★ In basketball, a HEAD FAKE is when you telegraph a move by jerking your eyes or chin one way, then take off in the other direction, blowing past your defender. A successful HEAD FAKE leaves the person off-balance, tripping on their own feet. That's known as "breaking your defender's ankles." Back when I was quicker, the highlight of my rec bball days was when I head-faked a friend so bad, his toe literally tore through his shoe as he fell onto his butt. It was glorious!
Not as glorious as the deception today, though. The clever wordplay on the themer clues threw me off balance, not seeing what Sophie and Ross were planning. I had to work hard enough to understand that [Batter's additions?] referred to someone batting their EYELASHES that when I got to HEAD FAKE, I was dumbfounded, trying to figure out how Sophie and Ross got past me, lifting off for the windmill dunk.
HEAD FAKE … refers to replacement body parts … on the HEAD? Dang, that's fantastic!
When someone skies over you and dunks on your head, it's called "getting posterized," as in that pic will end up as a poster on someone's wall. When that happens — as it frequently did to me — the best response is to shake the other person's hand and admire the feat of athleticism.
I did hitch a few times in the fill, akin to when a point guard almost travels by turning their hand over the ball (called "carrying"). I know WOAH mostly from old Tintin comics — Snowy the dog often said it — but younger generations have adopted this stylized spelling of "whoa."
PIECEWISE … it's been a long time since I've taken any math, but don't most mathematical functions change at different intervals? Yes, but the clue is (awkwardly) getting at step and sub-functions.
And I'm inured to a lot these days, so I got an off-kilter smile out of NIP crossing NON PC.
Neat to see SCALED referring to both fish and rock walls. Ross and I are both avid climbers, so the insidery nod made me smile.
Small nips — er, nits — aside, an excellent debut that so aptly faked me into a beautiful a-ha moment.
★ AWED is a perfect 1-Across for this delight. Money is a common theme in crosswords (except for constructor pay, i.e. micropennies per hour), so you have to add an extra element to make yours stand out. That's exactly what C.C. did today, in three different ways.
Accessible wordplay in many clues, sadly uncommon for early-week puzzles. TOUCAN playing on "big bill" lets even newer solvers groan at its punniness.
ATLAS shows us another type of clue we don't often see in early-week puzzles, giving a piece of information that at first confuses and even causes consternation, but then the light bulb clicks on. There is no Atlas Ocean, but there is an Atlantic.
C.C. did exactly what she needed, to make an old-hat theme stand out. Along with excellent gridwork as is her usual — spicing things up with EYELINERS, LABRADOR, NAKED LIES, and so meticulously keeping her short glue to only EPS — another POW! for C.C. is easy money.
★ Some great finds, ZEN GARDEN becoming EN GARDE, PROSECUTE to ROSE CUT, STABLEMATE to TABLE MAT, WEATHERED to EAT HERE. These types of letter-removal discoveries pique me most when there's a space insertion or deletion or shifting, so they all delighted me.
Apt revealer in ENDLESSLY, too, ZEN GARDEN without its ends becoming EN GARDE.
The circles confused me at first, though. Why are Z and N important, I wondered. A-ha! If you turn Z 90 degrees, it becomes an N!
Wait. P and E? Is that a reference to Proctor and … Emble? Peeking and entering?
S and E … are both compass points? Ironically, that's when I realized that my wanderings were directionless.
It would have been fantastic if all the circled letters were the same. Or somehow related. Or spelled out a relevant phrase. An extra layer would have blown my mind. It's not necessary though, since the finds were all fresh and interesting.
Fantastic debut gridwork. Some editors balk at so many black squares (on the sides of the puzzle), but I'm all for whatever facilitates colorful and clean fill — at least, up to a point. I'm fine with the aesthetics of these pyramid blocks, but I wouldn't want them to grow any bigger.
David used his black squares so carefully throughout the hardest section to fill, the middle. Dotting them throughout created a lot of separation between the themers. That didn't leave many to use for the corners, but that's okay. Regions like these big corners are tractable when you only have to work with one theme answer running through them.
Such great additions to my solving experiences in DREAM ON, DON KING, ENGAGE, DIET PILL — and that was only the first quadrant! JEAN-LUC Picard, PRENUPS, the ROYAL WE … I could tell how much time and care David put into his filling process.
Maybe Harold STASSEN is a bit esoteric these days, but I'm sure older generations will shake their fists at me for saying that.
Once I got over my disappointment that the circled letters didn't do anything except indicate removal, my admiration soared. Enjoyable finds and an equally enjoyable grid. Great debut.
★ Another delightful puzzle from one of my favorite themeless constructors. There's so much emotion tied up in OH, IS THAT SO?, ranging from innocent querying to sarcastic throwing of shade. I love these kinds of entries.
