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Puzzles for April, 2015
with Jeff Chen comments

Wed 4/1/2015
SOBIGTALCAMIE
AROMAABOODADA
STIEGJOYBUZZER
HOLLOWMAWSDAN
DRIBBLEGLASS
BROADENBAA
OENESAULONE
SQUIRTINGFLOWER
ESPNCIAOIBM
DOARIVIERA
TRICKCANDLES
YUPOTROSHOALS
PRANKSTERABBOT
EASEAONETABBY
ALSOSODAERASE

As a practical joker, I dug this theme. Appropriate for April Fool's Day! Each of the props is a common enough gag, and all of them work well as snappy crossword entries. JOY BUZZER is such a lively entry, plus it has all those juicy Scrabbly letters in it. Fun stuff. I'd make a "pull my finger" joke, but that isn't exactly NYT-suitable. (Sadly.)

They knew how to have a good time back in 1932

Speaking of those Scrabbly letters, Sharon does a nice job of grid layout to facilitate smooth filling around the J and the pair of Zs. The blocks right below the J and the Z help her section things off, and there are a lot of three-letter options ending with either J or Z (TAJ, HAJ, RAJ, etc. / ADZ, TAZ, BOZ, etc.). Really only the MAZDA slot provides any sort of difficulty, and Sharon does well to fill that corner smoothly.

Usually, themers are alternated (left-right-left-right) to reduce the amount of overlap between adjacent pairs, but Sharon aligns both JOYBUZZER and DRIBBLE GLASS to the right. That's less of an issue if there are two (or more) rows between themers, but with just one row here, there are bound to be some challenges. Once you get the nice COBWEB in place along with TAJ, it's pretty hard to avoid something like ABOO.

Another challenge in the west and east sections, curiously. There's no hate in LOVE/HATE for me, just a beautiful entry. And I appreciated getting RIVIERA crossing it! That does constrain the east section though, resulting in NEBR. Similar sort of thing going on in the west, with OEN and ON UP as the price to pay. Overall, I think the trade-offs are reasonable, though. I liked GAG ORDER and IMELDA enough that those little OEN / ON UP bits didn't bother me much.

Finally, beautiful clue for ABBOT. Who but the head of an abbey would be a keeper of brothers? Great repurposing of a common "my brother's keeper" saying.

Thu 4/2/2015
CABANASRONAS
OPERETTARESALE
BLEEPOUTEASTLA
UNCAPORTRAITS
SEALIMEOHO
DIEMENON
PARRPCSERASE
ALEEEREOGLED
MUTILATESWOPAT
SPINALTAPAGO
GETEXERCISESAT
RUDIITELLTIA
EDINCOCASINS
DENGKREMEMST
SSSETE

Cool pattern! Totally brought me back to a Krozel from a few years ago, his famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) LIES puzzle. I was just starting to do the NYT puzzle at the time, and seeing the crazy LIES within the grid (and the clues!) helped hook me into the NYT puzzle and its Thursday trickery.

This one relies on anagramming the T H U S letters formed in black squares:

  • CABANAS = HUTS
  • SEAL = SHUT
  • REAR = TUSH
  • ERGO = THUS

Not as memorable a gimmick as the LIES puzzle, but I appreciate the new direction, the attempt to do something different.

Super, super hard grid to fill. I like the touch of no black squares outside of the four "letters," but that sure makes for a rough go. Not only is a triple-stack of 15s required, but another triple-stack of near-15s. I know some solvers will get frustrated with the number of gluey bits; that's to be expected. It's the price to pay for a wacky trick puzzle like this, especially considering that the four "themers" (CABANAS, SEAL, REAR, ERGO) further constrain the puzzle.

Loved so many of the clues:

  • [Action of a flipper] had nothing to do with pinball. (A "flipper" is slang for someone who buys houses on the cheap and flips them for profit.)
  • The "tag" in [Baseball tag] refers to a tagline. Baseball, America's NATIONAL PASTIME. (It really should be rock climbing, but I'd settle for curling.)
  • [Your highness?] made me laugh. "Highness" is a strange way to express ALTITUDE, but it works with a little humor and imagination.
  • Perfect that IMDB chooses to rate SPINAL TAP up to 11.

Just as with the LIES puzzles, I imagine some people will love this one as some will hate it. But one thing is hard to doubt — it will be remembered.

POW Fri 4/3/2015
FORESAWCHUMP
FINALEXAMHIKER
ONTHEMENUELUDE
REAGILSWELLUP
BARMYSICKESP
ERICBEACHOLAY
STOCKEXCHANGES
AFRIKANER
TWICETOLDTALES
COENTRULYDANK
ANTSTATCYNDI
YESMAAMNBACUR
USUALPOORSPORT
GUILTSOMETIMES
APTLYFEDEXES

★ Another beautiful Berry construction. He seems to be settling into a 66- or 68-word groove, a sweet (and challenging for mere mortals) spot that allows him to incorporate 15ish excellent answers into the grid while keeping gluey bits to near zero. Also appreciated is his continual testing out of new black square patterns, giving us a new experience every time.

The most impressive aspect of this one is that it features two 14-letter entries — squished together! As Doug Peterson once told me, 14-letter answers (and 13s too) are super difficult to build themelesses around, since they constrain your grid in weird ways. That one black square at the end of a 14 starts fixing your skeleton into place almost immediately, reducing much-prized flexibility.

Played close to the diaper. Er, chest.

And the way he does it — 1.) choosing to put minimal space in between the 14s and 2.) separating them with a long word. Daunting task! Typically that would result in either a bit of glue to hold it all together or only neutral word right in the middle. But AFRIKANER is sparkly, made even better by giving us interesting trivia about Charlize Theron's background. Very impressive.

The clever cluing is another of Patrick's hallmarks:

  • [Impressive way to turn up?] is an impressive way to describe a figure skating jump.
  • Trade secrets are played close to the chest. So is a UKULELE.
  • [Magazine that's on the market?] refers to Forbes' coverage of the stock market. And crossing FORBES with STOCK EXCHANGES!

I vowed to try to spread the POWs around, but it's tough to do when Patrick consistently turns out such great work. I made some comments about him using few Scrabbly letters to avoid gluey entries, and now he comes back with three Xs, incorporated with silky smoothness? I'm running out of points to make to give a balanced review.

Hmm. Well, there aren't any "current" entries, i.e. this puzzle could have been equally enjoyed by NYT solvers from 10 years ago? As much as I disavow things that kids these days do (SNAPCHAT, BINGE WATCH, SELFIE STICK), perhaps a light touch of that might have been nice?

Ah, I'm stretching. Fantastic work.

Sat 4/4/2015
BACKSLAPSKAGAN
OVERDIDITICAME
PERISCOPESTRAP
SRASKNEWSENNA
PSISAMDIAL
SAGALSUNNY
KOALASPINGPONG
INTOYOULARAMIE
DEEPFUNKLILACS
OLIOSTENET
NARCOSPEAS
OVERTDUESSHIN
RITASINTHENUDE
MERCISCHEDULEA
AWOKECHESTBUMP

Nice mini-theme, BACKSLAPS echoing CHEST BUMP. Back when I co-captained an Ultimate frisbee team, I asked the guys on my team not to CHEST BUMP, as it felt too show-off-y to me; against the Spirit of the Game. (The women on the team weren't as interested in CHEST BUMPing.) But it's a super-common practice in the NFL and other sports, and it was a fun way to end the puzzle. Makes me want to devise my own crossword-finishing touchdown dance.

Good ol' foul-mouthed Flo (on the right)

Not a huge number of long answers today, just 12 with eight letters or more, but Ned makes great use of two marquee entries: KISS MY GRITS and PLAY FOOTSIE. The former probably won't be familiar to the younger generations of solvers, but it sure took me back to the days when I was watching every single episode of Alice instead of doing my homework.

