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Damon J. Gulczynski author page

46 puzzles by Damon J. Gulczynski
with Jeff Chen comments

TotalDebutLatest
4611/8/20041/11/2024
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166291111
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431.6517958%
Damon J. Gulczynski
View these same grids with comments from:
Constructor (37)Editor (1)Jeff Chen (38)Jim Horne (5)Hide comments

See the 179 answer words debuted by Damon J. Gulczynski.

Alternate name for this constructor:
Damon Gulczynski
Puzzles constructed by Damon J. Gulczynski by year
Thu 1/11/2024
JAWSONJAPENS
ACAIVROOMISIT
BADBREAKUPACHY
SENISUNAIL
EASEDCATPEOPLE
ASUNDERALE
RAPMEGASERTA
THESHOWMUSTGOON
HIREESODAUNO
LILEXACTED
BRAZILIANTHERE
ROTEARIWOO
IBISDASKAPITAL
DEVOETHICROSE
EDENNEATOY=X
Wed 4/6/2022
VACAYTAILTETRA
OHARERUNEOPRAH
LENINITCHBEIGE
EATATCOURSEEXAM
SPAASKREEFS
LASTEDRCATWO
BLOCIRANIOWAN
LAUNDRYDETERGENT
IMPEISAHLREDO
PEERNCPASSED
BTEAMTATLCD
ANNOYANCESADELE
REAIRAGROTIDAL
LOTSAREIDINUIT
ONSETDEEDCOMMA

This would have been aptly timed with the heyday of Eats, Shoots and Leaves, back in 2003. I particularly loved the outrage in certain reviews. People take punctuation so seriously!

[*All for one] contains excellent crosswordplay. Not only does "All for one" mean something drastically different than [All, for one], but LAUNDRY DETERGENT is a fine grid entry.

[*Final say] works because adding a comma wildly skews its meaning. However, COURSE EXAM is something I'd grade poorly if it showed up in another crossword.

Will Shortz rarely allows one-word themers. ANNOYANCES as a theme entry is an annoyance.

I enjoyed the clue for COMMA, chuckling at "Let's eat people!", as Jill and I have a related running joke. Our kids constantly poke at anything new and twist up their faces, asking, "What is this?" Our answer is always a stoic Soylent Green.

Thin theme, but TO BE FAIR, Damon worked in a lot of great bonus material — CANTALOUPE, TRICKERY, DIRTY RAT, THAT'S ODD, TWEEDLEDUM helped keep up my interest.

Fri 2/25/2022
IQSSMELLANDES
SUECILIAMEADE
MEDACINGOWNED
BUTTHATSJUSTME
BECAMEENDEAR
ACTUALSANTE
MOINATIVESWAP
BIOSNODESKILL
ISNTGOODATKOI
APEDAIRLINE
SPIRALSOAPED
WILLYOUBEQUIET
ALLIEPOTUSDID
TABLECANOEIMO
HUEYSSTAIRAEC

Three incredible marquee entries, each having a certain indescribable JE NE SAIS QUOI. Maybe I'm biased because I can pretend to speak some French, BUT THAT'S JUST ME.

And WILL YOU BE QUIET is on a continual loop in my head as I sift through emails like, "too damn clever, Jeff."

Also, my kids are obsessed with "Encanto" but don't know what "off-key" or "volume" means. The clue for ALONE TIME made me laughcry.

They get what's coming to them? I know this one! It should be "people who annoy me"! Sadly, no. Happily, the PAYEES wordplay is fantastic.

Similarly, navel-gazers literally finding LINT made me snicker. Until my son pulled a green fuzz monster out of his belly-button this morning, that is.

I got hung up on what seems to be the UK spelling of PILAF, and the Australian Electoral Commission has denounced Damon as a drongo for using AEC without referring to them, but the amazing headline entries today easily overcame all of that.

Wed 1/5/2022
HECHTBETFEAST
AROARAXEADLER
SMILEWAXMICRO
HALFFULLIFSAY
EONTAWNY
COMMITLIEZEN
HOOPLAWENPOGO
EMITPEACEERGO
SPRYPARLISBON
SHESETINSANE
ANDSOSCI
PARMAOPTIMIST
USAIRUZOTITHE
SHINENETESTOS
SYNODIDSSTYES

I'm plus/minus on this one.

These jokes write themselves!

Brilliant seed concept: an OPTIMIST looking forward, crossing a PESSIMIST aptly pointed down. And to have HALF FULL crossing HALF EMPTY, with perfect symmetrical crossings? Screw the PESSIMIST; that's crossword gold! The great goddess Cruciferous is kind and benevolent!

Ah, but those ancient gods love drama.

WAR and PEACE aren't differences of opinion in the same way as HALF FULL and HALF EMPTY. Nor is FEAST and FAMINE.

RAIN or SHINE had potential. A better clue, referring to a weather prediction for a picnic, would have made the pairing shine. (Or rain, depending on your perspective.)

What other pairs would have worked better? People looking at the BEST of times and the WORST of times. Thinking with a POSITIVE vs. a NEGATIVE attitude. These aren't as fantastic as HALF FULL and HALF EMPTY, but they'd do the trick.

Excellent gridwork, given the constraints. Filling around crossing themers is tricky, and five pairs of them can be a nightmare. Damon has put in years of hard work developing expertise and it shows, with a mostly clean grid and even some bonuses. WINE LIST a standout, and TREFOIL HOOPLA aren't half bad either. (I'm not saying they're only half good, I swear!).

The solving flow is a negative since the center strangles the puzzle into more than half a dozen chunks. It's a reasonable trade-off, though, as poor feng shui is much better than poor fill.

Fantastic seed notion and matching pairs — HALF FULL / HALF EMPTY epitomizes the differences between OPTIMIST and PESSIMIST so perfectly that I didn't care about the HALF duplication. If the other examples had been stronger, this would have breezed to a POW!

Mon 10/25/2021
LATHSEALSTEAM
ACREURSATOPIC
PAULAZAHNIPADS
SCAMPIASEA
EINPETTINGZOOS
SATSORSOVCR
PESKYORBITS
PRINCESSZELDA
POINTYATEIT
IPATAILSEGO
POLISHZLOTYLEB
CHETHIPPIE
CILIAEASYPEASY
FRANKCRAMASHE
LEDGESTYETOAD

EASY PEASY! Get it? Because the theme phrases have E Z P Z letters?

Wait. They're just P Z phrases. Okay ... the E part of EASY PEASY refers to the fact that all the phrases contain Es.

No. That's not it. Unless … it's PAULA ZEHN and POLISH ZLETY?

Well, it could be.

I'd be lucky to get ASEA as my grade today.

This might be a situation where newer solvers gloss over the theme, not even noticing the P* Z* initials, much less the fact that the revealer is supposed to connect them. While a smog of confusion pours out of my brain.

Some neat finds, not easy with the Z constraint. PETTING ZOO is a squee-worthy answer. I never played Zelda, but PRINCESS ZELDA works. Great thought to clue it to Fitzgerald, too, so more people have a fair chance at figuring it out. I couldn't place PAULA ZAHN's face, but hers is a familiar-sounding name, even to this non-news-watcher.

POLISH ZLOTY. Being a finance guy, this registered as a term, but I'm curious how many people would list this if you ran a "Family Feud" survey of 100 people, asking them to name world currencies. I'd set the over/under at 0.5.

There aren't many P* Z* phrases, but I'd have leaned much more toward something like PARKING ZONE.

A couple of not-super-newb-friendly spots in the grid, too. When you already have the ZLOTY, including the RIAL could feel excessive. The CFL (Canadian Football League) is fair game, but the CILIA crossing might give solvers pause. Even OVID crossing ZELDA could trip up Monday solvers.

Five themers, including a middle 13, is far from an EASY PEASY construction, especially when you have to integrate four Zs. Thankfully, some strong mid-length fill to help offset the rough patches. I enjoyed ACACIA, SCYTHE, AZTECS, SNOOZE, EL PASO, GEISHA.

Fri 12/18/2020
VIBESABANABET
OPENSESAMESEGO
CATCHASCATCHCAN
EDTALEKSALADS
ENDTSPTAU
CORERSEAHORSES
OSGOODATEEXE
SCENEOFTHECRIME
TATHADLOOTED
ARMCHAIRSNASTY
ORALITDDT
LOVATOVASEHEY
SHIVERMETIMBERS
ANNESCRUBNURSE
TOGSOASESBEER

The infamous tic-tac-toe themeless layout. I'll tell you all about it after I uncurl from a post-traumatic fetal position.

Okay, I'm back. The "tic-tac-toe" name comes from the positions of the themer intersections — 9 (!) of them. It's not that hard to get six 15-letter answers to weave together, but to get six great ones is a different story. Extremely well done in this regard, BECAUSE ITS THERE a sizzler, along with five other solid marquees.

Once you lock in your skeleton, the question becomes, how do you work in more long entries? There has to be more juice above and beyond the six entries, so you need a couple of 8-10 letter entries. It's so difficult to do, though, since any place you stick a long entry, it's going to intersect two of the marquee grid-spanners. It might also have to stack with one of them, like SCRUB NURSE below SHIVER ME TIMBERS.

Even if you manage to work your way to that point, the hardest part is yet to come. Filling around two intersecting long answers is tricky. Doing that around 9 intersections puts you smack dab in construction hell, forcing you to make trade-off after trade-off, some even affecting previous sections, causing total restarts. I like Damon's result, how he spread out his dabs of glue and head-scratchers, YSER isolated in the lower right, arbitrary EXMET in the east, toughies SABAN in the north and ASHLAR in the NE.

The one area that nearly got me was unfortunately the starting corner. ENC and EDT are minor offenders. Toss in VOCE and that's a tough way to kick off someone's solving experience.

All in all, though, an exemplary tic-tac-toe themeless. They don't get much better than this.

Fri 10/16/2020
HONORSORSEDAM
AMAZONBATFLIPS
LADYDIIMALLSET
THEMSTHEBREAKS
SARAISLES
NEEDEDHELMS
HEADTRIPMORE
ACCIDENTSHAPPEN
NCAAACIDTEST
SEISMICETSY
UTAHNSASS
JUSTASITHOUGHT
ZEPPELINEMIGRE
ENCODINGENTREE
EASTAGEDISOWN

Now, this is the way to use long feature entries to your advantage! THEMS THE BREAKS, ACCIDENTS HAPPEN, JUST AS I THOUGHT, such colorful, colloquial phrases. Love ‘em all.

(Although, I gotta ding ACCIDENTS HAPPEN for personal reasons since my kids say it even after they do something on purpose. THEMS THE (literal) BREAKS, too.)

