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Puzzles for July, 2018
with Jeff Chen comments

View these same grids with comments from:
Constructor (28)Jeff Chen (31)Jim Horne (4)Hide comments
Sun 7/1/2018DRIVING AROUND
USEDFIASCOSLABRANG
NOTABIGDEALRENIEVER
PLAYINGCARDSTAGEDOOR
COLDDAYMBALOGCABIN
RELFROGGYRACED
GOJISPOILERHATHA
EVANSEXPOAHEMSNCIS
DARKARTPARTAYAWE
TORPEDOESLACUNAR
STDLAIRPOTTEDPLANT
NOOUTLETZENHAVANANS
BLOCKBUSTERWIVEANA
CATTOYSTRUTHSERA
TMIBOOGIESTOOPTO
VENNTRAPSGRABKNEAD
UHHUHUSHEREDSIZE
ERVINEMETICOUT
UNTANGLEARTSTRINGS
STRUCKOILPASSINGLANE
ONORSOMEICANSEETHAT
BENEODEDGETLITSAWS

I enjoy when a theme makes me wonder how easy/hard it would be to find fitting examples. Seeing LOGGED IN "pass by" the CAB in LOG CABIN did exactly that! Some neat finds in PLAYING DEAD / PLAYING CARD, SUNTAN OIL / STRUCK OIL, etc.

Ultimately, there are a lot of pairs that can work like this, especially with CAR and CAB. The real challenge is finding pairs that can be placed symmetrically. Pesky crossword symmetry! I thought Sam did a great job with this. All five themer pairs were solid to great, and there were some especially nice finds, like working the juicy POTTED PLANT around that tough *DPL* letter sequence.

So tough to work through pairs of themers! Sam has such solid gridwork. He's one of the few people I'd trust to execute on a paired themer puzzle. The only rough spot was ADC, which I *think* means aide-de-camp? There's a good reason why Will advises constructors to avoid initialisms that aren't known by virtually everyone.

The a-ha moment was nearly enough for me to put this in POW! contention. But I got confused at first, since LOG IN almost fit with the LOGGED IN clue: [Began a PC session]. And then there was something odd about the base phrase not being clued in any way, i.e., PLAYING CARD sort of just sitting there. I did come around to appreciate the concept more and more, though.

I felt like there was one aspect that pulled the puzzle out of POW! contention, though. See the connection between LACUNAR, WIVE, SEA PIG, DAY DRINK, SEAM RIPPER, RUN GOOD? Took me a while to understand my discomfort — each entry would be generally fine on its own, but as a whole, they all felt … weirdly hard. Not in a satisfying way.

Thankfully, there was enough CARBO LOAD, CAT TOYS, TIGHT RACE, TRUTH SERA, and especially WHERE ITS AT to keep me going.

Interesting concept overall, though.

Mon 7/2/2018
HAZESACTBOAR
OCEANALOEAMMO
PASTASHELLYAPS
SITPEASANTARMY
HANEAR
WHATAGENTLEMAN
MAAMTAROCARGO
ANTEVITABAG
IDESTECIGVIPS
MARKUPLANGUAGE
INAINN
PRIMENUMBERCHE
HODAITSASECRET
EVESNERDSPARS
WEAKISPTABBY

Shh! IT'S A SECRET, i.e., words that can follow SECRET. The "words that can follow" theme type is largely bygone these days, but I like Evan's effort to elevate it: appropriate to "hide" SECRET words within themers!

Strong work for a debut. Six long themers? A great majority of experienced constructors wouldn't take that on, and if they did, the results would be catastrophic. Evan did incredibly well, stacking pairs atop each other, making sure that his letter pairs were friendly (PASTA SHELL over PEASANT ARMY has a lot of easy AP, SE, HA, ES, LA pairs).

I'm not sure such high theme density was desirable, though. (secret) SANTA, (secret) agent, yes! (secret) menu, okay — the menus you have to specifically ask for at fast food joints.

(secret) stash and (secret) plan? Huh.

I didn't feel like those two added much if anything. I would have preferred fewer themers, which would have made it easier to jazz up the grid. BAY AREA and SKI MASK are good, colorful fill, but I wanted more.

I eventually did recognize all the theme phrases, but I squinted hard at WHAT A GENTLEMAN at first. I suppose it's commonly enough said? And while MARKUP LANGUAGE is technically a thing, at the very least it doesn't feel very welcoming to a newer solver.

Speaking of not welcoming: MSRP crossing ISP. Ultimately, I think even newer solvers ought to have heard of one or the other, but it's iffy for a Monday.

Overall, a nice way to do something slightly different with a mostly dead theme type. I respect the choice Evan made (high theme density), even if it wasn't what I would have done, and I think he did a solid job of executing.

Tue 7/3/2018
CALCBOALOFT
AREAGULPSELLA
RAGUONEALTIED
BOSTONREDSOX
TIDYTEES
ERMINEPLEASE
CHICAGOWHITESOX
LINGROANARP
ANODEEMUPEDRO
TORONTOBLUEJAYS
MEWPRE
ISSARAEATECROW
NATIONALPASTIME
CLANGREEKEDEN
HERSSLIDEDENT

How apt — teams playing the NATIONAL PASTIME to be wearing red, white and blue! Made me wonder — why do any teams NOT wear red, white and blue? Ye scurvy traitorous turncoats.

I was curious enough to look up all the team colors. Were there others that only wore red, white and blue? If not, Chris's would be a super-tight set; a delightful find!

Alas, I only had to get to the Chicago Cubs to find a counter-example. Oh well. And there are a ton of teams who use red, white, and blue, but they also use other colors, like silver.

OMG, I waste a lot of time.

ADDED NOTE: Jim, a big baseball fan, noted that Chris actually did use a tight set — AMERICAN League teams in red, white and blue! I stand corrected. And I sort of remember that there is such a thing called the American League. It's still confusing, since the Yankees logo is red, white and blue, as is the Twins, Angels, and Rangers. And the White Sox logo doesn't actually have red in it.

ADDED ADDED NOTE: Maybe I just don't get baseball.

Mostly good gridwork, although I think ISSA RAE crossing ENERO is a no-no. I get that ISSA RAE is becoming more famous, but is she at the point where a great majority of educated, newer solvers ought to know her? Maybe in a few years, with a few more big roles. And ENERO is a tough Spanish word (for "January") that many regular crossword solvers will know … from doing crosswords.

Given that early-week puzzles have to be friendly to newer solvers, I'd have sent the puzzle back for rework on that square alone.

I'm obsessive about early-week puzzles, which must feel fair and fun for newer solvers. A single square can ruin the whole experience.

But overall, some good fill, GOOD EGG a really good egg, and I liked Chris's usage of mirror symmetry to work in BOSTON / REDSOX. It's a rare debut that goes past the usual rotational symmetry grid layouts, so I appreciated that.

ADDED ADDED ADDED NOTE: I'm officially a moron.

Jim had to explain to me that the three teams were indeed a tight set — team names featuring the colors RED, WHITE, and BLUE, in order! (He added highlighting to make it obvious, even to us meatheads.) The theme is much more impressive now that I actually see what's going on. Not sure how I so badly missed the real theme.

POW Wed 7/4/2018
ASSAMSPARSCI
LENNONARIAURN
EVENNUMBERSSEA
VEEOBOEPSHAW
ERRORPRIMETIME
VASECEDAR
ALBEITTETYOUD
PEARLRIVERDELTA
TENDEOSOODLES
GORANISNO
BRUNOMARSTNOTE
LOPEDIPODKIT
ADJHAPPYFOURTH
NEOALEEFINALE
COBMEANTASER

★ Such a clever idea! HAPPY FOURTH hints at the fourth item in an ordered set, i.e., NUMBERS the fourth book of the Bible, TIME the fourth dimension, DELTA the fourth letter in the Greek alphabet, and MARS the fourth planet from the Sun. Love the variety!

I didn't understand the clue to HAPPY FOURTH when I first read it, but when it clicked, it really clicked. It almost had a contest puzzle feel to it, which worked well — you solve the grid, and then you still have to solve one extra piece that ties everything together. Bravo!

Loved the bonus fill, too. Freddie did so well to weave in MONORAIL, SUSHI ROLL, DON'T DO IT! And my favorite, the punnily 4th of July themed BANG UP JOB. Four out of four = BANG UP JOB, indeed!

