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Puzzles for October, 2018
with Jeff Chen comments

View these same grids with comments from:
Constructor (29)Jeff Chen (31)Jim Horne (13)Hide comments
Mon 10/1/2018
LAPDAFLACSWAB
AREASMIAMIMICE
DRAMATISPERSONAE
EARHIGHCORGIS
SULTANOFBRUNEI
IRTROOSSNUB
SUNDAEYAWGRO
THEENDISNIGH
ANADOHNEATER
GORPSOBALXI
FIGHTINGILLINI
ASASETGENEXER
BATTLEOFTHESINAI
LMAOTRUERSOARS
YELLLENNYNYSE

Welcome back to another week of "Crossing Words, with Jeff and Jim!" We'll again alternate who leads off and who cleans up.

Innovative idea today, THE END IS NIGH hinting at phrases ending with a "nigh" sound. Chuck did well to uncover BRUNEI, ILLINI, SINAI.

English is such an oddball language.

The idea interested me enough to go look for other "nigh" sounds. Besides Bill NYE — ooh, he's gotta feel snubbed today! — I could only think of DENY. Impossible to DENY that the theme set is pretty tight!

I struggled mightily with DRAMATIS PERSONAE. Turns out that 1.) I had no idea what this meant, which made for easily the hardest Monday puzzle this year, 2.) I've been pronouncing PERSONAE all wrong, apparently, and 3.) PERSONAE (long E) by itself is pronounced differently than when used in DRAMATIS PERSONAE (long I).

Who the *@$%! is responsible for our ridiculous language?

Putting this big theme qualm aside, I appreciated Chuck's efforts to incorporate some bonuses. I like trying to HANG TEN while surfing. FISH FRY? Don't mind if I do! And my favorite, WINGING IT — describes my life to a tee.

Speaking of WINGING IT though, sure was some winging it in the grid. I'm okay with a more somber puzzle, but NEAR FATAL / PISTOL ... crossing FIGHTING and BATTLE? So much for a pleasant solving experience!

And although Chuck did well to split THE END / IS NIGH — that makes for a much easier constructing job, compared to keeping it together as one centered entry — there's way too much IRISE AME GRO IRT LXI OBI. Not an elegant result; quite an unfriendly experience for newer solvers.

Overall, a novel idea lending itself to some neat ways of spelling the "nigh" sound. I would have been much happier if IMPOSSIBLE TO DENY had replaced DRAMATIS PERSONAE though, and if the the puzzle had been run on a Wednesday, where more experienced solvers probably wouldn't blink an eye at entries like ARRAU.

Tue 10/2/2018
DARNSISMSLASS
ORIONSTEPOWEN
BIGCOMPANYVEGA
BOOHOOGUIDEDOG
STRETCHNUS
HAIRGREASE
NAMBASTEEARED
SCALAFIGSTOLE
FARADUSERSDAN
WICKEDNINE
EGOTAGALOG
MAKEGOODDEFUSE
UBERFROZENONCE
SIRIUSNATOGAS
ETRESOAPSTERE

Jim is so diplomatic. I come down on the side of "Brilliant? Maybe not."

If I were a regular solver, I wouldn't have bothered doing anything after finishing. But I'll undoubtedly get questions today, so I felt I had to do further research.

I didn't enjoy trying to figure out if maybe they were all movies (BIG and FROZEN, definitely!) or musicals (WICKED, yep) or plays (NINE?). Or figuring out what the difference is between a musical and a play. Is one a subset of the other? If so, DOUBLE PLAY would have been a perfect revealer. Or, if Paul had chosen all movies, DOUBLE FEATURES!

I think there's a nice idea(s) in here, playing on DOUBLE PLAY or DOUBLE FEATURE. But I think "two musicals stuck together," without a revealer to tie things together, is a flawed concept.

Also odd: BIG COMPANY is a legit phrase, as is HAIR GREASE. Not WICKED NINE or FROZEN ONCE, though. Why not make all of them kooky, opening up so many more possibilities? Go BIG or go home!

Also flawed: going down to 74 words. I love that LOVE SEAT and LAKE ERIE, GUIDE DOG and MAKE GOOD jazz up the joint. But the prices of so many STERE ARIOT DONA (I flubbed, finishing with DOMA / USMA), ITISI EARED etc. Great to add something in for solvers who don't connect with the theme, but it's so important to do it in a way that isn't a net minus.

One thing I did love: the clue for MENU, putting the CARTE (the French word for card) before the course. Lovely wordplay! There's a crossword theme in there somewhere ...

Wed 10/3/2018
THEMGROGYACHT
IOTAEAVEAGREE
DAHLTHENEREIDS
EXILEDRENDSGT
OSLOSOLACES
GAPKNEWKILOS
UNIXEXAMINE
SNARFIDAEXPAT
AUSTEREAONE
BRYCESXSWSON
LEASHEDTOTE
AHISTEMUNRIPE
CASSIOPEIAIDOL
EVITAOMARCOPS
SENDSTONYKNEE

Lovely gridwork. I had a funny feeling something was going on, what with so many Xs popping up during my solve. An even funnier feeling made me worry that these Xs would force an inelegant grid, glopped together with dribs of crossword glue.

Not so! Such a pleasure to get only a bit of ANO STD. Not a lot of bonuses in just FUSHCIAS and YARDLINE, but for a tricky construction involving five Xs, I'd much rather get a clean 78-word grid than an audacious one showing its strain.

That last paragraph goes to the heart of one of the biggest differences between Jim and me (Jim and a great majority of solvers, probably). As a constructor, I value the technical merits of a puzzle as much as the theme, if not more so. Even if a theme doesn't catch my attention, I enjoy studying the craftsmanship. There's almost always something to appreciate there.

Can you tell I used to love "This Old House"?

It's a fun theme, connecting the Xs to form the constellation CASSIOPEIA. I thought Jennifer did a nice job of replicating the pattern as seen in the night sky. However, my long memory quickly recalled a brilliant BIG DIPPER puzzle, with a much more familiar image. I vaguely knew CASSIOPEIA was a constellation, but as to what it looks like ... good thing we have Wikipedia!

The theme didn't hit me that strongly, especially since we just had the other BIG DIPPER puzzle Jennifer mentioned. But I appreciated the stellar (ha) execution.

Let's see Jim top that astronomical pun!

Thu 10/4/2018
LGBTACLUAMAIN
OLIOWOOTNANCE
BUBBLEGUMTONOW
STIEBOCARINA
JUDASPRIEST
ERASSEATAC
GASPIPESTOLLS
AGAINSTLAIDOUT
DEPTHMARCECKO
IMGAMESKEW
BASEBALLBAT
AMERICAINEPT
SITATSODAMIXER
INUSESHAGNINA
LOPEDYOLOETSY

A-HA! So much for those previous comments about day-of-the-week issues, eh, Jim?

Eh?!

EH?!?!!?

(Jim is Canadian. And thus wouldn't gloat like the petty American I am.)

As much as I hate to completely agree with Jim, he said just about everything I was going to.

Drat.

I've had several discussions with Will about this issue, even sending him data about the dearth of tricksy Thursdays recently. The NYT used to fool me all the time on Thursdays, to my utter delight. Not so much in the past two years.

Will's perspective is that all he wants is for Thursday to be harder than Wednesday. I respect that he's sticking to his guns.

However, over a long period of time, he's set expectations about Thursday tricksiness. And although he is right that some solvers HATE being tricked, I think Thursday tricksiness is part of what distinguishes the NYT. Not only can it present 1.) easy, smooth, elegant Mondays, but 2.) audacious Sundays with creative themes, 3.) brilliantly executed themelesses, 4.) solid mid-week puzzles, AND 5.) out of the box wonders?

Historically, the NYT has been a "5-tool player". What other publication can say that? I worry that Will is letting this last tool slowly fall by the wayside.

