★ Today brings our toughest challenge yet on Next Level Constructor. Only the bravest of chefs dare to cook with certain feature ingredients. Fugu is notable for its potential to kill if not prepared correctly, but many others require highly specialized knowledge. Few have ever seen a python steak or yak meat, and it takes fortitude to consider tarantula or jellyfish as the star of a culinary offering.
Such is the 64-word themeless, especially when dealing with quad-stacked answers. If woven together with seasoned expertise, this can be a highlight-of-the-year experience … but a few missteps can result in an unsolvable disaster.
While you might consider "disaster" a drama queenish description of a Did Not Finish, tell that to all the solvers out there who cling onto their triple-digit streak of successful solves, gritting their teeth as they pray that today won't be the day they lose it.
Plating up a giant corner like the lower right takes much more than FAKE SMILES and INITIATIVE. It takes a real HELLRAISER to dare to tackle something like this without sectioning off that corner from the rest of the puzzle. Adrian doesn't only smoothly complete his lower-right corner, but he ANIMATES it with some PONTIFF / GNOMISH cutting through a wonderful quartet of long answers.
And there are other delights woven in, like LOVE LETTER, SOUSAPHONE, I SEE IT NOW (TO NAME A FEW)! Yes, Adrian left specks of ENE OTRA SER TOPO across his grid, but those few imperfections enabled so much seasoning and sparkle.
This would have been a high-end offering if made with ground beef or a chicken thigh, but to produce such vivacious work with crocodile might just make Adrian the GOAT.
★ Sometimes, I wonder if a puzzle is worthy of our Grid Art page — not today. Stunning artwork, worthy of the TAJ MAHAL itself. Graying out all the interior squares, adding a thick, decorative line to represent the SPIRE at the top, including MINARETS on the sides, and the TOMB so perfectly placed? Although the blank grid didn't immediately scream TAJ MAHAL, it's an impressionist masterpiece.
Neat combination of shaded squares, circled letters, and grid effects, too. TAJ MAHAL could have been a straightforward grid entry like MINARETS, but adorning the top of the ONION DOME is an apt way to pay homage to the monument's gilded features.
I wasn't aware of SHAH JAHAN, and although I had to piece together every letter, it was so worth it. What a legacy! To be known as "King of the World," commissioning the TAJ MAHAL, leading the Mughal Empire to its peak of existence. He deserves an entire crossword to himself!
I had a few hesitations as I solved. LETHAL BLOW is a passable entry, but placing it front and center as the longest Across entry makes it feel thematic. Although it hints that the TAJ MAHAL is a tomb, it's far from ideal.
The grid is also highly sectioned, with only a few connection points between shaded and unshaded regions. I don't mind this inelegance as much, though, given that it adds to the feel of a labyrinthine tomb.
With so many constraints, there are quite a few fill compromises. Overall, though, they're simply imperfections that give art its life, reminding us all of our flawed humanity.
★ Sometimes, a themeless feels like it was created specifically for you. The legends around OUROBOROS have fascinated me for decades, so I created a crossword around it. As a decades-long fan of "The Simpsons," I admire how their neologisms like CROMULENT and "embiggen" have entered English vernacular. Maybe words like "craptacular" have a dumbening effect on our youth, but sometimes numbskullery is so superliminal.
A year ago, I was baffled by the word COPYPASTA. That quickly turned into side-splitting cackling as I perused well-known examples. "How do I get my husband to stop going 'Goblin Mode' during sex?" isn't for the faint of heart. Or for those afraid of busting a gut laughing.
I was put off by COPYPASTA / PASTES IN, since COPYPASTA derives from "copy paste," but that's the goblin in me talking.
In the past two years, I've become obsessed with Mediterranean food because of the health benefits but, more importantly, the deliciousness. I haven't made LABNEH yet, but I frequently order it. To hell with my lactose intolerance!
ATTENTION SPAN is a top-notch themeless entry. I was fascinated by optics in college, and though I didn't focus enough to do well, repurposing [Focal length?] made me reflect on those fun times.
