A one-trick pony is still entertaining if it has enough horsepower. Fantastic idea today, "with 1 Across" (note that there's no hyphen, as per the usual "with 1-Across"!) sneakily indicating that you have to add ACROSS to SHOT THE BOW to form SHOT (ACROSS) THE BOW. Although it was too easy to fill in the rest of the themers once I figured out the trick, it was a strong enough deception to be memorable.
Also memorable: an amazing amount of grid color without resorting to much short glue. With four themers, I expect at least four great long bonuses, and Michael overdelivered. The adjacent Downs are fantastic, DISASTERS / I CAN'T EVEN worked in so smoothly. Way to use those mid-length slots, too, with NEW GIRL (I binge-watched it early in the pandemic) and MANHUNT.
And great cluing to boot?! I circled nine standout clues today, way more than average for a Thursday. The question mark ones were entertaining — [Stretch for the stars?] is not much of a stretch for LIMO — but [Places to find dishes of different cultures] nearly won this a POW! on its own. What a wickedly clever misdirect toward food, away from bio LABS.
Although the puzzle felt anticlimactic after the first minutes of solving, Michael did a fantastic job working in more than enough to keep me filling in squares.
★ Another beauty from Robyn — you bet I FANCY THAT! Not many constructors can work with 14 long slots (8+ letters) and convert them into 14 excellent entries. Editors prize multi-worders in themelesses, because they often have more zing than single-worders. CIRCULAR FILE and CRUNCH TIME are perfect examples, laden with meaning and imagery.
And the single-worders that Robyn did employ? This dork would gladly submit to the emotional terrors of pon farr if it meant a shot at joining STARFLEET.
DUTY-FREE SHOPS does double duty, too, as both a fantastic phrase and one that lends itself to a Starfleet admiral-level clue. "Non-taxing part of airline travel" wins a Medal of Excellence.
Themeless constructors often either allow too much glue or are too stringent at the cost of not enough color. Robyn has found the sweet spot, achieving top-notch pizazz at only nominal costs like STD and TUE.
I did have one hitch at the end of my solve, since I confidently wrote in BANTER for [Give and take]. My annoyance level was high; unable to figure out how ANC could match [Bow]. But when I finally corrected to BARTER, I appreciated what an interesting coincidence that is, BANTER and BARTER both aptly fitting that clue. Crossword theme radar pinging ...
I've raised my bar for Robyn because she's just that good. Today's surpassed even my final frontier expectations.
I can see why Will Shortz green-LIT this puzzle. The New York Times tends to prefer erudite themes, so you can bet Will would show this one some love(craft)!
BREAKS THE LAWRENCE was the winner. There's something so vivid about the phrase. I was raised to hold books on a pedestal, so I took strange pleasure with this, akin to gawking at a traffic accident.
GIVES A FAIR SHAKESPEARE also intrigued me. Neat that it changed the meaning of "fair" so drastically.
It's a shame some of the alternates didn't make the cut. THROWS A FITZGERALD is what I did when I first read "The Great Gatsby," a teenager wondering what the hell(er) was the big deal. BUNDLE OF JOYCE made me laugh, too, imagining English majors treating a precious tome like an angel(ou).
I appreciated the consistency in always tacking the author onto a phrase that ends with the first part of his/her name, but I'd have loved an extra layer — a finishing the paint job with a second coat(es), if you will.
Maybe all book destruction, with a Fahrenheit 451 meta-theme — HITTING THE BOOKS, perhaps? Riffing on GREEN LIT(ERATURE) ... with phrases about nature? I didn't have an immediate light-bulb moment, but it'd have been fun to chew on this. There are so many themer possibilities that something extra to lift the puzzle to the next level feels within grasp.
Although I didn't lift a stein(beck) to the concept, I enjoyed feeling smart, being able to fill in the authors' names quickly. My education weighed more heavily on tech than humanities, so I'm glad my checkered past(ernak) didn't catch up with me today. Sometimes an easy-breezy Sunday is just what this tweedled-dum(as) needs.
It's funny to think about yelling HONEY, I'M HOME in the pandemic era. Jill would roll her eyes at me because I'm always home. Just wait until HONEY I'M GIVING YOU SOME MUCH NEEDED ALONE TIME gains traction.
