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Paolo Pasco author page

23 puzzles by Paolo Pasco
with Jeff Chen comments

Puzzles constructed by Paolo Pasco by year

Paolo Pasco is a data scientist from San Diego who did a kickflip once. No one saw it happen, but he swears he did.

Sun 10/16/2022 Terminal Connections

I love the concept, pairs of entries coming together in the middle of a third. US VS THEM + EROOMIMED (DEMI MOORE backward) = THEME ROOM is a neat finding.

With themers that appear short in the grid, there was plenty of real estate for great bonus fill, and wow, did Paolo deliver. TEA CEREMONY was my favorite entry in the entire grid, followed by COWABUNGA. Amusing to think of the Ninja Turtles attempting to sit quietly in a traditional Japanese tea garden.

As much as I adored the concept, I found the solve ultra-challenging, because I kept losing track of the themers' locations. I also initially missed the brilliant meta-answer of MAKE ENDS MEET, since MA / KEEN / DSME / ET looked nonsensical. I'm glad I thought better than underestimating Paolo — I knew he'd have a last flourish!

It'd have been great to have the themers laid out in pairs, as in MA/KE + EN/DS + ME/ET. Not only would it have been easier to read the words, but this would have given more breathing room for longer theme entries, like BAT A THOUSAND instead of THOUSAND, or FIRST BASEMAN in place of NORSEMAN.

I stumbled on one square, eventually admitting defeat: PARK SO-DAM crossing BARR. (I guessed PARK SO-DUM and BURR.) I'm used to clarifying an ultra-common error, that my last name is CHEN and not CHAN or CHIN, so if I ever become crossworthy enough (chance of that = 0%), I'd demand similar measures from whoever incorporates my name into their grid.

Above all else, though, this is a fantastically innovative concept. Will Shortz tries to limit constructors to four(ish) Sundays per year to spread the wealth, but I'd gladly take more than that from Paolo.

Sun 1/2/2022 COLOR MIXING

(WARNING: impending technical analysis that might ruin your sense of wonder or annoy you even more than Jeff usually does.)

What an interesting programming problem! How can you find pairs of colors, such that combining and rearranging their letters, they form long phrases? Took me a while to hash out a viable method:

  1. Assemble a list of colors. There are some sites out there, but you'd want to be selective.
  2. Consider each pair of colors. For a list of X items, there will be "X choose 2" combinations, in combinatorial-speak. For 100 items, that's 4950 pairs, which is well within the abilities of a home computer to evaluate.
  3. Arrange your master word list into a master list of "letterbanks," i.e. alphabetize MENTALIMAGE into AAEEGILMMNT.
  4. For each of the 4950 pairs of colors, alphabetize the combined letters into a letterbank.
  5. Compare the pair of colors' letterbank to every one in in your master list. If there's a match, write it into output.
  6. You've stopped listening. I don't blame you.

Although it's a fascinating (to me) exercise in computing, this concept didn't strike this solver strongly. Two colors mixed up … into random things? We've had so many anagrams puzzles over the years, that I need more. I did enjoy apt anagrams, number adding anagrams, and more in the past, but this one didn't so nearly as much for me as Paolo's Sunday to kick off last year.

Still, a solid construction, so many delights in PRIDE PARADE, ASTRONOMERS, AARON BURR, AL MARSALA, with a near-perfectly clean grid. Outstanding Sunday gridwork.

Let's find this talented young man a job. Those of you who have been in the corporate world know how incredibly rare it is to find candidates with both technical excellence and people skills. Contact me if I can help connect your company and Paolo!

Fri 9/3/2021

There are few constructors out there who regularly debut material that's not already on the XWord Info Word List. BEQ and Paolo happen to be two of them! Fantastic entries that we didn't already have in CLOSE-UP MAGIC (I'm addicted to Chris Ramsay's YouTube channel) and ON WHAT PLANET. I love me some colloquial phrases, and this one is so laden with disbelief.

Other debuts that weren't already on our list:

AL COWLINGS. I vividly remember the Trial of the Century, and if you asked me about Nicole Simpson, Ronald Goldman, Kato Kaelin, Johnny Cochran, Alan Derschwitz, I could have told you a dozen details about each. Let's not forget Lance ITO, so useful in crosswords! Cowlings, not so much.

APRIL THESES. I figured Jim Horne could teach me about these, probably something I should have learned in my (sad public) high school history classes. Jim didn't know either. Then I got sidetracked, daydreaming what kind of theses April Ludgate might have made.

MEDIA BLOG. I like this one, although I wondered, are CALISTHENICS VLOGS or NUTRITION YOUTUBERS acceptable entries? (I also wondered, how can I stop watching so much damn YouTube?)

SO LET IT GO. So, what's the SO at the start for?

YOU LIED TO ME is fantastic. The BEQesque clue (he's amazing at any relating to music), referring to the Mark Morrison song, took away some of the enjoyment for this pop music moron, though.