Working with three long feature entries is rarely easy, but Damon makes it look almost effortless. Smart quasi-segmentation, breaking up his grid into six chunks while allowing enough entries and exits to each region.

Check out how well he equalized the subsections, too. If someone showed me this grid skeleton for review, I might pause briefly at the NW / SE corners since they're biggish, with two long entries running through them, but I'd say it should be fine. And while AGGRO ETD, MRES, MST, UPCS isn't outstanding smoothness, it's all both solvable and passable.

I wasn't sure how I pulled out OZYMANDIAS. More accurately, OZYMAN … D? something. Still, it made me feel smart, even if I didn't actually know who that was. I mean, of course, I knew it was … a Greek name for the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II. I totally didn't copy that straight out of Wikipedia.

When I added BAT FLIPS to our list years ago, I scored it at 60, meaning it's an outstanding entry. Shortly after, I mentioned it to my wife, who gave me the side-eye and asked if it was some lewd gesture, like flipping the bird.

I reduced it to our nominal score of 50.

These days, Will Shortz can be pickier than ever with themelesses; the acceptance rate is about 5%. I can see why he picked this one, chock full of not just solid entries but colorful, long ones. Even if you're a heathen who doesn't know that an OZYMANDIAS is obviously a place for Ozzy Osbourne to give speeches, there's a ton of HEAD TRIP, ACID TEST, EMPTY SUITS to delight. A definite POW! contender.

Sat 3/21/2020
SOIWASLIKEUSPS
PARACHUTESNCAA
CHARLATANSFACT
AUNTDELTABURKE
HUEYURT
INCONTROLSLINK
MEDGAREVERSSIN
PARELITESEE
ELOPEANUTSAUCE
LEMMAYESINDEED
DOUPCOM
PURPLEHAZEIMAC
ONITPALINDROME
TIVOSWITCHEROO
STEPINFIELDERS

Kicking things off with a great 1-Across can set the tone for the entire puzzle. SO, I WAS LIKE … YEAH! I love these casual phrases, especially when they have punctuation you have to fill in on your own. Delightful.

I also enjoy when a clue/entry gets you thinking about one direction, only to craftily mislead you for another one. PURPLE HAZE is a great song, and "Classic rock hit …" got me thinking about music. Crossing it is 48-Down, [Pop label]. ARISTA? EMI? SUBPOP? D'oh! That's "pop," as in soda = PEPSI. That's an A+ a-ha moment.

The puzzle did have a bit of an old-timey feel to it. I can't remember the last time I used a CD ROM DRIVE, and it's not exactly a cherished relic on my shelves. My brother shamefully used to watch "Designing Women" at every opportunity, so I vaguely knew DELTA BURKE. Not sure if she's still worthy of being featured in a crossword.

FINE, I HAD A HUGE CRUSH ON DIXIE CARTER. NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT! JUST LOOK AT THAT HAIR!

OKAY, OKAY, IT WAS ANNIE POTTS! ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?

MEDGAR EVERS is another story. There's no doubt that this important figure in the civil rights movement has earned his place in wherever he should want to appear. Hard to imagine how much fortitude and bravery he needed to do what he did.

One clue I should explain: ESSAY as "attempt." The dictionary defines it as: "formal: an attempt or effort, as in a misjudged essay." I doubt I'll be attempting this usage anytime soon, as I'd get some of those withering Annie Potts looks in return.

I've said too much.

Mon 7/1/2019
HDTVSUSOFANIL
AEIOULEASTORE
HARUMSCARUMSOD
ALECHEMFLING
HEARYEHEARYE
CALDQSLOEWE
ASADADSLFEEL
MAKEMINEADOUBLE
OPELOOFGLOMS
GUSTOCARBOT
ALEXVANHALEN
DONEEOVAAGAR
ONELOGGINGINTO
REVTREATAVAIL
ERAEBONYBETTE

If you construct long enough, you'll keep having that déjà vu feeling all over again. About ten years ago, I went through a process similar to Damon's:

  1. At a bar, after a hard day. Make it a double, please. Hey. HEY! HEYYYYYYY!
  2. Down the double, rush home.
  3. Search *RUM*RUM* (where the * indicates "any string of letters, any length"). Exactly one (usable) result? HARUM SCARUM? It's absolute perfection when you find a great phrase, and zero other possibilities. That's the epitome of elegance.
  4. Search *RYE*RYE*. Exactly one phrase again, and it's a beaut — HEAR YE HEAR YE. The goddess Crucivera is benevolent! These are some Odin-eye-sacrificing type of results, that they are.
  5. Search *GIN*GIN*. Hmm. A dozen or so results, many good but nothing fantastic. Still, SLINGING INK (slang for writing) and HANGING IN THERE are nice.
  6. Search for one last alcohol that will work. Searching. Searching. Searching.
    {Five months later...)
  7. Argue with self. ALE is the only other frickin' possibility. But No One tells a bartender to double an ALE. Swear at Crucivera and forsake her. Screech and duck from the gluey blob bullets she angrily fires at me. Abandon idea and move on.

Looking at this with fresh eyes, I still have the same concern about ALE (and if you nix PORT, you have to nix ALE too, yeah?). It's unusable in this concept. Going down to four total themers — employing something like LOGGING INDUSTRY to balance out MAKE MINE A DOUBLE — would have been thin, but at least passable.

Overall though, the excellent gridwork make this a doubly-friendly Monday offering. Worthy bonuses in NO SIREE BOB, LAKE GENEVA, along with some SVELTE, DELUXE, ATM FEE, LAWFUL, even fun HDTVS atop AEIOU. With barely any DSL OPEL glue, it's top-notch craftsmanship, as I'd expect from a pro like Damon. That's especially appreciated, given how tough it is to work with five longish themers.

Tue 5/14/2019
LISTSDEBTMACRO
ATEUPAREAALGER
THEMEANINGOFLIFE
KAYCITEBIO
ECOCIDESPLAYING
AURASCOLASTEM
LOLTONEDCOO
JACKIEROBINSON
TOTTHEMEEAU
WHETCERAVAULT
ONRUSHESBIRDDOG
SHESEAMNOE
PRESIDENTCLINTON
AISLEBEAKSABLE
DOPESBONYSHEDS

I can just see all the "Hitchhiker" pagans out there scratching their collective heads. WTF does THE MEANING OF LIFE have to do with the number 42? Basically, this supercomputer chugs along for decades to figure out the meaning of life, and it finally calculates the answer as "42." It's an amusing gag. Not as life-changingly funny as some make it out to be, though.

(ducking the onslaught of hate mail)

JACKIE ROBINSON's number 42 has been retired by all MLB teams. Great inclusion for this puzzle.

PRESIDENT CLINTON was POTUS 42. I liked how 42 was indirectly referenced in the clue. Made you have to think for half a second.

I wonder how many people will write me today with confused emails asking what the theme was. Check out 42-Across: THEME. Get it? Three themers that all reference the number 42?

"But why is the meaning of life 42, Jeff?"

GAH I JUST EXPLAINED IT WEREN'T YOU LISTENING oh never mind.

This is a rare case where the concept might have been better as a Sunday grid. I say this so infrequently that I can't remember the last time it happened. But it'd be easy to make some sort of grid art, forming a 4 2 out of black squares. It wouldn't have had perfect symmetry, but that'd have been fine.

That would have opened up the possibility for other 42-related things. The 42nd element? The 42nd US state? Some neat mathematical property of the number 42? I'm sure there are dozens of cleverly indirect relations to 42, too.

Fantastic clue for DANTE. Maybe I should start writing about the underworld so that people would call me one hell of a writer too.

The clue for ITHACA confused me. It's ... Gorges? Apparently it has a lot of gorges. Maybe it's a snooty New York thing.

Fun idea to riff on the number 42. I wish there had been at least one other themer, and that the clues had more explicitly referenced 42 (so people would STOP ASKING ME WHAT THE THEME IS PLEASE STOP), but an entertaining idea.

ADDED NOTE: Constructor extraordinare Matt Gaffney astutely observed that it would have been perfect to run this puzzle exactly six weeks ago. I'll let you figure that one out.

Thu 3/28/2019
ICANABESDAWGS
NONOSEREOCHOA
FROMWHEREISTAND
IRISHFOPSSTET
DINGOCREEPABA
EDTADADECIMAL
LASSEKEBSIDE
POWERLESS
SHAFTAILOPRY
PERSISTZIPRAE
ORRSKOALIPODS
NOIRYALEPUPIL
GIVEMESOMESPACE
ENACTTHORANAT
DELTASANSEELS

I'll have a goat parsing wordplay any day!

Er, a go at.

Damon so innocently takes out four spaces in his clues, Often -> Of ten a highlight. I was all set to point out the "mistake" to Will — I caught a pre-production error a couple of weeks ago, just my second in five years — when I realized that something fishy was going on.

Thankfully, I didn't make a goof of that email!

Er, go of.

Notable -> not able was another not able themer.

Darn it, notable!

Not()able was my favorite of the four since the meaning almost flipped. Not quite, but it gave me a serious pause, thinking that not only was this clue incorrect, but it was wrong in the worst of ways. Great moment of realization.

FROM WHERE I STAND was the weakest tome — @#$!! — to me, since it's not a juicy phrase I'd use in a themeless or as fill. But it worked fine, if sounding like legalese.

It's tough to work with a central 9-letter themer. A bit too much crossword glue for my taste, leaving the grid with a sere-ness. Thankfully, Damon did a nice job of spreading it out. But I bet adding some black cheater squares — perhaps at the S of STET, E of BSIDE, or Y of OPRY — would have left the puzzle feeling more elegantly crafted.

This is a matter of philosophy. There's a camp of constructors who eschew cheater squares, preferring a more streamlined look to their grids. I don't agree with this outlook, but it does have validity. Well, there is the fact that Patrick Berry, considered by many as the best constructor on earth, is squarely in the cheater square camp. Cheat-ers, cheat-ers!

Overall though, clever idea to insert the parsing changes into the clues, rather than into the entries, where they're usually seen. Made for a solid a-ha moment.

Fri 8/10/2018
GUFFOPERASOHO
APIALAMESTBEN
SPLITSVILLEREM
BEERBELLYASIDE
ARMSNOEMCEED
GLENVAGABONDS
SINUSERROR
PUTPENTOPAPER
PAYINTIMES
POLICECAROPTO
ITUNESESTORA
GOMERHANKAARON
LOMAREYOUBLIND
ELOCARLINBUYS
TEXEMBARKAMMO

Day 5 of LAUGH AT MYSELF (LAM-poon) week! I was worried when evaluating this week's themelesses, since, without a theme to anchor a puzzle, technical merit comes much more into play. Gonna have to work to keep out my usual grump!

