Andrew creates a lot of indie puzzles, making "stair stack" arrangements one of his calling cards. I really like this puzzle's stair stack, CEREAL BOXES / YOU CALLED IT / SPIDEY SENSE a great triple. CEREAL BOXES is already pretty good by itself, but getting a delightful wordplay clue — [Life preservers?], playing on Life cereal — makes it even better.
Stair stacks usually have a couple of long answers running through them, but it's unusual to get a grid-spanner right down the middle. TEACHABLE MOMENT makes that stair stack even better. Weave in PINA COLADA and HOLY SPIRIT — along with PTEROSAUR and COUSIN ITT — and that's a great center of the puzzle.
I also enjoyed some of the other entries, like GO TIME and PRECALC. However, the featured center took up so much real estate that Andrew was forced to use so many short answers in the periphery of the grid.
Three-letter words ... yeah, 16 is definitely high for a themeless. It's not a problem in its own right, but having them concentrated in the four corners gave the puzzle a choppy feel. Jumping from ORD to PTL to SCH to SAS to SEN messed with my solving feng shui.
Some potential left on the table, too. ICE PALACES is a great use of a precious long slot. But ADDERLEY is okay, but not flashy. Similarly, TSARINAS, ELENORE, IMITATING. Glad to see that Andrew and I agreed on this.
Beautiful center of the puzzle. If the periphery had matched in quality, this could have been a POW! contender.
★ Trenton used CTHULHU in his last themeless, and I enjoyed it, what with my fascination with HP Lovecraft. It's such an awesomely bizarre string of letters!
I imagine that other solvers might have hated it — if you don't already know it, it's such a horribly bizarre string of letters!
I bet QUEEQUEG and TZATZIKI will elicit similar responses today. I understand if some solvers rage at the kooky-looking entries, but I loved them. Great way to incorporate rare letters, those Qs and Zs immediately injecting some zing into the solving experience. Plus, QUEEQUEG is from a classic, Moby Dick, so educated solvers ought to at least be familiar with the cast of characters.
Toss in an X in XENON GAS, and another Z in TRAVEL SIZE? Love it! And yet another Z in GODZILLA? Yes! I don't like it when constructors force in rare letters, glopping glue all over to hold the grid together, so it was a real treat to get so many rare ones with just the negligible AGTS employed.
And let's not forget about the other great entries Trenton worked in. TIME SLOT. UNSUNG HERO. ALTAR BOY. SPAMALOT. TIRE IRON. YES AND NO? Nope, definitely yes!
Impressively clever clues, too. MANHOLES is a solid entry. Playing on "main" — in this case, a water main — made it even better. "Good to go" hinting at TRAVEL SIZE was fantastic, too.
It's not a revolutionary grid — not that hard to execute on a 70-word themeless. But Trenton used his four corner stacks so well and knitted everything together so elegantly. A work of art.
David PROVING THEM WRONG today, showing that plenty of teams have Is. Although I've seen plenty of crosswords based around THERES NO I IN TEAM — perfect for a revealer at 15 letters! — I liked the a-ha moment I got from this implementation. David hid the teams well, DETROIT / TIGERS becoming apparent only after I had already started thinking about TIGERS as [Aggressive types].
The grid felt just a touched choked off, and it was no wonder, as David went up to 142 words. I didn't mind though, as there was still adequate solving flow, no subsection was *too* choked off.
I do like the 140 word maximum, which forces constructors to work in good long fill like WINE TASTERS, HOME STANDS, VIOLA DAVIS, WEIMARANER, NO CONTEST. But for tougher themes to execute on, I think it's good to allow constructors to bend the rules.
Why is this tough to execute on, you ask? Because working around crossing theme answers can be super tricky, especially when they need to be around the periphery of the puzzle. Take DETROIT / TIGERS for example. That north section of the puzzle is forced to be biggish due to the themer interlock. Biggish section + two crossing answers fixed into place usually means it's no bueno. David did well, just a NEV while working in ROADIE, ERRATA.
I did notice that David did rely too heavily on a specific type of crossword glue. Notice the common thread between ENATE FER HOD AJA SAMOS ROC MOS ANON? Not only are they oddball words, but they all perfectly alternate vowel / consonant. Probably something only we constructors notice, but it screams CONSTRUCTOR'S CRUTCH! to me. Would have been better to use more diverse glue, to make it all less noticeable.
Usually I dislike when a crossword doesn't display theme symmetry. But that was impossible today, and I liked the tightness(ish) of the theme set — too bad the Pirates had to be left out, that would have been perfect! — enough to look the other way.
★ Beautiful Monday puzzle. Interesting theme full of fresh finds, a couple of bonuses in the fill, and a smooth grid. Nothing more I could ask for!
C.C. riffs on DOUBLETREE = phrases with two trees embedded within them. I highlighted them below in case you couldn't locate them. Particularly nice one in BALDERDASH! It's so densely packed with trees, plus it's a fun word to say.
C.C. is so, so, so good with her fill bonuses. DON'T BLOW IT? No way she would --- AMEN TO THAT. And a BARISTA, DR DOOM, and SARA LEE? Nobody doesn't like that!
And when NNE is the only grid entry that feels gluey, you've done incredibly well. Superb craftsmanship.
The only nit I had was that it took me forever to think of TEA in STEALTH FIGHTER. I was a bit slow to find FIG to begin with, and then I thought there might something called a TEAL tree? After much Googling, I headdesked when I figured things out.
