Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tuesday, November 24, 2015, Gary Cee


Okay, I loved this puzzle, for so many reasons. How rare is it to get such a high quality Tuesday? And with five theme answers, it's nicely dense as well.

So, that theme. You had me at HMSPINAFORE, of course. I had no clue what the theme was until I entered the revealer at 60A. The SPINCYCLE is extremely well hidden. It's a true progression from "pins" to "insp" to "nspi" to "spin". And, to make it even better, the four letters span every word in the phrases.

I never saw UPINSMOKE (in fact, I don't think I ever saw a true Cheech and Chong movie, since I'm pretty sure you can't count "Yellowbeard", that peculiar Monty Python/Peter Cook/Marty Feldman/Cheech & Chong bizarre mix. I loved it when I was 13, but upon seeing it again with my kids, I found it mostly unfunny). How amusing was it to have TOKE cross it, though? Right? Very nice to have to complete names with KEVINSPACEY and STEVENSPIELBERG.

The fill is actually pretty good, given the density of the theme material. A lot of proper names, such as POTOK, NEGEV, ATARI, ELI, RABAT, ALI, and ESTEE. I'm a huge fan of Tina FEY, so happy to see it clued the proper way here. I know some folks around here like NOAM Chomsky as well. Ooh! And Sparky LYLE! I liked that reference to my childhood, even if he was a Yankee.

Hey, is LASS a nod to G&S also? It's the subtitle of Pinafore: The Lass That Loved a Sailor. Bonus from me.

1A: ____ Games (PANAM) was one of the few clues I didn't get right off the bat. When I had the P, I thought of "party" games, first; only the "Games" is capitalized, and so that didn't work. Where did I go next? "Panem" Games. Referring, of course, to the fictional dystopian future world of the Mockingjay universe. Only, see, those are called the Hunger Games. So, no dice. Anyway, too much about one clue. I'll give it a C-.

My favorite clue-answer pair is 9D: Baritones, typically (MEN). Awesome! Yet another much better clue than that stupid annoyed feminist nonsense from some time ago. I love that the door is open for those really deep-voiced women out there.

- Colum

Monday, November 23, 2015, Parker Lewis


I don't think I've seen this theme before. At first I thought it was counting down, but in fact we have increasing fractions from one fifth to the whole. I like all of the theme answers, although FIFTHELEMENT requires the clue to carry the "The" of the title. Frankly, four out of the five answers really require that definite article to be complete, but only the first supplies it in the clue. I like WHOLESHEBANG the best of the lot.

1A: Cover during a rain delay (TARP) is once again a very reasonable start to the puzzle, and I'll give it a B. There are two very nice 10-letter down answers in 11D: Hawaii's nickname (ALOHASTATE) and 29D: Paintings with fruits and vases, often (STILLLIFES). I like the three straight Ls in that one.

I never liked ODIE, either in the comic strip or in a puzzle. Otherwise I have no quibbles. Nothing much to exclaim about in the cluing otherwise, so for my favorite clue-answer pair, I'm going with 22D: Like a squirrel's acorns (STASHED).

Overall, it's a NICEONE. And the Pats won, so that's nice also. Good night!

- Colum

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday, November 22, 2015, Samuel A. Donaldson and Jeff Chen


What a pleasing and smooth puzzle. If I have any complaint, it's that it was too easy. I finished well under my average Sunday time, and I rarely had to hesitate even when filling in an answer.

The theme is nicely carried out: as the title suggests, each theme answer takes a right hand turn. But beyond that, if you take the portion that has turned and put it after "right on", you get an answer to the clue "exact". Thus, 25A: Threshold of major change (TIPPING[POINT]), and 26D: Exact ([RIGHTON]POINT).

Each theme answer is definitely a recognizable answer, with the possible exception of SNOOKER[CUE]. I also like that the answers are not symmetrically placed.  I take this back. The answers are symmetrically placed, but the right turns make them feel asymmetric. Nonetheless, it wasn't an issue to recognize the theme answers because of the "exact" clues. It was definitely cool that two of the answers cross each other as well.

1A: Big gasbag? (BLIMP) got a smile from me, so I'll give it a B+. I didn't love UTAHN or RUMBAED. Likewise, there are some standard meh fill, like AST, KIVA (never heard of them), and a few partials. But minimal, really for such a big grid.