Well, four out of six. OVERDONE and STAYED ON didn't do much for me. I might have broken those up at the D of OVERDONE and Y of STAYED ON, since that could have allowed some smoothing out of IS NO and the rough GORAN / IONA crossing.

That last one would have been a killer in an early-week puzzle, but I think more experienced solvers ought to at least have heard of one of them.

I've seen many, many 4th of July puzzles over the years. This one might be my favorite.

Thu 7/5/2018
ANGDRABARABIA
LOLAIDEMABELL
IDATOOLONEALL
BUDGETGARDENLE
ALEROAIMEDLIL
BAYOFSCAYCAVE
AREREINMODES
ATADADAM
TRASHUBERWMD
HORSENUNCTION
EMTSKORTCARTA
MADSCENEALBEIT
OILMANALMATOE
SNEERYDEERANS
TERESAYANKPST

Secretive orgs rebusized … WIRETAPped? It's fun to see those rebus bugs planted into the grid, but I didn't get why WIRETAP would mean that those trigrams would be shoved into a single box.

Still, it was fun to uncover the four special boxes. Great find in DATE OF BIRTH — which felt quasi-semi-sorta-kinda-theme-related! (Something that a secretive org might secretly record?) Not easy to work with the *FBI* string of letters, and this is the way to do it.

BAY OF BISCAY wasn't as interesting to me, personally. If this weren't the NYT, I'd be intrigued to see SONS OF BITCHES — no commentary on the FBI, please don't wiretap me! — but perhaps PAIR OF BINOCULARS or WAD OF BILLS?

MARCIA CLARK also didn't resonate with me. I remember watching the Trial of the Century, and of course, I remember Johnny Cochran. Brilliant self-promoter. The lead prosecutor though … sadly, fewer people remember the loser. Or were we all losers in that one? I'd have preferred maybe SOCIAL WORKER or ARTIFICIAL KNEE.

Don't get me wrong, I think BAY OF BISCAY and MARCIA CLARK are both crossworthy. But unless the name is uber-famous, known by almost anyone, I prefer theme phrases that have more universal appeal.

It's tough to achieve long rebus entries in both directions, so props to Randy for crossings like MADE A SCENE / ART DEALER. Beautiful stuff! Also beautiful: DNA TEST, ALI BABA, ILL LIVE. That kind of bonus fill sparkles up a grid.

Not so sparkly: SNEERY. THE MOST? And I gave the side-eye to GLAD EYE. I don't mind one or even two of these in a grid, but all of them left me with an unready discomfort.

It's tough. With so many constraints, Randy had to make some trade-offs. On the plus side, he did well to keep the short crossword glue limited to ALERO, SMEE, RANDD (curiously similar to RANDY!). So although some of that mid-length fill did leave me sneery, I thought he struck a decent balance in grid fill.

Something interesting about those secretive orgs rebusized. WIRETAP didn't serve me up a sharp a-ha moment, but the solving experience was still entertaining.

Fri 7/6/2018
CLEOPATRAEJECT
AISLESEATMUNRO
INTERLACEASTIN
NODESESITSBY
SWEETTALK
ICECAPOILISNT
ARIASTRENDIER
MEETINTHEMIDDLE
SPITTAKEKILLS
OTOENOBHONEYS
REASONING
CHASMSTANIBM
LETHESTATETREE
ARMORVOCATIONS
PASTYUMPTEENTH

I do so many themeless puzzles that getting a mini-theme to help one stand out is a real treat. I loved Robyn's usage of RACE TO THE BOTTOM — heading downward — meeting MEET IN THE MIDDLE ... in the middle of the grid! Two great phrases anchoring the puzzle in such a fun way.

Robyn's entertaining voice is so clear in her themelesses. Today, SPITTAKE with its fantastic clue — an ironic reaction to dry humor, indeed! — was a standout. UMPTEENTH and JUST KIDDING also did it for me. SWEETTALK too!

Now that Robyn's won several of my POW!s, I have high expectations of her. Granted, the two long interlocking 15-letter entries are a serious constraint to work around, but I wanted more out of the long slots, INTERLACE and VOCATIONS in particular. REASONING had an interesting clue, relating to the Supreme Court, but it also didn't do much for me. Nor did TRENDIER.

And for a 70-word puzzle, there's way too much crossword glue holding it together. I was worried when I hit LINO and ESTD right off the bat, and ESE NOB OTO IAMSO SVU ETE … it wasn't Robyn's smoothest effort.

As much as I like mini-themes — and I thought Robyn's mini-theme was incredibly fun — interlocking two 15's like this is a serious constraint that can put a huge damper on the rest of the puzzle. I think trying to work some long stuff in the middle — SWEETTALK and REASONING — exacerbated the problem. I do like the wide-open feel of the grid, but perhaps more segmentation would have allowed for a smoother overall product.

Sat 7/7/2018
ABLARETWINKLE
BEATONSHALEOIL
UNFOLDTALKTOME
JAMESWATTSKIN
MAYASAYSBUSTA
AMENSCISSOR
LITTLEKNOWNFACT
ITTALYNINPHO
KEEPSITTOGETHER
HEGOATSHEAT
APSESBIOPERPS
SAWNDANKMEMES
IDIOLECTASASET
ARMLOCKSJOSIAH
MESSBOYASKSTO

I think Ryan has the potential to become one of the greats in the category of low-word-count themelesses. I loved his last one, a wide-open masterwork. This one didn't strike me quite as well in terms of the solving experience, but oh, the craftsmanship! Few constructors tackle 66-word grids, and fewer still tackle ones that are this wide-open. With so many ways in and out of each subregion, it's so tough to construct.

Even tougher is to work with grid-spanners inside a grid like this! Two of them, both beauts — LITTLE KNOWN FACT made me smile, thinking about Cliff Clavin and KEEPS IT TOGETHER. So colorful. Interlock WACKY TOBACKY and THAT'S SO NOT OK, and you have such a snazzy grid skeleton!

But an incredibly inflexible one, too. Thus, I was amazed to get TALK TO ME. CHEAP SEAT. ARM LOCKS. JAMES WATT. Wow! I was heavily expecting more neutral stuff of the NETSURF PHENOLS ilk. But so much TWINKLE!

A couple of things held me back from POW! consideration, though. ABLARE is a dictionary-supported word, but it felt a bit odd. BENJAMITE crossing ITT Tech — I incorrectly guessed BENJAMINE / INT. Felt borderline unfair. (Sour grapes, probably.) ALY Raisman crossing Bud SELIG felt fairer to me, but I could see how non-sports fans might grumble.

I wasn't familiar with APHERESIS, but what an interesting term. I always wondered what that sound dropping was called. So bizarre that the opossum is called a possum. There's a crossword theme in there somewhere …

Neither Jim nor I had heard of DANK MEME. It was gettable, but it still didn't mean much to me after looking it up. Perhaps I didn't care for it because it made me feel out of the loop? (Read: old.)

Overall, a super-solid 66-worder. A lot more snazz than I expected, given the incredibly tough construction.

And CONGRATS! Here's to many happy years ahead for you and Quinton.

Sun 7/8/2018PERSON / PLACE / THING
LEDONGEEKWHUMPEHOW
SCOREOLGAEAPOEXENA
ALGREENBAYWINDOWCALL
TANQUADARGONBERYL
STAYPUTFIDOLOSTTO
PARISHILTONHEADSHOP
KOPIBISELSESOS
CATOGMANALLLEGS
OLIVERNORTHPOLEDANCE
OLEREAMSYOYOIAMS
PODCASTCAPWHATNOT
TTYLSCATSKOALCRO
SEANPENNSTATIONBREAK
WILDONETOOLALPE
CBSBAIOTHISRAD
RICHLITTLEROCKMUSIC
AGREEDEXESABSOLUT
STENTCHECKOMNIAPU
HOWLMAEWESTBANKHEIST
EDIEONEALVOTEMAMET
SONYESPYSSEERMUSTI

I've seen many a "word chain" theme, i.e., linked phrases like (word game) + (game bird) + (bird food) + (food chain) = WORD CHAIN, usually presented all smashed together like WORD GAME BIRD FOOD CHAIN. Important to do something a little different if you dip into this tried and true well. I liked Bruce's extra layer, using PERSON PLACE or THING to describe the three elements composing each smash-up.

