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Puzzles for November, 2016
with Jeff Chen comments

View these same grids with comments from:
Constructor (26)Jeff Chen (30)Jim Horne (2)Hide comments
Tue 11/1/2016
INCHEBOLAMAYA
SIRETOGOSLOGOS
ANILALLOSAURUS
YEMENSLEMONS
STENOPRAYING
OYSTOPHATNIP
PEORIASANTA
FRANCESDANCES
CRETETINEAR
EYESWANEEBIT
LESOTHOZEENA
CHINASMYNAHS
ROMEOROMEODUET
CUBASTUBASETRE
ASANSTIRSDYED

Country rhymes, using a consistent (country) + (possessive S) + (rhyme for the country). At first the theme seemed too loosey-goosey for me — pretty easy to rhyme many countries with words — but after some thought, it struck me that Ruth only used countries with exactly two syllables. That helps tighten things up. Additionally, she only used countries with the first syllable stressed — no JAPAN or IRAN.

Not all of the themers gave me a smile, but there's something amusing about CUBA'S TUBAS, with its visual of Raul Castro parading around in an oom-pah-pah band.

Neat that Ruth pushed the envelope, leaving a ton of white space to work with in this 72-word grid. I immediately got a delight in ALLOSAURUS, and CRIME SPREES and INNER BEAUTY sure helped to enhance my solve. What really stood out though, was the abundance of good mid-length material: LESOTHO, TOP HAT, PEORIA, SNEEZY, TIN EAR — so many bonuses packed in, all throughout the grid.

It all did come at a price, but not a very expensive one. The only region that made me hitch was the lower left, with OUS (awkward suffix) crossing the partial AS AN. I don't mind the latter that much, since it's so common in various similes, but since I had just uncovered THOS and AMBI nearby, it felt like a lot of compromises in one sector.

For me, the top right is a much better trade-off between snazz and smoothness. Love ALLOSAURUS, and LOOMPA is fun even without Oompa, just for the low, low price of AGR. (ETAS to me is so common as to be negligible.)

Although Ruth did make strides toward selecting a tight theme set, I still felt like it wasn't quite tight enough for me, as it was too easy to think of others: TURKEY'S JERKIES, SWEDEN's EDENS … okay, maybe it's a tighter theme than I first (or second) thought! And all the nice bonuses in fill sure were appreciated.

Wed 11/2/2016
CHADCLODJAM
RARESHALEMEMO
OTBSPANAMIDOL
WHYISARAVENLIKE
NASCARAOK
AWRITINGDESK
ACESERINSURER
RAPTDUETSDADA
ARIESLURESGAM
BECAUSEPOEWROTE
CIATEENER
ONBOTHOFTHEM
SUEZADOREOMAN
LILYROLESVAPE
OTTARKSEXPO

I was surprised that I'd never heard this riddle before. I admit that I didn't get the joke when I did the puzzle, but I really enjoyed researching it. Apparently Lewis Carroll didn't actually have an answer for this riddle, rather he intended it to be nonsensical. Didn't stop a ton of people from coming up with possible answers that actually fit!

I like the creativity required to come up with the potential answer, BECAUSE POE WROTE / ON BOTH (OF THEM), attributed to the great puzzler, Sam Loyd. Neat to be able to make that Poe connection. I would have absolutely loved it if "on" felt more spot-on to the Raven — BECAUSE POE WROTE (ABOUT) (the Raven) feels much better to my ear — but "on" still mostly works.

No long bonus fill, but Andrew did well in his choices for mid-length material. Love me some MILK DUDs, and a TEA COZY is so delightfully British (I'm currently hooked into this season's "The Great British Bake-off"). Nice NASCAR entry/clue too — I had no idea that NASCAR was behind only the NFL in terms of TV viewership. Whoa!

I imagine the older crowd might not care for HATHA yoga, VAPE, or ERAGON, but I like them all. HATHA yoga is really popular here in Seattle (plus, I smell VAPEs everywhere). And it's incredible that Christopher Paolini's ERAGON was published before his 21st birthday. I have to give props to a guy who sold his book series in a very unconventional way — instead of getting an agent and having that agent shop the book to the major houses, he toured all over, dressed in "a medieval costume of red shirt, billowy black pants, lace-up boots, and a jaunty black cap." That takes some serious guts!

And nothing terribly offensive in the fill. A minor SWEE and our good crossword Giant Mel OTT. The grid doesn't sing, but it is nice and smooth. A reasonable trade-off.

Really glad to have learned about this "riddle." I'm sure I'll be up all night trying to think of an absolutely genius answer. (Don't tell my wife.)

Thu 11/3/2016
CALFSSWIGHELL
ADULTAEROASIA
BAGAECLAIMSPAM
SEEEATSATHOME
ARNIEDOT
ONAAINOFFAAIN
DARTETROUDOE
OJAIFARERHONE
RATALDATIRED
AREETODISAREE
DVRNAIAD
JAMESIIYSLSPF
AVERSTAEMANAER
ZEALTAUSLEGGO
ZONESLATABYSM

AG rebus, four long entries containing two rebi apiece. I must admit, I've thought about this for a few days, and I still can't come up with the rationale behind the theme. AG is the elemental symbol for silver, but is there a reason to put two silvers into each theme answer? Perhaps there's some clever phrase, like TWO-AG or AG PAIR that I don't know about? Most curious.

My preference for rebi is to have some raison d'etre, a revealer to explain why certain letters have been rebusized. (Rebified?) CRUSHED ICE was one that stuck out to me a while back, for example. So I would have loved to have one of the answers somehow give me an a-ha moment of "oh, THAT'S why two AG boxes are shoved into each long across answer!"

Some nice "theme answers," my favorites ON AGAIN / OFF AGAIN and AGREE TO DISAGREE. Then again, there's something oppositional about these two entries that made me so badly want the others to be equally oppositional, for consistency's sake. Ah well.

I liked some of the fill, like FLORISTS and especially HASHT(AG), the latter even better since it incorporated one of the rebus squares. I really like when rebus squares get featured, both in the across and the down directions.

Conversely, I really don't like when rebus squares are integrated into subpar answers. Any sort of variant is generally to be avoided, so (AG)ISM (usually AGEISM) is unfortunate. Every has their own preference on what type of crossword glue is the worst — for me, variants are right up there. I'll usually do anything to avoid a variant.

There will probably be questions about ARNIE as a [Noted "army" leader]: that's Arnold Palmer's legion of fans in the old days, nicknamed "Arnie's Army."

The clue for FLORISTS was mystifying, too, at least until I figured out that the "glad" of [Glad handlers?] is talking about the gladiolus flower, which it seems is sometimes called a "glad."

I'm pretty sure there isn't a rationale for why there are two AGs in each theme answer, but I'm really curious now if anyone can come up a phrase that would have made for a perfect revealer. ADDED NOTE: I really like Matt Gaffney's suggestion: "FILL" SILVERS!

POW Fri 11/4/2016
SHARDANTESTOP
WEBERMARIJUANA
IRONYICELANDIC
MOVERCHEAPDATE
EGOBOOSTER
SWEARDEBTS
PTASOUPUPSLOP
HOTSTONEMASSAGE
DUETMCCAINCAD
STROPNOOKS
WOWJUSTWOW
ASKANYONECLIFF
SLOWDANCERADIO
TUNASTEAKALONG
IGGYTSPSBAWDY

★ A ton of flashy, catchy answers. That bottom left corner is especially shiny, with four strong answers — WOW JUST WOW / ASK ANYONE / SLOW DANCE / TUNA STEAK — stacked right atop each other, with only the very minor ASTI needed to hold it all together. Stacking three long answers is hard enough, but when you throw in a fourth (even if it is shifted over somewhat), it gets much harder. That's fantastic work.

WOW JUST WOW might not do much for some people, but it's one of my favorite types of entries, taking advantage of the crossword convention of ignoring punctuation. WOW JUST WOW looks odd, but think of it like this: WOW. (eye roll) JUST … WOW. (shake head.) Love it.

Interesting to hear David say that HOT STONE MASSAGE wasn't one of the seed entries. I would never have thought to build opposite corners like this, hoping that they would mesh in the middle — seems like you'd too often end up with unmatchable starts / ends for that long slot. But David kept his middle section pretty closed off with liberal use of black squares, so he set himself up to facilitate the start / end of that grid-spanning entry meshing in the middle. Clever!

