Click the links above to see these puzzles organized by constructor, or to try solving them.
★ Loved this one. Loved, loved, loved. As Ross points out, the palindromes in the middle – SOLOS, SOS, REVIVER, etc. – make a perfect transition zone into the mirror world. I've seen many mirror puzzles, including one that stands out with its amazing craftsmanship, but today's has such a fantastic story behind it. Alice going through THE LOOKING GLASS is spot on.
So well executed today. It would have been much easier to stick to a higher word count, but that wouldn't have allowed for so much goodness. JAMPACKS is right! SPLIT RUN, COMO ESTA, AVENGERS, LOL CAT, HAEY LLEH! Er, HELL YEAH!
The right side is easier to construct than you might think because you can create a separate file containing the middle palindrome linkages, and work on it as if it were your left side. Then, you flip the grid along a vertical axis.
Right, you've stopped listening. Anyhoo, unmasking the technical tricks doesn't make the result any less impressive.
A couple of missed opportunities in ELEANORS ESCORTEE. That might argue for putting a black square at the P of JAM PACKS and the U of DISGUSTS, to see if you could get those two corners smoother while keeping up the snazziness. But since the rest of the puzzle has so little by way of crossword glue (just EER) or oddball words, I'm fine with Ross's decision.
I was so confused by KUEHT, especially since it was one of the first backward answers I uncovered. THEUK = THE UK, such a nice piece of fill, resulting in a delightful mini a-ha.
This one will stick in my mind as strongly as Jason's. Maybe even more so.
P.S. Ross told me that he's gotten dozens of requests for help from budding constructors with diverse backgrounds! It's great to see Ross take this initiative. Let Jim or me know if we can help as well (email us through the home page).
★ I appreciated the excellent craftsmanship today. Jim and I did one with no vowels except I way back in 2014, but Trenton took it a step further – not only are there no A, E, O, U, Y, but every single entry contains an I!
(The difference is that an entry like PSST wouldn't fly for today's puzzle.)
Having gone through the construction challenge, I can sympathize with how tough it is. Your word list gets cut down tremendously, to the point where you'd think you'd have to make serious compromises – perhaps use a ton of crossword glue, some oddball long entries guaranteed to cause head-scratching, or maybe even go up to 80 words.
Super impressive that Trenton made it all happen so smoothly. If INDS is your worst entry, man oh man is that a tremendous success.
I don't mind at all that he was liberal with his use of cheater squares (like the two black squares under BRING IT). There are a lot (12 in total), but I'm fine with that in the service of smooth gridwork.
I hesitated on PRII, but I think I love that one. One Prius, two Prii? Sure, why not!
I've seen enough gimmicks like this that it didn't have much impact on me. But many of my friends have joyfully related their experience with similar trick puzzles, some going as far as to cite them as some of their favorites. I can certainly understand that perspective — the first time I saw something like this I was wowed.
Trenton earns himself another POW! in recognition of his stellar gridsmanship today.
★ I love blasphemous rule-breaking in the crossworld! I especially love it when there's a grid separated in two, with something nifty secretly connecting the halves. Tim built a literal WALL today, using three themers with sort of a WALL rebus. STONE(WALL) JACKSON, such a colorful entry!
I did wonder about DESKTOP (WALL)PAPER. I usually call it just WALLPAPER. But some research showed that it's indeed a legit term, so that's just my ignorance.
Hey, themeless-grade quality fill! Such a treat to get BANK TELLER, SPELUNKING, SOFT SPOKEN, SOAP OPERAS, along with good use of mid-length slots: LE CARRE, ICE NINE (I'm a huge Vonnegut fan), AMALGAM, RASSLE.
Even the pedestrian SINGERS got elevated via a great clue. [Choir composition] surely had to be referring to some type of music the choir director was arranging? Great misdirection.
And that PEN clue! I had to read "boardom" a few times before finally smiling, realizing that it's a play on "boredom," meaning "a place for boars." Great punny groanery.
Huge visual impact with an in-your-face grid telling solvers to $^*#$! YOUR %@#$!!! CROSSWORD RULES! Along with a great idea to connect the halves and excellent gridsmanship, it's an easy POW! pick.
Howard gave me such an easy job today. Let's start with the theme — so clever! Of course, Nicolas CAGE should have starred in ANIMAL HOUSE. Why didn't the casting folks consider Tom CRUISE to headline FANTASTIC VOYAGE?
