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Puzzles for July, 2017
with Jeff Chen comments

View these same grids with comments from:
Constructor (27)Jeff Chen (31)Jim Horne (2)Hide comments
Sat 7/1/2017
SOBAPLASTICBAG
THEMLISTENHERE
EDNAITHINKICAN
RESTEARNSANAME
EATITFATEAMIS
OREATOMSUTES
SMITHERSBRO
ENVIEDSEGWAY
CNNMATINEES
CHAIMILANRAO
POEMCANTGROHL
ROLEMODELSELSA
OPERASERIAHOUR
SENATERACEAGRI
TRASHTALKSBYES

Four by tens! Check out that big chunk of white space in the upper right. A stack of four long answers is so tough to do well.

I think David's results are pretty good; the bottom left singing for me more than the upper right. There's a SAES (self-addressed envelopes) and a MADERA (I grew up in the Bay Area but hadn't heard of it). But some great answers stacked atop each other, not a one just taking up space. SENATE RACE and TRASH TALKS are beauties.

The opposite corners run into problems I'm more used to seeing in quad-stacks. INKA isn't great, and LITA FORD was a toughie for this pop culture idiot. The biggest problem for me, though, was what David pointed out: EARNS A NAME felt off, like it was only in there to hold things together. "Make a name for oneself," yeah? I can see what it's trying for, but it doesn't feel like a crossworthy phrase to me.

For me, if it's a decision between using it to make a quad-stack, or just dropping down to a triple-stack, I'd take the latter.

Some other nice features in the other two corners, BEN STEIN and YEAH, SURE the highlights for me. I hitched in the lower right, though. AEROLOGY … that's a thing? (The dictionary says yes.) SOLARIS is a classic sci-fi novel? (This sci-fi fanatic says no.) Along with AGRI, that corner didn't leave me very satisfied.

I know that this is a Saturday puzzle, hardest of the week, but I thought some of the clues tried too hard to be tricky. STEREOS attempted to misdirect with a different usage of CDs, but I don't think many people would call STEREOS "investments." And [What seeds often have] tried to throw you on the scent of fruit seeds, instead of tournament seeds. But that clue felt inaccurate — some top seeds do get byes, but "often" isn't a great descriptor.

I like the effort to do something different, to attempt a notoriously difficult themeless style. Some strong results, like in the lower left, but with a couple of normal-for-quad-stacks blips.

Sun 7/2/2017THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD
NBCTVIGORSCRIMZAP
ALLIELANASHAMERICO
YOUREALLYGOTAHOLDONME
SOBERLYXERRANARACE
SEALGALLANTS
ALAABBACTAME
HINTATDRINKFEHLAS
ANDALEYOGIIDOSLIC
SEIKOSMACSEXILEMTA
LETTADAVINYLYAP
ELODSTDANLIE
TAVHANOIENGECHO
CLEELANDPLEAPREVIN
HAHMAINLUSHIONIZE
ELENRATAXCOCPSNOW
DARTSTEELGDS
HALFPIPEEARS
CLAMOREDALIRITCHIE
GOTTOGETYOUINTOMYLIFE
OARSEARLYSKISLOYAL
OTSSKILLTYPEETATS

What a great first impression! Love the visual of that "long and winding road" wending its way through the grid, separating it into two pieces.

I think this is just a tribute puzzle, listing out an assortment of Beatles songs, though? I strained for a long time to figure out what connected the themers — were they all car-related, which would tie to the hidden DRIVE MY CAR (see below)? Nope. Maybe all songs that talk about wandering? Nope.

Hmm, a shame. This ended up feeling way too loose, simply whatever six (seven, actually) Beatles songs could fit.

There are some technical merits. I did like many of the finds Patrick used to hide the DRIVE MY CAR letters. How could CLE be Harrison's successor? It's CLE(V)ELAND! The African antelope does some work today, hiding the back end of CLEVELAND. MELAN(C)HOLY was another neat discovery.

Others didn't work nearly as well for me, though. It took me forever to find the final R in DRIVE MY CAR because NEWS worked reasonably well for [Old movie theater lead-ins]. NEWS can be plural, right?

And other letters didn't go all the way through, like the Y of ABBAC(Y) dead-ending in the path. That's fine since it ran into a corner of the wall, but it's not nearly as fun as CLE(V)ELAND.

There were also a ton of compromises in the grid. I stopped counting after getting a bunch of SST, ETATS, AMO, LTRS, GDS, DRT, IMONA, etc., but it felt like they were strewn all over the puzzle. Granted, the construction is difficult — a bunch of long answers must be used, adjacent to the straightaways of the path — but when you fill those with stuff like GALLANTS, it's a suboptimal solving experience.

Patrick is one of the most creative constructors out there, and I loved the artistic value of the grid. Unique, fun, beautiful. I had many problems with the execution, though.

Mon 7/3/2017
JAPANSOLORAND
IRATETWINALOE
LASERGUIDEDBOMB
TBSFOREORATES
AGEDSNIT
FOSBURYFLOPSIP
ASTINRONLANA
ICEDBRIBEAJAR
LANEROEGIANT
SROROASTTURKEY
HEADVATS
SHIELDRICHHAS
HOLLYWOODORBUST
ELSEARLOIONIA
DEANYELLEDGAR

Funny that today's theme uses hidden synonyms for "failure," as the puzzle was quite the opposite of that — good theme answers, solid long bonuses, and a smooth product. Very nice early-week puzzle.

I did pick up the theme early on, after BOMB and FLOP — I've seen FOSBURY FLOP used in a similar vein before — but not all themes have to be completely innovative. This one works well, with the "failure" synonym pretty well disguised. ROAST TURKEY works the best, as the "bird" meaning of TURKEY is completely different than the "failure" meaning.

I did pause at HOLLYWOOD OR BUST, partially because I didn't recognize the movie (that's fine, probably a generational issue), but more importantly, the "failure" meaning of BUST isn't changed — I like it much better when synonym themes obfuscate what's going on. Randy did well to at least place this one at the bottom of the puzzle, but I would have preferred another well-disguised synonym. Perhaps hiding BUST better in something like DRUG BUST?

MILK DUD could have been another good themer option, smack dab in the middle of the puzzle.

Beautifully smooth grid, near perfect for a Monday. Some may complain about RABAT crossing Ayn RAND — sometimes haters pooh-pooh crosswords because "you have to know trivia" — but world capitals are something every educated solver ought to at least recognize, and Ayn Rand was an influential writer. With just a GOER for crossword glue, I found it to be such a silky-smooth solve, prime for beginners.

A couple of nice bonuses in NERF GUN, BROADWAY (with ROAD appropriately pointed out in BROADWAY!), ARLO / GUTHRIE. It would have been great to get one more pair of long goodies, perhaps by eliminating the black square between A LOT and SAJAK.

Eliminating that black square would also help another (minor) problem: see how the black squares force the solver to progress in a Z shape? Much better is to allow the solver to flow through the grid however he or she chooses.

But these are minor issues. If HOLLYWOOD OR BUST had better obfuscated the "failure" meaning of BUST, this would have been right up there for the POW!

Tue 7/4/2017
FOILVANSASPCA
UPDOELALRELAX
JAYGATSBYSAUTE
ILLROOSSEEMS
HOEMANET
YOUARENOTALONE
TONERNADALMIR
OKAYSTAINMAXI
MELEPICSPUTON
ELLEMACPHERSON
FLUMENOS
TOILSSEAMTNT
GOUDAWHYBOTHER
EGRETEARLARIA
MASSETHEEJULY

JAY, YOU, ELLE, WHY are each one-fourth of JULY. Get it? (Happy 4th!)

Funny how Jill and I had the same idea for last year's 4th of Jully puzzle, but we ended up with a much different execution.

JAY GATSBY, ELLE MACPHERSON, and WHY BOTHER are all great theme selections. But with so many options starting with YOU, I was let down by YOU ARE NOT ALONE. It's a fine statement, common enough. But not YOU BET YOUR LIFE? YOU DON'T SCARE ME? YOU SAID IT NOT ME? Just personal preference, but I think there was a lot of potential left on the table.

Generally solid execution, a pair of nice extras in ON ALL FOURS and PLUM TOMATO. ARSENAL as the English football club was cool, too, especially introducing a great nickname. How awesome, to be known as "The Gunners"!

I did hitch in the upper left corner, with ELAL (esoteric), IDYL (I'm used to the IDYLL spelling), ROOS (ROO as Pooh's friend is perfectly fine though), and then the awkward VETOER. If it hadn't been for that last one, I would have shrugged off the other three. But oof, those made-up sounding -ER words are hard on the ear. Precious mid-length slot, wasted.

Overall, fun to compare and contrast this theme/grid with the one Jill and I made. Although it's the same basic idea, I think there's more than enough room for both. Hopefully, the same general concept won't show up on July 4th, 2018, though!

