Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tuesday, March 31, 2015, Gary Cee


One second faster than Monday's time, FWIW. Actually, it does sort of seem like yesterday's puzzle should have been a Tuesday and today's should have been a Monday. But I guess one second's too minimal to be picking such nits.

This is a fine themed puzzle to be finishing out March with. VERBALGYMNASTICS is the revealer and presumably the seed, as it's a 15-letter answer. And each of the long across theme answers has a gymnastics element as the second part of the phrase. I guess they're "verbal" in that they're all words. It would have been too much to ask to have each phrase reference both gymnastics and linguistics, and to have them be recognizable phrases to boot.

As it is, each one is entirely acceptable as a phrase. The two plurals are plural because the gymnastics item are usually referred to in the plural; to wit, the rings and the (parallel) bars. I like HIGHHORSE best because of the funny visual of a gymnast attempting to vault an elevated horse. Second best is ONIONRINGS because I'll nearly always order them if they're available.

There are no clues that are in any way amusing or misleading, which is probably why I did so well on time. Some nice words in the grid include the two long down answers, TORTELLINI and LARYNGITIS. I like when the creator can stick in a couple of fine non-theme entries like that. NOWWHAT and YOOHOO are fun exclamations. Cece got two of those, as well as HONEY and TERRA.

I like seeing ALISON Krauss represented, as well as BERT. I like some of SARA Bareilles' music. Things I didn't like so much include ASTIR (not really a word, is it?), CONT and TEL (two barely acceptable abbreviations), and the partial AFAN.

Happy belated to Horace! He's taking over again tomorrow. Here's hoping he's recovered from his crossword bonanza over the weekend.

Signing off,

- Colum

Monday, March 30, 2015

Monday, March 30, 2015, Bruce Haight


This was an odd bird of a puzzle, if you'll pardon the expression. I got the visual theme, and the three long across answers fit into the concept, along with GOOSE. But then I wanted all those lovely long down answers to be in the theme also, and they just weren't. I couldn't make them belong!

That being said, the long answers all cross three long answers, so that's lovely. And the really unusual grid shape allows for large chunks of answers in three corners. And with the exception of EASEFUL, they all are good entries. I like AIRMAIL and CAREENS.

In exchange, there are an awful lot of short answers in the rest of the grid, but nothing I really hated, honestly. Well, I didn't much like AYLA, although it's better than seeing her author's name, Auel, in the grid. And IRED is ugly.

On the plus side, CECE's in the grid today.

Got not much else to say.

- Colum

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sunday, March 29, 2015, Alan Arbesfeld


There was a lot to like about this puzzle. So why, then, did I feel unhappy over all when I finished it? Because there were pockets of really unpleasant fill, which just felt like it didn't need to happen.

The theme is a straightforward one, and one which became clear very early on. The NW corner was not difficult and had some nice bits in it. I put TABORS in at 1A and TASTEBUD was a nice followup. I feel I've seen that clue for this word before (1D: It may be on the tip of your tongue). We got another repeat with ODEON from a recent grid. I very much liked 3D: It holds a lock in place (BARRETTE) - I like a misleading clue which doesn't rely on a question mark, as I may have mentioned in other blog posts.

So I found STREAMINGINCA shortly thereafter, and got the idea of adding CA to a well-known phrase to create a wacky new phrase. Unfortunately "streaming in" is hardly a well-known phrase. And another phrase, "Really big shew", which is a reference to Ed Sullivan, feels incredibly recherche at this point. Even though the resultant answer, REALLYBIGCASHEW is pretty funny.

On the good side, you get the brilliant YOUMAKEMEWANNACASHOUT. That's outstanding, and I suspect it was the seed for the entire puzzle. First, you have the immediately recognizable original phrase; then, the upshot creates an entirely new sense due to the creation of two words where there had been one before. I find CASTELSEWHERE very clever, and DEEPSPACECANINE is fine as well. The other two, BACALLHANDLER and THELIFEOFPICA are okay.

I definitely struggled with some of those, but it was the fill that rubbed me the wrong way. I'll just list some the issues:

  • BENZ, EOLITH, ENZI. Okay, so a senator, even from Wyoming (a bit of regional chauvinism there), shouldn't be unfair; Karl Benz is clearly well-known if only from Mercedes fame; and a chipped flint nodule is of interest. But still, I had B_N_ and both of those letters felt for some time like they would be just guesses.
  • PLICATE, LUMIERE, ETYPE. Once again, as above. I got the brothers Lumiere from crosses, and the E of E-type couldn't really be anything else. But I don't like PLICATE. And also, I'm upset because I put "cabinet" in for 25A: Washington post? (EMBASSY).
  • AWACS, ADAGES, SAGA. The first is a whatever answer - stands for "Airborne warning and control system". 35D: Major account - took me a long time to see what this was getting at, and maybe I'm being hypocritical in that I just said I like this kind of misleading clue, only I'm in the middle of a rant, and I'm allowed to be that way, because I'm writing the blog.
  • NYALAS, ALEUT, SADCASE. 81A: Sealer, maybe - is definitely misleading. A nyala I'd never come across in a grid before, and actually it's pretty cool looking next to OOLALA. I'm just upset because I wanted "SADsack".
  • ALETAP, MEDE, DNY, ETNAS. An ugly set of answers next to WAYLAID, which is pretty great.
  • STATIC. Why is this clued as "Criticism"? I don't get it.
Okay, I'm done ranting. I liked the SE corner with the trio of HIRELING, ENTRACTE, and WEEKDAYS. I liked 95D: Board's opposite (GETOFF). That's very nice. 106A: Hold it! (HILT) was not what I expected - how many people put HaLT in first?

And OYSTERS made an appearance the day after I'd wanted to put it in the puzzle.

- Colum

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saturday, March 28, 2015, David Steinberg


What a chunky Saturday we have here. The corners are wide open, with a ton of Scrabble-filled letters. Each corner has at least one Z! And I didn't feel like Mr. Steinberg sacrificed a lot of ugly fill to make it happen.

2D: Big chill? (ICEAGE) was my first entry, and I followed with LALO as a guess. I incorrectly thought goTO for 4D (____ pieces), but the T was enough to give me DEATHSTAR. But the G did mean that the NW corner had to wait to get finished.

So the gimme SCARUM followed at 34A, followed by POM and TORSO at 48A and 61A respectively, the latter with the fun clue Six-pack container? OMANIS came next and NAPA, an answer I must have put in and taken out about four times through the course of the solving of this puzzle. I still did not have my breakthrough.

I guessed "oysters" at 32A as the "jeweler of kings," even though in retrospect, that should have been a singular oyster. It came out pretty quickly. The NE corner gave be ONCEOVER and BOZ, which led to YEARZERO as well. I had not heard of DUANE Hanson (the picture to the left is of one of his sculptures) or ERICA Hill, but their names became clear via the crosses.

The break came when I entered PIC at 24D and figured out SNAPCHAT for 34D: Disappearing communication system? A modern answer and a clever clue there. So the remainder of the SW fell, which allowed me to get WITSEND and then BIKINIWAX - I'm not sure that that's really a "hair-raising" so much as a "hair-ripping" experience, but I'll go with it.

I figured out LITCRIT at 49A: Novel opinions, informally?, although I nearly second guessed myself with the PC of PCGAME. I'll finish with a number of good clues and answers - 29D: Best successor (STARR) took way too long to figure out. 33D: Change color, maybe (REACT) is very good - I initially expected REdye and much prefer the actual answer.

40D: Need to practice? (BAREXAM) is very good. I thought "license" at first. 12D: Under-age temptation (JAILBAIT) was unexpected. I had hoped for something a tad more innocent, such as "alcohol". How 1950s of me. And last, but certainly not least, 57A: They're taken to go (LAXATIVES) was a real hoot. It was the second to last answer in for me, with the B of BAREXAM finishing off the puzzle.

Outstanding, in my opinion. Good luck to Horace! I hope the solving went well today.

- Colum

American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (ACPT) - Special Report

Hello Crossword Puzzle Lovers!

Horace here, reporting from the bar at the Marriott hotel in Stamford, CT, where from my perch I see among the crowd none other than Brendan Emmett Quigley, Ian Livengood, Jeff Chen, Deb Amlen, Amy Reynaldo, Dan Feyer, and many, many other crossword constructors, bloggers, and solvers. It's a lively scene, full of boisterous discussion, boasts, excuses, commiseration, and camaraderie. Sounds a little schmaltzy? Well, okay, I might be a tad tipsy, but can you blame me? I faced Jeff Chen's "Puzzle #5" today, and I live to tell the tale. Of course, I can't tell much of the tale, since I didn't finish it, but I dare say that there are few here who could tell it all.

Ready for the first puzzle.
As I learned the hard way last year, at the hands of B.E.Q. (who told me last night that his puzzle #5 was edited to make it easier), puzzle five is the one (of the seven puzzles we all face) that separates the wheat from the chaff. Five hundred and seventy-eight of us were given thirty minutes to finish a devilishly tricky grid. It's brutal, but it's part of what makes this event memorable. Last year, Frannie and I solved together online, and after the timer went off on number five, our score was calculated, but we soldiered on and eventually finished. This year, they collected the papers and I'm left with more of an empty feeling, but I have been told, by Will himself, that all contestants will get copies of the puzzles to bring home with them, so someday, eventually, Frannie and I will finish that thing.

