This web browser is not supported. Use Chrome, Edge, Safari, or Firefox for best results.

Thumbnails

Puzzles for October, 2022
with Jeff Chen comments

Sat 10/1/2022
MAINBDAYSLIM
EAVEBLARETIRE
CROWDSURFSAVON
HORSEMENYELENA
ANYLESONESEC
PITCHOUTADE
TONELOCPLOD
GERTRUDESTEIN
BASKEGALITE
ALTPOSENUDE
BLAMEDVMIJAY
YEMENISUPEREGO
FREESHOOEDAWAY
AINTTBONDMEMO
TATSSONGALES

Natan is part of the New Yorker's themeless crossword team. These puzzles often feature full names, focusing on people who aren't Hollywood celebrities but are certainly crossworthy. Today we have:

OCEAN VUONG. His debut novel, "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous," is in my giant TBR (to be read) pile. Great story about how he got his first name, his mother's pronunciation of "beach" coming into play.

GERTRUDE STEIN. Love that quote: "In the morning there is meaning, in the evening there is feeling." I'm too uncultured to figure out what it means, but it sounds beautiful.

TONE LOC. I hear so many complaints from solvers regarding names, but singers and rappers are in a category of their own. I'm often lost around current rappers, but when it comes to old school, Wild Thing is in my top ten.

YELENA. I wish I loved the "Black Widow" movie as much as I did Scarlett Johansson's scenes in the various Avengers movies.

This puzzle might not be for solvers in the I-hate-names-in-puzzles camp (hello solver who kvetched to me recently "who tf is AMYTAN?"), but every letter is fairly crossed. One could argue that YELENA crossing ENT is tough, since it demands knowledge of fantasy worlds — cluing ENT as an ear, nose, throat doctor could have helped. VUONG / VMI might draw complaints, but VUONG is a common Vietnamese family name, and VMI has attracted a lot of attention recently.

I loved seeing BS METER. Years ago, Will Shortz rejected one of my puzzles because he said he'd never allow BS METER in the NYT. I love the adaptation — no BS; the Times, it is a-changin'.

Sun 10/2/2022 Le Puzzle
ASSHATFEELOKAYSHIP
NIKOLAADVOCATESTENO
TRICKLEQUESTIONHARPO
SEPALTSEANHORMEL
YDSLOEWSSVELTETINS
AGINOLDIEOHMLOCI
URBANERIOTSTEPENID
SEEMEADDSDATAADELE
ILAYNILEPAYEXTRA
NITMIMESOWERNOTPC
GELCAPOHHENRYOMEARA
FELLAFOOTSPITALAB
ATTEMPTSSINEMANY
GRASSFOESKICKHACKS
EARSPLUSHONKHONEYS
STETEATEASELERIC
TEARATHENSWEANSOKS
ADRIFTCROPAPEUAE
TAUPEALLOVERTHEMAPLE
EAGLEDIABETESCALLED
SASEALTEREGOKNEELS

BS METER yesterday, and today kicks off with ASSHAT? I FEEL OKAY about this, but I wonder if the old schoolers will demand that Will eat his shortz.

My wife does approximately fifty-eight puzzles a day, spurred on by the explosion of -LE games. Wordle, sure, but there's also Heardle (not to be confused with Hurdle), Worldle, Nerdle, and yes, even Crosswordle.

Sadly, she doesn't do actual crosswords much anymore. Who has time, when there's an Absurdle number of alternatives?

WORDLE OF MOUTH lent a fresh feel to this concept — critical, since adding LE isn't difficult to accomplish and has been done many times. I enjoyed so many of Kathy's themers that it overcame my "add two common letters" fatigue. SKIPS A BEATLE reminded me of poor Stu Sutcliffe. Would you rather be him or suffer the LOTTERY PICKLE of losing your winning ticket?

One of Will's criteria for "kooky themers" puzzles is that you shouldn't have to clue both halves of the entry separately. PALACE COUPLE is a perfect example of what to do right, as [King and queen] is a natural way to describe the resulting phrase. Similar case with CLASS TRIPLE — instead of writing [Three identical kids inside an elementary school homeroom?], playing on The Three Rs lends elegance.

I met up with Kathy before the pandemic, and we even made a puzzle together. I admire her dogged spirit. Perseverance is so critical to finding success in today's ultra-competitive construction landscape.

Mon 10/3/2022
BELBERGSACUTE
EMUIDAHOMATEY
HINGEUPONPRONE
EGGONSIPGPA
AREAMATCHPOINT
DEADMANDEBATE
SETAIOLIDANSE
TINDERDRY
UPDOSEIEIOPCS
SLAYERNOSWEAT
BUMBLEBEESINTO
GMOFIXANDSO
ASIANDATINGAPP
MINTYELECTNAT
ANGSTSTAKETWO

Things have changed since I was single. I thought being on half a dozen dating sites was extensive, but that would only cover a fraction of what's available today. I was on MATCH, and I get why TINDER is an appropriate name.

HINGE is … for swingers?

BUMBLE ... for those who don't know their way around the bedroom?

I'd be such a disaster as a single person today.

Even with the explosion of DATING APPs, it's amazing that there's a set of four that can be disguised at the start of phrases. I wouldn't have guessed this, what with so many titles like Plenty of Fish and Coffee Meets Bagel, along with intentional misspellings — what happened to the Es of Grindr and Happn?

Not only that but what others would work? I didn't dive in extensively for fear of what the Goog would serve me up, but only Clover would have worked, and that's not nearly as popular as the other four. A beautifully tight theme quartet.

MATCH POINT and BUMBLEBEES are great entries. TINDER DRY wasn't as fun as TINDER BOX, especially given today's accelerating wildfire issues. Although, there might have been a crossworld furor about the latter in a dating theme ... don't look it up on Urban Dictionary. Ahem.

I'm digging the recent trend of spicier Monday clues. EIEIO missing from TH_ L_TTL_ K_DS' S_NG! GHOST used in a modern sense — and relevant to the dating world. A great piece of trivia in scallops having up to 200 EYEs. This is not a puzzle from way back in my days of being single.

Such a solid debut puzzle. It's hard to dream up a fresh-feeling theme, and it's well-executed, especially considering the gridding difficulties imposed by the central nine-letter entry.

Tue 10/4/2022
IBMPRODLPGA
POILEOICOHAN
ASTROPHYSICIST
SCRAWLEVIL
SHESYANNIICE
PLAYEDCUPID
CRUSLEWRPGS
RUPAULIVLINE
ANTIMICACAL
ZOOMEDALONG
ENSRAVENETAS
PURRCIARDI
EYESONTHEPRIZE
STEERSODAKEG
ODDSAGEDESE

I was all set to deliver my usual "Will Shortz doesn't like themes where circled letters are all the same because they're too easy to fill in, and then the puzzle's over" — but it was hardly over! Yes, I could fill in every circle after the first two sets … but what did they mean? More importantly, what did EYES ON THE PRIZE have to do with anything? There are pairs of Is …

Wait, EYE C!

A pair of Is on top of various PRIZEs: TROPHY, CUP, MEDAL, and the revealer's own PRIZE. Clever idea, and I loved how the obviousness of the circles proved to be anything but.

