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Mark MacLachlan author page

4 puzzles by Mark MacLachlan
with Jeff Chen comments

TotalDebutLatest
412/22/201611/11/2021
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1010200
CircleScrabDebutFresh
11.502055%
Mark MacLachlan
Puzzles constructed by Mark MacLachlan by year
Thu 11/11/2021
CAPTCHABITCOIN
AQUEOUSIMEANNO
SUPERGSGUESSSO
HATSHEATSSTUD
CRENDOARL
AINTSTEPSAGEE
BATAANNLASERS
SLAWEATS
GASHOGSTIERRA
ETTASCOPETOAT
THALBOMIT
ALPSLOSERCASA
TELECONTITANIC
ITERATEICERINK
PEDANTSCOMPASS

Seasoned solvers spotting four unchecked squares can fill in the letters N E W S immediately. The puzzle is done!

Or is it?

I loved the secondary realization that this tried and true rule-breaker was only to hint at the real show, N E W S hidden in the four plus-sign COMPASSes. We've added the letters in (below) to make things clear.

Why don't the added N E W S letters work with other surrounding answers? Like, why isn't HATS actually HATSN?

Because reasons.

There's a software trick to make filling easier: you can put in a thin black line between HATS and N, and another one between N and HEATS. Insert an N into that dead-ended space, and you can fill the grid normally.

That doesn't mean that it's easy, though. I appreciate that Mark took on the challenge of filling huge corners chock full of 7-letter slots, giving this one a themeless feel. Some beautiful results, CAPTCHA CASH CAB, PUP TENT all elevating the solve.

Ding for AQUEOUS crossing AQUARIA, since they're shared etymology, but I'd bet less than 10% of solvers notice it. Great clue for AQUARIA, anyway, playing on "schoolhouse."

Jim Horne is no fan of so many entries from "The Simpsons," so I wondered if the prank call HUGH Jass might amuse him.

We are not amused, but I am.

Difficult to uncover those N E W S-worthy words, especially the double-acting ones like (E)NDO(W) and (E)LBO(W), but it was well worth the effort.

Tue 10/10/2017
THORREARMNEON
REVEERGOTEXPO
ILESARGONVETS
FIREALARMJESSE
LUSTSTEMPER
EMTSEASALTOAF
APEXSTACURE
KRYPTONENACTED
HOESDOEESSO
ZEDPUBLISHFWD
MISLEDEMCEE
XENONEMULSIONS
MAYOAGENTAUTO
EVENNANNYTROT
NETSASTORATNO

I'm a chemistry wonk. Dunno why I loved chemistry so much in school. Or why I bombarded our chemists with so many curious questions at our pharma startup. (Some advice: don't bug people with easy access to strong acids and bases.) Cool to get some chemistry love today, the puzzle featuring the NOBLE GASes … each positioned at its proper atomic number! HELIUM at 2-Down, NEON at 10-Across, etc.

It would have been jump-out-of-my-seat-worthy if each had also been placed to the right of the grid, as the NOBLE GASes are in the periodic table (in light blue in the pic). The periodic table is all about proper organization, positioning elements in columns that make sense, ordering elements into families. So the chem nerd in me frowny-faced at the haphazard-feeling placements.

It's impossible to put HELIUM both at 2-Across (or 2-Down) AND put it on the right side of the grid. But a guy can wish.

It was also weird to omit radon. I can understand not giving oganesson any love — sorry Og, your atomic number of 118 is way too high — but radon at 86 might just have been possible.

Okay, it's mathematically impossible in a 15x15 grid, considering that the max number of words is usually 78. Harrumph. Fine! But the omission of radon feels so notable, like naming six of the seven dwarfs, and pretending Doc doesn't exist.

Laying out the five NOBLE GASes so that they sit at the proper numbers, plus the inclusion of NOBLE GAS and ELEMENT and ATNO = tough task. With so many themers fixed into place all over the grid, it's tough to avoid some REVE, MTN, ERGOT, STA, etc. crossword glue to hold everything together. Along with the oddball AGGRESS, the grid left me with an impression of inelegance. I'm not sure ATNO added much, and it's a piece of crossword glue in itself.

But taking a second look, I am impressed that Mark managed to get the NOBLE GAS / ELEMENT region pretty darn clean, especially considering KRYPTON and XENON are packed right in there.

Tough to balance so many constraints and demands. Audacious thinking, but it didn't all come together for this annoyingly OCD chem nerd.

