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9 puzzles by Olivia Mitra Framke
with Jeff Chen comments

TotalDebutLatestCollabs
94/23/20173/28/20210
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
4140000
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.56021
Olivia Mitra Framke
Sun 3/28/2021OVER THE MOON
RAIDIDTAGGRADIENT
ZELDANEALEROLEPLAY
JOLLYRANCHEROUTCASTS
ARIELCIAOTUGSON
IBEGTELESCOPEDEVIL
LASERSTONGEMINI
BLISSFULIGNORANCE
ASKGANYMEDEUFOS
UTEPYELLSWILDBIFF
GREASETAMALETETRA
HAPPYDAYSAREHEREAGAIN
TITANMOULINROILED
SNOWJOSETAMPANINO
POOHSTONEAGEADM
CHEERYDISPOSITION
DEIMOSHEMNOSIER
CYNICCHEWBACCAAMBI
TEAREDTALLARSON
STATELAWMERRYGOROUND
LOVEDONENAIADHENRY
ROADSTERORATEMAGE

I finished this one and stared, baffled at the theme. Moons in the puzzle, clued by the planets they orbited ... okay, what else was there? Perhaps the moons were in some sort of order? And what did the long entries have to do with anything?

I tend to gloss over puzzle titles, so I had forgotten that OVER THE MOON was something. Ah! There's something over those moons! The long entries? Yes, long entries are over the moons ... so what?

Perhaps those themers have something to do with the moons they're over? I spent a lot of time researching the name GANYMEDE, figuring that it had to mean BLISSFUL IGNORANCE.

If only that's what "Jeff" meant.

An hour later, it finally dawned on me that OVER THE MOON wasn't just a literal interpretation, but it also hinted at the actual meaning of the phrase — a word meaning "over the moon" is directly atop a moon.

D'oh!

I appreciated that each of the synonyms matched the length of the moon's name. Nice bit of elegance. It's tough to stack pairs of themers, too. It's difficult to avoid artifacts like MNO when you do it, but given the extremely tough constraints, Olivia exceeded expectations.

What I liked best was the mini-themes she threw in. She's a gamer, so it was fun to get ZELDA, YOSHI, MAGE, ROLE PLAY, even ERAGON. Great job with the clue for ERAGON, too — relating it to "dragon" helps solvers unfamiliar with that series.

Another mini-theme, too — TONI Morrison, Zora NEALE Hurston, EBONY clued to Denzel, Halle, and Jamie. I read a lot of Morrison and Hurston back in college (25+ years ago now, yikes), so that brought back great memories.

The high point of the puzzle was the use of the title "Vaselina" in Mexico. Baffling until I finally pieced together the word GREASE. That is such a slick (sorry) piece of trivia!

Not the a-ha moment I hope for in Sunday puzzles, but it's a creative idea. It might have hit me more strongly if the long themers had been synonyms for OVER THE MOON, like PLEASED AS PUNCH, ON CLOUD NINE, IN HOG HEAVEN.

Tue 1/19/2021
PSALMSSIGHSHIA
AERIALOSLOPOGS
LEMONYELLOWETUI
KENTVIEWSNCAA
DELTASOLDON
SEWVATASFOR
SAWSEGOTISMFDA
ICHFRUITCUPEON
ARIAPELIKEWENT
MOTORSACMAI
BEREFTHERDS
SARAARABSEEOC
ATITCOCONUTCRAB
RICOTOLLROURKE
ICERSMUTNOTYET

People either love or hate "Forrest Gump." Say what you will, but who can forget Bubba reciting his shrimp list? My daughter's version would sound like today's puzzle. For dessert, I want LEMON cake, YELLOW cake, WHITE cake, COCONUT cake, CUP cake, FRUIT cake—

Hey, go back downstairs, daddy's working. No, he doesn't have cake! Really! No, he didn't mention CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM, or CHOCOLATE cake, or ICE CREAM cake. Yes, those all do sound good.

Looks like I'm going to the store later today.

