fill in itself. Everything taken together, all those constraints cascade into that BLAU region, giving limited options. I absolutely love the fill in that NE corner, with BLOTTO, BONNET, and three-card MONTE, but BLAU still feels like a high price to pay.
Anyway, enough picking of nits. When it comes down to it, the crossings of BLAU are all fair, so it is what it is. The rest of the puzzle is so finely tuned, so well-designed, so clean. I appreciate the obvious care and time Jacob put into it. Overall, a finely executed puzzle with a clever trick and well-chosen themers.
– puzzle by Jacob McDermott
Sometimes people ask me which is more important, the idea or the execution. Well, I had a similar idea a while back, but I had envisioned it with the ENTIRE grid being mirror symmetrical, with only VAMPIRE not showing up. When I tried to put it together, I became something of a Dr. Frankenstein, breaking all sorts of rules broken (in unholy ways). Both David's idea and his execution were better than mine, so what can I do but give a standing ovation to the master?
The people in this coffee shop are staring at me now.
A side note about David: he's actually a magician! And not only a great magician, but one who works his magic with crosswords and Scrabble. He recently worked on "Now You See Me" and has developed a signature trick involving crosswords. The guy's skills are mind-boggling. I actually said "no @#$!& way!" after seeing his work.
It's a shame that the paper solve is so different than electronic solves today. Often times we rebellious constructors find ways to break the classical xw conventions, causing all sort of issues for the paper solve and/or the electronic. The paper version is usually so much more flexible because the newspaper doesn't complain if one writes outside the grid, intentionally doesn't fill in a square, or even draws a picture in one or more squares. But Across Lite and other platforms often get cranky and complain.
As we go forward, more and more people will be solving on computers and tablets, so I hope the NYT and other outlets find ways to evolve. Hopefully soon, I'll be doing a review of software and hardware packages that might be able to tackle the ever-expanding imaginations of constructors.
Couldn't be happier about the puzzle today. Bravo!
– puzzle by David Kwong
I realize some people are going to hate today's crossword, but I say, haters gonna hate. I'm not a fan of construction feats for the sake of record-breaking, but I was so wowed by the visual of today's puzzle, with those wide-open spaces, that I had to give it the POW. Well done, MAS!
The usual knock on triple-stacks is two-fold (and these apply even more strongly for quad-stacks). First, because of their construction difficulty, they tend to use phrases which aren't very snappy, use too many common letters (RSTLN E), or incorporate ONES (A LOT ON ONES PLATE being the most notorious). MAS shines here, using eight really nice entries. At first I was put off by CHANSONS DE GESTE, but after looking it up, I decided I enjoyed learning about a term that's gridworthy; a deficiency in my knowledge base. It's just amazing that MAS managed to find two separate sets of four good entries for his stacks.
The second knock is that the crossing down entries tend to be tortured, giving the solver an equally tortured solving experience filled with a gamut of partials, abbreviations, esoteric names, roll-your-own words, etc. On this front MAS doesn't do quite as well. In general, there are a reasonable number of ugly entries, but there are so many of one type, partials, that it was noticeable during my solve. It's unfortunate that ME AT had to be clued as a partial to avoid the dupe with MADE MINCEMEAT OF, as that would have helped the issue. Should we give constructors a break, allowing for extra ugly fill when a feat is as cool as clean quad stacks? I think a little leeway is reasonable to expect, but the high number of partials did detract from my personal solve today.
So overall, very impressive work and an enjoyable puzzle. I'm usually dead set against stunt grids for their own sake, but in my e-mail exchange with MAS, I really appreciated hearing how he tossed out a whole bunch of triple and quad-stacks before settling on something he thought solvers would enjoy. Solver first, constructor second, that's what I love to hear.
– puzzle by Martin Ashwood-Smith
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.
– puzzle by Samuel A. Donaldson
Interesting, consistent, specific theme. There is a huge range of solving abilities in the NYT xw universe, everyone from total novices to the speedsters (Dan, Anne, Tyler, Plot, ZigZag, Shazbot, Commander Chewie) who don't even look at the theme, so finding something that works for everyone is near impossible. Amy gives us a theme that beginners can grasp (songs all ending in a word that's a shade of blue, plus another song as a "revealer") and advanced solvers can appreciate, given the catchiness of the three songs. As for specificity, there may be other well-known songs which also fit the theme, but I couldn't think of any right off the bat.
