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13 puzzles by Freddie Cheng
with Jeff Chen comments

TotalDebutLatest
137/12/20101/8/2022
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
1442011
CircleScrabblePOW
11.633
Freddie Cheng
Sat 1/8/2022
PASCALSTRIANGLE
INTIMATEAPPAREL
TOOTIREDTOTHINK
SSNSCREEDSMGM
AMIDHOURSFATE
WINESIMSSACHA
SAGCARDSPHTEST
IPOSMART
AIMLOWTAKEACAB
TRUERSIRWILLA
LESSPARISLULL
APEARMANISBEL
SETAGOODEXAMPLE
EATDESSERTFIRST
STEADYASSHEGOES

You don't know PASCAL'S TRIANGLE? Sigh, I'll deign to explain that it's a CGI term related to Pascal the iguana from "Tangled," relating to triangular shading elements that make his skin change color so realistically. Duh!

TOO TIRED TO THINK is right.

This numberphile loved the top stack, although he may or may not have smugly filled in FIBONACCI SERIES without a second thought, given how amazing it is, plus how many times it's inspired previous crosswords. I'll pretend that I didn't read the "French" part of the clue instead of the alternative. Ahem.

The bottom stack didn't strike me as strongly, with EAT DESSERT FIRST most certainly not SETting A GOOD EXAMPLE. Jill ran an experiment a few years back, putting a cookie on Tess's dinner plate, hoping to lessen the allure of dessert. After a week of Tess eating the cookie and declaring she was done, we don't EAT DESSERT FIRST anymore.

(It also felt strange as an entry; sort of a long partial.)

Incredibly clean grid, Freddie working hard to avoid any short gluey bits. Not a single one — amazing in a 66-word construction, doubly amazing with two triple-stacks.

I did wonder how many solvers would raise the dreaded "that's weird" flag, given TE DEUMS, MUSETTE, RATERS, ANOSMIA? There's a case to be made that each one is perfectly fine. And if you're a singing Christian, small-knapsack-wearing, finance person who can't smell, what's the problem?

Some delightful clues, BALLETS requiring "leaps of imagination," ATLASES as "National geographic books," and my favorite, PH TESTS as "Basic analysis." That last one rates a ten! Maybe even a 14.

Mon 10/18/2021
MAINESLOTHBUB
ELMOSPATIOANA
STARQUARTERBACK
HOGFIDONOBLE
ODEONSEAAIR
MANIASRATTRAPS
EVENSCHAI
TARGETHEARTRATE
WETSHORAS
PEARTARTBOOTUP
RUPEESFLUFF
IRENAHALOOOH
DEMOCRATICPARTY
EKEUNHIPHIMOM
SANPASTSOLSEN

Artistic, those shaded square patterns. I see a face. Ominous clouds. The Grim! A duck melting into a clock.

Not sure what those Rorschach test results say, but maybe I should stay inside today.

I admire this ART FORMS experience. I see soooo many anagrams these days that it takes a lot to keep me engaged. Sitting down to calculate the number of possibilities you'd have to search for — two ART anagrams (6 permutations x 6 permutations = 36) — counts as engaged. Diving into programming would count as obsessive, so to no one's surprise, I got coding. Thanks a lot, Freddie!

Particularly strong find in TARGET HEART RATE, featuring three ART anagrams. It was deep in my language back in my triathlon days, and it comes up in an opposite sense, when I try to remain calm after one of the kids spills milk down my boxers. Accident, my (wet) ass!

Excellent craftsmanship. Apt to deftly weave ART FORMS through two themers. IM A GONER is a great bonus, too. It'd be fine if the rest of the grid filled cleanly, but Freddie went out of his way to work in EUREKA, APE MEN, TEACUP. A corner like the lower left is not easy, since 1) it has to mesh with two themers, and 2) it's a big 'un. I'd usually shy away from this kind of situation. Great result on a high degree of technical difficulty.