I loved a handful of clues today, and that's often all I need for a positive solving experience. The PAVLOV clue was particularly awesome — with the P start, I was sure the [Big name in conditioning] had to be PRELL or PANTENE. (Never mind that the former isn't six letters, and PANTENE is … (using fingers on second hand) … seven.) It's PAVLOV and his dog conditioning experiments.

I wonder if he ever shampooed his dogs?

People still rent movies? Hello NYT, welcome to the 21st century! Ha, it's Petty Jeff (PJ) who was the fool. ITUNES is a big player in movie rentals.

SKUNK also was clued in an entertaining way, slang term for shutting an opponent out.

A handful of colorful phrases, too. A POLICE CAR called a black-and-white. Relationship ending in SPLITSVILLE. Yelling at an ump ARE YOU BLIND? And best of all, the BEER BELLY ironically filled by six-packs — ha! Memorable stuff, there.

SNO GRO OPTO … PJ, shut your trap! Yeah, there's more crossword glue than you like, but didn't you enjoy all those clever clues. BEER BELLY, remember?

(grumble grumble, fine, you have a point)

And tell you what, that PAVLOV clue is something you'll take away and remember. Giving solvers a single great memory makes an entire puzzle worthwhile.

POW Sat 5/5/2018
SNUGADAMHEEDS
POGOSOBAINNIE
UTAHHODGEPODGE
MONADMUONSTE
ENDLESSLOOPIRE
DEAFENAWMAN
SPARKYRHETT
ISAIDGOODDAYSIR
TOMEIWASABI
CRASSROOSTS
HERHIGHFALUTIN
HEFDAYOAGAPE
GETUPANDGOHYPE
MATZOGRUBTIER
ADOZESAPSANDS

★ Can't remember when I've loved so many feature entries so much. These flat-out delighted me:

  • HODGEPODGE
  • ENDLESS LOOP (programming term)
  • I SAID GOOD DAY, SIR!
  • HIGH FALUTIN
  • GET UP AND GO
  • GO HALFSIES
  • WHY I OUGHTA

Every one of the seven 9+ letter entries wasn't just great — they were amazing. I don't think I've ever felt like that with a themeless. Just I SAID GOOD DAY SIR would have almost been enough, but to get seven ultra-colorful headliners in one puzzle? Whoa!

I had a long internal debate, part of me needing to give this one the POW! based on the snazz factor alone. So many memorable entries!

But I have this annoying constructor yin to my delighted solver's yang. I've learned to stomp it down to ignore the minor stuff like ENTR. And SOREHEAD … is that something people actually call each other?

But a single ADOZE makes that dark side tremble mightily.

Then MONAD?

And SPUMED?

HULK SMASH!

Note how each of those three uglies exhibits the alternative vowel-consonant pattern, so helpful to constructors. It's not a surprise that entries like this tend to make it into crosswords.

I know, I know, some of this was necessary to make all the goodness happen. SPUMED / MONAD is in a big region highly constrained by GO HALFSIES / ENDLESS LOOP. Maybe a cheater square at the S of SPUMED would have helped. But corner black squares can be unsightly.

Terrific clue for PARABOLA, although non-math types might not have appreciated its brilliance. PARABOLAs have a focus, i.e., the point where blah blah blah I don't remember exactly, but it's a great misdirect using the word "focus."

When I step back and look at the big picture, this puzzle contains so much greatness that it deserves a POW! It's a shame that just a few short entries sadly held me back.

(sounds of struggle) DIE, YIN! BWA HA HA HA YOU STUPID FLAW-POINTING-OUTER PEDANT, I'M GIVING OUT TWO POW!S THIS WEEK!

(Gotta keep all you readers on your toes every once in a while!)

Tue 4/3/2018
TITHEFUSSESARR
ARIELINTHATLEO
NETFLIXQUEUEGAG
GNUICEUPXANADU
YESYOUOOFMYEYE
ATSTROPIC
AVERLESAGEALS
DEADSEAMARYKAY
SETCRUSTYOATS
SUNDEWABS
KALELEMIBUTWHY
ALEPPOANDORAAA
YONTHINKQUICKLY
ANNONSALEATEAM
KEYROUSEDLASSE

Think fast! Er, THINK QUICKLY — Damon ends seven phrases with letter homophones spelling out Q U I C K L Y. I've seen many letter homophone puzzles before, but I can't remember this exact take. Enjoyable concept.

I put Damon in rarefied air these days, one of the few constructors with the skills to construct solid puzzles across the full range, from easy early-weekers to tough themelesses. Many people can develop the skills necessary to construct one type of puzzle but aren't able to successfully stretch themselves like Damon.

However, this Tuesday puzzle wasn't as smooth as I'd like. Any time you have to call upon ABOU early in the week is not so good. I don't mind some ALS / SYS or ERN, but toss in some toughies like YOST and LASSE, and the puzzle left me with an overall sense of esoterica.

Of course, it's super tough to work with eight (!) themers in a 15x15 puzzle. Even tougher when you have to work with the X and Q in NETFLIX QUEUE. And it's no surprise some of the quirkier answers like YOST crop up in between themers (MARY KAY / BUT WHY). Overall, I think it's a reasonable result given the very high theme density.

I wanted to give this one the POW! I enjoyed piecing together the letters, a delightful idea. If only THINK QUICKLY had been as snazzy a phrase as THINK FAST, or QUICK THINKING, I probably would have swept the grid glue under the rug and declared this the POW!

Also, with just Q U I C K in QUICK THINKING, the grid would probably have been a lot smoother.

Overall, a strong idea executed almost to POW! territory. But not quite.

Sat 3/3/2018
POSTERIZELASTS
ESCAPEPODARHAT
WHATSMOREZAIRE
SANTOARMYBRAT
OMAROBSESS
CAMOGOSOLO
OFFICEMAXNEATO
STASHALIEXCOP
TASTENUDESCENE
ERODEDUSED
LAOTZUSUSS
ITSAWRAPCEASE
LEASHSAYSAYSAY
TAKEIARISTOTLE
STARZPANTSUITS

POSTERIZE! I've done that a few times in my day, my defender's face all crinkled up in agony. (Okay fine, on an 8-foot hoop.)

Oh … it means [Display, as an image, using only a small number of different tones] too?

Huh. Fully agreed with Damon. I suppose it's a niche term that will get lost on non-bball fans, but still, I think it's an awesome piece of slang to learn. Hopefully, it will expand to other spheres of life. That annoying driver, not moving when the light turns green because he's staring at his cell phone, and the cops nab him for breaking Washington's distracted driving law?

POSTERIZEd!

Okay, maybe not.

Choosing to ignore that cluing decision, I loved how the puzzle kicked off. Combining POSTERIZE with ESCAPE POD and WHATS MORE made for a great triple.

TATTOOIST running through it, though … it's a "tattoo artist," isn't it? I have a tat, but I'm not sure I'd ever say I went to a TATTOOIST to get it.

Aside from TATTOOIST, I liked Damon's usage of his long slots. EXCUSE YOU is colorful. ARMY BRAT clued as a kid with a "moving" life story, IT'S A WRAP, the awesome brand name CHEEZ WHIZ, ARISTOTLE, etc. = more than enough to keep up my interest.

I don't mind an esoteric name/thing here and there, especially in a Saturday puzzle. Ron SANTO ... I'm expected to know non-Hall-of-Fame baseball players? Thankfully, Damon made all the crossings fair and easy, so SANTO didn't hinder my correct solve. But staring at SANTO, wondering if that could truly be right, wasn't a good feeling.

ADDED NOTE: apparently many of my readers are baseball fans! Ron SANTO was elected to the HOF in 2012 so that one is on me. Not the first or last time I'll be wrong! Thanks all for letting me know.

And the NE corner … huh. I learned what an ARHAT was through crosswords, but I do think it's fair game. Just because it's from a culture not yours doesn't mean it's bad!

TARAS Bulba I also learned from crosswords. That consonant-vowel alternation is so useful to constructors.

STETS, too. I'm not sure my editor at HarperCollins would know what STETS means. (His line editor definitely does, though.)

Each of ARHAT / TARAS / STETS is pretty minor to me. Altogether though, and I might have asked for a redo of that corner.

It's too bad — a sore spot on an otherwise pretty darn good puzzle.

Thu 2/1/2018
PAINDOHAOPTIN
EMMAICESBRIDE
RYANONEALLETON
LAGEARVITALE
SALLINDAEVANS
CLEMENSUNIX
HOAROTTOSOT
MARIEANTOINETTE
ODSCPASRETD
AHEMSWARMED
ROGEREBERTCRY
SORELYORIOLE
PLATOINITIALLY
OFTENAGEECLIO
TEENSMOSSESPN

Love me a good parsing puzzle. Roman of Hollywood isn't a "Roman," but an R. O. man = RYAN O'NEAL. Great consistency, Damon finding "person" terms readily hideable within regular words: ROman, LEgal, MAlady, REgent. Tight set, too — I'd be remiss in saying that the only other possibility I could find (besides SAlad) was REmiss.

*rimshot*

INITIALLY initially didn't click with me. Yes, the first two initials are at the start of the first word, thus doubly "initial." Thinking about it for a while, it does feel like there's cleverness that should have produced a stronger a-ha moment for me. Not sure why it's still feeling like a stretch — perhaps it's a bit too punny for my taste?

Good gridwork. The obvious glue is stuff that gets listed on editors' spec sheets, i.e. abbrs. (RETD), tough foreign words (A TOI), entries that might feel esoteric (NENE). The one that interests me most today is A LOAD. It feels bad to me, but how is it different than A LOT or A TON, which both feel fine? Perhaps it's because I usually hear A LOT or A TON by themselves, but A LOAD always comes with "of"? Hmm.

AGE TEN was another that made me pause. It is a milestone age, turning double digits. But I don't like the idea of paving the way for AGE FIVE (when most kids start school) or AGE TWO ("terrible" time for tots) or other arbitrariness.

APERY is another odd-sounding word — if you have to convince yourself that yeah, it's probably fine because it's in the dictionary, it's probably not. But the fantastic clue rescued it for me. Love the clever repurposing of the word "Impressionism."

All in all, a neat idea. I think I would have given it the POW! if 1) the INITIALLY revealer had hit me more strongly (subjective call), or if 2) the people had all been drawn from the same walk of life, tightening up the theme set even further. Lots of people whose initials are MA, for example.

Would have been POY! (year) status if everyone had been the first to do something in their field … thus triply INITIAL!