Speaking of optics, a lot of the entries I've praised might cause diffraction among the larger solving population, and I sympathize with those who find my happy musings opaque. As some of the wisest constructors have said about this type of potentially divisive puzzle, though, the great thing about crosswords is that if you don't like today's, there's a reasonable chance that you'll like tomorrow's.
★ Such fun connections, three people we might SEE in three different walks of COURT life — wide range of meanings, from a tennis court to a royal court to a legal court. I appreciated that this wasn't an ordinary "what connects these seemingly disparate elements" theme, taking it one step further by employing specific celebrities to further obfuscate the concept.
For two of the three, at least.
Order in the court, settle down, Jeff!
Themers of 13 and 14 letters are such a pain to work with. Those bulbous Utah blocks are one way to build around the 13s ... it might have been possible to do without them, removing all three black squares after OLDE and blocking out the E of OLDE. That is a much harder arrangement, though, with fewer choices for the long Down in that corner.
Delightful long Downs in CLOWN CAR and EVIL EYES — such fun injected into a Monday solve. CHIMES IN isn't as strong, but it's more a complete phrase than some other "add-a-preposition" entries.
Well done to finish with only one noticeable ding in I HAD. An extra black square could have helped smooth it out down there, but 44 black squares is already well above average, nearly pushing the grid past a block party.
It's awkward to think of seeing a tennis player in court, not on the court, but the next-level concept courted me in the end. POW!
★ WHO DOES THAT? Definitely Rafa and Kim, packing their grid with oodles of colorful, joyful fill. ENGAGEMENT PARTY is the star of the show, not only for its inherent vivacity, but for that beautiful clue. What a sparkling way to misdirect, using "new rock band" to point away from a diamond ring.
I'm not sure which corner I love the most. The SW and NE are front-runners — not a surprise, since the other two corners are much bigger and tougher to jam-pack with pizzazz. PRO GAMER / TELEPORT / SAD TO SAY speaks to my dork side, while EGO BOOST / NO WONDER / the GREAT ONE plus SENSEI makes me bow with respect.
Given that ON CAMERA and IN AREA aren't fantastic, I'd lean toward the lower left as the star of the show. This former trombonist has some baggage with being forced to play way too much SOUSA during parades, though …
It's great to see PAD and TAMPON in a NYT crossword. I'm sure there will be some haters out there who turn up their noses, but it's refreshing to see some of the fusty taboos broken.
So much to love, so little to nit-pick. My favorite Friday themelesses are those that leave me with a high, and this elated me.
★ I've brainstormed so many concepts around various barriers, including the SOUND BARRIER — Chandi's is a WITT! (Wish I'd Thought of That.) She takes commonplace phrases and breaks up their phonetic equivalents in cool places.
I often complain when it's hard to figure out what is theme and what isn't; this is a rare exception that works well. After I got over my initial scowl over WHO TOWEL being so short that it got lost in the fill, it dawned on me that this is precisely why the concept succeeds. It would have been much less interesting if all the pairs had been grayed out.
Working with so many pairs of short entries is a tough ask. It might seem like it's equivalent to gridding around nine themers, eight of which are shortish, but each pair fixes a black square into place, taking away so much flexibility.
Also, staying at the 140-word maximum means you'll need to incorporate more long fill than usual. Chandi was meticulous with her short fill and included loads of BOHO CHIC, I GOTTA GO, TRASH TALK, WHERE WERE WE — in the top half alone!
I hitched on the OTTESSA / PATENT cross, since I didn't easily recognize the [Easily recognizable] definition of PATENT. It'd have been great to go with a more explanatory clue, perhaps going toward the intellectual property definition instead.
Great concept, with a revealer that screams "make me into a Sunday puzzle!" A POW! well earned.
★ Such creative thinking! Constructors have been playing upon magazine titles for decades, but it's been a long time since I've seen an angle as this fresh. Not just plunking in magazine titles, but coming up with phrases that all mean "no more of that magazine available"? I love the out-of-the-box notion.