I had a tough time in the lower right, not remembering how to spell Marc MARON crossing ILANA Glazer crossing OONA Chaplin. All three folks seem perfectly fair, having achieved a level of fame. I'm not so sure about the expectation for solvers to get the spellings exactly right.

Enjoyed much of everything else, though, LEAD GUITAR, WAG THE DOG, and especially BEER COOLER lending effervescence.


★ Show of hands. Who noticed that the letters between the circled sets spelled out something? It'd be a shame if you didn't, because adding this extra layer — MAY I CUT IN is spot-on perfect! — elevated this from a reasonable puzzle to a POW! winner.

My initial impression was of the "meh" variety, when I first uncovered the TWIST in SHIRT WAIST. That is a fine finding, and I liked that Paolo took care to split TWIST across the two words. Same goes for BOY PROBLEMS, MOUNTAIN GOAT, and all the rest. High marks for strength of theme phrases, as well as consistency in execution.

REEL, though ... reely? That seemed like a deep dive into the depths of dance. And BOP? Surely there have to be other more well-known dances. The MAMBA? MODERN? SWING? Deep disappointment, given everything I love about Paolo as a constructor.

I solved electronically, and Across Lite can't shade letters, so I might have been doomed to dismiss this puzzle as yet another throwaway NYT Sunday, if I wasn't committed to blogging it. That second look was so worth it. I needed no more than MAYI before I realized what Paolo had done. I'd have bet a thousand dollars that the rest would have spelled out the full phrase, and Paolo didn't disappoint.

Such great grid execution, too. The average Sunday has seven themers, and this one has nine — that need to be placed in a specific order — so I'd have been happy with simply a clean grid. Paolo blew that out of the water, with fewer short gluey bits than the NYT Sunday average, and even some KARATE KID, SUPERLIKE, GEEKDOM bonuses.

This isn't a ground-breaking puzzle, but this level of quality, along with an extra level providing the cherry on top, should be the floor for all Sunday NYT crosswords. If I were in Will Shortz's shoes, I'd be tapping Paolo for a Sunday Squad of 21x21 specialists.

Sat 11/7/2020

CELEBRITY CRUSH, a fantastic marquee answer! It's colorful, and even if you don't know the term, it's easy to figure out. Give it a clever clue like [Star attraction?], and it's nearly perfect. (The telltale question mark wasn't necessary, so removing it would have taken away that "nearly" qualifier.)

Speaking of hard, a constructor's most critical job is to set up solvers for a victorious finish. You want to leave people with a feeling that in a 2020 world full of plagues and woes, you can still claim a moment of victory.

Saturdays are a gray area, though. Just like not every top-notch athlete can complete the flying bar, not every top-notch solver should be able to fill in Saturday's last square. It is important, though, to give everyone a sense that it is at least possible; that maybe with enough work, they too could achieve total victory.

I got lucky today, guessing on a few squares correctly. There was so much tough material that could trip people up, though: ELOI, SION, BAHA, HETTY, SAMOS, GARANIMALS, EISNER, ART ROSS. I don't mind BAHA crossing ART ROSS, since ERTROSS or ORTROSS looks odd, but SION/SAMOS = a big yikes.

Along with a NW corner whose cluing difficulty was turned up to 11 — OXEN as "travelers"? OAR as a "sporting blade"? — it wasn't the type of challenge I prefer. I'd have loved more difficulty stemming from wicked wordplay, like [Rubber production?] producing an ERASURE.

Still, a couple of excellent feature answers to buoy the solving experience. Not quite a DROP THE MIC showing ... PILED IT ON is more appropriate.

POW Sat 8/1/2020

★ PLAY WITHIN A PLAY deserves a standing O; such an evocative phrase. There's so much you can do with the cluing, too. I'm not familiar with The Murder of Gonzago, but I enjoyed learning about it — there's something so meta about Shakespeare writing a play about a play. You could also go in the wordplay-related-cleverness direction, since the phrase is so recognizable. Maybe use language about actors acting an act? Or reenactments? It's a perfect seed.

I dig mini-themes, and the wackiness of the consonant pileups in KRYZYZEWSKI / KYRGYZSTAN delighted me. There's a reason they call him "Coach K"! I have a feeling that this could alienate some solvers, especially non bball-fans, but I loved it. Even knowing Coach K well, all I could drop in was the K and the SKI. It was so amusing to work out the actual sequence of letters in a name that I've heard a hundred times. I'm so glad that Adam and Paolo made each and every crossing fair!

So many delightful clues, too. My favorites:

  • DNA SAMPLE so aptly fits "spit take." That's brilliant!
  • HSN hidden in "television shopping"; neat bit of trivia.
  • FUR as [Stole something?], as in a FUR stole — grammatically it's not quite right, but it stole my heart.
  • I had to think about SPA as a [Facial joint]? Ah, a joint, as in a place to get a facial! I love it when a clue makes negative sense but then suddenly snaps into focus.

I have a feeling that some solvers won't connect to this puzzle because they don't know (or care) who Coach K is, but this admirer of one of basketball's most storied coaches loved it. The entertaining mini-theme, the sizzling PLAY WITHIN A PLAY, so many smile-inducing clever clues? Definitely my POW!

