Been a while since we had our last "turning" puzzle. A few years ago, Will Shortz put out a moratorium on them since they had become so pervasive. I'm thankful for the break — I used to groan at the first turning themer, but I enjoyed the throwback today, even though I recalled another RIGHT ON RED puzzle.
I'm such an annoying engineer. As with previous "turn right" puzzles, I can't get past the physicist's perspective that PUREBRED heads down, and turning right would mean going west, not east. I understand the counterargument that if you asked someone to point right, or to point east, they would point in the same direction.
(But that's not right. Neither is it correct. Said this stubborn engineer.)
PUREBRED DOGS / RED DOGS was the first themer I uncovered, and it confused me. RED DOGS couldn't be beer, could it? No, it had to be something related to Spuds MacKenzie.
(THAT'S ODD is right. Yes, right would be turning west!)
I appreciated the other finds much more, ALTERED STATE / RED STATE, CURED MEAT / RED MEAT and CHECKERED FLAG / RED FLAG all perfect examples. Regular readers would be shocked if I didn't run a quick query to see what other options were out there. I liked:
Turning puzzles tend to need a lot of long bonuses (because the themers are short), and Ed did well in that regard. STAGE ACTOR and HONEST ABE is a wonderful way to start. DON'T PANIC, GOES UNDER, even SCARAB and SPLOTCH are fun.
Not funned was DUNNED. It is a word in the dictionary. A single entry gets a pass, though, given how much other great material there was.
And a fantastic clue (once Jim Horne explained it to me): [Refuse to pick up the bill?] — a legal bill that gets a VETO, not a restaurant bill.
Nice to experience a turning puzzle occasionally, and the fact that each across themer was a valid entry helped elevate this one from the pack.
A-HA! You gotta love that a-ha moment when you first try handmade ANGEL HAIR pasta. It's almost as amazing as the a-ha moment, when you go to ACE HARDWARE and find exactly what you need.
What, that's not the theme?
Hmm … a-ha! When ACCIDENTS HAPPEN, you say, a-ha!, things happen for a reason!
Would you believe that ARSENIO HALL generated A lot of HAs in his career, thus the A HA MOMENTs?
Newer solvers can often figure out simple initialism themes, but even us old pros sometimes miss more complicated ones.
Maybe "old amateur" is a better description for me.
I wonder how many questions I'll get, even after I type the following in bold:
Although my A HA MOMENT was more a confusion-turning-to-slow-realization-then-feeling-like-a-moron moment, I still enjoyed the solve because of Ed's (mostly) strong gridwork. There's a bit of EPIC HEROES AERIALIST ACHORAGE to offset sprinklings of APSE LEAS LAHR DEKE, and most importantly, nothing horribly off-putting.
Note that APSE-like entries are fine for regular crossword solvers who have seen APSE a million times, but they risk turning off newbs. Why even have them, then? Most of it is a matter of mini-trade-offs. For example, is LAHR a reasonable price to pay for the shiny A LIST? I don't think so, but I can at least understand Ed's decision. For newer constructors, including LAHR might be a matter of carelessness, but this isn't the case for a seasoned vet like Ed.
I like my AHA MOMENTs to be sharp and exciting, and today's theme didn't achieve that. It's a reasonable play on the ol' initialisms theme, though.
I know that "shelter in home" is the right thing to do; that we all need to do it to slow the spread of coronavirus. It sure isn't easy though, especially when a five-year-old is hovering annoyingly at your shoulder, staring at each key you press, asking "Daddy why are you typing ‘a five-year-old is hovering annoyingly at your shoulder'," and a three year old is busy chanting every keystroke like a cheerleader, gimme an EFF YOU SEE KAY! Hey Daddy, what does that spell?
Two of my coping mechanisms are to count my blessings and to reach out to friends. Chatting with Jim Horne over Skype hits both of these simultaneously! This week, I'm going to recap our conversations about each puzzle. Hopefully, it'll provide some much-needed diversion, or at least something a little different.
Jim and I had similar experiences solving today's puzzle. Both of us loved the snazzy theme phrases, and we were both disappointed upon hitting the revealer. A HOUSE DIVIDED is a beautiful, evocative phrase, but the theme type — splitting a word at the beginning/end of a phrase — has been done enough that it's not going to excite either of us.
Usually, Jim is the one reminding me that neither of us is a typical NYT solver, but today, I was the one who not-at-all-high-and-mightily said don't you think we should consider the average Joe's perception, that since this theme type isn't seen much anymore, it might appear fresh?
Of course, our secret society of selective solvers deserves more, but shouldn't we deign to throw people a sirloin T-bone every once in a while?
Ha ha ha, we don't talk like that! At least ... do you know the secret handshake? No? Never mind then.
We appreciated Ed's gridwork, so smooth — except for one sticking point. "Even UHURU," Jim said. "It is difficult, but it's a nice way to remember the ‘Star Trek' character."
I thusly revoked Jim's nerd card. Oh, Jim. It's lieutenant Uhura, not Uhuru. I'm afraid I had to set phasers to stun.
All jokes aside, I'm hoping that we can all find ways of staying sane for what might be a long stretch. Hey … go find a newb friend and get them to try out crosswords! This one would be a solid starter puzzle.
Who's afraid of the DARK? Not Ed! We've written in the key words (see grid below), which hopefully makes the concept clear. I've seen a bunch of "black squares mean BLACK or DARK" themes, but I liked how the revealer made this one distinct. THE DARK SIDE calls to this uber-nerd, and it describes the concept perfectly.
We wrote in the four DARKs below because I had a hard time picturing where they were. Was the problem that a couple of movies I either didn't know or had forgotten ("Wait Until Dark" and the unfortunate "Darkman")? Or was it the awkwardness of BE IN THE DARK? Or NSTORMY as the only partial-looking theme entry? Whatever the case, I kept on losing track of the four special squares.
For this theme type, I like it best when those special squares stand out more. The best way is to make them the only squares that are by themselves (like the one between SPCA and STOPGAPS), but that does create filling challenges.
