Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Tuesday, December 31, 2019, Evan Kalish

0:04:22

LOSEWEIGHT. Even though I don't make resolutions, it's still the first item on my to-do list in the New Year, that's for sure. Today it is symbolized by the word "pound" shedding a letter with each successive theme entry.

IRISHPOUND - *Currency replaced by the euro
KOIPOND - *Decorative garden feature with fish
TWOPEASINAPOD - *Almost-identical pair, figuratively
RIVERPO - *It flows through Turin

Very nice. And speaking of paring down...

ARAL
"When the well's dry, we know the worth of water." - Benjamin Franklin

I had a couple of early ERRS, including UNesco for UNICEF (Humanitarian org. since 1946) and ADDins instead of ADDSTO (Supplements). I chuckled at SOUSA (Composer whose work might be appropriate during March Madness?), and ARIGATO (Thank you, in Tokyo) was made easier for me by having just watched the latest season of "Queer Eye," which was filmed in Japan.

I liked the uncommon SHIRKS (Neglects, as responsibilities), the always-odd-sounding-to-me BOOGIE (Get down on the dance floor), the exotic PAPAYA (Tropical fruit with orange flesh), and the homey SKEIN (Yarn purchase). The silent and subtle SLYNODS and WAVESBYE made an interesting pair, and thinking of the TRICOLOR flags of France and Italy brings back many happy memories for me and, I feel I can rightly say, also for Frannie and Colum.

I hope you, too, can look back on good memories from 2019, Dear Reader, and I wish you all the best in the coming new year. Thanks for checking in with us from time to time, and happy puzzling!

- Horace

Monday, December 30, 2019

Monday, December 30, 2019, Gary Larson

0:03:17

Four examples of things found ONAROLL today: MARGARINE, HONORSTUDENT, ALUMINUMFOIL, and MONEYCLIP. No punny clues, just straightforward Monday fare. Well, for the most part, anyway. I'm not sure GAHAN Wilson or Mel OTT are terribly familiar to those born after the demise of phones with DIALS, and ADZES aren't found in many toolkits... but somehow it still went right along. In fact, if this isn't my fastest time ever, it's pretty close. (Yes, I know the app has statistics, but when you're a reviewer who sometimes does puzzles on paper and then fills them in on the computer using a keyboard while looking at the finished grid, the times end up being unrealistic. I wish for a "reset" option on the stats page, but until such a tool exists, I will not know my actual fastest solve time.)

ARAL
1989 / 2014 - Once the 4th largest lake in the world
The only slightly oblique clue today was "Hotel amenity down the hall" for ICE. The answer could have been almost anything, really - spa, bar, gym ... - but somehow you still knew it would be ICE.

DOORDIE (Critical, as a situation) looks oddly like "door die" when you glance at it, and those three Os running NE, and the three in the middle of the puzzle running the other way, make me wonder if there's ever been a tic-tac-toe theme. I'm guessing that the answer is probably yes, but if not, and you're a constructor reading this and you beat me to it... well, congratulations. Because really, what am I going to do about it?

I liked CAROUSEL, ORBITERS, RELIC, and RECROOM. Let's focus on things like that, and not OON, RIA, and INE. GOODE?

- Horace

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Sunday, December 29, 2019, Andrew Chaikin

NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS

Greetings! Here we are at the end of another year, listening to talk of New Year's Resolutions. Today's puzzle contains seven ideas for improvement that could be seen, I wager, on almost anyone's list, but clued in an NYTX-appropriate PUNNY way:

CLEANOUTTHEHOUSE (Casino gambler's resolution?)

SEEFRIENDSMOREOFTEN (Sitcom lover's resolution?)

GROWMYNESTEGG (Hen's resolution?)

GIVEUPOLDHABITS (Nun's resolution?)

WATCHWHATIEAT (Stalking tiger's resolution?)

PLANAPERFECTGETAWAY (Bank robber's resolution?)

ORGANIZEMYOFFICE (Union activist's resolution?)

Pretty solid set. The only clue that seems overly forced is the tiger one, but the resolution itself hits home with me, as I've put on between 5-10 pounds, I think, since Thanksgiving! And speaking of hitting close to home, the last one resonates, too, as my employer is dealing with a union strike at the moment. But I understand it's gone to a third-party arbitrator, so I'm hoping things will work out for the best.

SLOMO
The grid contains a lot of names I didn't know: MARCI Klein, Rutger HAUER, SHERRI Shepherd, Beverly CLEARY and her character RAMONA, and there are other names that might not be familiar to other solvers, like RAMI Malek, ESAI Morales, ERTE [Romain de Tirtoff - his pseudonym is from the French pronunciation of his initials "R.T."], LAILA Ali, LAURIE Metcalf, and ALY Raisman. Heck, people might not even know GRACIEALLEN (Comic foil of early TV), but I smiled to see her full name in there.

Many other entries made me smile this morning too, like WINETASTERS (They appreciate a nice bouquet), LAKEVIEW (Feature of many a summer camp cabin), and BEAUTYICON (Marilyn Monroe or Beyoncé). I enjoyed the two Britishisms SNOG (French, say, to a Brit) and GOWALKIES (Get lost or stolen, in British lingo), and the strangely appealing clue for LEI (Floral wreath by a coral reef).

And now we come to the end of the review, where you, the reader, might expect to hear me talk of my own resolutions. I hate to disappoint you, but I gave up making resolutions many years ago. One day is as good as another for starting something new, and why wait until the end of the year to start improving yourself. ... or is it the beginning of the year? What's the difference, really? It's all just time, isn't it? I've recently been thinking that labelling things - naming things - is the start of all conflict. But perhaps that's too MEDITATIVE for a light-hearted blog about a puzzle... Anyway, I don't have any resolutions, and if Frannie tells you otherwise, I'll DENYIT.

- Horace

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Saturday, December 28, 2019, Robyn Weintraub

14:04

Ask and ye shall receive, or so they say. After complaining that yesterday’s Friday themeless was too easy, I got a lovely challenge for a Saturday, thanks to Ms. Weintraub. I went through most of the grid with very little I could call a certainty other than LAOS, SST, and CRIMEA (which I took out). I finally got an actual toehold in the SW corner, what with DNA, NONE, and CEOS.

This grid was filled with tough clues:

43A: Coach (BUS) - such a simple clue, but so open to multiple interpretations.
42A: Form of relief (ALMS) - needed almost all the crosses for this one.
21D: Uncommon notes (TWOS) - referring to paper money here. I didn’t get it until just now.

Also, there is a ton of wonderful long fill. ICANRELATE next to PHONEDITIN, adjacent to HASNTACLUE. I had several incorrect choices at 1D: Things seen that aren’t there (HOLOGRAMS). Both “illusions” and “delusions” fit in there, sadly. Only the first is actually a correct interpretation of the clue. A delusion is an incorrect interpretation of reality, an illusion is an incorrect visual (or other sensory) perception. Thus, paranoia is a delusion, but a hallucination is an illusion, as is vertigo, by the way.

Taking off my neurology hat now.

HITTHESPOT, LOSESSLEEP, TOPLOADER... so much goodness here.

Fun clues:

45D: Texting alternative? (OTOH) - nicely done.
16A: Character in “Monster’s, Inc.” (COMMA). Fell for it again. I put in “Sully,” an actual character, but took it out immediately because the Y at the end didn’t look like it would work.

And that’s it from me in 2019! Happy New Year to all, and see you in 2020.

- Colum

Friday, December 27, 2019

Friday, December 27, 2019, Sam Trabucco

5:22

Sometimes you’re just on a particular puzzle constructor’s wavelength, and nothing seems too complicated. Today’s puzzle went by in a blur for me. Was it on the easy side for other people as well?

As I often do on a themeless, I started with 1D. I couldn’t quite recall which kind of flu it was, but I knew it ended with FLU, so I put that in. Then I saw 34A: It’s icy and coated with salt (nice clue!) and plopped in FROZENMARGARITA. It is true that last week Phoebe, who is now legal, ordered one of these when we went to a Mexican restaurant, so it might have been on my mind. From there I got ALLOSAURUS and FELTATHOME, saw HUH, and SPANISHFLU dropped in.

In the process of solving, it helped to know some bits of trivia, such as ELON, ALANMOORE, and GOTYE. But the grid structure helped as well. Nothing is too isolated, so you have at least three ways into any section. Also, clues such as 51A: Follow up series to MTV’s “16 and pregnant” (TEENMOM) were made for logical inference without having to know the show in question.

