Christmas is much simpler now that Tess figured out the truth about Santa. (And then told Jake after we expressly made her swear not to. Sigh.) The only stuffs I had to stock in their stockings were a few pages chock full of Beale cipher-level codes leading to their presents!
A morning full of frustration and confusion builds character.
Speaking of confusion, I was mystified by SAUCING FLYERS, because I thought STUFFING STOCKER was a real phrase. Even now, it seems fine to me, in that we used to stock stuff in their stockings … wait … bah!
Spoonerisms are well-worn in crosswords, so I enjoyed the added layer of always playing on ___ING ___ER phrases. A quick search didn't turn up nearly as many as I would have thought.
Why the ___ING ___ER pattern, though? I appreciate anything that helps a concept stand out from the vast sea of spoonerisms, but it's such a random form of tightening. Still, it ad-libbed better than a winging satyr. Er, singing waiter.
The MIME clue … isn't a MIME acting in (the box), not acting out? Is it because the MIME is often outside, bothering people with their creepiness? I suppose the question mark does cover the word "acting" …
Are there enough "good" MIMES to warrant AGENTRY?
I got a smile from some of the spoonerisms, and seeing something slightly different is always appreciated.
Ever wonder what a PIRATE would look like if Salvador Dali painted one? Look at the grid below.
As with most of Dali's works, I appreciate the visual dreamscape but rarely understand what's going on. Today, Grant interprets an eye patch as an "I patch," blacking out a single letter eye that goes through LONG JOHN S(I)LVER. That's clever!
The "hook hand" took me a while. Think FLUSH ... as in a poker hand. That's a big stretch, but what would have been better? HAND is the obvious choice, but you try to make a hook shape out of four letters. It's possible, but such a stubby weapon might strike more amusement than fear into the hearts of your victims.
PEG / LEG was the most satisfying. I struggled with what letters were "correct," but once I thought through SHAKE A LEG -> PEG replaces LEG, making it a PEG LEG, I clapped my flush hand down on the table.
This disparate triplet of visuals easily beats three of a kind.
Debut entries like MID JULY cause many difficulties in scoring for our Word List. What's next — LATE FEBRUARY? SECOND WEEK OF SUMMER? We've found that a KISS (keep things simple, stupid) system serves constructors best, but it's not always easy to categorize entries.
As much as I love sci-fi and superhero works — Samuel L. Jackson's NICK FURY is badass — I like Grant's swerve, eschewing eye-patchioed characters that even this dork wouldn't immediately recognize. (I'm ashamed to say that I've never seen Escape from New York, but not enough to suffer through Kurt Russell's "acting.")
Although the PIRATE elements required some effort to understand, what avant-garde art doesn't?
I laughed hard at [Question in a lot of cars?]. Not only is WHERE DID I PARK an A+ marquee entry, but the use of "a lot" to hide the parking lot meaning removes any question that this is a model pairing.
Get it, model?
As in car model?
Cleverness score: Grant = a lot, Jeff = 0.
Some ingenious grid wizardry, Grant nearing mastery over his 64-word creation. I've mentioned previously that "pyramid blocks" (of six black "cheater" squares each) make gridwork easier by maybe a factor of two each. If you use them sparingly — AND create a pretty, curving aesthetic that approximates a giant letter S as a bonus! — it can be a fantastic way to achieve grid sizzle without any semblance of cheating.
Amazing amount of juice squeezed out of the long slots, considering the amount of interlock. It's one thing to work in WHERE DID I PARK over THE SANDS OF TIME, but when you can run DOLLAR SIGN through them, that's big money right there.
It wasn't all dollar signs, though. I enjoy THE ___ phrases, because of the emphasis the THE places. It's not just A ___, eh? (With apologies to XWI's resident Canadian, Jim Horne.) The repetitiveness of THE RAM, THE SANDS OF TIME, and THE TANGO wasn't quite WHAT THE … ?! territory, but it wasn't great, either.
Where Grant was absolute money, though: the sheer quantity of clever clues. Repurposing "the Land Down Under" to literally describe ATLANTIS is fantastic— which so aptly described DOLLAR SIGN. A handful of these makes a themeless sing, and half a dozen today kick it up near Champions-level.
