Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tuesday, December 31, 2013, Tracy Gray

Great puzzle for a Monday. Oh, wait, it's a Tuesday puzzle. So, maybe it could have been a little more challenging. I mean, Insurance giant with a duck in its ads? (1A: AFLAC). Seems an awful lot like a Monday clue to me.

Since when was LEE a big name in jeans (11A)? Or do they mean plus sizes? And CHIVASREGAL? That brings me back to the aught seventies. These two clue/answer pairs, along with Mop & GLO (floor cleaner) 62A and a few others (5D. Be lovey-dovey (CANOODLE) and 2D. 1960s hairstyle (FLIP)) that recall an earlier time suggest to me that Mr. or Ms. Gray might be going a little gray at the temples. Not that I mind that, mind you. I'm a little gray at the temples myself. A little older school, and fun, is 24D. "Listen up!," old-style (HARK) - also nicely seasonal.

There were a few clues to GIVEARIP about (39D. be concerned, slangily). For example, 44D. Jackanapes. The answer was IMP. Are those two parallel? Maybe. I don't have any Internetz right now, so I can't verify. Also, in the interests of parallelism, the clue 4D. Bordeaux buddy (AMI) might more properly have had POT as its answer to be equivalently, or at least at all, slangy like buddy. Parallelly, it also has three letters, but, of course, the whole NE would have to be re-worked. 

I enjoyed 57A. Cause of inflation? (AIR). And 45D. Like most jigsaw puzzles (DIECUT) because, on a personal note, I love jigsaw puzzles.

I did not know that Valetta is the capital of MALTA (6D). 

I suppose I should mention the theme, although I took no notice of it myself. Horace mentioned it when I passed him the puzzle at the end. I'm only surprised they didn't get Elgar in there somewhere. And don't worry, all, Horace is fine. He's on break. 


Monday, December 30, 2013

Monday, December 30, 2013, David Steinberg


Greetings fellow word lovers, it's Frannie, PANTSUITED and watching PUNTRETURNS by men filled with PENTUPANGER against the Man, while getting my fill of PONTLEVEQUE and PINTMEASUREs. Happy holidays indeed.

Not much in my wheelhouse, save the above. :) Shall I OPE my TRUNK of ignorance? I hope I do not ABASH myself, but I have heard of none of the following: 6D. Classic toothpaste brand (IPANA); 67A. Card game played without twos through sixes (SKAT); 32D. Comedian Philips (EMO); 56D. Classic record label (ATCO). 19D. Generic collie name (SHEP). ET59, were you aware of this dog naming convention?

After PANTSUITED, my favorite clue was 23A. Good name for a garage mechanic? (OTTO).HA! On a personal note, I have always liked the word BRIO (10D. Verve).

Overall, pretty clean, with only a few exceptions. My least favorite being 56A. Trac II successor (ATRA). Is all the world expected to be familiar with the finer points of men's shaving equipment, I ask you, MESSRS? The only other one I want to complain about is 3D. Refrain syllables (NANANA). Do not like.

I'll leave you, gentle readers, with this thought: you know you're behind the technology curve when Google Calendar is used as an example of a WEBAPP and you have only ever used it via the World Wide Web. I should catch up sometime. Is there a Web site for that?


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sunday, December 29, 2013, Joel Fagliano


Frannie cracked this rectangular, rebus puzzle very early with 1A: One at a woman's side? ([POCKET]BOOK) and 1D: Presidential power first used by James Madison ([POCKET]VETO), and as soon as she did, I guessed at the "pool table" symmetry, which made those areas quite easy. All that remained was what, exactly, would be in the pool balls. Go figure, it was "pool balls." And eventually, Frannie also noticed the bonus theme material of "cue," "chalk," "bridge," "rack," and "felt." Very nice, overall.

Guessed "thief" for PICK[POCKET] (11A: Person who might bump into your on a subway) before the rebus was discovered, and "tapir" for COATI (21A: Animal with a flexible snout). Tapirs have them too, right? Are they extinct, or what? I'm not entirely sure… No, they are not extinct. Not entirely, anyway. Right.

Enjoyed BOWER (42A: Shady spot), SWALE (35D: Low, moist area), STOOLIE (91A: Rat), OWNS (27A: Completely dominates), and 13D: Bear necessities? (CLAWS) was fun. Interesting trivia with 49A: Name that's Hebrew for "pleasant" (NAOMI) and 4D: First National Leaguer with eight consecutive 100-R.B.I. seasons (OTT), and a nice TSELIOT quote in "29A: He said the most important thing for poets to do is to write as little as possible."

Some nice, tricky stuff with SCAB (81A: Part of the healing process), SORE (86A: Like a Monday morning quarterback?), and 45A: Bee product (QUILT) (!), which was one of the last to fall today. And we enjoyed the symmetrical SCIENTISTS (28D: Half of the Nobel Prize winners, typically) and ILLUMINATI (30D: Secret society in Dan Brown's "Angels & Demons").

Interesting that HUNH (52D: "Come again?") was allowed, and I could do without HOS, NOES, RELAP, and a few others, but overall, this was a fine Sunday.

- Horace

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Saturday, December 28, 2103, Frederick J. Healy


This one felt harder than our time would indicate it was, which could be at least partially due to Frannie filling in the gimmies like BORNTORUN (30A: 1975 Hit song about "tramps like us"), and leaving me the terrifying-looking stuff like 7D: #1 spoken-word hit of 1964 (RINGO) (Amazingly, this has nothing to do with Ringo Starr). Another reason that our time might have been on the "normal-for-a-Saturday" side is that she also filled in some of the tricky stuff, like RIPSNORTER (12D: Dilly) and UIES (10A: Some GPS suggestions, informally). I love that last one, but we don't use the ridiculous crutch of a GPS system, so we don't know whether or not they really suggest "uies."

There were many answers that we simply did not know, but fortunately all resulting crosses were fair (at least to us), so no squares were totally opaque. I was most worried about the NW, where 3D: Jonathan's wife in "Dracula" (MINA), 8D: "My Son Is a Splendid Driver" novelist, 1971 (INGE), and 9D: Castle of ____ (Hungarian tourist draw) (EGER), and 7D, raised above (heh), were all complete mysteries. Add to that the multiple possible abbreviations for 4D: A.L. East team, on sports tickers (BOS) (!) and the better-than-average clue for SSR (10D: Old map abbr.), and you're basically looking at totally blank, stacked tens. Yikes!

We came at it from the bottom, where, despite another black hole at 22A: Vino de ____ (Spanish wine designation) (PAGO), we were able to infer MOJAVE (24A: Santa Ana wind source) and bring out EDUCE (29A: Bring out), and from the "____VE" Frannie got ONLEAVE (5D: Like many pregnant women) (although I think "Like many new mothers" might have been more accurate. A friend of mine recently worked up until the very day before she gave birth!), and we were finally in. I guess, being a big eater, I was expecting something a little more "gut-busting" than JUMBOFRIES (1A: Gut-busting side) or ONIONRINGS (15A: Alternative to 1-Across), but I guess I should make allowances for the more moderate (normal?) eaters out there.