I often talk about how multi-word entries are prized, and SCHEDULE A helps me emphasize that point. By itself, it's not going to wow a whole lot of people (except those of us curiously fascinated by tax preparation), but trying to parse the crazy -DULEA ending gave me a great moment of discovery.

Same goes for AMDIAL (adjective describing AMD chips?) and KOPUNCH (Keystone uppercut?). Nice way of snazzing up a shorter entry; taking advantage of crossword entries eliminating spaces by nature.

And although there aren't a huge number of A+ entries, there aren't many gluey bits either. By my count, about 12 assets and 2 liabilities (OLIOS and A VIEW) easily puts this puzzle into my thumbs-up criteria.

Finally, fun to learn a few things. Sikkim is an Indian state, who knew? And I enjoy learning a little Russian. Spasibo and good night!

Sun 4/5/2015THE CAPTAIN GOES DOWN WITH THE SHIP
SAJAKHAJANTCABALS
TAHITIEREADERAFLCIO
ONAGERCENTIMOPRIMLY
WEBSKATGONOWROGETS
ESPBETACAMNEWISH
RTEINTROSALESBDAY
QUOTIENTLUSTLOUIE
TAUNTERSADATSHOULDA
WHOCARESCUPIDOUNCES
PADPDASHOLEOPTED
CURGMSNUBKEY
FARSIAILSSUBJLAM
ROGUESSTEADGLOAMING
EVENBETHEWEDALMONDS
PERCYHTTPMELBLANC
SASHLEWISBABYSOBI
GROMITRATTERSLOP
VALUESNANOSEDOANNO
ELAPSEKNOCKONGERUND
TEMPERIINSISTERASES
OXEYESECONUSRABAT
POW Mon 4/6/2015
LIFEOFPIHOTMIC
ICESTORMONEIDA
MARTINISLENNON
ELMSTUELITIST
SLITSAXON
EGOWOWEDDA
COLLAPSEDPAEAN
NEOLITHUNITARD
BISONEASYMONEY
CLEFRIOCPU
CELLITEMP
MOMBASATDSMAR
WHOAMIDIETSODA
AIRBUSUNFASTEN
HONESTDAYBREAK

★ Great change of pace M ONday puzzle, the seven days of the week "broken" by black squares a la DAYBREAK. The northwest corner is just about my personal ideal — three very nice long entries, some contemporary entries in LIFE OF PI and PRIUS, a touch of James Bond in MARTINIS, higher education represented firmly with FERMI, and a wordplay clue around OTIS' development of the elevator. Beautiful variety.

Seven theme answers — actually, 14 — is rarely easy to implement. Most often it calls for trade-offs, forcing the constructor to choose certain aspects over others. I like Finn's prioritization of getting the seven days equally spaced, in every other row. That felt spot-on, given how the days within a calendar get laid out. Would have been a bit odd to have MON and TUE entries crammed together in adjacent rows, for example.

It would have been nice if the days were all parts of the longest across answers though — darn those pesky trade-offs! THU being part of NEOLITH and UNITARD was much more elegant to me than WED being part of WOW and EDDA, for example. And COLLAPSED and EASY MONEY not being part of the theme felt slightly awkward.

Pimp My Ride, hosted by the awesomely Scrabbly Xzibit!

But you can rarely get everything when you shoot for the moon. I really appreciated Finn's effort to go the extra mile on this difficult construction, decorating the NE corner with the fresh entry, HOT MIC. Totally worth the ONE IN partial.

A final note, regarding PIMP. Will and Joel and I were shooting the breeze at the ACPT last weekend, talking about what types of entries are just fine and which push the line. JAILBAIT was the main one we mulled over, but PIMP also popped up during the discussion. I'm perfectly fine with PIMP, as the "Pimp My Ride" TV show is pretty popular, but I can see how some solvers might be turned off by it. Tricky.

Such a treat to get something different and well-executed on a Monday.

Tue 4/7/2015
SCARFEARPIMAC
PODIAKWAIWAXY
ICONSBEDEVILED
COUGHMEDICINE
EATISRAREMSS
DOUGHNUTHOLE
CROONITSADAM
RANIANGSTLEVI
AMENNAHELLES
TOUGHONCRIME
ESPONOOSEFAT
PLOUGHTHROUGH
SNICKERATSURER
HANDVALEOZONE
EGGSOMENNORTE

Debut! Really interesting find; five different –OUGH endings, all pronounced differently. Great way to end the puzzle too; an in-the-language phrase incorporating TWO of them. PLOUGH THROUGH, indeed!

Great to see David's ambition here. Sometimes debut NYT puzzles can feel like the author was simply happy to get the grid to work. Completely valid feeling when you're starting out. But David goes way beyond most debuts, incorporating a huge quantity of long fill. MALE MODEL, PIE CRUST, BEDEVILED added a lot of color to my solve — much appreciated.

McGruff always made me toe the line. And hungry.

It's so tough to find the balance between snazziness and cleanliness. Personally, RADIANTS didn't do much for me, and those parallel down arrangements (RADIANTS/PIE CRUSTS and ANO NUEVO/NANOGRAM) often cause trouble in surrounding fill. David does amazingly well in those direct regions, but they do sort of propagate around to cause a little of ISR/MSU/OSE/ISH sort of glue.

Finally, I might have liked a little more consistency in the themers. Although TOUGH ON CRIME is a beautiful answer, it's the only themer with three words. And DOUGHNUT HOLE is an equally snappy answer, but it stuck out for me in a different way, as the only themer where the –OUGH ending didn't actually end the word. David's original themers could have worked well, or something like DOUGH MIXER and TOUGH BREAK could work too.

Then again, some people argue that consistency is overrated. And given my strong liking of the final themer — the only one with two -OUGH enders — I might even agree. I sure do like my DOUGHNUT HOLEs.

Interesting theme, solid execution. Some solvers might complain about the preponderance of esoteric names — CYD, RAMOS, EKBERG — but all the crossings felt fair to me. I like learning a little something in my crosswords.

Wed 4/8/2015
TRIBESLTEMPO
ROTEELIORWELL
ATRAPLUSUGANDA
CAIROMAWRHELM
ETESEPEISLAO
SEDGESASSOTT
ORCHESTRAPIT
AREAORELENA
BESTRAPALBUM
CDCACSASSIST
NSATCIARRCOE
ETREENDSDIANA
WAGGEDITSATRAP
STOGIEDIEAUTO
ETONSONELSAT

It's a trap, indeed! TRAP gets appropriately hidden in four theme answers. As a bonus, three answers are starred as types of TRAPs: BEAR trap, TOURIST trap, and RAT trap. Sometimes "a single word hidden inside theme answers" gets a bit old, so I appreciated C.C.'s effort to go one step further.

It confused me a bit to run randomly into those BEAR, TOURIST, and RAT traps, so I highlighted them below. Hey! It just dawned on me that I missed an important element: each one of the three types of trap actually intersects a hidden TRAP! It's like the TOURIST actually gets trapped in the TOURIST / TRAP. Very cool.

I feel like "The Icarus Trap" really ought to be a thing

Honestly, I thought at first that the BEAR, TOURIST, and RAT words were haphazardly placed, but now that I see this extra element, it makes me really appreciate C.C.'s extra effort. It might have been cool to get a fourth trap intersecting the revealer — maybe GREASE at 52-down? — but that might be too much to ask for.

Already, C.C.'s grid is very constrained given where the sets of themers had to go. Not a surprise to see some of the gluey bits right in those crossings — EIS right by the TOURIST / TRAP; ACS and TCI by the RAT / TRAP crossing. Before fully grokking the whole theme, I wasn't sure if those compromises were worth the price, but I have a better appreciation for the difficulties now.

