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3 puzzles by Benjamin Kramer
with Jeff Chen comments

Benjamin Kramer
POW Wed 5/13/2020

★ You would think that a writer who locks himself in his writing cave day after day, pounding out words that are mostly crap but maybe just maybe a few of them are halfway decent and if he's lucky he'll one day have an OEUVRE of works that generations use as doorstops and/or toilet paper, would figure out this theme right away.

Of course! It's the story about a burglary in a SORORITY house, the job pulled off by a Scot named MAC, using knowledge of FIBONACCI numbers to crack the SAFE's code. Oh, and don't forget the HORSE that he uses in the complex scam.

HORSE D'OEURVE might just be the worst menu typo ever.

While I jest about the heist, the five minutes I strained, trying to figure out the theme, was no joke. There's an eternal debate, whether crossword constructors should bash their solvers over the head with a revealer, or if allowing them to work out the concept on their own is better.

In the end, I greatly appreciated working out the novel (ha) progression, PASSAGE to CHAPTER to BOOK to SERIES to OEUVRE. Tough to discover, though, and I wonder how many general solvers will toss the puzzle aside without ever understanding the clever concept.

The clue for EGS didn't help, either. I fixated on that, sure that it must be a revealer — especially since one of those e.g.s was in a clue for the last theme answer. Come on!

I finished with an error, with OPENENDED / AVEDY. Given its clue, I couldn't imagine that OPENENDED could be anything but that, and if Aveda and Aveeno are brand names, why not Avedy? Although the clue [Question whose answer can go almost anywhere] is both clever and accurate, solvers would be better served by something like [Broad question, slangily].

There's this tale about a fox and this bunch of grapes …

A revision would have been nice, to eliminate HAP and CIDE, as well as TOEJAM with its unnecessarily graphic cluing. And that crazy EGS, of course.

Overall, though, the writer in me loved the subtly-presented progression, and that trumps all. While I had enough reservations about the warts in execution to pause a long moment before giving it the POW!, the concept was something I'd never seen before. That's a rare occurrence, indeed.

Tue 1/29/2019

Many moons ago, I tried to make this theme work with just ___ BUMP, ___ SET, ___ SPIKE. But I was fixated on using BABY BUMP, CHEST BUMP, FIST BUMP, or GOOSE BUMP — I couldn't get the lengths to work out with crossword symmetry, so I abandoned the idea. Wish I had thought of adding in ___ SERVICE!

There aren't that many ___ BUMP or ___ SPIKE phrases, so great discovery in the same-length COLBERT BUMP / GOLDEN SPIKE. I'm not sure if COLBERT BUMP will stay in the language, but I'll enjoy the phrase while it lasts. He was hilarious on Seinfeld's "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee."

The only themer I might have swapped out was TELEVISION SET. Not nearly as interesting as DRUM SET or (warning: nerd alert) MANDELBROT SET. The latter wouldn't be friendly to newer solvers, so I'd ultimately have gravitated to DRUM SET. Much easier to build around a central 7, anyway.

Amazing how little crossword glue Benjamin employed. With such a theme-dense puzzle, I'd expect maybe five dabs. To end with just ANET and POS is amazing work.

I hitched on a few of the longer pieces of fill, though. OPERANT … okay. An oddball, but okay. MARLO crossing ADLER? Huh. And as much as I like interesting fill, QUINOA, PAELLA, TATOOINE, OUZO made for a tricky solve, perhaps even unsatisfying for some newer solvers who might look at their completed grid and wonder if it could be correct.

ENSLAVED. I wouldn't use this in one of my puzzles, but I can see how others could deem it perfectly fine, clued to a movie like "Amistad." I'll personally always default to trying to make puzzles entertaining and uplifting, without potentially triggering ill feelings within some solvers, even if that subgroup of solvers is small.

Congrats to Benjamin on making a theme work that I had deemed impossible!

Wed 12/13/2017

Three good finds, ENCHANT, RIVET, and DELIGHT spanning across phrases. Tough to discover such long words inside colorful themers! FRENCH ANTILLES was particularly DELIGHTful, almost as if the crossword gods had planted that, just waiting for it to be unearthed.

Oddly, SIDE LIGHTING was the least DELIGHTful to me, as the term felt a bit stilted (at least compared to how snappy DRIVE THROUGH is). It does appear to be a real thing in photography, though. MADE LIGHT OF would have hit me more strongly.

I must admit, I didn't totally grok the theme. MAKE AN ENTRANCE (ah, that's why Ben didn't use MADE LIGHT OF!) relates to these "captivate" synonyms … how? Isn't making an entrance more being flashy, showy? Huh.

I would have liked a stronger connection, something that better explained "hidden words meaning captivate." Not sure what that would be, though. Perhaps a fourth themer, without a revealer, leaving the solver to make the connection?

Tough to hide BEGUILE or ENTHRALL within colorful phrases though …

Such strong gridwork for a debut — now THAT I found DELIGHTful! Entries of length 12-14 are so awkward, forcing bad spacing in a 15x15 puzzle. Note how squished together the four themers had to be. But Ben hardly blinked, even working TATER TOT though three themers.

And few constructors would tackle big corners like the NW / SE. A 7x4 chunk of white will almost always require some crossword glue or a bunch of blah entries, especially when one side of it is fixed in place by a themer (FRENCH ANTILLES). There is OTIC in the NW, but to work in GAS BOMB (which I *think* is a real thing?) and BARNARD is good stuff.

Opposite corner turned out well, too. TOE POKE wasn't familiar to me, but it makes sense, and I've certainly seen enough kid soccer games to know what it was. Along with GO KAPUT and zero dabs of crossword glue, it's strong work.

Wish the revealer had a bigger impact; a sharper a-ha moment. The grid execution was strong enough, with three great long-words-hidden-within-themers, that it could have been a POW! contender if it had.

ADDED NOTE: Moron here. Not an ENTRANCE as in a way in, but ENTRANCE as in "captivate." D'oh! I even thought about it for a few hours and still didn't make the connection until I read Ben's note. Glad I did! A bit too clever for me, apparently.