Click the links above to see these puzzles organized by constructor, or to try solving them.
★ Duuuh-duh. Duuuh-duh. Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh AAAA!
Something lost in translation there, the theme song to JAWS not quite as catchy on paper. However, I thought Tim did an excellent job of making this crossword catchy! Not just a DORSAL FIN made of rebus letters, but some good references to JAWS. Yes, he's a MAN EATING / SEA MONSTER, in a movie directed by SPIELBERG set on AMITY ISLAND. But I thought the cheeky ones were standouts:
I wasn't sure what the big black cross in the center represented? At first glance, I guessed that the puzzle would be about Dracula. Then I thought maybe it's an anchor? Sort of, although it doesn't quite get there. And an anchor doesn't seem all that JAWS-related.
Then I realized that there's so much theme material in the center, that Tim didn't have much choice but to use that big black cross. The fin rebus squares, SEA MONSTER, DEEP THREAT, GREAT / WHITE / SHARK — that's a lot of stuff you need to separate.
It's too bad. The fin visual is cool, but it's overshadowed by that black cross. This kind of thing tends to happen with Sunday visual art puzzles. Generally, it's better if you can make the visual out of the black squares instead of rebuses or circles, but that does also have the drawback of making things very obvious.
Great gridwork, otherwise. Tim's constructions are so solid. He's one of the few people I'd trust to give me such a smooth Sunday product, just a bit of HGTS STDS ELHI. Way less than average – and with more theme material than average! Such a top-notch constructor.
I like it when tribute puzzles do something a little different to make themselves stand out.
★ I love an early-week puzzle that's JUST FOR KICKS! (KICKS is what the young kids call shoes these days. Well, not anymore now that I've started to use the term myself.)
Such a hilarious image of a cat burglar, walking upside-down across a ceiling in fashionable SUCTION shoes. Love it! And PLATFORM shoes no doubt make you the life of the PARTY. Great repurposing of the common political phrase, PARTY PLATFORM.
WATER MOCCASINS wasn't as amusing to me, as you can't see synchro swimmers' feet that much, but it worked well as a kooky redefining of the moccasin snakes.
I liked the theme notion so much that I would have loved a fifth themer. But not sure what that could be – maybe FLATS, in TORTILLA FLATS? HEELS, in TAR HEELS?
Totally fine to stick to four though, especially if you're going to buckle down and make the grid great. So much room for bonuses in the fill and Sam and Tracy didn't disappoint. MEMOIRS, TROUNCED, G FORCES, HOOPLA, SUPERSIZED? WHAT A TREAT! Sam and Tracy, YOU WIN!
Note how well they spaced out their bonus fill, alternating up / down, trying to keep them as far apart as possible. Generally speaking, the less long bonuses have to interact with each other, the easier it is to fill the grid smoothly.
And a nice and smooth product, indeed. I might have tried harder to avoid EMIR and EDDA for an early-week puzzle, but I can see the case for those being terms an educated solver ought to know. Short gluey entries are usually easier to ignore, anyway, than longer globs. Something like GO NOW is a bit harder to let slide — seems a bit awkward, doesn't it?
But those are minor nits. An early-week puzzle that both gives me this many kicks, and demonstrates high craftsmanship, easily deserves a POW!
★ Beautiful Monday puzzle. Interesting theme full of fresh finds, a couple of bonuses in the fill, and a smooth grid. Nothing more I could ask for!
C.C. riffs on DOUBLETREE = phrases with two trees embedded within them. I highlighted them below in case you couldn't locate them. Particularly nice one in BALDERDASH! It's so densely packed with trees, plus it's a fun word to say.
C.C. is so, so, so good with her fill bonuses. DON'T BLOW IT? No way she would --- AMEN TO THAT. And a BARISTA, DR DOOM, and SARA LEE? Nobody doesn't like that!
And when NNE is the only grid entry that feels gluey, you've done incredibly well. Superb craftsmanship.
The only nit I had was that it took me forever to think of TEA in STEALTH FIGHTER. I was a bit slow to find FIG to begin with, and then I thought there might something called a TEAL tree? After much Googling, I headdesked when I figured things out.
I often wish that puzzles don't get dumbed down; that solvers be allowed to discover and earn their a-ha moment. Here though, TEA tree feels not as easily recognizable as the ASH or ALDER (I might say the same for TEAK), so I would have preferred shading them in the grid.
Ooh, trees providing shade! That would have been so meta.
ADDED NOTE: Astute reader Janie Smulyan commented that ARBORS are indeed [Shady places]! Another call for shading; that would have been awesome!
Minor quibble aside, a near-perfect start to the week; a puzzle I'd happily give to any newer solver.
