See the 178 answer words debuted by Andy Kravis.
Mr. Kravis is an associate puzzles and games editor at The New Yorker.
I enjoyed the collection of "(body part) THE (noun)" metaphors. Every single one of them is a sizzler, too; phrases I'd happily give check marks to in a themeless.
Not a surprise to get such nifty gridwork from Andy, who's the editor over at the New Yorker crossword. Those puzzles tend to have a more avant-garde feel, with entries like KUBLAI, LOCI, AEGIS, OPORTO, ALBEE, ISHTAR (clued as the Babylonian gate), and BENET to be expected.
I'm not sure that makes for a friendly experience for newer NYT solvers. None of the crosses throughout the grid felt unfair, though, and it's useful for people to be pushed sometimes. How else are you going to develop your solving chops, newbs?
There was so much awesome long fill: SAUERKRAUT, DOG HOTEL, BIL KEANE, AIR BUBBLES, RAGE QUITS. Talk about ADORATION! So impressive to thread six(!) long Downs through five themers.
I'd be a total ARSE if I minded some ATESTS EEC TABU as a price. Even OSO is on the cusp of crossword respectability, considering the cartoon my kids are starting to obsess over.
I spent too much time investigating if the themers could be arranged in anatomical order — FACE THE MUSIC at the top, FOOT THE BILL at the bottom — but that quickly proved impossible. Neat that Andy could find a matching set, period. I frowned a bit that TOES was the only +S form, but there's something fun about the image of a bunch of toes down at the bottom of the grid.
Searching for love is like doing a jigsaw puzzle? I've never thought about it that way, but I like it. Amazing that all four phrases describe some aspect of both!
Such colorful phrases, too. LAY IT ALL OUT THERE isn't quite as spot-on as LAY IT ALL ON THE LINE, but the former is still strong while aptly describing the first step in assembling a jigsaw. FIND THE RIGHT FIT is absolutely the right fit; a snazzy phrase that fits both love and jigsaws to a T.
SEE THE BIG PICTURE is a fun way to end the jigsaw story, but it felt a bit odd as a conclusion to the process of looking for love. A clue rewrite could have done wonders to tell a better story — something to do with looking back on all the miserable first dates, the relationships that fizzled out, the heart-breaking realizations that the participants wanted something different; that backdrop of historical devastation providing the contrast needed to appreciate the glorious inner peace and happiness that comes when finally finding the right fit …
That might not have fit in the allotted space.
Christina Iverson and I did a Sunday jigsaw puzzle a few months back, and it's neat to see another constructor take a different angle. In all our brainstorming, neither Christina nor I had ever considered Andy's observations on love and puzzles. Along with a sprinkling of bonuses like my man-crush Michael STRAHAN and the gripping series THE WIRE, with only a touch of LOGYness, what a PLAYFUL puzzle.
I had no idea what was going on until well after I finished. Sadly, I figured these movies were all pairs of (loosely based) remakes. Or PARASITE was the sequel to WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE.
I don't get out much.
What a great light-bulb moment, figuring out that the grid entry was a valid answer to the questioning movie in the clue. Dude, Where's My Car? you ask? In Salem's Lot, of course — that's perfect! Almost as if the same company had made both movies.
Uh … did they?
Hahaha, of course, that was just a joke! Now, how do you erase your computer's browsing history?
One pairing that didn't work as well: "O Brother, Where Art Thou" and HOME ALONE. It is an answer to the question, but not a specific one; not as spot-on as THE USUAL SUSPECTS framing Roger Rabbit.
Because it took me a while to figure out what was going on, I wonder if something like SPOILER ALERT would have served as a useful revealer. At least, for film flunkies like me?
Stellar gridwork, nothing less than I'd expect from Andy and Natan. Such amazing bonuses are woven throughout. It's so rare that we get treated to six long downs, and when all of them are as outstanding as HEAD GAMES — with hardly any compromises in short fill! — that's a tremendous success.
Even working Sanjay GUPTA and QUINOA in a single corner? DANG IT is right!
Craftsmanship has a lot to do with thoughtful layout. The way that these guys formed the skeleton of themers and black squares is perfect — long downs spaced apart, each region carefully controlled, so none of them are too big to be filled cleanly. New constructors should study and learn from this layout.
I rarely experience a crossword idea I've never seen before, so big kudos for that. If all the examples had been as perfect as SALEM'S LOT answering "Dude, Where's My Car?" (and I wasn't such a movie moron), this would have been an easy POW! pick.
Postal abbreviations have been a rich source of inspiration for crosswords over the years. The first one I ever encountered blew my mind. So many words — and long ones! — can be formed from postal abbreviations? It was such a cool solving experience.
I've grown inured to state abbreviations by now, having made many of them and solved even more. I like today's additional layer, helping it stand out a little. It took me a while to realize that the non-four-letter-word of the themers always hinted at UNITED, as in MI + ND MELDING and GA + ME being MATCHed. It's not revolutionary, but I haven't seen exactly this implementation before. I appreciate novelty.