Finally, I like C.C.'s use of cheater squares in the very NE and SW. Tough to cleanly fill triple-stacked 8s. Not a huge fan of OTT and ERG and EIN (especially when combined with EIS) but C.C. sure gives us a lot of good material in those corners. ABC NEWS next to RED STATE and ESCARGOT is a lively stack.

Thu 4/9/2015
CHICHOPESTAGE
LANELEPERAHMED
ETALLATTETRIMS
ACNEODIELION
THEBOYFCRIEDWOLF
RADORALAAA
SPRITBLUEPENCIL
WHETGUESSSEINS
EASYTARGETHEDGE
ESEOMNISAD
TELLMESOMETHINGT
LETSNOSENAIR
NUEVOCAUSEEDNA
INREMERREDSISI
BASESLYNXSAUL
Fri 4/10/2015
BOOGIEONSPEC
ACRONYMMAKEDO
SABOTEURSTIRIN
SLIDESHOWEMMET
OATERALIFSAFE
MLLESLAS
AWOKEMOLEHILLS
LIVINLAVIDALOCA
GREATIDEAYOYOS
EERSMARM
RFDSALITBOTCH
HEINZIRENECARA
INDIESALCATRAZ
SCIPIOLINEONE
SETSTOSOTTED

A great majority of constructors never dip a toe into the quagmire that is the 64-word themeless, so it's that much more impressive that a newer constructor would try it. A really nice result, an open puzzle featuring a lot of long entries.

She may be Nurse Jackie to some, but she'll always be Carmela Soprano to me

Great to get a bit of David's personal vibe into the puzzle, the clues for EMMET and LIVIN LA VIDA LOCA clued to "The LEGO Movie" and "Shrek 2." I much appreciated getting a feel of recency via cluing instead of esoteric (to me) answers. So many of the latest pop stars or rap songs go over my head, requiring every single crossing to get. At the ACPT, Sam Ezersky and I talked about how David's earlier GRAND THEFT AUTO: III / MTV MOVIE AWARDS puzzle resonated so strongly with him while I had to struggle with those entries — we had a laugh when realizing that he and David were from the exact same demographic ... very different from mine.

By nature, wide-open areas are often going to require some glue to hold them together. David does amazingly well in most of his grid, spreading out the bits of OCALA, MLLES, ILO such that they're not terribly noticeable. Most impressive is the middle stack of MUHAMMAD ALI / ROLLOVER IRA / WLLIAM TELL with very clean crossings.

The only place I hitched a bit was the SW corner. As much as I liked ALGER HISS / WIRE FENCE and SCIPIO, it's the only corner of the grid where there's a concentration of elements David mentioned: SOO, EER, RFDS. I think I like ZEIT, but I can see how it would feel like prefix-ish or too deep into the German language for some.

Finally, loved many of the clues. [Peer group?] for EYES is brilliant. [Pen that's no longer used] refers to a penitentiary = ALCATRAZ. And [Wheel of Fortune] as part of the TAROT deck is a great misdirect.

Sat 4/11/2015
RAJACERBICHEX
UTEMADEIRAAXE
PATFRANTICNIN
ELLSATTESTEDTO
ELIOTNESSINB
NETCEO
NOINTERESTLOANS
ALTERNATEROUTES
BEATINGARETREAT
SALESASSISTANTS
NIEPOG
ARCPLEASESIR
RUNSACROSSDAME
UPISHIATSUTAX
ETCCANTEENAGE
DOEANTHERSYES

I find big stacks to be visually stunning, but they can often require way too much gloop holding them together, leaving me feeling like I just ate a juicy steak which turned out to be full of gristle. MAS, the stack-master, does a nice job today of putting together four nice grid-spanners with using only OLEAN, SERI, ONE AT, and SSTS to bind them. That might seem like a lot to some, but as far as quad-stacks go, it's actually pretty good.

And although none of the grid-spanners are unbelievably sizzling, SALES ASSISTANTS sure gets a beautiful clue to help it sing. [Counter intelligence?] is so clever, referring to a person working a sales counter.

All the answers are falling into place ...

I also appreciated how much connectivity there is through the puzzle. A few weeks ago, Will made a comment about not accepting any more of a particular grid skeleton because of grid flow issues, and I wholeheartedly agree with that. Here, MAS does a great job of connecting the top, middle, and bottom thirds together with long answers. SONNETEERS and ENCOURAGED are a bit neutral for my taste, but CAR ANTENNA sure sings. TETRIS also plays a nice role in grid flow, plus it has a brilliant clue: [Fitting entertainment at an arcade?] refers to how a player must fit TETRIS blocks together.

I appreciate some Scrabbly letters in a puzzle, especially in one where the construction difficulties are so high. Three Xs and a J add a lot of color. Given all the Scrabbly goodness though, I might have preferred just two Xs, which would have reduced the type of XENO (prefix) and REXES (odd plural) entries. Normally those are too minor to even be mentioned, but since the middle quad-stack already requires a couple of gluey entries, I'd prefer to see the rest of the puzzle err on the side of cleanliness.

Overall, quite a nice construction which (unlike many triple- and quad-stacks) actually adheres to my themeless criteria. Roughly 11 assets - five liabilities + maybe three bonus points for visual impact = a quality themeless.

Sun 4/12/2015LOOK WHAT TURNED UP!
SWABGMCRPMRHETT
CHICAALOUOUIOEUVRE
HASATGUTBOMBSPAPAYA
IMHIPATHENASPECPIP
NAYHOMESANTIOCHETA
ONOOPENESCROWERROR
UTNEFENCEINSHOUT
SAWYERRAGAASPLINTY
USERAGERLAGOVEN
SPRATREPLETEPAGODAS
HIEARABSFONENAOLE
ICHOKEDFARMBOYLIEGE
PEPEITOOWEDAXED
LISTSAPBMEOWEDGARS
ACEITRUDOLPHCROC
LEACHCOLONSEBAYTLC
ACTECOTAGEBRAYSLAO
LAMTONESTALERPAYTV
ANALOGGOTOTOWNELATE
NOTIPSERATOESLOSER
DEEDSSLRNPRLEIS

Seven theme answers which "turn up," i.e. they become complete by reversing back into themselves. GLUTEN FREE B becomes GLUTEN FREE B(EER) when you hit B and bounce back upward, thus completing the entry. NOW WHERE WER becomes NOW WHERE WER(E WE), DO EXACTLY AS I (SAY), etc.

What are your favorite GUT BOMBS? (I believe 50% of the "Big N' Tasty" name)

A relatively easy construction (as far as 140-word Sundays go), but finding theme answers was tricky. That is, until I dove back into the world of computer programming, spurred on by Bob Klahn and the needs of our CrosSynergy syndicate. It had been a few years since my last experience with Pascal and C++, so getting started again was quite a struggle. Turns out technology is vastly different from 15 years ago, dang it!

Wrenching myself away from my beloved arrays in favor of "lists" and "dictionaries" proved a bit puzzling, but now that I'm climbing my way up the learning curve, I'm finding Python to be more intuitive, akin to working on a Mac vs. a PC. It's pretty cool to be able to write code to find "all words whose last three letters reversed match the previous three letters" or similar such query.

All in all though, programming is just another tool, in the same way that a Crossword Compiler, or Excel, or even a computer is a tool. Finding that FREE B(EER) and ONE TO (TEN) fit my criteria was a good start, but FREEB and ONETO were much too short to use as themers. Good thing a close friend of mine is on a quest to find decent GLUTEN FREE B(EER)! He and I have done many taste tests, and ON A SCALE FROM ONE TO (TEN), most of them rate about a negative four hundred and twenty nine.

