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Daniel Mauer author page

7 puzzles by Daniel Mauer
with Jeff Chen comments

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79/13/20172/7/2024
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Daniel Mauer
Puzzles constructed by Daniel Mauer by year

Daniel Mauer is a software engineer in Massachusetts.

Wed 2/7/2024
UMPIRECHILIFDR
ROOTERLUCIDLEA
LALALALALOLAYAM
STOLIOMANIGIFS
ISAWITSON
CHCHCHCHCHANGES
PREMILETESLA
RAMAETERNEROTI
OZONEAVOWLOL
MYGGGGENERATION
LEGALINON
IDOLLAIRSRADAR
SUBPPPPOKERFACE
ANIJASONPIERRE
YENSLEDSADWEEK
Thu 12/1/2022
ANTICIMAGCIEL
TURNONAPOONME
BRIGGSGROWNUPS
ITSANOGONACRE
RUTALMOSTTHERE
TRANCESHOUSTON
HENSNOUSORO
WAITFORIT
UNABRETRAMP
SENSORSPREENER
NOTQUITEYETNAE
DAUNTNEVADANS
BAREDALLALISTS
IDEATIAMINUTO
BASKELIPATION

ALMOST THERE … WAIT FOR IT … NOT QUITE YET …

Today's theme forms a waiting list!

What do you mean that my pun, IT'S A NO GO?

Will Shortz wants Thursdays to be harder than Wednesdays, and constructors often stretch to lower word counts to amp up the difficulty. At 72 words, this one is on par with themelesses! It allows for such fantastic bonuses as BARED ALL, GO ON TOUR, and even mid-range touches like EMPEROR and NEODADA.

The excessive glue did IRRITATE my solve, though. Most dabs were minor, like ORO ENO NSW TRE, but they all added up. And when you have too many from one category, like non-everyday foreign words, CIEL and MINUTO stand out even more. I don't mind audacious 72-word efforts, but using some cheater squares might have achieved better color and clarity. For example, blackening out the H of HENS could have appropriately led to eliminating PREENER.

This b-ball nut loved [Accessory for running or dribbling]. It's especially apt given the childish behavior of certain Brooklyn Nets players recently …

Although the joke was one-note, I enjoyed the wildness of splitting ANTICI / PATION in two.

You could even say I was of two halves on the theme.

One day you'll INURE TO me.

POW Sun 5/15/2022 Way Out West
METSSISTINEGERBIL
ETRESCREAMINSOLOIST
THEMOTHERROADMARMOTS
REVIVERVONPAOLO
ELITEOMITFOLKSYHIP
ORDEALBASTECORA
PAINTEDDESERTSQUALOR
STREAMERINGUNPACK
HOVKOREANOKSHOOT
ANISEGEMHURTINT
WENTGATEWAYARCHOARS
DEAICONYAKINTOW
SILENTXNIACINIPA
PUSHEDRANDONTDOIT
INVERSECADILLACRANCH
ETESLLOYDEATSAT
RONONMEDSBAITNANAS
PEEVEPANACETONE
CRAZIERROUTESIXTYSIX
DEPENDSENTHRALLPITT
CARNEYDETESTSERAS

★ Aw, rats! A friend and I were just brainstorming crosswords based on famous routes. One of the most famous, ROUTE SIXTY-SIX, came up right away, but we couldn't figure out an execution that both made sense and felt interesting to solve. Today's did just that.

A basic necessity of the concept is to incorporate the states that the route goes through, from CA to IL, and Dan executed that aspect smoothly. Not a difficult task considering how much space there is to work with in a 21x21, but I appreciated the touches like how he incorporated TX into SILENT X. There aren't many ways to do this — CHEST X-RAY was one of the interesting few I found — and SILENT X is a winner, especially with a great clue referencing a "roux ingredient."

ROUTE SIXTY SIX is also a must to include. The fact that it can be balanced out with Steinbeck's nickname for it, THE MOTHER ROAD is so fortuitous!

What made the puzzle sing for me was how it mirrored the scenic drive, featuring sights along the path such as the PAINTED DESERT, GATEWAY ARCH, and CADILLAC RANCH. All three are such colorful entries — the first/last literally so!

I've played the jazz classic Route 66 dozens of times, but I've never been motivated to take the famous drive until now. After finishing the puzzle, I spent some time investigating what else there is to experience along the way. I don't generally enjoy road trips, but this is one I'm now motivated to try.

