Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sunday, March 31, 2013, Caleb Madison


"Special Features"

Easter Egg theme. Movie titles with all the letters of "easter egg" added, one at a time to each theme answer, to make funny alternate titles. There were some clever theme answers, I guess, and there are, what, nine of them? Plus the "Easter Egg" one? That's a lot of theme, it seems to me.

I kind of hate the "Part of, abbr." clues, like 53A: Part of E.M.S.: Abbr. = EMER, and 40D: M.I.T. part: Abbr. = INST. 123A: Part of N.B. is slightly better, because in the first place it uses the whole word in the answer, and in the second place, this particular answer could either have been NOTA or BENE.

My favorite clue might have been 78D: Solo companion.  We thought a long time about what that might mean, before finally realizing that it used a hidden capital, and the answer turned out to be CHEWBACCA. Gotta love seeing Chewy in the grid.

Aside from that, though, there wasn't a whole lot that I loved about this one. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't great.

- Horace

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Saturday, March 30, 2013, Gareth Bain


[Write your own "This was the 'Bain' of my existence" joke here.]

A tough, Saturday puzzle. It took the collective concentrated cranial conniving of both of us to finally hammer this thing out today. When Frannie put in CINCO for 2D: Important part of mayo, I had to have her explain to me what she thought she was doing. (I'll give you a hint - months don't require capitalization in Spanish.)

Lots and lots of I's in this puzzle, it seemed to me, and some of them were in very tricky spots. There was one at the end of 43A: Watching the big game, say, and since I had erroneously entered "Tenten" (and "twenty" before that!) for 44D: XX, I was totally stumped by the terrible-looking ONSAt _ _ I. I tried taking out "tenten," and suddenly ONSAFARI became obvious. Niiice. The eventual answer for 44D, FEMALE - was another fun realization. I also enjoyed MAKEME (51A: Defiant response).

There were a few crossword-y answers: RESOW, MIRY, TSP, ARBS, and the claim that a MIATA is a 26D: Mustang competitor, is, I think, specious. The big 15-letter central clue, 37A: Gerontologist's study (THEAGINGPROCESS) seemed a little cruel, since this happens to be my birthday.

I wasn't familiar with SARD (13D: Orangish gem), but the hardest part today, for us, was the SE corner. First of all, CLAMBAR? Really? (59A: Server of food that may be steamed, fried or raw) I've never heard of a clam bar, and I've eaten a lot of clams. Second, EYEWASH? That means 64A: Nonsense? Huh. And then MOW, as 60D: Part of a barn? I suppose I can imagine that mown hay can be called "mow," but is something stored in a barn really a "part of a barn?" Or maybe there's a section of the barn called the mow where such a product is stored? I don't know. Does anyone? [ed. note: Rex Parker apparently looked this up, and it IS a part of the barn where mown hay is stored. Go figure. - H] The last letter in was that W, and we just put it in expecting it would be thrown back at us. It wasn't.

Not my favorite puzzle, but a nicely challenging one, and one with some clever parts.

- Horace

p.s. Oh! I almost forgot - I liked seeing SNEE listed as 35A: "The Mikado" weapon. I would have preferred "Snickersnee," of course, but one can't have everything, I suppose. This was a timely clue for us, as we are going to see "Utopia, Limited" for the first time today.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Friday, March 29, 2013, Josh Knapp


I was worried about this one. After my first pass on all the clues, I only had six or seven things filled in. Luckily, I had taken guesses on CARD (24D: Real character), PREEN (22D: Act the coxcomb (thank you Arshile Gorky! and your painting "The Liver is the Coxcomb")), and CAVEIN (9D: Spineless response to pressure), so when I came across 26A: Cackling loon with a white coat for the second time, I had just enough to realize that it would be MADSCIENTIST. From there, WORLDDOMINATION (36A: Goal for many a 26- or 43-Across) followed quickly, and once those two biggies were in, things started to fall into place. Whew! I didn't love the last theme answer SUPERVILLAIN (43A: Mighty heavy). I guess it's a little clever, but something about that clue just didn't seem perfect.

