Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Wednesday, November 20, 2019, Erik Agard

0:06:28

Today's theme celebrates the much-debated crossword-grid-circles by forcing their inclusion, for without them, the revealer, TALKINCIRCLES would make no sense. The circles, as you have seen, create out of longer entries six words that are talk-related: chat, blather, speak, orate, prate, and spiel. That last one is commonly seen in the wild as a noun, but rumor (and dictionaries) have it that it can also be used as a verb, so all's well on the consistency front. And speaking of consistency, is it coincidence that each of the hidden words comes from the beginning and end of its container word, with nothing else from the middle? Probably not, but still I find it strange. And kind of cool.

Without the circles, and with only the first half of the revealer (Argue repetitively ... with a hint to this puzzle's theme), one might well have solved this thinking it was just another themeless. Would that same one have noticed the copied letters "rate" at the ends of 46- and 51-Across, and then further noticed the O and P at the beginning? I'm guessing probably not.

Taken as a themeless, it's full of interesting answers. BLACKPANTHER reminds me of a poem:

The panther is like a leopard,
Except it hasn't been peppered.
Should you behold a panther crouch,
Prepare to say Ouch.
Better yet, if called by a panther,
Don't anther.

My father is a big fan of Nash, and that last line was famous in our house when I was young. Let's do one more for SPINYEEL, shall we?

I don't mind eels
Except as meals.
And the way they feels.

OK, that's a lot of poetry. I'll just mention a few more things:

ORCHESTRATE is fun, EMPANADA is delicious, and PLASTICCRATE is odd, but not as odd as COMOESTA (Spanish greeting). I know it's two words, but if you don't know that, it looks very strange.

I've never heard the abbreviation OPDOC (Nonfiction film with a point of view, in brief) before, but that doesn't mean it's not mainstream.

Thumbs up from this corner.

- Horace

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Tuesday, November 19, 2019, Ross Trudeau

0:07:31

The theme today is TOPHAT wearers. We've got four of them in the grid, and a grid-art TOPHAT made from black squares under SUNTANOIL. And me, I see the black squares below the TOPHAT as little arms that are either holding it up, or about to grab it and bring it back down onto a head that lies below the grid. Or maybe the arms are pulling the hat lower onto a SADFACE... can't you just picture it? So can I, but I was not able to find a photo online. Kind of amazing, really... so I'll use this instead:

One of the WEAVERS

I was a little surprised by ABELINCOLN, instead of Abraham, but I guess WILLYWONKA uses a nickname, too. I'm not sure about SCROOGEMCDUCK and FROSTY... those could be their full first names.

BRAVURA (Great technical skill) and ADULATE (Put on a pedestal) were nice, and getting the full RANAMOK, instead of one half cluing the other, felt like kind of a bonus. I've never heard the term BLEEDER (Grounder that squeezes between two infielders, in baseball slang), however, and I can't say I like it. In fact, that whole North section is rather unpleasant, with AIRTUBE and SWEARAT standing out so prominently.

I don't know... maybe it's the horizontal symmetry that I don't like today. I'm visually drawn to the entries FRANCA, NATANT, SMELT, and WASON (Had a base, as a runner in baseball) (odd), none of which is especially exciting. We also get a lot of initials and abbreviations (RLS, EAP, SOPH, IVS, AAA, ONEA, DTS, RNA, AOL, CDS, OMN, AGT, OTS, DAS), and, well... I didn't much love it.

Onward!

- Horace

Monday, November 18, 2019

Monday, November 18, 2019, Alan Arbesfeld

0:03:36

Cute theme today of four diminutive animal names used in common expressions. Me, I grew up saying "kitty-corner" instead of CATTYCORNER, but I'll let it stand. (I prefer saving "catty" for "cattywampus," even though I never actually use the term.) The other three: DOGGYBAGS; BULLYPULPIT; and PIGGYBANK, are unassailable (or should I say un-ASPERSE-able?) in their acceptability. So thumbs up there.

LECAR

In the verticals, I enjoyed MYITSLATE (Comment made when itching to leave a dull party) (or, "personal to-do list of computer-related chores") and OLDSOUL (King Cole was a "merry" one) up in the NE corner, but ERNO and GIAN beside those two left a bit of an ACHE.