Also nice to hear David point out EILAT as the least desirable entry, as that one stood out to me as well (a name I know only from crosswords). Is it a truly gluey entry, though? I'm on the fence about that. Major cities ought to be fair game, and never having traveled in that part of the world, I don't know enough about EILAT to gauge its tourist draw or its place in history. Tough call.

AMICO was second behind EILAT for me, but that felt more minor to me (it's easily inferable from the common "amigo" and "amicus brief"). It speaks to David's construction abilities that he was able to keep it to just these entries in terms of crossword glue, especially considering all the long answers stacked atop each other.

I wasn't a fan of the mini-theme — four of the first five answers clued to "pot" or "pots" — a rare case that a mini-theme actually detracted from a themeless for me. Felt a bit haphazard; inelegant. I'm glad I went back afterward to review the construction though, because once I got past that opening sensation of oddness, I really enjoyed the craftsmanship.

Sat 11/5/2016
SHOPLIFTSLIMS
MANUALLYSPINET
OVERPLANMENAGE
CASSETTEICECAP
KNEELERSTKITTS
SACSLATTETIRO
ALTARDEVON
SMUSHEKEOMENS
COLTSBEECH
ANTATONTOPEST
BRERFOXSHALLWE
BORDENAMENAMEN
AVIATEMARINERS
RIOTEDPRESERVE
DARESSTRESSED

I usually get nervous when I see a puzzle this wide open, wondering how many bizarre entries I'll have to figure out, including but not limited to esoterica, words made up by adding RE- or -ER, and standard short crossword glue. What a huge relief to sail through this puzzle with not much of the aforementioned at all!

My favorite was the upper right, what with MEGATRON (leader of the evil Decepticons in "Transformers," and also the awesome nickname for former Detroit Lions WR Calvin Johnson) featured, plus STEPSONS and ICE CAP pretty good too.

And really just one gluey entry up there! SPINET is a perfectly legit musical instrument (a small piano, basically), but like David mentioned, TIRO is a toughie. I'm on the fence whether or not Cicero's longtime servant is crossworthy, but the other, much more common definition of TIRO [Newbie: Var.] makes for a clearly gluey answer.

The bottom right is a good example of the struggle to achieve both snazziness and cleanliness in these type of big corners. I really like how careful David was in avoiding any sort of glue — it's so hard to do in space like this. And STREET SMART was really nice. But nothing else was very notable — STRESSED, PRESERVE, PLANES, etc. are more neutral space-fillers to me than assets.

I did like that COHERER turned out to be all right. At first I wondered if it was one of those odd -ER words, but it does appear to be a real, albeit outdated, piece of radio technology. AMEN AMEN … I'm not a churchgoer, but do people really repeat the word in this fashion? Something more like AAA-MEN! feels more spot-on to me.

But overall, there were more good entries than I expected out of an ultra-low-word-count puzzle like this — the ones David mentioned, plus STARDATE and even FLAT RATE BOX — and very few of the ANTA (American National Theater and Academy) gluey bits. Pleasantly surprised.

Sun 11/6/2016 IT'S ALL AN ELISION
NADIRTENURESTYPESET
ALONERAISEUPROLLONS
STUFFOUTTHEREIREFUSE
TOPLINEREDDITKARUT
AXELORIGAMIALES
CASTHOGSNOWSURPRISE
ANTEIVESGMAMOUNT
RNASTENCHAYEBROTHS
PIKERSTREADILERLET
HEIRSSLEEPIGORBELA
OHNOSTEWDAMNHOTUSER
NAGSHUBSRAFTSSTENT
ELMRIDESTYLILITCHI
SLEWOFNAHSORDIDRUN
FOUTSRIPWORTXENO
SIOUXYOUKNOWNUTATTN
CORKINASPOTGERM
AWESARINONOTROOPER
REVALUESIPTOBESQUARE
EYECAREAREOLASUNTIE
RAREGASSENNETTETHEL

I loved this concept, "IT'S ___" phrases elided for kooky results. It took the longest time for me to figure out what was going on, and the wait was worth it. I got a good laugh out of IT'S TOUGH OUT THERE going to STUFF OUT THERE. Amusing visual of a taxidermist's spouse pleading to not mess up the living room with entrails. ITS WHO YOU KNOW was another standout, especially with that crazy IT'S WHO to SIOUX spelling change. And although the spelling change from IT'S OUR LITTLE SECRET to SOUR LITTLE SECRET was simple, I chuckled at the thought of the Oompa Loompas at the SweeTarts factory carefully guarding their precious formula.

SIP TO BE SQUARE didn't resonate with me, though. Great base phrase in IT'S HIP TO BE SQUARE but the clue felt off. "…BE SQUARE" is usually a bad thing, as in "be there or be square," yeah? So I couldn't imagine a wine geek embracing this slogan. Also, what happened to the H? Wouldn't SHIP TO BE SQUARE (as a fun UPS slogan!) be more consistent?

And STEW DAMN HOT ... I tried to insert some punctuation to make it feel fine, like a menu listing such as STEW (DAMN HOT!), but it just didn't work for me.

A couple of nice bonuses in GENTLE BEN (great clue about the show's 650 pound star), ANNIE HALL and HELEN HUNT. CAR PHONES are outdated, but they have historic appeal. Funny to think about people holding those gigantic monsters to their ears while driving, almost needing two hands to operate them. And ROLL-ONS is a pretty good bonus already, but the innocent [Sure things] made it really stand out. ("Sure" is a deodorant brand.)

REEDING was a tough one, but it looks to be a perfectly legit entry, referring to both grooves in a column as well as the little grooves on the sides of coins.

Joe does well with his short stuff, keeping the crossword glue to very minor bits like EUR and XENO. REFIX felt more gloppy, but to keep all the crossword glue to such a small quantity is good work.

I would have loved to not have STEW DAMN HOT, and to have more strong bonus fill. Eliminating that themer, plus going from 138 to 140 words, might have helped convert more neutral stuff like TENURES and AREOLAS to really fun entries. A shame — a few improvements here and there and this would have been my POW!

Mon 11/7/2016
ETTAATBATELLE
MAHIVIOLACAIN
OPALINNERCHILD
JONMACEIOTAS
INKCARTRIDGE
SONYMISSOUT
GUARDSAGADNA
ISLAMICCALENDAR
LEONOSYLASSO
ARTFAIRFIRM
INTERNETCAFE
SATEDEASEKAL
IVORYCOASTTERI
ZINCANITAARCS
EDGEBERYLISEE

Initialisms today, I SEE cluing us in to "two-word phrases that start with I and C." I thought Bruce did a nice job picking his five themers, ISLAMIC CALENDAR and INNER CHILD my favorites (not a surprise given that I still lick my plate when my wife isn't watching). INK CARTRIDGE gets a Jeff-shakes-fist-at-gol-durn-money-grubbing-printer-manufacturers BOOOO! Surprisingly expensive to replace, indeed.

I wasn't as big a fan of INTERNET CAFÉ as a themer-- although it has some retro appeal as an entry, initialism puzzle are old-school enough that I was hoping for something more snazzy, more now-in-the-moment, more juicy. Maybe an IRON CROSS (a friend of mine, Vic Chao, is a gymnast/former American Gladiator and I bow my head to him), a science-y IMPACT CRATER, a delicious IRISH COFFEE, etc.

I think some of Bruce's older puzzles have had too much crossword glue in them, so it was great to get this smooth product. UNAS is slightly wonky, as is ACS and REAIR, but they're minor. With five longish themers, that's a very good result — especially when you consider ODDSMAKERS, ART FAIR, AVIARY as extras. Good stuff, THANKS A LOT!

FESTAL is an interesting word. I didn't know it off the top, but I enjoyed learning it. Adding a pretty word to my arsenal made me feel ... well, festal.

My wife hates the word BONER. Not a surprise that I giggle at it and give it a two-thumbs up behind her back.

Bruce mentioned to me that he really benefitted from the XWord Info Word List in making this puzzle, which was great to hear — he told me that this was his first puzzle using the XWI list even before I solved it. Could that have affected my impression of it? Possibly. Should I have ignored that fact while doing the puzzle? Perhaps. Am I shamelessly plugging our word list? Absolutely!

With so much flexibility in theme choices, I really wanted five whiz-bang, super-duper entries. But a clean Monday puzzle with a couple of nice bonuses — hey, I'll take it.

