See the 51 answer words debuted by Sophia Maymudes.
★ Such a fresh vibe! CONTENT CREATOR speaks to my YouTube obsession, including a fantasy basketball analyst who happens to be a SNEAKERHEAD. I'm not into shoes, but watching Josh's excitement about his latest purchases is fascinating.
Although I stick to black coffee, the idea of a MATCHA LATTE is tempting. Aside from my dislike of matcha's bitterness. And the entire lactose intolerance thing.
NO MAKE UP MAKE UP is not something my daughter believes in. More like NO ... MAKE UP! MAKE UP!!!
Fantastic clue for TACO BAR, riffing on a Shell filling station — beautiful "hidden capital" trick to disguise the lower-case "s" of a taco shell. The clue is not entirely accurate, given that on our last taco night, the kids filled their taco shells with nothing, then refused the eat the shell. Talk about intolerance.
We've seen BRAS in crosswords hundreds of times, and many times the entry has gotten a clever clue. I've never been so pleasantly mystified, [Wireless support providers] pointing me directly at CenturyLink holding me hostage. The last time we had an outage, CenturyLink was more like [Wireless support witholders].
My primary goal as a crossword solver is to complete every box correctly. I won't always be familiar with every entry, but this is the kind of freshness that makes being forced to learn something new worth it. An entry like NO MAKE UP MAKE UP is so self-explanatory!
I amused myself by imagining a group of SORORITY sisters doing the Asian SQUAT. Now that would be memorable!
One thing I appreciate about Sophia's puzzles is that this 50-year-old learns something in a gentle, even fun way. Both RIDE OR DIE and SORORITY SQUAT meant nothing to me before solving her puzzles, but I was able to suss out all the individual words, thus not interfering with successful solving. I've added those two terms into my vocabulary, just in time for Gen alpha to cringe at me for trying too hard to be on fleek.
Same goes for TINY HOUSE. It didn't seem like an in-the-language phrase as I solved, but the two words made sense with the clue. Turns out it's not only a fascinating movement but one that Jill and I might look into down the road (if only as an excuse to get rid of all the kid crap littering our home).
And talking about gentle, TED LASSO! For those who haven't been introduced to the uber-uplifting football-turned-soccer coach, what a feel-good show! We were skeptical about adding yet another streaming service to our roster, but I have to hand it to Apple+. In this day and age, I want as many sources of optimism in my life as possible, and TED LASSO is a big one.
I do crosswords to bliss out in escapist fashion, so it's a big mark of success when a constructor can get me to learn something new with a smile. Not only wasn't I peeved by all the new terms, but it also made me happy and optimistic that young constructors could figure out how to connect with at least one solver from a much different generation.
This is such a useful themeless layout, allowing for a balance of decent solving grid flow, and potential sectioning for constructors. Once you figure out something that seems workable in the center region, you can work independently on each of the four corners. It's always easier to break down a problem into smaller chunks, so going from one giant 15x15 grid to four 8x3s makes construction so much simpler.
Sophia and Kyra did a fantastic job of squeezing every drop out of those precious long slots. ICE DANCE / MALLRATS / PLAYTEST = three colorful, multi-word phrases. AEROSMITH and CLEOPATRA aren't multi-worders (editors tend to favor these over single-worders, since they tend to be more interesting) but what great clues. AEROSMITH and Disney? An odd pair, that! And [Last of the Ptolemys] felt like it had to be some sort of RAMSES II or THUTMOSE I. Nope, a neat piece of trivia about the one-time Queen of Egypt.
ZOOM-BOMB hopefully will be something we can all look back and laugh at down the road. It's a fresh, topical term. Though I always wonder, how is it possible? No one's ever ZOOM-BOMBed in when Jim and I are chatting. Not that anyone would want to listen to Jim erupting with laughter as he takes in my peculiar observations …
I hadn't heard of MOMFRIEND. To me, it implied a parent who's trying too hard to be a friend to their kid, all the while failing at their momming job. But no, it's the friend in the group always acting like an overprotective mom. Now I'm curious what a DADFRIEND would be. (Do yourself a favor and don't Google it, at least not without a porn filter on.)
A couple of clues nearly went over my head, incredibly tricky for a Friday:
Jim Horne and I had a curious exchange on RIDE OR DIE. Neither of us is in the target demographic, so we both flailed mightily at this. My first guess — RIDE OR PIE (hey, I was hungry) — wasn't apt, considering it would make the security company APT. RIDE OR LIE, that sounded better as an ALT solution. RIDE OR UIE, that had to be it! You know, the person you RIDE with … until you have to make a UIE?
Wait. Was the problem at ADEN? RISE OR LIE made surprising sense. Get off the pot or poop out!
