I eagerly finished the puzzle and re-read the notepad. Four solutions? I couldn't wait to find another one! This had to be some sort of Schrödinger. Maybe a variant where each circled letter could be not just one of two valid letters, but four.
I spent two invalid hours seeking out different solutions. I did find ANOTHER ONE in the circled letters, but where were the final two?
And then it dawned on me … there are four solutions in the grid. Specifically, chemical solutions (containing a solute dissolved into a solvent): MOUTHWASH, HAND SANITIZER, WINDOW CLEANER, and SALT WATER. Chemistry joke, ha! I'm glad I worked so hard to figure it out because that's clever. April Fools!
I'm curious to see what percentage of solvers figured out the full joke, and of those, what sub-percentage laughed. It's definitely higher than my wife's enjoyment percentage of having her mouthwash replaced with hand sanitizer this morning.
Sometimes constructors wanting to hit for the cycle ask me how they can get their themeless targeted for a Saturday instead of a Friday. SPREZZATURA is a sure way to do it! Will Shortz tends to reserve Fridays for grids where all the debut entries are phrases composed of regular words, whereas Saturdays tend to feature those debuts that are either proper names or terms where it's critical to ensure that every cross is fair.
OMAKASE and ISFAHAN push this one toward Saturday territory, too. After ten years of frequenting sushi bars, I hadn't heard of OMAKASE until my boss took me out for a business dinner once AND BLEW MY MIND. You tell the chef to prepare whatever he or she thinks is freshest and most interesting? Yes, please! (As long as your boss is footing the $250 bill.)
I enjoyed some of the long fill today, SPRAY TAN, WIZARDRY, NO CAMERAS, STREET SMART, and DEATH RAYS in particular. Nothing that I'd tweet about, but a lot to admire.
Even better: some of the cluing delights. Most of it was of the telltale question mark variety, like [Met someone?] playing on an OPERA GOER attending the Met. However, the highlight was a baffling statement, [Color not generated by light]. This physics nerd spent far too much time reviewing principles of refraction before eventually landing on the SPRAY TAN as an artificial color that (sun)light does not produce. That's the kind of Saturday deceit I love.
And some of it went over my head, so I'm glad that Jim Horne pointed out the delight of the DEATH RAYS clue. I read "beyond stunning" and figured it referred to incredible special effects. Nope, that's as in setting your phasers beyond stun, to kill!
SOFT OPTIONS is an apt title for this puzzle, in many ways. Most importantly, when parsed as S OF T OPTIONS, it explains that each of the eight themers follow a three-word pattern, where the first starts with S, the second is OF, and the last begins with T. Note that all the answers stay strictly in three-word territory, making for strong consistency.
Amazing that there are so many solid S* OF T* phrases! I'd have guessed that there might be five, reasonable for a basic weekday theme. I'm not sure I'd ever have come up with SON OF TARZAN or STARS OF TOMORROW. Byron has an uncanny ability to dream up all sorts of entries that are new to crosswords.
I didn't know what soft options meant, which also made it appropriate given some of the fill. Yes, BAD RATING is a debut entry, as is SETS OF TONGS and STATE OF TENNESSEE. "Are these entries I squee over" is a different matter. (Also, see BROCHE, EX ANTE, and RUNED.) It's an issue I often struggle with in Byron's puzzles, giving me fits about how I ought to score these "fresh" entries.
I appreciate that Byron tried to do offer something out of the ordinary by going down to themeless-esque, 132-word territory. The result didn't wow me like a themeless should, though, and the much-too-simple, one-trick theme might not belong on the big Sunday palette.
Still, it's great to experiment and to push boundaries in new ways.
My son is in the building-dinosaurs-out-of-LEGOs phase. I'm not sure whether to be awed or annoyed when he gives me that "how could you possibly not know what an Archaeopteryx is?" look.
Interesting point about the difficulty of not repeating SAURUS in themers. Considering the sheer volume of dinopedia esoterica I'm barraged with, I wouldn't have blinked twice at DIPLODOCUS ("double beam"), GALLIMIMUS ("chicken mimic"), COELOPHYSIS ("hollow form"), or IGUANODON ("iguana tooth").
Did you know that ARCHAEOPTERYX's scientific name is "daddicus dinooverloadicus"?
Solid gridwork; highly newb-friendly fill. ESTER could be tough — even this chemistry wonk tends to mistake that for the name ESTHER when filling a grid — but there's nothing else that's remotely NOT OK.
It's a shame that there are no bonus slots longer than seven letters, but filling those mid-lengthers with MR FIXIT, MADONNA, and EYEROLL helped make up for that. I'd like to see what Derek could do by removing the black square under ICILY — that'd create juicy 11-letter slots.
I'd have enjoyed working harder to uncover the theme. Taking out "dinosaur" from each of the clues might have created more of a VELOCIRAPTOR bite. Still, fun to end it with the T. REX clue — especially if you imagine a T. Rex with an Elvis pompadour or moonwalking.
There's a crossword theme in there somewhere ...
