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Puzzles for August, 2017
with Jeff Chen comments

View these same grids with comments from:
Constructor (24)Jeff Chen (31)Jim Horne (3)Hide comments
POW Tue 8/1/2017
CABMAMMAATHOS
LSUADIOSBRUNT
OHMYSTARSCANOE
ROPESAAAWKRP
ORESHOLYTOLEDO
XERPEPSELREN
EERIEDEERE
ILLBEDARNED
ISTOOSPEAR
NEASINSAGLOO
WELLINEVERBEEB
ATIEKIRARGUE
ROAMSGOODGRAVY
DINOSHOWIETRE
STONESMEAROED

★ Shocking themers, clued in kooky ways! This type of humor can be hit or miss, but it sure hit strongly with me. There was something so amusing about a seamstress slying saying ILL BE DARNED, and an astronomer trying to elicit a groan with OH MY STARS!

My favorite was GOOD GRAVY — how is it that I've never used this line at a Thanksgiving dinner?

WELL I NEVER was the only one I didn't laugh at immediately, as I had to think about why a teetotaler would mention a well (and what a teetotaler was — it's someone who doesn't drink alcohol). But then I remembered that a "well drink" refers to a bar's cheap liquor they pour from a spout. So this one worked for me in the end, but it didn't have quite the hilarious impact the others did.

It's a rare early-week puzzle that uses an eye-catching, artistic grid. Something so pleasing about those two "arms" of black squares extending from the left and right sides toward the middle, curling in like spirals. This sort of layout often chokes down puzzle flow, but Jay did a nice job making sure that all parts of the grid connect together without narrow constrictions.

This layout also allowed Jay to work in a lot of long entries. None of them jumped out at me as stellar, but they all do a fine job — INWARDS, ON ORDER, STEP ONE, ITALIANO. I would have liked even one long bonus that I could point out as fantastic, but there's always a trade-off between snazzy fill vs. clean fill, especially with biggish grid spaces like the NE and SW.

I did hitch at the collection of SEL (French for salt), EDS, EER, ATIE, TRE. Nothing major, but in total, it went over my threshold for early-week puzzles.

This POW! choice might come as a surprise to regular readers since crossword glue tends to heavily affect my perception of a puzzle, but the theme concept tickled me so much, and the grid was so neat-looking that I was able to overlook the flaws.

I still laugh, thinking about saying GOOD GRAVY at Thanksgiving. Tee hee.

Wed 8/2/2017
HOLDUPCONTINUE
AROUSEREARMOST
WECOOLUNVEILED
KOIESSAGARS
FIGHTWITH
ALOUDHEHSTASE
NORRISDELLSUR
TOSSOUTWEATHER
SFOMESHSUREDO
YANGMAAMGONER
OVERSIGHT
AKITABRAMAD
LASHLINEMAYIGO
AMBIENCEERENOW
SANCTIONRESIGN

Listing of "contronyms" today. I've seen SANCTION described in this context many times — it can mean to give the thumbs-up, or to bar — and some of the others felt familiar, too. Many web sites and articles give lists of contronyms, including Wikipedia.

RESIGN did feel inconsistent from the others. RESIGN is to step down, but in order to get the opposite meaning, you have to add in a hyphen: RE-SIGN, as in sign up for another tour.

Jim saw it differently, bringing up a good point — one can "resign" oneself to keep going. Still, my first impression was of RE-SIGN.

I did appreciate the relatively low amount of crossword glue, given the high theme density — eight (!) themers ESS, OEN, ERENOW, INI, NCO, AGARS would be a bit high for a normal puzzle, but I'm okay with these considering how tough it is to work around so many themers, plus the fact that Bruce incorporated a few nice bonuses like WE COOL, AMBIENCE, MAY I GO.

Given that so many contronyms exist, it would have been nice to get some interesting way to tie these specific ones together, instead of a simple listing of various examples. Bruce did pack in a ton of them, but for me, quantity of answers didn't make up for quality of concept.

Thu 8/3/2017
STIGMAMADVOIT
KABOOMCRUCIBLE
ICESUPCLEANAIR
MOTHSWOOLLYMAM
SKYYLADS
CHOLERAJAR
LONIITSASECRET
APSESTOCKSCOLL
ROEGHEDONISTIC
ANTENNABON
EARLUSMC
LIVESPIMIENTOO
OMERTABELTLOOP
DANGERYESSIREE
EXTORTAKATEDS

Rare sighting of up-down symmetry! Will's told me before that this type of symmetry looks too odd for him, so I'm glad to see another example we can add to our list. I do agree that it's not as visually pleasing as normal or mirror (left-right) symmetry, but I like how it opens up more possibilities for creative constructors.

Speaking of creative, BELT LOOP gets interpreted as "words that can precede BELT, looping around the right of the puzzle back to the left." (AMMO, LAP, TOOL.) As an old-school gamer, I think "warp" is a better description of this phenomenon — TIME WARP might have resonated better for me, using "words that can precede TIME" — but I can see how that would get lost on a lot of solvers.

At first, I was curious why Tim used up-down symmetry. It shouldn't be that hard to find a 14-letter phrase with LAP or AMMO in the middle, yeah? But then I realized Tim gave himself an additional constraint of having the ends of the phrases be actual words — MOTHS, APSE, LIVES. It narrows down his choice of themers dramatically, thus forcing the up-down symmetry, but I like that added constraint a lot.

I did find it a bit odd that BELT LOOP didn't have a symmetrically-placed theme partner. It would have been perfect if Tim could have added a fourth example of this LOOPing to match with BELT LOOP, but how would you even lay that out? Maybe BELT all the way over on the right of the puzzle, and LOOP in the same row, all the way to the left, with a cross-referenced clue?

Well-executed grid otherwise, with just an ASK NO, NESTER, and TEDS as dings. TEDS does mean "spreads, as straw," but I'd much prefer a straightforward clue referring to multiple TEDs.

Nice to get some CLEAN AIR, CRUCIBLE, YES SIREE, KABOOM, IT'S A SECRET, HEDONISTIC in there, too. That's a ton of great bonuses. I would have expected much more crossword glue to make these all happen, so it speaks well to Tim's craftsmanship.

Fri 8/4/2017
BSSPLOTSDRUB
IHADNOIDEACELL
GIGECONOMYANNA
AMERICANPHAROAH
ISHERE
USEDPLAYMAKER
PERESTROIKAELO
PRECHAPLINFIN
ETCLATEEDITION
DATAENTRYARTY
IRKURL
TSARALEXANDERII
VERBEXOPLANETS
PAINSEXPISTOLS
GRABSCOTTSLO

The wide-open grid provided me a nice wow factor. Giant center, giant NW and SE, along with two grid-spanning entries? Yes, please! Grid patterns in themed puzzles rarely make me sit up straight and take notice, so I enjoy when a themeless grid is eye-popping.

Some great entries, too. AMERICAN PHAROAH hasn't made many reappearances since his 2015 Triple Crown win. Surprising on one hand, as the odd spelling is notable. I wonder how many crossword constructors are horse racing fans, though.

I didn't know much (anything, really) about TSAR ALEXANDER II, but what a cool nickname.

I HAD NO IDEA was fun too, although I had no idea there was such a thing as the GIG ECONOMY. I read the WSJ regularly, but perhaps this term just hasn't trickled down to this old-school finance wonk. And it does make sense; an economy based around one-time gigs.

I also didn't understand LATE EDITION. The late edition of the newspaper, okay. What makes it quaint? I researched this for hours (okay, three minutes) to figure out what clever wordplay was eluding me, but I failed. Best guess is that "quaint" implies that these days, not many newspapers run a late edition?

A couple of compromises to make the wide-open sections work, i.e. IS SO / SLO / APPT in the big SE, and BIGA (Big A?) / BS'S in the big NW. No terrible trade-offs, but not amazingly elegant, either.

I appreciated how many interesting long feature entries Damon managed to work in, and from so many walks of life. It's too bad a few of them didn't have much of an impact--or had a confusing one--for me.