DYNASTY (Ming or Qing, in Chinese history) and MENTORING (Helping a protégé) fit in more comfortably in the SW, and were crossed by the colorful quartet of CHARADE, AEGIS, GAUNT, and ELEGY. That's a nice corner. I don't even mind AGUE... but I suppose it's all what you're used to, eh? (I'm sure Colum wasted no time dropping in GIAN up top...)

And speaking being used to things - I'm not terribly familiar with YORBA Linda (despite the connection to #37) nor LUANDA, Angola, though I'm not proud of it in either case.

In all, I think the only answer that's truly just "filler material" is INE (Suffix with nectar or serpent). But in a grid with such a pleasant, simple theme, and so many interesting other bits, one little INE won't get a single ERG out of me. :)

- Horace

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Sunday, November 17, 2019, Randoph Ross

REPORT CARD

Welcome, Dear Reader, to another Sunday puzzle review. Today your reviewer will be Horace, who is taking over from Colum and Frannie. For the last couple (few?) years, we've been rotating out week by week, usually on Sunday. It's been working well for us, and we hope you've been enjoying the different perspectives: Colum's erudition, Frannie's humor, and my everyday ignorance, brought to light today by the admission that I had to Google "Scarborough morning news show" in order to understand "62A: Hosting a morning news show: C+" (SCARBOROUGHFAIR).

Sir Henry ROYCE

As many of my relations know, I don't watch the news. Why anyone would, I cannot say. There are ways to find out about important things without having to see each traffic accident, burst pipe, or random murder. Apparently, there is a person named Scarborough, who has a news show.

But enough about me. Let's talk about you. How did you like this theme of taking everyday two-word combinations and using the second word as if it were an assessment of the first word? As in PARKINGFINE, clued as "Valet skills: B+," or BATTINGAVERAGE (Baseball skill: C). Those two, and a few others, I liked. A parking fine and a batting average are both real things, and "parking" and "batting" are real activities that can be assessed. Others, like TASTEGREAT (Fashion sense: A) and MOTHERSUPERIOR (Parenting: A+) kind of work, but kind of don't. "Taste great" isn't really a stand-alone, common phrase, and while "Mother Superior," is definitely a known title, "mother" only means "parenting" in kind of a strained way. And BUCKPASSING (Stuffing tip jars: D) has even more problems.

The non-theme had some good fill, including the answer that took me the longest time to understand: DENTIST (Number of people in an office?). Even with the question mark, it took me literally forever (not literally, not forever, but a good long while) to finally read "Number of people" as "one who numbs people." Hah! Thank the stars for novocaine, am I right?

Other fun entries included COBBLE (Patch (together)), FISH (Porgy and bass) (excellent clue), SPIRITS (Alcohol), ALTAR (Union station?), NEST (Sticks together?) (Ha!), and ROOK (Fleece).

Some esoterica in MAGUS, AGITA, MASSE, OCTILE, and INCUBI, and some uncommon names: TRUDI, EGGAR, and ARIE, but nothing that couldn't be gotten through crosses.

Hopefully you had LOTSA fun with this one.

- Horace

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Saturday, November 16, 2019, Daniel Larsen

10:35

To all of you readers out there (maybe a hundred at most?), I send my gratitude for your interest in our small daily effort. There are many things wrong with our society in general and with the internet in particular, but it certainly affords us the chance to speak with a small select niche of likeminded people. I hope our silliness brings entertainment to some of you.

Speaking of which, apparently I'm full of gratitude today, because I also want to send my thanks to the cadre of constructors who put out my daily source of entertainment. I find a great deal of satisfaction in seeing the different ways these people can surprise me, make me chuckle, twist my brain to figure out the subtle clues, or repurpose bits of language to fit into these 15 x 15 grids.

So, enough. Let's talk about today's puzzle. It's a great skeleton for the grid, with two pairs of stacking 15-letter answers crossed by a 13-letter answer down the middle. And all five of those answers hit the mark. Let's rank them!

