If it's Wednesday, it must be "odd bird" theme day at the NYT Xword. It's fairly impressive to come up with four 10-letter answers whose letters all reside on the TOP ROW of a keyboard, but maybe not that impressive, considering four of the five vowels plus Y all live up there. In fact, of the 12 most common letters in the English language (ETAOIN SHRDLU), fully 6 are on the top row. 5 are on the middle row, and only lonely N lives on the bottom row. Clearly, the theme could not possibly work at all only using letters on the bottom row, as there are no vowels there, and the middle row would be next to impossible, utilizing A as the only vowel.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed all four of these words. In Scrabble, they are worth 12, 14, 17, and 18 points respectively, so the interest increases as you move through the puzzle. In addition, the big payoff happens with TYPEWRITER, an unexpected extra theme element. So, a well executed theme.
But there's more ARTISTRY displayed, with some excellent long down answers. EYESORES and TELLSTALES are good. I put in EATcrow first, but STADT put paid to that, so I came up with the correct EATDIRT.
You also have to admire the pair of clues at 20A: One working with an anchor (SAILOR - I tried Seaman and Seadog first before getting to the more obvious answer), and 27D: Ones working with an anchor (CAMERACREW). I love that twist, which was missing from last week's puzzle's pair of "Bikini" clues.
The puzzle started out nicely with 1A: Content of hate mail (VENOM). I actually broke into the grid with 4D: Occasion for amateurs to do stand-up (OPENMIC). We've been watching Louie on the Netflix, and it's hilarious. He's no amateur, though.
I will give props to ET59 for his excellent analysis of 3-letter answers. I don't know that I'll do this every day, but it's worth it to take a look today, since overall I felt very positive about the puzzle. Hang on, I'll be right back...
Ok, I'm back. There are sixteen 3-letter words, of which two are theme related, and thus exempt. Of the remaining fourteen, five are straightforward nouns (LEA, WAD, CAR, ROC, and PIG). Four are names or titles (ALI, DOM, YAO, and UTE). Two are foreign (MER and TIA), and three are abbreviations or suffixes (APO, EMT, and OSE). The clues are interesting (in my opinion) for three of the nouns, one of the names (ALI has a bit of trivia I didn't know), possibly one of the foreign words (and only because there's a circonflexe in the NYT), and none of the abbreviations/suffixes. That gives a success rate in my book of 35.7%. Not great.
Still, I liked the puzzle very much, so thumbs up.