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Samuel A. Donaldson author page

39 puzzles by Samuel A. Donaldson
with Jeff Chen comments

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Samuel A. Donaldson
Puzzles constructed by Samuel A. Donaldson by year

Sam Donaldson is a law professor at Georgia State University.

Thu 2/8/2024
CAPTCHASFLATTEN
OHBEHAVELINEAGE
PASSOVERUNDERGO
TIEAPBDON
ORDERINOUTLAYS
TARESEPIGRAM
TSABARUSOFA
OPPOSITESATTRACT
SEVENSMHNTH
ENGINESARTIE
HANDOFFONLEAVE
MELOLDAPP
PATDOWNUPCHARGE
ETHICALSAHARANS
GHOSTLYTWOSTEPS
Wed 5/3/2023
CUPSFANGSKIR
OGREAFOOTSERA
WHOCANITBITENOW
TOMEUROZONE
BEEICYSSRBOG
ITSAGOODTITHING
KATMANDUNEO
ELSAACAPARK
ZAXAMERICAN
IGUESSITSFINITE
NATDANOTODEW
GLOMONTOJAW
OOPSIDIDITAGAIN
TRIGOMITSASKS
SEASEETORHEA

Adding (or subtracting) two letters is commonplace in crosswords, and IT has been done many times. You have to spice things up if you're going to do it again, and Sam did just that by making me imagine him on the classic Britney cover. Stop playing with my heart, Sam!

Don't you think Sam would look awesome in teal leather?

It's been ten years since Sam lived around the corner from me in Seattle — ah, the good old days. Speaking of old, OOPS I DID IT AGAIN is over 20 years old? UGH!

Speaking of UGH … EFT. I don't mind a bit of ACA AMSO TSO here and there, but some dabs of glue are stickier than others. EFT hearkens back to the bad old days when crossword insiders took pleasure in knowing things that kept noobs away.

Sam often pushes the boundaries, and no doubt the bonuses of EUROZONE, AMERICAN, PROTESTS, XS AND OS, ACID WASH — plus the mid-lengthers of KENOBI and INGOTS — are less GO BUST and more UTOPIA. I prefer a cleaner overall product, though, especially when you have to include the variant KATMANDU. Moving the block above the R in AMERICAN down one row could have helped.

Something is to be said for zazzing up the grid at the cost of some chaos. It is Britney, bitch.

Love Sam's SEA shout-out! I'm not a hockey fan, but it's been fun to experience Jim Horne's Kraken zealotry secondhand.

It's tough to make an "add IT" concept memorable, but Sam's play on the Britney song helped.

Sun 2/12/2023 Cheap Thrills
WIGMAAMTCBYBOPS
AHMEDISCOOREOIKEA
SLEETINFERRUNGCRAL
CUTTINGCORNERSIFEAR
IMSNOSIRLEAPSON
ASTINBIODEMONRUM
PINCHINGPENNIESDIANA
ALOHATLCPROMDATES
NOBPDAALAMOSAYLESS
ASISEEITNADAREC
MEGSALBUMASSETEGIS
ISLSTABPREPRINT
MINIPIGTOUCHANINDA
OPENHOUSETOEROSIN
ASONESTRETCHINGABUCK
NONGRATAYEAMARTS
GENOMICARNIEBTU
HOLSTMAKINGENDSMEET
FOWLIDEMDALAIHORDE
WHEECURBEPODEIBEX
DONESASSDEWYPSA

Fun to get more cheap thrills after we had a CHEAP THRILL two days ago. Like all good Asians, I love little more than getting a great deal. One of my most memorable days of 2022 was when I purchased a broken Cuisinart at a yard sale for four bucks and fixed it. My friends quickly got tired of hearing the legend of the $150 food processor — forget about PINCHING PENNIES and focus on squeezing some Jacksons!

And like all good cruciverbalists, I love me some wordplay. MAKING ENDS MEET hauled ass, four synonyms for "ends" meeting in the middle of the puzzle. So well-hidden in INCAN, ASSET, BUTTE, and ALBUM, too.

Second play on BUCK this week! STRETCHING A BUCK gave us doubled SSIINNGGLLEE, along the same lines as Christina's previous literalisms puzzle, but it didn't work as well this time. Maybe it was the required mental leap from BUCK to SINGLE? This doubling stretched plausibility.

I wasn't hot on BI(CENT)ENNIAL (CENT)ER, because it was so hard to change mindsets and allow the possibility of not just a single rebus square, but a pair of them. CENT isn't easy to imagine in there, either — this geography dummy ARAL as a US time zone and didn't look back. Especially with the BICENTENNIAL CENTER being outdated, I'd have preferred something easier to spot, like A (PENNY) SAVED IS A (PENNY) EARNED.

I enjoyed Christina's last take on literal interpretations more than this one, but it's hard to resist the allure of an Iverson / Donaldson collab; two of my favorite crossworld people. Fun vibe with such fun clues like a PIRATE SHIP being an antagonist on the main and dancers having a ball at a DISCO.

POW Sun 11/13/2022 Collision Courses
PEDDLESCOOPSLIBIDO
ANORAKAQUANETANACIN
POLICERUSTIERMANANA
ALEVEGOASHORESIGNED
WADERRATNSECLOTSA
LASERTAGTAKEROOT
LEGTEEELLESREDONE
AXEHEADREARUPLIZ
TONESCRIERSTAPIR
ITTYFRANKENFOODNINA
FILMAEROOVUMIRAN
ACERBUMPERCROPSEATS
HARDGPARLORASTRO
JIFSOLOEDNFLTEAM
ATSFLUBAKERIAMDPS
COMATOSESMACKDAB
TRUTHCURLGLOMEETS
INGOODCHIMESINALLAN
VAGARYLOVESTOETOILE
EDESSAIDEATESMENTOR
SORTEDDARTERURGENT

★ The hilarity in [What might prompt a run for congress?] is worth a POW! all by itself. There wouldn't be such a huge divide if there was more LIBIDO in Congress!

I miss the days when Sam used to live close by. Always so warm and funny, Sam has such a neat variety of interests. Inspired by his baking birthday cakes for his nieces and nephews, I bake my kids' birthday cakes. For some, I've declared I NAILED IT, and some are worthy of Nailed It! Frankenfood is right.

I enjoyed the dual revealers, both FRANKENFOOD and BUMPER CROPS hinting at the interplay between pairs of foods. Each one uses a different element of wordplay, too. BUMPER CROPS was my favorite, since in an alternate universe, I spend all my time hustling in pool halls. I enjoyed seeing the foods bump into each other and carom off.

FRANKENFOOD was less direct since it needed the word "crossings" in the clue to show relevance, but forming those six crosses was still cool.

One ding that may make you say I'm a ding-a-ling: it's easy to find these sorts of crossing food possibilities since there are so many foods to choose from. Additionally, BEET and CORN are easy to incorporate, not nearly as impressive as SQUASH. I'd MOVE MOUNTAINS to feature some longer ones like PLANTAIN.

It's usually best to avoid big ol' honking corners — few enjoy working hard only to uncover SMUGGER DYAD EDESSA, and SNERT is no comics ETOILE these days. I'd have been fine losing GIFT HORSE, breaking it at the H, thus making the SW and NE much more tractable.

Sunday 21x21 puzzles are so time-consuming that you have to work to keep solvers engaged. That doesn't have to be through an amazing theme, since great bonus fill or a-ha-inducing clues can also achieve that goal. Today's puzzle is a great example of sheer quantity of cluing wordplay making for so much fun — NFL TEAM as a "hiking group" is worthy of a touchdown dance.

Great puzzle for casual Sunday solvers.

POW Thu 6/30/2022
DATAAURORASAG
EXECPROVESEVA
VENDNGMACHNES
CREEDEBARK
MAREANTONETTE
ALONGTRAPLEST
PETARDOHARA
COVERYOUREYES
ATEUPKNELLS
CHARGREYODOUR
DETROTREDWNGS
CATERSLENO
ALLNONEPRNTER
SEEOPENERYULE
ERETHEORYXBOX

★ It's hard for me to be objective regarding anything Sam and Doug do because they're two of the funniest, most humble, greatest people in the Crossworld. I love them both. And when they come out with a Thursday trick that flips me from infuriatingly frustrated to euphorically delighted, I'd double-POW! it if that were possible.

