There's something wickedly clever about SOUND BITES imagined as "foods with a sound in their name." CAPN CRUNCH and GINGER SNAP are just perfect — not only do they fit that description, but the noise in their name is exactly the noise they make. I can just hear the cereal crunch crunch crunch in my teeth, and the cookies snap snap snap in my hands.
TOOTSIE POP didn't work as well for me since it doesn't actually make a popping sound. It's more of a lick lick crack munch CRUUUNCH OOOOOOWWWW MY FILLING BROKE!
I think I'm eating it wrong.
POP ROCKS would have been better for me, since there's that distinctive POPping sound as they melt the lining of your mouth.
I used to enjoy candy so much. Sigh.
Of course, POP ROCKS (8) and SOUND BITES (10) don't match lengths. Bah! Though, it would have been possible to use mirror symmetry in a 16x15 grid, with POP ROCKS and SOUND BITES horizontal, CAPN CRUNCH / GINGER SNAP vertical.
With just four themers of length = 10, I'd expect a jazzy, smooth grid. I love that Roland worked in a bunch of long downs — ON THE DL, PAPER CUT, CAROUSEL, BAD SIDE check off that first criterion. The second was close, but a bit too much poeticality in ANON / ETERNE / ERE. You cheeky ROUE, Roland! It's an acceptable quantity of crossword glue, but it would have been better if it all hadn't all been drawn from the same well.
Fun theme idea that came close to super-cleverosity. If only TOOTSIE POPs actually popped! False advertising, that.
Sometimes a single feature entry can make an entire themeless worth it for me. ACE UP ONE'S SLEEVE did the trick for me!
Thank goodness I do a lot of puzzles, or I doubt I would have ever broken into the top triple-stack. Being able to remember that [Bundle of nerves] has to be the bizarre RETE = such a huge advantage in these wide-open themelesses.
Weird to say, but RETE was the secret ACE UP my SLEEVE!
Another solving trick for these wide-open grids: something like [Amenable sorts] will almost always end in -ERS. I was 90% those letters were right, and they helped me break into A SEED and TSARISTS. AGREERS is not a good entry, but I do like finishing puzzles, and when bizarre entries like this help get me across the finish line, I tend to look at them a little less unfavorably.
I did have an error, at CHARLOTTE AMELIE. Should I have known the 1978 Grammy nominee was Chris REA, not REE? Hmm. HMM, I say! I understand that this is supposed to be a hard puzzle, but I'm not sure that this is a fair crossing, at least not as clued.
Some fantastic entries worked into the stacks, CARLOS THE JACKAL TEETERing ON THE EDGE, an ALL AMERICAN HERO on his tail? There's a good story in there somewhere.
As with most triple-stack puzzles, I wanted 1.) more out of the rest of the puzzle and 2.) less crossword glue. But with triple-stacks, there's an unholy trinity: it's nearly impossible to hit those two criteria while also featuring sparkling 15-letter entries.
Tremendous visual impact — such humongous swaths of white space! A real eye-catcher. It even looks a little like an eye.
Triple stacks on the top and bottom, grid-spanners in the center ... are you singing along to "Stuck in the Middle with You," too?
I did get stuck in the middle, unfortunately, which was frustrating since the grid is so sectioned off: top, middle, bottom. And to hit PLATIES ... wha …? I'm super glad I've seen RIO RITA in crosswords before. Otherwise, that T would have been a total guess. Same goes for ELAND, although I do think that most animals are fair game.
As one would expect, lots of compromises to hold the triple-stacks together. I thought Roland did better in the bottom than the top. A LOOP, REROOT, at least those are gettable. Not great to have the RE- addition reoccur in REOCCUR, but that does feel like a more common RE- usage than REROOT. AWACS and ACTA ain't great either, OYE.
And TASSETS. Again ... wha?
Maybe those are related to PLATIES?
But BIOLUMINESCENCE / INTEREST RATE CUT / TESTED THE WATERS were so snazzy and solid that I surprisingly didn't mind the splotches of glue everywhere. That's a great triple payoff.