Sat 12/30/2017
DASHIKISWETBAR
ALPACINOOMEARA
MNEMONICRUNDMC
AIDINGIDSDARE
SCUDJDATESPEW
KOPFAILSPSA
HOMEDFEALTY
CANIGETAWITNESS
ZLOTYSRERAN
OTTSWEETHAD
LAVAQUIPSROVE
GRABURNTHEWEB
OBLATEIWOULDNT
SOITISSANTIAGO
ZYDECOMCESCHER

Some grids scream to be run on a Saturday, especially ones that feature a ton of entries that solvers might label as "you need to know trivia to do crosswords." HOWDAH, ZLOTYS, ALNICO, and CZOLGOSZ = Saturday!

While that preconceived notion gives crosswords a bad name, I like a puzzle in this vein once in a while, as long as it feels fair. I'd seen McKinley's assassin, Leon CZOLGOSZ in a previous crossword — CZOLGOSZ crossing GNARS sure made me gnar when I got that square wrong! — but I thought Damon did a nice job keeping all the crossings gettable. Some might argue that ZLOTYS is a tough unit of currency, but I think educated solvers ought to at least have heard the word.

And darn it, that clue for ZLOTYS was so awesome! The Polish currency clued with a devious [Pole vault …] = fantastic!

Some great feature entries, CAN I GET A WITNESS and SOCIAL DARWINISM terms that most everyone can recognize and appreciate. Colorful, snazzy, and not requiring niche knowledge. If SOCIAL DARWINISM had gotten a cheekier clue — the misdirect toward a laissez-faire national policy didn't totally work for me — they would have been perfect feature entries.

KING JAMES refers to LeBron's awesome nickname. I would have liked the clue to hint that it was a nickname, though — maybe something like [His Airness : Chicago :: ___ : Cleveland]? I'm sure sports-haters / people still suffering from SAT-anxiety would have hated that ...

With just a couple of INI, DTS, ETAT, I thought Damon did technically well with his grid. Sure, maybe you could argue that the CZOLGOSZ / ZLOTYS crossing was rough, but there's also an argument that one ought to know important historical figures like CSOLGOSZ.

Bah, CZOLGOSZ!

Along with some great MC ESCHER and RUN DMC drawing from different walks of life, I enjoyed the diversity that Damon brought to his grid. I prefer clever wordplay to "trivia," but the latter wasn't so heavy as to turn me off of this one.

POW Tue 10/24/2017
HADJWILLSPRAYS
ISEEIDEATAIPEI
THATSNOTTHEPOINT
SODIOTAETA
PICKUPLINELECAR
ACAIOONABLESS
LEIAWEDPIUS
SNAKESONAPLANE
ERRSORALAXE
CHAROUSEDSPEW
LOGONINEEDSPACE
EREOKRARIA
ANOTHERDIMENSION
RENOIROPUSMOLE
STEPONNAGSSUED

★ I'm a sucker for math and physics puzzles done well, and this one was right on my wavelength. I've seen this concept before — POINT, LINE, PLANE, SPACE forming a sequence, but it still eluded me during my solve, giving me a solid a-ha moment. Great job of picking theme phrases that were both snazzy and helped obfuscate the concept — PICKUP LINE and SNAKES ON A PLANE were such fun entries, plus they both hid the math meaning of LINE and PLANE. And what a perfect revealer in ANOTHER DIMENSION!

Damon went wide, with a 16x15 grid, to accommodate the revealer. Wide grids can get tricky, as you don't want to risk losing solvers' attention with the bigger, potentially sloggier grid, so it's even more important than usual to incorporate strong, colorful entries.

Damon started off well, with THAT'S NOT THE POINT a great theme phrase, not often seen in crosswords due to its 16-letter length. Then he tossed in some WIND POWER, PAPAL BULL, IP ADDRESS, even AKRON OHIO as LBJ's birthplace. That's a lot of great material to enjoy, even for (you poor pitiable) non-math types.

A couple of compromises to make it all work, in the form of IRR, STET, OONA, ERE, AERO. Given how much I enjoyed the theme and the bonus fill, I didn't mind all that … with the exception of AERO. Usually AERO wouldn't bother me much, but crossing it with LOG ON, where AERI / LOG IN work (almost) as well = no bueno! I hate finishing a crossword with an error if it feels like the error wasn't 100% my fault. Such a feeling of dissatisfaction.

But overall, solid math theme + juicy themers + a lot of bonus fill + not much crossword glue = one delighted solver.

Fri 9/29/2017
AHIPIPPAAGAPE
MOTIDIOTVAPOR
IVSPABLONERUDA
GENDERBINARY
AROUSESETSHOT
BBGUNSLEAVES
POIPOACHRELO
LAGSTROOPTRES
ERGOASAHITKO
ADIDASGANDHI
SEABASSLAMENT
JOLLYRANCHER
GIVEMEARINGUSA
ACERBSINGEMIC
GEEKSHADERPSY

Eleven-letter answers can be so problematic in themelesses. They aren't nearly as awkward as 12s, 13s, or 14s, but they're not nearly as friendly as 10s or 9s. Their relative rarity makes today's featured 11s feel that much more fresh and sparkly — PABLO NERUDA, TELEKINESIS, OVER THE HUMP, ITS NO BIGGIE, HOVERBOARDS = fantastic stuff.

Why are 11s tricky? Well, when you place an 11 in row three, as with PABLO NERUDA, it automatically creates six three-letter words (in the NW and SE). That's not a problem in itself, but too many three-letter words can make a themeless feel choppy, so you generally want to hold them to about 12 or fewer.

With today's grid, I kept on feeling like I was starting and stopping with all those short answers, so it was no surprise to count ‘em up to find a whopping 17 three-letter entries. Much appreciated that they were almost all fine (DMC the only dab of crossword glue), but hitting so many of them broke up my solving flow. Look how squished the four corners appear, too, not as wide open-feeling as I like in themelesses.

GENDER BINARY was an interesting feature entry. I wasn't aware of the term, but I did appreciate learning about this either/or bias that many cultures harbor. It didn't give me the same elation as JOLLY RANCHER, so I didn't enjoy it as much. (Although I appreciated it more after Damon pointed out the connection between it and PABLO NERUDA!) But it's good to learn something new from a crossword, just as long as the crossword doesn't come across as teachy.

Excellent use of long slots overall, with just GARY HART leaving me wondering if he's lost his crossworthiness. And with very little crossword glue — just DMC, POLIS, NATL — it's a solidly executed puzzle.

Fri 9/15/2017
IMPEIDENCHSHH
MATEDENOLATEE
BUBLEADVERSARY
UNAMEDIAFRENZY
YARDARNYAZOO
IKNOWRIGHTRAGU
NEUMANNAHAS
GAMWIGLEVTIE
WANEFRENEMY
GDAYGRACIOUSME
LILACDRTSTET
ALLTHATJAZZCRO
SANTACRUZABASE
STEFLAREPOSEY
YEWFUMEDSWEDE

Damon used this grid pattern earlier this year to great effect, so I was eager to see what he would do with it this time. I like how this pattern let him spread so many great long entries all throughout the grid, intersecting MEDIA FRENZY with DEAD RINGER with I KNOW, RIGHT? with HALF CRAZED with GRACIOUS ME with THE RITZ with ALL THAT JAZZ. It's like the snazziness never stopped!

With 14 long slots and 4 mid-lengthers, I'd be happy to see a total of 12 or so converted into assets. Things like ADVERSARY and NEUMANN aren't eye-openers, but most all the rest is fantastic. Very well done there.

The grid leans toward the end of the spectrum of having a ton of great fill at the cost of quite a bit of crossword glue. (The opposite end is Patrick Berry, whose puzzles are squeaky clean, magically assembled, but sometimes lacking in pizzazz.) I hit IDEM early, then ARN, DR T (a terrible entry considering the forgettability of the movie), STET, NUS, CRO, ENOLA, AVEO. Too much for my taste.

The LEV / AVEO cross felt iffy, too. A bygone car is bad enough, but LEN, LEY, LEO, LEK, LEB, all seemed plausible. LEO felt like it had to be right, and AOEO looked *sort of* plausible, given all the odd car model names out there. I had a tough time believing LEV / AVEO because I've seen LEV mostly as an Israeli name.

Sometimes I wonder if my life as a constructor has corrupted my ability to enjoy puzzles, especially themelesses. I loved sussing out I KNOW, RIGHT, and felt like overall, there was so much color everywhere in the grid. Yet my stupid constructor's brain couldn't get past all those dabs of crossword glue to give this one the POW!

Stupid brain.

Fri 8/4/2017
BSSPLOTSDRUB
IHADNOIDEACELL
GIGECONOMYANNA
AMERICANPHAROAH
ISHERE
USEDPLAYMAKER
PERESTROIKAELO
PRECHAPLINFIN
ETCLATEEDITION
DATAENTRYARTY
IRKURL
TSARALEXANDERII
VERBEXOPLANETS
PAINSEXPISTOLS
GRABSCOTTSLO

The wide-open grid provided me a nice wow factor. Giant center, giant NW and SE, along with two grid-spanning entries? Yes, please! Grid patterns in themed puzzles rarely make me sit up straight and take notice, so I enjoy when a themeless grid is eye-popping.

Some great entries, too. AMERICAN PHAROAH hasn't made many reappearances since his 2015 Triple Crown win. Surprising on one hand, as the odd spelling is notable. I wonder how many crossword constructors are horse racing fans, though.

I didn't know much (anything, really) about TSAR ALEXANDER II, but what a cool nickname.

I HAD NO IDEA was fun too, although I had no idea there was such a thing as the GIG ECONOMY. I read the WSJ regularly, but perhaps this term just hasn't trickled down to this old-school finance wonk. And it does make sense; an economy based around one-time gigs.

I also didn't understand LATE EDITION. The late edition of the newspaper, okay. What makes it quaint? I researched this for hours (okay, three minutes) to figure out what clever wordplay was eluding me, but I failed. Best guess is that "quaint" implies that these days, not many newspapers run a late edition?

A couple of compromises to make the wide-open sections work, i.e. IS SO / SLO / APPT in the big SE, and BIGA (Big A?) / BS'S in the big NW. No terrible trade-offs, but not amazingly elegant, either.

I appreciated how many interesting long feature entries Damon managed to work in, and from so many walks of life. It's too bad a few of them didn't have much of an impact--or had a confusing one--for me.

Fri 6/30/2017
SHAFTEDAPTZED
CARRACEGLUCOSE
ANNASUIRAMHOME
MOANSHAYMAKER
PIZZERIAEIRE
FLUSHDEMEAN
FAZEELANSOPPY
OVERDEFATFESS
MENDSTUDEFREE
ORGIESNIECE
ANALNANUNANU
VORACITYCSPAN
OLDNAVYBIKINIS
NEEDLERILOVELA
NONFROTOOEASY

I admire Damon's use of 14-letter entries. So tough to build around, since they automatically force placement of black squares, reducing flexibility right off the bat. I hadn't heard of CHARM OFFENSIVE before, but it was easily grokkable and a fun term to learn. FRANZ FERDINAND wasn't as interesting to me — he's no doubt crossworthy as a fuse for WWI — but it's tough to clue him in a clever way.

