Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tuesday, September 1, 2015, Michael Torch


Welcome to September! Or as the NYT reminded me today, the 76th anniversary of the start of World War II.


So, I promised a theme this month, and here it is. I'm calling it Alpha and Omega: I'll be spending a little time each day discussing the relative merits of the first across and last down clue-answer pairs. The former is actually important in my eyes: it can put a certain cast over the whole puzzle, positive or negative. The latter is only there so my theme can make sense.

But first, we have a truly odd bird of a puzzle today. I had no sense of the theme until I was all done, and realized it was a vowel progression of sorts, namely S_NE, where each successive theme clue puts in the long vowel in order from A to U. Only, here, see, the specific vowel is not in the answer, although the sound is. Well, sometimes it's not there, and sometimes it's the correct sound.

Par exemple, 17A: Locale of the Île de la Cité (RIVERSEINE) does not have the A in the answer. On the other hand, I'd deny that the vowel sound is in fact a long A. It's more of a short E. But them 25A: Highway investigation site (CRASHSCENE) has the E in the answer, but it's definitely a long E. Anyway, maybe I'm being too harsh on the idea of having the vowel present, but I am unhappy about the first answer. Also, CUTANDSEWN is just some words thrown together (although it actually Googles all right).

Definitely a tough puzzle for a Tuesday. There are more than a few proper names like REINA, IAN, ENID, FALA, ATTICA and EAMES that are on the tricky side. I do like me an Eames chair, though. There are also really tricky clues like 11D: Hot to trot, e.g. (RHYME) and 10A: Music and dance, for two (ARTS). On that last one, I was stuck on "duet" or some variant thereof.

I love EGREGIOUS, SOVIETERA, and it's a nice bit of trivia and a sly dig on ENGLAND. And I guess I might be a NERD for the times I get 100% on Sporcle quizzes.

So, the theme. 1A: Buddy of "The Beverly Hillbillies" (EBSEN), referring to the actor who played Jed Clampett on the immortal series I have never in my life ever watched. So, did I get it? Yes, it was my last answer, crossing the S of SOVIETERA. It's common enough that I should have gotten it sooner, but frankly, I don't want a proper name as my first entry into the puzzle. I give this one a C.

The other half is 55D: Title word before "You," "U" or "Yesterday" in hit songs (ONLY). I got this answer primarily through the crosses. It's a reasonable clue, and better than an outright partial. I'll give it a B+.

- Colum

Monday, August 31, 2015

Monday, August 31, 2015, Michael Dewey

0:07:32 (FWTE)

Put in Peta today for PICO (66A: Micro : millionth :: ____ : trillionth) and had a grand old time figuring out what went wrong when the "Congratulations!" didn't appear. Well, that's the way it goes, I guess. Sometimes you have to DIVEINHEADFIRST (17A: Attack an endeavor vigorously) in these situations. And sometimes there's water in the pool, and sometimes there isn't. Just ask Teddy.

Those willing to TAKETHEPLUNGE (37A: Get hitched) today will find some ARF-worthy fill, sure, like IVS, REY, AHIT, ANAP, and OLEOS, but if they just HANGINTHERE (26D: "Don't give up now!"), they'll also find such lovely words as MODISH (1D: In fashion), MEDIEVAL (8D: Pertaining to the time of castles and knights), AVENGE (46D: Exact retribution for), and the SEVENDWARFS (3D: Title characters in Disney's first full-length feature). Interesting trivia in that last one, both in the "first full-length feature" part, and in the plural itself. "Dwarfs" is, apparently, the standard plural, according to the Internets, and "dwarves" was invented by none other than J. R. R. Tolkien. Who knew?

Overall, I guess it's fine. Maybe a few too many gratuitous plurals and partials to be a great Monday, but it was at least serviceable.

Tomorrow Colum takes over again, so if you've grown weary of my reviews, you're in for a treat!

- Horace

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday, August 30, 2015, Lee Taylor


I enjoyed the theme today, which pits familiar expressions against each other. As in, 24A: "He who hesitates is lost, but ..." (LOOKBEFOREYOULEAP), and the better 38D: "Knowledge is power, but ..." (IGNORANCEISBLISS). Some across, some down... good theme.