★ Trenton used CTHULHU in his last themeless, and I enjoyed it, what with my fascination with HP Lovecraft. It's such an awesomely bizarre string of letters!
I imagine that other solvers might have hated it – if you don't already know it, it's such a horribly bizarre string of letters!
I bet QUEEQUEG and TZATZIKI will elicit similar responses today. I understand if some solvers rage at the kooky-looking entries, but I loved them. Great way to incorporate rare letters, those Qs and Zs immediately injecting some zing into the solving experience. Plus, QUEEQUEG is from a classic, Moby Dick, so educated solvers ought to at least be familiar with the cast of characters.
Toss in an X in XENON GAS, and another Z in TRAVEL SIZE? Love it! And yet another Z in GODZILLA? Yes! I don't like it when constructors force in rare letters, glopping glue all over to hold the grid together, so it was a real treat to get so many rare ones with just the negligible AGTS employed.
And let's not forget about the other great entries Trenton worked in. TIME SLOT. UNSUNG HERO. ALTAR BOY. SPAMALOT. TIRE IRON. YES AND NO? Nope, definitely yes!
Impressively clever clues, too. MANHOLES is a solid entry. Playing on "main" – in this case, a water main – made it even better. "Good to go" hinting at TRAVEL SIZE was fantastic, too.
It's not a revolutionary grid – not that hard to execute on a 70-word themeless. But Trenton used his four corner stacks so well and knitted everything together so elegantly. A work of art.
CROWD PLEASER indeed! Such a solid example of a stair stack themeless, Peter hitting on all marks.
A great stair stack starts with that oh-so-important middle triplet. CROWD PLEASER / PLAY THE PONIES / THE LEGO MOVIE provide so much zazz. Yes!
Then the NW / SE stacks – POP A PILL / AMAZONIA, and WHATS APP over SNAP CHAT = good usage of those slots.
And finally, where many stair stacks fall is in the SW / NE corners, so hard to execute on once the stair stack is fixed in place. THE CURE / PHONE SEX plus STARBASE / BEDTIMES = excellent work.
And of course, Peter is such a great gridder that he wove everything together with little to no crossword glue. Some will argue that ENO gets way too much expose for his level of fame, but I think he's crossworthy enough. And RNS might be hard to figure out if you don't know it (registered nurses).
I did wonder if POP A PILL was as on point as "pill popper." But ultimately I thought it was a solid 1-Across.
I also don't love THE CURE crossing THE LEGO MOVIE, at THE, but it's not a deal-breaker.
Terrific puzzle from one of the top themeless constructors around. It's not easy to work with 68-word grids, and Peter does it so elegantly.
★ Loved, loved, loved this one. I'm a sucker for giant middle swaths of white like this one. Lots of themeless constructors "stair stack" three long answers in this manner, but how many even attempt five? To pull it off with great answers – PRIDE PARADE and SOUND MIXERS are fantastic – and run four more snazzy answers through them?
CORPSE POSE was always my favorite part of yoga, basically lying on the ground and falling asleep. Along with WATER TAXIS, WINEMAKING, RARE JEWELS, this middle section is a rare jewel.
Some strong work in the NW / SE corners, too. NOT ONE IOTA / STARTER SET / AIR POPS is pretty darn nice. SAY WHEN, NAME CALLER too?
JEEZ, there's so much goodness packed in!
Yikes, even the remaining corners – which often end up dull in these stair stack themelesses – had some ORIONIDS (think of ORION), BANSHEE, OH STOP, TWO PAIR.
And it was all SOLVABLE, without running into much of any crossword glue! I squint a bit at TABU, but even that seems reasonable.
Okay, HYSONS in the plural felt odd. HYSON in the singular too!
Regular readers will be able to guess the main nit I had: the segmentation. The NW and SE were nearly cut off from the middle, potentially stranding solvers in one of the puzzle's subsections. But there are two entries connecting each corner to the middle, so it's passable.
Grid construction is much easier when using this type of segmentation since you can (sort of) independently work on each subsection. But when it allows such amazing results, I'm okay looking the other way.
Would have been the POW! for most weeks this year so far. It's just that darn good.
It's incredibly rare that I enjoy a Sunday puzzle so much that I don't want it to end. A great majority of the time, I get bored halfway through and finish just for the sake of finishing. I was tickled by how funny RUBBER MATCH, ORGANIC CHEMISTRY, and OPEN FLAMES were as names for dating sites. Awesome theme, and so many great finds!
Along with a solid grid — lovely bonuses like NBAJAM, COCONUT as a person's head, EVIL GRIN, Picard's MAKE IT SO, etc., and just a bit of ignorable ASI, NEB, IN LA – an easy POW! pick. Very strong gridwork.
