★ When I played golf, my thematic sequence would have been:
Ending sadly with MERCY RULE. No GREEN PEACE for me, which is why I gave up the pointless game. Sour grapes? Bah!
Evan did nearly everything right today. TEE, ROUGH, BUNKER, GREEN, CUP make for a descriptive golf sequence, and they're beautifully disguised within phrases. It wasn't until GREEN that I knew what was going on.
Smoothness, Evan's strokes like butter. A couple of minor hitches with some concentrated initialisms in CGI ESL FTC, but those are all ignorable.
And the bonuses! Nothing lengthy, but so much of the mid-length material sang. GLACIER and MT ADAMS. ON THE DL. Slangy ST PADDY. Even some SPRITZ TIRADE to round things out.
Thankfully, CARDI B has been in the crossword twice before, so she didn't give me hesitation. Third time's a charm!
Can't say the same with AVICII, which was the one major barrier to me awarding the POW! Especially in an early-week puzzle, you want to do everything you can to create a moment of "oh yeah, I defeated the NYT crossword!" Today, I got a "umm … I might have possibly finished the crossword, albeit with a bizarre corner, WEIRDER than ever; that can't possibly be right, so let me double-check everything, no, it must be right, but it can't be right because it's so odd" moment.
It's a constructor's job to put solver above self, setting them up for glorious victory. That didn't happen today.
However, Evan did so well aside from AVICII that I still gave him the POW! Interesting, well-hidden theme, solid and smooth gridwork overall. I'd happily give this one to a newb, with the big caveat that they won't get as satisfying a victory as they deserve.
I'm apparently obsessed with balls.
It's rare for a Sunday puzzle to hold my attention all the way through. This one did. The theme wasn't stellar, but there were enough visuals – the four spheres in thin outlines, and the giant one quasi-outlined by black squares – to pique my interest.
David did a standout grid job, giving us quality fill, packed with a huge quantity of bonuses. It's almost impossible to execute on a Sunday 140-word puzzle without some ENS ESSE FHA NCO OBI RTE USS, but note how minor and ignorable most of those things are. I doubt most solvers would even remember encountering them.
And the bonuses – these are just my top ten (!):
Okay, I have to mention one more. How brilliant is [It charges to do some cleaning]? Everyone charges to do some cleaning, even my enterprising four-year-old. But wait — "charges," as in plugs in to the wall! Delightful.
Creating a magical Sunday grid isn't magic. It's a matter of not trying to do anything lower than 140 words, being careful about spreading out your themers, and then spending dozens of hours testing, resetting, repeating, exploring nearly every branch of your decision tree. Once you get to David's level of experience, it comes much faster, but I imagine this one still took an eternity.
The themers felt more like they were worming – right, down, left, down – more than rolling, but what can you do. When you have little features like having the first themer be GET THE BALL ROLLING, it's easy to brush away the quibbles.
★ The mysterious clue for DEAR SANTA would have earned this puzzle the POW! alone. That huge SE corner, so hard to break into, made it even more baffling, given that I had precious few crossing letters to help me out. What a wow-moment when I realized that "anti-coal" was misdirecting away from children's desire to stay on the "nice" list and get toys instead.
I'll be holding this one up as the paragon, the perfect themeless entry/clue pair. Great entry + sizzlingly clever clue = Jeff has to go find the socks that Anna and Erik knocked off.
But wait, there's more! Big NW / SE corners like these are notorious for not being fillable with color and creaminess. LIES AHEAD doesn't do much, yes, but STEADICAM over POWER MOVE is delightful. IM HERE TO HELP running through both is fantastic. And if EWELL is your weak link, that's a huge win. (He was a biggish star in his day, so crossworthy.)
AND a central grid-spanner running through the triple-stacks in the SW / NE? What did I expect? I tell you what, not something as great as WHAT DO YOU EXPECT!
This is such a difficult construction. Any 68-worder is hard. Throw in:
and there's no way a puzzle should be this silky and sparkly. HALTER TOP, MOUSE POINTER, PARASITIC, OWNERSHIP, it's all so good. Some might even say ITS LIT.
(Some who are hipper than me. See: TURNT is a thing?)
Some might ask why I put OWNERSHIP on that list of sizzlers. It's just a ho-hum word, right? Yes, but give it a riddly clue like [It can pass when you pass] and heck yeah, it's an asset.
A couple of blips in IDONT OPPS RES TAI don't even matter when your overall product is this entertaining and smooth. It's such a pleasure when I know immediately, without a doubt, that a puzzle is POW!-worthy.
