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Puzzles for May, 2022
with Jeff Chen comments

Sun 5/1/2022 Blank Expressions
AHALTESCHMOISHNIB
REXREEDSHOOINSDUALIPA
PHLEGMYFORTLEEABRAHAM
WAPGOODNEATSADS
ANGELENOPAPALWARNZONE
DEADNHEADTOGCASUALSEX
LASSIPLANETEARTHSOAMI
ITSDOTIMELOCALSGET
BOYSDUEIBARSHMOSEAS
OWENCLARIONELON
ABASEEWEDMSEIDSUGAR
LANAISTOOKNOVERFIGARO
ARIREEFLAHTIETRESMU
BNSIDESAERATEDHARPNON
ABEFORTASMIOROCKSOLID
MATSSOLARSAILDIRE
ACELUPINEPEDANTNED
KARATEENDUSERGOOSES
EBERTOUSTSSLOPE
SWEATSNITMARSTARNDATE
TILDESNOWPIERCERHUMOR
ADAMSETPHONEHOMEACELA
TENETSEANTOTSTENDS

Some interesting finds! I've spent a ton of time with these space-changing concepts, and I still stared in amazement at HARP ON -> HARP O ON = HARPOON. (Space additions or shifts attract my attention more strongly than things like TOOK COVER to TOOK OVER, where one word stays constant.)

We've ghosted in the eight letters below for you: SPACE OUT. It didn't give me an a-ha, but it's an apt phrase for the concept.

Brandon brings up a great point about debut short entries. Because 3- and 4-letter entries are so heavily relied on, I always hesitate before utilizing something that's never been used before. Will Shortz once asked me to redo an entire Sunday puzzle based on OBO (or best offer), for example. In today's cases, WTF (what the "FRAK") is great. FRAK might be tough for heathen non-Battlestar fans. (Release the Cylons!)

I'm amazed that WAP made it through the editing gauntlet, given what it stands for. If you're faint of heart, don't google "Cardi B" and "WAP."

CORDATE is also a debut. In general, I leave entries at the "it's fine" score of 50 if someone can make a case that it is fine. PHLEGMY also caused me much consternation — I'd take CORDATE over it any time, given how loudly my son snorts up his snot when he gets a cold.

Impressive construction, given that not only are there eight(!) pairs(!) of themers to grid around. What's more, they don't all line up symmetrically. Yikes! Amazing that Brandon was able to fill it, period.

The "meta-answer" didn't strike me strongly, since it was like someone explaining a joke after telling it, but I enjoyed a lot of the finds. HARD ASS's HARD PASS is a fun pairing.

POW Mon 5/2/2022
ACHOOEDSSALEM
PLANKNYEUSAGE
NEVEREVERRINGS
ERAALIBREADTH
WINEMARIABAE
SCANSBEARSEARS
REALMENACT
LADLEFLASK
NIGELROYCE
HOVEROVERKURTA
ATETEXTSPEAT
HALFASSNAPTNT
AFOULTHIGHHIGH
HANESEBTDARLA
ANGLODOESWEET

★ It's a rare constructor who can carve out a theme that seems both familiar and fresh. We've had plenty of rhyming themes, repeated words, phrases made of two words only differing by one letter, phrases made of two words differing by two letters, etc., but I couldn't find this exact implementation anywhere. NEVER EVER, THIGH HIGH, HOVER OVER are perfect examples of two-word phrases where the second word is the first word without the starting letter.

And BEARS EARS! Erik has a gift for digging out phrases I would never have thought of. Not only does the BEARS EARS monument look like bear's ears, but the fact that BEARS and EARS don't rhyme makes this so memorable. I also enjoyed the easy exposure to the Navajo name in the clue.

Tight theme, with few other possibilities. All I could turn up was HANDY ANDY, which feels outdated, and one of my favorite ice cream flavors, CHUBBY HUBBY. Shorter ones like SCAT CAT and PALE ALE work, but they're not as interesting.

Nothing HALF ASSed about this grid. Love me some EGG TARTs in dim sum; can't believe I hadn't already added to our XWord Info Word List.

Will Shortz usually frowns at initialisms that aren't known by virtually everyone in the USA (like USA), because if you don't already know the initialism, there's no way to infer it. Electronic benefit transfer is a common term in economics and finance, anyway, and tens of millions of people use EBT at grocery stores.

FORTNITE, self-descriptive LANDBACK, nerdy LIVE LONG and prosper — there's an ENVIABLE amount of great bonus material to enjoy. Along with a simple yet elegant theme, it's such a welcome early-week experience.

Tue 5/3/2022
DIALOGEDITALL
IGNOBELNORITEA
MINGLEINTHECROWD
EVOOSCARSENDS
SEDANIPAATE
OMGTANGLEDWEB
ACMESTOLEATA
CHINESEDYNASTY
EONTOTALGNUS
SUITTOATEEOUT
RANTENRECON
WIKIEARLAPLSU
HANGINGBYATHREAD
EGOTOGOIMANAGE
WOWTROYSNARES

I find it amusing when sports teams throw around terms like the Celtics dynasty. Let's talk when you've been on top for a few hundred more years.

My ancestors are rolling in their graves at me for only vaguely recognizing some of the CHINESE / DYNASTY names that Julian integrated at the starts of phrases. Sure, the HAN and TANG are major eras, and MING vases are important in art history.

Sadly, this CHEN wouldn't have been able to identify the CHIN dynasty out of lineup of two.

Now I know how people feel when I shame them for calling me "Jeff Chin."

I appreciate the effort to include so many dynasties in this puzzle, considering the huge number of dynasties China has had. It did overcrowd the grid, though, forcing some AGUE symptoms. One or two awkward plurals are passable, but the pile-up of NAPAS, GEES, and DOHS felt a bit much.

Putting the dynasty names at the starts of phrases did lend some elegance. Placing them anywhere in phrases might have helped smooth things out, though, without much price to pay. Might have opened other possibilities, too, like including the great XIA dynasty in MARXIAN or QIN in BURQINI.

Nits aside, I enjoyed the celebration of Asian history today, especially since Asians have been taking it on the Chen more than usual recently.