My favorite Sunday of the year so far, from two of my favorite people in the crossworld.
★ Can't remember when I've loved so many feature entries so much. These flat-out delighted me:
Every one of the seven 9+ letter entries wasn't just great — they were amazing. I don't think I've ever felt like that with a themeless. Just I SAID GOOD DAY SIR would have almost been enough, but to get seven ultra-colorful headliners in one puzzle? Whoa!
I had a long internal debate, part of me needing to give this one the POW! based on the snazz factor alone. So many memorable entries!
But I have this annoying constructor yin to my delighted solver's yang. I've learned to stomp it down to ignore the minor stuff like ENTR. And SOREHEAD … is that something people actually call each other?
But a single ADOZE makes that dark side tremble mightily.
Note how each of those three uglies exhibits the alternative vowel-consonant pattern, so helpful to constructors. It's not a surprise that entries like this tend to make it into crosswords.
I know, I know, some of this was necessary to make all the goodness happen. SPUMED / MONAD is in a big region highly constrained by GO HALFSIES / ENDLESS LOOP. Maybe a cheater square at the S of SPUMED would have helped. But corner black squares can be unsightly.
Terrific clue for PARABOLA, although non-math types might not have appreciated its brilliance. PARABOLAs have a focus, i.e., the point where blah blah blah I don't remember exactly, but it's a great misdirect using the word "focus."
When I step back and look at the big picture, this puzzle contains so much greatness that it deserves a POW! It's a shame that just a few short entries sadly held me back.
(sounds of struggle) DIE, YIN! BWA HA HA HA YOU STUPID FLAW-POINTING-OUTER PEDANT, I'M GIVING OUT TWO POW!S THIS WEEK!
(Gotta keep all you readers on your toes every once in a while!)
★ Nearly the Platonic ideal of Monday crosswords. Catchy theme phrases, fun concept, strong bonuses in the longer fill, little to no gluey bits in the short fill. Platonic!
Okay, I don't exactly know what "Platonic ideal" means. Something about the perfect thing ... right? I tried to read the Wikipedia entry, but it wasn't ideal.
Middle-grade-level humor hits my sweet spot, so I enjoyed the plays upon BRIEFS, JOCKEYS, BOXERS, SHORTS, DRAWERS. Something about AMATEUR BOXERS really tickled me — keep on practicing, underwear, and one day you'll make the big time!
It helps that I'm a fan of these "kooky interpretation" types of puzzles. I enjoy snappy phrases in crossword grids, and I also like funny interpretations of said phrases.
Amateur underwear, tee hee.
I love how Bruce wove in a bit of extra mid-length stuff, ROAD WIN, and EKG TEST, to further spice things up past ORGANISM and REFEREES. Constructors usually break up these areas for ease of filling – you could place a black square at the D of ROAD WIN, for example. I did hitch slightly on EKG TEST, as it's usually called just an EKG, but ROAD WIN was well worth it for me. And no prices to pay, in terms of short fill around these regions!
INANER was the lone squinty entry for me. I did squint pretty hard at it. But it's not the inaner-est thing in the world. Overlookable, given all the goodness in the puzzle.
Wonderful puzzle, especially considering the difficulty of constructing around five themers, one of which is an awkward 13 letters. Not many (any?) Mondays are truly memorable to me, but that's not their purpose – they ought to first and foremost, be accessible and interesting to newbs. I'd happily hand this to a rookie solver.
★ I enjoy it when themeless constructors do something a little different – the creativity is much appreciated, helping to keep crosswords fresh and potentially even evolving. I'll admit I didn't see the SEETHING / SEE THINGS "dupe" David mentioned, but I enjoyed the Easter egg. I thought the puzzle was fun and well-crafted already, and that bonus elevated this one to my POW! pick.
It's so tough to create a themeless around ultra-long seed entries, and when you interlock four of them together, it's even tougher. The problem is that these long entries usually take up so much real estate that there's not much room left for other good entries. The puzzle then lives or dies on the quality of just those long entries. That's a lot of pressure on those few entries!
I enjoyed the long ones a lot today, and the puzzle could have *almost* stood on those alone. I CAN TAKE A HINT is fantastic, one worth seeding a themeless with. ETHICAL DILEMMAS is great too, and LOSE SLEEP OVER ain't too shabby.
CABLE TELEVISION isn't as good, as most people say "cable TV." But it does work.
Most constructors would put a black square at the T of TREPAN or the H of HECATE – as David mentioned, these types of huge corners with two triple-stacks intersecting each other are usually to be avoided at all costs. Way too hard to execute on with both snazziness and smoothness.