★ I haven't experienced this many delightful clues in a long time. When solving themelesses, I keep running tabs on:
The third category is usually short, sometimes a big fat zero. I couldn't believe my eyes when the tab ran to seven. Unheard of! I had a tough time coming up with a top three, since so many were so good:
Although the construction seemed to be yet another of Andrew's "stagger-stack" constructions, I appreciated the variety. He did start with a typical stair-stack in the middle three columns – SELENA GOMEZ / DELUXE PIZZA / WATER HAZARD, all great – but he wove in so many long entries. TOUPEES, AIRDRIED, AISLEWAY, ESTATE LAW, TAX EVASION, APOSTROPHE, MEZZANINE, BUZZARDS, DOROTHY. It's an embarrassing wealth of riches.
There were a couple small prices to pay, notably the oddball BUR along with some ATA SYR WTS. That'd usually be a yellow or even red flag, given that it's a 70-word construction. This is no typical easy-peasy 70-word construction, though.
So many interlinked feature answers, and so many mind-blowing clues make Jeff a happy boy.
★ So many rare letters worked in so smoothly! J Q X Z are the crossworld's Big Four, and to have one each of J Q X plus six (!) Zs is fantastic. It doesn't come anywhere close to the record number of Zs – scads of themed and themelesses with more – but Trenton worked them in so beautifully, his grid showing none of the signs of strain that most puzzles on that list exhibit.
Such a wondrous north section, with a string of connected ZQZZZ. That could be a new name brand for a sleep product — ZQZZZQUIL, anyone?
As if that wasn't enough, the clues stood out; so entertaining:
ALL THAT JAZZ and hardly any wastage in his 16 long slots? (Maybe LAST TO LEAVE is a bit dull, but what else?) Sometimes I have to mull over which puzzle strikes me best during any particular week. This was not one of those weeks. Such a tremendous pleasure to do a themeless as enjoyable as this one.
★ The 68-word themeless construction is a tough task, and Peter is one of the masters at it. It is so hard to produce a 68-word product that shines with brilliant color while not causing hitches due to crossword glue. I advise newer constructors – heck, even experienced constructors – to stick to 70 or even 72-word grids, since the 68-word task almost always requires some trade-off (usually blah answers or a whole bunch of gloop).
Featuring 16 long slots within a 68-worder is usually asking for trouble. Taking up that much real estate, you're bound to leave potential on the table, needing to fill a couple of these slots with neutral entries. But AVERAGE JOE. DATING POOL. DEANS LIST. JUMBOTRON. PORTHOLES. What can you point to as a meh-only entry? Talk about IM ON A ROLL, CANT LOSE!
There could be questions about ALAN HALE. Not for this huge "Gilligan's Island" nerdboy, though.
Okay, you might argue over SKIN GAME. The Skins Game is common in golf lingo, but what is the phrase in the singular? The dictionary defines SKIN GAME as "a rigged gambling game, a swindle." Huh.
Great clues, lifting my already great solving experience to the heavens. ERNIE as the orange half of an iconic duo. (Raise your hand if your first thought went to the Trumps.) AB NEGATIVE misdirecting with [Type least likely to turn up in a hospital]. Not a healthy specimen who hardly gets sick, but the least common blood type.
And having spent a lot of time in the DATING POOL before meeting Jill, [All available options?] made me laugh. Such a great use of the word "available."
No doubt, this was a difficult puzzle, harder than most Fridays. Took me a long time to gain a toehold in the big NW corner. But the fact that I had to work hard to uncover such a slew of great entries only made my successful solve that much sweeter. Easy peasy POW!
★ My inner nerd dug the heavy sci-fi bent, from STARSHIPS to TELEPORTS to waking up from THE MATRIX and saying WHERE AM I? Perhaps even a nod to Star Trek's most famous android, DATA, in DATA MINER? Loved it all.
I can understand how non-sci-fi DWEEBs might not have enjoyed the quasi-mini-theme as much, though.
"Stair stack" puzzles (describing the middle three rows) are familiar enough now that they have to shine to be noticed. The middle triplet is almost always great, since if you don't have at least that, it's a non-starter for most editors.
Where this one stood out from other stair stacks was in the lower left and upper right corners. These regions too often get filled with neutral or blah material, since they're often highly constrained by the middle stair stack. Not only are both of Evan's SW / NE corners clean and smooth, but WHERE AM I / THE MATRIX are so strong, doubly so when adjacent. NOSE STUDS and IN STEREO are winners, too.
Excellent work in squeezing the most out of all the long entries. I wasn't big on SWEETEN UP – filler more than an asset – but there were no other wasted long slots. That's a fantastic hit rate.
A couple of amusing clues, too. SEVEN was confoundingly self-referencing — clue number 49 divided by SEVEN itself. I had to stop and think about it, and I loved how it gave me an initial DOES NOT COMPUTE that was quickly resolved.
MOP, with its head usually on its bottom? That's the way to make a boring ol' common entry stand out!
