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Josh Knapp author page

24 puzzles by Josh Knapp
with Jeff Chen comments

TotalDebutLatest
242/26/20101/15/2021
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Josh Knapp
Puzzles constructed by Josh Knapp by year
POW Fri 1/15/2021
BATBOYSCHMALTZ
IPHONEQUEEREYE
GREWUPUSEDCARS
WIRESDAHLSDOT
ICONPITYHENS
GOBFASTSMORE
STOLETHESHOW
STARTERPISTOL
MAIDSOFHONOR
FABLEROTECOE
POLOFINSOAKS
ORCSNAGSJUMBO
EGODEATHMETEOR
MOVIESETCARROT
STEPDADSSNEAKS

★ Welcome back, Josh! It's been over two years since his last NYT puzzle, so it's fantastic to see that one of the themeless greats has picked up right where he left off. A friend recently asked me what makes for a colorful piece of fill — all I have to do is point to SQUATTERS RIGHTS. Awesome phrase that evokes all sorts of imagery. Even if you don't know exactly what the phrase means, it's self-explanatory after you muse over it. However, it's not perfect, given its straightforward clue. (I'll get to perfect in a few paragraphs.)

LOOKBOOK is a similar case. It didn't hit me strongly since I'd never heard the term, but I'd so much prefer this to ABOUTNESS. Both are two regular words, so at least people can figure out how to fill them in (as opposed to a name they've never seen), but LOOKBOOK has a quality of simply making sense. A portfolio is a BOOK that people LOOK at, what's not to understand?

SCHMALTZ / QUEER EYE / USED CARS headlining, STARTER PISTOL, MOVIE SET, BIGWIGS doing THE ROBOT. That'd be close enough to garner a POW! alone.

But wait, there's more! MAIDS OF HONOR, what a fantastic entry, and its clue STOLE THE SHOW. I was baffled by [Shower heads, perhaps], first, because an S at the end didn't work. Even after uncovering HONOR, I still had no idea. Finally, after three pained minutes, a brilliant a-ha gobsmacked me. That's a bridal shower, not a bathroom shower!

That, my friend, is the definition of a perfect themeless entry: a colorful phrase that everyone will know, that's clued in a devilishly clever way.

I wasn't hot on the plural DAHLS, since Sophie sadly hasn't achieved the same level of fame (yet!). And LAMBO stuck out; not the type of debut I'd strive for. It is figure-out-able — short for Lamborghini — but wow, does it sound pretentious. I know, how ironic, coming from me, the king of pretension!

Along with everything else, I ticked off half a dozen great clues, like Frost accumulation = POEMS. Beautiful way to disguise Robert Frost. So, so, so much to love; a nearly perfect themeless.

Fri 9/7/2018
DISCSAGASAPPS
ONTHECLOCKDRIP
PAPAYATREEVOLE
PHASEROTTIPSE
LOUTSQUICKSAND
ELLELUNCHMONEY
RESSAIDBARER
BOUTDORY
SHAUNROOTTOW
SPELLCHECKWERE
HEADSHOPSJANET
EARPPBRRUSTIC
ARIAABOMINABLE
VENTDIVINGBELL
EDGESTEAKIDYL

I always look forward to Josh's byline — he's one of the best at implementing sizzling themeless entries along with clever clues. Easily in the top ten themeless constructors, for my money.

There were so many long entries I loved. ON THE CLOCK meaning getting paid, a school bully taking LUNCH MONEY (okay, that brought back some bad memories …), the DIVING BELL, LAUNCH PADS. Great stuff.

Best of all, SPELL CHECK was elevated to stratospheric heights with such a brilliant clue. I was befuddled by what might pursue the wrong type. Some person attracted to people that weren't good for them? No, literally wrong type, as in typos!

QUICKSAND, also. The fact that it takes time to sink in, i.e., you lower into it very slowly, is in clue of the year territory.

A bunch more wickedly bright clues too. My favorite was [Hot green stuff], which baffled me until I realized it wasn't temperature hot but spicy hot. Hotchi matchi, that's a great clue!

Everything was cruising along for my POW! … until I hit the speed bumps. That SW corner was so tough. I couldn't get past (my own) BALD head — I'd never describe myself as BALD PATE. Okay, it is legit, but it felt weird. Speaking of weird, SHEAVE. Huh.

And then the SE, where I ultimately failed. I didn't know there was such a thing as a TENT BED, which is my fault. I sorta kinda maybe knew that a WET CELL historically was an important tech development, way back when. The IDYL I'd seen in crosswords. And not having watched much Jon Stewart or Bill O'REILLY, and not having seen Rocky Horror (I know, I'm an infidel!) … oof.

