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Puzzles for May, 2015
with Jeff Chen comments

Fri 5/1/2015
ESCAPEMECHANISMS
MONTECARLOCASINO
THESCARLETLETTER
SOTREEFSHUME
HATSPRAM
DONATEFEROCIOUS
ECOLIJULIETNTH
LEMONMERINGUEPIE
LASGASLOGPROLE
ANGELDUSTJOTTER
LEESPANE
DIALAKEEMOLD
ADRENALINEJUNKIE
METROPOLITANAREA
EASYTOUNDERSTAND

This is a good opportunity to clarify one of Will's Notes. Some folks seem to think that Will has decreed the end of triple stacks, but his comment was specifically directed to that grid pattern of triple-triple-stacks, which effectively cut the puzzle into three pieces. Grids like today's two triple-stacks — where the solver can easily flow from one subsection to the next — are still fine.

(I bet if someone could come up with a set of triple-triple stacks which didn't segment the grid AND didn't use much glue, Will would consider it.)

The Monte Carlo Casino entertainment complex

David does a nice job with this 2x triple-stack, featuring some great entries. ADRENALINE JUNKIES is so colorful, so snappy. I also love MONTE CARLO CASINO, both for the image of high-rollers in tuxes betting millions of dollars on the turn of one card, as well as the nod to Monte Carlo analysis often performed in statistics and finance. ESCAPE CLAUSES feels so much snazzier than ESCAPE MECHANISMS, but the latter is still workable.

The usual knock on triple-stacks is the quality of the crossing answers. It's nearly impossible to have zero pieces of glue holding everything together (what with all the constraints), but it's pretty darn good to get away with only a prefix and a pluralized ATS in the top. Normally ECARTE feels like a mark of desperation in a grid to me, but it's kind of neat when crossed with MONTE CARLO CASINO.

The bottom is also pretty nice, really just the AKEEM/PEETE crossing making me hitch. Asking for deep golf knowledge is tough for us golf-atheists, and as much as I love Eddie Murphy, I couldn't quite pull out AKEIM from my brain. Aaugh, AKEEM!

A nice amount of vivid entries — 12 by my count — which is very high for a puzzle featuring 16-letter entries. I do still enjoy the visual impact of triple-stacks and other similar wide-open grid patterns, and I look forward to the continued evolution (even more colorful entries; even fewer gluey entries) of this style.

Sat 5/2/2015
GABORSOAPAGED
UTEROALLORNONE
ARRAYLEAKEDOUT
MAGNOLIAEMIGRE
GRUNTEDELEC
ALGEBRAEXAMEST
ROOMIESSTAMP
FLOESKILTS
GNOTEDUELERS
CPONEARESTEXIT
HALFKRAMERS
ONPOSTCURATORS
MELSDINERCOVET
PRESSTIMEKNEED
SAXEEMERSERFS

This is my type of mini-theme, the GOOGLEPLEX headquarters a play on the number GOOGOLPLEX. I love the quote from a nine-year old, GOOGOLPLEX being "one, followed by writing zeroes until you get tired."

Doesn't the Googleplex seem like it ought to have a googolplex buildings?

Many strong entries in the grid, and I liked how dispersed they were. Most themeless grids concentrate the bulk of their oomph in the four corners, but Barry spreads out the goodness today. It was really fun to drop in GOOGLEPLEX and then saunter my way to MAKE TRACKS before picking my way through ALGEBRA EXAM. Nice to get a constant, steady stream of colorful answers, rather than the concentrated stacked bursts I'm used to.

At the ACPT this year, BEQ and I were talking about borderline themeless entries, and he made a good analogy of tennis judges peering at the line, sticking their thumb slightly one way or another, and finally making a pronouncement. To me, ALL OR NONE and NEAREST EXIT feel like they're straddling that line. ALL OR NOTHING and EMERGENCY EXIT roll off my tongue, while ALL OR NONE sort of fumbles out. NEAREST EXIT is a phrase I hear before during every pre-flight announcement, but it doesn't feel like it quite sings on its own. Personal taste.

Loved the clue for CURATORS, an elegant one-word description in [Exhibitionists?]. And being the nerd engineer, I struggled to figure out what type of technical component [Some cable splitters] referred to. ROOMIES split a cable bill — clever!

Overall, the spreading out of the feature entries made my solve feel like there was so much goodness incorporated than usual. Upon closer inspection, the number of assets and liabilities is roughly on par with other NYT themelesses, so it's interesting to me that this dispersion effect enhanced my impression of the puzzle. I'm curious to experiment with this more on my own.

Sun 5/3/2015 NON-STARTERS
BEAKSSHYERSAHARA
OXLIPTIMMARAOPENERS
BETSYANOOKOFTHENORTH
SCAMAMOKSITINSMAIA
REDLINESCECEBATED
EARTOONESHEARTBALERS
ARANAGPOLADANO
SEIZEDORMANCONQUEST
YALEUPETECOSTUSAIR
APGARSTUTIORTE
COWLARROWMINDEDAPEX
AHACPAAAAADAGE
PHYLABAHTMUNICREEP
OISEPOLLUTIONBLONDE
VOWELMTMDREDEE
HAMITEICEPIECEOFWORK
OBOTEISONFRACASES
MONTBHOPALIPODSPOT
EUROTRANSMITTERALEVE
SNOWCATTEASERSCERES
DENUDEOLORDHYMNS

Even with his crossword-friendly vowel/consonant alternation, Milton OBOTE is vastly outnumbered by Idi AMIN in terms of Shortz-era appearances, at a score of 7 to 44. If only he had changed his name to BOTE. Or TESS.

Mon 5/4/2015
DOHAPESOSALAS
AVERENERORISE
HAMANDEGGSCOIL
LLAMAMAYORNFL
SNAPPYCITI
ILODREAMACT
TRACEROAROMAR
AAHSTEPMOMERE
DDAYILEIAGREE
SAMADAMSCRO
ROMAFACETS
IBMNADIRISAAC
FLEXIAMACAMERA
SINEDRAMAABIT
OPTSSEXEDDOSE

Four STEPMOMs today, interpreted as M-A-M-A in a stair-step pattern.

C.C.'s execution gives me all sorts of good things to discuss. She starts by choosing some nice themers. I wasn't familiar with the DREAM ACT, but what a great way to give important legislation some front and center attention. And HAM AND EGGS plus a SAM ADAMS is a great anytime meal!

She continues by adding in a ton of great fill, utilizing those long downs to their full potential. Often times when a constructor tries to put to long downs right next to each other, one or the other ends up being a bit dull. But LION TAMER / AS IF I CARE and RADAR BLIP / AHA MOMENT are beautiful pairs. The MAMA stairsteps don't constrain the grid that much, and C.C. takes full advantage of the flexibility.

As if that weren't enough, the mid-length fill stands out. MARCIA from the Brady Bunch, PORTIA sounding like Porsche, ARAMAIC and GOES MAD. So much texture added to my solving experience.

I would have liked the theme to be a little less apparent — perhaps spreading it out to STEPPARENTS with MAMAs and PAPAS? — since once I hit STEPMOM I could fill in each set of circles. And I AM A CAMERA … it is gridworthy, in that it won Tonys and led to "Cabaret." Its crossword-friendly alternation of vowel/consonant also makes it easy to build around, so constructors have leaned on it in the past. I wonder if it will stand the test of time.

Then again, it did earn the famous review by Walter Kerr: "Me no Leica." So I got a chuckle out of that.

I used to steer well clear of ENERO and ILO, but after researching the International Labour Organization, I think it's an org people ought to know more about. Won a Nobel Peace Prize, after all. And overall, the price of an ENERO, ILO, ILE is so worth all the great entries in C.C.'s grid. Been a pleasure watching her grid skills evolve.

