See the 381 answer words debuted by Sam Ezersky.
Sam Ezersky is the digital puzzles editor for The New York Times. Besides helping with the crossword, he oversees other daily Times games like Spelling Bee and Letter Boxed.
I enjoy when constructors go to 16x15 grids because it allows for entries that we 15x15-ers rarely see. This superhero fanboy loved AMAZING SPIDERMAN, even with the awkward "with ‘the' "tag. Not only is Peter Parker a master of his web-shooters, but he's pretty good with infotech — I bet he'd make a great webmaster for some lucky dot-com company if the entire superhero thing doesn't work out.
I don't follow college sports much, but the BIG TEN CONFERENCE had such a fresh clue. Minnesota and Michigan but not Missouri? MMM good.
Growing up, we were a World Book Encyclopedia household, so the CIA WORLD FACTBOOK didn't come easily. I'll have to check out a copy from my kids, so the feds can secretly spy on them.
TO BE FRANK: I often struggle with Sam's puzzles. He's decades younger, orders of magnitude hipper, and I often have to do a VIBE CHECK as I'm solving. (After I looked up what VIBE CHECK meant.)
I used to think that stuff like LOWERGI was awesome, because it's so tough to see the spaces. LOW ERGI is a vital sign? Enough solvers have told me off for putting "weird-looking" entries into my grids, though. See: E.U.F. LAG, E-CO-TECH, P.S. ALMONE.
I also had trouble with the lower right, trying to figure out if SOFT ARMOR is a thing (it definitely is), before struggling through HAFT and FARRO. All fair … AND YET …
Sam's place is on a Saturday, and I'm relieved to finish this one!
We've had many plays on ET over the years, The French Connection is one of my favorites. There was another play on ET = French word for "and," and since ET is an easy digram to work with, I've solved many ET additions and subtractions. I enjoyed that Sam tried to elevate today's offering by only using -CKET endings. I don't know exactly how to classify it, since at heart it's still an ET addition, but I like the effort to add an elevating factor.
None of the themers made me laugh, but LIKE A MILLION BUCKETS appealed to this b-ball nut. What, no love to the ageless wonder, LBJ, who at 37 nearly led the league in scoring? And who singlehandedly handed my fantasy team a week's loss (our long blight on a first-place season, woo hoo!)?
Curious about what other CKET transformations are possible? Use our Replacement Finder. Put CKET in the first box, and ET in the second. Sam covered most all of the useful ones. (Things like THICK to THICKET aren't as interesting, because THICK is too similar to a dense THICKET.)
Awesome way to kick off a puzzle, [Make a bust, say] making me drop in ARREST. D'oh! Make a sculptor's bust. Nice to have a few of these spread throughout, like a POEM having both stressed feet words and rhythmic meter, and a NOMAD covering a lot of literal ground.
A few tough parts, like XYLEM crossing IBEX and DSL, along with oddly singular DRIB and KUDO, and FRONT OF THE PACK wanting so badly to be LEADER OF THE PACK. Impressive that Sam was able to flesh out enough base phrases, though.
Sam, the recent(-ish) college grad, is way cooler than me (granted, that's a low bar), so sometimes his themelesses leave me in the dust. Today's solve was pleasantly on my wavelength(-ish), the final entry MMDDYYYY delighting me. It's such a bizarrely vowelless string of consonants, yet I see it all the time in web forms. I bet my Canadian crossword friends are saying "Quoi?" and wondering why it's not DDMMYYYY.
SONGWRITER, another solid debut entry. It's not a sizzler in its own right — editors usually prioritize two-word entries because they can have so much colour — but that clue elevates it. I imagine SONGWRITERs jot down more than a few notes.
Along those lines, BLUBBER is a neutral(ish) entry. Give it a great misdirect, though, and it sings. "Cold weather layer" had this Seattleite thinking about his parka, not an insulating internal layer.
A couple of blips, KERB more bumpy than other Britishisms we typically see, like more minor OU instead of the God-given correct way to spell using good ol' American O. Ain't no way it's COLOR, that's just durn wrong—it has to be COLOUR, dammit!
(My editor is Canadian, so he better not "correct" the above paragraphs.)
I wondered if DOYOGA related to DOGA, i.e. DOG YOGA? Seriously, this is a thing.
As much as I enjoyed listening to the Ariana Grande song, A WOMAN still looks like a verboten six-letter partial.
REAL TALK = "To be honest with you …"? Just when I'd figured out what millennials meant by "tbh," there's more codespeak for me to decrypt.
Although I hit a few potholes along the way, there was more than enough to keep this POTTERMORE member (Hufflepuff all the way!) happy. Speeding through one of Sam's Saturday puzzles is hardly THE NORM for me, and to do without wondering if every square was right or not — MAHOMES ain't got nothin' on me!
(Okay, maybe he does.)
Sam is a recent college grad and thus roughly three orders of magnitude hipper than me. I often have trouble with his themelesses, mystified at some show or artist that plays to his tastes/generation much more than mine, or words that I only vaguely recognize, or Learned-League-level geography. Such a pleasant surprise to feel on Sam's wavelength for a great majority of today's puzzle!
Great start at 1-Across, POP QUIZ featuring the rare Q and Z, and such a great wordplay clue for it. "Questions of surprise" isn't as in-the-language as I'd like, and the telltale question mark puts you on alert, but it's still a fun misdirection toward things like "but why?" or "oh really?"
Well done in juicing out of the long slots. EMOTICON is a bit dated but still fun, MAILCHIMP is a funny brand name, TV ANTENNA as "rabbit ears" was a nice throwback for us older generations.
And the PIECAKEN always makes me laugh. Where else but in America would you see at least one pie stuffed into a cake? Calling the PIECAKEN a "hybrid," though, doesn't do American gluttony justice. It's not simply kind of a pie, kind of a cake. It's a full freakin' pie jammed into a ginormous cake. U-S-A! U-S-A!
I'm always apprehensive about solving themelesses heavy on 7s because it's so hard to squeeze every last drop out of those mid-length slots. It's even more challenging when you have two stacks of 7s intersecting each other in all four corners. I imagine that few people will be tweeting #CARTAGE or #TAURINE.
However, Sam did a nice job working in OIL GLUT under EMIRATI, PG FILMS, PORK RIB, ALL STAR, UV LIGHT. That's a lot of solid to fantastic entries.
I did come to a screeching halt in the lower right, though. CARTAGE ... okay. Next to … ÉCORCHÉ? I asked some French-speaking American friends if they knew this, and I got a bunch of blank stares. (My native French friends said, "oui, bien sur!") It's a tough call. Part of me likes that Sam unabashedly features envelope-pushing words. However, along with PET FEES, which sounded odd to this former pet owner's ear, it was a tough way to finish out.
Super thankful for all the fair crosses! Also grateful that there was more for me in this one than in previous Sam themelesses.
At first, when Sam sent me his notes on the puzzle, I thought he was lauding "I Am Legend," which was tough for this Will Smith fan to sit through (I made it roughly 12.5 minutes). Even an hour later, I figured Sam was meme-ing some Snapchat or TikTok thing. It wasn't until several hours later that it clicked: STRONG MAN / NORSE MYTH / I AM LEGEND. What an awesome mini-theme! It'd be a shame if people missed it, and I fear that like me, many solvers won't pick it up.
I'm (almost literally) knee-deep in LEGO SETs these days, yet the clue made me laugh anyway. "A ton of bricks," indeed. If anyone has advice on how to avoid cross-pollination of LEGO SETs leading to two kids arguing and then hitting each other with a ton of bricks, I'm all ears.
Jim Horne and I discussed ITALIAN MEAL, sadly not over a nice Italian meal (maybe soon?!). Does this entry open up the floodgates for POLISH LUNCH? JAPANESE HAPPY HOUR? Hopefully it allows for my favorite meal of the day, HOBBIT ELEVENSES.