Ultimately, the failure was on my shoulders, as it was all gettable — especially Bill O'REILLY, who I should have thought of (I plunked in COLBERT at first). Sigh.

I bet if Josh had broken up ADVISORY at the I, he could have improved those SW / NE corners, replacing SHEAVE and working in some more sizzling entries.

Tough call — I like a low word-count challenge. But there was a little too much side-eye today for my personal POW! taste.

Sun 2/26/2017 MIXED FEELINGS
MAMASAWABBOTCADS
OVENVALELAURAMARAT
ROADBIKESSTRUTWORTHY
TINYAXEATTACKONEILL
ADDDEBTACHETOOTSIE
REEFNOODGEPALTAD
DRIPMRISMEDICS
CURBYOURSUNATHEISM
DOSAGEPOURSEARTHY
OROPUTSMCRIBRISES
TALESOFOWEHAVENOFARE
CLINTOPERAYETIGIL
OLDDOGFRITONODOFF
MYSIRELOVESCOMPANY
TENURETHORSECT
SUBTIMCOMMITSHED
ANIMALSHOOPJOESAAA
IMGAMEUPRISERSPARTY
DOWNERWOMANWAITFORIT
SOILSWHOLEANTSNEMO
ORGYWORSTPSYEDEN

MIXED FEELINGS explains it all, various feelings like WOE and WONDER anagrammed within phrases for kooky effect. I usually am not hot on this theme type, as the lack of flexibility in anagram pairs often makes for unfunny theme phrases. But I enjoyed many of Josh's. DOWNER WOMAN (from "Wonder Woman") would make for one sad superhero. MY SIRE LOVES COMPANY gave me a funny image of a king just looking for someone to play with. It's also a fun anagram find (misery to MY SIRE).

My favorite was CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM — hilariously uncomfortable show to watch — to CURB YOUR SUN ATHEISM! Great anagram and a chuckle-worthy result.

Now that I look at the answers again, I'm surprised at how many amused me. TINY AXE ATTACK makes me think of little one-inch high dwarves raging en masse. Good stuff.

My main issue sticking point was that I had a hard time figuring out what the base phrases were. I had to put TINY AXE into an anagramming website to figure out it was ANXIETY. Same with UPRISERS and SURPRISE. Even HAVE NO FARE and STRUTWORTHY baffled me for a while.

Maybe I'm just terrible with anagrams. (HAVE NO FEAR, TRUSTWORTHY.)

Josh usually does themelesses — really well — and his expertise there shines through. I didn't even notice it was a 136-worder, an incredibly tough construction task because it was so smooth, so pretty. He features some great bonus fill: ROAD BIKES, WAIT FOR IT …, SAKE BOMB (extremely potent!), MOM JEANS, BIGWIG, TEA TIME.

And he does that with just a tad of crossword glue: ORO and ATS. ALEATORY (risky) is an oddball of a word, too, but these are all minor infractions. A typical 140-word Sunday puzzle has maybe 10 dabs of crossword glue. To keep a 136-worder to low single-digits is amazing.

Anagrams are often mined for crossword ideas, but I liked how Josh kept his idea tight, mixing up only types of feelings. If it hadn't been so hard to figure out some of these base phrases, this anagram-skill-deficient-solver would have considered it for the POW! But as it was, I had to struggle a little too much to grok the connections.

POW Sat 7/9/2016
PIRATESHIPIDOL
SHORELEAVEBOHO
HOMEMOVIESSYST
APPSERRONEOUS
WESZINCONUS
FATSUITSMAP
ACTINGTREELINE
CHEEZITARGONNE
MISFIRESSANDAL
ELLBLACKEYE
LAMAOARSHOP
MACARTHURMISO
AXONOUTERBANKS
NEILGREENALGAE
IDLYOLDMASTERS

★ This puzzle exemplifies why I think Josh is possibly the best themeless constructor out there. I've always been impressed with his puzzles, but this one sizzles. I can't remember the last time I did a themeless where nearly everything I turned up was pure gold. From PIRATE SHIP to FAT SUITS to OLD MASTERS, to TESLA COIL to NOSEGAYS to DO YOU MIND! Not only were almost all the long entries fantastic, but there was a little something for everyone, making it accessible and enjoyable for a huge range of solvers.

Josh goes big by working with 18 (!) long slots of 8+ letters. I've found that it's nearly impossible to convert so many slots into stellar material, because once you start fixing a few in place, you get less and less flexibility as you go. Josh does a great job of spreading his long slots around, but it's impossible to isolate any one of them — each must interact with a ton more.