Wed 5/4/2022
ZAPTHEDOWICE
ILLSEUGENENHL
TOUCHETYPESCAL
INTROPTSDOPE
GOESONTHELAME
ETNACAMERA
ALANIFSOSETON
REVATTACHEANA
ITALYATTAAXEL
ASLEEPANAT
PASSEJUDGMENT
SANSYENEMAIL
ARCGOTDOWNPATE
NTHATTILAOCHO
DYELEADERPEN

ATTACHÉ is a perfect revealer for this theme, which attaches an É for comic results. It's rare that I laugh at every kooky phrase in an add-a-letter theme, but every one of them did it for me. TOUCHÉ TYPES amused — funny to picture a dog who's too fancy to go on anything but the LAMÉ. I'm sure many people think I have PASSÉ JUDGMENT. PATÉ is not my thing, so I'd struggle to get it down, indeed.

I appreciated the tightness of the concept, too. It's too easy to simply add an E to create another word — a whole ‘nother story to add an É. There are a few more possibilities, but only a few. You can sift through a rhyming site to see for yourself.

Great gridwork. It's tough to execute on adjacent long Downs like LETS PARTY / AVALANCHE without relying on a couple of dabs of short glue. It's incredibly difficult to get a pair of sizzlers with perfectly clean fill, but INCOME TAX and CHAPERONE are both solid.

"Add-a-letter" themes rarely catch my attention, but the tightness and the humor of the resulting phrases made this one stand out.

Thu 5/5/2022
FIBKORUNASGSA
AHAADDSALTOCD
MATHTEACHERLIE
IDSAYCORDEN
STIRSOONPEEN
HONSPIRALONCE
COOLDUDEREX
SLITETONACC
DEARTRIPSTAO
TOQUEHULASIMP
ELUDEEPITTOPS
CLEESEEUR
HINTTRIALDATES
SECTSUNFLOWERS
SEEYESTERYEAR

I explained the FIBONACCI SERIES to my kids only a week ago! Mostly blank faces — until I recounted all the things in nature exhibiting GOLDEN RATIO-based spirals. Then Tess ran off to pick flowers and Jake smashed some snails, in a thinly-veiled rebellion against yet another of dad's lessons.

I loved the touch of FIB O N A C C I in the Fibonacci series locations (grid numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55).

An anal math sort within our household may have grumbled that the first square should have been an FI rebus since the series starts with 1, 1, 2 …

OCD indeed.

Ten years ago, another FIBONACCI SERIES crossword debuted, and I loved the beautiful spiral you could draw through its circled letters. That imagined spiral did struggle to get noticed amidst the black squares, though.

Not so much today! Although the Adam's spiral isn't perfect — you simply can't make it so unless you have more pixels — it still exhibits natural beauty.

Some compromises, like the restricted grid flow, weird specificity of SCIENCE CAMP as a themer, and SUNFLOWERS / NAUTILI got a bit lost in the asymmetric shuffle, but this numbers nerd appreciated the focus on how such a simple series is manifested within the beauty of our natural world.

Fri 5/6/2022
SEAMAPFLOATS
POPTARTSENSEI
ICESHOWSTOTING
GEMSIPHONTAN
ONEWAYTRIPWBA
TENAMTISTCELL
HEWENTTHERE
WINORGOHOME
WINDOWFRAME
PANESALYANSEL
EKEGRINDSTONE
TATEISNERBEN
SNOODSGREATEST
ADUNITDADVICE
TAROTSRESTON

It's been a minute since I've solved a puzzle with so many entries that I hadn't already added onto our XWord Info Word List! I'm usually plus/minus on trendy portmanteaus, but DADVICE is right on. Right on top of REST ON, and GREATEST on top of all that? SO BE IT.

Oh no, HE WENT THERE, said my eye-rolling kids.

My favorites of the debut entries were WIN OR GO HOME and WINE TOUR (my typical wine tour covers roughly twenty feet, since after a half glass I fall asleep on the couch). I debated on HISTORY NERD — are entries like CHEMISTRY BUFF or POLI SCI ESSAYIST more or less valid? — but I decided that I'd be doomed to repeat myself if I forgot about that entry.

Audacious debut, going down to 64 words is a task most experienced constructors shy away from. It's so difficult to achieve both color and cleanliness. However, there wasn't as much DREAR as I expected, even words like LENTEN figure-out-able from etymology. The abbreviations in MTS (mountains) and WBA (World Boxing Association) were fairly crossed, too.

Neat to experience so much new material; well worth a few inelegances here and there.

Sat 5/7/2022
FIFTHSMADAM
UNREALOXEYES
JOANNERELENTS
ITTAKESALLSORTS
NEPALAIRIER
STROLLSRAVES
RISENYUMHELL
MIDDIDMEHFEY
STEPTAGTUDOR
NADALDEJAGER
BOOYAHTOPUP
CROSSOFFTHELIST
ARTSIERONESIE
SUISSEROTATE
BETTESTEWED

Second 64-worder in two days! Although this one uses more black squares (41 vs. 38), this grid is so aesthetically pleasing. Something about those black pyramids that piques the Egyptologist in me.

IT TAKES ALL SORTS is such a fantastic headliner. It's a meta answer, too, given how the NYT crossword has been working to pull in constructors from different backgrounds. Neat to read about their first group of fellows.

I get hooked on too many YouTube channels. Please, no one mention Nikkie DE JAGER's to my makeup-obsessed daughter. Yes, some tutorials would soften the "deranged rodeo clown" my daughter favors, but still ….

A couple of amazing clues:

  • [Lesser-used passages] had this writer thinking about quotations. Amazing misdirect away from physical passages, in SIDE DOORS.
  • I get worried any time a clue refers to a 1950s star. A long-haired one? What a genius way to clue LASSIE.
  • Interesting factoid, that Tina Fey's nickname derives from her middle name, Stamatina. My (Chinese) middle name means "full of destiny," after which people usually say, "yeah, full of something."
  • I'm out of the ONESIE years, thankfully, and I can almost laugh now about [Outfit with flaps and snaps]. Those years were hardly a snap, with many a flap.

Beautiful grid pattern, and some excellent clues. Not as much long grid material as I like — only eight entries of 8+ letters — but those delightful clues gave me so many smiles.

