Something gorgeous about the flow of this grid. Most themelesses pack their punch in the four corners, so I admire the novelty of this layout, featuring so many long entries from top (BLANKET HOG) to middle (THIS SECOND, STOLEN CARS), to bottom (MASHED PEAS).
Almost looks like a racetrack, starting from BONDS, doing a figure 8 around the two loops in the NE then SW, finishing up at LYONS. Appropriate to include [Hot wheels?], an outstanding clue (repurposing the popular toy brand) that made STOLEN CARS even better.
Those big, flowing corners can make construction tough (see: SIMONES / SOG, yikes!). The extra black squares — three in the NE corner, three in the SW — make a constructor's job easier. (I'd guess about a factor of five times easier.) I don't mind the visual appearance, but some editors have let me know that they feel differently.
I appreciated that Ari still managed to work in some great material around those tough corners. NONE FOR ME is good. SCREENER too, as well as AD COUNCIL. That last one didn't wow me, but it felt fresh; something I hadn't seen in many (any?) crosswords before.
Oh, that NW corner. When people ask me to critique their grids-in-progress, I usually do a quick scan to identify potential trouble spots. Most of the time it's tough letter sequences that raise yellow flags, but big, open spaces can also do it.
I'd have advised breaking up that space, as a 6x5 region constrained by two long answers is generally going to be rough. See: UNARMS, RETOOK, ONELS, NATAL. None of those is a puzzle-killer, but it's an unfortunate way to kick off a themeless solving experience. Perhaps moving the black squares above TAHOE to the left, to create more of a 5x5 space in the NW, would have helped.
I appreciated the unique, fresh feel to the grid layout. Too many compromises required, though.
★ Riffing on Will's note, it looks like Erik's going to be the most published person in the NYT crossword this year. For years, there was a heated battle for that title, between old guarders Manny Nosowsky, Patrick Berry, Liz Gorski, Nancy Salomon, and more. It's amazing to see how long Patrick was in the running year after year — almost two decades!
Then came this Steinberg guy. And that funny-looking Chen dude. It even looked like C.C. Burnikel might take the title at one point.
But then came Agard. En garde!
He's swept in like a force of nature. It looks like the crossworld will be his for as long as he wants it. Astonshing output.
Sunday puzzles as of late haven't been inspiring, so I appreciated Erik's breath of not-so-fresh air today. Here in Seattle, where pot shops are vying with coffee places for retail dominance, pot terms abound. I once made a pot-related crossword myself (unfortunately, for the now-defunct Buzzfeed crossword.)
What I like so much about this one is that there's a limited number of pot-related terms — it's hard enough to come up with enough theme phrases, period. Then you tighten things up by forcing yourself to make all the themers relate to each other? That's a bit of magic there.
Not all the themers were as pot-specific as I would have liked — PUFF, SMOKE, and ROLLING are more general than POT, JOINT, BAKED — but it all works.
I also liked that Erik kept the grid at 140 words, making for an easyish fill to go with his easyish theme. I did struggle with NOSRAT, even after having seen "Salt Fat Acid Heat." An easier clue for UTES would be appreciated, but other than that, the crossings seemed fair.
Along with a couple of strong clues — I like Princess LEIA quotes, and TWA inside of "jetway" is a fun find — and some great bonuses in OFF THE GRID, KEGSTANDS, FLOOR MODEL, even MODESTY, it made for a pleasant solving experience.
I did feel a strong urge to get me some White Castle as I solved, though …
Too bad this one wasn't run during the (GOOD) DOG days of summer. (That may be for the best since there are no such things as good dogs days of summer, says this self-professed West coast weather wimp.)
I was curious if this set of commands — STAY, HEEL, COME, SIT, SHAKE, DOWN — was a tight, complete set. FETCH and BEG were the one other one-worders that felt like they belonged. Hard to find phrases that can hide them, though, so I like the set Lynn chose.
The themers are a mix of one-worders, hyphenations, and two-worders. I would have preferred more consistency, which should have been possible, given how common all six words are. But at least Lynn didn't have five of one and a single outlier. A diverse mix is the next best thing to 100% consistency.
Not as smooth and newb-friendly as a usual Lempel grid. Hmm. Why is that?
One of the curiosities of grid design is that it's often difficult to start with an 8-letter themer. 9-10 letters is ideal.
But Jeff, doesn't a longer themer introduce more constraints? Surely, the shorter the better?
(You were expecting me to drop a "length matters" joke, weren't you? I admit, I thought about it.)
Check out the NE and SW corners. See how chunky they are? That's primarily dictated by the eight-letter MAINSTAY forcing a six-square width in the NE. It's possible to break up that space more than Lynn did, but that's not a trivial task. With that much space, it's tough to avoid a couple of clunkers like METRES and the less common EGO(t)ISM, or toughish entries that might trip up newer solvers, like MEDINA / CLOVIS / ANISE.
I did enjoy some of the longer fill — OUTCAST and SEMIPRO were fun bonuses. Note Lynn's pro use of cheater squares at the end of OUTCAST and beginning of SEMIPRO. These made her filling job easier at the expense of shortening those long slots, but she was still able to make good use of them.
As a dog-lover, I enjoyed the overall IDEE. A couple of longer themers like SPIKED HEEL or DOUBLE DOWN could have both brightened and eased the solving experience, though.
A lot of PROs and CONs in this puzzle! Long ago, I'd thought of a similarly thought-PROvoking CONcept, but I could only find PROXY CONTEST, PROCESS CONTROL, and some iffy ones like PROVOKING CONFLICT. I'd never considered flipping CON and PRO. I liked that this oddball notion opened up possibilities like CONCLUSIVE PROOF — that's a great phrase.
CONSUMER PROFILE and CONTENT PROVIDER aren't as sparkly, but they work. It made me curious to see what else was possible.
I liked CONCERT PROMOTER, CONTRACT PROVISO (sue me, I'm a nerd MBA), CONICAL PROJECTION (says the math dork), CONJUGATED PROTEIN (sense a pattern here?). The last three aren't as general-audience-friendly, but CONCERT PROMOTER would have been solid.
