Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Wednesday, December 7, 2016, David Steinberg

7:15 (FWOE)

What a peculiar theme! It must be Wednesday. I really wanted to like this puzzle, but I'm not sure in the end that I do.

Five two word phrases, each of whose words are also the PASTTENSE version of a verb. Some of these work very well, following my usual rules of engagement for this sort of thing; namely, that the phrase has to be in common parlance, and each individual word is not being used in the phrase in the past tense form of the verb in question.

Thus, FIXEDCOST doesn't work so well for me. I don't like the phrase very much, and the word "fixed" is the past tense of the verb "fix" being used in adjectival form. So, not so great. In contrast, I like LEFTHANDED better, even if the "handed" is not ideal according to my rules. Better still is SHOTPUT.

I can't complain much about 1A: One of two in "Hamilton" (ACT), seeing as how much I've been crowing about seeing the darned thing. But it's a meh first answer, and gets a C+. It was also my first confident answer. My error came in the next answer down. 13A: Question asked with an open mouth (WHA). Precisely. Wha...? I mean, really. TAXCO was no help. I guessed WHo. I guessed wrong, but who can blame me?

Here's what I did like: RECKLESS, HARDATIT, and JABBA. But some of the other long downs including DEADDROPS and STOPSPLAY are just not that exciting.

And who wants to think of a horse when presented with RUMP? So many opportunities missed here. I call foul. And can we retire AOL? Does it even actually exist anymore?

I think overall, I felt ENNUI while solving this puzzle.

Here's hoping the turn is more exciting.

- Colum

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Tuesday, December 6, 2016, Ed Sessa

4:45

Here it is, finally, the first salvo in the annual seasonal NYT crossword rush. And that's several weeks later than the rest of the country, so that's something at least. I figured it out by the third set of shaded squares, but I had no idea what the lyric following the syllables PA RUM PUM PUM PUM were, so it took some crosses to get going on MEANDMYDRUM. Of course, the only recording worthwhile thinking of for this otherwise fairly forgettable song is the one with Bing Crosby and the late David Bowie, looking incredibly young here.

It is enjoyable to say RUMPLE PUMICE PUMPER PUMMEL though.

There are four 7-letter down answers, and the rest are no longer than 6-letters. I like 42D: What's your beef? (REDMEAT) and 43D: Assemble in a makeshift way (JURYRIG), especially the latter. Otherwise, we get a reference to The Karate Kid, two pharmaceutical names in PROZAC and PFIZER, and not a lot else.

1A: Parts of a crab that grab (CLAWS) gets a B-, and that mostly for the silly clue. It was also what I entered first.

Yeah... the rest of the puzzle is not that interesting, really. I give it a wishy-washy thumbs up.

- Colum

Monday, December 5, 2016

Monday, December 5, 2016, Ned White

3:46 (FWOE)

You'd think I'd know by now that it's ALEX Trebek, not ALEc or ALEk or something like that. And yet, I always trip up on his name. It must be the human need to rhyme. Steven Sondheim (favorite Broadway composer by far) writes about rhyming and how it makes it easier for the brain to grasp what's being said. So you see? It's only natural. I can't help it.

I feel like today's puzzle, a perfectly serviceable example of a Monday grid, is made by those two 11-letter down answers. PERIPHERALS is a neat term (and the plural is okay here in my book, because you never really talk about a singular computer peripheral). TORCHBEARER is also quite good, especially when referencing the late (and great) Muhammad Ali.

The theme is consistent: I don't know exactly how to describe it, but it involves a body part in each answer. I'm not convinced that NECKSNAPPER and CHESTBEATER are things that anyone really says in day-to-day conversation, but the other three are common parlance. It's fine, as my daughter would say. But one nice touch is that each body part is placed in the puzzle relative to its location on the body (hair at the top, ankle at the bottom).

The remainder of the FILL (we all like metafill, don't we?) has some less fortunate stuff in it. I don't really like PETERI (or any other name-number way of getting around a terminal -I, such as ACTIII from the other day), and UPTILTS feels ADHOC.  I was surprised to see a reference to a movie that has not yet opened, Miss SLOANE, but I've been bludgeoned with NPR style advertisements for it on my way to work, so it wasn't a tough answer for me.

