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Simon Marotte author page

8 puzzles by Simon Marotte
with Jeff Chen comments

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83/9/20218/14/20233
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Simon Marotte
Puzzles constructed by Simon Marotte by year
Mon 8/14/2023
LAPSBOSSYCHIP
EPICEVITELIMA
GOTOELEVENAGES
SPARKRAPTWHAT
NEILPLUSONE
RATSNOSEPAC
ASHSCOTKETTLE
PARTAKETENAIM
SPIRESMENDNET
LENISAYFESS
HALFOFFMAMA
ACRELONGANGUS
STIRONEANDDONE
NODEALAMOONIT
TREETYPEDMETS

For us math lovers, number-focused puzzles GO TO ELEVEN. Apt that the two longest bonuses are a HIGH OCTANE / THRILL RIDE!

Breaks more than just records

Stop shaking your head at me.

Simon and Trenton DO THE MATH today, repurposing number-related phrases to arrive at ONE AND DONE. They could have used ONE as a basic revealer, but ONE AND DONE caps off the equation by dropping the mic. ONE … AND DONE. Boom!

Probably best that I'm not in show business.

I enjoyed this one more than last year's DO THE MATH, mainly because the first themer made for a bigger opening. Tough to compare any two puzzles though, as there's a fine line between Jeff and clever.

PLUS ONE, TAKE TEN, and HALF OFF are all in the language, and (11 + 1 - 10) / 2 indeed results in ONE AND DONE.

(ONE AND DONE is a common term for basketball players who do their mandatory one year in college, and they're done, declaring for the NBA draft afterward.)

With five shortish themers, I expect near perfection in gridwork, and Simon and Trenton didn't disappoint. I love it when I can't point to a single hiccup on a Monday. Sure, there are some entries that my crossword-newb neighbor down the street won't know, but these are all crossed by common words. In fact, a great majority of the entries are regular words instead of proper names, which is a big reason why I sailed through the solve.

I loved the prompt to rewatch "This is Spinal Tap" clips, and the theme both started and ended strongly. I'm already part of Trenton's FANDOM, and it's neat to see his and Simon's partnership at work.

Mon 3/27/2023
SASHMASSFESS
HYPEAUTODELTA
YEARINONEATEN
COUNTINGCROWS
CRESTSCENANSA
OARAASTUFT
SMASHINGSUSHI
TECHLLAMASLOT
SNEERPUMPKINS
DAMPMBADEM
BRACIAORIBEYE
ROLLINGSTONES
ALIENOTISAHEM
GOBAGDELIDOPE
ASIFAREASWAT

Complete sets of three to five things are crossword construction gold. Figure out how to cleverly disguise or misdirect away from those set elements, and voila!

Today Simon and Trenton play twenty questions — er, six questions — to hint at the animal, vegetable, and mineral in three band names: COUNTING CROWS, SMASHING PUMPKINS, ROLLING STONES. It took me forever to figure this out, counting the minutes as I was smashing my head on my desk. I was anything but rolling, but I enjoyed earning my a-ha moment.

In 2007, I was mulling over a career change, and I randomly picked up The Mysterious Benedict Society. Three hours later, I'd decided to work toward becoming a middle grade author. Talk about an influential experience! Those first 50 pages consumed me.

I literally squeed (rhymes with "peed") when I saw Trenton's byline today. My kids are now devouring his books, just the other day telling me how much more talented he is than me.

Kids say the darnedest things.

Great work gridding around the middle section. It's not easy to work around the gap in a divided themer — apt that GAP fills the gap!

Fine, he is more talented than me!

Employing only three themers ups my expectations around fill, and Simon and Trenton delivered. SPACE RACE, MAINSAIL, AMBROSIA, SLIDESHOW are excellent. There is a RACE / RACING duplication, but how many solvers notice that kind of thing?

I would have loved some extra element to explain why we were playing Twenty Questions around band names — feels like MATCHBOX 20 wanted to be involved somehow? Thankfully, the freshness in the clues kept my OCD brain distracted. I've never heard ROLOS defined as "fez-shaped," but that's precisely how I'll describe them from now on.

POW Fri 11/25/2022
ATLASIRANRICE
LOADEDDICEOGRE
PIZZAROLLSPOOL
SLYLINEUPETSY
WEPTRUINS
GOBADWINESNOBS
IPODMARISATRI
REDSSNOGSSHES
TRYPONCHOPIES
HADABLASTSANDY
HORSYSCUM
POUTMOCHASAPE
RUBSPRAIRIEDOG
ISLEIANFLEMING
MEETALITQUADS

★ HAD A BLAST is right! This is my favorite type of themeless crossword, focusing on pure fun, loaded with colorful, accessible long entries, and bulging with highly-toned wordplay clues that pop.

