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Jim Hilger author page

15 puzzles by Jim Hilger
with Jeff Chen comments

TotalDebutLatest
1512/11/20081/31/2021
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
1115700
RebusCircleScrabblePOW
321.621
Jim Hilger
Sun 1/31/2021 PRODUCT MISPLACEMENT
CIVILPESOAJARMATES
OPINEAUTOKIWIGRUNT
MONSTERRAMRALLYMERCI
SEISMSRPITSARATON
SOILADODOTLUG
NATUREABHORSAHOOVER
CARETYEAFOIESPADAY
USEDRIGGOPLOGE
SANMYSOLORUNNETHOVER
PLATOONOLINSORARE
ANKARIGIDPURE
INTERNMETALEMMING
WORKEDFORPLANTERSWAR
ERICSTUSIRKONA
BASALTINCASEQNINNY
THROWINGINTHEBOUNTY
POLLIVAGOSNAG
ARIDGORPLOSNUNCIO
MINISTALEOFTHESCOTCH
POEMSEGOTARIAELATE
ASNERDADAROCKDELAY

NATURE ABHORS A HOOVER, that's excellent! And sad. The one U.S. President who went to my alma mater, Stanford, is someone widely acknowledged as one of the worst presidents in American history.

Yay Cardinal!

My shame aside, I enjoyed that themer. The real shame was that today's first themer confused me, kicking off my solving experience on the wrong foot. For someone who grew up watching WWE and begging to go to demolition derbies, you'd think I could figure out where MONSTER RAM RALLY came from. Heck, one of my son's favorites is called "Hot Rod Hamster: Monster Truck Mania."

Yet the best I could come up with was "monster car rally." That was after I spent ten minutes debating if "Energy drink ram rally" was a thing.

Excuse me for a moment. Marc Tessier-Lavinge is calling, wanting to discuss rescinding my degrees.

TALE OF THE SCOTCH didn't work for me either, since no one calls Scotch tape, only SCOTCH. More importantly, TALE OF THE SCOTCH more accurately describes the post-bedtime hours as I try to take the edge off of being at home with two young kids all day. That ain't no Scotch tape I'm talking about.

I liked the idea overall, and Jim did a nice job with his grid, finishing with fewer than average dabs of crossword glue. I did wonder about the crossing of RIGID across and GO LIMP down …

Ahem. Mailing back my degrees now.

Overall, a fun concept, but not enough of the themers worked well. Given that the solution space contains hundreds of product possibilities, there have to be more that pack a bigger Hi-C.

Thu 7/4/2019
OCHOTAPASDESI
LOONAPOLOUNIT
AIRAIDRILLSETA
FLOWNSPECTRAL
SHORTERMEMORY
EXCITESONTO
PROMZAGUPLIT
EAPMARACASITO
EYETOPACAFEW
AGESPRICERS
PAYOURESPECTS
AGUILERABRAVO
SAKSBESTIMEVER
SPOTUNHIPSERB
EENSSEATOSRAS

I didn't appreciate this theme until long after I'd solved the puzzle. My first impression: letters that repeat = not so interesting. It wasn't until Jim Horne asked if we ought to highlight the doubled letters for better effect (see grid below) that I realized the elegance of the finds. Let me write them out with spaces:

AIR RAID DRILL

SHORT TERM MEMORY

PAY YOUR RESPECTS

BEST TIME EVER

As a word nerd, I like the finds. As a computing nerd, I like the question it poses: how many phrases are like this? I won't bore you with the details of how I wrote the code to answer this question, but there aren't that many other phrases that fit this pattern. I hadn't appreciated that element of tightness in the theme. Now I do.

I wish the puzzle had shaded the four pairs of squares like we did. It would have given a better hint for solvers to dig deeper into what was going on.

Some problems with the gridwork. With four themers, I expect both a colorful and perfectly clean grid. It's true that SHORTERMEMORY is 13 letters, not easy to work with. But it's not that hard, either.

Assets: HOROSCOPE, LIFESAVER. DUST MOP, TAOISTS. ON A WHIM! ALL PRO. AGUILERA. SPECTRAL! Great stuff.

Liabilities: ENERO is a tough foreign word. ITER is great for smug longtime solvers who want to keep the club closed. SEATO is outdated. No one calls Poe EAP. EENS, SETA, SRAS.

I do appreciate the great bonuses. Way too many liabilities make it a bad trade-off, though. One simple patch would have been adding a couple of cheater black squares. Imagine PRICERS → PRICED, ITER → IDED, ITO → IDO. That would have been a huge start to cleaning things up.

A shame that the essence of the theme wasn't more readily apparent. It's a solid, tight concept seeking a better presentation.

