Fun to work with Sande on this one! When I collaborate with a newer constructor, I often end up doing the lion's share of the grid layout and filling, but not this time. I constructed the skeleton, but it was Sande hacking away at the grid, showing me versions that numbered into the dozens. Most of my efforts were just in pointing out problematic spots and giving suggestions on some piece of long fill that might work better than others.
I love seeing that kind of work ethic — many other constructors throw up their hands at my overly critical eye toward grid design, but Sande fully embraced it.
There's a good amount of theme material, what with the 9 — 14 — 7 — 14 — 9 lengths, but it's usually not that hard to work with. The middle 7 is especially friendly, compared to a middle 9, 11, 13, or 15. So typically, I'd be loath to finish a grid like this without at least four snazzy long bonus entries. But the no-I constraint turned out to be tougher than I first thought.
Well, it would have been easy to work in even six pieces of long bonus fill, if we had been okay with accepting globfuls of ELL, RUR kind of stuff. But I had imagined this would run on a Tuesday, so I pushed Sande to keep that glue count down to a bare minimum. I thought he did well in that regard.
Always the trade-offs, though. Maybe we could have made the long slots sing a little better? I like BYE WEEKS a lot, and ELOQUENT is pretty good. But I sure would have liked to get something more out of EQUALLY and SEAWEED (we ended up having to put in cheater squares to facilitate better fill, so these turned into seven-letter entries, which tend to be harder to convert into colorful stuff).
Turns out there are a lot of words and phrases that use the letter I! No wonder it turned out to be so difficult to fill with color and cleanliness. Learn something new with every puzzle.
COIN / FLIPS, pointing to "Schrödinger" squares that can be either H or T, with equal validity. There was another one riffing on this four years ago — my memory is long, so, unfortunately, I recalled it immediately. But I'm an oddity. I think four years is long enough to wait before echoing the same idea.
One thing I liked a lot about Xan's execution: a couple of great finds that use a funny change in spacing. At first, I couldn't figure out what the heck a TIT LIST was (admit it, you had the same thought I did). No, it's a TITLIST, as in a sports champion! Both could eliminate you, in a way.
And HEAT RAY / TEA TRAY was a neat find, both of them carrying something that might burn. That's a real stretch to include both answers, but there's something curiously awesome about the kooky connection.
I also enjoyed HIP / HOP and TIP / TOP. Not sure I would have ever thought of "breaking records" to link the two ("breaking" is slang for a dance style within HIP / HOP).
And TA TA / HA HA as an "interjection heard upon breaking up"? I had to think about that for a while, but I admire the creativity. TA TA = saying bye after breaking up with a partner, and HA HA = breaking up, as in laughing.
I usually want Schrödingers to have a clue that's spot-on for both entries. [Yearning] as both WISTFUL and WISHFUL is a perfect example of that. HIPSTER vs. TIPSTER is on the other side of the coin (wah wah), as [One in the know] is much more a TIPSTER than a HIPSTER. (We have a ton of HIPSTERs in Seattle, and a majority of them are doofuses.)
But Xan forced me to rethink my criteria — at first, I thought most of his pairings were way too much of a stretch. But heck, I admire his out-of-the-box thinking. Feels like he's created something innovative and ground-breaking. Not much higher of a compliment I can pay.
Solid 72-word themeless. David did such a nice job of using his long slots — AIR QUOTES, POISON PEN, CORKAGE FEE, PRISON RIOT, SPRAY ON TAN, STRIP MALLS = great stuff!
(I wasn't wild about ED SHEERAN, as I'm not a fan of his music, but I can see how others would love seeing him in the grid.)
What stood out for me was the fantastic cluing, which has become more and more important in how I assess a themeless puzzle. AIR QUOTES is a great entry on its own, but what the heck is [Four-finger gestures?] Maybe it was something four times as offensive as a one-finger salute? Some crazy thing the kids are doing these days? No, two fingers per hand, making that smarmy gesture!
SEX QUIZ, similarly. Fantastic entry, and [Cosmopolitan feature] had me thinking about skylines at first, and then the cocktail drink next. Nope, it's Cosmo, the magazine!
And DOG EARS is a good use of a mid-length slot already, but its clue elevates it into the stratosphere. "Turns a corner" is a common phrase. Repurposing it into how DOG EARS are turned corners of pages is brilliant.
For a 72-word puzzle — the max allowed in a themeless — I want to see less of the PPS PTS RIEN SHMOO stuff, but it's passable. Given how much color and sizzle there was in the entries and (maybe more importantly?) the clues, I was able to overlook those.
I debated whether to give this one the POW! Could easily have. But in the end, I decided I gotta make David work even harder (especially when staying in relatively easy 72-word territory), now that he's near the top of the POW! list.
★ Will often gets correspondence on a certain clue, expressing outrage that HE IS MOST CERTAINLY WRONG, SIR! (Turns out to be right 99.5% of the time.) I was all set to write him and his copyediting team to say that there was something wrong with the clues today … and then I realized that THERE WAS A TRICK RUNNING IN MY THEMELESS PUZZLE! WHAAAA?!
And what a trick! I nearly solved the entire grid before realizing what was going on. An example: 18-Across references 10-Down (literally). What does that "literally" mean? There's a T E N at the end of EVERY SO OF(T E N)! It has nothing to do with the entry at 10-Down (RESTLESS); just a fake-out.
A fantastic a-ha moment! Best in my recent memory! Heck yeah!
But to be honest, I had mixed feelings at the end of my solve. Such a great concept — I loved, loved, loved it! Why was it running on a Saturday though, where I expect my themeless to be a little more chock-full of colorful long fill? This could have been the perfect Thursday puzzle. Quintessential.
I discussed it with Jim, and in the end, I decided that I liked Will throwing us all off guard, keeping us on our toes, not being too predictable. It's good to break expectations every once in a while.
