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Puzzles for November, 2017
with Jeff Chen comments

View these same grids with comments from:
Constructor (25)Jeff Chen (30)Jim Horne (5)Hide comments
POW Wed 11/1/2017

★ ANIMAL CRACKERS all broken up at the bottom of the box … "cracked," you might even say! Clever interpretation of CRACKERS, meaning that some black squares crack, or divide, an ANIMAL in two (see below, highlighted).

Even better was that Herre stuck to long-ish animals typically seen in boxes of ANIMAL CRACKERS! Would have been easy to pick short animals like HEN or FROG or ELK, but that would have felt odd. Speaking of odd, not sure why it's unappetizing to eat a hen-shaped cracker vs. a ZEBRA or an ELEPHANT. I call fowl! Er, foul.

Well, it's not that difficult to split up semi-long words so that half ends an entry, and the other half starts another. Even a long guy like GORILLA gives multiple possibilities for *GOR and ILLA*. The latter not so much, but still, with I'll ask, ill-advised, ill at ease, etc., that's a good amount of flexibility.

BUT! Even with that flexibility, it's no joke to work around five pairs of themers. PHANT* doesn't give many possibilities, and when you must obey crossword symmetry, things can get hairy. I thought Herre did extremely well in the top half of the grid, working in some beautiful OH COME ON, NO GO AREA, I HOPE NOT bonus fill — all without crossword glue! Some might complain about LON Chaney, but he was a famous actor. Fine by me.

The bottom half didn't come out as nice, what with AMO, RCMP, AJOKE, LSTS, SYS — that's almost too much for one puzzle, and certainly too much for half of a puzzle. It's a much more difficult section to fill since CRACKERS is fixed into place, whereas the top had much more flexibility (MCGREGOR could have been dozens of other things). Along with the fact that Herre had to spend many of his black squares in the middle of the puzzle, sometimes you just have to accept that there will be compromises like this.

Herre could have gone down to just four pairs of themers, but only three animals would have felt light. Although the SE wasn't very elegant, I think it was a reasonable trade-off to get the higher theme density.

Given how well the theme was obscured, my solving experience played out like a pretty smooth themeless, and then the a-ha at the end was delightful — so much so, that I was able to overlook the gluey SE. Such a fun experience overall!

Thu 11/2/2017

Fun use of the NEW YORK MARATHON's course in this puzzle. It starts in Staten Island (Step 1), goes through Brooklyn (Step 2), etc., and each step along the way helps the puzzle to completion. The FERRY isn't the passenger ship since 1817 — it's the (Staten Island) FERRY. The old baseball team is not just the DODGERS, but the (Brooklyn) DODGERS.

My favorites were the ones where the clue/answer made zero sense until you got the gimmick. How could a show of contempt be a CHEER? Ah, when it's a Bronx CHEER!

Some didn't work as well — I didn't even realize that Queens was part of (Queens) ENGLISH, as this low-brow Yank thinks of any ENGLISH accent as upper-class.

We've added the implied BOROUGHs below in case you're still confused.

So fortuitous that the themers worked out to be symmetrical. There's not a lot of options for "Manhattan ___" or "Bronx ___," so Peter and Mike must have held their breath, hoping that the crossword gods would shine down on them. The puzzle might have worked okay with asymmetrical lengths, but it's so much more elegant to obey the rules of crossword symmetry.

Solid construction. Although the themers are mostly short, seven of them is wicked hard, especially when you're working with a central 15-letter entry. At first, I wondered why they left the NW and SE so wide open — a bit of ISLA / ISUP / AGA glue is almost always necessary to hold a big section like this together. Why not break them up a bit?

Ah. Mike and Peter had to deploy so many of their black squares in the middle of the grid that they ran out in the NW / SE. 15x15 crosswords can't go above 78 words, so if you break up a whole lot of entries into short words in the middle, you necessarily end up with some long ones around the perimeter.

Fun concept, made me want to get back out and train!

Fri 11/3/2017

GOOGLE HANGOUTS! Funny, I just looked this up yesterday when trying to figure out what replaced GChat. Still, dunno what it is, or if it'll stick around — for all the successes Google has had, there have been plenty of failures like Google Reader, Google Video Player, Google Buzz, GChat, etc. Curious to see if this one will have staying power or not.

(Apparently, it's a way to … make free video calls?)

BEAT A DEAD HORSE is a great phrase, one I use all the time. A friend did point out that it's morbid though, in the same vein as "screwed the pooch." I still use both of these, but I do hesitate (for a nanosecond) before I do.

Grid mostly features seven-letter entries, and Kameron and BEQ convert some slots well. NUTMEAT always makes me laugh. PLUS ONE, ART DECO, GO GREEN (as in "change to eco-conscious ways"), ALADDIN. METEORS gets a clue to elevate it. Things seen in showers? Oh, you naughty Gray Lady!

UGLY CRY … huh. I'm sure by the time I get around to understanding and using this meme, all the kids will have moved away from it like the plague. When you have to spell out a clue in so much detail, for it to be understood ...

A shame that there's a good amount of wastage in the sevens, but that's the norm with seven-letter-heavy themelesses. ENNEADS, CATER TO, TESTATE, AMASSED, ALLOW IN, ENTEBBE, etc. = all fine, but these didn't add anything to the quality of my solve. Nice try on the TESTATE clue, [Willful?]. But TESTATE wasn't familiar enough to me to provide a great a-ha moment after I realized the wordplay.

Enough strong entries to keep me entertained, though — BANK VAULT and ROB REINER (huge "Spinal Tap" fan here!) — and good craftsmanship. Some SIE, ROM, RIAA, DSO to hold everything together, but nothing there is egregious.

Sat 11/4/2017

THROUGH THE YEARS, BUTTERNUT SQUASH, DON'T ARGUE WITH ME all share the fact that they STRETCH THE TRUTH, i.e., they contain the letters T R U T H, (quasi) spread out.

Interesting choice to run a themed puzzle on a Saturday. The theme entries are all colorful phrases, so that was good. Toss in a BASS SOLO and a PASS RUSH, and you have the start of a delightful themeless. But it's tough to work in many other memorable feature entries when you seed a grid with four 15-letter ones — they take up so much real estate.

I often debate if I'm too focused on quantity over quality in themelesses. Sometimes a fantastic 15-letter entry is all it takes for an entire puzzle to stand out in my mind. Heck, even a shorter one like BABY GOT BACK can do it for me.

But it's so tough for me to lavish praise over a themeless with just six great entries. Yes, some MOJO, LIMBO, MOHAWK, the ORPHAN trope in young adult books, that's helpful. And I did like learning what LOUCHE means. I'm going to start using it! (Probably incorrectly. Or I'll misremember it and accidentally insult someone. At least that'll be my story.)

But then when you factor in some ANET, OPEL, PASO, POLA, RCPT, STN … hmm.

Overall, it's a good starting idea to stretch letters across phrases. I can see how it wouldn't work great as a themed puzzle though, as repetitively finding the letters T R U T H — with two letters always stuck together — didn't create a great a-ha moment for me.

