Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Tuesday, October 26, 2021, Michael Schlossberg

Bravo all around on this one. First and foremost to Mr. Schlossberg, for such an entertaining theme, and also to Mr. Shortz, for choosing to run it in the last week of October. I didn't know what was going on until I hit that revealer, and what a fun pay off!


I like the look of the open corners in the NW and SE, and right off the bat we get some nice entries like DEMURE (Modest and shy), MEADOW (Place for daisies), my preferred spelling of AMOEBA, and one of the many variant spellings of LAOTSE. AMANAS isn't too terribly exciting, but I enjoyed the clue for BOBA (Word before tea or Fett). Heh. All in all, not a bad starting quadrant.

Moving right, BEEBALM (Flowering plant also known as horsemint) made me smile, because it reminded me of my sister who put "catmint" in her garden. She was surprised that a neighbor's cat made regular trips to her garden to sniff, rub, and even lie right in the plant. It was only later that she realized that catmint is also known as catnip!

BEGONIA is colorful, ROUSE is unusual, and EGOSURFS is fun, but there are also some loose spots. ENGR is awkward, I've never really thought that OHO was a real expression, and are ECHECKS real things? Isn't that kind of payment just called a wire transfer? 

But I won't complain too loudly, because honestly, I enjoyed the theme enough to allow for almost anything. I hope you also enjoyed it. 

- Horace

Monday, October 25, 2021

Monday, October 25, 2021, Damon Gulczynski

Today's set of EASYPEASY theme answers are two-word entries where the first starts with P and the second with Z. Easy P-Z. Hah!


I know nothing about either PAULAZAHN or "The World of SUZIE Wong," and since I filled it in by guessing the Down answer, I had an S in that cross until recognizing the pattern. Luckily, I had friends who travelled in Poland, so I had heard of the POLISHZLOTY, but I imagine the cross with STLO could be a guess for some folks, and Dad might have trouble with POPO (Law officers, in slang).

I liked a lot of the non-theme entries today. TRUANT (School skipper), HELM (Captain's post), TOPAZ (November birthstone), and SCYTHE (Grim Reaper's implement) are all interesting words. And we've got good trivia in the clues for ELPASO - "Only major Texas city on Mountain Time" and ACACIA (Thorny tree). It's nice to learn a little something about that Spelling Bee darling. And I very much enjoyed the clue "Spice whose name consists of two consecutive pronouns" (THYME).

I thought it played a little on the tricky side for a Monday, but as we always say, there's nothing wrong with that. If the crossword didn't put up any resistance, how fun would it be? Thumbs up.

- Horace


Sunday, October 24, 2021

Sunday, October 24, 2021, Katie Hale


Sorry, Colum, I thought I'd get things back to normal this week by taking the slot after you, but does that mean you've had an extra week? I can no longer remember...

What? A blog post isn't the appropriate place for personal communication between two people? All you sports nuts will RAISEHELL if I don't start commenting about the puzzle? Well ok then.

The theme today takes sports-related words and re-clues them to make them into non-sports-related words. The classic SEVENTENSPLIT in bowling, for example, is turned into a "Plan to leave at a very specific evening time?" (I'm hoping that was an afternoon barbecue, because if it's a soiree, they're not really giving it much of a chance.) In another, baseball's DESIGNATEDHITTER is moved to the realm of card games with "Blackjack dealer?" And things get all meta when track and field's STARTINGBLOCK is clued with "First square of a crossword?" 

It's a fun idea, and most of them at least made me smile. FLOOREXERCISE (Kegels, e.g.?) moving from the gymnastics mat to the pelvic floor, was the most surprising, and UNPLAYABLELIE (Conspiracy theory so wild that it can't be aired?) made me wish that it actually happened more often...

In other areas, I was fooled by "Word that can precede or follow pack," dropping in "rat" instead of ICE, and it took me a very long time to get "Things you can crack without damaging them" (DOORS) (When is a door not a door? When it's ajar!) And today I learned that I have not been pronouncing VIOL correctly. Anybody else say "vee-ole." Or is it "vie-ole?" No? Ok, well, I guess I maybe I should switch to avoid being RAZZed by all those symphony-goers. 

