★ Susie is quickly becoming one of my favorite constructors. With clever themes, strong bonus fill, and minimal use of crossword glue, my only complaint is that she only publishes one or two NYT puzzles a year these days. More please!
Even though my knowledge of pop music is sorely lacking, this theme still delighted me. Love the idea of a marketing team coming up with the genius idea of a double bill, Keith URBAN and John LEGEND headlining as URBAN LEGEND. Same goes for Johnny ROTTEN and Fiona APPLE advertised as ROTTEN APPLE. So amusing, and perfect that Susie found four strong, common phrases that work in this way.
I did pause at KELLY GREEN, as I wasn't familiar with Tori KELLY, but I think that's my pop music deficiencies to blame, not the puzzle.
The "windmill" layout of themers often doesn't allow for much long bonus fill (it tends to confuse what is theme and what is fill), but Susie managed to work in some good stuff. Love DRILL BIT, THIN SKIN is good (thin skinned feels better), and STENCILS and PARFAIT ain't bad. Not a huge amount, but enough to pass my bar.
There was an AYLA (I don't think novice solvers should be expected to know this) and an ETE (tough foreign word, and a constructor's crutch), but a tally of just two bits of crossword glue is much appreciated in a Monday puzzle.
Susie always graciously passes on adding her two cents via Constructor Notes, which is too bad, since I'm always curious to hear the constructor's perspective. But when your puzzle is this good, it speaks for itself.
One of my favorite Monday puzzles of the year.
★ Such a well-constructed puzzle. The fill is so smooth, so interesting — such a difficult thing to accomplish for a Monday puzzle.
Susie tells us "that's a wrap!" today (what, no one laughed?), riffing on different types of coats. Although all of the phrases were snazzy, I liked CITY SLICKER and CHEVY BLAZER the best for this theme, because those terms aren't related to the "coat" meaning. Amusing reinterpretations.
The others — BUBBLE WRAP, SUGAR COAT, DUST JACKET — all have regular usage that refers to some sort of coating, i.e. BUBBLE WRAP is used around packages. It would have been nice to get a few others like CHEVY BLAZER where there's a big change in meaning (can't think any off the top, though!).
This five-themer layout isn't easy, the nine-letter SUGAR COAT dividing the puzzle in half. Typically, that causes problems for constructors in the four corners of the puzzle, as those regions tend to be pretty wide-open. Not Susie! She starts out with proper themer spacing and carefully distributes her black squares, ending up with some delightful entries in those big corners: INKLING, BEESWAX, CD RACKS, and DRACULA.
And with such little crossword glue! There's EXT, LAC and FGS, but as a solver, it's easy for me to skim past those short and minor offenders. Okay, SST isn't great as an outdated initialism (supersonic transport), but it's easy to overlook the one goopy glob of crossword glue in otherwise stellar execution.
Given that the theme was all about protective clothing, I would have preferred RAIN HAT and BROGAN to not be in the grid; muddied the theme a touch for me. But that's a minor nit.
This is my kind of Monday puzzle. The theme isn't anything groundbreaking, but it made for a wonderful solving experience. Getting the aforementioned bonus answers, plus some more in RUGRATS, ACROBAT, OCEANIA, FOOTRACE — it all helped to evoke a ton of IMAGERY. Very well done.
A few months ago, Amy Reynaldo asked me for suggestions of women they might add to their Celebrity Crossword team. Susie was in my list. I've really enjoyed her offerings, generally well-constructed with a lot of care and effort.
We get a rebus today, with a descriptive revealer, JACK IN / THE BOX. I like it when there's some reason to squeeze a few letters into a single box, and this is a good one. A couple of nice longer theme entries, LUMBERJACK, JACK FROST, and FLAPJACK my favorite. All sparkly answers.
I tend to like rebuses more when the special squares are incorporated into the puzzle's longest answers. Not only have I come to expect a puzzle's longest answers (at least, across answers) to be the themers, but rebuses are great for this in that make it possible to introduce really long (>15 letter) answers into the crossworld. It would have been fun to get (JACK) RUSSELL TERRIER, (JACK)SONVILLE JAGUARS, SHOELESS JOE (JACK)SON, etc.