It seemed evident from the get-go that STREET had to be thematic, and once I uncovered STEPS, LANDING, DOOR, I was sure it was some sort of AROUND THE HOUSE idea. Neat to be surprised that HOUSE wasn't even in the revealer.
It took me a while to figure out that it was a progression instead of a random collection of home-related things. I would have bet a hundred bucks that I've never had a LANDING, but it turns out I've had many. Starting at the STREET, coming up the STEPS, landing on the LANDING, opening the DOOR — that's a tidy sequence. Neat that each of those words can be disguised (more or less) at the ends of phrases.
Solid Monday gridwork; such a smooth product. Maybe STENOS aren't as ubiquitous as they used to be in the 20th century, but it's still an important profession. SPACE SUITS and SKINNY DIPS added great color, too.
HONEY, I'M HOME evoked images of 1950's sitcoms, which clash with Jill and my philosophy about splitting household and childcare tasks 50/50. I'm curious if people say HONEY I'M HOME these days? Shania Twain has a catchy version that flips the script, anyway.
Looking past that moment of discomfort, I enjoyed the unexpected and orderly progression.
★ Standout debut. It's hard to come up with novel themes, and even harder to land on ones that are accessible to newer solvers. "Phrases that can be punnily described as TECH BOOMS" is IPO-worthy.
What impressed me most was how hard it seems to come up with a fitting set. Even if I'd landed upon the idea of riffing on TECH BOOMS (I doubt I would have), what themers would I have identified? Probably COMPUTER CRASH and TWEETSTORM ... and then I'd have shelved it.
Even after a second look, I find myself studying the theme choices, wondering what I could learn about broadening my search paths.
Wonderful gridwork, too; much better than many experienced constructors can produce. There's some minor CREMA CBER PFC glue, but it's more than offset by the color in EAT FRESH and ON SAFARI.
Not to mention, those long bonuses shine even brighter with clever clues. Repurposing "subway line" and "watching the big game" is Friday-level deliciousness that's still accessible to newbs.
Carly (who I just found out was a test-solver for my latest book!) could have chosen an easier grid layout — those wide-open upper-right and lower-left corners are extremely tricky — and I'm glad she didn't. CRUMPLES / ON SAFARI / MIMICKED for the low, low cost of PFC greatly strengthens the balance sheet.
As with startups, unicorns come around only once every few years. I'm rushing to get my venture cap funds invested into shares of Carly Schuna.
Add-a-letter themes can be underwhelming since they can feel too easy to accomplish. Not today's! I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this one. Bruce and I have similar senses of humor, so I also chuckled at PUBLIC TOILETH. That was even more surprising given my son's cringeworthy propensity to touch everything in public restrooms.
I love when I can't figure out how I'd come up with examples for a particular theme. Especially considering that roughly 38% of my brain is permanently jammed into crossword mode, I appreciate themes that feel a touch miraculous. It ain't water into wine, but I sure could taste something different.
I was so entranced by the concept that I sat down and mapped out how I might have tackled it. The best I could do was to produce a list of nouns ending in ET and circle the ones that become verbs when the ET is removed. Even then, you're left with a lot of material like HELMET(H) that can't be worked into a strong theme answer.
Solid gridwork, as usual, these days with Bruce. Smooth solve, with great bonuses like ART SCHOOL, HOTEL BARS, LITTER BUGS. Many of them were made even better by wordplay clues. "Drawers in the study," using the punny "people who draw" meaning, is the type of cleverness I love in my later-week puzzles.
This is not your Old Testament add-a-letter puzzle — the ET to ETH Biblical modification is something entirely new. I'll shout some Hosannas to that.
SHORT FILM (title)S indeed! I've seen ET and UP, and I know of IT. A decade ago, Jill attempted to break me of my horror movie horror, but IT resulted in a fetal position I've never recovered from.
I hadn't heard of 2019's US. Not surprising, given that I've been housebound for approximately ninety years. I wanted to learn more because I like Jordan Peele, but I quickly stopped after "… when their doppelgängers appear and begin to terrorize them."
Although, my identical twin and I do tend to terrorize innocent bystanders. Like when one of his babysitters saw Jill and me out on a date and was horrified that Alex was clowning around.
It could have been the clown suit I was wearing.
I wondered what other two-letter film titles could have worked. AI sort of fits, but only in the ET way. Also, it was terrible.