HOLD MY BEER! I hadn't encountered this phrase until it debuted in a themeless, but I've seen it everywhere since. Great riff today, Bruce disguising containers that beer typically comes in.
I wasn't sure if I liked CASE as a HOLD MY BEER themer. Wouldn't CAN be more in line with GLASS, PITCHER, and BARREL? I decided I enjoyed the creative stretch, since it helped delay and build the a-ha moment at the end.
Building an early-week puzzle around a central 9 (SPACE CASE) can be a challenge, since each corner becomes a 7x3 chunk, at minimum. Seven-letter entries can be so tough to fill with color, but Bruce did well with ZIP FILE, EARSHOT, and TEST RUN. GERMANE is even an interesting one-worder.
It's a lot to ask solvers to remember an attorney general from generations ago, but the ED MEESE crosses seemed reasonable (OSU = Ohio State University).
IONA crossing AMANA seemed less fair, although Don McLean would disagree. Even IANA crossing LAS GATOS might be plausible. It's tricky — all those entries can be argued as fair and crossworthy, but crossing them makes for a much less newb-friendly experience than crossing HIP and IDEA, for example.
I wondered why POWDER KEG didn't make its way into the theme, but I warmed to Bruce's alternate approach, using CASE. I like it when an early-week theme obfuscates in a creative way.
[*All for one] contains excellent crosswordplay. Not only does "All for one" mean something drastically different than [All, for one], but LAUNDRY DETERGENT is a fine grid entry.
[*Final say] works because adding a comma wildly skews its meaning. However, COURSE EXAM is something I'd grade poorly if it showed up in another crossword.
Will Shortz rarely allows one-word themers. ANNOYANCES as a theme entry is an annoyance.
I enjoyed the clue for COMMA, chuckling at "Let's eat people!", as Jill and I have a related running joke. Our kids constantly poke at anything new and twist up their faces, asking, "What is this?" Our answer is always a stoic Soylent Green.
Thin theme, but TO BE FAIR, Damon worked in a lot of great bonus material — CANTALOUPE, TRICKERY, DIRTY RAT, THAT'S ODD, TWEEDLEDUM helped keep up my interest.
★ Innovative twist for a Thursday!
If you didn't get that, we've highlighted the four KEY words below. Rotate those four KEYs 90 degrees to make sense of each Down entry.
Amazing that Lucy and Ross found enough different ways to incorporate KEY, too. The old kids' joke asks, what three keys open no locks? Answer: donkey, monkey, turkey. If I only had a shot of WHISKEY for every time I heard that!
Solid finds in OKEY DOKE, HOCKEY, and JOCKEY to flesh it out. Others I could think: JOKEY Smurf, MIKEY Day, RICHARD LEAKEY, RICKEY Henderson, and a toadying LACKEY. Crikey!
MONKEY PAW instead of MONKEYS PAW made me hitch. That is, until I saw the creepy picture Peele's production company uses. W.W. Jacobs's story seems like a nursery rhyme compared to this!
I found it confusing that UNIONISTS and EMMA STONE stole the headlines, along with ROBOT KITS and CHEYENNES. I usually dig long bonuses, but these muddied the waters. An alternate layout where the KEY themers are the longest entries would be difficult, but not impossible, especially if you went up to the max of 78 words. Minor point, though.
I've had many editors give me the stink-eye for KOD, TKOD, even KOS, saying that they look so weird. I avoid them now because the editors are the gateKEYpers, but they still seem fine to me.
Innovative, POW!-worthy idea, with a great (WARNING, PUN ALERT!) spin.
"This isn't what it looks like!" is what my son says when I ask him why he stuffs his socks and shirt behind the toilet before pooping.
We have many off-putting NUDE SCENEs at my house.
Only one debut entry today, TWO POINTS, whose clue confused the heck out of this fantasy basketball nut. Great repurposing of "safety net" — after banging my head to realize that a safety in football nets you TWO POINTS. A lot more "air ball" than "nothing but net" for this benchwarmer!
I have a soft spot for ELF; something about Will Ferrell's childlike perspective is heart-warming. His swearing — "Son of a nutcracker!" — makes me laugh doubly hard because my kids don't know any swear words yet. I might be a stupid pee-pee dumbhead, but what are you?
I enjoyed a lot of MATHLETE, A-LISTERS, ART DECO, GET REAL, SIREN SONG, but there wasn't as much zing or freshness as I've come to expect out of a Caitlyn Reid puzzle. Still, when you misdirect away from OUTLAW by using [Wanted one], it's hard to leave one wanting.
A ton of debut material today! Not only is CENSUS DATA a fresh, interesting phrase, but that clue sizzled. [Gathering that occurs once per decade] … some sort of deca-Olympics? A changing-of-the-decade New Year's party? Nope, that's "gathering," as in DATA gathering. Wickedly clever way to create an a-ha.
[Bishop's group] ... CHESS SET? CLERGY? No …
Ah. Joey BISHOP was a member. I bet some solvers in my parents' generation had a delightful a-ha.
