Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tuesday, July 29, 2014, Timothy Polin


I rather like this plant-based theme. I also like that both Across and Down clues are used for theme material, which always makes it seem a little more complete. Or elegant. Or both. Mr. Polin also managed to squeeze extra plant material into two corners with FERN (14A: Bit of office greenery) and YEWS (56D: Trees for making longbows).

Some highlights: BIKE (10A: Transportation for Mary Poppins or E.T.), SOBERSUP (20A: Gets more clearheaded), JERKS (27A: Ones cutting in line, e.g.), SEXTS (44A: Responds hotly?) (seems like it's been a while since we've had any good Huygens material!), ICEFOG (47A: Atmospheric phenomenon during low temperatures) (sounds so MENACE(S)ing!), ARMANI (53A: Milanese fashion house) (more Huygens material, but in a different way). And that's just the Across clues! In the Downs we see plenty more good stuff, and even the less-than-perfect stuff is salvaged by funny cluing - DEEPER (9D: Like the diving end of a pool vis-à-vis the other end) - or by association - IGETA (30D: Sinatra's "____ Kick Out of You").

Oh, I wasn't going to single out any more answers, but I loved OPIUMDEN (37D: Old-time drug hangout), JOWLS (27D: Features of a droopy face), and Frannie always enjoyed watching "Pimp My Ride" when we could catch it while at a hotel, so XZIBIT (48D: Rapper who hosted MTV's "Pimp My Ride") was fun to have in there, too.

In possibly non-Tuesday material, we have VIRAGO (25A: Shrew), LARUE (52D: Lash ____ of old westerns), and MESTIZA (49A: Mujer of mixed race). Those last two I have never seen before!

Overall, this was a very good Tuesday.

- Horace

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Monday, July 28, 2014, Tom McCoy


Hmm… to me, string isn't cable, and string isn't yarn, and string isn't rope… but I guess I see what they were trying to do. And, to be fair, string has many definitions, none of which, in the dictionary I have at hand, specifically describes the white cotton object I think of when I hear the word. So, fine, have it your way, Mr. McCoy.

Now that we got that out of the way, let's get right to the word SENESCED (37D: Grew old). It's not a Monday word. Neither, probably, is ASSYRIA (52A: Nineveh's land). Nor ADELIE (2D: Penguin variety). I suppose many will, but I did not know that the 64A: Weasley family owl was named ERROL, nor had I ever heard of HEYARNOLD (30A: Nickelodeon show whose protagonist has a football-shaped head), or TRYHARDS (38D: Those who put a lot of effort into social climbing, in modern lingo) - but those lacunae should not surprise anyone who knows me. I didn't take much interest in Harry Potter, I don't have cable, and I certainly don't try to do much social climbing. There, now you know me, too. Happy?

It's funny, I didn't mind this puzzle while I was doing it - I enjoy the word GAUNTLET (12D: Knight's glove), and RIPSAWS (24A: Cutters that cut with the grain) and DEEPS (29A: Watery abysses) are nice. SPARKLER (25D: Hand-held Fourth of July firework) sparkles, and LOSELOSE (17D: Like a catch-22 situation) is good, and I loved the trivia in SUM (19A: 666, for the numbers on a roulette wheel), but the theme, once I paused to figure it out after solving, actually detracted a bit from the overall enjoyment. As stated above, I have a problem with the very idea, and then the phrases themselves are a bit random. ANYLONGER (44A: For even a second more)? VOCABLESSON (59A: Component of a language class, informally). For some reason, the informality annoys me.

I guess I liked more than I disliked, so it gets a thumbs up, but not way up. How's that?

- Horace

Sunday, July 27, 2014, Randolph Ross


We liked the theme just fine, and we also liked that it was quite a bit tougher than a normal Sunday, but some of the crosses seemed unfair, and there were a lot of obscure answers. Where to begin? Let's start with the killer crosses.

LALO (21A: "Le Roi d'Ys" composer) (ahh, yes, Le Roi d'Y…) and AGITA (29A: Gut feeling?) (this one, we recognized, but still…) both crossing DONAT (17D: Robert who played filmdom's Mr. Chips). Tough.

