Robyn Weintraub, of Rye Brook, New York, has been constructing crosswords for more than a decade. She's a member of the in-house puzzle team at The New Yorker. When she's not making puzzles she's volunteering for the League of Women Voters trying to save democracy, or playing in her garden.
★ Another beauty from Robyn — you bet I FANCY THAT! Not many constructors can work with 14 long slots (8+ letters) and convert them into 14 excellent entries. Editors prize multi-worders in themelesses, because they often have more zing than single-worders. CIRCULAR FILE and CRUNCH TIME are perfect examples, laden with meaning and imagery.
And the single-worders that Robyn did employ? This dork would gladly submit to the emotional terrors of pon farr if it meant a shot at joining STARFLEET.
DUTY-FREE SHOPS does double duty, too, as both a fantastic phrase and one that lends itself to a Starfleet admiral-level clue. "Non-taxing part of airline travel" wins a Medal of Excellence.
Themeless constructors often either allow too much glue or are too stringent at the cost of not enough color. Robyn has found the sweet spot, achieving top-notch pizazz at only nominal costs like STD and TUE.
I did have one hitch at the end of my solve, since I confidently wrote in BANTER for [Give and take]. My annoyance level was high; unable to figure out how ANC could match [Bow]. But when I finally corrected to BARTER, I appreciated what an interesting coincidence that is, BANTER and BARTER both aptly fitting that clue. Crossword theme radar pinging ...
I've raised my bar for Robyn because she's just that good. Today's surpassed even my final frontier expectations.
There's no DEFINITE MAYBE about it; Robyn's byline always brings me joy. Her philosophy of building crosswords to entertain and distract from the woes of the world resonates so strongly. She's got an incredible knack for incorporating colorful and smile-inducing phrases like FINE DINING and I HAVE TO RUN.
Not only do her feature entries work great on their own, but she combines them in fun ways. I picked up a love for deals from my Taiwanese mother, so COUPON CODE over BONUS ROUND = yes please!
(The Amazon Fresh store that's now sent me over $500 worth of "buy $25 worth of groceries and save $10" coupons might want to rethink their approach. But don't tell them that.)
BRIDGE LOAN is a neat term, self-explanatory even to non-MBAS — since they bridge the potential chasm caused by a cash crunch.
And as someone who's cut up a ton of cantaloupe, MELONBALLER crossing ORANGE made me grin.
Even having been in charge of payrolls, I couldn't exactly remember FICA or what it stood for, and I did wonder for a minute if it was ANA or INA de Armas. No other pauses, though. I'm so impressed at the arc of Robyn's constructing career, her puzzles regularly exhibiting both color and cleanliness these days — in exemplary fashion.
What I love most about Robyn's puzzles is that they spark so much joy. CHOCOHOLIC, DESSERT WINES, DOZEN ROSES, going in WARP DRIVE? THAT'S SO Robyn!
What I want most out of my crosswords is an uplifting, entertaining fifteen minutes to help me forget about the woes of the world. (Others vehemently disagree, looking for other elements like education and horizon-broadening, and that's fine.) Robyn exemplifies this philosophy, and my world always feels happier—12x rosier, you might say—after finishing one of her beautifully-arranged bouquets.
LET THAT SINK IN, EATING FOR TWO — now that's the Weintraubian themeless vibe I know and love! Fantastic everyday phrases that can take on clever clues, all while keeping the mood fun and playful. They make for such brilliant marquee features.
Not as wild about the rest, at least compared to my heaven-high standards for Robyn. It was much darker than usual, with HORSEMEN of the Apocalypse, CENTURION, packing HEAT, DREW in a pistol duel … yikes.
Thank goodness for that awesome NAIL POLISH clue. [Digital (relating to the digits of the hand) color presentation?] is such a clever misdirect, getting me to think about Powerpoint.
I didn't love ANAT, ESSO, THU, and especially EFT in a 70-word construction — these days, the competition is so high that virtually all 70- and 72-worders ought to be near spotless.
However, Robyn worked in enough CASE DISMISSED, POKER CHIP as "food" that goes into a poker kitty, GENERATION GAP, to still make it a fun diversion.
★ Another delightful puzzle from one of my favorite themeless constructors. There's so much emotion tied up in OH, IS THAT SO?, ranging from innocent querying to sarcastic throwing of shade. I love these kinds of entries.
CAKE TOPPERS is another fantastic entry, but for a different reason: it's ripe for clever cluing. Playing on "stuck-up" — as in stuck on top of a cake — is so smile-inducing. Plus, cake!
Similarly with TELEKINESIS. It's not only laden with mystery, but innocently repurposing "brain power," as in a literal power generated by one's brain, is as magical as the wikihow page on how to develop TELEKINESIS. Quite a moving (sorry) article.
I wasn't as hot on the ROSE BUSHES misdirect. Both Jim Horne and I fell for the Rose GARDEN trap, but it felt more mean than clever. Sort of a Nelson Muntz "Haw haw!"
And as typical for a Weintraub themeless, more than a handful of wordplay clues that elevate boring ol' day-to-day short fill. A CODA is (a set of musical) bars that close (out a piece). Getting a date from a PALM is different from Tinder. If only Palm Pilots were still around, you could get a date from a palm or a Palm!
Pardon my French, but how the @#$! am I supposed to know the French for "without caffeine"? Wait. SANS … caf … ah, SANKA! Great piece of trivia.
A "clue echo" works best when the same clue is repurposed in two vastly different senses. Using "turnover" in two consecutive clues, to mean an apple pastry vs. a basketball flub is perfection.
It's not one of my absolute favorite Weintraub creations, what with some potential left on the table — BEFORE I FORGET isn't as evocative as OH, IS THAT SO?, and entries like GUIDEBOOKS and GOES TOO FAR had uninterestingly straight-shooting clues. Still, a lovely ten minutes of escape. Exactly what I want out of a crossword.
★ Another delight from Robyn! What I most want out of a crossword is ten minutes to forget about the woes of the world, so Robyn's BEDSIDE MANNER is perfect. GO WITH THE FLOW, DON'T GIVE UP, PADDLEBOATS, SOFT SPOT, FREE SPIN — so much EYE CANDY! If there were cruciverbal Olympics, I'd lobby hard for Robyn to get GOLD MEDALS in the themeless category.
I appreciate how she doesn't try to do too much with a grid, usually sticking to 70 words and maximizing both color and cleanliness. Maybe there's an argument that ESL could be difficult to suss out (English as a second language), and some solvers might not know NWA, but both of these entries have gimme crossings. I'm in awe of themeless constructors who can consistently pump out 68 or even 66-worders that exhibit similar levels of both snazz and smoothness, but that's incredibly rare. I'm more than happy to solve 70-worders like this one.
Robyn is one of the best in clever cluing, too. Granted, some of the wordplay brilliance comes from Will Shortz and the team, but Robyn's themelesses consistently have around a half-dozen wickedly sharp clues (most other regulars might have around 3 or 4). My favorite today was the confusing [It helps make waiting easier]. That's a TRAY, as in waiting tables — brilliant! Close behind, though, was GOLD MEDALS' punny play on "haul of fame."
