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14 puzzles by Michael Blake
with Jeff Chen comments

TotalDebutLatestCollabs
141/28/20086/13/201910
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0831200
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.64003
Michael Blake
Thu 6/13/2019
CANSGLADALMS
EDIEOENOBIOTA
OOHANDAAHBOWED
IWORKBANGED
SALAMIVIAELLE
EXITCHANDELIER
WISERICAPS
STRESSBRAVES
MASAISAYHI
HANDYNASTYNEON
YMENDTSEDISON
PIRACYSMASH
OCULIUPPERHAND
SUDANSEANEDIN
SABEANTISEXY

Such a tough grid to construct. It's usually not THAT hard to work with stacked themers, if some of them are shorties. But we had such little flexibility — the partial word had to start directly under the H in each HAND, and we only had a few to choose from.

Besides IWORK, ICAPS, YMEN, there was only the less interesting IER, ILY, LER, EDIN. I would have loved a fourth that was more interesting, but of the less ideal candidates, EDIN seemed at least interestingly kooky — something you'd never see in another (reasonably good) crossword.

Took me a couple dozen tries to arrive at a skeleton that tested out reasonably well, and I counted myself very lucky that BADPR existed to satisfy that tough -DP- letter combination, as well as DNA LAB. What else is going to fill a DN???? pattern?

I don't like using "corner blacks" (in the very SW / NE), as they are visually unappealing to my eye (Rich Norris at the LAT likes them even less than I do). But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. With an already biggish SW corner, and the ultra-constraining DNA LAB, we could barely escape with a SABE / OCULI.

Not the most elegant corner in the world, but sometimes you have to accept compromises in the service of a theme. Hope it didn't pull down people's solving experiences.

Every puzzle's a struggle. So many aspects to balance out. Hope we arrived at the right one for you.

Mon 2/13/2017
OLAVOFARTSHAH
SOLONIMESCOSA
HALLOFFAMEANTI
ATFGOTTOCLERK
HELLOHOWAREYOU
MOETBUD
OPALSTRUMREP
HILLSTREETBLUES
ONETHIEFELLA
AAAPANE
HOLLYWOODACTOR
AREASVIOLAFIR
SIRSHULLABALOO
TOOKSLEETBAJA
ENYATERSESWAN

Debut! Brent and Michael bring us a vowel progression theme with the HxLL pattern. I love the term HULLABALLOO, an all-too-familiar description of a house with a 6-mo. old and a toddler who can now reach just about anything.

I've heard some folks say they're dead tired of vowel progressions, and I do think they are going by the wayside. But that's just the natural course of any standard theme type. Constructors have to figure out ways of doing an overdone theme type better, more elegantly, a little differently for it to stand out. A shame that this one is so similar to the one Brent and Michael pointed out.

ACME told me that vowel progressions are like poetry — I liked that sentiment. The sound of HALL to HELLO to HILL to HOLLY to HULLA ... some might holla that it's hella pretty.

(Don't worry, the poetry police just revoked my license.)

Five super-long themers are no easy feat. The overlap between HALL OF FAME and HELLO HOW ARE YOU causes all sorts of problems, for example. Check out where GOT TO sits — there are so many down answers that need to run through that section, and that causes strain. Inelegant to get OF ART at the very top, and that NIMES / AMATO crossing is a killer. Toss in REMOW, and that's butting up against my threshold for crossword glue for an entire puzzle.

Considering HELLO HOW ARE YOU is just so-so in my eyes, I'd rather have seen something shorter, like HELLO THERE! matched with HOLLY BOUGH or the like.

Nice bonuses in ALL FEMALE and RULE OF LAW; hard to accomplish within such a theme-dense puzzle. A few years ago, I spent some time in the Gambia with an NGO, and I came back with all sorts of ideas how to help. One of my former econ profs suggested that what he'd do would be to find ways of strengthening RULE OF LAW, for, without it, any other effort will be close to meaningless. Fingers crossed for a smooth transition of power in the Gambia.

Tue 5/5/2015
SWEETCAFEDOZE
PARSEAILSAXIS
ANITASWAPMEETS
GEORGIABROWNIE
SOTILO
MSNBARSTOOLIE
WATEROUSTUSA
ERASEPUBOSCAR
ALIEDENVIRAL
RAREBIRDIESEC
COGMRI
SHOCKINGPINKIE
MILLSTONEDIDSO
URGEAMADIDEAL
TEASLOWEADDIE

ADDIE parsed today to "add IE," with wacky results. BAR STOOLIE made me smile at the image of a guy drinking a Bud while ratting on his co-patrons. STOOLIE is such a colorful word, and the STOOL to STOOLIE transformation is fun. SHOCKING PINKIE also worked really well for me, for similar reasons.

