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Puzzles for July, 2016
with Jeff Chen comments

View these same grids with comments from:
Constructor (29)Jeff Chen (31)Jim Horne (2)Hide comments
Fri 7/1/2016
TATTLEFLASHERS
ONEMANAIRWOMAN
TAXCUTNAGASAKI
EPADESTROYJET
BOSSRIALSLOIS
ALBUMCSIMORN
GIBLETYAZOO
SQUAREBRACKET
STUPACHORAL
FIESISOAUDIO
RIMAADEPTTOLL
EGODOUBTITCGI
CANBERRALESTAT
ORIENTALLAKOTA
NOTATALLSTARES

Two nice answers, FANTASY BASEBALL and SQUARE BRACKET down the midlines of the puzzle. I'm huge into fantasy basketball, and I can see the appeal of FANTASY BASEBALL (if only I liked baseball!). Something so compelling about analyzing oodles of stats, cutting the data in hundreds of ways a la Billy Beane in "Moneyball."

Sometimes when a themeless features a few really long answers, we don't get much else. Really nice that James configured his grid to allow for 12 eight-letter-long slots. My favorite was TEXAS BBQ, not just because I love me some BBQ, but that terminal Q is so bizarre-looking. It's also so smoothly interlocked into SQUARE BRACKET.

I would have liked more of these longish slots to be converted into stellar material, though. I enjoyed EPIDURAL with its funny [… labor management?] clue, and ER DOCTOR, TAILGATE, FLASHERS with brilliant usage of the word "hazards" (slang for hazard lights) in [Driver's hazards]. ANAPOLIS felt a little off, like ANNAPOLIS had been misspelled, and it felt like there was a lot of geography what with NAGASAKI and CANBERRA. I did like learning a little about each city, though.

Grids with great grid flow like today's often present construction challenges. It's so tough to work from two different directions and get everything to mesh together. Generally I thought James did quite well, for example getting the ER DOCTOR/TAILGATE region to mesh with LESTAT/LAKOTA/STARES, without needing crossword glue. The one place I hitched was in the center, with STUPA. The middle is no doubt the toughest region to fill, given how many words flow into it, and STUPA is really the only word which stood out to me. (Just one data point, but my dad's a practicing Buddhist, and he didn't know what a STUPA was.)

I would have loved a little more cleverosity in the SQUARE BRACKET clue — [Backslash neighbor] made it a little too easy to look down at my keyboard and fill in the blank right away. How about [It's often to the left of a backslash], misdirecting to URLs?

Overall, a couple of really nice long entries and a lot of care taken to make the grid pretty smooth.

Sat 7/2/2016
FOODCOMAFATLIP
ANDIMOUTEROICA
REDVINESDIANAS
CALEALTEEDENS
ELYSELUGSSRTA
DREDGEDNET
WARRIORONELOVE
ALEASTSAUTES
TOPDOGSPERCENT
ENANUMBEST
REYSTURNOTTER
STALETINOARLO
KIBOSHBABYMAMA
IMLATEEMOTICON
SEENASSEEDLESS

Such a great triple to kick off the puzzle: FOOD COMA / … AND IM OUT! / RED VINES. Totally worth the price of a RRN (random Roman numeral) in CMI and an OONA. (If only OONA Chaplin had landed a big role in "Game of Thrones," crossword constructors everywhere would have rejoiced.)

Also really dug the colloquial I CANT EVEN … Its clue, ["This is too much"], felt a bit stilted, but still, the phrase itself evokes such a vivid picture of someone shaking their head, not even sure where to start.

BABY MAMA also is a fun phrase. It'd have been great to give it a clever clue though, rather than referencing the so-so 2008 movie, since it's a commonly used. Agreed with Erin — what a disappointment that movie was, not living up to the sky-high expectations of a star vehicle featuring the great Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

A few of the long entries didn't sing as well to me, like SEEDLESS and REPAYABLE and PASS A TEST, which all felt more neutral than assets. But Erin did do a nice job of making her mid-length material work for her, ONE LOVE, ROTGUT, TOP DOGS, and PEN NAME in particular.

Crossword glue … I would give REYS a pass, as it gets a fresh clue referencing the latest "Star Wars" movie, but the presence of other name plurals — ELMOS and DIANAS — created a disturbance in the Force for me. Along with some of the usual suspects like ENA ESTA SRTA ALTE, etc. it felt like too much in one puzzle for my taste.

I appreciated though, that there wasn't any one area which screamed out "I'm filled with crossword glue!", most of it spread out so it wasn't quite as noticeable.

Sun 7/3/2016SHUNNED
ADESTEAWOLANDSODOI
OILPANTBONENORADUNN
ROLANDASNERSTAYSMAD
TRICKYDICTIONUNEPRE
ASSETALIDIRTPORTION
JOEYSHACATSWEPT
POPUPSTSATONORES
AVONSTRAWMANSION
MELCAGEKOBETRECOOL
PRETTYINGBEAVPORNO
EENIEFDICTRIOALBEN
RATONYALLSCHILLING
STANTONNAILTIXATOB
SWEETNLOTIONRATE
RARELTRKIMAISLED
EWOKSIANAIMGYNT
BASETENSIONEPASALMA
ESSALCBONUSTRACTION
CHATROOMZUNISRAINON
CINERAMAELANDBLOUSE
ANODYNESDISKSENSES

Some fun results in Sam's sound changes. I particularly like the ones involving 1.) an interesting spelling change, 2.) a strong base phrase, and 3.) a humorous result. TRICKY DICTION is my favorite, hitting all three criteria. ("Tricky Dick" is one of Nixon's nicknames.) BONUS TRACTION (from "bonus track") works great as well — the resulting phrase makes me picture a group of MBAs at a tire company, brainstorming new ad campaigns.

SWEET N LOTION is a fun spelling change with a good base phrase ("Sweet ‘N Low"), but the result feels stilted, as it feels like it should be "sweets" (plural) in order to make it work. BASE TENSION is a funny phrase, but simply adding SION to BASE TEN feels a bit simple.

Some nice gridwork, those big NE / SW corners containing some colorful answers. It's tough enough to execute on a triple stack of eight-letter answers, but when you "turn the corner" and have to work with three more long answers intersecting the stack, it's even harder. I love NOT UP TO IT, and AND SO DO I is pretty good. I wonder if NORA DUNN's career has really made her gridworthy? And STAYS MAD felt a touch arbitrary at first, but upon further thought, it seems legit — not nearly as strong as HOLDS A GRUDGE, but it works.

In the opposite corner, I love CINERAMA and CHATROOM. NET INCOME and ROSSANO felt more neutral than positive to me, but executing on such a big space without resorting to a bunch of crossword glue is pretty darn good. ELOAN is marginal, but it is a real company.

A few dabs of crossword glue here and there, but it's all pretty minor — the usual ALC, LEROI, ENDY, SHA, UNAS kind of stuff. And Sam does a nice job of incorporating some bonuses throughout the grid: TANK TOP, TIMESINK, the cool name TRE COOL, even the fun (and tough to spell) ABSCISSA.

All in all, it's enough for me to give Sam a ten (tion).

Mon 7/4/2016
RAIMIZETAHALL
VROOMINONOBIE
STUMPNYUKTOKE
JEDGARHOOVER
GOETHEMIENS
UHAULRENTAL
SIGNSCAINLIP
IDOSLDOPADECO
XEDMAINTIMEX
YCHROMOSOME
ATSEAARENAS
FOURTHOFJULY
TRIOARLOISIAH
ETTUCZAROUNCE
RESTKOPSTSKED

It's been an amusing game, waiting to see which July 4th this would be published on. We intended it to be hard, for July 4th, 2013 (a Thursday). Then July 4th, 2014 was a Friday. And July 4th, 2015 was a Saturday. Stupid calendar!

When we pinged Will about possibly running it this year, he confessed he was struggling with how to word the revealer. In classic wordplay, FOURTH OF JULY hints only at the letter Y, since it's the fourth letter of JULY, so many solvers might get baffled by the theme concept. If it were to be run on a Monday, we'd have to make sure a bigger chunk of solvers figured it out.

We ran by several ideas — our favorite for a crystal-clear clue was [The starts of 20-, 26-, 36-, and 42-Across are all one-___], but that admittedly felt inelegant. So I like the compromise with the [… literally] hint. Hope that makes it clear to everyone that J U L Y are each literally 1/4 (one fourth) of JULY!

Tough grid to assemble, with much less flexibility than usual. In working up the skeleton, I pulled out every trick in the book, including shifting each themer back and forth, changing the spacing, trying stacking / interlock, etc. I'm not a fan of the big L blocks of black squares on the sides, but it felt like the least of all evils.