Mon 4/13/2015
SLEEPSSOONBUS
YELLOWSUBMARINE
SHESLEAVINGHOME
TIMEAUSSIETAS
GRRQUANT
BRAVASALBUM
MURALUVULAFAB
WHENIMSIXTYFOUR
SRALISLELORRY
TERRAGERMAN
ANCHOIRS
LBARAMINOMINE
PAPERBACKWRITER
HERECOMESTHESUN
ARIAYESHONORS

Debut! And what a debut. Jim and I had many discussions about this one, that fact alone making it a successful puzzle. Five Beatles songs — all 15 letters long — given a wacky interpretation, plus a kicker, the FOUR of WHEN IM SIXTY FOUR combined to form the FAB FOUR. Very cool idea.

Four grid-spanners are hard enough to do. I've commented many times on all the difficulties that arise with so many down entries that must interact with two or more grid-spanners. Including FIVE of them, two pairs each double-stacked, is an order of magnitude more difficult. It certainly provides a neat visual impact, akin to wide-open themeless puzzles. Amusing that this puzzle reminded me of another one, which just happened to have a double-stacked pair of grid-spanners ending in ALEX!

Avila is apparently the "Town of Stones and Saints"

As Will mentioned, there are some compromises that the stacks force. For me, it was only really noticeable in the SE and NW corners where there's a concentration of gluey answers. And as to "Monday-like" answers, I think most anything is fair game — if the crossings are gettable. I LOVE the entry QUANT, for example, as it's both a memorable piece of finance lingo and inferable just by itself (it's slang for a "quantitative person").

LISLE crossing AVILA might be fair game in a themeless, but more a source of grumbling on a Monday.

This puzzle will likely play super strongly to the generation that grew up with the Beatles. I can certainly appreciate all the great feelings — it's like what the Simpsons or Monty Python do for me. Personally, not knowing SHES LEAVING HOME made me wonder if it would have been better to have just four themers (which would go along with FAB FOUR!), but I'm sure this song plays as well as the others to Beatles fans like Jim.

Memorable first puzzle; hoping to see more from Alex.

Tue 4/14/2015
GAGAAIRESTEES
AGESGRETARATE
THATSGREATISHE
EARHIESTASTER
SIEGTITTERS
STRESSSIGHER
HEATHSETHSEEG
ARTIEIGHTAGRI
HATRAREESSGTS
ERASERGETSET
STREETSTITI
TERESAHARTAHS
ERISSTARTERSET
TREEIRISHATRA
SIRSAEGISGREG

Jim and I had another interesting discussion, comparing this puzzle's level of innovation to that of yesterday's. I like stunt puzzles once in a while, and I especially like them when they break completely new ground, or at least push puzzledom in a way that I hadn't quite imagined.

Obligatory ridiculously cute pic of a rat terrier puppy

Super, super tough to only work with EIGHT letters within a single grid. It's fairly easy to set up, requiring just a simple program to eliminate words from one's list containing the letters to be excluded. What's much more difficult is how to set up one's grid skeleton in order to take advantage of long entries that are still allowable. Bruce did a great job of featuring these marquee answers — STARTER SET, EASTER EGGS, RAT TERRIER, THAT'S GREAT are all snappy.

It's so difficult to avoid gluey bits with this sort of stunt. All puzzles contain some sort of trade-offs, and this one is on the far extreme, a crazy-hard constraint requiring a large number of crunchier entries. I'm sure there will be a lot of debate as to whether it was worth it.

Having a more impactful revealer would have been really nice. Something akin to ONLY YOU for a puzzle with only Us as vowels (never mind the O in ONLY. Ahem.) ties a stunt puzzle together nicely. Perhaps if FOUR were the revealer, and the puzzle used only the letters F, O, U, R? EIGHT by itself felt a bit arbitrary, as did the selection of what other three letters were to be used.

Because the idea is more of an improvement than an innovation, it felt like the stunt didn't pack quite the punch of yesterday's puzzle. But I appreciate Bruce's pushing of the envelope.

ADDED NOTE: Astute reader Andy Lin wrote in, saying that people who don't like today's puzzle ought to be called HAIGHTERS. Could have fit as a secondary revealer!

Wed 4/15/2015
LEFTJABJOLIET
ALLYALLMADEMAD
GIORGIOONEOFUS
SAGAGIRDUP
NBATAJMAHAL
BUTTERFLYRARE
AMOGAELMADMEN
SOTHEBYBADSPOT
SKEETSHERDELI
EARLBILATERAL
SYMMETRYTOA
STAYATRAGE
CHALUPAILLWILL
DINEDINDOSIDOS
SPAYERENDGAME

I had to look up BILATERAL / SYMMETRY, wondering if it really described entries like MADEMAD (MAD is identical on either side of the middle E). To Joel's point, wouldn't MADEDAM be more descriptive of BILATERAL SYMMETRY? According to one dictionary, though:

BILATERAL SYMMETRY: the property of being divisible into symmetrical halves on either side of a unique plane.

Fair enough!

It did confuse me a bit that BUTTERFLY and TAJ MAHAL, while also adhering to BILATERAL SYMMETRY, don't seem consistent with MADEMAD. It did make me imagine what a BUTTERFLY with one wing flipped would look like, i.e. the outer edge of one wing attached to its body. Kooky.

Aside from my OCD wonderings, another solid construction from Joel. During a fun chat at the ACPT, I really appreciated hearing his perspective about variety in shorter answers. Especially for every-day puzzlers, it's cool to see less-often used entries like BAD SPOT, UM OKAY, MAD MEN and even BRYAN, which can be clued in so many different ways. I like the fresh feel of Joel's grids. (I didn't notice the "dupe" of MAD until Joel mentioned it, and I agree with him that it doesn't matter.)

Joliet Jake on the right

I did feel like it was odd that some seven-letter across answers — especially ONEOFUS and CHALUPA — weren't themers. Similarly, I originally missed that GIORGIO was a themer. Maybe shading instead of clue starring would have helped. Or, placing the themers so that they were bilaterally symmetric in the grid (using left-right mirror symmetry) would have been particularly nice.

Finally, some great clues:

  • [Passing concerns …] aren't transitory worries, but concerns for NFL QBs = TDS.
  • [Kings are part of it …] has nothing to do with the Bible or history, but the NBA's Sacramento Kings.
  • Chemistry! I know some solvers pull their hair out when seeing organic chemistry nomenclature, but I personally love it. Not that I know the structure of LSD off the top of my head, but it's fun to reason out what it possibly could be.
  • As a huge Blues Brothers fan, I ignored the given clue and pretended it was [___ Jake, the best of Belushi's many awesome roles].
Thu 4/16/2015
PETERRATAASHY
TARSIEDUCFEUD
ASIANLITELEGS
YOUGOYOURWAY
LBOSBECAME
DIVEINPIELAN
PETITEBACKWARD
ESSEMOMATTA
DRAWKCABBATEHT
AEBWARTESTRA
LERUALAELP
ENIMOGLLIDNA
AJEDENALRUOCS
DOZISUPOIKAHK
SEEDTSENNEMEY

Great revealer, YOU GO YOUR WAY … ENIM OG LLI DNA. Er, AND ILL GO MINE. We've seen plenty of BACKWARD-style puzzles, enough that I cringe at the thought of having to fix up all the answers so that our database of entries is kept clean, but I can't remember a revealer I've liked so much. Spot on.

Nice touch on ESSE and MOM and ATTA across the center too. Perfect for symmetry, as the center row could arguably be included in either the top or the bottom half. Best to make those entries so they could fit with either.

And what an impressively clean construction. This sort of stunt puzzle can be awfully tough — without autofill as a tool to tell you if a section can be theoretically filled or not, the construction requires more of a letter-by-letter approach. I was surprised that I couldn't find much of anything to point out as glue.