I could see how yesterday's would be other solvers' POW!, though. So much about themelesses is one's personal connection to the feature entries.

PS. Congratulations to Paolo Pasco for winning this year's Boswords Crossword Tournament!

Sat 5/2/2020

SAID NO ONE EVER is one of those marquee entries that makes me remember a puzzle. You might not be cool enough to know what this is — I certainly didn't have to look it up.

Said not this guy ever.

FREE THINKING also stood out. There's something beautiful about FREE THINKING at the top and DENY DENY DENY at the bottom. Political statement, hmm, Paolo?

Do people say LAND SAKES ALIVE? I was going to mock this entry, but then I had a vague unease that perhaps the kids are mocking my mocking — a meta-mocking — because they traveled back to 1950 to bring it back into vogue.

The grid pattern is so alluring, the black squares creating a sense of motion. One part S + one part whirlpool + one part long lines in the triple-stacks = work of art. I couldn't take my eyes off it for several seconds upon first opening it up. It's rare that I'm so mesmerized.

Old guy not getting clues, takes 1 and 2:

  1. STACY's mom got back from a business trip? Ah, it's some song. Wait! A guy in my fantasy bball league named his team "Stacy's mom" — now I get it! Um, I mean, I knew that all along. Said not this guy ever.
  2. Do-si-do do ... do has to do with HOEDOWN dos? Does do do double do-duty? ("Do" can mean "party.")

A couple of other strong entries, LIFE HACK SANSKRIT HOEDOWN GODSEND, but not quite the quantity of goodness I want out of a themeless. It wasn't as smooth as I like, either, with STAGY EDS ONS SRA STE needed to hold things together.

The huge visual impact of the grid layout, plus the wallop of those great marquee entries, still made for a memorable puzzle, though.

Fri 3/20/2020

This puzzle makes me remember how much I enjoy themelesses featuring marquee grid-spanning entries. WHO WORE IT BETTER and CARE TO ELABORATE are such evocative phrases! They're almost related — I can imagine RuPaul or Anna Wintour using both in the same breath.

(Yes, I Googled "famous fashion journalists" to find another name to go with RuPaul. Joan Rivers died a long time ago. Huh.)

Grid-spanners often take up so much real estate that there's not much room for other material. With just six other long slots (8+ letters), each one has to be squeezed for every last drop of juice. I loved ZAGAT-RATED and enjoyed learning about ANN LANDERS. Neat trivia, that two people wrote as her.

Last time ATHLEISURE appeared, I was plus-minus on it. It's hard to figure out which portmanteaus are awesome and which are awful. I like TWITTERATI, although I had an uneasy feeling that the kids these days are rolling their eyes at the old man enjoying a term that may have gone by the wayside.

(Apparently the kids these days have moved away from Twitter, to Insta. And they'll be off that as soon as I create an account.)

Thankfully, the mid-length material sang. OH GREAT, indeed!

Huh? No, I didn't mean that sarcastically. Seriously, I'm just an old dude who tries too hard.

Often, 7-letter material is filler, simply taking up space to connect the good stuff. Not today. EGG WASH, OTTOMAN, SARA LEE, TSHIRTS out of a cannon, DEMETER — wow!

Along with little crossword glue, it's a work of excellent craftsmanship. The bar for 72-word themelesses (the maximum allowed) is extremely high these days, but if a few of the long entries had hit my ear more strongly, this would have gained some POW! attention.

Sat 11/2/2019

A one-two punch of Paolo and Erik? If you listen closely, you can hear all us old-timers shivering, wondering what entries we won't be cool enough to know. Thankfully, 1-Across wasn't back-breaking! It took every single cross, but I finally cracked AM I LLI, where in Roman numerals, L + L + I = 50 + 50 + 1 = 101, cool-kid slang for lots of money.

Ha ha ha, I kid! Of course, it's AM I ILL, where ILL gets reversed, like backward baseball caps. Only those in the know will understand when I tell them I'm LLI. Boo-yah!

I was wondering when SEMORDNILAP was going to make its debut. Will Shortz once told a friend of mine that it was too tough a word to use as a revealer in an early-week puzzle. A Saturday — without a telltale clue — seems like the perfect place. Still confused to its etymology? Pretend you're a cool kid … or should I say LLI?

Curious choice to clue KIM to the nuclear-arsenal-possessing madman. Doubly curious to tell him to COME AT ME, bro. Not cool, guys! Seattle is not nearly far enough from North Korea for my taste.

Some fun clues, like ELECTRIC FAN being a "Cooler full of juice?" and DOMED using "Round up?" Both required telltale question marks, though, which took away from some of the entertainment. For my milli, Erik is one of the best cluers out there, so I was a little disappointed to not get a potential award-winner today. Just goes to show how high my bar is for him.

Overall, a great Saturday workout. It's such a relief to finish, after the initial scare of a potentially generationally inaccessible 1-Across.

