★ This one brings me back to my days of high school French, attempting to memorize conjugations. I fail to remember. You fail to remember. Um … someone fails to … uh …
"Je ne sais pas" is one of the few phrases I do remember. Needless to say, my AP French exam didn't go well.
Neat to see so many "(pronoun) = (awesome)" phrases. I did wonder why I AM THE GREATEST didn't make the cut, but I imagine it wasn't the greatest for crossword symmetry. THEY'RE ... GRRREAT! is pretty great, anyway.
People will debate whether JEMELE HILL is a Monday-friendly entry. This sports fan didn't know her, so I appreciated that Erik was careful to make every crossing answer gettable. As long as an entry doesn't stand in the way of my victorious solve, I like a bit of learning. I AM THE GREATEST!
(Records of my AP French results say otherwise.)
Some beginning solvers have a ton of trouble figuring out where spaces should go, though, which makes JEMELE HILL even tougher — is it JEM ELEHILL? J.E. MELEHILL? Or a last name, JEMELEHILL?
Some solvers gripe that they detest when my puzzles shove learning at them, when they just wanted ten minutes of pure entertainment. Even if it's only a single entry, it seems to sour their experience, making them feel dumb.
Should crosswords be pure entertainment or a vessel for expanding solvers' horizons? There is no right answer, more a difference in philosophy.
I enjoyed this concept. I would have loved a progression of I, YOU, HE/SHE, WE, THEY (or a subset of those), but that's a minor ding, easily overlooked given the cool discovery of four superlative phrases that followed the same format.
Time to PART COMPANY! I've appreciated KROGER's drive-up-and-go grocery services during the pandemic, so it was fun to see that company split across BUCK ROGERS. Neat discovery of INTEL inside SAINT ELMO, too. I was positive the theme was going to be COMPANY INSIDERS, given INTEL's old "Intel Inside" slogan. Sadly, "Alcoa in your drawer" doesn't have the same ring to it.
I paused when I hit PART COMPANY. My first impression: it more strongly hints at another tried-and-true theme type, where the company is at the start and end of a phrase — like EBAY at the ends of EBBED AWAY. It's weird to see EBAY not separated whatsoever with a PART COMPANY revealer.
A few months ago, Will Shortz said he's getting pickier about "hidden words" themes, because he has too many on file. I've started to see where he's coming from.
There is still room for more, though. To stand out, constructors will need to include some combination of:
I enjoyed much of John's gridwork, entries like LUBE JOB, BEWILDER, TEE SHOT, BABY FAT, LUCKY ME, SADLY NO. A flood of riches!
They did come with high prices though, VADIS ESE ONA OTO TMEN unfriendly for newer solvers; inelegant. I'd have asked John to dial it back, accepting fewer bonuses in exchange for a smoother overall product.
I'm curious to see what constructors will do in this theme space in the future — there's still potential for interesting twists. "Insider trading" did make my theme radar ping …
Johanna's first pass contained synonyms for BLOW, like GASP, PANT, etc. It felt too loosey goosey, so I suggested the progression HUFF to PUFF to BLOW. I was sure there would be a ton of options for each themer, but it was surprisingly constrained. LEAVES IN A HUFF was an easy match for THE BIG BAD WOLF. PUFF and BLOW should be equally straightforward, right?
A quick search turned up limited options, including POWDER PUFF (or HUFFLEPUFF) and KURTIS BLOW. I thought too many solvers wouldn't know KURTIS BLOW, so ...
Wait a second! If Johanna gets the puzzle published, I'll be able to fill that in without a single crossing, and brag to everyone about it! I'll look like a genius!
This is why I like helping friends with crosswords.
Johanna also wondered who the heck KURTIS BLOW was, and thought BLOW BY BLOW might be better. THE BIG BAD WOLF was quite a blowhard, after all. (My sad joke, not hers.) I hesitated, but maybe Will would find that emphasis delightful?
Not so much.
Back to KURTIS BLOW! Who, of course, I knew all along. As my three-year-old son loves to say, you didn't have to tell me, I already knew that. Even before you asked.
Great to see Johanna take the plunge, building the grid from scratch. That's something all constructors should do for every crossword, but it can be so intimidating. Excellent results! I wouldn't have thought about centering THE BIG BAD WOLF and then breaking up the middle row with black squares, but it worked out well. US ATLAS and SKY HIGH are strong bonuses, as are OLD LACE and DO A FLIP. TALLY HO, indeed! All that with just a bit of ALEE, EINS, SSA.
My only issue is the NIKKI / KURTIS crossing, since NICKI / CURTIS is plausible. I'd have asked for a minor revision there.
Entertaining theme, solid fill. A treat to be on the sidelines for the entire process, rooting Johanna on.
I'm a big fan of Barbara's gridwork. I'd guess that 95% of constructors couldn't make a 72-word puzzle as smooth as she did — it's an incredibly tough task. Her debut puzzle was similarly elegant. Rare to see such excellence right out of the gate!
Although I've heard a few of these job puns before, the drill operator ... FINDS WORK BORING amused me. The dichotomy of "boring work" being both a terrible and fantastic thing? Delightful! If all of them had been that fun, this would have gotten POW! consideration.
The calendar maker NEEDS A WEEK OFF … why? I get that the person needs a vacation, but why take a week off of the calendar?
A-ha! Is it like a leap second, a periodic required time adjustment?
Wow, do I overthink things.