Also surprising that the top, with the lesser evils of ETE TAE ICI CITS bothered me more. Why? LAST THE DISTANCE didn't last the distance.
GO THE DISTANCE! Go go go! LAST? No no no! If I'm going to be made to slog through crossword glue, it has to be worthwhile.
I have a feeling I'll hear gripes from solvers today, but I think there's a place for these wildly-eye catching grids every once in a while. This one had its strong points.
I get skeptical when I see a constructor using the exact same pattern over and over. Bo-ring, especially when it comes to themelesses! This one looked so familiar to Roland's other work … but to my surprise, it was a variant — and a super-tough variant, too!
Compare this grid to his other two similar ones. Note the two black squares missing from the center? That's just plain nuts! Working with a central region this big and wide-open — with FOUR grid-spanning entries running through it! — is something few constructors would even think about tackling. I like the audacity, but I was worried to see what necessary compromises there would be.
Color me impressed. A usual compromise is to rely on dull grid-spanners heavy on common letters like E R S T. ALTERNATIVE ROCK? Awesome! Along with CONSTANT CRAVING, PRIOR ENGAGEMENT, CAREER CRIMINALS, that's great stuff.
There had to be some gluey bits or some esoteric words holding everything together, then. There was SHEERED … that's a pretty odd word. It is dictionary supported, but dunno if I'd ever see it … ever. Outside of this crossword, that is.
But other than that, just a bit of VER and STE? Man, that's great work! There wasn't anything snazzy in that center, but to pull this feat off as smoothly as Roland did was impressive.
If only the corners had been of similar quality. ENERO VERE? CAPSTAN is of the SHEERED head-scratchiness level.
Okay, there wasn't as much as I remembered. So overall, it's pretty good. It's too bad though — without a ton of juicy long answers, as I've come to expect out of my themelesses, these outliers can feel harsher. As a solver, I needed more ALTERNATIVE ROCK type answers to help balance everything out.
But as a constructor, I appreciated the execution given the extreme degree of difficulty. Gets a lot of points for technical aspects, if not its snappiness.
Whoa! Incredible visual first impression, those gigantic 9x5 chunks of white space in each corner. It's so tough to break into these types of immense swaths — perfect for a Saturday challenge.
I tried constructing something like this a few years ago ... and vowed never to do it again. It's just too hard to fill these types of huge regions with both colorful entries and a lack of crossword glue. Today, I girded myself up for that kind of suboptimal solving experience and ended up being pleasantly surprised.
The SW corner was particularly nice, given the ridiculous difficulty factor. To work in SPARE TIME, TAPE LINES, APPLE TART, with just some RELET, ELEVE, MERCS, ESTES is excellent for this themeless style. (Compare to some of the other low word-count puzzles to get a sense for the usual glut of gluey bits they usually contain.) And even though RELEVANCE and TRITENESS didn't add much to my solve, they didn't take away from it, either.
The other corners weren't bad, just not as good as the SW. The NE had less crossword glue, just AMO and the terrible ABEAM, but not a lot of snazz, either. CAT BALLOU is the only one of five long entries that sings … and that's if you know movies!
The NW is a great example of the other end of the spectrum — so much excellent material in SEAFARERS, GO IT ALONE, EXCELSIOR!, even URBAN AREA … but at the price of the globby AFATE, ARILS, ERENOW.
The SE was similar. Loved PORT WINES, LOSE A STEP, OVEN READY, TENT DRESS — great stack! Needing the rough, rough SWARD and ANTAE though … oof.
I do like a themeless of this style every once in a while — makes for a huge challenge, and a huge sigh of relief after finishing. Like doing your 20-mile run in preparation for a marathon.
My constructor's spidey sense tingles when I see huge open white spaces like these. Gigantic chunks, roughly 7x7, can't consistently be filled with entries that are both sparkly and smooth. I girded myself for a solving experience filled with made-up sounding -ER, -EST, RE- words, plus a bunch of esotery.
