Friday, September 21, 2018

Friday, September 21, 2018, Zhouqin Burnikel


Perhaps it's the news coming out of North Carolina this week, but this grid looks like a stylized hurricane to me. The eye of the storm is smack dab in the middle. Of course, the downside of that is that the grid is remarkably segmented. Look at those very large right angles of black squares in the N and S which have created dead ends. I don't love that sort of thing, but I suspect that all that isolation made it easier to put in a lot of nice answers.

Answers like HATEMAIL crossing EMPTYWORDS (truer sentiments were never written - especially in our current day and age). I love the pile of answers in the SW corner: STUCCO over TATAMIMAT over ICEPALACE.

My favorite in the whole puzzle is 62A: Took courses under pressure (STRESSATE). First, there's the misdirect of food rather than college classes. Second there's the outstanding lack of a question mark (probably it is questionable not putting one in, but I love it). Third, because the verb in the answer is an irregular one, the past tense of the clue does not result in an -ED in the answer. And finally, it's just a great answer.

Too much analysis? I don't care. It's my turn to blog and I get to talk about what I want to! Hah!

Okay, sorry about that. But don't worry. You'll be RID of me soon, at least for a couple of weeks.

I got off to a slow start in the NW but confidently entering "losseS" at 4D: Entries in red (DEBITS). I was misled by wanting to put "scold" in at 1A: Dress down (CHIDE). I finally ended by entering COSSETS. An excellent answer and overall an excellent puzzle.

- Colum

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Thursday, September 20, 2018, Sam Ezersky

16:29 (but really it's a DNF)

Oh, Mr. Ezersky. You are a clever one. I knew something was up when I moved out of the NW and suddenly found myself faced with unchecked squares. Those are those squares which are not in both across and down answers.

Well, only seemingly not in across answers. In fact, when read across by jumping up or down a level as needed, you get a full answer. My iPad app told me with a blinking info message that the clue at 53A actually refers to an answer that starts in the first square of the 12th line. In this case, 53A: Group that bows onstage gets the answer S-T-R-I-N-GSECTION.

But what's really clever is that the parts of the answers that bounce back and forth between lines are all synonyms for different types of cords: thread, lace, and string. Or things that actually would bind, say, a shoe together by moving back and forth. Very pretty.

ALAS, I made too many errors to claim victory over this one. I had SnOB for a "Gross figure". I originally had nTh for 19D: Series finale? (ETC), and while I corrected the E, I failed to recognize that ETh wouldn't answer. And finally I originally had wIn for 37D: Top (LID), and while I fixed the L, the sad N remained incorrectly in place.

The only answer I have any problem with is COAGENT. This seems fake to me. I ACCEPT (in the sense of "stomach") that it is a potentially usable term. It's just that I can't imagine anyone actually ever saying it.

Otherwise, there's the excellent GLOTTIS and ENSCONCE. ANAHEIMCA is crazy. That's just a constructor going AMUCK, but in a good way.

Also, 1A: African menace (MAMBA) had me very confused for a while. I really wanted "tse-tse" even though it clearly didn't fit, then I tried "ebola".

Why is Scotland the Land of Cakes?

- Colum

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Wednesday, September 19, 2018, Scot Ober and Jeff Chen


I suppose you must be in a crossword solving mood to notice that all four names of today's constructors are four letters long...

Well, on this Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, may the Schwartz be with you. YIDDISH is well established in our vocabulary, especially in the hallowed pages of the New York Times. I'd say from my Jewish perspective that three of these phrases are common usage (SCHMALTZ, CHUTZPAH, and OYGEVALT), while TCHOTCHKE is fairly common.

I suppose VERKLEMPT might be familiar to those who watched Mike Myers's character Linda Richman and her show Coffee Talk on 1990s Saturday Night Live. MEGILLAH though is probably new to most solvers.

None of that kept me from speeding through this puzzle. My fastest time ever for a Wednesday. I appreciate such bits as the non-Yiddish word SCHNAUZER (simply German in this case) and OCEANIA. I don't really have much to complain about. It's a reasonable Wednesday.

Oh, and how about that CTRLZ? That definitely takes some chutzpah!

May your fast be easy.

- Colum

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Tuesday, September 18, 2018, Greg Johnson

5:08 (FWOE)

The scientist in me is quite pleased with today's theme. There are three common molecules, all typically encountered as gases, represented in their standard chemical notation in the grid. METHANE comes up as a C surrounded in each direction by an H, while the double bonds found in CARBONDIOXIDE shows up as OCO in AMOCO. It's quite clever, and the placement of the molecules makes them seem like they're actually floating in the grid.

It's a nice find that WITHCHEESE and JOHNHUGHES are the same length, both with those H_H patterns. I'm not as used to seeing AHCHOO as "achoo" in the grid, but DONHO is an old friend.

