★ OMG so frustrating for a good solid 10 minutes! I could not figure out what was going on. I had things like HURRICANE ___, and knew it had to be some sort of rebus. But what? And was I really supposed to remember the names of various hurricanes, for goodness sakes?
Wow, did everything flip for me when I *finally* got it. HURRICANE SANDY got reimagined as HURRICANE S and Y, the crossing answer using just the SY to complete NOT AS EA(SY). Mind-bendingly clever! Sam does make some PANDA puzzles — P and A for Puns and Anagrams — so that should have nudged me toward the puzzle theme much earlier. D'oh!
Jim once mentioned that he loved themes that were necessary to understand to solve the puzzle. I sort of got what he meant, but that notion fully clicked for me today, unable to figure out SANDY until I grokked the theme. Very cool.
I would have thought that the very limiting constraint of "word must follow the X AND Y pattern" would have produced some boring themers. Not so! LANDO CALRISSIAN, PANDA EXPRESS, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY made me a KID IN A CANDY STORE. Wonderful job of uncovering so many great phrases while adhering to a tough constraint.
A couple of minor dings here and there, most notably the GMEN / YEAH MAN dupe (crossing each other, oof), but I didn't mind at all because I was so delighted by the innovative theme. (Sorry Sam, I'm with Will and Joel on the iffiness of RIGHT FIT.) Along with super solid execution — some nice COMO ESTA, LEMME SEE, GO STEADY, AVE MARIA bonuses, with a pretty small amount of ignorable TGI, ECTO, DECI gluey bits — it was a big winner for me. POW!
Tribute to PARIS, a listing of its famous landmarks. I visited Paris maybe 30 years ago — so much to see. THE LOUVRE and NOTRE DAME were amazing. I missed PONT NEUF, but apparently, it's quite beautiful as well.
It's hard to make a list puzzle stand out. More often than not, it comes across like reading a Wikipedia article — not super interesting. An extra level, whether it be theme tightness, a visual element, or a novel twist, can help it become memorable.
Tightness? That would be if there were a famous tourist term called "the five French landmarks," and all five were included. In today's puzzle, why PONT NEUF and not the ARC DE TRIOMPHE? Why the SORBONNE (without THE, like in THE LOUVRE, too) and not MONTMARTRE? These feel like arbitrary choices based solely on the need for crossword symmetry.
Visual element? Perhaps if the EIFFEL TOWEL had been oriented vertically? Or each monument was in the same geographical location as in a map of PARIS?
Novel twist? You tell me! Ideas?
I don't totally agree with Jason on the fill being solid. Granted, I have a very high bar for Monday puzzles. I think they need to be warm and welcoming to newcomers, allowing for a beautiful feeling of HELL YEAH, I CONQUERED A NYT CROSSWORD! Ultimately, everything in the grid is fair, but I can imagine newer solvers staring at FES, simultaneously at PONT NEUF, and wondering what the heck they had gotten themselves into.
SSR is a gluey bit I might move to "puzzle-killer" status. USSR, sure, but SSR feels like something constructors use when desperate. DES, ENE, ESTD, TOR are much more minor to me, but still, too much in one Monday puzzle. Yes, six themers is a feat, but a feat that usually comes with too many compromises.
Ending with just PARIS, instead of PARIS FRANCE, could have helped. Probably not many people thinking about Paris, Idaho after they uncover the EIFFEL TOWER.
But, I hope everyone gets a chance to see PARIS one day. I liked how the puzzle reminded me of my short time there.
Think fast! Er, THINK QUICKLY — Damon ends seven phrases with letter homophones spelling out Q U I C K L Y. I've seen many letter homophone puzzles before, but I can't remember this exact take. Enjoyable concept.
I put Damon in rarefied air these days, one of the few constructors with the skills to construct solid puzzles across the full range, from easy early-weekers to tough themelesses. Many people can develop the skills necessary to construct one type of puzzle but aren't able to successfully stretch themselves like Damon.
However, this Tuesday puzzle wasn't as smooth as I'd like. Any time you have to call upon ABOU early in the week is not so good. I don't mind some ALS / SYS or ERN, but toss in some toughies like YOST and LASSE, and the puzzle left me with an overall sense of esoterica.
Of course, it's super tough to work with eight (!) themers in a 15x15 puzzle. Even tougher when you have to work with the X and Q in NETFLIX QUEUE. And it's no surprise some of the quirkier answers like YOST crop up in between themers (MARY KAY / BUT WHY). Overall, I think it's a reasonable result given the very high theme density.
I wanted to give this one the POW! I enjoyed piecing together the letters, a delightful idea. If only THINK QUICKLY had been as snazzy a phrase as THINK FAST, or QUICK THINKING, I probably would have swept the grid glue under the rug and declared this the POW!
Also, with just Q U I C K in QUICK THINKING, the grid would probably have been a lot smoother.
Overall, a strong idea executed almost to POW! territory. But not quite.
★ Man, did I ever think Weird Al's songs (and name) were funny when I was a kid.
Heck, I still think they're hilarious and awesome! I'm jealous of Eric for getting the chance to work with the legend.
And what a fun concept they came up with, playing on "cheesy" movies, in an aptly Weird Al-esque way. Cheesy-related movie puns was a winner for me — big praise for someone tone-deaf when it comes to puns!
A FEW GOUDA MEN made me smile. Even more so when I thought of little yellow army men made of Gouda. FETA ATTRACTION … ever hear of the term "food porn"?
And imagining a movie where anthropomorphic blocks of Muenster tried to scare kids made me laugh too. Good stuff all around.
Extra fun in the cluing, too, a bunch of stuff that seemed as wacky as Weird Al himself. John CLEESE doing his "silly walks." (Much to my wife's chagrin, I still do them.) A TOUPEE = a rug you don't walk on. PEEL something you might slip on. It's a bit Weird Al, a bit Fozzie Bear, and a whole lot amusing.