I guessed THE and NFL for 35A: With 40-Acorss, "Inside ____" (postgame show), even though I thought it would be odd for them to have this clue when it is so clearly not football season, but they just had a puzzle all about the 13 Colonies yesterday, which some people thought might have been better nearer to July 4th, so who knows? Neither 31:Stiff bristles (AWNS) nor 22D: ____ Matsuhisa, celebrity chef and restauranteur (NOBU) did anything to change my mind about NFL, but finally GRAPESHOT (23D: Small cannon balls) inflicted the necessary damage to my incorrect fill.

Lots of satisfying realizations when things finally got filled in - DIMENSION, SLEEPERCAR, FISHINGROD, ARTCRITIC, and the final piece to fall in for me on this one, EXILE (3D: Many a booted ruler). I enjoyed the combination of LEERAT (10D: Examine as a wolf would) and TENS (30D: Fox ratings). There wasn't too much objectionable, groanable stuff in here, and even AERIE, a nest frequently built into crossword grids, got the nice, tricky clue, 16A: Cliff hanger?. I like to think that 1A: Verbal shrug, MEH, is a nod to The Simpsons, but then, I think a lot of stuff relates to that show.

- Horace

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thursday, March 28, 2013, Randolph Ross


I wonder if Randolph Ross is any relation to Betsy, because it seems like the THIRTEE[NC]OLONIES (7D: Old group whose members are all represented in this puzzle) are a sort of family business?

When Frannie handed this off to me after having started it, there was a surprising amount of white space left. Sure, she was drowsy, but this was Thursday, not Saturday! I was instantly suspicious of a trick of some kind - something I've heard is more often to occur on a Thursday than any other day. And by the time I got to 3D: "____ Majesty's Secret Service" I knew I was right, but I couldn't find anything else in the NW to let me know which square the rebus would be in. So I moved on. In the N, Frannie had put in SCOTS for 5D: Company that makes Turf Builder. I wondered for a second about the single T, but figured, Well, it's a brand, they do those sorts of things, and I left it. Finally, I was able to piece one together in the NE with S[NY]DER (12D: Tom who followed Johnny Carson on NBC), and BRI[NY] (15A: Full of salt). The NY rebus, combined with just the clue for 7D (above), got me instantly thinking about the Thirteen Colonies. PU[MA] (32A: Sneaker brand) and [MA]SON (34D: Trowel user) sealed the deal, but it was still a tricky solve all the way to the end.

I have no idea how one would massage a grid to shove 13 rebuses into a puzzle like this, especially when they include things like NJ and NH, so I applaud Mr. Ross for an impressive result. Tricky rebus action and some clever cluing made for a very satisfying puzzle experience. And it's still sinking in. Only now, as I am writing this, do I realize that the 13A: Waikiki warbler, DO[NH]O is good ol' Don Ho. I looked at that last night and figured, maybe it's some bird I've never heard of... (Probably because I was set up by thinking "Hawaii, warbler (bird), four letters = NENE. But Nay! Nay!) Also, there was a nice crossing of baseball and Shakespeare knowledge at CA[MD]EN (44D: ____ Yards) and [MD]CIV (54A: Year "Othello" was first performed). I just knew it had to be 16-something, but Frannie had already put in ABCDE for 45D: Start of "The Alphabet Song" and that just had to be right.

Anyway, I could go on and on about how much I liked this. Oh, and this time I was ready for 56D: 7 on an old phone (PRS) -  and I even remembered that there was no Q!

Two excellent Thursdays in a row! What will they do next week?!

- Horace

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wednesday, March 27, 2013, David J. Kahn



Just kidding. This was a fine puzzle. Except for the EARWAX (63A: Swab target). I mean really, last week it was EGGSACS, this week it's earwax. And it's right on top of a (66A: Surgeon's aid) SPONGE. Stop grossing me out!

The theme today, such as it was, seemed a little, well... meh. The "reveal" clue, 25D: Vicissitudes of life, as for the inventor named in the circled squares?, seemed oddly phrased, but it referred, I guess, to the four circled instances of the name OTIS, contained within other words or combinations of words. It read down, then up twice, then down again. I first thought the two ups in the middle were odd, but they were at least progressive. By that I mean that the second up could have been seen as a continuation of an elevator ride, and the following down started above them both. But that's probably already too much contemplation of this topic.

If I ever make a puzzle, be on the lookout for the clue "Island so nice, they named it twice," which is what I wished had been the clue for BORABORA (65A: Island near Tahiti). 