So, what could have been done to Thursday-ify this puzzle? Some would argue that making the grid more challenging — going down to 72 words, perhaps — would help. I say no, as that just makes the solver's hard work feel even less worth the payoff.

Jim's "meta" comment made me think — what if this had been a meta-puzzle (with SODA MIXER dropped from the grid)? "The answer is a nine-letter drink — send in your entry for a chance to win a million dollars!" You bet that would have caught my attention!

Probably the best answer would been to just run this on a Tuesday, though.

Since Jim doesn't get a chance to rebut my rebuttal, I'll finish today out for him: "Jeff has been proven extremely and utterly correct, and Canadia is not."

Pretty sure that's what he would have said, anyway.

POW Fri 10/5/2018
ANDWEREOFFSITE
PERIWINKLEETAL
STALEBREADTONY
ESMECADSMALES
LAGHAIRDYE
STOWAGEMONEY
CAPONEGOLDCOIN
ALERTDABMOUSE
TINKEREDPERSON
SERTACOLDONE
SCORNEDLAD
CLUBSLAICALBA
HEREWITCHTRIAL
MACEINTHEWINGS
ORESGENERALTSO

★ There's a cookie shop that Jill and I go to on our weekly date night, called "Hello, Robin." Even if the line is out the door and down the block, we wait, rain or shine, for the fresh-baked birthday cake cookies. The "Macklesmores." And the ice cream sandwiches: premium, small-batch chocolate ice cream, between two chocolate chip cookies? There are plenty of other dessert places around, but Jill and I think this one is the tops.

Hard to say whether I'd prefer a Hello, Robin ice cream sandwich, or a Robyn Weintraub themeless. Such sweet tastes in PERIWINKLE, GOLD COIN, GENERAL TSO, OPEN SOURCE, WORKER BEES. Hidden nuggets in clues like CLUBS innocently described as a [Dark suit].

It's like Robyn does a MIND MELD with me. (Yes, I'm typing while holding my fingers in a Vulcan salute.)

I admit I didn't get the clue for AND WE'RE OFF at first. It's self-referential, which must mean … there's a horse named AND WE'RE OFF? D'oh [Exclamation appropriate for 1-Across] doesn't mean [Exclamation appropriate for "And We're Off"]. It's simply appropriate for the first clue of the puzzle!

Now I'm brainstorming entries that would be appropriate for themselves … thinking …

I liked this puzzle so much that I somehow got past the fact that I got a square wrong (HAB instead of DAB). Usually, I'd cry foul, seeing as HEADLINE and DEADLINE are both newsroom concerns, and why am I supposed to know some dance move from the 2010s?

But Robyn got me to laugh at myself and shrug it off. It takes an incredibly pleasurable solving experience to make that happen. To make me ignore the gluey bits, too. Normally, I'd cringe at the excess of ARIL ATTN ISON RTE TALI in a non-challenging 70-word grid. But because of how tasty everything was overall, I didn't care one bit today.

Say "Hello, Robyn" … to yet another POW!

Sat 10/6/2018
OFFEDSAHLSZA
DRIVESOREOTHIN
SERIALSCATHING
SELFIMPORTANCE
OHHICIATATTER
IMONERDOSSODS
NESTEDSHALT
KNEECAPONTHEGO
NONOSDREXEL
ATITDREAMSCAD
DENIEDTRIPARS
LABORINTENSIVE
IRONICALDORADO
BARSCENESPITUP
STNADOSSTEPS

Jim, Jim, Jim. In the 10+ years I've known you, how many times have you used the word IRONICAL? I've heard "the irony" or "how ironic" (okay, I'm making that up to make a point), but IRONICAL?

Knowing Jim, he'll find a way to slip IRONICAL into the conversation the next time we meet up.

I have a different perspective from Jim on what makes a perfect Saturday themeless. Any puzzle can be made hard by inventing crazy-hard clues like [Largest sesamoid bone …]. This type of hard isn't particularly fun for me — makes it more of a trivia game than a word puzzle.

To me, it's much more interesting when a grid is inherently Saturday-hard. Look at those big spaces like the NE / SW — so few toeholds to help you break in! Okay, SAHL in the NE might be a gimme, seeing that SAHL is in the crossword all the time. But so many long entries in that region! How could you possibly even start? That's the type of hard I like in my Saturday puzzle.

Not many constructors dip into 66-word territory, prime material for Saturdays. And to do it using 14-letter entries — they're so tricky to construct around, because they force black square placements immediately — makes it doubly difficult. I love that Lewis went there in his debut. Using SIX 14-letter entries is unheard of!

And strong execution, too. I had a rough time believing SZA was the correct answer, but thankfully, there weren't any other trouble spots for me. More importantly, I was so glad that Lewis managed to turn so many of his long slots into assets — BAR SCENE, FIRE HOSE, OREO THIN (sorry Will, that one seems nice to me!). In a puzzle dominated by a bunch of near grid-spanners, it's so tough to work in anything else worthwhile.

Bravo, Lewis. Debuting like this is audacious, to say the least.

Sun 10/7/2018MIND THE GAP
GURUSTREATYSEPTET
EPIZOAEENSIEUNREADY
RSAILSPLITTERTONEDUP
MELOCTAOUTQERSPACE
STSHEAVEDPLANET
TONIRISENSMARS
ROUOMDIVIDERDISPOSAL
ARMRESTNAASALCAVITY
TAPIRSEATITSUNEASE
ELSESORTRNAFBINOR
SECURRITYBREACH
SLOALTONELARSOHNO
TOWAGEPOIBEERBROOD
PAEPERCUTTERIPLANTO
AFTERALLSPAFECRACKER
TSOSOSOANONENE
NOBAMADOCOCKUSB
LUCKEYBREAKOVENNEE
ONLEAVEGRANGDOPENING
ADOPTERAGLARETSETSE
DOGTOYSHEERSSWEET

Not just one, but two interesting ideas today!

  1. Circles create gaps in appropriate words, i.e. RAIL is "split" by a circle, thus making that circle a RAIL SPLITTER.
  2. What goes into a round hole? How about a SQUARE PEG? Great way of using circles — instead of just highlighting certain letters, the circles are precisely the "round holes" of that saying!

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.

Mon 10/8/2018
ELBOWFROMTWIT
BEENERAVERITA
BATTERYTERMINAL
SHAHEISNERELK
ERINTACIT
GOLDENGATECOCO
IWILLSOASTO
GEMAIRPORTLPS
PRYNNEADELE
TCBYCANNERYROW
ILIEDOPEN
PEZILLINIAMPS
TAKINGABACKSEAT
OVIDBRIMATARI
PETSTASETYLER

Beautifully tidy, orderly puzzle. What do you look for when you're at the AIRPORT? Which TERMINAL you're leaving from, the GATE number, ROW number, and SEAT assignment — this sequence contains everything you need, laid out in perfect order. Ready for takeoff, captain!

BATTERY TERMINAL isn't going to win any awards for snazziness — it's often the clue for the common crossword entry ANODE — but it's decent. Thankfully, the other themers were strong, at least for this Bay Area native. The GOLDEN GATE logo on the Warriors' jerseys, woop woop!

I appreciate that Jacob didn't try to do too much with the grid. Since he needed five themers, it's a solid decision to work in two pieces of long fill — the excellent WINE COOLER (anyone else think of Bruce Willis singing that Seagram's song?) and the amusingly-named LIMP BIZKIT (rock group). After that, he kept his focus solely on making the grid super-smooth.

Uncomplicated Monday themes ought to have uncomplicated Monday grids, and this does the trick nicely. My my my my!

A couple of great clues, too. You have to be careful for a Monday puzzle, making sure that clues aren't so clever as to go over too many newbs' heads. But an ELBOW being something up one's sleeve? Yes! A great piece of trivia in TYLER referred to as "His Accidency"? That's the way to do it.