What an immensely pleasant surprise in the NE corner, then! There isn't anything that shines except IRON MAN (I love me my superheroes), but so many of those seven-letter entries are fine. PIRATES and ARACHNE are nice, THISTLE, BATTLES, and CONCISE too.
Okay, the PACA is iffy, but it is a real animal, so I can let that one slide. ENSURER was the only real sticking point for me — I plunked in INSURER, sure that it was correct. But with just a single made-up-feeling entry, this corner was a standout, as compared to other wide-open puzzles.
The SE demonstrates the typical trade-off constructors must make with these types of big corners. It's so smooth, only PRIE needed as crossword glue to hold it together. But nothing much stands out to me. And it does feel heavy with names that can't take clever clues. Yes, RODRIGO Duterte is (unfortunately) crossworthy, but you're never going to have a playful clue for him. Similar issue for Robert Cavelier de LA SALLE and PETULA Clark.
The SW suffered the most, I thought. It had the most snazzy stuff — I love TIM RICE's lyrics, and BAD DEBT and WEENIE are great entries that could have taken imaginative clues — but RAMADAS (open-sided shelters?) felt 1.) esoteric and 2.) like a constructor's crutch, what with that friendly vowel-consonant alternation.
Oh, and UNALERT … oof. It does appear in some dictionaries, I guess. Along with the ARECIBO / TIM RICE crossing, which is probably unfair to many solvers ... double oof.
Along with the lack of interlock — notice how all too easy it is to describe the puzzle in terms of four quadrants — this isn't my favorite style of themeless. Still, it did provide a good Saturday workout, and the change of pace every once in a while is welcome. And that top right corner turned out well for this type of puzzle!
Like Roland's others with similar grid designs, there are very few long (8+ letters) slots, but he does well with the ones he has: WHAT A JOKE crossing ZEBRAFISH, yes! Not only are both snappy entries, but each contains a rare letter. YOYO DIET and JIVE TALK are also fun (I'm fairly sure I've seen "Airplane" more times than you). And although BEST EVER and FINE TUNE aren't quite as nice, they're still solid entries.
Those 7-letter slots are so tough to convert to strong entries. Love AXL ROSE, and OUTTAKE is nice, with its good clue: [It could be a blooper], making me think about a bloop hit in baseball at first. But no other entries stood out on their own.
NAZI ERA … I appreciate the clue pointing out that this ended after WWII, but for me, crosswords are escapism. Not much fun to see NAZI ERA, even though it is a crazy-looking string of letters in NAZIERA. (Kind of looks like "nazier," i.e. more like a Nazi.)
It's tough to fill these sorts of big corners without dabbing on crossword glue, so it's no surprise that the upper right and lower left — the two more open corners — suffer more than the others. The grid flow is much appreciated, but man oh man does it make it tougher to fill those regions with smoothness and snazziness.
That DARIEN / ROSETTI / OUSE / TSE / IRVAN area felt particularly troubling. ROSETTI was already a tricksy misdirect, as I was 100% ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY SURE it was Antonio Salieri, Mozart's antagonist featured in "Amadeus." (You got me, Roland!) But, ROSETTI is a composer educated solvers ought to know. The other crossings, however … hmm.
Along with some random ASE, ERI, FLA, ENOTE (does anyone really use this term?), it was too much crossword glue for me in a themeless. Those big corners featuring a ton of 7-letters answers are so hard to fill.
But overall, a good workout, featuring a couple of strong long answers.
SPACE TIME crossing ARE WE GOOD in the center — love it! Themeless that feature mostly mid-to-short entries have to really make their few long entries sing, so it's nice to get these two front and center. WIFI ZONE and IN THE BAG are pretty darn great as well.
I wasn't so sure about WHO WAS IT. Certainly a common phrase, but it feels more ho-hum, something functional in everyday conversation. CAPRICES … not a spectacular entry, but for a one-worder, it's pretty colorful. Not as sizzly as WIFI ZONE was for me, but still nice.
