★ It's rare that my opinion of a puzzle changes so dramatically. My thought process during my solve:
Long story short, a lot of confusion, not a lot of clicking, and a feeling of "was that it?" upon finishing.
Thankfully, Jim Horne and I trade ideas every week, doing our best rendition of "Siskel and Ebert," replete with "perhaps you could describe your thoughts more" to be read as SERIOUSLY, WHY WOULD YOU POSSIBLY THINK THAT?
Jim said he loved the puzzle. LOVED.
That's infrequent enough that I take some serious notice.
"Perfect title," he said.
Perfect for non-morons, maybe. Okay. Let me see ...
Weight? How does weight possibly—WAIT! It's all about which syllable is stressed, that change forming a new word.
Okay, now that's something. It's consistent — each time, Tom used words that have their first syllable stressed, switching to a second-syllable accent. It's also tight — how many pairs of words can you think of that fit this pattern? (No others came to my mind.)
All that, plus non-flashy, smooth-as-silk gridwork. Tom knows the formula for a solid solving experience: stick to 140 words, with a couple of long bonuses, and smoothness in your short fill. He did end up with a bit of DONA ESTS ETE OFA RTE SLO and the mysterious UMW (United Mine Workers), but that's better than average for a Sunday.
I do wonder if a title involving the word "stress" would have been better, for us dunderheads. Perhaps playing on "stress test" or "stress management"?
I feel sad for solvers who don't have a Jim. Consider my mind changed, in a big way. Thanks to Tom for coming up with a great theme set, and to Jim for persuading me to take another look.
Not just one, but two interesting ideas today!
Most of the themers for idea #1 felt decent. RAIL SPLITTER, ROOM DIVIDER, and SAFE CRACKER worked best for me, since they were so directly literal. Ones like NASAL CAVITY felt more awkward, as the circle was a CAVITY "in" the NASAL. Er, in the nose. You get my meaning. Maybe.
And I liked that the circled letters spelled something for idea #2. Hey, SQUARE PEG going into a round hole! Er, round holes. Plural. I enjoy when constructors take a crossword convention like circled letters, and use them in a clever way.
Overall though, I felt like there wasn't synergy in these two ideas, a bit like 1+1=1.414 (the SQUARE root of 2). Some of my favorite puzzles take two established concepts from different walks of life and mesh them together in a brilliant way — that's how some people define "creativity." Seeing SQUARE PEGS emerge was more of a shruggy kind of moment for me.
The gridwork was a little disappointing, too. Granted, I have a very high bar set for Tom, who I think is one of the best in the business. Not a lot of colorful bonuses in just SOLO HOMER, ARM REST and BLANKNESS (which felt oddly thematic). And OSO, which Will has said he's trying to phase out (for good reason!), along with ANON EDUC ENE ERI OVO … it's an above average grid as Sundays go, but far from my favorite of Tom's products.
Famous showdowns, the opponents going HEAD TO HEAD, i.e., the first participant flipped around so that their head touches the second's. When I got to ????? BOWSER, this Super Mario Bros. nerd KNEW it had to be MARIO BOWSER. I was simultaneously disappointed in the boring execution of simply sticking two opponents together, and frustrated by not being able to make MARIO work. Neat a-ha moment when I realized that it had to be OIRAM, not MARIO, and then another one when the meaning of HEAD TO HEAD snapped into place.
Solid choices for the themers, Don QUIXOTE vs. the WINDMILL in particular amusing me. I'm often on Tom's wavelength, having similar interests, so I enjoyed the selections. I can see, though, how some might feel like it's too heavy on the fanboy stuff — LUKE / DARTH VADER, MARIO / BOWSER, BATMAN / JOKER, etc.
And what, no DLEIFTAHMCCOY? Tom, Tom, Tom.
I do have extremely high expectations for Tom, one of the top creative minds in all of crossword construction. While I did enjoy the moment when everything dawned on me, it wasn't quite enough to make me say that this was one of his best puzzles.
Solid execution though, and a good amount of snazzy COOKIE CUTTER / IRON LADY / NO CALL LIST / AMEN TO THAT to help perk up my solve. It wasn't a ton of long bonus fill, but you only really need a handful + smooth short fill (SCHS / ALG / OSTEO / HITEM is well under average for a Sunday) to create a feeling of gridwork excellence.
Tom plays on ANSWER LENGTHS, giving us entries hinting at their own length. ARGONS ATOMIC NUMBER is … (taking off my shoes to count on my toes) … 18, which is the length of that answer. The MIDNIGHT HOUR is 12, and MIDNIGHT HOUR has 12 letters.
I was confused as to why F O U R was circled in the grid. Were there four theme answers? Four ANSWER LENGTHs? Huh ... a-ha! FOUR seems to be the only number that contains exactly that number of letters. ONE has 3 letters, TWO has 3 letters, etc. Interesting piece of trivia.
(Another piece of trivia: what's the largest number that has nine letters in it? My answer below.)
I liked the in-the-language phrases like MIDNIGHT HOUR much more than the definitional VOTING AGE IN AMERICA things. But it's tough to find a snazzy phrase that contains exactly 18 letters, and also hints strongly at the number 18.
BAD LUCK SYMBOL … it does have the critical 13 letters, but it suffers from a definitional dryness. It also felt wonky. Not wrong, but I'm not sure how many people would call 13 a "symbol."
I enjoyed the McCoyan touches, NERDS as a high school clique, LAIR giving Smaug's Lonely Mountain, etc. It's fun to know something about the constructor and his/her personality reflected in the grid.
A couple more blips in the grid than I'm used to in a McCoy puzzle. ON MARS , s a verboten six-letter partial? Say it ain't so! NLE isn't really used in real life, and even though NBAERS is (in headlines), man does it seem weird.
Then again, with a very small amount of crossword glue overall, it just goes to show what a high bar Tom has set for himself.
Overall, I liked the concept of the ANSWER LENGTHs hinting at the entry's content, but I would have liked a few more sizzlers. Even as a chemistry wonk, I wasn't too interested in counting out ARGONS ATOMIC NUMBER. And darn it, I feel like I should have known it off the top of my head!
(My answer: TEN GOOGOL. Can anyone do better?)
Nice and consistent theme, [color] + [bodily descriptor using -ED]. Neat finds — I wouldn't have imagined that there were four of these phrases, much less four that so perfectly exhibited crossword symmetry. A constructor's dream!
Interesting layout. Typically it's best to alternate themers left / right, so in this case, GREENEYED would go all the way to the right, and RED HANDED would shift to the far left. That usually allows for better spacing and thus, easier filling. But two shortish themers, at nine letters apiece, gives a lot of flexibility in placing your themers. It's fun as a constructor to buck convention to see what happens.