Tue 5/5/2015
SWEETCAFEDOZE
PARSEAILSAXIS
ANITASWAPMEETS
GEORGIABROWNIE
SOTILO
MSNBARSTOOLIE
WATEROUSTUSA
ERASEPUBOSCAR
ALIEDENVIRAL
RAREBIRDIESEC
COGMRI
SHOCKINGPINKIE
MILLSTONEDIDSO
URGEAMADIDEAL
TEASLOWEADDIE

ADDIE parsed today to "add IE," with wacky results. BAR STOOLIE made me smile at the image of a guy drinking a Bud while ratting on his co-patrons. STOOLIE is such a colorful word, and the STOOL to STOOLIE transformation is fun. SHOCKING PINKIE also worked really well for me, for similar reasons.

It took me a while to figure out what the clue for ADDIE meant. "Two-part" to me implied that there was an extra layer of meaning; a second level of clever wordplay. But I think "two-part" simply means to separate ADDIE into two parts = ADD and IE. Drat.

Interesting start to the puzzle, SWEET linked to GEORGIA BROWNIE through a cross-reference. Many puzzles actually break crossword symmetry (sort of) by putting a revealer in the very last across answer, without a matching theme answer at the very first across answer. To Acme's point, seeing a themer at 1-Across today felt strange, even though technically that made the puzzle adhere to strict crossword symmetry.

Reebok's namesake

Why strange? To me, it was partly the cross-referencing element, as it felt inelegant to kick the puzzle off with an entry that didn't stand alone on its own right. But another part of it was getting too immediately launched into themers. I've grown accustomed to getting eased into a puzzle; a warm-up before trying to crack the theme.

Loved the clue for TEARS. [Eye droppers?] made me grin. And learning a piece of trivia — that REEBOKS were named after RHEBOKS — was fun.

I liked the foreign touches, too. Getting two Asian brand names in AIWA and DAEWOO was fun, and although CASITA may not be in everyone's wheelhouse, it's inferable from the well-known "casa" and the Spanish diminutive "-ita." I also enjoyed MOLOTOV, but I did think it was slightly out of taste to make a joke about a MOLOTOV cocktail.

Finally, I liked that Andrea and Michael added in some long across fill. Usually that isn't done because it can muddy the theme, but today's theme is so apparent that it wasn't an issue. Adding SWAP MEETS and MILLSTONE did necessitate some glue, but I thought they were worth the price of ESSE and A MAD.

Wed 5/6/2015
STRIFEPROTEM
NEEDIERALUMINA
ANNALEEGUNBELT
ITTMEFIRSTGIT
LOOMSENESUAVE
SNUBFREESMMES
STAIRSTEEPEN
SEASONS
GUTHRIEAANDW
LENAERNSTIIII
ATRIPACHINALL
DIERECEIPTLDL
INSHAPERESPECT
NOTATESRAILCAR
ONSITEKNOTTY

Cool discovery, that the four SEASONS are all of length = 6.

Any time you run themers diagonally, the surrounding fill becomes much more difficult to execute on. And Joe chose a layout that made it even more difficult, using a big open corner for each season. Makes for a nice visual effect but also for quite a challenge.

I appreciated that he managed to work in a couple of nice entries. This is a tough task when a grid doesn't have many entries longer than seven letters, because it's usually the 8+ letter entries which stand out. GUN BELT, WILDCAT, RAIL CAR, and R-E-S-P-E-C-T all ENLIVEN the puzzle though.

One of the many "Four Seasons"

I expected to see some glue holding the grid together, so no surprise to get the usual ITT, A TRIP, ENE, etc. suspects. I couldn't decide if getting both EEEE and IIII was too much, or it was the mark of a constructor boldly choosing entries that will be lightning rods for discussion. EEEE I have trouble buying, but there is something pretty interesting about sundials actually using IIII.

And LADINO. Wow, what a toughie! Even though I knew [Go pfft] could not be TIE, and [Judeo-Spanish] was likely not LATINO, I saw no other possibility. Nice to add the term LADINO into my vocabulary.

Overall, I would have liked some extra element, like the SEASONS forming a smooth circle to reflect the slow passing of time, or something snazzier like Vivaldi's famous composition, THE FOUR SEASONS, to tie it together. But a nice workout nonetheless.

Thu 5/7/2015
SAGERASPWASH
YAKOVELHIIDLE
EFILESOAPLION
SENDNATUREEEOC
SOTDEUCEUPE
ABSUALSPAY
CLAPTRAPLOPEZ
TIREICELDTIDY
SPINYSCREENED
TOESDAMGRE
DADEUNTYNIP
ELESGOINGGREEN
RIFTROPERERDS
UVEAAGEDEOLIC
MERLMESSSKEE

Rebus today, the green ECO trigram getting "reduced" into single squares. And if you squint, the ECO squares almost look like they're in the shape of a footprint. The heel on the right side, the instep in the middle, the toes on the left? No? Squint harder!

I'm glad Will held onto this one for a while, as once I uncovered GOING GREEN, it made me think back to Liz Gorski's CARBON FOOTPRINT puzzle. Multiple constructors coming up with similar ideas happens all the time, so it was interesting to me to see how differently Tracy and Liz's implementations were.

I enjoyed how Tracy worked ECO into some of the longest entries. SECOND NATURE, DEUCE COUPE, and especially WILE E COYOTE are wonderful. Might have been nice to have the center ECO be similarly integrated into long answers, but 1.) that would make the construction much harder (not being able to separate the middle into a little pocket of its own) and 2.) ICE COLD is a pretty nice entry in itself.

[AA rival] was a head-scratcher for me. What sort of rival would Alcoholics Anonymous have? Is there such a group as Sots ‘R Us? Even when I filled in UA?, I wondered what issues the UAE (or the UAR) could possibly have against tee-totaling. Fun to finally uncover UAL — United Airlines, commonly known as UAL.

And EOLIC made squirm a bit at first, but looking up the word led to thousands of websites about wind power. "Applied eolics" is a neat term to learn.

I felt like the revealer was somewhat of a stretch, as I felt like the link from "reduce one's carbon footprint" to "squish the ECO trigram into a single square" was a bit too indirect for me. And I would have liked a slightly more wide-open grid for a Thursday puzzle. But all in all, some fantastic entries. Any time I get a WILE E COYOTE crossing the Ruy LOPEZ chess opening, I'm going to be pretty happy.

POW Fri 5/8/2015
SNAPCHATCLASSY
KETELONEHALITE
ICERINKSANIMAL
SMELTROEOIL
CANOEEROSENDS
ANONSMUGMAC
CGISTONEMASONS
HESSIANRENEWAL
ELECTRICFANEVE
MAZTHENCLAW
HEATVOIDROLLS
ELKCORDELIA
LIELOWIRONCHEF
ETRADENEWSHOLE
NESTEDGREEKGOD

★ Another clinic from Ian today. At 72 words (the max for a themeless), the grid is nothing fancy or envelope-pushing, but Ian makes such great use of his long entries. A puzzle's sizzle often comes from its 8+ letter entries, and with only 14 of those slots available today, it's so critical to convert nearly all of them into snappy entries.

That's a tough task, but look at all the great material Ian strews about the grid. Starting with a SNAPCHAT / KETEL ONE / ICE RINKS and ending with IRON CHEF / NEWSHOLE (vaguely and amusingly lewd-sounding) / GREEK GOD — what a way to bookend the puzzle. Spreading NOISEMAKERS and ANKLE MONITOR and STONEMASONS around made the solve so pleasing all over, from top to bottom and left to right.

Fox hunt leader of old

A note on ROGER FEDERER and SIMON COWELL. Both gridworthy, no doubt, but I value SIMON COWELL so much more than ROGER FEDERER in a crossword. It's really fun to get your favorite sports (or movie, or whatever) figure into a grid, but celebs can be awfully polarizing. You elate the people that are also fans, but alienate those that don't know (or don't wish to know) the person. So unless there's great cluing potential, I find reliance on names a bit unsatisfying.

ROGER FEDERER probably has clever cluing potential, but [Five-in-a-row U.S. Open winner] sounds like a Wikipedia entry, while [Fox hunt leader of old] is a gold-medal play on SIMON COWELL's former role on the Fox talent search show, "American Idol."

