This web browser is not supported. Use Chrome, Edge, Safari, or Firefox for best results.

Thumbnails

Puzzles for April, 2021
with Jeff Chen comments

Thu 4/1/2021
MYGODDEVELF
BUONOEYESSLUR
AMOCOCRAPLMAO
VERYRELIGIOUS
SEEMUYRAM
HARHARSCAREDOF
ESSENTIALLYARI
BTENMMITVAD
OLABADMOUTHING
PASSEDBYNOODGE
OARSUNLET
BLENDEDFAMILY
BORGPELTGENRE
QUIZSPAYHICKS
STEPBRTAHOE

April Fools! Sam fooled me once, then he fooled me again. Shame on me! Then he fooled me yet again. Who's the shame on for the third time?

But then I smugly defeated him!

Until Jim Horne pointed out that I didn't actually figure out the last theme answer. Not properly, that is.

More accurately, not at all.

Talk about fool.

Understanding that VERY RELIGIOUS was DEV took forever, but that was a nice a-ha, riffing on the old crossword standard of [… with "out."] DEV + out = devout. It's been done many times before, yet I always fall for it.

I thought I had the concept at that point but ESSENTIALLY didn't make sense with ELF + Inits. I thought maybe the letters E L F could somehow be in ESSENTIALLY? Finally, I realized that it meant Inits. + ELF = IN ITSELF. Fun discovery.

Finally, I was no fool! Yet I was. MMI, in slang = BAD MOUTHING? For a while, I figured this must not be theme-related. You know what the kids say these days when they want to insult you badly, they throw you some MMI!

Isn't that like the stink eye? The stink-I times two thousand?

Ah, it's MMI in(side) slang = sla(MMI)ng. Zoicks, that's tough to see!

My last chance at redemption: … and others. Huh. Oh, I got it! BLENDED FAMILY indicates to take STE PBR and TAHOE, and blend (anagram) those letters! Damn, I am so smart!

Oh. It's STE + PBR + others = stepbrothers. TAHOE didn't have anything to do with it?

Well, it should have!

Hatchi matchi, this was a toughie. I liked some of the cluing touches, like Bjorn Borg known as Ice-BORG. Great nickname! And I'm terrible with modern music references, but SONGZ is a great last name for a singer.

Finally, VEAL as "parm for the course" is punnily outstanding. Almost worth all my confusion and hair-pulling right there.

Fri 4/2/2021
ANIMALFARMBAKU
BONGJOONHOARES
IVEMOVEDONLOAM
TACBESOILANA
SEWSRUNNERUP
TITLEARNETT
ATALLSARAHBUS
RESELLSELEMENT
AMYDAUBSHORDE
FORMATELIOT
DEBUNKEDBIEN
ELATEIDIGGPA
GENZLEDERHOSEN
ACTESWEETTREAT
STUDDEATHSTARE

Sophia is one of my favorite up-and-coming constructors because she's a great listener, internalizes feedback, and works hard to improve. She had asked me for feedback on a draft of this grid a while back. It wasn't subpar, but it wasn't outstanding, either, using a bunch of entries that editors call out on their specs sheets. To her credit, she tore the thing down to the studs, keeping only the skeleton and the NW corner. Such tremendous improvement — A JOB WELL DONE is right!

I didn't know IN THE HEIGHTS, and Jim Horne said it's not as good as "Hamilton," but it's fascinating to watch Lin Manuel Miranda's development. It's easy enough to imagine what it might be about. (Washington Heights in NYC.)

LEDERHOSEN and DEATH STARE resonated more strongly with me, although it might not do as much for people who don't appreciate poor Üter Zörker.

Fun use of shorter fill, FUTZED such an amusing word. Crossing that with GEN-Z might slow some solvers down, but FUTXED or FUTYED couldn't possibly right.

I appreciated the cluing touches, too. BALLET literally keeping you on your toes, MGM as a grand opening for a casino (the MGM Grand), BIRTH as a special delivery — those add so much to a themeless solving experience.

I'd still like to see less STET ACTE and especially ORT, since the bar for themelesses is so incredibly high (acceptance rate is about 3%), and also since this is the easiest of themeless tasks, a 72-worder. Big points for improvement, though.

It's incredibly rare for two women to collaborater on a puzzle — the slice of the pie chart is so small that it's barely visible — and I'd love to see more. There's something so neat about two people coming together to create a synergistic 2+2 = 5.

Sat 4/3/2021
BEATHALLSKALE
RASHICEUPIPAD
ARSEGESSOCOSI
CLUTCHTHICKSET
HAMHOCKLUSTRE
SPERMNNERILED
IMSOEXCITED
FLIRTATIOUS
ALLTATTEDUP
PLAITYONSAUTE
AMUSESTEENMOM
RANGETOPTROPIC
KATOAMISHTILE
ATENRILEYCREE
SADESTEALHESS

A themeless skeleton featuring THRILL, EXCITED, KICKS IT UP? It's not exactly a mini-theme, but it's neat to get so much joyous long material interlocked. Curious choice not to clue IM SO EXCITED to the Pointer Sisters song, but that might have turned off people not into oldies.

Not at all curious was CURIOUSER! Terrible -ER addition entries are common in low word-count themelesses — they make filling so much easier — but CURIOSER is the opposite; a rare standout. "Curiouser and curiouser" is not only a memorable "Alice in Wonderland" quote, but it's become a bit of a meme.

I haven't heard ALL TATTED UP, but I'm not the target audience since I only have one tattoo. It's a self-explanatory phrase, though.

The one place I bogged down was the lower left. It's perfectly reasonable to include highly-populated foreign cities, but Almaty hasn't been known as ALMA-ATA since 1993. I'm a basketball fan, so eventually ATEN = A-TEN = A-10 = Atlantic-10 fell. I always see it as A-10, though, so ATEN looks bizarre. There is a camp that loves tricksy entries like this — VSIX, TENK, AANDE.

I wanted more juice out of the rest of the grid entries, but luckily, some of the cluing helped fill that gap. [Worn down apparel?] uses (feather)down in such a clever way. IPAD is usually neutral in a grid, but with a delightful clue like [Pro in tech …] — that's the IPAD Pro.

Two clues I ought to explain:

I understood that the TROPIC of Cancer and TROPIC of Capricorn circle the globe, but apparently, referring to either solely as TROPIC is acceptable.

I don't know everything about baseball, so I figured there was some reason an UMPIRE might sit in a high chair. To get a better viewing angle if the pitcher is short? Ah! It's a derogatory thing, where fans put an effigy in a high chair because the ump is acting like a big baby.

They have UMPIREs in tennis?

I knew that.

Sun 4/4/2021 GAME CHANGERS
SNARFJUSTSOMANNERED
WALDOUNPACKITSALIVE
IDEALBREAKERNEWHAVEN
FIXKEYENAMELPARS
TRAUMABUNTSERIOUSLY
LUSHESAVERSE
LAWNSTUDENTSARLOSAW
SINAIMERLOTSYSTOLE
AMBCOBSCRUBSHASTE
TEASBEDSOFAIRSOGOOD
PEORIAONETWO
LINEDETECTORETANCOS
THECWSEADOGIREALA
DORSALSLEBRONGOMAD
SPFROOSLABOROFGLOVE
ADULTSASLOPE
INVISIBLESINKGLOBAL
CHOODARWINSIAERA
HOTWATEREXTRAINNINGS
APIARISTRARINGTRIOS
SETLISTSSMOOTHSANTO

PuzzleGirl and Doug, two of my favorite crossword folks! They're both big into baseball, so it's no surprise to see a baseball theme. EXTRA INNINGS is a fine revealer, explaining why I N N I N G S were consecutively added to the theme phrases. Did you notice that all of those themers were baseball-related? Even better, they almost all used baseball words — BREAKER is a breaking ball (a type of pitch), BUNT, FAIR, GLOVE.

