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49 puzzles by Doug Peterson
with Jeff Chen comments

47 Daily crosswords by Doug Peterson

Sat 1/23/2021
MOODRINGSSLITS
INDUETIMEMABEL
STANDSPATADELE
TOYREACTROLLE
WALTHITLIST
TOPOFFBENICE
APORTBROKEEVEN
RETDHAIRYVETO
OLDSMOKEYBISON
EFILERPUTONS
ARCADESKOLA
LURIDARROWDAB
ODELLLAURANYRO
FEMMEESPERANTO
TREESSHARKWEEK

I love Doug and Brad. Doug and I share a fascination of all things superhero — I'd bet $100 that he settled for MOOD RINGS only when GREEN LANTERN RINGS didn't fit. And Brad and I are both avid "Great British Bake-off" fans, so getting POT DE CRÈME was a delicious treat.

I leaned toward giving Brad and Doug the vaunted El Jefe Handshake, with so much fantastic WORDS FAIL ME, LA DOLCE VITA, the snow-capped OLD SMOKEY of song, and the hilarious clue for ESPERANTO. If it wasn't Doug who worked in the word "fartas," I'll eat my shorts.

My bromance can only go so far, though, DUN a strange flavor on top, APORT and REDRAFT making for cracked pastry crusts, and NYRO/DYNE/ARTE a soggy bottom.

It's a shame. The flavors were so well-thought-out, stunning clues for HIT LIST (that's "offer" as in someone who offs), BROKE EVEN (excellent repurposing of "point of no return"). Doubly-yummy: BAKE SALES, because it once again reminded me of hanging out with Brad, and also the laugh I got out of "generate a lot of cookie dough."

I'm happily sending Doug and Brad through to the next round, the tasting experience enough to overcome the technical flaws. Not a star puzzle, so the handshake will have to wait until next time.

Fri 12/4/2020
CATTLETHIEFISM
AGORAPHOBIAGOO
MINISTERINGORE
PLOPSCASSETTES
YEWSMOTENEAL
VANISHANON
FANDANGOELPASO
EQUALTOGROOMED
SUMMERPLOTTERS
TABSALIENS
VEESANNSMUSS
AIRLIFTEDSANTA
ATTGRETAGERWIG
RAENATALIECOLE
PENSTOREFRONTS

Patti! She's the editor for the Crosswords Club as well as Rich Norris's assistant at the LA Times. How is it possible that this is her NYT debut?

I'd heard the "taking stock" joke before, but I still got fooled. Great way to kick off the puzzle. CATTLE RUSTLER would have been even juicier, but I'll take stock of a CATTLE THIEF at 1-Across any day.

I also enjoyed the initially mystifying NUMBER TEN. Number ten makes it sound like the British P.M. is "The Prisoner". Apparently the Brits call 10 Downing Street NUMBER TEN for short? Along with the secret-society-feeling AQUA VITAE, that's a delightful pairing for Anglophiles.

I had to look up a couple of entries — Donald FAGEN / GRETA GERWIG ... I GOT A NAME indeed. Proper names can be tricky entries. On one hand, you potentially alienate solvers who finish with F A G E N and say no, that can't be right. On the other, someone like GRETA GERWIG, who directed the wildly successful "Little Women," ought to have her day in the crossword sun. Seeing her will also elate her fans.

Some fantastic clues helped prop up my solving experience, SANTA going through the roof in December, and what better to bear repeating than a MANTRA?

There weren't enough entries that resonated with me to give this puzzle POW! consideration, but I love seeing two of my favorite crossworld peeps on a byline. (Shameless plug: Doug and I have a crossword book coming out soon.)

Sat 10/3/2020
SILKBOXERSATVS
ONEFINEDAYUHOH
PETCARRIERDELI
SSTNESTICICLE
FCCHEARTIES
PHARAOHSNOOTY
LUCYRUSTCRABS
AMTADSPEAKDAH
NAIADTARNPELE
NORMALSTROLLS
SENTINELEEL
ERVINGLOLASFO
TRESECOLOGICAL
TORTROSEPARADE
ORBSSTAGENAMES

Doug! Come on, my comic book nerd buddy, no X-men clue for SENTINEL? I've generally been disappointed by the X-Men movies (save Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen's dynamite onscreen chemistry), but "Days of Future Past" was surprisingly well done. The backdrop of the Nixon-era xenophobia applying to the mutant homo superior threat—

Fine, I'll stop! Party pooper. But SENTINELs as mutant seek-and-destroy machines — powered by the DNA stolen from a mutant — is a compelling storyline I'd love to see tapped again.

Brad! So much smarter than I — er, me — but never SNOOTY about it. Sometimes I worry that I won't be able to figure out the more erudite touches in Wilber puzzle, like LLOSA, but I appreciate the way he classes up a joint. I can imagine him seeing PHARAOH and figuring that it has great cluing potential, like its meaning of "great house." Such a memorable clue!

I recently rewatched some "Schoolhouse Rock" episodes, getting a fun throwback to my childhood. Neat to see ACTION VERBs innocently clued as [Spring or fall].

An even more brilliant clue was [Quick buck, say]. I was thinking about con games, get rich quick schemes, but a literal buck never crossed my mind, even though I'd made a puzzle using this same trick!

The grid had a bit too much of TARN (yikes!), SST, XERS, especially for a 72-word themeless. A lot of fun marquee answers, though, and I always like seeing the creations of two of my favorite crossworld people.

Sat 6/6/2020
NDJAMENAACCUSE
ORALEXAMFLUNKY
TOMTHUMBBIRDIE
EPSDEUSFIEND
FREDSANFORD
SALADHUESVIC
APLUSOPTSJAVA
MYLIPSARESEALED
ACIDAXESDRURY
NAGBRADANTES
MARIACALLAS
FETEDATOPMAY
AROUSEOVATIONS
LARSONRICECAKE
ASSENTSNACKBAR

A couple of years ago, the ACPT finals puzzle featured MANAMA, the capital of Bahrain. Never having seen that name before, it befuddled me. I ran into the brilliant joon pahk afterward and expressed my disbelief that the puzzle included such an obscure word.

He looked puzzled. How could any world capital be considered obscure?

Um, yeah. That's what I meant to say!

I spent the plane ride home studying an atlas.