A bit too much crossword glue for my taste, notably OSO feeling oh so globby, but some AFTS SRS AGRI REG isn't bad for a mid-week puzzle.
Overall, a satiric delight. I kind of wish Weird Al would write a crossword parody song and debut it IN A CROSSWORD the day before he released it. I call dibs on working with him if he takes on that idea!
I'm not a huge baseball fan, but I do enjoy the lingo. Some of David's takes on common baseball phrases amused me. And I liked his effort to tie them together into a story. What better way to end the puzzle than a GRAND SLAM HOME RUN?
I did wonder about TWO MEN OUT and DOWN BY THREE. The former — don't most announcers say "two away" or "two out"? It's been a while since I've been to a game, but TWO MEN OUT sounds suspiciously like an answer bulked up for crossword symmetry.
The latter — I get that it's a necessary part of the setup for the dramatic conclusion. It just felt arbitrary(ish). Yes, it's a common deficit, common enough that it's probably a fine themer. But I would be happy to see BOTTOM OF THE NINTH in any other crossword as fill; not so much for DOWN BY THREE.
Why not ALL TIED UP, leading to a WALK OFF HOME RUN? Both of those are fine phrases I'd use as fill in other crosswords. Much preferable for me. I know the lengths don't match — BOTTOM OF THE NINTH is 16 and WALK OFF HOME RUN is 14 — but perhaps a mirror symmetry arrangement could have worked.
Interesting grid design, slipping in two long horizontal pieces of fill. Love, love, love SAN ANDREAS and its clue. Something so fun about the puzzle saying IT'S CALIFORNIA'S FAULT! Not so hot on the symmetrical entry, AUDIO TAPES, as CASSETTE TAPES feels much more strongly in the language. But overall, I like that David didn't need to pay much of a price to bring these long bad boys into the grid. Good stuff.
I enjoyed the effort to do something a little different with a baseball theme. A couple of iffy themers, but since the grid was well executed, I found the experience mostly entertaining. Who doesn't like a good story capped by a dramatic finish?
I annoyed my Ultimate frisbee teammates so much back when "The Office" was on. (THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID was Michael Scott's catch phrase, something to say after "Looks like you're getting a big raise.") I grew out of that phase … well, I'm still in it. My wife and I say it to each other! Nice triple-stack anchor, although I can see why Will put on a "sophomoric" qualifier in the clue.
DO YOU WANT TO DANCE is a catchy song. It's too bad STAND IN GOOD STEAD is a little drier. Still, it's so tough to hit 3/3 snazzy long answers in a triple-stack.
Same goes for the top stack. HELICOPTER PARENT is evocative, as is A RUN FOR ONES MONEY. But don't most people call a DEPTH FINDER a DEPTH FINDER? Some research showed that SONIC DEPTH FINDER is indeed a real term, probably to distinguish it from other types of DEPTH FINDERs, I suppose?
Totally agreed with David, I appreciated LUNAR ROVER and EZ PASS LANE running through their stacks — those gave the puzzle more color. Triple-stack-focused puzzles often can be a bit dull outside the stacks, but these livened things up a lot.
WAR BABIES. "A child born in wartime, especially one fathered by a serviceman." Not sure why this makes me uncomfortable. No doubt a colorful term. Not sure I'd strive to use it in one of my own crosswords, though.
I thought I was going to be stumped in the west section. This mechanical engineer couldn't get his head around the idea that a SCREW was a [Thread holder]. I get that it was trying to misdirect toward some sort of spool. But I don't think the clue works without a question mark.
If only the question mark for the HELICOPTER PARENT had been moved to the SCREW clue. A HELICOPTER PARENT is pretty much exactly someone who cares too much, yeah? Why the qualifying "?"?
Not unusual to get a good glut of crossword glue holding triple-stacks together, TYRO ENDO PSF ENTR TOPE taping the top section alone. A few too many compromises for my taste overall, but still, enough color in the long entries to keep me satisfied.
ZENO'S PARADOX! When running a race, you must get halfway there. And then halfway of the remaining distance. And then halfway again. And so on … so it's impossible to actually finish.
My mind was blown when my dad told me this a kid. Blown!
I love it when themelesses have a couple of these standout entries, making them memorable. Nothing else quite hit that same mark for me — NBA DRAFT is great, but it's been used a couple of times now — but that's not a surprise in 68-word puzzles. So tough to get both sizzle and smoothness.
BEERGARITA came close. I'd never heard of it, but it's certainly inferable. Beer + margarita = refreshing drink, or completely disgusting? Maybe if I were younger ...
I've felt like some of Mark's puzzles, especially lower word-count ones, have contained a few iffy-sounding entries. Today, MENU PAGES didn't land for me, nor did TRAM ROUTES. In the end I convinced myself that they're both fine overall, but even then, they felt more workmanlike, filler that helped keep the puzzle together without having to resort to too much ONEA / HEWER type crossword glue.
I also wondered about FAIR DICE. Ultimately, I decided that it was a good entry. LOADED DICE feels much more like a colorful term (not-loaded dice are just called DICE). But the term FAIR DICE is certainly used in mathematical analyses.
A couple of toughies in PRECESS and TETANY. I love the former, as precession is a common phenomenon in physics. Yay, physics! But I can see how some solvers would give it the stink-eye — just like I did for TETANY. I thought that one was fair since it's related to tetanus … except that it's not! Huh.
Ultimately, a solid 68-worder, stuff like COFFEEMATE / IM NO EXPERT making it enjoyable. And a nice insider's nod to Diehl the dentist, OPENS WIDE with a great clue in [Prepares for a drill?]. This non-anti-dentite loved that one.