1A: Sounds like a dog (BARKS) was my first confident answer, and gets a C-, really on the basis of the clue. Really? This is how you clue "barks"? Sounds like a dog? It just seems off.


- Colum

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sunday, December 4, 2016, Bruce Haight

ACTION STARS

I like this theme: a movie star's last name is turned into the past tense of an action verb by adding ED, and then recluing, each clue having to do with movies in some way. I think I like ORLANDOBLOOMED the best. But none of them are truly brilliant or extremely witty. Just all equally fine.

The puzzle played easy for me overall, finishing in about 67% of my usual Sunday time. My first confident answer was LYLE at 3D. There are some good bits in here: ZIPCAR and UNCOLA are fun commercial examples. AWRATS is evocative.

I liked ASALLGETOUT, a phrase I must remember to use more frequently. The middle diagonal sections are full of chunky answers. I particularly like DUELED because it reminds me of Hamilton (which I saw last week), and 69D: Gable part (BUTLER) for its neat hidden capital.

Not such a fan of AGLARE, LEED, or ECARD.

But overall its a pretty smooth grid with enough interesting stuff to make a Sunday solve enjoyable.

1A: Kind of marker (FELTTIP) is fine but nothing special. I give it a C.

P.S. I was in Foxborough today for the greatest QB of all time's league leading 201st win. Great experience, even if the game itself wasn't the most exciting.

- Colum

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Saturday, December 3, 2016, Jason Flinn

11:12 (FWOE (typo))

How strange to open up a dual quad stack puzzle and not see Martin Ashwood-Smith's name at the top! We're so used to seeing his fine creations, but here is Mr. Flinn showing off his abilities instead. And I'm really pretty impressed with this puzzle.

So, the usual caveats apply. Obviously, the point of the quad stacks are the interest of the 15-letter answers. The tradeoff is typically the short crossing answers, which often end up tortured in order to accommodate the stack. Let's take a look and see how Mr. Flinn has done here.

First, the stacks. There are eight answers, and I would say he's hit on five out of eight, which is pretty great. The top stack is the stronger of the two. MASTERCRAFTSMAN is fine (I guess I have to grade it, so I'll say it gets a B). Better yet is 16A: "Them!" or "The Fly" (CREATUREFEATURE). That reminds me of days of yore and watching Channel 38 in Boston, which used to have a Sunday Creature Double Feature. I also like VESTEDINTERESTS, while INTERNETADDRESS is pretty blah (although the clue has a nice ambiguity around the word "server").

The lower stack has 48A: Juneteenth (EMANCIPATIONDAY), which is excellent. I didn't know it recognized the official ending of slavery in Texas, of all places. RAISEDONESVOICE is fine, but has that annoying "one's" in the middle of it, so I dock points there. 52A: Crashed and burned (ENDEDINDISASTER) is great, while SYSTEMSANALYSTS is essentially a place holder of an answer: look at all of those happy ending letters (5 S's!).

I'm more impressed by all the crossing answers, however. Each stack has seven answers at 6 letters or longer, and the only one of those I have any complaint about is ANISSA, although I imagine some of the readers of this blog would recognize her name better than I. Sadly she died at age 18 from a drug overdose before she got better known. Good stuff here includes NOTASMANY, SLEEPAIDS, and 14D: Oil production site (ARTSTUDIO) - hah!

Wait, also 5D: What you've been waiting for, you might think (ETERNITY)! I love it.

Even the shorter answers aren't bad. I don't love AFTA (classic brand name crosswordese) or ERES (random conjugation of an irregular Spanish verb). I would have preferred PONS to be clued by the part of the brainstem, but you can't win them all.

Honestly, the parts I didn't like in the puzzle came in the middle (ORM? crossing ORY?!). But I enjoyed solving it quite a bit.

- Colum

Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday, December 2, 2016, Andrew Kingsley

11:37

It was really nice of the calendar to start December on a Thursday so I would spin into action at the start of the turn this week. I always look forward to the Friday and Saturday puzzles. Themeless grids often seem the most fun, with the best entries and the cleverest clues.