I'm all too familiar with COVERing my EYEs, given that a friend's attempt to inure me to horror movies twenty years ago resulted in me still carrying zombie repellent everywhere I go. So surely, once I uncovered COVER YOUR EYES, I should have figured out what was going on. Nope, only more fast-zombie-level fear that I'd never crack it open. NG MACH? EANTO? NONE PR? Talk about bad ODOURs.

What a mixture of relief and joy when I finally understood that the two Is in each entry were covered under black squares! VEND(I)NG MACH(I)NES, MAR(I)E ANTO(I)NETTE, DETRO(I)T RED W(I)NGS, ALL (I)N ONE PR(I)NTER.

And there was yet another a-ha to be had! Look at the three clues to VEND / NGMACH / NES. Mechanical / Snack / Dispensers. The other three themers work similarly: French cake advocate, Atlantic Division skaters, and Home Office convenience.

I could ding the gridwork, with its excess of ELO RECD ROM ROTO etc., and DEBARK is a bit of an odd duck. These might have been minimized with different themer selections, especially considering there are many options for each I I pattern. However, it takes more than some gloop to bring down a great theme. It's also much harder than it looks to grid around a multitude of short themers, so the constructor in me took that into consideration.

It's so rare that a Thursday trick will make me yell CAN GETAW TNESS. Such a neat use of black squares as CLOAK NGDEV CES.

Sun 7/12/2020 CHORES GALORE
IGLESIASJEMIMAORATE
DUALROLEOSIRISNOTAX
TAKEOUTTHETRASHPATTI
AVECARIDOTHEDISHES
GARTHADSSEAATTEST
EINSTEINPONCHO
SWEEPTHEFLOORVSHAPED
OILSHAVENICEMETA
WIIGMESAPOORATRON
NUMEROUNOGOTOTHEBANK
SIAADMITITALE
SORTTHEMAILNIBBLESON
UDOEUROPAAGEENIKE
MIDIAROMASSAYLAW
ONENESSPICKUPTHETOYS
WEAKERHERESHOW
SCARRYAIGDIEHOSER
PAYTHEBILLSCPASURI
INIGOCLEANTHEGUTTERS
TONALCANDIDRUNSAMOK
SENSESTEEPSSECURELY

Can you imagine how much it would stink, being an employee at a bowling alley, being told to go CLEAN OUT THE GUTTERS? Both the inside and outside ones, seriously? Talk about doing double duty!

Even worse, being responsible for paying league royalties to the franchises, and your punster boss telling you to PAY THE BILLS — the BILLS' bills? I'd be calling the union right about then.

I'd have loved more playful clues for the themers. SORT THE MAIL is already a thankless task, and it becomes even less interesting when you have the negative connotation of "chore" in the clue. Make it [The RenFaire office boy finally got to be a knight! Then his boss ironically made him …]. That's too long and convoluted, but I'd love a chance to brainstorm a more smile-inducing way to present these themers/clues.

RODEWAY INN baffled me, but it turns out they're all over the country, with a few right here in Seattle. RIDEWAY sounded more plausible, and UDI as a Japanese vegetable ... sure, why not.

Bzzt!

Sam's Orca Award writeups are always one of the annual highlights of the crossworld blogosphere. In an era where so many folks find ways to throw shade and pick apart artistic endeavors — I'm as guilty as anyone sometimes — it's great to have someone who serves as a beacon of light and hope.

Sam is one of the reasons I wanted to pick a POW! every week, so I could praise great work. He's one of my favorite people in both the crossworld and real worlds; his positivity an example I strive to follow.

Wed 8/21/2019
CHALKEOSORCAS
RANINSCHPAULA
ERATOTHESECRET
DELETEDSCENE
FTCATFBAG
TERMSHEETINUSE
EVEOOXFRESNO
REFERENCELETTER
ENURESODELAG
SIENAENTERHERE
AFLRAMCOO
MERCEDESBENZ
SEVENTEENINNIE
AWARDERATORTE
GENESDOSABYSS

Great concept, e-words playfully hinting at descriptive phrases containing no vowels except E. E-sign usually means to complete an electronic document, but today it clues ENTER HERE.

Fantastic range of themers, too. I liked that Sam ended with an insider's nod to constructors, who have to sometimes resort to gloopy bits like EMAG. Funny to see it in a featured role today, as a clue for SEVENTEEN.

Although many long words and phrases contain no vowels but E — Cathy Allis did an entire Sunday puzzle like this — it's brilliant to link them to e-words. Bravo!

Not so laudable was the choice to squeeze in seven of them. As much as I appreciate the wide range, it's too much to pack into a 15x15 grid. The biggest problems come in areas where down answers must cross three themers, like ECHOES. It creates grid inflexibility and leads to horrible things like OOX. When you have to resort to random strings of letters, it's time to rethink grid design.

Entries like HOBNOB and ROSITA are great bonuses, and any grid needs to sport a few sparkles to keep up solver interest. How I 'ate to see things like 'ENRY, though. It didn't make that corner a total ABYSS, but it'd have been better to have just one bonus down there while keeping things smoother.

It would have been a different case if there hadn't been so much AS NEAR, DNAS (Will Shortz called this out as a near puzzle-killer once), and a slew of incidental e-entries: EDT EERO ERN ESTD.

Sam is one of my favorite people in the crossworld, and he comes up with some of the most entertaining themes of any constructor. Today's hit the mark again, but the gridwork sadly dragged down the puzzle as a whole.

POW Sun 5/5/2019 PAPER WORK
CARATALCOHOLSPRAWLS
EVITABEGUILETRAMWAY
LOTTERYTICKETREMAINS
SWANKESTHERWINELIST
WASURANUS
ANCHORBUILDINGPERMIT
MORANEMMAPTASHADE
BOARDINGPASSORGODOR
LDSOLEOSELANTRAELI
ELHILENERASABBA
RECORDDEALSHEETMUSIC
YUGODISHDVISPAR
CAMSIGHSATSWANSLGE
REBATRASEATINGCHART
ORALBERSEDENHOSEA
COLLEGEDIPLOMASOTHEN
DONATEMAO
CONTRACTTSKBELLYRUB
ONEIOTABREAKFASTMENU
TURTLERAIRLIFTICEIN
SPOOLEDSEABASSEASTS

★ It's not often that I have a Sunday solving experience that delights from start to end — today's hit that mark! Made me a real laughing boy. Amusing re-interpretations of "___ PAPER" phrases — so many great ones! A LOTTERY TICKET as [Scratch paper?] was a perfect way to kick off the puzzle. I used to love scratching McDonald's Monopoly game tickets. Not that I ever won anything, but oh, that anticipation.

[Fly paper?] as a boarding pass? Maybe a bit stretchy grammatically, but it was so amusing that I didn't care.

[Crepe paper?] Oh, as in crepes on a BREAKFAST MENU! Genius that all of these answers are real phrases, in the language!

And SEATING CHART, the best of all. It's doubly apt for Sam, the law professor, who likely has used a SEATING CHART in his day — and written his share of "position papers"!

Sam and Doug are two of my favorite people in the crossworld — could easily be in the top two. Such fun to see their humor and wit come through today. I suppose a review should try to be unbiased, objective. But my commentary, I get to do what I want. So there.

I'm privileged to know these fine gentlemen, happy to consider myself their third Stooge. (Okay, I'm Larry Joe at best. But I'll take it.)

Constructors out there looking to make a Sunday grid, take note of the delightful bonuses: CRASH CYMBAL. GREEN CARD. SCHOOL TIE. STRING ART. TAE KWON DO. BELLY RUB! MADE A SPLASH is so appropriate. They do it right — work in about half a dozen great long fill bonuses, and you make solvers happy.

Their short fill wasn't perfect, mind you. Quite a bit of ABM AERO DVI ELHI IMA … that's a doink in the eye. But think about the qualities of everything I've listed. It's all 1.) short stuff, 2.) easy to figure out from the crossing answers, and 3.) largely innocuous. As long as you stick to the usual suspects — the tiny minor offenders — it's gloss-over-able.

The puzzle accomplished what so few Sunday puzzles do these days — held my attention from the first to the last square. That's no doubt worthy of a POW! (The good kind, not the kind when Moe slaps your head. Wise guy.)

