See the 21 answer words debuted by Jason Mueller.
Jason got in touch with me a year ago about this moon landing tribute. I'm the go-to guy when it comes to puzzles warranting circles. Or curves. Or things that suck.
Historically, I haven't been a fan of space exploration, considering it a waste of resources that could be redirected to the real-life problems all over the globe: infectious disease, poverty, inequalities of all sorts, you name it. Why on Earth (ha) would we spend money on non-Earth purposes?
But when Jason pinged me, I read up on the events leading up to the landing and was reminded of how it brought a nation together. So many folks worked so resiliently through hundreds of failures, never giving up, always regrouping to emerge stronger than before. And during that historic moment, all eyes were glued on the team of brave souls, people from coast to coast witnessing the fact that there was no such thing as impossible.
I'd love to see America united like that once again.
Tribute to PARIS, a listing of its famous landmarks. I visited Paris maybe 30 years ago — so much to see. THE LOUVRE and NOTRE DAME were amazing. I missed PONT NEUF, but apparently, it's quite beautiful as well.
It's hard to make a list puzzle stand out. More often than not, it comes across like reading a Wikipedia article — not super interesting. An extra level, whether it be theme tightness, a visual element, or a novel twist, can help it become memorable.
Tightness? That would be if there were a famous tourist term called "the five French landmarks," and all five were included. In today's puzzle, why PONT NEUF and not the ARC DE TRIOMPHE? Why the SORBONNE (without THE, like in THE LOUVRE, too) and not MONTMARTRE? These feel like arbitrary choices based solely on the need for crossword symmetry.
Visual element? Perhaps if the EIFFEL TOWEL had been oriented vertically? Or each monument was in the same geographical location as in a map of PARIS?
Novel twist? You tell me! Ideas?
I don't totally agree with Jason on the fill being solid. Granted, I have a very high bar for Monday puzzles. I think they need to be warm and welcoming to newcomers, allowing for a beautiful feeling of HELL YEAH, I CONQUERED A NYT CROSSWORD! Ultimately, everything in the grid is fair, but I can imagine newer solvers staring at FES, simultaneously at PONT NEUF, and wondering what the heck they had gotten themselves into.
SSR is a gluey bit I might move to "puzzle-killer" status. USSR, sure, but SSR feels like something constructors use when desperate. DES, ENE, ESTD, TOR are much more minor to me, but still, too much in one Monday puzzle. Yes, six themers is a feat, but a feat that usually comes with too many compromises.
Ending with just PARIS, instead of PARIS FRANCE, could have helped. Probably not many people thinking about Paris, Idaho after they uncover the EIFFEL TOWER.
But, I hope everyone gets a chance to see PARIS one day. I liked how the puzzle reminded me of my short time there.
Who knew so many famous people played Santa? (Don't all raise your hands at once.) ED ASNER is my go-to — I adore "Elf" (people look at me funny when I randomly say "So, good news, I saw a dog today!"). ED ASNER is such a great straight man in this Santa role.
I haven't seen any of the other films, but some nice trivia to learn — curious that FRED ASTAIRE played Santa. And TOM HANKS, too (in a voice role, at least)? Huh. I wasn't sure who this EDMUND GWENN fella was, so it was much appreciated that Jason made all his crossings very easy. Whew!
Nice Monday construction, such a smooth solving experience (aside from GWENN for me, at least). Jason does so well to keep his crossword glue to minor stuff like MMI, RIN, ETATS, MIN. And I don't mind MMI quite as much as Completely Random Roman Numerals such as DCXI, since MMI has actually been seen in recentish movie title screens.
And what nice bonus material, NPR's FRESH AIR, SHOWMANCE (didn't know the term, but it sounds so fun), FACSIMILE, TRICKSTER, INSINUATE, even WALL-E — that's a ton of extras. It was much appreciated, since very few of the Santa-players elicited much of a reaction in me.
Minor nit, it would have been great to not include PESCI, since he's an actor who sort of muddies the theme. I paused briefly, wondering if he played Santa in "Home Alone."
I love the holiday spirit, how it tends to bring out the best in people, how it inspires me to express my appreciation for those that have made my life better (thank you all for reading my random musings!). So I feel embarrassed that I haven't seen many of these movies! I'll have to get on that — I bet people who have seen all of them will have a much more poignant reaction to this puzzle, which felt a bit too much like a listicle to me. It might have been to have something extra, like just using the movie titles in the clues, with SANTA as a revealer.
Straightforward theme, four golf CLUBS disguised at the ends of themers. Fun phrases in WAFFLE IRON and LEMON WEDGE. (A pitching WEDGE is a club designed for hitting a ball high into the air.) Too bad there isn't any way to camouflage PUTTER — Jason could have given us a full bag!