Will has a tough job. Not sure what I would have done with this one. Wouldn't quite work as a themed puzzle, nor does it soar as a themeless.

Sun 11/5/2017LANE CHANGES

Natan takes us on some ROADs NOT TAKEN, starting phrases with synonyms for "street," then veering off diagonally to form some other phrase (or word). My favorite by far was THE ROAD NOT TAKEN splitting to form THE ROAD TO HELL — dropping diagonally down was especially apt for this one. Too bad HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN wasn't another one, rising up!

I found it a little odd that some synonyms for "street" were hidden or disguised, some not. ROAD was overt, as was PATH. DRIVE misdirected from its "street" meaning, as did DRAG. And WAY as part of WAYNES WORLD felt like an outlier. With just five themers, I would have preferred more consistency.

It's hard to work with splitting themers, those pesky diagonals causing so much trouble in filling. I can understand why Natan decided to keep it to five pairs, with one pair having a very short themer (PATHOS). But overall, it felt thin to me. Tough to execute on this type of theme — six or seven pairs would have felt much meatier, but that gets so much more difficult to do.

Natan did a fantastic job of working in bonus fill — check out all the GOD HELP US, ATTACK ADS, MEDIA BIAS, BELOW ZERO, I AM LEGEND, THE BEE GEES, SEAN PENN, (oh) NO YOU DIDN'T, BELLAGIO (this huge fan of "Ocean's 11" filled it in without a single crossing letter!). So much goodness! Almost felt like a juicily-packed themeless grid. Everywhere I went, there was some other fat entry that satisfied.

There was some ELKE, SLO, ATP, DEP, etc., but it didn't get to be enough to bother me. To have five pairs of themers, with diagonal entries, plus that huge amount of strong bonus fill, and keep your crossword glue to below average for a Sunday? That's great craftsmanship.

The theme didn't totally work for me, feeling a bit inconsistent and thin, but that central ROAD pairing was dynamite. Along with all the snazz in the fill, I wasn't quite on the highway to heaven, but certainly not on the road to hell.

Mon 11/6/2017

Debut! Max and Benjamin give us PART ANIMAL themers today, a nice assortment of colorful phrases such as RAT TAIL, DOG EARS, SNAKE EYES … all of them containing a body PART! Full disclosure, I missed that last piece right after I solved it, so I got a nice a-ha moment when I realized the added connection between the themers.

PART ANIMAL … hmm. I like when a revealer is in the language, and I like it even better when it suddenly makes a theme clear. PART ANIMAL didn't fit either criterion. I would have preferred leaving that odd phrase out of the puzzle, leaving it up to the solver to figure out the nuance of the theme.

Curious layout. Typically you want to put as much space as you can between themers, so that would have meant shoving PIGEON TOES to the right, PIGGY BACK to the left, and adding a row of space between them. You'd also use more black squares on the sides of the puzzle to help separate the themers, allowing for smoother filling.

Max and Benjamin's layout did allow for some wide-open corners in the NW and SE, full of juicy fill like CALL IT, I MANAGE, STRUDEL, BEES KNEES … wait a second! BEES KNEES (and HAREBRAIN) were also themers! Huh. During my solve, I missed that.

Some solver I am!

I did hitch on HARE BRAIN, as it felt bizarre compared to "hare-brained." I'd have preferred to leave that out — maybe PIGEON TOES too, considering how much more common "pigeon-toed" is.

The theme is ridiculously dense, so that helps explain the OLIO of ELOI, INE, FIL, EAN, ERG, etc. EEK! Not smooth enough for a Monday puzzle. It's so important to keep Monday puzzle accessible to novice solvers — this trade-off didn't work for me. Along with the fact that I missed BEES KNEES and HARE BRAIN as part of the theme, I would have preferred a smaller set of themers, composed of only phrases in the language.

But overall, a neat idea, consistently using [animal] + [body part]. Although it felt too familiar at first — there have been a ton of animal-related puzzles in the past — the added layer of the body part was great. I always like uncovering a theme I can't quite remember.

Tue 11/7/2017

Second debut in two days! Greg lists out some fun WORDs OF THE YEAR, as decided by the American Dialect Society. So apt for us cruciverbalists! PLUTOED was my favorite — such a colorful way of saying "demoted." The MILLENNIUM BUG, of course, was huge back in 2000, and what a snazzy phrase back then. Not sure it's held up, but it did get a great clue — [Rollover problem] had to be some SUV issue, right? Not when it's a problem rolling over from 1999 to 2000!

Made me curious as to what other words of the year were. What a shame CHINGLISH didn't make it in this puzzle, nor did MISUNDERESTIMATE. (You could write an entire week's worth of puzzles using Bushisms …)

That gets to the heart of why I'm not super keen on list puzzles. With so many entries possible, why not SHOCK AND AWE or CLOUD COMPUTING or LETS ROLL or any of the other great phrases? I would have liked more tightness, perhaps the full set from 2016, or if all of them were related, i.e., all Bushisms.

Amazing how much Bush-speak is on the list! That entire WMD thing was questionable at best, but it's hard to beat Bush for sheer comedic and wordplay value.

I appreciated Greg's efforts to work some bonuses into the fill. Not an easy task, what with three long answers, two mid-length ones, and two shorties taking up so much real estate. PIANO WIRE and KING MINOS, GAY BAR, my beloved Ken GRIFFEY, Jr. = great stuff.

Prices to pay. RSTU ought to automatically necessitate a puzzle redo — it's barely a step above [Any four random letters]. A ROPE, AND LO, INO, REG, OEUF … oof, indeed. Fewer themers and/or fewer bonuses would have been a welcome trade-off for more smoothness.

But overall, I had forgotten about the WORD OF THE YEAR, and it was fun to get some throwbacks to interesting times in history, what with WMDs and all. Reminds me of the ancient Chinese curse: may you live in interesting times.

ADDED NOTE: Ben Zimmer, linguist and columnist for the Wall Street Journal, pointed out that the official ADS WotY selections are much more limited than I had thought. (That's what I get for speed-reading through Wikipedia!) Interesting to note that there's just a single word / phrase they choose each year. My favorite was 2005's "truthiness" — not a Bushism per se, but related!

POW Wed 11/8/2017

★ Loved this theme. I've seen a lot of reparsing ideas, but to get MARKINGS changed to M A R KINGS, clued as [Midas, Agamemnon, Richard]? Brilliant! PASSPORTS into P A S SPORTS and HUSBANDS into H U S BANDS were also delightful changes in meaning. DIATRIBES into D I A TRIBES and APOSTATES into A P O states brought the total to five fantastic examples. Loved, loved, loved the concept; wish I had thought of it.

And what a beautifully executed grid. A ton of bonuses — almost too much. Big corners chock full of DAD ROCK (hand bashfully raised here), ENTROPY (why hasn't anyone written a crossword about one of my favorite physics concepts yet?!), DRINKER, PAROLEE / GRENDEL.