I really enjoyed the NW and SE corners. ADIOSAMIGO, BATESMOTEL, and STARTSMALL was a lovely vertical stack. 55A: Hill on the Hill, once (ANITA) is a sad statement of the way we as a nation shoddily treated a highly intelligent and talented woman. It’s also a nice clue. Perhaps it’s also a statement of just where we are today that one of the other two female persons referenced is our President’s PORNSTAR ex-lover.

OHLORDY. I’d better jump out of the HOTOIL before I get scalded.

It’s an extremely well put together grid. I would have liked a bit more of a challenge though on a Friday.

- Colum

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Thursday, December 26, 2019, Trenton Charlson

9:07 (FWOE)

You have to know your BOWLING lingo and iconography today in order to interpret the three theme answers. For those who are ten-pin challenged, / is the symbol for “spare” (i.e., when it takes two balls to knock down all ten pins); X is the symbol for “strike” (i.e., when you knock down all ten pins with one ball); and XXX is a “turkey,” or three strikes in a row.

Armed with this knowledge, the long answers should make sense. I got it (finally!) when I filled in the revealer, and looked back to see ______HESTRAW, and knew it had to be XXXINTHESTRAW. That’s nice, as is the grid spanning XTHERIGHTBALANCE. Those two answers fixed 4 Xs in the grid. In order to get the / in, Mr. Charlson turns to the classic heavy metal band AC/DC, and the excellent /METHEDETAILS. Very nice!
I didn’t know she was Beetle Bailey’s sister!
I rolled a gutter ball with the NE corner. I saw the clue 10A: Average name, and put in jOe at first. Later, when I got 10D: Place for cold cuts (DELICOUNTER - I was kind of expecting more of a twist in this answer), I now had DOe, which still seemed plausible from a legal name perspective. Instead, it was the really nice answer DOW (with a hidden capital in the clue). But I never looked at the cross to see that WAYS was obviously better than eAYS.

Getting ORTHODOXJEW in the puzzle is the equivalent of a converting a one-ten split for Mr. Charlson. That’s outstanding fill. I also enjoyed RIVERSEINE and 31D: Magellan, e.g. (SPACEPROBE). I am less enthused by such entries as SKEG, ISBN, AGER, ENGR, and ETALII, but I’m sure the craziness of the theme necessitated such compromises.

A fun beginning to the turn. Looking forward to our themelesses tomorrow and Saturday!

- Colum

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Wednesday, December 25, 2019, Bruce Haight

6:42

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it, and a happy day off for those who don’t! We are having a somewhat reduced celebration here in Albany, as for the first time in years, my two brothers and their respective immediate families are elsewhere. But the spirit is still present, and I am grateful for everybody’s health and happiness.

And in the spirit of giving, Dr. Bruce Haight has crafted a perfect present for the holiday. Or should I say ho-ho-holiday? Well, no, because the good doctor has nicely only chosen words for his theme with HO pronounced with a long O, so the “ho ho ho” continues to sound correct. Thus, 50A: What Santa said when going down a chimney that had a lit fireplace? (HOHOHOLYSMOKES). That one was my favorite.

Perhaps LANDHOHOHO is slightly less clever than the others, if only because the HO is not hidden in a longer word. But still the overall theme is fun, and with five long theme answers, each at the very least cute, and in the case of a couple, chuckle-worthy, I’m more than satisfied. Definitely worthy of the good doctor’s zany sense of humor that we’ve come to know and love over the years.

Not a ton of clever clues today. I liked 27A: It’s an affront (SLAP) and 68A: What you may call it (NOUN). Not to mention the very silly 9D: Place where one might hear “That’s my cue!” (POOLHALL). Hah! And there were a couple of bonus answers in OLDIE, HEN, and ASH.

Overall, it was a lot of fun.

- Colum


Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Tuesday, December 24, 2019, Alex Eaton-Salners

5:34

I’d like to blame my unsightly time for a Tuesday on the fact that I’m solving for the first time on a keyboard enabled iPad. I’d like to, mind you, if it weren’t for the fact that it’s not entirely true. But what is truth these days? An inconvenience, a barrier to getting the thing that you most want. Which apparently for me, at least today, is an excuse for taking a little longer than usual to solve an early week NYT crossword puzzle. It’s not worth the effort.

In any case, this puzzle succeeds in elevating the standard theme concept of four seemingly unrelated phrases connected by an unexpected revealer, through the clever split revealer of BARBERSHOP/ QUARTET. Here, we’re asked not just to reevaluate the long entries like BUMPERCROP and COLDCUT to note that the last word in each describe a hair cutting process. In addition, we have to reevaluate our usual understanding of a singing group of four men in close harmony to a collection of four barbershop related words. Very nice!

Because there are six theme answers, there is a lot of careful black square placement, such that no down answer passes through more than two of the theme elements. Nonetheless, Mr. Eaton-Salners fit in INMEMORIAM and HALLEBERRY, as well as FIDDLED. The isolation of the corners means that some of the nicest work is in the mid length across answers. I particularly liked MOLIERE, STARMAN, and SIXPACK.

Nothing much to write home about in terms of clever clueing. I could do without UNWEAVE, but really this is a pretty darned good Tuesday puzzle.

- Colum


Monday, December 23, 2019

Monday, December 23, 2019, Timothy Polin

3:23 (FWOE)

I must have had my head turned around by so many spinning tops in this puzzle, because I mistyped DELHI with a U at the end. Now, typically, I don't count a typo on the iPad as an error, because if I were solving with a pencil, the typo wouldn't have happened. Or if I were solving with a normal keyboard (coming soon to my iPad!), I wouldn't make that mistake. But I looked at SLEDRuDE and said to myself, something seems wrong there, said I to myself, said I. But did I investigate further? Nope. So that's an error.

Meanwhile, Happy Hanukkah to those who celebrate it! We lit the candles last night in our typical lapsed Reform Judaism household. We sing the blessings, but none of us could actually say exactly what the Hebrew meant. In any case, I used to SPINTHEDREIDEL with some families in my youth. All for those sweet sweet chocolate coins.

Mr. Polin has interpreted the phrase literally, and found four other phrases wherein the letters of "dreidel" are scrambled in this 14 x 15 grid. Nicely, in all four examples, the hidden scramble leaps across words. I like the find of REDDELICIOUS the best. MIDDLERELIEVER is fine, and SLEDRIDE is impressive (and timely!). I don't think I've ever had a call to use a HIGHSPEEDDRILL, but I believe they exist, which is all that really matters.

Impressive to mix 3 Xs into the fill, and none of them feel forced at all. In addition, we get TOPTENHIT and OLDSCORES, which are happy extras. And finally, any time ELROND gets a nod, we've done well.
The elf himself

- Colum

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Sunday, December 22, 2019, Laura Taylor Kinnel

DOWN FOR THE COUNT

Hey everybody! Happy first full day of Winter. They only get longer from here until June!

An odd duck of a puzzle today. The revealer is found at 39A: Abstainers ... or the central column's answers vis-à-vis 20-, 39-, 74- and 101-Across, respectively (TEETOTALERS). And what you do, see, is add up the number of times the letter T appears in a long across answer that crosses the down answers in the center column, and they equal each other.

That's a lot of words to explain. Let me sum up:

MULTIPLICATIVEINVERSE crosses 22D: Complement of turtledoves in a Christmas song (TWO). And there are exactly two Ts in the long answer. Get it?

Cleverly, the number increases by one each time, as you move down, until you get the crazy (crazy, I tell you!) FIVE Ts in TUTTIFRUTTI. It's a nice trick, also made more interesting by the nine Ts you find in the black square "grid art" throughout the puzzle.

Still... why these four answers? Well, okay the revealer is necessary, and perhaps it's impressive to have a 21-letter answer with only 2 Ts in it. Or an 11-letter answer with 5 Ts in it. Perhaps I should just move on. Nobody wants to read a review in which I only 3D: Picked nits (DELOUSED).

Some great clues today: I loved 107A: Sheepish (OVINE). How true. Apt, one might say. And 111A: Focus of an egoist's gaze (NAVEL) is also excellent. Two top notch non-QMCs right on top of each other. And 60D: Labor day setting? (DELIVERYROOM) is a very good QMC. Note the lack of a capital letter on "day."

A notable amount of math, including the long answer above, the theme concept, as well as ABSCISSA and the clues for 47A: Speed that would enable a 23-minute D.C.-to-L.A. flight (MACHSIX) and 100D: Prefix for a polygon with 140-degree interior angles (NONA). Fortunately, I didn't have to actually do any calculations for those last two. The crosses did them for me.

I will overlook ISS (International Space Station), REHM (who?), GERALDS and SAMUELS. I enjoyed the puzzle, and that's what we look for every day.

