The finance wonk in me loved this one. It's paradoxical that an industry so boring – many friends have nodded off or run screaming as I've spun delightful tales of arbitrage, efficient portfolio frontiers, and basis points – can introduce such colorful terms. PATENT TROLLs have been in the headlines a ton (at least in financial headlines), and I'd heard of ZOMBIE BANKS (think: banks biding their time, all but dead). Such descriptive phrases!
UNICORNs I knew too, but just as "unicorns." As in "those horribly prancy things my daughter begs me to get books about." Also, as in "private startups valued at over $1B." Never heard them called UNICORN STARTUPS, though. Kind of like calling a company a "business company." Still, I can let it slide in the service of a clever theme.
It'd have been good enough for me with just three themers. Toss in the brilliant revealer, FINANCIAL MYTHS (think: what Jim Cramer propagates, ba-dum *rimshot*), and you have yourself a winner.
Clean-as-a-whistle gridwork, only OBE as a tick in the liabilities column. Add in some assets — PATTY MELT and HOT TAKES — and it's a solid product.
Mike's a good enough constructor that I'd have liked to see him push himself. Take out the black square between ABET and HOW SO, for example. That'd likely have resulted in more bonuses, while still retaining smooth short fill.
Overall, a great theme tailored to us econ junkies. Even if you hadn't heard of any of these terms before, they're so colorful that I bet at least one will stick in your memory.
That was too easy. Well played, C.C., well played.
It's one thing to use "foreign words for YES" – I've seen that a couple of times before – but to disguise them using homophones is a great way to target both sides of the solving spectrum.
The theme is tight, too. How many other foreign languages would YES be obvious in? SI (Spanish or Italian), HAI (Japanese), DA (Russian), and OUI (French). My inner nerd wishes that Dothraki or Klingon were included, but in both of those languages, YES loosely translates to "I shall excise your gizzard and use it to kill the ghosts of your ancestors." Probably wouldn't pass the breakfast test.
C.C. did well in her themer choices, LAH DI DAH, AIMS HIGH, and especially THE ROYAL WE. I liked PLAIN TO SEE, but it was a bit, well, plain. I'd have preferred THE DEAD SEA. Perhaps that's my inner Dothraki speaking.
As always, C.C. is a star when it comes to bonus fill. So much greatness in CARPE DIEM, SAN MARINO, PIT STOP, SLEUTHS. I liked FAN ART, too, great way to use a mid-length slot.
My solve was slow. Not because the short fill was gluey – on the contrary, just an LTS = top-notch craftsmanship. But there was so much novelty in the shorties: AP LIT, GO BAGS, KTOWN, even DEETS and DCON. As much as I enjoy a feeling of freshness — and I do like each of these entries on their own — this verged on too fresh. I wonder how it affected newer solvers. I could imagine it being a turn-off.
But overall, an entertaining, creative theme with a solid a-ha moment doesn't come around very often on Mondays. Along with a solid grid that aimed high, it's a slam-dunk POW!
NOTE: Thanks to some sharp-eyed readers, mistranslations in the original post have been corrected.
★ STANDARD POODLE crossing TOODLES entertained me way too much. Now that's an AMEN CORNER! There was so much greatness packed in, especially impressive considering how tough a construction job this is. A wide-open middle, with nine (!!!) long feature entries is no joke. That quartet of STANDARD POODLE / DINNER DATE / DON DELILLO / TANGERINE DREAM is so impressive.
The only one of the nine that didn't grab me was ROAD TO RIO, but I bet it might be the favorite for an older generation. No doubt that it's crossworthy, at the very least.
I liked that Andrew didn't stop there. EARL GREY TEA and RAISING CAIN added even more color. But wait, there's more! The SW / NE corners, which often don't live up to potential on layouts like this, feature DATA DUMP, PA KETTLE, and even METEOR. Not at all TEDIOUS.
Fantastic clues, too. [Person who's on a roll] directed to a high roller at a craps table. No, that's a VOTER roll — top-notch wordplay.
A couple of dabs of crossword glue in MML CTS LUM, but that seemed like a fair price to pay for so much goodness. There was the oddity of ENTRAIN – I've ridden a lot of trains but never heard someone say, "it's time to entrain" – but again, it was a price worth paying. Easy to infer, anyway.
Fantastic construction. I often tune out of a themeless if I get more than a couple of dabs of crossword glue, but today, all the sizzle was well worth it.
