Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saturday, May 23, 2015, Peter Wentz

16:30 (FWOE)

A very enjoyable Saturday themeless. I broke in with AESOP, fresh off of Thursday's use of the same entry, and immediately put ESKIMOKISS in at 17A. I even entered HYENA, NOEL, HIM, and TSKS in the same quadrant, but my mind couldn't parse what was necessary for the other long acrosses, so I moved on. I do feel that, like Horace has mentioned in comments recently, if I had done this puzzle cooperatively, I would have finished a good deal faster.

The next place I found purchase was in the SW. I like the dual "Wager" entries of PLACEABET and OVER, and 59A: Solution for poor eyesight? (RENU) is cute. LERNER is a gimme for me, as was THECURE. I love SNARFS! What a great word. EBOLA is not as pleasant an image. In any case, this gave me the entire SE quickly.

It's a nice set of 3 long answers: ROCKGARDEN, FLOODLIGHT, and SANDPAPERS; although I dislike the use of the last in a verb form, the clue is good ("Takes the edge off?"). 44D: Retweeting of rave reviews, possibly (EGOTRIP) is outstanding. On the other hand, the use of ONEHR is not great.

Working into the middle of the puzzle, I had OINK (another nice clue), but no feeling of how to proceed. I got the trick in 36A: Something to keep a watch on (WRIST), and 29D: Colon, on a test (ISTO) briefly had me thinking of gastrointestinal procedures before I cottoned to the SAT reference. FREECLIMB is excellent: I initially had "soloCLIMB" before getting that without assistance means with no ropes, etc. My one error in the puzzle came at 30D: Modern collection of vendors (ETSY). I had MTn at 40A, and I thought, oh yeah, "Etny", that website where you can buy directly from the artists. Oh, well.

Got CLOWNCAR (very nice clue there), which opened up the middle, and helped me finish the middle W and then the NW. HATCHETJOB is very good, as is YEAHIMSURE. Has anybody ever eaten a SCOTCHEGG? Looks a little artery-clogging, don't you think?

Other nice things to mention: 22A: Not together (APIECE) in the same row as 25A: All together (ENBLOC). 38A: Used as a base (STOODON) was not what I was thinking about at all when I first saw the clue. 10D: Words before a date (BESTBY) always gets me. 14D: Part of a countdown (SONG) made me want to put a number in. CHESHIRE is a nice entry with a good piece of trivia clue.

Very nice.

- Colum

Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday, May 22, 2015, David Woolf


Wow, this went by fast. It helped that I put in SEALEDWITHAKISS as my first entry. And can I just say that this puzzle shows how stacks can work? First off, there are 6 really solid 15-letter answers, with only one of them using a plural to fit in. And the clues are pretty darned good for those entries also.

16A: Like a hot mess (ALLOVERTHEPLACE) is fine, but 17A: Where everything has been checked (BAGGAGECAROUSEL) is better. I had the first part of the clue entered on its own for a short time until I got more down answers later in the stack.

The lower set of three are better. 50A: They're good for the long haul (TRACTORTRAILERS) is the lone plural, but it fits well. The best clue is at 53A: Game with one round (RUSSIANROULETTE). That's superb stuff there. And no unnecessary question mark! 54A: Like many floor cleaners (ONHANDSANDKNEES) is clever in the exchange of the inanimate "floor cleaners" products for the ones doing the floor cleaning.

So, having put together some fine stacks, do the crosses suffer? Sure, we can pull out some questionable items. 6D: U. wish? (DEG) is a stretch. MILERUN is what the race is called, but feels awkward. Don't we just say the record for running the mile? 52D: I.R.S. employee: Abbr. (AUD) is really not good. Why is that "Abbr." in the clue? Isn't the abbreviation of Internal Revenue Service enough to express an abbreviation in the answer? DTEN is marginal: I like the reference to Battleship, but the mixture of letter and number, not so much.

But in other answers and clues, there's some excellent stuff. 7D: Get a lock on, e.g. (WRESTLE) is a nice piece of misdirection. 39D: Light bite site (BISTRO) was a cute clue. I love 49D: Web content (SILK). Did not expect that direction at all.

Weird to have ELANTRA and TANTRA both in the grid. HANGS is right next to HOMIE, which makes sense. ACUPS is a Huygens entry, IASSUME. And how about 18A: F-, H-, and I-, but not G- (ANION)? That's a pretty clever clue.