Sun 5/8/2022 Two-by-Two
IBMSGOBUSTPDFSSHOP
SISTERSISTERARIAHOPI
MONACOMONACORANTOMEN
LOGONHOMAGETEENS
FAWNSITHKUDOPIBB
ALMAICEINLOUIELOUIE
TOURBUSAGEEXTRAEXTRA
SONTAGHOTSIRSTET
ERRELKOHNOMPSBONA
ASAPYESNOTSARHORNET
ETCETERAETCETERA
SURPRISESURPRISE
CRIKEYUSERDOSASSERF
LEVYNTHIDESMMALEO
AREAAAAEONAPPALL
NAMESNAMESETDKNEEPAD
KNOCKKNOCKRINGSASIS
VOTEFUELDARTCCED
GRECOGOAWAYIRULE
YODABENDPEOPLEPEOPLE
MOORARGODOUBLEDOUBLE
SSNSAMORWISETOTACK

Editors don't take many repeated word themes these days, because as you might have guessed, they're too repetitive. Once you figure out that you have to double the first word of each entry, the jig is up and the puzzle is done. Given the genre's decades-long history, it takes a lot to attract editorial attention, but doubling up doubled-up themers with strong execution goes a long way.

(You had to know my obsessiveness would force me to write code to find other possible entries. I found about a dozen more, including SAME OLD SAME OLD, NEW YORK NEW YORK, AND SO ON AND SO ON …)

It is incredibly difficult to stack themers. Stacking five pairs of them — one of which is 16 letters long!) — is asking for trouble. I'm amazed by the grid's clean execution. I can only imagine how much shuffling must have happened; thankfully all those 10-letter theme entries are interchangeable.

I bet only 22 out of 222,222 solvers noticed that the grid is 22x22. Neat touch, given the DOUBLE DOUBLES theme.

Great decision to put MONACO, MONACO (Monaco city, Monaco principality) up top. I was sure I knew what was going on after uncovering SISTER SISTER, but the oddity of MONACO MONACO made me doubt myself. Helped to retain the aura of mystery, at least for a little while.

I was able to jump to each long Across slot and fill in the answer right away, which usually makes my solving experience a huge disappointment — the puzzle is over before it even started. However, overcoming the MONACO MONACO hitch and still whizzing through made me feel smart today, like I could imagine running with the Tyler Hinmans and Dan Feyers of the world one day.

Mon 5/9/2022
TEMPORAMSEEP
KARATJOKEULNA
OUTROOBITDEER
THISONESONME
ITSYTECOKAY
TOOBADFORYOU
AWFULPEETBRB
LETSLIPASHTRAY
ORGTRAMERUPT
SHALLWEDANCE
MAYABOASODS
PASSTHETORCH
DRATICEDHAPPY
ACNEGRAYIRATE
SHAMHUMATTAR

THIS / TOO / SHALL / PASS is a perfect mantra for today's day and age. Fantastic choice for a "first words of phrases form a saying" theme, although again, Gandalf might disagree.

Great selection of phrases, each one of them colorful, colloquial, curious — or a combination of them all.

It often bugs me if a theme feels too easy to put together, and this one does have some elements of that, since there are hundreds of phrases that begin with THIS, or TOO, or PASS. (SHALL is much more limited — all I could find were SHALL I CONTINUE, SHALL WE SAY, and SHALL I GO ON.)

However, when you have four sparkling phrases like THIS ONES ON ME, that deserves a round of bubbly. Well done!

I've heard THIS TOO SHALL PASS so many times, but I've never thought about its origin. Neat to learn that it goes way back to olden Persian days. I might have preferred PERSIAN as a revealer, since it seems unclear if ATTAR or another poet coined the term. The constructor in me loves having a new way to clue ATTAR, though!

Such a peaceful, feel-good puzzle. Much more than C-worthy (great clue for OKAY!) — just like the grid execution. PARTY BUS and TRASH ART, along with ROBOCOP and MLB TEAM = fantastic bonuses. Perhaps a tough cross in OUTRO / OTOH, but otherwise smooth enough, with some modern touches like "We Don't Talk About BRUNO."

Tue 5/10/2022
IPODPSALMTRAM
MENUONSETRACE
PREVAILINGWINDS
SUGARHADHATCH
LMAOERIN
PULLEDSTRINGS
IPADOTHDELETE
EDYSSITELON
DOULASNOTIMED
PENTAGONBRASS
EDAMKNEE
HARPSOOHAFLAT
THESOUNDOFMUSIC
MONOGRILLGARB
LYONHANDYETSY

WINDS, STRINGS, BRASS … cue the MUSIC for the major parts of a symphony orchestra.

The percussion section has lodged a complaint, but until a phrase like DEEP PERCUSSION catches on more widely, they're going to have to march to the beat of their own drum.

*gooooooong*

Solid job disguising the theme. Although woodwinds are similar to PREVAILING WINDS in that you play them using your "wind," tucking that keyword at the back of a phrase helped to delay the a-ha moment. PULLED STRINGS did it even better, since as a cellist, I don't often pull my strings. (Pulled my hair as this subpar cellist struggled to keep up, that's another story.)

This one reminded me of another music theme that also pulled some strings. It made me wonder if today's would have been more or less interesting if the phrases had been interpreted punnily, i.e. PREVAILING WINDS = [Clarinets who come out on top?]. But that's a different concept entirely, and I like the simplicity of today's for an early-week solve.

I struggled mightily with one cross: AMON-RA / OOH. In hindsight, it couldn't be anything else since neither EOH-la-la nor UOH-la-la make any sense. I'm much more used to seeing the Egyptian god as AMEN-RA (or sometimes AMUN-RA), though. Along with some dabs of MTG STA MONO TNN and kicking things off with the discontinued IPOD, it wasn't a perfect grid.

As a constructor who values complete sets, it was tough to ignore the absence of an important part of a symphony. Great revealer, though, and I bet many solvers won't even notice, much less take outrage at the cymbalic omission.

*rimshot*

Wed 5/11/2022
BLOWSITASIAREF
RONALDOTTOPEMO
ROCKINGHORSEMIG
SEETOELICANE
AEONSWILDTURKEY
REVBIDESTEEMS
INEDIBLEHIE
DRUNKENCHICKEN
SCIHARASSES
CRETANSALTCTA
RAGINGBULLBLAST
AMENASKKOALA
NOSPARTYANIMALS
ENTOGRESENATES
DASWOODLEGREST

Jim Horne and I have met up a few times during pandemic lulls, and every time it involves the DRUNKEN CHICKEN at my local Asian fusion restaurant. Those lunches aren't quite as hopping as today's theme, what with the HORSE ROCKING out, the TURKEY going WILD, and the BULL full-out RAGING to the beat. But considering that Jim and I have both become underground molemen during the pandemic, meeting outside, ten feet apart from each other, talking to each other through written placards, is our version of being PARTY ANIMALS.