Then it was a matter of choosing some good long fill — Jill liked MOM JEANS over LEE JEANS and DIONYSUS / TS ELIOT over many other options, even though the latter pair required an ORU to make it work.

I did sneak in a NYUK — the two of us have radically different opinions when it comes to the Three Stooges. I suppose she had to have some flaw.

Tue 7/5/2016
ETTAARCINGBID
NAANREINERUKE
EXPOSTFACTOCEL
MEANTLOLVOCAL
YDSEREIRENA
MARXANDLENIN
BROADSTEAMESA
YOLKSATSSPELT
RUDEALIPETREL
DESPOTICALLY
EARLSCOLTSA
OHARATEEEDITS
MUDTREASUREMAP
EGOEARVINLORE
NOGDJSETSARRR

X MARKS THE SPOT sounded out (pseudo-)phonetically at the starts of themers. I had a little laugh when I realized DESPOT was a stand-in for THE SPOT. It didn't totally work for me, since EX / X and MARX / MARKS are perfect homonyms while DESPOT / THE SPOT are not, but it reminded me of all sort of childhood jokes, i.e. "denial" is the longest river in Africa and "Denise" is the sister of de nephew. (groan)

I wasn't a fan of MARX AND LENIN as a theme answer, as it doesn't sound like a real phrase to me. Yes, Marx's philosophies heavily influenced Lenin, but it's not like they co-wrote something. Perhaps KARL MARX could have been a better choice, and moving the hidden phrase to the end would have allowed for a better DESPOT phrase, like BENEVOLENT DESPOT or something. That pesky EX wouldn't cooperate though, as there's no good phrase ending in the word EX. Rats!

Fun to get some theme-ish fill in BUCCANEER and OLD SEA DOG. The latter made me hitch though — SEA DOG and OLD SALT are terms for seamen, but OLD SEA DOG didn't sound quite right to my ear. It also wasn't as specific to pirates as BUCCANEER. Still, these two entries helped give the puzzle a heftier feel.

I don't mind a couple of minor dabs of crossword glue to hold a puzzle together. RRS, YDS, DELA, NATL, ANON … that's a little too much for my taste, but it's not far above my threshold. Although ARRR is thematic(ish), I have a tough time with arbitrary extra letters, like SHHH and OOOH. Feels inelegant to me.

Speaking of inelegant, BROADS hasn't been seen in a major crossword since 1990. I hitched on it, wondering how many women it would offend. I do appreciate the attempt at ameliorating it with the "impolite" qualifier, but I'd much rather not see any word listed in dictionaries as "offensive." I personally want my crosswords to be uplifting and fun, not insulting. I'm curious to hear from readers about this one.

Overall, some enjoyable fill in DJ SETS, MAKE PAR, A-LISTERS, and a few aspects that didn't hit home with me.

Wed 7/6/2016
PRISMMISCAFARM
GONNAORCASERIO
AMGENVAINGRIMM
LAYMENTARDES
OHOKTRIAMORY
NOREENHINDSMS
STIRSAGORAHOI
TWOSTATESOLUTION
AAULETTSDOLCE
RXSGAIAHOLLOW
SAINTDOMDEWY
WAFTINRAMPAL
ALLENTNUTALAMO
CLAVEWINECIGAR
OAKEDILKSTEHEE

What a neat idea! The TWO-STATE SOLUTION refers to the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, but also to the fact that every four-letter word in this puzzle is formed by two state abbreviations, i.e. MISC = MI (Michigan) + SC (South Carolina), ORCA = Oregon + California, etc. Not an easy task at all to come up with 18 (!) words, using 36 postal codes without repeating any.

Simply forming that many words without repetition is tough enough, but to do it without resorting to a bunch of ugly answers is impressive. MISC isn't great, and ILKS feels odd in the plural, but the other 16 are all fine entries. Nice that David didn't resort to the ARME or CACO sort of stuff.

And to stack all those four-letter words so well! I did hitch on a couple of inelegant entries, a SERIO / AFARM here, a SCI there, so I had a feeling something odd was going on — David has strong enough grid skills that he wouldn't usually let those through. But when I realized the constraint he was working with, I was impressed with the results. The lower left corner is especially nice, stacking WACO / ALLA / FLAK without needing crossword glue, but also giving us the nice CLAVE and even intersecting STEVE / ALLEN. OAKED might seem on the marginal side, but it is regularly used in the distilling business.

Also admirable to work in SHILLELAGH. What a neat word, and so hard to spell correctly. I let out a giggle when I filled in THREE WAY for [Relationship with two other lovers, both of whom consent]. A little embarrassing to realize it was TRIAMORY. I enjoyed learning that term.

Not easy to work with this tough constraint, so I don't mind the aforementioned inelegant entries plus the dabs of SMS, MTN, TWI, etc. State postal codes have been used in many ways in crosswords throughout the years, but this will be memorable for me.

Thu 7/7/2016
IKESECOIMAGE
NAVEGUNFOMENT
THATMORETRENTE
AUDIOLIGHTBERS
KNELTSEAHARES
EARIDISTLAAA
OVENSBLTS
CHECKPOINTS
ATOMARROW
RONASPBEDETC
ATTITUDEDIRER
WARTNDALLELENA
ALIBISYOUDONTY
KETONESOSSOLO
REYESEKEEWEN

Congrats on the debut, Joel!

TSA rebus, with CHECKPOINTS helping to describe the idea. Some really nice phrases hiding TSA: THAT'S AMORE, LIGHTSABERS, WARTS AND ALL, YOU DON'T SAY. All four are ones I'd happily seed a themeless corner with — very well done. I also liked the crossing answers. MORT SAHL, SET SAIL aren't super exciting to me, but Joel and Acme could have easily resorted to neutral material like GETS AT.

My favorite rebuses are ones where there's a strong rationale why letters should be crammed into one box. CHECKPOINTS doesn't totally do that. "Points" does hint at a single box, but it would have been so nice to get something referencing how cramped and crammed those TSA checkpoints always are.

That central area is so choked-off from the rest of the puzzle. It makes constructing easier, since you can section off smaller areas and work on them independently, but it makes for not very good grid flow as a solver. Today however, it gave me an idea — how cool would it have been if those TSA CHECKPOINTS had been at the four squares choking off the middle! Something like the I of MOTIVE, the O of CONTRITE, etc.

Those big NE and SW corners are so tough to fill, even without constraints. Throw in a pair of crossing answers and they become even tougher. I have no doubt that the black squares at the very NE / SW corners helped a lot. Still, while I like entries like IF THAT and GENERALS, the plural TESSAS, tough French word TRENTE, and the odd AMEBA spelling made me hitch. Same goes with the really neat ARAWAK at the price of TOTALER (feels made up with that -ER), deep chemistry KETONE, and the partial-ish AT NINE.

Similar trade-offs occur with the NW and SE corners. They're not nearly as hard to fill given their lesser white space, but they're still not easy. Love KAHUNA. EVADER, not so much (especially since there's already a TOTALER).

But overall, those beautiful phrases hiding TSA made for an entertaining solve.

Fri 7/8/2016
BLACKFRIDAYTAB
TITANIUMOREASU
WAITINGAREAKHZ
ORTTASMANGEEZ
MSGGATOS
AGRALASSUBLET
TRANSEPTSREESE
BEDANDBREAKFAST
ABASESIGNSOVER
TERSERPOTRENA
BARERICE
PALSSAWYERHAG
AMIWINESTEWARD
IMPANDREADORIA
DOSCYBERMONDAY

A strong triple-stack of 11-letter answers kicking off the puzzle, BLACK FRIDAY / TITANIUM ORE / WAITING AREA really fun. I'm a mechanical engineer by education, so I'm always amazed at how useful TITANIUM is. Such an incredible strength to weight ratio, and it's one of the foundations of modern orthopedics.

Stretching to fill in 15 long answers is no joke. It's especially hard to convert all those long slots into assets when you take up so much real estate with the central grid-spanner, BED AND BREAKFAST. I really like WINE STEWARD, and the MANASSAS / ANTIETAM pairing is fun, but I felt like the conversion rate today wasn't as high as I would like. GO BEFORE, TAKES LEAVE, SIGNS OVER are all fine answers, just not that colorful or interesting to me.

That's a risk themeless constructors run when trying to work with so many long entries. I generally find themelesses to be outstanding if there are at least 10 snazzy entries, so is it better to start with a ton of interlocked long slots and hope to convert most of them to assets, or start with fewer long slots and make sure every single one sings? That's the eternal question.

I'm on the fence about BTWO and R AND B types of entries these days. On one hand, they are hard to suss out and look interestingly weird in the grid. On the other, when do you ever see B TWO in real life? R AND B feels better to me (not sure why), but it was a little odd to get the full BED AND BREAKFASTS and the shortened R AND B.