Different people want different things out of crosswords, and Robyn's style may not resonate with those seeking deeper enlightenment or broadening of their world view. For those of us who want a pleasant diversion to start our day, something to clear our minds and put us into a positive mindspace, Robyn puts out near-perfect products.
The title OLIO — a crossworld insider's term for a mixture or mismash — doesn't do this puzzle justice. It's such a jaw-dropping grid, those diagonals neatly aligned as if this were a magnetic field. Great first impression.
Some flashy long material, too. A typical themeless features about 12-14 long slots (of 8+ letters), whereas this super-sized one sports 24 of them. That's about what you'd expect, given that a 21x grid has about twice as many squares as a 15x, but it's still such a huge quantity of long slots to work with. Awesome stuff that's new to the NYT crossword:
Nary a trace of crossword glue, either. If ECONO, MER, NEET are the only entries a certain annoyingly picky blogger who wishes he could get a funny nickname like the BIEB (Justin Bieber) can point out … Incredibly clean.
There was a lot of potential left on the table, though, with a lot of long slots taken up by neutral material:
Not the most suspenseful or enticing of entries, especially given that editors prize colorful multi-word entries. A fun clue can elevate them — PROPELLED literally so, with [Catapulted, say] — but they're not even close to something like NOT EVEN CLOSE.
Along with a ton of mid-length filler through the middle like HEDGED HOGGED BONDED WINKED COOLED WORKED BINGED, it's not my favorite of Robyn's work. As visually pleasing as the black diagonals are, the grid design doesn't do Robyn any favors.
I haven't been a fan of the themeless Sunday, but I've softened my stance over time. It is challenging to present brilliant themes week after week, so an occasional themeless puzzle can help fill the gaps. I'd much rather have a snazzy themeless than a dull theme.
★ A much harder than usual Weintraub Friday puzzle, but I still loved it. There's so much playfulness, so much to enjoy in evocative entries like SLEEPOVER PARTY, WHATS FOR DINNER, HOT APPLE CIDER. I spend a lot of time thinking about great phrases to add to our word list, but none of these three had occurred to me.
(Maybe when my kids enter that dreaded age of losing-sleep sleepovers. I can already sense the impending crankiness …)
Why was this puzzle so difficult, and more importantly, why did that make me enjoy it a tad less than a typical Weintraub Friday?
One reason was the unusual grid layout. Instead of having most of the snazz squeezed into the four corners, it's spread throughout. I love how SLEEPOVER PARTY, WHAT'S FOR DINNER, FRONT ROW SEATS, and HOT APPLE CIDER build an open skeleton, with so much EARLY FROST, TEDDY BEAR filling the perimeter. It does make it harder to gain traction, though.
Another reason was that some of the wordplay cluing nearly went over my head. Jim Horne and I had to spend a minute figuring out why a CONE is a cup alternative (neither of us has gone out for ice cream for roughly a year — what else have we forgotten about?). I often admire "directive" clues, but [Snap out of it?] for CAMERA (you get a "snap" or a pic out of a camera) made my tiny brain snap.
I like it when puzzles make me feel smart. When I can rip through a themeless in under-record time, I often feel strongly positive about it. The opposite can also be true.
Thankfully, there was more than enough to delight me. The clue for POEM, getting measured in both feet and meters, is both genius and smile-inducing; absolutely perfect wordplay.
I appreciate that there are (equally valid) constructing philosophies out there, but I so love Robyn's pure fun-and-enjoyment approach. It's by far my favorite.
★ Incredibly well done! Great long entries, a wealth of clever and/or amusing clues, not much short glue (although SERE, I sere you).
So many of the marquees resonated with me, a PARENTHOOD vibe running throughout. I'm in the midst of a PICKY EATER period, where our kids won't even touch a potato even though they love fries. Sometimes I wonder if my life is a giant SATIRE, with our living room ACCENT RUG accented by Lego booby-traps I have ZERO CHANCE of avoiding. Reaching CRISIS MODE …
I was sure that "something you can't get in a restaurant" would be ANYTHING THAT MY KIDS WILL EAT, but that's slightly too long.
BERT AND ERNIE — surprisingly together for 50+ years! — unfortunately haven't worked themselves into my household, which is more filled with ASH AND THAT FREAKING ANNOYING SQUEAKY PIKACHU. I don't care if that's too long, that's my answer, and I'm sticking to it.
Jeff Foxworthy is studying me for his next "You Know You're a Parent" bit.
Robyn does such a wonderful job of weaving joy and delight into both her grids and her clues. Aside from CRISIS MODE, there's so much to uplift — EXTRA SPICY OVER THE TOP SECRET RECIPE is right! And such great clues for a bunch of otherwise ho-hum short entries, my favorite the innocent [Union deserters]. After plunking in REBS, I couldn't figure out my error. That's a marriage union, ha!
Okay, maybe a bit of a downer, but it's worth the cleverness.
It's been a while since I've given Robyn a POW! (four whole months, the horror!), mainly because my standard for her is so sky-high. This one gave me so much delightful diversion that there could be no question about it. No sad TROMBONEs today.
I love it when Jim chimes in. Sometimes people complain about entries like C FLAT as arbitrary, but I don't mind them. And I love them when they have a special significance — at least if you're as worldly as Jim. Fascinating to hear the neutral CFLAT elevated to a natural entry, all the way to a sharp one!
I love Robyn's themelesses, so much so that she suffers from the curse of high expectations. While I did find STONEHENGE and its innocent [Classic British rock group] clue fantastic, there wasn't as much to excite me as usual. Along with some tough crossings — ULTA/MTA, KENO/DORAL, KYLO/OMAR, NENA/EEKAMOUSE — I can't call it among my favorite Weintraub creations.
Still, enough fun entries, SURE WHY NOT, RING BEARER, HULA SKIRT, BILL THE CAT (I wonder how many Millennials will even know who this is?) to make it an enjoyable solve, overall.
Jim Horne and I chat about puzzles once a week, and we had a fun exchange about "crosswordese." It's too general a term, encompassing everything from entries called out in editors' spec sheets (partials, abbrs.), to things seen much more in crosswords than real life (ONO, ENO), to words that perhaps NYT solvers ought to know. The first category is clearly to be avoided, the second is fine by me. It's the third that's of real interest.
ARILS. Jim mentioned it's an odd plural. I hadn't heard of it until a few years ago when it was in one of C.C.'s puzzles. I was outraged upon filling it in. Outraged! That is, until the next day when at the grocery store, I picked up a pack of pomegranate seeds … marked as "Pomegranate Arils."
BRAE. I haven't laughed this hard in ages. See Jim's notes below.
The point is, this category is the toughest type of "crosswordese" to judge. One person's CPI is another's RPI. Someone inflamed by OTOE might not blink at EDER.