Will Shortz generally avoids politics in crosswords, but it's not fake news that OBAMA BIDEN perfectly alternates consonant-vowel. Huge boon to crossword constructors!
Not all debuts are created equal, though. CUT A DEAL, yes. SAWERS … cut that out! Even CNN POLL made me pause, sounding a bit arbitrary, but then I realized how much I'd seen it in the headlines recently.
CAFTAN or KAFTAN? To my surprise, KAFTAN is listed first in the Wikipedia article. I admit I was wrong, oh K?
Kind of an older feel with STOOLIES, Yogi BERRA, Steffi GRAF, and of course, Joey Bishop. Thankfully, enough interesting material like TV REPORTER / NEXT PLEASE, ROB A BANK appealing to my love of Money Heist, and PHONE TAG / CUT A DEAL to not leave a BAD TASTE.
A couple of years ago, I ran across PEANUT ALLERGY / PEANUT GALLERY while investigating a different theme idea. It was so neat that I wrote it down in my spreadsheet … and promptly forgot about it among the thousands of entries. D'oh! David found a neat way to present this magnificent finding.
POWER STRIP / POWER TRIPS is also cool, as is SEASHORE / SEAHORSE. The latter elicits a tongue-twister feel, too — she sells sea horses by the sea hell …
Smart to present MOVIE TROPES in the grid instead of MOVIE POSTER, since coming up with POSTER from TROPES feels much easier than the other way around. However, I'd have liked a more overt clue like [Glossy cinema display featuring stars' names], since anagramming six letters is challenging.
Even five letters can be tricky. MENTAL LAPSE to MENTAL … PEALS? [The ringing inside Jeff's head as he overthinks things]
Four-letter anagrams aren't nearly as impressive, like SPOT to STOP. It's also not as interesting if one of the pair is much less common than the other, like OIL PALM to OIL LAMP, or BLACK STAR to BLACK RATS. Er, BLACK ARTS.
I'm all for going to sub-140 words, if the solving experience doesn't suffer. Beginning my solve with OSOS ESSE AMI ERSE … that's not a HOT TAMALE corner. I'm glad that David made up for some of that with solid bonuses in FLIP SIDE, ASIA MINOR, GEM STATE. A bit GLITCHY here and there, but certainly not IT'S A MESS.
Enjoyable concept. My obsessiveness forced me to run the code to see what other examples I could find: HEAD USHERS / HEAD RUSHES, TURKEY BREAST / TURKEY BASTER, and SUGAR LUMPS / SUGAR PLUMS. Some of these might have strengthened today's solving experience. Alternately, concentrating the five best finds into a Thursday 15x15 could have enhanced the presentation.
Most editors have now turned their backs on "words that can follow X" themes. Getting one past the NYT's 4% acceptance rate takes something special. Today's debut does a lot toward doing just that.
The most notable feature is the tightness of the PICKUP theme. How many other words besides LINES, GAMES, TRUCKS, STICKS, can you think of that can fill in "PICKUP ___"? I banged my head for 30 minutes but could only dig up JOINTS and ARTISTS. That limited set creates a sense of elegance.
There are other elements that help the theme pick up steam. (PICK UP STEAM doesn't fit the theme because "pick up steam" isn't a noun.) Note that Rachel was careful to put all her keywords in plural form for solid consistency.
A couple of fantastic clues, too. [Record holder] is a Friday-level wordplay clue that so innocently misleads. Thanks to the easy crossings, newer solvers experience the joy of figuring out that a record SLEEVE is the answer; nothing to do with an Olympic record holder.
A few FAULT LINES, like the central diagonal nearly splitting the puzzle in half and an ANNEE / LEA crossing could trip up newer solvers. However, Rachel did a lot to elevate her puzzle. I don't want to see more than one or two "words that can follow X" puzzles in a year, but this is the type that I welcome.
I recently picked up 100 Things to Be When You Grow Up for my kids, and to my surprise, "Crossword Constructor" was in there! The author's understanding of the word "career" is much different from mine. A few years ago, I had the good fortune to hang out with Patrick Berry, who is head and shoulders above the rest of us, making an actual living at this instead of getting paid lunch money for doing something we love. His secret? Live frugally.
That book got "lost," and I steered my kids to one about engineering.
Smile-inducing plays on "___ job" phrases. I've seen [Union job?] wordplay before, hinting at WEDDING PLANNER, OFFICIANT, etc., but it's still fun. Fresher was [Temp job?], a great way to kick off the puzzle. A temporary temperature worker sounds like the perfect intern for Goldilocks.
I was expecting [Flex job?] to be PERSONAL TRAINER. Nice surprise to get YOGA INSTRUCTOR instead.
The clue for OXYGEN has been changed a few times, so if you don't see [Most abundant element in Earth's crust], that's what it should be. I had an interesting exchange with Brad Wilber, who fact-checks for Will Shortz, about a previous version. TLDR; what would you guess is the most common element in Earth (by mass)? Turns out it's iron!