- Colum

P.S. Oh, heck no. After reading Xwordinfo, I find that there are no other Ts in the puzzle outside of those 14 in the theme answers. That's really amazing!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Saturday, December 21, 2019, Julian Lim

49:21

Today's puzzle was a struggle for this solver. If I had to guess, I'd say that M. Lim and I don't share many wheelhouses. On the upside, I CLOVE to, and did eventually prevail. To give you an idea of my initial success, here are the answers I was able to enter on my first pass through the puzzle, across and down:
IMAX, TUCCI, CHIT, CASAS, HARDG, AUDI, and UCONN.

Yup. That's it. I picked up and put down the puzzle several times all morning. I really had to TRI and TIMOR, staring at the clues until the correct answer ARIZ to mind. Often, I was rewarded for my efforts by wonderfully clever clue/answer pairs (more on those below), but there were a few that just didn't line up for me:

HOTSYTOTSY for A-O.K. I'm not sure where the overlap in the Venn diagram of meanings for the clue and answer lies.

Nixes, as a plan (TORPEDOES) - here it's the degree that seems off. Nixes seems more like says no to, while torpedoes seems like a much more aggressive, intentional wrecking.

Polo playing? (TERI), apparently Teri Polo is an actress, which I surmised, but still I thought the clue tried too hard to be clever.

And the two-fer clue at 24A/26A: "Origin of many refugees once in 26-Across, for short." (NAM / GUAM) - the clue was more confusing than illuminating.

SANDALWOOD
SANDALWOOD, part of the same botanical family as European mistletoe. Timely!
The above required QUORA of critiques aside, there were ODES of excellent clue/answer pairs. This group produced that Aha! feeling I so enjoy when I figure out a clever twist in a clue. They get AAVERAGES in my book.
"Stick in the mud" (MIRE)
"Digs" (PAD)
"Attitude" (LIP)
"Really fancy" (CRAVE) - this one had me stumped forever, I was stuck on the decorative meaning of fancy. Trixsy!
"Unpublicized date" (TRYST) - ha!
And my favorite clue in the entire puzzle was "He is one" (INERTGAS) - Excellent!

To top it off, we get a reference to an old favorite EMILEZOLA. But can we all agree that its good riddance to "Bygone ad figure" JOECAMEL?

~Frannie.


Friday, December 20, 2019

Friday, December 20, 2019, Zhouqin Burnikel

33:51

Ahh, the Friday puzzle, themeless and challenging, making a successful solve so satisfying. I like to think that we are all of ONE MIND on this topic.

While I did eventually triumph, here are some clues that I went MANOAMANO with for some time, thanks to their pleasing ambiguity:
"Event for which participants may take the floor" (SITIN)
"Part of a dash" (CARSTEREO)
"Alternative to white" (RYE)
"Hardly try anymore" (COAST)
1/2 vis a vis 1/3, say (EVE)

CONTOURS

The preponderance of of answers that I didn't know ("'Crime and Punishment' heroine" (SONYA), Largest steel producer in the U.S. (NUCOR), Inedible kind of orange (OSAGE), and University near the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains (FURMAN)) slowed my PROGRESSO in the north and southwest. As a side note, who knew Progresso and Campbells had the same number of letters? Or how to spell Jim NANTZ's last name. Probably AREAMAN. :)

But there was plenty to enjoy along the way with clues like "Bye line" (TATA) and "Actress whose full name can be made from the letters of DO RE MI" (DEMIMOORE), and fill like REDHERRINGS and MARESNEST.

This puzzle GETS a STAR from this critic.

~Frannie.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Thursday, December 19, 2019, Erik Agard, Andy Kravis

35:13, FWOE

Today's puzzle came with a tip: in the newspaper version, the four circled squares contain a slash that divides the square in two. With that in mind, when I got to "Geographic demarcation that separates the two possible answers in this puzzle's circled squares," and having INE at the end, the revealer, STATELINE, didn't take me long. For each of the theme answers, the postal abbreviations for two bordering states are entered into one square. Reading the answer with one state gives the answer to one of the two clues and reading it with the other gives the answer to the other clue in the pair. The same state abbreviation pairs work for the Across and Down clues. Pretty darn nifty. The first theme answer I figured out was RA[MI/IN]S ("Ghostbusters" director Harold / Pours. My favorite was INTHE[WA/OR]Y (Obstructing / On paper) because the two answers are parsed so differently. COMPA[CT/NY]CAR (Executive's perk, maybe / It might fit in a tight spot), for example, is more of a straight swap.

However, even though I got the theme and the rebus pretty quickly, I had some trouble with other parts of the puzzle, especially the north. DIGRAPH took me a while, as did RHEA. And who knew Hoth was an ICEPLANET? You know what else fits at 14D? I'll tell you, alienrAce. The only correct letter in my bad guess, unfortunately for me, supported another of the theme answers, A[CT/NY]ONE, so it stayed in a lot longer that it should have.

I couldn't correct my FWOE even after reviewing the puzzle several times to locate my error. I finally had to look at the solution on Xword Info. I had BEAsT for Humdinger at 28A, which gave MEANMsGS for "Glares sourly at, in modern lingo" at 11 D. While MEANMsGS may be obviously wrong if you know the correct MEANMUGS, it seemed to me like it *could* have been correct. Anywayz, that's my FWOE story.
POPCORN
In addition to the clever theme answers, I thought there a number of other good clues in the puzzle including
"Share a take" (AGREE)
"Inspirational passage?" (TRACHEA)
And the pair, George Sand, for one (ALIAS) and George Sand, par example (NOM) was very good.

I didn't love "Put a border on" for HEM. I'm not saying it's not valid, but 'border' and 'hem' don't overlap that much in my vocabulary. Also, I didn't think "Nurse back to health" was a great match for REHAB. I associate rehab more with something an injured person has to do his or herself to get better while nursing someone back to health is more something someone else does to help another person get better. But, these are quibbles. Overall, I thought the puzzle was a real BEAUT.

~Frannie.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Wednesday, December 18, 2019, Margaret Saine

11:58

Today we have a quote puzzle with a self-referential bonus feature. The quote is about editing as an art form. Within the "long-winded" quote are shaded squares that offer an edited and more concise version of the quote that still conveys its original meaning. The example is certainly apt - apt! - it just seems like a long way to go to make the point.

Although there weren't too many tough nuts to crack, I was slowed by some bum first guesses. Perhaps thinking too much of yesterday's puzzle, I dropped in oarER instead of the correct ROWER at 9A. I also entered drS for RNS at 25A. Also, EYES were not the first thing I thought of when I read the clue "Unrealistic part of many statues." Anyone else?

On the other hand, there were many answers that went right in like RINKY (-dink) [is there another kind of dink?], DRACO (Harry's foil in Harry Potter), and even, "Illustration for an ill tourist?" (ANAGRAM), which didn't fool me for a minute.

POLKADOT
USURP is a great looking word. It looks like it shouldn't mean anything at all, it should just represent a sound. I also liked CHEESY and ODDMAN (One who's "out"). Fun is that INFLATED follows hard on the heels of EGO (no offense M. Nwodim). And, I like to give a shout out to WAWA. :)

In the spirit of the puzzle's quote, I'll keep this one short. Plus, I have packages to SEND! 'Tis the season.

~Frannie.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Tuesday, December 17, 2019, David Levinson Wilk

7:49

Fun theme today. Letters missing from the clues combine to spell part of the answer that describes a feature of the fully-spelled clue. How's that for complicated? It was much easier to figure out than it is to explain. For example, the clue for 36A is R_od_ Isl_n_ Red. The missing letters in the clue spell HEAD and a Rhode Island Red is a chicken, thus it's a HEADLESSCHICKEN. Pretty neat. I thought TIRELESSWORKER (22A: _ax_ d_iv_r) was the most amusing, but HAIRLESSDOG was the best because the clue was so bare (54A: _ _rr_e_)

SLICE
I liked the clue/answer pair "On vacation" (OFF). I thought "'Smart' boy's name" (ALEC) was funny. My favorite on the day was "Bean sprouts" (IDEAS). Ha!

BADASSOPINE, and SHRED share the grid with the old favorites EELSERREPEE, and ADO.