BUNT SERIOUSLY was the highlight. I can imagine a frustrated third-base coach yelling, "Haha, we all like to fool around with our swings. But seriously, BUNT SERIOUSLY!" The rest of them were outside my strike zone, but seriously, not all themers can be ideal breakers right across the plate.

Being only an average baseball fan (rooted for the Giants growing up, the Mariners now), what I appreciated most was the clever cluing throughout the puzzle. I imagine that's even more important for the baseball haters out there. All it takes is half a dozen clever clues, and Angela and Doug achieved that. From ENAMEL, playing on the word "coat," to the baffling [Catch with a throw] = LASSO, there are well-written, fresh clues everywhere.

Great piece of trivia for EGGPLANTS. I already enjoy eggplant, and I'll enjoy sharing this tidbit with my kids, that it was once known as the "mad apple."

Baseball themes aren't my favorite, but Angela and Doug did a solid job working in other enjoyable elements.

Mon 4/5/2021
DOGOAKCHIEF
ERRPINAAGENDA
ACIDTRIPWIIFIT
NAMESTEAMSITE
RAPSCASTE
INCITERENOLCD
POODLECUTDRDRE
ADUEDENIMAHAT
SENDSLOCALDIVE
SSTMAINLOITER
YOUINPAPA
PUSHDEFERNUNS
SLEAZETAKETHAT
STARESCREWONE
TATERLYEHAM

C.C.! Been months since we've seen her byline, so it's great to get her back. She has a knack for coming up with interesting themes and colorful fill.

I had a tough time with "Name That Theme" today, partially because I couldn't remember which clues were starred. That's one problem with mixed horizontal/vertical themers — was AIRSPEED involved somehow? Take a SPEED … is that something the kids say these days? OK Boomer, take a speed!

Solid set of TAKE A ___ words: take a TRIP, a CUT, a DIVE, a SEAT, and a HIT. I appreciated how C.C. remained consistent, never diving into "Take the ___" or "take ___" phrases.

There are a ton of TAKE A ___ phrases — searching TAKEA* turned up dozens of hits. (I took a hint, not boring you by taking a swing at naming them all.) There's nothing wrong with a lack of tightness in a theme set, but it's not as elegant to some of us more obsessive sorts.

Loved seeing MALARKEY, considering it's one of Joe Biden's favorite words. DERIDED was apt, too, given how much Biden gets derided about it. Along with RADIANT, I enjoyed the bonuses. Usually, editors prize multi-word long fill, but today, one-worders were better since they helped minimize the confusion about what is theme and what is not.

Look at where some of the short offenders lie: SST is near the crossing of COUNTY SEAT and POODLE CUT. AHAT at the intersection of INFIELD HIT and LOCAL DIVE. C.C. is right — macro gridwork is often easier if you can fill cleanly around intersecting themers — but that can be a big if.

I'd have preferred fewer themers since it was bound to be not a tight set anyway. It was fun to get fun theme phrases like POODLE CUT and LOCAL DIVE, though.

POW Tue 4/6/2021
ARSBARCAREPA
PECLOVATOSOB
HEAVENSTOBETSY
ISPOSEMORASS
DEETSTOTES
GEEZLOUISE
BOOSEATACSIN
FRAGNOSEMAGE
FSTOPSILOS
SOSOONRISERS
DWELLERS
SNAGTOADMAGS
HILOCOWSOVEN
APOLLOPALATE
MAHLEROBLIGE
STAYEDTAYLOR

★ Whoa Nelly, it took me fifteen minutes of searching to find even one more exclamation that could fit into this theme! I so badly wanted "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!" to work because I love "Derry Girls" so much, but sometimes the powers that be don't cooperate.

Clever grid design, utilizing mirror symmetry to accommodate the frustrating 14, 10, 10 / 10 lengths. Not all editors or solvers love mirror sym, but I find it so pleasing. Smiley face of black squares; that's my jam.

Smiling's my favorite!

Beautiful gridwork, too. The middle columns of mirror sym grids can be tricky, but Amanda and Karl did so well. DWELLERS is a fine entry, BAR CAR is fun, and even though I'm terrible with pop music, it's hard to avoid Demi LOVATO's name if you scan headlines.

Great use of mid-length entries, too, MAHLER lending a classical feel, APOLLO clued to the famed theater, and TAYLOR Swift — a little something for everyone.

I wasn't keen on the trio of BFFS, DEETS, TOTES (as "totally!"). But Erik Agard, editor of the USA Today crossword, said something smart, that puzzles should contain answers that people already know — but some days, those answers are for people that aren't you. This is a perfect example of that, executed in a way that even a crank like me can still successfully finish.

Jim Horne expressed another sentiment with an apt opera analogy. As a conductor, you're pressured by opera diehards to perform the standards. But if you don't try newer compositions aimed at younger crowds, you'll never create a new generation of opera fans.

I didn't know what a NET CORD sensor was, but it's common tech in that world. Much more accurate than a human, I imagine.

Another delight from an up-and-coming constructing duo.

Wed 4/7/2021
HAJJITVADFATS
ANAISELLALIEN
HORNEDTOADURAL
GEORGIAPEACH
ECHODISANCHO
ROOIBOSSYSTEMS
ANTSYPOETSET
MARIOBROS
YSLNUKEREAIR
ECOTONEPRSAVVY
SOURSMAOGAYE
MURIELBOWSER
AREAOOPSYDAISY
AGEDIDEAAPPLE
MEDSNESTMEARA

When I hit MARIO BROS, I had such anticipation of the fun I'd have talking with Jim Horne, a non-gamer. I spent well over 100 hours playing Mario in my teens and twenties. So much to educate Jim about!

"Who's Daisy?" he asked.

. . .

Where's a power-up when you need it?

I could go on and on about Princess PEACH, who Mario rescues, and BOWSER, the big boss. TOAD wasn't as familiar, since he's more prominent in the later Mario games. Reading up on DAISY made me feel old, but she'll probably delight some younger gamers the way Luigi once did.

It's a shame LUIGI GALVANI hasn't reached the level of awareness of Tesla or Edison.

Adrian worked in some great entries — I was sure I had something wrong with so many consonants in a row: SNLH- and PRS-. Fantastic entries in SNL HOST and PR SAVVY.

Similar with vowels, in ROOI-. I can never remember how to spell (or pronounce) ROOIBOS, even though my wife keeps it in our pantry.

Even some of the simple vowel-consonant alternation words felt tricky — I never can remember what an ECOTONE is. And if you don't do a lot of crosswords, seeing two Js in the middle of a word (HAJJI) might baffle.

I couldn't exactly recall what a SEA GRAPE was, but it had a perfect clue, explaining everything a solver needs to know to piece it together.

All in all, lot of vocabulary that might trip folks up, but Adrian did a nice job making sure the crossings were fair. Appropriate for a Wednesday, if on the challenging side.

Fantastic clue for TETRIS — the pieces literally "falling into place."

Playful debut that I'm sure will elate today's generation of Mario fanatics. However, if you're not a Mario player, you can still solve it as a tough themeless.