Finally, Ian's short fill. Because a 72-word puzzle is relatively easy to fill compared to a 68 or or a 66, it's important to distinguish it by keeping the glue to a minimum. Ian's always good about this, and today is no different. I have to be pretty nit-picky to point out ANON, which has a bit of a fusty feel to it, but is also common in poetry. And NEC will draw some complaints as three randomish letters stuck together, but I find it hard to argue that a company with a market cap of roughly $10B isn't gridworthy. It's not something I'd strive to use, but I personally find it to be a minor blip.

Very entertaining, smooth solve.

Sat 5/9/2015
MUFFINTOPKEBAB
ONEINFOURIVANA
ASIFICARENOTIN
TENETSPYGLASS
EATDIRTSUTURE
DTSAEONMUTATE
PLAYATTINTS
AGHAMETOOOGEE
NOUNSDARWIN
YENTASLUISFAR
SKYLABSEAHARE
AGELIMITDUTCH
MARINDOCTORWHO
AGENAENTERTAIN
HADESTENNESSEE

Some really strong entries featured today, MUFFIN TOP bringing me back to my days of obsessively watching "Seinfeld." And that upper-right corner is an absolute beauty, anchored by EVOLUTION running through both MUTATE and DARWIN, along with a BATARANG and a SPYGLASS tucked in. Not to mention, what a great clue for KING TUT — [Royal who toured the U.S. in the late 1970s] said nothing about the royal being alive!

A while back, I wrote a Saturday Stumper for Stan Newman, and he mentioned that one or two short entries were iffy in that they were "un-Stumperable." I didn't quite get what he meant, but today's puzzle made it click into place. In order to make a puzzle tough, it's important to have multiple ways of cluing an entry. Bits like AGHA, AMAH, and OGEE fall into that bucket. To regular solvers, [Eastern nurse] or [Asian au pair] is a dead giveaway for AMAH. And cluing it in some arcane manner would just be unfair. So I can understand how Stan would see it as critical to avoid these usual suspects in a puzzle meant to be extra-challenging.

Doctor Who's TARDIS was a source of awesome MIT-Caltech prankery

On that note of difficulty, I would have loved something harder for ONE IN FOUR. Those numbers felt arbitrary to me, and the clue was so easy that it felt like cheating to fill in the answer. Perhaps something more crunchy, more satisfying to suss out, like [Chance of heterozygous parents imparting a recessive gene]? Or [Chance of rolling a 5 or 6 in craps]? The latter is too arbitrary, but figuring it out entertained me.

Finally, a note on DOCTOR WHO. Although I've dedicated way too many brain cells to Star Wars and Star Trek esoterica, I've never seen DOCTOR WHO. I still find it a perfectly fine entry though, as it's popular (albeit niche) in sci-fi. "Time lord" would be too much as an entry for me, but that term makes for a perfectly good clue. Nice to learn more vocab I can use in metaphors to baffle my wife (who once thought "Live long and prosper" was a quote from Benjamin Franklin).

Sun 5/10/2015 LITERARY CIRCLES
TKTOVUMVACROPEWAY
UNHNANODENYATEDIRT
LEECUCAMONGAGOGGLED
ILLTELLOFTENLIL
PLOYTEARFULGREENING
CPAANTROLLINGGAIT
GRUELINGMASTIFFMNO
RESOLDEWESALIENCES
ACTALBRIGHTENDEAR
BUTCHEREDYAOOAR
RRRBROKENRIBTLC
EOSWINBRANCHOFF
BECOMENATIONALSLR
PRISCILLACTNNORWAY
IONDIAGRAMEGGWHITE
LIFEISSWEETPRONEL
ELLIOTTSMAYISEEILLS
ODDDONUTSPANIEL
REWEAVEOVERAGAINAAA
EXERTEDRENTSPCAMSN
CORSETSADDTESTSET
Mon 5/11/2015
BOOMSPDASGIF
IMSETORCAMENU
CALLOFDUTYONCE
SNOOKIBUSDEAL
DEBTANAIS
EASYBALLOFFIRE
RPMSERATYSON
INATROUNCEKOS
CELLORUHREMU
HALLOFFAMEELSE
WALLEBARN
WHOMUMPPAWSAT
HORAFALLOFROME
ILLSFLOETASER
ZEDYETISPASM

Pattern matching today, a consistent adherence to the ?ALL OF ???? pattern. Nice choice on themers, all sparkly phrases — FALL OF ROME I found particularly punchy. CALL OF DUTY I might call punchy, except my friends barred me from playing first-person shooters after my abysmal showing one "Halo" night. I was even bad at "hiding under a rock so the other team wouldn't shoot me so fast."

Quick, find the rocks to hide under!

I normally don't care for cross-referenced answers, but TYSON and KOS worked well for me. Not only are they strongly linked (talking about punchy, anyone remember his five-second "fights"? Yikes!) but they're right atop each other. Elegant touch.

The LLAMAS / INCA link didn't work as well for me. It's true that LLAMAS are important in Peru's history and culture — one appears on Peru's coat of arms — but a link between INCA and MACHU PICCHU or SUN GOD or even SUN would have been stronger in my eyes. And the fact that the two entries are as far apart in physical distance as California and New Hampshire … I wasn't interested in searching out INCA when I hit that clue for LLAMAS.

I appreciated the color added by SMALL WORLD (great colloquial clue in "I can't believe we both know him") and GENE SISKEL, of whom I have fond memories. RIP SIskel and Ebert. When a puzzle only has two long pieces of fill, it's important to make sure they both are good enough to get two thumbs up.

Curious find, four distinct themers fitting that quirky ?ALL OF ???? pattern. I tried to see if I could find any others, and the only other one was WALL OF FAME (think: restaurants that take pics of people who finish the five-pound burger). Then maybe HALL OF FAME could have been HALL OF ODIN, but that feels like a stretch. So, I like that this set of four feels complete.

It would have been an elegant touch to have the four themers alphabetized from top to bottom, but that might just be the OCD organizer in me speaking.

POW Tue 5/12/2015
LAGCASITAASTI
APERIOTEDSWAN
NPRURBANDESIGN
DEARMEALLAN
HAREBRAINEDIDEA
OLDEMSTLEN
ANGIOSAGELY
BROADMINDED
TRENDYECLAT
OATBROURDU
WHIPPERSNAPPERS
TIARANASSAU
ELASTICBANDAGR
LOLACEASEDLOP
KOLNASHLEYENS

★ I had the good fortune to meet Paul at the ACPT this year; what a nice guy. When everyone was giving me dirty looks about my difficult Puzzle #5 (Will said he needed a "bastard puzzle" and thought of me. Thanks … I think?), Paul smiled and said he was looking forward to it. (Then again, I didn't see him after the puzzle session ...)

I don't know much about art, but a docent once mentioned how some famous painting did an amazing job of capturing kinetic motion. Not being able to recall the painting or even the artist, I obviously wasn't paying attention, but the idea stuck with me. Paul's puzzle reminded me of it today. What a neat concept, representing an ELASTIC BAND (that's what they call rubber bands in Canada, eh?) stretching, stretching, and then SNAPping. Cool to see something actually "moving" in the puzzle.

When that perfect hand comes along, you bet and you bet big, then you take the house!

And Paul's longer fill added so much to my solving experience. BET IT ALL and SWINDLED, both colorful entries. There's a reason I've seen "Ocean's 11" 21 times. And ISOMERS ... I'm awed by at nature's persnickety behavior, like when the R-isomer of a drug is active in a molecular target, while the L-isomer is inactive or even toxic. Crazy stuff.

Totally confused by [Big prune?]? Clever clue; "prune" and "lop" being synonymous verbs. And for those of you WHIPPERSNAPPERS, "Three's Company" was one of the many sitcoms I watched as a latchkey kid. It's such an offensive show! But man oh man did I love it.

