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Puzzles for March, 2016
with Jeff Chen comments

View these same grids with comments from:
Constructor (27)Jeff Chen (31)Jim Horne (7)Hide comments
Tue 3/1/2016

Freddie interprets ALL ABOUT EVE to mean "place 15 instances of EVE in the puzzle." I often have trouble with this sort of concept, as the jam-packing usually necessitates all sorts of gluey bits, and it can result in an underwhelming payoff. But today, I enjoyed seeing all those EVEs strewn about. Although it's not the hardest trigram to incorporate (what with those two Es), that V does make it non-trivial. And there's something kind of mesmerizing about all those EVEs jumping out at you.

EVEL KNIEVEL's skycycle. Bad ass!

I liked many of the long entries Freddie chose containing EVE — NEVER MIND and PET PEEVES are excellent. It's also fun that EVEN STEVENS, EVEL KNIEVEL, and SEVEN ELEVEN all contain two instances apiece, but EVEN STEVENS feels a bit outdated (show ended in 2003 after only a few years), and I always see the convenience store written as 7 ELEVEN.

Although there are quite a few EVEs in shorties like EVENT, SIEVE, and ALEVE, I appreciate that Freddie stuck to all fine entries (no MEVE, EVEA, NIEVE kind of ugly bits).

There were some gluey bits, no doubt. Starting with ESSO is passable (it's a major brand in Canada), but when you need OLEO and ALEE and HEXA before leaving that NW section, that adds up. It's too bad there was a concentration right at the start, because the rest of the puzzle was pretty smooth, aside from an ANO crossing ENERO and a random STEN. It's not easy at all to pack in so many trigrams, so it's not a bad result.

(I loved the clue for HEXA: [Tri and tri again?]. It still doesn't erase HEXA as a piece of crossword glue, but that wordplay sure did give me a smile).

KEROGEN is an interesting word. Even having a decent science background, I needed every crossing word (thankfully Freddie laid it out so every cross was easy!). Given how much press fracking gets, I'm surprised I haven't come across this term before today. Glad to add it to my vocabulary.

Wed 3/2/2016

Pasta puns! Being quite the idiot when it comes to punnery, it's tough for me to judge the quality of puns. I really liked these though, as each of the modifications seemed consistent — all changes which warped the sound but just a little. ORZO IT WOULD SEEM was really fun, and the idea of a COUNCILMAN in charge of ZITI is humorous. Playing POKER for PENNE pasta is also amusing.

Asimov's robots follow the three laws of motion AND the three laws of robotics!

Given that there are only three theme answers, I would have liked more long fill. A grid with such low theme density — which I don't mind in itself — has so much potential for great fill, but it's tough to make anything less than seven letters long really sing. I do like METIER, as it's a neat word describing something someone really excels at. It's so fun to see people shine in whatever field they really delve into. And TORERO is pretty good too. But other than that, there's not much that I find memorable.

A fourth themer would have been fun, but with only three, I would have loved to see some black squares taken out — perhaps the one between ALTO and LOT, or the one between ALUM and DAS. I applaud Fred's impressive smooth fill, but I do want at least a little long bonus fill in every crossword, especially ones with low theme density. A lot of lost potential.

Some fun cluing:

  • David Steinberg recently finished his audacious Pre-Shorztian Puzzle Project, and it's fun to see OREO clued all those years as "Mountain: Comb. form." Just ridiculous!
  • EL AL gets way more press in crosswords than in general American life, but it's cool to learn that President Chaim Weizmann was on its first flight. Talk about a PR coup!
  • There are indeed (Newton's) three LAWS of motion in physics. I always smile at the parallel between Newton's three laws of motion and Asimov's three laws of robotics.
  • ERIE is "The Gem City"? ERIE ripped off Seattle, the Emerald City, if you ask me. Harrumph.
POW Thu 3/3/2016

★ One of the best aspects of working with Jim Horne on XWord Info is discussing puzzles. We often have a very different take, and sometimes he completely changes my opinion with thoughtful reasoning. It was only through some back and forth with him that made me realize there were enough things about today's puzzle that I loved; well worth the liabilities. Overall, it's POW material.

Man, this concept is going to be confusing to non-musical people

The concept will be rough for non-musicians, as the idea hinges upon knowledge of the chromatic scale. Each note can be described in two different ways, i.e. G sharp is equivalent to A flat. If only it were consistent all the way up! There are a few notes like E and F which are only a half step apart, so E sharp is not equivalent to F flat … but to F natural! Confusing, isn't it?

What finally flipped my thinking was Jim's visual interpretation (see the answer grid below). I can often take care of grid fixes, but this one was beyond my capabilities. I love the way it looks, so elegant, much more so than writing F NATURAL all into one little square — where I already had E SHARP already written.

I did have some issues. ENHARMONIC describes perfectly the idea of one note described in two ways … but it's in such an odd location, just off the centerline of the puzzle. That would have been perfectly fine if the symmetrical entry had also been thematic, but STORE SIGNS doesn't relate.

I also liked the presence of MUSICAL NOTE, but TWO TONE CARS didn't do it for me. I can see how it hints at the concept of a single tone being describable in two ways, but it doesn't feel very apt.

There was a little bit of crossword glue needed to hold things together (RESOAK, I see you), but that's not surprising considering three pairs of long crossing answers. And some great fill in FANGIRL, CURE-ALL, FELLINI, QUIT IT and I ROBOT really enhanced the solve.

So all in all, a great idea and a lot of colorful phrases overcoming the problems I had with it.

ADDED NOTE: Astute reader David Jones noted (pun intended) that STORE SIGNS actually hints at a box "storing" a musical sign. Subtly clever!

Fri 3/4/2016

I like seeing new themeless grid patterns which don't fall into the normal "triple-stacked long answers in each of the four corners." It was fun to get two pairs of long answers crossing each other in the NW / SE corners, something you don't see in many themelesses. It is tough to do this with all four entries being great, so the kooky/awesome PERIWIGS and DRACONIAN crossing EPHEMERAL and DISPARATE is pretty darn good. I didn't care as much for the opposite corner, as PROHIBITS and TOLERABLE fall more into "everyday language" in my eyes, but TITLE ROLE and BLOTCHES are nice.

Sadly, the great Bruce Lee's final film

Evans does employ normal triple-stacking in the upper right and lower left, and does a reasonable job with it. I especially liked ONE TWO PUNCH under a RADIOLOGIST (with a great clue, [One who can see right through you?]), and a sneaky GARDEN SNAKE … or was that a GARTER SNAKE? I enjoyed working my way out of that trap.

That triplet does require some crossword glue to hold it together — A GUN (partial) and ZAC / ADANA / EDOM, which produces two very tough crossings for some. I suppose ADANA being a historic Churchill conference site and EDOM a Biblical location makes them things that a NYT solver ought to learn if he/she doesn't already know them, but I think these crossings carry a high risk of dissatisfaction for a good chunk of solvers.

