Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tuesday, August 30, 2016, Roland Huget

4:45

Have we never seen this theme before? Probably not in these exact terms. I like the idea: A phrase with the name of an element, whose periodic table abbreviation shows up to start the second word of the phrase. And you get the revealer of CHEMICALSYMBOLS across the middle.

Here's the age old question: would the theme be better if those darned circles weren't there? I guess, even with the revealer, some wouldn't get the extra layer. But it would be that much more elegant, in my opinion. I hate being struck over the head, slapped across the cheek (dope slapped?).

That all being said (a bit like a splash of cold water in the face, no?), of the four theme answers, only CARBONCOPY really rings true to my ears. I really had to struggle to Google COPPERCUPS. Only by adding "flower" did anything come up. SILVERAGE is a thing, just not a widely used phrase. And IRONFENCE is certainly a thing, but an ad hoc adjective-noun phrase, saved somewhat by the silly clue ("What hath the gardener wrought?").

Now, I can see that it might be extremely challenging to come up with phrases that fit the pattern and are well known. I tried briefly and came up with stupid stuff primarily (gold aura? neon necklace? oxygen Oprah?). Still, I don't create or edit the puzzles, do I? I just comment. Much easier from this side.

Otherwise, the grid was reasonable. 1A: Android purchases (APPS) gets a C-. The first answer I put in confidently was nFl. I was wrong, of course. The first answer I put in confidently and correctly was 14A: Lady of the Haus (FRAU). I like BIGBUCKS, and it's an odd bit of trivia for J.K. ROWLING. I didn't know that the list of runners-up for Time's Person of the Year was made public.

We need more names like EVONNE Goolagong in this world.

- Colum

Monday, August 29, 2016

Monday, August 29, 2016, David Steinberg

3:57

39A: Squarest of the 50 states (WYOMING) is the theme here. Does that mean simply in terms of geometry, or is there a snipe in there? Regardless, it's pretty clever to find four well known attractions or sights in the state, each of which is 11 letters long. And the four are placed to create a square in the middle of which is the state's name. Very nice.

It's odd also to see OLDFAITHFUL so soon after the Sunday, August 21 puzzle featured it geysering up through Yellowstone. I personally have never set foot in Wyoming, for no particular reason, so I have never visited any of these sites. DEVILSTOWER of course was the site of Close Encounters of the Third Kind's ET landing. Do you remember Richard Dreyfuss turning his mashed potatoes into a model of the butte?

In other news, the fill is reasonably good. Any mention of a SAMOSA and IMOKAY with that. I smiled at MANSMAN. Count me out for ECOLI though.

1A: Apple computers (IMACS) gets a C for average. I also put it in as my first confident answer.

And that's about that... Except, I learn that Mr. Steinberg actually placed the theme answers in geographically appropriate parts of the grid as well! That is a nice touch.

- Colum

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sunday, August 28, 2016, Paolo Pasco

THE FIRST SHALL BE LAST

Attention to detail, tricky cluing, chunky sections in the grid... Really, this Sunday puzzle has everything, except that I didn't really love the theme itself. But I really had a great time working through it, so I'm all in favor. It didn't surprise me when I saw Mr. Pasco's name at the head of the puzzle. I've learned to look forward to his efforts.

So, the problem first: the theme. It's a great idea, taking a standard phrase and placing the first letter of one of the words at the end to create a new phrase, and then cluing that phrase in a wacky fashion. My criteria for success in this sort of process?

1. The original phrase has to be instantly recognizable as a real thing.
2. The newly created phrase has to be humorous or an "aha" moment.
3. The cluing has to be wacky.

There are nine theme answers in this puzzle. I think only one answer comes close to all three criteria, and that's 65A: Soft drink favored by the Marines? (SPRITEDECORPS). It's a true phrase, "esprit de corps", and the rearranging is surprising, and somewhat wackily clued. Other candidates today meet some of the criteria: HEARPERLMAN is an "aha" moment, but the clue is not interesting. SENATEIDEA is cute, but "senate aide" feels too ad hoc. I do like DAMECHEESE, actually. Anyway, that's my take.