I loved getting GLOWSTICK, GUEST ROOM, ACROBATIC, such great entries. I'd usually include IGUANODON in there, but in no way is that worth the price of ETUI. A single entry like this can be so foul to newer solvers; a single bad egg souring the cake.

If you need a Maleskan entry, your grid design needs revision. In this case, break up IGUANODON, or eliminate FRUIT CUP from the puzzle to open things up. Even for a CAKE lover like me, there's such a thing as too much.

"Both words can precede X" themes are largely going by the wayside these days, so it takes something special to make one work. I appreciated the efforts to incorporate so many types of cake and to offer up so many bonuses, but I could have used less sugar overload in the theme. Maybe BEEF PATTY could have provided more variety.

POW Sun 8/30/2020ALL AFLUTTER
SHOPGOTTAULCERECON
TONIENEWSNIHAOSADE
ALEECHAOSTHEORYSNIT
BESPOKEAURASPCGAMES
MANORCRYPTSEEYA
MANATEMPOTSKS
JULGARBDEYCALFETC
ESLELVESMOVERARE
SITRASSLEHECATELEN
SCHISMTORNADOBELLAS
IMINOFFTODIARYATMO
CANDOORCSJAPEETHER
ANGERSIATUESEERS
BUTTERFLYEFFECT
STATBENLAOFEDORTS
PHIBARDORRSRTAERA
ARRAYAWAKEWIPED
DIFFERENCEINTHEWORLD
EVALADEEREDITSWILE
SERAGEARSSORTAASIN
SETENTSREPSNES

★ I mentioned earlier in the week that it's common for me to start with a negative impression of a puzzle when I immediately recall a similar concept (or two). It's also rare that I overcome this unfair (very few people have my OCD crossword recall) bias. Today was yet another example of me starting out scowling but slowly growing to a point where I admired the extra elements, wishing that I had thought of them. BUTTERFLY EFFECT with the butterfly visual, plus a gray square that changes two entries into a TORNADO? That's cool!

It's also rare for me to dig quote puzzles, so that dug an even deeper starting hole for this puzzle. And if it‘s not a famous quote, or at least one that gives me a laugh … we're talking excavating a sub-sub-sub basement. That speaks wonders for this "quote," that after struggling to uncover it, it elevated my impression of the puzzle as a whole. Such a concise, spot-on way to describe CHAOS THEORY.

The grid had problems, much too much ADEER OFFTO ON HER partials, plus usualish suspects like ALEE ASIN ATMO--and that's just the As. Don't get me started on ORTS, such a terrible leftover from the Maleskan days!

However, there were many constraints, and the elements worked together so well that I was able to look past the technical issues. It's not easy to generate a 140-word puzzle (this one has 141), and when you put in themers all over the grid, weaving them in and out of a black-square visual, you're bound to need some glue. Still, I wish a revision had been requested; a little more development time inside the chrysalis.

Overall though, there was so much to appreciate about this multi-layered theme that it still gets the POW! I give big props when a creative Sunday idea with depth comes along.

Tue 8/18/2020
ARIATSPSROLE
BARKRAREERIE
AMOIALICEPAUL
CONSTITUTION
UNISONSONGDP
SACKELRETIRE
FERALANAL
WOMENSSUFFRAGE
ALUMSNOUT
VASSARARTTAB
ENTDUEKOSOVO
AMENDMENTXIX
TENNESSEERIAS
ARGOTEMPANNE
GASPOLESPSST

One hundredth anniversary of the 19th Amendment! That's truly an occasion to commemorate. It's hard to believe that only a century ago, more than half the country had no voice in choosing their government representatives.

Neat to see the feminine flourishes, too. Starting with RAMONA, ending with ANNE of Green Gables, and filled in between with VASSAR, OLAN of "The Good Earth," LUNA, Lucy LIU. Great bonuses for this theme.

I didn't love the choppiness of the presentation, though. Starting with CONSTITUTION felt odd. When you automatically have to begin by referencing the last themer, why not place the subject front and center? Boldly lead off with AMENDMENT XIX!

It was also a bit odd to see it as AMENDMENT XIX rather than the more common 19TH AMENDMENT. It's rare to have numbers in an early-week grid, risking confusing solvers, but I think this would have been a better approach.

