Monday, August 19, 2019

Monday, August 19, 2019, Peter Gordon

3:45

Today's puzzle is a twist on an old concept: the revealer is a word which phonetically can be reduced to two letters, which then represent something about all the other theme answers. In this case, it's ARTIE Shaw whose name tells us that all the theme answers use only R and T as their consonants, and no others.

That's an odd thing to do, but I liked the longer entries that displayed this condition, such as TEETERTOTTER, RATTERRIER, and ROTOROOTER. On the other hand, TORATORATORA is a bit less interesting since it repeats the same word three times. Also, the partial TREATER is pretty rough as far as fill goes.

I suppose it would be a hard job to ensure that there are no other instances of R or T throughout the rest of the grid, seeing as those are two of the five most commonly used consonants in the English language. But wouldn't that have been something?

Since there are 84 squares devoted to the theme (and that is a ton!), there's not a lot in the rest of the puzzle to remark on. I'll mention the math nods at 1A and 53A (PLATO and EULER), and that ORNE and TION are rather DRAB, and leave it at that.

- Colum

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Sunday, August 18, 2019, David Steinberg

REVOLUTIONARY

Hey, everybody! Glad to be back again for another week of blogging. It's been a highly eventful weekend for yours truly, including the great and exciting opportunity to sing Mozart's Requiem with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, where the orchestra has its summer residence. It was awesome! Such an amazing ensemble.

Today, also exciting, I went with my brother and nephew to the Baseball Hall of Fame. For somebody who's lived less than two hours from Cooperstown for ten years, and who has been a diehard Red Sox fan for all of his life, it's been pretty odd that I haven't made the trek before this, but no point in crying over spilled milk. I caught, just out of the corner of my eye, a replay of Bucky f-ing Dent's homerun, but was assuaged by footage from 2004 and 2018.

But let's get this ball rolling on the blog, shall we? Literally, as it turns out. Mr. Steinberg has provided us four 2x2 squares where the word BALL rolls around as it moves from left to right, along with four long answers where the alternate configurations of the word make sense. In order to make the answers work, you have to roll with the punches through the extra letters. The odd one is clearly THEHOTL[BA]LTIMORE. Even though the clue specifically tells you the E is missing from the word "hotel," I was confused, partly because there is an E right next to the answer in the correct location (but on the other side).

Cleverly, Mr. Steinberg has included two bonus theme answers in the NE and SW in GOESFORASPIN and TURNTURNTURN. He's nicely separated these answers from all the other theme answers, which presumably allowed for better smooth fill.

Some good clues today include 105A: Producer of brown eggs (CADBURY) - brown because they're chocolate of course, and some of my favorite seasonal candy. Another favorite is 87D: Leave off, as the last word of a (OMIT). Hah!

Nothing I was disturbed by today, so that makes for a good start to the week. Let's keep it rolling!

- Colum

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Saturday, August 17, 2019, Michael Hawkins

0:15:17

A solid Saturday struggle today. It started easily enough with WATERBIRTH (Maternity option involving a pool), because really, what else could it have been? Still, it was nice to have it confirmed by HERSTORY (Part of some gender studies), and right away, we have kind of an answer to yesterday's "bro puzzle." Continuing with that theme, we found HONESTWAGE and AMYPOEHLER in the NE.

NIMOY

I don't really understand the clue "Modern young person vis-à-vis video games and smartphones" for SCREENAGER, but I like the word. SCARRY (Like Al Capone's face) and BUNTER (Hardly a swinger), on the other hand, are less praise-worthy.

I was helped today because just a few days ago, my brother procured the fixins for Bloody Marys, one of which was V8, and he read the ingredients off for me - one of which was CELERY! I should have been helped by my own "shadow" when I came across BEARD (It might start as a shadow), but I needed several crosses. I liked NOGO (Something scratched) and EASTER (Day of a hunt), but those, too, took some crosses and a lot of thought.

We've got some deep crosswordese in ARCO (With the bow, in music) and MERL (Blackbird), and a nice pair of familiar-seeming clues for ROBS (Appropriates inappropriately?) and ABET (Help badly).

At the bottom we have more fun words - MUSS, COSSET, NADIR - and a nice long French entry, FOLIEADEUX. Overall, a fun puzzle.

- Horace

Friday, August 16, 2019

Friday, August 16, 2019, Ori Brian

0:15:29

Today's puzzle starts out casually, with GRABACAB (Forgo Uber or Lyft) (I tried takeACAB first, then the more formal hireACAB) and LADMAG (Maxim, e.g.), and the DUDES thing continues right through the BEERKEGS at the end. Well, I suppose SANS (Without) and PETERROGER (Best-selling author who used an awful lot of commas) are a little more erudite than AMMO, NCAA, and GTOS. And maybe you'll say that my MALEEGO is too fragile, but as for MANBUN... UMNO. JESUS!

STANLEE

But that maybe makes it sound like I didn't like this one. I did! The PGRATINGS vibe of INSTAGRAMFILTER, REDDIT, LARACROFT, and MOANA is balanced out a bit by things like ART ("Science made clear," per Jean Cocteau), PARAGON (Ideal), DANSE (Activity at un bal masqué), and MEDEA (Mythical enchantress). And fun clues abound: "Craft shop item with a seemingly redundant name" (GLUESTICK), "One out?" (PAROLEE), "Second son" (ABEL), and "Foes of Fido, stereotypically" (MAILMEN), to cite four. "One who might get you into hot water?" (CANNIBAL) was reaching a bit too far for me, but perhaps you chuckled more than groaned.

Overall it was a lively, smooth, Friday solve. Lot's of fun.

- Horace


Thursday, August 15, 2019

Thursday, August 15, 2019, Andrew Zhou

0:28:59

Today we find four inventors names reversed inside the theme answers: Tesla, Nobel, Edison, and Bell. It seems that engineer can also mean inventor, so I guess the REVERSEENGINEER revealer works well.

TOTEM

I thought that the NE was particularly tough, with OCEANAUT (Sub tenant?) beside MESDAMES (French ladies) - both uncommon, and crossed by the difficultly-clued RICES (Splits into bits) and GLUES (Fixes, in a way). And although I know the word GELEE from French, I do not know it as an "Aspic-like dish." That all took me a while to unravel.

In other areas, "High percentage crime?" was a great clue for USURY, and "Attention-getting phrase" was tricky for NOTABENE. BANGS (Apt hairstyle for a gunslinger?) was hilarious, I thought OUTRIVAL (Eclipse) and BEEFRIB (Barbecue cut) were both a little odd, and I have never heard of Chuck LORRE.

So overall, this was slow-going for me, and although there were bits of it that I liked a lot, the end brought more relief than satisfaction. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to return a call from the IRS about a penalty of some kind...

- Horace

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Wednesday, August 14, 2019, David J. Kahn

0:06:06

Fifty years ago tomorrow, the Aquarian Exposition began in THECATSKILLS, where Joan Baez, Santana, Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, and many other performed before what some claim was half a million people.


It was a big event, and its fiftieth anniversary is good cause for a tribute puzzle. The theme answers that hold the performers are all solid, and there are some good bits in the fill - the two "Showy neckwear" clues (BOA & LEI) were fun, and how can you argue with LEVAR Burton and Mother TERESA

But as with the famous festival, there are certain unpleasantries that need to be put up with. CHOKEHOLDS and OBITS are a bit of a downer, man, and ODIC, ELHI, TRA, and ARB are, well, probably easier to cope with than running out of food and dealing with inadequate restroom and medical facilities. Those peaceful hippies all survived, and so will we.

I guess that, in a way, the constant stream of puzzles that comes to us through the interweb tubes is a lot like the stream of music that washed over the unwashed masses for four days fifty years ago in Mr. Yasgur's field. Some of it is great, some of it is not your favorite, but you're just happy to be there, and you appreciate every minute of it.

Peace out.