Nevertheless, strong overall product. It's a rare case that I'm so impressed by a new constructor's craftsmanship. Now that she's proven she can achieve top-notch smoothness, I'd like to see her add more snazziness to her fill, balancing her cleanliness and John's color from earlier this week.
I'll be keeping a keen eye open for Barbara's bylines.
I've dabbled at BALLOON ARTISTry, and I can vouch for the fact that things blow up. Not just literally in my face, but it turns out that kids explosively bawl when I hand them balloons shaped like dying amoeba.
[Outlet for international travelers]? Electrical plug? AC converter? D'oh, it was "outlet" in the sense of "place that sells things." DUTY-FREE STORE; brilliant!
The third marquee entry, PASSENGER VANS, didn't do as much, especially with a ho-hum clue. I'll take two out of three winners any day, though. That entire middle executed with just a SYS to hold it together? Solid.
I also liked how John made great use of his mid-length slots, GOD MODE such an evocative, descriptive entry.
There was so much crossword glue, though. Minor as it all was, ATA BCE HAR HRE SYS UKE USH ... inelegant. Given that this is a 70-worder, not a high degree of difficulty, I wanted a smoother product.
Thankfully, some amazing clues elevated the solving experience. PUSHPINs as colorful spots on a map. GRANT as a [50s President], that is, on the $50 bill. Even EGG getting a goodie, a common thread between tempera and tempura.
A few clues that might confuse:
I enjoyed some of the final touches, LHASA crossing DHAKA so pretty, trivia about a SEAHORSE's prehensile tail, and a throwback to Lucille Ball with the POODLE CUT. There was a lot to love, helping me to overlook some of the gridwork blips.
A couple of years ago, the ACPT finals puzzle featured MANAMA, the capital of Bahrain. Never having seen that name before, it befuddled me. I ran into the brilliant joon pahk afterward and expressed my disbelief that the puzzle included such an obscure word.
He looked puzzled. How could any world capital be considered obscure?
Um, yeah. That's what I meant to say!
I spent the plane ride home studying an atlas.
That experience made kicking off this puzzle with [Capital of Chad] much easier. I had no idea it was N'DJAMENA — I should have studied harder — but at least I understood that my ignorance was at fault, not the puzzle. I sat back and enjoyed the crazy NDJ start.
Speaking of enjoyment, FRED SANFORD brought back so many memories. I watched a ton of "Sanford & Son" as a teen and in college, Redd Foxx one of my favorite comedians of all time. I wonder if younger solvers will (sadly) look at the name in bewilderment. Go watch a few episodes, already!
Okay, they don't hold up well.
And they're pretty racist and sexist.
I wasn't aware of the term AMBUSH PREDATORS, but what a cool entry. It evokes images of Hobbes lying in wait for Calvin to come home from school. Sadly, all my stuffies ever did was extract hush money from me.
Fantastic clue for MARIA CALLAS, the opera singer. Tony Soprano repurposed as [Tony soprano?], with the "stylish" meaning of "tony"? Brilliant!
There's so much of Doug's personality in this one, one of my favorite crossworld people doing great work. From MY LIPS ARE SEALED to SPY CAMERAS amusingly "planted by plants" to SKIN DIVERS, there was more than enough to make me smile.
Now this is the way to use a low word-count grid to spice up a 21x21 puzzle! I was thoroughly impressed by how smooth Andy made my solve. A 134-word puzzle is so hard to fill that most of the time, there's a ton of gloopy shorties like … I could hardly believe my eyes when I went back through, finding ASST as the only entry I could point out. Fantastic!
How about the mid-length material? Low word-count puzzles often rely on neutral filler like RETOLD, DELOUSE, DRAWN TO. But Andy's conversion rate — percentage of mid-length slots turned into great bonuses — was so high. ATHEIST, BEWITCH, CATBERT ... and that's just the ABCs.
What made this feat even remotely possible was the decision to limit to six theme answers. One more, something along the lines of SURFACE BUDGET or SURREAL BIG FISH — would have cramped things up, making the sub-140 task much harder.
The theme worked, and I did like that it took me a while to find more possibilities. It's neat when a theme set is that tight.
The kooky answers didn't do much for me though, not a surprise given how restrictive the concept is. There are so few homophones available for sequences that complete SUR___, and therefore few base phrases to choose from. Only SURFER BALLS made me (juvenilely) giggle.
Sound change puzzles also work much better when they involve drastic spelling changes, so PRIZE to PRISE, LEE to LY, FUR to FER, and PAST to PASSED, aren't that interesting. JURY to GERY was the lone winner.
I'd have preferred this concept in a 15x15, where it could have held my attention. As fantastic as the 134-word gridwork is, it still didn't engage me enough to make up for the lack of theme excitement.
Fans of A E I O U sequence puzzles call them "vowel progressions." Haters gonna hate, but how can you not clap when they come up with a phrase like "vowel movement"?
When I worked on my first VM, I was baffled by the long U sound. People much smarter than me said that no, a long U doesn't sound like U.
Wha ... ?
U isn't U … it's more an "OO"?
I had to be getting punk'd. Most boring punking in history!
Turns out, linguists say that OO is correct. I suspect a conspiracy. I'm not paranoid; you are!
For today's theme, I would have automatically turned to BUTTE or BEAUT to finish off the puzzle — ITS A REAL BEAUT would have been a real beaut! But confusingly incorrect.
I can hear those jerks snickering, sticking out their linguals at me.