Making all the themer pairs span the entire grid helps make them stand out, but there's a tiny NIT to pick, that NIT isn't part of the theme.
I wondered if it would have been better to use only three sets of themers, which would have allowed for a cleaner puzzle. However, in the end, I decided I liked Ed's decision, which gave the puzzle a (dark) meatier feel. A couple of ORNO ARIE UAR blips were worth it. Along with some JOHN DOE STOPGAPS AIR SINAI bonuses, it's a reasonable set of trade-offs.
A couple of more recognizable entries like A SHOT IN THE DARK, DARK MEAT, WENT DARK, would have helped sharpen the solving experience. Overall though, the apt revealer helped pull everything together.
"Name That Theme" defeated me today, in a pleasing way. Maybe I should have been able to figure it out — HERD, BUTT, KNOT, and SCENE are all common in homophone themes. Bravo to Ed for keeping me guessing until the very end.
I should say, guessing until the very end … and beyond. I eventually figured out that a VOICE / ACTOR is "heard but not seen." The phrase felt familiar but not right, though, so I focused on that nit for a while. (It's usually "children should be seen and not heard.") That distracted me enough that I glossed over the ultra-long clue, pointing to the real a-ha in the puzzle.
Read it again, I'll wait.
"… like the words sounded out at the starts of the answers to the four starred clues."
That's a mouthful. Maybe shading those four words would have been better, so the clue could have read:
"like the shaded words, sounded out."
It's a great concept, that the four sounded-out words themselves — heard but not seen — are exactly that. The clue doesn't do it justice, though. Usually, I'm all for obfuscating a theme until the very end, but I doubt shading would have taken away from the impact since the concept is already complicated.
Curious placement of the VOICE / ACTOR revealer. It'd have been more elegant to drop those into the bottom row, but it's not easy to work STEALER and ACTOR into the same corner. I bet the SE corner wouldn't have been as smooth with ACTOR in the bottom row, so I'm okay with the decision.
I would have liked a smidge more smoothness, though. ELAND and STOAT are toughies for newbs, and coming from the same category — I'll take Crossword Animals for $400, Alex. Adding in SIBYL, ALB, BRAGG into one small region makes it even harder. Every one of these entries is fine in general, but it's too much as a whole.
So many Tuesdays tend to be forgettable, so I appreciate the extra layers Ed put into this concept. Made me think.
★ It takes a lot to overcome my rebus fatigue, but the notion of circles representing balloons, popping into POPs? Delightful!
Add in brass-ring quality themers: IS THE POPE CATHOLIC is fantastic on so many levels — so colorful, so fun to say, and rarely seen in crosswords since it's 17 letters. I'm usually not a fan of words hidden in other single words, but APOPLEXY is such a crazy entry. HIPPOPOTAMUSES did make me wonder if HIPPOPOTAMI was the correct plural, and that made me love it even more.
(Thanks to Matt Gaffney for sending me a hilarious Hiphopopotamus link!)
Some problems in the short fill left me with that same feeling you get after losing at the ring toss 58 times in a row, though. It would have been one thing if it were only minor offenders like ACS (no one uses this to refer to multiple air conditioners, but it's easy enough to figure out), ERE and NAE, but PES? SKAT? OESTE?
Take a close look at the slew of themer intersections. IS THE POPE CATHOLIC crosses TOOTSIE POP crosses HIPPOPOTAMUSES crosses RED POPPY, and APOPLEXY crosses POPULAR. So much inflexibility is enough to make any constructor cross. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)
As much as I liked Ed's ambitious long themers, a couple of shorter ones like POPPY (instead of RED POPPY), POPPA, POPEYE, POPULI, AIRPOP, etc. would have allowed for a smoother, better overall end product. I appreciated Ed's sentiment, but the notion of POP sounds vs. non-POP sounds didn't occur to me while solving.
Such a beautiful carnival effect — so charming, those circles — representing balloons suddenly blossoming into POPs. My big smiles made it easy enough to overlook the problems in execution.
The theme is almost great. Almost. Allllllmost. I had to think for a long time to figure out what bugged me. It's so maddeningly close to being perfectly tight (you can't possibly think of a single other themer possibility) and consistent (no "this one is not like the others" feel).
At first, PIXIE felt different. Then I realized BOB was the offender. BUZZ cut, PIXIE cut, CREW cut, spot-on. BOB cut, yes ... if you're being pedantic. I've heard lots of people talk about getting a bob, never a "bob cut" though.
That's a long way of saying, Jeff's OCD got in the way of his solving pleasure. Gonna have to do something about that stupid brain of mine one of these days.
Excellent gridwork. Not easy to work around five themers while producing a colorful grid that's also clean enough for newbs. I hesitated upon running into ARIE right off the bat — a toughie for rookie solvers. Thankfully, with so much greatness in FEZZES, OLD SAWS, DOG BEDS, THE MAGI, I easily overlooked it. Big thumbs-up for Ed's gridwork.
The theme works, but not at POW! level. I much appreciated the meticulous craftsmanship, though.
Whoda thunk that LIFE could produce three solid definitions, none of them sounding ripped out of a dictionary? I've played LIFE, the BOARD GAME, many a time. Eaten LIFE, the BREAKFAST CEREAL, yum! And read LIFE, the PICTURE MAGAZINE.
Okay, I wasn't familiar with that last phrase, but PICTURE MAGAZINE did appear to be in usage way back when.
Great revealer in THAT'S LIFE, too! Spot on.
With slightly less than average theme material, I like that Ed made good use of this leftover real estate. Calling the BATPHONE! CRAB CAKE, FRAGRANT, ZEALOT — that's all ELECTRIC! Jazzed up the quality of my solve.
Such craftsmanship, too, a nice early-week product. I'd gladly give this one to a newer solver. I might drop hints for REO (the old car) and ERAT (the E of QED), but I think those ought to be in an educated solver's knowledge base. Or at least floating around in the corners of one's memory.