And ultimately, there was still enough sizzle in the grid — THE ARTIST, GENE POOL, PRESS EVENT, the dreaded FRIEND ZONE, MODEL UN, COW POSE, HAND BRA (think about Vogue covers …) — that I felt like it'd be plain stupid not to give this fantastic theme the POW! just because it ran on a day I didn't expect. It's pretty incredible that Sam managed to fit in his four turning themers — all super-strong choices — plus all this great fill, with just a few KETT TRA dabs of glue.
Congrats to Alison on the debut! Working with one of the best in the business, reigning ACPT champ Erik. Can't go wrong there.
LOST IN THE SHUFFLE … how to explain this? Theme answers are made of two words, and if you remove one letter from the first word and them anagram the remaining ones, you get the second word.
Thus, that key letter is GHOSTED?
Hmm. One definition of GHOSTED is "ended a personal relationship with (someone) by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication." So, that key letter says buh-bye when it comes to forming the second word?
It is nice that the key letters form the word PHANTOMS, echoing the GHOSTED idea. It didn't produce a sharp a-ha moment for me, but I appreciate the attempt to work in an additional layer of cleverness.
Solid gridwork, as I'd expect from an Agardian production. Just a bit of super-minor OLLA APSE kind of stuff — now that's great craftsmanship, especially for a Sunday puzzle! Way, way, way less crossword glue than average makes for a feeling of elegance.
Erik's much younger and hipper than me (funnier and smarter, too), so it wasn't a surprise to encounter several things I didn't know. SERENA SLAM is where you hold all four Grand Slam titles at once? I wonder why the press didn't make up a neat name like that for the people who did it before her (Billie Jean King, etc.).
BBC ARABIC was new to me too, but I also liked learning that. Except it seemed to me like BBC ARABIA would have been such a better title. (Probably a good thing that I stayed out of marketing.)
APARNA, too. I don't know that she's become crossworthy enough to be a theme answer — cool that CHER is hidden inside NANCHERLA! — but as fill, absolutely fine.
The a-ha moment wasn't strong enough for my taste — I'm still wondering exactly why those letters fit the term GHOSTED and PHANTOMS — but there were some strong themers like CARMEN MCRAE, as well as enough SAM HILL, LIME JUICE, RUSH HOUR, THE NERVE bonus fill to keep me going.
Welcome to LAUGH AT MYSELF (LAM-poon) week! I thought I'd try something different, as methinks I've been taking myself too seriously, and that might be hindering my ability to enjoy. And what are crosswords, if not to be enjoyed?
MAKE / LOVE / NOT / WAR start theme phrases today — what a fun hidden phrase! Beautiful themer choices in MAKE IT SNAPPY and LOVE POTION.
I sheepishly admit I put in 70S instead of 60S. So much for being an educated solver! Petty Jeff (PJ) would have whined about how it wasn't fair. But realistically, that one's on me. I mean, come on! The 70s, Jeff? Been watching too much "That 70s Show," have you?
Hmm, what would PJ say about the technical issues? He'd wonder about the phrases ONE TO GO (seems like a partial) and PLAN BS (don't you just have one PLAN B, then you move to PLAN C, PLAN D, etc.)?
But ... bah! Why dwell on these minor issues in an otherwise well-constructed puzzle?
How about CHINK? Okay, I've been called a chink many a time. But, this week's Jeff says that the phrase "chink in one's armor" is a fine phrase. I'm choosing to look the other way.
Love, love, love the SHAMPOO clue. It didn't get me into a lather at all!
If there's one thing today's Jeff and PJ agree upon, it's that we would have preferred a more specific entry for 6 — maybe 6 PACK or 6 GUNS — but either one of us should have been able to identify the 60S from MAKE LOVE NOT WAR, no crossing necessary.
Overall, a fun hidden message that's right on point. Given the country's rocky state of affairs, we could all use a little more love.
I'm enjoying trying out a different perspective. This is the perfect puzzle to kick off a week of making love, not war, on crosswords!
Welcome to day 2 of LAUGH AT MYSELF (LAM-poon) week! Some A+ finds today — I would never have imagined that WATER or YEAST could be hidden across phrases. It's like the crossword gods came down centuries ago to guide the hand of Thomas Jefferson, gently nudging him to write the IOWA TERRITORY into existence.
It's amazing, the four main ingredients to beer fitting across phrases like this. Very cool.
What would the old Jeff say about the revealer, BEER INGREDIENTS? That it's a bit dry, a dictionary definition. He'd be wistful, wishing for something that produced a sharper a-ha moment.
But there is no phrase like that! So why even bring it up? BEER INGREDIENTS explains things perfectly. It works, and that's what's important.
I do want to point out the troublesome nature of the OTHO / HOV crossing, as I've heard that HOV (common here in Seattle) is not at all common in other parts of the country. OTHO is not AUGUSTUS, or NERO, or CALIGULA in terms of his notoriety. But this week's Jeff chooses to give Alex the benefit of the doubt, which all world leaders — all of them — ought to be fair game, whether or not the crossings makes the person gettable.
BLOVIATES is such an awesome word. I used to hear so much bloviation from an old boss back when I was in start-up world. She was a disaster! Not sure why she's tried to connect with me on LinkedIn … three times now!
(Even this week's positive-thinking Jeff would refuse those invitations!)
The grid exhibits well-above-average craftsmanship, working with five long themers. Just an URBS / STS shows a lot of care taken in construction.
Such neat discoveries, says this beer drinker. I might have even POW!ed the puzzle, if the revealer had just been BEER. (BEER INGREDIENTS does the same job, but takes up a ton more real estate, leaving less room for bonus fill.)
★ Day 3 of LAUGH AT MYSELF (LAM-poon) week! The old Jeff would scoff at the uber-long clue at 1-A and whine about how much cross-referencing is required out of the solver. But there's something neat about spreading out GREAT / MINDS / THINK / ALIKE through the grid. I choose today to see it as an artistic touch.
