Monday, July 6, 2015

Monday, July 6, 2015, Lynn Lempel

3:47

I like this living below the 4:00 mark on Mondays. Two weeks running. Now I have to get below 3:30 one of these days.

A fine Monday puzzle with a straightforward theme which I appreciate because I despise when a puzzle has to use an "A___" word, such as agape, awhirl, and so on. In this case, the A has been separated from the rest of the word to make a silly phrase. Some of these work much better than others. 36A: Accept one of the acting roles? (TAKEAPART) is actually a phrase you might use in exactly that situation. Better would have been something like: "Receive a division in your hair?"

The others work more in the spirit of the game. The best by far is 25A: Design the lav? (PLANAHEAD). That got a chuckle. KNOCKABOUT is amusing, the other two less so but still serviceable.

But the puzzle is really topnotch when it comes to the non-themed portion. I ran through all the answers and didn't find one to really kvetch about. Sure, there are a number of 3-letter abbreviations, but nothing terrible. And tall four corners have well done trios of 7-letter down answers. I knew I was going to like the puzzle when I put BEWITCH in at 1D. ALAMODE and ILLPASS are nice companions.

The NE has the less scintillating EREADER, although that is one of the few E- answers I'll accept as regular usage nowadays. I don't love COMCAST for its commercialism, but it's completely acceptable, especially next to APOSTLE and JAVAMAN. And RECTORY in the SE is lovely.

Overall a very pleasant Monday puzzle.

- Colum

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sunday, July 5, 2015, Elizabeth C. Gorski

HEADS OF STATE

And here's your Fourth of July puzzle, all neatly wrapped up in a theme immediately recognizable by the order in which the four presidential nicknames are presented. Having read biographies of all four of these American leaders, I will say that none of the nicknames came immediately to mind, although they were all four clearly recognizable once I had some crosses in place.
AMERICANCINCINNATUS was probably the toughest of the four. I would have thought "Father of His Country" or something to that effect. Like the original Cincinnatus, once Washington won the war, he resigned his commission to return to his farm. THEMANOFTHEPEOPLE is a pretty bland nickname. Somehow it seems like Jefferson deserves something a little more precise, maybe having to do with writing the Declaration of Independence, or sleeping with his slaves or something.

HEROOFSANJUANHILL is a well known nickname for TR. And nobody could argue with THEGREATEMANCIPATOR for Abraham Lincoln. And the two long bookends are fair pieces of information about Mount Rushmore.

The rest of the fill is hit or miss. It started out pretty rough in the NW with KINSHASA, KOKOMO, and IKEBANA all in the same area, not to mention AKON. There are some other nice bits, including HEREWEGO and YEAHYOU. I liked ASSAILANTS and PARIAHS. There is, however, a ton of meh or worse short entries, the worst of which, like COS, CAF, HOTE, ESOS, etc., made me squirm.

My last letter in the puzzle was a complete guess, although it was the most likely letter, and I never like that situation. It was the cross of TAEL and NEET. The E made sense, but who knew?

Overall, I liked it fine. Here are some EDAMS.

- Colum


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Saturday, July 4, 2015, Sam Ezersky

20:03, FWOE

Happy Fourth to our many readers! I heard the Declaration of Independence read aloud yesterday on NPR, and other than the following "Fact... submitted to a candid world": that the King has "endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions," I found it a moving and interesting document. Perhaps it was the stirring music playing in the background.

Today's Saturday puzzle is apolitical and themeless, filled with excellent American and extra-American entries. It's an unusual grid for a Saturday, with pairs of 11-letter answers in the NW and SE and pairs of 10-letter answers in the SW and NE, along with two 13-letter answers down the middle. There are a surprising number of 3-letter answers throughout the grid (sixteen of them), but the only one I minded was MOR (short for Morocco, I presume). All the others were fine.

But let's start with the pair of 13-letter answers, both excellent: GLOWINTHEDARK, at 14D: Like some rave accessories, which I filled in once I had ____THEDA__; and 15D: Skill used by Obi-Wan Kenobi (JEDIMINDTRICK), which I got off of ____MIN____. I love both of them, and even better, they both end with K, which enables the excellent KLONDIKEBAR at 56A.

Actually, there are a ton of Ks in this grid. I really broke in to the puzzle at 57A, with TSK, followed by pulling HART from the recesses of my television mind. When AXE and REC went in, SMARTALECK was a clear choice. It took me a very long time to see MAMMA/MIA, largely because I mistook the island of Kalokairi for a South Pacific locale. My one mistake came by putting in ADMeN from misreading the clue, and not knowing what the hell SALSODA is (SALSODe seemed reasonable until the message came up that I had a mistake).