Also in the category of "giving Jeff fits about what score to assign an entry": ONE EGG, NAGGERS, SUABLE, MADCAPS. So much about word lists is subjective, so I try to leave everything that's even remotely-possibly-okay-if-you-squint at the nominal level of 50. Constructors beware, though, a huge amount of your own judgment is mandatory.
The cluing felt so tough today; definitely Saturday-level:
I wish I had said I SEE NOW immediately after finishing the middle of the puzzle, because MAN MYTH LEGEND is a standout mini-theme. I'd have loved an overt revealer like BADASS, calling out the middle triplet. Now that would have been bad-ass.
April Fools! Sam fooled me once, then he fooled me again. Shame on me! Then he fooled me yet again. Who's the shame on for the third time?
But then I smugly defeated him!
Until Jim Horne pointed out that I didn't actually figure out the last theme answer. Not properly, that is.
More accurately, not at all.
Talk about fool.
Understanding that VERY RELIGIOUS was DEV took forever, but that was a nice a-ha, riffing on the old crossword standard of [… with "out."] DEV + out = devout. It's been done many times before, yet I always fall for it.
I thought I had the concept at that point but ESSENTIALLY didn't make sense with ELF + Inits. I thought maybe the letters E L F could somehow be in ESSENTIALLY? Finally, I realized that it meant Inits. + ELF = IN ITSELF. Fun discovery.
Finally, I was no fool! Yet I was. MMI, in slang = BAD MOUTHING? For a while, I figured this must not be theme-related. You know what the kids say these days when they want to insult you badly, they throw you some MMI!
Isn't that like the stink eye? The stink-I times two thousand?
Ah, it's MMI in(side) slang = sla(MMI)ng. Zoicks, that's tough to see!
My last chance at redemption: … and others. Huh. Oh, I got it! BLENDED FAMILY indicates to take STE PBR and TAHOE, and blend (anagram) those letters! Damn, I am so smart!
Oh. It's STE + PBR + others = stepbrothers. TAHOE didn't have anything to do with it?
Well, it should have!
Hatchi matchi, this was a toughie. I liked some of the cluing touches, like Bjorn Borg known as Ice-BORG. Great nickname! And I'm terrible with modern music references, but SONGZ is a great last name for a singer.
Finally, VEAL as "parm for the course" is punnily outstanding. Almost worth all my confusion and hair-pulling right there.
Show of hands. Who's ever heard of a GUITALELE? The cities of EASTON or BUSHEY? The SARANAC river? STYRENE?
What, you've never heard of STYRENE? My first job was as a mechanical engineer in product design, so I specified a lot of parts to be manufactured from ABS — acrylonitrile butadiene STYRENE. You probably have at least fifty items in your house and car made from ABS, since it's a cost-efficient, durable plastic that has thousands of uses. Easy to process for injection molding—
Huh? You want me to LET IT GO ALREADY, you pompous buffoon?
Something to think about when expounding on what a great entry EX-LIB is, you snooty librarians.
Just kidding! Every author knows the ins and outs of the purchasing process; the real decision makers are in the libraries. I loved EXLIB. Loved it more than life itself. Okay, maybe it felt weird and foreign, but I bow down to the kings and queens of the known world who CALL THE purchasing SHOTS.
(While muttering about EXLIB.)
A couple of great feature entries, MUSEUM EXHIBIT an A+, especially because of its innocent [Remains to be seen, say] clue. Wow, that is a brilliant repurposing of a common phrase!
Also fantastic: the triplet of NATIONAL ANTHEM / AT EASE SOLDIER / CORNISH PASTY. MERRIAM WEBSTER connecting the top and bottom makes it even more impressive.
OBAMA SUPPORTER, not so much. Perhaps this would have felt strong back in 2016, but these days it has an almost arbitrary quality to it. See what an editor would say about CLINTON DONOR or ROMNEY VOTER or [Dick Cheney] as BUSHMASTER. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)
For any readers still with me, don't worry. This puzzle spanked me as hard as it did you. Appropriate that REAR ENDS was in the grid.
IOWA CAUCUS is such a standout entry! I love that a small state underestimated by too many wields such influence every four years. That clue, too — something both Bill and Hillary won once? Now that's the way to entertain with trivia!
Perfect 1-Across for this puzzle. I give a thumbs-up to WEIRD, HUH?, since I've said it many a time, but I bet some will describe the phrase as "weird," which to my kids means "you smell terrible, dad."
Similarly: THE SINAI (Sinai Peninsula, more commonly), ASTROBOY (it's two words put together, thankfully, but even this cartoon maniac didn't know it), TURING TEST (more passable since "the Imitation Game" came out, but still niche).
I wasn't so hot on a couple areas of the grid. I'm a physics dork and even interned at NASA but never heard the term LINAC (short for linear accelerator?). That doesn't bode well for the general solving population, not even the regular Saturday folks. Cross it with the composer ENESCO — in twenty years of orchestra, I never played one of his compositions — and that's a death cross. I applaud the attempt to make it fairer, but UNESCO is a toughie too.
Judith RESNIK crossing the partial-sounding IN A KIT wasn't as unfair. At least you should be able to piece together IN A KIT — that is, if you can get past the notion that this is a (verboten) six-letter partial.
Thankfully, Sam worked in several solid phrases/clues to keep my interest. Will Shortz is careful not to do much shameless self-promotion in crosswords, but NEWSDESK was a highlight. Hiding Times — as in the New York Times — at the beginning of [Times table?] is brilliant.
What, no YOU'RE … PUSHING IT for a woman in labor?
Okay, that might be pushing it.
I appreciated how on point it was for a free throw shooter to be MISSING THE POINT. I used to scoff at Shaq's well-known free throw problems (career 53% shooter), such a huge hole in his game. Then I tried it myself, shooting 100 from the line. Let's just say that YOU'RE KIDDING ME was apt.
I didn't find many other themers to be as apt, though. A cosmetician is MAKING ME BLUSH? Like, he/she is formulating cosmetics? A produce vendor is OUT OF YOUR GOURD? What kind of seller brings a single gourd to his/her farmer's market stand? Why would an aspiring entrepreneur be only as good as the company they keep, when many entrepreneurs are all about successfully selling their companies for a huge profit?
I did like how Sam tightened his theme by narrowing the scope to professions. It would have been great to have a few more spot-on ones, perhaps ONE TO TALK clued to Siri? OUT OF THIS WORLD as an astronaut? Soldiers MAKING A MESS?
Some delightful fill, HOT DATE GODSEND TRUE DAT HANGRY ANARCHY forming quite the storyline. Reminds me of some of the groanwrothy dates I went on back in the day.
I had trouble with much of the grid through, slowed by SHANYU, GIOTTO, DR BOB, along with OJOS (which I still confuse with OSOS), and the creaky PORTA STET KAS BYA CREEL etc. As a whole, it made for a choppy solve that might give solvers too many opportunities to put down the puzzle and go do something else. Going up to 140 words (Sam used 136, quite a construction challenge) would have helped add in more color as well as smooth things out.
Overall, though, still an entertaining idea, a fun way to present a wide range of YOU'RE ___ phrases.
(Answer to Sam's puzzler: ONE TO TALK.)
THEODICY looks so much like "the idiocy." I think Sam is making subtle commentary about religion, but I'm too much of an idiot to figure out what.
Three fantastic marquee answers, NIGHTY NIGHT, STAIRMASTER, and WORLD ATLAS firing on all cylinders. Not only are these fantastic phrases in their own right, but each is screaming to take a clever clue. The first has all sorts of potential around "retirement," the second was clued just as sneakily a few weeks ago, and WORLD ATLAS has plenty of plays on "country" available. Yes, yes, and yes!
AT THE HEART … not so much. The knock on it is that it wants so desperately to be completed by "of," so you have to include that in the clue. Makes it edge toward partial-land.