CAKE TOPPERS is another fantastic entry, but for a different reason: it's ripe for clever cluing. Playing on "stuck-up" — as in stuck on top of a cake — is so smile-inducing. Plus, cake!
Similarly with TELEKINESIS. It's not only laden with mystery, but innocently repurposing "brain power," as in a literal power generated by one's brain, is as magical as the wikihow page on how to develop TELEKINESIS. Quite a moving (sorry) article.
I wasn't as hot on the ROSE BUSHES misdirect. Both Jim Horne and I fell for the Rose GARDEN trap, but it felt more mean than clever. Sort of a Nelson Muntz "Haw haw!"
And as typical for a Weintraub themeless, more than a handful of wordplay clues that elevate boring ol' day-to-day short fill. A CODA is (a set of musical) bars that close (out a piece). Getting a date from a PALM is different from Tinder. If only Palm Pilots were still around, you could get a date from a palm or a Palm!
Pardon my French, but how the @#$! am I supposed to know the French for "without caffeine"? Wait. SANS … caf … ah, SANKA! Great piece of trivia.
A "clue echo" works best when the same clue is repurposed in two vastly different senses. Using "turnover" in two consecutive clues, to mean an apple pastry vs. a basketball flub is perfection.
It's not one of my absolute favorite Weintraub creations, what with some potential left on the table — BEFORE I FORGET isn't as evocative as OH, IS THAT SO?, and entries like GUIDEBOOKS and GOES TOO FAR had uninterestingly straight-shooting clues. Still, a lovely ten minutes of escape. Exactly what I want out of a crossword.
★ It's rare that we get treated to two layers of revealers. I hit PARTY ANIMALS and was underwhelmed by the thinness of the theme — why not toss in a couple more animal-related party games, like duck duck goose or dogpile? (Combining the two is not recommended; it sadly happens every night at my house.)
Then I hit THOMAS NAST. How is he a PARTY ANIMAL … then my brain exploded.
It's not just that PIN THE TAIL ON THE DONKEY and WHITE ELEPHANT are party games with animals. They're the only two party games that use the Democratic and Republican animals!
That delayed set of mental fireworks would have been enough to win a POW! But the puzzle didn't stop there. Top-notch gridwork, with excellent bonuses in BLANK CANVAS, BAD HAIR DAYS, along with WHAT FOR? and PAPAYAS. Such meticulous gridding, too, with no short entries that would trigger universal editorial frowns.
(Maybe FLUS in the plural is slightly odd.)
Hilarious clue for EHOW. I'm no mayo fan, but I couldn't stop reading the article about its multitude of uses. Great cluing angle on HOOF, too, eschewing the boring horse or cow route, going with centaur.
All of this — in a debut. Puzzles like this make me even more optimistic about the future of crosswords, in excellent hands with up-and-comers like Alina.
★ Fascinating set of finds: two-word base phrases where if you substitute in their individual word opposites, you get another valid two-word phrase — one that isn't the opposite of the base phrase!
I reworded that explanation ten times already; I'm sure there's a more efficient way of explaining it. Best is to give an example. LEFT OFF vs. RIGHT ON — left/right and off/on are opposites. However, not only are these two phrases not opposites, but one's an add-a-preposition workhorse while the other's a fun exclamation. Couldn't be more different!
(Alex's other examples he couldn't include: COLD FEET / HOT HEADS, CATWALK / DOG RUN, STANDOUT / SIT IN. So hard to discover since it's not trivial to search for these programmatically — and such fun finds!)
Solid gridwork, too. Six shortish themers give a constructor the opportunity to add in a ton of colorful bonuses, and Alex confronted the problem head-on: SHELF LIFE, ETSY STORE, IRON AGE, SOUR CREAM, REVEILLES, and some fun mid-lengthers in EGALITE, HELICES, INFERNO.
I added COUCH GAGS to the XWI Word List years ago, back when I was a huge fan of "The Simpsons." The fact that they came up with something new for every episode, even after hundreds of episodes, was incredible. I don't love the entry as much anymore because it's been years since I've watched, but even if you're a Simpsons-hater, at least it's two words that you can recognize, making it possible to successfully finish the Monday puzzle.
I'd have liked the themers to be the longest Across entries in the puzzle since IRON AGE overshadowed LEFT OFF as a much more vivid phrase. Achieving that by shifting a few black squares around, and this could have been a perfect grid. (Although not for a Monday since some of the vocab like EGALITE is tough ….)
It's rare that I get the opportunity to laud a theme that feels this fresh, that adds a new modality into the crossword pantheon. It's common that Alex's name is on the byline when that happens. Extremely well done!
