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Puzzles for June, 2015
with Jeff Chen comments

Mon 6/1/2015
PEPSILANEAJAR
ISAACOPALRUNE
SOLCERVEZASNAP
ASSCEEINHEELS
GUNITINC
SOLEBENEFICIARY
EZINEAIRCREE
COQSURREALTEN
TNUTPHOIDEST
SEOULSOUTHKOREA
RTETRIES
ABETTEDISMSPA
URDUSOULSISTER
ROUTTELLKIOSK
ASPSARMSEXPOS

Homonym play, SOL SOLE SEOUL SOUL all getting their day in the sol (Spanish for "sun"). I think SOL CERVEZA is iffy — not many people say "I want me a Bud Beer," right? — but I do like a cerveza fria on a hot day.

How about a cerveza fria, made a brewery owned by ... Heinekin? Bah!

With a straightforward theme, it's so important to add pizzazz through the puzzle's fill. I like what David did with his long entries, LIQUORED UP very colorful (and echoing SOL!). Some ICE CUBES to go with the refreshment (classy, I know), LIKE MIKE from the old commercials, and JUNE CARTER linked to REESE Witherspoon with an apropos cross-reference. Neat how those last two entries are right next to each other — I like that added touch.

And the mid-length fill is pretty good too. ARSENIC and Old Lace, a LOVE-IN IN HEELS, even some TRILLS and TUT-TUTS. All added to the quality and fun of my solve.

PESO adds to the Spanish flair, which I liked, but it would have been nice to add to that further with better quality entries than ESOS and ESTA. Both are fine words in Spanish, but they are gluey bits seen often in crosswords because of their common letters.

Not wild about seeing NAZI in my crossword. It's a good save to clue it to the hilarious Seinfeld character, but I can imagine there are at least a few people who will be offended. Can't say I blame them.

It would have been nice to get perfect consistency, i.e. all the themers with the same lengths, but SEOUL SOUTH KOREA bungles that up. Still, a three-word phrase starting with SOLE or SOUL — maybe SOUL TRAIN AWARDS? — would have made half the themers with two words, half with three words.

Tue 6/2/2015
BAUMAIREDVAMP
ABRASNAREIRIS
ABBRKUDOSNEXT
BEACHEROSION
AYNOWENLYCRA
ASSTSBSAHUG
PITCHEROFBEER
INREOASESAERO
LEARNTHEROPES
LAWASAAZERA
SPLATAJARPAS
HEROSANDWICH
TIDEAGINGEZIO
AQUAFRAILEZER
USEDTENSEPARE

HERO SANDWICH interpreted as "phrases with HERO sandwiched within." For this theme type, I like it when an additional step is layered in, i.e. FIREMAN or EL CID or RUTH BADER GINSBERG (aka The Notorious RBG) is hidden within the themers instead of just HERO. Seeing HERO over and over gets a bit repetitive. But I did like the phrases PITCHER OF BEER and LEARN THE ROPES, both vivid and lively.

The Notorious RBG!

The 12/13/13/12 lengths of themers is a very difficult arrangement. Notice how HERO SANDWICH is in row 12, not the usual row 13? It has to be, otherwise you'd get a set of two-letter words in the lower left. This compression of themers means there's not as much breathing room as usual.

And those 13-letter entries are so awkward to integrate. Bruce does well to weave CHEESE PIZZA and URBAN SPRAWL through three themers each. It's a tough task to find strong entries when you have so many constraints.

Those Zs at the end of PIZZA sure make filling the bottom right tough. Not a lot of options when you have ?Z?? right on top of another ?Z?? pattern. Nearly impossible to avoid two gluey bits down there. EZIO and EZER are of course fine names of famous people, but they sure make it a tough early-week solve.

Given the fact that you already have a gluey bottom right corner, I would have liked to see the AERO/RUER/AGRO confluence removed. As much as I like the Z and the kookiness of the AZERA name brand, changing that to ADELE (BAEZ to BRED or BLED) would have cleaned up that corner quite a bit.

Overall, I enjoyed going back to see what the top three themers had in common, finding HERO sandwiched in. I think in the future though, this theme type is going to go the way of the "words than can follow X" — it'll need to have some extra element to keep it interesting. Who knows what that extra layer will be — crazy Scrabbly words hidden, specific HEROes as listed above ... or something completely different? I'm looking forward to finding out.

Wed 6/3/2015
KOBEUPTOSLOTS
ORENREAPTAROT
NEEDALIFTEVOKE
GOFARFIRENYA
CLEANYOURROOM
TRALALANEON
SAKSAVEDEIGN
AGEFSERIESROO
RASTAANYRENT
OVERREVENGE
SOWHEREWEREWE
ARIEELITORCH
TAPASITSFORYOU
OTERISTIRDAMN
NESTSHYPOSNAG

Five "pick-up lines" with five different interpretations. I like the variety of applying this phrase to a hitcher, cleaning one's room, a pick-up truck (the Ford F SERIES — I had to look it up too), resuming a conversation, and picking up a phone. Neat to see such diversity.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!

This type of puzzle can be difficult or frustrating since the themers are opaque for such a long time (quote puzzles work like this too), so I'm glad Herre worked in a lot of colorful material to make the solve easier and more fun. I watched a ton of LAVERNE and Shirley when I was a kid, and it amused me to no end thinking about how ga-ga they went over BEEFCAKES. You heard it here first: the "sticking your knuckles in your mouth when you see a beautiful person" gesture is going to make a comeback.

Some fun vocab in the clues, too. ORATE is a neutral entry, but when you use "stemwinder" in the clue, that spices things up. "Matryoshka dolls" does the same for NESTS.

Small nit, I might have chosen ATE instead of AVE, since there was already some PEI STE EYER kind of glue already, but with a small number of gluey bits, I'm fine with the decision to add one more. It's nice to get a V to add a splash of color to the puzzle, too.

Finally, a great clue for COMA. Because I had the ending A fixed into place, I thought the state had to be IOWA. What other four-letter states end with A? WA is a state of course, and IO … Illinois? India? Geography is one of the many weak spots in my knowledge banks, so I choose to continue believing that IO is the postal code for Idaho.

Well, it should be.

Thu 6/4/2015
CAVERNBADSIGN
ADELESADMITONE
MISSAYCASTAWAY
PATERNITYCLAW
MCCIAHA
DOSOHIESCAPS
DIRTSTAINSTOIL
RANATABVANILLA
ENOLCOMEDYTEAM
DATAIDOLSERF
GUTROBT
ISMSPAPERTHIN
TORIAMOSSIRICA
STATIONSOPENUP
EASEDBYTSETSE

Here's one where I appreciated the puzzle much more after corresponding with the author. I like how Joe always pushes the envelope, virtually none of his puzzles using a standard crossword theme. After I solved this one, I didn't get the point of having STALAGMITE and STALACTITE being Schrodingers — there's only one correct answer, right?

Some beautiful stala??ites

Bingo! This puzzle is Joe's way of tripping up those solvers, making them see a Schrodinger when there really isn't one. An optical illusion, if you will. I like the concept.

The choices on Schrodinger entries … I really enjoyed CUT/GUT for [Undermine, as a government program] and GAPS / CAPS for [Features of some front teeth]. Those work so well, because either entry perfectly answers the clue. And GAPS is the obvious answer ... or so you think!

MOIL/TOIL isn't as good to me. They both fit the [Work hard] definition perfectly, but TOIL is so much more commonly used that MOIL didn't even occur to me. I plunked in TOIL and didn't look back — the trickery was totally lost on me, and I have a feeling I won't be the only one.

And while ISTS/ISMS both work as a [Plural suffix with organ], it's a shame that a feature entry of the puzzle would depend on it being defined as a suffix. I'd much rather a different Schrodinger pair be used; two normal words as with GAPS / CAPS. It would probably call for the lower left corner to be redone more simply, with shorter words, but I'd prefer that trade-off. Sorry, TORI AMOS!

A lot of strong entries like PAPER THIN, DIRT STAINS, ADMIT ONE — appreciated in a theme-light puzzle. But again, I would have liked a less wide-open puzzle, one where the puzzle didn't kick off with the type of ADELES, MISSAY and MCCI entries. That upper left corner tends to set impressions that are hard to overcome. It is pretty neat that Joe managed to execute this in a very low word count (70), but that often causes trade-offs involving gluey fill.