I enjoyed Kyle's progression; BAIT BEAT BITE BOAT BOOT perfect long vowels (at least according to those snoots). I might have gone with CUTS BAIT and GOGO BOOT to upgrade the more ho-hum ANKLE BOOT, but the others shined. Even linguists will cut loose on the PARTY BOAT.
Great gridwork, too. See how Kyle made his life easier — and your solve more colorful — by adding four "helper squares," like the one after HUE? Nibbling away at the big white spaces allows for so many more possibilities in each region, making it that much more likely to land on a great solution. Such strong results. In the NE, for example, STOOLIE, ISRAELI, KOOLAID, MET LIFE, LURID hardly BORES!
Along with a rock-solid VM (that's a good thing in this case), it would have been POW! material in some weeks.
I admire the creativity here. Most crossword fishing themes have trawled for "phrases that end with fishing equipment" phrases, a la CLICK BAIT, SPARE THE ROD, OFF THE HOOK, etc. I love that Freddie aimed for more than the standard approach. Non-fishing phrases that describe steps of fishing? I wouldn't have thought it possible.
I had too many hitches to give this POW! consideration, however. PICK UP STICK in the singular isn't stellar. TAKE A SOFT LINE … the Goog's News search shows a fair amount of usage. I wouldn't take a hard line against it, but neither would I strive to use it in conversation.
GET HOOKED UP. That's the hook getting hooked onto the line? Or the fish getting hooked up, onto the hook? It didn't quite work, at least not as perfectly as OPEN A CAN OF WORMS.
Great gridwork, though, helping elevate my fishing expedition. That's apt, considering the best part of a fishing trip is not the catching of fish, but the hanging out with friends, having a cold one while dissecting technical crossword construction minutia. It was my own NERD PROM today, replete with squeeing over mirror symmetry, a lifesaver in so many circumstances. Not all editors are fans — or even tolerant — of it, but I find left-right symmetry so captivating.
Although the theme made me pause once too many times, I'd take this reach-for-the-stars approach over a traditional one most days of the week. Great to see something a little different. Reminded me of another audacious effort.
I'm fortunate to chat with Jim Horne once a week. He has a unique perspective, having a background in programming, management, all styles of piano performance, conducting, Canadianism, and comedy. He had me cracking up as he riffed on AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (he's not a comic book fan and hasn't seen the movies.
This passes as a rallying cry? Avengers, come to the Senate floor so we can peacefully discuss current events while making popcorn?
Somehow, Robert Downey, Jr. makes it work. I can't imagine Antonio Guterres pulling it off, though.
I like that this "hidden words" theme riffs on a contemporary phrase, the Avengers movies offering surprisingly fantastic stories, evoking strong emotions. THOR inside an EVENT HORIZON could be straight out of the movies. WASP inside THROW A SPIRAL is great, too.
Although ASSISTANT MANAGER isn't that colorful a phrase, it made me think of "The Office." I could totally see Paul Rudd and Dwight Schrute dueling with flying ants vs. sharpened beets at ten paces.
Hidden word puzzles are becoming overdone, so they need to offer something extra. While I did appreciate the freshness of the revealer, it didn't feel like an apt way to describe hidden words. Now, if the puzzle had been presented in pieces, like a jigsaw, and you had to put together ASSISTANT and MANAGER to form ANT MAN across them — that would have been stellar.
Great gridwork, though, Amanda and Ross firing all pistons with ID LOVE TO, HIT THE DECK, BEAT BOXERS, RAGE QUIT. I'd have liked ONE METER and LOOM OVER broken up, so the oddly spelled DEMETRI could be smoothed out, but I can see the merits of offering solvers more long fill.
I'd never have thought to link FRANK SINATRA and ELVIS PRESLEY. Yes, they're both icons in POPULAR / MUSIC. They both sang MY WAY. And they do have the same 5,7 letter enumeration. That's not enough to build a puzzle around, though, so I appreciated Pete's effort to do something more.
Splitting these guys inside a single crossword row... why? Even after reading Pete's thoughts, it still didn't click. If they had been roommates in college, or better yet, were known for performing MY WAY together, that would have made much more sense.
Would a Schrödinger have worked? I doubt it since Schröndingers have to point equally at both answers. Even this pop music idiot knew FRANK SINATRA sang MY WAY, but ELVIS? I could name ten ELVIS songs and not get anywhere near MY WAY, so I'd have filled in FRANK SINATRA, never realizing that ELVIS entered into the quantum duality.
This execution didn't excite me, but I enjoy something different on a Thursday. Slashes in boxes count, for sure.
I did love a few clues. Moon or Mercury is a brilliant way to describe a ROCK STAR, reminding me of a recent NYT crossword theme. ROCK STAR is such appropriate fill for this theme, too!
And the clue for TATER, [Many eyes are on it, informally]. Delightful way to misdirect away from the literal eyes on a potato.
I like when puzzles have something for everyone, perhaps the latest rapper balanced out by a physicist and a Broadway number. This one targeted an older crowd, with GOMER PYLE, NASH as a bygone automaker, NOLTE as the Sexiest Man Alive from decades ago, Casey KASEM, EDERLE from a century ago, to go along with ELVIS and SINATRA.
It's not MY WAY, but I can see how an older generation might delight in having their day to reminisce about a bygone era.
★ The first marquee answer delighted me, and it was highlight after highlight from there. PORCH SWING is a great answer in its own right, but when you elevate it with the mysterious [Option when one wants to move out of the house?] — that's literally move, right outside your house — it's Einstein-level brilliant.