I didn't love the start (which was nearly the end of our solve today), as GOO seems a somewhat arbitrary answer for "1A: Fake blood, e.g." I guess maybe I'm not familiar enough with fake blood, but I'd sooner clue "GOO" with "Slime," or "Viscous mass," or even "Gunk." If you're going to clue it with "Fake blood," you might as well clue it with "Honey, e.g." or "Toothpaste." And then there's CELLOS clued with "4D: Solo features of six Bach suites." Does that wording seem strange to anyone else? Anyway, I didn't like it. In other areas, I didn't like the cross of AARE and ARO (48D: Michael Sheen's character in "Twilight.") I only knew it because AARE is crosswordese. And I'm pretty sure I've never heard the term DIPSO before.

And there are other little things, like there almost always are, but I don't want to end on a negative note, because overall, for a Sunday, I thought this was decent enough. As I said, I enjoyed the theme, and I also enjoyed such entries as LUFF (84A: Steer closer to the wind), STILETTO (106A: Part of a dominatrix's outfit), FACADE (66D: Pretense), and HOMEFRONT (45D: Sphere of civilian activity during war). And I loved the clue for WEB (32D: It's a trap). So simple and direct. And TBONES (95D: Broadsides, informally) was funny and unexpected.

Still, there's NOVAE, AURORAE, ALEE, APORT, AMAH, ARA, DAR ... I have low expectations for Sunday, and I guess this met them. I didn't SAVOR it, but I didn't hate it.

- Horace

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Saturday, August 29, 2015, Evan Birnholz


Frannie and I passed this one back and forth on the porch, so we don't have a "time," but we were able to work pretty much "cleanly" from NW to SE, only getting caught up in the middle bottom area. Neither of us "knew" the term SCAREQUOTES (50A: Marks of derision), but we were both "happy" to learn it.

Still, we guessed correctly (what else could it have been?) so we avoided the Saturday FWOE. Phew!

Not as "open" a grid as one sometimes sees on a Saturday, with lots of medium-length fill. I didn't particularly love the NW, with its EARFLAP (3D: Feature of a bomber hat) and XBOXONE (2D: Microsoft release of 2013), but I wouldn't go so far as to say it ANNOYED (1D: Got to) me. OXFORDCOMMA (20A: Much-debated grammar subject) (I'm for them) was nice coming out of that stack, and through that runs the always welcome BRUCELEE (6D: He died while filming "Game of Death"). 

In the SW we have the equally always welcome SEXAPPEAL (42A: It) (Nice clue!), and to have it share a letter with STEAMY (42D: Blue, say) is just icing on the cake. WEIRDAL (36D: Big producer of novelty records, informally) and AXLROSE (37D: "Sweet Child O' Mine" rocker) make stranger "bedfellows" in that quadrant. 

TERMLIMIT (8D: Restriction for some offices), EXOTICA (39D: Things rarely seen), FOLKHERO (26D: Romanticized figure), and HATCHECK (38A: Where a bowler might go on a date) were all quite nice. TINCT (30D: Color) is a bit of a stretch, and CAMERON (40D: Brown's follower) and KNESSET (41D: Mideast diet) were tricky! 

Overall, a decent Saturday.

- Horace

Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday, August 28, 2015, Samuel A. Donaldson


A classic Friday. I got off to a fast start in the NW with the excellent LAWYERUP (1A: Prepare for a court battle), the old-school ONEONONE (15A: Common court battle), and the modern GOPUBLIC (17A: Tell the world). It's just too bad that ESTREET (19A: Locale of the American Red Cross headquarters in Washington) wasn't clued with a Bruce Springsteen clue, but I suppose that would have been more of a Monday/Tuesday kind of thing.

It got harder for me after that. STEPPED (11D: Like ziggurats and some mesas) went right in, but MASSEXODUS (12D: Lots of outgoing people) (nicely clued), took quite a bit longer.

I liked the pair of "imposed" clues, preferring FOISTED over SADDLED, but both are good words. The SE is totally solid today. Love WAITWHAT (56A: "Hold on ... did I hear that correctly?"), and ENDNOTES and FIRECODE are also good, and it took me a long time to figure out that both 47A: Single or double (GETAHIT) were being used as verbs. The SW is less good, with AGORAE and ISAO, and I don't particularly love EARLYSTAGE (25D: Embryonic), but FREAKOUTON (26D: Subject to a hissy fit) (another sneaky verb) was amusing. And speaking of the SW, I had "STUDIoS" in for 45A: Writing rooms (STUDIES), and didn't know NED (43A: Leo's advisee on "The West Wing"), so I just could not come up with JETER (43D: Captain Clutch of baseball). Honestly, I was all set to take a DNF, but Frannie took a look at it and finished it up in about two minutes. I also had trouble with GINA (47D: Actress Carano of "Fast & Furious 6," 2013), VERDI (44D: One who made many Shakespeare characters sing?) (I kept wanting a Muse!), and the aforementioned GETAHIT, but Frannie fixed all that up, too.