Tue 11/8/2016
HARPPACEWATTS
OLIOTRONHIREE
STATEBIRDIKEAS
TOLLROADSTEERS
UMASHEENA
BIGCATSATTNAB
LARKCONTEIVE
OMEARALSEAMAE
ABEROMEONAIF
TINTIPNASALLY
LESLIETIM
GAIETYSMOKEOUT
ANGLOOPENHOUSE
ETHERNYSENSEC
LITRETSARETDS

OPEN HOUSE used as a revealer today, indicating that both words in the theme entries can follow HOUSE: STATE BIRD = STATE HOUSE / BIRD HOUSE, TOLL ROAD = TOLLHOUSE / ROADHOUSE, etc. Interesting that Mike stacked pairs of themers like STATE BIRD over TOLL ROAD — rarely an easy task. And working in eight (!) themers is never easy.

I met Mike a few years back at the ACPT, and a conversation we had made me rethink some things. I had commented on ROTA in one of his puzzles, and he said that it actually was a really common term in golf. Sure enough, he was right.

That made me realize I was seeing "crossword glue" in very black-and-white terms, when gray was more appropriate. I still don't think ROTA is great in a mass-market puzzle, but ever since then, I've internally debated these questions much harder.

Some crossword glue is clear-cut, i.e. listings on editors' spec sheets: abbreviations (ATT, SESS, ONT, NSEC), esoteric-ish foreign words (SETTE, LITRE), old-school crosswordese (OLIO), etc. But something like ROILY? Hmm ...

A while back, SKYEY made a rare appearance, and I was on the fence about that one too. Brad Wilber, who edits the Chronicle of Higher Education, made a case that 1.) it's listed in all his dictionaries, not even as a variant and 2.) it gives variety that's potentially nice for solvers used to seeing the same short words all the time. After much thought, I still wouldn't use it or ROILY in one of my puzzles, but I like Brad's perspective.

Nice bonuses in PT BOAT, POTLUCK, NAME ONE, BIG CATS. Very hard to work in extras with so many themers, so that was appreciated.

Overall, I've seen this theme type enough that I think there has to be something extra for a puzzle of this genre to stand out. HOUSE is a little too easy to work with for my taste, and some of the themers (TOLL ROAD and ART STORE especially) were a little dry for my taste. But given that very few 15x crosswords ever go to eight themers, I like seeing an outlier every once in a while.

Wed 11/9/2016
UTAHISLIPDOGG
MARESOUTHONLY
ASTRBOSCONEAP
COUNTTHESTARS
TRIGBOSLEY
BRINGTHEHEAT
ROTSOAMIPOPUP
EPICPLOPSPONE
RECONARTOOWIG
COOLYOURJETS
SPLASHCORE
CATCHSOMERAYS
ARGONAIVEOUCH
REELATRIAUIES
EDNAPSALMSTET

I like themes reinterpreting snappy phrases in a kooky way. Fun to get ones like BRING THE HEAT = directive about the Miami HEAT NBA team.

COOL YOUR JETS was my favorite (per John's comments, I wonder if this makes me old ...), as it evoked an image of the coach turning the tables on his players, dumping icy Gatorade all over them. CATCH SOME RAYS also amused, making me imagine an enforcer trying to round up man-children sneaking out of their hotel rooms to go have some fun.

The only one I hitched on was COUNT THE STARS. At first, I wondered if this puzzle used a different theme type, perhaps where two words are switched in a phrase? But STAR THE COUNTS isn't anything. Took me a while to realize that some people lie outside and literally COUNT THE STARS. It still doesn't register as a beautiful phrase to my ear, but it does seem valid. Kind of a shame that it kicked off the puzzle, rather than getting tucked away in the middle. It also would have been nice to avoid two phrases with THE (COUNT THE STARS and BRING THE HEAT). I liked the diversity of YOUR and SOME in the middle of the other themers.

With four themers, I always expect a few bonuses in the rest of the puzzle, and John doesn't disappoint. singing DON'T. STOP. thinking about tomorrow, don't. stop. DAMMIT JOHN NOW I CANT STOP THINKING ABOUT DON'T STOP! Earworm aside, I loved that, ART CRITIC, POWER SUIT which sounds like some futuristic exoskeleton, the full COCA COLA, even PHOEBE and OH SNAP! Great stuff packed in, JOYOUS!

Not too much crossword glue, either. ISLIP seems esoteric to me, but New Yorkers probably disagree. HALAL might be tough, but I think it's perfectly fair. So really just some ASTR and that bottom right corner, what with STET, CEE, UIES, HST. They're all minor — and some would argue all of them are perfectly fine — but what a pile-up. Still, I do like how they made POWER SUIT and JOYOUS possible.

Fun puzzle, perfectly pitched (groan) for a Wednesday.

Thu 11/10/2016
PROMGRABRID
ROMAFAUREHAMM
YANGBINGEOSHA
RINGINGOFFTHEJ
EELARCARO
NBATEAMSLEADER
BYJORBYCROOK
CTAMOINEAR
EXAMAUGCAT
BEONTENTERJS
ASASETSLOWLEAK
BARESTTIE
JLINEANDSINKER
EVACWOOLFTRIX
CONEANNOYRACY
TSANESTATOZ

What a bear of a construction — all those Js + the constraint of every black square chunk having to be J-shaped = BLAAARGH! Thankfully, the engineer in me loved how well the construction process lent itself to a methodical approach:

  • The J blocks on the top and bottom could be shifted side to side into one of two acceptable positions, for a total of four combinations. But one combination resulted a two-letter word, so I eliminated it. OPTIONS: 3.
  • Two J blocks in the center could be flipped 180 degrees. OPTIONS: 2.
  • The first and last themers could be swapped. OPTIONS: 2.
  • The middle themers could be swapped. OPTIONS: 2.

From there, it was a matter of systematically testing each of 3x2x2x2 =24 possibilities. There was something so satisfying about keeping a master list of 24 possibilities, putting checks or Xs by each one as I drilled down to find potential problems with each.

(Man, I'm weird.)

I actually got very far — a full grid — down one path, and I thought it could be fine. But after letting it breathe, I took another look and felt like it just wasn't NYT-worthy — too many ugly bits, and not enough colorful fill.

It took some convincing to really try the layout that you see in the finished puzzle, because I was sure that isolating the first and last Js in the NW / SE corners would be the way to go. (Shows what I know!) With this final layout, I happened to get lucky by figuring out a good option rather quickly in the NE, filling acceptably around that J.

The SW … I constructed something I liked, but I did wonder if Will was going to like it as much. It contained HAPTIC, I FROZE, and AB TONER, all entries I dug. Will, though, wondered if any were common enough to be acceptable, and all three in that one region felt like too much. Even though I did a lot of HAPTICs in engineering and my dad has a (dusty) AB TONER and I love I FROZE as a stage fright line, I could see where he was coming from.

Redoing that little corner was rough. I churned out four options, each with some trade-offs, before Jon had the clever idea of paring the grid back even further than I had considered. I wasn't a fan of AS A SET — seemed like a partial to me — but I agreed that it was better than using something like OENONE, the woman Paris left for Helen.

Fri 11/11/2016
NEWTAFLACTYKE
OVERROACHHOAX
SILOAGREEYURI
ELLIELATELAS
JESSEJAMESMOOT
OSHGUMNEWCOKE
BTUSSPFPARKED
THATSABIGIF
ALMONDBOZBASH
COYOTESOZSMOO
DAMSSCAMARTIST
ENOELEMSALUT
LOUDREGISLIEU
CUTETRICKIAMB
OTHOSASSYARES

A ton of great stuff packed in! Big, interconnected skeletons can be tough to work with, but Damon did well. WELL SHUT MY MOUTH to JESSE JAMES to CHEESE PIZZA to THAT'S A BIG IF to JUST DESERTS (yes, that's the correct spelling!) to SCAM ARTIST to YOU LOOK FAMILIAR — that's seven long answers locked together, each one of them strong to fantastic. THAT'S A BIG IF was my favorite, so it was great to see it smack dab in the middle.

And there was more, a nice surprise given that interconnected skeletons can quickly become inflexible. NOSE JOBS, FOG LAMPS, KARAOKE SO SUE ME, HOT TUBS, even the bizarre-looking BOOMMICS (BOOM MIKES?). And being a kid of the late 20th century, getting NEW COKE crossing MCRIB was really fun. All these great entries spread throughout the puzzle made it feel like the grid was jam-packed with goodies.