I enjoyed this "stairstep," a mature themeless category in which Robyn has only worked once before. The triplet of WORD PROCESSOR / PINSTRIPE SUIT / FAKE EYELASHES is fantastic, as are the crossings of LEATHER SEATS and FREE SHIPPING. Along with some WIKIPEDIA / PAPA BEAR and BANK SHOT in the corners, there's a lot to love.
And there's the star clue, [Initials of the person who said "Fight for the things that you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you]. It's a fantastic mantra, too many people preaching in styles that are not only ineffective but that turn the other side further away.
★ That central feature, PASSPORT PHOTO, is perfect. Not only is it a snazzy phrase, but that clue is so clever! Such a brilliant misdirection toward immunizations.
If only my PASSPORT PHOTO didn't look like I was high, sleeping, drooling, and a felon. Okay, I'm going to take the picture in three, tw — *click*. Who does that?!
DON'T BE SO HASTY is another great entry. It's not quite as strong as PASSPORT PHOTO overall, since it's hard to give it a clever clue, but it's a colorful, colloquial saying. Robyn shines in this arena, consistently treating us with ones like NEVER FEAR!
I wasn't award that RARE BOOKSTORE was still a thing, but it did remind me of a novel I loved, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. Sometimes our themeless solving experience is so tied into personal experience. If you're looking for an engaging, puzzly mystery, Mr. Penumbra is at the top of my list.
I appreciated the openness of the grid design. In the past, Robyn has sectioned off some of her corners, which is a huge help in construction (allowing for working on subsections in isolation) but can have detrimental effects on solving flow. It'd be so tempting in this grid to break up either ORIONS BELT or TEN FOOT POLE, so I'm glad that Robyn resisted.
I will say that the one area that bogged me down was the southeast corner, a tad bit cut off from the rest of the puzzle. I was confident SLOP was what you wouldn't find in a Michelin-star restaurant. GLOP? That didn't feel right. Along with not remembering Georgia ENGEL from decades ago (speaking of old, see: HEP) and not knowing Chekov's work in detail (OLGA?), I was worried I'd have my first Did Not Finish in months.
Thankfully, I wasn't so hasty, trying out a few random letters here and there until WOEBEGONE made my woes be gone. Whew!
Robyn's puzzles are always a ton of fun, a delightful combination of playful grid entries and a plethora of wickedly clever clues. HALF ASLEEP is a great entry, and [On one's way out] is some "Penn & Teller: Fool Us"-level trickery. I love the feeling I get after solving one of Robyn's themelesses, a golden glow protecting me from the woes of the world for a few precious minutes.
★ A (w)holesome concept, the LETTER W's disappearance making me go down many rabbit holes. I spent so much time floundering while trying to uncover that set of instructions. So many mistakes I had to shred ... shrewd I was not!
I'm glad I stuck with it, as the payoff was so satisfying, finally dawning on me how many clues had been affected. Fantastic job of making all the W-removals all seem so innocent. Kicking it off with [Major source of wheat] is brilliant. Hawn to Han of the silver screen is amazing!
I do wish there had been more longer entries whose clues had been affected. For a puzzle with this much grid flexibility, it'd have been great to put focus on those long downs, where MINUTEMEN and ELABORATE sit. Having so many short themers made it hard to keep track of them.
I'm glad I read Robyn's note since I couldn't figure out why NOW was in such a strange spot. I hadn't noticed there were any other Ws in the grid; that's a nice touch.
There was a lot of crossword glue spread throughout but think of all the short "themers" Robyn had to place. Plus, the three-part revealer! Normally, a puzzle with 10+ gloopy bits would fall automatically out of POW contention, but in service of such an entertaining experience, I let it slide.
I enjoy getting a clue-focused puzzle once in a while. It's been a while since we've such clue trickery — one I remember played on IT. I did find the "quote puzzle" aspect of this one frustrating, but thankfully, Robyn kept that part short. Finally earning all that delightful W-wordplay was well worth it.
Another lovely Weintraub product. A couple of great colloquial phrases in YOU'VE CHANGED and DON'T LOOK AT ME, and a bevy of colorful entries like ESCAPE ROUTE, COOL BREEZE, SOAP OPERAS, ALL PURPOSE. It's a RARE TREAT indeed to see 14 long slots (8+ letters) converted into 14 fantastic answers — at least rare for mere mortals. It's commonplace for Robyn.
I could easily pick any of Robyn's themelesses for the POW! these days — she's that good. My bar for her keeps on rising higher and higher. It's no surprise that the New Yorker added her to their lineup. Congrats!
This one didn't have as many clever clues as I expect from a Weintraub product, though, just the STONER taking the "high" road (groan).
It also had too many gluey bits in ABBR ESE ESSA ITBE ONA STET, much too high for a 70-word puzzle. Patrick Berry is one of the greats because his grids are so immaculate, not even a whiff of inelegance anywhere. I'd love to see Robyn edge in that direction. However, Robyn's grids are often more colloquially colorful than Patrick's, so somewhere in between seems like the ideal.
You know you're good when someone mentions you in the same sentence as Patrick Berry. You know you're great when someone suggests Patrick move in your direction!
★ The first marquee answer delighted me, and it was highlight after highlight from there. PORCH SWING is a great answer in its own right, but when you elevate it with the mysterious [Option when one wants to move out of the house?] — that's literally move, right outside your house — it's Einstein-level brilliant.
WHAT'S SO FUNNY? UP TO SPEED. I AM SO THERE. FREE WIFI. All that, plus CROISSANTS? Heck yeah, I am so there!
If you haven't been watching Dan Feyer's weekly speed-solving adventures, you're missing out. A lot of it is him tearing through without commentary, but I like his short and sweet impression about each puzzle. As he says about Robyn, so many colloquial, catchy phrases — that's why she's one of the best.
Slew of great clues, too:
Although Will Shortz and his team contribute to clever clues, it's clear that some constructors spend much more time than others on their wicked wordplay. Robyn's themelesses always have more than a handful of clues that shine.
I wasn't thrilled to get TYRO in a 72-word themeless, or TOR clued to the mountain peak instead of Toronto, but I can easily overlook those minor issues, given the overall awesomeness.
Robyn features a great assortment of colloquial phrases today, telling a story:
... IT'S A START
ARE WE THERE YET?
CALL IT A DAY
PROPOSE A TOAST, PEABRAIN!
Sounds like the plot of "Dude, Where's My Car?" or "Hot Tub Time Machine," two movies I unabashedly loved.
Let's call it semi-abashedly.
One of the things I love best about Robyn's themelesses is that there's often a seed entry that sings, that sticks in my memory. I didn't find one today, but LIFE LESSON came close. Perhaps that has something to do with where I'm at with my kids, and all the valuable LIFE LESSONs I impart upon them.
Did you know that eye rolling starts at age 2?