I admit, I didn't actually read "Beowulf" when I was supposed to. But I like feeling smart that I recognize the name GRENDEL!

Big corners with juicy material were just the start, too. Some longer bonuses in LPGA TOUR and CLEAR SKY, as well as ARS NOVA, a COP CAR lurking, YOU BET! Man, that's a ton of extras.

My only complaint was that I forgot about DIATRIBES and APOSTATES when I was admiring the themers. I was all set to ding the puzzle for only having three themers in MARKINGS, PASSPORTS, HUSBANDS. A more traditional layout would have had DIATRIBES and APOSTATES going horizontally, perhaps roughly where LPGA TOUR and CLEAR SKY. This would have helped themers stand out on their own, as solvers have gotten used to the convention of "longest across entries are themers."

That's not to say flouting convention is bad. There is something pretty neat about DIATRIBES and APOSTATES interlocking PASSPORTS. That's tough to do, and only can happen when the crossword gods smile down upon you. But in this case, I felt like the wow factor of that interlock didn't make up for the fact that the theme and bonuses got muddled up for me. Especially since LPGA TOUR kinda sorta looks like it ought to fit with this theme. If you squint.

But that's a minor point I bring up just for the sake of balanced analysis. Great theme, marvelous execution overall, and such little crossword glue that I couldn't find any to point out (maybe GROSZ, but the finance guy in me likes that).

Thu 11/9/2017

We've seen a lot of puzzles where entries have to be entered backward for some reason. They can provide great entertainment when there's a good rationale for the backwardizing. Too bad this one wasn't run on Backwards Day! (Really, it's Jan. 31!)

This one only reverses the final word of phrases … at least, the final word before BACK. (The BACK gets implied by reversing said final word.) I remembered a similar puzzle from a few years BACK — luckily, it's been a while since that one ran.

Although the concept didn't feel novel, I liked the theme phrases Bruce chose. WE'LL BE RIGHT (BACK), I TAKE THAT (BACK), THERE'S NO TURNING (BACK), GUESS WHO'S (BACK), AND DON'T COME (BACK)! Snazzy and colorful, the entire lot.

Great bonuses too, SOLAR CAR my favorite. Not only a great entry but an even better clue, referring to it getting (solar) cell service. INNER BEAUTY, PRIMAL URGES, NEW IDEAS of Ted Talks, even EMISSARY and MORDECAI. That's way more than expected for a five-themer puzzle, and they're all good to great.

It's so tough to pull off such a wealth of bonuses when you have five longish themers. With ICER, IONA, NOL, ONAT, UBS, REG all toughies or inelegant entries, and with GCHAT dead now (been replaced by something called ... "Google Hangouts"? huh.), that's too much for my taste. Toss in the toughies RIVOLI, NISEI, and INGRAM, and the entire thing didn't feel as smooth as I like.

I appreciate the effort to give a ton of extras, but perhaps putting a black square at the D of MORDECAI would have balanced things out better.

Not different enough from the canon of backwards puzzles for my taste, but all the great themers and bonuses did help keep me engaged.

Fri 11/10/2017

Solid 66-word grid from the master. It's so tough to execute well on these low(ish) word count themelesses, most of them failing either on too much crossword glue or too little pizzazz.

PB pulls off pretty quad-stacks in the SW / NE. AT A GLANCE / CAT LITTER / O PIONEERS / WHAT ELSE with a PARKING LOT as slang for a jammed highway! That's about as good as you can expect from such a huge swath of white space to fill.

Nice touch on OSCAR / DE LA RENTA paired together … in subsequent grid entries! It's a shame that OSCAR didn't come first, but the pairing was still juicy.

My spidey sense did tingle when I hit ALDEAN. Okay, my knowledge level of country music is only slightly better than a reanimated corpse, so I shrugged ALDEAN off as someone maybe I ought to learn. But then LAMAR Odom … I'm a big fantasy b-ball fan and LAMAR Odom … sigh, such unfulfilled potential. Not only did he have the chance to become an NBA legend what with his all-around talent, but HE HAD A CHANCE TO BECOME CROSSWORTHY AND HELP CONSTRUCTORS TREMENDOUSLY!

Then, FRAN and … Kukla and Ollie? Huh. STEUBEN as a defunct art glass company? ANTOINE as Fats Domino's real name? I knew that last one because it's saved a few of my harder grids, what with all those constructor-friendly common letters.


Even the great PB had to pay a price in those giant SW / NE corners. Most mere mortals wouldn't work with quad-stacks to begin with. Even fewer would try to "turn the corner" with them — imagine how much easier that NE quad-stack would be to construct if JIBE became black squares. If only he didn't include so many esoteric names. I'd have even been fine with a bit of short crossword glue instead, if only for variety.

Often, I think quad-stacks aren't worth it. Even PB couldn't get four out of four sizzlers in either of his. Usually, I'd suggest breaking up one of the entries, say placing a black square at the N of CLEANS OUT and the L of AT A GLANCE, so you can make three out of three sizzle. But in this case, those two entries are the least juicy answers of their respective stacks. Given that everything else around them is pretty darn good, leaving those two intact doesn't change much. So it's okay by me.

Solid work overall, for a low(ish) word count grid. Shame about all those tough names.

Sat 11/11/2017

Mini-theme! Sort of. ELEVEN hints at VETERAN'S DAY, because … ah, it's 11/11 on the calendar. And there are ELEVEN answers of ELEVEN letters. It's not my favorite mini-theme ever — I much prefer ones that have maybe two or three long answers slyly connected, with that connection up to you to figure out. But it mostly works.

Some beautiful phrases in those featured ELEVENs, TAKE A NUMBER, PEST CONTROL, DRAFT ANIMAL, MARE NOSTRUM! The fact that "mare" is used in many moon location names, because ancient folks thought there were seas on the moon = trivia gold!

ACCOUNT FOR, TIRE BALANCE (you balance your tires, and you might get a "tire balancing," but a TIRE BALANCE?), HORROR FLICK ("horror movie" sounds so much better to me) … well, they do their job of filling out those ELEVEN-letter slots, if not adding much.

PUSSY GALORE … I used to think that was hilarious when I was younger. Not sure why not anymore. Maybe the joke feels dated now. Or *gasp* I've grown up?


ELEVEN-letter entries make life tough on crossword constructors, because that length forces a ton of three-letter entries (15 squares wide - 11 letter entry - 1 black square = 3 remaining). That's not a problem in itself unless the three-letter entry count gets too high.

These shorties can mess with solving flow because 1.) the solver has to change to a new entry very frequently, making for a choppy feel, 2.) most three-letter entries have been used so much in crosswords that it's hard to come up with a fresh clue, and 3.) in order to make these fresh clues themeless-level difficult, they sometimes veer into "annoyingly difficult" territory.

Take RMN, for example. It's not a great entry in itself since Nixon wasn't known as RMN (compare to Johnson / LBJ). And when you're stuck in a puzzle, and you hit the ridiculously vague [Presidential inits.] … maddening!