Mon 4/15/2019
CAMMAGADHERES
OREAGELEADERS
NRAGANGESRIVER
TENNISRACKET
RATESEPEASE
ARTEMISMIDDLEC
SODAHIRELEO
ASIRECALL
ZIPONYXTACK
ALDENTEGRAPHIC
PLAYRAEEINE
EASTERISLAND
DOLLARSIGNSNEA
ROBERTALETTAR
SHOTPARERSIRS

This puzzle belongs in the NYT's celeb series, and given a high ranking within it.

No wait, hear me out! Jill and I recently worked with an estate planner recommended to us by Sam. Everything was going normally until the planner asked us how we got his name.

"SAM DONALDSON?!" he said in a fanboy squee. "THE SAM DONALDSON?"

Then he got up and did a little happy dance. And screamed, "THAT GUY'S A ROCK STAR!"

He proceeded to tell us all about how Sam commands rooms, turning dull material like tax codes and legal loopholes into Vegas-like performances.

When he finished, Jill and I looked to each other in awe. It was like finding out your friend is secretly King of some not-so-small Polynesian island.

The celeb series works best when the featured person does a puzzle related to their profession or something they're well-known for. This one was perfect for a tax professor, the letters IRS reformed into the five other possible configurations. Solid wordplay.

Patrick and Sam did a great job selecting colorful themers, too, with all six possible combinations breaking the I R S sequence across at least two words. Perfect.

Not so perfect was some of the fill. Not a surprise, given the theme density. Stacking two themers in a theme-dense puzzle often makes the layout easier, but in today's case, I think it wasn't the right choice. Check out how GANGES RIVER sits atop TENNIS RACKET, for instance. With the black squares in the middle forcing a big NE corner, we get ERE and the audit-worthy SSR, just to start the puzzle.

Toss in SSTS EINE SRTA LBO (leveraged buyout), and I couldn't give it POW! consideration, no matter how fun the theme or its connection to Sam. Especially on a Monday — newb solvers shouldn't be forced to stare at both SSR and SSTS, wondering why crosswords hate normal people so much.

What a shame. Loved the concept, the themers, and the perfect timing / perfect person to pull it off. A bit more finesse and it woulda been a POW! contender.

Tue 1/15/2019
CRUSHBASEMOHS
HENIEOXENIRAN
ITSMYTREATCITI
CANISEETREED
OPALDRINKSONME
SEGALSNEAKTAS
RONSTLWAIT
ILLGETTHEBILL
ATOYWRYLIZ
NCCIDOLSCASCA
YOURMONEYSRAHS
LUTESNOODGES
UPINNOGOODHERE
CLODGRADDALIS
KENSOOPSSTYES

I miss Sam. He used to live not that far away from Jim and me, but he moved about five years ago after getting married. Doing his puzzles always reminds me of how hilarious and interesting he is. Always makes me smile.

Speaking of smiling, how can you not like people buying you drinks? We see ON ME as a piece of crossword fill all the time, and I always think it sounds like a partial. (ITS) ON ME, right? Or DRINKS ON ME! I wonder if being a crossword constructor, using ON ME, subconsciously gave Sam the idea for the theme. Amusing to get the insider's nod.

Long bonuses in the fill are a big reason why "good" crosswords stand out from the "bad." (Think about that crappy crossword in your local paper that's probably generated by a computer.) The puzzle would have given me joy because of WIZARD HAT alone.

I liked LOCUTION, too. Not an everyday word, but one that's gettable from the more common "elocution." The word nerd in me approves.

IT COUPLE and ANY LUCK were nice, too. But they weren't worth the price of ATOY, NCC, UPIN. It would have been a different story if the rest of the puzzle had been perfectly clean, but NETH NGO ORO RAHS SOO ...

I would have preferred using black squares to split ANY LUCK at the L, and SNIDEST at the D. This would have created more 3-letter words, verging on a choppy solve, but it would have allowed for both more smoothness and color. ORIENTAL doesn't do much for me — perfectly fine as the Monopoly property, but I've had enough of being called Oriental — so something as strong as WIZARD HAT or NOODGES could have been made possible in the NE by adding the black squares.

Solid theme, but I could have used a bit more refinement in the gridwork.

POW Tue 6/12/2018
CLAWMELTHIPPO
OUCHEMIRONTAP
NADAMISOOKAYS
SUCTIONPUMPS
ABIENILMOT
WATERMOCCASINS
SHIRTSBEEURSA
TOREHADPIER
EDDASAMGREATS
PARTYPLATFORMS
STYOAFBOOS
JUSTFORKICKS
GONOWIROCZONE
EMOJIMANEEVEN
EGGONEYESDEED

★ I love an early-week puzzle that's JUST FOR KICKS! (KICKS is what the young kids call shoes these days. Well, not anymore now that I've started to use the term myself.)

Such a hilarious image of a cat burglar, walking upside-down across a ceiling in fashionable SUCTION shoes. Love it! And PLATFORM shoes no doubt make you the life of the PARTY. Great repurposing of the common political phrase, PARTY PLATFORM.

WATER MOCCASINS wasn't as amusing to me, as you can't see synchro swimmers' feet that much, but it worked well as a kooky redefining of the moccasin snakes.

I liked the theme notion so much that I would have loved a fifth themer. But not sure what that could be — maybe FLATS, in TORTILLA FLATS? HEELS, in TAR HEELS?

Totally fine to stick to four though, especially if you're going to buckle down and make the grid great. So much room for bonuses in the fill and Sam and Tracy didn't disappoint. MEMOIRS, TROUNCED, G FORCES, HOOPLA, SUPERSIZED? WHAT A TREAT! Sam and Tracy, YOU WIN!

Note how well they spaced out their bonus fill, alternating up / down, trying to keep them as far apart as possible. Generally speaking, the less long bonuses have to interact with each other, the easier it is to fill the grid smoothly.

And a nice and smooth product, indeed. I might have tried harder to avoid EMIR and EDDA for an early-week puzzle, but I can see the case for those being terms an educated solver ought to know. Short gluey entries are usually easier to ignore, anyway, than longer globs. Something like GO NOW is a bit harder to let slide — seems a bit awkward, doesn't it?

But those are minor nits. An early-week puzzle that both gives me this many kicks, and demonstrates high craftsmanship, easily deserves a POW!

Sat 10/21/2017
DAMASCUSTHEMGS
STANHOPEHILARY
HOSTESSTWINKIES
ANSELMMENDNET
REIDICEDSEGNO
PDFSCHNOZCALL
BIJOUINATIE
MRMAGOOIMARETS
COACHKTOBED
EGGOELENASJIG
SUNNIARABTOME
CEETSPSWOBBLY
HOTPEPPEREMOJIS
ENIGMASEASNAKE
RECASTTINKERER

I haven't enjoyed a debut entry as much as COSMIC JOKE in ages. Not only is it a beautiful, existentialist, Vonnegutesque term, but I struggled so mightily with the -MICJ- string in the middle. It had to be wrong. Had to, had to, had to! What a joy to finally piece it together, sitting back and admiring the awesome entry.

HOSTESS TWINKIES and HOT PEPPER EMOJIS made for delicious feature entries. I know the former is bad for me. But gosh darn it, they're so satisfying. Especially when deep-fried. Twice. The latter wasn't entirely familiar to me, as I'm still not much of an emoji user. Aren't there a million emojis these days? Doesn't it seem arbitrary to choose these specific ones to feature? There's probably some hilarious special meaning to HOT PEPPER EMOJIS (that all the kids are giggling at me for not knowing).

Along with some MC ESCHER, SEA SNAKE, TINKERER, GREENLIT, there were enough strong entries to keep me happy.

Brad's Saturday Stumpers and themelesses in general are some of my most favorite and most feared puzzles. (That's how I'll define "Wilberian" from now on.) He has such a wealth of information, being a librarian and all, that I always pick up something new from his puzzles. He's usually good about not introducing too much, making sure that all the learning doesn't turn off solvers.

Today, it was STANHOPE. I enjoyed reading up on it, basically an old-school term for a horse-drawn carriage, named after an old English dude. I'll tuck this term away for trivia nights. STANHOPE being the sole new term for me, the puzzle didn't come across as teachy.

COACH K might be tough for some, but the longtime Duke bball coach (you might go by COACH K too if your last name was Krzyzewski) is no doubt crossworthy. Five NCAA championships!

I enjoyed COSMIC JOKE so much that I thought about handing out the POW! based on that alone. But with some wastage in MAIN GATE, SYSTOLES, RECAST, IMARETS — all fine entries, but all paling in comparison to COSMIC JOKE — and a bit of CEE, TO BED, NAES, it didn't quite make it.

