Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tuesday, September 30, 2014, Kyle T. Dolan


Man I really plowed through this one. When I got to 18A: Modern host of 35-Across (DREWCAREY), I had enough crosses to fill it in immediately, then I filled in 35-Across immediately, and when I got to the third one, I had that too. The "circled-letter" part of the theme I just noticed now. If you start at the 3:00 position and go clockwise, it spells out "SHOWCASE SHOWDOWN." Huh. I guess it's supposed to look like that big wheel they spin? Odd.

Despite the fast time, it did not start well for our hero. The two long downs in the NW were not obvious to me. I tried "stirred up" for BREWEDUP (4D: Fomented trouble), and when that didn't work, I gave up and moved on. GASRING (24D: Blue circle on a range) was another one that drew a blank at first, and I couldn't think of BILBO (1A: Friend of Gandalf) either, so I panicked momentarily before zooming through such crosswordese as TORI, SOYA, ARIL, and NANA, which got me back on track.

In other places, even somewhat trickier stuff like IDLEWILD (37D: Original name for J.F.K. Airport) came bubbling back up from the depths of my memory. I think I learned that little tidbit from listening to Mel Brooks' "2000-Year-Old Man" on LP. HAH! I wasn't just wasting my time! (The name change took place in 1963, by the way.)

Plenty of good, interesting fill in here. URANUS (10D: Planet with 27 moons) is not commonly seen in the grid, and I just mentioned MOHS (27D: Mineralogist for whom a scale is named) a day or two ago, so it's nice to see him again. The reckless driving duet (WEAVES, SPEED) is fun, and I'm glad BEERCAN wasn't clued with something like "Item thrown from the window of a recklessly driven car." TERCE (45D: Canonical hour before sext) and ABBAS (44D: Palestinian leader Mahmoud ____) might be a tad non-Tuesday-ish, but I didn't actually encounter them while I was solving, so I guess it didn't matter much. 

Finally, did anyone else chuckle at 56A: "O, I am ____!" (Polonius's last words)) (SLAIN)? They've really been pounding that scene recently. You think Mr. Shortz just re-read Hamlet? Or maybe he played Polonius in a high school production, and he's working out some demons. Hahahahaaa… Just kidding, Will. We love you!

- Horace

Monday, September 29, 2014

Monday, September 29, 2014, Eric Sydney Phillips


Cute theme today of a "local success story." The grid is pushed out to 15x16, and is filled in, for the most part, with pretty clean fill. I don't love SHEP (34D: Herding dog, informally) (does anyone say that?), and we get some of the tired fill like OED, ABEL, NCO, HRE, OREOS, and YEGGS, but they're not too, too terrible.

On the brighter side, I enjoyed HEREBY (21D: As a result, in formal language), AGHAST (4A: Shocked … SHOCKED!), and LOITER (15A: Hang around a public place), and NINEMONTHS (31D: Pregnant pause?) had a lovely clue. It probably doesn't need the question mark, but I'm giving up caring about that issue. Sometimes they help, sometimes they help too much, sometimes they just confuse, sometimes they seem unnecessary and/or inappropriate. There. I've summed it up, now let's move on.

As I look around, there's not much more that jumps out at me. There's so much theme - 57 letters worth - that there really isn't that much room for long, interesting, non-theme. And the more I look, the more I see things like ADA, SER, ITLL, TRYA, ANO, SRO, and DIO. Not the greatest. One weird thing is that we just saw ABEL yesterday, and we also saw a clue very like 11D: Start of a web address? (IMHO), but the answer was different, so that threw me for a minute or so. Which reminds me, when I saw the clue 34A: Longtime Pittsburgh product (STEEL), I briefly considered "paint." Wouldn't that have been tricky? But I decided there was no way that could be the answer on Monday, so I went with the more obvious choice.

Sooo… it's not a PAN, and it did have a little too much BLAH, but as I said, the theme was cute and clean, and there was a lot of it. And I kind of like the name OZARK, so let's call it a decent enough Monday.

- Horace

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday, September 28, 2014, Todd Gross


Sometimes the Sunday grids look more huge than other times, and this is one of those weeks. Is it really just a 21x21? I guess so, but damn, look at it! So many letters! … and no, I'm not drunk.

So it's six four-word phrases made up of four-letter words. That's the theme? And one is a Reagan quote? Hmph. My favorite one is SALTLAKECITYUTAH (48A: The Crossroads of the West), because it's such a real thing. It just IS, know what I mean? And no, I haven't even had a drink!