Not hard to find theme examples, as you just need:

  1. a person with a last name that can be an adjective,
  2. a two-word place, with its second word also able to double as an adjective.

THING is awfully broad, so that can be just about anything.

Not much of an a-ha moment, as the title gave away the game much too easily. I was thinking that PERSON PLACE OR THING would have been a great revealer in the puzzle … except that this theme is more accurately PERSON, PLACE AND THING. Which makes it seem inapt. So that tripped me up.

I know, I tend to overthink things way too much. But if Bruce had ditched PERSON / PLACE / THING and instead riffed on some other X, Y AND Z revealer, that would have given me a sharper a-ha.

Not many bonuses in the grid, but not much crossword glue, either. Impressive that I couldn't pick out any real flaw, just maybe a RES. That's amazing for a Sunday 140-word puzzle!

But I would have preferred more WHATNOT and ABSOLUT kind of colorful material — having a handful of crossword glue would have been worth it. As much as I detest inelegant gloop, I do want *some* sparkle out of a Sunday grid, especially for those solvers who don't quite vibe with the theme.

Mon 7/9/2018
TOOLIDTAGSSPA
EAVESERIESPOT
CHEESECURLSOIL
HURPEARKONA
SHEFORKLIFTS
DETACHHOOTSAT
IVESASCOTS
PEPPERMINTTWIST
APOGEEAREA
STIRRERRENOWN
WINEPRESSYEN
EDDYEASERBI
ABEDIDDLYSQUAT
TIEADAGESELSE
STPMODESTDEEM

If exercise were only like today's theme! I love doing me some FORK LIFTS when bread pudding is involved. Heck, I'll do some CHEESE CURLS, curling some brie right up to my mouth.

That probably wouldn't be the healthiest lifestyle.

It's tough to come up with a playful Monday theme that's accessible to most every solver, but this one does a good job. My only hesitation was that a TWIST wasn't as familiar (in terms of being an exercise rep) as a CURL or a SQUAT.

Okay, not the only hesitation. It would have been better to have consistent singular/pluralization. Since no one ever eats a single CHEESE CURL (damn you and your tasty yellowy goodness!), it would have been better to make everything plural. Anyway, multiple reps are good for you, amiright?

The revealer, DIDDLY SQUAT, didn't do much for me. On most Mondays, I think there needs to be a revealer to make a theme obvious to everyone. DIDDLY SQUAT actually muddied things up. Why is it worth DIDDLY SQUAT if you do some CURLS with a big ol' wedge of CHEESE as a weight, for instance?

Removing the revealer would have also allowed for better quality fill that was more appropriate for a newer solver. I can imagine newbs looking at TRURO SEDGE HASP IVES and wondering what kind of durned trivia contest they got themselves into.

Working with five longish themers can be so difficult.

Overall, a fine, playful idea. But I would have liked a few more rounds of revision and improvement.

Tue 7/10/2018
NCAAITEMSOTS
OAFSNOVASEPIA
GRASSSEEDTREVI
STRAITESPANOL
IDIOMLAPD
WELLLOOKYTHERE
SEXELLIEIBEX
PICASSOPHSCALE
IGORNATALTIC
THREEEGGOMELET
IANSENSUE
STARTLEATTAIN
ARTURFULLHOUSE
SIEGEFRIAURNS
SODSSLEDTATS

A FULL HOUSE in poker is three cards of one value + two cards of a different one. Amusing extension of this concept to crosswords today. Something so aesthetically pleasing about having the three FULL HOUSEs right atop each other, too.

Anyone else put in WELL LOOKIE HERE? I was all set to rave about it; what a brilliant and colorful themer! Such a shame. WELL, LOOKY THERE ... maybe it's neither here nor there, but IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE HERE, NOT THERE, goldarnit!

Alex tackles some of the most challenging themes and gridwork, providing some delightfully tricksy solves. I think he has some work to do, though, in his early-week gridwork. I get the allure of creating a themed, 72-word puzzle — it's such a fun challenge. But it's also so incredibly difficult to execute on while still presenting a newb-friendly grid.

Expecting newer solvers to get IBEX / SERAPHIC correct seems tenuous at best. Toss in some NATAL EFFS FRIA, and I think you've given too many solvers too many reasons to go do something else.

Put a black square at the D of OPEN DEBATE, and you can smooth things out a ton, and still have room for something great at 9-D.

Another option: HAM SALAD didn't do much for me, so placing a black square at the first A of ATTAIN could smooth out the south region to a whole new level.

Many other ways to improve this grid — most of them involving punting on the 72-word gridding challenge.

Novel enough concept that I would have put it into POW! consideration for creativity alone. But the solving experience for newer solvers has to be given first and foremost priority.

POW Wed 7/11/2018
GHOSTEDMADBTU
NEWTAKEUNICORN
CREATESSTLOUIS
RADIOSILENCE
BOGGSPECCIA
AVIALOADSWEAT
BUZZKILLZOO
EMAILEDGEORGIA
NEDSOUNDOFF
BORGEHUBSLISA
UFOSOLTENOR
SNOOZEBUTTON
HOTYOGAOUTGREW
STEELERONETIME
REDARTLASHOUT

★ I almost dismissed this as an inelegant, loosey-goosey theme. Man, am I glad I took a second look! I skimmed over the SNOOZE BUTTON clue at first, thinking that the theme was simply "noises that come out of an alarm clock." RADIO, BUZZ, SOUND? Bleh, totally unspecific!

What, you got the real theme immediately? Um, so did I. For all those ninnies that didn't, bear with us:

The SNOOZE BUTTON makes the RADIO go silent, for RADIO SILENCE. It KILLs the BUZZing, as in a BUZZKILL. And it turns OFF the SOUND = SOUND OFF!

Brilliant!

I wasn't sure if it was just me who missed the cleverosity, so I asked Jim for his thoughts on the puzzle. Turns out he glossed over it, too! After chit-chatting about it, we both agreed that it was delightful; such fantastic plays on words that were tightly bound to SNOOZE BUTTON.

Great grid execution, too. Mike didn't try to do too much, sticking with an easy-to-fill 76-word grid. But with a little zazz in STARGAZING, WORD LENGTH, HOT YOGA, even some BUSH SR, UNICORN, ST LOUIS, that's more than good enough for me.

Best yet, such a silky-smooth grid. I love it when I can't find a single short entry to squint at. This grid felt much more friendly to newer solvers than either of the past two days, even given the presence of HOBART. Some might complain about that one, but come on. You gotta at least be familiar with world capitals.

Okay, maybe BORGE crossing KLEE isn't newb-friendly. But that's perfectly fine in a mid-week puzzle. Paul KLEE is an important painter educated solvers ought to at least have heard of.

So, so, so glad I took a second and third look. A fantastic-- albeit delayed — a-ha moment.

Thu 7/12/2018
DEFSTSPANGAHI
ALOHAKAZOOWED
SCRUBIGOTANAME
HELLAEVALORIA
TENENOOVENS
HASASIPCENA
EPICSEAHAGHAT
ROCKENVISSAFE
ESSCELERYINRE
HEDYONANDON
AIKENNOTSAY
TREASMAPWOODS
LAYRUBBERDROID
AQIRAISEDEWAR
WINESTOPSONNY

We've highlighted the HANDS dropping down to make the theme more apparent. For example, there's a FOREhand dropping down out of DEFOREST.

FOREhand, LONGhand, SURE hand, IRON hand. I like that Joe picked all four-letter words to drop down. That's perfect consistency.

I might have made different choices, though. FOREhand and LONGhand, yes! SURE hand … doesn't "sure-handed" sound a lot better? IRON hand also didn't ring as well to my ear as FOREhand or LONGhand.

Perhaps FREE, in DEEP FREEZE or DEGREES OF FREEDOM? And maybe GLADhand, in BANGLADESH?

People often assume that Thursdays are the hardest grids to make. Often not the case! Sure, you can be forced into crazy constraints, but you can also toss in some oddball entries. That's usually okay (if not desirable), since people who solve Thursdays tend to be the die-hard regulars who will have at least heard of things like SHUL and the Sea of AZOV.