Sam debuted a few entries today, but that's not always a good thing. NIGHTY NIGHT, absolutely. TYREKE Evans? I've had on my fantasy team many times, so I know his name. I don't think it's fair to expect non-NBA data crunchers to know him, though.
Along with AT THE HEART, there's RUNS A LAP. I thought about it for a while, deciding not to ding it. It's not as strong to my ear as RUNS LAPS or TAKES A LAP; however, it'll do in a pinch.
CYBERLAW is a thing, but I doubt I'd ever drop the word in conversation, especially not with my neighbors who work at Twitter and Slack. I already had this happen:
"SLAC! Neat, you work at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center?"
"Uh …" (eye roll emoji tweeted)
I enjoyed many clues, some of which could use some explanation:
A lot to love in this solve. Some beautiful feature entries, excellent supporting cast, and nothing that stuck out too much. A couple of wrinkles ironed out (THYMES plural, I see you) and it would have gotten some POW! consideration.
Matt Gaffney's wonderful meta-puzzle series had an outstanding "foreign numbers doubling as English words" concept a few years back. After banging my head for 10+ hours, I admitted defeat, but I don't mind being stumped when a puzzle is that clever.
When it comes to Sunday puzzles, Will Shortz has to cater to an enormous audience, ranging from the most noob of newbs to the tip-top speed solvers. I don't envy him. I bet there are a lot of solvers out there who have never before thought about foreign numbers in this way. To them, this could be the perfect introduction to the idea.
I'm not a top solver, but I do have thousands of puzzles solved under my belt, so today's execution felt like it was hitting me over the head with a hammer — keyword within phrase PLUS keyword repeated elsewhere PLUS language in which the keyword is a number? That drained out most of the fun. I'd prefer something more playful, or at least less explainy.
Removing the language entry, i.e., no SPANISH and just QUINCE JELLY + QUINCE [FIFTEEN, in Spanish], would have made it less hammery. Would newer solvers understand what's going on, though? Maybe not.
What would be more playful approach? Maybe having the numbers spell out something in alphanumeric (A = 1, B = 2, etc.)? Making kooky number phrases like ELF ON THE SHELF = [Eleven magical creatures in a Berliner's room?] Not sure, but it's fun to think about.
Anyone else's eyes open wide when encountering BA__S = things passed between the legs? That's legs of a relay race. Ahem.
Not sure which is more appalling: where my mind first went, or my lack of understanding of basic anatomy.
LITE BRITE brought me right back to my childhood, sticking those little plastic pegs up my nose to see if it would light up like Rudolph's.
(It didn't. I still think it should have.)
Divisive one, too. Jim had no idea what this was (or why I'd stick pegs up my nose), and I bet a lot of people out there will share his perspective. If you've never played with it (LITE BRITE, not my nose, that is), it won't elicit much emotion.
These days, I find entries like TECH SAVVY much more interesting, as they have a broader audience.
Amazing number of clever clues today. I was blown away by the sheer quantity of brilliant misdirects. My top three:
Note how these three clues all elevate short entries that otherwise are simply filler. Also, note how careful Sam was in selecting short entries that aren't common in crosswords. It's much harder to come up with something creative for seen-all-the-time stuff like ERA and AREA.
There was a bit too much material that didn't quite hit my ear right — ATRACE / SLIGHT BIT, SLOW MO with that odd W, SENHOR, BY RIGHT, AC TO DC. (Even as a mechanical engineer, that last one felt a bit off-the-wall — get it, as in from a wall outlet? Okay, I won't quit my day job.)
I might have liked OPSOMANIA better if I didn't already have a sense of so many entries being pitchy.
Overall though, Sam entertained me with enough great feature entries like THEOCRACY WET NOODLE CROP CIRCLE. And the clue for CROP CIRCLE! Fully agreed with Sam, that's genius.
ADDED NOTE: I glossed over the clue for THEOCRACY at first. I'm glad I went back and studied it. No "state of disbelief" for a government-centered around God! So, so, so many brilliant clues.
Sam's voice shining through today, so much colloquial OH REALLY, AREN'T WE ALL, WHAT'S NEXT packed into that NW corner alone. The opposite corner featured some freshness in UBERGEEK (hand raised!) and GOOD DOGGY, beautiful stuff.
Sometimes Sam's puzzles are too young-feeling for me, making me feel over the hill (insert old man shaking fist emoji), but there wasn't anything that felt out of my grasp today. Indeed, even the BROHUG is something I awkwardly give to guys I'm sort of friends with, and I don't know if we should be handshaking or hugging. Good ol' hard slaps on the back, saving the day!
FREEMIUM was another one that might feel too modern, fresh for some. I play "Clash Royale" obsessively, so FREEMIUM came easily to me. You can get pretty good at the game with a free account (which I've proudly achieved; only taken me two years), or buy your way into greatness with premium in-game purchases.
There's so much open space in the two marquee corners that I would have thought the remaining two corners would be relatively easy to fill with color and cleanliness. I did like COACH K / STOOGE (I admit to making fun of Dukies; it's just too easy) in the SW, but the NE corner felt iffy.
A MOI isn't great to start; then I wondered how many normal folks would be elated by HYDROXYL, taking up a valuable long slot. (I'm a fan, as chemistry was one of my favorite subjects in school, so to drop it in with just a -OH reference felt great.) Then, Y SHAPE? I disagree with Sam here — not sure it works well as a stand-alone phrase. Toss in OPEL, and the entire corner felt shaky.
As much as I liked HIT JOB, I bet replacing it with something a little less sparkly would have given the corner a better net result.
A lot to love overall though: good use of long slots, plus mid-length entries like EMERALD TYMPANI AMPERE adding some color, sound, and sparks.
I can just see Sam tweeting about his puzzle today — MWA HA HA HA! indeed.
(What's with the extra HA on MWA HA HA HA? Have I been doing it wrong all these years; my arch-enemies still waiting for me to finish my diabolical laugh? Darn it.)
Some fun new entries, AARP CARD and NISSAN ROGUE my favorites. I wasn't a fan of the straightforward AARP CARD clue, but it's still such a source of entertainment when friends post their mixed feelings about receiving their AARP CARD in the mail. It's an alert that you're old, but hey, the deals!
Longtime readers might be surprised that I dug NISSAN ROGUE so much. Isn't it one of those things that if you don't know it, it's not going to do much for you? Yes, but I imagine marketers sitting around a table, brainstorming car names. "What's gonna sound cool and awesome and edgy?" they ask. "Ooh, let's call it the ROGUE!"
ORPHAN BLACK was one that fell into that "it's fine but didn't do anything for me" category. Thankfully it is two recognizable words, as is NISSAN ROGUE, but I've never seen the show, so it's tough to get excited about. And when you have to clue an entry in a long, dictionary-like way ...
(Doug Peterson and Sam Donaldson are going to kill me because we had breakfast a few years ago and they gushed about ORPHAN BLACK, but I still haven't gotten around to trying it out. Next on my list, I swear!)
I'm sure some will say that TMZ LIVE is an awesome and edgy show, but I could barely recall what TMZ was. Again, a bit too niche for my taste. I realize that I might be (probably am) in the minority here, considering the number of Google hits TMZ LIVE gets.
ZIKA VIRUS isn't something I want to be reminded of in my daily diversion, but I can see how it's a worthwhile crossword entry.
Overall, a lot of nice stuff worked in, the mid-length material helping to spice things up: MEERKAT, RIOT ACT, SEX TAPE, IRON MAN, MIRANDA all great.
Before you go sending that angry THIS F'IN PUZZLE MAKES NO SENSE! email to me, look at the fixed-up answers below.
Go on; I'll wait.
Get it? [Casting doubt on] isn't CALLINGINTSTION, but CALLING IN(TO QUE)STION, with the TOQUE "dropped" down.
(We've taken the liberty of highlighting the hats below, just in case it's still not clear.)