Thu 4/8/2021
BCCSALAMOFIST
OAHUBERYLACAI
APIERONTHESCENE
SNLOUTIEOTTER
DEBTROCS
WHATSUPDOCKYAS
RICHSIRDEPOSE
ENTERTOMTRUTV
ADOREDNABOGRE
KIRFOREVERMOOR
HUGOMOOT
ATTENOBOESTSA
QUAYDEMOGRAPHIC
UGLYABHORSITH
ASEATARDYISEE

Checkout that fun southwest corner: AQUA, ASEA, TUGS jam-packed into a nautical puzzle? HEY YA!

A PIER (appear) ON THE SCENE, WHAT'S UP DOCK (doc), FOREVER MOOR (forevermore), QUAY (key) DEMOGRAPHIC. I'm terrible with pun themes, my acceptance rate with them roughly 0.0%. These appear inconsistent, since DOCK and DOC are perfect homophones, QUAY has different pronunciations, FOREVER MOOR is twisted in a different way.

Maybe I should try my hand again, but …

Never moor.

Although the theme didn't resonate — I'm not much of a boater — several clues delighted. SIR plays on "entitled," as in "someone who's been given a title." TSA concerned with "air bags," i.e. bags that will go in the air.

Speaking of air, the PSI clue might go over some people's heads. It's a clever misdirect, hinting not at monetary inflation, but tire inflation (pounds per square inch).

For those of us who spent years in the dating trenches, I was fooled by "the hardest part of a date." That's the PIT, not the pits, as in meeting up with someone who calls you from outside the bar, having shown up drunk and having dumped her motorcycle in the parking lot, unable to get it up.

(The bike, that is.)

Fri 4/9/2021
PFFTDIGESSAY
ALAIWISENUTSO
TAKETHEHIGHROAD
EYEBEAMSRAUNO
MARTPHONETAG
SPECIALSAUCE
WEAKBAYPEEPER
ANTLOLCATSNAE
NASSAUHEHTERA
ONTHEREBOUND
STANDBYSREAM
AHLGOPWALTONS
POLARBEARPLUNGE
OSAKAUREYRIOT
REHABPENNASH

How appropriate to cross POLAR BEAR PLUNGE with PNEUMONIA! Interesting that the symmetrical crosses are related(ish) too — Seattle is FAKE MEATS central, plenty of hipsters who TAKE THE HIGH ROAD to pay an extra $5 for an Impossible patty (which is impassable for beef). Mark Rober and Bill Gates did a fascinating overview on FAKE MEATS; I'm curious how it all plays out.

As a huge X-Men nerd, I dropped in EYE BEAM after reading [… Cyclops …]. He's not the nuanced character Wolverine is, but there's something so compelling about the two of them and their triangle with Jean Grey. (I could hear Jim Horne's eyebeams glazing over as I went on in agonizing detail.)

Brilliant clue for an already strong entry, PHONE TAG. [… when two people miss each other a lot?] Sad to have to use a question mark, but even with it, what a misdirect! I was fixated on long-distance relationships. Might have something to do with a certain lockdown ...

Jamey has a point about SPECIAL SAUCE; it might have been more fun as the colorful term for "je ne sais quoi." I'm more used to "secret sauce," though, which my MBA classmates verbally diarrheaed as much as "synergy," "measurables," and "incentivization."

I'd heard of WHAT ABOUT BOB because I like Bill Murray, but I wasn't sure if the movie has stood the test of time. Thirty years ago! Then again, I'm still a LOLCATS lover, even though I have a feeling the young catz are loling their eyes at me because of it.

Jamey did a nice job with the ever-present constructors' trade-off between color and cleanliness. The bar of 72-words is extremely high, though, so from a technical standpoint, having even a few dabs of AHL EEE LAL SRA etc. can prevent a puzzle from standing out.

Sat 4/10/2021
ADSALESTWADDLE
DEADASADOORNAIL
OLDACQUAINTANCE
NUDGESILKYNOG
IDLETAKESTYRA
SEEMYGODRABIN
ASPENDECOCT
ETUDESRIBEYE
DYEJOBDONUT
REMUSSOCKSSIT
EPPSBALKSUHNO
AILJONASCLOGS
MEATANDPOTATOES
OCTOBERSURPRISE
NEEDSTOTENANTS

My favorite type of Saturday challenge is one that first appears to be impossible, but there are enough hints of places where you might gain a toehold. It puts up a knock-down slugfest, but ultimately, the constructor has set me up for a win — not just a victory, but one with zero doubts preventing me from double-pumping fists of glory. Evans did such a fantastic job of setting me up today.

It can be so daunting when a themeless has so few 3- or 4-letter words. So much for those ever-present crossword-common entries that are hard to disguise!

Fantastic use of marquee slots, OCTOBER SURPRISE a vivid term. Wherever you are on the political spectrum, that phrase evokes all sorts of stories — be they horror or success.

As a crossword entry, MEAT AND POTATOES is hardly that. Love the phrase. I'd have liked more wordplay or misdirection out of the clue, though: [The bare essentials …] is straightforward.

I did wonder if DEAD AS A DOORNAIL might not be the greatest entry during this coronavirus era, but cluing it to the classical Dickens reference helped me overcome that.

OLD ACQUAINTANCE was my least favorite of the four, but mainly because the clue didn't feel accurate. There's a distinct difference between a friend and an acquaintance, yes?

Best clue of the week in [Matchmaking target?] As someone who recently spent two weeks looking for the match to my favorite red wool sock, I should have gotten this much quicker.

I also appreciated how Evans carefully worked in a J in the west. It's much more common to place a J where it can start both an Across and a Down entry (JONAS / JABS), so to get one in the middle of two fine entries (AU JUS and DYE JOB) is excellent work.

I don't know any guys named TOD — or women named DOT — and TOD usually is referenced to the fox in "The Fox and the Hound." Perhaps a famous TOD will break out one day, and we constructors will rejoice.

Although there wasn't a ton of flashy material in the grid, Evans followed the constructors' first rule so well.

Sun 4/11/2021 MERGER MANIA
CIRCEABRAMOBJECTORS
UBERXHUEVOBEAVERHAT
LIFECOACHESINBALANCE
DETERSYRUPTONEPOEM
RELAYDYLANUSS
UKETEARNOOKTIBIA
SINGLESBARSDRIVENUTS
UNDEADATEAMBEELIST
ADULTSCEPTERSSTELMO
LAMEMMAISOSPUTTER
TROUBLESHOOTERS
MIGRANTOAFPARMTSP
AQUILADOCILITYOPINE
SUITCHEHEIDIMIAMOR
TIDEPOOLSSPAMFILTERS
STORETIEDBAILCEE
ALEARROWBLAIR
BARESALLSIZEDENNUI
ANIMATIONPOLOGROUNDS
GETINHEREUNLITDICES
SWELTEREDPESTOETHAN

I didn't fully understand the theme until I read Will Nediger's notes. I'm glad that he had a formula, because my first impression was that the products were a mish-mash, too loosely related to their companies. Even knowing the rationale now, though, I'm not sure I buy it. Why a (specific brand) + (generic product)? Why not (specific product) + (specific product)?

Some of them were such a stretch that I couldn't suspend disbelief. Starbucks product is GROUNDS? Photographers buy SHOOTERS? I suppose people going to Greyhound's web site might book COACHES instead of buses.

Theme qualms aside, Will is such a strong grid technician, and Dick did some fine work filling the skeleton. The upper right and lower left are particularly tough — triple-stacks of 9s are doable, but quads are so tough that I almost always try to break them up. OBJECTORS / BEAVER HAT / IN BALANCE / TONE POEM is excellent work.