I'll take that drink now.

Amazing that Michael was able to find so many (adjective) + (animal) phrases that describe PARTY ANIMALS! ROCKING HORSE is especially great, since the shift from literal front-to-back rocking to out-and-out rocking out is fantastic change in meaning.

There's a lot to enjoy in the grid, the big NW / SE corners filled with so many goodies. No one grid entry is mind-blowing, but BLOWS IT and LEGREST are great ways to bookend a solve.

SST is one of those crosswordese entries editors are trying to squash, but those common letters are so useful in terminal positions. Although I'd usually do anything to get rid of it, eating it as the cost of doing ESCALATES KOALA BLAST SENATES business feels like a reasonable exchange.

It's impossible for me to not appreciate anything featuring DRUNKEN CHICKEN front and center. The theme set is not as amazing a discovery as Alina's version of PARTY ANIMALS, but it's still a rocking quartet.

Thu 5/12/2022
UTAHNATHAWAII
NINAOPSADAPTS
PENNUBERMENSCH
CREDITSLIPDOH
CVSINSTA
LAYBODHIAWE
SPORSETITSCOL
NAIVETEBRONTES
ONEEAROYEAIDE
WESSABREMRI
ATWODREF
EMUHAAGENDAZS
FLIRTATIONOREO
UMLAUTNYEWISP
ROASTSSAWNETS

I felt so naive, not realizing that I've been misspelling NAÏVETY all these years. I'm such an uberdork.

Er, überdork.

I've seen a ton of double-O rebuses across various publishers, including ones in the NYT riffing on James Bond and double-double Os. And a beautiful one with Os stacked atop each other to form 8s! OO representing UMLAUTs is a new one. I found it hard to connect the dots on the concept, since the UMLAUT dots are so much smaller than Os, but I appreciate the creativity.

Would a different clue for UMLAUT have helped? I had to read that three times to make sense of it, and the "both of which are represented in this puzzle" still didn't make sense. I think it's trying to emphasize that both dots of the UMLAUT are represented by the double Os?

Now I'm wondering, has anyone done a triple-O rebus, representing ellipses . . .

DOT DOT DOT

Neat that Ross covered four different vowels commonly UMLAUTed. Why don't American brands double up on their Os? I doubt Bose wants to be known as Böse, the German word for "Evil."

Wildly creative idea that didn't hit as strongly as I would have liked. Still, it's neat to see Thursday constructors swing for the fences, especially when it's as good a guy as Ross, the ÜBERMENSCH who's helped so many people advance their crossword careers.

ADDED NOTE: I failed miserably at understanding the UMLAUT clue. Languages are böse!

Fri 5/13/2022
CHARTSPFOWLS
ROMANACLEFLEOS
ARENTWEALLDION
ISNTANYTAKERS
GETWITHKINDER
ROBOTOPEDSEA
BATONCORDCONK
TCHOTCHKECRUDE
SEATLAYABOUTS
STYLEDCONS
CIORHYTHMS
PILAFRAISEHELL
ADULTSITESADIE
DECLUTTERTRIMS
SAYPLEDDAYS

Two of the best new wave themeless specialists, working together! I love all the collaboration that's happened in the crossworld over the past couple of years; nothing like a little 1 + 1 = 3.

So many solid entries spread throughout the grid, linking ROMAN A CLEF to BOOTY CALL to TCHOTCHKE to PLAY HOOKY to WEIRDS OUT to CRUSH HARD (what kids these days say to describe strong infatuation). There's no one amazing debut entry, like in a recent SOLO PARENTING / WHO AM I KIDDING puzzle, but that can be the nature of themelesses mostly featuring 10s and 9s.

There's some gold-medal wordplay in the clues, too. It stinks that Brooke and Nam Jin got scooped on BOOTY CALL, but [Summons before congress?] is brain-bustingly incredible. Government might work more smoothly if there were more congress in Congress.

Several clues took me a hot minute to figure out, even after figuring out the grid entry. [Orchestral instrument that doesn't make a sound]? It turns out a conductor's BATON is technically an instrument? [Was appealing?] was appealing wordplay, but only after a few minutes of trying to make sense of its link to PLED, i.e. in making an appeal. HORSE RACES are a series of stakes ... how? Think about events like the Preakness Stakes.

I gave this one strong POW! consideration. My expectations are so high when I see a Nam Jin or Brooke byline, though, that the puzzle has to be even more amazing than I anticipate. A drop-everything-and-go-tweet-about-it debut entry, or cluing that was more Friday-delightful than Ken-Jennings-knows-more-than-you-do Saturday, and it'd have ticked over that sky-high bar for sure.

Sat 5/14/2022
ASTONISHSTUB
SCREENCAPGOODE
SHORTFALLERROR
AWLSILLYSTRING
YALLNEOPAY
ITISWHATITIS
PROFITSICAIDE
HOMEGYMMENSREA
ELALPOPWOKEST
WEREDONEHERE
SOODASDOES
CONSULTANTSHAH
ADIOSOLDELPASO
MILNEMETROAREA
ONESDONTTELL

So many sparkly debut entries! The only thing better than an INFINITY POOL would be a Mobius Strip Pool.

LIFE LESSONS / SORRY I ASKED / WE'RE DONE HERE basically sums up parenting — thankfully SILLY STRING fights keep things fun.

And a fantastic entry that we didn't already have on our XWord Info Word List! Who woulda thunk that there would be enough space + cowboy mashups to justify an entire SPACE WESTERN genre? I've tried both the animated and live-action "Cowboy Bebop" with meh results (much to my John Cho fanboy chagrin), and "The Mandalorian" dragged like a grog-laden Jabba. Maybe I'll finally give in to all the "Firefly" zealots out there and give it a shot.

I debated long and hard over WOKEST, back when I added it to the list a few years ago. It still feels like odd usage, "most woke" perhaps better, but it's a tough call. There are plenty of news outlets who've used the word, anyway.

I enjoyed much of the cluing — [Stand for something] is a devilishly Saturday-level clue for a literal stand, an EASEL. [Icy detachment] also innocuously misdirected away from an (ice)BERG. It'd have been great to get more of these, along with the sassiness in the clue for HOME GYM, as a place where people use their Peloton as a clothes rack.