And what results! I'm usually happy to get 10 colorful answers in a themeless, but I count roughly 17 here (things like ERRONEOUS feel more neutral to me). During my solve, it seemed like Josh was pulling some sort of magic trick. When I went back and studied the grid, what he did made more sense — by staying at a relatively high word count (70), he was able to use a lot of short words to stick his longer ones together. And by never packing too many long slots together, he was able to avoid any one area that had too much white space. It still seems a little magical even after I study it, though.

All this, without using much crossword glue. There's an ELL and an SYST, but those are so minor. Dabs of crossword glue tend to drag down my solving experience when there are more than about five (or one is egregious), but these two little guys were negligible.

And so many amazing clues! I won't point them all out, but if you're an aspiring constructor, go back and study the clues for HURL, GREEN ALGAE, HINGE, HOP, BLACK EYE. Brilliant wordplay in there.

My favorite themeless so far this year. Standing O for Josh.

Fri 6/3/2016
SCAGGSSCALPS
CAPULETALCOTT
AVENUEBMARACA
MERCEDESPETRI
PACOYANGSHUN
STUNTMARTSIL
TICCABOOSE
SHERLOCKHOLMES
COLONELSANDERS
ONELOVEMEH
FOGWARSSINEW
FRATLIESCOLE
LANESCRACKPOT
ARTLABFLOORIT
WILLDOSUCROSE
SAYYESDAYBED

A non-15x15 themeless! The 14x16 shape is a refreshing change of pace that helps Josh work in the beautiful SHERLOCK HOLMES and COLONEL SANDERS much more easily than usual. These 14-letter entries are normally "awkward lengths" in that they force black square placement in a 15x15 grid. Smart thinking to try a 14x16 in order to give more construction flexibility.

And what a great clue for COLONEL SANDERS: [Wing man?]. Neat quote for SHERLOCK HOLMES too: "There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact." So Sherlockian. I can see why Josh chose this pair to build a grid around; two colorful and well-known characters with huge potential for clever clues.

As with most all Knapp puzzles, there's a lot of snazzy material packed in. It's hard to achieve good grid flow like that of the SE corner, with two big entrances/exits to that space, and it's even harder to achieve with great material like OLD HICKORY, NO PROB, CRACKPOT, FLOOR IT. Very well done there.

The opposite corner is pretty nice too, with GUN CONTROL, colloquial TIL NOW, even CAPULET, APERCU and CAVEAT. AVENUE B seems arbitrary, but thankfully that final letter gets a very easy crossing, making it fair, if not super elegant.

The bottom left and upper right corners might seem like they'd be easier to construct — only one way in or out — but they not only have to work with the SHERLOCK HOLMES/COLONEL SANDERS pair, but also with a seven-letter slot stacked in proximity. I love ONE LOVE, and CABOOSE is pretty good too. I wasn't as much of a fan of these corners as I was of the rest of the puzzle though, with STAINLESS, LOATHSOME, and ELEGANTLY feeling like there was more potential left untapped in those slots. I wanted more of the SCOFFLAWS kind of entry — such a fun word!

I really appreciated the relative lack of gluey bits, as I've come to expect from Josh's puzzles. Perhaps not as much in terms of snazzy assets as usual, but I do have quite a high bar for Josh.

Sat 3/12/2016
BROADENSGROSS
BOXSOCIALMELEE
QUESTLOVECODEX
PRYHABITINKS
IKEATENDSLOSH
TESTSGOUTROO
THATSWHATSUP
FAIRLYNOTYET
PENCILPUSHER
ARTNYESDODOS
RAISECOSTLESH
ALDAASHERNPR
SCOLDSHAREWARE
KATEYTOPSEEDED
ITEMSWEEKDAYS

Josh is one of my favorite themeless makers. It was really fun to see him use JIMMY FALLON in an earlier puzzle (he works on the Tonight Show) — and today feature QUESTLOVE! I'm terrible with most kinds of pop music, and I stopped watching the Tonight Show maybe 10 years ago because it's on too late (man, I'm old), but QUESTLOVE has a prominent place as a famous bandleader on par with Doc Severinson and Paul Shaffer. Great entry.

QUESTLOVE (one word, not two)

I like that Josh draws from a huge range of sources for this grid. You get something for the older crowd (USO SHOW, BOX SOCIAL), the very old crowd (OLD NORSE), all the way to QUEST LOVE and THAT'S WHAT UP.