It's not easy to work with crossing themers, which is essentially what Joe had to build around. Fixing DEFST / FORE into place will often mean problems in the surrounding fill (see: SHUL).

I'm all for long bonus fill to spice up a grid. But if the bonuses are of the LAY RUBBER ilk, I'd rather break that up, which would make for a smoother grid. LAY RUBBER detracted from the puzzle for me, since it sounds so much worse than "burn rubber". Take that out by putting a black square at the R of HEAR — which would allow for the removal of ESTOP — and that's a win-win for me.

Overall though, solid Thursday concept. Enough trickery to keep me interested.

Fri 7/13/2018
RAZZPIZZAFIZZ
ALOEOBEAHOREO
GLOBPIECEYORE
NIMRODSHAVENOT
ANSARIDORMER
ROOEVENNOWISO
ONUSALOOFSKIP
KETCHENDBEENE
HOWGOESIT
WORTHYSENSED
PELOSIXGAMES
AIDEZZTOPDALI
GRADKENDOAJAX
EDGEINUITTONE
DOERDOTESEROS

ZZ TOP — as in a triplet of ZZs at the top of the puzzle. Appropriate to have three of them, since ZZ TOP has three members! I always thought it was amusing that Frank Beard is the only one who doesn't have the trademark long beard.

Some fun fill, HOW GOES IT friendly and colloquial. SCHROEDER bringing back memories of the "Peanuts" kid playing the toy piano to perfection. Interesting terms like RAGNAROK (back in the public eye due to the "Thor" movies) and ZOETROPE (you might not recognize the word, but the image to the right is likely familiar).

I expect more quantity of quality long fill in a themeless, though. What happened?

Well, with regular crossword symmetry, it's easy to place three long slots in each of the four corners. Not so using mirror (left-right) symmetry!

In a mirror themeless grid, you can put 8x3 chunks in either the top two corners or the bottom two corners, but not both. It is possible to create mirror grids that do have a lot of long slots, but for various spacing reasons, those tend to be tougher to fill than normal symmetry grids.

Still, Trenton did well in using his mid-length slots — XGAMES, NIMRODS, WHIZ KID are strong entries. SEXPOTS felt a bit icky, but that could easily be personal preference. The term seems loaded with so many negative connotations that I'd avoid using it in my grids.

As much as I like mini-themes in themeless puzzles, I do want the usual quantity and quality of long entries as well. This one didn't quite get there for me.

Sat 7/14/2018
ORNATEDISBAR
HOTRODSONTIME
BEERNUTSTHEGAP
APSISROMDELTA
BETSGOFORLEOI
YRSCABARETCARD
CAMERAREADY
RAVELLONGS
GENETICCODE
SENDREGRETSOTC
TROYSHUNSPARR
AMUCKTNTMOXIE
RANOUTKEMOSABE
ENCASERATECAP
SEETHEPEDALS

Kameron is one of the most creative constructors when it comes to low-word-count puzzles. Typically, constructors rely on grids they've seen before, but Kameron does an astounding job of carving out intricate black square patterns. I appreciate how he rarely (if ever?) repeats a pattern.

The middle of this one isn't as hard to fill as some other low-word-count puzzle middles, but it's still tricky. I thought Kameron did very well here, CAMERA READY / GENETIC CODE / STROBE LIGHT / MORAL CENTER making for a beautiful middle.

Two more long entries interlocked as well? Yikes, that's so tough to execute on! SEND REGRETS worked, if not as colorful as the four aforementioned entries. CABARET CARD made me pause and look it up, but I do enjoy learning one or two new things in a puzzle.

Overall, a great center section.

I didn't enjoy the corners as much. I was pretty sure I had finished the NE, but AMATORY looked so bizarre. I had seen it in a crossword before, so I studied it to make sure there were no other possible choices and then moved on. But I squinted.

The SW made me squint a bit more. Here in Seattle, there are almost as many pot shops as Starbucks. KUSH … huh? And CANDY COAT … did you badly want it to be SUGAR COAT, too? Another huh.

The one region that put this one out of POW! contention for me, though — the ARRIS / APSIS crossing. Yikes. Double yikes. I took a lot of physics in college, but APSIS isn't something I recognized. I ended up guessing APSES, thinking maybe there was some relation to the church regions, and Mrs. ARRES going to Paris seemed fine. Dang it!

Still, more than enough great fill like BEER NUTS, HOT RODS, STEEL CAGE to keep me entertained. It's incredibly tough to execute on a 64-word puzzle like this, so I thought Kameron overall did well.

Sun 7/15/2018COMPLIMENTARY
ALPOACTASIFTHEDANCE
MARCMRSLATERIDESOUT
IMITOUTSTANDINGBILLS
NICOLDOONADDERALL
ONEPAGERADOREDIG
RADICALMOVEMENTSOTTO
ABYSSMENTHEOIL
PIGGYSAINTECONOMY
CANOEBRIGASHCAKE
ASTATAICHISWEETTALK
STELLARCLASSIFICATION
KILLERBEEPODUNKIMRE
CLIFBARTELEMEADE
SCENTEDGADOTJARTS
SICSONOFAWHEEL
NOTARSOLIDFOUNDATION
RASNIGERSTILETTO
EPICPOEMASHEASHEN
SMASHINGPUMPKINSSELF
AMSTEREOTAPINTOELLA
DATALOSSAVENGEDSPOT

Delightful theme! I imagined Keanu's surfer persona shouting RADICAL MOVEMENT! to a classical composer (and eliciting strange stares). Keanu going up to a taxonomist (not a taxidermist, as I first thought) and yelling STELLAR CLASSIFICATION! = hilarious!

I was amazed at how many of these Sam and Byron came up with. I was even more impressed by how they made them non-obvious. The band SMASHING PUMPKINS is super familiar to me, so the tough clue — [Compliment to a vegetable gardener?] — was much appreciated. Every a-ha moment is so much more satisfying when you have to work for it.

Loved the theme. Could have easily gotten the POW! based on my smiles alone. I'm often bored by Sunday puzzles, but this one held my attention the entire way through.

I didn't love the fill though, not nearly as smooth as I would have expected out of these two masters. It wasn't bad by any means — about ten globs of ITA AMO OCTA IMRE AFIG kind of stuff, which is about average for a Sunday — but Sam and Byron are not average constructors.

They fell into the low-word-count trap, which I completely understand. It's fun to take on a ridiculously tough challenge like this. A Sunday 140-word puzzle is hard enough — achieving a great 128-word grid is like painting a masterpiece. While handcuffed. And blindfolded. With just a piece of beige chalk.

I firmly believe it's almost always better to be less ambitious. Stick with fewer pieces of great fill — a couple of ADDERALL, STILETTO, CLIF BAR, DATA LOSS kind of things are good enough — and make the rest of the puzzle elegantly smooth. It'd make for a better solving experience overall. Could have been an outstanding puzzle overall, rather than just above average.

Still, I loved the theme. So joyful and smile-inducing. Even with the problem I had with their gridwork decision, this was in POW! territory.

(Sam and Byron, now that you've both won multiple POW!s, I have to make you work even harder for them!)

Mon 7/16/2018
OPALSWAGPERMA
PACETALEIMOUT
ELLAOXENLOOMS
COUNTRYCODEFBI
IIIMRITAG
COUNTERFEITCOIN
CNNSIRPOOP
SOFASGAPNOBEL
AMENMICAGO
COMPLETECONTROL
OUIFYIROE
ATLCOMECORRECT
RAITAETONEVER
STARRRACESILO
EERIESLOTALLY

Sometimes I wonder if I'm too critical about the quality of crossword fill, especially in early-week puzzles. Feels like I've carped on a lot of Mondays and Tuesdays recently, for not enough attention to detail.

But then I do a Monday puzzle like today's, and my belief in high crossword standards is upheld. With only rare exceptions, all early-week crosswords should be as solid as this one. Beautiful long fill like PILE IT ON, ROOFTOP BAR, and SELF-CARE, with very few gluey bits?

This is what all constructors should demand out of their work.

Okay, PERMA ain't great as a prefix, and RAITA is going to be tough for some newbs. But I'm okay with people having to learn one thing from a crossword, as long as the crosses are fair. And if you haven't had RAITA before, you're missing out on the cucumbery goodness!