Kind of a COSMIC JOKE that COSMIC JOKE made everything else seem less interesting in comparison!

Wed 1/4/2017
SWARMATADPAST
OHGEEROUEARLO
FIRSTIMPRESSION
AGILITYOPUSDEI
INSGREEK
BRIDGELOANERST
RUNELEKYEAR
ABSFOAMSNBA
SLEWPUPAARP
SETHBRUSHPILES
IMOUTERR
DAYSINNCRACKUP
YOUKNOWTHEDRILL
ANKABAREAETNA
NESSOYEZSWEAT

I still managed to enjoy this one even after my years of dentist-aversion therapy. (Not surprisingly, it hasn't worked out well for my teeth.) I admit it; I'm an anti-dentite! But I enjoyed the dentist making a good FIRST IMPRESSION (ha ha, remember when the dentist got my nightguard mold stuck in my mouth?), offering a BRIDGE LOAN (and when another charged me for extra procedures I didn't ask for!), and everyone's favorite … YOU KNOW THE (shudder) DRILL!

I'm sure Mark Diehl is shaking his head at me. Sorry Mark, I'm sure you're tons better than all the terrible dentists I've gone through.

BRUSH PILES … what's a brush pile? Apparently, it's … wait for it … a pile of brush! It seems that birds are attracted to them. I have no idea how this works, but now I'm eager to go try it out. With wood-type brush, that is, not dentist-type brushes.

Unique black square pattern, those chunks in the middle odd-looking. They did allow Sam to work in some very nice seven-letter bonus entries, PASSKEY, AIRCREW, WHISKAS, and … RESLIDE. Sam, really?! Sam often takes the "go big or go home" approach, and I don't mind seeing a bit of OYEZ and PLAT to get some very nice CRACK UP, AGILITY, GO KAPUT, OPUS DEI. It's just such a shame to fill a precious seven-letter slot with a baserunner going back to first and trying to RESLIDE back into second. Or something like that.

With some AGRI, ERST, LEK, MUS, TRE in there too, it was too much crossword glue for me overall. But I do like how much snazzy bonus material Sam jammed in. Not sure why WHISKAS makes me CRACK UP, but it does.

Love the SOFA clue — [Loose change "collector"] feels Donaldson-esque. Nice to get a little of a constructor's personality in his/her puzzle.

I still have a long way to go in getting over my anti-dentite ways, and Sam's inspired me to try harder. I know the drill …

Tue 10/11/2016
ALOHAMOSSIKEA
LUNAROHNOPERU
ARTIFICIALCHART
SKORSHOPHONOR
GALAWINERY
CHEESESOFINE
ROLLSWOKSTOP
ALLTABLOIDROO
GEEZNYEISUZU
IMOUTOFCHEER
MUSLINFLEA
UNCLECAFEMYRA
CHAINSUNDERWEAR
HILOAREANOTME
OPENDEWYSWISS

Sound-change puzzle, H- to CH- used for kooky effect. I got some smiles from IM OUT OF HERE becoming IM OUT OF CHEER. Funny to think about a cheerleader running out of juice on the sideline. Took me a while to realize that CHEESE SO FINE was derived from HES SO FINE — apparently an oldie from the Chiffons? — but I had a laugh thinking about CHEESE SO FINE as a marketing slogan posted at a deli.

ARTIFICIAL HEART to CHART didn't do as much for me, but humor is subjective. (Perhaps it reminds me too much of a slide presented at one of my wife's old jobs, where this finance guy — no joke — flipped his chart upside down halfway through his presentation when he realized he wasn't making sense.) And HANES UNDERWEAR to CHAINS UNDERWEAR … the base phrase feels slightly contrived in order to fit the puzzle.

I really liked the huge spelling changes though — neat how each of the base words becomes something so different, rather than just tacking on the letter C, i.e. HAT to CHAT.

Sam and Doug are two of my favorite people in the crossworld (Doug was in Seattle a month ago; always a treat to see him in person; somehow we found ourselves way out in Kent, WA at 1 in the morning, don't ask), and their fun spirits usually show up in their puzzles. Today, we get GEEZ / ZILLION, TABLOID, HAIR GEL, and SHAM WOW! Not an OFF DAY at all; great bonuses right in line with their personalities.

A bit of a missed opportunity to clue NOT ME as that ghost Dolly and Jeffy blame on everything in Bil KEANE's "The Family Circus." Ah, Jeffy, that little scamp! (How is it that TFC is still in print?) I'd bet that Sam or Doug, if not both of them, thought of that while cluing.

Nice clue pair in OHIO and PERU both homes of Lima (Lima, Ohio being the lesser-known of the two cities, of course).

All of this executed so smoothly, with just an ANON here and an ASST there. Super minor dabs of crossword glue.

I always look forward to seeing these guys' byline, and today was no exception. Entertaining solve.

Sun 8/7/2016 ANCHOR LINES
OPALSHAUNCALVEAPBS
NOSEPABSTATEAMLIRA
TOPSTORIESGLAREANOS
ACCRUDDBREAKINGNEWS
PHARISEESORRADRIANI
EVANAGOGUNASPEN
DETAILSARESKETCHYPYE
AROMACANTOZEEILES
BIOSUFCREFISADNESS
ACLSPOONERISMROT
THELATESTBACKTOYOU
IDOTHEJONESESENS
GALLOPSSLAGNINLEIA
ISAYATEOCHOAPESCI
MISTRAFFICANDWEATHER
MATRIBFAUMAASNO
EMPANELBUSTASTINESS
FILMATELEVENLOANAAH
INASABARESTANDINGBY
VOCETONGAFRITOAERO
ERESSYKESWINOSGRAF

Kooky interpretations of "common" lines from news reporters, i.e. FILM AT ELEVEN referring to what happens if you take your film canister to a one-hour place at 10. (Do those still exist, BTW?)

I liked the themers that involved 1.) big changes in meaning, and 2.) very common lines heard on TV. BREAKING NEWS was the standout for me, in that it's flashed onto news shows all the time, plus BREAKING is changed in meaning from "just happened" to "cracking into pieces." Fun one.

DETAILS ARE SKETCHY is entertaining when referring to an actual courtroom artist, but I have a tough time believing that this line is used often enough to be common. And TRAFFIC AND WEATHER is a great phrase heard all the time, but the clue doesn't change its meaning at all. So some of these themers didn't work very for me.

Interesting bonus fill in SPOONERISM and THE JONESES, both colorful. I did hitch on both, since they're longer than THE LATEST and BACK TO YOU, which are themers — I scratched my head for the longest time, trying to figure out how THE JONESES was thematic. That's a common problem with running long bonus fill in the across direction. Yes, solvers like me really ought to be able to pick out the theme answers by the cluing, but I still find the layout inelegant.

I did like a lot of the vertical bonus fill though, with the GIMME FIVE / ASIA MINOR / LAST PLACE a great triple in the southwest. Almost 100% worth the price of IN AS, ERES, and MIS for me — if only there hadn't already been two other inelegant partials throughout the grid, AS NO and ON AT. So maybe 95% worth it to me.

I generally like Sam's "kooky interpretations of regular phrases" puzzles, but given some of the issues I brought up above, I didn't like this one as much as some of his others.

Tue 7/12/2016
LABATTORCSANT
ALLPROACAIPOE
SLIPANDFALLPOX
EISFEESCEMENT
RESTFULSUNRA
VIPNATTERED
HASACGOTTISTU
ACADRUMBABIAS
LETBALDYDANSK
TRUELIFEGUS
RYANSMURKIER
INDEBTOONAOXO
PEABROKENBONES
AMYEEROELVIRA
DOSREEKREACTS

Few people make me laugh like Sam. His self-deprecating humor makes him one of my very favorite people in the crossworld. I can't tell you how hard I laughed when Sam posted a series of comments from haters about one of his puzzles ... followed by "Sharpen your pencil and come see what all the accolades are about!" Dang, I love him.

Today, he gives us some BROKEN BONES after a SLIP AND FALL, using sets of diagonal black squares to represent breaks. I like how he used longish entries in which he hid his bones, TRUE LIFE and MURKIER making for a great pair to hide FE/MUR. Fun to get a few colorful entries right in the middle of the puzzle among all those theme answers, with GOTTI, RUMBA, BALDY. (One of my favorite moments at the ACPT this year was having breakfast with Sam and Doug Peterson, all three of us middle-aged (but young at heart) baldies.)

