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Puzzles for June, 2016
with Jeff Chen comments

View these same grids with comments from:
Constructor (25)Jeff Chen (30)Jim Horne (4)Hide comments
Wed 6/1/2016

Debut! I really enjoyed corresponding with Wren, who wondered if his pic would be too odd for me, or if his writeup would be too risqué. I loved both — so fun to see a constructor's personality come through. (But don't look up ANO without the TILDE while you're at work. Ahem.)

The Blue ÖYSTER Cult

I had a feeling something with diacritical marks was going on when I hit OYSTER right off the bat. Fun way to kick off the theme, launching it with a metal umlaut. Nice assortment of diacritics, from the UMLAUT to a CIRCUMFLEX (the little hat) to the CEDILLA to the TILDE. I highlighted those four answers below so they're a little easier to pick out.

An impressive amount of theme material crammed in. It might not seem like it, but check out where the four blue words are plus everything that has to work with the four special squares marked in red. Although they're all relatively short words, there are a ton of them. That's always tough to deal with, each successive word stressing a grid more and more.

I thought Wren did a pretty nice job considering the level of difficulty. I'm not hot on Random Roman Numerals, so CMIX at the top center felt awkward. Hard to avoid though, given TILDE and CEDILLA crammed next to each other, constraining things. And the FAROE/SABU crossing … oof. Very tough if not unfair. Otherwise though, not bad to have a few minor ENE SLO ILO bits strewn about.

It's a shame that there's no crossword symmetry in the grid. It's impossible to achieve with the four themers of course, but it would have been nice to at least get the four special squares in symmetrical spots.

And the real shame? I was so hoping for Wren to cleverly work in ANO … without the TILDE. How fun would that have been, to secretly use the subversive definitions! That would never have slipped past Will. But a guy can hope.

Looking forward to more from the juggler.

Thu 6/2/2016

A few months ago, Amy Reynaldo asked me for suggestions of women they might add to their Celebrity Crossword team. Susie was in my list. I've really enjoyed her offerings, generally well-constructed with a lot of care and effort.

Poor MAHALIA (JACK)SON didn't get her full name in today

We get a rebus today, with a descriptive revealer, JACK IN / THE BOX. I like it when there's some reason to squeeze a few letters into a single box, and this is a good one. A couple of nice longer theme entries, LUMBERJACK, JACK FROST, and FLAPJACK my favorite. All sparkly answers.

I tend to like rebuses more when the special squares are incorporated into the puzzle's longest answers. Not only have I come to expect a puzzle's longest answers (at least, across answers) to be the themers, but rebuses are great for this in that make it possible to introduce really long (>15 letter) answers into the crossworld. It would have been fun to get (JACK) RUSSELL TERRIER, (JACK)SONVILLE JAGUARS, SHOELESS JOE (JACK)SON, etc.

I also would have liked the JACK in JACK IN to be rebusized. It felt strange to see the full word written out, when it could have been so meta, that JACK also placed into a single box. Ah well.

Fun bonus entries in LEONINE, derived from "lion-like," RAVE MUSIC, RUNS SHORT, SEA TURTLE. Even NUTELLA (yum) and MAHALIA added to the quality of my solve. I did feel like it was a real loss not to have MAHALIA (JACK)SON's full name not incorporated into the grid, though.

I wondered if (JACK) CHEESE was in the language? I buy a lot of PEPPER JACK CHEESE and MONTEREY JACK, but (JACK) CHEESE felt not as strong. Turns out it's perfectly fine, referenced that way in many food and cooking websites.

And BRAINO … that didn't sit well with me at first, but it's kind of a fun play on "typo." Not sure I'd ever use it; jury's still out.

Fun to search out those rebus squares, and a generally well executed puzzle.

Fri 6/3/2016

A non-15x15 themeless! The 14x16 shape is a refreshing change of pace that helps Josh work in the beautiful SHERLOCK HOLMES and COLONEL SANDERS much more easily than usual. These 14-letter entries are normally "awkward lengths" in that they force black square placement in a 15x15 grid. Smart thinking to try a 14x16 in order to give more construction flexibility.

This "wing man" was an actual guy!

And what a great clue for COLONEL SANDERS: [Wing man?]. Neat quote for SHERLOCK HOLMES too: "There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact." So Sherlockian. I can see why Josh chose this pair to build a grid around; two colorful and well-known characters with huge potential for clever clues.

As with most all Knapp puzzles, there's a lot of snazzy material packed in. It's hard to achieve good grid flow like that of the SE corner, with two big entrances/exits to that space, and it's even harder to achieve with great material like OLD HICKORY, NO PROB, CRACKPOT, FLOOR IT. Very well done there.

The opposite corner is pretty nice too, with GUN CONTROL, colloquial TIL NOW, even CAPULET, APERCU and CAVEAT. AVENUE B seems arbitrary, but thankfully that final letter gets a very easy crossing, making it fair, if not super elegant.

The bottom left and upper right corners might seem like they'd be easier to construct — only one way in or out — but they not only have to work with the SHERLOCK HOLMES/COLONEL SANDERS pair, but also with a seven-letter slot stacked in proximity. I love ONE LOVE, and CABOOSE is pretty good too. I wasn't as much of a fan of these corners as I was of the rest of the puzzle though, with STAINLESS, LOATHSOME, and ELEGANTLY feeling like there was more potential left untapped in those slots. I wanted more of the SCOFFLAWS kind of entry — such a fun word!

I really appreciated the relative lack of gluey bits, as I've come to expect from Josh's puzzles. Perhaps not as much in terms of snazzy assets as usual, but I do have quite a high bar for Josh.

Sat 6/4/2016

So much fun to see these guys work together. I really enjoyed their secret initialisms puzzle, each of them contributing a BW phrase.

Great to get such exciting entries as TECHNO MUSIC, THE BURBS, FINESSE SHOT, BOHEMIANS. TROMBONISTS might have been my favorite one, especially with the misdirecting [Ones using slides] clue, since I was a trombonist for a long time. I'm still waiting for someone to incorporate SAD TROMBONE, a juicy answer in my personal word list, into a grid …

A far cry from the Heath Ledger Joker ...

I always learn something from a Wilber puzzle, and the same goes for a Walden. Not surprising that the effect more than doubled today, some sort of synergistic effect from the two of them teaming up. That piece of CESAR ROMERO trivia was really interesting. BARBICEL was tougher to grok, but the crossings were fair (perhaps I'll use it in discussions with my toddler, who's becoming obsessed with birds). And the ancient Egyptians have always fascinated me, so I enjoyed picking up that the SCARAB was used as some pharaohs' seal of office.