Fri 6/5/2015
JOCKJAMSMENTOS
ALLFORITURBANE
IDECLAREREAGAN
AMATBILISIADD
LANESALVEOLAF
AISLEMAIPHOTO
IDEATEREJIGGER
SHOTSOLO
JUSTASECELDEST
ASKINTAOSNAPE
CHICFORTYORLE
KEADONATORBEN
ARREARFAKEPUNT
SIERRAEVENODDS
SNARKYSADTOSAY

Nice change of pace to get a themeless focused on seven-letter entries. These can be really difficult, since 8+ letter entries have so much more potential for color and pizzazz. But when a constructor can identify and weave in such great entries as OH GOD NO! it makes for good effect.

I like how James offset some blocks in rows 1-3 to give himself a good number of eight-letter slots. With this particular grid pattern (a big "X" in the middle — scroll down to see it), a lot of constructors have chosen to go the all-out, focus-on-seven-letter entries approach. Seven-letter entries tend to lend themselves to such neutral stuff as DONATOR and CLEANSE, so throwing in some eight-letter slots can really help to add zest.

Who's going to be the first to use JOCK JAM MEGAMIX?

Normally I find it difficult to identify colorful one-word entries in themelesses, but REJIGGER did it for me. Fun word, and one I like to use in colloquial speech. If we engineers know anything, it's failure.

That didn't come out right.

I meant, even with all the planning and groundwork, the path to perfection (or simply good enough) involves a lot of iteration, i.e. REJIGGERing.

Something Byron Walden said has been resonating with me; how he avoids putting his marquee entry at 1-Across. I do like a great start to the puzzle, but there's something to be said about stumbling upon buried treasure where you least expect it. I didn't know what JOCK JAMS was, because I knew I was looking for a feature entry, that prompted me to try some Scrabbly letters in that first answer, getting JOCK JAMS to fall a bit too easily. Whoomp, there it went!

Now, that's easier said than done. It's almost always easiest to incorporate Scrabbly words into that 1-Across slot, since so many more words start with a J than end with one (or have one in the middle). Always the trade-offs.

Finally, I liked the FAKE PUNT-style fakeout of [Printemps time], which is ALWAYS "ete." Er, make that ALMOST always. I like being forced to rejigger my thinking.

Er, "printemps" means "spring," not "summer." Drat! So much for those five years of high school French.

POW Sat 6/6/2015
INTSEVILQUEEN
OMOUTMADEAPLAY
WEIREISLANDERS
ENGRETTENTACLE
SHORAGESAT
STOISTSEVEN
PRISONRTHDIVA
AOKFYIEWEBEG
DUESOFMASTERS
STAIRTRAITE
LIBENTRADA
TELEPORTSERING
IRONSTONEAMODE
TICTACTOETORRO
SNOWWHITESNEE

★ Wow. Just wow.

I love when a puzzle surprises me. I got the entire SNOW WHITE corner in my first pass, so filled in MIRROR MIRROR without hesitation. In my second pass I got the EVIL QUEEN corner without much difficulty. Just a mini-themed themeless, with MIRROR MIRROR sitting in the diagonal = nothing to write home about, right?

Mirror mirror, in the grid ... how the #$%#? did Jason do what he did?

But that central swath remained oddly blank. I had IM OUT and NOIRE plunked in at 1-D and 2-D, but nothing else would fit. Finally, I wondered if MIRROR MIRROR was contributing to my confusion. [Small tower on a castle] had to be TURRET — maybe it fit in the mirror spot, 18-A?

Then came one of the best a-ha moments in recent memory. NOIRE doesn't go straight down, it doesn't start at the reflected position … it reflects along the MIRROR, as if it were a ray of light bouncing off! Same with TURRET reflecting at the second R, same with IM OUT reflecting at the M … same with ALL THE ENTRIES HITTING MIRROR MIRROR. EVERY ONE OF THEM.

Now, some people may scoff at this tour de force, but when a handful of words turn at a 90 degree angle, the surrounding fill gets harder. When you have this constraint all along a full corridor — that's dozens of tough intersections to work through — it's an absolute gem to only need OF MAN. Otherwise, it's so clean and colorful, working in THE MASTERS and Erik ESTRADA and a PRISON RIOT.

And to do this in a 70-word puzzle? Amazing. Check out the bottom left corner, which stacks four long answers atop each other. Sure, you can complain about EEE, but this is a wonderful corner pulled off with a tough constraint. Constructors usually never stack four long words (8+ letters) atop each other for good reason — areas like this are nearly impossible to get both colorful and clean. Jason does a nice job with both of them.

The concept did make me think that MIRROR MIRROR might be even better if 1-D and 14-A started with the same sequence, so they were truly "mirrored." But even this is a sign that the puzzle did its job plus a whole lot more, spurring me on to think about it well after I finished solving.

Bravo, one of my favorites this year.

POW Sun 6/7/2015THE CALL OF THE RACE
UPCASISIMPACTSODS
STEADIESTGUITARUNIT
EARLYLEADAFLAMEREDA
PHILSYOSTFADINGFAST
ALPOWOLFCLEFTS
ONTHEOUTSIDECOHORT
ICEAXESACSFORAERA
SOMNIROSEBARONSRET
ESPCLOTHBACKSTRETCH
OBSESSAUSTACHOO
GURUGAINSGROUNDHENS
OHARAOKLAVOODOO
TURNFORHOMEKUDZUTSP
TRYLYSINEKALETOHOE
OATETESTUNAACCENT
ABACUSMAKESACHARGE
VOTENOVAILSKOR
INTHEMONEYAITSVIOLA
ALOEOBERONBYALENGTH
LAOSVIAGRAMCDONALDS
SYSTATRESTSOSASES

★ Wait! Wasn't yesterday's puzzle the POW!? I had such a tough time choosing between yesterday's and today's puzzle that I decided to reject the Tyranny of Or.

Such an entertaining Sunday puzzle (and timely, given American Pharoah's historic Triple Crown win on Saturday)! Stories connect people over the generations, so I like it when my crossword spins a tale, entertaining me from the start to finish. Sam takes common calls heard in horse racing and puts on a wordplay twist with appropriate horse names. The tale of Ace Detective taking the EARLY LEAD, all the way to Inseam winning BY A LENGTH = I was amused the whole way through.

Wait. This is temporary, isn't it?

Nice job on the longer fill, too. It's unusual to see fill as long as TEMPORARY TATTOOS and ONE AFTER THE OTHER, which is too bad — they add so much to the solving experience. A bunch more long guys in DUTCH OVEN, MCDONALDS, OYE COMO VA, and DYSLEXICS similarly enhance the solve.

Interesting that this is a 142-word grid, higher than Will's usual maximum of 140. I did notice that there seemed to be more short words than usual, especially in the middle of the puzzle, but it didn't bother me too much. Once in a while I think allowing 142 or even 144 is perfectly fine if it allows for something special in the theme or for cleaner fill.

Speaking of cleaner fill, Sam did a pretty good job here. But if it meant getting rid of things like RSTU, TO HOE, OROS and OKLA/AUST so near to each other, I think I'd fine going up to 144 words. An additional pair of cheater squares to smooth things out would be fine with me too.

Loved these clues:

  • [Tool made to scale] made me think about prototypes made at half-scale. But an ICE AXE is made to scale mountains.
  • [One in a pipeline?] is a great way to describe a SURFER riding a curling wave, shooting the pipeline formed by a breaking cylinder of water.

Often I find the large Sunday format a little tedious since it takes so long to solve, but the story here kept me very entertained. I'd love to see more storybook crosswords like this.

Mon 6/8/2015
MEDSTAMPACRAP
AMOIAXIOMREPO
CINDERELLAALAS
STEERSLOETATS
DOGSILOVEYOU
STEROIDONESWM
DEADTIJUANA
SALEMMANSLATE
RAWEGGSIRON
ASPRANEFFECTS
MARATHONOONA
EMERYVATRADII
NOMEDEMOLITION
RAINALEROEATS
ASEAMSDOSSNAP

MAN oh MAN, eight words which form a movie title when followed by MAN. Well, seven words and one phrase. That felt a bit like "one of these is not like the others," but the I LOVE YOU to I LOVE YOU, MAN is a fun transformation. Good stuff.