Maybe not Oscar-worthy gridwork, but a People's Choice award might be in sight. Rebus squares ought to be incorporated into long, colorful phrases, and MEETCUTES, RADIO EDITS, SUPERSTORM, SOUL MUSIC play their roles extremely well. Great to get above-average crossers, too; AHI TUNA is an excellent way to use a shorter slot.
I'd have loved an additional layer, given how much flexibility there is, working with easy letter combos like ET and IT. Perhaps the long phrases could be related to their movie? Maybe incorporate DOUBLE FEATURE to help rationalize rebusization?
As is, though, it's a solid debut, with the four rebus squares incorporated into snazzy phrases.
Second 62-worder in two days, indeed! Note that Sid also used four pyramid blocks. As per Blake's comments from yesterday, they truly are a "cheat code," making ultra-low-word counts so much more tractable. My guess is a full order of magnitude. I often wonder why more people don't use them, although some constructors have a different aesthetic.
I found today's themeless so much easier to solve than yesterday's. Sid and the NYT team employed wordplay to perfection, helping me not only accelerate through my solve, but to pump my fist along the way:
WET MARTINI is a great entry. Bringing me along with a fun fact, that it's paradoxically made with dry vermouth, makes it that much better.
TAN LINE isn't as fresh as WET MARTINI, having been in the NYT crossword over a dozen times already, but man, that clue! [Abrupt change in tone] so innocently nudges you toward a speaking tone.
Even better was [One sitting on the bench]. It's been killing me to see Robert Williams (who helped win us our fantasy league this year!) on the bench more than usual because of his knee during the NBA playoffs, so my mind was focused on riding the pine. Great misdirect, away from PIANIST.
Saving the best for last, [Drawings with lots of little blocks]. Surely, pixels had to be involved. No, that's little city blocks in CITY PLANS!
I wasn't enamored by POD RACERS, given how old the reference is by now. And by how much "The Phantom Menace" menaced Star Wars fans worldwide. Other unexciting entries like STEWPOTS and SEMITONES are typical for 62-worders, but at least they didn't ruin an entire movie franchise.
I was going to add the EARPLUGS / OPEN EARS dupe to the liabilities column, but there's something fun about that pairing.
I enjoy a cruising victory, and today's puzzle was deftly crafted to give me exactly that. Perhaps too easy for a Saturday, but I think it's generally better to err on the side of leaving solvers feeling smart instead of frustrated.
I sadly don't have time these days to play contract bridge, but I spend an embarrassing amount of time thinking about it. And then thinking some more. So I was elated today, seeing that the world had rolled back a century to the Golden Era of contract bridge when everyone would know that the revealer was JUMP RAISE!
Not only did I misguess the revealer, but a bridge jump raise goes up at least two levels, not just one.
As my old bridge partner often says, I should have passed.
Super clean puzzle, the co-constructors showing more finesse than me. The only place I bid out of tempo was at K-TURN. I've only known this as a "three-point turn," but seeing the Wikipedia illustration, I can imagine it as a K ... with some squinting.
Given the grid's silky-smoothness, I'd like to see if some color could be injected for minor costs. It is difficult to grid around themers that shift levels, but I'm sure there are some 76-word layouts that would allow for more bonuses. This is especially important for the non-card-playing solvers out there.
Although there's not much snazziness in the phrases — typically, themes need to carry more zing than only PIE CHARTS — it's a solid concept that works as a literal interpretation of JUMPSUITS.
Nice twist on the out-of-fashion "both words can precede X" genre, ROCK AND ROLL hinting at BLACK(ROCK), BED(ROCK), MOON(ROCK) and COFFEE (ROLL), SPRING (ROLL), JELLY (ROLL).
Ever wonder how to create one of these? It's not hard, but it takes brute force, patience, and judgment. Start by creating a list of words that can precede each:
ROCK: ACID BED BLACK CHRIS CLASSIC FOLK GLAM HARD LITTLE MOON PLYMOUTH PUNK RED SOFT THIRTY
ROLL: BARREL BREAD COFFEE DINNER DRUM EGG JELLY ONION PIANO SPRING SUSHI SWISS
From there, you test each pairwise. ACID BARREL, no. ACID BREAD, no. Rinse and repeat until the people around you question your grasp on reality.