Trivia! An ELECTRIC / EEL is not really an EEL?
(running off to correct roughly 58,000 EEL clues I've written over the years …)
What has my life become?
I loved the clue for SEA / CUCUMBER. It is certainly not a cucumber! Clearly spoken from the mouth of someone who's had some unpleasant teatime sandwiches.
It was a shame to end on the strange ORCA / WHALE. We Seattleites are lucky to hear about orca pods all the time, and sometimes we even see them in person. Saying "orca whale" will get you Space Needled.
Knowing Grant's fondness for old-school video games, I smiled as I dropped in Sonic's foe, Doctor ROBOTNIK. Then I lost all my rings upon reading that they've changed him to Doctor EGGMAN. It's a terrible name change, but at least the rise of the chickens is less threatening than the rise of the machines.
My brother used to go around saying, "Actually, a year isn't 365 days, but more accurately 365.25, and even more accurately—" before getting punched in the face. I bet some solvers might have a similar reaction today, but I enjoyed learning some interesting, albeit trivial, trivia.
RISE FROM THE ASHES is such a great revealer phrase, ripe for all sorts of potential crossword themes. Jim Horne and I decided to highlight some grid squares below to make the execution more apparent.
Both of us were misled by the first themer, since ARSON from JOHNNY CARSON is fire related. I was so convinced that the risers would all be similarly related, that I stared at RETNECBA / ABCENTER for a full five minutes, performing mental anagrammatics to make out what the fire-related entry could be. Things get all jumbled-up in a burning fire, right?
Go ahead, UNLEASH the HOGWASH TALKS TRASH on me. I deserve it.
Although, I still cling to the belief that a fire can BETRANCE people.
There were some impressive finds, especially the longer ones. HOGWASH to HOGWARTS HOUSES is fun, and JOHNNY CASH sharing so many initial letters with JOHNNY CARSON is neat.
I also appreciated a few bonuses dotted throughout the grid, which helped me get over the puzzlement I kept struggling with, with respect to the theme. LATE GREAT is a great phrase. Fun to have HERMIONE echo HOGWARTS HOUSES. And toss in SPELL CASTER, too! That one was especially enchanting, given its charming clue, referring to "one who casts charms."
"Lead-off selections?" confused me for a hot minute, but in a similarly fantastic way. Try pronouncing it as "led," and you'll see why an ERASER fits.
Similarly, with NAMED. I stared at [Going by], wondering why "elapsing" might equate to NAMED. Ah, that's "going by," as in "Jeff tried to go by the nickname ‘El Jefe' but no one was betranced."
Tantalizing concept, with so much potential. I've talked to at least ten constructors about related concepts, playing on fire, phoenixes, and more. This one didn't wow me, but maybe the impact would have been stronger without the confusion of ARSON right off the bat.
I'm deep into fantasy basketball, so NBA MVPS came easily. [Star Bucks?] is fantastic wordplay for Giannis, the Milwaukee Buck who does so much for his NBA team, but who so badly craters fantasy teams' free throw percentage and turnovers. Maddening enigma.
Last week, I got called out for making judgments about names. I've thought about that a ton, and I'm gradually digesting Kameron's valid points about inclusion through proper names.
I'm curious how the full range of solvers would react to a themeless seeded with ANTETOKOUNMPO (Greek rendition of his Nigerian name) or other MVP candidates: LUKADONCIC, JOELEMBIID, NIKOLAJOKIC. I'm a huge fan of all these guys, but I've hesitated using them in puzzles because I received so much feedback over the years to the tune of "it makes it a lot less fun for me when you put in so many proper names" and "it's annoying that you expect me to know sports."
It's difficult to figure out the right approach (and for which solvers), but that only means I should work harder to understand the wide-ranging perspectives of different solvers and find a reasonable balance.
Loved, loved, loved the clue for THE EURO. [It's usually around 9/10 of a pound], what a fantastic misdirect!