★ A jazzy revealer – STICK EM UP! – along with four catchphrases: HANG EM HIGH, HOOK EM HORNS, KNOCK EM DEAD, and the doubled-up ROCK EM SOCK EM ROBOTS – made for a great theme set. Fantastic choices.
Every time the NYT runs a "parts of answers jutting up or down," I get angry emails saying that there's something wrong in the grid. Ooh, the vitriolic barrages I got after a HOLDING DOWN THE FORT puzzle (never mind that I didn't write it). You fool, you @#$@!ed up big time! You're the biggest moron in the history of moronocy!
I've learned to spell out themes in painful detail, so that (most) everyone gets it.
I enjoyed today's in part because I won't have to do as much explaining. Tried and true "jutting" theme, but it's so easy to figure out. (We've highlighted the EMs below just in case.) Instead of relying on a long jutting string, or several different strings, it's simply EM at work.
It is true that once you've figured out the theme, it all falls quickly. But I didn't mind that. Enough of a trick to make it worthy of a Thursday slot, but easy enough to make me feel smart. It's a win when a constructor makes solvers feel smart.
Fully agreed with Brian, I could have used a slightly smoother grid. DAK Prescott, become uber-famous already! ETE MKTS TIO TMEN XCI almost made me rethink my POW! pick. But these gluey bits did allow for a lot of great WHAT A TOOL / LINE DANCE CHIN MUSIC bonuses, so I'm okay with the trade-offs.
Even after doing thousands of crosswords over the years, I still get tripped up solving these "jutting" types of puzzles. I appreciate that Brian found a simple, but colorful, effective, and easy to understand concept within this genre.
It's rare that I give something a third look and unheard of for me to change my mind after that third look. Appropriate that it happened today, given the TRIathlon theme!
My first impression was that CYCLING stuck out as the only hidden word. RUNNING was by itself, and SWIMMING had the -LY attached. Felt inconsistent.
Second impression: it was neat that Peter managed to find three solid 15-letter phrases using these three sports. There aren't many options with any of them, at least none that gives away the game immediately (SWIMMING POOL, RUNNING LAPS, etc.)
I wouldn't have thought more about it, but Jim mentioned that he thought this was a great puzzle. Took me a while to see his thinking, but I gradually came around. Here are a few reasons:
A lot of love about this one, especially since I used to be a triathlete back in the day. I might have considered mirror symmetry (with themers in rows 3, 6, 9, 12), but I respect Peter's decision to put TRIATHLON in the usual "revealer" position. I didn't mind it not having a symmetrical theme partner (at least, not after my third look).
★ I love playing the "can I guess the theme" game on Mondays. A perfect early-week theme is obfuscated until the very end, where a revealer gives me a delightful a-ha moment. My observations through my solve today, along with timestamps:
1:24 — NIGHT-NIGHT. Theme is doubled words? Hmm, that'd be boring.
2:05 — WHITE WEDDING!
(singing) It's a nice day to … START AGAIN!
Oops, gotta get back to it.
2:16 — NIGHT / WHITE … rhymers with different spellings?
2:58 — MUSHROOM BALL? Let's put the theme game aside and figure out WTF a MUSHROOM BALL is.
(down the internet rabbit hole) Wow, those look delicious!
3:31 — Scratching my head. How could these three themers possibly be related?
4:24 — Hit the revealer, CAP AND GOWN.
4:26 — Wha ... ?
4:32 — Uh ... buh?
4:37 — More head scratching.
4:46 — Re-read the clue for the fourth time. Still nonsensical.
5:05 — Jeff is getting angry!
5:31 — AHA! Happy dance! NIGHT cap, WHITE cap, MUSHROOM cap. NIGHT gown, WEDDING gown, BALL GOWN!
Great twist on the "both words can precede X" theme type. Fortuitous findings – I wouldn't have believed it possible. Huge kudos.
And great gridwork too. Enough bonuses in SUNSCREEN, OBNOXIOUS, COPYCAT, DATASET. Not much crossword glue in ETH MATA SNO. This is the way to execute on a Monday grid, folks. Don't be afraid to go up to the max of 78 words. Don't try for anything flashy. Focus on a clean, smooth grid, and work in a couple of strong bonuses. Pro stuff right here.
POW! Congrats on joining the club, Leslie, and looking forward to more from both of you!