The grid has some blips — if you already have AGAR, adding another biology liquid like SERA ain't great — but Dan's long bonuses overshadowed the minor HELI IND kinds of blips. Perfect alternation of those long Downs, so much space to maximize flexibility. Dan hit it big with OLD MEDIA / PEN NAMES / TO FOLLOW / HIT IT BIG.
Test-solving this one, I forgot to add in the circles to the draft file, giving me the impression the puzzle was simply ROCK PAPER SCISSORS in random locations. Clearly, I've been hit in the head with ROCK too many times and should be PAPERed up.
Neat graphical depiction of the three winning actions, PA PER cut by SCISSORS, SCIS SORS broken by ROCK, and RO/CK covered by PAPER. I've seen many ROSHAMBO puzzles over the years, but this one stands out with that cool visual explanation.
The weakest pictogram was PAPER covering ROCK, since usually I describe this action with one hand wrapping over a fist. It works okay, but perhaps a slight wrap-around would have helped. Even something subtle, like adding another P at the first S of PEGASUS, would have hinted more at that wrap-around coverage.
I loved the way Rebecca kicked off this puzzle, clue-echoing 1- and 2-Down. What a difference punctuation makes! Changing the placement of the end quote creates a significant shift in meaning. Clever way to use the same hint in two vastly different senses — that's good thinking, indeed!
Fantastic clue for USED CD, too. I don't have a way to play CDs anymore, but I'd gladly buy something to hear a USED CD "secondhand."
I nearly failed at the north, with the ASAHI / NACRE / CHOI crossings. I was convinced it had to be CHOY / DRYER at first — thank goodness for the triple-check in SCIS SORS!
Standout ROSHAMBO puzzle, fun every couple of years to see one that builds on previous ones. I'm curious to see what next-level thinking we'll get in the next one.
★ Brilliant. Lowercase m looking like r + n smashed together? That's a strong concept in itself. Combining this with the perfect revealer — FROM STEM TO STERN — makes it a constructor's gem. Praise the benevolent Crucivera, goddess of crosswords, for her magnificent gift!
Excellent theme phrases, too. It'd be all too easy to use dictionary definitions that are unsatisfying to uncover, like if [Burns] had been the clue for OVERCOOKS IN THE OVEN. I'd be happy to get SPINNING WHEEL or BRASS SECTION in a themeless, and WHAT A GOOD BOY AM I is straight out of a nursery rhyme.
SCOTTISH POET did feel like an ODD SOCK compared to the others. Is GERMAN COMPOSER crossworthy? How about SOUTHEASTERN BOXER? I'd have preferred a sizzling (pun intended) phrase like GOES UP IN SMOKE for [Bums?].
Not easy to deal with 12-letter themers in the middle, surrounding a 13-letter middle entry. We try to avoid "cheater squares" whenever possible, but adding black squares at the U of USTA and S of ORES can enhance visual appeal. Yes, it's subjective, but pyramid blocks can be so eye-catching.
People ask me all the time what editors are looking for. It's a tough question to answer since most editors say they know it when they see it. If I had to put some words to it, I'd use fresh, interesting, surprising, indescribable ideas. This one hits all of those criteria and more.
Whenever I see Trenton's byline, I know to put on my X-ray Spex PDQ, because he loves working with rare letters. That mindset got me unstuck several times today. [Beautiful and rare] is generic enough to be many things. Thinking about what possible answer contain a JQXZ, EXOTIC popped right to mind. Especially because Trenton's used it before!
Anything with six letters that involves "alchemist" has to be ELIXIR. TEXTBOOK EXAMPLE of Trenton's work.
I enjoy rare letters when they're working in smoothly; no shoehorn or ramrod needed. FALL EQUINOX intersecting AQUA and OXEN is silky. XXX and XOXO are hot!
(XO) repeated ad infinitum is not. What's next, seeding a themeless with XOXOXOXOXOXOXOX? (For the love of Crucivera, please don't do that.)
My most memorable moment was uncovering YOO HOO nearby YO HO HO. Such a delightful juxtaposition, and I loved the surprise of seeing something different out of a Charlson themeless.
I also loved three examples of clues that generated an a-ha not by wordplay, but by giving enough of a nudge to flip me from WTF? to FTW! Did Trenton really expect me to know Russian saints? Some toon with a brother named Castor? Fruit-related book characters?
Ah! CYRIL, as in CYRILLIC. OLIVE OYL punnily is Castor Oyl's sister. And of course, Huckleberry FINN. Great trifecta.
Not the smoothest of products, with tough foreign vocab ECOLES and our old crossword muse ERATO reminding us that entries with common letters and perfect consonant-vowel alternation are so valuable to constructors. However, enough great entries and well-integrated rare letters to make for an overall enjoyable solve.
Hemant got caught by a few years, GOTTA CATCH EM ALL debuting back in 2017. Pokemon Go was all the rage back then … is it still popular? This, coming from a guy who still clings on to the heyday of Clash Royale, still playing it out of a combination of inertia and sheer stupidity.