I wish PICTURE MAGAZINE had been as great a phrase as the others. The punchline of THAT'S LIFE was so fun that I'd have given this one POW! consideration if all three themers had been awesome. But even with only two of three LIFE definitions standing out, it's still a very nice early-week offering.
Funny, punny title, S-Q'S ME describing the concept perfectly. Basic sound changes don't do a lot for me in general since we've seen so many of them, but there's something entertaining about the SQU- sound. (I'm easily amused. Must be the sleep deprivation.)
Some great themers, too, Ed on my humor wavelength. "Winter's Tale" to SQUINTERS TALE, a biopic about Mr. Magoo? Yes! A pig seller as a SQUEALER DEALER (from "wheeler-dealer")? Comedy gold. I was a Woody Woodpecker fan as a kid, so SQUIRRELY BIRD also did it for me. And the old ad tagline, "Where's the beef?" changed to SQUARES THE BEEF = hilarious! Great stuff.
Not all of them tickled me. As much as I like the concept of wormholes, and how colorful that phrase is, SQUIRM HOLES only elicited a shrug from me. SQUISH LISTS was better, but it didn't make me smile as much as SQUAWKATHONS.
And SQUANDER LUST … that felt too tortured for my taste. Humor is subjective. At least to this anal grammarian!
I think "less is more" would have been better here, as the weaker themers diluted the impact of the fantastic ones. The relatively high theme density also came with a cost in terms of gridwork. The grid is pretty good as far as Sundays go, but it could have shined by paring down to just the themer gems.
For example, look at the SW corner. ERECTILE, TAUTENED, SPENDERS, URI GELLER, MORAINE, THE SKY (isn't that a six-letter partial?) ... they're all fine, more or less, but none of them are super exciting (unless you're a mentalist). Without SQUIRMHOLES and SQUISH LISTS taking up real estate on the sides of the puzzle, Ed could have opened those sections up and repositioned some black squares into the SW / NE corners. Would have allowed him to add some real pizzazz.
The NW and SE could have used a couple of extra black squares to facilitate better fill, too. Kicking off the puzzle with INQ (inq … uiry? really?) and FEU isn't great, along with FEU CRU. EWW!
But overall, I thought Ed did a good job executing on a basic sound change concept. And it's quite possible that some solvers will laugh uproariously at SQUISH LISTS, so maybe Ed made the right trade-offs. The grid is certainly passable as is. Just a shame that it didn't sing as much as it could have.
I've seen MARIE ANTOINETTE many times in crosswords, so it was baffling to fill it in automatically … but have it not fit. Amusing to get a version of the Queen of Heart's famous line, OFF WITH HER HEAD!, in the puzzle as well, literalizing it so the grid only contains ARIE ANTOINETTE (the M is lopped off).
CAPITAL OFFENSE didn't quite work for me. I think the clue is getting at "cutting off the capital letter," but wouldn't that mean the A of ANTOINETTE should be removed, too? Maybe that's too picky, but having just NTOINETTE in the grid would have made the CAPITAL OFFENSE punchline work better for me.
I would have also liked to get ARIE ANTOINETTE at the very end of the puzzle. Felt like when someone tells a funny joke … and then explains it to you. Better to leave on a high note.
Ed features some nice long fill, BRACERS and SALES ROOM, and even uses his mid-length fill well in ESPRIT and EXEMPT. HATTERAS didn't do much for this left coaster, but I'm sure North Carolinians sure will disagree.
A couple of rough spots in the grid, notably the OHAIR / LIS crossing (sometimes the latter is spelled "lys"). Along with ASTA, BROMO giving a fusty feel, and the odd ONE K (not a common race distance, and never written this way), I could have used a little more finesse in the short fill. I like the attempt to give solvers some longish bonus entries, but I'm not sure it was worth these prices, especially given how important smoothness is for a novice-friendly Monday puzzle.
MARIE ANTOINETTE has been played upon in many crosswords, including one of my favorites from recent memory. Still, I enjoyed the a-ha I got from figuring out that she was literally missing her "head." And it was clever to link in (something close to) the Queen of Heart's famous saying as well.
Some black squares interpreted as JACK added to themers, i.e. what looks like YOU DON'T KNOW is actually YOU DON'T KNOW (JACK). Nice to pull it all together with both (JACK) BLACK the actor and BLACK (JACK) the card game hinting at those hidden JACKs — both of them in a single entry, BLACK!
We saw a "BLACK hidden in black squares" puzzles recently, so it would have been nice to get more separation between them. But this one did go an extra step, not just a BLACK addition, but a (black) JACK addition.
Nice pairing of YOU DON'T KNOW (JACK) and (JACK) OF ALL TRADES. Fortuitous that their lengths match.
Glad that the themers were starred — I would have glossed over PINE, which is actually (JACK) PINE. Although it's interesting to learn of another type of tree, I would have preferred something more snazzy, like (JACK)POTS. Maybe the (JACK)POT in the upper right could have been (JACK)ALS?
Speaking of the upper right, to have AMOI and MMI in one tiny region is not ideal. I wouldn't mind them as the price for ORTIZ, but with crossword glue already necessary to hold the rest of the puzzle together — O SOLE, WILE E, IN ICE, A CUT — it'd have been great to smooth all the tiny corners out as much as possible.
It's a shame to have four partials, making them all stick out for me. But those four partials are understandable, given all the extras Ed worked in: EMPTY SUIT, TITLE ROLE, TOY STORES. Bound to get some strain when so much good stuff is worked in. And I loved THE CROW. Brandon Lee got cut down in the prime of his life, just like his father, Bruce Lee. It's sad — that dude could have been the leading man that broke the Asian glass ceiling in Hollywood.
As with most of these types of puzzles, I wanted some rationale as to why certain black squares operated as black JACKs and others didn't. Still, an enjoyable solve with some strong theme phrases and bonuses.
Warm fuzzies evoked by this puzzle, a beautiful PA-RUM-PUM-PUM-PUM refrain of "The Little Drummer Boy," ending with ME AND MY DRUM. Love the song, as it reminds me of family, holidays, year-end reflection. Good times, good times. (Mostly.)
