Ah, quad stacks. By now, we expect serious trade-offs in such a crazily difficult construction. The question is, does the pizzazz in the long entries make up for the wince-worthy globs of glue?
Today, I say yes. All too often, quad stacks need to rely heavily on common letters, boring answers, or head-scratching phrases. But out of nine grid-spanners, I'd say four are fantastic, and five are solid if not flashy. STRING ORCHESTRA over THERES NO I IN TEAM is a great way to headline your puzzle!
(I used to play cello in an orchestra, and I'd always try to hide in the back corner at the last stand, away from the audience. That way, all my wrong notes and out of tune-ness would be overwhelmed. Good thing we were all a team!)
Ah, ONDES, I learned ye through crosswords. Weirdly, it was kind of fun to plug it in without a single crossing letter.
People sometimes ask me how I can possibly do the toughest crosswords. Repetition often allows for immediate fill-ins like this.
See: NEROLI. ELAM. SORA.
I appreciated how wide-open Jason kept his grid. Stringing ROCKETTES through that bottom quad was delightful.
REDEPOSIT up top ... not so much.
The lone head-shaking moment was the XKE / KTEL square. A friend recently told me that in his generation — an OLDER GENERATION — the XKE was super popular, in everyone's consciousness. Perhaps it was the same way for KTEL?
Every eye-popping grid like this will come with some sort of compromises. Overall, I enjoyed the solving experience — the quality of the grid-spanners and the novelty of the wide-openness helped me overcome the rough patches.
Airlines played upon today, with MANCHESTER UNITED, MISSISSIPPI DELTA, SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST. The revealer didn't feel apt at first — I wondered why AIRPORT TERMINALS described these airlines? But TERMINAL meaning "ending" started to make more sense, hinting at the names of the airlines coming at the ends of the phrases.
Then I wondered, wouldn't AIRLINE TERMINALS be more descriptive of the theme? But that wouldn't work, as that's not a real phrase.
Sometimes I think about things way too much.
Jason has pushed the envelope on wide-open construction, having made puzzles as tough as quad-stack themelesses. He injects some of that experience today, stacking INSISTS UPON at the top, and PRIDE AND JOY at the bottom. Along with KICKS BUTT and HIGH WINDS, that makes for a lot of strong bonus material.
Usually, constructors would put a black square at the middle S of INSISTS UPON and the N of PRIDE AND JOY, making the grid much easier to fill. While I often like Jason's experimentation, I'm not sure it was a good thing today.
The top was pretty darn clean, with just an OPE as crossword glue. But INSISTS UPON is neutral filler material to me, not valuable.
And the bottom … a minor TRA is no problemo. SYS, same deal. Add in EDA, though. And AJA and TEMAS pushed it well over the edge for me. As much as I love PRIDE AND JOY, I didn't think the trade-off was worth it.
Maybe if this had been a more complicated theme, nudging the puzzle toward later-week status, it would have been more acceptable? But early-week puzzles ought to be accessible for novices, and that lower right corner didn't have that elegant, smooth feeling.
Toss in TWPS (townships?), AKEY, and CUESTA, and it was way over my threshold for crossword glue. Not a polished solve.
But overall, a nice concept, a good attempt at using two meanings of TERMINAL. And although I didn't agree with the trade-offs made in the name of more bonus fill, I do like discussions sparked by constructors pushing limits.
★ I generally shudder when seeing quad-stacks. Because there are so many inflexible crossings to work with, it's inevitable that there are going to be at least a handful of groan-worthy globs of crossword glue holding a quad together.
Or is it? There's hardly anything in this super-smooth grid. SEE IT is a partial in disguise ("Now you ___ …") and the ORY / OR M middle made me cringe, but that's all? Couldn't be.
Well, if there's very little crossword glue, then the long entries are bound to be dreadfully boring.