Sometimes you get SERA, sometimes SERUMS, for 24A: Hospital fluids. (Another gross one, come to think of it).

Lastly, I started this out by guessing cARbAR for 1A: Where some commuters drink (imagining, I guess, a limo), and then didn't get BAMA or CURATOR for quite some time. (Cama and burator just didn't seem to make any sense.) It got me to thinking - do commuters really drink in bar cars? I've gotta start taking the train more often!

- Horace

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tuesday, March 26, 2013, Samuel A. Donaldson and Doug Peterson


This was a pretty fun one. Got a good starting jolt with ACDC (1A: "Back in Black" band), then skipped over 5A: Biggest diamond?, and came right back with DESILU and THELORAX, the latter of which (14A: Title Seuss character who speaks for trees), I've only come to know lately through hearing about it in many different contexts. I don't remember ever reading this one (or having this one read to me) as a child.

I'm not sure what to call the theme today, but I chuckled at all of them. There is, however, one major problem, which I will soon address.

17A: "Wow, he survived!" - MANALIVE
26A: "Wow, you're a regular expert at turning left!" GEEWHIZ - now there's a word you don't hear very often, and I love its inclusion, but the main problem with this clue is that "gee" is used to turn animals to the right! It's opposite, "haw" is for turning left. Rather a glaring error, and one I'm sure Mr. Shortz will hear about. ("You'll say a better crossword editor has, maybe, sat a gee?")*
38A: "Wow, those reptiles have mad hops!" - LEAPINLIZARDS
52A: "Wow, look at that bovine idol!" - HOLYCOW
64A: "Wow, I'm standing next to Mr. Clooney himself!" - BYGEORGE

When I type them all out like that, it seems like rather a stupid theme, but I really did enjoy them while I was doing the puzzle. Of course, I was doing it at about 12:30AM, after having drunk a few beers, so my judgement could, I suppose, have been clouded.

Getting back to 5A: Biggest diamond?, the answer, ACE, was one of the more clever clues today. I liked seeing OMG (44A: Texter's expression of surprise) and having it cross DOH (42D: Homer Simpson's exclamation) was nice. I learned YENTA means (53D: Gossipy sort). I've never heard of GLENDA Jackson, but maybe in the future I'll remember that she's the 62A: Jackson with two Best Actress Oscars. 

Aside from the major error, it was ok. Not great, but good and fun.

- Horace

*I've since read that there is some confusion about this. Some say the meanings of the two words are reversed in Britain (because farmers sometimes walk(ed?) (does anyone still drive oxen thus?) on the right side of a yoked team, whereas American farmers, apparently, walk(ed?) on the left. The two words have consistent meaning (according to some sources I've read) relative to the farmer: "Gee" meaning "away from me [the farmer]" and "Haw" meaning "toward me"), but this is an American puzzle. Maybe they could've just clued it with "Wow, you're a regular expert at turning a draft animal!"

Monday, March 25, 2013

Monday, March 25, 2013, Adam Prince


Ahem, ahem, is this thing on??? Frannie here, commenting on New York Times Crossword Puzzle 20130325. At first, the acrosses in this puzzle nearly KILT me. But, after I met up with a few CLUES that were real RUMS, I became unBLOCked. ATNO time, did I think I wouldn't finish, but, at first, I failed to meet my personal QUOTA of easy answers for a Monday puzzle. But, once I got to KANGAROOCOURT, I said to myself, IMONAROLL and I sank the rest of them like HOOKSHOTS into a five foot basket. The theme neither helped nor hindered me, but I did need to review the OCEAN of themed answers to get 37A: Title that can precede the starts of 17-, 23-, 49-, and 59-Across. COOKBOOKS didn't do it for me, but THEN I looked at MORGANFREEMAN, and "KABOOM," I was CAPTAIN of that ship.* Now, I'm going to get some ALES and GUACAMOLE. Peace out. 

*The above review was constrained by my wish to use a bunch of the answers from the puzzle in the review itself. It in no way reflects my real thoughts about the puzzle. - F.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunday March 24, 2013, Dan Schoenholz


"You'll Know It When You See It."