- Horace

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Tuesday, August 13, 2019, Lynn Lempel


0:04:03
A puzzle built on a tragic fate, that of STAR CROSSED lovers Romeo and Juliet. Is it a coincidence that it was released amid the shooting stars of the Perseid meteor shower? We will, perhaps, never know. Such is our fate. But intention aside, we can still delight at the crossing of ROCK and CHILD, LODE and MORNING, FILM and ALL, LONE and GOLD

LASSO

I find this theme interesting in that, aside from the revealer, half of each pair is contained within a longer answer, and the other half stands alone. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a theme like that before. I kind of like the variation.
Crossword veterans might have appreciated the slightly different clues for OSLO (Norwegian city with the Munch Museum) and ERIE (One of five Greats), but I’m guessing few were tricked for more than a moment or two. The clue for EDIT (Tend to some p’s and q’s, say) was also cute.
I like the pattern of Os in the North - the block of four with two diagonally above. It makes me think that if ever I actually get around to constructing a puzzle with a theme, I might like to try making a visual theme rather than a semantic one. We’ll see, I guess, whether A: That ever happens, and B: It would be accepted.
LEAVEN (Cause to expand, as bread) is an interesting entry, but I find the clue wording a little odd. I can’t think of anything other than bread that could be leavened. “I caused the balloon to leaven by blowing into it” doesn’t really work. Well, I guess other baked goods...
For me, this is all about the theme, but it’s a good one, and on a Tuesday, I think it’s just fine.

- Horace

Monday, August 12, 2019

Monday, August 12, 2019, Jeffrey Wechsler


0:04:44
On Beginning this puzzle, I didn’t know what the theme would entail. Oh, But soon it became clear: Only By filling in the beginning sounds of “oh,” and “bee,” can we end up correctly… oh, nevermind. I’m going to leave that kind of trickery to the constructors.

ABOMB

Mr. Wechsler has found five ways to start theme answers. Each is spelled differently, and each is perfectly “in the language,” as it were. That my oldest brother claims to have never heard of an OBIEAWARD I will credit to his living almost as far away from Broadway as it is possible to do in the Lower 48. Plus, the list of things he has never heard of is a long one. (Hi Dave! :) )
My favorite theme answer is OBEDIENCESCHOOL (Where education is pursued doggedly?) (Is it weird that it is connected to THEPOUND?), and I also enjoy that OHBEQUIET comes at the end, as if the solver has tired of the trick.
ACTUATE (Put into operation) was nice (I saw ACTU and quickly finished it with “pon,” which added a little time), and BYGONE (Past) is a BYGONE word that is nice to be reminded of. OVID was nice, because it reminds me that Frannie and I will be visiting his hometown of Sulmona next month. That should be interesting. And on the BAD side, I could cite COS, AABA, and GITMO. It’s not that GITMO is that bad as fill, but I just don’t like being reminded of the reality of it.

A fine Monday.

- Horace

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sunday, August 11, 2019, Alex Eaton-Salners


BIRD PLAY
This was a strange puzzle for me. For one thing, it took me about twice as long as it has taken me to do recent Sunday puzzles. Not that that’s a bad thing, of course… and it could have had something to do with the fact that I am in a small house with my entire family and more walking around and talking to me. But for another thing, it took me a long while to understand what was going on. The theme is, essentially, playing with words hidden within answers, rebus-style, and then explaining what’s going on in another answer. This leads to what appears to be a lot of duplication within the puzzle, which I find unsettling.
Take SCOFF (Jeer) over POPULARKIDS (In-group at school school) with the words “off” and “lark” circled, which is explained by OFFONALARK. I know the words OFF and LARK are not really duplicated, but they are circled, and so in a way, they are.
That said, the trick is pretty well done. Finding a SPREADEAGLE inside EVANGELIZE, for instance, is pretty cool. And putting a revealer of HEADLESSCHICKEN on THEPLOTTHICKENS is also very clever. And that SWANDIVE adds a whole nother dimension to the theme. So in the end, I walk away a fan. Nice job, Mr. Eaton-Salners.
 

In other areas, I still think MISCALL is too soon (Nate Silver is dead to me), and I like the inclusion of TAKESAKNEE (Colin deserves another shot). BIGD reminds me of a song (see above) by the group Bishop Allen, and SLEEPERCAR (Berth place) reminds me that this country deserves a better rail system. 
OK, before I get carried away with my rants, I'll let you go and enjoy your Sunday. I hope everyone is have a good day.

- Horace

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Saturday, August 10, 2019, Erik Agard and Anna Gundlach


0:10:47
Well, the last clue made me laugh out loud. "Start of an anti-coal petition" (DEARSANTA). Hah! It’s a great clue to cap off a fun Saturday puzzle.
I broke in with AVA, MEDIC (I briefly had imhIt), and MUTT, which led to STEADICAM and MAIA, and I was off and running. 
ULNA

I liked learning the term TURNT (Drunk, in modern slang), and might get to put it to use this very week, as today is the start of my family vacation! And speaking of that, “Wine lover’s favorite team” is a very nice clue for REDS. Furthermore, it’s possible we’ll buy a couple PECS of steamers this week, too. I could go on and on linking answers to my vacation… I have a couple of DIY projects lined up, and I am hoping for PAX between family members, otherwise the STRESS will age me terribly! 
Lots of good clues like “What you can take that I can’t?” (ARE), “It can pass when you pass” (OWNERSHIP), and "It reaches to touch one's hand" (ULNA), but I thought the clue for AREACODES (Some demographic data) could have been a tad more interesting. 
Does anyone actually use OPPS as a term for enemies? Is that a thing like TURNT that I just haven't come across yet? Somehow it doesn't seem likely... and what is a TYPEA flu? Since when have they been "typing" them? Colum?
Overall, I found lots to like in this one (SPLAY, AESOP, PARASITIC, ATEIT, INIGO), and very little glue (UAW, ASHED, POGS, EWELL). 
- Horace

Friday, August 9, 2019

Friday, August 9, 2019, John Guzzetta

0:10:43

You know a puzzle is going to be all right when you hit CANOODLE and CAVORT right off the bat. The clue "Frisk" for CAVORT is a bit uncommon, and NONES (The religiously unaffiliated) is not an expression that I'm familiar with, even though it is, apparently, a group I am a member of, but "Handy item in the kitchen?" (OVENMITT) was cute, and it was interesting to learn of the NOME Nugget.

The brothers RAMONE

In the NE, HAVARTI (Cheese sometimes flavored with dill) and BAREARMS (What short sleeves leave) seemed almost too blatant, but BEREA (Greek city visited by Paul before Athens), on the other hand, needed every cross.

"Demesne" (ESTATE), for me, exists only in Keats (Oft of one wide expanse had I been told / That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne / Yet did I never breathe its pure serene / Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold), but that was enough (with a cross or two) to finish up the top in very short order.

The bottom played a little more slowly, and a naive guess of glITTERATI for "Some social media celebrities" (TWITTERATI) made for a little snag in the SW. Eventually, I got TROLLS (Some social media commenters), and everything worked out in the end.

Overall, many fun answers (SNORKEL (Do a school visit, in a way?), HOTMIC (Capturer of an unguarded remark), only a little awkwardnes (EMBAR, OHME), and on balance, a decent Friday.

- Horace

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Thursday, August 8, 2019, Timothy Polin

0:11:41

A tidy little trick in the clues of this Thursday puzzle, given away by the revealer at 60- and 19-Across. Ordinarily, I don't like what I think of as a "backward" multi-part answer - that is, when the second half of an answer appears before the first half as you go through the clues in order - and normally I just skip past them and move on. But today I actually scrolled down to look at 60-Across, and since I already had entered acT at 9-Down (Not dither), I was able to guess that TWICE would be the second half of the "reconsider" clue. And then, as I continued in that NE corner, my brain must have kept working on the first part, because in about a minute I knew it must be THINK TWICE, and then the trick became clear. "25A: *Tin has been in them since 1929" wasn't a coin, or another alloy, but COMICSTRIPS! (Tin Tin has been in them!). And "17A: *Boo during a baseball game" wasn't something like "heckle," it was a WILDPITCH. (Boo-boo). Also, I think the "backward" revealer was appropriate today, as it could have hidden the revealer longer for those who didn't bother to scroll down, making the puzzle that much trickier.