So, overall a few LULLS, but tempered by a good LOLL.
~Frannie.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Monday, December 16, 2019, Howard Barkin and Kevin Christian

7:34, FWOE

Today's puzzle isn't short on fill related to mistakes (Err/GOOF, "My bad!" OOPS), which is probably what inspired my mistake. I was trying for a fast time since it's my day to write the review, so when the answer to 61A: Bell-ringing makeup company" didn't spring instantly to mind (the noggin isn't as SPRY as it used to be!), I left it blank and moved on. When I got to 38D: Jon Bon Jovi or Simon Le Bon, for reasons I'll never understand, I entered ROCKSTeR, which is funny because I immediately hated on the answer and decided then and there to mention it in the review. Anyhoo, as our dear readers knows, the Bon Trapp family singers are ROCKSTARs and the Bell-ringing makeup company is AVON, not eVON. If only I had heard AVON calling sooner, I could have avoided the FWOE and maybe managed a sub-six. Sigh.

On a happier note, today's theme features ELVES of all kinds including those that appear in LORDOFTHERINGS, on the RICEKRISPIESBOX, and in SANTASWORKSHOP. Let's hope the latter are busy at work under the careful eye of their boss, PERE Noël.

BARBS


I have been known to frequent a YOUTH hostel in my time, although these days when we ROVE, our travel accommodations tend to be in a higher TIER, usually with FREEWIFI. :)

I liked "Celestial explosion" for NOVA and "Otherworldly glow" for AURA. Also, nice triumvirate of personages starting at 40 Across: BAEZ, OTIS, and NEALE.

Overall, a very smooth puzzle today, without clunkers except those I created myself.
~Frannie.


Sunday, December 15, 2019

Sunday, December 15, 2019, Jeff Chen and Christina Iverson

DOING A DOUBLE TAKE

I don't know much about STELMOSFIRE, but I looked into it, and it can supposedly look something like this:


I guess that the "double lights" in the clue for 72D - "Weather phenomenon whose double lights were said to represent this puzzle's subjects" must be referring to the light on either side of the cross beams on a ship like this. And I suppose that's why they went with the horizontal symmetry in the puzzle - if you don't look too carefully, you can imagine the circles as appearing in similar formation to the lights in the photo.

I enjoy the rule-bending move of including six duplicate words in the grid without having to actually clue any of them, thanks to the "double take" of removing a letter from each. Thus, the two BOXERS become "boxes" and "Boers," and PROTEAM becomes "pro tem" and "P. R. team." And the circled letters spell the twins "Castor" and "Pollux" (THEGEMINI) (Also another name for the STELMOSFIRE phenomenon). It's all so complex!

Interesting trivia in "Political figure on whom Snowball is based in 'Animal Farm'" (TROTSKY) (Harvard is currently in the process of digitizing many of TROTSKY's papers), and I enjoyed the clue "The Jets, but not the Giants" for GANG. "Cleaning up the mess, for short," was tricky for ONKP, and "Keeper of the books?" (SHELF) and "One who fixes flats?" (TUNER) were a fun side-by-side pair. But I thought "Hitting close to home?" wasn't quite right for [S]TRIPLING. I mean... I guess that by getting to third the batter is figuratively closer to home, but the hit itself presumably went quite a ways away from the plate... oh I don't know... it just seemed kind of convoluted.

Overall, though, I really liked this one. The theme is much more dense than I thought it was at first glance, and the more I think about it, the more I like it.

Welp, that's it for another week. Frannie's back tomorrow, and I'll see you again in 2020. Until then, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

- Horace

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Saturday, December 14, 2019, Ryan McCarty

0:23:09

A photogram by MANRAY

Welcome to Saturday, and another tricky themeless puzzle. It's hard to say exactly how hard it played for me since I spent almost twenty minutes last night with it open while talking and watching TV, but let's just say there was plenty I didn't know in this oversized 16x15 grid. 

SIGILS (Ancient symbols of magic) - I don't remember ever encountering this word before. It comes from the Latin for "sign," sigillum.

ARNICA (Yellow-flowered medicinal plant) - Also known as "wolf's bane, leopard's bane, mountain tobacco, and mountain arnica," according to Wikipedia (to which both Horace and Frances have donated money this year. I encourage you, too, to support it).

BELAMI (Guy de Maupassant's second novel) - I guessed monAMI once I had the last three, but no.

ELEVENTY (110, humorously) - I have always thought of this as an unspecified large-ish number, but apparently there are those who have pinpointed it. For me, the exact labelling takes the fun out of it. Sadly.

AUTOPEN (Device for mass-producing signatures) - Inferable, but not common knowledge, I don't think.

MYA (One-named singer with the 2000 hit "Case of the Ex (Whatcha Gonna Do)") - Not inferable.

DEAREVANHANSEN (Musical that won six Tonys in 2017) - I've heard of this musical, but I think I had "Eric" as the first name until about eight or nine minutes in, when I finally read the clue for 21D.

So those were some for which I needed all or many crosses. And there were others that I didn't really want to fill in, like UNSOBER (Drunk) and EXTRAONE (Spare). Well, ok ... they're both fine, really, and IGETIT that putting together crosswords is difficult ... but they don't exactly spark JOY.

But there were, on the other hand, some that did. I liked, for instance, the simplicity of the clue for NOISY (Screaming and shouting, say), and "Something a politician shouldn't take personally?" was funny for TAXPAYERMONEY. But some of the clues tried a little too hard - "Seeing double?" for DEJAVU alters the tense in way I don't love, and "Four of hearts?" seems a bit too much of a stretch for PLAYERS. And does HITAT really mean "Try to punch"? I would probably say "swing at."

So now I sound negative ... and I guess maybe I am a little. It was a challenge, and I like that on a Saturday, but I didn't come away really loving it. Hopefully, you had a different opinion.

- Horace

Friday, December 13, 2019

Friday, December 13, 2019, Leslie Rogers

0:12:25

Today the NYTX community learns about the RASHGUARD (Skintight swimwear for a surfer). Not to be confused with a simple swim top or the more comprehensive wetsuit (it won't keep you warm for your POLARBEARPLUNGE), a rashie is designed to protect your torso from abrasion as you paddle out on your surfboard, but it also helps protect you from sunburn. So there you go. I wonder how many of our nerdy coterie has ever heard of or worn such a thing? I'm guessing less than half. Probably far less.

Aconcagua in the ANDES

But we enjoy learning about it, and it makes for a good, tough start on a Friday! In fact, that whole NW corner was tough for me today. ANIMA (Jungian principle) got a hard, specific clue, EMIT (Issue) and REFER (Direct) had tricky, indirect clues, I wasn't expecting the verb RAM (____ home), and I thought a SCRIM was a type of curtain made with a thin fabric, I didn't realize that it was the fabric. Whew!

Other areas went more quickly. BANFF (National park west of Calgary), for example, went right in, and off of that, BOSC, APTEST, FREERANGE, and FAD dropped in quickly. Only NEEDAHAND ("Want help?") needed two, three crosses.

There were many names I didn't know (REECE (Athlete/model Gabrielle), SARA (____ Blakely, Spanx founder and self-made billionaire), ALLEN (Actor Alfie of "Game of Thrones"), and INGA (Old TV actress Swenson)), but the crosses were fair, and really, there's almost nothing to complain about! I love seeing a second reference to POE's Annabel Lee in as many weeks, and other ASSETS like DYLAN, VWBUS, DRPEPPER and SMORE all lead me to exclaim VERY NICE.

- Horace


Thursday, December 12, 2019

Thursday, December 12, 2019, Alex Eaton-Salners

21:24 (F.W.T.E.)

Who knew Lithium appeared so early in the Periodic Table? Not this guy. I'm sure my brother the chemist (not the drugstore kind) will be dismayed by my ignorance, but Lithium just seems so much more serious to me than Hydrogen or Helium. And yes, I know that's an absurd rationalization, but there it is.

My problems started early today when I got GARNET (January birthstone) and OILEDUP (Lubricated) and then noticed the NE at 10D, which I interpreted it as "North East." Since it appeared in the northeast corner of the grid, I thought I had immediately figured out the theme, so I quickly entered "compasspointS" into 34A. When I saw another two-letter answer at 22A, I stubbornly entered "ne" there, too, thinking - well, ok, they are only using the two-letter compass points, so they can't really differentiate between NNE and ENE... another absurd rationalization.

Eventually, I found true north, as it were, but not before my opinion of the puzzle had gone south. What's the opposite of STEM education? Because that's more of the kind of student I am. Humanities? Is that what it is? Anyway, I like science. I'm glad it exists, and I think it's cool that there are people on earth who can figure out exactly how to launch a spaceship so that it will reach a certain point in space at a certain time in the future. I like that people can figure out how to make things like the interwebz, and I like medical breakthroughs, but if the earth had only been populated with people like me, we'd still be working on fire.