I absolutely loved seeing Kareem ABDUL JABBAR in a prominent location — how is it that this is his debut in any major publication? I remember his skyhook and defiantly dorky goggles (if anyone is looking for a present for me …), but his "Game of Death" role stands out most for me, a seven-footer fighting Bruce Lee. Who knew a guy that tall could move like that?

In general, Evans used a good chunk of his long slots to good effect. Aside from the aforementioned neutral ones, there was CARTOONLIKE — cartoonish is more in use, yeah? — but still, there were enough colorful ones that I enjoyed the puzzle overall.

Sat 3/5/2016

Will has a tough job, catering to a solvership with a huge range of backgrounds and interests. As Roland mentinoned, today's puzzle has an older feel, and although it didn't resonate with me, I think that's what a lot of older solvers would say about puzzles containing recent pop culture references and cutting-edge slang! Here are a few of the entries/clues that gave it an older vibe:

Not sure why my parents thought it was okay for a kid to watch TAXI ...

  • CLORIS Leachman playing Phyllis on "Phyllis," from 1975 to 1977
  • PETER FALK in his 1960 "Murder, Inc." role
  • THE HEIRESS, from 1949
  • Jimmy Carter's mother, LILLIAN
  • Danny DeVito's character from "Taxi," the greedy but amusing LOUIE. This one I actually do know (and love!) I thought he was hilarious when I was a kid.

I appreciate diversity in puzzles as a whole, certain ones aiming squarely for a specific market segment (especially when I'm in that segment!) But I really like when a single puzzle carries diversity within it, thus playing to a very wide range of solvers. This one carried a lot of older TV/movie references. Too many? Maybe not, but it's unfortunate that some of the longer entries didn't do much for me. (I did go look them up afterward, but that's a very different experience than getting an visceral jolt of joy from uncovering something you think is incredible.)

A few things that took me a while to get:

  • This engineer felt like he really should have known ITT, since its slogan is "Engineered for life." Apparently it's a "Diversified manufacturer of highly engineered critical components …" (I still don't know what they do.)
  • "Gym bunnies" describes people who work on their BODS. Apparently it can be applied to either males or females.
  • I struggled so hard with TAMALE, wondering why it was a [Husky food?]. Then I added a hyphen to see that it's a "husk-y" food, i.e. it has a husk. That's an awesome clue!

Aside from the older feel, there was a little too much CMDR, ESTE, ECH (echelon?), ENOL deeper kinds of crossword glue for my taste. But I did like a couple of the long entries, SILENT TREATMENT, ILL BE THERE, and CRIME SCENE in particular.

Sun 3/6/2016 IN CHARACTER

I read through the notepad a few times and still didn't understand what it meant, so I dove right into the solve. It's quite a clever idea — BANQUET GHOST describing Banquo, e.g. — so I wish there had been a clearer way of phrasing the notepad. Or working something right into the clues! Unfortunatey, I couldn't think of anything more self-explanatory.

The MACABRE THANE himself!

I enjoyed reading David's note, and I agree that not having SHAKESPEARE as a revealer makes it more fun. I actually couldn't place Banquo (he's from "Macbeth"), so it took me a while to realize that all these people IN CHARACTER were Shakespeare's. I like the consistency.

Some of them I enjoyed more than others. LEAR inside ELDERLY MONARCH is nearly perfect! Casca as a SCHEMER AGAINST CAESAR is descriptive. MACBETH in MACABRE THANE was perhaps my favorite, because I appreciated the degree of difficulty — to David's point, it's easy to fit in four letters if you have a long enough entry. To get the seven letters of MACBETH within a 12-letter entry is pretty darn amazing.

COMRADE OF MERCUTIO pales in comparison to FRIEND OF MERCUTIO, though. I imagine David had to resort to this due to crossword symmetry requirements. Very unfortunate. (Perhaps one day historians will uncover Shakespeare's Russian period?) And UNHAPPY MALCONTENT does describe Hamlet, but doesn't it describe maybe half of all Shakespeare's characters?

David does a nice job with this grid. As with most any Sunday-size 140-worder, you're bound to get some AGS (Attorney Generals), IT IN (connecting it with LEAVE, so far away, almost makes it worse for me — and LEAVE IT IN isn't a particularly colorful phrase), NEOS, A PAT, etc. But he does well with his long bonus fill, spreading the goodness around the grid: ORRIN HATCH, AUTOSTRADA, VOICE ACTOR, and ONLINE CHAT are four great entries, really boosting the quality of my solve. GO ROGUE, FATCATS and IM RICH! helped as well.

The idea was really nice here, and if 1.) the notepad / cluing had been better, and 2.) all the examples were of the same quality as MACABRE THANE, it would have been an easy POW choice for me.

Mon 3/7/2016

90s FADS today, a nice trip down memory lane, allowing me to recall the days when TAMAGOTCHIS were hot, THE MACARENA earworm ate away my sanity, and THE RACHEL hairdo was in. Oddly enough, apparently there's a new cadre of young adults getting into "Friends," as it speaks to a sense of simplicity, of pleasantly hanging out with a group of close compadres. I must admit I was wrong about that show's ability to persist!

Rachel doesn't seem terribly excited about THE RACHEL

That made me wonder about DR MARTENS (which I call "Doc Martens" — is that just me?). They were ultra-popular back in the 90s, but I still see people wearing them. Perhaps it's the Seattle fashion sense, still influenced by grunge.

Very unusual to have numerals in a Monday puzzle, and it was a nice change of pace. FIVE-0 (zero) threw me for a loop, as I know it as FIVE-O ("oh"), and I don't seem to be the only one. Apparently it was such a controversy that there was a vote to determine which was "correct"! Officially, the original show is FIVE-(zero) and the remake is FIVE-(oh), so both are acceptable.

It would have been nice to have something better for 9's crossing — 9 PM is so unspecific. Something like 9 LIVES (the cat food) or DISTRICT 9 (the movie) — something containing the actual digit — could have been really fun. Using a longer entry does make the construction harder, of course. It's so easy to tuck the three-letter 9PM into the middle of the puzzle.

I appreciated Damon giving us a bit of bonus fill in FENNEL, SMURFS (I must admit I watched every episode as a kid), FUGUE, and my favorite, METADATA. What a cool word! Also appreciated is Damon's effort to keep the grid smooth and free of crossword glue. silky solve, aside from my internal FIVE-O / FIVE-0 debate.

Overall, a fun concept. I would have preferred not having two "THE" themers, and maybe more consistency — I did appreciate the variety, but it did feel a bit random as to which of the dozens of 90s FADS were included — but I still enjoyed the solve.

Tue 3/8/2016

FUR COATs today, various types of fur "wrapped" around theme answers. I couldn't decide if I like the visual or not — there's something macabre about seeing the old-fashioned dead fox pelt sitting on someone's shoulders, with the head flopped over. But I think it works well as a crossword theme.