Also a shame that MINNIE DRIVER got snubbed. I do like the freshness of ADAM DRIVER, who played Kylo Ren in the new Star Wars movie, but I didn't much care for his acting. I wonder if he'll become the next Harrison Ford … or the next Hayden Christensen (shudder).
Generally well executed grid today. Every good crossword ought to have a few pieces of nice bonus fill, and Jason delivers with DOWNGRADED and the pairing of BROWNIES / PARADISE (yum!). ELIE WIESEL ain't bad either — although he won't elicit much emotion for some solvers, he's undoubtedly a crossworthy author and activist, having won a Nobel Peace Prize. Along with a really small amount of crossword glue (SAMI is a toughie, and TRE / WDS are minor), it made for a smooth solve.
Jason does something off the beaten path, by nearly stacking ELIJAH WOOD on top of WAFFLE IRON — more typical is to push WAFFLE IRON all the way to the right side, which creates more space in between themers. I bet this would have allowed Jason to work in more snazzy fill, perhaps letting him put a long down where ICH and FDIC currently sit. Might have let him go down to 76 words, working in even more snappy fill. With shortish themers, getting down to even 74 words could have given the puzzle even more spice.
It would have been nice to get a punchier revealer — CLUBS is pretty darn straightforward — but overall, a smooth puzzle with some good fill to it.
I'm loving the trend toward "meta-crosswords," i.e. puzzles with a secret answer to be figured out after you've filled in the last box. Matt Gaffney is the master at this, and the WSJ recently launched a weekly puzzle as well. I hope the NYT considers jumping in — what better way to engage your audience with contest and a prize drawing?
Today's crossword would have made for an excellent (easy) meta. With TROY, HOMER, ACHILLES, and PARIS, it wouldn't be hard to come up with the ILIAD if the meta question read "Today's meta answer is the name of a famous book." I like the idea here, with TROY, HOMER, and PARIS sneakily hinting at three famous people (the author and two famous participants). ACHILLES HEEL is way too overt for my taste since it's directly about Achilles himself, but it certainly would have made the meta-puzzle drop dead easy.
I enjoyed collaborating with Jason on his debut puzzle, and it's great to see his solo debut. I thought he did a nice job with his fill, although I would have preferred more cleanliness in the lower left corner. That combination of RASA, SARI, IRENIC and ARON (I don't think should a novice solver be expected to know Elvis' middle name) wasn't worth the long downs to me. ELECTORAL and SOPHOMORE are two fine words, but I'd much rather have one stellar long entry and a cleaner corner.
I debated whether TROY AIKMAN is gridworthy. I know him because I'm a 49ers fan, and he destroyed so many of our seasons.
Ultimately, I decided I'd rather have something like TROY OUNCE, which can be worked through etymology (AIKMAN is impossible to get if you don't know him), but I think he's passable (pun intended). The low number of Google hits surprised me, but his heyday was in a time where the internet barely existed, so I'm okay with that.
It usually takes 20+ ideas to come up with a good one. To Jason's credit, he kept at it, never giving up as we bounced around concepts. Finally, his idea of famous people "wearing" their trademark hat amused both of us.
We wanted an even gender split, but we couldn't find many females with a trademark hat (Jackie Kennedy, couldn't you have worn a hat without an "X" in it?). Luckily Jason thought of CALAMITY JANE, so we kicked off the puzzle with her in the upper left. I usually try not to use REATA, but 1.) that corner was rough to fill, and 2.) it's amusing to have the STETSON atop her head and a REATA twirling above.
Speaking of grid-filling issues, yikes. We felt seven people would be minimum, otherwise solvers might find their experience thin. But it took 50ish skeletons, shifting people and hats around, before one finally looked feasible. (UNKEYED comes from my music background — apologies if it's not familiar to you.)
But in that grid, Will pointed out that LNG (liquid natural gas) would be rough for solvers. He was absolutely right. Even though we crossed those letters fairly, LNG was something I looked the other way for, because that single entry made the skeleton possible.
You'd think I'd learn after all this time.
So we rebooted. After dozens more iterations, I threw in the towel and suggested that we go up to 142 words. We were still able to incorporate a lot of long slots for snazzy fill, so thankfully Will gave the thumbs-up. Jason worked in a lot of good stuff like WHAT A GUY and TV DAD.
I'll fess up to OSA, an entry I really dislike. But it allowed for EMOJI, DATA SET, and LEFT JABS — three goodies for the price of an OSA. I still cringe at seeing it, but hopefully solvers will find the trade-off favorable.
Finally, we had to use much more glue than I like in a crossword, but with much more than average thematic material, plus the constraint of seven pairs of entries having to be right atop each other, having some was unavoidable.
Fun to work with Jason!