POLEBEANS

I have come to expect good puzzles from Mr. Polin, and this lives up to that expectation. The two Law school classes (EVIDENCE & ETHICS) make a nice pair, and they're nicely tied in with LSAT (Its min. score is 120). And there's plenty of fun, tricky cluing, too - "Stickers in a plant store" (CACTI), "Lost one's standing? (SAT) (guffaw), "Hearts that don't beat very much?" (TREYS) (Good QMC!), "Going rate" (PACE) (Excellent NQMC) (Is that our abbreviation?), and "Figures calculated using crude estimates" (OILPRICES). Hah! And conversely, I loved the simplicity of "One way to get help" (ASK).

We find a lot of names in the middle, and there's that odd POLER (Gondolier, maybe), but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Great start to the Turn!

- Horace

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Wednesday, August 7, 2019, Jeff Chen

0:12:08 (F.W.O.E.)

Today I figured out the theme today at the first opportunity ("Scarcity" (EARTHDAY)) (dearth), but it didn't help me much, except for a couple times where I entered a Y at the end of a theme answer before I figured out the rest. Luckily, I didn't try that with 23A: *Futuristic film of 1982 (ENTREE) (Tron) (Hmmm...). The Y thing did help with YKNOW ("See what I'm talkin' 'bout?"), though, and I did fill in PIGLATIN without even really fully reading the clue, but overall it played a little tough for me, and finding my error (AaH instead of AHH) took me over a minute. I should probably just leave those "contented exclamation" clues empty in the middle from now on.

EAGLERAY

I guess the ENTREE answer makes it so that the "ay" ending isn't necessary to the theme, but those other Ys at the ends of words (especially SLEEPY, being almost "in position" for a theme answer as it is) dilute the overall effect a bit for me. Plus, I guess I'm kind of over PIGLATIN. It's interesting that Mr. Chen found some common (and one uncommon) words that could be interpreted as PIGLATIN, but, well, I guess I'm just not in a very good mood today. Sometimes you'll have that.

Other things that rubbed me the wrong way: Two networks (NBC & CBS); the ASHTRAY smack dab in the middle; ODON, TORIC, OTS, DASYAPAT, CHITIN... and the inconsistency of having both IHEARYA and YKNOW in the same grid. And it also kind of annoys me that ANNAL is perfectly acceptable in a crossword, but not accepted as a valid word in another game on the same site "Spelling Bee." Who's with me here?

I'm sorry to be so negative, but I didn't love this one. Again, it could just be my mood. Hope you enjoyed it more.

- Horace

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Tuesday, August 6, 2019, Jon Olsen

0:06:49

If you're like me, you're pretty sure you've never heard, nor heard of, the 1963 Bobby Vinton hit BLUEONBLUE. But if you're like me, you don't really care that the reference is obscure, because you were able to figure it out through crossing answers and inference, and you like the color blue in all its variations, so you came away thinking that the eight shades represented in the theme answers made for a bright and colorful Tuesday morning solve. Right?

SYD

The first three theme entries (BABYPOWDER, ARCTICOCEAN, ROYALNAVY) are all perfectly normal. COBALTSTEEL is slightly more of a niche knowledge type of thing, but again, if you're like me, you'll be ok with that.

In the rest of the answers we find such comforting OLDTIME material as TOWNCAR for "Limousine," AVONLEA as the "Home of Anne of Green Gables," DATSUNS (I drove the fastest I've ever driven in a friend's 280Z), and COMPAQS (Pioneering personal computers) (Somebody had to lose that race, eh?). And I kind of enjoyed the "-ed" adjectives SLEEVED (Like LPs and some dresses) (another OLDTIME reference), TIERED (Like wedding cakes, typically), and TWEED. :)

So that's all good then, but on the other hand, IEST (Superlative ending with grass or glass) is probably the worst entry I've seen in several months, and AEC (Early nuclear org.) gets a solid "Huh?" Those are stuck fast in the "glue" category, but what they're holding together is pretty decent overall. Will you, like me, give it a thumbs up?

- Horace

Monday, August 5, 2019

Monday, August 5, 2019, Tracy Gray

0:03:32

It's a dog's world. Today the puzzle is full of them - Boxer, Pointer, Shepherd, and Lab - all found at the end of Down theme answers, exposed by the revealer: DOWNWARDDOG. I enjoy a vertical theme. The staggered lines of color that light up when you reach 28-Down are quite pleasing. If you've never tried solving directly on the NYTX Web page, you really should at least once. I mean, I like solving on paper, don't get me wrong, but there are little perks available online, one of which is the "light up" theme.

PANSY

It's a very clean grid today, in my opinion, with only UAE and ITO ("How was ____ know?") looking a tad odd. But even then, I'm happy the latter is no longer being clued with an O.J. trial reference. I suppose I could argue that Horace was more than an ODIST. He wrote poetry in other styles too, but really, it was in an ode that he claimed his work would outlast the Pyramids (exegi monumentum aere perennius / reglalique situ pyramidum altius), so perhaps I should just leave that one alone.

There's a somewhat troubling "illness" theme running through the grid - ACHY (Feeling fluish, in a way), POX (Contagious viral infection), ONSET (First appearance, as of symptoms), SPRAIN (Common ankle injury), UNIT (The "U" in I.C.U.) - I hope Ms. Gray is feeling ok!

I like thinking about LATH (Plasterwork backing) (might come from living in a 125-year-old house), and I enjoyed the up-to-date BAE (Slangy "sweetheart") and AGAME (Best effort, informally).

A solid start to the week. The Horace ABIDES.

- Horace

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Sunday, August 4, 2019, Will Nediger

CONSTANT CONSONANTS

ASISEEIT, this is a clever and interesting theme: Find two words that have the same consonants, in the same order, put them together, and provide an appropriate (wacky) clue. For example, MISQUOTESMOSQUITOES (Says "Quack" instead of "Buzz"?). Sure, one's got an extra (silent) vowel, and the clue is completely absurd, but still I find the constant consonants pleasing. FRONTIERFURNITURE (Tables in an Old West saloon, e.g.?) is almost not wacky at all, and OVERSELLSVERSAILLES (Claims that Louis XIV's palace is better than all the other buildings in France combined?) is the most surprising. And finally, I especially love the clue for BRONTOSAURUS/BRAINTEASERS ("What walks on four dino legs in the morning, four dino legs at noon and four dino legs in the evening?" and other riddles?) because it is the most absurd, not least because the necessarily altered text (Brontosaurus didn't ever walk on two or three legs, as far as we know) is no longer much of a riddle at all. It's devolved into pure silliness, which I think we can all applaud. Much like the government. Hah! (sob.)

AGOUTI

In addition to the positive theme, we have many strong entries: SOBRIQUET (Nickname), ORDNANCE (Artillery), ARMOIRE (Large wardrobe), GLUTS (Oversupplies), VIDIOT (Portmanteau for a TV addict), and RAKISH (Debonair), to name but six. I was not familiar with Claude FROLLO, and I didn't know Scarface's real (movie) name, so those took a while. "Mobile home not seen much nowadays" (TEPEE), reminds me of the words to "Home on the Range" -

The red man was pressed from this part of the west / 'Tis unlikely he'll ever return / To the banks of Red River, where seldom, if ever / His flickering campfires will burn.
Ahh, "the viewless wings of POESY"...

Overall, IMAFAN.

- Horace

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Saturday, August 3, 2019, Ryan McCarty

A little over 12 minutes

I finished this puzzle on the way down to Rehoboth Beach in Delaware, and since I left the iPad in the car, I don't have access to it to find out the exact time of my finish.

I found this puzzle satisfying, and if it suffers somewhat in comparison to yesterday's tour de force, it's still an very fine themeless puzzle. It is a truth universally acknowledged among the creators of this blog that the Thursday-Saturday set of puzzles are the ones with the most enjoyability; sadly, my recent experience with the Thursday puzzles haven't been at the same level, so I rely heavily on these two themelesses.