Interconnected skeletons are notoriously difficult to keep smooth, since so much of the puzzle has to be built around various long answers locked into place. I think Damon did a nice job keeping the crossword glue to just minor stuff. EVILEST is the most evil to me — I once choked down EVILER into order to get a puzzle to work, and still feel ill about it — and ACE TEN feels a little arbitrary, but some ELEM SRS OZS (abbrs.), ARA (esoteric name), OSH (partial) aren't bad at all.

Some solvers balk at ENO, but I think he's perfectly fine. I don't buy the argument that ENO should be avoided, since he appears much more in crosswords than in real life — my feeling is that if you're crossworthy, you're crossworthy.

And for years, LARAM (such a beautiful vowel consonant alternation!) was frowned upon, because the Rams had moved to St. Louis. They're back, baby! (I just changed my scores on the XWord Info Word List to reflect this.)

Even though there's a little more crossword glue than I like to see in a themeless, there was so much great material that I usually would have given this one the POW! But there's one coming up that I liked even better.

Sat 11/12/2016
NOSIDETEARGAS
OPUSESSEXSCENE
REPORTGENERATOR
ENENARCESSIE
AFRTOOBADINN
SIBREGNALANTE
ORONODREAMT
NEWYORKCNEWYORK
LESIONESTEE
TACTDODGEDRAY
OSHCALMEDORC
PLANAENESUSA
HOMEPHONENUMBER
APPARENTIMGLAD
TESTATECOMETS

A rebus in a themeless! I remember the first one I saw, back when I started doing late-week puzzles. Wow, was that an unpleasantly hard surprise, making me think I ought to just give up on ever becoming a late-week solver. Glad I stuck with it, and today the single COMMA rebus came with no problem. Well, not NO problem, but at least it seemed in the realm of possibility.

Just like yesterday's puzzle, this one uses a big interconnected skeleton of long answers, and this one is even less flexible. Six grid-spanning entries locking into each other is no joke. As a mechanical engineer, I use a mechanical analogy — each time you weld answers together, the areas around those welds get imbued with more and more strain, making it harder and harder to line things up properly / skin the final product flawlessly.

I loved parts of the skeleton — SUPER BOWL CHAMPS is awesome, and NEW YORK, NEW YORK crossing SECOND (COMMA)NDMENT is fun — but since these long answers are the features of the themeless, I really wanted all of them to be beautiful. Even this recreational coder isn't all that into REPORT GENERATOR, and HOME PHONE NUMBER feels like a throwback to the old days of land lines.

Thankfully, David managed to work more bonuses than I expected, TEAR GAS / SEX SCENE (what a sex scene that would be, yikes!), and NO REASON / OPEN FIRE.

ESTATE and TESTATE … that sat so poorly with me at first. What a surprise to learn that the words don't share etymology! So it's not technically a dupe, but it still feels somehow inelegant.

And AS RED (weird partial), old-school ALEE and HET, partial RIDA, ENES Kanter, ENE, AFR, etc. = too much crossword glue for my taste. Very common problem for a grid using this sort of interconnected skeleton.

But overall, a good workout, and the rebus square a little different.

POW Sun 11/13/2016 CLOTHES THAT FIT
CHIPPERCONGASALDA
MAINLANDONRAMPPERM
PANTSANDASWEATEROTOH
ANNTIEHMOEXITLANE
SUITANDBRIEFSTOOTER
SABOTSREINAMAZECBS
GLADEAIDSKLINEBEET
OSLOBLOOMERSANDHOSE
SOULNOOSEINT
POTBRIGSANDMICEMAN
TURTLENECKBOAANDCROCS
STIRINTAILSSULUITA
BIGDONNEDEPP
TUBETOPANDCLOGSCLAP
LATEEVERYHOLEBLINI
APEAMENDNAILCRAFTS
WEBAPPSOCKSANDABELT
ONABREAKAIRORSVEE
MANYSLACKSANDLOAFERS
ADDSTUNNELSEAMLESS
NESSSIENNACONSENT

★ I have to admit I didn't understand this one at all after uncovering PANTS AND A SNEAKER. Of course an aerobics instructor would wear pants! And a sneaker! But why not two?

I felt silly when I realized that 1.) it was PANTS AND A SWEATER and 2.) how much fun, that you hear PANTS in an aerobics class, and everyone is a SWEATER (one who sweats). Amusing play on double-meanings of words.

I liked most all the themers, but I loved SLACKS AND LOAFERS for an unemployed person — slacking and loafing are two of my favorite hobbies. And some of the themers also gave me amusing visuals. A gardener wearing BLOOMERS AND HOSE, love it!

I wasn't as much a fan of the central answer because 1.) it was the only one with three items, so I had a hard time figuring out that I needed implied commas in TURTLENECK, BOA, AND CROCS and 2.) TURTLENECK is associated with the turtle (to some extent), as is BOA / feather boa, and CROCS even have a crocodile for a logo — no real wordplay for me here.

Incredibly well-constructed. Plenty of constructors have tried to go down to 132 words, but very few have been successful in creating a both snazzy and smooth product. Joel uses four big corners and a diagonal swath of white in the middle of the puzzle, both of which should result in at least a few dabs of crossword glue, or at least some bleh/neutral answers. I love that lower left, with TRIBUTE BANDS, TAPENADE, WEB APP, (we were) ON A BREAK! ("Friends," anyone?), TEMPEST, with such clean results. Great stuff.

There were a few tiny HICCUPs here and there — as good as L'ETAT, C'EST MOI / DRONE BEE / the ICE MAN are in the upper right, TOOTER feels contrived. And in the lower right, PISTES is a bit esoteric. But to get so much jazzy fill like CHAKRA, KRONOS, CHIPPER, even CANNIBAL with a jokey clue, that's great stuff.

A playful theme plus top-notch execution is a rare feat on a Sunday 21x.

Mon 11/14/2016
CAMPSPURSIDLE
AVEOTORAHDCON
MONKEYINGAROUND
INDEXSEMINES
REINANTI
LOPMOUSINGOVER
AWEPUTINGENE
LEASTMRTKARTS
ATRAEERIESET
WOLFINGDOWNERS
SEGOSONS
TABOPTSYEMEN
SQUIRRELINGAWAY
PUCKORATERASP
SAKEBIGOTSHED

Nice and consistent "animal + ING + preposition" pattern today. MONKEYING AROUND and SQUIRRELING AWAY are particularly fun.

C.C. (Zhouqin) is one of the best constructors around in terms of delivering fresh, long fill. This comics fan struggled a bit with DC UNIVERSE, thinking that it had to be METROPOLIS or GOTHAM CITY, but I love the notion of a full, detailed universe DC created for its enormous cast of characters to live in. PEARL S BUCK gets her full due too; neat to see.

Not a ton else in bonus fill, but I enjoyed the mid-length stuff in NO PROB, KENNY G, SHAMAN, NUTMEG (a slang term for passing a soccer ball or basketball through a defending player's legs, BTW). Great use of these mid-length slots.

It's so tough to deliver a super-smooth Monday grid, but C.C. does well today. She's done a great job sharpening her skills over the past years. There are a couple of minor offenders in AVEO (tough to get if you don't know it, and it's an out-of-production car make at this point), NES (although I love me some Super Mario!), and IWO (basically a partial). But keeping a Monday grid to just that is great work — no major globs of crossword glue makes Jeff happy.

I wish something had tied the four themers together more strongly — although they are all mammals, it would have been nice to have all rodents, all animals starting with the same letter, all fish, whatever — but a solid start to the week. MWAH! (that's the sound of an air kiss)

Tue 11/15/2016
TOWNSPEDLINDA
IDEATIDEEVERS
GOATUTESTYPOS
ERNIEBANKSCALE
ORBSTROLLS
SPINALCCLIV
ALTAELALMEDIA
WORLDSERIESRING
STYLEGAOLEDGE
ELROYEDDIES
REGALESCOW
ALOGNIGHTGAMES
MOPUPBOORLARA
PAREEMUNILYON
SNORTSPECSOSA

I have to admit, I'm not much of a baseball fan — but I do love me some baseball lore. How could you not enjoy something called the "Curse of the Billy Goat"? Such sadness that this beautiful phrase is too long for a weekday crossword, at 19 letters. Damn you, crossword gods!