Not every three-letter word will exhibit one of these problems — UFO as a subject of some conspiracies is both figure-out-able and fun — but when you have 26 (!) of them, you're bound to get some pain. I think somewhere in the teens is about as high as a constructor should go.

It's a concept I haven't seen before, and I like that. But I wanted a much bigger a-ha moment to make up for the costs I had to pay as a solver.

Sun 11/12/2017"S-Q'S ME!"

Funny, punny title, S-Q'S ME describing the concept perfectly. Basic sound changes don't do a lot for me in general since we've seen so many of them, but there's something entertaining about the SQU- sound. (I'm easily amused. Must be the sleep deprivation.)

Some great themers, too, Ed on my humor wavelength. "Winter's Tale" to SQUINTERS TALE, a biopic about Mr. Magoo? Yes! A pig seller as a SQUEALER DEALER (from "wheeler-dealer")? Comedy gold. I was a Woody Woodpecker fan as a kid, so SQUIRRELY BIRD also did it for me. And the old ad tagline, "Where's the beef?" changed to SQUARES THE BEEF = hilarious! Great stuff.

Not all of them tickled me. As much as I like the concept of wormholes, and how colorful that phrase is, SQUIRM HOLES only elicited a shrug from me. SQUISH LISTS was better, but it didn't make me smile as much as SQUAWKATHONS.

And SQUANDER LUST … that felt too tortured for my taste. Humor is subjective. At least to this anal grammarian!

I think "less is more" would have been better here, as the weaker themers diluted the impact of the fantastic ones. The relatively high theme density also came with a cost in terms of gridwork. The grid is pretty good as far as Sundays go, but it could have shined by paring down to just the themer gems.

For example, look at the SW corner. ERECTILE, TAUTENED, SPENDERS, URI GELLER, MORAINE, THE SKY (isn't that a six-letter partial?) ... they're all fine, more or less, but none of them are super exciting (unless you're a mentalist). Without SQUIRMHOLES and SQUISH LISTS taking up real estate on the sides of the puzzle, Ed could have opened those sections up and repositioned some black squares into the SW / NE corners. Would have allowed him to add some real pizzazz.

The NW and SE could have used a couple of extra black squares to facilitate better fill, too. Kicking off the puzzle with INQ (inq … uiry? really?) and FEU isn't great, along with FEU CRU. EWW!

But overall, I thought Ed did a good job executing on a basic sound change concept. And it's quite possible that some solvers will laugh uproariously at SQUISH LISTS, so maybe Ed made the right trade-offs. The grid is certainly passable as is. Just a shame that it didn't sing as much as it could have.

Mon 11/13/2017

COOL / HAND / LUKE, one of the classics! Pete gives us the (oft-misquoted) WHAT WE HAVE / HERE IS (a) FAILURE TO / COMMUNICATE. Imagine how much it would stink if you were that actor, having delivered an incredible line … only to have people say that you said it wrong?

Both work, grammatically. There's a good case for the line as is since that implies multiple instances. Given Paul Newman's constant needling of authority in the movie, that's clearly the case. So why do so many people insert the "a"?


Theme felt thin, what with just the movie title and a single quote. But the quote does take up a good amount of real estate: 11 + 15 + 11 = a lot of squares. And when you consider how difficult splitting up COOL / HAND / LUKE makes things, I can see why Pete didn't try for anything else.

Wait, wait, wait, failure to communicate, you say! What's the big deal about putting in three little teeny tiny itsy bitsy words? Well, let me tell you! Check out that south section, bounded by COMMUNICATE and HAND. Fixing a ceiling and a floor into a region like this is akin to eating 50 hard-boiled eggs. (I love that scene, Pete!)

It is true that Pete could have shifted HAND over one space to the right, so that did give him a little flexibility. But not a lot. So, not a surprise to get a rough crossing in MITA / OTOE in that region. This isn't a friendly crossing for novice solvers. Perhaps on the order of eating ten hard-boiled eggs.

Along with some USE NO, ETE, OF IT, and the dread OSO (O SO unfriendly to newbies), it's too much for a Monday puzzle. I did appreciate Pete's efforts to work in some extras, though — I CALLED IT, OLD FLAMES, and LETS SLIDE. Important, given how thin the theme felt. So tough to find the right balance.

I enjoyed the shout-out to one of the greatest movies of all time. I would have loved something more, though. Hmm … hard boiled eggs look like Os

Tue 11/14/2017

Jerry got in touch with me after several submissions and resubmission to Will and Joel on this idea. I was lukewarm on the triply-doubled letters concept, as I had seen it once or twice before, but Jerry hooked me onto the project with the magic words: "Will thinks it might just be too hard to fill a grid like this with high quality."

I'm so darn predictable!

Jerry's original grids definitely had too much crossword glue for my taste, but more importantly, there weren't enough themers for my taste (four, plus TRIPLE DOUBLE), and some of them didn't hit my ear well. HEEL LOOPS I wasn't familiar with, but that did appear to be a real thing. WOOD DEER was the one that threw me. It took a lot of Googling to find enough examples of famous WOOD DEER carvings to be able to shrug it off as passable.

Even then, I felt like the puzzle needed more meatiness. A quick Python script helped uncover a few more, including one that I wish we could have incorporated: QUEEN NOOR. Ah well.

Putting the grid together took roughly eight hours over two sessions. I kept on ending up unhappy with some little corner, some piece of long fill, or both. For a while, I wondered if Will was right — even more so now that I had added two more themers to the original set.

I've had some luck with stacking themers for high-density puzzles, so I experimented with that. When I hit upon the arrangement you see, everything seemed to test out well. Plus, three themers in the top and three themers in the bottom makes for a double of triples … or TRIPLE DOUBLE!

(Sort of. More or less. If you squint a little.)

The rest of the grid was just a matter of trying out a few hundred possibilities in each corner. Not so bad.

I'm still not 100% sold on WOOD DEER, but if you aren't either, the other themers will hopefully help you forget it!

Wed 11/15/2017

BRITISHISMS! Having just finished the latest season of "The Great British Bake-off," having all these American words Britishized tickled me. FLAT RATE, with FLAT Britishly defined as "apartment," POKER CHIPS, with CHIPS Britishificated into "fries," etc.

I wasn't sure what MACBOOK was meant to be. Took a little thinking to remember that a raincoat gets Britishagated into MAC.

(BOBBY = policeman and LIFT = elevator.)

Nice to have BRITISHISMS in the grid as a revealer, although it's in an odd place, up in the NE corner. One trouble with this sort of placement is that the game gets given away too quickly.

(Although it does stymie "clever" solvers who skip down to the bottom to where the revealer usually is.)

Not only did it feel out of place, but not having a symmetrical partner — LOW CARB DIET is a nice entry, but not thematic — gave the grid a wonky feel. Like tea without a scone. Or unrisen dough without a proving drawer.

