★ Over the past two years, I've been helping a friend iterate on REPEAT AFTER ME in umpteen different implementations, yet today's still caught me off guard in such a pleasing way. I love being surprised by an early-week theme.
At first glance, REPEAT AFTER ME explaining "doubled letter following ME" was hardly impressive. As Jim Horne points out in his Finder link below, thousands of entries have this pattern. A theme that feels like anyone could do it usually means the wow factor will be low.
But wait! Jay and Daniel introduced a clever constraint: tightening the theme by breaking the doubled letters across words of a phrase. While an extra layer can feel arbitrary, today's lent a sense of elegance. JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE is such a great find, and how many more of these could there possibly be?
So, of course, I checked. Only turning up NUTMEG GRATER, RAMEN NOODLES, and SUMMER READING made the theme feel even more magical.
Not as magical as RAMEN NOODLES and STEAMED DUMPLINGS in the same grid, but I'll excuse that infelicity at Din Tai Fung later tonight.
Their gridwork impressed me, too. Oddly enough, five full grid spanners would have been easier to work with than dealing with the lone 13. Note that this middle 13 forces at least two corners to be tough to fill — in this case, the NW and SE. To escape the NW with just a LEM is hardly a MUSKy result.
I appreciated this theme with every additional perusal. Such a neat idea to tighten the theme, and all four theme phrases are so snazzy.
Happy Halloween! Er, day before Halloween. All Hallow's Eve eve? Anyhoo, phrases repurposed for a witchy good time, SPELL CHECK a witch's tech tool, CHARM SCHOOL where witches go to study charms (under (HARRY POTTER NERD ALERT!) Professor Flitwick of course), etc. Amusing stuff.
Man oh man did I dig Witch Hazel from the old Bugs Bunny cartoons. Not sure what that says about me ...
Seems like this would have worked better tomorrow. Not only would it have been the actual eve, not the eve eve, but there's a good amount of tough vocab in the grid. I think it's all fair — CAPONS (chickens for good eatin'), SACCO (and Vanzetti), the INCUS ear bone, and Max SCHELL — but that's a lot of potentially head-scratching material for a newb solver.
Given the early-week nature of the theme, I would have preferred only one or two of them in the grid. Even if it had run on a Tuesday, experiencing all four entries could make for an unsatisfying solving experience.
Some fun Halloweeny touches in the grid, a bit of EERIE, "The Ghost and Mrs. MUIR," HAGS, EVIL. I usually don't like when the fill potentially muddies up what is theme and what is not, but these are all such shorties that they more provided additional black and orange color.
Some OBE, PARA, REL, nothing major. Well, OBE could be very rough on newer solvers — tough to keep the Order of the British Empire straight from the other British medals. This is an American crossword, by gum!
Overall, I would have liked a little more kookiness out of the themers, as I had heard some of these before. Perhaps if I weren't such an HP nerd, able to rattle off at least ten charms Hermione Granger can do …
★ Shocking themers, clued in kooky ways! This type of humor can be hit or miss, but it sure hit strongly with me. There was something so amusing about a seamstress slying saying ILL BE DARNED, and an astronomer trying to elicit a groan with OH MY STARS!
My favorite was GOOD GRAVY — how is it that I've never used this line at a Thanksgiving dinner?
WELL I NEVER was the only one I didn't laugh at immediately, as I had to think about why a teetotaler would mention a well (and what a teetotaler was — it's someone who doesn't drink alcohol). But then I remembered that a "well drink" refers to a bar's cheap liquor they pour from a spout. So this one worked for me in the end, but it didn't have quite the hilarious impact the others did.
It's a rare early-week puzzle that uses an eye-catching, artistic grid. Something so pleasing about those two "arms" of black squares extending from the left and right sides toward the middle, curling in like spirals. This sort of layout often chokes down puzzle flow, but Jay did a nice job making sure that all parts of the grid connect together without narrow constrictions.
This layout also allowed Jay to work in a lot of long entries. None of them jumped out at me as stellar, but they all do a fine job — INWARDS, ON ORDER, STEP ONE, ITALIANO. I would have liked even one long bonus that I could point out as fantastic, but there's always a trade-off between snazzy fill vs. clean fill, especially with biggish grid spaces like the NE and SW.