So anyway, all this to say I don't know my ATOMICNUMBERS. Neither did I watch a single episode of "Friends," so I finished with something like GEsLER at 1A. I also didn't know the "Southwest acquisition of 2011," and guessed AIRiRAN (absurdly) without fully considering 38A: Dig (TAUNT).

I hope all you science nerds enjoyed it. Me, I'm looking forward to tomorrow. :)

- Horace

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Wednesday, December 11, 2019, Jake Halperin

0:10:44

Well this is a theme I've never seen before, and I like it! Who doesn't like language-based themes?!

THENANDNOW, or, past and present - the two tenses of four verbs are found within the four theme answers. The four examples are all a little unusual or obscure, but they are real things. DIDGERIDOO (Australian wind instrument) (that's kind) (did/do) is one of those things that I think most people have heard of, but they might not know how to spell. I sure didn't! WATERFEATURE (ate/eat) is the entry I consider the most common, yet I still wonder if my father would know the term. WASPISH (was/is) was the most difficult for me. I tried peevISH, and then even when I had WAS_ISH, the P was just a plausible guess because I have no idea what OPA (Cost-controlling W.W. II org.) means (I'm guessing the A stands for "administration"), and I don't think of WASPISH meaning "petulant." And finally, WEGOTOGETHER (got/get) is one of the lesser-known (I think) songs from "Grease," but once I got it I could sing it, and now I'll probably have it in my head all day, thank you very much. :|

CORNDOG

We have some nice long entries in what some might call the "non-theme" direction. The horizontally-challenged direction, as it were. (No... it probably weren't... ) We've got the picturesque FIRSTSNOW (Winter milestone) (It's snowing outside as I type!), the evocative ONYOURMARK (Line heard from the starting line) (I feel my legs cramping up already!), and the "stop-reminding-me-worthy" NEWSAGENCY.

Elsewhere I enjoyed RUNATAB (Build up charges), SCHWA ("America" begins and ends with this) (Də!), and HEGOAT (Billy). And I like the strangely distant clue for USA (Its members are represented by stars). States as members is a nice old-timey thought. Heck, I wonder even about citizens as members ... or presidents ... I don't feel a whole lot of membership camaraderie these days, but maybe it's just me.

One more thing - I don't first think of MAHLER when I see the word "Leid," but then again, I wasn't the music major. :) 

Like yesterday, the theme wins the day today. I just love this kind of craziness.

- Horace

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Tuesday, December 10, 2019, Eric Berlin

0:05:28

Today's pugilistic theme is softened with punny humor. All in one big brawl we've got the jazz musician who CAMEOUTSWINGING, the hairstylist who BOBBEDANDWEAVED, and best of all, the king and queen who stayed out of the fray and instead PUTUPTHEIRDUKES. They're all good, but that last one is really quite clever. Nice work.

Again today the theme answers span the entire grid, which is nice, and there are four nine-letter answers running vertically through them. A NACHOCHIP is always welcome, but the opposite is true of POISONIVY. The "Leaves of three, let it be" warning is well-known, but it probably leads people to avoid all kinds of plants they don't need to worry about. Clover, for instance. :)

Jimmy OLSEN

The biggest offender today is ACNED (Benefiting from benzoyl peroxide, say). Even though the answer went right in for me (I once had a prescription), the construction is one that I have never heard. Perhaps it's the more politically correct way of saying "pimply" these days, I don't know... And another thing I don't like is ARTSY clued with "Pretentious." I know it's supported by dictionaries, and you find it clued that way a lot, but as an artist - or, at least as someone who enjoys both creating things and looking at things other people have created - I am offended. There, I said it. But you know us ACNED, ARTSY types, always so fragile. Nevermind me. Just continue with your bullying. We don't mind being DOWNGRADEd.

Fun pairing of APSE and NOOK tucked away in the recess of the NE, and MUMBO Jumbo was amusing. AMAIN (At full speed) took me a few crosses, as did ABREASTOF (Informed about), but I enjoyed the oddity of both, and I love how the clue for the latter mirrors the "ending with a preposition" structure.

Overall, I'd say the humor wins out today over a few little pet peeves and bits of crosswordese (URI, NEE, EKG). I'd be quite happy with myself if I had come up with such a clever theme.

- Horace

Monday, December 9, 2019

Monday, December 9, 2019, Ellis Hay

0:03:49

It is still fall, technically, but its oranges and reds faded weeks ago to browns, giving many the blues. Maybe that's what Mr. Hay was getting at with his colorful theme today. Then again, maybe I'm reading too much into what might instead be just a colorful theme. Four theme answers, two pluralized for the puzzle, two naturally occurring as plurals. It seems a little unusual (and fancy!) to have four grid-spanners on a Monday, but I'll take it.

LAVA

Why can I never remember the names of people in the movie "Frozen?" I even saw the film, but when confronted with 57A: Queen in Disney's "Frozen," I froze, and went straight to the Downs. CRUELLA De Vil, on the other hand, dropped in without a second thought! Why? NOIDEA.

Enjoyed seeing the complete EDHELMS in the grid, and MAINSTAY (Chief support) and SMITTEN (Completely enchanted) are nicely uncommon. The partials ACAR (Rent-____ (Hertz or Avis)) and IASK ("Can ____ you a question?") look inelegant to me now, but I can remember that when I was just starting to do crosswords, it was these easy "fill-in-the-blank" clues that I would scan for first, so I could get a quick start somewhere. So maybe on Mondays we should give these softballs a complete pass? NATAL (Birth-related) and EBAN (Abba of Israel) on the other hand, seem slightly inappropriate for the day of the week.

The theme is simple and colorful (unless I'm missing something again, which is entirely possible), and the fill is reasonable. I don't have much else to say.

- Horace

p.s. I did, again, miss a subtlety of the theme. Each color is preceded by a "place." I'm not sure my mind is fully on the puzzles this week. I shall endeavor to correct that tomorrow.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Sunday, December 8, 2019, Emily Carroll

LOOKIN' GOOD!

Greetings, Dear Readers! Horace here, taking the reins from Colum, who last week was all about gratitude. I will start my ride by announcing that I am grateful for two good friends who agreed join me on this cruciverbalist peregrination, without quite knowing where we were headed or even why we mounted old Rocinante in the first place. It seems an impossible dream, but we're coming up on seven years now, and I'm still having as much fun as ever. Possibly more.

KRISTENWIIG

One of the things that I still find very interesting as we roam the NYTX wordscape is getting to know the individual constructors. Some we have actually met and spoken with in person at the ACPT, others, like Ms. Carroll, we have so far only admired through her work. One of her puzzles ran on Tuesday during my last reviewing stint, and here I am talking about her again.

The whole raison d'être today is the occurrence of double Is in theme material. Quite the opposite, in two ways really, of going EASYONTHEEYES. For one thing, she didn't, and for another thing, the double Is together look quite odd. Take BOYZIIMEN (Top musical group of the 1990s, per Billboard) - which I'm sure will give my father trouble - that OYZII combination is outrageous. And the LIINDO in BALIINDONESIA no es muy lindo. Well, actually, it kind of is. We are ones who delight in all manifestations of the Terpsichorean muse! Er... crossword muse...

Where was I? I.. I... Right! The Is! I suppose I am profession-bound to mention JACOBRIIS (New York social reformer whose name is on a Manhattan housing project). Not a stranger to the crossword grid but usually only represented by his last name, his book "How the Other Half Lives" shined a light (literally - as he was one of the first photographers to use a flash) on the untenable conditions in New York City's tenements.

So the theme was interesting, at the very least. Also interesting were the many Zs!* But there were several entries that I thought were a bit more inelegant than I am used to seeing from Ms. Carroll. AKINETIC (Unable to move well) required a stretch, and ETHENES was a DOOZIE, as TWERE. I don't know what OLY (West Coast brew, for short) stands for, and SERS (Knights' titles in "A Game of Thrones") crossing OJIBWAS gave me my one error today (I guessed an H). Still - clues like "State of disbelief" (ATHEISM) and "Part of a short race" (GNOMES) - both excellent - got hearty LOLZ.

Overall, not AMAZIN, but not bad.

Now it's on to tomorrow to tilt at another one!

- Horace

* One reason there are so many Zs is because there is another layer to the theme that I totally missed! "EZ" sits atop the Is in every theme answer! Wow. Thanks, Amy Reynaldo! That just changed my opinion of this effort. The rough stuff is still rough stuff, but the justification for it is stronger than I realized. MYB! - HF

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Saturday, December 7, 2019, Kevin G. Der and Erik Agard

19:54

My gratitude today is for music. It's such an important part of my life, both the making of and the listening to. This weekend, we get to go hear CECE (nice shout out, Mr. Der and Mr. Agard, to my daughter) play with the New York State All-State symphony orchestra. She'll be playing the fourth movement of Mahler's first symphony, one of the all time greatest pieces of music (but not my favorite of his).