Forms an attractive stripey pattern of gray in the grid, too. Aesthetically pleasing; a monochrome crossword flag of sorts.

Hadn't heard of this one, but now I'll have to see it! What an all-star cast.

Stuffing eight themers into a 15x grid is tough, even if those themers are short. Trouble is that so many down answers must cross two themers, thus forcing constraints all throughout the grid. The only place that has any real flexibility is the very middle — and that's a pretty small section.

It does help that Pete chose four themers of length = 4, which meant that he could swap them around. Without any required sequence (alphabetical, chronological, etc.), REPO could easily have gone in any of those four theme slots. It could have easily have moved up or down one row, too — a lot of flexibility, indeed.

Having short theme answers makes for another difficulty: in order to stay under the 78 word maximum, you need some long entries in the grid, so in this case, long fill is not just a nicety but a requirement. I really like what Pete did in the upper left, with DONE DEAL next to SIDE ORDER; both snappy entries, with a pretty smooth result. Must have taken many attempts, perhaps trying IRON or REPO or RAIN where DEAD is.

The opposite corner came out not quite as nice, requiring OONA, FOR I, ENS and INSP to make it work. Now, if only OONA Chaplin got a starring role somewhere ...

Overall, I would have liked a bigger revealing punch than "word that can follow X," but it is pretty neat that they're all movie titles. It's just too bad that there's not something more lively for a revealer. Is MAN, WHAT AN ENDING! a real thing? Well, it should be.

Tue 6/9/2015
WOMBATMMECOST
APOLLOAASINCA
REDEEMCITATION
ARCHNEWYORK
SEATTLESLEWNEE
AXISALLYUSSR
GADINGESPA
AMERICANPHAROAH
DIYDOOMMRI
MUSSAEROONES
ISUSECRETARIAT
KEROUACDIRE
AFFIRMEDNEGATE
DUELEDUGNOMES
OLDSSEESANTAS

Even though I know little about horse racing, I enjoyed this puzzle. Fortuitous that the five Triple Crown winners fit so nice and symmetrically into a crossword grid! And it's clear to me how much effort Roy put into the grid — nice and smooth, with hardly a blip during my solve. Polished and professional, with quite a few long entries to add (dare I say it?) puzzazz.

I also appreciated the subtle touch of the indirect hints that Will mentioned. If those clues like [Man-o'-___] had specifically been tied to the theme, they would have felt asymmetrical and inelegant to me. This way they're Easter eggs; fun to uncover if you look hard enough.

I was amazed what a coincidence this all was ... until I read up on the Triple Crown and realized that there have been 12 winners, not just five. My lack of knowledge in this subject led me to believe that Roy had made an unbelievable finding, all five winners from history fitting so perfectly in a crossword to form a complete set. And in hindsight, I probably should have read the notepad note, which explicitly spelled it out!

Ah well, it is a consistent set — the most recent five winners. I won't let my ignorance whirlaway my enjoyment of the puzzle.

Wed 6/10/2015
ANNBETAPAYTO
ROESLAIDOREOS
MEGOROUNDWELTS
YARROWOSTEAL
ROTOUTORROCH
SPINNINGWHE
AFTSSTEMAISIE
TREESOHSPRELL
TOATEERIADAIS
ASTHEWTURNS
RHODEOSTALAG
WALRUSIRENEE
PLEBEROLLINGST
OGLESESSOASTO
PASTSDOUGTEN

Curious that this wasn't run on a Thursday! Given how hard it is to come up with new gimmicks, methinks this would have slotted in well.

This theme plays on "spinning" or "rolling," where part of the answer (loosely) circles around. SPINNING WHE(ELS) was really nice, evoking an image of the WHEELS actually spinning. Actually, all of them are pretty appropriate, the MERRY going round, the WORLD turning, and the STONES rolling.

I always wanted some Reuleaux triangle wheels on my bike as a kid

It's so difficult to pull something like this off. Each of those little circles causes difficulty in filling, as so many answers have to cross through those tough sections where multiple letters are fixed in stone. It's impressive that Tracy worked POWER NAP and YELLOW SEA around the SPINNING WHEELS. That did make OCH and OSTEAL and OSS necessary, but that seemed a reasonable trade-off given how difficult it is to fill around that section.

And Tracy did a nice job spreading out the esoteric bits. I struggled with IRENEE, MAISIE, YARROW — all names I hadn't heard before — but at least they were weren't concentrated into one region so that I didn't get completely stuck anywhere.

Hilarious clue for LSU. I wondered if they really shouted "Geaux Tigers!" … and apparently they do! Check out the "Geaux" button (groan) on the link.

Overall, I would have liked a more circular shape in the things that circled — the poor STONES chunk down and cut across instead of smoothly circling around, for example. Reminded me of an invention called "Shark Wheels." They look impossible and there's no way they could give a smooth ride, but they do.

Thu 6/11/2015
ITLLCEDEALOE
NEAPACERBCAPT
DAYSLARGEMOUTH
ULTOGREDARRIN
LEODODGEMONACO
GARDENEARS
EVENSPARTIBAH
MESAERNIEDALI
ESTASIDEWORLD
ANTSMARRED
GRUDGEMATCHIVE
RESALESAGSSIN
IMAGEMAKERSTAG
PAGESHEBAFETE
EXESAROWOREM

Debut! Neat arrangement of six themers, five of which contain a HIDDEN GEM, i.e. the word GEM is split across two words. Cool to see a rare grid pattern, with two of the theme answers flipped vertically and incorporated into a triple-stack of nine-letter words. Some great material in those stacks, INDULGE ME / TEA LEAVES / LAY TO REST = a great start to the puzzle.

Who knew the Bluesmobile was a DODGE MONACO? Cool trivia.

Lewis uses a Z-pattern in his grid, which helps immensely in filling. Note how you can almost isolate the lower right corner, not having to worry much about how it connects into the rest of the grid.

The drawback is that it's all too easy for solvers to get stuck in one of the corners. Even flipping two pairs of squares in the stairstep — shifting the block after EVENS to the left, and the block after MESA to the right — would have helped puzzle flow immensely. Would have made construction much harder, though.

Speaking of hard constructions, LARGE MOUTH over DODGE MONACO is a rough arrangement. You have to find two words at 21-A and 22-A that facilitate smooth fill in that region — very tough. Not surprising to require DEREG / ERG and CAPT / ETHNO to hold those sections together. As much as I like low-word-count puzzles, breaking up BEDMATE might have helped smooth things out.

Loved the clue for EARS: [Ones catching some waves] referring to sound waves. Beautiful!

Will has mentioned that all he's looking for in a Thursday puzzle is something that's harder than a Wednesday. I can see where he's coming from, but I personally like to have a bigger bang for my buck, an a-ha moment that's worthy of the struggle in battling through the grid. Even having different GEMs hidden in the themers — OPAL, ONYX, RUBY, whatever — would have been a nice touch toward Thursday-worthy-ness.

Incredibly difficult to come up with something innovative every Thursday, but I think that's what many people have come to expect.

Fri 6/12/2015
MOTETAJIKISTAN
ACREONARAMPAGE
SEALJEWELRYBOX
SAVENOWNEESGT
ENEROBELAY
XFLOGLEDDESKS
ORTKEANUYALIE
DOITEVENTSEAN
UNMETIFNOTASA
STEERDIEGOZOT
NIPATISERE
HUGSALDELIBES
ELECTROLUXLANE
INTHATCASEALTA
RAZORBACKSSLOT

Solid puzzle from the soon-to-be Stanford man. I was amused by David's struggles to choose between all these top schools he was accepted into — for a guy interested in 1.) computer science 2.) entrepreneurship and 3.) cross-disciplinary study, was there any real choice?

Couldn't be that I'm biased, of course.

I may have omitted to mention Stanford's lack of dating life on campus. Ahem.