The theme = COCO indicating phrases where both words start with CO. I'm glad Erik included the revealer, because it's easy to think that this is just a C___ C___ phrase puzzle, much less interesting than a tougher CO___ CO___.

I wasn't familiar with COME CORRECT, but it's a proven fact that Erik is more hip than me. (The fact that I used the word "hip" probably has the young folks rolling their eyes.) SWAG Surfin' is something I learned from one of Erik's crosswords — see, you can teach an old dummy new tricks!

Occasionally, Jim will send me a "is Jeff grumpy?" note, which is extremely useful in terms of checking my OCD tendencies, and he's sent me a couple of those recently. I'm so glad that Erik gave us an example of how an early-week puzzle ought to be constructed!

POW Tue 7/17/2018
GUACHIMSCHEME
ITSYEPICOINED
REDBARONUMPIRE
DROOLSAMFMDEN
SOIRSPREFAB
GOLDENSNITCH
ABCOATSDETOO
FLYINGCOLORS
OUTDOBEAUPET
GREENLANTERN
ADORNSIOWAN
SSNAUTOALTHEA
CATNIPBLUEBIRD
OKSURELINALII
WEBBYSEDTDEER

★ Loved this theme! FLYING COLORS = things that fly, all described by a color. This huge GREEN LANTERN fan loved seeing Hal Jordan get his due (although, your weakness is the color yellow? Seriously, you cower in the face of a dandelion?). And GOLDEN SNITCH! It's like Amanda and Karl asked themselves, "What themers would make Jeff automatically give us his POW!?"

BLUEBIRD wasn't as interesting, but I read a ton of "Peanuts" as a kid, and I have a soft spot for Snoopy's dogfights with the RED BARON. it always made me want to go seek out root beer at a French cafe.

Now, the grid wasn't as clean as I want from an early-week puzzle. There was enough SOIRS, AFOG / ALII, NTSB, EDT, that I paused slightly before slamming down the POW! But there is a relatively high density of theme material, not easy to work with a split revealer like FLYING / COLORS in the center, kind of splitting the puzzle in half.

Speaking of that, splitting the puzzle nearly completely in half is another no-no. It forces solvers to do two mini-puzzles — blockages in the feng shui. But, FLYING / COLORS does tie the two halves together a little better, so that's something.

And ultimately, the gluey bits were all minor offenders, many in the name of working in great stuff like CATNIP / OK SURE / WEBBYS — ok sure, that's worth the price of NTSB!

Overall, the theme won me over so highly that the slight dings didn't bring things down much. Such an entertaining solve.

P.S. A friend and I have a puzzle waiting in the publication queue … also based on FLYING COLORS. This is one of the very few times I've wished for the lag time from acceptance to publication to be very long!

Wed 7/18/2018
COTSHEESHORCS
HALLANDHOPARE
IHEARTRDIOEDIT
TURFGYMBUNIES
PRONEOVOID
THEONEFLYAT
HERCHOOYEBBS
ERRDIGSITEEAT
MAYSLINUXARA
KNEELSPOTTY
APRONSHOWY
PLAINTRTHIMAC
ITLLINARMSEACH
POLLCICERORHO
ESSEENOKISKEY

FOSSILS … as rebuses? Not sure I get the rationale why fossilization would mean that things would shrinkify in this way? And wouldn't it be weird to find T. Rex pieces in proper left-to-right, top-to-bottom order?

Maybe it was an anal T.Rex?

Qualms about the theme's raison d'etre aside, great gridwork from David. Strong theme entries like I HEART RADIO, PLAIN TRUTH, IN ARMS REACH, etc. He did have a lot of flexibility in placing his rebus squares, but still, his ability to place them within fun, long entries was far from SPOTTY.

Neat to work in OS as part of FOSSIL, too!

I did wonder about GYM BUNNIES, though. At one time, I had that scored very high in our XWI Word List, but I downgraded it due to possible offense some might take. I reread some intertubes articles though, and it seems like since GYM BUNNIES can refer to any gender, and some GYM BUNNIES refer to themselves with that term … I still would much rather use GYM RAT, but that's personal preference.

OWIE got a fantastic clue — [Baby bump?] usually refers to when a woman starts to show, but what a great repurposing here.

Overall, great gridwork, with an interesting notion of crossword grid = DIG SITE. I'm still not sold on the theme execution using rebuses. I might have preferred a more Gorskian approach, the pieces forming the shape of a T. Rex head (like the "Jurassic Park" movie poster). I rarely say this, but perhaps this could have made for a better Sunday grid than a weekday.

But it's still a memorable idea.

Thu 7/19/2018
FIRSYACHTUSSR
EDITALLAHMILO
SECRETCODEPDAS
TAHINIDESIEVE
FUTZSUCCESS
ALBERTANNERF
LILELIOTTOFFS
OMOOERIESPEEP
UBOLTERECTCTA
DENSEUROSTAR
LAYOUTSPINT
IBMTOTSMARTIN
SOARNEXTPLEASE
PUREELSIEELLA
STYXSEWEDPEER

Rot!

What?

No, not what. Wot? Rot. ROT!

ROT-X is a common encoding scheme = rotate by X places in the alphabet. Today we get words that become other words when subjected to ROT-1. HAL -> IBM is a famous one. (in the voice of the Church Lady) Well, how con-veeeeeen-ient!

I liked the NEXT PLEASE revealer hinting at ROT-1 SECRET CODE. Nice pairing there.

Just in case you missed them, here are the starred answers:

DUD -> EVE

ETSY -> FUTZ

SNEER -> TOFFS

TANKS -> UBOLT

OHMS -> PINT

HAL -> IBM

I was sure there would be longer examples, so I wrote some quick code to check. Not so! The longest example I could find was STEEDS -> TUFFET. Huh! I was all set to say that it would have been great to get "themers" that were longer than five letters. Shows what I know!

Pretty good gridwork, especially for a debut. Not a lot of pizzazz in the grid, but SIDE EFFECT and BLOODY MARY do the trick. And it's a rare debut where I can only pick out a few gluey bits — OMOO was the only one that stuck out, but ALC, CTA OLEO weren't bad.

Well, STELE and ENURE weren't great (the INURE spelling seems more common). Hmm.

Overall, I would have liked a sharper a-ha moment, perhaps searching for pairs of entries that have that coinky-dink feeling of HAL / IBM. I found SLY / TMZ with a quick glance. Would have been fun to open it up, using ROT-1 through ROT-26 to find more of these sly pairs.

But a nice debut concept nonetheless, NEXT PLEASE doing such a nice job of making things clear.

Fri 7/20/2018
BARBIEDOLLSPAM
AVERAGEJOETONE
LIVINGWAGEAKIN
MASTHAIGPRESS
FURERITREA
RAISINSDUNST
UPNEXTWORKMATE
BORATHANSABRA
SPATULASBALLOT
RURALPELLETS
THEREOFART
HAFTSDONAOGLE
ENOLNOSETOTAIL
FOREROLLERRINK
TIMSCROSSBONES

POKER TABLE is a standout example of a perfect themeless entry/clue pair. Not only is POKER TABLE a great phrase on its own, evoking stogie-filled back rooms and the hilarious "Ocean's 11" scene where Topher Grace boasts about having a hand that's "all red," but what a clue! [Place where lots of calls are made] hints at a phone booth, or a coffee shop WHERE I'M JUST TRYING TO DO A LITTLE DARNED WRITING YOU CHATTERING TALKERS!

No, POKER TABLE calls are where a player matches a raise. Perfect!

BARBIE DOLL is a colorful phrase, no doubt. And the clue is excellent, too, referring to Barbie's Dreamhouse.

Man, I'd pay through the nose to keep my daughter away from Barbie, though.

I thought Robyn did a great job weaving in a ton of snazzy phrases, from AVERAGE JOE to START SMALL to ROLLER RINK to SEA TURTLE. As usual, she's IN RARE FORM!

There were a few long entries that gave me pause, though. WORKMATE — is that similar to a co-worker? Maybe British usage or something?

A HALF DOOR is a … half a door?

And NOSE TO TAIL is so descriptive, but is that a real thing? Apparently so! The Google first tells me it's a British term describing bumper to bumper traffic. But Googs don't lie! There's a book called "The Whole Beast," about eating the pig from snout to the tip of the tail.