What more impressed me was the quantity and quality of long bonus material, at such a low price. Usually, you should avoid corners like the SW and NE, which have adjacent downs running through two theme answers. That's asking for trouble; too many constraints. Fantastic results in both corners, OH BROTHER and CASTANETS / GROOMSMEN, all shining. There were abbreviation pileups (WTA ATVS CHI ORG + CGI EMT TSA) — most of these shorties are fine answers but taken as a whole, they do stand out. Still, it's a fine trade-off.
Smart use of extra black squares in the NW / SE corners, allowing for extra COLLISIONS and ONE PERCENT bonuses. Usually, I'd kvetch about these long Across bonuses muddying what is theme and what is not, but with such a pronounced theme — four-letter word plus word pointing to UNITED — it's not a problem.
Fantastic execution, not a surprise given the pros at the helm. Maybe if this weren't the umpteenth state abbreviations puzzle I've done, I'd have given it some POW! consideration.
Years ago, Will Shortz cheekily asked me what I thought about titling one of my puzzles "This One Sucks." Today, This One Stinks!
It's not often that I win "Name that Theme" so quickly on a Wednesday. I guessed it with only RANK AMATEURS, easily filling in FILTHY RICH, RIPE OLD AGE, then the DIRTY BIRD dance. Winner winner chicken dinner!
Huh? It's STINKING RICH? Okay, but doesn't FILTHY RICH sound a lot better? I don't care if it doesn't fit into the space. Or the theme. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Yeah, the FUNKY CHICKEN is funnier to say, and more well known than the DIRTY BIRD. And it makes for a beautifully tight theme. Oh, and it fits into the given space. Humph.
Would you buy, thinner winner dirty-bird dinner?
Kidding aside, the theme made itself apparent so quickly that I jumped straight to each long across answer without needing help from the crossing downs — something I do with easy Monday themes. I was victorious!
Oh, right. There were still 144 more squares to fill in.
And boy, did they take time. It's no cinch to complete a big corner like the NW, even when you have RANK AMATEURS already in place. I did appreciate such a wealth of interesting entries — MOROCCO, BUFFALO, USURPED, ITS LATE, TRAPEZE — those are all assets, I'LL SAY.
Some excellent clues, too, like "radio wave" and "main event" hiding STATES, and GARAGES places for an "auto-tune." They did slow me down further, though.
Overall, a delightful theme, not a whiff of malodor. It's perfect that each of the words is a colorful way to say "stinky," and each can be disguised at the beginning of phrases. Definite POW! contender. I experienced a disconnect between the easy theme and the much more challenging fill, though, which kept it from winning.
Now this is the way to use a low word-count grid to spice up a 21x21 puzzle! I was thoroughly impressed by how smooth Andy made my solve. A 134-word puzzle is so hard to fill that most of the time, there's a ton of gloopy shorties like … I could hardly believe my eyes when I went back through, finding ASST as the only entry I could point out. Fantastic!
How about the mid-length material? Low word-count puzzles often rely on neutral filler like RETOLD, DELOUSE, DRAWN TO. But Andy's conversion rate — percentage of mid-length slots turned into great bonuses — was so high. ATHEIST, BEWITCH, CATBERT ... and that's just the ABCs.
What made this feat even remotely possible was the decision to limit to six theme answers. One more, something along the lines of SURFACE BUDGET or SURREAL BIG FISH — would have cramped things up, making the sub-140 task much harder.
The theme worked, and I did like that it took me a while to find more possibilities. It's neat when a theme set is that tight.
The kooky answers didn't do much for me though, not a surprise given how restrictive the concept is. There are so few homophones available for sequences that complete SUR___, and therefore few base phrases to choose from. Only SURFER BALLS made me (juvenilely) giggle.
Sound change puzzles also work much better when they involve drastic spelling changes, so PRIZE to PRISE, LEE to LY, FUR to FER, and PAST to PASSED, aren't that interesting. JURY to GERY was the lone winner.
I'd have preferred this concept in a 15x15, where it could have held my attention. As fantastic as the 134-word gridwork is, it still didn't engage me enough to make up for the lack of theme excitement.
BRIEFEST BRIE FEST, what an evocative phrase — at least to this lactose-intolerant imagineer. Oh yes, thank you, I'll take a chunk of that BRIE … uh oh … (groan) ... gotta run!
Doesn't stop me from eating cheese, sadly enough for the members of my quarantine household.
I enjoyed the non-duplicative duplications. Such fantastic consistency in the pattern: every one starts with an eight-letter word, then follows with that word broken into four and four. Perfect!
Two of them worked great: BRIEFEST BRIE FEST and FLAGRANT FLAG RANT. Took me a while to figure out why the others fell flat. While HEATHENS HEAT HENS amused me, in a headline sort of manner, that style didn't mesh with the two winners.
And MUSTACHE MUST ACHE? It's a neat discovery. It's not a neat phrase to say. Reminds me of the ecstatic pain that comes with compulsively plucking my facial hair (much to Jill's chagrin).
What other themers would be possible? Ooh, an algorithmic problem to solve! It's easy to generate a list of eight-letter entries that can split 4/4 into two valid words. There would be a ton of false positives, though, since you'll also catch multi-word entries like LESS THAN, FOUR LEAF, HALF MOON, etc.