Most every themeless these days is chock full of excellent long phrases — they all have to be, considering the sky-high bar raised by pandemic-bored constructors — but so few turn the wordplay knob to eleven. Today, I ticked off at least eleven clues that delighted.

I usually notice the ones that elevate an already great entry even higher — repurposing "funny bones" to describe LOADED DICE is criminally awesome — but I appreciate wordplay clues for short, ho-hum entries even more. Some speed-solvers will gloss over SCUM, barely reading the clue. That would be a shame since I got fooled so badly by [Film about fish tanks?]. So much for my brilliant guess of NEMO!

There isn't any one amazing grid entry that people will be tweeting about (assuming that Elon Musk hasn't destroyed Twitter by this morning), but I'll take fourteen above-average long entries any day. When NESPRESSO occupies your least interesting 8+ letter slot, I gotta say I GOT NOTHIN' in terms of critique.

I also appreciated that Simon didn't concentrate all his long slots in the four corners. Many 72-word themelesses squish three long entries into each of the four corners, making filling easier since you can work on them independently. I love that Simon branched out, with six long words reaching into the middle. I got a sense of pizazz at every step along the way, not just in the four corners.

Hardly any questionable short entries at all, too. Maybe ADZ is a bit LAZY since adze is listed first in many dictionaries, and IROCS aren't for everyone.

Incredibly minor nits to pick, though, in a magnificent example of how to pull off a standout 72-word themeless.

Mon 8/15/2022
MCRIBBOMBATMS
ARENAOWIEDRAT
NEWBALANCEDUNE
CAREUSERMEDIA
ASIDESDONEDEAL
VETAHSSEWACT
EDENSLILYPUSH
STRIKEONE
SELAEPEEEPICS
AGEANNPOMNAP
YOGAPOSEDOODLE
STOUTLETOSOON
IRANMINORCHORD
DIRTEDITEERIE
OPTSTEESLASER
Mon 5/23/2022
BARSGPASASSET
EXECRENTFIERI
ALSOOLDEFLEAS
NETNEUTRALITY
ETCEMIRADS
SETAHAAMULET
PLAYPOSSUMTATI
OLLIEAUGSATAN
KEEPSPELLCHECK
ERNESTYERRHO
NYTPUTTGUM
SHADOWCABINET
ADHOCGILLMAGI
SNOREACAIIDOL
PAWNSSENDCAST

I enjoyed the diverse cast of CAST subjects today; four words that can be acted upon by the verb CAST. You can cast a NET, a PLAY, a SPELL, and a SHADOW.

Also of interest: if you staged "The Old Man and the Sea," you could not only cast a net in a play, but the musicians could play a castanet.

Well, it is to me!

At first, the concept felt uninspiring since how hard could it be to come up with things that can be CAST? Turns out, pretty hard! I had to work to dig up VOTE (or BALLOT), PALL, DOUBT, ASPERSIONS, FISHING LURE. Of that limited set, only VOTE or BALLOT can start a solid phrase (DOUBTFIRE being a single word casts doubt on its worth for this theme, though). That realization made the concept much more impressive.

Speaking of impressive, two great bonuses in TALENT SHOW and SEE YA LATER — great way to utilize two long Down slots. Smooth short fill, too, only STINKO, perhaps a bit stinko for newer solvers.

78-word grids featuring a pair of long Downs is a sweet spot for early-week puzzles: easy enough to fill cleanly, while the two long slots contain so much flexibility for colorful selections.

CAST as a straightforward revealer wasn't as zingy as something like CAST PARTY or CASTING CALL, but those wouldn't explain what's going on well enough. It'd be fun to brainstorm to see if another *CAST* phrase might both do the trick and create a stronger a-ha moment.

Tue 4/26/2022
JIGTDPASSDROP
ODEORACLEROBE
ILLMANHUGECON
NESTEGGREMAKES
ESQAPLOMB
LACEUZISTOOTH
IRANEARSENTRY
BINDECKOUTTOM
REDFININGMOON
ASYLAASEAAMPS
HONORSRPM
SEESAWSAREARUG
ERASNOCLUEERR
WIREUNRESTEGO
NETSPSYCHEFEW

ROCK BOTTOM = one-named rock bands at the bottoms of themers. I've brainstormed around ROCK BOTTOM with at least five people, and we've collectively never come up with something as interesting. Given that "Bohemian Rhapsody" is my karaoke go-to, I especially loved DRAG QUEEN.

Curious that all the rock groups come from the same late 20th century era: HEART, QUEEN, KISS, RUSH. I tried to think of any one-named bands that were more current, but this pop music idiot couldn't come up with any. NIRVANA maybe, but there aren't any strong phrases that fit the ___ NIRVANA pattern.