Finally, the judgment calls. HARD BREAD is a thing. Is it a great phrase that's theme-worthy, though? How about CLASSIC PIANO?
And on another level, is BLACK(ROCK) theme-worthy? Although there are so many different Blackrocks out there that there's a strong chance solvers will at least recognize some form of the term (Blackrock is big to us finance wonks), it's much better to generate the type of click that BED(ROCK) achieves.
With just four themers, I expect a ton of bonuses and a squeaky-clean grid. Lots of points for BOONIES, INKBLOT, even STERILE. ABOIL is not HALER fill, though, and lesser dings for DEFS ESS kind of stuff.
Neat to see something a bit different, to keep a tried-and-true theme genre alive. MOON JELLY is an especially nice find; a colorful phrase that produced such a strong click in MOON(ROCK) and JELLY(ROLL).
Quip puzzles are some of the most divisive crosswords, judging by the sheer quantity of hate mail I see around them. They're not my favorite, since everything rides on a single quote — either it sticks the landing for a perfect ten, or it falls on its butt. Today's elicited a rare chuckle for me, but more importantly, that E/A square helped elevate it. It's unusual to have a single oddball square, and today's was both easy enough to figure out and served as a great punchline.
It can be tricky to split out quips into symmetrical lengths, and the 15 / 3 / 15 / 3 / 15 does work. It's not ideal, though, since those tiny 3-letter words make it feel fragmented. Since this isn't an exact quote that must be duplicated letter by letter, perhaps a different wording could have worked.
The best I could come up with — after an hour's worth of banging my head! — involved much different wording:
That's worse than Rob's solution, but you get the idea of where brainstorming might head.
It's important for quote puzzles to have smooth fill since solvers can essentially only use Down clues. Rob did solid work there, with no oddballs making the puzzle intractable. Bonuses like SAWHORSE and TAKE FLAK also added color while remaining accessible.
It wasn't great to have so many add-a-preposition entries in COOL TO, STICK TO, AS TO, LIT OUT, but I sure appreciate mid-length bonuses like SURE DO.
Quips have to be amazingly zingy and/or contain an element that helps make them memorable. While today's didn't quite elevate into the ranks of the quote puzzle Hall of Fame, it will surely stick in my memory.
★ Plenty of hacks have tried their hand at playing with repeated letters, but Parker and Ross made theirs shine. Quite the pair of CUTIE PATOOTIES!
The other themers, in case you didn't CCCCCCD (six-C D = succeed; I know, not only does this joke not fit the pluralization pattern, but it's terrible) in catching them:
4Ns IC SCIENTIST = FORENSIC SCIENTIST
TOM 8Os = TOMATOES
A 10Ds = ATTENDEES
The last one hit me the weakest since the lone A so badly wanted to be a long A, not a short A as in ATTENDEES. It was close enough that I could look the other way, though.
I wonder how many solvers will think that CUTIE PATT is a Gen alpha-speak term they're too out of touch to understand. Thankfully, the italicization of the clue forces you to notice that something odd is going on, but the others have so many repeated letters that they don't need such flagging. I grew to like how CUTIE PA(TOOTIES) forced me to think; to not grow complacent.
Such a great take-off on repeated letters. Integrating the partial syllables into words made them delightfully unpredictable.
In just three puzzles, Pao has officially grabbed my attention. This 70-worder is easy to fill with cleanliness — what's challenging is being able to convert a high percentage of long slots (8+ letters) into great material. Hitting 80% is about minimum in these ultra-competitive days (the acceptance rate for themelesses is maybe 3%). Achieving 90% gives you a fighting chance.
Scoring a perfect 100%? Almost unheard of. Incredibly well done, Pao IN RARE FORM, indeed. It's even difficult to point out what the weakest entry might be. Perhaps PALADINS, because it's a single-worder? I'm a big fan of the fantasy genre (read: huge dork) though, so I might have to cast a paladinic spell over any haters.
Pao didn't stop there! Seven-letter slots are too easy to employ as boring connective tissue. DADAIST, ER NURSE, ID CHIPS are all excellent.
Well, you can't win ‘em all. Pretty dang close, though.
I'd have picked this as my POW! if there had been more clever, interesting, and/or playful clues. AUDIOPHILE becomes even stronger when you turn up the volume with a "sound judgment" riff. Same with EASTER EGGS, being "rolled out" once a year (during the annual Easter tradition). There were a handful of these sprinkled around, but not nearly enough to make this puzzle stand out.