I also would have liked the JACK in JACK IN to be rebusized. It felt strange to see the full word written out, when it could have been so meta, that JACK also placed into a single box. Ah well.
Fun bonus entries in LEONINE, derived from "lion-like," RAVE MUSIC, RUNS SHORT, SEA TURTLE. Even NUTELLA (yum) and MAHALIA added to the quality of my solve. I did feel like it was a real loss not to have MAHALIA (JACK)SON's full name not incorporated into the grid, though.
I wondered if (JACK) CHEESE was in the language? I buy a lot of PEPPER JACK CHEESE and MONTEREY JACK, but (JACK) CHEESE felt not as strong. Turns out it's perfectly fine, referenced that way in many food and cooking websites.
And BRAINO … that didn't sit well with me at first, but it's kind of a fun play on "typo." Not sure I'd ever use it; jury's still out.
Fun to search out those rebus squares, and a generally well executed puzzle.
Normal phrases interpreted as "(famous person X) does Y." I like the consistency here, all the themers being two-word phrases where the second word is a present tense verb. I had seen BACON STRIPS somewhere before, but in the sense of [Philosopher's breakfast?], so it brought an amusing picture to my mind. Same with Leontyne PRICE tagging a wall with a spray can, her face covered bandito-style. Vivid imagery.
With PRICE TAGS separating the grid into a top and a bottom half, I like what Susie did with the four corners. It can be very tricky to get good material into three adjacent seven-letter slots. None of these 7s are an absolute stunner of an answer, but they all do the trick. OBELISK / MANATEE / ANSWERS in particular is pretty strong. It's tough to get zing out of one-word answers, but Susie worked in some good ones, without resorting to any real clunkers.
I like how she worked in her Scrabbly letters, too, choosing spots that can easily accept them without feeling forced. That 1-Across / 1-Down crossing spot is Scrabbly gold, with a J easily slotting in. And the X of WAX is perfect, smoothly sliding into place. Those intersections of two three-letter words often offer up this opportunity.
It felt to me like Susie took a lot of care to produce a smooth grid; much appreciated during my solve. This arrangement of five themers with a long middle one can often require globs of glue to hold everything in place. With only a few things like ARRS and NOI dotting the perimeter, I hardly noticed them.
Overall, I might have liked more tightness in the theme, given that there are so many celebs whose last name can double as a common noun. It would have been neat to see all comedians, or all sports figures, or even celebs starting with the same letter. But then again, having a hodge-podge — a comedian, a poet, an opera singer, an actress, and a philosopher — does provide nice variety. Something for everyone.
★ I looked at 1-Down, [Word before top or party], six letters, and filled in POOPER. Took me few seconds to realize that POOPER TOP 1.) wouldn't pass the breakfast test, 2.) isn't a real thing, and 3.) is a funny phrase evoking images of double-story outhouses that I'll be using more frequently. Talk about COMIC RELIEF!
Onto the puzzle! Four famous comedians hiding at the front of phrases, Sid CAESAR, Eddie MURPHY, Billy CRYSTAL, and Chris POOPER TOP. Er, ROCK. I couldn't personally identify Sid Caesar out of a lineup of him plus four Lilliputian Taiwanese orcs, but the name is quite familiar. And I like how he helps spread the puzzle's appeal to the older generation who might not recognize (or choose to ignore) the more recent guys.
It would have been great to get a more recent comedian, and a female one or two, but who else would fit this theme pattern? If only there were such a thing as a CK AIRPLANE or a CHAPPELLE BERET or a CHO MAMA.
Hey, CK ONE! That "a thing," isn't it?
Really nice gridwork today, Susie producing a smooth solve. All throughout I was impressed at how little glue I encountered, only hitching at the ELD / ENE area. OLD / ONE would be so much better! But OLD HAT sits up at the top of the grid. Ooh, I hate when that happens!