I broke in to the grid in the NE corner for once, with the gimme Michael SCOTT. Even after finishing the area, I had no idea why DEVILDOG meant "Marine." Turns out it's a standard nickname for the branch of the armed forces.

The best of the puzzle comes across the middle: SAMESEXMARRIAGE of course is a lovely 15-letter answer. But I enjoyed the clue of 21D: Film featuring an assassin from 2029 (THETERMINATOR). It's amusing to realize how far in the future somebody thought that year would be.

Other good answers include 32D: Vessel in a famous 1960s shipwreck (SSMINNOW) - I love the unexpected fictionality of the Gilligan's Island ship. The symmetric answer in the other corner also has an atypical double letter in AAONLINE.

A puzzle that references Pogo (OPOSSUMS) is welcome. One of my all time favorite comics, and the source of the line "We have met the enemy, and he is us!"

Finally, I keep on wanting to misparse NOIRON as "noir on." Which I will now use whenever we decide to watch a hardboiled detective series.

- Colum

Friday, August 2, 2019

Friday, August 2, 2019, Andrew J. Ries

7:09

Okay, I would have loved this puzzle for so many reasons, not the least of which are the set of three outstanding long down answers in the middle, with all their Zs and Xs. But really, this puzzle got me with one clue, which is probably my favorite of the year, and will be forthwith added to the list of great clues.

It comes at 36A: Character raised in "Rosemary's Baby." Was it going to be the Antichrist? I had an A to begin the answer. Or maybe it was the actual name of the eponymous baby? Actually, that was Adrian Woodhouse. No, instead the answer is APOSTROPHE - literally, the character in the title that is above the line. That's brilliant.

Other good clues include 13A: Locks that might not be totally secure? (TOUPEES) and 22A: Important thing to know, if you will (ESTATELAW). I had ...tax there, but had to take it out after getting TAXEVASION.

How about the pair of clues at 16A: Put on the line, perhaps (AIRDRIED) and at 34A: Put on the line (WAGERED)? Frannie mentioned this past week how crosswords encourage us to see just how malleable the English language is. This is a great example.

STEGOSAURUS (always one of my favorite of the -saurs, after triceratops), THEMUSICMAN, DELUXEPIZZA. So much goodness.

Very little made me OPINE for better days. SYR, ATA, BUR. These are small prices to pay for the wonder of the rest. And even little old GNU gets a great clue, in 49D: Animal that doesn't have a sound coming out of its head?

Hah!

- Colum

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Thursday, August 1, 2019, Patrick Merrell

14:10 (FWTE)

Well, I certainly could have done better on a couple of fronts here. My errors came at the crossing of BONAMI and BOLT (I put in an M and convinced myself that when you mOLT, you leave quickly. Maybe I was thinking about trees molting? Which is most definitely not a thing at all?) and at the crossing of HARP and SIP, where I put a T. A hart could be on an Irish Euro, I thought, and one way to test temperature would be to sit down in a pool. Okay, these seem pretty foolish in retrospect.

Meanwhile, the theme today is straightforward: let's make a pangram in the theme answers alone, using seven words which split the alphabet up in order. It's a little like playing the license plate game where you make the shortest word possible (or most interesting word possible) using the letters in order as they appear on a license plate. It works well in New York, where every license plate has three letters followed by 4 numbers. Massachusetts plates are less helpful, with their two letters and four numbers.

It ends up feeling more like a themeless than a true themed puzzle, with some interesting words like AFGHANI and PURVIEW and OXYGENIZE. I'm not convinced of the need for HEISMANTROPHIES. After all, the MNOP string is fully realized by letter 11. So why the plural? To make it 15 letters long. I imagine 13 letters long would have been impossible with the constraints created by the other theme answers. But I find it a little less aesthetically pleasing.
In any case, all of this means there's not too much room for interest in the fill. My favorite clue comes right in the middle at 24D: One who knows the drill (DENTIST) - avoiding the infamous QMC. I was also impressed by some of the challenging clues like 47D: Accepted applications (USAGES) and 68A: Passes (DIES).

Also, though, we get things like ILKS and OLDS and answers of that ilk. See? Why would it ever be pluralized?

So, on the whole, and perhaps because of some sour grapes, but more because I expect more from a Thursday theme, I was less impressed by this puzzle.

- Colum

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Wednesday, July 31, 2019, Dan Caprera

5:55

Welcome to Wednesday, where the oddball puzzles live! I am pretty amused by today's "X marks the spot" (literally) theme. There are four 15-letter answers that make up pirate treasure instructions. I like that you don't need the pirate-speak clues to follow their directions: you could simply read STARTATTHESKULL EASTTWELVEPACES SOUTHSEVENSTEPS WESTFIVETHENDIG, and you'd end up at the only X in the puzzle, right in the middle of the grid.

Of course, since X does always mark the spot, we hardly needed the instructions, but that's just being mean-spirited.

There were other theme-related answers, such as PET, SEIZE and PRIZE in the SE corner, as well as TRUNCHEON, which feels like it should have been mentioned somewhere in The Pirates of Penzance, but never was ("Here's your crowbar and your centre-bit; your life preserver - you may want to hit; your silent matches, your dark lantern seize, take your file, and your skeletonic keys").

As is typical of quotation puzzles, I moved slightly more slowly than a typical Wednesday. I made a couple of missteps myself, including DISks instead of DISCI and heWN instead of SAWN, but these were corrected well in time.

Otherwise, ECASH and the INTRANET felt like reverse anachronisms in this puzzle. I think I'll ENDIT there.

- Colum

P.S. Two debuts in a row! Welcome, Mr. Caprera!

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Tuesday, July 30, 2019, Christina Iverson

4:01

Debut alert! Welcome, Ms. Iverson, to the elite crew of NYT crossword constructors. We here at HAFDTNYTCPFCA (boy, that's a lot of capital letters to type in a row - thank goodness we have some practice doing exactly that in these reviews) always like to see a new face, metaphorically speaking. Really what we see is the evidence of your clever brain at work, and that's worth a heck of a lot more to my thinking.

In any case, today's theme is STARTUP / CAPITAL, represented literally by four phrases where the first one to two syllables are an actual world capital. I had no idea where this was going (or perhaps I was solving too fast), and didn't get the trick until the puzzle was completed, even with the revealer in the middle of the puzzle.

Topically speaking, as he will be debating this very evening, is 47A: Longest-serving Independent member of Congress in U.S. history (BERNIESANDERS). It's amusing that the capital his name is hiding, Bern, belongs to the notoriously independent country of Switzerland. They don't even belong to the European Union. I had always assumed it was to make sure their banking wasn't controlled federal policies, but I see Wikipedia states that it was the Swiss citizens' opposition to the EU that prevented their application from going through.

I have been to Paris (sadly hidden in PARISHPRIESTS, a group that has lost a fair amount of respect over the last twenty to thirty years) and Rome (much better represented by ROMEOROMEO), but never to Latvia and Riga. I have been to Tallinn in Estonia, but good luck hiding that name in a theme answer.

Other than the theme, I note a higher than typical percentage of female names, such as LAURA Linney, IRENEDINAH, and RHODA. LOME is another world capital, so perhaps it would have better to avoid it in the fill. My favorite clue comes at 9D: They're almost always shared by twins, informally (BDAYS). Can you imagine being twins and having your births separated by the arbitrary turning of the clock over at midnight, so your birthdays are on consecutive days?

Actually, I can't even imagine being a twin, so there goes that thought experiment.

- Colum

Monday, July 29, 2019

Monday, July 29, 2019, Bruce Haight

3:14

I'd say today's puzzle is pretty much how you want a Monday puzzle to be. It's a fun theme with a surprise revealer, and smooth fill for the most part. I only regret that Dr. Haight's great sense of humor has less leeway on a Monday because the clues have to be relatively straightforward. We do see some of it in clues like 57A: "____ your piehole!" (SHUT).

So the revealer is ONTHEBENCH. I feel doubly bad for our constructor that Mr. Charlson's excellent Friday puzzle of this past week played the same game with the clue "Their players are often benched," leading to the answer "pianos." Today, we instead get 48A: Herbie Hancock or Chick Corea (JAZZPIANIST). That's certainly the jazziest of the theme answers, on several levels!