Tidy. Ordered. And a little interesting. Can't ask much more from a Monday puzzle. Well executed; up for POW! consideration.

Tue 10/9/2018
DAMNSIMACNEAP
EBOOKGAIAORCA
BUNNYOURSBILL
EPLURIBUSUNUM
DYLANNAPE
SECURITYBLANKET
PALSTWOTOOTH
ALITEASETSSHY
HIPPOHRHCHEM
NOSURPRISETHERE
TREEEVERS
HIDDENFIGURES
OREOCUKEORALB
SKEWISEEOILER
ESPNLEAKMOTTO

Some deliciously youthful fill coming from the JASA class today! What's the DEALIO, you might ask, with YOSHI the dinosaur? I say Si BUENO! (That should be as much a thing as NO BUENO if you ask me.)

HIDDEN FIGURES was a big, important movie in 2016. Nominated for Best Picture! I don't see many movies these days, considering my treading-water-with-two-raucous-toddlers-hood, but I have to see this one! I'm imagining a Holmes whodunit, with a geometry teacher suspected of foul play, a conoid murder weapon …

No?

Well, that's what it should be about.

Humph.

I like the concept of hiding various figures, but I had three issues with the implementation.

*WARNING WILL ROBINSON! Annoying OCD alert!*

1.) PRISM, CUBE, SPHERE are figures, yes. But why these three? Feels randomly selected from the huge number of geometric shapes. Not CONE? PYRAMID? Or, it sure would have been nice to get a progression. How about LINE to SQUARE to CUBE?

2.) These themers are all strong, but finding C U B E spread out inside a 15-letter string isn't very hard.

3.) If you mean HIDDEN as in "the circled letters jump right out at you," it's not really HIDDEN, is it?

Told you it was going to be annoyingly OCD.

All that aside, I think it's a pretty well-executed puzzle. NONPLUS felt odd since nonplussed seems so much more common, but that's just one entry in the puzzle.

Okay, putting ALL my ridiculosity aside now, it looks like the movie was indeed a must-see — I want to learn more about the black female mathematicians at NASA.

Hey! Today's FIGURES are all from math — neat! There you go, a clever link. I bet if I had seen the movie I would have connected more strongly with the theme.

Wed 10/10/2018
JOTAGERPLASTIC
ONOBRAERIHANNA
DODOBIRDINSPOTS
INOUYEOHOKTOT
EELSSOSOREVIEWS
HITHERVIDEO
BASSIADEINSTIR
ANTLALALANDUMA
EDSELSYSLOKRAS
REHABSARONG
SOHELPMEGODOTIS
ANALADEESPANA
NAILGUNALPHABET
DILEMMAROTOLEE
PRESSESSXSWERS

Jim and I play the "what will annoy Jeff game" most weeks. It's super fun — Jim simply tries to predict which puzzles will make me gnash my teeth. He thought today's would be one of those because the knowledge required is pretty specific.

Wrong! Score one for The U S of Murica, score negative eight for Canadiana!

I imagine there will be some who don't get what's going on. You do need some background to figure it out:

- Notes of the major scale can be sung DO RE MI FA SO LA TI DO.

- The ALPHABET song (same tune as "Twinkle, Twinkle") on a C major scale starts with C C G G A A G.

- You can thus translate that to DO DO SO SO LA LA SO.

The theme is demystified! Apologies to those who are rolling their eyes, saying, "Thanks, Captain Obvious!"

Well, it wasn't at all obvious to me what was going on, anyway. I liked that aspect of it — felt like a couple of interesting ideas merged creatively together. Not a jump-out-of-my-seat-a-ha-that's-brilliant-moment! But my curiosity was piqued enough to want to figure out what was going on.

I liked a lot of the gridwork, strong efforts to work in long bonuses like TURNTABLE, TODO LISTS, LINKED IN, ASHPLUME. That's ON ONE HAND.

On the other, some oddballs in OKRAS ADEPTS (such strange plurals), SANDP (that's the S&P 500, of course, never written out as AND except in crosswords), and the trio of IN STIR, IN SPOTS, IN TOW. I usually don't mind duplication of short words INside grids, but that gave the solve a repetitive feel.

Overall, it's not the incredibly memorable musical puzzle to which I hold every other, but it's a novel, interesting take. I'd be curious to see what percentage of solvers actually understood what was going on, or went back to figure it out.

Thu 10/11/2018
CCSQBSCLEVER
FOLKUAEIONIAN
BRAIDINGNODOGS
ISMELIAEFILE
LABRATSBRAVERY
AGEESHERAETTA
BERETMEMOSOY
LEFTBRAIN
LBJDARELEASE
IROCSIDEBCRAG
VIBRATOBRAKING
SHELFOBIEADD
STUDIONOBRADAY
ELNINOCUEINRE
WETTEDETSLET

The pleasure was all mine! Johanna is a delight to work with.

It's too bad Johanna's original concept didn't work out: kooky phrases resulting from BRA removals. I mean, BRAHMS LULLABY to the HMS LULLABY = a ship of peace? That's awesome!

Unfortunately, there just weren't enough others. BRAIN SURGEON to IN SURGEON, BRAIDED ROPE to IDED ROPE … hmm. Flat to non-sensical. Johanna came up with ZEN HUSSY (from BRAZEN HUSSY) … I decided it was best not to say anything on that one.

The grid skeleton was a pain to figure out, what with all the themers taking up so much real estate. I didn't like leaving those big NE / SW corners, but I couldn't figure out a way around them. Props to Johanna for tackling them with gusto! I thought we'd have to add a cheater square, maybe at the C of CLEVER. Not so, for CLEVER Johanna — CREDIT where CREDIT is due!

POW Fri 10/12/2018
NESSADAGEPRAT
OCTATUPACFISH
WHATSTHEBIGIDEA
LOTIONGAZEAT
EBERTMCSMESSI
TOMEPEONSRHYS
MOOBAGNOLDOAT
EMTIRAQWARTSO
SETDEDUCTSGAS
EROSDEEREJUBA
ESSEXTSAFANCY
LIGHTBULB
LATINOROBUST
AVENGENAENAE
BADASSSTRODE

★ I love me some beautiful grid art, and this is right up there with the best of the best. Big ol' LIGHT BULB, that's pretty good. But when you add in WHATS THE BIG IDEA, it becomes doubly clever. You know, because a LIGHT BULB represents an idea in the comics pages, and the LIGHT BULB is literally a BIG picture in today's grid?

Have I explained it to death yet?

Bruce ain't kidding about the difficulty of filling that middle section. I would have been sorely tempted to put a black square at the Q of IRAQ WAR. That would have made the puzzle 73 words — over the max of 72 for themelesses. That might have passed muster, but more problematically, it would have removed some precious long slots. Stunt themelesses sometimes suffer when held to normal themeless standards, because they don't have enough color to please solvers, so every long slot is golden.

Check out how critical that center section was. With IRAQ WAR crossing CONQUEST for a bit of sneaky political commentary, the kooky MEGADETH rock band name giving me happy memories of "This is Spinal Tap," and the delicious SNOW CRAB? All of that, with no prices to pay?

Good thing Erik was at the filling helm, not me!

There was already enough RIDE SHOTGUN, THAT IS TO SAY, NOW LET ME SEE, STATE MOTTOS to make it a pretty decent themeless. Adding in those appetizers in the middle of the grid made it great.

I did almost fail in the west section, not knowing the term ECHO BOOMERS. And there were some wickedly hard clues. But the clue for MOO was tough in a good way — great click when I realized that it was a cow saying that someone was "milking it a bit too much." Groan-worthy! In a good way.

Excellent craftsmanship in a tough construction, with just a little minor OCTA TSO ATTN. For me, this weel's POW! pick was AS EASY AS ABC.