What an incredible mix of evocative debauchery in today's middle! BOOTY SHORTS / KING OF BEERS could cause a MEDIA CIRCUS, all right. And if you're not careful, those CROSS BREEDING STICKY FINGERS might DRAG you INTO COURT. This is the crossword equivalent of "The Hangover" crossbred with "Ballers." I couldn't look away even if I wanted to.
Some rough patches — note all the constructor-friendly Es in EEC ERES EDESSA — and I had a tough time figuring out why GEOCENTRIC ORBIT's clue is technically correct. Not surprising that this chronic overthinker spent an hour drawing physics diagrams to prove that a geosynchronous orbit doesn't go around the world, but stays over a fixed point of the Earth. Let's start with a discussion regarding frame of reference—
Never fear, Jeff has been DRAGged INTO COURT for being too much of a TALKIES.
64-word themelesses are notoriously difficult to fill with both color and cleanliness, and trade-offs are almost always required. Not the smoothest low-word-count grid I've seen, but it's hard to top the sheer, unadulterated debauchery in today's center.
Easter eggs! Adventure was one of the first video games that captured my youthful attention. I spent dozens of hours locating Robinett's egg and eventually found it, boasting about my nerd cred to anyone too slow to run away. And when "Ready Player One" hit the shelves — with an audiobook narrated by Wil Wheaton of "Star Trek: The Next Generation"! — the fanboy SQUEE! shattered robotic armor all the way to Frobozz.
Rebus puzzles are common these days, although they're much more prevalent on Thursdays than Sundays. We did have another Sunday EGG hunt, but that was way back in 1977, and some factors helped elevate today's.
First and foremost, what a fantastic central entry, LEGGO MY EGGO. Not only does it neatly hide two eggs, but I have vivid memories of those commercials. Man, their marketing team did an amazing job! I still crave Eggo waffles to this day.
It's also cool that Emet didn't have the stand-alone word EGG in any themer. What fresh, evocative hiding places — PREGGERS, BOOTLEGGER, ARPEGGIO, and best of all, within longer phrases like REGGAE BAND.
Now, one entry BEGGED THE QUESTION, wtf are YEGGS? Let us pray to Crucivera, the god of crosswords, that we shall never need to discuss this piece of Maleskan crosswordese again.
I'd have loved to get a few EGGs broken across phrases, which Will Shortz usually requires. There aren't many possibilities, but a few like NUTMEG GRATER, GREG GUMBEL, and MEG GRIFFIN would have been fantastic.
Overall, though, a solid debut puzzle. It's not easy to create a Sunday 140-word grid, and it's even harder when you have so many EGGs to hide.
Curious smash-up of tried-and-true theme types, "words that can follow X" and "words split to the ends of phrases." Both have been done so many times that editors rarely take straightforward examples. Today, LOOSE ENDS does double duty by hinting at "words that can follow LOOSE, physically split to the ENDS of theme phrases."
My favorite themer was LIQUICAPS, since "loose lips" is an evocative phrase. Although LIQUICAPS isn't an everyday word, it's easy to reason out from the component words and has a fun Q to boot.
Editors typically try to avoid one-word themers because they're drier on the whole than multi-worders. CHALLENGE isn't as vivid as CHAISE LOUNGE, for instance.
There are exceptions since some one-worders are more interesting than others. For example, in industry, CANNIBALIZATION perfectly describes new product sales eating into the profits generated by your old ones.
I appreciated Carl's effort to create elegance by separating each key word into two equal halves. It's not possible with TOOTH, of course, but the others split nice and even.
Jim Horne cracked me up when he asked what a (loose) BALL was — "it sounds painful!"
Then it was his turn to laugh when I sheepishly asked what sins music groups had to commit to be in BANDS HELLs.
The overall effect wasn't nearly as synergistic as peanut butter and chocolate, but I enjoy attempts to mix old genres, hoping for a novel crossover.
It's common for constructors to play on "vastly different definitions of a single word." Typically, it's in the form of STORMY SKIES, BOWLING ALLEY, BASEBALL DIAMOND, etc., and STRIKE might be [What might occur in each of X-, Y-, Z-Across]. I like that Olivia did something different today.
At first, I wondered if the theme clues gave away the a-ha moment too easily. After two, it's obvious what's going on. However, this is an early-week theme, so newer solvers deserve a grapefruit right over the plate every once in a while. Ending with having INSPIRATION strike is a reasonable attempt at generating an unexpected a-ha, too.
I enjoyed the range of STRIKE definitions, too. BOWLING, clock, LIGHTNING, labor — that's a big range of STRIKE types. Might have been fun to play on striking a POSE, a DEAL, a BALANCE, but Olivia's choices make sense.
I'm TRYNA explain a few things, although I have no idea if I used that properly. Seems to be a modern shortening of trying to?
I would have liked a better balance struck between ease of theme and ease of solve. I've heard much newb head-scratching regarding UMAMI, which surprised this sushi-lover at first. Crossing it with GAUL might be difficult for some.
EXPIATE and DEIST are also tougher words. Crossing them makes for no EASY A.
I'd have preferred more multi-word phrases since one-worders like EMPLOYEEs aren't exciting. However, I enjoyed wrapping up with striking INSPIRATION. Fun way to uplift and entertain.
