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8 puzzles by Grant Thackray
with Jeff Chen comments

TotalDebutLatestCollabs
83/19/20172/12/20210
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
2000321
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.56010
Grant Thackray
Fri 2/12/2021
NBAMVPSPIEHOLE
ISRAELIEMPORIA
PAINTERALISTER
STAIRCASE
RSVPEDOHTOTLC
ELALSWAYEDHOO
SEGATANKIDEAS
PERIDOTEXCEEDS
IVANICHEXRUSE
TENSPHINXBRIT
ESTHACKRAYONS
DOTHEMATH
AMMONIAITSABOY
TORTONILEETIDE
VETERANEDASNER

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.)

Thu 8/20/2020
ICINGSPHSCALE
MINIMEDOILIES
SENTENTALVALUE
ERENOWEAR
TARORIMSELLA
WHATEANTWAS
CELLIAWESOME
OXOTSETSEREA
SCRIMPSDIDST
MORTERMOUSE
ONEAOEDSSORE
LOCIVELAW
AWRINKLEINTIME
PANACEASOONER
PLANETXASPENS

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.

Fri 7/24/2020
SHALEPINTSPIN
LOWERCASEITUNA
ALLTERRAINELON
BOSSBATTLEALVA
TUBMRE
HIGHSCORESBART
AMOIADULTONTO
IMINKINDAAKIN
KINGESTERTOME
UGGSSTOREOWNER
RVSINI
BAILHALFNELSON
ATRITRUETOLIFE
LEADMICROFILMS
IDLELEANFETES

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.

Thu 9/12/2019
LIMBNABSAMELIE
ONEAERATPARODY
THARWIDOWSPIQUE
ALBOMFLEEUND
CLIQUEBAITKEANU
SEESTETDUNSTOP
IRSTSALINEA
THATSMYQUEUE
AKITAUMPRPG
BEAVERNOIASNER
ELVESBOOTLIQUOR
APEDAHLINURN
MARQUEEMARKASIS
ASTUTEALOEREEF
NOSOAPNAYSESSO

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!

Sun 4/21/2019THE INSIDE STORY
SNORTPBANDJPRADOCDS
IEVERVOLAREHONORREP
THELITTLEMETERMAIDALI
ARRIBATSESLAPDENYIT
RUSSMADSIKESMARCO
THEPROSMINICARSONS
AHAWETWIPEANISETET
BOTHERINGRATGATSHAGS
CLEANSENONETSAKECUP
SADRSPOTROMECORTES
PICTUREINPICTURE
ASPISHPAIDHMOSIFAT
CHESTERNIHAOATLARGE
MOTTOUPSGETSCREAMOUT
EPIIBEAMISAIDNONAE
STARTEDWARSSTOPSAT
EPEESSNITSYMABLAB
MIRIAMSLOPMAPSTRINE
ESPDOCTORSWALLETRANGE
ALAUNPEGAORTASIDEST
DENPERPSWETONEPESTS

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.

Sat 1/26/2019
WORLDBEATERS
GENIEOFTHELAMP
ALABAMASLAMMERS
SCRIPSLOSTIT
TOASTSUPSHAME
OMNITAPIRONUP
NETMONSTERMASH
BUNDTCAKE
ITSAMEMARIOBID
MEINRAGERBENE
AANDPNEWBASAL
PRUNESBERTHA
CESAREANSECTION
DEMOCRATICALLY
SETSTHETABLE

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!

Thu 8/30/2018
MEGAMANALLSAL
ONADATEFEEBASED
WEBINARFTSUMTER
ESTDAUSTERE
POPUPSKIPITRAS
EMORARERSLANTS
RANGETOPBMOC
UNDEOPTAROLIBS
TUNECAROUSEL
HASSLETASERIDA
ORLTSTOPSKASEM
TEAIPASHEAL
HOLINESSADBLOCK
ELONGATETILAPIA
AMSKYDSEENSAY

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.

Sun 3/19/2017111-ACROSS!
CHAINSASHYSMSBALI
POOLCUEFLOENAILEDIT
SOYLENTGREENARGONAUT
ALDERTRODSPENCE
TIERSHESLUKESFATHER
SONGLEGSISINOLEAU
ERATSHRIMPERDANG
PLANETOFTHEAPESBOD
SASSYNAYYETUNHAP
YUKFERRULESPYHOLE
CREATEROSEBUDISONTO
HYDRANTBOBHOPECAP
ONAIRALAARUNIHIL
FATKILLSDUMBLEDORE
BOTSHELIACALLOTR
AXEVOASKIDFINIRAE
NORMANBATESBOSESIVA
ADORNSPOOHSEDER
MASTEREDSPOILERALERT
INNEREARURNSREDBUSH
IDLYEKEMODESCRAPE

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!