Jeff Chen's "Puzzle of the Week" selections with his commentspow

showing 25 out of 155 POW selections from 8/19/2015 to 1/26/2016

Click the links above to see these puzzles organized by constructor, or to try solving them.

POW Tue 1/26/2016

★ Timely puzzle, a tribute to DAVID / BOWIE. I like it when tribute puzzles have some added layer or are understated, so this one worked great for me. I didn't see GROUND / CONTROL / TO / MAJOR / TOM coming until I hit DAVID / BOWIE, for a nice a-ha. It's a memorable snippet from arguably Bowie's most recognizable song; a lovely way to remember a man who made such huge contributions to pop music and pop culture in general.

Sam has his own indie puzzle site, and it tends to run a bit too crude or "bro" for me, so I like the more subtle personal touches he put on this puzzle. I HEAR YA sounds so much like Sam, and the clues ["Well, aren't you something!"] for LADIDA and [Yes ‘n no"] for KINDA also carry his voice. Entries like NUMLOCK give the puzzle a younger, fresher feel, and starting the puzzle with YUKS is so pleasing. Well done.

Speaking of TO TASTE though, I don't really want to hear about diarrhea in my puzzle. I appreciate how beneficial IMODIUM is, but it wouldn't be at the top of my personal list to include in a puzzle.

Otherwise, nice and clean work. The only piece of fill that stuck out was IT ON, and that looks necessary given that IPOD NANO runs through three themers, and that north section is very constrained by two themers along its bottom. Just a minor ding, especially considering how much theme material there is.

I would have loved if DAVID BOWIE had been the final theme answer, so the a-ha moment would have come later — and seeing BOWIE to the left of DAVID was odd — but it's tough to squeeze in so much theme. If you can split up a themer into two parts like DAVID / BOWIE, it does give you more flexibility in a grid layout.

I've heard some solvers accuse constructors of morbidly pre-making a puzzle to commemorate a celeb's death — that's some bizarre thinking — but rest assured that this one was constructed afterward and swapped in at the last minute. As I understand it, it's not easy to go through the NYT's logistical process to do this, so I'm glad they did. Very nice tribute.

POW Sat 1/23/2016

★ Beautiful construction. I'm still surprised at how few constructors use giant chunks of black squares in "stair" shapes. Tim Croce turned me onto this idea a few years ago, telling me how they can make wide-open constructions immensely easier — nibbling away at the spaces you have to fill turns out to be a gigantic help.

Mister Fantastic, aka Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four

Low-word count puzzles tend to be dry, with a lot of neutral filler to hold them together, but not today. Very impressive to see GUIDERAIL stacked above REAGANOMICS and KINDA… SORTA… Running FAMOUS AMOS and GOSSAMER through that big NE corner makes it even more stunning.

Years ago, a friend and I submitted a themeless with ZOE SALDANA at 1-Across, but Will felt we had made the puzzle too name-heavy, which could turn off a large chunk of solvers. It made sense — back then I was admittedly worried that Saldana wouldn't be well-known enough to make many solvers happy. But now she's a real star, featured in several blockbusters. I bet I'll get some reader mail grousing about her crossing with LEDA and its tough clue, but I think Saldana's someone important enough that if a NYT solver doesn't know her, he/she really should.

The Marvel Universe fascinates me, so I liked Mister Fantastic's debut. I would have loved it if it hadn't been in the odd-looking MR. form, and if it had a more interesting clue; something to entice people to look him up — his two Harvard Ph.D.s by the age of 22, his ability to change his structure into a near-fluid state, that he's on the autism spectrum ... okay, I'm a dork, but Marvel has created some complicated, multi-faced characters.

At 45 black squares, this themeless gets onto our "most black squares" list. I'm mixed on the effect. My initial impression was that there was a ton of white space eaten away. But the wide-open "X" shape is pretty cool-looking.

Overall, I really enjoyed the puzzle, a fantastic amount of sparkly fill worked into a wide-open grid, with just some ICER, GAMA (feels odd with the DA), ILS, SIGNEE (man, did I want that to be SIGNER) crossword glue. Impressive work.

POW Tue 1/12/2016

★ Very cool idea, names of fashion designers hidden within phrases (highlighted below), with INTERIOR DESIGNER as a perfect revealer. I'm a little tired of the "same word hidden in four different phrases" theme type, but it's a different story when four different (but related) words are hidden.


It's especially neat when the hidden words are pretty tough to hide, i.e. 4+ letters or ones that contain tricky letter sequences. Finding ARMANI within FARM ANIMALS is a great discovery, and the KL in KLEIN makes it tough to identify a phrase across which KLEIN can span. I thought ANKLE INJURY was the weakest of the themers since I hear "sprained ankle" or "twisted ankle" much more frequently, but it is something you see in the sports pages.

With wide 16x15 grids, it's important to keep the solver's attention. So I appreciate C.C.'s (Zhouqin's) efforts to work in BITTER END, STEADY JOB, OSCAR NOD, even things like BOCELLI, GOOGLED, DELAWARE, TOLD YA. All makes for a more interesting solving experience.

I wondered if the MUSCAT/BOCELLI crossing would trip people up, although I think it's perfectly fair. NYT solvers are expected to know, or at least recognize world capitals. And BOCELLI being one of the most famous opera tenors of all time means a NYT solver really ought to know him.

The ALOMAR / LEDA crossing was more questionable for me. On one hand, Roberto ALOMAR is in the Hall of Fame, one of the most storied second basemen in baseball history. On the other hand, I feel for people who grouse about crosswords having way too much baseball in them. And LEDA, the Queen of Sparta, is a toughie even for this Greek mythology lover.