I've never seen spoonerisms done with three-word phrases. They were tricky for me to untangle, so here's the list of base phrases:
BEAK OF LAD STRUCK: streak of bad luck.
THE STUCK HOPS HERE: the buck stops here.
PALE HAIRY MASS: male perry hass. Er … hail mary pass.
TERROR OF BAD GLIDINGS: bearer of … glad tidings?
ROCK STAR CASES: my stupid brain keeps starting this one with "cock." Thankfully, it's actually stock car races.
THE FANTA TRAY SALE: the Santa Fe Trail.
HEAL FIGHT AT ROME: this took me forever, embarrassing since there are only five possible permutations remaining. Feel right at home.
The best spoonerisms are the ones where 1.) it's a snap to figure out what the person actually intended, and 2.) the spoonerized phrase is titillating, embarrassing the speaker.
Luckily, a few of these did snap right into place for me. Not so luckily, very few of the resulting phrases amused me. No surprise — it's so tough to find phrases that work this way, that it's a small miracle that Patrick was able to find these seven.
Even with a theme that wasn't on my wavelength, I always appreciate a Berry grid, silky smooth as usual. I can count on one hand the number of constructors who can create a Sunday 140-word grid with just some minor KTEL NEATH kind of stuff — way, way, way under the norm.
Highlight for me: the Shortz-era debut of PENAL CODE, with a brilliant clue, misdirecting to English class: [Rules for forming sentences]. Puzzle was worth doing for that alone.
Admit it, you had to look up ICMYI too. (In Case You Missed It.) I can only pretend to keep up with the new ACPT champ in pretty much every way. The Agardian Era is a wondrous new age for the crossworld!
I liked the extra level Erik applied to this "initialisms" theme. It's one thing to find a bunch of celebs whose initials are the same. It's another to tighten the pack by sticking to a subset — only movie stars. And a completely different thing to apply a perfect revealer, SILVER SCREEN hinting at silver's symbol on the periodic table, Ag. Very cool.
I think the sets of black squares look a little like a clapboard. Intended or not, it's a neat visual.
Erik's crosswords always have a fresh feel to them, going beyond the tried and true fill to introduce something new:
The stuff like HECK YES and THX was much more to this now-feeling-like-I'm-over-the-hill-solver's liking.
Neat theme concept, and I wanted so much to give Erik another POW! If 1.) the clapboard in the center had been truly clapboard-ish (the horizontal bars longer and more space between them), and 2.) the fill hadn't felt so foreign, it would have been an easy pick.
Okay, you all know the joke I'm going to make. But I'm still going to do it. Just hold on a sec while I analyze the puzzle.
I couldn't quite figure out what the theme was at first. The themers … start with the same sound? CY, SI, SCI, PSY? Oh, wait. SAY and CI also have this sound, in SAYONARA and CITATION? Okay, that's pretty interesting, how many ways the sound can be spelled.
Another cool element: I couldn't come up with any other entries that would fit, with a different spelling of that sound. There's PSI, but PSI OMEGA or something doesn't work in the same way, as PSI is a full word. So I appreciated the tightness of the theme, a full set of six.
But the grid execution …
(You couldn't expect me to resist that, could you?)
Way too much crossword glue. These days, a puzzle can't allow TENN ERN RIATA SDAK UKE ATRI anymore, unless it was all working for an incredible theme. What ADRAG, indeed.
Yes, it's tough to execute on six themers, all of them pretty long. But there are a lot of ways of executing on six themers that work much better.
Although I had to think about the theme a lot, it's a neat concept. (Or maybe because I had to think about it?) But the gridwork let the puzzle down.
There's a lot to admire in this audacious debut. As a classical music lover and former cellist, I loved the notion of "classical composers sounded out with single words." Here they are, in case you didn't bother to search for the individual elements:
ROWE + SCENE + KNEE = Rossini
PACK + ELLE + BELL = Pachelbel
SHOW + PAN = Chopin
BATE + HOE + VENN = Beethoven
Notice how all the pronunciations are pretty darn good. I didn't like Pachelbel at first, but I think I've been pronouncing his name wrong all these years — apparently, it is "Pack-el-bel," not "Pahk-el-bel." (Or maybe I'm too much of a joon pahk fan.)
Also, it's very cool that Keiran used almost all normal words. The only oddball was BATE. (I love Mike ROWE and "Dirty Jobs.") If only he'd found a way to work in BAIT, it would have been a perfect set.
Speaking of working things in, working in 11 extra pieces of theme? That's insane. I would have told him that it couldn't be done cleanly. I was wrong, as the fill is amazingly smooth for the level of difficulty. ABED, CIRC, DELE, HWY is about as much crossword glue as any other Wednesday puzzle, but the theme is MUCH harder to execute on than average.
As much as I appreciated the puzzle as a constructor, I didn't particularly enjoy the solving process. When Keiran showed me the concept way back when, I didn't bother to look up the individual words; felt like too much work. Same happened during my solve.
It's a shame that some people will piece together BARBER OF SEVILLE from the crossings, and not bother to find the playful homophones making up "Rossini."
I wonder if it would have been more enjoyable if the clue for BARBER OF SEVILLE had been [Composition by cigarette purchase + Vogue rival + Old AT&T symbol?]?
But overall, it's a rare debut that makes me think so much and probe my feelings. Looking forward to more from Keiran.
Jules does something exceedingly well today. Usually, rebus squares get placed into the longest grid entries, and then the crossing entries are made short to facilitate grid construction. BET might turn into ABETS or BETAS in the crossing direction — pretty dull.
Not today! Jules manages to get four full pairs of great theme answers, DREAM CATCHER / TEAM CREST, UGLY BETTY / GLOBE THEATER, WISHBONES / DASHBOARD, SAUSAGE PARTY / GENIUS AT WORK. Eight fantastic answers!