Thu 1/21/2021
HABIBSNAPEDS
AMAROCANIVETS
MODERNISTSICEE
METACEIMALONE
BARTONODEDON
COKIETSPDYES
DIEDSITUATE
CDSYESORNOMFR
CASTLESAREA
ACHYSICBIPED
PROAMSHAILED
DEGREESAUGABE
ANNATURNSIGNAL
STADIMACFAUCI
ICENOPESITKA

Did this puzzle get you all turned around? Good!

About two years ago, Will Shortz said he has too many "turning" puzzles accepted, so put a quasi-moratorium on them. Today's isn't your ordinary turning puzzle, though. After staring at it for ten minutes, I still have only the vaguest sense for it. There are two "real" answers, both of which turn in the same direction — right on an R or left on L — but the straight answers … are random?

Chances are you're still confused, so let's go through one example. 17-A [Not radical] isn't MODERNISTS, but MODE(R)ATE. 5-Down isn't BORATE on a long car trip, but BO(R)EDOM, reusing the first letters of MODERNISTS.

Some folks have a tough time with spatial reasoning, so you might have to imagine yourself in a car, starting at 5-Down and driving south. A right turn would be heading west, from your perspective. I know some will argue that that's actually turning LEFT since left and west are usually synonymous.

Don't worry; I nearly failed physics when it came to frames of reference, too.

Finding pairings like MODE(R)NISTS / BO(R)EDOM isn't a snap, but the constraint is so loose that there are dozens of options. Then comes the odd part: the rest of the answer to BOR___ is not just totally free — any entry starting with BOR is wildly open — but unclued. You're essentially getting unchecked letters at the ATE of BORATE. God help you if you didn't take chemistry!

Placing four of these T-shaped crossings in the grid, plus TURN SIGNAL isn't easy. Any time you have to fill around crossing themers, you're bound to have difficulty: see AMARO (I count this as a liability, not an asset since if you've never heard of it, it's going to look bizarre), NCO, and HABIB in the NW alone.

There were some crunchy patches that I'd have liked smoother, but overall, the idea was kooky enough to help overcome the execution issues. Although I got stuck many times in fits of trafficky frustration, I appreciated the creative concept.

Mon 11/25/2019
NADIRGASPNES
ONENOORCASATA
SNACKATTACKSCI
LAUGHLEASHED
DAMNRIALAUTO
RUEBACKONTRACK
IDINAAPART
PINETARSPURSON
WINEDNEATO
CRACKISWACKBIS
HOLAPITHGOSH
AVERAGEHADAT
REXYACKETYYACK
MRIELTONALGAE
SSSASISNEEDY

Homage to Cathy today, the no-nosed wonder twice as irked as usual — ACK ACK indeed. (Cathy and Voldemort both having no nose ... things that make you go hmm!)

Today is a perfect example where a revealer — some word or phrase explicitly explaining the theme — would have been fantastic. The puzzle works as is, since the themers follow a clear pattern that's not hard to spot. There wasn't a sharp a-ha moment, though, more a slow realization that each themer has two instances of ACK.

What could have been a good revealer? How about ACK itself, clued to Cathy's quaint cry? That's getting there, but it doesn't explain why there would be two ACKs.

ACK ACK (clued to the gun) would have been better, opening the eyes of even the greenest solvers. It's not a great crossword entry in itself, but it would have been a spot-on explanatory phrase.

Speaking of green solvers, this isn't the most welcoming early-week solving experience. Too many names (especially tough ones) can make a crossword feel like a trivia contest — IDINA, REX, ELTON, ANN, AUDI, ALEXIS, ROKU, AGRA, ANI, DYAN, SARTRE, GAYLE, NASHUA, OTIS. There's no hard and fast threshold for how many names is too many, but this crossed well into dangerous territory.

There weren't any glaring grid skeleton problems — it's a fine layout — but further iteration would have helped smooth out some of the inelegancies. Aside from the slew of not-everyday names, something like NES / ATA / SCI atop each other should trigger a revision.

Overall though, I did enjoy the bonuses — DEAL ME IN, NEW CAR, SABOTAGE are great — and it was fun to see so many *ACK *ACK phrases. You can use our Finder with the search string *ack*ack* to get lots of others, like HACKY SACK, WACKY TOBACKY, QUARTERBACK SACK.