A pair of strong bonuses in ENERGY BAR and THE DONALD. The latter may not be to everyone's political tastes, but it is a colorful nickname. (I keep trying to get people to call me El Jefe, but that hasn't stuck. Harrumph.)
Smooth grid, too, not a surprise for a McCoy. NON, ONS, and AMT are all minor, so I breezed through the puzzle. Well crafted; I'd happily give this to novice solvers.
But given how much flexibility the low(ish) theme density allowed for, I would have liked to see more bonuses in the fill. I'd bet a huge sum that given Tom's skills, he could have worked in another pair (or two) of great long entries, perhaps by taking out the black square in between ORBS and TRAY, while still keeping the grid nice and smooth. The theme wasn't anything mind-blowing, so these extra bonuses could be important in terms of holding solvers' attention.
Solid Monday offering, if not as awe-inspiring as Tom's puzzles usually are. Tough to achieve that in a Monday puzzle, anyway.
Tom minds THE GAP today, splitting up common words to form two new words for kooky effect. Some amusing ones, KIND RED SPIRIT and QUICK THIN KING my favorites. I've seen many split-word themes before, but I don't remember this exact implementation, so kudos for the novel twist.
Interesting choice to expand to a 16x15 grid. Even though the wider grid ought to proportionally allow for a higher word maximum (78 is the norm, Tom went up to 81), I usually find that sticking to that usual 78-word maximum is a good thing.
Why? As a solver, wide grids sometimes make me feel like the puzzle is taking much longer than usual to solve, and that can leave me with a sense of irritability, that I couldn't finish in a normal time. Me and my stupid expectations!
But it is so hard to keep to 78 words in a 16x15 grid — while keeping the fill clean and snazzy, that is. Tom would have had to take out a pair of black squares somewhere, perhaps the one at the end of YOU BET (and its symmetrical partner). That would have made for quite the construction challenge.
And that would have only gotten him down to 79 words! Having to take out yet another set of black squares … perhaps the one between DYLAN and KNELT and its symmetrical partner? Yikes, that starts to feel like compromises in fill would be inevitable.
So I don't mind that Tom decided to go the 81-word route (my solving expectations be damned!). His fill is mostly strong — just a bit of SSS, TUN, OFA, with some nice bonuses in PLANKTON, SECURE LINK, BASERUNNER.
But I do wonder if it would have felt more like a Monday-ish puzzle if he had split THE / GAP (3 / 3) smack dab in the middle of a normal 15x15 puzzle?
Overall, some amusing themers and good bonuses in the fill made for a pleasant solve; nice and accessible for Monday solvers.
ODDS AND ENDS played upon today, construed as "phrases whose last words are odd numbers." I hesitated when I got to the revealer — wouldn't ODDS ARE ENDS or ENDS ARE ODD be more apt? Alas, neither of those are real phrases. Stupid crossword gods!
It would have been all too easy to stick with ONE THREE FIVE SEVEN — with the revealer, that would have made five total themers, just about right for a dense, meaty grid. But it would have felt incomplete without the final single-digit odd number, NINE. Kudos to Tom for going the whole NINE yards (*rimshot*), working with an extremely high theme density. Six themers is no joke.
The grid is well crafted, not a surprise given that Tom is one of the best in the construction business. So smooth, just a minor YTD (and we business folks don't even blink at that). I usually keep a running tab of crossword glue, since I prize smoothness so highly in Monday puzzles — to get only that one minor tick is fantastic. Makes the puzzle so accessible to a newer solver.
I do wish the NW and SE corners hadn't been so sectioned off from the rest of the puzzle. There are two answers — AIR FORCE ONE and WORSTS — connecting the NW to the rest of the puzzle, so it's not as bad as it could be, but I prefer a bigger passageway, allowing for more solving flow.
Speaking of bigger passageways, Will once asked me to avoid "stair steps" of black squares involving three-letter words, i.e. the narrow RAS / SAX region. I didn't understand the feedback back then, but these days I do notice how constricted such a stair step can make a puzzle feel.
All these narrowings are prices to pay to get that ON CLOUD NINE entry in — so many black squares are needed to separate so many themers — so I like the trade-off.
Fantastic JEDI clue. "Force-ful" characters indeed!
Simple theme but executed well. If the revealer had generated a stronger a-ha moment for me, it would be POW! material.
★ As a writer (I recently landed a two-book deal with HarperCollins, woo hoo!), I enjoyed the "rules" Tom featured today. Something so amusing about the image of a professor lecturing to his/her students, saying DON'T USE CONTRACTIONS, and then wondering why all the students were tittering.
I smiled at the first one — NEVER GENERALIZE, the entry itself generalizing — and didn't stop until I reached the last one. Er, ones. It confused me to get AVOID REDUNDANCY, and then to get it again. Neat a-ha moment when I realized the meta-wink, using that entry redundantly!
A friend and I were chatting a while back about how Tom is such a standout in Sunday puzzles; how his byline is one of the few that once we see it, we can't wait to dive in. This one wasn't quite as creative as some of his others, but this writer sure enjoyed it. Will does try to space out Sunday constructors so that there's a ton of variety in authors, but I'd welcome Tom's Sunday byline more than every three months or so.
And Tom is one of the few constructors who I'd encourage to use less than 140 words. Will's experiment in this sub-140 space hasn't been too successful in my eyes, but there are a few people who do make me see the value in it. 136 words is incredibly tough to pull off, and there is a handful of MMV, OCA, ESO, STET, RDS kind of stuff. But it's all minor, and the quantity is less than we see in most 140-word puzzles.
Most importantly though, going down to 136 words allowed Tom to feature a lot of long or mid-length bonus material that shines. PIERCED EARS. MADE FOR TV. HOLE IN ONE. MUSICIAN, with its clever [Person of note?] clue. HEYDAYS. ADMIRAL Ackbar for us "Star Wars" nerds. END RUN. Even GOOGLE with a McCoyesque clue, referencing their heavily guarded PageRank algorithm. Great bonuses all throughout the puzzle.
This is the type of trade-off I think is well-worth it. So much great bonus fill for some minor gluey bits (and an odd OVERGO) … that's the way to do a sub-140 word Sunday puzzle.
Looking forward to the next McCoy byline already.
STAKEOUT parsed as S TAKE OUT, i.e. take out S's people tend to colloquially toss in. That first themer threw me for a loop — do people actually say ALLS I KNOW? (It does look cool as ALL SIK NOW.) But the other themers gave me a smile, especially HOWS ABOUT, which I use all the time. Fun concept.
Nice start to the grid, kicking it off with two Xs, so smoothly worked in. Along with YES MAAM, that's the way you want to start your puzzle! We do get an AMO soon after, but that's one I can easily overlook since it's a lone dab of glue in that region. (Solvers that are TYROS (newbs) could easily disagree, though — I bet AMO is odd Latin to some.)