Then Jim posed an even more wow-are-we-out-of-the-loop question. Doesn't the clue fail to match the entry's part of speech? There's no way RIDE OR DIE (doesn't it sound like the tagline for the next Die Hard sequel?) could be a noun.
So this one didn't grab me right off the bat, but thankfully there were some sizzlers afterward. I go for short runs. I even go for long runs. Not the television kind of run, though. Fantastic misdirect for MINISERIES! SEEMS a lot more than LEGIT, indeed.
Does ADULT SITE seem legitimately like a [Firewall target]? Jim and I debated this one. It's something firewalls block access to. Isn't a virus or malware more a "firewall target"?
Jim wondered about MARIO PARTY, whereas I laughed at his out-of-it-ness. Right before this old-school gamer rushed to the MARIO PARTY Wikipedia page and get the updates on my woefully out-of-touch Super Mario Bros. knowledge base.
Jim pointed out the cleverness of the TRASH TALK CLUE … until I pointed out that there's usually not a lot of pregame TRASH TALK at bball or NFL games. Boxing weigh-ins, sure, but those aren't "games." Jim proceeded to trash talk my analysis, so I told him he would have to ride or pull a uie.
In sum, never listen to Jeff. Instead, focus on the great things in a puzzle, like that fantastic quote from ANGELA Davis. We should all be so brave.
I was so confused — and then utterly delighted — the first time I ran across a doubled-word rebus. I was barely familiar with the idea of two letters in a single square, and doubling them to form ZOOM ZOOM was so cool.
Doubling has been played on many times over the years, including one doubling perimeter answers and also a neat (DOUBLE O) 7 visual. As if I weren't seeing double enough, one earlier this year double-doubled!
It turns out this theme style goes a long way back, including a 1995 by Fred Piscop.
I appreciated that Kyra and Sophia added in DOUBLED DOWN, a perfect way to explain what's going on (DATES is really (DOUBLE) DATES, OVER is (DOUBLE) OVER, etc.). That adds a lot of meat to their puzzle.
Also great to be treated to fun entries like AY CARAMBA and IDIOMATIC.
I would have liked more out of the themers, though, as ARRAIGNS, REEMERGE, ESSENE, ADDS don't add much pizzazz. I also worry that the AY CARAMBA / PAYA crossing could be rough — AY CAROMBA / POYA might look fine. Even as a lover of curry (the spicier, the better!), I had to look up PAYA.
DOGGO similarly confused Jim Horne, who's not nearly as cool as we young hipsters watching YouTube videos about doggos. Huh? Nobody watches YouTube anymore? Bah. I'll stick with it as long as there are doggos and OTTERMANS.
(That DOGGO / LOGIA crossing might dog you, and I'd sympathize.)
I wasn't sure if I'd seen ECO-SAVVY in use, but there are tons of products and companies touting how ECO-SAVVY they are.
There's a construction trick you can use for a theme like this, where you start with a grid that's two columns wider than usual. It takes away some of the magic if I explain it fully, but those of you who want to pull back the curtain will likely be able to figure it out.
Sophia is one of my favorite up-and-coming constructors because she's a great listener, internalizes feedback, and works hard to improve. She had asked me for feedback on a draft of this grid a while back. It wasn't subpar, but it wasn't outstanding, either, using a bunch of entries that editors call out on their specs sheets. To her credit, she tore the thing down to the studs, keeping only the skeleton and the NW corner. Such tremendous improvement — A JOB WELL DONE is right!
I didn't know IN THE HEIGHTS, and Jim Horne said it's not as good as "Hamilton," but it's fascinating to watch Lin Manuel Miranda's development. It's easy enough to imagine what it might be about. (Washington Heights in NYC.)
LEDERHOSEN and DEATH STARE resonated more strongly with me, although it might not do as much for people who don't appreciate poor Üter Zörker.
Fun use of shorter fill, FUTZED such an amusing word. Crossing that with GEN-Z might slow some solvers down, but FUTXED or FUTYED couldn't possibly right.
I appreciated the cluing touches, too. BALLET literally keeping you on your toes, MGM as a grand opening for a casino (the MGM Grand), BIRTH as a special delivery — those add so much to a themeless solving experience.
I'd still like to see less STET ACTE and especially ORT, since the bar for themelesses is so incredibly high (acceptance rate is about 3%), and also since this is the easiest of themeless tasks, a 72-worder. Big points for improvement, though.
It's incredibly rare for two women to collaborater on a puzzle — the slice of the pie chart is so small that it's barely visible — and I'd love to see more. There's something so neat about two people coming together to create a synergistic 2+2 = 5.