On the other side of the equation, I think the attention to detail comes through consistently. Here's one example: 49A and 77A are both clued Super ___. The answers, NES and PAC are glue of the most basic variety. But look: the answers are symmetrically placed! Very cool. There are all sorts of situations like this. HAS and ATE cross each other and are clued "Takes in" and "Took in" respectively. 30A: Hamiltons (TENS) comes just before 32A: Domain of "Hamilton" (THEATER).

Then there are the tricky and sometimes just plain silly clues. 69A: Sticky spots? (NESTS) reminds all of us here at Horace & Frances of one of our favorite stupid riddles. 73D: Passing remarks? (EULOGY) reminds me of a favorite scene from Zoolander. But my favorite by far was 80D: Something felt at Christmas (SANTAHAT). Brilliant!

Who knew that a MOTH was responsible for the term "bug" in computer parlance?

- Colum

P.S. Whoa! There's a meta element to the puzzle! Take the letter that was moved in each of the theme answers in order, and it spells out an appropriate bonus phrase!! Excellent work, Mr. Pasco. Wish I had figured it out on my own.

P.P.S. 1A: Ditch (SCRAP) gets a B-. First confident entry was 4D: "Selma" director DuVernay (AVA). Noted as I solved that the first two names I put in were African-American women.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Saturday, August 27, 2016, Jim Page

14:42

I forgot to mention in yesterday's post that I'm writing from the birthplace of this blog, the very cradle, if you will, of Horace and Frances. I'm proud of myself that I solved this Saturday at about 1:30 in the morning after many intoxicants were imbibed.

Perhaps it was that very state that enabled me to plop in 1A: Where to belt one down and belt one out (KARAOKEBAR) right off the bat. Or maybe that clue, as fun as it is, is too easy for a Saturday. Regardless, I like it and give it a B+. The other two answers in the initial triple stack are also well clued. 15A: No-so-firm affirmative (IBELIEVESO) is cute, and 17A: Ones hitting snares (DRUMSTICKS) was the most opaque at first.

The theme of this themeless seems to be great long answers at the expense of less than thrilling fill. REUNE, OIS, and KETT are the price we pay for those initial answers. BECLOUD is also a little less than exciting.

The SW trio is pretty good. I had not particularly noted, but both Horace and Frances said they didn't like the clue at 33D: Great point (SWEETSPOT). I suppose if you take it completely literally, a place that you think is really nice could be either. If you mean the place to hit a baseball really well, then that's not so good.

14D: Opportunity, e.g. (MARSROVER) needed a lot of crosses, as did 13D: Opening for an E.P.A. worker? (OZONEHOLE). I really didn't like ATOR. And was there actually a BATPOLE? Perhaps in the Adam West version (and is there any other one, really?).

The best trio is in the SE. I love SINEQUANON and SEXPISTOLS (but I think there should have been a "the" in the clue). 59D: One of about 1,000 in Lux. (SQMI) was found entirely by crosses.

My favorite answers are right across the middle, with SPACECADET and EISENHOWER. We were just discussing the ARNO over breakfast. I want to go back.

- Colum

P.S. IDA! Unexpected reference to the lowest tier of G&S.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Friday, August 26, 2016, Andrew Kingsley

13:09

I've really enjoyed this week of puzzles! There may be some folks out in the blogosphere who have been less thrilled by them, but I've found each one to be a ton of fun to solve, and today's is no exception.

I broke in with 1D: Fibonacci, notably (PISAN). We've noted before in this space how crosswordese is a useful language to know. Weirdly, TTEST is another such example. Probably the NW crosses are the least high quality entries in the puzzle (ENOUNCE, I'm looking at you), but it allows the trio of PINTEREST (gets a B+), INATRANCE, and SUPERFOOD.

Perhaps, the more I look over the puzzle, the more I recognize that it's the smoothness of the fill that made this puzzle enjoyable, rather than the brilliance of any of the entries. 33D: What emo songs may convey (TEENANGST) might be one of the better choices. I'm also interested in the phenomenon of the DROPCAP. The name is quite evocative, and immediately made sense to me, even though I'd never seen it before.

