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Ross Trudeau author page

52 puzzles by Ross Trudeau
with Jeff Chen comments

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522/9/20177/24/202219
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Ross Trudeau

Ross Trudeau is a writer and puzzlemaker in Cambridge, Mass. His crosswords appear regularly in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other venues, including his own website, Rossword Puzzles, where he posts an original (and free) puzzle every week.

In 2018 Ross collaborated on a Times crossword with another imaginative person — his father, Garry Trudeau, the creator of "Doonesbury."

POW Sun 7/24/2022 Going Somewhere?
ACRESAMIDTSAESS
PROMOBASEAHIVEEPS
HEROWORSHIPPEREGRETS
IDSSPASESAFRETNOT
DOCKIMPUGNFRAGRANCE
HOESIMONSOIRSKA
TRACERKARYNDREAYSL
BICHROMEGLOBEEVAL
ASHICESEADOONERVE
RECECLATNERDTRIALS
AERODROMEARSEANKH
FORKSULUTIERDISH
YODELSBEFITVERONA
IFSETHANFROMEAYEAYE
BEAUALEACEVIV
IMPOSTERSYNDROMEZEKE
TEACHSUMOGUYTONER
STLEODAWDLESPROUST
ALLROADSLEADTOROME
TILERSHEADELOPE
DISCSDRYREFER

★ Jessie and Ross! With all due respect to my dear wife, who's turned to the Dark Side of word games (she's unapologetically obsessed with the Spelling Bee and Wordle), I bend the knee to today's royal couple of crosswords.

Fun Sunday puzzle to celebrate their big day, too. I enjoyed figuring out that the five roads led to Rome, and I appreciated the four ways they hid ROME: BICHROME, AERODROME, ETHAN FROME, IMPOSTER SYNDROME. I wouldn't have guessed there were so many different types of *ROME entries. The only other strong one I could find was PALINDROME, but not all solvers are selihphiles.

What made the puzzle stand out was its technical merits. I've had many people ask me about ALL ROADS LEAD TO ROME puzzle ideas, but figuring out how to pull one off has always been the trouble. Note Jessie and Ross's use of diagonal symmetry, which allowed them to so elegantly intersect a road and a *ROME entry at their ends (we've highlighted the themers to illuminate the skeleton). It's a perfect way to execute the sense of finality carried by the ALL ROADS LEAD TO ROME revealer.

Diagonal symmetry allows for some flashy touches, too. Given that some themers are shorties and/or not that colorful — BICHROME feels a bit black and white, for example — spicing up the grid is a great thing. Although you risk muddying up what is theme and what is not, the sparkle of HERO WORSHIPPER and RORSCHACH CARDS is well worth it. Diagonal symmetry plus the short themers in the upper left make this possible.

Certainly no IMPOSTER SYNDROME, Jessie and Ross are the REAL DEAL, the crossworld's residents of PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE. I can't wait to see what delights they bring us in the future.

POW Thu 6/16/2022
SUCKSAMPABETS
ORNOTPARILLBE
NNNNICSCIENTIST
ALLEYCATS
WITTOSSERSABS
ATOASTPOPDUO
IAMBHICKSADDS
FLOURCUEKIDDO
IOTAATEINDY
MAOJUNIPERDMS
ANOSTEWSDOO
RIOICEPACKDVR
ICONSVATEYDIE
SEOULETCYODEL
ASONENTHSUDSY

★ Plenty of hacks have tried their hand at playing with repeated letters, but Parker and Ross made theirs shine. Quite the pair of CUTIE PATOOTIES!

The other themers, in case you didn't CCCCCCD (six-C D = succeed; I know, not only does this joke not fit the pluralization pattern, but it's terrible) in catching them:

4Ns IC SCIENTIST = FORENSIC SCIENTIST

TOM 8Os = TOMATOES

A 10Ds = ATTENDEES

The last one hit me the weakest since the lone A so badly wanted to be a long A, not a short A as in ATTENDEES. It was close enough that I could look the other way, though.

I wonder how many solvers will think that CUTIE PATT is a Gen alpha-speak term they're too out of touch to understand. Thankfully, the italicization of the clue forces you to notice that something odd is going on, but the others have so many repeated letters that they don't need such flagging. I grew to like how CUTIE PA(TOOTIES) forced me to think; to not grow complacent.

Such a great take-off on repeated letters. Integrating the partial syllables into words made them delightfully unpredictable.

Thu 5/12/2022
UTAHNATHAWAII
NINAOPSADAPTS
PENNUBERMENSCH
CREDITSLIPDOH
CVSINSTA
LAYBODHIAWE
SPORSETITSCOL
NAIVETEBRONTES
ONEEAROYEAIDE
WESSABREMRI
ATWODREF
EMUHAAGENDAZS
FLIRTATIONOREO
UMLAUTNYEWISP
ROASTSSAWNETS

I felt so naive, not realizing that I've been misspelling NAÏVETY all these years. I'm such an uberdork.

Er, überdork.

I've seen a ton of double-O rebuses across various publishers, including ones in the NYT riffing on James Bond and double-double Os. And a beautiful one with Os stacked atop each other to form 8s! OO representing UMLAUTs is a new one. I found it hard to connect the dots on the concept, since the UMLAUT dots are so much smaller than Os, but I appreciate the creativity.

Would a different clue for UMLAUT have helped? I had to read that three times to make sense of it, and the "both of which are represented in this puzzle" still didn't make sense. I think it's trying to emphasize that both dots of the UMLAUT are represented by the double Os?

Now I'm wondering, has anyone done a triple-O rebus, representing ellipses . . .

DOT DOT DOT

Neat that Ross covered four different vowels commonly UMLAUTed. Why don't American brands double up on their Os? I doubt Bose wants to be known as Böse, the German word for "Evil."

Wildly creative idea that didn't hit as strongly as I would have liked. Still, it's neat to see Thursday constructors swing for the fences, especially when it's as good a guy as Ross, the ÜBERMENSCH who's helped so many people advance their crossword careers.

ADDED NOTE: I failed miserably at understanding the UMLAUT clue. Languages are böse!

POW Thu 4/7/2022
NEWBTKODMCJOB
YOHOMINIOHARE
UNIONISTSNEMEA
STUHOCKEYMOM
OKEYDOKEEPEES
RAJGPASTAND
ENURESFLOWN
SEGOHAYEDGE
BTEAMABSORB
DOUBTMIANAB
METROTURNKEYS
JOCKEYFOREEK
AVOIDEMMASTONE
DICTADEUSENOS
ANTSYSIRSLGBT

★ Innovative twist for a Thursday!

If you didn't get that, we've highlighted the four KEY words below. Rotate those four KEYs 90 degrees to make sense of each Down entry.

Amazing that Lucy and Ross found enough different ways to incorporate KEY, too. The old kids' joke asks, what three keys open no locks? Answer: donkey, monkey, turkey. If I only had a shot of WHISKEY for every time I heard that!

Solid finds in OKEY DOKE, HOCKEY, and JOCKEY to flesh it out. Others I could think: JOKEY Smurf, MIKEY Day, RICHARD LEAKEY, RICKEY Henderson, and a toadying LACKEY. Crikey!

MONKEY PAW instead of MONKEYS PAW made me hitch. That is, until I saw the creepy picture Peele's production company uses. W.W. Jacobs's story seems like a nursery rhyme compared to this!

I found it confusing that UNIONISTS and EMMA STONE stole the headlines, along with ROBOT KITS and CHEYENNES. I usually dig long bonuses, but these muddied the waters. An alternate layout where the KEY themers are the longest entries would be difficult, but not impossible, especially if you went up to the max of 78 words. Minor point, though.

I've had many editors give me the stink-eye for KOD, TKOD, even KOS, saying that they look so weird. I avoid them now because the editors are the gateKEYpers, but they still seem fine to me.

Innovative, POW!-worthy idea, with a great (WARNING, PUN ALERT!) spin.

Sun 1/30/2022 WATCH YOUR STEP!
SCREAMOFOLDUPFROS
INEXPERTAVERSELEIA
BESTALBUMCEASESYANK
STUOSMOSINGTRICKS
ROANOILSUPANTS
FORINSTANCEEARWIG
ONENDESLORCHESTITS
SECTTPISTSKOBETIE
SITSONTWOBITSHEHER
ELSROOKIRONEDAZERA
BADDESTUNNERVE
ACORNSPICERTACOPMS
DORAGSTAHINIACCRUE
DNAEXECONECUPHERA
STLESSGOWNALEMADAM
MOWGLIVONTPFAMILY
TOADDISOWNRIPS
SIMIANMISSOULAPOP
NOELONTILTTRAPDOORS
INGELEANTOESPOUSES
TSARATRISKSEXIEST

It's a trap! Even better, it's five of them.

I enjoyed that Ross did something more than a standard rebus, making his vertical TRAP phrases fall down through a black square, continuing on. [Scores for placekickers] confused me, since there were only three squares. I was all set to write to Will Shortz, saying that the clue needed an "Abbr." tag, when I realized what was going on: EX(TRAP)OINTS! Fun stuff.

I did find the trick somewhat unsatisfying, since the TRAP DOORS "opened" onto a black square. Wouldn't a solid block stop you from falling, asked the chronic overthinker?

It would have been awesome if those five black squares had been drawn so that they had "holes" through their centers — maybe a hole emoji or a theatrical star portal — so you have a TRAP door above a hole through which you fell. I'm sure some clever artist could have made something sizzle.

Excellent gridwork. It's not hard to insure that there's a black square under each TRAP rebus; that's straightforward layout. Getting everything symmetrical — while making sure all your Down pieces fit — is another story. Although you can mix and match to some degree, it's an incredible gridding challenge.

Ross is one of the few folks I'd trust to take on something this daunting, and he came through with a clean, colorful grid with few compromises. TE(TRAP)ODS isn't as outstanding as FLYING (TRAP)EZE, PREDISPOSE can be disposed more than RAISE HAVOC, but overall, it's such a high-quality product.

I'd love to see the NYT highlight one of its distinguishing characteristics more — the print Sunday Magazine can feature all sorts of artistic elements that can't be duplicated (well) in an electronic solve. Some ingenious artwork in those five black squares underneath the TRAPs, and this would have plopped into POW! territory.

Tue 1/11/2022
PROTONSSTAVING
GENERICOUTCROP
AMERICAFERRERA
NOELISIS
PBJLIEADACAM
ERODEDALGORE
TORIEDIFYRUES
ENDSANNUSANYA
ZAHNADDINTO
MENONSIGHTRUM
UMPDATASETYAO
FEERERAISESLR
ADELAARCARTOO
SALEMNILMEANS
ALEXADEESPREE

COUNTRY STAR is a perfectly punny way to describe celebs whose names are also countries. I enjoyed "Superstore," so AMERICA FERRERA was a gimme. (People might tell you that I both laughed and cried at "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," and I will deny all such blasphemy.)

If you don't know JORDAN PEELE, where have you been? Ah, in lockdown? Right. Ahem. Hopefully, Jordan Poole of the Golden State Warriors gets more playing time because there's a crossword theme somewhere in there ...

INDIA ARIE, our crossword friend! ARIE has been used over 60 times in the Shortz era, because it's so, so, so constructor-friendly. Tip: if you want to get your kid in the NYT crossword one day, consider naming him/her/them ERA. Better yet, help me help you by picking a name like ESS and ENE, which would legitimize these subpar entries for constructorkind!

(Besides CUBA GOODING JR, we could have also accepted CHAD OCHOCINCO or PENNINGTON and GEORGIA O'KEEFFE. Sadly, CHYNA and CHADWICK BOSEMAN don't quite make the cut.)

Not the most memorable of themes, but Ross did well to employ a pretty mirror layout — something mesmerizing about that upside-down T pressing down from the top — and a ton of spicy bonuses to help elevate the solving experience. Delightful entries like DNA STRAND FUDGSICLE, PROTONS, NICE IDEA helped lift my solving experience … BRONZE MEDAL feels about right.

Wed 12/15/2021
ALLSHASATEUP
ROOTHELPLEDGE
ACREAREABEIGE
BADINVESTMENTS
LINEAARC
APTONEWAYTRIPS
CROWALITAUDEN
TIVOSILTSSIRI
ADELASLITHOST
SERVICEACESTIS
ERAVESPA
SORRYNORETURNS
JULIAUDONLOCI
OMANILEASFOAM
TOYEDLSDAFTS

SORRY NO RETURNS … how did Jessie and Ross know about my tennis game? I thought I was halfway decent until ten years ago when a 6'6" friend with a wicked 100+ mph spin serve set me straight, in straight sets.

After that, I decided tennis was a racket.

ONE-WAY TRIPS worked as well, although it has a similar meaning to the tennis aces. (I should have written a witty comeback here, but that wouldn't go with today's theme.)

BAD INVESTMENTS never sit right with me, so these days index investing (supported by the SPIVA studies) is my jam. This themer also didn't land as squarely as the others since most BAD INVESTMENTS have returns that are less than the benchmark but aren't exactly zero. Even in bankruptcies, investors often scrape out pennies by negotiating haircuts on the—

(Jim Horne interrupted to suggest that I hit RETURN.)

Great bonuses, as I've come to expect from both Jessie and Ross. Adjacent long Downs are usually easy if they run through one themer, but two is a different story. LOCAL PRIDE / LORD IT OVER with no surrounding glue is an A+ result. Carefully placing SERVICE ACE so the friendly E and R could end those long Downs was smart.

Not as stellar in the opposite corner, with SULFA / LOCI a tough crossing. Still, IDIOT-PROOF / PERSIAN CAT is worth that price, given this is a mid-week puzzle. At least, it's worth it to those who got that square correct.

Not a standout of its genre, but a fun "different meanings" theme elevated by so many delights in the fill.

