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Andrew Kingsley author page

19 puzzles by Andrew Kingsley
with Jeff Chen comments

Andrew Kingsley
Thu 5/21/2020

When Tracy Gray and I did ours, I got so many emails from confused solvers. "There's a serious error. It's the PINK PANTHER SHOW, not the WHITE PANTHER SHOW. Also, I didn't know the song RED CADILLAC, so the puzzle was stupid. You're stupid, too."

Those were the kind ones.

Even knowing exactly what was going on today, I got stuck like a duck in the lower right corner. Although I'm an NFL fan, I don't pay attention to college football, so it took me every cross to figure out YELLOW BOWL.

And then I stared.

And stared.

And stared.

RED and YELLOW make … brown? Does Brown University have an annual rival game?

… purple? For all the bruises football players amass?

… gray? Surely that's the Army game?

Ha ha ha, I'm not that green of a sports fan! Of course it's the Orange Bowl! (At least according to Wikipedia. Except that now, some wikitroll is going to change the entry to the Purple Bowl.)

Will usually frowns heavily on puzzles where the circled letters are exactly the same. Once you figure out the first two sets, you can simply fill in the rest. Boooring! Today is a big exception, though, since without the REDs being circled, it'd be so confusing that it wouldn't just be colors that were bleeding, Andrew and Will's ears leaking blood from all the vitriol.

The revealer didn't make sense to me at first since it's not a RED CROSS as much as a red mixing that causes the color shift. I eventually got that RED CROSS more simply referred to the word RED mixing things up in the CROSSing, but it didn't generate a sharp a-ha moment.

I enjoyed the solve, as well as seeing another constructor's take on the concept. I especially liked feeling outrage that all circles absolutely may not contain repeated letter strings, then the subsequent sheepishness of realizing that it was for an important reason.

Tue 4/21/2020

I've seen plenty of "low hanging fruit" puzzles — in the NYT, the WSJ, the LAT, I've even done one myself for CrosSynergy, using just types of berries — so this is a welcome twist. Some excellent finds, too, PEAR atop the great base phrase PEARLY WHITES, LEMON sneakily hiding in LE MONDE.

I found it difficult to distinguish which entries were themers and which weren't. (Are HORM or LO fruits? The loquat is delicious ….) That's the risk you take when using shortish theme answers. I did enjoy LEMON in LEMONDE, but I wonder if it was worth that price.

I'd have liked all the themers to be at the top of the grid. Not only would that make them stand out more, but there's something elegant about having a "hidden word at top" phrase have all the hidden words at the top of the grid. That would have required mirror symmetry ... but do not trees display mirror symmetry?

My kids hate it when I talk like that.

Regular readers might be surprised that I enjoyed SERAPHIM in an early-week puzzle. I wouldn't expect newer solvers to be able to plunk this in without question, but it could at least sound familiar — more than HUAC or ILIE, perhaps. I like the color that it adds to the solving experience.

I appreciated the execution on the given grid layout — Andrew's meticulous craftsmanship shows through, with barely any crossword glue — but a more top-heavy grid skeleton might have enhanced the solving experience.

Thu 2/27/2020

SCHRÖDINGER'S CAT was just in another recent crossword. Perhaps it's both there and here today! That darn cat.

Will Shortz once told me that solvers like to fill in boxes, the more definitively, the better. There's something so satisfying about completing that last square and calling it a victory. So I immediately paused when I saw the note about 16 possible solutions. Talk about indefinite!

However, I enjoyed Andrew and John's concept. There have been a lot of Schrödingers in the NYT by now, and this one isn't quite like any I've seen.

And how meta, that TWO is played upon in the lower right corner! So appropriate for having TWO solutions down there.

It wouldn't have occurred to me that there were multiple solutions if it hadn't been for the note, though. For example, in that lower right, I put in TEEN and WOWS without another thought. Even after realizing that there needed to be an alternate solution, I struggled to come up with OWS as "reactions to shocks." A stretch.