ORT is harder to swallow, as one of the more notorious crosswordese words. Patrick Merrell recently started a blog using ORT in a cheeky way. Fun posts.

Overall, I like having mini-themes in themelesses, but it's often nice to have something not quite so transparent (I filled in CYBER MONDAY right after getting BLACK FRIDAY). I'd prefer to have to work a little to figure out both answers, and then earn my a-ha moment.

POW Sat 7/9/2016
PIRATESHIPIDOL
SHORELEAVEBOHO
HOMEMOVIESSYST
APPSERRONEOUS
WESZINCONUS
FATSUITSMAP
ACTINGTREELINE
CHEEZITARGONNE
MISFIRESSANDAL
ELLBLACKEYE
LAMAOARSHOP
MACARTHURMISO
AXONOUTERBANKS
NEILGREENALGAE
IDLYOLDMASTERS

★ This puzzle exemplifies why I think Josh is possibly the best themeless constructor out there. I've always been impressed with his puzzles, but this one sizzles. I can't remember the last time I did a themeless where nearly everything I turned up was pure gold. From PIRATE SHIP to FAT SUITS to OLD MASTERS, to TESLA COIL to NOSEGAYS to DO YOU MIND! Not only were almost all the long entries fantastic, but there was a little something for everyone, making it accessible and enjoyable for a huge range of solvers.

Josh goes big by working with 18 (!) long slots of 8+ letters. I've found that it's nearly impossible to convert so many slots into stellar material, because once you start fixing a few in place, you get less and less flexibility as you go. Josh does a great job of spreading his long slots around, but it's impossible to isolate any one of them — each must interact with a ton more.

And what results! I'm usually happy to get 10 colorful answers in a themeless, but I count roughly 17 here (things like ERRONEOUS feel more neutral to me). During my solve, it seemed like Josh was pulling some sort of magic trick. When I went back and studied the grid, what he did made more sense — by staying at a relatively high word count (70), he was able to use a lot of short words to stick his longer ones together. And by never packing too many long slots together, he was able to avoid any one area that had too much white space. It still seems a little magical even after I study it, though.

All this, without using much crossword glue. There's an ELL and an SYST, but those are so minor. Dabs of crossword glue tend to drag down my solving experience when there are more than about five (or one is egregious), but these two little guys were negligible.

And so many amazing clues! I won't point them all out, but if you're an aspiring constructor, go back and study the clues for HURL, GREEN ALGAE, HINGE, HOP, BLACK EYE. Brilliant wordplay in there.

My favorite themeless so far this year. Standing O for Josh.

Sun 7/10/2016DOUBLE QUOTE
SAABGAYEOPALSREARM
PREYSUPONNAMEDENNIO
INTROVERTUNIFICATION
CINDYIINSISTADESTE
YEAROCCOCHOIRREST
CHUKKERSPROFS
DECREESTAKEILLSAD
AARONPELICANSASCII
BREWTHENANNYATTARS
SNOTOMRIDGEGASCAPS
SAWWOODPOSTAGE
SOLOISTNARRATORGOP
ATTESTPERCODANDONE
GUESTASHHEAPSNAACP
EDDARCADIASHIITES
GRAMMSETSHOTS
ALTODEEMSLIEONSIS
MARSHAHIAASENDONNA
BYYOURLEAVEDIMMEDOUT
ENSUEARTOOYOGIBERRA
RETRYYEARNERMASEEN

Different take on a quote puzzle, YOGI BERRA's famous "A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore" shown in double-letters. I liked the attempt to differentiate this from other quote puzzles by incorporate the quote using doubled letters. Sort of references the quote itself, given that two nickels do equal a dime.

The quote of a quote puzzle has to have great humorous or thoughtful impact in order to make all the solving work worth it. The a-ha moment for me wasn't as strong as I would have liked, mainly because it felt like there wasn't a very strong connection between the Yogiism and the fact that it was presented in double letters. I wonder if a different quote about "seeing double" would have been better?

Very difficult to pull off this grid, considering how many doubled letters PB had to work with — and in order! I liked getting some SCAPEGOAT, GAS CAPS, INTROVERT answers, which helped to keep me interested during my solve.

I did hitch at the various SDI (Will has said he wants to phase this one out), REARM, ASTA, SNO, EDD entries, because this is PB we're talking about, the master of smooth grids. This assortment of crossword glue would go unnoticed if this were any other constructor, but Patrick's bar is so high that this felt like a letdown. And having to go to 144 words — four past Will's usual maximum — was even more unusual.

So I investigated. Is it really THAT tough to pull off this feat of so many doubled letters, in order? Turns out, yes — and in spades! I played around with a grid to see if I might be able to put some more space between double letters, deploy black squares differently, etc., but there are so many of those letter pairs to work with. This is a much, much, much more difficult task than I had originally thought.

Given that, I appreciated this puzzle more than my original impression. Still, it would have been nice to get a stronger a-ha punch connecting the quote and the execution.

Mon 7/11/2016
STABASSNOHGEE
HILLSNEENOONS
RAGAWAROFWORDS
ERASORILACES
WALTZOFFWITH
ZENINCCGI
GIJOEMATCHWOOD
ASONBIRCHOVAL
TAKELUNCHSWEDE
EYEELSOOF
WALKSONWATER
SARGETRECAME
WAYOUTWESTTUBE
ARETEAVOWOPED
GASESXENOREDS

Been a while since we had an initialisms puzzle. Kudos to Freddie for finding four phrases that fit the WOW pattern, especially without repeating an O word. WALKS ON WATER is great, and so is WAR OF WORDS. I wasn't familiar with WALTZ OFF WITH — WALK OFF WITH sounded better to me — but some research shows it's legit. (And my toddler does seem to waltz off with all my stuff). Laurel and Hardy aren't really in my bailiwick, but a clue using the word "frontier" made it easy to get WAY OUT WEST.

Nice revealer in WOW FACTOR. I hitched slightly at first, as it didn't sound quite as catchy as ICK FACTOR or AHA MOMENT. But again, a little research shows it's in use. And in high use! (Shows what I know.)

WOW FACTOR was in an odd position for a revealer, though. As much as I like BLAST ZONE as an entry, the symmetrical pairing of these two made me wonder what the heck BLAST ZONE had to do with the theme. (Nothing.) It's very common to have a short revealer located in some spot toward the end of the puzzle (without a symmetrically paired theme entry), but something this long begs for a more elegant placement. Perhaps smack dab in the middle row of the puzzle.

No doubt, that would have made construction much harder. And Freddie already has a challenge in working with longish themers using a lot of Ws — not the easiest letter to incorporate. I'd expect the places with a lot of themer overlap to suffer, and that north section is a prime example (where WAR sits above OFF). That W takes away some flexibility, and a pile-up of ASWOON, ASSN, SNEE, and ORI is a rough way to kick off a Monday puzzle. Add in the assorted A SON, ESS, odd plural NOONS, TRE, and it doesn't have the smoothness I think a Monday puzzle ought to.

Still, there are some nice bonuses in the grid in HOOCH, ONE TWO. I wondered if MATCH WOOD was a real thing at first, but just like some of the aforementioned entries, I decided I liked it.

Tue 7/12/2016
LABATTORCSANT
ALLPROACAIPOE
SLIPANDFALLPOX
EISFEESCEMENT
RESTFULSUNRA
VIPNATTERED
HASACGOTTISTU
ACADRUMBABIAS
LETBALDYDANSK
TRUELIFEGUS
RYANSMURKIER
INDEBTOONAOXO
PEABROKENBONES
AMYEEROELVIRA
DOSREEKREACTS

Few people make me laugh like Sam. His self-deprecating humor makes him one of my very favorite people in the crossworld. I can't tell you how hard I laughed when Sam posted a series of comments from haters about one of his puzzles ... followed by "Sharpen your pencil and come see what all the accolades are about!" Dang, I love him.

Today, he gives us some BROKEN BONES after a SLIP AND FALL, using sets of diagonal black squares to represent breaks. I like how he used longish entries in which he hid his bones, TRUE LIFE and MURKIER making for a great pair to hide FE/MUR. Fun to get a few colorful entries right in the middle of the puzzle among all those theme answers, with GOTTI, RUMBA, BALDY. (One of my favorite moments at the ACPT this year was having breakfast with Sam and Doug Peterson, all three of us middle-aged (but young at heart) baldies.)

It was slightly confusing to see UL/NA/TI/BIA all "connected," but it was kind of cool how much themage Sam packed into the center of the puzzle. Four bones and eight answers is very tough to squeeze into just seven rows! Okay, I didn't like HAS AC as a theme answer — pretty arbitrary — but RESTFUL and NATTERED are fun.