So anyway, what I'm trying to say is that it always felt like we were reaching out of our comfort zones in this one, but the effort largely paid off. I love many of the entries, and there was a ton of good clueing. Witness SMILEYFACE (51A: It's not drawn due to gravity) (no, to levity!), SENTIMENTS (54A: Pride and joy) (nice!), 56A: ANYONEELSE (56A: Question from a bully) (hilarious), NOSE (32D: Supporter of shades), and FRIDGE (6D: Where to get a cold comfort). Mr. Healy, go ahead and grab one, 'cause this is some nice work!

- Horace

Friday, December 27, 2013

Friday, December 27, 2013, Ian Livengood & J.A.S.A. Crossword Class


We've learned that Ian Livengood is the teacher of the J.A.S.A. Crossword Class. I guess this puzzle is a sort of final project. Just thought you might like to know.

After a slow start, the puzzle fell in fits and bounds. Got both 15s when the crosses made them obvious. Had no idea that DJANGOUNCHAINED was an "36A: Oscar-nominated film featuring a dentist-turned bounty hunter," but 8D: "Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat" duo (CALVINANDHOBBES) rang a distant bell.

NAOH (30A: Caustic soda, chemically) and OTOH (43A: Contrarian's abbreviation) both looked unpleasant, but one's scientific and one is solidly current, so one can't really complain. Also, they're symmetrical, which, I feel, shows a certain understanding that both share a certain "odd" status, and I like that. Had DADST_BE (36D: Some Lamaze assistants), and briefly despaired, not knowing OBOTE (58A: Leader of Uganda's independence movement), but slowly the proper parsing became clear.

My favorite of the stacked eights that ran around the grid was MASTHEAD (14D: Who's who in publishing?). We finished up in that difficult NE quadrant. STS (10D: E, F, and G in D.C.) took forever! I was forever expecting something musical. And TILLY (11D: Jennifer of "Bound") was purely a guess. Her name sounded remotely familiar. I'm sure others who are more attuned to current cinema and/or the regular world had less difficulty with that one than we did. And REDSCARE (13D: Cause for some blacklisting) came at the blacklisting from a different place - we were thinking of things like "being a communist," but I suppose no one would have worried about being a communist if the "Red Scare" weren't already a thing. I mean, I'm sure there are communist sympathizers living today, but who cares, really, because the scare is over.

Loved METER (48D: What stress may be good for), and EST (59D: What means the most at the end?).

Didn't love it, but it was a decent Friday challenge.

- Horace

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Thursday, December 26, 2013, Tim Croce


A nice, tough, Thursday. It was slow going, and since we worked top to bottom, the revealer didn't help much, except to explain how all of those things related to "chaos." GENERALDISARRAY (58A: Chaos ... or a hint to the contents of 17-, 28-, 34-, and 43-Across) explains that the word "general" appears, broken up, in each of the theme answers. I don't mind this type of theme, and general is a pretty long word, so it seems worthy.

Except for one square - the "A" in the BARA (49A: Silents sex symbol)/RACEME (43D: Flower cluster on a single stem, as in the honey locust) crossing that we guessed correctly at the very end - we "50A: Bogged down" (INARUT) (Frannie didn't think this exactly parallel) in the SE, where such lovely clues as 61D: Ship's departure (YAW), 47A: Continental pass name (EURAIL), and 51D: Like chestnuts (TIRED) ("old chestnut" is one of Frannie's favorite phrases - and thing to spout) eluded us for quite some time. (How's that for a sentence?)

The long stuff was all strong, and there wasn't much to grouse about. A fine Thursday.

- Horace

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Wednesday, December 25, 2013, Jacob Stulberg


We're late getting to the puzzle today, but it was worth the wait! Enjoyed the FIVEGOLDENRINGS (41A: One set of gifts in "The 12 Days of Christmas" - as suggested by the circled squares?), but Frannie said she wasn't familiar with the term "Golden Slumbers," outside of the Beatles song. When I thought about it, neither was I, so I Googled it just now, and found that nothing comes up on the first page other than the Beatles song, but - I learned from Wikipedia (go ahead, trust Wikipedia) that McCartney took the lyric from a 1603 lullaby by Thomas Dekker. The sheet music was, apparently, on Sir Paul's father's piano, and he liked the lyrics. He couldn't read music, so he made up his own to go with it. He used only the first stanza of the original (with minor changes), but you have to believe that the second stanza influenced the song "Carry That Weight," which "Golden Slumbers" seamlessly becomes. I reprint the entire poem here, without permission:

Golden slumbers kiss your eyes,
Smiles awake you when you rise;
Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby,
Rock them, rock them, lullaby.

Care is heavy, therefore sleep you,
You are care, and care must keep you,
Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby,
Rock them, rock them, lullaby.

So, apparently, a song from one of the greatest albums from perhaps the greatest band of all time is worthy of standing on its own in a crossword puzzle theme. But where was I? Right, the grid. Getting those golden rings to work must have taken some doing, because we see a lot of familiar fill (STET, EELS, POSER), and some unusual fill (OSSETIA, CHIS, DONEE), but I think on balance, this puzzle comes out ahead. The theme, as stated, is enjoyable, and there's some good fill in here, too.

We very much enjoyed the "Senseless" pair of NUMB and DUMB (18- & 36-Across), and SHASTA (56A: Second-highest peak in the Cascades) and LACROSSE (59A: Sport not played officially in the Olympics since 1908) were both quality fill and quality trivia. And let's talk about AFORESAID (10D: Raised above?). Is that clue to be taken cryptically, as in "Like the word 'raised,' seen above in this clue," or more literally, as you might see in an essay, as in "Like this topic I just mentioned, also written about previously?" I thought the first, at first, and Frannie the second, but either could work, it seems. What did you think?

OK, that's probably enough for now. I want to go play with my new gifts, one of which, happily, was another year's subscription to the NYT Crosswords on the iPad! YAY!

- Horace

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013, David J. "(It's just too easy)" Khan


A nice tribute to the recently deceased hero of screen, song, and politics. Lots of theme material, mostly symmetrical (not TATA or ATTENDEE), and without too much suffering in the fill. With the possible (probable) exception of ILOILO (16A: Phillippine seaport with a reduplicative name) and STARER (65A: Rubbernecker), but hey, they're symmetrical, too, so that's cool.

I knew he was imprisoned for a long time, but ROBBEN ISLAND (8A: With 68-Across, prison where 36-Across (NELSONMANDELA) spent 18 years) was not something I knew. Also learned the term PONYCAR (24A: Class of automobile inspired by the Ford Mustang) today.

I'm not sure why a VAT should be an "63A: Acid holder" rather than a holder of just about anything, but, well, it's a Mandela tribute puzzle, how critical am I going to be?

In non-theme fill, we enjoyed WALLOWIN (2D: Be immersed by), FREEREIN (6D: Unlimited latitude), and TRIAGE (49D: Battlefield procedure).

Merry Christmas, if you're celebrating, and if not, and you're in the northern hemisphere, happy winter!

- Horace

Monday, December 23, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013, Michael Blake and Andrea Carla Michaels


Decent theme today, with different banking options. Seems ironic during this season of account-punishing present buying, but I'll let that pass.

Does it seem odd to anyone else that "57A: Street: Abbr." gives the answer AVE? I know they're synonymous, but it just seems weird. Other than that, though, I have very few complaints about the fill. OOOH (67A: Squeal of delight) seems a little cheap, but it does not offend me.

Fill I enjoyed included: AXIOMS (52D: Self-evident truths), KOKO (61D: Executioner in "The Mikado," and RIVERPHOENIX (53A: Young Indiana Jones portrayer). Poor guy.