OUT OF SHAPE is perfect. Not only is it a fine phrase in everyday use, but it says, "We don't have any more Shape issues available," to a tee. LACKING VARIETY is also strong, although the phrase itself isn't one I would strive to use in a themeless crossword, as it lacks a little spice. Ha!
Because variety is the spice of life?
It's a good thing that Aaron made this one, not me.
MISSING OUT is also strong, but it, unfortunately, duplicates OUT in OUT OF SHAPE. It would have been great to separate these more. Starting and ending with OUT OF SHAPE / MISSING OUT would have helped it not be so noticeable.
That reordering would have made gridding more difficult, though, as Aaron would have had to work around three long themers jammed together in the middle. It's already a troublesome-enough challenge, with the black square in between LACKING / VARIETY forced into place. Solid work in the tricky middle region, Aaron even working in TEA BREAKS / THE BYRDS and BILLY GOAT / STARGATE. Those big NW and SE corners would have been much easier to fill with BILLY GOAT broken at the Y, but the extra effort to inject more bonus material was well worth it.
I enjoy this "reinterpreted phrases" genre, especially when someone comes up with such a novel angle.
★ Delightful colloquial phrases in WERE SO DEAD, and I WASN'T DONE! Stacking them atop each other makes it even better. Having one on top of the other is a 1 + 1 = 3 effect.
Similarly, placing DNA TESTING and GENETICIST in symmetrical slots is an elegant mini-theme. In today's world of ultra-competitive themelesses, factors like this can help a grid stand out. DNA TESTING stood out even further with its brilliant clue. [Business in which one is paid to establish relationships] made this MBA think of deal brokers.
Such a shame that Adrian got scooped on TRASH PANDA. I laughed so hard when I uncovered it back in November, and my long memory foiled some of the fun today. Glad that Will Shortz spaced them out more than six months, though, as anything closer together than that would have been a travesty.
Adrian has such strong gridding skills. It's hard to believe he came onto the scene just a few years ago. Because 72 words is the max allowed, if you're going to work in this sphere, holding fast to fastidiousness is a must. Leaving a single dab of SNO glue is solid work.
You have to do something special to make a 72-word themeless stand out, and Adrian's delightful pairings did exactly that.
★ I haven't been this delighted by a revealer in quite a while. I was underwhelmed as I solved, given that this "stretched letters" theme type has been done and done and done again, but BIG SHOES TO FILL was such a perfect revealer. HEEL, BOOT, CLOG, FLAT are all literally big shoes — and the solver is filling them in!
Such a smooth solve, too. It's difficult to hold my short attention span these days, so if I don't cruise through a grid in 15 minutes or so, I get bored and do something else. Ooh, something shiny! Hey, it's a squirrel!
Stupid social media and YouTube.
Each pair of themers was solid, and the fill around them was buttery. There was even some spice with PROP BETS, RED DWARF, and the awesome sign-off toward the end: IT'S BEEN REAL. Not once through my solve was I tempted to look at my phone and see what else there was to do.
I did wonder, was having singular shoe and shoe and shoe and shoe weird? Yes. Were four types of singular shoe enough to make it feel thematically dense enough? No. However, as with almost all Sunday 21x21 140-word grids, there will be trade-offs. I bet Rebecca and Rafael could have packed in pairs of singular shoes or added another one or even two types of shoe — check out Jeremy's grid, for example — but that might have sacrificed solving flow. I'd much rather accept lesser density for overall quality.
Well-established theme categories are tough to excel in, but this revealer and the silky execution helped LIFT this one.
★ Friends and I have turned up so many oddball wordplay discoveries over the years, and so many die on the vine because they don't fit the crossword mold. You need four to five long themers, and they must be colorful — ideally multi-word phrases, which editors prize for their color. They also have to shoehorn into crossword symmetry. It's a wonder that anything fresh ever pops up in the crossworld.
If Jimmy had come to me with a FOOD CHAIN idea, connecting a bunch of food words so that they broke up into disguised but valid words, I'd have thought it an interesting idea but likely impossible to pull off well. You could connect things like BEET SUGAR PLUM TOMATO SOUP, but where's the spice in that?