I would have preferred not to have CASITA cross ITA. Yes, ITA got disguised as IT A, but it strikes me as inelegant, since CASITA is a Spanish CASA + diminutive ITA. And REEARN by itself is passable — REEARNing someone's trust is almost as good as "earning back" trust — but adding in RESALE made it feel like too much. Finally, seeing a DRAGON in the lower left isn't quite worth getting both an AGR and ENS.

But today is a case where Jim's viewpoint won me out; a really neat theme far obscuring the little nits I had to pick. Great solve today.

Wed 5/13/2015
ALKAISMMOPYON
DOINSHALALAEWE
ASTICITIZENKANE
PETTHREADSHRED
THETHIRDMANANDY
SENECAEEK
TAILHARRYLIME
ORSTHEWAROFORO
THEWORLDSATOP
ROOMORITA
SHIATOUCHOFEVIL
HASTAPRIESTACE
ORSONWELLESETAS
APUTENSILEPORC
LYEIDSASSARTE

Tribute puzzle, honoring the great ORSON WELLES, who would have been 100 years old … er, last week. What a shame to miss the actual day, May 6th. Not sure what happened there.

Fortuitous that ORSON WELLES is the same length as his most famous movie, CITIZEN KANE. I can't say I enjoyed it when I saw it high school (what, no explosions or aliens?) but I can appreciate its place in cinematic history, as well as its masterful storytelling and acting.

Welles at the press conference after "The War of the Worlds." Awk-ward!

I haven't seen A TOUCH OF EVIL or THE THIRD MAN, but it was fun to read up on them. And although I've never heard THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (yay, aliens!) broadcast, seeing it in the grid makes me want to listen to it. Mind-boggling to think about the fake broadcast causing wide-spread panic.

The grid is expanded to 16 columns, in order to accommodate the central THE WAR OF. From a constructor's viewpoint, it's neat that Jeffrey made the mini-triple stack work. With four separate downs that need to be acceptable — HER, AWL, RAD, RRS — it's fortuitous to find this arrangement.

From a solver's standpoint though, having the lone HARRY LIME felt odd. Having a lone name thrown into a listing of movie titles felt inelegant. Not worth the extension to a 16 column grid, or the mini-triple stack, to my taste.

I did appreciate the effort Jeffrey went to in the upper right and lower left corners. I'm not sure I buy KITTENISH as a usable word, but LOSE HEART and EROTIC ART are very nice additions to the puzzle. PORC is an oddity, but it's easily inferable from the fair crossings.

Speaking of nice additions, tribute puzzles run the risk of reading like a Wikipedia entry. I would have loved some extra layer, like R O S E B U D spelled out in the shape of a sled, or some WAR OF THE WORLDS-themed ETS strewn about the grid.

Dang, I love me some aliens.

Thu 5/14/2015
LFMASTSHRIVEL
ARALSEAYOUBETC
SANDLERSOMEWAY
YEETOTESEGO
NGERABBEYGMEN
ANAABRIMBAER
BURSTOUTNORTE
POUTMONT
FAINTLAUGHING
EPEEGODNOCOO
TRODCOLDSBERT
ARCVILLAYAR
BERETTASWAYING
IRYLEGSHOMONYM
TOPKNOTWAUKES

Speaking of APOCRYP(HA) — fantastic entry and clue by the way, with the confusing "texts" plural not matching the crazy perceived -RYP ending within the grid — huge congrats to Mike Selinker and his team at Lone Shark Games for their tremendous success with their APOCRYPHA card game Kickstarter campaign.

Fri 5/15/2015
DARKANGELTRAP
INACLAIRECHEMO
KIMJONGUNHERBS
SIONADDTOCART
PENNEHILOATOI
BETESETUNREST
ADOSTRESPASSES
ARTYEP
GQMAGAZINELAPS
SUITESNTSODIN
TESTSASHICALL
RESIDENCEMAWS
INUREDATAPLANS
NISEIOLIVETREE
GEARRECEIVERS

KIM JONG UN tied right to "The Interview," love it! I also love KIM JONG UN's accomplishments, like learning to drive at age three. Did you know he also beat Dan Feyer in this year's World Crossword Puzzle Tournament by three hundred minutes, taking his fortieth straight crown?

Loved seeing OLIVE TREE featured as [Athena's gift to Athens]. So cool how she out-thought Poseidon, who gave the people on that island a river of … sea water.

Really, Poseidon? Really?

And a great clue in TOUPEES, [Top-secret disguises?] repurposing the term "top-secret." In most cases, it's really not much of a secret. (Sorry, fellas.)

David wades into tough territory today in his NE and SW corners. Any 4x7 or bigger space is usually difficult to fill both cleanly and with color. I like David's execution in his lower left, GQ MAGAZINE along with MISS USA and G STRING. There's an amazing amount of testosterone there, but I appreciated how David kept the glue to just NISEI. And that's actually a fine term, a Japanese family friend using it to describe herself.

The opposite corner is more typical of the trade-offs seen with these 4x7s. Standard & Poor's upgrades / downgrades issues all the time. RERATES does technically describe it, but it's not really used. And CHEMO … what happened to the "no cancer references"? In some ways it's great to see the topic broached, but what a downer for someone in the hospital doing the crossword.

I loved CHO referenced to Harry Potter, as I've read the books five or six times. I can see how that would make some solvers grumble though, if they knew CHO Chang as much as I knew DARK ANGEL. Either-you-know-it-or-you-don't entries are tough, playing strongly to uberfans but potentially irritating to others.

If you're going to need gluey bits of the same type, probably best to not draw attention to them with clue echoes (SES / A TOI, NTS linked to SUITES).

The 68 word construction is tough. David goes to one end of the spectrum today, giving us some very fresh feeling entries like GIGAHERTZ and DATA PLANS and ADD TO CART, while requiring a relatively high count of liability entries to hold them together.

Sat 5/16/2015
DRIPPOTBEATSME
REMORSEUPDATED
UPPSALALEAKING
GROTTOCLEMENTE
CIRCESLYSUGAR
ZETAALOFTPOLS
AVERAGESOUT
REDDIAPERBABIES
LITTHETORCH
ASTINARISNOOR
SPANGROMPENNI
HINDUGODWESSON
ANGELOUTITMICE
RELEARNONRADAR
PLEDGEDMOONERS

What intimidation the amazingly wide-open grid presents! From a constructor's standpoint, I cringed at the thought of trying to fill such wide swaths, especially the NW and SE corners.

As a solver, I found it nearly impossible to get a toehold anywhere. Byron mentioned to me at the ACPT that he avoids three-letter entries like the plague, since they've been done to death. I depend on those little guys to give me a place to start, though! This one only had six of them, so it was an extremely solve difficult. Daunting when your first pass through the clues turns up only Douglas ADAMS.

GWB's BONESMAN's nickname was "Magog." Um, no thank you.

Byron has a unique constructing style. At the ACPT, a bunch of us were joking around that some of his entries need a tennis line judge to make a determination on whether it's a real thing or not. There's a huge amount of great fill in this puzzle — RED DIAPER BABIES, BULLY FOR HIM, HINDU GOD, DRUG CZAR — all super solid and zippy.

But I cocked my head a few times, at ECONOCAR (economy car?), LIT THE TORCH (lit the fuse?), DRIP POT (drip coffee or just coffee maker?), and BONESMAN (Skull and Bones member?). As the line judge, I think I'd call the first three just slightly out. However, BONESMAN turns out to be a recognized term for a Skull and Bones member. That's a keeper, IMO.

Typically a grid as open as this will depend on gluey words and RE- / -ER crutches, so it's amazing how little Byron needs. As RE- words go, RELEARN isn't bad, and NARIS apparently is the medical term for a nostril. The PENNI was in circulation until fairly recently, so it's not that bad either.

Overall, an impressive piece of work, Byron weaving creative answers throughout the grid in order to knit the entire thing together.