Josh is quite a bit younger than me, so I wasn't sure if THAT'S WHATS UP is in current use? I work with some foster youth in their teens, and THAT'S WHAT IM TALKIN ABOUT seems much more common. But solidly in my mid-40s now, it's hard for me to judge if THAT'S WHATS UP really deserves its place in such a spotlighted feature location (one of the two longest across entries) today.

Great cluing:

  • A villain withholding an ANTIDOTE is such a vivid image.
  • I thought a [Joint issue] might be a co-written book? No, it had to be some clever marijuana thing, like POT SMOKE? Turns out it's an issue with a (body) joint. Great stuff.
  • Even after filling in BBQ PIT (great answer!), I didn't understand why people would put their dogs there. Good head-slap when I realized it meant (hot) dogs!

I love puzzles which have this much creativity and wordplay leading up to solid, colorful answers. It's so satisfying to wring your hands and struggle, and then finally have a moment where you realize how great the twisting of language is.

There were a few slots I thought had missed potential (BROADENS, WEEKDAYS) and a few gluey bits (REOIL, DYS), but overall, I thought this was really well done.

Sat 1/17/2015
BUFFSUPSIDEBAR
APRIORIUPCCODE
SHOGUNSBACKSUP
KELLSASADAPLO
ERIESNITBOOTS
DECAMPROKBRET
FORCEMAJEURE
BBSLIONIZESYD
RICHTERSCALE
AGRORIOKLATCH
SMACKANKHTALE
SOBMUNGONEPAL
HUBBARDJAINISM
ATLARGEACCURSE
THEATERKEEPSAT

Twelve-letter entries are tough to build themelesses around. You can't typically stack them with other 12's, and they stick their business in funny places, causing all sorts of reduced flexibility. Rotten little stinkers; there's a reason why themelesses much more frequently are built around 8s, 9s, or 10s. Josh does a really nice job today, seeding the puzzle with RICHTER SCALE and FORCE MAJEURE.

That latter term is a favorite of mine, one I learned in the inceptive days of the company I helped start. I remember reviewing contracts with our corporate law firm, coming across this term, and laughing. Yes, lawyers are paid to cover all possible contingencies, and that came in handy a few times over the years. But to have such a fancy-pants term to cover a generic "everything else" amused me to no end.

Not as amused when I received a bill for $35 for the six minutes we joked about it.

For those in need of a cover-up

I really enjoyed Josh's selection of shorter entries, filing his seven-letter slots with some great stuff. Not an easy task, but I'll be adding fresh material like JAINISM, BUFFS UP, FIG LEAF, SIDE BAR to my personal word list.

This one was a near DNF (did not finish) for me, but I pulled through. Thought I'd share a few pro tips on how I finally cracked it. HUBBARD is pretty straightforward, but that was all I had in that quadrant. Finally, I looked at 56D, ?R??, and reasoned out that the first letter was most likely a vowel. Typing in AEIOU one in a time, seeing what might trigger a thought, led to the URGE breakthrough.

A similar technique helped me uncover the brilliant [Noted Greek officer]. I had ANKH in place, as well as KEEPS AT. But K???K just didn't seem like any ancient Greek I knew. So I focused on those missing letters, trying to think like a constructor. Specifically, WWJD (What Would JoshKnapp Do)? Notice all those lovely Js and Ks throughout the grid?

Josh is one of my favorite themeless constructors, and I hold his work to a high standard. This one wasn't as clean as usual — OBE not quite saved by the nice [[It's an honour] clue, along with the odd KELLS, AGRO, and the overused DC CAB — but still made for a great workout and an entertaining solve.

POW Sat 12/6/2014
HMSBOUNTYSLIM
EYEOFNEWTTWINE
PLANTFOODHANDM
TOLDACTHANKIE
AVISZOOLANDER
DENMENNENIDES
GODSENDVICK
ALARMVENTI
SOSOBLESSES
POPOBIGCATJAB
KIMJONGILROME
JERSEYWETAVER
ADAMSCANTABILE
MATESOSCARBAIT
BTENTHEXFILES

★ This puzzle exemplifies the reason I love giving out my Puzzle of the Week. I enjoy crosswords and puzzles in general, but I do so many of them that I run the risk of getting complacent, of losing my appreciation for all the hard work that goes into making even a single puzzle. So it pleases me to no end to be able to gush about what I think is a stellar creation.