There's also too much of the S STAR (feels like cheating what with the two starting Ss), ENL, ITI, OEDS (odd to pluralize it), AMT, SRA for my taste, but that's the price to pay of working in so much good long fill into a puzzle with five long themers. If I had my druthers, I'd like to see fewer gluey bits at the expense of not as much nice long fill, but I can appreciate the balance C.C. struck.

Very nice theme concept with a perfect revealer.


★ Patrick is one of my favorite people in the puzzle business. His cartoon art is right up my alley, and there's something to his humor that reminds me of my days of reading MAD Magazine (those days being yesterday, today, and tomorrow). Perhaps that's because he's contributed to MAD!

What, Me Worry?

Today's puzzle has that flavor, with "what they said" followed by "what they really meant." I smiled at pols saying "No new taxes!" but thinking JUST MORE OF THE OLD ONES. My favorite was "I'll slow this country's spread of drugs!" really meaning EXPECT CUTS IN MEDICARE.

I did find the last one to be not like the others, though. As much as I'd love to see a politician with the humility to say IVE GOT A LOT TO LEARN, that sensibility doesn't fit with the other five themers, nor does it carry a humorous bent. Still, 5/6 ain't bad.

Sunday 140-words puzzles are incredibly tough to build smoothly. Even for an uber-pro like Patrick, finishing with some gluey bits like A DRAG (partial), RNAS (not really pluralized in real life), SETHS (plural names aren't very elegant), LST (tough acronym, especially for younger solvers), A BAN (partial) is par for the course.

What helped me brush those aside was some really fun cluing:

  • Who knew that Winnie the Pooh was introduced by AA MILNE as Edward Bear?
  • Ian Fleming was a fan of James BOND, the ornithologist? Another great piece of trivia.
  • I love me some bridge, so a [Bridge table foursome] being LEGS was fun.
  • STRAYS may be measured by the pound. The dog pound, that is.
  • SANDERS are used in the evening — the evening of boards.
  • [Put on a nonpolitical button, say] was perfect for this puzzle, misdirecting away from SEW.

A really fun solving experience for me, the humor in the theme and the clever cluing far outweighing the small dabs of glue here and there.

POW Tue 12/29/2015

★ I was so amused by this puzzle. Something so fun and chuckle-worthy about telling an airline to KEEP IT UP! Same goes for telling a charcoal salesman YOU'RE ON FIRE! Sure, some might be a little tortured to fit its "compliment receiver," but I loved the kookiness. Plus, I felt really good after solving this crossword. There's something to be said about a puzzle's positive theme imparting an uplifting feeling.

That doesn't look dangerous at all ...

I admit I hitched upon the first themer, wondering what fruit had anything to do with NOT BAD AT ALL (nothing). Thankfully, each subsequent themer worked great for me, and by the end of the puzzle I knew this was POW! material.

Some of the themers are short (just seven letters), but packing six themers in is tough. Jeff did a really nice job of alternating his themers side to side and spacing them out, so he could lay out a skeleton that used a good amount of snazzy fill. TRAMPOLINE and BARREL ROLL would be sufficient, but working in LAMBADA / SPLASHY / OCTOPI / LOW RES made for even more of a bonus.

I also liked how Jeff introduced KWAME and CAM'RON to the Shortz era. Both names were mysteries to me, but I was still able to solve the puzzle since Jeff made all the crossings easy, setting me up for a win. That left me happy to go look these two up. I like old-school rap, so it was neat to read up on CAM'RON, who got a leg up with a nod from the Notorious B.I.G. himself.

I imagine some daily solvers will grouse about having to learn yet another rapper, but with super-fair crossings and interesting stories to be learned, I have no sympathy for the kvetchers.

The themers were a bit loose — seems like you could do this type of theme with dozens of compliments and their "recipients" — but I loved the kookiness as well as the STELLAR execution. It's one of my great pleasures to compliment people when they excel, so it makes me smile to give Jeff this POW! Super job (he said to the building fixit person).

POW Sun 12/27/2015BINARY CODE

★ Loved this puzzle. C.C. (Zhouqin) and Don's wide range of plays on double-letters is really cool. I vaguely remembered NN as MINNESOTA TWINS from somewhere, but most of the others felt fresh. OO = the Os in ONION RINGS ("rings" within ONION) is such a clever find. PP = the central letters of SHOPPING CENTER. AA = NCAA FINALS, i.e. the final letters of NCAA. So many different discoveries, all using in-the-language phrases!

Boris and NATASHA

LEADOFF DOUBLE did throw me for a second — shouldn't "leadoff" mean that the double letters are at the front of the word? — but after thinking about it, it's just that the FF is a "double" within LEADOFF. It works, but the unintentional mislead made me feel like it was the weakest of the bunch.

But I'll pause here to repeat how much I loved the idea and the nine themers.

The execution was very nice, too. A 140-word puzzle is so tough to cleanly and snazzily fill, especially when you have nine themers. Not much long fill, but what great usage of their 7-letter slots. HALFCAF, AIR FARE, OH GREAT, LUDDITE, NATASHA (with a clue from "Rocky and Bullwinkle"!) = all wonderful entries. I wasn't sure what SANGRITA was (sangria, anyone?) but I don't drink much besides beer and scotch these days.

A great majority of the time, I see too much glue in NYT Sunday crosswords for my taste. It's understandable, as a 140-word puzzle is just really darn hard to put together without some glue. So to keep it to really minor ENS, EST, INTL, SPEE kind of stuff is excellent work. I really dislike DNAS, since it and RNA are rarely pluralized outside crosswords, but that's the only real standout.

Again, incredibly fun idea with a wide range of findings for those double letters. One of my favorite Sunday puzzles of the year.