(SAUSAGE PARTY was hilarious, but man oh man was it raunchy! Highly recommended, but prepare to wash out your eyes afterward.)
These four pairs of long crossing answers, plus the CABLE BOXES revealer, take up a huge amount of real estate. It's tough to build around so much theme material, but Jules did pretty darn well.
The only thing I ask from short fill is to not stand out as inelegant. I didn't care for the ILE / ISLE dupe (yes, they're clued in different ways, but I can't help seeing the French ILE = ISLE). And the random letter string TUV is bad. But that clue! [iPhone 8?] = the letters TUV on the 8 button on an iPhone. Doesn't make TUV a desirable entry, but it excuses it a teeny tiny bit.
I did find it a bit strange that IN A PIGS EYE didn't have a rebus — usually, you want all your longest entries to contain rebuses, especially in the across direction — but I gave it a pass since Jules already had so many long themers.
I also appreciated Will running a solid Thursday puzzle — one with a toughish theme, worth working hard to uncover — for the first time in weeks. Rebuses are a bit overdone these days, but they still provide a fun solving challenge.
★ My POW! pick might come as a surprise to some. I enjoyed this one as a constructor, but surprisingly as a solver, too.
I had low expectations once I saw the huge OPEN floor PLAN of the grid, knowing that I'd have to slog through some glue or weirdness. Pleasantly surprised at how much fun I had! It's unusual to get snazzy entries in a grid like this, so DRUM ROLL, ACQUIRED / TASTES, and GAZELLES all in a single quadrant made me smile right off the bat.
DIVE BAR too? And HARANGUE? IV DRIP, MPEG FILE, even Ronda ROUSEY, CUSSER, WEASELED = fun stuff. That's way more pizzazz than I expected. A lot of entertainment and sizzle helped balance out the necessary evils.
I would restart a grid if I had to use BSTARS (or any other _STARS entry), but for one like this, that price seemed reasonable. UNNAILED was the only other one that stuck out as contrived, one of the UN- or RE- or -ER type entries I see all the time in ultra-low-word-count puzzles.
GREAVE was an oddball. But to get only one of these esoteric trivia answers was great.
This type of ultra-low-word-count is not my favorite themeless genre. But I think this one is close to best in class, and that warrants recognition.
Nice work on those beefy 4x8 chunks in the NW / SE — so tough to execute on big swaths of white space without resorting to long blah entries or gluey short ones. There wasn't anything that wowed me in either corner, but overall, they came out solid.
Sam made his job even tougher by running long answers through them, DOT CO DOT UK and MYTHBUSTER giving the puzzle an even more open feel. I bet most other constructors who would dare tackle a 4x8 chunk would find a way to close it off, doing something like blacking out NED and BBS. Much easier that way.
There were a couple of BAD ACTORs holding those corners together, but nothing horrible. PARC is gettable through the crosses, and it's a fairly common word in titles of French paintings.
I had to stop and think about Robinson CANO. He's a big name here in Seattle, a coup to bring him over from the Yankees. He's … probably a big enough name to be crossworthy? Tough call; time will tell.
B CHORD also made me pause. I'm perfectly fine with B FLAT or KEY OF B or other common music terms. I'm not a guitar player though — I wonder if guitarist solvers will think nothing of B CHORD? For this cellist, it's kind of weird. Not as randomly bad as B STARS, but not as good as B SHARP.
I was sure ROIDED had to be wrong. Apparently, it is a term in use, though, as in "ROIDED out." Do yourself a favor and don't search that term on Google Images. Eew.
Speaking of eew, is DOT CO DOT UK legit? Not as solid as dot com, as in the dot com boom. But probably ... fine? After much deliberation, I'm still not sure!
Solid themeless, but not enough sizzling long stuff and too many entries I had to stop and weigh, to be in POW! contention.
I stared at the title for a long time before staring the puzzle. How neat, that PREPOSITION and PROPOSITION are the same except for that third letter. I didn't quite figure out how it applied to the theme — prepositions joined up to produce kooky themers — but I suppose you could call a theme a "proposition," as in a "plan of action."
I enjoyed most of the themers. STAND-IN LINE as a delivery from an understudy felt clever. PULLUP STAKES as the wager for an exercise bet, too. PUT-ON NOTICE as a [Scam alert], too! I was surprised at how different these common phrases became with just that slight hyphen/space change. Amusing theme.
I was glad to read Alex's note, as that NE corner stuck out to me, too. Here's a case where going to 142 words could have been a good option. I do like PINCH RAN and ANTI RIOT a lot, but breaking those up into two words apiece would have allowed for some cleanup on aisle APEAK. Probably would have allowed Alex to upgrade TOSSES TO into something more sizzly, too.
I thought Alex did a nice job with his fill, except for all those prepositional fillers. For a theme based on prepositions, where you're already going to have some UP / IN / ON / TO dupes, having more of the SHAKE UP / UP ONE / PUSH IN / OD ON / FLIES TO / TOSSES TO is less than ideal. That kind of fill is neutral at best in average puzzles. But here, not only do they muddy up the theme a bit, but there's just such a huge quantity of prepositions floating around.
And GOOK. Yes, it's clued as GO OK, but come on. Seriously? NO NO!
But I enjoyed the theme, those seemingly innocent hyphen changes creating huge and entertaining shifts in meaning. A sharp theme can almost always overcome a couple of infelicities in grid execution.
I like to play the "guess the theme" game on Mondays. With just SUNNI ISLAM, I was pretty sure there would be more *I I* phrases. Bingo! SETI INSTITUTE and SKI INSTRUCTOR are both fun entries matching that pattern.
ANTI-IMMIGRATION, not so much, considering my parents were immigrants.
Even though I got the theme, I wasn't able to guess the revealer. EYE CONTACT = perfect! Playful, "eye" sounding like "I," with two Is contacting each other at the end of one word and the beginning of the next.