As a 16x15 puzzle — wider than normal — it's expected that there will be 2-3 more words than in a regular 15x15. With a wide puzzle, some of us constructors stubbornly stick to the usual word maximum of 78, and I'm glad that Tom let his word count rise to 81.
Why? Because it's surprisingly hard to get down to 78 words or less in a 16x15 without compromising smoothness in fill, and I value smoothness so highly in Monday puzzles. Instead of little regions that are 3-5 letters wide, you tend to get ones that are 6 letters wide, like the upper right. Those are so much more difficult to fill than 5-wides.
Now, I don't like it when a puzzle goes to a high word count by eliminating interesting long fill, but that's not the case here. Tom is as good as ever with his long fill, highlighted by LUCKY YOU, TOP HEAVY, ODDS ARE …, TOO SOON?, IMPROV. If I can get this many nice bonuses, with so few dabs of ugly crossword glue, I don't care at all that the puzzle is technically 3 words above the max.
This felt like a tough theme to grok for a Monday — and I just couldn't imagine a stickler grammarian saying "S take out!" — but I like the innovative thinking. Some great examples of that colloquial extra S, too.
★ RETRONYMS are words/phrases that are coined after a technological leap has been made, i.e. before email was invented, SNAIL MAIL was just MAIL. I love how Tom 1.) found so many good examples of these, and 2.) used a "non-existent" across number to refer to the old word — neat how he puts a black square above the M of MAIL so that he can refer to "34-Across" for MAIL.
Also really enjoyed the bonus entries Tom worked in. CAPRI PANTS, THAT HURTS, COW TIPPING, SUIT AND TIE — great stuff. Some may wonder if EPIC BATTLE is a real thing or not, but this Lord of the Rings fan says to haters YOU SHALL NOT PASS!
Ahem. Ignore me.
The bonus entries were much appreciated, since halfway through, I had already figured out the trick, and the impact of the theme didn't quite last all the way through the puzzle. It's a good thing I kept hitting nice entries, PET CRATE, SAYS ME, ALL MINE, ROBOTIC, and DEAR GOD giving me lifts everywhere.
There was just slightly too much crossword glue for my taste — AGUE is so old-timey, CMDR, CTS, the odd EFT, along with more minor stuff — but I'm totally fine with it as the price to pay for getting so much good bonus fill.
That amount of crossword glue is atypical of a Tom McCoy puzzle — I think he's one of the best in the business when it comes to entertaining, smooth, Sunday puzzles with bonus fill. He brings up a good point about the "fake across entry" trick giving him a little more inflexibility than usual. I built one with this trick a while back, and it was surprising how much more difficult the grid became. It's already so hard to execute on a Sunday 140-word puzzle, and any additional constraint, like cementing so many black squares into place at the outset, makes the gridwork even tougher.
Although I wondered if that would have been better as a Thursday puzzle, where the impact might have more easily lasted all the way through a 15x grid, I still enjoyed it a ton. Love experiencing concepts I've never quite seen before.
EMOTION is parsed as E-MOTION today, an E shifting place inside a word for kooky effect. Fun and perfectly apt title! Some worked well for me, GREAT SALT LEAK and MINUET HAND providing amusing visuals. And as a San Jose native, I enjoyed seeing the Sharks' TEAL spotlighted in A TEAL OF TWO CITIES.
I wasn't as fond of MATE MARKET, which seemed surprisingly like MEAT MARKET — so much so that I wondered if MATE MARKET was actually a themer or not. And BALANCED EDIT felt more like a real editorial term than a funny result. I wonder if Will, as an editor, bust a gut when seeing BALANCED EDIT? Humor is indeed subjective.
I always enjoy getting hints of Tomness in his puzzles. Before I got comments from Tom, I would have bet $3,141.59 that the clue for HAL — if you shift all the letters once, you get IBM — came from Tom. Cha-ching! And that clue for IN CODE — a simple substitution where A = 1, B = 2, etc. — also expressed Tom's voice.
As always, Tom does a nice job with his grids. I liked the bonuses of SANTAS LAP, PRO BONO, even the single-word but colorful MARTINET / AUTONOMY. Not as wild about the ICE BUCKET challenge, but that might just be my personal Facebook oversaturation a while back.
I wondered if I might have missed some extra layer, as I've been known to do in the past, since Tom has Sunday skills in the top 10% of all constructors. But alas, I couldn't find anything.
Because the theme concept is so simple, and so many words would work with this simple "E shift" idea, I wanted something more. I would have liked even something as straightforward as "all themers contain exactly one E." There's no hard and fast rule that there can't be extraneous Es in the themers, but it would have provided for an elegant touch.
Rebus variant from Tom today, two letters used as a straight rebus in the down direction, while an ampersand is inserted for the across direction. Example: B&O RAILROAD crosses EL(BO)WS. There have been a few ampersand rebus puzzles before, but I don't remember anything exactly like this. We've fixed up the answers (see below) as best as possible (so the answers accurately make sense with the clues).
Tom is so good about introducing fun, fresh fill to his puzzles. This one doesn't have a ton of room for bonus fill, since it uses eight — really 16 — mostly longish theme answers, but Tom still manages to work in so much colorful material. NEED A LIFT? LAPEL PIN. HUMAN RIGHTS. YOU LOSE, with the famous anecdote about Coolidge's terseness. And that's on top of all the strong themers, like NOT TO WORRY, MOTORBIKES. AS PER USUAL, indeed! All those great entries really helped keep my attention through the solve.
However, at some point, all constructors must pay the piper. It's hard to imagine such a GOLIATH amount of sizzling themers and fill without some cost, and there was more than I usually see from a McCoy puzzle. A couple of SST, ANAT, A TEE, SEI is perfectly fine for a Sunday 140-worder. But there were a few head-scratchers today. Although it does appear to be a word, UNUSE stuck in my craw. DILATER did too — "dilator," as in a compound that dilates, would have been fine. IN A TUB feels like a six-letter partial. SEA RAT … I did find it by Googling, but it doesn't roll off my tongue.
I had a good laugh before fixing up the answers for our database — AW ROOT BEER feels like a seed for another puzzle. ["Dang it, do we have to have Barq's again?"]. BO RAILROAD might be [Stinky train option?].
I'm easily amused.
All in all, I would have liked something a little more different than the normal rebus or the play on ampersands, but Tom wove in enough really strong entries that I still was entertained.
★ I greatly admire constructors who can come up with novel ideas. So many crosswords have been made over the years that just about everything feels like it's been done to me. Tom comes up with a neat concept today, one that feels fresh, using TLAs (three letter acronyms) to replace a regular word. PICK ME, U.P.S.! had me chuckling, and MAMMA M.I.A. was clever. But my favorite was LET ER R.I.P. — not only is it a colorful base phrase, but the result is so enjoyably kooky. COMMON E.R.A. and DISAPPEARING A.C.T. (American College Testing) didn't do as much for me, but they still work well, consistent with the others.