Today's is no exception. There are a ton of fun answers here, with a lot of colloquial touch. I love 59A: "Fingers crossed!" (HERESHOPING) and 37D: Claims, with "on" (HASDIBS). There's also the excellent PRIZEINSIDE and 10D: Something an athlete puts on (GAMEFACE), no question mark needed.

I broke into the grid, strangely, at 24D: Scottish "John" (IAN) as my first confident answer. I would have gotten that without any assistance, but I also had the ____TIES from the decade answer just before it, and then CIAOS (a strange plural) confirmed the lot. I worked down into the SW corner - I always like APRIORI, and HELIOS is a nice bit from Greek myth.

28D: Front ends? (CEASEFIRES) is a great answer and a really tough clue! I needed a lot of crosses to get that one. 40A: First name in foundations (ESTEE) on the other hand fooled me not at all. There's a bunch of not so great crossing answers in the SE. ACTIII always feels like a desperate move, and HIHO and ANON are pretty neutral. CHATTEL is a great word with not so great connotations in the worlds of race and gender relations.

The C of 36A: Sat in a dugout? (CANOED) was my last square entered. That's a good clue for not such a great answer. I do like OSCARNOD, and 16A: Suffix with lip- (ASE) was unexpected, which is good for such a blah answer.

I'm not so hot on the long answers in the NW corner. EDITORSNOTE isn't all that interesting. 17A: It comes with a dish (SATELLITETV) is better. 1D: Not as much (LESSSO) has that fun run of three S's in a row. But we pay with the peculiar partial ATEN, and classic crosswordese ORLE.

1A: Ceremonial basin (LAVABO) gets a B+ for Latin.

I had fun solving the puzzle, but as I look over it again, I see all the glue needed. Overall, I give it a thumbs up.

- Colum

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Thursday, December 1, 2016, Timothy Polin

7:47

Happy December, everyone! I hope Thanksgiving treated you well. It certainly did for me and my family, as we got to see Hamilton, which was just as awesome as we hoped it would be. If you haven't listened to it (available through streaming), it's well worth the two hours.

But now, we're back to the NYT crossword. I very much enjoyed Horace's reviews this past month. It's a nice thing to trade months like this, as it gives a chance to rejuvenate your reviewing mojo, even while being inspired by good reviews.

And today's puzzle doesn't disappoint. It's really a pretty clever bit of theming, appropriate for the Thursday slot. There are three 17-letter answers, neatly squeezed into a 15 x 15 grid, through the use of a BEANDIP: in each case the extra letters take a southern detour around a black square, and the letters that dip are a kind of bean, namely a "baked" bean, a "green" bean, and a "magic" bean. I love the last one!

The three long answers are all completely standard phrases. Who doesn't love a LOADEDB[AKE]DPOTATO? All of those artery-clogging ingredients... mmmm... Bacon...

What?

Oh, sorry, got lost there for a second. ANNEOFG[REE]NGABLES is a well known children's book, musical, movie, television series. And so on. And for those solvers who don't have children, THEM[AGI]CSCHOOLBUS is a more modern version of the same: both a series of kids' books and an animated television series. We always loved these books because they made science fun, but also because the "new" girl in all of the books was named Phoebe. She's the girl in the red dress, if I remember correctly.

Anyway, there's some pretty good fill, and some not so great fill. I actually broke in with LBAR of all things, one of my least favorite type of crossword answers (along with t-nut, i-bar, etc.). OHOS is also not so pretty, along with ATRAS (brand name, plural) and CRAT and ZINE (partial suffixes, blah).

On the plus side, I love PELAGIC. What a great word. Also BASSLINE, which are featured heavily in Hamilton. Did I mention we just saw it? Oh, yeah, I did. 24D: Yosemite runner (IMAC) should never have been so hard to get for me. I also liked SADLOT and WETKISS.

1A: Supershort skirts (MICROS) gets a B, and only because I enjoy the image it conjurs up.

- Colum