And my favorite, BEETLEJUICE. It took me a second to figure this one out, but of course, some VW Beetles run on diesel fuel. It's an outstanding set of leaps, to think about BEETLEJUICE to Beetle juice (gas) to diesel to Vin Diesel to THIS IS A GREAT CROSSWORD THEME!
Stellar gridwork, too. This is nearly everything I want from a technical perspective. When you have five themers, it's usually best not to go wild on the grid, keeping it at a conservative 78 or perhaps 76 words. Make sure you have a couple of strong bonuses – ADULTING along with PATENT, HANGAR, EMOJI, GINSU all help that cause – and don't let your short fill trip up solvers with weirdness. Check, check, and check!
Bravo, Howard, and thanks for the huge uplift today!
★ Now, this is what I call a gateway puzzle! Interesting and easy to comprehend theme + nice extras + smooth fill = oh so accessible to newer solvers. I'd happily give this one to people just getting started doing the NYT crossword.
I've seen the JACKS theme done in other venues, but I couldn't find it in the NYT archives. Plus, the HIJACKS – or HI, JACKS! – revealer is so much fun. It elevates the concept from the other implementations I've seen.
Hopefully, you aren't doing this crossword on a plane, though …
I had a slight pause with Jack RUBY, given his notorious place in history. But I couldn't find any other JACKs whose last names are so easily disguisable. Like Brian, I might have gone with Jack FROST – Jack SPARROW is a fictional character so there's no perfect consistency with Jack LONDON and Jack BLACK anyway – perhaps FROST / NIXON as a fourth themer?
Ultimately though, I respect their theme set choice. Plus, who doesn't like RUBY SLIPPERS!
I like what Brian and Andrea did with the grid. It's at 78 words, the max allowable, but they still managed to work in LATIN LOVER, EXTRA EXTRA, SURE CAN, ATHLETE, without making the grid feel chock full of short answers or too sectioned off.
Superb work. It's nearly everything I want out of a Monday puzzle.
★ Loved this one. I had no idea what was going on until I hit the COMPOST BIN revealer. Ah, of course, that's what SHELL / PEEL / GROUNDS / PIT have in common! Each of those four were so well disguised (in such colorful phrases, too!). What a nice experience; the veil of confusion being lifted to great effect.
Such standout gridsmanship, too. FILE CLERK, OREGON TRAIL, BIRD ON A WIRE, MAIN MAN, APE SUIT = great quantity and quality of color.
I especially loved NEGAWATTS. I hadn't heard of it before, but what a fun term.
I wondered why my reaction to this was different than BROGRAMMER. I think it's because NEGAWATTS makes immediate sense (to me at least), but it might not be apparent to the general solver that programmers sometimes have a "bro" culture.
Also sounds like something we energy-conscious Seattleites brag about. You better believe I'm going to start working NEGAWATTS into daily conversation whenever I can!
All that and minimal crossword glue? I rarely use the word "perfect," so it's a tremendous pleasure to be able to use it with glee. This pair of constructors is quickly becoming one of my favorite duos.
★ So clever! This one reminded me of another change-of-spacing puzzle I loved. Not sure if I ever would have come up with the idea of:
MALI ESTONIA becomes MA LIES TO NIA? What a fantastic find! And PERUSER BIAS PAIN doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but still, it's the type of discovery I wish I would have made. PERU SERBIA SPAIN … wow, what a change those spaces make!
Sometimes I feel like I'm too harsh on Alan's gridwork. You could easily go to town on ELL ONT OPEL SHUL TNG ULEE. Another day I would, rambling on at length in gruesome technical detail about how to fix these issues — there are dozens of ways for this particular set of themers.
But today, I'll shut up and just enjoy. This theme shines so brightly that the flaws in execution are easily overlookable. Just like Jacob's puzzle, this one will stick in my memory. That's a rare and lovely occurrence, indeed.
★ This thing is utterly crazy. I think some people are going to hate it, but I loved it. I enjoy when constructors do something bizarre to break the rules. We've had a lot of turning puzzles – a couple of years ago Will said he was seeing too many of them – but I can't remember one quite like this.