POW Thu 12/17/2015

★ There seem to be two camps when it comes to rebuses — the haters and the lovers. Given that there have been SO many rebuses, I lean slightly toward the former side, but I really like when a rebus is not just a rebus. David's interpretation of DIE + DIE = DICE made for a highly entertaining solve.

It is a truth universally acknowledged ...

Not only was the concept really fun, but I loved David's selection of themers. BO(DICE) RIPPERS was my favorite, evoking images of Harlequin Romance covers. PRIDE AND PREJU(DICE), CAN(DICE) BERGEN, and LONG ISLAN(D ICE)D TEA are all great picks, too. It would have been nice to get one more where DICE was broken — perhaps COME(DIC E)FFECT or NOMA(DIC EMPIRE)? — but there are a very limited number of phrases breaking like that. And a second D / ICE break would be tough, since not much starts with ICE that wouldn't have the same etymology as ICED.

I also liked how David only used DIE once by itself in the fill, in DIE OUT. Hiding the rebuses in RUSH(DIE), (DIE)TS, GRENA(DIE)R avoids duplications. With so rebus-filled entries required for this puzzle, it's impressive to not dupe DIE.

I also liked the big, open corners in the NE / SW. Sometimes this sort of thing is optional, but today David used so many black squares in the middle of his grid — necessary to partition all the various DIE entries — that he was forced to keep the corners wide open. They came out generally well, with some nice long stuff like INCENSED and ABROGATE, with very few gluey entries like ASSOC.

I wasn't a fan of the lower right corner. Yes, there's a lot to work around with two DIE answers and a relatively big corner, but HEIL … yikes. Maybe I've grown too sensitive over the years. At least clue it to "The Producers" or something? And A DUE / ASA / CTRL / TSURIS are all fine(ish) on their own, but they sure pile up in that corner.

Perhaps a little too easy for a Thursday puzzle, but it sure provided me with a lot of entertainment. Well done.

POW Wed 12/9/2015

★ I haven't loved a Wednesday puzzle this much since one of Jacob's a few months ago. He has such a nice puzzle voice, flavored by poetry, world history, literature, and foreign languages. Today's reveal was so cool — finding out BARAK, ÉCLAIR, and BLITZ all meant LIGHTNING in foreign languages was one of those "I can't wait to share this with someone!" moments. Somewhere in the back of my head I knew about BLITZ ("blitzkrieg" meaning "lightning war") but the others were new.

EHUD BARAK of Israel

I did wonder about EHUD BARAK. That's a tough name to piece together, especially crossing another proper name, Pablo NERUDA. With only 450K Google hits, some might argue that BARAK isn't worthy of being a feature entry. I can understand that perspective, but I think major world leaders should all be fair game. And given his necessity in making the theme work (can you think of anyone else famous with the name BARAK?), my conviction that it's fine is even stronger.

The BIRMINGHAM BLITZ wasn't familiar to me, but it's such a colorful name with an interesting WWII clue that I wanted to look it up. Given that this was just one of many bombing attacks during WWII, I don't think I would feature this entry in a themeless grid, but it works as part of today's theme.

There wasn't a lot of long fill today, but EXIT VISA and I SUPPOSE are bonuses. And Jacob pushes his 6-letter fill to do a lot of the work in making the grid colorful — AFL-CIO, BEAM UP with a Star Trek clue, Catherine of ARAGON, MOSHED all pepped up my solving experience.

I don't love seeing the DTS, which sounds pretty old-timey, but that's minor. Terrific execution on short fill.

Even if there had been less colorful long fill or a few more gluey bits, I still would have picked this one as the Puzzle of the Week. I love it when a crossword theme wows me.

POW Thu 12/3/2015

★ Neat idea, requiring two steps to figure out what was going on. After uncovering the IV in the central themer, I had a feeling Roman numerals were somehow involved, but it was a neat a-ha to discover that IV was interpreted as FOUR, which is part of FLAGS O(F OUR) FATHERS. Sort of a multiple-square rebus in a way, but also sticking to the usual one-letter-per-square criterion. I can't remember seeing something quite like this since Francis Heaney's incredible FLAG DAY puzzle, so I really enjoyed the novelty.

AZIZ Ansari

I've fixed up the database entries below, so you can see exactly what the themers are, post-decoding.

Because the idea was so interesting, I liked getting five themers, each one a treat to figure out. It was nice that Patrick managed to work in a little bonus fill too, TRUE GRIT being an incredible movie (and book — highly recommended!) and PELICANS pretty colorful too.

I would have liked more order in the themers, though. While having a random set of numbers (not in sequence) does make the puzzle even more challenging, the idea of going from I to II to III to IV to V (in order) is so appealing. I suppose THREE is a pretty tough string to incorporate into a phrase, as is FIVE. Even having random numbers but going in ascending order would be nice.

I also would have liked the four corners to be less cut off from the rest of the puzzle. The NW and SE are better, since two answers flow into each, but the top right and the bottom left have only one entry in. Although I love AZIZ Ansari ("Master of None" was a surprisingly moving series), I can see how that corner, especially the crossing with ZZZ, might cause some solvers to get really stuck and frustrated. Interesting fact that [Last entry in the Random House Unabridged Dictionary] is ZZZ — "a representation of the sound made by somebody sleeping or snoring, often used in cartoons." Curious that it's actually recognized as a word!

Loved the concept here, and as with most all of Patrick's puzzle, strong execution. Very enjoyable trick to uncover.

ADDED NOTE: Patrick mentioned that he had a different "order" in mind — one "trick" square in the first themer, followed by one, two, two , and then three. Clever idea; lulling the solver into thinking that maybe there was just a normal rebus going on.