I'm biased in that I like Josh in the first place. We've only met a few times at the ACPT, but he's fun to hang out with and exudes that sort of younger person's vibe, excited about the cool life developments still unfolding in front of him. Sometimes I get cranky about constructors trying to go "too hip," but that's not at all the case with today's fresh-feeling puzzle. LINKED IN is quickly becoming an essential business tool, ZOOLANDER was hilarious (and is popular enough that "Zoolander 2" is in the works!), and PO-PO is fun slang for the po-lice (I imagine PO-PO being said in the voice of Bunk from "The Wire""). Three pieces of strong, fresh fill is right at my sweet spot, not giving me the feeling of too much "stuff I'm too uncool to know" crammed into one place.

And the grid engineering is fantastic. Josh starts with four sets of triple-stacks, one in each corner, but he does so much more. Not only does he extend two great answers toward the center in KIM JONG IL (although I sure wish he had been clued to the state's outrageous claims of his golfing prowess) and ZOOLANDER. But check out what he does in the north and south — sets of three 7s extending off his stacks! And not just neutral entries, but NEOCONS with its clever clue, the snappy EGG WASH, and the historical and glad-I-learned-something-today SALT TAX.

So much interconnect shouldn't realistically be feasible, but Josh somehow pulls it off. Check out the raw number of slots for long answers: 14 of 8+ letters, 8 of 7 letters. And he takes great advantage of these slots, converting almost all of them into assets, with very few left as what I would call neutral (LOOKED AT, INDIRECT, BLESSES, SCIENCE). He was extremely picky about his use of these longish slots, and that was much appreciated.

I'm not a big fan of the "only seen like this in crosswords" entries like B TEN (B-10) and H AND M (H & M), but I can understand that some people like them for how bizarre they look inside a grid. Two in one puzzle is a bit much for me, but I do appreciate that they were at least from different walks of life.

Along with the great clues for EYE OF NEWT (a different sort of microbrew ingredient), ALARM (back to the hooch with a "buzz" misdirection), JERSEY (SF Giants, represent!), and RABBI (a party at many a wedding), this puzzle sang to me. Such a tremendous pleasure to be able to write about it.

Sat 9/13/2014
ADEPTCOLUMNIST
TOSEAPRONOUNCE
TWOAMLETTERBOX
ANTHEMINSERT
CHEESEBALLITEM
KERNSINESNARE
ERISCOATING
DECBADGIRLCAT
COLORTVCHIA
IMHIPMAGIBERG
NOUNLEMONGRASS
COMELYGRAPPA
INAMORATAIDEAL
TENACIOUSMINCE
EYESOCKETMOSES

Fun to see some of what makes Josh Josh in this puzzle. I loved the clue for COLOR TV — a neat piece of trivia — and it's a fun reminder that Josh has one of the best jobs out there, working for Jimmy Fallon on NBC. To go along with that theme, he sticks in SNL, and the clue is equally strong. It's not referring to a "chase scene" but a (Chevy) "Chase scene." And as part of a younger generation than me, Josh also employs TEXT ME, a strong freshie. Excellent use of the shorter slots today.

I like that Josh is constantly trying new things. Check out his oeuvre, very few similarities from one themeless skeleton to the next. Today, he drops down to 68 words, with a quasi-segmented grid. The middle is absolutely stunning, as a chunk of 7's and 6's like that is often really tough to fill with snazzy material. COATING is the only neutral-ish entry in there? Wow! Super impressive to see the BAD GIRL / COLOR TV / BIODOME / LET IT GO quality entries packed tight.

The NE and SW are more typical of what we see in themeless corners, triple-stacks with quite a bit of sparkly material in there. EYE SOCKET and IN AMORATA make for a strong SW corner.

The other two corners tread into tricky territory. I'm working on a rhyme for it: "Stacks of three, they're so free; stacks of four, fill some more." Okay, I'm no poet, but the point is that a quad-stack of anything is tough, even if it's simply eight- or seven-letter entries. The SE is nice and clean albeit not super snazzy, with only CB RADIO and AIRSPACE standing out. It's so tough to make those chunky sections really sing. And it's too bad the NW corner has the arbitrary TWO AM and TO SEA with just CHEESEBALL featured.

Finally, ANAGRAM is such a versatile entry. I fall for tricky clues like [Anemone, to name one] time and again. ANEMONE = NAME ONE scrambled. I love that kind of tricksiness, lulling solvers to sleep by employing a crossword convention ("to name one" is seen often along with "for one" or "e.g."). Good mental workout today.

