Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Wednesday, January 28, 2015, Gary Cee


My Wednesday time is faster than my Tuesday time this week.

So this puzzle is a neat whirligig of theme answers, all surrounding the central YOU, which partakes in each song title. The symmetry is beautiful: IVEGOT[YOU]UNDERMYSKIN mirrors IWANTTOTAKE[YOU]HIGHER, while ALL[YOU]NEEDISLOVE is countered by JUSTTHEWAY[YOU]ARE. It seems like this would take an awful lot of work to find titles that fit the necessary requirements. I even like the songs, especially the pair of The Beatles and Billy Joel tunes.

The excellence of the theme makes up, in part for the large number of abbreviations and crosswordese that dot the fill. Just to name a few: USO ILO AAU YTD NYS RIV EDT and then ERES EPEE EMIR ORLY ODAS.

But to focus on that poor set of words would miss the other very nice entries. KONTIKI was a favorite book of mine when a lad. GRAPENUTS is unpleasant to eat, but nice in the grid. RUNALONG is cute, IMPOSTER is nice.

Not much good cluing unfortunately. 7A: Popular game? (ELK) is clever. 35A Producer of many parts (HAIRCOMB) is a clever clue for a word that nobody said, ever.

But best of all, MAHLER. 'Nuff said.

- Colum

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tuesday, January 27, 2015, James Tuttle


Definitely a long solving time for a Tuesday, but the puzzle didn't feel difficult. But let's talk about that theme. Clever, to have the sound "ro" represented five different ways, and with five very pleasant answers. DENISDIDEROT wins the prize for most recherche, and SUCHSWEETSORROW the prize for most excellent. Before I figured out the theme, I tried to squeeze JAMESMadison into 60A before I recognized the lack of available spaces. It would have been very amusing if they'd done "ro, rot, reau your boat"...

I like the fact that 1A/1D are both fine words, and OVID is a pleasing presence in the NW. 14A: Lead zeppelins? (AVIATE) is a hoot. So, good start, for sure, that put me in a good mood for the remainder of the puzzle. It allowed me to overlook such lesser fill as NOI, ELUL, EMER, OER, and LEA.

How excellent is it that 7A: Half-baked (DUMB) crosses 10D: Mae West or Cheryl Tiegs (BLONDE)? That's some fine construction there.

Not too many other fine clues: I liked 30D: It may be wild or dirty (RICE). I also liked the trivia of 46D: Indian state whose name means "five rivers" (PUNJAB). I'll admit to the fact that my first instinct on reading the clue was to think of Native American names. I've been conditioned by lo, these many puzzles.

I finished the puzzle in the SW, where I had a very hard time seeing 48D: Not broadcast (CABLE). it wasn't helped by thinking nTH rather than ETH, and not having the first clue what the Polish airline was (LOT).

I had fun with it.

- Colum

Monday, January 26, 2015

Monday, January 26, 2015, Ian Livengood


It's a sassy puzzle, really. The kind of upstart that likes to show off its knowledge. Like those "children who are up on dates and floor you with 'em flat."

Okay, actually, Mr. Livengood has produced a fine example of a Monday puzzle, with six theme answers that doesn't sacrifice the fill too much. Each of the theme is a reasonable phrase, although I'm not that fond of PERTPLUS, which is more of a brand name. FORWARDPASS is seasonable, given the big game coming up on Sunday. And I like "forward" as a synonym for "fresh." I like "froward" better, but that's archaic.

In fact, the worst piece of fill comes at 1A: Attendees (GOERS). The only time I've ever heard this term is in Monty Python: "Is your wife a goer, know what I mean?" Otherwise, it's a sad non-starter. Other answers on the same level include RUER, PARER, RISER, sort of. Things improved somewhat after that.

ERIECANAL, PADDYWAGON, SENIORPROM, and LEMONTART are all very nice long down answers, each crossing two theme answers, which does tend to put handcuffs on what's possible elsewhere.

You know, the more I look, the less I like the fill, which is too bad. I actually enjoyed doing the puzzle, so maybe I don't want to nitpick too much. Let's just say that OOO is not something I like. But at least Jean-LUC Picard is in there. And Hieronymus Bosch.

So, a mixed bag.

- Colum

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday, January 25, 2015, Alan Arbesfeld

Twist Ending

This went smoothly and easily, solved with my mother on a Sunday morning in NYC. The theme is straightforward, and obvious from the title. My favorite from a absurdist point of view is ANNIEGETYOURGNU. And the clue is so tortured as well. The best in terms of degree of difficulty is ILLEGALALINE, in that it's a five-letter ending word instead of the 3- or 4-letter words in the other answers. RAISINGTHEBRA is sort of an anti-Huygens answer.

There wasn't much of anything that gave us pause for long. Some nice clues are present, however: 25A: Something hard to drink? (CIDER) is good, as is 79D: Canine cousin (MOLAR), another excellent example of avoiding an unnecessary question mark. Another example of that is 45D: Where many people may follow you (TWITTER)

I'm not sure that 47A: Asked to come back, in a way (ENCORED) is quite right. I presume the meaning is that of "After the performance, the audience encored the performer several times," but is that really anything anyone would say?

123A: One in a tight spot? (SARDINE) is cute, and 124A: Did some edgy writing? (DOODLED) is all right, but neither were particularly difficult or amusing. I like ICEPALACE and WENTSOLO, but PILLARED is meh.

71D: U.S. city whose name becomes another city's name if you change both its vowels to A's (TEMPE) gets the award for longest clue. At 85 characters, it's longer than its answer by a factor of 17. It's almost tweet-length!

So overall, not particularly challenging nor particularly entertaining.