Another tough one to round out a tough weekend, but this one, at least, was pretty enjoyable. There was a tricky cross at NOVO (61A: Porto-____ (capital of Benin)) and OSAGE (63D: Traditional enemies of the Kiowa), but Frannie thought a final/beginning O was more likely than anything else, and it turned out that she was right. The other killer cross, for us anyway, was between two perfectly normal words, SIMILE and REIN. Schoenholz set us up perfectly with the back-to-back clues of 14D: As easy as pie, say and 15D: As easy as ___. Who didn't try SIMpLE for that first one? (and pie for the second?) We clung to simple so hard that we stared at REpN in the grid for a good long time. I tried to re-work the whole area around Simple by trying Rope, and Repe ("could that mean something?"), but eventually, finally, took most of it out and started from scratch, and the answer came. And the difference between those two crosses is that when we settled on the O in NOVO, we just crossed our fingers and moved on. When SIMILE finally forced its way into our brains, we had big smiles and a lot of respect for the puzzle creator.

The theme was a good one for us (who doesn't love art?), and hearing what those famous people had to say about it was interesting. As with most quote themes, they are not immediately guessable, but they can usually be worked out when enough letters are revealed. The hardest one in that respect was probably the penultimate, as "talk" "walk" "work" and others could have fit as the third word in THEPROPERTASKOFLIFE (107A: Answer to 67-Across, per Nietzsche). 

The fill was, for the most part, enjoyable. I still don't know what NITRE (KNO3, in Britain) is (I'm guessing it's their way of saying "nitrous"), but the crosses there (even HORAE, thanks to my recent Classical studies) were all gettable without too much trouble. DIS (76D: Slam), despite being "modern," which other crossword bloggers seem to like, isn't all that satisfying to me. And I didn't know that TREF meant (36D: Not kosher), but that's ok, because I do now! Loved GETMARRIED (95A: End an engagement?), and 58A: Oranges and Lemons was a tricky way of clueing TREES. 

For us, the occasional APERS and NOVO and SOV (44D: U.S.S.R. part: Abbr.)(lame)) were more than made up for by zippy fill like WELLINEVER (55A: Indignant reply), FUSSPOT (98A: Particular sort), CHAOS (10A: Original state of the universe, in myth), Frannie's favorite - MATH (66A: What's nothing but problems?), and many more.

Oh, and one last thing, this is a new blog and we have very few readers, but one, I know, will want to see a shout-out for 19A: Baja vacation spot, familiarly. I'll not give the answer away, but you - and you know who you are - should enjoy this one! Maybe this is when you can start handing the puzzle back and forth with that wife of yours!

- Horace

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Saturday, March 23, 2013, David Steinberg


Brutal. Took forever to get going in this one, and I had a bad feeling that we'd be searching for an error or two once we finally filled everything in, and guess what? I was right.

You know it's going to be bad when you get all the crosses on name answers and you've still never heard of the person. That happened with (1A: "Another Cinderella Story" co-star, 2008) SELENAGOMEZ. And I guess the name EDDIEARCARO (62A: Two-time Triple Crown winner) rings some kind of distant, small bell, but really, I wasn't sure of it even when it was in. tOT (64D: Trig function) seemed plausible, but not really possible, what with TOT (30D: Add (up)) already in the grid. And I so wanted YumAARIZONA, but no.

I still don't understand MNO (9D: 6 string), and I thought I just read in Wikipedia that Will Shortz doesn't like unpleasantness in his puzzles, yet EGGSACS (40D: Where future web developers develop?) was right there, grossing me out. I guess he thought the cutesy clue made up for it.

Anyway, this wasn't really in our wheelhouse, as it were, and it was more of a boring slog than an enjoyable brain-flexing. Perhaps you had a different reaction, and if so, that's great. I did like ONGOAL for (32A: Like saved hockey shots), and the hidden capitals in (39A: Bath can) and (54D: Frank account) were nice. NYALA? Never heard of it. ENTERER? Lame. URI? Really?

Frannie enjoyed the shout-out to Norm ABRAM (6D: Norm of "This Old House").

- Horace

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday, March 22, 2013, Tim Croce


Frannie always says that the stacked-15 puzzles are a little easier because you eventually figure out the long ones, then everything else falls into place. Well, that often happens, but today, the "everything else" was chock full of VARIG (22D: Flier to Rio), OTOMIS (7D: Mexican Indians), EARLAP (44D: It's turned down for warmth), and ETAMESON (9D: Electrically neutral subatomic particle). We did get them, thanks to the crosses, but jeez... there wasn't much joy in it.