And as neat as it was to see ALICE PAUL in the grid, what about LUCY BURNS? She got burned today!

Stacking themers — AMENDMENT XIX over TENNESSEE — usually creates problems, too. See ADEE and MNOP. Short letter runs are undesirable fill, and four-letter ones are even worse.

Although there were grid execution issues, I enjoyed getting the reminder that it's only been 100 years since women got the right to vote. I also appreciated being spurred on to think about voting in general, knowing that our country still has a long way to go before we can truly say that every citizen has an equal opportunity to vote.

POW Mon 6/15/2020
BRITPASSGASPS
OATHRICHRANAT
SCOOBYDOOASANA
SEOULWRENPEG
GOOGLEDOODLE
CASHBARSLUR
FACTHALFARAIL
ORRAUPAIRSGMO
SPAWNHAVELOAD
PENNENHANCE
BAMBOOSHOOTS
AGETRIOTESLA
LOTSAFOOLPROOF
KRAUTTHAIELLA
SALVESAKEDEAR

★ Folks, do we have a special for you this week! It's Day 1 of the CUJO show (Cracking Up Jim with Overthinking), where Jeff unintentionally makes Jim Horne snort via OCD overanalysis. Today went something like this:

Jeff: Delightful theme. AU PAIRS = pairs of Os. But …

Jim: wait for it … (holding back a snicker) ... wait for it …

Jeff: … doesn't AU PAIRS in the plural imply at least two, not two and only two? Why not three pairs of OOs?

Jim: OO OO OO? What are we, the SCOOBY DOO team, chased by ghosts?

Jeff: And what's up with FIVE O in the grid? Is that a secret insider thing? Wait! Are there FIVE "AU"s? Huh. Let me do a letter count frequency analysis ...

(rest drowned out by Jim's cackling)

Overthinking aside, fantastic revealer. I was sure it was going to be DOUBLE O, as in James Bond's designation, but AU PAIRS is perfect.

At least for non-overthinkers who wonder if phrases like TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL or DOO BE DOO BE DOO — or SCOOBY DOOBY DOO! — would have been a welcome addition.

Solid gridwork; I appreciate that Olivia didn't try to do too much, sticking with the max 78 words in her grid. A Monday offering should have a couple of colorful long bonuses — SNAPDRAGON and SCRAP METAL, check — and little to no gluey bits. ARAIL isn't great, but it's easily gettable from the common simile. Overall, grid execution that welcomes newer solvers.

There are hundreds of OO pairs out there — use the search string *OO*OO* to see for yourself — so the theme is looser than I like. However, Olivia chose some of the best ones available. Along with the amusing and a-ha inducing revealer, I smiled enough to award this one the POW!

POW Tue 3/24/2020
ORCASTATICBRO
COOLTACOMARAW
TVRECEPTIONACE
EEGARIDESKS
TRIEDONJEANS
TRIGFUNCTION
SIGHEDALTEREGO
INEWRYRRR
AGNOSTICESTEEM
MEDICINEBALL
ELITEIRECKON
MARYSGTEOTS
OMGSEARCHPARTY
SPAORDEALTEEN
TSPREALTYMARC

Just because Jim Horne and I are both sheltering in place doesn't mean that we can't yell into our TV phones at each other!

Jim: (wincing) You don't have to yell into your computer from two inches away.

Jeff: Oh. Sorry. How'd you magically get inside my TV computer monitor, anyway? And what's with TV RECEPTION?

Jim: You might not remember, but a TV is an outdated device used to display programming such as sitcoms—

Jeff: I may be a moron, but I'm not that old. I mean … I'm not that young. Wait. (brain overheating) I'm trying to say that I remember TVs, but I'm also older than a lot of the kids these days, so what I meant to say was

Jeff: I'm a moron.

Once Jim and I got past the first theme entry, we both enjoyed the concept. My inner (and outer) nerd was delighted by a TRIG FUNCTION being a gathering of mathematicians. That entry won Olivia a POW! all by itself. I've used many a MEDICINE BALL but never thought of it as a party for doctors. And I'm married to one! A doctor, not a medicine ball. Just to be clear.