It's a mark of professionalism when you can't figure out how a complex sculpture was put together; no seams or fasteners showing through. Along with a theme on a higher plane than yet-more-anagrams, this one received POW! consideration.

Mon 8/16/2021
PIPEGOGHEMUS
IRAQMAGOOGAZE
NATURALLAWGRIT
ASHIERETNAISH
PUSHINRE
DECSHARPCOOKIE
WROTEROSEMONT
ARMEDBAYBANTU
ROPEBOSCENDED
FLATEARTHEROLE
CHEZOVEN
AFTLOSEIFIMAY
ROSAONTHATNOTE
CRUXKARENJOIN
HAVEAPESARTS

Music accidentals have been played upon (sorry) many times, but as with all well-trodden paths, there's usually room for some extra layer to make a new puzzle shine. Freddie's use of ON THAT NOTE is perfectly pitched.

I should leave on a high note now.

Such a vivid themer choice in FLAT EARTHER, much more evocative than so many other phrases like flat tire, flat tax, flat panel, all of which fall flat.

I'll show myself the door. Naturally.

I wasn't as excited by SHARP COOKIE, having filled in SMART COOKIE without a second thought. It is a fine phrase, but I'd have preferred SHARP CHEDDAR paired with FLAT EARTHERS.

Delightful wordplay clue for FLAT EARTHER, too, playing on "not on the ball." (Earth being the ball.) It's so rare to be treated to accessible wordplay like this on a Monday.

And another example, with ROMAN! This one might have gone over newer solvers' heads, which would be a shame — "I, for one" cheekily means that "I" is the ROMAN numeral for one.

Freddie brings up a good point about MARIE KONDO making the right half of the puzzle tough. I did slow down through the KONDO / MONT / BANTU crossings and wondered if they might give newer solvers difficulties. I'm not in MARIE KONDO's target demographics by a long shot, but my wife passionately believes in Kondoizing (much to the chagrin of our pack-rat kids). Seems reasonable to expect New York Times solvers to at least heard of either her or the BANTU people/languages.

Cutting off the SW and NE corners from the rest of the grid wasn't ideal, and I didn't care for how the Z was worked in because UZIS accentuated ARMED. Overall, though, I loved the perfect finale of ON THAT NOTE, helping elevate this one from all the other music accidental puzzles out there.

Tue 6/9/2020
COSMOSPREMED
ARCADIATEARIER
FEELILLORVILLE
PICKUPSTICK
APTSMASHBAY
DORAGNITAGATE
OPENACANOFWORMS
APROOF
TAKEASOFTLINE
JOVIBURROSEXY
ARENABROTHREE
BONFOPGREDST
GETHOOKEDUP
GEEKHEMINGRIP
EYREENACTLONE
MESSYANKSYMCA

I admire the creativity here. Most crossword fishing themes have trawled for "phrases that end with fishing equipment" phrases, a la CLICK BAIT, SPARE THE ROD, OFF THE HOOK, etc. I love that Freddie aimed for more than the standard approach. Non-fishing phrases that describe steps of fishing? I wouldn't have thought it possible.

I had too many hitches to give this POW! consideration, however. PICK UP STICK in the singular isn't stellar. TAKE A SOFT LINE … the Goog's News search shows a fair amount of usage. I wouldn't take a hard line against it, but neither would I strive to use it in conversation.

GET HOOKED UP. That's the hook getting hooked onto the line? Or the fish getting hooked up, onto the hook? It didn't quite work, at least not as perfectly as OPEN A CAN OF WORMS.

Great gridwork, though, helping elevate my fishing expedition. That's apt, considering the best part of a fishing trip is not the catching of fish, but the hanging out with friends, having a cold one while dissecting technical crossword construction minutia. It was my own NERD PROM today, replete with squeeing over mirror symmetry, a lifesaver in so many circumstances. Not all editors are fans — or even tolerant — of it, but I find left-right symmetry so captivating.