Henry Kravis of the famous LBO firm, KKR

Perhaps some may grouse at LBOS, especially crossing OBIE, but I think it's not only fair game but desirable. LBOS (leveraged buyouts) aren't as huge today as during the late 20th century buyout boom, but I find it to be important enough that educated solvers really ought to know it.

I often suggest to constructors that less is more. Many of them can't get their head around that idea. Why not put as much themage in as possible, right? I appreciate Joe's thoughtful approach toward fairness, but I felt like BACKWARD gave away the game too early and easily. I would have given this the Puzzle of the Week based on the awesome revealer alone, but the double BACKWARD took away from the a-ha moment for me.

Still, a very impressive construction on a tough set of constraints; clean as a whistle.

Fri 4/17/2015
GNAWHIMOMCERT
ROSAOCULIILIE
OFTHESAMESTRIPE
SURNTHSTARZAN
SNOWDENSERIA
KRISSTROBAG
CLEANSWEEPRENO
HOOPTAXERETNA
OAFSWHERESTHAT
OMGBIOSSLAW
ECONOTIEGAME
NANOOKBEDERAS
ONINTIMATETERMS
STUDEFRONMEME
ESSOSAINTONYX

ML's first solo themeless! Unusual layout, featuring six grid-spanners, laid out in a criss-cross style. This type of arrangement is tough to execute on cleanly, as every region around two crossing grid-spanners becomes highly constrained. And given that there are eight such intersections, which means that the entire puzzle faces tough constraints all over.

WAHOO! ML does quite well in smoothing out the short stuff holding the puzzle together. There's been some Facebook chatter about STRO, but I think it's a reasonable enough answer, especially for those fans in Houston. I imagine people not in Seattle would think I'm crazy for clueing THEMS as [Seattle's MLB team] = THE M'S, but it's super common here.

The "Venerable Bede" (sigh, all the great nicknames are already taken)

Really the only place I found tough was the south. I liked learning a tidbit about SAINT BEDE — the cross-reference works well because the answers are so close to each other — but not being familiar with BARI as an Italian port made the B a guess for me. There's an argument to be made that as an educated solver, I really ought to have known one of them. Grumble grumble, fine!

Ah, there was the KRIS KROS crisscross. KRIS felt much more like a real name of course, but END ON felt much more apt than END IN for [Finish with]. Darn my gullibility when it comes to B-list celebs!

Finally, A STROKE OF GENIUS regarding A STROKE OF GENIUS. Themelesses featuring grid-spanners rely on the long entries to be stellar, since there usually isn't much else of note besides them. Not only is A STROKE OF GENIUS fantastic in itself, but it's a devious trap. All the first letters were clued so easily that I quickly had ASTRO- as a start. So of course, [Something that's brilliant] had to be some sort of ASTRONOMICAL phenomenon, right? Just loved this trap, set up and sprung so fiendishly for a unique a-ha moment.

Hoping to see more of ML's byline on themelesses, and more diversity within themeless constructors in general. It would have never occurred to me to feature ELIZABETH WARREN or KROS — aaugh, KRIS! Kardashian — for example, so I like getting into the mind of someone who thinks very differently from me.

POW Sat 4/18/2015
TRODCABOEFILE
RAKEANALDIDOK
ICECOLDBEVERAGE
BELIEVEYOUME
ARYDIASLAPDOG
LSDINNINGLINA
OOPTEAPARTY
ECKHARTCRACKOS
THECLASHNED
RELOIROBOTINS
ETYMONWOREGOA
ELEANORRIGBY
SOUNDSLIKEAPLAN
OTTOIACERSELA
LOEWEREMYORLY

★ Along with others from this past week, this puzzle brings out the differences Jim and I have around puzzles. Monday's puzzle sizzled for Jim since it brought back great Beatles memories and feelings for him. Not as much for me, as I appreciate the Beatles more from a historical perspective.

Young Ned having his mind warped by beatnik parents

The Simpsons trigger something primal in me, a reminiscence of great times as a kid, seeing this ground-breaking cartoon series emerge and evolve. Seeing NED and OKELY DOKELY really did it for me — NED is a wonderfully tragic, complex character who started as a Bible-thumping stereotype but who has now lost his wife, questioned his faith, and struggled with raising two young kids — but those answers couldn't possibly have done anything for a non-Simpsons watcher. This puzzle sang for me, but it's definitely not going to be everyone's POW choice.

So many aspects of this puzzle hit for me. With roughly 14 asset entries and 4 liabilities, it easily fits into my "what makes a good themeless" criteria. Sure, things like ARY undoubtedly take away from the solving experience, but when you pack in such stellar entries like ELEANOR RIGBY, BOOK EM, THE CLASH, BELIEVE YOU ME and the marketing blooper Graham CRACKOS, I say OH COME NOW! The tradeoffs are more than worth it.

And the cluing. BABYSIT by itself is a ho-hum answer, but a great clue can turn a neutral entry into an asset. [It's easy to do for an angel] had to be FLY or HAUNT PEOPLE AND TORTURE THEM FOR THEIR MISDEEDS, right? Nope, the "angel" refers to an angel child, one easy to watch over.

[Quick move?] nicely uses the convention of "shortly" or "quick" or "in brief" to denote an abbreviation or shortening.

[Step on a scale] avoids the giveaway question mark, referring to a step on the musical scale, not stepping on a physical scale.

I recognize that the specificity of the grid entries isn't great for a huge audience with broad tastes, but man oh man was it spot-on for me. Nice to have the huge variety in constructors — if you don't like today's, it's likely you'll enjoy tomorrow's or that of the day after.

Sun 4/19/2015DOUBLE DOWN
CHEAPMKTCHINTHIGH
EATSALONEWHAMOHOSEA
DIRTYINENHEARTARMING
EGERFREERANGEROOSTS
ASTOTETEALBEE
URIHEELSAYIDORIFT
SOMMERAJAMNYUKENDO
ATPAREBONIESARCSIN
GOODATUREDFINALOTICE
ERRORALSSNIPBUN
STRAYEDPRESSUP
QUMKOANSAPORALF
LAUNCHARTYEVENINGTAR
ALONSORESEEDSBEIGE
ROTITITIESSARATOUT
DEANBAABAATREENES
GORENASWEEARL
MIKADOTACOSALADATRA
STATIONAGONPAPERRAIL
ROYALIRONSOVERACTED
PROBETANSEARGHANA

C.C. and Don's Sunday debut! And what a devious idea, a rebus variant that I haven't quite seen before. There have been ones which require you to read the rebus answers twice (in different ways), some where the double letter rebuses were used to double both across and down answers, and many that require reading rebus squares differently across vs. down, but I can't remember anything quite like this.

Venus, the EVENING STAR

How to even describe it? Six-letter answers where letters #1 and #2 are identical to letters #4 and #5, i.e. PAYPAL, shown in the grid as PAYL. Perfect title, DOUBLE DOWN, describing the method in which those theme answers must be interpreted. It's tough enough to find a symmetrical set of themers answers that work, so it's impressive that Don and C.C. found such colorful ones as LAUNCH PARTY and PAPER TRAIL and EVENING STAR. HEART WARMING indeed.

As I've mentioned many times, puzzles using crossing themers are tough to fill. This one is even more difficult, because there's very little flexibility in choosing the three-letter answers. With less ambitious ideas, the constructor can often change what the crossing answer is, thus easing the way for smoother fill when necessary. Not so much here, as the entire grid is built around specific placements, i.e. the pair of DIRTY LINEN and PA(YL) are fixed into place like concrete. Alternates for DIRTY LINEN do exist (isn't DIRTY LAUNDRY much more common?), but there aren't many.