POW Mon 11/23/2015

★ I have the good fortune of living near Parker, so we meet up every other month or so. Nice to be in an area with many fellow puzzle people! Parker showed me an earlier version of this puzzle, and I remember being impressed by the idea. It's so fun to see FIFTH, FOURTH, THIRD … and then not get SECOND and FIRST! Cool to have another completely natural sequence-completer in HALF and WHOLE; one which was unexpected.


I also remember feeling like there were too many gluey bits in his earlier grid, so it was a relief to see Parker's final product. Not only is the crunchy stuff limited to the very minor LIRE, STS, SGTS, but Parker also worked in quite a bit of long fill. This is important, since the larger-than-normal grid (16x15), must captive the solver for that much longer. Uncovering bonus entries like NICE ONE, ALOHA STATE, STILL LIFES, EDIT MENU, ICE CREAM (yum!), AIRLIFT, even OCULUS Rift (one of the leading virtual reality headset companies) kept me entertained. Quite a nice construction, especially considering just having five themers is hard enough.

As Parker and I discussed his redo, I mentioned that the FIFTH ELEMENT was the weakest themer, since 1.) it omits "The" from the title and 2.) my guess is that it won't reach "classic" status. I thought there had to be something better. Could have been FIFTH WHEEL, FIFTH AVENUE, FIFTH COLUMN, but finding a "WHOLE ___" phrase with a matching length made it tricky. I liked WHOLE FOODS paired with FIFTH WHEEL, but WHOLE SHEBANG does make for a great final themer.

Nice to get a few insider's nods, with MASAI (Parker did Peace Corps in Africa a few years ago) and APP (he recently got a job as an ioS app developer).

A theme that cleverly misdirects + is accessible to novices + a smooth and meaty grid = a beauty of a Monday puzzle.

POW Thu 11/19/2015

★ I loved this concept, AUTOCOMPLETE interpreted as AUTO-COMPLETE. Just delightful to scratch my head, knowing that SOLAR PLEXUS had to fit in somehow but unsure how to accomplish that. Great finds in KATHIE LEE GIF(FORD), SOLAR P(LEXUS), HELP ME R(HONDA), ANNO DO(MINI).

Cutting edge TOPIARY

I unfortunately didn't care for STRING T(RIO), as it 1.) wasn't a general car make like the others (Kia is the make, Rio is the model — what, no SLOVA(KIA)?) and 2.) I grew up playing cello in STRING QUARTETS. I can't remember ever playing in STRING TRIO — classically, it's so often two violins, a viola, and a cello. STRING TRIO is a valid thing, but to me it's just not nearly as strong as the others.

BELON(G TO) was also weaker in my eyes, as I felt like that entry didn't match the snazziness of SOLAR P(LEXUS) and the others. And as Andrew mentioned, the mix of makes and models felt inelegant.

That said, I still loved this idea and most of the execution. It would be so cool if electronic solvers had the LEXUS automatically filled in upon entering the SOLARP string!

Pretty darn good execution, too. I liked getting FAN CLUBS, SPONGE BOB, and especially TOPIARY. [Clip art?] might be one of my favorite clues of the year. Nice to BEEF UP the puzzle with a dash of long stuff.

Some will grumble about the ENIAC / NOYES and HOLI / ILE crossings. The ENIAC was an important part of computing history, and NOYES is a famous author, so that one feels perfectly fine to me. Having a lot of Indian friends, I'm very familiar with Diwali, but HOLI is tough. I had to concentrate on that one square, wondering what the Marquises were. Thankfully, only ILE looked reasonable, so in the end, I thought it was fair, too.

A few minor hiccups in choice of themers for me, but a huge thumbs up to such a cool idea, well-executed.

POW Fri 11/13/2015

★ In an effort to spread around Puzzle of the Week awards, I've recently held Patrick to an impossibly high standard. So many of his themelesses could have been a no-brainer POW choice — almost all of them are that good — but I can usually find some minor nit to pick, some point of critique that us mere mortals can learn from.

Not today. It's a great feeling to be able to gush over a PB puzzle, even as I compare it against his own lofty standards!

Good ol' HONES TA BE

What really sold me on this one was those daunting NW and SE regions. Almost no one quad-stacks entries these days, because it's so difficult to fill them cleanly and colorfully. Usually there's some crossing answer which causes a groan, or some answer within the stack which is pretty neutral at best.

Patrick doesn't just use a (quasi-)quad-stack today — he RUNS LONG ANSWERS THROUGH THEM. Not only that, but he DOESN'T SEGMENT THESE CORNERS FROM THE REST OF THE PUZZLE, which usually people need to do in order to pull this off. Such beautiful grid flow.

I never work with these sorts of gargantuan swaths of white space. They're just too hard to execute on. So it's stunning to see all the snazzy material, all pulled off with the usual PB uber-cleaninless. Take the bottom right. SHOULDER STRAP / WHITE FLAG / HONEST ABE / IN ESSENCE is great enough by itself. (So challenging to parse HONESTABE, which I thought was some football player #16, HONES ????) Run IT'S A PLANE through that all, along with no gluey crossing entries = amazing.

Same goes for the upper left. RICE A RONI, BLENDED IN, SAY CHEESE, DEEP SEA DIVERS, with ACEY DEUCY running through them (and no junky fill). Dang, that's incredible.

FILLIP was a tough word for me and I don't know I'd ever use it to replace "bonus," but I liked learning it. AQUIVER doesn't sound as good to me as ALL AQUIVER, but it's no problem.

The only complaint I had was that PB's puzzles as of late have been so wide-open, so difficult to start, that I've found them much harder than any other Friday puzzle. Maybe Saturday would be a better slot.