In any particular week, Jim and I don't usually agree on which puzzle we liked best. Jim's words expressed my thoughts on today's puzzle so concisely: "Everything a Friday puzzle ought to be."
★ I almost disqualified this puzzle from POW! contention based on technical flaws. A 70-word crossword (generally an easy themeless construction) shouldn't contain more than a couple of dabs of crossword glue. AEROS, AS FAR, DELED, UNSHY? Add in ASES, ERTE, SYN, TALI? Yikes! It's like seeing a bunch of unsanded welds holding together a bronze sculpture.
What's the most important aspect of a puzzle, though? How much fun and entertainment it provides. Nothing else comes close. I had a blast solving this one, for so many reasons:
Great feature entries. ON SALE NOW / AS IF I CARE / THAT'S A LIE = great triple-stack. FREECYCLE / RETROCOOL / ACROPHOBE, another one! With BAD COP running through it! Heck, most every long slot held something wonderful. AUDIO TAPE was only so-so, but everything else was great to stellar.
Playful clues. DAY TRADER is a fantastic entry, and [One who gives a lot of orders] makes it even better. (Buy / sell orders.) The neutral HULA cleverly plays on "wiggle room." Even the ugly as sin SYN gets rescued by disguising the link between "illustration" and "for example," making me think it was going for some art term.
MORE playful clues! Shouting HIDE at a birthday party. MARS, the subject of "areology"? Ah yes, the Greek war god is Ares — I enjoyed making that link. [Rush home?] needed a telltale question mark, but that didn't lessen my enjoyment. (That's a FRATernity rush, not a mad dash to get home on time.)
Then I put my constructor's hat back on, wondering why Freddie resorted to so much glue. Turns out that there's a reason for it. The four corners may not look any bigger than normal, but note how many mid-length entries link into them. The SE, for example: DAY TRADER, AERIES, DRY MOP running through the stack makes for a tougher constructing challenge than usual.
All in all, this puzzle gave me a feeling of glee. POW! for that.
★ Brilliant themes don't come around often. The way they get presented can make them stand out even further, or hold them back. Today's puzzle hit on all cylinders, an auto-POW! pick.
Discovering HEBREWS → He brews → male who makes beer is a constructor's dream. The muse blesses you with her benevolence! How to execute a full theme set in a 15x15 crossword, though? Some might take it in a "dictionary theme" direction, with a grid entry like PERSON MAKING BEER. Others might put HEBREWS into the grid, with a clue of [Headline: "Male Makes Beer!"]
Even if you landed on the optimal solution of choosing a colorful phrase to describe "Hebrews" – BEERMAKER is great – you might write the clue as [Hebrews?], or [Hebrews, in a way]. Putting HEBREWS in all caps was a touch of genius, shouting to solvers that something odd was going on. A question mark might do that, but the CLUE YELLING IN MY FACE made me take special attention. There was zero doubt that I was going to review what the heck was going on once I filled in the last square.
I was annoyed that I finished without hitting a revealer to explain everything, but it didn't take long to figure it out. HE BREWS, WE AVER, SHE RIFFS, I RATE, all with snazzy, in-the-language phrases describing them? That's as big a WITT (wish I thought of that) moment as I've had this entire year.
Along with strong grid execution – extras in BEEN THERE, POOR TASTE, CAMISOLE, EN GARDE, MARS RED, FAN BELT, and not much crossword glue – it's a work of top-notch craftsmanship.
THE NERVE of C.C., making me feel so pleasantly jealous. It's no wonder that she's near the top of my POW! list. I give her strong odds to take over the top spot in the next few years.
★ I heard a lot of complaints about Trenton's last trick puzzle. HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY GIVE THIS PIECE OF @#$@! YOUR POW!, YOU UTTER MORON?
Anytime I hear feedback like this, my pat answer: I like what I like, and I'm happy to explain why at length. You don't agree? Write your own blog.
(Seriously, you should. Blogger.com and other similar services make it easy.)
I wonder if this one will engender a similar love/hate split. Or if it had run on a Friday, as a seemingly regular themeless, it would have been lauded as a good grid with a fantastic bonus?
So many great entries. SMTWTFS / FIREWALL / PROTOZOAN to kick it off. LITMUS TESTS. TEXAS BBQ. ST PAULI GIRL. NUTELLA. NFL TEAM. ZEALOTS. Yes, there's some potential left untapped, STOP LOSS, TAUTENED, RESENTS, CLOUDED not doing much in their long slots. With so much strong material though, it qualifies as a good themeless in my book.
To pull all this off with just some ignorable STDS … and what else? Maybe TBSPS is a bit ungainly, but it's seen in recipes all the time.