Loved certain parts of this, like the cute (can it be called cute? Is it "too soon?") clue for JOANOFARC (80A: Historic figure with a reputation at stake?), CALORIE (21A: Small thing to burn) - because I've been successfully counting them since April (why yes, I've lost about twenty, thanks for asking!), ABUT (87A: Go cheek-to-cheek with) - because we are obviously meant to think "a-butt," and STOIC (98A: Unflinching) - because I just read all about them and their "front porch" philosophy. They took their name from the place they used to meet - Zeno's front porch, or, in Greek, his stoa. POLL (126A: Take in some views?) was nicely clued, and ENCLAVE (124A: Vatican City vis-à-vis Rome) is a nice word.

There's some junk in here, as is often the case on a Sunday. ASAMI (32D: "Ditto") seems oddly forced, some weird prefixes and abbreviations like IDENT, STETHO, OVIACTH, and NEURO. I kind of hate the word CAGER, and I also dislike being reminded of SCALIA and the NSA.

The toughest area for us was in the NE, where SERIN (15D: Relative of a canary) (pictured above) crossed TANEY (35A: Chief Justice during the Civil War) (three Supreme Court names!). I had guessed "edgy" for 29D: Hard to grasp (EELY), which made that area and LOINS (39A: Private parts) (Huygens!) very difficult, but Frannie finally worked through it and we guessed correctly on the N in TANEY. Phew!

My favorite clue - 99D: No one can drive in this (NEUTRAL). Hah!

On balance, it was a decent enough Sunday.

- Horace

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday, September 27, 2014, Martin Ashwood-Smith and George Barany


Boy, it's been a while since we've seen Mr. Ashwood-Smith, and just before Frannie opened this one up, I wondered aloud if we would see him today, after seeing another of our favorites yesterday. True story.

Today's central quadstack pushed this one into an oblong 16x15 grid, and the connections between the segments were tight, so that the flow felt slightly restricted. Or, rather, it felt like three, or maybe even six separate puzzles.

The center fell relatively quickly (after the NE), and I broke into it with the amusing BREAKERONENINER (38A: Words from a good buddy). I always said "Breaker one nine," but I certainly heard "one niner" plenty. I loved NATIONALAVERAGE (37A: Country standard), and can I imagine Mr. Ashwood-Smith himself using ICALLEMASISEEEM (32A: Straight talker's slangy phrase) to answer anyone who GROANSAT the use of "one" in the final 15.

Lots of double Es that look weird. IBEFOREE (1A: Start of a weird infraction) (lovely clue), EENIE (8D: Start of an elimination), BEEBE (2D: Deep-sea explorer William), and SEETO (48D: Mind). Well, ok, that last one doesn't look too, too strange, but if you think of it as one word it does. And as for BEEBE, the cross with ABBA was the last thing in today, and it took one guess at another letter before I went back to my original choice of a B. I talked myself out of it by thinking that they would have just gone with an "ABBA the band," clue if it were really ABBA. Oh well. You win some, you lose some, right Martin?

Lots of good, interesting, and clever things in here. Took us forever to get REBS (23A: Gray figures?), and Frannie put "PhD" in right away for 29A: Only one U.S. prez has had one (MBA), thinking of Wilson, not #43, which slowed us down slightly. On the other hand, she also put in SEALSKIN (16A: Eskimo wear), ARABIC (56A: Whence the word "alcohol"), and ESPRESSO (62A: Tiramisu ingredient) without hesitation, which helped a lot in those areas. The SW was particularly tough, and ARABIC eventually led me to guess EIRE (53D: Country name pronounced by natives in two syllables), which led to TOPTENLIST (49A: High ranking?), and then things finally fell. TAWS (49D: Shooters), was puzzling, but now that I've looked it up, it is familiar. I'm pretty sure Frannie's dad has told us about playing marbles in the past, and he probably used that word.

SENESCENCE (28D: Old age) is a good word, I liked MEANINGLESS (29D: Inane), and the inclusion of the recently deceased JOANRIVERS was a nice nod.

Anywho, we love a good Saturday challenge, and this fit the bill nicely.

- Horace

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday, September 26, 2014, Patrick Berry


Another lovely grid from Mr. Berry. I think of that central, staggered stack as something of a trademark of his. Three perfectly normal two-word entries, crossed with nothing but solid fill and good clueing.

Interesting trivia in 52A: 1963 song investigated by the F.B.I. for supposedly obscene lyrics (LOUIELOUIE). Really? REALLY?? … our tax dollars hard at work. In other news, I didn't realize that PABST was the "1D: Brewer of Schlitz, nowadays," but that's kind of like hearing that all of the burgers at Jack In The Box are made by Denny's. It's something that will never affect me in any way and makes no difference to anything, anywhere.