Perhaps a little too much learning in one sitting for my taste, though. I follow the NBA pretty carefully, but Dan ISSEL is outside of my knowledge base. OLEAN plays poorly to the black hole that is my deficiency in geography. RAMON Novarro similarly falls into my lacking knowledge of older actors. They're all fair(ish), but it felt like a lot in total.

This is one time where I understand some people telling me they like entries akin to ADIT. I'm sure Brad and Byron struggled against including one of the worst old-timey crossword glue entries, but it did help me break open the right half of the puzzle. Still, ADIT is hard to swallow.

Great clues:

  • What kind of series could possibly start and end with S? MTWTF, bookended by Sunday and Saturday.
  • It took me forever to figure out why [Common Allen wrench?] would mean ANGST. Makes much more sense when you think about that capitalized A, and Woody Allen.

A challenging puzzle with a bit too much crossword glue for my taste. Still, quite a few fun entries, and I did learn a lot.

POW Sun 6/5/2016 WORD SEARCH

★ I wish all constructors would get the chance to talk with Tom in person. I've only been able to do so once a year (at the ACPT), but I've enjoyed it so much. Tom is quickly becoming one of the best constructors in the crossworld, and he's so humble about it. It's inspiring to see someone with so much talent and drive to succeed keep a solid head on his shoulders. Not even out of college yet, I'd bet he'll be among the most-published constructors when he's done.

Now that's a JAWBONE!

Today's puzzle is both clever and simple, in-the-language phrases that hint at a sort of WORD SEARCH. For example, FOLLOWING SUIT is clued with [Where you can find … "jacket" or "yourself"?] Both "jacket" and "yourself" can be found FOLLOWING SUIT, i.e. "suit jacket" or "suit yourself." I really like this twist on the typical "word that can follow X" theme, giving a tired trope a fresh feel.

I also like that Tom picked such a wide assortment of theme phrases. The only word he repeats is the minor TO (CLOSE TO HOME, NEXT TO NOTHING), and uses a great selection of themers, from BEFORE LONG to POST OFFICE.

The theme does a wonderful job of catering to both novices and experts — very important considering the breadth of the NYT's large Sunday solving population. It's easy to create a simple theme like an add-a-letter, and it's fascinating to create a mind-bending puzzle, but either can alienate large swaths of Sunday NYT solvers. (I've heard from some solvers that they love my crazier stuff, but also from others that they never actually figured out what was going on.) Finding that balance is hard to do, and I think Tom does it just about perfectly today.

Sure, there are a few gluey bits here and there — STO, and maybe SISI is a bit arbitrary — but just like most every one of Tom's puzzles, it's so well-executed. He's already in the rare air where I have to restrain myself from giving him the POW! in order to spread the kudos around.

Mon 6/6/2016

Fun finds, two-word phrases where one of the words is REDUNDANT. I had seen END RESULT discussed in this way a while back, but I hadn't thought of TWELVE NOON, FIRST BEGAN, REVERT BACK, and especially HEAD HONCHO like this. HONCHO by itself is a fine word, but it sounds so dull compared to HEAD HONCHO. English is a funny language.

Steve KERR, coaching the Dubs

More colorful fill than I'm used to in a Monday puzzle. I love CON MEN, THE NERVE!, MINERVA, ROOSTER (which is slang for my favorite Sriracha hot sauce). Even BANISTER I haven't seen in a couple of years. It's tough to work with six theme answers period, so incorporating such great pieces of fill is a real plus.

ATALANTA … I vaguely remember her, but not nearly as well as MINERVA (the Roman equivalent of Athena). Very glad ML was careful with her crossings, keeping the puzzle fair even for beginners. It would have been ugly if she had crossed SOAVE with ATALANTA, for example.

LIGHTS ON … that didn't strike me well at first, and it still hasn't grown on me. THE LIGHTS ARE ON, perhaps? It's a shame LIGHT SON (as opposed to a heavy one) isn't a thing. It feels like a long slot went wasted.

With so many themers plus the quantity of long fill, there was bound to be a couple of rough patches. I generally am fine with stuff like AT BAR, since that seems to stand on its own (a case is AT BAR in court), but AS FAR I'd never use without another AS, and BY AGE feels partialish to me as well.

I did love seeing Steve KERR in the grid, the Dubs' (Golden State Warriors) coach, who's navigated the transition from role player to coach amazingly well.

Neat REDUNDANT phrases, with some outstanding long fill along with some iffy entries.

POW Tue 6/7/2016

★ Very pretty graphic, with a THREE / STORY / HOUSE and its SLATE ROOF memorialized in NEEDLEPOINT. HOME / SWEET / HOME indeed!

Be it ever so humble ...

I was amazed by how much Pete packed in today, especially THREE / STORY / HOUSE right atop each other. It's very hard to stack three specific answers when you have no flexibility. Then you throw in SLATE ROOF to further constrain things. I was worried at how many compromises Pete would have to make — and that was before I realized NEEDLEPOINT was part of the theme!

Pete did a nice job of deploying his black squares to separate the themers. You absolutely have to use some so THREE / STORY / HOUSE doesn't interact much with the SLATE ROOF. Then, the NEEDLEPOINT intersecting the SLATE ROOF has to be separated from HOME / SWEET / HOME as best as possible, otherwise you're forced to make a ton of compromises.

What with the enormous level of inflexibility — I can't remember when I've seen a puzzle constrained to this level — I like Pete's result. Sure, I hit RUHR / OTOE, SHERE, MEECE (ugh), ISERE right off the bat, but none of them are horrendous. And throughout the puzzle we get some of the usual suspects like ESSO, OPEL, DER, MAI, STE, but there's not a major offender in there. Some would even argue that ESSO is perfectly fine, since it's a major Canadian gas brand.

PHOEBES … apparently it's a fairly common bird in the Americas? Even after piecing it together from the crosses, I stared at the word in DISbelief. Some poor older solvers might choke on the OTOH crossing, four letters that will look random to non-texters. Even knowing that one, somehow PLOEBES seemed more plausible to me.

ASHTONS is a more clear-cut case. Not only is it a pluralized name, inelegant to start with, but it takes up a valuable 7-letter slot. Missed potential; could have been something as fun as CEDILLA.

All in all though, it's actually MUCH less crossword glue than I had expected, given the off-the-charts level of constraints. It's such a fun and pretty image; well worth the trade-offs to me.

Wed 6/8/2016

Neat idea, an -ING ending changed to a short -EN or -ON sound. Consistently executed, each two-word phrase morphed from something colorful, i.e. (HOLDING TANK), to (celeb) + (noun) = HOLDEN TANK.

I really wanted it to be HOLDEN'S TANK, since HOLDEN is strange when used as an adjective, but HOLDING to HOLDEN'S would be even weirder.