Tom does so well with his grids. Many constructors would cite the fact that they have five longish themers, and call it good to produce a smooth, if unexciting, grid. Tom works in not just two, but four long downs, all of them really nice. Amusing to have GRAVE PERIL intersecting LET ER R.I.P., and ASYMMETRY is snazzy. We even get a ROM COM and a MEANIE — fun stuff.
Fun PALIN clue. It's so easy to take potshots at her, but this quote, "Buck up or stay in the truck," reminds me of the various Bushisms out there. I think I'll choose ... stay in the truck? I guess?
All this, with just a minor SCIS abbreviation and a NEURO prefix. I don't mind ILIE at all, since ILIE Nastase was a very famous tennis player. Sometimes he gets clued as a partial, just for a little variety, but I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that Tom was thinking of the tennis player.
I wasn't too hot on the D, E, A, N, S list cluing both ANDES and SEDAN, because having an "order for a Dean's list" didn't feel totally in the language. Still, A for effort, and it's nice to get some novelty here and there.
When someone gets too high on my POW! list, I up my bar for them so I can spread the love. But with an entertaining, innovative idea, and a beautiful grid to boot, I tip my hat to Tom this week.
★ I wish all constructors would get the chance to talk with Tom in person. I've only been able to do so once a year (at the ACPT), but I've enjoyed it so much. Tom is quickly becoming one of the best constructors in the crossworld, and he's so humble about it. It's inspiring to see someone with so much talent and drive to succeed keep a solid head on his shoulders. Not even out of college yet, I'd bet he'll be among the most-published constructors when he's done.
Today's puzzle is both clever and simple, in-the-language phrases that hint at a sort of WORD SEARCH. For example, FOLLOWING SUIT is clued with [Where you can find … "jacket" or "yourself"?] Both "jacket" and "yourself" can be found FOLLOWING SUIT, i.e. "suit jacket" or "suit yourself." I really like this twist on the typical "word that can follow X" theme, giving a tired trope a fresh feel.
I also like that Tom picked such a wide assortment of theme phrases. The only word he repeats is the minor TO (CLOSE TO HOME, NEXT TO NOTHING), and uses a great selection of themers, from BEFORE LONG to POST OFFICE.
The theme does a wonderful job of catering to both novices and experts — very important considering the breadth of the NYT's large Sunday solving population. It's easy to create a simple theme like an add-a-letter, and it's fascinating to create a mind-bending puzzle, but either can alienate large swaths of Sunday NYT solvers. (I've heard from some solvers that they love my crazier stuff, but also from others that they never actually figured out what was going on.) Finding that balance is hard to do, and I think Tom does it just about perfectly today.
Sure, there are a few gluey bits here and there — STO, and maybe SISI is a bit arbitrary — but just like most every one of Tom's puzzles, it's so well-executed. He's already in the rare air where I have to restrain myself from giving him the POW! in order to spread the kudos around.
Fun concept, Wilson's FOURTEEN POINTS (a statement of principles to be used post WWI) summed up by a GRAND SLAM (4), HAT TRICK (3), FOUL SHOT (1), and a TOUCHDOWN (6, without extra point). I like that Tom chose scoring plays from each of the four major North American sports (sorry, soccer fans!).
It did feel odd to call a GRAND SLAM worth four "points," though. Same goes for a hockey HAT TRICK. Runs and goals, not points?
And a pox on the God of crossword symmetry, making FREE THROW unusable with the other themers. FOUL SHOT is so much less frequently used in real life, yeah?
I like how Tom always pushes himself, working to incorporate quite a bit of bonus long fill. It's normal to get a little TEA HOUSE and GOOD TO GO action in the long downs, but to work in nice big corners in the upper left and lower right is much appreciated. To get WEREWOLF, ORATORIO, IWO JIMA, and WASH ME, all for the price of DCI is well worth it.
There were a few ODD ONEs, though. NONSELF seems to be mostly employed in religious studies or biology? And SCORIA hasn't been used since the Maleska days. Ultimately, I think it's fine, but crossing it with two entries that felt not quite right--ODDONE (I so badly wanted ODDITY) and OIL CUP (OIL PAN perhaps?)--may cause some grumbling.
And for a puzzle depending on numbers to add up to 14, having TWOS and ONEPART in the grid felt inelegant. The latter has only been used a handful of times in the NYT crossword, and it strikes me as slightly partialish. Tough call.
Tom always does a nice job keeping his grids clean, and I like his ingenuity in making AERO seem actually fine, with a physics-ish clue. And WACO gets a nice piece of trivia that will appeal to Dr. Pepper drinkers. Just a bit of TOI and ETA and RATA kind of minor glue, otherwise.
Neat concept with a couple of aspects that made me hitch.
Clever idea, using the "registered trademark" sign — a circled R — inside theme answers. It was a nice a-ha moment to realize that those circled Rs in the middle of themers were indeed ... circled Rs! I couldn't remember anything quite like this idea. Unique and fun.
It's too bad that the grid didn't somehow reflect that the circled R symbol is always in superscript. It feels like there could have been something really cool done in the pdf, with boxes raised from their usual orderly positions? As it is, the conceit works pretty well, but it feels like it could have been really memorable if somehow the solver was forced to put those special Rs in as superscript.
I think most constructors should strive to make Sunday constructions like this one. Note that Tom doesn't push the boundaries, sticking with a 140-word puzzle (the max Will allows), giving us a little bit of bonus fill, but not so much that the grid is overly strained.
For almost any Sunday NYT puzzle, there's bound to be a little OSA, IT IS I, ATA kind of stuff, but if it's kept to pretty harmless stuff and spread throughout the grid, it doesn't really bog down the solving experience. And to get a few goodies like SUNDRIED TOMATO, LOOK WHAT I FOUND, ROMAN EMPERORS, TO BE FAIR is a nice bonus. I find that this balance makes for a pleasurable, quality solve.
That's not to say that this is the only type of fun solve — sometimes it's kind of nice to get 10+ great bonus entries, even if it means you have to slog through globs of crossword glue, sometimes it's cool to get a puzzle with ultra-high theme density, etc. — but today's puzzle is the type I think most constructors can realistically shoot for. Sometimes I get co-constructors trying to go big or go home on Sunday constructions, and too often the latter is the result.
Innovative idea that I might have absolutely loved if the superscripting had somehow been achieved.