Some of my friends call PB the Crossword Jesus, and it's puzzles like this that justify that name.

POW Mon 11/2/2015

"It's a TRAP!"

As I solved, I picked up the theme pretty quickly from PADDED and MIRACLE, and I confirmed it upon hitting PUSH UP. I was expecting a ho-hum BRA to be tucked in as a revealer somewhere, so what a pleasure to uncover the great punchline — I laughed out loud when I hit BOOBY TRAP. This is a puzzle where the theme alone (from two female authors) makes it an easy puzzle of the week choice for me.

I'd normally go into detail about how Loren and Acme could have incorporated more long fill as colorful as ODDSMAKER and avoided gluey bits like A STAR and SYM. But the laugh I got outweighed all those little details, so I'm not going to go into depth in analyzing the nits today. Such a fun and amusing crossword, exactly what I want out of my five minutes on a Monday.

It might have been a little icky if a male constructor(s) had made this one, but knowing both Loren and Acme (and really enjoying their senses of humor) made it even better. Great smile on my face after solving.

POW Wed 10/28/2015

★ What a fun idea, riffing on FOOD COURT to describe edible offenders. Hilarious to think about grains of rice making payoffs to politicians. And I laughed at uncovering the BAKED BEANS (baked = high on pot). All four of the "defendants" were right on. Very well done!

For the love of God, AMADEUS!

Because the FOOD COURT in the center sort of splits the puzzle into a top and bottom half, there's not much opportunity for long fill. It's so important to make the mid-length stuff count. I think Jay and Daniel did a nice job there with WIRETAP, SNIPERS, PSYCHIC.

And what a great clue for AMADEUS: [Famous middle name that means "love of God"] Not only is it gettable for Wolfgang AMADEUS Mozart fans, but people who don't know him can work it out from the etymology trivia.

The clue for GENERAL worked well for me too: [Word in the names of two of the top 10 Fortune 500 companies]. General Electric came easily, but I had to think to get General Motors Company.

The clue for WIRETAP — [Invasive bug] — is so innocuous. Some sort of boll weevil, right? Really strong cluing in the mid-length material today.

The shorter fill did drag me down. Even with a tough arrangement of themers like today's, all I want to do is appreciate how fun the theme is without getting bogged down in gluey bits. It started in the north, with UNC and SNO together. I applaud innovating with a tin monoxide reference to SNO, but it felt like putting lipstick on a pig. There was enough ATRAS, OUSE, OPE, ENERO, MINOT, SRS stuff — all minor, but not in aggregate — that it distracted me from the neat theme.

I wish more cheater squares had been deployed, maybe where the R of RUSTS and L of LOYAL are, to smooth out the north and south. I dug the theme and mid-length fill so much that I wanted this to be a perfect puzzle.

A few years of working with Jim has evolved my thinking. Yes, the short fill bugged me, but the big question for me these days: was I delighted by the puzzle? A resounding yes for this one.

POW Sat 10/24/2015

★ Really dug this one. I like odd grid patterns, and this one has a cool-looking middle. Slant-stacks (answers on top of each other but shifted) are easier to create than straight-up stacks because the ends have fewer constraints, but they're still hard. And running EIGHT long answers through them — that's notable.

Barrel organ, sadly with no monkey

Now, Andrew doesn't have a huge number of long slots in this grid — just 13 that are 8+ letters long — and most of them are located in that tough-to-build middle section. With only 13 long slots, it's important to me to get most all of them converted into great material. Andrew delivers, with KICK ME SIGNS and BARREL ORGANS my favorites.

The only one that's neutral in my eyes is SOLVENTS, and even that could have been made into an asset with a more interesting clue. With a more esoteric chemistry answer like ENOL or AMINE, you need a straightforward clue. SOLVENTS I think is well-known enough to be fair game for a clever clue, though.

I think a great puzzle should have (assets minus liabilities > ~10), so did Andrew hold his liabilities to three or less? EROO sticks out like a sore thumb, an inelegant suffix. Hard to avoid in that tough south section, what with BEDTIME STORY, ALPINE LAKE, and DENSE FOG bordering it. But other than that … SSA is minor (Social Security Administration), and AGE ONE is iffy to me. It is an important age milestone though, so I give it a pass.

Some might complain about NIQAB — I plunked in HIJAB as I think many will — but I like how these ported words have multiple acceptable spellings.

The NW corner, which was too sectioned off from the rest of the puzzle for my taste, had the one real worry for me. As I was solving, I had 14-A [Toughen] as ?NURE. I was rooting so hard for it to be the spelling I knew from before I started crosswords: INURE (not ENURE). Whew!

Overall, enough assets to overcome the small number of liabilities, plus a cool-looking grid. A great solve.

POW Sat 10/17/2015

★ Loved this one; a perfect way to cap off my favorite theme week since the amazing Patrick Berry puzzle suite back in 2011. I've seen OUTER SPACE interpreted many ways in crosswords (phrases starting with SP and ending with ACE, having the word SPACE outside the grid, etc.) but nothing quite like this. Tim's version of OUTER / SPACE includes a ring of blanks all around the perimeter, which visually represents that "region beyond the Kármán line" (an astronomy term). So cool!

Tae Bo, anyone?

I cottoned to the idea quickly (Billy BLANKS is awesome), but what a bonus to get thematic(ish) material in what I expected to be a themeless! The quartet of CONSTELLATION, USS ENTERPRISE, LUNAR ECLIPSES, and ALIEN INVASION would be too loose for a themed puzzle, but it makes for a great mini-theme. And I'm fascinated by the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), so I liked seeing that. SOL was fun too, especially since it's the term for a Mars day. ("The Martian" was one of my favorite reads of the year so far.)

