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Jeff Chen's "Puzzle of the Week" selections with his comments pow

showing 25 out of 268 POW selections from 4/13/2018 to 9/23/2018

Click the links above to see these puzzles organized by constructor, or to try solving them.


POW Sun 9/23/2018THE ART OF PUZZLE-MAKING
STUDSEMIRWASPSPORE
ERNIEVIVAALTACOLIN
LOSANGELESSURREALIST
FUELTANKSMARSROVER
IPASIUDMGMTOTSERA
EELPUPUAREUTESTSP
TASDORITOSSYD
MEDAYNIPATREATA
AROMASYONPOENIMROD
CAGEFREEAAHLABNOTES
TREACHERYOFIMAGES
TERSEHUMANRACEEDAMS
RTELODILINCLIE
ITASCAITSJUSTATMOST
OUTEATSTROPEQBRANCH
AREPRESENTATION
GASDRYERTURNINGS
PEDIISITNOTHOLA
ONEDOZENPEAUNPOETIC
PIPELINEOXYMAGRITTE
SETRATESDTSNEARMISS

★ It's such a shame that David Steinberg's puzzle was so recent – and so beautiful! I don't know much about art, but I loved learning about it through David's diagramless.

This particular painting has such an interesting story and message behind it. It's a fantastic blend of art and logic – it's obviously a pipe … but the caption begs to differ. I love me a good paradox!

Although my wow factor was diminished because David's puzzle was stuck in my memory, not nearly as many people do the variety puzzles, so I'd bet most solvers will still have a neat experience as they read up on the painting. Or, if they already knew about it – fine, I'm an art dummy, are you happy? – they can appreciate how closely the shape of the pipe is mimicked by the circled letters.

I also liked that Andrew included the "explanatory" quote: "it's just a representation, is it not?"

I admit that I don't fully understand that, but the notion behind it amuses me.

Even though all those circled letters plus the themers added up to a ton of constraints, I appreciated that Andrew worked in some fine brushstrokes: HUMAN RACE, MARS ROVER, DOG TREAT, CAGE FREE, FUEL TANKS. I didn't get QB RANCH at first until I (head slap) parsed it to Q BRANCH. I thought as a huge Bond fan I knew everything there was about the series – apparently not!

I bet Daniel Craig would be a good quarterback.

I do wish that the full caption, CECI N'EST PAS UNE PIPE, had been underneath the pipe so as to better copy the painting (even if that meant not using the quote). And a connect the dots from A to B to C would have been easier to follow, especially if you didn't already know C E C I N E S … what a confusing mess of letters.

But overall, I liked Andrew's take on the famous painting almost as much as David's.

POW Sun 9/16/2018"UH, WHAT?"
CLUMSYRACYABBACAPS
HAVANAOBOEBEEROHIO
OREGONTRANSPLANTMITT
OKAYOKAYAMOUNTFETCH
APEXAGASSINATURE
MURSETURNTHECORONER
MAPSLIRABUSSAWE
AREDRAMASTMARTIN
KINGJAMESBUYABLEARES
ENDASHESEMPTYPARENT
WAIVEJAMIECRAVE
ARNETTSETONASPHODEL
RAGURIOTINGONTHEWALL
PHABLETSSNOODBOA
SAMONEASCOWALPS
PROJECTRUNAWAYSPREE
IMHEREPREFEREMIR
TSARSCABALAINUNISON
TOWSSENATOROFGRAVITY
LUKEKEENATMSFTERIE
ETSYISLETOGOSADIST

★ It's rare that I can't figure out how I would have pulled off a particular theme, and I love when it happens. It's like seeing a great magic trick unfold – everything works together so amazingly, and you're left with a sense of wonder. How the hell did he/she do that?

It's easy to deconstruct letter addition or subtraction themes. Synonym themes. Words hidden in phrases. All of these are simple to pull off, using various computerized tools. But syllable additions? No idea, besides a whole lot of sounding out words to yourself (while the people around you slowly go crazy from all your babbling).

So many complex word changes! KING JAMES BIBLE to KING JAMES (LeBron) BUYABLE? Genius! WRITING to RIOTING is such a neat transmogrification, too. And CENTER to CEN-UH-TER = SENATOR is the best of all.

I might have liked one more themer, especially since OREGON TRANSPLANT didn't seem kooky enough for this Pacific Northwesterner. But I'd much rather have one too few themers along with a stellar grid, than one too many, along with serious compromises.

There are few constructors would could pull off a 132-word Sunday grid – one of the toughest tasks in all of construction – while keeping the solving experience so smooth. Just a bit of CEES and HOERs? That's way, way, way less than an average (140-word!) Sunday. With a couple of bonuses in SOLAR PANEL, BEANIE BABY, OKAY OKAY, and the delightful triple of AHI TUNA / PITCREW / SO THERE, it's an elegantly constructed piece of art.