Or are they? Besides SYSTEMS ANALYSTS, which I've seen anchor stacks many a time, the other seven are very good to great entries. MASTER CRAFTSMAN kicking off the puzzle? Yes! CREATURE FEATURE! Heck yeah! EMANCIPATION DAY! I didn't know what that was, but what a great occasion to learn about! I'm using a lot of exclamation points because I really enjoyed how snappy those long entries are!
(The engineer in me even admits to liking SYSTEMS ANALYSTS, much to the chagrin of the constructor in me.)
And getting ETERNITY, FEED LOT, ART STUDIO / SLEEP AIDS, HASIDIM, SOY PROTEIN running through those stacks, making for a wide-open solve … whoa!
I didn't totally get the RENTS clue: [Gets things on time?] I imagine it's sort of an "on borrowed time" type of wordplay? Anybody? Bueller?
After making hundreds of crosswords over the years, it's rare that I sit in such awe of a construction. Even after emailing back and forth with Jason to try to learn some techniques from him (neat that our Finder helped him discover TARDIS when he needed a six-letter word starting with TARD??), I'm still well out of the realm of total comprehension. I really enjoy getting a peek into a master's head.
I've made some triple-stacks before, even some with snazzy entries and clean crossings (don't ask about all the other stinkers), but this my friends, seems like real-life magic. Loved it.
Is it Friday the 13th? Today we get three literal omens of BAD LUCK: WALKING (under) A LADDER, having a BLACK CAT crossing ONES PATH, and breaking a MIR/ROR. I had always thought that it was crossing a black cat's path that was bad, not the other way around, but it appears that either one is no good.
With a light theme (just 42 squares), I'd expect a ton of snazzy fill, and Jason delivers some great stuff. It was fun to uncover FIREFLY, UNIBROW, Emeril "Bam!" LAGASSE, CORN MAZE, even HOME ICE peppered throughout the grid.
It wasn't as fun to uncover the deep crosswordese ETUI. It's so useful for those common letters, but boy does it evoke the old days where various editors delighted in stumping solvers with esoterica. And crossing it with Mikhail TAL … he definitely is crossworthy given he was a World Chess Champion, but that intersection strikes me as borderline unfair. What with more than a smattering of NSEC, SSRS, the odd plural NAANS, ENA next to RGS, REL, etc., I got bogged down by the inelegance.
At first I was bothered by the asymmetry of the theme answers, but it's really impossible to make them all symmetric. And it was sort of fun to see asymmetry — that's surely another indicator of BAD LUCK. Or it should be.
All in all, it would have been nice to get a little something more, maybe another themer like STEPPING on a CRACK, or even the LADDER oriented vertically (how often do you see a horizontal ladder, except when it's on the ground?), or maybe everything hidden as a mini-theme on a themeless Friday the 13th.
Still, there was enough of a seed of an idea and some enjoyable bonus fill that it kept me entertained.
★ Love this theme. I hadn't heard of FIFTY FIRST STATE before, but what a beautiful phrase and concept! Jason kept me guessing until the end, wondering how 51st, 6th, 3rd, and 5th might all tie together. Excellent a-ha moment when I hit AND ANOTHER THING — a perfect revealer. As Jason mentioned, I found it so much fun that each one of these themers is derived from "adding one," but they each become something all their own.
As if that weren't enough, Jason executes so well. Today's is a tough construction task, with longish themers plus a middle one cutting the grid in half. He does strong work in the four corners, incorporating some DASHING STOPGAP INFIDEL type bonuses while keeping the crossword glue to a minimum. All I could find was an ERN in the SW and an ELEC in the NE — excellent result, especially considering the difficulty of his task.
LOVE the EBERT clue: [He once asked "How far down can a thumb go?"]. EBERT was such a big part of my youth, my dad and I often watching "At the Movies" together. His wit and quotability make him my pick for the 21st century Alexander Pope or Oscar Wilde.
FEH might be unfamiliar to some, but the crossings are fair. And I find it fun to get the assorted MEH BAH GUH sort of entries in crosswords. (I'm easily amused.)
Wonderful puzzle; very close to my idea of the perfect Wednesday.