Nothing fantastic, nothing egregious. Decent Monday.

- Horace

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sunday, December 22, 2013, Elizabeth "'C.' as in 'Crossword'" Gorski



I have a policy of not looking at other reviews before writing my own, but today I peeked at one to see the finished drawing that results from connecting the dots (letters) specified in the instructions. When I just tried to visualize it on our little iPad screen, it seemed kind of like a star, and kind of like an Iron Cross, but the actual result, an angel, is much better. It's lovely, really. And I might have had a better chance of realizing what it should be if I had paid more attention to the theme clues, but I missed GOLFERCABRERA, and MICHELANGELOSCULPTURE and AEROSMITHSONG didn't really help me.

Aside from all that, though, the puzzle went fairly well, up until the NE, which Frannie dubbed, "The Queegmire." We sometimes over-think the French clues, and today we had "Fait" where FINI (43A: Done: Fr.) should have been, and that slowed us down a bit. And speaking of French, RENVOI (15D: Expulsion, as of a foreign diplomat) did not come easily. Nor did FUELTANK (13D: Give it the gas), for that matter. It's funny now, but we were, of course, reading it wrong.

It's odd, but we just mentioned BAUXITE (2D: Good source of aluminum) last night! I was thinking of trying to find my old rock & mineral collection to give to our niece, who was delighted recently to have received a hunk of bismuth in her (homemade) advent calendar. I was telling Frannie about the collection I had when I was about our niece's age, and it included a slab of bauxite. I'm sure you're all so happy that you just spent valuable seconds reading about that.... but it's the holiday season, and what are holidays for if not for stories and memories about family, possessions, gifts, and the like.

And speaking of holiday, we enjoyed the central NOELNOEL (61A: Words that precede "Born is the King ...").

- Horace

Did not see the forest for the trees, that's for sure. Couldn't see the shape. Limited knowledge of Aerosmith's oeuvre. Thought of the David sculpture instead of the totally unknown-to-me Angel sculpture, which could have worked with GOLFERCABRERA, but not so much with TREETOPPER (70D). Still, I enjoyed the puzzle and its multiple nods to the upcoming holiday, although my favorite clues were not theme entries. I liked the two Futuristic weapon clues (107A: RAYGUN and 50D: PHASER) and 21A: Many an early French settler in America (HUGUENOT) because I associate the word with my favorite French king Henry IV. The holiday clue I liked best was 109A: Like a rendition of "Deck the Halls" (SPIRITED). It works on so many levels. Not much Huyguens material, but maybe he enjoyed 94A: Bach's "__, Joy of Man's Desiring (JESU).


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013, Todd "144" Gross and David "David Steinberg" Steinberg


A nice nod to the first published crossword puzzle. I read an article about the coming anniversary in Games Magazine, but I still could not remember without a few crosses, the constructor's name or the exact paper that published it. In my defense, even if the article had been in the December issue, to coincide with the month of publication (it wasn't, it was even longer ago), that issue probably showed up at our door back in August (we've had the March 2014 issue for a week or more), so it's been a while. I did, however, recognize the homage to the diamond shape of that first puzzle, but that didn't help much with the solve.

We bogged down up in the top middle, where SUMO (14D: Big sport overseas?) (!), NONPRO (6D: Hobbyist, e.g.), and SOLEMNER (14A: Less light) were slow to materialize. That last is very nicely clued, and it's a tricky word, but I think most people would probably say "more solemn" rather than "solemner," if they were going to use the comparative at all with that word, which, frankly, I don't think they would.

The "standard issue" OLES was given a nice clue today (26A: Acclaim for picadors), likewise ORO (28D: Cortés's quest). To use MAR as a noun, however, or "29D: Graffiti, say" as a verb, seems like a stretch. Is that what they're trying to do there? Neither use is supported by my deskside Random House College Dictionary, but it's not an unabridged, and it is Saturday, so go ahead, bend the definitions a bit, we can take it.

Liked the pairing of 21D: City on the Firth of Tay (DUNDEE) with the definition clue 60A: Firth, e.g. (INLET). The 3D: Noted geographical misnomer (GREENLAND) was nice, and we jumped the gun and put "amo" in for EST at 5D: Basic Latin verb. Never heard of TYES (18D: Sailors' chains) or DEWCLAW (23D: Canine vestigial structure), but both seemed plausible enough. The dew claw, by the way, is what is sometimes referred to as a "dog's thumb." It is a claw that sits higher up on the leg, and appears largely useless. Indeed, it is sometimes removed when the animal is young.

Lastly, we loved seeing LORELEI (37D: Rock singer?) because just last night we saw a Rick Steve's about Germany, wherein he went down the Rhine, and made special mention of the dangerous bend around the Lorelei.

A very nice Saturday, and, we think, a fitting tribute to the grid that launched a thousand blogs.

- Horace

p.s. In the print version, the central diamond area is shaded gray, to commemorate the exact shape of the first puzzle. Further, the "FUN" in fungicide mirrors an exact answer in that first grid. Nice touches, I think.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013, Ian "Livin' Good" Livengood


We worked from bottom to top on this one, and a nice ending it was, with MUGSHOT (8A: Picture with a number), EQUATOR (15A: Where it never gets above zero degrees?), and USOTOUR (16A: One going around the bases?). Quality stuff, all. I think we might have been delayed up there by errors such as "pair" for 1D: Go well (with) (MESH), "eggs" for 19A: Greasy spoon order (HASH) (mmm... hash... and a much better answer than "eggs"), and "entrap" then "ReelIN" for 22A: Successfully lure (ROPEIN) (successfully lured, we were!). Also, CARTOON (23A: Kind of figure) eluded us until the crosses forced it, and we tried "cHarOn" for PHOBOS (32A: Moon of Mars). (Knew it was out there somewhere... but it's actually a satellite of ex-planet Pluto!)

This was a very clean, enjoyable puzzle. A pair of "unreal" clues, some nice long-ish stuff in CROPLAND (42A: Much of the plains states), USERNAMES (9D: Handles online), and CASHCAB (4D: TV game show on the Discovery Channel, 2005-2012). Not much to complain about, really. As we've stated at least a few times, we love seeing EEL (38A: Electric ____) in the grid, and STET (37D: Leave in), ANTE and ANTI, well, you'll have that.

If you haven't seen Google today, they're celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first published crossword. This review is being posted late in the day, but all of their special headers are collected somewhere over there. If I think of it, I'll post a link tomorrow.

- Horace

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013, George "Red" Barany and Michael "Should I Go or Should I" Shteyman


We were a little nervous starting this one on the iPad after the "... there are elements in the print version that cannot be duplicated electronically" warning, but we pressed on! It seemed like a fairly straightforward rebus puzzle, but we didn't know what to make of the circles. I've read elsewhere now that in the print version there is a slightly darker horizontal line between the two parts of each vertical two-part answer. (And by the way, those triple-fifteen edges look great!) So, the circles, instead, indicate the start of the second part. That's all, and frankly, it hardly seems worth it, except that it is a little reminiscent of the bubbles you might see between the oil and water in a salad dressing.

As for the puzzle, the fifteens, although they look fantastic, they were a little less than scintillating. CAPTAINLASTPASS (1D: ____ America/Final maneuver). "Last pass?" What's that? Final edit, maybe. Final 'Hail Mary,' maybe. I liked "wheelie," but the rest of them just seemed kind of blah. Not bad, but, well, I don't know... maybe I was expecting too much.