Standard themeless layout, triple-stacked 10s in the four corners. There isn't any marquee answer that sizzles, but so many of them are colorful. JEWELRY BOX was my favorite, partially because it's such a nice Scrabbly entry with the J and X, and partially because its clue was fantastic. I couldn't figure out what kind of FEATURE FILM or BLOCKBUSTER would have a cameo, a la Hitchcock appearing in most (all?) of his films. Turns out it was the "ring" meaning of "cameo." D'oh!

I've come to really prize these great combinations of colorful entry and awesome clue. It's neat to learn something completely new, i.e. the latest social networking thing or cutting-edge rapper, but to get an snappy entry in its own right with a wickedly clever clue is a real treat.

Now that's a cameo!

Ah, the poor dying NOOK. At least it serves a purpose in crosswordland, throwing me off by making me plunk in IPAD.

Speaking of misdirection, great one with [French body of water]. MER. No, EAU. Dang it, LAC!

I think more and more about "unstumperables" these days — short words that Stan Newman doesn't allow because they give away the game too easily. ORT falls into this category for me, as does ENERO. Not only are they answers nearly impossible to make devious (in a fair way), but they take a lot away from the solving experience crossword for me. Maybe it's the Maleskan feel they lend?

Personal preference, anyway. I bet plenty of people were overjoyed to see [Repast remnant] because ORT helped them break into that section.

Awesome clue on [Invasive plant]. Made me think of pulling out ivy from a local park. But a SPY is also invasive! And fun use of language in [You might call it an early night] for DUSK.

POW Sat 6/13/2015
ZEROWASTEYUCCA
EXOTICPETOBOES
TAXISQUADDARES
AMYSURNHANDLE
FINERYGOOS
HAMLETCOATING
ONAIRSKATEBRB
UNIBROWSTANLEE
RONEXISTSPEED
DESTINYRERUNS
DOVEDENVER
EMERGECIGWAGE
RINGOSHRINKRAY
ENTERARTFORGER
KISSYSOUTHPOLE

★ A great puzzle from some of my favorite people in crosswordland. Always a treat to get a Wilberson themeless, usually a range of entries going all the way from erudite to hip. That upper left corner, with a Riemann ZETA function (an elegant math function) crossing a football TAXI SQUAD, exemplifies what I love about their co-constructions.

Interesting grid today, with far less long slots than average. The upper left and lower right feature the standard triple-stacks of longish answers, and both of them are beautiful. They contain six excellent answers, and five of them felt super fresh. (SOUTH POLE I've seen a few times in themelesses, but it's still quite a good entry what with its nice [Lowest point?] clue.)

FEAR THE BROW!

Where this diverges from usual themeless layouts is that there are fewer 8+ letter slots — only 10. This tends to make me worry that there won't be as much stellar material as I like, but Brad and Doug make great use of their seven-letter slots, with SYNCHRO, REGIFT, and UNIBROW. And it was amusing to see STAN LEE clued with respect to his Marvel movie cameos. He's such a visionary … and such a terrible actor. Yeesh.

Along with some supporting sixes — the interesting-sounding UBANGI river and the trivia of multiple FERRETs being called a "business" stood out to me — it makes for a count of roughly 13 assets. That's not a sky-high number, but it's fine as long as the liabilities are kept to a minimum.

And cleanliness is one area that Doug and Brad excel at. The top left stack only needing the minor glue dots of WIS and ETD, the lower one nearly perfect (SAS doesn't bother me, as it's a major airline), and what else? "AMY'S Kitchen" makes tasty, reasonably-healthy frozen food, so that's minor to me as well. Maybe GOOS, as it's an odd plural.

Overall, a great mix within the grid entries, something for everyone. I'm not usually very good with the upscale references, but I did enjoy learning more about Mahler's quartet of OBOES in his "Symphony of a Thousand" (which Jim tells me is not often performed because it's so expensive to put on) and the fact that there's Le Cordon Bleu as well as Cordon Bleus, the distinguished chefs. Along with some great clues like [Pen set] = SWINE, this one was a real treat.

Sun 6/14/2015THE IN CROWD
ONPAPERCHATSALCAPP
FAILUREOILRIGDAUBED
FIGHTINJUSTICEITSPAT
AVIAKEELSTKTPESOS
LETITGEDROOSTPASHA
GENERALINFORMATION
MOLECOAMSVOUSTOG
BRAININJURYJETESITE
ADONISEPAEROSAVER
SOSADSLIPONULSTERS
COURTINJUNCTION
EQUALTONESTERLOOPY
LUNNMARKFRATOOKTO
RASHOSESSISTERINLAW
ODUESTDAPTYOSASS
PRIVATEINVESTMENTS
OUTEDDREADHOBSIGMA
PARCHEURLAMARPOOR
LEBEAUCRIMINALINTENT
IDLESTTOCOMELAYETTE
USENETNEONSSLEAZES

Normal phrases using words starting with IN, where the IN is separated out for wacky results. It took me all the way to the bottom before I uncovered my first themer, where I was delighted to find this wasn't an "add-an-IN" type puzzle. CRIMINAL IN TENT was pretty amusing.

I like transformations that 1.) dramatically change the base phrase and 2.) are funny. GENERAL INFORMATION hit the mark for me, as it's amusing to think about a general hiding somewhere in the ranks, and INFORMATION is very different from IN FORMATION. SISTER IN LAW tickled my funny bone, but IN LAW is too close to the IN-LAW base for my taste.

Coming soon: Nuns on the Run 2: Private in Vestments

PRIVATE INVESTMENTS made me pause, as PRIVATE EQUITY is much more common in financial lingo, but it's still a reasonable base phrase. And I did like the image of a private dressed in a priest's outfit, a la "Nuns on the Run."

BRAIN INJURY … it is amusing to think about Encyclopedia Brown in a jury, and INJURY to IN JURY is a fun transformation, but the base phrase is such a downer. Randy and I emailed about this, and I see his point about the NYT reporting about football injuries, concussion studies, etc. Still, I'd rather have crosswords pick up my spirit; a bit of escapism.

I like Randy's experimentation with low word counts. Now, I don't care for plural names (JENNERS) unless they're something in common use (the OBAMAS, say), and the entries made artificially long by adding ON, TO, OUT, OVER, AT (TOOK TO, etc.) don't add much, but overall it's a fun experience to have to puzzle out a whole lot more six- and seven-letter entries than usual. Some of the shorter stuff, like SIP TEA and PIG IT, felt pretty made-up to me, but nicer entries like ON PAPER balance them out.

I'm not convinced that the ultra-low word count is my cup of tea, but I like seeing the experimentation.

Mon 6/15/2015
CABALSMARINAS
ASATEAMOLDNICK
LINOCUTSTANLEY
MAGNACARTAOEDS
CRYULRIC
RATERANYLEAST
EREEARNELNINO
OINKNSYNCTRIG
RESIGNMOOSEPA
GLENNPEWAPRES
GUARDBMI
EMAJDUEPROCESS
SOLOMONSAVANNA
SOTHEREINASUIT
ORANGESDRAFTS

Timely puzzle. Interesting facts too — I hadn't realized DUE PROCESS derived from the MAGNA CARTA, nor had I known that Pope INNOCENT issued an annulment. That surely makes him famous — or at least infamous. (Note: it's a little weird that it was Pope INNOCENT III, while the entry led me to believe it was INNOCENT I. Harrumph.)

Not so INNOCENT, eh, trey?

RUNNYMEDE isn't quite as interesting to me, as it doesn't have any trivia tidbits that go with it. I'm sure others will disagree. It is sort of cool how it interlocks into MAGNA CARTA and DUE PROCESS — never an easy task to achieve fortuitous interlock — but to me, the other themers had greater interest and impact.

That interlock also puts huge constraints on the grid, forcing big corners in the grid and not allowing very many long pieces of fill. Mike does well in the lower left, with SOLOMON / SO THERE adding to the quality of the solve. Those two nice answers at the price of only ESSO (which is still a big brand up in Canada)? Yes please! And SAMOVAR and PICASA are pretty nice as well.

In the lower right, I hitched on IN A SUIT. It takes up a precious 7-letter slot, and it felt arbitrary to me at first. Does that open the door for IN SLACKS, IN VELOUR, IN A THONG? Ultimately I decided I was being too picky though, as the phrase gets plenty of Google hits.