Amazing find in TROPHY within ASTROPHYSICIST. Will isn't taking many "hidden words" themes these days, but a long finding like this is a prize-winner. Breezy phrase in ZOOMED ALONG, too, doing a great job of tucking in a MEDAL.

Even though CUP is only three letters, it's difficult to hide within a phrase. PLAYED CUPID unfortunately doesn't break CUP across two words, as is Will's usual requirement, but there aren't many possibilities, except the PUBLIC UPROAR that I fully endorse regarding Microsoft Windows' %$#!@! AUTOMATIC UPDATES.

Solid integration of the eight Is. It's an easy letter to grid around, but eight of them — in fixed positions — can make things much harder. Smooth results, with ILE as the only gluey bit as a direct result.

There are some repercussions: CIARDI crossing ADZES could be tough for newer solvers, and LOCI vs. FOCI often causes confusion. The LPGA gets press, but I could see how someone might think that the Female PGA could be right.

It's not often that a Tuesday surprises me, creeping up with such a gold MEDAL a-ha.

Wed 10/5/2022
OSLOATBATMEME
RIENROACHOVAL
ARABELITELEGO
LIFEANDLIMBO
IRONSITSON
FINETOOTHCOMBO
FANGSNEEVAIN
LICOCTARCLSU
OLASARFHELPS
JUSTPLAINDUMBO
OPERACHIRP
ALITTLELAMBO
CAINSHIFTTOON
BLOGNOVAEHEDY
DANETRENDSTYX

You might think that this is a humdrum "letter addition" puzzle. Tack on an O to produce kooky results? O boy, here we go again ...

O no, not so! Jason tightened up his idea by always

  1. adding the O onto an MB,
  2. doing that at the end of a word, and
  3. placing the resulting word at the end of a phrase.

I don't like tightness for its own sake, because it can feel random if there's no rationale for why it's done, but today's effort makes the solve so much more enjoyable. Those end placements highlight and emphasize LIMBO, COMBO, DUMBO, and LAMBO.

Our Replacement Finder (with "MB" in the first box and "MBO" in the second) shows the possibilities. Neat that Jason was able to apply his rules and still achieve four amusing results. Beautifully tight.

Given today's competitive landscape, with the NYT's acceptance rate at about 4%, standards have skyrocketed. It's great for solvers, who won't see nearly as much of the LIC TRA stuff in the future. With four themers whose lengths are easy to work with, I expect four great bonuses plus a silky-smooth grid.

No doubt, that's a fine-toothed combo.

Seven-letter slots can be hard to squeeze juice from. ON BEING didn't stand out initially, but I enjoyed reading up on this radio show. BAILS ON is much better than most add-a-preposition phrases because of its slangy nature. I used to think MOLOTOV was on fire, but given the Russian invasion … All in all, a decent but not outstanding level of grid spice.

Simple letter-addition themes can feel just plain dumb these days, so I appreciate all of Jason's efforts to make his concept stand out.

Thu 10/6/2022
CIVETDDTARCO
ACIDIFIESLOLL
MERGELEFTLOUD
EDIEAUTOMATES
OILINGRAY
STENOALMAESC
ANTEMUCHO
HAWTHORNEPOOL
IRONDATAMINED
NERTSIOTA
TSKHANSSLUGS
SIDTHENOW
COREVALUENCAA
UNIXPARESDOWN
TEATTRADITION
SSNSSALROLLS

Constructors always come up with similar core ideas, and their executions can be so different. Although we both featured ALTERNATION(S), Simeon's layout features "every other letter" discoveries much better than mine. One criticism I received was that my puzzle made it too hard to figure out what the two component words were — it's not easy to mentally skip letters. Simeon's pairings present them so well!

MERGE LEFT is a fantastic way to explain what's going on; an orderly zippering of two lanes into one. It's a perfect CLUE for how to shuffle CLUE / OLDS into COLLUDES.

Fun to include PARES DOWN, too. I thought it odd at first — why homophones instead of something more straightforward like MATCHING PAIRS? — but PARES DOWN is playful. It also gives a fun rationale for orienting the pairs vertically.

A drawback to this approach is that the two composite words never get clued, making for an extremely tough solve. I used to take pride in giving solvers three-sigma challenges, but I've realized that making people feel smart is my higher priority.

I might have eased things up by cluing 11-D as [Hint], 12-D as [Former GM brand], and added a head-scratching 11-A clue for COLLUDES. As a solver, I love double-take a-ha moments like "WTF, there is no 11-A … OR IS THERE?!"

Great gridwork, not at all an easy task given the pairings Simeon had to fill around. I appreciated all the long Acrosses he threaded throughout. Without so many solid long entries like ACIDIFIES, HAWTHORNE, and TRADITION, the solve would have been a start-and-stop traffic jam of short entries.

ALTERNATIONS makes for a perfect center revealer for this concept. Neat presentation.

Fri 10/7/2022
ZEBRACLEAVAGE
APRONSHANGERON
ISAWITESTEEMED
ROVEOFFSRASP
EMERALDOMGDAL
KERRATTILA
KETANJICOOLLY
BOGOBROWNELIS
ANGORAJACKSON
CABLESASHE
ICEDEFTEASHOP
LOAMEPEETUBA
LATEGAMESHAMES
USERNAMEEILISH
STREUSELMEDEA

I'm glad I could help MaryLou out with her KETANJI / BROWN / JACKSON concept. When she approached me with it, she had spaced out the three pieces, which was smart for grid layout and fill, but it struck me as disjointed — solvers would struggle to connect the cross-references. Stacking the components felt much stronger, like a single marquee headline, but it sure proved a challenge.

I spent so much time trying to thread AUDIO JACK through the center column, with CARLS JR to its left, but KBJ kept banging her gavel at me. Hopefully, solvers don't struggle with the RIOJA crossings — I can barely tell a red from a white, but I've seen RIOJA enough times in stores that it's at least a familiar string of letters now.

After weaving in a couple of long bonuses like MAC N CHEESE (one of the few things my kids will eat (as long as it's a specific type of mac and an even more specific type of cheese) and STOLEN BASE, which felt ripe for clever cluing, I passed it on to ML to fill out the rest.

I'm still uncomfortable having CLEAVAGE in this tribute puzzle of sorts, but ML had a reasonable point, that the word can easily take multiple other definitions.

Sat 10/8/2022
CREDOREDDBRB
LOCALCOLORCREE
IMAREALBOYAONE
PERKBEARMARKET
SODATAXPORTER
LOLDRUMSOUT
TVSETWAITSPSA
HUESZHUZHWEST
UVALEONECANOE
SUNBURSTTOY
ZEALOTPOLARIS
PETCUSHIONHINT
ALTOTEMPAGENCY
GALSARABLEAGUE
ESEREMYODORS

Awesome clue in [Craft since ancient times]. I was so focused on various art forms that I completely ignored the (water)craft meaning.