I love OXYGENMASK next to MEGALITHIC, and BABAGHANOUJ above SPELLINGBEE is equally good. AMIRIGHT or AMIRIGHT?

23A: Job holder? (BIBLE) was pretty darn tricky. It took me way too long to get 1D: Not-so-big shot (BBS). And how did I not know that MOBY took his name from his great-great-granduncle's most famous novel?

I think that 21D: Result of a squeeze, briefly (RBI) ought to have a qualifier, because it's not a sure thing. After some research, I came up with no data on how frequently the suicide squeeze is successful in MLB, but it can't be 100%. Actually, just a couple of days ago, the Mets nearly suicide squeezed into a double play.

I don't love MISDID, which just doesn't feel like a real word, and BARF is unpleasant. But these issues fade when you get the wonderful Simon & Garfunkel reference at 41A. "Something tells me it's all happening ATTHEZOO..."

- Colum

Friday, July 3, 2015

Friday, July 3, 2015, Brandon Hensley

12:25

Just before my daughters went off to camp last week (one to acting camp in Maine, one to ballet summer intensive in Princeton), we spent over an hour attempting to solve Sporcle quizzes together. It was a ton of fun, especially because there are time constraints on the puzzle, and my younger daughter's typing while convulsed with laughter was hit or miss, to say the least.

There's a strong theme on Sporcle's entertainment quizzes, in that it seems like over 50% of them are about Harry Potter. Three that really stuck out were: Top 200 Characters in Harry Potter By Number of MentionsHarry Potter Characters by First Line of Dialogue, and Harry Potter Characters by Last Line of Dialogue. Really, really tough quizzes to be sure. Links provided for those who wish to try their hands.

Anyway, long story short, it's pretty clear what the seed entry in today's excellent Friday puzzle is. By the time I got to 34A: School head in a best-selling series of novels (ALBUSDUMBLEDORE), I had a number of crossings already (one incorrect: I thought it might be @Obama, not @POTUS), so in the 15-letter answer went, which broke the whole puzzle open.

The corners are all outstanding, chunky pieces of crossword loveliness. I tried Rockyroad at 15A: Ice cream flavor with chew bits (RUMRAISIN), but that was removed immediately when EARP went in. I had IMPEND, ASA, and SNEAD in there, but had to come back around to the corner later. EXPURGATE and WHITECAPS are also great words.

The NE corner has the nice colloquialism HADITMADE, as well as the well-put reminder of the harsh reality of the early 15th century in 13D: Joan of Arc, at the time of her death (TEENAGER). It also has the wonderful 14D (ANDSCENE) which I've enjoyed using to comedic effect with Horace and Frances in the past. I don't love the pluralized noun CAUTIONS when a verb clue would have worked just as well.
The SE fell really quickly for me. I had a brief issue because I had idoL at 47A: False god (BAAL), but I saw my mistake because ANTES was obvious. I love the Greek source for AGAPE rather than the standard "state of mouth when astonished" type of clue. TAKEAPEEK was a gimme, and EPICVERSE and SEXKITTEN took only a little longer. How about the pair of "puffed clues" at 6D and 57D (CIGS and KIX respectively)? That's fun. I also enjoyed the reference to Monty Python and the Holy Grail with CLEESE. 53D: It's divided at the start of war (DECK) was really tricky, referring to the card game. But should the name of the game be capitalized?

The SW had a few answers I was less enamored with, including the weirdly pluralized VERAS, the term EVOKER and the obscure (to me) but gettable RUSSE. Still, there's QUAKERGUN, which I've heard before but had to get most of the crosses before filling in. 36D: BROMANCE is paired nicely with AGAPE. I also enjoyed INCUS, which I was able to get without crosses. The other two bones in the ear are the Malleus and the Stapes.


Excellent Friday.

- Colum

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Thursday, July 2, 2015, Timothy Polin

21:48

Tough Thursday today! And a good challenge, too. I enjoyed it very much, although it took forever to break into. I had a number of scattered answers throughout the grid to begin with, with nary a connection between them (see, that is how you use "nary"), and that was the theme's fault. All these isolated capital letters. What did they mean?

I had my first breakthrough with TROI and ERGO giving me ORALS. Along with LEA and IMAGE in the SE corner, I figured out 50D: Puma, e.g. (SNEAKER). I'd initially thought that, but had rejected it for unclear reasons. I had INTERVAL and IPO in place as well, so the V, I, E, and K gave me INVISIBLEINK. It's a simply lovely answer, and a great revealer which I completely misunderstood for a while. When I got STOOLPIGEON entirely from the pattern of crossing letters, I was stuck looking at the F and wondering what letters had been written in invisible ink. No, really.