It took me a while to figure out what the clue for ADDIE meant. "Two-part" to me implied that there was an extra layer of meaning; a second level of clever wordplay. But I think "two-part" simply means to separate ADDIE into two parts = ADD and IE. Drat.

Interesting start to the puzzle, SWEET linked to GEORGIA BROWNIE through a cross-reference. Many puzzles actually break crossword symmetry (sort of) by putting a revealer in the very last across answer, without a matching theme answer at the very first across answer. To Acme's point, seeing a themer at 1-Across today felt strange, even though technically that made the puzzle adhere to strict crossword symmetry.

Reebok's namesake

Why strange? To me, it was partly the cross-referencing element, as it felt inelegant to kick the puzzle off with an entry that didn't stand alone on its own right. But another part of it was getting too immediately launched into themers. I've grown accustomed to getting eased into a puzzle; a warm-up before trying to crack the theme.

Loved the clue for TEARS. [Eye droppers?] made me grin. And learning a piece of trivia — that REEBOKS were named after RHEBOKS — was fun.

I liked the foreign touches, too. Getting two Asian brand names in AIWA and DAEWOO was fun, and although CASITA may not be in everyone's wheelhouse, it's inferable from the well-known "casa" and the Spanish diminutive "-ita." I also enjoyed MOLOTOV, but I did think it was slightly out of taste to make a joke about a MOLOTOV cocktail.

Finally, I liked that Andrea and Michael added in some long across fill. Usually that isn't done because it can muddy the theme, but today's theme is so apparent that it wasn't an issue. Adding SWAP MEETS and MILLSTONE did necessitate some glue, but I thought they were worth the price of ESSE and A MAD.

Tue 1/13/2015
MISOOCEANCLOT
ARIASUSIEHASH
MONTICELLOINTO
ANGDATOLDER
AMERICANBISON
TAPASPATIO
ABOUTRELEASED
NERDATIMEECRU
GLEECLUBAIRED
TABOONOISE
EPLURIBUSUNUM
QUILLASAMAD
URGENICKELBACK
ASHEFRIARAGIN
LETSLEANSHEDY

Monticello nickel coin I only know who NICKELBACK is by the snarky comments people post about them on Facebook. (I laugh along, pretending to understand.) But no doubt, they make a good revealer for today's puzzle, which contains both MONTICELLO and the AMERICAN BISON, the two images on the tails side of a nickel.

Really interesting clue for ABEL — I like the effort to come up with something new and bold. I'm a bit of a math nut, so I follow the Fields Medal announcements every year (outstanding discoveries in math, awarded to mathematicians under 40). I had assumed it was the most prestigious math award out there, so it was fun to read up on the Abel Prize. Gotta love the Norwegians, blowing the piddly Fields Medal money out of the water with a gigantic six million kroner payday. Take that, Fields Medal!

For a puzzle with only three or four theme answers, I expect very clean, snappy fill. SCRIMMAGE and SINGAPORE and GLEE CLUB are all pretty fun. CUE TIP too. But I could do without the A TIME, AS A, OSTEO, ERES, and especially AGIN entries. I don't mind some gluey bits here and there if the theme is dense, or if the puzzle has kooky constraints, but for a standard four-theme puzzle, it's a bit too much for me. I would have liked to see some rework to get rid of at least half of those gluey bits.

I also would have liked a little more theme density / tightness. Yes, E PLURIBUS UNUM is on the back of the nickel, but it's not specific to the nickel like MONTICELLO. Sort of a filler than takes care of crossword symmetry. (US Mint: take note that JEFF CHEN'S FACE is also 13 letters. Licensing rights readily available, at a reasonable price starting at six million kroner.)

But overall, a fun trip down memory lane for me, back to a time when I was obsessed with odd coins. Wheat pennies, anyone?