Note how many long slots Kyle built into his grid layout! An average 70-word themeless has about 14 slots that are 8 or more letters, each ripe for juicy fill. Those 18(!) long slots do come at a price: a ton of short entries, which can create a choppy, start-and-stop solve. I love that trade-off if the long entries are snazzy enough. Kicking things off with LOCAL COLOR, I'M A REAL BOY, and DARK ALES (yum!) is a DOOR PRIZE-winning northwest corner.

DRY MOUTH, on the other hand, is a bit dry.

Ah, VUVUZELAs. I remember wanting to blare one at Ed Sessa when he debuted it a decade ago. I'd heard them on SportsCenter but had no idea what they were called. I appreciate the word more these days — thanks Ed for introducing me to it — since those Vs and Zs do zhuzh up a grid.

Aren't you amazed that I used ZHUZH properly?

What do you mean my DOOR PRIZE is a ZERO STAR review?

I'll zhuzh you good.

(Interesting word. I'll probably be thanking Kyle a decade from now.)

I take a decades-long outlook on stock and bonds returns, so I don't blink at short-term downturns. I sure have been fielding many fearful questions from friends and family about the current BEAR MARKET. The punniness of [Bad time to take stock?]'s might suffer from poor timing.

Some fantastic long entries, but none of them stood out as five-star marquees. I enjoyed learning ZHUZH, although along with the struggles of spelling VUVUZELAS, this Saturday solve was more than a bit DAUNTing.

POW Sun 10/9/2022 Rise to the Challenge
INACOMAHSWEEPSCOT
MILITIAINHORRORHART
SHARONAMAHAYANARUDY
CHIMNEYHDIESEL
TATABEATHCOMMANDER
UVACAMPHONDAUSA
BELARBORHPICKERSFO
ARMORELISHAEGESTED
SUBMARINEHCAMOPILE
EDSELGAHOVAARTS
CLIMBSTHELADDER
DIEUARIHUBENEWS
USSRDCONHREPAIRMAN
NICEJOBCHORALAESOP
ETACHERRYHTULIPAWE
PERTOOTHLILTBIC
TELEPHONEHOVALOINK
SCRAWLHPAINTER
PEONULTRAHOTCENTIME
CLODSEARCHESELBOWED
ALMSHOUSEHSLYNODS

★ This one climbs my ranks as one of the most memorable Sundays in years. I fondly remember my bafflement-flipping-to-delight moment when uncovering a column of Is that acted as the web for THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. Today's column of Hs so perfectly representing a LADDER might be even more amazing!

(You can find other repeated-letter themes using our Finder, including a series of Is representing a jungle vine and another one depicting a fishing line.)

Look at all the levels that make this puzzle rise to the heavens:

Visual of the ladder. Such creative use of a capital letter. Wish I'd Thought of That.

So many entries that aptly climb the ladder. I would have come up with HOUSE PAINTER. Then having to come up with a matching entry of length (7,5) for symmetry? I'd have given up. CHIMNEY SWEEP is excellent.

Perfect revealer placement. The fact that the H of CLIMBS THE LADDER is in its exact center, so it could be placed dead center of the grid? That's enough to make you take up religion. (I never doubted you once, oh great Crucivera! But maybe you could spread your bolts of inspiration around to more than just Jessie and Ross?)

Threading themers through a central down makes for incredibly difficult gridwork, since the regions around intersections get highly constrained. There's a bit of I MET / SO A right off the bat, but in total, such care in filling. NICE JOB is quite an understatement.

A typical Sunday 140-worder will have about a dozen gluey bits, so finishing with about eight minor dings shows such resilience; never saying it's good enough.

Ross and I are both rock climbers, and this puzzle is a route I'd steer every one of my friends to try.

Mon 10/10/2022
PRIMPSAPEDMCS
AERIALNATOAHI
SPARRINGPARTNER
TOTEMPOLEARIAS
ATEHERBAPP
TACOYESEWE
SEASCAPEFOODIE
PARALLELPARKING
ASTRALMALTESES
SYDMILPLAY
PEPNAPABAR
SEGUEBOYGEORGE
PARTSDEPARTMENT
USEPULPINANER
DYENOSYPARTWO

PAR ... TWO? What self-respecting golfer abides by par twos? Certainly not the guys at That's Amazing.

This finance guy was so sure that PAR BOND was the revealer. I mean, who doesn't love accounting and specialized numerical terms?

Right, everyone.

Bill PAR CELLS also stakes a claim to this puzzle.

There are surprisingly few *PAR*PAR* phrases out there. I like Byron's decision to highlight the three grid-spanners. These days, four long(ish) themers is the minimum, but 3x15 still can feel adequate if the phrases are exceptional.

I also appreciated the grid's Waldenization, opened and stretched nearly to themeless levels. Such a simple theme might bore some folks, so smart thinking to work in some MANI PEDIS and CHEAP WINE.

Byron is known for his ultra-difficult Saturdays that sometimes feature esoteric knowledge, so I was daunted to see his byline on a Monday. And when I saw the sheer vastness of the northwest corner, I was quaking! Such a relief to solve that corner; so smooth and interesting.

That generally went for the rest of the puzzle, too. MALTESES didn't come to me quickly, and INANER is an inane "roll-your-own" +ER entry that sometimes makes daunting themeless patterns possible. Well done to keep the fill on par with the simplistic theme.

One of my neighbors recently got into the NYT crossword, and she can get through most Tuesdays now. I'm curious to see how this one strikes her. It's not the most mind-blowing theme, but the wide-open grid with many bonuses provided some welcome variety.

POW Tue 10/11/2022
LIARCLADPASTE
ORSOLUCAASPEN
GOODFAITHCHARD
INFEARLEEMRI
COYROCKINROBIN
AREAHEATKONG
LETSPLAYABATES
STARLILY
GATEAUFILTERIN
ADINROOMDINO
PRETTYPENNYPHO
KEGENTYEETED
INANESUPERGIRL
DAMONISITODIE
SLEDSNAGSSETS

★ Although I was impressed by the top-notch color and cleanliness of the northwest corner — difficult to achieve when a central themer splits your grid in half — I thought I'd nailed "Name That Theme" way too quickly. GOOD, ROCKIN', STAR, PRETTY? The revealer is so obvious! No doubt that it was OFF TO A GREAT START.

Ok, maybe some doubt.

There's no doubt: Ailee is off to a great start in her constructing career. "Phrases that start with synonyms of a word" are commonplace, so you need something extra to elevate. SUPERGIRL did exactly that, perfectly explaining how every phrase is composed of (synonym of great) + (girl's name). Mind blown that this was possible!

Further enhancing the a-ha moment, all of the names were disguised. The meanings of FAITH (belief), ROBIN (the song refers to a bird), LILY (flower), and PENNY (coin) all obfuscated the concept so well.

Such a smart layout, with STAR / LILY separated in the middle. This central entry splits the grid in half (top / bottom) like a 9 would, but note how it allows for a diagonal slash of three black squares. That slash helps create separation, enhancing one's ability to fill the four biggish corners independently of each other.

Ailee did such an amazing job of spicing things up. LOGICAL / IRON ORE / AS OF YET / LETS PLAY — and that was only the opening corner? Let's play, indeed!