★ Great puzzle. How often do you see two symmetrical revealers — both totally apt? Occasionally you'll see that double-revealer sort of thing in a Sunday puzzle, but it'll be with a revealer in the grid and a perfect title (one of Tom's previous puzzles did this really well — I've appreciated that one more and more with time). Today we get MIDDLE CLASS and CENTER FIELD, which both describe the concept so well: school majors hidden within themers.
As if that weren't enough, Tom made some beautiful discoveries. THEATER in DEATH EATERS is brilliant and contemporary. MATH in UMA THURMAN is also fun, and it kind of hints at efforts to get girls more interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). (Okay, maybe that's just me.)
But wait, there's more! Fitting six themers into a 15x puzzle is hard enough that I expect to see some crossword glue and little to no long bonus fill. Tom works in SKYDIVER and EAST ASIA with a great "1984" clue, and manages to do so with really no price to pay. Some may balk at LOCI, but it's a common enough term in both MATH and ECON. Ha!
I had to scan through the grid a few times just to pick out MSS and … that's it for crossword glue. It's amazing that Tom crammed in so much theme and bonus fill with virtually no trade-offs. It seems to break the laws of physics, but it's a testament to the hours Tom clearly put in, working and reworking the grid to make it great.
A clinic on crossword-making. Neat theme with two perfect revealers, high theme density, long bonus fill, virtually no glue required. A standout puzzle, one that I appreciated even more as I studied its architechure.
There's a lot I appreciate about Jim (Horne), and one aspect that continues to amaze me is how differently we see puzzles. I missed some aspects of this puzzle the first time around, and it wasn't until Jim and I talked shop that I started to really appreciate it. Tom uses a great revealer — SINGULAR — to mean "a term used in the SINGULAR." But he also uses the second definition of SINGULAR — atypical — to describe four words rarely used in their singular form.
PAJAMA PARTY is the perfect example. This is a widely used phrase, and when else are you going to say "pajama" in the singular (besides PAJAMA TOP or BOTTOM)? Same goes for SCISSOR KICK. (Well, there's SCISSOR LIFT (mechanical engineering) the SCISSOR COUP (bridge, or course!), the SCISSOR GRIP (wrestling), but none of these pop quite as much as SCISSOR KICK.)
Jim and I still disagree on TROUSER PRESS. I admit my knowledge of clothing is poor, but PANTS PRESS sounded like the more common term. Google sides with Jim, with many more hits for TROUSER PRESS, and on Amazon.com, they have a "trouser press" section … but most of the products are listed as "pants presses." Hmm.
I would say I need a new "lens for my sunglasses," not a new "sunglass lens," but I can see people saying both. Anyway, fun to discuss these issues.
I usually really admire Tom's math/sci bent. The clue for SUM looked too confusing, though, and I skipped it. Thankfully I went back to it to decipher its meaning! What the clue is trying to say is that if you want to SUM the numbers from 1 to n, you can use a formula: n*(n+1)/2. For example, the SUM of the numbers from 1 to 100 = (100*101)/2 = 5050.
There's a famous myth about the mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss — one of his teachers wanted to keep him occupied and gave him the task of adding the numbers from 1 to 100. Gauss supposedly finished in minutes, using mathematical reasoning. Pretty darn cool.
So, a lot of interesting aspects to this puzzle, with some nice bonus fill in LEAP SECOND, I THINK I CAN, etc.
The quote mark is the same as an editor's ditto mark, which means to "repeat what's seen above." So Tom interprets these symbols as quote marks in the across direction, and ditto marks in the down, indicating that the letter above should be repeated.
An example: "OPEN SESAME" sits at 29-Across, including the open and close quotes. The crossing answer at 4-Down looks bizarre as CHED"AR, but the ditto mark tells you to repeat the D above. Thus, the double-D completes CHEDDAR.
Took me a long time to catch on, and even then, I didn't recall how a ditto mark worked. I bet this puzzle will play super-strongly to the editing crowd, less so to those of us whose last experience with ditto marks came in high school.
I really enjoyed some of the Tom-ness we've come to see in his body of work. Kicking it off with (I AM NOT) SPOCK and OH CRUD is great. HULK SMASH! and MY PRECIOUS in the themers also made me smile. And the crazy word SUBBOOKKEEPER with its quadruple set of double-letters right down the middle — I wasn't familiar with the word, and it looks a bit made-up, but what a cool find.
I read Tom's comments about low word-count experimentation with great interest. Going down to 132 words is an incredibly difficult task, and Tom is one of the few people I think are equipped to handle it. Such a low word count does make for a tough-to-solve, wide-open puzzle filled with a lot of mid-length (6 or 7 letters) entries. Some of them I loved: KARAOKE, AMSCRAY, I SWEAR, PTOLEMY, NO MERCY. Along with longer entries like FIG LEAVES and CUE STICKS, that's a lot of solving goodness.
But it comes with trade-offs. Some of the ones I didn't care for: REROSE, INCANT, TRYERS, IN A BAR, SOWER, CHEMIC, UNMEET, not to mention the fine but not super interesting GAIN ON, NEARER TO, RUSH AT entries made longer just by prepositions.
I personally prefer just a few great entries with fewer gluey bits, much more commonly seen in 140 word puzzles. But the variety from week to week is a good change of pace.
Themers whose letters all exhibit mirror symmetry. A couple of months ago, Jim and I submitted a similar theme to Will, who let us know we got scooped. McCoy! (shaking fist)
Ah well, it happens all the time. Jim and I had created a long list of possibilities, including WHAT A HOOT, OUT WITH IT, MAMMA MIA, and even MAHI MAHI. It was a little odd to see that last entry in the grid, but not thematically.
TOMAYTO TOMATHTO was not on our list — very cool one; a fun pseudo-spelling of the famous phrase from "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off." It looked bizarre at first, but it sure is more snazzy and accurate-sounding than TOMATO TOMATO (whose letters all also exhibit mirror symmetry!).
Given the theme, it would have been nice to get a grid whose black squares also exhibited mirror symmetry. More elegant that way, methinks. And SELF-REFLECTION is a pretty good revealer, but it didn't quite hit for me, as it doesn't totally get at "an object which appears the same in the mirror." Then again, MIRROR SYMMETRY is accurate, but not nearly as colorful as SELF-REFLECTION. Always the trade-offs.
Love the cluing today, right on my wavelength. Warren Buffett's awesome "The Wizard of OMAHA" nickname, the physically weak but strong-willed Aunt MAY from "Spider-man," and the GLORIOUS Leader, Kim Jong-un = lots of fun. I'm curious if Kim Jong-un can beat his father's record for most consecutive holes-in-one (478 at last count).
And a buddy of mine calls the MRS "Wifey," which I think is hilarious. My wife sadly doesn't agree. Harrumph.
So overall, some nice finds in the themers, especially TOMAYTO TOMAHTO, the effect muted a bit for me by getting scooped. Again … MCOY!