Sat 8/5/2017
PEACESIGNJAPAN
ALFAROMEOINEPT
LEFTALONEMORPH
AVESAKERASP
TECHRASHPANTO
ENTERYEAHIKNOW
CELSTUNURE
HAWKMANSLAMMER
ANAITEMATE
SANSSERIFADLIB
BITESOXENSINE
ESTETROTSRA
ENOKIEARDOCTOR
NIGERSPEEDREAD
SNOREPETSOUNDS

Some brilliant cluing today, so much clever wordplay in effect. Wordplay for short entries is great, i.e. an [Apple field] isn't a field of apple trees, but Apple (computer) in TECH. And wordplay is even more delightful when applied to feature entries, making those long answers stand out even more.

PEACE SIGN was a perfect example. "Double-digit figure" is a fine phrase, expressing when a number crosses from 9 to 10. Here, "digit" actually refers to the finger" definition. Great stuff.

Another example is SANS SERIF. [Unembellished type] at first struck me as describing an engineer like me who doesn't bother matching his socks and enjoys shaving his head because no hair means a huge savings in time and shampoo costs. But "type" refers to a type font — such an innocent clue, yet so deviously brilliant.

A lot of themeless constructors aim to debut their favorite new musician's full name, or an esoteric entry that they love but solvers might need every cross to figure out. More and more, I'm favoring these types of PEACE SIGN / SANS SERIF entries that lend themselves to taking a great wordplay clue that so many more people can enjoy.

HAWKMAN is a good example of the esoteric(ish) type of entry. I'm a big comics fan, so HAWKMAN was fun for me to see (he really does fly around hitting people with a giant mace!). But he is admittedly not a major character in the DC Comics universe. Not sure how well this one will hit solvers who aren't comics fanatics. (Hopefully not with a mace.)

A good number of feature entries, although PER ANNUM, PET SOUNDS (a Beach Boys album), EAR DOCTOR (ENT, yeah?), LEFT ALONE didn't sing as well as others for me. I'm sure Beach Boys fans will call PET SOUNDS fun, fun, fun, though.

As David mentioned, a few dings. PANTO was another that felt not as minor-feeling to me.

All in all though, I had a lot of fun with all the great cluing. It just takes a few stellar ones to make a puzzle sing, and all of today's wordplay made for an entertaining solve.

Sun 8/6/2017ANCHORS AWAY!
AVASTBAHCURBNAME
DISCOSIBISOREOURAL
DEPARTGALLEONSOFMILK
INCASBLOCKORDEALS
WARSHIPSATTHEALTAR
ORERYEOHOPEZOMAN
ODDSSCALPSGPSSUAVE
LOTUSAREREASUNDAE
ROCKEMSOCKEMROWBOATS
KIANOAHELIMAO
GOBSSEMITRAWLERDERN
RNATWOTASELEI
AINTSEENNOTHINGYACHT
CONAIRTENSIRREARS
INEPTRHOROSCOESNIP
EYRECALFORHUGGPA
DIRTYDOUBLECRUISER
POLECATAGGIEHENRI
APPLEFREIGHTERSWATHS
SAGATARSSAKESEQUEL
SLAYSPRYLSDDIPPY

Ship puns, ROCK EM SOCK EM ROWBOATS (robots) giving me a big laugh. Such a funny image, such a ridiculous game concept. AINT SEEN NOTHING YACHT (yet) was also a winner in my eyes. It's not often that I enjoy pun themes this much.

Some constructors would try to distinguish a straightforward pun puzzle by going down below 140 words, by crossing themers, by packing way too many themers in, etc. But the Master knows the limits of Sunday puzzles so well, avoiding these traps on his way to delivering his trademark incredibly smooth grid, crafted with so much elegance.

Okay, nine themers is pretty difficult to pull off, especially when some of them are long. I would have actually been fine without SEMI TRAWLER, but since PB worked it in without compromises, it's a nice bonus.

One thing constructors ought to note: look at how many cheater squares PB used ... without making them feel like they were really cheating. There's two on the top row (after AVAST and after BAH), one before RYE, one after ELI. (The one before ROCK EM SOCK EM ROWBOATS doesn't count in my eyes, since it's forced by the 20-letter themer length.) That's eight (!) cheater squares in total, but I barely noticed them, since they're so spread out; none of them clumped up. Cheater squares help SO much, and not enough constructors use them.

Not a ton of bonuses in the grid, but with TAPE DELAY and its fantastic clue — it gives a censor time to remove a curse (word)! — NUMERO UNO, RAT TRAP, HANGS IT UP, these do the trick.

As with every PB puzzle, hard to point out even a single subpar entry. I hadn't known Neal BOORTZ, but learning one thing out of a puzzle is a good thing for me. And all the crosses were easy enough.

Not every Sunday puzzle has to be groundbreaking or even novel, but this is a perfect example of how a tried and true theme type can be executed to such a degree of elegance that it still shines.

Mon 8/7/2017
BANDBMSGFJORD
AGORAAIRLENTO
RETAGIREOTTER
BRIGHTLIGHTS
SSNDOEOSAKA
CANDIDCAMERA
MYBADOVUMVIN
AARPHANDSVIED
SKATONIPANSY
COVERTACTION
VENUEASKUNA
FILMDIRECTOR
AUTOSAILMOTET
PSALMZOOOPENS
TENDSERRNERDY

LIGHTS … CAMERA … ACTION! Nice sequence hidden at the ends of three phrases. I liked COVERT ACTION the best of the three — not only is it a snappy entry, but it gave a meta wink to the fact that ACTION was covertly(ish) hidden. CANDID CAMERA feels a bit old at this point, but it is a famed show. BRIGHT LIGHTS didn't feel complete without "big city," but it also does work.

FILM DIRECTOR serves its purpose to reveal what's going on. I would have preferred something less direct and more playful, but I can't think of what that might be. Also, this is a Monday puzzle, so FILM DIRECTOR's explicit, no-nonsense reveal is probably better to target a broader swath of solvers.

I usually am not a fan of bonus fill jammed into a grid at the expense of short fill, but I was wowed by FLOTSAM and JETSAM right next to each other — in the proper order! Beautiful. The letter starts that they force — FJ, LE, OT — greatly reduce flexibility, necessitating the inelegant triplet of ONT, RTE, DOR. But none of those three are bad by themselves. Well worth the trade-off for me.

I might not have been okay with that trade-off if the rest of the puzzle had contained a lot more crossword glue, but with just some MASC, ISR, B AND B (usually written B&B), I thought Kevin made a good decision to go ahead with that FLOTSAM / JETSAM pair, along with the associated prices he had to pay.

I would have loved a more oblique revealer I had to work for — I want to earn my a-ha moment. Maybe something like LETS ROLL or even a picture of a clapperboard made out of black squares? It's a tough balance — being too clever can sometimes leave a big chunk of solvers confused.

Tue 8/8/2017
SPATSPENTQTIP
ORCASARAHURSA
COMMONTIMEIOTA
KNEELENEACTOR
SESSIONDUNK
VETERANSDAY
FODDERPOEAERO
AMIESPIPSNEAK
NARCORCTODDLE
GREATVISION
TRAMCENTRAL
PUSHYECOERODE
OPELEVENSTEVEN
OTTOSADIEMELT
LOINELECTERES

4/4, 11/11, 20/20, 50/50 progression today. For the non-musicians out there, 4/4 is the most common time signature in music, meaning there are four beats in a measure, with the quarter note as the base unit. Even after playing in symphonies for 20 years, I didn't realize that COMMON TIME is actually what it's called. It is super common ...

I liked the diverse set of answers, from music to calendar to eyesight to odds. Dan could easily have used two calendar dates — aside from CINCO DE MAYO, there's also NEW YEARS DAY — so bravo for pulling each one from a different walk of life.

I'm not a fan of "definitional" entries (where the themers feel like they're lifted from a dictionary), so GREAT VISION was my least favorite of the four. EVEN STEVEN was so much more fun to uncover in the puzzle, for example, since it's a snappy phrase in common use. I can't think of a better 20/20 themer, though — HINDSIGHT (as in HINDSIGHT is 20/20) is a nice entry, but it doesn't quite fit a simple [20/20] clue.

QUICKSAND is already a great bonus, but its clue makes it even better. Sinking feeling, indeed ... love that wordplay! Also nice to get DECATHLON, NAME DROP, PRIMEVAL, even PATENT and SONNET. That's a lot of good stuff. (My second career was in pharma, so I should have known right off the top that PATENTs last 20 years, but I couldn't remember if they were 17 years (they used to be) or 20.)