Lastly, I only just now got the clue for DEE (It's just passing). It's just above an F - and, theoretically, an E, were teachers to choose to give that grade. (Hey, there's room for it, Colum, it's just that no one has had the SPORTS NUTS to start handing them out.) 

There I go using this platform to communicate directly with Colum again. But really, in doing so, aren't I also bringing you, Dear Reader, into the conversation? Aren't I letting you into my story a bit? Isn't that what writing a blog is all about? Oh, what do I know? I'm just a rube who goes around saying vee-ole! Ay CARAMBA!

- Horace

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Saturday, October 23, 2021, Sam Ezersky

Oof, I hit the jackpot. Following yesterday's smooth and fun Friday themeless, I open today's to find it's by Mr. Ezersky, fiendish and challenging constructor. And look at that grid, with huge chunky corners. I went a long way through clues, to 24D, actually, before I got an answer I was solid enough on to put in.

That initial ENERGY got me a little way into it, before I sputtered out again. 38A: Pippi Longstocking feature (PIGTAIL) could only really be one thing, and 32D: Rabbit ears (TVANTENNA) was a welcome sight as well. But I foundered on other answers, including an incorrect guess at 47D: Go from E to F (FUELUP), where I tried FaiLat. Nice try, but I don't think teachers actually give out E grades, do they?

So after putting in a few other entries like PETUNIA and DERE (not so much a fan of that), I found myself once more in the NW corner. This time I took a chance on UCLA, and then tried ____LOG for 17A: Duraflame product (FIRELOG), which allowed me to put in IHOPE, and then ZYGOTE.

Now I could see 1A: Questions of surprise? (POPQUIZ) That's fun stuff, and led to the corner being finished. Out of there, I finally got 20A: Literally, "one who is sent off" (APOSTLE), which nestled nicely against ETHICS (at least I hope so).

PIECAKEN, anyone?

OILGLUT, and TANK made a nice little set of answers in the NE. Also having MASALAS near SRI seemed to make sense. A little less encouraging was TAXING, PRICES, CARTAGE, and PETFEES down the SE corner.

A good challenging Saturday is always welcome. It's very satisfying when the last square is filled in. So all I can say to Mr. Ezersky is NICEONE!

This week, Frannie will be taking the reviews back. Perhaps we've created a new and improved cycle of reviewers? If I get to follow Horace from now on, it relieves me of the pressure of living up to Frannie's shining workplay!

- Colum

Friday, October 22, 2021

Friday, October 22, 2021, Robyn Weintraub

"Oh frabjous day, Callooh callay!" He chortled in his joy.

Is how I feel when I see Ms. Weintraub's byline on a weekend themeless. What a lovely way to start the days off, coming home, opening the iPad and enjoying a good puzzle. My only complaint is that it went by so quickly!

I broke in with the ELLA/ELLEN duo, combined with the LEIS/LEAS pair, making this part fall very quickly. With ____LISH in place, 16A: Digital color presentation? (NAILPOLISH) was quickly clear, and the rest of the NW corner fell into place. 

The two long downs out of this section also came easily. 5D: Local alternative (EXPRESSTRAIN) has just enough ambiguity to make it a little tougher, while 17D: How you might count to five (ONONEHAND) was pretty straightforward. 

The middle trio of 13-letter answers in a staircase are very nice. I love 29A: Courtroom conclusion (CASEDISMISSED), bringing to mind many movies where a wrongly accused person triumphantly gets off, such as Legally Blonde, My Cousin Vinnie, and Liar, Liar. I had more difficulty with 32A: Comment after an amazing statement (LETTHATSINKIN). Here I had __TTHAT___ and thought it should start with "But that's..."

"TAOS Pueblo" by Helmut Naumer, Sr.