I enjoyed that NW corner a lot. ENTRANCE is more a workmanlike entry, but I appreciated how changing the stressed syllable morphs the meaning of the word completely. And riffing off the SEE THINGS / SEETHING "dupe," I liked the quasi-echo of ENTRECHAT and ENTRANCE. They look so similar but etymologically aren't. Cool!
And some great clues. My favorite: [One getting hit after hit?] made me laugh, as there's quite a bit of pot usage in Seattle these days. STONERs!
There's a bit too much short glue, NNW, ESTO, HAR, INE, etc. for my taste, but most themelesses featuring interlocked long seed entries have way more than this – as do themelesses with corners like the NW / SE! So very well done overall.
★ I appreciate a Thursday theme worth working to uncover. At first, I thought maybe BEETHOVEN had TEN symphonies – note TEN in BEETHOVEN! – and someone forgot to circle those letters?
But what a great idea, the solver having to COUNT THE SQUARES of the entry to arrive at the number asked for in the clues. BEETHOVEN = nine letters = nine symphonies. I vaguely remember seeing something like this before, but it felt far enough in the recesses of my mind to not lessen my delight.
ARACHNID = eight letters = eight legs. MARK SPITZ = nine letters = nine gold medals. Very cool!
MISSOURI isn't as specific since you could pick any state and find some piece of numerical trivial to fit. But the number of other states a state borders is a common enough piece of info.
Strong gridwork, too, Todd coming a long way in the past few years. Some of his earlier puzzles were kind of rough and gluey, but not this one. I appreciated all the long bonuses, CROUPIER, ULULATES, SNEETCHES. AE HOUSMAN was only vaguely familiar, but looking him up jogged "A Shropshire Lad" quickly back into mind.
It's unusual to weave a couple of long downs in the center of the puzzle – much easier to break those up. So HAUGHTY and SUITORS were even more welcome in my eyes.
A theme with a twist, strong long bonuses, and just a bit of ALEE, LTCOL, UNIV? Easy POW! choice. Very well done, Todd!
★ My POW! pick might come as a surprise to some. I enjoyed this one as a constructor, but surprisingly as a solver, too.
I had low expectations once I saw the huge OPEN floor PLAN of the grid, knowing that I'd have to slog through some glue or weirdness. Pleasantly surprised at how much fun I had! It's unusual to get snazzy entries in a grid like this, so DRUM ROLL, ACQUIRED / TASTES, and GAZELLES all in a single quadrant made me smile right off the bat.
DIVE BAR too? And HARANGUE? IV DRIP, MPEG FILE, even Ronda ROUSEY, CUSSER, WEASELED = fun stuff. That's way more pizzazz than I expected. A lot of entertainment and sizzle helped balance out the necessary evils.
I would restart a grid if I had to use BSTARS (or any other _STARS entry), but for one like this, that price seemed reasonable. UNNAILED was the only other one that stuck out as contrived, one of the UN- or RE- or -ER type entries I see all the time in ultra-low-word-count puzzles.
GREAVE was an oddball. But to get only one of these esoteric trivia answers was great.
This type of ultra-low-word-count is not my favorite themeless genre. But I think this one is close to best in class, and that warrants recognition.
★ Man, did I ever think Weird Al's songs (and name) were funny when I was a kid.
Heck, I still think they're hilarious and awesome! I'm jealous of Eric for getting the chance to work with the legend.
And what a fun concept they came up with, playing on "cheesy" movies, in an aptly Weird Al-esque way. Cheesy-related movie puns was a winner for me — big praise for someone tone-deaf when it comes to puns!
A FEW GOUDA MEN made me smile. Even more so when I thought of little yellow army men made of Gouda. FETA ATTRACTION … ever hear of the term "food porn"?
And imagining a movie where anthropomorphic blocks of Muenster tried to scare kids made me laugh too. Good stuff all around.
Extra fun in the cluing, too, a bunch of stuff that seemed as wacky as Weird Al himself. John CLEESE doing his "silly walks." (Much to my wife's chagrin, I still do them.) A TOUPEE = a rug you don't walk on. PEEL something you might slip on. It's a bit Weird Al, a bit Fozzie Bear, and a whole lot amusing.
A bit too much crossword glue for my taste, notably OSO feeling oh so globby, but some AFTS SRS AGRI REG isn't bad for a mid-week puzzle.
Overall, a satiric delight. I kind of wish Weird Al would write a crossword parody song and debut it IN A CROSSWORD the day before he released it. I call dibs on working with him if he takes on that idea!