Curious to see if Peloton rides off into the space cowboy sunset after the pandemic …

POW Sun 5/15/2022 Way Out West
METSSISTINEGERBIL
ETRESCREAMINSOLOIST
THEMOTHERROADMARMOTS
REVIVERVONPAOLO
ELITEOMITFOLKSYHIP
ORDEALBASTECORA
PAINTEDDESERTSQUALOR
STREAMERINGUNPACK
HOVKOREANOKSHOOT
ANISEGEMHURTINT
WENTGATEWAYARCHOARS
DEAICONYAKINTOW
SILENTXNIACINIPA
PUSHEDRANDONTDOIT
INVERSECADILLACRANCH
ETESLLOYDEATSAT
RONONMEDSBAITNANAS
PEEVEPANACETONE
CRAZIERROUTESIXTYSIX
DEPENDSENTHRALLPITT
CARNEYDETESTSERAS

★ Aw, rats! A friend and I were just brainstorming crosswords based on famous routes. One of the most famous, ROUTE SIXTY-SIX, came up right away, but we couldn't figure out an execution that both made sense and felt interesting to solve. Today's did just that.

A basic necessity of the concept is to incorporate the states that the route goes through, from CA to IL, and Dan executed that aspect smoothly. Not a difficult task considering how much space there is to work with in a 21x21, but I appreciated the touches like how he incorporated TX into SILENT X. There aren't many ways to do this — CHEST X-RAY was one of the interesting few I found — and SILENT X is a winner, especially with a great clue referencing a "roux ingredient."

ROUTE SIXTY SIX is also a must to include. The fact that it can be balanced out with Steinbeck's nickname for it, THE MOTHER ROAD is so fortuitous!

What made the puzzle sing for me was how it mirrored the scenic drive, featuring sights along the path such as the PAINTED DESERT, GATEWAY ARCH, and CADILLAC RANCH. All three are such colorful entries — the first/last literally so!

I've played the jazz classic Route 66 dozens of times, but I've never been motivated to take the famous drive until now. After finishing the puzzle, I spent some time investigating what else there is to experience along the way. I don't generally enjoy road trips, but this is one I'm now motivated to try.

Mon 5/16/2022
MARESASOFEGOS
AWASHTOGANOAH
ZAPPAWALLVOTE
DRINKLIKEAFISH
ADDEELFREE
RUNLIKEADEER
AESOPRELYGRE
FLOWSWAYSTGIF
EMUALOTGASES
WORKLIKEADOG
BEETNUTSTS
WATCHLIKEAHAWK
DOLTEARLJAMIE
ROLLRIMEOZONE
ELSESCATBEAST

Beasts of burden featured today, four animals assigned to simile duty. I appreciated that it's not just another "general animal similes" theme, since so many have been done over the years, but it more specifically uses a consistent "(verb) LIKE A (animal)" pattern.

I enjoy "tight" themes, i.e. there's a limited set, because that can lend a sense of elegance and/or awe. If it seems too easy to flesh out a theme, it can feel like anyone could do it. This one doesn't have perfect tightness, but there aren't nearly as many other options as I first thought. I came up with:

  • EAT LIKE A PIG
  • FLY LIKE AN EAGLE
  • LAUGH LIKE A HYENA
  • SING LIKE A CANARY

And a fifth one that wouldn't fly with the New York Times involving equine evacuation would match nicely with DRINK LIKE A FISH.

It would have been hilarious to tell a story with the four verbs, perhaps WATCH EAT DRINK LAUGH describing party animals getting together to Netflix and Chill. However, one of the most important aspects of a constructor's job is to set up solvers for victory, and Lynn did that well for newer puzzlers. It's not perfect, since something like RIME crossing IRMA might flummox newbs, but it's close.

Tue 5/17/2022
GOATSABETAWOL
ARNIEMYNACOPE
BEEKEEPERSTORN
SOWINGNOTELAG
OHOLYNIGHT
OLSONOWLGNASH
YOUTUBESTUNT
SUBTLYALOHAS
SALUTENFUEGO
TREVIRIMSTREW
DECAFLATTE
PATYAMSSTYMIE
ALIASPELLBOUND
SLOBELLESULKY
SYNCREFSPRESS
Wed 5/18/2022
SOFAPIPEDVSIGN
IMACLLANOOHBOY
LAYITALLOUTTHERE
ONEDAYLUCRETET
INFOGHOST
PICKUPTHEPIECES
GABSLEWENCORE
RUSSCOWLHANG
ALEASTIOTATSA
FINDTHERIGHTFIT
ERODEYETI
OHMASIDEWILLOW
SEETHEBIGPICTURE
LLAMALAGEREXES
OPTINELOPEREST

Searching for love is like doing a jigsaw puzzle? I've never thought about it that way, but I like it. Amazing that all four phrases describe some aspect of both!

Such colorful phrases, too. LAY IT ALL OUT THERE isn't quite as spot-on as LAY IT ALL ON THE LINE, but the former is still strong while aptly describing the first step in assembling a jigsaw. FIND THE RIGHT FIT is absolutely the right fit; a snazzy phrase that fits both love and jigsaws to a T.

SEE THE BIG PICTURE is a fun way to end the jigsaw story, but it felt a bit odd as a conclusion to the process of looking for love. A clue rewrite could have done wonders to tell a better story — something to do with looking back on all the miserable first dates, the relationships that fizzled out, the heart-breaking realizations that the participants wanted something different; that backdrop of historical devastation providing the contrast needed to appreciate the glorious inner peace and happiness that comes when finally finding the right fit …

That might not have fit in the allotted space.

Christina Iverson and I did a Sunday jigsaw puzzle a few months back, and it's neat to see another constructor take a different angle. In all our brainstorming, neither Christina nor I had ever considered Andy's observations on love and puzzles. Along with a sprinkling of bonuses like my man-crush Michael STRAHAN and the gripping series THE WIRE, with only a touch of LOGYness, what a PLAYFUL puzzle.