Wed 7/5/2017
ASCAPSRIUFOS
SHONEOILSROBE
CARTROUBLEBOON
OMNIENSLOADED
TUSSAUDALONG
LIFEONTHERUN
OPTINFRIOONO
LEAPTFAMELUDE
ESCFEMALIPOS
GOONVACATION
STARTENIGMAS
HETEROCDCEASY
ALASFLIGHTRISK
ISNTFINIAIMEE
LADSDEFNESTS

I appreciate seeing ideas I doubt I'd ever think of. How fun, to take normal phrases and interpret them as travel editions of classic board games! LIFE ON THE RUN stood out for me, as 1.) I loved the game as a kid, and 2.) I could imagine LIFE ON THE RUN as a clever marketer's title for an actual travel edition of Life. FLIGHT RISK was fun, too, for similar reasons.

GO ON VACATION didn't hit me as strongly because the base phrase isn't as snazzy as the others. It's a fine thing to say, but I don't know that I'd seed a themeless with it like I would with FLIGHT RISK.

And CAR TROUBLE … Trouble is a game? I played a lot of games as a kid, but not this one. Even after reading the Wikipedia entry on it, I don't recognize it. (Apparently, it's similar to Sorry!, with which I had a love/hate relationship.)

What an ambitious grid for one's debut. Very few constructors would stretch to work in six bonus entries, and even fewer would succeed in converting so many of them into such juicy juice: SOUND EFFECT, FOOD GROUP with a brilliant wordplay clue in [Cooking class?], TACO STAND, LINGERIE.

ANIMATED GIF didn't do it for me as much since most GIFs I see these days are animated ... so I just call them GIFs. And ANTISLIP felt a bit workmanlike. Still, four great bonuses is admirable. Jake used solid technique in working the bonuses in, spreading them out and alternating up / down positioning to achieve good spacing.

ADDED NOTE: turns out that most gifs aren't animated. Maybe I'm a little vined out ...

The grid did skew to the side of snazziness at the cost of smoothness, though. I first noticed it at ASCAP, then ELOI (the "Time Machine" race this sci-fi buff was so turned off by when first getting into crosswords). Then ENS, OEUF, ORAMA, FRIO, VAR. It wasn't so bad as to make my nose wrinkle, but it did leave me with an impression of inelegance. Perhaps just four long bonuses instead of six would have made for more grid flexibility and smoothness.

Still, an interesting, novel theme is hard to come by these days. Looking forward to more from Jake.

Thu 7/6/2017
RSVPSIGHBRAD
UPCSOSLOEURO
MARTINLAWRENCE
ARRSDYEDAFTER
BAETEXTBIPODS
FITESPBONA
ASIANEBAYTPS
BIRDSRIMSTONE
NEOPIBBPYLON
PARAOBIEWE
BISTROKORNDAM
UNTAGGAPEMANY
STEPHENHAWKING
TREETALLONCE
SORTATOMREEL

It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out the gist of today's puzzle. I got stuck on BIRDS, wondering how having two BIRDS in the bush was reflected in the puzzle? Then I thought it might be two BIRDS of a feather, somehow flocking together? That *almost* worked. Finally, Googling turned up killing two BIRDS with one STONE!

D'oh.

I still don't exactly see how that saying is reflected within the puzzle — there are two BIRDS inside MARTIN LAWRENCE and STEPHEN HAWKING (neat finds!) and a stone inside SONY XPERIA and BAMBOO PALM — but how does the STONE "kill" the two BIRDS?

I'm probably waaaaaay overthinking this.

Great grid execution, not a surprise from a master. Erik shows off by interlocking his themers, not an easy task, especially considering that there probably aren't many themer choices that hide two BIRDS. The interlock does force some ugly black square chunks in the upper left and lower right — placing MARTIN LAWRENCE in row 3 necessitates this — but I don't mind as much as I usually do, given the visually pleasing themer interlock.

Funny, Erik's comments about how he thought they were pretty. To each his own.

Also of note are those awesome "parallel downs" — RUM RAISIN / SPARE TIRE and POLE DANCE / SNOW ANGEL are such snazzy answers. Even more impressive is that Erik hardly used any crossword glue to hold everything together there. An ARRS and a KOR, yes, but that's far less than most people would dab on to get such goodness.

Toss in ADOPT A PET and BEEF PATTY too! Erik makes it look so easy when in truth, just making the themer interlock work is hard enough without any bonus entries.

And that's not all. Erik is particularly good at clues, so many shining today. My favorite: [Figure whose wings melt in the sun], making me think it had to be ICARUS. Nope, SNOW ANGEL shares that property. Makes an already great entry glow even brighter.

Erik's constructions tend to be fresh and unconventional (while still maintaining snazz and smoothness), and this one is a prime example. Wish the theme had given me a sharper a-ha moment, though.

Fri 7/7/2017
NAILSALONSTRAP
INVIOLATEPOISE
MOONLIGHTINSTA
EUROSEWINGKIT
SKYLABRODEUP
ERINROSERED
VAGUEBOOKSOLE
EDEMAFYIMANSE
RUTALLNBATEAM
BESTBUYGOYA
RIENZITOPCAT
IMITATORSROLO
MADTVNEILSIMON
PROLEENFORCING
SAFERSETPIECES

Second indie constructor in a row! Andy and Erik both wrote puzzles for the Indie 500 this year, a crossword tournament I desperately want to attend at some point. Stupid kids. (Mine, that is.)

A couple of fresh entries today, VAGUEBOOKS and INSTA not familiar to me, but perfectly fine. VAGUEBOOKS is like … when someone posts BOMB DIGGETY NEWS UPCOMING! or something like that?

I can just hear the millennials groaning.

INSTA is what the kids say for Instagram, is it?

*grOOOOAAAAN!*

NO FLY ZONES was the highlight of the puzzle for me. Not only is it a snazzy term in itself, but what an amazing clue, so innocent without a telltale question mark. [Dimensions without planes] had to be some geometry term, said this geometry buff. No, it's the flying-type plane, not the 2-D type plane. Brilliant wordplay from Andy, lifting an already great entry into the fourth dimension.

I'm a big fantasy basketball guy, but I had trouble with ALL NBA TEAM. NBA All-Star Team, yes. All-NBA First Team, yes. But NBA ALL TEAM clanged on my ear. It is legit, especially back when there was only one ALL NBA TEAM. Now that there's the first, second and third teams — HOW CAN STEPH CURRY ONLY BE ON THE SECOND TEAM $@#@! — it doesn't seem quite as shiny an entry. Again though, it is 100% in the language.

(Okay fine, James Harden was pretty good this year.)

RISK PRONE also made me pause. I've heard a ton of risk-based phrases during my MBA and finance work, but it's usually "risk-seeking" or "risk averse." RISK PRONE again seems to be perfectly legit, just not something I'd strive to use in colorful conversation.

Overall, super-smooth construction, just an A DUE. Excellent craftsmanship. Along with some fun entries in SEWING KIT, a great triple in NAIL SALON / INVIOLATE / MOONLIGHT, SKYLAB, it was more than enough to keep me entertained. It's a shame that some entries didn't resonate with me as strongly as I would have liked, though.

P.S. Will and Joel, how about an "Indie constructor theme week" next year? It'd be awesome to get seven fresh voices lined up.

POW Sat 7/8/2017
ASSALIBIPROB
DECADESOLDRARE
ADAMSAPPLEOPIE
PERPEPACBER
TRYSTHEADSTAND
BCUPSLOTTA
CROWINGSMARTER
REVILEEYELET
AMENITYSLIDERS
FORESODEON
TURPITUDEGENOA
SLURERRROMA
HALECEILINGFAN
ODESHOVERBOARD
WEDSNEMEATRE

★ Beautiful work; best 4x10 stacks I've seen in a while. Those upper-right and lower-left corners are so tough to fill with both snazz and smoothness that few constructors even try (I still haven't worked up the nerve).

To get PROCTORED / RAP BATTLE / ORIENTEER / BEER DARTS (don't know what this is, but it sounds awesome/dangerous) with just a CBER (and that's in use, so I hear) — and with HEAD STAND running through it all! Fantastic. Now, PROCTORED and ORIENTEER don't seem as pleasing to me as RAP BATTLE and BEER DARTS, but for one-word entries, they do nice jobs. Having done a little ORIENTEERing racing, it was fun for me to see.

Opposite corner had similar results, with CRAFT SHOW and WINE PRESS standing out. REMOULADE was almost as interesting to me, as I've taken a recent turn toward cooking. Not sure I'd ever make a REMOULADE, but what a fun word to say. Speaking of fun to say, TURPITUDE!

I would have liked every one of those eight long answers to be as awesome as RAP BATTLE, but for this type of extremely tough layout, these results are about as good as I've seen.

Interesting that I was less impressed by the easier to fill areas — I did pause for a moment at A AND E (never written out like this in real life), OMARR (outdated), TRE, LEM. And that's with David already having placed a black square between NEMEA and TRE, making for an easier time filling that corner.