The rest of the grid, on the other hand, I thought was above average, especially the threes. 11A: A train (BCD) - clever. 14A: Times column: Abbr. (ARR) - tricky clue for a common answer! 39A: Cow, perhaps (AWE) - a nice twist. And everyone loves MEL (6D: Blanc who voiced Bugs Bunny), and YAZ (55D: Longtime Red Sox nickname), right?

The center was the toughest, because it took forever for us to see those last two rebus squares. I had "fRyER" in there for BR[OIL]ER (34A: Chicken for dinner) for a long time, and "Two- or four- seater, maybe" is a damn tough clue for MAITRED ("maitre'd").

Lastly, had tap[WATER] instead of ICE[WATER] (50D: Restaurant freebie) for a while, and learned that ALA is, apparently, the "55D: Yellowhammer State: Abbr." whatever that is. (It's the state bird.)

Fun Thursday.

- Horace

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013, Ed "He Means-a Just What He" Sessa


I like this type of theme, the play on words. AWAYWITHWORDS (36A: Mime's motto?) is my favorite of the (just?) three, but the other two are both good enough. Is it just three theme answers? I guess so, but two of them span the grid, so that's kind of cool.

Some odd clueing, like "21A: Can't deal with" for HATES, and "33A: Blob, e.g." for SHAPE - they're not wrong, but they just seem a little odd. I suppose that's what clues are supposed to be, though, right? So I'm not complaining, really... and speaking of "not complaining," has anyone ever heard the term BOATEL (11D: Floating accommodations) before? We stayed (I guess) on a "boatostel" back in our Eurail Pass travelling days, but I'm pretty sure they weren't using either term at that time. Besides, it was in Sweden, so I wouldn't have understood it even if they had been...

I liked a lot of the fill today. SPEW, ANDES, ESCAPEPLAN, EYELASH, STALAG, IMPALA, ABATES, GASHES... there's tons of interesting stuff to overpower the occasional ATTU, EBON, BAA, AAHS, IRAS and IRAE. Also, it's somewhat funny to have SIR (24A: Title for U2's Bono) followed by DSO (25A: Brit. military honor) ("Distinguished Service Award") (yeah, I hadn't heard of it either...).

A better than average Wednesday, if you ask me.

- Horace

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013, Paula "White Chocolate" Gamache


This one seemed a little flat to me. Not bad, really, but not terribly exciting. And the theme is NBA (54A: Org. found in the answer to each asterisked clue)? Really? I guess there are a lot of them, but why? And furthermore, TINBADGE (17A: *Sheriff's insignia, in old westerns)? I've never heard them called "tin" before. Was it really made of tin? Couldn't some of them have been brass? And 46A: *Tangy breakfast item (ONIONBAGEL)? I see at least two things wrong with that clue...

And that whole GES (26A: Some appliances, for short) (ugh) / SPITON (37D: Show disdain for, in a  way) (gross) / STENT (53A: Surgically implanted tube) (also gross) area was distasteful.

Lots of abbreviations (ACADS, SATI, PHD, APBS, KNT, GES, DEM, DELT), and not a lot to latch onto. At least for this solver. Perhaps you had a better experience.

The most interesting thing today is the information that ULA is a "9D: Suffix meaning 'little one.'"

- Horace

Monday, December 16, 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013, Greg "Jeremiah" Johnson


This was a rare Monday puzzle wherein I understood the theme while solving, and used it to help me fill in theme answers quickly, although, I admit, I wasn't positive about the spelling of DOSVIDANIYA (24D: "Farewell, Vladimir!"). Even without that, though, I felt it played a little tougher than Mondays sometimes do. Actually, I finished with an error "BABe" for BABY (25D: Infant). Such are the perils of trying to solve for time. The squares get filled in, and I do not double-check them. My grandmother had a trivet on her wall that said "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get." I should, perhaps, keep that in mind more often. Lost at least 30 seconds looking for the mistake. Sheesh!

I enjoyed the theme well enough, and I loved the bluntness of the revealer clue - 34A: This puzzle's theme (GOODBYE). Sometimes it doesn't take much to amuse me. At first I was a little bothered by ACDUCTS (22A: They connect cooling units to rooms, in brief), even though it's perfectly fine fill (sometimes it doesn't take much to bother me, either…), but I liked it better when the next answer was BMOVIE (25A: Unmemorable low-budget film). Somehow, having all three single letters (A, B & C) seems better than just having one or two. Crazy? Probably.

I wish the clue for ONEMAN (20A: Kind of band) were "What can I do, I'm only ____?," but I guess that's another one I'll have to jot down in my virtual notepad.

Some of the usual stuff - EMIR, URSA, UTIL, ERIE, and a blast from the crosswordese past with OREL (16A: Pitcher Hershiser), but nothing terribly egregious. Plus, there's some interesting stuff, like LAPIS (1A: ____ lazuli), CHINK (23D: Armor flaw), TENPINS (45A: Bowling game), and DOUBLEDUP (30A: Bent over, as from pain).

A fine Monday.

- Horace

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sunday, December 15, 2013, Jeff "Not by the hair on my chinny chin" Chen



LOVED it! Slowly we worked out that the long downs were definitions of the word "cut," but the "see above" and "above the rest" parts eluded us until the very end. It was the NE that finally did it. I got TTTTT (Aids for long drives) ("tees") and then I was still a little undecided about the Ts running across the top. I kept thinking it should be "ththth," or something like a raspberry sound. I showed Frannie, and she, having fought with multiple Us in the middle, put it all together. Very nice, Mr. Chen. Very nice.

Some great clues today, too. 112A: One famed for heartlessness (TINMAN). Brilliant. (Too bad the farmworker (ZEKE) was Lahr's character instead of Haley's (Hickory), but still a nice pairing.) 24A: It has nine rooms (CLUE). Fabulous. And I like how HOUSERULE (28A: Game twist) has such a prominent position, because Mr. Chen is using his own house rules for the "CUT" letters (1A: Oceans (CCCCC) ("seas"), etc.). It's really quite lovely.

It's a little odd that THIRD (106A: Like New Jersey, among states admitted to the Union) followed THRICE (105A: Triply), but there's so much quality, including the very next clue - 107A: Subway fare (HEROES) (do we need the E there?…) that I'm looking the other way. 

Really, though, there's almost nothing wrong here, and there's so much good. 74D: Withdraw from the bank? (ERODE), 18D: Crisp (TERSE), 102D: Ain't right? (ARENT)… and a new contender for "best SIRI clue" 95D: Her name is Norwegian for "beautiful woman who leads you to victory." 

Maybe my favorite Sunday ever. A cut above the rest, indeed.

- Horace

p.s. Jeff Chen's account of how this puzzle came to be is worth a look. It's over on the Wordplay blog. (sidebar)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Saturday, December 14, 2013, Martin Ashwood-"Cordwood"-Smith


Mr. Ashwood-Smith loves to stack. Today he went a little easy on us, just giving the central quadstack, and I think it made for a more enjoyable puzzle than some of those double quadstack grids.