Saturday did not disappoint, finishing off a really outstanding turn, in my opinion. This was one of the hardest puzzles I've done in a long time. Let's start with where I finished. 26A: Do loops? (HEADBANDS). I stared at this answer for a full ten seconds after finishing the puzzle, trying to figure out how that could possible be the correct answer. But you see, the word "do" here is short for "hairdo," not the verb "to do." That with the crossing PANES (the full sheet of stamps that is sold a the post office) left me really unsure.

But there was a lot of misdirection going on here, as befits a Saturday. How about 6D: Dairy farm product (METHANE)? Without even a question mark. Because of course it is too true, and the bane of our planet, given how many cows we support across the globe. Also 11D: Alt's opposite (NEU). That's German, one of the least used European languages in the crossword, in my experience. I had no idea what was asked for there for a long time.

One of my favorite clues is 25D: Other hand (CREWMATE). Wow! That is pushing the limit, and I love it. And how about 42: Setting for a plastered cast? (WRAPPARTY). I figured it out very quickly, but it's a beautifully crafted clue.

Nothing much more to report here: a fine puzzle, a good challenging solve, and a couple of personal connections (the other being the obvious BOSOX). Well, that's me for another week of reviews. Tomorrow, Horace is back on the beat.

- Colum

Friday, December 6, 2019

Friday, December 6, 2019, Andrew J. Ries

9:25

Today I am grateful for Friday, both for the end of the work week and the arrival of our two days of themeless puzzles. The work week really wasn't that bad, so I don't know what I have to complain about. But still, it's nice to have the weekend rolling in.

Let's start out with a really wonderful non-QMC (question-mark clue) at 23D: Exercise done on a bench (ETUDE). That's perfect. I really had no idea what they were getting at, even when I had __UDE in place for a while. Add to that 22D: Person in a rush (MINER) right next door. Lovely!

This grid is really well put together. We've gotten used to the stacks of long answers offset by one square, but they usually go across rather than down. Those three answers are crossed by four 12-letter answers very smoothly. In case you were wondering, MARTINSHEEN played Josiah Bartlet on The West Wing, and JFK in a television miniseries.

How excellent is LIEIDLE right over LESSSALT? And I love MISSAL and BANYAN. I did not know VIREO, but figured it out despite a moment of concern looking at _IP and wondering what letter to put in there ("zip pass?" "tip pass?").

And the only way to get the Italian waterway into a crossword puzzle is to put the full RIVERPO in place.

My only complaint is ITA, a very odd partial ending for crossword puzzle experts. Otherwise this was an excellent Friday and a fine continuation of the turn.

- Colum

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Thursday, December 6, 2019, Neville Fogarty

8:06

I'm
joyed by this theme. The concept here is that the circled letter above the longer themed answers are to be read with the understood "over". Thus 20A: Power players (M[OVER]SANDSHAKERS) where the M is above the remainder. It's very clever, and a lot of fun. The most challenging task for Mr. Fogarty must have come at 6D and 50D, where the letter in question is between two theme answers.

My favorite was S[OVER]EIGNSTATE. Nice find there.

This is a very nicely constructed puzzle all around. Let's just take as an example the NW corner. At 1A, one of the best clues of the day ("TV show with three stars") yields the classic MASH (the three stars are between the letters of the show, i.e. M*A*S*H). And then there's the remarkable 14A: Treat with the identical color scheme as this puzzle (OREO). I've never thought of a crossword puzzle as having a color scheme! I also liked 3D: Penn name (SEAN) and 4D: "HOOO-whee!" (HOTDAMN) both for the ludicrous clue and the LURID answer.

("Spitting distance? How lurid.")

I ended the puzzle filling in ACTS at 5A, and finally getting what 6D: Media protector introduced in the '80s (CDCASE) was getting at. I was so sure it was going to be some G[OVER]NMENTAGENCY, but no, it was those stupid space wasting jewel cases.

With UNKEMPT and WINBYANOSE, this was a joy to work through.

And that gets me to my gratitude for the day. I am grateful to have a rational, puzzle-loving, curious primate's brain. Of course I'm subject to all the same biases humans suffer from across time and space. But at least I can work on a 15 x 15 puzzle and find enjoyment, even as I reject illogic, fantasy, and delusion that wrack the minds of many of our leaders, apparently.

- Colum

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Wednesday, December 4, 2019, Evan Mahnken

4:01

Let's be grateful for the little things in life. Today, that was a happy dog greeting me when I got home. Perhaps he was interested in the food that was already on the table, but I'm not going to investigate that too closely.

Our puzzle today takes four classic examples of rhetorical game playing, interprets their names literally, but gives a clue that utilizes that form of game playing. Is that clear? Clear as mud.

Well, for example, 43A: "As you can tell from these few examples, Bings are better than maraschinos" (CHERRYPICKING) - here the clue is picking a type of cherry over another type, but acknowledges that by using only a few examples, the choice is of necessity biased. It's pretty clever, but I was left a little unmoved.

Perhaps because the final answer, 58A: "Expanding the bleachers isn't enough. We need to relocate the whole stadium" (MOVINGGOALPOSTS) seemed a little off. After all, it is true that the speaker is apparently suggesting that the goalposts be moved, but only as a part of the entire endeavor. It's too specific, somehow. Ah, well. Clearly I am guilty of a STRAWMANFALLACY.

Some good clues show up today. I liked 35D: Group concerned with things that are NSFW? (OSHA) - see, that's "not safe for work," usually appended to a video you wouldn't want your boss to see you watching at work, not the hazardous chemical you're busy pouring over your hands while watching that video. Not that I'm talking from any personal experience or anything.

23D: Equatorial Guinea is its least populous member, for short (OPEC) was an unexpected piece of trivia. Who knew?

Does anyone think that OPERA and OPRY is really a duplicate pair of answers?

- Colum

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Tuesday, December 3, 2019, Ed Sessa

3:39

Today, very late (Sorry!), I am grateful for how my tax dollars go to help fund snow clearing personnel and equipment of really top notch efficiency. I can tell the difference when I cross the town line from Bethlehem, NY, to Albany, NY. Eighteen to twenty-four inches of snow is a ton of white stuff to move.

I only have a little time due to the aforementioned weather issues, clearing driveways, and chorus rehearsal. So let's note that the theme today is brilliant. Starting with the revealer, split across two answers of VOICE / ACTOR, and the way the other four theme answers' first words are now revealed to be a homonymic version of "heard but not seen," itself a twist on the classic instruction for poor neglected children.

And also BUTTDIALS. Tee hee.

I'll also note that 18A: Pebble in one's shoe, e.g. (ANNOYANCE) is symmetric to 58A: On and on and on ... (ADNAUSEAM). Seems apt.

There aren't any clues that made me perk up, but neither is there much to complain about in the fill, so I'll call this a fine Tuesday, and leave it at that.

- Colum

Monday, December 2, 2019

Monday, December 2, 2019, Lynn Lempel

3:51

Today I am grateful for well crafted Monday puzzles. Ms. Lempel is a past master of this art form, and today's is no exception.

The theme is so clever! The revealer comes at 28D: Reduce one's standards, as illustrated, respectively, in 3-, 5-, 7-, 40- and 28-Down (LOWERTHEBAR). So naturally, you can see the three-letter string B-A-R starting at the top in 3D: Smallest possible amount (BAREMINIMUM), progressing downward, never overlapping, until it falls to the bottom of the puzzle in the revealer. So beautifully done!

When I first entered 3D, I thought, well there's a nice piece of bonus fill. Most of the time, of course, theme answers progress in the across rather than the down. Then I got to 7D, the 15-letter grid-spanner, and that alerted me to the likelihood that these were actually theme answers. And what an answer! Everybody loves It's a Wonderful Life, and Mr. Potter, played by LIONELBARRYMORE, gives some of the best lines of the movie. ("And happy New Year to you... in jail!")

The fill is smooth enough. Sure there are a few NGO MBAS HMO which serve to allow the rest of the puzzle to work. There aren't any particularly clever clues either, but everything worked to make the solving process enjoyable. LONESOME reminds me to give a strong recommendation to the singer-songwriter Mitski. Her song "Lonesome Love" is a great example of her skills.

I'd like more Mondays like this one, please.

- Colum

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Sunday, December 1, 2019, Patrick Merrell

ACTUALLY...