My first reaction to the themers was that I would have liked the PUMs incorporated into longer entries, as PUMPER and PUMMEL aren't exactly thrilling. Hmm, PUMP ACTION SHOTGUN isn't terribly holiday-esque, is it? Maybe PUMPKIN PATCH, PUMP IRON, PUMPERNICKEL, etc.
But after thinking about it, I decided I liked how the syllables were all lined up so nicely, sort of how they might be on a musical score. (Sort of. Very loosely.) Using longer themers would have staggered the five syllables, and that might have given them a more haphazard appearance. So although I'm still not wild about PUMPER, the overall grid aesthetic is pleasing to my musician's eye.
Well executed in terms of smoothness, just a few AMS (does anyone use plural AMs in real life?), minor EER and NAE stuff. Negligible.
Not a ton of bonus fill, but RED MEAT and JURY RIG were very good uses of those mid-length slots. And the J in JURY RIG plus the two Zs made for some spice. Each of those Zs carried very slight compromises — AZT crossing PROZAC might be rough for some solvers, and ULTIMA is an odd but certainly inferable word — but since Ed did such a nice job of keeping the rest of his grid smooth, I don't mind these prices at all.
I love when a puzzle gives me a warm, happy feeling inside. If all the themers had been a snazzy as PARTING SHOT, this would have been POW! material for me.
Famous people literally cross a body of water they were known for actually crossing in real life. I've highlighted the theme pairs below to help them stand out. Fun idea — it reminded both Jim and me of a fantastic one from a long time ago by Patrick Berry.
I didn't know BEREZINA, but apparently it was a famous battle Napoleon fought in, involving a crossing of the BEREZINA. Learn something new every day! WASHINGTON crossing the DELAWARE was much more familiar and gave me a smile, along with LINDBERGH crossing the ATLANTIC and MAGELLAN crossing the PACIFIC (well, I knew he crossed something big, anyway). Something fun about seeing these historic voyages in crossword form.
It was odd to get LINDBERGH crossing the RED SEA. Took me an embarrassing amount of time to realize it was actually MOSES crossing the RED SEA. Then again, did he really cross the RED SEA? Or did he *part* it, and then cross the empty basin? Felt out of place, and I sure would have liked to separate these two pairs of themers.
It's always tough to work with crossing themers, since they take up a lot of space and also cause filling difficulties around their intersections. It's also always tough to make Sunday 140-word puzzles, because they can often be themeless-esque in their wide-open spaces. Combine the two and you get a major challenge. I did like many of the bonuses Ed gave us — SMART CAR, BEEP BEEP!, SLIP N SLIDE, and the beautiful BEAUX GESTES (yes, the X is necessary in the plural form) — that's enough strong fill to sate my Sunday needs.
So much crossword glue, though. I definitely noticed the inelegant bits through my solve, i.e. APACE, ENROL with only one L, TOITY (partial), DIL, EXO, LDRS, etc. It's to be expected, given the construction challenge, but I had hitches in many places.
Nice idea though, a few historic crossings given their due in crossword form.
I enjoy puzzles that play with shapes of letters. This one uses two Vs squeezed into a single square in the horizontal direction, but which get interpreted as a W in the vertical. Sometimes these letter squishing puzzles don't work well because people write letters in all sorts of ways — uppercase / lowercase, shorthand, etc. — but this is just about perfect, as V and W don't have a lot of variation.
I really liked HIV VACCINE, a modern, fresh, upbeat entry. TECH SAVVY is also nice, although I've seen it before in crosswords, in one with the same conceit. That one included DIVVIED UP, which to me is a more colorful answer than REVVING UP.
I also enjoyed FLIVVER, a new term to me (old slang for a junker or rustbucket), but I would have really liked all the themers to be long — themers of six letters tend to get lost in the shuffle. CIVVIES could have been lengthened to IN CIVVIES, perhaps?
A construction like this might seem tough, but you can just put a W in those special squares and build the grid like normal. So although I did like some of the bonus fill Ed worked in, like Donne's THE FLEA, A PRIORI, ID SAY SO, it would have been nice to get more. Still, the grid is pretty clean aside from a few minor ATL, ALAI, KAN bits, plus he worked in the apt revealer — VWS — in a perfect location.
A few clues I had to think about:
So although I've seen several puzzles of this ilk (UU = W, D over D = B, VV = W, etc.), I thought this one was generally well-made and enjoyable.
I like these types of themes, where a revealer describes a few examples in very different ways — it's a great way for a constructor to show creative thinking, linking seemingly disparate things. I think it works best when 1.) all the examples are perfectly apt and 2.) when the examples are VERY disparate.
So how does DOWN AND DIRTY fare with the first criteria? A CHIMNEY SWEEP is indeed dirty, but my first inclination was to think about CHIMNEY SWEEPs going up a chimney, not down it. (A few sources seem to agree, but upon further thought, wouldn't it be smarter to go down, so the soot doesn't fall in your face? Hmm.) SUCKER PUNCH was nearly perfect for me, with the caveat that SUCKER PUNCHes aren't always below the belt. X-RATED MOVIE … yes, it's dirty, but "down" doesn't quite hit. Even the obvious vulgar interpretation doesn't feel perfect, since there's a huge range of adult films.
On the second criteria though, I think Ed does quite well. It was fun to think about these three very different things connected in an unexpected way. Bravo there.
Also nice was the longer fill Ed worked in. It's not often you see long across fill like POKING FUN AT and UNITED FRONT, but today's vertical arrangement of themers allows for these bonuses.
A puzzle's NW corner is so important, giving the solver a sense for what's to come. I did like APACHE and HENSON, but ASK A and ERG (it's used much more frequently in crosswords than in engineering) aren't great. Those 6x4 chunks are so tough to fill well — I wonder if shifting the black squares above FREELY to the HE of HENSON would have helped, along with placing a black square at the R of FREELY. That would have knocked out HENSON, but I think Monday puzzles are best served by erring on the side of smooth fill.