Although the theme made me pause once too many times, I'd take this reach-for-the-stars approach over a traditional one most days of the week. Great to see something a little different. Reminded me of another audacious effort.

POW Fri 7/5/2019
GUARRINDFRAT
ONSALENOWGRECO
ASIFICARERETRY
THATSALIEAEROS
SYNPSABADCOP
LETTSPSYCHO
ASFARHIDECOOP
SCAMRELAXLOBE
ERTEARTYDELED
SAFESTSTARS
PIXIESREYBRA
TINCTPHARMAREP
ARGUEAUDIOTAPE
LOESSSLEEPOVER
INREMARSPOLY

★ I almost disqualified this puzzle from POW! contention based on technical flaws. A 70-word crossword (generally an easy themeless construction) shouldn't contain more than a couple of dabs of crossword glue. AEROS, AS FAR, DELED, UNSHY? Add in ASES, ERTE, SYN, TALI? Yikes! It's like seeing a bunch of unsanded welds holding together a bronze sculpture.

What's the most important aspect of a puzzle, though? How much fun and entertainment it provides. Nothing else comes close. I had a blast solving this one, for so many reasons:

Great feature entries. ON SALE NOW / AS IF I CARE / THAT'S A LIE = great triple-stack. FREECYCLE / RETROCOOL / ACROPHOBE, another one! With BAD COP running through it! Heck, most every long slot held something wonderful. AUDIO TAPE was only so-so, but everything else was great to stellar.

Playful clues. DAY TRADER is a fantastic entry, and [One who gives a lot of orders] makes it even better. (Buy / sell orders.) The neutral HULA cleverly plays on "wiggle room." Even the ugly as sin SYN gets rescued by disguising the link between "illustration" and "for example," making me think it was going for some art term.

MORE playful clues! Shouting HIDE at a birthday party. MARS, the subject of "areology"? Ah yes, the Greek war god is Ares — I enjoyed making that link. [Rush home?] needed a telltale question mark, but that didn't lessen my enjoyment. (That's a FRATernity rush, not a mad dash to get home on time.)

Then I put my constructor's hat back on, wondering why Freddie resorted to so much glue. Turns out that there's a reason for it. The four corners may not look any bigger than normal, but note how many mid-length entries link into them. The SE, for example: DAY TRADER, AERIES, DRY MOP running through the stack makes for a tougher constructing challenge than usual.

All in all, this puzzle gave me a feeling of glee. POW! for that.

Tue 1/8/2019
EGGSBOBCATARC
BARECLAIREDEO
BLANKCANVASLTD
YAODIRTIRE
KEATONBLACKBOX
ALROKERTAO
PIERNEATSIRES
USATANLINEENO
TASTETADAEDNA
AAAEVENSUP
GOLDRINGIRAQIS
APETREOICU
DIMABSTRACTART
ONOPUTTEDEROS
TENESSAYSDEEP

You ever read "Olivia"? It's a cute picture book series about a high-energy piglet who gets into all sorts of trouble. In one scene, she goes to a museum with her mom and spots a Jackson Pollock. I don't get it, she thinks. She then proceeds to splatter paint on the walls of her bedroom. It's art!

I'm with Olivia, especially when it comes to ABSTRACT ART. (Not so much when it comes to paint on bedroom walls.) Isn't it just a bunch of RED SQUAREs, BLACK BOXes, GOLD RINGs … selling for millions of dollars?

I'm apparently in the wrong business.

I liked that Freddie packed in a whole bunch of colorful shapes, making the grid feel like it was an actual piece of ABSTRACT ART. Some compromises — the outdated TREO forced by the overlap of GOLD RING and ABSTRACT ART for example — but I think they're reasonable prices to pay to achieve the desired effect.

Loved the clue for EGGS: a [Baker's dozen?] would make a lot of cake! More amusement in the clue for EROS, who literally takes a bow (and arrow).