I often wish that puzzles don't get dumbed down; that solvers be allowed to discover and earn their a-ha moment. Here though, TEA tree feels not as easily recognizable as the ASH or ALDER (I might say the same for TEAK), so I would have preferred shading them in the grid.
Ooh, trees providing shade! That would have been so meta.
ADDED NOTE: Astute reader Janie Smulyan commented that ARBORS are indeed [Shady places]! Another call for shading; that would have been awesome!
Minor quibble aside, a near-perfect start to the week; a puzzle I'd happily give to any newer solver.
Tight and specific theme set today, adjectives in the form of [food] + [body part] + (E)D. Not sure I would have ever thought of it! MUTTON HEADED is so much fun to say.
I've heard of HONEY TONGUED before. Silver-tongued felt more spot-on, but honey works too.
BUTTER FINGERED felt a bit odd in the adjective form. It does have dictionary support, but don't you call people butterfingers, not BUTTERFINGERED?
CHICKEN LIVERED? Lily-livered, yeah. Chicken, yeah. But chicken-livered? I'd be a bit chicken to use that in actual conversation.
Oh, there's PIE EYED in the middle of the grid, too. I've seen that term in crosswords before.
Note how little flexibility Peter had in laying out his grid. With PIE EYED in the middle column, he was forced to place the 14s in rows 3 and 13. You can shift BUTTERFINGERED one square to the left, and/or swap it with CHICKEN LIVERED, but there's not a lot of options otherwise.
I thought Peter did pretty well with his grid bonuses, a lot of interesting entries like PROUD PAPA, SIBELIUS, RED TIDES, BUDAPEST helping keep solvers amused if they didn't connect with the theme.
There were some prices to pay for all the big swaths of white space: IONA, TODDS, SOV, DEO, SSE feeling gluey. It's not a trade-off I would have made for an early-week puzzle, but I can appreciate the thought behind it.
More and more though, I feel that themes and grids ought to sync in their difficulty level. This felt like a Monday theme with a Friday grid, and that created some dissonance for me. It was so hard to solve the grid, for just a Monday-theme payoff.
And there were several clues I struggled with:
Aside from all the theme/ grid/clue difficulty mismatch problems, I enjoy encountering theme sets I wouldn't have thought of myself.
Quip puzzle, riffing on taking something for kleptomania. Amusing one-liner.
With entries of length 14 13 14, you can only really place them in rows 4, 8, 12. (You could put them in 3, 8, 13 to give yourself better spacing, but that produces unsightly black bars like in yesterday's grid.) Sometimes as a constructor, you find a single option that fortuitously works, and you count your lucky stars!
I found it a bit odd that the 5-letter entries bracketing the quote — I HAVE and FOR IT — were in row 2, not more elegantly in row 1. But I imagine it facilitated better fill, so I'm perfectly fine with that trade-off.
With quip puzzles, it's so important to add in zazz through strong long bonuses. Otherwise, the puzzle can feel thin if the solver doesn't find the one-liner that funny. I loved WHOVILLE, OJIBWA, SUBURBIA, IDITAROD, even COIN-OP, US NAVY. Wow, that's a lot!
I didn't love ROBO, ELL, OSIS, OSA, OTRO, ANS, SPYS. Yikes, that's a lot!
Usually, I'd heavily lean toward cleaning up the puzzle at the price of taking away some of the good long fill. But 1.) there's not a lot Richard could have done, as he's already at 78 words, 2.) the themer lengths are SO constraining, and 3.) quip puzzles really, really, really need bonuses.
Perhaps a couple of minor fixups could have helped — cheater squares at the S of YAMS and first S of SPYS could have stricken out ROBO, ELL, OSA, SPYS. Or maybe at the Y of YAMS and last S of SPYS.
It takes an amazing one-liner to carry a puzzle. This one wasn't there for me, but I did appreciate some of the bonuses.
Creative idea, BUBBLES UP meaning that the Os in soft drinks rose to the top. Fun to see those O-shaped bubbles!
The annoying engineer in me wondered why oxygen bubbled up, though. It's carbon dioxide! CO2! NOT O2! IT'S WRONG! WRONG WRONG WRONG! IF IT'S JUST O-SHAPED BUBBLES, WHY IS EACH THEMER IMPLYING OXYGEN BY PROVIDING EXACTLY TWO OS?
Man, that engineer is annoying. Just enjoy the O-shaped bubbles, will you?
I liked that Bruce found so many themers, without repeating a key word like SODA or COLA. Tough task.
Solid grid, lots to love in MALL RATS, SLY WINKS, RAW DATA, CAT TREAT, AD BIZ. Bruce is getting so good at injecting long bubbly fill into his grids.
(EEE WIDTH ... not so much. We'll look the other way for that one.)
Yeah, there's some AMAT ANOS EINE in the short fill, but I'm okay with these as prices to pay for all the great long bonuses. And considering Bruce had to build around five themers, I think he did well!
The one real flaw: the BDAY / BENNET crossing. I expect a good deal out of educated solvers, but knowing all 100 senators seems unrealistic. With DDAY, VDAY, and BDAY all fine answers for an [Annual celebration, for short], a more specific clue was badly needed.
Maybe that's just sour grapes, as I guessed VENNET. It seemed plausible at the time.
Fun a-ha moment when I realized what was going on with the O-shaped bubbles — after beating down the annoying engineer complaining about accuracy, that is.
I generally like the younger vibe of Caleb's puzzles. I don't always know what all his entries are or mean or even how to pronounce them, so when I do, I feel like I'm hip!