Dan did a nice job of spreading out his themers and long bonuses, but he did need some crossword glue to hold everything together. COMMON TIME / NAME DROP / PATENT forced ENE, which is fine by itself. But then we get ESE, oddly plural LENTS, ERES, AERO, OPEL (not common in the US). All in all, it's over my personal threshold to qualify as an elegantly crafted puzzle. I can understand Dan's decisions, though — constructors all have different opinions on how much crossword glue is too much.

The eternal trade-off between bonus fill and crossword glue ...

Overall, I appreciated the novel idea. Great that Dan managed to present the themers in numerical order, too.

POW Wed 8/9/2017
ANTESIDOLGLAD
MOOLAPONEEASE
CHESSMATCHEMIL
ISRHEAREMU
EDGEICEREDBOX
LEOABECARVE
FETAAMESIOWA
DOUBLESTENNIS
TRIBUTESSNOB
BEHANPYEEDU
OMELETOMGPDAS
PEDTABUEEL
EROSSOCKDRAWER
EGGOESAIINANE
PESTSENDCARDS

★ Such a great idea! At first, I was confused by a queen "beating" a king at a CHESS MATCH. She doesn't actually beat him, does she? I still didn't get the theme after wondering why an ace "beats" a pair at DOUBLES TENNIS — an ace just wins one point, right?

Beautiful a-ha click when I got to SOCK DRAWER. Two pair does beat three of a kind there (as this disorganized non-sorter of clothing well knows). Such a fun realization that the themers are all wordplay examples of when poker hand orderings get reversed. So playful, so amusing, and so novel.

Well crafted grid, too. Some bonuses in REDBOX, GO TO THE DOGS, LAME BRAINED, DO THE BEST YOU CAN; not too many dabs of crossword glue in ISR, RES. (Some complain about ESAI Morales popping up in too many crosswords, but he's had enough big roles to be fine to me.)

I would have liked a couple more great bonuses considering that there were only three theme answers. Since the solving experience was so smooth, I would have accepted just a touch more crossword glue to get another great bonus entry or two. Perhaps if AMES IOWA and TRIBUTES could have been replaced with snazzier entries?

It's so rare for me to see a non-derivative theme idea. Loved, loved, loved this one; made me brainstorm for other examples, which is a sign of a great theme idea. (All I could think of was some potty humor related to a STRAIGHT FLUSH …)

Thu 8/10/2017
BLTGRAPESCOTT
MEHEAGERPITHY
ONEWAYORANOTHER
CATERERYOYOMA
HATASPEN
SPIROPEATFAB
TONIOHANLAMB
PUGETOLDAMIGA
FISHBIOSINUS
SSTDIORCLONK
MOANARIG
ANCHORSTUARTS
BYHOOKORBYCROOK
INALLTBONEUTE
TYPEASIXESPEW

Jeb and I live close by, so we get together and talk shop. During one session, he asked me to review some of his ideas, and I thought this one had the most potential. It seemed a little thin, but I suggested he ought to run with it.

Months later, he got back in touch, saying that Will and Joel liked the idea, but not his rounds of gridwork. After several backs and forths, they thought he might be biting off more than he could chew; that perhaps the grid was too ambitious to construct to their standards.

Those are the magic words for me, so Jeb didn't have to do much convincing to get me on board.

The first thing I did was to switch the order of the themers — Jeb had BY HOOK OR BY CROOK first, and I felt like it'd give away the game too quickly. Easy to swap them.

Then, I tried to rebuild around more theme — how cool would it be if there was something thematic running through the two themers? It took a lot of searching, but I finally came up with something I liked: the GREAT OUTDOORS. Perfect! Well, maybe not perfect, but a nice, descriptive phrase that tied LAMB and FISH together — could be clued with respect to a meadow and a fishing hole. So I spent maybe eight hours coming up with a grid around that.

Jeb's response: "Neat grid! But how is GREAT OUTDOORS related to the theme?"

Not perfect indeed.

So, back to the drawing board with a completely different grid. Ten more hours later, I finally decided that I'd have to accept a trade-off, and SST allowed for a good amount of snazzy fill. I was pretty sure Will and Joel would favor the first (GREAT OUTDOORS) grid, anyway.

Yet again, shows what I know!

Fri 8/11/2017
WUTANGCLANBIGS
AREWEALONEAGRA
TIMETRAVELDUAL
TAPSBRAWLCAPE
SHEPLEBIONE
SHETLANDPONY
THAIECHODUE
CHAPLINELLIOTT
EELERIEINNS
EXTRAVAGANZA
FEESALOECOD
DIRTSALADMONO
ALTATRINILOPEZ
LEOIANTICIPATE
ESPNGOESEASYON

Some great feature entries, IGUANODON my favorite. Not only do I have a fascination with dinosaurs, but what a fantastic clue — this Godzilla junkie was delighted to learn that specific dinosaurs inspired Godzilla! HALTER TOP, THE X FILES (although I admit, it was too creepy for me), SHETLAND PONY, TIME TRAVEL = quite an EXTRAVAGANZA.

I'd guess that some solvers will complain about WU TANG CLAN at 1-Across — I hear a lot of complaints about excessive rap appearances in the NYT crossword — but I think it's 100% fair. Not only is the WU TANG CLAN one of the most influential rap groups of all time, all the crossings for WU TANG are easily gettable. And maybe you don't know rap, but you know kung-fu? (insert Keanu Reeves joke here)

Some solvers may have just a neutral reaction to a music group they don't know, but I don't think complaints of unfairness would be justified.

I like it when themelesses have a little something for everyone. I have to imagine that the intersection of WU TANG CLAN and TRINI LOPEZ fans is not big.

I only know TRINI LOPEZ from crosswords, but he does seem like he was popular in his time? He sure is constructor-friendly, what with the easy consonant-vowel alternation. Didn't do much for me personally, not like the WU TANG CLAN did. But just as long as the crossings are fair ...

Hold on. LIA Fail = tough crossword glue. For those younger solvers who haven't heard of TRINI LOPEZ, could there be an equally reasonable letter for the L? MOPEZ? TOPEZ?

Nah. So it does seem like if you finished with an error at that spot, that's on you. But I would be sympathetic.

Overall, I would have liked a few more sparkly feature entries, as ANTICIPATE, ARE WE ALONE (another constructor-friendly pattern of vowels and consonants) took up valuable real estate. Still, enough good stuff to keep me entertained, and not much crossword glue overall.

Sat 8/12/2017
CANTABRAMBO
ABORTEDLILIAN
THRILLATOPONYM
COMMITMENTPHOBE
HRSLOTUSEATER
COINSTARARI
BARNEYSCURT
LATKEEMORY
WENTICEPOPS
AGAMADENICE
RANSOMOLDSLAW
BRAINPLASTICITY
IMPLIESILLOMEN
ROILEDTESTBAN
DRESSSAYSME

What an eye-catching pattern of black squares! Kameron produces a lot of innovative grid art for themelesses, one of the few people to do it well. Big thumbs up for the first impression. In the past, sometimes I've felt like he's used too many black squares, thus making his construction job a little too easy, but that wasn't the case today. Grid was both visually mesmerizing to this solver, and awe-inspiring to this constructor. Big swaths like the SW and NE corners are so tough to fill well.

Love COMMITMENT PHOBE, great feature entry. BRAIN PLASTICITY wasn't quite as electric to me — pretty hard to give it anything but a dictionary clue — but I enjoyed it as well. Along with LOTUS EATER and LEG ARMOR, that's some excellent long stuff.

It's so tough to fill a grid like this with both sparkle and smoothness. Kameron did extremely well with the latter. Finishing a grid as audacious as this with just some CELA (sad to say, I couldn't figure it out even with five years of high school French), AGA, HRS is great craftsmanship.

I didn't get much out of RANSOM OLDS — interesting name, but he felt outdated. BANANA cream PIE, yes! BANANA PIE … maybe I don't eat enough pies to feel like this is a great entry? BAYBERRY ... I should probably have known it? BELTLINE gets defined by the dictionary as "waistline," which felt like a much more apt word to me.

There were also a lot of tough proper nouns. ETSY, ILSA, CATT, LILIAN, ATLI, along with RANSOM OLDS, and it felt a bit too much like a trivia quiz at points.