Such fantastic craftsmanship. Some constructors say that using so many cheater squares – the pyramids at the top and bottom – is a dirty rotten cheat. I do not. I value color and cleanliness so highly that as long as there's not a ridiculous number of cheaters, they rarely bother me.
I enjoyed the solve. I liked the revealer, even though the a-ha moment wasn't that strong, since I was positive something fishy was going on.
Most importantly, I loved going back and admiring the uncompromising craftsmanship Trenton so carefully employed.
I hesitated before giving it the POW!, since it would have been better suited as a themeless with a big bonus, instead of running on a Thursday, where it won't meet some people's tricksy-Thursday expectations. But it was too good, too fun, too admirable not to give the POW!
★ Every once in a while, a new voice emerges onto the scene, making me sit up a little straighter. It hasn't been since Robyn Weintraub started making her playful themelesses that I've felt this great a disturbance in the Force. I loved today's solving experience, packed with joy and entertainment from start to finish.
Let's start with the feature entry. If you're going to pick a 13-letter seed, you have to make sure it's solid gold — both on its own right and for its cluing potential — because 13-letter seeds often make trouble for the rest of the grid. Caitlin made hers count, SHAM MARRIAGES colorful, and made even better by the clever repurposing of "actors' unions." Brilliant!
I call I GOT DIBS on this puzzle, far from a HARD PASS, a DEAD SEXY solving experience, WINK WINK, PREGGO, CAPISCE? Zero BAD PR on this one.
With a 70-word themeless, I want every long entry to count. ENROLLEE and ATE LUNCH struck me as more neutral, but everything else was an asset. No SOB STORY there; great usage of long slots.
And the clues. ORBS as "round figures"? The DERMIS being "skin deep"? Clever clever, wink wink!
Just a couple of dings, DAT and MARG thankfully minor. I used to be perfectly fine with KOD = KO'D in boxing, but I've heard a good number of complaints about this one, from both solvers and editors. What do editors know, anyway, you might ask, when KO'D is seen all the time in boxing recaps?
Well, they do control publication, so there is that. Thus the reason I lowered the score on KOD a while back.
I'm hoping to see a lot more from Caitlin. I have a feeling we might be lucky enough to be witnessing the emergence of a great new themeless writer.
★ JUST SO nice to have so much sparkling color throughout the grid. I don't often sit up while doing themelesses, but entries like DO ME A SOLID, VOICE ACTOR, STORY ARC, DON'T I KNOW IT, DINE AND DASH made for an attention-getting, juicy solve.
Great fun in the wordplay clues, too:
So many fantastically entertaining clues. I might have picked this for the POW! on that merit alone.
Two entries made me pause: ECUMENISM and NAPERY. I'm not a religious person, so the former didn't come easily. It was a word that I could dig out of the back of my head, though, and it was neat to read up on a movement to promote unity among all the sects of Christianity.
NAPERY. Man, did I stare at that one for a long time. Hasn't been used in the Shortz era since 2000 — almost two decades ago! The Goog shows NAPERY has a lot of usage, albeit more olden-style and perhaps outside the US. A bit of an oddball, but not so much so to ding the entire puzzle from the POW! race.
Bracing for the onslaught of hate mail from linen enthusiasts …
Great craftsmanship, only IMA for crossword glue. Not quite as many colorful long entries as I want in a 72-word puzzle, but their quality was so high. Along with the outstanding amount of clever wordplay, it gets my POW!
★ Riffing on Will's note, it looks like Erik's going to be the most published person in the NYT crossword this year. For years, there was a heated battle for that title, between old guarders Manny Nosowsky, Patrick Berry, Liz Gorski, Nancy Salomon, and more. It's amazing to see how long Patrick was in the running year after year – almost two decades!
Then came this Steinberg guy. And that funny-looking Chen dude. It even looked like C.C. Burnikel might take the title at one point.
But then came Agard. En garde!
He's swept in like a force of nature. It looks like the crossworld will be his for as long as he wants it. Astonshing output.
Sunday puzzles as of late haven't been inspiring, so I appreciated Erik's breath of not-so-fresh air today. Here in Seattle, where pot shops are vying with coffee places for retail dominance, pot terms abound. I once made a pot-related crossword myself (unfortunately, for the now-defunct Buzzfeed crossword.)
What I like so much about this one is that there's a limited number of pot-related terms — it's hard enough to come up with enough theme phrases, period. Then you tighten things up by forcing yourself to make all the themers relate to each other? That's a bit of magic there.
Not all the themers were as pot-specific as I would have liked – PUFF, SMOKE, and ROLLING are more general than POT, JOINT, BAKED – but it all works.
I also liked that Erik kept the grid at 140 words, making for an easyish fill to go with his easyish theme. I did struggle with NOSRAT, even after having seen "Salt Fat Acid Heat." An easier clue for UTES would be appreciated, but other than that, the crossings seemed fair.
