★ THERE ARE NO WORDS is such a colorful phrase to play upon. The connections to SILENT TREATMENT, EMOJI KEYBOARD, and ELEVATOR MUSIC are so fun!
Neat to see an early-week, debut offering feature so many delightful bonuses. With four themers, it's almost always possible to incorporate four long Downs — one in each corner. Tough letter combinations can make this more challenging, but check out how ODE TO JOY so joyfully uses that J.
Many would stop there, placing a black square at the second C of ICE CUBES and/or the first S of LETS SAY, and that would be acceptable. Working in eight long Down bonuses? Most of the time, I'd tell constructors to GET REAL because it's too easy to GO ASTRAY. Even if you can get the extra long Downs to work in the middle of the grid, that often causes the usual four to take hits in color.
There were compromises, like requiring ROTC to make ICE CUBES work, and STET is niche vocabulary that might turn off newer solvers. All the crosses are unambiguous, so it all works, but it left me wishing there were a touch fewer dabs of GOOS.
That said, it was such a pleasure to be confounded until the very end, and the freshness of EMOJI KEYBOARD was so welcome. Such entertaining, well-constructed work from a newer pair of constructors is an ode to joy, indeed.
Three fantastic debut entries today, hitting at different levels of awesomeness:
RECENCY BIAS is such a strong entry in its own right. It's a common term in statistical analysis, and even if you don't know it, the two words put together make sense. Using a wordplay clue might go over people's heads, though, so resorting to a dictionary definition pulls down its fun.
Amazing clue for EDITORIAL WE. Although the term isn't as colorful as THE ROYAL WE, playing on First magazine makes for incredible wordplay. Repurposing "first person plural" is a maneuver fit for queens.
AFROPICKS does it all — great debut entry that employs an even better clue. Long in the tooth, indeed.
72 words is the max allowable for themelesses, so the competition is tooth-and-nail fierce. You have to excel in both color and clarity to attain even a glimmer of consideration. Scott did well in the former, not as much in the latter. In the future, with the themeless bar rising exponentially, EPS ERN ETD — along with the old-timey NEHI not having an eternal feel as much as an ETERNE one — will be more troublesome than ever.
The layout is (more or less) the standard triple-stacks-in-each-corner, so each one needs to sing. The bottom triplet of RECENCY BIAS / PHOTO CREDIT / MIND READER hits a high C — much catchier than the played-out MONSTER MASH. You can argue that the oldie is a classic, but given how many times it's been in crosswords, it's not a graveyard smash kickoff.
There's so much to love — I CAN'T WATCH evokes so many images — but there was too much inelegance in this 72-worder to garner any POW! consideration.
Some great debut entries! CAN WE TALK, MINIMOONS, MEET CUTES, MAGIC ACTS; all so colorful. Love them!
Fantastic clue for TABLE LEGS, too, playing on "four on the floor." And I'm not an aficionado of OPART, but wow, the "Shadow Play" image seen here is mesmerizing.
MALE PRIVILEGE leads a ton of unfairness in the world, even in our beloved crossworld. Authorship has heavily favored male constructors, and the situation got a lot worse in the 21st century, notably in themelesses (look at the chart's Friday and Saturday columns). Only recently have efforts to course-correct been effective — last year was the first time in the Shortz era that a themeless day of the week was over 30% female.
I'm encouraged by the efforts of Erik Agard (USA Today), who assembled a crack squad of mostly female constructors. David Steinberg (Universal) has also done some spot-on theme months, notably a month of all female constructors. I've also been impressed by the thoughtfulness of his recently hired assistant, Amanda Rafkin, in her feedback and suggestions for improvements on my submissions.
Hopefully we all can continue working to make gains, striving for equal representation of male/female voices. It's not only a social issue, but a business one as well. Crossword solvership is equal — maybe even skewed more female — making a strong case for the NYT to redouble efforts to tamp down MALE PRIVILEGE.
It's been a while since I tallied up so many smile-inducing clues. Although I still place more weight on grid-making skills than clue-writing, the balance is shifting. I'd love to know who wrote the following, Scott or Will Shortz and team — I imagine at least some of them were Scott's:
There was so much to love in the cluing that it almost didn't matter what the grid looked like. The strict constructionist in me had to have his say, though. It's typically problematic to place a fourth answer (SIDETRACKS) under a triple-stack, even if it's offset — there are too many constraints. See: AMOI / ENNEAD / YAH in the NW.
Running SIDETRACKS all the way to the far right can sidetrack you, too. When that ACK gets fixed into place, it saps away valuable flexibility from that triple-stack of HAVARTI / UNICYCLE / COCKEREL. A minor YDS is a small price to pay, but when you have small prices all over, they add up.
I enjoyed so much of the BLANKET HOG MAMMA MIA BLAME GAME material, but some of the long slots felt like they didn't carry their weight — neutral entries like WEANING and NASTINESS in particular.
Not a standout grid, but a standing O set of clues.