And I really liked the way Susie worked in so much Scrabbly goodness. Sometimes I feel like Xs and Js are jammed in with a big shoehorn and hammer, but I love the smoothness around the J and X in the NW, and the selection of Vs in the SE. I can imagine the temptation to try to squeeze a Q in the SE, resulting in EQUI or something. Vs aren't as spicy as Qs or Xs, but they still do the job of adding seasoning to the puzzle.
You know what was funny for me? The use of the question mark in the clue for COMIC RELIEF. Just when I thought I knew when it should be deployed. I mean, those comedians do provide COMIC RELIEF, yeah?
Overall, a very well-executed puzzle causing me to amuse myself to no end.
Ah, the central 13, bane of the constructor's existence. Those black squares on either side of the central answer cause all sorts of trouble. Anything that cuts down your flexibility means trouble, and fixing those two blacks squares may seem so minor, but they take away so many possibilities.
I like what Susan has done today with the black square pattern, forming a big "L" block on either side. Unusual to see such a big chunk of connected black squares. Visually it's a bit clunky, but it allows her to work in CYBERPUNK and ENCRYPTED as her long downs. When you have five theme answers, with the central one being an inconvenient length, sometimes you're just happy to escape with a fillable grid. I appreciate Susan's effort in giving us these two strong entries. To me, they're worth the price of REINE.
What with the high theme density and the central 13 difficulty, it's not surprising to see some blips in the fill quality. The NW and SE were bound to be difficult, given that a single word of five letters separates PABST BLUE RIBBON and SPINAL CORD. Trying to find something that works perfectly is not easy. I'm impressed that Susan only has NCR up top as a glue-y entry... unfortunately, it comes at 1-across. Not an ideal way to start a puzzle. The SE suffers a bit more, with LVI and CAGER (does anyone really use this term?) cropping up. I do love TV TRAY and BEEMER in the grid, but I'm not sure they're worth the hiccups in smoothness.
Standards have been ratcheting up over the years. When I first started a few years ago, I wouldn't have blinked at SSTAR or INT next to MCA. I suppose it's the curse of doing a daily puzzle, one's expectations always rising.
I'm a little mixed on whether I would have preferred to see this closer to Thanksgiving? On one hand it's overall a neat theme so I like getting it whenever I can. But it seems like a missed opportunity to run this nice Thanksgiving-ish-puzzle-which-really-isn't on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Anyway, a fun solving experience with a couple of rough spots.
A discussion on non-theme fill. It's usually a giant asset for a puzzle to have long fill, assuming it doesn't force ugliness. Snazzy 7+ letter entries can really spice up a puzzle, turning a good one into a great one. Susan has some really nice stuff today, tossing in 9-letter MENS ROOMS, SORCERERS, and VICE VERSA (in addition to five theme answers!). MENS ROOMS might not pass the breakfast test for some, but I think it's a legit answer. I choose to visualize a fancy one where I awkwardly try to figure out if I'm supposed to tip the guy who hands me a towel I didn't want.
However, I probably won't be the only one to spend a minute trying to figure out how ROOMS and VERSA can be rolled, as per the theme. The revealer does specify which are the theme answers, but the clue is long enough that I didn't want to take the time to read the given numbers. I've highlighted the theme answers to make them stand out, but ideally I like theme answers to pop on layout alone. That's typically why most long fill (especially that of 9+ letters) is placed in the vertical direction, not the horizontal.
And in this case, an additional benefit of not including long across fill is that the first and last themers could have been placed in rows 3 and 13, spreading everything out. I'm not positive, but this most likely would have improved the THOS/SOG section.
But that's all nit-picking, my constructor's brain doing its usual thing. Very nice work overall; a rewarding change of pace to get a Monday puzzle with some cleverness.
ADDED NOTE: Susie wrote me after reading my notes to say that her original grid in fact contained TAX CREDITS! We shared a chuckle.