33A: What might be found between X and Z? (GENERATIONGAP) is a lovely bit of QMC work, in my opinion. I thought it would just be Gen Y in some form, but this makes much more sense!

I find in grids like these that if you can get the central section, the rest becomes a lot easier, because you have a solid set of three letters for any crossing answer. EATINGFORTWO, for example, could only start with the first word, once the ___ING is in place. 

I enjoyed 44A: Kitty food? (POKERCHIP), and had a "kitwo" moment for 48A: "Walk" (GOONSTRIKE). Could it be "goon stride?" That's not a thing, is it? (Hint: no, it's not). Hah! Finished in 5:49.

- Colum

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Thursday, October 21, 2021, Michael Lieberman

When I was but a lad, a friend of mine introduced me to GAMES magazine. And a lifelong love of puzzles was... well, if not born in that moment, at least validated. In those issues, once in a while, you might find some Wacky Wordies: little puzzles where the way words were placed in relation to each other suggested a phrase. Things like the word "thumb" spelled going from the bottom of the square to the top, twice over, to depict "thumbs up."

Mr. Lieberman has scratched that itch again today, with four examples of phrases which have the word "under" in them, pictorially represented by having the first part of the phrase beneath the second part of the phrase in four long down answers. Thus, 3D: Clueless about current trends (AROCKLIVING) is actually "living" [under] "a rock." Fun! 

Although I'm sad to say I didn't figure it out until I had two of them completed. What is this phrase OATHTESTIFY? Is this something you can do, I wondered... Duh.

Some other good answers today include BOOTYCALL, PRIMEVIDEO (Amazon's streams, indeed), and 18A: Tombstone site, once (OKCORRAL).

William SHAWN (father of Wallace, actor of The Princess Bride fame), the editor of the New Yorker, was featured in a review of the new Wes Anderson movie, The French Dispatch. It's a depiction of a magazine much like the New Yorker, in the mid-20th century. I happen to enjoy Wes Anderson movies a ton, so I'm looking forward to it.

Fun puzzle today, and a good start to the turn.

- Colum

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Wednesday, October 20, 2021, David W. Tuffs

Wednesdays gotta Wednesday, you know what I mean? The puzzles are not early week and thus straightforward, nor are they late week, and thus tricksy or just straight up tough. Mr. Tuffs's second puzzle in the NYT follows this trend, and does it in a fun way, I think.

The theme finds five different words that begin with "or," and where the rest of the word can be reparsed into a new word, and then clues them with cute either-or questions. Thus, ORLANDO, the city, is reparsed into 17A: "Who's your favorite roguish 'Star Wars' character? Han..." or Lando?

ORDEALS and ORCHARD work very nicely. ORANGERED is an acceptable color term, even if I don't come across it often, and I like how it's reparsed from "orange-red" to "or-angered." ORALIST is not exactly Google-worthy as a term. Apparently, it's one who supports the act of lip-reading for hearing challenged rather than sign language. A bit niche, but once again I like how it's reparsed to "or A-list."

The grid does not make for very smooth solving, a pet peeve of mine which I've learned shouldn't get in the way of a fun solve. I understand that breaking up the grid like this makes it open for more fun entries, so that's a trade-off I am willing to accept. Still, the SW and NE corners are nearly entirely separate puzzles, with only two single letter entries each.


On the other hand, we get the very excellent ADDISABABA in complete form, along with PATAGONIA, a place I'd certainly like to visit at some point in my lifetime. 

In addition, I liked MARRIED crossing SAIDIDO, both clued with "Got hitched." I was not fooled in the least by 1A: Museum wings? (EMS), for once. 

Finally, I will raise a glass for the reference to N.K. Jemisin's "Broken Earth" trilogy. They are outstanding works of speculative fiction with strong characters and the heartbreaking choices they have to make. However, I don't agree that they fall into the genre of FANTASY. There are plenty of unsubtle hints that it's futuristic human life, and that all of the events can be explained through technology rather than magic. To boot, the first novel won the Hugo Award for best Science Fiction novel.

All of which is to say, go out and read them.

- Colum