I usually prize grid flow, having multiple ways in and out of each corner, but I'm curious if moving a black square up to the G of GENOA would have helped smooth out the bottom right. Grid would still have had plenty of flow, and I bet David could have worked in entries as strong as HOVERBOARD without quite as much crossword glue.

Overall though, an entertaining product that this constructor greatly admired.

Sun 7/9/2017FIRST FOR KNOWLEDGE
ASSUAGESBETCHAAMANA
CHIPMUNKFAILATSOLED
TOXICITYFREEZEACROWD
SECDEETDDAYFENNEL
HOVERERRORFINAGLE
ONAPARSPOOFNEEDY
KARENCHEAPFRILLSSAW
IRANBALEDACIDBELA
ECCEHOMOSPACEXORALS
TRIREMERBIARARAT
BAEFELONIOUSMONKCHE
AFRAIDTOMMADDASH
WISPSKRONOSTEENWOLF
DRIPBEAMABUTSAFAR
YENMIFFBUSTERSSNAKE
RELITNAIVEORKNEY
DONEFORRENEEFROYO
INAFIXNEARLARAFBI
SECURITYFRETLANDOFOZ
CURESISITMEANGELENO
SPELTMETHODSKEWERED

Great example of how simple themes ought to be executed. Will took something as basic as a sound change, from TH- to F-, came up with some funny examples, and built a smooth grid with a few nice bonuses. Didn't stretch too much by going down below 140 words, didn't try to do anything fancy — that's a formula for success.

As a huge jazz fan, FELONIOUS MONK was my favorite (Thelonius Monk was a ground-breaking pianist) — I find it so amusing that writers tend to make monks the antagonists of their stories. And although I don't like when constructors stretch grammar too far, Mythbusters into MIFFBUSTERS made me laugh. Great transformation.

The fill did have some tough words in it, but most all of them I thought were fair game. MORNAY sauce, the ORKNEY Islands, ODETS, the name SHLOMO … okay, I was forced to learn a little more than I like to from a single crossword, but I still was able to earn a clean solve. I did pause at KRONOS / KEFIR — I had CRONOS in my head for some reason — but CEFIR … well, I'm glad KEFIR is a semi-regular feature of my diet. I give it a pass personally, but that's the one mini-region I thought could use rework.

Well, there was GUIDER … I'll pretend I didn't see that.

I wasn't familiar with "Six Characters in Search of an Author," so that was the one themer that fell flat for me. Given that I'd read a ton for my job and that I hadn't heard of it, I wonder how many other solvers will feel similarly.

Overall, this is a perfect example of how a tried and true theme can still work just fine. I'm glad that Will was careful with his execution, dotting in just a bit of MAD DASH, ECCE HOMO, ME FIRST, EARDROP spice, and most importantly making sure to avoid the kind of crossword glue that can make solvers groan.

Mon 7/10/2017
ABETOUCHPSST
MACSIONIAUCLA
ALOHASHIRTPROS
SICEMTREEEVE
SHALOMMEIRTOWER
EARRIOSHRINE
SISINOPEACTED
PAXROMANA
SOSADSPITSACK
ARTSETTICSHE
MIRSPACESTATION
PGATIRERESIN
RAPTWORLDPEACE
AMISANITADIED
SINKNEEDYDRY

WORLD PEACE interpreted as "words across the globe meaning PEACE" — neat idea! The concept was well disguised; I didn't see the revealer coming. Made for a good a-ha moment.

PAX ROMANA was the obvious one for me, as that probably should be familiar to educated solvers. And I knew MIR is Russian for PEACE, since that comes up in crossword clues frequently. SHALOM … I think I've heard that before from a Jewish friend of mine, in the "peace be with you" sense.

ALOHA was the only source of confusion for me. Doesn't it mean "hello" and "goodbye"? It also means PEACE? Apparently, it means many things, encompassing affection and mercy too. What a versatile word! It would have been nice to get another themer with a more specific PEACE meaning, but ALOHA does work.

Tim does so well with his bonus fill. I wasn't sure that ECOCARS is a term in real-life use, but Google proves me (very) wrong. Not the first or the last time! I enjoyed getting BALI HAI, ORIGAMI, TAIWAN (my mom will dispute the clue, [Disputed island …], but don't get her started unless you have 50 or so hours to kill). I was surprised to see SCREW IT in the NYT, but I love it.

Great DAY clue, too — who knew that a DAY on Venus is longer than a year? That means … the planet rotates around its axis very, very slowly? (I didn't have to look that up on Wikipedia. Okay, maybe I did.)

Excellent craftsmanship on this one (although I'm giving you the stink-eye, CHOICER). If all the connections to PEACE had been a little stronger for me, this would have gotten the POW!

Tue 7/11/2017
PASSJDATEATIT
ARTIPINONFINI
PEACHESANDCREAM
ANNAGAIOUSWE
YACHTSACREDCOW
ASHEATVNORA
ROMEOHOARDS
POWERCOUPLE
PERILSAPNEA
ELONDUGBAND
ACTEDCOOLESSIE
THEOAFEOSPEC
BACKGROUNDCHECK
OPTOPLACEICEE
GOSSIDLESPTSD

POWER COUPLE interpreted as "phrases with an AC and a DC in them." Too bad the puzzle doesn't have the awesome lightning bolt found in the AC/DC (rock band) logo! How cool would that have been?

I love the phrase POWER COUPLE, so snazzy. I wish it had related more strongly to the themers though — finding phrases with an ACDC string in them (no break) would have been perfect. As is, these feel like the POWER COUPLEs are far apart. Maybe that's how it is in real life, especially with movie stars spending so much time physically apart while filming movies?

There's the little matter of no phrase containing the *ACDC* (unbroken) string, too. Right. The crossword gods strike again.

I did like C.C.'s selection of phrases, each one so juicy. SACRED COW is great. ACTED COOL is fun, maybe because I used to go around saying "Aaaaaa!" like the Fonz. (Needless to say, I wasn't popular.) There are surprisingly few other phrases that contain an AC and a DC in that order — MAC AND CHEESE was the only other great one — which makes C.C.'s presentation even more impressive. It'd be too easy to give up and go with ACID CELL or something equally dull.

C.C. always does so well injecting color into her puzzles, both through theme choices and bonuses. Love OPULENCE, DNA LABS, PEAT BOG. EL CHAPO also made me pause, but he is no doubt newsworthy. So much packed in; such great use of those mid-length slots.

A couple of blips here in there on short fill, but nothing egregious. OPE, AGA, OPTO is all passable, well worth the price of all those great bonuses in the fill. This is especially appreciated given how tough it can be to get a grid to behave with five themers, the middle one such an awkward 11-letter length.

Overall, a strong construction, but I would have liked the themers better tied to the revealer. The separation of AC and DC makes me a little sad for these POWER COUPLES.

Wed 7/12/2017
CHEFCHAFEUNUM
LULLRUBINNASA
ARMYUBERDRIVER
PLOPSCLEEVERY
ALBAPIMA
THEPAYPALDICK
REDEYEGUSTELS
EMIRBIGOBOE
KITSHOTMOHAIR
HOLIDAYAIRBNB
NOSYERLE
SICEMSPAYALTA
GMOPOPCORNLEAN
TULLDANNOLILT
SPAYANGSTYAKS

Funny "modern-day remake" theme, classic movies updated using current businesses. It took me forever to figure out what was going on, but then UBER DRIVER (from TAXI DRIVER) gave me a smile.

I wasn't sure what THE ___ DICK was (I really hope they use that as a "Family Feud" survey), but apparently there's a movie called "The Bank Dick"? And Bing Crosby was in … "Holiday Inn"? Huh. Funny, that movie was just in 1979, so I feel like I should know it. Ah well.

ADDED NOTE: Ah, that Bing Crosby movie was in 1942! Now I don't feel quite like I ought to know it ...

I spent a lot of time ruminating on the revealer, GMO POPCORN. Was that supposed to be a remake of some sort of ___ POPCORN phrase? Would have been a clever ending to the puzzle, but alas, I think it's more a "what could we do with POPCORN that sounds modern-day?".

I like in these celeb collaborations when the grid reflects the celeb's life. Love getting SLAY, as Elayne Boosler cracks me up. It would have been neat to turn YAKS into YUKS. But that stupid terminal U would have made 57-Down much less flexible. Drat!

Along the humor line, I smiled at the FIREPLUG clue. If you don't get it, think not about the golf dogleg, but an actual dog's leg … up to the left or right … above a fire hydrant … (sorry, I'm in the habit of having to explain jokes in excruciating detail to my two-year-old).

Pretty good grid, as I'd expect from Patrick, except for one little problematic crossing — UNIVAC / PIMA. Oof. Even for a Wednesday puzzle, I wonder if that's going to give solvers fits. I'm personally interested in tech, so UNIVAC and ENIAC are fascinating to me. PIMA … not so much. Hopefully, solvers will fall into at least one area of interest or the other.