Sun 5/17/2015 TO-DO LIST (ABRIDGED)
BREADSROMAODDSSTEM
MARINECORPSKEEPSCOOL
WINDAWATCHAPLAYAPRANK
NOELTIATHANROADS
AMENHEESTOW
THUMBARIDEAWAVEAFLAG
LESSSORPMEELTUG
CREDFLATCRIMESCENE
DOAFLIPACOINAPHRASE
SNOOZEHUESSETSIN
MTMNOWSIPBOAETA
ARARATSALECHANTS
RUNALIGHTAFIREASHOT
CITYSTREETSUMSRULE
SSRABASAMBATBOY
MAKEACATCHABUSATABLE
ACNEARKPADS
WORLDAGRIALBTOOL
FILEARETURNABOOKATRIP
TVANTENNAKARATEKICKS
DEFSATOMSHADYESSES

I appreciate the innovation Joe has been bringing to Sunday puzzles. Today's title was spot-on perfect — ABRIDGED should be read as A-BRIDGED, i.e. the phrases are bridged by connecting As.

Neat how Joe found so many "X a Y" phrases that are both in the language and are linkable. RUN A LIGHT A FIRE A SHOT was especially colorful, each one of the three "to-do list tasks" strong phrases in their own right.

I know karate kicks. Er, kung fu.

The only one I paused at was MAKE A CATCH, as its clue felt off. [Play baseball] is so generic; something like [Field a fly] would have been better (although, see Will's very valid point below — super difficult to clue this phrase!). The bigger issue is that I debated for a long time whether or not MAKE A CATCH is actually in-the-language or not. "The outfielder is going to make the catch!" feels fine. "The outfielder is going to make a catch!" … not so much.

Loved the start of the puzzle, two clever clues kicking off the upper left corner. [Group of companies] had me thinking about big business and corporate takeovers, but it meant military companies in the MARINE CORPS. And [Pod part, perhaps] threw me off, entering OKRA. Clever, a "pod" being a group of ORCAs.

On that MARINE CORPS note, I also appreciated Joe adding to the solving experience by giving us some big corners, with such snappy entries like TV ANTENNA and KARATE KICKS. Getting down to 138 words is awfully difficult to do cleanly — I didn't care for seeing two plural names so close to each other (MARCS and KARENS) — but that's a very small price that I'm willing to accept in order to get those big corners. And there are enough KARENS in the world; not like it was a plural EZIOS or something.

I would have liked the clues amped up in difficulty, as for most of the themers I was able to drop them in without a single crossing answer. But overall, I enjoyed seeing something completely different in my Sunday puzzle.

Mon 5/18/2015
EMUPAPERSTEAK
RANALICEEAGLE
ROWWITHERINGLY
ORIONODES
LILLIANSAMOSAS
LANDEDMISHIT
TRIGAPEDCHIME
HANGMANIAAFEW
EDGARLICITTDS
FILLETMENIAL
TOYSHOPSTEREOS
EWERDISCO
OFFHANDEDLYSTS
PLAITANNIELEA
TUXESLOADSYTD

One my favorite books about the craft of writing is Stephen King's "On Writing." Aside from being a master of storytelling, King gives great advice about how to make novels compelling. One of his minor tidbits is to avoid adverbs unless absolutely necessary, as those pesky "–ly" words run you the risk of becoming a Tom Swifty farce. I bet King would enjoy today's puzzle as much as I did.

"Uncle Stevie," as he went by in his Entertainment Weekly column

Four great examples of Tom Swifties; I appreciated their outlandish nature. SHIFTLESSLY referring to an automatic transmission, UNWILLNGLY to someone being written out of a will, and OFFHANDEDLY to a Poe-esque dehandification. They exemplify the ridiculous nature that a good Tom Swifty ought to exhibit. WITHERINGLY was a bit too close to the actual look, which makes a person wither like a dried-up plant, but three out of four ain't bad.

Nice, clean grid, much appreciated for a Monday. I noticed OLA as I went and a bit of STS / YTD at the very end, but I appreciated Gene's efforts to keep the grid smooth enough for novice solvers. LICIT is a tough word, but it's easily inferable from the more common "illicit."

It would have been nice to get a little more long fill, though. You see the black square between REAM and AINT? If it had been shifted one square to the right, that would have opened up two nice slots for nine-letter fill (at 19-D and its symmetrical spot). Would have also served to open up the grid, reducing how separated the center of the grid is from the rest.

No doubt this would have made filling the grid cleanly more difficult, but I think it's doable. Entries like TOY SHOP help to spice up a grid, so getting a few more pieces of long fill would have been great.

King once said "the road to hell is paved with adverbs," but I think sparing use is just fine. Plus, if J.K. Rowling's road is one to hell, I'm sticking my thumb out to hitch a ride. (He said, richly.)

Tue 5/19/2015
SLOBSBRIEFAZT
AEIOURIATAGEO
FALLENANGELGRR
EVESENDOAPRON
REDHEADSLOE
OBLIQUEANGLE
ADLIBUGGYAYA
MOESOMEHOWTNT
ASTINILAMENS
JESSICALANGE
DACENESTEGG
KHAKIACNEHALO
NANCONRADNAGEL
OTCLOYALONEAL
WEEEXAMSGERMY

Anagrams today, ANGEL to ANGLE to LANGE to NAGEL. I didn't know that last one, but some research shows that he's gridworthy, what with his giant filmography as well as his hosting of two Academy Award ceremonies. I might have preferred to have him as a piece of fill rather than a themer, but I couldn't think of another ANGEL anagram to take his place.

Billy Crystal ain't got nothing on Conrad Nagel

Two nice pieces of long fill today, AGGREGATE and LETS DANCE. See how both of these run through only one themer? And how they (more or less) sit in their own corner? This grid design gives high flexibility to make those long entry sing. With very few constraints, there should be many possibilities that are both colorful and allow the surrounding area to be filled cleanly.

LETS DANCE works great for me. My pop music knowledge is abysmal, but I know David Bowie. And I even (sorta kinda) could hum the tune before looking it up! Catchy bugger; I'd count that as an asset to the puzzle.

AGGREGATE isn't as strong to me. Yes, it's a fine word, but I'd count it as a neutral entry rather than chalking one up in the assets column. Not only is a common, not-super-colorful word, but the clue is definitional. Perhaps if it had a clever wordplay element, I would think of it differently. But why not choose something as strong as LETS DANCE in the first place?

I did appreciate the effort to work in good mid-length entries: BOLSHOI, REDHEAD and NEST EGG. Even ICICLE added to my experience, with its nice [Emotionally distant person, metaphorically] clue. Anything that points out the beauty and zest woven into the English language is a positive in my book.

For a puzzle with average theme density (four medium length entries), I expect a nearly clean grid. Not enough constraints to justify more than three or four bits like ENDO, ETE, and the partialish FA LA LA. I'd have loved to see OOX worked out of the grid, maybe changing ANNALS to the spicy ANDALE!

POW Wed 5/20/2015
SACSPEALMADAM
HELPRATEAROSE
ORALAREARIGHT
VISAVISAVISA
EASTERMESHJAB
SLYRIGLATINO
ABELABELABEL
FLAWAGOLEWD
RIDERIDERIDE
ERASERENOPSA
TAMBAASSNORTS
PIESPIESPIES
RAZORPURRTONE
EXISTEMITIRON
DEPTHNESSCYST

★ Loved this; themers that look like three repeated words but can be parsed in kooky ways. VIS A VIS VISA was readily apparent, as was ABE LABEL ABEL. But it took me a while to figure out what RIDERIDERIDE should become. What a fun division in RIDER I DERIDE. Similar hijinks in PIESPIESPIES, which I originally thought was the odd and repetitive PIE SPIES PIES. Not so! PI ESPIES PIES is brilliant.