In this season of gratitude and celebration, I'd like to send my thanks to my two esteemed blogging colleagues. I personally enjoy how our blog has three different perspectives and styles of reviewing. I hope it makes it more interesting for you, our readers, as well! Also, I appreciate the opportunity to not have to think about reviewing the other two-thirds of the time.

Today's theme, starting the last month of 2019, is a set of names and other references which are misleading if taken literally. Thus, RHODEISLAND is certainly not one, although it certainly has some as part of its structure.

Similarly, the ENGLISHHORN does not originate in the British Isles. In fact, the name comes from the fact that the instrument resembled the instruments played by angels in paintings from the Middle Ages, thus "engellisches Horn," and you can see the rest. I personally stand corrected here: I always thought the name was a miscomprehension of "cor anglé," or "bent horn," into "cor Anglais," or English horn. Thanks, Wikipedia!

The clue and answer I found the most amusing was 85D: They're lousy places to sleep (RESTROOMS). Indeed.

I note an unfortunate RATIO of unappealing to appealing fill today. As examples, I cite APLEA, ASON, ASLAP, all three peculiar partials. In addition, anytime you need SSTARS and IBEAM in your grid, it's not the greatest of days.

That being said, there's also a nice amount of lively cluing going on. Some I enjoyed included:

19A: Apt move when dancing the salsa? (DIP) Apt!
124A: Make litter-proof? (NEUTER) Ouch!
6D: Unidentified person in a suit (ROE) - lawsuit, that is.
43D: Salt's hip-hop counterpart (PEPA) - because I can still hear Patrick Stewart in my mind, introducing them on SNL two and a half decades ago.
82D: A rancher might pull one over a calf (BOOT). I'm still chuckling over that one!

- Colum

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Saturday, November 30, 2019, Joe Deeney

22:16

The trend continues. My Saturday time is the fastest of the turn this week. Strange but true! Today's time might have been even faster, but I got hung up on two squares that I eventually made (correct!) guesses for. As a casual viewer of the Marvel Comics, the actual name of Thor's hammer never struck home, so I was left to wonder if the first letter for the answer to 45D: "Went over," was d, l, or, R as in READ. My other problem was the cross between 42A: "'Abyssinia'" and 26D: "Compensate for something?" I had _ATA and REMI_. I wanted the correct REMIT, but at first I couldn't figure out why TATA was right. But then I did. :)
BAKER

But I'm getting ahead of myself. My first pass through the puzzle evoked only STROP, LAERTES, BENE, BETTY, and TRACY. Thanks to the concentration of known items in the northeast, I focused on that section first. A few educated guesses later, plus a small assist from recently selling a Bruce Springsteen concert t-shirt on eBay, helped me make short work of that section. DABAT sure is odd-looking

The sections of the grid are compartmentalized today so it's almost like four separate little puzzles. That meant that completing the northeast didn't give me much of a leg up on other nearby sections, so I headed to the southwest. Adding DAWN and ICING to the already-in-place BETTY provided the ENERGY I needed to put the hammer most of the way down on that section. ADAMSRIB for "Biblical starting material" is humorous.

From there, it was on to the southeast. I was able to put in BANTAMS off the B in BENE, and after I filled in EWERS for "Some still-life fixtures" I was able to get the amusing ESTATELAW for "Subject of passing interest?"

Next stop: the northwest passage. I tried "wonka" for "Eponymous candy man," which fortunately was 100% incorrect, so it came out quickly. Once I paired REESE with TRACY, I could see the clever ESCAPEKEY ("It gets pushed in a corner"), and the enjoyably weird-looking ZEROESOUTARTCLASS for "Where one might be graded on a curve?"  is also nice.

Then, as discussed above, I had to address those two blanks in the center before I could finally CEYLON to the "Congratulations!" message.

Well, we've come to the end of another fine week of puzzles. I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have. As I pass the review baton to our esteemed co-blogger Colum Amory, I have only one thing to say, TATA, TTYL, and Our feet are stained!

~Frannie.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Friday, November 29, 2019, Sam Buchbinder

22:24, FWOE

Today's time, even with a FWOE, is one second faster than yesterday's. I'm blaming a heavy dose of tryptophan.

MEIR OCCURred down in the southeastern-most point. Despite the frequency with which it appears in a puzzle, I can never remember the "Mount in Greek mythology." I vaguely recollected that it takes the form of [vowel] SS [vowel], but I made the mistake of entering guesses for the vowels and blithely moved on. One guess turned out to be incorrect, sadly. It's OSSA not aSSA. Derp. Had I recognized the birth name of BONO, this would never have happened.

After that sad bit, INEEDALIFT. LETS move on to a selection of fun clues and answers:
"Something to hold while waiting" (TRAY)
"Raked in the chips" (WONBIG)
"Overjoy" (SEND)
"Food product that's good even if it's cracked" (WHEAT)
and my favorite, "Twice-committed crime?" (BIGAMY) - ha!

We are treated to a self-referential clue at 49A:"It's found at the start of this clue" (CAPITALI). For some reason, this one seemed fairly obvious to me. On the other hand, I was totally duped by "Organization that Jordan was once part of" (BULLS) - ha! My focus on the country rather than the basketball player, plus a few other answers in that section, SLOEd me down.

OPERACOATS

LOVEPOTION is nice fill, but I didn't find the clue so enchanting ("Fantasy concoction"). And although I didn't really like the answer IMTHEWORST ("Ugh, totally my fault!") and "Grow nearer to bedtime" (LATEN) doesn't pass my SMELLTEST, the GEMS keep me looking forward to MORETOCOME.

~Frannie.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Thursday, November 28, 2019, Timothy Polin

22:25

OJAI everyone. Let's talk turkey about today's puzzle because that's what I'm full of. Well, that and pie. Lots of pie. Mmmm, pie...

The puzzle's theme features JOHNNYCASH (17A "The Man in Black") and its trick is conveyed by the title of his hit song, RINGOFFIRE (17-Across hit ... or a hint to four connected answers in this puzzle). Four entries form a square in the center of the puzzle, each of which needs the word "fire" to complete it so that it matches its clue. Thus, "Candies that make your mouth burn" are [Fire]BALLS, "Big name in tires is [Fire]STONE, "Performance with twirling torches" is [Fire]DANCE, and my favorite, "Agitator seeking radical change" is [Fire]BRAND. JOAQUIN PHOENIX, who was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Johnny Cash, also plays a part in the theme. 

The one connection I can tenuously establish between today's puzzle and today's holiday (Thanksgiving) is that one uses a RINGOFFIRE to cook many of the day's signature dishes. I myself used one to boil potatoes earlier in the day. Mmmm, potatoes...

Perhaps because I have food on the brain, and elsewhere, I noticed a number of victuals in the grid including STEW, SOY, ZITI, ICEWINE, OFFAL, CRAB, and ONAROLL. Mmmm, rolls...
STJAMES
Here's hoping a controlled ring of fire helped EWES and yours enjoy good food and good company at LACASA today. Also, on this holiday, I think it only right that we offer a SHO of appreciation to all the puzzle constructors and editors out there who always give USS somethin' ALIKE. Thanks!

~Frannie.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Wednesday, November 27, 2019, Matthew Sewell and Jeff Chen

11:41

A remarkably multi-faceted theme today! Circles, shaded squares, grid shape, and thematic content all contribute to the puzzle's a veritable smorgasbord of theme material. We have four herbs, DILL, CHIVES, MINT, and SAGE appearing in shaded squares, each "growing" up from a POT formed by black squares filled with the circled letters S E E D. And if that's not enough, the whole is, topped, front and center, by the SUN. Beautiful. Maybe there's even a little bonus theme material with an UPSY-daisy sprouting off to the side?

UFO

Other excellent entries spice up the rest of the grid. "Apple cores, for short" (CPUS) is a very good clue. I enjoyed seeing LOTTE Lenya of old "Mack the Knife" fame, although she was probably known for something else before that song was written. All the long down answers are very good, with PECCADILLOES probably being my favorite, although I do enjoy an ALPINELODGE when I can get one. Also, how weird looking an entry is EMUEGG?

I am anticipating an entirely different kind of GROWTHPOTENTIAL for myself tomorrow as I over indulge in all sorts of deliciousness. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

~Frannie.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Tuesday, November 26, 2019, Olivia Mitra Framke

7:08

My time today was faster than yesterday's by almost a full minute, lending further support to the idea that yesterday was a more difficult than usual Monday.