Why only three theme phrases? Part of it is that it's tough to fit in a fourth when you already have to work in PROS and CONS.
Er, CONS and PROS. Man, presenting them in reverse order still feels so weird. Makes me wish PESSIMIST had been incorporated into the grid to help explain things. That might have been too complicated for an early-week crowd, but the puzzle would have cohered much better.
Great bonuses, something that all three-themer puzzles need to feature. MIND BENDER, FATALISTIC, JET POWERED, UNBIRTHDAY? Yes yes yes yes! Jake did a great job spacing them out, too, keeping them well away from the PROS and CONS in the SE corner. Good planning.
There were some trade-offs, though; more than I would have liked. Is AMAJ ETAT (and ATEMPO to a lesser extent) worth JET POWERED, especially in an early-week puzzle? I think no, but I can see the other side of the coin. If there hadn't been so much AVOIR AM SO TMAN WTS YOS overall, it'd have been easier to overlook.
Tough call. Color vs. cleanliness is the eternal struggle for constructors. It's especially difficult in today's grid, since one usual fix — using a cheater square at the C of FATALISTIC — would mess up CONS.
Interesting concept, overall. I like it when someone comes up with a solution I never CONSidered PROSpecting.
I liked today's execution better than the FOURTEEN / POINTS one. Enough theme density to feel solid, but not enough to cause migraine-inducing constraints. Some great choices, too — STEVIE (WONDER) with a quote about vision, (WONDER) WOMAN one of my favorite superheroes, (WONDER) PARENT (my wife) …
Where were the others again?
I highlighted them below. Not sure why the theme clues weren't starred this go-around. I worry that I'm going to get a lot of "THIS @#$! CLUE IS WRONG WRONG WRONG YOU @#$#@! MORON" emails.
Speaking of wrong, I'd have liked for all the clues to feel jarringly incorrect. That was the case for WOMAN, since there was no movie titled as such, but I breezed through BREAD, BRA, and DRUG. The clues felt a tiny bit off, but not enough to make me pause.
Good spacing of the seven themers + revealer. Note how spread out they are. It'd have been great to place one set in the NW / SE corners, but I have a feeling that SEVEN WONDERS in the SE might not make that possible.
Even with good spacing, it's still a tough job to fill the grid. It ended up not smooth enough for my taste, what with AGIN (oof!), AMO, IT AN, KOR, OISE, DROITS, ABLARE. Part of the issue is that the seven WONDERS do still interact somewhat — note how ONE HIT, BRA, and STEVIE start forcing things like AGIN, ITAN, and ABLARE. A better usage of black squares, further separating these three themers, would have helped.
The hugeness of the NW / SE corners is something to be avoided in grid design. Even though those corners are hardly constrained, see: DROITS, OISE. OVERFILLing ought to be a PSA subject — break up your big spaces, constructors!
A fine idea, and just about perfect theme density for this theme type. But I'd have much preferred a 74- or 76-word grid, allowing for a more elegant final product.
75th anniversary of D-DAY! I had no idea that there were five major beaches — or that they could be hidden within colorful phrases. It's almost as if part of the planners' strategy was to plant the seeds for this very crossword.
The theme interested me enough that I read up on the invasion. Check out (to the right) how the beaches were so neatly arranged: UTAH, OMAHA, GOLD, JUNO, SWORD. I'd have loved if Fred had laid out his themers, vertically, in that order.
Few solvers likely would have noticed such attention to detail, but it would have made for a terrific, elegant Easter egg, recreating the D-DAY landing inside the puzzle.
GOLD ORE was so tough for me to figure out since RAVE seemed like it could also fit [Lose one's cool]. Upon further thought, RAGE is much better — just as GOLD ORE is much better than VOLDORE.
Hey, it seemed like it could be a mineralogical term. (Ah, I was thinking about Pokemon.)
Entries like REPAPER and SHEDDER create such a dilemma for me. Should they be given a score such that they never see the light of day again? Or something in the middle, since using a SHEDDER might allow for good stuff like ART SHOP and DEEJAYS?
Tough choices. Ultimately, I gave both of them a middling pass.
Not as tricky as I like for a Thursday puzzle — and the elements that made it a tough solve, like cluing ORSON and PISMO and JORDAN in difficult ways, didn't give me much pleasure to solve.
A solid D-DAY memorial, albeit with some potential left on the table.
★ JUST SO nice to have so much sparkling color throughout the grid. I don't often sit up while doing themelesses, but entries like DO ME A SOLID, VOICE ACTOR, STORY ARC, DON'T I KNOW IT, DINE AND DASH made for an attention-getting, juicy solve.
Great fun in the wordplay clues, too:
So many fantastically entertaining clues. I might have picked this for the POW! on that merit alone.
Two entries made me pause: ECUMENISM and NAPERY. I'm not a religious person, so the former didn't come easily. It was a word that I could dig out of the back of my head, though, and it was neat to read up on a movement to promote unity among all the sects of Christianity.
NAPERY. Man, did I stare at that one for a long time. Hasn't been used in the Shortz era since 2000 — almost two decades ago! The Goog shows NAPERY has a lot of usage, albeit more olden-style and perhaps outside the US. A bit of an oddball, but not so much so to ding the entire puzzle from the POW! race.
Bracing for the onslaught of hate mail from linen enthusiasts …
Great craftsmanship, only IMA for crossword glue. Not quite as many colorful long entries as I want in a 72-word puzzle, but their quality was so high. Along with the outstanding amount of clever wordplay, it gets my POW!
Okay, let me tell you all about ASCII, whether you want me to or not. The American Standard Code for Information Interchange is …
Hey, come back here and be MANSPLAINED to!
Jim and I both loved DEVELOPMENT HELL. It might only be familiar within certain professions, notably software, engineering, and media production, but …
Hey, wait, that covers a lot of people! Ah, the frustrating time when a project is languishing in limbo while middle managers argue about it. Sigh.