Enjoyed GEOLOGIST (32D: Fault finder?), MORASS (24D: Hard-to-escape situation), BACKTALKS (30D: Answers wrongly?), and the clue for UMPING (27D: Working while others play?). There's some sub-par stuff, like OMAN, OAKEN, SKAT, and DOIN, INGE, AGRA but they're really not that terrible. Just a little dull, maybe.

I enjoyed it well enough.

- Horace

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thursday, September 25, 2014, Alex Vratsanos


An interesting "Word Search" puzzle theme today, with ten three-letter body parts hidden in the Across answers. Let's see, we find GUM, TOE, JAW, RIB, EAR, ARM, HIP, LIP, EYE, and LEG. That's ten. It is rather interesting that BOSOM, and rather unfortunate that ANUS can also be found. And ORA is Latin for "mouth." EGO is in there a couple times, but I guess that's not physical. And lastly, way down in the SE, you can find a slightly bent NOSE. Is that enough?

My primary complaint with this puzzle is its use of TALCUM as a 52A: Soft rock. The son of a geologist, I put "gypsum" in there immediately, which is number two on the Mohs scale, and would definitely qualify as a "soft rock." Talc, is number one, of course, and sure, it comes from the Latin, and maybe that's a valid scientific alternate, but nobody calls it that. Why not just clue it with a reference to the powder?

Another slightly odd clue was 21A: It may be raised in a company's new building (MORALE). Yes, I suppose that's true, but it just strikes me as an odd choice of morale-raiser. On the other hand, we loved the trivia in 21D: According to legend, at age 2 he identified a pig's squeal as G sharp (MOZART). What else could it have been?, but still, it's fun. And nice trivia also in BEIJING (42D: Literally, "northern capital.") As opposed to "Nanking?" Yes. cf. Taipei and Tainan.

The West was where we finished today. I put in ONATEAR (35A: Rampaging) on my first pass, emboldened by the fact that it held an EAR, but 27A: Series of watering troughs? (AEIOU) held us back for quite a long time. MOGULS (29A: Big guns) was very clever, and JARULE (18D: Rapper who co-starred in 2002's "Half Past Dead") did not come quickly, perhaps because we had gone with the "G" spelling of SACAJAWEA. The JAW should have tipped us off sooner, but, well, it didn't.

As a Bostonite (no, nobody says that), it was nice to see ESPOSITO (39D: First N.H.L. player to score 100 points in a season) in there instead of the usual "Orr." And lastly, we liked the one-two combo of SPOCK (47A: TV character who says "Captain, you almost make me believe in luck") and SPACESHIP (48A: Enterprise, for one), although I was briefly stalled there by wanting "starship."

Overall, a fun challenge.

- Horace

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wednesday, September 24, 2014, Andy Kravis


It's a whole new world. Harder-than-normal puzzles Monday through Wednesday. I could get used to this. Today I handed it to Frannie not just because I didn't get everything immediately, but because I genuinely had no idea what to do. I had put in "SlAp" for SWAT (36D: Whack), which left "lET_ELL" for 36A: Battery containing a liquid electrolyte" (WETCELL), and even though I guessed the C, I had some kind of block against the "wet" part. And to top it all off, I did not remember "The Lovely Bones" (THELOVELYBOXES (48A: Film about an elegantly made crossword? (2009))) as a movie, so that was just not making any sense. Luckily, she did not have such shortcomings.

Even if I overlook all that trouble, there were still many parts of this that were not straightforward. (Which, remember, is a good thing, not a bad thing. I'm afraid that it might sound like I'm complaining here, but I'm not.) ARGOT (14A: Shoptalk) (I think of it more just as "slang"), ONEAM (15A: Weest of wee hours) (It took FOREVER for me to see that as "wee-est" ("most wee")), NORMA (6A: Bellini opera) (?), NIM (35A: Logic game with matchsticks) (I guess I know the kind of thing they're talking about, but I've never heard that name), BRANDTS (58A: First family of Germany, 1969-1974) (should I know this?), STAEL (68A: "Delphine" author Madame de ____), and so on.

The silly Xed out movie title theme was amusing. Especially the first answer MARXATTACKS (17A: Film about a Communist invasion? (1996)). God that movie was awful.

LEVITATE (37D: Get off the ground) was nice, as was 56A: Licit (ALLOWED). It's always nice to see Latin clues. The rest is just a BLUR.

- Horace