David interlocks several long answers about the Cubs in his tribute puzzle. I really like WORLD SERIES RING and IVY COVERED WALLS — I'd happily use them in a themeless or as bonus fill in another puzzle. NATIONAL LEAGUER … it's fine, but more neutral to me. It also has a faint sniff of NLER and ALER, which we see in crosswords fairly often. (They are legitimately used in media, but they seem so inelegant to me.)

I'm sure Cubs fans will appreciate ERNIE BANKS and Harry CARAY. I didn't know much about either, but CARAY was apparently a real personality! I'm going to get glasses like his. (Don't tell my wife.)

Sometimes it's neat to get so many interlocking answers in an early-week, for the sheer novelty. The problem with such interlock, though, is that it creates inflexibility and thus filling difficulty around every crossing. David does better than I would have thought around most regions, the northwest particularly good. Okay, STUBBLES and PITAS are both slightly wonky as plurals, but everything else around that NATIONAL LEAGUER / ERNIE BANKS intersection is smooth.

It surprised me that the one area I really had trouble with is the middle — not around an intersection of themers! Ah … or is it? As fun as Harry CARAY might be to some, GAOL / a long RRN (random Roman numeral) in CCLIV / ELAL are pretty rough for one little section. (I think EL AL is generally okay, but it is one of those entries I only know through crosswords.) That center is an area ripe for solvers crying foul.

Along with a ton of baseball-oriented stuff like MOP UP (closing out a rout) and STL (as the Cubs' rivals), it was more crossword glue than this baseball non-fan wanted. But I can see how Cubs fans might love how packed it was.

Wed 11/16/2016
CHASTENAMBONA
NECTARIDOARES
BANANATONLEAH
CLERKBANGALORE
RIPEIONA
AFINAGSLEDDOG
BAMBINASGEENA
EVILSNAGSEATS
ARNAZPOWERNAP
REDCOATFANEPS
KONAABCS
WHAMMYBARANNAL
NANAOLDGROOVY
BUNSNAEATRAIN
ALESESSBATMAN

I have a feeling some solvers will miss the trick here, so I highlighted the 16 critical letter pairs below. Think about it …

Okay, if you've never seen the old BATMAN TV show, it might not make sense. But as a lover of all things Batman (maybe the campy Adam West stuff a tiny bit less), that opening song from West's old TV show brings me back. Singing NA-NA-NA-NA / NA-NA-NA-NA / NA-NA-NA-NA / NA-NA-NA-NA / BATMAN! is awfully fun.

Along with the bonus BANG, BAM, POW, WHAM — visuals often popping up in the old show — there is so much entertainment packed into the grid.

With such high theme density, Jim does a great job with his grid. It says something that I didn't even notice all the NAs until I got to the revealer. Well, it did seem suspicious that NITA Naldi made an appearance in what looked to be an unconstrained section, and IONA / ANEG seemed indicative of something — Jim wouldn't normally let these kinds by in flexible sections, given his strong gridding skills. And A BEAR near I MIND … okay, maybe I did know something was going on by that point. But packing in 16 NAs along with the four long themers with pretty darn good smoothness = excellent work.

There was so much about this that I really wanted to give it the POW! (how appropriate, given POWerNAp!) But 1.) there was something jarring about the random rhythm of the NAs spread through the grid — even though I know it would be near impossible from a construction standpoint, l would have loved a more regular spacing — and 2.) there's another puzzle I just adored coming up this week.

POW Thu 11/17/2016
ALBOMTWICE
PEEPERSWATAT
RAREGASLOOTERS
PYRAMIDSCHEME
LAWBREAKERS
SALESTEAM
TETESSTRAP
TORTSSTIHL
RAMISTUTSNAIL
ABBAMUSICSRTA
SLRCAGEDUPAHS
TEABAGSYELLOUT
ALIENSSEAHAG
MADATAMANA
AMENMUMMYANIS
NPRTAP

★ I'm a sucker for visual puzzles, and simply having a MUMMY buried within a pyramid of black squares might have gotten this puzzle the POW! alone. What a brilliant image!

I had the luck to go to Egypt a few years ago before things started getting unsafe, and that made this puzzle even more enjoyable. Descending into those claustrophobic pyramids during 120-degree weather was harrowing, but what a once-in-a-lifetime experience. All those stories about lost tombs and building projects of massive scale … wow. Just, wow.

As if that wasn't enough, Tim and Joe give us some more pyramid graphics in other back square patterns, plus some fun theme material. PYRAMID SCHEME, TOMB RAIDER, PHARAOH ANT are more indirect than TUT, but they gave me enough to feel like the puzzle wasn't just a pretty picture.

And bonus fill to boot, with a themeless-esque open feel! I loved uncovering RARE GAS, MEGAWATTS, LAST GASP, even RASTAMAN (are you singing Bob Marley's RASTAMAN Vibration now too?), and TEA BAGS that come with strings attached.

Not all the fill was great, but that's to be expected with such wide-openness. TWO HEARTS felt partial-ish, and crossing TWICE was inelegant. I doubt many people will like seeing ANIS, but that's the only real glob of crossword glue, and I found it worth the price of LITHUANIA / LAST GASP. Tim and Joe could have cleaned up that region by putting a black square at the T or G of LAST GASP, but I like their decision here.

It also would have been nice to get less random-ish placement of the M U M M Y letters, but I can't think of a better way to do it (maybe have those letters be part of theme answers? or have them regularly spaced somehow?).

I imagine TOMB RAIDERs slipping diagonally into the pyramid from the T of MAD AT or first A of AMANA, just like I crept through chutes into the real pyramids. Totally tickled by this puzzle; a perfect example of the astounding creativity crosswords can exhibit.

Fri 11/18/2016
BACKSPACEOMSK
ABOUTABOYCREAM
BILLYZANEOBAMA
ADMIXDUMPSTER
LEEKSLOPEHOT
USSFAILMOTELS
GINGERBREAD
COLDHEARTED
BARMITZVAHS
TYRESEZENOKOD
RAJGRADEJONI
INANHOURSCADS
BOCCENINEHOLES
ASKINICEPALACE
LESSNEWSDESKS

My first reaction mirrored Peter's: beautiful middle, CONDOLEEZZA RICE crossing COLD HEARTED / GINGERBREAD / BAR MITZVAHS. Those tricky Zs + a smooth, crossword-glue-free zone = a real winner in my book. I know some people have their issues with Condi, but there's no doubt in my mind she's crossworthy. Nice to see her clued as one of the first women breaking Augusta National's old boys network.

These types of big-center puzzles often result in so-so fill in the corners, because 1.) so many black squares tend to get spent in isolating the middle and 2.) the NE and SW corners don't have much room for long material. Peter does well to work in MEATHEAD and CARJACKS.

I wasn't as much a fan of IN AN HOUR, BY A NOSE, SAME OLD, though. The first has an arbitrary feel, the second is partial-ish (WIN BY A NOSE is much better), and the third requires an inelegant "when repeated …" Some potential left on the table in these three slots.

I also didn't care as much for the upper left and lower right corners as I did for the middle. As much as I like rare letters — X and Z up in the NW and J + 2 Ks in the SE — there were so many tough names. I like a few proper names usually, and maybe I should have known some subset of J COLE, JONI Ernst / Alan COLMES, Ilia KULIK, BABALU, BILLY ZANE. But to get them all concentrated into two small sections made for tough, unsatisfying solves for me, especially when the curious ADMIX got thrown into the mix.

It was also a surprise to see NEWS DESK crossing NEW. I *think* there's a case to be made that NEWS / NEW don't share etymology, but it feels inelegant at the very least.

Overall though, a stellar center of the puzzle, plus some extras here and there — SLOPE clued using the math formula y = mx +b, hooray! — still made for a lot of fun.

Sat 11/19/2016
RANARISKSETTO
ANOMALIESUNHIP
MADAMEPRESIDENT
PLANESRTAINGE
YANGYINNEED
SKAUFWSLAW
LOTTFRATSTYLI
ULTRAFASTIDIOUS
MAHALUHOHERGO
ENIDIPOKEN
PCBSIBNPSST
AUELLOGSANISE
NBAALLSTARGAMES
DICTANOGOAREAS
ACHEDNOBLESSE

I enjoy working on grids with ML. She sent me this one after a rejection — there had been too many unsavory short gluey words — and asked if I could help her redo it. I liked the skeleton of 15s, NO DAY AT THE BEACH feeling particularly relevant, so off we went.