Theme was executed pretty consistently — for example, there were never two Is within a single word, as in HAWAII. And I couldn't think of another theme possibility like this, making it a tight set. Great work there.
(Minor nit, ANTI-IMMIGRATION is the only one with a hyphen, so it's not perfectly consistent.)
I enjoyed it enough that I considered it for the POW! But ETUI nearly kills that by itself, for a Monday puzzle at least. Add in LEM (lunar … something ... module? excursion?), UTIL, COOER, and it's too much. I don't mind COOER as much as LEM — even though it's a gluey answer, it's figure-out-able. Not so much with LEM or ETUI.
Note how ETUI was pretty much forced by SETI INSTITUTE / ANTI IMMIGRATION. That E??I pattern is generally to be avoided, as there are very few good options.
Usually, I think four themers + revealer is about right these days, but I'd have been happier without ANTI IMMIGRATION. It would have given the grid a ton more room to breathe; more opportunities to both smoothify things and work in more juicy bonus fill like ICY ROADS and NO WISER.
Neat that VOWEL exhibits the exact property exhibited by the entire grid — alternation between vowel and consonant. Entries that exhibit this property are very useful for constructors, as they tend to make construction much easier. Fun inside nod to the gridmaking biz.
Not so fun: OREL / PALOMA, ODER / ELEV, CAPON, DEREG, ONED, all in a single puzzle. All in an early-week puzzle, to boot. I think everything is ultimately fair, but I worry that a puzzle this gluey is going to turn off less experienced solvers.
It's an interesting feat of construction that made me think about how it could be done. Pretty easy, as it turns out, writing some code that outputs only the vowel-consonant-alternating entries from one's list and then filling from there.
Too much of a one-trick pony for this solver's taste, the conceit not worth the price of the hiccups in execution. But a couple of fun entries that fit the pattern, POPEMOBILE the standout, and also Socrates' UNEXAMINED life. And that VOWEL revealer, exhibiting the same property, is definitely memorable.
I PUT A SPELL ON YOU = HEX atop YOU, three times in the grid. Even though HEX and YOU are both shorties, they're tough to disguise, so some nice finds. TOOTH EXTRACTION made me reflexively wince, but it's a solid answer. MATH EXAM probably made others wince, but this former mathlete approved. And CORN CHEX was a good way to finish it off.
EMPTY OUT did a good job of obfuscating YOU, JOYOUSLY as well. They're both long entries, though, and stacking pairs of long theme answers can be problematic. So many pairs of letters to work through!
See: EOUS in top stack, and AIT in close proximity. ESAS / MLLE in middle. BURL / NONU in bottom.
Pete and Bruce made the grid 16 rows high to center MATH EXAM / JOYOUSLY, but I'd have been as happy with MATH EXAM in the center of a 15x15, with something like YOUTH below it. Might have smoothed things out a bit.
Typically, placing long theme answers in rows 3 / 13 (third to last) is the smart choice, giving yourself the most space possible. Here, I think moving them inwards one row apiece could have helped, giving Pete and Bruce more flexibility in filling around all those letter pairs.
For me, EOUS would automatically force me to restart a puzzle. BURL or NONU I might let slide if they were the only offender, but I'd work mightily to make sure there wasn't some better option.
I did appreciate the big corners in the SW / NE. BASE HITS / ASTROPOP / APERTURE, yes! ANIMALIA / TROOPERS / SYNOPSIS, triple yes! That's the way to use those relatively unconstrained sections of a grid. I don't like ENRY much, but I felt it was a price worth paying for the wide-open goodness packed with juicy answers.
I think the best stacked-themer puzzles are ones where you need to figure out the theme in order to finish the puzzle. Tracy Gray had a memorable such one. Finding the HEX atop YOU instances was more of an afterthought for me.
★ I appreciate a Thursday theme worth working to uncover. At first, I thought maybe BEETHOVEN had TEN symphonies — note TEN in BEETHOVEN! — and someone forgot to circle those letters?
But what a great idea, the solver having to COUNT THE SQUARES of the entry to arrive at the number asked for in the clues. BEETHOVEN = nine letters = nine symphonies. I vaguely remember seeing something like this before, but it felt far enough in the recesses of my mind to not lessen my delight.
ARACHNID = eight letters = eight legs. MARK SPITZ = nine letters = nine gold medals. Very cool!
MISSOURI isn't as specific since you could pick any state and find some piece of numerical trivial to fit. But the number of other states a state borders is a common enough piece of info.
Strong gridwork, too, Todd coming a long way in the past few years. Some of his earlier puzzles were kind of rough and gluey, but not this one. I appreciated all the long bonuses, CROUPIER, ULULATES, SNEETCHES. AE HOUSMAN was only vaguely familiar, but looking him up jogged "A Shropshire Lad" quickly back into mind.
It's unusual to weave a couple of long downs in the center of the puzzle — much easier to break those up. So HAUGHTY and SUITORS were even more welcome in my eyes.
A theme with a twist, strong long bonuses, and just a bit of ALEE, LTCOL, UNIV? Easy POW! choice. Very well done, Todd!
A couple of weeks ago, someone asked Deb what the little number under the bottom right corner of the grid here at XWord Info represents. (Every thousandth one is a milestone, so we make it a little easier to read today.) Could it be the number of NYT daily crosswords published since the very first one in 1942? Why, yes it is, and today marks the TWENTY-FIVE / THOUSANDTH! An accomplishment to celebrate.
I did wonder why END OF AN ERA is in the puzzle today. A veiled message? Another April Fool's Day joke? Nope, just a coincidence. Unless you have something awful to tell us, Joel … ?