Along with a couple of strong clues – I like Princess LEIA quotes, and TWA inside of "jetway" is a fun find – and some great bonuses in OFF THE GRID, KEGSTANDS, FLOOR MODEL, even MODESTY, it made for a pleasant solving experience.
I did feel a strong urge to get me some White Castle as I solved, though …
★ AES has some of the best theme ideas in the crossworld today. (A shame that he shares initials with Adlai "Madly for Adlai" E. Stevenson.) How could it be possible to come up with strong, in-the-language phrases for:
I wouldn't have even tried – feels impossible.
LEATHER WALLET cleverly fits [One for the money], a bit of wordplay we might see within a great themeless puzzle.
BROADWAY TICKETS are certainly [Two for the show].
ALL WHEEL DRIVE is another deft interpretation, for [Four to go]. Brilliant!
If it hadn't been for STOP DROP AND ROLL not feeling apt for [Three to get ready], this would have been an automatic POW! pick. Even POY! territory.
I liked this idea so much that I spent a lot of time thinking about what else might have fit. (I wasn't a fan of any of Alex's original suggestions.) The best I could come up with was there's an old saying about the Three S's needed to get ready for a big event. But as spot-on as it was, it wouldn't have passed the NYT censor. (S___, shower, shave. First one rhymes with "hit.")
Ultimately, I couldn't think of anything that worked better than STOP DROP AND ROLL. So I gave it a pass in service of a great overall idea.
Strong gridwork, too. MAKES WAR, FIDELIS, JETWAYS, OPHELIA, WAVE SKI, all reason to APPLAUD. CAN'T LOSE!
Well, there's COLICKY. I don't know that much about Alex since he likes to keep a low profile (we still haven't convinced him to put up a pic.) I can guess that he has no kids though – for us parents of little kids, COLICKY is too soon, Alex. Too soon.
Good use of cheater squares. It's tough to work so many down entries through LEATHER WALLET and BROADWAY TICKETS. So I'm sure the black square above COLICKY was key in allowing Alex to make that NE corner smooth.
Even though STOP DROP AND ROLL didn't work for me, I managed to overlook it. Great idea and excellent craftsmanship earns Alex another POW!
★ I'm envious. It takes a great constructor to transform a stale theme – I've seen dozens of "salad dressing" concepts over the years – into something incredible. Who would have ever thought to riff on CROSS DRESSING, interpreting it as "a revealer literally crossing dressings"? And to attempt the impossible, crossing CROSS DRESSING through FIVE symmetrical dressings, incorporated into great phrases?
It should be impossible. There's no way that Crucivera, the crossword goddess, is benevolent enough to allow such a fortuitous happenstance.
You'd have to come up with a way to intersect five salad dressings through CROSS DRESSING, at symmetrical rows. That's hard, but doable.
But add in the constraint of having the five phrases also be symmetrical in length? And have those lengths match up in position, so the dressings still fit properly?
Nah. I wouldn't have even tried.
Sure glad C.C. did! Wow. I uncovered the revealer and figured out the theme early on. But I kept stopping to admire the feat. It didn't seem humanly feasible. I mean, getting CAESAR and RUSSIAN to intersect in rows 6 and 10, that's pretty cool. But to have HAIL CAESAR and RUSSIAN MOB just happen to fit into total, absolute, mystifying crossword symmetry?
Screw HAIL CAESAR. HAIL Crucivera is more like it.
Fantastic clue in RECESS, too, reimagining "trial separation" in a funny way.
A couple of blips in the fill: a little more crossword glue than I like, and a ton of 3-letter words that broke up solving flow. Not the most elegant of finishes. But:
★ A month ago, Robyn became the first woman to make the finals puzzle for the ACPT. And it was a beaut! She's got such an excellent aptitude for selecting long entries that delight.
Today's was another win in her string (theory) of great puzzles. STRING THEORY – clued to "The Big Bang Theory," without actually duplicating "theory" in the clue! EVIL GENIUS! SCHNITZEL, such a funny sounding word. INNER PEACE.
LAST PLACE's clue cleverly misdirects. [Rough finish]? Last is a rough way to finish, indeed. It's even more devious once you note that MATTE is in the puzzle too, subconsciously tipping you toward thinking about photo finishes.
Er, finishes of photos. Not races. A double-cross misdirect!
Beautiful disguises for Gal and Berry, their capital letter hidden at the first word of the clue. There have to be tons of gals in superhero movies. And berries featured in cosmetic ads. D'oh! That's Gal GADOT and HALLE Berry.
Speaking of great clues, [One may get stuck in an office] isn't an overworked person, but a POST IT NOTE. STICK SHIFT – a manual shift – employs the common term [Car owner's manual?] in its clue. Two fantastic entries in their own right, made even better by wickedly sharp clues.