Sat 10/13/2018
SHONDACHEATDAY
TOPOUTROGUEONE
AMENDSALANALDA
REDOSEWENTTOIT
GAPSACLUARES
ALIPIPETS
ZOEKAZANNOTBAD
ENCASESCORELLI
SEETHEKESTRELS
YESANDWAH
CROPDEEPFATE
LIMEADESISOPOD
OVERLAPSMURANO
MAGRITTEAPERCU
PLAYTESTSEXTET

Technically superb puzzle. Kevin is one of the few constructors dipping into quad-stack corners, and for good reason — they're one of the toughest challenges in themeless grids. That NE corner is so well done — CHEAT DAY is a great way to anchor it, ROGUE ONE is contemporary, TEA TASTER runs through it for even more color. Some might complain about Jennifer EGAN, but "A Visit From the Goon Squad" won the Pulitzer.

We constructors love it when people with grid-friendly names become crossworthy!

Nice work in the opposite corner, too. I do love me some PLAYTESTing, Kevin and I both deep into Mystery Hunt-style puzzles. (He's roughly ninety-wajillion times as skilled as me, though.) MAGRITTE and KATY PERRY added a lot, too.

Although the technical merits are strong, I had a bit of DOLOR as a solver. That's exaggerating, but these types of wide-open grids tend to suffer from lack of snazziness. I felt like there was so much prepositional addition — TOP OUT, CRAWL IN, HOLE UP, BLEW APART, DISHED OUT. Left me with a feeling of too many precious long slots not pulling their weight.

I didn't love ADEPTS, either. Yes, it's dictionary supported, but it's so odd in the plural.

And the PIMAS / MURANO cross nearly did me in. Ultimately though, I think PIMAS is something educated solvers ought to have at least heard of.

Kevin could have made his life a lot easier by moving a black square to where the P of PIMAS is. That would have dead-ended the SE corner, making filling easier, probably making it possible to replace some of those prepositionals with more pizzazz. But I applaud his decision to go the tough road, which allows for a more open grid and thus better solving flow.

Overall, a solid, if not super-sparkly, low-word-count puzzle.

Sun 10/14/2018GAME HUNTING
BETTIESPICERUBTGIF
UNHURTMONOMANIAREBA
THERISKISTOOHIGHUNIX
TAFTSATESEABEDS
ELALETHANETOGACE
ONEBCSORRYNOTSORRY
DIGUPBEAKSSELFIE
ARMORLESABRECOROLLA
IHAVENTACLUEHASRUES
MEREMORTALSHAJISI
SAGEMAILSMAROONDAG
IFSMEDSADDLEJOINT
EDNAFARPLEASEDONTGO
TESTBANTOASTERKEYES
ALOHASCOOPTTYPES
LIFESTOOSHORTOSCAR
ERSUMSNORMALOLES
ARTISTAIANBLIGE
YURIASKINGFORTROUBLE
ATOMNEEDARIDEOSMIUM
PORETRIBUNESTENSES

Plays on games — you might even describe it as plays on plays!

(sorry)

Nope, I'm sorry, NOT SORRY!

SORRY NOT SORRY is still a little new to me. Feels petty to use in actual conversation, but apparently people say it? I enjoyed Ross's take on it, adding crazy punctuation: "Sorry!? Not Sorry!!"

(SORRY has an exclamation point on its official title.)

LIFE'S TOO SHORT amused me because the game of LIFE takes forever to play. I always wanted to flick my stupid car to the end and go watch "Gilligan's Island" already.

I wasn't as much of a fan of PLEASE, DON'T … GO? It's so grammatically tortured. Wouldn't someone ask "please, not Go!"

Similar issue for the A in I HAVEN'T A CLUE — "I haven't got CLUE" is what someone might say if they didn't want to play the game. Yes, I know I'm being pedantic. It is just A little word in there — who cares?

(Sadly, me.)

These days I've been thinking more and more that six long themers is a pretty good compromise for Sunday puzzles. Too often, a seventh themer jammed into the middle row causes filling problems. As long as all six long themers are solid to great, I'm good with that.

I'm not a fan of Ross's decision to go down to 134 words (to help make up for not having as much theme as usual?), though. I like the idea of my Sunday puzzle feeling a bit themeless in nature, such big open spaces everywhere. And great fill like MARGINS OF ERROR, FATHER TIME, TRUE COLORS, GENDER FLUIDITY? Yes!

CAJOLERY? Gotta disagree with Ross on this one.

And HARD SET? Plural UNISONS? REGLUE? ENHALO? Not so much.

Crosswords have riffed on board game titles many times over the years. I liked Ross's take on this theme type, but I wish all six themers had been as strong as SORRY NOT SORRY. And that Ross hadn't been drawn to the ultra-low-word-count Dark Side of the Force. A handful of great fill entries like MERE MORTALS and SPICE RUB, along with smoother mid-length fill, would have given me much more solving pleasure.

Mon 10/15/2018
INCUBUSAKITA
MOONINGSIDEBET
APRICOTANATOLE
CENSEINDMIA
OPTICALFIBER
SCANUTEYAM
PUGSTAGEKIOSK
AREYOUKIDDINGME
SEDANEAGERROY
RICNAVBEGS
JOHNCOLTRANE
ACENYSYEAST
WHATAMIELMTREE
SODACANREPLIES
YOUNGATHEART

Amanda and Karl fooled me! I like to play the "name that theme" game on Mondays. Two answers into my solve, I was sure the revealer would be MIDDLE CHILD. I was so sure that I tried to shoehorn MIDDLE CHILD into the bottom row. You know … if you switch the words and put CHILD to the left? And MIDDLE … you force into the right, even though the length is wrong?

Sometimes you gotta laugh at yourself.

Loved the consistency, each YOUNG / AT HEART answer being smack dab in the middle of the themer — for example, CALF is flanked by four squares to the left, four to the right. Perfect!

I also liked how almost all of them changed the meaning of the animal in question. I'm a big jazz fan, so getting JOHN COLTRANE was already a treat. Realizing that I'd never seen COLT in COLTRANE made it even better.

The only one that felt a bit off was KID in KIDDING. I know, the meanings are different. KID just isn't as well-disguised as the others. Maybe something like KABUKI DANCE would have done a better job of it.

It's unusual to place a revealer at the very bottom row; it forces you to break up a long revealer into parts — not elegant. As much as I like Amanda and Karl's exploration of how many different animal young there are, I would have preferred a more traditional layout, with perhaps five total themers (four animals), in rows 4 / 6 / 8 / 10 / 12. INCUBUS and AKITA didn't do a lot for me, anyway.

Mondays are so tough — I hold them to an extremely high standard, as they're the gateway drug for newbs. I'm afraid a crossing like ANATOLE / ASANA might be a turn-off for a newer solver. Yet another reason for favoring a more traditional layout, since AKITA undoubtedly contributed to tough NE corner design.

Overall though, a solid idea that pleasingly pulled the wool over this lamb's eyes.

Tue 10/16/2018
DOSEAFRORESET
ETTUIRONELENA
BOARDGAMEMELDS
TENORGEARCFOS
PAARCARTIRE
BREAKFASTCEREAL
OHMETNAKOI
BOOBTLCCARA
ARMERATMAC
PICTUREMAGAZINE
ADOPTEDBONE
SETHDISCKAZAN
SATONTHATSLIFE
ATONEOAKSOMAR
TENETRHEATARO

Whoda thunk that LIFE could produce three solid definitions, none of them sounding ripped out of a dictionary? I've played LIFE, the BOARD GAME, many a time. Eaten LIFE, the BREAKFAST CEREAL, yum! And read LIFE, the PICTURE MAGAZINE.

Okay, I wasn't familiar with that last phrase, but PICTURE MAGAZINE did appear to be in usage way back when.

Great revealer in THAT'S LIFE, too! Spot on.

