Click the links above to see these puzzles organized by constructor, or to try solving them.
★ 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!
I love it when constructors do kooky things with print grids. It's neat when a puzzle works much better on paper than in (most) electronic formats – score one for the dead tree edition!
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.
★ You had me at FASHION POLICE / JUICE CLEANSES / GENDER STUDIES! Now that's a fantastic triplet to anchor this "stair stack" themeless. It's a tad unusual to weave long downs through a stair stack, so I greatly appreciated WWII EPICS running the gauntlet. Beautiful middle of the puzzle!
And I like what the authors did with the SW / NE, usually the toughest parts of a stair stack to make shine. FUN SPONGE is so fun, and the clue for DC COMICS makes that one even better. Misdirecting from the Penguin (the Batman baddie) to Penguin Books is flat out brilliant. Along with a smile-inducing clue about JEOPARDY — once hosted by Pat Sajak for April Fools — these are great corners.
The NW / SE corners didn't have quite as much pizzazz as I usually want out of a stair stack, but TEAM SPIRIT, DO OR DIE (with its funny-looking DOOR DIE sequence), INLAID TILE – no reason to say OH SORRY!
There was enough crossword glue to make me slightly pause before slapping down the POW! – DMC, ERTE, ESS, NAOH, RHEE – but some of those are defensible. Especially RHEE – educated folks ought to at least recognize the names of important foreign leaders, yeah?
ESS, not so much, especially with a clue that's trying too hard. I don't imagine I'll see many dictionaries with a section marked ESS.
And a couple of fantastic clues to even further elevate the solving experience. TESLA is something you might charge for the ride – not a fare, but an electric charge. And FASHION POLICE was great as an entry on its own right, but using "dressing down" and "dressing up" in the same breath makes it even better.
Such an enjoyable solving experience. Go to the head of the (JASA) class!
★ Loved this theme! FLYING COLORS = things that fly, all described by a color. This huge GREEN LANTERN fan loved seeing Hal Jordan get his due (although, your weakness is the color yellow? Seriously, you cower in the face of a dandelion?). And GOLDEN SNITCH! It's like Amanda and Karl asked themselves, "What themers would make Jeff automatically give us his POW!?"
BLUEBIRD wasn't as interesting, but I read a ton of "Peanuts" as a kid, and I have a soft spot for Snoopy's dogfights with the RED BARON. it always made me want to go seek out root beer at a French cafe.
Now, the grid wasn't as clean as I want from an early-week puzzle. There was enough SOIRS, AFOG / ALII, NTSB, EDT, that I paused slightly before slamming down the POW! But there is a relatively high density of theme material, not easy to work with a split revealer like FLYING / COLORS in the center, kind of splitting the puzzle in half.
Speaking of that, splitting the puzzle nearly completely in half is another no-no. It forces solvers to do two mini-puzzles — blockages in the feng shui. But, FLYING / COLORS does tie the two halves together a little better, so that's something.
And ultimately, the gluey bits were all minor offenders, many in the name of working in great stuff like CATNIP / OK SURE / WEBBYS – ok sure, that's worth the price of NTSB!
Overall, the theme won me over so highly that the slight dings didn't bring things down much. Such an entertaining solve.
P.S. A friend and I have a puzzle waiting in the publication queue … also based on FLYING COLORS. This is one of the very few times I've wished for the lag time from acceptance to publication to be very long!
★ I almost dismissed this as an inelegant, loosey-goosey theme. Man, am I glad I took a second look! I skimmed over the SNOOZE BUTTON clue at first, thinking that the theme was simply "noises that come out of an alarm clock." RADIO, BUZZ, SOUND? Bleh, totally unspecific!
What, you got the real theme immediately? Um, so did I. For all those ninnies that didn't, bear with us:
The SNOOZE BUTTON makes the RADIO go silent, for RADIO SILENCE. It KILLs the BUZZing, as in a BUZZKILL. And it turns OFF the SOUND = SOUND OFF!
I wasn't sure if it was just me who missed the cleverosity, so I asked Jim for his thoughts on the puzzle. Turns out he glossed over it, too! After chit-chatting about it, we both agreed that it was delightful; such fantastic plays on words that were tightly bound to SNOOZE BUTTON.
Great grid execution, too. Mike didn't try to do too much, sticking with an easy-to-fill 76-word grid. But with a little zazz in STARGAZING, WORD LENGTH, HOT YOGA, even some BUSH SR, UNICORN, ST LOUIS, that's more than good enough for me.
Best yet, such a silky-smooth grid. I love it when I can't find a single short entry to squint at. This grid felt much more friendly to newer solvers than either of the past two days, even given the presence of HOBART. Some might complain about that one, but come on. You gotta at least be familiar with world capitals.
Okay, maybe BORGE crossing KLEE isn't newb-friendly. But that's perfectly fine in a mid-week puzzle. Paul KLEE is an important painter educated solvers ought to at least have heard of.