But it wasn't all bad. I liked seeing (and learning about) OCARINA (3D: Instrument whose name means "little goose"), and I liked the clue for STEREOS (34D: Rock collections may sit beside them), but those, and a few others, didn't really make up for the rest of the fill. Even the 15s weren't especially good. Who has ever said EMAILDOMAINNAME?, raise your hand. That's right, no one.

- Horace

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Thursday, March 21, 2013, Jeff Chen


Starting with the across clues, I didn't fill in a single thing until IRE (23A: Furor), and I wasn't positive about that one, but then the little stuff started to trickle in. LON (26A: First name in horror), and AHI (28A: Yellowfin tuna, on menus). After that, the bottom half went pretty quickly, with long gimmes like TENORSAX (35D: John Coltrane played it), and IPROMISE (38D: "You have my word!").

I enjoyed quite a lot in this puzzle. Has OHHELL (22A: "Crud!") ever appeared before in a puzzle, I wonder? Loved that whole NE corner. Great clues on SABERS and TALLER, and finally my drinking is starting to pay off, as even ASAHI (16D: Japanese beer brand) was easy with just a letter or two.

As you probably know by now, I enjoy related clues like (22D: Census form option) / (32D: Census datum), and (49D: Kobe ___) after the LeBron/Kobe clue at 12D, and SAFE (18D: Jewel box?) / (42: Jewel boxes) CDCASES.

So much good stuff in here. I even enjoyed the subtle theme, described by STIRFRIES (59A: Wok dishes) (each theme answer ended with an anagram of FRIES). I must admit, I liked it so much that I finished before even handing it over to Frannie! Tomorrow, she gets first crack at the Friday. IPROMISE.

- Horace

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wednesday, March 20, 2013, Raymond C. Young


This puzzle might have been a little too proud of itself for the fact that the (25A: Minimum number of times each letter of the alphabet appears in this puzzle's solution) was FOUR. It allowed for easy guessing of exotically-lettered words like KUMQUATS for (38D: Orange fruits), and TAZO for (60A: Tea brand owned by Starbucks). It also seemed to lead to a lot of terrible, or at least questionable, answers. OHOH for (14A: "Whoops!"). Shouldn't that really be uHOH? And QTRS are really more accurately NFL game divs., not (12D: N.F.L. divs.). According to a quick search, there is such a thing as a CAVEBAT in Australia, but there are other more common names for an (29A: Upside-down-sleeping mammal). DONQ rum? YAWPS? I don't know, it all just seemed a little cheap to me.

The SW corner was the trickiest for us as we solved this between sets at a local bar, and if it weren't for a friend knowing the name of FRIZ Freleng (58A: Looney Tunes animator ____ Freleng), we might never have finished at all. Tried BUTT, TUSH, and maybe one more alternate before finally putting in DUFF (47D: Keister), and then, finally, FUTZ (61A: Mess around (with)) fell in, and NUJAZZ (that's a thing?) was revealed as (43D: Genre pioneered by Miles Davis). Huh.

Not terribly satisfying.

- Horace

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tuesday, March 19, 2013, Mike Buckley


This was an enjoyable Tuesday puzzle. Lots went in immediately, of course, but it was interesting fill. Picked LEICA (14A: Pioneer in 35mm cameras) right off the bat, but I like-a that Nikon and Canon would both have fit. I'm learning a lot about the 2009 Star Trek movie, what with last Thursday's NERO and today's BANA (21A: Eric who played the villain in 2009's "Star Trek"). It got all French up in the NE, with EAU (16A: It flows in the Seine), ESPRIT (22A: Lively wit), and PONT (23D: France's ___ d'Avignon), but I've got no problem with that. OEUVRE (41D: Hors d'___) even showed up a little farther down.

As I said recently, I enjoy it when two answers are clued in the same way, and I also like today's pairs of (1A: Simpson of the Simpson-Bowles commission), ALAN, with (67A: One of the Simpsons), MARGE, and ICE (4D: Motel machine sign) with AAA (42A: Letters on a motel sign). That kind of thing makes any puzzle a little bit more interesting and fun.