But there are also several snazzy answers in the fill, including 7D: Boat you might shoot rapids in (KAYAK), and 40D: Leave at the altar (JILT), which always reminds me of Anthony Trollope, and his frequent admonishment of "There's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip." Of course, the right people almost always do end up together in his novels. But not always...

WEREINLUCK makes good use of a long down answer with a fun colloquial answer. We really need a better name for these sorts of uttered phrases which are so much more common nowadays in the NYT puzzle. Any takers?

There were a few answers I was NUTSO KEEN on, including OSSA and ICARE ("Words of empathy"? I feel like if I said that to somebody they'd look for the easiest way to exit the room). But on the whole, we'll give this puzzle a nice thumbs up.

- Colum

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Boswords 2019 - Special Report!

Hi Crossword-Lovers, it's Horace here, with a quick PSA about the Boswords tournament in Boston.

Today was the third installment of this tournament, and since it was a nice day, I rode my bike down to Roxbury Latin to join in the fun. (Either I'm the only person who bikes to it, or everyone else knows where they hide the bike racks at that school!)

It was much the same as last year, which is to say that it was another fun tournament in a friendly atmosphere. I saw some familiar faces from the A.C.P.T., caught up with old friends and made some new ones, and, sadly, just like last year, I finished with one error! And this time it wasn't something I didn't know - it was a dumb mistake that would never have happened if I had checked the cross! ... grumblegrumblegrumble...

Others, however, made no mistakes, including this year's winner, Andy Kravis. His speedy dispatch of the final puzzle occasionally provoked spontaneous laughter of disbelief from several of us who watched on the big overhead screen. It was, however, somewhat reassuring to see that even he had some difficulty in what I and my table-mate considered the toughest part of the devilish Finn Vigeland puzzle. In the end, though, it didn't really hold him up all that long, and he finished well in advance of the two other finalists.

I don't have too much to say about the tournament that I didn't already say last year, but I did want to put up a post to let publicize the event. If you've ever considered attending a crossword tournament, and certainly if you live within easy biking distance (or even driving distance, I suppose), I'd highly recommend you check it out.

- Horace

Sunday, July 28, 2019, Christopher Adams

ANAGRAMMAR

Welcome back to me. Every week I say to myself, how can I possibly write any reviews of interest after Frannie has dazzled us with a week of humor and delight? Perhaps if I drank one of Horace's famed NEGRONIS, I'd be more apt to dazzle. Alas, I prefer CHAMPAGNE. Quite the tipsy corner there in the SW!

I do love a themed puzzle that keeps me guessing until the revealer shows up, and this puzzle did exactly that. The theme answers are nicely spaced along a mirror axis of symmetry down the center of the grid, with the revealer, MIXEDMETAPHORS coming at the very bottom. And in fact, each theme answer contains inside of it an anagram of the word "metaphors." ATMOSPHERE comes the closest to being a perfect anagram, adding only an extra E.

Note that in each case, the anagram is contiguous within the overall theme answer. That's impressive. For example, CHRI[STOPHERMA]RLOWE. Now, was he truly a collaborator with William Shakespeare? There appears to be some meaningful evidence that he wrote parts of Henry VI 1-3. On the other hand, he clearly died in 1593, so his collaboration after that time must have been limited at best, we suppose. The best part of this is that the theory that Marlowe wrote all of Shakespeare's plays is called the Marlovian theory (this is an obscure reference that only Horace and Frannie will get, but you must pardon the occasional inside joke).

In any case, the theme gets a huge thumbs up. What about the fill? Well, there's very little I'd be inclined to flush down the TOLET. Examples here would include REKEY, odd partial ORA (why not clue it with reference to Spanish?), SETA, and the peculiar 50A: "In case you didn't hear me ..." (ISAID).

Otherwise, look at all those bonus long down answers, like BLANKSTARE, PAXROMANA, and PRENUPTIAL in its full form. I also liked the references to LORDE, SONDHEIM, and THEMASK.

Amusement was also to be had, such as at 60A: Pompous pronoun (ROYALWE), 91A: It's all downhill from here (ACME), and 68D: One of two in "The Grapes of Wrath" (IAMB). That was a tough clue!

A nice start to the week. Let's keep puzzling, shall we?

- Colum

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Saturday, July 27, 2019, Byron Walden

43:38

Whew! Quite a different solving experience compared to yesterday. After I had gone once through all the acrosses and downs, I had the sum total of twelve letters in the grid: ROO (Hundred Acre Wood youngster), REEDY (High and thin, as a voice), and ERIC (George Orwell's real first name). However, even though faced with almost a totally blank grid, I HADFAITH that I would be able to FILET few more squares if I kept at it.

I had to rely on the old trick of entering probable partials to make anything like a real start. I had no idea what "Manner of speaking in eastern Virginia" might be, but I had tried ASEC next to ERIC, which lead to 'CC' toward the end of the 17A slot, which lead me to hazard ACCENT. The same thing happened in the south with "Linguistic borrowing, as 'earworm' from 'Ohrwurm.'" Once I got a few letters in the south east, the partial TRANSLATION started to seem likely, so I put that in. I have the word "Rideau" in the clue "World capital on the Rideau canal" to thank for my ability to guess OTTAWA because, as you all know, I ken not geography. And so it went. Thanks to the partials, the right half of the grid fell, then I chipped away at the left. Color me surprised when I eventually finished in under an hour and without a FWOE! Although, as I thought more about it, maybe this is the kind of puzzle that makes FWOEs unlikely - besides typeFWOEs, which no one can control. When one is SLOWED by the level of difficulty and faced with so many long answers, maybe FWOEs become less likely.

Anyhoo, LETTUCE begin by pointing out some of the great clues that exploit the multiple meanings of English vocabulary. The abundance of same is what helped make this a tough, but satisfying Saturday solve:
Don (CRIMEBOSS)
Performance bonus (ENCORE) - excellent! This one took me forever!
Print alternative (CURSIVE)
Place for driving lessons (TEEBOX) - who knew such a thing existed?!?
Salves (RELIEVES)
Charged (RANAT)
Leveled (RAZED)
Checked out (EXAMINED)
Strips (REMOVES)
And how about BOING for "Spring report"? I didn't see that coming! Also, I love the word TRICE. You don't see that every day.

SAPPHIRES

Probably the weakest clue is "Inits. in a bowling alley" (AMF), one of only two three-letter entries in the grid - who's going to argue with ROO? :) The pair Surmount/RESTON at 11D left me wondering if I was mis-parsing clue or answer. Those two don't seem like a match to me. And, although I appreciate the effort in "One who gets lots of tweets?", the answer, AVIARIST, seemed a bit of a lame duck. As I struggled to come up with that one, I thought to myself that a funny alternative might be "One who doesn't get a lot of tweets?" and the answer could be SYLVESTER. Don't laugh, I'm CERES.

~Frannie.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Friday, July 26, 2019, Trenton Charlson

14:10

So, under fifteen for a Friday. I'll take it. It FELT like this one was right in my wheelhouse. I seemed to have a guess for every clue and, in an odd turn of events, my guess was often correct. For example, although I didn't know "Bird named for its black-and-white markings" I thought immediately of ZEBRA. I was able to confirm the Z with the down "Full-figured" (ZAFTIG), so in it went. True, I didn't know what kind of Zebra bird was wanted, but as the old saying goes, a word in the band is worth two in the mush, or something like that. The rest of the downs in the north east helped me identify the bird as a FINCH. Also, for reasons we don't need to go into here, I am familiar with the ingredients of a FUZZYNAVEL cocktail, so that answer went right in. And thus I went along at a brisk TROT.

The only real trouble I had was in the south east. I was a FOOL and entered CHALKmark instead of the correct CHALKLINE, even though the word "mark" is right in the clue. Double derp. So I had that wrong, When I looked at the clue "So on and so forth" with an initial letter of A from ROMAN (Kind of type) I applied too much ZEAL, or rather, not enough, and kept thinking along the lines of "Adinfititum," or "Adnauseum." The correct answer, ALLTHATJAZZ, is much better PHIL.