William HOLDEN

Such an impressively executed grid. I didn't have even a minor hitch the entire way through — incredibly smooth for any puzzle, but even more so for a theme-dense puzzle also containing a ton of long, snazzy fill. Sean uses the dreaded 11-letter answer in the middle of the grid, which sort of splits the grid in half, plus calls for "Utah blocks" on the sides. Makes construction tough, leaving some chunky, wide-open corners to fill.

Beautiful work in the toughest areas, the NE and SW. The HAIR DYE / UMPTEEN combo is gold, and Sean finishes out that corner with nary a gluey bit. (NYT solvers absolutely should know their world leaders, so EHUD Barak doesn't even give me slight pause.) And NEW AGER / A LA MODE / DIAL TONE — three beautiful answers! Sure, it came with the cost of ELA and AM TOO, but considering how clean the rest of his grid is, that's a good trade-off in my eyes.

And the mid-length stuff: UTOPIA, CELEBS, LL BEAN, even SOLACE and BUCKO = excellent use of those often neglected 5- and 6-letter slots.

I had no idea what the NAME clue meant: [Arnold, Ronald, or Roland]. Was Arnold Ronald Roland some famous rapper or Silent Era actor? I think it's just getting at the fact that they're anagrams of each other.

The kooky end results didn't totally sizzle for me since LANDON GEAR feels like such a forced phrase. (If only there had been some way to make it into LANDON'S GEAR!) But all five answers were done consistently, using five snappy base phrases. And the grid execution really heightened my overall solving experience.

Thu 6/9/2016

There have been a lot of plays on silent letters in crosswords over the years. One of my favorite was on Christmas Eve a few years back, and a more recent one blew me away (when I finally understood everything that was going on). I thought Damon's execution today was really nice, that diagonal of S I L E N T letters perfectly spaced out.

A FANZINE for "Civil War gamers." Huh.

And did you notice right away that the shaded letters were all actually SILENT in the across answer, i.e. the first S in AISLES silent, the I in CARRIAGE, etc.? What, you did? Really? Yeah, I did too! (Not really.) Very cool — I hadn't realized that an I could actually be silent.

It would have risen to the very top of my list of favorite silent letter puzzles if the down answer also followed that principle. I'm 95% sure that'd be impossible to pull off though, given how many crossings you'd need to fix in place. Ah well, a guy can dream.

Nice to have the bonus (SILENT) PARTNERS and (SILENT) MAJORITY. I don't know that they added much to the quality of my solve, but the puzzle would likely have felt thin if they hadn't been included.

What did add a lot was the snazzy long fill. FANZINES is a beautiful answer, as are FAIR GAME, USER IDS, and LEONINE. (NON-BASIC isn't equivalent to "acidic" (I think) since the term includes neutral pH 7 solutions. Not sure if I love this answer or detest it.)

Good execution on the short entries, too. I think NITA, AKINS, and TVA are minor by themselves (there's a case to be made that each is perfectly fine), but as a whole, it's too bad that these all felt somewhat dated. Good thing the rest of Damon's grid is so smooth and clean.

Something so pretty about that S I L E N T diagonal, and it's so elegant to have each silent letter in the across answer in the perfect place.

Fri 6/10/2016

Fun to see the new 16-letter entries. BATTLE OF THE SEXES is great, and COMPOUND SENTENCE's clue — [It has multiple clauses] — does a nice job of misdirecting toward a legal contract. I HEAR YOU KNOCKING wasn't immediately familiar to me, but hearing the song got me humming.

Senator PALPATINE, before his "promotion" to EMPEROR

EMPEROR PALPATINE might be divisive. It was a gimme for this lover of all things sci-fi, but I bet it won't do much for solvers who might know him simply as "The Emperor," if at all. Thankfully, every one of the crosses is gettable (Pfizer is the company selling Viagra). As much as I personally love this entry, I'm not sure I'd feature it in a themeless, given its love it / hate it nature.

I wonder if David clued ATAT as [Four-legged "Star Wars" walker]. Again, that would be a completely obvious answer to me but opaque to many others.

Puzzles featuring a lot of grid-spanners often don't pack much punch outside of those feature answers, so it was great to see PETTY TYRANT (crossing EMPEROR PALPATINE!) and the BOILERMAKER. Not sure who came up with the idea to mix beer and whiskey, but they sure gave it a colorful name. And a couple of interesting mid-length answers in CATNAPS, BARBUDA, and the curious NEOPETS. I had thought the "virtual pet" concept died out after Tamagotchis — who knew!

Nice effort to keep the grid clean of crossword glue. WOOER made me struggle — it does seem to be in use as "one who woos," but it sounds odd to my ear. Other than that, the NER Tamid has saved many a constructor trying to fill a difficult region. That bottom left corner is a toughie, with so many long answers intersecting each other.

Sat 6/11/2016

Some great feature answers, MALL SANTA and I CAN EXPLAIN my favorites. Nice to see these answers spread throughout the grid. Although Andrew only has 12 slots that are eight letters or more, it felt like there were more, since I seemed to keep hitting them no matter what part of the grid I was working on. Along with the nice grid flow — a bunch of answers connecting each corner to the rest of the puzzle — it made for a good solving experience.

Apparently some amusement parks have banned SELFIE STICKS, because people take them out during rides

I might have said a great experience, if it hadn't been for that western section. There is a ton of mid to long stuff all running through it, so it's a tough region to fill. Starting with A TON OF, connecting to DEFORESTS to NO PULP (ironic crossing) to SITE MAP to TOO LATE to MALL SANTA, that's a huge amount of material that needs to congeal. RARA and ERST running through PARI and ACCURST is unfortunate ... if that all had been spread through the grid, maybe it wouldn't have stood out to me.

One thing I've found surprising about corners like the NE/SW is that it's surprisingly difficult to work with stacks of 6-letter answers intersecting stacks of 8s. Seems like it shouldn't be that tough, but getting strong or even neutral 6-letter answers to work makes things tricky. Andrew does really well in the SW, with COUS-COUS and COMPADRE intersecting SO DOPE (I think that's still in use, yeah?), executed really cleanly. The NE is pretty good too, although AMIENS is rough if you're not a history or geography buff. It's so crossword-friendly though, what with its common letters. That terminal ENS is crossword construction gold.

Not sure I like the visual of the four black squares in the four corners, but Andrew does take advantage of those adjacent slots — SAME SEX, ST KITTS, SALAMIS, and ATHEISM are all pretty nice entries.