With slightly less than average theme material, I like that Ed made good use of this leftover real estate. Calling the BATPHONE! CRAB CAKE, FRAGRANT, ZEALOT — that's all ELECTRIC! Jazzed up the quality of my solve.

Such craftsmanship, too, a nice early-week product. I'd gladly give this one to a newer solver. I might drop hints for REO (the old car) and ERAT (the E of QED), but I think those ought to be in an educated solver's knowledge base. Or at least floating around in the corners of one's memory.

I wish PICTURE MAGAZINE had been as great a phrase as the others. The punchline of THAT'S LIFE was so fun that I'd have given this one POW! consideration if all three themers had been awesome. But even with only two of three LIFE definitions standing out, it's still a very nice early-week offering.

Wed 10/17/2018
MAGICPATJOINS
ICALLESEUBOAT
TESLANIXVINNY
TSPPANCAKESAX
STAYSSANE
AURALFAITH
SCUBAAOLLOUIS
HENPANCAKENNE
ESTALEDGEHGTV
STJUDEGUERRE
ALEXASASTRYON
LAMPANCAKEJUS
AVIDSEEYARABE
DIMEALLINUCLA
YEARPLATEEKES

Jeff and Jim Cross Words! We've decided to run this feature on days where we have differing viewpoints on a puzzle.

PANCAKEs! I like pancakes. I like syrup. Three PANCAKEs, two syrups down the sides, what's not to like?

It is an interesting visual, but I spent a lot of time thinking about why this one didn't hit me very strongly. Not badly, just not very strongly. I did think the repetition of PANCAKE with three different definitions was fun. There haven't been very many repeated word puzzles in the NYT's history.

Was it the floatingness of the PANCAKEs, hovering above each other? Or the PAT of butter soaring sky-high like a UFO? With the PLATE at bunker level?

The syrup running down the sides was a nice touch. AUNT JEMIMA came immediately to mind. Not so much with HUNGRY JACK, though. I'm ashamed to say that I initially wrote in SIMPLE JACK. (That's the role within a role Ben Stiller plays in "Tropic Thunder." Ahem.)

And no syrup on top of the PANCAKEs? I would have loved to see the syrup brands starting from the top middle of the highest PANCAKE, then making a turn as they ran down the side. It'd have made AUNT JEMIMA look bizarre with AUNT running right to left before JEMIMA flowing down. But this is a Wednesday puzzle! Some craziness would have been great.

Overall, I thought it was a fun visual concept that didn't quite hit with its execution.

Thu 10/18/2018
THEDABCHANDUD
MERIDAFATELINE
SLIDERLGBTICON
MENLOGABFEST
TENHITAT
GLAMEGOSLEPEW
RIRITOTELVIRA
ABCSCOLONEXIT
DRESSYAUGRICE
SADATEVIEYEAR
BECCALEV
LATERALBLOAT
OCEANIANEDITOR
SANTERIARECODE
SITRORYTRENDY

I always marvel at long "word-within-a-phrase" finds. It seems so improbable that TREBLE backward would be contained within ENGELBERT. Toss in the appropriateness of Humperdinck being a composer, and that's a gold-medal find!

Erik plays on LIFT EVERY VOICE today, interpreting that as "voice ranges running upward within phrases." I love that Erik brings a different perspective to crosswords. I knew the song title but not that it was called "The Black National Anthem." I love having learned that!

Interesting decision to not shade or circle them (we've highlighted them below in case you missed them). I get that Will wants us to have to work a little more than average — it is Thursday, after all. But I'm not sure I would have gone back and searched for the hidden voices if I weren't blogging this. I'd much rather have placed this puzzle on a Tuesday or a Wednesday and made what's going on more apparent. More fun that way.

Although, I can see Will's dilemma. BARONETCY is a crazy-hard word that newer solvers probably won't be able to figure out. (Hand raised.) Same with OCEANIAN and SANTERIA — I ended up going down in defeat, slowly revealing one letter at a time in that corner. Even when I revealed the last square, I couldn't quite believe that OCEANIAN was a real word. (It is!)

I like the theme idea a lot, especially what with that great find in TREBLE within ENGELBERT. I admire Erik's incredible vocabulary, too — in one of our collaborations, we were trading a grid back and forth, and he managed to work in INUKTITUT. I quickly went to a dictionary to look it up before nodding as if I had known what that was all along. It's such a fun word, and it resembles INUIT, the people who speak it.

I would have preferred a much less challenging grid though, to match with the relative simplicity of the theme.

POW Fri 10/19/2018
SIXPACKBOOHISS
COROLLAONVACAY
ADAPTORDEADEND
NEYOSEEYAIMIN
TVSBENDSSTATE
RIPPEDGUAMNYY
OCEANSERIES
NEXTGENFRATBRO
SAMOASGABOR
CARLOWSTORQUE
OPENSYODELJLO
BANASOFARPOET
ATECROWNEOLITH
LOGROLLASHANTI
TWEEZESEASYTEN

★ I felt like Trenton made this puzzle specifically for me. There's so much of the goodness you'd usually expect in a themeless; colorful long answers like BBQ JOINT, XRAY SPEX, I/O DEVICE, BODY SURFS. I was confused at first by SNOW YOWLS — head slap moment when I realized it was SNOWY OWLS. Fun with parsing!

Additionally, he used his mid-length slots so delightfully. No BOO, HISS! here! ON VACAY, SIX PACK, EASY TEN (I'm fascinated by people who say they have a "system" for roulette), LOGROLL, even TWEEZES. Seven-letter slots are often dead weight in a themeless. Not today. Best use of 7s I've seen in quite a while.

Now, there are some entries that I'm sure will resonate less strongly with others than with me. I'm a LotR junkie, so SMEAGOL came easily. I'd expect most people to have at least heard of Gollum, but SMEAGOL — his name before he becomes Gollum? Not so much. And I'll sympathize with those who haven't heard of SMEAGOL, who will undoubtedly be lost by what will be a too-clever clue for them (he had the One Ring for a while).

FRAT BRO is another one. At least it's inferable — two recognizable words. But if you haven't heard of the term (I hadn't until I saw it in a younger constructor's crossword), it probably won't do much for you.

The crossings of POPO / NEYO and DANAE / ASHANTI? Not a problem for me, since my wife uses the term PO-PO all the time, and I'm a huge fan of Greek myth. Again though, I'd sympathize if you grumpily got either of those crossings wrong. Yeah, I hear your cries that they're unfair, and I might even agree.

Themelesses with edgy entries tailored to certain demographics can be dangerous, repelling certain swaths of solvers. I realize that I'm solidly in Trenton's camp today and that there might be some (many?) outside of it. But I thought the entry selection and craftsmanship was excellent, resonating strongly with this particular solver.

Sat 10/20/2018
CRIPMANTAPSIS
LENTAREELOHNO
ANTOINETTELIMA
STILLLIFEBARAK
SAFELYLACERATE
ICAMEBITESIZED
CODYTUXEDOS
SPARATATATLAC
PARTNERWILL
GREATODDSHASTO
NEUROTICTORTES
APLANAHOYTHERE
WOOSFLIPPHONES
ARGOBELIELUGE
TTYLIDLESSPOT

Debut! I like the boldness of debuting with not just a themeless, but a low-word-count one. Will gets a lot of themed submissions (for Mon-Thurs, plus Sun), but he gets a FLOOD of themelesses for just two slots a week. When newer constructors come to me, wanting to start their construction careers with a themeless, I do everything I can to persuade them to do a themed instead. Not only are they much easier to construct, but there's the basic principle of supply and demand at work here.

Most newer constructors do 70- or 72-word grids, because 66-word grids are maybe five times harder to fill with color and cleanliness. Perhaps it's more like 10x.

