Some interesting finds! I've spent a ton of time with these space-changing concepts, and I still stared in amazement at HARP ON -> HARP O ON = HARPOON. (Space additions or shifts attract my attention more strongly than things like TOOK COVER to TOOK OVER, where one word stays constant.)
We've ghosted in the eight letters below for you: SPACE OUT. It didn't give me an a-ha, but it's an apt phrase for the concept.
Brandon brings up a great point about debut short entries. Because 3- and 4-letter entries are so heavily relied on, I always hesitate before utilizing something that's never been used before. Will Shortz once asked me to redo an entire Sunday puzzle based on OBO (or best offer), for example. In today's cases, WTF (what the "FRAK") is great. FRAK might be tough for heathen non-Battlestar fans. (Release the Cylons!)
I'm amazed that WAP made it through the editing gauntlet, given what it stands for. If you're faint of heart, don't google "Cardi B" and "WAP."
CORDATE is also a debut. In general, I leave entries at the "it's fine" score of 50 if someone can make a case that it is fine. PHLEGMY also caused me much consternation — I'd take CORDATE over it any time, given how loudly my son snorts up his snot when he gets a cold.
Impressive construction, given that not only are there eight(!) pairs(!) of themers to grid around. What's more, they don't all line up symmetrically. Yikes! Amazing that Brandon was able to fill it, period.
The "meta-answer" didn't strike me strongly, since it was like someone explaining a joke after telling it, but I enjoyed a lot of the finds. HARD ASS's HARD PASS is a fun pairing.
This recipe worked a lot better than my attempt at making MARINARA. Not only is the "chopping" better represented by separating the letters, but there's a fun change of pace with the LIME aptly squeezed into a rebus square. Yum, PICO DE GALLO!
It is a shame that Brandon wasn't able to include cilantro. Using the search pattern *C*I*L*A*N*T*R*O* (the stars represent "search for anything here"), the only option that was even remotely close was SOCIAL ANTHRO(POLOGY). Some people have a hatred of cilantro, anyway.
It is a tough layout, with all five themers grid-spanners or nearly so. Additionally, Brandon had to make the LIME rebus work with its Down answer. EBOAT definitely gets the stink-eye, but there's also enough DERM PORC PSA SSE that I'd have given thought to rework. I love SUPEREGOS and SPORTS BRA as bonus fill, but breaking up the latter would clean things up to where EBOAT might be more forgivable on the whole.
I felt so obtuse trying to figure out what [More than right … or seldom correct?] meant. Brilliant clue! (An OBTUSE angle is greater than a right angle's 90 degrees.)
Creativity is often finding unusual ways to combine disparate-seeming ideas, and this is a great example of that. Excellent decision to circle LIME, too, which helped me feel like the pattern being broken was fun, not jarring.
★ I love being surprised by a theme. It didn't take long to uncover PSYCHOANALYSIS, which is a "field of dreams." I didn't have to work at all to make that connection, though, which made it feel like a ho-hum concept. Take movie titles, find appropriate things they describe. Okay, that works.
I was so pleasantly thrown off-kilter by THE RED CARPET. "Star Trek" describes this … how? Then it dawned on me, that it perfectly encapsulates a star's trek into the Oscars. I've done so many of these types of "reinterpretation" puzzles that it's rare for an example like this to shine so brightly.
My solving experience kept ratcheting up, too. I read [Top Gun] and figured it would hint at a weapon high up. Maybe a SNIPER RIFLE — morbid, I know. I was so thankful to uncover something completely different, a T SHIRT CANNON firing tees, or shirt tops. Another innovative leap.
[Scent of a Woman] leading to CHANEL NO. FIVE was more literal than I wanted, but near it was the highlight. I could not figure out how BINGE WATCHER linked to [A Man for All Seasons]. Ironic for someone who's binged every season of roughly 50 shows in the past year.
Oh! Two short bonus answers that I nearly missed. [Guys and Dolls] works okay for GI JOES, but [Wayne's World] — as in Bruce Wayne — is such a creative link to GOTHAM City. A shame that the full GOTHAM CITY wasn't the grid entry since that would be harder to miss.
I do wonder if some solvers' dreaded "weird alert" will be triggered. I've gotten tons of feedback that it only takes a small handful of oddballs to sour people's experience, and ORONYM / ARIOSE, FLUMES / ALLELE, IRAIL, etc. have the potential to do so, as words not heard in everyday conversation. If you're in this camp, I'll plead to you to focus on the fantastic theme and look past any weird-factor grumpiness.