Given how much Sam packed in — the eight central answers plus SLIP AND FALL and BROKEN BONES — it's a pretty smooth grid. Some NOM DE (inelegant partial), EIS (deep German), ACAD (abbr.), ROSAS (plural name or deep Spanish) is pretty good, given the constraints. And to get bonuses in CALCUTTA, SILENT I, BLABBER, GUNNER, SUN RA, is much appreciated.

I think there's something tying the four bones together — very common ones that break upon a SLIP AND FALL? — but that seemed a little macabre. Not sure that older people who've slipped and fallen want to be reminded of it. Still, a fun implementation, seeing those bones "break" across those sharp diagonal black lines.

POW Wed 7/13/2016
SPURSNAGLEMUR
OHNOSOURAROMA
COMMONERASEDAN
KNACKLAVEEMU
SENORALETERRIP
MATSPALIN
AVAOWIEANDES
DISAPPEARINGACT
SAYHIEMITYOU
METATLESS
MAMMAMIAMEANIE
USEPETSEVENS
LITHEPICKMEUPS
ACRESILIEAREA
NSYNCETSYSONY

★ I greatly admire constructors who can come up with novel ideas. So many crosswords have been made over the years that just about everything feels like it's been done to me. Tom comes up with a neat concept today, one that feels fresh, using TLAs (three letter acronyms) to replace a regular word. PICK ME, U.P.S.! had me chuckling, and MAMMA M.I.A. was clever. But my favorite was LET ER R.I.P. — not only is it a colorful base phrase, but the result is so enjoyably kooky. COMMON E.R.A. and DISAPPEARING A.C.T. (American College Testing) didn't do as much for me, but they still work well, consistent with the others.

Tom does so well with his grids. Many constructors would cite the fact that they have five longish themers, and call it good to produce a smooth, if unexciting, grid. Tom works in not just two, but four long downs, all of them really nice. Amusing to have GRAVE PERIL intersecting LET ER R.I.P., and ASYMMETRY is snazzy. We even get a ROM COM and a MEANIE — fun stuff.

Fun PALIN clue. It's so easy to take potshots at her, but this quote, "Buck up or stay in the truck," reminds me of the various Bushisms out there. I think I'll choose ... stay in the truck? I guess?

All this, with just a minor SCIS abbreviation and a NEURO prefix. I don't mind ILIE at all, since ILIE Nastase was a very famous tennis player. Sometimes he gets clued as a partial, just for a little variety, but I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that Tom was thinking of the tennis player.

I wasn't too hot on the D, E, A, N, S list cluing both ANDES and SEDAN, because having an "order for a Dean's list" didn't feel totally in the language. Still, A for effort, and it's nice to get some novelty here and there.

When someone gets too high on my POW! list, I up my bar for them so I can spread the love. But with an entertaining, innovative idea, and a beautiful grid to boot, I tip my hat to Tom this week.

Thu 7/14/2016
APPOSETAPEDECK
WEAVERALANALDA
APPEARNOVEMBER
YEARSAGEEAFT
TORSORHO
CHINUPTSELIOT
LOOPTHAIRENZO
ESTCHARLIEDAD
SMELLLETSBIRD
SOLOACTSTREAK
TWOOASES
ASHRESTATEAT
PHONETICCLICHE
PASADENAUTAHAN
THEBOXERMYLOSS

David uses the NATO PHONETIC alphabet today, working in every one of the eight words spelling out PHONETIC. Not easy to incorporate eight answers into a single grid — nine actually, counting PHONETIC!

What a cool, fortuitous coincidence, that all nine words could be placed to exhibit crossword symmetry. And what nice intersections of TANGO and NOVEMBER, and OSCAR and PHONETIC — in symmetrical locations! I've highlighted the nine words below. Touch of elegance.

Impressive how clean David executed on his grid, considering how many words he needed to work around. Okay, CDEF is pretty egregious — although it does technically start the C major scale, no musician would play just those four notes. (Try singing them to a musician to see him/her writhe, waiting for that G resolution. It's amusing.) But other than that, there's only a minor EDO, EST, APPT, etc. Not bad at all, considering those big chunks of white space he worked with in the upper right and lower left corners.

Nice ELBA clue. Idris ELBA is an impressive actor, stunning in his role on "The Wire" and pretty darn captivating in "Pacific Rim." Great for us constructors to have a new way to clue the isle of Napoleon's exile.

And a great TS ELIOT clue. Jim and I often talk about writing, as I'm an aspiring novelist and he's taking classes to explore the craft. I've found that it's roughly ten times as hard to sell a book than it is to sell a crossword — and selling a crossword is not easy. It could be seen as dispiriting that so many writers are "failed writers," but just as with anything, people with real grit come out on top. (That's what I've been telling myself after six years of writing and not having sold a book yet, anyway.)

Interesting concept today, but I would have liked a more powerful punch at the end. PHONETIC revealing P H O N E T I C jumbled up seemed like there was some potential left on the table — the NATO phonetic alphabet seems ripe for more crossword creativity.

Fri 7/15/2016
GREASYAFRICANS
LAURIERAILEDAT
ANGORAALLINDIA
CHEMISTLEASERS
IONATAPEDODOS
AMISSBENDROBE
LEEISONOPENIN
UNIONIZED
LERNERACESPCS
AXESEINETAROT
CASESSTUBDEVO
EMPTIESPLUMBER
DIETDRUGOPIATE
UNCLELEOTURKEY
PETEBESTSPEEDS

Cool finding, UNIONIZED either pronounced as UN-I-ON-IZED by a CHEMIST, or UN-ION-IZED by a PLUMBER. Fun mini-theme holding this themeless together.

Themelesses are usually seeded with a few strong entries, and many times these get moved around from place to place, shifted back and forth without regard to symmetrical placements, in order to get better flexibility in filling. Forcing a placement of UNIONIZED in the center of the grid, along with CHEMIST / PLUMBER in symmetrical spots, is a tough way to start.

I like a lot of the entries Matt worked in, UNCLE LEO one of my favorite minor characters of all time. DIET DRUG right on top was fun, too. I'm not totally familiar with PETE BEST, but his auspicious place as a person called the "the fifth Beatle" makes him a neat addition to that corner.

But as a solver, I like a lot of grid flow, and this grid was too sectioned off for my taste. Each of the four corners was a bit of a mini-maze, with one entrance and one exit. I ended up getting badly stuck in the NW, as GREASY didn't totally seem like [Insincerely polite] and EUGENIE / IONA didn't come quickly. No doubt, sectioning a grid off like this helps immensely in construction, but can sometimes lead to dead-ends and frustration for solvers.

And overall, there wasn't enough sizzling fill for my taste, many of the long slots filled with the type of ADDED ON, LACED UP (not far away from UP UP), RAILED AT, PREBAKE entries that felt more neutral than colorful to me. It's tough to create a snazzy themeless when you fix three entries into place with such little flexibility.

I did really enjoy the UNIONIZED syllabication differences though. It would have been really neat to find a few more of these and create a themed puzzle around them.

Sat 7/16/2016
YALEUSPASSPORT
ODIETEAMLEADER
GROGMARIAELENA
AINTNOBODYTOI
MAKEASALELATIN
ANISETTEFIXERS
TINTTVWIFE
SIGFOLIAGEMAS
METEORWART
CREEDSLAQUINTA
HEELSSATURNISM
ANYBATHINGCAP
STOPMOTIONMULE
MARIOCUOMOAROD
SLEEPAPNEANENE

Talk about Byronesque difficulty! I often have trouble with Byron's themelesses, what with a handful of entries I don't totally cotton to, and today was no different. Ultimately though, a hard-won, satisfying finish.

Byron tackles a very challenging grid pattern in the NW and SE corners. It's tough enough to get four colorful answers stacked like WINGMAN, MANICURE, ART SALON, and STAMPEDE — but to run three more long answers straight through them is crazy! LA QUINTA is really nice, especially with that Q in a weird spot. BATHING CAP didn't do much for me — SWIM CAP seems more appropriate to a pool, and SHOWER CAP feels more in the language — but SATURNISM is an interesting term.

Similar results in the opposite corner. Loved YOGA MATS with its clever [Balance sheets?] clue (you balance on YOGA MATS …), and LION KING is great too. EEG TEST feels like something that's technically correct but not actually said. Running an EEG = yes, but running an EEG TEST = slightly odd.

Byron once told me that he tries to avoid using three-letter and even four-letter words in themelesses, since they tend to be giveaways. He's spot-on with that today, with OTS, NAE, and AROD very difficult to clue in a non-obvious way. Even NENE and ODIE were relatively easy, even with their obfuscating clues. But I personally was really glad for them — not sure I would have even been able to fill in a single square without these guys!