I still have the pleasure of chatting once a week with Jim Horne during these quarantine times, and he surprised me by saying he enjoyed OH TO because it reminded him of the Browning poem he learned in school. To me, it's not only a partial (discouraged by all editors) but such a tough one. Not that I'll be striving to use it in future puzzles, but I liked hearing Jim's perspective, realizing that I wasn't unilaterally correct.
Great clue for SLEEVES, too. My daughter is in a joke-telling phase right now (oh joy), and one of her favorites is "Where do generals keep their armies?" In their sleevies (pretend to laugh). [Arms repositories?] is a much more refined approach.
I didn't waffle on Kool MOE Dee, since I'm into old-school rap, but Jim mentioned he leaned toward MAE, making the crossing TARTINI, which sounds more like a dessert. It's a fair point.
Much to enjoy in the grid, with DO THE MATH, MANSPLAIN, WATCH CHAIN, DERBY HATS all PEACHY KEEN. Too much wastage, though, with fine-but-neutral entries like LOADS IN, RESPITE, LEE TIDE, EPISODIC taking up valuable real estate.
(Grant's hidden message is GRANT THACK RAY.)
There's such a memorable picture in A WRINKLE IN TIME, illustrating how a tesseract works. Grab a piece of cloth at two points far away, and bring them together. Voila, you have a shortcut, with the material in the middle all bunched up! Grant did a great job of mimicking the tesseract today.
If you haven't quite figured out how the themers work yet — it took me a while to see — check out SENTENTALVALUE. That's supposed to be SENTIMENTAL VALUE, so some Thursday solvers are going to try to write the first T as a (TIME) rebus. Not so! Note that there's an I above that first T, an M to the right, and then an E when you move back down. Think of it as a TIME worm inching forward, and it might make more sense.
I love when "hidden words" are in tricksy places, so across WHA(T I ME)ANT WAS is perfect. It's a shame there aren't more phrases that work this way — is there a famous TIM E.? (No.) Will Shortz is generally picky about "hidden words" spanning across all words of a themer, since MOUSE in MORTIMER MOUSE is filler, and I'm with him. In today's case, the trick is so apt to the book that I gave it a pass.
I have fond memories of the book, and the perfect wordplay connection to the tesseract put this puzzle into POW! consideration. Ultimately though, only having one themer where TIME spanned across all words, and too much LOC IES WAL LEU ASEAT, all pretty ugly, knocked it out of contention.
As much as I enjoyed SPROCKET, HOLE SAWS, PH SCALE, PLANET X, fewer goodies in exchange for a smoother product would have elevated this one to POW! status. 71-word (ultra-low) themed puzzles are so hard to execute on with both color and cleanliness.
Such a geometric grid pattern! I was hoping for a mini-theme, perhaps like a TIC TAC TOE Thursday many years ago. Ah well. I didn't care for the restricted grid flow — three mini-themelesses aren't nearly as fun as one cohesive one — but it does make a constructor's life much easier. It's a blessing to be able to work a corner like the SE almost completely independently from the rest.
I enjoyed so many of the long entries, LOWERCASE I a devious misdirect from the "stylish" or "cutting-edge" character of Apple products, PULL RANK ON, IN OVERTIME, HALF NELSON, TRUE TO LIFE, LETS THINGS SLIDE, GOING VIRAL. Grant took full advantage of almost every single long slot, spreading so much goodness around.
BOSS BATTLE … I didn't enjoy it as much as Grant, since my Mario days were decades ago. Could be a divisive entry, non-gamers wondering why someone would want to fight sweet Angela Bower. I prefer to target a more general audience, but there are merits to elating a segment of solvers. Although you risk alienating others, at least the entry is two recognizable words.
With so much flexibility, I'd have loved a better balance between all the colorful entries and all the short gluey ones. With 34 (!) 4-letter entries, it's important not to make them stick out any further, so cutting down some of AMOI ATRI HOLO ISAT OF ME would have helped a ton.
Overall though, I enjoy seeing different grid patterns in themelesses.
MARQUEE MARK, that's a great one! If you know who Marky Mark is, that is. "Mark Wahlberg" is a better name for a serious actor, but it ain't no Marky Mark. Boo!