I do keep a separate list of entries with spaces intact, so I formulated a way of exploring that search space while simultaneously cross-checking—
Huh? Right, you stopped listening three paragraphs ago.
(My favorite find was PLUMPEST PLUM PEST.)
Fun concept, and great gridwork to match—Natan, Andy, and the JASA class did a fantastic job keeping out gluey bits while maximizing their mid-length slots with snazzy JAYBIRD, DUE DATE, THE ARMY, AS USUAL. Such strategic black square placement to separate themers, and excellent execution in the tough west and east sections, where many constructors typically falter in a layout like this.
If all four themers had followed that fun (adjective) + (adjective) + (noun) pattern, I'd have given it POW! consideration. Slimming down to just three fantastic themers could have done it, too, especially since that would have allowed for even more goodies in the fill.
★ I love seeing interesting word findings, and IN THE WAY / IN THEORY is a perfect example. There's something so curious about how different those two phrases are, even though they share so many letters. The parsing shift (changing the spacing) makes it even more distinctive. It's the type of discovery that sets off so many crossword constructors' spidey-sense.
I wonder if this finding came first, or the idea of using two-letter state abbreviations to alter phrases across STATE LINEs came first.
COWGIRL / NEW GIRL, COMPANY CAR / COMPACT CAR, ANYONE / ACT ONE — such a parade of delights! This is the second time in two weeks where I've thought that a weekday puzzle could have been expanded into a Sunday. So much for what I previously said about it being a rare occurrence!
Great gridwork too; not a surprise considering Andy and Erik are two of the best in the biz. (Congrats to Erik for his new job as the editor of the USA Today crossword!) So much goodness in ICE PLANET, FIRST LOOK, ETERNAL, PASTEL, TRACHEA, PATOOTIE. Everywhere you look, there's something else that makes the solving experience even better.
I was of two minds (appropriate for this puzzle!) on MEAN MUGS, though. It's probably another thing that millennials make up so that they can have their own language that excludes us, the hopelessly unhip. At least MEAN and MUGS are words I recognize.
I did also wonder about the BECHDEL / COSA crossing. The BECHDEL test is common knowledge in gender studies, but it's not something I'd expect all educated NYT solvers to know how to spell. Crossing it with a mafia term might be a recipe for leaving certain solvers with negative connotations with the name BECHDEL, and that would be unfortunate.
Those are minor nits, though. It's so rare for me to solve a crossword that's novel enough that I can't immediately recall something at least a little like it. Such a joy when that happens, and even better when the craftsmanship is this good. Easy POW! pick.
Beautiful feature entry in WHO ASKED YOU, a phrase I used to employ frequently. These days, I simply nod a lot and give people a deep look when they offer unsolicited advice. Makes them go away much quicker.
Fantastic combination, WHO ASKED YOU, WHISKEY RING, and TAINTED LOVE. I didn't know the middle one, but what a colorful term. Thankfully, it's two recognizable words, so even if you're a history boor like me, it shouldn't interfere with a successful solve.
And EROTIC ART running through those? Andy, so edgy today! Did anyone else get a Georgia O'Keeffe vibe? No? Well, WHO ASKED YOU?
Oh, I did? Wise guy.
At first, I wondered if EMILY POST, PREWAR, and WHISKEY RING gave the puzzle a dated feel, potentially alienating the younger crowd. I've been working with a younger constructor who asked me the other day, "What the heck does ‘turnabout is fair play' mean?"
Wow, did I feel old.
But it's important to remember that the NYT has a wide and varied solving base, with older folks being a huge market segment. I doubt any of them would remember WHISKEY RING from personal experience, but EMILY POST, sure. With EMILY POST and DWAYNE Johnson representing ends of the spectrum, Andy did well in giving something for everyone.
I'd bet $20 on EMILY POST in a cage match vs. the Rock. She'd etiquette him to death.
A fantastic clue for GUIDE DOG — appropriating "lab assistant" is brilliant.
Well-crafted stair stack themeless; not much gloop holding together this 68-worder. A tad too many entries that didn't resonate with me, though — as with EMMYLOU vs. EMILY POST, BIG GUY and MOO COW did a lot more for me than MULETA and ENCINO. That's a potential danger of "something for everyone," especially when names are involved.
I like this twist on the usual "letter removal" theme. Typically, BREXIT would serve as a revealer for base phrases that had BRs removed, i.e., TOO BIG FOR ONE'S ITCHES. (Hee hee!) Neat idea to pair the original BR word with the resulting (minus BR) word to generate kookiness.
It wasn't until I hit HOMBRES HOMES that I started to appreciate what Natan, Andy, and the class was doing. BRITCHES ITCHES and BREYERS EYERS felt suspiciously close to a rhyming theme, which has been so overdone that they're no longer viable. Thankfully, HOMBRES HOMES and CEREBRAL CEREAL piqued my interest. I enjoy curious wordplay finds like these.
Will Shortz and I have (sometimes wildly) different tastes when it comes to kooky themes. He's often given me feedback that resulting phrases can't be TOO out there, and they ought to be something solvers can imagine.
I have no idea how CEREBRAL CEREAL fits those criteria.