Great entry + clue in SACAGAWEA DOLLAR, too. I was sure it was going to be some word of the year based around the Y2K bug. Nope, a literal coinage!
Cool layout, a welcome variation on the usual stair stacks that Andrew tends to use. Neat to be treated to two bonus 15-letter entries — and both of those 15s running through the vertical 15!
I'd have thought that after all that interlock, there wouldn't be any more real estate in which to pack extra juice. Not so! UNION REP and CABLE CAR are fine ways of using those precious 8-letter slots. So even though there were only ten long slots (of 8+ letters), Andrew used each one to its fullest extent.
A couple of compromises, though — not hot on INRI, MASC, RET. NFC tried to get cutesy with a misdirection clue, but it felt more wrong than anything. Even one of Will's fact checkers thought [Rams home] should have at least gotten a question mark. The clue doesn't work without the giveaway possessive apostrophe — [Rams' home] — or a telltale question mark.
Entertaining solve; impressive effort to pack in so many ultra-long feature entries. A POW! contender.
Oft-quoted quotes that were never spoken by said character ... and no ILSA LUND / PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM? Sacrilege!
And GORDON GEKKO isn't someone whose bad side I'd want to be on. You're living life on the edge, Seth! Mr. Gekko might not have ever said GREED IS GOOD, but he sure did a lot of other bad stuff.
Seth is right — there are a lot of famous misquote compilations out there. Too many; it risks the puzzle feeling like a listicle.
But I do like the ones he picked out; all good pairings of famous lines and famous people who said them. It could be argued that EARL OF GREYSTOKE is a toughie, but the word GREYSTOKE has been used in movie and book titles enough that I think it's fair game.
This is a great example of why the 140-word maximum (on Will's spec sheet) is a bad thing for solvers. As soon as I opened the puzzle, the sight of those big swaths of white space in the NW and north worried me. Those are of themeless-grade difficulty to fill — plus, you have the constraints of having to work with fixed themers! No Bueno.
See: ABLUR, ITY, TYRE. Not a good way to kick off a solving experience, even with MACHISMO adding color.
Up next, SOIN, MRE, PEES, SOYS.
As much as I love OSMOSIS and TORNADO, it already felt like a compromised, inelegant product, and I had just begun.
I understand Will's steadfast adherence to the 140-word max. In theory, that forces constructors to work in some long bonuses, and not just pack a puzzle with a flood of boring, every day 3-5 letter entries. In real practice, though, even some of the most experienced constructors can't pull off a colorful, clean 140-worder.
I had heard all of these misquotes before, so the puzzle played more like a Wikipedia article for me. But I imagine there will be solvers who learned one or two new things today. If the grid had been improved — maybe by going to 144 words, or by using only the misquotes as themers, thus allowing for lower theme density — it could have made for a better solving experience.
Brad is one of my favorite people in the crossworld, an erudite savant who edits the Chronicle of Higher Education crossword. (Don't worry, I had to look up "erudite" and "savant" too.) He goes by the clever moniker, "Bewilbered," so the clue for OTTER as a bewhiskered animal bemused me. My solving enjoyment always goes up when treated to these insider nods.
Strong work in disguising items that are commonly in a PURSE. I did catch on to the theme early, after just LICENSE and KEYS, but I stopped to admire how different the meanings are, in the crossword as opposed to the purse. That's some DRAMATIC LICENSE right there!
Most purses might as well be Hermione's charmed handbag for all I know, the varied and multitudinous contents bewildering. A driver's LICENSE, set of KEYS, sure. Spare CHANGE ... people still use cash? So 20th century!
The one that made me hitch was CHARGER. I do carry a phone CHARGER with me, but I'll have to ask around to determine if this is indeed an oft-bepursed item.
Loved the TONYS clue, too. How appropriate for Tony Shalhoub to win a TONY. I'd say I'd one day hope to win a Jeffy, but that stupid "Family Circus" kid ruined the name forever.
A ton of CHEERY mid-length fill, like SHOO-IN, ANYHOW, GO DEEP, OFF DAY, even EEYORE bepleasanting the experience.
I wasn't hot on a couple of blips though: ANON crossing AGOAT, some ATILT / ALIT, and SLUE potentially befuddling to newer solvers. Some glue is expected given the quantity of strong mid-length fill, but it's not a trade-off I would have made for a Monday grid. I much prefer erring toward the side of smoothness, not color, for an introductory solve.
The more I thought about it, the more I liked Brad's themer choices. What else is often found in PURSEs and easily disguisable? WIPES, perhaps, hidden in STAR WIPES? Maybe. A PHONE … as in PURSEPHONE!
Drat it, that's Persephone. So close, yet so far.
The modest visual was a nice way to make the puzzle a little something more than your typical ho-hum tribute puzzle. The bold, go-big-or-go-back-to-PRIDE ROCK attitude mostly paid off.
I spent some time thinking about what other movies might fit a LACK OF CHARACTER theme — nothing came to mind. Tight theme.
(Now I'm bracing for the slew of obscure movies readers throw at me.)
Speaking of obscure, I wasn't aware of THE LADY VANISHES. I've seen a lot of Hitchcock films. Considering how high THE LADY VANISHES appears on many Hitchcock ranking lists, it looks like I need to shore up my knowledge base.
Editors often prize multi-word fill, as it tends to be more colorful than single-worders. VERMEER is awfully colorful, though. PRURIENT is an interesting word, CREVICES as well.
Most constructors stay away from six-letter widths at the edges of puzzles because they tend to be much harder to fill cleanly than five or four-letter widths. Take a gander at the top of the grid: IN DEBT is a strong headliner, but NAIVER hit my ear wrong. The south further confounded me when I was sure that John NAVIER of the Navier-Stokes equations was correct.
Apparently, that was Claude-Louis Navier and John NAPIER.
Excuse me while I go turn in my mechanical engineering card with shame.