Love the celeb collaboration series, but this theme didn't quite hit home for me. If GMO POPCORN had been replaced with a fourth themer, maybe something involving GOOGLE or AMAZON or something, that would have worked better for me.

(EGBDF = every good boy does fine, a mnemonic for the notes on the lines on a treble clef score.)

Thu 7/13/2017
IMPDOCGASLIT
FARINAXAGEONE
STIFFARMGUESTX
XOFTEARANTAT
SAFEEERIEIKE
OUIANKLEBITER
DEXISMSILOS
ALEPHUTASUTRA
AWASHESPRIT
OUTDAMNEDXAFT
NNEBASIEXIFY
ETALIIPENCIL
CURATEOCEANMAP
UNEVENTUMSIDA
PEDANTTYEXON

X MARKS THE SPOT has been mined for crossword plunder many a time, but I don't remember this exact implementation. Some colorful phrases in OUT DAMNED (SPOT), the X working as a regular X in the down direction, and SPOT in the horizontal. (SPOT) OF TEA was another snazzy phrase. GUEST (SPOT) was pretty good, too.

I wasn't as hot on IN A (SPOT) and (SPOT) ON, as those are a bit too easy to incorporate. (SPOT)IFY (a streaming music service) to a lesser extent, too.

Tough to cram in seven of those special squares. It is true that in the vertical direction, the X is free to be a normal X, but working Xs into a grid can be challenging. Seven of them is a bear — that's not anywhere near the record of 13, but it does get this puzzle on our list.

Neat interlock, with OUT DAMNED (SPOT) intersecting X MARKS THE SPOT. Love it when those things can happen.

Some compromises to make this grid work. I've heard complaints about Jean AUEL but considering she's sold millions of books, I think she's more than fair game. What does bug me are variants like SHWA, never-written-this-way-in-real-life I-TEN, odd TYE, dir. NNE, partial IS UP, weird UNTUNE ("go out of tune" is more like it), abbr. ATTY.

I do like that Lewis went out of his way not to load up any one category of crossword glue. Next time I'd like to see fewer categories represented, though. I might have tried a less ambitious construction. I don't think the theme density is the issue since the blips aren't around the short (SPOT) themers. Going up to a 76-word grid could have helped, maybe by breaking up GAG REEL at the R. As much as I love that term — and AMBIENT is good too — rejiggering those two corners could have made the puzzle feel smoother overall.

I didn't mind the asymmetry of the theme answers that much, as it made finding those Xs unpredictable. Still, there's something so pleasing about themer symmetry.

Overall, nice take on a tried and true theme concept.

Fri 7/14/2017
SADSACKDISCUS
CLUTCHESONTAPE
RIGATONIALYSSA
ABUTPOLNEXTTO
PIPESVESTAAA
BEEFEDSNIT
HARBORMASTERS
TENGALLONHATS
TURKEYDINNERS
ORESUNDOES
ETAHOPITYPES
TUFFETNHLSHAW
ARTISTGOODTOGO
GREASESCREENER
SORTERKENMORE

Solid PB offering, three juicy answers stacked atop each other in HARBORMASTERS / TEN GALLON HATS / TURKEY DINNERS. PB has such a knack for selecting seed answers that are both snazzy in themselves and that lend themselves to great cluing. Best example today: TEN GALLON HAT is made even better by the clever [High tops?] wordplay. I missed the puniness of [Pier group?] the first time around for HARBORMASTERS, but such nice twist on "peer group."

Too bad TURKEY DINNERS didn't get a wickedly clever clue. Feels like there's something you could riff on like "for the birds" or "giving thanks" or something. Maybe referencing the Presidential tradition of pardoning the turkey? (My attempts at Berryesque cluing are so sad …)

Nice to get SILVER LININGS running through that stair stack, too. Though again, it would have been awesome to have a less straightforward clue than [Optimists' discoveries]. Maybe something about Optimist International? Not quite sure what that would be, though.

As with most PB puzzles, there were a ton of great clues spread around. My favorite was [Pair in "Carmen"], for which I embarrassingly filled in CASTAWAYS at first. So much for my years and years of playing in symphony orchestras. Great misdirection, leading away from the musical CASTANETS knocked together.

Also as with most PB puzzles, so smooth. BEEFED got an odd clue, referring to making complaints, but BEEFED up is perfectly fine, so no complaints here. My wife alerted me that KENO isn't super well-known where she's from (Indianapolis), but if that's your weakest link in short fill, that's, well, Berryesque.

I love how Patrick's puzzles almost always feel both challenging and doable, rarely relying on esoteric answers — they're so often accessible to a huge swath of solvers, regardless of age or fresh pop culture knowledge. I have noticed that recently, his puzzles don't have as many colorful answers (akin to TEN GALLON HATS) as I like, though. Would have been great to get a few more of those in place of STATE BANKS, CLUTCHES, KENMORE, SEA OATS, etc.

POW Sat 7/15/2017
AMAZEBALLSDICK
TAXEVASIONANON
TRILATERALTORE
UCSDIVANLENDL
ARSEWISEST
SADATROCIOUS
PURINAAVENGERS
ADAMSOKSHANOI
SIGMACHICURSOR
ROCKMELONEKE
STALKSANTS
ORCASBLOCCULP
BAITPLUTOMANIA
ACNESEXSCANDAL
DIGSTWEETSTORM

★ Ha! I love it when the Gray Lady surprises me, this time kicking off with the slangy AMAZEBALLS. Maybe it just seems naughty to me, or it's often paired with other off-color language? In any case, I'm a big fan, as people in my writing group use it frequently in our discussions.

I can understand how other solvers might not approve — or worse yet, not be able to achieve a correct solve, given the ATTU crossing — but it's hard to imagine something like IMAZEBALLS looking right. Still, I wonder if I'll hear grumblings.

Very good craftsmanship in construction, a ton of sizzling long entries without much crossword glue. I did hitch when filling in ATTU at 1-Down — tough bit of trivia that I'm not sure all educated solvers should be expected to know — but just getting a little of CKS (checks?) and ANON shows careful consideration in the grid. Much appreciated; lent a feeling of elegance.

I felt like there were a couple of long slots leaving potential on the table — DATE SUGAR and IN ONE SENSE aren't as strong as DRAG RACING and IMMOLATES, for me, e.g. — but given that Zach started off with 16 long slots, a few neutral entries still means that we get assets well into the double-digits. Great stuff.

And that bottom stack, hatchi matchi! PLUTOMANIA wasn't familiar, but what a neat word to learn. Along with SEX SCANDAL atop TWEETSTORM = such fodder for active imaginations. I'm usually one for more positive, uplifting entries in crosswords, but that corner is so evocative. Love it.

I didn't get the SIGMA CHI clue — apparently, there's a song called "Sweethearts of SIGMA CHI"? I love a wickedly clever clue, but this one went way over my head. SIGMA CHI is still a pretty good entry, but the clue lessened its impact for me.

The only entry I hesitated on was SO BAD. It felt like a long partial to me, but perhaps that's what the kids say these days? Or is it SO BAD to try to disguise an ugly partial?

I dug this fresh themeless. I imagine there will be some AMAZEBALLS haters, but to me, the jam-packed ton of colorful entries and careful workmanship wins it my POW!

Sun 7/16/2017IF THE SPIRIT MOVES YOU
OLAVSPJSNEBSPOSH
NADIRSHAIERLEAPIAN
LIVEITDOWNWRENYESNO
ANATYINANDYANGDRAKE
NINLMAOFRONDBIALYS
DETRAINWEIRDEARN
AONEREINKKNITTING
SEGUEFRANKBETOFOE
OLEGDORRSOLARADAMN
WISHFULSHARONACUTEX
COCKTAILLOUNGES
INFUNTOWELEDCOSTNER
WALTZASADAKNEWMOAN
IVEPLAYRANASFONTS
NEDROREMCOROTALPS
EPOSCRUETILOSTIT
STIVESPHONYSPARANI
AIDANSEEADOCTORERTE
ITEMSATWTUNEDUCATED
DRAPELEOIIBNMISERY
ELSAERNANCOVERNE

Acme and I hung out at ACPT years ago, catching up, when she suddenly smacked me. (I get that a lot.) One of my puzzles had just run, scooping her and Pete of an idea they had been working on. Neat to finally see it finished and in print. I appreciate that Will spread them out, so solvers got a chance to forget mine.

(Between them, there was another one in a similar vein, but it didn't use the same revealer.)

I liked the visual aspect of this one, the circled-up drinks looking a bit like bubbles in champagne. Fun to get a lot of variety, from a DIRTY MARTINI to a COSMOPOLITAN to a PINK LADY. Very upscale!