I did wonder what YEETED could be. I've heard the term from younger constructors, and it is in their language. I sure was relieved that all the crosses were fair — can you imagine if crossed with LIMN? That'd be a serious yeet!

(Ok, Boomer, I'll stop.)

Ailee is part of the inaugural class of the Diverse Crossword Constructor Fellowship, and she does the program proud with her excellent (and graceful) debut.

Wed 10/12/2022
KALEBASRULERS
IDEAALYENAMOR
LOWRIDERFORAYS
LSDMARIEVIAL
MUSTANGSALLY
SLUMPSTAPES
TOGAAMIGACEL
ACLFASTCARALE
TOYIGIVEAMMO
TAXEDBIDSON
MERCEDESBENZ
CLUESPLATQED
JETSETAUTOTUNE
ONHIRETRIMAYA
BASTEDESTCYAN

The BADASS UGLY TRUTH is that even this pop music moron enjoyed the AUTOTUNE pun. I can't help groovin' in my seat when LOW RIDER plays, and although the other songs are only vaguely familiar, they're undoubtedly tunes about autos. AUTOTUNE, indeed!

I appreciated reading about Drew's in-depth thought process. There are so many songs about cars that picking four random ones with any car-related lyric would have felt loosey-goosey.

His second point is not straightforward. "Iconic" is a great goal. But iconic to who? It'd be great if a database of songs existed with how familiar they are to what percentage of NYT crossword solvers. Even then, though, do you want to play to the current data or push toward more inclusion? It's a tricky set of questions with no right answers.

Although I didn't know LITTLE RED CORVETTE, it's possible to stack themers, like LITTLE RED 9 in row three and CORVETTE 8 offset in row four. Not easy, but it's worth considering, especially if you already have an 8 to match part of it, like LOW RIDER.

Great cluing touches; so important to entertain the music curmudgeons out there. You're a bebop purist? Maybe you'll appreciate the jazzy riff that Turkey (the country, not the food) is on top of SYRIA. Classical snob? You might enjoy learning a classic bit of trivia, that KALE is aptly rich in vitamin K.

Although the theme concept had two strikes against me — not only do I have a huge knowledge gap in popular music, but I care so little about cars that my neighbor thought my 2005 Honda Civic belonged to a homeless person (sadly true) — the wordplay still got my motor running.

Thu 10/13/2022
CODANBAFABLES
ADAMOEDLIAISE
REBUTTEDOLDMAN
BASSOBLAREDOUT
EGOLADEN
NORMBBALLACT
CHEERIESTALERT
IFCYEAHIGHLIE
SUITEHOMESALES
NPRMETEDTOSS
RADARSEE
PROVOLONESILOS
RECANTSKIPTOWN
ELAINEFEDUGLI
POLLEDWDSPOST

Rest in peace, Chester. I've had the privilege of working with Lewis on several puzzles now, and there have been so many times when one of his breakthroughs came after a long walk with his dear friend.

What a great find in BLAREDOUT to BUT (BUT "skipping" the town of LAREDO)! Most themes involving "deletions creating another valid entry" use short strings of letters. I don't remember seeing a six-letter one before. Impressive!

I like the big-thinking approach in using longer town names. BUTTE, LAREDO, PROVO are especially nice. MESA and ERIE work too, although four-letter finds aren't as interesting, especially when they contain mostly common letters.

As longtime readers would expect, I couldn't stop myself from investigating what else was possible. With the help of our Replacement Finder, half an hour of scanning through a list of towns turned up some fun multi-worders:

PERE NOEL to PEEL

MA CHERIE to MACH

SALT AIR to SIR

NO REMORSE to NORSE

I would have loved more multi-word themers, since single-word to single-word transformations aren't that eye-popping. There's something so fascinating about a space changing location or getting deleted.

There are many ways to present a theme like this, and today's is one of the hardest implementations to solve. Without circles to tell you where the towns are and without a clue for the base phrase, I struggled mightily to finish.

Will Shortz has said that all he wants out of Thursdays is that they're harder than Wednesdays. Circling the towns would have made the concept much easier, but still challenging — and more importantly, more fun to solve. Alternately, cluing both the base phrase and the resulting entry would have allowed for more fun entries like MA CHERIE (which doesn't work with today's presentation, since MACHERIE appears nonsensical without a hint to help the solver figure out that it's MA CHERIE).

Some neat finds, and certainly a hard Thursday workout for this OLDMAN!

Fri 10/14/2022
HATHAYOGAPLOYS
ILHANOMARROBOT
STUDYDATEENSUE
SODAENEWSGERM
BALIENDUSE
BULBBDAYSAP
TUBASPOOPEMOJI
AYESPRONEOVEN
DIRTYJOKEAVERT
ANDATMSDIRK
GROWONSHOE
ATITPINTOSLAB
RIVERGOINSTYLE
CMEREHANKAARON
SERIFTHESTREET

When POOP EMOJI plopped down three years ago, I was grossed out. Breakfast test! My morning oatmeal bowl already looks like brown sludge. Thankfully, I recently watched the delightful Junior Bake Off, where one challenge was creating a POOP EMOJI cake. If you need a serious laugh, drop everything and watch the mess of "Nailed It"-esque results.

Great timing for HANK "Hammerin' Hank" AARON to get a crossword at bat. Fantastic wordplay, leading solvers to believe that you might hammer a nail in with a bat. (I've done that. Not proud of it.)

Huge number of clever clues all throughout the grid. Such a nice assortment of fun facts — how odd that TUBA is literally "trumpet" — all the way to the wickedest of wordplay. [Part in the middle?] freshens up the humdrum entry we see all the time, HAIR. Er, ALTO.

Even better were the clues that elevated already excellent long entries like UBER DRIVER and PROM NIGHT. One who'll take you for a ride during a big matter of concern for senior management … I feel for my brother, whose high school senior is deep into parental rebellion.

Well-crafted grid, with such care taken to ensure the HATHA and ILHAN crosses are super-simple. Same goes for HANK AARON, for that matter.

Curious why ARE WE DONE shows up so often in crosswords (across all venues)? Note the plethora of common letters, plus the perfect alternation of consonant-vowel, which is incredibly useful in constructing. I doubt the crossworld is done with it.

Such a fantastic quantity and quality of brilliant clues. If there hadn't been an impressive debut earlier this week, this one would have gotten serious POW! attention, even given the ultra-high standard I hold for David.

Sat 10/15/2022
MAGICSHOPSTAMP
AMERICANOPOPUP
RISKTAKERAMISS
ARTSINESSCAST
CIAETCETHNO
ATLASMEHCOLOR
SETTERPETABYTE
HVACSODA
WHALEPODYESMAN
EATENDUHTEASE
BITITPSALIM
LUSHITWASNTME
LINUSEPICPOEMS
ENEROCANTUNSEE
OGDENENGINEERS

We have a feature called "topologically similar grids," which shows you grid layouts that exhibit similar measurements. (Hit "Analyze" at the bottom of the page and scroll down.) Given John's comments, it's no surprise that two of Patrick Berry's puzzles show up! Perusing Patrick's constructor page, I picked out another one that looks similar to today's.