I'm an adventurous eater. But there are certain parts of a pig you couldn't pay me enough to choke down.

Along with a smattering of RUR, DONA, OTRO, NRC, ENOL, I felt like this wasn't quite POW! quality.

Close though, especially given some of the fantastic clues. I mean, [Getty oil, e.g.] for ART, playing on the Getty museum. Brilliant! SPATULAS can get (cake) batters out! A BRIT happy to gain an extra few pounds! Lovely stuff; super entertaining.

Overall, oh so close to getting my POW! stamp. But not quite there, given my high expectations of Robyn.

Sat 7/21/2018
STRINGORCHESTRA
THERESNOIINTEAM
ORDEREDALACARTE
GOESOVERITAGAIN
YEPLESAUGBOD
ODINSEXY
ALSOREDKTEL
SUITEDONESNEEDS
KITLACOSTESOD
FORKCIGS
PGALEARNHAD
TELLSITLIKEITIS
REASONTOBELIEVE
OLDERGENERATION
PEERASSESSMENTS

Ah, quad stacks. By now, we expect serious trade-offs in such a crazily difficult construction. The question is, does the pizzazz in the long entries make up for the wince-worthy globs of glue?

Today, I say yes. All too often, quad stacks need to rely heavily on common letters, boring answers, or head-scratching phrases. But out of nine grid-spanners, I'd say four are fantastic, and five are solid if not flashy. STRING ORCHESTRA over THERES NO I IN TEAM is a great way to headline your puzzle!

(I used to play cello in an orchestra, and I'd always try to hide in the back corner at the last stand, away from the audience. That way, all my wrong notes and out of tune-ness would be overwhelmed. Good thing we were all a team!)

Ah, ONDES, I learned ye through crosswords. Weirdly, it was kind of fun to plug it in without a single crossing letter.

People sometimes ask me how I can possibly do the toughest crosswords. Repetition often allows for immediate fill-ins like this.

See: NEROLI. ELAM. SORA.

I appreciated how wide-open Jason kept his grid. Stringing ROCKETTES through that bottom quad was delightful.

REDEPOSIT up top ... not so much.

The lone head-shaking moment was the XKE / KTEL square. A friend recently told me that in his generation — an OLDER GENERATION — the XKE was super popular, in everyone's consciousness. Perhaps it was the same way for KTEL?

Every eye-popping grid like this will come with some sort of compromises. Overall, I enjoyed the solving experience — the quality of the grid-spanners and the novelty of the wide-openness helped me overcome the rough patches.

Sun 7/22/2018MOVIE "M*A*S*H" "UP"
HINDUALAMOFLOGDANG
OBOESNIKONROMOOREO
NETWORKFAMEANNOURGE
GESTALTSAWNEIGHBORS
OBESELATOUTWIT
INATUBOSUVISION
NOTORIOUSPSYCHOKICKS
CHERNTESTOUISHEP
HONCHOSYEASTBANANA
HELPMETRAFFICTOYS
AGSIDEALSEGOISTSAM
TITANICJAWSARNESS
BRONZEOMAHAISOLATE
ALOTSURAARONAVON
TYPESSIDEWAYSGRAVITY
PEANUTSECODESSA
POSTALCNNSADIE
SUPERBADHAIRROLLSBY
ATOMOGREGIANTSPLASH
LISPWHOSEPCOTHOMER
MEETSAPSREADYIBARS

There was another puzzle like this two years ago, two movies smashed together to create a description of a third movie. I helped Jerry develop that one, constantly reinforcing the idea that 1.) the movies had to be very well known, and 2.) that the descriptions had to be not just apt, but amusing.

Same criteria apply today, and I liked many of Patrick's themers. SUPERBAD HAIR was the standout — both movies were popular and did well at the box office, and that description of "Dumb and Dumber" is so funny!

(My poor son, Jake, has a "Dumb and Dumber" haircut. We try everything we can do to get him to sit still to fix it, but no dice. Superbad hair it is!)

NOTORIOUS PSYCHO was good, too. No doubt, a perfect description of "Silence of the Lambs." That movie creeped me out so bad, though — Superbad! — so I didn't personally like it as much as SUPERBAD HAIR.

I wasn't a fan of using movies like NETWORK, NEIGHBORS, or TOYS. Sure, you could make a case that NEIGHBORS did okay at the box office, but I'm not sure anyone would call it a classic. (Would they?) I'd much prefer to stick to movies that were in Oscar contention, huge box office smashes or cult classics.

Of course, one could easily make the case that SUPERBAD isn't as well-known as NEIGHBORS, since it's older and made less at the box office. No doubt, there's a lot of subjectivity involved here. And I'm wrong a lot!

Much better to avoid the discussion at all by using movies like TITANIC and JAWS — hard to argue with those.

As for fill, I liked the insider's nod with OSCAR NOD. I would have liked more color like that since GESTALT was the only other entry that stood out. But the grid already has a slew of NTEST ACTSO AGHA ATEN SWA AGS kind of stuff, and I wouldn't have been okay with much else. Tough call. Probably best to pare back on one of the themers if you can't get enough color without introducing too much crossword glue.

Just goes to show how tough a 140-word Sunday puzzle is to make. Heck, even a master like Patrick had to go up to 142 words to get it completed!

Mon 7/23/2018
EMCEEISISMICE
LARAMNOSEEBON
SPUROFTHEMOMENT
ESSTAHOENERVE
ADELEIVEIER
ORDERSOFTHEDAY
LIENERAFYI
APRILYINEDGAR
RIBNOBTUNA
BOOKOFTHEMONTH
LOSEWEINYOU
ALIASLATCHSMU
PERSONOFTHEYEAR
ERIKANTERERUN
LOSSTSAROASIS

I enjoy tight theme sets, and Todd did a great job of identifying four "X OF THE (time period)" phrases. Better yet, he got them in increasing order, from MOMENT to DAY to MONTH to YEAR. Almost perfect!

It would have been perfect to swap out the MOMENT phrase for an HOUR one, but the only possibility I could find was MAN OF THE HOUR. That would work, if it weren't for the pesky crossword gods and their symmetry regulations (MAN OF THE HOUR, at only 12 letters, wouldn't balance PERSON OF THE YEAR). Curse ye, oh mocking black and white deities!

It would have been too similar to PERSON OF THE YEAR, anyway. And SPUR OF THE MOMENT is a snazzy phrase. So I like Todd's theme set a lot; likely the best one available.

(ORDERS OF THE DAY wasn't as familiar to me, but it's well supported by the Goog and Robert's Rules of Order.)

Rarely a lead-pipe cinch to work with four super-long themers. I appreciated the long fill bonuses in IN THEORY and NO HITTER — beautiful selections.

GUN USERS … is that a real phrase? I suppose so, but isn't it usually just "hunters" or the like? I don't imagine people go around saying BOW AND ARROW USERS or SLINGSHOT FIRERS.

And the short gluey bits, SEM ESS OLA IER AFTA IN YOU. I did like that most of them are gettable, especially the partial IN YOU. But there's way too much to consider this an elegant grid.

See that set of three black squares below the end of ORDERS OF THE DAY? For a theme set like this, I usually find that it's better to move those up two rows. That causes a huge cascade of changes, but it does avoid problems in the tricky NE corner Todd had to deal with (see: IER).

Overall, a strong theme set. Another round of revisions on the grid could have helped out, though.

Tue 7/24/2018
GHOSTCHATCHEW
PARTVAXLEHULA
STRAWSHEAIMAX
BIOCHEMICAL
ARCFLAXUDON
REHEELHOPEBSA
MARXADHDEPEES
APOPSIXERLIPS
DEMONTHAIANTE
ADOLASHGANGES
SERFXMENSTS
DOUBLEHELIX
COMBCOHNMETED
DREIINXSUNION
CASEOSHASALSA

Jonathan does so many interesting twists with letter shapes. I loved his first one, playing on letters with their TOP OFF. Then Js for HOOKs, and Qs representing car boots = playful exploration of capital letters.

And talk about twists — today, we get a DOUBLE HELIX = Xs, and Hs linked together to form the twisty shape. I didn't totally buy the image. Why two Hs and then one X? Felt like alternating H X H X H X might have painted a more DNA-looking picture. Or even just Xs, but working with 15 Xs would be insane.