Long fill. Often the best source of added snazz is 8+ letter fill. Amy has some nice stuff here, GETTYSBURG and ARE WE ALONE (although I would have preferred to see a clue like "Secretive whisper" to get more specific about its usage). But she also incorporates some shorter good stuff: ST PETER, WOE IS ME, RUB IT IN, and HAR HAR. Nice.
Surrounding fill. This is the category that makes Mondays so difficult to create. A late week puzzle often must use an esoteric or crosswordese entry to hold the grid together. In my own late-week puzzles I've often had to let the likes of an OEO pass because of tough grid constraints. That's usually fine for a late-week solver, but it can badly trip up the novice solver. Amy has filled her grid professionally, with just a couple of the lesser uglies: ENNE, PHYS, ESE, STDS, GSA. GIDE is an outlier for a Monday, but the crosses are all common words and the Nobelist Andre Gide is gridworthy. I also appreciate Amy's use of a set of black "cheater squares" at the very NW and SE. As Patrick Berry has said, he'll always choose to incorporate cheater squares if that means the surrounding fill is of higher quality.
Cluing. It's tough to come up with fun and tricky cluing on a Monday, because that usually makes it too difficult for the novice solver. There's nothing spectacular here, but nothing too tricky for its own good. A slight ding is the sheer length of the clue for SINGING THE BLUES. It would have been nice to concatenate that somehow, maybe "Soulful activity describing the ends of 16-, 27-, 49-across"?
Looking forward to more work from Amy. P.S. There sadly is no ZigZag, Shazbot, or Commander Chewie in universe of NYT xw solvers. But there should be.
– puzzle by Amy Johnson
Beautiful puzzle today. To continue my climbing analogy from last week's Saturday puzzle, I looked at this puzzle's teenty-tiny holds, slopers, and near-nothing features, and I quaked. Sure, I fell at times as I made my way up, but I fought through each of the tricky spots, taking a few rests to figure out how to move past a certain section, and came away slapping the top anchors with a triumphant yell. It stretched me in such a way that I wanted to take a picture of it (yes, I take pictures of great gym routes) to bottle the feeling of struggling mightily but ultimately managing to accomplish the near impossible.
Byron is a master at the challenging Saturday grid, a skill that few constructors have honed to his level. He's the 3rd most published Saturday author in the Shortz era, behind only the great Rich Norris (now the editor of the LA Times crossword) and the mystical/magical Patrick Berry. And Byron gives us a constructor's clinic with this puzzle. Two double-stacks, both with interesting answers and (mostly) squeaky-clean crossings, accompanying solid short fill through the puzzle's midsection, makes for a masterful construction. It's amazing how clean all the crossings through the double-stacks are; a real rarity. Only ENS and OEO as your (very minor) dings? You gotta be kidding me.
And it's not often I'm SO impressed with a puzzle's cluing, but the "Large monitors" clue was fantastic; same with "Tip used for icing". For the latter, I kept pounding my head, swearing at Byron for likely tossing some sort of ridiculous esoteric baking tool into the puzzle. When I finally hit on SILENCER, a big smile came to my face.
Brilliant. How could I not name this stonker co-Puzzle of the Week?
– puzzle by Byron Walden
It's a thing of beauty to imagine a flock of MIGRATING/GEESE flying straight overhead (I would have preferred MIGRATING/GEESE or MIGRATING/BIRDS over GEESE/MIGRATION, as the latter feels slightly stilted as a phrase). All crosswords are works of art in their own right, but this one I could imagine up on someone's wall.
Will and Joel's notes about the relative thinness of theme are well-taken, and I would have liked to see something else — not sure what though. V SIGN would be cool, but it would also throw a loose V into the puzzle (or require a "????V" theme answer to preserve mirror symmetry). So I like Joel's compromise of making the rest of the puzzle a quasi-themeless, giving us such great stuff as the long fill Will mentioned. I also appreciate the cluing, which felt Joel-ish (more modern than average). Neat when the constructor's cluing vibe comes through.