Even two ho-hum shorties got the star treatment through great cluing. [Message on a tablet] – a drug company's tagline? Nope, that's an EMAIL on an iPad or Surface tablet. I must admit I groaned when I figured out that SEALY (a big mattress brand) was literally for the "rest of the people." But it was a good sort of groan.
I had so much fun solving this one that it made me want to figure out why. It's not often that I feel like I have a lot to learn from any one constructor, but Robyn's ability to entertain and elate through her themelesses is astounding. She's caused me to rethink my own philosophies on creating themelesses.
★ It's not often that I have a Sunday solving experience that delights from start to end — today's hit that mark! Made me a real laughing boy. Amusing re-interpretations of "___ PAPER" phrases – so many great ones! A LOTTERY TICKET as [Scratch paper?] was a perfect way to kick off the puzzle. I used to love scratching McDonald's Monopoly game tickets. Not that I ever won anything, but oh, that anticipation.
[Fly paper?] as a boarding pass? Maybe a bit stretchy grammatically, but it was so amusing that I didn't care.
[Crepe paper?] Oh, as in crepes on a BREAKFAST MENU! Genius that all of these answers are real phrases, in the language!
And SEATING CHART, the best of all. It's doubly apt for Sam, the law professor, who likely has used a SEATING CHART in his day – and written his share of "position papers"!
Sam and Doug are two of my favorite people in the crossworld – could easily be in the top two. Such fun to see their humor and wit come through today. I suppose a review should try to be unbiased, objective. But my commentary, I get to do what I want. So there.
I'm privileged to know these fine gentlemen, happy to consider myself their third Stooge. (Okay, I'm Larry Joe at best. But I'll take it.)
Constructors out there looking to make a Sunday grid, take note of the delightful bonuses: CRASH CYMBAL. GREEN CARD. SCHOOL TIE. STRING ART. TAE KWON DO. BELLY RUB! MADE A SPLASH is so appropriate. They do it right – work in about half a dozen great long fill bonuses, and you make solvers happy.
Their short fill wasn't perfect, mind you. Quite a bit of ABM AERO DVI ELHI IMA … that's a doink in the eye. But think about the qualities of everything I've listed. It's all 1.) short stuff, 2.) easy to figure out from the crossing answers, and 3.) largely innocuous. As long as you stick to the usual suspects — the tiny minor offenders — it's gloss-over-able.
The puzzle accomplished what so few Sunday puzzles do these days – held my attention from the first to the last square. That's no doubt worthy of a POW! (The good kind, not the kind when Moe slaps your head. Wise guy.)
★ Many moons ago, I submitted an EMOTICON puzzle to Will, using a double O rebus for EYES, an I for a NOSE, and a U for a MOUTH (the three squares on top of each other). It sort of looked like a HAPPY FACE if you cocked your head and squinted. And if I paid you ten dollars. Needless to say, Will politely rejected it.
Yeah, that doesn't work.
Even having spent umpteen-fifty hours doing that, AND today receiving what seemed like hit-me-over-the-head hints in COLON HYPHEN and PARENTHESIS, I still got stuck like a duck in the center. The timer ticked away as I sweated, wondering why DOT DOT or COLON wasn't fitting at the start of 39-Across.
Delightful a-ha when I realized it was EYES! Clever double-interpretation, using COLON in one place and an EYES rebus in another.
Good gridwork, especially for a debut. I wasn't keen on A HAND NOICE (I think that's what Jake Peralta says on "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," stretching out the word "nice"?) or SSR, but that's not much for a grid with so many things going on.
(NO ICE makes more sense of course, as a different meaning of ["Neat"]. But I do love me some Jake Peralta.)
HORST was also a baffler, but I could more easily excuse that in the service of the center, a strong triplet in EYESORE / PIANO SEATS / PLYMOUTH.
There was even a little VIP ROOM and TIP JAR to spice things up.
I'm suffering from a touch of rebus fatigue, having seen so many of them, but I appreciate when a rebus does something fresh. For that great lightbulb moment when I finally broke open the center of the puzzle, I'm giving out something rare today: a POW! on a debut. Well done, Jon!
★ I have a love/hate relationship with ultra-low word count themelesses. On one hand, you're bound to get a bunch of made-up sounding (and actually made-up) words. On the other, I've picked up some solving tricks, making them doable. They used to seem impossible – now I feel like a genius!
Pro tip: keep prefixes and suffixes in the forefront of your mind, particularly the ones using "Wheel of Fortune" free letters (RSTLNE). So often, RE- UN- E-(as in electronic) or -ER -EST -S will be your best friend. "Most" in a clue should point you to -EST, for example. Similarly, "remove" ought to get you thinking there's an UN- in front.