WHAT'S SO FUNNY? UP TO SPEED. I AM SO THERE. FREE WIFI. All that, plus CROISSANTS? Heck yeah, I am so there!
If you haven't been watching Dan Feyer's weekly speed-solving adventures, you're missing out. A lot of it is him tearing through without commentary, but I like his short and sweet impression about each puzzle. As he says about Robyn, so many colloquial, catchy phrases — that's why she's one of the best.
Slew of great clues, too:
Although Will Shortz and his team contribute to clever clues, it's clear that some constructors spend much more time than others on their wicked wordplay. Robyn's themelesses always have more than a handful of clues that shine.
I wasn't thrilled to get TYRO in a 72-word themeless, or TOR clued to the mountain peak instead of Toronto, but I can easily overlook those minor issues, given the overall awesomeness.
Such a Charlsonesque way to kick off a puzzle, a Z in the first square. [Hyperbolic figure] had me fooled for a while, thinking about paraboloids, then liars, but whenever I get stuck in one of Trenton's puzzles, I asked the one question sure to gain me traction: where could the JQXZ go? A-ha! A JILLION is a hyperbolic (exaggerated) figure.
I bet Trenton is on Wikipedia as we speak, trying to make JOOM OUT a real thing so he can use it in this next themeless. Better yet, JOOM QUT.
I enjoy rare letters when they're worked in smoothly, for my benefit. I wasn't sure that was the case with XIANGQI. When a Chinese guy who's played a fair amount of Chinese chess raises his eyebrows at XIANGQI …
Well, there is the fact that I was kicked out of Chinese school as a kid.
Given that I'm much more a soldier than a general in a real-life game of Chinese chess, maybe XIANGQI is okay. Still, I imagine some solvers will grumble that this entry is more fun for Trenton than for them, and I would sympathize.
ZEROPHYTE — er, XEROPHYTE — fell somewhere in between. I'd heard the word before, and I admire the kooky spelling. It doesn't provide nearly the delight of ZILLION / ZOOM OUT, though. It's a risk you take when you employ a word that not everyone will know right off the bat. (Xero- means "dry," derived from Greek.)
I also had trouble with the REM / METIER crossing. Both are fair entries, but man oh man is it devilish to clue REM not as REM sleep or the band but [Ad ___]. Saturday puzzles should be hard, but that clue makes the crossing downright painful.
Still, I enjoyed so much of Trenton's choices of marquee entries, TOM SWIFTY, SWEET TALK, FAST TRACK, ODD DUCK. I'd love to see what he could do if he simply tried to maximize his colorful long entries, rare letters be damned.
A DREAM WITHIN A DREAM -> WHAT AM I, A MIND READER would make anagramatron proud. It was on "This American Life" and other sources as well, but it's still an A+ discovery.
Crosswords have tapped anagrams for decades now, and they're often not my thing because they've been so played out. It's also tough to anagram more than seven letters in my head, so connecting CONTAMINATED to NO ADMITTANCE is more "I'll take your word for that" rather than "oh man that's so cool."
Interesting way to link the anagrams, though. I've never before seen CONTAMINATED leading to NO ADMITTANCE, sort of a cause/effect presentation. I appreciate the novelty. I thought we were in for another "word that means an anagram of itself" when I hit SYCOPHANT / ACTS PHONY, so it was a pleasant surprise to get something different.
FORTY-FIVE leading to OVER FIFTY at first felt arbitrary, but in the vein of cause/effect, this worked.
Best of all, I was delighted that Randy didn't dip into sub-140 word territory like he usually does. Although the result didn't exemplify smoothness — that SE corner of TEASELS SUD SNEE left me with some AGITA — it's an average Sunday result. Nothing to excessively kvetch about.
It's uncommon for me to enjoy an anagram puzzle, so kudos for the new twist. I'd even venture to say that if all pairs had demonstrated such neat cause/effect links as CONTAMINATED to NO ADMITTANCE, it'd have gotten a whiff of POW! consideration.
★ Folks, do we have a special for you this week! It's Day 1 of the CUJO show (Cracking Up Jim with Overthinking), where Jeff unintentionally makes Jim Horne snort via OCD overanalysis. Today went something like this:
Jeff: Delightful theme. AU PAIRS = pairs of Os. But …
Jim: wait for it … (holding back a snicker) ... wait for it …
Jeff: … doesn't AU PAIRS in the plural imply at least two, not two and only two? Why not three pairs of OOs?
Jim: OO OO OO? What are we, the SCOOBY DOO team, chased by ghosts?
Jeff: And what's up with FIVE O in the grid? Is that a secret insider thing? Wait! Are there FIVE "AU"s? Huh. Let me do a letter count frequency analysis ...
(rest drowned out by Jim's cackling)
Overthinking aside, fantastic revealer. I was sure it was going to be DOUBLE O, as in James Bond's designation, but AU PAIRS is perfect.
At least for non-overthinkers who wonder if phrases like TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL or DOO BE DOO BE DOO — or SCOOBY DOOBY DOO! — would have been a welcome addition.
Solid gridwork; I appreciate that Olivia didn't try to do too much, sticking with the max 78 words in her grid. A Monday offering should have a couple of colorful long bonuses — SNAPDRAGON and SCRAP METAL, check — and little to no gluey bits. ARAIL isn't great, but it's easily gettable from the common simile. Overall, grid execution that welcomes newer solvers.
There are hundreds of OO pairs out there — use the search string *OO*OO* to see for yourself — so the theme is looser than I like. However, Olivia chose some of the best ones available. Along with the amusing and a-ha inducing revealer, I smiled enough to award this one the POW!