Also a stretch: I NEED / SOME SPACE. It's not nearly as good at explaining the concept as CROSS THE BORDER.

All in all, a solid construction, impressive considering how difficult it is to work around Schrödinger squares. The solve left something to be desired, though, since it's already hard to know what to put inside a Schrödinger box, and having a combination of rebus / single letters makes it that much more confusing.

I wonder if putting a circle between the two squares — giving a place for solvers to write in the back-and-forth letter — would have made for a more satisfying (if not as Schrödinger-esque) solve.

ADDED NOTE: It wasn't until Andrew and John sent their thoughts that I noticed which four letters were swapping back and forth: M E O W. What a nice touch!


You like the bowling ball image Jim chose? (See grid below.) I love that round-mouthed expression — appropriate for the ball staring at 5-Across, NSFW.

I immediately thought of another bowling Sunday NYT, but this one's different enough that I appreciated being able to compare and contrast.

I like that the ten PINs aren't rebusized today. It was fun to slowly uncover all ten instances, mostly well hidden through the grid. Note how the pins are neatly laid out in the correct pattern.

Some of the puns are solid — as solid as puns can ever be, that is. STRIKE ZONE and LANE CLOSURE were a bit too literal for me, and NO TIME TO SPARE has such awkward grammar, but SPLIT DECISION is perfect. Personally, I've given up on trying to figure out the 7-10 split.

(I've also given up on trying to figure out why certain puns are funny and others aren't.)

There were some compromises in the fill — someone needs to wipe up the alley of its AMOR ANSE ISE PINY spills — but these misdemeanors are understandable, given the theme density. All those puns plus ten PINS is no joke. It's a reasonable result, overall.

Mon 4/29/2019

Ah, the eternal question—

No, not the DINOSAUR or the egg! You're a long way from Jurassic Park, my friend. This is the crossworld, where the most primal of queries is: once you've come up with a seed of an idea — might I say, an egg? — how do you build a crossword theme around it?

GET CRACKING is a great phrase, ripe with potential. I'd have considered making cute oval shapes out of circled squares, with OSTRICH, GOOSE, etc. popping their heads out the top. But that'd be tricky — and what would you put inside the circled squares? Repeating E G G or S H E L L isn't interesting.

Okay. How about representing EGGs being cracked, as for an omelet? According to today's puzzle ... you flatten them … and then poke up the middle? Sure!

No wonder my cooking is so terrible.

Then there's the old standby of breaking the animals across two entries, i.e., LOST and RICHARD. Overdone, but I'm Chinese. I like thousand-year-old eggs.


What Andrew ended up with is a curious balance of trying to do something fresh, and trying to use interesting finds. There'd be no way to incorporate the cool DINOSAUR if you simply broke it into two pieces. So there's something to be said about popping up the S so that it could be included.

The visual doesn't work for me, but I appreciate the attempt to do break — dare I say, crack? — new ground.

Also appreciated was Andrew's gridwork, mostly Monday newb-friendly (albeit GAEA, which is usually GAIA, and RODINO are tough). That's not always easy to do with a "broken words" theme, since the black square separating the pieces takes away grid flexibility.

Check out that extra black square Andrew used, just before ANDY. Makes a huge difference in ease of filling that big NW corner. I wish more constructors would use "cheater squares" in this way. Some editors are strict about black square limits, but I don't care at all that this one has more than average (42, as opposed to usually a max of 36-38). Smoothness is a much higher priority.

Overall, I liked how Andrew scratched at the surface of doing something new. Including DINOSAUR was a nice touch (although Daenerys Targaryen has lodged a formal complaint about dragon-ism). The visual didn't all come together for me, feeling not quite GET CRACKING-ish, but I applaud the attempt to push the eggshell. Er, envelope.