Some strong clues too:

Twain sure had a lot of depth

Now, I would have liked some more long fill in this puzzle. This is a tougher task than for a typical four-theme entry puzzle, because of the themers' 12-letter lengths. Normally, you'd be able to take out the black square between DOG and JIBE to make an eight-letter slot, but no dice today since that square is necessary to finish off VISAVISAVISA. Same goes with the black square between CLASSY and ADAM.

There's room to explore blowing up the black square between MARSHAL and DONS, but that does make for a bigger space to fill in the west and east. And shifting black squares around in the center is a real possibility, but that would likely mean redoing the entire puzzle.

Still, the grid does contain a little zip with PRAIRIE / DOG, MARSHAL, even a SPLAT and a SPUME. And it is nice and bereft of gluey bits (aside from IRAE, maybe PSA too) — what a 78-word puzzle ought to be.

A trait of a great puzzle is that it makes me want to think about it further. So much fun to wrestle with these themers; I'd love to find more.

Thu 5/21/2015
ABEETOLDEBARK
BRAGHROAROQUE
BARGEEARTHSIGN
RELOFMONKEYS
ORSPAGED
DECORSBAREAYE
ERODEDRIERREEF
BAROABIDEELLE
TSIMPSONLAZIER
EENAHOYEXACTS
EDGERACE
RAISEDTHEBAR
BARNSTORMEVADE
BIESELIEAESOP
SLOTMINNDRESS

The BAR gets raised in today's puzzle — five times! (BAR) REL OF MONKEYS made it apparent what was going on, but it was a nice treat to struggle with the upper right and lower left corners before realizing that they hid shorter themers. I had a strong feeling that E.P.A. atmospheric stat was AQI, but what the heck kind of word can start with OQ? Normally I'm not a fan of short themers, but (BAR)OQUE and (BAR)BIES added a great deal to my solving pleasure.

Examples of simple four-bar mechanisms

I found it a bit odd that the BAR was not only raised but shifted over. Not unlike a four-BAR mechanism, say, in a pair of locking pliers. Man oh man would this mechanical engineer have loved to see a FOUR BAR MECHANISM revealer!

Stupid need to play to a wide general audience grumble grumble.

Stacked answers create high constraints, so it's no surprise to see the gluey bits appear around the themers: BARO / EEN / ODOM around (BAR)T SIMPSON, ABBR and A BEET (and BRAE to a lesser extent) around (BAR)REL OF MONKEYS. So it's impressive that Pete kept that middle section squeaky clean around (BAR)RIER REEF and around (BAR)BIES. AQI may make some people wince, but I hear it all the time, and I'm sure our SoCal friends hear it most every day. Plus, that kooky OQ?? pattern is gold.

I did find the puzzle's symmetry a bit wonky. How cool would it have been for the revealer to be RAISED THE, with BAR stacked on top? And EARTH SIGN not being part of the theme felt a bit off.

Finally, a nice throwback clue to "Bewitched." I used to love that show, but it always seemed bizarre that companies would actually pay Darren and his ADMEN cronies to sit around and brainstorm ideas. Cool to dip into AD MEN history, way before MAD MEN.

Fri 5/22/2015
SEALEDWITHAKISS
ALLOVERTHEPLACE
BAGGAGECAROUSEL
ANIONSATESSPF
DTENATMOSKUTI
ORRHELENAIMEE
ASHOREEARNER
AMICUD
MONIESHUMANE
BINGETTOPSALP
ILLSBEATSGINA
SEEIRANISAVOR
TRACTORTRAILERS
RUSSIANROULETTE
ONHANDSANDKNEES

Themeless puzzles featuring 15-letter entries sometimes suffer from a lack of pizzazz, because those long guys don't leave much room for other good fill. If most of your grid snazz comes from six grid-spanners, all six ought to be fantastic.

Luckily, David gives us six beautiful ones. SEALED WITH A KISS is a great way to lead it off. The clue for RUSSIAN ROULETTE doesn't seem quite accurate — it can go around the circle multiple times without anything happening, yeah? — but the entry itself is colorful. (Note: Jim pointed out that there is only one round ... the round in the chamber. D'oh!)

Bannister and Landy doing the MILE RUN

Added bonus to get MILE RUN, I ASSUME, SCEPTER. Way to work some extra assets right through the stacks.

So very tough to make a clean triple-stacks puzzle. David does quite well as triple-stacks go, but at this point in crossword evolution, the "as triple-stacks go" qualifier counts for very little. About five little gluey bits for most themeless puzzles is roughly where I as a solver start to sense inelegance.

IT CAME feels particularly inelegant to me, breaking the rule of no partials greater than five letters. I'd be fine with a six-letter partial if it allowed something never before seen to happen — not here though. I'd love to see if something like IT CLUB (kin to an AV club) could make things better. Shifting the black squares in the center might be effective, but that would cause all sorts of ripple effects.

(Note: David mentioned that his original clue was [Cry after finding a package], which seems better to me. A bit arbitrary, but at least I can see IT CAME as a non-partial now.)

Some nice clues:

  • [F-, H- or I-, but not G-]. Cool to figure out that it related to chemistry: fluorine, hydrogen, and iodine can become ANIONs.
  • [Get a lock on, e.g.] had me thinking about targeting, homing in on, etc. Great a-ha to realize it referred to leg locks, etc. in wrestling.
  • [Web content] is something I'm always thinking about; trying to write about puzzle elements I think solvers will find interesting. SILK in a spider web = a good headslap moment.
  • [Breaks down in class] made me think of poor students wailing over finals, but it's a misdirection. English teachers parse (break down) sentence structures.

Really appreciated how each of these clues didn't require a telltale question mark!

Sat 5/23/2015
HATCHETJOBMFAS
YEAHIMSUREARGO
ESKIMOKISSNEON
NOELSCOTCHEGG
APIECEENBLOC
AHASYOULIE
SCENESHOPWRIST
TOXSTOODONMTS
EDITHOFFICEBOY
MATHISSNAG
LERNERKRONOR
PLACEABETTUNA
RENUROCKGARDEN
OVERFLOODLIGHT
WISESANDPAPERS

As I've come to expect from Peter, a beautiful grid chock full of zesty entries, with just a couple of glue dots to hold it together. Very impressive start to the puzzle, HATCHET JOB / YEAH IM SURE / ESKIMO KISS in a super clean corner. And TAKEI of Star Trek and "Oh Myyy…" internet fame! As if I didn't already love TAKEI for being one of the only Asians I saw on TV growing up, his transformation into Internet megastar elevates him to one of my favorite people on the planet.

ONE HR is an interesting entry. On one hand, it could be inelegant since it involves an abbreviation. But what a crazy string of letters! It stalled me out in that corner, as I was sure that it had to be something like ONE PM, which I've seen many times (and personally disliked) before. I certainly like it better than ONE AM, but is it a liability or neutral? Not sure.

Free climbers do often use ropes for safety — very different from "free soloing"

I typically would give a fantastic grid like this the POW!, but something felt off to me. Upon reflection, I think it's the cluing — such missed opportunity; so much potential to clue TAKEI in a spicier manner. Same with OFFICE BOY, HATCHET JOB, ESKIMO KISS and FREE CLIMB, which all got definitional clues. Granted, FREE CLIMB is niche enough that maybe it needed something out of Webster's, but even that is fairly well inferable, yeah?

And as much as I like efforts to get STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields higher priority in education, cluing it with a fill-in-the-blank feels like it gives STEM short-shift.

Granted, there are some very nice clues. [Something to keep a watch on] is clever for WRIST. But for such a well-executed grid, I would have loved to see more clues of an equal level of excellence. It's a tough balance — clues that are too clever can cause confusion, if the answer isn't widely known. But I'd rather err on the side of throwing caution to the wind, perhaps producing some head-scratching but also some real oohs and aahs.

Interesting dilemma in themeless creation — if an entry is as fantastic as HATCHET JOB or FREE CLIMB, but it requires a dictionary definition because it's not well-known enough ... is it a fantastic entry after all?