I was relieved that my old company was in pharmaceutical development, as the NH2 of the [HC(O)NH2] clue told me it was going to be AMIDE or AMINE; I get those mixed up. (Ammonia is NH3, so that's a good etymological hint.) It's not a great piece of fill, but again, I was very thankful for it.

Overall, some really colorful entries like the STOP MOTION / MARIO CUOMO / SLEEP APNEA triplet and US PASSPORT, to balance out some of the ones I didn't care for as much. On the whole, a really well-designed puzzle allowing a solver who's willing to chip away at it a fair chance for victory.

Sun 7/17/2016DOUBLE FEATURES
ATOMICMEATCASEAFAR
MARINOPIPEORGANNINE
FROZENWATERWORLDKRIS
ASYECARREAESTHETE
RIPSERTALGSRIOSAT
LAHRALIENCONTACT
PEANUTSCAMAROSHAFT
TITANICSKYFALLUTERUS
ANALILEPEETXTRA
ORDEREDINSAPERR
BIGCONSPIRACYTHEORY
TOMARCDESIARNAZ
ARIDMEISTREASTO
TIMERSSAWTHEDEPARTED
ASPCAEMBRYOTANKARD
ROCKYSLEEPERROSY
AWEEEEENSXEDINEPA
MISTRESSBEERSIDOS
ITSYNOTORIOUSKINGPIN
STEPERICAKANEAROUSE
HYDENERDIESTNATTER

Congrats on the debut, Jerry!

I agreed with Nancy that the basic idea — describing one movie with two others smashed together — was clever, so I went back and forth with Jerry through 50ish emails, helping him brainstorm and ultimately settle on a set I felt Will would go for. I particularly liked TITANIC SKYFALL to describe "Armageddon."

I was mighty surprised to see the cluing changed to a more generic language. [… about baseball-sized hail?] for TITANIC SKYFALL doesn't do much for me — cramming just about any two movies together could form some wacky phrase, right?

I proposed a grid skeleton to Jerry, but he decided to go his own way and asked me to review his work. 140 word Sundays are so tough, especially for novices, but Jerry got pretty close on his own. There was way too much crossword glue in his first attempt, especially around that ALIEN CONTACT / TITANIC SKYFALL region, so we went back and forth a few times to work things through.

Given the difficulty of how much overlap there is between ALIEN CONTACT and TITANIC SKYFALL, I would have personally preferred a total reboot in order to achieve better spacing between themers. But scrapping a full grid can be disheartening. It's no surprise that even after some massage, that region contains the crunchy LGS / GNMA crossing as well as the deep crossword glue, ORLE. What with the AS YE, ME IS, EEE, EIN TER, TYES, EXEUNT, I GOT, etc. in the rest of the puzzle, I thought there was still well too much overall.

But as a constructor, you have to stop at some point. And some of the nice long entries like MEAT CASE, PIPE ORGAN, NERDIEST, help make up for some of the roughness.

I think this puzzle would have been much more memorable with the initial clues — it's a real shame. Just FYI, here are the movies that had been referenced:

  • FROZEN WATERWORLD = Ice Age
  • ALIEN CONTACT = ET The Extraterrestrial
  • TITANIC SKYFALL = Armageddon
  • BIG CONSPIRACY THEORY = JFK
  • SAW THE DEPARTED = The Sixth Sense
  • ROCKY SLEEPER = Insomnia
  • NOTORIOUS KINGPIN = The Godfather

ADDED NOTE: My apologies to Will — he mentioned to me today that the manuscript he received did not actually contain the theme clues as I listed above. Not sure where things got lost in translation.

Mon 7/18/2016
COPCARSTEWPAN
ORIOLECOURAGE
SEADOGHAYRIDES
TONEATONONSET
OHSTOPMPG
CAPOTEEHEEORS
ODESSADOWDPET
MODELHIPALEVE
IRAODEAEYEDUP
CELPUMMELACES
VEEOVERDO
BASEDKNAVELCD
APPROVEDENDURE
ROADWAYNEWMAN
SPRINTSSWINGS

OP-ED COLUMN interpreted as "entries hiding OPED within." Nice touch to have them going downward … in the COLUMNs of the grid! I particularly liked HOPE DIAMOND, which has all sorts of lore associated with it. EUROPE DAY was interesting too — I had no idea that it was a thing, but I'd bet it's quite a bit more well-known in ... well, Europe.

Very nice grid, with some wide-open corners in the upper right and lower left. That allows Jacob to work in some entries Monday solvers probably haven't seen much of. There wasn't anything super exciting other than HAYRIDES, but it's pretty neat to come across a little COURAGE and SPRINTS. APPROVED!

I also like how much care and attention Jacob put into his short fill. It's not easy to work with five themers, especially when you have a middle one of 11-letters splitting the grid in half. But Jacob keeps everything very smooth. DWI is about the only gluey bit I could find, but that's a common enough acronym. Driving while intoxicated / driving while impaired / driving under the influence are confusing to keep straight ... as demonstrated by my getting the acronyms wrong in my first draft of this blog post (thanks for the catch, Kevin Loughrey and Jon Markman!)

I did find the puzzle more of a stop and start than a usual Monday, but that was more due to tougher vocabulary and names. That's okay with me as long as all the crossings are fair. Shirley EATON is pretty hard, and ODESSA isn't something beginning solvers will likely know. These both are common(ish) in later-week crosswords due to their friendly letter patterns, but it's really important that every crossing is gettable when they're in a Monday puzzle. Jacob does well in this regard.

Some nice mid-length fill in NEWMAN! OH STOP, COP CAR, SEA DOG. It's all worked in so smoothly.

PIANO PEDAL didn't hit my ear very well (don't you just call it a pedal?), and SLOPE DOWN is one of those less-interesting add-a-preposition phrases, so I didn't care for them as much as the colorful HOPE DIAMOND. A well-crafted puzzle though, with the added bonus of having those OPEDs all being within downward COLUMNs.

Tue 7/19/2016
AUDIEDITATBAT
BRIMMONOSWAMI
BALLJOINTHELEN
ALLOUTSOYELSE
VTENANTI
NCISAETNANAT
NAANSTRIKEBACK
OMNIOUNCEOCHO
RENTSTRIKEDUES
ADOAREELZAPS
NANUEPIC
DIBSEARANIMUS
ROASTFULLCOUNT
ATLASRISEUSDA
TALIAONUSSKOR

What a fun idea! Even for this non-baseball-fan, seeing a FULL COUNT with three BALLs outside the strike zone and two STRIKEs within it is pretty cool. (It's called a FULL COUNT because one more ball will give the batter a walk, and one more strike will strike him or her out.)

At first, it seemed odd to have word duplication with the three BALL phrases and the two STRIKE ones. That sort of duplication is usually a no-no in crosswords. But here, I found it easy to make an exception, since it's such a neat concept.

I liked the visual on the pdf (replicated below in bold red lines), although I found it odd that the strike zone — from a batter's knees to midpoint of torso, and the width of home plate-- was represented with a square. Granted, Eddie Gaedel, at 3'7", would have created a squareish strike zone, but most batters have decidedly non-square zones. It would have been so easy to stretch the bolded square up and down one row, better emulating a real strike zone.

I know, that probably sounds super-picky, but I would have loved seeing this attention to detail. It's often those little details that turn a good puzzle into a great one.

Nice execution, otherwise. The place bound to be the roughest is the center, where STRIKE and STRIKE overlap. But James deploys his black squares wisely, sectioning it mostly off to make onstruction easier. It does contain NANU ("Mork and Mindy" seems a bit outdated now) and the iffy(ish) AREEL, but that's not bad, especially considering the rest of the puzzle is well-executed and contains little to no other gluey bits.

Also nice to get some long bonuses; I was lovin' IM LOVIN IT. BODACIOUS seems a bit outdated, but it gave me a throwback to the good old days of "Wayne's World" and the like.

A really cool idea, with a bit of unfulfilled potential. I almost always appreciate a unique visual element.

Wed 7/20/2016
FINNBURBKEBAB
OREOUSERAROMA
ORBSRHEARIGEL
DIRECTEDBACALL
TAYLORBETRIO
GASENSOULSTAT
INKINADLAI
STARCROSSEDLOVE
KHAKIDOPEY
DAMSWASABIENE
EEOSLYBENING
ERUPTSGRASSFED
JOLIEMOOTLIFE
ABITEBOATARUN
YENTLANDYMELT

Gordon gives us some STAR CROSSED LOVE, using four pairs of famous actors literally crossing each other in the grid. I've highlighted them below in case you missed them.

It was great to see pairs that were easily recognizable even to this pop culture idiot. It's hard to avoid seeing stories about Angelina JOLIE and Brad PITT, and Humphrey BOGART and Lauren BACALL are uber-famous. Even Warren BEATTY and Annette BENING rung a bell. I couldn't figure out who TAYLOR was, but some research shows that of course Elizabeth TAYLOR was a gigantic star, along with Richard BURTON.