ULRIC crossing RUNNYMEDE is likely to give some people fits. I think it's more fair than not, as RUNNYMEDE felt familiar-ish to me, but that won't stop some people from grumbling.

Generally, it's a pretty clean puzzle, aside from a few RATER / AIRER things. I like to have all my gluey bits from different categories so they don't stand out as much, so it's too bad that these are both of the "add an -ER" variety.

I really liked the clue for OEDS. Funny to think of having a magnifying glass included in the sale! Again, an interesting piece of trivia to learn.

All in all, I liked the trivia. Those tidbits helped the puzzle stand out from other tribute puzzles.

Tue 6/16/2015
IPADIVSSCAUP
MOSENETCHEESE
HOTFUDGEBURGER
ICECREAMSTAIRS
THROATSGTOSSE
INLAREVUP
MASSIMONTACIT
ONKPLEPEWWAVE
POSSEMETALNYE
ASNERTOTO
ADAPOSREGALER
LOGJAMMARINARA
ONIONSRIGATONI
HOTDOGEDURIIS
ATAILSSNALEE

Loved this idea. Neat to imagine HOT FUDGE poured over ICE CREAM and MARINARA over RIGATONI. Apt; perfect for stacked answers.

I personally love ketchup, mustard, relish, sauerkraut, pickles, chili, and/or cream cheese on my HOT DOG … but not ONIONS, so that didn't work as well for me. And CHEESE over a BURGER felt different than the others, since a CHEESEBURGER is a thing, while HOT FUDGE ICE CREAM, MARINARA RIGATONI and ONIONS HOT DOG are not. Ah well.

George Michael Bluth, the straight man of Arrested Development

I picked up the theme quickly and wondered how many compromises I'd see. Double-stacked answers aren't too bad to work with, but they definitely cause difficulties. And incorporating four sets into a 15x is a big challenge! I was really impressed with the upper left corner, only IN LA a bit gluey, with the added color of IN DETAIL and DEFCON / IM HIT! That's a beautiful piece of work up there, a perfect way to open up a puzzle.

I like how the opposite corner has WATER GUN and CANOLA OIL worked through the themers. Great added zest. REGALER is iffy to my ear though, and although MRES, SSN, and EDU are all fine, their concentration in one area felt a bit inelegant. I debated whether I liked LOGIA, and finally decided that I thought it was a fine word.

Not as much for SCAUP and AGITA though. Perhaps it's because there were already a few rare-ish words in the puzzle? And the SCAUP / CERA crossing will be rough for many. It's such a shame, as Michael CERA is one of my favorite actors. If he'd only become a headliner … yes, there was "Superbad," but I feel like he still hasn't reached the stardom he deserves.

So, not surprising to see some compromises around those stacked theme answers. But overall, fewer than I expected, so I finished feeling pleased.

Why isn't anyone remaking "Three's Company," by the way? Well, they'd have to pare back Mr. ROPER's rampant homophobia, of course. And the creepy lechery. Not sure why I found him so funny as a kid, but maybe Michael CERA could give him a fresh spin.

Wed 6/17/2015
URGEDWINSOME
SEESAWJALOPIES
EVOLVEEYEBALLS
RURIRMAXED
SEGDEANSLEARS
EBBSPASCAT
MICROCAULKADE
UNSOWNUDONDIP
SACICELPIPEUP
ITOERASEGIMME
NITSSAPHEY
GETUPTREATART
BRATECHWAR
ONELINERTODATE
TIMEZONESOURON
TAUTENSDIDNT

Debut! Fun facts about famous people who turned down awards, like I did with my Emmy Award and my Fields Medal. If anyone in Oslo is listening, I'm pre-turning down my NOBEL / PRIZE too. So there.

I'll take Sartre's Nobel if he really doesn't want it ...

I didn't realize the brilliant JEAN PAUL SARTRE turned down a NOBEL / PRIZE. Or DAVID BOWIE a KNIGHTHOOD. Or GEORGE C SCOTT an ACADEMY AWARD. Crazy! And awesome.

The layout felt confusing to me, as all the cross-referencing discombobulated me. I finally realized that people and their turned-down awards were placed in symmetrical positions, so that helped ... until I got to JEAN PAUL SARTRE. I've color coded the answers below to help out.

It would have been helpful for the person and their award to be closer together in the grid, but I couldn't figure out how to make that happen with this set. Maybe if there had been a set of four people who had turned down the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony)? But with this collection, the presented layout seems like the only possible execution.

With seven themers spread throughout the grid, there are many places where across answers have to run through two themers — causes all sorts of constraints. I really like upper right, with JALOPIES and EYEBALLS running through JEAN PAUL SARTRE and NOBEL with just an ESS as a minor blip. Strong work there.

The middle is a perfect example of trade-offs that must be evaluated. With so many across answers running through two of DAVID BOWIE, JEAN PAUL SARTRE, and KNIGHTHOOD, it's going to be tough to get that center perfectly smooth. The I??L pattern is tough, IDOL one of the few good choices. But UNSOWN is already in the way. So ICEL it is, crossing the not-as-well-known-as-it-should-be NCR.

Overall, a tough set of constraints, especially for a debut puzzle. And I quite enjoyed the factoids about rejection — I'm thinking about pre-rejecting Will for a few puzzles of mine he's now considering.

JUST A JOKE HA HA HA! Please accept my puzzles, grovel grovel.

Thu 6/18/2015
SUPRAPHILSTLO
APIANAEROSMITH
MOUNTAINTOPONYM
INSTILLSPOKER
ROESHOE
BLACKANTONYMS
ERICHMAILSEAT
GEEKSPACENALA
OATSPUNKMINES
MORTALSYNONYM
EYREENT
PADREINASENSE
NEWYORKMETONYMS
ATHENIANSODEUM
TAOSBLOTNOTTE

Worthy Thursday idea, kooky blends of normal phrase + ___ONYM(S). A nice workout. I had to look up TOPONYM (place name derived from a geographic feature) and METONYM (name used as a substitute for something which it's closely associated) — good terms to learn.

Glad to read Jason's description of the puzzle's transformation. It did strike me as inelegant that the themers weren't all singular or all plural, but having 2/2 (alternating) is the next best thing. And it does look like there isn't a huge assortment of potential themers to choose from.

I would have liked all of the spellings to work similarly, though. It was odd to me that MORTAL SIN became MORTAL SYN … I know, I'm a stickler for consistency, perhaps too much so, but I love the elegance that comes with a perfect set of four themers. (Side note: the "top" of "toponym" is actually pronounced like MOUNTAINTOP, not like "taupe.")

Liked many of the clues. [Rainmaker?] is fun for MONSOON, and I wish NINTENDO would do something awesome with the Seattle Mariners, like have them all dress up in Super Mario outfits. King Felix in a Princess Peach outfit would be much more entertaining than this groaner of a season the Ms are having. I would have liked more fun clues like these, as most of the clues felt too esoteric to me.

The 15/13/13/15 arrangement is a tough one. I like how Jason worked in some colorful material like LOOPHOLE, RAN TRACK, SPARE RIB, and NINETENDO. And going down to 70 words gave him a few more longer spaces to fill than usual — AEROSMITH and ATHENIANS are a good way to use those.

However, there was quite a bit of gluey material holding it together. Not sure A WHO, IM NO, KAL, is worth the price of ATHENIANS, especially when there's already a good amount of unslightly bits. I do like a low-word count themed puzzle, but I also value a smooth solve.

Overall though, a tricky Thursday; glad to see something I haven't seen before.

POW Fri 6/19/2015
SATCHMOAMRADIO
INAHEAPNAIROBI
NOTONCEGIBLUES
EXECARPELERTE
ORWELLIAN
JOHNSTEINBECK
REPOSTANADANO
ETALMADAMAFAR
CELICAIMHERE
ECONOISOLA
ARSWISNANUSB
SACAGAWEADOLLAR
AMERICANPALEALE
MINERALDEPOSITS
ISTILLDONTGETIT

★ A ton of great material + a wide-open grid pattern I haven't seen before = win. I've often wondered why triple-stacker (and quad-stacker) specialists don't use mirror symmetry more often. It's not great for traditional themelesses, but it's perfect when you want to feature one grid-spanning stack without having to create a symmetrical one.