It was slightly confusing to see UL/NA/TI/BIA all "connected," but it was kind of cool how much themage Sam packed into the center of the puzzle. Four bones and eight answers is very tough to squeeze into just seven rows! Okay, I didn't like HAS AC as a theme answer — pretty arbitrary — but RESTFUL and NATTERED are fun.

Given how much Sam packed in — the eight central answers plus SLIP AND FALL and BROKEN BONES — it's a pretty smooth grid. Some NOM DE (inelegant partial), EIS (deep German), ACAD (abbr.), ROSAS (plural name or deep Spanish) is pretty good, given the constraints. And to get bonuses in CALCUTTA, SILENT I, BLABBER, GUNNER, SUN RA, is much appreciated.

I think there's something tying the four bones together — very common ones that break upon a SLIP AND FALL? — but that seemed a little macabre. Not sure that older people who've slipped and fallen want to be reminded of it. Still, a fun implementation, seeing those bones "break" across those sharp diagonal black lines.

Sun 7/3/2016 SHUNNED
ADESTEAWOLANDSODOI
OILPANTBONENORADUNN
ROLANDASNERSTAYSMAD
TRICKYDICTIONUNEPRE
ASSETALIDIRTPORTION
JOEYSHACATSWEPT
POPUPSTSATONORES
AVONSTRAWMANSION
MELCAGEKOBETRECOOL
PRETTYINGBEAVPORNO
EENIEFDICTRIOALBEN
RATONYALLSCHILLING
STANTONNAILTIXATOB
SWEETNLOTIONRATE
RARELTRKIMAISLED
EWOKSIANAIMGYNT
BASETENSIONEPASALMA
ESSALCBONUSTRACTION
CHATROOMZUNISRAINON
CINERAMAELANDBLOUSE
ANODYNESDISKSENSES

Some fun results in Sam's sound changes. I particularly like the ones involving 1.) an interesting spelling change, 2.) a strong base phrase, and 3.) a humorous result. TRICKY DICTION is my favorite, hitting all three criteria. ("Tricky Dick" is one of Nixon's nicknames.) BONUS TRACTION (from "bonus track") works great as well — the resulting phrase makes me picture a group of MBAs at a tire company, brainstorming new ad campaigns.

SWEET N LOTION is a fun spelling change with a good base phrase ("Sweet ‘N Low"), but the result feels stilted, as it feels like it should be "sweets" (plural) in order to make it work. BASE TENSION is a funny phrase, but simply adding SION to BASE TEN feels a bit simple.

Some nice gridwork, those big NE / SW corners containing some colorful answers. It's tough enough to execute on a triple stack of eight-letter answers, but when you "turn the corner" and have to work with three more long answers intersecting the stack, it's even harder. I love NOT UP TO IT, and AND SO DO I is pretty good. I wonder if NORA DUNN's career has really made her gridworthy? And STAYS MAD felt a touch arbitrary at first, but upon further thought, it seems legit — not nearly as strong as HOLDS A GRUDGE, but it works.

In the opposite corner, I love CINERAMA and CHATROOM. NET INCOME and ROSSANO felt more neutral than positive to me, but executing on such a big space without resorting to a bunch of crossword glue is pretty darn good. ELOAN is marginal, but it is a real company.

A few dabs of crossword glue here and there, but it's all pretty minor — the usual ALC, LEROI, ENDY, SHA, UNAS kind of stuff. And Sam does a nice job of incorporating some bonuses throughout the grid: TANK TOP, TIMESINK, the cool name TRE COOL, even the fun (and tough to spell) ABSCISSA.

All in all, it's enough for me to give Sam a ten (tion).

Sat 1/30/2016
MAMABEARDOUBLE
ALACARTEAUKLET
WORNDOWNWREATH
SPEEDDATINGCHA
EERBRACKEN
OBAMASPIANOS
BABELVISIGOTHS
INSTWIPEDPOOL
SATIRIZESTENOR
AMIDSTSHREDS
SPIEGELONE
IONVEALMARSALA
CREPEYONPATROL
ETRADESIPPYCUP
MOSSADSAYYESTO

I always learn something new from Brad's puzzles, and today was no different. I always smile at Sam's goofiness shining through his puzzles, and again, today was no different. Great combination these two bring us today, entries from all walks of life. Very cool to get such a wide range, from the RIG VEDA and DAWN RAID all the way to SIPPY CUPs and OUR GANG.

The VISZLA

There's a ton of entries/clues I was unfamiliar with, so I'll explain them:

  • MOSSAD is Israel's intelligence agency, not just a generic [Spy group]. I imagine including "Israel" in the clue would have made it too easy?
  • The VIZSLA hunting dog contains such a weird string of letters. Just think if Sam and Brad had used the MAGYAR VIZSLA!
  • I follow stock markets pretty closely, so DAWN RAID was somewhat familiar. It's too bad the clue couldn't have been longer and more interesting due to space limitations, explaining how it's a tactic sometimes used in takeover attempts, to sneakily build up a large stake before the target company notices.
  • SPIEGEL apparently is a mail-order company … right here in America! Perhaps it's not as big here in the West Coast. Or for us folks that buy new clothes once in … never.

I like that Sam and Brad were careful with their crossings. With so much material that felt unfamiliar to me, they still managed to assemble the grid in such a way that I was able to successfully finish. SPIEGEL / VIZSLA / RIGVEDA was almost a guess, but other options like SPIETEL or SPIEGEF just didn't seem as much of a recognizable name as SPIEGEL.

Loved two clues:

  • [What isn't working?] confused the heck out of me, even after I filled in METIME. Took a while to realize it was ME TIME!
  • [Shorts popular in the 1920s and ‘30s] made me put an S at the end. And then I went through cargo shorts, jeans shorts, etc. until it finally dawned on me that it was referring to movie shorts. Just beautiful.

Just on the edge of too much crossword glue for my taste in INST, PORTO (tough to clue any other way), EER, ALOP, etc. but a great variety of entries to tickle all parts of my brain.

Sun 11/22/2015 RIGHT ON, RIGHT ON!
BLIMPLIBIDOHIPHOP
ANIMALSEMERILARRIVE
SAMURAITASKEDRIOTER
TIPPINGPGESTSASMARA
NANOBOTPAARSWAT
SMOKESIRSHOWMETALI
PALISHNEDIPSOHALLO
ONYXAZTECANSWELLS
TCMAVEDUNDEEAMO
TAPSENSPAIDTHROUGHT
ELIWADESUTAHNOOH
RACEAGAINSTTALEEONE
RNASOPHIALAYDEN
AMIDSTRUMBAEDIFSO
WICCAAMOIERSSCOOTS
HRHMOVINGTAIDONRYE
AGALMICAARMCURL
TAMALEDRDRESNOOKERC
SUMTERROUGESCARIBOU
IGETITOLMECSELEVATE
TERESAPLATESDDAYS

Sam Donaldson is the man. Excuse me — The Man. (Whichever is the good one.) We finalized the last revisions for this puzzle during the 2015 ACPT, where Sam provided no end of entertainment with his crazy bets. 70-1 odds that he could pick seven names, one of which would win the ACPT? Sure, he'll put $10 on that! (He won.) 300-1 odds that Lynn Lempel didn't write Puzzle #5? Heck yeah, he put $10 on that too! (He won that as well.)

He was able to go back home and tell his wife that he won an easy $20. But man oh man, was he sweating it when 1.) Kiran Kedlaya showed up, finishing fourth and 2.) Puzzles 1-4 were NOT written by Lynn Lempel. I would have paid Will pretty much any sum of money for him to announce that Lynn wrote Puzzle #5.

Writing a puzzle with Sam is almost as fun as watching him squirm. Good times, good times.

P.S. Grid was pretty hard — trying to figure out how to squeeze in all those long, turning answers was a bear. But once I hit on SHOW ME THE MONEY intersecting PAID THROUGH THE NOSE, it was only a matter of (many dozens of) hours after that.

P.P.S. I've fixed up the answers so they appear in the database correctly — SNOOKERC to SNOOKERCUE and CUE to RIGHTONCUE, e.g. Hope everyone figured out that the "RIGHT ON, RIGHT ON!" title was a good hint!