That experience made kicking off this puzzle with [Capital of Chad] much easier. I had no idea it was N'DJAMENA — I should have studied harder — but at least I understood that my ignorance was at fault, not the puzzle. I sat back and enjoyed the crazy NDJ start.

Speaking of enjoyment, FRED SANFORD brought back so many memories. I watched a ton of "Sanford & Son" as a teen and in college, Redd Foxx one of my favorite comedians of all time. I wonder if younger solvers will (sadly) look at the name in bewilderment. Go watch a few episodes, already!

Okay, they don't hold up well.

And they're pretty racist and sexist.

Drat.

I wasn't aware of the term AMBUSH PREDATORS, but what a cool entry. It evokes images of Hobbes lying in wait for Calvin to come home from school. Sadly, all my stuffies ever did was extract hush money from me.

Fantastic clue for MARIA CALLAS, the opera singer. Tony Soprano repurposed as [Tony soprano?], with the "stylish" meaning of "tony"? Brilliant!

There's so much of Doug's personality in this one, one of my favorite crossworld people doing great work. From MY LIPS ARE SEALED to SPY CAMERAS amusingly "planted by plants" to SKIN DIVERS, there was more than enough to make me smile.

Thu 9/26/2019
ISPSHARASSKAL
CYSTAZALEAIDA
BRSINTOPLAYNAB
METRICSUSSUDIO
THOROSTARR
APPARENTNOES
CREWORTHYOPE
ELALSARASURAL
DESPULLSSTRS
HULAMEATCASE
TWOSOMESNO
EROBRAGHDRHOOK
COTENGAGEMENTR
HUEADORERNEIL
STRLASERSSASE

So many beautiful touches: TWOSOME, ALLU(RING), AMANDA crossing ENGAGEMENT RING, and even ADORER brought me a smile. All of this, worked into what seemed like a solid, if run-of-the-mill, rebus puzzle to millions of unaware solvers. Well done, Doug, and congrats to the happy couple!

It's a good thing her name isn't Svotivaniaska.

POW Sun 5/5/2019PAPER WORK
CARATALCOHOLSPRAWLS
EVITABEGUILETRAMWAY
LOTTERYTICKETREMAINS
SWANKESTHERWINELIST
WASURANUS
ANCHORBUILDINGPERMIT
MORANEMMAPTASHADE
BOARDINGPASSORGODOR
LDSOLEOSELANTRAELI
ELHILENERASABBA
RECORDDEALSHEETMUSIC
YUGODISHDVISPAR
CAMSIGHSATSWANSLGE
REBATRASEATINGCHART
ORALBERSEDENHOSEA
COLLEGEDIPLOMASOTHEN
DONATEMAO
CONTRACTTSKBELLYRUB
ONEIOTABREAKFASTMENU
TURTLERAIRLIFTICEIN
SPOOLEDSEABASSEASTS

★ It's not often that I have a Sunday solving experience that delights from start to end — today's hit that mark! Made me a real laughing boy. Amusing re-interpretations of "___ PAPER" phrases — so many great ones! A LOTTERY TICKET as [Scratch paper?] was a perfect way to kick off the puzzle. I used to love scratching McDonald's Monopoly game tickets. Not that I ever won anything, but oh, that anticipation.

[Fly paper?] as a boarding pass? Maybe a bit stretchy grammatically, but it was so amusing that I didn't care.

[Crepe paper?] Oh, as in crepes on a BREAKFAST MENU! Genius that all of these answers are real phrases, in the language!

And SEATING CHART, the best of all. It's doubly apt for Sam, the law professor, who likely has used a SEATING CHART in his day — and written his share of "position papers"!

Sam and Doug are two of my favorite people in the crossworld — could easily be in the top two. Such fun to see their humor and wit come through today. I suppose a review should try to be unbiased, objective. But my commentary, I get to do what I want. So there.

I'm privileged to know these fine gentlemen, happy to consider myself their third Stooge. (Okay, I'm Larry Joe at best. But I'll take it.)

Constructors out there looking to make a Sunday grid, take note of the delightful bonuses: CRASH CYMBAL. GREEN CARD. SCHOOL TIE. STRING ART. TAE KWON DO. BELLY RUB! MADE A SPLASH is so appropriate. They do it right — work in about half a dozen great long fill bonuses, and you make solvers happy.

Their short fill wasn't perfect, mind you. Quite a bit of ABM AERO DVI ELHI IMA … that's a doink in the eye. But think about the qualities of everything I've listed. It's all 1.) short stuff, 2.) easy to figure out from the crossing answers, and 3.) largely innocuous. As long as you stick to the usual suspects — the tiny minor offenders — it's gloss-over-able.

The puzzle accomplished what so few Sunday puzzles do these days — held my attention from the first to the last square. That's no doubt worthy of a POW! (The good kind, not the kind when Moe slaps your head. Wise guy.)

Sat 11/17/2018
ATFIRSTCHEAPIE
TRACEEELLISROSS
TELEVISIONPILOT
AXLESTASTYALA
CEOSERIESERAT
HSNCRUSTWROTE
KAINEDORIES
CRANKSHOWODD
BAABAAMOVER
ABDULWINEDLAT
SOILLEADSTECH
ECOLLAMAPESTO
THEBOOKOFMORMON
WORLDSERIESRING
ONATEARTWEEZES

Standout clue for WORLD SERIES RING. Given that Erik is about an order of magnitude cooler than me (Doug only about a factor of nine cooler, sorry Doug!), I thought the [Band since 1922] had to be referring to some subculture group I'm not privy to. Love that misdirect — band, as in the type of band that you can wear around your finger!

I love mini-themes in themeless puzzles, and I love what Erik and Doug did to connect WORLD SERIES RING and TELEVISION PILOT. They have nothing in common. Or do they? It's so brilliant to direct away from baseball in the WORLD SERIES RING clue ... and toward baseball in the clue for TELEVISION PILOT! I got them all mixed up in my head, what was baseball-related and what was not, and that produced a great synergistic effect for me.

Super glad this ran on a Saturday because I had to stare at the grid after finishing, wondering if it possibly could have been right. CABOCHON is a thing? TRACEEELL could start a real name? Apparently, yes and yes! [CABOCHON = a technical term in gem-er-ology.] I've seen several episodes of "Black-ish" but didn't recognize the name. Looking back on it, I probably should have, as she has a major role in a big TV hit. Now I definitely will!