Some great finds, four solidly in-the-language phrases comprised of two movie titles. With this type of paired-title theme, the phrases tend to be clunky or dull, since it's hard enough to come up with anything that works, period, much less anything colorful. I was especially impressed by MONSTER MASH, which uses the Charlize Theron star vehicle MONSTER, with the old M*A*S*H. Neat to have to mentally subtract those asterisks.
Solid revealer, too, FILM SPLICER connecting the themers. After the second themer, I confidently jumped to 52-Across and plunked in DOUBLE FEATURE. I was in La La Land …
Superb gridwork. Brandon did such a great job eking every last ounce of potential out of his mid-length slots. Not an ANOMALY to have BARNARD, AP TESTS, THUNDER, BASMATI rice, BIFOCAL, EMINENT, along with BEIGNET (yum!) and ON MY OWN. Nothing flashy, but all enhancing my solving experience.
Plus some FLOTUS ADWARS! I might watch the news again if it featured a Jill vs. Melania throwdown.
I'd often make a different trade-off in the south since MTA / SUR / PSS is a tough triplet to accept. However, FLOTUS is such a fun entry that I can see the merit. Add in GO WILD and RUN LOW, and that definitely tips the scales.
As Brandon mentioned, this isn't a novel idea. But it is a great example of how you can elevate your puzzle from the pack with an extra layer. In this case, excellent in-the-language themer discoveries made all the difference.
★ I enjoy when people smash my expectations for what makes a standout early-week puzzle. For any theme, I've learned over the years that most editors look for:
Upon first glance, today's puzzle didn't excel in any of those criteria. Single-worders REVITALIZE and ENGINEERS didn't do much, even for this engineer!
A revealer in the middle of the puzzle gives away the game too early.
And I was confused by the revealer — I couldn't make any sense of it, much less find an aha.
And then it all came together. And how! IZE = eyes, EERS = ears, NOES = nose, and saving the best for last, LYPSE = lips. FACE RECOGNITION — with the bonus of face parts listed in anatomical order(ish)!
It took me a hot minute to figure out the concept, and I'm so glad I spent the extra time with it. Delayed aha moments can deliver such a powerful impact.
I wouldn't have made the same choices — I'd have gone with colorful multi-worders like NOBEL PEACE PRIZE, SEASON PREMIERS, ACTIVE VOLCANOES, SNOWPOCALYPSE, with the revealer at the end. However, I don't think that would have provided as strong an impact. The simplistic nature of those single-word themers means that they can stay out of the way as solvers figure out the concept.
Thinking about it more, I even like the revealer in the middle more than at the end, where it typically "should be." It doesn't give away the game completely, more hints at it. This way, solvers get more time to think it through as they complete the second half of the puzzle.
Along with solid gridwork — LOVE SHACK, TRY TO RELAX, UNFAITHFUL, FILE TYPES are solid to great — it's a memorable debut. I appreciate Jennifer and Victor smacking me out of my routine to enjoy a puzzle with fresh ize. One amazing positive from the pandemic is the huge influx of new constructors, bringing in ideas that break the mold. REVITALIZE, indeed!
★ It's only been a few months since our last "joined squares" puzzle, but even with that, I enjoyed this one to a surprising degree. Great rationale in JOINED AT THE HIP = phrases with overlapping HIP sequences. Also, no telltale "stretched" boxes, as these puzzles usually contain. We debated whether to fix up the pairs of squares as per previous puzzles but decided that this was different. I like different.
At first, I thought it would have been better to employ HIPs that spanned across words. How hard could it be to find a *H I P* or *HI P* phrase? Surely … let's see ... BATH, I PRESUME? DELHI PEPPER? I ended up exclaiming BAH, I PROFESS!
I eventually did find SUSHI PLATTER(S), BANGLADESHI PEOPLE, NORTH IPSWICH, AHI POKE, WASHI PAPER. However, hardly any of them are as colorful as the themers John picked.
There's also something cool about working with such a fixed set of themer possibilities. For HIPs buried within words, all I could come up with were variations on HIPSTER, HIPPO, SHIP, WHIP, CHIP, as well as various proper nouns like HIPPOCRATES and HIPPOLYTA. It's cool that John covered basically the complete set.
Something pleasing, too, about having one set at the NW, another in the center, and a third symmetrically placed to the first. Tidy progression.
I was all set to point out COXAE as one of the few blips in execution, but John's comment made me smile.
I prefer trickier Thursdays, ideally with gimmicks I've never been seen before, but this one might be a great starter for intermediate solvers looking to push farther into the week.