Next time someone asks me for an example of a sound change puzzle, I'll be pointing to this one.

POW Sun 9/9/2018MIXED FEELINGS
BUMTATALILACASSAY
BRAHOLEDARENAPEELE
SNOWUNDERTOTALRECALL
SLNIAOMENLIARDEL
ADULTRIOOPTSEGO
POISEBATTINGGLSAVOW
PETERPANODORSWHIRS
IGORBRITAIFONLY
ASSAMTEAORBSIR
BLUNTVETTESANDTRAP
LOVEHATERELATIONSHIPS
YESWECANMILANTESSA
RECMPGCONDOFEE
BOLEROETHOSESTA
PAVERSTETSROLLRIRA
AREAAMPERSANDSFSTOP
YERCIAOGOAFISTS
OFTARLOCEESFREDO
FOURLEAFCLRINDECENCY
FORUMLEIASLINDTMOE
STEMSADOUTYAYSEON

★ LOVE HATE RELATIONSHIP is exactly 21 letters? Apparently the crossword gods had no HATE, only LOVE! Great puzzle idea + solid execution = POW!

Oh, you poor pen / pencil solvers out there, you have my sympathies. How in heck are you supposed to write LOVE and HATE in the same little box all at the same time? Cramming in eight letters – yikes!

Actually, not easy for e-solvers, either. Hopefully, the picture below is worth a thousand words. More like two thousand, given the duality of those squares.

Apparently the NYT web app can accept all these as correct answers: H, L, HATE rebus, LOVE rebus, L/H, H/L, LOVE/HATE, HATE/LOVE. Something for everyone!

Setting those qualms aside, I loved the way Hal interpreted that LOVE HATE RELATIONSHIP into the rebus squares. Sort of Schrödinger, but not really, a bit of LOVE and a bit of HATE. Spot on.

And some great theme phrases. In particular, ROL(LOVE)R IRA / WORDS TO T(HAT E)FFECT used such nice, long entries. S(LOVE)NIA wasn't as fantastic, but W(HAT E)LSE IS NEW was awesome.

Check that – I almost fell into a devious trap, putting in SOFIA for [Neighbor of Hungary]. I know, SOFIA isn't a country, it's a city. (Okay, maybe I didn't know that! Bah!) Finally sussing out S(LOVE)NIA made for a great click.

Not a ton of special squares – Hal could have worked in one or two more, perhaps – but that did allow him to weave in a ton of great long fill. Man oh man, TOTAL RECALL, MAO SUIT (Blofeld wearing one = great clue!), HUNTER GATHERER, THE FAR SIDE with the cows declaring that THEY'RE JUST EATING GRASS! So much goodness. And not that much short glue, either.

It all played out for me like a best of all worlds: an idea worthy of a Sunday-size palette, plus so much themeless-like goodness. POW!

POW Tue 8/28/2018
POTSIEBARDBAD
APATOWOTOEOUR
WAXONWAXOFFBRA
SLIPZIPLOCBAG
SALONRHYS
MARINAARMOR
GLENNCLOSEWIFE
MODSEERESSGRU
TEAMUSBCHARGER
SWAPSOWESTO
NAANDOEST
JOBHUNTERIAMS
IKEBACKCHANNEL
VIEITBEIDUNNO
EATSOYSSEEOUT

★ 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!

POW Thu 8/23/2018
ABECOTHANDED
VALEHAIOLEARY
IDECLARETOUPEE
DUCHESSOFCER
TOTENOWABBA
PRELSTRAILERS
BARDOPOULTTET
IRAOILMLSTAR
KINSCABSARESO
EAGLEEYESTORT
RHEASUEAROD
CROPROTATION
GUSTAVCHIPOTLE
ARRIVEANNNOGO
SLICERNOGRAN

★ 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.

POW Tue 8/14/2018
PBJRUMBAABIDE
ERAURBANNINES
RODBLASTINGCAP
USEBYSEEMHID
ODESPAIN
SCREWINEXTENT
THREEWAYTIERAE
IRASGMAMARC
PEZPEOPLEWATCH
SKYPEDHEARSES
HOPINREO
SOSTOADANGEL
BORSCHTBELTRAY
EASEDCLASHARF
DRESSHERDSBLT

★ 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!

POW Wed 8/8/2018
GREATCOMICASL
MIAMIAMANALOU
CORPSLIGHTBULB
SALTEDAMIE
CALCULUSMINDS
INAHEAPTHATIS
GATESLIM
PERIODICTABLE
MIENAIDA
ORIOLESTARMAP
THINKATOMBOMB
AWARWEIRDO
TELEPHONEEMAIL
ALTSINGSBELLE
SLOAPSESALIKE

★ 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!