So, not a surprise to see that the gluiest bits came around those intersections. Wasn't sure what an AGON was for example, but I as I was solving, I was prepared to encounter that sort of oddball thing around the thematic crossings. ARB will get similar grumbling from some, but I actually love this particular answer. It makes me think about big-headed finance guys brag about driving their ARBs and QUANTs in order to pull off some crazy LBO. (And I smile when the deal fails miserably.)

I would have liked TACO SALAD and FREE RANGE to not be as long as DIRT(YL)INEN and PAPE(RT)RAIL, especially given the difficulty of sussing out the theme. Took me well over twice as long as usual to solve.

Very neat idea, excellent a-ha moment when I (finally) caught on. Definitely some compromises in filling, but some of it's to be expected given the construction's difficulty level.

Mon 4/20/2015
TSKTSKPLOYCBS
APIECEHEROOUT
JANEANDDICKUNE
LYEEASYA
MARYANDWILLIAM
MODETOADINNS
TOUSLEWRAP
GRETELANDHANSEL
GILTOTOOLE
OREOOBOEAMMO
JULIETANDROMEO
INALLGAH
BLTLADIESFIRST
WOEECONPURINA
AWSNECKSNAPON

Sleipnir, Odin's steed Fun start to the week, LADIES FIRST applied to common "(man) AND (woman)" phrases for a role reversal. Nice construction too, very little glue required — keeping a five-themer puzzle to just MTG is impressive.

What I liked the best about this one was some of the unusual cluing. It's tough to come up with fresh clues for 3-, 4-, and 5-letter words that have been used hundreds of times before. But several stand out today:

  • "Mr. Jock, TV quiz Ph.D., bags few lynx" is a new pangram to me. Bizarrely fun.
  • Somewhere in the back of my head, I knew that Odin's steed had an unusual quality. Eight legs!
  • I would have sworn OPEC's O stood for OIL. (It's actually "Organization.") Great way to add sizzle to an otherwise neutral word.

Now that's one awesome tribal symbol!

A few weeks ago, Joel suggested to me that I could better use 5-7 letter entries for flavor. This puzzle is a good example of that. It's not often you see OJIBWA in a puzzle due to its J and weird consonant pattern. Paul BUNYAN doesn't get a lot of play. Even COUSIN is relatively rare within crosswords.

The six-letter entries often get underutilized. Every crossword depends on the short stuff to hold a grid together, and most constructors lean heavily on 8+ letter entries for color. The 6-7 letter entries are a potential gold mine.

Finally, I understand the desire to make a Monday puzzle as accessible to novice solvers, but I think the "(hint: 59-Across") takes away from the whimsy of the theme. I would have liked solvers to be given more credit for their ability to hold out until the revealer to figure out what's going on.

Then again, Doug Peterson told me a few weeks ago that many solvers often give up if they can't figure out … 1-Across. Such a difficult tightrope act, balancing cleverness with simplicity.

Tue 4/21/2015
GPASUPPERLEO
AIREDMACROEXC
SATURDAYSABBATH
IRAISESONAR
SESAMESEEDLINE
MOTTSTREPENTS
UNECLAMOR
SIMPLESIMON
CDRATEAPU
CASHIEROUTGUN
ALTISOLIDSOUTH
ELANDEMOTER
SURGESUPPRESSOR
ADEMUSEENIKON
REDSNARLNIPS

At first I was underwhelmed by the S S concept. Super easy to find two-word phrases that fit this pattern, right? But I've been down this road before, missing the additional layer. I had to really scratch my head before realizing that Gerry incorporates a second level, the second vowel of each theme pair being A E I O U, in that order. Much harder to do.

But really, is it THAT hard? I was curious, so I searched for possible alternates for the middle SI* SI* entry. After 15 minutes of searching, the only other good ones I could find were SIX SIGMA and SINGLE SIDED. I love SIX SIGMA because it relates to so many things that interest me: statistics, quality control, and manufacturing. But it doesn't work as a central answer, because of its even-numbered length. You could enlarge the grid from 15 to 16 columns in order to accommodate, but I think enlarging a grid ought to be reserved for must-need cases only.

Apparently Nagurski also played the flute

I liked much of the longer fill. Although I didn't remember who he was, Bronko NAGURSKI is an interesting figure in football history with a colorful name. Sheryl Sandberg's LEAN IN was on the non-fiction bestseller list. I CHING and ARTISTES are nice too.

Very difficult construction, a low word count (72) featuring a lot of mid-length material. Cleanliness does not come easily on this type of layout. Been a long time since I've seen EXC … except? Exceptional? Exchequer? But aside from a handful of gluey bits, I liked a lot of the MOTT ST / BOLERO / OUTGUN fill.

It's too bad there's not a more explicit way of pointing out how the theme combines initialisms AND a vowel progression. Generally, I like giving solvers the opportunity to discover the cleverness in a puzzle themselves, but this is an example where I fear that many people will never see it.

Wed 4/22/2015
ATVCAMESAIDNO
PHIACEYTENORS
PEPDANEISAIAH
CREDITREPORT
MOONYHOLEPUNCH
IPODROLOTOPE
NAMECALLINGWAX
ROZAAS
HUBTRADINGPOST
EPICPOCOELMO
HIGHSCORESADAT
PAIRSOFCARDS
JOANNETRONAHA
UNPEGSHEADYUM
TOILETYELPSPY

Two of crossword's young guns team up for a two-fer today, theme answers which contain two words, each of which can precede CARD. This type of "both words can precede" theme sometimes results in tortured-sounding themers — it's a tough constraint to work with — so it's a good sign that I didn't pick up the gimmick until the very end. CREDIT REPORT, HOLE PUNCH, NAME CALLING, TRADING POST, and HIGH SCORE are all fairly colorful entries.

A book featuring 80s and 90s video games and movies? HIGH SCORE! (It's an awesome book.)

I also enjoyed getting a younger vibe to the puzzle, executed in a manner accessible to not just Alex and Sam's generation. VIP ROOM is great fill, and although it's something I'd doubtful ever get access to in real life, it was immediately understandable. CADDY clued as the nickname for Cadillac was nice, too. And ["Oh puh-leeze!" facial expression] for EYEROLL made me long for the (good) OLD DAYS. (In a good way, I promise.)

It was a curious SMASH-UP of cool entries like BIG PAPI and ones that didn't quite hit home for me. DO IT NOW felt a bit contrived, and the outdated ROZ / RAZR felt like something us 40-somethings would put into a puzzle. ACEY is something I usually try to avoid because it can really only be clued in one way. And in a puzzle about cards, it threw me off, making me wonder if it was part of the theme somehow.

Speaking of that, although I liked the implied phrases of CREDIT (card), PUNCH (card), CALLING (card), etc., I found it odd that HOLE (card) and HIGH (card) were related to the revealer, while the others were not. Felt like there was untapped potential somehow, perhaps to use those in a way so the puzzle ended with a bigger bang than PAIR OF CARDS, which sounds like a dictionary definition.

Overall, a good amount of nice material on a tough construction. As Alex mentioned, ending with a 12-letter entry creates all sorts of difficulties. I particularly liked the creativity in where they placed PAIRS OF CARDS; unusual.

Thu 4/23/2015
PUMPSEPICMAZE
SNAILAIDEALAS
YOUCANTTELLPUNS
NAMESALEMTA
ERAMAAMMORNAY
TOKLEPTOMANIACS
CLEARDATES
HEAPHEINEKELP
CREWSSINAI
BECAUSETHEYTAKE
ASITISEARNMED
TCMNOBSIEGE
THINGSLITERALLY
LENOHEREGEESE
EROSYUANYARDS

Ah, the quip puzzle. A great quote puzzle must be 1.) funny / whimsical and 2.) grammatically untortured. The first criteria is so subjective, but the second is much less so.