This puzzle isn't as segmented as it could be, but there are three sub-regions that are only connected by two answers apiece. Notice that once you drop in HAHA FUNNY and CHARM OFFENSIVE, you can work on the upper right region independently of the rest of the puzzle. It's a great boon for the constructor, but it's not great flow for the solver.

Still, having just two entries connecting a section is better than having only one. And it does allow Damon to do so well with that upper right. It's a huge swath of white space, daunting to fill. To weave in ZOOKEEPER, HAYMAKER and RAM HOME is excellent work.

I wish a few black squares had been moved to open up that corner, connecting it much more strongly to the rest of the puzzle — something like blackening in the ED of PLAYED and making the square after PIZZERIA white. But doing so would likely have weakened the corner's fill.

Never easy.

I liked how Damon kept his crossword glue to a minimum, just an ILO, ECU, OLEO and perhaps UNSAY. I was loving the puzzle, feeling like it might win my POW! what with all its great ZEN GARDEN sort of sizzling entries. But then I hit NANU NANU. Even as a "Mork and Mindy" fan in my youth, it feels dated to use as s feature entry. And HA HA FUNNY felt like it ought to be FUNNY HA HA, as per the old SNL sketch. Throw in a NEEDLER, I LOVE LA (a common constructor's crutch, given its friendly consonant/vowel alternation) and it didn't quite hit my threshold for a POW!-level themeless.

Still, generally well done and an entertaining solve.

Sat 5/27/2017
FETEALDAATHOS
AGOGLEONCHARY
COPAGENTERNES
ASSNAZTECONIT
DUHATNOWADE
ERECTSHAVISHAM
FLORIDATECH
FLEXITARIAN
PALEBLUEDOT
ANNOTATEPREFAB
BOERNEAPRKO
BOATETTASVIES
OGRESIATEALSO
TIEUPCLIPPLUM
TERRYSLOTESPY

Sometimes people ask me why certain themelesses run on Fridays and some on Saturdays. You can make a puzzle as hard or easy as you want by tweaking the cluing, right? That's mostly true, but there are some puzzles that just scream SUPER HARD VOCABULARY, I BELONG ON A SATURDAY! Today was one of them.

I like learning a thing or two from my crosswords, especially when the thing is a catchy as FLEXITARIAN. What a snazzy term! And it's something that solvers can suss out, even if it's unfamiliar. Fantastic choice to seed a themeless puzzle.

I'm a Carl Sagan fan — love "Cosmos" — but PALE BLUE DOT was new to me. As a former NASA intern, I'm embarrassed that I didn't know it until now. Ahem. Again, I like learning a thing or two from a puzzle. And although this one wasn't as easy to grok as FLEXITARIAN, it still makes sense (the Earth as a faint blue dot in the universe).

I wouldn't expect educated solvers to know details about Miss HAVISHAM (from "Great Expectations"), but the name ought to at least be familiar-sounding.

ANTENATAL … okay, NATAL should be figure-out-able, meaning "related to birth." And the ANTE- prefix means "before." But what an odd term compared to the much more well-known "pre-natal." Jill (my wife, a doctor), says it's not uncommon, but it's a bit odd in lay usage.

COLPORTEUR … whoa. It is a word in the dictionary. And it amusingly sounds like Cole Porter (no relation, unfortunately). Sure was tough to piece together though, requiring each and every crossing.

Overall, I think the puzzle was fair. The only crossing that gave me pause was COLPORTEUR / PALE BLUE DOT. GALE? HALE? MALE? The P seemed highly likely though.

Well, there was the CHARY (what the…!?) crossing ACE, which had a tough clue. [Crush] was right; the crossing nearly crushed me.

I think the best puzzles are the ones that 1.) teach me a thing or two (FLEXITARIAN!), and 2.) which give me a huge feeling of accomplishment, knowing that I beat it with 100% certainty. This one felt heavier on the former, lighter on the latter.

Still, a great mental workout, one that belonged on a Saturday.

POW Fri 4/21/2017
APSESPAUSEHAG
CREMAASSETUTA
TOTUPPIECHARTS
OFTSMEARTACTIC
FOLDERGNILLA
GREATSCOTTDEAN
OMIGOSHOHMS
DANRIATEAOHS
TIASAFROPOP
PIPEHELLOKITTY
ENLAIIBNLIDS
GRAMMARNAZIMAT
GOGOBOOTSALITO
EAUANNEEMISER
DDEDEALSBETSY

★ SO MANY great entries! Damon starts with 14 long slots (8+ letters), and converts most into sizzling material. Love GO-GO BOOTS, and in my previous career, the ACTs OF GOD clauses in legal contracts were always good for a laugh. HOT DATES, SMEAR TACTIC, SPY STORY ... everywhere I looked, great material packed in tight.

My daughter has a weird fascination with HELLO KITTY. Sigh, so much pink. Still, a great entry.

SETTLE IN and TOTAL BASES didn't do much for me (I'm plus/minus on baseball), but Damon's slugging percentage (or whatever metaphor you baseball fans like to use) in converting long slots to great entries is very high.

Excellent use of mid-length entries, too. I grew up idolizing THE FONZ, a virtual MESSIAH to me. AFROPOP too? OMIGOSH! Constructors tend to overlook the potential of these mid-length slots, but Damon does so well with them.

GRAMMAR NAZI … I chuckled at this one in the end, but I uncovered the NAZI end of it first. Never pleasant to see NAZI in a crossword. GRAMMAR NAZI sure is a colorful term, though.

There was something non-themeless feeling to this puzzle, and it took me a while to figure out what. During my solve, I felt like I stopped and started dozens of times. Took me a while to figure out that the number of three-letter words was most of the root cause.

Now, most people won't care how many three-letter words there are in a themeless. But so many shorties leads to so much starting and stopping. Typically, themelesses don't have more than 12 three-letter entries, for good reason.

And entering ERG, then DAN, RIA, TEA, OHS, across the middle … that row of shorties takes away from the themeless feel to the layout.

But overall, a fairly smooth solve (aside from what Damon mentioned plus TE AMO, ERG, and OFT) and a huge number of great entries gave me a very nice solving experience.

POW Thu 4/6/2017
ESTDXMANLIVE
ACHEMEGAARIL
TERABYTESBTEAM
UNEIGAAGEE
PEELERPATTIE
XENIAMARAUDS
PSATTWEEOGRES
ATLXSANDOSNAE
REARSSEASGELS
INDEPTHLURID
STYLESMUFFED
YEASUGGUVA
VIVIDTUNASALAD
IRANAMPMALDA
PANGRACEHOES

★ I love it when a crossword surprises me! I got to XS AND OS pretty quickly and having already figured out that X MY GRITS was (KISS) MY GRITS (I watched WAY too much "Alice" as a kid), I shrugged. X representing KISS, O for HUG, got it. Been done before.

Then I stared at THREE X ___ for the longest time, wondering what song could start with THREE KISS. Great, great, great a-ha moment to realize that the Xs all represented different things: THREE (TIMES) A LADY, (KISS) MY GRITS, and (TEN) SPEED. Same with the Os! TURNED FULL HUG made no sense but TURNED FULL (CIRCLE), (ZERO) SUM GAME, BEAR(HUG)S did.

Very cool that Damon found so many different things that X and O commonly represent.

Did you notice that all the Xs are confined to the left side of the grid? And the Os on the right? Elegant touch. And it wasn't lost on me that Damon avoided extraneous Os. That may not seem very difficult, but O is such a common letter that it's hard to avoid. These two elegant touches helped elevate this puzzle in my eyes even further.

Normally when a theme tickles me this much, I don't bother talking about the fill. But Damon does so well to spread around his crossword glue, keeping it to just minor ENE UNE ESTD ATL shorties.

All O (around), a superb puzzle.

Tue 3/14/2017
MOMDATAMACAU
ANIEWERSOBOES
NECNGAIOTBIRD
SIDCAESARANO
MORALELEEJCOBB
ATOMIZEPAYPAL
NAPECOOEDSTY
ORSONBEAN
AMCVENTIAAHS
GOOIERTANKTOP
TOMGREENPAELLA
CPUSALADDAYS
SHOEDAMATINAT
PERSESENORTRI
ARTSYSEWSAKC

Damon plays on SALAD DAYS (a term from Shakespeare), using four men with last names doubling as types of salads. SID CAESAR I knew off the top. TOM GREEN vaguely stirred a memory (he's the guy that used to star in "The Tom Green Show," not surprisingly).

ORSON BEAN apparently has done a huge body of work both in film and TV.

I probably should know LEE J COBB, as he's had many major movie roles. More importantly, he comes up not infrequently in crosswords as LEE J — not a lot of options when you need a four-letter entry ending in J!

Interesting choice to cram the themers together toward the middle of the puzzle — usually the first and last themers go into rows 3 and 13 to maximize spacing. But sometimes, squeezing pairs together can make the construction easier. Today, it's like Damon only has to work with three (albeit long) themers.

It does allow for a novel grid layout, including a lot of 6-letter entries. DENALI, AW GEEZ, PAYPAL, I GUESS, PAELLA are not only great words/phrases but since most crosswords don't feature many 6-letter entries, these feel nice and fresh.

I wasn't so thrilled about some of the shorter fill, though. I probably wouldn't have minded that central RVER / SERE / ONT section if there hadn't been more AGT, ESAS, NEC, USD gluey bits elsewhere. Tough, working around a central 9-letter theme answer.

EWERS and EPEE don't bother me much, as they're real-life things, but I have heard grumbles about these. (My wife, who's much, much smarter than me, dislikes EWERS, as she knows the word only from crosswords.)

Puzzles featuring proper names — especially full names — can feel like a trivia contest. So to get some AMATI, BLY, DEY, MACAU, NGAIO in addition to the themers felt like a lot of names in one puzzle.

But all in all, some nice thematic finds, covering a range of salads. And quite a lot of great bonus fill — some great 7s in MANSMAN, MIC DROP, MOOCHER, HOLY ARK — albeit, with prices to pay for them.

Sat 1/28/2017
BOSCHJANEEYRE
ACURAOPENDOORS
DEBARHEGOTGAME
JAZZHANDSUNIX
ONEEACHPERONI
KIRRHEALATKES
ECOINCHESEST
ALREADY
AHAFLYINGBTW
SOISEETGIFORE
STRAWSINASNIT
ESPNBANGUPJOB
SPIDEREGGVIOLA
SUPERHEROELVER
REDROBINSLITS

I enjoy rare letters in a themeless, and Damon incorporated the Js, X, Zs so well. I particularly liked how he worked in what rare letters he could while prioritizing smooth and lively fill over a pangram (or another mostly-constructor-focused goal). As a solver, I appreciated that.