The first one I hit was THE BOOK O(F EZ)RA, and I embarrassingly thought that THE BOOK OF RA was some Egyptian offshoot of the Bible.
A Bible scholar I'm not!
We've seen plenty of these drop-down themes before, but I liked the discovery of TOQUE in CALLING INTO QUESTION and BERET in CYBERETHICS. Impressive to find five-letter strings within snazzy phrases.
I debated whether this was Sunday-worthy, or if it felt like a weekday puzzle outstaying its welcome.
WHY IT'S BETTER AS A SUNDAY
WHY IT'S BETTER AS A WEEKDAY
Ultimately, I think it would have been better shrinkified to a 15x15 grid.
Even though the theme itself didn't hold my attention throughout the entire solve, I enjoyed enough of the bonuses, a ton of stuff in ASTROPOP LEGO BLOCK CRAB LEG IMPOUND LOT BUNDLE UP. Helped keep up my interest; well worth the minor prices of ENCE ESTE SABE etc. It's a very tough technical execution, and Sam did it well.
Loved this concept, GO WEST YOUNG MAN = take phrases ending in LAD and move that young man all the way to the west. I'm usually not a fan of themes that result in bizarre-looking grid entries (nor is Will), but this worked well for me. Even if you don't know what a POWER BALLAD is (philistine!), it's easy to figure out what LADPOWERBAL started as. Just the right amount of kookiness.
My first reaction after solving was that I wanted different synonyms for "young man," to avoid repetitiveness. You know, BOY … uh … and ... BOYO … Welp, never mind. I thought there'd be a ton of synonyms, but things like SONNY and JUNIOR don't do it as well as LAD. Especially given the old-timey feel of GO WEST YOUNG MAN, I decided that using LAD each time was perfect.
I also like how Sam threw us a curve ball at the very end, using a LAD broken apart in its base phrase, SUPER BOWL AD. Some might say this is inconsistent, but the base phrase was so great that I didn't mind.
I wasn't wild about ENE, SSS, ADIG, or DABBA — the last can't really be clued except for the Fred Flintstone cry — but the total quantity of crossword glue was passable. And to get some great bonuses in SPACE LAB, ROOM TEMP, OIL BASIN made up for it.
Part of the reason for the crossword glue was that the grid is 16x15, which often makes for a surprisingly tricky construction. Along with Sam's choice to stick under the usual 78-word maximum, there was bound to be a little strain. I think it was a fine decision, although I might have personally gone to 79 words and tried to smooth things out just a touch. Personal preference.
I enjoyed the theme so much — and the sagacity of Sam's comments about constructor Sam vs. editor Sam, something that all constructors ought to take to heart — that I was all set to give this one the POW! There's one coming up that edged it out though. Sorry, Sam!
I love it when crosswords do bizarre things. It's so much fun to get a note from the NYT's production team that something weird is coming. And hoo boy, was something weird today! I solved on paper to make sure I got the proper experience, and it took me about twice as long as usual, given the twisty themers: THREAD, LACE, STRING going back and forth. We've done an animation below to help the themers stand out.
Honestly, I don't totally get the concept. It's fun to have these three words zigging and zagging. But why? A MESSAGE THREAD goes back and forth. But wouldn't the entire answer zig and zag, then? Is it just that the three different synonyms can go back and forth, like with sewing a … hem? Or like a shoelace?
I think I'm overanalyzing this.
For a puzzle like this, where the themers are short in the grid, the long bonuses are such an important source of entertainment and color. Loved some of it: EMAIL ACCOUNT, GYM SOCK, and BOAR HUNT. The clue for BOAR HUNT made it even better, participants going "hog-wild" = such great wordplay. Fantastic!
(Not so fantastic for the boar.)
But I was plus/minus on others: MADE IT BETTER felt a bit forced, not really making the puzzle better. IN ONE ACT had a partialish feel, I GET IDEAS was from a 1950 song, and ATOM MAN is an alter ego for Lex Luthor?
Things that make you say "huh."
It's tough to build around 1.) twisty theme answers that force a lot of constraints, and 2.) short themers, which necessitates a lot of long bonus fill everywhere in the grid. Dealing with both of these at the same time is no fun!
Overall though, I appreciate when constructors go all crazy and break the rules. This one didn't hit for me, but no doubt it will stick in my mind. Lots of puzzles tend to go in one of my ears and out the other, so it is an accomplishment to get something to lodge in.
That SE corner is brilliant. RADIO WAVE cleverly disguised as an [Air traveler?] + I CALLED IT! = OH HELL YES!
Something fun about that BBQ WINGS / PINTO BEAN combo, with GOON SQUAD up in the NW, too. (I wasn't sure what a NEODADAIST was, but what an interesting word.)
Along with some YAKETY YAK, PLAYS GOD, LOINCLOTH, MY FAIR LADY, man that's a ton — er, TONNE? — of good stuff all throughout.
I haven't DNFed (did not finish) a Saturday puzzle in a long time, but I was sweating it today. PERF is what the kids say today about … something PERFect? Huh.
There was a FDR JR? It looks like he was indeed called FDR JR by his family, so it's a fine entry, with an awesomely bizarre string of five consonants. Not knowing him was on me.
A couple of other toughies though — NEDLOW, SEA CHART, SAND PILE, PLAINTS? NEDLOW can be chalked up to my ignorance, as it's NED LOW, apparently a high-profile pirate of the "Golden Age of Piracy."
The others though, felt a tad off. I've seen plenty of tide charts, nautical charts, depth charts, but never heard them called SEA CHARTs.
SAND PILE is … a pile of sand?
PLAINTS? Like (com)PLAINTS? Hmm, maybe there's a crossword theme in there somewhere!
And the cluing for some of the short common answers. I think this puzzle was correctly placed on a Saturday because of all of the tough entries, but it's not much fun to wrangle with ["Who ___?"] just to struggle into ISN'T. Or "Ooh-la-la" for I LIKE? I don't like!
How is WIN the 1 in 1-9? Took me a lot of thinking post-solve (and a sheepish query to Jim) to figure out that it probably is the number of wins in a win-loss record? As in 1 win, 9 losses? What a bizarre clue.
A curious mix of delightful entries and Saturday-ed clues, making for a very tough solve. Such a feeling of relief to finally fill in the last box!
Delightful theme! I imagined Keanu's surfer persona shouting RADICAL MOVEMENT! to a classical composer (and eliciting strange stares). Keanu going up to a taxonomist (not a taxidermist, as I first thought) and yelling STELLAR CLASSIFICATION! = hilarious!
I was amazed at how many of these Sam and Byron came up with. I was even more impressed by how they made them non-obvious. The band SMASHING PUMPKINS is super familiar to me, so the tough clue — [Compliment to a vegetable gardener?] — was much appreciated. Every a-ha moment is so much more satisfying when you have to work for it.
Loved the theme. Could have easily gotten the POW! based on my smiles alone. I'm often bored by Sunday puzzles, but this one held my attention the entire way through.
I didn't love the fill though, not nearly as smooth as I would have expected out of these two masters. It wasn't bad by any means — about ten globs of ITA AMO OCTA IMRE AFIG kind of stuff, which is about average for a Sunday — but Sam and Byron are not average constructors.
They fell into the low-word-count trap, which I completely understand. It's fun to take on a ridiculously tough challenge like this. A Sunday 140-word puzzle is hard enough — achieving a great 128-word grid is like painting a masterpiece. While handcuffed. And blindfolded. With just a piece of beige chalk.
I firmly believe it's almost always better to be less ambitious. Stick with fewer pieces of great fill — a couple of ADDERALL, STILETTO, CLIF BAR, DATA LOSS kind of things are good enough — and make the rest of the puzzle elegantly smooth. It'd make for a better solving experience overall. Could have been an outstanding puzzle overall, rather than just above average.
Still, I loved the theme. So joyful and smile-inducing. Even with the problem I had with their gridwork decision, this was in POW! territory.
