Monday, July 25, 2016

Monday, July 25, 2016, Kevin Christian


I learned a new phrase today - CAMELCASE (28A: Style of "iPhone" or "eBay," typographically). A word written in CAMELCASE can start with either a capital or a lower-case letter, but every new word starts with a capital letter and no space. So "MySpace" would also be an example of it. Interesting. How have I not heard of that before?

Anyhoo, CAMELCASE is just one of four theme answers, the first word of which can be put after JOE to make two advertising names, Joe Boxer and Joe Camel, and two common(ish) epithets, Joe Cool and Joe Blow.

As I was filling in answers today it felt like there were too many stale entires like APER, ETUI, ALAR, URAL, INCA, ERAS, OPART, ABUT, OREO, TARA, LARAADDERCANER, ENDER...

1A: "That's hilarious!" (HAHA) is a C. I did enjoy DUENORTH (38D: 0 degrees, on a compass), and I chuckled being reminded of GASOHOL (44D: Low-ethanol fuel blend). Does anybody still say that? They're now called "E-something" right? "E-10?" "E-25?" I think we saw that more when we were buying gas in Europe.

I'm happy about learning a new term, but overall I didn't love it.

- Horace

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sunday, July 24, 2016, David Steinberg


Today we have a tribute to the classic arcade game SPACEINVADERS, complete with the mothership, descending aliens, "SAFE" bunkers, the cannon, and a laser beam. Pretty nicely done theme, overall. I don't particularly love circled letters, and the sight of unchecked squares is a little off-putting, but it's Sunday, and anything goes. There's left-right symmetry, and the words resulting from the SPACEINVADERS (the "ET"s that appear in the middle of several clued words) are, themselves, still intelligible, but un-clued. I looked hard at TAK[ET]EN before realizing that it could be read as "take ten." I'm more familiar with "take five," but I can imagine someone saying "take ten."

So the theme is pretty well done, but we suffer for it, I think, with a lot of short stuff in the middle, and some long(ish) answers that feel a little dull. INSOLES (92D: Parts of sneakers), ALGREN (71D: Nelson ____, "The Man With the Golden Arm" novelist) (ok, if you say so), and OSAKAN (97D: Certain Honshu resident), for example. The puzzle also seems heavy on the libations, with MOET, BACARDI, MAITAI, ELDERBERRY, OUZO, and MERLOTS. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but still, it's odd.

1A: Note in the B major scale, I give a D+. (That first letter could have been one of five choices, and as I mentioned already, single-checked letters are not my favorite things.) Better, I thought, were such entries as COOKIE (24A: Word after smart or sugar), YOYOS (70A: They can sleep if you play with them) (odd clue, but I like the idea), and ANNABELLE (121A: Inspiration for "Lolita") (I have never heard this before, and will have to research it, but not right now...).

I didn't love it, but I seem to dislike more Sunday puzzles than I like, so your mileage may vary.

- Horace

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Saturday, July 23, 2016, Debbie Ellerin

28:35 (F.W.O.E.)

I loved this puzzle. The movement from quarter to quarter was a TAD constrained, but CMON, that’s a small thing compared to the answers and clues, right? And the answers and clues were very strong. Two of my favorites, ironically, meet at the site of my one error – 42A: Malfunctioning (BUM) and 44D: Rank and file (MASSES). Is it just me, or did it seem like this was clued by a completely different entity than normal? Meaning, I guess, that maybe Mr. Shortz left more of the clues alone this time. I tried, “BUg,” thinking that maybe “malfunctioning” was being used as a noun. As in, “There was a malfunctioning in the computer software.” But no, it’s an adjective, as in, “I’ve got a malfunctioning leg.” And “rank and file” is another great way of clueing MASSES.

Elsewhere we have the lively LIVEALIE (34D: Be what one isn’t), the hip FLAMEWAR (11D: What a troll may perpetuate), and the amusing TIGHTWAD (7D: Scrooge), KOWTOWS (27A: Is a kiss-up), and SOBERUP (23D: Recover after being wrecked). RUFFIAN (40A: Tough) is a great both in answer and clue. SUNIN (28D: Longtime hair lightener brand) takes me back.

It’s Saturday, and there are, as one might expect, plenty of entries I flat-out didn’t know: KETT (50D: Last name in the funnies for nearly 50 years), FAGIN (41D: Charley Bates’s mentor, in literature) (I don’t read), ANZIO (38A: W.W. II landing site in Italy), and LIANE (18A: Actress Balaban of “Supernatural”) to name four. It’s a little funny to see LAMAS and RAMA in the same grid, and there’s a little gluey stuff like GOI (51A: “Let me ____ pray thee”: Exodus 4:18), IVS (39A: Hookups on “House”), and DST (55D: Ariz. Doesn’t observe it), but even those are given above-average clues. I do not recognize Ms. Ellerin’s name, but I will be watching for it to appear again. This was a high-quality Saturday!

- Horace

Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday, July 22, 2016, Martin Ashwood-Smith and George Barany


Just yesterday in the comments section of this blog was a brief discussion of how running into crosswordese in a grid can sometimes bring on warm feelings of nostalgia. For me, seeing Mr. Ashwood-Smith's name on a quadstack puzzle has a similar effect. Awww... a quadstack...

So let's start right in the middle, shall we? I, for one, enjoyed the stack. HURRICANESEASON (39A: Depression era) is both well-clued and accurate! This year's runs from June first to November thirtieth, in case you were wondering. And we didn't get a "one" in any of the answers, but it appears in the clue for AFRICANELEPHANT (40A: One with a smaller Indian relative). And the one that I solved first might be my favorite - 41A: Hurtful pair in a playground rhyme (STICKSANDSTONES).