Still, impressive work in filling such a tough grid pattern — so few puzzle makers dip into daunting 62-word territory. Amazing to finish up with such little crossword glue.

Sun 8/13/2017THE MAGIC SHOW
RAGALEIMOMARITEAID
AJAXALBERTANASHTREE
VANISHINGCOINPAYROLL
ERGOTOLEMISSMENSA
MALTOSEVOLES
GYMSHOESAUGMENTSFCC
LOALINKINGRINGSPAIL
YWCASTANHANGSFANTA
PEACEORFFNEAHINGED
HEWEDTORINDLIEGE
SAWINGALADYINHALF
WATERLMAOAERIALS
ANSARIAMIDUDSONCUE
GOURDCYANSNINEGAME
FORDCHANGINGCARDDEM
ABECHARISMATRIOLETS
NOISEUKULELE
MASONTAFFETAAGAVE
ANYTIMELEVITATINGMAN
STRBEANELECTRONEERO
CHEESESELLADYSDRYS

Great concept, literalizing magic tricks. Some solvers might not totally get what's going on, so we've fixed up a few things in the grid (see below). In particular, there's a LEVITATING MAN in the upper right. There's also a single rebus square — the RING of LINKING RINGS.

And the two that took me forever to grok: 1.) the PEACE DUCK of Chinese cuisine? Aha, that's wordplay around the CHANGING CARD TRICK, the KING of PE(KING) magically transformed into the ACE of PE(ACE). And 2.) the SURE I thought had to be INSURE … Nope! (COIN)SURE with its VANISHING COIN.

Nice to have so much variety in the "acts."

Not being a magician, I wondered if all the "acts" were in the language? Surely SAWING A WOMAN IN HALF is, but LADY felt like a compromise so that the phrase would fit in the middle of a 21x21 puzzle. Stupid crossword gods, why couldn't SAWING A WOMAN IN HALF be an odd number of letters!

The VANISHING COIN, yes! CHANGING CARD … this is apparently what magicians call the trick, but it sounded odd to this muggle.

LINKING RINGS … this one confused me. I thought the stereotypical trick was to link separate rings so they form a chain? Perhaps this one, squishing RINGs into a tiny square, is something different?

For those non-magic fans, good bonuses in SVENGALI, GRAY AREA, OLE MISS, TAFFETA, CHARISMA with an apt anagram in IS A CHARM. Even GLYPH is an interesting word.

There was too much crossword glue for my taste, though. ERGOT, INFRA, LTS, EERO / AMER / DRYS, DYS, ARD, ANTH, NOT BE, etc. There is so much going on in the grid — six tricks and six literalizations of those tricks — that I'd have preferred one fewer trick with a cleaner grid, or using more than 140 words, which would have helped break up some of those big chunks of white space.

Nice idea, though not as elegant as I like a magic show to be.

Mon 8/14/2017
HIPSPECSTWIST
ACAIAXLEVESPA
RENTALCARTIEUP
MUSHROOMBURGER
SPYSONRAH
WOKCOSYEAT
SPINACHLASAGNA
AIRSLEILATE
BLACKBEANCHILI
STYLOFTRUT
LUIAIMASH
MEATLESSMONDAY
WALTZBIKEROUTE
IRATEBREAPLAN
GENESSEWNETNA

Fun to have this MEATLESS MONDAY puzzle run on a MONDAY, with an appropriately vegetarian menu. I was wondering if there was a reason why these three dishes had been chosen (out of the thousands of veggie options out there)? Seems like simply because they fit into a crossword?

Some nice bonuses for a Monday puzzle, PALOOKA and KLUTZES great use of mid-length slots. Interesting to have RENTAL CAR and BIKE ROUTE in there as well. Along with TV TRAYS, that's some great fill to keep carnivores interested.

There was a bit of gristle in WISC, EGAL, LUI, BREA (how else are you going to clue BREA but "La ___ Tar Pits"?), but I think these are reasonable prices to pay for all the bonus fill Rich incorporated. I like his effort to work in so many bonuses — they're valuable in holding the interest of solvers to whom the theme doesn't speak.

It can be especially tough to work in horizontal long fill, so bravo there.

I would have liked something more out of this puzzle. It would have been nice to get some unifying reason why these three dishes were featured — maybe "all dishes featured by some famous chef" or "Oprah's favorite veggie dishes" or "all entrees starting with M M," etc., instead of simply "three vegetarian options that happen to have the right number of letters."

MEATLESS MONDAY is such a snazzy phrase, and it has so much potential for wordplay. What jumped to mind immediately was "phrases where PORK, BEEF, LAMB, etc. are removed for wacky results." That's too tricky to run on a Monday, but it feels like there's a ton of room for creative exploration.

Tue 8/15/2017
INSEAMSTABPHD
TATAMIOHHIHOE
ATARISPASSPORT
LENSISITENSE
DUETOPRAYER
GUINNESSBOOK
OFNOTEIRISBTU
BOGSNIXONBIAS
ISOMUSETOOTLE
CASHREGISTER
PAGODAPULSE
ILIADPISARTE
PASTABARREPEAL
EMTSACKDAUNTS
SOSHATSSUNDAE

Plays on various "collectors," a PASSPORT collecting stamps, the GUINNESS BOOK collecting records, a CASH REGISTER collecting bills, and a PASTA BAR collecting shells. GUINNESS BOOK worked great for me, as it played upon two fairly different senses of the word "record." CASH REGISTER was also good since a cash bill and a "you owe me X" bill are different enough for my taste.

The others weren't as strong for me since some countries put actual stamps in your PASSPORT instead of just stamping it with ink. Yes, these aren't exactly the same, since you can't mail a letter with that type of stamp, but I like more wordplay rather than less. And the idea of a PASTA BAR "collecting" shells ... that was too tortured for my taste.

C.C.'s bonus fill shines, as usual — I give her a STANDING O in this regard. Along with MISS TEEN USA, MAD DASH, POINT GUARDS, BITTER END, there's so, so, so much goodness packed in. Note how C.C. so carefully spreads out her bonus fill across the puzzle's columns and alternates them up and down for good spacing — this is a great methodology for being able to incorporate a ton of snazzy fill.

With just four themers, all constructors should aim for this much great long fill. It's very doable any time you have four themers that aren't grid-spanning. Doable, meaning without a lot of crossword glue, that is. I did pick up a bit of ITAL, ISO, RTE, UNOS, but that was all so minor. Nice craftsmanship.

There was so much good stuff, I think it would have been passable if C.C. had put a black square at the E of PULSE, breaking up BITTER END, or a black square at the A of PISA, breaking up POINT GUARDS. I'm glad she didn't, since I so much appreciate all the great fill, but for more novice constructors studying C.C.'s execution today, both would be viable options that would make those tricky NW/SE sections easier to fill.

I would have liked the same level of a-ha moment I got from GUINNESS BOOK being a "record collector" from all four themers, but overall, C.C.'s strong execution kept me engaged throughout my solve.

POW Wed 8/16/2017
INCANMGMLOWED
MERRYANIEXILE
SPIDERMANNONET
OHNOEATSITEMO
REGRETSKRILLEX
EWEAIDELAINE
ARRIBALSTS
MINNESOTAFATS
TACTHBONOW
OREIDAPARKIT
PATSAJAKCAMARO
IDOWASABIITIS
CONANSPINCLASS
ANGLEAPTANNIE
LASEDMAEMEANS

★ I love it when 1.) I can't guess the theme, even after seeing all the themers, and 2.) when it immediately comes to me after uncovering the revealer. (It's not so fun when #1 happens without #2.) I sat for a long minute wondering how SKRILLEX could possibly be connected to PAT SAJAK, SPIDERMAN, and MINNESOTA FATS, but great moment of clarity when I realized that they're all masters of (some sort of) SPIN.

MINNESOTA FATS' spin skills might not be immediately obvious to some, but to those of us that played pool for four hours a day during freshman year (don't judge me), putting spin on the cue ball is a critical mechanic of the game.

And SPIDERMAN spins a web, of course, while SKRILLEX spins records. PAT SAJAK might not actually do the spinning of the Wheel of Fortune, but he'd be my first choice for that type of SPIN CLASS. (I always wondered if contestants could adjust the amount of force they apply to their spins to aim for certain slots. Anyone know?)