Orwell says: this puzzle is more equal than others

Such nice grid-spanners in the quad. Beautiful choices, each and every one. I STILL DON'T GET IT is a marvelous entry; so colorful and in the language. The prices to pay are ARE I, ENDO, LESE, and the awkardish IN A PEN / MISADAPT, but I think those are reasonable given the quality of the long answers. When you throw in how MAS worked in the beautiful COWGIRL and CAFÉ AU LAIT with MANIACAL laughter, the bottom half makes for a strong puzzle just by itself. I'd actually be okay with a little more glue, given how eye-poppingly open and fresh this grid looks.

But wait, there's more! I was impressed that MAS didn't stop there. Getting JOHN STEINBECK and ORWELLIAN … plus two nice corners in the top! I'm a huge SATCHMO fan, and although I didn't know GI BLUES, it's a fun entry. Working all this in with just a few AN OX, ADANO / KNAR kind of things made my solve very fun.

Bravo to MAS for trying something different; branching out from his typical triple-stacks — we've seen so many of those that they've gotten repetitive for me. I would likely have given this the POW just for the bottom half alone, but the top half was sure a bonus. Looking forward to more experimentation with new and eye-catching grid patterns.

Sat 6/20/2015
WINATLIFETARTH
AMINOACIDAWARE
SPANDRELSPECAN
SOGOVALEASEIN
USAFAXIOMSCPA
PERILENDORASE
SALADGENDERED
IRAQSERB
STEAKRUBYIELD
TEALWAILPLEAS
JAGFIDGETSANE
OREGONPARKVIC
HORUSHAVEABEER
NULLSOPENTABLE
STYLEPINTEREST
Sun 6/21/2015CLIMBING THE CORPORATE LADDER
ISISTESTSOTOHSTAMP
DUNEERNIEHEROEASYA
AGFASILEXMENUGEHRY
ALLELESOBPOSTABIO
TRUEFAHOLYWATERRIAL
ALERTDENOTEDBELINDA
CONSOEDGETSONIC
TAZNGSDAYSEATBELTS
FAMILIALSPECTSCION
EKESDREAMTAERO
THREETHEARTISTOKNOW
ROOTINSTEPHATE
ISAIDINTHAREALISTS
PENNYANTEHOWWASETC
GAUSSPGAEENPAIL
EDMUNDIBARNARDSOTTO
SEEPIDLEHANDSALLACY
TAROTIONMIRAFRESH
ONEPMOUSTBEALLATIT
PISANUPONANITAXENA
SETSISENTLOGICERGO

I enjoy when a theme catches me off guard. I was well past the point of frustration when I finally figured out what was going on, but the a-ha moment made me happy I stuck with it. Very rewarding. For the longest time I couldn't see that the themers don't start from the companies ... the companies are in the middle, with the themer "climbing" through them! I highlighted them below to make it easier to see.

I pondered why it took me so long to figure out. A previous puzzle, similar in nature, was easy for me to cotton to — perhaps too easy. So why was this so much harder? Maybe it's the fact that this one defies the normal top to bottom, left to right reading pattern I'm used to? Whatever the reason, it made the solve very tough and the payoff feel like I had really earned it.

Sugarloaf is a mecca for rock climbers

Impressive how much strong material Tim worked into the grid. With a whopping 17 long slots (eight or more letters), it often means that they get filled with neutral or bleh material. Tim's list of long fill reads like the inventory of a great themeless: HOLY WATER, IDLE HANDS, PENNY ANTE, RICE CAKES, SUGARLOAF, TEA TASTER, and more. Of those 17 slots, I'd say Tim converted about 90% of them into zippy entries; amazing efficiency.

And such a high degree of smoothness. Bending themers cause all sort of problems for constructors, forcing constraints around those bending points. But Tim finessed all of those regions nicely. Check out the two TRUEFA/ALSET/TESTS bends, for example. It's not easy to fill around that F-A-L bend. Yes, there is an EFT, but what else? Often, those sections propagate glue throughout. Not today.

I debated whether to give this one or MAS's Friday quad-stack the POW! Ultimately I decided this one was a bit too frustrating for me through the first 30 minutes, but looking back on it, it could easily be deserving. Good idea, solid choice of themers (very hard to do with their need to bend symmetrically!), and very well executed.

P.S. Yuri Testikov may be turning over in his grave, but I'm laughing my head off.

Mon 6/22/2015
AQUIACIDSSYNS
WALTSAMOATOOL
ATTEMPTINGAGUA
KARMAATTESTING
ERAINCASWEB
SMELTIFEAR
JOSHNYETFARGO
ATTUNESATTIRED
GRATAMAXIRADS
SANTOLINUS
DEMTIDESZAP
ATTRIBUTEMIAMI
LEAFATTRACTION
TELLSELMACRUE
ONLYSEEYAHERD

On Twitter, your username is prefixed by an at sign — I'm @JeffChenWrites, for example (follow me if you want useless witticisms!). Today's puzzle riffs on that, with normal words starting with AT parsed into AT + (wordplay-twisted username). I got a laugh out of many of them, AT TRACTION being a perfect one for a tire company. Michelin ought to snap that handle up. It'd be so much better than Corporate America's sad attempts (or should I say AT TEMPTS?) to get on social media and appear hip.

"I really didn't say everything I said."

It's not often we see one-word themers. Rich Norris has told me a few times that it takes a lot for him to consider themes relying on one-word entries, because they're not as lively as multi-word themers. But this one works for me, doing a nice job of playing on Twitter's syntax.

Strong execution, as we've come to expect from Joel. Those parallel downs — STATE FAIRS / YOGI BERRA and STAND TALL / SHUTTERFLY — are so hard to execute on, since they almost always require a few trade-offs in the crossings. The NE corner turned out so well, with STATE FAIRS and YOGI BERRA both stellar answers, with just a SYNS running through them. It's too bad that SYNS is at the very top of the puzzle instead of buried somewhere in the middle, but overall, it's a great corner.

Joel pointed out GRATA as one of the lesser bits in the puzzle, and some people may wonder why. It's easy recognizable as [Persona non ___], right? The problem is that there aren't many ways to clue the entry. A quick search at our Finder page shows that most of the times GRATA has been used, the clue has been exactly the same. Variety is a key to crosswords, so that makes GRATA a bit of a non grata answer.

Loved the [Professional stuff?] clue for TAXIDERMY. It took me a while to grok, since it seemed so difficult for a Monday, but I really appreciated the boost of fun. More, please!

Tue 6/23/2015
ROADTOADTOLD
AUTOUTNECAPER
BROMANTICCOMEDY
ESPIDOSAMENS
ORRAPER
HOPEANDCROSBY
CUREDEATINAON
AMOSMINUSHYDE
TINCIGNAMOOED
DOROTHYLAMOUR
APTSLCD
LANCEERICYMA
SONGANDDANCEMEN
ICIEREDIEMCAT
BOLDBALDBALI

Word ladder integrated with ROAD TO BALI, a film apparently in a line of "Road to …" movies. I had heard of BROMANCE before but not BROMANTIC COMEDY. Apparently it's a thing! I did find it odd that the term was used today to describe a movie made a long time before the term even originated, but perhaps that was the point. HOPE AND CROSBY were apparently way ahead of their time!

It must be riotous, because the poster says so!

I like consistency in a crossword, so I found it bothersome to have HOPE AND CROSBY (last names only) along with DOROTHY LAMOUR (full name). It might have been one thing if DOROTHY LAMOUR had gotten top billing in the movie — it seems even weirder to have the third star get her full name while the first two get crammed into one entry.

I think I would have preferred to have just HOPE AND CROSBY across the middle of the puzzle, especially since this puzzle was about BROMANTIC COMEDIES, yeah? Only having three long themers might have felt a little thin, but with the word ladder I think it would have been fine.

Four themers in a 15/13/13/15 arrangement also makes for a tough job in filling. And when you add in those four-letter words in rows one and 15, it's even more difficult. As an example, note how tough it is to fill the bottom right corner, constrained by -EMEN and BALI fixed into place. I tried to refill it out of curiosity, and couldn't come up with anything cleaner. No fun to be trapped with a configuration that necessitates gluey bits from the start.