Thu 5/19/2022
MPGARCSLOWES
AHANAOMIOVALS
DISCIPLESCUTIN
ALTACALLTIME
MIRRORTEARNS
SPORTEDSCRUBUP
TWINTOPEKA
PALEOPAYTIDES
OLIVIABETH
HOMEICETAKEOFF
LEOEXOSOPHIA
RAISINETEGGS
FLINGSTRIKEOUT
GODNOTOTESORE
SWEARPERUDEN

Solid intro to "letter removals that result in valid phrases." Our Replacement Finder can help with this — for example, if you seek entries that become equally valid entries when you cut IN, enter IN into the first box and leave the second blank. You'll have to sift through hundreds of results, but there will be plenty of gems like DISCIPLINES to DISCIPLES.

This theme type usually focuses on one fixed set of letters, so removing different ones — cut IN, scrub UP, take OFF, and strike OUT — provided a full range for people unfamiliar with this concept.

And for those of us who've seen it more often, there are a ton of witty clues to keep us occupied. There's some wordplay, like a MIRROR as a "compact disc," i.e., a disc in a makeup compact. Trivia fans might enjoy learning that TOPEKA's Siouan name centers around digging potatoes or that PERU is home to the National University of San Marcos, running since 1551. Cool!

There's even a combination of wordplay and trivia in the clue for TACT. [… when to be big and when not to belittle] is genius-level wordsmithing.

Along with a WATERBED LIMO RIDE? Feels like we've been dropped straight into an episode of Entourage!

The theme felt overdone to this jaded longtime solver, but it's an excellent gateway puzzle for those trying to crack the Thursday barrier. As much as I loved the LIME RICKEY to LIMERICK finding — the space change makes it so fascinating — I think the NYT team made the right choice to ask Alex to simplify the concept.

Fri 5/20/2022
OMNIABUTCLAM
LOINCLOTHOHARA
DOGNAPPERCAKES
SHUTPRESCIENT
MAHOAHUGAS
ARSENICTORME
HOURSUPERSONIC
ABRAPRINTZENO
SOFTTARGETAVID
TEENYDOGMATA
NTHRIFFNOB
IRENECARANICK
CANESVELAZQUEZ
HYENAODDCOUPLE
ESTAROOTESPN

Rumors are swirling about the NBA bringing back the Seattle SUPERSONICs as an expansion team. Along with ESPN clued to its "Fantasy" page and a shout-out to my hometown Golden State Warriors CURRYing FAVOR, there's a ton for this bball nut to enjoy.

Amazing MOZAMBIQUE clue, too. Great piece of party trivia to tuck away, that it's the only one-word country to utilize all five vowels. (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, North Macedonia, and of course the United States of America are multi-word supervocalics.)

Even better was the clue for ARSENIC. This chem nerd had no solution to seeing the chemical symbol As cleverly hidden at the start of [As seen in chemistry class?]. Hardly elementary-level wordplay.

I did pause on a few words. Not an INNUMERATE number, and I won't be DOGMATAic about it. Encountering one or two of these isn't so bad if I can logic them out through etymology.

It's not as easy to figure out unfamiliar names since you can't always fall back on etymology. One of the most frequent complaints I hear about puzzles is when they're too name-heavy; solvers grumbling that it becomes a trivia contest instead of a word game. There's something to be said about a balance — having zero names in a puzzle might make it feel drab — but I sympathize with those who do crosswords because they don't rely on proper names as much as "Jeopardy!" does. Over 20% of today's entries are propers.

Fun to get so many rare letters, though, especially the GONZO packing of Zs in that lower right corner.

Sat 5/21/2022
CARPAYMENTCRAP
OREOCOOKIELOLL
MEDSTUDENTACLU
MODISHJETSKIS
ALITESTARHINO
SATBATHTOYDAN
MARRYUPROLE
TVGUIDEREFILLS
WOODMEATRUB
ITOSETPLANEBB
HEDDASPECAMIE
ADVILPMALLOTS
ROIDHANDPUPPET
DUBSDRIVESHOME
STETSTARSHAPED
POW Sun 5/22/2022 Parting Ways
MDPHDBROPOLWHIM
AERIEIANERATHINE
STOPSIGNSREVERENCE
COGSINCHSOAMIGUT
AXEPIEHOLECOPIERS
RENALWOREATOP
ASYLUMSETCKENOSHA
TMISHOESPAS
DEPOSITIONTORN
AMORCORNICEERODE
RAGEBONYRELEVANCE
ANTGERLTEFAD
NOREGRETSASIANUSE
CHESSREACTTOSLED
IMACANIMATIONS
NATSPLATSRI
INSIDERARKCHAPTER
CECEOATHTERRA
BODYARTINSHAPEIMP
APERERUNHERRSLIP
REVOLTINGMILESTONE
BRINYADOIREPAGER
SALELOTRSSABYSS

★ You know what they say: the family that crosses words together never says cross words to get her!

Well, they should.

I loved seeing the three pics here: son, mother, and father, each contributing to the creation. I'll remember this one for that aspect alone.

Some great finds, too, especially those involving a space change. NO REG(R)ETS split into BERGERON and BERETS is excellent. And what a winner in DE(P)OSITION forking into PLUMPED / PLUM POSITION!

I didn't notice the Notepad until well after finishing, but I'm glad I did. I assumed that the circled letters had to be random because getting them to spell something out while adhering to the theme constraint and crossword symmetry would be near impossible. The key word is "near!" Spelling out SEPARATE separated this one from the pack.

All that, plus mid-length fill! Seven-letter slots often work best with boring entries like CHAPTER, so BIG NEWS, BODY ART, DETOXES, KASHMIR, MASCARA, PROGENY, TRILOGY add so much spice.

Entertaining discoveries all tied together with a solid meta-answer, put together by a family all contributing their parts? I could hardly ask for more.

Mon 5/23/2022
BARSGPASASSET
EXECRENTFIERI
ALSOOLDEFLEAS
NETNEUTRALITY
ETCEMIRADS
SETAHAAMULET
PLAYPOSSUMTATI
OLLIEAUGSATAN
KEEPSPELLCHECK
ERNESTYERRHO
NYTPUTTGUM
SHADOWCABINET
ADHOCGILLMAGI
SNOREACAIIDOL
PAWNSSENDCAST

I enjoyed the diverse cast of CAST subjects today; four words that can be acted upon by the verb CAST. You can cast a NET, a PLAY, a SPELL, and a SHADOW.

Also of interest: if you staged "The Old Man and the Sea," you could not only cast a net in a play, but the musicians could play a castanet.

Well, it is to me!

