Monday, May 23, 2016

Monday, May 23, 2016, Ori Brian

3:13

What?!

I knew I was zipping through this one, but still...

I only hesitated with ENMESH (yucky answer), EXPECTEDLY (because I wasn't looking for an adverb given the clue "as predicted" - I think the clue's a bit off), and POWDERED (great clue here at 40D: Like some doughnuts and wigs). As you can see, I was mostly working off of down clues, but not to the exclusion. I mostly like to use the answers which have the longest unfilled areas, on the theory that getting them right will fill the grid more rapidly.

The theme is fine, with four solid answers of the form ____OFTHE____. I thought after the first two that there might be another part to the theme, in that the first word was body-related, and it turned out to be true, although I didn't really see that until just now. BUTTOFTHEJOKE is obviously the best of the bunch.

HOVERBOARD is the best non-theme answer, with a nice nod to the second Back to the Future movie, which was set in 2015. No hoverboards to be seen around here. The Cubs might win the World Series this year, which would only be off by one year.

1A: ____ browns (breakfast order) (HASH) gets a C-. Yes, they're nice to eat. But a partial with an unnecessary parenthetical is not a great way to start the puzzle. Is there anything else in the world that could fill that blank? Even on a Monday, we didn't need the "breakfast order".

My favorite row in the puzzle? SEX SOAR STOOP. How vivid.

- Colum

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sunday, May 22, 2016, Victor Barocas and Andy Kravis

RISE AND FALL

Great theme, I'll say right off the bat. The revealer, the gridspanning MOUNTAINHIGHVALLEYLOW is a song I always get confused with Marvin Gaye's Ain't No Mountain High Enough and and Ike and Tina Turner's River Deep, Mountain High. In any case, it describes what's going on perfectly. In the upper half of the grid, in circles arranged like peaks, are three mountain names. In the lower half of the grid, in circles arranged like vales are three well known valley names.

But what's really nice is that the placement of the mountains and valleys are symmetric, three pairs of equal numbers of letters. That's paying attention to detail. Even better, Mt. SAINTHELENS is echoed by SANFERNANDINO valley. That's two saints! Very nice.

The challenge of a theme like this is that every circled square is triple-checked: i.e., each letter has to be part of three words. When letters are on the diagonal like that, it throws off the typical pattern of consonant-vowel-consonant that thrives so well in crossword puzzles. Thus we see things like PARTIII, AAARATING, NFLERS, and TVGUEST. These are all clever ways of getting around the issue. How about DOEEYES? That looks great in the grid, IMO.

1A: "Hooked on Classics" record promotor (KTEL) - well, I'm in favor of anything that promotes classical music, but this was a travesty of a disco mash-up of popular themes. Shame on you, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. I would prefer to have a Veg-O-Matic (also promoted by K-Tel). So, yeah. How does C- strike people?

There are some nice long answers worked in, such as PROTAGORAS and the odd but compelling HEARTELLOF. I'm not convinced by MEOWERS (both an -ER and an -S ending!). I had a Natick moment at the cross of GLOSSA and MATTEA. In actual anatomic terminology, the muscles of the tongue all end in -US, such as genioglossus and hyoglossus. When you're talking about the nerve, it ends in -AL, such as the hypoglossal nerve. So I chose -A, and was happy to see I was right, but I was thinking about -I.

My only complaint was that the puzzle was too easy. I finished in about 75% of my typical Sunday time.

Oh, and love love love SIRDUKE.

- Colum

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Saturday, May 21, 2016, Jason Flinn

17:16 (FWOE)

Lo! Quad stacks! I thought Mr. Shortz had moved on from this sort of thing. I have spoken out against the double quad stack puzzle in the past, so I will refrain from saying all the same things I've said in the past.

I ran through all of the downs on the top section, and could only be sure about ____ER at the end of 7D. I have a strange lacuna in my lexicon for ATEMPO. I put in AprimO, which helped and hindered. So I found my way by working the middle section first. That R led me incorrectly to RAja at 24A: Eastern sovereign (RANI), but it was enough to get me started.

My mistake came at 37A: Presidential moniker on "The West Wing" (JED). I put in JEb. Perhaps I was influenced by the current travesty of a Presidential campaign? In any case, I had 26D: Zone, so to speak (NOD) as jOb. I corrected the J later, but never the B. I actually really like that clue and answer. At the same time, has anybody heard of the term ROLF in massaging? It Googles fine, but that's a new one for me.

