Neat that all four dipped things cross the substance they dip into. That hadn't occurred to me during my solve, so I highlighted the pairs (below). Makes me admire the concept even more, seeing how tidily each item is partially above and partially below its horizontal answer.
TOE is a perfect example, timidly half-in and half-out of the SWIMMING POOL. BREAD into the CHEESE FONDUE makes my mouth water. And at first, I thought WICK deeper down into the PARAFFIN than the others was inelegant, but it'd be a useless candle without the WICK almost fully submerged.
I wasn't wild about NIB going into INDIA INK. I don't own a fountain pen, and old-schoolers are going to cry out that of course, they dip their NIBs into INDIA INK? I'd have preferred something like PEN into INK WELLS.
Check out how much grid real estate those crossing answers take up. Given those constraints, I don't mind a bunch of EDDA BARA MME IFIT ANET running throughout as much as I usually would. I still might give it a TKT, though, especially with the arbitrary sounding ONE SLICE.
(Then again, Theda BARA sparks joy for Jim Horne. I'll admit, he put up a memorable picture above!)
Will solvers get tripped up by INTERLAKEN crossing KARA? Or PHAEDRA crossing MOVADO? At the least, I'd hesitate before attempting to fill gigantic corners like these. As much as I value long bonuses, I'd be curious to see how placing a black square at the S of MANSION would have turned out. Any 6x5 region is difficult to fill, and when you run some long entries through and/or around it, there are bound to be trade-offs.
Great ANT MAN clue: literally a "small part" in the Avengers movies. Paul Rudd is so amusing in that role, amusing me as much as Ruth's picturesque theme did.
Did you catch wind (ha) of the title's cleverness? CRAFT SHOW is a fun phrase, and when you repurpose it to mean a (boat-like) CRAFT that's SHOWn in an illustration, that's genius. If there were a wordplay America's Cup, today's title would be a front-runner!
Today's concept was a bit too much of a mish-mash of previous ideas, but bonus points for the apt SHIPSHAPE revealer. Perhaps if all the instructions had been ship-related—STORY ARC clued to Ahab hunting Moby Dick, perhaps—the overall effect would have felt more fresh.
Placing some fixed letters might not seem hard, but it constrains the gridwork tremendously. Great to get bonuses like CALL IN SICK, FISH MARKET, BEER HAT, although there were prices to pay in INRI, ITSA, NSEW, OHI, and the neutral-to-negative ANALYSE, AREOLA.
Elevating the theme concept with an extra layer, and one more revision on the gridwork would have been great. Still, a nice picture in the end, and oh, that wickedly clever title.
Both Jim Horne and I had an easy time with this one, both of us familiar with the anecdote. No surprise with Jim, who's incredibly well-read.
You might wonder, though, how on earth could the lower-brow, "Gilligan's Island"-loving, XWI partner possibly know it? Well, I'm always on the lookout for themes, and I had a puzzle with this exact theme in the queue at the Chronicle of Higher Education. Alas, the CHE puzzle sadly folded earlier this month.
Back in 2017, I did pause before sending the idea to Brad Wilber, who edited the CHE puzzle. Would it be too somber, even macabre, for solvers? I ended up deciding that the CHE's solving population would enjoy it, and thankfully Brad did too.
Brad and I went back and forth on how to clue ERNEST HEMINGWAY, since it's unclear if he wrote this story or it's an urban legend. We ended up using excessively ambiguous language. Before you send angry emails to Will Shortz saying that the clue is wrong, Will mentioned that he thinks he covered the issue with the FOR SALE clue, the word "attributed" showing the ambiguity. It's not the decision I'd make, but it does (somewhat) cover him on a technicality.
I do wonder how the NYT's audience will react. It is amazing how much emotion can be packed into SIX WORDs. No doubt that this puzzle could be a huge downer for some, though, especially those who have suffered through miscarriages or worse.
Probably doesn't help to put ABORTED in the top left corner. Or to end with ITS DONE.
Thankfully, Ruth worked in enough long fill to keep haters entertained. There's not a lot of theme to work with, so plenty of room for the lovely entries NORSEMAN, IRIS SCAN, SCARLETT, WENT SOLO. Even GARDENERS becomes a standout when you give it a clever clue: [People found in rows]. Not soldiers in rigid formations, but garden rows!
Bold choice for Will Shortz to run this one for his broad audience. I'm not sure I'd have the fortitude to do so.