(Sam and Byron, now that you've both won multiple POW!s, I have to make you work even harder for them!)
A colorful trio anchoring this puzzle:
Cool grid pattern, so tough to fill in the SW / NE corners. I get why Sam used a trio of black squares in each location, as turning these types of corners can be so tough without them. Unfortunately, these cheater squares nibble away at precious long slots, reducing 6-Across from nine to just seven letters. I like AGA KHAN all right, but it's not nearly as good as PRINT RUNS to me.
A good amount of nice material in this one, SPORTS BAR, DNA BANK, PHOENICIA snazzing up the joint. But with just 11 long answers (of 8+ letters), and ARR DIA ALPH TRAN to hold it all together … it's a very tough grid pattern to fill to my POW! standards.
This is a good example of why themelesses featuring seven-letter entries can be so tough to construct. It might seem like it should be just as easy to make a seven-letter entry sing, as compared to even an eight-letter one. But wow is it tough!
Not only are there fewer letters to work with, producing fewer word / phrase combinations, but crosswords in general use seven-letter filler more often than longer stuff. That means that we regular solvers tend to see the same seven-letter entries relatively often, making them feel not as fresh as they once were. I HEAR YA is fun. But now that it's been used a bunch of times in the NYT, it's not as interesting to me.
Compare to GUMMY BEAR (debut) or IVORY SOAP (only one previous usage). Although IVORY SOAP isn't as fun as GUMMY BEAR to me, they're both neat entries that I don't see often.
All that said, I did like a lot of the seven-letter fill. BIG TIME, SMALL OJ, TOP TIER, even SOUPS UP are great phrases. And even a couple of strong single-worders in LACONIC, PAISANO and the devilish-sounding BILIOUS.
Such a fantastic clue in [It's found between the shoulders]. Yes, a HIGHWAY is between two shoulders! Wait. It's ROADWAY? What's a ROADWAY, you ask?
It's a road?
I liked David and Sam's efforts to spice up the grid by using a few headlining long entries. GUMMY BEAR was great, reminding me of my childhood and that annoyingly catching theme song from the GUMMY BEARs TV show (do yourself a favor and don't YouTube it).
SNIPER RIFLE had the opposite effect for me, given what's going on with school shootings. I know it's not exactly related, and the clue was great — "far-sighted" indeed! — but kind of a downer of an entry.
Solid work, if not a standout for me.
Nice work on those beefy 4x8 chunks in the NW / SE — so tough to execute on big swaths of white space without resorting to long blah entries or gluey short ones. There wasn't anything that wowed me in either corner, but overall, they came out solid.
Sam made his job even tougher by running long answers through them, DOT CO DOT UK and MYTHBUSTER giving the puzzle an even more open feel. I bet most other constructors who would dare tackle a 4x8 chunk would find a way to close it off, doing something like blacking out NED and BBS. Much easier that way.
There were a couple of BAD ACTORs holding those corners together, but nothing horrible. PARC is gettable through the crosses, and it's a fairly common word in titles of French paintings.
I had to stop and think about Robinson CANO. He's a big name here in Seattle, a coup to bring him over from the Yankees. He's … probably a big enough name to be crossworthy? Tough call; time will tell.
B CHORD also made me pause. I'm perfectly fine with B FLAT or KEY OF B or other common music terms. I'm not a guitar player though — I wonder if guitarist solvers will think nothing of B CHORD? For this cellist, it's kind of weird. Not as randomly bad as B STARS, but not as good as B SHARP.
I was sure ROIDED had to be wrong. Apparently, it is a term in use, though, as in "ROIDED out." Do yourself a favor and don't search that term on Google Images. Eew.
Speaking of eew, is DOT CO DOT UK legit? Not as solid as dot com, as in the dot com boom. But probably ... fine? After much deliberation, I'm still not sure!
Solid themeless, but not enough sizzling long stuff and too many entries I had to stop and weigh, to be in POW! contention.
★ OMG so frustrating for a good solid 10 minutes! I could not figure out what was going on. I had things like HURRICANE ___, and knew it had to be some sort of rebus. But what? And was I really supposed to remember the names of various hurricanes, for goodness sakes?
Wow, did everything flip for me when I *finally* got it. HURRICANE SANDY got reimagined as HURRICANE S and Y, the crossing answer using just the SY to complete NOT AS EA(SY). Mind-bendingly clever! Sam does make some PANDA puzzles — P and A for Puns and Anagrams — so that should have nudged me toward the puzzle theme much earlier. D'oh!
Jim once mentioned that he loved themes that were necessary to understand to solve the puzzle. I sort of got what he meant, but that notion fully clicked for me today, unable to figure out SANDY until I grokked the theme. Very cool.
I would have thought that the very limiting constraint of "word must follow the X AND Y pattern" would have produced some boring themers. Not so! LANDO CALRISSIAN, PANDA EXPRESS, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY made me a KID IN A CANDY STORE. Wonderful job of uncovering so many great phrases while adhering to a tough constraint.
A couple of minor dings here and there, most notably the GMEN / YEAH MAN dupe (crossing each other, oof), but I didn't mind at all because I was so delighted by the innovative theme. (Sorry Sam, I'm with Will and Joel on the iffiness of RIGHT FIT.) Along with super solid execution — some nice COMO ESTA, LEMME SEE, GO STEADY, AVE MARIA bonuses, with a pretty small amount of ignorable TGI, ECTO, DECI gluey bits — it was a big winner for me. POW!
Sam and Byron challenge themselves with an ultra-low word-count themeless! I've done enough of Byron's puzzles that I have a sense for what to expect: I tend to love a lot of his new, avant-garde entries, but I also squint at some of them. As soon as I saw how wide-open this grid was, I had a feeling I'd get some of both.
In particular, it's so hard to turn a corner like in the NW, with six long entries interlocking. The first triple is really good, especially considering the level of difficulty — HALL PASS / OLIGARCH / PIBB XTRA is a colorful bunch, even without the fun toilet humor in the HALL PASS clue. Great work, Sam!
ALICE FAYE … huh. She does appear to be a person. LIBERATES … not bad.
But then, LGBT RIGHTS! Elevated LIBERATES right next to it for me. I struggled with the entry at first, since "gay rights" is what I usually hear around Seattle, but LGBT RIGHTS is in high usage over at the ACLU's website. Nice debut.
It wasn't until I got to HAND EYE that I truly hitched. No, wait … EYE HAND? HAND EYE is so-so since it isn't usually seen without "coordination," making it feel partialish. And EYE HAND ...
(squinting at Sam)
COOKED KALE … I try to eat healthy. I eat a ton of kale. (Much to my wife's chagrin, after the fact. Ahem.) Don't think I've ever come across the term COOKED KALE on menus though.
SON OF ADAM, now there was a winner! I wasn't familiar with it, but it rolled off my tongue.
GAPPY … huh.
PAY A FEE … that is "a thing," but is it crossworthy?
TURN RIPE? Double huh. "Ripened," yeah?
I appreciated how much care Sam and Byron took in avoiding the short gluey stuff that's the usual downfall of themeless puzzles — OTB, EES. I would have happily taken a bit more of it though if that had allowed them to remove some of the squinty stuff mentioned above.
That said, I enjoyed the 64-word solving challenge, and there was more than enough KETEL ONE / HUNG OVER / STAGGERED (ha!), AREA CODE MAP, SPICE RACK kind of stuff to spice things up.
Rhymers, OKAY / OJ / OBEY / OSHEA / AU LAIT at the ends of themers. Bonus points for ending an entry with a J. That ...FOJ string looks so neatly bizarre! AU LAIT was an interesting one too, tougher to uncover than the others. I was expecting an O' somewhere (Cafe O'Lait = Irish coffee?).
Rhyming words have been mined for many crosswords, so it's important to go above and beyond with some extra layer. Here, I like Sam's tightness, nearly covering the solution space of O-?AY rhymers. The only other ones I could think of were OIL OF OLAY (oil of au lait?) and ANITA O'DAY. Something elegant about using a complete(ish) set.