POW Sat 8/4/2018
HIVEPROPERTRA
AHEMROXANEWET
NEROEVERYSOOFT
DAMUSESATMFEE
BREAKSLEARN
RYEBEERSFENCED
AAREVOTERSEES
THEARTIST
CPRENDUREAMCS
LOOKATGENEPOOL
IDLEDDEADWE
FROTHSBOZOEPI
BADTOTHEBOBLOG
ACEMYELINBUSH
REXEXMATECNET

★ 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.

Bravo, Sam!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brilliant!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POW Fri 6/29/2018
BADABINGBADABOOM
IMAGINARYFRIENDS
DUKEOFWELLINGTON
ELOSOLTIBTEAM
TETEINNSTRES
STAGSNAENAEGTO
YAMSSLURPEES
SCIPIODISTRO
CASTLOTSRICH
APRSTEELEAARGH
RYANARESWERE
BETASRATIOSAC
TALENTMANAGEMENT
CRISTIANORONALDO
MASTERCONTROLLER

★ OMG that top stack! Fresh, clean, snazzy. Triply love love love! BADA BING BADA BOOM nearly earned the POW! by itself. And it helps that I've always been fascinated by the DUKE OF WELLINGTON, whose nickname was "the Iron Duke." Why can't I get a nickname like that?!

Weaving in NAWLINS (slang for New Orleans), BYLINES, ODOMETER with its beautiful clue — in the middle of a (car) dash, indeed — talk about ON TARGET!

With nary a dab of glue in sight — okay, some might struggle with ELO, Electric Light Orchestra — it's so elegantly constructed. A real beaut, that top half.

I like that David's been experimenting with 16-letter entries in his themelesses. Much easier to pick fresh-feeling ones, given that themelesses so rarely go to 16x15. I'm a big fan.

I didn't enjoy the bottom stack quite as much, given that CRISTIANO RONALDO isn't meaningful to this non-soccer fan (I know, I'm an infidel!). And MASTER CONTROLLER felt workable, but not nearly as spicy as TALENT MANAGEMENT.

Puzzles like this often don't have much zazz outside of the stacks, but I enjoyed SLURPEES, CAST LOTS, even SCIPIO. And truth be told, it didn't take much to push the top stack greatness past the threshold, earning David yet another POW!

POW Sun 6/24/2018CREATURE FEATURE
CASPEROLDHANDSIGMAS
DIPOLEREVENUEONEACT
SLIPINDORSALFMEANLY
ESCAPESLECARRE
ALLTIMERFNSSALTBATH
BOBATEAMETEDBIGOTRY
FREREFISHERSAXIOM
ARRDREADSDOUBTSNUN
BEGSELLIEENRONHGTS
HUFFESSREFANCE
MWAHAARP
SEAMONSTERDEEPTHREAT
ARTHOPESOALDRINETC
CLEFGREATWHITEGLIB
KERRYAMISNITEPOBOY
HAUNTSSATORI
RAZZESSHARKMALIGN
JAZZUPDEAFEARWOLFED
ANALAMITYISLANDLIAR
WARELATTETENORASTO
STDSITSOKSLIMYSHOP

★ 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:

  • In football, a DEEP THREAT is that wide receiver who can burn you for a long TD. Or in this case, it's a literal threat from the DEEP blue sea.
  • I hadn't heard of REEL BIG FISH, but it's an apt description of JAWS.
  • In golf, a WATER HAZARD is a pond cutting across the course. JAWS is a very different type of WATER HAZARD! Golf would be much more exciting if they had this type of WATER HAZARD.

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.

POW Tue 6/12/2018
CLAWMELTHIPPO
OUCHEMIRONTAP
NADAMISOOKAYS
SUCTIONPUMPS
ABIENILMOT
WATERMOCCASINS
SHIRTSBEEURSA
TOREHADPIER
EDDASAMGREATS
PARTYPLATFORMS
STYOAFBOOS
JUSTFORKICKS
GONOWIROCZONE
EMOJIMANEEVEN
EGGONEYESDEED

★ 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!

POW Mon 6/4/2018
TODDLSDBASRA
ODORACAIANTIC
TENDBALDERDASH
TOPMIAMIBEE
ARBORSHUSK
DELMONICOSTEAK
UFOPALOARMED
LEWDGLADSRENO
TRIESCIAONNE
STEALTHFIGHTER
TRIODROOLS
ESCAVOIDEAT
DOUBLETREERHEA
ISSUESILLDARN
TASTESISSTAY

★ 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.

POW Sat 6/2/2018
GODZILLACUTEX
QUEEQUEGMOHAVE
TIMESLOTAWOKEN
YOUUNSUNGHERO
PURPOSEPHIAYN
EIEIOODORNOG
THATSALLANA
CASHCRATEAPES
ALPSHAKESON
PTANINAETUDE
IAMELKORDINAL
TRAVELSIZEGIN
ABLAZETZATZIKI
LOOSESTIREIRON
BYTESYESANDNO

★ 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.