Mon 11/19/2018
WEBBGONGABETS
HARIRHEANOVAK
ECIGIBETITALY
THECOLOROFMONEY
HOLYLAX
MAKEMEPAULSPA
ADREPSELFBARR
THESHAPEOFWATER
ROMEDIVEHBOGO
ICEFINEHEYNOW
ALEBULB
THESOUNDOFMUSIC
WIDOWORFFGYRO
OVINERIFEGNAW
DETERIPODYENS

Beautifully consistent set of themers today. Look at all the layers:

  • All movie titles
  • Each fitting the pattern, THE ___ OF ___
  • Both blanks containing exactly five letters
  • All three cluable in a punny way

In this day and age of dense themes, I often find that three 15-letter entries feels thin for my taste. But when they're this consistent, I'm okay with it.

Low theme density opens up huge possibilities for sparkly bonus fill. I'm a big fan of BIG CHEESE and BABY BUGGY — they inject nice color into the solve. Even mid-lengthers like HEY NOW! and MAKE ME elevate the quality of the grid.

I was hoping for more snazzy bonuses, though. With just 45 theme squares, I'd expect at least four long bonuses. One way to do this might be to remove the black square between EVAN and SAT ON. The black square between GATO and ALOE is another candidate, too.

Another advantage of doing one of these is that it'd open up the grid, letting the solving feng shui flow a little better.

There's a case to be made, that focusing on the short fill is way more important, when it comes to Monday "starter" puzzles. But I think it would have been possible to both add in more long bonuses while at the same time smoothing out WHELM / ORFF, MATRI, NEER. These aren't terrible offenders, but it's important to make early-week puzzles as accessible to newbs as possible.

TWOD (2-D) is a divisive one. I use to think it was fun and even a little clever. The fact that it's never seen written like this in real life was beside the point! Now that I've heard lots (and lots and lots) of complaints from rookie solvers though (similarly, things like AANDE, VEIGHT), I avoid them in my own constructions.

The theme piqued my interest enough to figure out what other titles fit the tight pattern. If only THE ILIAD OF HOMER had been made into a movie!

(Okay, good thing it wasn't. Man, was that boring. Sorry, ancient Greeks!)

Tue 1/23/2018
TWOREIGNSSLOG
AIROCTANETAKE
CPAWHERESOEVER
TENSIONSABRADE
GENCMON
AVENGERRELUVW
MARSGAZAINNER
ELIEOPEDSOPRY
MINDYIDLERAGE
ODDACEEMPTIER
CHARLOD
SOSOONISTANBUL
PREMONITIONITO
EZRAEMERGELEA
COBSSPREADLSD

Everyone, SPREAD out! At first, I was turned off by the visually jarring shotgun spray of circles strewn across the grid, but I ended up liking the general effect after figuring out what was going on. The longer ones — MAGAZINE and MIDDLE AGE spreads — were particularly nice.

I've seen this concept with various letters SPREAD through a single entry many times, most recently a few months ago, but never spread across a full row. Nice way to get the longer SPREADs worked in.

Being able to spread letters across an entire row gives a ton of flexibility. Look at how many spots the letters W I N G can go. Shift them all around to heaven and back!

Using six theme rows — plus the SPREAD revealer! — takes most of that flexibility away, and then some. It's particularly difficult in the middle of the puzzle, where you have so many MAGAZINE and MIDDLE AGE letters that get crammed into those two close rows. Not a surprise to get some A MEMO SEM OBOLI there.

And UVW, oof! These types of crutch entries are so inelegant that I would have restarted the entire puzzle if it ever came to something like this. Will has his own "puzzle-killers" that DQ a grid just by themselves, and this would have been one of mine.

There's way too much crossword glue needed to pull this audacious grid off. Given how much more impressed I was with MIDDLE AGE (compared to WING), I think sticking to just the four long SPREADs would have resulted in a better puzzle. Might have also allowed for a snazzier long entry than WHERESOEVER — something like CHECK PLEASE or HEATED SEATS or HORSE SENSE.

I like the twist on the SPREAD idea though, using entire rows to accomplish the goal. Great way to pull off the longer SPREADs that other constructors using this concept haven't been able to use.

POW Thu 8/13/2015
HAIFAJAWEDSHA
ASHENAROMAHAG
SHORTLBUNCHAZO
PEPHHINGESVEN
SEALEATERY
PLIERSOLDBAT
CARRAAREBBAD
SPRBINGVACATION
DIVAAIDAILSA
TIGERSGHOSTS
BEACONBIEN
ANTEDCAREAJEB
UNICOMMERBCIAL
DUOBROODRINSE
SINSANKATAXED

★ I love seeing a new trick. Plenty of puzzles have utilized blank squares, but I can't remember any quite like this, where SERVICE BREAK is interpreted as SER VICE (note the "break" in the middle). Great idea.