ANCHORAGEALASKA (26A: U.S. city that's almost as large in area as Delaware) is a great answer, and an interesting bit of trivia. We're not quite sure, though, why FOREIGNMINISTER needs to be 35A: Part of a French cabinet, instead of just any old cabinet. Frannie actually tried "premier ministre" in there, which fit, but was, obviously, not right. She also tried "epoux" for 18A: Ones united in France? (ETATS). "Epoux" means "spouses," and it would have been sweet, but that's maybe a little deeper into the language than even the NYT Crossword is willing to go. As it is, "etats" are states, and "Etats-Unis" is French for "United States."

We aren't familiar with TERRENCEMCNALLY (16A: "Corpus Christi" playwright), but we are familiar with SERGEANTOROURKE (52A: Forrest Tucker's "F Troop" role). Frannie thought of that one. We've allowed ourselves to rest on the "MeTV" network for a few minutes while we watched a little "F Troop," which is still in syndication on that retro channel. You've gotta switch the channel again, though, when the ads come on (they're all depressing - for geriatrics or for battered animals), so we haven't actually watched any full episodes. Also, the plots are idiotic, but we still have a soft spot for the show.

Anyhoo... we were a bit shocked to find a BLOODSTAIN (58A: Bit of forensic evidence) at the bottom of the grid, just below the macabre RIGORMORTIS (58A: What solidifies things in the end?) (kept looking for a glute-related answer... "stairmaster?"...). Horrors! And we finished (after an error) in the middle with VIP (25A: Big gun) (had "ceo" forever!) and VANESSA (25D: 1958 41-Down by Samuel Barber) (?). Also couldn't come up with ALIPASHA (17D: Ottoman ruler nicknamed "The Lion"), so that whole area took a bit of groping. Once we hit upon VIP, though, everything came together. Whew!

Favorite clue/answer pair today - 24A: Pickle (JAM). Beautiful.
Runner up - OTIS (19D: Manufacturer of boxy cars).

- Horace

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday, December 13, 2013, Gary "The Holy" Cee


The Channel is called the BEEB (25D: English channel's nickname, with "the") eh? By whom? Must be those crazy Brits, 'cause I've never heard it before.* We'd also never heard of SNOWJOB being a 8A: Soft soap relative. Really? There's a soap called "Snow Job?" Or, wait… is "soft soap" slang for false flattery? Either way, I didn't know it.

The vertical tens were all quite nice. MAGNACARTA (27D: King John sealed it), and LIQUOREDUP (5D: Smashed) especially. We had a slight quarrel with black licorice being called ANACQUIREDTASTE (17A: What black licorice or blue cheese is, for many), because in our experience, you either like it or you don't. And furthermore, why would one ever try to like black licorice? Blue cheese, sure. I, myself, have come to like blue cheese, and have done so by sampling it over and over again when Frannie got some, or at a party, or whatever. But black licorice? I see it, I know I hate it, and I avoid it.

Obviously, we looked up BLUETOOTH (32D: Technology standard named for a Danish King) after that sensational eponym teaser. King Harald Bluetooth (anglicized name) was a tenth-century ruler who united several tribes into a single kingdom, Denmark. The logo is a combination of the runes that make up his initials. Fascinating.

We're sure that frequent commenter englishteacher59 will have filled in CAREW (38D: All-Star 18 consecutive times from 1967 to 1984) even more quickly than we did, which was quite quickly (off the C). And we're thinking that maybe we could try to get a VCHIP (44D: Blocker working with a receiver) (!), installed somehow into another frequent commenter, Huygens, who will no doubt DROOL (24D: Go gaga (over)) over THEURGE (58A: Sexual desire, euphemistically) and BOOTEE (32A: One might be made for the shower). (Oh… wait… maybe not that second one.)

But seriously, this puzzle had a lot of good clues. 40A: Person who may work a lot (VALET) (a parking lot! I didn't get until just now!), and we also enjoyed 11D: Inquiry made while half awake, maybe (WHA). If you need to get "wha" into the grid, that's a good way to do it. Much better than "bygone hockey league." Some nice "second-level" French with ANGE (26D: Being with one auréole) and PERDU (45D: Out of sight), and bonus Latin and Massachusetts material with ENSE (Massachusetts motto opener) ("… petit placidam sub libertate quietem").

Thumbs up.

- Horace

* Well... Tonight I asked a British friend if he had a nickname for the English Channel, and when I suggested "the Beeb," he laughed for a good long while. It is the nickname for the BBC. We were duped! Very nice, Mr. Cee... you've won this round.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thursday, December 12, 2013, David Steinberg


Long ago there was a publication, edited, I'm pretty sure, by Will Shortz, called the "Four-Star Puzzler." (It was affiliated with Games magazine, whose highest ranking of difficulty for a puzzle was three stars.) They ran a crossword called "Element 18," (argon) wherein all the Rs that would normally have been in the answers were simply left out. In this puzzle, instead, we are forced to add Rs to what would be sensible answers to the given clues, which results in random new words. Hmph. Not my favorite.

We actually "finished" this puzzle with blank squares, then slowly realized that Rs would fit into all of them, including, importantly, 63A: Moderates (E_ASE_S), and then the resulting word, if parsed into two parts, would read "Erase Rs." But to have the puzzle accepted by the software, we needed to do exactly the opposite.

- Horace

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013, Steve Savoy


I wonder who has the distinction of being quoted most often in themed NYT crossword puzzles? I suppose it's find-out-able (there's a database somewhere) but in the absence of the actual answer, I'm going to guess that Einstein is a possible candidate. His quote today, "If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it," is a bit extreme, I think, but it is, at least, a quote that is difficult to guess if you are not familiar with it, which we weren't.

Of course, with all those quote (and author!) squares, there's bound to be some SUER, RETAG, STER, ITD and HTEN (24D: Coordinate in the game Battleship). So all those coordinates are fair game now? Yikes. Also did not love DOTEDU (5D: End of an academic 28-Across (URL)).

On the plus side, I liked learning that IRENE is 54D: Pax's Greek counterpart. And in a less erudite way, I loved seeing my old favorite arcade game Asteroids mentioned! (ATARI (4D: Asteroids game maker)). Those were the days, dropping tokens into the machines, happily, but often tensely, wasting hours and hours…

It took us forever to see SAFE as the "10D: Opposite of out," and when, o when, will I remember that MUFTI (7D: G. I.'s civvies) is civilian dress for a military person? I always think of the Muslim definition of religious leader, or legal adviser in religious matters. Here's a little tip, though, the "civvies" definition comes about because that legal adviser is a civil official. Maybe now I will remember it.

Frannie was familiar with the phrase in 20A: Did some woolgathering (DREAMT), which made one of us. And we both liked the pair of "Become inedible" clues (1A: GOBAD, and 62D: ROT) nearly bookending the grid.

I don't know… kind of a wash today. A mildly amusing quote, a few good words, and a hearty helping of junk. Maybe slightly less than a wash.

- Horace

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tuesday, December 10, 2013, Bill Thompson


An interesting Tuesday. I was quite surprised to see MODESTMOUSE (45A: Band with the 2007 #1 album "We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank") (I know the band, but not that album - I guess we stopped at "Good News for People Who Love Bad News") turn up, and MISSMISSISSIPPI (36A: Annual Vicksburg pageant) looks great running through the middle. I guess the theme is "M&M," as all long answers are two-words, each starting with M. I kind of like that 55A: Plain or peanut candy (MANDM) is clearly the "revealer," yet makes no mention of the theme. I will complain slightly, though, about MUCKETYMUCK (59A: Pooh-bah). That is a term I never use, but if I were to, I'd probably say "Mucky-muck." Neither appears in my Random House College dictionary, yet I accept various online sources, which give both versions as variants of the Chinook "High muck-a-muck."