ADDED NOTE: Dani Raymon made me realize I had interpreted the puzzle incorrectly — it's simply that all three are "dirty," and they all run in the down (vertical) direction. That does make more sense — hopefully solvers in general were more astute than me!
Mispellings! Er, misspellings. We've seen a few puzzles where entries in the grid were actually misspelled, so I liked Ed's interpretation, using Schrodinger squares where both the correct spelling and the common misspelling work fine in the crossing entry. An example: CALENDER, with A (correct) or E (incorrect) is okay either way in GRAY or GREY.
My favorite by far was the second A in PHARAOH. While on the surface it worked exactly the same as the others — BALD-faced lie and BOLD-faced lie are both in usage — it triggered a thought for me. What if another word commonly spelled with either an A (correct) or an O (incorrect) had been the down crossing answer? It would have been such a coup to have every crossing be two tough-to-spell words, both with the same correct letter and commonly incorrect letter!
I liked the execution as it is, but since we've seen so many Schrodinger puzzles now, it feels a bit overdone. Also, while this particular execution is somewhat innovative, it did remind me of another one playing on a common mistake.
Not sure why there were ten misspelled words in the clues, but I suppose that added a little color to the theme. It wasn't enough to make me want to go back and find them all though, and the common gimmick of misspelling the word misspell (as mispell) fell flat.
It is difficult to find good Schrodinger answers — where one entry isn't much way more plausible than the other — so Ed did a nice job there. PATS and PETS a dog, DRAW and DREW playing on "set" being either present or past tense, OHS and AHS both sounds of surprise = good stuff.
Given that Ed needed to fix some of these Schrodinger entries into place in the grid, it's no surprise that there are some rough spots around those crossings. STILLE / ILA / IF AT around that CLICK / DEFINITELY section is a prime culprit.
Loved the clue for UNZIP. [Drop, like (pants) flies], tee hee.
So, an interesting idea which triggered some brainstorming for me. I like it when a puzzle does that.
"X the Y" phrases changed into "Y the X" with amusing results. I love the image of a poor duck sitting inside a holding cell, the light bulb swinging over him as the detective demands to know what happened to the stolen diamonds. After some light questioning, he pulls out THE DUCK FEATHER FOUND INSIDE THE BANK VAULT.
Movie rights available.
Ed did a nice job of picking phrases that amuse. Even though BOOKS THE COOK was the only one where the first word was inconsistent (no other themers have a first word ending in S), I loved the turnabout — COOK THE BOOKS being the crime, BOOKS THE COOK the resolution.
These five themers are pretty consistent (aside from COOK THE BOOKS), but I would have loved more tightness/specificity. It's not absolutely necessary, but adding another level such as "all starting words are animals" would be bang-up. BADGER THE WITNESS -> WITNESS THE BADGER might be a little too close to QUESTION THE DUCK, but there's something hilarious about a poor badger sworn in on the witness stand.
That type of "extra level" is so elegant, but it is awfully difficult to achieve. I brainstormed FLY, GOOSE, SNAKE, but that's about it.
An impressive construction, especially considering the five long themers. The only oddball entry that jumped out at me was STANDEE, which is no surprise given that it stands (it's a literal standee!) in the most constrained section, crossing three themers. The S??N??E pattern has limited selection— SURNAME, STAN LEE, SWINDLE among them — but given how big that middle section is, I'm sure the common letters within STANDEE made filling much smoother.
Finally, yay for chemistry! Teflon has such a neat structure, the strength of those fluorine-carbon bonds making it very non-reactive. I'm sure this clue made many solvers shiver with bad memories of organic chem, but I like these little touches reminding us how deeply basic technology affects our lives.
A lot of great material packed into today's grid. Not as many great long entries as I usually like to see — FACE PALM, ZIMBABWE, RIN TIN TIN and GEOCACHING being the four standouts in my eyes (with LIGAMENTS breaking into the top five because of its awesome [Hip bands] clue) — but the short stuff added a lot today.
With a 72-word puzzle (the max allowed for a themeless), you're naturally going to have a lot of 3, 4, and 5-letter words in the grid. This puts the pressure on the clue writer to come up with whimsical or clever wordplay to liven up entries seen all the time. HORN's clue is well-executed, [One of a Satanic couple], making us think about various (insert your favorite snarky political statement here) duos.
[Blind spot?] takes a nice phrase and uses it in a totally different way, as a SLAT indeed is in a spot of a blind. Makes an otherwise dull entry stand out.
And GERITOL is an okay entry in itself, but it does feel a little fusty. Throw in a fun [Tonic for "tired blood"] throwback clue and it becomes sort of retro chic. (As if knew what that meant.)
RED ELM is not a fantastic entry in itself, but [Crate and barrel wood] fooled me but good. What a difference a capital B makes.
Finally, OLEO. Jim and Jill and I had dinner with Rich Norris of the LAT a few months ago, and he made a comment that OLEO is a perfectly fine entry. I don't do a lot of cooking so I have no idea one way or another, but I went to the store that weekend to see what's marked on "fake butter" packages. Sure enough, OLEO was printed right on there on the "Imperial" brand of OLEO. [Imperial bars?] makes for a delicious clue with its fakery.
In this day and age where I expect a 72-word puzzle to be clean as a whistle, it takes a lot of extras for me to overlook entries such as EIS, DROIT, MIMERS, and the crossing ICI / SCI. But even though I noticed these little buggers as I solved, each time I hit a great clue it served to reset my internal counter. Made for a pleasant solving experience.
What a nice visual, a twist-related lyric "twisting" down the center of the puzzle. Makes for a pretty picture and also gives a lift to hear that catchy line running through my head.
What does Will mean by "triply-checked"? Ah, the dreaded diagonal. Constructors typically avoid working with diagonal entries, because they quickly constrain all the regions they run through. A short diagonal entry isn't that tough to work with, but start increasing the length and the difficulty level quickly escalates. Ed does a nice job of isolating his twisting entry through the use of 1.) black squares, 2.) spreading his themers as far away as possible, and 3.) using a 78-word puzzle.