Even with MINNESOTA FATS being an awkward 13 letters, Andrew and John did a nice job of executing. A 13-letter middle themer tends to force big corners, and I love it when those big corners yield such great material as WINE LIST / ELEMENTS / DETOXES, and TOPICAL / MARADONA / ICE TONGS. I love it even more when you can carefully pull off these swaths of goodness without much crossword glue. LSTS isn't great, but if that's the only price to pay, I'm eager to shell out.

(OXO clued as "random string of Os and Xs" isn't great, but since OXO is a big brand name, the entry doesn't bother the constructor in me at all.)

I have so much fun with these "how are these seemingly unrelated themers related" puzzles. Neat reveal in SPIN CLASS. Along with strong execution, it's my POW!

Thu 8/17/2017
ABITHAGGISQAT
TODOATRESTUNO
ERINGOODRATING
AZOTEMPKAZOO
MOTOWNSINGERS
ISPYNIASHOD
SLUGGERIOWA
OTCARELBSWEB
DIAZANDSOON
DARELEYBETS
GLASSESWEARER
AVOIDLAIRACE
GANGOFFOURAVON
ONEPLATTEGENT
GETTOSSEDOLDS

This is Pete's 100th NYT puzzle! Congrats, sir. He sent me a post Jim did about him from almost a decade ago, which was funny to read. I guess he didn't run out of steam after all!

The GANG OF FOUR played upon today. (Never thought I'd say those words, considering their infamous place in history!) I like Pete's novel take, using 2x2 blocks — GANGs of FOUR squares, if you will — that intersect their defining answers. (four) STAR = GOOD RATING, the (four) TOPS = MOTOWN SINGERS, etc.

I usually don't care for dictionary definitions — it's not much fun to struggle and toil, with only something as stilted as GLASSES WEARER as your reward — but I appreciate that Pete found definitions that can contain the appropriate GANG OF FOUR. MOTOWN SINGERS is a good phrase, so to work the T O of (four) TOPS in there is neat.

For those of you non-baseball fans, SLUGGER gets a fun clue, referring to Barry BONDS. Nice way to disguise Bonds vs. bonds by having that word start the clue. (Assuming you knew who Barry Bonds was, of course.)

With definitional themes, I think it's even more important than usual to include a ton of bonus fill to jazz up the solving experience. I love QUIZ SHOW, CARGO NET, even BORZOI and HAGGIS are fun. But my favorite was the confusing AND SOON … er, AND SO ON. Great use of a mid-length slot, providing a mini a-ha moment when I finally parsed that correctly.

Given the extra constraints put on by those three GANGs of FOUR, and the need to include all the bonus fill for spice, I think some ISR, TIA, OTC (over the counter), FAS, QAT (what a Scrabble-friendly word!) is not bad in terms of crossword glue.

This one didn't quite clear my (very high) threshold for the definitional theme type, but I appreciated Pete's interesting pairing of the definitions with the literal GANGs OF FOUR.

Fri 8/18/2017
SUMATRAMITCHUM
ONEGRAMACHIEVE
RIORITADEIGNED
EXWIFEBEDESAS
BOSSANOVA
LOGICABOVEALL
ELIZANYSEHEAP
ADZLADDERSADO
FEMAIWONACRES
NOSTRILSDANDY
LAWCLERKS
IOSMOHSHEATED
THELAMBDIABOLO
THEAREAUNNAMED
YINYANGHOUSEAD

BEQ is one of the best out there when it comes to innovation in themeless grid patterns. I suppose making (at least) one themeless per week will develop that skill!

Some great feature entries in BABY DOLLS, SANDWICH BAGS, MADE NO SENSE, LAW CLERKS — all intersecting together in the same region! Along with the complete lack of crossword glue in that wide-open middle, it made for such a pleasurable solving experience. It's difficult to execute on a big section like this to end up with both sparkle and cleanliness, but BEQ did it. Bravo, sir!

I sometimes wonder if my bar for themelesses is too high these days. As much as I loved the middle section, the corners didn't do nearly as much for me, which pulled this one out of POW! contention.

Finishing with an error in CASAVAS / DIAVOLO didn't help, but that was my fault, not the puzzle's — I should have known that it's "cassava," and that a cassava is a root, not a melon. But I would sympathize with others who made the same mistake. DIABOLO vs. DIAVOLO … man, that's hard to keep straight.

Themelesses featuring mostly seven-letter entries ... they're so hard to pull off with the same color as you can more easily get in 8+ letter answers. Things like SUMATRA are interesting, but ACHIEVE, DEIGNED, UNNAMED, ONE GRAM didn't do much for me. THE AREA felt partial-ish, too. (I don't mind duplicated short words, but THE above THE felt wonky.)

And I had to debate re: AGRIBIZ. Such an interesting string of letters, ending with that Z, but the term didn't resonate with this MBA / WSJ reader. I wondered how many others it would feel similarly. It's a valid term, just not one I've personally heard much.

Similar feeling about SAD KEANU. I've been a big fan of his ever since "The Matrix," but this meme was new to me. I'm sure it hit some folks strongly, though — people who are on Instagram, Fb, Twitter more, perhaps?

So overall, a knockout solving experience for me in the middle, but not as strong in the corners.

Sat 8/19/2017
ISOLATEDGROWUP
FIVELOVERECIPE
IDEALMANISOLDE
NERDIESTDINEON
DOWSESARIDNESS
ORRISFLORIO
UDONPRISONRIOT
BETSEININGMIR
TRESPASSESVISA
MARCUSLATEN
HAMACTORMOLARS
ACACIAAPERITIF
LOCKERNOSEDIVE
ARRESTCONNIVER
SNORTSEREADERS

Mark's byline is one I both look forward to and fear the most. Few constructors tackle giant swaths of white in themelesses, and even fewer do it without using extra black squares to make things easier on them. (Adding black squares at the beginning and end of DENTAL INSURANCE would make the puzzle much easier to fill, for example.) Mark usually ends up with daunting-looking tracts of white that seem impossible to even break into, much less complete. Perfect for a Saturday puzzle — it's supposed to be the hardest of the week, after all.

Often, puzzles like these require made-up sounding RE-, UN-, -ER, etc. words — unsavory tricks that constructors can use to fill difficult areas. I love that Mark refuses to go there, trying to even include a couple of colorful long entries like PRISON RIOT. With its fantastic clue, playing on joint problems ("joint" = slang for jail), I appreciated it so much as I fought my way through the puzzle.

There was another reason I liked PRISON RIOT even more: because this puzzle is so segmented, with the three sections only connected by two answers apiece, I wanted those two answers apiece to be standouts. Sort of eases the blow when you feel like you've been dead-ended in one of the corners.

DENTAL INSURANCE surprisingly gave me a similar reaction. Usually, I'd think this is a dull entry, but 1.) what a great clue, playing on dental bridges vs. river bridges, and 2.) Mark is a dentist! Cool to get the constructor's little wink.

I didn't care for some of the long answers — OISE RIVER felt forced (usually just "Oise" or "The Oise," yeah?), FIVE LOVE sounded odd (granted, I don't watch that much tennis these days), RESIDING and ARIDNESS were a bit arid. But overall, I love this type of wide-open challenge when I can get at least a few sparkly answers like VALID ID, IF IN DOUBT …, PEAR TARTS, HAM ACTOR. Along with DENTAL INSURANCE and PRISON RIOT and their standout clues, I thought this one turned out well.

Sun 8/20/2017FOUND IN YOUR INBOX
FAUVESAKICHISSAVE
ANTISLURIDROWACLIP
QUESTFORPROPOSALODDS
STPIERREEATNOTRIO
TREATISNOTANOPTION
AFROEXERTONANOINTS
QUARTZKALBASSES
URNVERSECOURSETHORN
ALTARAIDSLAKEDMAO
SOAPSVENNOMANIS
ACTIONTIMEADONLYFILE
CREAMYORDSULTRA
EELAGENDAUSETRASH
SELIGMOTECONTROLUTA
PRICEYAVANECTAR
ONTOASTAPERCUSAONE
WARDFORINFORMATION
EVANLUMETPATRICIA
SIVAACHESFORTHESTARS
TEENTKODORIONABBOT
OSLOESTSGEARYESNO

What a fun idea, playing on the common "re:" start of memos. I loved REMOTE CONTROL transforming to "re: MOTE CONTROL" as a memo about cleaning. So amusing! "re: QUEST FOR PROPOSAL" also made me laugh. This theme type doesn't always bring a smile to my face, so kudos to Ruth for thinking up such entertaining themers.