My favorite moment came after I finished the entire puzzle. See, I was working on the NE corner, and had __THERE at 41A: "You don't want to miss it!" So I naturally entered gETHERE, parsing it as "get here!" I had difficulty (as you might imagine) exiting this section into the SE. Working my way around, I came to 41D, and realized it was BASSETS. Thus, I now had BETHERE (correctly), but incorrectly parsed it as "bet here!" Later, I figured it out, and had a good laugh.

The clues include 42A: Bit of bronze (TIN), without any question mark needed. I also really loved 63A: Bought or sold, e.g. (PASTTENSE). I didn't see that coming at all. Otherwise, there wasn't much in the way of misdirection.

Well, I still liked it in retrospect, but perhaps not quite as much.

- Colum

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Thursday, August 25, 2016, Andrew Zhou

Untimed (got paged in the middle of solving and forgot to exit the app)

I'm going to come right out and say it: I love the concept of this puzzle! I had no idea where it was going for the longest time, either, because I put iCbmS in at 4D: Cold War missiles on mobile launchers (SCUDS).

It has been the week of triple-checked letters, with three puzzles out of five so far. And this one is a doozie. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions," said STBERNARD, apparently. Or actually, he said: "L'enfer est plein de bonnes volontés ou désirs." Which is a similar phrase, but not quite the same.

In this puzzle, we have the PAVEDROAD from the NW corner leading down one square short of the SE corner, where [HELL] sits in its own rebus square. It would have been just that much neater if 49D could have incorporated the rebus such that its meaning was hidden, as in SEAS[HELL] at 66A. Still, it was a great moment when I finally figured it out.

I love 30A: "Focus!" (SNAPOUTOFIT). Parsing that answer took a while. SATELLITETV is also really good (and a much better use of the TV duo than in 1D from yesterday's puzzle). Speaking of duos, RAPDUOS confused me so much. I had RAPperS there for some time, which made various things difficult to figure out.

So much to like. BETHERE! HEREIGO! Drinking a MIMOSA! GREENPEAS on the OPENRANGE! Speaking of which, we're getting a new cooktop next week.

1A: Grind (GNASH) gets an A-. I had no idea where that was going, and I love the word. The first two words I put in were ARC and ANODIC at the same time. Well, ARC was first.

Thumbs way up!

- Colum

Wednesday, August 24, 2016, Matthew Sewell

6:36 (FWOE)

FANTASYSPORTS... a sink into which you could pour all of your life if you let it. Or, in today's puzzle, a revealer for a set of games in four fictional universes. Only one of theme fits within the Fantasy genre, so I'll take the term to mean "the faculty or activity of imagining things, especially things that are impossible or improbable".

In that sense, I like that we get one near-contemporary comic strip, one science fiction setting, one young adult fantasy series, and one classic children's book. The clear loser here is PODRACING, as it comes from the least (by far) of the seven Star Wars movies. All we need say is Jar Jar Binks, and the rest is oblivion.

Otherwise, CALVINBALL is such a wonderful reference. It was really strange to come across it today, as my daughter and I were discussing it just last night. QUIDDITCH was an obvious choice. However, the all time winner has to be POOHSTICKS. Yes, it's that game where two people stand on a bridge and drop a stick over on the upstream side. They then race to the opposite side to see whose stick emerges first from underneath. And that's it. The best sport ever.

As for the rest of the puzzle, I love SOUNDTRACKS and CONTRETEMPS. Those are fine long down answers right there. And who doesn't like a good BAKLAVA? And it crosses FLAN (although I've never much liked that dessert).

I'm going to cry foul though on 1D: VCR insert (TVTAPE). Huh? What does that even mean? Surely it's a VCR tape, or a videotape, or video cassette. 1A: To-do list item (TASK) gets a C for averageness. As I started the puzzle, I was not at all sure about 1A, and then entered bLOG at 14A, which allowed me to enter the first answer I was sure about, KGS.

My error came at the cross of UNCAS and ROSEN. I had an L there, for no good reason at all.

- Colum