We often have to fix up the puzzles that the NYT sends us so that they present properly on the site. Darned constructors and their rule-breaking! But for this one, we ended up starting from scratch, recreating the entire thing based off the PDF. A lot of work, but it was worth it.
(Easy for me to say — Jim did all the work!)
Oh right, I should explain what's going on. IN A ROUNDABOUT WAY hints that there's an actual roundabout in the center of the puzzle. The .pdf (subscription required) is neat, a big white dot representing said roundabout. There are also arrows pointing in the directions that the answers follow, to help solvers out.
Not that all that helped me! I usually solve Thursday puzzles in under ten minutes, but not today. Struggled mightily to figure out what was going on, even given all the visual hints within the grid.
But this is the kind of struggle that's worth it to me. Such great phrases in RALLYING CRY, POWER OUTAGE, I NEED A BREAK, SPROUT WINGS – all intersecting that central IN A ROUNDABOUT WAY. Very cool.
Normally I'd grumble about gluey fill like TOLE. That sure ain't great, but I can ignore it in service of a memorably kooky theme.
I'd love for the NYT team to survey their solvers to figure out what the ratio of lovers to haters was. Count me as a lover.
★ I like to play the "guess that theme" game with early-week puzzles. Not difficult with today's! Turkey's place = POULTRY FARM, okay. Turkey's place = RAZZIE AWARDS ... game over! Oh well.
But even with the premature giveaway, I still had more a-ha moments. Fun to figure out where other types of turkeys could be found. A bowling turkey is three strikes in a row, and Turkey is a country in WESTERN ASIA. Four very different turkeys!
This type of theme is often done with a single word clue, TURKEY, and the entries are dry dictionary-entry-esque. (Think BIRD WITH A WATTLE). I like C.C.'s implementation so much more, each of the themers snappy phrases I'd happily use as fill in other crosswords.
And the fill! C.C. has built a well-deserved rep as one of the top constructors when it comes to assets in her fill. CLEAR AS MUD and LEMON WEDGE are in the positions you'd typically see bonuses. She goes above and beyond just that though: VAMOOSE, OPEN MIC, DO TELL. Not a lot of long slots, but she used her mid-lengthers to such advantage.
With just a couple of EUR and OUTA minor dings (I have a soft spot in my heart for grape NEHI, Radar O'Reilly's drink of choice), it's top-notch craftsmanship.
If that weren't enough, the clues for PARLOR and DROOL made me laugh. Not sure I'd visit an establishment that serves ice cream at the same time they're tattooing you, but that might be "Shark Tank" worthy. And I had a moment of panic after reading [Baby wipe target], as my two-year-old has many baby wipe targets do not pass the breakfast test. Thank goodness it was DROOL!
Ticked all the boxes. I'd be delighted to give this puzzle to a newer solver, trying to get them hooked on crosswords. POW!
★ False portmanteaus is on my (extremely) long list of theme concepts, but I never could quite figure it out. I even had SKORT along with SKI RESORT, but I couldn't come up with a clever way of cluing it. SKI RESORT as the entry, [Skort?] as the clue didn't seem like it would have produced a good enough a-ha moment.
Byron and Joel are more clever than me.
What a great idea, combining the two to help solvers figure out what was going on. SKI RESORT SKORT as a piece of clothing on the slopes, that's fun!
They did such a nice job of finding enough solid themers to fill out a Sunday, too. I kicked myself that in my own searching, I hadn't found BRADY BUNCH = BRUNCH, BURNING LOG = BLOG, and especially GREY POUPON GROUPON. That last one is a beaut.
Great color in the grid, too. HAUL ASS made me chuckle. NATO SUMMIT, yeah! This math dork loved RISE OVER RUN. Even PAID AD made me stop and think – is there such a thing as a non-paid ad? PEER GROUP, GOJI BERRIES, KIDDERS, RIBEYES, it just went on and on. Even if the theme didn't tickle you, there's plenty of solving entertainment to be had.
As with most Waldenesque constructions, there were a couple of entries that made me cock my head. NONREAL was the one that got me. I know imaginary numbers well, but calling them nonreal seems just ... unreal. It turns out it's a not a non-real dictionary term, but, huh.
(It looks like NONREAL may be replacing "imaginary" in math classes, chalk up one demerit for Jeff. Sigh.)
