Last name PALINDROMES today, with our old crossword friend YOKO ONO smack dab in the middle. I was fascinated by "Splash" as a kid, so I enjoyed seeing DARYL HANNAH. And MONICA SELES vaguely made me recall … she had a famous grunt? I don't follow tennis carefully, but a quick search turned up some funny plays on Seles.
GEORGE TENET is a good find — not someone who would have occurred to me without a lot of prodding. I hemmed and hawed over whether he was gridworthy, finally deciding I was fine with it. Second-longest serving director of the CIA = a good piece of trivia.
The "windmill" arrangement of themers usually doesn't allow for many long pieces of fill, and today is no exception. The two 7-letter entries are forced to carry the burden of providing zing, and while ALIMONY and GRANOLA aren't bad, they're not super punchy in my eyes.
I did appreciate some of the 6-letter stuff, especially (clearly the best Enterprise captain of all time) Jean-Luc PICARD. And NIMROD is not only a fun word, but it always makes me laugh that one of Noah's great-grandsons was named Nimrod. Talk about playground taunting …
The overall cleanliness helped a little in making up for the lack of vivid fill. DARE ME feels a bit off-key — YOU DARE ME? might be better — otherwise, just a few really minor bits like INS and TOS. I do appreciate clean grids, but today, I'd happily take a few more gluey bits in exchange for some zestier fill.
Overall, I would have loved a fresher celeb thrown into the mix, perhaps GEORGE SOROS or JEREMY RENNER, who gave an astounding performance in "The Hurt Locker." (I'm still not convinced he's the right guy to play Hawkeye in "The Avengers" franchise, but what can you do.) And if only his name was of a more convenient length … splitting him up 6 / 6 is certainly possible, but it's sure nice to keep themers together.
The constructor community is amazing. When I was just getting started with crosswords, I read C.C.'s blog religiously, making sure I gleaned as much information as possible out of each puzzle. Both C.C. and Scott (Argyle, as he's known over there) were so supportive, always saying kind things about my puzzles, being gentle in their thoughtful critique. The entire commenting community was so nice, too, which made me look forward to checking in as much as I could. I even wrote one puzzle after getting inspiration from C.C.'s name. Blessed to be a part of this community.
Nice opener to the week, theme answers which all start with US, using the revealer US OPENS. Clever idea! The theme is nice, with five long entries, but a more notable aspect is what's becoming C.C.'s signature: inclusion of lots of good long downs. PIANO BARS, NOT FAIR, TALK RADIO, OIL RIGS, MALL RAT. That's a ton of good fill for a single 15x puzzle.
I also appreciate how C.C. and Scott use cheater squares to improve the fill. The four corners are relatively big white spaces, so without the two pairs of cheaters, they would have been harder to fill cleanly. As it is, the NALA/LOIRE crossing may give some beginners a problem, and the inclusion of two French rivers could cause some grousing. People probably ought to know LOIRE (or learn something about it because it is France's longest river), but I could understand if ISERE causes grumbles.
Another issue I notice: the placement of the theme revealer feels slightly inelegant. The revealer itself is very nice, but its off-center placement in the lower corner gives the puzzle an asymmetrical feel. It would have been very nice if it were in the last across theme spot, in the middle of the middle row, or in the middle of the middle column. That's more difficult to do, though — almost every puzzle construction calls for trade-offs.
Finally, a challenge to C.C., who's rapidly becoming one of the most published constructors (counting the NYT and the LAT): I always look forward to those beautiful long downs, but I'd love to less entries like ESAI, YEE, EDINA, IRAE, ULEE, and the aforementioned NALA, LOIRE and ISERE in Monday puzzles. These are all acceptable crossword answers, but I would love to see C.C. join me in my quest to make more Monday puzzles that true beginners can tackle. What better than a silky-smooth Monday solve to kickstart a lifetime love of crosswords?
The ability to make Monday puzzles with an interesting theme and filled clean as a whistle might be the rarest talent in all of construction.