I've thought of each of the first three people in the "aptly-named" sense. Who hasn't grinned at a world-class sprinter being named BOLT?
I'm not a baseball guy, but I've heard of PRINCE FIELDER. He's fulfilled half of his destiny, as a star first-baseman FIELDER. Still has a couple of decades to marry into the royal family.
TIM DUNCAN … he's the only person whose name required punnization. It's doubly strange, since he was known for his old-school fundamentals, not his dunking.
If only Rik Smits and Tim Duncan had gotten married.
Excellent efforts to add in a bunch of bonuses for the solvers not into sportsball. Smart to work in four long slots, and LEG RESTS plus PLUS ONES are fantastic. TWINKLES is evocative too.
Short fill wasn't PRISTINE, but it mostly stopped at ESTOP. And there was so much to love in the mid-length fill — HELP ME, SIP TEA, SNOTTY, ZIPS IT.
I loved a book where Asian tiger parents named their kid Stanford. There's anecdotal information that suggests that apt names steer kids to appropriate careers, too. We'll see what my daughter, Tess Engineer Doctor Professor Chen, becomes.
Neat grid art, black squares forming sort of an orb in the middle, with the four SOLAR ECLIPSEd black squares orbiting around the perimeter. We've fixed up the grid and answers; see below if you're still confused.
Great touch to make the four special black squares the only loners, surrounded by seas of white. It's so difficult to uncover "letters within black squares" themes, that any factor like this can be so helpful. Even when I figured out 4-D must be SAY(S UN)CLE, I couldn't write SUN into that black square, so trying to piece together MISS(S UN)IVERSE was still tricky.
I also liked that Max made the effort to break SUN across phrases. Not easy to do with SUN — much easier to incorporate it into words like (SUN)NIS and DAT(SUN) — so PLAYER(S UN)ION is a great find.
Some Thursday-level vocab, no doubt. NES(SUN) DORMA could have been NES(S UN)D ORMA (or any string of random letters) to this opera novice. Thank goodness I've done enough crosswords to know that [Random town in Maine] must be ORONO!
ARACHNOID made me pause, not just because I heard my arachnaphobic wife's scream. Arachnid, sure. ARACHNOID ... is in the dictionary.
Speaking of animals, having one crosswordy ERNE might be fine. Not as much with EFTS, too.
It's tricky to grid around crossing themer pairs. Now multiply by that five! So it was great to get some bonuses in ALFA ROMEO. STAYS ALIVE.
Some incredibly difficult spots, especially since you're forced to keep the eclipsed SUNs in your mind during the solve. I also wondered why four SUNs? But I gave that a pass since it reminded me of the incredibly innovative book, The Three-Body Problem.
It's uncommon to experience a themeless featuring a long, one-word answer, but PHOTOSYNTHESIZE is a triple-sizzler! It's not only a neat word, but it contains a rare Z, and it's ripe for a clever clue. [Soak up the sun, say] points so strongly at suntanning — and so innocently. I also filled in the end of it first and was convinced that it had to be ___ THE SIZE.
As a multi-worder, BARE NECESSITIES is a more typical marquee entry. It also has such potential to take a clever wordplay clue, since even if you don't know the phrase, it's two easily recognizable words. The straightforward [Food, water, a place to live, etc.] could have hinted at Aretha Franklin's "What You Need," for example.
A couple of items confused me:
Beautiful clue in [Decreases?]. There's something obviously going on, what with the question mark, but it didn't take away from the a-ha of realizing that it played on "de-creases," or IRONS.
This grid pattern, featuring the big slash down the middle, is a great way to get started with themeless design, because it allows you to section off parts of the puzzle. There aren't as many long slots as in other themelesses, but it's great that Daniel filled most of them with great material like LIFE HACK and DIG SITES.
★ Such a cool grid pattern! At first, it looked asymmetrical because those L-blocks looked like they were going every which way, but once I tilted my head 45 degrees counterclockwise, all was right in my crossworld again. I enjoy diagonal symmetry, and the L-blocks look like little arms and legs of a person jumping up and down for joy. Super cool.
A lot of debut entries, too. None boast of cutting-edge freshness, but oh, the clever, accessible clues! MATH TESTS indeed have their own problems — and solutions! HEAD FAKES in basketball get defenders moving the wrong way all the time.
Even shorties like ERASE were elevated with amazing wordplay. [Off the mark?] isn't an adjective, but a verb + noun. Brilliant stuff.
Saving the best for last, an ordinary NAIL FILE becomes so much more with the bland-seeming [Digital tool]. In today's day and age, I go straight to the digital/analog meaning every time, and I give up the slow clap when I finally realize it's the "fingers as digits" meaning yet again.
I did have to put down the puzzle and return to the upper right, such a tough corner. Everything is fair, but I couldn't make myself buy TGIF as a [Freedom cry, for some], since freedom cries are nothing to pun about. Everything finally fell when this art idiot realized that maybe he could guess at Bosch's "The Last Judgment." When in doubt, guess something with common letters, alternating consonant-vowel. Appropriate that the puzzle fell because of the fall of EDEN.
