What a cool idea, two-word phrases where all the letters of the second word are contained in the first. ABSTRACT ART displayed as ABSTRACT is so much fun. Great finds in MARATHON MAN and WRESTLING RING too. TRANSPARENT TAPE and ESTIMATED TIME are definitely real terms, but they're not as exciting to my ear.
James goes down to 74 words in an attempt to add in extra bonus fill. There is a good amount of nice stuff like DECREPIT, TENTACLE, EDAMAME, DRUM SET. Even the mid-length material adds spice: DAHLIA, GENOME, TV CREW, DO RE MI, SEA COW. That's a ton of extra material!
There are trade-offs, though. After I encounter maybe four or five gluey bits, I have a hard time shrugging it all off. I don't care at all about a bit of DEG, A NET, ESS here and there. But when there's more of SAE, RST, STOA, OLIO, SERER, etc. it's just too much for my constructor's brain to ignore.
It's annoying to have that constructor's perspective that I just can't turn off, because the rest of the puzzle was so much fun and entertainment. I think cutting the amount of gluey stuff in half — maybe by going up to 76 or even 78 words, shrinking the wide-openness of those big corners — could have turned this puzzle into a very good one into a great one.
Still, puzzles with such a neat theme idea don't come around all that often, and I really enjoyed this concept.
Row, row, row (row, row) your themers today, row rhymers all with different spellings. Finding five of them must have been quite the challenge.
I like James' appropriate choice of JAMES Monroe. Gave me good feelings to see the man who presided over the Era of Good Feelings. Plus, the theme density is already so high — 11/12/15/12/11 creates high demands upon a 15x puzzle — that having MARILYN MONROE's awkward 13-letter length would have likely required a lot more gluey bits that we see now.
I love a clever wordplay clue, and I find it even better when it doesn't need a question mark. So to have one on a themer is pretty much ideal. [Group you can rely on when it counts] is brilliant for CENSUS BUREAU.
"Both words can follow X" type theme today. Impressive that James manages to fit seven themers into one grid. For a theme type that's heading toward being overdone, it's important to stretch for something extra, so it's great that James took the extra step.
For a long time, "word that can follow X" themes were commonplace, but they've fallen out of favor as crosswords have evolved. "Both words can follow X" were the new innovation to keep the idea fresh, but as with all art forms, crosswords must evolve or risk getting stale.
James does really well to pick in-the-language phrases. Sometimes with this type of theme, the entries sound forced… because they are. Luckily, there are so many words that can follow BOOK that it gives James the flexibility to come up with several good entries. OPEN SOURCE is a nice, modern term (I wasn't sure if SOURCE BOOK was an actual thing, but Google says yes), and FLIP PHONEs are coming back. Retro. Chic. Everyone's soon going to be envious of my Motorola Razr. Just wait, you'll see.
With seven themers, there are bound to be strains on the grid, but James manages to keep things relatively clean. Using a modified pinwheel arrangement (and stuffing two themers each into the NE and SW corners) keeps all the themers largely separated, allowing for more flexibility. The stacked themers are pretty nice in the NE, only A DOG and SLO to slow things down. That's nice work given the heavy constraints up there.
The SW doesn't come out quite as nice, with OON sandwiched between MATCHPLAY and SCHOOLWORK. Most times when you have two themers directly atop one another like this, it's hard to escape with 100% cleanliness. A NOSE and SKAT along with RTS is not ideal. I wonder if moving some black squares down there would have helped — the 3/6/4 word lengths in rows 14/15 add to that south region's difficult level. Perhaps flip-flopping black squares to create 4/5/4 word lengths would have made for cleaner fill.
Overall though, I appreciated the effort to stretch the boundaries of a well-known theme type. And for such heavy constraints, James did a nice job selecting strong themers and wrangling the fill. I was especially happy to see MASSE (a billiards trick shot where you curve the cue ball's path through spin) and its fun clue, given that I used to play four hours of pool a day in college. What can I say, applying English was a lot more fun than studying English.
★ Beautiful start to the week. Crosswords have evolved a lot over the past five years, so putting a new spin on this type of theme is important. And TIMESHARE is a perfect way to do that, each of the theme answers "sharing" TIME, i.e. AIR TRAVEL goes to AIR TIME and TIME TRAVEL. Neat concept, perfect for a Monday. Comprehensible for many beginners, interesting for many experienced solvers.
And check out the theme density! Typically constructors shy away from six long theme entries, because it causes all sorts of crossing problems. Four of James's themers are shorter (eight or nine letters) which makes the construction easier than having all 10+ letter entries, but James also throws in something unusual for a six-themer: two long downs. CLEOPATRA and FIBONACCI are fantastic entries. And he also tosses in MAGNETO and BLEND IN. Awesome!
The two long themers are fantastic, but they do come at a price. EMEER is one of those words that makes me cringe, especially on a Monday. EMIR is the more common spelling, never having taken the dreaded "variant" tag in a NYT crossword clue. Out of curiosity, I tried to rework that east area on my own, but with CLEOPATRA running through that area, I couldn't come up with anything better. It would take replacing the ????P???A pattern with ACAPPELLA or WIKIPEDIA or something, which is a pretty major change.
I was curious to see if one of these other long down alternatives could get rid of EMEER (and OLEIC too, hopefully)... but not THAT curious. Anyway, James's grid also incorporates I DUNNO and HOLD EM in that region, so it seems like a favorable trade-off overall. Still, EMEER...
If it hadn't been for EMEER, OLEIC, and the lesser ugly ECOL, this might have been one of my favorite Mondays of all time. And even with them, I found it mighty enjoyable. Well done.