Just a TOD too much crossword glue today. I'd STET a minor TAE or ASI here or there, but something like TOD that's already borderline gets amplified by other tough names like LON and CID, so it sticks out more than usual.
The clue for ELECTORATE was more up my lowbrow alley. [Seasonal pickers] had me focused on farm workers. Great misdirection, using the word "seasonal" to hint at election season. No telltale question mark needed!
A thoroughly entertaining puzzle overall.
There's a lot to like about this latest Weintraub creation. Robyn has a knack for picking marquee answers that delight, and HOME SWEET HOME hit the mark. The statement is so loaded with relief, with joy, with a huge smile, evoking images of coming home to your loving family.
Or to two kids screaming that JAKE HIT ME NUH-UH TESS MEAN MUGGED ME!
How does a three-year-old know what mean-mugging is (and I don't), anyway?
FISH TACOS makes my mouth water. They're even more tempting with a delightfully obfuscating clue in [Seafood in shells]. Not lobster, not crab, not crawfish … what could it be? That's a perfect misdirect leading to a wonderful a-ha.
PAPER AIRPLANEs going over students' heads, heh. So good! Although Drax would catch them. Probably demolish them into atoms.
JELLO SHOTS is another in that vein. I wonder, though, if some solvers won't figure out why JELLO SHOTS are "set for a wild party." Set out in a tray? Because JELLO SHOTS love to party, a la the foods in "Sausage Party"? Nope, the clue is getting at "set" in the sense of Jell-O needing to set in the fridge. Some might see it as clever, but it took away from the fun for me because it took me so long to figure out the intention.
I'll explain a couple more that could get missed:
Along with more crossword glue than I'm used to from Robyn — AGOOD WIS SYN CUTTO AGUE — it's not my favorite of hers. Still, I did enjoy many of the feature entries, and I appreciate Robyn venturing away from her usual construction style, into stair-stack territory. Pushing oneself is a good thing.
Robyn is one of the few themeless constructors whose voice tickles me. As I've pointed out in the past, she has a knack for seeding grids with nerdy and/or playful terms that delight the Nerd Army (of which I'm a Ranger).
I thought HOLOGRAMS would be just that today, but the clue brought down the quality of the entry. Jim Horne and I had a philosophical discussion about whether HOLOGRAMS are actually there or not. If a HOLOGRAM appears in the forest, does anyone see it?
Jim and I received a nerd army promotion for that.
Second day in a row that SST is in a themeless. It speaks to how useful that little entry is. In the Shortz era, SST has had a long, (in)glorious run that's been decelerating. I'll be glad to see it grounded, like in real life.
There's a lot to love in this one — CASH FLOW, I CAN RELATE, PHONED IT IN, ON THE ROCKS, GUESS WHAT all HITting THE SPOT — but not the essential Robynian element that I've come to adore.
DECODER RING indeed gives this one a Weintraubian flair. I love it when Robyn treats us to delightful entries like this one, evoking memories of that little kid in "A Christmas Story" who gets the message to drink more Ovaltine. The clue — "… to have on hand" — makes an already fantastic entry that much better!
LICKETY SPLIT fell into that same vein. Such an entertaining, colorful phrase.
A solid grid overall, though not as clean as I'd like out of a 70-word grid, with a smattering of HRE PST SRS SYR TELE. These are all minor offenders, fairly easy to overlook, but they are what they are.
All in all, an enjoyable solve, as are most all Weintraub joints, but perhaps a bit more middle ground — neither excessively colorful nor excessively clean — than I like.
Another delightful solving experience from one of my favorite themeless constructors. FAMILY TREE is already a strong feature entry. The clue makes it stand out even further.
(If you didn't get it, think about "relatively" as "relative-ly." If there is such a thing as a great groaner, this is it.)
Fantastic usage of her 14 long slots, hardly a one feeling wasted. URBAN LEGEND is fantastic. SIMON SAYS brought back good memories (and some frustrating ones where I wanted to smash my Simon into pieces). GROUP PHOTO with a clever clue, repurposing "big shot." AVANT GARDE classing up the joint.
The NYT would never be able to run a clue like [Word that follows "No sh*t"], but that didn't stop me from smiling at SHERLOCK.
So why no POW!? Part of it was that a 72-word themeless is the easiest of construction tasks, so it has to be near perfect. MORO is tough. CHAKA can only be clued in one way. ROES is an odd plural. TMAN is outdated.
A bigger part is that I have stratospheric expectations for Robyn these days. In particular, some of her marquee answers in the past have wowed me on their own — POPPYCOCK, CLOWN CARS, RON WEASLEY, TRACTOR BEAM, MIRACLE MAX, SMARTY PANTS right over MADE YOU LOOK. These are so much fun and they appeal to my nerd sensibilities. There wasn't anything quite like that today; nothing that screamed that it was the marvelous seed to the puzzle.
Overall though, still an immensely entertaining solving experience on an absolute scale. About average on the Weintraub index, though.
★ A month ago, Robyn became the first woman to make the finals puzzle for the ACPT. And it was a beaut! She's got such an excellent aptitude for selecting long entries that delight.
Today's was another win in her string (theory) of great puzzles. STRING THEORY — clued to "The Big Bang Theory," without actually duplicating "theory" in the clue! EVIL GENIUS! SCHNITZEL, such a funny sounding word. INNER PEACE.
LAST PLACE's clue cleverly misdirects. [Rough finish]? Last is a rough way to finish, indeed. It's even more devious once you note that MATTE is in the puzzle too, subconsciously tipping you toward thinking about photo finishes.
Er, finishes of photos. Not races. A double-cross misdirect!
Beautiful disguises for Gal and Berry, their capital letter hidden at the first word of the clue. There have to be tons of gals in superhero movies. And berries featured in cosmetic ads. D'oh! That's Gal GADOT and HALLE Berry.
Speaking of great clues, [One may get stuck in an office] isn't an overworked person, but a POST IT NOTE. STICK SHIFT — a manual shift — employs the common term [Car owner's manual?] in its clue. Two fantastic entries in their own right, made even better by wickedly sharp clues.
Even two ho-hum shorties got the star treatment through great cluing. [Message on a tablet] — a drug company's tagline? Nope, that's an EMAIL on an iPad or Surface tablet. I must admit I groaned when I figured out that SEALY (a big mattress brand) was literally for the "rest of the people." But it was a good sort of groan.
I had so much fun solving this one that it made me want to figure out why. It's not often that I feel like I have a lot to learn from any one constructor, but Robyn's ability to entertain and elate through her themelesses is astounding. She's caused me to rethink my own philosophies on creating themelesses.
POPPYCOCK! Tee hee. I don't know why that word makes me laugh, but I don't care. It feels like one of the trademark Robyn entries that I've come to know and love in her themelesses.
The fun continues with GARBAGE BAG. Okay, some might successfully argue that it's not a sizzling entry on its own. But that clue! [Purchase that usually ends up in the trash]? What an entertainingly literal way of describing a GARBAGE BAG; no giveaway question mark needed.