There are definitely some tradeoffs in the fill, however. The middle W section is rough, with ECONO prefix, MOLAR crossing MALAR and abbreviation MAJ. The middle E section is better, even with OMG crossing NGO. I made a silly error by misreading 26D: Easily changing emotions (MOODY) as describing the emotions rather than the person experiencing the emotions, and put in MOODs. Always check the crosses!

Also finding IMAC and IPOD in the same puzzle?

On the other hand, who doesn't like 4D: Group in a pit (ORCHESTRA)? And 24A: Wearers of kilts (SCOTSMEN) is also very good.

On the other other hand, I could do without the image conjured up by HOTWAX. Guess I'm just swimming in my male privilege.

- Colum

Monday, September 17, 2018

Monday, September 17, 2018, Caitlin Reid


No need to FISH for compliments, Ms. Reid! This is a fine Monday puzzle, with which I could find little FAULT.

I enjoyed the hidden fishing theme, mostly because I didn't see it until I was finished. The best kind of hidden theme, in my humble opinion. All four theme answers are solid in their own right, with FIDGETSPINNER amusingly suddenly passé. I, for one, not so familiar with the rod and the reel, did not recognize the spinner as being part of fishing tackle. But that's on me.

Meanwhile, the excellent SAUERKRAUT, which anyone enjoys on a hot dog (or really on most anything, if you're Horace, I believe) and the esteemed Mr. GANDOLFINI help anchor the puzzle. I also liked POTHOLES crossing PITS.

26D: Anchorage's home (ALASKA) is a mild hidden capital. Also undoing what might be a small amount of less than stellar fill is the inclusion of both POS and NEG.

Sure, I'm not a fan of MEDO (the answer or the original song, which is hardly the best example of The Beatles' work), but these are small prices to pay.

- Colum

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sunday, September 16, 2018, Joel Fagliano


This has been a whirlwind weekend. We hopped down to NYC to celebrate my mother's 80th birthday with the family. We went to a lovely upscale French restaurant, called La Grenouille. It is also known because Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote parts of Le Petit Prince there.

Anyway, I solved the puzzle on my way home while Hope was driving. It's a straightforward concept: add an extra syllable made up of your everyday homely schwa sound into a standard phrase, in order to make a new phrase, which is then clued in a wacky fashion. I enjoyed SENATOROFGRAVITY, which is an absurd nickname. None of the others really tickled my funny bone, however. KINGJAMESBUYABLE is very clever, and I liked RIOTINGONTHEWALL for its topicality and for the transformation of "writing" into the final form.

TURNTHECORONER should have worked better for me, but the joke was already used in The Addams Family musical. "Death is just around the coroner... get it? Coroner?" So... yeah.

OKAYOKAY, it's not in any way a CLUMSY theme, so I really HAVANA cause for complaint.
Apparently it's a real thing
Things that made my heart RACY:

20A: Instrument whose name sounds like a rebuke of Obama's dog (OBOE). Wow, what a complicated way to come up with a new clue for an longtime friend.
65A: Flower said to cover the plains of Hades (ASPHODEL). Lovely clue and answer.
17D: Workers who are always retiring? (PITCREW) - excellent.
45D: What "..." may represent (TYPING). So unexpected, and those who don't use smart phones may not understand.

I am actively against 94A: Harmonized (INUNISON). That's the opposite of harmonizing.

Overall it was fine.

- Colum

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Saturday, September 15, 2018, David Liben-Nowell

around 23:00

A challenging end to the Turn today, pinned together with two grid-spanners and two tens: SAMESEXMARRIAGE (17A: Equal rights subject), SELFDRIVINGCARS (56A: Auto-mated things?), CLEANSLATE (30D: New Year, metaphorically), and MIMEOGRAPH (Reproductive system?). Two very timely, one perfectly fine, and one that, while all warm and nostalgic-y for me, I can imagine that some people might complain that it's a bit out-dated. ININK for "Permanently" might fall into that same category.

I liked the trivia in USSTEEL (5D: Company whose headquarters were built from its own product), and it's funny how it's kind of a homonym of its neighbor STEALS (6D: Unbelievable bargains). Other fine entries include PIPSQUEAK (39A: Squirt), EYELASH (24D: Narrow margin) and PARIAHS (10D: Lepers).

It got very college-y up in the NW with CAMPUSMAP and OHIOSTATE, not to mention SCH in the mid west.

Horace and I have been trying to get this review done while hanging out with friends this weekend. They also want us to TAKESTEPS to the beach. One friend asked what we could possibly write about the puzzle, "there are letters, there are squares." MEOW. With all the questions they keep AXING, it's very difficult to focus. I think we should SPLIT.

~Frannie (& Horace)