Other clues/answers that we found particularly nice today were ELEGY (53D: Words of passing interest?), and CANALZONE (36D: Former U.S. territory) - tricky! And I loved seeing LITHESEOME (3D: Like ballerinas), EDWYNN (27D: Comic who sang "I Love to Laugh" in "Mary Poppins"), and USSWASP (28A: It's known as the Ship With the Mighty Stinger). I wonder if there's fierce competition to get that assignment?

As for the theme, any reference to Wayne's World is a good one, and the compound-word thing is a tried-and-true crossword convention. Everyone loves a party, right?

- Horace

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Monday, March 18, 2013, Daniel Landman


Frannie and I usually alternate on the Monday puzzles, since they're too easy to work on together. When it's my week, I sometimes like to go as fast as I can. Today I decided I would try to zip through it, but then was greeted by (1A: Book after Jonah). I really ought to memorize all the books of the Bible in order, just like I've (tried to) memorize all the acceptable two-letter Scrabble words... But no matter, MICAH was filled in by crosses before I had time to worry about it.

Most of the answers in a Monday take only as long to fill in as it takes to thumb the letters (we solve with the NYT Puzzle App on an iPad Mini). Today, the theme answers were not immediately apparent, but, like MICAH, were mostly completed by the time I went back to look at the clues a second time. I have no idea what "SIUNITS" are, but I get that the theme answers were all two-words, the first beginning with "S," the second with "I." Meh. Not the greatest theme, but I suppose you've got to do something.

I liked SWAK (69A: Love letter abbr.), and USURP (54A: Take unrightfully) is a fun one. Didn't get EEL in this one, but did see STET (20A: Leave in, to a proofreader) and SSTS (27D: Booming jets of old, in brief). It's been a while since I've seen that one!

- Horace

Sunday, March 17, J. R. Leopold



Everyone loves a good pun, right? 

Even with things like SUBIC (44D: ____ Bay, former U.S. base in the Philippines), NACIO (70D: "Singin' in the Rain" composer ___ Herb Brown), and NANCE (1D: Vice president John ____ Garner), the ERTE (14D: Art Deco master) / LENORE (9A: Classic verse that begins "Ah, broken is the golden bowl!") / POET (28A: Meter reader) block was the last area to fall today. I pride myself a lover of both poetry and Poe, but I wasn't familiar enough with the line to be sure that this was his Lenore and not someone else's LENORa, and finding the "question mark" meaning of "Meter Reader" took forever! (But it was worth it once it did come!) I feel I should have known Erté, but I just didn't. Perhaps I will from now on.

But back to the puns. They were, for the most part, quite enjoyable. LOVEHANDLES (96A: "Nothing" and "aught"?) was Frannie's favorite, and I thought RETURNOFTHEJEDI (116A: Luke Skywalker's volley?) was pretty good, too.

Does MENAGE really mean (123A: Housekeeping) in anything other than French? Can that be used as if were just an ordinary English word? Seemed odd to me.

- Horace

Saturday, March 16, Julian Lim


Tough one. The last square today was the E of the LEE (27D: Pace of "Pushing Daisies") and ABE (38A: Fukuda's predecessor as Japan's P.M.) cross. Never heard of Pace Lee, or Lee Pace, or Pushing Daisies, or any Japanese person named ABE. So that took a few guesses. Had ABo and LEo at first, so, technically, a DNF, I guess.

Thought (22A: :, at times) was showing us an emoticon instead of simply a colon with a comma after it, so it took a while to get ISTO. Knew ALANPAGE (40A: Football Hall-of-Famer who became a Minnesota Supreme Court justice) from my brother, a Minnesotan and a huge Vikings fan. He tells me that he sometimes sees Alan Page when he's out running. Kind of enjoyed HANKER (42A: Thirst). It's a word you don't hear much, and it's refreshing to see in a crossword. Had videOtape (I know, too old-school) for DVDBOXSET at first, which really screwed up the SE, but LATEX (49D: Stuff in a swim cap) came to me after Frannie got RUBBERY (24D: Like 49-Down) with crosses, and then things eventually fell into place. 

Several of the nines took a while to fill in even when we had several letters. STEPSITUP (1A: Increases the intensity) was turnSITUP for a while, and EXPLETIVE (59A: One may be represented by stars) took forever.

- Horace

Friday, March 15, 2013, Joe Krozel


Eight fifteen-letter answers, spanning the entire puzzle. Just 18 black squares.

