Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sunday, December 17, 2017, Andrew J. Ries


Kind of a funny "sound added to a regular phrase to make a new last word and then clued wackily" theme today, and if you know us at all, you know we like wacky. My favorite, surprisingly maybe, is NEWYORKMEZZO (43A: Certain Lincoln Center soprano?). The sound going from "Mets" to MEZZO is perfect and unexpected. I also quite enjoyed IRESTMYQUESO (85A: Comment from a cook who cools the cheese sauce before serving?). It's just so hilariously absurd. The two A sound answers don't work all that well for me, but maybe just because of my regional accent. VANITYFARAOH (40A: Egyptian leader obsessed with his appearance?) and LOVEISINTHEARROW (104A: Cupid's catchphrase?) are both nicely clued, but the A changes to a flatter version of the original. I say "fair" and "air" like I say Jane Eyre. If that helps. It's almost a diphthong. And the other two have more of a flat, "Say 'ah'" kind of sound.

But maybe that's too picky for a Sunday. I thought I would complain about KOSHERPICCOLO (89A: Woodwind that's O.K. to play?) but while it may have the weakest clue, the sounds aren't off. I sat here saying "pickle" and "piccolo" over and over to myself, and I think it works quite well.

I liked the clue for BEEF (Bit of food ... or feud?), and I chuckled at 93A: Something that's free of charge (NEUTRON). Hah! I also enjoyed the colloquial FINITO (96A: Done, slangily) (see also: SHAKE (37D: Lose)).

I did't feel that DEFY and "Brave" were equivalent as verbs, but there it is in my Random House, of course. The seventh definition of "brave," and the second as a transitive verb, begins with "To defy."

And while I'm looking things up, I'll save you the trouble and mention that ALF Landon lost in a landslide to FDR in 1936.

Overall, the theme got some laughs from me, and that's all I'm really looking for on a Sunday.

- Horace

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Saturday, December 16, 2017, Sam Ezersky

0:15:23 (F.W.O.E.)

A mostly smooth Saturday with one stumbling block for me. Knowing that O-negative was somewhat rare, I guessed oTYPE for 45A: Uncommon blood classification (BTYPE), and since I couldn't recall Marcus WELBY, M.D. - a show that went off the air in 1976 (ok, there were a few TV movies in the 80s, and yes I should have known!) - I was destined for FWOEdom. Maybe it's just sour grapes, but I'll argue that the clue "Uncommon blood classification" is almost worthless. O-negative is more rare than B-positive, and AB-negative is more rare than B-negative. They're all "uncommon," so think of a better way to clue it.


There were some bright spots today in SHIRK (23D: Duck), ORIENT (17A: Position), ZEROG (9D: Astronaut's experience), and ANAGRAMS (32D: Goes from Tokyo to Kyoto, say) (nice), many entries were just kind of sitting there. UVLAMP, ITTEAM, MAGNAVOX, and even RAWFOOTAGE (19A: Feed for news headquarters). MUSTARDGAS (21A: W.W. I horror) is technically "colorful," but still, it's a war horror, and so does not provide a happy thrill.

1A: OCTUPLET (Extra-special delivery?) - B+
Fave: MATHLETE (37D: Certain high school whiz kid) - Shout out to the nerds.
Least: RETIED (33D: Fixed, as a bow) - It's not that bad, and it can lead you astray by thinking of a violin bow, but I don't know, I just didn't like it.

I liked ONETOWATCH (25D: Up-and-comer) and ALITALIA (10D: One way to Rome) (even though it's a brand name), and speaking of planes, I also liked TARMAC (44D: Locale for touchdowns), but overall it was fine, but not something to write home about.

- Horace

Friday, December 15, 2017

Friday, December 15, 2017, Jacob Stulberg


Thanks again to Frannie for bailing me out yesterday! It was a long day of meetings at work, then parties in the evening, then baking cookies for more parties today. It's a tough stretch at work. Just one more week of parties, though, then a week off. Ahhh...

So anyway, today Mr. Stulberg serves up a larger-than-life 16x15 simply chock-full of challenge and reward. I can't help myself but get right to my favorite entry - one of my favorites of the year! - 55A: It has a little bow at one end (MODELSHIP). So great. And speaking of good clues, I feel like I've seen something very similar to 11D: F note? (SEEME) before, but I confidently entered "b flat" and was loath to take it out. Wouldn't that have been something?