I'm more of a BEER guy myself, so, on the one hand, it was nice to get that and WINE too. But on the other, they weren't nearly as cool as the long drinks forming big bubbles. Would have been great to get two other mixed drinks to make the set tighter.

So, so difficult to fill around those circled-up drinks. Any time you fix letters in place, you create inflexibility for yourself. And to set so many letters in place right next to each other is nutso. Acme and Pete did well to put black squares in the middle of the biggest drinks, absolutely crucial to filling around COSMOPOLITAN. Still, they ended up with a FLOR, oddball ALARUM, and a GOW. Hmm.

That's not too bad, but there are similar costs throughout the rest of the puzzle. As if the six circled-up drinks weren't hard enough, putting in DRINKS ALL AROUND and COCKTAIL LOUNGES was bound to cause serious pain points. Not surprising to see some oof-worthy BETO, DUC crossing DORR, TO SAM, HIED right where those two long themers cross. And ORLE is one of those Maleskan-era words I'd like to see elevated to "puzzle-killer" status.

I like seeing different implementations of a similar seed idea. The appearance of bubbles was cool. However, I tired of the experience maybe half way through — I wonder if it would have been better as a 15x puzzle with maybe three or four mixed drinks. Tough though, as that would have given Acme and Pete even less real estate to work with. The freedom of the huge Sunday 21x21 palette can be awfully tempting for constructors.

Mon 7/17/2017
STRAWCDSHAM
SPEEDODREWIDO
AIRFORCEONETEX
INNSSUMOECOLI
LESSTRIKETHREE
RASLIAM
LATEXGIMMEFIVE
ALITMOVESISEE
GAMESEVENANSEL
ELANUGG
ONCLOUDNINERAM
BEASTIONSJUDO
EARODDSANDENDS
YTDMINEAUDITS
SOSENTGEICO

ODDS AND ENDS played upon today, construed as "phrases whose last words are odd numbers." I hesitated when I got to the revealer — wouldn't ODDS ARE ENDS or ENDS ARE ODD be more apt? Alas, neither of those are real phrases. Stupid crossword gods!

It would have been all too easy to stick with ONE THREE FIVE SEVEN — with the revealer, that would have made five total themers, just about right for a dense, meaty grid. But it would have felt incomplete without the final single-digit odd number, NINE. Kudos to Tom for going the whole NINE yards (*rimshot*), working with an extremely high theme density. Six themers is no joke.

The grid is well crafted, not a surprise given that Tom is one of the best in the construction business. So smooth, just a minor YTD (and we business folks don't even blink at that). I usually keep a running tab of crossword glue, since I prize smoothness so highly in Monday puzzles — to get only that one minor tick is fantastic. Makes the puzzle so accessible to a newer solver.

I do wish the NW and SE corners hadn't been so sectioned off from the rest of the puzzle. There are two answers — AIR FORCE ONE and WORSTS — connecting the NW to the rest of the puzzle, so it's not as bad as it could be, but I prefer a bigger passageway, allowing for more solving flow.

Speaking of bigger passageways, Will once asked me to avoid "stair steps" of black squares involving three-letter words, i.e. the narrow RAS / SAX region. I didn't understand the feedback back then, but these days I do notice how constricted such a stair step can make a puzzle feel.

All these narrowings are prices to pay to get that ON CLOUD NINE entry in — so many black squares are needed to separate so many themers — so I like the trade-off.

Fantastic JEDI clue. "Force-ful" characters indeed!

Simple theme but executed well. If the revealer had generated a stronger a-ha moment for me, it would be POW! material.

POW Tue 7/18/2017
CHALLAHLEFTS
SATIATEBETRUE
INVESTSTRICORN
STAIRCASEWIT
ITSTOBYTNN
ECOMACYFEE
ALEBANKSORDID
ESCALATORCLAUSE
REUNESPORKPEW
BTWREMYDOE
GEEDORAMAN
ONTHEUPANDUP
SARALEECOSPLAY
STALLSEVILEYE
ASYLASECEDES

★ My first impression was that this puzzle had so many — too many — diagonals of black squares rising from left to right. Kvetching alert! Those middle diagonals break up the solving flow! All those pyramid blocks around the perimeter felt like cheating to this constructor (they make a grid way too easy to fill)! Forty-two total black squares is too many!

Boy, did I feel silly when I realized that the black squares were thematic. I didn't catch on to the theme until very late, and I loved when the switch finally flipped on. STAIRCASE WIT, ESCALATOR CLAUSE, ON THE UP AND UP made for a simple concept, but the black square patterns — every single one of them rising diagonally — made for an elegant touch.

Excellent craftsmanship, very little crossword glue anywhere. Some people may complain about SCRY, but I think it's a fair word, even for more novice solvers. Then again, I do love sci-fi and fantasy novels ... if you haven't read the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, you're missing out on some awesome SCRYing! (More importantly, the crossing answers are all gettable; even REMY Martin ought to be at least familiar).

Great BANK clue, playing on Penn and Teller. How have I never realized that a BANK has both pens and tellers? Love those sorts of connections.

The puzzle did play hard for me, what with less common vocabulary such as TRICORN, ANTEHALL, ASYLA (that really is the plural of "asylum"!) to go with SCRY. I happened to be familiar with all of them, but I'd understand if these answers left an odd taste in solvers' mouths — I think it's better to stick to just one or two of these potentially head-scratching words.

But with great bonuses like COSPLAY (I happen to look a great deal like EVIL Spock to begin with), EVIL EYE, CHALLAH, ICE CUBE TRAY, I thought Mike executed well on his grid on the whole.

Great visual with all those STAIRSTEPS in black squares. I didn't immediately know what STAIRCASE WIT was, but even then, I liked learning the term. Neat idea, an inability to come up with the perfect comeback until one is at the bottom of the stairs and needs to rush back up to use it.

Wed 7/19/2017
RACESALUDLAT
CLAMALIBICMON
APPOINTEESHARE
TOYOURHEALTH
CASINOSLIFER
ALICESTIRAMISU
REMOARSON
DRINKDRINKDRINK
NONETEMAC
MARKETEDGODIVA
IDEALMONSTER
DOWNTHEHATCH
SNAPOVERWEIGHT
TARASERIEROID
IDIPROSTTOPS

DRINK DRINK DRINK! And then DRINK DRINK DRINK again! Mickey and Pawel pack six toasts into their grid. I was confused by the revealer, especially since there was no "when doubled" qualifier, to make a total of six instead of just three toasts. But who's counting?

Neat that they crossed TO YOUR HEALTH / L'CHAIM and DOWN THE HATCH / KANPAI, so fortuitous that this worked out. Opportunities like this don't come along often, so it's fun to see when the crossword gods shine down upon constructors.

The opposing viewpoint is that even if those intersections are possible, should they be used? I miscounted themers the first time through, glossing over L'CHAIM and KANPAI — placing two short themers vertically can mean that they blend into the fill. As neat as crossing themers can be, I might have preferred for all the themers to be horizontal, as they would have stood out better for me — maybe shifting L'CHAIM roughly to where CASINOS is.

The crossing answers also cause grid inflexibility, a bane for constructors. Check out the lower left — Mickey and Pawel do well to include a black square at the very corner, but still are forced to use ADONAI, a toughie. Along with KANPAI, it made for a crunchy experience for me. I wouldn't mind as much if there weren't already some SERIE / HOSP, EMAC / KCAR, ALER, etc. through the puzzle.

Speaking of SERIE / HOSP, it's so tough to bracket a region with two themers, like in the south. DOWN THE HATCH on top, PROST on the bottom ... it's no wonder a few dabs of crossword glue were necessary to hold things together. When a themer is on the bottom edge of the puzzle like PROST, you can't separate it from other themers using black squares — might have been better to jam PROST somewhere in the middle of the puzzle.

I've been to Japan maybe 20 times, done a lot of drinking. For the job! (It's super important to go out with business colleagues after work.) It still took me a while to recall KANPAI, though. (Then again, I did usually drink way too much …) Hopefully, KANPAI won't be the black sheep for solvers. I do think it's reasonable, but it did feel a little out of place.

That said, fun to get so many drinking exclamations. Made for a cozy — dare I say toast-y? — puzzle.

Thu 7/20/2017
REBECCAINFLATE
EXEDOUTSPOOLED
WATTSTHEPROBLEM
ACTATOMSTASTE
RTESOSUBERTIE
MARLAMADAMS
OPIATESTREE
HOWESBUSINESS
SONSALBANIA
ONOCAYTRYST
CONTACAMISAPS
KLEINECOLEHOE
HULETTHEDOGSOUT
OLEOOILENGROSS
PUGNOSEMAYISEE

HULET THE DOGS OUT! Er, HU let them out. Sad to say, this Chinese-American has trouble remembering all the former Chinese leaders, dang it.