A great example of a simple theme executed well. Plenty of constructors have played on DR, by adding it, subtracting it, putting it outside the grid (Doctors Without Borders), etc. But I like Finn's take, which I haven't quite seen before. The title is perfect — ATTENDING PHYSICIANS indicating to add DR for kooky results — and it was great to get a bonus revealer in THE DOCTOR IS IN. That last phrase fills me with good memories, reading "Peanuts" strip for hours as a kid. Maybe as an adult too. Ahem.


Not all the themers made me laugh, but DR WHOS YOUR DADDY was awesome. Great base phrase, and the image of DR WHO biting his nails while awaiting a paternity test = comedy gold.

What made the puzzle stand out amongst the various DR puzzles is Finn's gridwork. Since the theme concept has the potential to become repetitive and lose solvers' attention, it was really important for Finn to work in a lot of snazzy fill. He did not disappoint, with so many strong entries that he pointed out above.

And that beautiful NE corner! It's tough to fill such a large chunk of white space; so many mid-to-long answers intersecting each other. Finn gave himself the advantage of only one themer constraining that region, and he was able to work in so much — HUG IT OUT, TEAM USA, PSYCHIC my favorites — with no trade-offs. Some say that YASIR ought to be YASSER, but both seem to be in prevalent usage.

The only place I thought was a little rough was the SW corner. READ ONLY, OH BOO HOO, yes! LA NOTTE crossing SYOSSET … not so much. SYOSSET is probably obvious for New Yorkers, but the NYT puzzle is done all across America. I would have liked to see all fair crossings for it, and LA NOTTI or LA NOTTA both seemed plausible.

Otherwise though, some freshness in FRAT BROS (I'm too square to have heard this, but it seems interesting) and a lack of gluey entries besides OSA is a great result. A really strong puzzle I'd happily point novices to.

Mon 6/13/2016

FOOL AROUND = synonyms for FOOL "wrapped around" phrases. CHEST BUMP is a colorful base phrase — neat that CH/UMP happens to be wrapped around it. And I thought the juxtaposition of MOTOR NEURON and MORON was particularly amusing, the latter not using a ton of the former.

Quite the cabinetmaker, apparently

I wasn't as taken with DORK around DOUBLE PARK. The dictionary definition is "a dull, slow-witted, or socially inept person," but I'm more used to (and partial to) DORK as a compliment, as in "that dorky girl has some serious nerd cred!" Perhaps this explains a lot about me.

DUNCAN PHYFE … whoo, that was a toughie to put together. Thankfully Lynn took her usual care to make all the crossings gettable. I did struggle with the SNIFF AT crossing, but mostly because that PHYFE last name looked so odd. I was curious if any other phrases were available for DUNCE — one I liked was the DEAD CAT BOUNCE, an investing term related to a technical chart pattern. Usually I'd prefer to stay away from nasty-sounding terms, especially ones referring to death, but given that DEATH is already in the grid …

DUE DILIGENCE could have worked too.

Not that DUNCAN PHYFE is bad, but it sure is tough for a Monday and may not do much for non-furniture enthusiasts like myself. I did appreciate that the clue was interesting enough that it made me want to look him up.

I did find it un-Lympelian to get an assortment of crossword glue: CSA, ATA, ASSN, ISR, ENGR, ETTE, and especially SERE. Thankfully it was spread around the grid so it didn't seem overwhelming in any one spot, but as a whole, it was a good bit more than we usually see in her puzzles.

This type of grid arrangement often does cause construction difficulties, what with those four biggish corners plus the fact that so many regions have to interact with two themers. So I did appreciate Lynn working in some nice mid-length fill such as ID SAY SO, SUMATRA, FERRARI. Pretty good use of those 7-letter slots, helping to make up for some of the gluey bits.

Tue 6/14/2016

Easy-peasy! At least, easy — EASY DOES IT describing themers starting with E and Z.

Initialisms are a standard crossword theme, so I appreciated 1.) Tracy's decision to use at least one tough letter (Z) and 2.) incorporation of a good revealer. EROGENOUS ZONES is a very nice answer, and EMILIANO ZAPATA felt like it was someone I really should have been able to fill in right off the bat.

It's Edward, not ED!

EBOLA ZAIRE … talk about a downer to lead off one's crossword puzzle. Out of curiosity, I wondered what other 10-letter phrases could follow the E* Z* pattern. Surprised that I couldn't find any good ones!

ED ZWICK … this Seahawks fan might have preferred END ZONE, but there's no doubt ED ZWICK is crossworthy. I did hesitate when reading up on him (such a prolific directing career!) — seems like he goes by Edward?

Some fancy work in the NE and SW corners. A 9x4(ish) chunk is so hard to fill with color and cleanliness. I really liked the NE, with SALT PIT, FINE TUNES, and MIX IT UP (TAKE APART isn't as strong to me) at just the price of an OER. Very nice!

The SW wasn't quite as stellar for me, given that it cost ANA, ERES, and NANS in order to get not quite as many fancy entries. NANS especially stood out (the plural of NAAN is usually NAAN, yeah?), what with other awkward plurals — SOYAS and ELSAS — elsewhere in the grid.

For a standard theme type, I love having something extra; some bonus. While it's nice to get the lovely CANOODLES type of bonus, how cool would it have been to have something like EASY PEASY, with E*Z* and P* Z* phrases? Or limit all theme phrases to different makes of cars, with EASY RIDER as a revealer? That last one would almost certainly be impossible, but it's fun to brainstorm ways of elevating a standard theme type into something standout.

POW Wed 6/15/2016

★ Love this theme. I hadn't heard of FIFTY FIRST STATE before, but what a beautiful phrase and concept! Jason kept me guessing until the end, wondering how 51st, 6th, 3rd, and 5th might all tie together. Excellent a-ha moment when I hit AND ANOTHER THING — a perfect revealer. As Jason mentioned, I found it so much fun that each one of these themers is derived from "adding one," but they each become something all their own.

One of my personal heroes

As if that weren't enough, Jason executes so well. Today's is a tough construction task, with longish themers plus a middle one cutting the grid in half. He does strong work in the four corners, incorporating some DASHING STOPGAP INFIDEL type bonuses while keeping the crossword glue to a minimum. All I could find was an ERN in the SW and an ELEC in the NE — excellent result, especially considering the difficulty of his task.

LOVE the EBERT clue: [He once asked "How far down can a thumb go?"]. EBERT was such a big part of my youth, my dad and I often watching "At the Movies" together. His wit and quotability make him my pick for the 21st century Alexander Pope or Oscar Wilde.

FEH might be unfamiliar to some, but the crossings are fair. And I find it fun to get the assorted MEH BAH GUH sort of entries in crosswords. (I'm easily amused.)

Wonderful puzzle; very close to my idea of the perfect Wednesday.