I would have loved some symmetry in the pairings. That would have been difficult though, perhaps even impossible given the constraints of crossing the two names at a common letter. Perhaps it could have been achieved by using lesser-known stars? But that would have lessened the impact for many solvers, just as my not figuring out who TAYLOR was made that pair less interesting than the others for me.

It was also a little odd to see STAR CROSSED LOVE, rather than STAR CROSSED LOVERS. Too bad that the latter is 17 letters! Even a slight expansion of a normal 15x15 grid couldn't accommodate that. I wonder if simply STAR CROSSED would have been better. It would have made the grid much more difficult to construct, forcing placement of four black squares right off the bat, but I do think STAR CROSSED is a more natural-sounding phrase.

What with all the themers Gordon had to work with, I think he did a good job with his grid. It might not seem that hard to work around those pairs, given the total flexibility to place any of the four pairs into any of the four corners, but trying to incorporate four sets of crossing answers — plus a central 15! — means you have to work around a ton of heavily-constrainted areas. A bit of A BITE and A RUN and the odd ENSOUL, but to keep it to just that made for a smooth solve.

Thu 7/21/2016
ALADDERETAFCC
WALKINGTALILO
AGENDASUNIBROW
KARYNSINGLES
ESTTATIINAFEW
NSECSALONCLUE
EDONEILLSKYPE
REALISTIC
MARNEONESPATH
IDEMARENATAOS
RECANTSSRSGMT
LIZARDSHOSEA
RITEAIDCOALOIL
ONANSABADLUCK
RELSKYCREATES

Is it Friday the 13th? Today we get three literal omens of BAD LUCK: WALKING (under) A LADDER, having a BLACK CAT crossing ONES PATH, and breaking a MIR/ROR. I had always thought that it was crossing a black cat's path that was bad, not the other way around, but it appears that either one is no good.

With a light theme (just 42 squares), I'd expect a ton of snazzy fill, and Jason delivers some great stuff. It was fun to uncover FIREFLY, UNIBROW, Emeril "Bam!" LAGASSE, CORN MAZE, even HOME ICE peppered throughout the grid.

It wasn't as fun to uncover the deep crosswordese ETUI. It's so useful for those common letters, but boy does it evoke the old days where various editors delighted in stumping solvers with esoterica. And crossing it with Mikhail TAL … he definitely is crossworthy given he was a World Chess Champion, but that intersection strikes me as borderline unfair. What with more than a smattering of NSEC, SSRS, the odd plural NAANS, ENA next to RGS, REL, etc., I got bogged down by the inelegance.

At first I was bothered by the asymmetry of the theme answers, but it's really impossible to make them all symmetric. And it was sort of fun to see asymmetry — that's surely another indicator of BAD LUCK. Or it should be.

All in all, it would have been nice to get a little something more, maybe another themer like STEPPING on a CRACK, or even the LADDER oriented vertically (how often do you see a horizontal ladder, except when it's on the ground?), or maybe everything hidden as a mini-theme on a themeless Friday the 13th.

Still, there was enough of a seed of an idea and some enjoyable bonus fill that it kept me entertained.

Fri 7/22/2016
JAGSADMPASTOR
AGRAREAADHERE
PIEDINKSTAINED
ALASATIEMETOO
NETELENIASH
BOAGNPOIL
AMASSEDAFORTUNE
HURRICANESEASON
AFRICANELEPHANT
STICKSANDSTONES
HIEHITIED
RPMDRAWLYEP
PAREEEAPOEEGO
LEEKRASNERJARS
AREOLACADORES
NOFEESERYESTE

Quad-stack featuring some great central entries. AMASSED A FORTUNE seems more neutral to me than an asset, but wow, HURRCANE SEASON, AFRICAN ELEPHANT, and STICKS AND STONES in one stack is quite a treat. HURRICANE SEASON is particularly nice given its clue, [Depression era?] — as in a "tropical depression" worsening into a HURRICANE. I've come to appreciate entries that are not only colorful in themselves, but are amenable to being clued in a clever way.

Very nice crossings in that quad-stack, too. Usually we see all sorts of gluey bits barely holding the precarious thing together. Today we get treated to some awesome crossing answers — GREAT BARRIER REEF, MAKING AN ENTRANCE, TEN THOUSAND YEARS with interesting trivia about the word "Banzai" — along with generally solid shorter entries. I didn't care for A HASH or IN ONE, both awkward partials, and LENTS is a strange plural, but if that's the only glue in a quad-stack, that's a success.

I've come to appreciate MAS's efforts to open up his stacked grids, striving for good grid flow. Today's didn't resonate well with me in that regard though, the NW and SE corners having only one entry possible. The other corners are segmented off too, with only two entries apiece allowing the solver access.

That made the entire puzzle feel choked. I got stuck in the lower right; a frustrating experience to be dead-ended in a mini-puzzle that wasn't integrated into the rest of the grid. To finish by guessing at ESTE didn't make for a very positive finish, either. (JOE College wasn't familiar — apparently, it's kind of a "Joe Six-pack" for the university crowd.)

It was odd to get all the usual gluey bits one would see in a quad-stack … in the non-quad-stack regions. ADM / ELENI / ADAMA make for a tough trio up top, and EA POE A PEAR / ERY down below felt equally inelegant. I can see what happened — at 73 words in an expanded 16x15 grid, MAS and George are already near the maximum for a themeless. Trying to work around MAKING AN ENTRANCE / SEINFELD / INKSTAINED makes that north region very tough.

Loved the quad-stack and the long crossing entries, though.

POW Sat 7/23/2016
ACROBATSTIFFS
FRENEMIESELLIE
FAMILYGUYLIANE
ENACTHRSLAMAS
CINESTACKDELT
TADKOWTOWSWBA
TUBASAUPAIR
SLIMMEDINNARDS
KITCARANZIO
IVSRUFFIANBUM
LEANPARTARAMA
LASIKGOICARPS
SLICEIPADMINIS
EIGHTNOTSOSURE
TENETPETNAMES

★ Even knowing all the answers beforehand, I really enjoyed the solve. Debbie got in touch with me a while back, and I worked with her to complete her first themeless. Will thought it was very good, but given the huge competition in themelesses, it didn't have enough snazzy material to cross his high threshold. I really liked that this feedback drove Debbie to develop another one, which you see today. Hard work + careful adherence to feedback = success!

Debbie saved 18 versions of this puzzle, and I thought I'd list out some feedback I gave her through the different stages, in case that helps out aspiring themeless constructors:

  • Version 6: This one didn't have enough fresh, eye-catching material. And one corner in particular seemed problematic. It had SVENGALI, and HAVE AN IN was pretty nice, but ELIAN / ERNS / INES / SANER felt like it really weakened that corner. The grid also had SROS and ESALEN — too much glue in all.
  • Version 10: ONESIDED / ONE AM dupe. Also, THE MONEY felt too much like a partial to me.
  • Version 13: Introducing FLAME WAR added a lot of spice. She had TV REMOTE next to it, but SEASONED was the third in the triple — that one wasn't nearly as strong. Also, the bottom left corner contained CLARITIN and HOME BASE. They're both fine answers, but neither wowed me. I suggested she ought to redo that, trying to work in stronger answers, in order to show Will she was listening to his advice.
  • Version 15: Getting IT'S A SIGN felt like it added a lot to the bottom left corner, along with LIVE A LIE. Debbie hadn't filled out the bottom right, but this partial grid felt like it could be NYT-worthy if she could get a really nice triplet of answers to finish it out.
  • Version 17: TRADE NAME / SETH ROGEN / DEAD WOOD in that bottom right corner was a really nice result. However, it required DHA, and Will doesn't like tough acronyms that aren't widely known. He has a valid point — to many, DHA will look like three random, ungettable letters.
  • Version 17.1: The grid as shown. I didn't care for GO I, but that and DST allowed for IPAD MINIS, AFROPOP, PET NAMES, BARNUM (I was plus/minus on NOT SO SURE).

Revision has to stop at some point, and I think Debbie did really well to call it only when she felt like her profile of assets and liabilities was very strong. I love seeing that work ethic.

Such a great combination of colorful assets — 15 by my count — along with just a smattering of HRS, WBA, GOI, DST made for such an enjoyable solve.