I'm not a fan of this sort of layout that breaks the puzzle up into so many subsections. It's all too easy to get stuck in a single region, making for a stop and go solve. Not super satisfying if there are only two ways into a corner, and you can't figure out either of them.
It sure does make construction easier, though. Once you select those entry words, you can work on that little piece of the grid just by itself, not worrying about the rest of the puzzle. I'd rather constructors avoid this crutch, as the resulting puzzle flow is so stilted and jarring for me as a solver.
That said, I really liked some of the results — it did feel more polished and snazzy than Roland's last use of a very similar grid pattern. Kicking it off with MEAT RUB is awfully nice, and a MASSEUR as [One pressing the flesh] = fantastic misdirectional clue! And I really, really enjoyed the bottom right. The rare J X in NINJAS / JUKEBOX / ROLEXES were neat, and I liked TERABIT and SEDATES with its tricky [Gives a number?] clue. (Think numb-er, as in one who numbs.)
Not as much a fan of the upper right, where PESETAS and PEERAGE takes up valuable real estate. It sure is tough to execute on triple-stacks of sevens crossing other triple-stacks of sevens.
Good workout overall, each of the five mini-puzzles taking a quite while to crack into.
Neat idea, two-word themers with a chemical element as the first word, and the second word starting with the appropriate CHEMICAL SYMBOL. SILVER AGE was a particularly appropriate phrase, and a beautifully colorful one to boot. And I've come across CARBON COPY umpteen times in life, but this is the first time I've realized what a neat feature it has, following Roland's pattern.
COPPER CUPS and IRON FENCE aren't quite as nice; phrases that I wouldn't count as assets if I saw them in a themeless puzzle. If only COPPER's symbol was Mu — I like me a Moscow Mule in a copper mug on hot summer nights.
It's unfortunate that three out of four themers contain two-letter CHEMICAL SYMBOLS … and the last one just has a one-letter symbol. Gives that final one a "which of these is not like the other" feel. I imagine the selection was very limited, and crossword symmetry rules make the choices even fewer. Ah well.
Some fun longer fill; love SUPERMOM and BIG BUCKS. And as a big Harry Potter and Cormoran Strike fan, the only thing better than getting ROWLING in a grid is getting JK ROWLING.
Theme-dense puzzles are always hard to fill, and there's good smattering of crossword glue today. All the crossings are fair, but all the dabs in total felt inelegant to me. A couple of ORU (Oral Roberts University) and ONE A (draft status) are fine. Dipping into the deeper ATRI, SNEE, PSEC, ARA well, along with the old-timey-feeling RIVE, and that's too much for my taste.
No doubt it's tough to work around five longish themers though, and it is good that Roland mostly spread the glue out. The themers are well-spaced out as possible, but there are so many areas where words must interact with at least two themers — no surprise that ATRI sprang up in the middle of the puzzle, in a space sandwiched between IRON FENCE / CHEMICAL SYMBOLS / SILVER AGE.
A very cool idea. If the themers had all been as strong as SILVER AGE — I would have been just as happy if the symbols were anywhere in the second word (not necessarily at the start), so that might have opened up more options — and the grid had been smoother, this would have been POW! material.
Will has a tough job, catering to a solvership with a huge range of backgrounds and interests. As Roland mentinoned, today's puzzle has an older feel, and although it didn't resonate with me, I think that's what a lot of older solvers would say about puzzles containing recent pop culture references and cutting-edge slang! Here are a few of the entries/clues that gave it an older vibe:
I appreciate diversity in puzzles as a whole, certain ones aiming squarely for a specific market segment (especially when I'm in that segment!) But I really like when a single puzzle carries diversity within it, thus playing to a very wide range of solvers. This one carried a lot of older TV/movie references. Too many? Maybe not, but it's unfortunate that some of the longer entries didn't do much for me. (I did go look them up afterward, but that's a very different experience than getting an visceral jolt of joy from uncovering something you think is incredible.)