Thu 1/4/2018
12DOWNARFACT1
STEVIEREACRE8
IOLANIMACARENA
ERAELLMELACC
SENSLABCASTER
DOTETARANTINO
ENTERERANTS
4WARDINGADDRESS
4AGEMEANSIT
ALLOWEDINDUOS
CRISISNEVPRES
RUTETSXIISAW
OSTINATOENRICO
SEEDMAXDMINOR
SSRSPRY48DOWN

Dan asked me to look at this in its early stages. I felt it had a lot of potential, but I found it so hard to explain the theme. Let's see if I can do it without discombobulating everyone:

  • Entries refer to other entries (1-Across is 12 DOWN, which points to the entry at 12-Down)
  • The clue from one reference is the entry at the other reference
  • Numbers are used, but as homophones in the crossing direction
  • It's all tied together by 4WARDING ADDRESS

Still with me? Didn't think so.

Okay, 1-Down isn't 1SIES, but ONESIES. 2-Down is 2TORED = TUTORED. And 1-Across is clued as [Ten cents], which is the entry at 12-Down. And 12 DOWN is the entry at 1-Across.

Whew!

Plenty of puzzles have used cross-referencing, numbers in grids, homophones, even clues duped as entries — but the combination feels like something different and unique.

One point I made to Dan was that it would be a lot better if it weren't random entries that were duped from clue to entry. Why SEA COW, MACARENA, etc.? "Just because they fit" usually isn't a good enough rationale for me. It'd be orders of magnitude harder — maybe impossible — to work in entries that hint at the puzzle's theme (maybe DUPLICATION, CLONING, EVIL TWIN, etc.). So I like the balance he achieved, giving us some snazzier answers in TEN CENTS and MACARENA.

I liked a lot of the bonuses in the fill — TIME STAMP, STARTUP, TARANTINO, CREATINE. And Dan kept his short fill fairly smooth, a tough task given all the themers packed into the grid. SSRS and WIEN were cringe-y outliers, but ELL, NEV, PRES, SENS are mostly ignorable.

I would have liked more bonuses, as things like REANNEX, ENTERER, ALLOWED IN all felt neutral to negative, but that's tough to do given how much real estate the themers take up.

All in all, I appreciated the novelty of the solve. It felt different. I think different is a great thing for crosswords.

Wed 9/13/2017
MOPSPOWECLAT
IBETHUESBRIDE
LEPETITDEJEUNER
OSSIEGMANELM
EINEKLEINEDES
SRIEZRA
BRIOOLESEENIE
UNAPOCADEGRACIA
TAMERCUTEMEIR
SLAWARP
HMONACHTMUSIK
OEDGLUESHOAL
THELITTLETHINGS
STAINSLOERIAA
YADDAANNKANT

THE LITTLE THINGS today, three foreign phrases that translate to "the little lunch," "a little grace," and "a little serenade." Interesting to learn that the last one actually doesn't mean "a little night music," as I'd thought every one of the hundreds of times I've played it! (Former cellist.)

Dan got in touch with me about this one at Will's behest. It's a tough set of themers to work with, so it was no surprise that Dan hadn't been able to come up with a grid that met Will's criteria for smoothness and snazziness. I wasn't super hot on the theme, but I gave Dan a couple of tips on how to lay it out better.

After several back and forths, he was still having trouble. Again, no surprise, given the frazzling theme set of 15 / 10 / 15 / 10 / 15. It's a constructor's nightmare.

Normally, I don't build grid skeletons for people without asking for a shared byline, but Dan was so earnest and hard-working, never quitting, that I hated to see him stymied. I offered to help him out, gratis — I like a challenge, anyway.

Took me five or so hours to figure out a grid skeleton that tested out well, with generally solid fill plus a few strong bonuses in the long slots. During the first two hours, I had become worried that perhaps this theme set was intractable, so it was a huge relief when I finally landed on a layout I was nearly certain could be filled well.

Unfortunately, I had put in UNA POCO DE GRACIA, not POCA. Sigh. Such an idiot!

Such a seemingly easy thing to correct proved to be not so easy, so it took me a couple more hours to come up with proper adjustments. Dan took it from there, and after a few more back and forths, it was in the can.

Overall, I think it turned out well. I did worry (slightly) that solvers might mess up the K in KROC or the second E in EBENEZER since they're crossed with tough foreign words, but ultimately, I think educated solvers ought to know those names.

The theme still only tickles me as much as I would like — just a LITTLE, ha ha — but I think Dan did a nice job of finding a solid set of themers for the concept and finishing things out.

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