Neat examples of the competitive spirit driving these discoveries, too. I knew about Edison and the LIGHT BULB race, and Newton and Leibniz on CALCULUS, but it was neat to learn that the PERIODIC TABLE wasn't just hoggy ol' Mendeleev tootin' his own horn.
Muhammad ALI is crossword gold. You can pretty much quote anything he said, and it would be interesting.
Petty Jeff (PJ) would point out ANAP AWAR, TOD, harping on the two partials in particular. But you know what? While some constructors think partials are ugly, gloopy, inelegant, they're a heck of a lot friendly to solvers than esoterica or tough initialisms.
A couple of subpar short entries within a grid packed full of five themers, plus the spread-out revealer? Inconsequential!
I laughed with Andrew at how funny it would be if the NYT and the WSJ or LAT both ran similar puzzles today. Fingers crossed!
I was all set to end with a joke, that I HAD JUST FINISHED CONSTRUCTING A PUZZLE ABOUT THIS SAME CONCEPT!!! If only. Wish I'd have thought of it. Fun idea + interesting layout that made me rethink my criteria + strong craftsmanship = POW!
Midway through LAUGH AT MYSELF (LAM-poon) week! Petty Jeff (PJ) would have griped about only three themers when these days the norm is to have at least four. But today, I choose to focus on the smiles I got from these three amusing reinterpretations of NO phrases. No, NO, NO, I say to PJ!
NO, (you can only write) RHYME OR REASON is such a hilariously bizarre thing for a teacher to say. And I've heard the phrase NO MAN IS AN ISLAND thousands of times, but I'd never thought of it parsed as NO, MAN (the isle of MAN) IS AN ISLAND. Funny!
PJ would have complained that with just three themers, the grid ought to be packed with a ton of juicy fill, more than just EGG CRATE, AIR TAXI, BEAR HUG. Instead, I choose to focus on the great job in the cluing:
I usually like more out of my Thursday solving experience — not just a harder solve, but one that has a bigger payoff than usual to make it worthwhile. But, the most important thing about crosswords is how much enjoyment they bring. There was a lot to love about the Merrellosity of this one.
Day 5 of LAUGH AT MYSELF (LAM-poon) week! I was worried when evaluating this week's themelesses, since, without a theme to anchor a puzzle, technical merit comes much more into play. Gonna have to work to keep out my usual grump!
I loved a handful of clues today, and that's often all I need for a positive solving experience. The PAVLOV clue was particularly awesome — with the P start, I was sure the [Big name in conditioning] had to be PRELL or PANTENE. (Never mind that the former isn't six letters, and PANTENE is … (using fingers on second hand) … seven.) It's PAVLOV and his dog conditioning experiments.
I wonder if he ever shampooed his dogs?
People still rent movies? Hello NYT, welcome to the 21st century! Ha, it's Petty Jeff (PJ) who was the fool. ITUNES is a big player in movie rentals.
SKUNK also was clued in an entertaining way, slang term for shutting an opponent out.
A handful of colorful phrases, too. A POLICE CAR called a black-and-white. Relationship ending in SPLITSVILLE. Yelling at an ump ARE YOU BLIND? And best of all, the BEER BELLY ironically filled by six-packs — ha! Memorable stuff, there.
SNO GRO OPTO … PJ, shut your trap! Yeah, there's more crossword glue than you like, but didn't you enjoy all those clever clues. BEER BELLY, remember?
(grumble grumble, fine, you have a point)
And tell you what, that PAVLOV clue is something you'll take away and remember. Giving solvers a single great memory makes an entire puzzle worthwhile.
LAUGH AT MYSELF (LAM-poon) week, day 6!
What an incredible NW corner! Constructing a four-stack is one of the toughest tasks in all construction. A 4x9 that has a ton of color and hardly any glue? It takes fortitude and a ton of sticktuitiveness to not give up.
The SE corner was almost as good. Four strong to fantastic entries was well worth the price of a couple of PREV and AREOLE type blips.
Let's see, what would PJ (petty Jeff) say about this one? He'd probably focus on the entries like MAASAI, AREOLE and ALTERANT, calling them head-shake-worthy because they're full of common letters, in particular vowels that tend to be friendly for construction patterns.
But today I'm sweeping that technical pedantry aside. I choose to overlook PREV (it's common enough, yeah?) and AREOLE (perfectly valid biological term), and declare the SE a win, too.
And that middle. FAUX DIAMOND and HOT DOG STAND, with SIGMUND running through it! I hesitated on DADDY ISSUES, as I worry that my daughter will one day have DADDY ISSUES. But I choose to overlook those worries today, as there's no doubt that it's a colorful phrase, even if you have negative connotations associated with it. Could easily just be me.
It's a rare constructor to tackle these types of wide-open grids, and even rarer for a relatively new constructor to do it — and to do it well. Neat to see Ryan emerge in a big way onto the themeless scene.
The final day of LAUGH AT MYSELF (LAM-poon) week! It's been a fun exercise in forcing myself to rethink what I'm doing. Today's puzzle amused the heck out of me, so many of the themers making me smile or even break out laughing. BUTTER RIVALS — c'mon, if you're not giggling at Parkay people throwing globs of butter at Lucerne folks, you're dead inside.
And boy have I heard some HUNDRED DOLLAR BULL in my life. More like million dollar! Like when a friend's employee told him he wasn't feeling well and had to leave early … and then got caught striding out in his biking gear? HUNDRED DOLLAR BULL!
Who hasn't been caught in a PASSWORD HUNT? Why is it that every single darn time I log onto my Wells Fargo account, I have to go through the password reset process?
More importantly, why do I still have a Wells Fargo account?
Petty Jeff (PJ) would say that the theme isn't tight, as there are dozens of words that become another valid word when you swap out an I for a U. He'd call that some HUNDRED DOLLAR BULL!