In contrast, compare these two strings, which contain the exact same letters but with spaces shifted:
APPLEGATE AUTOMATON ACHOO LIVE DATES
APPLE GATEAU TOMATO NACHO OLIVE DATES
TOMATO within AUTOMATON, along with AU finishing GATEAU, is genius. It feels impossible that the second line exhibits crossword symmetry. All praise the great goddess Cruciverba!
(Okay, DATES in LIVE DATES aren't impressive since there's no space shifting, but what are you gonna do.)
Sometimes a puzzle is best served without a revealer, allowing solvers to make the leap themselves, but I would never have figured out the theme without the FOOD CHAIN clue. I went from frowning upon all the single-word themers — some too short to realistically serve as themers — to incredibly impressed. Even as I take yet another look at the GATE AU TOMATO N sequence, my fascination is still high.
All that, plus solid gridwork? In a debut? Can't wait to see what Jimmy serves up next.
★ I've brainstormed with so many people on BACK TO SQUARE ONE concepts, running through such a vast range of potential implementations. I'd never considered going to back to 1-Across for Across themers AND 1-Down for Downs! Clever way to flesh out the concept and to avoid the problem I always worried about: repetitiveness. After FACET(IOUS) and SPEC(IOUS), I might have stopped solving, but then PASS(IOUS) didn't make sense. My frustration flipped to delight when I realized it was PASS(IONS).
Why IOUS and IONS? As David mentioned, they 1.) have numerous Replacement Finds and 2.) start with the same letter. In the past, I've even considered using IOUS at 1-Across, but I worried that solvers would wonder, why that particular entry? Turns out that having both IOUS and IONS crossing at the I — the Roman numeral for one! — made me forget about asking why; my critical brain simply clicking off to enjoy the experience.
Why not have all the themers symmetrically placed, though? Although there's only one strong seven-letter IOUS find in CONTENT(IOUS), you could use mirror symmetry and even delay the revealer to the bottom of the grid—
Sorry, I'll stop my TED(IOUS) why why why and simply say that David managed to create something that I could not. I'm both envious and pleased for NYT solvers who got treated to so much fun.
★ Another beauty from Robyn.
I appreciate the lift her puzzles give me, never failing to brighten my day with ten minutes of sunshine and joy. From brilliant clues (MUSICAL CHAIRS as a game you "can't stand to win") to electric entries like THAT'S A FIRST, it's a SOUP TO NUTS experience that ENHANCEs my overall happiness.
★ I love color in the Sunday Magazine, and these six colors at the start of Pride Month are picture-perfect. We've seen some pride flag puzzles before, but solvers have always had to imagine the colors. The impact is much stronger when it's all out there in technicolor.
YELLOW LAB and DARKROOM are a perfect example of the theme pairings. How is a DARKROOM a YELLOW LAB? It's a type of lab that's highlighted in yellow!
PEACOATS confused me at first, since "pea" elicits "green." That's overthinking it, though, as a PEACOAT is definitely not green. In fact, it's navy-colored, doubly emphasizing that it's a BLUE JACKET — highlighted in blue!
I like that Rafael stuck with VIOLET rather than using the much easier PURPLE (purple prose, purple heart, etc.), since that's the official final color of the Pride flag. There are so few VIOLET phrases, though. VIOLET RAY is a thing, but it's from days of yore. Still, using BRADBURY as a famous RAY highlighted in VIOLET was excellent.
ON AND OFF are states that are highlighted in red, so that works. It's unfortunate that some RED STATES have less than positive attitudes about Pride, though. I might have preferred something like RED ALERTS and WARNINGS.
JUICE is STEROIDS slang, as in "that pro athlete is juicing." The pairing works, although the connection is less direct than the others.
The print Sunday Magazine has a huge advantage over many digital crossword platforms. Although this is a simple example of how color can be used, it's effective.
Wait, that's something else. For this child of the 1980s, though, Fozzie Bear and PACMAN are equally pleasing.