My first attempt at a Sunday puzzle was a RE- addition! Jill and I were in Guatemala, and I had my nose buried in our English to Spanish dictionary — the R section of the English side. There are so many RE- words that simply mean "do X again" that it took forever to find anything of interest. The themers were so memorable that I can't bring a single one to mind. Not a surprise that Will politey said that there was a RE-mote chance he'd take it.
About five years ago, Sam Donaldson asked me to work with him on a Sunday puzzle — a RE- addition! I've worked on a couple more over the years, too. I've found that they largely live or die by their humor — it's easy to make RE- phrases; not so easy to make them interesting.
Sophia and David did well overall. Someone yelling REPRESS YOUR LUCK! at the craps table is funny. RELATE TO THE PARTY brings up the Democratic presidential candidates opening mouths and inserting feet. Oh, Joe Biden, maybe do less talking and more quiet nodding.
There wasn't one themer that I wanted to post to Insta (if I had an Insta, or knew the terminology for posting to Insta), but there wasn't any one that made roll my eyes. That's a success.
I'd have liked more bonuses and less glue in the grid, though. There's no doubt that a Sunday 140-word puzzle is daunting, and especially so when it's your first puzzle (welcome to the club, David!). The reason Rich over at the LAT puts a hard cap of four partials in a Sunday puzzle is that they come across as inelegant. To have IN LA, OR ME, A LOAF, I HAVE, ON YOU can leave a feeling of lack of polish.
There's nothing wrong with the grid skeleton. It's more a matter of when you come into a situation where you need something like A LOAF to finish a corner; it's better to suck it up and iterate.
It's a fine theme for newer Sunday solvers. Easy enough to figure out and worth a laugh or two.
Great fun to help Sophia develop this idea. When she came to me with a couple of themers, I wasn't sure there would be enough material. Or whether it'd be more fun to have VENUS DE MILO in the clue or as the grid entry! A lot of unknowns.
Our spreadsheet for book titles and possible "biography" subjects extended into the hundreds. After narrowing it down, it was unfortunate to discover that the winners didn't pair up at all for crossword symmetry. Fie on thee, crossword gods!
But I've done enough mirror symmetry puzzles that it felt like things had a chance to work out that way. After realizing that THE ONCE AND / FUTURE KING could split out 10/10, I decided I might have been too hasty shaking my fist at the crossgods. Then, finding the fortuitous intersections of A GAME OF THRONES / GONE GIRL and LORD OF THE FLIES / LIFE OF PI made me stand up and say I'm a believer!
Word lists aren't nearly as important as grid-building experience, but (shameless plug alert) the XWord Info lists sure helped with this one. It's incredibly hard to create a clean and colorful 140-word puzzle, what with all the huge white spaces you have to work with. Sophia got stuck several times, and twice, a single entry helped me get her unstuck: ETOUFFEE in the NE, and BODY SURFS in the SW. Building this puzzle with only entries that come with a standard dictionary-based list would have been possible, but only with severe compromises.
Sophia's in college now, so doesn't have that much time for crossword construction. But after she graduates, I think she could rise to the top, if she decides to put more time into it.
Debut! Sophia got in touch with me earlier this year with a bridge (the card game) related theme, and we ended up working together on a Sunday puzzle (still in progress, but Will, I think it's a really good one!). Then I found out she lives just a few blocks away from me, here in Seattle! I love how crosswords can bring people together. Hopefully one day she and I can play some duplicate bridge together (apologies in advance for my inevitably horrible blunders).
Today, Sophia riffs on KITTY CORNER, placing kitty CATs in the four corners of the grid. I wasn't sure if LITTER BOXES was that good, thematically, but I suppose cats do tend to have their LITTLE BOXES placed into the corners of rooms.
(I wondered for an embarrassing amount of time if I had missed some sort of double rebus, with CAT in one direction, and POOP in the other.)
It's unusual to go above 78 words, the max for 15x15 puzzles (this one is at 80). Will rarely allows this, because it tends to mean that there will be too much short stuff in the grid, and not enough longer snazzy fill. Sophia did work in some good long material — ALAN ARKIN, BEACH TOWEL, CALIFORNIA, DON'T PANIC — that's pretty good. But there is a huge amount of short answers, making my solve feel choppy.
And don't get me started on ITER and ILLY. Oofly.
I also would have liked a couple of long CAT answers, like CATTLE DRIVE or CATTYWAMPUS or BELLED THE CAT or THE QUEEN OF SCAT, etc. That would have been much more difficult, calling for giant corners, themeless-esque in design. Tough, but doable.
As part of our collaboration in process, I noticed that Sophia had some difficulty with certain types of grid areas, so I gave her a copy of my word list. It seemed to have helped, as the grid is now in a state that I like a lot — she did some strong work.
Knowing that, I'm curious to see what she could have done on today's puzzle if she took another stab at it now, what with better tools allowing her to be more ambitious.