I get so many theme queries playing on homophones that I'm more tired of them than ever. They have to have something special to make me sit up a little straighter. I appreciated Grant's take, restricting his to ones using a Q. That's a nice way to tighten the concept.
It's not what I want out of a Thursday — I deserve a bigger payoff after working so hard to finish — but there are some solvers out there who'll be proud to hold this one up as one of the few Thursday NYTs they've ever finished. It's okay to throw people a bone every once in a while.
I'd have liked a touch more elegance in the grid, what with ERI ETD NOI UND, and the odd clue for ONE A. That last one is undesirable in the first place, and to force solvers to think about Elvis's middle name (Aron) is an odd decision, making the entry even worse.
Thankfully, there was enough bonus material to balance things out. Working in ER NURSES, KNEE PAIN, OUTTAKES, BAD FAT, BAR B QS, I DUNNO, LOQUAT, PARODY? MAN OH MAN that's good. I'd have asked for one or two fewer of these in exchange for a smoother overall product, but I can buy the trade-off. That's a lot of sizzle.
Because you can throw a stone 50 feet in any direction and hit a homophone puzzle, it's so important to do something above and beyond. The Q restriction helped, but I'd have liked something even more. Perhaps a revealer would have helped pull it all together. Well, that's my cue to go, so I'm--
Hey, THAT'S MY CUE!
MINICARSONS is genius. Not only is it funny to think of Johnny's progeny as mini-me's, but what a discovery, that CARS inserted into MINIONS forms an amusing result. Perfect example of how PICTURE IN PICTURE can work beautifully.
I enjoyed C(RAY)ON TACT, too. It's a big issue at my house, where crayons are often bartered between my two kids. They seem to use them in the same way prisoners use cigarettes. And again, a delightful wordplay find.
PETITER PAN was good too — I liked the artsy sound of PETITER. Although, it's too easy to insert IT into another word to form a new word.
The rest didn't do much for me. DOCTORS WALLET RANGE is an interesting wordplay find. But what a bizarre phrase.
GET SCREAM OUT, too easy to insert SCREAM into a two-word movie title. Similarly, putting TED into another picture must have dozens of possibilities.
Grant's grid was decent — not too much crossword glue. Just some IF AT / I EVER / ACU / API / ESE etc. isn't bad.
I would have liked more color, though. It confused me — there should have been more long slots that could be mined for pizzazz. FRONT LINES, CITY PLAN, that kind of thing.
A-ha! At 145, this one clocks in with many more words than average for a Sunday NYT (140 words is the usual maximum). I don't mind at all if a constructor bends the rules to 142, as long as he/she produces a colorful, clean grid. But the difference between 142 and 145 is noticeable when it comes to color.
I'd have much preferred for Grant to pare down his themers to a smaller set that had more bang for the buck. I'm sure he didn't have a lot of choices, but IT, TED, ET all should have allowed for some flexibility.
All too often, I think Sunday puzzles should have been shrunk down into a 15x15 weekday grid because the theme isn't strong enough to hold solvers' attention. Today, I liked how PICTURE IN PICTURE and some of the long titles demanded a Sunday grid. Could have been a standout puzzle if more of the themers had been as strong as MINICARSONS.
Pretty grid — love those interlocking arms. They do violate one gridding rule of thumb, that placing a black square anywhere in the grid should not separate one region from the rest of the puzzle. But both RAMS HOME and MONSTER MASH connect subsections through that choke point, so I don't mind so much. It'd have been great to get a more open solving flow, but sometimes an aesthetic impact is worth it.
Grant brings up good points — the question of "what is good fill" is always on constructors' minds. I used to prize entries like IT'S A ME, MARIO, but these days, I shy away from them. Yes, they're fantastic for Mario Bros. lovers (me included!). But they're potentially duds — even liabilities — for solvers of a different generation.
I'm much more a fan of GENIE OF THE LAMP and BUNDT CAKE. One could argue that certain people might never have read "Aladdin," or seen a mouth-watering BUNDT CAKE. I think they're more relatable to a greater percentage of the solving population than IT'S A ME, MARIO, though.