Some might wonder, why now for this puzzle? PACMAN was from so many decades ago. Aha! Ready Player One features an "extra life" token that the protagonist wins by playing a perfect game of PACMAN. (I'm curious if Billy Mitchell's parents are proud or if they're sobbing.)
What, the book was from over a decade ago? Aha, what about the recent movie? Yes … the one that both sucked and cut out the perfect PACMAN game that was integral to Wade's journey. Never mind.
I failed so badly at "Name That Theme," even after feeling sure that PELLET, GHOST, FRUIT must be related, since I couldn't figure out how WAKA FLOCKA FLAME might fit in. I bow my head to Kavin and Nijah for obfuscating things so well.
Such elegant gridwork, nearly as perfect as Wade's perfect PACMAN game. Usually, you'd think about putting a long Down where LOL and BOSE are. Running long Downs through three themers instead makes your life so much harder — especially tough when one of them has to end in an F! ASTROTURF is an evocative entry, and EIGHTBALL is even better.
Although there's a fair bit of ACA ASIN FAA HORS, it's all well worth the BEST CASE SAFE WORDs.
Thank goodness Tina FEY is uber-famous, as her crossing HANYU would have left me a GONER otherwise. Impressive to read about Yuzuru HANYU's crossworthy achievements.
This puzzle isn't going to do anything for people who have never played PACMAN or aren't familiar with the game, but it hit all my sweet spots, bringing this kid-at-heart right back my idyllic days of hanging out in arcades.
★ Hopefully finding "39-Across" left you COMBOBULATED. Secret additional Across entries like "60-Across" are not easily BEKNOWNST to newbs!
I've seen many plays on "not-a-word words," but employing this secret Across trick makes this theme shine. For the second day in a row, Tom McCoy shows us the ropes. It might seem like child's play to get the five special black squares placed, but when working with a theme set like Katherine and Adam's, you have to be DOLENT to ensure everything behaves. Constant vigilance is required since every time you shift your grid skeleton around for better fill potential, you have to keep close watch over those five black squares.
The special constraints make things difficult from the get-go. Usually, you wouldn't want to create so many three-letter entries in the upper left corner since editors grimace when you hit about 22 of them. Not only that, but look what it does to the north region, with stacked 7s. That often forces trade-offs, especially when working with an early-week theme and grid. SOCIALS and CELLI are slightly odd plurals, and LECTOR / TETONS might be tricky for some newbs.
I've known a few Ignacios over the years and never connected the name to NACHOS. Fun clue.
Although some of the fill borders on mid- or even late-week difficulty — THANOS crossing SHUE, POSNER crossing ERNESTO, etc. — I loved all the ICEMAKER / SONICARE and especially BE HONEST / I CANT LIE bonuses. Solid theme, with that secret additional Across trick putting this one over the top.
★ I love crosswords that do something different. I love mirror symmetry — especially when the grid is smiling at me. Smiling's my favorite!
I'm well aware of two fingers representing BUNNY EARS, as my kids think it's hilarious. It Bugs me. And while I remember the PEACE SIGN and V FOR VICTORY, combining all of these with TWO, PLEASE to make a crossword theme, is such a creative connection. Using emoji for the two fingers gives it all a modern touch.
Such a clever idea to try for themer interlock up top. It's often impossible to make happen, and even when the great goddess Cruciverba shines her love down upon you, sometimes it forces difficult trade-offs. Today, it's not only impressive, but it's incredibly useful for both the construction and the solving experience.
Let's look at the alternative. Given that the themer lengths scream for mirror symmetry, if there were no possible interlock among the triplet of 9s, you'd have to lay out those three all vertically. Then, technical reasons demand that you build a triple-stack around the middle 9, like in this puzzle from last year.
While this can make for some juicy surrounding long fill, it's so hard to create a triple-stack of 9s with both cleanliness and color. Today's arrangement is so much more conducive to engineering an early-week, newb-friendly experience. That black square under the second E of PEACE sign makes it so much easier to pick short fill that's uber-accessible to newer solvers. There's nothing at all wrong with EDIFY, but EBOOK is so much less a pain in the annus to remember.