But this exercise of LAM-pooning myself forced me to realize that the non-tightness is exactly what allowed Ross to create entertaining themers. You need to sift through a lot, to find comedy gold.
And after all, isn't entertainment a constructor's primary goal?
I will go back into technical, into-the-weeds Jeff — but only to say that Ross's construction skills are already among the top in the biz. An average Sunday 140-worder has about ten globs of crossword glue to hold things together. When you can hold your grid to just ON UP and TRALA, you know you've risen to the top.
Considering this is a 138-worder — maybe 20% harder to execute on than a 140-worder — AND it has a ton of goodies (ROUNDHOUSE, AGLIO E OLIO, LEGAL PADS, BAIT SHOP), I'd happily issue Ross a sub-140 license. That's an exclusive club, in the single digits.
This past week of checking my assumptions and patterns at the door has been a useful exercise for me, forcing me to look at puzzles differently. I hope it's been useful for you too. Maybe even helped you to enjoy the NYT puzzle a little more.
I loved this concept, phrases that can represent GOOD NEWS or BAD NEWS, depending on how you look at them. To GO DOWN IN HISTORY is fantastic, in terms of creating a lasting legacy. Going down in history class, not so much.
DRAW A BLANK is so clever — great thing to do, in Scrabble! Not so good when you DRAW A BLANK, as in when you're unable to come up with something (as I often do in Scrabble!).
GET A RUN is another good one, GOOD in baseball, BAD in hosiery.
MAKE PASSES is okay, as it's good to complete passes in football, not so good in a bar. But MAKE PASSES is stilted-sounding in the realm of football.
I'll explain PRO to those that might have been as confused as I was. How does a PROfessional give you the "aye"? When it's a professional pirate? Nope, I red-facedly admit it took a long time to think about a PRO vote = giving the "aye".
I wish we had some pirates in the Senate.
Solid Lempelian gridwork. All you need is a pair of great bonuses — SIDEKICKS and PRIVATEER, yes! — and the doggedness to keep your grid to a minor smattering of INST ABED. Often, it's "just" a matter of tireless and grueling iteration. The best constructors like Lynn make it seem easy.
This is a Wish I'd Thought of That concept. It's a shame that MAKE PASSES fell flat for me, as this would have been an easy POW! choice otherwise. I can see where Lynn was coming from though — you have to stop and submit at some point.
★ Loved this. I'm a huge Three Stooges fan, as well as a Greek mythology buff, so THREE-WAY TIE works equally well for me with Andy's or Will's clue.
The kooky articles of clothing arranged in top-down order = a perfect touch. I noticed this immediately, and it gave the puzzle a feel of elegance.
I wouldn't expect anything else from these two masters, Moe and Curly. Er, Andy and Erik.
I also appreciated the first-last BLT / PBJ. Curiously satisfying to end on an echo of the start.
Anyone else fill in [Ogre with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame] with a starting T and an ending RUMP? Given the recent debate about whether or not to remove Trump's star, I was mightily amused.
I amuse easily.
Even more fun, Perry MASON only every losing one case. Who knew? Nobody's perfect!
Well, almost nobody. Perfect example of an early-week puzzle. So much entertainment, so much to admire in this one.
ADDED NOTE: Astute reader Nancy Shack pointed out that I meant to say "ever" instead of "every" two paragraphs ago. Oh, the irony!
I've seen plenty of anagram-themed puzzles — even made a few myself — but darn it if I haven't seen LYDIA as DAILY JUMBLE (the letters D A I L Y jumbled up). That's a great one!
Kathy's a fairly new constructor, but my goodness have her skills shot up. Her theme is consistent and orderly — themers 1, 3, 5 with the first word scrambled, and themers 2, 4 with the second word stirred. Most solvers probably won't notice this, but I sure did, and appreciated it.
And her construction skills! Most experienced constructors would shy away from a 11 / 9 / 15 / 9 / 11 theme set, for good reason. Notice how carefully Kathy deployed her black squares, separating her themers to good effect. Many constructors would have left more open space between MAD SCRAMBLE and STIR FRIED, and accepted some gluey bits. Not Kathy!
The drawback to deploying so many squares in the middle is relatively big NW / SE corners. They may not seem that hard, but they're of themeless-esque difficult to fill. I love DOGGY BAG worked into the precious long slot in the SE, along with the smooth results surrounding it. The NW wasn't quite as nice, since ENDING UP is more neutral and WEAL seems a bit weird, but it's still pretty good. No chalkboard-scratching entries, at least.
The one hiccup was in the middle, with RRR. Peter Gordon over at the Fireball told me recently it's one of the three-letter entries he would never use. I don't mind it myself, as I've seen it sometimes written down as RRR (maybe?), but I do have a lot of respect for his opinions.
Overall, super solid gridwork, especially considering the high theme density. The theme didn't catch me personally since I've seen so many crosswords like this before, but I can see how a solver just breaking into Wednesdays could deem this as POW!-worthy.
Happy 75th birthday coming up tomorrow, ROBERT / DENIRO! To me, he's the real Kevin Bacon of the "Six Degrees" game, having been in umpteen movies now. My second favorite was "Midnight Run," where he got a chance to show off his comedic range. And who could forget "Meet the Parents"? Or best yet, his magnificent performance in "The Godfather, Part II"?
Dang, what a mark he's made on American culture!
It's tough to make a list puzzle celebrating a guy who's done so much, because what do you shoehorn in? You're bound to leave out some important stuff, and then include some lesser works for the sake of crossword symmetry.
I don't imagine many would list THE FAN as one of his biggest movies. But it does match ROBERT in length.
As much as I love DENIRO, tribute puzzles don't tend to stick in my mind unless there's something that elevates them. Otherwise, they come across as Wikipedia-esque listings of some of the person's accomplishments.