Saying I'm hip probably means I'm not.
If I were Will, I might have given Caleb this reply to his submission:
"So much to love in this grid! TRANSGENDER / PIANO SONATA / YOGA PANTS / GINORMOUS makes for a fantastic central skeleton. Kicking it off with BEATS BY DRE, and ending with GO COMMANDO, along with COKE ZERO and CINNABON in the other corners — this is nearly a slam-dunk yes.
I might let ELOI slide, but the ugly variant EGIS crossing RETIME, along with SSR and SSE? Can you take another crack at least the south region and resubmit?"
What an odd clue in LEI as Romanian currency. It's technically correct, as the LEU is singular and LEI plural. I guess the editorial team got tired of flower necklaces? I'd much rather have a tired clue than a bizarre one like this.
Thankfully, to make up for it, there was an absolutely A+ clue in [Stone that's cast]. That's EMMA Stone cast in a movie, not a stone cast Biblically. I'm hip to that!
Right. Not at all hip. Double drat.
Tremendous visual impact — such humongous swaths of white space! A real eye-catcher. It even looks a little like an eye.
Triple stacks on the top and bottom, grid-spanners in the center ... are you singing along to "Stuck in the Middle with You," too?
I did get stuck in the middle, unfortunately, which was frustrating since the grid is so sectioned off: top, middle, bottom. And to hit PLATIES ... wha …? I'm super glad I've seen RIO RITA in crosswords before. Otherwise, that T would have been a total guess. Same goes for ELAND, although I do think that most animals are fair game.
As one would expect, lots of compromises to hold the triple-stacks together. I thought Roland did better in the bottom than the top. A LOOP, REROOT, at least those are gettable. Not great to have the RE- addition reoccur in REOCCUR, but that does feel like a more common RE- usage than REROOT. AWACS and ACTA ain't great either, OYE.
And TASSETS. Again ... wha?
Maybe those are related to PLATIES?
But BIOLUMINESCENCE / INTEREST RATE CUT / TESTED THE WATERS were so snazzy and solid that I surprisingly didn't mind the splotches of glue everywhere. That's a great triple payoff.
Also surprising that the top, with the lesser evils of ETE TAE ICI CITS bothered me more. Why? LAST THE DISTANCE didn't last the distance.
GO THE DISTANCE! Go go go! LAST? No no no! If I'm going to be made to slog through crossword glue, it has to be worthwhile.
I have a feeling I'll hear gripes from solvers today, but I think there's a place for these wildly-eye catching grids every once in a while. This one had its strong points.
Homophonic plays on phrases, all relating to commuting. I thought I'd seen everything when it comes to straight-up homophone replacements, but BUSSED YOUR BUTT made me laugh out loud.
And given that traffic is terrible in Seattle, I know a ROUTE OF ALL EVIL or two (or eighteen). PAY YOUR FARE SHARE gave me a smile too, so apt for splitting a cab. (I'm too old to trust Uber. Get me a cab, you whippersnappers!)
Sometimes puns and homophones get too tortured for my taste. MAKE THE TEEM = arrive at a bustling spot? Tortured! I NEED TO LOSE WAIT? Wait, what? They just don't make sense to me. I know, you can make them make sense if you stare at them long enough.
Ruth uses a nice trick to squeeze in extra themers, placing two vertically in the NE / SE corners. That often helps to separate themers, allowing for better spacing. It's especially good when there are just seven themers, as you can spread out the five across themers so far apart that they hardly can talk to each other.
With six across themers, this is much more difficult, because you can no longer consistently alternate left/right — check out CRAMPING MY STILE and ROUTE OF ALL EVIL, directly atop each other. That's crampng the themers' style. There's bound to be a lot of vertical entries that need to work with both, and that'll create problems. See: DDR and RESOD.
Likewise, in the symmetrical spot, see BSA / OBLA / MOUE / USHED.
With so much interaction between themers, it wasn't a surprise to get a lot of NEER MGMT ANOS IOR AUST ONEK IS AT, etc. The grid could have used another revision or two; a little gloopy around the edges. Definitely possible to get a smoothish result with eight themers, but it ain't easy.
Sunday 140-word grids are so tough to execute on. I did like some of the bonuses in ARMY MOM, RABBIT HOLE, PRESENT DAY, so along with the themers that tickled me, there was enough to keep me mostly entertained.
DRINKS ARE ON ME? What a nice offer, Gary! Make mine a quadruple — that is, four drinks literally atop the bigram ME. I had a nice a-ha after putting in SIDECAR as a [Motorcycle attachment], and then realizing that a SIDECAR is also a mixed drink.
The others didn't work as well for me, as the drink definitions of MIMOSA, GIMLET, and MARTINI are much more recognizable than their … whatever else they are. The MIMOSA is a tropical tree? A GIMLET is embarrassingly unrecognizable to this mechanical engineer as a [Hand tool for boring holes]?
And maybe I should know Danny DeVito's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" role, as a character named MARTINI? It is a classic movie, I suppose. Huh.
Point is, it's much nicer when the drink is disguised in another easily recognizable form. Perhaps a SCREWDRIVER or BLOODY MARY would have been better. Tougher to build around, for sure, but more fun. Especially for a Monday puzzle that's supposed to be easy!
Speaking of tough to build around, DRINKS ARE ON ME is 13 letters, such a dread-inducing length. Plunking it down in the center of the puzzle already takes away so much precious flexibility. I can see why Gary chose to stick to shorter drinks. Much easier to wedge in MIMOSA than to jam in a long SCREWDRIVER.