Sun 7/24/2016OUT OF THIS WORLD
ASHARPRPMBIGDIG
BLAZERSKIBOOTARRIVE
YODUDEOHGREATCOOKIE
SPORTSBRASTHEYANKEES
SSNAARONUSERSSSE
DPLUSBYETODOS
PRETEENDOETHMINUETS
OATSCHEAPDATEELHI
NTHMOHELRANATDEN
DIETEDTAKETENGAMETE
SOLARISYOYOSAURORAS
MCLEANOROALTTAB
DUETOMARKETINGABETS
ORRTOOTHMORANRHO
DDTSPACEINVADERSRAP
OUZOENHANCEMENTMYTH
SSRSIRRCA
SAHAAOSSFOUIE
ROCKETFUELAIRPORTBAR
ANNABELLEECREAMSAUCE
GONNAODESEKEDEIGHT

SPACE INVADERS! One of my childhood favorites; it was fun to see all the elements David incorporated. I have fond memories of the ETs marching down in their zig-zag patterns, the music accelerating, the frustration of the aliens always winning, the horrible obsessive need to start over once again … okay, it wasn't all good.

David packs in a ton today. Not only is there the CANNON shooting a LASER (the Space Invaders Wikipedia entry confirms that it is indeed a LASER CANNON the player controls), but there's four of the "shields" formed by odd-looking sets of black squares — and those four individual squares spell out SAFE, very appropriate for shields.

And then there's the HIP MOTHERS! I mean, the MOTHERSHIP. I imagine it's normal to read from 12 o'clock going clockwise, but I stared at HIP MOTHERS for the longest time, wondering what the heck that had to do with SPACE INVADERS. Interesting how the eye is drawn to that northwest region first.

Finally, there's the gimmick: ETs "invade" the grid and take up "space" by hiding inside entries to masquerade as other fine words. I particularly liked the longer ones that resulted in huge changes, like PREEN to what looked like PRETEEN, and MARKING to MARKETING. DOH looking like DOETH and ABS to ABETS weren't quite as interesting, but still fun.

What with so much theme material, it's natural to need some glue to hold the puzzle together. The CANNON could have been shifted to the left or right (if there only were a way to animate a crossword …), but it's still hard to work with a set of letters so rigidly fixed into a pattern. It's unusual to see EEE and SSR in one corner of a Steinberg puzzle, but I think the end result is pretty good, especially what with ROCKET FUEL in there.

Some other bonuses like ALT TAB window-switching, CHEAP DATE, BIG DIG, RED TAPE, SPORTS BRAS more than make up for some OSS, A GUT , SSE, etc.

All in all, a ton packed into one puzzle. Perhaps a bit too much, feeling slightly scattered/unfocused to me, but a nice facsimile of the game.

Mon 7/25/2016
HAHACASTSBENT
ERASOPARTATOM
YALEBELIEDUNE
BOXERREBELLION
UMALOU
MADAMCAMELCASE
EMILYALARKILN
DISDPLUSDAD
INCAURALAGAVE
COOLBEANSCANER
LANADS
BLOWHOTANDCOLD
LIMORABIDHAJJ
USERTRUCEOREO
RANKHATERLADE

HEY JOE hints at four colorful JOE ___ phrases: JOE BOXER, JOE CAMEL, JOE COOL, and JOE BLOW. It would have been neat to have SIX PACK ABS as a themer, and I'm sure there are others, but these ones were fun.

Loved BOXER REBELLION, COOL BEANS, and BLOW HOT AND COLD, all snazzy phrases worth featuring. CAMEL CASE … it was interesting to learn about. I never knew there was a term for "capitalizing a word within a phrase" like PowerPoint. And it's grown on me since, as a middle capital does kind of look like a camel's hump! Cool beans indeed. (Apologies to all the young people who just groaned at my usage of that phrase.)

Some interesting mid-to-long fill, BAD LUCK my favorite. As a Seahawks fan, I cannot abide having the hated STEELERS in my grid, but I suppose it's good fill. Bah! DUE NORTH and ASEXUAL elevate the solving experience too.

ALL WORK … boy, that sounds like a partial to me. When would you ever say that by itself? Maybe ALL WORK AND NO PLAY, clued in parallel structure as ["You gotta leave the office sometime or you'll have zero life …"].

I have a strong preference for Monday puzzles to be particularly smooth, to draw in newbie solvers. There wasn't anything really egregious except the heavily crosswordy ETUI (just imagine a newbie solving this puzzle and staring at the completed grid, wondering what mistake he/she made to end up with the weird E T U I sequence), but with CANER, APER, ALAR, and URAL, it felt like too much for me. I appreciate Kevin's effort, though, as incorporating a few pieces of snappy fill often comes at a price. Seems like ETUI was the price to pay for BAD LUCK, for example.

Glad that 1-Down, HEY, didn't totally give away the game. I would still have preferred to see HEY / JOE across the middle in order to delay the reveal, but it was nice to still nice to not know what the puzzle was about until the end.

Tue 7/26/2016
CABSALPSSOFAR
OMANDOITIHOPE
SIDETABLETHROW
IDEASSONGTITLE
KATTONISOD
SEATRIPAGS
INCHSORETHUMBS
BORISLOXTROUT
SWEETTOOTHEMLY
FABSADTALE
ERGRAFTMEH
SOULTRAINVIXEN
TASERSEASONTWO
ESTEETUNEGROG
STORKSPOTSAKS

ESTEE hinting at "two-word phrases that start with S and T." As with one of his previous puzzles, Bruce goes big by packing in a ton of theme material. I've highlighted the 12 (!) theme answers below to better demonstrate just how much he worked in.

As with the previous one, Bruce picked letters that are easy to work with — there are probably hundreds of S T phrases out there. It's not the most exciting set of letters to see featured in a puzzle, but it'd be pretty hard to incorporate 12 V-W or Q-T phrases, for example.

I was bothered by hitting the awkward ENOW early in my solve, but I was pleasantly surprised to see not much other crossword glue except a little AGS (Attorney Generals) and ESTES. Some people might complain about STYE, but it's a common enough ophthalmic issue, and given that Bruce is an ophthalmologist, it seems appropriate.

I would have liked the theme phrases to be more snazzy — SEA TRIP didn't hit my ear very well, SEASON TWO seemed arbitrary, SORE THUMBS felt odd as a plural — but when you have such high theme density, something will suffer a bit. And getting some SWEET TOOTH, STAR TREK, SNEAK THIEF, SURE THINGS was pretty fun.

I hadn't ever thought of ESTEE pronounced ess-tee — I thought it was more ess-tay? — but it turns out different people have different ways of saying it. What with the inelegant placement of the revealer (where else are you going to jam it in, given the theme density?) I might have preferred no revealer. Still, nice to learn something new.

Wed 7/27/2016
DREWYAKBOOMS
PATCHOULIOHWOW
THEHOBBITOMNIA
ALSOSAGELYERR
VENNDIAGRAM
PESOSSHE
CIRCUSTENTNUFF
STIRSANOGIGLI
ISEEAUDIDEALER
ACTJOLIE
OLYMPICFLAG
GEESTOLENNABS
ROMANRINGCYCLE
ENEROGETOVERIT
SINEWIDOSTEP

Too bad this puzzle wasn't published around Jan 1st, otherwise it could help to ring in the new year!

(groan)

So cool that Natan and Finn have continued with the Jewish Association Serving the Aging's crossword class — it was really fun to see Finn leading them through a live construction session at the end of the ACPT!

Today, they give us a progressive sequence of Os, representing rings. THE HOBBIT made for a great a-ha moment, as "the one ring" is a phrase within that book. Just perfect! CIRCUS TENT was also spot-on, since "three-ring circus" is a very common saying. And the OLYMPIC FLAG made for a great example of five rings.

VENN DIAGRAM for two rings felt off though, since VENN DIAGRAMs can have however many circles as are needed. And the AUDI logo has four rings, but an AUDI DEALER … wouldn't it have hundreds of rings, what with all the cars it has in stock? I wondered if having just the 1, 3, and 5 ring examples would have been better.

With such a densely packed puzzle — six themers are tough to pull off — it's no surprise to get some NOI, GEOG, ANO / ENERO (tying them together just emphasizes the inelegance), OMNIA, etc. Note how so many of those dabs of crossword glue come at places where two themers overlap.

Love the voice of Natan and Finn coming through, though, what with BOOYAH! and "that's what SHE said." Even the STIRS clue, [Messes with 007's martini], has a younger vibe to it. Neat to get that fun, colloquial feel ... especially when one of the three constructors is a class of older students!

Thu 7/28/2016
CHIEFPEATPIES
YANNIIDLEOSLO
CLEFTSAARLALO
LORIPAMSTAYAT
ESTEFANDEAR
LETSGOKIOWA
BENDERENMESHES
EVELOSTARTHTS
AEROFLOTTHEIST
KNORRBYROAD
VETSEATWELL
COPIERLSDAVIA
ORALATITTRIPS
MEWLMAMEADAPT
PONEPRODMINIS

Will once rejected one of my puzzles because all the themers were short — 7 letters or less — and thus didn't stand out enough. I didn't totally get his reasoning, but seeing today's puzzle made it more clear. I liked the idea, LOST ART used to transform C(AR T)HIEF to CHIEF, P(ART)IES to PIES, etc. It was hard to see where the themers were, though. I've highlighted them below to make them stand out more.