I've commented before on how tough themelesses can be when you fix a large skeleton of interlocking answers into place, and this one was no different. We actually had to tear the entire thing down to the bare studs, move a whole bunch of black squares around, and try dozens of arrangements to find one that gave us even a modicum of flexibility. It was very important to me to get more sparkly answers into the grid than just those 15s, and that's tough to do — there's virtually no place in the grid that allows much freedom to breathe.

We settled upon a few long slots in the NW / SE corners, and although I do like RAN A RISK, ANOMALIES, NO-GO AREAS, and NOBLESSE pretty well, they didn't sizzle as much as I wanted. But working more colorful answers into all four slots would have meant using big globs of crossword glue, and there already was some present due to the skeleton's trickiness. Always the trade-offs.

A similar story for the other two corners, with END IN A TIE and TRANSLATE not as stellar as I would have liked, but they allowed for clean(-ish) corners. Also, they seemed like they could be ripe for really clever clues, which is a trick Patrick Berry often uses to spice up the less colorful long entries in his ultraclean grids. If we could have come up with a sizzling clue for TRANSLATE for example, I think it could have flipped the neutral entry into something memorable. My offering — [Turn chat into cat, say] — is an attempt to mislead away from the fact that "chat" is the French word for "cat." Looking back on it, I don't think it really works though. Drat.

Sun 11/20/2016 CROSS REFERENCES
SMOOTHCHITSACROBATS
NANNIELANAITHERENOW
AGETENEDUCELUCREZIA
PEPAPRISONBARSPITY
SLIPNSLIDENUNNBBOYS
ULEAPACEBAITLIE
PACIFICAWELINDBERGH
NESTEASMARTCARPERE
SADRDUITSODEI
ESAUODOMXOUTSMOSES
VEREENYANGTZEASSENT
ANTSYCLOSEIDEDTASS
DILERAESPMERE
ELANINFECTEDPLEADS
SEBASTIANEWEAPPLIED
POEIRISLITHEEXO
DABONPROFWASHINGTON
ELALCALLEDAWAYISLA
BEREZINAVEDAYTOBOOT
UPROOTEDEVERSONEDGE
THENEEDYRODEOMORAYS

Famous people literally cross a body of water they were known for actually crossing in real life. I've highlighted the theme pairs below to help them stand out. Fun idea — it reminded both Jim and me of a fantastic one from a long time ago by Patrick Berry.

I didn't know BEREZINA, but apparently it was a famous battle Napoleon fought in, involving a crossing of the BEREZINA. Learn something new every day! WASHINGTON crossing the DELAWARE was much more familiar and gave me a smile, along with LINDBERGH crossing the ATLANTIC and MAGELLAN crossing the PACIFIC (well, I knew he crossed something big, anyway). Something fun about seeing these historic voyages in crossword form.

It was odd to get LINDBERGH crossing the RED SEA. Took me an embarrassing amount of time to realize it was actually MOSES crossing the RED SEA. Then again, did he really cross the RED SEA? Or did he *part* it, and then cross the empty basin? Felt out of place, and I sure would have liked to separate these two pairs of themers.

It's always tough to work with crossing themers, since they take up a lot of space and also cause filling difficulties around their intersections. It's also always tough to make Sunday 140-word puzzles, because they can often be themeless-esque in their wide-open spaces. Combine the two and you get a major challenge. I did like many of the bonuses Ed gave us — SMART CAR, BEEP BEEP!, SLIP N SLIDE, and the beautiful BEAUX GESTES (yes, the X is necessary in the plural form) — that's enough strong fill to sate my Sunday needs.

So much crossword glue, though. I definitely noticed the inelegant bits through my solve, i.e. APACE, ENROL with only one L, TOITY (partial), DIL, EXO, LDRS, etc. It's to be expected, given the construction challenge, but I had hitches in many places.

Nice idea though, a few historic crossings given their due in crossword form.

Mon 11/21/2016
SENSERIMSPCP
UPENNEWOKOAS
ZEROVISIBILITY
YEOWDESIINSO
TWOTHUMBSUP
UNTIESWEEP
FOURTOPSALT
OGREWRATHTEE
SONFLORAFIGS
SLOSIXFLAGS
DIANALASSO
EIGHTMENOUT
RANTUSERSEGO
AGAINSTALLODDS
SOLSEERIDEAS
ENSADESTANYA

Hey, a Monday featuring a trick! It's a lot of fun in print, where each clue number is doubled — thus getting even more at AGAINST ALL ODDS — but even without this customization, the puzzle works well.

At first I was a little confused why John worked in ZERO in addition to what I would have expected (just TWO FOUR SIX EIGHT), but then I remembered he's a math professor. There's some debate as to whether ZERO is an even number or not, but there is no doubt that it isn't odd — neat math factoid.

Going away from the usual 15x15 to 14x16 is also a nice touch, to continue avoiding ODDS. Neat that it happened to work out perfectly with that 14-letter AGAINST ALL ODDS! (A 14-letter revealer in a 15x15 is tough, since you end up having to put the revealer in row 12 instead of 13, thus squishing themers together.)

Strong themers (I wasn't familiar with EIGHT MEN OUT, but it was fun to learn that eight refers to the number of players involved in the Black Sox scandal), snappy long fill like SNOW TIRE and TURN SIGNAL, and not much crossword glue — just some IN SO, ENV, ADES minor bits — made for an enjoyable early-week puzzle. I even enjoyed PSYOP, an uncommon Monday piece of fill but very colorful and interesting.

The only hesitation I had was the SEGO / OSSA crossing. That might be a toughie for novice solvers. I think it's probably fair, but not ideal.

Three great extras — 1.) Woodsy OWL ("Give a hoot, don't pollute!" 2.) one of my favorite TEE shirt slogans ("I'm With Stupid") and 3.) DIAGON Alley of the Harry Potter world — helped win me even further over. I often find myself on John's wavelength, and today was no exception.

Really fun to see a kooky twist on what's often an unremarkable day of the week for the NYT puzzle.

Tue 11/22/2016
CHOPSSOTSAFAR
RANITBORAMICA
IRENEAHAMOMENT
SPUNMREDMALES
POPULARDEMAND
MOJOWANMAV
USABLEJARMIRE
HOMESPORKICES
ODORTIESANEST
HASMINAMEN
NBACONFERENCE
SPAINCOINSEAM
NONKOSHERPOPPA
OLDEILLSATARI
BOYSBESTHALAL

Pig parts hidden within phrases. Some delicious (*rim shot*) finds, LARD in POPULAR DEMAND a great discovery — it's difficult to stretch non-short words (four or more letters) across a phrase, so I liked this one a lot. BACON across NBA CONFERENCE is also an interesting find, not at all easy to work with that five-letter BACON string, but NBA CONFERENCE isn't nearly as snappy a phrase as POPULAR DEMAND in my eyes, though.

Everything was tied together with the revealer NON KOSHER (and HALAL as well). I hitched a little when I uncovered that, as I was expecting something PIG related. I do like being surprised by revealers, but this one felt slightly off. I'm still trying to think of another revealer that would have tickled me more — if only THE INSIDE PIG or PIG ACROSS were a real phrase. (Doesn't it seem like PIG SPREAD should be a real thing?)

Andrew's notion of themers reflecting worry about whether or not something contains pork is so much fun. I wonder if the clue for NONKOSHER could have conveyed that notion, somehow.

Andrew is so good with his long bonus fill. Today, he uses the approach I favor, relying heavily on long down answers that are spread out and staggered as best as possible. To get AMOS N ANDY / PIN NUMBER / PINOCHLE / TRADE WAR / MARKSMEN / MINNESOTA / FIELD MICE is quite MAJESTIC.

There's usually a cost to incorporating such a huge assortment of strong bonus fill, but today it's only the very small price of a little AER, AFIRST (feels like a six-letter partial), SOTS (outdated term). It's clear to me how much Andrew must have worked on each section of the grid, tearing out a long down answer if it forced him to complete a region with something unsavory, and trying something else. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Ugh, not a fan of the BOYS clue. Yes, BOYS will be BOYS is a common saying, but it's invoked as an excuse for so many things. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

Overall, some really nice "hidden words" finds, with a revealer that didn't quite hit for me. But excellent gridwork, as per usual for Andrew.