All this goodness in a squeaky-clean grid? Matthew's jumping-for-joy grid art describes my solving experience so well.
We've had many plays on ET over the years, The French Connection is one of my favorites. There was another play on ET = French word for "and," and since ET is an easy digram to work with, I've solved many ET additions and subtractions. I enjoyed that Sam tried to elevate today's offering by only using -CKET endings. I don't know exactly how to classify it, since at heart it's still an ET addition, but I like the effort to add an elevating factor.
None of the themers made me laugh, but LIKE A MILLION BUCKETS appealed to this b-ball nut. What, no love to the ageless wonder, LBJ, who at 37 nearly led the league in scoring? And who singlehandedly handed my fantasy team a week's loss (our long blight on a first-place season, woo hoo!)?
Curious about what other CKET transformations are possible? Use our Replacement Finder. Put CKET in the first box, and ET in the second. Sam covered most all of the useful ones. (Things like THICK to THICKET aren't as interesting, because THICK is too similar to a dense THICKET.)
Awesome way to kick off a puzzle, [Make a bust, say] making me drop in ARREST. D'oh! Make a sculptor's bust. Nice to have a few of these spread throughout, like a POEM having both stressed feet words and rhythmic meter, and a NOMAD covering a lot of literal ground.
A few tough parts, like XYLEM crossing IBEX and DSL, along with oddly singular DRIB and KUDO, and FRONT OF THE PACK wanting so badly to be LEADER OF THE PACK. Impressive that Sam was able to flesh out enough base phrases, though.
★ Appropriate that GENERAL TSO kicks off today's theme because this is a five-star puzzle. Delicious theme, aromatic bonuses, and plated so elegantly, with not even the tiniest smear in sight.
I've thought about GENERAL TSO many a time, since I have a guilty love of Americanized Chinese food. CAP'N CRUNCH and I have fought many a battle, his devious charm and sweetness leading to wild sugar rushes for my kids. Fried chicken is my kryptonite, so the COLONEL and I are well acquainted.
I'm astounded that I've never made the FOOD FIGHT connection. That's thematic gold.
Awesome corners. Only two multi-worders in SIN CITY and GET THIS, but they're both sizzlers. And such color in LAGGARD, OCEANIA, ANNUITY (said the MBA dork); these one-worders sing.
The centered revealer isn't for everyone, as it gives away the game too quickly. A mirror symmetry layout could have avoided this, with the themers running vertically and FOOD FIGHT centered in row 12. That would also have allowed COLONEL / SANDERS to be placed closer together, perhaps at the tops of columns 6 and 8.
Mirror sym isn't for everyone, though — Mike Shenk at the WSJ doesn't like it unless it's absolutely necessary, for example.
It's a rare treat to feast on such a tasty puzzle with so much nutritional value. The fact that it's a debut — and on a Monday, one of the most difficult days to construct for — makes it that much spicier.
ROCK BOTTOM = one-named rock bands at the bottoms of themers. I've brainstormed around ROCK BOTTOM with at least five people, and we've collectively never come up with something as interesting. Given that "Bohemian Rhapsody" is my karaoke go-to, I especially loved DRAG QUEEN.
Curious that all the rock groups come from the same late 20th century era: HEART, QUEEN, KISS, RUSH. I tried to think of any one-named bands that were more current, but this pop music idiot couldn't come up with any. NIRVANA maybe, but there aren't any strong phrases that fit the ___ NIRVANA pattern.
It'd have been great to see more diversity in the band selections, but it's curious that the "one-named band" phase was such a short chunk of time.
Also curious to get SLURPS as [Impolite sounds at the dinner table]. I grew up wondering why Americans didn't slurp like my mom and dad. Eating with gusto shows how much you enjoy it!
That said, I can't stand the sound of my kids openly smacking their lips as they chomp their noodles.
TOOTH as a [Filling station?] is Friday-level trickery. Love it! Except that I recently had to take Tess in to get four cavities filled. This means war, CAPN CRUNCH!
This theme needs the phrases to be vertical, to achieve the "bottom" effect. It's unfortunate that the revealer comes so early on, though. "Name That Theme" was over before it even started. This could have been at least ameliorated by shifting ROCK BOTTOM to the bottom of its column (and CANDY HEART to the top of its). A bit of a delay is better than none at all.
Solid theme and excellent gridwork, especially with mid-lengthers used to full advantage. TD PASS, MAN HUG, NEST EGG, DECK OUT, elevated my solving experience.
I love pinball. Ever since first seeing those flashing lights and the BUMPERS fired by high-powered solenoids, I can't walk by a pinball machine without inserting a quarter. A crossword built around PINBALL makes this wizard happy.
Even better was the quality of cluing. Right from the get-go, I was baffled by [One inclined to go in and out]. This former cat owner knew it had to be some sort of pet term, but what? Nope, that's a RAMP that's literally inclined so you can enter or exit a parking garage! Groanworthily brilliant.