Thu 11/5/2015
MANEROCITYPCT
PLINTHASIAERA
ALLIEFAMILYAIR
AYESUNITSET
LONGMONTHS
HOEDELEVEHOUR
DOZDELIAGEONE
AMOSLAMARATCO
TENTHSBUYSELS
EVEORIZONOGRE
ILLSEETAXI
PDANAIFJAPE
FEYHIGHERPOWER
FOEEPEEOTELLO
TSRFORMSASSES

I always enjoy hearing Sam's voice come through in his puzzles. Today brings us such nice colloquial clues: ["I'm right here, you know"] for AHEM and ["Am I the only one …"] for IS IT ME. Also great to get OH FUN, something I can imagine Sam saying.

ALL IN THE FAMILY cast

Onto the puzzle! Sam interprets HIGHER POWER as "phrases containing NTH; those three letters get raised above the answer." The bizarre-looking ALLIEFAMILY is actually ALL IN THE FAMILY, with the answer turning up, heading right, jogging back SW, and finishing out. Some nice themers, with ELEVENTH HOUR and EVENT HORIZON both strong.

(Minor ding for NTH and ELEVENTH being too similar for my taste.)

Pretty good execution considering the difficulties of filling around those themers. When you fold answers up like this, it creates many constraints in the crossings. The area around ELEVENTH HOUR is actually quite good, with the snappy PEA SHOOTER (I do like NEW SHOOTER as well) and CRIES UNCLE worked in there. Including those parallel long downs makes that region even tougher to fill cleanly and zestily, so only a NEG and an ATCO (and the arbitrary-ish AGE ONE) is a win.

The areas around the other two themers didn't come out quite as well, with the odd ENISLE up top and STOL (short take-off and landing) down below. Still, that's not bad considering how tough it is to work with these folded types of answers.

Some great clues:

  • The TENTHS column is indeed beside the (decimal) point! Gold star for this one.
  • [Beast of Borden] is ELSIE, Borden's "spokescow."
  • FLAGs get waved at the Olympics, but EPEEs do as well. Nice deception.

I did like seeing those NTHs raised one row, but I didn't quite buy HIGHER POWER as a solid rationale for the serpentine path each themer took. I'm probably taking it too literally, but to me, HIGHER POWER might have been NTH sitting on top of SQUARE and CUBE — powers of two and three — or FIRE, WILL, SOLAR and other different types of powers. It was fun to scratch my head as I tried to figure out the trick, though.

Fri 8/28/2015
LAWYERUPLESMIZ
ONEONONEUNTAME
GOPUBLICAYESIR
ESTREETSNAPSTO
ERSFANPEA
BEFOGCODSEXTS
LARKIDIDNTDOIT
OREPARSLEYDOA
CLASSMATESHUNK
SYKESTEDPASSE
SONJEDVAS
STUDIESGETAHIT
LATESTFIRECODE
AGORAEENDNOTES
TENSORWAITWHAT

What a perfect start to the puzzle; a clever doubling up of the phrase "court battle" in cluing two adjacent entries. LAWYER UP is a great enough answer in itself, but when paired with ONE ON ONE and a completely different meaning of "court battle," that duo becomes a real standout. The fact that Sam is a law professor is icing on the cake.

Anyone else intrigued by the "Who would have won a ONE ON ONE game in their prime, MJ or LBJ" debate?

Tough to fill those big 4x8 corners. I absolutely love what Sam did with the lower right, working in FIRE CODE, WAIT WHAT? and HAS A COW so smoothly. Very impressive.

Although I loved the LAWYER UP / ONE ON ONE pairing, I wasn't so hot on the LOGE / E STREET crossing, as I was unable to pull out the word LOGE from my addled brain. O STREET seemed reasonable enough. And ANOS certainly isn't terrible, but for a themeless grid, the singular ANO is minor and the plural ANOS is somewhat less minor.

Anyone else stymied by [Subject to a hissy fit]? I glossed over the clue, reading "subject" as a noun instead of a verb. FREAK OUT ON makes a lot more sense if you think of the latter meaning.

Some really strong entries, the colorful I DIDN'T DO IT, MASS EXODUS, even the shortie but goodie LES MIZ. I personally like to see the (assets - liabilities) quantity at 10 or more, so the appearance of some of the usual suspects (NES, DOA, ISAO, PSS, etc.) as well as the oddity of UNTAME brought that result to a level not quite as high as I like to see.

Still though, I find it a lot of fun to get a constructor's personality and tastes showing through, and that opening pair was a perfect example.

POW Sun 6/7/2015 THE CALL OF THE RACE
UPCASISIMPACTSODS
STEADIESTGUITARUNIT
EARLYLEADAFLAMEREDA
PHILSYOSTFADINGFAST
ALPOWOLFCLEFTS
ONTHEOUTSIDECOHORT
ICEAXESACSFORAERA
SOMNIROSEBARONSRET
ESPCLOTHBACKSTRETCH
OBSESSAUSTACHOO
GURUGAINSGROUNDHENS
OHARAOKLAVOODOO
TURNFORHOMEKUDZUTSP
TRYLYSINEKALETOHOE
OATETESTUNAACCENT
ABACUSMAKESACHARGE
VOTENOVAILSKOR
INTHEMONEYAITSVIOLA
ALOEOBERONBYALENGTH
LAOSVIAGRAMCDONALDS
SYSTATRESTSOSASES

★ Wait! Wasn't yesterday's puzzle the POW!? I had such a tough time choosing between yesterday's and today's puzzle that I decided to reject the Tyranny of Or.

Such an entertaining Sunday puzzle (and timely, given American Pharoah's historic Triple Crown win on Saturday)! Stories connect people over the generations, so I like it when my crossword spins a tale, entertaining me from the start to finish. Sam takes common calls heard in horse racing and puts on a wordplay twist with appropriate horse names. The tale of Ace Detective taking the EARLY LEAD, all the way to Inseam winning BY A LENGTH = I was amused the whole way through.

Wait. This is temporary, isn't it?

Nice job on the longer fill, too. It's unusual to see fill as long as TEMPORARY TATTOOS and ONE AFTER THE OTHER, which is too bad — they add so much to the solving experience. A bunch more long guys in DUTCH OVEN, MCDONALDS, OYE COMO VA, and DYSLEXICS similarly enhance the solve.

Interesting that this is a 142-word grid, higher than Will's usual maximum of 140. I did notice that there seemed to be more short words than usual, especially in the middle of the puzzle, but it didn't bother me too much. Once in a while I think allowing 142 or even 144 is perfectly fine if it allows for something special in the theme or for cleaner fill.

Speaking of cleaner fill, Sam did a pretty good job here. But if it meant getting rid of things like RSTU, TO HOE, OROS and OKLA/AUST so near to each other, I think I'd fine going up to 144 words. An additional pair of cheater squares to smooth things out would be fine with me too.

Loved these clues:

  • [Tool made to scale] made me think about prototypes made at half-scale. But an ICE AXE is made to scale mountains.
  • [One in a pipeline?] is a great way to describe a SURFER riding a curling wave, shooting the pipeline formed by a breaking cylinder of water.

Often I find the large Sunday format a little tedious since it takes so long to solve, but the story here kept me very entertained. I'd love to see more storybook crosswords like this.

Sat 5/30/2015
KIDSMEALFRAMED
EMINENCELADYDI
DUXELLESICONIC
SPIREATANYRATE
FETEWESTASHY
ROCSNARLSAT
ERRSORSTWISTS
DIAMONDBOLOTIE
OTTERSRANNAME
LETTUCESTED
IDOLASSTHIES
DONTERASEINLAW
INSERTERUPTIVE
ONESIELISTENED
MATTERLABORERS

A fun solve from two of my favorite people in crosswordland. Typically themelesses contain slots for 12-16 long entries (eight letters or more), as it's too difficult to work in more than that without generating compromises in fill.

Mmm, duke's ell! Er, DUXELLES. Cool word.

Not today! An amazing 20 long slots. It took me some study to figure out the engineering behind this one. It all starts from the upper left and lower right regions, which "turn the corner" into L-shapes — so daunting to fill. A total of 12 long slots in just those two corners alone!

With so many long slots, the conversion ratio (assets to total long entries) doesn't have to be as high as usual. Heck, if you put neutral words in eight of the slots, you still end up with 12 nice entries.

So how do they do? I love entries like KIDS MEAL, TIME SAVER, SMELL TEST, DIXIECRAT, IM UP FOR IT — all colorful and/or vivid chunks of language. Others like SNARLS AT, LISTENED, ADORATION, LETTUCES aren't as nice, as they provide filler for everyday conversation. And the ACE AWARD seems to me nearly a liability, given the clue which further emphasizes how outdated it is.