- Colum

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Saturday, January 24, 2015, Kevin G. Der

Around 25 minutes

Completed with my mother in NYC, prior to going to see the New York City Ballet with Phoebe, her 16th birthday present.

It took us a while to figure out entry into this puzzle. Mom immediately put GAIUS in, although we had it beginning with a c at first. That got us nowhere initially, so we switched to the NE, where ALHAMBRA was entered, along with mELD, unfortunately incorrect for the time being. I got STAREAT, and Mom got FAA, which allowed ____FIRS. Funnily enough, I said "noble" firs as a joke, never having heard of it. Later on it proved to be correct.

Even so, we had to switch to the SW, where things started moving. KENTISH was a gimme off of the clue, which led to the Aha moment of KIDSTHESEDAYS. A great entry, and reminiscent of Bye, Bye, Birdie, which Cece is performing in next weekend. The entire SW was filled in, with the excellent clue at 40D: Gay partner? (ENOLA). Having just finished Unbroken, the topic was very present in my mind.

So then we were able to break open the middle, and the rest went pretty quickly thereafter. The final square entered was the M of HOMEMATCH, a great clue demonstrating the way you can avoid the unnecessary question mark. Other such clues in this puzzle include 30D: They may put you to sleep (SEDATIVES), and 29D: Took down the garden path (LEDASTRAY). I recognize that these aren't being misleading in the cluing, but still I like the lack of question marks.

I've never drunk UNICUM, but I like the green bottles. I like the fact that 31D: Graceful architectural curve (SWANSNECK) is not "ogee." And best of all, I love 50D: Brace (TWO). What a lovely pairing of clue and answer.

Thumbs up from me!

- Colum

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday, January 23, 2015, Ed Sessa


I had to fight every step of the way on this puzzle. Very little came easily. For example, I started off with "boos" for 1D: Fun house outbursts (EEKS). So while STOLE was a gimme, the rest of the corner was unknowable for a while. I got 14D: Huns by the hundreds, say (HORDE) and then had to move on.

Thank you, high school French, for it allowed me my NON, ICI, and DROIT. In fact, it was the last that allowed me entry into the SW, my first finished corner. And there's a lot to like immediately in this section! SELFIE crosses FACEPALM, two excellent examples of modern entries. ANAPESTS is great. My mind did not come up with that until much of it was filled in by crosses. I recalled trochees and dactyls, but that was it.

Unfortunately, finishing that corner, even with OVA in place, I was unable to move further. EFILE (an annoying example of the all-too-common E____ answers) opened up the SE. I love how RINTINTIN just flows down. And what an unusual clue for OLEO (Imperial bars?): I assume that was the company that produced the margarine that infests so many crossword grids. The fact that it crosses GERITOL is just hi-larious.

GOO led to the correct guess of SAGAMORE, and each clue in the NE was a challenge. 11D: Hot potatoes and cold fish? (IDIOMS) was far from clear. Whoever heard of Joe LANDO? Another obscure TV actor. BODED feels... off. I would say, "That doesn't bode well." But who ever refers retroactively to how something was forecast prior to now? ZIMBABWE's 16 official languages is a nice piece of trivia; it was given away when I got ZILCH.

The W of that country finally made NOSHOW clear (31A: Runaway bride, e.g.). That's a great clue: I'd wanted "eloper" which would have been terrible, but it was a nonstarter due to the N I had from my French knowledge.

GEOCACHING took forever! (9D: Coordinated activity?) Once I had that and IMALOSER, the rest of the NW finally fell into place. My last square entered was the L of PLEX.

I like the trio of nine-letter answers in the NW far better than the corresponding trio in the SE. LIGAMENTS is great, and its clue is outstanding also (66A: Hip bands). The other two I could do without. KALAMAZOO crossing KILOHERTZ is great.

I like a challenge, and this one forced me to work the whole way. Nicely done overall.

- Colum

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thursday, January 22, 2015, Timothy Polin


Again! This one I don't really mind. I entered rAFT at 8A (Go with the flow?), which is actually a good answer, I think better than WAFT. rAC is not a thing, but I didn't really notice, since I knew it was an abbreviation.

So, anyhoo. The theme was very good today. I didn't get it initially, even after entering the revealer, because the last corner I had to fill was the NW, where I had mistakenly entered orbITER for 1D (Planet). Thus the FIFTH portion of the COLUMNS was not evident. Only when I switched to JUPITER and saw how the clue for each of the shaded answers was missing the understood "fifth" did I get it. I recall being particularly confused at 59D: Month (MAY). That seemed incomplete, now for retrospectively obvious reasons.

How hard was it to remember PIERCEBROSNAN? I thought of all of the other Bonds first (once again, before I understood the theme). David Niven, Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Daniel Craig. But not Pierce. Of course Niven's in there because of the spoof film, Casino Royale, not considered part of the standard Bond films. Saw a funny bit in The Trip, where it's pointed out that only one of the Bond portrayers is actually British, namely Moore.

But enough of a digression. Speaking of actors, 56A: Bean, for one (ORSON) is apparently referring to a television actor I'd never heard of. His face is not even familiar to me. However, he went to Cambridge Rindge & Latin, so there you go. And I'd venture to say that much of the fill is not what I'd want to see in general. EMEER, LEM, ESS, MARM (?), YERS. And that's just a fraction of it.

On the other hand, there's some nice cluing. My favorite is probably 5A: One may be involved in phone tapping (APP). I had AP_ and still stared at it for a minute until I got it. I like 27A: Rhubarb (SPAT). And how about 35D: Go off line? (ADLIB). That's a nice companion for App: one's clue is deliberately old-fashioned, the other's is deceptively modern.

Overall I liked it, but it's a close balance.

- Colum