Along with EX-ALLY making me tilt my head, and MALE NAME not sounding quite right (although after some thought, it felt fine ... ish), it wasn't the best grid product I've seen, especially given how strong Will is at construction.
The theme worked well enough, although it provided more of a head-nodding moment than a delightful a-ha.
Such a tough grid to construct. It's usually not THAT hard to work with stacked themers, if some of them are shorties. But we had such little flexibility — the partial word had to start directly under the H in each HAND, and we only had a few to choose from.
Besides IWORK, ICAPS, YMEN, there was only the less interesting IER, ILY, LER, EDIN. I would have loved a fourth that was more interesting, but of the less ideal candidates, EDIN seemed at least interestingly kooky — something you'd never see in another (reasonably good) crossword.
Took me a couple dozen tries to arrive at a skeleton that tested out reasonably well, and I counted myself very lucky that BADPR existed to satisfy that tough -DP- letter combination, as well as DNA LAB. What else is going to fill a DN???? pattern?
I don't like using "corner blacks" (in the very SW / NE), as they are visually unappealing to my eye (Rich Norris at the LAT likes them even less than I do). But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. With an already biggish SW corner, and the ultra-constraining DNA LAB, we could barely escape with a SABE / OCULI.
Not the most elegant corner in the world, but sometimes you have to accept compromises in the service of a theme. Hope it didn't pull down people's solving experiences.
Every puzzle's a struggle. So many aspects to balance out. Hope we arrived at the right one for you.
★ Every once in a while, a new voice emerges onto the scene, making me sit up a little straighter. It hasn't been since Robyn Weintraub started making her playful themelesses that I've felt this great a disturbance in the Force. I loved today's solving experience, packed with joy and entertainment from start to finish.
Let's start with the feature entry. If you're going to pick a 13-letter seed, you have to make sure it's solid gold — both on its own right and for its cluing potential — because 13-letter seeds often make trouble for the rest of the grid. Caitlin made hers count, SHAM MARRIAGES colorful, and made even better by the clever repurposing of "actors' unions." Brilliant!
I call I GOT DIBS on this puzzle, far from a HARD PASS, a DEAD SEXY solving experience, WINK WINK, PREGGO, CAPISCE? Zero BAD PR on this one.
With a 70-word themeless, I want every long entry to count. ENROLLEE and ATE LUNCH struck me as more neutral, but everything else was an asset. No SOB STORY there; great usage of long slots.
And the clues. ORBS as "round figures"? The DERMIS being "skin deep"? Clever clever, wink wink!
Just a couple of dings, DAT and MARG thankfully minor. I used to be perfectly fine with KOD = KO'D in boxing, but I've heard a good number of complaints about this one, from both solvers and editors. What do editors know, anyway, you might ask, when KO'D is seen all the time in boxing recaps?
Well, they do control publication, so there is that. Thus the reason I lowered the score on KOD a while back.
I'm hoping to see a lot more from Caitlin. I have a feeling we might be lucky enough to be witnessing the emergence of a great new themeless writer.
Jim and I enjoy trading messages about a week's worth of puzzles, comparing notes on which we liked the best and which we thought lacked. I highlighted today's as one of my favorites from this week, with the caveat that I wasn't sure it would work as well for a broad audience. Perhaps a couple of niche entries would get lost on a lot of solvers?
I was thinking about GREEN TAPE, GOOGLE HOME, maybe FLOUR BOMB?
The first is a fresh play on "red tape" for ecolaws, the second one of Google's sad home product attempts (FOCUS ON GOOD STUFF LIKE GOOGLE READER, DAMMIT!), the last something modern protesters might employ.
I was 100% correct!
Well, maybe not 100%.
Jim wasn't familiar with BIT O HONEY. Or the "Rocky" franchise. Or the world of the "X-men."
So more accurately, I was 100% correct, in one way. 0% in another, more important way. Let's average it out to 99%.
I liked so much about this one, a well-crafted 66-worder similar to a previous one, packed full of great entries without needing much crossword glue. That's no easy task.
There are almost always trade-offs, though, and today it came in the form of some unpleasant entries, akin to KNEECAPPING in one of Ryan's previous ones. GANGRENE is tough to clue in a fun way (although maybe referencing the Packers' "Gang Green" nickname would have helped?), and SICK ROOMS wasn't as uplifting as BIT O HONEY.
(It's delicious. How can you go wrong with a bit of chewy honey? Even IVAN DRAGO liked him some BIT O HONEY, I'm pretty sure. Professor X too.)
Oh, and BIT O HONEY crossing BEEHIVE — with the latter's fun [Home sweet home] clue? Even better.
This one got some POW! consideration. Perhaps without the ickiness of GANGRENE and a nudge toward aiming at broader audiences, and it would have gotten the nod.
I'm not as much a fan of themeless Sundays as Jim. I do like innovation and something different every once in a while. Going with a themeless seems like a cop-out, though. I'd much rather see more effort put into soliciting theme seeds, working with constructors to develop them into great concepts. Without a theme holding a 21x21 grid together, I tend to lose interest over the solve.
I did enjoy many of the entries Joel featured. HEART EMOJI is fantastic. LIGHT SABER / SHORT LINE / THE SLOTS, that's so juicy. OEDIPUS REX / FIRE ENGINE / FLY SWATTER, too. Well done in that regard.
And what an a-ha moment when I finally conquered the clue, [It might require a quick check]. I was fixated on a business lunch or a microdate when the babysitter can't stay very long. But that's check, as in the king getting checked, in SPEED CHESS. Brilliant!
If you're going to slot in a couple of Sunday themelesses, I'd much prefer to avoid low word-count ones. Yes, this one is much smoother than the previous record holder. As a constructor, I'm impressed by the difficulty of the feat — a challenge I'm not brave enough to try.
As a solver, though, I don't care about puzzle records, especially when it means that my solving experience gets compromised. The prosecution introduces:
Exhibit A: lots of short-word-tacked-on phrases. RATTLE OFF. PEELED OFF. ONE UP. LOG ONTO.