This is the 11th double quad-stack in our page of stacks. I liked a lot about this puzzle, most notably how many of the eight grid-spanners were sparkling. I'm a giant fan of THE GREEN LANTERN — people across the universe getting chosen by different rings of power to become a member of the Green Lantern Corps. And six of the other grid-spanning entries are colorful, multi-word phrases.
The only one I was plus/minus on was MISAPPROPRIATES. It's a fine answer, but more neutral to me than an asset. Perhaps if it had been given a really clever clue? Still, seven out of eight grid-spanners being snazzy is a very high percentage. If you compare and contrast all of the 11 double quad-stacks in that regard, I think this one does very well.
As with all of the rest, this one suffers from some gluey crossing answers. It's part of the deal, you take the bad with the neat visual impact of so much white space. I just wish that the gluey bits hadn't been so concentrated in one area that happens to be my personal bugaboo: partials. I don't mind A NIT or A SOU here or there. Toss in ON NO and that's about my threshold. I HATE and IN HIS too? It all stands out due to the concentration.
Jason brings up a good point — it's hard to work in more long material when so much of your real estate is already spoken for. So I like that he integrates FORCE FEED. Even SEVENTH DAY and TUSCALOOSA are nice bonuses running through the stacks.
I really liked the quality and quantity of the grid-spanners; so much fantastic material stacked atop each other. I love the anticipation of feeling like a puzzle might be so good that I just have to give it my POW! But alas, it was too hard for me to get past all the partials, plus the various IDENT / MTGES gluey entries.
Still, as with the other double quad-stacks, an impressive visual first impression.
★ Jason builds three WATERSLIDES today, neat river-esque images flowing diagonally. I especially like how he disguised each of the three bodies of water — a river RUN, a STREAM, and a BROOK — within phrases that hide their meanings.
Impressive execution, especially considering how tough it is to fill a grid around diagonal entries. The center section is masterful — with three long diagonal entries, Jason needed to cross one of them through WATERSLIDES, making that region incredibly constrained. What finesse in there, with nary a drop of glue. And working in BERRA, RITE AID, DREIDEL, along with the end of EPHEMERA and the start of ELON MUSK? Incredibly smooth along with quite a bit of color.
There is a slight price to pay, as the black squares nearly separate the puzzle into distinct chunks. But Jason did leave enough interconnect so that the semi-choked grid flow didn't bother me too much.
Speaking of connection, look at that awesome word MRYUK, which connects two chunks. It's rare to debut a five-letter word, since most all of them have been used ad infinitum, and I often cringe when there is a debut, since it's often a partial or really esoteric. But even though MR YUK wasn't familiar to me, it can be pieced together with some thought. Great a-ha when I finally got it.
I commiserated with Jason on our similar HAIR LOSS, but what a great clue: [It usually reveals more than you want].
Overall, the quality of execution earns Jason the POW! A very tough construction, and Jason pulled it off with just a touch of what some people might grumble at as esoteric: ANOMIE, AEOLUS, ENNEAD, OMOO. It would have been nice to get at least some symmetry in the theme answers, but there is something to be said about the beauty of water's randomness cutting through land that's reflected in today's grid.
Beautiful work in the bottom stack. Typically at least one of the crossing answers in a quad-stack is gluey or a clunker, but Jason does very well, with A TOI the closest thing to iffy. Okay, ENSILES and ASONANT are a bit esoteric, but one can reason them out using etymology.
Speaking of reasoning, some solvers avoid puzzles with these giant open spaces because they seem impossible. Pro tip: thinking like a constructor makes them much more solvable! I got stuck in the top, so I stepped back and thought about what makes a big section easier to fill:
Example: [Belief in a strong central government]. I forced myself to think about point 1 — what -ISM could be made of those common letters? STATISM, perhaps? I plunked it in, and it seemed to work ... almost. So I thought about point 2 — ah, ETAT is the French word for "state," and it fits the alternation!
Look how well that continues, with EVIL / TITERS / ARAMIS / TELOS / SHAH. I liked so much this — TELOS is a toughie, but the Greek concepts are fair game, given how much they've affected Western culture.