Similar case for JUNIOR PROM. [Function not intended for seniors] might have AARP members up in arms about ageism! Um, no, it's referring to seniors in high school.
More fun with [Pair that clicked in film] — I was sure it had to begin with ASTAIRE. I love getting innocently fooled in this way, RUBY SLIPPERS getting clicked to send Dorothy home.
Even the short stuff — [First digit] had to be ONE. No, wait, ZERO! No, that's "digit" as in "finger." Totally got me!
I'm so thankful for when I identify a constructor like Robyn, whose byline I so eagerly look forward to. She's number thumb on that list right now. Er, one. Thanks for so much entertainment this year!
More and more, I'm noticing that a single entry/clue pair in a themeless can make the entire puzzle stand out in my eyes. I hit [Employer of some shepherds] and was thinking farms, fields, or maybe watchdogs, as in government orgs watching over the safety of the public. Great a-ha to figure out it meant German shepherds, in a CANINE UNIT! That's beautiful.
Looking back upon Robyn's puzzles, I remembered that I had similar reactions to CLOWN CARS, RON WEASLEY, TRACTOR BEAM, MIRACLE MAX, SMARTY PANTS. Robyn sure does know how to pick ‘em!
I didn't get the same sheer joy today as I've gotten from some of Robyn's other ones, though. Not nearly as playful today, with NANNY STATE and HOLD MY BEER (which appears to be a meme going around ... something said before a fight?). Seems like Robyn TONEd IT DOWN a bit.
Some of the other long answers didn't resonate with me, either. I love the Beatles, but I didn't know "Something" was on ABBEY ROAD. Seemed like there were more fun or playful ways of cluing this great album, one of the Beatles' last.
I've been able to overlook some crossword glue in previous puzzles, but my lack of elation made it harder today to turn a blind eye to ARY. It is a short bit, taking up only three squares. But yikes, is it ugly. A suffix for secret, making secret-ARY? Oof, that's terrible.
In some ways, it's unfair for me to voice these gripes, which likely would have seemed minor if it had been some other constructor. It was still a fun solving experience, but I've come to expect tremendous things from a Weintraub themeless. Not entirely sure if that's a fair way to look at things, but it is what it is.
★ At my favorite cookie place, Hello Robin, their bags have the tagline "You had me at Hello (Robin)." Hello, Robyn, you had me at CLOWN CARS! What a brilliant clue — high-occupancy vehicles indeed. I was stuck on the notion of carpools, vans, etc. for the longest time. Made an already great entry even better.
Jim sometimes quotes a single entry in a themeless as the reason he loves the entire puzzle. It often seems like such is his level of delight, that he can overlook anything else in the puzzle. I rarely have that experience, but today, Robyn could have thrown in about ten dabs of crossword glue and three asymmetrical blocks and a two-letter word, and I doubt I would have stopped smiling.
But it didn't end there! Like with all her themeless, Robyn had so much color elsewhere — WHO GOES THERE, FUNNEL CAKES, GLASS CEILING, CANDY CANE, among others — and all of it felt so relatable to a broad audience.
I don't mind when a themeless constructor starts with some person or phrase I'm too uncool to know about — just as long as the crosses are fair. But it's hard to get excited about something that feels unfamiliar (or makes you just plain feel old).
Not the case for something like CLOWN CAR, a term which I'd guess that most everyone knows. And even if you don't know it, it's not hard to figure out. Who doesn't love clowns endlessly streaming out of a tiny VW Bug?
Okay, people who are scared of clowns. Right.
There were a couple of blips in the fill, but they were minor (all short and easy to figure out): SIE SEE TIAS YDS. And CREEL may cause consternation for some — I remember when I first learned the term ... in a hard crossword! But it no doubt is a real thing, and I can't see any of the crosses possibly seeming right any other way. CREAL / THALMA perhaps?
Another Weintraub themeless, another POW! Robyn's voice comes through loud and clear in her themelesses, and it's such a joy to experience. When I find a (book) author I like, I go off in search of everything that person has written and devour it. Here's hoping that Robyn continues to be prolific.
★ There's a cookie shop that Jill and I go to on our weekly date night, called "Hello, Robin." Even if the line is out the door and down the block, we wait, rain or shine, for the fresh-baked birthday cake cookies. The "Macklesmores." And the ice cream sandwiches: premium, small-batch chocolate ice cream, between two chocolate chip cookies? There are plenty of other dessert places around, but Jill and I think this one is the tops.
Hard to say whether I'd prefer a Hello, Robin ice cream sandwich, or a Robyn Weintraub themeless. Such sweet tastes in PERIWINKLE, GOLD COIN, GENERAL TSO, OPEN SOURCE, WORKER BEES. Hidden nuggets in clues like CLUBS innocently described as a [Dark suit].
It's like Robyn does a MIND MELD with me. (Yes, I'm typing while holding my fingers in a Vulcan salute.)
I admit I didn't get the clue for AND WE'RE OFF at first. It's self-referential, which must mean … there's a horse named AND WE'RE OFF? D'oh [Exclamation appropriate for 1-Across] doesn't mean [Exclamation appropriate for "And We're Off"]. It's simply appropriate for the first clue of the puzzle!
Now I'm brainstorming entries that would be appropriate for themselves … thinking …
I liked this puzzle so much that I somehow got past the fact that I got a square wrong (HAB instead of DAB). Usually, I'd cry foul, seeing as HEADLINE and DEADLINE are both newsroom concerns, and why am I supposed to know some dance move from the 2010s?
But Robyn got me to laugh at myself and shrug it off. It takes an incredibly pleasurable solving experience to make that happen. To make me ignore the gluey bits, too. Normally, I'd cringe at the excess of ARIL ATTN ISON RTE TALI in a non-challenging 70-word grid. But because of how tasty everything was overall, I didn't care one bit today.
Say "Hello, Robyn" … to yet another POW!
POKER TABLE is a standout example of a perfect themeless entry/clue pair. Not only is POKER TABLE a great phrase on its own, evoking stogie-filled back rooms and the hilarious "Ocean's 11" scene where Topher Grace boasts about having a hand that's "all red," but what a clue! [Place where lots of calls are made] hints at a phone booth, or a coffee shop WHERE I'M JUST TRYING TO DO A LITTLE DARNED WRITING YOU CHATTERING TALKERS!
No, POKER TABLE calls are where a player matches a raise. Perfect!
BARBIE DOLL is a colorful phrase, no doubt. And the clue is excellent, too, referring to Barbie's Dreamhouse.
Man, I'd pay through the nose to keep my daughter away from Barbie, though.
I thought Robyn did a great job weaving in a ton of snazzy phrases, from AVERAGE JOE to START SMALL to ROLLER RINK to SEA TURTLE. As usual, she's IN RARE FORM!
There were a few long entries that gave me pause, though. WORKMATE — is that similar to a co-worker? Maybe British usage or something?
A HALF DOOR is a … half a door?