Sat 2/16/2019

Appropriate that there are three Xs in this grid! MANSCAPING is innocent enough in some senses. Trimming unwanted chest and back hair for cosmetic appearances — sure, it's a little icky, but it's a part of life for many. Then there are the other senses ... don't Google it without your adult filter on. There are some things you can't unsee.

At the symmetrical location to MANSCAPING is DOMINATRIX? Yikes! The images of the MANSCAPING the DOMINATRIX would do ...

DOMINATRIX was one of my favorite entries of the puzzle, especially considering the clever clue. You whipper-snapper! Not the innocent kind, either!

Along with PANSEXUAL, this one has an edgy feel overall. Some edginess is good for the NYT.

I appreciated the three Xs — it's not hard to work a single X into a themeless, but two can be tough, and three insanely difficult to do well. Seamless today, Often, I feel like constructors convince themselves to do bad things with crossword glue in order to work in those rare letters. Andrew and John did very well in this regard.

Speaking of crossword glue, even the dabs they used weren't that bad. And CEE was a win in my book, a great clue referring to the third character to appear in Macbeth. That's a letter character, not an actor!

Strong work overall. A ton of great entries like HOTLANTA, MINOTAUR, STAR WARS, THE AMISH, CARPACCIO, along with very little crossword glue. That's A LOT TO ASK, and Andrew + John delivered. If it hadn't been for my own squeamishness around one entry, it would have been in POW! contention.

Mon 1/7/2019

Did you miss what's going on today? We highlighted the theme answers below just in case.

Still confused? Andrew turns the volume up to 11 (well, actually to 10), with 2x5 vowel progressions. Tough to squeeze so much material into one grid.

You'd think that ten short themers would be much easier to fill around, compared to five grid-spanning ones. Wrong! Two reasons why:

  1. Any time you force a black square into the grid, you take away flexibility. Five black squares (one separating each pair of themers) requires means a ton of constraints.
  2. Short theme answers mean that your fill contains a bunch of long entries — something in a 78-word grid has to be long. It's not easy to weave things like BOTTOM UP and JIMMY DEAN through three themers apiece.

I liked a lot of what Andrew did. Given the high degree of gridwork difficulty, it was great that he worked in CURED HAM, BETA TESTS, TEEN BEAT as bonuses.

No surprise though, that there were necessary trade-offs. The ELSTON / EL ROPO crossing feels like a killer to newer solvers. Along with RUGER, THOTH, NIE (German for "never"), it's not a smooth enough product for an introductory Monday experience.

Overall, the short theme answers didn't stand out enough, and there were too many compromises. Still, I appreciate the effort to take a tried-and-true theme type to another level.

POW Wed 8/8/2018

★ Day 3 of LAUGH AT MYSELF (LAM-poon) week! The old Jeff would scoff at the uber-long clue at 1-A and whine about how much cross-referencing is required out of the solver. But there's something neat about spreading out GREAT / MINDS / THINK / ALIKE through the grid. I choose today to see it as an artistic touch.

Neat examples of the competitive spirit driving these discoveries, too. I knew about Edison and the LIGHT BULB race, and Newton and Leibniz on CALCULUS, but it was neat to learn that the PERIODIC TABLE wasn't just hoggy ol' Mendeleev tootin' his own horn.

Muhammad ALI is crossword gold. You can pretty much quote anything he said, and it would be interesting.

Petty Jeff (PJ) would point out ANAP AWAR, TOD, harping on the two partials in particular. But you know what? While some constructors think partials are ugly, gloopy, inelegant, they're a heck of a lot friendly to solvers than esoterica or tough initialisms.

A couple of subpar short entries within a grid packed full of five themers, plus the spread-out revealer? Inconsequential!

I laughed with Andrew at how funny it would be if the NYT and the WSJ or LAT both ran similar puzzles today. Fingers crossed!

I was all set to end with a joke, that I HAD JUST FINISHED CONSTRUCTING A PUZZLE ABOUT THIS SAME CONCEPT!!! If only. Wish I'd have thought of it. Fun idea + interesting layout that made me rethink my criteria + strong craftsmanship = POW!