Exhibit B: pitchy words formed by -ER, -ED. HOAXER. DARER. TRESSED. ASHED.
Exhibit C: misc. oddballs. ELLIPTIC without the -AL. APPOSE. ANIONIC. AEC. ONE C.
Exhibit D: Tough crossings. TISCH / PLISSE.
Exhibit E: ADIT. EUGENE MALESKA CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!
Upon second glance, there were many solid entries to enjoy. FACE VEIL. DRAMA SERIES. CHEESE SLICER. YEAR OF THE PIG, appropriate for 2019. Kicking off the puzzle with FATHERS DAY, on said day. I had unfortunately forgotten about these — a shame that these got overshadowed by the hiccups. I'm glad I forced myself to give it further thought.
Joel is one of the few people I'd trust for such a daunting constructing challenge. I don't agree with the overall editorial direction, though, this low-word-count feat feeling more aimed at constructors and heavy wonks than general solvers.
Maybe it's okay to run a themeless every once in a while. But here's a suggestion to improve Sundays: hire Andy Kravis, who's already part of the proofing team, to work with constructors in brainstorming and developing Sunday themes. He's a brilliant, creative guy. I'm sure he'd be able to help constructors bring 10 or more fantastic themes to life every year. Considering how important the Sunday puzzle is to the NYT crossword's franchise, it'd be worth every penny.
Standout Monday grid. Super accessible to newer solvers — only some minor PENH (can only be clued in one way), SPFS (not usually pluralized), UNI (prefix), WKS (abbr.). And what a treat to get quantity and quality of bonuses: MC ESCHER, KISSERS, BANSHEE, BENGALI, MENORAH. Dang!
Constructors, NOT A CLUE how they did it? Study this layout. Their themers are spread out to the max, and more importantly, their long bonuses are too. Note how BENGALI and MC ESCHER are in adjacent columns, but they're offset so there's not much overlap. Same goes for MC ESCHER and KISSERS. Elegant way to work in so many long bonuses.
Entertaining clues, too, not a surprise from an Agard joint. SPLAT as the sound of ice cream hitting the floor. An ICICLE as a "high point" of winter — literally. BANSHEE is already great fill, and the trivia about it foretelling a death in the family? Creepy, but so interesting.
I also enjoyed the go-big approach to linking the clues for STOLEN / HOT, OOH / AAH, MOS / WKS. There's something about STOLEN right next to HOT that feels especially neat.
I sadly couldn't get past the not-quite-perfect theme. There are tons of X IN THE Y phrases, and a subset where X rhymes with Y (CAT IN THE HAT came immediately to mind). Tightening it up by using the related SUN, SKY, SHADE … BLACK?
Not only was I iffy on whether BACK IN THE BLACK was as juicy as the other themers, but it only fits with the other three if you turn your head and squint hard. And it pays you $50 to look the other way.
Sure, why not. That'll be $50.
Tough call. I value perfect consistency and tightness, but if that's impossible, a diverse mix feels stronger.
Overall, still an excellent newb-friendly offering.
Jeff Stillman drops the (MC) hammer today, adding MC to regular phrases to produce celeb-related kookiness. I lost the "guess the early-week theme" game today when I confidently entered BEING SPOCK for [Autobiography of a "Star Trek" doctor].
There's so many things wrong with that. Someone rip up my nerd card.
I often stay away from constructing "kooky result" themes, because Will and I have vastly different opinions on what's fun / funny. None of these felt particularly entertaining. They work, but this is not a theme I'm going to highlight to my gym friends.
(Oddly, most all of my climber friends do crosswords. I wonder if there's some curious climbing/crosswords link, like the well-established math/music connection.)
It's a shame that DANCING MCQUEEN got left on the cutting-room floor. Made me smile to think about ultra-macho Steve McQueen going on "Dancing with the Stars."
Personal reaction aside, kudos to Jeff for picking solid base phrases and doing the transformations consistently — all two-word phrases, and MC added to the start of the second word each time.
What stood out most was the long fill. The usual long down spots were already great, B VITAMINS / TAPAS BAR and CLIP CLOP / PIPE DREAM lovely. But then there were so many mid-length bonuses woven in. MARIAH. SUMATRA. SENECA. IM A MESS. Even HAYDEN — if you didn't know it (like me), it's not something you see every day. In a good way.
Heck, even some of the short stuff stood out in a good way, like YUCCA, AKITA, DONUT.
All in all, such careful consideration of each and every long or mid-length slot. Color me impressed with Jeff's worksmanship.
I've both solved and made a lot of parsing puzzles (where adding or changing spaces create new phrases). Not many stick in my mind anymore, since they all tend to run together.
Today's theme stood out. It's fantastic. Not only are the finds interesting — I know a few BAR TRICKs, but the one I'll lead off with now is that shifting its space turns it into BART RICK. And PHILANDERS to PHIL ANDERS? Excellent!
And the revealer! MARRIED MEN brought everything together so perfectly. I can't remember the last time I've expressed a WITT (wish I'd thought of that) longing so strongly.
I badly wanted to give this a POW!
There's a constructors' maxim that a fantastic grid can't make up for a subpar theme, but a fantastic theme can overcome most anything. If I didn't know anything about Sam — one of the few five-tool constructors, meaning that they can make easy, mid-week, tricky, themeless, Sunday — I'd probably have given the benefit of the doubt and slapped on the POW!
But it's Sam. With four POW!s to his name already, I expect a lot out of him. He'd need an excellent reason to use ITER in a grid. Not to mention ECARTE, and the olio of RES OFT ADAH GREYED OMNIA.
My guess is that Sam flew too close to the sun. It's hard to work with seven themers. When you push even further, to incorporate a ton of great mid-length fill — SO COOL, HOO BOY, BAD COP, SCHLUB, DATE UP all standing out — you're bound to get burned.