So, so, so glad I took a second and third look. A fantastic-- albeit delayed — a-ha moment.
★ Such a clever idea! HAPPY FOURTH hints at the fourth item in an ordered set, i.e., NUMBERS the fourth book of the Bible, TIME the fourth dimension, DELTA the fourth letter in the Greek alphabet, and MARS the fourth planet from the Sun. Love the variety!
I didn't understand the clue to HAPPY FOURTH when I first read it, but when it clicked, it really clicked. It almost had a contest puzzle feel to it, which worked well – you solve the grid, and then you still have to solve one extra piece that ties everything together. Bravo!
Loved the bonus fill, too. Freddie did so well to weave in MONORAIL, SUSHI ROLL, DON'T DO IT! And my favorite, the punnily 4th of July themed BANG UP JOB. Four out of four = BANG UP JOB, indeed!
Well, four out of six. OVERDONE and STAYED ON didn't do much for me. I might have broken those up at the D of OVERDONE and Y of STAYED ON, since that could have allowed some smoothing out of IS NO and the rough GORAN / IONA crossing.
That last one would have been a killer in an early-week puzzle, but I think more experienced solvers ought to at least have heard of one of them.
I've seen many, many 4th of July puzzles over the years. This one might be my favorite.
★ OMG that top stack! Fresh, clean, snazzy. Triply love love love! BADA BING BADA BOOM nearly earned the POW! by itself. And it helps that I've always been fascinated by the DUKE OF WELLINGTON, whose nickname was "the Iron Duke." Why can't I get a nickname like that?!
Weaving in NAWLINS (slang for New Orleans), BYLINES, ODOMETER with its beautiful clue — in the middle of a (car) dash, indeed — talk about ON TARGET!
With nary a dab of glue in sight — okay, some might struggle with ELO, Electric Light Orchestra — it's so elegantly constructed. A real beaut, that top half.
I like that David's been experimenting with 16-letter entries in his themelesses. Much easier to pick fresh-feeling ones, given that themelesses so rarely go to 16x15. I'm a big fan.
I didn't enjoy the bottom stack quite as much, given that CRISTIANO RONALDO isn't meaningful to this non-soccer fan (I know, I'm an infidel!). And MASTER CONTROLLER felt workable, but not nearly as spicy as TALENT MANAGEMENT.
Puzzles like this often don't have much zazz outside of the stacks, but I enjoyed SLURPEES, CAST LOTS, even SCIPIO. And truth be told, it didn't take much to push the top stack greatness past the threshold, earning David yet another POW!
★ Duuuh-duh. Duuuh-duh. Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh AAAA!
Something lost in translation there, the theme song to JAWS not quite as catchy on paper. However, I thought Tim did an excellent job of making this crossword catchy! Not just a DORSAL FIN made of rebus letters, but some good references to JAWS. Yes, he's a MAN EATING / SEA MONSTER, in a movie directed by SPIELBERG set on AMITY ISLAND. But I thought the cheeky ones were standouts:
I wasn't sure what the big black cross in the center represented? At first glance, I guessed that the puzzle would be about Dracula. Then I thought maybe it's an anchor? Sort of, although it doesn't quite get there. And an anchor doesn't seem all that JAWS-related.
Then I realized that there's so much theme material in the center, that Tim didn't have much choice but to use that big black cross. The fin rebus squares, SEA MONSTER, DEEP THREAT, GREAT / WHITE / SHARK — that's a lot of stuff you need to separate.
It's too bad. The fin visual is cool, but it's overshadowed by that black cross. This kind of thing tends to happen with Sunday visual art puzzles. Generally, it's better if you can make the visual out of the black squares instead of rebuses or circles, but that does also have the drawback of making things very obvious.
Great gridwork, otherwise. Tim's constructions are so solid. He's one of the few people I'd trust to give me such a smooth Sunday product, just a bit of HGTS STDS ELHI. Way less than average – and with more theme material than average! Such a top-notch constructor.
I like it when tribute puzzles do something a little different to make themselves stand out.
★ I love an early-week puzzle that's JUST FOR KICKS! (KICKS is what the young kids call shoes these days. Well, not anymore now that I've started to use the term myself.)
Such a hilarious image of a cat burglar, walking upside-down across a ceiling in fashionable SUCTION shoes. Love it! And PLATFORM shoes no doubt make you the life of the PARTY. Great repurposing of the common political phrase, PARTY PLATFORM.
WATER MOCCASINS wasn't as amusing to me, as you can't see synchro swimmers' feet that much, but it worked well as a kooky redefining of the moccasin snakes.
I liked the theme notion so much that I would have loved a fifth themer. But not sure what that could be – maybe FLATS, in TORTILLA FLATS? HEELS, in TAR HEELS?