★ Such fun finds, words parsed to form state abbreviations + extra word for kookiness. Being an Emerald Stater, I loved kicking off with WASHROOMS = WA SHROOMS. I can't believe I've never thought of that! They were all solid, with VA MOOSE and CA NOODLES as highlights. VAMOOSE and CANOODLES are amusing words in themselves, and to parse them for even more entertainment was lovely.
At first, NEW AGER -> NE WAGER stuck out as the only phrase. But it's a neat find. I do wish that one or two others had been of this style, so it felt like more a mixture of words and phrases undergoing reparsation.
A ton of great fill, especially considering that Tom had to work around seven themers. Most of the juice came from the two parallel downs, ECHOLOCATE / WELCOME MAT + SCREEN SHOT / SEE IF I CARE. That's four out of four, perfectly chosen for snazziness.
Parallel downs almost always come at a price, though, because you have so many constraining pairs of letters jammed together. Was it worth AHL in the SW, and EIN / INI in the NE? I'm mixed. The crosses for AHL are all fair, but AHL will be tough (and weird-looking) for newer solvers.
Maybe it would have been better to put a black square at the L of ECHOLOCATE? You'd still have the juicy VENDETTA, and you'd also likely be able to squeeze more out of the PROTRUDE slot on the other side.
Tough call. I respect Tom's choice, even if it's not the call I'd have made.
It's so difficult to entertain a wide audience with an early-week puzzle. The theme has to be accessible but fresh-feeling, and the grid has to contain some pepper (appropriate for the author) but also allow newer solvers to complete the grid in a fair manner. I thought Tom hit all those marks.
★ Loved this one. I use the phrase SOUNDS LIKE A PLAN all the time, but I've never made the leap to "what three words, when said together, sound like a synonym for PLAN?" ARE + AINGE + MINT = arrangement = Jeff being envious of Erik's versatile and wide-ranging mind.
Bang-up execution, too. All sorts of goodies in FRY BREAD, the IMAC PRO, a summer SHANDY, UP AGAINST IT. Talk about an INSTINCTUAL feel for strong execution!
I did hesitate on MID-JUNE – feels like it opens an unwanted pathway for randos such as EARLY WINTER, EIGHT ELEVENTHS, who knows what else. But a nice save on the clue, referring to the commemoration of the abolition of slavery. (I believe it's referring to Juneteenth?)
I've seen a lot of "last words in theme phrases form a maxim" puzzles. But this one adds such a welcome twist; a clever extra layer that makes it stand out. Excellent work all around earns Erik yet another POW!
★ David is so good at so many areas in crossword construction. Today, he flexes his mid-length muscles, showing how densely he can pack the goodies in. Check out this list of great 7s:
Sixteen excellent 7s, all in one themeless? Unheard of! Along with very little crossword glue, it's a masterful creation. It is so tricky to balance color and cleanliness in this style of grid, and David didn't have to make hardly any trade-offs. (OERSTED is pretty tricky, even for this physics nerd.)
As a side note, I personally love SCHMUCK, which would bring my tally to 17. But Rich Norris at the LAT long ago warned me that he'd never allow this in a puzzle, as it's vulgar, like using PENIS or SCHLONG as fill. I did have hesitations, but it looks like the NYT has used it a couple of times now in regular stories. I'd be curious to hear if it does offend people.
★ Perfect theme for MLK Day: three important CIVIL RIGHTS figures disguised at the ends of phrases. Such uplifting phrases, too! Fit for a KING fits King. Rosa PARKS is something of a NATIONAL treasure. And I have to imagine Sojourner told THE WHOLE TRUTH. Inspiring stuff.
I did wonder if Sojourner TRUTH was out of place, her life a century before those of KING and PARKS. Also, the civil rights movement is most often identified with the 1960s... but I like the idea of expanding it to any effort throughout history that worked toward equal rights for all.
Could Malcolm X have been a more apt third theme person? Maybe with SOLVE FOR X or GENERATION X? But referring to Malcolm X by "X" is odd. It's not his last name (is it?). So I like Sean's choices.
There were quite a few grid problems, including a glut of tough proper nouns that might trip up beginning solvers, and some gluey bits that felt inelegant. But the beautiful theme let me look past all of the dings and just appreciate the three folks honored in the puzzle. Digging into the technical weeds seems against the spirit of today's celebration, anyway.
★ 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.