I got "It comes from Mars" (TWIX) right away, but I was temporarily duped by "Rock and roll, e.g." (VERBS). Also, I entered bILKS at first for "Uses shamelessly" but when I checked the resulting across, I realized bUSTNT was a no-no, so I was able to clear that up before I got into any real trouble.

But enough about how I went SARONG, here's what was so right in this puzzle:
Their players are often benched (PIANOS)
Was charming? (CASTASPELL)
Reason for going out a lot? (NARCOLEPSY)
Dough nut? MISER - ha!

Not to mention a HEAP of good fill like AQUAMARINE, CRABAPPLE, and
THANE. Plus, two great words in the clues: Pismire and Foofaraw. I'm a FAN.
AMY

There was some fill that was not EQUAL to the rest. The one clue/answer pair I would put EXES on is "Demand" (ENTAIL). SAGO is fine, but not fun. And "___ soda" (SAL), is even less fun, especially if you happen to mistake it for a refreshing beverage. Speaking of which, there's some peach schnapps and orange juice calling my name.

~Frannie.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Thursday, July 25, 2019, Erik Agard and Andy Kravis

20:07

The trick in today's puzzle didn't spring immediately to this solver's mind. It wasn't until I got to 41A: "Classic Dr. Seuss book" that I started to catch on. I wanted that answer to be 'Hop on Pop,' but I only had five squares available. I cast an eye over the corresponding downs and found that ONPOP was where I wanted to be. As luck would have it, the very center down answer in that section also happened to be the revealer: 25D: "Some basketball shots ... and the theme of this puzzle" (JUMPERS). Although I still wasn't sure how HOP was going to fit in, I had a feeling I was on the right track. As it turned out, each theme entry consisted of a grid-spanning tripartite solution. The west- and east-most words formed one answer unit (MOBILE APP, ECHO PARK, SKI PATROL), while providing, via their final and initial circled letters, the lift necessary to jump the center word, which, in turn, when paired with the word formed by the circled letters in each of the surrounding words completed the center entries LE-AP (YEAR), HO-P (ONPOP), and SKI-P (TOWN). Maybe the real trick of today's puzzle is explaining it! Well, let's be honest, the real feat is in constructing a puzzle with a clever twist that OCTOPIs our minds without sacrificing the rest of the grid.

To wit, here are SOMA my favorites:
Sunday delivery (SERMON)
90s kid? ASTUDENT
What may be found behind the appendix (INDEX)
Friends of Nancy (AMIS) - ha!

Straight-up fill-wise, I liked REALM, TORRENT, ARMOIRE, DIORAMA, GERMANE, and SEPIA.
OCEAN


I hope the constructors won't be soar, but as a reviewer, I'm bound to mention the SOSO along with the SMART, and in that category we have the partial "Not on" ___ (ABET) and "... you sure about that?" (ORISIT), but I can't really vault the constructors because overall it's élan in a million.

~Frannie.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Wednesday, July 24, 2019, Jake Halperin

26:11

For today's theme, three common phrases are re-cast as tasks for particular personages. I AGED a bit before I finally caught on. In the south, I started with TOpAYTHELEAST, thinking that the Benedictines might be frugal souls, but apparently, they are better known for their vows of silence, so their task is TOSAYTHELEAST. That became clear when I finally got SASS at 56D for "Some wisecracks." I thought the northernmost theme task, TONAMEACOUPLE, was the weakest. The more familiar phrase, to me, is "to name a few," but that answer is not only short, but if clued in a similar manner, would probably reflect an un-PC level of parenting.

I had ABITOF trouble in the northwest. ADO at 1A didn't put up much of a fight, but I tossed it out it when I got to 3D "How the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cup finals ended." If you've read any of my previous reviews, you know I have no idea what the score of these games were, or even that they ever took place, so I had to make a guess. Unlucky for me "inatie" has the same number of letters as does the correct answer ONENIL. BEN Bradlee was no help to me, nor was "Like Stevie Wonder's 'Isn't She Lovely" (INE). The only answer I that gave me a lift in that corner was "Elevator innovator Elisha (OTIS).

I did enjoy the multiple language answers in the puzzle. It was a regular United Nations gathering starting with "Mario's world" (MONDO), then "What 'bist' means in the 1930's hit 'Bei Mir Bist Du Shoen" (ARE), followed immediately by "The 'e' of i.e." (EST), and then by "High, in Versailles" (HAUT), and finally "Latin 'I'" (EGO). German OPELS also make an appearance today, which may have given Huygens a boost. :)
RELOAD

ASLOPE (Slanted) and UPRAISE (Heighten) don't quite reach LEVELA, IMO, but, OTOH, ALARMS for "Protection rackets," ENS for "Non-majority?" and EMMY for "Award for a soap, maybe" are all really top drawer, TOPUTITMILDLY.

~Frannie.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Tuesday, July 23, 2019, Kyle Dolan

7:58

Today's theme did not immediately come to me ; it took a "we" to discover the both of US. At first, I had tried to figure out what the parts of each theme answer (EXCUSESEXCUSES, MARCUSAURELIUS, WALRUSMUSTACHE) had in common with each other, but no, the revealer was, as it often is, quite literal. When I chatted with a coworker about the puzzle, she called up the completed puzzle on her monitor and it was then that the pairs of US jumped right out at us two. The obvious favorite is WALRUSMUSTACHE because it has the words walrus and mustache in it.

The puzzle included an interesting note about KARAOKE (Literally, "empty orchestra"), and, in a surprising twist, we learn that Twizzler's contains RED DYE. Other other clue/answer pairs we OKED include:
Squarish (BOXY) - pleasing all around.
Branch of the Olympics? (LAUREL) - cute.
It's groundbreaking (HOE) - HEHE.
Alternatives to Ho Hos (YODELS) - mmm, Yodels.

SEDUM lanceolatum

It seems to me that SEEME has been quite popular of late. And STU is back, today referenced as the Disco character on "The Simpsons,"which is great, but I also very much enjoyed "Man's name that's an alphabet run" on Saturday.

I say TUT to the word SKED (Slated events, in brief). Also, TNG and OSO are not SUPE as fill. ASTO other problem areas, I thought the "Hamilton climax" clue should have come with a spoiler alert. Anyone else?

~Frannie.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Monday, July 22, 2019, Lynn Lempel

5:53

As I began to write the review today, I wished I had a fairy godmother to ENDOW me with REMUS of ideas, or a genie who could ADOS things for me, or at the very least, have Rumpelstiltskin show up and turn this review of straw into gold for me, but alas, IRA OUT a luck.

While I was unable to conjure the straw-to-gold spinning imp myself, if one combines the first part of each of the four theme answers (RUMMAGESALE, PELICANSTATE, STILTON, and SKINNYDIPPER) his name magically appears. Besides contributing part of the answer to the question WHATSMYNAME, each of the theme answers is excellent in its own right. I especially liked the clue for SKINNYDIPPER (One barely in the water?) - ha!

I'm SERTA that any and all denizens of the fairy kingdom would also appreciate other fantastical fill like mushroom CAP, a "slippery" ELM tree, anything PONIED, and the mythical beauty, EUROPA. There be PERILS, too, including a STOVE, a CREEP, a DARE, plus RATS and a PIPE. Oh my.

ELLA

Well, there it is, today's review. I really OPED it would end better, maybe with something along the lines of "And they all puzzled happily ever after," but I am afraid I am less perfect than LORE.

~Frannie.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Sunday, July 21, 2019, Jeff Chen and Jason Mueller

FIFTY YEARS ON

It will come as a surprise to no one that we now have a puzzle commemorating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. I haven't watched any of the TV shows that I've seen advertised, but I did recently visit an exhibit on same at the Houghton Library at Harvard. It's a nice show, and free and open to the public, so if you're in the area, you might want to pop in. One thing that I learned from it is that Buzz Aldrin would probably be pretty annoyed to see Neil ARMSTRONG in the center of the grid, as it has been said that Aldrin "resents not being first on the Moon more than he appreciates being second." It's good, though, that EGOS did not provide an obstacle to teamwork on that mission!