★ Delightful connection, E-READER giving solid rationale for playing on authors whose names are regular words plus an E. I'd have believed that there would be four authors exhibiting this trait — WOLFE and WILDE have been played upon in many a crossword — but to get four of them that could be worked into common phrases? I wouldn't have even attempted it. Fantastic finds!
This is a splendid example of why I admire "tightness" in a theme set. Dan Schoenholz did a similar concept years ago, but it included Gordie HOWE, Louis MALLE, Arthur ASHE. Zeroing in on authors makes today's theme so much more elegant and tying them all together with E-READER makes it even more memorable.
Amazing gridwork, as I'd expect from the dream team. Of course, Amanda and Ross give us the typical long downs that are colorful — SEA OTTERS and EXTROVERT — but they don't stop there. It's difficult to build in long Across bonuses because they often interfere with gridding around the themers, but look how smoothly Amanda and Ross slipped in LIFEBOAT, WHERE ELSE, YOGA POSES, US VS THEM.
Often, these long Acrosses can muddy up what is theme and what is not, but with the themers being so obvious today, it's not a problem.
I'd usually suggest breaking up YOGA POSES at the second O, or LIFEBOAT at the B, but when you're willing to put in the time and effort to iterate until perfection, it's an excellent decision to go big. There are few secrets to filling a wide-open corner like the NE. If you want it bad enough, there usually will be some combination of long entries that give you a favorable balance of color and cleanliness. Few constructors have the doggedness to keep going, though.
It'd have been great to get a 50-50 mix of male and female authors, as well as more diversity, but I couldn't think of any other authors besides Thomas PAINE and Graham GREENE that would fit the pattern. Curious if anyone else can uncover someone that might have worked toward this goal.
Standout puzzle — a clever theme and stellar execution.
★ Another delight from Robyn! What I most want out of a crossword is ten minutes to forget about the woes of the world, so Robyn's BEDSIDE MANNER is perfect. GO WITH THE FLOW, DON'T GIVE UP, PADDLEBOATS, SOFT SPOT, FREE SPIN — so much EYE CANDY! If there were cruciverbal Olympics, I'd lobby hard for Robyn to get GOLD MEDALS in the themeless category.
I appreciate how she doesn't try to do too much with a grid, usually sticking to 70 words and maximizing both color and cleanliness. Maybe there's an argument that ESL could be difficult to suss out (English as a second language), and some solvers might not know NWA, but both of these entries have gimme crossings. I'm in awe of themeless constructors who can consistently pump out 68 or even 66-worders that exhibit similar levels of both snazz and smoothness, but that's incredibly rare. I'm more than happy to solve 70-worders like this one.
Robyn is one of the best in clever cluing, too. Granted, some of the wordplay brilliance comes from Will Shortz and the team, but Robyn's themelesses consistently have around a half-dozen wickedly sharp clues (most other regulars might have around 3 or 4). My favorite today was the confusing [It helps make waiting easier]. That's a TRAY, as in waiting tables — brilliant! Close behind, though, was GOLD MEDALS' punny play on "haul of fame."
Different people want different things out of crosswords, and Robyn's style may not resonate with those seeking deeper enlightenment or broadening of their world view. For those of us who want a pleasant diversion to start our day, something to clear our minds and put us into a positive mindspace, Robyn puts out near-perfect products.
Such colorful themers, too. ME AND MY (BIG) MOUTH, WHATS THE (BIG) IDEA, YOU OWE ME (BIG) TIME, three home runs. THAT'S A VERY (BIG) IF felt like VERY had been inserted to achieve proper length, but otherwise it's a top-notch phrase as well.
After uncovering the first themer, I thought this was going to be too easy for a Thursday. Surprisingly, it wasn't a no-brainer to fill in the others. I did know that there would be an implied BIG somewhere in the phrases, but that more served as confirmation after I pieced the themers together, rather than a dead giveaway.
Such brilliant wordplay in "… that turns light green?" Like when a kid gets carsick? Like a chameleon in grass? No, it's a way of saying a SOLAR PANEL turns light into a green energy source. It's admittedly tortured, but that didn't take away from my enjoyment.
SOLAR PANEL, along with I'LL ALLOW IT, STAY ON TASK, HOW ON EARTH — you can't ask for much more than four great long bonuses. I did pause for a long, confused moment at STREGIS, but it gave me a lift when I realized it was ST. REGIS.
BEAMER … I'm not beaming at you. Tricky to make a 6x4 corner like the SW work when flanked by a themer and a long bonus. I might have tried a black square at the P of PERK to see if BEAMER could have been massaged out.
Not the tricksiest Thursday, but such a pleasurable solve. Along with being technically well-executed, and a unique visual — it's so rare for me to encounter something I've never seen before in crosswords — this one earns Joe his second POW!