Mon 3/3/2014
WALSHPJSSCANT
AMATIHAHUHHUH
DIVANDIVABRAKE
SEENTOARCIBEX
ZANYOUTS
PATTERNPATTER
IBEGOAPIANO
FREETOWNFREETOW
WELSHGOOESE
EASTERNEASTER
REPOLIRA
BRIOMBAEUGENE
BADGELEARNLEAR
QUEENERRKENTS
SLANGROTSTYLE

Fun theme today, all "wacky" phrases based on a (word(s) ending with N) + (same word(s) without the N) pattern. FREE TOWN FREE TOW was genius! And DIVAN DIVA elicited images of Katey Sagal as Peg Bundy from "Married with Children," saying "bon bon." Amusing, enjoyable Monday.

Nice construction today, with some really good long stuff. Chris CHRISTIE makes an appearance along with ESTROGEN, plus a nice STANZA and HINT AT, which always reminds me of the Monty Python "nudge nudge wink wink" sketch. A couple of standout clues as well, my favorite being the one for SLANG. It's hard to come up with inventive clues for a Monday since it's designed to be the easiest puzzle of the week, so clues like this add spice.

Ah, the pangram. Andrea and I have different philosophies on pangrams, and I think both have merit. I personally place a lot of value on smooth fill vs. Scrabbly letters, but I know several solvers who really like seeing pangrams. I hadn't been aware of that until a few months ago — it surprised me to hear it and caused me to change my thinking about "right" and "wrong" when it comes to constructions. I'm sure there will be many solvers who like seeing the X up in the NE corner. It didn't do a lot for me because of the awkward partial THE X, but that's okay. It's Andrea's decision, and like almost all constructor choices, it will please some and not please some. Can't win 'em all.

Finally, I hadn't picked up that an N was at the heart of each answer — nice, from a consistency standpoint. I did notice that LEARN LEAR was the only one where the first word was a verb, so that did stand out a bit.

Nice start to the week.

Mon 12/23/2013
COLACRESTBONG
RAIDCINCOAMOR
ORZOSPERMWHALE
PSALMMICANAG
PIGGYBACKING
METHANEETON
ABOMASCOJOS
TAKEITTOTHEBANK
EYESQUOIWII
MOETBREASTS
RIVERPHOENIX
AVECOENOINKS
FOGMACHINEOOOH
TRAMHANOIMAKE
SYNESTERNSHOD

Fun start to the holiday week from Michael and Andrea. With a bit of cheekiness in SPERM WHALE (and its SPERM bank theme answer), it's also the start to a week with a touch of the risque. Unusual for the Gray Lady, but I wholeheartedly approve. Stay tuned ...

The "word that can follow" theme is not something Will accepts much these days, but if there's a twist or an additional element, it can be workable. A really nice revealer like TAKE IT TO THE BANK is a bonus, giving the puzzle an extra layer of depth. Having four additional theme answers, each a snappy entry in its own right (FOG MACHINE is great!), is another plus.

Ah, the pangram discussion is sure to rear its head in the blogosphere today. There are many different philosophies on this, and I don't think any is objectively right or wrong. Andrea's thinking: the relatively rare letters (JQXZ) give a puzzle extra zing, a meatiness that fills the solver's belly. And I can understand the argument that OJO happens to be in the crossword relatively frequently, so why not toss the solver into the deep end right away, forcing them to learn something that will no doubt help them with harder xws?

But my personal philosophy is that I want Monday puzzles to be a gateway for novices, getting them hooked into the NYT daily puzzle without feeling like they have to learn a totally new lexicon. So OJOS (the Spanish word for eyes, which most people are unlikely to encounter outside of xws) is something I could do without on a Monday. And as much as I like COQ, it seems to come at the price of MASC, which to me doesn't seem worth it. Anyway, different strokes.

A final point, look at the nice mid-length fill, a feat difficult to achieve when there's such high theme density. TOMCAT, SCRIBE, EPOCHS, AXIOMS all enhanced my solve. And I would make a juvenile joke about BREASTS, but that might be too titillating.

(groan)

Thu 9/19/2013
LACOSTEGPSARM
APOGEESLOALEA
COLDMASTERYLTR
ELLEANTIOUT
ULANCHOSEDOWNY
PORSCHEDORMER
SISPEACHGEDS
CARTFAIRY
BEERHOYLEEMT
ACROSSEATCROW
CLOCKPICKYARNE
KITIRMASATE
EPICANDYCOATED
NSCATOAIRBILL
DEAPSTMIRACLE

A nice twist on the "add-a-letter" type theme with a cool revealer, C AND Y COATED, meaning the theme answers have C and Y on their ends. It's difficult to come up with a new spin on a traditional crossword themes, so kudos to Michael.