Doing something fresh and different, like with the peace sign emoji, is fantastic. What gets Maggie my POW! though, is her superb execution.
★ Five fun (animal) + (pace) themers — a fast and furry-ious WITT (Wish I'd Thought of That) moment!
It's also a tight set. Can you think of any other possibilities? I've done a Thanksgiving Day TURKEY TROT 5K, but that duplicates FOX TROT. I spent a dog day wracking my brain for a single other phrase that would fit the pattern, but after mumbling "monkey jog, pig shuffle, puppy scamper," my wife was not a happy camper.
AND all the themers are arranged in order, from fastest pace to slowest?
When people ask me what I mean by "extra layer" — as in the competition is so fierce these days that you need something extra to stand out — look no further. Such smart use of mirror symmetry to achieve this feat.
For the sake of balanced analysis, I'll point out that some SGT ORO AERO AMAN could have been massaged out by adding cheater squares at the second T of TOURIST and the first E of ENDEMIC, but there's a case to be made that these are worthwhile costs for the benefits of TOURIST, SAND ART, CAPRESE. And that Jeff's nitpicking is endemic.
At first, I wanted some revealer to tie it all together neatly. The best I could come up with, though, was ANIMAL STYLE. Not only does that not fit neatly, but animal style fries are the opposite of neat.
Ultimately, the theme stands on its own with no revealer, and with such elegant execution, it's such a standout.
★ I'm getting dizzy thinking about how much I loved this puzzle! It had been ages since I saw VERTIGO, but who could forget that vertiginous swirl? I've watched a lot of old 100 greatest movies in various attempts to broaden my knowledge gaps, and too often, I get bored by the slow pace or the lack of tension that might possibly hold my attention span that measures in microseconds.
Not VERTIGO. I rewatched it after doing today's puzzle, and it held me captive in the same way that Casablanca or The Godfather does with every viewing. It's a wonderful life to have a few of these grab me so strongly.
Beautiful use of diagonal symmetry to achieve a spiral pattern. I'd have been impressed simply to have a spiral made of asymmetrical entries, but to have it composed of matching 9s, 7s, and 5s is as dazzling as Jimmy Stewart's performance.
AND to get rare 15-letter bonuses in MONKEYING AROUND and I DEMAND A RECOUNT? They're so juicy that I demanded my annoying analytical self to stop monkeying around, trying to figure out if these muddied the theme.
Maybe one could argue that CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) is a tough way to start a puzzle. As long as the crossings are crisp, though …
Along with evocative fill like APOPLEXY and FIGMENT, it all felt too good to be true. Thankfully, there were only pluses — like the one in the lower right that reminded me of the TOWER!
★ THERE ARE NO WORDS is such a colorful phrase to play upon. The connections to SILENT TREATMENT, EMOJI KEYBOARD, and ELEVATOR MUSIC are so fun!
Neat to see an early-week, debut offering feature so many delightful bonuses. With four themers, it's almost always possible to incorporate four long Downs — one in each corner. Tough letter combinations can make this more challenging, but check out how ODE TO JOY so joyfully uses that J.
Many would stop there, placing a black square at the second C of ICE CUBES and/or the first S of LETS SAY, and that would be acceptable. Working in eight long Down bonuses? Most of the time, I'd tell constructors to GET REAL because it's too easy to GO ASTRAY. Even if you can get the extra long Downs to work in the middle of the grid, that often causes the usual four to take hits in color.
There were compromises, like requiring ROTC to make ICE CUBES work, and STET is niche vocabulary that might turn off newer solvers. All the crosses are unambiguous, so it all works, but it left me wishing there were a touch fewer dabs of GOOS.
That said, it was such a pleasure to be confounded until the very end, and the freshness of EMOJI KEYBOARD was so welcome. Such entertaining, well-constructed work from a newer pair of constructors is an ode to joy, indeed.
★ Old guard crossworders might say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH to tautology puzzles, but Gia found such a fresh and heartwarming way to end this one, with the modern LOVE IS LOVE, clued in an inspiring way. Hardly an IT IS WHAT IT IS statement about some of the progress that's helped many of my LGBTQ+ friends do what makes them happy.