Totally fine to stick to four though, especially if you're going to buckle down and make the grid great. So much room for bonuses in the fill and Sam and Tracy didn't disappoint. MEMOIRS, TROUNCED, G FORCES, HOOPLA, SUPERSIZED? WHAT A TREAT! Sam and Tracy, YOU WIN!
Note how well they spaced out their bonus fill, alternating up / down, trying to keep them as far apart as possible. Generally speaking, the less long bonuses have to interact with each other, the easier it is to fill the grid smoothly.
And a nice and smooth product, indeed. I might have tried harder to avoid EMIR and EDDA for an early-week puzzle, but I can see the case for those being terms an educated solver ought to know. Short gluey entries are usually easier to ignore, anyway, than longer globs. Something like GO NOW is a bit harder to let slide — seems a bit awkward, doesn't it?
But those are minor nits. An early-week puzzle that both gives me this many kicks, and demonstrates high craftsmanship, easily deserves a POW!
★ Beautiful Monday puzzle. Interesting theme full of fresh finds, a couple of bonuses in the fill, and a smooth grid. Nothing more I could ask for!
C.C. riffs on DOUBLETREE = phrases with two trees embedded within them. I highlighted them below in case you couldn't locate them. Particularly nice one in BALDERDASH! It's so densely packed with trees, plus it's a fun word to say.
C.C. is so, so, so good with her fill bonuses. DON'T BLOW IT? No way she would --- AMEN TO THAT. And a BARISTA, DR DOOM, and SARA LEE? Nobody doesn't like that!
And when NNE is the only grid entry that feels gluey, you've done incredibly well. Superb craftsmanship.
The only nit I had was that it took me forever to think of TEA in STEALTH FIGHTER. I was a bit slow to find FIG to begin with, and then I thought there might something called a TEAL tree? After much Googling, I headdesked when I figured things out.
I often wish that puzzles don't get dumbed down; that solvers be allowed to discover and earn their a-ha moment. Here though, TEA tree feels not as easily recognizable as the ASH or ALDER (I might say the same for TEAK), so I would have preferred shading them in the grid.
Ooh, trees providing shade! That would have been so meta.
ADDED NOTE: Astute reader Janie Smulyan commented that ARBORS are indeed [Shady places]! Another call for shading; that would have been awesome!
Minor quibble aside, a near-perfect start to the week; a puzzle I'd happily give to any newer solver.
★ Trenton used CTHULHU in his last themeless, and I enjoyed it, what with my fascination with HP Lovecraft. It's such an awesomely bizarre string of letters!
I imagine that other solvers might have hated it – if you don't already know it, it's such a horribly bizarre string of letters!
I bet QUEEQUEG and TZATZIKI will elicit similar responses today. I understand if some solvers rage at the kooky-looking entries, but I loved them. Great way to incorporate rare letters, those Qs and Zs immediately injecting some zing into the solving experience. Plus, QUEEQUEG is from a classic, Moby Dick, so educated solvers ought to at least be familiar with the cast of characters.
Toss in an X in XENON GAS, and another Z in TRAVEL SIZE? Love it! And yet another Z in GODZILLA? Yes! I don't like it when constructors force in rare letters, glopping glue all over to hold the grid together, so it was a real treat to get so many rare ones with just the negligible AGTS employed.
And let's not forget about the other great entries Trenton worked in. TIME SLOT. UNSUNG HERO. ALTAR BOY. SPAMALOT. TIRE IRON. YES AND NO? Nope, definitely yes!
Impressively clever clues, too. MANHOLES is a solid entry. Playing on "main" – in this case, a water main – made it even better. "Good to go" hinting at TRAVEL SIZE was fantastic, too.
It's not a revolutionary grid – not that hard to execute on a 70-word themeless. But Trenton used his four corner stacks so well and knitted everything together so elegantly. A work of art.
CROWD PLEASER indeed! Such a solid example of a stair stack themeless, Peter hitting on all marks.
A great stair stack starts with that oh-so-important middle triplet. CROWD PLEASER / PLAY THE PONIES / THE LEGO MOVIE provide so much zazz. Yes!
Then the NW / SE stacks – POP A PILL / AMAZONIA, and WHATS APP over SNAP CHAT = good usage of those slots.
And finally, where many stair stacks fall is in the SW / NE corners, so hard to execute on once the stair stack is fixed in place. THE CURE / PHONE SEX plus STARBASE / BEDTIMES = excellent work.
And of course, Peter is such a great gridder that he wove everything together with little to no crossword glue. Some will argue that ENO gets way too much expose for his level of fame, but I think he's crossworthy enough. And RNS might be hard to figure out if you don't know it (registered nurses).
I did wonder if POP A PILL was as on point as "pill popper." But ultimately I thought it was a solid 1-Across.
I also don't love THE CURE crossing THE LEGO MOVIE, at THE, but it's not a deal-breaker.
Terrific puzzle from one of the top themeless constructors around. It's not easy to work with 68-word grids, and Peter does it so elegantly.