I used to watch "The Daily Show" daily but still couldn remember how to spell JABOUKIE (JABOOKIE keeps sticking in my head). Excellent work making sure the crosses were unambiguous.

A handful of strong clues helped keep my attention, too. Clever clues can make your long marquee fill even spicier. HOTELIER is already a nice entry, but playing on the "in crowd" makes it more memorable.

(The BAGS clue refers to a "Birkin bag." Not a surprise that this sweatpants wearer hadn't heard of it.)

"Corporate mergers" feels like it has a lot of potential as a theme concept. I wish there were more oomph or a stronger a-ha with this implementation.

Mon 4/12/2021
ENDSOCHOMOBS
BARNAHABAGUE
BREAKFASTROLLS
WIKITHAIELSA
OHDEARTINTDIP
BAESTRANGELOOP
ILLSEEGSIGNS
TBSPARTS
AWGEEALEACCT
THEWESTWINGAHA
TATROWETACTIC
ATOILEEKMALL
INSIDEBASEBALL
FILMZINEADIA
STEPETTALYNX

I hadn't heard the term INSIDE BASEBALL before — I figured it must refer to the infield fly rule's intricacies, what comprises a balk, why a fielder can't catch with their hat (true!), etc.

How a country that abhors rules can love a game with a nearly 200-page rule book is beyond me.

Some interesting discoveries; five-letter "hidden words" can be tricky to uncover. The clue for BREAKFAST ROLLS hit my ear funny because I'm used to them being more of a sandwich, but ASTRO inside is a neat find. And for considering myself an uber-nerd — a strange one, to boot — I'm ashamed not to be able to identify the STRANGE LOOP.

A lot of colorful fill today, excellent use of mid-length slots. Aimme is spot-on, that CAT LADY, BULLDOG, WHAT IFS sizzle. NARWHAL, CHILLIN', DREIDEL, HASHTAG are fantastic one-worders, too.

I wasn't as enamored by all the glue required, though — AGUE, ADIA, and ATOI can trip up not just newer solvers. I'd sympathize with non-millennial solvers who got the OBI/BAE crossing wrong, too. With such a wealth of riches in the 7-letter slots, I'd have loved more balance between color and cleanliness, which might have reduced the possible sticking points for Monday solvers.

Delightful clue for RING: a good thing to have "on hand" at a wedding, indeed.

Ultimately, this comes down to a "hidden words" puzzle, so I'd have enjoyed longer finds. An hour of searching turned up ORANGE RIND and (1ST) MARINE REGIMENT, which this Seattle homer would have loved.

Tue 4/13/2021
APPSTRAYSWISS
IRANOHSOTONIC
DOPEROADRUNNER
PEELEHEEDARE
HORRORFILMETRE
WSJTOOAEGEAN
YEASRISING
MOUNTAINDEW
FRIENDDAVY
NAPALMEMTKEA
ERASBALBOAPARK
AERMULEPOINT
ROCKYSTARTEDIT
BLEAROREORAGU
YALTASNAPSNOB

Great example of a "words that can follow X" theme. It's been years since Will Shortz declared his moratorium on these, but there's still room for one done well.

What made it stand out: the theme's tightness. How many other words can you think of that complete ROCKY ___? I spent 15 minutes, got only ROCKY Marciano. Not likely you'll find a phrase starting with MARCIANO!

Also neat that the four examples drew from different arenas. An ice cream flavor, a movie title, geography, and a character (from an arena!). I did hitch on ROCKY MOUNTAIN, wanting ROCKY MOUNTAINS, but there are phrases like "Rocky Mountain High" and "Rocky Mountain oysters." It doesn't feel as stand-alone as the others, but it does work.

Generally excellent gridwork, impressive craftsmanship. Five themers should allow for some colorful long down fill, and Mike hit that with PAPER JAM and WAKANDAN / VERTIGO. One could argue that the WAKANDAN / KEA crossing could be tough, but the "Avengers" franchise is a steamroller, and if you're a Tuesday solver, the chances are high that you've run across KEA before.

I paused in the lower-left corner, starting with NAPALM, for the same reasons Mike mentioned. AREOLA is a constructor's crutch, such a friendly combination of vowel-consonant alternation and common letters. BLEAR is bleary. Nothing terrible, but a blemish on an otherwise stellar grid.

Pleasant surprise to enjoy a "words that can follow X" puzzle so much — maybe it's my love for "Rocky" as well as for "Creed." The chemistry between Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone will (sorry) knock you out.

Wed 4/14/2021
CAMOCLARAFRA
RAMENSEWERLET
OPERAPARTBAGO
BONEWEARYORMAN
HONTREBLE
MOTRINSAYSNO
ABRAMHELPEYES
LOAMLAMBOWALE
TEMPELIAMENSA
PAINTSTARTAR
ADORNSFEE
DELTSHEREWEARE
DWIELATEECRUS
TENCOUNTSHEEP
OYETATASTOAD

Debut! I sheepishly must say that I wasn't sure what COUNT / SHEEP indicated at first. Looking at the long Across answers — usually, the entries containing the theme — I did notice that there were a ton of EWEs. Ah, there must be twelve EWEs!

Only six?

Maybe we're counting ewe eyes?

I figured I must have missed some diagonals. Backward diagonals, even. Ah, Nathan must have counted EWEs that take a turn! The middle letter of FEE, for instance, is a starting E. It then travels diagonally southeast to get a W … and then forms four different EWEs, by heading any of four directions to pick up a final E!

I've been doing too many P&As.

Jim Horne gently pointed out that there are other sheep words: LAMB and RAM. Altogether, there are six EWEs, four RAMs, and two LAMBs. Where they are exactly, I'll leave that up to ewe. Not because I'm too lazy to circle them below. It's for your own good. You know what they say, feed a man a sheep, teach a man to sheep …

Such an incredible amount of theme density, those twelve hidden SHEEP packed in everywhere. To escape with minimal short glue is impressive, especially for a debut constructor.

At first, the grid seemed to lack color, with BONE WEARY and HERE WE ARE fine but not that exciting, and RENEWER taking up space. A second look made me remember MAE WEST, though, plus RAMPART and ON A WHIM. And that clue for INSECT, one putting out literal feelers. Great stuff.

Thu 4/15/2021
SUREDIDMACABRE
OVERUSEINERROR
TAXICABCALCIUM
HARSHACTA
PUSSYCATWADES
OPTSUNAGI
STONEPRESEASON
IWOMEAGAINNCO
TOPSECRETTRACI
INTROAFAR
GORDONOSEEUMS
TRIOASHEN
HALCYONMIDDLEC
ISECONDAKIHITO
SPROUTSNONSTOP

MIDDLE C … ? CALCIUM has a middle C (4th out of 7 letters). HALCYON, too. TAXICAB and PUSSYCAT's Cs aren't exactly in the middle, but they're middle-ish.

PRESEASON and NO SEE UMS, though? I no C what's going on … um ...

Ah! I missed the "phonetic" part of the MIDDLE C clue. Each of the theme answers has three syllables, and the middles ones are all pronounced "C." I see, neat concept! I did wonder if TAXICAB worked — in my head, the middle syllable is "E." Ben is a professional linguist, though, so I trust that he's right.

BEQ is one of the best constructors in terms of using mid-length slots to their greatest potential. Will Shortz included one of BEQ's themelesses in a collection of favorites, WHAT THE … headlining. I loved SURE DID, ME AGAIN, I SECOND today.