Fri 6/22/2018

This grid exhibits a curious property for themelesses — more of the long answers are going in the down direction than the across. Usually, constructors try to orient all their feature stuff horizontally, since Americans are more used to reading left to right, compared to up to down (not so in other parts of the world!) My impression after solving was that there weren't many long feature entries at all, but that's not correct — there are a solid 12 entries of 8+ letters! Huh.

A little secret: any grid can be "flipped" about a diagonal axis from the NW to the SE (see right). All the entries are the same, simply presented in a different format. But what a difference presentation makes. The grid to the right looks so much more like a regular themeless to me, packed chock full of long goodness. I'M INNOCENT, VIDEO GAMES, TELEPROMPTER, PURPLE STATES, STARGAZING — so much that I'd be TANTALIZED!

Either way though, the grid has too much crossword glue for me to consider it for POW! contention: SYST RIAA TOLET AIRE IMET ATT is way over today's (very high) standards for a 70-word themeless. If that count gets above three or four, it doesn't feel elegant to me. It's possibly passable if all the glue makes amazing things happen, but that wasn't the case today.

Some amazing clues, though:

  • [Brit discussing American politics] could be any Brit, yeah? In this case, it's Brit HUME, the American journalist. So many misdirects there!
  • A WRIST is something to (literally) keep a watch on.
  • Along that same literal path, LIZARDS are [Cold-blooded sorts], all right.

It's a shame. I think if the presentation had just been flipped, this one would have struck me more strongly.

Sat 4/28/2018

NO PUN INTENDED is such a great way to anchor a themeless. Something that most everyone has heard (way too often from me, as Jill sadly would note); easy to riff on for a fun clue. Good stuff.

IM A GONER is fantastic, too. Again, a super-familiar phrase ripe for a great clue.

RAMI MALEK is a different story for me. I vaguely knew his name, since Jill and I suffered through a few episodes of "Mr. Robot" (sorry John!). But I don't know if he's gotten to the point where I think all educated solvers ought to have heard of him. Thankfully, all the crosses felt fair, although DEMOB is such a bizarre word that the M gave me worry at first. RABI MALEK / DEBOB? As in, Bob's your uncle?

Okay, maybe not.

OMEGA DOG felt somewhere between the two extremes. It's something you should be able to figure out due to its definition, and the fact that it's composed of two familiar words. Although it's an interesting entry, I'm not sure if I'd ever use OMEGA DOG in conversation or otherwise.

I don't mind a couple of ELEV, NEV, NOT DO kind of entries — a couple are usually inevitable in any themeless. Today, what bugged me more was all the tough names. RAMI MALEK kicked it off, but ABUJA, EDD, SARG, KELSO, THARP made the puzzle feel too much like a trivia contest. Any of those are fair game (well, EDD and SARG probably less so), but overall, they combine stick out.

Top-notch clue for TTOP. It's a borderline entry, but a clue misdirecting toward the Grand Prix race, away from the Grand Prix model car, makes it fine in my book.

A lot to love about the puzzle. PIXY STIX bring me back to when I loved those disgusting things. What a fantastic brand name! POST TRUTH had the opposite effect for me though, as I depend on crosswords to let me escape from the state of real life these days.

Tue 12/19/2017

CANDY CANEs! My three-year-old just got a CANDY CANE from Santa. Something so sweet about how big her eyes got.

Not as sweet when she crunched it up in two bites and promptly asked if she could eat her brother's.

Andrew made pretty CANDY CANE designs, the top two spot-on. (The bottom two are stubby, aren't they?) I also liked that he chose candies where the last five letters are words on their own, making for legit grid entries.

I would have loved if he could have found some where the last five letters made an unrelated word, but I'm not sure if that's possible. (If only CKERS or KYWAY were a word …) It was fun to see ROCK and HEADS in the top two CANDY CANES, but they're so closely related to (POP) ROCKS and (AIR) HEADS.