I liked a lot of what Ben and James did today. NETFLIX AND CHILL is something relatively new to this aged-feeling 46-year old, but it's undoubtedly something the kids say these days. I was more in tune with that interesting NW corner, replete with STILL LIFE, ANTOINETTE, RENT A COP, INTIFADA, PTOLEMY — the CLASSICS!

Not a fan of ILLE, AREEL, or ARE I, but those were worth it for me, to get so much greatness up there.

It's too bad that there was more APLAN, LAC, and the rough crossing of HOTH / TORTES (HATH / TARTES could easily feel correct if you're not a Star Wars fanboy). I felt like if the puzzle had been kept to ILLE, AREEL, ARE I, it could have garnered POW! consideration. As it was, just a touch too much inelegance overall.

Sometimes I wonder if my threshold of "how much crossword glue is too much" is too strict. There's a ton of great fill in this one — BUTT DIALED, BITE-SIZED, AHOY THERE, and my beloved FLIP PHONE I only gave up two years ago. Some would argue that half a dozen dabs of crossword glue were a good trade-off for so much sizzle. And I think there's some validity to that line of reasoning.

Sun 10/21/2018YOU'RE GOING DOWN
FIBBERLIBIDOSTRAP
AMARNAUNITARDSCHAFE
KIBITZCROSSBOWRETRO
ENYAOAKENHIDEARSON
SNARKYICETDOME
OTTERABACUSMENSSHOP
WRENCHRESTVINETORY
LIPOUBEREGADASHLAR
SOSALLACARDIBLEDTO
EBOOKUSAUSAARIES
NOLITABRATZDONUTS
BALEDTHEFBIPARTB
LEDGESAVEUSUSESJIF
INVADENEWTAPSOTATA
GAINABELTRIPSEIZED
HECTARESTOILETSEZME
LUSHPUNTTWITCH
ARBYSEGANEPSONLAMP
LEAPSSANDRAOHEMINOR
ENNUITHEREIGOPOPDUO
STATEMADDOWTOSSED

Finn is one of the more avant-garde constructors out there. I especially like how he adds in color with mid-length or even short fill. Today, it was BRATZ, SNARKY, BIONICS, PANEM (fictional place in "The Hunger Games") — BADASS, indeed!

I'd feel sympathetic though, to those who got the PANEM / EGAN crossing wrong. As much as I admire Jennifer Egan as an author — she's earned her crossworthiness — I think she's still in a place where her crossings must be fair and gettable.

Just as Finn mentioned, I was also torn on VADUZ / CAR DIB, both new words to me. Er, CARDI B. Perhaps she's wildly famous, to the point where even this badass — er, bad ass — shouldn't even be bringing this up. World capitals are fair game, after all. (I sadly admit that I wasn't even sure that Liechtenstein was a country, much less had a capital city.)

(NOLITA? It derives from "North of Little Italy"? Huh. Probably much more familiar to New Yorkers.)

The theme felt too familiar at first, but it's kind of novel. Each one creates a kooky phrase by adding the word DOWN, with each base phrase appearing as is in the grid. Aye, THERE'S THE RUB (down). I like how Finn implied that final (down) by orienting all his themers in the vertical direction.

It gave Jim and me a dilemma. Do we fix up the answers so that they appear in our database as THERE'S THE RUBDOWN? And then mark them as bogus, never to be reused? We can't mark them bogus as is. But if we leave them as is, the clues won't match their entries. I enjoy it when constructors make us work!

PUPPET SHOW (down) was my favorite — so apt for Punch and Judy. It'd have been more fun with a clue about Bert and Ernie in an MMA cage match. I'd bet it all on Bert.

Most all the themers were pretty good, although I wish more of them had given me the same laugh as PUPPET SHOW (down). It's hard to make magic with just adding the word (down).

POW Mon 10/22/2018
HOMEEBBSCUBES
UNITTRONASANA
MERCURIALMERCI
ORAGAGSVENIAL
RONALDTOOESSO
MUDPIESPLATTER
ESAUCITGOADS
MARTIAL
IMPPRISMYELP
WORSHIPAPPAREL
ONITETSLAKOTA
JOVIALPOORSSN
IMALLSATURNINE
METESECIGBOOT
ARESOTESHANTS

★ I liked this theme so much that I'm breaking my Mondays-must-be-newb-friendly rule to give it the POW!

Adjectives, based on the PLANETS — presented in cosmic order (distance from the sun)! Talk about cosmic karma, the word symmetries working out so beautifully. You could hardly ask for more.

VENIAL was a tough word for this agnostic. I double-checked each crossing to make sure that V E N I A L spelled something legitimate. Triple-checked, even! But it's common in the Catholic Church, a "VENIAL sin" a lesser kind of sin.

Maybe like putting both CITGO and ESSO into a single crossword.

Zing!

The placement of PLANETS forced four big corners, and I like what Alex did with all that white space. HUMOR ME, ONEROUS, MIRANDA, MUD PIES, all for just the price of ORA? Not onerous at all; I'll gladly humor Alex!

Usually, I'm all for I'M ALL, as a slangy preface. It felt a little less elegant with ARE SO near it, though. Still, worth it to get the juicy IWO JIMA, PRIVATE, even MONOMER. I'll WORSHIP that!

*ducks the lightning bolts incoming for that less-than-VENIAL sin*

I wouldn't have paused for a moment in giving this one the POW!, if it had run on a Wed or even a Tuesday. But in the end, my constructor's brain was mighty tickled by how neat and orderly the theme played out.

Tue 10/23/2018
RASTAEDGARARC
ALTOSTIARACAR
FLATSTANLEYTKO
STENOENEMIES
ITEMGEENADAVIS
FALSEALANENE
SRADIREGIS
WINONARYDER
DANNOMEOWE
EASYKOIACMES
SMALLWORLDRATS
COULEESEDENS
REDATHLETICCUP
OBIDRESSTHEIR
WASSYRUPZESTY

ATHLETIC CUP, amusingly interpreted as "major sporting events in the form of ___ CUP." I've followed sports less and less (as I've had to spend more and more time protecting myself from my toddlers trodding on my regions requiring ATHLETIC CUP protection), but all of these cups were somewhat familiar:

STANLEY CUP: Hockey. See how easy this is?!

DAVIS CUP: Uh. Maybe rugby? Golf? Snooker? Ha ha ha, just joking, of course I knew it was snooker! Er, tennis.

RYDER CUP: This one is tougher. The Ryder Cup is … polo? Tennis as well? What, golf, you say? Is the Ryder Cup the little white cylinder in the green that catches the golf ball? Ha ha ha, just joking again! Ahem.

WORLD CUP: We have French friends down the street, so their cheers from France winning the soccer title this year were oui oui tres bien!

Very cool that all these ___ CUP words can be so well disguised within phrases.

Being a middle grade book writer, FLAT STANLEY was a gimme. Pretty sure the general solving population won't have such an easy time as I did, but the crossings seem fair.

Well, there is GALENA. I suppose you could grumble if you put in FLAT STANDEY / GADENA. But then there's the theme … ah, right. No such thing as a STANDEY CUP. GALENA, what an oddball word (but so constructor-friendly with its vowel-consonant alternation!)

CROSSE, CRECHE, COULEES — should newer solvers know these? That's a tough call. At a minimum, I would have liked to see fewer of those in a Tuesday puzzle. Not super-welcoming for newbs.

Overall though, a solid theme, with well-disguised CUP types. Even looking back at them all, I'm still surprised that all those CUPs have hideable names. Great theme discovery.

Wed 10/24/2018
ADDRESSPOPUPAD
PERIDOTORINOCO
AVOCADOWANDERS
ROPEOPETIME
TESSIDEROAD
OOHDECENT
TARSALDARKRED
BATCAVEORANGES
BREADEDNICEST
CANIANNEE
NOTSOBADMOP
TOILTREMILL
LOONIERZAMUNDA
BAZOOKAELASTIC
ODYSSEYLOOKSEE

Debut! Fun play on POP UP ADs, the letters A and D "rising" over black squares. A perfect find for our favorite CAN AD IAN, Jim! I'm curious how many neighbors up north ever noticed that curious parsing find.