Tough grid to fill, what with eight (!) themers. Note how many down answers had to cross two themers. The west region, for example, forces a U???O pattern, not flexible at all. UP TWO is a common occurrence in bball, but it feels a tad arbitrary, opening things up for UP FOUR or DOWN THREE.

Too much ACTA ECTO ERI ETO NCO ONT WASI, all entries editors call out on their specs sheets, but one could make a case that allowing for so many great pieces of fill like SURE DID sure did make it worth it.

My last phonetic puzzle befuddled a lot of people, floods of solvers writing to ask what the theme was. I wonder how many people will similarly miss today's concept. That'd be a shame since it's a much more than C-worthy idea.

Fri 4/16/2021
HOPSCOTCHSTRAW
UNSHAPELYIRAQI
STEELTRAPTOPAZ
HOCZIPPERJIBE
POMSRAMADAN
ASTANAOLSON
CHORESNIPEHUNT
TAFTSKINSOHIO
SQUIBKICKPRONG
EMOTETUSHES
COLDWARSANE
IPODLACTICGPS
VIGORCOACHFARE
INAWEKATHIELEE
LENNYSTEINWAYS

A ton of rare letters today — one J, two Qs, and two Zs are nothing to sneeze at. I'm glad Tom didn't force his way into a pangram. I'd much rather have a couple of rare letters worked in smoothly than endure a constructor's feat. (Although, I do know some solvers who dig pangrams.)

I loved how Tom worked in the J, TROJAN HORSE a great answer and JIBE a fine one. [Malicious "gift"] made me think twice, those quote marks so laden with meaning.

I also enjoyed that Z in CALZONE (yum!) and ZIPPER. Some might not be familiar with XYZ = eXamine Your Zipper, but I've needed that reminder many times in my life. Not these days, thankfully — once the lockdown began, the sweatpants came out!

The Q in SQUIB KICK / SHAQ could be tough for non-sportsball fans. Jim Horne didn't know SHAQ was called "The Big Aristotle," and SQUIB KICK mystified; a specialized football term (short kick meant to squirt through the defense).

The Q in IRAQI / AQABA ... IRAQI is perfectly fine, of course, but AQABA's population is about 150,000. One could make the case that solvers should know that Kirkuk is in Iraq, not Iran, and/or AQABA ought to at least sound familiar. I'd be sympathetic to those who judged ANABA as seeming equally if not more acceptable. Maybe fans of Carrie Ann INABA, perhaps.

Excellent clue for STEINWAYS, a major brand in grand pianos. Repeating grand in [Grands costing many grand] confused but then delighted me.

72 words is the max for themelesses, and given that everyone and their grandparents are submitting them during lockdown, the bar is extremely high. This one does have a couple of PSEC (usually written as "ps"), HOC (hard to clue without "ad" or "post"), and ASTANA (now Nur-Sultan). Overall, though, it's a solid construction.

Sat 4/17/2021
FUNFETTICRAFTS
AVIATIONRUBRIC
MATTHEWSINSOLE
HERETICSZEN
ENTERRACKWEST
BOARLONEPEN
BMXSOFTCHEESE
SABBATHRAGDOLL
DRAGRACERSLOO
ACENOAMRIPS
PACKFORMCADET
IRKFLINCHES
LEEWAYFOODCOMA
ONTIMEENDEAVOR
TASTERDEADLAST

My kids will eat anything if it's covered with sprinkles — broccoli surprise, anyone? Why didn't anyone tell me about FUNFETTI? It's not the most clever portmanteau — as I expected, it's fun + confetti — but it's a marketing home run. I baked my daughter's last birthday cake, and for her next one, I fully expect her to pick FUNFETTI. With sprinkles on top, of course.

Standout clue for DRAG RACERS. Already a great entry, making it fresh with a Zoom reference elevates it even further.

Editors often don't give check marks for single-word entries, since ones like ENDEAVOR and INSTANT can be more neutral than assets. When you give AVIATION a zinger of a clue like [The Wright stuff?], though, that can help it stand out.

A few entries/clues that could confuse people:

  • I thought I knew what RUBRIC meant: a classification, as in "under the RUBRIC of ___." I forgot, it can also mean "a general concept that marks divisions or coordinations in a conceptual scheme," which would be helpful in assessing grades.
  • MOS is short for months. I went straight to modi operandi, especially since those Greek gods of mythology often played fast and loose with the rules.
  • [Circular] is a great misdirect, not pointing to roundness, but a piece of paper that circulates; a FLYER.
  • I snarfed a laugh when Jim Horne asked what it meant when chickens got cornfed (pronounced in one syllable, akin to "snarfed").

A lot of great wordplay today and immaculate gridwork. The 72-word themeless has an extremely high (and continually rising) bar, but a few years ago, I would have picked this one as a POW!

POW Sun 4/18/2021 A RARE FIND
LOCALTHOUJAKE
PARTIAFCHENNAATON
STAREMOAELTONWARD
MISSIONIMPOSSIBLE
ITSALOSTCAUSEENOLA
MRIISLETSLIN
PENPALOLEELONEMEA
HISNOISEROCKANT
GMAILGUTGASHIDS
RIDSPSSTOILSUPNET
ANAHEIMRATBITEMAR
SIMSCISSORFERRERA
POWCATHAYBAYSANEW
IRESHAYRONSTUDS
NESSASHAYINGTIE
GOTTOSHAYNERASPED
OUIHAYLEYBRA
ICONSNEEDLESSTOSAY
NEEDLEINAHAYSTACK
SELAALGERSEELAILA
URLSMMHMMSSNOLDEN
ETSYSTYENASTY

★ I love the audacity, stacking a whole lot of HAY around a hidden NEEDLE. I've considered doing something similar with a DOGPILE, but any time you get more than three themers piled atop each other, you're begging for pain. To get six (!) HAYs with a NEEDLE in the middle — without that many fill compromises around them! — is amazing.

(If only there were a famous SHAYNE ...)

When I got to IT'S A LOST CAUSE, I thought it might refer to "losing one's marbles," and the grid looked vaguely like a pachinko machine. That could have been cool! Then, the black squares lent a Tetris-like appearance. I finally figured out the concept and mused that the HAYstack looked like a falling Jenga tower. The games we play!

Although it doesn't look like a traditional haystack, the literal stack of HAY is eye-popping.

IT'S A LOST CAUSE is such a punnily apt phrase for this concept. GRASPING / AT STRAWS is almost as good since HAY can be described as straw-like in appearance. This concept could have felt like a one-trick pony, but Johan did such a great job turning up punnily-related phrases.

Fantastic job with the cluing. I ticked off half a dozen skillful pieces of wordplay, so important to help in holding solvers' interest. [Subway fare] is outstanding, misdirecting innocently to tokens or money. That's Subway, the fast-food chain, and their FOOTLONG sandwiches.

I'm often not a fan of debut short fill, but there's something so kooky about MM HMM — can't decide if I love or hate it. I admire how it has no vowels, though, while OUI has no consonants. Excellent "clue echo."

Not everything worked perfectly, but I admired that a debut constructor shot for the stars. These kinds of brave ideas are what the NYT Sunday needs.

Mon 4/19/2021
SLITPETASKOSH
MACEIRONPALAU
ITEMTENDATEST
THEPRICEISRIGHT
HESEFTUSE
SVUSTPTEA
TOTELLTHETRUTH
SONARARRAORTA
YOUBETYOURLIFE
RNSASPOKS
FAXJAICTS
CLASSICGAMESHOW
OUSTSHOPININE
ONTOEEBANANYA
LEAPTWINGPAST

Let's make a deal: if you can Name That Theme in three guesses, I'll tell you another CLASSIC GAME SHOW that fits the pattern of being a conversational line.