Today's theme is a regular house of cards. We get three grid-spanning entries that contain the names of tarot cards within common phrases or titles, including THETOWEROFBABEL, THEDEVILYOUKNOW, and THESUNALSORISES. Taking advantage of the cards on the table, the revealer, also a fifteen, is "One examining the starts of 17-, 27- and 28-Across," or TAROTCARDREADER. It's nice that the last theme answer features the Sun, which, according to the Wikipedia, represents good things and positive outcomes to current struggles. What could be more apt for puzzle solvers? Apt!

Elsewhere in the puzzle, Ms. Framke played her cards right by doling out a number of fine clue/answer pairs, including a couple of jokers.
"Mad Libs prompt" (NOUN)
"Walk lurchingly" (REEL)
"Frosted flakes?" (SNOW)
"Leaves home?" (TREE) - ha!

Fun fill like DATA, APOP, SPONGY, and HUNCH only sweetened the deal.

NECKS

The clue at 43A: "Wasn't naturally" (ACTED) struck me as a bit of a wild card, but I was still able to divine the answer.

A fun puzzle overall. I predict a ROSY future in puzzle construction for Ms. Framke!

~Frannie.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Monday, November 25, 2019, Daniel Mauer

8:04

I couldn't figure out today's theme based only on the first theme answer, SNACKATTACK, but I got the knack by the time I completed the third one, CRACKISWACK. BACKONTRACK, and the cool-looking YACKETYYACK complete the pack.

I solved the puzzle in the usual top-left-to-bottom-right order, and found I enjoyed it more as I went along. In looking over the puzzle for this review, I noticed that most of my favorite fill and clue/answer pairs were in the Downs - to wit: SARTRE, DRIP (Insipid one), BATIK, SABOTAGE, CHARMS, ROVERS, and CHAT. Coincidence? I don't think so.

ATHENS

I can't pinpoint the particulars, but this played a little slower for me than many a recent Monday. NADIR didn't leap to mind for "Very bottom" at 1A. It didn't help that I dunno who IDINA Menzel is. Nor did I know that PINETAR was a "Batter's grip-enhancing goo." Perhaps those lacks contributed to my slower PACE.

Not to give Mr. Mauer too much flack, but there was quite a stack of not-so-NEATO abbreviations through which to hack - ATA, AKA, MRI, NOS, and NES, and MRI - plus more tucked inside longer fill like ETCETC and SAIDOK. Also, if there are any AYE votes for 50A: "Muscles used in pull-ups, informally" (BIS) I'd be surprised. You can count me as ONENO on that front.

~Frannie.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Sunday, November 24, 2019, Frank Longo

OPEN WIDE

If it looks like a themeless and solves like a themeless, then guess what, Dear Reader, it is a themeless! And not only that, it's a bit of a stunt puzzle too, because (and yes, I learned this from xwordinfo.com) it has the fewest answers of any NYT Sunday puzzle to date - just 122. Which explains the title.

We've been seeing Mr. Longo's name in Games magazine for decades, so when I met him in person at my first A.C.P.T., I expected a grizzled old figure, but he looks at least ten years younger than me. Same with Mr. Fagliano. For some reason, when I first saw his name I began picturing him as sort of a Vincent Price-like character. Turns out he looks like a kid just out of college. Either creating puzzles keeps you looking very young, or I'm just not very good at picturing people. Maybe a little of both.

I often think that puzzle themes are overrated. Sure, a theme can be very clever, but for me it's separate from the fundamental joy of crosswords, which is the simple structure of clues and answers slowly helped along by the intersecting words. And when I say "theme," I don't mean "trick." Rebus squares, shape-shifting words crawling up or down, assumed letters that "appear" outside of the grid... these kinds of tricks are great. It's the word ladders, the "every last word can have this word added to it" or "is a part of this set," or "find the hidden word in this other word." That type of thing. I mean, it's fine, and usually it's fun enough, but I guess what I'm saying is that I don't need it to enjoy a crossword puzzle. Perhaps I'm just a simple guy.

So how was this themeless? Pretty good. I like the chunky corners with their 11- and 9-stacks, and the long, staggered entries in the middle were good too. There are lots of colorful answers like TIEDYEING, PRISONESCAPE, JEALOUSY, SLAKES, TOOKTOTHESLOPES (and the related SLALOM (Event that usually has gate crashers?) (great clue)), and I even liked METAANALYSES. But as with any "lowest word count" stunt puzzle, you're going to encounter things like COCCUS, TRIODE, ROADSTEAD, CLARO, and SAAR.

I credit Bruce Haight with making me see the light on stunt puzzles. Early in my reviewing career (if I can dare to call it a career), I savaged one of his stunt puzzles. When I met him at the following A.C.P.T., we talked about it and he defended the stunt puzzle as pushing the boundaries. Such experimentation is necessary to keep the field from stagnating. And really, when NASA pushes the boundaries, sometimes people end up getting killed. When crossword constructors push the boundaries, solvers end up learning new words, or gaining a new understanding of some kind.

I'll leave it there.

Congratulations, Mr. Longo, on this achievement. I hope we can look forward to at least a few more Sunday themelesses, whether they push boundaries or not, in the coming years.

- Horace

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Saturday, November 23, 2019, Trenton Charlson

0:25:06

Wow. This was a good old fashioned Saturday struggle for me! I chipped away slowly with little things like EDDA, ERR, ACE, POI, POE, LEA, NIPAT ... and then after guessing CASTLES (Moves two pieces at once, in a way) and putting in "like" at the end of 5D: Oafish (APELIKE), I was able to get PARKINGGARAGES (Places where drivers get tickets), and then, finally, I got a little traction.

POE

False starts for me included pAdthaI for SASHIMI (Dish often served with soy sauce), erasmuS for AQUINAS ("Summa Theologica" philosopher), LABratS for LABMICE (Experiment subjects), SliPSIN for SEEPSIN (Enters gradually), Somme for SEXES ("The Battle of the ____") (D. W. Griffith film)), INSertS for INSOLES (Arch supports), and the one that took me the longest to remove - ironMAN instead of AQUAMAN (Founding member of the Justice League). I was probably confusing my super hero universes with that one, but when I'm trying to solve a puzzle, I can't always be counted on to think entirely rationally. Take the AQUINAS/Erasmus thing - AQUINAS is much more likely, of course, but Erasmus was the first philosopher that came into my head, and it fit, so in it went. Anywho... all that made for a slower solve. 

But none of that diminished my enjoyment of the puzzle. It's just the kind of Saturday I like! HILARITYENSUES (What happens after a zany plot twist) was a great anchor in the lower half, and I liked the "Term of endearment" combo (PRECIOUS/BABE). The connection from corner to corner was a little tight, which made it seem almost like four separate little puzzles, but I don't mind that as much as some reviewers do. (Hi Colum!)

My final of the four little puzzles was that NE corner, where OUTKAST (Rap group with six Grammys) was on the outskirts of my ken, and SILENTW (Who's first?) elicited the required groan only after everything but the last letter had been entered.

Again, this may sound like a negative review in some ways, but challenge is what I want on Saturday. This had only a few little bits of glue, and nothing that was at all objectionable (if, that is, you don't find the word SACS too off-putting).

- Horace

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Friday, November 22, 2019, Emily Carroll

0:10:33

I was happy to see Ms. Carroll's byline today, and I was happy when I finished her puzzle! From start to finish there was plenty to enjoy. I'll start with one that many might consider obscure, and which, with all those lovely "word-ending" letters, might have been an almost accidental entry - RENNES (City in NW France)! Frannie and I have both spent a lot of time in Brittany's capital city, and it was a real treat to find it in the grid today.


I'm guessing that more universally enjoyed entries might include DEMOLITIONDERBY (Smashing good time) (Nice clue), ROMULAN (Part of a militaristic "Star Trek" race) (Everybody likes Star Trek, right?), OPENBAR (Where to find free spirits) (Everybody definitely likes an OPENBAR!), and the new-to-me-but-still-hilarious SITUATIONSHIP (Romantic gray area). I was working from left to right, and I could fill in the first part with confidence, but I didn't know what the end would be, so for a while I had SITUATIONiffy. Heh.

STYMIES (Foils) and BARRICADE (Block off) are good words, USBPORT (Mouse hole?) and MASTS (Supports for a naval expedition) got cute clues, and STATION (Social position) reminds me that we just saw a performance of H.M.S. Pinafore last weekend. ("Yes, yes, the lass is much above his station!")... FASHIONISTA is fun, and I like how ONETOGO is - in a sort of visual way - the second-to-last Across answer in the grid. It's not according to the numbers, of course, but just look at it!

Anyway, I very much enjoyed this one. I hope you did too.

- Horace