Although the themers are short, working in eight of them is no walk in the park. Adam does well to spread them around so they don't need to interact with each other.

Some neat findings, C(AR T)HIEF to CHIEF, M(ART)INIS to MINIS and B(ART)ENDER to BENDER my favorite. That last one feels so appropriate too, a BARTENDER someone who might facilitate someone going on a BENDER. And MINIS is so close to MUNIS, which are also [Bond orders] — I was so confused, desperately wanting MUNIS to work but knowing that EDWARD U couldn't be correct.

A few of the others didn't do as much for me. REST(ART)ED to RESTED … neither word is particular snazzy. Similarly, P(ART) ONE to PONE. And I like THE (ART)IST as a phrase, but having ART so blatantly in there didn't feel as tricky.

The ENFIELD rifle is apparently an early 20th century British rifle. All the crossings seem fair, but with so many proper names crossing it — YANNI, LORI, ESTEFAN — it seems ripe for some solver frustration. I liked some of the other fill better, like POLARIS, MR TOAD, and as Adam mentioned, FEEL FREE and TAKE THAT!

It would have been great to get a few long answers — 7 letters or longer after losing ART — since you could lay them out in a traditional way. But that may not have been possible.

POW Fri 7/29/2016
FOGSSCATATALL
INRIPOOHMOXIE
TEACHABLEMOMENT
SPYKIDSBAUBLES
EMOTECERN
BRASICHESTHAIR
ACTTHOUGHANNA
SETSAGREEHGTV
KNEENICESTLEE
STRENGTHSODORS
ODAYPREPS
INKBLOTQUICHES
BIOLOGICALCLOCK
IGLOONEILANTI
SHACKGODSWEST

★ Really fun solve ... and so familiar! John sent me two versions of this puzzle, asking for my feedback. One was a "clean" version — this one — and the other was "less clean." They differed mainly in that bottom right corner, with LAST RESORT / URBAN DECAY in the "less clean" one where ANGLOPHONE / INTERSECTS is now. I felt like the puzzle would be just tremendous if he could work in LAST RESORT / URBAN DECAY … but without the uglies like TEN CC, EELER, GOER, STYE that it required to hold that corner together. Ultimately, it proved impossible, though. Ah well.

We also discussed INRI. That to me is a pretty big offender (stands for "Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Iudaeorvm"), one I'd go to any length to get rid of, since to a good chunk of solvers it could seem like four random letters stuck together. I liked INRE much better, since I use that all the time in memos. But that required FOGS to become FOGG (with SICKOS becoming GECKOS), and John really disliked FOGG. Curious how subjective this business is! To me, Phileas FOGG is the beloved protagonist of "Around the World in 80 Days," a book that made a tremendous impact on me. But to people who haven't read the book, FOGG will be … just four random letters stuck together!

Other than INRI, it's such a well-made puzzle. Themelesses featuring 15-letter answers often have compromises, i.e. not very many feature answers, a lot of crossword glue, some stilted sounding fill. But to get not only TEACHABLE MOMENT and BIOLOGICAL CLOCK, but CHEST HAIR, GRAY MATTER, the ONE PERCENT, THE BEE GEES, etc. plus some really strong mid-length INKBLOT, CHURCHY, SPY KIDS, BAUBLES, is awesome. Very good use of all his slots.

QAID might cause some head-scratching. Merriam Webster does list it as a variant spelling of CAID, but it's so hard to pin down the "correct" spelling of those words like HIJAB and NIQAB. So I give it a pass.

All in all, I still would have loved for that bottom right corner to be snazzed up — ANGLOPHONE and INTERSECTS don't feel like standout answers to me — but as a whole, I really enjoyed the solve.

Sat 7/30/2016
MOCKERYNEWIDEA
AMRADIOONETERM
REALIGNTINAFEY
INWITHPEDDLE
ASLTEASAWE
CLAMPALSTON
CHANCEMEETING
AHUNGERARTIST
PLATELETCOUNT
TALESEHESSE
ASKFIDODOC
URCHINLAMOUR
ASPIRESECLIPSE
BITPARTTABLETS
AMOEBASANALYST

Debut! Neat to see a newbie constructor pooh-pooh the usual "four sets of triple-stacked 8s or 9s, one in each corner" pattern and use a difficult "stairstack" arrangement. I wasn't familiar with A HUNGER ARTIST — not nearly as famous as "Metamorphosis" — but it's definitely legit. CHANCE MEETING and PLATELET COUNT complete the stairstack well.

The stairstack is nicely held together without a lot of crossword glue, LET US the only one that sticks out to me. Great to see RIGHT ANGLE, PAPER THIN, AEROSOL CAN, and DEFEATIST running through it, too! Great bonuses.

I often worry about puzzles featuring 7-letter answers, since those are tough to convert to great material. Stuff like ASPIRES is often much easier to work in than snazzy material like BIT PART. So I really enjoyed seeing TINA FEY, MOCKERY, AM RADIO. Good use of those mid-length slots.

Sectioning off the top left and bottom right is not ideal. I got stuck in the bottom right mini-puzzle, a tiny chunk that felt like a sub-puzzle disconnected from the rest. Didn't help that LAMOUR and ALBA were clued so they were in two of my areas of weak knowledge — that's Dorothy LAMOUR of the "Road to …" movies and Goya's "Duchess of ALBA." If only either Louis L'AMOUR or Jessica ALBA had been used (sad what that says about me ...).

Love the tricky ALAS clue, [Start of a Hamlet monologue]. I imagine I wasn't the only one to fill in TO BE.

A couple of little dabs of crossword glue in ITAL, ENG, but they were so minor. All in all, quite a bit of good material with not a lot of subpar fill. Looking forward to more from Lily!

Sun 7/31/2016MAKE THAT A DOUBLE
ALLCAPSPERPGREASER
ROOFTOPFOLIORELLENO
SWICHPOSIIONSAFFECTS
ETESROBSSONSURI
NERCREDIORDEBIAGREE
ICETEAASNERRECRUIER
CHRONICWIFIARMY
MEMOPADREAPPDFS
TRITINIIATIONRIEEAT
AESOPTARRINGMATPSA
THYMUSESRSTCOLDCOCK
TABRMSJOCULARSUSIE
OBILITLEWHIELIERIAS
OSSOISEESAFARIS
YAWNSPCALIMOGES
BUSTAGUTUCONNTHREAT
ESPYSPATERNIYSUIISU
REIASTOEWENASIA
ENDGAMEKEEPITOGETHER
TEESHOTELVISOUTCAST
STRAINSDIANTVHOSTS

Ruth's Sunday debut! KEEP IT TOGETHER gives us a rationale for a rebus puzzle smashing I and T together, and the title, MAKE THAT A DOUBLE, tells us that each themer has two IT rebuses. Although there are a ton of phrases with two ITs in them, I thought Ruth did a great job selecting really strong ones. CREDIT OR DEBIT, INITIATION RITE, LITTLE WHITE LIE, PATERNITY SUIT, etc. — all of them sing, not a one falling flat.

It's pretty tough to work in more than seven longish themers into a Sunday puzzle, but Ruth manages to get in eight by working two in vertically. That threw me off at first, since it kind of muddled the fact that each themer has two ITs in it. It would have been great to run every one of the eight themers horizontally, which would have made the puzzle's consistency really shine. As it was, I got a little confused seeing some vertical answers like FITBITS and SECURITY DEPOSIT having two ITs, but others like LOITERER only having one. Easy to figure out the thematic consistency post-solve, but it would have been nice if it had popped immediately.

It took me a little thinking to make sense of the revealer and the title, but I like the dual nature of having one give a rationale of why it should be a rebus, and the other explaining why there are two rebuses in each themer. It did feel a little odd that KEEP IT TOGETHER didn't have two instances of IT, though. And it seems like MAKE IT A DOUBLE could have made an apt appearance somewhere in the puzzle itself. How cool would it have been if those two phrases crossed each other — at an IT rebus square!

Some really nice fill, kicking off the puzzle with ALLCAPS, ROOFTOP, LOWTECH, ARSENIC all in one corner. I wasn't hot on the cost of ATH, CFCS, ETES, NER, CENE, though. Thankfully, the rest of the puzzle was cleaner, and even included great stuff like COLD COCK and JOCULAR, TV HOSTS and BUST A GUT. Added a lot of sparkle to the solving experience.

And I hadn't realized some of the nice touches Ruth constrained herself to — upon second glance, it was pretty cool not to see any I-Ts as the word IT. Those little details are appreciated.