Thu 6/16/2016

A baffling solve quickly turning into a very entertaining one. I knew something was going on, what with all those starred clues, but I was stumped for a long time. Thankfully, I hit the revealer, piecing together DROP IT. Clever idea, extra ITs in clues making for puzzlement.

I need a BLOODY MARY, stat!

I really liked the ones where the IT 1.) totally transformed words and 2.) made for a normal-sounding clue. [Bite down, in a way] for MOPE AROUND is a good example — "Be" is very different from "Bite," and "Bite down" is perfectly innocent-looking. My favorite was [Bar order requiring celerity]. "Celery" to "celerity" is a big transformation, and the resulting clue had no giveaway awkwardness. So many of the 16 (!) starred clues worked so well — [Britain's location] was a close second for me, the "brain" to "Britain" change delicious.

[Pitiers] wasn't quite as nice, since "Pitiers" is kind of an odd word. And [Stick to it] (for KEEP AT) simply adds an "it" as a separate word. The resulting meaning isn't all that different, too.

I was curious why 16 themers had been chosen, especially since there didn't seem to be symmetry involved. Or was there? Yes! I tried highlighting the "themers" to better illustrate Tim's care in placing symmetrical entries, but that looked too busy.

The incredibly high theme density helps to explain a few rough patches, an OBOL here, an OIE there, etc. During my solve it did feel noticeable to get some of these bigger offenders, but looking at Tim's huge construction challenge — 16 themers! — makes me feel like these gluey bits are easily forgivable.

As much as I enjoyed the great quantity of transmogrified clues, it did feel a bit haphazard to hit so many starred clues seemingly randomly throughout the grid. I think I might have preferred the themers to be just the eight longest answers, or even six? Still, such an entertaining puzzle with a ton of clever wordplay in the clues.

Fri 6/17/2016

C.C.'s themeless debut! She's always impressed me with her ability to introduce new entries in her puzzles (as long fill), so it's a natural progression to themelesses. She's now just a Saturday puzzle away from hitting for the cycle.

Any bets on when this will go the way of the Zune?

I remember C.C. using ANDROID ONE a while back — curious if tech is her thing? I was surprised to see WINDOWS PHONE, since that's a distant third platform to the iPhone and Android. Still, I was amused by the WINDOWS PHONE and VOICE COMMAND symmetrical pairing. Fun to get the quasi-mini-theme.

With a fairly standard themeless pattern, the triple-stacks in the four corners have to shine. I really enjoyed the leadoff corner, with ESPN RADIO the source of much personal entertainment, and STONE COLD / TAKES HOLD reading like a poetic STONE COLD Steve Austin headline. There's something so cool about two stacked answers rhyming like that.

I also enjoyed BOOK SCAN, as digitizing the world's books is a fascinating Google project. The rest of that corner didn't do as much for me though, as OTTOWANS and WEST END aren't quite as snazzy.

There were a ton of clever clues today. My favorite was [One multiplying by division] for AMOEBA, combining math and science in a witty way. [Not act conservatively] seemed to imply "take a risk," but it referred to ham actors and their tendency to EMOTE. And I thought the [One with eye patches] had to be pirate-related. So fun to realize that PANDAs also have eye patches, of a sort. This is the type of great cluing that really adds to a solve.

Overall, there's too much crossword glue holding this 70-word themeless together for my taste — nothing major, but a lot of minor NNE, A CAN, TERIS, SWE, ADD IT. Still, there was enough colorful BEET SALAD type of material that I enjoyed the puzzle.

I'm always impressed at how hard C.C. works to continually improve her already strong construction skills, so I'm looking forward to more themelesses from her.

Sat 6/18/2016

Wow, what a cool pattern of black squares! For years, I had been dreaming of some way of incorporating fractals into a crossword puzzle — Todd did it! It doesn't exactly follow the strict definition of "fractal," but there's something so delightful about the giant square in the center, with smaller and smaller squares emanating outward. I usually don't care for black squares in the very corners of themelesses like this, but in this case they add to the impressive visual first impression.

ALIEN VS. PREDATOR — way too scary for me!

Nice selection of long entries forming the grid skeleton, too. MAINSTREAM MEDIA, ENDOCRINE SYSTEM, ATTENTION GETTER, and especially ALIEN VS PREDATOR are all nice entries. I never saw the movie, but I've heard good things about it. I like it when franchises mash up.

Good to get a few long entries in addition, too. MR AMERICA and LOIS LANE were nice to see together, and TATER TOTs are my personal kryptonite. EYE CHART is also a good answer, and it's elevated by a great clue: [Where you might need to read the fine print].

The huge number of black squares does make construction easier, nibbling away at areas that need to be filled, but themelesses with interlocking grid-spanners tend to force a lot of compromises. I first noticed a few rough patches in areas near the intersections of two grid-spanning entries, which tend to be inflexible areas to fill. The usual suspects like BSS AIT CLI ENSE aren't that bad. When I hit [Things that lead to Rome?] though, I so desperately wanted it to be something besides the old-school ITERS. Sigh.

RUNAGATES … I struggled with the G, trying to judge whether [Wendi ___] might be DENT, DENS, or DENG. I guessed wrong, and finding RUNAGATES defined in the dictionary as "A fugitive or runaway" was mighty unsatisfying. I think I might actually like the odd feel of the word RUNAGATES, but not cluing DENG as in DENG Xiaoping left a sour taste in my mouth, like I had been set up to fail.

So, a memorable pattern of black squares, with some great long entries and an assortment of rough patches.


Such a cool graphic in the pdf. The red/green ellipses are simple, but they provide a cool traffic light image. Really neat when I realized all the GREEN phrases are going through the green lights, and all the RED phrases stop — except for the RUNNING A RED LIGHT revealer! I normally like perfect consistency in themes, but that exception was fantastic.


I missed how this puzzle worked at first. 11-Down, the Detroit Tiger whose #5 is retired ... I thought he was just HANK GREEN. It confused me that the second half of that entry — BERG — formed another word. It is pretty cool that every GREEN themer worked this way, but that was a big source of bafflement for me.

Sometimes the second half of this type of themer gets a [no clue] or a [-], which is a dead giveaway that something odd is going on. I often think that makes things too easy. But today, I would have appreciated it, since I missed the full extent of the theme at first.

It's a tough balance — you don't want to make the puzzle too easy, but you also want to make sure lots of solvers actually understand the theme when they finish. I'm curious how many "Who is Hank Green"? questions I'll get, or how many people will think [Symbol of Washington State] is simply EVERGREEN, rather than the full answer, EVERGREEN TREE. We've fixed up all the answers below, if you want to make sure you didn't miss anything.