I liked how Jim used his longest across answers for this themers. COMMER CIAL (break) is a great answer, and SPR ING (break) VACATION is pretty good too. With a gimmick that's hard to uncover, it's so helpful to have an idea of where the tricksiness might show up.

Since theme answers go both across and down, it would have been great for all of them to be longer than the surrounding fill. SHAVETAILS is a neat answer, but for me, it mutes the impact of the theme since there are so many short themers. A bit confusing.

On the other hand, some people also like finding those little hidden surprises, like B AD lurking so innocently. I can dig that.

H HINGE is likely going to cause some consternation, especially as it crosses the difficult ANTHER, but I thought it was neat. It's a very common hinge, and that HH start is so wacky. The real question: when will THINGE show its amusing head in a NYT crossword?

Hmm. I could have gone without HAG and OLD BAT in close quarters. Two derogatory terms targeted at a similar demographic felt like too much to me. Perhaps that's too touchy, but it bugged me.

So, some flaws in the puzzle, like SHORT L UNCH (break) feeling awfully made up, and I would have loved a few more long, zingy "break" answers (MADE A CLEAN BREAK, CAUGHT A LUCKY BREAK, etc.). But these days I can overlook quite a bit if the theme tickles me. Very fun solve.

Wed 1/21/2015
JUTSWATERFAQS
ANONABIDEAGUE
WIKILOGICRUIN
STEPKAHLOLAPD
PASTTENSE
AFTEROFTEN
BLATANTINUTILE
OASPEIMOLMEW
MRTAWNPUFENE
BEECHESAROUSAL
FORMATION
TITLEIDIDUTCH
ORRATSEAROO
LEADETHNBATEAM
ENCORESTAXRATE
TAKEINBESTIR

Neat concept; I almost missed a layer. Once I uncovered FORMATION, I stared at it, trying to parse the revealer as "form a T ion." That would explain the T-shaped pairs (highlighted), yeah? Now, I'm not as well versed in chemistry as others, but I have a reasonable background. So I struggled to remember what the heck a "T ion" was.

A common T formation. (Yes, I know it doesn't really look like a T.)

Thankfully I (finally) figured out that the T of black squares in the middle of the puzzle precedes FORMATION, to make T FORMATION the revealer. Makes a whole lot more sense! Nice idea, the missing T of T FORMATION (a common football offensive configuration) not really missing at all.

And very cool to have the added touch of each pair of themers cross with the letter T. Nice touch.

So many constraints today, resulting in some gluey fill. I can ABIDE by A BOAT in the north section, as that area would be rough to fill smoothly. Once you fix WATER and TIGHT in place and need a long piece of fill with PAST TENSE, that area become terribly inflexible. I don't like EDILE much at all, but I'm willing to put up with a bit of ugly stuff for a neat idea.

Similar issues abound, around the other T pairs, especially those ones in the bottom corners. I absolutely loved [Something in brackets], a brilliant clue for TAX RATE, as well as [Hacker's need] for AXE, having nothing at all to do with a computer hacker. Love it! I didn't love TRS or BESTIR or ABAB, though. Tough trade-offs with this type of crossing answers theme.

Where I would have liked a bit more finesse was in the top two corners. Since those sections are so isolated, they could have been executed without ANON and AGUE (while still keeping the J and Q). As much as I like the Shakespeare reference in ANON, that could have been changed easily to AVON. And AGUE could have been ACT I, when Romeo and Juliet meet!

Overall, a strong idea requiring a lot of constraints, with a bit too much INUTILE stuff. Aw(n)!

Wed 6/4/2014
THEEICBMJACKO
SAWSROOMORGAN
KEEPHOUSETRITE
SCRABBLEATA
ROODCHOICES
ROTTABOOGALA
REMOPERRANTLY
USEHANGMANDEO
STANDPATSPORK
EUROPROBEAMY
SPANGLYANAT
SHYANAGRAMS
APOLOSHAMEONME
VADISRENONEVA
ADEPTOMARSWIM

I like variety in my daily puzzles, and I like seeing things I've never seen before. It was fun to experience this one, slowly uncovering the circled letters to find that it was a WORD GAME revealer. A nice touch.

I wasn't familiar with JOTTO or PROBE or... where are the other themers? I highlighted them below because I kept losing track what was a themer and what wasn't. Although SHAME ON ME, now there's a game I'd like to play! KEEP HOUSE, not so much. Seriously though, it would have been great to find some way to distinguish the themers from the fill, given the short name lengths. Perhaps perimeter answers? All across in rows? Not sure how, but the placements as is felt a bit inelegant to me.