Fleshing out the theme was CHROMOSOME, an apt themer for the DNA concept.

HUMAN BEINGS … sort of. But since all living creatures have DNA, why choose HUMAN BEINGS as a themer? Species-ism, I say!

BIOCHEMICAL wasn't as specific, either. DNA is just one of millions of BIOCHEMICAL topics.

I would have loved something related to ROSALIND FRANKLIN, WATSON, CRICK, NUCLEIC ACIDS, BASE PAIRS, etc. DNA is structured so elegantly, and there are so many stories wrapped up in it. Would have been nice to get themers that were more dead-nuts on.

Pretty good gridwork, considering how many Xs Jonathan had to work around. (Maybe that's the reason he upped the ratio of Hs/Xs to 2/1!) I don't love when an early-week puzzle gets up to five+ gluey bits (EL AL, BSA, DREI, IDEE, STS, etc.). But none of them are awful. So in the service of working around all those Xs, it's at an okay, if not desirable, level.

DNA has been mined for many a crossword over the years — it's a fascinating subject filled with all sorts of lore. I mostly enjoyed this new take on it.

Wed 7/25/2018
WIMPSHOPCOCKY
HOURCIAOAPHID
INREARTSREELS
PIANOREHEARSAL
SALUDUNIPSI
POLTERGEISTS
SETROILURCHIN
TRAPWELLIHOMO
ARBORSEASTTET
GOLDENARCHES
EREOATLODGE
FLIPPEDTHEBIRD
BRACEOAHUEXES
YEMENUNITRITE
SEPTSTENTSEAL

Emily FLIPPED us THE BIRD today, hiding a reversed HERON, EGRET, and CRANE within themers. Cheeky idea, especially for the NYT!

ENARC within GOLDEN ARCHES = perfect! A long string, spanning the two words of a phrase that most everyone will have heard of = yes yes yes!

TERGE within POLTERGEISTS is a notch lower since one-word theme answers tend to be less interesting than multi-worders. Still, POLTERGEISTS is a neat word, filled with spookiness. I ain't afraid of no POLTERGEISTS!

Okay, I am. I still have trouble opening the fridge door at night.

NOREH within PIANO REHEARSAL … I like that it spans a two-word answer. That answer seems a touch arbitrary, though. Would GUITAR PRACTICE be acceptable? Or BANJO TUNING? In the service of this theme, PIANO REHEARSAL gets a pass, but I wouldn't be as lenient otherwise.

I had the same hesitation about LOW SNAP. I was so excited to put in BAD SNAP, such a great entry! LOW SNAP is a real thing, but I usually hear "the snap is low."

But I did enjoy ERROR-FREE, TABLE LAMP, CHEAP SHOT, KILL TIME. Four out of four winners!

Ah, those "parallel down" structures, though. It's so tough to fill around two long pieces of bonus fill right next to each other. That lower left corner especially suffered: BYS, SEPTS, ERE. I wouldn't mind this trade-off if you look at the isolated corner, but with other dabs of crossword glue in the puzzle — OPES, TELE, WELLI, etc. — I'd have preferred a less ambitious approach, for a more elegant overall finish.

It's tough to work with a 14-letter revealer since all the theme answers get squished together toward the middle. (The revealer has to go in row 12, instead of row 13 like usual.) I have a feeling pinching POLTERGEISTS and GOLDEN ARCHES one row toward the center might have helped smooth out the grid, but of course, that would have called for a complete redo.

Loved the [Cutting class?] clue for SHOP. It just takes a handful of clever clues like this to make a puzzle shine. And defining PRENUP as a "union agreement" = delightful!

Strong idea and I appreciated the level of difficulty of using all five-letter birds. If the grid had been polished, this could have made POW! consideration.

Thu 7/26/2018
PENAMTSJUMBLE
IDOMAAMASANAS
NUISANCEREDACT
#CRUNCHERLIKE
PDASAUDI
DENIALACROBATS
ETONARMINGDOT
EATERAGE#CAKE
PTASIZERSOMEN
#STATIONIDUNNO
MUIRCMON
OCTO#SHOOTERS
THORPEHANDYMAN
REFARMIKEAITO
AMULETHASHTAG

I have frequent internal debates when it comes to scoring words for our XWI Word List. I usually give an entry the benefit of the doubt, leaving the constructor to make his/her own judgment, but when I ran across OCTOTHORPE a few years ago, I waffled like a politician wearing flip-flops. Downgrade? Or keep it at the "pretty much fine" level?

Ultimately, I left it at the "pretty much fine" score, because if you don't know it, it's an interesting thing to learn. I don't know that I'd go around dropping the word into everyday conversation, but I'm glad to know this curious oddity.

I enjoyed Nate's usage of the pound sign's various alter egos — NUMBER, POUND, SHARP. Spot on! Fantastic themer choices like NUMBER CRUNCHER and RAZOR SHARP, too.

The OCTOTHORPE is also used to note a SPACE in editing? To me, this is much less interesting, at the level of seeing STET or DELE in crosswords. I understand why Nate chose to include it for completion's sake, but to me, it detracts from the overall impact of the puzzle.

Sometimes less is more. There's too much packed into the grid, what with HASH / TAG plus four sets of themers plus OCTO / THORPE. I love the audacity, but I don't love the grid result. I stopped counting dabs of crossword glue at five, but it still kept coming (the NW corner alone with EDUC AMTS SMEE, yikes!).

Not a great trade-off. I think the puzzle would have had stronger impact without the SPACE themers and/or the OCTO / THORPE revealer — especially since the latter had to be broken into two parts.

I love Nate's efforts to push for more diversity and inclusion within crosswords. Thus, it was a little odd to see him use the gendered HANDYMAN, no matter how it was clued. But then again, sometimes a certain piece of fill generates the best result in a crossword, and you have to go with it.

But overall, some fun plays on the different usages of the OCTO / THORPE, and some great themers.

Fri 7/27/2018
ADSALESPARTII
BRINGOUTETCETC
LILABNERCOARSE
UNLITAMONMOB
SKISTOGASRIPE
HUEKUNISGONER
PRINCECHARMING
DECOALOE
CAPTAINOBVIOUS
OREADOSLINNAM
LANGINPENRENI
UMAFOERPEARL
MANBUNETHELRED
NICESTYOUGOTME
SCENEVPBSSHOW

For me, the link between PRINCE CHARMING and CAPTAIN OBVIOUS was anything but obvious. (For those that don't know him, CAPTAIN OBVIOUS is slang for that dude who says stuff that everyone already knows.) If only there were a person called CAPTAIN TENUOUS!

I appreciate the attempt to mini-theme-ize this themeless, but I didn't get an a-ha moment from the two feature entries tied together using the "A day without sunshine ..." quotes. It seems like a trite thing for PRINCE CHARMING to say, and the one-liner is more funny than obvious. (Seems like it's Steve Martin's line?)

Anyhoo, the rest of the puzzle. Unfortunately, it didn't have enough zazz in it for my taste. With just eight total long slots (of 8+ letters), you have to make each one of those count. BRING OUT is fine, but it's hardly star quality.

I did like some of the mid-length fill — PBS SHOW and AD SALES were fun.

Why so light on the quantity of colorful fill? One of the main reasons is those pesky 14-letter seed entries. It's so hard to build themelesses around 14s (and 13s and 12s) because they fix black squares into place right away, taking away precious flexibility.

This points to the fact that if you're going to seed a themeless with 14-letter entries, they have to be thunder-punch brilliant. For me, these two weren't. By themselves, they're both good entries. But trying to tie them together took away from their impact. Gave me an a-whaaaa? moment.

I did appreciate that it's a well-crafted puzzle in terms of short fill, with just AMON sticking out as a bit odd. But I expect so much more out of a themeless these days.

POW Sat 7/28/2018
ADELEWEBBDADS
CURESWAREECCE
TEAMSPIRITMACE
ETTUHINESODON
DOORDIEFYIEMO
ESPNREMIT
FASHIONPOLICE
JUICECLEANSES
GENDERSTUDIES
ROSENERTE
APPDIXOHSORRY
NAOHTESLARHEE
DRNOINLAIDTILE
EDGENOOBMINIS
RYESANTSCZECH

★ You had me at FASHION POLICE / JUICE CLEANSES / GENDER STUDIES! Now that's a fantastic triplet to anchor this "stair stack" themeless. It's a tad unusual to weave long downs through a stair stack, so I greatly appreciated WWII EPICS running the gauntlet. Beautiful middle of the puzzle!