And NOSE TO TAIL is so descriptive, but is that a real thing? Apparently so! The Google first tells me it's a British term describing bumper to bumper traffic. But Googs don't lie! There's a book called "The Whole Beast," about eating the pig from snout to the tip of the tail.
I'm an adventurous eater. But there are certain parts of a pig you couldn't pay me enough to choke down.
Along with a smattering of RUR, DONA, OTRO, NRC, ENOL, I felt like this wasn't quite POW! quality.
Close though, especially given some of the fantastic clues. I mean, [Getty oil, e.g.] for ART, playing on the Getty museum. Brilliant! SPATULAS can get (cake) batters out! A BRIT happy to gain an extra few pounds! Lovely stuff; super entertaining.
Overall, oh so close to getting my POW! stamp. But not quite there, given my high expectations of Robyn.
I do so many themeless puzzles that getting a mini-theme to help one stand out is a real treat. I loved Robyn's usage of RACE TO THE BOTTOM — heading downward — meeting MEET IN THE MIDDLE ... in the middle of the grid! Two great phrases anchoring the puzzle in such a fun way.
Robyn's entertaining voice is so clear in her themelesses. Today, SPITTAKE with its fantastic clue — an ironic reaction to dry humor, indeed! — was a standout. UMPTEENTH and JUST KIDDING also did it for me. SWEETTALK too!
Now that Robyn's won several of my POW!s, I have high expectations of her. Granted, the two long interlocking 15-letter entries are a serious constraint to work around, but I wanted more out of the long slots, INTERLACE and VOCATIONS in particular. REASONING had an interesting clue, relating to the Supreme Court, but it also didn't do much for me. Nor did TRENDIER.
And for a 70-word puzzle, there's way too much crossword glue holding it together. I was worried when I hit LINO and ESTD right off the bat, and ESE NOB OTO IAMSO SVU ETE … it wasn't Robyn's smoothest effort.
As much as I like mini-themes — and I thought Robyn's mini-theme was incredibly fun — interlocking two 15's like this is a serious constraint that can put a huge damper on the rest of the puzzle. I think trying to work some long stuff in the middle — SWEETTALK and REASONING — exacerbated the problem. I do like the wide-open feel of the grid, but perhaps more segmentation would have allowed for a smoother overall product.
★ Robyn is quickly becoming one of my new favorite themeless constructors. I've loved her voice in the past, what with glorious seed entries such as MADE YOU LOOK, MIRACLE MAX, TRACTOR BEAM, RON WEASLEY. Sometimes you feel like you're right on the constructor's wavelength, and Robyn knows how to tickle my fancy.
Sure was the case today with LIVING DEAD, KING ARTHUR clued to "Monty Python," and that delightful WINEMAKER clue, [Port authority?]. Beautiful stuff!
Better yet, Robyn's been honing her work, continually perfecting her craft. I'd found some of her prior themelesses lacking in grid flow (choke points cutting off sections of the grid from each other), or using too much crossword glue. Not the case today! There's an ESTE and AMAN, but I'd happily take those for all the goodies she worked in.
And the goodies! Starting off with 16 long (8+ letters) slots is a tough ask — most constructors will manage to convert maybe only 10 of those into sizzling entries. Robyn used hers to the (miracle) max, SOUND BITES, FLOORS IT, I SMELL A RAT, etc. No THERE THERE needed, because everywhere I turned, more great stuff.
Perhaps NATTERED was more neutral than an asset? But even that is a pretty fun word. JEREMIAH may be dull for some, but what a great nickname in "The Weeping Prophet"!
And the cluing! WINEMAKER's clue was the highlight for me, but such an innocent [Full of ups and downs] for HILLY. [Make a (GARDEN) bed?]. A TUNER gets you from station to station (not a train). [School card] wasn't a report card, but a card, as in a joker; a CLASS CLOWN. So entertaining!
Loved this one. As much as I like variety in themeless constructors, Robyn is one of the few people whose byline I'd like to see perhaps once a month. Maybe more.
★ Robyn hit my SWEET SPOT with this one — a ton of colorful answers right up my alley, with not much crossword glue holding the grid together. Along with easy, unrestricted solving flow that was problematic in many of her previous puzzles, it wowed me!
That starting triple-stack of HIGH SCORES / ARE YOU DONE / DEEP FREEZE was dynamite. PAW PRINTS with its brilliant [Dog-walking trail] clue (think of a trail of PAW PRINTS left behind), IT FIGURES / CORNER LOT, GET BUSY (did you also titter at the alternate meaning?), PENPAL, and another great triple-stack in the SE to finish it off. Yes!
Now, not everyone will love (or even know) RON WEASLEY. I debated whether the BEHAR and SUNOCO crossings were fair. I even debated whether or not RON WEASLEY was crossworthy, considering there are some infidel muggles out there. Ultimately, given how huge the HP series is, with giant box-office takes on the eight blockbuster movies, though … and Joy BEHAR is big enough a star that NYT solvers ought to know her.
Great clue on HOUSEPLANT, too. I was thinking of a "mister" as a guy, not a device that produces mist. Wicked clever! And the clue for ROE as [Potential perch] — great misdirection from "fish" to "a place to sit on."
I didn't care for ALEE, RECD, MPAA, but they all felt minor. Nice craftsmanship to keep it to just these insignificant blips. Well, there was SEE IF. The clue tried to disguise it as not a partial, but let's call a spade a spade, people.
Robyn's sparkly voice shining through, along with strong execution. Wonderful solving experience.
Robyn has seeded her themelesses with material that has resonated so strongly with me. First it was SMARTY PANTS over MADE YOU LOOK, then JEDI MASTER over MIRACLE MAX, then a TRACTOR BEAM / STARGAZER combo, and finally she asked me to RIDE SHOTGUN while I was supposed to KEEP TALKING. She's got a knack for hitting my wavelength.
Today, DO I HAVE TO did it for this parent of two toddlers. (When does this phase end, BTW?) As a huge fan of "The Godfather," CORLEONE was good too, although DON CORLEONE or VITO CORLEONE would have been so much more colorful.
RUN A FEVER usually would be neutral for me, but what great wordplay, playing on a literal "hot body." Elevated it to an asset in my book.
Ha, Robyn got me! Yup, those narrow little passageways in the NE and SW corners ... why do I keep pointing these out? I am annoyingly OCD, granted. But a solver, I don't like these, since they create an impression of two separate mini-puzzles rather than one full solving experience. And as a constructor, they feel like too much of a crutch to rely on — once you fix LEWIS and LYMPH into place, you can work on each half independently.
I struggle with this issue. On the one hand, segmentation like this sometimes allows for an incredibly beautiful or fun half-puzzle — it's so much easier to construct half a puzzle vs. having to account for how one half affects the other. And some solvers may never notice the choking down of puzzle feng shui.
But for me personally, both as a solver and a constructor, it's so important for themelesses to feel wide-open — that's part of the magic of a themeless. I would have loved to see what costs Robyn had to pay to take out the black cheater square below DROPS and above POISE, for instance. Funny how much that would have opened up the entire puzzle.