It'd have been great to see more diversity in the band selections, but it's curious that the "one-named band" phase was such a short chunk of time.

Also curious to get SLURPS as [Impolite sounds at the dinner table]. I grew up wondering why Americans didn't slurp like my mom and dad. Eating with gusto shows how much you enjoy it!

That said, I can't stand the sound of my kids openly smacking their lips as they chomp their noodles.

TOOTH as a [Filling station?] is Friday-level trickery. Love it! Except that I recently had to take Tess in to get four cavities filled. This means war, CAPN CRUNCH!

This theme needs the phrases to be vertical, to achieve the "bottom" effect. It's unfortunate that the revealer comes so early on, though. "Name That Theme" was over before it even started. This could have been at least ameliorated by shifting ROCK BOTTOM to the bottom of its column (and CANDY HEART to the top of its). A bit of a delay is better than none at all.

Solid theme and excellent gridwork, especially with mid-lengthers used to full advantage. TD PASS, MAN HUG, NEST EGG, DECK OUT, elevated my solving experience.

Wed 12/29/2021
ORALBOATCHEST
PITAARCHHILLS
EMMYEMCEEITSOK
CESARYOGAMATS
NARCAPE
SHOECAGEYENEMY
WINGALLSETLEE
OMEGALOPSALES
LOUMEMOIRRITE
EMPTYTEPEEMESS
OATSPAR
SLAMDUNKBEARD
CIRCAEASYESSAY
ATEAMALOETAKE
BEATSTEXTSPED

Gramograms or "grammagrams" are a common crossword theme, with hundreds of pages dedicated to them. My first encounter with them filled me with FXN for them. Over the years, doing more and more of them has left me more MT, but a new twist can spur me on to write an SA with XPDNC.

I spent soooo much time analyzing today's made-up phrases. Did their gramogram letters spell words? Wow, that would be awesome! MEMC, KGNME … nope.

Were they alphabetically next to each other in the gramograms list?

Was one word an anagram of the other?

EASY ESSAY ... each word formed by the same letter bank?

Each theme word was crossed by its gramogram letters?

Maybe the themers were all related in subject matter?

Huh. If it's randomly-paired words, I'm looking at them with BDIs.

I did appreciate the RA of grid bonuses: ARMRESTS, CHIA PETS, YOGA MATS, AMY ADAMS, SLAM DUNK. Even though the theme didn't wow me, all these extras meant the puzzle didn't LAY AN EGG. Doing all that while keeping the entire grid to a single dab of ACEY gluey is impressive.

Gramograms are tough to make stand out. Simon and Judge Vic were heading the right direction with their clue-initials-matching-gramograms angle, and I would have loved to see that brainstorming process pushed farther.

POW Tue 3/9/2021
BORATSAGAPROM
IRISHICESLOVE
FALSETEETHAMEN
FLEABAGSECARD
YOREPARE
LATEXLAURABUSH
ELIDEDTRIONCE
APRREVERSECOW
SHESLIUENSURE
HADNOHOPEANTED
EVILVICE
APNEATENTACLE
DEARKUBLAIKHAN
DAMEISAYNEATO
SLEDDARNGROSS

★ Fantastic debut! Will Shortz isn't taking many "hidden words" puzzles these days due to oversupply, so you must present an amazing one to catch his attention. It has to go above and beyond, and that's exactly what Simon did:

Length of finds. Four letters is about the minimum since three letters are too easy to work with. To find a six and two fives is fantastic work. Even the three …

Quality of phrases. The consecutive vowels are a bit tricky, but AIK is much less daunting than URABUS. When you can fit AIK into KUBLAI KHAN, one of the most auspicious leaders of ancient history, that makes up for the shortness.

Spanning across all words within the phrase. HAD NO HOPE isn't terribly exciting — not as much as FALSE TEETH, with its delightful clue about coming out at night — but when you span H ON DA across all three words, that made me stare in admiration.

Revealer. REVERSE works, although it's more overt than clever. I'd have loved to brainstorm for something more playful, like around cars having to BACK IT UP or something.

Tightness. Not 100% necessary, but when you can make people realize that there are virtually no other themer options, that makes your puzzle stand out. After 30 minutes of searching, all I could find was PORCINI MUSHROOM and HYDROFOIL, and the latter doesn't pass the "spanning" criterion.

All this with amazing gridwork. I eternally pound the table, yelling that with four themers and a short revealer, you're obligated to present a fantastic grid with an excess of bonuses and zero glue. There's no reason not to. Simon wove in FLEABAGS, THE BOXER, PLACEBO, TENTACLE, SNEAKER, all while demanding that his short fill never be compromised.

Tremendous debut, making me appreciate a tried-and-true theme type all over again.

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