CAFÉ AU LAIT is a great entry in its own right. MILO O'SHEA is definitely crossworthy, although he might be on the cusp of what an educated solver (especially a newer one) ought to know.
GLASS OF OJ … I hesitated at first, as the phrase didn't feel solid enough for my taste. But it's something I've said at diners, so I'm not sure why it didn't strike me as strongly as CAFÉ AU LAIT.
I had the same reaction to IS THAT OKAY. It doesn't feel like something I'd strive to work into a crossword. YOU WILL OBEY left me with the same feeling. Maybe I haven't been to enough hypnosis acts?
Audacious layout. I said DEAR GOD to myself when I turned up ETES and ESS within seconds of starting the grid — neither is friendly to beginning solvers. Thankfully, OTHELLO and TEA CADDY felt worthy of those prices.
KLATCH might be a toughie for newer solvers, as might be MALA fide. And the crossing of URBANA / AVEDA could be a trap that takes away a solver's feeling of accomplishment … if they guessed URBINA or URBENA I would be sympathetic. All in all, I would have preferred a grid layout that didn't push the Monday boundaries so much. Breaking up the four corners more would have been my preference.
Overall though, I appreciated that Sam gave us something a little more than a standard rhyming theme.
ADDED NOTE: Glad I read Sam's commentary! I didn't realize the short-short-short-long pattern of syllables! That's a neat extra layer. Wish there had been some revealer in the grid to point it out.
Recent college grad and newest member of the NYT crossword team, Sam peppered his grid with all sorts of fun entries. FOOD PORN, ha! It's so odd how often I see people photograph their food when they go out to eat. Just eat the dang food already! Love THE VOICE as well, and we get some FACT IS … kind of colloquialisms that I've come to associate with Sam.
Not all of them resonated with me, though. I'm sure REAL TALK is something the kids say these days. WHERE ARE YA isn't something I'd say, but that could easily be because I old-fashionedly stick to my guns on YOU, not YA. (And WHERE ARE YOU isn't super exciting as an entry to me. More an everyday utilitarian phrase.)
I much more prefer timeless entries like RAW FOOTAGE, a beautifully colorful phrase.
I wish I could say MATHLETE is timeless … it should be! (Says this former MATHLETE.)
I did stumble on a couple of entries, IT TEAM feeling not quite right (IT GUY or IT GURU or even IT PRO better), and B TYPE … I've donated blood around 125 times and never heard anyone say that. Lots of TYPE O, A POSITIVE, O NEG, etc., but B TYPE feels off.
Not a huge soccer fan, but REAL MADRID is such a snazzy entry. Love it!
And love that clue for Frank ZAPPA — "Sheik Yerbouti" indeed!
So many snappy, fresh-feeling entries — many of which I even knew! And that FOOD PORN / MUSTARD GAS / RAW FOOTAGE mash-up, what a vivid image that brings up. If only a few more entries had resonated, this could have been POW! material.
★ Loved this theme. I've seen a lot of reparsing ideas, but to get MARKINGS changed to M A R KINGS, clued as [Midas, Agamemnon, Richard]? Brilliant! PASSPORTS into P A S SPORTS and HUSBANDS into H U S BANDS were also delightful changes in meaning. DIATRIBES into D I A TRIBES and APOSTATES into A P O states brought the total to five fantastic examples. Loved, loved, loved the concept; wish I had thought of it.
And what a beautifully executed grid. A ton of bonuses — almost too much. Big corners chock full of DAD ROCK (hand bashfully raised here), ENTROPY (why hasn't anyone written a crossword about one of my favorite physics concepts yet?!), DRINKER, PAROLEE / GRENDEL.
I admit, I didn't actually read "Beowulf" when I was supposed to. But I like feeling smart that I recognize the name GRENDEL!
Big corners with juicy material were just the start, too. Some longer bonuses in LPGA TOUR and CLEAR SKY, as well as ARS NOVA, a COP CAR lurking, YOU BET! Man, that's a ton of extras.
My only complaint was that I forgot about DIATRIBES and APOSTATES when I was admiring the themers. I was all set to ding the puzzle for only having three themers in MARKINGS, PASSPORTS, HUSBANDS. A more traditional layout would have had DIATRIBES and APOSTATES going horizontally, perhaps roughly where LPGA TOUR and CLEAR SKY. This would have helped themers stand out on their own, as solvers have gotten used to the convention of "longest across entries are themers."
That's not to say flouting convention is bad. There is something pretty neat about DIATRIBES and APOSTATES interlocking PASSPORTS. That's tough to do, and only can happen when the crossword gods smile down upon you. But in this case, I felt like the wow factor of that interlock didn't make up for the fact that the theme and bonuses got muddled up for me. Especially since LPGA TOUR kinda sorta looks like it ought to fit with this theme. If you squint.
But that's a minor point I bring up just for the sake of balanced analysis. Great theme, marvelous execution overall, and such little crossword glue that I couldn't find any to point out (maybe GROSZ, but the finance guy in me likes that).
Nice work from Sam today. He starts with typical triple-stacks in the NW / SE, but I like how he sort of stacks a fourth long answer in NAME BRANDS on the top and PINA COLADA on the bottom. Offsetting a fourth long answer like this makes the stack much easier to build around (compared to putting four long answers atop each other), but it gives a similar feeling of jam-packed goodness. LEFT BRAIN / UGLY BETTY / TRAP QUEEN / NAME BRANDS = huge impact!
Well, huge impact for Fetty Wap fans. But even for us music idiots, at least TRAP and QUEEN are recognizable words, if not a recognizable song.
Also loved the featured SUMO MATCH and LOGARITHM in the other corners. I imagine there isn't that much overlap between Fetty Wap fans, Yokozuna enthusiasts, and math dorks, so it's nice to get something for everyone. Great to get those fantastic entries spread around the grid, giving an overall feel of being chock full of goodies.
TYRA BANKS and her term, "smizing" ... so impressive that she made it big in the modeling business, then parlayed that into business moguldom, and now a new word that actually feels interesting? Standing O for her!
A couple of blips in the short fill, A TEST the most notable. I feel like A BOMB or H BOMB is in the language, but A TEST (with all its constructor-friendly letters) … REUNES is a similar story. It is in the dictionary, but I'd feel silly saying I'm reuning with my MBA class this Friday (15th-year reune!).
XWORD I don't mind, although it felt a bit too insider-y. But mixing it up with the old NYNEX and BWAY = hmm. Maybe if these shortenings had been spread out, this trio wouldn't have jumped out as me so much.
Overall, enough great material to keep me satisfied.
11-letter entries can be tough to triple-stack cleanly, so HORROR MOVIE / AMERICAN ELM / NOBODY CARES with only a minor EMS to hold everything together = I sat back in admiration. Difficult task, strong execution.
Not having heard (or even heard of) "The LIFE OF PABLO" made this a tough solve for me. But I'm sure people with better music sensibilities will be elated by this marquee entry (maybe also by "We DEM Boyz" by Wiz Khalifa, too). Took me every letter to piece it together, and it didn't have much impact when I solved it. Maybe I'll listen and see what all the fuss is about.
Thankfully, I grew up with NOMOmania, HIDEO NOMO with that ridiculously awesome long windup. And although I don't watch "Entourage," I do know ARI GOLD from crosswords — ARI gets clued as [Agent Gold of "Entourage"] fairly frequently.
If you don't know all these featured folks, though, I think it'd be tough for the puzzle to resonate. Thankfully, it felt like all the crosses were fair.