When an idea spurs me on to search for other examples, that's usually a sign it's a winner. I couldn't find many other theme options, which indicates that it's a tight theme. There was only one that could have worked: SOUND MIXER for us Puget Sound folks or CEMENT MIXER for construction workers.

There was JEFF SESSIONS, but no one may know about the top-secret society known as the Joint Jeffiez Jamz. This paragraph will self-destruct in five seconds.

It's a shame that TV RECEPTION wasn't buried in the middle of the grid. It didn't work as well as the others, because who besides me thinks about TV RECEPTION (the antenna I plug into my computer doesn't work as well as it used to) these days? Minor point, though.

I almost didn't give out the POW!, because the gridwork was far from smooth. It's tough to get past a pile-up of ENTR ETH GTE INE REL RRR TOI and the plural MARYS. And while EEG ENT and TSP are usually fine, they multiplied the feeling of this product still being in process. The root of the issue is in grid design, with the long acrosses mucking things up. TRIED ON, ALTER EGO, AGNOSTIC, I RECKON are all great bonuses, but they make gridding so challenging.

I appreciate Olivia's audacity, giving us STEROID, BRASSIERE, GENDER GAP, and BIG CAT as well. Trying to work in so much long fill — both across and down — is flying too close to the sun, though. It needed another round of revision, with major redesign, to better serve newer Tuesday solvers.

Overall, the theme was so delightful that my human side overcame my robot's technical analysis.

POW Tue 11/26/2019
DORMPODSUSHER
ACERAPOPSMOKE
THETOWEROFBABEL
ASLOWNANOROSY
ANEWGMAT
THEDEVILYOUKNOW
RUMREDOGEENA
ENOSNECKSYORK
ACTEDAINTNYE
THESUNALSORISES
SEARSWIM
ACAIRICEKLIMT
TAROTCARDREADER
IRENENOUNTOTE
TEASEAPPSELSE

Tuesday's job is tough — it has to be easy and welcoming enough for newish solvers, but also interesting for more experienced folks. This theme hit that sweet spot, such a clever link between the Tarot and well-known "THE ___" phrases. I've done a lot of Tarot puzzles and a lot of "THE ___" puzzles, and I've never thought of connecting them. Brava!

Speaking of that balance of easy vs. interesting, there's so much to love about the grid. Four 15-letter entries can be tough to work around, but Olivia produced such a smooth, accessible product for newbs, while also working in MR TOAD, OPEN WIDE, SMART KEY, KISSED UP for the veterans. Check out how wisely she spaced out OPEN WIDE and SMART KEY, using black squares to separate everything judiciously.

The one ding was ASLOW, which could have been massaged out with a black square at the A (and at the T of KLIMT). That would have also allowed removal of OCHS and/or ACER. The northwest corner of a crossword is so important in setting tone and expectations; an extra set of black squares would have been well worth it.

It's rare for me to take interest in a Monday or Tuesday theme, and I was curious enough to research the other Tarot cards to see what other phrases might have been possible. Spurring on curiosity is a great thing!

I'm glad Olivia pared it back from a 21x21, as that would have gotten old. The 15x15 format is perfect for this tidy and novel concept.

Sun 8/26/2018TO THE POINT
WOOZYSEALABSMAJOR
INNIECANCELLEDALAMO
ELENAADVANTAGEROGET
LONGRALLYHARDCOURT
DAISBLYACELBOFATE
SNLRUMIMAMSYSLRAD
BASECAREWWIIG
FALAFELADOREIDEATES
ELECTRAREUSENONMEAT
LEAKTHEUSOPENECTO
LUSHBEESENXESSHUN
ATTAURLSTERPESPY
NORPHIDOMART
TODAYLONUMPMIMIC
SHUSHFEETNOLAMANIA
ARTHURASHEGRANDSTAND
MIROENSORARROWCREE
AVATARRETROASHARP
REGQUEENSNEWYORKBAT
ROEUNDOTUEALFAIMA
ANDASSNSTSZESTCAT

Delightful grid art! Upon first glance, I thought it was simply an interesting pattern of black squares. I got such a strong click when I realized the center of the puzzle was a tennis racket! Apt for a tribute to THE US OPEN tennis tournament kicking off very soon.