★ OMG so frustrating for a good solid 10 minutes! I could not figure out what was going on. I had things like HURRICANE ___, and knew it had to be some sort of rebus. But what? And was I really supposed to remember the names of various hurricanes, for goodness sakes?
Wow, did everything flip for me when I *finally* got it. HURRICANE SANDY got reimagined as HURRICANE S and Y, the crossing answer using just the SY to complete NOT AS EA(SY). Mind-bendingly clever! Sam does make some PANDA puzzles – P and A for Puns and Anagrams — so that should have nudged me toward the puzzle theme much earlier. D'oh!
Jim once mentioned that he loved themes that were necessary to understand to solve the puzzle. I sort of got what he meant, but that notion fully clicked for me today, unable to figure out SANDY until I grokked the theme. Very cool.
I would have thought that the very limiting constraint of "word must follow the X AND Y pattern" would have produced some boring themers. Not so! LANDO CALRISSIAN, PANDA EXPRESS, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY made me a KID IN A CANDY STORE. Wonderful job of uncovering so many great phrases while adhering to a tough constraint.
A couple of minor dings here and there, most notably the GMEN / YEAH MAN dupe (crossing each other, oof), but I didn't mind at all because I was so delighted by the innovative theme. (Sorry Sam, I'm with Will and Joel on the iffiness of RIGHT FIT.) Along with super solid execution – some nice COMO ESTA, LEMME SEE, GO STEADY, AVE MARIA bonuses, with a pretty small amount of ignorable TGI, ECTO, DECI gluey bits – it was a big winner for me. POW!
★ Will has said that he's taking fewer "turning" puzzles these days (puzzles where theme entries take 90 degree turns) because they've become overdone. I appreciate that constant drive to cut out stale theme concepts. I even more appreciate the willingness to accept a few here and there, when they stand out as something a little different. I had to spend some time forming my opinion on this one, but ultimately, I thought it was really good.
What's going on with weird entries like MEGATS at 26-Across? It's actually MEGAT(SUN)AMI, with the entry turning at SUN, thus FOLLOWING THE SUN.
I scratched my head at why the answer wouldn't just keep on going down, though – why turn back to its original direction after running through SUN?
A-ha! Maybe it's like plants that follow the sun when the SUN goes behind a cloud (we have a few of those here in Seattle). Therefore, the answer SHOULD keep going in its original direction after running through the available SUN?
I think that makes sense. No?
And why do the themers on the right-hand side go up? That felt bizarre to me … until I realized that Finn was representing the SUN rising in the east (right side of puzzle) and setting in the west (left side)! Clever, made perfect sense and gave me a neat a-ha moment indeed.
Why three suns on each side? It must have been … the "three-body problem"? (A famous, intractable math/physics problem speaking to the effects of initial conditions.)
Sure, why not.
Slight theme reservations aside, such a pleasurable grid to run through. SO much great bonus fill, I almost appreciated it more as a themeless than a themed puzzle. All the ones Finn mentioned, plus more? (Some may not know the SUNK COST dilemma in economics, but it's fascinating.) Yes, yes, yes!
Even though I had initial reservations about the concept, I enjoyed that "rising in the east, setting in the west" a-ha moment so much. Along with such a delightful grid replete with fantastic fill, this puzzle ended up being a SUNny delight.
★ Robyn is quickly becoming one of my new favorite themeless constructors. I've loved her voice in the past, what with glorious seed entries such as MADE YOU LOOK, MIRACLE MAX, TRACTOR BEAM, RON WEASLEY. Sometimes you feel like you're right on the constructor's wavelength, and Robyn knows how to tickle my fancy.
Sure was the case today with LIVING DEAD, KING ARTHUR clued to "Monty Python," and that delightful WINEMAKER clue, [Port authority?]. Beautiful stuff!
Better yet, Robyn's been honing her work, continually perfecting her craft. I'd found some of her prior themelesses lacking in grid flow (choke points cutting off sections of the grid from each other), or using too much crossword glue. Not the case today! There's an ESTE and AMAN, but I'd happily take those for all the goodies she worked in.
And the goodies! Starting off with 16 long (8+ letters) slots is a tough ask — most constructors will manage to convert maybe only 10 of those into sizzling entries. Robyn used hers to the (miracle) max, SOUND BITES, FLOORS IT, I SMELL A RAT, etc. No THERE THERE needed, because everywhere I turned, more great stuff.
Perhaps NATTERED was more neutral than an asset? But even that is a pretty fun word. JEREMIAH may be dull for some, but what a great nickname in "The Weeping Prophet"!