Sam did excel in the SW / NE corners. Most themeless-focused constructors don't dare to work with big 4x7 chunks. Toss in a constraint, of NORMANDY and BARTRICK reducing flexibility, and most constructors would flub. I had a strong feeling that Sam would make these sing, and with COINSTAR / AP COURSE / BEER BONG, COLOR TV / HOTWIRE / THANK GOD, Sam did just that.
Tough call. I loved the theme. Loved the SW / NE corners. I wouldn't go so far as to say the middle was an ATROCITY, but a bit too much of looking the other way cost Sam his fifth POW!
★ I heard a lot of complaints about Trenton's last trick puzzle. HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY GIVE THIS PIECE OF @#$@! YOUR POW!, YOU UTTER MORON?
Anytime I hear feedback like this, my pat answer: I like what I like, and I'm happy to explain why at length. You don't agree? Write your own blog.
(Seriously, you should. Blogger.com and other similar services make it easy.)
I wonder if this one will engender a similar love/hate split. Or if it had run on a Friday, as a seemingly regular themeless, it would have been lauded as a good grid with a fantastic bonus?
So many great entries. SMTWTFS / FIREWALL / PROTOZOAN to kick it off. LITMUS TESTS. TEXAS BBQ. ST PAULI GIRL. NUTELLA. NFL TEAM. ZEALOTS. Yes, there's some potential left untapped, STOP LOSS, TAUTENED, RESENTS, CLOUDED not doing much in their long slots. With so much strong material though, it qualifies as a good themeless in my book.
To pull all this off with just some ignorable STDS … and what else? Maybe TBSPS is a bit ungainly, but it's seen in recipes all the time.
Such fantastic craftsmanship. Some constructors say that using so many cheater squares — the pyramids at the top and bottom — is a dirty rotten cheat. I do not. I value color and cleanliness so highly that as long as there's not a ridiculous number of cheaters, they rarely bother me.
I enjoyed the solve. I liked the revealer, even though the a-ha moment wasn't that strong, since I was positive something fishy was going on.
Most importantly, I loved going back and admiring the uncompromising craftsmanship Trenton so carefully employed.
I hesitated before giving it the POW!, since it would have been better suited as a themeless with a big bonus, instead of running on a Thursday, where it won't meet some people's tricksy-Thursday expectations. But it was too good, too fun, too admirable not to give the POW!
Another delightful solving experience from one of my favorite themeless constructors. FAMILY TREE is already a strong feature entry. The clue makes it stand out even further.
(If you didn't get it, think about "relatively" as "relative-ly." If there is such a thing as a great groaner, this is it.)
Fantastic usage of her 14 long slots, hardly a one feeling wasted. URBAN LEGEND is fantastic. SIMON SAYS brought back good memories (and some frustrating ones where I wanted to smash my Simon into pieces). GROUP PHOTO with a clever clue, repurposing "big shot." AVANT GARDE classing up the joint.
The NYT would never be able to run a clue like [Word that follows "No sh*t"], but that didn't stop me from smiling at SHERLOCK.
So why no POW!? Part of it was that a 72-word themeless is the easiest of construction tasks, so it has to be near perfect. MORO is tough. CHAKA can only be clued in one way. ROES is an odd plural. TMAN is outdated.
A bigger part is that I have stratospheric expectations for Robyn these days. In particular, some of her marquee answers in the past have wowed me on their own — POPPYCOCK, CLOWN CARS, RON WEASLEY, TRACTOR BEAM, MIRACLE MAX, SMARTY PANTS right over MADE YOU LOOK. These are so much fun and they appeal to my nerd sensibilities. There wasn't anything quite like that today; nothing that screamed that it was the marvelous seed to the puzzle.
Overall though, still an immensely entertaining solving experience on an absolute scale. About average on the Weintraub index, though.
What a great feeling to drop in DOCTOR DOOM with no crosses needed. [Archenemy of the Fantastic Four], a gimme!
I knew being a nerd would one day pay off. Totally worth being stuffed into trash cans all those times.
I paused at SOMETIMESY — a folksy way of saying sometimes? What a delightful realization that it was SOMETIMES Y, as in A E I O U and SOMETIMES Y. That NW corner is so far above SOSO, me and my climber friends using CRASH PADS all the time, and even more extras in HOT TIP, PRILOSEC.
SETTLES ON won't win any awards, but it's a fine, neutral entry.
"A fine, neutral entry" is going to be used in describing parts of almost all 4x10 big corners. Few constructors tackle thick, four-deep swaths like this because it's nearly impossible to get all four long entries to sing. At least, without relying on a whole bunch of gluey bits.
Joe came close with his NE corner, MAMA BEARS / POLO MALLET / EMERIL LIVE / CAST LOTS. If EMERIL LIVE hadn't been off the air for a while now, it would have been a perfect four out of four. Heck, Emeril's trademark BAM! makes me think of my own POW!, so maybe I ought to count it as a sizzler, too.
The SE corner is more typical. OVER AND OUT and STATS GEEK are great. TIP O'NEILL is a catchy name. URBAN ART is colorful. But RESTRAINTS doesn't do much. And AGENAS mired me down. (I agree with your hindsight, Joe!)
I'm wary any time I open up a themeless featuring 4x8 stacks or bigger. Joe did well with this one. Clever arrangement of black squares in the middle of the puzzle, helping him section off the four pieces of the grid for easier construction, while not choking off solving flow too much.
A decent idea that went on too long. HAND, and then (second)HAND, that's fun. PLACE, and (second)PLACE, still good.
STRING, (second)STRING. Okay.
. . .
Just thinking about having to list out the other five makes me tired. Check out our list of puzzles with repeated words to see them all.
Why not branch out, avoiding being so repetitive (ha)? TIME and (another)TIME. LOCATION and (echo)LOCATION. There's so much potential for fun. You might have to give a hint to the implied word, maybe even put that implied word into the grid somewhere, but it would be worth it.
Thankfully, David and Victor worked in a lot of extras, helping keep my attention. SLIDE GUITAR sparkled. HEDGEHOG, SKI PANTS, WINNIPEG for Canuck solvers, the OUTBACK for Aussies, even some TORSION for us mechanical engineers.