Nice execution on the 13x13 grid, too. I had a tough time recalling LAPUTA from "Gulliver's Travels" and ASSIZES made for an impossible crossing for me, but I liked it enough to ignore that blip. Getting APE SUIT and AFC EAST and some ARCANA SLOGAN ALL SET stuff was nice, all with just a FAIN to hold it together. FAIN is pretty outdated crossword to me, but since it's the only piece of short glue, I didn't mind so much.

I also liked that Tim found so many ways to clue BLANKS. It did feel repetitive to me after a while though, and given that each one of those could have been a synonym of BLANKS like EMPTIES or VOIDS, some variety might have been fun. Not having to intersect those answers with anything sure opens up a lot of freedom! I suppose there is a certain consistency and elegance to having all BLANKS, though.

A great end to this theme week; clever concept with good execution. I always like seeing constructors do crazy and unique things, and Tim's mind-bending concept is perhaps the best of the best this week.

POW Mon 10/12/2015

★ What a great start to this "breaking the mold" theme week! I'm a sucker for puzzles with visual elements, and I love Patrick's unique style of art, so this one worked very well for me. A snippet from Patrick's "Zep" bookThe theme — spoonerizing A POCKET FULL OF RYE into "a rocket full of pie" — is simple enough for a Monday and it made me laugh. Plus, Patrick's drawings are just nice to look at.

I liked how NURSERY RHYME and SPACE STATION apply to the two drawings, too — great to get some bonus theme material to flesh out the puzzle.

What with effectively five theme answers (including the big spaces for the two drawings), it's great that Patrick works in some colorful fill. There's not a lot of long stuff, just LIME TREE and STARGATE, but a dose of geography in BOGOTA, WARSAW, and LIBYA zest things up. Even the six-letter entries like EUREKA! and YES YOU serve their purpose well.

I personally dislike partials more than any other sort of glue (except random Roman numerals), so I didn't care for IF AT or AS BIG, but otherwise the puzzle is so smooth. Very well executed.

It stinks to be an Across Lite solver today (which I usually am). The puzzle makes absolutely no sense what with giant chunks of 3x3 black squares; no way to display those comic strip panels. Might have been better to just do away with the .puz file completely. Get into the 21st century already, crossword software!

Great idea to work cartoon panels into a crossword grid, something I can't remember seeing before. BTW, there's another puzzle this week that I also loved, so there'll be two POWs! this week.

POW Tue 10/6/2015

★ Today's puzzle gives us a SINKING / FEELING — four of them, actually. Fun to have four different feelings "sinking," i.e. positioned vertically. I really liked the themers, too, CARLOS SLIM my favorite. Pretty incredible that his net worth is estimated to be around 6% of Mexico's total GDP. And although he hasn't embraced philanthropic goals nearly as fully as Gates or Buffett, I do appreciate his efforts in that arena. Neat to see the wealthy giving back.

Hey, CARLOS SLIM is a fellow engineer!

As with most all of CC's puzzles, I really appreciate her long fill. Usually in puzzles with vertically oriented themers, you can't use much long across fill, for fear of confusing what's theme and what isn't. Today, the circles make it obvious what is theme, so CC takes full advantage, going hog wild with WENT TOO FAR, DANE COOK, STEAL A KISS, LET ME SEE = all very nice material. Even a little BUXOM and FEDEX add color.

For most constructors, this theme conceit would be good enough. But given how skilled CC is, I would have liked to see an extra element tying the four feelings together. How cool would it have been to have all of them from a famous quote? Or even if they were all synonyms of "sinking feeling," like LOSS, SORROW, etc. that would have been perfect. As it was, I found the inclusion of HOPE to be a bit strange. Shouldn't that one be rising?

I also would have liked SINKING FEELING to come toward the end of the puzzle. It was a bit disappointing to encounter it within the first minute of my solve, giving away the game. Perhaps a mirror symmetry arrangement would have been useful, allowing SINKING / FEELING to placed toward the bottom of the puzzle? Some themers would have had to intersect SINKING FEELING, but I bet that would have been possible.

Overall though, a nice early-week theme, and a very well-executed puzzle with added bonuses in sparkly and clean fill. I had to look up TSU — Texas Southern University — but that and RANI are awfully minor.

POW Wed 9/30/2015

★ I like this type of theme, going one step past "word that can follow." Here, we have BREAKABLES revealing that one can break a FEVER, break a RECORD, break a SWEAT, etc. Fun to think of all the disparate things that can be broken, in such different ways.


Cool layout, too. Freddie not only puts in six themers, but gives us a lot of great fill. Usually when people go up to such high theme density, it's at the cost of colorful fill. Not today! KEYNESIAN is my favorite, as macroeconomics fascinates me. Central banks and monetary policy have such a huge influence over the lives of millions, yet some economists advocate doing EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of what others insist upon. It's bizarre how little macroeconomists definitively know.

GAZILLION is really nice too. Fun and expressive word. But wait, there's more! FIRE DANCE gets wedged in too — so much strong material made for a cool bonus.

One issue for me is that "break a leg" is a colorful saying, but it's the only saying in the bunch. Made it feel like an outlier. I suppose one can break a leg, literally, but that doesn't fit with the idea of the puzzle for me.

Nice and smooth, especially given all the theme material and long fill. It's too bad that ITE and OID stick out in row nine, but they're minor. RARES seems less minor to me — it's hard to imagine any collector looking for RARES. But what else are you going to do with that R?R?S pattern going through three themers? Collateral damage from the high theme density.