Overall, I'd say about 11-12 of the entries are excellent; a decent number of assets — more than enough to balance out the just a few liabilities like ASST and ENL (maybe SNERT too, although I always had a soft spot for him). Solid puzzle.

The coup de grace was the clue [Noted employee of Slate]. Surely that had to be someone working at the online zine Slate? No, it was Mr. Slate, Fred Flintstone's employer at the quarry. Such a clever misdirection.

Sun 10/5/2014 TIMBER!
BBSRISQUETIPPPAYIN
RATINTURNONCEAMORE
INIASEASYASABCSOURS
ETHEPERIODSSANSKRIT
FULLTILTFATNOEETS
MERTZSEWUPPLANA
MMIAIRSTEALERSPOTS
DETESTABLEYIELDUTIL
SWALEPRANCPRESOKOA
ELLAANGERSOAPING
INFCSTUDENTSKED
OBADIAHNABOOPDAS
ZINRMARYROUNDCSINY
MESSPSHAWONIONRINGS
ANTESTOPHATSJOEGET
NACHOSAILSBURMA
AILIMPTZEASSESSED
SALMINEOBATISTEHAVE
ELIOTAHEADOFTIMEYAM
ELOPECHINONECARIDO
DYNESHINGLORENATEN

Happy Arbor Day! Wait. Arbor Day is end of April, six months away. Happy ... unArbor Day? Anyhoo, Sam gives us seven trees today, hidden within seven snappy and bendy phrases. I've highlighted them below so you can see the nice symmetrical arrangement.

Puzzles with short theme entries like ETHE/ELM/MERTZ are not for the faint of heart constructor, because using up your shot slots means you'll be required to incorporate a lot of long fill. To make things even harder, any time you have themers crossing each other (in this case, a quasi-Z-shaped arrangement) the surrounding fill is going to be a challenge due to relatively heavy constraints. Sam lays out his grid very well, spacing apart each of the seven themers so that there's not much overlap between any two. Notice how you could work on any one theme region without influencing any other too much? That's excellent use of black squares to create separation.

I really like what he did around ETH/ELM/ERTZ. To run FULL TILT, IN SPIRIT, and STEEL TRAP through that precarious region is strong work, especially considering the lack of glue required to pull it off. The other regions are also pretty good, although each tends to show minor signs of stress, an OMN here (in pharma development, "QD" is what we used; Dr. Denny-wife confirms OMN is unusual), a DSO there, a NOP loitering like a NOP-goodnik. That's to be expected with these constraints — note that these little offenders occur right at the heart of Z-bends.

I liked the general theme idea, but I think my stupid brain is preventing me from fully appreciating it. Jim explained it as the answers moving right and dropping down for a TIMBER! wordplay moment before continuing right. I can buy that, and it works better for me after I thought about it for a while. But my noggin can't get over the idea of a tree toppling over, not falling straight down like a building being demolished. I aspire to Jim's more flexible big-picture way of interpreting the world — he has always been better than me at seeing the forest for the trees.

(insert groan here)

Overall, a smooth puzzle, with just a little glue to hold sections together. A lot of great long fill like ONION RINGS and AS EASY AS ABC — well worth hitting the "Analyze" button below to see how much great long stuff Sam worked in. He has quite a few themelesses under his belt, and I bet that experience helped immensely with this grid.

Thu 9/4/2014
CLEANINPENFIB
TILLSTORSOADO
REKLATSREEDROD
LUSTAMASEARLY
ONCESHAPE
TEMLEHORERBMOS
ARIDETHORSOPH
SIXDAYBOOKVIE
SCOTFROMARENA
EKLUMRAYARODEF
ONIONASIP
VEGASNUTSEGGO
OUIFLIPONESLID
IRSILEUMPIANO
DOTTBSPSANDOR

Sam flips his lid today, or more accurately flips his lids. Fun to uncover the crazy REKL??????? pattern and wonder what the heck was going on. Nice selection of a wide range of headgear, ranging from HELMET to SOMBRERO to ARODEF. Er, FEDORA.

Using short theme entries can be tricky. FEDORA and HELMET are such shorties that they risk getting lost among the fill. That wasn't an issue today since it became clear that there were reversed entries, but it did confuse me that the center across entry, DAYBOOK, wasn't part of the theme. I kept on wondering what type a KOOBYAD was, or what I had entered incorrectly. It would have been nice to have EIPKROP (PORKPIE) in that slot, with a current clue to Heisenberg's headgear in "Breaking Bad," for example. Incorporating one more themer would have been more work and potentially necessitated a little crossword glue, but I think it would have been worth it.

I always like seeing a constructor's personality come through, and maybe Sam's work shines to me in this way because he's one of the first constructors I met in person? The puzzle channeled Sam with OH BOY!, and LLB (Sam's a lawyer specializing in tax law) and even [Atlanta-to-Charleston dir.] was a nice nod to his recent move to GA. But the best is the clue for IRS — "Many Unhappy Returns" indeed! I really enjoy these inside looks.

Pretty nice grid, with just one spot that felt a bit wonky to me. As much as I love MIXOLOGIST, it constrains the west section quite a bit. Along with HELMET and YARMULKE, it forces three glue bits into place: TASSE, A RIDE, ERICK (who?). Perhaps there could be a better combination there with MIXOLOGIST in place, but perhaps a less snazzy entry there could have smoothed things out to better overall effect.

Very fun solve. I tip my tah to you, sir!

Wed 3/19/2014
NOHASSLEASTRAL
PREMOLARBEWARE
RUNALONGBEATIT
ZETAJAYESS
TAKEAHIKEADDTO
USASSGTSAXON
BOTOXSTAIR
BUZZOFFAMSCRAY
AXIONHYENA
SNOWGREATEND
KOLASMAKELIKEA
ITDIDSINAN
BANANAANDSPLIT
URANUSSTATUARY
MYGOSHTOYSTORE

Fun outing today from one of my favorite people in crossword-land. I appreciate that Sam tries for non-standard grid layouts, breaking the mold to deliver something different. It would never have occurred to me to break up MAKE LIKE A / BANANA / AND SPLIT. At first I thought it was odd to have a single themer spread across three grid entries, but after considering the one themer containing SPLIT is split, I grinned.

Neat theme, a bit easy for a Wednesday, as all theme answers were readily inferable once the trick became apparent. I like what Sam's done to make the puzzle harder: look at those big NW and SE corners. Typically rows 1, 2, 14, and 15 get split up into three entries a piece, because using only two entries a piece produces a much more difficult filling challenge. I wasn't a huge fan of some of the short stuff required to do it (ERG, ORU = Oral Roberts U, AST, IRR, and the awkward TYE), but it sure was nice to get some long fill in unusual places. NO HASSLE is such a fantastic opening to the puzzle! That's the kind of 1-across I aspire to.

Today's fill falls in the camp of "let some ugly stuff by in order to achieve some snazzy fill." Man oh man did I like the SW corner: I mean, MY GOSH, OLD NAG next to a SKI BUM with its awesome double-acting clue? Please sir, I want some more! I did hitch a few times though, especially at the randomISH XOX and ugly-looking SSGTS, in addition to the aforementioned short stuff.

Hard to say which philosophy is best, the ultraclean-but-sometimes-lifeless or the zany-with-some-uggos (I don't think there's a clear right or wrong). The XOX section is a perfect example: I hadn't heard of the AXION, and I really appreciated learning something about that particular particle. But was it worth the price of XOX, the partial A SOU, and the chance that solvers will put in OXION/OZOWA or the like? I probably wouldn't have made the same decision as Sam/Will, but that's what's great about a daily puzzle with such a variety of constructors: if you don't like this trade-off, come back tomorrow and you'll get something different.

Off to make myself a banana split, which I'm pretty sure Sam and his puzzle are implicitly giving me permission to do.

POW Wed 10/16/2013
ALCAPPOHMYSYL
MOOSHUFARECOE
FLOORMATHISAUG
MAPEIRECRAG
BACONFATHERS
ICHOKEDIRAISE
NOONASIFAHS
THROWINTHETOWEL
OASHSIADARE
BEGOODANNOYED
HISPANICROOM
UTESACHTMAC
MANHERSHEYBABY
ONSEVACLEONAS
RTEXENAPTBOAT

★ A few years ago, I was working on a construction at my local bagel shop, and a guy said, "Excuse me, but is that Crossword Compiler?". My first reaction was to hide under the table and/or pretend I didn't speak English, but luckily my second reaction was to shake Sam Donaldson's hand. Little by little we started hanging out along with Jim Horne, and now Sam is one of my favorite people in all of crossword-land. Amazing how a chance meeting can turn into something so awesome.