I am pretty tired of ELL (16A: Pipe joint with a 90-degree turn) and LASE (29A: Zap with light), but I love the word SERPENTINE (53A: Like Lombard Street in San Francisco), and BLOUSE (12D: Garment traditionally buttoned on the left side) was uncommon and refreshing. Also to the good was the interesting trivia that ORANGE is the "46D: Actual color of an airplane's black box."

I liked the clue for CPA (61D: Balancing expert, in brief?), and UPHERE (48D: Higher calling?) was cute, too. SEATED (49D: Like fortunate subway riders) seems like an arbitrary judgement call. I, for one, often prefer to stand on buses and subways. Especially, here in Boston, in the doorways on the side that don't open, just tucked out of the way, and not crammed next to someone with very little understanding of the term "personal space." But I digress.

Overall, I guess I liked it. It was a little tough, for a Tuesday, and had some interesting entries. Keep 'em comin', Shortzie!

- Horace

p.s. I hadn't realized it before checking out another blog, but this is a double vowel progression. That is, MA-MA, ME-ME, etc. Very nice!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Monday, December 9, 2013, Nina Rulon-Miller


Not a bad rendering of this common theme. A certain part of theme entries, in this case, the last half, can be put with another word, in this case CHAIR (64A: Head, as a committee … or a word that can follow the ends of 16-, 29-, 36-, 47-, and 61-Across) to make a compound word. So we get different chairs, and they all work well, in that they are all common chairs, and the theme entries are all common, normal things.

In the fill we get symmetrical crosswordese with RUER (13A: Regretful one) and ERTE (66A: Onetime Harper's Bazaar illustrator), which is strangely satisfying. ELBE (51A: River to the North Sea) and ATOP (25A: Perched on) are also symmetrical, but those two are maybe not quite so crosswordsy. Balancing off the standard fare, though, we have SLOUGH (52A: Cast (off) and STEPPE (22A: Treeless plain), and many of the falling sevens are quite nice. NUTCASE (2D: Crackpot), SPLASHY (40D: Ostentatious), and NEBULAE (41D: Interstellar clouds), to name a few.

Overall, this played slightly harder than some Mondays, and it was also a bit more interesting. What more can we ask of a Monday?

- Horace

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sunday, December 8, 2013, Patrick Berry



We had no idea what was going on with theme while solving, but after we saw the "Well Done," we took another look, and once we got it, thought the gimmick somewhat mind-blowing. What are there, ten of them? No? Twelve? And they all work pretty darn well. Take 24A: Pitch that fixes everything? (CUR[V]E[B]ALL). "Curveball cure-all." It's brilliant I tells ya. "Simon LeBon Simoleon?" What the ...? How do you think of that? "Maelstrom Maestro!" "Branded Brain-dead!" We've said it before and we'll say it again (hopefully) - we like this Patrick Berry fellow.

The rest of the puzzle was pretty fun, too. ACE (4D: One-hit wonder) was beautifully clued, as was CARPET (97D: Pile on the floor). OSPREYS (63D: Fish hawks) is a nice word (some complain of gratuitous plurals, but I don't much care), and WESTBERLIN (30D: Site of a 1963 J.F.K. speech) is good, long fill. And speaking of old politics, wasn't "ILDUCE" one of the best dictator nicknames ever? Enjoyed the two "Blue expanse" clues, but I tried "sky" for the first one, and then when I saw the second one, and that it also had three letters, I left them both empty for a while.

There were a lot of threes, but none of them offended me, and there were a few abbreviations (CMON, THEYD), but again, they seem perfectly all right. Was it just us? Are we blinded by our fondness for the constructor? or did you, too, quite enjoy this grid?

- Horace

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Saturday, December 7, 2013, James Mulhern


This puzzle put itself at a disadvantage right away by starting with a clue that referred to another answer, but we came around to it in time. Loads of misdirection, as there often is on a Saturday, but do you ever feel like you can sometimes get into a groove by just starting with that as a premise? Take 50A: Key setting (OCEAN), for example. You see that clue on a Saturday and "lock" doesn't even enter your mind. Maybe that's a bad example, because "key" itself is almost crosswordese, and it's frequently given a tricky clue. Same thing for OBIS (34D: Geishas often draw them). You see the word "Geisha," and you immediately think "obi." How 'bout 57A: Universal work (MOVIE). Today, we saw the "hidden capital" for what it was, and put it in. I'm not really sure what I'm trying to say here, except that sometimes you're in the groove and sometimes you're not.

Perhaps the trickiest clue today for us was 61A: Evidence of having worn thongs (SANDALTAN). Frannie got that one, not because she wears thongs on the beach, but because she is more familiar with summer footwear terminology: "sandals;" "flip-flops;" "espadrilles;" "huaraches;" etc. Although honestly, she tells me now that she was using the aforementioned technique, and immediately went to places other than undergarments.

In the category of "tricky clues that kept us guessing for a while longer," you may add 10D: Fryer seen at a cookout? (BUGZAPPER) (very nice!) and 39D: Open love? (ZERO) (ditto). We didn't know RAMEAU (2D: Bach contemporary), STU (45A: Sportscaster Nahan with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame), or that PLAT meant an 31A: Area map (it can also be a verb!), but EMMASTONE (17A: "The Help" co-star, 2011) is always a pleasure, and AEGIS (15D: Backing) is a real nice word. Also kind of loved TADA (55D: Drumroll follower), so... decent Saturday.

- Horace

p.s. We enjoyed remembering our old college friend "Skegger" when Frannie filled in SKEG (48A: Keel extension). Skegger, if you're out there, Hi!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday, December 6, 2013, Elizabeth C. Gorski


Recently, we suggested that themeless puzzles might be a good idea on Wednesdays, and this is a perfect example of such an one. It was fun and fairly clean, but we absolutely shredded it. Frannie called it, by the way, when she saw Ms. Gorski's name. Either she's decidedly in our wheelhouse, or she's just too kind to put the hammer down for a weekend puzzle. Either way, our time today is lower than our Tuesday average.

All that aside, however, there was good and bad, as there almost always is. On the good side were BREAST (4D: Nursing locale) (tricky!), MINI (6A: Short shift?), and I actually kind of loved NOMSG (8D: Chinese menu words). It's because it's Friday that they didn't have to clue that as "Chinese menu wds.," right? Also, there's a lot of interesting trivia, like BOSC (1D: "The aristocrat of pears") (really? never heard that before), SUDAN (41A: Country that split in two in 2011) (I feel I should have known this, but we needed a few crosses), SIRI (60A: In Australia her name is Karen), and NELLE (62A: Harper Lee's given name). That last, by the way, led to our one error today. I put in "Belle" at first, because it seemed plausible, and because we had no answer for 50D: NASA's Gemini rocket (AGENA) (??). Soo... maybe an error undermines the contention that this was too easy, but I would argue that one difficult square does not a challenging puzzle make. Anyway, even with a little scrambling (B... D... N), we still finished quickly. (Also, if Frannie had been holding the puzzle, the B would not have been entered so hastily, since "Ageba" seems more unlikely than "Agena.")

In the "?" column were RITT (26A: "Stanley & Iris" director Martin), DEWLINE (47A: Cold war defense system), and HARAJUKUGIRLS (51A: Dancers known for their Japanese street-style wardrobe). Also, the aforementioned AGENA.