And I like what the authors did with the SW / NE, usually the toughest parts of a stair stack to make shine. FUN SPONGE is so fun, and the clue for DC COMICS makes that one even better. Misdirecting from the Penguin (the Batman baddie) to Penguin Books is flat out brilliant. Along with a smile-inducing clue about JEOPARDY — once hosted by Pat Sajak for April Fools — these are great corners.

The NW / SE corners didn't have quite as much pizzazz as I usually want out of a stair stack, but TEAM SPIRIT, DO OR DIE (with its funny-looking DOOR DIE sequence), INLAID TILE — no reason to say OH SORRY!

There was enough crossword glue to make me slightly pause before slapping down the POW! — DMC, ERTE, ESS, NAOH, RHEE — but some of those are defensible. Especially RHEE — educated folks ought to at least recognize the names of important foreign leaders, yeah?

ESS, not so much, especially with a clue that's trying too hard. I don't imagine I'll see many dictionaries with a section marked ESS.

And a couple of fantastic clues to even further elevate the solving experience. TESLA is something you might charge for the ride — not a fare, but an electric charge. And FASHION POLICE was great as an entry on its own right, but using "dressing down" and "dressing up" in the same breath makes it even better.

Such an enjoyable solving experience. Go to the head of the (JASA) class!

Sun 7/29/2018THREE IN ONE
WARTPSASDAWGSFROCK
AREARENEILIACDONOR
IMAMEXTERNALLYALAMO
LADENYOINKDULLESPN
NYSETINAARMLETALE
MISTAKINGPROPAGANDA
USERIMEWOOSHALANIS
MUTABLEDEMMEITEMONE
PIGPENJUDEAANISETTE
STORESOFTGDINODESK
REINFORCEMENT
ACTVPREYALTARHARDR
PRAIRIESSNOOTGALORE
BOBCATSTHANXFATIMAS
SPLASHBRUTELASSAMI
PERPETRATEMANHATTAN
DIDSTRIVEWANDLOOM
INHDSATEGOTTALOMAN
AGORADISCONTENTBAJA
LUTESESTERERGOATON
SPEWSSHYLYSNOWDORA

Word breakups, single words parsed kookily into three-word phrases. I laughed at PROPAGANDA changed to PRO PAGAN DA — made me wonder why I'd never seen that before. Same goes for PERPETRATE into PER PET RATE and MANHATTAN to MAN HAT TAN. Those are great discoveries!

Some of the others didn't do as much for me, like REINFORCEMENT to REIN FOR CEMENT. It's interesting that it breaks so neatly into three common words, but the resulting phrase is too nonsensical for my taste, and it doesn't bring up any funny images.

Will has such strong gridwork that I didn't even notice that he went down to 136 words. He's one of the (very, very, very) few people I'd issue a sub-140 license. Such a clean and smooth grid, filled with juicy bits like ARMANI SUIT, NEAR BEER, WILD ROSE, READY SET GO. Now that's some SEXY TIME! (said in a Borat accent, of course)

I didn't enjoy the solve as much as I would have hoped, though. I pondered this oddity for a few hours and couldn't figure it out. I asked Jim why this might be, and one of his thoughts was that it was a difficult puzzle to solve overall, without a lot of wordplay clues.

As usual, Jim was spot-on. I would have loved a handful of wickedly clever clues to spice up the solve. I enjoyed the reference of FANDANGO in "Bohemian Rhapsody," but it felt like for 99% of the clues, I was grinding through an SAT exam. As good as Will is with his gridwork — no GALUMPHing or ending ON A SAD NOTE to his craftsmanship! — I'd like to see more effort placed into working toward Waldean clue-writing skills.

Overall, a fun idea, with perfect consistency of always breaking a single word into three. If there had been a title that was more clever than workmanlike (not sure what that would be, admittedly — any ideas?), and a lot more fun in the cluing, it could have made POW! consideration.

Mon 7/30/2018
VASERAKEASCAP
ESPNEVERSPADE
STATEFAIRKIRIN
TACITROSFLEA
ECOPARTYFOUL
CADENCESEAU
ELOORBALPHAS
STUGUMBALLORE
TOTINGCOTTEE
NAANNHLTEAM
AIRSTRIKEURL
CHIPSEEBASSO
TOPICCLOSECALL
OPERAESAUTFAL
RENEWSORESEGA

PLAY BALL! Or something. I was all set to give this the thumbs-up as an easy-peasy baseball puzzle — themers ending in things an ump would say — and then I hit the revealer. CLOSE CALL = … close, as in close the door?

Wha?

I scratched my head and finally decided that I was overthinking this. What, me overthink something? Never!

Maybe it's tricksily meant to sound like "clothes"?

No ...

I finally asked Jim what the revealer meant, and he proceeded to scratch his head. Curious!

As far as I can tell, these words are all "close-ing" calls, i.e., a deterministic utterance from an ump? As in, he/she closes the door on further discussion?

I better quit analyzing before my head explodes.

There's something interesting about early-week puzzles with a ton of interlock — check out how SPACED OUT intersects with STATE FAIR. Gives the puzzle the feel of THERE'S THEME EVERYWHERE! Kind of neat.

Not kind of neat: ASTA CEST ROS ASCAP SEAU KELSO. And TFAL crossing OLLA? O-la-la! This is not at all friendly to newer solvers.

All in all, I liked the "things said by an ump" idea, but the revealer was a serious beanball. I think something much simpler like UMP would have created a better a-ha moment, and would also have allowed for a much more elegant and solver-friendly grid.

ADDED NOTE: I broke down and asked Will, who clarified that the revealer is meant to point to "close," as in the "call" closes out the theme phrase. For example, in AIR STRIKE, "strike" is final word of the phrase, thus the "close-r" of said phrase. D'oh! I probably should have figured that out. Maybe.

Tue 7/31/2018
JIBEDAUBMINAJ
ETONANNAODESA
WEBDUBOISLOOPY
EMBOSSCESTNIL
LOIREBOSHSORE
ENEJRRTOLKIEN
RESTRAINWEIRDO
OOZETBAR
ERSATZPAINTERS
FAOSCHWARZREW
FISTOHNOSUEDE
ENOSPOTENLACE
CORGIDOTDOTDOT
TURINANYAREAL
STYLETEEMARTY

DOT DOT DOT makes me laugh! Reminds me of that "Seinfeld" episode where they use "yadda yadda yadda" for comedy gold. I'm having a hard time not wiggling my eyebrows right now as I say DOT DOT DOT.

Solid theme, using DOT DOT DOT to explain the presence of three famous people who go by triple initials. I was curious to see if there were any more, but I couldn't turn any up in my exhaustive (read: seconds-long) search. How fortuitous that these three work with crossword symmetry!

With just 38 squares of thematic material, David stretched to add all sorts of bonuses in his grid — no RESTRAINt, given JEWELER, BOBBIES, SO SORRY, UNICORN, SHOW BIZ, NEONOIR, JAY LENO. Such great use of mid-length slots!

However, the prices were too high for my taste. ODESA alone would make me reboot, especially on an early-week puzzle that has a ton of gridding flexibility. Toss in CEST, ENE, SNO, and the Jeff-crosses-his-fingers-and-hopes-for-the-best ANYA/TYE crossing … ultimately, I think that was a fair cross, as nothing else looks quite as "right" (I debated whether TIE / ANIA could be correct) but hoo boy.

I also found JAZZ HOP and BOSH curious. I like learning a new thing in my puzzle, and I'm a big JAZZ fan, so JAZZ HOP was fun. (Think JAZZ meets hip-HOP.) I know Chris BOSH from the former Big Three of the Miami Heat championships, but BOSH as a scoffing declaration?

Bosh, I say!

Okay, that's kind of fun. I'll try it out and see what people say.

All in all, I worry that the short fill detracted from the theme set and all the good bonus fill. I enjoyed the concept; such a tight theme set an apt revealer. But I would have preferred a more traditional layout. Breaking up the sides with two sets of black square "fingers," instead of how David had it (with just one set per side), might have helped a lot. Could have elevated this into POW! consideration.