Equally inspiring is the quality of Gia's gridwork! Hey, constructors who grumble that with five themers, it's good enough to achieve a smooth grid; take note. Gia not only achieved near-perfect cleanliness, but she worked in some beauts: SPAMALOT, SWOOPED IN (so much more evocative than standard add-a-preposition phrases), and MASTER KEY. If IT'S A TEST, the proctor DEEMS Gia's achievement of sparkle and smoothness much more than FIT.
Working in so many long Across bonuses is unusual because when you start stacking long Acrosses on top of themers, things can get hairy and quick. I would typically suggest breaking up SWOOPED IN and MASTER KEY, probably at the E of SWOOPED IN, because there are limited solid solutions if you don't. This long Across sandwich does necessitate the oddball usage of SUFFIXED, but it's so worth it.
Maybe you could point to REFILE as an inelegance, but I'm not taking any chances with criticizing anything related to the IRS this close to tax day.
Although the theme idea isn't new — what idea is? — it's executed with a modern and elegant touch. FAIR IS FAIR. Gia gets the POW!
★ What a great take on the "what connects these things?" genre! The mainstream approach would employ phrases like FROZEN PIZZA, GREAT NEWS, and ICE ICE BABY, tied together by DELIVER THE GOODS (with a clue alluding to the last words of each phrase). That's adequate, though it wouldn't deliver a strong aha for "things that can be delivered." Using all movies helps makes this memorable.
I did wonder at first, why movies? Yes, DELIVERANCE is a movie, so it kinda sorta makes sense to have the other themers be movies. It was a little strange, though, that BROADCAST NEWS and ROSEMARY'S BABY can be delivered, whereas you could hardly order a MYSTIC PIZZA from—
Thankfully, someone in the theater shushed that annoying guy so everyone else could sit back and enjoy the solve. Clean grid, superbly newb-friendly, with a theme that's both interesting and ties to one of the constructors' main interests?
Two thumbs up.
★ I love APRIL FOOL's day. It's so rewarding to build a false door, so my kids think they've been Cask of Amontillado-ed, or put on an elaborate parental replacement scheme, or stage a MEN IN BLACK memory wipe.
This fool has already set aside a future therapy fund.
APRIL FOOL means that all bets are off in the crossworld. There have been some jokes, screwy clues, sheer inanity, and even fake news. My favorites, though, are the rule-breakers. Repeated words! Letters outside the grid! Missing black squares! What will kooky constructors think of next? (Here are all the NYT puzzles from April 1 over the years.)
My Spidey-sense tingled immediately, with [Pikachu's cry in Pokemon]. Being a gigantic dork, I knew immediately that this was PIII-KAAA-CHUUU!!! Surely that couldn't be the answer though, since there were only seven squares.
Sadly, that was my actual thought process.
So much fun to see the "entry cannot be used the clue" rule broken over and over. The scientific name for the bison = BISON BISON was doubly fun. And this history (re)buff had to wait for all the crosses to figure out the fourth president after ADAMS. Or did he?!
I wondered if it would have been great for every clue break this long-standing crossword rule, but that would have been too much. The unpredictability is exactly what entertained me.
That also gave Joel and Wyna the freedom to go wild with fill and especially wordplay. [It charges for cleaning], as in how a ROOMBA electrically charges. REALTORS have (house) lots to deal with. [Cell info] these days is one's telephone number … unless it's the DNA in one's cells.
Along with the headlining of my favorite makers, ADAM SAVAGE, this puzzle gave me delightful JAMAIS VU.
★ It's great to experience a boundary-pushing rebus the likes of which I've never seen. I experienced a similar struggle as with the last one, but thankfully today's wasn't as much of a brain-buster. It was easy enough to figure out that there was some sort of ONE rebus going on. Figuring out how to put ONE and ONE (and ONE) together was a different story.