I also like how the ADs were so smoothly integrated into solid long entries: AVOCADO, SIDE ROAD, BREADED — NOT SO BAD, indeed!

A lot of constraints to work with, given the parallel structure of paired themers like AVOCADO / ROPE A DOPE. Michael went big, with wide-open, tough-to-fill corners. Some LOONIER fill resulted, with the tough ORINOCO and the bizarre ZAMUNDA. I've seen "Coming to America" maybe half a dozen times, but I still had to stare at the finished entry to make sure it seemed like it could be a word. I waffled between that and ZEMUNDA (ELO seemed as realistic as ALO as a phone greeting). Relieved that I guessed right!

Fully agreed with Michael, that the revealer at the top wasn't great. At first, I thought it ought to be easy to place at the bottom right. Not with MILL fixed into place, though! I do think 56-Across could have been a better possibility.

Interesting theme idea overall. I do wish more of the themers had been 1.) more interesting base phrases, like ROPE A DOPE, and 2.) the chunks resulting from parsing had all been as solid as CAN and IAN (OPE and TRE, I see you).

Maybe ... CAR RADIOS to CARR AD IOS? MORTADELLA to MORT AD ELLA? POMPADOUR to POMP AD OUR? I bet there are more.

Heading down a rabbit hole ...

Thu 10/25/2018
LIAMTETESFRAT
ACNEECONOAONE
PAGELOSTLIQUID
SNORKELSDRILLS
ESLACADEERE
DOASLOWBURNTHE
HEMLASERTAG
PEPASELAERO
BROMANCESEN
SAWGOUPANDDOWN
EDICTLAGNEU
MORITASCREAMED
INSEARCHOFKING
SLUGBRAVEOKIE
TYPOSOWEDNEED

Brilliant a-ha moment when I figured out how Neville had crossed-up the crossword cross-referencing convention [See ___-Across]. That's not [See 17-Across] — it's [SEE PAGE] ... or SEEPAGE!

I remembered a similar puzzle from years ago that used SEE (RED), SEE (STARS); something like that. But it was long enough ago that I couldn't find it. Plus, I like how Neville used all full words. SEE/KING was particularly dastardly.

I also liked how Neville strove to use colorful themers. I'd absolutely use DO A SLOW BURN, GO UP AND DOWN, IN SEARCH OF in another puzzle as fill.

LOST LIQUID, not so much. But hey, three out of four ain't bad.

The theme alone was strong enough to warrant POW! consideration. I also thought Neville laid out his themers (and faux themers) perfectly, minimizing the annoying jumping around that cross-referencing requires. Putting the two x-reffed answers right next to each other is the way to go.

So why didn't I give this the POW!? I struggled with the inelegance of the fill. For every ROULETTE there were HAR AERO. SNORKELS yes! MEER, no. Is SCREAMED / SNARFED worth CRO / SEN, with AGITA nearby? Not to me.

It's not to say that Neville made the wrong decision to push his grid so hard — I bet others will be perfectly fine with these trade-offs. For me though, I got bogged down with enough glueiness that my rigid constructor's brain couldn't let the puzzle as a whole get into POW! territory.

Overall though, a strong Thursday idea, forcing us to work hard for an a-ha moment that was well worth the effort.

Fri 10/26/2018
TABLESCRAPASIS
ALPINELAKERICA
KALECAESAREDEN
EMUASAPPHTEST
IOSSONBWAHAHA
PENGRAYAREA
BIASSAILSMEN
LINTSKUNKBETA
UGHSUINGAIDS
SPARESETCFO
THROATSSACMTA
SAMOSAPUCEOWN
FROMIVECHANGED
OMNINOPRESSURE
RAYESWEETTALKS

Every four years, I eagerly tune in to Olympic diving. Such power, grace, body control, athleticism. Mesmerizing!

As much as I enjoy insanely complicated dives, something like a reverse 2 ½ somersault pike gets me tense, all worked up. It's incredibly rare for something so daunting to be pulled off to perfection. More often than not, there's at least some technical flaw, a bit of a splash caused by an entry that's not clean. And sometimes, disaster happens. Belly flop!

Simpler dives like a forward somersault tuck can be so much more pleasing. They're easy enough to execute that you're often graced with a work of art and elegance. Not difficult for experienced divers, but it still looks amazing.

I like that Evan's themeless debut came on 72-word puzzle, the equivalent of a forward somersault tuck. Although it's a very low degree of difficulty, check out how well Evan used all his long slots. So much color in NO PRESSURE, SWEET TALKS, BIG PHARMA, ALPINE LAKE, etc. — no TABLE SCRAPs! Virtually no long slot used unwisely.

Well, Evan has a good point — maybe LUSTS FOR. I've become more and more uncomfortable over the years with lascivious-sounding entries like this. Perhaps having a young daughter has affected me more than I know.

Two minor deductions: one, for using so many three-letter words. My solve felt choppy, like I kept on having to go to the next word every few seconds, never being allowed to savor a big, open section. Secondly, grid flow was choked off a bit, black squares creating so many bottlenecked little passageways.

But overall, a textbook example of a relatively easy construction task, executed very well. This is the way themeless constructors ought to be wringing the most value out of their long slots. This judge gives it high marks.

P.S. It didn't occur to me until after reading Evan's note, but what a hilarious term in Hail — er, KALE CAESAR! I don't mind learning something new from my puzzle, and it becomes a joy when that something new makes me laugh.

Sat 10/27/2018
SCHLUBBYPOTASH
PLEASUREOPORTO
YOUDAMANLEMMON
BURLMISSEDWORK
ODIEENIACARKS
ALSPREGNANT
TITLEDNATESTS
SKIERSSCORED
ECOCIDALKNAVE
PETODORSGEM
ARCOCROWEMIRE
BILLBOARDSICAN
APEDOMNOTALENT
REFILMESURANCE
ENTITYDEPENDED

Continuing with my analogy from yesterday, today brings us a daunting dive of deathly difficulty. This 64-word, wide-open grid is not for any but the most experienced of strong-willed sorts. Even attempting something like this requires thousands of hours of work and practice.

A tremendous start, a high spring off the board into the first twisting somersault. SCHLUBBY, YOU DA MAN, a PLEASURE to see! Turning the corner into HEURISTIC, such an interesting word. No BUMMERs so far!

Into the second somersault, completing another twist. Oh! An arm kinks out, and the spin decelerates. ECOCIDAL — a word, but kind of an oddity. SANA, not SANAA? (Rich Norris over at the LAT has asked me to not use SANA anymore.)

But he tightens up in mid-air, adjusting! SITCOMMY, what a delightful adjective! BILLBOARDS, with a brilliant clue, referring to ads getting a lot of (literal) traffic. PET ODORS, so hard to parse that kooky PETOD—start.

Approaching the water. Hold those feet together, Byron! Oh no, excessive angular velocity! REFILM. A BARE APEDOM = water kicking up at entry.

As with scoring in diving, it's so tough (and subjective) to assign a total score to a crossword. I think that both level of difficulty and quality of execution ought to be inputs into the calculation, but some will disagree.

Overall, this judge gives above average marks for the latter. And when the former is taken into account, the multiplied result is a high score. Not a 10 by any means, but it's up there.