Also on the Saturday wavelength, what a great misdirect on the ESPY clue. I read "best play" and plunked in TONY. Took some long minutes of head-scratching to realize that it was talking about an athletic play!

One more baseball-related note, a clue I missed out on. [Missed out, e.g.] is an ERROR? I shrugged without fully grokking it — maybe it referred to missing out an opportunity? Super glad that I went back and thought about it some more. It's talking about a baseball error, where an out is missed (flubbed) by a fielder.

A lot to love in this one; I enjoyed THE BOOK OF MORMON crossing LES MIZ as well as all the aforementioned great cluing. It's tough for me to get elation from a themeless when I don't personally know who/what a couple of the long answers are, even after finishing, though. I have a feeling bigger fans of "Black-ish" would have given it their POW!

Fri 3/9/2018
RATPACKNBAJAM
EURASIANYESIDO
ABUDHABISEWNON
PAIROLGANAGAT
EDSELOHMSNONA
REMEXOTICAINN
HAREMRUSSIA
ONEDAYATATIME
GROMITRAPID
ADSNEMESESPAC
NELLDAFTMARSH
GROANSUEZROSA
SOUPEDEBENEZER
TUCSONLUKEWARM
ATHENADETECTS

I wasn't familiar with the term NIGHTMARE FUEL, but that's a good phrase to learn. Sounds like something straight out of "Monsters, Inc."! Maybe I'm not familiar with the term because researching what it meant crEEEEPED ME OUT SPIDERS AND BEDBUGS AND ICK!

All shuddering aside, the phrase-that-shall-remain-unspoken crossing ONE DAY AT A TIME made for a solid spine to the puzzle. Love KABLOOEY too, although I confidently plunked in KABLOOIE. Either makes for a happy Jeff — such a funny word.

Themelesses built off of interlocking central spines can be tough, because each of the usual stacks of long entries now has to work with those spines. I thought Neville and Doug did a nice job with the NW, getting RAT PACK, EURASIAN, and ABU DHABI intersecting with KABLOOEY / NIGHTMARE FUEL. Solid result.

A bit of wastage in the other long slots though, in ORDER OUT and DETECTS (not super interesting), ADO ANNIE (from … "Oklahoma!"?), and even MONTANA. As much as I love #16 — tons of great memories watching the Niners as a kid — just a last name isn't nearly as great as working in the full JOE MONTANA. It's pretty common to have some LUKEWARM long entries in themelesses built off intersecting spines.

I appreciated that the short fill did its job, mostly staying out of the way (ARE WE, I see you). And even chipping in, with a great clue for EDSEL — "The thrill starts with the grille" is an awesome way to add color to a puzzle.

And finally, the mid-length stuff helped raise the puzzle's impact for me, NBA JAM a favorite of my youth. Along with GROMIT (cheese!), EXOTICA, a TRUISM, and some PROZAC, the mid-length fill was in many ways the star of the show.

A lot to enjoy out of this one. If more of the longer slots had sizzled, this would have been in POW! contention.

Tue 6/6/2017
COBSAGAVEFACE
LIONBALERELAL
ALBAEIDERLEGO
UMBRELLAPOLICY
DELLALOX
ENERUMJFKFOE
HAPPYHOLIDAYS
AMENREADYRILE
STAYFORDINNER
PADLASENSECO
OURFINAL
BABEINTHEWOODS
DOZEOOHEDTUDE
UZISUTURNAGIN
OOZESIDEASHES

Doug and I have exchanged many emails about this celeb constructor series. It was so neat hearing details about his experience with Lisa, an enthusiastic solver and co-constructor who wanted to be involved in every step of the process. How awesome to be invited over to her house to work together in person!

I love that their theme (one-word famous songs within phrases, reinterpreting the phrases through wacky clues) relates to Lisa. I only recognized HAPPY off the bat — I couldn't remember exactly what Lisa's hit song was titled — but I did get a kick out of HAPPY HOLIDAYS being defined as observances around that particular song.

They had to work with terribly inconvenient themer lengths, those 13- and 14-letter entries so pesky. Note 1.) how UMBRELLA POLICY has to be put in row 4 instead of row 3, and how that squishes the themers together more than usual. No bueno! And also note 2.) that each of the themers forces at least one black square placement right off the bat. Double no bueno!

I like that Doug put together a few grid skeletons and discussed the pros and cons with Lisa, and that she helped consider both the aesthetic considerations as well as the trade-offs between snazzy and smooth fill. Doug had one layout using "Utah blocks" — imagine if ENE had been blacked out — which would have made the fill easier, but many of us constructors can't stand the visual chunkiness of so many black squares. Feels like a crutch, a blemish on the puzzle.

Doug puts a high emphasis on packing his puzzles with strong, long fill, and that was much appreciated today. BOBBLEHEAD! UPROARIOUS! ERROL FLYNN! FAIR ENOUGH! These can help hold a solver's attention if he/she doesn't quite connect with the theme. And the layout is so nice; those long downs perfectly spread out. More constructors ought to lay out their puzzles using this general approach.

A few minor ENE / ESE / ENS, along with a oof-worthy AGIN. But not bad overall, especially considering the inconvenient themer lengths.

I also liked that they worked in so many music entries/clues. I normally would balk at the crossing of ELAL / ELO in an early-week puzzle, but today it seemed fun to me. Referencing Hall & Oates, The Shangri-LAS, DELLA Reese was also nice.

Given that I had to look up half the featured songs (I'm a pop culture idiot), the theme didn't resonate well enough with me to get a POW! But I enjoyed the result of this collaboration. I hope it doesn't stop here — how cool would it be if they became a regular crossword-making DUO!

Tue 10/11/2016
ALOHAMOSSIKEA
LUNAROHNOPERU
ARTIFICIALCHART
SKORSHOPHONOR
GALAWINERY
CHEESESOFINE
ROLLSWOKSTOP
ALLTABLOIDROO
GEEZNYEISUZU
IMOUTOFCHEER
MUSLINFLEA
UNCLECAFEMYRA
CHAINSUNDERWEAR
HILOAREANOTME
OPENDEWYSWISS

Sound-change puzzle, H- to CH- used for kooky effect. I got some smiles from IM OUT OF HERE becoming IM OUT OF CHEER. Funny to think about a cheerleader running out of juice on the sideline. Took me a while to realize that CHEESE SO FINE was derived from HES SO FINE — apparently an oldie from the Chiffons? — but I had a laugh thinking about CHEESE SO FINE as a marketing slogan posted at a deli.