EMBAR is also a funny one. It does appear to be a legit word, but the "To bar or shut in" definition makes it seem awfully bizarre. Collateral damage from the OWLET MOTH long fill.

All in all though, I really appreciated the combination of high theme density and a lot of colorful long fill.

POW Tue 9/22/2015

★ Loved this idea; three people who elicit "aahs," playfully nicknamed the WIZARD OF AAHS. One-word themers can often come out dull, but OTOLARI, er OTOLAYR, dang it! OTOLARYNGOLOGIST is a neat word. MASSAGE THERAPIST is a colorful answer as well. What a perfect pairing of 16-letter answers, both people strongly associated with AAHS.

Say AAH ...

I want to stress how much I liked this idea before I launch into my next paragraphs. Just the fact that I spent so much time thinking about the following shows how much I wanted this already neat idea to be the perfect crossword.

PYROTECHNIST. I was so convinced it was PYROTECHNICIAN that I thought rebus squares were in play. Maybe that IAN had been rebified? I had to force myself to enter the -NIST ending, my hands refusing to obey even at the very end. I totally get why Victor and Tom did this — at 14 letters, PYROTECHNICIAN doesn't match lengths with WIZARD OF OZ (10), THE WIZARD OF OZ (13), WIZARD OF AAHS (12), or THE WIZARD OF AAHS (15) — but it felt like a big compromise. Google does show 50K hits for PYROTECHNIST, so it's legit.


Additionally, pyrotechnicians do elicit AAHS, but it's more OOHS and AAHS, with an emphasis on the former. This takes PYROTECHNIST further away from the other two themers for me, as the others are so strongly all about AAHS. I might have actually preferred just three total themers: OTOLARYNGOLOGIST, MASSAGE THERAPIST, and WIZARD OF AAHS right in the middle.

I appreciated much of the fill. Getting the long and colorful ILLUMINATI and OPENS DOORS goes a long ways to add zest. Not a fan of the old-school ITERS though. Those west and east sections are tough, what with having to work with two grid-spanning themers. The starts of OTOL... and MASS... combine with OPENS DOORS to make it a tough little section to fill, but I would have liked some massaging there to strip out ITERS.

It's rare that I like an idea so much I obsess about it this much after solving. POW! for me despite the minor shortcomings. Put a big smile on my face.

POW Mon 9/14/2015

★ It's always a pleasure when a puzzle surprises me, doubly so when it happens on a Monday. I couldn't even tell what was a themer and what wasn't until I hit CROWN at the very bottom, pulling it all together — the LOS ANGELES KINGS, BUDWEISER, ROLEX, and HALLMARK CARDS all having a CROWN in their logo. Really fun idea.

The "king" of beers (emphasis on the air quotes)

Neat layout, too. I like mirror symmetry, and CC's design reminds me of a Space Invader or the TiVo logo. Mirror symmetry can be really useful, like in this case where the themers don't pair up in lengths, but they all have an odd number of letters: 15, 9, 5, and 11. That's perfect for mirror symmetry.

One of CC's trademarks is to include some snazzy long fill, no matter how difficult the layout. I have a feeling CC keeps a running list of strong fill, incorporating it at every opportunity. US MARSHALS, an emphatic THAT IS A LIE, ANDROID ONE, and LEO TOLSTOY are all beautiful. And even with the difficult parallel down layout of those four answers, there's barely a gluey bit to be seen, just an ESE. It's such fine work.

Although it's minor, IDE up in the north section is easy to polish out. The bigger issue for me is the south, with REY, ERATO, and ADANO. They're all fair(ish), but that pile-up could be very frustrating for a novice solver. It's a tough section to fill — that M??C slot at 54-Down takes away a lot of flexibility.

One option that would have helped is to place CROWN one row higher, at 61-Across. M?C? gives much more flexibility with MICE, MACE, MICA, MACH, MUCH, etc. But having a revealer not at the very end is inelegant. The option I like better is to place CROWN vertically at 50-Down, intersecting HALLMARK CARDS. It would likely require another set of cheater squares (where the C and N of CROWN are now), but that doesn't bother me personally.

A neat Monday theme which kept me guessing until the end.

POW Fri 9/11/2015

★ THIS IS SPINAL TAP is one of the few movies on my Top Tier list, so I had a big smile with the "Smell the Glove" clue. (The album cover ended up being solid black, due to NSFW reasons. Ahem.) BTW, "Smell the Glove" came between "Shark Sandwich" (described by a critic as "Sh*t Sandwich") and "Break Like the Wind."

A metal umlaut makes everything better

Did I mention how much I love that movie?

Neat layout, built upon two pairs of grid-spanning entries. Sometimes puzzles built around grid-spanners use ones that are pretty average; snazziness sacrificed in the name of getting the darn grid to work. Here, I think Pete does great, four for four. Bravo! And while I really like Pete's WATERMELON SEEDS clue, I love Will/Joel's "spitting distance" one. (Sorry, Pete!)

It's great that Pete doesn't just depend on his grid-spanners to provide snazz, leaving slots for eight more long entries — colorful stuff in CHE GUEVARA / CEDAR FALLS and STUNT PILOT. (STAY AT HOME doesn't sound as good to my ear since it's usually paired with MOM or DAD, making it feel like a partial.) Crossing pairs of long answers is a rough task, so it's no surprise to see some URE and ALEF (a variant of ALIF) and MSS / OCTO around those regions. These are mostly minor, although personally, any entry that requires the "variant" tag is to be avoided at all costs.