Sat 5/25/2019

HAWAIIAN SHIRT / CATE BLANCHETT (wow, what a performance as Hela in "Thor: Ragnarok"!) / MICHELIN GUIDE made for a beautiful stair stack. I wasn't entirely sure what CHRISTIAN MINGLE was — been a while since I've used dating sites, thankfully — but it's a colorful and evocative brand.

Most stair stackers don't try to run a full-length 15 down the center, because it creates too much of a constraint. I like how Paolo tackled his grid, segmenting it a bit so that he could work on his NW / SE corners with relative ease. It didn't cut off those corners too severely, and it gave him a lot of flexibility.

LAPEL MIC and ANIMATOR are pretty good; ANIMATOR made better by a great clue playing on "drawing power." ON A LEASH was more filler than standout, but two out of three ain't bad.

Paolo did better in the SE corner; GLADHAND / LINGERIE / EASY READ all solid. Making it happen with no crossword glue, too! The GLE ending of CHRISTIAN MINGLE is easier to work with than the all-consonant CHR, so I wasn't surprised that the SE outshone the NW.

Delightful clue for DELIS, which serve DELIS(H) food, indeed!

The one sticking point was the ASHMAN / MIDRASH crossing. This is a Saturday puzzle, so it should be difficult. Is it fair to expect a solver to know a Hollywood lyricist and/or a term for Hebrew scripture? I happened to guess correctly, but I'm sympathetic to people gnashing their teeth over ISHMAN, ESHMAN, OSHMAN, or USHMAN.

Interesting to compare yesterday's themeless with today's. Stan's puzzles often feel a bit old-school to me, while Paolo's sometimes leave me in the dust with all his cutting-edge references (CHRISTIAN MINGLE, ASHMAN, HACKATHON, HEDER might all be tough for an older generation). Will has a tremendously difficult job, trying to cater to as many of his solvers as possible. What with the huge range of ages and backgrounds, it's often a no-win situation.

Sat 1/19/2019

These guys are so innovative with their grid designs. This one draws from all sorts of themeless styles: usual triple-stacks in the NW / SE, a stair-stacked triplet in the center, stairsteps of black squares, and the difficult "turning the corner" — three long answers intersecting three other long answers — in the SW / NE. Something for everyone!

I couldn't decide whether I liked the black square just below OUT. I'm all for liberal usage of cheater squares — those stairsteps of black squares on the sides of the grid contain three apiece, and I don't mind them at all — but there's something too angular about this one. It makes "turning the corner" much easier, but I wasn't keen on the visual effect.

Strong work in the diagonal from SW to NE. (MICHELLE OBAMA wrote a book called "Becoming", in case you're living in a cave.) And that clue for PERSONAL SPACE! [Mine field] has nothing to do with land mines — think of the possessive sense. It's brilliant, as is so much of these guys' clever cluing. CASE SENSITIVE makes for a great bow on that triplet.

MESOPOTAMIA running through it all? Yes, please!

But that's not all. Considering that POT BELLIED STOVE and YEAR OF THE MONKEY constrain things mightily, I wouldn't expect much from the SW and NE corners. Certainly not the quantity or quality of MENSWEAR CIRCUS ACT, and ALONE TIME KAVA KAVA. Beautiful work.

So many constraints will have a side effect somewhere though, and that was the NW / SE. It surprised me at first, thinking that these regions had relative freedom. But once you fix HALLOWEEN II and POTBELLIED STOVE into place, it's so tough to squeeze more out of the NW. TAKE THIS? ON A LEASH. They work. Not as colorful as CIRCUS ACT, though.

Along with PRIVY TO HEADED TO PAY TO — so many prepositions — I couldn't quite see this as a POW! contender.

Still, I admire the innovation in grid design. And such a beautiful result in the SW to NE diagonal.

Mon 1/22/2018

EROSION wearing away at the last words of themers today, STONE to TONE to TON to ON to O. Neat how well this works, always shaving off a letter from one of the sides (not from the middle). And the EROSION revealer, so appropriate! Great Monday theme.

I debated whether this should get the POW! or not. Simple theme, just right for a Monday, but also clever and interesting. Pretty strong themers, too, I MEAN, COME ON delightful and STANDING O just as good. Not a lot of crossword glue, either.

And the clues! Loved the one for ERNIE, hinting at the possibility that they're more than just roommates. APT giving an example of "Robin Banks" for a criminal? Paolo's "Seinfeld" obsession showing through again, with details on ELAINE's job at J. Peterman? Delightful!

So why did I pause? While I think the fill is ultimately all fair — I don't see any squares that might seem equally plausible if filled with a different letter — CHALUPA is a toughie. Educated solvers ought to have heard of CATO before, so entering COTO / CHALUPO or CETO / CHALUPE feels like it'd be the solver's fault, not Paolo's. But it's close.

OBLASTS, too. OCTAD is inferable given the OCT- beginning, so no ambiguous squares.