A few things that took me a while to get:
Aside from the older feel, there was a little too much CMDR, ESTE, ECH (echelon?), ENOL deeper kinds of crossword glue for my taste. But I did like a couple of the long entries, SILENT TREATMENT, ILL BE THERE, and CRIME SCENE in particular.
With just two entries connecting each corner to the center of the puzzle, we have five mini-puzzles today. I liked how MAH JONGG served as one of the connectors — great to feature one of your best entries in such a critical spot. I haven't played that much MAH JONGG, but I've always found the tiles so interesting. There are not only four winds, but four seasons, three dragons, and even four flowers. A friend of mine says that experienced players don't even need to turn the tiles over, rather just a quick feel underside the (etched) designs is enough to tell them what they've selected.
Such little connectivity in the puzzle made for an extremely difficult solve for me. As usual with this type of arrangement, the center was my favorite, with MAH JONGG, RING DINGS, OKEY DOKEY, and even GECKOES and WEENIES adding to the zing. (The Cal fans are nicknamed "the weenies" for the annual Stanford vs. Cal Big Game. Don't ask me why.)
In the upper left, I didn't like EEE and the old-timey AES (Adlai E. Stevenson) and the not-quite-crossworthy ISAO Aoki, but getting MAD DASH and OPEN SEA helped make up for those gluey bits.
Similar trade-offs through the rest of the mini-puzzles. MULLETS, yes! ASO and TER, no thanks. NEW WAVE and ODYSSEY, yes! PKWY and the curiously pluralized PHEWS, not so much.
I finished up in the upper right corner — or I should say, didn't finish. Not being familiar with ALTOONA or TATIANA killed me. But it's good to be humbled once in a while. I'm not sure ALTOONA is worth the memory slot in my brain, already slowly losing its bits and bytes, but "Eugene Onegin" is an important enough novel that I'm glad to assign TATIANA to precious storage space.
BTW, ALIENEE apparently is a "dated term for GRANTEE," according to Oxford dictionaries.
Debut! Beautiful sets of triples through the middle, GIANT SLALOM / MICKEY MOUSE (as an adjective!) / COMEUPPANCE just delightful. SMARTY PANTS and MISS MANNERS had a nice echo (said the guy who think spoons don't need to be washed). GRANDNEPHEW seemed a touch arbitrary, but the Augustus / Julius Caesar clue made it work well.
Visually striking pattern, which I thought I had seen before. If there only were some web site where you could figure out when similar (or identical) grids have been used … Press the "Analyze this puzzle" button (at the very bottom of the page) if you're interested, and scroll down to "Topologically similar grids."
In this sort of arrangement, coming up with intersecting triple-stacks is just the beginning of the quest. I love how open the grid is, how well the solving experience flows through every region. But having both ends of each corner fixed into place by those triple-stacks causes so many constraints. Much, much more difficult than having regions which connect to the rest of the puzzle in just one way.
Roland does well in the SW. I'll always appreciate seeing entries like EUCLID and ATHENA, targeted at the erudite NYT audience. MONARCHY is similar, and also taught me a little bit about Saudi Arabia. All of that with no gluey bits = great stuff.
The NW felt a little rougher to me. Perhaps that's because I got so stuck, I had to cheat to finish. But the unfamiliar EBBETS and SAGER weren't terribly satisfying — didn't feel like answers that I really ought to have known. And while I really like BOOTLEG, NO IDEA, and DOG TAG, BIG YEARS didn't feel strong enough to give me a hit-my-forehead moment of discovery when I revealed that answer. Personal taste.
Finally, a beautiful clue that took me a full day to understand. How on Earth could SNAKED equate to some sort of [Wound]? Maybe it referred to a snakebite? Some dictionary definition #57 of a stabbing that only 16th century British scholars would know? No, it's wound as in "wound around." Now that's a great moment of discovery.