With not as many fantastic feature entries as in her previous themelesses, and with ESTE, AMO, the obsolete ICHAT, ILE, STET, ILO, UNI — way too much, especially given that it's a 70-word puzzle — it's not my favorite of Robyn's themelesses. But I continue to look forward to her byline on the weekends. She has such a talent for delighting me with her seed entries.
Robyn has a knack for packing vivid, colorful answers into her themelesses. Today, she used a grid featuring 14 long slots, and she managed to convert almost all of them into sizzling material like CATS PAJAMAS, ATOMIC CLOCK, RIDE SHOTGUN. Along with MOOD MUSIC / FINE PRINT, FUN FACTS, I'd say NOT TOO BAD at all. Felt like there was great material everywhere I looked.
I so badly wanted to give this one the POW! — so much sizzling fill! — but my stupid constructor's brain held me back. As with some of her other puzzles, there was too much segmentation in this grid, the diagonal of black squares splitting up the puzzle, with just two entries connecting the halves: TIMESTAMP and SOLDIER ON.
The segmentation makes construction easier, as you can work on one half of the puzzle independently of the other. But it makes for a choppy solve that can feel unfair if the solver gets stuck in one half or the other.
Sometimes wonder if my standards for short fill have gotten too strict. After I see about five dabs of crossword glue in a themeless, my constructor's brain sends up a yellow flag. So ACS, JCT (junction?), ACCTS in just the starting corner was already nearing too much for me. Throw in some ENGS, STA, STD, ONT / DEO, and it took away from my enjoyment.
And the clue for CATS PAJAMAS … as much as I love the entry itself, [Living end] didn't make sense to me. (Probably generational?) I wish there had been clever cluing rather than the oblique approach, as the clue sapped my enjoyment of the entry.
But overall, a lot of great material and an entertaining solve. I wonder if this is a Stephen King situation: some critics say that his earlier work, though rougher, was more entertaining than his recent work, which follows "the rules" of writing too tightly?
Stupid constructor's brain.
Robin, you had me at TRACTOR BEAM. Not everyone will know what this, but those of us that do will screech HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW WHAT A TRACTOR BEAM IS? Probably in Klingon.
(It's a sci-fi beam using a graviton interference pattern to draw in an object. Duh.)
A lot of strong entries, highlighted by TRACTOR BEAM, CASH ADVANCE, GREEN SCREEN, and SECRET SANTA. Also nice: STARGAZER and IMPRESS ME anchoring the other two corners.
I wonder if some solvers will be offended by SECRET SANTA? It's fun for me, but it's certainly possible that it'll bring up unpleasant feelings of being outside the Christmas-focused culture in Murica.
It's tough to make your mid-length slots sing, but Robin does it in spades with BATCAVE. Not only is this a fantastic entry in itself, but the clue is so innocent. [Robin's refuge] surely means AVIARY? Not when the clue hides the capitalized R of Robin, Batman's sidekick. Awesome!
For me, the black square layout would have been a non-starter. That diagonal across the middle cuts the puzzle in two, only a single word connecting the halves on each end. Some constructors use a rule of thumb that if placing a pair of black squares anywhere results in two disconnected puzzle halves, that's a no-go.
For me, much more important is: how many answers connect the halves? If the black square above BETSY was turned into a white square, that would have allowed for a pair of answers to connect the halves at both top and bottom. Right now, if you can't figure out CBATTERY or NOSTRILS, that wall of black squares might as well be the Berlin wall.
Robyn uses such great entries — last time it was MIRACLE MAX and JEDI MASTER — right on my wavelength. Like the last one, there's too much crossword glue in this puzzle for my taste — ENE, MST, RELET, HRE, ACTA, SITA — making it feel rough around the edges, but I have a strong feeling that soon, Robin will be turning out themelesses that have the same sizzle without these crutches. The Force is strong with this one!
What a northwest corner! I know it's not going to play as well for everyone — just us awesome dorks who know every line of "Star Wars" and "The Princess Bride" by heart — but to get JEDI MASTER and MIRACLE MAX in one area, along with ALOHA STATE? With no real crossword glue? Inconceivable! Perhaps my favorite themeless corner all year.
A lot more great material all throughout, too, the puzzle playing to lovers of all things fantasy. JURASSIC (I mentally said "Park" afterward), TOY (Story) BOXES, even an EWOK. So much fun for us escapists.
I wanted so badly to give this the POW! but had enough hesitations that I couldn't quite do it. The first issue popped up immediately when I saw how sectioned-off the grid was. As much as I loved that NW corner, it choked off into the middle, and I had to squeeze through three more openings to complete the puzzle. Some people don't care about this sort of issue, but I strongly prefer to solve a single 15x15 puzzle rather than five mini-puzzles only kind of linked. It's also much, much easier to construct a single stellar corner with a choked-off grid than a wide-open, interconnected one.
The other issue started showing its head in the middle of the puzzle, with OLA. That's not a terrible entry, although it's not great, as an uncommon suffix. IN A ROW felt a bit partialish to me, and then I struggled with DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution?). I was prepared to brush those gluey bits aside, but then there was EERO in the SW, and a concentration of SMU, STOMA, OTOS, with the puzzle ending on SNERD.
Now, all of those things are real, no doubt. I don't have any problem with any of them, although they are ones I shy away from when I construct, since they're crutches given all those common letters. But when there's so many of them, my stupid constructor's brain can't ignore the total effect. Not as elegant as I like to see.
But that's way too many words dedicated to the negative. Overall, I had SO much fun storming the castle with this one!
★ There is so much to love about this puzzle. This stuck-in-fourth-grade-man-child loves the SMARTY PANTS / MADE YOU LOOK combination (I pulled that gag on my nephew the other day), and ORDER ONLINE makes for a beautiful third element in the starting triple-stack.
70-word puzzles often have a limited number of long slots to begin with, but Robin pushes to squeeze in 14. That's important to me, as I've found that I need at least 10 strong entries in order for a themeless to really sing to me. There are a few neutral ones like EDGINESS and RADIATORS, but check out all the goodness in IVY LEAGUE, GREEN EGGS, LIVE A LITTLE! And this data junkie loves seeing a SPREADSHEET.
Also nice was that Robyn took advantage of her mid-length slots, often tough to convert to assets. NAIL GUN with its [Sharp shooter?] clue is great, and ZYDECO is such a cool word. And really, Robyn had me at DRAGON, giving us a taste of Harry Potter's beautifully crafted world filled with Chinese Fireballs, Norwegian Ridgebacks, Hungarian Horntails, Peruvian Vipertooths, Ukrainian Ironbellies okay okay I'll stop!
It's not a perfect puzzle, as there are a handful of gluey bits marring it. That's very common with triple-stacked 11s, entries like YOO and TYRE making that fine upper left corner possible. And we constructors all have our bugaboos, one of mine being five-letter partials wasting a slot that could be something as cool as MR YUK. So it's hard for me to give A REST a rest.