ARTIFICIAL HEART to CHART didn't do as much for me, but humor is subjective. (Perhaps it reminds me too much of a slide presented at one of my wife's old jobs, where this finance guy — no joke — flipped his chart upside down halfway through his presentation when he realized he wasn't making sense.) And HANES UNDERWEAR to CHAINS UNDERWEAR … the base phrase feels slightly contrived in order to fit the puzzle.

I really liked the huge spelling changes though — neat how each of the base words becomes something so different, rather than just tacking on the letter C, i.e. HAT to CHAT.

Sam and Doug are two of my favorite people in the crossworld (Doug was in Seattle a month ago; always a treat to see him in person; somehow we found ourselves way out in Kent, WA at 1 in the morning, don't ask), and their fun spirits usually show up in their puzzles. Today, we get GEEZ / ZILLION, TABLOID, HAIR GEL, and SHAM WOW! Not an OFF DAY at all; great bonuses right in line with their personalities.

A bit of a missed opportunity to clue NOT ME as that ghost Dolly and Jeffy blame on everything in Bil KEANE's "The Family Circus." Ah, Jeffy, that little scamp! (How is it that TFC is still in print?) I'd bet that Sam or Doug, if not both of them, thought of that while cluing.

Nice clue pair in OHIO and PERU both homes of Lima (Lima, Ohio being the lesser-known of the two cities, of course).

All of this executed so smoothly, with just an ANON here and an ASST there. Super minor dabs of crossword glue.

I always look forward to seeing these guys' byline, and today was no exception. Entertaining solve.

Sat 4/2/2016
GAPTOOTHEDUPCS
ETHANFROMEMOAT
WHOLEFOODSPORE
GENESOREATHOP
ANISEPANDAPLO
WACDASHENJOIN
BUSHSRLEONI
HIBACHIEPITHET
OHARAPEDANT
GETSTOMLLESOP
WAHEMCEESPACY
ARMDEARTHEVEL
RYANGUITARSOLO
TOTOALTERATION
SUSSSKIRESORTS

I love seeing Doug and Brad on a single byline. They're two of my favorite people in crosswordland, and the sheer diversity of answers they exhibit as a team is stunning. I really like puzzles that have something for everyone, and it's pretty tough to beat them in that aspect. From the classic ETHAN FROME to the recent HOGWARTS, from the kooky GEWGAW to the bizarre-looking BUSHSR (think: Bush #41!), there's such a huge range of entries. Sometimes I feel like a single puzzle is focused too much on baseball or pop culture or stuff from the 1950s or whatever. Not the case for a Wilberson.

Please not Slytherin, please not Slytherin

And as usual, they bring a bevy of clever clues. [Gondola settings] made me think about speed or position of chairs, but it meant the background setting of SKI RESORTS. [What you might have for bad eyesight] had to be SPEX or CONTACTS or even a LOUPE? No, it's your GENEs. And my favorite, [Little sweater] so innocently makes you think about a piece of clothing, but it's a PORE.

Brad and Doug always bring a ton of great fill to their themelesses. I count about 15 assets — GUITAR SOLO and HOGWARTS my favorite — that's outstanding work. There are a few entries like ALTERATION which I don't count as assets (ADDED NOTE: Doug knows me too well), as they're more everyday words than colorful ones, but Doug/Brad started with enough long slots that if they didn't convert one or two into something great, the asset count is still a big number.

All of that, with virtually no gluey bits! What can you even point out? Some might argue UPCS (Universal Product Code, in merchandising lingo) is a liability? But I think as long as an acronym is very well-known and in popular usage, it's fine. Maybe not everyone knows what they are by name, but who wouldn't recognize the thick/thin black bars on virtually every product sold?

I personally measure themelesses by [assets minus liabilities], and a fine themeless scores at least 10. Here, with a score of 15 = another Wilberson winner. If it hadn't been for Peter Gordon's hilarious April Fool's Day puzzle yesterday, this would would easily been the POW.

POW Sat 6/13/2015
ZEROWASTEYUCCA
EXOTICPETOBOES
TAXISQUADDARES
AMYSURNHANDLE
FINERYGOOS
HAMLETCOATING
ONAIRSKATEBRB
UNIBROWSTANLEE
RONEXISTSPEED
DESTINYRERUNS
DOVEDENVER
EMERGECIGWAGE
RINGOSHRINKRAY
ENTERARTFORGER
KISSYSOUTHPOLE

★ A great puzzle from some of my favorite people in crosswordland. Always a treat to get a Wilberson themeless, usually a range of entries going all the way from erudite to hip. That upper left corner, with a Riemann ZETA function (an elegant math function) crossing a football TAXI SQUAD, exemplifies what I love about their co-constructions.

Interesting grid today, with far less long slots than average. The upper left and lower right feature the standard triple-stacks of longish answers, and both of them are beautiful. They contain six excellent answers, and five of them felt super fresh. (SOUTH POLE I've seen a few times in themelesses, but it's still quite a good entry what with its nice [Lowest point?] clue.)

FEAR THE BROW!

Where this diverges from usual themeless layouts is that there are fewer 8+ letter slots — only 10. This tends to make me worry that there won't be as much stellar material as I like, but Brad and Doug make great use of their seven-letter slots, with SYNCHRO, REGIFT, and UNIBROW. And it was amusing to see STAN LEE clued with respect to his Marvel movie cameos. He's such a visionary … and such a terrible actor. Yeesh.

Along with some supporting sixes — the interesting-sounding UBANGI river and the trivia of multiple FERRETs being called a "business" stood out to me — it makes for a count of roughly 13 assets. That's not a sky-high number, but it's fine as long as the liabilities are kept to a minimum.

And cleanliness is one area that Doug and Brad excel at. The top left stack only needing the minor glue dots of WIS and ETD, the lower one nearly perfect (SAS doesn't bother me, as it's a major airline), and what else? "AMY'S Kitchen" makes tasty, reasonably-healthy frozen food, so that's minor to me as well. Maybe GOOS, as it's an odd plural.