That sounded a lot dirtier than it really was.
Although you can shift the ME letters left and right a lot, having those extra letters is still an additional set of constraints. Gary did pretty darn well to hold the crossword glue to just some APAR, EPS, STE. FLACKS did sound odd to me in the plural, but it does get dictionary support as [Press agents]. Huh.
A bit repetitive to fill in those MEs — once you hit the revealer, it's all too easy to fill in whatever MEs you haven't gotten to yet. But I liked the playful theme notion and really liked how Gary disguised his SIDECAR.
★ I love an early-week puzzle that's JUST FOR KICKS! (KICKS is what the young kids call shoes these days. Well, not anymore now that I've started to use the term myself.)
Such a hilarious image of a cat burglar, walking upside-down across a ceiling in fashionable SUCTION shoes. Love it! And PLATFORM shoes no doubt make you the life of the PARTY. Great repurposing of the common political phrase, PARTY PLATFORM.
WATER MOCCASINS wasn't as amusing to me, as you can't see synchro swimmers' feet that much, but it worked well as a kooky redefining of the moccasin snakes.
I liked the theme notion so much that I would have loved a fifth themer. But not sure what that could be — maybe FLATS, in TORTILLA FLATS? HEELS, in TAR HEELS?
Totally fine to stick to four though, especially if you're going to buckle down and make the grid great. So much room for bonuses in the fill and Sam and Tracy didn't disappoint. MEMOIRS, TROUNCED, G FORCES, HOOPLA, SUPERSIZED? WHAT A TREAT! Sam and Tracy, YOU WIN!
Note how well they spaced out their bonus fill, alternating up / down, trying to keep them as far apart as possible. Generally speaking, the less long bonuses have to interact with each other, the easier it is to fill the grid smoothly.
And a nice and smooth product, indeed. I might have tried harder to avoid EMIR and EDDA for an early-week puzzle, but I can see the case for those being terms an educated solver ought to know. Short gluey entries are usually easier to ignore, anyway, than longer globs. Something like GO NOW is a bit harder to let slide — seems a bit awkward, doesn't it?
But those are minor nits. An early-week puzzle that both gives me this many kicks, and demonstrates high craftsmanship, easily deserves a POW!
Figures of speech … using sewing terms? Not sure I would have ever thought of that! I like it when that happens.
MOVE THE NEEDLE is particularly good, as it's pretty far away from sewing — it refers to something being important enough to appreciably shift the indicator dial on a dashboard.
The others have sewing-related backgrounds in how the phrases came about, so they weren't quite as fantastic, but they still work well in this theme set.
I appreciated that Mike kept consistent with his verb tenses, all present. It's so tempting as a constructor to change one entry's tense in order to appease the gods of crossword symmetry.
It would have been perfect consistency if every phrase had a (verb) + THE + (noun) form. Ah well, you can't win ‘em all. Just finding four solid sewing-related figures of speech, using the same tense, is a win.
Solid gridwork, hard to find even a single dab of crossword glue. I think it's so elegant when you can't quite tell how the creator put it all together.
DEVEIN was the lone entry that made me hesitate. It looked like such a weird string of letters. But Jill and I have DEVEINed shrimp (what a pain), so ultimately it felt fine.
Toss in a bit of BROWN RICE and PIANO ROLL, along with ON THE SLY, and you have yourself enough bonuses to keep solvers' attention. I usually prefer long bonus fill in the down direction, since long across fill tends to muddy up what is theme and what is not. But today, the themers are so apparent that BROWN RICE is perfectly fine where it is.
The theme wasn't exciting enough for me to put the puzzle into POW! contention, but I did appreciate seeing a theme angle I doubt I'd ever think of.
Word ladder, from ROLL to CALL to VOTE. That's a fun concept, linking these words in an interesting way.
This might have been better as a straight-up word ladder (like in a Penny Press word games magazine), not as a crossword puzzle. Word ladders have been done to death in crosswords, so you have to do something amazing to make them stand out.
I get that Will simply wants to make Thursday puzzles harder than Wednesday puzzles. But it was SO much work to uncover the unclued steps of the word ladder, and for such little payoff.
I would have given up halfway through if I didn't feel obsessed with completing the puzzle every day.
I did appreciate Joe's efforts to try to snazz up the solving experience, working in great bonuses like ROYAL BLOOD, AERIAL PHOTO, CHOKE COLLAR, LOVERS LEAP — that's great stuff! But it wasn't enough to get past 1.) all the crossword glue necessary to hold all those short themers together, or 2.) the mismatch between how hard it was to fill in the rungs of the ladder and how little of an a-ha moment there was.
A colorful trio anchoring this puzzle:
Cool grid pattern, so tough to fill in the SW / NE corners. I get why Sam used a trio of black squares in each location, as turning these types of corners can be so tough without them. Unfortunately, these cheater squares nibble away at precious long slots, reducing 6-Across from nine to just seven letters. I like AGA KHAN all right, but it's not nearly as good as PRINT RUNS to me.
A good amount of nice material in this one, SPORTS BAR, DNA BANK, PHOENICIA snazzing up the joint. But with just 11 long answers (of 8+ letters), and ARR DIA ALPH TRAN to hold it all together … it's a very tough grid pattern to fill to my POW! standards.
Sam is ON FLEEK today! (The kids these days, they stopped using the term once I started using it.)