It's beyond audacious to try to build a puzzle around a theme set of 6 / 6 / 10 / 10 / 10 / 10 / 6 / 6. Whoa, that's incredibly high theme density! But given that so many compromises were required from the short fill — I sighed and stopped counting at 10 — I'd have preferred something less theme-dense.
Perhaps just focusing on his two Academy Award roles would have been nice and tight? Heck, this "Godfather" megafan would have been fine with just:
VITO CORLEONE 12
THE GODFATHER 12
ROBERT DENIRO 12
ACADEMY AWARD 12
It's nothing fancy, but at least it's tight, and would allow a lot of freedom to include colorful and clean fill throughout the rest of the grid.
Although, I can see how DENIRO's wide-ranging career would be best represented by as much darn theme you could stuff into a single grid. So I understand Alan's thinking.
Building around an 11-letter entry can be difficult, so I did a ton of grid testing before settling on the upper left corner you see today. It took a lot of shifting black squares around before I was finally happy with the combination of AU NATUREL, SPARE TIRE, TEE SHOTS, which all seemed to have great potential for clever clues.
Some solvers may not be familiar with SHROOMS, but one of my college roommates used to love that word (he hated SHROOMS on pizza). It's more commonly referring to the hallucinogenic drug, but SHROOMS will always make me think of Chris Wand.
I almost gave up on the grid pattern when flowing toward the SE, but thankfully KIBITZED looked like it could connect things. I enjoy kibitzing the world's best bridge players, trying to figure out how they engineered some brilliant endplay or squeeze.
Thankfully, most everything else came relatively easily from there. I was unsure if I could get Z IS FOR ZEBRA to work, but the pieces dropped into place. Not only did I like the two Zs in the entry, but I had thought of a fun clue for it, misdirecting from an (elementary school) primer to (paint) primer.
I had a ton of flexibility in the upper right — I love me some dinosaurs, so the IGUANODON made things easy — but the lower right was rough. I was hesitant to use STATE CAR, as it felt a little dull to me … until I read up on the Wikipedia page for Official STATE CARs. I spent way too much time reading about the various weapons on some state cars. Whoa! And I love Will's clue, so fun.
I was a huge Paddington Bear fan in my youth, and now my daughter is hearing about the clumsy fella's exploits. I'll always have a soft spot for MARMALADE.
I would have loved to drop this from 68 to 66 words — more of a personal challenge — but I couldn't get rid of the black square between GREG and SCAB without sacrificing some snazziness or cleanliness. Ah well — the quality of the solving experience has to be the priority, not the constructor's intellectual stimulation.
A surprise to see Mark build a 70-worder! He usually stays in low word-count territory, and does so often using no cheater squares, making for grids with eye-popping wide-open white spaces.
I'm amused by Mark's tradition of including dental-related entries, always clued in funny ways. (Mark is a dentist.) Today is no different, with DENTAL EXAM being an [Open investigation?]. An open case, indeed!
I like his care to avoid short gluey bits, dipping only into a bit of AQUI, ELAL stuff. Those could even be argued to be perfectly fine.
And some great feature entries. DATA MINERS, the STETSON HAT, CITY PLAZA, the MARCH HARE ... who I embarrassingly thought was the White Rabbit. Huh. Apparently, they're two different characters.
RAT POISON was a bit grim. Yikes.
And I think I love AQUAZUMBA? Not sure, since it didn't seem like a real thing at first (no Wikipedia entry? Wiki-editors, get on that!). But as is often the case, I was wrong. And even though it wasn't familiar to me, AQUA + ZUMBA = Zumba in the water. Easy enough to figure out.
A couple of other entries gave me an equal feeling of unfamiliarity. I'm used to that in Mark's low word-count stuff, where he might need to use an unusual long entry to make the grid work. Today, it was FORETASTE and MUD FACIAL (mud mask?). They both made sense when I thought about them and looked them up, but they didn't hit me with a feeling of elation as I solved.
Fantastic clue in [Private leaders]. Coming from a business background, I was thinking C-suite people (CEO, CFO, CTO, etc.), as in private industry. Nope, army privates led by CORPORALS!
Overall, plenty of goodness within this well-crafted puzzle to keep me entertained. Knowing Mark's mark of working in dental entries made me enjoy it even more.
Jacob employs PASSIVE RESISTANCE today, changing famous lines from passive to active voice. Writers get told to avoid the passive voice all the time (see what I did there?), because it draws the reader in so much more effectively.
But there's something interesting and catchy about the passive voice at times. MISTAKES WERE MADE is so telling in its implications. Who made the mistakes? Unclear! Probably not me though! NO BATTERIES INCLUDED? Don't blame us!
I was a bit mystified by THAT DOES NOT AMUSE US. Apparently I'm still a hack writer, because I couldn't tell which of the two (base phrase or resulting phrase) was passive voice. Maybe neither?
(Apparently Queen Victoria was hard to amuse? Or people didn't amuse her? Is that last sentence the active voice, or the passive voice? Dang it, now I'm all confused.)
It's a creative theme concept. My attention wasn't held by so many stilted-sounding themers, though.
So many stilted-sounding themers didn't hold my attention?
The entire point is to ridicule how funny the active voice sounds in these cases, by coming up with horribly awkward themers. Not a lot of fun to uncover those themers, but there was something amusing about looking back at them a second time — they sound so terrible!
Aside from the tricky ESA / MT OSSA (not MTOSSA or MT ESSA! Esa that it?) / ADOBO region, a well-constructed grid. I'm glad Jacob worked his mid-length slots hard, CAJOLES FAT LADY GENOESE PROFANE kind of things acting as pick-me-ups throughout my solve.
Such consistency in themers — two (city) + (meat) and two (meat) + (city) phrases. Tidy and elegant.
I had a slight pause with VIENNA SAUSAGES being the only plural, but heck, how many times do you see a single VIENNA SAUSAGE on your plate?
(In my case, there will always be zero VIENNA SAUSAGES on my plate. I can barely stand to look at those things!)