I would have liked more strong bonus fill, in the vein of I WANNA SEE, CAN IT BE, and GMC TRUCKS — that type of entry is so important re: keeping this solver's attention through an entire Sunday-size grid. It's so difficult to do though, without introducing too much crossword glue — the 21x21, 140-word grid is so difficult to execute well on.

Considering Ruth kept the crossword glue down to a reasonable level, with some dribs and drabs of ANUT, EATNO, STAC, ORDS, ESTS, AFTS, NLER, I would have been okay with a just a touch more if it had allowed Ruth to add in a couple more shiny bonus entries. Stuff like ANOINTS and EXERT ON are perfectly fine, but they don't add much spice.

I originally thought going up to 140 words (from Ruth's 138) would have been an easy solution to achieving more snazzy fill / less crossword glue. But I couldn't find an easy way to do this by adding a single pair of black squares, and honestly, most of the crossword glue is spread out pretty well throughout the grid. I do think a different black square pattern, aiming at 140 words, could have been a better way go, though.

Overall, I was amused by the theme, and that's my most critical element for a Sunday puzzle. If there had been more sparkly fill (with the short fill still being kept relatively clean), I might have given it POW! consideration.

Mon 8/21/2017
SWEPTWENDYSSAD
WALLEIDIOTSEMO
URBANLEGENDSCPU
MEANALECBULB
KINDREDSPIRIT
BETTEYOUBET
HALOSSEALUPLUV
ASINTHEGAPBIDE
YEWTOULONTENET
RHESUSSULKS
QUICKTHINKING
UNTOTINSRAMP
INNGOOGLEIMAGES
LEEINFULLODORS
TRYSTAYATBEGET

Tom minds THE GAP today, splitting up common words to form two new words for kooky effect. Some amusing ones, KIND RED SPIRIT and QUICK THIN KING my favorites. I've seen many split-word themes before, but I don't remember this exact implementation, so kudos for the novel twist.

Interesting choice to expand to a 16x15 grid. Even though the wider grid ought to proportionally allow for a higher word maximum (78 is the norm, Tom went up to 81), I usually find that sticking to that usual 78-word maximum is a good thing.

Why? As a solver, wide grids sometimes make me feel like the puzzle is taking much longer than usual to solve, and that can leave me with a sense of irritability, that I couldn't finish in a normal time. Me and my stupid expectations!

But it is so hard to keep to 78 words in a 16x15 grid — while keeping the fill clean and snazzy, that is. Tom would have had to take out a pair of black squares somewhere, perhaps the one at the end of YOU BET (and its symmetrical partner). That would have made for quite the construction challenge.

And that would have only gotten him down to 79 words! Having to take out yet another set of black squares … perhaps the one between DYLAN and KNELT and its symmetrical partner? Yikes, that starts to feel like compromises in fill would be inevitable.

So I don't mind that Tom decided to go the 81-word route (my solving expectations be damned!). His fill is mostly strong — just a bit of SSS, TUN, OFA, with some nice bonuses in PLANKTON, SECURE LINK, BASERUNNER.

But I do wonder if it would have felt more like a Monday-ish puzzle if he had split THE / GAP (3 / 3) smack dab in the middle of a normal 15x15 puzzle?

Overall, some amusing themers and good bonuses in the fill made for a pleasant solve; nice and accessible for Monday solvers.

Tue 8/22/2017
VATSOZARKTGIF
CLUEROSINURGE
HOSEGOTTOGALE
INCBYMOUTHNOD
PEABOIRAMSDOS
LLBNILOAF
FOOFOALSNOW
SWOOPINYEWTREE
KISMETCHAKRA
AWAITPACIMSET
NAVALHERO
AGOGEMBERNOGO
BLOTSPAREIDEA
BOZOPANICCORK
AMENASYETARMY

I've seen a lot of crosswords playing off of state abbreviations, but this particular take delighted me. What cool finds, AL(abama) inside TUSCALOOSA, CA(lifornia) inside SANTA MONICA, etc. It reminded me of another state abbreviations puzzle I also thought was very cool.

I had noticed this curious property when I was staring at a letter from ALBANY, NY a few months ago. I remember thinking how cool that was — wish I had looked for more like it! Bravo, Tim.

Not only that, my family goes to BLOOMINGTON, IN twice a year these days. Makes me feel even more like I should have thought of this. Drat!

Impressive feat of construction, fitting in seven (!) themers. It's so hard to execute on a grid with so many themers without resorting to some crossword glue, but Tim managed to do it. FOO isn't great, but it's not terrible either. Well, LLB is impossible to figure out if you've never heard of it, so that's not good. But given how much overlap was required — check out the six letter pairs Tim had to work around in the TUSCALOOSA / BLOOMINGON overlap — it's a very good result. Very few constructors could execute so well on such a challenging assignment.

I wasn't as hot on ASTORIA, OR or OZARK, AR as I was the others, though. I thought these two might have done the puzzle some disservice by watering down the theme. Just the five others would have made for a super-solid puzzle — perhaps a POW!-worthy one — for me.

Perhaps Oregonians, ASTORIAns in particular, will disagree! But this Seattleite had a tough time recalling that ASTORIA was indeed a Pacific Northwest city.

Overall though, I enjoyed sitting back and admiring the five strong themers and standout craftsmanship. Not only a mostly smooth grid, but great bonuses in CHAKRA, YEW TREE, NAVAL HERO — so tough to pull off with so many themers.

Interesting case for me, where less would have been more.

Wed 8/23/2017
DOFFYALEBRED
ARIAODEANAIVE
BELTURNSELLEN
SECURITYCAMELS
HEMPTOTS
NOMAYOAHMETBA
ICONVILESORES
CHICKENBROTHELS
HOSEASEEDCALE
EATCLUEEMOTES
CHERITEM
MARRIAGEVOWELS
ORIONEMAJNAIL
SLANGNINOONTO
HOLYTRAYWEST

ELS additions in today's debut offering. SECURITY CAMELS confused me at first — I thought it was a CAMERAS to CAMELS transmogrification. But trying to guess what the theme revealer might be, I only came up with RATOL. (RA to L.) Is RATOL a thing? Surely it's a bit of crossword glue that Joe was playing upon?

No? Drat!

(It was SECURITY CAM to SECURITY CAMELS, not SECURITY CAMERAS to SECURITY CAMELS. D'oh!)

I find that letter addition puzzles can be greatly helped by an apt revealer (I'm still holding out hope that RATOL is a thing. Anyone?). It can be fine to "add three random letters," as long as the results are amusing, but there's something so elegant to having a raison d'etre that puts a final bow on a puzzle.

With just three themers, I'd expect a ton of great long fill, and Joe did not disappoint. Fantastic choices in FAT CHANCE, YOUR MOVE, EASY THERE, KA-CHING, INSURGENT, ODE TO JOY, OH COME NOW, all entries I'd happily include in a themeless puzzle. These extras are so important to hold the attention of solvers with whom the theme might not have resonated.

Nice spacing, too, alternating these long bonuses up, down, up, down, etc. all the way across the grid. That's a great way to do it, not putting too much constraint on any one part of the grid.

Even with so much great fill though, I'd expect little to no crossword glue, given the low theme density. There's so much flexibility in those long bonus slots, that with enough work and effort, it should be possible to find options that don't end up requiring something like ADRIP/ODEA in one region. As much as I love YOUR MOVE (sounds like a Bond villain's utterance) and EASY THERE, I'm sure there exists a pair of long entries that would have allowed Joe to fill that north region more cleanly.

Overall though, I appreciated the effort of working in so much stellar bonus material, especially from a debut constructor.

POW Thu 8/24/2017
MEHAPPTRIFLE
OREPHEWHEGOAT
PANORCAADORBS
ESCAPEARTIST
DEERANNAOILED
EEKSEXTAPE
OPENSTHEMNIP
DISAPPEARINGACT
INSAMYSIRISH
STEALUPSCI
TAXCOECOLNAST
HARRYHOUDINI
EDWINAAMORDOA
YAWNERNAPSERR
EMIGRENSASEA

★ Of all the celebrity collaborations this year, this might be my favorite. Not only am I a huge Neil Patrick Harris fan, all the way back to his Doogie Howser days, but I love it when a crossword contains a little magic. HARRY HOUDINI, the famous ESCAPE ARTIST, pulls a real-life DISAPPEARING ACT in the today's crossword!