With an average quantity of crossword glue, it made for a good overall grid.
This would have been much better as a weekday puzzle, scaled down. Alternatively, more creative, expansive thinking, would have improved the Sunday experience dramatically.
I continue to hope that Will takes my suggestions in publishing more interesting Sunday puzzles. Things ain't what they used to be.
Here's another suggestion: issue "Sunday theme query licenses" to 25 constructors. I get that it can be overwhelming to have to sift through theme queries, but:
FASHION CRAZE is such an evocative phrase. It triggered a wisp of a recollection … turns out it's been used before, in a similarly-themed puzzle. Thankfully, my cursed long memory didn't affect my enjoyment of today's puzzle, especially given the extended time separating the two.
Even though the previous puzzle used more themers, I liked today's set better. I didn't miss much from ___ FEVER's absence, and it allowed Ross to do so much more with his gridwork.
When you only have four themers to incorporate, you owe it to solvers to give them all sorts of bonuses. I often dissuade constructors from using a "parallel down" structure (see: WHAT NERVE / IMPASSION), but Ross is a pro. Fantastic long bonuses worked in, along with little crossword glue needed to hold everything together.
Check out the impressive array of long down bonuses: ISLAMABAD / NOISE LAWS / POTTY MOUTH / EDIT WAR / SANTA LETTERS / WHAT NERVE / IMPASSION. That's nearly enough to fill a themeless.
If anything, Ross pushed the envelope a little too far. I don't mind a bit of ONEA, RIA minor offenders, but I'd have preferred two or three fewer bonuses along with a squeaky-clean product that didn't risk tripping up newbs, asking themselves what the hell ONE A means.
Upon third glance, I could have done with less of AS DO I / IT IS SO / ARE SO. A sweet spot might have been four long bonuses and no gluey bits that took away from the elegance index.
Overall, a step up from the previous puzzle. And it's perfectly fine to have near theme duplication if there's enough time between puzzles — constructors come up with the same basic concept all the time.
I admire so much about Jim. Take his gusto; his love for the arts. It's a joy to read how happy this puzzle made him. Makes me wish I felt that way about more things.
I was preparing to go into great detail about how the solving experience was not enjoyable, given that the random dots didn't form a picture, as is the payoff of POINTILLISM. Jim's comments made me hesitate. After some deliberation, I'll say that the puzzle is nothing if not memorable.
Art appreciation is subjective. Sometimes you either love a work or you hate it. Some might even say that the best pieces are the ones that get noticed; that generate this love/hate duality.
★ Brilliant themes don't come around often. The way they get presented can make them stand out even further, or hold them back. Today's puzzle hit on all cylinders, an auto-POW! pick.
Discovering HEBREWS → He brews → male who makes beer is a constructor's dream. The muse blesses you with her benevolence! How to execute a full theme set in a 15x15 crossword, though? Some might take it in a "dictionary theme" direction, with a grid entry like PERSON MAKING BEER. Others might put HEBREWS into the grid, with a clue of [Headline: "Male Makes Beer!"]
Even if you landed on the optimal solution of choosing a colorful phrase to describe "Hebrews" — BEERMAKER is great — you might write the clue as [Hebrews?], or [Hebrews, in a way]. Putting HEBREWS in all caps was a touch of genius, shouting to solvers that something odd was going on. A question mark might do that, but the CLUE YELLING IN MY FACE made me take special attention. There was zero doubt that I was going to review what the heck was going on once I filled in the last square.
I was annoyed that I finished without hitting a revealer to explain everything, but it didn't take long to figure it out. HE BREWS, WE AVER, SHE RIFFS, I RATE, all with snazzy, in-the-language phrases describing them? That's as big a WITT (wish I thought of that) moment as I've had this entire year.
Along with strong grid execution — extras in BEEN THERE, POOR TASTE, CAMISOLE, EN GARDE, MARS RED, FAN BELT, and not much crossword glue — it's a work of top-notch craftsmanship.
THE NERVE of C.C., making me feel so pleasantly jealous. It's no wonder that she's near the top of my POW! list. I give her strong odds to take over the top spot in the next few years.
NYT Debut! Hoang-Kim CHECKs ALL / THE BOXES with a standard rebus, C-H-E-C-K boxed four times. Great way to kick off the theme, CHECKS AND BALANCES / MIC CHECK such jazzy entries. CHECKPOINT CHARLIE, BLANK CHECK and COAT CHECK rounded things out well.
Long across bonuses are unusual in a rebus, because the rebus boxes tend to take up huge swaths of real estate, making it difficult to work in much else. FULL OF IT and EYE TO EYE elevated my solve, although I did wonder for a minute if they were thematic.
Will often stresses that in rebuses, the rebus squares should be inside the puzzle's longest entries. It's not only more elegant and interesting that way, but solvers won't wonder how something like FULL OF IT relates to CHECKs.
I hesitated on the revealer. CHECK THE BOXES might have worked better (no ALL), at least for non-anal-irritatingly-literal crossword dissectors. Doesn't ALL the boxes imply that every square in the grid should have a check?
Bad, Jeff, bad! Turn off that coroner's brain for once and enjoy.
A couple of blips in the gridwork, ETUI notable. There are certain Maleskan triggers that get solvers rolling their eyes, and this is one. I can understand how it happened — not easy to fill that SE corner, given the overlap of CHECKPOINT CHARLIE and COAT CHECK. I'd likely have tried to make that corner smaller by shifting black squares around.
It is a Thursday, so experienced solvers will have seen ETUI before. I'd like to see it moved to Will's list of "puzzle-killers," though.
An entertaining debut, although I would have liked a more straightforward, non-interlocking set of themers, punctuated by a more accurate CHECK THE BOXES. That would have allowed for one or two more snazzy long themers, like REALITY CHECK, BOUNCED A CHECK, CHECKERED FLAG, CHUBBY CHECKER, etc.