Love, love, love BATTERY ACID as an entry, and its clue. Diner lingo fascinates me, and I had no idea there was offshoot lingo specifically for the military. (Off to an internet rabbit hole …)
Along with other great entries like ROE V WADE (although I wonder if that'll spark bad feelings in some), LAID AN EGG, ABOUT ME (for a bio), there was one innocent little clue that I thought stood out: [Joey of children's literature]. I've read over 800 middle grade and young adult books in the past few years, so I knew Joey Pigza right off the top. Except that the clue was referring to a baby kangaroo — specifically, the one from "Winnie the Pooh." Delightful!
I struggled with PESACH, a word I don't remember seeing before, but it being the Hebrew word for Passover, it seems fine. It's funny, though, how much one "odd" word can affect one's perception of a solving experience.
Strong grid execution, with little crossword glue necessary. I think this one might play well with a younger generation.
★ Timely puzzle, a tribute to DAVID / BOWIE. I like it when tribute puzzles have some added layer or are understated, so this one worked great for me. I didn't see GROUND / CONTROL / TO / MAJOR / TOM coming until I hit DAVID / BOWIE, for a nice a-ha. It's a memorable snippet from arguably Bowie's most recognizable song; a lovely way to remember a man who made such huge contributions to pop music and pop culture in general.
Sam has his own indie puzzle site, and it tends to run a bit too crude or "bro" for me, so I like the more subtle personal touches he put on this puzzle. I HEAR YA sounds so much like Sam, and the clues ["Well, aren't you something!"] for LADIDA and [Yes ‘n no"] for KINDA also carry his voice. Entries like NUMLOCK give the puzzle a younger, fresher feel, and starting the puzzle with YUKS is so pleasing. Well done.
Speaking of TO TASTE though, I don't really want to hear about diarrhea in my puzzle. I appreciate how beneficial IMODIUM is, but it wouldn't be at the top of my personal list to include in a puzzle.
Otherwise, nice and clean work. The only piece of fill that stuck out was IT ON, and that looks necessary given that IPOD NANO runs through three themers, and that north section is very constrained by two themers along its bottom. Just a minor ding, especially considering how much theme material there is.
I would have loved if DAVID BOWIE had been the final theme answer, so the a-ha moment would have come later — and seeing BOWIE to the left of DAVID was odd — but it's tough to squeeze in so much theme. If you can split up a themer into two parts like DAVID / BOWIE, it does give you more flexibility in a grid layout.
I've heard some solvers accuse constructors of morbidly pre-making a puzzle to commemorate a celeb's death — that's some bizarre thinking — but rest assured that this one was constructed afterward and swapped in at the last minute. As I understand it, it's not easy to go through the NYT's logistical process to do this, so I'm glad they did. Very nice tribute.
Nice offering from one of the 20-something constructors. I sometimes do Sam's puzzles on his indie site, and I must confess the vibe is sometimes way too young for me. I miss a lot of references as to what the kids say these days, I know virtually none of the current pop trivia, and his puzzles definitely race past the line of good taste (totally fine for an indie puzzle!). Today, Sam targets a broader audience with some great long entries like GLOW IN THE DARK, SPELLING BEE, RECORD CROWD.
I like the unusual arrangement, starting out with a shifted triple-stack pattern in the upper left. This allows him to run GLOW IN THE DARK as well as JEDI MIND TRICK (some references never get old to fanboys throughout the ages!) through the puzzle. Beautiful results; snappy entries without much glue.
I did wonder about AM I RIGHT though. Don't people mostly say/write AMIRITE? And BARF … do people really use that these days? It certainly used to be in vogue back in the 1990s, but has it made a resurgence?
And HOLLA? These types of little oddities highlight the differences in my and Sam's experiences and backgrounds. They all probably sound spot-on to people in his college class, but they gave me some head-scratching.
With a 70-word puzzle, I'd expect to see the gluey entries kept to less than five, and Sam does well there. NIRO always feels like a partial to me (DE NIRO is fine, of course), and MISDID strikes me as not really in usage. Perhaps it's appropriate for a particular sport or game or something? Along with the A COP partial, Sam keeps his liability count reasonably low.
A couple of clues snookered me, so I'll explain them:
Two of crossword's young guns team up for a two-fer today, theme answers which contain two words, each of which can precede CARD. This type of "both words can precede" theme sometimes results in tortured-sounding themers — it's a tough constraint to work with — so it's a good sign that I didn't pick up the gimmick until the very end. CREDIT REPORT, HOLE PUNCH, NAME CALLING, TRADING POST, and HIGH SCORE are all fairly colorful entries.
I also enjoyed getting a younger vibe to the puzzle, executed in a manner accessible to not just Alex and Sam's generation. VIP ROOM is great fill, and although it's something I'd doubtful ever get access to in real life, it was immediately understandable. CADDY clued as the nickname for Cadillac was nice, too. And ["Oh puh-leeze!" facial expression] for EYEROLL made me long for the (good) OLD DAYS. (In a good way, I promise.)
It was a curious SMASH-UP of cool entries like BIG PAPI and ones that didn't quite hit home for me. DO IT NOW felt a bit contrived, and the outdated ROZ / RAZR felt like something us 40-somethings would put into a puzzle. ACEY is something I usually try to avoid because it can really only be clued in one way. And in a puzzle about cards, it threw me off, making me wonder if it was part of the theme somehow.
Speaking of that, although I liked the implied phrases of CREDIT (card), PUNCH (card), CALLING (card), etc., I found it odd that HOLE (card) and HIGH (card) were related to the revealer, while the others were not. Felt like there was untapped potential somehow, perhaps to use those in a way so the puzzle ended with a bigger bang than PAIR OF CARDS, which sounds like a dictionary definition.
Overall, a good amount of nice material on a tough construction. As Alex mentioned, ending with a 12-letter entry creates all sorts of difficulties. I particularly liked the creativity in where they placed PAIRS OF CARDS; unusual.
It made me sad when TGI Friday's announced their "bottomless appetizers" — I would have been all over the MOZZARELLA STICK when I was 20, or even 30, but I couldn't handle it now. Stupid digestive system getting more finicky and (description redacted due to breakfast test violations).
Sam goes big, not only using the standard four sets of triple-stacks in the corners but also connecting them, running MOZZARELLA STICK across the middle and SAFETY BELT and HOLD ON A SEC from top to bottom. Even with all that, he manages a really nice SE stack: LIVE RADAR, ECOLOGIST, and the crazy looking SKYY VODKA. Great answers, well done there.
So much interconnect all throughout the grid often causes filling problems. Check out the NW. Even with TONY DANZA's Z, working through that triple-stack on its own is not super hard. Now, throw in MOZZARELLA STICK to constrain things, fixing that M and O into place. Sure, you can still come up with some great answers like BRAIN GAME and OH I FORGOT, but can you do it without the ugly –IFY and AINT I next to each other? Tough task once you fix a few letters into place.
In the NE, SAFETY BELT is a pretty good answer. But once you fix the S A F in place, your choices for marquee answers drop by a big factor. I like FULL TIMER. ALAN-A-DALE isn't really in ROBIN HOOD's stratosphere, though. Or MAID MARIAN. Not even FRIAR TUCK. ALAN-A-DALE has such a friendly alternating vowel consonant pattern that it's quite useful in crosswords, but this guy seems pretty far down the list.
And while the SEVEN IRON is a useful club, so is the SIX IRON. And the FIVE IRON. (ad nauseam) I'm not a golfer — that's what other golfers tell me on the course, anyway — but if anyone knows of a type of shot only a SEVEN IRON can make (a trick shot, even better!), that sort of specificity would have elevated this to a great entry / clue.
Loved the clue for ABYSS — unfathomable, indeed. The fact that it didn't need a question mark (which would have given away the game) made it even better.
Some strong entries in today's puzzle, with BBQ SANDWICH and BLISTER PACK singing to me. The former makes my mouth water, and the latter is the focus of one of my product design projects during my first (engineering) career. You'd be amazed at how much work goes into foil thickness, adhesive selection, failure mode and effects analysis, etc. (amazed... or asleep, perhaps).