The black squares are such a helpful factor. Check out the blocks separating the E O N of COME ON. If those hadn't been there, Ed would have had to find words that are "triply-checked" i.e. they have to work with the diagonal, the horizontal, and the vertical words. No fun. The fact that the themers are pushed to the sides and thus only minimally interact with the "twist" is also helpful. Finally, going up to the max of 78 words allows Ed to deploy a whole lot of black squares throughout the middle of the puzzle, reducing the "triply-checked" areas.
Anytime there are few long theme entries — this one only has two which take up long slots — you'll need to incorporate long fill. I like the ones Ed selects; sparkly indeed. It was sort of neat that WALL SOCKET and POWER STRIP were related, although it made me wonder if I was missing something, i.e. was CHUBBY CHECKER's original job an electrician? (Perhaps it's that he electrified the world?) POWER STRIP does unfortunately constrain that west section, making for the awkward CLEW and A REED. I tried modeling that to see if it was easy to clean up, and it was not. Perhaps an alternate piece of fill to POWER STRIP could have made it smoother?
But all in all, a fantastic visual impact which I'm sure will have high resonance to those who witnessed the CHUBBY CHECKER craze firsthand. Even for those of us who didn't, I found it a fun way to learn a bit more about that period in American music.
A vowel progression today, a phonetic one using all five long vowel sounds. Just as Ed mentioned, there will be haters who are tired of vowel progressions. Any established theme type will have detractors. What matters to me though: does the puzzle delight me? In large part, Ed's themers did it for me. I don't know celebrity chefs, but I did recognize BOBBY FLAY, And I'm with Ed — it'd be treasonous not to like Herb Alpert's SPANISH FLEA. Unamerican, I say!
I personally like vowel progressions, especially when they're done like this. The long vowel sounds are nice to see in order, and I like how only 1/5 of them are spelled simply with the lone vowel. As Andrea Carla Michaels says, they're like poetry. Mellifluous. Of course, as with any art, taste is in the eye of the beholder. Er, the tongue.
I also appreciate how Ed stayed away from actual sicknesses in YUPPIE FLU. There are plenty of BIRD FLU, AVIAN FLU, SWINE FLU sort of answers (never mind that they don't match lengths with BOBBY FLAY) but I personally prefer to stay away from those. Finn Vigeland astutely asked me why I chose ASIAN FLU instead of AVIAN FLU on a puzzle earlier this year. ASIAN FLU to me refers to the financial crisis that swept throughout Asia, something I'd much rather think about instead of the killing disease, AVIAN FLU. Personal choice, anyway.
Puzzles with five themers will naturally have a higher degree of difficulty than ones with just four, and having a middle entry of length = 9, 11, or 13 will up that even more. Note how it effectively splits the puzzle in half, creating filling difficulties in all four corners. In just one corner, the SE, we have SO I, ERS, and DELE, all of which are fine on their own, but taken as a whole in a concentrated area is a bit rough. Same with the SW, where REN, SERENER ("more serene" more commonly, right?), DSL all appear. Tough to cleanly execute those 7 x 3 (really 7 x 3.5) corners.
I did really like the NE corner, where Ed treats us to the triple of THRILLA / TOP SEED / SOS PADS, with only ISP to glue it together. That's nice bonus material; a strong use of seven-letter spaces.
Often, a seven-letter middle themer makes for cleaner execution. In this case, it might have been possible with something like SHOO FLY! Or even better, SHOO FLY pie. (Mmm, pie.) I think this would have made it easier to avoid the aforementioned rough patches, plus the killer ASTA / FARO crossing. Seems to me that's a pretty unfriendly crossing for novices. Not that Will's goal is to make the NYT puzzle accessible to everyone in the world, but both entries strike me as inelegant, and to have them crossing each other makes it doubly so.
Fun start to the week, a very nice selection of sing-song themers.
As some of you know, I'm on my third career, trying to make it as a writer of children's books. NPR recently put out a list of their "100 Must Reads for Kids". I've read almost about 90 of them as part of my market research... wish LITTLE WOMEN had been one of those 90! I really could have used that as I struggled in the NE, trying to figure out the fourth girl's name. Blargh!
We've seen LITTLE WOMEN played upon a few times in the NYT crossword, because any grouping of four or five related items lends itself nicely to a crossword. This is the first time we've seen it as a rebus though, and I found it enjoyable to pick through the strong fill to figure out where the heck the four girls would show up. The 72-word grid gave it a themeless feel, even more enjoyable given room for such goodness as OLIVE OIL, BROMIDE, SLEPT IN, and my favorite, NEUTRINO. I appreciate that Will is spacing out his rebus puzzles quite a bit now, which has helped ameliorate the rebus fatigue I had been feeling. I thoroughly enjoyed the search to find the four boxes today, especially given the smoothness of Ed's work.
Ed did a great job choosing his themers, four long and strong ones which added zest to the solve. It took me a while to figure out what the heck was going on with GLO(BETH)EATER, but it sure gave me a smile. Crossing it with (BETH)ERE was a nice touch, although (BETH)ERE OR BE SQUARE is a nice 14 letters and it's so related to crosswords... ah, you can't always get what you want.
What I liked best (among many things about this puzzle) was the flow of the solve (except for AGUE, I see you). I find more and more that I have less and less time in a day, so if I'm going to bang my head to figure something out, I greatly appreciate a strong payoff that doesn't involve many (if any) glue-y entries. I was stuck in the NE corner for the longest time, but finally figuring out NO NEED and LIVERY and Uncle Miltie BERLE was well worth it.
Tough, perhaps highly frustrating though, if you weren't familiar with either the resort of LIDO or Gertrude EDERLE. If that happened to you, I sympathize, as before I learned EDERLE she fixed me for an error a few times. But I'd say the general population really ought to be familiar with EDERLE given her amazing feat.
A small nit to pick, especially small given the strength of Ed's other fill: UNICORN crossed with UNE, with ONE cross-referenced below... typically editors try to keep "dupes" out of a single grid, so this bugged me a little. As much as I love Harry Potter (I instantly dropped in CENTAUR at that space and then tried FIRENZE and BANE), I would have preferred not to see UNI/UNE/ONE all together.