Day 2 of the CUJO (Cracking Up Jim Horne with Overthinking) show!
Jeff: So …
Jim: Oh, this is going to be good. (rubs hands together)
Jeff: Did you find it odd that the (square) INCH is the same size as the (square) MILE?
Jim: Bwa ha ha!
Jeff: What? Is it because you grew up in Canada? Would this have been more accurate using that bizarre metric thingy?
Jim: (choking on his peals of laughter)
Overthinking aside, I enjoyed the stepwise progression, INCH to FOOT to YARD to MILE — each of the measures exactly four letters, perfect for crossword squaring. I thumb my nose at metric system snobs. See how beautiful our totally not wonky units are?
Also elegant: Alex's gridwork. It's notoriously difficult to build around square themers, since they affect four crossing answers and so much of the surrounding region. Aside from the tough NIIHAU and ABSEIL, the grid is amazingly smooth, with dashes of IGUANODON, BEDHEAD, FALSE STEP, HOLD EM, to boot. I like how Alex always says BRING IT ON to challenges.
The theme wasn't an instant light bulb flick, rather a slow illumination of candles: units of measure … going from small to big … in squares … meaning "square" measurements … that's how you measure area … those areas are gray … thus GRAY AREAS. Not as sharp an a-ha as I like, but an interesting set of connections.
In some weeks, I would have given it POW! consideration, because of the superb execution. Yesterday's puzzle was more playfully entertaining, though.
Day 3 of the CUJO (Cracking Up Jim Horne with Overthinking) show!
(inside Jeff's head as he valiantly tries not to embarrass himself)
Okay, Jeff. This theme is what an overthinker's DREAMS are made of. BLANKET OF SNOW, SHEET OF ICE, BED OF ROSES … solid "X OF (nature thing)" theme. It works. But FIELD OF DREAMS as a revealer? How does that work? DREAMS aren't something occurring in nature.
Or are they?
Could this be a meta-answer? DREAMS do often involve SNOW, ICE, ROSES. Especially when your daughter is obsessed with "Frozen," forcing you to watch it over and over, "A Clockwork Orange"-style.
According to the clue, FIELD OF DREAMS is a hint to the other themers. Why?
Because … BLANKET, SHEET, BED are things that are around you when you dream?
Because … oh! Because you can have a SNOWFIELD, an ICEFIELD, and a — drat. ROSEFIELD isn't a thing.
What a minefield.
Does FIELD refer to the field of dream analysis? Or perhaps psychoanalysis, which I'm clearly needing after this rambling brain vomit--
Jim: Ahem. You've been silent on the phone for 78 minutes now. Have you figured it out?
Jeff: Well ... you see ...
Jim: Don't worry, me neither.
It's a valiant attempt at doing something above and beyond. Both Jim and I got more confusion than a click from the FIELD OF DREAMS revealer, though.
The layout also made it hard to connect the dots. As much as I enjoy mirror symmetry, regular symmetry would have been better. The beddish set of black squares didn't work well enough to justify the herky-jerky presentation of themers.
I do love TOSCANINI and TEEN IDOLS as fill. However, with so many themers in short slots, those great long bonuses murk up what is theme and what is not.
This is a near-great set of findings, the three X of Y themers described by FIELD OF DREAMS in a myriad of different ways. Unfortunately, none of those multiple ways were spot-on, almost tangling each other up, leaving me with not such a dreamy overall impression. Overall, though, I'd rather constructors shoot for the stars, striving to do something above and beyond, even if it doesn't end up having the desired impact.
Day 4 of the CUJO (Cracking Up Jim Horne with Overthinking) show!
Jim: The theme works.
Jeff: Yes, fun concept, all those vehicles piled up in a row. But ...
Jim: (unable to decide between eye-rolling and laughter)
Jeff: Hey, VAN. Why don't you do the run for the ROSES, skipping the line completely? Maybe it's too much of a LOTTO to weave in and out of the single letters? There's lots of space in the adjacent "lanes."
Jim: (turning red, either from the strain of holding back cackles, or infuriation)
Jeff: I enjoyed the BOTTLENECK themer, and if the grid had more resembled that — a BOTTLENECK of black squares forcing vehicles into a single lane with no other way out — that would have been fantastic. Squeeze both of those T-shaped black square chunks toward the middle and it's much harder to escape.
Jim: Hold on, let me write this down for posterity. You want rebus letters to weave in and out of single letters ...
Even though Ricky didn't quite convert(ible) the concept into a spot-on visual, I appreciated the excellent gridwork in the middle. It's a tough task to integrate five adjacent multi-letter blocks, and the result is so smooth. So apt to end the string with a meta reBUS, too!
I'm curious how many solvers are going to balk at KUBO. Based on his previous puzzles, I get a sense that KUBO is an expression of Ricky's personal interests. I don't know how many solvers will be equally interested and might have a tough time with the name, so I'd leave those types of flourishes out.
Although the visual didn't work as strongly as it could have, and the themers on the sides felt superfluous, the execution around the middle impressed me enough that I still enjoyed the solve.
The final day of the CUJO (Cracking Up Jim Horne with Overthinking) show!
Jeff: Greg debuted only one great long entry, but what a delight. FLOOR WAX is excellent in its own right — the rare letter X helps it shine — and since most everyone knows what it is, you can give it a devilish clue. [Coat placed on the ground] made me think of the old-school concept of a man placing a coat over a mud puddle for a lady to step over. That's A+ deception.