I had seen JAZZ HANDS a long time ago, but it still had a nice impact for me. And although JANE EYRE, ACHILLES, and JOHN HENRY are all proper names — generally I try to avoid proper names that either solvers will know (and love!) or not know (and probably hate, because it feels like they're being forced to learn!) — I feel like all educated NYT solvers ought to know these three. Yes, JOHN HENRY too!

Also appreciated Damon's care with his short fill. An AGRI here, an EDT there, that's solid and very smooth work.

So much good stuff made me think of this for the POW!, but I did have qualms. I had such a rough time with TRIOLET. Struggled with ELVER, and the FAUVES compounded the problem. Those might produce some probably-fair-but-unsatisfactory crossings for some solvers.

Then I remembered that I also struggled with PERONI. And HOTSPUR. Luckily, I love ancient mysteries, so the lost colony of ROANOKE came back without much prodding, but I could see that being lumped in as well.

Should I have known all of these entries? Maybe. The FAUVES turn out to be a very influential group in art. And I've used ELVER in one of my puzzles! So as a whole, maybe this handful shouldn't have bugged me.

I'm starting to rethink my construction philosophy, which has been to avoid gluey bits at nearly all costs, even if that means including more than just one "weird" answer. Enough crossword friends have shared with me the experience of a single crazy-looking answer drastically lowering their enjoyment of a puzzle. I don't think that's fair at all, but it's hard to tell people what they should feel.

Anyway, overall a very solid puzzle; loved those rare letters. Glad I learned some new things, albeit with some grumbling over the quantity of said things.

Thu 12/8/2016
WARPEDNAMISTS
ORALDIALUNTIE
LADODGERSSTALE
FBIEASYAIRIER
OHAREIDCARDS
ACHEDLAMAS
PHENOMRAGPISA
PAANNOUNCEMENTS
TIDYTRISESTET
ELLENSCHMO
POBOXESELSIE
ALLDAYALOUZEE
USAIRITSUPPORT
SERUMPOOPONIT
ENEMYANNEMENU

Two-letter wordplay, with initials reinterpreted as whole words. The results amused me as a whole, LA DODGERS the best of the bunch. Funny to think about a singer who goes straight from sol to ti, avoiding the dreaded LA. Great choice to kick off the puzzle theme. IT SUPPORT (information technology) is a great phrase in itself, and I liked the idea of Stephen King getting a little help with his famous book, "It." And ID CARDS was another good one, making me think about Louis CK joking around about Freudian concepts.

PA ANNOUNCEMENTS felt stilted as a phrase — "overhead announcements" hits my ear better — but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to make a grid work.

Speaking of making a grid work, seven-letter themers are often awkward, as it's tough to make them stand out naturally as part of the theme. Damon does a nice job — note that there are no other seven-letter (or longer) entries in the across direction. This helps, but I still lost ID CARDS and PO BOXES in the background, especially since they're entries you might see as fill in other crosswords.

I wonder if putting them across the middle, separated by a black square, would have helped? That means PA ANNOUNCEMENTS might have to become PA SYSTEMS or something, with another themer needed to match it. Never easy!

Damon did a great job of making his grid smooth. Just an INTRA and TRI (although I've done some triathlons, and TRI is commonly used for the event); that's beautiful execution on short fill.

I would have actually been fine with a bit more glue if it meant a little more long fill. I did like MOTLEY, DEAD ON, MESS UP, PHENOM, but IN THE ZONE and RADIOHEAD are such great entries. Maybe moving the black square between URLS and IPA over to the left, to create another set of eight-letter slots? That would also have opened up the upper left and lower right corners, both of which are slightly choked off from the rest of the puzzle.

Overall though, some fun results, if not as groundbreaking as I like Thursday puzzles to be.

Fri 11/11/2016
NEWTAFLACTYKE
OVERROACHHOAX
SILOAGREEYURI
ELLIELATELAS
JESSEJAMESMOOT
OSHGUMNEWCOKE
BTUSSPFPARKED
THATSABIGIF
ALMONDBOZBASH
COYOTESOZSMOO
DAMSSCAMARTIST
ENOELEMSALUT
LOUDREGISLIEU
CUTETRICKIAMB
OTHOSASSYARES

A ton of great stuff packed in! Big, interconnected skeletons can be tough to work with, but Damon did well. WELL SHUT MY MOUTH to JESSE JAMES to CHEESE PIZZA to THAT'S A BIG IF to JUST DESERTS (yes, that's the correct spelling!) to SCAM ARTIST to YOU LOOK FAMILIAR — that's seven long answers locked together, each one of them strong to fantastic. THAT'S A BIG IF was my favorite, so it was great to see it smack dab in the middle.

And there was more, a nice surprise given that interconnected skeletons can quickly become inflexible. NOSE JOBS, FOG LAMPS, KARAOKE SO SUE ME, HOT TUBS, even the bizarre-looking BOOMMICS (BOOM MIKES?). And being a kid of the late 20th century, getting NEW COKE crossing MCRIB was really fun. All these great entries spread throughout the puzzle made it feel like the grid was jam-packed with goodies.

Interconnected skeletons are notoriously difficult to keep smooth, since so much of the puzzle has to be built around various long answers locked into place. I think Damon did a nice job keeping the crossword glue to just minor stuff. EVILEST is the most evil to me — I once choked down EVILER into order to get a puzzle to work, and still feel ill about it — and ACE TEN feels a little arbitrary, but some ELEM SRS OZS (abbrs.), ARA (esoteric name), OSH (partial) aren't bad at all.

Some solvers balk at ENO, but I think he's perfectly fine. I don't buy the argument that ENO should be avoided, since he appears much more in crosswords than in real life — my feeling is that if you're crossworthy, you're crossworthy.

And for years, LARAM (such a beautiful vowel consonant alternation!) was frowned upon, because the Rams had moved to St. Louis. They're back, baby! (I just changed my scores on the XWord Info Word List to reflect this.)

Even though there's a little more crossword glue than I like to see in a themeless, there was so much great material that I usually would have given this one the POW! But there's one coming up that I liked even better.

Mon 10/17/2016
RATIOCAITADAM
PLANKRIDERENO
MAINCOURSETAGS
ODESADDLE
LIBERALPAGEBOY
OLEARYSENECA
SANTACAANOTTO
ENCLASTLAPTEX
SAHLCPUSIRENE
WALLOPDEFRAY
SWAPOUTLUCKYME
TARTSSASH
ATMONONSTARTER
KEEPFLUSRAINY
ERRSLEGOTHESE

I really like "what do these things have in common" puzzles when they provide for a satisfying click. BENCH WARMER and a DEAD BATTERY are both vivid, in-the-language phrases, but how could they both be part of the same theme? When they're NON-STARTERs! Very clever.

I didn't care as much for LAST LAP and MAIN COURSE. They are NONSTARTERs of course, but so are every other lap, as well as soup, salad, dessert, etc. They don't have the "dang, that's spot-on!" feeling I got from BENCH WARMER and DEAD BATTERY.

So much to like about Damon's grid. His last themeless had too much crossword glue for my personal taste — I try to stop enumerating at about 4 or 5 instances — but this one had the smoothness I seek out of a Monday. Very minor ENC, ATMO, TAI, ENS, all of which are easily gettable and common enough in real life to hardly even notice.

ILANA was a mystery to me, but that's not surprising since I don't have a lot of time to watch TV these days. She certainly seems crossworthy, given the critical praise and popularity of "Broad City." As a constructor, I welcome her friendly vowel-consonant alternation to the crossworld with open arms!

And all the bonuses were much appreciated. Just two long entries in OK CORRAL and PIE CHART, but both are excellent. The real standout quality was how well Damon used his seven-letter slots. ART DECO, PAGE BOY, LAPTOPS = LUCKY ME! So much goodness elegantly worked in.

I know I'll get questions about the LAST LAP / LAPTOPS duplication. Yes, two LAPs is usually a no-no, and it feels inelegant, but it didn't really bother me during my solve. I personally would have redone the LAPTOPS area because of this, but I don't actually care that much about these types of issues. The two instances have different etymologies (I think?), and there's no hard and fast rule about this sort of thing.

Overall, strong execution with so many great bonuses. If all the themers had been as spot-on as BENCH WARMER and DEAD BATTERY, it'd be an easy POW! selection for me.

Sat 9/3/2016
TABSCHATSRYES
ERLEHORAEFETA
ACUTEANGLEDAHL
PARTYFOULREB
ONTHEFRITZEZRA
TASESNEETENN
SOCGETBORED
ZOOCREWSAYNOTO
UNPEELEDSAC
GLENERENOBIS
ZONEBENEVOLENT
WOWHOMESLICE
AKINPETESEEGER
NEDSARENTGENE
GREWHEDDAESTO

There's a reason why Will schedules some themelesses square for a Saturday, the toughest slot of the week. No matter how straightforward you go with a clue for ZUGZWANG, if you've never heard of it before, it takes nearly every crossing to work it out. What a cool German term! Although it nearly stymied me, the crossings made it fair game, and I really liked learning it. Okay, NED Jarrett could be JED, TED, RED, etc., but with ZUGZWA?G in place, you should be able to make the best guess at that last letter.

Speaking of stymied, there was a lot that nearly broke my spirit, but I ultimately pulled through successfully. Here are some points that might help illuminate:

  • HEDDA Hopper was a noted gossip columnist of the early 20th century.
  • How could GREW mean "waxed"? When one waxed poetic, for example.
  • NOBIS means "us" in Latin, as in "ora pro nobis" = "pray for us." I think it's tough but fair.
  • EMEND seems like it should be "amend," doesn't it? But it specifically means "to make corrections or improvements in (a text) by critical editing." Editor-speak!
  • RFD = "rural free delivery." Whoo, tough.
  • SOC = sociology, I think. Never seen that used in real life.

I'm not sure people still say HOMESLICE, but I did love PARTY FOUL, ON THE FRITZ, the full ETON COLLEGE, and even the at-first-weird-seeming YEAR ZERO. What else would you call 0 AD / BC, though?

Although there was a bit much of the RFD SOC ESTO NSW type of crossword glue for my taste, I really enjoyed some of the learning — especially ZUGZWANG. Definitely a term we should all try sneaking into daily conversation.

I'm talking to you, JESS RILEY!!!