POW Sat 5/26/2018
POPAPILLLETSBE
AMAZONIAIVOTED
TESTSFORDENADA
ALTTONGANERTS
KEELSOLIBIN
ITSODDENDGAME
CROWDPLEASER
PLAYTHEPONIES
THELEGOMOVIE
HOMEROWESTRUS
ENOVOLEYETI
CENTSNOTCHHOT
USTOURWHATSAPP
REELINEASTASIA
EXALTSSNAPCHAT

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.

POW Fri 5/18/2018
IMACOPLAWLOBO
NOTONEIOTAIRAN
STARTERSETMINE
AIRPOPSESPOSA
NOUSECARTNHL
ANNEWARSTORIES
PRIDEPARADE
SOUNDMIXERS
TOSSESASIDE
OWLETMOTHSJEEZ
HOVLANEMENLO
SPACEKSAYWHEN
TABUINTERWEAVE
OILSNAMECALLER
PREPGMCHYSONS

★ 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.

POW Sun 5/13/2018LOVE AT FIRST SITE
NBAJAMPSASSWAMBAT
SATIRERUNTIAGOSOLE
FRENCHCONNECTIONEATS
WRAPSONREPEATOPERAS
ELIOCTAORSOHYDRA
ELONBOOYAHDREAM
PENGUINSEANBEANERA
ADESTUDFINDERHOMEEC
BESTIERUBBERMATCH
AWEDBERYLNASTIES
PETPASTATRISHRNS
FASTCARMASONBOGS
ACTIONITEMSFLIPON
CHEESEOPENFLAMESMET
EERTRINIDADMONDAVI
NANASPACTENAKIN
AZUREMIMEHENSTEL
MINERSTOOTSIESPAIGE
APINORGANICCHEMISTRY
SPOTROUTCALEONESIE
SONTOYSKNEEBATONS

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.

POW Sat 5/5/2018
SNUGADAMHEEDS
POGOSOBAINNIE
UTAHHODGEPODGE
MONADMUONSTE
ENDLESSLOOPIRE
DEAFENAWMAN
SPARKYRHETT
ISAIDGOODDAYSIR
TOMEIWASABI
CRASSROOSTS
HERHIGHFALUTIN
HEFDAYOAGAPE
GETUPANDGOHYPE
MATZOGRUBTIER
ADOZESAPSANDS

★ Can't remember when I've loved so many feature entries so much. These flat-out delighted me:

  • HODGEPODGE
  • ENDLESS LOOP (programming term)
  • I SAID GOOD DAY, SIR!
  • HIGH FALUTIN
  • GET UP AND GO
  • GO HALFSIES
  • WHY I OUGHTA

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.

Then MONAD?

And SPUMED?

HULK SMASH!

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!)

POW Mon 4/30/2018
SHOTSTIPSYITD
TORSOELOPENOR
LEGALBRIEFSALE
ARIANAENDS
OWNDISCJOCKEYS
THIRSTASHGRAY
SOSOHAMLET
AMATEURBOXERS
DRAMASSELF
ANTWERPSETFEE
MOVIESHORTSEWW
DOWNSUITOR
IDICASHDRAWERS
ALFFAKEDTEENA
LEEOHYAYESSAY

★ 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.

POW Fri 4/27/2018
SEETHINGPASCAL
ENTRANCEAVIATE
ETHEREALRABBLE
TRIPATEINLAD
HECATEPATNESS
ICANTAKEAHINT
NHLOVIDWEBB
GADPERSIANLIE
STIRERMAEKE
LOSESLEEPOVER
ELECTROSADISM
REMONTAPESTO
RAMONECROATIAN
EVADESHALFTONE
DESERTEYECANDY

★ 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.

POW Thu 4/19/2018
POKEUNIVCACHE
AREANOTEHERES
BEETHOVENAHORA
SONIAMISSOURI
TOATURNCUTUP
SSNGOATEESIAM
SHUSHSMELT
COUNTTHESQUARES
AILEYSTEIN
BLUEISEEITSPF
LTCOLPIONEER
ARACHNIDRINSO
LITHOMARKSPITZ
ICEESEVILALEE
FOSSESEAMTERN

★ 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!

POW Fri 4/13/2018
CUSSERADJUST
UNMIXEDCRANIA
STORESUPQUINNS
TAKEMOREUMLAUT
OPENPLANIRAISE
MESSTENTROBLES
GAZELLES
HOWSOIDLED
HAVEASIP
BOREALMPEGFILE
SPARSESEARAVEN
TENDEDARRESTED
ANGOLADENATURE
ROUSEYDIVEBAR
STEEDSTENETS

★ 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.