RAMON (37A: San ____, Calif.) crossing MENLO (31D: College in Atherton, Calif.). Inferable, perhaps, but still tough.

And finally, the one that did us in - LAO (73A: Pathet ____ (old revolutionary group) crossing FALA (68D: F.D.R.'s Scottie). A Laotian group from the '70s crossing a dog that died 62 years ago. Hmpf.

Other obscurities - FEHR (57A: Longtime baseball union exec Donald), FARFEL (99A: Small pellets of noodle dough in Jewish cuisine), LANDAU (44A: Vinyl-roofed car), SAMUEL (61A: ____ de Champlain, founder of Quebec), NORA (60A: Romance novelist Roberts), PRAHA (18A: European capital, to natives), HATLO (20A: Jimmy ____, "They'll Do It Every Time" cartoonist), DEKE (83A: Astronaut Slayton), IED (87A: Iraq War danger, for short), ETHAN (98A: Hunt in "Mission: Impossible"), NOTH (118A: Chris who played Mr. Big on "Sex and the City"), TROCHE (6D: Throat soother), NIOBE (24D: Weeper of myth), AAU (40D: Org. with the Sullivan Award for character, leadership and sportsmanship) … and I could go on. It's not that any of those is unfair in and of itself, but so many? I've only done a few of the Maleska-era puzzles, but this had that kind of a feel. Like they're just cramming things in because they can - because Hey, it's a real thing! It's fair!

Well, ok, it's fair, then, but it isn't fun.

Least favorite clue - 85A: Email virus, power outage, etc. (WOES).
Best clue - 48A: Butler's quarters? (TARA).


- Horace

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday, July 26, 2014, Julian Lim


A solid Saturday. Some of the clues I saw right through: 24A: Highlander, e.g. (TOYOTA) and 15A: A Ryder (WINONA), and some took forever: 30D: Fire sign? (SIREN) (lovely) and 7D: Common aspiration? (AITCH) (good one! and I was very glad that it wasn't "aahhh" or some variant thereof).

STOP (4D: Cry to a tickler) was fun, ASCETICAL (27D: Like the lifestyle of many a monk) is a lovely word, as are COSSET (40D: Baby) and RICRAC (48A: Zigzag ribbon) (Thanks, Frannie!). STALK (43D: Follow too closely) and MIRROR (38D: Reflect) were clued well, and 19A: Hot stuff (WASABI) was tricky, too.

In the middle, we noted that "SEAmonster" was too short, but once TRYON (32D: Check for size, say) and EES (33D: Some semiconductor experts: Abbr.) (one of the only bits of crosswordese in the grid) went in, SEACREATURE was easy enough to see. It's always nice to have a classical reference, and it's especially nice here to offset JERSEYSHORE (35A: Former hit TV show with the theme song "Get Crazy").

Overall, an enjoyable Saturday puzzle that caps of an outstanding week of dailies. Now, the real kicker will be a great one tomorrow. I'm crossing my fingers!

- Horace

Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday, July 25, 2014, Peter A. Collins


DOWNGOESFRAZIER (17A: Repeated cry in a 1973 fight) is an awesome fifteen, and it made me blind to this puzzles faults, if, indeed, it has any. Honestly, I'm not even going to look for them.

Let's talk, then, about the other good things. CHINCHILLA (15A: Fur source) - awesome. ASHTREES (44A: They might become bats), easy, but also great. BOLEYN (28A: Tudor who lost her head) - great. EROICA (42D: Work first publicly performed at the Theater an der Wien in 1805.) - great. DISSENT (35A: Minority report?) - great. TOLEDOOHIO (29A: The Glass Capital of the World) - huh. Who knew? Also in that category GOURDE (18D: Currency of 46-Down (HAITI)). Really? I don't suppose it's honest-to-god gourds, unfortunately, but maybe it comes from that? No… Wikipedia mentions nothing of the sort, so it's probably not true.