The BLASTER, source of much debate among us nerds whether Han shot first

I had no idea that OTTERs are used in furs. Man, people use just about anything! I think I would have preferred to see all types of furs which are super common — OTTER felt out of place compared to FOX, SABLE, and MINK — but there wasn't another type of animal that stood out as ultra-popular for furs. It might have been nice to give a shout-out to the anti-fur solvers out there with FAUX, perhaps "wrapped" around FRENCH CHATEAUX or something?

Some interesting fill today. MESHUGA was only vaguely familiar, and I liked getting the reminder of what a neat word it is. I enjoy Yiddishisms, and this one describing a crazy person is really fun. Very glad that David was careful to make all the crossing entries easy!

STALEMATE, BLASTER, JUNIPER, SHRINE, ST JOHN — David's skill with themelesses comes into play here, helping him give us a lot of good bonus fill without making us suffer through much (any?) crossword glue. Some might complain about THANE, but I think it's a perfectly valid entry. Most anything Shakespearean feels like fair game to me, and the THANE of Fife is no exception. I did appreciate David's care though, making all his crossing entries easy. That touch is much appreciated.

The only region that made me hitch included the HOPPERS / AHH entries. The former feels a bit made-up, and the second I usually think of as AAH. But Merriam-Webster does list "hopper" as ""someone or something that hops," and just like Yiddishisms, expressed sounds have many "correct" spellings. So overall, a well-executed grid.

It was a little creepy to see those FUR COATs wrapped around themers, but after I got over that, I enjoyed seeing the fruits of David's gridmaking skill.

POW Wed 3/9/2016

★ I liked so much about this puzzle. The theme is nothing to write home about — phrases ending in sweet spreads, i.e. PRESERVES, JELLY, JAM, and MARMALADE — but John hid them pretty well using different(ish) meanings. SLOW JAM was my favorite, and MOON JELLY was fun too.

Don't recall LADY MARMALADE? Think of the "Moulin Rouge" soundtrack!

I enjoy seeing constructors push themselves, and John's employment of a mirror-symmetry, 69-word grid is appreciated. All those long slots allowed John to work in EYETEETH, PILASTERS, BERYLLIUM (I was kicking myself for not being able to remember element number 4!), and the curious VOLTE-FACE. I had never heard of VOLTE-FACE, but it's such an interesting word. Plus, that trap of plunking in ABOUT FACE was fun to extract myself from.

Now, I don't particularly like the sets of three black squares in the SW / SE corners; inelegant visuals. Those could have been eliminated by moving SLOW JAM and LADY MARMALADE up a row, which would have also elegantly put exactly two rows of space between each pair of themers. But I can understand why John did it — having as much space between themers as possible usually makes for more flexibility in filling.

And there were a few bits of crossword glue — APAT, IRATER (more irate, yeah?), EPT — but John's original cluing of EPT to the pregnancy test, makes it much better for me (I wonder if Will felt it wasn't a big enough brand?). EPT, as in the opposite of INEPT … yeesh. I imagine some will find that fun, though.

Finally, the cluing made this such an enjoyable Wednesday solve:

  • In business-speak, PIVOTing is code for "having to find a business model once you realize your current one is dog poo."
  • BOISE is a place where you'd need an ID — abbr. for Idaho — to get your mail delivered properly.
  • In the world of middle grade writing, being ORPHANED is the source of many inside jokes. Kind of macabre and an overused trope, but how better to put your main character in a situation where he/she is forced to play the hero role, unable to rely on mom/dad's assistance?

Overall, such a fun Wednesday puzzle, giving me much more of a workout than usual.

Thu 3/10/2016

I enjoy puzzles that play with shapes of letters. This one uses two Vs squeezed into a single square in the horizontal direction, but which get interpreted as a W in the vertical. Sometimes these letter squishing puzzles don't work well because people write letters in all sorts of ways — uppercase / lowercase, shorthand, etc. — but this is just about perfect, as V and W don't have a lot of variation.

A ton of exciting developments in the search for an HIV VACCINE

I really liked HIV VACCINE, a modern, fresh, upbeat entry. TECH SAVVY is also nice, although I've seen it before in crosswords, in one with the same conceit. That one included DIVVIED UP, which to me is a more colorful answer than REVVING UP.

I also enjoyed FLIVVER, a new term to me (old slang for a junker or rustbucket), but I would have really liked all the themers to be long — themers of six letters tend to get lost in the shuffle. CIVVIES could have been lengthened to IN CIVVIES, perhaps?

A construction like this might seem tough, but you can just put a W in those special squares and build the grid like normal. So although I did like some of the bonus fill Ed worked in, like Donne's THE FLEA, A PRIORI, ID SAY SO, it would have been nice to get more. Still, the grid is pretty clean aside from a few minor ATL, ALAI, KAN bits, plus he worked in the apt revealer — VWS — in a perfect location.

A few clues I had to think about:

  • WBA = World Boxing Association, so it contains "ring masters."
  • A DECK of cards holds 5,148 flushes? The math goes like this: 13 choose 5 (unique combinations of 5 cards out of 13) = 1287, times 4 for the four suits = 5,148.
  • How could an inanimate SLED be inclined to provide entertainment for kids? When (physically) inclined down a hill! Nice wordplay.

So although I've seen several puzzles of this ilk (UU = W, D over D = B, VV = W, etc.), I thought this one was generally well-made and enjoyable.

Fri 3/11/2016

I appreciate MAS's effort to branch out from his usual triple-stack fare today. In many ways, a giant parallelogram(ish) block of white space in the middle of today's grid is more impressive than a triple-stack. I mean, five 12+ letter entries atop each other — that's crazy hard to do! Many themeless builders use a similar "stairstack" center, but people usually do it with just three long entries.

And what great entries! TAKE FOR A FOOL, BARITONE SAXES, MOUNTAIN BIKER, THREE STOOGES are beautiful. FEMININE WILES is definitely in the language, but it did make me hesitate, as it has an old-timey, patriarchical feel to it. I'm not sure I like it given the connotations it carries, but no doubt it's a genuine phrase.

Speaking of genuine, though … I had ???BOTTLE and wished so badly that it wasn't going to be the arbitrary ONE BOTTLE, which the clue seemed to be aiming for. MAS asked me last time if I thought THREE TENS, a similar sort of entry, was bad enough to warrant scrapping the stacked entries. My answer: yes, since we've seen a lot of quad stacks by now.

Today's puzzle is a little different, in that the center section is pretty innovative. Still, ONE BOTTLE ... ugh.

TAB BENOIT is a different story for me. I used to listen to a lot of blues guitarists, and although TAB BENOIT was not familiar to me, I think he's passable for a crossword in a non-featured spot. I don't personally find him to be crossworthy — tough to ask solvers to reach into the depths of a genre — but I think if he makes an incredible grid work, then I give him the thumbs-up.

As with many uber-wide-open grids, there was too much crossword glue for my taste — I personally would have preferred two fewer long entries at the top and bottom in exchange for less of ARMEE, TERNE, SCIS, ECOL, CTN, AS YE, etc.— but overall, I like it when constructors reach out for new territory.