Tue 10/19/2021
JAMBMAASHAG
ALOECOUCHNORA
BESTENNUIOPAL
CHARLOTTESWEB
ALLTIEDUP
KEEPSHEARATSO
LAMPPEACHCHEZ
ERISSINCEKENO
ILLASNERBIN
NYYATTENDSROE
RSVPSSTODOR
PILEUPTURNIP
ASISITGUYOTTO
PESTCHAMPVEIL
ARTSSAYSOESSO

Crossword constructors jump at sets of three or four (sometimes five). Perfect sets make such great crossword themes, and ANNE, CHARLOTTE, EMILY are exactly that. Even a boor with my lowbrow tastes can appreciate that.

It's a shame that there's no wordplay reveal possible, as there might be for Jane Austen (maybe you could riff on "plain Jane" or AUS + TEN somehow). THE BRONTËS tells it like it is, unfortunately without any of the wit exhibited in "Pride and Prejudice."

If you tell my b-ball buddies I said that, I'll deny everything.

Exactly three sisters is a tight set. How to showcase them, though? CHARLOTTE is a tough name to integrate into a phrase. Besides CHARLOTTE'S WEB, there's CHARLOTTE HORNETS (I'm targeting Terry Rozier in our fantasy draft this year), the delicious CHARLOTTE RUSSE, and CHARLOTTE AMALIE.

EMILY is even harder, surprisingly, with mostly only people as options: EMILY DICKINSON, EMILY POST, EMILY BLUNT. EMILY'S LIST disguises things much better (EMILY is an acronym, not a name), although it was awfully tough to figure out for this apolitical person.

I can hear Ross's thought process: with two possessives, why not go consistent with a third? AUNTIE ANNE'S has a special place in my heart since on my honeymoon in Malaysia, my pregnant wife could tolerate zero smells. I fetched many AUNTIE ANNE'S pretzels from the malls for her, while I gorged on Panang curry (sitting far outside as I ate).

The consistency of three possessives theoretically might enhance the theme. However, it felt odd. The BRONTË sisters weren't known as Anne's Brontë, etc. So ... why? I'd have preferred random phrases with no consistency for consistency's sake.

Hey, I never said I was consistent!

I enjoyed so much of this solving experience, neat to see the BRONTËs get their due. Loved the bonuses of BETA APPS, ACUTE ACCENT, EARLY RISER, SENIORITIS; Ross as always doing such top-notch gridding. That wasn't enough to overcome no zing in the revealer along with some head-scratching, though.

POW Wed 9/15/2021
TATEPANENTITY
AREAINATOUCHE
GLASSEYEANGERS
SEPTICNIPBOA
UNODENTALCROWN
PETSWOAHEXED
CLIMBASPER
FALSELASHES
DOLCEONION
SOREFIEFTARP
POWDEREDWIGFIR
ERAVOWCOARSE
WORDEDHEADFAKE
ENDUREBARRIEN
DESOTOOREODDS

★ In basketball, a HEAD FAKE is when you telegraph a move by jerking your eyes or chin one way, then take off in the other direction, blowing past your defender. A successful HEAD FAKE leaves the person off-balance, tripping on their own feet. That's known as "breaking your defender's ankles." Back when I was quicker, the highlight of my rec bball days was when I head-faked a friend so bad, his toe literally tore through his shoe as he fell onto his butt. It was glorious!

Not as glorious as the deception today, though. The clever wordplay on the themer clues threw me off balance, not seeing what Sophie and Ross were planning. I had to work hard enough to understand that [Batter's additions?] referred to someone batting their EYELASHES that when I got to HEAD FAKE, I was dumbfounded, trying to figure out how Sophie and Ross got past me, lifting off for the windmill dunk.

HEAD FAKE … refers to replacement body parts … on the HEAD? Dang, that's fantastic!

When someone skies over you and dunks on your head, it's called "getting posterized," as in that pic will end up as a poster on someone's wall. When that happens — as it frequently did to me — the best response is to shake the other person's hand and admire the feat of athleticism.

I did hitch a few times in the fill, akin to when a point guard almost travels by turning their hand over the ball (called "carrying"). I know WOAH mostly from old Tintin comics — Snowy the dog often said it — but younger generations have adopted this stylized spelling of "whoa."

PIECEWISE … it's been a long time since I've taken any math, but don't most mathematical functions change at different intervals? Yes, but the clue is (awkwardly) getting at step and sub-functions.

And I'm inured to a lot these days, so I got an off-kilter smile out of NIP crossing NON PC.

Neat to see SCALED referring to both fish and rock walls. Ross and I are both avid climbers, so the insidery nod made me smile.

Small nips — er, nits — aside, an excellent debut that so aptly faked me into a beautiful a-ha moment.

Tue 8/24/2021
TALCSMAGICGPA
AGLOWCLARAOOF
POCKETATLASOPT
IDOTOOEDGES
PEERREDELM
ESLASTERNEO
ICANSHOWAMOEBA
RANONYOUAVAIL
ERENOWTHEWORLD
ETAILOSTTEA
DAMAGEHUSH
PYRESTHRESH
ICIPALEBLUEDOT
TAUCHILIREEDS
ATMAHEMSPRADA

Fun idea, I CAN SHOW / YOU / THE WORLD pointing to entries that can literally show you a view of the world (Earth). PALE BLUE DOT is an awe-inspiring pic of the Earth from space, show how tiny we are in the grand scope of the universe.

POCKET ATLAS also shows (individual parts of) the world, although I wondered why a pocket atlas, not just a regular atlas? I imagine it's because ATLAS is too short to act as a feature entry — tossing in POCKET felt inelegant. Would ROAD ATLAS be any better … maybe?

I hitched on PLANETARIUM. It's been a while since I've been to a PLANETARIUM (been a while since I've been anywhere; sigh), but all my memories revolve around images of stars and space. If you loosen the definition of WORLD, it does work better.

Hey, all four themers start with P, that's cool! POPEMOBILE … can show you the world by driving all over the place on his tours? It is bulletproof, so you can go everywhere, I suppose—

Huh? The theme entry is not POPEMOBILE but GOOGLE EARTH, which is perfectly apt?

Also apt that I LOST was in the grid.

Part of me loves that there's so much bonus material in the grid, entries like SCAREDY CAT, DE NOVO, NO NAME. With a presentation like today's, though, I'd have preferred a less-is-more approach, allowing solvers to focus more on the themers.

It'd also have been great to avoid the awkward TWO TO. I get why it happened, with stacked SHOW/YOU/THE in the middle, and the revealer locked into PLANETARIUM and GOOGLE EARTH. Would WOT be any better, as in a Brit's "huh?" Maybe not, with ERENOW already in the grid. It might be possible to spread the three pieces, spacing them a row apart, but that's calling for a full grid redo.

Strong idea, playing on a (warning: ear worm ahead) catchy song. Some rough EDGES in implementation.

POW Wed 7/14/2021
OFFSRAVESSIP
CARTEETAILESL
CRYINGWOLFEAAA
AGENDALIFEBOAT
MORKWILDEPITCH
ELKSLSAT
WHEREELSESEGA
HEXEREADERRED
ONTOYOGAPOSES
RIPSERMA
TOOLECHESTKARA
USVSTHEMHOLDIT
THEPEACHYKEENE
OERIMPEISALSA
RATGASESFEET

★ Delightful connection, E-READER giving solid rationale for playing on authors whose names are regular words plus an E. I'd have believed that there would be four authors exhibiting this trait — WOLFE and WILDE have been played upon in many a crossword — but to get four of them that could be worked into common phrases? I wouldn't have even attempted it. Fantastic finds!

This is a splendid example of why I admire "tightness" in a theme set. Dan Schoenholz did a similar concept years ago, but it included Gordie HOWE, Louis MALLE, Arthur ASHE. Zeroing in on authors makes today's theme so much more elegant and tying them all together with E-READER makes it even more memorable.

Amazing gridwork, as I'd expect from the dream team. Of course, Amanda and Ross give us the typical long downs that are colorful — SEA OTTERS and EXTROVERT — but they don't stop there. It's difficult to build in long Across bonuses because they often interfere with gridding around the themers, but look how smoothly Amanda and Ross slipped in LIFEBOAT, WHERE ELSE, YOGA POSES, US VS THEM.

Often, these long Acrosses can muddy up what is theme and what is not, but with the themers being so obvious today, it's not a problem.

I'd usually suggest breaking up YOGA POSES at the second O, or LIFEBOAT at the B, but when you're willing to put in the time and effort to iterate until perfection, it's an excellent decision to go big. There are few secrets to filling a wide-open corner like the NE. If you want it bad enough, there usually will be some combination of long entries that give you a favorable balance of color and cleanliness. Few constructors have the doggedness to keep going, though.

It'd have been great to get a 50-50 mix of male and female authors, as well as more diversity, but I couldn't think of any other authors besides Thomas PAINE and Graham GREENE that would fit the pattern. Curious if anyone else can uncover someone that might have worked toward this goal.

Standout puzzle — a clever theme and stellar execution.

POW Sun 6/27/2021 GRAVITY'S RAINBOW
SCAMSEVERGTREEAKITA
HANOIPAPERHATSWAGED
ANNULESOTERICAAZURE
STANLEECREEDUPROARS
TOLDYAHONESIDONOT
ASSMRTRTEARE
MELLOWYOLBEYES
ABBACRIEDWOLFRAFA
BLOODOSILENTUIGIRLS
EARARLOLAAERNOCUP
THEPLAYCONGOODDJOBS
HANDSAWENQUIRE
PRODIGIESBUGGYWHIP
FINSEARTHJAIHOSAME
FCCELOOILSAT
THERPLANETULTRAVRAYS
DELIMESLREELIER
GRADATESTONRAWONION
OUICONTROVERSIALGPA
ATLIUDANEYERYEHES
THYDTSMESSYSSTTNT

★ At first, both Jim Horne and I were underwhelmed at first by this concept. Colors of the rainbow have been played upon so many times over the years, including the first puzzle of the Will Shortz era,. The title seemed to give away the game, and quickly uncovering EVER(GREEN) TREE didn't help.

Plus, EVER(GREEN) TREE made this yet another addition to the "turning themers" trope that Will has largely stopped taking. I did appreciate that GRAVITY'S RAINBOW made for a strong rationale for pulling the colors down, but it wasn't enough to overcome my "meh" moment.

And Ross / Lindsey didn't even bother to put the colors in ROY G BIV rainbow order! Starting from GREEN, trickling down to YELLOW and BLUE … what is this, a Dali painting? I mean, how hard would it be to start with RED …

Oh, wait. It does start with RED when you think about left to right order. Look, there's ORANGE next, YELLOW—

Wait. Are the ordered colors …

... in the shape OF A RAINBOW?

I hope paper solvers don't miss this extra layer, because it elevates this puzzle to a sky-high level. The shape isn't perfect (see the grid below), but it's close enough to still be jaw-dropping. Amazing visual for the solver in me, and this technician wouldn't have though it could be possible to lay things out so masterfully. It's rare for a puzzle to appeal to both parts of my personality so strongly.

I fear that there will be many who don't notice. It would have been great to include a revealer at the bottom, something like ARC that could explicitly point to what's going on.

Exceptional puzzle. This is exactly the kind of shot in the arm that the NYT Sunday crossword has been needing. Big idea, amazing execution, interesting grid entries and clues = a huge win.

POW Mon 5/3/2021
AMIDCRAPOIOWA
LAVARERUNBRAG
ICEDCOFFEEAGRA
DOWBETRAYS
EMMYSPALAUNOS
SOYAIRPORTWIFI
PATHNORTIC
THEINSIDEINFO
BRROEDGARB
EAUDEPARFUMRCA
CDSNOTITIMMAD
HOTBATHSFO
ONEAFEEFIFOFUM
EARNUNLITDANA
DISKLAMBSYMCA

★ I've seen plenty of FEE FI FO FUM puzzles, even one with a neat vine visual, so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed today's. What a creative way to hide those syllables — I would have thought it impossible to camouflage FUM at the end of a phrase. Not only does the phrase have to end with the letters F U M, but it has to exhibit the FUM (not "foom") sound too? Ain't gonna happen.

I'll admit, I was skeptical at the pronunciation of PARFUM. Given that my five years of high-school French resulted in approximately 2.3% mastery of the language, I thought I'd better look it up. Sure enough, it's absolutely perfect. It's so elegant when a themer has one and only one option.

Top-notch gridwork, as I'd expect from a gridmaster, such snazzy bonuses in ORGANIC FARM and MYTHBUSTERS, along with A PRIORI (don't worry, I don't know what it means either, but like you, I pretend I do), HOT BATH, ATHENA, PUEBLO.

Ross hasn't been submitting solo puzzles for a long time now, so I bet that

  1. this one's been sitting in Will Shortz's queue, and
  2. Ross would go back and redo the southwest corner to remove ONEA / change ADONAI to make that region more newb-friendly.

I don't mind them since they enable MYTHBUSTERS and HOT BATH, but I'm sure the perfectionist in Ross could now find an alternative fill that was almost as sparkly without any early-week prices to pay.

Jim Horne and I discussed whether GIANT as a revealer would have generated a bigger a-ha moment, but given the potential confusion around PARFUM's pronunciation, I like the Monday overtness.

I appreciate the new and clever way of executing an established theme.

POW Wed 3/24/2021
NABSAABSGARP
ALLAISLESARIA
SAILORSUITLEVI
ANNELATINGEAR
DENIMOVERALLS
PASSONEGAD
ASPLEARNOSLO
WHOWOREITBETTER
SETHSOSADRIC
IFSOLAMESA
FOOTIEPAJAMAS
IMNEXTDANRSVP
ENDSTRENCHCOAT
LIVEOILIERUPS
DADADEEDSTED

★ So amusing to think about Mario going down the runway, trying to out-pose the Minions. I didn't fully appreciate the concept at first since it seemed like you could pick any costume and find dozens of toons that wore it. As I drilled down, though, how many toons wear denim overalls? I'm deep in the midst of cartoonland — for my kids, not me! — and I could only come up with Wreck-it Ralph and Bob the Builder.

(I admit, I have an affinity for Wreck-it Ralph. So misunderstood.)