Tough puzzle to get into, but once it got going, it wasn't that bad. Our esteemed colleague Rex Parker hated this puzzle because of a single cross, but fortunately for us, Frances knew that MULETAS were (28A: Matadors' red capes), so MINAS just had to be right for (28D: ____ Gerais (Brazilian state)).

That cross aside, there was some nice cluing of crosswordsy fill like (18A: They often pass through needles) for SERA, (22A: Rounded-up numbers?) for HERDS, and RIOTS for (19A: People might leave them in tears). I also enjoyed HOPIN as a (23A: Driver's invitation). Never heard of a NIT being a (38A: Small grouse), but MENISCI (31D: Crescent-shaped bodies) came to me from my high school chemistry classes. I think we were supposed to read the bottom of the meniscus curve when measuring fluids. Is that right? Any chemists out there?

The one answer I strongly disliked was BIDIN (39D: Act to retain one's property at auction). Shouldn't that be BIDoN? You "bid at" an auction and you "bid on" an item in an auction. You don't "bid in" anything.

- Horace

Thursday, March 14, 2013, Mike Buckley


Einstein quote: "Creativity is the residue of wasted time"

Not sure I completely agree with that, but whatever.

I'm a francofile and I don't even like the answer ABBE (15A: French cleric). The very next across, however, CAPN (16A: Superior of a bos'n) pretty much made up for it. I don't know why, but that clue and answer made me smile. Maybe because it made me think of Cap'n Crunch cereal... Nice to see cerium and samarium getting a shout out as rare EARTHS (22A: Cerium and samarium are rare ones) - I like it when I learn something new from doing a puzzle. Now if I can remember those two elements, I'll be even happier. I might remember cerium, as it was named after Ceres (the planet and the goddess, I guess), and who doesn't like astronomy and/or Classical mythology? And speaking of that, it's always nice to picture a nice crown of LAUREL (23A: Classic prize), isn't it? A RHODO is a (29A: Showy bloom, to flower enthusiasts)? Who knew? Is it really just short for rhododendron? Lame. SARA (60A:  "_____ Smile" (1976 top 5 hit)) Really? Wow.

Doesn't YAR (20D: Quick to the helm) make you think of Katharine Hepburn? Me too. And what's wrong with that? The ESSO (26A: It, in Italy) / OSSIE (28D: Actor Davis) cross was a tough one. It could, I suppose, have been ESSa and aSSIE, but then Assie is even odder a name than Ossie, so I guess it was guessable. Still, not great. Also, I had never heard of a DHOTI (30D: Indian attire), and I wasn't positive that NERO (37A: 2009 "Star Trek" villain) was correct, even though I've seen that movie twice, but Nero is a known name, and could easily be a villain, so, again, guessable.

I kind of like it when two answers are clued in the exact same way, but I like it more when the meanings of the answers are completely different. This is not the case with DATED (36D: Went out with) and SAW (40D: Went out with). Both answers refer to seeing someone socially. I'd rather have seen "dated" and "exited" or something like that. I wish I had a better example, but I think you get the idea.

- Horace

Wednesday, March 13, by Joe DiPietro


Pretty funny operatic re-wordings, and decent enough fill with no major trouble points. Never heard of ALLELE ( 31A: Gene arising through mutation), but remembered the crosswordsy ELIA (27D: Kazan of Hollywood), so that first L was eventually found. Didn't particularly like LEDON (37A: Enticed), but the somewhat amusing MOO (30D: Stock answer?) finally changed the i to an O. And I was almost stumped by EEO (38D: Job listing inits). I'd heard of Equal Opportunity Employers, but didn't know that Equal Employment Opportunities were also a thing. And OBOES are (41D: Heckelphone cousins)? Who knew?

Learned today that "baba" is some kind of Spanish cake, but it wasn't too hard to guess, as anyone who's ever seen Bugs Bunny knows the Barber of Seville. And speaking of cartoons, I know Boris Badenov from Rocky and Bullwinkle, but had never heard of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov (or the 16th c. tsar), but, well, it seemed to make sense somehow.

Particularly enjoyed the clues for OHARE (50A: Site of some Chicago touchdowns), PIANO (20A: One of the Baldwins?), and, for some reason, FOUNDED (25D: Like St. Augustine, in 1565). I thought at first that that last one might be FlooDED, but no. Eventually, it all made sense.

- Horace