Technically, such a strong grid product. With more time invested in crafting a zingier cluing experience, I see great things for Pao.
It takes a lot to distinguish a nationality homophone puzzle, given the genre's long history. All the way back to CZECH for errors and travelers' CZECHS … talk about a CZECHERED PAST! Solvers might beg for mercy — using CZECH PLEAS, of course. Christopher's presentation is a nice change of pace; a much more subtle approach that didn't me want to Taiwan on.
I appreciate how thoughtful and critical Christopher is with self-examination. I bet moving NECK TIES down one row would clean things up in aisles 5-8, KOLN being a potentially tough get for newer solvers, especially ones who are young enough never to have encountered Paul ANKA.
There's so much goodness, though, that I didn't mind the slower solve. For every tougher ELEGIAC, there was an angelic ANGELOU. No BACKLASH from this satisfied solver, even if I couldn't speed through as satisfyingly fast as usual.
Hilarious clue for GEESE; the type of freshness I love in Monday cluing. It made me wonder if Reese Witherspoon played identical twins, she'd be listed twice as Roose.
I appreciate it when a Monday puzzle obscures the theme until the last moment yet still manages to be accessible to a broad range of people. I won't Dane to say that I'm looking forward to the next one, but perhaps I'll feel more refreshed by this genre around the Finn de siècle.
★ I'll never split hairs when a puzzle outduels me in a fair manner. Appropriate that I finished SECOND today; the clever wordplay making me more than happy to lose at "Name That Theme."
Most editors don't take "split word" puzzles if the target word is repeated. Once you uncover the second instance, you can confidently write in the rest of them, and the puzzle is over. No fun! It's even getting difficult to garner an acceptance for a "split words" where the words are different. If the solver can see what's coming too early, it spoils the fun.
The harder Matt Gaffney Weekly Crossword Contest puzzles are often my favorite solves of the month, and one from a few years back was no exception. I wrung my squares in so many different ways for two solid days before finally landing on the connection between BLUE, ARIZONA, YEMEN, OCTOBER, CLINTON, X: they're all antepenultimates in a well-known(ish) series.
That level of off-the-charts difficulty wouldn't fly for an NYT Tuesday, so I appreciated Alex's easier approach, which still captured some of the fun. Incorporating the SECONDs in SPLIT fashion made for a great additional layer, making the concept stand out even further.
I hesitated on TUESDAY, wondering if most calendars go from Sunday to Saturday, or if Monday to Sunday was more "standard." Given that there's a lot of debate on this, a different series might have made for a better choice. Not sure I'd have figured out that TAURUS was second in the Zodiac, but if I have a third child (thank goodness for the world, I won't), I'd name him/her BRU ARYA Chen to throw Alex a bone.
A great aspect of "split words" themes is that they give you so much flexibility to incorporate great bonuses, and Alex took full advantage. The pattern ???AD is so flexible that it's a constructor's responsibility to weave great material around it. BOWLER HAT and I SWEAR? Hell yeah, I swear! Weaving BLEW A KISS and WEBSITE / ODOR EATER through pairs of themers is even better.
Such a fun solve. I knew this was POW!-worthy not even a SPLIT SECOND after the revealer.
ZIPPER, BUTTON, PIN helped me FIND some CLOSUREs … figuring out the theme was a SNAP!
I had an inkling of the concept after ZIPPER MERGE, and once SNAPDRAGON bloomed, the puzzle felt all but over. Thankfully, FIND CLOSURE is such a fantastic phrase that I still found a reasonable a-ha.
Curious choice to run this one on a Wednesday. The theme is so simple that it might even be too easy for a Monday. There's a lot of tougher fill, though. I recognized the term AFFOGATOS, but if I ordered one, I'd be surprised by anything that the server brought out. The spelling isn't a cinch, either, so I had to think about that AGORA crossing.
I enjoyed all the long bonuses. Although I still have a difficult time figuring out toro vs. otoro, it's fun to pretend I know my way around a SUSHI MENU. STEINBECK made for a nice pairing; those adjacent downs pulled off so smoothly. Many constructors would block out the H of SUSHI MENU so they could achieve color/cleanliness more easily. I'm glad Kate didn't.