But along with SCROD, the RIAL, LILA Wallace, the grid left me hesitating as to whether I'd give this one to a novice, attempting to get them hooked on crosswords. Didn't pass that test for me, so I felt like I couldn't give it the POW!

Overall though, strong work in the theme idea, themer selections, even in the bonuses like CLAPTON, SPECTRE, FLOOR IT! So close to earning my nod.

Fri 12/8/2017

Loved that little QUAALUDE / PUZZLE BOX section! Something so awesome about all those rare letters worked in so smoothly.

And PUZZLE BOX and ESCAPE ROOM in the same grid? Squee! A puzzler's dream.

Paolo did well with his long slots, converting so many of them into snazzy material. I hitched slightly on NINJA STARS — "throwing stars," yeah? — but AP CREDIT. BARREL RACE! JEAN SHORTS! DERNIER CRI, even some great mid-length stuff in QUE PASA, BAT CAVE! Paolo sure knows how to pack in a ton of entertainment.

I'm a Queen fan, but I wasn't sure what RADIO GAGA was, nor did I recognize it. Fun title, though.

SUBTWEET fell into the same category. I think I'm just not in that target demographic. Entries like this are tough — I bet some tweeps will go (radio?) ga-ga over this entry, but it didn't do anything for me. Except make me feel old.

Some crossword glue, in OTT, GOVT / CORP, AMT, KEL (come on, someone named KEL become truly crossworthy already!). Not too bad, but considering this is a 72-word puzzle (the max allowed for a themeless), I would have liked that AMT to be closer to two. There are always trade-offs with any grid construction, but I think it's very doable to make 72-word grids snazzy AND ultra-smooth.

A lot to love here. Approaching POW!-level work, but not quite at my personal threshold.

POW Mon 9/11/2017

★ Great start to the week, a solid offering from two of my favorite people in the crossworld. I've seen a couple of LA LA LAND puzzles over the years — especially after the Oscars brouhaha — so (probably like Erik) I was a tad underwhelmed to get "phrases containing LA and LA." What a nice a-ha moment when I realized that it wasn't just any old phrases, but actual LANDs containing LA and LA. Beautiful!

Mirror symmetry can be a godsend. I don't imagine there are many place names containing LA and LA. As a constructor, it can be supremely frustrating to find great theme answers, only to realize that they don't pair up. Lengths of 14, 12, 10, 10, bleh! Except that mirror symmetry handles some kooky theme set lengths perfectly. Good trick to have in one's arsenal.

Mirror symmetry typically requires more black squares than regular symmetry, and today's grid is no exception. It's usually necessary to deploy some black squares in the middle of the puzzle, and they tend to chunk up, like the "hat" sitting atop HICK. Some editors put a limit on black squares at 36 or 38, but I don't mind when a puzzle gets up to 40 or even 42, as long as it's still visually pleasing. This grid looked fine to me.

Tough to make one's voice heard in an early-week puzzle that calls for simple clues, but I love what these guys have done. OOPSIE! SLED clue referencing "Calvin and Hobbes." PERFECT GPA! Even a fun quote with LOW. (It's from Michelle Obama, taking the high road when others go LOW.)

I wasn't sure about AFROED, but it does have dictionary support. More importantly, Erik has been awesomely AFROED in the past, so I defer to him. Otherwise, not a single hitch in the short fill — such meticulous work in filling out their grid, not an OOPSIE in sight. Your effort and care are much appreciated, sirs.

A joy to solve; exactly how interesting, smooth, and snazzy a Monday puzzle should be.

Fri 7/21/2017

Love the featured I NEED A MOMENT and BIGGIE SMALLS — I'm not the most diehard of rap fans, but what a great name, BIGGIE SMALLS. You know you've made it big(gie) when you get not one but two awesome monikers that stick (The Notorious B.I.G. is his other one). I also like that Paolo chose a rapper whose stage name is made of real(ish) words, rather than two tough proper nouns, i.e. TALIB KWELI. I have to imagine that for non-rap fans, BIGGIE SMALLS is at least gettable without needing every crossing answer.

So difficult to seed a themeless with 12-letter entries. Those black squares to the left of I NEED A MOMENT already start fixing a grid pattern into place, rarely a good thing for constructors, needing maximum flexibility to move black squares around.

There aren't very many long entries — just ten that are eight letters or longer — but Paolo does include a few nice mid-length entries to spice things up. FAN DUEL is familiar to this fantasy basketball fan, and MINI ME (so tough to parse that French-looking MINIME string), CANAPE, LES MIZ are all nice.

I did struggle around LES MIZ though, as I've seen it written LES MIS, too. Surely there couldn't be a one-name singer whose name starts with Z, right? Wrong! I have (sort of) heard of Zayn (Malik), formerly of One Direction, but I had already put LAID in where LAIN was supposed to go.

Is that south section fair, i.e. should educated solvers be expected to know ZAYN without needing every cross? On the one hand, he did have a #1 hit in 2016. On the other, there are so many crazily-named singers out there, that SAYD or SAYN seems plausible too. I think a clearer clue for LAIN would have made things better, perhaps a "Biblically" descriptor.