Anyway, overall I enjoyed the challenge, and I decree this to be a good Friday!

- Horace

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thursday, August 27, 2015, Joon Pahk


Stupid college! We read "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison in 20th C. American Lit., and so I put "ellison" in at 17A: "The Invisible Man" author (HGWELLS) without a second thought. Then I went on to finish the rest of the puzzle in about ten minutes, only to end up back in the NW, with nothing but "ellison" in it. The downs wouldn't come, and nothing made any sense. Finally, I said to Frannie "Aren't there two 'Invisible Man' books?" To which she replied, "You mean, besides the H. G. Wells one?" Stupid Frannie...

The G gave me REGENTS (2D: New York State's ____ Examinations), which wouldn't come to me with that L in there. What is that exam, anyway? And why is it in my head? (It's a high school exam.) Anyway, I finished it up after I finally figured out ELLS (6D: Duckbill's tail?) (tried "iLLS" at first, which would also have worked, I think), and REST (7D: Note's counterpart), which I only got just now as I wrote it down. They're talking about music!

I love ARBITER (1A: Ruling party?), now that I got it, but SEAMILE (15A: Mariner's measure) seems almost as arbitrary as INKLESS (13D: Empty, as a fountain pen). It's a nautical mile, and I pity the fool who says it ain't!

Kind of a fascinating theme today, with the "two consecutive letters in reverse order," and I like that it comes with a challenge. Isn't that how you interpret the disclaimer "for which we can't think of a single other common example?" C'mon... I'm pretty sure I won't be the only one thinking about the puzzle for the rest of the day. It's a clever ploy by Mr. Joon "I finished seventh overall at the ACPT" Pahk.

Finally, as I look this one over, I find a lot of unusual stuff to like. DECATUR, HATPINS, ALDENTE, ANNEXED... and to fit in all seven of the theme examples that they (Is Mr. Shortz included in that "we," do you think?) could think of, well, it's an impressive feat. No rebus, sure, but it's still pretty cool.

- Horace

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wednesday, August 26, 2015, Ian Livengood


I liked the top of this puzzle, but when I got down to LOAMSOIL (49A: Planter's bagful), I cringed a little. And then I was stopped nearly dead in my tracks by HANSARP (51A: Sculptor who pioneered Dadaism). I know of Jean Arp, sure, but who's this Hans? Well, I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I either never heard, or didn't remember, that it's the same person. He was German and French, and when he referred to himself in German, he used the name "Hans," and when in French, "Jean." That, in itself, just seems so, so, Dada, and I am quite happy to have learned it from this puzzle. Also on the bottom was the unfamiliar-to-me OSBORNE (58A: Playwright John who wrote "Look Back in Anger"), but you can't argue about stuff you don't know. Especially not authors of pretty famous books (See also: AMOSOZ), and internationally known artists. So that leaves me only LOAMSOIL, which, I argue, is either "loam" or "soil," not both. It's also probably more commonly delivered in trucks than bags. I've seen soil in bags referred to more often as "topsoil," and even though it's basically the same thing, it's a detail that seems significant.

But why am I grousing so much? The rest of this is pretty damn good. SOLARPANELS (12D: Modern energy sources), HOMECOMINGS (24D: When some kings and queens are crowned), YESWECAN (7D: Campaign line of 2008) (If Frank Sinatra says it's okay), and GAMESHOW (35D: Password" or "Pyramid") are all very good. I would have preferred a garlic clue for SCAPES (43D: Outdoor painting scenes), but BANKALARM (20D: Sound during a heist) brought a smile.

The HUMPDAY theme was an odd one, with four CAMELs strewn throughout the grid. They didn't seem to cause much straining in the fill. Maybe EBONS. And although BAHAI, OUSE, and OMAN are all legitimate, they are also a little crosswordese-y. And speaking of crosswordese, it's an interesting clue for OSLO (6D: World capital half of which consists of forest) today.

Overall, thumbs up. A good Wednesday.

- Horace