I might have put this one up for a POW! if I appreciated art a little more. Now, if we only had a real art aficionado here at XWI

POW Wed 7/4/2018
ASSAMSPARSCI
LENNONARIAURN
EVENNUMBERSSEA
VEEOBOEPSHAW
ERRORPRIMETIME
VASECEDAR
ALBEITTETYOUD
PEARLRIVERDELTA
TENDEOSOODLES
GORANISNO
BRUNOMARSTNOTE
LOPEDIPODKIT
ADJHAPPYFOURTH
NEOALEEFINALE
COBMEANTASER

★ Such a clever idea! HAPPY FOURTH hints at the fourth item in an ordered set, i.e., NUMBERS the fourth book of the Bible, TIME the fourth dimension, DELTA the fourth letter in the Greek alphabet, and MARS the fourth planet from the Sun. Love the variety!

I didn't understand the clue to HAPPY FOURTH when I first read it, but when it clicked, it really clicked. It almost had a contest puzzle feel to it, which worked well — you solve the grid, and then you still have to solve one extra piece that ties everything together. Bravo!

Loved the bonus fill, too. Freddie did so well to weave in MONORAIL, SUSHI ROLL, DON'T DO IT! And my favorite, the punnily 4th of July themed BANG UP JOB. Four out of four = BANG UP JOB, indeed!

Well, four out of six. OVERDONE and STAYED ON didn't do much for me. I might have broken those up at the D of OVERDONE and Y of STAYED ON, since that could have allowed some smoothing out of IS NO and the rough GORAN / IONA crossing.

That last one would have been a killer in an early-week puzzle, but I think more experienced solvers ought to at least have heard of one of them.

I've seen many, many 4th of July puzzles over the years. This one might be my favorite.

Tue 3/7/2017
MEDALSACKAMOS
IMONITMAEKEPI
CANTERBURYTALES
RITZASPCAERA
ALSTHATSASTEAL
PSATSKA
CLEANSLATEUSTA
SPAYSALEONTAP
TSKSGOINGSTALE
SSRASSN
NIKOLATESLADEA
UZIADORNTBAR
LASTBUTNOTLEAST
LASEAHSNIECES
SKYELETTINKLY

TALES, STEAL, SLATE, STALE, TESLA, and LEAST = SIX themers in total! Often, anagram puzzles can result in bleh themers due to the difficulty of finding good anagrams, but Freddie did a great job. CANTERBURY TALES and the crazy inventor NIKOLA TESLA are my favorites (I'm also a former engineer). And LAST BUT NOT LEAST in the last theme position is a beautiful touch.

At first, I hesitated on GOING STALE, as I'm used to hearing WENT STALE or GO STALE. (I'm very careful in adding different tenses into our word list, as sometimes a particular tense hits my ear wrong.) But after some thought, GOING STALE is fine. Many food items in my kitchen are in the process of GOING STALE right now.

Not only does Freddie use six themers, but all of them are fairly long — a ton of material to build around. An incredibly rough grid-building task.

The lower left is a good example of the problems that high theme density creates. Working around the starts of NIKOLA TESLA and LAST BUT NOT LEAST means that three down answers are already heavily constrained. I think the result is decent, but for a Tuesday puzzle, I worry that IZAAK crossing UZI and SKYE might give some solvers fits. As a constructor, you want to set solvers up for a fair win. I'm not sure this does that.

Same with KEPI / SISAL in the upper right. I know what a KEPI is because it was a themer in one of my puzzles, but faced with that intersection otherwise … oof, that would be rough.

A lot of crossword glue elsewhere: A MUST and TO THE as long partials, SSR, USTA, ASSN, LII, etc. = too much for one puzzle, especially when early-week, newer solvers can be turned off.

And NULLS ... nullifies, yeah?

Neat to get so many strong phrases using the anagrammed letters — I can't remember six that were this good in any other anagramming puzzle — but a heavy price to pay in grid execution.