I was impressed by Andrew's execution in the NW. It's so tough to work around curving entries, as they "triple-check" certain squares (they have to work with an across, down, and diagonal answer). To work in OIL LAMP, PEDICAB, LICHEN so smoothly, with no crossword glue necessary! Made me think this would be the POW!

And the NE corner was almost as good. Not sure what IRON LAW was, but it seemed self-explanatory. Along with some Kurt COBAIN, along with just an ESOS / EWS = above average execution.

But those two bottom corners. They're much bigger than the top two, and the level of difficulty shows. There's an OCA and an ORTO in the SW, and the LEU in the SE. Those aren't terrible, but OCA and LEU are on the rougher side of crossword glue. Still, as a whole, it's not terrible given how big those corners are, and how they have to integrate the CANDY CANEs.

Oh, but ANSA. Oh, oh, oh. (Reverse of HO HO HO.) Grinchy for novice solvers!

All in all, too much that can potentially turn off newer solvers.

Nice idea, such pretty visuals, but perhaps too much to pull off in an early-week grid. Maybe choosing seven-letter candies in the bottom two corners (with shorter crooks) would have been better, allowing for a smoother end product.

POW Wed 8/16/2017

★ I love it when 1.) I can't guess the theme, even after seeing all the themers, and 2.) when it immediately comes to me after uncovering the revealer. (It's not so fun when #1 happens without #2.) I sat for a long minute wondering how SKRILLEX could possibly be connected to PAT SAJAK, SPIDERMAN, and MINNESOTA FATS, but great moment of clarity when I realized that they're all masters of (some sort of) SPIN.

MINNESOTA FATS' spin skills might not be immediately obvious to some, but to those of us that played pool for four hours a day during freshman year (don't judge me), putting spin on the cue ball is a critical mechanic of the game.

And SPIDERMAN spins a web, of course, while SKRILLEX spins records. PAT SAJAK might not actually do the spinning of the Wheel of Fortune, but he'd be my first choice for that type of SPIN CLASS. (I always wondered if contestants could adjust the amount of force they apply to their spins to aim for certain slots. Anyone know?)

Even with MINNESOTA FATS being an awkward 13 letters, Andrew and John did a nice job of executing. A 13-letter middle themer tends to force big corners, and I love it when those big corners yield such great material as WINE LIST / ELEMENTS / DETOXES, and TOPICAL / MARADONA / ICE TONGS. I love it even more when you can carefully pull off these swaths of goodness without much crossword glue. LSTS isn't great, but if that's the only price to pay, I'm eager to shell out.

(OXO clued as "random string of Os and Xs" isn't great, but since OXO is a big brand name, the entry doesn't bother the constructor in me at all.)

I have so much fun with these "how are these seemingly unrelated themers related" puzzles. Neat reveal in SPIN CLASS. Along with strong execution, it's my POW!

Fri 4/14/2017

Beautiful start to the puzzle, the POT ROAST / ABOUT THAT … / TOUGH LOVE / OTHER HALF quartet is so nice. There's even a TERABYTE running off of it. All of that for just the price of a minor SRS? That's the way I like a themeless to kick off.

Quite a few other great entries too. I like me a TALL ONE especially after exercise (don't judge me!), and I have a curious fascination with the BALALAIKA — Eastern European music can have such a cool sound. Throw in ALPHA MALE, BAD RAPS, and SOUND ASLEEP nicely placed next to CATNAP and that's solid material.

I also liked that Andrew spread his goodies around. Often, I feel like a themeless has all its feature entries concentrated in the corners, and the middle does a workmanlike job of holding the corners together. Nice to get SNOW CRAB, even PARLANCE, EXPEDIA adding a bit of zazz in the middle.