I finally figured it out when I muscled FOUNDER into place in 12D. I looked at it, and thought, "well, a clue for FOUNDER would be 'sink'. S[ink]. Ohhhhhhh..." But even once I got the clever theme, it still took me a while because ECCENTRICITY is a tough answer for 18A: K[ink], and MEDIUMRARE is a great left turn for 38A: P[ink].

Partly, also, it's because there are some way out there answers in the NW. TYES is unusual. I wanted "guys", but the U was obviously incorrect. IRIDIC is truly tough for the non-chemistry teachers among us (and I suspect even for them). Who would think that's an adjective for Iridium? That center N section was also hard for me because I put pAl in at 8D: Buddy (MAC). Thus 6A: Depression common during childhood (DIMPLE) took some time. I love the clue, lack of question mark and all.

Much to like here. AEOLIAN is beautiful. IHEARYA and DAREME are nice colloquialisms. HICCUPS is clued very nicely. And the winner for best clue is 14D: Hit back? (REAREND).

Thumbs way up for this one.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Wednesday, July 1, 2015, Ned White

13:05

I'm not clear on why thith puththle took tho long. The theme'th thtraightforward... Yeah, that's quite enough of that, thank you very much. Apparently, actually, the theme is not exactly lisped phrases with funny results, because there are un-lisped Ss in two of the long theme answers. So let's just say it's replacing the initial S with a TH. And we thmile at the result.

THIGHSOFRELIEF wins, hands down. That's guffaw worthy. THUMBEROLYMPICS wins for most concise and ludicrous clue ("Quadrennial competition for hitchhikers?"). I don't get why 53A needed a TV critic in there. And then we get two bonus theme answers split between 1A/68A and 9A/66A. Neither one does much for me.


61 squares of theme, and a peculiarly constrained grid with essentially eight mini-puzzles separated by little in the way of entry material made for a slow moving experience. It's unfortunate when you have more than one flanged piece of construction material in a grid, especially when HBAR crosses HBOMB. There's a fair amount of abbreviations, a partial, a roman numeral, and a completely obscure biblical name (OMRI?!). In addition, HOO is uncalled for, and EMAG is a personal bete noire. Is AOL still a "web giant"?


On the plus side, I liked how BET followed ONECARD in the clues and the grid. 67A: Something that has low stakes? (TENT) is amusing. 27D: Features of many bras (CCUPS) was unexpected; how many entered "CliPS"?

A lot of not much in the fill. Does the theme make up for it? Nearly but not quite in my book.

- Colum

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tuesday, June 30, 2015, Susan Gelfand

0:06:10

Frannie and I enjoyed the theme today. It's the ol' "last name plus verb to make compound noun" game, and it's done well here. PRICETAGS (33A: Opera singer scrawls graffiti) might have been a little better if it had worked in Vincent Price instead of Leontyne Price, but what are you going to do? The image of either with a spray paint can in their hand is absurd. In fact, maybe Ms. Gelfand is right - Vincent Price might actually have done it, but Leontyne...? well, I doubt it. She also gets points for the image of Francis Bacon slowly undoing that ruff collar and flinging it into the audience. (BACONSTRIPS (53A: Philosopher removes his clothes?)). (A little something for Huygens?)

In addition to the fine theme, there are some lovely little triple-seven stacks in the NE and SW. OBELISK (10D: Bunker Hill Monument, for one) (YAY Boston!), MANATEE (11D: Everglades mammal), and ANSWERS (12D: They cross in a crossword) (YAY self-referential clue!) are all quite nice. And ACROBAT (36D: Trapeze artist, e.g.), BRAVADO (37D: Impressive show of courage) and BETACAM (38D: Early Sony recorder) are marred only by the commerciality of that last one.

Additionally, SNIPPETS (20D: Tiny excerpts) is fresh, and STASIS (46D: Equilibrium), ORIENTS, DIPLOMA, and ABALONE (2D: Ornamental shell source) are all solid. And it's nice to see GAZELLE (25D: Graceful antelope) running right down the middle of the grid, because that was Frannie's bike of choice while she was "Springing" in the Netherlands this year. It's hard to find a Gazelle dealer in the U.S. If you've got a lead on one, please let us know!

So anyway, this was pretty damn good. I don't particularly love NOI (57A: "____ don't!") (couldn't it have been clued with Italian somehow?), and SERIO (46A: Prefix with comic) is not good, but for the most part, I liked this one a lot.

- Horace

p.s. Handing off to Colum tomorrow. See you in August!