Standard sound change, Z dulled down to an S. Ruth found a lot of neat examples requiring huge spelling changes. I admired PEERS to PIERCE, FOURS to FORCE, EYES to ICE.
I often harp on consistency, consistency, consistency, but I liked that the central themer had a double change — a cherry on top, HIS AND HERS to HISS AND HEARSE.
The one themer that didn't quite work (speaking of consistency) was WARM AND FUSSY. Every other themer's base phrase ended with the Z sound, but this one ended with a long E. It wouldn't be noticeable if there had been a mix — some sound changes at the front of words, some at the back, some in the middle — but this one was the sole themer not like the others.
Doug Peterson and I just had an exchange lamenting how hard a 140-word 21x21 grid is to make, with color and cleanliness. I'd like to see Will change his spec sheet to "140-words, or 142 if you can still integrate a lot of colorful long non-theme entries." That would have helped today, what with ASA EDY ERN ILRE ITSA LTD NEY ORLE YMA, not to mention TENTER.
ORLE ought to be a puzzle-killer at this point, and crossing NACRE makes it especially guilty.
I did like many of the bonuses. CANDY CANE, HARD CIDER, RUDIMENTS, START DATE, BRUCE LEE, DATA PLAN were all solid. But breaking up ABRASION and ARMENIAN, going up to 142 words, could have facilitated a smoother final product.
Standard theme types are perfectly fine to tap, and sound changes may never go by the wayside because there are so many interesting ways to do them. Since so many have been done over the years, though, it's essential to make them nearly flawless.
I love it when constructors break crossword rules, for a purposeful reason. Having two-letter words is a big no-no, so I laughed when encountering the two two-letter words today — NO and NO. Wait! Duplicating words in a grid is another big NO NO. Ha, that's doubly clever!
Humor is so subjective. Removing the NOs from famous phrases wasn't quite a LAUGHING MATTER for me, as the results weren't different enough from their base phrases. I get that they are opposite because they're missing the NO. But MAN IS AN ISLAND was the only one where meanings vastly changed. I liked Ruth's original themers much better, especially ROOM TO SWING A CAT!
I'm not a huge fan of trying to go down to low word counts for Thursday puzzles. I get why Will encourages this — it makes the puzzle much harder to solve, which is appropriate for a Thursday — but the price of ANCY ALEE ANON SST NHRA SYST YSER ROOD … no laughing matter, indeed.
I did appreciate the bonuses of SCENIC AREA and FINEST HOUR. RACE DAY and ON A WHIM, too. But breaking up FINEST HOUR at the S might have been a finer choice, allowing for cleaner gridwork. I bet it'd also allow for some more jazziness in the AMOUNTS and LARGEST slots.
It's a neat concept, breaking not just one but two crossword rules, perfectly. I would have liked more audacity in the theme though — perhaps taking out NOs from middles of entries in more surprising ways? And a little less audacity in the gridwork.
Homophonic plays on phrases, all relating to commuting. I thought I'd seen everything when it comes to straight-up homophone replacements, but BUSSED YOUR BUTT made me laugh out loud.
And given that traffic is terrible in Seattle, I know a ROUTE OF ALL EVIL or two (or eighteen). PAY YOUR FARE SHARE gave me a smile too, so apt for splitting a cab. (I'm too old to trust Uber. Get me a cab, you whippersnappers!)
Sometimes puns and homophones get too tortured for my taste. MAKE THE TEEM = arrive at a bustling spot? Tortured! I NEED TO LOSE WAIT? Wait, what? They just don't make sense to me. I know, you can make them make sense if you stare at them long enough.
Ruth uses a nice trick to squeeze in extra themers, placing two vertically in the NE / SE corners. That often helps to separate themers, allowing for better spacing. It's especially good when there are just seven themers, as you can spread out the five across themers so far apart that they hardly can talk to each other.
With six across themers, this is much more difficult, because you can no longer consistently alternate left/right — check out CRAMPING MY STILE and ROUTE OF ALL EVIL, directly atop each other. That's crampng the themers' style. There's bound to be a lot of vertical entries that need to work with both, and that'll create problems. See: DDR and RESOD.
Likewise, in the symmetrical spot, see BSA / OBLA / MOUE / USHED.