I did have a major pause in the lower left, though. ARIAS crossing ARIOSE felt duplicative, so I looked up the terms. ARIOSE is linked to "arioso," meaning … "like an ARIA." I don't know how many solvers will be bothered by this, but it feels like a big-time no bueno to me. It's too bad, since that corner otherwise is nice and smooth, with the added bonus of WARHOL, SHOCK, and MOSES. It's a relatively big corner to fill, and if there hadn't been that duplication, it would have shined.

The opposite corner demonstrates how tough these innocent-looking biggish corners can be. Given SOUND ASLEEP and RAIN DATE in place, it's not easy to fill that 5x6 corner smoothly — plural ANNAS isn't great, and SOAVE was tough for this wine buffoon. (The latter one probably is perfectly fine, just an oddball for us TALL ONE drinkers.)

Overall, too much crossword glue for my taste, given REHEM, CES, SKAT, HELI, NIE, ANNAS, TEN AM (arbitrary time) — about five is where I start to notice the strain. But there was enough good material that it still was an enjoyable solve — besides that big ARIAS / ARIOSE duplication.

Sat 1/14/2017

What a fantastic NW corner! It's hard to intersect triple-stacks together like that. Sure, one triple-stack is easy to do, but when you run another one right through it, there's almost always some compromise necessary. Maybe you have to settle for a meh long entry; maybe you have to glue it all together with a couple of ugly short answers.

But I count six nice answers, and nary a dab of crossword glue. RETRO-CHIC and RAW MEAT make such a great 1-A / 1-D combination. (Was Lady Gaga's RAW MEAT dress RETRO-CHIC?) TIE SCORE isn't as zippy to me, but it's still good. And some might wince at AROAR as one of those A+(something) entries, but it's a perfectly fine word I see all the time in books. All in all, this is one of the best examples of intersecting triple-stacks that I can remember.

The lower right isn't quite as good, showing some of the signs of stress I mentioned above. SLINGER feels partialish, as does OPEN SINCE. RARE FIND makes me cock my head a bit, as does WEEKENDER. The latter does show up a lot in newspapers, so it's possible that it's just not in my bailiwick. The overall effect ... this corner doesn't strike me nearly as powerfully as the upper left. Nothing STANK, except the weird one-L ENROL, but not nearly as much stood out, either.

With this type of grid, it can be tough to work in much of anything else. So I like Andrew's efforts to integrate HARE-BRAINED, GRASS STAINS, and even the shorter IM EASY, NO CARB, THE POPE, BIOGAS, and ICE AXES. All good stuff.

All of this, with very little crossword glue — ENROL being the only sticking point I saw. That's nice execution.

If only the bottom right corner had been as spectacular as the upper left. Especially given the level of construction difficulty of intersecting triple-stacks, that would have made the puzzle an easy POW!

Fri 12/2/2016

Not many themelesses feature 11-letter entries because they tend to force 3-letter entries, and those bitty guys are hard to make interesting. So it was fun to get some entries that felt pretty fresh — they were either completely new to me, or I had only seen them once or twice in the past year. I do remember SATELLITE TV from just a few months ago, but EDITORS NOTE and especially PRIZE INSIDE did a good job anchoring their respective corners.

I really enjoyed the long entries in that upper right corner — GAME FACE / OSCAR NOD / TEA ROOM, crossed by SHE BEAR and ROMCOM = yes, please! There often is a price to pay with such goodness crammed together, but ASE and MCA ain't that bad. (ASE is iffy along with all the other chemistry suffixes like OSE, ISE, ENE, etc., and MCA is outdated.)

SPANDEX also shined, not just as a very good entry, but because of its neat clue — Andrew brings up a good point about how great clues tend to be undervalued among constructors not named Patrick Berry. What a great piece of trivia, that SPANDEX is an apt anagram of EXPANDS! Some marketing geniuses at work right there.