And the cluing! WINEMAKER's clue was the highlight for me, but such an innocent [Full of ups and downs] for HILLY. [Make a (GARDEN) bed?]. A TUNER gets you from station to station (not a train). [School card] wasn't a report card, but a card, as in a joker; a CLASS CLOWN. So entertaining!
Loved this one. As much as I like variety in themeless constructors, Robyn is one of the few people whose byline I'd like to see perhaps once a month. Maybe more.
★ I'm a sucker for innovative patterns in themelesses. I still greatly enjoy standard themeless layouts, as long as the fill is sparkly, but there's something so thrilling about seeing something new. Big swaths of white, swirling from SW to NE! More swirliness in the other corners! All done with pretty good grid flow, and a ton of long entries? Color me intrigued. Nervous, too – it's so difficult to fill a grid like this well – but intrigued.
Such a pleasure to get a snazzy triplet in the middle, FIXED ASSETS / HIGH AND AWAY / BARBARA EDEN. Okay, at least one of these could bore most anyone – finance haters, baseball haters, old sitcom haters. But I like the variety.
Personally, I like finance and baseball (at least the fun slang), but I did do some head-scratching at BARBARA EDEN. When I looked her up on Wikipedia … man oh man, that theme song! Though I never watched the show, I love that jingle.
Then, GEAR TRAINS and ICE CAPADES worked through the middle stack! As a gearhead, I love GEAR TRAINS. And [Arrangements of teeth?] obfuscating it made it even better.
And there was more — nice stacks in each of the four corners! Loved loved loved PIERCED EAR / ONE MAN ARMY / ISLAND HOPS. Such juicy answers!
Well, let's reduce that to two loves. Agreed with Ryan, BEERYS is one of the worst pluralized names I've seen in memory. Ick! I'd have preferred the black square at the S as Ryan described, but who knows what it would have done in the NW.
I personally would have never let BEERYS through. But if it enables such a great triplet of long entries, why wouldn't you? Woudja look at that, after all these years, I'm still adapting my thinking.
(Okay, I still probably would have fought like heck to get rid of BEERYS.)
Overall, great usage of his long slots, and I love the innovation and solid execution using a challenging grid pattern. Very impressive work from a relatively new constructor.
★ I love BJ NOVAK. He's an absolute genius! From writing for (and acting in) "The Office," to a book of short stories, to the most hilarious (non-picture) picture book ever, this guy is brilliant.
Probably didn't do much for you if you didn't know him, though.
And Lovecraft's "The Call of CTHULHU"! Another masterpiece, this inducing terrors so horrifying that I can't begin to describe it without creeping myself out.
Again though, if you didn't know that, it wouldn't do much for you. Even worse, that bizarre letter sequence – something starting with CTHU, really? – might be aggravating. Annoying, even.
For me, this was a fantastic, A-1 themeless puzzle. Well crafted, with SUCH great use of mid-length slots – LUDDITE, GO GREEN, SWAGGER, MACH ONE, DAD JOKE, DNA LABS, ROSE CUT, XS AND OS, RISOTTO. Themeless constructors, take note!
THIS IS THE WAY YOU SHOULD BE USING MID-LENGTH SLOTS!
Don't just be satisfied with having neutral filler in those precious seven-letter slots. Strive to use great material like this.
And CUE CARD is not just a excellent entry in its own right, but what a brilliant clue. At first (and at second and at third) glance, I had no idea what was going on. [Stage holdup?] didn't have anything to do with Old West robbers? No? A stage of a play? But how is a CUE CARD like a robbery?
It's literally held up (for actors' benefit) on stage.
For me, POW! The gridsmanship is beautiful. But I can see how it wouldn't be POW! material for others. For that reason, I hesitated. I'd guess that as NYT themelesses go, it might not be good — heck, it might even be bad, as it could turn off too many chunks of the solving population. Probably not a lot of intersection in the Venn diagram of BJ NOVAK and CTHULHU fans.
But hey, this is my award to give out, and I really enjoyed this puzzle. So there.
★ Now, these are the kinds of "hidden word" finds I like! It seems a little miraculous that something as long as DISCOVER could span two words of a normal phrase. AMEX is shorter and thus easier to work with, but that X ratchets up the difficulty. And even VISA's VI or VIS is no joke. Three great discoveries made for a great theme, CARDHOLDER a perfect revealer. Delightful!
Made me wonder what other possible themers were out there. VIS A VIS is the obvious one, but that doesn't hold a candle to the awesome ELVIS AND ME. There's NOVI SAD, the Serbian city, but that seems hardly crossworthy — not novice friendly, in any case.
And such a wealth of rare letters in the fill, (mostly) worked in so smoothly! Two Js, three Xs, two Zs, that's way more than a usual puzzle contains. ITEN was a price to pay for the two Zs in OZZY, but I was okay with that trade-off.
