Friday, August 18, 2017

Friday, August 18, 2017, Brendan Emmett Quigley

10:51

Oh, this was very smooth. I'm not a huge fan of an obscure Abbott and Costello comedy right near the beginning (RIORITA), but all the crosses were reasonably fair for a Friday.
I was going to complain about DIABOLO being clued this way (60A: Toy consisting of a spool on a string) as well, but then I looked up what to heck the darned thing was, and I see it's certainly a very common object, so I yield.
These were my only complaints in the long fill. The remainder I waive essentially in its entirety, as the strengths of the puzzle are lovely.

I broke in with 25D: Prominent part of Nestea's logo (LEAF), and was able to spread quickly downward, once I got 45A: They're just above a handlebar (NOSTRILS). It was here that I saw that this puzzle and I were going to get along. What a ludicrous piece of absurdity. Hah! I love it. 48A: They write many opinions (LAWCLERKS) is precise and a chunky answer in the grid.

The SW is my least favorite part, what with the disguised partial THEAREA and oddly stuck together YINYANG (I suppose you might come across the "joined forces" separated by a hyphen alone, but I usually think of it with an "and" between them). But I really enjoyed SANDWICHBAG and BABYDOLLS, and the former was worth the crosses.

I have never used MITCHUM deodorant. I usually think of the author when I see that name, but it works. I truly love 10D: Take things the wrong way (THIEVE). That's so great, a misguiding clue that needs no question mark to work well.

Finally, how wonderful to have SADKEANU in the grid.
1A: Island known for its coffee (SUMATRA). I expect there are some on this blog who'd shiver with joy at this clue, but it leaves me cold. B-.

- Colum


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Thursday, August 17, 2017, Peter A. Collins

11:35

Hmmm.

Can't say I really enjoyed this puzzle. I knew that the four circled letters by each long theme answer would make a word of their own, but it wasn't until I finally completed the revealer, GANGOFFOUR, that I got that each little word would be its own little foursome. Meanwhile, the actual foursome referred to in the revealer are hardly uplifting subject material, although I'm sure that the crimes laid at their feet could well have been perpetrated by others, and they were falsely blamed for them.

Still, even accepting that, I have a quibble. I think we'd all agree that the MOTOWNSINGERS are called The Four Tops, not just Four Tops. Interesting bit of trivia: Levi Stubbs, the lead singer, was the voice of the evil plant in the movie of Little Shop of Horrors. Also, his birth name was Levi Stubbles.

The other two answers, four-star (GOODRATING) and "four-eyes" (GLASSESWEARER) are perfectly acceptable.

The self-referential nature of the first three theme answers meant I was hunting around for a long time, trying to connect individual answers I was able to get without crosses. I was definitely hobbled by putting in aRALS instead of URALS. That darned sea, so common in the crossword, getting confused with those darned mountains!

Finally, ZELIG (which eluded me for some time) broke everything open. QUIZSHOW is an outstanding answer, with a cutesy clue. CARGONET is not as exciting. I'm glad that 7D: Searching blindly (GROPING) was clued this way, rather than the creepy way it could have been.

Anyway, a ton of proper nouns, and a somewhat groping solve did not add up to as much fun as the theme answers could pay back.

1A: Somewhat (ABIT). D+. It kind of describes the puzzle, doesn't it?
Fave: SLUGGER (32A: Bonds, e.g.). Very nice hidden capital. I had no idea what was going on here, and why it didn't end in an S once I'd figured out GARBO.
Least fave: DYELOT (46D: What knitters need to match, often). Oof.

- Colum

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Wednesday, August 16, 2017, Andrew Kingsley and John Lieb

5:53

I totally did not see this revealer coming, which is the sign of an excellent collection of theme answers, right? In this case, each of the four has a different spin on spinning, thus leading to SPINCLASS, which is in fact a fifth example of spinning. My head is spinning. I like that the four examples are so different in contemporaneity as well, from MINNESOTAFATS up to SKRILLEX.

Honestly, the fill is pretty smooth as well. I'm a little tired of seeing AJA in the grid, no matter how classic the record may have been. It did rank 145 on Rolling Stones' 500 greatest albums of all time, and we all know how much weight the authors of this blog place on the rankings in that list.