Overall, a great mix within the grid entries, something for everyone. I'm not usually very good with the upscale references, but I did enjoy learning more about Mahler's quartet of OBOES in his "Symphony of a Thousand" (which Jim tells me is not often performed because it's so expensive to put on) and the fact that there's Le Cordon Bleu as well as Cordon Bleus, the distinguished chefs. Along with some great clues like [Pen set] = SWINE, this one was a real treat.

Sat 2/21/2015
CLASSTRIPSALTI
LATETEENSAXIOM
OVENREADYTEMPT
CIAEMMYMORESO
KEMPTSYNLEO
ACETATESICS
RALPHNADEROGRE
OBEYCLUESCHEX
SOARHELLOKITTY
AUDIANTENNA
PTSBITELUDE
ATTAINDALEDEV
RHOMBSATELLITE
KARELCLOSEINON
STYNEHYPERTEXT
Fri 12/19/2014
SPAOLIVERTWIST
TONPIRATERADIO
ELKSTANDSALONE
NOLOENETULLES
OPENMRISAMO
POSEASTRAWLS
ANTSYACRESEER
DIROJTRIALANI
SEALORYXADDIN
SPIREABRAVOS
NECTOYSTORE
PESETAAFRACID
DRACOMALFOYATO
FIGURESKATELIU
SEATTLESLEWSST

Always a treat to see the Wilberson byline. Today's puzzle gives us an impressive 16 entries of 8+ letters. Loved seeing OLIVER TWIST. SEATTLE SLEW and its great clue that misdirected toward an Olympic track star. LEAD VOCALS. JOE CAMEL with a brilliant [Pack animal?] clue. FIGURE SKATE. So much goodness packed into a single grid.

And what a conversion rate! Out of those 16 key slots, really only REST AREA and STENO PADS stand out to me as so-so, mainly because their common letters make them frequently used in themelesses. That's 14 great long entries, a huge quantity for one puzzle. Throw in the confusing OJT???? pattern of OJ TRIAL and it's impressive how many assets this duo works in.

Not without a price, though. The stacks of 11s in the NW and SE corner already force six three-letter words into the grid design, and we get up to a whopping 17 three-letter words in total. That's not always bad if they can be disguised as the normal CRY, ELK, OPS, SPA, TON, YEW types of entries. But when about half of them are of the AFR, AMO, ATO, DIR, NEC variety, it becomes quite noticeable.

It is a valiant attempt to save NEC with a clever clue. But for those who don't already know that NEC sells semiconductor chips, this wordplay clue has more potential to cause further annoyance at seeing NEC rather than rescuing it.

Draco Malfoy

I bet DRACO MALFOY will be a divisive entry. As a huge Harry Potter fan, I knew it right off the top, which was a lot of fun. But as characters go, he's pretty one-dimensional. SEVERUS SNAPE, who's probably as recognizable to non-HP fans as DRACO MALFOY, is my choice for the antihero of our time.

(SPOILER ALERT!) The love of Snape's life slowly outgrowing their childhood friendship. A turn toward the power and social status offered by the Death Eaters. Snape's role in leading to He Who Shall Not Be Named taking Lily Potter's life. Seeing in Harry Potter's face two clashing elements: Lily's eyes, but also the features of Harry's father — Snape's mortal enemy. And the piece de resistance, Snape's final sacrifice.

Oh right, this post is supposed to be about crosswords, (sadly) not about Harry Potter. Anyway, a ton of great assets, offset by a good number of liabilities.

POW Sat 2/8/2014
BASFLIPONESLID
ACHJUKEBOXHERO
TRAOREGONTRAIL
HOMBREWIEISNT
SPEEDDOSYMHA
HOLEPHOTOOP
ELECOLDSAWHER
BISHOPSLEAZY
ASSDOGSITMIRA
REVOLTSBRAN
CBERKOSTEMPO
PARILAVHEREON
ORANGEPEKOETUE
SOVIETUNIONANA
TBONESTEAKSLDL

★ A beautiful puzzle, chock full of great entries and great clues. It's tough for me not to give out a POW automatically when I see the Wilberson byline. There is a touch of lesser stuff, but when it allows for such snazzy entries as (earworm alert) JUKEBOX HERO, T-BONE STEAKS, and HAIR METAL I barely shrug at the stuff like ODER and CBER.

Brad ain't kidding when it comes to stacked 11's. Look what trouble they force in the NW and SE corners: six three-letter words just to start. In a themeless, more than twelve(-ish) three-letter words starts to become noticeable, and you'll almost always need a couple here and there to make a grid work.

Then there's the fact that you have all those parallel down crossings to deal with in a stack of 11's. It's easier than dealing with a triple stack of 15's, but typically triple-stacked 15's are the singular focus of a themeless. Check out today's vertical stacks (on the left and right sides), just waiting to throw a monkey wrench into things as they connect up to the stacks of 11's. But Wilberson tames them, bringing us some good BATHSHEBA and EZRA POUND... with HOMBRE running through the former!

There's a ton of other good entries, but in the interest of space, let me point out just some of the clues that sizzle. "It once had many satellites in orbit" innocently makes you think about planets and astronomy. But no, it's talking about the Soviet Socialist Republics — THAT kind of satellite. And "Dieter's beef" doesn't refer to a dieter, but a person from Germany's olden term for its government (or perhaps Dieter, a common-ish(?) name in Germany). What a way to rescue the otherwise boring ACH!

It's that type of attention to detail, to enhancing the solving experience, that makes this pair such a force. DOS could easily have been a broad "Cuts" or something, but they take care to design the tricky "Lock combinations?" And they mix in some interesting trivia with the clue for BISHOP; I found it fun to learn that the fianchetto is a chess opening. Extremely well done, I'll be studying this one further.

Fri 9/20/2013
ASKOVERPTBOATS
RAISEDANEYEBROW
ALLKIDDINGASIDE
ROMANINNERSIE
AMERMAJORSTET
TERTITANKNIFE
BAKESDEADON
IBISESPEEPER
AMAZEDMALLS
RILEDBUSTSSHE
ATITPESTSVTEN
PANSEIKOKARAT
ATEENAGERINLOVE
HOSTILETAKEOVER
ORESTESLEERERS

Debut for Mangesh! If you haven't read his 2012 ACPT letter you're missing out. Great story about the power of crosswords not only to delight but to educate. I had the pleasure to meet him at that ACPT and enjoyed swapping stories.