The only hesitation I had before giving this the POW! … two crossings that I worried might trip up newer solvers:
So the J in AJAX is the one rare letter that I didn't think was worth it, leading to a tough crossing that might trip up newer solvers.
But overall, I loved the theme DISCOVERies (I did wonder about MASTERCARD to get the full set, but what are you gonna do?) and 95% of the grid execution.
★ Loved it! I'm always nervous when I see a triple-stack — way too much crossword glue usually needed, destroying elegance — but this one was a delight. I mean, ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE! I admit that "28 Days Later" scared the bejeezus out of me, and let's not even mention "World War Z," but ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE is a feature entry I would have loved to debut.
Plus LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA, the guy behind "Hamilton"? IN ALL PROBABILITY, this might be one of my favorite triple-stacks of all time. Especially considering Finn pulled it off with just an INO and the DTS.
Okay, I admit I didn't know Miranda until people made fun of me for that at the ACPT a few years ago. But now I know him! Prolific writer, even hosting SNL. Amazing guy.
And Finn kept the rest of the grid wide open, running the awesome MLB DRAFT, GOLDEN PEN (didn't know it, but what a great award name!), LIBATIONS, THESSALY through the stack. Such flowing grid design, never bottlenecking.
Heck, even the NW and SE corners have some sizzle, especially that SE with SWIFFER, SOLO CUP, and D LIST. The NW didn't have much sparkle, but the clue for ORGAN was awesome — [Player in a baseball stadium] is so innocently misdirectional.
The one sticking point I had was LATE APRIL. We recently had MID MARCH, and I didn't like the arbitrary feel of that either. But if LATE APRIL (or APRIL SECOND or END OF APRIL or THIRD WEEK OF APRIL) was required to make the flowing grid keep flowing, I think it's an okay price to pay.
This is one of my favorite themelesses in recent memory. Elegant to solve, visually stunning, and a technical marvel from a construction standpoint. I give it a Miranda-worthy Standing O.
★ For early-week puzzles, I like to play the "guess the theme" game. If I can guess it within one or two themers, I usually feel like it's too simple. After uncovering just AF/RAME, I rolled my eyes and said SPLIT LEVEL HOUSE. What a great surprise to have the much more fun HOUSEBROKEN!
Nice to get a humbling Jeff-is-wrong moment once in a while.
(There are a lot of them.)
Something so pretty about those circled letters. Often, circles in puzzles tend to distract me, but I liked these.
Not a lot of sizzling themers, but RAMEN NOODLE and LEXICON were both strong. (READ UP and OLAF aren't going to win any awards. EPOCHAL … huh. It's dictionary supported.)
If Emily had only broken CHALET into CHA/LET, making way for something more interesting, like CAPTCHA … or I GOTCHA!
Speaking of I GOTCHA, I thought Emily shined in her gridwork. URBAN SPRAWL and PENNANT RACE were both fantastic, as were I GOTCHA and SHERMAN, especially working in his "WAR is hell" quote. I even dug THRACE, a throwback to my favorite world history classes.
And then there was the short fill. Great attention to detail! Emily did have a great deal of flexibility, the ___RAN, CH___ patterns having a ton of possibilities, for example. But with so many of them to fill around, many constructors would have ended up with a lot more crossword glue.
Finally, loved that WELSH clue. What a crazy awesome WELSH name, Llwynywermod.
All in all, an excellent Tuesday puzzle, one I'd be happy to recommend to newer solvers. Nothing flashy, but very solid.
★ Love this theme! Alex interprets ISLAND HOPPING as "skip the island embedded in the phrase/word, resulting in a new word." S(CUBA) TANK to STANK was particularly nice, as was BAL(TIMOR)E to BALE. Beautiful finds.
CON(CRETE)S to CONS wasn't as awesome, as it was odd to get CONCRETES in the plural. VER(BALI)SE to VERSE too — if only we were in Britain! Or VERZE had been a real word. It really should be.
Great execution on the grid. Working with five themers, the middle one sort of cutting the grid in half, is rarely easy. Beautiful results in the big NE corner, EVIL TWIN particularly nice (I'm an identical twin, and clearly the evil one).
The SW corner did contain the awkward pluralised (not -ized, to keep with the Britishising today) KEVINS, but how great are IN DENIAL and SOUR NOTE? Well worth the price of KEVINS.
And two standout clues were the cherries on top:
Speaking of that, SCRIPTS, TS ELIOT, OH SNAP, MONOCLE, TEFLON — fantastic use of the mid-length slots.