It's no secret that Sunday NYT puzzles sometimes underwhelm me. This is a splendid example of how a standard theme type can be played upon to perfection, built around some creative connections I might never have imagined myself.
Some great finds, four solidly in-the-language phrases comprised of two movie titles. With this type of paired-title theme, the phrases tend to be clunky or dull, since it's hard enough to come up with anything that works, period, much less anything colorful. I was especially impressed by MONSTER MASH, which uses the Charlize Theron star vehicle MONSTER, with the old M*A*S*H. Neat to have to mentally subtract those asterisks.
Solid revealer, too, FILM SPLICER connecting the themers. After the second themer, I confidently jumped to 52-Across and plunked in DOUBLE FEATURE. I was in La La Land …
Superb gridwork. Brandon did such a great job eking every last ounce of potential out of his mid-length slots. Not an ANOMALY to have BARNARD, AP TESTS, THUNDER, BASMATI rice, BIFOCAL, EMINENT, along with BEIGNET (yum!) and ON MY OWN. Nothing flashy, but all enhancing my solving experience.
Plus some FLOTUS ADWARS! I might watch the news again if it featured a Jill vs. Melania throwdown.
I'd often make a different trade-off in the south since MTA / SUR / PSS is a tough triplet to accept. However, FLOTUS is such a fun entry that I can see the merit. Add in GO WILD and RUN LOW, and that definitely tips the scales.
As Brandon mentioned, this isn't a novel idea. But it is a great example of how you can elevate your puzzle from the pack with an extra layer. In this case, excellent in-the-language themer discoveries made all the difference.
R2D2 = RYAN REYNOLDS? I'm embarrassed to admit the number of times I counted the Rs and Ds in his name, wondering where I misspelled it so I could get the extra D. RYAD REYNOLDS? RYAN REDNOLDS?
(It was twenty-eight.)
Even worse: before I figured out that DON DELILLO was the D* D* = D2, I Googled to see if he was the guy who played R2D2.
I admit these things so you can feel better about yourselves.
COCO CHANEL … I figured I must have been spelling her name wrong all these years. It's Co Co Chanel? Co Co NO! That's a strange C3, then.
(Jim Horne wasn't bothered by this — he sees the theme more simply as a name that contains three Cs. He could well be right.)
Finally, PATTON OSWALT. I bet he's PO'ed that it took me ten minutes to figure out that he's a P.O. and not a P 0 (zero). I wouldn't blame him.
Given the name-heaviness of the theme, I appreciated the non-propers in MATING DANCE, CHOP SAWS, and TALLY HO. SWEET solving RIDE, indeed! ESTROGEN and AD COPY work well, too. Oh, and RECLAIMED wood. What a wealth of riches!
There are more constraints than one might imagine because working around numbers can be tricky. Smooth work up in the northeast, 2 AM a meaningful marker in daylight savings time. I wasn't as hot on WW3, since I always see it as WWIII, but the fill around it is smooth. Solid gridsmanship all around.
Novel take on the "initialisms" genre. I appreciated the consistency, using all people, but the C3 didn't work. Even if it meant having less consistency, I'd have preferred entries like CHILI CON CARNE and PEARL OYSTER, since they more strictly fit the initialisms rules.
Ever notice that the CYCLE of LIFE and LIFE CYCLE mean the same thing? Meta!
I enjoyed this one much more than I thought I was going to. Kicking off a puzzle with a cross-reference — followed shortly by another one — is usually a surefire way to make me cranky. I can't drop into the solving flow; you're forcing me to jump around in ways I don't want to? Bah!
I ended up admiring the concept, though, a LIFE CYCLE starting with LIFE and ending with LIFE. It's rare to see a repeated entry in a crossword, so I appreciated that Brandon came up with a great way to justify it.
I did wonder about CYCLE being in the middle of the puzzle. And if CYCLE of LIFE (yet another cross-reference) should have created an infinite CYCLE, instead of having the chain end in the center of the puzzle. Since when does a circle have an end?
Then, my mind wandered, wondering what other implementations might have worked. Will Shortz typically doesn't like "corner blacks" in perimeter puzzles (like in the SW and NE corners) … ooh! How about LIFE and CYCLE intersecting at the E, in the lower right corner!