At first, the concept felt uninspiring since how hard could it be to come up with things that can be CAST? Turns out, pretty hard! I had to work to dig up VOTE (or BALLOT), PALL, DOUBT, ASPERSIONS, FISHING LURE. Of that limited set, only VOTE or BALLOT can start a solid phrase (DOUBTFIRE being a single word casts doubt on its worth for this theme, though). That realization made the concept much more impressive.

Speaking of impressive, two great bonuses in TALENT SHOW and SEE YA LATER — great way to utilize two long Down slots. Smooth short fill, too, only STINKO, perhaps a bit stinko for newer solvers.

78-word grids featuring a pair of long Downs is a sweet spot for early-week puzzles: easy enough to fill cleanly, while the two long slots contain so much flexibility for colorful selections.

CAST as a straightforward revealer wasn't as zingy as something like CAST PARTY or CASTING CALL, but those wouldn't explain what's going on well enough. It'd be fun to brainstorm to see if another *CAST* phrase might both do the trick and create a stronger a-ha moment.

POW Tue 5/24/2022
VANSPALEADCAR
CHEAPENABREAST
RAWSILKPARABLE
FEELEYED
ORCASEELTOWED
BOARTAMANERO
SOLACERIDEIAN
MUSICALCHAIRS
AIMOHIODUMDUM
YENSORBSPARE
NSYNCPEAALLEN
OHNOYOLO
SPACIERSWADDLE
YOGAMATHEREIAM
NEOPETSISMNGO

★ Back in my first career as a mechanical engineer in product design, I had a visionary idea for "chair pants." Tired? Crouch down, and the legs automatically pop out. Instant chair! All my coworkers mocked me mercilessly, but who's laughing now?!

(They still are.)

Neat visual: seven-letter musicals forming (most of) a chair. I'd have loved two black squares popping out to form the back legs — where the M and E of CHIME are, in the bottom left, for example — but it's hard to take me seriously, given that I'm walking around today with aluminum rods mounted into my sweatpants.

Although the chairs weren't as beautiful as my ahead-of-its-time invention, the execution was super solid. (Unlike my prototypes, which tend to buckle at inopportune moments.) It's so tough to work with fixed circles that Will Shortz doesn't take them much these days, with the rationale that they usually force too many fill compromises. I love how smoothly Ella worked NEWSIES into that opening corner — RAW SILK is apt!

ARRET isn't great, but that didn't stop me.

What made this puzzle stand out was its amazing cluing. Having to tailor an early-week puzzle to newer solvers can choke off creativity and fun, but Ella managed to make the puzzle sing in multiple clue categories:

  • Freshness. Love the [#carpediem] hashtag.
  • Question-mark wordplay. Newer solvers might not figure out what [Provider of moral support] has to do with PARABLE, but that question mark forces a second glance.
  • Innocent punnery. This one is the hardest to accomplish well in an early-week puzzle because it's too easy to make wordplay go over newbs' heads. [People who bug others] is both clever and accessible, hinting at SPIES.

Not the perfect imagery for MUSICAL CHAIRS, but when you add up all the ways Ella excelled, that's some first chair-level work.

Wed 5/25/2022
PARKALPHAIDLE
IRONRURALNEER
PODIUMCASTSCAR
EMITSIMPOSTORS
RANUSAHEM
CRANIUMAPPLE
SHERYLSMOGION
COPYADAPTALSO
ALIGAIAISLETS
MEDIUMSCHOOL
ERAENDOVA
SCRIMSHAWOASIS
HAMSTEDIUMTALK
OPIEARENTOGLE
TOSSRANGEMEAD

Christopher is being too hard on himself. It's true that an abundance of "add letters for kooky results" themes makes it difficult to pass Will Shortz's barium, ha ha, but there are a number of factors that helped me enjoy this one.

  • How easy is it to discover the transformations? Using our Replacement Finder would seem to show that IUM to (blank) is easy. If you look closely at the results, though, most of them involve elements — boooring! The RAD to RADIUM transformation is hardly what I'd call rad.
  • How cool are the transformations? I like that each pairing changes pronunciation. Each one shifts from a short vowel to a long one, too!
  • How funny are the resulting theme phrases? Humor is so subjective, as exemplified by my near-zero acceptance rate with Will when it comes to puns. I didn't vibe with many of the results, but linking CRANIUM APPLE to William Tell was clever. And if you ask Tess and Jake, they'll tell you just how many TEDIUM TALKs I've given them.

Smooth gridwork helped the solve pass by quickly. I enjoyed some interesting fill, too, EPIDERMIS and DECOMPILE not words I cross every day.

The clue for LUCIAN did confuse me — this former wannabe Pokemon trainer would say Lucian is far from notable. But [Crime of great interest] more than made up for that. Fantastic wordplay to describe the loan-sharking crime of USURY.

Thu 5/26/2022
ABBAROSSEMIT
SLOGONTAPLOCI
HOURSEEYASPIT
WRESTLINGMATCH
OHDEARNOOROLE
BAARUBDIAPER
ORIGAMICLASS
EDNABIOIOWA
LOWBALLOFFER
ARMANIAASFAT
FITIPSOCHECKS
ELECTIONSEASON
WETSNAIADPLEA
ZUNIGROGUNOSH
SPASSNAPURSA

Building a puzzle where all the wordplay fun occurs, not in the grid but in the theme clues, can be quite a gamble — appropriate that Jonathan riffed on Kenny Rogers' The Gambler! My karaoke skills are close to my pop music knowledge IQ, so I didn't figure out what was going on at first. I had a nice click afterward, though, when the dealin' was done.

The reason that most editors only sparingly take clue-based themes? Expectations. Solvers have been accustomed to connecting the dots between four or five long entries for so many decades that to do that through their clues can feel disappointing. Thankfully, I eventually recognized that this puzzle riffed on "The Gambler" and got a smile from it. It could be mystifying if you've never heard the song, though.

Jonathan did a nice job in selecting gridworthy theme phrases. I'd gladly feature WRESTLING MATCH and ELECTION SEASON in another crossword; LOWBALL OFFER to a lower degree.

ORIGAMI CLASS felt arbitrary — I love origami, but I haven't seen many classes offered — so I'd have folded on that one.