Sun 5/24/2015 A TALE OF MANY CITIES
JUSTALUMMBAHOTDATES
UHAULTERAOOHATHENIAN
LUIGISTUDFARMGREWINTO
ERNSTETSONNETALSO
SATTHAIERSTESSONYRO
FUSENONOONKPNOSOAP
CORENIGHNABEEGGSUDE
SHAYEROOEDERCOKEKIN
PANSWONKYEMOIRISNAB
ORCDYNEALLYWAGSROTA
TAIRAYSWEEBALESEWER
SVENHELMACDCGNAW
TACOKCARONBYOTOEHEF
AROWERISNAYSUHOHAXL
GELJEEROSHTIREDETUI
SALOWEDAQUASTUNWIDE
AWEKOKOTUMSOMNIAMES
LAGGERWISEPINAGINS
EYESKENSERINRAHMATV
HASPHAZARDTITOYEE
MARATHONHEREITISFRIAR
OVERRODEERIGOALFANON
BAGPIPESMSNOGLEOGRE

Fogg at London's Reform Club "Around the World in 80 Days" amazed me as a kid. A book written over a century ago, capturing the attention and imagination of a ten-year old boy is a pretty good criteria for defining a classic. So it was great to see the book commemorated in a crossword. I really enjoyed how the letters A R O U N D … roamed up and down in their quest to circumnavigate the puzzle.

As Kevin and I discussed over email, some compromises. There's so much short fill that it's tough to avoid some clunkers. But for me, the biggest source of frustration was not being able to see the cities embedded in the theme answers. I had to look up Fogg's path in order to figure them out:

  • LETTING ONES HAIR DOWN: LONDON
  • LEMON SQUEEZERS: SUEZ
  • BORN TO BE MY BABY: BOMBAY
  • SPECIAL COURT MARTIAL: CALCUTTA
  • THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT: HONG KONG
  • YOU KNOW WHAT IM SAYING: YOKOHAMA
  • SAINT FRANCIS COLLEGE: SAN FRANCISCO
  • THE NEW YANKEE WORKSHOP: NEW YORK

So, a really cool idea to 1.) trace Fogg's journey through different cities and 2.) circumnavigate the puzzle, but with some execution problems both in gluey bits and the ability to see Fogg's path. Made for a frustrating solving experience at times.

Overall though, a very fun concept, attempting to capture the magic of the book.

Mon 5/25/2015
HANGIMPSBIGOT
ALARMAREANODE
VIDEOCLIPBUYIN
OBIVOTETYRANT
CIRCULARFILE
OLDRKOQUO
GIVETRAINBUFF
TORECRAMSRIOT
MOONSHINESOPS
INNTENSKI
SOCIALPOLISH
REMARKNORANEO
ECOLIINAILEDIT
SHOVERUNTSIZE
TOTEDELSEPEEL

I NAILED IT is a great phrase, lively and colorful. Here, it's loosely interpreted to describe the process of manicuring one's nails: CLIP, FILE, BUFF, SHINE, POLISH. At first I thought it was a "words that can follow X" type theme, since my manicure process involves just CLIP (wouldn't that be quite the boring two-entry theme!). Took me a second glance to see that a full process was happening here. Much more interesting!

Buff, shine, both, neither, or is this a trick question?

Impressive to pack six themers into a Monday puzzle. It's usually difficult to place two themers over each other, as with VIDEO CLIP and CIRCULAR FILE, instead of staggering them left to right. So many down answers run down through both VIDEO CLIP and CIRCULAR FILE! There is some flexibility, as VIDEO CLIP could just have easily been AUDIO CLIP, MONEY CLIP, MOVIE CLIP, etc. — I wonder if one of those could have made for a smoother start than OBI ALAR PRIER SEP in that corner.

Still, given that the BUFF and SHINE and POLISH steps are necessary in the manicuring process (there's really a difference? he asked semi-facetiously), the fact that there are six themers will nearly always force some of those gluey bits. I was bracing myself for more to rear their heads after that start, but the rest of the puzzle is quite well executed. Very smooth; much appreciated.

I wasn't convinced that SOCIAL POLISH and TRAIN BUFF are in the language (less than 50K Google hits each), but they are self-explanatory. Easy enough to grok, even for Monday solvers (and I'm sure there will be some people wearing engineer hats blowing their train whistles in celebration).

Overall, the revealer didn't quite work for me, as it's a bit too oblique a connection between NAILS and NAILED IT, but it is a fun repurposing of language. And working in BABYLON and its Hanging Gardens is a nice addition to an already theme-packed puzzle.

POW Tue 5/26/2015
BESTCOPATUSHES
OTTOOWENASHORE
CHILDSEATNEUMAN
CARLOSBIRDSNEST
ENSMEMOAOUT
MITASTOPBCE
JAPANGREERFLOW
ALLYOUNEEDISLOVE
MPAABOSSAPETER
BOXDELTAGED
SARIWARNSAT
MATCHGAMEEDITOR
OLEOLELIFESTORY
MORRIELRONENTS
STREAKEDGEMEAT

★ Such a great example of the "both words can precede X" theme type. This trope can be a little dry, in that the theme phrases are often so hard to come up with that they end up being dry. Not here! BIRDS NEST (soup), MATCH GAME, LIFE STORY are fantastic. CHILD SEAT isn't bad either, although to me it's not quite as vivid as the others.

Remind me why I wasn't popular in high school?

With five themers and an expanded 16x15 grid, I'd expect there to be maybe four pieces of good long fill worked in. Glad to see Gareth hit that mark with strong material, giving us TANDOORI, UBERGEEK, MAGNOLIA / DAHLIA, and RATED AAA. (I'm a finance UBERGEEK, so sue me.)

The wide-open upper-right and lower-left corners are especially nice. A lot of six-letter entries enmeshed with an eight-letter one usually requires some glue to hold everything together. True, there's an AOUT and a TERR in those corners, but those are miniscule prices for the nice material. TUSHES and STREAK in symmetrical places — a hidden mini-theme, perhaps?

And to work in a bonus bit of material in TRYST in an elegant location — here, in the SE-most down slot — added to my solving experience. I usually find that "bonus material" strewn randomly through the grid is distracting and a bit of an annoyance, whereas this felt more planned and elegant.

With two strikes against you from the start (having to keep the solver entertained through an oversized grid and using a well-worn theme type), it takes a lot to create a memorable solving experience. For me, Gareth succeeded in spades.

Wed 5/27/2015
OBAMATRADETVA
VIDALWAKEDOAR
AGORAANIMUSTNT
EPIMIAMIPEG
CATSCANTSKIBOB
DREARYPEERAGE
LSDOASESNIGHT
BUSHWASNT
OCTETOESTESTA
LOWNOTEATRAIN
ALIGNSMATHISNT
GSAHOOFSTHY
KATYDIDNTQUITS
ITETRITETAMIL
XEDSTEERSLIMY

Debut! Jim was nice enough to give me a ride back to the airport after the ACPT, and it's great to see his name on the byline today. He mentioned to me that it was tricky to think up enough themers for this one — once you use DID / DIDN'T, you can't really use it again.

Several of the themers amused me: MATHIS to MATH ISNT / BUSHWAS (synonym of "hooeys") to BUSH WASN'T / KATYDID to KATY DIDN'T all felt consistent. And while CAT SCAN to CATS CANT was different in it parsing, it had a fun transformation.

I spent a while trying to figure out ANIMUSTNT, though — it was a relief to read Will's note after I pondered this question. I get the wacky result of ANI MUSTNT, but its base phrase eluded me. For consistency sake, it had to be ANIMUST, right? But while ANIMIST and ANIMUS are regular words, ANIMUST was some bushwa. So, I think it must be an inconsistent themer, derived from ANIMUST. Er, ANIMUS.

After considering it further, it does fit if it's a looser sound transmogrification, as Will mentioned. It still feels awfully loose, though.

You'd think the stupid Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam would have this painting, wouldn't you?