The two long Downs - GLACIALDRIFT (7D: Rock moved by ice) and MIRRORSHADES (21D: Reflective pair) were similar in that I immediately tried to enter much longer answers into each of them. "GLACIAL erratic" for the first, and "MIRRORed sunglasses" in the second. Frannie told me she tried to enter "GLACIAL till." We were both thinking more specifically about the rock, instead of more generally about the phenomenon. But it's a perfect kind of clue that can be interpreted in different ways. See also: "41D: Like a good plot" (ARABLE), 40D: Sticky food? (KEBABS) (I put in Kitkat off the initial K), "1A: Not true" (ATANANGLE) (A-), and "17A: One giving you a hand? (DEALER). Others like "31D: One's turn at the Olympics?" (AXEL) and "36D: What may be salted away for a special occasion?" (CUREDHAM) are also good, but they're trying a little too hard, maybe.

I liked the stepped 13-, 14-, and 13-letter answers running through the middle, especially that central SEXANDVIOLENCE (35A: Family-unfriendly fare). Unexpected, but I guess anything goes on the weekend.

The little corners of ATL, TAE, ILE, and PMS are not great, but there's so much that is good in here, I'm willing to accept a little MAL.

So far, so good on The Turn this week. I'm already looking forward to tomorrow's!

- Horace

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Thursday, December 14, 2017, Timothy Polin


Frannie here, filling in for Horace who is busy filling cookie tins for tomorrow's holiday party at the office.

Mr. Polin has hit upon a clever theme. To make peace, we must BURYTHE HATCHET by leaving the letters AX off the ends of three full-puzzle-length down answers as if they were buried below the bottom of the grid. My favorite was NONEOFYOURBEESW[AX] because that is a great expression, but STELLARPARALL[AX] is also excellent. I suppose PERSONALINCOMET[AX] is no less good than the other two, but it's difficult to like it as much because it has the word tax in it.

The disappearing AX's didn't cause me much trouble, but some Very basic things (LYES) did, unfortunately, where they crossed with 44D (Chuck who was part of the Watergate Seven). It was a dumb mistake because I knew the clue meant basic like lye, but I convinced myself that dYES were basic, too, and that COdSON was a perfectly cromulent surname for Chuck. My knowledge of the Watergate Seven and, for that matter, Laptev Sea feeders is for SHIH.

I like TANK meaning to fail, or Fall apart, so I'm giving 1A a A-. The minus represents a quibble with the "in competition" part of the clue, which seemed unnecessary - people can tank on tests, can't they? - but also fine.

Also in today's quibble corner, or perhaps, more precisely, confusion corner, was the clue "Hand on a hacienda" at 17A (MANO). Why is the hand on the hacienda? It seemed to me like an awkward way to ask for the word for hand in Spanish, but maybe I'm missing something.

But, enough with the quibbling. Overall, I enjoyed the puzzle. There were a number of clue/answer pairs with the parallelism that I enjoy. For example, Tricky situation/SPOT (54D) and Goof/FLUB (37D). OHSO nice. I also enjoyed
LIONEL (Model company?) - Ha!
ARMORY (Store with magazines) - apt!
BURL - great word!
MOCK and IRON - both nice part-of-speech twists relative to their clues.
ELF - Tiny fey sort struck me as a cute clue. (I just mis-typed elf as EFL which made me imagine an Elf Football League. Talk about Fantasy Football!
OBOISTS is a crazy looking word, isn't it?


I wouldn't call it ATON, but there is a bunch of three-letter crosswordese. I was happy to see EEL again - it's been too long! - but CPAS, CTA, AOL, SNO, and ETTA were not STELLAR. However, I'm not going to fight about it. :)


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wednesday, December 13, 2017, Benjamin Kramer


I learned the name of a new cheese today: SIRENE. From the Wikipedia I find that it is especially well-known in the Balkans, and in the Bulgarian language, SIRENE is used as a general term for any type of cheese. Perhaps uncoincidentally, in Israel and Lebanon SIRENE is called "Bulgarian cheese." Wikipedia also backs up that it is essentially identical to Feta, but Feta is a "Protected Designation of Origin" name that can only be used if the cheese comes from Greece.


So that was interesting. The cross with FERRITE (16A: Iron compound found in steel) was an educated guess, and one that most people will probably be able to make, but still, that's a tough cross. And in a somewhat amazing coincidence, the symmetrical crossing square is also difficult: TOEPOKE (60A: Unconventional soccer kick) and MINOSO (47D: Minnie who played in Major League Baseball in five different decades). The Cuban Comet's last game was 37 years ago, and I've never heard TOEPOKE before, despite having both played and followed soccer at various points in my life. I guess not seriously enough, though.