The others were even tighter. I couldn't come up with anyone but Popeye and Donald Duck for the SAILOR SUIT. All I could think of was Buster Bluth, who will sadly never win WHO WORE IT BETTER, but who's a winner in my book.

Fun echo to the theme in [Runway model?] = AIRLINER.

Great bonuses in BLIND SPOT, WHITE SEA, STRESS OUT. It's amazing what a megastar GAL GADOT has become in such a short time — she blew me away in her 2017 "Wonder Woman" role. A shame that the reviews for the sequel have been so negative.

Also appreciated were the fun touches in the clues. LAT confused me for a long. time, until I realized that there was a period after long. As in longitude! And I know a lot of people who can blow a lot of hot air, but VENTS do that as well.

Neat concept, one that grew on me. It kept calling me back to take a second and a third look, which is one trait of a great puzzle.

Tue 3/2/2021
PBSUNMADESYD
AUTOSTONERTAR
DRAFTCHOICEOHO
SPYFIEMOBLOW
SPLITDECISION
SOSUEMETMI
ERATAHEMOXEYE
TANICEPICKXER
SLEETESMESPAR
AIMILLPASS
SHOTSELECTION
TABSNOMMUSKS
ENGSTOCKOPTION
ANYAENEIDSOLO
MANMEYERSNAB

If Ross ever decides to open up a restaurant, I'm there. Different ales, ice, a wide SHOT SELECTION, along with a banana SPLIT doused in beef stock? Considering my lunch consists of "whatever the kids didn't eat yesterday, dumped into a bowl," that's right up my alley.

I did wonder, is MOOED related to the theme somehow? Because of the banana SPLITs? Usually, I would applaud such a fun clue as [Participated in a stock exchange?] — cows are stock that MOO — but it's so close to STOCK OPTION. I generally don't care if words in clues duplicate those in the grid, but the gist of this clever clue is too similar to the theme concept.

As always, nice gridwork from Boss Ross. STAYS SANE is so important these days, EXPANSION teams are fun, SO SUE ME and ILL PASS are great conversational phrases. Not easy to achieve so much sparkle with five (mostly) long themers. Working in some STONER YAHOO mid-length stuff helps, too.

You could complain about BSIX as something never written like that in real life, and a couple of EPS (bygone initialism) ESME (not in school curricula nearly as often as "Catcher in the Rye") XER (partial-ish; requires a fill-in-the-blank clue), but I bet some editors would give some of those a pass.

And maybe OFF PUT off-put you (as did the description of my lunch bowl), but the Oxford dictionary seems to think it's not off-putting.

I love the idea behind this one, and if it had felt less of a mish-mash than Jeff's lunch — even if it had been tightened to three alcohol-related ones — I'd have given it some POW! consideration.

Sun 1/24/2021 SUGAR, SUGAR
TOSHIBARACYBMWORG
ARCANUMISHECRAMBAM
NERDSRINGPOPFADDIETS
KLEEUBERSOILNYT
USESBABYRUTHSNICKERS
PENTONISUEBUMRAP
WHISKASRESTRASPY
CRUNCHNOWANDLATER
ERINSPINYETIKFC
LATKESUSGAEELYAOK
AYEWHOPPERSSPREENYU
NOREASEDISCRAFTER
NSALAPSLEAFOAST
MILKYWAYSTARBURST
SALADASECSCAREDY
ALOTOFATSARAYSAC
LIFESAVERSPAYDAYWELL
BTUJAYSEPEEARLO
HAIRLINEMARSSMARTIES
ABEUTESAKINPROTEGE
MARGASOSLOGETSSET

Tracy Gray and I made a puzzle like this years ago. It wasn't the first time I'd heard the idea, so I wasn't too surprised when Will Shortz said that he liked it, but some of the candy names weren't well-known enough. Given all that history, I had a strong inkling what SUGAR, SUGAR meant.

I was hoping for something different, something more novel. Perhaps a double OSE addition, playing on CABO to CABOOSE, PROP to PROPOSE? Alas, we chem nerds can't always get what we want.

I enjoyed some of the themers. MARS SMARTIES is a fun one, assuming you know what SMARTIES are. And NERDS RING POP does a nice job of changing RING into a different meaning.

Most of all, today, I appreciated the clean gridwork, such a pleasure to get in a Sunday debut. Granted, Ross was on board, so I shouldn't have been surprised, but creating a Sunday 140-word grid at your first go is like picking up a baseball bat for the first time and facing Randy Johnson. I did notice how many extra black squares they used — it's impossible to overlook 12 of them — but I'd much rather have a flood of cheater squares plus a smooth grid than a clunky solve.

Nice to get some bonuses in SCREENWRITERS and FANTASY SERIES, too. I'd love to get a couple more, but again, not at the price of a painful solving experience.

I want more creativity out of my Sunday solving experience, but I understand that's not the case for everyone — probably a majority of solvers, realistically. Most might simply want something that they can complete. Assuming they've heard of all these candy types, this puzzle might be right in their (warning: terrible pun ahead) sweet spot.

Tue 1/12/2021
MILDEWYMDSECCE
ISSARAEOOPPARD
KIDNEYSTONEARID
EATANTCOLONY
SHAMSARFWALK
BIPARTISANBILL
CALMSTDNEE
THISTOOSHALLPASS
OATHUERIME
PROQUARTERBACK
PLUSTRYOKNOW
PEDESTALSERA
EDYSBRIEFMOMENT
SOOTAYNITSALOT
ONUSRAGTVHOSTS

I can imagine that solvers with KIDNEY STONEs won't take THIS TOO SHALL PASS as a source of amusement. Maybe Gandalf's reaction is more like it. It's either a bold, cheeky choice to play on KIDNEY STONEs, or wildly head-shaking. Not quite sure which.

I enjoy these "What Connects These Disparate Things" concepts. Ross's last one was a winner, such a clever interpretation of LOOK MA NO HANDS, playing not only on different definitions of HANDS, but lack thereof.

Today's didn't work as well. KIDNEY STONEs don't always pass, sometimes requiring surgery. BRIEF MOMENT and PRO QUARTERBACK; why tack on the first words? It's something you have to do since it's hard to build a theme around short entries, but both felt artificial. BRIEF MOMENT will pass … won't a long moment pass, too? As will a century?

BIPARTISAN BILL was the clear winner. Well, clear after Jim Horne pointed out its brilliance. BILLs don't always pass, but BIPARTISAN ones almost always do. That's spot-on for the revealer.

Long across bonuses stuck out in an odd way today, leaving me wondering how an ANT COLONY shall pass ... through their tunnels? Sure, I should have read the clue specifying which were the themers, but I shouldn't have to do that. A great layout highlights the themers better than this.

I did enjoy so much of the bonuses Ross worked in. Even MILDEWY feels oddly fresh, not to mention LSD TAB, CRINKLES, MOON FISH, TV HOSTS.

Was overlapping PEDESTALS on BRIEF MOMENT worth it, though? Not if it produces ARYA / AYN crossing. Regular solvers are used to AYN, but it could be an annoying and even unfair trap for newer ones.

Not my favorite of Ross's puzzles, but I did like the train of thought.

Mon 12/14/2020
ABBAABLYGAP
CARLFRIEDNABS
CLUELAMAROTAY
ELLEMACPHERSON
SEEACEWEIRDS
STEEDSANDRAOH
RATICEDNA
SAMANTHABEE
REPNEOROO
KAYHAGANASSAM
ORNATEABSHUE
WOMENOFLETTERS
DIVATROVEOHOH
AGESSERIFMERE
YSLSANSBRAD

WOMEN OF LETTERS is a great revealer, perfectly tying together ELLE MACPHERSON, SANDRA OH, SAMANTHA BEE, and KAY HAGAN. A long memory for crosswords hurt my initial impression since a fantastic C.C. Burnikel puzzle and a FOURTH OF JULY theme immediately made me wonder what L O B K stood for.

I'm curious — what it would be like, to be a person who doesn't feel it necessary to spend two hours Googling LOBK and all 24 permutations of those letters?

I'm also curious how many unenlightened boors didn't know KAY HAGAN. Shame on us! I mean, ewe! Aw, GGGG!

Love the inclusion of SHE/HER as fill. Along with MADAM President, AURORA/EOS, I liked the celebration. A shame that this didn't run on March 1st.

Five themers bookended by two 14s usually means trouble. The five phrases can only get one row of spacing from each other, and that squishing-in constraint forces so many down answers to cross multiple themers. It all starts with the central 28-Down, which often creates an unfillable letter pattern. Thankfully, Jessie and Ross had some flexibility, and S?T?N has several fine options.

Bonus fill is then the next issue since long downs will have to run through three themers, having to fit inflexible letter patterns. Great results in GATORADE, SPY NOVEL, and TANGENTS.

Trying to choose great long fill while simultaneously avoiding gloopy short fill is a further challenge. It's near impossible to escape a layout like this without some ALEE SHA (and BRULEE ASSAM could be off-putting for newbs), but that's fairly minor.

Careful, meticulous work, with an outstanding result; excellent debut. I applaud Ross's efforts to help new constructors publish their voices. If I hadn't been tapped out on letter homophones, this could have been in the POW! running.

Wed 11/18/2020
ROTCREVEISAAC
OHOOILERMELBA
STRIPOKERHATER
THENETSOVATE
RANDRWRAPARTY
ATTITUDELYCEES
GONEARGEL
TWOPEASINAPOD
DOHLEGATO
EROTICLASTNAME
VIPASSESACTOR
EXLAXMACHONE
AERIEFLIPHONES
NYJETBELLEATT
NERDSIDLEDLSU

Spot-on representation of TWO PEAS IN A POD, two Ps crammed into a circle. I appreciated the zesty theme entries, too — STRIP POKER, WRAP PARTY, VIP PASSES, that's a great story right there! Even FLIP PHONES seem to be making a return.

I thought I'd be the only one who noticed the consistency of all the Across themers having PP split over two words, while all the Downs having PP within a single word. Not so! Jim Horne, who usually doesn't care about things like this, noted it as a mark of elegance. He also (correctly) predicted that I'd note it too.

However, today was one of the rare occurrences where he appreciated consistency more than I did. While I do like the tidiness of all the Acrosses working similarly, and the Downs too, there's no reason why they should. It'd be one thing if there was a reason for PP to split across Across entries, and another reason for Downs to work differently. As is, the consistency for consistency's sake didn't wow me as much as it did Jim.

I'd also have liked a less audacious grid layout. It's almost impossible to avoid compromises with a theme-dense, 72-word grid. The SE corner is telling. Anytime you have to resort to the common-letter-heavy ERESTU on an edge, it's not so great.

In the opposite corner, ROSTRA is an odd duck but reasonable. Less so: TO RENT? OHO crossing OH THAT? R AND R, never written like that outside crosswords? I understand the desire to make the puzzle feel heftier, but I'd prefer scaled-back gridwork. Maybe even run this on a Tuesday. Yes, it's rare to get a Tuesday rebus, but the circles make it an easy rebus — too easy for a mid-week puzzle.

Thankfully, Amanda and Ross did a great job selecting themers that snazzed up the joint, WHOPPER JR such a fun entry. Some sparkly bonuses, like MACH ONE, WEASELS, ALTER EGO (Ziggy Stardust was David Bowie? Blows my mind!), helped balance out some tougher entries like LYCEES and CREVE.

POW Wed 10/7/2020
TWASPIGGYPITA
GALAOSHEAEROS
ITLLPLOTSREUP
FETALASSRINGS
RODENTHBLEH
NCOSADSONGACC
ALTGEHRYDRE
NORMERITEDLOO
ACURASPYENEWS
KEELSTBIRD
TEALBARN
LOOKMANOHANDS
MUIRBUENOIRON
MINTAGREEEASE
ASKSSHOTSSTOW

★ I had zero chance of winning at "Name That Theme" today. With mirror symmetry, if there are no long across slots in the top half of the puzzle, the themers usually are in the long down slots. So, how are ALL TOO TRUE, GHOST SHIP, IRENE ADLER related?

If you can answer that question, Tribond has a job for you!

Even though I failed to figure out the theme (and even failed to identify the themers), I loved it. It's not just "seemingly disparate things that have hands" theme. Ross took it one step further and found neat examples where the lack of hands is notable. Such great theme phrases, too, each of them colorful. GHOST SHIP, TOUGH CROWD, and WATER CLOCK …

I did hesitate on that last one. I vaguely knew what it meant, but something like DIGITAL CLOCK or DIGITAL WATCH would have made for a sharper a-ha. That sent me down the rabbit hole of searching for an alternate themer set, involving ABANDONED SHIP 13 to match LOOK MA NO HANDS 13, and maybe DIGITAL WATCHES split 7 / 7 and TOUGH CROWD 5 / 5, but that would require an unconventional —

Right, you don't care about my unconventional obsessiveness. TOUGH CROWD, indeed.

Curious choice to include the long bonuses of ALL TOO TRUE and IRENE ADLER. While they are both excellent entries, they muddy the waters of what is fill and what is not. Maybe shading the three theme answers would have helped?

Generally, though, it's better to find a layout that makes your themers pop. Scooching WATER CLOCK and TOUGH CROWD inward one column might have helped.

Even with my hesitations, it's still a winner of a concept with a solid, interesting grid to boot. Great to get some delightful wordplay clues, too, like both OINK and INK = things that come out of a pen.

Tue 9/15/2020
PITPOSHSCOTTS
ADOROKULOUVRE
PORKYPIGOUTLIE
ALIAMAULICK
SCROOGEMCDUCK
THRUCHINESE
ICYMEREINHD
KEEPYOURPANTSON
ELLARUBEETA
ALLISONSLAT
WINNIETHEPOOH
CANALDOMRED
ALGOREYOGIBEAR
SLAYERERINAVE
ASTERSDANKDEW

I've learned a ton about Will Shortz's editorial preferences over the years; what entries he will and won't accept. One curiosity is that he tends to not only accept but relish in "drop trou" or "full moon" clues / answers. It's fun to imagine him subversively sneaking these in.