4x9 stacks are rare because it's the rare constructor that can get the most out of each long slot while maintaining top-notch cleanliness. That bottom right corner is so solid. IT WASN'T ME, EPIC POEMS, and especially CAN'T UNSEE are so sizzly. Some editors won't give ENGINEERS a check mark, counting it more neutral, but this engineer loved the clue relating to MIT's sports team name. I imagine there's a lot of licking of chops in anticipation of a game vs. the Engineers …

The opposite corner is just as clean, but there's not as much color. AMERICANO is both a basic drink and grid entry. There might be something artsy about ARTSINESS, though it takes a lot to make a one-worder stand out. I like that MARACAS and GESTALT jazz things up, and HAKEEM the Dream was so awesome to watch during his prime.

Impressive that John didn't resort to ugly RE- or -ER entries, which so often are needed to gloop a corner together (think RECOLORER). I'd much rather eat some everyday PPS PSA, even if those come along with ENERO ETHNO. Interesting that three of those four dings came in the two corners that should be easiest to fill … makes me curious if more iteration would have achieved an overall improvement in either.

Solid example of this type of LIMit-pushing grid design.

Sun 10/16/2022 Terminal Connections
MUCHOSEMIMINORPAPAL
EBOOKIRENECARAATARI
NEWTSDEARMADAMSHRED
RATIOLEONAOSAKA
BIGNEWSLICHENS
BLUENILERELRAMSDOWN
IONTEACEREMONYDIO
TOGACROISSANTBARR
EMARKETINGTRADENAMES
LESSENIGOTIT
STREETREHOUSEILIADS
THUSFARDUNSTDESKSET
EONTASGUVWONAMA
MUSTIESTUSSHONDAFIT
SANDSTONETHEMEROOM
GTAAWEAYEALL
HERHASTRITTRBILAG
ISOGONSCARIESANGOLA
AQUAOTTOMANSETSAWOL
LUNGTHERONETTESZUNE
LEDSETDSSOILAPES

I love the concept, pairs of entries coming together in the middle of a third. US VS THEM + EROOMIMED (DEMI MOORE backward) = THEME ROOM is a neat finding.

With themers that appear short in the grid, there was plenty of real estate for great bonus fill, and wow, did Paolo deliver. TEA CEREMONY was my favorite entry in the entire grid, followed by COWABUNGA. Amusing to think of the Ninja Turtles attempting to sit quietly in a traditional Japanese tea garden.

As much as I adored the concept, I found the solve ultra-challenging, because I kept losing track of the themers' locations. I also initially missed the brilliant meta-answer of MAKE ENDS MEET, since MA / KEEN / DSME / ET looked nonsensical. I'm glad I thought better than underestimating Paolo — I knew he'd have a last flourish!

It'd have been great to have the themers laid out in pairs, as in MA/KE + EN/DS + ME/ET. Not only would it have been easier to read the words, but this would have given more breathing room for longer theme entries, like BAT A THOUSAND instead of THOUSAND, or FIRST BASEMAN in place of NORSEMAN.

I stumbled on one square, eventually admitting defeat: PARK SO-DAM crossing BARR. (I guessed PARK SO-DUM and BURR.) I'm used to clarifying an ultra-common error, that my last name is CHEN and not CHAN or CHIN, so if I ever become crossworthy enough (chance of that = 0%), I'd demand similar measures from whoever incorporates my name into their grid.

Above all else, though, this is a fantastically innovative concept. Will Shortz tries to limit constructors to four(ish) Sundays per year to spread the wealth, but I'd gladly take more than that from Paolo.

Mon 10/17/2022
ABELEVILAWAKE
TODODANALEGIT
BUGSBUNNYALONE
AGITAMARC
TIEMICKEYMOUSE
SERBDONNEMCED
UTILERELAY
ALFREDENEUMAN
SNAFUCARTA
ITMECOATITRAP
MISTERSPOCKEVE
MAYSANGER
REFERIMALLEARS
AGENTFOREALSO
NODUHYMCATEEN

What did the stalk of corn say when the farmer asked, "Hey, can I tell you something?"

(I blame my kids and their insatiable appetites for corny joke books.)

Fun collection of ear-heavy characters today, perfectly summed up by the punny I'M ALL EARS. A Family Feud survey asked this very question, and BUGS BUNNY and MICKEY MOUSE were numbers one and two, just like Caryn presented them!

(The fact that the third response was "Mouse" ... I fear for these survey respondents.)

ALFRED E. NEUMAN is another great find. What, me worry about these giant ears?

I wasn't so sure if MISTER SPOCK fit. Is it logical to include him along with three cartoon characters?

Ow, stop Vulcan nerve pinching me!

WELCOME MAT is apt for Monday puzzles, as they should be welcoming to all(ish). Caryn had a difficult task, gridding around a central 13. I appreciated the BUFFET MENU of mid-length bonuses. Not an easy thing to accomplish, given the constraints. LAYMEN OSSIFY KNEECAP — there's a story in there somewhere. Worth the dings like ETE LAMS EDY? I'd say so.

I love slang terms like BOUGIE (think "bourgeoisie"), as these EDGIER entries spice up the joint. Crossing it with AGITA might create some solver agita-tion, though. Perhaps a black square at the S of SERB might have helped.

Head-scratching Ok Boomer moment: There's such a meme as IT ME?

It be.

I had a ton of fun daydreaming about what other themers might fit. I think Caryn made the right choices, given that my oddball results spanned from FERENGI to DROOPY DOG to KING MIDAS AFTER APOLLO GOT THROUGH WITH HIM. I don't think twice after solving most Mondays, so well done getting my mind churning, Caryn!

Tue 10/18/2022
PALGARAGECAPS
ALAICONICOLEO
IFIMBEINGHONEST
LADIESGINGKO
ELSWIENER
BOYOHONDOAHAB
APEMORTDATIVE
RESERVEONESSPOT
BRONTETERPPIT
SANDREARMHYDE
GOBALDGOD
BEAVISEERIER
ANDMAKEITSNAPPY
PAGEEUROPEPEA
TIESSPAWNSYEN

AND MAKE IT SNAPPY containing ASAP? What a snappy finding! Imaginative concept; commonplace initialisms that can be found (in order!) inside phrases meaning the same thing.

If I'm being honest, IF I'M BEING HONEST was the least impressive of the three because HONEST duplicates the H of IMHO.

Wait. It stands for In My HUMBLE Opinion?

Ba, humble-bug.

I had similar qualms about the R of RESERVE, but my high school French pulled out that the R of RSVP stands for "répondez," or "respond."

With only three themers, today's standards demand that solvers are treated to at least four long bonuses plus squeaky-clean fill. LAID EYES ON / HOVERBIKES / ECHINODERM / HIPPY DIPPPY more than satisfies the first criterion! CONGRATS to Dan on such pizzazz.

Maybe it could all have been pulled off without the OLEO (or is that "olio"?) of ETE SOT ROI dings. It'd be an interesting challenge to attempt. Doable, but it might require slightly less fantastic bonus entries.

The concept is novel enough that it made me want to investigate what others might be possible. YOLO, right?