I did hitch at the collection of SEL (French for salt), EDS, EER, ATIE, TRE. Nothing major, but in total, it went over my threshold for early-week puzzles.
This POW! choice might come as a surprise to regular readers since crossword glue tends to heavily affect my perception of a puzzle, but the theme concept tickled me so much, and the grid was so neat-looking that I was able to overlook the flaws.
I still laugh, thinking about saying GOOD GRAVY at Thanksgiving. Tee hee.
★ What a fun idea, riffing on FOOD COURT to describe edible offenders. Hilarious to think about grains of rice making payoffs to politicians. And I laughed at uncovering the BAKED BEANS (baked = high on pot). All four of the "defendants" were right on. Very well done!
Because the FOOD COURT in the center sort of splits the puzzle into a top and bottom half, there's not much opportunity for long fill. It's so important to make the mid-length stuff count. I think Jay and Daniel did a nice job there with WIRETAP, SNIPERS, PSYCHIC.
And what a great clue for AMADEUS: [Famous middle name that means "love of God"] Not only is it gettable for Wolfgang AMADEUS Mozart fans, but people who don't know him can work it out from the etymology trivia.
The clue for GENERAL worked well for me too: [Word in the names of two of the top 10 Fortune 500 companies]. General Electric came easily, but I had to think to get General Motors Company.
The clue for WIRETAP — [Invasive bug] — is so innocuous. Some sort of boll weevil, right? Really strong cluing in the mid-length material today.
The shorter fill did drag me down. Even with a tough arrangement of themers like today's, all I want to do is appreciate how fun the theme is without getting bogged down in gluey bits. It started in the north, with UNC and SNO together. I applaud innovating with a tin monoxide reference to SNO, but it felt like putting lipstick on a pig. There was enough ATRAS, OUSE, OPE, ENERO, MINOT, SRS stuff — all minor, but not in aggregate — that it distracted me from the neat theme.
I wish more cheater squares had been deployed, maybe where the R of RUSTS and L of LOYAL are, to smooth out the north and south. I dug the theme and mid-length fill so much that I wanted this to be a perfect puzzle.
A few years of working with Jim has evolved my thinking. Yes, the short fill bugged me, but the big question for me these days: was I delighted by the puzzle? A resounding yes for this one.
Nice idea here, PORK pulled so that it stretches through the theme answers. Jay and Daniel had to find phrases that 1.) start with P, 2.) end with K, and 3.) space out O and R, but there are many options out there considering the freedom in where you place the O and R. I thought PLYMOUTH ROCK was a really good one, and PUSH YOUR LUCK was pretty good. (Not having DON'T in front of PUSH YOUR LUCK felt a bit odd.)
Not a huge fan of PIN ONES EARS BACK or PHONE PRANK, though. I had to look up the former, and it does seem legit, but I doubt I'd personally ever use it in writing or conversation. And PRANK CALL is so much more awesome than PHONE PRANK, which feels a bit dictionary-ish. Finally, mixing YOUR and ONES felt inelegant. Typically Will prefers the ONES usage to YOUR in these types of phrases, but PUSH ONES LUCK would have missed the R in PORK.
Hilarious SOS clue. [Message spelled out in coconuts, maybe] brought me back to my days of watching Gilligan's Island. Anyone remember the time when astronauts were going to pass over the island and the castaways formed SOS out of logs, only to have Gilligan mess things up so they spelled SOL? Sure was nice for Sol, one of the astronauts ... not so much for any potential rescue. Gilligan!
Also enjoyed getting MEANY in the grid, although it's because I've been reading "Encyclopedia Brown" to my nephew. Bugs MEANY makes for such a classic bad guy.
Not an easy layout, with five longish theme answers. Not a surprise to see some gluey entries pop up throughout. I usually try to stay away from OH TO (awkward plural) and SMIT (anything requiring "old-style" in the clue). Considering the repetitiveness of the circled letters, perhaps four themers would have been better, allowing for cleaner fill.
On that note, after getting the first two themers, it was automatic to fill in the circles in the last two themers — a bit anticlimatic. Would have been nice to get more variety. Pulled RANK, AWAY, OUT maybe?