Perhaps I've been watching too much GBBO…

Even given the relatively high theme density, I thought there was too much crossword glue. BSA, SEIS, ILE, NNW, ON THE, KAN, EPOS, and the duped ISM / BRITISHISMS. That's more than 10% of the entries in the grid; a bit SLOPPY. I would have preferred something like just five themers, with the first one 10 or 11 letters long to match BRITISHISM(S). Would have allowed for a more elegant final product.

Overall though, fun for me to get my Anglophilic fix. Now, back to my crisps and puddings…

Thu 11/16/2017

Fun stuff! I love the concept of self-referential clues. I seem to remember a crossword years back that featured SELF REFERENTIAL, with a clue to the effect of [Like this entry]. Still makes my head spin!

For those of you non-programmers (read: infidels), RECURSION is a common principle in coding. Man oh man, the first time I learned about a function that calls ITSELF = *mind blown*. Seemed like that should break a law of physics. But no, just as long as you write in a condition so that the function stops itself at some point, it can be so elegant. (Jim tells me that it's rarely used in real code though, as it's not as effcient as iterative solutions.)

At first, I wondered why TAUTOLOGY was listed twice. Couldn't you just have one instance of it, and have it clued to itself (in the same vein of SELF REFERENTIAL)? But one definition of TAUTOLOGY is "needless repetition," so this is a perfect reason to add this puzzle to our list of puzzles with duplicated answers.

I was thrown off by A WILD GOOSE CHASE since I was stuck on the SELF REFERENTIAL concept. (Also, because the "A" felt weird. Okay, it did make it a crossword-friendly 15 letters, but still…) I did like how it referred to 66-Across, though — that's the non-existent 66-Across!

And AMBIGUITY rounded out the theme, referring to ??-Across. Ambiguous, indeed!

Nice gridwork, especially for a debut. It's rare for me to fly through a novice grid so smoothly. Even upon second glance, I couldn't find much to point out besides the odd EGESTS. (Maybe ZOD? Big Superman fan, but General ZOD seems esoteric.) Along with some nice bonuses in COUNT ON IT, CABIN BOYS, BUM DEAL, SAFARI with a great clue about seeing "the big game," I thought Alex walked the delicate line between colorfulness and smoothness extremely well.

Overall, I liked the mix of ideas in the theme, although I would have loved it if all the themers had been purely self-referential. Fun stuff! [See 1-Across]

Fri 11/17/2017

ERASERMATE gets the clue of the day award, the innocent [Pen name]. Literally, ERASERMATE is the (brand) name of a pen! Love it. AS IF I CARE, INNER EARS giving a nice piece of trivia relating to temporal bones, and the TOKYO DOME made for a couple of other snazzy entries.

Several mystified me though, starting off with … CITI BIKE? We have four different bike-share companies in Seattle, but CITI BIKE wasn't familiar. And DO NOT IRON? While that is a mantra for my life, it's not something I've seen. It didn't help that for some idiotic reason, I thought the Yank was TITO Martinez, so DOTOTIRON felt like it had to be some cleverly parsed phrase.

Is there such a thing as a dot to dot ironing pattern?

I know, it's hard to believe that I'm an adult.

GOOGLE PLAY also didn't resonate with me. There is the fact that I finally gave up my Motorola Razr flip phone just a year ago ...

Now I sound like an old man. Huh.

It looks like GOOGLE PLAY is quite a popular destination for app downloaders, akin to the Apple store. I do wonder whether the name has staying power, given how often Google kills products or switches their names.

RSS FEED I had seen in one of C.C.'s puzzles before, so I was able to figure that one out. It does feel past its prime now though ... especially after Google killed my beloved Google Reader a few years ago. Boo!

With some SMEW, OGEE, LDS, APACE, ISAO (if only he had won a major to make him crossworthy!), the grid wasn't as smooth as I've come to expect out of themelesses. Given that TESLA CARS felt wonky — anyone say "Honda cars" or "BMW cars"? — I wonder if breaking that up at the L would have helped. (In order to keep the same number of long slots overall, the black square between F FLAT and SCAN could be removed without much added difficult.)

Wait, there was one more clue that I loved! EAST led me to looking up "Wrong Way Corrigan." I love the idea of this guy insisting that I MEANT TO FLY TO IRELAND NOT LONG BEACH SRSLY I DID!!!

POW Sat 11/18/2017

★ Aside from colorfulness and smoothness, you know what makes a themeless stand out in my eyes? It makes me feel smart. I'm not ashamed to say I like having my ego stroked every once in a while, and when a Saturday puzzle tosses me a perfect alley-oop so I can reverse windmill jam for a SportsCenter highlight? That's what I'm talking about!

Okay, maybe plunking in GOTTA CATCH EM ALL without any crossing letters, or OTTER PUP off just the P in PAO isn't *quite* the equivalent of a spectacular dunk. But it felt like it.

(I can touch the rim, honest! Okay, on a 9-foot hoop. Fine.)

Overall, there were so many entries on my wavelength — classic TABULA RASA, MS DEGREE (of which I have two, neither of which I'm using now, huh), BETA TESTER with its brilliant non-question marked clue about a "bug catcher" (code bugs, that is), EATS CROW (which I often do, considering how many typos and errors readers point out!) … great stuff all around!

See that black square between HARE and BILES? I appreciated that Sam left it in. So many constructors would have taken it out to create triple-stacks in the NE / SW (instead of the doubles Sam has). Usually, I applaud those sorts of efforts to work extra sizzle into a grid. But with the central GOTTA CATCH EM ALL spanning the grid, I think Sam made the right decision.

Curious, huh? GOTTA CATCH EM ALL constrains the NE / SW to a surprising degree. Probably doesn't look like much — who cares about a little ALL fixed into place, you might ask? By itself, that is no big deal; easy to build a triple-stack around. But that's not the only constraint the corner faces. Look at how much flexibility you lose with that long BYGONE DAYS, and even the SHANDY ARM BAR arm-barring the stack from above. I'm all in favor of Sam's decision here.

A couple of blips here and there; RETAG is iffy, and EL ROPO feels esoteric. But such great craftsmanship overall.

A Saturday constructor's job is to create a tough challenge that the solver can ultimately struggle through to achieve a meaty, satisfying completion. I say YEAH DUDE! to Sam for this one.


Tom plays on ANSWER LENGTHS, giving us entries hinting at their own length. ARGONS ATOMIC NUMBER is … (taking off my shoes to count on my toes) … 18, which is the length of that answer. The MIDNIGHT HOUR is 12, and MIDNIGHT HOUR has 12 letters.

I was confused as to why F O U R was circled in the grid. Were there four theme answers? Four ANSWER LENGTHs? Huh ... a-ha! FOUR seems to be the only number that contains exactly that number of letters. ONE has 3 letters, TWO has 3 letters, etc. Interesting piece of trivia.

(Another piece of trivia: what's the largest number that has nine letters in it? My answer below.)

I liked the in-the-language phrases like MIDNIGHT HOUR much more than the definitional VOTING AGE IN AMERICA things. But it's tough to find a snazzy phrase that contains exactly 18 letters, and also hints strongly at the number 18.