What, no takers? I double dare you! How can you not want to press your luck? People are funny.

(Chuck Barris would have gonged me two paragraphs ago.)

As a latchkey kid, I was raised by game shows, so I love this concept. It didn't hit as strongly as I would have liked, though, as CLASSIC GAME SHOW didn't pack much of a wordplay punch. I brainstormed for a while, thinking about using REALITY TV or GSN somehow, but I couldn't make anything work.

I wonder if no revealer would have been better, perhaps making the clues kookier, somehow tying them to a game show-esque situation in real life.

ACME (Andrea Carla Michaels) is one of the funniest and friendliest crossworld people. I wish her gridwork was cleaner — I'd have asked for revisions in some corners — but it's great to see her bring something of her life that she deeply cares about into today's crossword.

And I did enjoy some SKOSH and REVERE.

Although there were some technical difficulties, this child of the 80s still loved the concept. I bet I could go a long time, saying nothing but TV show titles. It would be an amazing race.

Tue 4/20/2021
RAJAHGIZASMOG
ACURAANINHAHN
MAIMSBONDOLGA
PICBEERGROWLER
EARLDEETEEL
SUBWOOFERRITZY
PAARPARHAH
AERATEDROSETTA
TISBUMAARP
EGESTBOBBARKER
VOLLORIRUDE
ELITEYELPERHIP
ROXYVEERODORS
SNIPEZRAROMAS
OGREYESMAGENT

There's such a flood of great fill in this debut. Kicking things off with JUICE BAR, continuing along the top with a ZINGER and OH GEEZ — talk about GNARLY! Continuing throughout with AW RATS, HOMBRE, the ROSETTA Stone, EVER SO, ELIXIR. OY VEY, that's fantastic!

I usually take the philosophical approach of adding some color while keeping to a minimum of crossword glue, but there's so much to enjoy in the fill that I didn't mind EGEST (tough vocab), OTRAS (foreign plural), ANIN (partial), etc. If you didn't connect with the theme, there's a ton of bonus material to keep you going.

As a pet lover, I enjoyed the DOG noise words GROWLER, WOOFER, BARKER, and YELPER. It's tough to disguise these, though. I have a growler, but I'd never refer to it as a BEER GROWLER. (My neighbor is currently using it for Kombucha, that foul brew.) I've heard enough WOOFER wordplay that this entry confirmed my suspicions, and "Name That Theme" was over all too quickly.

ELITE YELPER … I read up on this but couldn't find the exact term in their FAQ page. There are some not-exact references to it, though. Sorry Adam, not entirely buying it.

Fun concept, but one that didn't generate a strong a-ha because of how hard it is to disguise the critical words. Such a blast of fill sizzle, though — looking forward to Adam's future grids!

Wed 4/21/2021
ABASEBERTR2D2
BUNTSUVEABARN
BONETRECLAIMED
RYANREYNOLDS
WOOTNYUMSN
ANIGALSHECATE
DONDELILLOOTOS
COTANPIECLINT
ODORCOCOCHANEL
PLUNGEKILOGRE
YERONSIPOD
PATTONOSWALT
SWEETRIDEANNIE
AWLSAPEXWICCA
C3POLESTSTEEL

R2D2 = RYAN REYNOLDS? I'm embarrassed to admit the number of times I counted the Rs and Ds in his name, wondering where I misspelled it so I could get the extra D. RYAD REYNOLDS? RYAN REDNOLDS?

(It was twenty-eight.)

Even worse: before I figured out that DON DELILLO was the D* D* = D2, I Googled to see if he was the guy who played R2D2.

I admit these things so you can feel better about yourselves.

COCO CHANEL … I figured I must have been spelling her name wrong all these years. It's Co Co Chanel? Co Co NO! That's a strange C3, then.

(Jim Horne wasn't bothered by this — he sees the theme more simply as a name that contains three Cs. He could well be right.)

Finally, PATTON OSWALT. I bet he's PO'ed that it took me ten minutes to figure out that he's a P.O. and not a P 0 (zero). I wouldn't blame him.

Given the name-heaviness of the theme, I appreciated the non-propers in MATING DANCE, CHOP SAWS, and TALLY HO. SWEET solving RIDE, indeed! ESTROGEN and AD COPY work well, too. Oh, and RECLAIMED wood. What a wealth of riches!

There are more constraints than one might imagine because working around numbers can be tricky. Smooth work up in the northeast, 2 AM a meaningful marker in daylight savings time. I wasn't as hot on WW3, since I always see it as WWIII, but the fill around it is smooth. Solid gridsmanship all around.

Novel take on the "initialisms" genre. I appreciated the consistency, using all people, but the C3 didn't work. Even if it meant having less consistency, I'd have preferred entries like CHILI CON CARNE and PEARL OYSTER, since they more strictly fit the initialisms rules.

Thu 4/22/2021
MAPLEONTOPSCI
IGLOSHOHASCOL
SEANCONNERYIKE
UNCPOEMCHAI
SCENTSSHOTER
EYDIESECTPITA
CASHBARCIG
PIERCEBROSNAN
RONUBERPOL
EWANLADYTENOR
PETRELTYRONE
RIANSHMONSA
TAZDANIELCRAIG
ADZIDONTAORTA
BEYTATTODCTEN

Oh, oh, I know what the theme is!

Most of the time, I like overt revealers in puzzles, something like JAMES BOND or DOUBLE-O SEVEN to make sure no one misses what's going on. Today, though, this James Bond fan appreciated the more subtle approach.

That said, I'm sure I'll get a slew of mail, even after people read DOUBLE-O SEVEN in the above paragraph. Even after I point out here that the double-Os are formed in the shape of a 7. (I didn't notice that until Jim Horne highlighted them, see grid below. How cool is that?)

Some excellent fill by today's debut constructor, especially considering the constraints forced by the OO placements. Strong work, incorporating one OO into UBER POOL, a lively and current entry. COOKIE TIN is colorful, too.

Even better, such great use of non-theme-dense areas like the southwest corner, where Jem had a ton of flexibility. IN A TIZZY is excellent, and POWERADE gives an interesting fact about FIFA World Cup sponsorship.

With all the thematic factors constraining the grid, I'm impressed with the low amount of partials (I DON'T), abbrs (NLER, SCI), and only-in-crosswords (DCTEN, usually DC-10).

I've seen a lot of James Bond puzzles over the years, so it's tough to wow me, but that 7 formed by OOs was eye-popping (once I noticed it.) It did feel odd to get a random subset of Bond actors, though, and it's a shame that IDRIS ELBA didn't make it in.

Just sayin', at 9 letters long, he perfectly matches JAMES BOND ...

POW Fri 4/23/2021
ABETSAMEXRIOT
DRAWLLIMEWEDGE
AERIEBRUSHFIRE
MALTESEAUDEN
SKYPARAPETS
FRONTROWSEATS
STRIVEBEEFFRO
ERODEDIMOTTER
TISROOTPRIEST
HOTAPPLECIDER
MASERATITIM
FIBERMANCAVE
IDONTCARENOSIR
TEDDYBEARENTER
SAYSSRTAREEDY

★ A much harder than usual Weintraub Friday puzzle, but I still loved it. There's so much playfulness, so much to enjoy in evocative entries like SLEEPOVER PARTY, WHATS FOR DINNER, HOT APPLE CIDER. I spend a lot of time thinking about great phrases to add to our word list, but none of these three had occurred to me.