Randy plays upon half of the Five W's (plus one H) in journalism, homophones of what, how, who. At first, I thought it was impossible to include them all six, but WEN (another former Chinese leader!), Andy WEIR (author of "The Martian"), and … WAI? Surely there's another Chinese leader named WAI? No?

Alas, sometimes the crossword gods frown down upon you.

This one reminded me of another puzzle using the Five Ws. Sounding out the complete set of Five Ws made for a satisfying click ... when it did click (a few hours after I solved it).

Given that there were just three of these homophones, it would have been great if they were all perfect ones. HOWS / HOWES and HU / WHO are spot on, but there seems to be controversy over the "correct" pronunciation of WHAT. Any way I can think to say WATT, it doesn't sound exactly like WHAT. So it did feel like an inconsistent set of themers. Not good when you only have three.

Using only three themers allowed Randy to open things up, though, let his grid breathe. I like getting a themeless-level word count (72) when it can give me bonuses such as ALL STARS / TEE TIMES, SOCKHOP, PUG NOSE.

Not so much when the price to pay is RTES / REWARM (reheat, yeah?) / EDT / CUT TO (feels partial-ish) right at the beginning of the puzzle. Toss in LOBAR, AMS (usually not pluralized) … and oof, the EHLE / ECOLE / ILONA crossings. Should educated solvers be expected to know this trio? ECOLE came to me quickly because I took five years of high school French, but I'd be sympathetic to solvers Hu — er, who — finished with errors there.

It did help to hear Randy's thoughts — selecting the first three "questions" in the Abbott and Costello routine made the theme set feel a little better. But overall, I would have liked all six included, and/or a grid with more polish.

Fri 7/21/2017
MBASJIFFGARTH
ERIECANALADIEU
NOMEANSNOLATER
INEEDAMOMENT
NONECUTUPS
DANGDRESSREMS
BELBIELTRIVIA
ANIMISTINABIND
CANAPEADOSTIL
KEELALLOTREMY
ENSEALEASE
BIGGIESMALLS
ARYANMETALHEAD
JONZEIDRISELBA
ANTESZAYNSKED

Love the featured I NEED A MOMENT and BIGGIE SMALLS — I'm not the most diehard of rap fans, but what a great name, BIGGIE SMALLS. You know you've made it big(gie) when you get not one but two awesome monikers that stick (The Notorious B.I.G. is his other one). I also like that Paolo chose a rapper whose stage name is made of real(ish) words, rather than two tough proper nouns, i.e. TALIB KWELI. I have to imagine that for non-rap fans, BIGGIE SMALLS is at least gettable without needing every crossing answer.

So difficult to seed a themeless with 12-letter entries. Those black squares to the left of I NEED A MOMENT already start fixing a grid pattern into place, rarely a good thing for constructors, needing maximum flexibility to move black squares around.

There aren't very many long entries — just ten that are eight letters or longer — but Paolo does include a few nice mid-length entries to spice things up. FAN DUEL is familiar to this fantasy basketball fan, and MINI ME (so tough to parse that French-looking MINIME string), CANAPE, LES MIZ are all nice.

I did struggle around LES MIZ though, as I've seen it written LES MIS, too. Surely there couldn't be a one-name singer whose name starts with Z, right? Wrong! I have (sort of) heard of Zayn (Malik), formerly of One Direction, but I had already put LAID in where LAIN was supposed to go.

Is that south section fair, i.e. should educated solvers be expected to know ZAYN without needing every cross? On the one hand, he did have a #1 hit in 2016. On the other, there are so many crazily-named singers out there, that SAYD or SAYN seems plausible too. I think a clearer clue for LAIN would have made things better, perhaps a "Biblically" descriptor.

MALE GAZE wasn't familiar to me, but it was interesting to read up on — I do like to learn one, maybe two things, from a single crossword.

But GALOP … what an oddball word. It does seem fair(ish) now that it's been in the NYT, but I'd personally try everything I could to excise it.

Overall, some great feature entries, but not enough for my taste, especially given the presence of liabilities like ELLS, SKED, ENSEAL. It's too bad that there weren't more long entries in the grid in total — with just ten long slots, I feel like every one of them has to land with power. Didn't quite happen for me.

Sat 7/22/2017
CLASSICATBAR
LATTEARTCLAIRE
ENTERNOWLUSTRE
ADAPTSICEMMOB
THISASTROLOGO
SONCRETEKOJAK
EREEPICWINS
FRIENDREQUEST
LOOSETEAUPS
EASEDELVISCAP
TMENSPELTLAMA
SHABASRAMIRES
LANCETTSAAGENT
INNATESIGNHERE
EDENSCENTRAL

Great craftsmanship in this puzzle. A common critique I have for C.C.'s puzzles is that they contain a little too much crossword glue for my taste, but that didn't apply today. With just SHA, TAS, TMEN as minor blips, it's well under my threshold for crossword glue in a themeless. Okay, DEEPS is odd in the plural, but still, four dabs of mostly negligible glue makes for a smooth puzzle.

And C.C. manages to retain her trademark, a ton of fresh fill spread throughout her grid. Her themed puzzles are always chock full of great bonuses, and this themeless shines with snazzy material like EPIC WINS, LATTE ART (with a fun clue referring to the heart shapes many baristas form), TSA AGENT, TWITTER ALERTS, FRIEND REQUEST, etc.

I didn't know what BITMOJIS were, but it was a fun term to learn. One day I'll get on Snapchat … (That's the day that everyone else realizes it's not cool anymore.)

FOAM HATS! Oh, wait. FOAM … HAND? Right, the oversized novelty things you see at ballparks. It felt like there had to be a better, more catchy term for that, but alas, no. My gut originally said "foam fingers" was more in the language. But that doesn't make sense, given that it's not just a single foam finger.

Though the puzzle was expertly made, I didn't end up giving it the POW! because I felt far outside out of the target solving audience. I appreciate a FRIEND REQUEST. I don't totally know what TWITTER ALERTS are, but that entry makes sense. Throw in BITMOJIS though ... three feature entries focused on one area of life felt like too many to me.

I can certainly see how social media wonks would love this one, though.

Sun 7/23/2017BACK ON THE CHARTS
ACMEHASONIBMCNN
MOONSELOPEONEARYE
FLUSHAILESOUTANDOUT
MENUOPTIONSNTHDEW
TREESLITTLEPRINCE
NUKENEAYEAAPIAJAX
OSEPAZDRYINKEST
HONOLULUABAANEEWTO
ONYXESLAHRMLKHELL
WEALTHDOUGIEPROLES
IMEPROBONOEAR
MAPPERBITEATTINPAN
AGESAJACPOSETERNE
DOAFCCNIKEWHATDIDO
EURARCTANAECMEN
OTBNOORGITNIHCASS
FIRSTCRUSADESEWED
AAADSOCANITRYSOME
PANTSUITSASAMILANED
AIDIPOSRESINERNIE
WRYANNDRANGEARN

It took me an embarrassingly long to figure out what the bracketed numbers in the clues meant. What could the [4] refer to in HONOLULU? The fourth letter? Maybe it was the fourth themer in some progression? Sheepish moment when I realized it was just the last four letters, LULU (a singer). Appropriate interpretation of BACK ON THE CHARTS, meaning "a singer hidden at the end of phrases."

I would have preferred a more obvious presentation of the theme, maybe circles or shaded squares highlighting the singers. I've gone ahead and done that (below) since I lost track of everything during my solve.

I wonder if others will also feel like the themers didn't stand out sharply enough. When a long across answer like MENU OPTIONS sits in a position that would typically be a themer, everything gets muddy. For instance, I found myself wondering who IONS at the end of MENU OPTIONS or SUITS at the end of PANT SUITS might be. Laying out all the themers in the across direction could have helped that.

More crossword glue than I expect from someone with Caleb's expertise. Everything was going pretty well until I bogged down in the west section. DOA over EUR over OTB is passable. Running through AGOUTI … okay. But toss in IME, OSE, MAPPER, and it felt like a patch of quicksand, tough for me to escape from.

It is incredibly tough to fill that section given the ultra-high theme density — look at the grid below again to see just how constrained it is — but to me, that's a sign that you should figure out how to avoid shoehorning so much in. It would have been one thing if every themer was essential, but I would have been fine with 50% fewer themers.

That PAZ / AZUL / LAHR set of crossings, too — should educated solvers be expected to know Bert LAHR? Probably. But AZUR / RAHR might seem reasonable, and I would be sympathetic. I think a constructor's number one goal should be to design something a lot of solvers will ultimately triumph over, and I don't know if this section qualifies.

Overall, I liked a lot of the finds — MADONNA at the end of PRIMADONNA was especially good — but I have a very high bar for Caleb.