Apt title, THE SHORT FORM hinting at themers using abbreviations as regular words.
There's also an insider's nod here, as constructors often depend on quirky abbreviations to get them out of jams. Is CENT a common abbreviation for century? SING for singular? Not sure, but these two remind me of how many times I've struggled, trying to figure out if something like ISS for issue is passable.
I often like what Tom does with his long fill, and entries like IM OUTTA HERE and HANG IN THERE (symmetrically placed!) are much appreciated. ALL IS LOST and HARRUMPHS are entertaining as well.
Today's grid is a continuation of Will's experiment, asking constructors to try using lower word counts. Now that we've seen quite a few of these lower word count Sundays, I'm starting to see some patterns. One that I'm not fond of is a glut of phrases containing prepositions — STEPS UP, THIN OUT, TRUSS UP, TUNING UP, SNEAK OUT, ICE IN, SIDE ON, etc. While these are fine entries, they're only neutral to me, taking up valuable real estate.
Why is this? Part of it is because prepositions like ON, IN, AT contain common letters. Another part is that they exhibit a useful vowel-consonant alternation, often useful in grid filling. So when the grid challenge gets tougher, these guys can help out a lot.
In general, I like the low word count Sunday grids when that allows the constructor to work in more stellar long fill. If it means that there's more neutral long stuff, I'd much rather people stay at the 140 word maximum and focus on using their long slots wisely.
I did enjoy seeing some of Tom's vibe come out, with the clue for QUARKS — I had forgotten that the word was taken from James Joyce. Neat when science and literature mesh. And although I didn't know exactly what an NTUPLE was, I enjoyed learning a little more math. And for you non-techie types, there's a neat piece of trivia in that the AMARANTH symbolizes immortality. Fun to learn something new.
PROJECTIONS sticking up from the top of the puzzle and down from the bottom, the projecting letters aptly spelling out SORE THUMB. Stuck out like a sore thumb, indeed!
I appreciated how much care Tom put into selecting his themers. It would be all to easy to have just any entry starting with S for the first themer, but Tom picked SHARK FIN, which not only is a colorful entry, but also looks bizarre in the grid as HARK FIN. Same goes for RADIOANTENNA, which had me baffled when I uncovered the ADIOAN- start. I was sure there was some sort of unscrambling gimick involved.
Nice execution on the grid, too. Very little glue to hold everything together, plus a lot of supplemental fill that added to my experience. ITS NO WONDER I enjoyed the puzzle, getting KELVINS in the center. I was indignantly sure that it was incorrect, in that temperatures are given in Kelvin, not Kelvin, but a quick check reminded me that KELVINS are indeed used to express temperature differences.
So much for my mechanical engineering master's degree.
It's too bad that this puzzle was published so close to Kameron Collins' recent HA HA HA puzzle. It's great to get an outside-the-box rule breaker once in a while, but the gimmick loses its edge when overused.
Also, I would have loved to get grid art in the shape of a thumb. Not sure if that's possible with black squares, but perhaps something with circles could have been done? Some extra element around SORE THUMB would have been fantastic, and it might have also forced a breakup of that wide center swath, which has so few ways into it. It's a neat feat to generate a clean swath with so many mid-length answers, but having it so heavily bordered off in the NW and SE made it too much like a mini-puzzle for my taste.
Overall though, a neat idea, strong themer choice, and a pretty good punchline.
ADDED NOTE: Jim pointed out that all the upper half theme answers are sort of "things that stick up" and the lower half answers are "things that stick down." A nice additional layer of theme that I missed. D'oh!
Fun start to the week, LADIES FIRST applied to common "(man) AND (woman)" phrases for a role reversal. Nice construction too, very little glue required — keeping a five-themer puzzle to just MTG is impressive.
What I liked the best about this one was some of the unusual cluing. It's tough to come up with fresh clues for 3-, 4-, and 5-letter words that have been used hundreds of times before. But several stand out today:
A few weeks ago, Joel suggested to me that I could better use 5-7 letter entries for flavor. This puzzle is a good example of that. It's not often you see OJIBWA in a puzzle due to its J and weird consonant pattern. Paul BUNYAN doesn't get a lot of play. Even COUSIN is relatively rare within crosswords.
The six-letter entries often get underutilized. Every crossword depends on the short stuff to hold a grid together, and most constructors lean heavily on 8+ letter entries for color. The 6-7 letter entries are a potential gold mine.
Finally, I understand the desire to make a Monday puzzle as accessible to novice solvers, but I think the "(hint: 59-Across") takes away from the whimsy of the theme. I would have liked solvers to be given more credit for their ability to hold out until the revealer to figure out what's going on.
Then again, Doug Peterson told me a few weeks ago that many solvers often give up if they can't figure out … 1-Across. Such a difficult tightrope act, balancing cleverness with simplicity.
Timely theme, what with the recent passing of P.D. James. I've never read any of her work, but all the news stories about her makes me want to explore. And a nice concept, using symbols from the periodic table, switched out for famous writers known by their first two initials.
The periodic table has been mined for crossword Au over the years, so we went through a spell where this had become overdone. It's nice to see a little chemistry back into the NYT xw (said the chemistry dork). I found it a little odd that the chemical symbols didn't typographically match the initials — Cs is not the same as C. S. — but I was able to suspend my hitch and enjoy the puzzle. Cool that Tom found 1.) enough authors that share this feature (I really like the consistency there), and 2.) matching pairs. A nice discovery.
When you don't have much flexibility in themers, the gridwork sometimes gets tough. I can't imagine Tom had many (if any) alternate name pairs ready to use, so a 12/14/14/12 pattern it was. These "unfortunate lengths" are tough to incorporate, because the themers have to be squished together to the middle of the grid due to black square issues. I quite like what Tom's done in the difficult middle of the puzzle, needing only a SOCIO and a STOA to connect the central two themers. Puzzles with themers so close together often come out with globs of EPOXY holding the middle entries together, so this turned out well.
And especially given that it's a relatively tough grid, it's great that Tom worked in a few long pieces of fill. (I always love reading about a constructor's solver-first mentality.) The proximity of DEBRIEFED and DRAWERS made the fourth-grader in me laugh. Along with some ROUND EYED awe at the cool extra chemistry content in LIQUEFY and INERT, I felt like the fill added to my solving experience.
Some excellent clues, too. It just takes two or three to make me notice and appreciate, so SHIH TZU (I triumphantly plunked down SHAR PEI), ONE A (way to make a normally blah entry interesting through the use of wordplay!), TESLA, DOT, all did the trick. If only TESLA were alive still, he'd be a current current researcher.
Fun experience today, trying to figure out what these people had in common as I went through the puzzle. I had no idea each of them had a twin — pretty cool, considering I'm an identical twin myself, a member of the UW Twin Registry, and have participated in twin studies. (The electrode experiment was surprisingly mild. And shockingly fun.)