A couple of great entries, DECK CHAIR, PITA BREAD / E-COMMERCE / DEEP STATE. Flashy entries like these don't need a fantastic clue to make them stand out. But there weren't as many as I like in a themeless.
Where I thought the puzzle shined was in the cluing. So many fantastic clues that I lost count! I'm usually happy when a themeless has two or three clever instances of wordplay. One that has TMTC (too many to count) makes me overjoyed. Here were my top three:
Note that the first two clues elevated already strong entries, and those entries are stacked! Made for a gold-medal SE corner.
I wondered if Tycho BRAHE / EAZY E might be a killer for some. But EOZY E or EEZY E … hmm. Tycho BREHE and EEZY E, that I could buy. Probably not the best crossing in the world.
Nice way to commemorate the TWENTY FIVE / THOUSANDTH NYT xw!
I've enjoyed corresponding with Daniel. He keeps on calling me "Mr. Chen," which I find infinitely amusing. Sort of like Marcy calling Peppermint Patty "sir." I've appreciated how polite he is with his inquiries, taking care to never infringe too much on my time, so it's a pleasure to see him make his debut.
That SE triple-stack is a beaut. GREAT DIVIDE is a great entry in its own right. GAY MARRIAGE, love it! And the common SEE ATTACHED rounds it out. I'm not a fan of DR T, who doesn't feel crossworthy, or BRAE, which is a bit of an odd word, but those were well worth the price of admission into that corner.
The opposite corner was pretty strong too. I wasn't sure if EROTIC NOVEL was truly a genre, like GOTHIC NOVEL, but some Googling proved me very wrong. Sometimes I forget that romance / erotic novels are WAY more popular than stuff worth reading. I mean, other stuff. Ahem.
I would have liked some of these marquee entries to get clever clues, though. Referencing "Fifty Shades of Grey" for EROTIC NOVEL felt like a let-down, when there could be so many plays on the word "blue."
Some entries must get a definitional or otherwise easy clue — GREAT DIVIDE would be tough to riff on, since it may not be immediately known to some solvers, for example. But entries like EROTIC NOVEL or GENE THERAPY left a lot of great cluing potential on the table; plays on "strands" or "bases" for the latter.
DEMO TAPE was a perfect example of clever cluing hitting the mark. The question mark in [Rock sample?] gave away part of the game, but I still enjoyed the repurposing of a common phrase into a completely different meaning.
There are a couple of shorties I debated internally. LYSIS is common enough in biology, something I heard all the time in my second career (in pharma). Clued as a suffix, it's definitely gluey. But as a scientific word? Hmm. Still probably esoteric for most. EGEST is similar.
Overall, very nice debut! Mr. Chen approves.
PLUS E'S and MINUS E'S! Perfect way to describe the theme, where an E is removed from one word and added into another. STARES AND STRIPS didn't give me a great first impression of the concept, as it felt a bit odd — what kind of stripper stares at you while he/she strips? (Not that I know a lot about strippers!) But most of the others gave me a laugh.
HEADLESS HORSEMAN into HAD LESS HORSE MANE was the big winner for me. Fun parsing change (movement of spaces), and there's something so funny about the way it sounds.
JETE PROPELLED PLAN (from JET PROPELLED PLANE) also! My daughter is getting into ballet, so this one amused me. Speaking of toddlers, this father has been in many a dress-up costume recently, so FEATHER IN ONES CAP to FATHER IN ONE'S CAPE gave me a smile.
Ross is a relatively new constructor, but I've been tremendously impressed by his skills. To execute on a Sunday puzzle this smoothly, and with such great bonuses, is amazing. It's something a great majority of highly experienced constructors falter on.
I usually keep a running list of gluey entries and long bonuses (liabilities and assets). Today, the former was short and the latter very long. Such spot-on use of his long slots, with SCAPEGOAT, TEST OF TIME, POT FARM, SHELLAC, LA CUCARACHA ... just in the top half of the grid alone? Wow!
How did he do it? Part of it is that Ross takes a huge amount of care, iterating over and over until he gets things right. Great work ethic.
Another part is theme density. Sunday puzzles usually have seven themers, which are a bear to build around. Ross only had six today, but he made sure they were all long, making it feel like theme density wasn't a problem. This gave him tremendous space in which to work his magic, especially with all those long slots.
For example, note how the four corners only have one themer apiece running through them, allowing Ross enormous flexibility to fill away with great stuff. Smart layout!
Add-a-letter and take-away-a-letter puzzles are common enough, but I appreciated the twist here. Fun results and top-notch execution.
GO FIRST! Because the theme answers start with synonyms for GO. As in DEPART, EXIT …
Er, more like synonyms for "GO!" SCAT! SCRAM already! Kind of a pushy Monday puzzle, sheesh! Trying to tell us something, hmm, Lynn?
Some neat finds, most of the themers snazzy. I wasn't sure what a SCATTER RUG was (another term for a throw rug apparently), but I like the sound of it.
I hitched slightly on LEAVENED BREAD, as it's the only one where the GO! synonym changes pronunciation. It would have been nice for all of them to have a pronunciation change, or none of them, for consistency's sake. Ah well. The crossword gods can be cruel.
Are GITANO JEANS still a thing?
Now, this is the way to execute on a simple Monday theme. Go up to 78 words if you need to, but make sure to weave in at least a couple of long bonuses — WEARS THIN, INSIDIOUS, MCQUEEN, even ATTACHE — while keeping your short stuff from getting noticed. Lynn is so good about using those longer slots to her advantage, elevating the solving experience.
Although, there was one area I felt was subpar for her: the DDE / ALEE / DUNNE region. It would have been fine if it had been any other constructor, but a little-used Presidential monogram, a nautical term, and an actress from "old Hollywood"? Not quite up to Lynn's bar.
I liked MCQUEEN and the YOUNG / THING pairing. I'd personally have chosen to smoothify the grid by taking one or more of those out. But I can respect Lynn's choice.