Lastly - TILTAWHIRL (28D: Carnival ride since 1927). Awesome.

- Horace

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thursday, December 5, 2013, Dan Schoenholz


Most people, when solving a crossword alone (myself included), will start at 1A and slowly work their way through, filling in as densely as possible as they go. When solving with Frannie, however, if I start the puzzle, I have taken to going straight through the Acrosses in order, and then the Downs in order, not allowing myself to cross-reference at all. After this, I hand the puzzle over. Today, however, I broke that rule to take one last look at the revealer clue 34A: Puzzlement … or a hint to getting the 10 words on the perimeter of this puzzle (CONFUSION), because I had put several letters through it on the downs, and, well, because it was the revealer. I was able to fill it in at that point, so I looked again at 1A, which stood as "_AV_," and the theme was understood. All this is just a long way of saying that I felt it played a little on the easy side.

That's not to say, however, that we didn't like it. We did. And even with the trick revealed, we still did double-takes on some of them, like 44D: Be patronizing ([CON]DESCEND), and 62A: Pageant, e.g. ([CON]TEST). I mean, they could almost work without the "Con"s. 5A: Court disaster? ([CON]TEMPT) was kind of funny, although I think "disaster" might be a bit strong. If he's using "court" as a verb, then it's a strange, dual, meta clue that I only barely understand. Any thoughts?

I loved the non-theme long answers BATTENDOWN (18A: Secure, in a way) and INLALALAND (56A: Out to lunch). Very nice. 22A: In stitches (SEAMED) was nice and tricky. As were 45A: Coke source (SODACAN) and 47D: Lightheaded one? (CANDLE). Thankfully, the crosses on ELEAZAR (43D: Nephew of Moses) were all gettable (luckily, I know a little Latin!). And while we're right there, I loved the symmetry of the two "unwind" clues 17A: (REST) & 58A: (LAZE).

A decent Thursday.

- Horace

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wednesday, December 4, 2013, Daniel Raymon


I had no idea what was going on with the theme until I looked at it after the grid was done. I was all set to hate it, because I couldn't understand it, but then it slowly came to me and I laughed out loud, as the kids are saying these days. My favorite was SQUIRTCHASER (43A: Rug rat pursuer?) ("Skirt Chaser"). The strangest was GREATSQUAT (57A: Outstanding posture for a catcher?) ("Great Scott!"). I've seen this kind of "change the sound of one part of a word" theme before, but today it caught me by surprise, and I ended up liking it.

Our solve was done after coming home late and we were both a little sleepy, but I still think this skewed a little harder than normal. Part of the confusion was that once the answer for 15A: Area jiggled while twerking (REAR) (They went there, apparently…) was four letters and not three, I assumed it would be "Butt," and actually took out GEOM (6A: Math subj. with proofs) for a time, even though we both knew that was correct. Multi-part abbreviations also were slow to come to us, like TREX (29D: Cloned menace of film) and SQIN (55D: Newspaper ad meas.). 59D: Proterozoic ____ (EON), too, seemed strange. It's legit, but we both thought only of "era."

The fill contained what is, perhaps, my least favorite "crossword word," REUNE (47D: Attend a homecoming, say). No one says that. But on the other hand, it also contained MASON (1D: Perry who's on the case), which made Frannie quite happy.

A slightly mixed bag, but now that I understand the theme, I'm giving it a thumbs up.

- Horace

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tuesday, December 3, 2013, Phil Ruzbarsky


We totally missed the theme while solving this (maybe because there's no "revealer"), but now we see several horse-related terms as the first parts of the long Across clues. If you count the whole entry as thematic, there's even more theme material than yesterday, and still the fill doesn't suffer too terribly. Sure, you have to deal with answers like SEPOY (32D: India's ____ Rebellion, 1857-59) (??) and TIBIAL (5A: Shin-related), but all the long Downs are solid, and there's not too, too much crosswordese, so we'll give Mr. Ruzbarsky the leeway he needs.

Nice that old king PRIAM (22D: King killed in the sack of Troy) gets a shout-out, and we liked the mention of the under-rated BITOHONEY (47A: Nestlé bar). We were surprised to hear that it was a Nestlé product, so we looked it up in our go-to online resource, Wikipedia, and lo and behold, Nestlé did acquire the brand from Ward Candy Company in 1984, but in May of this year, they sold it to Pearson's Candy Company of St. Paul, MN! Hmm… I wonder if it's worth writing to Will Shortz about this…

A decent Tuesday, despite a few issues.

- Horace

Monday, December 2, 2013

Monday, December 2, 2013, Adam G. Perl


Decent Monday. Tons of theme material and all of the long answers from which the theme was pulled were perfectly un-strained, normal constructions. The fill was really quite clean despite the 45 theme squares, but then, in early-week puzzles, I often find things like ANIL (7D: Indigo dye) and ANAT (54D: Med. school subj.) almost comforting. Truly, though, that was about it for crosswordese, and there was plenty of good stuff to cushion it, like CODDLE (45D: Treat like a baby), ERELONG (9D: Soon, old-style), OXYGEN (27A: Scuba tank content), and INERTIA (42D: Subject of Newton's first law of motion), among others.

Funny that we see the uncommon (and prudely clued) AREOLA (28A: Colored part of the iris) today, when we just saw AREOLE (38A: Biological ring) yesterday. And we've got side-by-side French fill in IDEES (35D: Notions: Fr.) and GARDE (36D: En ____ (fencer's cry)), and they're right below another language pair - VOGUE (12D: Style) and ESSEN (13D: City on the Ruhr).

This is just what a Monday ought to be. A simple cakewalk, to be sure, but one that's got a fun theme and not too much ridiculous fill. Nice job, Mr. Perl.

- Horace

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sunday, December 1, 2013, Alan DerKazarian



Interesting puzzle today. The diagonal GREATDIVIDE (27A: Passage from life to death) (couldn't/shouldn't this have been clued geographically?) splitting the grid was novel, and the "secret code" of BACKINBLACK (1980 hard rock album that went 22x platinum ... or a hint to how to cross this puzzle's 27-Across) are just the sorts of things you expect from a Sunday, but there were so, so many three-letter answers, and a few real clunkers (NUTTED), that overall, the solve ended up being less than totally satisfactory.

On the bright side, Frannie liked the inclusion of the not-often seen word SUITORS (22A: Ones with bouquets, maybe), and CONCLAVES (60A: Private gatherings) ain't so bad either. In fact, much of the longish stuff (9s & 10s) was very good. MENTALNOTE, LOSSLEADER, BLOSSOMED, all nice. And who doesn't love an OCELOT (70A: Cat also known as the dwarf leopard)? Oh, and speaking of animals, I looked up MAKO (79A: Ocean menace), and found it is a variety of shark. They can jump 30 feet in the air, and some estimate that they can swim at over 60 miles per hour. Calling them a "menace," however, is challenged by at least one Wikipedia contributor, who wrote: "The mako is regularly blamed for attacks on humans and, due to its speed, power and size, it is certainly capable of injuring and killing people. However, this species will not generally attack humans and do not seem to treat them as prey. Most modern attacks involving mako sharks are considered to have been provoked due to harassment or the shark being caught on a fishing line." Sooo... maybe not their fault.