Let's see … SEIZE THE DAY, no … WHY NOT, LET'S DO IT sounds contrived …

Perhaps TLDR? THIS DULL DRECK IS BORING, MOVE ON JEFF … oh. Right.

Three neat finds in an intriguing concept I'd never precisely encountered before, plus a lot of sparkly fill? Hard to ask much more out of a Tuesday puzzle.

Wed 10/19/2022
DISCSEDGYSMOG
ASAHILOLAPAUL
INVERYPOORTASTE
STEWIAMBADORN
TAPSALANON
INCONSOLABLY
SEEYAILLSASS
INNLATEFEEWOE
SEARVATCHOUX
UNIRONICALLY
LEANEDONES
MAGICTWODAIDE
FRANKLYINCENSED
ATITOKRARILED
OHNOPEENENEMY
Thu 10/20/2022
RCAAGESHAPPEN
ARMMORAIGUITY
GUYIVEGOTAPLAN
UMPEDCARSULLY
BOXSETGPS
ETTAHAIRBOW
ASHTWAINBLUR
COLAEONGAZE
THEYHELIOCON
SORORALRISK
EVATAMEST
CHEESDGEHAHAS
HARLEMSHAKEENT
UNABLEEMIREGO
BASALTESTEPOW
POW Fri 10/21/2022
EBAYBASTELAWN
SOSOONTOEIDEA
PLAYITCOOLLURE
NONOTTHATBALE
USACLOTFACADE
BAEBARTON
HANGONASECOND
WAITRIGHTHERE
WINTHELOTTERY
ANDUEYRAN
RETURNBEADINA
COLTCONCERTOS
DAWNDRUNKDIALS
UVEAVENUEPLIE
GELSREDIDEYES

★ WIN THE LOTTERY is so appropriate today because I got everything I enjoy out of a Friday themeless and a whole lot more. This amazing themeless debut reminded me of how I feel when I see the bylines of Robyn Weintraub, Yacob Yonas, and Nam Jin Yoon. Heady territory, indeed!

First and foremost, so many grid entries lifted and entertained in the style of a great coach giving a team a pep talk. HANG ON A SECOND, NO NOT THAT! PLAY IT COOL ... WAIT RIGHT THERE! IT CAN'T HURT to get FAST TRACKED.

And … WE'RE DONE!

Except that we're not at all done. Those chatty, colloquial entries would have been POW!-worthy on their own, but there's also WINE CAVE and some ADULATORY CONCERTOS. And I hope you're not too buzzed to forget DRUNK DIALS, with its delightful clue. The repetition in [Buzzes when buzzed?] made no sense … until it made all the wordplay-sense in the world.

NO LIE, there's yet more? I drew a circled C next to any great clues, and after my page was filled with a sea of them, I floated down the river of countless joys. Best of all were the ones that innocently lifted a common word. [Posture that might be hard to maintain]? Oh for F's sake, every yoga posture is hard to maintain! Ah, this uses the "position" meaning, as in FAÇADE. I posture that this is brilliant.

A couple of minuscule dings, like NGO isn't the most familiar of acronyms, and BARE HEADED was a bit bald, but those are me scouring with a magnifying lens, so I don't sound like a stupid fanboy.

Screw it, I have to do it. Fanboy SQUEE!

Sat 10/22/2022
ADDISABABAEVES
COASTLINESMALL
ISTHATAYESPLEA
DEABASINSTUNS
PAIREDUHYEAH
DOLLSEASON
TOILETAPUECHO
HINTSATPROSHOP
ANTIIAMPHTEST
MALBECREST
WAGERSLOSERS
IDAHOVISTAMIX
SEMIPOSTALCODE
PLUGITSALLOVER
SETHNEARLYWEDS

Even with the Rafaelian masterpiece yesterday, today's puzzle had serious POW! buzz. Although there are only 12 long slots (themelesses average roughly 14) there's so much juice squeezed out of each — a super-fresh entry in NEARLYWEDS, too! I hadn't heard the term, but that kind of inferable coinage gives me a smile.

I often find Brooke's cluing a factor of 2.718 too challenging for me. Today, after girding my Saturday loins (I'm still recovering from hernia repair surgery, bear with me), I was ready to tackle the brain-busting wordplay.

And was there some busting! I hit a dead stop along the entire left side of the puzzle. [One of several in a trend, perhaps] ... even though I suspected it had nothing to do with fashion trends, coming up with DATA POINTS was a struggle.

Same goes with [Reach]. That has so many different meanings, and not one that I could recall was the noun form getting at "full extent." That's okay, though — some Saturday defeats are inevitable.

I thought I was on my way to another plotzing with [World capital whose name means "new flower"], but my brain ran the GAMUT of crosswords it's clung onto, and it recalled the Patrick Berry usage from a decade ago. Fist pump, UH, YEAH!

There were a HOST of great clues that delivered similar fist-pumping moments. I thought Brooke would defeat me once again when I couldn't figure out what Santa's HOH OHO in Canada might be. What a brilliant way to deliver joy for an otherwise neutral entry in POSTAL CODE.

Brooke and Yacob did such a great job of setting me up for a hard-fought win.

Sun 10/23/2022 To Be Continued
ANTIQUESTORESAROMA
LOOMURGESTAXICAPED
LIONENOCHODINHYENA
OCTOPUSTIMETCBYNAG
WESTIEMIRACLEONICE
ALSIOTAHARPONES
SACRACONSNONEARG
ALOOFACEHYPEMUSCAT
GARBAGEDUMPSCREEDS
ANNODINISPYBRARDA
BETWEENTHELINES
PERFARPALSNOBIMUS
HATTERKALEIDOSCOPE
INHOMEIRISNEDDENTE
ETATAKEBDAYRAYON
ACMEMESAPOORHON
DRAMALESSONSUNDOCK
MAREXEDFIREFRESHEN
INKEDCOVEISAIDLADE
NIECEONCESISALORAL
SATONMARTHASTEWART

When Dan approached me with his awesome BET / WEE / NTH / ELI / NES finding, I was enthralled … and skeptical. Laying out a grid that clearly shouted THESE SETS OF BLACK SQUARES ARE LINES, while working in so many short themers, felt like a recipe for gridding disaster. Add in the fact that I didn't see as many fantastic themer discoveries as I thought we needed, and we decided to shelve this one.

A few months later, I thought I had a neat idea: we could feature four of these findings in a 15x15, where the lines made out of black squares completely cut off grid sections from each other. Solvers would literally have to read between the lines to create grid connectivity!

That flopped.

We couldn't figure out how to make the black square lines look like lines, not curves. We'd ask friends to identify the lines, and they'd ask if this was supposed to be some sort of optical illusion. Then they'd point to the grid's outer edges. Or to the worry lines in my face.

Several months later, I ran some code, trying to find additional great answers that broke up in surprising ways. Dan ran some. I ran some more. And it seemed like we were sniffing at the edges of a Sunday!

Or our own butts.

Again, figuring out how to make lines of black squares that actually looked like lines — and were possible to grid around — felt like Cruciverba (thanks for the correction, Bobbie!), the goddess of crosswords, was melting our wings for flying too close to the sun.

TL;DR: twelve Herculean labors later, we presented great Cruciverba with a puzzle featuring black-square-lines and cloaked answers. Phew!