Breaking the alternation pattern is necessary given the two Ss in THESIS STATEMENT and the TH in ROSIE THE RIVETER, and that forces an unfortunate pair: STPS (a plural which Rich Norris at the LA Times has asked me to avoid) and IERI. I like some foreign words in my crossword, especially if they're in use in English language, but IERI = not so much. At least the crossings make that workable — unlike the N in UPPER PALATINATE / MENES. Both are crossworthy answers that I felt I really should learn, but crossing them made this solver cross.
Anyway, a standout bottom quad-stack and a great brain workout.
Worthy Thursday idea, kooky blends of normal phrase + ___ONYM(S). A nice workout. I had to look up TOPONYM (place name derived from a geographic feature) and METONYM (name used as a substitute for something which it's closely associated) — good terms to learn.
Glad to read Jason's description of the puzzle's transformation. It did strike me as inelegant that the themers weren't all singular or all plural, but having 2/2 (alternating) is the next best thing. And it does look like there isn't a huge assortment of potential themers to choose from.
I would have liked all of the spellings to work similarly, though. It was odd to me that MORTAL SIN became MORTAL SYN … I know, I'm a stickler for consistency, perhaps too much so, but I love the elegance that comes with a perfect set of four themers. (Side note: the "top" of "toponym" is actually pronounced like MOUNTAINTOP, not like "taupe.")
Liked many of the clues. [Rainmaker?] is fun for MONSOON, and I wish NINTENDO would do something awesome with the Seattle Mariners, like have them all dress up in Super Mario outfits. King Felix in a Princess Peach outfit would be much more entertaining than this groaner of a season the Ms are having. I would have liked more fun clues like these, as most of the clues felt too esoteric to me.
The 15/13/13/15 arrangement is a tough one. I like how Jason worked in some colorful material like LOOPHOLE, RAN TRACK, SPARE RIB, and NINETENDO. And going down to 70 words gave him a few more longer spaces to fill than usual — AEROSMITH and ATHENIANS are a good way to use those.
However, there was quite a bit of gluey material holding it together. Not sure A WHO, IM NO, KAL, is worth the price of ATHENIANS, especially when there's already a good amount of unslightly bits. I do like a low-word count themed puzzle, but I also value a smooth solve.
Overall though, a tricky Thursday; glad to see something I haven't seen before.
★ Wow. Just wow.
I love when a puzzle surprises me. I got the entire SNOW WHITE corner in my first pass, so filled in MIRROR MIRROR without hesitation. In my second pass I got the EVIL QUEEN corner without much difficulty. Just a mini-themed themeless, with MIRROR MIRROR sitting in the diagonal = nothing to write home about, right?
But that central swath remained oddly blank. I had IM OUT and NOIRE plunked in at 1-D and 2-D, but nothing else would fit. Finally, I wondered if MIRROR MIRROR was contributing to my confusion. [Small tower on a castle] had to be TURRET — maybe it fit in the mirror spot, 18-A?
Then came one of the best a-ha moments in recent memory. NOIRE doesn't go straight down, it doesn't start at the reflected position … it reflects along the MIRROR, as if it were a ray of light bouncing off! Same with TURRET reflecting at the second R, same with IM OUT reflecting at the M … same with ALL THE ENTRIES HITTING MIRROR MIRROR. EVERY ONE OF THEM.
Now, some people may scoff at this tour de force, but when a handful of words turn at a 90 degree angle, the surrounding fill gets harder. When you have this constraint all along a full corridor — that's dozens of tough intersections to work through — it's an absolute gem to only need OF MAN. Otherwise, it's so clean and colorful, working in THE MASTERS and Erik ESTRADA and a PRISON RIOT.
And to do this in a 70-word puzzle? Amazing. Check out the bottom left corner, which stacks four long answers atop each other. Sure, you can complain about EEE, but this is a wonderful corner pulled off with a tough constraint. Constructors usually never stack four long words (8+ letters) atop each other for good reason — areas like this are nearly impossible to get both colorful and clean. Jason does a nice job with both of them.