Wed 11/23/2016
AANDWFINDOPAL
MARIOOBOERARE
CHASESCENEERIE
HIPSTERFLASK
APRSOLESTES
DREAMTEAMSTER
ROCHEPAPAODS
ELOISHADYTOOT
PERPAIRSAPPY
DRAGSTERQUEEN
AGLETIOURYE
FLASHMOBSTER
LOBEOPENSEASON
ABELMETEZIPPY
CELLSCARELATE

STER additions. I enjoyed DRAGSTER QUEEN, giving me the image of an amped-up Danica Patrick. Hard to argue with that! I also liked the fact that David alternated his four themers, adding -STER to the first word in themers 1 and 3, and to the second word in themers 2 and 4. Nice and balanced.

As a writer, I get mired in grammar sometimes. That happened to me today, with HIPSTER FLASK and FLASH MOBSTER. I could buy the first one if the clue had been something like [Seattle boho chic liquor container?], but the actual clue referring to an alt-rock concert felt like it should have been HIPSTER'S FLASK. And FLASH MOBSTER … as vivid as the image of a flashy mobster is, shouldn't it be FLASHY MOBSTER?

We writers are a truly annoying bunch.

I liked a lot of David's long fill, PARATROOPER (dropping in the down direction!) and RECORD LABEL in particular. CHASE SCENE also was interesting, but 1.) CAR CHASE feels more zippy and 2.) I kept on getting confused as to where the -STER should go in the entry. I do often appreciate long bonus across answers that aren't theme-related, but today those entries confused the theme for me. Felt a little inelegant.

Curious to see the ELOI make an appearance in a Steinberg puzzle. The fill is so smooth otherwise — why would David have included the esoteric sci-fi race? I can see the allure though — with the snazzy RECORD LABEL and WOE IS ME in place already, and the great 1984 PROLE term a possibility along with AD REP … it might seem so worth it to accept the heavy dab of crossword glue. Always the trade-offs.

I wanted all four themers to hit on the nose (WHAT A DUMPSTER ["That's such a pretty trash receptacle!"] actually came to mind before David sent me his notes! It made me laugh, but it's a fair point — DUMP / DUMPSTER are too similar.). That didn't happen, but there were enough bonuses to keep me entertained.

Thu 11/24/2016
BOARSGROOMACT
ATPARLUMPYLEA
MONTANANESTLOX
BEEFTMENROSSI
ISAIDSOSEAM
NEBRASKATIME
CASKSMEETLAW
IBMSSTATEGENE
TEEOHMSHOSER
ILLINOISSEAT
LOPETVHOSTS
LOTSASARITARA
EREPOSTALCODES
OZSELROYSWAYS
NOTRASPSANTSY

Debut! Play on the STATE POSTAL CODES and phonetics, i.e. empty nest = MT nest = MONTANA NEST. I particularly liked aisle seat = IL seat = ILLINOIS seat, as this one was new to me (I've heard the other two before in similar wordplay contexts).

I was impressed with the amount of bonus fill Brian worked in — SMELL TEST touching RAT FINKS, and I would happily GO TO TOWN on ALL SMILES. Excellent use of those four long slots. Even ON PAPER and MY TREAT = good uses of the mid-length slots. Pretty unusual to see such goodness in a debut puzzle.

I wasn't as enamored with the crossword glue prices to pay, though. Starting right off the bat with SRA / AT PAR (even as an investor and MBA I barely know this term) wasn't perfect, and then there were dribs and drabs of TMEN, SKEE (partial), OLA (weird suffix), SSRS, CSA (esoteric initialisms), strewn about. And I don't mind the trade-off of getting a Z for the price of OZS / ERE, but with the other crossword glue already in place, perhaps it would have been better to do without that rare letter.

I wonder if a few cheater squares would have helped. Putting a black square at the S or SARI would have eliminated SSRS (SRS seems better to me), for example.

I would have also liked a fourth kooky themer — perhaps something like PRIMETIME MAINE or GREEN WITH NEVADA? — even if it came at the cost of not having the STATE / POSTAL CODES revealer. It was pretty easy to figure out the trick, so the revealer felt a bit like it wasn't giving me enough credit as a solver. And especially considering that Thursday puzzles are supposed to be hard, swapping out the revealer for a fourth example would have been nice.

But overall, fun debut with some nice bonus fill.

POW Fri 11/25/2016
BASHBEAMHALL
ALCOHOLRUBEPEE
PARTIALITYYOGA
TRAWLADEPTSOD
IMPALARUSTLE
SEERLESSONPLAN
MDSTEACADDIES
TAXRETURN
BRITANNICAHEM
HEAVENSENTCOME
ACCORDSHARIF
MAESEDANATARI
LUCYRISINGSTAR
ESAUSPACESUITS
TERMSPEWPOET

★ Beautiful puzzle; quintessential Patrick Berry. Here a few identifying factors that I identify with PB's themelesses:

  • A wide-open, well-connected grid with no real choke points
  • Well under the maximum of 72 words, creating a good challenge for solvers
  • Interesting layout of black squares, always trying something new
  • Some very good long answers like TEA CADDIES, HEAVEN SENT, RISING STAR, SPACE SUITS
  • Very little to no gluey short answers needed to hold everything together
  • Some neutral answers converted into assets through the use of a great wordplay clue, i.e. [Immersive experience] misleading toward a surround-sound theater experience, away from a dunking BAPTISM
  • No really flashy answers, but also no trendy answers that might mystify / dissatisfy big chunks of the solving population

Themelesses always involve trade-offs, and each constructor has his/her own weightings on how important each of the above categories are. Some do low-word count puzzles with a lot of neutral / bleh answers, some have really flashy entries with a ton of crossword glue holding everything together, etc. Patrick's blend of factors works really well for me.

I don't always absolutely 100% love Patrick's themelesses — there's rarely a single mind-blowing entry that makes one of his stick in my mind — but they hit every criterion I use for evaluation at such a darn high level. I really, really, enjoyed this one, an ultra-smooth, wide-open solve with a lot of very good entries and not a single hiccup in gluey short fill.

Sat 11/26/2016
WHATSAPPICED
AARONBURRMAGE
THEMARTIANIRON
SANPANERANASA
OHOHMADEITMUD
NATALMUSLIMERA
RAWPUBGOLF
ROMANPERMS
CULPRITDIM
HARDEDGEDSALAD
AKADEERESSATE
VELOBREATHSEN
EPICTINFOILHAT
TOSHACEOFBASE
OPTSENLISTED

I appreciated some awesome entries, THE MARTIAN one of my favorite reads from last year. Not only is it a gripping survival story, but the author, Andy Weir, started off self-publishing the book. Came as a total surprise to him when it became a monster hit! Perhaps there's hope for us as-yet-unpublished-writers, after all. (Not really. But that's okay.)

TIN FOIL HAT was stellar, too. Not only do they protect you from the various rays shooting around the ether, but they're stylish. (What do you mean, "crackpot chic" isn't a style?)

And I didn't know the MUSLIM ERA term, but it was really interesting to learn about. Pretty incredible to read about all the groundbreaking developments during the Islamic Golden Age.

Several entries I didn't know — WHATS APP was a mystery, probably because I just got my first smartphone a few months ago. (As a friend said, "welcome to 2005!") I used to consider myself a social animal, but PUB GOLF was a bit of an enigma, too. (It's been roughly 86 years since I went to more than one pub in a single night.) And HARD EDGED … aren't detective novels HARD BOILED?

There were only minor bits of VELO, SEN type of minor glue (and the OH OH crossing HA HA HA felt a little inelegant), but there were also two spots that gave me trouble: with TOSH / OCHS, I was SO thankful I've learned these through crosswords over the years!

The other was just a plain old guess, the L of NATAL / LAMPED. Yikes, so many letters seemed like they could be plausible! I was hugely relieved to have gotten that right. Pretty sure my trusty TIN FOIL HAT helped me guess correctly.

Loved some of the long answers, but also had some sticking points here and there.