I do appreciate the attempt at a clever link to "food for thought," but that doesn't explain how the cereal is cerebral. CEREAL ISN'T ALIVE, HOW CAN IT BE CEREBRAL?
Humor is subjective.
I like it when constructors go down to low word counts — if they have as much experience in making themelesses as Natan and Andy. Using a big corner to work in TAMARIND and SLY LOOKS is a big win.
Unfortunate about HUAC (if you don't know it, it's impossible to infer). That's a problem with the basic grid design, as there are woefully few choices fulfilling that H??C pattern — maybe HVAC is okay, but even that's a toughie. As much as I love the potential of 8-letter bonus fill slots, I'd have thought long and hard about moving the black squares after TAMARIND and SLY LOOKS to the left, forming a much friendlier H??C?? pattern. (HEPCAT, HICCUP, HONCHO, HOT CAR, HUBCAP.)
Overall though, fun take on the typical letter removal theme, along with strong gridwork. It's not easy dealing with 12-letter themers in a 14-wide grid, but Natan and Andy led the class to a grid skeleton that's relatively easy to build around, and aesthetically pleasing to boot.
I've reworded my explanation of today's theme seven times now. You know what they say: the eighth time's a charm!
Basketball JUMPERS riffed upon so that a synonym for JUMP break-jumps over an intermediate word. The two entries flanking the intermediate word go together, JUMPing over the middle. Finally, the broken synonym gets placed before the center word.
Maybe it's "the ninth time's a charm"?
Fixing up answers for our database is an issue Jim and I constantly struggle with. We have a general rule that the answers ought to match their clues. So we can't just leave MOBILE with a [iPhone download] clue, right? Do we fix it up to MOBILE APP matching that clue? (Yes.)
And how about [2020, but not 2019 or 2021]? We don't want confused folks wondering four years from now why WILL MADE SUCH AN EGREGIOUS ERROR OF COURSE 2021 IS A YEAR HE'S A MORON! So we ended up changing the entry to the full LEAP YEAR for our database.
Finally, we removed APP completely from this puzzle, since we wouldn't want it to show up in our database with a mysterious clue of [-].
The downside is that when people try dig up an old puzzle, they might remember that this puzzle has the word APP in it. Of course our Finder will turn up this puzzle if you enter APP, right?!
Cue the sad trombone.
I like what Erik and Andy did with their grid. If the trick wasn't interesting or flat-out confusing, ignore it and just enjoy the wealth of themeless-ESQUE material. PET CRATE, AD SALES, DIORAMA, GERMANE, TV MOVIE = a TORRENT of goodness from these ASTUDENTs.
Thursday is often my favorite day of the crossweek, looking forward to what tricksies them crazy constructors might pull. Today's schtick was something I've never quite seen before, but it didn't have as sharp of an a-ha moment as I'd have liked. More of a "how the heck am I going to explain this to confused emailers" one. Thankfully, the fill was colorful and clean, making the solve entertaining.
I appreciate when people work with new themeless grid types. If you press the "Analyze this puzzle" button down below, you'll see that there are zero identical grids — and even zero with similar topology. That's a rare occurrence for themelesses, which usually have black square patterns that are similar to previous themelesses, if not precisely the same.
Why does this matter, Jeff, you ridiculous pedant?
I'm glad you asked! I usually don't care about statistics or measurements in puzzles — it only matters to me when they directly correlate to solver pleasure. In this case, the grid helped me break out of the staid themeless sensation of "feature answers packed into each of the four corners."
Not only did I get TIGERPROOFING across the middle, but it felt like everywhere I turned, there was a CASABLANCA. BETA TESTER. HERE'S HOW. BOER WAR. SEE IF I CARE? I sure do!
I enjoy it when the entire themeless feels relevant, rather than when it's all about the four corners, and the rest of the puzzle serves simply to join those corners together.
TIGERPROOFING comes at a relevant time, just a few weeks after Tiger's career comeback, winning this year's Masters. Amazing that he's persevered through all the surgeries. It feels like eons ago that golf course designers used TIGERPROOFING to try to give other people a shot against the wunderkind.
(As an aside, there's a program called "Dr. Fill" that competes in the ACPT. Some constructors have been accused of DR FILL PROOFING. Probably not a crossworthy entry just yet…)
As with most 66-word puzzles, a bit too many slots filled with neutral material like RELATE TO, TELECOMS, ALL ALONG, TEAMING. Easy to be SORE AT these, or at least call them not that ENTICING.
But there were a lot of strong feature entries sprinkled throughout, VR HEADSET, SOME PEOPLE!, HANGMAN with a fantastic clue about bad choices costing you an arm and a leg. And the clue [Hard core] made for a delightful moment of discovery; a PIT is a literal hard core. Helped keep my attention through this challenging solve.
Andy takes us out to a Sunday date at the ice cream parlor! We're going to gorge on a (parade) FLOAT, a (single) MALT, a (traffic) CONE, and finish it off with a (whole) HOG!
What, you've never had bacon ice cream before?
(You can skip it. Foul combination.)
Nice selection of objects whose second words are ice cream shop buys, but that wouldn't ever be found inside said shop.