No subtlety today — KEEP YOUR PANTS ON, cartoon characters! I've seen lists of anti-pant-ites before, but it was amusing to get a reminder. Talk about subversive; generations of cartoonists secretly chanting nudist sayings. We declare no underwear, we like to feel the air!

I should have been a slogan writer.

Ever wonder why Yogi was made into a bear, not some other animal? YOGI BARE is more like it!

Or maybe a conspiracy theorist.

Beautiful grid to go along with the funny theme / revealer. I'm usually wary of adjacent parallel downs, since something like TV LICENSE / TRICK SHOT requires so many crossings to work through — especially when both of these long bonuses cross two themers! Amanda and Ross are such strong constructors that they pulled it off with both color and cleanliness.

There's no secret to producing outstanding grids, just a ton of gritty, iterative work.

If I hadn't ever noticed the prevalence of toons going ultra-commando, I'd have let out a mighty laugh at the revealer today. Even being familiar with it, I still chuckled. An amusing theme, along with such a masterfully-crafted grid, not your average bare! Er, bear. If it hadn't been for a bit of tougher OREAD and NEAP, I'd have no qualms about hooking a newb into crosswords with this one.

Tue 8/11/2020
RAZEDSPECSBCC
IHEARARROWAHA
DERRINGERPISTOL
EMOLEAPSNIHIL
ELSRIFT
REWRITESHISTORY
ETHANLEECHWOE
CHETEIEIOHELM
AERANTISWALLE
PRESIDENTWILSON
FIRSINS
UBOATBEAKSTSA
VERMICELLIBOWLS
EVEMURSEIDIOT
AYSEDGESGETGO

About a year ago, I had this brilliant idea. Brilliant, I say! What if I could find phrases that had exactly five vowels, in E I E I O order? Was that even possible?

The coding wasn't straightforward — a wild card search like *E*I*E*I*O* would turn up lots of false positives with extra vowels — but eventually I figured it out. I came up with a limited set, making for a tight theme, and most of them were great:

  • BEST INTENTIONS
  • CELINE DION
  • LEIF ERICSON
  • VERMICELLI BOWL
  • VESTING PERIOD
  • DERRINGER PISTOL
  • BELIEF IN GOD
  • PERIHELION
  • THE TIME IS NOW

What a disappointment when I turned up Peter Collins' puzzle from 2010. A variant, too. Ah well, it happens. I moved on.

I wish I hadn't been so hasty. Even knowing about Pete's puzzle and my findings, I still enjoyed today's solve. It's a shame that REWRITES HISTORY includes the Y as a vowel, because the others have that incredibly impressive feature of there being only five vowels, E I E I and O. Even after having discovered all I did, it still boggles my mind that there is a set of phrases that works.

I had a miserable time down in the lower left corner. I know UVEA because I worked in ophthalmic pharmaceuticals, but that's a toughie. Crossing it with EVE clued as the rapper, and ARS seeming more like [Captains' cries] than AYS, and I had a BEVY of wrong guesses in there. I'm all for modern references, but in this case, the solving experience would have been so much smoother with a Biblical EVE reference.

Thankfully, there were some strong bonuses, BATH TOWELS clued to the old joke about getting wetter as they dry, WHEREFORES a curious word, WINS BIG. Helped to balance out some of the stuff that might make newer solvers feel unwelcome, like NIHIL and ROLLO.

Great theme, with an unfortunate ding for the Y in REWRITES HISTORY. I enjoyed the discoveries so much, it made me wish I had stuck with my construction efforts. A puzzle from a decade ago shouldn't disqualify a remake.

ADDED NOTE: A friend pointed out another one from the WSJ — with an apt byline!

Tue 7/28/2020
PACTLOAFLOKI
FLYATENCINOMAN
FABLESEACOASTS
TRELLISITEM
MRTNEWINSPOT
FALSEHOODRIO
CARLOTOWNWELL
ARIELDPSREVEL
RYESUMPSOBERS
PANINVENTION
INDEBTREOFTS
GARSEWELAMB
OVERRULEDLIBEL
DIMESTOREFELLA
SMUTHEADSETH

I so badly wanted this one to be about Piet Mondrian. Those crisscrossing 90 degree turns scream out to form rectangular shapes. Ah well. I'll amuse myself by imagining a spider wearing a beret.

WEB OF LIES does (mostly) work since the dictionary defines WEB as "a complex system of interconnected elements." It's tough to get over the expectation that a web will look like a spider web, though.

Now I have the image of Spider-man wearing a beret in my head. Tee hee.

I found it interesting how many synonyms there are for "lie" in English. Kind of reminds me of how many synonyms for "snow" there are in Inuit. Social commentary, eh, Ross? I especially enjoyed the ones that could easily be disguised, like INVENTION as a new creation. It would have been great to limit the LIES to only words meeting this criterion, like SHAM, FABRICATION, COVER UP, STORY, etc. That would have produced a neater a-ha moment in the end.

It's an impressive WEB Ross wove, no doubt, so many intersections running all across and down the entire grid — in symmetrical form! I wouldn't have imagined that possible.

Given how many compromises such an audacious construction is bound to cause, though, I'd have preferred it to be dialed back. Even in the single category of awkward plurals, we get LOAMS, RYES, OMS, OWS, FTS … Not to mention all the other crossword stickiness required to hold the canvas in place.

WEB OF LIES is a great phrase to riff on. Impressive opening visual, but ultimately, the oddity of the rectangular webs and all the solving crunchiness felt like tough compromises.

Wed 7/1/2020
PDFSTAPONASTO
LOOTIRONYCHEX
ONLYTESTYMANE
POLESNTHLEROY
SROTEASERSERE
WIPERBLADES
CYSTLOOIESTIR
LETONCNNOCHOA
AAHOAKDESKETS
PRECUTWAHWAH
MARTAEAPOE
SOCIALCAPITAL
JUNKCLASPFLAG
EVELKANYEOTTO
TAYESNEADRHEA

SOCIAL CAPITAL is a great phrase to riff on. I'd never have thought there would be three [(social media verb) + (finance term)] phrases, but FOLLOWS THE MONEY, POSTS BOND, SHARES THE WEALTH all work. Neat that all three are presented in the same verb tense; a touch of elegance.

I did hitch on POSTS BOND, which I was sure had to be POSTS BAIL. Sometimes you have to make compromises to make a theme work. I'd have preferred sticking with the more natural-sounding POSTS BAIL, since even us finance types could look the other way, calling bail a form of capital.

Once in a blue moon, Crucivera, the God of Crosswords, is benevolent. I can only imagine other constructors finding these three themers and swearing at the horrible luck. Lengths 13, 9, 15, 15? Bah! It's a good thing that Amanda and Ross make their own luck, finding a way to interlock themers in a mirror symmetry arrangement. Neat save!

One of the tough aspects of using mirror symmetry can be eliminating "false themers." In this case, some solvers might ask, what do WIPER BLADES have to do with SOCIAL CAPITAL? It should be obvious which are themers today, but I can imagine some folks staring at WIPER BLADES, squinting in an attempt to make out blades that might be lurking in the windshield of black squares.

Another issue with mirror symmetry + intersecting themers is that the intersection regions can be rough to fill around. NOURI, MARTA, SUVA, EVEL are all in the wide spectrum of "fair," as are OCHOA, OKAPI, EAPOE and RHEA / GOA. So much within that gray zone can lead to a miasma of inelegance, though. The NOURI / MARTA cross, in particular, is problematic.

I'll take a strong concept where two of three themers hit home. Swap in POSTS BAIL and smooth out the crunchy spots, and it coulda been a contender.

Wed 6/10/2020
AGILEDRABGROW
TUNERSEIRENANA
ASSISTANTMANAGER
STUEMMATOTEM
TARSMALIBUQED
EVENTHORIZONUTE
AHIKNOXDIEM
ELIROTHDEMETRI
LODETAFTRAN
LOLTHROWASPIRAL
EMOREPROSMAMA
OVOIDELIEBBS
AVENGERSASSEMBLE
PETECOENCOOLER
PROSKNEENEEDS

I'm fortunate to chat with Jim Horne once a week. He has a unique perspective, having a background in programming, management, all styles of piano performance, conducting, Canadianism, and comedy. He had me cracking up as he riffed on AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (he's not a comic book fan and hasn't seen the movies.

This passes as a rallying cry? Avengers, come to the Senate floor so we can peacefully discuss current events while making popcorn?

Somehow, Robert Downey, Jr. makes it work. I can't imagine Antonio Guterres pulling it off, though.

I like that this "hidden words" theme riffs on a contemporary phrase, the Avengers movies offering surprisingly fantastic stories, evoking strong emotions. THOR inside an EVENT HORIZON could be straight out of the movies. WASP inside THROW A SPIRAL is great, too.

Although ASSISTANT MANAGER isn't that colorful a phrase, it made me think of "The Office." I could totally see Paul Rudd and Dwight Schrute dueling with flying ants vs. sharpened beets at ten paces.

Hidden word puzzles are becoming overdone, so they need to offer something extra. While I did appreciate the freshness of the revealer, it didn't feel like an apt way to describe hidden words. Now, if the puzzle had been presented in pieces, like a jigsaw, and you had to put together ASSISTANT and MANAGER to form ANT MAN across them — that would have been stellar.

Great gridwork, though, Amanda and Ross firing all pistons with ID LOVE TO, HIT THE DECK, BEAT BOXERS, RAGE QUIT. I'd have liked ONE METER and LOOM OVER broken up, so the oddly spelled DEMETRI could be smoothed out, but I can see the merits of offering solvers more long fill.

Mon 5/11/2020
APSEBLABTUT
BOOTYTAILBUNS
SERTAWIDEERIK
CHEEKSREAREND
OLASEZDRAFTED
NERFXESITSWAR
DRMOMSHOESOLE
BOTTOMROW
PSSRAYONNEIGH
OKTHENTIEASIA
MIRANDAABSANN
CABOOSEBEHIND
ALIIOKRAREDID
BUTTRUMPFANNY
CBSIPASLOGE

Thankfully, I have a lot of praise for this puzzle! Otherwise, I might have come across as a bum. Worse yet, an ass.

A few years ago, I had a fun conversation with Will Shortz about butts and lewdness. Back then, he could only allow the word ASS in the "boor" sense, the NYT frowning upon the "keister" meaning. It seemed like a strange stance, given Will's liberal use of "moon" clues for words like REAR and TROU.

This has eased over the years, giving Will the ability to run a puzzle like today's, which forms BOTTOM ROWs composed of no ifs or ands, but a whole lotta BUTTS. I've seen much BUTTplay in the crossworld — maybe that's not the best wording — but nothing quite like this. I'm impressed by the sheer quantity of theme words defined in non-patoot ways.

I would have liked a different revealer, though. BOTTOM ROW does define the concept perfectly for crossworld insiders, since we all talk in rows and columns. I'm not sure that applies to the general solver, though. BOTTOM LINE seems like a more familiar, more accessible term.

Placing the BOTTOM revealer in the middle felt odd, too. Why not at its natural position ... toward the bottom of the puzzle? I can imagine using BOTTOM LINE in the same row as FANNY, to form a final "bottom line."

What, you say that that wouldn't technically be a line of only bottoms, since it would contain the word "line"? Sheesh, why do you have to be so anal?

As much as the juvenile in me likes seeing the multitude of butts, something less audacious would have been better. BOTTOM ROW in the middle causes all sorts of gridding problems, especially when you need four extra rows of themers. Newbs encountering APSE ETTE OLA right off the bat might not stick around to get the beautiful SKI CLUB, HAND DYE, TANDOORI, as well as Amy POEHLER's "Parks and Recreation" COVID-19 reunion.

That's it for me; I'll take a seat now. By the back door, of course.

Tue 3/31/2020
ABBABASMAKEDO
DRABRIOEXITED
DISCGOLFNETTED
SEESAWAHSTAPS
UNOACHE
ROLLINGTHUNDER
BODEELLERHINO
ASIASOAMIENDS
LISPSORANEGOS
LETSTAKEITSLOW
EASELIL
GUACIRAMAITAI
ACTORSCLAPBACK
BLANCADOTICEE
SADDAYCUESODA

I've had the privilege of working with Christina on a few projects now. I've been impressed with her grit; she's continually striving to improve her products. She's also much cooler than me, although that's not saying as much as it should, given that I broke the scale. An unprecedented C factor score of -11!

Not a surprise then that I didn't know what a KITTEN HEEL was. Turns out I've seen many before, as they're popular with Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. Why are they called kitten heels, though?

(internet rabbit hole …)

I should have turned on my porn filter. My eyes are burning!

Christina mentioned once that she wants to use grid entries that other constructors might not think to use. I like that, especially since if you don't know what a KITTEN HEEL is, it's at least two recognizable words.

I also didn't know the term CLAP BACK. This is something Gen-Z says, perhaps? Hmm, down another internet rabbit hole …

CLAP … BACK …

Note to self: turn porn filter to heaviest setting. There are so many things I can't unsee.

Seems like CLAP BACK originated (or became popular) with a Ja Rule song? And Ja Rule is a rapper? Is his last name "Rule," or is that in the sense of "I rule!" (Which I clearly don't.)

I usually want clues to be concise, but today's revealer needed more words for clarity. I read it a few times as I tried to figure out what DISC CLAP or CLAP ROLLING meant. Something like [Respond quickly and sharply to criticism ... or what the last words of 17-, 28- and 46-Across can be]. GOLF CLAP and SLOW CLAP are fun terms, but ones that might not be as recognizable as THUNDERCLAP. Pointing with great big arrows toward those last words would have helped.

Amazingly tight theme! I couldn't find a single other useful ___ CLAP phrase. Well, there's THE CLAP, but I can't afford to go down another rabbit hole of horrible imagery.

I appreciated the gridwork — nice bonuses and hardly any glue, as I've come to expect from both Christina and Ross—as well as the tightness. Ultimately, it's a "words that can precede X" theme, though, and those are tough to get excited about, especially when the presentation is not immediately clear.