And how can you go wrong working with the venerable Doug Peterson, an expert constructor and a hilarious guy? I'm envious of the fun times they must have had. Doug and Mangesh incorporate double-stacked 15's, using a black square to break up rows 1 and 15. That pair of squares may seem insignificant, but this arrangement is so much more flexible to fill than a triple-stack of 15's. The top stack is very nice, both phrases being in the language and catchy. There are a couple of blemishes in OBS, EDD, and TER but overall it's pretty good. PENNON was a bit of a head-scratcher, but I enjoyed looking that up and reminiscing about The Tudors and Game of Thrones.

One issue with stacks of 15's is that they don't leave much room for other feature entries in the grid. Note how aside from the 15's, there are slots for only six 8's. It's relatively hard to find fresh 7-letter (or less) answers, so there's not a lot of room aside from the 15's to incorporate more marquee answers. TO DIE FOR is, well, to die for, but there aren't many other flashy entries.

To Will's point about reuse of 15's in stacks, some of us constructors have a running joke about SCARLET TANAGERS and A LOT ON ONES PLATE, which have been used many times in themeless stacks. Anytime a crossword has a 15-letter answer with any sort of bird clue, I automatically fill in SCARLET TANAGERS. And if I don't want to do something, I'll say "Sorry, I have a lot on one's plate."

Finally, a highlight of the puzzle is the clue for NINJAS. What a fun piece of information! Watch as I activate my ninja powers and turn invisib

Fri 9/6/2013
POVERTYROWGARR
URANIUMOREEPEE
CARROTCAKELPGA
ENYAUARDIALUP
GASPENTEL
ESTERSTEADICAM
WARSAWPACTNITE
ONEBOLSTERDIA
KTELRETIREMENT
SAGEGREENBERGS
CUTSINFAN
BLASTSONODISK
CAROOTHERWOMAN
URDUMSMAGAZINE
PASTEASTORANGE

A sustained professional duo, working together to produce exponentially more than the sum of its parts, is a rare and beautiful thing. Kerry Walsh and Misty May-Treanor's non-verbal communication on the sand volleyball court. Jeff Meckstroth and Eric Rodwell trading killer leads at the bridge table. Danny Ocean and Rusty Ryan working a heist-of-the-century angle. All of them are on notice, because Wilberson is on the rise.

It's infrequent that two experts can work so well together, producing quality of this level over an extended stretch of time (this is their fifth NYT collaboration and they have more together in the LAT) without a clash of egos. The grid is well-constructed, with little dreck, and contains so many of the types of phrases that either shine or teach a solver something new. I had to wrestle with the unfamiliar TREEGUARDS but enjoyed reading up on something I walk past all the time (the iron fencing around a tree planted on a city sidewalk).

The SW corner was a little difficult for me due to TREEGUARDS and CARO, but ultimately fair. It's amazing that this is the only hiccup considering the difficulty of this particular construction. Often times the marquee answers are pushed to the perimeter, which helps to isolate them and make construction easier (generally more segmented = easier construction). Doug and Brad extend WARSAW PACT, SAGE GREEN, STEADICAM, RETIREMENT, WEEDEATER, and WORRISOME into the center of the grid, raising the degree of interconnect and thus the level of difficulty. Not all those answers are sparkly, but brilliant clues like "Avocado relative" (not the fruit but the color) add to the solving experience.