Mon 7/11/2016
STABASSNOHGEE
HILLSNEENOONS
RAGAWAROFWORDS
ERASORILACES
WALTZOFFWITH
ZENINCCGI
GIJOEMATCHWOOD
ASONBIRCHOVAL
TAKELUNCHSWEDE
EYEELSOOF
WALKSONWATER
SARGETRECAME
WAYOUTWESTTUBE
ARETEAVOWOPED
GASESXENOREDS

Been a while since we had an initialisms puzzle. Kudos to Freddie for finding four phrases that fit the WOW pattern, especially without repeating an O word. WALKS ON WATER is great, and so is WAR OF WORDS. I wasn't familiar with WALTZ OFF WITH — WALK OFF WITH sounded better to me — but some research shows it's legit. (And my toddler does seem to waltz off with all my stuff). Laurel and Hardy aren't really in my bailiwick, but a clue using the word "frontier" made it easy to get WAY OUT WEST.

Nice revealer in WOW FACTOR. I hitched slightly at first, as it didn't sound quite as catchy as ICK FACTOR or AHA MOMENT. But again, a little research shows it's in use. And in high use! (Shows what I know.)

WOW FACTOR was in an odd position for a revealer, though. As much as I like BLAST ZONE as an entry, the symmetrical pairing of these two made me wonder what the heck BLAST ZONE had to do with the theme. (Nothing.) It's very common to have a short revealer located in some spot toward the end of the puzzle (without a symmetrically paired theme entry), but something this long begs for a more elegant placement. Perhaps smack dab in the middle row of the puzzle.

No doubt, that would have made construction much harder. And Freddie already has a challenge in working with longish themers using a lot of Ws — not the easiest letter to incorporate. I'd expect the places with a lot of themer overlap to suffer, and that north section is a prime example (where WAR sits above OFF). That W takes away some flexibility, and a pile-up of ASWOON, ASSN, SNEE, and ORI is a rough way to kick off a Monday puzzle. Add in the assorted A SON, ESS, odd plural NOONS, TRE, and it doesn't have the smoothness I think a Monday puzzle ought to.

Still, there are some nice bonuses in the grid in HOOCH, ONE TWO. I wondered if MATCH WOOD was a real thing at first, but just like some of the aforementioned entries, I decided I liked it.

Tue 3/1/2016
ESSOHAWKASPS
TIEROLEOGREEK
HEXASEEPAMATI
EVENSTEVENSLPS
LEDGEICUZEE
EVELKNIEVEL
UNPCEOSALEVE
KEROGENHANDLES
EVERYGOVASST
SEVENELEVEN
REDEATYIPES
RMNALLABOUTEVE
HITONAWOLSTEN
ENEROLARDMENS
ADDSAYESERTE

Freddie interprets ALL ABOUT EVE to mean "place 15 instances of EVE in the puzzle." I often have trouble with this sort of concept, as the jam-packing usually necessitates all sorts of gluey bits, and it can result in an underwhelming payoff. But today, I enjoyed seeing all those EVEs strewn about. Although it's not the hardest trigram to incorporate (what with those two Es), that V does make it non-trivial. And there's something kind of mesmerizing about all those EVEs jumping out at you.

EVEL KNIEVEL's skycycle. Bad ass!

I liked many of the long entries Freddie chose containing EVE — NEVER MIND and PET PEEVES are excellent. It's also fun that EVEN STEVENS, EVEL KNIEVEL, and SEVEN ELEVEN all contain two instances apiece, but EVEN STEVENS feels a bit outdated (show ended in 2003 after only a few years), and I always see the convenience store written as 7 ELEVEN.

Although there are quite a few EVEs in shorties like EVENT, SIEVE, and ALEVE, I appreciate that Freddie stuck to all fine entries (no MEVE, EVEA, NIEVE kind of ugly bits).