Tue 3/17/2020
AWAYPABSTJOJO
PESOALITOUBER
BEAUREGALDENS
PRIDEANDJOY
EMOYET
FEARANDLOATHING
ETHICOEDERNIE
ECIGARNIEOTTO
SHOCKANDAWE
TITTLEDESREE
ECOEDITWARRYE
NERONAHKEEL
MIXEDFEELINGS
CECELIALETINON
PLAYSONPASTURE
ATLEASTSPASMED

It's a mixed blessing to have a ton of solves under one's belt. Instinctively, MIXED ___ forces me to anagram. MIXED FEELINGS? ANGST = GNATS! ANGER = RANGE? CAN ANYONE tell me why this causes me so much ANNOYANCE? Turn off already, anagram part of my brain!

I spent waaaay too long trying to figure out how anagrams were involved today. MIXED FEELINGS … where are the GEL FINES? The GLEE FINS? Uh oh, readers are giving me the FLEE SIGN!

Jim Horne politely reminded me that non-weird people don't necessarily think similarly. MIXED FEELINGS = (one emotion) AND (another emotion)? Sure, that works!

I initially thought there would be dozens of these types of phrases, so the theme needed to be tightened up. Searching … searching ... not so much. I found DOOM AND GLOOM, but DOOM isn't a feeling in the same way. HOT AND BOTHERED? SWEET AND SOUR?

None of those are as strong as the ones in the puzzle. Great selections, Ross!

What cool gridwork from Ross today. Mirror symmetry can be a lifesaver, but working with "awkward lengths" of 11 and 13 can be way worse in mirror compared to regular symmetry. PRIDE AND JOY, SHOCK AND AWE, and MIXED FEELINGS all force black square placements, so there's not that many permutations available, especially with MIXED FEELINGS needing to be at the end.

I like what Ross did with the bottom of the grid. Usually, I'd suggest breaking up those bottom rows into three smaller chunks, not two bigger ones, but Ross executed on it so well, adding lively bonuses like CECELIA, SPASMED, and the beautiful INTERREGNUM. These upped the quality of my solve.

It's not for everyone, especially newer solvers who might scratch their heads at a word like AHISTORICAL. However, everything is fairly crossed … well, DESREE / EDDA could be a killer. Perhaps dialing back the audaciousness would have been better. First priority has to be to setting up solvers for a perfect and victorious finish.

Surprisingly tight theme, with nearly beautiful gridwork.

Wed 2/5/2020
RAMADAATMWHAM
EXITEDCATCHAIR
POMONACOWLINGS
ONENIGHTSTAND
EEOFREED
PIPERTMCORDER
WORKSOFARTORE
ALOEROMEOAVID
VACDOBEDOBEDO
ENEWSTAPPARES
IDAHOEAT
USEDFURNITURE
TARHEELSICEBOX
SLAMPOETTALESE
KALENWAALLRED

CAT CHAIR … is that the type of furniture they use at cat cafes? Jill and I had three cats at one point, and they all loved to scratch up an old upholstered thing we called "the cat chair" because it was so full of cat hair that no one but the cats and unsuspecting visitors wanted to sit on it.

Huh? It's CATCH AIR? Okay … but how do snowboarders catch air while sitting in a cat chair, while wearing helmets made of cat hair?

What a funny find, the circled CHAIR in CATCH AIR making it look so strongly like CAT CHAIR. I was hoping that today's theme would be something different than a standard "hidden words" when I uncovered ONE NIGHTSTAND.

Is that like a bedside table filled with hydrogen?

You know, hydrogen is number 1 on the periodic table?

I should stop before releasing my "WORK SO ___" joke.

Anyone else wonder if DO BE DO BE DO is better as DOO BE DOO BE DOO? Or what gave Sinatra the idea to sing these particular nonsense syllables? (Doobie Doobie Doo would be a great name for a pot shop.)

I enjoyed the bonuses in the grid, all those jazzy entries helping keep solvers' attention. It's not often that I like when constructors go down to a 72-word grid, but Ross is one of the people I'd trust to do so. For most others, I'd suggest putting black squares at the I and D of IDAHO to make the gridwork much easier. No problem for Ross, although having the tough PWAVE and IOLANI in one region isn't ideal.

Just like Will Shortz, I'm getting a little worn down from standard "hidden words" themes. Two BEDs inside DOO BE DOO BE DOO is a neat find — twin BED! That feels like a neat starting point for something a little different and fresher within this theme type.

POW Tue 1/7/2020
BBOYINITTRAP
REVUPNORAHUGE
ADELEMROCTOBER
THREEPOINTER
SOSPINBICIAM
GHOSTOFACHANCE
AWAYERSCTRL
BURNTCDSSHEET
ERIESOUECON
LANDSCAPEPHOTO
ALGPORLEIIPO
OUTSIDESHOTS
STEPNIECEMANIA
PAVEALESSLACK
AXEDNYETELSA

★ This is a fantastic example of one of my favorite early-week theme types, where seemingly unconnected phrases suddenly link together in a surprising way. I completely failed at "Name that Theme," and pleasantly smacked my forehead when realizing how OUTSIDE SHOTS described the three themers:

  1. The usual meaning of OUTSIDE SHOT is a long shot; an outside chance. Ross could have gone with a dictionary-ish definition like LOW CHANCE OF SUCCESS, but finding a sizzly in-the-language phrase like GHOST OF A CHANCE is dynamite.
  2. I ruptured my Achilles tendon taking a THREE POINTER (sadly, with no one guarding me, even more sadly, it bricked). I'm all too familiar with what an outside shot I have of making any given three, given my heaving, grunting form.
  3. LANDSCAPE PHOTO isn't as strong a phrase as the others, but it works. It also gives a completely different meaning of OUTSIDE SHOT, this one a literal interpretation.

Together, the three form a trifecta of near perfection.

Speaking of perfection, the grid shows a master at his best.

  • Color: OVERSHARING BEDHOG, INTENTIONAL SCHISMS, IRON BARS, along with MR OCTOBER and STEPNIECE.
  • Cleanliness: just a minor blip in ALG.

Not only is it a friendly grid for newbs, but it's so juicy. There's no magic to what Ross has achieved, but the time, care, and hard work are much appreciated. All constructors working with four themers can and should be outputting grids as excellent as this one.

This crossword put a huge smile on my face. I'd gladly give it not just to newbs, but to more experienced solvers as well. I love lauding art that's on par with Ansel Adams.

Tue 11/19/2019
AWESWEARATCDS
GELAIRTUBEAOL
AAABLEEDERRNA
IVSRLSELMDTS
NETPAYISAIAH
RIAWASONDAS
SCROOGEMCDUCK
SUNTANOIL
BRINKLLANO
FRANCANATANT
RANGETEMPO
OVASADFACEEAP
SUMOPROXYSOPH
TROTPARESONEA
YAKSSMELTPERT

Grid art made of black squares is the best kind. It stands out so well, unlike pictures formed by circled letters or connect-the-dots. I immediately take notice when a crazy-looking grid like this breaks the monotony of the normal grids we see every day.

Great aha effect on the TOP HAT, too. I had other ideas on how SCROOGE MCDUCK and WILLY WONKA might be related (rich cartoon characters, perhaps?), and even after ABRAHAM LINCOLN, I didn't see their commonality. Beards? Can ducks have beards?

I'm often not a fan of interlocking themers since this causes all sorts of filling problems, but there was something elegant about Ross's layout today. After some study, I realized it wasn't just that Ross wanted to show off. He had to use this interlock!

Why? With mirror symmetry, a long, unpaired answer can run horizontally. No problem … except when you then need to work in a pair of entries longer than seven letters. Those need to go vertically, and that creates a problem because of the long horizontal answer.

Why?

WHY SO MANY QUESTIONS!

Fine, try to lay out WILLY WONKA and ABE LINCOLN horizontally, using in this mirror symmetry arrangement. I'll wait.

See? Can't do it, can you? Mirror symmetry is great for certain theme sets, but it sure makes others tricky.

It's so fortuitous that Crucivera shined her glory upon Ross today, allowing for such beautiful interlock. More often than not, there is gnashing of teeth and promises of animal sacrifices if she would just cooperate.

As I mentioned above, filling around interlocked themers is tough. See: the AGT / OMN region. It's a fine product overall, though, a testament to Ross's skills.

Me and my long memory immediately flashed to Liz Gorski's FROSTY masterwork after solving this puzzle. Hers headlined the TOP HAT, which made it stand out so impressively. Still, I like that Ross gave me a fun aha by making me think about what connected these four individuals.

Wed 11/6/2019
NTHCRUDECAVES
EAURAZEDARENT
XXXRATINGPANDA
TITANSIRONMAN
ANIZEETOTS
BUBBASPARXXX
ONLYISPOATHS
ODETRIPLEXHOT
TOSCAEONPEAY
SUPERBOWLXXX
CHUMELSRAP
HAVARTIPETROL
ABUJAXXXLSHIRT
PILOTICEITZED
STARERIDESESS

This one's rated XXX! Make that XXXXXXXXXXXXX. It's rare to add a puzzle to our record-setting Letter Counts, and Ross gets into a three-way tie for most Xs.

I liked the audacity of this concept. Some of them feel contrived to make it into this puzzle — XXXL TSHIRT, I'm looking at you — but it's also BUBBA SPARXXX's big day. All that work he put into coming up with a creative name finally pays off!

At first, I thought it was BUBBA SPAR, 30th in a long line of BUBBA SPARs. BUBBA SPARXXX (rhymes with Karl MARXXX) is much better, although what a shame he's not a porn star.

It's no coincidence that the word "Horcrux" ends with an X. As with Lord Voldemort, every time a constructor inserts an X into his or her grid, it rips out a piece of one's soul, storing it within the puzzle. The XCI Horcrux … AVADA KEDAVRA!

Kidding aside, Ross did an amazing job of integrating those 13 (appropriate number!) Xs. XCI was the only egregious blip, and it's easily figure-out-able, anyway. I did debate on ARANTXA Sanchez Vicario crossing the probably-not-crossworthy BUBBA SPARXXX, but the theme made that cross abundantly clear.

Amazing job of construction given the ridiculously difficult constraints. To work in CS MAJOR, THE X PRIZE, ZAPPERS as well speaks to Ross's talent.

The puzzle didn't feel as smooth a solve as I would have liked, though, due to overdipping into one particular well of crossword glue: ELS ESS ZEE ZED. One or two spelled-out letters per puzzle, please! LEZZ is more.

The puzzle didn't eXXXcite me — to easy to fill in all those Xs — but points for going big.

Tue 10/8/2019
UMPSEPAELVES
PARERAWOMEARA
STENCILSPEERED
ETAHEMHENRI
TEMPOAWARDALD
SAPORSIZEHBAR
IAMNETALOE
CURLINGSTONES
OHNOSOLANN
RAPTLEESSAYST
DIATENTHIHOPE
IMBADAFTYOU
PERIODCREEPOUT
GLENNSAIMAMSO
AIDEDBAACAEN

If you've never seen curling in the Olympics, you need to experience it. At first glance, it may look ridiculous. And at second glance. Probably third, too.

But upon your eighth viewing, you'll be hooked! There's so much strategy involved in determining what graceful curving trajectory you'll aim for, and how your shot will move in real life.

Likewise, there's so much strategy in creating curving crossword answers. To best achieve an elegant and eye-catching arc, a little math comes in handy. SEE, LOOK! I TOLD YOU GEOMETRY, TRIG AND CALC ARE IMPORTANT AND HAVE ACTUAL REAL LIFE APPLCIATIONS! NOW WHO'S LAUGHING, HUH?

Okay, maybe it's more an art than a science, but it is tough to create the illusion of curvature inside a square grid. JUST AS IT IS IN CALC WHEN YOU'RE APPROXIMATING A CURVE WITH SEGMENTS!

Ahem. Sorry.

Long story short, the EMERALD and the DIAMOND are so pretty. The SAPPHIRE and AMETHYST, not so much. Given that CURLING STONES doesn't define what type of curve should be created, I'd have preferred giving up the circularity in favor for an exponential or sine curve or something easier to approximate in a square grid.

Novice constructors tend to tackle these tough grid constructions by erring on the side of gluey bits called out in editors' specs sheets, while more experienced folks lean more on esoteric vocab. SAPOR is a toughie for an early-week puzzle, for instance. I don't like either SAPOR or AM SO, but I'd much rather use the latter these days. You want to leave open near-zero possibilities for early-week solvers to say "that's weird." Overall though, it's a solid product, given the hard-to-incoporate four curved answers.

This puzzle could be confusing to the (many?) solvers unfamiliar with CURLING STONES, but as a snooty sort who can say he's actually curled before (I wasn't bad, if I don't say so myself), I appreciated the visual, the EMERALD and DIAMOND in particular.

Mon 9/16/2019
SPECSRELICPBS
ALCOAELENAIRON
GUINNESSOFFICIAL
EGGSLIESLGODS
IMININONE
STUDIOSINGERMAG
HUBERTNOHOCOLA
OPERABUTTMANLY
OARSERRSBERTIE
TCMSTENOGRAPHER
ERECTAIDA
ANILHEAVECITE
JUSTFORTHERECORD
ORCAMETALLINED
BAHSNUBSMOSEY

I love Ross's drive to help underrepresented demographics get into crossword construction. How apt to have UBERMENSCH in the grid!

JUST FOR THE RECORD, Amanda's debut is a solid example of a "how are these seemingly disparate things related?" theme. GUINNESS records, STUDIO records, and records kept by a STENOGRAPHER — different enough that the revealer gave me a decent a-ha moment.

Some might wonder if GUINNESS OFFICIAL is a real thing, but it most definitely is. I admit I watch too many "Dude Perfect" videos — their raw enthusiasm is irresistible. Some of my favorite episodes are those where they break ridiculous "world records," always needing a GUINNESS OFFICIAL to be present.