CORNETTI was another one I didn't know, but it was much more on my wavelength — it was fun to learn. I've gotten unhealthy fascinated by baking shows, and now I want to try my hand at making CORNETTI. I also appreciated that it's related to "cornet," which made me feel like I should have gotten it quicker if I had only thought a little harder.
It wasn't a surprise that this was a low-word-count grid (130, much less than the max 140). Joel and I have discussed this issue a couple of times, and I understand his perspective, that going low helps to introduce freshness. You're forced to not rely on short entries seen all the time in crosswords. But I personally tend to gloss over those shorties, while entries like NONREAL and EX-PARTNER tend to make me pause.
Going to a higher word count would have also allowed for smoothing, getting rid of AKEY, AGRIP, IMRE, etc. Don't get me wrong — this grid is way smoother than an average Sunday grid, even at 130 words — but I have an extremely high bar for these two masters.
That's all super-picky nit-picking, because I do have such astronomically high expectations for these two. Overall, so many great theme entries + strong gridsmanship = POW!
★ At my favorite cookie place, Hello Robin, their bags have the tagline "You had me at Hello (Robin)." Hello, Robyn, you had me at CLOWN CARS! What a brilliant clue – high-occupancy vehicles indeed. I was stuck on the notion of carpools, vans, etc. for the longest time. Made an already great entry even better.
Jim sometimes quotes a single entry in a themeless as the reason he loves the entire puzzle. It often seems like such is his level of delight, that he can overlook anything else in the puzzle. I rarely have that experience, but today, Robyn could have thrown in about ten dabs of crossword glue and three asymmetrical blocks and a two-letter word, and I doubt I would have stopped smiling.
But it didn't end there! Like with all her themeless, Robyn had so much color elsewhere – WHO GOES THERE, FUNNEL CAKES, GLASS CEILING, CANDY CANE, among others – and all of it felt so relatable to a broad audience.
I don't mind when a themeless constructor starts with some person or phrase I'm too uncool to know about – just as long as the crosses are fair. But it's hard to get excited about something that feels unfamiliar (or makes you just plain feel old).
Not the case for something like CLOWN CAR, a term which I'd guess that most everyone knows. And even if you don't know it, it's not hard to figure out. Who doesn't love clowns endlessly streaming out of a tiny VW Bug?
Okay, people who are scared of clowns. Right.
There were a couple of blips in the fill, but they were minor (all short and easy to figure out): SIE SEE TIAS YDS. And CREEL may cause consternation for some – I remember when I first learned the term ... in a hard crossword! But it no doubt is a real thing, and I can't see any of the crosses possibly seeming right any other way. CREAL / THALMA perhaps?
Another Weintraub themeless, another POW! Robyn's voice comes through loud and clear in her themelesses, and it's such a joy to experience. When I find a (book) author I like, I go off in search of everything that person has written and devour it. Here's hoping that Robyn continues to be prolific.
★ I love it when constructors break rules (for a good reason.) There have been plenty of grids where one section is completely separated from the rest, including one TOMB, but I adored the image of the little CRYPT at the bottom of the puzzle, actually looking like a CRYPT straight out of an Indiana Jones movie.
(I gave the TOMB puzzle a POW! too ... might I be obsessed with burial sites? Hmm.)
The "letter homophones" concept has been done many times in crosswords, one in particular that I loved. Even though this notion been employed over and over, there's always room to innovate, by cleverly combining the well-worn idea with a different one to produce something more than the sum of its parts. It's neat that you can homophonically spell out a five-letter word in C R Y P T, and even neater to make the leap to use this to hint at a blocked-off region.
And the execution! Cross made out of black squares gives the grid an even creepier feel. Added bonuses in ROTARY CLUBS, KGB MOLE, GOMORRAH, ARAMAIC – lovely stuff. All with super-clean short fill? Yes!
I could have done without the stretch to clue THEME as sort of a quasi-revealer. But other than that, such a fantastic solving experience.
★ I liked this theme so much that I'm breaking my Mondays-must-be-newb-friendly rule to give it the POW!
Adjectives, based on the PLANETS – presented in cosmic order (distance from the sun)! Talk about cosmic karma, the word symmetries working out so beautifully. You could hardly ask for more.
VENIAL was a tough word for this agnostic. I double-checked each crossing to make sure that V E N I A L spelled something legitimate. Triple-checked, even! But it's common in the Catholic Church, a "VENIAL sin" a lesser kind of sin.