It's tough to have both 1.) a grid-spanning 15-letter entry and 2.) a ton of other long slots (8+) letters, while making all those entries sizzle. There's so much to love here, from NETFLIX ORIGINAL (thanks NETFLIX, for saving "Arrested Development"!) to ABC ISLANDS to EXCUSE YOU to GEL INSOLES to ANTIDOTES. Sam is one of the best constructors around when it comes to converting his long slots to winners.
So many great debut entries, too. I love BENTO BOXes at sushi or teriyaki places, giving you a bit of everything. FAT ELVIS is hilarious! Although I haven't seen LEO MESSI play, enough people gush about him that I think educated solvers ought to at least be familiar with his name.
All this, with just STOA and LENOS holding things together? Superb craftsmanship.
It was so close to a POW! But ...
I know, I know, such ridiculous nit-picking! Themeless standards have rocketed up over the past few years. Even two years ago, this might have been a slam-dunk POW! pick for me. Today, this one just missed out.
LAST ONE STANDING = final person in a trio oriented vertically. We've highlighted the people below in case you missed them.
One thing I thought Amanda, Karl, and Erik did particularly well: the LAST ONEs STANDING are buried within such juicy answers. It would have been very easy to place POP into POPE or APOP or something, so POPULAR OPINION is a real treat. NOD within ANNO DOMINI is great too, as is MARY within MAMMARY GLAND.
[Nursing facility?] for MAMMARY GLAND made me giggle. Uncomfortably. Not sure why.
Some lovely fill to spice things up, SHRINKY DINKS, SMALL WORLD, BROCADE. Excellent! Not much glue to hold it together, some TOK, ESL, ANIN, ANAT. Also excellent! Not a surprise to get a well-crafted grid, given Erik's high standards.
Well, except for WAITITI / POTAGE — wow, that's a tough crossing. Maybe we should all know either Taika WAITITI or a thick POTAGE? Not sure that's a reasonable expectation.
The theme did feel a bit thinly un-potage-like, given only four trios, especially since one didn't resonate with me. (I'm sure FRAN, KUKLA AND OLLIE will mean more to others.) Would have been great to get one more, although that would likely have meant reducing the snazzy long stuff like POPULAR DEMAND down to POPE-style shorties. I would have been okay with that.
Will isn't taking many "turning" type puzzles these days, because they've become overdone, but I like one now and again if the rationale is solid. I like today's interpretation of LAST ONE STANDING pretty well.
Good set of synonyms for BUZZ, as in slang for PHONE, DIAL, CALL, RING. The term DIAL amuses me, as generations after my own probably have no idea how much fun it was to play with a rotary DIAL phone.
Man, I had sucky toys as a kid.
I like it when I can't figure out a Monday theme until the revealer makes everything clear. I suppose I should have gotten it from the PHONE in PHONE JACK, but DIAL SOAP then obfuscated the idea well.
It's a shame that PHONE JACK was the only entry that didn't misdirect away from the, well, PHONE meaning. The leading words in DIAL soap, CALL to order, RING pops have nothing to do with the PHONE. So PHONE JACK sticks out like a sore thumb.
Or a rotary phone.
I couldn't think of a better replacement for PHONE jack, so I think I would have preferred to remove it. Might have felt thin with only four total themers, but overall, it would have made for a better theme set, each of the three synonyms very well hidden.
Ross has such strong gridwork skills. Love the bonuses of MACADAMIA, SNAIL MAIL, CANNED IT, even TEABAG, SCRIBES. Sure, there's an AMAT holding stuff together up top, but thankfully 1.) all the crossings are fair and 2.) it's the lone short offender in the puzzle.
There was a longer offender, UNICOLOR — don't most people say monochrome? It's an interesting word, but Monday puzzles ought to be super newbie-friendly. Best to avoid anything that might turn off the newbs, methinks. Mondays are so tough to construct!
I liked the idea overall, and if it hadn't been for a blip in the theme set and two blips in the grid execution, this could have entered POW! territory.
TRIGGER / WARNING … is what?
"A statement at the start of a piece of writing, video, etc., alerting the reader or viewer to the fact that it contains potentially distressing material (often used to introduce a description of such content)." Huh! I've of course seen these before, but the term TRIGGER WARNING was new to me.
Today, Peter uses it to tell us that three themers "hide" different weapons with triggers. I liked RIFLE THROUGH best, since it's a pretty colorful phrase, and it doesn't directly get at the shooting type of RIFLE.
BAZOOKA BUBBLE GUM does the same, but I've always thought of it as BAZOOKA GUM. I know, pedantic difference, plus the Wikipedia article is titled with BUBBLE in there. I'm clearly wrong here, as you can see in the pic.
RIDE SHOTGUN is the best of the themers, in terms of its snazziness, but the term originated from people in stage coaches riding up front with an actual shotgun. I suppose the term is *sort of* disguised, as these days, not many people ride in the passenger seat with a shotgun sticking out the window.
Fortuitous how the three long themers interlocked, to form a backbone to the puzzle. I'm not sure I liked it as a solver, though. It's so much easier to read long entries from left to right, compared to top to bottom. I would have preferred to have BAZOOKA BUBBLE GUM go in the middle row, with TRIGGER / WARNING flanking it, perhaps in rows 6 and 10.
I think Peter sometimes takes too many liberties with early-week puzzles, using tough vocab or esoteric names, or using a bit too much crossword glue to achieve a low word-count puzzle. I wasn't hot on MCI, ERG, TUM, DDR, but that's mostly passable for an early-weeker.