Curious 1-Across in LAVABO. For me, 1-Across (and 1-Down to a lesser extent) tends to set the tone for a puzzle. LAVABO is a perfectly fine word, but its Wikipedia article does use the word "ewer" to describe it in the first paragraph. Ewer is also a real word, but both of them give me a sense of "words I only know because of crosswords." I've learned to be okay with this concept, but I wonder if other solvers still find these types of words unappealing.

ORLE is another entry that gave me that sense discomfort. I don't mind a few minor SSE, ONT, ANON, STL, dabs of crossword glue, but as a whole there felt like there was quite a lot today.

But overall, still enough snappy entries like CEASE FIRES and even some good mid-length stuff in HELIOS (love me some Greek myths!), CHATTEL, HAS DIBS, SIXTIES to keep my interest.

Wed 11/2/2016

I was surprised that I'd never heard this riddle before. I admit that I didn't get the joke when I did the puzzle, but I really enjoyed researching it. Apparently Lewis Carroll didn't actually have an answer for this riddle, rather he intended it to be nonsensical. Didn't stop a ton of people from coming up with possible answers that actually fit!

I like the creativity required to come up with the potential answer, BECAUSE POE WROTE / ON BOTH (OF THEM), attributed to the great puzzler, Sam Loyd. Neat to be able to make that Poe connection. I would have absolutely loved it if "on" felt more spot-on to the Raven — BECAUSE POE WROTE (ABOUT) (the Raven) feels much better to my ear — but "on" still mostly works.

No long bonus fill, but Andrew did well in his choices for mid-length material. Love me some MILK DUDs, and a TEA COZY is so delightfully British (I'm currently hooked into this season's "The Great British Bake-off"). Nice NASCAR entry/clue too — I had no idea that NASCAR was behind only the NFL in terms of TV viewership. Whoa!

I imagine the older crowd might not care for HATHA yoga, VAPE, or ERAGON, but I like them all. HATHA yoga is really popular here in Seattle (plus, I smell VAPEs everywhere). And it's incredible that Christopher Paolini's ERAGON was published before his 21st birthday. I have to give props to a guy who sold his book series in a very unconventional way — instead of getting an agent and having that agent shop the book to the major houses, he toured all over, dressed in "a medieval costume of red shirt, billowy black pants, lace-up boots, and a jaunty black cap." That takes some serious guts!

And nothing terribly offensive in the fill. A minor SWEE and our good crossword Giant Mel OTT. The grid doesn't sing, but it is nice and smooth. A reasonable trade-off.

Really glad to have learned about this "riddle." I'm sure I'll be up all night trying to think of an absolutely genius answer. (Don't tell my wife.)

Fri 8/26/2016

Andrew does a nice job of using his longer and mid-length entries. In particular, so many good 7-letter ones: TED TALK, STOOGES, HAT TREE (with a great clue misdirecting toward bowling), DROP CAP. And my favorite, KOI POND! That's a great conversion rate, a full half of his mid-length material standing out. It's more common to see the neutral STEAMED kind of mid-length material, so bravo!

Good work on the longer material too. Andrew takes great care to squeeze all the juice out of his long slots, PINTEREST, SUPERFOOD, ATTACK ADS, ANTITOXIN, CLOSE VOTE, etc. really working well. Only CONTAINER felt a little flat, especially since its clue [Cup or bowl, but not a plate] didn't seem particularly clever or playful.

So that's a lot of great material packed into a 70-word puzzle. However, there are dabs of glue holding it together here and there, as is often the case when so much snazzy material is put into play. I don't mind two or three minor bits like ESTO or PCT, but ADEE is a pretty noticebable glob. Common prefixes or suffixes like NEO or IST are almost unnoticeable — ADEE on the other hand … what else does it stick to but "chick"?

And ENOUNCE is a word. It's in the dictionary. But how often is it ever used in real life? "Enunciate," yes. ENOUNCE feels more like it's taping the NW corner to the rest of the puzzle.