Sat 8/9/2014
KFCDELSSWAMP
NAUTILUSSHAVES
ALBANIANPITONS
PLATEAUPINENUT
SANTASDETER
ASCOTGINSBERG
CLIOVOODOODOLL
KEGLASCAUXBAA
SEASERPENTHESS
PRICIESTFIRST
STALECANTOS
HOTTUBSTANGENT
AWHIRLCORDELIA
ROONEYIMPOSEON
MEMESDEEMEND

A well-constructed but incredibly difficult puzzle for me today. Josh ventures outside his usual oeuvre with a relatively low word-count grid. Sixty-four words is a tough, tough task. It's nowhere near the record for fewest words, but it's verging on it. The huge challenge for these types of puzzles is making them work without too many glue entries while still incorporating a lot of snazzy stuff. Often times you can make one or more subsections sing, but another area gets so constrained that you have to lean on a piece of crosswordese to get the full grid to knit together.

The right half of the puzzle is just amazing. I love how Josh fills such goodness as VOODOO DOLL and ROBERT E LEE and the bizarre GLASS ONION, and yet manages to escape with virtually no ugliness. I bet he tested out using cheater squares, not using them, moving them around, using extra pairs, etc. to figure out how to make the grid more fillable even before starting. The end result is fantastic.

The left half is also quite good, but it doesn't look as nice when held up to the right. I can just see the filling process in the SW, coming in with such cleanliness and even the jazzy HOT TUBS… and then running into the very last bit. AWHIRL is a real word, but I imagine some solvers will see it as unsightly. I'm perfectly fine with it by itself, as it gets over a million hits on Google, and I can imagine older-style writers utilizing it. But when combined with the awkward O WOE partial, it doesn't hold up to the rest of the super-solid puzzle.

A similar result happens in the north section, where everything works so beautifully... until you run into the awkward DELS. A perfectly fine piece of glue, as is SSN, but both in conjunction stand out amid the rest of the super-clean work. Themeless construction can be so frustrating when one corner turns out beautifully but the symmetrical corner refuses to cooperate to the same level.

Overall, a really hard workout — puzzles with longer-than-average words tend to be harder to find toeholds to start the solving process — and great execution, with just a couple of tiny flaws.

Sat 6/28/2014
APRICOTJAMEXAM
GUITARSOLOTRIO
AZERBAIJANCART
SONYANOMEHYPO
NAGOYSVAR
BADSANTAELVISH
FREETABDOESSO
LETGOOCTPRIAM
AYEAYETEEDOGE
TORREYVACCINES
MUMZEDMOD
ASIFMEOWCHILI
JUNEALLOSAURUS
ORESSTARTSMALL
REDSKAFKAESQUE

A Josh Knapp! He's one of the younger constructors whose name I love seeing on bylines. Josh has a knack for what entries sing, and has the skills to incorporate a lot of them without too much glue. Plus, he works for Jimmy Fallon; hard to argue with a guy with perhaps the best job in the world.

Josh uses a standard-ish grid today, highlighting four sets of triple-stacked 10's, one in each corner. I like that he gives us a little extra, tossing in four 8's, each of which cross through a triple-stack and head into the center. That TSINGTAO / BAD SANTA crossing was fantastic.

Man oh man what a snazzy NW corner! A GUITAR SOLO crossing JOJO, along with a clue that makes you sing that Beatles' song (WARNING, EARWORM ALERT! "Jojo was a guy from Tucson, Arizona..."*), and the crazy set of consonants in AZERBAIJAN. Wow, what a stack of great answers. I might have preferred a set of cheater squares up in the corner in an attempt to get rid of A GAS, but that one entry is a teeny-tiny price to pay for such beautiful work.

And the SE. Double-wow! Normally I'd expect to see a glue entry to hold such nice long stuff together, especially given than Q in KAFKAESQUE. Not a stinker in there; with just STA, the entire quadrant just HUMS along.

The grid did feel a bit more segmented than I like, especially since I got stuck in the NE corner. I finished everything else and then... then... then... there was a lot of staring. You'd think that this uber-dork would know ELVISH off the bat or that PRIAM was Paris's father, but I couldn't pull them out. There are multiple ways into that corner so it's more than fair, but I couldn't help wishing that the entries into it were a little bit bigger, giving me more chances to gain an entry somehow.

I talk about "puzzle flow" a lot, and this is the sort of reason I really appreciate when a puzzle has wide-open flow. It's easier for a constructor to be able to segment a grid and work on one piece at a time, whereas something with multiple interconnected areas make for giant constructing headaches. In more wide-open grids, you might finish one corner great, only to find out that the roots it shoots out make it impossible to fill the rest of the puzzle cleanly. This puzzle would lend itself to segmenting a little more than some others (like Josh's original grid!). You can probably imagine that by putting in two or three middle-section entries, you can isolate a corner somewhat easily.