Textbook execution, exactly what I'd expect from one of the masters in the business. A couple of solid bonuses in UNSUNG HERO, INFIELD FLY (it's a rule where if the pop-up goes short and if the guy drops it … eh, who am I kidding, I don't understand it either), even MAINSAIL, AT LARGE, and SARA LEE.
Technical detail: if you break MAINSAIL into two entries by adding a black square at the N, you can clean up the ENE hanging out in the north. But since Peter kept the rest of his grid so clean, I like this trade-off a lot.
Did you hitch on the NAB clue, too? [Catch cold?] — I think that's supposed to play on catching a cold -> catching someone cold in the act? I like the attempt at clever cluing, but it felt too tough for a Monday puzzle. Or in my case, for a sleep-deprived dimwit.
AUTO was much more fun for me — tough to figure out that an AUTO might be an "ingredient" in a (traffic) jam, but it produced a satisfying a-ha moment for me. Once I finally got it. Ahem.
Overall, a strong example of Monday execution. I've seen many themes like this with countries (FRENCH TOAST, SPANISH RICE, etc.), but doing it with cities was a nice twist.
D "evolving" to DARWIN, what a fun idea! I usually think of "evolving" as one element changing for the better, so my first thought as a constructor might have been a word ladder (from ... (some six letter word) to DARWIN?). But word ladders can be pretty dull, so I like the concept here.
Each of the themers is so colorful. DARN TOOTIN, they are! Great work there.
Now that I think of it, the progression from amoeba to invertebrate to mammal, etc. is a kind of growth, isn't it? Okay, maybe this interpretation is a lot more appropriate than a word ladder.
Never mind me. Ahem.
Ah, five themers squished together. That was almost necessary since DARWIN at the very end forced BOBBY DARIN to move to row 12, instead of row 13, where it'd usually be. Everything gets crunched up, and O ME did we get a lot of crossword glue.
Will strives to avoid non-common abbreviations and initialisms since if you don't know them, there's no way to infer them. NMI is a prime example (no middle initial). Along with HALER ORY SYL TAUR ERL etc. it felt like a lot to wade through.
Thankfully, there was a good amount of long(ish) fill to help lift the solving experience, IRON MAN, GAP YEAR, PAR THREE making me wonder if I ATE CROW on my critiques! It's still not a trade-off I would have personally made, but I can see the appeal.
Heck, even BIRYANI, PERUSAL, CASSETTE are pretty interesting. Okay, that's a lot of solid bonus fill! Definitely helps to balance out the grid liabilities.
Perhaps an evolutionary step (sorry, couldn't help myself) would have been to shift DARN TOOTIN all the way to the left, so that DARWIN could be placed vertically, down off that D. Total grid redesign of course, but that would have allowed for better spacing of the long themers (BOBBY DARIN moving to row 13).
Overall though, it was something new for me, and the novelty was much appreciated. Really neat to get a theme from a debut constructor related to her profession!
Whooooooooo's READY TO RUMPLE?! Me, considering ironing is a dirty word in my eyes. Great way to kick off the puzzle. I was so amused that the rest of the solve was gravy.
RULE OF THUMP made me smile too, something so funny-sounding about that.
SLUMBERLAND wasn't as strong a base phrase for me, but that clue! [Whence slouches?] — the combination of those two words tickles me to no end.
I enjoyed how John capped things off with the only double replacement, DUMB AND DUMBER becoming DUMP AND DUMPER. I didn't totally get that one, but it was fun to think of punny names for a garbage collector's memoir. ("Down in the Dumps" is my favorite.)
I wasn't sold on NOSE COUNT — count noses, yes — but I decided I could buy it. I was much more into the other long bonuses: PLUNK DOWN, INNER PEACE, PLAY IT SAFE.
John most certainly didn't play it safe by incorporating long fill in the across direction. That tends to lead to an OLEO of crossword glue, as those long stacked entries can necessitate ESE kind of things.
Better spacing would have helped the center section especially, where some solvers might hitch on ALAR / PELLA next to each other. One thing that could have mitigated this problem: starting the puzzle off with one of the shorter themers. That way, RULE OF THUMP could have gone in row 3, whereas READY TO RUMPLE is stuck in row 4, due to black square issues. But I liked READY TO RUMPLE so much, I'm okay with the price of some STK AMOR kind of stuff that cascaded from John's decision.
For standard theme types, humor and wittiness are of paramount importance. Overall, this one hit for me.
★ I've had a few people tell me that I overly criticize rebus puzzles. It's true, I do. So many rebuses have been done over the years that a standard one feels uncreative and sometimes even lazy. So it's a real pleasure when I experience something new(ish) in the rebus arena, like today's CROP ROTATION idea. I enjoyed the combination of rebus + turning, with an apt revealer.
Such a tough puzzle, so hard to figure out what was going on, especially at the STO(RY E)DITOR / BETTE(R YE)T intersection. But working that hard to figure the tricksiness out made the a-ha moment super satisfying.
This is what I want out of a Thursday puzzle — the payoff to be worth the struggle.
Such strong clues, too:
ELECT(RIC E)ELS are indeed stunning, both figuratively and literally!
SCABS' work is indeed "strikingly" controversial. (groan)
Going hog wild on a Hog (slang for a Harley) is indeed what a BIKER does.
I would have loved one more CROP included, but I appreciated how snazzy and clean Kyle's grid was. I'd much prefer this end result than a puzzle with a fourth crop plus a whole lot of gloppy crossword glue.
Took me much longer than an average Thursday, but it was well worth the effort.
Sometimes a single feature entry can make an entire themeless worth it for me. ACE UP ONE'S SLEEVE did the trick for me!
Thank goodness I do a lot of puzzles, or I doubt I would have ever broken into the top triple-stack. Being able to remember that [Bundle of nerves] has to be the bizarre RETE = such a huge advantage in these wide-open themelesses.