Check out the big swaths of white in the north and south — ambitious to leave grid sections so wide-open. These big sections make it hard to work in great entries though, and the assortment of potentially esoteric proper names in the bottom — WALPOLE, GARDINER, COLLINS, MARLO — isn't ideal. I like the north better, with a great clue for KFC's The COLONEL, and MEMOREX, which takes me back to fun TV ads from childhood.

Finally, some solvers will be confused by REL, so I'll explain that the "little" in [Little brother or sister?] cues you that an abbr. is in play — REL for relative. "For short" or "briefly" or "quick" all work similarly. A good crossword convention to know.

A lot of fun stuff today!


★ As many of you already know, the great Merl Reagle passed away a few weeks ago; a huge loss for the crossword community. Only having gotten into crosswords a few years ago, I really appreciated seeing this gem by Merl from way back in 1991. It's astounding to see how good this puzzle is given its point in crossword history, well before computer-assisted design became easily accessible.

You know you've made it big when you get a part on The Simpsons

Merl always stressed the importance of crosswords being first and foremost fun for solvers. This puzzle is a great example of that. The theme is so grin-inducing, I would have given it the POW! all by itself. I love Greek mythology, so seeing MANACLES reimagined as "man-a-clees" (similar to Pericles) is so hilarious. Each one of the ten (!) themers (not including the revealer!) works well for me; each one evoking a similar-sounding name from ancient Greece. TELEPHONE bring Persephone to mind, ANTIBIAS does the same for Phidias, etc.

To pack so much great material into a puzzle done by hand is amazing. And although Merl was known for being fine with six-letter partials and "imaginative" pieces of fill like PREWRAP, EXILER, IDLERS, and OTTS, there's remarkably little of that in play. I would consider it a very good puzzle in today's standards, and an absolute home run in 1991 standards.

It's so strange to think that I'll never see Merl again. He was so supportive, contacting me after I got my first NYT Sunday crossword published, both with kudos and a couple of tips. And at my first ACPT, he chatted with this fanboy for a long time, happy to talk shop with many a kind word for my work.

Merl hasn't published a puzzle in the NYT for a long time, since all his work went into his weekly Sunday puzzle, so I'm really glad to have this opportunity to add him to the list of constructors earning a Puzzle of the Week nod.

POW Mon 8/24/2015

★ I have three criteria I look for in a great Monday puzzle. Let's see how Lynn does:

1.) Theme that doesn't evoke an "Oh, I see that sort of thing all the time." I was utterly baffled as I uncovered the first themer, finding the sequence … USTI? Baffling. I actually went back to make sure I hadn't entered something incorrectly. Even more confusing was to uncover USTI a second time. I wasn't sure if I could enter that string twice more automatically or not, because it looked so strange.

Skin diver ascending

Finally, I hit ITS UP TO YOU … and scratched my head. It took a moment to realize Lynn's wordplay: ITS up to U = write ITS upside-down and have it run up to the letter U. Great, great a-ha, especially for a Monday; a perfect balance of easy enough for beginners and interesting for veteran solvers.

2.) Colorful fill. Even with five themers, I would expect at least two pieces of sizzling fill from a great puzzle. Lynn leaves herself two long slots, and SKIN DIVING / ROMANESQUE are both beautiful entries. Now, with five themers and two long entries, there shouldn't be much room for other long stuff. But Lynn still gives us extras with HAVE FUN, SHAR PEI, TWEETER and KISS ME.

I didn't care for THE DOLE — how often do you hear the phrase without "on"? ON THE DOLE is also a potentially offensive term, so it's not my favorite from that respect either. Slight ding.

3.) Clean short fill. With everything Lynn packs in, I wouldn't be surprised to see a bit of glue to hold it together. AM I and IS IT are partials (more or less), but what else? Some might groan at UMA since she hasn't been in a big role in a long time, and the ARAL Sea gets more coverage in crosswords than it probably deserves, but those are fine by me. Stellar work.

Another home run. I absolutely loved this puzzle. I'm very thankful that Lynn is part of our CrosSynergy team. If you'd like to get CS daily puzzles sent straight to your email inbox, you can subscribe at:

POW Wed 8/19/2015

★ Something so pretty about those WATER / FALLS, yeah? I'm a sucker for a puzzle with a visual element. It's a shame that this couldn't have been printed in color, but I went ahead and added my own artist's representation of bubbling waterfalls below.

How about a little symmetry, eh, Mother Nature?

I remember talking to Parker Lewis years ago when he first got back from his Peace Corps mission, and one of the ideas he was tossing around was WATER falling in different parts of the grid. Not quite the same as Tim's, but too similar. Ah, getting scooped ...

Bendy themers always up the difficulty in grid filling. Here, it's not as bad as usual, because Tim chooses to go without symmetry in his waterfalls, giving himself high flexibility. Normally I'm not a fan of that, finding it inelegant, but there's something picturesque about the non-symmetry of the falls, just like in nature. Water goes where water wants to go, after all.

It's clear to me that Tim spent a lot of time and iterations figuring out where the falls could go without causing serious compromises in the grid. Not easy to work VICT / TORIA and YOS / SEMITE into regular words … nice to weave YOS into the end of ARROYOS instead of going with the easy road of YOYOS.

Now, it's not without its flaws. I know Suze ORMAN pretty well, as I think she's done some nice things with empowering people to take charge of their personal finances, but solvers not knowing her might be gnashing their teeth at the OMRI Katz crossing. Maybe it's fair, as both of them are semi-famous? Not ideal, though.

Similar situation in the lower left corner, UTZ unknown to this West coaster. REZA is awfully tough to pull out from memory if it's there at all, so that was rough. I do like the color the Z adds in, but I don't think it's worth the price.

Even though there are some compromises typical of the bendy themer type puzzle, I really dug the visual impact. Neat idea, and good execution.