Sat 8/3/2013
SOTHABERDASHER
WHOONCLOUDNINE
EPARICKYNELSON
ELFMANHANSMRT
TEARSBALEKAMA
SARIWORFANSEL
OSEWAXTABLET
PETMICEMAEWEST
HITORMISSRPI
GOETHBALKMSRP
AREAORLYTIVOS
SSWGAILWONOUT
LIEDETECTORITE
ONLINEFORUMCUR
GOLDENSPIKEEPS
Sat 6/22/2013
INSTAMATICTHAN
DOORTODOORREPO
IMPATIENCEYAPS
GESISLEDEFTLY
TREEREWOVE
AGREESSENORITA
GOONSSPECKSIP
ATTNSTILETINT
SHOAPRESREOIL
PARALLELTEENSY
MOCKUPMEDS
ECOCARDOFFZIP
SITUGUILLOTINE
STESEASTORANGE
EYRESECONDGEAR
Mon 5/27/2013
DIDSAWINGEENA
EDUORATEORSON
PARWELLGROOMED
THATSALLEDSELS
HONESADFYI
DELWOKGODOT
BTUOFANEONOIR
OARURLOROULE
SPATIALCADBYE
CANWEASKYUL
ELMAKAREDO
ODDLOTUNTENDED
PERFUNCTORYOLE
AMATIRECUEWHO
LITHETSKEDNIN
Sat 5/4/2013
THISISTRUEASST
RACONTEURSTKOS
INARTISTICTALK
CENTERSRIATAS
ESTERHOOSIER
RIPVANWINKLE
ANIMAUVESTEAL
LAMBCLASHSYMS
ATPARCREEDSPA
NURSERATCHED
ROSSINISELMA
CAVITYRAISEUP
OLINANNEBRONTE
ELSEDEADLETTER
NYETHOWDYDOODY
Tue 3/26/2013
ACDCACEDESILU
THELORAXINTROS
MANALIVESTRODE
FRAMEISPSANG
ETDSTNGEEWHIZ
ESAUAGHASTANO
ROXIEHINGE
LEAPINLIZARDS
DEALTPRANK
OMGINASECSAGS
HOLYCOWAHATUT
NEETEEDGLARE
GLENDABYGEORGE
PAYTONROADKILL
SWEATYOUTISEE
Fri 3/1/2013
CATSCRADLEIGOR
HEATVISIONCANE
IRRESOLUTEENTS
POPEJARSFIGHT
LUANNRINSER
HELENTABORTWA
ANORAKLIREAHI
RASSLESLEBARON
EMSLENDMORALE
MELINLETAMPED
PLEBESCARTS
AWARDFARORIFT
NADADIRTYHARRY
TREFPALACECOUP
SERFSTONEHENGE
Sat 1/12/2013
SIGHTINGJARFUL
ASLOOSEASAGOOSE
CHAINLINKFENCES
HAMSENDEARARS
ELITEEERACNE
MLSCOURTPECAN
FORMSDOTIME
IACOCCAHENNAED
CLARASHONDA
ALTARLATTECSA
NOSYCUBREACT
TCUPANICSTBAR
WAITINGTOEXHALE
ITTAKESALLKINDS
NESTEDTELECAST
Sun 8/26/2012PUT A LID IN IT
ILLBEPFCSFABALTO
TIERRADEEREACRIMONY
SEAAIRRELEEITALIANS
LADYCHTERLEYSLOVER
ABIESSAKAHUNAFEM
TENDSAMOKIREABIDE
EDSHORTONHCHESTHEEGG
AMIPIAFAVONLEA
ETCZENOGROGGATED
MAHMAGANDHIMOEATRA
ALTIMALETFARMITRAL
GLYNAYETOCATCHHIEF
CITESDUELLACEPSA
ATACOSTPSISCOY
CHTANOOGACHOOCHOOTWO
OCHRENRCSTAYUSAIN
WHYBIOMESROOOKLA
ALLSWELLTHENDSWELL
MORTSAHLSAABSONESIE
COATTREEOTROSROTTER
SOWNEDDLYNXBOOST
Wed 8/1/2012
CRAFTBIPEDLUG
HORUSOCALAIRR
OMARKHAYYAMNBA
WEBSTERPINATAS
ESCBANURNS
OLGAKURYLENKO
PAULBAAISLIP
ERNHAMMOCKLSU
CACAOIDABEER
OTTOKLEMPERER
DRNOBEEEEL
OATBRANSTRANDS
DVRIMOKYOUREOK
GEOCABINSUSHI
YSLASIDEESTAS
Sat 7/14/2012
CRAFTFAIRBRACE
OHSUSANNALIPPY
SITZKRIEGISERE
INEZGORPPERCH
NORKONRADSTLO
ESSENSOPUPUAL
DIRRECOURSE
HADAFITRAWNESS
AIRMEDALTED
TRAREPADLOOMS
MEWSRETELLBET
ADULTDEVOHERE
KAPOWERICCARLE
ELOPECOCKAHOOP
RENEEKNEEPANTS
Tue 1/31/2012
APEGAGREESAGO
DIVADOUBLEPOX
DAILYJUMBLERYE
UNCLASPSYRIAN
POTOKTEAOIL
IPODSHUFFLE
SESAMEUKELOOP
PLACATESIDEONE
AINTEVEGIRLIE
MADSCRAMBLE
DUHCUETACIT
TAUPINAVERAGE
RUNLEMONADEMIX
ATEISABELNEVA
YOSSTRIDEALES
Fri 1/13/2012
MUSLIMSTEENAGE
ANTONIOBANDERAS
SPRINKLERSYSTEM
LINSEEDSSTYLE
SEP
PALISHASOFLIP
ISINTOTORABORA
DANGEROUSCURVES
ENGENDERALIENS
RTSTERNSTEREO
SAN
INTWOMANIFOLD
DOMESTICANIMALS
ELEPHANTTRAINER
DONTASKLETTERS
Fri 12/16/2011
SWEDISHPANACEA
CONESTOGAWAGONS
ONSPEAKINGTERMS
ROUTEKNEELVII
CUESEAGLEJETS
HTSCRIESPETIT
RANDRCASTES
STUDIOCHUTES
SARTRECOALS
TNOTEPATIOWAX
AMOYPINONDATE
YAPAHEAPCOLOR
STELLARPARALLAX
AEROBICEXERCISE
TOSPAREIQTESTS
Tue 6/14/2011
BEDSTHATAGORA
YURIOOZENIXON
PRAMLATETRYIT
LOWBUDGETFILM
APIARYCHEFOPT
YENAOLROBROY
BLUEMANGROUP
ELIADERANTE
BUMMEDAROUND
ARMANIDNABOX
NEOTOSHINTIME
DOWNCOMFORTER
TREVIOREOIMAX
IBSENUSSRMARE
LITRETEAMSPAS
Sat 12/4/2010
LJUBLJANAPABLO
AUNATURELTROOP
BRIMSTONEALICE
SETSEMERYELAN
ASATASSELS
SWIRLSTINTDIE
PAMELAINKSPOTS
ALMABUDGEAVIA
CLARISSAESTEEM
EATSCALDTERSE
SWEARATAOL
HARMMOANSOMAN
ILIADDRZHIVAGO
PLAZAALIENATED
SALEMYOGACLASS
Tue 5/4/2010
RCMPTWANGCAMS
OHOHWATERAMEN
SANDDOLLARLINE
ERSUCLAMENSA
TIAPASSTHEBUCK
TONIERETDSHY
ATTNCOSMIC
SOFTSHELLCLAM
OREIDAANAS
ACHAWLAMPERE
BLOOPSINGLECIG
LIRASAUELDAM
AMATFORMULAONE
ZACHUNCUTSTAN