Maybe like putting both CITGO and ESSO into a single crossword.
The placement of PLANETS forced four big corners, and I like what Alex did with all that white space. HUMOR ME, ONEROUS, MIRANDA, MUD PIES, all for just the price of ORA? Not onerous at all; I'll gladly humor Alex!
Usually, I'm all for I'M ALL, as a slangy preface. It felt a little less elegant with ARE SO near it, though. Still, worth it to get the juicy IWO JIMA, PRIVATE, even MONOMER. I'll WORSHIP that!
*ducks the lightning bolts incoming for that less-than-VENIAL sin*
I wouldn't have paused for a moment in giving this one the POW!, if it had run on a Wed or even a Tuesday. But in the end, my constructor's brain was mighty tickled by how neat and orderly the theme played out.
★ I felt like Trenton made this puzzle specifically for me. There's so much of the goodness you'd usually expect in a themeless; colorful long answers like BBQ JOINT, XRAY SPEX, I/O DEVICE, BODY SURFS. I was confused at first by SNOW YOWLS – headslap moment when I realized it was SNOWY OWLS. Fun with parsing!
Additionally, he used his mid-length slots so delightfully. No BOO, HISS! here! ON VACAY, SIX PACK, EASY TEN (I'm fascinated by people who say they have a "system" for roulette), LOGROLL, even TWEEZES. Seven-letter slots are often dead weight in a themeless. Not today. Best use of 7s I've seen in quite a while.
Now, there are some entries that I'm sure will resonate less strongly with others than with me. I'm a LotR junkie, so SMEAGOL came easily. I'd expect most people to have at least heard of Gollum, but SMEAGOL — his name before he becomes Gollum? Not so much. And I'll sympathize with those who haven't heard of SMEAGOL, who will undoubtedly be lost by what will be a too-clever clue for them (he had the One Ring for a while).
FRAT BRO is another one. At least it's inferable – two recognizable words. But if you haven't heard of the term (I hadn't until I saw it in a younger constructor's crossword), it probably won't do much for you.
The crossings of POPO / NEYO and DANAE / ASHANTI? Not a problem for me, since my wife uses the term PO-PO all the time, and I'm a huge fan of Greek myth. Again though, I'd sympathize if you grumpily got either of those crossings wrong. Yeah, I hear your cries that they're unfair, and I might even agree.
Themelesses with edgy entries tailored to certain demographics can be dangerous, repelling certain swaths of solvers. I realize that I'm solidly in Trenton's camp today and that there might be some (many?) outside of it. But I thought the entry selection and craftsmanship was excellent, resonating strongly with this particular solver.
★ I love me some beautiful grid art, and this is right up there with the best of the best. Big ol' LIGHT BULB, that's pretty good. But when you add in WHATS THE BIG IDEA, it becomes doubly clever. You know, because a LIGHT BULB represents an idea in the comics pages, and the LIGHT BULB is literally a BIG picture in today's grid?
Have I explained it to death yet?
Bruce ain't kidding about the difficulty of filling that middle section. I would have been sorely tempted to put a black square at the Q of IRAQ WAR. That would have made the puzzle 73 words — over the max of 72 for themelesses. That might have passed muster, but more problematically, it would have removed some precious long slots. Stunt themelesses sometimes suffer when held to normal themeless standards, because they don't have enough color to please solvers, so every long slot is golden.
Check out how critical that center section was. With IRAQ WAR crossing CONQUEST for a bit of sneaky political commentary, the kooky MEGADETH rock band name giving me happy memories of "This is Spinal Tap," and the delicious SNOW CRAB? All of that, with no prices to pay?
Good thing Erik was at the filling helm, not me!
There was already enough RIDE SHOTGUN, THAT IS TO SAY, NOW LET ME SEE, STATE MOTTOS to make it a pretty decent themeless. Adding in those appetizers in the middle of the grid made it great.
I did almost fail in the west section, not knowing the term ECHO BOOMERS. And there were some wickedly hard clues. But the clue for MOO was tough in a good way – great click when I realized that it was a cow saying that someone was "milking it a bit too much." Groan-worthy! In a good way.
Excellent craftsmanship in a tough construction, with just a little minor OCTA TSO ATTN. For me, this weel's POW! pick was AS EASY AS ABC.