SHAGGY (9D: Like yaks) - well-clued. ELIZA (11D: The "you" in "On the Street Where You Live") - very nice, and it makes me think of recent guest blogger and recent visitor of Italy, Colum, who once sang this publicly to his wife (not named Eliza, and not at the Theater an der Wien). Isn't that the case?

Even the two "God" answers don't upset me today. That's how much this puzzle put me ONCLOUDNINE (24D: Elated).

Excellent. Loved it.

- Horace

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thursday, July 24, 2014, David Phillips


I'm not sure where to begin, there was so much I liked about this puzzle. Let's start with the nicely executed trick - PAINT[IT]BLACK (23D: 1966 Rolling Stones hit … or an instruction to be followed four times in this puzzle. The "four times" confused me for a bit, because I saw many more "-" clues, and I wasn't quite sure what to do with them. Would both letters be assumed for each one? I guess we should have figured it out as soon as we saw 41D: Don Quixote's love (DULC[I]NEA), because we each knew it immediately, but we each talked ourselves out of it when we saw only four letters. I, at first, thought "Well, is there any way it could be 'Dulcit… something?'" and Frannie thought "Well, maybe that was just what he called her, but he was crazy… maybe her real name was something else." Anyway, it came soon enough, when we got LET[IT]SLIDE (59A: Not worry about something annoying). It's funny how the mind will work against you sometimes.

The weakest of the "hidden" answers, we thought, was SELEC[T]EES (52A: Chosen people), but I was able to GETPAST (54A: Overlook, as someone's flaws) it right away, because of the almost apologetic next Across clue. Do you think that was intentional? I like to think so.

Another thing I liked about this one was the cluing, which really seemed a notch above the usual. Tricky things, like 29A: Flight setting (STA[I]RCASE) and 31D: Remote power source, maybe (AAABATTERY), funny things like 72A: Small price to pay (CENT) and 30D: Big bang maker (TNT), clever things like 45A: Wedding feature, in two different senses (BAND) and 7D: Picked locks? (AFRO), and good ol' nostalgic things like 75A: Evil "Get Smart" organization (KAOS), 60D: Rikki-tikki-____" (TAVI), and 21D: Corn syrup brand (KARO) (at least for me… I used to put that on ice cream!).

And on top of all that, you've got some nice ten-cent words like REPUTE (8D: Good or bad name), DELVES (71A: Digs deeply) and ELUDE (40A: Outwit, in a way). And I haven't even mentioned PETER[T]OSH (37D: One of the Wailers of Bob Marley and the Wailers)!

Thumbs up. I'll be watching for Mr. Phillips' name again!

- Horace

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wednesday, July 23, 2014, Howard Barkin


Everybody loves a BLANKCHECK (59A: Complete freedom … and a hint to each half of the answer to each starred clue)! The first half of the first theme answer, BODYDOUBLE (18A: *Movie stand-in) "body check" is the least familiar to me. Is that like a physical? Does anyone say that? But there's a bonus, non-starred theme entry TIMEOUT (20A: Toddler's banishment to a corner, say) - "time check" and "check out," (I know all the others come after…) so let's call it even.

The grid has some good non-theme entries, too. I particularly like TOCCATA (38A: Bach work), SWAGGER (32D: Walk with an attitude), ASKANCE (43D: With suspicion, as a look), BARTAB (1D: Tippler's account), and EQUATOR (10D: Where it's always zero degrees) (cute). It's nice, too, to see AGAKHAN (46D: Shiite leader who claims direct descent from Muhammad) in its entirety.

On the other hand, we see the startlingly awful RESEEKS (4D: Tries for again, as an office), and the chunks of threes in the NE and SW aren't too pretty. There's AMB, and DCIV, and can we all agree that we're oh, so tired of seeing ATRA (37D: First razor with a pivoting head) in a puzzle, even if we do learn something more about it with each clue? So, so tired of it.

But on balance, I think this had more good than bad. That's three good puzzles in a row! Now I've really got my hopes up for the turn. Here's hoping it delivers.

- Horace