And I did like a lot of the ALLSPICE, ZOOTOPIA, FIREPLUG, WANGLE, ASYLUM fill. Certainly, the unusual layout helped make all those entries possible. Heck, with HESSIAN, HYDRATE, ARCHWAY, EPONYM, it would almost qualify for a decent themeless puzzle!
Overall, it's still a hard solve for a Tuesday, but not in a bad way.
Oh no! Or should I say, O no? Seriously, with all the crossword love Yoko gets, no ONO in the grid today?
Pretty easy to find words that become other words by removing an O. But it's hard to come up with themers that amuse. I thought Jeffrey did well in that regard, nearly all of them somewhat chuckle-worthy. CURSE CORRECTION was fantastic as a censor's job, and who doesn't like a PROPER NUN?
FUR ON THE FLOOR and CURT REPORTERS weren't as funny to me, as they weren't quite as ridiculous as I like in this type of theme. Or perhaps it's the fact that this cat owner has a ton of fur on his floor ...
For such a simple letter removal theme, it would have been nicer to have no other Os in the themers at least. Why take an O out of NOUN, but not PROPER?
O wait! Oh, you. Took me a while, but I realize after reading Jeffrey's note that it's not just a simple O removal, but an OU to U switch. Ah, that makes it much better. There aren't nearly as many words that can work like this. My bad.
Solid gridwork. Threading in a GOOD FAIRY, BULLFINCH, GETS READY, HIRES A CAR … although, I squinted at GOOD FAIRY at first. Are there bad fairies? Apparently yes! And HIRES A CAR sounded off, but I ain't no Brit, guv. So overall, good bonuses.
I appreciated the smooth grid, too, just an EER to hold it all together. Strong craftsmanship, especially considering the five long themers and the extras in the fill.
Wish I had realized there was more than just an O removal when I was solving. Too bad there wasn't a revealer to make me realize that.
Oh you, Jeffrey …
Remember that Skittles tagline, "Taste the rainbow!" Today, we solve the rainbow. Er, solve the rainbow using a purple for indigo + violet substitution.
So more like, solve the rainbow, but only in a manner of speaking. Esque. Ish.
It's no surprise that I stayed out of marketing.
(start sheepishness) I didn't realize this puzzle was supposed to be the rainbow flag — which has only six colors, not seven! Jim pointed that out to me after I groused about not adhering to ROY G. BIV. I'm especially embarrassed since pride month is huge here in Seattle. There are rainbow flags in every other storefront. (end sheepishness)
I enjoyed the entries that didn't work without the color. BAY PACKER means nothing by itself, but a lot of cheeseheads are going to enjoy seeing (GREEN) BAY PACKER in the grid today. Same goes for LANTERN — what a boring name for a superhero. GREEN LANTERN, now that's much better!
On the flip side, the path to an Oscar could be just a CARPET. And PEPPERS are salad items. Not completely necessary to think of these as (RED) CARPET and (YELLOW) PEPPERS, yeah? So they don't work as well as the other themers.
Interesting choice to work in ADIOS AMIGOS and OFF ONE'S GAME. Both a super solid pieces of fill. But they do masquerade as themers at first glance since they're the longest across answers. I might have preferred to break them up since AP SPANISH and PASTORATE are good enough bonuses for one puzzle.
Some nice finds, and excellent gridwork — so many short theme answers to work around. Check out how many down answers run through three themers, which usually is a huge problem. Amazing that the grid is so smooth.
Colors of the rainbow have been tapped for crosswords a bit too often, so something amazing has to be done to catch my attention. This one wasn't quite there for me. If PRIDE MONTH or RAINBOW FLAG had been in the grid somewhere (catching this unobservant idiot's attention), that could have done it. Heck, use one of those as a title, and it would have gotten some POW! consideration.
This grid exhibits a curious property for themelesses — more of the long answers are going in the down direction than the across. Usually, constructors try to orient all their feature stuff horizontally, since Americans are more used to reading left to right, compared to up to down (not so in other parts of the world!) My impression after solving was that there weren't many long feature entries at all, but that's not correct — there are a solid 12 entries of 8+ letters! Huh.
A little secret: any grid can be "flipped" about a diagonal axis from the NW to the SE (see right). All the entries are the same, simply presented in a different format. But what a difference presentation makes. The grid to the right looks so much more like a regular themeless to me, packed chock full of long goodness. I'M INNOCENT, VIDEO GAMES, TELEPROMPTER, PURPLE STATES, STARGAZING — so much that I'd be TANTALIZED!
Either way though, the grid has too much crossword glue for me to consider it for POW! contention: SYST RIAA TOLET AIRE IMET ATT is way over today's (very high) standards for a 70-word themeless. If that count gets above three or four, it doesn't feel elegant to me. It's possibly passable if all the glue makes amazing things happen, but that wasn't the case today.
Some amazing clues, though:
It's a shame. I think if the presentation had just been flipped, this one would have struck me more strongly.
Byron is one of the most clever folks around when it comes to wickedly brilliant clues. I appreciate how carefully he picks his seed entries — it's not good enough to have a snazzy phrase if it can't be clued devilishly. CELEBRITY CHEF is a fun marquee. It's elevated to stratospheric heights with the innocent — dare I say childlike? — [Childlike personality?]. That's Julia Child!
And ECONOMIC BOYCOTT repurposes the snappy phrase, "commercial break," to mean an interruption in commercial services. Such spot-on plays with language!