We add to Bruce's tally of grid art — specifically his grid art involving rare, diagonal symmetry. Scan through his full listing; see if you can pick out the birds, the goldfish, and the butterflies. Make sure to check out his first, my favorite of the bunch.
I appreciate how Bruce and David tried to make the most of the mini-theme, linking in their 15-letter marquees. BATS IN THE BELFRY works, although I did wonder if that can be an offensive term to people with mental health issues. For that reason, I liked SPREAD ONE'S WINGS better, but it would have been better to have a more bats-specific themer.
Hmm. Some ideas:
Brainstorming for a more clever mini-theme aside, I enjoyed so much of Bruce and David's grid. It's tough to squeeze juice out of seven-letter slots, too often needing things like CAMERAS and AT A TROT to hold a grid together. LEFT JAB is a great start. ALLOW ME, CAR LOAN, WENT PRO, MR GREEN, all high-quality assets.
Editors tend to favor multi-word entries since they're more colorful on the whole, but check out the beauty of LISSOME / ESPANOL / FURRIER. Not words you see every day, and so satisfying. ANODYNE is in the same mold.
My only nit was the DR DREW / ELROND crossing. I'm a big fan of both, but it's a tough ask, requiring all educated solvers to know one or the other. So many other letters could look reasonable: DR CREW, ELRONG, DR TREW, ELRONF.
Overall, a highly enjoyable solve. If the headline themers had elated me — they felt worthy of a bronze medal performance instead of a gold — it'd have been an easy POW! pick.
Some great feature entries. I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of SKIMOBILE / TEN SPEEDS — it's neat when constructors can relate adjacent answers. Tiny feat of magic.
HEBREW CALENDAR was a treat, a colorful answer in a rarely-used grid slot. It's incredibly tough to weave in a 14-letter answer, one of the most inconvenient lengths for constructors. Far, far from an AMATEURISH result.
People often ask me what differentiates a Friday and a Saturday themeless. Will's short answer is that Saturday should be harder than Friday, simple as that. Only it's not so simple. There are so many different ways of turning up the difficulty dial. The most straightforward way is to make clues esoterically challenging, but that's usually not a fun solving experience.
Another way is to work in tough entries that will only be familiar to solving subgroups. The risk is that while you make the puzzle memorable, even standout, to those folks, you might cause broader solving angst.
OUROBOROS is a prime example. A few years ago, I had a puzzle in the Chronicle of Higher Education, based on the legend that the BENZENE ring — one of the most important and curious structures in organic chemistry — was imagined when August Kekule dreamed of OUROBOROS eating his tail. Now that's a story! It's fascinating trivia, but I can see how it could alienate people struggling with the strange sequence of letters standing in the way of their perfect crossword solve.
KAZAAM. I'm a big NBA fan, so I knew this right off the top. Talk about Shaqtin' a Fool! Again, if you didn't know this and guessed KASAAM / SAPATISTA as a crossing, I'd be sympathetic.
GALOP. Famed for its pluralized inclusion in Rex Parker's NYT debut crossword, I've come to change my mind about this one. When I initially solved Rex's puzzle, the inclusion of a single, bizarre word which affected my ability to accurately finish, was striking. Now that I've seen it a few times, it doesn't feel as icky. Perhaps even interesting. Perhaps.
ARTEL. Infrequently used this decade in the NYT; it's a tough term that could bring a huge sense of triumph to history wonks. It has the potential to alienate, though.
Kameron is known for his avant-garde grid designs, often aesthetically striking, and his upscale vocabulary / knowledge base. The latter was on display today. I was fortunate to finish this one with no errors. (Alas, Jim wasn't so lucky).
Will rejected mine last year, saying that it didn't quite work for him. I never like getting a rejection, but I can understand, given how competitive it is for weekday puzzle slots. Will receives more submissions than ever, about 125 per week. For seven slots, that makes for a dauntingly low acceptance rate.
However, Sundays have always been the pain point for Will. In the past, he's had assistants comb through the slush pile, first and foremost flagging all Sunday grids. At last reported count, he only had 10 in the queue (most other days of the week it was more like 30-50). I sound like a skipping CD, beating the drum of getting him to try new ways of encouraging more Sunday submissions, especially clever theme ideas that can carry a solver through the big grid without losing interest.
The NYT Sunday crossword competes with other crosswords. Evan Birnholz's Washington Post Sunday crosswords have overall had better themes and much stronger grid execution than the NYT's over the past year. Worse, the NYT Sunday crossword also competes with social media. Netflix. Amazon Prime. As with every business, the NYT Sunday crossword must evolve and improve to compete with people's attention.
Yes, the NYT crossword subscription business has never been better. But complacency is the most common problem for any successful business.
I enjoyed Emily's theme set. I spent dozens of hours brainstorming mine, and LOAFER FURLOUGH never occurred to me. Brilliant find. It's so tricky working with a theme that doesn't allow for any computer-based data-mining assistance. Discovering something like KNEE HIGH HEINIE can feel like a gift of fortune (although I ended up dismissing it way back when, worrying that a saggy butt reference could offend people).
Nice gridwork. OH DEAR ME is a solid bonus, as is SEASLUG, BEGUILE, TRUE DAT, YEAH MAN.
It's not perfect craftsmanship in terms of short fill, but the crossword glue is mostly minor. ESS, HIES, HORS, ICI, LAH, OVI, TSE, UNI are thankfully all ignorable. On the whole, the grid is about average in terms of NYT Sunday quality. Might have benefitted from going to 142 words, allowing some smoothing and a bit more injected into the long slots.
Yet again, today's puzzle ended up feeling like a weekday grid stretched into a Sunday. Emily's initial instinct to do it as a 15x15 was spot-on. As much as I liked many of the finds, concentrating the five best into a 15x15 would have packed more punch.
I applaud Will's effort here, trying to expand his pool of Sunday submissions. Inflating weekday puzzles isn't a great way, though. If I were Will, I'd think about bringing on people like Evan as regular Sunday contributors.