Sat 3/12/2016

Josh is one of my favorite themeless makers. It was really fun to see him use JIMMY FALLON in an earlier puzzle (he works on the Tonight Show) — and today feature QUESTLOVE! I'm terrible with most kinds of pop music, and I stopped watching the Tonight Show maybe 10 years ago because it's on too late (man, I'm old), but QUESTLOVE has a prominent place as a famous bandleader on par with Doc Severinson and Paul Shaffer. Great entry.

QUESTLOVE (one word, not two)

I like that Josh draws from a huge range of sources for this grid. You get something for the older crowd (USO SHOW, BOX SOCIAL), the very old crowd (OLD NORSE), all the way to QUEST LOVE and THAT'S WHAT UP.

Josh is quite a bit younger than me, so I wasn't sure if THAT'S WHATS UP is in current use? I work with some foster youth in their teens, and THAT'S WHAT IM TALKIN ABOUT seems much more common. But solidly in my mid-40s now, it's hard for me to judge if THAT'S WHATS UP really deserves its place in such a spotlighted feature location (one of the two longest across entries) today.

Great cluing:

  • A villain withholding an ANTIDOTE is such a vivid image.
  • I thought a [Joint issue] might be a co-written book? No, it had to be some clever marijuana thing, like POT SMOKE? Turns out it's an issue with a (body) joint. Great stuff.
  • Even after filling in BBQ PIT (great answer!), I didn't understand why people would put their dogs there. Good head-slap when I realized it meant (hot) dogs!

I love puzzles which have this much creativity and wordplay leading up to solid, colorful answers. It's so satisfying to wring your hands and struggle, and then finally have a moment where you realize how great the twisting of language is.

There were a few slots I thought had missed potential (BROADENS, WEEKDAYS) and a few gluey bits (REOIL, DYS), but overall, I thought this was really well done.

Sun 3/13/2016 DON'T SUE US!

Clever idea, using the "registered trademark" sign — a circled R — inside theme answers. It was a nice a-ha moment to realize that those circled Rs in the middle of themers were indeed ... circled Rs! I couldn't remember anything quite like this idea. Unique and fun.

True fact: Frisbees are not used in Ultimate Frisbee! (We use the Discraft brand disc.)

It's too bad that the grid didn't somehow reflect that the circled R symbol is always in superscript. It feels like there could have been something really cool done in the pdf, with boxes raised from their usual orderly positions? As it is, the conceit works pretty well, but it feels like it could have been really memorable if somehow the solver was forced to put those special Rs in as superscript.

I think most constructors should strive to make Sunday constructions like this one. Note that Tom doesn't push the boundaries, sticking with a 140-word puzzle (the max Will allows), giving us a little bit of bonus fill, but not so much that the grid is overly strained.

For almost any Sunday NYT puzzle, there's bound to be a little OSA, IT IS I, ATA kind of stuff, but if it's kept to pretty harmless stuff and spread throughout the grid, it doesn't really bog down the solving experience. And to get a few goodies like SUNDRIED TOMATO, LOOK WHAT I FOUND, ROMAN EMPERORS, TO BE FAIR is a nice bonus. I find that this balance makes for a pleasurable, quality solve.

That's not to say that this is the only type of fun solve — sometimes it's kind of nice to get 10+ great bonus entries, even if it means you have to slog through globs of crossword glue, sometimes it's cool to get a puzzle with ultra-high theme density, etc. — but today's puzzle is the type I think most constructors can realistically shoot for. Sometimes I get co-constructors trying to go big or go home on Sunday constructions, and too often the latter is the result.

Innovative idea that I might have absolutely loved if the superscripting had somehow been achieved.

POW Mon 3/14/2016

★ Another fine offering from the early-week master. Today, Lynn takes single words and breaks them into a verb + famous person command, i.e. PLAYWRIGHT gets interpreted as telling Wilbur WRIGHT to PLAY. Fun idea. It's beautiful how Lynn found so many that work with perfect consistency.

Cool logo!

I liked almost all of the themers just as normal words, too. SHAREHOLDER, BATTLEFIELD, GRINDSTONE, FIREBIRD, PLAYWRIGHT are all colorful entries I'd count as assets to any puzzle. That's not often the case with single-word entries! IRONWOOD didn't quite sing for me because I was confused — was it some TV show (I was thinking of "Ironside") or some sort of slang, perhaps for a hybrid golf club (there really ought to be such a thing). It is a pretty interesting term though, a general name for trees known for their hardness.

So much density — six themers is always tough — yet Lynn executes the grid so smoothly. Hardly any short gluey material needed to hold it together. ILIA will be tough for some, but it's a perfectly legit term and the crossings are fair. The grid is well laid-out to ensure smoothness, Lynn wisely stacking PLAYWRIGHT atop IRONWOOD, and FIREBIRD atop GRINDSTONE.

I would have liked more long fill, though. I got BOGGED DOWN by so many short answers in the grid. SUBTLETIES is a nice long entry, and WOBBLY is fun, but there's very little else in terms of answers greater than five letters. Why do I care about this piece of data? Because most short answers have been used over and over again in crosswords, so it's difficult to introduce color through them.

I liked the theme, but I personally would have preferred maybe five or even four themers in order to get some more vivid bonus fill. Still, Monday puzzles which are both super-smooth and also interesting don't come around very often, so I'm happy to give it the POW!

Tue 3/15/2016

I liked this idea, STATES OF MATTER paired with SOLID LIQUD GAS. Tough for me to not enjoy a physics / chemistry puzzle! It was also fun to use water as the example, ICE SKATING RINKS to WATER TANKS to STEAMBOATS. Although I've seen this basic concept before, it's usually been with three themers only, starting respectively with SOLID / LIQUID / GAS. So I liked all the theme material packed in today.

Poor plasma got the shaft

Elegance in puzzles delights me, and that can come in many forms. Some people prize interconnection, like how STEAMBOATS runs through SOLID LIQUID GAS. But that doesn't impress me so much, since several answers could have fit there — STEAMROLLS, STEAM POWER, STEAM ROOMS. The crossing of STATES OF MATTER / WATER TANKS does have some elegance — there's a fortuitous shared letter in the critical words, MATTER and WATER.

I would have loved some natural progression though. One could be ICE to WATER to STEAM (or reversed), perhaps all three of them listed sequentially in the across direction. Another could be STEAM higher than ICE higher than WATER, to demonstrate the relative densities of the three states. That might have been confusing to some, but it could have been a fun picture of an ice pond on a warming day. Plus, it's just a cool phenomenon that water gets less dense when it boils … AND when it freezes.

Nice to see a debut constructor pushing himself to get some bonus fill in the grid, even with five themers. I liked MACADMIA and EBULLIENT. JESTER, UTMOST, HECKLE, and RAQUEL were also appreciated.