Jim: But ...
Jeff: Oh no. It's contagious!
Jim: ... a FLOOR isn't called "the ground." Would you say you're polishing "the ground" inside your house?
Jeff: No, no, no! Stop before you --
Jim: Maybe I'm missing something. I bet there could be an alternate definition of FLOOR, perhaps archaic --
Jeff: Too late. Resistance is futile. Jim has been assimilated.
I appreciated how Greg chose a few other marquee answers in that vein. BETA TEST has been floating around crosswords for a while now, so it's not as fresh as FLOOR WAX, but when you give it a clue like [Screen that keeps out bugs?], it becomes radiant all over again.
And while PGA TOUR is nothing new in the crossworld, how magnificent a clue; taking advantage of what we see too often in politics these days. [Group whose lies are much discussed on TV] had to be (insert your hated political sect here). "Lies" are golfers' terms for how the ball sits up in the grass. Fantastic, not having to use a telltale question mark in the clue.
I'm not a fan of sectioned puzzles, so while the black squares lend a pretty, clock-like appearance to the grid, I wasn't hot on solving five mini-puzzles, getting stuck in two of them. Thankfully, there was enough strong material — ROAST PIG, PUMP IRON, O SOLE MIO — to help make up for the blander long entries and the bits of ANE, CIRC, EGAL, LBO, SNO, ERINS.
I'm a huge jazz fan, so it was a thrill to be able to plunk in SKETCHES OF SPAIN with no crossings. (There are rumors that I tried BITCHES BREWWWWW first, but I'll never admit that.) It's not one of my top five Miles Davis albums, but some people love its dreamlike qualities. If you're interested in broadening your musical horizons, I'd listen to these first:
Kind of Blue. The best-selling album that defines cool jazz.
Walkin'. Impossible to get the opening trumpet declaration out of your head!
The Complete Concert: 1964. Hard-driving rhythms, led by a young Tony Williams on drums.
Miles Smiles. This album, while too cutting-edge for mainstream listeners, features one of the few pics of him smiling, and one of his best tracks ever, "Footprints."
Bitches Brew. Not for the faint of heart! Some might call it noise, I call it genius.
And if you get a chance to read his autobiography, definitely check it out — as long as you don't mind copious f-bombs.
Thinking about Miles's music put me in my HAPPY PLACE. IN A GROOVE is so apt.
There were a few too many DEAD SPOTs in the grid, long slots filled with neutral entries like INDICATE, PAYMENTS, ADD A LINE — a risk you take venturing into 68-word territory with such big corners like the SW — but I appreciated so much of the sentiments Stella incorporated. Wanda SYKES speaks volumes right now. And in the vein of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), I'm hopeful that from all the turmoil and protests comes more landmark civil rights legislation.
I enjoy it when a constructor's personality comes through. I'm rooting for Stella to debut the CROSSFIT GAMES or a MUSCLE UP.
What, you don't know the blockbuster hit game, "Animal Crossing"? It's a silly little thing where you breed rare hybrids, dipping into animal-human crimes against nature that turn dangerous and then try to eat you … I might be thinking of something else.
I'm not much into animal mobile games, but I might play "Doctor Moreau Crossing."
It's fantastic to see a new generation of crossword creators, Byron mentoring his son through the process. I thought it was crazy when 13-year old David Steinberg's baby-faced pic debuted a decade ago. But an eight-year old?
What the …?
It makes my daughter, Tess, seem over the hill at age five. But you better watch out, Harrison, because my son Jake still has five years to catch you!
I'm not sure which kid will take over the Chen family business. One thing's for sure, though — we'll be sure to stick with a normal-ish word count. I like how Byron beat back his usual obsession with ultra-low-word-count grids, allowing Harrison a gentle entry into the pool. Breaking up a grid into doable chunks is the perfect way to get a new constructor into the fold, and those SW and NE corners Harrison did are perfect bite-sized chunks.
I do wonder if Harrison is giving his dad the side-eye, saying WTF (what the frick, of course) is a BIDDY? NOMEN? An ADZ, much less ADZING? Tess/Jake and I might start with something much more within reach of an 8-year old, like a 78-word Tuesday grid.
The theme … the jokes weren't up my alley, but what do you get when you cross 26-Across (ELEPHANT) with 40-Across (RHINO)?
★ I love it when a constructor does so much so right. I love it even more when said constructor does that while making their debut. Makes me go yodel from my rooftop that someone gets it!
(My neighbors hate when I do that.)
I looked into this theme a few months back, initially getting excited when I found JAMES K POLK, RISK PREMIUM, ASK PRICE, and best of all, FACEMASK PENALTY. I ended up junking it, muttering curses at Crucivera, the goddess of crosswords, for her cruciverbal cruelty. Lengths of 10, 11, 8, 15, 8 (ESCAPEES) — not even mirror symmetry could save that. I scraped up DESK PHONES and MUSK PERFUME to create symmetry, but that felt desperate.
How wrong I was. I did still think DESK PHONES was boring today, but it was easy to shrug off with so much else to love.
Newer constructors should study this grid; three points in particular:
Extremely well done, Sid. We'll be keeping our eyes open for more of your products.
I generally dislike when a puzzle reveals its hand too early in the solve, and STRAIGHT EDGES at 10-D was not ideal. I'd have loved to use mirror symmetry, placing STRAIGHT EDGES centered in row 12.