★ At first, both Jim Horne and I were underwhelmed at first by this concept. Colors of the rainbow have been played upon so many times over the years, including the first puzzle of the Will Shortz era,. The title seemed to give away the game, and quickly uncovering EVER(GREEN) TREE didn't help.
Plus, EVER(GREEN) TREE made this yet another addition to the "turning themers" trope that Will has largely stopped taking. I did appreciate that GRAVITY'S RAINBOW made for a strong rationale for pulling the colors down, but it wasn't enough to overcome my "meh" moment.
And Ross / Lindsey didn't even bother to put the colors in ROY G BIV rainbow order! Starting from GREEN, trickling down to YELLOW and BLUE … what is this, a Dali painting? I mean, how hard would it be to start with RED …
Oh, wait. It does start with RED when you think about left to right order. Look, there's ORANGE next, YELLOW—
Wait. Are the ordered colors …
... in the shape OF A RAINBOW?
I hope paper solvers don't miss this extra layer, because it elevates this puzzle to a sky-high level. The shape isn't perfect (see the grid below), but it's close enough to still be jaw-dropping. Amazing visual for the solver in me, and this technician wouldn't have though it could be possible to lay things out so masterfully. It's rare for a puzzle to appeal to both parts of my personality so strongly.
I fear that there will be many who don't notice. It would have been great to include a revealer at the bottom, something like ARC that could explicitly point to what's going on.
Exceptional puzzle. This is exactly the kind of shot in the arm that the NYT Sunday crossword has been needing. Big idea, amazing execution, interesting grid entries and clues = a huge win.
★ If I can Name That Theme in one entry, I'll usually wonder what's the point of doing the rest of the puzzle. After hitting CURDS AND WHEY, I figured it had to be either WHEY homophones or "things that nursery rhyme characters ate." After uncovering AI WEI WEI, it was clear which.
To my surprise, I loved the rest of the puzzle! Acme's first three themers alone would have felt boring, since this theme has been done before (many times across different venues), but adding in AI WEI WEI helps, and ZIMBABWE is a stroke of genius. I'd have never thought there could be five different WAYs (ha) to spell that sound, all in fine words / phrases.
I did hitch on AI WEIWEI, a tough name to piece together. I'm sure there will be grumblings that he's not "Monday-accessible," and I'd usually be right there. The theme does help with the final WEI, at least. And all the crosses are unambiguous and fair. Still, polling a bunch of my (highly educated, well-traveled) friends, some of whom are Taiwanese or Chinese, only one had heard of him.
The fill was hardly a SNOOZE. It's easy enough to impress with long downs, and THE ALAMO and WIIMOTES do just that, but it's the mid-length material that dazzled. I loved starting with ABACUS, especially with that fun clue. I don't expect to see clever wordplay on a Monday, much less something that doesn't require a telltale question mark. [Something you can count on] is both entertaining and accessible.
Following that with WATUSI, ENTRÉE, IAMBIC, EL NINO, BOGART, AZORES, LADY DI, DAY SPA = top-notch work. Doing all that with only minor ATTN IOC ISR makes it even more impressive.
This isn't rocket science but more a matter of careful layout, adjustments based on testing different skeletons of black squares, and heavy, heavy iterating. Acme / Doug did it extremely well today, helping prove my case that even with five themers, nearly every crossword should be held to this highest standard.
If you like Doug's work, BTW, maybe check out *cough cough, shameless self-promotion* one of his latest releases.
★ It warms my heart that at least one younger person remembers HE'S DEAD JIM. I can't describe how ecstatic I'd be if some Millennial or generation Alpha constructor used REDSHIRT, clued as [Poor sap destined to die in a "Star Trek" away mission].
I loved, loved, loved the summery vibe, with BOSTON POPS playing its annual July 4th concert, SPARKLERs eliciting I'M AMAZED, pounding in TENTPEGs at a campsite, eating MACARONI salad at a picnic. I enjoy mini-themes in my themelesses, but most of them are simply two related entries. I'd love to see more like this, with so many connected elements!
ROBYN FENTY was a complete mystery, so I was relieved that every single crossing was unambiguous. I'm curious how many Rihanna fans could correctly spell (or even name) her birth name.
The PRESS BOX clue … it's getting at the press corps covering the field (of sporting action). I like the intent, but it wasn't as satisfying as [One with a train, maybe]. Once you uncover BRIDE, it's not hard to make the connection to the train some brides trail behind them.
What a fantastic way to clue TIL! I have some N.K. Jemisin on my TBR (to be read) list, but "How Long Til Black Future Month?" is such a provocative title that it's now at the top of my queue.