REBOIL though … okay, it's a tough little area once you've gotten the themers and EBULLIENT fixed in place. But not only is it a pretty made-up sounding word, but it muddies the theme, making me wonder if it's somehow supposed to be related? I find a few BES, APO, DOZ kind of gluey bits more passable than one REBOIL, especially since the latter takes up a precious mid-length slot.

Overall though, a nice debut.

Wed 3/16/2016

I always enjoy exchanging thoughts about puzzles with Jim Horne, as he and I have different concepts about what makes for a good puzzle. For him, if a theme is great, the fill can be a little junky. For me, it's tough for me to overlook too many gluey bits no matter how good the payoff is. Over the years, Jim has taught me to appreciate really fun themes, and I thought a lot about this today.

MY DRUNK KITCHEN is 14 letters, easily splittable 7/7 ...

I absolutely loved David's find, three types of food that start with a slang word for DRUNK. How is it that no one has done a crossword around this before? I enjoyed it so much, I poked around Matt Ginsberg's "clued" database to verify that it hasn't been done before. Man, what a fantastic discovery!

The revealer didn't do much for me, however. DRUNKEN COOK doesn't seem to be a genuine snippet of language. I searched and searched, but only found some restaurants with that name plus a cooking show called "My Drunk Kitchen" — if only that had been a famous. How perfect a revealer would it have been?

David often errs on the side of incorporating extra bonus fill, at the cost of a little more crossword glue. I like his balance today, making trade-offs like incorporating PAUL REVERE / HONOR ROLLS at just the price of AON. Same goes for the opposite corner, with the beautiful PAGE TURNER / ILL BE THERE costing a NEB and an ERE (UTA Hagen and ERTE are generally fine by me, as they're real, notable people, and UTA is actually the Jazz's shortening on scoreboards).

Not sure I like the EFFS price for SARDINE though, especially at the very start. Oof.

Still, I enjoyed the three themers so much, plus the bonus fill (and RED INK + MR HYDE are great mid-length entries!), that I felt I could overlook some of the infelicities plus the odd revealer.

Thu 3/17/2016

We haven't seen a "turning" puzzle in a few months now — much appreciation to Will for spreading them out. Today, David gives us a TURN OF EVE … or is that TURN OF EVENTS? Three other themers get turned somewhere within the EVENT letter sequence. I've highlighted them below.

I generally like themers to be the longest across entries in the grid, or otherwise stand out somehow. But today's gave a nice challenge of having to find those turning buggers. I was baffled when I read that there were supposed to be four — ACEV(ENTURA), PREVE(NTABLE), and TURNOFEVE(NTS) were obvious. Where was the final one? Took me forever to realize that the [Hearst monthly] is SEVEN(TEEN), not SEVEN.

That bugged me. For consistency's sake, I would have all four themers working exactly in the same way. They do all turn somewhere within their EVENT letter sequence, but SEVEN is the only one that looks so innocent in the grid. I would have preferred if every one of the themers was hidden so innocently, like in a previous turning puzzle I quite liked, but breaking SEVENTEEN into SEV(ENTEEN) or SEVENT(EEN) would also have appealed to me more.

Grids using short themers always come with an added difficulty level, requiring a lot of long entries. I really like NBA DRAFT, NEST EGGS, OPEN TABLE (as part of a themer!), even INUNDATE and DRAMATIZE. I wasn't sure about UNADVISED, as ILL-ADVISED was what came to mind, but the dictionary shows that UNADVISED is perfectly legit (as in a client UNADVISED by their lawyer). So overall, a nice job of working in colorful long material.

Short material was good too, just a small amount of things like … well, AMT. That's the way to keep a puzzle smooth. And linking WHO and HOW as questions that are anagrams of each other — right next to each other, too! That's a nice touch.

Fri 3/18/2016

Interesting "stairstack" in the middle of the grid, TRAVEL CHANNEL and SILVER BULLETS = fantastic answers. I was so, so, so stuck on LE???RPEA??ON — I felt like that idiot on "Wheel of Fortune" who can't figure out _OE V WADE. (Luckily, that one came easily.) Then I felt like more of an idiot for not knowing one of the more important Prime Ministers of our neighbor to the north, Alaska. Er, Canadia. Canada! Sigh. I'm very glad the clue enticed me to read up on this important Nobel Peace Prize winner — what a role he played in the Suez Crisis.

LESTER PEARSON, former PM of Canadia. Er, Canada.

These stairstack grids live and die by the quality of the stacks in each of the corners. I liked TELEPORTS / SPYWARE the best (LIE AHEAD more neutral than an asset), and that corner was even more impressive because those answers run right into the middle stairstack.

I wasn't quite as impressed with the other corners, as MINICAR felt like it wasn't in common usage (although it is technically "a very small automobile," according to Merriam Webster). FELL OPEN felt like it had untapped potential to be something snazzier, and that corner needed ELOI and the cringeworthy CARERS to hold it together. Oof — not just a made-up sounding -ER ending, but pluralized too.

I did like the SE, with ROE V WADE and STEW OVER and ANSWERS with a delightful clue, [Things in keys] misdirecting me to think about islands. But DYERS unfortunately echoed the unfortunate CARERS.

Finally, I really liked the answer PENCIL PUSHERS — but it's too bad that PENCIL PUSHER was just used last week. There's bound to be repetition of colorful answers in themelesses, but both of them in featured spots, so close together in date ... For us regular solvers, it takes away some of the impact from Michael's grid today.

Some fine, snappy answers, mixed in with some that felt a bit off, like MINICAR and ONE CELL (one-celled more common).

Sat 3/19/2016

Byron's byline on a wide-open, low word-count puzzle always brings me eager anticipation, but I also brace myself for the challenge to come. This 62-worder, using only two cheater squares (before NUDISTS and after PASSERS), is such a tough construction. It makes me shudder to look at all that blank white space. I've tried a few of these, but have only gotten results I've liked by adding in a few more cheater squares. Otherwise, I've needed too many ugly gluey bits to hold it all together.

That NE is magical — four great answers stacked atop each other, including NUDISTS on a LOVE SEAT (eew!)? And not a gluey bit in sight? That's perhaps the best corner I've ever seen out of an ultra-low word count themeless.

I also really liked the NW, with SCHMALTZ crossing ZELDA FITZGERALD (no offense implied, I'm sure). It wasn't as sparkly for me as the NE, given that THEODORE is more neutral than an asset, but still, there are some great long entries along with nary a drop of crossword glue.

The other corners didn't quite hold up in my eyes, maybe because the bar was so high by then. I was an avid comic book reader — okay, fine, still am! — so I was overjoyed to break into the SW so easily with SINISTRO. Only, that was misspelled. And even for me, SINESTRO is plunging pretty deep into the DC Comics universe. NO SEE is obviously a partial, and the combination of MOPERS / PASSERS is pretty inelegant. The latter is likely legit, as I can maybe imagine it being used in Sunday football commentary, but all those Es and Ss in a crucial bottom slot make it feel like a crutch.

