Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wednesday, July 23, 2014, Howard Barkin


Everybody loves a BLANKCHECK (59A: Complete freedom … and a hint to each half of the answer to each starred clue)! The first half of the first theme answer, BODYDOUBLE (18A: *Movie stand-in) "body check" is the least familiar to me. Is that like a physical? Does anyone say that? But there's a bonus, non-starred theme entry TIMEOUT (20A: Toddler's banishment to a corner, say) - "time check" and "check out," (I know all the others come after…) so let's call it even.

The grid has some good non-theme entries, too. I particularly like TOCCATA (38A: Bach work), SWAGGER (32D: Walk with an attitude), ASKANCE (43D: With suspicion, as a look), BARTAB (1D: Tippler's account), and EQUATOR (10D: Where it's always zero degrees) (cute). It's nice, too, to see AGAKHAN (46D: Shiite leader who claims direct descent from Muhammad) in its entirety.

On the other hand, we see the startlingly awful RESEEKS (4D: Tries for again, as an office), and the chunks of threes in the NE and SW aren't too pretty. There's AMB, and DCIV, and can we all agree that we're oh, so tired of seeing ATRA (37D: First razor with a pivoting head) in a puzzle, even if we do learn something more about it with each clue? So, so tired of it.

But on balance, I think this had more good than bad. That's three good puzzles in a row! Now I've really got my hopes up for the turn. Here's hoping it delivers.

- Horace

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tuesday, July 22, 2014, Joel Fagliano


A very nice twist on referential clues, working both sides at once. For example, 6A: With 8-Down, lime shade (LIGHT/GREEN) and 8D: With 6-Across, approve (GREEN/LIGHT). Usually, I dislike this sort of clue, but this, I love. And to top it off, they all intersect, which isn't always the case with referential clues. What are there, seven of them? Really nice work, I say.

The rest of the fill is decent too. SYNCH (17A: Harmonize) looks a little odd with that H, what with so much "sync"ing going on these days. And even my old Random House gives the no-H version first, but really, there's nothing wrong with having the H. SMELT (18A: Refine, as ore) is good. Interesting trivia added to the old standby ADA (19A: Nabokov's longest novel), and we get up-to-date cluing on things like CREW (22A: Rapper's posse) and DIED (34A: Was incredibly embarrassed, in slang). REROLL (45A: Try to improve a Yahtzee turn) might ordinarily get an eye roll, but the clue saves it. It was a little surprising to see ADOLF (60A: Unpopular baby name) in there, but it was the first thing that came to mind for that clue, so even that made me smile!

As you can tell, I really liked this one. There was clever cluing, interesting cluing, and not much junk at all. NEEDI (21D: "____ say more?").

- Horace

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014, Matt Fuchs


Boy, I don't usually talk about trying to solve as fast as possible, but if I could type better with my thumbs, I think I could have been at least a minute faster on this. It put up absolutely no resistance. I'm guessing Colum has a good chance of coming in under four.

The theme of PRIVATEPARTS (55A: What unmentionables cover … or what 20-, 27-, and 44-Across all begin with?) is just fine, if we accept the commercialism of HIDDENVALLEY (20A: Big name in ranch dressing). And while we're on the topic, salad dressing is the easiest thing in the world to make yourself, and it takes less than five minutes. I know that at least two of our regular readers already make their own, but for those of you who don't, just save a jelly jar or something similar, clean it, then pour in oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper and shake. You can change it up however you want - different vinegars (sherry, champagne, apple cider, balsamic), add a little lemon or lime juice, a few spices or herbs… the possibilities are endless. And if you want ranch, just add a little mayo or sour cream, some onion and/or garlic powder, and go from there.

Where was I? Oh, right, the CREOLE (17A: Louisiana language) CLAMBAKE (18A: New England cookout)… sounds great! Where do I show up?

EDUCE (24D: Bring out) is a nice word. PICASSO (42D: Painter with a  Blue Period) is always welcome. BARHOPping is fun.

Nice Monday.

- Horace

Sunday, July 20, 2014, Eric Berlin


An interesting and more challenging than usual Sunday puzzle. Not knowing which two letters would be removed (until we had 72-Across, that is) made the solve slightly slower, but after we got it (the crosses gave it away), it was much easier to see what was going on. It's a little strange to have the new words with no clues, and I get that the downs ignored the circles altogether, but in the case of 90D: *Not rough (G[E]NE) ("gentle"), it seemed wrong, somehow, to have the circled letter there in the middle of the truncated word. Overall, though, the feat is an impressive one. The solve, however, was not especially fun.

Starting with ENWRAP (1A: Swaddles, e.g.) didn't help. And the down coming off it EDW (1D: One of eight Eng. kings) was no better. There were quite a few less-than-inspired words, actually. RECHAINS, ALICK, STRETTO (at least we knew this one this time, after having seen it in the plural very recently), ISITA… In fact, some of the most interesting fill - REBUKES, LEGION, GRAVITY, and HERALD were broken up and turned into lesser words. And other things that were somewhat interesting - GAROTTE and OWNGOAL, for example, were off-putting. The French was more esoteric than usual, with AMENDE (52D: French fine), and there just wasn't much that was clever or made us smile. Too much IDS, LST, PFC, IND, SRTA, OSTE, HGTS, AVI, STET, EMIR

Lastly, ERAT in Latin means "was." It's a simple imperfect. It does not mean "was to be." That's some kind of passive periphrastic or some such other horrible tense that I don't even want to think about. Why complicate things? Just say "Latin I verb" or something like that…

In short, not our favorite Sunday.