KISLEV...I scratched my head when I ran into it while solving. I polled a few Jewish friends afterward, and indeed KISLEV is important because of its relation to Hanukkah, so I'm glad to have learned it. But IYAR, ELUL, and SIVAN, you're on notice.
This puzzle gets my POW! but let me tell you, we have a couple of stonkers coming up. Gareth Bain assures me that "stonker" means "something good". It's possible he's pulling my leg, but I like the word too much not to use it. "Stonker of the Week", that's catchy.
– puzzle by Joel Fagliano
The difficulty of the construction might not jump out at you because of the excellent execution, but this perimeter theme arrangement is a bear. Most recently, the legendary Liz Gorski did it on a Sunday puzzle and commented on the challenge. Such degree of interlock in the corners places high constraints on the grid, making each corner an individual nightmare to fill.
But Tom and Victor have done it well, even incorporating such great long stuff as SIAMESE CAT, SHIPSHAPE, DEATH STAR, and GO TO SLEEP. The SW corner is especially smooth, I appreciate how much care they've put into it. If AGRI is your only blip (and it's an awfully minor one) I call that a giant success.
To be sure, there are signs of the construction challenge in the AMIGA/GALOP area and the obsolete GMAC, but those are very small prices to pay. And I would bet Tom and Victor tried many other entries in place of I AM A CAMERA before settling on it. Note the alternating vowel-consonant-vowel-consonant (repeat) pattern, which often makes construction easier, especially when surrounding fill like SIDED exhibits the same pattern. I AM A CAMERA not a first-rate answer, but it does its job. Such is the difficulty in incorporating long fill with this sort of perimeter themed puzzle.
There are more nice puzzles coming up this week, but this innovative and beautifully executed xw gets my POW!
– puzzle by Tom Pepper and Victor Barocas
JEFF: Hello from down the road (Mike and I both live in Seattle)! Brilliant meta with a great theme reveal, F-E-E-L T-H-E L-O-V-E formed in Braille rectangles, using O's as the Braille dots. How did you come up with the idea?
MIKE: Pretty much the same way I come up with every idea: in a highly disjointed manner. I was just thinking about how puzzle hunt people are probably the second largest group of consumers of Braille other than people with real sight issues and those who cater to them. Then I thought that a puzzle could use O's to represent Braille dots in a boxed array, and then it was one more leap to "O = love" (as in tennis).
JEFF: It must have been a bear to construct, given that there are no other O's in the puzzle. Elegant. What was the toughest section to fill, given that heavy constraint?
MIKE: So, you might think it was the lower left which had TOUCH TONE PHONE and CONTACT POISONS, which are loaded with O's in specific spots. But that actually just meant those were ordinary theme entries. The upper right was a monster to construct. The two theme entries had no O's, but were stacked with non-theme entries with O's in very specific spots. That section got rewritten multiple times. I had other entries in PRESS SECRETARY's spot: MASCARA BRUSHES (wrong format), FINGER PAINTING (not the best verb meaning "touch"). Nothing really worked till I came up with PRESS SECRETARY. Then it all eventually came together. Eventually.
JEFF: Funny, I was just about to say that TOUCH TONE PHONE must have been tough to incorporate, given that the O's had to be locked into certain places. For me, that was the best theme answer; perfect for the meta. Did it take a lot of brainstorming to come up with FEEL THE LOVE as the meta-answer? What were some of the other metas you considered?
MIKE: I can't find a version of the puzzle without FEEL THE LOVE. I did spend a long time wondering what the puzzle would say, but I didn't start laying down any tracks until I knew how the train worked. One other thing though: I have an entire version of this puzzle with no theme entries whatsoever, just the Braille boxes and the central instruction. I think there are people out there who would prefer the themeless version, since they don't appreciate a grid that's highly constrained. I didn't like it, though. You need a reason for all that activity, in my opinion, and the theme entries provided it.