Especially when making up your own quip, it's too easy to add an extra "the" or pluralize a word to make the crossword symmetry work. I appreciate how nicely this quote flows. It also breaks up pretty nicely, skipping to the next line when a semi-natural break occurs. That's tough to do and still adhere to regular crossword symmetry.

I still don't understand why it's "juicy" but I'll play along

I found the solve tougher than a usual Thursday, since 1.) you have to solve a quip puzzle with only the downs at first and 2.) the downs were full of esoteric names. I was super thankful of my pharma background, as I entered ZYRTEC just off the T. Then I was super grumpy when I realized ZYRTEC is an allergy medicine. D'oh! Toward the end, CIMINO obscured the starts of parts 3 and 4 of the quip, making the puzzle very difficult for me. I am glad to learn more about a film director I really should have known anyway.

Some really nice clues:

  • SYNERGY always makes me laugh, as it's one of those terms MBAs toss around. (Not just stereotypically, unfortunately.) So I got a chuckle when I saw [Hoped-for collaboration result].
  • The syntax on [Way-out challenge?] felt a bit off, but it's a fun way to get at getting out of a MAZE.
  • MODISTE is such a fun, artsy word, and the [Couturier] clue gave me a nice challenge. Those JUICY COUTURE sweat suits apparently have infiltrated my psyche, darn it.
  • At the ACPT, Will slyly mentioned that David tends to work in a lot of 18-year old teenage boy material. He recently committed to my alma mater, and I wish him many hot DATES. Hopefully that part of Stanford campus life has changed since I was there. Yes, it must have been the campus culture of non-dating. Couldn't have been me.
Fri 4/24/2015
CATALPAPOLYSCI
TURNEDTHEHEATON
STINKSTANKSTUNK
CONESERMASCDS
AMISONKEYSKIT
NATLADENLETME
STRESSEDVETOER
IODATECANTON
OCTETSCONTENTS
AWOLSDAMESESE
RELSFAVESPSAS
LAUKINERMARIA
OPENTOCRITICISM
CONFERENCETABLE
KNELLEDAMASSES

Joe is one of a very small handful of constructors who seriously pushes boundaries. Like many of his other experiments, the direction of today's puzzle will awe some and cause eye-rolling in others.

It's hard enough to construct an entertaining 64-word puzzle. Getting down to so few words often comes with compromises, like excessive gluey bits that detract from the solving experience. Often, I use "cheater squares," i.e. extra black squares which don't affect a puzzle's word count, in order to smooth things out.

Joe goes the opposite way today, using a near-record-low number of black squares. There have only been four NYT puzzles using fewer blocks, three of them written by … Joe Krozel. They all come with a big visual impact, a how-the-heck-is-that-possible kind of first impression. I mean, look at all the white space!

All of Joe's efforts in this arena use four pairs of intersecting double-stacked 15s. Joe mentioned to me that you get a lot of flexibility when you only have to worry about letter pairs (as opposed to letter triplets, in triple-stacks), and that's why he relies on this basic skeleton.

I was impressed at how nice the grid-spanners were. There's a danger that a constructor will be happy that they just got the dang grid filled, period. But Joe features such great stuff as STINK STANK STUNK!, AUTOMATIC WEAPON, and STUCK TO ONES RIBS. CONFERENCE TABLE feels a bit off without "room" in the middle of the phrases, but it's still a reasonable answer.

Sure, there are compromises in the shorter entries. It's impossible not to notice. (I guessed wrong on the FIORE / KINER crossing, and that was very unsatisfying.) I wouldn't want a construction like this every week, or even once a month, but every once in a while, I really enjoy the amazement of seeing a constructor pull off something I'm not sure I could do. I'm really curious to see the next step in this evolution — can a similar feat be pulled off with less than the maximum number of gluey entries I usually like in a themeless (around 5)? My money's on Joe.

Sat 4/25/2015
SKRILLEXORDERS
THEDOORSFORNOW
RADIOERAFOODIE
OKDTWANGFONDA
VIIIENDEDPORT
ESTOPDONORTAB
NRASTRATEGO
SOVIETSSAMESEX
CHOCOLATGBS
AYNPANAMOTTER
PENASALADSOTS
USERSALLOTMIT
LIGETIYOURCALL
ADUNITUNBEATEN
ROTARYPETEROSE
POW Sun 4/26/2015WHICH IS WISH
SUBURBSCALEDBRIDES
AVENUEORSINOGRANITE
GULPEDLASTDISHEFFORT
ALOESTAVELOAORES
LAWNSHARESPLASTER
SEEKSHEEPTHRILLS
BCCWEEKETAETAIL
YOUBETTERWASHOUTNSA
GATEDHYOIDPLASMATV
UTESCATSRANCHO
MIXANDMASHKARATESHOP
FORESTALITHIFI
FINETUNETUNICMETUP
ONEMUSHTOMYSURPRISE
AGAINAIMTREETED
MARSHMADNESSLAGS
OLEMISSPOKERSHIPS
ROLLTENAZUREOKRA
SHEAFINSPECTORNOWNOW
VITTLESIMPENDDAMONE
POSEURPURSESSKEWED

★ I love recognizing puzzles that I think are outstanding — great fun to gush about something I really enjoy. Identifying a Puzzle of the Week makes me very happy, and I make a conscious effort to spread out the POW!s to different constructors. Patrick makes this so hard, since most of his puzzles are very good to fantastic.

No. 617 Squadron RAF, aka the Dambusters

I find simple sound change puzzles — "ch" to "sh" today — difficult to gush over; just personal preference. But during my solve I kept on noting great things. And in the end, I found it impossible not to give him the POW. It's easy to wow me with a lively themeless or a kooky Thursday, but to make me say I loved a basic sound change puzzle is a near miracle.

Here are the notes I took during my solve:

  1. Ooh, Patrick Berry!
  2. The title ... oh no, I hope it's not just a simple sound change puzzle.
  3. Patrick used a LOT of cheater squares in this puzzle. He's usually not shy about deploying them — and I totally agree with that — but eight cheaters is a lot. It makes the grid uglyish.
  4. Wait. This is a 136-word Sunday puzzle? Surely that means Patrick's going to require a few more compromises in his fill than usual (that is, more than zero).
  5. [Indicator of freshness?] = SLAP. Fun and funny! Quintessential Berry-type cluing.
  6. Neat trivia for RAF. "Dambusters" = a great nickname.
  7. [Dead man walking?] for GHOST is fantastic.
  8. No wait! [Compact containers] made me think of mini-Tupperware. But PURSES are "containers holding women's compacts." Brilliant!
  9. Uh oh, uncovering my first themer. SHEEP THRILLS ... hey! That's actually funny.
  10. Next themer. MUSH TO MY SURPRISE ... that's hilarious!
  11. MOSHER … it is in the dictionary, but I've never heard anyone use it. Still, it's the only iffy entry in the grid.
  12. VITTLES / POSEUR along with LETS / ROLL! = a fantastic corner.
  13. Look how much excellent mid-length (6 or 7-letter) fill Patrick used! BE SAFE, NOW NOW, TAKETH, IN FOR IT. That's great bonus material.

Sorry, other constructors this week. Making a puzzle easy enough to play to a wide crowd AND interesting/funny enough to entertain veteran solvers is really impressive.

Mon 4/27/2015
BLEWDOITHASH
VOLESORTAOHIO
DUMBSTRUCKOOZE
STSIREHECKYES
TRAMTIA
KICKEDINTHEHEAD
NORTEORALCPR
AWESGOTATMOTO
CADOREOCANTO
KNOCKEDFORALOOP
ARENOPE
STREAKSEARSHE
FROSGOBSMACKED
PETAOASESHERD
DEERDRACAWAY

Synonyms for [Left speechless]; DUMBSTRUCK and GOBSMACKED are really lively words. I hadn't heard of KICKED IN THE HEAD in this sense, but apparently it was a phrase that came into widespread use back in Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.'s day. Nice throwback.