With so much interaction between themers, it wasn't a surprise to get a lot of NEER MGMT ANOS IOR AUST ONEK IS AT, etc. The grid could have used another revision or two; a little gloopy around the edges. Definitely possible to get a smoothish result with eight themers, but it ain't easy.
Sunday 140-word grids are so tough to execute on. I did like some of the bonuses in ARMY MOM, RABBIT HOLE, PRESENT DAY, so along with the themers that tickled me, there was enough to keep me mostly entertained.
What a fun idea, playing on the common "re:" start of memos. I loved REMOTE CONTROL transforming to "re: MOTE CONTROL" as a memo about cleaning. So amusing! "re: QUEST FOR PROPOSAL" also made me laugh. This theme type doesn't always bring a smile to my face, so kudos to Ruth for thinking up such entertaining themers.
I would have liked more strong bonus fill, in the vein of I WANNA SEE, CAN IT BE, and GMC TRUCKS — that type of entry is so important re: keeping this solver's attention through an entire Sunday-size grid. It's so difficult to do though, without introducing too much crossword glue — the 21x21, 140-word grid is so difficult to execute well on.
Considering Ruth kept the crossword glue down to a reasonable level, with some dribs and drabs of ANUT, EATNO, STAC, ORDS, ESTS, AFTS, NLER, I would have been okay with a just a touch more if it had allowed Ruth to add in a couple more shiny bonus entries. Stuff like ANOINTS and EXERT ON are perfectly fine, but they don't add much spice.
I originally thought going up to 140 words (from Ruth's 138) would have been an easy solution to achieving more snazzy fill / less crossword glue. But I couldn't find an easy way to do this by adding a single pair of black squares, and honestly, most of the crossword glue is spread out pretty well throughout the grid. I do think a different black square pattern, aiming at 140 words, could have been a better way go, though.
Overall, I was amused by the theme, and that's my most critical element for a Sunday puzzle. If there had been more sparkly fill (with the short fill still being kept relatively clean), I might have given it POW! consideration.
I have to admit; I didn't completely grok the theme until well after I finished. EARSMILEEAR is a literal representation of "smile from ear to ear." But I hitched on TOESTANDTOE, not quite seeing the connection to "stand toe to toe," or how FACEMEETFACE meant "meet face to face." Don't these more imply "stand from toe to toe" and "meet from face to face"?
And HANDPASSHAND ... I think that's "pass from hand to hand," which does seem like good wordplay. But the base phrase didn't immediately jump to mind. I'd happily put SMILE FROM EAR TO EAR in a themeless crossword, but PASS FROM HAND TO HAND would make me hesitate, wondering if that was strong enough.
I like that Ruth pushed her word count down to 72, helping to make the puzzle feel more like a tough, late-week puzzle. The middle O of OUTDOORSY would usually be a black square, for example, and opening that up lets Ruth work in both OUTDOORSY and GOOD IDEA, strong additions. The price of EDDA (tough bit of trivia) was well worth it for me.
It also gave her a lot of seven-letter slots to work with, and Ruth used most of them well. As a huge Harry Potter fan, AZKABAN delighted me (and Ruth made sure every crossing was fair, for you poor muggles). I like Juliette BINOCHE too, and OBADIAH is an interesting Biblical name. Some might argue that crossing these two propers is unfair, but I think all educated solvers ought to at least heard of one or the other.
I paused at IN SPACE. The clue, referring to the show "Lost in Space," made it feel like a long partial, a huge violation of the specs most editors hold to. Can IN SPACE stand on its own? Tough call. At best, I didn't feel like it added much to the puzzle.
I like it when Thursday puzzles have tricksy elements to them. This one made a good attempt, but it didn't resonate with me. Instead of a fantastic a-ha moment, it was more of a slow process of trying to understand the concept. Still, a generally smooth and well-executed grid with some nice bonuses.
Country rhymes, using a consistent (country) + (possessive S) + (rhyme for the country). At first the theme seemed too loosey-goosey for me — pretty easy to rhyme many countries with words — but after some thought, it struck me that Ruth only used countries with exactly two syllables. That helps tighten things up. Additionally, she only used countries with the first syllable stressed — no JAPAN or IRAN.
Not all of the themers gave me a smile, but there's something amusing about CUBA'S TUBAS, with its visual of Raul Castro parading around in an oom-pah-pah band.