Mon 7/24/2017
WASABIENDASH
FOREMANVAUNTED
RONZONIEVENPAR
OHOSTOLEARI
DOLEDTOKCAUSE
OODLESOFNOODLES
FLOWINNS
PEAANISEEDSHE
LAITYNOVOSHEA
AGRAAIDEDLENS
NETCOSTLESABRE
ERRORSPOBOYS
ABBYCADABBY
GAVERARERIGGY
AXELISLETNAPE
YELLATOMSGNAT

Rhyming phrases today — at least that's what I first thought. There's another layer to the theme, which is great since rhyming puzzles have been done to death. Neat that the first four letters of each themer match the last four … and in the case of OODLES OF NOODLES, the first SIX match the last. Interesting finds.

Mirror (left-right) symmetry can be a lifesaver. Imagine you find some great phrases forming a tight, consistent theme … but their lengths don't pair up. It's such a frustrating experience. Mirror symmetry won't always save you, but it can work wonders if you have unmatched themers with odd-numbered lengths. Today's 15 / 11 / 11 / 11 pattern of themer lengths makes for a great mirror symmetry layout.

With early-week puzzles, I sometimes hardly pause to think about the theme as I fill in the grid. I liked that today's concept forced me to spell EVEL KNIEVEL correctly — hopefully no more spelling it as KNEIVEL from now on!

But even with two little kids, ABBY CADABBY didn't come easy. In fact, it came wrong, as ABBY CASABBY, giving me the first error I've had in a Monday puzzle in ages. Doesn't [Regard] sort of fit both DEEM and SEEM? SEEM, sort of as in "appear to be," which sort of SEEMs like "regard"?

Okay, there were a lot of "sort of" qualifiers in there, so it's probably on me instead of on the puzzle. Still, I wonder if others will make this frustrating mistake.

A couple of AMO and TOK dabs of crossword glue, but as always, Peter produces a quality grid. AIR TRAVEL and EVEN PAR make for some nice bonuses, too. I've never been to SHEBOYGAN, but it's so much fun to say (okay, I'm easily amused).

I did wonder about SLABBING--so odd in verb usage. It does have dictionary support, but … hmm.

I like puzzles featuring interesting letter patterns. I wish this one had less of a rhyme-y feel to it, but still, OODLES OF NOODLES is a great phrase. Marketing genius right there!

Tue 7/25/2017
SPEWADAPTSRAM
ALTIESCARPENO
MEANTTHEWORLDTO
SALDANALEASED
SMARTALECK
ARGOPADTERA
BARREDNAUTILUS
ADALUCKYMETSK
FINALOUTPELOSI
TODDJOSANON
JOBHOPPING
BAUBLEENCASES
SPREADTHEGOSPEL
ISOIDOIDOSAGA
XERRAWESTETSY

SPREAD THE GOSPEL interpreted as "spread the names MATTHEW MARK LUKE JOHN through theme phrases." Excellent selection of snazzy themers, not an easy task given the constraints. Each one of them is sparkly, JOB HOPPING my favorite.

LUCKY ME is apter than most solvers might realize. For a puzzle that requires five themers, having a middle one that's seven letters long is SO much easier than nine, 11, 13, or 15 letters. (Fifteen letters is easier than 9, 11, or 13 letters, but that's another story.) A seven-letter middle themer allows the constructor to lay out the grid with so much flexibility, whereas 9+ letters means that he/she has to sort of cut the grid in half, top to bottom.

With "literalization" puzzles, I like the themers to perfectly fit the revealer. I dug the general idea today, but check out how smooshed together MATTHEW is within MEANT THE WORLD TO. There is a tiny bit of spreading at the start, but the TTHEW string isn't spread at all.

JOHN in JOBHOPPING is better. But something like DJANGO UNCHAINED spreads things out so much more nicely.

Tough to build a grid around five themers with both smoothness and snazz. I enjoyed RED SKELTON even though I didn't totally remember who that was — fun name — and GRAND JUROR made for another bonus. TANK TOP with its "bare arms" wordplay also added some fun. Along with WINDSOR and LAGASSE too, I thought Alex did well here.

Not as well in short fill. Too many of one type of crossword glue bogs me down, so three prefixes in ALTI, LACTI, TERA, weren't great. ABAFT is a toughie, although it has dictionary support. A DAY, B SIX (weird to spell out the number), ANON and it's too much for my desire for elegance in craftsmanship. I would have preferred fewer bonuses and dabs of glue, especially given how well Alex did with his colorful themers.

Neat idea, POW!-worthy if the themers had been spread out better.

Wed 7/26/2017
PAINEAMCFAKIR
ACRESGALALITO
WHOSTHEREMLLES
SENTANYONEHOME
SLITIDA
SAVIORHAGIMIT
WRINGTOBEALONE
AIRISRAELIODS
MAGICWORDMERIT
PLOTODDKANSAS
SLRPETS
IGETANAMENLIEU
TAXIDMANOHANDS
CLIMEOTCOVINE
HATESSEEBETAS

Debut! And such a fun idea, a take on knock knock jokes. I enjoyed the puns, a surprise given that I'm sick of knock knock jokes (my two-year old constantly says "Interrupting cow MOO!"). My favorite was Sadie MAGIC WORD — "say the MAGIC WORD" — but the rest of them worked pretty well for me, too. I especially appreciated the multi-syllabic names, "Is there" punned upon as "Esther." "I want" as "Yvonne" was more of a stretch, but good puns are supposed to bad. Or something like that.

Love the audacity of a debut grid packed with six themers. Sometimes it's easier to work with six themers instead of five, as a longish (9+ letters) middle themer can create all sorts of problems.

Here, Brian does well to stack themers, WHOS THERE atop ANYONE HOME and I GET AN AMEN atop MA NO HANDS. This makes it more like you're working with four themers instead of six. As long as the overlapping letter pairs are friendly, this can make a constructor's life so much easier (vs. placing themers in every other row).

Brian had some flexibility in swapping themers, and he wisely paired up phrases resulting in such easy letter doublets like HA, EN, RY, EO at the top. The only one that's even remotely tricky is ??EO, but CLEO works fine there.

I'm usually happy to not notice short fill — its job is largely to stay out of the way — but TAXID is awfully nice. So hard to parse it into TAX ID.

HOB isn't as nice. Nor MLLES (although part of me does admire that crazy MLL beginning). Or ABED. But that's awfully good work from a debut constructor, especially considering the high theme density.

I would personally go out of my way to avoid ENSLAVE, as I prefer my crosswords to be uplifting, but to each his/her own.

Strong debut. I would have loved it if KNOCK KNOCK had been the first themer and WHOS THERE the second. Would also have been perfect if the themers had all related to knocking — [Esther] ANYONE HOME made for such an appropriate pun.

Thu 7/27/2017
MASCOTSPASTA
ECTOPICUNSAFE
TRAVELINGINCOMF
RIVENFOEOREO
ODEEMITTERERR
PROFUSSAT
FLUBEAUFSCALE
OARRECTOAID
FUNEHUNTERMDS
ORDEALTSP
RDSBEDPOSTSHE
TOADOURPECOS
HOLDDOWNTHEFORT
REAIMSHOTTUNA
SYNGEORESTES

HOLD DOWN THE FORT interpreted literally, F O R T hanging down within phrases. Such a strange-looking FUNE HUNTER … or is that (FORT)UNE HUNTER? Fine job of disguising those dropped FORTs, in FORTE, FORTH, EFFORTS. Not a lot of ways to work FORT into short fill, indeed — FORTY, Abe FORTAS and FORTRAN the only other short(ish) entries I could think of, right off the bat.

I did wonder if this was a good interpretation of HOLD DOWN — wouldn't "push down" or "drop down" be more appropriate? I guess if you squint and use your imagination, it sort of works …

Love the bonuses of MOB RULE, and EMERALDS with its interesting trivia clue — I had no idea Cleopatra mined them. I also enjoyed [Game animals, for some] misdirecting toward ELK or DEER. Great a-ha, when I realized it was the "sports" meaning of "game," relating to team MASCOTS.

LAND SALES is workable, but not something I'd go out of my way to include as bonus fill.

I would have liked to see a different grid layout at top and bottom. The first row of a themed crossword usually is broken into three words, which makes filling pretty easy. Breaking things up into two words does create opportunities for fun mid-length fill like MASCOTS. But ECTOPIC isn't worth it to me, as that has a lot of negative connotation (ECTOPIC pregnancies). And given the presence of so much RUS, EEN, RECTO, ESTAS, EFTS, HEB, REAIMS, I wanted more smoothness overall.

It's pretty hard to work around this many crossing themers — those FORTs dropping down make construction rough — and going down to 72 words makes it so difficult to produce a quality grid.

Some strong theme phrases, and well-hidden FORTs, though.