For me, BLEW AWAY and KNOCKED FOR A LOOP weren't as colorful as the others, as they both felt slightly off — BLOWN AWAY and THROWN FOR A LOOP, yeah? If only the latter options has worked for crossword symmetry.

Egyptian hookah

People often ask me what I mean by "colorful." It's a completely subjective term, but for me, Johanna's upper right corner exemplifies the word. TAKE THAT! / HOOKAH / HECK YES! are all entries I'd be happy to see in a themelesses. They're fun to say, and they evoke vivid images in my mind. (Although smoking flavored tobacco out of a HOOKAH was much more fun in idea than in taste. And aftertaste.)

That corner also exemplifies the Constructor's Dilemma. On one side of the spectrum, you can make part of your grid perfectly smooth, but it comes out with no zing. On the other side, you can jam-pack it with great material, but that usually requires some gluey entries to hold it together. Is all the great fill up there worth TRA and CIEL/TIA crossing? I think so, but there's merit to the argument that the intersection of two foreign words — one requiring a pretty good background in French — isn't desirable.

Finally, really nice job with filling the west and east sections. Typically those are the hardest spots to get smooth in this configuration (two 15-letter entries in the middle of the grid). Having three consecutive down answers that intersect two themers, i.e. 25-D, 26-D, 27-D, is tough. Excellent work to escape both areas with only an ECONO prefix.

Tue 4/28/2015
CBCDOGOODSTP
TOAEGOTRIPPOO
ROBEROSIVEIRT
BORDENSAGETEA
TOOTSTRISBART
ROSEFOOTMETOO
USECLUBSOR
SQUAREROOTS
USBROAREPA
SNOOPSTOPATOR
TORTDEAFPILOT
ROPEDINTREMOR
UGHPETDOOROTT
CIASTROPHESAN
KENSASSESEXT

Ambitious effort, packing in a whopping 14 instances of SQUARE ROOTS, i.e. the letters R O O T arranged into squares. Each one of these appearances constrains the grid by reducing one's flexibility in the intersecting across and down answers. So to have 14 — some of them right next to each other! — is audacious indeed.

Just to get a grid like this filled is pretty impressive (from a constructor's standpoint), so I really appreciated José's incorporation of some nice entries. CABOOSES is already a pretty colorful word, and the clue is genius. [Ones back on track?] refers to that fact that CABOOSES are the last cars on trains. And PET DOOR is a beauty of an answer, especially considering 7-letter entries often come out neutral or blah. Loved the funny [What a dog might raise a flap about?] clue.

Going out for a while, BRB

I found the visual impact of the circles (on the Across Lite version) overwhelming, a bit like staring at a flashing neon sign in Vegas or staring into the sun. The shaded squares as seen in print (and below) are so much nicer — all those spots before my eyes felt jarring; making it difficult to simply enter letters.

It would have been great to have a rationale for 14 instances. I think I would have been more pleased if it had been nine instances, sort of spaced out in a 3x3 array. Although the number nine isn't special (in that every integer is the square root of something), a 3x3 grid feels more like it fits the theme concept.

Having fewer instances would have also allowed for cleaner fill. I really like the creativity of … OR IS IT? but the combination of so many three-letter words and quite a bit of gluey entries made for a choppy solve.

All in all though, it's hard to argue with a crossword involving a GOON TOUR.

POW Wed 4/29/2015
ACHSBFLATUSED
NOAHREESETIVO
DONAERNIEIDES
RIGHTTRIANGLE
ONADATETINES
GROGTRAPEZOID
MUMOVOETNA
LOBPOLYGONEEK
IRASAAARED
RECTANGLECOVE
ROKERLARGELY
PARALLELOGRAM
CHARWAIVEOTIC
REINODDERNENA
OWNSLEANTEXES

★ Great concept. Jim and I often debate what's important in a crossword — he usually argues that the theme is by far and away the most important aspect, while I prefer a balance of theme and smooth execution. Today though, I agree with him. The theme tickled me so much that the few slight dings rolled off my back.

Lida Rose, I'm home again, Rose ...

Great idea to lay out a set of letters such that certain groupings form certain shapes — and regular words to boot! Geometry was my gateway drug into math and math puzzles, so seeing GEAR laid out as a PARALLELOGRAM and LEAK as the only RECTANGLE was really cool.

It would have been absolutely perfect if the letter set was a little tighter, for instance if ELK were the only RIGHT TRIANGLE that spelled a real word, or even if all RIGHT TRIANGLES (like ARK and LEG and GEL) had been pointed out. POLYGON is a neat catch-all, but it would have been even neater if it pointed out only the shapes which didn't fall into the other classes. Kind of strange that ELK was pointed out in two places, while KEG was ignored.

Loved these clues:

  • [Find (out)] makes FERRET such a fun entry. The animal itself is cute and interesting, but FERRET OUT is a vivid term.
  • LOB is slang for an [Easy question]. GRAPEFRUIT is even better, but I still like getting a LOB.
  • [Jet setting] confused the heck out of me, obscuring that NW corner. Beautiful a-ha to figure out that a HANGAR is a setting for many jets.

I could do without the creepy NECRO prefix in my puzzle, but getting DOGGONE and the bonus themer of VERTEX was worth it.

This puzzle interested me so much that it made me curious to dig deeper and study its execution. I love when that happens.

Thu 4/30/2015
CODEREDATTACHE
ORIGAMIGEISHAS
PIGGIESHANKERS
POEHLERBARERDA
ELSEROESSOW
RETARBLTSWEEP
DOWELOFLATE
AAHCADENCERAW
FREAKYHOKUM
TERMSEENDUETS
RCALIMPFLAT
TSKTHOREAUFAIR
ONESTOPTOPLINE
WARTIMEALDENTE
SPRUCESLOOSEST

Neat idea, double homonyms where one word is the name of a famous person. I was confused when I came up on CHER WEAR — I'm so oblivious to fashion that I tried to research what kind of clothing was in the CHERWEAR line — but eventually got a laugh out of the kooky themer. And my wife and I just finished most of "Parks and Recreation," so seeing POEHLER BARE was a hoot.

Interesting layout. Although it's only a 74-word puzzle, it has a themeless feel to it because of those huge NW and SE corners. So many colorful entries, i.e. CODE RED, ORIGAMI, PIGGIES all atop each other! Great bonus for a themed puzzle. I did hitch on RETAR and EMEER — I personally steer well clear of variants — but overall the NW corner was so fun that I found these gluey bits to be acceptable trade-offs.

Only silver conducts better than copper

Because CHER WEAR, POEHLER BARE, and BELLE HEIR are all near-perfect homonyms, it was jarring to uncover THOREAU FAIR. That phrase does bring up a funny image, so it succeeded for me in that way, but THOREAU and THOROUGH are pronounced so differently that it felt inelegant compared to the other themers. (Note: reports differ on how Thoreau actually pronounced his name, some saying it was actually quite close to "thorough.")

And then when I hit HERR KERR … not knowing the Galloping Gourmet, I had to work all the crossings, and expecting that the proper name would be at the start threw me off. Since all four others are two-word phrases with the name kicking them off, it would have felt so much more elegant if the fifth followed suit. Consistency is a thing of beauty.

Two beautiful clues, both nicely headlined at the top of the puzzle:

  • [Conductor of note] plays upon famous music conductors often being seen in crosswords. What a twist, to refer to a notable electrical conductor, COPPER.
  • [Case for a lawyer, maybe] has nothing to do with criminal law. Just an ATTACHE case he/she might being into a courtroom. Genius.