Fun, tricksy theme, excellent execution. I paused slightly before giving this the POW! due to the two themers that made me hitch, but overall, this is very close to my Thursday puzzle ideal.
My favorite type of creativity is the ability to merge different ideas from multiple disciplines into something new. David excels at that today, using FOUR LETTER WORDS from English and "four-letter" words from cryptology / frequency analysis to produce a perfect Tuesday theme.
Still haven't figured it out? SASSAFRAS is made up just of A + F + R + S, SENESCENCE = C + E + N + S, etc. As someone who loves trivia and oddities about words, this one was right up my alley. I've heard all sorts of factoids about longest words that can be a different word when read backward, longest words of one syllable, etc. but this was new to me.
I wondered why OMOO would show up in a Steinberg puzzle — he's usually more careful about his short fill ... oh! Seven (!) theme answers is the reason. That'll strain your grid but good.
But! Hardly any other crossword glue. Plus the fun shorties David mentioned, along with Casey STENGEL's awesome nickname, "The Old Perfessor," TETRIS. Now that's the way to make your short fill stand out!
Innovative, entertaining theme + standout execution = POW!
★ I'll admit, I had no idea what was going on until well after I uncovered the OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE revealer. Okay, I'll admit it was well past filling in the last square-- and re-reading the clue for OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE several times — before I finally figured it out.
Check out row 3 — ABE FORTAS is hiding in there, "obstructed" in two spots by black squares! Same in row 7, with EARL WARREN similarly "obstructed." So cool to see long, full names hidden throughout the grid. ELENA KAGAN within TO HELEN / AKA / GANYMEDE is beautiful.
So although it took some work and an embarrassingly long time to grok, what a neat a-ha moment when I finally cottoned to the idea. I highlighted the six names below, in case you haven't found them yet.
How awesome would it have been to get all the nine current Supreme Court justices? I spent some time wondering if that would have been possible … not really. Not only is it extremely tough to work in 10 themers (nine justices + OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE), but how are you going to hide JOHN ROBERTS? Stupid -HNR- string of letters! And good luck with RUTH BADER GINSBURG.
Still, a guy can wish.*
Grid played out like a solid themeless for me, loving the WANNABE, SABOTEUR, GO DARK, NEW WAVE, TAJ MAHAL, THE BOSS kind of fill (although I didn't care for the THE dupe, THE BOSS crossing THE PEARL). I enjoyed the solve even without understanding what was going on — so many good bonuses, with just a bit of OLA, NEBS, ANSONIA (how else are you going to hide SONIA, I guess), etc. Felt like an elegant, well-constructed grid.
If Joel could have figured out a way to make it work with all nine current justices, this would have been an easy POY! (year) choice. As is though, a fun, smooth solve, with a beautiful moment of clarity for this constitutional law lover = POW!
*I'm lucky enough to count Will as one of my daily readers. He recently wrote me with some feedback, that some of my wish-list ideas come across as too audacious or even impossible, and therefore aren't that useful. I agree that many of my dreamy notions are impossible, like the one today. Ridiculously impossible! But I'm hoping that these lofty ideas spur on constructors, both veteran and novice, to go on to create bigger and better puzzles. Think big!
★ A triple of MAJOR LABELS / DARE TO DREAM (love it!) / LITTERBOXES with a funny "kitty corner" clue makes for a great centerpiece. Getting DART GUN, EGO TRIP, EASY RIDER, and THE BEEB (nickname for BBC) running through it makes it outstanding.
Stairstacks like this depend on the NW / SE corners to give extra sizzle, and Peter delivers on both counts. VOODOO DOLL was my favorite entry, and the awesome "sticking point" clue made it even better. POWER LEVEL was a fun one for this huge "Clash Royale" player (giant + night witch is my deck of choice).
Not as wild about TAKE AIM AT in the other corner — felt more neutral than an asset, given that added preposition — but ONE AT A TIME makes me imagine some poor bureaucrat imploring people to wait. And BRAKE FLUID is pretty good.
Stairstack puzzles can finally eke out a bit more juice in the SW / NE corners, but this is a tough task, given that these corners are already constrained by that middle stair stack. CAPITAL M was good, especially since it misdirects to the ENVELOPE in the Gmail logo — sneaky that both are eight letters! — but DIGICAMS and LOAN OUT didn't do much for me.
I normally love THE FEDS as an entry, but the minor dupe with THE BEEB nearby felt inelegant.
Such a smooth puzzle, maybe just INCANT a bit of an odd duck. So few constructors can get so much snazz packed into a 68-word grid without relying on any short crossword glue as a crutch.
Overall, another beaut from one of my favorite themeless constructors.