T TEST … I used to be a statistics TA, so T TEST doesn't make me blink an eye, but I have heard solvers complain about it. If you're not a statistician, that first T would seem awfully random, like all the various B STAR, C STAR, S STAR, etc. type answers. I'm totallt fine with this answer, but I can understand how others might not be.

The bar for themelesses is so high these days — so many people submitting them because it's hard to come up with good themes — and it's even higher for 70 or 72 word puzzles. I would have liked a little fewer inelegant gluey entries, but overall, there's so many great entries that they help to make up for them.

Sat 6/11/2016

Some great feature answers, MALL SANTA and I CAN EXPLAIN my favorites. Nice to see these answers spread throughout the grid. Although Andrew only has 12 slots that are eight letters or more, it felt like there were more, since I seemed to keep hitting them no matter what part of the grid I was working on. Along with the nice grid flow — a bunch of answers connecting each corner to the rest of the puzzle — it made for a good solving experience.

Apparently some amusement parks have banned SELFIE STICKS, because people take them out during rides

I might have said a great experience, if it hadn't been for that western section. There is a ton of mid to long stuff all running through it, so it's a tough region to fill. Starting with A TON OF, connecting to DEFORESTS to NO PULP (ironic crossing) to SITE MAP to TOO LATE to MALL SANTA, that's a huge amount of material that needs to congeal. RARA and ERST running through PARI and ACCURST is unfortunate ... if that all had been spread through the grid, maybe it wouldn't have stood out to me.

One thing I've found surprising about corners like the NE/SW is that it's surprisingly difficult to work with stacks of 6-letter answers intersecting stacks of 8s. Seems like it shouldn't be that tough, but getting strong or even neutral 6-letter answers to work makes things tricky. Andrew does really well in the SW, with COUS-COUS and COMPADRE intersecting SO DOPE (I think that's still in use, yeah?), executed really cleanly. The NE is pretty good too, although AMIENS is rough if you're not a history or geography buff. It's so crossword-friendly though, what with its common letters. That terminal ENS is crossword construction gold.

Not sure I like the visual of the four black squares in the four corners, but Andrew does take advantage of those adjacent slots — SAME SEX, ST KITTS, SALAMIS, and ATHEISM are all pretty nice entries.

Fri 4/29/2016

Debut! Always nice to see another voice in the NYT crossworld, and especially nice to get a nerd culture-flavor that this hardcore dork loves. SORT DATA, yes please! VIRUS SCAN (with its misleading clue about catching infections) = please sir, might I have some more? If only GOTO had been clued as [Line frequently written in Pascal by poor coders depending on it to get them out of jams].

Go, little fella!

I like it when a debut constructor breaks out a newish pattern, not just resorting to the standard "four sets of triple-stacks, one in each corner." It's tough to feature 12-14 letter entries in themelesses — they force placement of black squares right off the bat, reducing flexibility — so I loved seeing HAMSTER WHEEL and PASSIONFRUIT so prominently displayed. Interlocking SLAM POETRY and LATIN LOVER formed a nice skeleton for the grid.

I also like how Andrew chose to stick with a 70-word puzzle for his debut. Many themeless constructors would choose to take out the black square between GOTO and TKO, and try for a 68-worder. But I'd much rather take two great answers (VIRUS SCAN and ENGINEERS — okay, so this mechanical engineer is biased) along with pretty smooth surrounding fill, than three so-so answers with a bunch of glue to hold it together.

Speaking of glue, there is a little more than I'd like. Part of that stems from featuring 12-letter answers, as they make filling the middle hard (ETERNE). Melding that middle with the NE triple-stack then becomes hard as well (SNERD). Other merge points give OREL and SNO. None of these are that bad, but the themeless bar is so high these days. So many people can create snazzy themelesses with very little to no glue; that's become my expectation.

Super fun to see LMAO. Will and I talked two years ago about using the word "ass" — he said the NYT's policy = it's fine as long as it's not referring to a person's rear. Neat to see the NYT loosen up, already. (Laughing my ass off)