MALE GAZE wasn't familiar to me, but it was interesting to read up on — I do like to learn one, maybe two things, from a single crossword.

But GALOP … what an oddball word. It does seem fair(ish) now that it's been in the NYT, but I'd personally try everything I could to excise it.

Overall, some great feature entries, but not enough for my taste, especially given the presence of liabilities like ELLS, SKED, ENSEAL. It's too bad that there weren't more long entries in the grid in total — with just ten long slots, I feel like every one of them has to land with power. Didn't quite happen for me.

Sat 5/20/2017

Two of the youngsters teaming up! I was a little excited to do the puzzle … and a little apprehensive. What hip term would they use, that I would have to pretend like I was cool enough to understand?

Thankfully, they featured a ton of great material that was accessible even to me. That NW corner of SILICON CHIP / AVOCADO ROLL / ZONE DEFENSE was fantastic — and even better considering how smooth it was. (ERG is short and fairly ignorable, at least to this mechanical engineer.)

And although seven-letter themeless entries can be tough to make shine, what a neat NE corner. Love those two Zs (Aziz Ansari is The Man) and the J, made even better by being featured in a great entry, JOYRIDE.

Now, FACESWAP had the potential to be the type of hipster entry I worried about. Thankfully, the clue directly gets at the answer in an explicit way. Whew!

Speaking of piecing it together, that bottom right corner was rough, even though I had heard of the BECHDEL TEST. It's an important concept — a measure of how women are portrayed in media — but BECHDEL is a tough proper name to get right.

I do like that the NYT crossword helps the term get more exposure, but I fear that solvers denied their "I correctly finished the Saturday NYT crossword!" high will harbor a negative impression of the term. Paolo and David did well to make all the crossings gettable … except that STOWE as a ski town (and not Harriet Beecher) is suspect. I call foul on that, opening the door to perfectly fine-looking STOWA or STOWY.

The SAZERAC / RIIS crossing was much better — I don't expect all educated solvers to know what a Sazerac is (plus, they're disgusting), but Jacob RIIS is one of the most important journalists in history.

Another big highlight for me was DIREWOLF, as I used to be a "Game of Thrones" fan. Love those fiercely loyal and protective creatures.

So much to love here; smooth, well-crafted puzzle. If ODETS and SOREL hadn't highlighted the SAZERAC and BECHDEL proper noun issues further, I would have given this one my POW!

Fri 2/3/2017

My fascination with Paolo's "Seinfeld" fascination continues! Love that ENEMY clue, referencing Jerry and Newman's rivalry. It also amuses me to no end that Paolo and I also share a love for "Parks and Recreation." Along with DEATH RAY, FACE PALM, PITY PARTY, and DRUNK DIAL, so much of his snazzy vocabulary is right on my wavelength.

It makes me feel good to dig a puzzle from someone from a different generation than me. Sometimes I have a tough time relating to puzzles written by the younger crowd; not familiar with their pop culture, personalities, or slang. But I feel like I'd enjoy hanging out with Paolo.

(I can just see him cringing.)

Not as much in terms of long fill as I usually like — just eight entries of 8+ letters — but Paolo did make great use of each of those long slots. The only one I wondered about was the outdated YAHOO MAIL, as us cool, hip folks (hopefully my absurdism comes through) use Gmail. But it has been in the news recently, Yahoo having been hacked in a gigantic way.

Some nice bonuses in the mid to even short stuff, with DOVE BAR and its great clue, something cold from Mars — the company, not the planet — the cringeworthy MANKINI, and even THE EU. Rare that a short answer catches my attention, but THE EU is in the language, and it looks so weirdly cool as THEEU. When I first saw that entry a few years ago, it was too bizarre for me. But I've changed my mind on that.

Smooth work, the puzzle held together so cleanly with little crossword glue. A case could be made that AMA and BIP might be gluey-esque, but generally, I think they're reasonable entries; minor dings at most.

The only one that I hitched on was BIS. Do body-builders really call their biceps BIS? Not at my gym. Granted, not many of my climbing friends are bodybuilders, but BIS sure hit my ear funny.

Anytime you're in Seattle, Paolo, the drinks are on me! (Just as long as you start "The Office" already.)

Sat 11/26/2016

I appreciated some awesome entries, THE MARTIAN one of my favorite reads from last year. Not only is it a gripping survival story, but the author, Andy Weir, started off self-publishing the book. Came as a total surprise to him when it became a monster hit! Perhaps there's hope for us as-yet-unpublished-writers, after all. (Not really. But that's okay.)

TIN FOIL HAT was stellar, too. Not only do they protect you from the various rays shooting around the ether, but they're stylish. (What do you mean, "crackpot chic" isn't a style?)

And I didn't know the MUSLIM ERA term, but it was really interesting to learn about. Pretty incredible to read about all the groundbreaking developments during the Islamic Golden Age.