Oh, yeah, and OREIDA, that collection of crossword friendly vowels. I also don't like non-winning (or winning) tic-tac-toe rows (OXO). Um, and FORA, a partial.

I was amused by 40A: Asset for a press secretary (TACT), which has been absent in recent examples. MAE West's quotations are always good for a chuckle, and support her ongoing inclusion in crossword puzzles.

Otherwise, I like a good WINELIST, but the other long answers are fairly neutral.

Okay, I liked the theme a lot, and in retrospect I think that colored my view of the rest of the puzzle. But that's okay. Sometimes it works like that. On balance I'll give it a thumbs up.

1A: Early Peruvian (INCAN). C. It's very standard crossword fare.
Fave: ELAINE (31A: J. Peterman employee on "Seinfeld"). I recall with delight the scene where Mr. Peterman has absconded to Burma ("You may know it as Myanmar...").
Least fave: OXO.

- Colum

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Tuesday, August 15, 2017, Zhouqin Burnikel

4:41

Can I just start this review with my favorite thing about this puzzle? And it's not taking anything away from the rest of it to bring this up first. I love 43A: Play a fife (TOOTLE) when it's so close to 55D: "Toodles!" (TATA). It's almost enough to stop the review right there.

But actually, I enjoyed this puzzle quite a bit while I was doing it, starting right off with the excellent 1A: Line of clothing (INSEAM), which gets an A+ for the clue. It was not my first answer (which was TATAMI, followed by ATARIS), but I very much enjoyed it when I finally figured it out.

The theme is very cute, with a number of "collectors" who are demonstrated to be something else entirely. Thus, a "stamp collector" turns out to be a PASSPORT. My favorite is GUINESSBOOK, as a genuine collector of records. I'm not convinced 45A: Bill collector? (CASHREGISTER) belongs in this list, because nobody has a hobby of collecting bills. But I liked the answer anyway. And then finally, the "shell collector" (PASTABAR) is a little odd, because mostly people are removing shells from the pasta bar, not depositing them there.

I liked all of the long down answers, with STANDINGO and POINTGUARDS (so close to SIXER) being the best.

But how about the constructor apologizing for her PUN at 58D: Cry of shear terror? (BAA). That's amusingly meta.

Yes, we had AHS, ISO, RTE, and a few other typical crossword findings, but on the whole, I'm a fan of this puzzle.

- Colum

Monday, August 14, 2017

Monday, August 14, 2017, Rich Proulx

3:51

So I guess MEATLESSMONDAY is a thing. I'd never come across it. Most of our dinners are vegetarian, but I can see that it would be a good thing to encourage the rest of America to consider. At the same time, it makes for a fun theme for a Monday.

Especially given that the three exemplars chosen for the puzzle are all outstanding. Each is a classic recipe and commonly found. I might quibble with MUSHROOMBURGER. Clearly the reference is to a Portobello mushroom burger, but as it stands, you might think of a standard beef burger with mushrooms on top.

Still, SPINACHLASAGNA and BLACKBEANCHILI are great, and all three answers (and the revealer) are 14 letters long, which could be challenging from a grid construction perspective.

There's not too much in the fill that is sparkling. PALOOKA and KLUTZES are amusingly old school, as are TVTRAYS (I think). I don't like the clue for 41D: Like the peninsula seized by Russia in 2014 (CRIMEAN). Because see, it's not "like" the peninsula, it is the peninsula. I would have preferred "____ Peninsula, 2014 news story because of Russian invasion," or some such.

1A: Where holsters go (HIPS) - C-. It's an odd reference, but evocative. They could go at the ankles or the shoulder, but honestly, I don't really want to think about that sort of thing at 1 across.
Fave: HUMOR (42D: "Mankind's greatest blessing," per Mark Twain). I have certainly always thought so. And a great quotation.
Least fave: WISC (25D: The Dairy State: Abbr.) - I don't see why you'd abbreviate Wisconsin as anything other than WI.

- Colum

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunday, August 13, 2017, Eric Berlin

THE MAGIC SHOW

Oh, this was excellent. So much fun figuring out each magic trick. I had one little quibble, but I've decided even that was unfair, so I'm calling it a win all around.