There were some gluey bits, no doubt. Starting with ESSO is passable (it's a major brand in Canada), but when you need OLEO and ALEE and HEXA before leaving that NW section, that adds up. It's too bad there was a concentration right at the start, because the rest of the puzzle was pretty smooth, aside from an ANO crossing ENERO and a random STEN. It's not easy at all to pack in so many trigrams, so it's not a bad result.

(I loved the clue for HEXA: [Tri and tri again?]. It still doesn't erase HEXA as a piece of crossword glue, but that wordplay sure did give me a smile).

KEROGEN is an interesting word. Even having a decent science background, I needed every crossing word (thankfully Freddie laid it out so every cross was easy!). Given how much press fracking gets, I'm surprised I haven't come across this term before today. Glad to add it to my vocabulary.

POW Wed 9/30/2015
HOWWHAMMOOKAY
IPOAULAITNERO
FEVERPITCHEYED
IRENEFIREDANCE
SANDRECORDDEAL
OVATAS
LEGWARMERSYIPE
ALALEARNERAIM
GIZASWEATPANTS
ITEOID
FALLSEASONLATE
OWLETMOTHNIXES
GAIABREAKABLES
EROSATARISETA
LENTRAMADASHY

★ I like this type of theme, going one step past "word that can follow." Here, we have BREAKABLES revealing that one can break a FEVER, break a RECORD, break a SWEAT, etc. Fun to think of all the disparate things that can be broken, in such different ways.

An OWLET MOTH

Cool layout, too. Freddie not only puts in six themers, but gives us a lot of great fill. Usually when people go up to such high theme density, it's at the cost of colorful fill. Not today! KEYNESIAN is my favorite, as macroeconomics fascinates me. Central banks and monetary policy have such a huge influence over the lives of millions, yet some economists advocate doing EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of what others insist upon. It's bizarre how little macroeconomists definitively know.

GAZILLION is really nice too. Fun and expressive word. But wait, there's more! FIRE DANCE gets wedged in too — so much strong material made for a cool bonus.

One issue for me is that "break a leg" is a colorful saying, but it's the only saying in the bunch. Made it feel like an outlier. I suppose one can break a leg, literally, but that doesn't fit with the idea of the puzzle for me.

Nice and smooth, especially given all the theme material and long fill. It's too bad that ITE and OID stick out in row nine, but they're minor. RARES seems less minor to me — it's hard to imagine any collector looking for RARES. But what else are you going to do with that R?R?S pattern going through three themers? Collateral damage from the high theme density.

EMBAR is also a funny one. It does appear to be a legit word, but the "To bar or shut in" definition makes it seem awfully bizarre. Collateral damage from the OWLET MOTH long fill.

All in all though, I really appreciated the combination of high theme density and a lot of colorful long fill.

Sun 8/19/2012"OH, REALLY?"
MALLETCHACHASREPASS
ALIENSETCHANTEXACTA
JINGOALLTHEWAYFINERY
STOCKALPESMUTATES
RIOTTAUPESMIAS
EDNATHEDAYOFTHEJACKO
SEEMTONILLOATHE
TEMPOOFDOOMAESOPIC
APOSTLEREAPEDAURATE
SERBRINSEPSYCHO
ANILMIDDLETONXKES
RENOFAILURESLAT
CORNETKEENERAROUSAL
ONEILLSAMERICANEGO
LOOFAHMNOADDLED
TOTOANNIHILATIONELSE
INORGYRATEVEER
RETAILSSLIMEAMISS
AGENDAHAMMERANDSICKO
DIRGESANTITAXAENEID
ENSEATRONZONIBLEEPS
Mon 7/12/2010
CUSPARCSGAFFE
ALTOCOATULCER
STEPHALENICER
TRIPLEMILES
SANYOBALMORAL
THREEFORONE
ACTAIRKIOWA
LOWGYMPOESAD
OBESEBOWTRY
FREEREFILLS
TANTALUMPASTA
NOMONEYDOWN
RABBIIDOLENID
ADIEUNASAANNE
TOTEMGLENLYES