Shortly after, [Pretty trim] bogged me down. This rock climber likes to think he's pretty trim, but it's more appropriate to my daughter's earsplitting squees over all things fancy. LACING is indeed pretty trim that she tapes onto everything.
And SHEET as something that's "kept undercover"? Slow clap, Alex and Will Shortz, slow clap.
Such a smooth grid, too, at least until the very bottom. Peter Gordon tortured Roman numeral math clue for CXX ... some people love 'em, but not me. Thankfully the clue for IXNAY made up for it, and more. I LOLed, trying to make sense of "igpay atinlay." Constructors who reuse or even copy clues: this is a perfect example of what I mean when I ask you to freshen your clues in an interesting way.
I so badly wanted a mirror sym layout, with bumpers formed out of black squares — heck, those black square chunks in the SW/NE are bumperish enough already! — and I found it odd that the pinball somehow skipped over the bumper in the top right. Even though the visual didn't do anything for me, I still enjoyed the homage to my golden days of spending hours trying not to get TILTed.
I love when constructors riff on letter combos looking like various objects or shapes. One of my favorites was a Patrick Blindauer, where he used V as a cone and O as a scoop of ice cream. Today's, with I + V = DOWN arrow, is so clever.
Neat that Pao arranged things so that the DOWN arrows shifted downward across the four themers! Progressing from (DOWN)WARD FACING DOG all the way to KEEP IT ON THE (DOWN) LOW — that's an elegant touch.
Curious usage of mirror sym. It's not necessary, but there's something so visually pleasing about this black square layout. Almost like a Rorschach inkblot. I appreciate that Will Shortz has been so open to left-right symmetry, which is as pleasing to my eye as regular symmetry, if not more.
Not many long bonuses, but that's okay, since Pao used the mid-length slots so well. SASHAY is evocative. TSUNAMI has that TS- start, always making me doubt myself. GONZO's clue is so awesome, self-identifying as "Whatever." KISMET is what's in the stars, and I'm glad it's in this crossword, too.
Fresh cluing all over, for that matter. I often think Zoom calls could have been an EMAIL. I struggled to figure out how a "mating call" could be I WIN, until I thought about teaching my kids how to play chess.
No comment whether I shout I WIN or "In your face, sucka!"
A bit of a one-trick pony, but I'm always DOWN for one this clever.
That stair-stacked triplet sums up my life when Jill is away. She thinks it should be fine (and it really should be), but my SOLO PARENTING experiences have included one child howling so fiercely they peed straight through the floor, one child waking up screaming like a banshee at 2 a.m. with unspecified foot PAIN, and copious, copious issues regarding poo.
WHO AM I KIDDING, indeed.
Also neat to get extra kid-related flavor in the TABULA RASA clue. John Locke may be a great philosopher, but he's never tried to influence a Chen child.
A handful of great clues. USED VEHICLE is on the road again. [Intro to America's pastime] misdirected to the National Anthem, away from TBALL. Jim Horne is an actual symphony conductor, so he knows the score when it comes to a score propped on a MUSIC STAND. Delightful!
A couple of blips. I've had both Pau and Marc GASOL on my fantasy bball teams, but will Pau make the Hall of Fame? Not sure. Crossing GASOL with [Tiny dosage units: Abbr.] which could be MGS or MLS … why not go with the Booker T and the MGS?
I also wondered if the lower-left corner could have gotten more color, helping me WARM TO it more. Turns out that pesky final A of TABULA RASA and Y of TRAGICOMEDY constrain things mightily.
Parenting is often a TRAGICOMEDY of laughter and tears. Thankfully, a great majority of my solving experience was the former. Fun debut that resonated with this father (who is recording every moment for future blackmail).
NEVER FELT BETTER crossing POT BROWNIE is so apt for weed-friendly Seattle. Funny that [Delectable made with grass] could also describe so many hippie vegan creations around here, involving wheat grass, oat grass, and even grass grass.
GIVEN NAME is a neutralish entry, but oh, that clue! Not only did I enjoy the confusion about "first in America," but it was nice to acknowledge the cultural patterns of countries where the family name is listed first.
I appreciated the wordplay with the BARBED WIRE FENCE — hard to get over, indeed. It elicited images of prisons and war-torn countries, though. I might be watching too much news about Ukraine.
A couple of Saturday-level traps, starting with [Certain archaeological site]. I'm guessing 99% of solvers put in DIG, especially since the G worked perfectly with GIVEN NAME. What a mean way to clue BOG! And [Leap with a twist] is always a ballet term … except when it's not. Neat to get the Z worked in so smoothly, crossing LUTZ with BENZENE.
This chem nerd hangs his head in shame, having been positive that it had to be one of the -YNEs, like Hexyne. How could I forget about the BENZENE ring?! (insert GRAWLIX here)
A bit of an old-school feel, with the first BROWSER WAR fought more than two decades ago, and STENO OATERS probably needing to SKAT. Overall, though, a lot of entertaining wordplay, like [Soprano's group] hiding the capital S of The Sopranos being part of THE MAFIA.