And ENGIRT … let's let that "old-style" term fade into days of old. MICHELLE WIE makes for a lovely entry, but the W sure constrains the entire SE corner.

Love the Byronesque clues, [Brushed instrument] for SNARE my favorite. Nothing to do with a kitchen implement — a SNARE drum often gets played with brushes in jazz.

I like the audacious construction challenge, and the top half was spectacular.

Sun 3/20/2016 DOUBLE-CROSSED

I've highlighted the special letters below — it was tough for me to see them all at once. (I imagine the impact of today's theme will be much bigger for paper solvers, who can easily circle each of them). The idea is that each starred entry has exactly two instances of each letter … except one. If you highlight each of those left-over letters, they spell REMAINDERS (reading top to bottom, left to right).

Beautiful PRIDE PARADE in Prague

I enjoyed Joel's programming challenge. My coding was completely hacky but wow was it satisfying to crack the problem and generate a list of workable entries.

When he told me what he was looking for, I wondered how this concept would resonate with solvers. It took too long to see that the R in HIPPOCRATIC OATH was the leftover, and that was the case going all the way down. I do think it's a novel, interesting idea — and REMAINDERS is appropriate — but I fear that some solvers won't go back after filling in the last box.

I was amazed to see this is a 134-word puzzle, as Sunday grids at that level are almost always splattered with ugly swaths of crossword glue to hold them together. I breezed through the puzzle, hardly noticing the usual suspects like HOW I because they were rare. And to come across so many great entries — FAULT LINES, SPEECH BUBBLES, UP TO YOU, SAUTE PAN, NICOTINE PATCH — I really didn't need any theme in order to enjoy all the snazzy fill. Since I didn't have a way to circle the leftover letters in the theme, I just treated the puzzle like it was a big themeless, and I really enjoyed that.

Joel was wise to put all his long fill in the vertical direction, all spread out through the grid. More spacing = more filling flexibility. People would be wise to study this sort of layout.

I'm guessing that I would have given this the POW! if I had solved it on paper, circling the leftover letters as I went.

Mon 3/21/2016

I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I nearly emailed Mike to ask how HUSH HUSH related to the other themers. How could [Top secret] be descriptive of SMASH HIT, RUSH HOUR, etc.? I noticed the *H H* pattern early on, and thought it had to be some sort of 4-H theme (math isn't my strong suit, apparently). Thunked my forehead when I realized HUSH HUSH hints at SHH, the three-letter string hidden in all the themers. Very cool that HUSH HUSH itself also hides SHH.

Very intimidating hat there

Squeaky-clean Monday puzzles are tough to pull off, and Mike does well. I love when a constructor can manage to keep the crossword glue to a small handful of minor stuff. Here, it's just ENV, RET, SLO. Note how those shorties don't stick out much? That's why I score these three-letter gluey bits slightly higher (25 points) than five-letter bits (20 points) in our XWord Info Word List.

It's actually pretty easy to generate a super-smooth Monday crossword, but once you throw in added levels of difficulty: 1.) higher than average theme density and 2.) bonus long fill, it's much more meaty a task. Even though Mike doesn't leave himself much in terms of long (8+ letter) slots, he does very well with his mid-range stuff: PULL TAB, LA FITTE, LOSES IT, PRENUPS, BARISTA, etc.

Mike could have incorporated a lot more 8+ letter fill by reducing his themer count from five to four — that middle entry, TRASH HEAP, really constrains the grid — but I do like having the extra themer today. And given that Mike did so well with his mid-length fill, I think he made good grid choices.

It's such a neat find that SHH is right inside HUSH HUSH. I probably would have given this one the POW! for that reason alone, if the cluing had made it more apparent. Perhaps something like [Very quiet … and a hint to a sound found in …]? That's not quite right either, but something like that could have been more appropriate for a Monday puzzle.

Tue 3/22/2016

I highlighted the appropriate letters below, to make this puzzle's theme stand out — the consonants in rows three, six, and nine appear in alphabetical order, reading from left to right and top to bottom. Like Don mentioned, I had an inkling something was up when I saw HOJO, and then again when running into the awkward abbreviation ELIZ. Given the very tough theme constraints, having just those two rough spots is pretty darn good.

PELLA? Sure, why not.

I got stuck in the bottom, having plunked in ALPHABETIC ORDER. That seemed not as perfect as ALPHABETICAL ORDER, but the former is too long for a 15x15 grid. When I finally ripped out ALPHABETIC ORDER, I sorely wanted ALPHABETIZED. ALPHABETIZATION is a word, to be sure, but it felt awkward as a revealer.

I went back and stared at the 21 critical letters after I finished. There is something interesting about the concept, although it feels somewhat inelegant, given the random vowels strewn about to make it work.

Perhaps it would have seemed nicer if all those consonants were spaced in exactly every other column? As it was, it felt like those consonants were placed wherever they needed to be to make it work. Granted, it's a tough constraint to get those consonants in ALPHABETIZATION order, but I would have liked some extra layer of elegance.

Still, I enjoy seeing concepts I haven't seen before, and I definitely had not seen something quite like this.

Some notable clues:

  • PELLA appears to be a big name in windows. Perhaps it'll be a gimme to homeowners who have redone their windows?
  • Loved the clue for COOK, [Pan handler] repurposing "panhandler" so innocently.
Wed 3/23/2016

What you see is a complete redo of the grid Will accepted a few years ago. Alex and I could only make the original work with the awkward A KNEE ("take a knee" to end a football game), and although it bugged the heck out of me, it was the best we could do in that region.

I was really hoping she would win the Hunger Games (sorry, Katniss)

Several years passed, and I got to thinking about different grid structures, new ways of laying out theme-dense puzzles. This one came to mind, and it seemed like an interesting challenge — could we redo it for better color and cleanliness? After working through a few possible skeletons, we both liked what was going on here. It unfortunately required OPE to hold it together, and it's rarely good to start out the filling process with something gluey right from the get-go. But it looked so promising otherwise that we decided to go ahead with it.

We did end up with one region, the west, where we couldn't get around something like A HIT or A HAT. But we felt that overall, the price of those minor gluey bits was well worth an open, 72-word grid, with bonus material like LOVE HOTEL, TATTOO ART, TURN TAIL, etc.

Some clue notes:

  • Tiny RUE is by far my favorite "Hunger Games" character. So well-written!
  • We clued SCRAM as "Make like a tree and get outta here!", a quote from Biff in "Back to the Future." Will probably made the right decision to adjust that one.
  • Being a mechanical engineer, PAWLS is obvious to me (a little part that acts as a one-way valve for a rotational component). Apologies to those who saw [Parts of ratchets] and wondered 1.) what PAWLS were and 2.) then wondered what ratchets were after I tried to explain.
  • For those of you who don't know that an ACE is worth four points in bridge hand-evaluation systems, shame on you. Okay, okay, some experts actually value it at more than four points, because of its nature as a "control" or a "first-round stopper" or … okay, okay, I'll shut up now.
Thu 3/24/2016

There's an interesting idea here, CIRCULAR REASONING MAKES NO SENSE BECAUSE (repeat ad infinitum) placed into a loop. I like logical reasoning puzzles, so an element of this theme greatly amused me.