A 15/13/15 arrangement isn't easy either, but in this case it would have given so much more flexibility in filling around those pesky word ladder rungs.

I like word ladders every once in a while, and I much appreciate an additional element so it's not just a boring old word ladder. So using ROAD to BALI is a nice touch. Having the ROAD to BALI go down a diagonal would have been even better — forming a sort of connected road!

Wed 6/24/2015
KISSCAPOASSAM
INCAROADNITRO
THEPIERRETRAMS
INSTATEFEEBLE
TBAOMARBRADLEY
VIRGOSOATETS
STIRGARNET
SOUTHERNCROSS
BRONTEOKAY
STDURIFUTILE
CHINESEFLAGTEN
REVOTERODGERS
AMISHFIVESTARS
PODIADEERTIER
EBERTADDSALPS

I really like puzzles that force you to think. Even after uncovering all the themers, and even after uncovering FIVES???S, I couldn't figure out what tied everything together. Neat revelation: the themers all have FIVE STARS. Nice; I like working to earn my a-ha moment.

There are FIVE stars. Get with the program, New Zealand!

I appreciated the diversity of answers, too. Not knowing that THE PIERRE was a five-star hotel or that OMAR BRADLEY was a five-star general made it even more fun for me. And it was interesting to look up the symbolism behind the Chinese flag — the gigantic star represents the Communist party, and the four smaller ones represent the four social classes. Some stars are more equal than others, apparently.

HA HA HA JUST KIDDING! Please don't hack me.

I did wonder about the SOUTHERN CROSS, though. It does seem to have five main stars, but there are countries who use it on their flag — New Zealand, for example — where only the four main stars are shown. So that seemed a little off.

What an impressive construction. With five themers in a 72-word grid, I'd always expect to see some gluey bits — except if any one of a small handful of constructors are involved, including Ian. Some people might wonder if FADERS and PARER in the grid isn't great, but I have zero problem with this. A FADER is a real piece of recording equipment, we have a PARER in our kitchen.

Check out the top left corner. That arrangement of parallel downs is almost always going to require some gluey bits. I'm sure Ian and the J.A.S.A. class tried many different entries before settling on INHIBITS and SCENARIO. They're not wildly awesome answers — I doubt they'd earn a plus in Will's assets column — but check out how squeaky clean all the crossings are.

Interesting that Ian pointed out TRUE THAT as one of his favorite entries. I love TRUE DAT. TRUE THAT … not so much. Personal preference.

All in all, a strong theme with a slight hiccup in my eyes, and an impeccably clean grid.

Thu 6/25/2015
ASTAABCSBLOKE
SHOPTERIRIVET
POPOTTLESUPEAT
CEILINGSECARTE
ADDONCARELESS
GOOPPALMA
MOBYBEAUESTAB
AIRDEEPLUEEBB
PLACEPSISIRAQ
SUCREASSN
RASPERRYCAFFE
ODEONSIMEANTIT
MARATLEADBELLY
AGIRLELLESEEP
NEEDYODINTETE

The guitarist LEAD BELLY riffed on today, entries containing PB in their middle. (Pb is the symbol for lead, from the Latin "plumbum.") Some strong theme entries, DEE(P B)LUE tricky to see, and PO(P B)OTTLES / TO(P B)ID also clever.

Lead Belly

Check out those huge open spaces in the upper right and lower left. I personally wouldn't have even tried to fill those, as they're unlikely to be fillable without a good amount of glue. And spaces that big are hard enough when you don't have any constraints, but when you stick two crossing themers in, they become extremely challenging.

So I was pretty impressed by David's work in the bottom left. BRASSERIE is a fun word, and with only RRS and A GIRL as slight blights, it turned out DECENTLY. No eye-popping answers down there, but nothing egregious.

In the upper right, I love BRUCE LEE. Always gives me a rush to see one of my idols in a grid. There's a price to pay though, with the esoteric ECARTE and not just a suffix, but a plural suffix in ETTES. And to have one of your precious long slots taken up by OVEREATER feels to me like quite a missed opportunity.

These two corners perfectly illustrate the constructor's dilemma — do you go clean, with mostly neutral answers, or do you go big, with some bits you wouldn't want to write home about?

A ton of great clues; much appreciated on a Thursday:

  • Many people have a pet cause. The ASCPA is an apt one!
  • [Cause of inflation?] got me because I'm always thinking about (money) inflation as I help people with retirement planning. Great way to spice up an entry we see all the time.
  • [Like M, L, XL, but not S] confused me, until I realized M, L, XL are all ROMAN numerals.

Nice rebus idea, with a couple hiccups in the execution. It'd be interesting to see what this would have looked like with a 78-word grid instead of 76. I wouldn't mind breaking up two neutral entries in the hopes of creating opportunities for one or two more sizzling ones.

Fri 6/26/2015
MANSPLAINPOSTS
IMATALOSSUBOAT
LUSITANIAPORKY
ASAPMETSTERE
ELENAGALEYAP
CNNBORONILL
RHODEBINETMOO
HANSAGNESSNOW
IVSPLUGSEWOKS
NEORENTSNET
EINORSOODESA
TARTSRANTOGO
DANAESALTSPRAY
ULTRAHITANERVE
OLSENONEPLAYER

Debut! Enjoyable puzzle featuring three strong grid-spanners. I've never used SORRY IM NOT SORRY — or actually heard it used — but that means little, as I'm comically unhip. It Bings well, anyway. (Wait — Bing isn't what the cool kids use these days? But they pay you to use the service ...)

Man, horse, snake ... a little something for everyone!

Puzzles featuring three or more grid-spanners usually don't contain many other long answers, so I appreciated seeing a whole bunch more; ten more answers of 8+ letters. Thirteen total long slots is a good starting point, and you'd hope to convert at least ten of them into colorful answers.

So how does Erin do? HAVE IT ALL is simple yet zippy, same with IM AT A LOSS and SALT SPRAY. LUSITANIA and STIPENDS don't do much for me, but I'm sure there will be WWI historians who disagree. Erin adds in a few mid-length goodies in PUP TENT and BB GUNS … and the awesome PROTEAN, a word I'm hoping to use more often. What a struggle to suss it out, and what a neat a-ha moment when I realized the word referred to Proteus, the shape-shifter of Greek myth.

Overall, I'd say the puzzle has about 12 assets. Pretty good. And just a few liabilities, the short kind of NNE, EIN, ALERS stuff; pretty overlookable, and an impressive performance from a debut constructor.

I would have liked a little more puzzle flow, as my solve chunked down into three separate sections: the left, the middle, and the right. Makes it easier to construct, but proteanizing a few black squares would have helped make the puzzle feel more cohesive.

(Proteus is turning over in his grave.)

These days, the competition for themeless slots is incredibly high — much higher than for any other type of puzzle — so it's all that more impressive that Erin broke in the hard way. Looking forward to more from her.

Sat 6/27/2015
PANFISHROMAINE
ARBORIOARALSEA
RICOACTGRACIAS
FONTSWOEMATTY
ISEEBARQSNANO
VOWTAXCUTSGIN
ESSAYSSICKJOKE
IPSATREE
MCDREAMYOINKED
ILESLEEPININE
SASEEXLAXFATS
HITATCPUYOSHI
ARIZONAPGATOUR
PONYCARESPOUSE
SLEEKEDRASSLED

Eye-catching grid, something so clock-like to it. Tim stuffed so many Scrabbly letters into the center mini-puzzle — a J, a Q, and three Xs, done with polish and finesse. And with such sparkly answers — SICK JOKE, AMEX CARD, HOT WAX, and RAGE QUIT — I can't remember when I've enjoyed a tiny subsection quite this much.

Amex's black card, aka the Centurion. Not sure why, but I want one ...

It is just one of five areas in the grid, however (sorry, Tim!). The layout chops up the square into pieces, making my solve go like a countdown from five to one.

Hey, maybe it is a clock mini-theme!

With each of the four corners featuring intersecting triple-stacked 7s in wide-open areas, it's a wonder that Tim got all of these sections to fall. After deploying so many of your blocks on the middle — with stellar results — you gotta pay the piper at some point. Surprisingly, Tim gets the lower right cleanly, with just ENTHUSE, which seems odd to me without a final D. Pretty impressive!