And who can complain when DCUP is present? Not to mention the triumphant return of DDAYS. I hope that doesn't herald the start of a new streak.

I think my favorite clue-answer pair was at 93A: Modern spelling? (WICCA). I did think for a moment of Tori Spelling, but there was no hidden capital, and she's not very much in the current news.13D: It's in the eye of the beholder (IRIS) was an amusingly specific clue. 17D: Equity valuation stat (PERATIO) was not familiar to me, but the crosses were fine.

Anyway, I don't have too much to say, but I enjoyed it fine.

- Colum

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Saturday, November 21, 2015, Natan Last


Don't you love it when a mistake actually helps? It's so rare, especially on a Saturday.

Let me just say, before I get into all that, that I love this grid shape, with the vague S shape, with two open chunks going across just above and below the middle. The trio of 15-letter answers down the middle is a nice challenge that is met beautifully by Mr. Last.

So I got entree at 5A: ____ of Glamis (Shakespearean epithet) (THANE). I didn't need the parenthetical to get this reference to the Scottish play. Off of the H, at 6D: Modern-day "You can't please everyone", I immediately put in HAshtaG... figuring I'd get the ironic completion later on. As you can see, although I was wrong, I was in fact correct in two of those 7 letters after the H. Actually, now that I think about it, my mistake really didn't help me that much.

Nonetheless, I also put a partial in at 7D: Los Angeles-based clothing giant (AMERICANAPPAREL), getting the first part of the answer off of that A. Things were looking great! Considering I also put NPR and 9D: A slave to crosswords? (ESNE) quickly (BTW, I love the clue on that one!), I thought I was off to the races.

Actually, I had to leave all that and work in the lower section of the grid to get further purchase. 42A: Book with the line "My father can read big words, too. / Like Constantinople and Timbuktu" (HOPONPOP) was great - I remember that line with glee; after all, I was reading it to my kids. DOCTRINAL and GUAPOS are very nice as well, and it was those entries that got me THENOTORIOUSBIG. When I had ____WNHR at the end of 18A: Night-life industry bigwig (CLUBOWNER), I realized my mistake above, and corrected 6D to the excellent HATERSGONNAHATE.

Meanwhile, there is a ton of excellent fill elsewhere, including YOYOMA, BOLLYWOOD, PACKERS, and IDONTBITE. That last one I had a W in the place of the D which made the SW the final section to drop: I had _IOWE at 45D: Current path? (DIODE).

Wonderful cluing going on, such that there are three genuine challengers for best clue-answer pair of the day. Here are my choices: 32D: Seconds (SIDEKICKS); 58A: "Luxuries," not "necessities," per Cher (MEN); and finally, 30A: They may be put on a stretcher (YOGAPANTS). In my not so humble opinion, the first, while a great unexpected definition, it seems just slightly off in that I think of duellists as having seconds, and I don't think you refer to them as sidekicks.

The Cher reference is a nice rebuttal to the recent fooforaw over Wednesday's 71A: Exasperated comment from a feminist (MEN). This clue is far more interesting and non-offensive. Still, my favorite is definitely 30A, because I love the reinterpretation of "stretcher" from the sense of a medical transport bed to a person who is stretching. And, plus, well, you know. Yoga pants. Nuff said.

1A: Coddle (BABY) is pretty good. B. I didn't love PDS, OTO, or KYD. Otherwise, thumbs up all around for me.

- Colum

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday, November 20, 2015, Mary Lou Guizzo

14:57 (FWOE)

Let's get that pesky little error out of the way to begin with. 7D: Pepsi Freeze is one of its flavors (ICEE) is pretty obvious in retrospect. I had tried tCby (for the frozen yogurt chain), and that T stuck around even after I fixed the last two letters. Somehow I had convinced myself that ALtA made sense for 5A: Others, to Octavia (ALIA). Maybe she was Italian? Even though that would be "altrui"? No, they were looking for the Latin version, and I failed.

The rest of this puzzle was a mix of really good and not so good. To get the latter out of the way, it's unfortunate to have not one but two RE- answers (51A: Pass again at Daytona (RELAP) and 43D: Keep treating, as a sprain (REICE)). The clues were fresh; the answers, not so much. Then, there's the very strange 3D: Math columnist? (ADDER). I'm not really sure what's being gotten at here. If anyone can enlighten me, I'd be delighted. Similarly, why are THRONES clued as "Going places?"?