Tough decisions. Do you target the broadest audience possible, at the expense of some snazzy grid entries? Or do you go niche and make a puzzle that sticks in the mind of a smaller segment of people, while potentially pissing off others?
Overall, solid gridwork that's made easier with the grid sectioning (being able to focus on one locale at a time makes a constructor's life much easier). WORLD BEATERS and DEMOCRATICALLY didn't do much for me, but there was also only a bit of BE IT, AHL, ON UP, etc.
Given that Grant started off with IT'S A ME MARIO, I'd almost have preferred him trying to work in more of his style of marquee entries, even if it meant using more crossword glue. Go big or go home!
Talk about fresh grid entries! I'd expect nothing more from the young Grant, who's well outside my own generation. It made me feel young(er)(ish)(kindasorta) to encounter ADORKABLE, ADULTING, and the MANSPREAD.
Don't understand that last one? Think about when you were on a plane last, when the annoying dude next to you let his legs flop all over, invading your personal space so much that you had to secretly poke him with a sharp mechanical pencil when he wasn't looking and then you flinched as well, looking around, pretending that whatever jabbed him just jabbed you too?
I blamed elves.
I wondered if the puzzle was TOO fresh-feeling overall. I must admit I guessed SEGAMAN — bzzt! NERDS ROPE is a thing? And I couldn't imagine that the NYT would use BUTTLOAD. That last one did amuse me, but overall, the puzzle didn't have the usual stately, higherly edumacated feel the NYT puzzle is known for.
Is that bad? I don't necessarily think so. But I did get the feel that Grant's voice in the puzzle was more targeted to the solving audience of the American Values crossword.
I would have liked the AD theme answers in the corners to be more interesting — HOT HEAD is fun, but ADDRESS and SALAD and ADAMS are more workmanlike. But that's the price you pay for having so much colorful theme material in the middle of the puzzle — a BUTTLOAD of it!
Overall, a solid puzzle with a fun idea, several memorable entries, and nice gridwork. You're bound to need some long fill in puzzles like these, and LESS IS MORE and AT ONE'S PEAK were much appreciated.
SPOILER ALERT! Hopefully, solvers have seen all of these movies already. Thankfully, Grant chose ones with iconic not-really-surprise-anymore endings. Fun pairs, and I like how he presented them, making me work a little to uncover the pairs.
My head nearly exploded when I found out that SNAPE / KILLS DUMBLEDORE. I didn't have nearly as strong a reaction to seeing that EARTH is the PLANET OF THE APES, or that ROSEBUD is Kane's childhood SLED because I had already heard these spoilers long before I saw the movies, but these pairings all brought back some vivid memories.
(Experiencing "LUKE, I am your father" at age 9 ... whoa!)
To debut on a Sunday is a tricky business, as 21x21 140-word puzzles are so rough to construct. Grant has an even tougher job than usual, what with so many theme answers (highlighted below).
So it's understandable that Will let him slide by with a much easier task of 144-words. I did notice some NOL, IRAE, EAN, STYRO, ARU, USIA, UNHAP, etc. as I solved. But it wasn't much more than a typical Sunday puzzle, so good job there.
I often wonder if Will ought to let Sunday puzzles go to 142 or even 144 words. It'd open the Sunday arena to many more constructors; ones who shy away from the 140-word grid because it's really, really difficult. Just as long as I get a good amount of bonus fill to help hold my interest, I don't even notice that a puzzle has a high word count. I like the stuff Grant worked in: SET THE TONE, MARES NESTS, HEAD HONCHO, TAKE A BREAK, IDRIS ELBA (oh how badly I wish he signed up for "Pacific Rim 2" …), so it wasn't until I investigated that I realized the word count was well past Will's max.
It might have been nice to have the pairs of answers located closer to each other, so I didn't have to jump all over the grid with the cross-references. But that'd be awfully tough to do. And even though I usually groan at cross-referenced answers because of how they break up my solving flow, I liked how this technique hid the pairs in a sneaky way, making for fun discoveries of each pair.
A nice debut. Congrats, Grant!