Thu 6/9/2016
TALCUMDEFKNOB
IMPOSERDARAVE
AISLESANIOPED
ORCPARTNERS
CARRIAGEGOO
LIEIDLEBARRELS
AKINSLLAMAMAP
WINGFAIRENITA
ADEMATTECOLIC
TORTONILEONINE
BOZHYMNBOOK
MAJORITYASA
ECONNAPJOSTLE
LAKEEXEOLIVIA
DIEDSISRECANT

There have been a lot of plays on silent letters in crosswords over the years. One of my favorite was on Christmas Eve a few years back, and a more recent one blew me away (when I finally understood everything that was going on). I thought Damon's execution today was really nice, that diagonal of S I L E N T letters perfectly spaced out.

A FANZINE for "Civil War gamers." Huh.

And did you notice right away that the shaded letters were all actually SILENT in the across answer, i.e. the first S in AISLES silent, the I in CARRIAGE, etc.? What, you did? Really? Yeah, I did too! (Not really.) Very cool — I hadn't realized that an I could actually be silent.

It would have risen to the very top of my list of favorite silent letter puzzles if the down answer also followed that principle. I'm 95% sure that'd be impossible to pull off though, given how many crossings you'd need to fix in place. Ah well, a guy can dream.

Nice to have the bonus (SILENT) PARTNERS and (SILENT) MAJORITY. I don't know that they added much to the quality of my solve, but the puzzle would likely have felt thin if they hadn't been included.

What did add a lot was the snazzy long fill. FANZINES is a beautiful answer, as are FAIR GAME, USER IDS, and LEONINE. (NON-BASIC isn't equivalent to "acidic" (I think) since the term includes neutral pH 7 solutions. Not sure if I love this answer or detest it.)

Good execution on the short entries, too. I think NITA, AKINS, and TVA are minor by themselves (there's a case to be made that each is perfectly fine), but as a whole, it's too bad that these all felt somewhat dated. Good thing the rest of Damon's grid is so smooth and clean.

Something so pretty about that S I L E N T diagonal, and it's so elegant to have each silent letter in the across answer in the perfect place.

Fri 5/27/2016
SCRAMBLESHAWED
WHATAJERKOVATE
MANICOTTITAXON
LARSENMIENS
BARTOKFUELS
AMEGILLSPET
RIALLENINSTOMB
OGLEERICADEBI
NOTAGBACKSSTAR
SSRROLESIND
ONENDSHOCKS
BLOATFATTEN
LAPAZOPIONEERS
ALECKRICOCASEK
HARPYDESDEMONA

Some really colorful language spread throughout the grid today, WAXES POETIC and NO TAGBACKS! my favorites. I like how Damon distributed his feature entries so I kept on getting a burst of sparkliness here and there. There are the typical triple-stacks in the NW and SE, but check out the zigzag of REAL TROOPER to NO TAGBACKS to SKINFLICKS to LENINS TOMB to WAXES POETIC.

GERALD FORD was kind of a stud!

I also like GERALD FORD in that series of interconnected answers, but it would have been great to get a more entertaining clue for him. He was an Eagle Scout, played on two national title college football teams, fought in WWII, was part of the Warren Commission, served as the House Minority Leader, pardoned Nixon. I tend to remember him from the Chevy Chase SNL sketches, but man, this guy had a storied life.

That chain of great entries snaking through the grid does have its drawbacks. Every crossing generates a place that's a little tricky to fill around. Check out the REAL TROOPER / NO TAGBACKS crossing. Damon does pretty well in that region, except for the outdated SSR (Soviet Socialist Republic) and AME. Although, the African Methodist Episcopal Church has a gigantic membership — I'd love to hear if members actually refer to themselves as AME, which would make that entry perfectly fine for me.

The middle is the really tough section, with four long entries running through it; so tricky to get perfect. Damon almost nails it, with just IN ICE sticking out. ON ICE feels like a solid phrase to me, but IN ICE does not. I ended up with a mistake, thinking GOLLS must be some esoteric or Biblical measurement. Either a more straightforward GILLS clue, or owning up to the partial with [Packed ___ (ready for shipping, as with fresh fish], would have been my preference.

Along with APIE, LALA, ESO, there was too much crossword glue for me given that there were about 12 great entries in the puzzle (I like assets minus liabilities to be greater than 10). But still, two nice triple-stacks along with a great set of interlocking feature answers.

Sat 3/26/2016
DRAWSMEANSIT
ROSINMOMJEANS
IDYLLMARMADUKE
FEELTEXMEXCST
TOTALIDIOTSETS
COLUMNEAPOE
LAMESASATANS
CETERARATINE
MATHISCOVENS
ASHENDOTERS
STERMEMORYHOLE
SARCOVERSEXIT
INCAHOOTSDELLA
FERRARISATILT
STYMIEDESPYS

Cool-looking pattern of black squares! I don't personally like seeing too many black squares in a themeless, which triggers my constructor's brain into realizing how much easier any extras (cheaters) make a grid to fill, but Damon strikes a nice balance. The SW to NE diagonal lines are aesthetically pleasing.

WILLA CATHER

My constructor's brain also triggers when it notices long stairsteps of 6-letter entries — that's so tough to do well. It was a pleasant surprise to see the upper half, what with TEX MEX, MEDUSA, LO MEIN, MATHIS all worked in. Yes, it required a STER and the I'm-not-quite-sure-that's-legit TILERS, but those are minor prices for all the great material.

The opposite section didn't come out quite as nicely, what with the DOTERS / SAVERS combination. I don't mind the latter much, since it's perfectly fine as [Life ___], but there aren't many ways you can clue that. In conjunction with TILERS, the trio stands out to me. And check out all the Ss and Es along the diagonal (end of DOTERS, COVENS, RATINE, etc.). That is fine, just not super exciting.

I really like what Damon did with the long answers, even more so given that they're weaved right into these difficult stairsteps of 6s. Great answers in WILLA CATHER (author of "O, Pioneers!") crossing TOTAL IDIOT, and Orwell's MEMORY HOLE concept crossing SATIN SHEETS. All four of them are fantastic.

It's also very tough to "turn the corner" with triple-stacked answers, so Damon does really well with MEANS IT / MOM JEANS / MARMADUKE intersecting SAUCE PANS / INKSTONE / TSETSES. That last one isn't great — usually I hear it as "tsetse flies" — but five out of six is darn good in this arrangement.

And on the other side, LETHER CRY looked bizarre. Took me forever to figure out the parsing, LET HER CRY! Along with IN CAHOOTS, that corner wasn't too shabby.

Two clues you might have missed:

  • [Produces heat?] is a clever way of hinting at DRAWS, "heat" being slang for guns.
  • [Guards on the gridiron] made me think of a noun, i.e. OFFENSIVE LINE or something. Love the misdirect from a lineman to a cornerback, the clue actually getting at the verb, COVERS.
Mon 3/7/2016
OUTERFAQABUSE
WHAMOASUFUGUE
LUMPSTHERACHEL
SHARIFLARK
GENIALLYETCH
UFOSVIESAYHEY
SETSERASEEME
ANC90SFADSMEN
UNHIPLIENANA
SEISMSEWEACTS
ALSOMETADATA
LOUDSMURFS
DRMARTENSBREAK
ACUTENITLANCE
PAGESSLYELATE

90s FADS today, a nice trip down memory lane, allowing me to recall the days when TAMAGOTCHIS were hot, THE MACARENA earworm ate away my sanity, and THE RACHEL hairdo was in. Oddly enough, apparently there's a new cadre of young adults getting into "Friends," as it speaks to a sense of simplicity, of pleasantly hanging out with a group of close compadres. I must admit I was wrong about that show's ability to persist!

Rachel doesn't seem terribly excited about THE RACHEL

That made me wonder about DR MARTENS (which I call "Doc Martens" — is that just me?). They were ultra-popular back in the 90s, but I still see people wearing them. Perhaps it's the Seattle fashion sense, still influenced by grunge.

Very unusual to have numerals in a Monday puzzle, and it was a nice change of pace. FIVE-0 (zero) threw me for a loop, as I know it as FIVE-O ("oh"), and I don't seem to be the only one. Apparently it was such a controversy that there was a vote to determine which was "correct"! Officially, the original show is FIVE-(zero) and the remake is FIVE-(oh), so both are acceptable.

It would have been nice to have something better for 9's crossing — 9 PM is so unspecific. Something like 9 LIVES (the cat food) or DISTRICT 9 (the movie) — something containing the actual digit — could have been really fun. Using a longer entry does make the construction harder, of course. It's so easy to tuck the three-letter 9PM into the middle of the puzzle.

I appreciated Damon giving us a bit of bonus fill in FENNEL, SMURFS (I must admit I watched every episode as a kid), FUGUE, and my favorite, METADATA. What a cool word! Also appreciated is Damon's effort to keep the grid smooth and free of crossword glue. silky solve, aside from my internal FIVE-O / FIVE-0 debate.

Overall, a fun concept. I would have preferred not having two "THE" themers, and maybe more consistency — I did appreciate the variety, but it did feel a bit random as to which of the dozens of 90s FADS were included — but I still enjoyed the solve.

Sat 12/19/2015
ACCRANETSSCAT
YAHOOEVELPOPI
KROLLMILACLOG
RIPEBELLYLAUGH
OBSDISEASEMET
YOUGOGIRLGIBES
DUPONTSLLANOS
LEOILS
GOLDENMOPTOPS
EAZYEARENAROCK
XYZARBOREDHWY
WIFFLEBALLPLOW
ICEEPEDICLARA
FOSSORENFILLY
ENTSTSOSLEADS

I often find that themelesses heavy on 7-letter entries are not very colorful — I find that a very few people (Tim Croce is a good example) can really pack a grid with great 7-letter entries — but I like Damon's work today. It's usually too easy to slip into using neutral entries like ARBORED and DISEASE (and NABBERS, I see you), so I was pleasantly surprised to get a ton of great OZZFEST, SKYWAYS, TELL-ALL, COLUMBO, even "MERLIN'S Beard!" Nice save on that last one — usually a pluralized name is much worse when there's only one famous instance, but MERLIN'S Beard is in the Harry Potter world and reasonably inferable.

MERLIN'S Beard!

Weaving in a few long entries helped too. Entries like BELLY LAUGH, WIFFLE BALL, ARENA ROCK, and YOU GO GIRL! spiced things up. Even the usually neutralish LEGAL PAD becomes an asset when given such a great clue: [It contains rules for writing]. ("Rules" refer to the ruled lines.)

Working in the long answers creates an interesting layout. The grid has nice flow, everything well-connected, but each of the six mini-sections can still be filled one at a time (more or less). It's a great balance between high solving flow and ease of filling for the constructor.