On the other hand, it was a surprise to have GABRIELLE GIFFORDS complete in two different spots. I liked the two NASA destinations (CERES and EROS). 33D: Aegis (AUSPICES) is my nominee for best clue-answer pair. Both excellent words, nicely connected. We could have had TRUMP clued in a less pleasant way, so I applaud that. 1A: Event handouts (SWAG) is fine, but it would be better if I could get me some of that myself. B-.

I don't know. I think it was a good puzzle, but I didn't love it. And ILE is back again.

Always like REN.

- Colum

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thursday, November 19, 2015, Andrew Zhou


What, no axons or D-day today? I feel lost. Untethered. Adrift.

Actually, that's how I felt for much of the puzzle today. I couldn't figure out any of the themed answers, and needed the entire revealer answer less one letter before I could make heads or tails of it. But when I did... Color me impressed.

Things started smoothly enough in the NW, where I filled in the first three down and across answers without any issue. I got into trouble when I guessed TOPknot at 5D: Clip art? (TOPIARY). Things weren't much better in the middle N, when I guessed poet for 8D: One going on foot? (SHOE).

After that, I bounced around, getting very little traction in any area. I knew 27A was solar plexus, but couldn't figure out how to fit it in. Anyway, I got WHILEAWAY at 54A: Kill, as time (very nice!), and although the SW corner was confusing due to the nearly ungettable crossing at HOLI (never heard of it) and ILE (possibly because they're much better known as the Marquesas Islands, even though they're in French Polynesia, I worked my way across the bottom.

Finally, I had A_TOCOMPLETE. It wasn't until my mind made the leap to put in KATHIELEEGIF[FORD] that it all came together. Let me just say that SOLARP[LEXUS] and HELPMER[HONDA] are brilliant. STRINGT[RIO], BELON[GTO], and ANNODO[MINI] aren't at the same level, although the way the classic crosswordese GTO becomes part of something larger is good to see.

There's very little to dislike in this grid, IMHO. I'd never heard of 6A: Sigmatism (LISP), so that's a nice word to pick up. EELED is not great, and GIGLI is better forgotten than remembered, I imagine. Although I'm going entirely by reputation, never having seen it.

I think my favorite clue-answer pair is 18A: Cartoon character created by a marine biologist (SPONGEBOB). That's a great piece of trivia. 1A: Lead on (TEMPT) is pretty good too, and I'll give it a B+.

Thumbs up overall.

- Colum

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wednesday, November 18, 2015, Zachary Spitz


I have a feeling Horace commented on yesterday's puzzle after having finished today's. 16A: Nerve cell conductors (AXONS) and 35D: When the Battle of Normandy started (DDAY). Really? Does Mr. Shortz hold onto these puzzles in order to run them in a row? It's not even close to June 6.

Okay. So this is a cute theme, with one outstanding answer and three passable ones. My favorite is obviously 59A: It's remarkable! (DRYERASEBOARD). That's very clever. I entered 20A: It's striking! (LIGHTNINGBOLT) with just the first two letters in place. 33A: It's unbelievable! (BALDFACEDLIE) is not even a funny twist on the phrase. That being said, I love the actual answer. And finally, 43A: It's breathtaking! (ASTHMAATTACK) I like just because of the AATT in the middle there.

Yesterday, Horace also remarked on a series of 3-letter answers running across. Today's is worse: MPS LOD CHA END. The only thing interesting there was the chutzpah it took to use the airport abbreviation for TELAVIV. Seriously? I got it entirely from the crosses, all of which were fair, but just... no.

1A: "___ you in?" (ARE). Oh dear. I give it a D (or as some wag said recently, a 65). I wasn't fooled by RANDD for once. I didn't want to see IVANA Trump in the grid, any more than I want to think about her ex-husband.

My favorite clue-answer, by default, is 60D: "Lovely ____, meter maid" (Beatles lyric) (RITA). I love that song, and always have. But I hardly needed the parenthetical to get the answer.

VIACOM next to ETRADE. I'm out.

- Colum