5 - 17A: What a performer does periodically during a musical (BREAKSOUTINSONG). I love this answer, and I love musicals. So why is it in fifth place? Maybe just because it's a verb phrase. I don't know. Don't investigate these rankings too closely.
4 - 60A: How Old Faithful erupts (ONAREGULARBASIS). Great clue for this phrase, which is strong and interesting.
3 - 64A: Refuge, of sorts (HOMELESSSHELTER). I am saddened by the concept (and by the way, if you haven't read Eviction by Matthew Desmond, you should get it right away. Amazing book, important issue). But I love the three Ss in a row. So there.
2 - 16D: 2016 election meddlers (RUSSIANTROLLS). Timely, and not going away, clearly.
1 - 15A: Somehow (ONEWAYORANOTHER). Really, it's only in first place because of the Blondie song.

Other high notes include 59D: Provider of a lifeline (PALM) - took me a long time to figure out why this was correct; 65A: Opposite of crowed (ATEDIRT); and 8A: One who's got something brewing (BARISTA).

Another fun week of puzzles done and blogged!

- Colum

Friday, November 15, 2019

Friday, November 15, 2019, Debbie Ellerin

6:30

I really enjoyed this puzzle, even if it went by too fast. Sometimes the tricksiness of Friday and Saturday clues works in one's favor, if one is alert to the likelihood. I had no difficulty with 1D: Island to which one is able to return? (ELBA), and with LALALAND in place, the NW fell very quickly.

23A: Singer of "I'm Your Man" and "Hallelujah" (LEONARDCOHEN) would have been more difficult to get if the second song had been more obscure. Say "Chelsea Hotel," or "Famous Blue Raincoat." Great songs.

I will go out on a limb and suggest that our thousands of readers are turning their noses up at LATEN. In combination with OBEAH and LISLE, the NE corner was not the finest example of gridwork. But I did like ICANTEVEN and 38A: Things that may be settled (OLDSCORES).

It was definitely clever to have old crossword standbys NEE and AKA symmetrically placed and clued with the same phrase ("Indication of another name").

Old friend OBOE gets a nice clue with 52D: Wind in a pit. It's never going to be a flute or a clarinet, folks. Always oboes. I do love an oboe, don't get me wrong. Lovely sound when it's played well. Pungent, even. But it's even more loved by crossword creators, because of all of those vowels.

Anyway, it's a fine Friday. Thanks to Ms. Ellerin.

- Colum

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Thursday, November 14, 2019, Alex Eaton-Salners

6:27

Je suppose that we likely have very few readers in France. Eh bien, phooey upon them, say I.

Dans any case (okay, I'll stop now), today's puzzle takes the phrase FRENCHOPEN and applies it to four other phrases by replacing the first word with its French equivalent. Thus, "friend request" becomes AMIREQUEST. OUIINDEED. I was impressed for some strange reason by the fact that all four translated words turned out to be three letters long in their new language.

It's a fun concept, and well crafted. Apologies to those who don't speak français. At least all four of these words are common visitors to our crossword shores.

I can tell that Mr. Eaton-Salners had fun with some atypical answers. Note PTSD crossing BBQS. Similarly UNPC and APSCORE. I imagine that the vowel rich French words like "oui" and "eau" necessitated some of this, but I liked it nonetheless.

13D: Introduction to geometry? (SOFTG) proves once again that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. In this case, the horse is me, and the water is the type of meta-clue where the answer is a phoneme. I also almost fell for the situation at 18D: LAX listing (ETA). I typically leave the last letter blank until I figure out the crossing. Today I saw ___E_ at 23A and without looking at the clue closely, plunked in a D. Turns out 23A: Musician's better half? (SIDEA) is referring to the "hit" of a band's single.

I did fall for a similar issue at 35D: Latin 101 word. Will it be "amas" or AMAT? Leave that last letter blank! Only 49A: Reviews, collectively: Abbr. (CRIT) seemed to ask for a plural. Oh, well. That's probably the worst answer in the puzzle.

Favorite clue and answer today come at 38D: Frost bit? (POESY). Great hidden capital, wonderful word.

- Colum