Sam used to blog daily over at Crossword Fiend and managed to write entertaining pieces every day for about two years while reviewing the CrosSynergy puzzles. One of his best features was "Guess the Constructor", where he ranked three guesses, trying to match the puzzle's grid and cluing vibe to one of the CrosSynergy regulars. If I were to play that game with this week's seven puzzles, I think I could have picked out Sam's in a heartbeat. It's a puzzle chock-full of Donaldson personality, and for that I give it the POW.

Fun theme with a catchy revealer, working on a deeper level than usual "add-a-letter(s)" themes by adding HIS and HERS to each of two phrases. I appreciated Sam's effort to incorporate the HIS and HERS at the ends of the first two theme entries and at the beginnings of the last two. Thoughtfulness like that makes for an elegant execution.

More importantly, all aspects of the puzzle scream SAM DONALDSON! and I love it (yes, I'm biased, but what are you going to do). Sam and I have both been known to 1.) titter at juvenile jokes and 2.) enjoy greasy food, so the base phrases HEY BABY and BACON FAT made me reminisce of the good old days when Sam still lived in Seattle. You throw in I CHOKED, I RAISE right next to each other, the "No acting up!" clue for BE GOOD, "Jeez Louise!" for MAN, and "End of a lame pickup line" for OFTEN and you have yourself a Donaldson signature. BTW, it's a good thing Sam and I are both married because we'd be those two pathetic guys at the end of the bar poking each other, saying, "No, YOU go talk to her!" while giggling a la "Dumb and Dumber".

To be sure, this puzzle isn't without its flaws. I debated for a long time whether to disqualify the puzzle for POW contention solely based on the NIDI/HSIA area, but eventually all the great stuff won me over. And I do like the pairs of stacked 10's in the NE and SW corners, but the trade-off of having a lot of three-letter abbreviations (SYL sticking out) and acronyms made me wonder whether it would have been better to break up COHABITANT and YOU ARE HERE for cleaner fill, especially if it could mean improving the NIDI/HSIA region.

But overall, this puzzle gave me a tremendous smile. Full of personality and enjoyment. Can't wait to see Sam at the ACPT in 2014.

Wed 4/17/2013
AMACABAPOGEE
MANITOBAMINORS
UPGRADEDALEROS
CLEARANCESALE
KERITAXFAVRE
SAWSPAPIES
CAMERAREADYDDT
OHOODETREADO
REVDEPOSITSLIP
PAIDDABPIU
SPEEDCVIMRSC
BLANKETDENIAL
BOURNERHODESIA
IMFINESECURITY
ONFOOTEEKNOS
Tue 3/26/2013
ACDCACEDESILU
THELORAXINTROS
MANALIVESTRODE
FRAMEISPSANG
ETDSTNGEEWHIZ
ESAUAGHASTANO
ROXIEHINGE
LEAPINLIZARDS
DEALTPRANK
OMGINASECSAGS
HOLYCOWAHATUT
NEETEEDGLARE
GLENDABYGEORGE
PAYTONROADKILL
SWEATYOUTISEE
Sun 3/3/2013 SEVEN BLURBS FOR SEVEN BIOGRAPHIES
ANTEGGMISREADSCOPE
TEETERONIONDIPCOPAY
THECOOKINGOFJOYARISE
WITGUNNSTOURERDOS
OSOSNEEDORSGETONIT
THEDESTRUCTIONOFEVE
PLAYASKATERAINWEAR
EELERETONHOSEORTS
THESPADESOFJACKNOSEE
CARTSIXILLAID
ORSTHETIMEOFNICKBMW
EDYTARAFRALEE
PARASTHERIGHTSOFBILL
ITISLRONSOLOEDSEL
NAVYPIERCAPOBRUTES
THEDARKNESSOFPRINCE
AURORASALOTHOGTRAP
ABETSSTENORALBPGA
CLOSETHEWARFAREOFART
APAIRAIRINESSALICES
WATTBAYSTATEDONKEY
Thu 10/18/2012
ANYHOOJOEPESCI
DETAINAUTOLOAN
SADDLEINTHEBACK
ASPCATARTE
SPALIEMCISID
HOLEINTHEACE
ENIACITSTBS
DARKINTHESHOT
SSTLOOPETIT
HAYINTHEROLL
ETCBARUAEXTC
DORIAUSRDA
GRASSINTHESNAKE
AMBIENCEMUTTER
RESTSTOPSPELLS
Mon 2/20/2012
ETHANBOMBSTWO
TIARAARIALEON
CENTSSALMONROE
ERGMIMEVOIDS
TRAFFICARTERY
CARELLINMATE
MADAMSPEAKER
IFSROIIDS
RULESOFORDER
KROGERONEILL
PRESIDENTSDAY
SWEEPNEATURN
LUSTAFTEROWNED
OSUSLEPTMONDO
ESPTORSOSWOON
Thu 9/15/2011
HARRESTANIMALH
BREADTHRIBEYES
RESTORECHIANTI
OCTMIOHIDRST
KISSANSELWALT
EBOATIERARNIE
NONUNIONABIDER
CORNERLOT
COSETSCULDESAC
LUCRECANEIEIO
ETESBASALNERF
ALPCENWISIMF
NOTTHATALUMNAE
SORIANOYACHTIE
HKEEPERSCHOOLH
Wed 11/10/2010
POPSLEASTSOLI
EVANAMNIOTMEN
EECUMMINGSREBS
PREFABHHMUNRO
FUDGESONION
JJABRAMSBBKING
LEROYACCTS
ONYXSTRAWRAJA
BISONNIGER
LLBEANWWJACOBS
LEILAPSEUDO
AAMILNEMITTEN
MRISCCSABATHIA
ANNIIAMSOAARP
STIRSNAPSSWEE
Sat 6/19/2010
CRAPSTABLEWOVE
HOLYPERSONANIN
EVILINTENTISAT
RECONSIDERSAVE
IRENEERUSTLER
TREKSELENE
POPESSUSTAINED
ODONJELLSNOTI
PORTFOLIOREWON
URCHINKTWO
PEERSATEUROPE
MALATHENATURAL
ETALHOLESINONE
NEILASSEENONTV
URNSNEEDLENOSE
Sat 6/5/2010
JACKPOTBABYSIT
ULANOVAONLEASH
NEMESISHOTSPUR
EPEESTEEDSPRU
AHAINMESHEW
USTAONZESPICA
BINGOHURRAY
STABLESSAPIENS
EUREKASWEET
TREYSEPICSCAD
ANASANUNOLE
DEMFRINGEORLE
ADAGIOSSLANTED
TOPICALBESIEGE
ENSNAREYAHTZEE
Sat 3/27/2010
GINORMOUSEDNAS
ADAPTABLENOOSE
LOSTSTEAMDOONE
ALASLANATURNER
NIHNAPPERS
SPOTONSTMARK
LEPERBUILTINTO
IDEMDACCAZORN
PINPRICKSJEWEL
STOCKSFOSSEY
CREASESSAG
CASTASPELLWIMP
CRAINAXISPOWER
LEMONCAMEOROLE
IRENAEMERGENCY
Wed 6/3/2009
MALARIALGANDHI
ONEHORSEIBERIA
NONSTOPSASWARM
YDSBESTETTES
SHORJONS
EPCOTSMUTHEM
ULEESALARMIMI
TWENTYSIXSTATES
IATEAMEXOLMEC
LYEGNARAFTER
JAGRAGUA
VISORACMEARC
ANTICSHOTCOCOA
IRANISICECREAM
NECTARCONCORDE
Thu 10/2/2008
RAVENSCATREAD
UPONETUBAIPSE
BATTWIRLERLISP
ICESMUTDECOR
KEROUACTROUNCE
PICKYOURPOIS
ASSETANNAVAS
WANDGANGSFETE
ATADOWNDALES
YUKTERRITORY
GREELEYAMOEBAS
ADENIPREPONT
MAYOBRAINSURGE
EYERCALFINAIR
SSSSCHEFNIXON
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