I also appreciated the cluing angle. It could have easily been a dull listing of these parlor items, i.e., all clued as [Odd ice cream parlor buy?]. So I liked how each was clued related to someone who would use that item. Back when I was a bachelor, I had many a SINGLE MALT all on my own — both the whiskey variety as well as the creamy shake. Even a whiskey shake now and then!
My metabolism used to be so much faster.
Solid gridwork, too. Andy dropped down to 138 words, allowing him to work in a good amount of greatness: HARD ROCK HOTEL, DEA AGENTS, BOATLIFT, CIS WOMEN, WHOLE HOG (yes, I was just joking about it being part of the theme). A lot of color.
I did pause at a bit of DTS EID NTSB SSA — a concentration of odd shorties that felt a bit spicy in aggregate — but overall, it was less than we usually see in an NYT Sunday.
Today's solve was like a scoop of vanilla (easy theme) filled with colorful sprinkles (nice bonuses), and just a tiny dash of pepper (oh, ETO) that easily blended in.
Some deliciously youthful fill coming from the JASA class today! What's the DEALIO, you might ask, with YOSHI the dinosaur? I say Si BUENO! (That should be as much a thing as NO BUENO if you ask me.)
HIDDEN FIGURES was a big, important movie in 2016. Nominated for Best Picture! I don't see many movies these days, considering my treading-water-with-two-raucous-toddlers-hood, but I have to see this one! I'm imagining a Holmes whodunit, with a geometry teacher suspected of foul play, a conoid murder weapon …
Well, that's what it should be about.
I like the concept of hiding various figures, but I had three issues with the implementation.
*WARNING WILL ROBINSON! Annoying OCD alert!*
1.) PRISM, CUBE, SPHERE are figures, yes. But why these three? Feels randomly selected from the huge number of geometric shapes. Not CONE? PYRAMID? Or, it sure would have been nice to get a progression. How about LINE to SQUARE to CUBE?
2.) These themers are all strong, but finding C U B E spread out inside a 15-letter string isn't very hard.
3.) If you mean HIDDEN as in "the circled letters jump right out at you," it's not really HIDDEN, is it?
Told you it was going to be annoyingly OCD.
All that aside, I think it's a pretty well-executed puzzle. NONPLUS felt odd since nonplussed seems so much more common, but that's just one entry in the puzzle.
Okay, putting ALL my ridiculosity aside now, it looks like the movie was indeed a must-see — I want to learn more about the black female mathematicians at NASA.
Hey! Today's FIGURES are all from math — neat! There you go, a clever link. I bet if I had seen the movie I would have connected more strongly with the theme.
★ Loved this. I'm a huge Three Stooges fan, as well as a Greek mythology buff, so THREE-WAY TIE works equally well for me with Andy's or Will's clue.
The kooky articles of clothing arranged in top-down order = a perfect touch. I noticed this immediately, and it gave the puzzle a feel of elegance.
I wouldn't expect anything else from these two masters, Moe and Curly. Er, Andy and Erik.
I also appreciated the first-last BLT / PBJ. Curiously satisfying to end on an echo of the start.
Anyone else fill in [Ogre with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame] with a starting T and an ending RUMP? Given the recent debate about whether or not to remove Trump's star, I was mightily amused.
I amuse easily.
Even more fun, Perry MASON only every losing one case. Who knew? Nobody's perfect!
Well, almost nobody. Perfect example of an early-week puzzle. So much entertainment, so much to admire in this one.
ADDED NOTE: Astute reader Nancy Shack pointed out that I meant to say "ever" instead of "every" two paragraphs ago. Oh, the irony!
★ You had me at FASHION POLICE / JUICE CLEANSES / GENDER STUDIES! Now that's a fantastic triplet to anchor this "stair stack" themeless. It's a tad unusual to weave long downs through a stair stack, so I greatly appreciated WWII EPICS running the gauntlet. Beautiful middle of the puzzle!
And I like what the authors did with the SW / NE, usually the toughest parts of a stair stack to make shine. FUN SPONGE is so fun, and the clue for DC COMICS makes that one even better. Misdirecting from the Penguin (the Batman baddie) to Penguin Books is flat out brilliant. Along with a smile-inducing clue about JEOPARDY — once hosted by Pat Sajak for April Fools — these are great corners.
The NW / SE corners didn't have quite as much pizzazz as I usually want out of a stair stack, but TEAM SPIRIT, DO OR DIE (with its funny-looking DOOR DIE sequence), INLAID TILE — no reason to say OH SORRY!
There was enough crossword glue to make me slightly pause before slapping down the POW! — DMC, ERTE, ESS, NAOH, RHEE — but some of those are defensible. Especially RHEE — educated folks ought to at least recognize the names of important foreign leaders, yeah?
ESS, not so much, especially with a clue that's trying too hard. I don't imagine I'll see many dictionaries with a section marked ESS.
And a couple of fantastic clues to even further elevate the solving experience. TESLA is something you might charge for the ride — not a fare, but an electric charge. And FASHION POLICE was great as an entry on its own right, but using "dressing down" and "dressing up" in the same breath makes it even better.
Such an enjoyable solving experience. Go to the head of the (JASA) class!
Solid example of the "stair stack" arrangement that's quickly becoming a tried and true themeless type.