I wonder how CS LEWIS feels about being in a LOGICAL FALLACY puzzle ...

I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had solved on paper. Having a clue which is neither across nor down — one lone "around" clue — is a neat idea, but it didn't translate well into the electronic version.

A few inelegancies:

  • Starting the quote off-center felt funny. It would have been great to get it started in the top middle, or the top left. I believe either of those could have been possible, unless I'm missing something.
  • For a theme based around CIRCULAR REASONING, I wanted the big answer to go in an actual circle. That's tough to do, but a square could have been better than a rectangle.
  • LOGICAL FALLACY is a nice addition to the puzzle. BEG THE QUESTION feels like a tenuous connection. (ADDED NOTE: Jim does bring up a good point below.)
  • Like in Stepquotes, the places where the long answer turns is technically "unchecked," i.e. there's no way to solve it out if you can't figure out the quote. That made the west and east sections so tough that I nearly didn't finish. Made it awfully frustrating to have just a few blocks left to fill in and no crossings to help me do so.
  • How cool would it have been to have the four corners of the quote spell something? Not sure what might be — FLAW perhaps?

There were a few nice bonuses in CS LEWIS, SKI SHOP, LIVE CHAT, and those definitely enhanced the puzzle. And it's definitely an interesting concept — Jim and I discussed how we might catalog an entry of infinite length into our database. Overall though, I would have liked the elegancy level to have been bumped up somehow.

POW Fri 3/25/2016

★ I feel like Ian and I are on the same wavelength. Just last week, I was trying to convince a co-constructor to use HATERADE in a Sunday grid we're working on! Along with the colorful phrases HAIR OF THE DOG, STONE AGE, PAPER CUT, LINER NOTES, it made for such an enjoyable themeless solve.

HE DIDN'T SHOOT FIRST! Okay, maybe he did.

Cluing was strong, too. LINER NOTES shined even further with such a deceptively innocent clue: [Statements for the record]. In this case, it was hinting at a vinyl record. [A, B, C, but not X, Y, Z] had me thinking about math, not a VITAMIN. People from Little Rock will appreciate the [Little rock] clue for PEBBLE.

And one of my favorite movie characters of all time, HAN SOLO, gets a quintessential quote: "Look, I ain't in this for the revolution, and I'm not in it for you, Princess." Who else could that possibly be? Granted, the writing is a bit hammy, but I'm a sucker for a great descriptive quote as a clue.

I always appreciate the care Ian takes to avoid gluey crossword bits. His themeless puzzles are so smooth, hardly a glob that makes me wince. Today, I did hitch at AGUE, a bit unusual for a Livengood puzzle, but Jim (Horne) and I had a discussion about AGUE where he argued that it's a fine piece of language seen often in historical writing. I'm not totally sold, but I can see his point.

With so many assets (I count roughly 13) and so few liabilities (maybe 0.5 apiece for AGUE and ESTER), Ian comes through with another POW! I like how he's always working with new grid patterns, whatever might fit around his choice of snazzy entries.

If there is anything, I'd like to see him push himself more, perhaps working with a lower word count, more long slots, stacks, whatever. Seems like he's more than conquered the 72-word themeless (the max number of words allowed).

Sat 3/26/2016

Cool-looking pattern of black squares! I don't personally like seeing too many black squares in a themeless, which triggers my constructor's brain into realizing how much easier any extras (cheaters) make a grid to fill, but Damon strikes a nice balance. The SW to NE diagonal lines are aesthetically pleasing.


My constructor's brain also triggers when it notices long stairsteps of 6-letter entries — that's so tough to do well. It was a pleasant surprise to see the upper half, what with TEX MEX, MEDUSA, LO MEIN, MATHIS all worked in. Yes, it required a STER and the I'm-not-quite-sure-that's-legit TILERS, but those are minor prices for all the great material.

The opposite section didn't come out quite as nicely, what with the DOTERS / SAVERS combination. I don't mind the latter much, since it's perfectly fine as [Life ___], but there aren't many ways you can clue that. In conjunction with TILERS, the trio stands out to me. And check out all the Ss and Es along the diagonal (end of DOTERS, COVENS, RATINE, etc.). That is fine, just not super exciting.

I really like what Damon did with the long answers, even more so given that they're weaved right into these difficult stairsteps of 6s. Great answers in WILLA CATHER (author of "O, Pioneers!") crossing TOTAL IDIOT, and Orwell's MEMORY HOLE concept crossing SATIN SHEETS. All four of them are fantastic.

It's also very tough to "turn the corner" with triple-stacked answers, so Damon does really well with MEANS IT / MOM JEANS / MARMADUKE intersecting SAUCE PANS / INKSTONE / TSETSES. That last one isn't great — usually I hear it as "tsetse flies" — but five out of six is darn good in this arrangement.

And on the other side, LETHER CRY looked bizarre. Took me forever to figure out the parsing, LET HER CRY! Along with IN CAHOOTS, that corner wasn't too shabby.

Two clues you might have missed:

  • [Produces heat?] is a clever way of hinting at DRAWS, "heat" being slang for guns.
  • [Guards on the gridiron] made me think of a noun, i.e. OFFENSIVE LINE or something. Love the misdirect from a lineman to a cornerback, the clue actually getting at the verb, COVERS.

PITCH IMPERFECT an apt title, hinting at advertising pitches with one word anagrammed. Some really fun results, DON'T SQUEEZE THE RICH MAN (Charmin) bringing up an image of a protesting Warren Buffett. A queen shouting THIS DUBS (Bud's) FOR YOU, the order to OBEY YOUR T-SHIRT (thirst), etc. = also funny. THE FABRIC OF OUR VEILS wasn't as amusing to me, and YOU DESERVE A BAKER TODAY didn't do a lot either. Humor is so subjective.

No touching!

Interesting that Patrick chose two McDonald's slogans: "We love to see you smile" and "You deserve a break today." With so many well-known taglines out there, I thought that was odd. It would have been awesome to get all McDonald's slogans, or all fast-food, which would have made for a super-tight theme. But it is hard to find slogans with an anagrammable word that still parses as a sentence, so a wide diversity would have been fine too.

Patrick gives us a few nice bonuses in long fill, NICE SHOT, and NAILED IT really singing in symmetrical spots. He otherwise sticks to mostly single-word entries (which tend to be more neutral than assets), but he does well with EXACTITUDE, the modern UNFRIENDED, ESCAPISM, and the delicious CANNELLONI. JEOPARDOUS is … a word. I can't imagine using it in lieu of "risky" or "perilous" though.