Kind of strange to start/end the sequence in the lower right, though, since that would mean solvers would generally start working the puzzle in the upper left, at what would be the middle of the chain.
All that wondering is usually a sign that the puzzle is doing something well. Spurring me on to think and brainstorm is an uncommon occurrence. And in the end, I concluded that I liked Brandon's approach more than anything that I could come up with. Even rarer!
Great gridwork, too. Perimeter puzzles are notoriously difficult, especially when it comes to knitting everything together in the middle. To weave in so much great material like EMAIL BLAST, BOSTON ACCENT, AMBIENT NOISE, while requiring only some ANOS, NEHI, plural CARLAS — that's a cause to yell WAHOO, indeed.
This puzzle grew on me, a thing of beauty whose elegance unfolded with careful study. It's one I'll remember.
Tough concept to explain. Maybe a mathematical explanation will help:
Take valid phrases of the form A + B.
Find valid phrases of the form A + C and B + D.
A success is defined as C + D, also forming an in-the-language phrase.
It's a nice variant of the overdone "both words can follow X" theme type. It's also hard enough to explain (read: mind-twisting) that there's likely room for more instances of this concept. Some great finds, like DOG / STAR -> DOG PADDLE + STAR BOARD -> PADDLE BOARD.
I liked the consistency of this puzzle, but the lack of tightness bugged me. It felt like there could be dozens, or maybe hundreds of solutions. To confirm my impression, I looked at DOG / STAR. Took only about a minute to find DOG POUND + STAR SIGN -> POUND SIGN.
It's still a good theme, not exactly like anything I can remember. It would have been better, though, if all the themers somehow related. Now that would have been POW!-worthy.
I sometimes get feedback that I dream too big when I critique puzzles, wishing for things that aren't possible. True enough, so that's something I've been trying to avoid. Today though, I think it would have been relatively easy to tighten up the theme, especially with the help of a little coding to fully explore the solution space. (Brandon has a point about single/multi-words, but I doubt most solvers would notice and/or care.)
That issue aside, the puzzle still worked well for me. Solid themers, six of them making the theme feel meaty. Decently clean fill (EDS EEN ESO LAN NUS I see you). Best of all, a ton of interesting mid-length fill in AMIRITE, ATE CROW, BEELINE, IRON MAN, PALADIN, SENATOR — that's the way to elevate a solving experience. I did notice how many three-letter words there were, making for a somewhat choppy solve, but all the snazzy seven-letter fill was worth it.
Debut! A constructor friend of mine, Jeb Bennett, came to me with this idea a while back. I wasn't fond of it because his themers didn't change meaning that drastically when the words were flipped, but there were one or two that were neat. In that vein, I liked Brandon's TRADE FAIR (FAIR TRADE), since FAIR drastically switches meanings.
I also liked OVERPASS (PASSOVER). The individual words don't change their sense, but what a difference does the order make. I've been to a Passover Seder, but never one on an OVERPASS. It is true that Passover got its name from the spirit of the Lord passing over marked homes, but the juxtaposition of Passover on an OVERPASS amused me anyway.
HOUSECAT to ... people call a brothel a "cathouse"? I like the meaning change of "cat," but talk about icky!
Strong revealer in FLIP FLOPS. I think most mid-week solvers would have figured it out on their own, but probably better to be safe than sorry, risking confusion or even irritation.
A little too ambitious of a grid, I think. It is true that with mid-week puzzles, you can get away with more esoteric or oddball stuff than for early-week puzzles because entries like ANTIFA or OGEE aren't going to stump (some) solvers. Even the KISLEV / DURST won't baffle (okay, maybe). But when you also have to also resort to a load of crossword glue: EFF, ESTO, IATE, OTT, SRA, STA … and SIEG?
Part of the issue is the theme density. Crossing pairs of themers in each corner makes for an incredibly hard job of filling. I would have been fine with fewer themers, but if you decide to go big, I think it would have been better to stick to the max of 78 words.
I'd rather have broken up AGREES TO and APPLE PAY to clean things up. While I do like APPLE PAY, AGREES TO isn't more than neutral. And some older solvers might even consider APPLE PAY to be a liability (it's an electronic payment system on iPhones).
I liked that Brandon came up with some strong FLIP-FLOPS, but it would have been nice to get another round of grid rework.