Check out the NW and SE corners, big white L-shapes often difficult to fill, similar to yesterday's grid. The big difference is that yesterday's had theme answers running both horizontally and vertically into those L-corners, while today's only has horizontal themers intersecting them. This freedom allows Michael to toss in such goodies as TWEEDLE, CASABA, and LACEUPS. Sure, OGDENS and CII are blemishes, and the MONTELL/ARNE crossing is going to cause some consternation, but almost every tough-to-fill space is going to have some trade-offs. The clue for OGDENS is nearly crazy enough to redeem a strange plural. Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake? Really? Okay, I'm smiling now at its sheer insanity.

Will's point about the themers is well taken. It's elegant if the themers are consistent, either all being natural or all being wacky. CART FAIRY and COLD MASTERY have that smile-inducing je ne sais quoi, but CHOSE DOWNY is much more straightforward. Luckily, the base phrase, HOSE DOWN, evoked images in my head of Animal House-like shenanigans.

Finally, nice job on the sheer quantity of snazzy fill. Incorporating ALLOW ME, MARTYRS, APOGEES, LACOSTE, EAT CROW, SKI CAP, EROTICA, and BACK END without major compromises enhances the solving experience.

Mon 6/11/2012
GABSOGRESSFAD
REAMAPACHEIRE
URGEFALLENIDOL
FIELDPARMGMT
FELLOWSHIPPEAS
YEOWRABAT
ADORAWELISE
FILLINTHEBLANKS
LEDINOVOGAP
YOKEDINEZ
AMENFOLLOWSUIT
BALEFLAEATME
FULLNELSONZAHN
AREOCASEYSHOD
BARSTRODEANTS
Mon 8/29/2011
QTIPSAPESGLOB
TOTALJUMPROTE
SUCREAMIRANTE
THEPURPLEONION
NTHEND
SPATOPENSESAME
HISSHARIROLEX
EXTRAPITUNITE
LEROIACTINBAR
FLOODPLAINSILT
TARCEL
THEWHOLESHMEAR
AUTOBEVYBAGEL
KERREVENEZINE
EYEDDISCDENTS
Tue 5/24/2011
PAWATYOURSHOP
OXIDEALGAEAPO
KISSANDSHOWTAB
ESPADONECRO
DRYANDMIGHTY
ICAMEAINGE
MORANHERRTRA
PREJUDICEANDJOY
SAYOTOSERODE
ORTHOROBES
TOUCHANDSTOP
ULNAEETAALS
FLURISEANDSPIT
TITMOURNENEMY
SESONREDXOXOX
Wed 12/3/2008
PADSZADORACOW
ERIKINABITALI
PAVINGGRACERDS
SWAMIYMAFREE
PLUMLANDLORD
SACERAOAT
FLOEGIGSRICKI
POUNDEDTHEALARM
DENTESOOTSKIP
TIMRADESS
PUBCOMMITTEE
IRAEOARFLATS
LISFOURWAYSTOP
LAIAENEIDIRMA
SHEADAGIOEASY
Mon 10/27/2008
OLGACAGEDGAPS
NEATABATEUNIT
EARLPASTASTAR
SPRAYOFSUNSHINE
NUTTYAESOP
BEATLEOILS
ASTISABREKIA
SPACEOFDIAMONDS
ENDDEPOTNEAP
BIRDEXCESS
ASPICAIRER
SPUTTERNONSENSE
PERTLOEWEDOPE
ELSELIRASIMIN
NLERSLANTTONY
Mon 8/25/2008
ANTISHINAFAR
MEANSTINTLALA
PACKAPUNCHBRIT
SROLINDAPEEVE
PECKINGORDER
POLICEONT
OMANLAPAZSTP
PICKOFTHELITTER
STYCEDAROLEO
STAAARONS
POCKETCHANGE
UNLITHESSEADO
TEAMPUCKEREDUP
TARPETHELRANT
SLAYNEEDAMES
Mon 1/28/2008
MAMMAADSABUTS
ABEATLETNEPAL
TERRATAITASTY
ALVINTOFFLER
NEOFENTLC
SIMONWIESENTHAL
EMODIVAAROMA
DIORTERMSIMAM
AGREELOTTAZO
THEODOREDREISER
ETDWWIERN
THECHIPMUNKS
ATARIHANIRENE
ROGETESTTEHEE
MOOSERHOEDIES