Since most themelesses these days are super solid and well crafted — they have to be to pass the ever-rising bar — so much of one's experience is personal connection. For me, I loved CONSTANTINE, as he was such an amazing, albeit controversial, historical figure. And BY JOVE is such a funny expression! Great use of that mid-length slot.
I hadn't heard of BROTOX — neither had Jill, surprisingly since she likes to keep up with fashion and pop culture — but another nice piece of fresh, mid-length fill. Imminently gettable, and good for a laugh.
Overall though, this one was a bit grim for my taste — DRUG CARTELS fighting their ARCHRIVALS for turf selling E-CIGARETTES? BY JOVE, I felt like the puzzle was going to EAT me ALIVE! All colorful answers ... they'll likely resonate better with others.
UNCLE MILTIE didn't do much for me either, but I'm sure people of an older generation will love seeing him here. I do like that Andy drew from a wide range, trying to give something for everyone.
The only nit I'd pick in terms of craftsmanship is the preponderance of FAA NSA WBO SSW DXC. The first two are perfectly fine — maybe even the third. And I generally have an easier time overlooking gloopy three-letter fill, compared to four or especially five-letter glue. These five shorties all feel so similar that they tend to compound each other, though.
GRANOLA indeed had a standout clue. Total confusion for me at first, followed by a fantastic click. Beautifully done, Andy!
SPOONERISMS, all based on things edible by SPOON. There are thousands of spoonerizable phrases, so this is a great way of tightening the set. Mini-wheats becomes WHINNY MEETS, and cherry Jell-O, hasty pudding, Grey Poupon also get the ol' switcheroo.
Some funny results, with WHINNY MEETS my favorite. Hilarious to think about a bunch of horses getting together for a bit of a hay klatch. The others didn't elicit as much of a smile from me, but they worked well enough.
I always wondered what hasty pudding was. The Anglophile in me wants to try it! Wait. It's "wheat flour cooked in milk or water until it reaches the consistency of a thick batter or an oatmeal porridge"? Oh, you Brits and your disgusting foods.
Funny to see SRSLY in the NYT. I cocked my head when I first encountered it a few years ago. Kids these days.
Mighty fine gridwork, STIR IT UP, DARK GREEN, even SPA DAY lovely additions. I wasn't sure who THE WEEKND was, but I had at least heard of this name. Now, if someone could tell me what happened to that missing E …
I didn't understand the clue for RIG. I think "doctor" is the "to rig an unfair game" meaning, and "engineer" is more the "jerry-rig" definition? I like the misdirect, but it was a bit too clever for this engineer.
Oh, that revealer. Oh, oh, oh. I have to give it its own line because it's so long:
[What 18-, 25-, 37- and 52-Across all are (whose circled letters name something used with the base phrases)]
The "whose" in there threw me off. Isn't that implying that 18-Across, etc. have circled letters? I think that's a dangling participle or something. Not that I know what a dangling participle is, but something is dingle-dangling in there.
An enjoyable, well-made romp, with such an apt extra layer to tighten the theme. If the clue for SPOONERISMS hadn't been so long, confusing, and dongle-dungling and some of the themers had been funnier, this would have gotten POW! consideration.
The five long vowel sounds represented in LANE, LEAN, LINE, LOAN, LUNE. CLAIR DE LUNE might not be an immediately recognizable title to some solvers, but it was played in the background at the end of "Ocean's 11," as the crew gathers one last time before dispersing. Beautiful scene, beautiful piece of music.
TOE THE PARTY LINE made for a perfect middle themer — both colorful and convenient to construct around. There are dozens of other ___ LINE phrases, but choosing one of either 7 or 15 letters makes construction so much easier than working with a 9, 11, or 13. Great selection.
I wouldn't have made the same choice of DAVID LEAN, preferring EXTRA LEAN, especially since this is a straightforward Monday-ish theme. DAVID LEAN isn't as well known as Spielberg, but …
Well, heck, he probably should be! Can you imagine having "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Doctor Zhivago" under your belt? Talk about an artist's wildest dreams coming true.
VICTORY LANE also was slightly odd-seeming to me. Maybe this is much more recognizable a term for people from Indianapolis?
IMPORTANT NOTE: one of the top hits for VICTORY LANE in my search came up on urban dictionary. Don't click on that. Just, don't.
Oh, ELOI. It's a word even this sci-fi buff shakes his head at. I'd personally put that in the "puzzle-killer" category. It's too bad — I don't think it's right to judge a puzzle's craftsmanship by its worst entry, but some little entries seem way worse to me than others. ELOI feels to me like a throwback to the bad old Maleskan days.
It's a real shame since the rest of the grid was pretty darn good. I'm not sure I buy ROCK CAVES — just CAVES, yeah? — but CIVIC DUTY, THE NFL, YERTLE, that's pretty good stuff. And of course, the dork in me loves ELVISH.
Perhaps if "The Time Machine" had been made by Peter Jackson ...
Long way of saying I'd gladly go without CIVIC DUTY if it meant no ELOI. That'd call for a complete grid redo, unfortunately.
I appreciated the consistency (all final words being four letters) and tightness (covering all five long vowels, in order) of this theme. If either the themers or the grid had excited me a little more, this could have been POW! material.