Lastly, 18D: "Purple haze" was LSD? I guess I should have figured that out, but I never really gave it much thought.

- Horace

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Saturday, November 30, 2013, Byron Walden and Brad Wilber


Tell us, did you also get bogged down in the NE? Frannie thinks that others will just rip through that quadrant, but I'm not so sure. I still don't really understand CLUSTERED (11D: Nearly set?). I kept thinking of concrete, but you couldn't say that that ever gets "clustered." I suppose you could say that runners at the start of a race are "clustered" around the starting line before "Set" is called, but is that fair cluing? What, dear reader, am I missing? Also, it didn't help that we had "moAn" for 11A: Kvetch (CRAB) for quite a while, and "ACTiii" instead of ACTTWO (24A: Setting for many reprises). Luckily, though, I knew TAMARIND (33A: Ingredient in Worcestershire sauce) from a GAMES magazine scavenger hunt that ran probably 30 years ago, at least. I think they asked for a food product that included both anchovies and tamarind. It's funny what things stick in your brain. Anyway, Frannie finally got the very nice ALLOWANCE (13D: Minor payment), and I pulled LILO (15A: Disney title character surnamed Pelekai) out of nowhere, and then we still fought for probably twenty minutes before I got UGLY (18A: Hostile). I then put in BOYWONDER (14D: Early riser?) because it fit, not because I understood the clue. I actually removed it before handing it over to Frannie, because I couldn't defend it and didn't want to embarrass myself. About a minute later, she handed it back to me with the "Well Done" message displayed. SHOW (21A: Lose one's place?) (hmm... I get it (horse racing), but that's a toughie) and the aforementioned CRAB were, I think, the last to fall.

In spite of our difficulties, and, really, also partly because of them, we enjoyed this puzzle. A good Saturday should have you scratching your head for a while. There was plenty of fun stuff, too, starting right at 1A: 1960s sitcom character with the catchphrase "I see nothing!" (SGTSCHULTZ). That went in immediately. As did TATIN (3D: Tarte ____ (French apple dessert). All that watching of Jacques Pépin is finally paying off! And speaking of Jacques, he would surely scoff at anyone making omelets using a hinged pan! (31D: Cookware that's often hinged (OMELETPAN)).

I never remember that 15A: Pitchblende, e.g. is a URANIUMORE until all the crosses pretty much force it. Love the words PAEAN (26A: Elated outpouring) and BUSHWHACK (29D: Clear one's way, in a way), and HATH (51A: Verb in the world's first telegraph message) was a fun bit of trivia. ("What hath God wrought?") "Wrought" would have been better, frankly. I'll put that into the notebook for our future crossword constructions.

I thought the Watergate was a hotel, not an apartment building, but I could be wrong about that. And if I were doing this alone, I'd still be scratching my head about ARGYLESOCK (61A: Accent for plus fours, often). Frannie tells me that the "plus fours" are a type of pant. According to the Wikipedia, "Plus-fours are breeches or trousers that extend 4 inches below the knee, and thus four inches longer than traditional knickerbockers, hence the name." So there you go.

Overall, a lot of interesting, fun, and hard clues with very little slop. A good Saturday.

- Horace

Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday, November 29, 2013, Ned White


Loved it. Great start (and finish) with the bookended PUDDYTAT (1A: Carton canary's bane) and MELBLANC (58A: Voice of 1-Across). You know, Dad took me to see Mel Blanc speak at Clark University long ago. He was great. But you knew he would be.

I'm gonna say there was no slop today. Even the threes were enjoyable, from the rare variant ETD (18A: Gate announcement, briefly) to the well-clued URL (54D: It might end in "mil"), and I even remembered ASU (49A: Sun Devil Stadium's sch.)! There was a PILE (1D: Ton) of clever clueing, starting right off with the first down pair of "Ton" and 2D: Ton, e.g. (UNIT). And 8D: It has eight neighbors: Abbr. (TENN) sets one up for the tricky 49D: Mont. neighbor (ALTA). Well, ok, there's the one piece of junk. The clue is tricky (because, come on, who ever thinks of Canada?!), and I suppose that's short for "Alberta," but I've never seen that abbreviation before.

NODUH (32A: "That is so obvious!") was a good one. Frannie exclaimed "They're going there?" when she filled that one in, but we both like that they did. Some side-by-side cryptic-type cluing with 15D: Delta lead-in (CHARLIE) and 9D: Stars and stripes, say (PLURALS), and we liked how the "Stars and stripes" clue paired nicely with 12D: Hammer and sickle holder, maybe (SHED) (Fantastic!). Also, what about 38D: One shot in a cliffhanger? (JREWING). It's all so good. So tight.

It went along smoothly and happily until we ground to a halt in the SW corner. We KNEW that "Pope" was too easy an answer for 46D: John Paul II, e.g., but we couldn't help ourselves, and that really threw a wrench into 55A: Ray Charles's Georgia birthplace (ALBANY), which I kept thinking I should recognize, but which I couldn't see when it was "AP__NY." Finally, we agreed that REORG sounded good for 57A: Inc. magazine topic, and things came together. ALAR (47D: Creator of bad apples?) though? Is that because it tastes bad? I actually tried "Alum" here, influenced, I think, by the Warner Brothers cartoon references. Oh, wait, I just looked it up... it was banned for fears that it caused cancer. Got it.

Strangest trivia fill - DIAN (19A: Longtime model Parkinson of "The Price is Right"). Who knows that?

OK, we could probably go on and on, and I'm sure I missed great clue/answer pairs, but suffice it to say, we thoroughly enjoyed this one. Great vacation-day puzzle!

- Horace

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thursday, November 28, 2013, Loren Muse Smith and Jeff Chen


Happy Thanksgiving, reader! Frannie and I hosted for nine, and had a wonderful time. It's a miracle, really, that I'm still conscious, but while I am, I will make use of these final waking moments to review the puzzle that Frannie and I did together late last night.

First off, the 14x16 grid looked very odd on the iPad mini. It didn't fit into the space allotted to it, and in the margins is visible blurred text, as though the puzzle were merely scanned from the paper itself and simply inserted into the software. That's not the case, I don't think, which makes the newsprint odder still. But that's really quite immaterial, is it not?

The SNAKESONAPLANE (61A: Cult classic whose title is depicted four times in this puzzle) seems a little ill-advised on a weekend when half the country is travelling, but the execution, with "ASP" appearing directly over different types of flying machines, is kind of cute. The fill, however, was not my favorite. PAS (1A: Not for the Parti Québecois?), for starters, bothered me. "Pas?" I'm no native speaker, but it just doesn't seem right to me. Wouldn't "Contre" be better? And then ISPS (4A: Comcast and CenturyLink, in brief), ETAS (8A: Terminal info), ODE (12A: Words of praise), and RIAA (13A: Org. that fought Napster) (?) all right in a row? That's not a great start.

The clues for HANGGLIDER (34A: One interested in current affairs?) and SEMINARY (41D: School at which students are collared?) were nice, and I always enjoy a chess-type clue like 6D: Future queen, maybe (PAWN). Also, I learned a little about old toothpaste brands and the name of yet another small antelope. But even with all that, and a nice Latin clue (63D: Bellum's opposite (PAX)), I still found this puzzle bland and full of crosswordese. I think maybe they figure a lot of people won't be doing this puzzle because they will be, as I will be in a minute or two, lying on the couch in a food coma.

- Horace