For a 70-word themeless, the bar is so high that I'd usually balk at even the minimal ATA DIA STD TELE, but there was more than enough color to offset these minor blips.
★ I might have given this puzzle the POW! based on one clue alone: [A child who's lying might make one]. In my house, that's EXCUSE. DIVERSION. PUPPY DOG EYES. LIE. Yes, LIE would duplicate the lying in the clue, but some kids double down on the lying, based on the theory that the emphasis makes it more believable. Great moment of discovery (and relief) when it turned out to be SNOW ANGELS, something my little angel-devils love doing in winter.
Jim Horne and I discussed the puzzle, and he commented that END IN TEARS didn't sound like an in-the-language phrase.
*sounds of muffled laughter*
In my world, things END IN TEARS roughly 62 times a day. Play a game? End in tears. Eat some food? End in tears. Start to cry? You get the picture. Perfectly pitched to this parent's psyche.
There wasn't quite as much juice in the grid as I wanted, with TAKES AIM AT and OVERRATED a bit overrated. So much great cluing, though, the wordplay with [Hardly a long shot] hinting at a PUTT = delightful. Even better, my brother and I were discussing hot pot meals last week, so the misdirection away from the KILN gave me a huge smile.
★ You know a puzzle is a success when you walk around mumbling to yourself, trying to figure out other possible theme answers. Knee toes … tooth knuckles … wrist nostrils …
Tess: Mom, dad's finally lost it!
Mom: Best to ignore him. No ifs, ands, or buts.
Jeff: Hand butts ...
I've solved dozens of body-part crosswords, even made a few, but I'd never considered this BODY DOUBLE approach — phrases comprised of two body parts. What great finds in RIB JOINT and BACKLASH! If I had put together a lengthy list of body parts for brainstorming, I'm not sure I would have thought to add these. I'm impressed by the level of detail and completeness.
Excellent gridwork, too. Notice I didn't give the qualifier "for a debut," either! Two vivid long downs in SERVICE DOGS and STAKE A CLAIM, as well as mid-length bonuses worked in all over. CONSENT, YUCCAS, PLACID, BLAME ME, PLATEAU, PB AND J, LATINAS — so much to enjoy, and all so accessible to even newer solvers.
It is unusual to have so much mid-length fill in the Across direction, which did cause some difficulties with short fill. For example, CONSENT reduces flexibility when sandwiched between MOUTH ORGAN and RIB JOINT. MGRS isn't terrible, but along with ISO SNO UTIL, it's a TSP too much. Still, there's a case to be made that so much mid-length bonus material is worth those prices to pay.
It's hard to debut memorably, and even more so on a Monday, where my expectations for smoothness and accessibility are sky-high. I can't wait to see what Adrienne brings us next.
★ I love the aesthetics of the unusual black square "canes" — reminds me of a CANDY CANES puzzle Mary Lou and I did years back. And from a constructor's point of view, it also allows for juicy quasi-sectioning of the grid. Once you get a rough idea of what the middle might look like, you can start to work on each of the four corners independently. That's so valuable, allowing you to segment the grid into smaller, much more manageable chunks.
There were so many fantastic long entries jam-packed in, starting with FILL ME IN, hearkening to the great Ryan and Brian podcast. Check it out when you can; they're fun to listen to.
I just finished "Money Heist" and am going through serious withdrawal, so I loved uncovering HEIST FILMS. EVIL EMPIRE nearby could have made the puzzle's tone too dark, but cluing it to the sci-fi trope made it sing.
I had to laugh at my sheer stupidity, putting in UMM for a sound chewing on a pencil and thinking that GENERATION ALPUA was some gen-alpua term that made fun of people like me. HMM, indeed. I didn't know that they moved from Gen-Z to Generation ALPHA, but I have to admit that it's just a hair more logical than my thinking.
Speaking of making fun, BOOBOISIE's clue felt ... bad. The term amused me to no end years ago, a flagrantly offensive portmanteau of boob and bourgeoise, but I worried that it could feel like it was thumbing its nose at solvers, so I made sure to clue it to the source (Mencken). The clue today felt ... insulting? Condescending? It's okay if I call myself a boob, but not if you do. So what if it's true?!
DONK gave me a smile, as my son often donks his sister on the head. I shouldn't laugh, but if you can't laugh, you cry. Hopefully, the DONK / TRINI cross didn't bam-boob-zle anyone.
Although I had a few reservations, there was so much to love; so many vivid long entries are carefully woven together, a feat of construction. Even when you lock down a possible middle like EVIL EMPIRE / GENERATION ALPHA / HEIST FILMS, one or more quadrants don't cooperate. Amazing that Sid and Matthew were able to wrangle them all so smoothly.