- Horace

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Saturday, July 19, 2014, Barry C. Silk


We expect good things when we see Mr. Silk's byline, and today's was definitely good. Not great, perhaps, but SOLID (48D: Not iffy).

I started it late at night, and got nowhere until AMADEUS (30A: Movie with the line "I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not") went in first. I worked down that SE corner of the grid without much resistance, but couldn't get much at all in the NW. Even when I filled in CARLSAGAN (31D: Noted 1-Across studier), I still couldn't get past wanting "universe" for 1A: It has many giants and dwarfs (COSMOS). I put that down to sleepiness. In the morning, Frannie took the iPad and finished it up very quickly.

The "preceder" clues were nice, now that I see what they are (1D: D preceder (CSHARP) and 3D: Tuesday preceder (SHROVE) (yes, "Monday" fits, but nobody actually tried that on a  Saturday, did they?). And are there roller coasters that feature a PRETZELLOOP? I love roller coasters as much as the next person, but that sounds like it might be a little much!

We didn't particularly like GASUP (36A: Do a 35-Across chore) being paired with CAR (35A: Hybrid, maybe), but I suppose you can imagine that the 36A clue refers only to the answer of 35A, and not to the fact that it's a hybrid. I mean, sure, you still have to GASUP a hybrid, but the whole point is that you have to do it less often… ok, I'm not going to win this one, but I just want a little more love for the hybrids. Is that so wrong?

All the long downs were very nice. OSMOSE (42D: Slip through, say) seemed a little strained, and I was a little surprised to see IUD (39D: Alternative to the pill, briefly) in there, and I have no idea what AGT (7A: Profit-sharing figure: Abbr.) stands for, but overall, as I said up top, it was SOLID.

Best clue/answer: 21A: Something pocketed in Italy? (RAVIOLI)
Runner up: 15A: [One who] Pour[s] it on (GOAL LOUT)

- Horace

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday, July 18, 2014, Ian Livengood


I gave the time, but really, we finished with an incorrect letter and spent some time hunting for it. Turns out, "InKS" had been entered for 11D: Needles (IRKS), giving "TERnELL" for 16A: 1998 N.F.L. M.V.P. Davis (TERRELL). Such is life.

Overall, I enjoyed this one, even though I tend to dislike a "quotation mark" clue - and this one had plenty! The first, at 1A: "Know what I'm sayin'?," in hip-hop slang (YAHEARD) was probably my favorite, even though I was not aware of its existence as clued. FRAIDSO (8A: "Yep, alas"), too, I can't really complain about, but having them both one after the other kind of rubbed me the wrong way. But then Mr. Livengood got back on my good side with the mention of an OPENBAR (15A: Feature of many a reception).

I suppose the quotation marks are ok, though, for what is really a very colloquial-seeming puzzle. CACKLED (18A: Laughed menacingly), SCRUNCH (23A: Squeeze) (Frannie wanted "skwunch" here), AAHED (30A: Sounded wowed) (I tried "oohed" first), and NUTCASE (62A: Crank) are all quite informal. Come to think of it, so is SLEAZEBALL and its clue 13D: Scuzz. Appropriate, then, that we should also find DELTAHOUSE (12D: Campus spot for Bluto, Otter and Boon) (it's funny to me that the NYT is such a stickler about many things, like the spacing of an ellipsis and the periods after initials, but they don't use the Oxford comma!) in the grid as well.

It was a clean grid, the occasional OON, AZO, and GEO notwithstanding. We enjoyed the cuting-up of the two Latin clues, and there were some fun ones, too, like FIREHOSES (27A: Things that wind up on trucks), and the too-too-obvious TEAMSPORTS (39A: Football and basketball). EYEBATH (63A: Certain solution holder) was gross, but STPETER (64A: Figure in many a New Yorker cartoon) was oddly and amusingly clued.

Overall, a thumbs up.

- Horace

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Thursday, July 17, 2014, Alan Arbesfeld


It took us a long time to get any of the theme answers, but finally, at around the 30 minute mark, we got one, then all of them, then the puzzle was done. Haven't we seen backward themes a lot in the past month or so? Well... two or three times, maybe, but I suppose it doesn't really matter. It still stumped us for a while! YGGIPRIDE (57A: Little kid's lift, literally) looks great, and RETRAUQSNEAK (42A: Gridiron maneuver, literally) almost looks like it could be something reading forward.

The first thing I got today was OGLE (15A: Inspect the figures?) which made me smile, but then the very next thing ENORM (16A: Huge, in verse), made me frown. ATT over ATTY didn't seem great, I don't know what ILA (29D: Pier grp.)is, and STN (30A: Place with a waiting room: Abbr.) is back (shouldn't it be "sta?"), SAS, ELHI, ESTEE and EPEE… and to top it off, we've got PROLIFE and QUAYLE in there too. Distasteful. And didn't NIKE (54D: Sponsor of Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods) drop Tiger after all that cheating and crashing the car stuff? And CDEF (21A: B's tail?)?!?

I did enjoy APOP (44D: How individual firecrackers are priced?), and 5A: Blood group? (CLAN) was nice. Does HEROIN (20A: "Smack") need the quotes in the clue? Isn't that kind of like an unnecessary question mark?

Overall, too many proper names, too much crosswordese, and not enough payoff. Not a great start to the turn, but as Ms. LEIGH (49D: O'Hara portrayer) would say, Tomorrow is another day.

- Horace