Neat that Ruth pushed the envelope, leaving a ton of white space to work with in this 72-word grid. I immediately got a delight in ALLOSAURUS, and CRIME SPREES and INNER BEAUTY sure helped to enhance my solve. What really stood out though, was the abundance of good mid-length material: LESOTHO, TOP HAT, PEORIA, SNEEZY, TIN EAR — so many bonuses packed in, all throughout the grid.
It all did come at a price, but not a very expensive one. The only region that made me hitch was the lower left, with OUS (awkward suffix) crossing the partial AS AN. I don't mind the latter that much, since it's so common in various similes, but since I had just uncovered THOS and AMBI nearby, it felt like a lot of compromises in one sector.
For me, the top right is a much better trade-off between snazz and smoothness. Love ALLOSAURUS, and LOOMPA is fun even without Oompa, just for the low, low price of AGR. (ETAS to me is so common as to be negligible.)
Although Ruth did make strides toward selecting a tight theme set, I still felt like it wasn't quite tight enough for me, as it was too easy to think of others: TURKEY'S JERKIES, SWEDEN's EDENS … okay, maybe it's a tighter theme than I first (or second) thought! And all the nice bonuses in fill sure were appreciated.
Ruth's Sunday debut! KEEP IT TOGETHER gives us a rationale for a rebus puzzle smashing I and T together, and the title, MAKE THAT A DOUBLE, tells us that each themer has two IT rebuses. Although there are a ton of phrases with two ITs in them, I thought Ruth did a great job selecting really strong ones. CREDIT OR DEBIT, INITIATION RITE, LITTLE WHITE LIE, PATERNITY SUIT, etc. — all of them sing, not a one falling flat.
It's pretty tough to work in more than seven longish themers into a Sunday puzzle, but Ruth manages to get in eight by working two in vertically. That threw me off at first, since it kind of muddled the fact that each themer has two ITs in it. It would have been great to run every one of the eight themers horizontally, which would have made the puzzle's consistency really shine. As it was, I got a little confused seeing some vertical answers like FITBITS and SECURITY DEPOSIT having two ITs, but others like LOITERER only having one. Easy to figure out the thematic consistency post-solve, but it would have been nice if it had popped immediately.
It took me a little thinking to make sense of the revealer and the title, but I like the dual nature of having one give a rationale of why it should be a rebus, and the other explaining why there are two rebuses in each themer. It did feel a little odd that KEEP IT TOGETHER didn't have two instances of IT, though. And it seems like MAKE IT A DOUBLE could have made an apt appearance somewhere in the puzzle itself. How cool would it have been if those two phrases crossed each other — at an IT rebus square!
Some really nice fill, kicking off the puzzle with ALLCAPS, ROOFTOP, LOWTECH, ARSENIC all in one corner. I wasn't hot on the cost of ATH, CFCS, ETES, NER, CENE, though. Thankfully, the rest of the puzzle was cleaner, and even included great stuff like COLD COCK and JOCULAR, TV HOSTS and BUST A GUT. Added a lot of sparkle to the solving experience.
And I hadn't realized some of the nice touches Ruth constrained herself to — upon second glance, it was pretty cool not to see any I-Ts as the word IT. Those little details are appreciated.
"Perimeter puzzles" rely on a revealer to makes sense of the answers around the edges. SUBMERGED didn't make sense to me at first — shouldn't that mean two "sub" answers will merge, i.e. cross? But upon further thought, SUBMERGED instructs the solver to "merge SUB with what's in the entry." Interesting concept!
Ruth did a good job selecting theme answers, choosing ones that looked perfectly normal in the grid — not to mention, ones that intersect so nicely in the four corners! I stared at the very first square for the longest time, wonder how LIME could make sense for [Lofty in thought or manner]. I do like limes, but are they really lofty? Finally figuring that out was lime. Er, (sub)LIME.
I had a head-scratching moment upon uncovering (sub)URBAN and (sub)TRACT, as those didn't "merge" with another theme answer. And then I kicked myself, remembering that SUBMERGED just meant "add SUB." Dang it!
Ruth is absolutely right, perimeter puzzles are notoriously difficult to fill well, given the constraint of having two crossing "themers" in the corners (I swore them off after my last one). I was very pleased with Ruth's execution in the lower right — SASHIMI along with not a drop of crossword glue? Beautiful work, especially given the degree of difficulty.
The lower left is more typical in terms of the liabilities seen in perimeter puzzles. ALIENEE is a valid word, but I don't know how many (non-lawyer) solvers will clap at this one. Along with IN ME and (the very minor) EST, it's got a few flaws.