There's more gluey bits than I'm used to seeing in a Blindauer puzzle — I have a feeling it's due to the challenge of a 140-word Sunday puzzle; so tough to execute on cleanly. I've come to expect a little glue here and there from any Sunday puzzle, but it's nice if it doesn't come from the same areas: ERES, SEI, RIEN, DREI (deeper foreign words). AERO, ENDO, SNO (prefixes/suffixes). ERNO, IVOR, MURESAN (esoteric names). The concentrations made it tough for me to ignore everything.

Great clue for PEDESTAL, [Bust supporter] making fun of all the "bra" clues in crosswords. And I loved [Gray matter?] for BOTANY — think about the crossword-friendly Asa Gray!

A few rocky spots, but generally an entertaining result.

Mon 3/28/2016

Four things that have peels today, tied together with … APPEALING? I'm terrible with puns, both making them and understanding them. I guess I can see how APPEALING might tie together an APPLE, POTATO, BANANA, ONION — if you squint really hard and maybe have a few drinks. Is HAS APPEAL a stand-alone phrase? Or is that too straightforward for a pun?

Okay, a Klein Bottle isn't exactly a GLASS ONION, but I love this topological concept

Aside from my pun tone-deafness, I liked the puzzle. Some strong theme phrases in ADAMS APPLE, HOT POTATO, TOP BANANA. And although GLASS ONION wasn't familiar, it's an interesting phrase evoking strong imagery. Gary also gives us some nice long bonuses in BARE BONES and PAINTINGS.

What struck me was how much mid-length fill Gary incorporated. Nothing is a standout, but I really enjoyed it in aggregate. We don't see 6- or 7-letter words in crosswords nearly as much as we see 3- to 5-letter ones, so it was fun to get a ton of CLASSIC, IMPINGE, TANGOED, STAMINA, OCTAGON — definitely enhanced my solve as a whole.

Nice to keep the gluey bits to a minimum too. I'm not wild about APACE, but there's really not much more than that, and I bet many people will think it's a fine word that they might actually use. I appreciate the care and thought Gary obviously put into this grid.

Overall, it might have been nice to get a wider diversity of "things that have peels." But I had a tough time thinking of much else besides SUNBURN, and thinking about that most certainly is not APPEALING. Or maybe it is? Sigh, puns.

Tue 3/29/2016

DOGLEGS today, four types of dogs "bent" into the shape of golf course doglegs (when a fairway takes a bend). Pretty, those sets of circles in the grid. Something graceful about them, and they sort of evoke the image of a big golf course within the grid. (Sort of.)

Single and double DOGLEGS

GOLF COURSE is more or less essential to include as a revealer — just DOGLEGS might leave too many non-golfing solvers scratching their heads. Tough to find something equally perfect for the symmetrical spot. LADIES TEES are definitely real, where we horrifyingly poor golfers pretend we're are allowed to tee off. To Pete's point, it felt pretty shaky as a themer.

I might have preferred something like DOGLEG LEFT to match GOLF COURSE. Of course, that would mean all the dogs would need to bend left, making it very difficult to achieve symmetry in the sets of circles. But as pretty as that looks (SETTER symmetrically matching COLLIE), this is a rare case where I might have voted for asymmetry. Golf courses are never (rarely?) laid out to have rotational symmetry, so more random placements of the DOGLEGS might have been more evocative.

That could have also helped with the difficulty involved with placing diagonal entries in a crossword. Diagonal entries are notorious for necessitating crossword glue; such a tough task to fill around diagonal entries. Peter already does pretty well though, with really just an I GOT around one of them and an INGLE (I'm still undecided on that one), using his black squares really wisely to separate the sets of circles.

Solvers may have missed the bonus entries, ON A PAR and CARDED, placed in symmetrical spots. They don't directly tie into the DOGLEGS theme, but they do add a little more golf-y feel to the puzzle.

Loved the clue for HAT. "Overhead expense" is common in business-speak, so to repurpose it for a hat purchase is clever.

Some pretty grid imagery today, along with solid execution.

Wed 3/30/2016

CLIMATE CHANGE interpreted as "anagram the letters in CLIMATE within phrases." Normally I'm not a huge fan of this theme category, since placing a string of letters anywhere within a phrase is too easy for my taste. But a string of seven letters is no joke, especially when you throw that C in there. Plus, MEAL TICKET is a great entry, DIRECT MAIL isn't bad, and SATELLITE CAMPUS / CHEMICAL TESTING are pretty good.

Bring back memories?

I appreciated the extra layer Andrew worked in — did you notice that the shaded strings of letters are symmetrically placed? That's not necessary to do with this theme type, but I liked the extra effort.

This is a very theme-dense puzzle, with five long themers, two of them being grid-spanners. That causes all sorts of difficulty, because you have so many down entries that must run through at least two themers. So many highly-constrained sections! Check out the ends of CHEMICAL TESTING and MEAL TICKET, for example. You need a five-letter word to sandwich in between them, and then you have five vertical answers to incorporate. A tough task! I really liked what Andrew did in that corner, even working in a long answer, GUARANTEE, with just the price of ASSN. And KINDA and STINKO are both fun entries.

The center does get strained what with ALGERIA running through three themers. That's the only place I hitched a bit, with LAIC (which really is a perfectly fine word, so that's likely just my personal bias) and IER. Otherwise Andrew does a pretty good job spreading his glue around the grid, a CUL here, an SSE there. A very nice job given that it's a low word-count (72) puzzle.

I did wonder about his choice to work NORSEMEN and GRILL PAN next to each other; a difficult arrangement especially already having a theme-dense puzzle. I think LOC, UNI, and SSE could have been eliminated by breaking up GRILL PAN at its second L. But ultimately, I think GRILL PAN is an interesting entry, and it symmetrical partner, SKEE BALL, is really good. So I think that's a reasonable trade-off.

Thu 3/31/2016

Took us a while to find enough good examples of the [Double ___?] style — we continued brainstorming for a long, long time until we finally had enough to cull a symmetrical set from. I really like how thorough Ellen is in all of her processes, and I've learned from her rigor.

It's not Harry Potter, but it'll do

It's fun as a constructor to push myself, so we tried to work all five themers into a low word-count grid, focusing on getting as much colorful long material in as possible. Entries like TRES BIEN and PEN NAMES and BAD DREAM are fun for me as a solver to uncover, so we placed high value on working a lot of those in.

I made a boo-boo in our first pass of the grid skeleton, Ellen asking me who HENLE was at 7-D. I wondered, who in the world hasn't heard of Don Henle? Turns out that's Don Henley. Drat! So we ended up with a little more crossword glue than I like in that north region — DE LA, BRYN (can only be clued one way), and IS SO — but we felt that overall, the assets in fill outweighed the liabilities.

PEN NAMES was fun to clue, as I love the story of J.K. Rowling writing a new series under a new pen name, Robert Galbraith. "The Cuckoo's Calling" is a well-written hard-boiled detective novel with compelling characters, yet it only sold something like a thousand copies. She eventually got outed, and now it's a major series, each new chapter eagerly anticipated by millions.

Okay, as an aspiring and unknown writer, maybe I hate that story.

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