I like the variety today. Sam shortens up his NE and SW corners, putting more onus on the across entries to carry the puzzle's snazz. A nice example of a constructor experienced enough (how old is this kid, anyway?) to be able to create his own block patterns to fit the entries he wants. To get up to that point of construction skill is no mean feat.
I got a hint of choppiness during my solve, and I couldn't figure out why until I studied the grid. So many three-letter words — a whopping 18 of them. Typically Will prefers 12 or fewer, and there's a good reason for that: most have been used so frequently in crosswords that a super-hard clue is sometimes needed in order to keep the solver from blazing through the puzzle. I found myself stuck in the NE with nowhere to go, for example. Using so many three-letter words can allow for a higher number of headline entries (or longer ones), but there's a price to pay. And if you do need to lean on the heavier glue (LA-Z, SDI, INO), the effect can be less elegant than desired.
Still, there are a great number of strong 11-letter entries. That length occurs less frequently than 10's and 9's and 8's in themelesses, because using an 11 usually means pairing it with a three-letter word. So it's a treat to get EZER WEIZMAN's full name in there, as well as TRAIN SIGNAL and its nice clue, misdirecting the solver to a music conductor.
Fun to see another one from a strong pair, wizened Judge Vic and the young Skywalker padawan. Er, Ezersky. If history tells us anything Vic, you might want to check Sam's dark-side pockets for light sabers. Seriously though, I enjoy seeing collaborations, and an established one that has this much fun working together gives me a great big smile.
A lot of strong material today, anchored by the nice central grid-spanners, ANAKIN SKYWALKER and FACEBOOK FRIENDS. They go big with the grid design, not just satisfied with four additional sets of triple-stacked corners. It would have been easy for them to section off the SW and NE corners to make them easier to fill (similar to how the NW and SE corners dead-end), but they chose to go for 1.) more puzzle flow and 2.) two additional long answers in JOE CAMEL and KING SIZE. I like how open those two corners are, giving the solver multiple ways in.
That decision did cost them a little, in various entries such as ARNE (not the most famous of cabinet members) and ONE AM (an arbitrary time) and JER (as much as I love Seinfeld, this answer looks so odd to me). Still, the overall effect is well worth the trade-off.
Speaking of the dark side, finding an ENERGY BAR in a SEWER LINE (and eating it George Constanza style) TASTES BAD all right. Not an image I can get out of my head unfortunately now. (Someone pass me a light saber for an emergency lobotomy.) It won't bother everyone, but if it grossed me out, I bet others will feel similarly. TASTES BAD also seems a bit arbitrary to me, opening up the door to TASTES GOOD, TASTES SALTY, TASTES FISHY, TASTES LIKE AN ENERGY BAR I FOUND IN THE SEWER LINE. All in all, it's a reasonable answer, just not one I would consider stellar at the big-impression 1-Across location.
Normally, I don't care for cross-referenced clues, which make you jump all over the grid. I ignore them most of the time, unless the two entries are close in proximity. But today I appreciated the SITS / BANC cross-ref, since it helped me finish the tough NW corner (in which I was stuck). It helped improve the quality of my solve, and that's really the most important factor to any puzzle.
I loved seeing PO-PO in the grid! I only heard the term a few years ago, but it stuck in my head. I like getting a bit of slang worked in. Too much goes away from what makes this the NYT puzzle, but every once in a while a piece of good (and up-to-date) slang does wonders. To my delight, WHAT'S UP G? has been used (although I've only heard the "more correct" WHAT UP G?). The first time one of the kids I work with said YO WHAT UP G? to me I was baffled. Gave him the silent head nod, and that seemed to be acceptable.
Finally, some beautiful clues. Some of my favorites were actually DERIDE and ONUS, with two seemingly innocent clues. [Knock sharply] threw me off track, thinking about RAP AT THE DOOR, and [Large charge] felt like it should be AMEX BILL or MEGACOULOMBS. But my top choice today was [Outerwear for moguls?], which misdirected to ITALIAN SUITS or something. Great a-ha when I figured out that the moguls were referring to ski slope moguls.
★ Beautiful work today out of the SAY HEY KID himself, Sam, one of the prodigies of the crossworld. Talk about a tough construction today. Sam starts where most themeless constructors finish, with two sets of triple-stacked 8's and two set of 10's. Then he connects the 8's across the middle of the grid. And then uses two more long answers to connect that central answer to the 10's. Finally, he throws in a couple more 7's and 8's to boot! And with such snazzy results, the overall pa-pow is impressive.
What's really outstanding about this puzzle is how effectively Sam manages to use his long spots. Everything from MAKES A MESS to TOP HONORS to SLAM DANCED to SAY HEY KID, such awesome answers in the corners. But it doesn't stop there — ALASKAN KING CRAB across the middle? MURDER INC, one of my favorite entries in recent memory as a connector? Out of 17 (!) slots for 8+ long entries, I really liked (or loved) 13 of them, and the other four were fine. A really impressive hit rate.
And the cluing. As with any strong Saturday, I expect a handful of clues that push me one way and give a great a-ha when I finally find my footing. [Bond film?] was really nice ("bond" as in glue, not "Bond" as in "Bond, James Bond"), [One hanging by a thread?] made me think of SPIDERS or TRUANTS or something, so TASSEL provided me a smile.
This puzzle is not going to be for everyone, as some hold the opinion that any puzzle with a handful of GLUE entries cannot be stellar. I'd certainly agree that I'd prefer not to have ODO, ABAA, and especially A POSE (DIETZ I'm still on the fence about), but I find these well worth the price for the TEAPOT DOME / BABA O'RILEY / BOY SOPRANO / ABOUT THAT snazziness.
My one hesitation, and it was big enough that I waffled whether or not to give this the POW, was the clue for ALASKAN KING CRAB. Sometimes I feel like a clue is trying too hard, or comes off too cutesy, or in this case, a bit creepy. I'm all for fun or funny innuendo, but there was something icky to me about the juxtaposition of "luscious legs" and eating crab legs (perhaps it evoked an image of George Costanza (from "Seinfeld") mixing his favorite pleasures?). Even the "long, luscious legs" phrase made my skin crawl a bit. Surely others will laugh at this clue, but I bet there will be others like me that were uncomfortable with this language. It's too bad that it was at the centerpiece entry.
ADDED NOTE: I had an enlightening conversation with Jim, who thought the aforementioned clue was fantastic. It's always eye-opening when I hear an opinion so different from mine — nice to get the reminder that most everything in art is subjective.
Overall, I thought this puzzle was dynamite. TOP HONORS to Sam this week.
What a nice construction today. This type of grid arrangement, with an 11-letter entry in the middle, can be difficult to fill because that central entry (sort of) divides the puzzle in two, creating big corners of white space to fill. But Sam and Vic do an admirable job in their fill.
Aside from the main theme answers (which lead to SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS), there is SO much goodness all throughout the grid. Any big corner like the SW or NE is bound to have drab and or unpleasant fill, but look what's packed in the SW: NEW ISSUE (I have an MBA* so this totally appeals to me), IRKSOME, NOSE BAG all in parallel, with ORWELL crossing it. There are a few compromises, but ESSA and ASSN are pretty minor offenders.
In the NE, RAN OUT ON and SIGN FOR are very good. And call me crazy, but I don't agree when people gripe about ETAIL (or ETAILER). It's a legitimate term, seen frequently in business. Aside from that can of worms, everything is relatively smooth and clean. Nice work.
I wasn't a huge fan of the theme itself, as we've seen SPONGEBOB a few times recently in the NYT xw, giving him a bit of an overused feel. I am glad they changed FANCY PANTS to BOSSYPANTS, since theme consistency is preserved (THINGAMABOB and BOSSYPANTS are both one word, while BATH SPONGE and TIMES SQUARE are two).
All in all, not a standout theme, but a very nice job of making a snazzy and enjoyable puzzle.
*Mostly worthless but two very fun years of debauchery