Such a neat a-ha moment when I finally hit on the old saying, "Two's company and three's a crowd." ONE and ONE makes TWO, which substitutes in for the word COMPANY in (COMPANY) COMMANDER and THE EAST INDIA (COMPANY). Add ONE more to make the WISDOM OF THE (CROWD) and (CROWD)SOURCING.
There is the small matter of how "Three's Company" raised me, but those tales are best saved for my kids' future therapy sessions.
My first reaction after figuring out the concept was that including TWOS COMPANY THREES A CROWD would have been great — especially considering I was sure that the WISDOM OF THE (AGES) indicated that I was three years old.
Maturity-wise, at least.
I like that David put his trust in Thursday solvers, though. The a-ha moment was so much stronger because I had to work for it. I took pride in earning it, and I bet I'll be in good ONEONE today.
Fantastic clue for THE NBA, hiding the capital R of Rockets at the start of the clue. They're tanking so hard to jockey for position in next year's draft — someone clever might be able to link "rocket" and "tank" in a delightful clue.
Such a smooth solving experience, especially with so many rebus squares to work around. Wrangling with a completely new rebus mechanism can be frustrating, but David's gridwork eased my path forward perfectly.
★ My friend Frewin and I recently won our 16-team fantasy basketball season. That's a threepeat of either finishing first in the regular season or winning the playoffs ... without watching more than five minutes of NBA games for the past three years.
That may seem strange, but what I love about fantasy basketball is much more the fantasy than the basketball. Formulating a strategy to win at least five out of nine categories every week (points, assists, rebounds, etc.), figuring out player salaries, roster construction, number crunching, Monte Carlo analysis — it's a data miner's dream.
If any future Seattle Sonics execs are reading, I happen to know a quant jock who would work for free …
That analytical technician in me appreciated Peter's offering. BRACKETOLOGY is such an entertaining term, perfectly describing the statisticians attempting to optimize their March Madness brackets. An entire branch of math is devoted to predicting what upsets might happen. Well, "math" is a strong word for it, but some have shown elements of success.
And the grid technician in me admired the set of constraints — FINAL placed at 4-Down, ELITE at 8-Down, and SWEET at 16-Across. That is sweet indeed, as it's so difficult to get specific entries at specific locations. Not only that, though! Intersecting BRACKETOLOGY with FINAL and ELITE is elite technical wizardry.
The non-basketball watcher and wordplay-seeking solver in me was plus/minus on the overall theme, but this technical feat — a Nikola Jokic-like triple-double with defensive stats, zero turnovers, and a 50/70/95 percentage shooting line — made this STEM-head sit up and want to figure out how Peter did it.
★ You had me at OH HELL.
Sometimes you can tell right away when a themeless is going to vibrate at your resonant frequency. Crossing HELL with HORCRUX feels like one of the Unforgiveable Curses, but in a Gryffindor way. I bet COOLIO would be cool with being thrown into the mix. Round it out with a TURING test, and I'll declare that I'm not a robot!
That made more sense in my head.
Huge middles in themelesses are the jumbo-size candy bars in my Halloween bag. It's so tough to work with a stairstacked set of five answers, and DUNK TANKS / XRAY TECHS are so ENDEARING. Tom GOT INTO IT! BLOCKCHAINS and CHINESE TEAS are not at all WHAT A DOWNER-worthy.
Smart layout, too. Note that once you figure out your middle (easier said than done, of course), you have a ton of flexibility in filling each of the four corners, mostly independently. This was so useful the first time I played with this type of themeless grid.
Take the lower left corner, for example. The 49-Across pattern is flexible enough to accommodate HANG ON A SEC, HOLD ON A SEC, HAN DYNASTY, VIDEO NASTY, so you can try each one in turn. Given that there are only two long slots and a handful of mid-lengthers, it's so important to make all of them count — brilliant multi-worders like MAN CAVES, ALOHA OE, and even a Z in IONIZER is an excellent result.
What with interesting clues like ACROBAT linked to the Greek for "walking on tiptoe," and ALOHA OE meaning "farewell to thee," GO WHOLE HOG is right. I don't know what kind of unicorn blood Tom is drinking, but I want some.