That lower left corner is so beautiful, with EX-WIFE, XYZ, GAY ICON, and WIFFLE BALL — that's GOLDEN! The EAZY E / OZZFEST crossing might cause grumbling, but I don't have any sympathy there. Ozzy Osbourne (over 10M Google hits) is famous enough that OZZFEST ought to be solvable even if EAZY E is a mystery. Plus, EAZY-E is pretty darn famous himself — a whopping 8M Google hits!

I wasn't so much of a fan of the south section, with the pile-up of the awkward NABBERS, the tough OREN Ishii, General TSOS. I appreciate Damon's sentiment. What can you do given the delay on publishing themelesses is (sometimes well) over a year, and the bar for themelesses is rising so quickly?

All in all, though, quite a colorful puzzle.

Sat 9/12/2015
GALBASCOTMAC
ABALLAGHALOLA
FERALBICURIOUS
FAUXFUROTALGIA
STEPONEMOIL
LUISENDINGS
ACTORROYAOUT
CHRISTIANMINGLE
MEETHTSCHOPS
EFFACESIDEE
TERAJOBLOSS
CLAIROLSHELLAC
BAYOFPIGSAMIGO
EDENEVIERAVER
RESSELLSNARE

Man, what a bizarre (and cool!) spelling of BLAXPLOITATION. I'm sure there will be many others who started with BLACK and then continued with SPLOITATI ... *$%! that doesn't fit! Cool morphing of the CKS into an X.

It's hard to imagine what movie producers were thinking at the time.

I fell into another trap with CHRISTIAN MINGLE, which I was sure was CHRISTIAN SINGLES. Given that this was another answer that didn't fit, it took me a while to convince myself that there wasn't a rebus going on. Sneaky, very sneaky.

Even after reading up on the two Christian dating sites, it's unclear to me what the difference is. Sure makes for a good crossword trap. (And a saucy pairing with BI-CURIOUS!)

Damon's layout doesn't allow for a lot of long (8+ letter) answers, but he does have some seven-letter slots to shore up the snazziness. FAUX FUR is a great one. I would have liked a couple more.

With so many four-letter entries — a whopping 26 of them — it's so important to avoid drawing attention to them. The fine ones like SCOT, CHEF, EDEN, even MOOG, do that job nicely. Not as much so when there are borderline ones, and multiple ones from the same category. Some French (AOUT, ALUI, IDEE), hard proper nouns (CERF, EVIE, along with Tony OLIVA), and some terms I only ever learned from crosswordese (MOIL, TREF, AGHA) ... those last three are all reasonably fine by themselves in my opinion, but when you have them together, it makes for a less than desirable effect.

Same goes for CBER and RAVER. Generally, I don't have an issue with either, but together it seems like a little too much iffiness.

Such a fun clue for SNARE: [It's got game, often]. It's too bad it couldn't fully be misdirectional to something colorful like "he got game," but sometimes you can only go so far without torturing the clue.

And saving the best for last, the clue [What you find crawlers on]. So many times we've been misdirected toward the internet, so that's where I automatically went, looking for a WEB BROWSER or something. ALL FOURS is such a snappy answer.

POW Sat 4/18/2015
TRODCABOEFILE
RAKEANALDIDOK
ICECOLDBEVERAGE
BELIEVEYOUME
ARYDIASLAPDOG
LSDINNINGLINA
OOPTEAPARTY
ECKHARTCRACKOS
THECLASHNED
RELOIROBOTINS
ETYMONWOREGOA
ELEANORRIGBY
SOUNDSLIKEAPLAN
OTTOIACERSELA
LOEWEREMYORLY

★ Along with others from this past week, this puzzle brings out the differences Jim and I have around puzzles. Monday's puzzle sizzled for Jim since it brought back great Beatles memories and feelings for him. Not as much for me, as I appreciate the Beatles more from a historical perspective.

Young Ned having his mind warped by beatnik parents

The Simpsons trigger something primal in me, a reminiscence of great times as a kid, seeing this ground-breaking cartoon series emerge and evolve. Seeing NED and OKELY DOKELY really did it for me — NED is a wonderfully tragic, complex character who started as a Bible-thumping stereotype but who has now lost his wife, questioned his faith, and struggled with raising two young kids — but those answers couldn't possibly have done anything for a non-Simpsons watcher. This puzzle sang for me, but it's definitely not going to be everyone's POW choice.

So many aspects of this puzzle hit for me. With roughly 14 asset entries and 4 liabilities, it easily fits into my "what makes a good themeless" criteria. Sure, things like ARY undoubtedly take away from the solving experience, but when you pack in such stellar entries like ELEANOR RIGBY, BOOK EM, THE CLASH, BELIEVE YOU ME and the marketing blooper Graham CRACKOS, I say OH COME NOW! The tradeoffs are more than worth it.

And the cluing. BABYSIT by itself is a ho-hum answer, but a great clue can turn a neutral entry into an asset. [It's easy to do for an angel] had to be FLY or HAUNT PEOPLE AND TORTURE THEM FOR THEIR MISDEEDS, right? Nope, the "angel" refers to an angel child, one easy to watch over.

[Quick move?] nicely uses the convention of "shortly" or "quick" or "in brief" to denote an abbreviation or shortening.

[Step on a scale] avoids the giveaway question mark, referring to a step on the musical scale, not stepping on a physical scale.

I recognize that the specificity of the grid entries isn't great for a huge audience with broad tastes, but man oh man was it spot-on for me. Nice to have the huge variety in constructors — if you don't like today's, it's likely you'll enjoy tomorrow's or that of the day after.

POW Thu 9/5/2013
MAOISMPORTEDD
ONSTARDREINOR
INCITEFENGDYE
LEANEDAHNOLD
RAESCATTERED
CINNIGHTOWL
OSOSATITALOUD
RADIANIDIDSO
POSERFAWNEDER
STRATEGOORR
SPUTTEREDPAR
CANAANDICERS
ANDTTOPUNEVIE
LSUUTESSELENA
EYEMORTTRANKS

★ Amazing work from Damon. This is only the sixth Shortz-era NYT "Schrödinger" puzzle; see the others here. These types, having two equally correct answers, are so tough to construct without making the clue too broad ("Five-letter word", e.g.), favor one answer over the other, or sound forced. We've had some good puzzles this week (and still more to come), but this one is fantastic.

From a construction standpoint, this grid may not look like much. Four pairs of intersecting theme answers and four 4-letter words, what's the big deal, right? Consider this: because eight of Damon's theme answers are short (three, four, or five letters), that means he had to incorporate longer fill in order to obey the 78 word limit. His grid has six long fill slots, and he populated them with OSCAR NODS, NIGHT OWL, TIGHT WAD, ART TATUM (one of my favorite pianists), STRATEGO, ODD OR EVEN, all snazzy entries. Six out of six! Talk about sticking the landing.

To be fair, as with any puzzle there are slight compromises. Some solvers might find the UNEVIE/ACELA crossing unfair, and DORR isn't as nice a theme answer as the much more natural PORT, CORP, and MORT. But these are minor issues, ones easily overshadowed by the puzzle's overall excellence.

Finally, David Steinberg uncovered perhaps the first Schrödinger puzzle in the NYT. Amazing what David has turned up in his pre-Shortzian efforts. Please save a job for me for when you take over the world, David. Er, Mr. Steinberg.

Thu 11/8/2012
MOHMSAMMIMTOM
ARALAFOULTOUR
GARYWINGOELSA
ELIMNINGVALLEY
OVERSEAS
ADAMTENYAMTA
RIVERALOOSCAG
MEATERSBUSLANE
DONSMESMEUVER
OFTMICAGREYS
DISSUADE
BATEAUTWELFTHM
EGALICEINIRAQ
LUXETEENSSITU
LEMSSEDGEHOSE
Tue 5/19/2009
CZARMATHFEST
RELORADIOONCE
OREOEXULTOLAN
COCKTAILTATARS
SODTAILPIPE
UTELESREAR
PIPEDREAMSITON
SNIPSLYLYNOPE
YACHTDREAMTEAM
EUROTRASLO
TEAMGAMEDDE
IMMESHGAMECOCK
NAIRREAVEAMAN
GIGAARDENROBE
ELALHESSDOSE
Mon 2/2/2009
CAJUNABLECART
AMAZEMAIDOVER
MARIONETTEPOLO
NINTENDOWII
CRABCSIOUSTS
RECIPEEDICT
ERRORCRACKEST
MAISOUISHALLWE
ENDBRASHGOTIN
CANOEAESOPS
SHOOTVETSNEE
MICHELLEWIE
OREOSUREENOUGH
GEARAGERYAHOO
SENTTEDSASFOR
Thu 8/14/2008
THORJOEYSCALD
SINEARLOEULER
KEEPCUMULATIVE
LEAKRICMEA
EMIGRATESOMBER
MENSCLUBLAI
ETESNOESKERS
NORSEANGTENET
DOSINGIOSTSU
TSOCOMPLAIN
ROTUNDSPOILING
ICHABALEAL
PROGRESSEDNIKE
EERIEHEREONIT
RANTSYEARSGTS
Tue 6/27/2006
EDITBELLAAJAX
LENOARIASHEIR
LEGWARMERSALMA
SPENTANGUSLEY
INSSOCKEYES
HIDEOUTHIPS
ADOSBOOMMAHER
SIN80SFADSORE
HOKUMSTIRMEIN
EPICDEBASED
SAYALOUDWAG
ILKEASELTIRES
ETONRUBIKSCUBE
VANESAUDIABBA
ERGOELTONLESS
Sun 1/16/2005 PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE
COHORTSOROIZEWHIFF
ARMOIRETUNASUBHANOI
DROPPINGTHEBONEISSUE
MOOROLLINGSTALL
SHARMREDNEDATONED
PONEBEARERREAIREDS
ERODEDMUSALETA
ADDINHEIRTOTHETHRALL
REEDITEDRBITHEBLUE
TARESOARSOLLA
ALLFORONEANDONEFORALL
LEIASINGSAPAN
INERTIANAMREALLOTS
TONEINTHESADDLEYACHT
SCENENOISIFTER
MAESOEURHONEOFFAME
ARMIESNEAROAMSLEW
ICECREAMCALLARE
MARIOGALLWITHTHEWIND
EDGESANIMATEHONOREE
DEEREREPYENSWEETEN
Mon 11/8/2004
LYNXPSSTSTARE
BEAMECHOEASEL
SANEROAMARIEL
HANDONHANDOFFS
ONEHOOT
DECAYSHAIGTAP
ALAMOSEWSLOGO
TAKEUPTAKEDOWNS
UTESOARSIVIES
MEDSPITTSETSE
STIRTAC
WORKINWORKOUTS
ALIENALEECOOL
SLEETYEARLURE
PANTSSOTSAREA
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