I wasn't as hot on the trade-off of EMOTIONAL / WORDPRESS for the prices of ETES and TUN — especially with SSE and SSR already in place.
FIND CLOSURE is the type of fantastic revealer phrase that constructors beg Crucivera, the goddess of crosswords, to gift them. I'd have loved this puzzle if the fill had matched the easiness of the theme, and the whole thing run on a Monday. As is, though, it still (mostly) neatly buttoned things up.
Years ago, the NYT began to modernize its crossword evaluation process, morphing from snail mail to various incarnations of email-based submissions, and finally to its current web form. It still has some wrinkles, but new constructors today have no idea how lucky they are. Today's puzzle was accepted back in 2018 but unfortunately fell through some infinite loops into the Phantom Zone. Oh well, what can you do?
What you can do is take the opportunity to reflect on yourself. I printed the puzzle, confident that I'd be able to solve it in speedy fashion. I didn't remember all the themers, but when you know the central entry is OXIDATION, it gives you a head start.
Breathe, Jeff, breathe …
To my chagrin, I couldn't solve the lower right corner on my first pass. Or my second. Or my third. That seems to bode poorly for solvers who didn't create this puzzle.
I've taken flak for making puzzles too hard, and I got a firsthand opportunity to see why that's incredibly annoying. If I were to redo this crossword today, I wouldn't place so much emphasis on jam-packing the corners with "strong" entries, instead prioritizing making the grid more conquerable.
The constructor's first and foremost job is to set up solvers for a win. After doing this for over a decade, I'm still learning that I still have much more to learn.
I amused myself by imagining a group of SORORITY sisters doing the Asian SQUAT. Now that would be memorable!
One thing I appreciate about Sophia's puzzles is that this 50-year-old learns something in a gentle, even fun way. Both RIDE OR DIE and SORORITY SQUAT meant nothing to me before solving her puzzles, but I was able to suss out all the individual words, thus not interfering with successful solving. I've added those two terms into my vocabulary, just in time for Gen alpha to cringe at me for trying too hard to be on fleek.
Same goes for TINY HOUSE. It didn't seem like an in-the-language phrase as I solved, but the two words made sense with the clue. Turns out it's not only a fascinating movement but one that Jill and I might look into down the road (if only as an excuse to get rid of all the kid crap littering our home).
And talking about gentle, TED LASSO! For those who haven't been introduced to the uber-uplifting football-turned-soccer coach, what a feel-good show! We were skeptical about adding yet another streaming service to our roster, but I have to hand it to Apple+. In this day and age, I want as many sources of optimism in my life as possible, and TED LASSO is a big one.
I do crosswords to bliss out in escapist fashion, so it's a big mark of success when a constructor can get me to learn something new with a smile. Not only wasn't I peeved by all the new terms, but it also made me happy and optimistic that young constructors could figure out how to connect with at least one solver from a much different generation.
Rise and shine, sleepyheads! The SUN is coming up, and … wait, what?
SETTING SUN? Is it bedtime already?
Before my kids could tell time, bedtime would happen as early as 3 p.m. on days they drove me crazy. Am I proud of blackening their windows to fool them?
One of Will Shortz's top priorities is accuracy — he takes great pride in having as low an error rate as possible. The SUN does set in the west, so this execution is technically accurate. Confusing, though, since the usual Western left-to-right reading order makes today's SUN appear to rise.
Drew wisely chose a 7-letter central entry, GPS UNIT, which makes the gridwork much easier than a 9+ letter entry. There's still an element of difficulty that most puzzles don't have. Note that SETTING SUN and MONKEY'S UNCLE are both flush to the bottom of the grid (to enhance the SUN visual) instead of alternating bottom-top. This makes for more themer overlap than usual. Smart use of cheater squares to smooth the filling process.
I also enjoyed THEME SONGS and MUSIC SCENE. Will cares less than other editors about muddying up vertical themes with long horizontal entries. This isn't an issue today since the shaded squares clarify what's theme and what's not.
I like these "shifting trigram" puzzles; an old one still stands out in my memory banks. Today's was too confusing for my Western-biased thinking, but I liked how Drew arranged things so the SETTING SUN revealer didn't rise too soon in the solve, as too often happens with vertically-oriented themes.
TEE TIME today! Great first impression; the grid art jumping out at me. The unusual pattern of black squares Ts is mesmerizing. Escher-esque.