I'm not a huge tennis fan, but I like to keep up on major events. I was proud to plunk down WIMBLEDON at 59-Across without needing a single crossing entry.

D'oh!

Funny that they're the same length. Also funny that as an American, I'm much more familiar with Wimbledon than THE US OPEN. (Note to US Open coordinators: hire away Wimbledon's marketing team.)

I also enjoyed the tennis BALL in the upper left. Might have been more fun to have it in the middle of the tennis racket, but I can see a case for it being represented as if it's just been hit and is flying away. Also, putting the BALL in the middle would have caused much more difficulty in filling that center, given that THE US OPEN was already fixed into place.

Speaking of filling difficulty, I appreciated Olivia's effort to work in as much themage as possible, but LONG RALLY felt a tad like an unforced error (see, I know tennis!). LONG RALLY is a thing, but it feels arbitrary compared to the catchier GAME SET MATCH.

Overall, the grid art helped elevate the puzzle above standard tribute puzzles. I would have liked a couple more strong tennis phrases like GAME SET MATCH — perhaps TENNIS ANYONE?, or maybe punny entries like COURT PROCEEDINGS / MAKING A RACKET — but everything came together pretty nicely for a solidly tennis-ish vibe.

Sun 4/23/2017A CENTURY OF SONG
MAMMASCRUSTAMALFI
GORILLASHEREELAGOON
ATISKETATASKETENNUIS
LEOSCABERNETBEGUILE
ETSEQYEWALOOFASSET
SINUSEARPFFFDADS
DIMITRICONSUMER
ISHTUNDESOTOJAIME
NEOLITHSNINOSICSRS
JAWATAPEADOBESUTRA
ELHILADYELLAGRAY
SPITZERIESEOSZLOTY
TUGIDSTNUTCONTINUE
PHONEHOTDOGNUIGMS
TVCAMERAFOSSILS
AGHADUILUSTTEALS
CEELOTRUCEPATSCALE
ELMTREEPHASESINKTEL
TAOISTISINGLIKEIFEEL
ATONEDTENETSINSULTS
LONERSSTARSSALLYS

Homage to a jazz great, near what would have been ELLA's 100th birthday. I'm a huge jazz fan, having played in jazz bands for 20 years in my youth; neat to see Ella honored.

Love that I SING LIKE I FEEL quote — perfect for someone known for her soulfulness, right up there with Nina Simone. If you haven't listened to her HOW HIGH THE MOON rendition, it's well worth a listen. A TISKET A TASKET is not one of my favorites, but it did help make her a star.

A shame that IT DON'T MEAN A THING didn't make the cut. One of her best performances.

Tribute puzzles can feel like a Wikipedia page, a dry listing of factoids, so I liked the QUEEN OF JAZZ crown visual. I wasn't familiar with this nickname, though — and LADY ELLA was only vaguely familiar — so that took away some of the impact for me.

I used to think that dot-to-dot puzzles weren't that hard to make … until I constructed one (coming out later this year). Turns out they're devilish, especially if you need exact placements of certain letters.

It wouldn't be hard to build around the letters if the crown were the only factor, but they all must interact with so many themers.

As if that wasn't hard enough, Will's max of 140 words means that you have to build the entire grid using fairly long entries!

Take the upper middle region. ABEET, SIA, OF NO, RESNAP aren't great. But with ELLA, the E O F hanging out in that section, and the long words like CONSUMER, it's hard to avoid using gluey bits. (If it were allowable, going up to 142 words could have helped, maybe by placing a black square at the S of CONSUMER.)

I did wince at ACETAL crossing AGHA and NUI crossing NUIT. Both should be gettable for regular crossword solvers, but it's these kind of things that potentially turn solvers away from crosswords. (If I had a nickel for every time I've heard "I have to know WHAT?")

Overall, Olivia does pretty well with this Herculean task — quite a way to make one's debut!