The concept did make me think that MIRROR MIRROR might be even better if 1-D and 14-A started with the same sequence, so they were truly "mirrored." But even this is a sign that the puzzle did its job plus a whole lot more, spurring me on to think about it well after I finished solving.
Bravo, one of my favorites this year.
★ Very, very cool idea. I bet many solvers filled in "APERA" as a rebus square and wondered who the heck APERANNA SUI was. (I still think Aperanna is a nice name.) Following along the loop, especially ROLLER COASTER looping around R (O L L E R C) OASTER, was really fun. And the fact that the resulting answer looks like ROASTER in the grid, a normal word — what a bonus!
P (A P E R) AIRPLANE also is neat, some types of planes able to gracefully execute loop-de-loops. It's not quite as neat as ROLLER COASTER since "PAIRPLANE" is obviously odd in the grid, but still, PAPER AIRPLANE fits nicely with the theme.
I get that a SHOELACE gets tied in a loop, but that themer didn't work quite as well for me. SHOELACEs don't really get tied in vertical loops, do they? I brainstormed a little bit, and could only come up with two other possible themers which might fit the vertical loop motif: STUNT PILOTS, which would look like S (T U N T P I L O) TS, or STUNT MOTORCYCLE. Maybe those are too close to PAPER AIRPLANE though.
These types of puzzles where the themers bend, twist, etc. are usually tough to execute, because of all the extra real estate taken up. So I like that Jason just uses three, and spaces them out nicely. Also very cool to incorporate R CRUMB into that difficult RC???? slot. The fill isn't particularly sparkly — more CATALYTIC and ATYPICAL than the beautiful BITCOIN and FIRE AWAY — but I appreciate the relative grid cleanliness.
Finally, two great clues. I love Greek mythology, so getting ARGUS and the [100-eyed giant of myth] was pleasing. (Although I would have been equally happy with ARGUS Filch, the groundskeeper of Hogwarts.) And [Illegal motion penalty?] thankfully had nothing to do with football (still not over the Seahawks' SB XLIX loss) but cleverly hinted at TILTing a pinball machine.
Five "X to Y" phrases meaning "everything" or "complete" or "comprehensive," clued from the point of view of different professions. I liked the colorful phrases, especially the more specific one. STEM TO STERN is lively (arr, mateys!), and SEA TO SHINING SEA appropriately spans the grid. (I can't wait for Talk Like a Pirate Day, apparently.)
Definitely agreed; fun echo on THE SCREAM and PSYCHOTIC. Along with "Bleak House," it'd be interesting to get Jason in a therapy session and see what's going on.
I like how the glue is spread around, both in location and in type. Most people don't enjoy seeing an ETUI in their crossword, but as long as there's not another thing that's never really used in real life — an OLIO or something — it's passable. And I like that there's one foreign oddity (ORO), an ending (ERN), a partial (AS A), and a not super-common acronym (GSA). So even though there's five gluey bits, the solver (at least this one) isn't really bothered. Sure, I would almost always prefer a squeaky clean, but if you're going to have five sticky bits, I'd rather have a little Elmer's, a bit Krazy Glue, a dab of rubber cement, etc.
One thing I really like here is the cross-referencing of HOMER and APU in a less opaque than usual manner. Often I skip clues that read like [Friend of 62-Across], annoyed that I have to jump around. I usually never go back and see what the referencing was all about. So it was nice to get the word "Squishees" in both clues. I'd still like to see it as [Buyer of Squishees on "The Simpsons"] and [Seller of Squishees on "The Simpsons], but this is a step in the right direction.
All in all, I would have liked a even more consistency/tightness, as all the phrases seemed slightly different to me. I was searching for a word to describe the theme, and the best I could do was to use a combination of terms. Would have been perfect if a single word had jumped out as the unifying factor. Otherwise though, a pretty nice construction job and a fun solve.