Those are some pretty serious muscles, there.

- Colum

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Thursday, May 21, 2015, Peter A. Collins


Well, this was a welcome respite from the last three days of so-so puzzles. I had a sense that something was "up" when I got to 16A: Scarlatti's style and couldn't figure out what they were looking for. Especially since I was pretty sure 10D: ___ nova was BOSSA.

In the end, I didn't figure out the theme until I'd gotten the revealer (RAISEDTHEBAR). I love that. It's a clever theme and a nice genuine phrase that explains it. Once that showed up, I went around to the places that didn't make sense and filled in the BAR above each answer. Obviously [BAR]OQUE is my favorite, but [BAR]TSIMPSON is excellent for the use of his entire name. [BAR]RIERREEF leaves a wonderfully peculiar collection of letters at 36A. [BAR]BIES is the least interesting. I should also mention that four of the five words with the raised "bar" are nicely done: BARK, BARGE, BARE, and BARNSTORM, while the last, BARO, is just meh.

So that's a fair amount of theme material, all symmetrically placed (with respect to the answers below the "bar"). The exchange is really not too bad in terms of fill. AQI stands out as a "huh?" answer. The NW is filled with GAELIC (24D) terms and the unlikable ABBR, but it does have EGGO as well, and that's a winner. In the proper names dept. we have ERTE, REZA, ELIE, and ERNST, none of which are very aesthetic, but we also get AESOP (with the nice clue "Moral authority?).

Some words I don't particularly like are DEBTEE, which I presume is acceptable but never used except in legalese; CORING, which just seems like a stretch; THEFORE (5D: A place of prominence), which I've only heard in the setting of "to the fore"; and AXEHEAD (45D: Business end of a chopper), which, again, is truly what it's called, but seems awkward.

Words I did like include MRSDASH, REELECT, BARNSTORM, and EARTHSIGN. I liked the clue for 47A: Exclamation that's made up of two shorter exclamations (AHOY). Otherwise not too many interesting clues.

Well. After looking it all over, perhaps not as good a puzzle as I'd thought. But I liked the theme, and so I'll give it a thumbs up overall.

- Colum

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wednesday, May 20, 2015, Jacob Stulberg


I don't know that I've ever seen a theme quite like this one before: a 4-letter words is repeated three times and respaced to create a wacky sentence. The first one is the least successful: VISAVISAVISA (vis-a-vis a visa), in that the new splitting is not surprising enough. But it definitely gets better as it goes down.

ABELABELABEL (Abe label Abel) gets a nod for referencing the Simpsons. Although in looking it over right now, I realize I'd misrecalled the clue, thinking it said only "Grampa", not the full "Grampa Simpson." I would have liked the first better. This theme answer though still doesn't get it quite right, because the wacky sentence simply is weird rather than interesting.

The third theme answer is RIDERIDERIDE (rider I deride). This is much better. I like that the middle word disappears entirely in the reimagined phrase. It's not exactly wacky, but I enjoyed the use of the word "jeered" in the clue. It's also the odd one out because it's the only one where the original 4-letter word does not appear in the wacky phrase.

57A: Detective catches sight of bakery wares? (PIESPIESPIES, or P.I. espies pies) is the best of the bunch. It's amusing when you figure out the private investigator, and the concept of a detective being on the lookout for a bunch of pies is amusing.

So, yeah.

Anyway, the rest of the puzzle is pretty standard stuff. You get a threesome of baseball references at 1A (SACS), 12D (ASH), and 13D (MET). You get a duo of Huygens material with MESH and LEWD. That last has a very peculiar clue: "Off-color, plus" - is that meant to be "beyond off-color?" I think so. I've just not seen that usage before.

There's very little interesting in the cluing either. I like 55A: Wordless harrumphs (SNORTS) and 59A: It might make a shadow disappear (RAZOR). Otherwise, pretty bland.

I was amused by working out the theme. Beyond that, nothing much to rave about.

- Colum

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tuesday, May 19, 2015, Allan E. Parrish


It's a simple theme: rearrange the letters AEGLN into four 5-letter words and make 11- and 12-letter answers with the words. Does it work? I like JESSICALANGE. I do not like CONRADNAGEL (who? turns out he was in 54 silent movies and 57 talkies between 1918 and 1959). 27A: It's not right (OBLIQUEANGLE) gets best clue among the four. FALLENANGEL is very good. Three out of four is pretty good but not great.