This puzzle is really quite impressive. First, there's the face in the middle, complete with Apollo-style helmet surround. That's already a good start. And then we've got the theme answers pretty much all over the place! APOLLOELEVEN, MANONTHEMOON, ONESMALLSTEP, ONEGIANTLEAP, TRANQUILITY, THEEAGLEHASLANDED, ARMSTRONG, and the bonus ITSAGO, SEP (Mo. in 1962 in which J.F.K. gave his "We choose to go to the moon" speech), and maybe even "What goes up must come down" and others (ADAGES). And then there's the rebus (small) [STEP] and the appropriately larger, four-square "leap" in the bottom two corners. Really, it's just so well done! And what do we have to suffer for it? Just tiny things that I'm not even going to bother mentioning.

Outside of the theme, we find even more to like - GIL (Good name for a fishmonger?), TELEPATHS (They don't keep their thoughts to themselves), HAM (Someone who might engage in a hobby with some frequency?) (Hah!), FOODCHAIN (Hawk -> snake -> frog -> insect, e.g.), NOTION (What's gotten into your head), and more that I'll leave to you to discover.

Well done, sirs! I hope both Mr. Chen and Mr. Mueller are sitting back in IDLESSE and saying BEERME to a receptive and willing ear.

- Horace

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Saturday, July 20, 2019, Sam Trabucco

0:13:20

A really nice puzzle today. Looking at it now, the shape looks a bit unorthodox - at least to this untrained eye - but I like the swirling paths from the NE down into the East, the reverse of that in the SW, and the fairly open center. There are those narrow straits in the NW and SE, but overall, it felt open.

JASPER

I guessed "Save" at 1D: Prime directive? (SHOP) (better), and wasn't fooled by 3D: Guy's gal (AMIE) or 7D: Class in which kids may learn about sin? (TRIG), but I feel my big break came at 8D: Best-selling game with a hexagonal board (SETTLERSOFCATAN), which I was able to drop in thanks to my oldest brother's family, who play this quite frequently.

Off of that, SGTPEPPER ("Bandleader" with a 1967 #1 album), LAM (On the ____), ELROY (Man's name that means "the king"), and even TOPFORTY (Hit list) and NERDFEST (Comic con, e.g.) were made much easier.

Along with all of that, I made several missteps: ahIsEeIT for OHIGETIT, SLEDdIng for SLEDRIDE, MADEASceNe for MADEASTINK, and AintthISTHELIFE for AHTHISISTHELIFE. I think those were the big ones.

There's good material all over the place. BEERME, SEESAW, PARITY, APERITIFS, LUXE, LONEWOLF, HOMECURE, SPAMBOTS, and more. Sure, SLEDRIDE is not natural-sounding, and nobody wants to be reminded of the STARR Report, but overall, this was a high quality puzzle.

One last thing - I kind of wish HATARI had been clued as Iceland's 2019 Eurovision entry, but I suppose that kind of reference will have to wait a few years. The U.S. is supposedly getting its own version of the European blockbuster in 2021. You heard it here first!

- Horace


Friday, July 19, 2019

Friday, July 19, 2019, Peter Wentz

0:12:48 (F.W.O.E.)

I marred my pretty-good-so-far week today by committing the cardinal crosswording sin - not checking the crosses. :( I was humming along (even after starting with the "too clever for my own good" "sec" at 1A "Like sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio, typically" (DRY)), and when I hit 24D: Puts off (DETERS), I had the "DE.." already and I just plunked in DEfERS. Sadly, for me, there's nothing on the back of a baseball card called "staf."

ALANHALE

Aside from that, though, this was a fun puzzle. Well, even with that. Many of the longer answers fell pretty quickly for me, but not ABNEGATIVE (Type least likely to turn up in a hospital)! Boy was that a tricky clue. For a while, when I had "...A_IVE" I was thinking it would end in "alive." I'm not sure why, as most people who do turn up in hospitals are, in fact, alive. But anyway, that's sometimes how my panicked mind works when solving, I guess.

I didn't particularly enjoy discovering ATHIRST (Quite eager) in the grid, GUMS is gross, and although I am now getting used to ADSORB (Gather on the surface, chemically), I have not run into it much outside of crosswords. Speaking of that, though, a coworker the other day used the word "agita" in casual conversation, so who knows, maybe ADSORB will come up in conversation soon.

Love the word LACKEY (and "Underling"), and I always love the kind of trivia in "Country that has approximately 0% arable land" (OMAN).

Overall, a fun puzzle.

- Horace

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Thursday, July 18, 2019, Matthew Sewell

0:11:13

So what shall we call this theme? Take a phrase (from the sphere of entertainment) that includes a two-letter component, and then re-imagine the two-letter part and clue accordingly. With wacky results.

Maybe it's better if we get right to the examples. The first one that I understood while solving was LIFEOFPI (Backstory for TV's Magnum?). Kind of simple - using the "biography" definition of "life" - but it works. For the first one I had the Z, and entered THEWIZARDOFoz almost instinctively, even though it didn't really fit with "Bouncer who can always spot a fake?" It wasn't until much later, when TRADEFOR (Acquire midseason, as a sports team might) became clear, that I finally changed it to THEWIZARDOFID - which is much better. "The Wizard of I.D." And I think it was even later than that before I understood IMABELIEVER (Advice for how the pope can reach out online?). I think it was the "online" part of the clue that confused me there - do people really consider IMs to be "online?" I realize that they are carried by the same network, but when I hear "online" I think of things that are available on the World Wide Web, which is not how I think of IMs, but that could just be a function of my coming from a generation that knew the world without the Internet. Or it could be simple ignorance. I'll let you decide.

Anyway, I liked the theme. And I liked the puzzle, even though it was one of those Thursday puzzles that falls into the category of "harder than Wednesday and easier than Friday." Well, I can't really say that yet, but that's the way Mr. Shortz has described his criterion for Thursday. It doesn't always have to have a trick. And that's fine by me. Without a standard, nothing would shine. Of course, this reminds me of a line from the Tao te Ching -

  When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly.
  When people see some things as good, other things become bad.

Sometimes competition and comparison can be destructive. The important thing, I guess, is to understand where that's true and where it's not. Otherwise, what have we been doing these past many years? Why are we discussing the puzzles at all? Maybe it isn't to compare them, but to share them with others, to create community and belonging, rather than to tear down or lift up. Of course, maybe we have done a little of each in the past, but, to continue that verse:

  Therefore the Master acts without doing anything and teaches without saying anything.
  Things arise and she lets them come; things disappear and she lets them go.
  She has but doesn't possess, acts but doesn't expect.
  When her work is done, she forgets it. That is why it lasts forever.


- Horace

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Wednesday, July 17, 2019, Adam Nicolle

0:04:33

Kind of a cool theme today, where appropriate verbs are found within long entries, proving, once again, that "There are more things in heaven and earth, HORATIO / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Who comes up with this stuff? Oh, right, crossword constructors! And for Mr. Nicolle, this is a debut! I look forward to seeing more of his ideas.

It seems like it would be fun to search for more of these - perhaps when I'm not writing a review...

They're all pretty good. "Ran" ERRANDS looks so tidy there in the center, with its verb exactly in the middle, and "Drove" a LANDROVER is a pretty excellent find. Maybe PENNYDREADFULS are a bit obscure, but it might be fun for fans of the Netflix series to know where the term originated.


As is frequently the case, the long downs contain some of the more interesting entries. I particularly enjoyed EYELEVEL (Five to six feet high, roughly) and STUPORS (Dazed states) down in the SE corner. And the clues for BED (Something most people lie about?), EDEN (Apple's first location?), and RULES (Sped-up part of a contest commercial) were amusing. EMERALDS (May birthstones) is sparkly, and RECIPES (File box filler) reminds me that I've got a file box filled with my grandmother's Finnish recipes that I've got to make time to look through! So much to do! So many things to learn!