There are five classic magic tricks described. Each one is demonstrated graphically elsewhere in the grid. Thus, we get VANISHINGCOIN, which is shown elsewhere at 78D: Provide part of a coverage policy for ([COIN]SURE). I literally ran multiple types of coins first, thinking of "penny sure," "quarter sure," etc. before hitting on the correct and in retrospect obvious one.

Next is LINKINGRINGS, where at 104D and 119A we get the actual rebuses of SY[RING]E and ST[RING]BEAN. That's very nice work. Unfortunately I had entered just the R rather than the entire rebus, which the app accepted, so it looked more like there were invisible rings. But that's not the constructor's fault.

The third magic trick is SAWINGALADYINHALF, which is demonstrated by ELLA and DYS separated by a black square, thus putting LA and DY on either side of the divide. Very clever, but I don't love DYS.

My favorite by far is the CHANGINGCARD trick, where "Peking" duck is switched to PEACE. Oh, that's brilliant. And you end up with a real word in the space. I don't think you could have a better trick than that.

Finally, there's the LEVITATINGMAN, which is graphically produced by having the first letters of [M]ETRES, [A]ARON, and [N]IELS floating above the grid. Finding these out early really messed up my solving for a while because I was looking for missing letters.

I love that there are five different ways of representing things graphically. Initially I was upset that not every altered entry in the grid was also a true word, but that's asking a bit much with some of these maneuvers.

Let's see: other tough answers in the puzzle included 27A: Nickname for an Oxford university (OLEMISS). I was all the way across the ocean, which I imagine most of the solvers were for a while as well. I also liked 28D: Manipulative type (SVENGALI). I initially had "seam" at 42D: Place from which to withdraw deposits (MINE), then switched to MINt, and missed the flaw at NEA, so that's an error on finishing.

1A: Bit of a Bollywood soundtrack (RAGA) - B-.

There was a lot to like here, but, mirabile DICTU, I've run out of space.

- Colum

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Saturday, August 12, 2017, Kameron Austin Collins

17:35 (FWOE)

I feel like I really lucked out on this turn. Mr. Collins is a favorite constructor of mine, who has seemed to be absent for quite some time from the NYT. I solved once again in the car with Hope, and she gave me my first entry, Mr. Vic DAMONE. With CATT and ORK in place, followed by the yummy LATKE, we were off and running.

Does anybody here take a BANANAPIE? I'm not sure how much of a thing that really is. Round our place, banana bread (with chocolate chips) is a longtime favorite. Certainly a banana split is well recognized. Bananas Foster, even. Hmmm. I see some recipes, but I'm not convinced.

LEGARMOR (26D: Greaves, e.g.) immediately made me think of Princess Ida: "These things I treat the same / I quite forget their name! / They turn one's legs / To cribbage pegs." And there you have it. How likely was it that two blog posts in one week would find a way to weave cribbage in? All the naysayers out there... no, I might even go so far as to call them haters! They never thought it was possible. Well, I guess the foot's on the other hand now, isn't it?

Yeah, so. Um. Anyway, the two 15-letter answers are beauts. COMMITMENTPHOBE is good, but of course I'm pretty fond of BRAINPLASTICITY.

Other good answers include 16A: Champagne is one (TOPONYM), and 15A: Start of a big fight? (THRILLA). Nice stuff. I also enjoyed 6D: Weight-watchers watch it (BELTLINE).

1A: Cambridge student, informally (CANTAB) - B+. This is really referring to the British Cambridge, not the American one. Still, a nice reminder of the year I spent there some time ago.
Fave: ABHOR (2D: Not fancy at all). I stared at AB_OR, wondering how this would refer to something simple or unadorned. Nope, it's the British "fancy," meaning "have a liking for".
Least fave: Probably TNUTS (16D: Fasteners with flat heads), just because it's crossword glue, pluralized.

My error was yet again a typo, where I had put in BAYBERsY. But there's no excuse here. I had stared at 25A: Short but not necessarily sweet (CURT), where I had _UsT. So really, I should have caught that.

- Colum