The number 13 carries so many negative connotations in our society, and much of it is based on superstition. But in crosswords, there's a real reason to be scared. Patrick Berry calls the 13-letter entry an "inconvenient length," and for good reason. ASHTON KUTCHER and MARIO ANDRETTI force a difficult layout issue: go big, like Tom did, or take the chicken-hearted way out (see grid to left). The latter makes filling so much smoother, but check out the ugliness of those giant black square chunks.
Tom's approach is one I almost always prefer, since it allows for great fill like CHICK MAGNET and MONSTROSITY. But today, because Tom goes really big with the extra entry TWINS, each of those long pieces of fill must run through three themers. Talk about high constraints. Along with IMAGERY and SAUNTER (both nice), the constraints result in a smattering of OBE and IZE, plus a tough crossing of Michael IRVIN and VIN DIESEL. I don't mind IRVIN at all, as he was a game-changing WR for the hated Cowboys, but along with other esoteric names — PATTI, ASHER, EARLE all nearby — it felt like too much.
It's hardly ever easy when you shoot for the moon. But I generally like the trade-off here.
The theme made me curious enough to look up all the not-famous twin halves, and I was disappointed to see they weren't all identical. There's something inherently fascinating about having essentially a clone. My brother's babysitter once saw me and my wife out to dinner and was aghast, thinking that my brother was messing around. Then there was the time one of my brother's friends followed me around a grocery store and out to my car, all the time covertly spying on me. No, that wasn't creepy at all.
It's really neat that MARIO ANDRETTI has an identical twin brother. It's not nearly as neat that KOFI ANNAN had a fraternal twin sister. Now, if she looked exactly like him …
Finally, loved the clue for PHARAOH; a "pyramid schemer" indeed. Great to see that type of playfulness on a Monday.
Such a clever concept! Tom has only recently emerged onto the crossword scene, but I've been as impressed with his body of work as any other newish constructor coming to mind. Today he treats us to "COLORFUL CHARACTERS," i.e. words that collectively FORM LETTERS. I've color-coded them in the grid below to make the idea more apparent. My favorite was BLUE JAY, composed of (BLUE) BERRY, (BLUE) RIBBON, and (BLUE) MOON.
What most impressed me was the cleanliness of fill in the grid. Sunday puzzles adhering to Will's 140 word maximum are hard enough to put together, and when you throw in crossing constrains all over the grid, it becomes so much more difficult. Very few people are up to this task — I would expect to see some or even a lot of glue required to hold sections together, particularly around the giant letters. For example, that huge yellow C is highly constrained, and really ought to need some crossword schmutz to hold it together. But Tom deploys black squares and cheater squares wisely, figuring out how to assemble the corner using only RTE. I imagine that must have taken a lot of iteration to get right. The entire grid is so well executed.
One thing I would have liked was more connectivity between the giant letters and the phrases they represented. Like many other solvers, I don't care for cross-referenced clues, especially when their answers are physically far apart in the grid. A similar principle was in operation here. YELLOW SEA is so nicely in proximity to the big yellow letter. BLUE JAY however, was so far away that I sort of lost interest in that connection.
I'm not actually sure if this issue could be redressed, given how many constraints this concept required. Since there are very few FORM LETTERS that would work (RUBY DEE is the only other one I could think of), and the lengths of 7/8/8/9 necessitate the mirror symmetry, there's not a lot of options to work through. But perhaps instead of placing the four big letters in the corners, they could have been positioned in the north, west, east, and south, along with their respective "revealers" nearby. That might have meant removing FORM LETTERS, but I think "COLORFUL CHARACTERS" is such a perfect title that FORM LETTERS almost dilutes the effect.
A very tough order, but I bet Tom might have been one of the few up to the task.
But overall, a great idea, very fun solve for me, and that's what matters. Perhaps if I could have turned off my annoying constructor's brain I would have given it the Puzzle of the Week. It was a close call and a tough decision — I love having those types of problems!
A classical music(-ish) theme from Tom today, STRING QUARTET reinterpreted as a foursome of different types of string. At its heart it's a "hidden words" theme, and since so many of those have been done before, it's important to choose snappy theme answers. Although I don't know HEY ARNOLD, I've heard of it, and the clue was a nice bit of trivia. VOCAB LESSON was another strong one, and ZERO PERCENT sang to me. I can just imagine someone saying "Zero percent chance of that!" Good stuff.
I was a little mystified by the four strings. ROPE and YARN, definitely. NYLON felt more like a material to me, though. Perhaps it's my engineering background, through with I designed a lot of plastic parts to be injection molded from nylon? And CABLE I can see as a type of string… sort of. My first thought was to wonder what one of my computer cables had to do with string. I would have preferred if Tom had gone with THREAD and TWINE. A matter of personal taste.
Setting those qualms aside, Tom did a nice job putting together the puzzle, especially considering the difficult 11/9/13/9/11 pattern (central 13 = very limiting). I like the layout overall, with a lot of space between themers. I didn't quite find it as smooth as some of his other work, especially around those parallel downs: LOSE LOSE / GAUNTLET and SENESCED / TRY HARDS. Those types of parallel downs are notoriously difficult to execute with total smoothness. Tom does a great job in the NE, picking two strong entries, and filling around them with only an LGA and YDS, very minor nits.
The SW suffers a bit though, with SENESCED being an interesting VOCAB LESSON for some but not terribly snazzy for others. TRY HARDS… are they "a thing"? It could easily be some sort of really old (or really new!) slang. Just not something I've heard before, which is fine. But the crossing between NCR and SENESCED is going to be rough on some solvers. Arguably an unfair crossing, although I could see it going either way.
Finally, I really appreciated reading Tom's comments about 1.) holding the solver's experience as by far the most important factor and 2.) learning from solver feedback. I think it's important to remember that opinions are simply opinions, but I really like his process of data-gathering and reflection.
★ What a perfect title for this clever idea. Self-evident, indeed! I'm impressed that Tom was able to come up wtih so many snappy phrases that fit the pattern. The Yogi Berra quote in the middle sings, and how could you hate HATERS GONNA HATE? But the real topper is the quote from Gertrude Stein represented in a repeating circular pattern in the center. So many levels of delight today.
In just four published puzzles, I've picked two of Tom's as Puzzles of the Week now. Not bad sir, not bad at all. As Jim and I discussed, Tom's a constructor to watch. I've enjoyed my correspondence with him — seems like he has the right attitude: humble and willing to listen, learn and drive himself to improve. Hoping to see a lot more from him.
Liz Gorski's rebus interpretation of the Stein quote was another fun one. I appreciate Tom's new interpretation, taking things a step further.