My first impression was that it was too bad that the themers were asymmetrical, but I think it's perfectly fine now. It might be one of those rare cases where asymmetry is actually better, since it more accurately reflects the non-regular layout of some city's streets. It also gave David a ton of more freedom in selecting colorful (pun intended) theme answers.

I found it to be an extremely difficult solve, with somewhat choked off grid flow (perhaps appropriate for a traffic-jammed city?) and some rough patches necessitated by all the restrictions of the themers. Still, a couple of awkward EDATES and SLEAZO (not SLEAZE?) kind of things didn't stop me from enjoying this one. Memorable, for sure.

Mon 6/20/2016

Straightforward theme, four golf CLUBS disguised at the ends of themers. Fun phrases in WAFFLE IRON and LEMON WEDGE. (A pitching WEDGE is a club designed for hitting a ball high into the air.) Too bad there isn't any way to camouflage PUTTER — Jason could have given us a full bag!

Is that not Ross Geller's doppelganger?

Also a shame that MINNIE DRIVER got snubbed. I do like the freshness of ADAM DRIVER, who played Kylo Ren in the new Star Wars movie, but I didn't much care for his acting. I wonder if he'll become the next Harrison Ford … or the next Hayden Christensen (shudder).

Generally well executed grid today. Every good crossword ought to have a few pieces of nice bonus fill, and Jason delivers with DOWNGRADED and the pairing of BROWNIES / PARADISE (yum!). ELIE WIESEL ain't bad either — although he won't elicit much emotion for some solvers, he's undoubtedly a crossworthy author and activist, having won a Nobel Peace Prize. Along with a really small amount of crossword glue (SAMI is a toughie, and TRE / WDS are minor), it made for a smooth solve.

Jason does something off the beaten path, by nearly stacking ELIJAH WOOD on top of WAFFLE IRON — more typical is to push WAFFLE IRON all the way to the right side, which creates more space in between themers. I bet this would have allowed Jason to work in more snazzy fill, perhaps letting him put a long down where ICH and FDIC currently sit. Might have let him go down to 76 words, working in even more snappy fill. With shortish themers, getting down to even 74 words could have given the puzzle even more spice.

It would have been nice to get a punchier revealer — CLUBS is pretty darn straightforward — but overall, a smooth puzzle with some good fill to it.

Tue 6/21/2016

Fun idea, SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS split into pairs of syllables, then worked into regular words and phrases. A couple of neat findings, LISTIC hidden in HOLISTIC and CALI inside SCALIA.


With mainly short(ish) themers, Julie had a chance to incorporate some nice long fill. This is usually tough for a debut constructor to do, so I much appreciated entries like MAINSAIL, GUITARIST, ARTEMIS, even some NEXT DAY MANCINI. Spices up the grid.

I would have loved some crossword symmetry. It felt inelegant to have the syllables strewn about the grid, i.e. SCALIA and VALID not in symmetrical places. Holding to symmetry would mean LISTIC, the middle set of letters, would have to be in the middle row, in something like HOLISTICS or LISTICLES or WENT BALLISTIC. A long(ish) middle entry does make the grid design much harder, but I think it would have been worth it.

I also hitched at the division of AL-I-DO-CIOUS into AL-ID-O-CIOUS. There's no way to hide DOCIOUS into another word, which is unfortunate. I suppose you can make the argument that since it's a made-up word, you can divide the syllables however you want. But it is listed in some dictionaries now — with the AL-I-DO-CIOUS syallables. So it does seem wrong as implemented.

With seven "themers," there was bound to be a bit of crossword glue. I was pretty impressed at the start of the puzzle. It felt like a smooth solve up top, just RENTA seeming inelegant since it's always preceded by DE LA.

Unfortunately, I hit more of the SAULT, ABAB, HOS, SLO, ALIS, TSE (Tokyo Stock Exchange), PSS offenders as I went. None is that bad by itself, but in aggregate it felt like a lot. It is a tough grid design — so many areas are affected by two or more "themers," which create constraints pretty much everywhere.

Still, an interesting idea with some fun ways of hiding those special syllables.

POW Wed 6/22/2016

★ Loved this puzzle. I've seen dozens of anagram puzzles, so it takes something special for one to stand out. I honestly groaned a bit when I read the clue [What NOTICING can anagram to], preparing for a slog of rearranging letters. But something odd happened — I realized that there were more letters in the grid slot than in the anagrammed word! Took a couple of crossings to finally realize that NOTICING had become GIN + TONIC separately, which of course combine to form the common GIN AND TONIC. Great idea!

The JAZZ SINGER, featuring songs by Al Jolson

Each of the four themers worked so beautifully. KISS AND TELL was my second favorite, KISS + TELL anagrammed to the common word, SKILLETS. Fred laid out the themers so nicely, hitting us with his best one first, and ending the puzzle with his second-best to make sure we came away with a strong final impression.

Great bonus fill, too. JAZZ SINGER is a colorful phrase that also includes three rare letters, and WORKAHOLIC is snappy too. Nice also to see EVIL EYES and STORM OUT, along with KEYTAR (a keyboard/guitar combo), even some SMOLDER (crossing KISS AND TELL!), MAN MADE, Dorothy LAMOUR.

All this with virtually no crossword glue? RES and INST are minor offenders, and maybe you could argue that ENID is a bit esoteric, but that's not much at all in total.

Fun PAN AM clue. Some might say that this is an outdated entry since PAN AM is no longer around, but it's a historically important company. And having "flying boats" is pretty interesting. EMBED's clue felt a little strange — a foreign correspondent is really called an EMBED? — but it does appear to be valid usage.

All in all, such an enjoyable solve; a memorable twist on the anagramming theme type.

Thu 6/23/2016

Debut! I had been wondering why Megan Amram's name sounded familiar … and then I saw the closing credits for my favorite show, Silicon Valley! Very cool that this writer joins the crossword constructors' club.

Good ol' SLY

Today we get normal phrases done "formally," expanding names that could be short for something else. I thought SYLVESTER AS A FOX was brilliant, "Sly" being Sylvester Stallone's nickname. I wasn't aware of DOT being short for DOROTHY (in DOROTHY MATRIX printer), but I can see it.

It was so neat to get a specific nickname like SLY expanded. Not as neat to get BOB = generally short for ROBERT, PENNY = generally short for PENELOPE, because there are so many nicknames than could be used like this — RICH, DREW, REG, TEDDY, BILL, PAT, etc. I would have loved if the theme had been kept to very specific nicknames used only for one particular celeb. Not sure if this is possible, but a guy can dream.