Sun 9/17/2017 SUPER LOOPER
SEAWARSFEATDALIASH
IMRIGHTAMMOELEGANCE
LOBSTERMIDORBEVEROOM
OTOHSUTRATITATTIRE
SERBUTAUSTINPRIONS
OPSSHELTERTOTEM
PIANOSIELLANOSESA
UNDEROOFBLACKBOARDER
LADTONIERTEETHE
STERMIDEASTSENECA
AIRESCONCERIESMAXED
RESCUEEQUALTOLISA
ALTPOPENMESHLAP
COMPUTERATORSPOILERT
RNAASTRALETHLODES
YAYMETHEPIPSPLO
SPADESNANOTUBESPAM
CLOVESOTSSATYRELLA
ROLERSALBATTERMINALS
OPENLATEARIEDILUTES
WESEYESRATSSTEPONE

We've had a couple of puzzles involving looping answers over the past few years, including one with the letters L O O P looping, Coriolis force, and my favorite — one with things that actually loop! The title of SUPER LOOPER gave away the game instantly for me — would have been nice to get something more clever there, allowing for an a-ha moment.

I enjoyed many of the finds, especially the ones that were snazzy entries in their own right. LOBSTER THERMIDOR was particularly nice, as were SPOILER ALERT and ROLE REVERSAL. Great stuff.

Not as hot on BEVERAGE ROOM. It was hard enough to parse due to the looping effect, and no smile when I realized it had to be BEVERAGE ROOM … didn't sound like an actual thing. Some research shows that it is an actual term, but that didn't quell my grumblings.

Any Sunday puzzle is tough to make, and to introduce more constraints is asking for pain. You might think, what's the big deal, adding just two more fixed squares to each of the theme entries? It's a huge deal, greatly reducing much-needed flexibility.

So, not a surprise to get a slew of crossword glue. I stopped counting after I hit 10 dabs of glue, and it felt like it kept on going. Nothing egregious, except maybe OSO, STER, and IF I DO, but so much in aggregate left me with an impression of inelegance.

Certainly, reducing the number of theme examples would have helped — eight or even seven would have been perfectly fine for me. I might have even preferred for this to be a weekday puzzle (15x15) with just four themers, as once I figured out what was going on, the concept got repetitive.

Overall though, I appreciated the snazzier finds like LOBSTER THERMIDOR, and how Mark worked in some great bonuses that helped keep my attention, like WISHBONE, TAPAS BAR, LOOSEN UP. That's not easy to do with such a constrained puzzle.

ADDED NOTE: I completely missed that each loop starts with ER, making for LOOP-ERs! Nice touch, much harder to find good theme answers than I thought.

POW Thu 12/22/2016
FREDSLAYREVE
LURENONEGENER
OHASHIRTSLATER
ERTEPEECOLOSS
GLENBRO
MREDPREMARIT
ATEENSOAPREDI
BERTEINSTEINMED
LEGEBETSDOADE
ESELLERSSILT
OATKIDD
UMINUMMIDIIDE
BINOSPURITANIC
IMONYOLINFLOR
DENSDENGCASU

★ (AL)UMINUM SIDING added to today's puzzle, featuring the chemical symbol for aluminum, Al. Check out the grid below for the deets. We've also corrected the appropriate answers so they match the clues. We wouldn't want to add ERT or LEGE to our database!

Neat concept. (AL)BERT EINSTEIN MED(AL) is such a great feature entry for this puzzle, just perfect how 1.) it has an AL on either side, 2.) it's 19 letters long, making it exactly 15 letters without the ALs and 3.) it's such a great-sounding entry. Reminds me of another puzzle featuring OUTSIDERS.

The first step in this construction is quite easy — you start with a 19x15 grid, with AL down each side in columns 1, 2, 18, and 19 (and black squares appropriately extended out to the sides). After you're done, you can lop off those extra columns, and voila!

HOWEVER … the execution is not easy at all. There are a reasonable number of words that start / end with AL, but limiting yourself to just that subset makes things so rough when constructing the sides of the puzzle. I was impressed that Mark, a debut constructor, was able to work in some great long entries like ALOHA SHIRTS, COLOSSAL, and PURITANICAL, without resorting to that much crossword glue. Yes, IN LA and REMAT are not good, but those are minor prices considering how tough those sides must have been to construct.

I would have loved for ALUMINUM SIDING to be one long entry, as it felt inelegant to split it up, but to do that, Mark would have needed a matching 12-letter entry. It would have forced the puzzle to be more open; less segmented, as 12-letter entries are very inconvenient to work around.

On that note, I would have liked the puzzle to breathe more — it's very partitioned. It was smooth overall, though, and if I had to choose between smooth vs. good puzzle flow, I'd tend toward the former.

I thought about this puzzle a lot after finishing it, and that's a sign of an excellent puzzle. Great stuff, especially from a debut constructor!

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