It could be that I have very low expectations for these puzzles, but wow, did I enjoy this one. Let's tick off the usual traits of ultra-low-word-counters, and how Kevin bucked the trends:
Add in some great wordplay clues:
I would have loved something to connect the four segmented mini-puzzles – even something as thin as the compass points: N in the square marked 8, W at 29, etc. But overall, this gem wildly exceeded my expectations. And after all, isn't life all about management of expectations?
★ Whoa! I've seen tons of puzzles with backward entries. Puzzles with dual clues. Puzzles with all the across answers having something in common. Puzzles with words reading one thing one way and another thing another way.
But I've never seen anything quite like this. Elements of all of the above stitched together brilliantly.
Such a clever idea to give the solver two clues for each across entry, leaving it up to them to figure out which applies in the forward direction, and which in the reverse. I've seen most of these "emordnilap" words before (emordnilap = palindrome backward), but the notion of clueing both the regular word and its emordnilap is a great out-of-the-box idea.
My solve was much slower than for a regular Tuesday, and my enjoyment flagged through the middle, as the trick got a bit old. But after finishing, I had to sit back and admire the concept and construction. So, so, so difficult to get every single across answer to work this way.
There were plenty of gluey spots, not just ANART EPT SSS REPUT DIALLED, but backward stuff like RETAR. The overall impact was so strong that I was easily able to brush those aside. Heavy crossword glue in the service of a great theme is fine by me.
It's so rare that a puzzle stands out as something entirely new. This is one of them.
★ My admiration for this puzzle grew as I studied it. (And as Jim politely nudged me.)
At first, it didn't seem to have enough of a reason to be a rebus. There have been so many of them over the years that you need a great raison d'etre. Couldn't you do the same concept with single letters?
(Well, no. SQUARE ONE is a single square. So if you're going to use repeated words, not letters …)
Ah. Well then. Why those particular phrases? Granted, they are all colorful; jazzy. But there are dozens of them out there.
(Besides the ones Lewis mentioned, what other ones can you think of?)
Huh? LOTS OF THEM! Like … uh … TIME AFTER TIME! Take that, Canadia!
(Okay. What else?)
I have MANY others. I just don't feel like revealing them. What others do YOU have?
(I didn't say I had any.)
BAH, NO WONDER WE'RE BUILDING A WALL!
(You know that Canada is to the north of America, and—)
Double bah, back to the puzzle! I appreciate when rebuses introduce fresh phrases that aren't usually seen in 15x15 grids. Awesome use of a 20-letter one, YOU CANT TAKE IT WITH YOU, to match BACK TO SQUARE ONE. DO AS I SAY NOT AS I DO is something I tell newer constructors all the time. And BOND … JAMES BOND is so evocative.
And great bonuses. SNAKE OIL matching ANACONDA, plus CONEHEAD, ON SILENT, BAIL BOND, YES WE CAN, TWO TERM. I had reservations about the JAMES BOND / BAIL BOND dupe, but they're different enough meanings that I let it slide.
As for KOPF NGO ONEA SALA TRE, they collectively made for not as elegant a solve as I like, but it's a reasonable trade-off for all that sparkling long fill.
A wealth of clever wordplay clues, too. [House rules may not apply here] for the SENATE? So innocent, so wickedly smart.
It's rare that I give a POW! to a rebus puzzle, as rebuses generally feel a bit lazy to me; constructors not able to come up with good single-letter ideas. So it's high praise for Lewis. Strong idea and entertaining solve.
The finance wonk in me loved this one. It's paradoxical that an industry so boring – many friends have nodded off or run screaming as I've spun delightful tales of arbitrage, efficient portfolio frontiers, and basis points – can introduce such colorful terms. PATENT TROLLs have been in the headlines a ton (at least in financial headlines), and I'd heard of ZOMBIE BANKS (think: banks biding their time, all but dead). Such descriptive phrases!
UNICORNs I knew too, but just as "unicorns." As in "those horribly prancy things my daughter begs me to get books about." Also, as in "private startups valued at over $1B." Never heard them called UNICORN STARTUPS, though. Kind of like calling a company a "business company." Still, I can let it slide in the service of a clever theme.
It'd have been good enough for me with just three themers. Toss in the brilliant revealer, FINANCIAL MYTHS (think: what Jim Cramer propagates, ba-dum *rimshot*), and you have yourself a winner.
Clean-as-a-whistle gridwork, only OBE as a tick in the liabilities column. Add in some assets — PATTY MELT and HOT TAKES — and it's a solid product.
Mike's a good enough constructor that I'd have liked to see him push himself. Take out the black square between ABET and HOW SO, for example. That'd likely have resulted in more bonuses, while still retaining smooth short fill.