Overall though, so much to love here. I got a ton of enjoyment out of this one. A well-deserved POW!
Good example of the "both words can follow" type theme. It's been a few months since we saw our last one, and I appreciate Will spreading them out. They're difficult to execute on — finding those workable pairs are tough — but they can get repetitive if they run too frequently.
Robyn finds some nice themers, LIFELINE, SKYLIGHT, and STICK SHIFT all strong. I don't much care if these are all one-word or two-word phrases (or if NIGHTTIME, NIGHT TABLE, NIGHTLINE are consistently one or two words) since this theme feat is hard enough to do without worrying about that. Perhaps that will change in the future, since we've seen so many examples of this theme type now.
SCHOOL CLUB felt a bit more neutral — that's one potential downfall of this type of theme. Sometimes it's a minor miracle to find enough themers that work, period.
Robyn brings up a good point regarding fill, as there are enough gluey bits to be noticeable. But she makes a good effort to balance that out by incorporating some nice fill in STEAL AWAY, PISTIL, LATIFAH, DRY WALL. The effort is much appreciated.
What, no pot reference in the LEGALIZED clue? (Very amusing how an army of food trucks have set up shop in the parking lot of our neighborhood pot shop.)
Finally, beautiful clue for MODE. I can see solvers shivering at the memories of high school math class with [6, in the set [3,5,5,6,6,6,7]]. But it's a nice little reward for paying attention in math class.
See, math DOES matter!
★ This puzzle delighted me. Many of you know my idiot-level knowledge of pop music, so I confess I was a bit skeptical when I uncovered LYIN' EYES. Luckily, I knew SINGIN' IN THE RAIN from playing trombone in the pit orchestra of my high school production, and who doesn't know PUTTIN' ON THE RITZ? What pulled it all together for me though, was thinking about MISSING parsed as MISSIN' G. Such a fun moment.
Additionally, Robyn goes the extra mile and reduces her word count to 74. The NE and SW corners add so much meat to the puzzle, with those juicy parallel 9's. Normally I prefer multiple-word colorful phrases, but HERCULEAN pops, and organic CHEMISTRY was one of my favorite subjects in school. Tack on a smile-inducing clue for the latter and I APPLAUDED. (Way to trigger subliminal feelings of appreciation, Robyn!). Great use of cheater squares in the two corners to help smooth out those corners, really just an MCI as a ding.
The one section I was plus/minus on was the north, with Cheri OTERI and ESSEN. I'm perfectly fine with OTERI as an answer; I just wish she were more NYT-worthy. Her friendly alternation of vowel-consonant makes her much more crossword-friendly than her co-SNL-alum Kristen WIIG, who I think has earned it much more so than OTERI.
And ESSEN is definitely a place, but I wish it were historically or culturally more important for all the xw-exposure it gets. Those E's and S's make it crossword gold, but I remember the first time I uncovered it, wondering what other esoteric geography I'd have to know. I'm of the opinion that once a term crosses the threshold of NYT-worthiness, I don't much care how often it gets used (I'm perfectly fine with ONO any time I see it). Before then, I prefer it to be used sparingly. It's unfortunate that the ??E?I pattern at 6-D is so constraining — I might have moved a block around to avoid that pattern.
That's pretty nit-picky stuff though. Overall, this is the type of puzzle I like to show newbies; pointing out 1.) the specific, tight, clever theme and 2.) how doable it is. Really well done.
It's always fun to see a constructor's sparkle come through on a puzzle, and this one has a great punchline. IM NOT A DOCTOR / BUT / I PLAY ONE ON TV could have fallen into the "quote puzzle" arena, but Robyn does well to include four famous TV doctors to round out the theme. Big smile when I uncovered those three central theme entries.
Even though each theme entry is relatively short, having seven of them makes for a packing challenge. It's an unusual layout problem. I like Robyn's skeleton — cramming the "quote" in the center and spacing out the four doctors into the corners — as it creates a lot of space between themers. Hitting the punchline pretty early in the solve did feel a bit premature, though. Knowing what to expect so early on made for a somewhat anticlimatic finish. I'm not sure if there's another way to present it so the revealer comes later — perhaps running the "quote" vertically instead of horizontally would have helped?
A couple of blips in the fill, not surprising to see them where a down entry crosses two theme entries (DID I between SEYMOUR and IM NOT A DOCTOR, ON OR between I PLAY ONE ON TV and KLUGMAN). And as much as I like NUTELLA (both the entry and the product), DEN / ULE / EDS / ON CD (next to ON OR and ON TV) feels like a heavy price to pay for it. Tough call though — NUTELLA is so delicious. I see where Will is coming from on accepting short duplicated short words (TO, IN, AT, etc.) but three in such close proximity feels like a lot.
Fun idea; neat that Robyn managed to find four relatively well-known TV doctors with symmetrical lengths.
Fun theme today, two games paired together to give us wacky BACK TO BACK GAMES phrases. Each of the three theme phrases works pretty well, CLUE MONOPOLY evoking a funny image of Clouseau hoarding his clues, and SORRY OTHELLO sounding a trombone wah-wah-wah-wah sound effect in my head. The revealer works really well, tying everything together with a snappy phrase reinterpreted.
I appreciated the long fill today and wanted to point out a good technique Robyn used. Incorporating long fill is often a difficult matter, given the need to keep a puzzle relatively free of ugly short entries. Sometimes constructors (including myself) will push too hard, trying to incorporate parallel long downs or even triple-stacks of long downs to achieve extra snazziness, with the unfortunate result of junky three and four letter fill. Today, Robyn spreads out her long entries via thoughtful black square placement: note how CHIPMUNKS, SARDINE, and CUTLET/BAKERY are spaced through the width of the puzzle (same goes for NEIL SIMON, GOOD COP, and I GOT IT, of course, due to symmetry). Just like with long theme answers, increased spacing in long down placement usually means more flexibility and therefore better fill. Well done!
Robyn's also done well on the short fill front. There's no doubt that a constructor would rather not have AS I or ETH if at all possible, but there will almost always be some of those entries required to hold a puzzle together. I've heard complaints about ISP before, and it makes me scratch my head because I hear that term all the time (internet service provider). It's a good reminder that there's a wide range of opinion regarding what is acceptable and what is not (and that these judgment calls are usually very subjective).
The consistency of the theme is good in that they are all games, but the specificity gave me pause. Ideally, a constructor wants to avoid the question "why did you select these answers instead of X, Y, or Z?", because using a finite and or complete set adds elegance. I don't know if it would have been possible, but it would have been fantastic to see only famous board games (eliminating Twister), or only games with black and white pieces (chess, Othello, Go, etc.). For me, that sort of specificity is a factor that lifts a puzzle from the ranks of good to great.
Fun note from Robyn today; she sounds like someone who ought to come to the ACPT and have a drink with us (hint hint).