BAD LUCK SYMBOL … it does have the critical 13 letters, but it suffers from a definitional dryness. It also felt wonky. Not wrong, but I'm not sure how many people would call 13 a "symbol."

I enjoyed the McCoyan touches, NERDS as a high school clique, LAIR giving Smaug's Lonely Mountain, etc. It's fun to know something about the constructor and his/her personality reflected in the grid.

A couple more blips in the grid than I'm used to in a McCoy puzzle. ON MARS , s a verboten six-letter partial? Say it ain't so! NLE isn't really used in real life, and even though NBAERS is (in headlines), man does it seem weird.

Then again, with a very small amount of crossword glue overall, it just goes to show what a high bar Tom has set for himself.

Overall, I liked the concept of the ANSWER LENGTHs hinting at the entry's content, but I would have liked a few more sizzlers. Even as a chemistry wonk, I wasn't too interested in counting out ARGONS ATOMIC NUMBER. And darn it, I feel like I should have known it off the top of my head!

(My answer: TEN GOOGOL. Can anyone do better?)

POW Mon 11/20/2017

★ Love this concept, two-word phrases that sound like ALLITERATION but don't start with the same letter. I've looked at the phrase PHOTO FINISH so many times in my life, but I've never realized that those two words are alliterative! Same with CAESAR SALAD. Very cool finds.

GENTLEMAN JOHNNY wasn't as much an everyday phrase, but it's such a great nickname.

KELLYANNE CONWAY didn't do it as much for me. Nice to have someone current and topical, but oof, does she bring up some ickiness for me. More importantly, I can imagine some solvers wondering how on earth Kelly, Anne, and Conway could be a triplet of alliteration. Felt like there might have been better options for a fourth themer.

I'm usually not that impressed by themer interlock, but I like what Peter did today. Something so elegant about the themers running through that ALLITERATION backbone. It does give away the game very quickly, as most solvers will read the ALLITERATION clue shortly after starting. But that was okay with me since even after reading it, I didn't understand the concept until solving two or three themers.

I enjoyed the theme so much that I gave this the POW! ... even though I think the grid is not right for a Monday. Not at all novice friendly. As a mechanical engineer, the first time I ever ran across MHO was through crosswords. DCV is pretty ugly (Peter and I have very different perspectives on random Roman numerals, though). The HEEP / LOGE crossing might prevent some newer solvers from a clean finish. And I can imagine novices bringing up the "you have to know weird esoteric stuff in order to do crosswords" argument with ANAPEST and TETCHY.

The theme is meaty enough, with hardish themers that felt more mid-weekish too. A real shame it was run on a Monday, where it might scare off newer solvers.

Not sure what the right answer is. It could have been Monday-ified by breaking up ANAPEST / STEERED into two words apiece, or losing some of the great bonuses, like IVORY TOWER and AB NEGATIVE. But I enjoyed those last two a lot.

Overall though, the idea was memorable, and that's hard to come by. POW!

Tue 11/21/2017

Country puns! In a … car race? Huh. Sure, there are international motor races, right? Yeah, why not!

I have a tough time figuring out "rules" for puns. I think the most important one is that they generate big laughs. Or groans. I liked FINNISH LINE the best, a simple twist on "finish line." Something about CZECHERED FLAG made me smile, too. Maybe groan a little as well. Pretty sure that's good!

It did feel all a little inconsistent, though. RUSSIAN, FINNISH, CZECH are all descriptors of those country's natives. "Polish" would fit that set better than POLE, yeah?

And POLE, RUSSIAN, FINNISH are separate words, but CZECH gets transmogrified into CZECHERED. Huh. Again, one out of four being the odd one out felt … well, odd.

A ton of great bonuses, great to see in a debut. Especially important for today's puzzle, as I can imagine that there might be some solvers out there who neither race fans nor punsters. Love FLIP FLOP, SCRUNCHIE, RASTAFARI. Even a couple of colorful shorties in CONTRA, TUDOR, OZONE.

And love it when a rare letter gets worked in as smoothly as the Z in the south. HAZY / ZANY even with a nice SLEEPY, without any crossword glue? Yes please!

But IIII? No sir! The IVES / SMEE crossing for an early-week puzzle? Yikes! And I finished with my first error in ages on a Tuesday, what with the odd MONTE clue. Three-card MONTE, yes. Just MONTE clued without "Three-card"? Plain old mea.! (TAR seemed fine for [Tarnish], and TONTE looked equally as odd as MONTE. Maybe I've seen too many ECARTEs and ONEOCATS in my day…)

Overall, the grid was pretty good on second glance. But it just takes one or two glaring blips to leave a bad taste.

The geometer in me loved, loved, loved the clue for PIP. How the frak could there be a [Circle on a cube]? Cubes are flat-planed, with straight lines, not circles or arcs ... ah, a PIP on a die. Brilliant!

Overall, I enjoyed the story Brian told. The puns didn't all work for me, and the lack of consistency bugged me, but there was enough entertainment to keep me largely amused.

Wed 11/22/2017

A cartographer's dream puzzle! Tim gives us not just the EQUATOR, but the (Tropic of) CAN/CER and the (Tropic of) CAPRI/CORN. But that's not all! The perimeter answers need a little direction … specifically the appropriate cardinal direction. Santa's workshop is in the (north) POLE, I-5's locale is the (west) COAST, etc. We've fixed up the answers below to reflect this.

I liked the perimeter answers that needed the appended direction much more than the ones that (sort of) worked without them. Eurus is a WIND in Greek myth. Yes, specifically the (east) wind, but still a WIND. It's more accurate to say (south) KOREA will host the 2018 Olympics, but KOREA would still describe it. Can't imagine what a North Korean Olympics would look like!

Tim chose to interlock his theme answers around the very perimeter, which constrained his themer choices mightily. Drastically reduces your options when they have to intersect at the corners. I might have liked it better to put cheater (black) squares in at least two of the corners so that you could work with stronger ones like (east)WOOD or (west) POINT or just (north) STAR instead of the defunct (north) STARS.

Super, super tough to work with perimeter answers, as they take away so much flexibility in the corners. And then you add three themers in the middle of the puzzle? Hatchi-matchi! Not a surprise to get a bunch of REQD, ABOX, ENOW, ANON, etc. But overall, I thought Tim's final product was good for this type of construction. It's nearly impossible to get a grid as constrained as this anywhere near the normal threshold for crossword glue, and he managed to get within spitting distance of it.

This general concept reminded me a little too much of other similar themes, most recently a Sunday from earlier this year, and it was odd to split up CANCER and CAPRICORN. But overall, I liked the mappiness of it all.

Thu 11/23/2017

Mathplay! Some beautiful finds, like [Double feature?] interpreted as "double the number in a feature film," turning "Three Amigos" into SIX AMIGOS. And [Halftime show] as "halve the time in a show," creating THIRTY MINUTES out of "60 Minutes." THIRTY MINUTES would be much more appropriate for us short-attention span people LOOK, SOMETHING SHINY!