Now to put on this comfy-looking cloak she rewarded us with …

Mon 10/24/2022
SANSCLEFTACTI
EMITHELLORUED
ROPEODEONMBAS
FRANCISCOGOYA
SETTODAMN
SELMANASAL
ADDDIEGORIVERA
PROPSTAREYANK
PEDROPASCALTOE
SWOONPALAU
PUMAINCUR
JOSEFELICIANO
PSISCRAIGTRIO
DIVACOSMOATOM
AXELASTERSANS

I was a subpar French student in high school, so my teacher's "répétez après moi" was on constant repeat. Perhaps all that rote work did something because I understood SANS right off the bat!

Understanding what SANS / SANS meant was a different story altogether.

I thought about it for a day, then asked Jim Horne if he'd care to explain it to me so he could prove that he's smart as I am. Alas, Jim is far smarter and called my bluff. Between the two of us, we think that SANS / SANS implies "without the SANs, SAN FRANCISCO is FRANCISO."

Let's say it has a touch of "je ne sais quoi."

It's a neat set, names that become cities after SAN. Growing up in San Jose — an hour south of San Francisco — I recognized the theme immediately. The CALIFORNIA puzzle from two years ago helped, too.

I didn't immediately recognize PEDRO PASCAL, even after slogging through most of "The Mandalorian." Perhaps only seeing his face once in two seasons had something to do with it. I hear his acting shines in "Narcos," so I'll add that to my queue.

Fun clues in TONGA and PROPOSAL. I love wordplay, having used TONGA to TANGO in one of my own puzzles. And PROPOSAL as a question that might have a ring to it? I'll scream "Yes!" to that!

Some solvers hate name-focused themes, calling them trivia games instead of crosswords (emphasis on the word "words"), but I enjoyed the focus on these four Hispanic names.

Using the French alongside made for a strange juxtaposition, but there's no doubt that the SANS / SANS repetition makes you think.

Tue 10/25/2022
DISCRASPMAPS
OREOANTEPURSE
LOEBCAENIDEAS
ANSYELPREHASH
POPTABSAUCE
SNOBBYUNTENDED
TABIPOSELY
TERRANODAPPLE
ICURUNEFOO
SONICAREOOPSIE
CRIESWOOING
SPIKEDGENTTAR
ELSIELAOSVIBE
AILEDOMNIMOOT
REARTESTINXS

The games people play! STEPS UP ONE'S GAME is a solid rationale for diagonally-oriented classic games.

Diagonal entries are notoriously difficult to grid around because they strip away so much flexibility. With each letter "triple-checked" (having to work with an Across, Down, and diagonal entry), there's so much gloop needed to hold everything together, that Will Shortz is down on this genre.

Today's result is much more solid than average, with only some minor ANS ELL PSAS. That's a fantastic result, given that two of the four games are long, spanning so much grid real estate.

More restricted grid flow is a trade-off — the NW and SE corners are separated from the middle swath, only connected by two entries apiece. If you can't figure out the long revealer or SONICARE, woe be unto early-week solvers who get stuck in one of the three regions, unable to cross into the others.

Counterintuitively, one way to help the problem is to add black squares. Blacken out the A of TERRA + shift the black square below TBAR up one space + shift the black squares before TAB up one row = solving chi freely flows.

Fun, fresh cluing touch on SPIKED. Linking volleyball and hair demonstrates creativity.

This is a solid-enough early-week theme, although playing on classic games is a well-worn concept. (I helped a friend build an "Endgame" puzzle, with reservations that were echoed when Will said playing on classic games was much too familiar.) I did like the snazzy revealer, though, helping to step up today's game.

Wed 10/26/2022
ROOMBATHATSUCKS
AMPLERHOLEINONE
MARKETRESEARCHER
PRYRHONELOEB
AMUSEOSLO
MASTERSTRATEGIST
CRAMOHIOMOO
JONALLFOURSPAD
OATMOOTMEMO
BRANFORDMARSALIS
OMNICLEAR
DRNONAVALOPS
READILYAVAILABLE
APPLIESTORODEIN
MOSEISLEYSWAYED
POW Thu 10/27/2022
VOIDSOUTHORCS
PINAOUTDONOLA
SLOTCREPEECON
BREAKADIPOSE
RAGBRAYSFACES
ERACAFESFROST
DONTWASLYE
ONCEERIVONCIS
NPRCISTALL
AMANAMANICTOW
POWERINONECVS
UNASKEDGOTOE
SAKSCACTIENDS
ICEEHIMOMEDIT
CONEORATESOTU

★ Leveling up from Wednesday to Thursday NYT crosswords can feel insurmountable. The only rule for Thursdays is that there are no rules. So many people are flummoxed by Schrödinger dualities, letters impossible to write in a black square, or entries that literally require outside the box thinking ... they dejectedly throw in the towel.

Today's puzzle is an excellent gateway into the wonderful Wonderland down the rabbit hole. Some Wednesday solvers have at least heard of rebuses before, and Barbara gently nudges folks into the uncharted, but conquerable territory.

[Eat, quaintly] — wisely italicized for emphasis — can't be BREA(KD). It has to be BREA(K) BREA(D), and the concept's dam breaks open. Some neat finds in (P)OWER (M)OWER and (G)O TOE (T)O TOE.

Although DO(N)'T DO (I)T is short, I admired how non-obvious it was, much harder to suss out that something like (H)OCUS (P)OCUS or K(I)NG K(O)NG.

I also appreciated that Barbara made me curious to see what other possibilities existed. Jim's approach below is great for non-coders. With twenty lines of Python coding, I captured a more complete set, including some neat ones like COMME C(I), COMME C(A), TOMA(Y)TO TOMA(H)TO, SPL(I)SH SPL(A)SH, along with several others that were already featured in Matt's concept. Taking it one step further, I found another set that were in line with Patrick Berry's amped-up execution.

Given that there are hundreds of possibilities, it would have been nice to have some extra layer to help this puzzle stand out. However, Barbara did a nice job of picking out fun examples, and the use of both letters in the Down direction as a rebus square made for a concept that might rocket Wednesday solvers through the sound barrier of crossword soundness. Welcome to the Bizarro World of limitless creativity!

Fri 10/28/2022
ATSEAOHMSBAT
DREAMHEELALDO
MUDRAGREYNOHO
ICANTLOOKDOWEL
TENEIDDINARS
FUNTHUSFEE
BURNERACCOUNT
CINNAMONTOAST
ROOKIEMISTAKE
URLGUYSANY
BROTHSAPTSIT
BIGOTLIFEHACKS
IDIGTOFFELENA
SOSOWIFIMINOR
HRTONYXSTEWS

Will Nediger touches on an excellent point: Will Shortz is picky about initialisms. His rationale is that if you've never heard of it, it's a string of random letters that could be anything. John Guzzetta learned that the hard way when he seeded a themeless with VBS (vacation Bible school), and I felt the sting with OBO (or best offer). I'm glad that Will Nediger took the risk because hormone replacement therapy is a fresh entry in current news.