Anyway, I broke the north quad after PRINCIPLE and PETAL and SEVENTHDAY came out of the middle. 1A: Pockets (MISAPPROPRIATES) is excellent. I give it an A- for good cluing. It's the only 15-letter answer that ends in -S, and I don't have a problem with it.

The remainder of the north quad is also very good. THEGREENLANTERN (odd to see it with the article in front) is fun. I was stuck thinking of Sauron, Bilbo, and Frodo (and Gollum, I suppose). GAVEITANOTHERGO and ETERNALOPTIMIST are both strong.

AGER is weak, but the clue is great (have you seen how much Obama's hair has changed to white?). ONNO is also saved by the clue. Partials INHIS and IHATE are not great, and REALER shouldn't exist at all, but overall, I'll give a thumbs up to the top section.

TUSCALOOSA was my entry to the bottom section. With LORRE and IDENT (the ugliest of the bottom downs), I was able to guess ___REMOTE and ___REASON. The rest was just working things out. GIVEMEONEREASON and STARSTUDDEDCAST are both excellent. Interesting usage of the past tense to fit things in, both in the north and the south quad. HADAHEARTOFGOLD is pretty good.

ANIT and ASOU made me shudder. SLAVER is unpleasant. Wouldn't the definition based on drooling be preferable, as funny as that sounds? AHEMS pluralized... Yeah. So, again, plenty of compromises made to accommodate the quads, but those are some pretty darned good 15-letter answers, so mostly I'll forgive the compromises.

- Colum

Friday, May 20, 2016

Friday, May 20, 2016, Kristian House

12:39 (FWOE)

I like the bones of this puzzle quite a bit. There are two lovely 15-letter down answers connected by EGGMCMUFFIN. In addition, the corners are nice and chunky. The down side is all that short stuff in the middle section, which is where my error occurred. Crossing FTC with ITO is pretty rough. I guessed FcC, which really doesn't make much sense, but there you go.

I broke in with HANG and AMI (cute clue with Renoir and Monet). I was able to infer __NIK and __RAMA, which helped. What didn't help was guessing __oRAMA. Also spelling SOHN with two Ns. So I had to leave the NW corner.

My next mistake was kind of interesting, actually. At 35A: Restaurant breakfast innovation of 1971, I put in EGGowaffles, which fits exactly. Not that they're something you'd get at a restaurant. Turns out they were introduced in 1953 directly to supermarkets. I didn't know they'd been around that long. Anyway I corrected it when I got BOOMBOX.

GADGET opened up the SE. EARTHTONE was a guess which worked. When I switched UAe to UAR, I figured out TREASURED. This corner is the one that works the least for me. But I love 12D: Approachable, unglamorous sort (THEGIRLNEXTDOOR). That's a beautiful 15-letter answer.

16A: Sound of an everyday explosion (ACHOO) - that's fine cluing right there. Worth the price of admission all on its own. Also nice clue for SHREK in the opposite corner.

1A: "I hear you" (ROGERTHAT) - this feels outdated, clearly. Nowadays, my kids say "same" to mean this. Or even just "Me." The texting generation is so terse. Anyway, I like it fine, and will give it a B+.

Finally I figured out my mistakes and got GOFORTHEJUGULAR. NICEONE!

- Colum

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Thursday, May 19, 2016, Morton J. Mendelson

16:43

This week has definitely skewed harder than average! I've been above my typical time on each day. It's not much of a surprise for a quotation theme though. Essentially, you need a ton of crosses in order to get a foothold. Once one part goes, the rest tends to follow suit. I don't love these kinds of themes, but today's was super dense, with four 15-letter chunks and one 7-letter answer. That is a ton of theme, and all four corners have three 7-letter down answers in a stack.

The quip is... well, cute. THEPRIMESUSPECT / KNEWHEWASCOOKED / AFTERHE / WASGRILLEDBYTHE / POLICEDETECTIVE. Yeah... puns. I'm a big fan, in general. We had puns yesterday as well. This is passable.