Could we have done better? Let's see. Thomas Nagel is a well-known philospher and professor at Columbia, but that hardly seems less recherche than Conrad. I would have enjoyed "vein of Galen", which is one of the large draining veins of the brain. "Glean" seems essentially unusable. So perhaps I'm picking nits, but I would like all four theme answers to have the same level of "pop."

The rest of the fill is not remarkable exciting. AEIOU is sort of silly stuff, and RIATA is stale as they come. AZT, GEO, GRR, NAN (I'd spell it "naan", myself), OTC, OOX (!!!), UGH crossing UGG, and even FALALA, are all poor fill. And that's a lot. And seriously, ASTI again? That's the fourth time in a week. YAYA. Oof.

I like BOLSHOI. BRANDI and MIA fill the quota of women U.S. soccer players. AGGREGATE is a fine down answer, better than LETSDANCE, which I think most of us would like to forget is a David Bowie song.

Finally, what's with 57D (KNOW) being clued by a Minnesota radio station on a Tuesday? Especially with all of those annoying 3-letter answers providing the crosses. Seems out of line with the rest of the puzzle.

So I guess I'm giving it a thumbs down.

- Colum

Monday, May 18, 2015

Monday, May 18, 2015, Gene Newman


The only reason I was over 4 minutes was because I was seduced by the theme into trying to figure out the long answers from the clues instead of just working the down clues. But that's a good reason, in my mind. The four examples of Tom Swiftys are really quite good, especially since all four are 11-letter answers. Of course, my favorite is 61A: OFFHANDEDLY. That's laugh out loud stuff.

Meanwhile, the fill is reasonably good, Tom said puzzlingly. Sure, you've got your STS, OLA, YTD, TDS stuff, Tom said shortly, but you also get things like SEISMIC, Tom said querulously, SAMOSAS, Tom said mouthwateringly, and ANNIE, Tom said trivially. You know, that stuff is pretty hard to do well. Nothing along the line of: "Yeah, they had to amputate both at the ankles," Tom said defeatedly.

Enough of that.

I appreciate the middle swath of 5-letter answers, as well as the chunks of fill in the middle W and E. Otherwise I don't have too much else to add.

Tom said sparingly.

(Shout out to Cece for the last Swifty).

- Colum

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday, May 17, 2015, Joe Krozel


I've definitely seen this sort of theme in the past: the portmanteau-ing of several phrases. I like this version because of the way nouns are flipped to become verbs twice each series. My favorite of the words that play double-duty are "bus" and "coin". Others are fairly routine. We've seen many of these sorts of word-plays in Games magazine and elsewhere. "Return" would make the top of my list, only taxes.

The effect of all of these long theme answers (two 21-letters, two 20-letters, and two 19-letters) is that the grid becomes choppy and east-west oriented. The longest north-south answers are 7-letters, and there are only four of those. It wasn't really a problem, though, as the level of difficulty of this Sunday felt much more like a Tuesday than a Wednesday/Thursday (which I understand is the goal level for a Sunday).

Some nice clues, however, I'll take notice of. I liked the ambiguity of 11A: Racetrack figure (ODDS). I was expecting a jockey or something. Similarly, 32A: Put in a hold (STOW) was not what I'd expected. 80A: Additions (SUMS) made me want to put "ells" in. The real answer is better. 87A: Diamond worker (BATBOY) didn't fool me for a second.

114A: People with belts do them (KARATEKICKS) is one of my favorites, both for the silliness of the clue and for the fact that there are three Ks in the answer. The other excellent one (and symmetrically placed) is 19A: Group of companies (MARINECORPS). Took me a long time to get that one. 19A: And look! 117A: Herring type (SHAD) proves my point from a while back: no S at the end.

2D: Makeup of some sheets (RAIN) is great, and reminds me of a quote from Welcome to Nightvale (which see - it's a podcast). There weren't many ? clues, (for which I'm grateful) and the ones I saw were not particularly tricky. My favorite is probably 55D: Record of the year? (ANNALS).

I know some here will like the reference to KARENS (Carpenters), but I dislike the unnecessary S. In the same vein, I really dislike 118A: Pro responses (YESSES). I think it should be "yeses". I see that both are allowed, but I don't get why the extra S. Analogously to "buses", I would prefer, but on the other hand, "busses" is clearly a different word.

I would class this puzzle as a perfectly passable Sunday. Nothing special, nothing horrifying.

- Colum