Going down to 72 words definitely makes for a tougher-than-normal solve. I liked a lot of the long fill — HELEN MIRREN, ARMY BASE with its great [Where many grunts may be heard?] clue, and ICE RINKS in particular. That big lower-right corner is so nice, with MARS BARS / ARMY BASE creating a wide-open space.

All the wide-open spaces do create some construction challenges. I don't mind a difficult crossing like YORKE / ERATO since experienced solvers should know ERATO (the honorary Muse of crosswords, what with her friendly consonant-vowel alternation). But POLIS is a tough one to remember, and crossing it such that OH YES and AH YES work equally well struck me as potentially setting up the solver to lose. PALIS sounded more correct to me, but perhaps I was thinking about PARIS? Sigh. It's so tough — OH YES is a great little piece of fill. To me, not worth that ambiguous crossing, though.

Nice idea, with SLY to SYLVESTER forming a standout answer.

Fri 6/24/2016

Yet another new grid pattern from the master, this time using a ton of interconnect to form his grid skeleton. Check out how the "stairstack" of PASSED THE TIME / DON'T LET ME DOWN / ROBERT PRESTON has not one, not two, but three long answers running through it — AGGRESSOR NATION, FREIGHT TRAIN, LAKEVIEW TERRACE. Talk about constraining yourself right off the bat!

He's a what? He's a what?

As if that weren't enough, PB limits himself to 66 words, as is his norm these days for themelesses. And then, he deploys his black squares such that the solver has excellent grid flow, never really at risk of dead-ending anywhere. It al combines to form a very tough construction challenge.

I liked that NW corner the best. It should be much easier than the NE/SW corners, since it's more sectioned off. But it's still difficult, since it's already constrained by a lot of the grid skeleton. Good results; BREWS UP crossing EGGNOG and LEGAL PAD are all nice entries. For those of you (us) who still didn't know what REGINA meant, it's apparently the R of the E.R. in the "royal cypher." Learn something new every day.

I wasn't as impressed with the rest of the puzzle as I usually am with PB creations. There is some strong YULE LOG / FIRE LANE, TRIAL RUN material, but some of those long slots are taken up by more neutral entries like NOVEMBER, REAWOKEN, ETONIANS. This is a common issue with such difficult constructions — it's so hard to convert a high percentage of your long slots into snazzy material when you have so little flexibility. Even LAKEVIEW TERRACE I found a bit on the dry side.

Still though, PB gives us his trademark smooth solve, never dipping into the crossword glue to hold things together. Not my favorite PB themeless, but still entertaining.

Sat 6/25/2016

A ton of great long entries in this 70-worder, Kameron converting nearly all his long slots into snazzy entries. My favorite region was the east, with the awesome KREMLIN INC next to the IONIAN SEA and a MUST READ. Neat triplet, with SCREENER DVD nearby. I wasn't familiar with that last term, but it's easily inferable and a fun term I want to add to my vocabulary.

Known for his "tough guy" roles — I love it!

A lot of strong material in the west, too, HOT SYRUP a beautiful phrase and GUNS N ROSES sparkly. I wasn't convinced about JUKEHOUSE, as JUKE JOINT sounded so much stronger to my ear. Some Googling shows that JUKEHOUSE has many fewer hits, but they seem to be focused in Kansas City? Perhaps it's a regional term?

Although I loved KREMLIN INC, its impact was watered down for me after I ran into RHEE and SEKO, both notorious human rights violators / atrocity committers. I don't mind one of them here and there as fill, but in total, it put a gloomy pall over my solve. I wasn't sure if ARMY and NROTC helped or hurt that.

Some interesting gluey bits, SOCLE rarely used in crosswords despite its friendly letters. (It's an architectural term.) PILAR is another toughie, apparently the name of a Hemingway character in "For Whom the Bell Tolls." I don't mind a dash of ALEE or OLEO in a themeless, but I think SOCLE and PILAR might cause some solving headaches. It's all fair — I think all world leaders should be fair game, including strongmen tyrants — so even that SOCLE / SEKO cross is acceptable, if not elegant.

OLIVER REED is an interesting one. I didn't know him, but the clue was fun enough that it made me want to learn about him. Made me laugh to read in Wikipedia that he was known for his "hellraiser lifestyle." It would have been great to somehow shorten the clue so it was more easily digestable, but what an interesting piece of trivia, OLIVER REED starring in OLIVER!, directed by Carol REED.


Will sends some newbie constructors my way, usually when they have a decent idea but can't provide him with a satisfactory grid. I like going back and forth with the person as we trade ideas on how to build a nice final product. And sometimes I learn something, which I absolutely love. Nothing like unexpectedly picking up a little tidbit.

Riding one of these in HOT PANTS!

That was the case in working with Pris. Not only did I really enjoy working with her on this fun theme, but she challenged me on a couple of pieces of long fill I suggested, giving me rationale on why something else might be better. The best example: HAVE PITY. I had HATERADE in that slot at first, feeling good about introducing a newish piece of slang (haters drink the haterade, a play on Gatorade). Pris tactfully mentioned that she worried about it being a negative term, and she preferred to keep her crosswords upbeat and positive.

What a great reminder! Sometimes I get too focused on incorporating entries that are fresh and new, at the expense of the main goal: providing people with an enjoyable and uplifting solving experience. Many thanks to Pris for helping make a course adjustment as we filled this grid.

For any Sunday 140-word puzzle, I'm not happy unless I work in at least four long bonus entries. And for a wide-open grid like today's, I really want at least 10 snazzy bonus entries — given that there are only five theme entries, it's important to me to give solvers a lot of pick-me-ups to keep up their interest. There was something amusing about balancing a UNICYCLE over BAD DATES, and I liked the variety of OLD MASTER to LAWYERS UP to HOVERCAR to TSA AGENT to HOT PANTS. Something for everyone.

We tried a couple of fresh entries in the upper right, my favorite being OTTER PUPS. But we couldn't get that to work to our liking, and although OUT OF TUNE wasn't as squee-worthy, it seemed like it would lend itself to a fun clue. It also allowed us to incorporate CREED. If you haven't seen it, Michael B. Jordan is amazing ... and surprisingly, so is Stallone!

Mon 6/27/2016

People with no vowels but Es in their full name, tied together by LIVES OF EASE. I've seen PEE WEE REESE in a similar concept before (as well as ED MEESE), but it's neat that RENEE ZELLWEGER and ELLEN DEGENERES both fit that pattern as well. Neat that such long names can be formed without A I O U or even Y — how kind of these folks to have so many crossword-friendly Es!

Really strong gridwork. Although Kevan has to integrate fairly long themers, he manages to work in the usual long downs — DEVILED EGG and LITTERBUGS are beautiful — and also JEWELER, the modern RETWEET, a beautiful word in REGALIA, and the full name SWEE PEA. That last one felt a little odd in that it *almost* fits the only-E pattern, but not quite. I know it's just a piece of fill, but it felt slightly out of place.