Perimeter puzzles are also notorious for making it difficult to work in great long fill. With all the constraints already placed on the grid, it's so tough to take advantage of those long slots. TEA HOUSE is quite nice, but PANELIST to me is more neutral, as are BETAMAX, SLEEVES, ESSENES, etc.
I like when struggle suddenly flips to a moment of discovery, so I liked the concept. There were a few more dabs of crossword glue than I like, but that's part of the nature of this theme style.
I had to read the notepad a few times to figure out what was going on: GAME is hidden within four themers, and four short entries — BALL, VIDEO, BOARD, and CARD — can precede that hidden GAME. Whew!
Normally I'm not a huge fan of one-word themers, but I like Ruth's inclusion of both GILGAMESH and AGAMEMNON. Two epic heroes in symmetrical locations, both hiding GAME = a lot of fun for this fan of the classics. Okay, I skimmed the Epic of Gilgamesh during undergrad. Okay, I only read the first page. But I've come to appreciate how broadly that tale has affected storytelling throughout the ages.
Four long themers + four short ones = a lot of material to pack into a grid. Ruth does a pretty good job of working with all those constraints. I enjoyed the NE, with DOWN UNDER running through VIDEO and MAKING AMENDS, and just DE LA as a minor blight. It's too bad ICE AGE and ACORN weren't cross-referenced — the beginning of ICE AGE (the movie) was so funny, with the prehistoric squirrel questing for his ACORN.
The NW: it gets tough to fill when you place BALL over GILGAMESH with not much space in between. OLIO (the mish-mash, not OLEO, the margarine) is one of those unfortunate old-timey gluey bits that many constructors strive to avoid. I don't mind BOGGS and LILLE, two toughish proper nouns, but everything together might draw some complaints from solvers. To me it's just the OLIO that sticks out, and what else can you do when you fix BALL and GILGAMESH in place?
Well, maybe different options for BALL would have avoided that. There are a ton of "___ GAME" phrases, yeah?
For a "word that can precede X" type theme, I really want some new twist, something that differentiates it from the theme type many editors are no longer accepting. I like the idea here; there's no doubt it is innovative. It sure would have been nice though, to work some revealer into the grid that avoided the tortuous notepad explanation.
★ Beautiful debut puzzle today, absolutely loved it. I'm not sure I've ever seen a debut I've liked quite this much, given its fun theme, excellent long fill, and not a lot of glue-y crosswordese. I had to look it over a few times to make sure I was indeed seeing a new name. Super impressive, Ruth!
First, the theme. At surface level, it's a basic "add a letter sequence" concept, nothing new there. But each time the IST is added, it changes the meaning of the base word completely, i.e. CUB to CUBIST, and in a funny. STARK to STARKIST is just genius, especially given how snazzy the base phrase, STARK NAKED, is.
Often with "wacky phrase" themes, I find myself not super amused by one or more of them, but today, each one worked really well for me. Perhaps it helped that in my 20 years of playing cello, I sat in the very back of the orchestra, sleeping my way through rehearsals (I was that guy who always came in too early before the rests were over). Some might not find SLEEPER CELLISTS as amusing, but it was spot on for me. And the base phrases are all so solid: CUB REPORTERS, POMPOUS ASS, STARK NAKED, SLEEPER CELLS. Wonderful. Yes, two nouns are plural while one is singular, but that almost seemed too nit-picky to even mention.
Then we come to the fill. Typically a debut contains not as much long fill as I like to see. But CREDIT RISK is fantastic (I love business terms, so sue me), and MAIN STREET hits in the same way. Then Ruth works in EURASIA, CALYPSO, GUEVARA, and even SKI CAP, taking advantage of her 6's and 7's, which often don't get used to their full potential.
Given the nice long stuff, I'd expect some compromises in the shorter. But not only does Ruth keep it to some measley ESE, OR A, MSGS stuff, she works in 6x3 regions at the north and south, giving us the juicy NASSAU and SEANCE. Most constructors avoid that 6x3 arrangement, preferring to stick with 5x3 because that slight widening from five to six often makes for a rougher filling challenge. No problems today, just smooth sailing.
An extremely pleasurable solve for me, and an equally pleasurable time writing up my comments. This is a fantastic example of why I really like the "open call for anyone who wants to construct" policy. Looking forward to more from Ruth.