Kooky-looking grid! I like seeing something different, and those huge chunks of black squares in the NW / SE corners certainly qualified.
PARALLEL PARKING … two car brands lined up in parallel? But why are some of them doing it in the middle of the puzzle? Watch out, MINI and OPEL, you're blocking traffic! You too, SMART and HONDA!
Wait, what? SMART is a brand of car?
No, seriously, what is it?
Really? It's an actual brand?
In all lower-caps, as in "smart"? Huh.
I've certainly seen "smart cars" around Seattle … I just thought it was a general term, like "smart phone"? Don't smart cars do all sorts of fancy stuff for you, like picking up your clothing automatically and buying your groceries from Amazon? No?
WELL, HOW SMART ARE THEY REALLY, THEN?!
Okay, so now I know that "smart" is a brand. Still, I'd have much preferred a more well-known brand, like ACURA, DODGE or TESLA. CONCRETE SLAB, perhaps?
With so much theme material, there are bound to be compromises in the fill. It ended up much better than I feared, not much more than some ESS, TRAC, OTOE, spread around. The only real sticking point I had was MOLLS — hard to believe that's an actual term. So, pretty darn good execution, given the layout. OH MY LORD I was relieved to get less crossword glue as I expected!
Overall though, the concept would have felt apter if PARALLEL PARKING had been in the middle of the puzzle, with just two pairs of cars in the NW / SE, looking like they're actually parallel parking on the edges of the puzzle.
Would have been nice to get a more well-known brand than OPEL, as well.
Four FORs today!
(I'm definitely not four for four.)
Victor and Andy pair up theme answers, RECIPE FOR DISASTER transforming [Recipe that entails a lot of shaking] into [DISASTER that entails a lot of shaking] = EARTHQUAKE. I like that the clue reads naturally both ways, making it seem so innocent as presented. Good stuff.
The only one that made me hitch was PLAY FOR TIME modifying [Play of Shakespeare] into [TIME of Shakespeare] = ELIZABETHAN ERA. "Shakespearean play," yes. "Play written by Shakespeare," yes. "Play of Shakespeare" … not really. Even without the telltale "remember X-Across" hints, I would have known that something was up.
There are so many X FOR Y phrases out there that this theme initially felt too loosey-goosey for my taste. Yes, crossword symmetry limits the pairings, since it's tough to get everything to match up in length. But it felt too easy to come up with examples, given the dozens of X FOR Y options to work with.
After some thought though, I appreciated that they chose long X and Y words, much harder to work with than "in for it" or "free for all" or things that are less specific. Length matters! Ahem.
As Andy noted, the element today that stood out for me was the bonus fill — so much of the long bonuses sizzled, elevating my solving experience. It's not easy to incorporate eight themers into a Sunday 140-worder, and they did extremely well in grid execution. A ton of fantastic bonuses, while keeping their crossword glue to only a small smattering of minor ERE ESS etc. Very few constructors can execute on a Sunday 140-word grid with such craftsmanship.
Fantastic clues for TESLAS and CHEESE! [They're charged for rides] = people who take cabs and Ubers, right? And [It's said to cause a smile] had to be some happy thought? (It is weird that the word CHEESE forces you to smile. Bizarre.) Beautiful misdirections.
Would have been great to have a sharper a-ha moment — the "remember" hints gave away the game much too easily — but I liked the concept.
Second indie constructor in a row! Andy and Erik both wrote puzzles for the Indie 500 this year, a crossword tournament I desperately want to attend at some point. Stupid kids. (Mine, that is.)
A couple of fresh entries today, VAGUEBOOKS and INSTA not familiar to me, but perfectly fine. VAGUEBOOKS is like … when someone posts BOMB DIGGETY NEWS UPCOMING! or something like that?
I can just hear the millennials groaning.
INSTA is what the kids say for Instagram, is it?
NO FLY ZONES was the highlight of the puzzle for me. Not only is it a snazzy term in itself, but what an amazing clue, so innocent without a telltale question mark. [Dimensions without planes] had to be some geometry term, said this geometry buff. No, it's the flying-type plane, not the 2-D type plane. Brilliant wordplay from Andy, lifting an already great entry into the fourth dimension.
I'm a big fantasy basketball guy, but I had trouble with ALL NBA TEAM. NBA All-Star Team, yes. All-NBA First Team, yes. But NBA ALL TEAM clanged on my ear. It is legit, especially back when there was only one ALL NBA TEAM. Now that there's the first, second and third teams — HOW CAN STEPH CURRY ONLY BE ON THE SECOND TEAM $@#@! — it doesn't seem quite as shiny an entry. Again though, it is 100% in the language.
(Okay fine, James Harden was pretty good this year.)
RISK PRONE also made me pause. I've heard a ton of risk-based phrases during my MBA and finance work, but it's usually "risk-seeking" or "risk averse." RISK PRONE again seems to be perfectly legit, just not something I'd strive to use in colorful conversation.
Overall, super-smooth construction, just an A DUE. Excellent craftsmanship. Along with some fun entries in SEWING KIT, a great triple in NAIL SALON / INVIOLATE / MOONLIGHT, SKYLAB, it was more than enough to keep me entertained. It's a shame that some entries didn't resonate with me as strongly as I would have liked, though.