★ There's a cookie shop that Jill and I go to on our weekly date night, called "Hello, Robin." Even if the line is out the door and down the block, we wait, rain or shine, for the fresh-baked birthday cake cookies. The "Macklesmores." And the ice cream sandwiches: premium, small-batch chocolate ice cream, between two chocolate chip cookies? There are plenty of other dessert places around, but Jill and I think this one is the tops.
Hard to say whether I'd prefer a Hello, Robin ice cream sandwich, or a Robyn Weintraub themeless. Such sweet tastes in PERIWINKLE, GOLD COIN, GENERAL TSO, OPEN SOURCE, WORKER BEES. Hidden nuggets in clues like CLUBS innocently described as a [Dark suit].
It's like Robyn does a MIND MELD with me. (Yes, I'm typing while holding my fingers in a Vulcan salute.)
I admit I didn't get the clue for AND WE'RE OFF at first. It's self-referential, which must mean … there's a horse named AND WE'RE OFF? D'oh [Exclamation appropriate for 1-Across] doesn't mean [Exclamation appropriate for "And We're Off"]. It's simply appropriate for the first clue of the puzzle!
Now I'm brainstorming entries that would be appropriate for themselves … thinking …
I liked this puzzle so much that I somehow got past the fact that I got a square wrong (HAB instead of DAB). Usually, I'd cry foul, seeing as HEADLINE and DEADLINE are both newsroom concerns, and why am I supposed to know some dance move from the 2010s?
But Robyn got me to laugh at myself and shrug it off. It takes an incredibly pleasurable solving experience to make that happen. To make me ignore the gluey bits, too. Normally, I'd cringe at the excess of ARIL ATTN ISON RTE TALI in a non-challenging 70-word grid. But because of how tasty everything was overall, I didn't care one bit today.
Say "Hello, Robyn" … to yet another POW!
Daniel gives us four examples of self-referential themers, i.e. SHADES OF GRAY goes into boxes that are actually SHADES OF GRAY. INSIDE THE BOX is literally INSIDE THE BOX. Meta!
The difference between INSIDE THE BOX and BETWEEN THE LINES is small – the two sides are bolded on the former, but not the latter – so these didn't feel quite different enough for my taste. Still, four solid themers overall.
(We've taken some liberties in the visual below, adding color to help accentuate the differences between the last two themers.)
Nice grid execution, too. I was already delighted by the strangeness in the grid lines, but my solving experience was enhanced even further when encountering goodies like SEA LEGS, MINIONS, FAKE ID, HEATER as baseball lingo. Well worth the price of a bit of ESS STL SADR.
Great idea, memorable puzzle. I'd love for more constructors come up with ideas on kookifying print grids. There's something so satisfying to this old-schooler when a print version outshines its electronic kin.
★ 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.
★ 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.
★ 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!
★ I like playing the "guess the theme" game on early-week puzzles. It was clear from XOF and CBA that TV stations were reversed, but what a nice a-ha moment in BACK CHANNEL. It's a colorful phrase, and its CHANNEL has enough of a different meaning from TV channels that the connection felt clever.
What spicy theme answers, too! WAX ON WAX OFF, ZIPLOC BAG, USB CHARGER, yay! That last one feels particularly fresh and modern.
I'm usually not a fan of ultra-high theme density, especially if it forces grid compromises. But there's something neat about seeing all these channels, just like you might see in a high-density TV channel menu.
There were some compromises, no doubt. In particular, the south region felt a little gluey with ITBE and SOYS. But I think these are reasonable prices to pay for the packed array of channels.
I also like what Brian did with the grid layout. With six themers, the usual thought is to place them every other row – 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13. But that's often hard to do, causing problems with spacing. Squeezing two themers into rows 3 and 4 can often be easier, as long as your overlapping letter pairs are reasonably friendly. The TC overlap of JOB HUNTER / BACK CHANNEL no doubt forced the pain in the south.
But check out how smoothly Brian addressed the north. ??FL is a rough pattern. Yay for textese! (Rolling on the floor laughing)
This was one that I admired more and more the longer I studied it and considered its merits. So many things done well here. Congrats on the POW! Brian, and thanks for the pleasurable solve!
★ I'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.
★ 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!
★ 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!
★ 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.