(Maybe when my kids enter that dreaded age of losing-sleep sleepovers. I can already sense the impending crankiness …)

Why was this puzzle so difficult, and more importantly, why did that make me enjoy it a tad less than a typical Weintraub Friday?

One reason was the unusual grid layout. Instead of having most of the snazz squeezed into the four corners, it's spread throughout. I love how SLEEPOVER PARTY, WHAT'S FOR DINNER, FRONT ROW SEATS, and HOT APPLE CIDER build an open skeleton, with so much EARLY FROST, TEDDY BEAR filling the perimeter. It does make it harder to gain traction, though.

Another reason was that some of the wordplay cluing nearly went over my head. Jim Horne and I had to spend a minute figuring out why a CONE is a cup alternative (neither of us has gone out for ice cream for roughly a year — what else have we forgotten about?). I often admire "directive" clues, but [Snap out of it?] for CAMERA (you get a "snap" or a pic out of a camera) made my tiny brain snap.

I like it when puzzles make me feel smart. When I can rip through a themeless in under-record time, I often feel strongly positive about it. The opposite can also be true.

Thankfully, there was more than enough to delight me. The clue for POEM, getting measured in both feet and meters, is both genius and smile-inducing; absolutely perfect wordplay.

I appreciate that there are (equally valid) constructing philosophies out there, but I so love Robyn's pure fun-and-enjoyment approach. It's by far my favorite.

Sat 4/24/2021
DIMBULBFLING
AWAYTEAMMEANIE
WISEACREREDANT
NNEHARRYSTYLES
IRKREMOPFIRE
SWARMLEGOREST
PITIESNITTI
ANISTONSTRETCH
KABOBSENHOR
TEARSTEPEDENS
ALLITIARASUV
POINTOFVIEWSEW
TIGGERIMSOSURE
ASHLEYSPORTAGE
PETESSPELLED

I've had the fortune to spend some time with Kristian at the ACPT several times, so it gave me a laugh to see some of his humor come out today. There's something so hilarious about a Saturday NYT crossword kicking off with DIM BULB and WISEACRE. Beautiful clue for AWAY TEAM, too — I could not imagine what kind of Rocky Mountains wouldn't be in Colorado. That's baseball's Colorado Rockies, on the road!

I flew through this puzzle, finishing in well under record time. Given my theory that difficulty and enjoyment are often inversely proportional, I should have given this one the POW!, right? I did enjoy it, especially with the fantastic wordplay in KRIS KRINGLE as a literal "stocking stuffer," and LADY FRIENDS cleverly using the modern word "boo," as in one's romantic partner.

So why did I enjoy yesterday's more? I couldn't place my finger on it, but it helped to list out some of today's entries:

HARRY STYLES

ANISTON

ELOISE

MASERATI

BEAVIS

MRS POTTS

These are all people that others will likely resonate strongly with — maybe someone who loved Eloise as a kid, someone who watched a lot of Beavis and Butthead, someone who's soothed by Angela Lansbury's singing voice. Me, not so much — but that's okay. It's not simply that these folks are all Caucasian. It's that I don't have a personal connection to any of them. People-heavy puzzles can be divisive, but as Erik Agard said recently, if this one isn't aimed at you, that's okay; hopefully, an upcoming one will be.

Fantastic clue to end this post: [Hardly a man without morals] as AESOP. No morals to this post, simply one dimbulb's opinions.

Sun 4/25/2021 STRETCHING EXERCISES
POEMPHILTRIPINFECT
ENTOURAGEHURLSOOTHE
PECORINOCHEESESCOTIA
LASSHUHAQUADUCK
ALTOELITES
ARISILKALEXEELBIG
HANDNOOBLACEDSODA
ENCODERASSLEDHIYALL
ABIDESELLGLUTENFREE
SOFREAKINLY
DYETUXPARRAISIR
BESTRAPPERFORMANCE
THIRSTEASYBREED
VANITYIMEANITSOYEAH
AIDECOEDSDOMEARGO
DRYRAHBUTTPUTSYET
LATEPAPERSSCAM
ROLWORAWTRUESUP
ORIENTBENICIODELTORO
DAMAGEOPUSMOANK
ELOPEDYANKSHOWAPSE

Jeremy! One of the most creative constructors out there; he'd be high on my list of Sunday Specialists. One involving doors he wrote with Tony Orbach was such a memorable puzzle.

Today's isn't mind-blowing, only a few months since our last "stretching" puzzle. The Sunday canvas is so big that it's a shame not to use it for big ideas.

However, a secondary way to make a puzzle feel Sunday-appropriate is to use colorful entries that are longer than 15 letters, so they'll feel fresh.

AB-SO-FREAKING-LUTELY is an entry I'd ab-so-fricking-lutely love to build a puzzle around. Not only that, but it incorporates two of the stretched muscles, an AB and a GLUTE!

BEST RAP PERFORMANCE is also strong.

I've been a big fan of BENICIO DEL TORO's work ever since seeing his star turn in "The Usual Suspects," so I loved getting his full name. Even though it's only 14 letters long, so could fit into a 15x15 grid, it'd be an extreme challenge to work it in as 15x15 fill.

Jeremy is so creative about his fill, too, one of the few constructors who regularly debuts entries that we don't already have on our word list. I hadn't heard of the AQUADUCK, only recently learned about THIRST TRAP, and somehow had missed TEAL GREEN.

And AB SO FREAKING LUTELY — this entry alone was worth every minute I put into my solve.

I'm not so sure about ROLL A TWO, as it feels arbitrary. Jim Horne, who's been involved orchestrating many plays over his lifetime, hadn't heard the term SET CREW. So yeah, what makes for strong fill is so subjective.

Jeremy's gridwork is always so polished. His 140-word grid is cleaner than most of the 15x15's this week!. It might seem like he had an advantage with this theme — those stretched squares give fewer overall squares to fill — but it gets tricky with so many funky elongated-letter crossings.

Although the theme didn't delight me — it might have been stronger if the muscles were in anatomical position — I appreciate the reminder that sometimes a Sunday doesn't need a great concept to still have a raison d'être.

POW Mon 4/26/2021
VISAPRIMPAMOR
ESPNLAMARZONE
THEYAGAMEAPEX
WHITECASTLE
OTISSERE
ADJOINNEARBY
BAASURFACEOUI
BINGMOOREMSRP
AREARLOTLIEGE
YALEEDSURGE
SQUADPCTBEARD
AUSDELOUSERKO
METALAUDEADIN
BEEPSYRIATENN
ANNEASTORANGE

★ Such a regal theme, WHITE CASTLE, DAIRY QUEEN, and BURGER KING all members of a FOOD COURT! I'm kicking myself, having never noticed this connection. I haven't had such a strong feeling of being outWITTed in ages. (Wish I'd Thought of That)

Neat gridwork, too. You don't even have to squint that hard to see castle shapes in the grid. Imagine the top of a rook (castle) in chess — don't the top five rows evoke that? I can also imagine a main gate in the south, with crenels above FOOD COURT.

There is a bit of a moat, with ANGE mucking around with ADIN, TENN, RKO. I had a long moment of hesitation before giving this the POW! because there are so many trouble spots that could turn away newer solvers.

Pinching DAIRY QUEEN and BURGER KING inward one column might have helped (then placing black squares at the Y of YALE and E of URGE). Filling cleanly around two adjacent long downs can be such a bear.

However, I did enjoy the bonuses of JANE AUSTEN and ROSE GARDEN. They didn't offset all the hitches I experienced through the short fill, but they did make up for some of it.