Overall, a fine Monday puzzle. I liked the theme enough that I considered it for the POW! If the revealer had packed more punch, creating a sharper a-ha moment, it might well have been my pick.
Great idea, NO MAN IS AN ISLAND refuted by CUBA GOODING JR, IDRIS ELBA, and … BRET EASTON ELLIS. I was only vaguely familiar with that last one, but most best-selling authors ought to be crossworthy, yeah?
He also felt out of place because no one refers to ELLIS Island as just Ellis (do they?), whereas CUBA and ELBA are islands on their own. Sometimes it's tough to find enough examples to flesh out a crossword theme, and you have to accept some not-quite-ideal themers.
As Peter said, mirror symmetry is sometimes a lifesaver. The constraints are weird — it works, as long as all your themers are odd in length, or you have one pair matched by length + two that are odd-numbered in length. But that matched pair can't be too long!
It's a very specific set of constraints, but when it works, it works.
You can also do some neat things, like split up PERRY / ELLIS, as it's 5 / 5. I might have preferred that, myself.
I haven't been crazy about Peter's recent low-word-count grids recently, as they introduce too many compromises for an early-week puzzle. Today's grid felt much stronger, the openness allowing for such goodies as BRAZILIANS and GRIZABELLA. Along with TEABAGS / SANGRIA + PLUG-INS, this was a lot of great material to keep solvers going.
A couple of entries did make me pause:
But overall, a nice grid. Going down to 72 words can make a good change of pace, as long as the result is smooth, which today's was.
This former mathlete was embarrassed to not know what a REFLEX angle was. Relieved to hear that Jim didn't recognize it either! And then when Jill (who's much brighter than me) screwed up her face … huh.
Good concept, visually representing the major types of angles, OBTUSE, RIGHT, ACUTE. REFLEX, bah!
I wanted the revealer to be KNEW ALL THE ANGLES. That would have been perfect. I wasn't sure if KNOWS EVERY ANGLE was as punchy, although it does seem to be in the language. It's a minor difference in wording, but it took away some of the impact for me.
For puzzles like these, it's so important to make your long fill shine. Without good bonuses, the puzzle can lack meatiness. Adam did well with NBA DRAFT, CASE FILE, GRATUITOUS, ANGIES LIST, MADE MAN. Even BASE TEN and SPONGES as [Moochers] helped out. Overall, meatiness achieved!
The drawback for puzzles like these is that there are almost always serious compromises around those shaded letters fixed into tight places. Throw on top of it the need to thread in a bunch of strong long fill, and smoothness is usually gonna get whacked.
I was all ready to say how amazed I was by Adam's execution around the toughest one, the densely-packed ACUTE. But then I hit NATANT. What an odd word.
REFLEX is tough because of the X, and ANGIES LIST running through it. See ALIENEE, ATNO, I GET.
ALINED was the worst for me, caused by the RIGHT constraints. Seems to be a variant of "aligned." Ick!
I could have overlooked these wonky trade-offs if the puzzle had felt a tad more spot-on to me. Just the three major angles would have made me feel like I truly did KNOW ALL THE ANGLES. Could have helped smoothify the puzzle, too.
I think Alex has one of the best minds in the business for interesting, twisty crosswords. The clue wording confused the heck out of me (it still does), so let's ignore it. Simple example: a BOGEY is one OVER (par) and OVER is at slot number one, i.e., ONE-Across.
ENDLESSLY isn't SEVEN, but (24)SEVEN — the number at 24-Across comes into play.
A NAP is (40) WINKS, and EQUALLY is (50) FIFTY. Good stuff!
I particularly appreciated how Alex placed the definitional entry right next to the gimmick entry, minimizing the need for cross-referencing. I don't mind so much when I just have to jump to the next (or previous) entry.
It would have been much easier for Alex if he could have placed BOGEY wherever he wanted in the grid — much more flexibility to find the best spot for ease of filling — but then you'd force the solver to jump all tarnation.
These heavy constraints did mean that there had to be some heavy compromises. Four pairs of words — some long — and each pair placed sequentially? Yikes! The only place I minded was the NW, with ONAGER / ANSE / GTE. It's so tough — that big corner, constrained by OVER and ENDLESSLY — was bound to have problems. But I don't think those crossings are fair, and that's perhaps the biggest no-no in the biz. Why not add some cheater squares to smoothify?
Oh, of course you can't — each themer had to be at a specific number. That makes grid design even tougher, as you can't just place extra black squares here and there to facilitate filling. Kind of mind-boggling that Alex made it all happen.
Okay, I'll try harder to ignore RYN LENE GO ALL, etc.
Still, those ONAGER / ANSE / GTE crossings ... I might have preferred to take out the definitional entries and add in a few more, like 7-ELEVEN, 10-FOUR, etc.
I like puzzles where the clue number is tricksily part of the clue. The first time I encountered it BLEW MY MIND! It's not as novel now, but I enjoyed the additional layer Alex put on the concept.
★ I enjoy it when themeless constructors do something a little different — the creativity is much appreciated, helping to keep crosswords fresh and potentially even evolving. I'll admit I didn't see the SEETHING / SEE THINGS "dupe" David mentioned, but I enjoyed the Easter egg. I thought the puzzle was fun and well-crafted already, and that bonus elevated this one to my POW! pick.
It's so tough to create a themeless around ultra-long seed entries, and when you interlock four of them together, it's even tougher. The problem is that these long entries usually take up so much real estate that there's not much room left for other good entries. The puzzle then lives or dies on the quality of just those long entries. That's a lot of pressure on those few entries!
I enjoyed the long ones a lot today, and the puzzle could have *almost* stood on those alone. I CAN TAKE A HINT is fantastic, one worth seeding a themeless with. ETHICAL DILEMMAS is great too, and LOSE SLEEP OVER ain't too shabby.