Several entries I didn't know — WHATS APP was a mystery, probably because I just got my first smartphone a few months ago. (As a friend said, "welcome to 2005!") I used to consider myself a social animal, but PUB GOLF was a bit of an enigma, too. (It's been roughly 86 years since I went to more than one pub in a single night.) And HARD EDGED … aren't detective novels HARD BOILED?

There were only minor bits of VELO, SEN type of minor glue (and the OH OH crossing HA HA HA felt a little inelegant), but there were also two spots that gave me trouble: with TOSH / OCHS, I was SO thankful I've learned these through crosswords over the years!

The other was just a plain old guess, the L of NATAL / LAMPED. Yikes, so many letters seemed like they could be plausible! I was hugely relieved to have gotten that right. Pretty sure my trusty TIN FOIL HAT helped me guess correctly.

Loved some of the long answers, but also had some sticking points here and there.


Paolo's Sunday debut! I like how he's been stretching himself as a constructor, first doing themelesses, then early week, and now a Sunday 21x. Very cool to see a person push and stretch themselves.

The theme is pretty straightforward — phrases where one of the words has its first letter moved to the end, to produce funny results. I had mixed feelings on them, as DAME CHEESE (EDAM -> DAME) is amusing, but HEAR PERLMAN and SENATE IDEA felt more dry.

I really liked the ESPRIT -> SPRITE find, as it's neat to see that long word get an interesting transformation. It's too bad that the rest are short words, just four or five letters. There are so many dozens (hundreds?) of short words that can be transformed like this, so the puzzle felt a bit loose for my taste. Would have been great to get a few more 6+ letter ones — that could have tightened up the theme.

His grid is quite nice — it's clear that all his prior work has helped him develop the skills needed to tackle the daunting 140-word 21x Sunday puzzle. Take his upper right corner, for instance. That type of 8x3 chunk is not easy to pull off for a newer constructor, but it's a very common phenomenon in themeless puzzles. Paolo does so well here, with THE FORUM, SI SENORA, and OPERAMAN. What a great set of entries! With only TSO a little rickety (and saved by a good historical clue), I doubt Paolo could have pulled that off without all his work in themeless grids.

I would have loved some extra element — a tighter theme (all names? all verbs to nouns? something else in common that tied the themers together?), more transformed words of six or more letters, something spelled out by the new first letters — but it generally works as a straightforward theme. And it was awfully nice to get some snazzy bonus fill like DOPESLAP, EGGHEADED, ABSINTHE, etc. Enhances the solve to get so much themeless-quality fill.

ADDED NOTE: Wish I had caught REAR ENDED (highlighted below). Neat how that term literally describes those nine letters. Would have been great if some clue had alluded to it, or the letters had been circled — I have a feeling that a lot of solvers will miss this element. I'm glad that Paolo pointed it out! That's the kind of extra layer I was hoping for, making the puzzle feel tighter, more elegant.

Fri 8/19/2016

I still chuckle at Paolo's interest in Seinfeld. It's one of my favorite shows of all time, having spawned so many phrases in use today — but it aired back when I was Paolo's age. It's cool to see how someone from a generation (or two?) behind me shares for all things Seinfeldian. Hands up if you filled in MANSIERE for MAN___! Okay, MAN PURSE is pretty good too, but the "bro vs. mansiere" (a support garment for men) would have made me laugh so much. I'm super curious if that might have been Paolo's original seed entry.

And ITS GO TIME! I laughed so hard when I realized both Paolo and I were thinking "Mandelbaum, Mandelbaum, Mandelbaum!" (Sorry, non-Seinfeld fans — go watch the series. You won't be sorry.) That phrase right below BRING IT ON = a brilliant pairing. I've been appreciating more and more when themeless constructors figure out ways of putting related entries adjacent to each other.

Paolo uses a grid heavy on seven-letter entries, and some of them are great. BAR BETS always amuse me (especially those employing a trick of physics), BAD EGGS and USO TOUR are nice, and although STAN LEE is just an abysmal actor in his movie cameos, I greatly admire what he's done. He's been so incredibly productive.

As with many seven-letter-heavy themelesses though, I agree with Paolo that there was untapped potential. Entries like WRESTED, GLEANED, EPITOME are fine, but they don't give me the same elation as ITS GO TIME! And ESSENES is a valid word, but constructors have been relying on it so heavily over the years, what with all those Es and Ss so useful in a terminal spot.

I would have loved to see what Paolo could have done by shifting the three black squares above BIG EATER up one row — BAD EGGS / I LOVE LA / GLEANED is a decent triplet, but it felt like a triple of eight-letter words might have made that lower left corner stellar.

With just a bit of ARE NOT (any [Playground comeback] isn't great), DONA (tough Portuguese), TOD (esoteric cartoon name), Paolo holds his grid together well. Some potential left on the table, but man oh man do I love the Seinfeldian feel of Paolo's work.