A final note, I was really glad to see GED NOT clued as "H.S. dropout option" or something to that effect. I do think it's extremely important to try for that HS diploma, but for some kids, the GED is a better option. Last summer I worked with a guy through Treehouse for Kids who fell far behind for various reasons, and the GED was just as good for getting him into an apprenticeship program as a HS diploma.
Okay, off my high horse. Fun puzzle today, obviously constructed with care to give a smooth solve.
Interesting Tuesday puzzle, one which ping pongs between TICK and TOCK down the grid. I searched all over for some sort of element to tie it together, some revealing theme entry or visual of a clock? Maybe if I squint really hard, I can sort of see a little hand in the black squares?
(Squinting harder... nope)
Ambitious grid today. I like that Ed has done something different, something I've never seen before — that in itself is admirable. Too often, Tuesdays run the risk of being a slight variation on a theme, and this definitely is not that. Being a financial guy, I really like the entry COMMON STOCK, although I can see how some puzzlers might not common, er, cotton to it as much as me. Seeing BUTTOCK also gave me a immature giggle. So some good choices in his themers. I even appreciated McLintock! as pretty much anything starring The Duke is good by me. And the exclamation point at the end of McLintock! made me laugh. Easily amused, I guess.
Those NW and SE corners are hard to construct. Even as separated as they are from the rest of the grid (you can only enter them through AFLAC and HATER, respectively), any constrained 7x4 chunk of white space will be a challenge to fill. Ed does quite well in the SE corner, working in OPEN TOE and HATER, without much muss or fuss. BOS is probably the weakest element there, given that the clue [Cow genus] was mystifyingly hard for a Tuesday.
That NW corner gave me pause. I absolutely loved I GOOFED, a wonderful, colorful entry. Along with the shout-out to Eartha KITT and her smoky voice, that's a ton of good stuff in a single section. However, AGIO left me scratching my head, especially for an early-week offering. After studying finance for two years and being steeped in the finances of my start-up company, I had never heard of AGIO. ARBS, IPOS, LBOS, MBOS, totally fine terms in everyday use; AGIO... not so much. It's quite possible that it's commonplace in some financial niche, but yikes. Super, super tough for me and nigh impossible for some. I like learning new terms from crosswords — I think it's a great boon to a daily diversion — but AGIO 1.) strikes me as ADITesque and 2.) doesn't seem too fair to have crossing KAMPALA, which maybe should be better known in general knowledge but didn't come easily to me. As always, could just be me.
With such a novel grid and relatively high theme density, I appreciate seeing some of the great stuff Ed packed in, NUTCASE, MOBSTER, even Nat HENTOFF, who I had read about in a jazz history class in college (a reviewer reading about a reviewer, how meta). With even DEARIE and LOOFAH, Ed does well to slot in some nice stuff.
Overall, a nice idea for a theme. I would have loved an additional layer somewhere, either as a revealer (as Ed mentioned in his comments), or some sort of visual related to a kitty-cat shaped clocks. Really, what problems can't be solved with a kitty-cat clock with its cute little tail swishing back and forth and its cute wittle eyes... oops, I've said too much.
★ This puzzle was right up my alley. A pretty standard-ish layout with 70 words, but jam-packed with great entries, from the classic HOLMESIAN all the way to the fantastic up-to-date TWITTER JAIL. For those of you not on Twitter, users are limited in their number of tweets per hour and per day, and those that go over (thus annoying the crud out of their followers) get put in TWITTER JAIL. Neat term. And for those of you who think it's impossible to go over 100/tweets an hour, someone I know recently got put in TWITTER JAIL after the explosion around her book deal. Amusing that she had to ask a friend to post that she wanted to respond to each tweet but couldn't.
When I first started choosing Puzzle of the Week selections, I thought I would tend to select more Thursdays, because I like when constructors break the rules. But I've come to realize that I really appreciate Saturdays, especially the fact that the constructors and Will really up their ante when it comes to cleverness of clues. I really enjoyed the clue echo of [A line, e.g.], and [A lines, e.g.], neither of which had to do with the A-line dress.
Even the clues for some of the shorter ones: [How the description of most things usually end?] was very clever for EST, in the sense of clever, cleverer, and cleverEST. Nice to interpret the word "most" in an unexpected way.
Typically ULEE is not something I like to see in a grid, but when it's combined with BEEKEEPER ("Ulee's Gold" is a crossword classic due to the friendly nature of the ULEE pattern) I like the echo as well as the insider's nod to the crosswordy bit.
The only hitch I had was at the AUDIE / AARE crossing, but thankfully I've seen the AARE river enough in crosswords that it's nearly automatic (again, very crossword-friendly combination of letters). And from a construction standpoint, I love MUTANTS, but I wonder if a pair of cheater squares where the S is (and symmetrically the T of TAMARIN) would have allowed for a smoothing out of TBAR, RELET, and ARPEL all in the same little section. I love TAMARIN as an answer though, so the trade-off would have to be pretty good.
Saving my favorite for last, the answer and clue pair for KISSY FACE was great. "Smacked" had me thinking it was something offensive which would initiate a slap, and even when I got the KISS pat of the answer, it took me a while to see KISSY FACE. All in all, a really nice grid with some feature entries and more than a handful of wordplay clues. Beautiful stuff.
Fun change-up today. Only three theme entries, but they're all good to great when re-imagined with one fewer space. AWAY WITH WORDS! was my favorite of the bunch.
A grid with just three theme entries has a great deal of potential for nice long fill, and Ed does s good job with that. Incorporating ESCAPE PLAN and I SMELL A RAT in the across direction adds to the level of difficulty, and a series of snazzy long downs enhanced my solving experience, EYELASH, SHOEBOX, and STALAG in particular. BOATEL was new to me, but a fun term.