★ I've done a lot of work with colors in crosswords, and I'm kicking myself for never coming up with today's theme. It's so perfect, four examples of two-word foods whose second words are pluralized colors. I've even used HASH BROWNS in a previous color puzzle. How could this have not occurred to me?
(Might have something to do with my eating habits. Given that my lunches are "whatever the kids refuse to eat, mixed into a bowl, it's mostly grays.)
What's most impressive about this theme is its tightness. I could hardly believe that there were four perfect examples of common foods/ingredients fitting this pattern, and I couldn't think of a single other one. Sure, there are variations like VALENCIA ORANGES or MIXED GREENS, but no other color worked. That tightness makes for such elegance.
I'm a huge fan of mirror symmetry, partially because it allows for bizarre sets of themer lengths. Thank Crucivera, the goddess of crosswords, for her benevolence in gifting constructors with this option! Some silently curse her because they don't like mirror aesthetics, but I say a pox on them!
(Mostly because I'm petrified of invoking Crucivera's wrath.)
SPORCLE and PLACEBO! Excellent use of mid-length slots; so important in a layout that doesn't feature any long extras. I'd personally remove the black square between ERICA and PERE to generate a pair of long bonuses, but I can see how some solvers might mistake those lengthy slots as theme related.
(Now accepting proposals for Jeff's punishment. The more painful and ironic, the better. --Crucivera)
★ I've seen plenty of FEE FI FO FUM puzzles, even one with a neat vine visual, so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed today's. What a creative way to hide those syllables — I would have thought it impossible to camouflage FUM at the end of a phrase. Not only does the phrase have to end with the letters F U M, but it has to exhibit the FUM (not "foom") sound too? Ain't gonna happen.
I'll admit, I was skeptical at the pronunciation of PARFUM. Given that my five years of high-school French resulted in approximately 2.3% mastery of the language, I thought I'd better look it up. Sure enough, it's absolutely perfect. It's so elegant when a themer has one and only one option.
Top-notch gridwork, as I'd expect from a gridmaster, such snazzy bonuses in ORGANIC FARM and MYTHBUSTERS, along with A PRIORI (don't worry, I don't know what it means either, but like you, I pretend I do), HOT BATH, ATHENA, PUEBLO.
Ross hasn't been submitting solo puzzles for a long time now, so I bet that
I don't mind them since they enable MYTHBUSTERS and HOT BATH, but I'm sure the perfectionist in Ross could now find an alternative fill that was almost as sparkly without any early-week prices to pay.
Jim Horne and I discussed whether GIANT as a revealer would have generated a bigger a-ha moment, but given the potential confusion around PARFUM's pronunciation, I like the Monday overtness.
I appreciate the new and clever way of executing an established theme.
★ Such a regal theme, WHITE CASTLE, DAIRY QUEEN, and BURGER KING all members of a FOOD COURT! I'm kicking myself, having never noticed this connection. I haven't had such a strong feeling of being outWITTed in ages. (Wish I'd Thought of That)
There is a bit of a moat, with ANGE mucking around with ADIN, TENN, RKO. I had a long moment of hesitation before giving this the POW! because there are so many trouble spots that could turn away newer solvers.
Pinching DAIRY QUEEN and BURGER KING inward one column might have helped (then placing black squares at the Y of YALE and E of URGE). Filling cleanly around two adjacent long downs can be such a bear.
However, I did enjoy the bonuses of JANE AUSTEN and ROSE GARDEN. They didn't offset all the hitches I experienced through the short fill, but they did make up for some of it.
All in all, a fantastic theme — so fun, elegantly wrapped up with a perfect revealer.
★ A much harder than usual Weintraub Friday puzzle, but I still loved it. There's so much playfulness, so much to enjoy in evocative entries like SLEEPOVER PARTY, WHATS FOR DINNER, HOT APPLE CIDER. I spend a lot of time thinking about great phrases to add to our word list, but none of these three had occurred to me.
(Maybe when my kids enter that dreaded age of losing-sleep sleepovers. I can already sense the impending crankiness …)
Why was this puzzle so difficult, and more importantly, why did that make me enjoy it a tad less than a typical Weintraub Friday?
One reason was the unusual grid layout. Instead of having most of the snazz squeezed into the four corners, it's spread throughout. I love how SLEEPOVER PARTY, WHAT'S FOR DINNER, FRONT ROW SEATS, and HOT APPLE CIDER build an open skeleton, with so much EARLY FROST, TEDDY BEAR filling the perimeter. It does make it harder to gain traction, though.