But Crucivera is cruel. To make that happen, I'd have to intersect a pair of theme answers through the revealer, and none of the letter pairs within STRAIGHTEDGES both had straight edges. Starting from the outside, heading inward: S/S, T/E, R/G, A/D, I/E, G/T. Bah!
I briefly considered opening up my "straight edge" criterion to the letter I so I could make mirror symmetry work (crossing themers through that I/E pair), but that felt like a cheat. Solvers tend to write in the middle of boxes when possible, so the letter I wouldn't mesh with all the pre-printed "straight edges" justified left. People might write an I down the middle of a box and wonder why there was an extra line pre-printed to its left.
Huh? You're asking why I couldn't have placed STRAIGHT EDGES in row 12, and then placed my four themers at the top of the grid, in columns 3, 6, 10, 13? No revealer intersections necessary, since the longest vertical themer would have ended in row 10?
I didn't do that, because ... technical reasons ... feasibility studies ...
Shut up, you.
Ah, initialisms, our old crossword friend. Since they've been done so many times over — even IC made an appearance back in 2016 — it's important to do something a little extra. I appreciate how Joe played on COLD OPEN (a term for a show's first segment sans introduction) to hint at the I C phrases. That's a fun bit of wordplay.
Joe's comment about theme / fill mismatch is spot on. Usually, it's a great idea to offer something for everyone, so no one feels completely left out. Want to include your favorite pop song? Probably best to balance it with entries from a wide range of other areas.
However, that concept doesn't work when applied to the big picture. If you have to toil this hard to uncover entries like VIZSLA, RH MACY, AMALFI, KATANA, the payoff has to be worth it. A simple initialisms concept doesn't fit that bill.
Some solvers will complain that VIZSLA is a weird entry; they hate the puzzle because of it. That's not totally fair, since VIZSLA is a real dog breed that some pet owners will find obvious. However, hearing this type of feedback has affected my constructing preferences. These days, I tend to shy away from anything that might attract the "weird" tag, trying instead to let my short fill be largely unnoticeable; ignorable.
I loved the MALLET clue, referencing Whack-a-mole. That's constructing in a nutshell, trying to smack down any gloop that bubbles up, in the eternal struggle of smoothing out a crossword grid. Great clue for EEYORE too, "the Gloomy Place" making me think of much more villainous characters. A relief to finally land upon the mopey yet lovable ol' donkey.
I'd have much preferred a Monday grid to synchronize with this Monday theme, but I can understand Joe's motivations. Construction can get repetitive, and it's hard to resist challenging oneself.
ADDED NOTE: reader Zach Schiff points out that Jack Daniels is from Tennessee, but IRISH COFFEE uses Irish whiskey (usually Tullamore Dew or Jameson). For the sake of science, I now will go drink one of each to compare. Maybe a bigger sample size would be useful ...
Prime fodder for JOTS (Jeff Overthinks Things Severely). Each week when Jim Horne and I chat, my favorite moment is when I see that little grin of his, as he struggles to hold back peals of laughter. This time the corner of his mouth pinched upward when I said, "But is the LIMB really OUT ON A LIMB?"
Right? Wouldn't GO OUT ON A LIMB imply that there's something physically on top of the limb? Like OUT would be outside the grid, right atop an ARM that's also outside the grid?
That's when Jim usually sighs before saying, "Only Jeff."
We had a fun in-depth discussion:
To be clear, these were all my musings, while Jim fought to fall over as he cackled in the background.
Jim returned the favor, making me crack up as we discussed the grid. "GAWKY is just … gawky," he deadpanned.
I've seen a ton of "letters outside the grid" puzzles over the years, so it's tough for me to get excited about them unless the raison d'etre is spot-on. I did like the concept, though, GO OUT ON A LIMB a solid reason to go outside (at least for non-serial-overthinkers).
And in the end, I decided that including WING was fun, although it would have been better as part of a phrase like LOTTERY DRA(WING) or THE KING OF S(WING).
You can stop laughing now, Jim.
Another lovely Weintraub product. A couple of great colloquial phrases in YOU'VE CHANGED and DON'T LOOK AT ME, and a bevy of colorful entries like ESCAPE ROUTE, COOL BREEZE, SOAP OPERAS, ALL PURPOSE. It's a RARE TREAT indeed to see 14 long slots (8+ letters) converted into 14 fantastic answers — at least rare for mere mortals. It's commonplace for Robyn.
I could easily pick any of Robyn's themelesses for the POW! these days — she's that good. My bar for her keeps on rising higher and higher. It's no surprise that the New Yorker added her to their lineup. Congrats!
This one didn't have as many clever clues as I expect from a Weintraub product, though, just the STONER taking the "high" road (groan).
It also had too many gluey bits in ABBR ESE ESSA ITBE ONA STET, much too high for a 70-word puzzle. Patrick Berry is one of the greats because his grids are so immaculate, not even a whiff of inelegance anywhere. I'd love to see Robyn edge in that direction. However, Robyn's grids are often more colloquially colorful than Patrick's, so somewhere in between seems like the ideal.
You know you're good when someone mentions you in the same sentence as Patrick Berry. You know you're great when someone suggests Patrick move in your direction!
Ryan Mccarty is so strong at assembling low-word count grids. This isn't his first football-shaped middle — he's done three others — but it's still stunning to see all those long answers stacked atop each other. Five long answers from TITLE DEED to GAVE A DAMN — all intersected by more long answers from COAST TO COAST to I CAN DO THAT to SCHOOL MARM to SWEET AND SOUR? There's nothing sour about that, only sweet!