Jim Horne and I both missed various aspects of this puzzle, so note the three tiers of T-themage:
The black Ts in the center reminded me of the famous Four Ts puzzle, a classic that helped hook me on mechanical puzzles. I enjoyed reminiscing about the first time I figured it out; such a rush.
Some excellent theme answers, TEASER TRAILER and TREASURE TROVE both colorful. I would have liked a few more marquee ones, though, as TEA TREE and TAKE TEN escaped my first look. Long entries like HOT COFFEE naturally jump out more.
(Mirror symmetry would have allowed for more long T* T* theme answers, plus you could have more of the Ts appear without rotation.)
I appreciated that Scott went out of his way to focus on grid smoothness. Grid art puzzles can be tricky to fill, especially with so many long non-theme slots. Impressive to escape with only ATRA and ENTR as minor dings.
Plenty of puzzles use initialism themes, others riff on letters shaped out of black squares, yet others employ the "every clue begins with ___" trick. I don't remember seeing one that combined all of these elements. I don't know that today's successfully TAG TEAMED these concepts together, but it's useful to titrate things in TEST TUBES once in a while.
The most basic obligation for a rebus is that it must give some reason for the squish. AB CRUNCHES = crunch AB into a single square is perfect.
However, so many rebus concepts hit this basic threshold that it usually takes something above and beyond to make one stand out. Having two AB squares per themer — mirroring the pairs of ABs in one's core — does precisely that.
Tightness also helped make this concept stand out. You can enter *AB*AB* on our Finder page to see possibilities. There aren't many other great entries — BADA BING BADA BOOM, SANTA BABY, KAREEM ABDUL JABBAR, but not much else that's colorful. This makes it more interesting than if the rebus concept had been something like *ET*ET*, where there are hundreds of possibilities.
Superb gridwork, too. Most crosswords end up with a few dings, and it's even rarer for a debut to be spotless. Yes, some entries might be tougher for some — CBGB NYALA aren't as common as CHAI IDAHO, for example — but one could make a case that these, plus SABRA, NENE, SYSCO, are perfectly fine.
I would have liked more out of the Down rebus entries. There's nothing at all wrong with ARABS, ABHOR, ABBEY. However, having a pair of long Downs that went through AB rebus squares would have been next-level. Take out the black square between HIJAB and DAMUP and see what might be possible!
Newer constructors often propose rebus ideas to me. There's something about squishing multiple letters into a single square that appeals to people's creative side. Rebuses are high in supply and low in demand, so it takes a lot for a rebus concept to pass my bar. If Jared had approached me with this notion, it would have been a rare instance where I would have said yes.
★ It's hard for me to be objective regarding anything Sam and Doug do because they're two of the funniest, most humble, greatest people in the Crossworld. I love them both. And when they come out with a Thursday trick that flips me from infuriatingly frustrated to euphorically delighted, I'd double-POW! it if that were possible.
I'm all too familiar with COVERing my EYEs, given that a friend's attempt to inure me to horror movies twenty years ago resulted in me still carrying zombie repellent everywhere I go. So surely, once I uncovered COVER YOUR EYES, I should have figured out what was going on. Nope, only more fast-zombie-level fear that I'd never crack it open. NG MACH? EANTO? NONE PR? Talk about bad ODOURs.
What a mixture of relief and joy when I finally understood that the two Is in each entry were covered under black squares! VEND(I)NG MACH(I)NES, MAR(I)E ANTO(I)NETTE, DETRO(I)T RED W(I)NGS, ALL (I)N ONE PR(I)NTER.
And there was yet another a-ha to be had! Look at the three clues to VEND / NGMACH / NES. Mechanical / Snack / Dispensers. The other three themers work similarly: French cake advocate, Atlantic Division skaters, and Home Office convenience.
I could ding the gridwork, with its excess of ELO RECD ROM ROTO etc., and DEBARK is a bit of an odd duck. These might have been minimized with different themer selections, especially considering there are many options for each I I pattern. However, it takes more than some gloop to bring down a great theme. It's also much harder than it looks to grid around a multitude of short themers, so the constructor in me took that into consideration.
It's so rare that a Thursday trick will make me yell CAN GETAW TNESS. Such a neat use of black squares as CLOAK NGDEV CES.