I can't help but think that there were many other theme options, but I couldn't come up with any solid ones after a few minutes of thought. Since there were only three themers, it would have been really nice to have all three start with AW, but I couldn't come up with any common phrases that start with A WASH or A WRY. In this day and age where most puzzles have at least four theme answers, it's kind of nice to get a grid with three solid themers and a grid packed with additional good fill.
Sometimes people talk about the first impression a puzzle makes, at 1-across. For a while I didn't buy that (especially because I often couldn't figure out 1-across right away unless it was a Monday puzzle), but I'm starting to see the logic. Just like in public speaking or essays, the first and last impression is often a critical factor in the impression left with the audience. In this case, BUBBA is a great opener and affected my opinion to the positive. The REEDY / DRESSAGE finish was nice too.
Not to say it's all perfect — I'd love for SERE to go the way of ADIT, IRAE isn't great (although passable since DIES IRAE is famous in classical circles), and ATTU might be borderline to some — but overall, cleanly executed. Well done.
I've been lucky enough to have this gig for ten weeks now, and what a ride it's been. Having the opportunity to write about the NYT crossword every day, incorporating feedback from both the constructors and Will Shortz himself, has been a dream come true. I'm almost always able to find something I like and admire about a puzzle, and locating that nugget(s) of goodness brings a smile to my face.
So when there are weeks like this one, with all seven puzzles being solid to incredibly awesome, I can't believe my luck. It's like I'm a kid in a crossword blog. This here, folks, is a great week to be doing the NYT crossword.
On to today's puzzle. It's not often that a Monday puzzle surprises me, since Monday themes usually must be easy-breezy, appropriate for beginner level solvers. But I didn't cotton to today's theme until the very end and got a great a-ha moment when I realized four common dog names were hidden in plain sight at the end of four snappy phrases. Fantastic. The fact that my muddled brain led me to believe it was WHERE OH WHERE HAS MY LITTLE LAMB FLOWN elevated the a-ha moment when DOG appeared.
Not totally sure why I thought lambs could fly. I blame my shaky grasp of reality.
Beautiful layout today, which I appreciated even more after my e-mail exchange with Ed. I hadn't seen the grid-spanning theme answers as fences of a kennel, but now it's plain as day. And to have each of the four dogs at the end of a "leash" (tagged onto another word), that's pretty darn cool.
It might seem like the theme answers are basically equivalent to four grid-spanners, but the fact that the four middle themers are offset by one row makes it more that much more difficult to fill the grid (in general, the more spacing between theme answers the better). The trickiest places of a grid arrangement like this are usually the west and east sections because of the pile-up of parallel down constraints, and there are some compromises today: PLENA is a very tough word for a Monday, and the ETE/OREM/REATA pileup isn't ideal.
Additionally, EL AL and ALERO aren't very well known in the general American public (EL AL is an Israeli airline and the ALERO was discontinued in 2004). I'd love to see less use of these in Monday grids.
Overall, a really nice piece of work from Ed to start the week. Strong construction work and a great theme, opaque to me until the last lamb had flown.
Nice start to the week; Ed gives us a lively set of theme answers that haven't been seen much before. It took me a while to remember the ad slogan as "M'm M'm Good", not "Mmmm Good". Funny how much difference a single space makes.
I tried to think of potential theme answers that had two sets of double-m's, and only came up with a few. I find JIMMY KIMMEL hilarious, but including him in the same thought as MM MM GOOD...I'm glad Ed didn't go down this route. Mr. Kimmel, if you're reading, I'll take my 15% cut in unmarked bills for the skit idea.
The theme density today is high, with five themers including a 10/15/10 in the middle. Ed does a nice job of spacing them out to give maximum flexibility, but there are so many crossings between MUMMYS TOMB, MILLION MOM MARCH, and MAMMY YOKUM that the center section becomes tough to fill. O??U doesn't have many options (OAHU only), and surprisingly, neither does M??M (MAAM, MAIM, MARM). That duo constrains the fill heavily, causing the ?AA? pattern at 45A (BAAL). So many constraints in that region.
Finally, a discussion about the difficulty of using eight-letter revealers. Because a revealer is often best placed at the bottom of a grid (so it wraps up the theme at the very end), notice how by necessity the SW and NE corners are six white spaces across. Bigger sections are harder to fill, and a 6x5 swath of wide-open space can be especially challenging. Ed does a nice job in the SW with the beautiful LET ME SEE and just one partial (A TIE) as a blemish, but the NE suffers a little with the "roll-your-own" RETAB next to the poetic ENORM.
Constructing for a Monday is very hard. Most of the aforementioned entries would be totally acceptable on a Thursday, especially if necessary to carry off an ambitious theme, but for a Monday, they offer a very tough challenge for beginning solvers.
A main criteria I use in assessing a themeless puzzle is cleverness in cluing. "Brother's keeper?" was fantastic, totally misdirected me and then provided an "aha" moment when I finally pieced it together. Wonderful wordplay. And of course my immature self giggled when I read "Drawers hitting the pavement?", one of my favorite clues for the week.
Note the extremely difficult grid arrangement allowing for interlock of four marquee 15's and two 11's. This makes it extremely challenging to fill the surrounding spaces, especially the wide-open corners constrained by three long answers apiece. Interesting that Ed chose to put MAKE MINE A DOUBLE (love that answer; I will be using it after babysitting my niece and nephew tonight) where he did, since it necessitates 3-down and 11-down ending in a K and a B, elevating his difficulty level in those corners. I'd say he had great success in those areas; very impressive work.
The southwest corner seemed to me a little weaker that the rest of the puzzle, so I wanted to figure out why. I thought it should be less difficult to fill given the more common letters in place, but quickly realized that once the northwest corner is filled as it is, the 24-down NEEDE?? pattern can only be filled with NEEDERS (can anyone think of anything else that would fit?). At that point, MESSRS is the only entry that can satisfy the 45-across ???SR? pattern. The corner is thus heavily constrained with only a few possible ways to fill it.
OTERO, EME, and NEEDERS all together aren't ideal, but I'd say the shininess of the northwest corner makes for a good trade-off.