Also nice to get a bit of Kevan's lawyerly background in REMANDED. I'm used to seeing a bit of REWET, RELET, etc. in many puzzles, so it's nice to get a RE- word where the RE- start is perfectly natural. You can't really have "manded" something.

RIOJA is a fun word as well. Not being able to even tell the difference between some red and white wines, RIOJA was unfamiliar to me, but I was glad to learn it from the fair crossings.

All that, with just a TELE and a ONE L as crossword glue = darn impressive. I even give the latter a pass since it's right in Kevan's wheelhouse.

I hitched a little on LIVES OF EASE, since it felt weird to describe people as "lives." If only PEOPLE OF EASE were a real phrase. Still, some nice finds, and excellent grid execution.

ADDED NOTE: Out of curiosity, I wrote some quick code to answer Kevan's question. The ones I turned up: BENNETT CERF, DEREK JETER, DETLEF SCHREMPF, DREW BREES, ED HELMS, ETHEL/FRED MERTZ, FRED MERKLE, GLENN BECK, HELEN KELLER, JEFF BECK, JESSE HELMS, PETER SELLERS, WERNER KLEMPERER (and as Kevan pointed out ... JEFFREY CHEN!). For a Monday puzzle, I like Kevan's selection. As much as I love my ex-Sonics, DETLEF SCHREMPF is pretty esoteric!

Tue 6/28/2016

Neat first impression of those circled letters; they form such an interesting looking pattern. My very next thought was to worry what compromises those diagonal words might bring about — they're so hard to fill cleanly around. So I was really looking forward to seeing if the payoff was worth whatever crossword glue was necessary.

Interesting idea, a spider represented with its eight LEGs in the grid. It looked a lot more octopus-ish to me, but the visual did evoke the image of a spider ... after it's been squashed. (My wife is an arachnophobe, so I have much experience with this. Sorry, arachnophiles.)

Fun to get some thematic material in CHARLOTTE of "Charlotte's Web," a SPINNERET, the class ARACHNIDA (though I would have preferred the more familiar ARACHNIDS). BITE MARKS felt much less specific, but as Alex mentioned, it is tough to find a fourth themer that interlocks CHARLOTTE and SPINNERET. Sure would have been nice to get another famous spider or something.

Those four corner LEGs create such filling difficulty. NEVEU is particularly tough (French for nephew), but the KRESGE / EREBUS crossing was the place that gave me the most pause. Oof. Along with some of the usual EDA GELL OMOO ULM BELLI it sure felt like a lot of crossword glue. No doubt, placing those eight LEGs in such a fixed pattern makes for a very difficult filling challenge. I'd be interested to see what a few cheater squares would do to improve the final product — I wonder if a black square at the end of KRESGE and/or EREBUS would have allowed for a better result in the SE corner, for example.

It would have been nice to get a more spider-like visual — sort of like the logo on Spider-man's chest — but still, an interesting grid image with three really nice interlocking theme answers.

Wed 6/29/2016

Sometimes it's fun to finish a puzzle and wonder what the heck the theme is.

I thoroughly enjoyed this solve, as there were so many great clues employing wordplay. [It's on the house] for WEATHERVANE, [Emerson or Dickinson] misdirecting toward writers instead of COLLEGEs, [Tooth that turns] befuddling me until I realized it was a COG, not an incisor or molar. But what was the theme?

Took me a while to realize that WEATHERVANE, RAVE REVIEW, DEAD BATTERY, and EMPTY CHAIR are connected by the fact that they all have clever wordplay clues somehow relating to the meaning of "free." WEATHERVANE "on the house," RAVE REVIEW "complimentary," DEAD BATTERY having "no charge," and EMPTY CHAIR simply "free." Neat idea!

It's too bad EMPTY CHAIR felt like the odd man out; kind of an arbitrary-sounding phrase. EMPTY SEAT felt better to my ear, but that's unfortunately one letter too few. The other three themers are so strongly in the language that I didn't even realize they might be themers!

John uses the "windmill" pattern for his four themers. This often makes it easier to construct a clean grid, and John does really well in that regard. The only hitch I had was at GELEE, which I usually think of as a food product. But it's totally fair game, since the crossings are all reasonable.

I might have liked all the themers laid out in the across direction, though — that would have made the theme stand out more for me. As it was, all the great fill — BOWL OVER, SPY RING, BUTT DIAL, even OH BOY — muddied up what was fill and what was theme. That's a usual potential drawback to the windmill pattern, and that factor came into play even more than usual today.

Perhaps using a revealer would have made for a crisper bow on the puzzle? I'm not sure what that would be though, especially since the word "free" is employed in the clue for EMPTY CHAIR.

Excellent wordplay and a colorful, smooth grid, but perhaps some potential for a more impactful a-ha moment left on the table.

POW Thu 6/30/2016

★ Debut, and what a brilliant idea! The mysterious clues kept me in the dark for the longest time, even after I had uncovered TOP / OFF. And it continued even after I pieced together DEFECTIVE BULLET — how could "B0B" possibly describe that? What a fantastic a-ha moment, realizing that you have to lop off the top of "B0B," getting DUD as a result. Here are the others, with a helpful graphic from Jonathan:

  • TB8L gives IDOL
  • 8V8TB forms OVOID
  • My favorite, VMB making VIVID. Cutting off the top of M results in an I V I — so cool!

I'm typically not a fan of "definitional" puzzles, where the grid answers sound like they're taken from Merriam Webster. But it worked so well today, since I really needed those definitions in order to finally get my moment of clarity. SUPERSTAR would have been a fine, in-the-language answer for IDOL (and EGG SHAPED for OVOID), but I kind of like how SHAPED LIKE AN EGG feels like it's prodding me to keep on thinking. I needed that nudge!

There's a bit of APER AMOR ATALE crossword glue in the grid, but it's pretty minor stuff, especially considering all four themers are very long. It's not easy to pull off a perfectly clean grid using four grid-spanners, but Jonathan did well. Check out the west and east sections, which are usually the hardest (since you have to work with the beginnings or ends of two long themers) — the east is the roughest spot with TARDE (tough foreign word), ATALE (partial), RETAG (sort of arbitrary RE- word), but the west is so nice. Not a dab of crossword glue in there.

I might have liked a little more bonus fill, but that's a minor complaint when the theme idea is this good. SILLY ME is awfully nice, anyway, and I do like me some Harry Potter referenced in SEEKERS.

All in all, a fantastic debut. So, so, so enjoyable; a very memorable theme.