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1 puzzle by Brian J. MacDonald
with Jeff Chen comments

TotalDebutCollabs
111/24/20160
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
0000100
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.54000
Brian J. MacDonald
Thu 11/24/2016
BOARSGROOMACT
ATPARLUMPYLEA
MONTANANESTLOX
BEEFTMENROSSI
ISAIDSOSEAM
NEBRASKATIME
CASKSMEETLAW
IBMSSTATEGENE
TEEOHMSHOSER
ILLINOISSEAT
LOPETVHOSTS
LOTSASARITARA
EREPOSTALCODES
OZSELROYSWAYS
NOTRASPSANTSY

Debut! Play on the STATE POSTAL CODES and phonetics, i.e. empty nest = MT nest = MONTANA NEST. I particularly liked aisle seat = IL seat = ILLINOIS seat, as this one was new to me (I've heard the other two before in similar wordplay contexts).

I was impressed with the amount of bonus fill Brian worked in — SMELL TEST touching RAT FINKS, and I would happily GO TO TOWN on ALL SMILES. Excellent use of those four long slots. Even ON PAPER and MY TREAT = good uses of the mid-length slots. Pretty unusual to see such goodness in a debut puzzle.

I wasn't as enamored with the crossword glue prices to pay, though. Starting right off the bat with SRA / AT PAR (even as an investor and MBA I barely know this term) wasn't perfect, and then there were dribs and drabs of TMEN, SKEE (partial), OLA (weird suffix), SSRS, CSA (esoteric initialisms), strewn about. And I don't mind the trade-off of getting a Z for the price of OZS / ERE, but with the other crossword glue already in place, perhaps it would have been better to do without that rare letter.

I wonder if a few cheater squares would have helped. Putting a black square at the S or SARI would have eliminated SSRS (SRS seems better to me), for example.

I would have also liked a fourth kooky themer — perhaps something like PRIMETIME MAINE or GREEN WITH NEVADA? — even if it came at the cost of not having the STATE / POSTAL CODES revealer. It was pretty easy to figure out the trick, so the revealer felt a bit like it wasn't giving me enough credit as a solver. And especially considering that Thursday puzzles are supposed to be hard, swapping out the revealer for a fourth example would have been nice.

But overall, fun debut with some nice bonus fill.