Constructors like entries such as JASON MRAZ because of that bizarre NMR string and the two rare letters. He's not going to do much for those who don't know him, though. There's something to be said about introducing solvers to your favorite musician or someone you think is important, but you might leave solvers with a negative impression of that person. Some solvers don't like being forced to learn, not when they're looking for pure entertainment.
Similar case for DARIO FO, although he's not as noticeable since he's tucked away in a corner.
Clever clues make a themeless stand out. I loved the one for TREADS, this bald guy initially going to HAIR.
And my kids know that I'm an enchanting one, not just because I tell them so. Watch as this dad MAGE pulls a quarter out of your ear!
Tess, too smart for her own good, now constantly inspects my palms.
I also appreciated the HATE WATCH clue, including both "put on" (the TV) and "put-off." It didn't work perfectly, though, since it made me wonder if I understand what HATE WATCH means. (I don't.)
Solid work, the grid assembled with care, not a drop of crossword glue in sight. I'd have welcomed a bit more, though, in exchange for fewer unfamiliar names and more clever clues.
Come on, New York Times crossword! You missed out on a perfect opportunity to include POWERPEOPLE. This message brought to you from the Seattle sons of anarchy.
I enjoy when a puzzle relates to a person's background. How appropriate for a pair of MIT grads to play on exponents! It's not one of the famous MIT pranks, but it still made me smile.
For those not mathematically inclined, an exponent like XY (also written as X^Y) is commonly read as "X to the Y." Nice touch to always have the Y entry in the grid placed to the upper right of the X entry, mimicking math notation. I would have loved a caret (^) printed between the pairs, further dorking up the joint.
Neat concept, although it would have been much better in a weekday 15x15, where the one-trick pony wouldn't have had to fill up as much space. As strong as these themers are — PREACH (to the) CHOIR is excellent — the notion got repetitive, especially when dealing with the annoyance of cross-referenced clues.
Jim Horne had a great idea on alleviating some of the cross-referencing annoyance: don't number the Y entry. Solvers would have had to deal with the confusion associated with eight unnumbered entries, but needing to figure out the reason for the unnumbered clues might have elevated the a-ha moment.
Solid debut, with some stale crossword glue balanced out by a lot of great long fill — PALM TREE, THE L BOMB (the word "love"), ALACRITY, THE FATES. It's tough to build around so many short theme answers, so I appreciated the obvious care and time Jon and Anderson put in.
Did you ever notice that A S P is contained within SHAKESPEARE? That there is a great murder mystery in the making. Untimely death due to fever from too much drinking, my asp.
Like Shakespeare, we constructors are an obsessive bunch. A majority of the time, I'm only pretending to listen to people, simply nodding to cover up the whirr of gears as the crossword ideas spin about. I'd love to trace the firing of synapses that led Peter to this concept. I've seen many like it, including full words within another word of a phrase, plays on contained letters, and awesome "kangaroo words," but I haven't quite seen this.
Editor of the "blazingly hard" Fireball crossword, Peter tends toward tough fill. I don't know that ABSALOM crossing IM PEI is unfair, but it is ripe for newer solvers to make a frustrating mistake. PRITZKER PRIZE is better, since even though ZYDECO is a toughie, there's another check on the Z from the nature of the theme.
You might wonder why HEROS isn't spelled with an extra E, like HEROES? Or what the clue means? It's clever, a HERO sandwich being (literally) a long lunch. Hopefully, that doesn't go over too many Monday solvers' heads.
I enjoyed the novelty of the concept, although seeing how many other phrases there are made it less interesting — there's something appealing about a given set of themers being the only ones possible. Maybe it could have been tightened up somehow. Perhaps choosing a related set of themers, or even something as simple as all ones starting with the same letter.
It also would have been great to find some appropriate revealer, a raison d'être to give it a more of a "wow!" than a "huh, that's a curious letter pattern observation." How neat would it be to play on WHAT'S IN A NAME?!
Little known fact: my friends call me "The Notorious J.Y.C."
Little known to my friends, that is.
Years ago, I went through a similar process to Zach's when I first heard THE NOTORIOUS RBG. What a nickname! Ultimately, I wasn't interested in doing a "tribute puzzle," so I assembled a mini-themed themeless.
I enjoyed the material about RBG. I wasn't aware of ON THE BASIS OF SEX or FLATBUSH, or that she went to COLUMBIA, so I'm glad to learn these facts about a person I admire. (Embarrassingly, I've read more than one biography on her yet still didn't know these things.)
Why print this today? Tribute puzzles usually work best for a birthday or anniversary of an important date. Or another event which I won't name because … you know. It'd have been great to save this one for March 15, RBG's birthday. She turns 88 next year, so it's not an important birthday, but it's better than nothing.
I loved that northwest corner, a rare treat to get so many goodies in a Tuesday puzzle. PROSIT crossing IPAS might be tough, but sprinkling in PREAMBLE, RUNS RIOT, ENTRAP into an RBG crossword is so worth it. It's a little known secret that corners like this aren't too tricky — if you have a solid word list — since only one row is constrained.
Not as enamored with SOCIO, and the killer TRAC/ALIF/HILO crossings. That's often a tort incurred when you don't separate themers enough, like COLUMBIA over JUSTICE. See also: tough ABSCAM and ASIANA, partial-sounding READ EM. Court is in session …
A solid debut. I wonder if there will be some outcry from conservative solvers, though. RBG is admirably tough and a seeker of justice, but she's not been without controversy.