Weird to say, but RETE was the secret ACE UP my SLEEVE!
Another solving trick for these wide-open grids: something like [Amenable sorts] will almost always end in -ERS. I was 90% those letters were right, and they helped me break into A SEED and TSARISTS. AGREERS is not a good entry, but I do like finishing puzzles, and when bizarre entries like this help get me across the finish line, I tend to look at them a little less unfavorably.
I did have an error, at CHARLOTTE AMELIE. Should I have known the 1978 Grammy nominee was Chris REA, not REE? Hmm. HMM, I say! I understand that this is supposed to be a hard puzzle, but I'm not sure that this is a fair crossing, at least not as clued.
Some fantastic entries worked into the stacks, CARLOS THE JACKAL TEETERing ON THE EDGE, an ALL AMERICAN HERO on his tail? There's a good story in there somewhere.
As with most triple-stack puzzles, I wanted 1.) more out of the rest of the puzzle and 2.) less crossword glue. But with triple-stacks, there's an unholy trinity: it's nearly impossible to hit those two criteria while also featuring sparkling 15-letter entries.
That SE corner is brilliant. RADIO WAVE cleverly disguised as an [Air traveler?] + I CALLED IT! = OH HELL YES!
Something fun about that BBQ WINGS / PINTO BEAN combo, with GOON SQUAD up in the NW, too. (I wasn't sure what a NEODADAIST was, but what an interesting word.)
Along with some YAKETY YAK, PLAYS GOD, LOINCLOTH, MY FAIR LADY, man that's a ton — er, TONNE? — of good stuff all throughout.
I haven't DNFed (did not finish) a Saturday puzzle in a long time, but I was sweating it today. PERF is what the kids say today about … something PERFect? Huh.
There was a FDR JR? It looks like he was indeed called FDR JR by his family, so it's a fine entry, with an awesomely bizarre string of five consonants. Not knowing him was on me.
A couple of other toughies though — NEDLOW, SEA CHART, SAND PILE, PLAINTS? NEDLOW can be chalked up to my ignorance, as it's NED LOW, apparently a high-profile pirate of the "Golden Age of Piracy."
The others though, felt a tad off. I've seen plenty of tide charts, nautical charts, depth charts, but never heard them called SEA CHARTs.
SAND PILE is … a pile of sand?
PLAINTS? Like (com)PLAINTS? Hmm, maybe there's a crossword theme in there somewhere!
And the cluing for some of the short common answers. I think this puzzle was correctly placed on a Saturday because of all of the tough entries, but it's not much fun to wrangle with ["Who ___?"] just to struggle into ISN'T. Or "Ooh-la-la" for I LIKE? I don't like!
How is WIN the 1 in 1-9? Took me a lot of thinking post-solve (and a sheepish query to Jim) to figure out that it probably is the number of wins in a win-loss record? As in 1 win, 9 losses? What a bizarre clue.
A curious mix of delightful entries and Saturday-ed clues, making for a very tough solve. Such a feeling of relief to finally fill in the last box!
Delightful grid art! Upon first glance, I thought it was simply an interesting pattern of black squares. I got such a strong click when I realized the center of the puzzle was a tennis racket! Apt for a tribute to THE US OPEN tennis tournament kicking off very soon.
I'm not a huge tennis fan, but I like to keep up on major events. I was proud to plunk down WIMBLEDON at 59-Across without needing a single crossing entry.
Funny that they're the same length. Also funny that as an American, I'm much more familiar with Wimbledon than THE US OPEN. (Note to US Open coordinators: hire away Wimbledon's marketing team.)
I also enjoyed the tennis BALL in the upper left. Might have been more fun to have it in the middle of the tennis racket, but I can see a case for it being represented as if it's just been hit and is flying away. Also, putting the BALL in the middle would have caused much more difficulty in filling that center, given that THE US OPEN was already fixed into place.
Speaking of filling difficulty, I appreciated Olivia's effort to work in as much themage as possible, but LONG RALLY felt a tad like an unforced error (see, I know tennis!). LONG RALLY is a thing, but it feels arbitrary compared to the catchier GAME SET MATCH.
Overall, the grid art helped elevate the puzzle above standard tribute puzzles. I would have liked a couple more strong tennis phrases like GAME SET MATCH — perhaps TENNIS ANYONE?, or maybe punny entries like COURT PROCEEDINGS / MAKING A RACKET — but everything came together pretty nicely for a solidly tennis-ish vibe.
I love seeing ideas I haven't encountered before! Susie combines first names of two famous people from a certain walk of life to form a third. I'm a big bball fan, so that made the discovery of BILL Walton + RUSSELL Westbrook = BILL RUSSELL even more interesting.
I appreciated that Susie drew from four different professions. Jim (Horne) isn't a hoops fan, so the great BILL RUSSELL didn't do anything for him (blasphemy!), but he recognized the others easily. I am only vaguely familiar with JAMES TAYLOR, but the other three came like a flash.
It's usually impossible to please every solver out there, so at least giving something for everyone is a smart approach.
Susie usually has such solid gridwork. This wasn't my favorite of her early-week grids, though. The GOYA / ARYAN crossing is possibly tough for newb solvers. Along with ANON RTE ETAT ABABA SLO, it's passable, but I have a high bar for her.
I also would have liked a little more bonus fill. BOX KITE was fun, but what else? I'd be curious to see what happens if you take out the black square between UNDO and RELY. I know, that makes the NW corner tougher, but I think it's possible to still keep clean.
Interesting enough idea that I considered it for the POW! Probably would have gotten it if at least one of the themers had been a woman — MEG RYAN = MEG Tilly + RYAN Gosling? — or if the gridwork had been as stellar as Susie's stuff usually is.
★ I like playing the "guess the theme" game on early-week puzzles. It was clear from XOF and CBA that TV stations were reversed, but what a nice a-ha moment in BACK CHANNEL. It's a colorful phrase, and its CHANNEL has enough of a different meaning from TV channels that the connection felt clever.