Ah, HAEC. Although there's not a ton of theme density, any time you fix words in strewn-about places, you're sure to run into challenges. In this case, not only does Jim run into issues because of all the constraints he's given himself, but the fact that there must be some long fill in order to keep under the word count limit of 78. Usually the themers are the long answers, so everything else is easier to fit in because they're shorter. This sort of reversal of the status quo makes it very tough to find long fill that is both snappy and allows for smooth fill. Having to knit so many disparate sections together often results in a CORM or a BEG TO. Not easy at all.

One example: once you've fixed the circled "W" and placed SCRABBLE, look at that giant slot you have to fill at 17-across. Jim does well to fit in KEEP HOUSE, a solid entry. But then you have a ??PA??? to fill, and once that becomes ESPARTO, oof, that little corner is jammed up. HAEC is an entry I tend to reboot one of my own puzzles for if it's ever required, but I'm sure there are Latin majors out there who are celebrating from the stoas and agoras. Similar action happens in the opposite corner, the heavy constraints forcing MMVI and NEVA. Each of those are fine in themselves, but both in one little subsection is a bit much for me.

Not being much of a word-game fan, this was a puzzle I enjoyed more after reading Jim's note. That doesn't often happen, but hearing about his thought process and his interests leading up to this theme made me appreciate it. I'm personally not a SCRABBLE or a BANANAGRAMS fan, so hearing about the intent for the solver to slowly uncover W O R D / G A M E from an avid player was pretty neat.

Thu 4/11/2013
ADESATTACHASH
ROMASIERRALYE
INITWRAPAROUND
EULOGIESGASLOG
STYORDERSHADE
POLLRAISA
STOODPSISETC
DESPAIRNATASHA
SATNOSYOFTEN
BIGOTMETA
HADESFREERBAS
ALEROSAMARILLO
SUNGLASSESVIEW
TMIDIESELESTE
ESSELLERYSHAD
Wed 12/5/2012
CLADUNCUTSFPD
YULEPIANOCRUE
SALTSPRINGROLL
TUDORSATRAZES
AXISMETIME
STYFEDERALNBC
PASSFAILGLOBAL
OPUSPACNATO
RECESSPUNGENCY
TSKCULPRITAHS
ENAMELBOON
SORERNEESNAFU
TWINENGINETIER
ELIESTICKAILS
PSISCHILEPITA
Thu 12/15/2011
BANANAHATTIER
AVALONORRASTO
REPERTOIRECARA
ASSTENJOYED
EVADETASTES
FOBSALTTALKS
FLUSOWLSELENA
EASTWATCHAGED
CREAMSIOUDRED
TERREMMDIELL
BIGREDGEESE
WETONESLOOP
ALMASUPERSONIC
LIARSLOFEDORA
LANDOUTFEEDER
Wed 9/7/2011
MESSSTAPLECPU
EXPOTERRORHAG
THEBOUNCINGBALL
ROEANTONARMY
ORDERSCAPRA
STYXTHELEADER
OSSIATAKETO
OVATHATCARSEZ
JAGUAREARLY
ONESHEARTSORT
GELDSFOLLOW
ZEROKARATDEI
INONESFOOTSTEPS
NYUROOKIEASET
GAPAPRILSITRY
Wed 1/12/2011
HBAKEDBUSONEH
TEXACOANAWINN
RAINONNOWECCE
UTAERGERROLL
TOLUENERDALOS
HULKSSTOICESO
TYRETOANYTEN
HANDH
BRASHIESNYPD
EARHENRIPAREO
TVAOASDARKEST
TELLERBEDNEH
ELSATAOOHSURE
REEDELFLAUPER
HDAYDEFFIRSTH
Thu 10/14/2010
FEDSALFASJAMB
EPICNIOBEOBOE
MASONDIXONBASH
STAYADOCHA
WHITESTAROAKEN
OOPSENDALL
MTADRNOPATINA
BETWEENTHELINES
SLEEVEHEXATAK
LODGERTETE
DWELTFREETHROW
ROZESOREAD
OWIEPRODUCTION
VENIACTUPICEE
EDENRESETSTOW
Thu 5/20/2010
TOQUEJUNKGRIN
ORANGANONPANE
RANDRINTHEAANDP
INDEEDOOLADIA
ARTETRIBAL
EBBSAFESOVA
MAYSTEAMNITRO
ISTHERRORETON
LEHARMELOSHUE
EMUIDTAGEEL
FIBULADAIS
INAELSAIMPAIR
RANDDONTHEBANDO
ENDOFOREINDIE
DEBTTWIXTALES
Thu 12/11/2008
TPIKEILSAOWES
KIRINOAKSKONA
ELENATWISTANDT
YONBRADBURY
TESLAYOREJAW
WEDSBESEECH
MAKESAUTSALTY
EGADRETEDSLIM
RAZERTTOSTONE
LIONESSAWOL
ENOTOOKSPAIN
SINCERERCAT
TINGPOINTALAMO
UNITRAYENEMEA
PALSALASOVERT