I just loved the clue for CABANA. [Changing place] made me think of urban renewal, but indeed it's simply a place to change. Nice. And my favorite clue of the bunch was actually for TEAMWORK. I know balance sheets reasonably well, so I smugly cycled through LONG TERM INVESTMENTS, PROPERTY PLANTS AND EQUIPMENT, LEASEHOLD IMPROVEMENTS and other esoterica until I finally figured out it was one of those intangibles that's nonetheless at the heart of any company: TEAMWORK. Well done, way to make my stupid MBA brain eat a little humble pie.

ADDED NOTE: *Jim pointed out that the lyric is actually "Jojo left his home in Tucson, Arizona..." Rats! Ah well. I'll still sing the rest: "...for some California brass. Get back. Get back! Get back to where your lunch belonged." Man, that's catchy.

POW Sat 8/31/2013
JIMMYFALLONPBJ
AREYOUREADYALA
KINGSRANSOMROC
ESSOLBSRERACK
SHADSICKTICKS
OSCARSSHAQ
TISSUEPIEKUDU
OTHELLOSAGETEA
GAOLMACMODEST
ALOEATOAST
PITCHSNLOMEGA
ACETICSAWALUM
RIMMAGINOTLINE
TZUORIGINALSIN
YEPMEANSTREETS

★ POW! (wow!) I swore I wouldn't choose two themeless puzzles in a row for Jeff's Puzzle of the Week, but I couldn't stop myself after doing Josh's puzzle. Triple-stack constructions can be judged by 1.) the sparkliness of the long entries and 2.) the number and quality of ugly short crossings. Each one of Josh's quadrants shines in both areas; so many debut phrases and nary a stinker of a crossing (GAOL isn't great, but it's fair game for a Saturday puzzle). These days editors and solvers prize snazzy multiple-word phrases, and out of twelve long answer slots, Josh fills nine of them with great entries like JACK SQUAT and KINGS RANSOM. And for the three other slots where he has one-word entries, he and Will come up with fantastic clues to spruce them up.

Ah, the beauty of the cluing. Jim and I were both amazed at the cleverness behind "It opens during the fall". Such a wonderful example of the wordplay that has helped define the Shortz era themeless. And "Fall fallout, some believe" clue echoes the word "fall", giving a touch of elegance.

Finally, let's look at the inclusion of "Scrabbly" letters, notably J, Q, X, Z which are usually the hardest to incorporate. They often make a puzzle stand out, because the difficulty of puzzle-filling is proportional (more or less) to the number of Scrabbly letters. Josh uses four of these, plus five Ks, yet still manages to pull off great triple-stacks. Well done!

Final note: Matt Ginsberg, friend and creator of Dr. Fill (crossword-solving AI), warned me that having a POW! might cause six constructors sadness because their puzzle didn't get chosen that week. My intent is always to be a positive force for crosswords, so let me emphasize that we've had a lot of really good puzzles this week (and wait until you do tomorrow's!). I'll continue to use the POW! to recognize what I personally see as excellence above and beyond.