The crosses, often compromised by the exigencies of the quadstack, include three further fifteens (!), and a few very nice sevens and eights - SEASICK (21D: Green around the gills, maybe), SEINFELD (19D: Who called a date "a job interview that lasts all night") (after a couple minor characters appeared recently, the man himself shows up), and REPTILE (37D: Chameleon, e.g.) (classic misdirection). It's nice that they worked in GREATBARRIERREEF (3D: Only living thing that can be seen from outer space) (cool), as it's probably not long for this world. And interesting about 11D: What "Banzai!" literally means (TENTHOUSANDYEARS). Figuratively, I have learned, as a shortened form of "TennĊheika Banzai!," it means, "Long live the emperor!" or simply "Hurrah!"

So that's the bones of the thing, and it's a pretty strong skeleton, I think. In the SW and NE we get two more long answers in LEEKRASNER (58A: Abstract Expressionist who married Jackson Pollock) and INKSTAND (18A: Blotchy, in a way) (not to be confused with PIED (17A: Blotchy, in a way)).

I wish that 1A: Sharp projections (JAGS) had been clued "Benders," but one can't have everything, can one? Still, I'll give it a B+.

Sure, there are some loose spots - AHASH, ECASH, AAS, ERY... but overall, I consider this a good Friday.

- Horace

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Thursday, July 21, 2016, Jason Flinn


It's Thursday, and we got a rebus! The old-fashioned kind of rebus! The kind where the trick is visual, as in WALKING under ALADDER! or a BLACKCAT crossing ONESPATH. Both of these, and one other action, are BADLUCK! (Except, if you actually agree with the cat one, you should really read this.) I applaud this old-school rebus theme!

I also applaud some of the fill. UNIBROW (18A: Prominent feature of Bert on "Sesame Street") is given a great clue, and maybe an even better one is 42D: Prevents from stealing, say (TAGSOUT). Hah! The Three Stooges (SILLINESS) is always a welcome addition, and although it seems rather plain, I really enjoyed REALISTIC for "36A: True to life."

The NE and SW corners cut what could have been seven stacks into a bunch of threes, which does, I guess, allow for some nice down material, like FIREFLY (11D: Night light?), RECITAL (40D: Music event), and, well, ALIGN (10D: Harmonize). The others are less exciting. And speaking of less exciting, I noticed a lot of ETA, TATI, SSRS, NSEC, EST, IDEM, GMT, RGS, and the classic ENA. I didn't include TSAR in that list, because it has a better-than-average clue today - "37D: Target of a 1917 uprising."

So there's a lot of junk, but I'm blaming it on the constraints of what I consider to be a very strong theme. And in my opinion, anyway, a good theme counts for a lot. I'm giving this one a thumbs up!

- Horace

p.s. I can't decide whether to be relieved or disappointed that they didn't try to tie together STALKS and CORNMAZE.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Wednesday, July 20, 2016, Gordon Johnson


STARCROSSEDLOVE (34A: Relationship doomed from the start ... or something found in this puzzle four times?) is the theme today, but two of these couples are still together, aren't they? BENING and BEATTY, and PITT and JOLIE? And the other two, well, it was a long time ago, and I don't really know, but star-crossed just seems a little too dramatic. Still, I enjoyed this theme. It's not perfectly symmetrical, but I kind of like that about it. Not even perfect couples are 100% perfect.

1A: Markka spender, once (FINN) gets an A. Why? Because I'm a FINN, that's why. Plus, it's good. The four long downs in the NW and SE are all strong. IRRITANT (2D: Smoke in one's eyes, say) is well-clued, especially since, in a love-themed puzzle, one's thoughts might be drawn to the old song "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," and to think about that title with the IRRITANT meaning is amusing. And in the other corner, OPENFIRE beside VENGEFUL seems another good pairing, but the clue for GRASSFED (55A: Like beef cattle, dietarily) is somewhat disingenuous, given the current feed-lot situation in the U.S.

There were a few odd partials, like ABITE (60A: Grab ____ (eat on the run)) and ARUN (62A: Give ____ for one's money), and I think "add-ons" is more natural sounding than ADDINS (33D: Functionality-enhancing computer products), but maybe that just shows my ignorance of such products. And finally on the negative side, ENSOUL (27A: Fill with a spirit) is questionable.

On the whole, I enjoyed the puzzle. Onward to The Turn!

- Horace

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Tuesday, July 19, 2016, James Mulhern


I solved this last night just before falling asleep, and this morning I opened it up and thought, "What's that square outline in the middle of the grid?" Then when I clicked on the revealer, and all the theme clues lit up, well, ... IMLOVINIT. Three balls outside the zone, and two strikes right down the pipe. I love how the balls are all on the outer edge, too. They wouldn't have to be, of course, but somehow it just makes it that much cleaner. And lastly, about the theme, I briefly bristled at the square-ness of the strike zone (instead of being a tall rectangle), but then I realized that the strike zone changes depending on the size of the batter, and if a 15x15 puzzle grid were up there at the plate, it might well have a square strike zone. HAH!

Honestly, today I like the theme so much that I don't really even care how good the fill is, but let's look around a little anyway. 1A: German export (AUDI) is meh. C-. Maybe even D, just because it's always AUDI drivers who zoom up behind you and flash their lights asking you to get out of their way. 1D: Pop group that broke through at the 1974 Eurovision contest (ABBA), on the other hand, were I to rate it, would get an A. Eurovision gets mentioned in the NYTX!

BODACIOUS (38D: Attractive, informally) is a great word, but I don't really think of it as meaning attractive. Maybe more like "awesome." ANIMUS (57A: Enmity), too, I think of in the more general Latin way of "mind," or "soul." But still, they're good words. I love a SKOR bar, and I love AMES. :)

Thumbs up!

- Horace