CABLE TELEVISION isn't as good, as most people say "cable TV." But it does work.
Most constructors would put a black square at the T of TREPAN or the H of HECATE — as David mentioned, these types of huge corners with two triple-stacks intersecting each other are usually to be avoided at all costs. Way too hard to execute on with both snazziness and smoothness.
I enjoyed that NW corner a lot. ENTRANCE is more a workmanlike entry, but I appreciated how changing the stressed syllable morphs the meaning of the word completely. And riffing off the SEE THINGS / SEETHING "dupe," I liked the quasi-echo of ENTRECHAT and ENTRANCE. They look so similar but etymologically aren't. Cool!
And some great clues. My favorite: [One getting hit after hit?] made me laugh, as there's quite a bit of pot usage in Seattle these days. STONERs!
There's a bit too much short glue, NNW, ESTO, HAR, INE, etc. for my taste, but most themelesses featuring interlocked long seed entries have way more than this — as do themelesses with corners like the NW / SE! So very well done overall.
NO PUN INTENDED is such a great way to anchor a themeless. Something that most everyone has heard (way too often from me, as Jill sadly would note); easy to riff on for a fun clue. Good stuff.
IM A GONER is fantastic, too. Again, a super-familiar phrase ripe for a great clue.
RAMI MALEK is a different story for me. I vaguely knew his name, since Jill and I suffered through a few episodes of "Mr. Robot" (sorry John!). But I don't know if he's gotten to the point where I think all educated solvers ought to have heard of him. Thankfully, all the crosses felt fair, although DEMOB is such a bizarre word that the M gave me worry at first. RABI MALEK / DEBOB? As in, Bob's your uncle?
Okay, maybe not.
OMEGA DOG felt somewhere between the two extremes. It's something you should be able to figure out due to its definition, and the fact that it's composed of two familiar words. Although it's an interesting entry, I'm not sure if I'd ever use OMEGA DOG in conversation or otherwise.
I don't mind a couple of ELEV, NEV, NOT DO kind of entries — a couple are usually inevitable in any themeless. Today, what bugged me more was all the tough names. RAMI MALEK kicked it off, but ABUJA, EDD, SARG, KELSO, THARP made the puzzle feel too much like a trivia contest. Any of those are fair game (well, EDD and SARG probably less so), but overall, they combine stick out.
Top-notch clue for TTOP. It's a borderline entry, but a clue misdirecting toward the Grand Prix race, away from the Grand Prix model car, makes it fine in my book.
A lot to love about the puzzle. PIXY STIX bring me back to when I loved those disgusting things. What a fantastic brand name! POST TRUTH had the opposite effect for me though, as I depend on crosswords to let me escape from the state of real life these days.
Who would have known that so many phrases would have this property, that they start with two letters that stand for something, but those two letters also commonly stand for something else? Neat! PC LAB isn't "personal computer" but POLITICALLY CORRECT LAB.
Both Jim and I were befuddled by ANTE MERIDIEM DIAL. Neither of us knew what "Morning zoo" was (in the clue) — apparently, it's a common type of radio format? Huh.
I was doubly confused because I was SURE that the "a.m." in times was ANTE MERIDIAN. Drat! I've been getting that wrong all these years. It's confusing because the word ANTE MERIDIAN does mean "before noon." But a.m. is technically ANTE MERIDIEM.
Few of the resulting themers made me laugh, unfortunately. It's a lot of real estate taken up by stilted-sounding entries.
Thankfully, Peter is a strong constructor, and the solid grid made for a good solving exercise. Very few gluey bits, only ignorable AMOCO, SEM, FLA kinds of things. I did wonder if the RENATA / EVA crossing was fair. Is RENETA / EVE plausible if you haven't heard of either person? Probably not, but I'd sympathize with disgruntled solvers getting that square wrong.
Jim likes puzzles where you have to figure out the theme in order to solve the puzzle (or at least to finish it quickly). I appreciated this one from that perspective. I struggled mightily for a good solid 15 minutes without filling in a single themer, so it was a great relief when I finally figured out what was going on, sailing easily home after that. That was pretty cool.
★ Nearly the Platonic ideal of Monday crosswords. Catchy theme phrases, fun concept, strong bonuses in the longer fill, little to no gluey bits in the short fill. Platonic!
Okay, I don't exactly know what "Platonic ideal" means. Something about the perfect thing ... right? I tried to read the Wikipedia entry, but it wasn't ideal.
Middle-grade-level humor hits my sweet spot, so I enjoyed the plays upon BRIEFS, JOCKEYS, BOXERS, SHORTS, DRAWERS. Something about AMATEUR BOXERS really tickled me — keep on practicing, underwear, and one day you'll make the big time!
It helps that I'm a fan of these "kooky interpretation" types of puzzles. I enjoy snappy phrases in crossword grids, and I also like funny interpretations of said phrases.
Amateur underwear, tee hee.
I love how Bruce wove in a bit of extra mid-length stuff, ROAD WIN, and EKG TEST, to further spice things up past ORGANISM and REFEREES. Constructors usually break up these areas for ease of filling — you could place a black square at the D of ROAD WIN, for example. I did hitch slightly on EKG TEST, as it's usually called just an EKG, but ROAD WIN was well worth it for me. And no prices to pay, in terms of short fill around these regions!
INANER was the lone squinty entry for me. I did squint pretty hard at it. But it's not the inaner-est thing in the world. Overlookable, given all the goodness in the puzzle.
Wonderful puzzle, especially considering the difficulty of constructing around five themers, one of which is an awkward 13 letters. Not many (any?) Mondays are truly memorable to me, but that's not their purpose — they ought to first and foremost, be accessible and interesting to newbs. I'd happily hand this to a rookie solver.