I wasn't so sure about a STUDIO SINGER. I've heard of studio musicians — I never got good enough to be one, sadly — but there's such a thing as a STUDIO SINGER? According to the Goog, yep! It's unfortunately not as catchy a phrase as "studio musician" or "backup singer."

STENOGRAPHER works for the third type of record, although it's not an entry anyone would write home about.

As much as I like UBERMENSCH, it'll be a tough word for some novice solvers. If all the crossings had been no-brainers, I wouldn't have mentioned it, but TCM (Turner Classic Movies) could be a killer. Along with another hard piece of vocab in CARPACCIO, I'd have asked for the difficulty dial to be turned down from eleven to ten. Something like PRIDE MONTH feels much more accessible to a wider audience, while still being a great entry.

All in all, a well-made debut puzzle, the overall smoothness demonstrating careful craftsmanship. If the themers had been punchier and the grid more Monday-friendly, I'd have given it some POW! consideration.

Tue 7/16/2019
ABRAAABLE
LAOSAVAMAID
TTOPACELAATOI
ATFAMERICATNT
REGALEDADSALES
DANESACAMEL
JARTSALAPADME
ANDIARENATRES
NEEANTENNAEST
DYNASTYENMASSE
JESSIEEENSIE
FACEPLANT
AFRAMEBUILDINGS
BROSDANCECOOK
SOOTENTERSWAY

I had the pleasure of meeting Patrick Berry a few years ago. For being such a prolific constructor, he keeps a remarkably low profile. I did find out that he lives in a little A-frame house. A-ha moment; I finally understood the name of his website!

I hadn't heard of an A-frame house before then. Fun to picture two of them today.

The overall concept reminded me of another A-featuring puzzle, which was so memorable that it's stuck in my head over the years.

Over the years, I've created several puzzles involving a visual element using a single (or limited set of) letter(s), and for each one, I've tried hard not to include any extras of those letters floating around the grid. People sometimes ask why, saying that they didn't even notice.

But I do, darn it!

Just as long as my rigidity and desire for elegance doesn't affect the quality of the solve, I'm going to go that extra step. If only for the four solvers who do appreciate these sorts of details.

In today's case, it would have been great to avoid As throughout the rest of the grid. We've highlighted the relevant As below to make them pop, but take note of the upper left roof. It's unfortunate to have it extend so far down with additional As, creating an asymmetry.

But having no other As throughout the grid would have driven this away from being a smooth overall product. For an early-week grid, that's a top priority, so I'm okay with the decision.

If the theme didn't grab you, Ross did a great job working in so many treats: ROOF GARDENS, BATTED AND EYE / BATTLE DRESS (don't they feel somehow related?), FACEPLANT. Such solid work with his mid-length slots, too: REGALED, DYNASTY, AD SALES, ANTENNA, AMERICA.

AMERICA! U-S-A!

U-S-AAAAA!

The theme didn't wow me, but Ross's careful gridwork made my solving experience pleasant.

Mon 6/24/2019
RASPSSCREWWIT
ELTONELUDEHMO
BEATLEMANIAAPU
EXITMIDTVSTAR
LADYDIWEANS
MARCHMADNESS
MINORLAIRTRIO
ISOUTERSSAVOR
FLITJADEILENE
FASHIONCRAZE
MEETSGETSAT
BALDIEMOOTARA
ABASPRINGFEVER
JAWSHINEDRESS
ADSOSAKAASDOI

FASHION CRAZE is such an evocative phrase. It triggered a wisp of a recollection … turns out it's been used before, in a similarly-themed puzzle. Thankfully, my cursed long memory didn't affect my enjoyment of today's puzzle, especially given the extended time separating the two.

Even though the previous puzzle used more themers, I liked today's set better. I didn't miss much from ___ FEVER's absence, and it allowed Ross to do so much more with his gridwork.

When you only have four themers to incorporate, you owe it to solvers to give them all sorts of bonuses. I often dissuade constructors from using a "parallel down" structure (see: WHAT NERVE / IMPASSION), but Ross is a pro. Fantastic long bonuses worked in, along with little crossword glue needed to hold everything together.

Check out the impressive array of long down bonuses: ISLAMABAD / NOISE LAWS / POTTY MOUTH / EDIT WAR / SANTA LETTERS / WHAT NERVE / IMPASSION. That's nearly enough to fill a themeless.

If anything, Ross pushed the envelope a little too far. I don't mind a bit of ONEA, RIA minor offenders, but I'd have preferred two or three fewer bonuses along with a squeaky-clean product that didn't risk tripping up newbs, asking themselves what the hell ONE A means.

Upon third glance, I could have done with less of AS DO I / IT IS SO / ARE SO. A sweet spot might have been four long bonuses and no gluey bits that took away from the elegance index.

Overall, a step up from the previous puzzle. And it's perfectly fine to have near theme duplication if there's enough time between puzzles — constructors come up with the same basic concept all the time.

Tue 5/7/2019
JADECFOSCREPE
ALESRAMPLOWER
MONTANNOTATORS
BUYAPIGINAPOKE
DASGUST
EXOTICPETINCH
ITTONTOGLORY
THISISSPINALTAP
ZINCSODORONE
ACAISUNSTROKE
ELANAER
FINISHINGTOUCH
BROCASAREAMORE
TOWERNORIEMIR
UMASSDCONOOPS

POKE, PET, TAP, STROKE — all appropriate for a FINISHING TOUCH revealer, each word placed at the end of its theme phrase. Ross disguised them well, making me happily fail in my early-week "Guess That Theme" game. The POKE in PIG IN A POKE is so far away from the "touch" meaning, for example. Every one of the four was so nicely obfuscated.

Interesting that Ross used across bonus fill again. The Jeff of today approves of the Ross of today's message to the Ross of yesteryear. Ghosts of puzzles past! (A shame that the queue time from acceptance to publication can be so long.)

Low word counts can be useful when they produce colorful, juicy fill. But ANNOTATORS and BROCAS AREA don't do much for me. The former is dry, and the latter is a toughie. I enjoyed reading up on BROCAS AREA, but I don't think it matches the simplicity of the theme.

The importance of matching fill to theme is something that's only dawned upon me in the past few years. A simple, beginners' theme + a crazy-hard fill can make for a dissonant solving experience, forcing someone to work so hard for too simple an a-ha. Along with BROCAS AREA there was GARRET and ESTADO, XTINA, UOMO, ITZA. All in all, it didn't make for a great early-week experience.

I appreciate the idea behind going down to 72 words in an early-week grid, as it can 1) give the constructor a personal challenge, and 2) have the potential of a fresh, yet still smooth, feeling. Yesterday's 72-word puzzle worked better on the second count than today's.

But overall, the theme was solid, putting a mist over my eyes until the very end. Along with some great long fill in NOT AGAIN, ROTOTILL, PATOIS, there were enough assets to still make for a decent solve.

Wed 4/3/2019
ERRCABOSEDAN
GOESALLINTUXEDO
GIFTGUIDEICESIN
RABIESVACCINE
IMOUTEIRE
NORTHWESTPASSAGE
TOWASAPSAMOA
ASHEURANUSGALS
CHAROONITZEE
TUTANKHAMENSTOMB
SOULEENSY
SEARCHRESULTS
PARCELREMASTERS
AVIANSTENNESSEE
TEASESMOGPOX

I thought for a long time about how these four SEARCH RESULTS might be related (other than being results of searches, of course). Aren't there thousands of things that have been found over the centuries? Why these four? Why the RABIES VACCINE, not the POLIO VACCINE, for instance? The search for URANUS and not PLANET X? Why not all the finds in chemistry, treasure hunting, lost manuscripts, etc.?

Theme qualms aside, I liked Ross's gridwork. GOES ALL IN is fantastic. Toss in some TUXEDO AMAZON MOO SHU OR WHAT and it's even jazzier. With only minor gluey bits of the ALII ROI UNE ilk, it's well crafted.

I uncovered GIFT GUIDE pretty early and wondered how it could be a SEARCH RESULT … ah! It's so tough to find presents for my niece and nephew. Of course, a GIFT GUIDE would help that constant SEARCH.

Took me all too long to realize that it wasn't related to the theme. That can be an issue with long fill in the across direction. It's tough — URANUS is such a shortie that any long fill will tend to overshadow it. But GOES ALL IN and GIFT GUIDE are such juicy phrases, they'd be tough for most constructors to resist.

It's usually better to work your long fill into the vertical answers, but that's a tough ask for today's layout. Given the awkward length of the revealer — SEARCH RESULTS is 13 letters, forcing black square placements and pinching all the themers toward the middle — it's hard enough to get the grid to work, period.

In the end, I'm okay with Ross's gridding choices, but I'm curious if long down fill could have been possible. Perhaps GOES ALL IN and GIFT GUIDE could have been broken up, and REF and OR WHAT joined to result in some great piece of long fill, resulting in an equivalent amount of zazz.

"List puzzles" tend to feel too loosey-goosey, and I'd have liked an extra layer to tighten this one up. Could have been all major scientific discoveries, all archaeology, all discoveries with the initials S R, all discoveries in an important year, whatever. Any extra layer would have helped the puzzle stand out.

Wed 2/13/2019
SPANONITDOLLS
ALAIGESUNDHEIT
NARCROOTYTOOTY
NOOVENUSENEE
MENLOTITTLES
ITBANDSSUE
MAUSRAGEMESAS
ERRHEARTHSELI
SYRIABETABAIT
ALTATLARGE
CONTACTIRONS
BASMARSUPIUM
INANUPROARSTEP
TAKESATURNTENS
SLATSETASASTI

Ross ain't joking. As soon as I opened up the puzzle, I girded myself for crossword glue and entry weirdity. Pleasantly surprised to not get much of either. There's some ALAI, USS … hey, that's it? Impressive!

And looking back on the grid as a whole, there's MARSUPIUM, NOOVE NUSE (that's a Canadian province) … it's better than I had thought. A lot better. Perhaps it was the oddity of MARSUPIUM that threw me for a curve? It's funny how a single entry, especially a long one, can tilt one's perspective on a puzzle as a whole. Judging an entire crossword by its worst or most bizarre entry isn't fair. Not in the slightest. But impressions are what impressions are.

I generally like TITTLES and IT BANDS (except when I have trouble with my tight IT BANDS stemming from long-distance running). I didn't like them as much today though, because of MARSUPIUM.

Darn you, first impressions!

I wonder if not shooting for lower than the moon (ha) would have been better. Maybe SYZYGY as a shorter revealer, which would have gained Ross a ton more freedom in picking his long across themers? Granted, that's also a word some would consider bizarre. Such a cool string of letters, though!

Loved the color of BARISTA as fill, plus its fantastic clue — a BARISTA doesn't serve any average joe, indeed. Give me my soy extra hot no foam latte, please!

Strong crossword concept, and a valiant attempt at executing with a ridiculous amount of theme material. Almost pulled it off. Almost.

POW Thu 1/17/2019
JESTEDTWENPAR
ALPACAHAEYLLEH
MELLONECNUOENO
PAILSOLOSLAEM
ANTIHEROYACSIB
COREASOSSAEDI
KRUSTYKUEHT
SSNREVIVERFED
LENINRABOSI
TIDEDMGMMARCS
UNEASEGATSSEOG
SLEDSELESASRU
COMOESTAALLETS
AVENGERSRETEET
NEDOXESSESNES

★ Loved this one. Loved, loved, loved. As Ross points out, the palindromes in the middle — SOLOS, SOS, REVIVER, etc. — make a perfect transition zone into the mirror world. I've seen many mirror puzzles, including one that stands out with its amazing craftsmanship, but today's has such a fantastic story behind it. Alice going through THE LOOKING GLASS is spot on.

So well executed today. It would have been much easier to stick to a higher word count, but that wouldn't have allowed for so much goodness. JAMPACKS is right! SPLIT RUN, COMO ESTA, AVENGERS, LOL CAT, HAEY LLEH! Er, HELL YEAH!

The right side is easier to construct than you might think because you can create a separate file containing the middle palindrome linkages, and work on it as if it were your left side. Then, you flip the grid along a vertical axis.

Right, you've stopped listening. Anyhoo, unmasking the technical tricks doesn't make the result any less impressive.

A couple of missed opportunities in ELEANORS ESCORTEE. That might argue for putting a black square at the P of JAM PACKS and the U of DISGUSTS, to see if you could get those two corners smoother while keeping up the snazziness. But since the rest of the puzzle has so little by way of crossword glue (just EER) or oddball words, I'm fine with Ross's decision.

I was so confused by KUEHT, especially since it was one of the first backward answers I uncovered. THEUK = THE UK, such a nice piece of fill, resulting in a delightful mini a-ha.

This one will stick in my mind as strongly as Jason's. Maybe even more so.

P.S. Ross told me that he's gotten dozens of requests for help from budding constructors with diverse backgrounds! It's great to see Ross take this initiative. Let Jim or me know if we can help as well (email us through the home page).

Tue 12/18/2018
CTRLACTINLATS
OREOTOADYALEE
DUSTJACKETGOIN
ETTUKEAFUNGO
USATRAILBLAZER
PERSATAARONS
SLEDROEDID
FASHIONPOLICE
TUTDAMARMS
TRAUMAYESEEO
HOLDINGTANKART
EDGEDRUBEATS
NEONFOLLOWSUIT
BURTBUSEYIRON
APESIPASSSENT

Ha, the FASHION POLICE imagined as fabulous clothing for criminal investigations! HOLDING TANK as a tank-top worn by a "Village People" style cop? I love it.

I hitched on the grammar of the others, though — the ING of HOLDING TANK makes it perfect. Not so much for DUST JACKET. If the real-life phrase had been DUSTING JACKET, it'd have been equally perfect. But alas, books are covered by DUST JACKETs, no ING.

FOLLOW SUIT … because I think about contract bridge a ridiculous amount of time, the phrase was immediately apparent to me. I'm not sure what percentage of solvers will understand this base phrase, but I'm almost positive that it's lower than for HOLDING TANK or TRAILBLAZER.