Another reason was that some of the wordplay cluing nearly went over my head. Jim Horne and I had to spend a minute figuring out why a CONE is a cup alternative (neither of us has gone out for ice cream for roughly a year — what else have we forgotten about?). I often admire "directive" clues, but [Snap out of it?] for CAMERA (you get a "snap" or a pic out of a camera) made my tiny brain snap.
I like it when puzzles make me feel smart. When I can rip through a themeless in under-record time, I often feel strongly positive about it. The opposite can also be true.
Thankfully, there was more than enough to delight me. The clue for POEM, getting measured in both feet and meters, is both genius and smile-inducing; absolutely perfect wordplay.
I appreciate that there are (equally valid) constructing philosophies out there, but I so love Robyn's pure fun-and-enjoyment approach. It's by far my favorite.
★ I love the audacity, stacking a whole lot of HAY around a hidden NEEDLE. I've considered doing something similar with a DOGPILE, but any time you get more than three themers piled atop each other, you're begging for pain. To get six (!) HAYs with a NEEDLE in the middle — without that many fill compromises around them! — is amazing.
(If only there were a famous SHAYNE ...)
When I got to IT'S A LOST CAUSE, I thought it might refer to "losing one's marbles," and the grid looked vaguely like a pachinko machine. That could have been cool! Then, the black squares lent a Tetris-like appearance. I finally figured out the concept and mused that the HAYstack looked like a falling Jenga tower. The games we play!
Although it doesn't look like a traditional haystack, the literal stack of HAY is eye-popping.
IT'S A LOST CAUSE is such a punnily apt phrase for this concept. GRASPING / AT STRAWS is almost as good since HAY can be described as straw-like in appearance. This concept could have felt like a one-trick pony, but Johan did such a great job turning up punnily-related phrases.
Fantastic job with the cluing. I ticked off half a dozen skillful pieces of wordplay, so important to help in holding solvers' interest. [Subway fare] is outstanding, misdirecting innocently to tokens or money. That's Subway, the fast-food chain, and their FOOTLONG sandwiches.
I'm often not a fan of debut short fill, but there's something so kooky about MM HMM — can't decide if I love or hate it. I admire how it has no vowels, though, while OUI has no consonants. Excellent "clue echo."
Not everything worked perfectly, but I admired that a debut constructor shot for the stars. These kinds of brave ideas are what the NYT Sunday needs.
★ Whoa Nelly, it took me fifteen minutes of searching to find even one more exclamation that could fit into this theme! I so badly wanted "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!" to work because I love "Derry Girls" so much, but sometimes the powers that be don't cooperate.
Clever grid design, utilizing mirror symmetry to accommodate the frustrating 14, 10, 10 / 10 lengths. Not all editors or solvers love mirror sym, but I find it so pleasing. Smiley face of black squares; that's my jam.
Beautiful gridwork, too. The middle columns of mirror sym grids can be tricky, but Amanda and Karl did so well. DWELLERS is a fine entry, BAR CAR is fun, and even though I'm terrible with pop music, it's hard to avoid Demi LOVATO's name if you scan headlines.
Great use of mid-length entries, too, MAHLER lending a classical feel, APOLLO clued to the famed theater, and TAYLOR Swift — a little something for everyone.
I wasn't keen on the trio of BFFS, DEETS, TOTES (as "totally!"). But Erik Agard, editor of the USA Today crossword, said something smart, that puzzles should contain answers that people already know — but some days, those answers are for people that aren't you. This is a perfect example of that, executed in a way that even a crank like me can still successfully finish.
Jim Horne expressed another sentiment with an apt opera analogy. As a conductor, you're pressured by opera diehards to perform the standards. But if you don't try newer compositions aimed at younger crowds, you'll never create a new generation of opera fans.
I didn't know what a NET CORD sensor was, but it's common tech in that world. Much more accurate than a human, I imagine.
Another delight from an up-and-coming constructing duo.
People ping me so often with various TO BE OR NOT TO BE ideas that it's hard for me to be impressed with any of them. That leaning made me shrug when I hit today's revealer. Rhyming words, one with a double B, one with a single B … not impressive, since there should be a big handful of these. Dozens. Hundreds, maybe!
The fact that HABIT / RABBIT and TREBLE / PEBBLE don't just rhyme, but their endings differ only by a single vs. double B, makes the set so tight. I couldn't think of a single other pair that would work like this.
My appreciation for this concept grew and grew. There's something so impressive about the theme tightness.
And there's Lynn's beautiful gridwork, perfect for newer solvers. It's not technically perfect, but entries like ESE are easily figure-out-able. Plus, they're fine prices to pay to allow for the fun long bonuses, THIN MINT, BELGIANS, ENTR'ACTE.
Not only a strong Monday grid, but a crossworthy addition to the TO BE OR NOT TO BE genre.