I like a number of the down answers. Of course, Sweeney Todd being my favorite Broadway musical, JOHANNA was a gimme. I think 3D: Count of Monte Cristo, e.g. (AVENGER) is not so great. That ending with -er is awkward. And after all, you could clue it so easily nowadays, perhaps too easily. Or not? 3D: Vision, e.g. would be pretty tough.

11D: Some sneakers (REEBOKS) is fine, while 12D: They can be gross (INCOMES) is saved by the clue. Otherwise that plural is actually gross. 13D: Two-part letter (DOTTEDI) was my final fill. And it took forever to see it. It didn't help that I had BOy at 22A: Turing test participant (BOT). In my defense, one version of the Turing test, as proposed by Douglas R. Hofstadter, is to have one person try to guess the gender of a hidden participant through a conversation over a computer. And also, BOT is annoying. It really should be an A.I.

I like SWAPPED and LANEONE. My favorite down answer is 36D: Was unhappy (with) (HADABEEF). That's fun. BYITSELF was also a surprise, as I wanted it to end with -ly.

How about 18D: Pity (RUTH)? How many people got that one without all the crosses? It's the source of the term ruthless. I questioned that one all the way to the end of the puzzle.

1A: Unlatched, say (AJAR). I'll give it a C+.

- Colum

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Wednesday, May 18, 2016, Zhouqin Burnikel

6:48 (FWOE)

Having put in AVA at 1A (DuVernay who directed "Selma", gets a B+ for referencing an African-American female director and a great movie), I immediately fell for the trap of putting in Verizon, which is really not an "Internet-based phone provider" (VONAGE). Sometimes when I have entered something incorrectly, I have to move away entirely before I can see the correct entries.

My error came at the crossing of 6D: Crystal ____ (METH) and 21A: "As if!" (HAH), where I had put nAH and never came back to check it. Oh well. That's the bad stuff out of the way.

This is an odd and oddly satisfying theme today, befitting a Wednesday. The three 15-letter answers are unrelated to each other, but each is crossed by a pun that plays on the content of letters in that answer. Thus 4D: What 17-Across has, phonetically (FORESEES) is pointing out the 4 Cs found in ANTARCTICCIRCLE.

Each 15-letter answer is a solid one, and all three puns work fine, although FORTIES doesn't exactly sound the same to me as "four Ts". THATSAMOOTPOINT though. I enjoyed it.

Some really nice cluing in the fill also helped my good spirits. 25A: Daniel who created Friday (DEFOE) is very nice, especially without a question mark. Even better is 34D: Worrisome call at home (STRIKETWO). I love that sort of thing!

I'm not convinced by a single ANTLER and by multiple TESLAS. Kind of funny to have METH and Breaking Bad actress RHEA Seehorn in the same grid.

That's me, over and OORT.

- Colum

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Tuesday, May 17, 2016, Paula Gamache

7:41

I could not parse the NW corner, which took over two minutes of my total time. It certainly didn't help having DELWEBB and ALDO Gucci next to each other. More to the point, I had ISm at 5D: Suffix with human (IST), and that threw off the theme answer.

Fortunately, I finally recognized PATHE (shouldn't have been so hard; when you have PA_HE, how many letters can go in there?), and the rest fell. 1A: Thing on a string (BEAD) - I tried "yoyo" first. The actual answer is fine, and the clue is cute. I'll give it a B.
So anyway, the theme is pretty dense, with five nine-letter answers and one nine-letter revealer. It's a classic concept, a two word phrase, each of which can go in front of the revealer word, namely "head", to make two separate well-recognizable phrases. HORSEMEAT was pretty gross (although is it really that much more gross than "cow meat"?), and who wants to have to picture a "whitehead"? Otherwise it's fine.

I like three of the 7-letter down answers (all except the one in the NW corner). OTTOMAN is good, especially referring to Suleiman rather than a piece of furniture. And in the opposite corner, STPETER opposes the advance of the Empire. They didn't quite make it to Vienna, but their influence was felt in Mozart and Beethoven's Turkish marches (I love that section of the ninth symphony, and not just because it's a tenor solo).

Also in croissants, which may or may not have been developed to celebrate turning the attack away.

By the way, we ate a ton of croissants while we were in Paris recently.

Um, anyway, the crossword puzzle. I wish we could do away with YSER and SNERD. ULT seems particularly ad hoc. LBO stands for leveraged buyout. Whatever.

It wasn't the best Tuesday, in my book.

- Colum