In the end, though, I put my grammatical qualms aside, because the notion of cops going down the runway as they run in baddies is so much fun.

Given that this is a Tuesday theme, fairly easy to understand, I'd have preferred going up to 76 or even 78 words. Ross's 74-word grid is wide-open enough that he was bound to need some trade-offs to make it work. In general, I think educated solvers ought to at least recognize ALONZO Mourning, Chrissy TEIGEN, the RARITAN river. And maybe they should be able to figure out that a sub could experience EMERSION (out of the RARITAN)?

But so much in one grid might create some solving frustration. Along with AARONS, ATA, ALEE … I might have chosen to break up the SW and NE corners a bit.

I did so much appreciate TRUE SELF, BAD OMEN, D STUDENTS, and COCKATOO, though. Along with a hilarious clue for RODE UP — referencing underwear making its way north — there was a lot to enjoy.

Sun 12/9/2018 WHAT A ZOO!
NAPDRCLAWAVOIDAHAB
ALEWOEISITERRESOME
SANABOMINABLESNOWMAN
AMITYPANNEDTWEEZE
LOCHNESSMONSTERELMO
IRENEWETCOOLANA
FILEDAWNTHEKRAKEN
ISLESURALRATRESECT
ELISHAARETOOAASRHO
FANTASTICBEASTSODSON
ALLOTANDUTILE
SACREWHERETOFINDTHEM
UNHOZSGOTANFNEROLI
STACIEMONREELRIVAL
HIMALAYASSTUDMEND
ICERLETEMONEVER
ALLATHENORWEGIANSEA
ONEOFFTROWELSTORM
SCOTTISHHIGHLANDSVIP
LENTSTOICASTANAEKE
ORSOHUTCHTHEWARRAD

I'm a tremendous Harry Potter fan, having read/listened to the series roughly eleventy-hundred times. (Sadly, I'm solidly a Hufflepuff.) I haven't gotten around to FANTASTIC BEASTS / AND / WHERE TO FIND THEM — also sadly, I'm still in my post-HP hangover, not willing to read anything past the seven-book canon.

Did I really call it "the canon"?

Now that's sad!

Good set of finds, three fantastic beasts matched with their locales. It's too bad that they're not matched symmetrically in some way — I had a moment of wondering what THE KRAKEN was doing in the HIMALAYAS — but just finding a set of six length-matched entries is pretty good.

One of the many reasons I love HP is that there's so much fantastical imagination in play. For me, this crossword didn't have that element, more a literal interpretation of a title that led to a straightforward listing.

I had fun thinking about how that playfulness could have been implemented. Perhaps beasts outside the grid, YETI on top in the northern hinterlands, KRAKEN underneath as if in the sea?

There's the ol' hide-the-word trick, yet I can't think of a phrase hiding YETI. Gives me an eye tick that I can't figure out anything real!

(I'm probably the only one who will ever notice the two hidden YETIs above.)

Anyone ever notice that there's a magical OWL flying straight through JK ROWLING?

The possibilities are endless!

The great thing about having a constructor's mindset is that even if I'm not into a theme, there's always something to enjoy and admire. Today, I appreciated the care Ross took in stacking his revealer --it would have been all too easy to spread them to opposite ends of the grid. Stacking them tightly makes the cross-referencing much less painful to deal with as a solver, and there's some super-clean gridwork what with LEBARON TENET ROAD TAR running through all three parts.

Sun 10/14/2018 GAME HUNTING
BETTIESPICERUBTGIF
UNHURTMONOMANIAREBA
THERISKISTOOHIGHUNIX
TAFTSATESEABEDS
ELALETHANETOGACE
ONEBCSORRYNOTSORRY
DIGUPBEAKSSELFIE
ARMORLESABRECOROLLA
IHAVENTACLUEHASRUES
MEREMORTALSHAJISI
SAGEMAILSMAROONDAG
IFSMEDSADDLEJOINT
EDNAFARPLEASEDONTGO
TESTBANTOASTERKEYES
ALOHASCOOPTTYPES
LIFESTOOSHORTOSCAR
ERSUMSNORMALOLES
ARTISTAIANBLIGE
YURIASKINGFORTROUBLE
ATOMNEEDARIDEOSMIUM
PORETRIBUNESTENSES

Plays on games — you might even describe it as plays on plays!

(sorry)

Nope, I'm sorry, NOT SORRY!

SORRY NOT SORRY is still a little new to me. Feels petty to use in actual conversation, but apparently people say it? I enjoyed Ross's take on it, adding crazy punctuation: "Sorry!? Not Sorry!!"

(SORRY has an exclamation point on its official title.)

LIFE'S TOO SHORT amused me because the game of LIFE takes forever to play. I always wanted to flick my stupid car to the end and go watch "Gilligan's Island" already.

I wasn't as much of a fan of PLEASE, DON'T … GO? It's so grammatically tortured. Wouldn't someone ask "please, not Go!"

Similar issue for the A in I HAVEN'T A CLUE — "I haven't got CLUE" is what someone might say if they didn't want to play the game. Yes, I know I'm being pedantic. It is just A little word in there — who cares?

(Sadly, me.)

These days I've been thinking more and more that six long themers is a pretty good compromise for Sunday puzzles. Too often, a seventh themer jammed into the middle row causes filling problems. As long as all six long themers are solid to great, I'm good with that.

I'm not a fan of Ross's decision to go down to 134 words (to help make up for not having as much theme as usual?), though. I like the idea of my Sunday puzzle feeling a bit themeless in nature, such big open spaces everywhere. And great fill like MARGINS OF ERROR, FATHER TIME, TRUE COLORS, GENDER FLUIDITY? Yes!

CAJOLERY? Gotta disagree with Ross on this one.

And HARD SET? Plural UNISONS? REGLUE? ENHALO? Not so much.

Crosswords have riffed on board game titles many times over the years. I liked Ross's take on this theme type, but I wish all six themers had been as strong as SORRY NOT SORRY. And that Ross hadn't been drawn to the ultra-low-word-count Dark Side of the Force. A handful of great fill entries like MERE MORTALS and SPICE RUB, along with smoother mid-length fill, would have given me much more solving pleasure.

Tue 9/25/2018
USEDOMANIACTS
NUDERATONBARE
CBGBEATATSLAW
AWEMCMAHONVIA
SAIDOKWAKING
TYNANAMSSENSE
MAMMALIAN
MOVEBYNESOVER
APEAPSESAVA
NERVEOPPHOMER
UNTILERAADORE
BEEBHEPZOOM
MAXWELLANDERSON
AREROEDEERERE
ASSTARSALSDEW

Will's got a tough job, adhering to the NYT's tone and brand. Other editors get to debut all sorts of interesting terms at their leisure, but Will is careful to maintain standards that he feels is appropriate for the NYT. Several years ago, he rejected one of my themelesses because DROPPED THE F-BOMB was too crass. And a while back, he said he wouldn't allow MANSPREAD, for similar reasons.

The Times, it is a changin'!

(F-BOMB debuted in 2015, MANSPREADS today — don't forget the cheeky SHTUP!)

It's a slow process of adoption, but I think that's a good thing. MANSPREADS felt a whole lot edgier back when the term first arose. Now, it's more mainstream, more acceptable for NYT usage.

Today's MANSPREADS visual was a bit too graphic for my taste, given the image in the bottom center of the puzzle.

What, you don't see it?

Um.

I don't either.

Ahem.

Let's change the subject and talk about puzzle tech. I like Ross's use of mirror symmetry, which feels appropriate for the theme. Check out the placement of the MANSPREADS revealer, down the centerline of the grid. That's rarely done because it forces a 10x3 chunk — you can't deploy black squares around it in columns 7 or 9 like you usually would using regular symmetry. And 10x3 chunks in a themed puzzle usually = no bueno!

It's a good thing Ross is a solid constructor. Some AMS ISS OPP LOA needed, but that's not that bad. A reasonable price to pay for the long bonuses.

The grid did feel pretty tough though; not welcoming for newer solvers. Entries like ELBERT, BYNES, TYNAN, MAXWELL ANDERSON give the puzzle an "I have to know trivia to do crosswords?" feel. That isn't the case since the crossings were all fair, but still, it can leave newbs with a sour aftertaste.

Also, given the simple theme, the complexity of the fill felt dissonant.

Overall, I liked the acknowledgment of the super-annoying phenomenon — dudes, keep them legs together! — but I felt like the bit wasn't enough to sustain an entire puzzle.

(And now I can't look away from that bottom center visual. My eyes, they're burning!)

Sun 8/12/2018 IF I WERE YOU ...
STARTJEMIMADUSTAHS
INFERULTRASJPMORGAN
BUTTERRIVALSALITALIA
STERNLYEARNITTIKI
REDSWORKINGTHESOUL
AMWAYSIDELAODOE
LOADONEALPHENOMS
CURSESFOULEDAGAINLIE
ORDCHASMGOBUSTBILE
ANSARIPALESTBOOKS
JUNGLEALLTHEWAY
CODASLAYUPSHYDRAS
UNIXTERESADEFOEOLE
RUMHUNDREDDOLLARBULL
EPILOGSSEZMEANIL
NONHASMEOWHIDES
TRUCKQUESTIONSPATH
RITAABASERBARSOAP
AGITATEDPASSWORDHUNT
LOVEDARTUTOPIACOSTS
AREORSOPEDANTSPEED

The final day of LAUGH AT MYSELF (LAM-poon) week! It's been a fun exercise in forcing myself to rethink what I'm doing. Today's puzzle amused the heck out of me, so many of the themers making me smile or even break out laughing. BUTTER RIVALS — c'mon, if you're not giggling at Parkay people throwing globs of butter at Lucerne folks, you're dead inside.

And boy have I heard some HUNDRED DOLLAR BULL in my life. More like million dollar! Like when a friend's employee told him he wasn't feeling well and had to leave early … and then got caught striding out in his biking gear? HUNDRED DOLLAR BULL!

Who hasn't been caught in a PASSWORD HUNT? Why is it that every single darn time I log onto my Wells Fargo account, I have to go through the password reset process?

More importantly, why do I still have a Wells Fargo account?

Petty Jeff (PJ) would say that the theme isn't tight, as there are dozens of words that become another valid word when you swap out an I for a U. He'd call that some HUNDRED DOLLAR BULL!

But this exercise of LAM-pooning myself forced me to realize that the non-tightness is exactly what allowed Ross to create entertaining themers. You need to sift through a lot, to find comedy gold.

And after all, isn't entertainment a constructor's primary goal?

I will go back into technical, into-the-weeds Jeff — but only to say that Ross's construction skills are already among the top in the biz. An average Sunday 140-worder has about ten globs of crossword glue to hold things together. When you can hold your grid to just ON UP and TRALA, you know you've risen to the top.

Considering this is a 138-worder — maybe 20% harder to execute on than a 140-worder — AND it has a ton of goodies (ROUNDHOUSE, AGLIO E OLIO, LEGAL PADS, BAIT SHOP), I'd happily issue Ross a sub-140 license. That's an exclusive club, in the single digits.

This past week of checking my assumptions and patterns at the door has been a useful exercise for me, forcing me to look at puzzles differently. I hope it's been useful for you too. Maybe even helped you to enjoy the NYT puzzle a little more.

Mon 6/18/2018
ASAPTARTCURB
MACADAMIATANIA
PHONEJACKEMITS
SARGETEEMSCUE
URNDIALSOAP
PASTIMEPAELLA
ELITESROSY
CALLTOORDER
SWABASSOON
CANAANONWATCH
RINGPOPSERA
IKEISAACACHES
BIDONBUZZWORDS
EKINGSNAILMAIL
SITETARPANTE

Good set of synonyms for BUZZ, as in slang for PHONE, DIAL, CALL, RING. The term DIAL amuses me, as generations after my own probably have no idea how much fun it was to play with a rotary DIAL phone.

Man, I had sucky toys as a kid.

I like it when I can't figure out a Monday theme until the revealer makes everything clear. I suppose I should have gotten it from the PHONE in PHONE JACK, but DIAL SOAP then obfuscated the idea well.

It's a shame that PHONE JACK was the only entry that didn't misdirect away from the, well, PHONE meaning. The leading words in DIAL soap, CALL to order, RING pops have nothing to do with the PHONE. So PHONE JACK sticks out like a sore thumb.

Or a rotary phone.

I couldn't think of a better replacement for PHONE jack, so I think I would have preferred to remove it. Might have felt thin with only four total themers, but overall, it would have made for a better theme set, each of the three synonyms very well hidden.

Ross has such strong gridwork skills. Love the bonuses of MACADAMIA, SNAIL MAIL, CANNED IT, even TEABAG, SCRIBES. Sure, there's an AMAT holding stuff together up top, but thankfully 1.) all the crossings are fair and 2.) it's the lone short offender in the puzzle.

There was a longer offender, UNICOLOR — don't most people say monochrome? It's an interesting word, but Monday puzzles ought to be super newbie-friendly. Best to avoid anything that might turn off the newbs, methinks. Mondays are so tough to construct!

I liked the idea overall, and if it hadn't been for a blip in the theme set and two blips in the grid execution, this could have entered POW! territory.

Tue 5/15/2018
ATARIJPOPADD
TIMEDBUONOFRO
IGIVEARGOTLIE
LEGAPBIOAGAVE
TROLLEYSSTACEY
IMDBDOORDIE
ALALAITFUND
STANDUPCOMICS
WEEBJERKEEK
ORANGESTFAL
REWELDGRANDAMS
SNAREORANGSUE
HAYASPICIRATE
IDAMOUSYRUNTS
PETSYSTLEAST

So cool to find out that Ross, who I've come to admire as an up-and-coming constructor, is related to Garry Trudeau, who I've long admired! I used to be a huge "Doonesbury" fan. I love it when artists use their power to needle people who need their power checked, and Trudeau got some great zingers in on both Bush 41 and 43.