Ahem. I was proud of myself for getting RICHARD … something. IX? IV? Okay fine, I didn't read "Richard II" when I was supposed to.

What, it's "Richard III"?

I knew that.

It took me a while to figure out THE JACKSON ONE. What's a "fifth act," I wondered? The … fifth act of a play? Is it like a third wheel, in that final act of a play that JUST WON'T END?

Maybe "Richard II"?

But that "fifth act" business was the only one that didn't play on a common, in-the-language phrase, so some good finds overall.

Okay, I was still confused on [Fourth estate?] hours after solving. Did that mean … fourth in a series of estates? Is there something called "Zero Oaks," so THREE OAKS is the 4th, using zero-based indexing? (Man, I'm a nerd.) Or take one-fourth of something called "Twelve Oaks"? Huh.

Ah, right. There's something called "Twelve Oaks" in "Gone with the Wind." Huh.

I didn't notice until the very end that Howard formed a sequence with his themers! Well. Kinda. Sorta. If you squint. It's 1/2, x2, x3, 1/4, 1/5.

*squinting harder*

Oh, 13-letter themers, you pains in constructors' patooties. Notice how Howard had to put the first and last themers in rows 4 / 12 instead of the usual 3 / 13? Crunches things up, but good! And with that central 9 splitting the puzzle in half, forcing big corners … oof, that's so tough to construct around. It's no wonder there's a bunch of OCTO, HEA, ANET, AMAS, ESE, etc.

Too much crossword glue to feel like an elegant product, but I can understand the decision to achieve the sequence(ish) of themers, which forces a terribly difficult arrangement of themers. I might have chosen to go more randomly, thus opening up more themer possibilities, especially with the movie and the play. And maybe dropping THREE OAKS.

Overall, a bit kooky with some blips in most aspects of puzzle design, but an interesting idea that made me think.

Fri 11/24/2017

Mini-theme, FLIPPING ONE'S LID paired with AT THE DROP OF A HAT. Actually, more than just a mini-theme, what with the "hat" of black squares … flipping? Not exactly sure what kind of flip that is, but I can sort of buy it. Valiant attempt to create a sense of kinetic motion with those three "hats."

Not exactly sure why the sets of black squares relate to AT THE DROP OF A HAT though. The hat is flipping … while it's dropping?

Sure, let's go with that.

It's not my favorite mini-theme, as the two phrases don't seem that related, and the visuals don't help pull it all together for me. I much prefer mini-themes where there's some clever connection between the two main seed entries that you might even have to work at to figure out. Or to realize that it's an Easter egg!

All the black squares also left me feeling a bit cheated. I like filling in a lot of white squares in a themeless, by gum!

And those hats nibbled away so much at the grid, leaving a ton of short answers. 21 3-letter entries? No wonder my solve felt a bit choppy, never really letting me drop into the flow of things.

But a couple of nice feature entries besides the mini-theme, MAIN SQUEEZE and TAJ MAHAL = beautiful. Not a lot of long entries, but Bruce and David did well with their 7-letter entries, notoriously difficult to make sing. CHEERIO, GANACHE (yum!), INKSACS, OTTOMAN, RIDDLER, SASHIMI, yes! These helped a ton in terms of the quality of my solve.

(NONPROS or ENPLANE, not so much. Curious if anyone actually uses these terms.)

Let's speak no further of ALD, ALS, GTE, MTA, TNG.

Overall, this one didn't cohere as smartly as I wanted, and the maxi-theme forced too many compromises. But I like it when constructors try something new with mini-themes.

Sat 11/25/2017

I've run several half-marathons. They've all gone differently, but I've noticed similar patterns. They usually start out with a feeling of dread (only 60 words, wide-open grid; shudder), knowing that I'll be in for some pain. Not sure what kind, but there's sure to be some sort.

When the horn sounds, there's such a mass of people that you can barely move (my first pass through the clues, I filled in only one square). But when you cross the starting line and start picking up momentum, what a feeling of relief (OMG, so glad to have randomly known the MONSTER logo!).

And the first two miles? What a rush as you get into your rhythm (AMERICANA and SPEAKEASY crossing SAY PLEASE, awesome!). Even feeling decently good as you hit mile three and four (ANTICRIME … not bad).

Then come the first pangs (PACA). Whether a knee twinge or having that first sense that you might have to drop a sewer pickle (TREN), it's not good. You push right through though, and it's worth it because you have the satisfaction (SOMBREROS!) that you made it through the first twitches.

The halfway point brings a dread that you still have miles to go, and wait, what's hurting now? (That LALO / PEALE crossing, oof.) Another mile in, strange sensations erupt all over (EL MARIACHI, what? Who says TABLET PC? What's the CALDER CUP?). And then more flood through you(EMPANELS?).

But you fight, because you know there's going to be a few last highs (TEA TASTER, LA SCALA) before the finish.

Then, everything begins to sear and burn as the final mile approaches (ANSE? ALFIO who? STET. BAAL?). But that finish line is in sight. Your legs have a strange leadlike quality (TRADES IN, ARE NOT) that you have to ignore. And when the crowd starts roaring near mile marker 13 (SLAM POETS!), that's all the rush you need to bring it home.

About two hours (39:33, about 3x my usual Saturday time) filled with mixed, powerful emotions, and you come away with the awesome sense that you finished something daunting. You've earned a well-deserved rest after the intense workout.

Now, where's my "I Finished the Kevin Der 60-word Crossword" shirt?

Sun 11/26/2017INSIDE OUT

Oh right, the puzzle. After coming up with this idea, I wrote a Python script to help me figure out possibilities. That helped, but it still took several hours to sift through hundreds of possibilities. Some were cluable in the "X in Y?" format I wanted, some were snappy phrases, but few were both.

Then it was just a matter of figuring out matching lengths, grid creation, roughly eleventy hundred grid iterations, and most of my remaining hair plucked painfully out one by one with red-hot tweezers.

You know, the usual Sunday construction experience.

Aside from POSSE CUT, sometimes I wonder if my assumptions about what educated solvers ought to know are getting skewed. KARPOV to me is a no-brainer — you have to know at least Garry Kasparov and Anatoly KARPOV. HATHA YOGA? No matter where you are within Seattle, you can throw a yoga ball 50 feet in any direction and hit a room full of downward facing doggers. DULCINEA? Come on, you ought to at least recognize the name from "Don Quixote," which you were supposed to have read in HS/college!

Okay, I only pretended to read it, too. Fine!

Overall, I hope there was enough from different walks of life to make everyone a little happy, and not too much to make people feel like it was a trivia quiz rather than an entertaining word game. Probably will be some of the latter folks ... ah well. POSSE CUT!

Mon 11/27/2017

Business in the front, party in the back! A celebration of movie MULLETs today. Usually, I'm not fond of listicle-like puzzles, but what a neat visual element, adding pics of the six stars right on the pdf file. Hilarious!