Ending up with answers like SLEEKED and DESTINE though, is not ideal. Neither of these words are 100% bogus, but on the bogosity scale, they strike me as above average.

Mike Shenk once said that the constructor's task is to devise a puzzle that challenges the solver, and provides a test that he/she can ultimately win. I felt like the top left corner was a game rigged against me. I loved the PAR FIVE clue (an "ace" is slang for a hole-in-one) and should have gotten ARIOSOS quicker. But I don't know that I would have ever gotten the RICO ACT / FOOTE crossing. I'm sure others will feel differently, but that soured my solving experience, as I struggled with that tiny intersection for 20 minutes and then realized that it was a waste of time, as I would never have solved it.

Being a constructor is a tough game. Should NYT readers know RICO ACT or FOOTE ... or both? Judging by Tim's reaction to FOOTE, maybe I really ought to have known that. And the RICO ACT does seem like an important piece of legislation. But with four basically random letters in RICO, it'd have been so much more satisfying for me if each had been crossed with non-esoteric names. (Who's to say what's "esoteric," though!)

POW Sun 6/28/2015GETTING IN THE FINAL WORD
UNJAMGLOBEREVLOKI
CAUSEAHMADAVEMINED
LASERNAGNAGNAGINTEL
ANTACIDSMAUNAGOAPE
WHATHAPPENSSRIS
BONSAIHUMESSTSINT
DEPOTSCOMEDICYODOG
AMITEMIRCEDETO
YOUVEGOTAFRIENDSEWN
BAMPREYRIVETERTROT
ENDUSESILOSETHICS
DEEMSAMPLERMONATHE
DNASCOULDYOUPUTTHAT
METEORWITTHINS
CAIROSTPETERPOUNCE
PADBACHAMATGEORGE
ELMODOUBLEDOVER
SLICKSPAINECLECTIC
TITHETOWNDRUNKLAURA
ONIONARDERATOAMBER
SGTSSKYDRESSLEAST

★ I thought more about why I like Jeremy's puzzles so much. Part of it is he just seems like a good guy — it's been amusing trying to get him to stop calling me "sir" — but mostly, I love his creativity even as he sticks to the "one square, one letter" rule. Trying to innovate while keeping a single letter in a single square is incredibly difficult.

What happens in Vegas ...

Jeremy does it again today, executing brilliantly on an idea the likes of which I can't remember. He takes snazzy phrases where the second to last word is IN, and uses a crossing to imply that "in." WHAT HAPPENS (IN) VEGAS … for example.

But wait, there's more! He finds crossings so that the final word forms another valid word in its crossing. For this example, VEGAS becomes VEGA(N)S, obfuscating the theme. Very cool to see these entries which can read as two completely normal words. Even though there are thousands of X IN Y phrases, it couldn't have been easy to find a set that displayed crossword symmetry AND had this property of the Y word intersecting the X so that it formed a different, regular word.

And Jeremy has a knack for colorful phrases, the likes of which I identify with only a handful of themeless constructors like Josh Knapp and Peter Wentz. The best constructors are always on the lookout for punchy phrases that can add zest to a puzzle, like TOWN DRUNK. Even YO DOG works in that regard. Check out Jeremy's older puzzles to get a sense of how much great vocabulary he's introduced.

Now, just as with any puzzle, I didn't find it perfect. To me, the phrases would have been more apt if they had been X THROUGH Y instead of X IN Y. But that's minor; a tiny speed bump.

Finally, two standout clues:

  • [Guard at a gated community?] = ST PETER. I'm going to have some questions to answer at that gate.
  • [Green dwarf] had to be one of those _STAR kind of filler entries, right? D'oh, it refers to a tiny BONSAI.

Another extremely well-executed Sunday puzzle from Jeremy. I tip my hat to you, sir.

Mon 6/29/2015
NEEDSLOGSFRAT
EMMACAIROLEVI
WEBCRAWLEROPEN
TRACERSERGEANT
ARABICNORCUE
MLKALICEWALKER
ODESYAHSPY
MSDOSOUTHOTEL
LEAREVNATE
BLADERUNNERXCI
AIRPERTROMPE
KEMOSABEBLEATS
ELANRADIOFLYER
RODEUNITSEERO
SWAGGEESEERAS

CRAWLER to WALKER to RUNNER to … FLYER? I'm hoping my final step in this evolutionary process comes soon!

Don't hate me, but I didn't think Blade Runner was that good (*ducks*)

I had to think about that last entry. Is there some sort of developmental progression that this describes? I don't think so, but in the end I decided I liked FLYER's curious leap into the air. I was expecting SPRINTER or something akin to the riddle of the Sphinx, but I like it when a Monday puzzle throws me for a loop.

I also liked the choice of themers. BLADE RUNNER and WEB CRAWLER are colorful.

A few nice touches in the long fill — TAXPAYER and ET CETERA make a strong pair. That arrangement of two consecutive long downs is so rough to execute on, though. It's not easy to find a colorful pair that doesn't require little gluey crossing bits like XCI and SROS.

And poor EERO Saarinen. He's an accomplished architect, clearly gridworthy because of his artistic contributions to industrial design, but he gets maligned because of crossword overuse. I personally struggle with using EERO in any of my grids — on one hand his presence is deserved, on the other, it draws criticism as "crosswordese." Tough call.

Todd points out DACCA as undesirable, and that might confuse some. It's a world capital, so it should be fair game, right? But DHAKA is the modern name, so DACCA does feel less than desirable.

Mondays are so difficult puzzles to construct, because a preponderance of gluey entries can potentially turn off beginning solvers. This puzzle felt just on the cusp in that regard (what with the abovementioned plus TINTER, YAH, etc.). Adding a set of black squares into the grid, cutting EMERALDS and ET CETERA into two words apiece, would have helped, but it would have cut out two nice long words. The constructor's eternal dilemma — if adding more colorful entries in the puzzle necessitates more gluey bits, how far should you push it?

A fun idea, making me think at the end. I like it when a Monday puzzle does that.

Tue 6/30/2015
JARSCOTAROMA
ABEHOTSGROBAN
BARROCKGARDENS
LOSERABSLAW
POUNDSIGNSBITE
ANTISMAGPOSER
WEEPTAZWILKES
PRICETAGS
ABBEYSLOXTODD
CRETESLOSERIO
RATSFIELDTRIPS
OVAAUFEASEL
BACONSTRIPSNOI
ADAPTSAMOITMC
TOMESOPTSSAY

Normal phrases interpreted as "(famous person X) does Y." I like the consistency here, all the themers being two-word phrases where the second word is a present tense verb. I had seen BACON STRIPS somewhere before, but in the sense of [Philosopher's breakfast?], so it brought an amusing picture to my mind. Same with Leontyne PRICE tagging a wall with a spray can, her face covered bandito-style. Vivid imagery.

With PRICE TAGS separating the grid into a top and a bottom half, I like what Susie did with the four corners. It can be very tricky to get good material into three adjacent seven-letter slots. None of these 7s are an absolute stunner of an answer, but they all do the trick. OBELISK / MANATEE / ANSWERS in particular is pretty strong. It's tough to get zing out of one-word answers, but Susie worked in some good ones, without resorting to any real clunkers.

I like how she worked in her Scrabbly letters, too, choosing spots that can easily accept them without feeling forced. That 1-Across / 1-Down crossing spot is Scrabbly gold, with a J easily slotting in. And the X of WAX is perfect, smoothly sliding into place. Those intersections of two three-letter words often offer up this opportunity.

It felt to me like Susie took a lot of care to produce a smooth grid; much appreciated during my solve. This arrangement of five themers with a long middle one can often require globs of glue to hold everything in place. With only a few things like ARRS and NOI dotting the perimeter, I hardly noticed them.

Overall, I might have liked more tightness in the theme, given that there are so many celebs whose last name can double as a common noun. It would have been neat to see all comedians, or all sports figures, or even celebs starting with the same letter. But then again, having a hodge-podge — a comedian, a poet, an opera singer, an actress, and a philosopher — does provide nice variety. Something for everyone.