I was confused as to what was going on at first, but what a smile I got when I realized that 1.) you're supposed to skip over the letters in HARRY HOUDINI for the down answers, and 2.) all those down answers look innocuously like real words in the grid! To an outside observer, it might appear to be a straightforward HOUDINI tribute crossword. But with things like ACHING actually being ACING and LOANER being LONER, it's deviously clever.

I've seen this "skipping" trick many times before in crosswords, so I appreciate a good rationale as to why it should be done. This one is just perfect to me, HARRY HOUDINI mysteriously "vanishing" out of the grid.

Smart construction, too, David and Neil using black squares to segment the regions around HARRY HOUDINI, so that they don't have to fill any giant spots in the lower half of the grid. Notice how they only had to work around HAR- in the SW, -YHOU- in the south, and -INI- in the SE. Wise choice to break things down into manageable chunks.

(Once you chunk the puzzle up into bite-size pieces, it's not as hard to pull off this "down entry is still valid with or without one letter" trick as it might seem — just takes a TON of trial and error. And time. And willingness to deal with soul-crushing frustration.)

Using so many black squares meant that they weren't able to include as much great bonus fill as David usually works in, but with some RED SOX, PHREAK, SEX TAPE, it's fine by me. With a standout theme, you don't need very many bonuses.

A bit of INS, DOA — and the TAXCO / ESSEX crossing may be tough for some — but overall, so well crafted. One of my favorites of the year so far.

Fri 8/25/2017
GOODSTUFFPASTS
ODOREATERCLOAK
DEHYDRATEPERKY
RASHESTWOES
BBGUNHEGIRA
EARNPUFFERFISH
ANAHELLAAETNA
TANENTICEDYON
INDRAREELSROD
TAROTCARDSDOZE
PASHASPAWED
REPSFORAGER
HEISTNEVEREVER
ELDERIDONTMIND
ASSAYCONEHEADS

GOOD STUFF all around today, Sam jam-packing in so many assets. It's such a rush to keep uncovering great entry after great entry after great entry, SORORITY ROW to NEVER EVER to BANANA PEELS to PUFFER FISH to TAROT CARDS. I count about 13 assets in this themeless, well over my threshold of 10.

I also liked the intersections of TAKE A SNOOZE / DOZE (both using that snazzy Z!) and ASSAY / TRY both clued as "test." There's something so fortuitous about those sorts of crossings in a themeless.

There were a couple of entries that fell flat to my ear. FRESH FACED … hmm. DARE ME? These do appear to be reasonable phrases, at least to Google. I wouldn't go out of my way to incorporate either into a themeless, though.

I wonder if some solvers will complain about HEGIRA and/or ALEWIFE, especially crossing each other? I don't actually mind either, and I'd much rather get a HEGIRA than a DARE ME. There's so much subjectivity in assessing how "good" an entry is, but I'd argue that HEGIRA is an important term in Muslim history, something educated solvers ought to know (or strive to know if they don't).

I do appreciate that DARE ME is more inferable, but just as long as all the crosses are fair, I'd much rather have HEGIRA.

Great craftsmanship overall, with hardly a dab of crossword glue. I'd argue that nearly every 70 (and 72) word themeless should be this clean and sparkly — there's just no reason to settle, given that it's near the maximum allowable word count. We as constructors should rarely — perhaps NEVER EVER — settle for less.

Sat 8/26/2017
INCAHOOTSCLASH
BOYLESLAWHELLO
ORALPHASEASLAN
OMNIAFTERSHAVE
KASEMEPEEFEY
SUBROSAFLAW
JOBLINKMALAWI
AVATARSBODYMAN
YESANDLOUDEYE
GREGDIETTIP
ATMWOMBNOBID
THEBIGBANGMAGI
SETONANALGESIC
BRAIDCOMEALIVE
YELLSKNEEHOLES

Another solid themeless from Peter, one of the best in the business for my money. I appreciate how he chooses his feature entries not just for how cool they sound or how bizarre they look in the grid, but whether they can take a clever clue. AFTERSHAVE is a snappy entry in its own right, but it's so ripe for tricksy wordplay. [It hurts when you rub it in] had me fixated on various insults. That's the type of innocuous misdirection a great wordplay clue ought to achieve.

I have very high expectations for Peter's puzzles these days, and several entry/clue pairs didn't disappoint. ORAL PHASE! Love it, even more so with the deviously brilliant misdirect in "nursing" — very different than the hospital nursing I was thinking about!

JAY GATSBY as a party host and THE BIG BANG made for terrific entries, too. Toss in some IN CAHOOTS, BASE METAL, HONEY WINE, and that's a solid puzzle.

But even as a chemistry wonk, BOYLES LAW isn't super interesting to me; certainly not nearly as fantastic as the IDEAL GAS LAW. (An old chemistry teacher had PV NRT as his license plate, which I secretly thought was awesome. Especially when he carefully taped in an equals sign in the space!) Still, though, I'm not sure how big a chunk of the solving population would appreciate even the IDEAL GAS LAW. (Heathens!)

And a few other long entries more took up space than shined. KNEEHOLES, for example … that's a real term? (Google says yes.) I appreciated the misdirect toward "office openings," but since I didn't recognize the term, the cleverness got lost on me.

Peter is so good in terms of keeping grids smooth that I was thrown a bit by the ASLAN / LESH crossing — I'm not convinced that ASLAN is a name all educated solvers ought to know. (Even less so for Phil LESH.) I could understand the need to accept this crossing in a more ambitious themeless grid, but it's harder to take in a 70-worder. Just too much possibility for solver dissatisfaction, finishing with an understandable error.

Not up there with my favorite of Peter's puzzles, but still a solid offering.

Sun 8/27/2017LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
TUBEMDSCREAKPTRAP
INANDOUTHOAGIEOHARA
CINDERELLASTORYPETER
IPADANTISSARGENT
LASTPLACESNUGHORST
ABCTARTEROTICA
GUAMDENTEDFERKNEEL
STRAFETEXANSITSIDLE
DEARSTRADDLETIPS
HONEYDEWEDSELSETAS
ONEASPIELATEITSOSO
TEEDPRELIMPOSITRON
MIDIOILSLICKNINA
ILLFATEDISIAHTSTRAP
CLEFSVIACARAFEEELY
ETIENNEOAHUPAR
CAREDGAGSCANALZONE
LIBERIAGRAPHFREE
IVANIFORENSICANALYST
DISCSBRATTYSCANDIUM
SLEEKSAMSAUTZANNI

This puzzle started out when I noticed ECHO sitting in the middle of LIFESTYLE CHOICE. How neat to put a black square on top of the E, making that spot an ECHO LOCATION!

(insert groan here)

That didn't end up making the cut — stupid crossword gods and their symmetry requirements. It was so tough to find eight total themers (four pairs) that matched in length. So many times I'd get to seven ... and then crap out at the eighth.

After months of repeated failures, I happened to be watching "Sherlock" on BBC, and inspiration hit, thinking of the CANAL ZONE within FORENSIC ANALYST. Thanks, Sherlock!

The grid was an interesting problem in construction, working with all the constraints. I like challenging myself, so I wanted to see if I could do a 136-word grid that would be a fun (and smooth) solving experience. Earlier in my constructing career, I probably would have called some of my first versions good, but I just wasn't happy about some of the fill, no matter how hard I tried.

So I rebooted with a 138-word grid, and the result felt like it'd be a much more fun solving experience, with fewer odd words and gluey bits. Hard to turn off my stupid constructor's brain that's always looking for a challenge — sometimes I have to beat it into submission so I can remember to keep the solver as my first priority. Maybe I should have stuck with a 140-word grid to eliminate things like RATINE? I think it's an interesting word, but it's a tough call.

I was such a fan of "Spy Hunter" (the arcade game) as a kid. Pressing the button for that OIL SLICK was so fun! That's how I clued it in my submission, but big ups to Will and Joel for their brilliant clue. [Disaster film?] is one of those devilishly clever plays on words that makes me mad I didn't think of it myself!