Fantastic idea. There have been many puzzles where words jump from one place to the next, or go off the edge and "warp" back to the other side, but I don't think I've seen an actual underpass like this (which actually looks like an underpass!). Really neat idea. I find it mesmerizing to look at the grid — like watching traffic patterns unfold around a cloverleaf.
It was too bad there wasn't a symmetrical entry to UNDERPASS. That might have made this one of my all-time favorites. Yes, it would be difficult to incorporate an extra themer, but it's definitely doable (assuming you could find something that fits — maybe something to the effect of DOWN AND OUT?). For those of you who don't want the curtain pulled back, skip the next paragraph.
At first, it may seem like filling this grid is a magic trick, as you'd have to fill two disparate corners simultaneously through the breaks? But as with many eccentric constructions, it can be broken down into steps to make the process easier. After filling out the middle of the puzzle, you can put together a mini-grid (seen to the left) by squishing the two halves together (leaving the DELI of DELILAH and the ITOR of TRAITOR) and then filling normally. The results can then be transferred back to the original grid.
Finally, a note about three-letter words. Typically Will doesn't allow more than 22 of them except in special cases, because they break up a puzzle's solving flow and can be inelegant. From a construction standpoint, they can also cause problems. Check out all those threes running down the middle of the puzzle. Even though it looks like it should be easy to cleanly fill, it's not, because the number of acceptable three-letter words is limited. In fact, it would likely have been easier to fill this swath cleanly if it was four squares wide, because there are roughly 3x as many acceptable four-letter words than three-letter words!
A beautiful concept, strong enough that I didn't at all mind the blips here and there in the fill.
It's not often that a constructor comes across a serendipitous find, but the fact that two of Philip K. Dick's famous short stories split nicely into 15/15 definitely qualifies. Kudos to Jason for attempting one of the most difficult constructions in crossword-land, double stacks where you have no ability to swap in one of the answers. And he does it twice! It's like a first-time Olympian attempting a quintuple axel or a one-handed iron cross.
Being an utter sci-fi geek (scientific name: dorkus malorkus) DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP was a gimme, so much so that the top fell in no time. The bottom, however, put up so much of a fight that I had to throw in the towel after trying to reel it in for 15 minutes (my average Wed time is about 6 minutes). I don't remember seeing WE CAN REMEMBER IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE before, but it Googles well (1.7M hits) so perhaps it's a gap in my sci-fi knowledge base that needs serious shoring up (preemptive apologies to my girlfriend/wife/barbarian, Jill Denny). This is going to be a divisive puzzle, some loving it, some finding the solving experience frustrating because four grid-spanning entries will effectively be random words strung together.
Let's look at the crossings from a construction standpoint. Usually, double-stacks provide a killer challenge to constructors not named Patrick Berry or Byron Walden, but Jason does an admirable job here, especially given that this is his debut. Not many solvers like to see Christine DAAE because her last name is a bit of esoteric trivia. STAEL is also a toughie, but otherwise, the crossing entries are relatively smooth.
What was troublesome for me was the difficulty of cluing in those crossings. Typically with really tough (or virtually unclued) across answers, Will goes easy on the clues for the crossing down answers, so the solver has a real chance. I didn't need that for the top set, but the really hard clues in the SW made that entire corner inscrutable.
Finally, the off-center placement of DICK felt inelegant. I've used an asymmetrical revealer before and looking back on it, regretted that I didn't find a way to adhere to usual symmetry rules (I wish I had thought of putting A R O U N D in a circle pattern around the center). Of course, DICK is a four-letter word (pun intended) so it can't be the center entry of the middle row. PHILIP K DICK would be a great central entry (11 letters) but that would also make the construction even harder. Putting D I C K in the four corners (as an easter egg) might have been cool, but adding even more difficulty to this puzzle probably wouldn't be a good idea. Extending the grid to 16 rows would have allowed DICK to be a vertical entry of the center column (where UPC is) but who knows how that would have affected the sets of double-stacks. Tough choices.
Looking forward to more from Jason.