Another thing I admired about this puzzle was its scientific tone. It's not going to RESONATE well with everyone, but I personally enjoyed seeing ENTROPY, LIGAND, and TITRATES in there, triggering good memories of college chem and physics classes. I bet it will trigger shudders for others, but you can't satisfy everyone. HATERS GONNA HATE, as they say.
I did wonder if this would have made a better weekday puzzle. A 21x can get a bit tedious to solve if there's not some factor that forces it to use an oversize grid. A visual element often does that for me. Grid art is another reason I find compelling. For me, the best Sunday puzzles are those that absolutely, positively, cannot be done in a normal 15x. All in all, I thought it was really nice to get all those snappy theme answers today, but it did get (pun intended) a little repetitive.
Neat idea, well laid out (great spacing between his themers and the central element), some strong, smooth fill and cluing, and a neat visual element. A winner of a Sunday in my book.
★ This puzzle delighted me. It's pretty rare that we see shenanigans on a Monday, because Will tries to keep early-week puzzles fairly accessible for the NYT solving population. So it's a real treat to get a fun theme like this, easy enough for most solvers to pick up on but clever enough to be memorable. Very well done.
A few months ago, I started to realize that I was letting my constructor's brain take over my daily analysis, going robotically through to figure out what could have been done better. Things changed when there was a puzzle I thought had too many compromises, but which Jim didn't mind because it "delighted him." That made me revisit my criteria on what makes a puzzle "good." Puzzles are a fun thing for me, and elevating that "delight factor" (DF) as my number one criteria has also elevated my puzzling joy. So to see a theme like this, where WIDE RECEIVER is interpreted as [T e l e p h o n e h a n d s e t] = great pleasure for me. All four of these themers really did it for me, and to have STRETCHED OUT as both a themer AND a revealer = brilliant.
That's not to say my constructor's mentality ever turns off (darn you, stupid brain!). I couldn't help but notice that there wasn't as much in terms of long fill as there could have been. It was interesting to read Tom's note to that regard. OLD STYLE and SPLENDID are indeed very good entries, as are MAJESTY and RICHTER, but it would have been splendid indeed if Tom had managed to work in another pair of 8's.
And there's really not much that's glue-y in this grid. Pretty well polished. But as I recently told a co-constructor, I have a hard time with "good enough" fill, always (OCD-like) trying for the absolute best possible. So seeing A TRIP, which could have been ATRIA (and possibly allowed for MY EYE! where HYENA is) made me pause. In general, I expect 78-word puzzles to have almost perfect fill, unless the theme density or other constraints necessitate otherwise.
So a well executed puzzle, with a pinch of unfulfilled potential. Knowing that Tom's a CS guy, I have a feeling he'll be upping his game as his constructor career rises.
Overall, I return to what's really important: DF = high.
ADDED NOTE: I corresponded with Tom about that east section, and it turns out he missed that possible improvement because he did this grid by hand. Wow! My first grid by hand was a complete disaster, including the wild entry SUN SON (it sounded like "a thing" at the time). One big advantage of computer-aided design is finding and improving these little sections is much quicker than doing so by hand.
Straightforward "add a letter(s)" theme today, ALADDIN parsing as AL ADD IN = add AL to phrases to produce wacky results. As with these types of puzzles, the keys are 1.) whether or not the base phrases are snappy and 2.) if the resulting phrases make the solver smile or laugh. I think Tom did a nice job in picking strong base phrases; all of them very solid. The resulting phrases generally didn't do a lot for me — humor is so subjective — but A FAREWELL TO ALARMS gave me a nice image of that kooky alarm clock programmed to roll away when it goes off, thus making the owner chase it a la Benny Hill. (cue Yakety Sax music here)
For just his second NYT puzzle, Tom does a nice job. The leap from weekday to Sunday puzzle is dramatic — I remember staring at a blank 21x grid for the first time, wondering if I could actually do it. It was a simple "add an R" puzzle so wasn't accepted (hey, you gotta start somewhere), but it was a giant step for me to realize that a Sunday NYT was within my grasp (well, with a LOT of additional practice and training). Congrats on the Sunday debut, Tom.
Ah, big corners. Check out the NE and the SW, 6x6 chunks of white appearing almost themeless in quality. These are tough to fill, especially when bordered by two long answers. I appreciate the care Tom took with the SW corner — it turned out beautiful. LONG PANTS is a nice enough answer, and Tom puts in PINKIES / RAN DRY / PLANAR with a great Flatland clue. Not even one tenuous answer! That's the way to care and feed for a subsection.
Moving to the NE though, once you throw down IDEALS OF MARCH and PUSSYFOOT (great entry, BTW!), filling that subsection can be brutal. So often they require glue like UNIATE and SO MUCH, which seems to me a six-letter partial, not something that's generally acceptable. I wonder if PUSSYFOOT was just too enticing to leave in the grid. It's one of my favorite entries in the grid, but for me personally, it's not worth the price of UNIATE and SO MUCH.
These big corners are tricky. They can be hard to avoid when your first entry (CHANGE OF PALACE) leaves exactly six white squares to its right. Might have been nicer to break that chunk into a much more easily fillable 6x3 or a 6x4, by shifting black squares around.
Finally, a nice clue to end this post. I was pretty stuck in the SW corner, and I stared at [Lines at a theater?] for the longest time. Turns out putting an "S" at the end wasn't so smart! I liked the a-ha moment of figuring out that it wasn't talking about QUEUES but a SCRIPT. I find these types of clever clues are essential for holding my interest when a Sunday theme is straightforward. Brought a smile to my face.
Tough Thursday challenge. Any time the theme answers are largely unclued, it takes time to uncover letters one by one through the down crossings. Today's theme is an interesting one, entries than can describe themselves. I had a hard time figuring out how they all related to each other, but generally appreciated the fact that each answer was self-referential.
Outside of the theme, nice construction. Fairly standard grid layout, with a couple of long downs and solid fill throughout. QUESTING tickled me, thinking about Sir Pellinore (of The Once and Future King) pursuing the Questing Beast and its fewmets. I love it when a single clue or answer can bring to mind such pleasant images. Very nice work in the overall construction, painstakingly executed. When REL, ALEE, APPTS are your worst entries, that's pretty good. And given that this is Tom's debut, it's doubly impressive.
After finishing the solve, I sat back to figure out why I felt a little unsatisfied with the theme. It was pretty neat that the four themers described themselves, but I would have loved to see them tie together somehow, as the universe of self-descriptors seems large, especially when you throw in possibilities like PRONOUNCEABLE (SPELLED CORRECTLY, TWO WORDS, LEFT TO RIGHT, etc.). Not every theme has to neatly tie together with an elegant bow, but I would have liked a little more specificity out of this one.
Good Thursday workout, cleanly constructed, especially for a debut.