Tricky grid for one's debut. BUSHWASNT is one of those awkward lengths for a middle answer — 9, 11, or 13 are all difficult because they split the sides of the grid into upper and lower halves — but Jim does well to incorporate quite a bit of nice fill into those seven-letter slots. TINY TIM and SASHIMI are an especially nice pair. VAN GOGH is a strong one too, although it curiously missed the perfect opportunity to cross-reference to an crossing answer: his famous painting, The STARRY Night.

As much as I liked all those seven-letter entries, perhaps adding a pair of black squares somewhere to increase the word count to 78 and smooth things out would have been better. With so many three-letter words (23), it's important to choose mostly innocuous ones, more on the end of BET and OAR vs. CDL and OLA.

So, aside from the inconsistent themer (I'd love to hear from someone if an ANIMUST is a real thing!), a fun solving experience with the mid-length fill helping to balance out some of the compromises in the short fill.

Thu 5/28/2015
CSIASPECTAHH
ALUMSTATUELOO
CELLOSUITESBUT
ARTOORAILPASS
CIASPIESNARNIA
ISNTSVUEINK
AYSCLAPADPAGE
EVENODDS
ABBESSSPITHEM
REARUAEMANE
TEDIUMBLUETITS
FREEMEALRETRO
OMGALTERNATION
RUGMOTTOSNAPS
MGSINASECANY

I started searching for themers by hand, working with favorable letter patterns to turn out entries like SCHOOLED = SHOE + COLD. But that seemed like a silly way to approach the problem. Why not use all the modern tools at one's disposal?

Thanks to Bob Klahn, who spurred me on to pick up programming again, I was able to futz out a Python script which helped me to turn up many more options. I was delighted to find so many fine two-word phrases in particular. And when ALTERNATION turned up, it sealed the deal.

I used to be able to play almost all of the Bach Cello Suites (badly)

But how to work in ALTERNATION to the cool EVEN / ODDS revealer? Luckily I had CELLO SUITES as a symmetrical entry to ALTERNATION, but having those two as my first and last themers and EVEN / ODDS in the center only allowed for two additional themers, for a total of five.

Or did it? I normally dislike overstuffing of themage, since it tends to cause ugly or even egregious fill, but I figured I'd at least see what was possible with seven themers. I experimented with a few dozen combinations, and this stacking pattern with BLUETITS over FREE MEAL over ALTERNATION gave me enough of what I wanted: flexibility in fill plus the ability to work in some good medium-length fill. The grid doesn't allow for as much juicy long entries as I usually like, but I had fun monkeying with all the seven-letter slots.

And my favorite entry of the grid? It amuses me to no end to imagine speed solvers stalling out at the kooky-looking EINK [Noise from a scared pig?]. I'm a huge fan of Kindles and e-readers in general, so I was happy to work in E-INK.

Apologies to the non-physics ubergeeks out there if the ENTROPY / MESONS combination stumped you. One of my alternate grids also contained Z BOSONS — probably a good thing I (just barely) managed to restrain myself.

Fri 5/29/2015
TAPSCLAPTONGA
OBOEHEALTHFOOD
YOKEINRAREFORM
SUESSTONEHENGE
TRADEONVEREEN
BAGFULKIA
ABATESAINTHOOD
ROMEGOTTOORZO
EYERHYMESARGON
APEINSANE
ATBATSPANTENE
BYACCIDENTHIHO
UPSTHEANTEIZOD
ZEROESINONDELI
ZBARSSENDEDEN
Sat 5/30/2015
KIDSMEALFRAMED
EMINENCELADYDI
DUXELLESICONIC
SPIREATANYRATE
FETEWESTASHY
ROCSNARLSAT
ERRSORSTWISTS
DIAMONDBOLOTIE
OTTERSRANNAME
LETTUCESTED
IDOLASSTHIES
DONTERASEINLAW
INSERTERUPTIVE
ONESIELISTENED
MATTERLABORERS

A fun solve from two of my favorite people in crosswordland. Typically themelesses contain slots for 12-16 long entries (eight letters or more), as it's too difficult to work in more than that without generating compromises in fill.

Mmm, duke's ell! Er, DUXELLES. Cool word.

Not today! An amazing 20 long slots. It took me some study to figure out the engineering behind this one. It all starts from the upper left and lower right regions, which "turn the corner" into L-shapes — so daunting to fill. A total of 12 long slots in just those two corners alone!

With so many long slots, the conversion ratio (assets to total long entries) doesn't have to be as high as usual. Heck, if you put neutral words in eight of the slots, you still end up with 12 nice entries.

So how do they do? I love entries like KIDS MEAL, TIME SAVER, SMELL TEST, DIXIECRAT, IM UP FOR IT — all colorful and/or vivid chunks of language. Others like SNARLS AT, LISTENED, ADORATION, LETTUCES aren't as nice, as they provide filler for everyday conversation. And the ACE AWARD seems to me nearly a liability, given the clue which further emphasizes how outdated it is.

Overall, I'd say about 11-12 of the entries are excellent; a decent number of assets — more than enough to balance out the just a few liabilities like ASST and ENL (maybe SNERT too, although I always had a soft spot for him). Solid puzzle.

The coup de grace was the clue [Noted employee of Slate]. Surely that had to be someone working at the online zine Slate? No, it was Mr. Slate, Fred Flintstone's employer at the quarry. Such a clever misdirection.

Sun 5/31/2015 MAKING PROJECTIONS
TACOTEACHPILLSARF
ALBUMWANDAINDIADEL
ITSNOWONDERLOFTYIOU
TRESSKRONASKORT
TAMERPROFITIRONAGE
CIRCLERABIDRTEENS
AMOKGOTONSUHWEET
SEMIANNUALTOMFOOLERY
TRANSFATCOLOURSNOI
LILTSEAWORLDSNAP
ANDESKELVINSQUADS
TORYHOARSENSNOUN
OVODECRIEDVANISHED
MAPLELEAFSSMARTPHONE
DEFEATSROOMYIMAC
NOVNNELAPUPSTNICK
PAWEDATSENSEITWEET
ASNERRELICROUES
PAMALEXAHIBERNATION
ALEWINITEKEBYKASHI
SSNSECTSRELAXTOMB

PROJECTIONS sticking up from the top of the puzzle and down from the bottom, the projecting letters aptly spelling out SORE THUMB. Stuck out like a sore thumb, indeed!

Either a protest against shark finning ... or maybe day at Disney?

I appreciated how much care Tom put into selecting his themers. It would be all to easy to have just any entry starting with S for the first themer, but Tom picked SHARK FIN, which not only is a colorful entry, but also looks bizarre in the grid as HARK FIN. Same goes for RADIOANTENNA, which had me baffled when I uncovered the ADIOAN- start. I was sure there was some sort of unscrambling gimick involved.

Nice execution on the grid, too. Very little glue to hold everything together, plus a lot of supplemental fill that added to my experience. ITS NO WONDER I enjoyed the puzzle, getting KELVINS in the center. I was indignantly sure that it was incorrect, in that temperatures are given in Kelvin, not Kelvin, but a quick check reminded me that KELVINS are indeed used to express temperature differences.

So much for my mechanical engineering master's degree.

It's too bad that this puzzle was published so close to Kameron Collins' recent HA HA HA puzzle. It's great to get an outside-the-box rule breaker once in a while, but the gimmick loses its edge when overused.

Also, I would have loved to get grid art in the shape of a thumb. Not sure if that's possible with black squares, but perhaps something with circles could have been done? Some extra element around SORE THUMB would have been fantastic, and it might have also forced a breakup of that wide center swath, which has so few ways into it. It's a neat feat to generate a clean swath with so many mid-length answers, but having it so heavily bordered off in the NW and SE made it too much like a mini-puzzle for my taste.

Overall though, a neat idea, strong themer choice, and a pretty good punchline.

ADDED NOTE: Jim pointed out that all the upper half theme answers are sort of "things that stick up" and the lower half answers are "things that stick down." A nice additional layer of theme that I missed. D'oh!