Chen & Shortz
But I can't be too mad at Mr. Chen, because last night, when I introduced myself to him, and confessed that I have been blogging the NYTX for about two years, he asked the name of our blog. When I told him, he recognized it (!), and said "Oh, I think we just linked to that." (!!) And sure enough, Horace and Frances is now on the blogroll at xwordinfo.com. (http://www.xwordinfo.com/Blogs) It is partially a pay site, but it's completely open this weekend, during the tournament. I don't know if the blogroll is usually behind a paywall or not, but go check it out today or tomorrow to be sure to see us! Or better yet, sign up and get access to all that the incredible site has to offer!

Well, that's probably enough for tonight. Maybe I'll write another report tomorrow, when the whole thing is over. But before I go, I just want to say that this event is a blast, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys solving crosswords. I came here with no hope of winning and every expectation of having a good time, and both things have come true. :)

- Horace

Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday, March 27, 2015, David Kwong

FWOE (24:21)

Utah! Who knew? My first reaction to the black squares was that they looked like quotation marks, and I thought that might be a cute theme. Cece and I did this together. We got into the gird with the little section of 3-letter answers in the NW: STS, MIA, ENT, which lead Cece to get BEATSME, and me to get INLATIN. Nothing else was immediately apparent to us there, so we moved to the middle.

Cece immediately, without any crosses, suggested CONESTOGA. Wow. OAS followed, and ATMS (good clue there), and then ASSISTED and STMARYS (a guess, that).

So then we got the theme with UTAHSTATE, which led to the 2 15-letter answers, TABERNACLECHOIR and LATTERDAYSAINTS.

The corners, once again, were nice and chunky. Some answers I did not like: REPEALS, for the clue (The 21st Amendment and such) - why not make it the verb instead? As a noun it feels super awkward. ISOTONE is a real thing, but not something I knew. I went for ISOTOpE, which is actually two atoms that have the same number of protons but a different number of neutrons, so the exact opposite. And that was my error in the puzzle. DEME is a desperate piece of fill. I don't like the definition of TWEEDLE, even though I feel I've seen it before in the NYT puzzle.

BIGMAC is a nice piece of trivia. I wanted "Reuben" first, but that sandwich was invented in the 1920s. PEACHPIT is a fine answer. MAINE is definitely a "Big source of blueberries," and I always think of "Blueberries For Sal," a delightful book. 43A: Things you might enjoy with your best buds? (IPODS) is cute. 37D: One way to be held (HOSTAGE) was a shocker (not a SHANKAR).

Other answers Cece got: GRABSAT, STINKAT. We both had a strangely difficult time getting HORSE (23A: Mount), even with HOR__ in place.

So, TILSIT, IONBEAM, and ISOTONE. That made the SW the most difficult corner, and our stumbling block.

Mostly a thumbs up from me.

- Colum

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Thursday, March 26, 2015, Byron Walden


I like the theme here, revealed nicely at 57A: Part of washing... or what's exhibited by the circled (grey) letters from top to bottom (RINSECYCLE). It's a perfect cycle of five rotations of the letters in order from ERINS through to RINSE, each time part of another longer answer. SLYTHERINS was the first to go in, and while I had parts of each of the other words, I didn't get any of them until I answered the revealer. Then I saw the cycle, and was able to fill in enough to get all of the theme answers in short order.

NOSERINGS and SPINSERVE are both fine. INTENSERIVALS I don't buy as a real phrase, although I see how it was necessary given the constraints of the theme. Those constraints also lead to the necessary REEKS/REELS/REEFS trio down the middle.

The rest of the puzzle are four very chunky corners with minimal theme content, each making sort of a mini-puzzle of its own. There's no question which is the best corner. The SW with MALENUDE right above PHONESEX wins hands down, although the connection with SANTAHAT is tenuous if not disturbing. I wanted lIMPS, but had to switch to GIMPS once I made the connection with 1D (GOT APASS). In fact, you could put that term in with the other ribald terms if you want. Matt BIONDI was frequently a nearly nude male.

62A: Big name in western literature (LAMOUR) was clever. I was not expecting that sense of the word "western." 13D: Shot in the crease? (BOTOX) is quite nice. I was thinking maybe a vaccine or a booster, but the actual answer is much better. I suppose that 49D: Fish hook? (TALON) is referring to raptors who catch fish with their feet. '

I enjoyed the clue for LAYLA. ISRAELIS is a nice long answer. ABUDHABI comes from the same region of the world.


Kind of a fun puzzle.