Sun 11/27/2016 MIXOLOGY
CAFESCADSAMPSBIFF
USOFAOTOENORTEIDOL
BEARBRYANTGROUNDZERO
SCLERANEHIRANTOACE
MAITAISWIMGOGGLES
OFFSENTRIESMSU
PLEABARGAINSEMBLAZON
TIARAILLSTACOERATO
SPRINGELKOBODIDDLEY
DEERSNAILEDSERE
ETASTARTINGTIMESSIS
DADSATEATONSAKE
DREAMBOATWASPSIPHON
ADULTURSATALELIEGE
SEXTANTSPRENATALCARE
IDOBIASTIRELED
RADIANTHEATONERUN
EGOMARIATURFEDAMES
PARISMETROPIANODUETS
OMAREAMESONCEERECT
TAGSTERANITERUTHS

MIXOLOGY indeed, two common words interspersed to create snappy phrases. My favorite was GONZO + RUDER = GROUND ZERO, as GONZO is such a fun word to say, and GROUND ZERO is a vivid entry. BIDE + ODDLY = BO DIDDLEY was another fun example.

I'm not usually a fan of circles quasi-randomly strewn through a long entry, as that usually seems haphazard and inelegant. But this worked okay for me since the resulting phrases were all pretty darn good. I would have liked the two words to stand out better — it's awfully difficult to see GONZO and RUDER unless you're really squinting and toiling and grunting — but it's still a fun discovery.

I enjoyed some of the long fill Matt worked in, too. SEXTANTS and EMBLAZON were particularly nice. Good bonuses.

I wasn't as much a fan of the BIAS TIRE, SALT II, DONE IT ALL, PLAIN FACT sorts of entries. The first two are legit but are more neutral than positive for me, and the latter two seem slightly off to my ear — SEEN IT ALL and THAT'S A FACT or COLD HARD TRUTH seem much more spot-on to me.

And then there's AGNATES and SNAILED … hmm.

I also wasn't a fan of the plethora of gluey short entries required to hold the puzzle together. I don't mind a little A SEC or NEHI here or there, but it did feel like I encountered a lot of gluey bits during my solve — AEREO, NORTE, ISIN, OSA, SERE, etc. Sunday 140-word puzzles are so, so, so tough to make smooth.

Nice theme idea. It would have been great to have some way to make the individual words stand out more, but overall, enough interesting finds to keep my attention.

Mon 11/28/2016
CABSBLEWPAGAN
ABLERAZEEDUCE
ROARATRATASED
TRIBUTEALBUMS
SCRIMPTENIAN
APARTHEIDERA
MSNSCARAIDES
OHOHKNITSPUNT
ROGUEBULBPAY
SWORNENEMIES
ESOALACROPUP
DUCKDUCKGOOSE
DUNSTISLETNUT
AMIGONEARHERE
DAKAREDYSESPY

Back in 2012, there was another DUCK DUCK GOOSE puzzle, and I remembering being very surprised to hear from many people who didn't know the game. Curious! Today, we get DUCK DUCK GOOSE as a revealer, making everything a little clearer. Still, I wonder how many people will be looking it up, wondering why the heck it's so much better to be a duck than a goose. (No idea!)

I had some idea of what was going on after uncovering TEAL and EIDER, as I've seen those in crosswords enough times clued as types of duck. Curious to see what kind of GOOSE Kristian could possibly use, I smiled a little to see the crosswordy NENE (very common letters with alternating vowel consonant pattern). Amusing nod to crossword insiders.

I really enjoyed Kristian's choice of themers, all of them strong. TRIBUTE ALBUMS is really fun, as is SWORN ENEMIES. And the APARTHEID ERA is not exactly the jolliest of topics, but what a nice find in a phrase that hides EIDER.

GUSSIED UP, NO-GOODNIK, and BRAT PACK are great bonuses, too. (Who you calling old-timey, Kristian?!)

Very good gridwork in general — EDUCE is kind of a funny word, TUM can't be without RUM and TUGGER, and PONES feels odd in the plural, but that's all that keeps it from being a perfectly smooth puzzle.

Well, there's ABORC, which looks so bizarre. I still can't decide if I love "A, B, OR C?" or detest it. Don't people usually offer two or four choices, not three?

Not sure that people will identify TEAL as a type of duck (my first thought is always to the color), but there's something fun about having three crosswordy hidden elements making up this theme.

Tue 11/29/2016
PEGSATOPCOEDS
ALOEDOVEERNIE
BINDORANGEZEST
SHEAFCLIOORCA
TURKISHTARGOT
ASPREDEYE
NASHAMANMATES
THEJOYOFCOOKING
HANOISTENTCOT
DELTASCEL
ARFSRIDELIGHT
LOOKECRUYALIE
CORNRELISHBONN
OFTENALTOLODE
ASHESWESTEMIT

Even though my cooking skills are atrocious, it was fun to see THE JOY OF COOKING in the center of the puzzle. I even have a copy of it in my kitchen! (After 20+ years, I still haven't opened it.) Fun and JOYful to group it with three foods that are full of joie de vivre: TURKISH DELIGHT, ORANGE ZEST, and CORN RELISH.

An odd layout of themers, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do with a limited selection of themers in order to please the gods of crossword symmetry. Coming upon TURKISH first and having to jump all the way to DELIGHT felt inelegant — I wonder if it would have been better to shove ORANGE ZEST all the way to the left so that it would be the first themer solvers uncover (you'd also shove TURKISH all the way to the right, and DELIGHT to the left, to compensate).

I also had some qualms about the theme's consistency. ZEST and RELISH have alternate meanings, which makes for playfulness. TURKISH / DELIGHT however, seems different. I couldn't find a definitive reason for why the treat was given that name, but it seems like DELIGHT in this case just means DELIGHT. So it felt like it didn't have the same wordplay ORANGE ZEST and CORN RELISH exhibited.

As always, Jacob does well with his bonus entries, something interesting about the pairing of MOSAIC LAW and PENITENCE. FISH OILS is also good. Although I'm more neutral on SEND FORTH, REMOTELY, and ENERGETIC, getting a bunch of long entries in a grid does help make for a more interesting solve.

Great clue for REDEYE — reading [It might end with an early touchdown] during football season made this solver think about the six-point type of touchdown instead of the tarmac type. Love this type of wordplay, especially when it doesn't need a telltale question mark, and especially in an early-week puzzle. Adds great spice.

Even though I had some issues with the consistency of themers and the themer layout, Jacob executed his grid well, resulting in a smooth rest of my solve. Even after a second look, I could barely identify any crossword glue at all, an important factor for an early-week puzzle.

Wed 11/30/2016
HALOSTRIMIBID
ILIFTHOBOELSE
SANTAREAPDOTS
BIERCELPSORE
MANNHAMLETPAR
OMGBOTADECEIT
MASTEREDEARNS
EDENNAPS
RIDERFORETOLD
ASIDESAVIDTEA
PHSSHINESATAD
PAPTEDLEGION
ODORARILROMEO
ROSYRONAILASH
TWEESPASMINTS

Anyone remember the outcry when Apple unveiled the name "iPad"? People cracked derogatory tampon-related jokes, but those quickly went away after the product became a huge success. Molly gives us a fun play on Apple's naming convention — iPod, iPhone, iPad, iMac, etc. — by twisting regular EYE- into i- phrases.

I enjoyed many of them, with iSHADOW my favorite. Not hard to imagine Apple releasing some sort of Google Glass type of espionage device! And the iDROP as a skydiver's device was amusing too.

Actually, my favorite was iSTRAIN, but not as it was clued (as a colander). Imagine, if you will, a toddler who goes under the table to take care of — ahem — some, er, tough business. The hilariously strained faces she makes!

I'm a terrible parent, I know. But I take the pooping-face pictures anyway.

A remarkably smooth grid, given Molly's comments about gridwork. There's not a ton of fill that's exceptional — BEDREST, BLOOPER, and RAPPORT are pretty good — but there's a lack of crossword glue that I would have expected after reading Molly's comments. Just some minor IN A, ARIL, TWEE stuff that many would consider passable or even perfectly fine.

Well, there's BOTA. After trying to cram WINESKIN into those four squares, I gave up and let the crossings work for me ... except that they led me to B O T A, which had to be incorrect. Apparently not! According to several sources, BOTA bag is another name for a wineskin. Curious inclusion — I wonder if Molly had to knit some sections together in the middle, or if BOTA is special to her in some way.

Speaking of bags, the HOBO purse was another curious one. I was sure that had to be some niche fashion term, but millions of sites disagreed with me. They're also called "hobo bags." After seeing pictures of them, I realized how common they are. Fun trivia that they're so named because they're saggy and slouchy, like the bundles hobos sling over their shoulder in cartoons.

I'm also not a huge fan of Apple products, but I enjoyed the wordplay, regular EYE- words twisted in an amusing way.

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