Sun 10/28/2018MATCH PLAY
TRACTSAPBSDOCTERI
BACHATABOLTONOREAD
SWEETANDSOURNEGERGO
ANTEHEARTANDSOUL
ERRSTILTJPOPARTS
SHEESHLEIABLACULA
PEACHESANDCREAMEATS
NAPTIMETAKEYOGIRHO
BANEDSSUNNIER
TARANDFEATHERSTONER
DALAISURFAGUAELEGY
IMMUNERIGHTANDWRONG
APOLUNESHEDIS
NONSEASAAHSONESTEP
ANDYSTANDUPANDCHEER
CUESTASSHAMOTELLO
OPRYRSVPSPEWMESS
STOPANDSTAREETRE
WIKICOPMIXEDDOUBLES
ARIEUNOONITSCROOGE
BEESPETSGTSKOWTOW

A disclaimer, I've seen (and made) so many anagram crosswords that it's tough for me to get excited about another one. Erik himself had one last year and another earlier this year. There has to be some extra level going above and beyond if it's going to be memorable.

Color me impressed with many of Erik's finds today. I thought the concept was pretty good in the first place: X AND Y phrases, with the letters of X and Y anagrammed into other in-the-language phrases/words. It's not easy to come up with a normal-sounding phrase like "trade punches" — makes you want to STANDUP and CHEER!

Then to cap it off with a solid revealer in MIXED DOUBLES — pretty darn good.

Also pretty darn good: gridwork that holds up even to the high standards I have for Erik. He's one of the top people in the business, and to work in such goodies as DON'T PLAY, BLACULA, SCROOGE, ALMOND COOKIE — it really ought to be ERIK THE MAN, not STAN THE MAN.

Erik the … Mesmeric?

MESMERIK!

*rushing off to trademark that before Erik can*

Sometimes I worry about Erik the Esoteric, though. I remember seeing APOLUNE in a tournament crossword and thinking that something had to be wrong with the answer key. I happened to know what a SHIBA INU is, but man that's gonna look bizarre as SHIBAINU or SHI BAINU or even SHIB AINU. (AINU is crosswordese for a Japanese native.)

Along with the tough-to-spell EERO SAARINEN, BACHATA, CUESTAS, it cumulatively felt like a lot of very tough fill to me. I don't think that's necessarily bad, just prone to leaving some solvers grumbling.

But overall, a strong concept in the heavily-used anagram theme category.

Mon 10/29/2018
GRABACADSTESTY
LENASOBERALTAR
OMITPUFFINBOOKS
SAMOAGAIALICE
SKUNKCABBAGEKOD
YESBARASTRIDE
AASASHANDY
ZEBRACROSSINGS
BALEAMYTNT
ONELUMPRYEMBA
AIMPANDAEXPRESS
NEATHILLTAXIS
PENGUINSUITBIDE
OSTERACMESACES
ESSENPOSSETOSS

I often fail in trying to explain what "tightness" means when applied to crossword themes. Today's puzzle illustrates the concept so much more clearly than I ever could — can you think of any other phrase in the form of (black and white animal) + (one other word) = in-the-language-phrase? Not me. That makes this theme superbly tight.

I could barely think of another black-and-white animal. There is the orca — Peter's note refers to the great Sam Donaldson's annual crossword awards, which unfortunately don't quite have the cachet of the Oscars.

Not yet, at least!

What other animals? Maybe … husky (the dog)? Dalmatian?

You might have wondered why Peter went to 16 columns, instead of the usual 15. He could have made ZEBRA CROSSINGS singular, which would have also made the themers more consistent (so that every themer was singular), right?

Well, yes and no.

Here's the LONG ANSWER why:

ZEBRA CROSSING in the singular would have forced all the themers to be squished into rows 4 6 8 10 12. With long themers, that sort of compression is rarely easy to fill around.

Wait … why is that?

Couldn't he have kept PUFFIN BOOKS in row 3?

Yes. But a-ha! What happens to SKUNK CABBAGE then?

With the normal 15 columns, there must be three black squares at the end of SKUNK CABBAGE. That, in combination with the black squares at the end of ZEBRA CROSSING, would force a huge number of black squares at the sides of the puzzle. It'd be horribly unsightly at best, and at worst, it would net a request for complete redo.

Here's the SHORT ANSWER why:

Because reasons.

The 16-column crossword is surprisingly difficult to execute on. Even if you go up past the usual maximum of 78 words, which Peter did (81), you usually end up with (at least) a pair of big corners that becomes hand-wringingly difficult to fill smoothly. That SW, with NEATH OSTER ESSEN, is gonna be unwelcoming for some newbs.

Throw in ELOI, an answer that baffled this sci-fi geek when he first started crosswords, and KOD — I think it's legit as KO'D (knocked out) — in the opposite corner, and it's not a puzzle I'd give to a newer solver.

Overall though, I was pleased by the opportunity to explain "tightness" much better than I usually do. Such a tidy theme set.

Tue 10/30/2018
ATOPSPAPAGED
RIPOSTESORONO
TRIPTYCHSIFTS
SEEPYSOCIAL
ELSROTYIP
MRRIPLEYDAMA
AYEZAGAOKAY
GRAVEYARDSHIFT
AIDEDMAPTAO
PASTSUNRIPEN
EDAURNERL
LENAPEAUSSI
BROADEGOTRIPS
OFUSEGIVEARIP
ODDERSSALENS

Funny that Jules should mention Joel's puzzle! That was the first time I ever saw this type of theme; a trigram moving through a puzzle. I was so impressed with Joel's creation that it was one of the reasons I wanted to start blogging about puzzles. It's such a delight to be able to gush.

Big smile when I got to today's revealer, GRAVEYARD SHIFT, indicating that the RIPs are shifting down the diagonal. An apt concept for the day before Halloween.

I would have liked the gravestones to be spaced out a little bit more, though. Having two RIPs atop each other felt like something else was going on, like a commentary about cemeteries saving space by burying bodies atop each other. (My mind goes to gruesome places, doesn't it?) Placing the second RIP in row 4 instead of row 3 seems like it would have made for a better visual.

Alternately, I would have been happy with just four RIPs — once you fill in two of them, you get the sense that you're supposed to put in RIP for the rest. This would have also had the added benefit of allowing for better fill.

Don't get me wrong; I thought Jules did wonderfully on one of the two criteria I use to judge fill: color. GO FLY A KITE! STYLIZED. MYRIAD of nice bonuses.

The other criterion, smoothness, is where the puzzle suffered. Any time you need to use the "old-style" or "old" descriptor (RFD), it's probably a sign to go back and rework. Same goes for the "var" tag (EGIS). Toss in the tough LENAPE, both DAMA and SRA, some ERL EDA and you have a zombie apocalypse!

POW Wed 10/31/2018
SHAGAGASPTIFF
CUJOREVUERAIL
OLAFELENAOGLE
TAXLAWSKGBMOLE
ALERAP
NESTEGGVALETED
EREROOIVSELI
ADATOMDEAAFT
ROSEDOWELOBIT
SCENERHOBRINY
ROTARYCLUBS
PCPARAMAICCAR
AMEXTHEMEBURY
PONYRIGA
ANTZCRYPTATON

★ I love it when constructors break rules (for a good reason.) There have been plenty of grids where one section is completely separated from the rest, including one TOMB, but I adored the image of the little CRYPT at the bottom of the puzzle, actually looking like a CRYPT straight out of an Indiana Jones movie.

(I gave the TOMB puzzle a POW! too ... might I be obsessed with burial sites? Hmm.)

The "letter homophones" concept has been done many times in crosswords, one in particular that I loved. Even though this notion been employed over and over, there's always room to innovate, by cleverly combining the well-worn idea with a different one to produce something more than the sum of its parts. It's neat that you can homophonically spell out a five-letter word in C R Y P T, and even neater to make the leap to use this to hint at a blocked-off region.

And the execution! Cross made out of black squares gives the grid an even creepier feel. Added bonuses in ROTARY CLUBS, KGB MOLE, GOMORRAH, ARAMAIC — lovely stuff. All with super-clean short fill? Yes!

I could have done without the stretch to clue THEME as sort of a quasi-revealer. But other than that, such a fantastic solving experience.