Sat 4/23/2016

Paolo is one of my favorite rising stars in crosswordland, mostly doing themelesses but also showing some early-week range. One of the millennials (or younger?), he does a great job of capturing the flavor of his generation. It's so tough to make your shortish entries sing, but I was pleasantly surprised to uncover TUMBLR. I only vaguely know what that is, but Paolo did a nice job making sure that each crossing made it gettable. RAGE QUIT is another prime example.

That's my kind of home remedy! Let's just add in some whiskey ...

Ah, RAGE QUIT. Byron Walden once told me that he avoids putting marquee answers at 1-Across. I thought that was odd--wouldn't you want to highlight your great entries? But I've gradually come to see his point. Today, RAGE QUIT headlines the puzzle … but as Paolo points out, it's been in the NYT puzzle twice already in the past 12 months. I usually don't mind repetition, as it'll naturally occur, but there's something about RAGE QUIT that makes it less fun to see over and over. Perhaps because it seems like such a specialized term? Or how angry it sounds?

But back to the great stuff. Paolo takes nice advantage of his long slots, giving us the colorful YOU HEARD ME, TAX EVASION, RAN RAMPANT, GINGER ALES as home remedies (for indigestion, motion sickness, etc.), and STARGAZE. Along with clever mid-length entries like GYM RAT and LA-Z-BOY, there's a ton of snazzy material packed in.

I might have included BROMANCE in the list of assets a few years ago, but it feels like it's losing its shine, similar to RAGE QUIT. It has shown up in the NYT crossword a lot now, so perhaps it's simple overexposure.

I also like the fortuitous crossing of DATA SET and STATS. Sure is fun to get those related answers crossing each other.

With just a smattering of the EDD (crossworthy or not?) and ESA (this stands for … what? Ah, European Space Agency), I'm impressed at how much solid material Paolo worked in without requiring much crossword glue.

Mon 2/8/2016

Apt revealer, IT COUPLE interpreted as "two-word entries, both words containing IT." I liked the fake-out of uncovering ITSY-BITSY and NITTY-GRITTY first ... and then hitting SWIMSUIT EDITION. I enjoy when a theme lulls me into thinking I know what's going on (a play on rhyming words) and then throws me off guard.

A very nice grid, Paolo tossing in such nice bonus fill as GOLF CLAP, I MISS YOU, DOES GOOD, and even CATALYST. LOMBARDI and SNICKERS too! He's had a couple of great themelesses over at Buzzfeed — all clean and colorful — so it didn't surprise me to see that his grid is not just filled with goodies, but it's squeaky clean. It's exactly what I think a Monday grid ought to be. Great work there.

The theme wasn't mind-blowing to me, as there are plenty of phrases with two ITs: CREDIT LIMIT, POSITIVE ATTITUDE, SWITCH HITTER, etc., but it works well enough for both novices and experienced solvers. And it's consistent, never resorting to a three-word phrase like A LITTLE BIT or something.

One aspect that kept me from picking it as the POW — it's unusual to find a Monday grid as colorful and clean as this — is that I would have liked the themers to all be in the across direction. I love the great long entries Paolo added in, but they muddied up what was fill and what was theme. Putting all the themers horizontally might have made starring their clues unnecessary, as they would have all stood out better.

Great quote by Vince LOMBARDI: "The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work." Totally old-school, nose to the grindstone attitude that helped the Packers win the first two Super Bowls. It also applies to Paolo — it's clear to me how much work he's put into his crossword-making skills. Very well done.

Fri 7/17/2015

Debut! And a young un, adding to our list of youngest constructors (sorted by age when they debuted). Amazing to think that Paolo is 15, and that he started constructing probably years before that.

Mad about MAD ABOUT YOU, or not so much?

I liked WALTER MITTY, MINOR THREAT, and KICKSTARTER. The latter is something I associate more with the youngsters, much more so than MAD ABOUT YOU. Amusing to think that that show went off the air … a year before Paolo was born.

I wonder if MAD ABOUT YOU is gridworthy. I don't think it'll stand the test of time like Seinfeld or the Simpsons, but we'll see. I gave up on the show after a few years because it got old, but perhaps the die-hards will keep it alive on fan sites. TIMECOP also felt outdated to me, although I imagine that some people will consider it a cult classic.

I liked the math bent, what with the ENIGMA and REAL clues. Neat to think about those English codebreakers, trying to figure out what the heck the Germans were doing with their ENIGMA machines. I loved reading about the spy games they played, especially after they managed to get a working Enigma machine. You want to use the information, but you don't want to use it so much that the Germans catch on …

And I had to stop and think for a minute about e being real. The mathematical constant e (roughly = 2.718) is irrational, meaning it can't be expressed by a fraction. But is it real? Took me a while to remember that anything that can be placed on the number line is real, so e qualifies but i (the square root of negative one) is not.

For a 66-word puzzle, there's not nearly as many gluey entries as I might have expected. ESTOPS is a usual suspect because of its common letters and the Ss which are useful as terminal letters. ATHENE helps anchor that lower right, but it is odd to see it as something besides ATHENA. Other than that though, pretty darn clean.

All in all, I'm looking forward to more from Paolo.