What spicy theme answers, too! WAX ON WAX OFF, ZIPLOC BAG, USB CHARGER, yay! That last one feels particularly fresh and modern.
I'm usually not a fan of ultra-high theme density, especially if it forces grid compromises. But there's something neat about seeing all these channels, just like you might see in a high-density TV channel menu.
There were some compromises, no doubt. In particular, the south region felt a little gluey with ITBE and SOYS. But I think these are reasonable prices to pay for the packed array of channels.
I also like what Brian did with the grid layout. With six themers, the usual thought is to place them every other row — 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13. But that's often hard to do, causing problems with spacing. Squeezing two themers into rows 3 and 4 can often be easier, as long as your overlapping letter pairs are reasonably friendly. The TC overlap of JOB HUNTER / BACK CHANNEL no doubt forced the pain in the south.
But check out how smoothly Brian addressed the north. ??FL is a rough pattern. Yay for textese! (Rolling on the floor laughing)
This was one that I admired more and more the longer I studied it and considered its merits. So many things done well here. Congrats on the POW! Brian, and thanks for the pleasurable solve!
I often wish Jim would comment with me a la Siskel and Ebert. We happened to meet up and chat about this week's puzzles, and I found my opinions shifting as we talked.
My first impression of this one was confusion, as I nearly missed the fact that the cities were anagrammed to form the kooky theme phrases. After I finally figured out that DIAGNOSE was SAN DIEGO scrambled, I wanted some revealer to help direct me to that conclusion. (Not that I could think of a good one! CITY MIX UP isn't a real thing, unfortunately.)
Jim had a different take. It also took him a bit to figure out the notion (shorter than me, I'm sure), but the fact that he had to work hard to figure it out enhanced his feeling of accomplishment.
Sure, some solvers won't grok the theme, and that's unfortunate. But those who do might appreciate not being spoon-fed.
I'm agreed with Alex; there were some parts of the grid I'd have asked to rework — there's way too much ASI ETTE ESTA ARTE NEBR STS etc. for this to be considered an elegant product. I'd have suggested adding a cheater square at the R of NEBR, and probably also breaking up BLACK SEA at the C. BLACK SEA and NESTLE UP aren't as awesome to me as ARCHENEMY, USED CAR LOT, CHEESECAKE — great stuff there! — so you'd gain a lot of grid flexibility with these suggestions, without losing much.
"Horne and Chen, At the Puzzles"! Any marketing folks have a better name? I appreciate having my opinions and positions challenged, forcing me to hone and tune my general philosophy on puzzles.
Talk about fresh grid entries! I'd expect nothing more from the young Grant, who's well outside my own generation. It made me feel young(er)(ish)(kindasorta) to encounter ADORKABLE, ADULTING, and the MANSPREAD.
Don't understand that last one? Think about when you were on a plane last, when the annoying dude next to you let his legs flop all over, invading your personal space so much that you had to secretly poke him with a sharp mechanical pencil when he wasn't looking and then you flinched as well, looking around, pretending that whatever jabbed him just jabbed you too?
I blamed elves.
I wondered if the puzzle was TOO fresh-feeling overall. I must admit I guessed SEGAMAN — bzzt! NERDS ROPE is a thing? And I couldn't imagine that the NYT would use BUTTLOAD. That last one did amuse me, but overall, the puzzle didn't have the usual stately, higherly edumacated feel the NYT puzzle is known for.
Is that bad? I don't necessarily think so. But I did get the feel that Grant's voice in the puzzle was more targeted to the solving audience of the American Values crossword.
I would have liked the AD theme answers in the corners to be more interesting — HOT HEAD is fun, but ADDRESS and SALAD and ADAMS are more workmanlike. But that's the price you pay for having so much colorful theme material in the middle of the puzzle — a BUTTLOAD of it!
Overall, a solid puzzle with a fun idea, several memorable entries, and nice gridwork. You're bound to need some long fill in puzzles like these, and LESS IS MORE and AT ONE'S PEAK were much appreciated.
I had much internal debate over this one. I loved it, and it was initially my POW! choice. There were so many great colorful entries and clever clues, INTERNET RADIO such a surprising and satisfying a-ha for [Pandora's domain]. I was sure it had to do with evils, Pandora's box, etc. Brilliant!
And a WAR MOVIE bringing box office bombs? Yes! This is the kind of stuff I'm used to seeing in a Wentz masterpiece.
SWISS MADE as [Watch words?] = fantastic repurposing of an everyday phrase.
Here's the thing, though. Having read "Between the World and Me," I plunked in TA NEHISI COATES right away. I felt so smart! And smug! I'm well-read! Brilliant! No doubt that he's an important contemporary writer.
But if you haven't heard of him — and I wouldn't blame you, as he's nowhere as famous as Ralph Ellison or Maya Angelou — it's impossible to figure out his name. If you don't happen to know ERIC BANA, that crossing is doomed. Same with a BRIS (where a mohel does a circumcision).
I also happened to know HART CRANE, but only from crosswords. I thought I was too lowbrow to have read him, but Jim (an extremely well-read person) didn't know him either. Boy, was I glad to hear that! Made me feel not quite so uneducated.
That's all to say that along with KT OSLIN (I knew her, Jim didn't), it felt like a lot of tough names. One or two toughies is fine, but too many of them and the puzzle feels like it's trying to educate rather than entertain. I'm much more in the latter camp than the former, so all of this made me rethink my initial POW! consideration.
I still really enjoyed the solving experience, especially since there was a lot of Wentzian color, with STAY AT HOME DAD, SPARE NO EXPENSES, ID NUMBER. It's still probably my favorite puzzle this week. I just wonder if it's aimed too strongly at people like me, and potentially off-putting to large chunks of the NYT's solving audience.