With four theme answers, you should be able to work in a ton of long bonuses, and Jonathan didn't disappoint with BLOWHARD/BOURDAIN, OFF-COLOR/WEAKNESS. I had a lot of trouble finishing the lower-left corner, though, and A FEW ZS made me remember feedback I've gotten over the years, that sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. A corner that's a bit choked off might have benefitted from easier material; entries that might RILE UP some solvers less.

I like more tricksiness to my Thursday solves, but I can see how Kenny Rogers fans would love this one.

Fri 5/27/2022
CATFISHESTOAST
ONEINCOMERULED
LONGPAUSEATLAS
SALSSKIRT
ITTIDESALOHAS
TOWNEWHIREEDU
ARIDDIEHARDFAN
LOTUSNBASEEPS
INTHEWEEDSFETE
ATETISANESLET
NORMANRONASRS
FUDGEISLA
OPERARADIODIAL
WHEATOPENMATTE
SIDLESTAGEMOMS
Sat 5/28/2022
ASAPOCHREDJED
PAPERTRAILYOGA
PASTASAUCESHOD
BEAVSTEPSONS
LETHEHIND
IAMRATWAXRAG
TRAVELEDINSTYLE
ARRIVESONTHEDOT
LIVEINTHEMOMENT
ODEETSTAONEO
LAWSSANTA
WORSHIPSEVES
DIVEORATORICAL
IKEAWATERSLIDE
SIRSSNERDAGED
Sun 5/29/2022 A Monumental Centennial
TVADSPANGOGHSASH
HOBOKEPTTROUTUTU
ANEWBIRTHOFFREEDOM
INTERNETEARCLIPS
LINCOLNMEMORIAL
MASSEYSOULSCRAGGY
EVAFDADOZENFADRAE
LOVESICKBAGBENSTEIN
TWIGPERSKYRUEHANS
ORRDOCNODSET
BUREAUCASHCOWSTRESS
EGOTISMBEARDBOOMMIC
ELFLAPAGREEATVANA
PITASHONESTABEERNST
HOPSWARHEROSPEC
CELLARSPACIFIC
CHUICUTAPPOM
LENGTHSPSEOREGANO
AVIATESRINMAHATMA
WROTETOEDTSBALOAN
SENORSSTERNS

Dan is a pleasure to work with. Not only can he more than hold his own technically, but he's not afraid to ask the tough questions and pause or restart a build if something feels off. Most importantly, he tries to keep the question "what would make solvers happiest?" above his own needs.

In the spirit of Lincoln's ability to love his enemies and work with opponents, I wanted to highlight something Nate Cardin said a few weeks ago that both impressed and inspired me. So many people today so vehemently berate the other side, convinced that this will force the damn morons to come to their senses. It often does the opposite, causing further and deeper entrenchment.

I'm hopeful that his message might help a few people — myself included — to move toward a more open-minded and generous-of-spirit mentality, where thoughtful discussion and polite debate might produce positive change.

Mon 5/30/2022
STAFFBEEFAMOS
PEARLAMMOLORE
YAHOONOUGATBAR
NOLAPOINT
NEUTRONSTARLGA
EARLLAPELGEES
ORGANORATE
NEWBEGINNINGS
NASALPERIL
SEASSTEELROLE
CNNNOODLEBOWLS
ASTROBEES
NUMEROUNOAISLE
TRAPDREWSTAIR
YENSENDSTYPES

Perfect theme for noob solvers! Neat to see how many ways you can spell the "noo" sound: NOUgat, NEUtron, NOOdle, and NUmero. I couldn't think of any others—GNU, unfortunately, doesn't begin any longer word, unless you count Nat Geo's racy GNUDE SCENES.

Laugh at me all you want, but there's a crossword theme in there somewhere.

You ever get into a situation where someone asks you how to pronounce a certain word, and then you repeat it two different ways until your brain short-circuits? It's neither a n(y)oo nor a noo sensation for me, unfortunately. I made a successful NEW BEGINNING to better appreciating this concept after nuking (not nyooking) my initial hesitations.

Excellent gridwork, FRONT LAWN and GENEROSITY doing their jobs in jazzing up the joint, and the short stuff didn't make me hitch at all. I've enjoyed working with Alexander on many collabs now, and it's great to see this tightrope balance he's walked today between colorful and clean.

Fun start to the puzzle, too, [Intel employee?] for SPY a great bit of wordplay. That question mark is helpful in making the punnery impossible to miss.

Neat early-week concept, with a perfect revealer for noobs — if not newbs.

Tue 5/31/2022
AMPLELIAMMOSH
NOOILELSAANTI
VOODOODOLLLEAK
ILLSWTSASTUTE
LAPCLOTHDIAPER
ACUARM
ONRUSHPRODONS
LETSPUTAPININIT
EDYSMAWTIDILY
PANLOO
BOWLINGLANENBA
ACHIERICETROT
SHINATMMACHINE
RESTCUBEPANDA
ARTYEGOSANGST

"What connects these random things?" themes are among my favorites. It's so much fun to slap yourself in the head when there's a simple one-word revealer that clarifies the connection. It's even better when there's a great phrase that serves that purpose. LET'S PUT A PIN IN IT is fantastic, helping solvers realize that one might put a pin in a VOODOO DOLL, CLOTH DIAPER, or a BOWLING LANE.

And I loved the expanded thinking, putting a P.I.N. into an ATM. That's the kind of creativity that makes me stand up and clap.

I enjoyed the theme so much that I daydreamed about what other things you could put a PIN in. JEWELRY BOX would work. WRESTLING RING … not so much.

How about PASTRY DOUGH, with a rolling PIN? In golf, the flag in a hole is called a "pin." These two might have dulled the a-ha moment though; tougher to make the connection to a PIN.

Today is a rare case where I'd have liked "less is more." An ideal presentation would give three or four vastly different PIN meanings, followed by (LETS) PUT A PIN IN IT. Starting off with VOODOO DOLL and CLOTH DIAPER using similar types of pins, unveiling the revealer, then following with new definitions of PIN … I'm not sure if it's genius that it kept me guessing, or if it's inelegant.

I also wasn't wild about some of the compromises that five themers demanded. There wasn't anything egregious, but the pile-up of minor ACU ELO WTS kind of glue became noticeable. Reasonable trade-off to get the delights in POOL PARTY, HUMAN RACE, ONION RING, but it left me with a slightly MALADROIT sensation.

Fantastic idea; would have gotten my POW! with a few different choices.