It's a shame that both of these did need the giveaway question mark, but they were so outstanding that I didn't mind.
Byron does tend to gather Jeffsquints for his entries, though. I did wonder if CELEBRITY CHEF was a valid phrase at first. Some Googling made it seem more than fine, but does this open the doors to CELEBRITY ANIMAL TRAINER? CELEBRITY CLOWN?
Hmm, I say. Hmm.
And ECONOMIC BOYCOTT gave me the same first impression. "Boycott" by itself, yes. "Sanctions," yes. Again, Google says that I don't know what I'm talking about (as do many others) — the full term is in many headlines. Still, it's not something I'd strive to seed a themeless with.
Some of his clues go over my head; too clever for this schmo. AGENDAS are covered by boards? Hmm, not in a literal sense. In board meetings? Yeah … sort of. I finally figured out that was referring to how the board of directors usually puts together an agenda in a board meeting. But it's usually the board chairperson who assembles the agenda. At the very least, this clue needed that question mark — without it, it doesn't quite work.
I don't mind some IMA AME SEENO crossword glue when it's in service of a wide-open 66-word grid. Solid gridwork.
This puzzle didn't have quite enough snazzy material for me to put it into POW! consideration, but it worked pretty darn well. Super tough to build around extra-long marquee answers in a 66-word grid, so Byron did a nice job.
★ Duuuh-duh. Duuuh-duh. Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh AAAA!
Something lost in translation there, the theme song to JAWS not quite as catchy on paper. However, I thought Tim did an excellent job of making this crossword catchy! Not just a DORSAL FIN made of rebus letters, but some good references to JAWS. Yes, he's a MAN EATING / SEA MONSTER, in a movie directed by SPIELBERG set on AMITY ISLAND. But I thought the cheeky ones were standouts:
I wasn't sure what the big black cross in the center represented? At first glance, I guessed that the puzzle would be about Dracula. Then I thought maybe it's an anchor? Sort of, although it doesn't quite get there. And an anchor doesn't seem all that JAWS-related.
Then I realized that there's so much theme material in the center, that Tim didn't have much choice but to use that big black cross. The fin rebus squares, SEA MONSTER, DEEP THREAT, GREAT / WHITE / SHARK — that's a lot of stuff you need to separate.
It's too bad. The fin visual is cool, but it's overshadowed by that black cross. This kind of thing tends to happen with Sunday visual art puzzles. Generally, it's better if you can make the visual out of the black squares instead of rebuses or circles, but that does also have the drawback of making things very obvious.
Great gridwork, otherwise. Tim's constructions are so solid. He's one of the few people I'd trust to give me such a smooth Sunday product, just a bit of HGTS STDS ELHI. Way less than average — and with more theme material than average! Such a top-notch constructor.
I like it when tribute puzzles do something a little different to make themselves stand out.
ADD TO CART is a modern phrase, fun to build a puzzle around. In this case, TEA cart, SHOPPING cart, GOLF cart, APPLE cart.
I like that it's a fairly tight theme — how many other ___ CART phrases can you think of? I got HAY cart and PUSH cart, but that's all. Elegant when a theme covers (almost) an entire set.
Not as elegant is the theme type in general. Most editors don't take "words that can follow X" themes anymore, because they've been done to death. Some new and amazing layer needs to be added to make a puzzle of this type stand out. As much as I like the phrase ADD TO CART, I don't think it's enough.
Kathy did a nice job of choosing snazzy themers though, TEA GARDEN (I loved traveling to Japan for work years ago!) and APPLE STRUDEL (constructors take note, I'm not above food bribes) my favorite. All solid.
As much as I enjoyed SOLAR PANEL and SEAPLANE, I wasn't sold on CAPRIs. Er, CAPRI PANTS. Not that this most unfashionable of folks would know, but aren't they just CAPRIs?
Also not so enjoyable: EBON ANON ETH TRA DST. None are impossible for a newbie to get, but it's a bit gloopy overall. I'm not sure that the UNAGI / GTOS crossing is fair, either. I'd be sympathetic to a newer solver grumbling about that. And newer solvers grumbling = no bueno.
Overall, I like the attempt to modernize an old theme type. Not totally successful, though.
I admit it took me a while to figure out what was going on. ALTOGETHER = AL TOGETHER … = A and L repeated in phrases? Ultimately, I think it's more simply AL + AL together. Confusing though, in that IN LA LA LAND is the only one with a third LA, and MALALA has an extra A.
What, no FA LA LA LA LA, LA LA LA LA? Grinch!
I enjoyed the diversity of theme answers. From KUALA LUMPUR to I AM MALALA to HALAL FOOD to CENTRAL ALPS — what a range! Especially that last one. (rimshot)
That's a ton of themers, intersecting, taking up a ton of real estate. FRAID SO that there's a bit of ANDA and ITHE, but that's pretty darn good given the constraints. And as much as I dislike partials, they are friendlier to newer solvers than weird words, esoteric abbreviations, tough names, etc.
Speaking of tough names, I don't mind a couple of toughies in my grid, even if there are one or two head-busting ones. For a newb though, I'm not sure that ANI IMAN LAILA OPIE RAE SHERA is very friendly. I worry that this sort of pile-up might be quite a turn-off.
I enjoyed the creative parsing of ALTOGETHER = AL TOGETHER. But I wish it had provided a stronger click; a sharper, more smile-inducing a-ha moment.