EXESRASPSPEST
Fri 1/29/2010
ZINFANDELADOPT
IDALUPINOSEPOY
PINETREESTWERP
POACHSMASHINTO
OMSKKEYLIMES
ELALTRASHTV
FANDOMHONTORE
RBILIVESONPIN
OLEOKAYSAMSON
GETREALNINE
ZANZIBARGULP
RUSTLEDUPRATIO
ASCIIATONETIME
HOHOSTYLENOLPM
SCENTELIOTNESS
Fri 11/6/2009
MOUNTFUJIOPED
IGNORAMUSPREXY
ALPHAMALEAGAPE
SECJOSIERACED
PAUSESANER
PAGANSTRAPPIZ
ECRUATTHETIME
REELTOREELTAPES
STEVEJOBSLENT
EINLODICRUSTY
COALSNILES
DANKETOLETFDA
ICIERICLAUDIUS
VIOLSCHEVROLET
EDNASERENGETI
Sat 10/3/2009
GREATAPEESPANA
FUNNYMANFLAGON
OLDGROWTHFOREST
REISERROEGLEI
CONTALERTBICS
ENGPLEASEAMOK
DELETETRINI
TOPONYMSNORTED
AVILAASHORE
PENTMRMOTOCPO
ARCSAVOWSCAEN
SHHERIKODETTE
BEEINONESBONNET
ARROYOREARTIRE
RESCANSIDESPIN
Sat 8/29/2009
MUSSINAJACCUSE
INTIMATEAPPAREL
CELLPHONETOWERS
MAULSMAGESTRI
ASKSMIMEDCHAN
CEEDOZERERATO
JEWELPLANER
IMPUTEDPRECEDE
GAOLERCLOCK
UPPERDAUNTPEW
EMUSSETTEBALE
SALSASHASONIA
SKATEBOARDTRICK
SECURITYCOUNCIL
OREGANOHONESTY
Fri 7/17/2009
FAIRSHAKEPEENS
ALMAMATERARIEL
CORPULENTLASER
TEESLATERISERS
JESUONEND
COMEECRUSHOP
LOUVERKEGSOWE
SLIPPERYWHENWET
ADJSPECSTEELE
THATOTOSBURL
ABOATLILY
BROWNSTONEBOHO
ABACKINEEDANAP
LORALTEAKETTLE
DRDREOLDSCHOOL
Sat 6/6/2009
ALCAPPSTALWART
LEAVEITTOBEAVER
SEEINGEYESINGLE
ORNOTELSTSOS
NURSECCI
GRIPETROUNCED
CROCLASERSHMO
CAUSTICPOPQUIZ
UTEHADRONUGLY
PENZANCEELISE
LITLATEX
ASTOHAHNOCKS
MEATANDPOTATOES
ITSYBITSYSPIDER
DISSOLVEPECANS
Sun 2/22/2009THE CRUCIVERBALIST
BOREEFFSSIDEPEPUP
OVENBELAHONEYAMASS
MELGIBSONOTTERYPRES
BRAINSTORMTHEMEIDEAS
EDINARENTERSCIR
RODENTMOURNCOROLLA
DEVELOPBESTENTRIES
NBASCIILSNOR
YOYOSRNAOVINEPEEVE
CONSTRUCTSUITABLEGRID
HERESTEEERA
RESEARCHANDWRITECLUES
ISLAMRATSOSPAHEAVY
NSAMAROXOWAD
SENDPUZZLETOEDITOR
EXTREMEOSAMASOURED
WPMWASHERSMNEME
SEEBYLINEINNEWSPAPER
JELLOARENTEARTHWORM
CABBYMERCISLAYASIA
TRAYSESSETYPEYELL
Fri 2/13/2009
SPINALTAPPAEAN
HOMELOANSAPPLE
AMPLITUDESPIKE
LEASTRUBESAD
OLIOVOODOODOLL
MORNARMOREDIE
ISEEGLENS
ZIEGFELDFOLLIES
IDLESALDO
MEDSAGGIEEWOK
BOOTSTRAPSVIBE
AGRTEALDENTE
BRAVOPACKINGUP
WADEREXPERTISE
EMOTESYLVESTER
Tue 12/30/2008
SHAMWEBERTYKE
LORIAGILERAIL
ALEXRABIDOWLS
SENIORDISCOUNT
HYANNISERG
GTOLINCHPIN
JUNIORMINTSADO
ANONESCOLEO
GPSTHETHIRDMAN
SCHNOOKSWAY
ISMNONSLIP
FATHERSANDSONS
BLOWROUNDETNA
LOKIONICEUTIL
TESTWATERSEEM
Wed 11/5/2008
SKIMSTAGVJDAY
TACOHYPOIPODS
IZODOREOREGAL
LONESTARFLAG
TOSSUPFOGUPI
BUMPNOONAN
LOBSTERFISHING
OHIOIOUNODE
LANCEARMSTRONG
ASKANTOSHA
FASROOEVICTS
LONGDIVISION
BIJOUREFIASTI
OPARTEASEICED
ZOWIESLOWDOME
Thu 10/9/2008
ACDCAMWAYHMO
SHOECURBSBOER
PILYANISELYRA
LONGTERMIACT
SKIONBINOSSIE
TRANSENTER
EASESAGSETUPS
MISSIONIOSSIBLE
STEEDSLBOGOAT
YODELIEACH
GRAILEMIERTES
LITTLEDEVILS
IALEBUNINHEEL
SLAMACTONRAGU
ESSYESNOIROV
Wed 5/14/2008
WOOMARCOSCOFF
IANSHEAFPAULI
FREQUENTFLIRTER
ESAUMTSUNDIES
CINETAREST
PARTYASYOUGO
ELOQUEEGLOOPY
POSTUREGLIMPSE
SUSHINOLANESP
ALPINESKIRTS
ICANANAAMA
ALKALIWBCASTO
MARTINCHARACTER
BROOKPINUPAXE
SENSEAMAZERTS
Fri 2/1/2008
ASSUAGEGRAPPLE
POURCOLDWATERON
IMAGINARYFRIEND
EBBEDPENTANEZ
CELSASSNSPASO
EREELISERATON
CRONYSESAME
WISHINGGENTLES
ACTONEDIRTY
TERMSHOFFAJED
CHIPRUNTSMEMO
HOCRENEWCIRCE
OUTRIGGERCANOES
USEDCARSALESMEN
TERSELYPINKEST
Mon 2/20/2006
JAPANJAWSSANG
ALONEERIEEVIL
CONDOLEEZZARICE
KEYLORNGIVEN
HAVEABEEF
RELATEDONESTOP
ECOLIANOEWE
DOESNTKNOWBEANS
RLSORGUPSET
YESORNOMRDEEDS
SAYCHEESE
AGAINIRAEKAI
BURRITOFILLINGS
BALIIWINIDIOT
AMOSPESOGETGO

2 Variety puzzles by Doug Peterson

Sun 12/28/2008
PINOCHLEAVIARY
AIOEIRE
IDENTITYSLIGHT
NCIDALE
SHELLOILPAINTS
TLWMTW
AUCTIONSUBSIDE
KOOUNE
INNINGSRETRACT
NSUETH
GOTOSLEEPEERIE
RCZLRIA
REASONDISCOVER
OIWCUET
WANGLERAMPARTS
Sun 3/26/2006
TIMESSQUARECOO
IEHURSAM
MIAMIINCAPABLE
ONVNAELL
REDRAFTEDREEVE
OEEEADT
UPRIGHTSANG
SSETDC
CROWPROVISO
MAIIOSN
ULTRACHIVALRIC
STTHNTAR
SPEARMINTLIEGE
ESITEALT
LOTCLANDESTINE