They team up today to give us STAND UP COMICS, i.e. comic strips "standing" in the vertical direction. I liked best the ones that they obfuscated — GARFIELD masquerades well as the former POTUS, James A. Garfield. BABY BLUES commonly describes a set of "dreamy eyes," but it's also the name of a hilarious comic strip about a family raising their kids.

And MUTTS! One of my favorite strips of all time. So gentle, the adventures of Mooch and Earl. YESSH!

(If you haven't heard of BABY BLUES or MUTTS, I give them both a high thumbs-up.)

TIGER is … another comic strip? And OPUS confused me since I was a daily "Bloom County" reader. But apparently, there was a follow-on OPUS comic.

DICK TRACY is one I knew right away, even though it's been years since I read a DICK TRACY strip. But there's no real way to disguise it, a la GARFIELD or POGO. A bit too obvious, taking away from the a-ha moment in the end.

The clue for STAND UP COMICS confused me — I've seen DC COMICS played upon with Dane Cook and Dave Chappelle a couple of times now. Why use these guys as examples? Why not Margaret Cho, or George Carlin? It felt misleading to use those two D.C.-initialed guys.

So much bonus fill! AFLAC DUCK, SERENADE, MEAN GIRL, etc. Perhaps shading or circling the theme answers would have made them stand out better, amongst such great background stuff? As much as I loved those extras, they muddled up the puzzle a bit for me today.

Nice addition to the celeb crosswords series. Great that it was so directly tied to Trudeau's profession.

Sun 4/22/2018 PLUSES AND MINUSES
PESTTAPEPAREEBPLUS
TACHEVENOCALAABASE
STARESANDSTRIPSPACER
DEPORTNAIFSAYSTUSA
NEWMOMSTASISHICCUP
CIGSFATHERINONESCAPE
ANOSTARDMXELMER
PTAMICAHREALDADS
NOTEAMOMENTTOSPARCIO
ALESEAOOZECATHER
CHURLDRTGRAZE
HYPNOSPRESUMEWEI
OPSJETEPROPELLEDPLAN
WEARXINGDELTAEMO
NUDIEAIDNASTGEM
HADLESSHORSEMANEKITE
ELDESTURBANAOAFISH
AGOASAMIPETSSALLYS
VOWELLEASTBUTNOTLAST
ERNSTORNOTRYANETTA
NESTSPIANOEXESREST

PLUS E'S and MINUS E'S! Perfect way to describe the theme, where an E is removed from one word and added into another. STARES AND STRIPS didn't give me a great first impression of the concept, as it felt a bit odd — what kind of stripper stares at you while he/she strips? (Not that I know a lot about strippers!) But most of the others gave me a laugh.

HEADLESS HORSEMAN into HAD LESS HORSE MANE was the big winner for me. Fun parsing change (movement of spaces), and there's something so funny about the way it sounds.

JETE PROPELLED PLAN (from JET PROPELLED PLANE) also! My daughter is getting into ballet, so this one amused me. Speaking of toddlers, this father has been in many a dress-up costume recently, so FEATHER IN ONES CAP to FATHER IN ONE'S CAPE gave me a smile.

Ross is a relatively new constructor, but I've been tremendously impressed by his skills. To execute on a Sunday puzzle this smoothly, and with such great bonuses, is amazing. It's something a great majority of highly experienced constructors falter on.

I usually keep a running list of gluey entries and long bonuses (liabilities and assets). Today, the former was short and the latter very long. Such spot-on use of his long slots, with SCAPEGOAT, TEST OF TIME, POT FARM, SHELLAC, LA CUCARACHA ... just in the top half of the grid alone? Wow!

How did he do it? Part of it is that Ross takes a huge amount of care, iterating over and over until he gets things right. Great work ethic.

Another part is theme density. Sunday puzzles usually have seven themers, which are a bear to build around. Ross only had six today, but he made sure they were all long, making it feel like theme density wasn't a problem. This gave him tremendous space in which to work his magic, especially with all those long slots.

For example, note how the four corners only have one themer apiece running through them, allowing Ross enormous flexibility to fill away with great stuff. Smart layout!

Add-a-letter and take-away-a-letter puzzles are common enough, but I appreciated the twist here. Fun results and top-notch execution.

Thu 3/22/2018
RIFTSHAPEMIRA
ERIEAIMEEAMES
VALLEYGIRLGMCS
SILENTHMOOLA
USEROCKINROBIN
PETRISEMISING
ACCPAMGLEE
MAJORITYOWNER
JAMAEDMYEA
ODEDALAIATBAT
FENCEMENDEREPA
FLAREAREAMAN
ROMEMOTHERDUCK
EVESADHOCASHE
YENSIDESTBEER

A beautiful example of what an early/mid-week puzzle should be. (Yes, I know Thursday isn't early/mid-week. Stay tuned.) Plays on social media terms — a VALLEY GIRL has a lot of "likes." ROCKIN' ROBIN has all sorts of "tweets." A MAJORITY OWNER has a ton of "shares." I appreciate that Ross was able to find so many snazzy phrases that I'd happily use in a themeless.

MOTHER DUCK (with all her "followers") was good too, but that one I might give the side-eye in any other puzzle.

FENCE MENDER ... thankfully, it's the only themer that dips into the "definitional" category that plagues this type of theme. Imagine if MAJORITY OWNER had been PERSON OWNING STOCK. Much less fun, yeah?

Some funnage in the fill, too, with King JOFFREY of "Game of Thrones." Thank goodness dude got his due, AMEN AMEN.

Speaking of aMEN, what's an AREA MAN, you ask? Good question. The dictionary defines it as …

Okay, if you have to say "The dictionary defines it as …" it's probably not a fantastic grid entry.

KEPT MAN is kind of a colorful term, but a bit cringy. And the dupe of MAN made AREA MAN feel even worse.

EDM is … "electronic dance music"? It's still a globby piece of crossword glue since it's impossible to figure out if you don't already know it.

I might have considered this for the POW! if it had been run on a Wednesday or Tuesday. It feels like the NYT is falling down with the avant-garde Thursdays that used to help distinguish it; to feature its ability to be clever. Yes, it's tough to come up with something innovative every week. But others, like the American Values Club and Fireball, have been doing it with a higher rate of success than the NYT recently.

I love the NYT crossword. It's one of the things that drew me and my wife together. I don't want to see it slowly lose its cachet. Will, I hope you find a way to solve this problem.

Overall, an easy and mostly lovely — but so, so, so disappointingly non-cutting-edge — romp.

Tue 2/27/2018
TAPEDSTARASP
SPACELAKEDUEL
APRONARISTOTLE
LANGSTONHUGHES
JEDVETARSONS
OPIATEAPTRAY
SIGMUNDFREUD
HEMENIDIROTFL
SALVADORDALI
EMURAEBOOMED
MOSCOWAHIAWS
EVERLYBROTHERS
REDALERTSAXIOM
GRUBRISEMENLO
ESPSOYSMSDOS

Looks like … artists with famous works with the word "dream" in them? I tried to figure out what else connected everything ... but there isn't anything else. Huh. I did like that Ross chose a wide assortment of fields — poetry, writing, painting, and singing. But the theme seems awfully loose.

Really nice gridwork, with a ton of bonuses to keep up my interest. RED ALERTS, TUNA ROLL, APPLE PIE / PARADIGM, TAMARIND / FLEW SOLO, ARISTOTLE … such a wealth of great entries!

ARISTOTLE did make me pause, wondering what "dream" work he produced. (None.) Perhaps it would have been better to replace that entry with a non-person.

ROTFL = rolling on the floor laughing, BTW. I like that one a lot, but I can see how some solvers might be confused by the strange string of letters. I think solvers ought to at least be familiar with it by now, though.

The only hesitation I had was the MSDOS / MOS crossing. It came easily to me, since MSDOS was groundbreaking in operating systems, and I like MOS Def. But I've definitely heard enough complaints about MOS that I'd want all the crossings to be easy.

Overlooking that hiccup, I think Ross did a fantastic job executing on a 72-word grid. Very tough to do well, especially when your themers are awkward lengths — 12 and 14 letters (along with 13) are so frustratingly inflexible, causing all sorts of problem in grid design.

During my solve, I wanted something to better tie the themers together with a great a-ha moment. Didn't seem like there could be one … but as I was writing up this post, the company DREAMWORKS came to mind! That would have elevated this to POW! consideration!

Then I read Ross's note. D'oh!

I get that you couldn't clue the works by their full names, since you'd duplicate "dream" in the clues and in DREAMWORKS. But maybe the clues could have omitted the word "dream," replacing it with a blank? DREAMWORKS = [Movie company ... and a hint to the word missing in each of the four blanks]?

Huh. Inelegant, to say the least. I see Will's point.

But overall, I'd have gone with the inelegance, as without DREAMWORKS, the theme is too loose. Much too easy to pick some word and find four famous works of art with it in the title.

Sun 10/29/2017 GOING OFF SCRIPT
PODIAGIFSVPSGUMS
CHARADEOMARALAKAZAM
HAKUNAMATATALANELINE
ASTIPSYCHMOIREGAL
NERDDEKEECARDSAGT
GRESCOREPROVEECOLE
ESESHOWMETHEMONEY
SPARORIONREDSTAR
BOOPLUMSWISEALE
DOLTARISEBANCAXON
CRUISELINELEDGERLINE
HANDALMAMEMESEPEE
ACCETNAVAPIDFED
ROYALWETOKENHALS
CHEWIEWEREHOMEFAA
BASILSEEMSAMEXCARD
GOVLTSULUGRINACTV
ONEASYUPCREPELEHI
FORDLINEWHYSOSERIOUS
OBSERVERWOESTHECURE
ROESERSIFSOSCOTS

Ross showed me this concept a few months ago. I liked the general idea, but some themers felt much stronger than others. CRUISE LINE was perfect, as "cruise line" is a real thing, plus Tom Cruise has so many iconic lines! LEDGER LINE wasn't quite as good — "ledger line" felt like something only us finance dorks would know off the bat — but it still worked.

Turns out I was wrong about LEDGER LINEs! They're not related to bank ledgers, but musical scores. Huh. So much for my 20+ years of playing in orchestras ...

LANE LINE … that didn't seem like a real phrase to me. And FORD LINE is a thing, no doubt, but it felt so arbitrary, opening up crosswords to things like HP PRINTERS or EDDIE BAUER SOCKS or whatever. I wouldn't use either of these LINEs in a regular crossword.

FORD LINE at least lends itself to all sorts of possibilities, as Harrison Ford gets quoted so often. LANE LINE … granted, I haven't seen "The Lion King" in its entirety, but it took a long time to figure out who LANE was (Nathan Lane), and what character sang HAKUNA MATATA (… Timon? The meerkat?). So that one felt the weakest to me.

I've been impressed with Ross' work ethic, going at his grids with a fine pencil and a lot of erasing — literally! I always get a smile when people see what a huge help it is to jump from manual construction to computer-assisted. Akin to jumping from a legal pad to Microsoft Word. You still need to do the nut and bolts work, but technology simplifies things greatly.

Nice result, very little crossword glue in the form of ELHI, ALPES, ACS, BANC, ECOLE, ONEAS, etc. No major sticking points there. And to work in such great fill as ALAKAZAM, GRE SCORE, ROYAL WE, THE CURE, FATHER TIME, AMEX CARD — wow! Even if the theme didn't catch your attention, there's more than enough snazzy bonus fill to entertain.

Ross did use more cheater squares than I like to see — the black squares in the very NW / SE corners, the pyramids on the west / east, the little L blocks everywhere. Makes the grid feel inelegant, needing so many extra black squares (16!) to nibble away at the white space to be filled. But I'd much rather constructors err on the side of using too many cheaters, especially since so many tend to end up with Sunday grids splotched everywhere with ugly crossword glue.

Nice idea, wish all four theme pairs worked as strongly as CRUISE LINE / SHOW ME THE MONEY.

Thu 2/9/2017
OHMQUAAFLERS
MIAULNABREXIT
ARTEASTEIGHTY
NEHRUALITERATE
ISSUERAHSOU
DIVINEDPSAT
BIKINITARETCH
OWNGOVIRALEMU
BOARLACKIDDED
ONCESLOVENE
KFCICIICARE
DEERHIDESNOBEL
ETRAINATUGANO
ATEMPONANUSTP
RUDESTSOPESE

Debut! Ross contacted me about another puzzle a few weeks ago, asking for some rework advice. Neat to hear that Will accepted it shortly after.

I liked the idea, symmetrically placed terms for the same thing in America vs. England. I've highlighted them below, as I found them difficult to keep straight. Nice to have ATLANTIC OCEAN down the middle, dividing the puzzle just like it separates the US and Britain in real life.

This is a grid screaming for mirror (or left-right) symmetry — it would have made it so much easier to visualize the theme. It would have also elicited a mirror-world sci-fi analogy for us ubergeeks, one where when you look in the mirror, things are identical … except in very subtle ways.

I usually think MATHS is amusing, but in this case, it muddies the theme. Fun that QUEUEING is LINING UP, KNACKERED is EXHAUSTED, but MATHS is … MATH. According to the theme, MATH should be where ABASE is. Inelegant.

I also thought it was odd to have the American terms on the right-hand side, and the British on the left. Why not the other way around, to reflect real-world geography?

I enjoyed many of the bonuses, DEER HIDES and GO VIRAL in particular. I'm mixed on ALITERATE, which my stupid spell check keeps changing to ILLITERATE. The former has dictionary support, but I can't imagine using this word except in some sort of party trick.

Tough to work around so many theme entries, even if they are shortish. Ross does pretty well, minor ICI, RAH, ATUG. I WON, I HEAR, I CARE are all fine, but in aggregate they seem awfully repetitive.

The only real trouble spots came in the NE / SW, no surprise given their big sizes and constraints. I would have deployed more black squares in these sections to avoid the randomish E TRAIN and ... AFLERS. That last one is tough to swallow.

But overall, nice idea, with ATLANTIC OCEAN placed perfectly.