A couple of delightful debut entries, headlined by ROOKIE MISTAKE. Fantastic entry, and there's so much opportunity for wordplay.

Similar case for AMATEUR NIGHT. "Poetry, but not pros" is no rookie mistake!

BURNER ACCOUNT? BURNER PHONE, sure. But can't you trace a throwaway account by the IP address? Awfully difficult to burn the entire electronic trail.

MUDRA didn't look familiar, but some of the poses sure did. Given how many times I've tried to awkwardly describe one of these, I'm glad to now know the precise term.

There weren't as many clever, playful clues as I want in a Friday, but a couple did sizzle. Roughly 87% of my weekends are spent fixing my kids' crap, so I loved [Roll with many functions]. DUCT TAPE is how I roll.

Given that the "stair stack" is a tried and true themeless pattern these days, it would have been nice to see a less conservative grid design (going down to 68 or even 66 words), with less constricted grid flow into the NW and SE corners. Still, some excellent entries like LIFE HACKS and the chatty I CAN'T LOOK kept up my interest.

Sat 10/29/2022
SOCIALCLASS
MIRANDARIGHTS
SUNRISEMOVEMENT
ACTINLBSSONIA
KHANMASTSOOPS
SOXHAITIANGEE
CONDENSES
THREEWISHES
SHUNTYIPES
ITEMSCRUSIXAM
DOHSFEINTASTI
OLASINGLETCIS
LIVEINTHEMOMENT
DESSERTSPOONS
SPIDEYSENSE

What a cool grid art pattern! I immediately thought of phones and kettlebells. Sadly, like the last time the phone shape didn't ring, there was no mini-theme. Ah well, I still appreciate the innovation in themeless layout; incredibly welcome after seeing so many stair stacks and corner-focused puzzles these days.

Such a beautiful bottom half of the puzzle, LIVE IN THE MOMENT / DESSERT SPOON / SPIDEY SENSE are my THREE WISHES, indeed! Along with SEX SCENE, it's the exact opposite of STOLID. Those blocks of black squares in the lower corners make filling a ton easier, so some people call them "cheater squares," but I'll take the cheat code for such sizzle any day.

I wasn't as taken by the upper half. There's a lot of sparkle, especially MIRANDA RIGHTS with its [Silence notifications?] wordplay, but there's too much glue gunking up the joint. It's extremely common to require some minor LBS INS to hold together a long triple-stack, but along with the old-timey SHMOO and NEHIS, and STENOG ...

Still, LAMB STEW with CROSTINI, yum!

The execution wasn't as smooth as I like, but I sure appreciate the themeless layout creativity. I'd love to be able to say And now for something completely different at least once a month.

Sun 10/30/2022 Sending a Message
STAIRSGOITERDESIRE
WENTUPAIRTIMEUSENET
ELNINOMAITAISMELTED
ALANTURINGSTEAMFIX
ROWSEENATALKAMAD
NISSANIMITATIONGAME
NUCLEIIRONSPORTIA
JITSUGNUAPTFRIEND
INOILEASEDEPIAPSE
GRUELSTELELOOKS
SIREVERSCLUNKDAM
BYSEXSHINSCHEME
AEROETCPINGSHITON
STRAYSANIEEKAVERS
MONGOLCLARKSISTER
ENIGMAMACHINECASSIS
WEEANASTURBANOLA
SPYDRAGSCRYPTOGRAM
OFYOREBLINKATADRATE
FOLDERAAMILNENEATEN
TREADSSMILEDASSESS

I love codes. In our household, we don't wrap presents, but rather hide them and give clues to their whereabouts. My poor kids have no idea that they're learning while having fun, decoding alphanumerics (A=1, B=2, C=3, etc.), up-down ciphers, Pigpen, and even CRYPTOGRAMS.

Sadly, they haven't cracked my homemade ENIGMA MACHINE yet, so their 2019 Christmas presents are still under the floorboards.

There have been several cryptogram crosswords, like one that laid out the deciphering key in an easy to read display (unlike today's Note, ugh!). Another one employed the Caesar Shift, and yet another featured words that become other words after shifting.

And the piece de resistance: one that encrypted ALAN TURING into another enigmatic figure, HR HALDEMAN. The fact that the letter patterns happen to work out — letters 1 and 3 are the same, and letters 4 and 9 are the same — is the stuff of legends.

There's a lot to admire about today's implementation. Like the ALAN TURING / HR HALDEMAN puzzle, Addison had to adhere to consistent letter substitutions. There are a ton of Es in the decrypted quote:

CODES / AREAP / UZZLE / AGAME / JUSTL / IKEAN / YOTHE / RGAME

So each E must map to the same letter of the encryption key — the fourth letter in the first encrypted word has to be the same as the third letter in the second encrypted word, etc.

Some letters are freebies, like the J of JUSTL, since it doesn't repeat within the quote, but so many repeating letters force a huge amount of inflexibility. Cool that Addison found a set of eight five-letter words that work.

It would have been way more impressive if the quote had been broken down into ten-letter entries, especially if some of them provided more snazz than CLUNK or PINGS. I don't know if that's possible, but now I'm curious ... down the rabbit hole goes Jeff

I forget most Sunday puzzles five minutes after solving, but I enjoyed chewing on this one afterward.

Mon 10/31/2022
MEMESNARESHOD
EXAMHODORPAVE
NEMOATHOSARIA
SCAREQUOTESPDF
ASSAYPCSTEE
PERTIAGREE
ALIDOOMSCROLLS
DINEPIETASEAT
DEADLETTERSEND
SUNGODPECS
YENGASAWARD
PICGHOSTWRITER
IMAMONTOEPACE
LASESNOOTEROS
EXESEARLSSINS

"First words are related" themes are approaching six feet under — something like SCARE ___, DOOM ___, DEAD ___ wouldn't fly on its own these days — but Emily gives us a great example of doing something extra to make hers rise from the grave. Note that QUOTES, SCROLLS, and LETTERS are all things that can be written! It's so clever to use GHOST WRITER to elevate this concept.

Such a fresh entry in DOOMSCROLLS, too. I first heard it when exchanging emails with a friend during the pandemic, and it went on my list of great phrases to incorporate into a crossword roughly a microsecond after he used it.

Look at those four beautiful long Downs, spaced out perfectly. IN ANY CASE / NOT UP TO IT / STEPSTOOL / HARPER LEE, alternated down-up-down-up, echoing the left-right-left-right pattern of the Across themers. This is ideal spacing that keeps the door open for super-smooth fill.

However, given four long themers and four long bonuses, you'll usually have to make some trade-offs to avoid any short fill glue. Emily's bonuses are so stellar that it'd be hard to force yourself to try other entries in those slots. As a result, a couple of spots will likely trip up my newb crossword friends down the street. More frequent solvers will drop in SHOD / OVID right away, and even SHAQ / HODOR. Throw in ERSE / ATHOS, IMAM / MES, even ASTOR / SNOOT … it might feel more trick than treat.

Such a great theme. A shame that Halloween didn't fall on a Tuesday or Wednesday this year, when some of the more challenging fill would have been more in line with solving expectations.

XWord Info Home
XWord Info © 2007-2024, Jim Horne
153 ms