All in all, a fantastic theme — so fun, elegantly wrapped up with a perfect revealer.

Tue 4/27/2021
CLOPSNARFOTTO
LAVSNADERFAIR
ICEICEBABYFINN
PERLEONSEPIA
BOURBONSTREET
SCOPESINAIRE
SHOTSFAXING
TIKIJULEPORZO
CHUTESSPAIN
ABOUNOSPRINT
MINTCONDITION
BREAKIRAEYEA
EDITSUGARDADDY
RIDETAINTWAGE
SEARYETISEYES

ICE ICE BABY brings back memories. Cringeworthy ones, yes, but the kid don't play.

I didn't realize that a JULEP was a thing by itself — I've only heard it as a MINT JULEP. Wikipedia's "julep" entry points to "mint julep," so this does seem suspect, but Webster's seems to think it's fine. I can buy that.

I enjoy cocktails — definitely not the frou-frou kind with teeny tiny childish colorful delightful squee-worthy umbrellas, mind you — so it was fun to see the recipe for a JULEP develop. The game was up quickly, though, as BOURBON after ICE melted any sense of mystery.

As much as I enjoy a refreshing mint julep, a gin-based cocktail might have produced a bigger a-ha moment — something like COTTON GIN could conceal the ingredient much better.

There's some debate about theme revealers placed in the middle vs. at the bottom. A revealer in the omega (final Across) spot is ideal, since it allows the a-ha moment to build up, hopefully packing a giant punch when a solver does encounter it. A middle revealer can be fine, but only if it doesn't make the rest of the puzzle feel superfluous. Since JULEP is such a short word, I'd have much preferred it tucked away somewhere near the bottom.

Not having to deal with the J in the middle of the puzzle could have helped smooth things out, too, since Js aren't flexible letters. Having to deploy so many black squares around the middle meant that Jeff couldn't use as many up top, thus gluey bits like ADANO and SST.

A fun debut for cocktail drinkers, if a bit too overt.

Wed 4/28/2021
SELFSTIRSJAMB
SPURTONIOARIA
NINEAESOPBEND
CASEYATTHEBAT
CASTASIDE
SENORASURFER
GLOTVSETIKE
TIARAOLAHAREM
CANADAGEESE
CHECKPLEASE
ALIMEAERRSAN
RADIISACRE
OPENANDSHUTCASE
MENDARIESIPOD
ALTOBYRNEDENY

OPEN AND SHUT CASE ... seems like the theme should be easy to figure out. Some might even say open and shut. Yet Jim Horne and I spent five minutes on the phone, discussing why a CASE to CAS/E to CA/SE to CAS/E to CASE progression would mean "open and shut." It felt more like a deck of cards being riffled to me. And why the stack pairs of themers? Was that supposed to elicit a suitcase-esque image?

In any case (sorry), the progression worked, and I appreciated that each themer fit exactly one pattern. For instance, CATCH PHRASE could have fit either CA/SE or C/ASE. I don't know how many solvers would have noticed that (or cared), but I enjoy those types of touches.

Mike Shenk at the WSJ doesn't like mirror symmetry unless the theme or grid absolutely calls for it. It was perfect for Monday's puzzle, but it felt out of place for today's. Placing OPEN AND SHUT CASE in the middle row would have allowed for normal symmetry, although it would give away the game quicker.

OPEN AND SHUT CASE is a great phrase to play on. This isn't the most a-ha-inducing execution, but it's a different take on the "word progressions" genre.

Thu 4/29/2021
WOOFORCABATHS
HURLWINGUSEUP
ITWOULDBEASHAME
SPOUTSCOPEROD
KURTZLPSORB
STSHILDAIFMY
SERRANOROLFE
HAIKUWERE
COYERPINESAP
TOBEBRENTPIP
HMSSAOWISER
RECALIGPONCHO
ONESYLLABLETOOL
BONUSELLAERLE
SWEETDAMNREED

I can't remember struggling to solve a Thursday this much in years. Quote puzzles usually ease up on the Down clues because you essentially can't use the Across entries. Not today. I absolutely love the clue for BUSES, "certain ways to work," misdirecting toward collaboration styles. It was harder to appreciate than usual, though, since I was so badly stuck trying to uncover the first line of the poem.

Fun concept, playing with the HAIKU form of 5-7-5 syllables. I didn't get why the extra syllable of LONG was squeezed into a rebus square, though. Seemed like the gag would have worked just as well if it hadn't been rebusized. Maybe that would have allowed for a more elegant Haiku presentation of three lines? It'd be hard to pack seven syllables into 15 or 16 letters, but it's not like there are many other constraints in a Haiku.

There was so much to love in the grid, great use of mid-length slots: OR WORSE, HUMOR ME, COME NOW, OBSCENE, AP SCORE, and especially PIEHOLE. What a wealth of riches! I don't mind a bit of RHYE, tricky KURTZ crossing UTZ, ERLE, etc., for that payoff.

Love the clue for OWLS, too. Excellent appropriation of the phrase "head-turner."

However, it was tough for me to fully appreciate all the great aspects of Adam's grid when the solve was so off-the-charts difficult. Along with not having a great rationale for a rebus square, it all didn't resonate. A simpler presentation might have been more effective, perhaps a paradoxical haiku?

Jim Horne made me spit take with laughter with the ones he mentions below.

Fri 4/30/2021
VASEDRESSSHOES
IPOSBASICCABLE
TOUTAUSTRALIAN
ALLAHLIEINEND
LOSTONEVENT
GEESEISEENOW
BEASODASDRONE
ITRYNIPINMIEN
BICEPATTICSAT
SCHWINNGREET
SKOALHERMAN
ERAACRIDERATO
LANECLOSEDAKIN
SIDEHUSTLENEMO
ANYGUESSESTRES

Fantastic southwest corner, colorful SIDE HUSTLE anchoring the triplet, understandable even if you've never heard the term. My kids are big Pokémon fans, so I got a charge (sorry) out of PIKACHU. I also have vivid memories of "The Wiz," so DIANA ROSS brought back many memories. It all hit my wavelength strongly, although poor Jim Horne, the Pokémon muggle, struggled to piece together PIKACHU letter by letter. I could see how someone might think that it's perhaps derived from the paca, so PAKACHU and SCHWANN might look just as correct. Maybe even SCOAL with PACACHU.

Jim and I had a conversation about NIP IN. It's undoubtedly an undesirable entry, as nearly every editor calls out partials. I was surprised to conclude that I'd rather see NIP IN rather than NIP alone. I hate partials as most as most constructors, but at least NIP IN steers solvers completely away from the racial slur.

I could not figure out why GEESE might be getting me down, except that the blasted creatures chase me down the beach, pecking at me as they screech their monstrous cries. I don't have a problem with GEESE, you do!

(You get goose down from geese feathers, d'oh!)

I loved the clue for AUSTRALIAN. It's fun to learn foreign lingo, and if I could pull off saying "no wukkas," I surely would. If you haven't read Cryptonomicon. it's well worth it, even if only for the Qwghlm idioms.

Two clues to explain:

  • DBA = "doing business as." Common in the business world.
  • I love the word SCRIES, ever since Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. For years, I've left it at the nominal 50 level in our word list, but I've recently downgraded it, based on negative solver feedback. Live and learn.

I wish this 72-worder had a few more zingy long entries, but there was still enough SOUL SEARCH, NOISEMAKER, ONE AT A TIME (lots of subjectivity in terms of what long entries one considers an asset!) to keep me satisfied.

XWord Info Home
XWord Info © 2007-2024, Jim Horne
112 ms