JEFF: Totally agreed, especially for the NYT audience. It would have been cool without the theme answers, but things like PRESS SECRETARY and TOUCH TONE PHONE add another layer of elegance. That raises a question I wondered about while solving — at Lone Shark Games, you're typically creating puzzle hunts for an uber-puzzle-geek, someone who's entrenched in puzzles and metas. Did you want to make this contest harder? Was there some back and forth with Will on the question of difficulty?
MIKE: Right, I'm associated with super-hard stuff as a rule. I guess that informed why I've not had standard crosswords in the Times before. I'm always trying to make things with lots of layers. The Maze of Games is really just a giant interconnected web; the Puzzlecraft book is an attempt to tell a narrative about puzzle construction. So of course I came at this with an "all the things!" approach. Will pretty much let me roam unchecked, which made some people very happy and some people not so happy. I guess my primary goal was to make Will happy, which he was.
JEFF: Would you have preferred to make it harder? Did you feel like you had to keep yourself in check for the audience? Or is this about the level of difficulty that you typically put into a metapuzzle? And on a separate note, can you give us an update on The Maze of Games (drooling)?
MIKE: Nah, it definitely didn't want to be harder. I mean, there was a version with *no* boxes. But that was inscrutable. This hit what I wanted. Now, please stop drooling on my internet. The Maze of Games is almost done in layout; I'm down in LA right now going through approvals. It looks just gorgeous; Pete Venters and Elisa Teague did some stunning work. We are about to try to beat every blemish out of the main section of the book in a major round of playtesting. Then we will turn our attention to gussying up the Conundrucopia section, which has some major luminaries like yourself in it.
JEFF: (wiping drool) Lucky for us, there are six other Intertubes we can use to communicate. Anything else you'd like solvers or constructors to know about this puzzle? And what's next for Mike Selinker? Will we see more NYT xws or is this a one-time thing?
MIKE: I have to thank Will and Deb Amlen and the crew for being willing to take a chance on something this new and bizarre. They were braced for a hurricane of feedback based on this puzzle, and they definitely got it. But I think they thought it was worth it. I hope I can return the favor when Will and company see how awesome their puzzles look in The Maze of Games, alongside Patrick Berry, Scott Kim, and so many other puzzle heroes of mine. As for me, I'm going to continue to treat the New York Times as the greatest puzzle canvas in history. You don't sully it with lesser work. If and only if I have something that's worth painting on that canvas, I'll submit it. I can't guarantee it, but I hope that's someday soon.
JEFF: Amen to that, brother. When I first started constructing, I threw pretty much any crazy idea I had at Will, and he gave me great feedback (and very politely asked me to send only three at a time). Took me a while to realize that not just anything can make its way into the NYT. Hopefully other constructors can learn from your well-considered philosophy and only submit their very best stuff. Good luck to you and I'll look forward to receiving my copy of the Maze of Games!
MIKE: Thanks, Jeff. This has been a fun and thoughtful dialogue, and I hope people have enjoyed it. I'll go out on this email I just got from a fan named Lewis: "Letterboxes was the most moving puzzle I have ever done. By decoding the Braille, I felt like I had more empathy, just a bit, for what it must be like learning Braille and first using it; and by learning something about its history, I appreciated something of the care and even love that went into its development. This link between the process of experiencing a work of art and the message of the art itself is something one sees mainly in great poetry." I don't know about the poetry part, but I think the empathy part is bang-on. We are lucky people to be able to experience life to the fullest, to spend time imagining ourselves with the difficulties that others experience. If this puzzle had a little touch of that for anyone else, then I'm so glad I constructed it.
JEFF: I'll wrap up on my side by saying what a cool e-mail from Lewis. Neat how much puzzles can enhance people's lives! And that I might have a slight man crush on you. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
– puzzle by Mike Selinker
Monday puzzles are often derided by expert solvers as boring or tedious, so having a theme which is different (or does something to entertain) is important in order to satisfy a large range of solvers. In today's puzzle, I had to look back at the theme answers when I was done to figure out how they all tied together, and the fact that Gary hid the theme words in plain view (see highlighted words, which describe a touchdown play) brought a smile to my face.