Normally I like to see a bit of variety in genders, ethnicities, etc. But today is probably one where women and minorities can rejoice that they weren't included. Huzzah!

I have a strong image in my head of what a MULLET looks like. Sly and Travolta are perfect, neat up front, letting it all hang out in the rear. Mel … not so much. And Nic, well, Nic just looks ridiculous. So, not exactly the spot-on MULLET-mania I was hoping for.

Especially given that, it felt like too much theme material, needlessly overtaxing the grid. Right up top, THE LOST BOYS over DIRTY DANCING — there's not a ton of choices for the ??B?Y pattern. I don't mind a short duplicated word here or there — THE or I or AN, whatever — but BOY crossing BOYS? That's no bueno. Felt so so so so so inelegant.

All over, there are too many spots that are overstressed with too many themers fixed into place, requiring NSEC, ISO, EREI, TOR/CLE, ACCTS, etc. No bueno again!

And I can't condone PACA (and ENO to a much lesser extent) on a Monday. Those poor Monday solvers!

I did appreciate some of the bonuses, DOGFIGHT and SCORPION especially, helping to keep MULLET-hating solvers engaged. But these put yet more strain on the grid (see: PACA). Oofa.

Getting rid of CONAIR — which doesn't feel as memorable as the others to me — would at least have helped Kevin present a solid NW corner.

Overall, I love seeing something a little different, and the actual pics in the pdf are awesome! Execution, though … BOYs OH BOY.

I did very much enjoy Kevin's note — such funny MULLET love!

POW Tue 11/28/2017

★ I must admit, when I got to UTURN, I shrugged. Answers making UTURNs (and other turns) have been done a ton. Will has mentioned that he's not taking as many of them these days because they've become overdone.

Man, was I glad to think about the puzzle some more! They aren't just UTURNS. They're U-TURNS!

Okay, that was clear as mud.

The U-turning answers are Us … and (U)niversities, as in Clemson U! Great double-interpretation of those UTURNS. This is one of my favorite types of a-ha moments, when you see two disparate ideas pulled together in a surprising way.

And the execution. If there's not an emoji for *kissing the tips of your fingers like at an Italian restaurant* there ought to be. A grid like this is so tough to make. Not only do you have short, bendy themers, constraining the grid in all sorts of inconvenient places, but you have to work in long fill that sparkles enough, to give solvers some wow.

AND you have to keep your crossword glue to a minimum? Level of difficulty = through the roof, at least if you're aiming to make your puzzle sing. And wow, did it sing. EVIDENCE BAG. PARIS METRO. TRADE ROUTES. ADULTERANT. Adulterant? Wha?

Well, three for four in the long slots ain't bad at all. This sort of construction is usually hard enough to pull off with resorting to ADULTERANT-ish neutral fill. To get such nice longies without compromising elsewhere, c'est Magnifique!

Only a bit of ISS, ESE, MIO, that's pretty good for a normal puzzle. To achieve such a low level of crossword glue on a much tougher than normal construction … just goes to show how good Andrew is.

Okay, GOTYE / COMEY / HESSE will be tougher for some newer solvers. But given the news these days, you gotta know COMEY. (sadly enough)

Enjoyed the unexpected a-ha moment, and loved it when studied under a constructor's lens.

Wed 11/29/2017

Aww … I love getting insight into a friend's life. Reading Erik's note gave me the warm fuzzies.

This music idiot actually knew some of these groups! The TEMPTATIONs! Diana Ross and the SUPREMEs!

The ... MIRACLEs? The CONTOURs? Some research shows that these are indeed pop groups of old. And popular as well. My music knowledge is so sad ...

SUPREME COURT CASE worked best for me since I knew the SUPREMEs, and what a colorful phrase. Perfect choice to kick off the puzzle.

MIRACLE MOP was also awesome-sounding — I want one RIGHT NOW even though I don't know what it is — but not knowing that group put a damper on it for me.

TEMPTATION ISLAND was the opposite. I love the TEMPTATIONs! Not so much, TEMPTATION ISLAND. It was some reality TV show?

And CONTOUR KIT ... it appears to be a thing. It's silly that one criterion I use is "does it have a Wikipedia article?" But I loves me some Wikipedia. Especially when people make things up. (Ask Doug Peterson about the Laughing Boy.) Don't judge me!

Solid execution, not a surprise from one of the best in the biz. It's not an envelope-pushing grid, but check out the work in the SE corner, the one place that would usually need crossword glue. ISLAND over MOTOWN is a rough business. Plenty of people would have fallen into the trap of moving the black squares above TAU to where TAU is, thinking it'd make their lives easier. Not so! Having that little three-letter space increases flexibility quite a bit.

And to work a music term, STEREO, right in there? Excellent!

Nothing huge in grid bonuses — I liked (but not loved) TRYOUTS, EXCERPT, TOPSPIN, EARACHE — but nothing huge in liabilities (ASST, ATO, LALA). I would have liked for Erik to challenge himself a bit more, perhaps working in a pair of long down in the SW / NE corners. Not sure how to do that though …

Not being much of a pop music guy, the theme didn't catch my attention. But what a delight to see the personal tie for Erik.

Thu 11/30/2017

BATTLESHIP! What a nice throwback to my days doing GAMES magazine puzzles. Oh, right, there was a BATTLESHIP board game before that.

*snooty puzzle-connoisseur snort*

Neat idea, Trenton using Xs in a rebus-esque manner to represent ships being HIT in the game. I couldn't remember all the names of the actual board game ships (or their lengths), so it was fun to get a memory jog. The carrier is five spaces long, as in XXXXX PIGEON. I didn't remember that there was a cruiser in the game, but the infamous PT XXX (come on, just admit the shame if you bought one) helped me remember that it was three slots long.

I had the toughest time with CONAN THE XX. But what fun to guess at it! CONAN THE … frigate? The junk? The garbage scow?

Someone make that last movie, already!

We fixed up the answers (below) in case you're still not getting it. Jim did the initial fixup to XXX sandwich. He put in "sub," which sounds more natural to me, but it's apparently the full "submarine."

That points to a thematic problem. It's easy enough to figure out (carrier) PIGEON. But even that one, it felt a bit arbitrary to have exactly five Xs to represent "carrier." Yes, I know that if you look up the board game rules, it's clear that the carrier is five spaces long. But who remembers that?

*ducking from howlers sent by rabid "Battleship" fans*

Other GAMES Magazine enthusiasts might have also gotten confused by the lengths. BATTLESHIP puzzles only have lengths 1, 2, 3, and 4, by gum! And what board game designer in their right mind would make TWO DIFFERENT ships (the cruisier and the submarine) the same length (3)? THE OUTRAGE!

I enjoyed so many Xs worked cleanly into the grid. Weaving JUKEBOX HERO through one = awesome! I was sure there'd be all sorts of gloppy crossword glue up at the top, what with six (!!!) terminal Xs to work around. But what nice clean results.

Clever idea, novel approach to a rebus. If my memories of the ship names and their lengths had been stronger, this would have been an easy POW! choice, what with such solid execution.