Fri 7/28/2017
BESTMUSICALDJS
ETPHONEHOMEOAT
THREEINAROWILE
TOASTSTAICHAT
ESTEDUELSLAP
TROISIVES
CROSSOUTPREENS
HUBCAPSCOUNTON
ENTERSCOINTOSS
WARNNORSE
FUELELLETSPS
MESSYWOEGETAT
OVIMICROMANAGE
NEVPLAINSPOKEN
OREHORNETSNEST

Robyn has seeded her themelesses with material that has resonated so strongly with me. First it was SMARTY PANTS over MADE YOU LOOK, then JEDI MASTER over MIRACLE MAX, then a TRACTOR BEAM / STARGAZER combo, and finally she asked me to RIDE SHOTGUN while I was supposed to KEEP TALKING. She's got a knack for hitting my wavelength.

Today, DO I HAVE TO did it for this parent of two toddlers. (When does this phase end, BTW?) As a huge fan of "The Godfather," CORLEONE was good too, although DON CORLEONE or VITO CORLEONE would have been so much more colorful.

RUN A FEVER usually would be neutral for me, but what great wordplay, playing on a literal "hot body." Elevated it to an asset in my book.

Ha, Robyn got me! Yup, those narrow little passageways in the NE and SW corners ... why do I keep pointing these out? I am annoyingly OCD, granted. But a solver, I don't like these, since they create an impression of two separate mini-puzzles rather than one full solving experience. And as a constructor, they feel like too much of a crutch to rely on — once you fix LEWIS and LYMPH into place, you can work on each half independently.

I struggle with this issue. On the one hand, segmentation like this sometimes allows for an incredibly beautiful or fun half-puzzle — it's so much easier to construct half a puzzle vs. having to account for how one half affects the other. And some solvers may never notice the choking down of puzzle feng shui.

But for me personally, both as a solver and a constructor, it's so important for themelesses to feel wide-open — that's part of the magic of a themeless. I would have loved to see what costs Robyn had to pay to take out the black cheater square below DROPS and above POISE, for instance. Funny how much that would have opened up the entire puzzle.

With not as many fantastic feature entries as in her previous themelesses, and with ESTE, AMO, the obsolete ICHAT, ILE, STET, ILO, UNI — way too much, especially given that it's a 70-word puzzle — it's not my favorite of Robyn's themelesses. But I continue to look forward to her byline on the weekends. She has such a talent for delighting me with her seed entries.

Sat 7/29/2017
DUCTSCANILIVE
INAWEEASYMONEY
ESSENCEMAGAZINE
TAKESANAPMETAL
AVESMYRRHNILE
RETTONOOOGALT
YDSWEDCUTELY
KIWIKRIS
CRUETSYAMLSD
PHEWOCTNEGATE
RIGANOBIGALIA
ICEINBOULEVARD
MANTOMANDEFENSE
ENCIRCLESTUNIS
DAYSAILSSPENT

I indeed felt SPENT after finishing this puzzle — I'm curious to find out whose clue that was! Some great feature entries, ESSENCE MAGAZINE with its clue about "Dynamite Afros" (Erik has been known to sport a dynamite Afro!), with EASY MONEY stacked onto top. DISCO BALL also shone (pun intended), even more so given its fantastic clue, [One lighting up the dance floor].

I love Erik's website themelesses, as he's one of the best constructors out there in terms of writing devilishly fantastic clues.

LOZENGES was a perfect example of Agardian cluing. By itself, LOZENGES is not something I'd count as a puzzle asset. But [Hackers' helpers] had me thinking about decoding, encryption schema, password crackers. Great a-ha moment when I realized that "hackers" meant "people that hack." Cough cough.

Erik is much younger and hipper than me, so I do struggle with some of his entries and clues. CAN I LIVE was foreign to me, and I haven't heard anyone say NO BIG. Then again, I play bridge and do crosswords, so I tend to hang out with people who still cling to the 20th century.

ASAPROCKY was another mystery. It took every crossing to figure out — thank goodness each one felt fair! For fun, I tried to guess what the guy's (woman's?) name really was before looking it up. Sadly, my best guess was Asa Procky, followed by As a Procky. ASAP ROCKY is a pretty catchy name, but boy is it tough to suss out.

Unusual to see a Maleskan EFTS in an Agard themeless, but it is a dictionary supported word. Otherwise, strong craftsmanship in putting this grid together. Those big SW / NE corners are so tough to feel cleanly and snazzily, especially with grid spanning entries running through them.

I like when a constructor's vibe and personal interests show through in a puzzle. This one didn't resonate with me, but that's not a surprise given how different my interests are from Erik's. I'm curious to hear how younger people reacted to this one.

POW Sun 7/30/2017BY DESIGN
JOTTIMIDSNAPIHEARD
ANAOPINEHULASOPHIA
MAXWORKTHENIGHTSHIFT
EDITSSAUDEOEELLE
SATEONPINSANDNEEDLES
IRONLIONSBRAVAR
VETSEATSBOAPARAGON
HIHOSIMCARDORE
CREDOFITTOBETIEDEDT
HAREMACREENDESEZ
ETUDEJEEPHEATCHORE
WINERICELSAROVER
SOWCUTANDDRIEDENERO
UNALAPORTEPEER
PSYCHESTESPILESTAR
OARCSATIMERTHRU
SHOOTSFROMTHEHIPLESS
REALREGAEROKYLES
TAKEUPACOLLECTIONINE
AVERSEHOOKEERIENAT
SENSEDEDGYSPADEELS

★ I'm loving this celebrity series — having a puzzle oriented around that person's profession is so much fun.

Today we get Isaac Mizrahi, with theme phrases reinterpreted in kooky, design-related ways. There's something so fun about SHOOTS FROM THE HIP as a paparazzo sneaking a pic from his/her pocket. TAKE UP A COLLECTION worked great as well, the phrase defined as shortening (taking up, in tailoring lingo) a designer's clothing collection. ON PINS AND NEEDLES I could actually see as a punny title for a seamstress's tell-all.

Not all of them hit for me — WORK THE NIGHT SHIFT felt iffy, "shift" not quite design-specific enough for my taste — but so many of them gave me a smile. It's a rare Sunday puzzle of this type that accomplishes that, so huge kudos.

A couple of nice bonuses, too, ALIEN RACE, TEN SIDED evoking images of a (warning, D&D dork alert!) 10-sided die, IMHOTEP a colorful character from ancient Egypt, SIM CARD, and even PARAGON. HONESTLY!, a good amount of bonus material for those solvers not so interested in fashion design.

There were a few blips here and there, but nothing that made me cringe. I don't like an OLEO of A HILL, VAR, ENDE (so tough to keep him and ONDE straight), ENERO, AERO, ORDERER (notice all those constructor-friendly Os, Es, and Rs?), etc. But overall, David and Isaac kept the level right around my threshold … slightly over, but not so far as to bog down my solve.

I'd be curious if moving ON PINS AND NEEDLES down one row would have helped to smooth out some sections. It's so tough when just a single row separates two long themers, as with WORK THE NIGHT SHIFT and ON PINS AND NEEDLES (see results: OLEO, EOE, A HILL).

Overall, a great sense of fun and joy in this puzzle. David and Isaac wore it well.

Mon 7/31/2017
TREKWANNAPEPS
YALEINBEDELIE
PIKEPLACEMARKET
ONSPECELMERS
LAOSBNAI
MACESTAISTPAT
ASOFPANDAMULE
GIFTLITEREGGS
OAFMARINEREAT
ONETONNANTES
EULERSATES
WASTEISTROOTS
HUHSPATULAURN
IDOTITANICNIA
ZIPSEATTLEDOG

Shout out to the 2-0-6! (SEATTLE's area code.) PIKE PLACE MARKET is a fun place to hang out — there's a piroshki place I love, and don't get me started on the fresh mini-donuts — and indeed, we do have eleventy-billion COFFEE SHOPs here.

Nice bonus in the SPACE NEEDLE visual, and what an elegant touch to have SPACE NEEDLE start and end at the start and end of SEATTLE! The visual doesn't quite have the right dimensions (see right), but it would be difficult to make it any more accurate unless you added several more circles to better define the shape.

Speaking of those circled letters, it's so tough to work around fixed letters, especially when you jam them into a space that's as big as the south section. Great work down there, so smooth, along with the bonuses of RAT RACE and TITANTIC, with just a RIATA as a price to pay.

Well, there's MOLESTS. Yikes. I'd go far, far, far out of my way to avoid this word in a grid. Double yikes. I'd personally have sent the puzzle back for revision, accepting two or three dabs of crossword glue in its place if necessary.

Some ELKE, TAI, IST, but that's a lot less than I would have expected given all the SPACE NEEDLE letters fixed into place, as well as all the themers.

What fun bonuses in PERMIT ME and KEEP LEFT. The latter is more workmanlike, but I love the unMondayish clue, using wordplay around liberalism.

All in all, this Seattleite enjoyed the hometown love. It was a bit too much of a random listing — and PUGET SOUND wouldn't be in my top ten of things to include, and STARBUCKS felt like a big omission (the local joke is that you can throw a rock 50 feet in any direction and hit a Starbucks) — but such a nice touch of SPACE NEEDLE intersecting so perfectly with SEATTLE.