Additionally, Monday puzzles are perhaps the most difficult to make, because the constructor cannot rely on using ORTs or spreading OLEO in order to complete a tough section. A perfect Monday puzzle should be super smooth, enough for the novice solver to not get too discouraged (by thinking they must learn a foreign language including ORTS and OLEO) and also have a reasonable chance of finishing. Will and I may disagree on the last point, but I maintain that creating early-week puzzles which new solvers can achieve the "I finished the NYT crossword!" high is important for the future of crosswords.
So let's look at Gary's fill. Not only does he keep the crosswordese to a minimum (AMAH being the misdemeanor), but he gives us a ton of 7-letter fill including RAKES IN, DIETERS, and HELLUVA. I'm with Will on ROULADE, it's something interesting to learn (and tasty!). AGORA I'm less positive on, but since it's an important feature of Greek history and we still see its influence in the word AGORAPHOBIA, it's legit.
Gary obviously put a lot of time and care into this puzzle. A great start to the week.
– puzzle by Gary Cee
From a construction standpoint, this grid may not look like much. Four pairs of intersecting theme answers and four 4-letter words, what's the big deal, right? Consider this: because eight of Damon's theme answers are short (three, four, or five letters), that means he had to incorporate longer fill in order to obey the 78 word limit. His grid has six long fill slots, and he populated them with OSCAR NODS, NIGHT OWL, TIGHT WAD, ART TATUM (one of my favorite pianists), STRATEGO, ODD OR EVEN, all snazzy entries. Six out of six! Talk about sticking the landing.
To be fair, as with any puzzle there are slight compromises. Some solvers might find the UNEVIE/ACELA crossing unfair, and DORR isn't as nice a theme answer as the much more natural PORT, CORP, and MORT. But these are minor issues, ones easily overshadowed by the puzzle's overall excellence.
Finally, David Steinberg uncovered perhaps the first Schrödinger puzzle in the NYT. Amazing what David has turned up in his pre-Shortzian efforts. Please save a job for me for when you take over the world, David. Er, Mr. Steinberg.
– puzzle by Damon Gulczynski
Ah, the beauty of the cluing. Jim and I were both amazed at the cleverness behind "It opens during the fall". Such a wonderful example of the wordplay that has helped define the Shortz era themeless. And "Fall fallout, some believe" clue echoes the word "fall", giving a touch of elegance.
Finally, let's look at the inclusion of "Scrabbly" letters, notably J, Q, X, Z which are usually the hardest to incorporate. They often make a puzzle stand out, because the difficulty of puzzle-filling is proportional (more or less) to the number of Scrabbly letters. Josh uses four of these, plus five Ks, yet still manages to pull off great triple-stacks. Well done!
Final note: Matt Ginsberg, friend and creator of Dr. Fill (crossword-solving AI), warned me that having a POW! might cause six constructors sadness because their puzzle didn't get chosen that week. My intent is always to be a positive force for crosswords, so let me emphasize that we've had a lot of really good puzzles this week (and wait until you do tomorrow's!). I'll continue to use the POW! to recognize what I personally see as excellence above and beyond.
– puzzle by Josh Knapp
Ian incorporates several marquee answers to bring a smile to solvers' faces (BOBBLE HEAD, MAC N CHEESE, EPIC WIN, etc.), with a minimum of subpar entries (if ES SU and ENE are your worst entries, that's a tremendous success). Most notably, look at the wide-open NE and SW sections, big 6x5 blocks of white space that typically require an ugly answer or two to fill. I often shudder when faced with these types of cavernous areas, usually having to redo the section two or three dozen times before I get something even passable. Ian's are impeccably executed, not a stinker amongst them, and he even managed to work in BRAPADS and RWANDA, a call-out to his seed entry.
Speaking of that, I really enjoy learning what a constructor used to seed a themeless puzzle. I expect that some people are going to gripe about JUBA because they've never heard of it, but I think it's a perfect example of something I was glad to learn about.
Final note: great to hear Ian's comment about SIDESHOW BOB. Kudos to him for this decision; it's really tough as a constructor to give up on an answer you love, but it's the right thing to do if it means coming up with better overall fill. This willingness is one factor that separates the great constructors from the rest.
– puzzle by Ian Livengood