1A: Certain chemical weapon (GASBOMB) - D-. Probably should be F.
Best: the word "trenchant" which I keep wishing were the beginning of 18A.
Worst: AMA (37A: Reddit Q&A session, briefly) - What is this?

There was some good material in here - LENIENT, EFFUSED, AVIATOR, and VAGRANTS (32D: Drifters) are all fancy, but I didn't particularly love the overall vibe. That GASBOMB beginning was off-putting, and then there's MOTH-eaten and DIE and GOKAPUT and REFI, LIA, URAL, and OTIC. Hey, Frannie noticed that "ambush" has exactly the same number of letters as WAYLAY (63A: Attack from a hiding place), and as she entered it she thought "What a perfect clue for that word." Indeed, "ambush" is used as a definition for WAYLAY in my dictionary.

Looking it over, I see lots of good, but for some reason, it just didn't enchant, rivet, and delight me. Perhaps it was that entrance that didn't entrance me...

- Horace

p.s. I see that this is a debut, which makes me a little sorry I didn't like it more. I will say that I much preferred Mr. Kramer's original revealer, "Hidden entrance," that he mentioned on xwordinfo. As I said, I see a lot of good, and I look forward to seeing his next effort!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Tuesday, December 12, 2017, David J. Kahn


As Peter Schjeldahl put it recently in The New Yorker, the sale of SALVATORMUNDI for $450,300,000.00 "suggests that money has become worthless." It's an interesting notion, and makes for a new understanding of priceless art.


Also interesting is the speed with which Mr. Kahn was able to generate this puzzle. It is certainly convenient that LEONARDODAVINCI's name has exactly 15-letters, but with the 13-letter artwork name providing such a beautiful crossing, he seems to have been forced into a mix of vertical and horizontal thematic material, which, as some of you might remember, is something I quite like. OLDMASTER is good, but its symmetric partner RESTORING (10D: Eliminating the effects of wear and tear on, as was done to 38-Across) I like less. I've spent a lot of time with conservators, and I've seen enough "restoring" to question the whole endeavor. Some in the art world fantasize about a day when all the art in every museum could be magically shown as it would appear without any restoration. Most pieces from the Renaissance and before, including this one, would have huge sections of missing paint. And when you think about all that re-painting, you wonder who the artist really is.

OK, art rant over. Where was I?

1A: Either of the World Series winners of 2004 and '05 (SOX) - C.
Best: the "First name in s/Solo flying" pair - AMELIA/HAN. That very much amused me.
Worst: I guess I'll go with YEE (29D: "____-haw!"), although it's not awful.

I enjoyed some of the clues today: "Pot thickener" (ANTE), "First name?" (ADAM), and "Lie on one's back and not move, maybe" (PLAYDEAD), for example, but there was kind of a lot "meh" material, too. It's basically a stunt puzzle, and a pretty decent one. I guess that's enough today.

- Horace

Monday, December 11, 2017

Monday, December 11, 2017, Brian Thomas


Which is less common these days, a rotary phone or a payphone? Me, I've used a rotary phone within the last few months, when I set one up in my home office. The last time I used a payphone was probably at least ten years ago. Possibly twenty.

Still, the six theme answers (including the revealer) are all pretty common phrases. I am not - happily - very familiar with PAYFREEZE (54A: Action taken by a company in distress), but it corresponds with the least well-known phone type, and maybe that was intentional, so I'll let it pass.

1A: Georgetown athlete (HOYA) - D
Worst: ENDO (11D: Prefix with -plasm)

The Downs were a little more interesting than the Acrosses today, with such lovely entries as BOOLEAN (10D: Kind of logic in which all values are either true or false), GARISH (41D: Obtrusively bright and showy), and DIFFUSE (44D: Not concentrated, as light), but they also contained a couple toughies. WICCA (6D: Pagan religious practice) and ODA (35D: ____ Mae (Whoopi's role in "Ghost")) are both on the border of Monday-ness, and ANASAZI (4D: Prehistoric Southwest culture) is most decidedly outside that range. I pity those who know even less about college sports than I do, for whom the beginning A might be just a guess.

And while I'm not LAUDING, I'll add that 53A: Place where a mother might sing "Rock-a-Bye Baby" (CRIB) was, if we want to get all fussy, a bit AMISS. The singing would be taking place beside the crib, not in it.

So overall I didn't LOVES it, but as noted, there were a few bright spots. Onward!

- Horace