Fri 5/31/2013
AMIWRONGJULIE
GAMEOVERSONATA
EXHIBITAONAPAR
NOUSDIVINGBELL
DURSTZITIALIG
ATTACETENSPAR
EPONYMTHINE
AMEXESTEENSY
DAVIDMEOWED
ARESCANNONMAT
PINTONITSLUSH
TAKEFLIGHTARCO
SCENEIMERRYMEN
THECANAQUALUNG
OILERSTEWARDS
Fri 5/17/2013
CRAZIERABBOTS
AUGUSTUSBALBOA
CSIMIAMICMAJOR
ATLASBLTSMELC
OYELAIRMECCA
MAECUTETAS
POSTMODERNISM
DRSTRANGELOVE
DEATHINVENICE
OMGMPAAINK
MOMMAGLEESAC
ITASFELLSMITE
NATTEREITHEROR
OPIATEYOUOWEME
SECRETTOPLESS
Thu 5/2/2013
SCABSEAMSHASTA
HOURAXLETOWARD
IPSOWILLBEBLOOD
NITWITSVAIOTOR
GOESNOTHINGPOPE
LURESEINEGAMES
ESETANGCRIERS
NEITHERNOR
STREAMRENUMEW
CHARDRAIDCHACO
REIDCOMESTHESUN
ERNKOFICOOLCAT
WASANOLDMANDADO
IGOTITSORETRON
TENETSTIEDOARS
Fri 3/29/2013
MEHTHROBCLAPS
AXENIOBEAERIE
DIMENSIONVETTE
ALANSLEEPERCAR
MENACEFRIAR
MADSCIENTIST
ANGERMACETHE
WORLDDOMINATION
NBAIKEAPACES
SUPERVILLAIN
ETHANDANCER
FISHINGRODIAGO
LOHANGIVEANDGO
ANONOUPENDGOT
GATESNERDSENS
Fri 2/1/2013
PLANFORDEMIGOD
AIRFAREIMANAGE
INCLUDEMUTABLE
NETLEDGEFLED
DICTARAGWEED
RACHELMADDOW
UNFEDANOAKMST
SCOWCRAZYLEAR
HEXLITREWILCO
PLAYINGHOOKY
BIODOMERANDR
DOTSCSPOTRAP
ONSTAFFOUTPACE
FEMORALSCHEMES
FRENEMYTHEPAST
Sat 11/24/2012
AFGHANSKIJUMP
MALAWIMENELAUS
BRAZENINSECURE
LINEENTORENEW
ENDPOOHRAGA
DASHINGATFLOG
ACEINTHEHOLE
DAWNOFTHEDEAD
JACKINTHEBOX
ORTCESARRAIGN
SKIMFRIAMOE
ERVINMATTSCAM
POISONEDIMPALE
HOTHOUSESCALIA
MYANMARHITMEN
Tue 8/21/2012
DISHGLAMRAJAH
ABLEDOPEEBOLA
BEERPLUSWEEKLY
STEAMSICEOE
PLEATMYSHORTS
NEWDELHIHOT
OLESPELTHOPI
PLACEOFDIAMONDS
EARLTESLACAL
AAHSCORSESE
PLUNDERTHESEA
IAMVEEHEGEL
PLACIDRAINMANE
EAMESUPDOTIVO
SWINENESTONYX
Sat 8/11/2012
CREEPSHOWSCIFI
HEDGEMAZEAUDEN
ALMODOVARPRESS
NYUSKEWEDTOTO
GONGINAWAYLIL
ENDRUNONELOVE
ANGFLAREGUN
CASTEELFTRYST
ACTIVELYPLO
PHONEMEREUBEN
YINNAVAJOXOXO
BEESGELATONOD
AVANTNEFERTITI
REGANTRAUMATIC
ADEPTHORSERACE
Fri 6/22/2012
BUZZKILLPAPAW
UNIONDUESFLESH
STREETMAPCARTA
TICWAMPUMRIOT
EDOMGOTTIMONA
DYNESXANDYDIG
DUHTIRAMISU
CREAMERKITSCHY
REDLABELBED
ASHCREEDSOFTG
SCABENGELSAUL
HURLWARSAWTVA
PERILCOOKIEJAR
AMINETOTEMPOLE
DESKSMORPHEUS
Sun 9/18/2011 DON'T!
CABALPARCIDIDCOMET
ALEROABELNAVYELOPE
PLAYWITHMATCHESDIVAN
CASSIOSEALLEAVE
JOHNLORISESGETREAL
ALBMESSWITHTEXASMAG
CLAWATICHROILSUCH
OILEDCISSODAPASTE
BELIEVETHEHYPETOMCAT
RAISELOREFIRELIT
DOHDRAMPIUPARTEDO
AMATEURRASPOVERT
GIVENSQUITYOURDAYJOB
AGENTDUBSRTEIRENE
MOATSOILNBASTALIN
ASCQUOTEMEONTHISLCD
HOTWIREOWNGOALAYES
WHETSSCAMADVERB
HUMORTALKTOSTRANGERS
APARTESAUTHEODUANE
GINNYPIMPSEENSENAT
Thu 5/27/2010
MASADABBCOGLE
OPTSSWEARFLIP
HELLOKITTYFOCI
AMUSWAPEROS
WAKEUPEATSDIRT
KNEXOVENOIL
IBSENSPRUCE
SHELEXTRAUSES
MOTELSHUMAN
ATHDEMOADMS
SHEDEVILACTION
HORAOVIDAZO
HUNTWINECELLAR
ISEEEDENSBURT
TETSLESADOPTS
Fri 2/26/2010
THEWHOSCHWAB
PEELOUTPHRASE
SANSKRITORELSE
CLOSERSCRIKEG
HERESYCHESHIRE
ITSFOETANTE
STAGEMANAGER
MEXICANSTANDOFF
BOYMEETSGIRL
CRIBSANDLAU
HISSYFITHOOFIT
UPISILCABRIDE
ROTATECLUELESS
NUMBERHANSOLO
STEAMYINTEND
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