Still, it's nice to get a new puzzle every day, and taking a little time for that is also important, right? Anyway, I think so. I hope you do too.

- Horace


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Tuesday, July 16, 2019, Ross Trudeau

0:04:37

I cannot remember ever seeing a NYT puzzle like this before. Six "cheater squares" (as I think the pros are wont to call them) at the top of the grid have been made white*, instead of black, to emphasize the diagonal lines. And at the apex of each diagonal we have two unchecked squares. Strange. And why? Because the theme is AFRAMEBUILDINGS.

JARTS

And it's not just those black-square diagonals - running underneath them we have diagonal rows of As. The top left run of As extends all the way to the puzzle's edge, but none of the other three do. To me, it kind of seems like the beginning of an idea that still has some rough edges. If there had been no other As in the grid save those diagonals, or if the revealer had been the more common A-frame houses... I don't know.

I don't like it. I don't like the white squares trying to pretend they're not there. I know they're there to avoid even more unchecked squares and two-letter answers, but I still don't like it. I don't like the unchecked squares. I don't like the sloppiness of one line of As being longer than the rest, I don't like starting with ABRA...

I do, on the other hand, like the four long Down answers. ROOFGARDENS (Adjuncts to some penthouses) is lovely, and it's nice to get LIONELMESSI's full name, after seeing just his last so often. REGALED (Entertained with a story, say) is a good one, and FACEPLANT (Embarrasing fall) is fun. I even like ANTECEDE (Predate) and ANNEALER (Glassworker, at times), but I do not like JANDJ, and I don't think ALES would be "marked with 'XXX' in the comics." In my mind, anyway, those jugs contain moonshine, not some craft-brewed ale.

So not all bad, and I understand the desire to keep the themes fresh and to try new things, but this one just didn't work for me.

- Horace

* The black squares were made white when solving the puzzle online through the NYT crossword site. It may not have been like that in other platforms.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Monday, July 15, 2019, Ed Sessa

0:03:49

It's definitely summertime here in New England. The forecast is sunny and hot for the next several days, so if you haven't been to the barber lately, you might want to run out and get one of the four SHORTCUTS named in today's theme entries. Me, I've been cutting my own hair for some years, and while a buzz cut is definitely the easiest, I usually try to end up with something a tad longer - something like a pixie cut, but for boys, and with less teasing. Is that a thing?

FISSURE

As for the rest of the puzzle, I liked this one a lot. There are ten seven-letter Down answers, and six sixes, and many of those are quite good. ARUGULA (Peppery salad green) is a favorite of mine, and I don't mind the plural on FEZZES (Some Moroccan headwear) because it gives the double Z. The "false capital" in "Apple production site" made ORCHARD slightly trickier, and the echo of that deception might have affected some when they saw "Tablet alternative" (GELCAP) soon after. Even "Chameleons, e.g." (LIZARDS) could be seen in different ways. :)

ROGUE, GLOAT, BILGE, are all great entries, and I chuckled at the somewhat blatant clue for TOAST (Browned bread). Heh. And STBEDE probably trotted out a few OLDSAWS ("Haste makes waste" and similar sayings) now and then, don't you think?

Overall, a ROSY start to the week!

- Horace

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Sunday, July 14, 2019, Caitlin Reid

ARE WE FINISHED?

Bonjour, mes amis! Je vous souhaite un bon quatorze juillet! And to celebrate la Fête Nationale de la belle France, we have a very non-French theme - to wit, it is one that emphasizes the endings of words. (In French, many letters at the ends of words are not pronounced.)


As is often the case on Sunday, the puzzle's title is really quite clever. On the one hand, it alerts you to the fact that the endings might be special, and on the other, it tells you exactly how they will be special with a kind of homophonic revealer: "[With an] R, we finished [the theme answers.]" (It reminds me of an old "Four-Star Puzzler" title: "Element #18." The 18th element is Argon, and in that particular puzzle, all of the Rs had been removed from the answers. The shock of that realization might have been what set me on this long crossword-loving journey...)

Anywho... the original six phrases are all well-known, and the wacky re-cluing got me to smile - especially the final one: "World's shortest-reigning monarch?" (FIVESECONDRULER). Hah!

And there was plenty of non-theme material that entertained as well. "Cover-up for a robbery" (SKIMASK), "Sole supporter?" (SHOERACK), "One who gets take-out orders?" (HITMAN), "Powerpoints?" (OUTLETS), and the excellent "Pops up in a flash?" (PHOTOBOMBS), for example. And how about "How balloons are priced?" (APOP). That's excellent, good-natured cluing! Clues and answers that make you smile when you get them, not agita-inducing, frat-boy-centric, strain-of-marijuana-type answers that make you go "well, ok, that must be right" when you finally fill them in. N'est-ce pas?

But with puzzles, as in life, you've got to endure both good and bad. This was a good start to my week of reviews, and I'm looking forward to the next one!

Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité!

- Horace

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Saturday, July 13, 2019, David Steinberg

20:41

MAUIWOWIE, this was a tough Saturday themeless, just what one looks for while sitting on the porch of a lake house in the Catskills. And what was the name of the lake, I hear you ask? Why, yes, it is indeed Lake Wanaksink. Apparently the first K is silent.

Anyway, I enjoyed working through this grid. The struggle was real, certainly. How about 1D: Jet popular in the 1960s and '70s (NAMATH)? That's the kind of clue that makes you work. Meanwhile, 2D was an immediate gimme, also on a plane, in a sense. And that, as much as anything else, led to my drinking problem...

I love IXNAY, just a great word. 54A: 200-milligram units (CARATS) was tough. I would never have defined HITHER as "not so far away." And is the plural of EMOJI also EMOJI? In that case it joins the rare company of "moose."

But more to the point, it's lovely in the Catskills, let me tell you. Unfortunately, I was not able to go kayaking on the waters because I'm on call, and I was worried of going out of cell phone range. But I did get a lovely swim in. I am all in favor of the rules on this lake that don't allow outboard motors or diesel engines. Quiet and clean is good.

Oh, right, I'm supposed to be talking about the puzzle, NESTCEPAS? For some reason it took way too long to get this answer. I loved 34A: Vacation souvenir, perhaps (TANLINE). I don't love ENROBE or 7D: Rough up, in a way (PAWAT), which really feels incorrect both morally and definitionally.

Anyway, overall a good challenge. Let's do more puzzles this week, SHALLWE?

- Colum

Friday, July 12, 2019

Friday, July 12, 2019, Evan Kalish

12:06

An excellent themeless today. I had to work hard at just about everything. The only nit I'll pick comes at the crossing of HOLI and EMILE. I CHANCEDIT by guessing the L and was correct, but that's a Natick waiting to happen, IMO.

Two great clues in the NW illustrate the toughness of this puzzle. At 2D: Letter found between two vowels in the alphabet (THETA), I knew something was up, because what English letter could be stretched out to five letters long? The alphabet portion was key in suggesting the Greek version, but I wasn't sure which letter to use, and my knowledge of the alphabet in question has greatly atrophied over the years. For the record, the two vowels are eta and iota.

The other great clue was at 7D: Part of Caesar's boast (ISAW). Well, I know what I saw. It was four letters long, which works for any of words in the original latin phrase. So I knew, deep in my soul, that the first letter had to be a V and the last an I. This made the section much harder than it had to be, clearly!

Was it SONIA or Elena? WHEREAMI? WHATSHOULDIDO?

Apparently there was a lot of confusion going on.

17A: An anchor is at its end (RELAYRACE) is very nicely done. Non-QMC the way it should be done. 49A: This clue's number divided by this clue's answer (SEVEN) was a nice aha moment. Come to think of it, there is not a single regulation question mark clue to be found in this grid. And it's about time that the universe's SCRUB, DWEEB, and LONER population is recognized.

And so on to the poetry:

Behold, the SEA itself,
And on its limitless, heaving breast, the ships;
See, where their white sails, bellying in the wind, speckle the
      green and blue,
See, the steamers coming and going, steaming in or out of port,
See, dusky and undulating, the long pennants of smoke.

- Colum