P.S. Will and Joel, how about an "Indie constructor theme week" next year? It'd be awesome to get seven fresh voices lined up.
This reminded me of one of my favorite visual puzzles from a few years ago. Fun to see three mountains and three valleys today. You might not have noticed that they're symmetrically located — I thought that was pretty neat, and it makes the construction task even tougher.
Victor mentions "triple-checked letters" — that means that some letters in the grid must work with not just the normal across and down answers, but diagonal ones as well. It's very hard to cleanly work a single diagonal answer into a grid, so to have so much diagonality today makes it an incredibly, incredibly tough construction.
Impressive result, given the difficulty factor — they generally avoided the worst types of crossword glue, just little bits of OCA, HWY, ANAS, RCPT, ECTO material. Only MEOWERS made me cringe, and the KARSTS / ARNO crossing was the only place I felt was potentially unfair.
At first, I was annoyed that my confident filling in of PYTHAGORAS turned out to be a guy I wasn't familiar with, PROTAGORAS, but reading up on him turned out to be fun. His quote, "Man is the measure of all things," is pretty deep. I like having him tucked away in my mental arsenal now.
Some nice 7-letter material too: SIR DUKE Ellington, DOE EYES, DON IMUS, NAME ONE! Not a ton of killer fill in total, but the minimal amount of gluey material was a huge construction feat. To execute this concept in 144 words would be difficult. Cutting out four more words to get down to Will's maximum means eliminating a few precious black squares that could help to separate the diagonal answers.
MOUNTAIN HIGH VALLEY LOW is a perfect revealer for the puzzle theme. But it's a real shame it's not the "ain't no mountain high enough …" song.
Movie titles with a single letter changed to X. I kept on thinking I was missing something — the replaced letters spelling something, perhaps — so was glad to read Andy's comments. X-RATED would have been a fun revealer entry, but it would really take a title like he suggested to make it work.
Some fun, kooky resulting answers. I couldn't get through "Eat, Pray, Love" so it was fun to see it razzed with the hilarious wordplay in EAT XRAY LOVE. And how appropriate to change "The Lovely Bones" into THE LOVELY BOXES inside a crossword puzzle. Amusing material.
I like how Andy gives us four nice long downs. All of them are juicy, even the single word LEVITATE shining because 1.) it's a cool word and 2.) gets a great clue. "Get off the ground," i.e. start things up, gets repurposed in a clever way.
Check out the proximity between BETTE DAVIS and LEVITATE though. Generally it's better to stagger long downs to give them more space (like if LEVITATE had been levitated to the top of the grid somehow), as long entries near each other can be difficult to fill cleanly. Andy does well to find DALI to connect these two entries, being able to generally fill cleanly. The plural BRANDTS does stick out a bit in my head though. Even if it were more current, something like MERKELS would still not be super elegant.
I like what Andy did up in the NE corner better, TETHERS both fitting in well and containing common letters to facilitate good fill. Still, the confluence of the two long downs (MAKE SURE and UNFEMININE) and two themers is partially what's forcing the awkward RECT and arbitrary ONE AM. As always, trade-offs.
Nice wordplay today resulting in some fun, kooky movie titles.
What a perfect use for a Sunday-size grid today! Sometimes the bigger palette can feel like a weekday puzzle simply stretched out, but Andy and Victor use the extra space for a great payoff. It took me a while to cotton to the trick, and when I finally figured out that each phrase on the right hand side told you what letters to take out for the corresponding answer, I thought it was pretty cool. But then when I realized that each of the "removal phrases" were fruit-related and FRUIT FLIES tied them all together, I stood up and cheered. A true WITT (Wish I Thought of That).
Ten theme answers makes for a difficult construction. Sure, one might think because the lengths are relatively short that this is equivalent to five grid-spanners (answers of 21 letters), but it's more difficult than that. With grid-spanners you have the advantage that they use no black squares, thus allowing you to deploy your black squares elsewhere, breaking up difficult spots. Today's arrangement places several black squares right off the bat, making the construction less flexible.
The fill is generally good given all the constraints. In terms of long fill, there's GO DUTCH, NAVY YARD, ID LOVE TO, and MISS JAPAN, which at first seemed a bit arbitrary, but I've decided I like. Some really good stuff. However, as with most Sunday-size grids and their inherent challenges, the crossings of DEKE/HEKATE and ESME/ESTES and DNIEPER/ADEN are going to be a real challenge for some. I don't mind seeing a random European river here or there, but somehow having two in one puzzle feels (to me) like one too many (ARNO, I'm looking at you). I don't think any of these crossings are necessarily unfair, but I'd say they aren't ideal.
Finally, I'd like to express another note of amazement that Andy and Victor were able to come up with 1.) five "fruit"+"synonym for leave" pairs and 2.) found enough entries so that they were symmetrically paired. I really enjoyed this puzzle; a close second for the POW. Brilliantly conceived and executed.
P.S. You may recognize Andy from "Million Second Quiz". Incredible accomplishment to have won it all! If you're into such capitalist notions as money. (insert proletarian harrumph here)