Mon 8/28/2017
ACIDENTERNESS
SUMOGOUGEALOT
STUBBORNASAMULE
NEPALDADLEDIN
TAVITOLEDO
ONETRICKPONY
HAMLETALOGMAX
MIMETAROTBERM
SLYSLIMSIESTA
THELAWISAASS
ALPHASREIN
RURALCGIATTIC
ONONESHIGHHORSE
SANKEIGHTWILL
ERGSCASTSNOEL

Four lines of equines, featuring MULE, PONY, ASS, HORSE. If my horse-loving niece only did crosswords …

Two great phrases in STUBBORN AS A MULE and ONE TRICK PONY. I'd happily use both of these snazzy entries in a themeless. ON ONES HIGH HORSE is good too, although these ONE/ONES phrases tend to sound stilted to my ear.

THE LAW IS A ASS … whoa! I'm not used to pausing while solving Monday puzzles, but I was sure I had something wrong when I saw the SAASS string. Yikes! It is true that this is the direct line from Dickens, complete with grammatical error. I can't decide if I love the entry for its sheer weirdness, or hate it for how tough it made what's supposed to be an easy-breezy puzzle.

I do like learning a thing or two from a crossword though, and this is a neat bit of trivia I'll file away. Thank goodness BEANTOWN and ISIAH made for easy crossing answers! Even if you didn't know one or both, it'd be hard to argue that there are better letters to fit those crossings.

BEANTOWN VITTLES (lobster rolls, yum!), some TOOTSIE KARMA too. Not bad in terms of bonuses. DO BATTLE felt like a missed opportunity, though — it's a fine phrase, but not as colorful as I'd like for that precious slot.

Not that bad in terms of crossword glue, either. TAVI, ASSN, ALOG, ERGS, HTS — thankfully they're all minor, and easy to figure out. BERM was the only one that stuck in my craw — I don't expect novice solvers to know the term for a "road shoulder." It does make for a rough crossing for West Coasters — SEANTOWN or MEANTOWN or LEANTOWN might seem just as fine — but ultimately, BEANTOWN is a prevalent enough nickname that the crossing is okay in my book.

Overall, a fine, straightforward Monday theme. I would have liked more sizzle and smoothness in the execution, to help the puzzle stand out more, though.

Tue 8/29/2017
RICEEFILECROP
OMAREAMESHIHO
THIRTYQUESTIONS
CONROSSONTOE
OURCROUP
FIFTEENFOOTPOLE
ANAISOLMOSLAB
ILLSOBOESNINO
NASAWORDNECCO
TWELVEDAYSAWEEK
HORSYTNT
ECOLILOANHAI
TOOCLEVERBYHALF
ALDAMETALBUFF
LASTSTOLEOLAY

Nice plays on TOO CLEVER BY HALF, adding 50% to each theme answer. I felt smug when I figured out the gist after THIRTY QUESTIONS (20 + 10) and a FIFTEEN FOOT POLE (10 + 5).

Then I felt like a moron when I couldn't for the life of me remember the Beatles song title. Seven days a week? Six days a week (with a rest day)? And then when I landed on Eight Days a Week, somehow I tried to jam in something that would fit the mathematical series of 30, 15, 7.5.

Too stupid by half is what I am.

Enjoyed the bonuses, FALSEHOODS, RIOT POLICE, even LOLCAT (squee!), EEYORE. Given how clean Adam made the grid — just a bit of ESS, EMS, EAMES (that last one I think is tough but fair) — I would have favored some more bonuses at the price of a little more crossword glue.

Would have been interesting to see what happened by removing the black square between LEE and COMEDY to produce another set of 10-letter bonuses, or to shift the black squares below NANNY to the left, to produce another set of 7-letter slots.

Ultimately though, I think Adam's decision to go a little more conservative is fine, focusing on early-week smoothness. It's no walk in the park to work around four 15-letter themers, after all.

Clever theme, indeed. I enjoyed the concept enough that if there had been some sort of halving series in the progression — perhaps 60(40) to 30(20) to 15(10) — I would have given it POW! consideration.

Wed 8/30/2017
BLUNTASSESEGG
ROSIEBLURTTOO
OBAMABARREART
BLARTAWEIGH
RAILEDSTAPLES
ANNEALBLARE
ZEBFIERIDEREK
ORALBLADESEWN
RADIOICERSLEI
SLADEITSELF
UKULELECUTTLE
DOREMISHADE
DABIGLOOINFOR
ELASHAREOCHRE
RANSTYESSHARP

Word ladders have been mined for crossword themes so much, that it takes a lot for one to stand out. I like David's added layer, not just going from BLUNT to SHARP, but stopping in the middle with an appropriate BLADE. Fun to also get RAZOR and KNIFE, two objects that often need that BLUNT to SHARP change.

Sometimes I wonder if word ladders would be more fun for me in crosswords if the rungs weren't clued. The clues feel mostly superfluous anyway, as you know that you can look at the previous and next rungs to figure out that answer. The reason why I like word ladders outside of crosswords is that it's fun to see if you can figure out the entire thing, futzing around with one letter at a time.

Pretty good execution for how much constraint the word ladder forces onto the grid. Sure, the themers are all short, but when you have 11 short words that you need to fix into place, it can make for a hairy construction.

Take the middle, for example. BLARE over BLADE over SLADE is bound to cause some hair-pulling. But David uses his black squares wisely, sort of separating that area from the rest of the puzzle, helping him finesse it.

Also smart to place RAZOR and KNIFE at the perimeter of the grid, and then to NOT put any theme answers directly around them. RAZOR's proximity to SLADE and BLART did put some strain on the west section of the grid, resulting in AN ERA / IN BAD, but thankfully there wasn't much crossword glue elsewhere.

Not a surprise that the symmetrical east also showed a little strain, with RELET / EWELL / EPEES. I do think that EWELL is fair game, as "To Kill A Mockingbird" is in many English Lit curricula. And EPEES is fine by me, but it does tend to draw some eye-rolling from more experienced solvers, who see it ad infinitum.

The added touches are much appreciated, given how overused word ladders have become in crosswords. Even a few great clues, like [Book slips] innocently misdirecting toward pieces of paper instead of ERRATA, helped to keep up my interest.

Thu 8/31/2017
BCARPADSGOALP
SALEIMETMAMIE
ETONSAFEHARBOR
ANNGASOVENINC
TASERSEERWASH
SPOTONBRANDI
CORNEREXCEL
FRYMACLEODEND
DIANEOFFICE
ANKARALENINS
ASISPAARNONET
PETPERCENTLIE
POOREXCUSEPIMA
RURALERICDEAL
OTINEDANKFUNH

Rebus, with four CORNER / OFFICEs: BOX office, POST office, OVAL office, HOME office.

Zach produced a nice and clean grid, with just some minor IMET, ENO (not sure he's really crossworthy), NCO, with some great bonuses in LIONS DEN, SAFE HARBOR, YAKITORI, AMBIANCE. Made for smooth sailing all the way through the grid.

Well, except for that NRA / MACLEOD crossing. It would have been perfectly fine with a straightforward clue for NRA, but [F.D.R. created program …] = the National … Recovery Administration? Yikes. I ended up with MCCLEOD, which seemed perfectly fine, as did NRC. I'll own up when I think the mistake is my fault, but today ... no bueno!

The grid does end up pretty segmented — the SW is only connected to the rest of the puzzle by two answers, GROOMER and RED CENT — but it seems like a reasonable trade-off in order to end up with the smooth final product. It's so difficult to work with a big swath of white space like that in the SW, even more so when you have two crossing answers (FDA APPROVAL / OVALTINE) fixed into place. The segmentation is definitely understandable — sometimes, you need to compromise a bit to create a quality overall grid.

Love that DEFOE clue, the author doing work on Friday. (That's the character Friday from "Robinson Crusoe," not the day of the week.)

Given that we've seen a ton of rebuses over the years, I like when they distinguish themselves by including some additional creative layer. I enjoyed that Zach chose four different types of office, rather than just cramming the word OFFICE into four corner boxes, but I would have liked something more.

ADDED NOTE: Reader Sean MACLEOD tells me that Mac and Mc are very common Scottish last name starts, but MCC is almost always a misspelling. Thanks for expanding my world view, Sean!