Overall, a great theme tailored to us econ junkies. Even if you hadn't heard of any of these terms before, they're so colorful that I bet at least one will stick in your memory.
That was too easy. Well played, C.C., well played.
It's one thing to use "foreign words for YES" – I've seen that a couple of times before – but to disguise them using homophones is a great way to target both sides of the solving spectrum.
The theme is tight, too. How many other foreign languages would YES be obvious in? SI (Spanish or Italian), HAI (Japanese), DA (Russian), and OUI (French). My inner nerd wishes that Dothraki or Klingon were included, but in both of those languages, YES loosely translates to "I shall excise your gizzard and use it to kill the ghosts of your ancestors." Probably wouldn't pass the breakfast test.
C.C. did well in her themer choices, LAH DI DAH, AIMS HIGH, and especially THE ROYAL WE. I liked PLAIN TO SEE, but it was a bit, well, plain. I'd have preferred THE DEAD SEA. Perhaps that's my inner Dothraki speaking.
As always, C.C. is a star when it comes to bonus fill. So much greatness in CARPE DIEM, SAN MARINO, PIT STOP, SLEUTHS. I liked FAN ART, too, great way to use a mid-length slot.
My solve was slow. Not because the short fill was gluey – on the contrary, just an LTS = top-notch craftsmanship. But there was so much novelty in the shorties: AP LIT, GO BAGS, KTOWN, even DEETS and DCON. As much as I enjoy a feeling of freshness — and I do like each of these entries on their own — this verged on too fresh. I wonder how it affected newer solvers. I could imagine it being a turn-off.
But overall, an entertaining, creative theme with a solid a-ha moment doesn't come around very often on Mondays. Along with a solid grid that aimed high, it's a slam-dunk POW!
NOTE: Thanks to some sharp-eyed readers, mistranslations in the original post have been corrected.
★ STANDARD POODLE crossing TOODLES entertained me way too much. Now that's an AMEN CORNER! There was so much greatness packed in, especially impressive considering how tough a construction job this is. A wide-open middle, with nine (!!!) long feature entries is no joke. That quartet of STANDARD POODLE / DINNER DATE / DON DELILLO / TANGERINE DREAM is so impressive.
The only one of the nine that didn't grab me was ROAD TO RIO, but I bet it might be the favorite for an older generation. No doubt that it's crossworthy, at the very least.
I liked that Andrew didn't stop there. EARL GREY TEA and RAISING CAIN added even more color. But wait, there's more! The SW / NE corners, which often don't live up to potential on layouts like this, feature DATA DUMP, PA KETTLE, and even METEOR. Not at all TEDIOUS.
Fantastic clues, too. [Person who's on a roll] directed to a high roller at a craps table. No, that's a VOTER roll — top-notch wordplay.
A couple of dabs of crossword glue in MML CTS LUM, but that seemed like a fair price to pay for so much goodness. There was the oddity of ENTRAIN – I've ridden a lot of trains but never heard someone say, "it's time to entrain" – but again, it was a price worth paying. Easy to infer, anyway.
Fantastic construction. I often tune out of a themeless if I get more than a couple of dabs of crossword glue, but today, all the sizzle was well worth it.
★ A jazzy revealer – STICK EM UP! – along with four catchphrases: HANG EM HIGH, HOOK EM HORNS, KNOCK EM DEAD, and the doubled-up ROCK EM SOCK EM ROBOTS – made for a great theme set. Fantastic choices.
Every time the NYT runs a "parts of answers jutting up or down," I get angry emails saying that there's something wrong in the grid. Ooh, the vitriolic barrages I got after a HOLDING DOWN THE FORT puzzle (never mind that I didn't write it). You fool, you @#$@!ed up big time! You're the biggest moron in the history of moronocy!
I've learned to spell out themes in painful detail, so that (most) everyone gets it.
I enjoyed today's in part because I won't have to do as much explaining. Tried and true "jutting" theme, but it's so easy to figure out. (We've highlighted the EMs below just in case.) Instead of relying on a long jutting string, or several different strings, it's simply EM at work.
It is true that once you've figured out the theme, it all falls quickly. But I didn't mind that. Enough of a trick to make it worthy of a Thursday slot, but easy enough to make me feel smart. It's a win when a constructor makes solvers feel smart.
Fully agreed with Brian, I could have used a slightly smoother grid. DAK Prescott, become uber-famous already! ETE MKTS TIO TMEN XCI almost made me rethink my POW! pick. But these gluey bits did allow for a lot of great WHAT A TOOL / LINE DANCE CHIN MUSIC bonuses, so I'm okay with the trade-offs.
Even after doing thousands of crosswords over the years, I still get tripped up solving these "jutting" types of puzzles. I appreciate that Brian found a simple, but colorful, effective, and easy to understand concept within this genre.