My a-ha moment was one of relief today. DROP THE THE is such a great phrase, uttered so well by Justin Timberlake (playing Sean Parker in "The Social Network"). Suddenly, my growing annoyance that most of the theme phrases were missing the THE made sense! Hooray, it was just me being the idiot!
What, you're wondering why I said "most of the theme phrases"? Well, POP QUESTION seemed like a real thing at the time, just kookily defined. Why, you're wondering? I don't know. Maybe it sounds a bit like "pop quiz"?
And then WHATS MATTER felt like a different type of themer, perhaps playing on James Watt? Okay, he's technically not a physicist. So sue me.
Made for a confused Jeff. Not a bad thing, especially when it's just a temporary state.
Some nice bonuses worked in, SANTA HAT and ICE SKATES so pleasant. Baby Doc DUVALIER, not so much. Also not so much: SRTA ESTAB EOE SERIO ETO. I would have preferred fewer bonuses in exchange for more smoothiosity — along with DUVALIER, LATE LATIN didn't do a lot for me. ISNT IT TIME also felt weaker than SANTA HAT.
My general philosophy is that two strong bonuses in the fill are better than six that range from ho-hum to strong. Quality over quantity.
I love riffing on such a memorable phrase, DROP THE THE, so ripe for wordplay. Given that there are so many three-word phrases where the middle word is THE, I was hoping for funnier themers. And perhaps POP QUESTION seeming too much like a real thing was my fault, but I would have liked for every one of them to feel "wrong" in exactly the same way.
Executing on this grid was such a damn pain. Stacking pairs of themers is rarely easy, and I felt like I needed a bunch of pairs, since they were all so short-looking. Stick in ENTER at the middle right — where it is on a keyboard — and put five theme pairs in. Couldn't be too hard, right?
Why do I torture myself?
Even without real themer symmetry (gasp, I know!), I had so many problems in so many places in the grid. Take the SE, for example. I tried shifting CHICK / IYAKI up, adding cheaters, shifting black squares around, but what you see was the best I could do. It bugged me to cross SHEEHY with AIMEE — should educated solvers know at least one of these two? I think so, but I'm not 100% positive.
I started by filling around each themer pair, then tried to knit everything together, using snazzy long answers. That was painful. I do like OPERA STARS, FREE SPIRITS, STILETTO, even CREDENTIALS. But ATTRACTANT felt so boring. With only six long slots, I so badly wanted to make them all count.
And although ATTRACTANT forced me to do things like CEES (ick!) and THANES (boo!), it was the best of all the dozens of attempts I made in that SW section. Working around a long answer in ATTRACTANT plus THE plus TAINER was so rough.
As a sanity check before submitting this grid to Will, I asked Jill if she knew who Chrissy TEIGEN was. She nearly hit me upside the head, because OF COURSE SHE'S CROSSWORTHY! It was a huge relief, as whenever I ask Jill if something/someone is crossworthy, the answer is usually a silent stink-eye.
★ OMG that top stack! Fresh, clean, snazzy. Triply love love love! BADA BING BADA BOOM nearly earned the POW! by itself. And it helps that I've always been fascinated by the DUKE OF WELLINGTON, whose nickname was "the Iron Duke." Why can't I get a nickname like that?!
Weaving in NAWLINS (slang for New Orleans), BYLINES, ODOMETER with its beautiful clue — in the middle of a (car) dash, indeed — talk about ON TARGET!
With nary a dab of glue in sight — okay, some might struggle with ELO, Electric Light Orchestra — it's so elegantly constructed. A real beaut, that top half.
I like that David's been experimenting with 16-letter entries in his themelesses. Much easier to pick fresh-feeling ones, given that themelesses so rarely go to 16x15. I'm a big fan.
I didn't enjoy the bottom stack quite as much, given that CRISTIANO RONALDO isn't meaningful to this non-soccer fan (I know, I'm an infidel!). And MASTER CONTROLLER felt workable, but not nearly as spicy as TALENT MANAGEMENT.
Puzzles like this often don't have much zazz outside of the stacks, but I enjoyed SLURPEES, CAST LOTS, even SCIPIO. And truth be told, it didn't take much to push the top stack greatness past the threshold, earning David yet another POW!
Solid example of the "stair stack" arrangement that's quickly becoming a tried and true themeless type.
Since most themelesses these days are super solid and well crafted — they have to be to pass the ever-rising bar — so much of one's experience is personal connection. For me, I loved CONSTANTINE, as he was such an amazing, albeit controversial, historical figure. And BY JOVE is such a funny expression! Great use of that mid-length slot.
I hadn't heard of BROTOX — neither had Jill, surprisingly since she likes to keep up with fashion and pop culture — but another nice piece of fresh, mid-length fill. Imminently gettable, and good for a laugh.
Overall though, this one was a bit grim for my taste — DRUG CARTELS fighting their ARCHRIVALS for turf selling E-CIGARETTES? BY JOVE, I felt like the puzzle was going to EAT me ALIVE! All colorful answers ... they'll likely resonate better with others.
UNCLE MILTIE didn't do much for me either, but I'm sure people of an older generation will love seeing him here. I do like that Andy drew from a wide range, trying to give something for everyone.
The only nit I'd pick in terms of craftsmanship is the preponderance of FAA NSA WBO SSW DXC. The first two are perfectly fine — maybe even the third. And I generally have an easier time overlooking gloopy three-letter fill, compared to four or especially five-letter glue. These five shorties all feel so similar that they tend to compound each other, though.
GRANOLA indeed had a standout clue. Total confusion for me at first, followed by a fantastic click. Beautifully done, Andy!