Saturday, November 30, 2013

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


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

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

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

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

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

- Horace

Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday, November 29, 2013, Ned White


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

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

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

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

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

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

- Horace

Thursday, November 28, 2013

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


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

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

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

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

- Horace

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wednesday, November 27, 2013, Jules P. Markey

12:04 (Horace's time - we each did the puzzle on our own today)

It's time to talk turkey. And gravy, squash, and dressing. A real smörgåsbord. Clues ran from tough nuts to crack (at least for this reviewer) like 10D: LaCrosse, for one (BUICKSEDAN) to easy as pie (71A: "That threw me for a __" (ALOOP)). Being a Wednesday puzzle there wasn't a lot to sink one's teeth into, but one or two clues had me ruminating. In addition to car models (not in my wheelhouse), I have never seen LOOIES as slang for lieutenant (57A: Officers above sarges). Nor have I ever heard of Lisa LOEB (46A: with the 1997 hit "I Do"). I also first entered udon for SOBA (58A: Noodles in Japanese cookery), possibly because I have no idea what kind of noodle is what, but, the crosses kept me from having to eat crow and I was able to submit without error.

Some other nice food references to fill the plate: ORZO (59D: Rice-size pasta), 69A: Fillet (BONE), and 35D. Egg: Prefix (OVI), and one of Horace's favorites, QUIK (25D: Old Nestle brand).

A possible point of interest in light of yesterday's language discussion: there's not a single obviously French word in this food-themed puzzle, unless you count ETTE (62A: Suffix with Rock). We have ENERO (15D: Warm month in South America), and MEZZO (68A: Many an aria singer, informally) in addition to the above mentioned ORZO, mais pas de mots français. Sacre bleu!

And last, but not least, my favorite clue of the day: 54D: Body measurement (GIRTH). Perfect for Huygens and Thanksgiving Day.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tuesday, November 26, 2013, Don Gagliardo and Zhouqin Burnikel


This starts out strong with, EDICT (1A: Decree), a nice ten-cent word (especially for a Tuesday). There's nice 70s TV trivia with DANNO (14A: "Hawaii Five-O" nickname) (popular this week, the 5-0), SPOCK (45A: "Live long and prosper" speaker), and SCOOBYDOO (23D: Shaggy's dog) (or was that the 80s?), and the theme is interesting, if a tad odd.

I've never heard of an ESCALATORCLAUSE (39A: Provision in many a construction contract), but maybe the Times has been hearing from a lot of construction workers who say there's not enough in the puzzles for them, and ECOTONE (37D: Transitional zone between plant communities) is also new to me, (ditto for landscape architects).

I liked BEAUTIFUL (11D: Stunning), and TOOTOO (5D: Pretentious, informally) and ITSAGO (43A: "We're on!") were both nice, current, in-the-language (as some say) phrases. Good clueing all around, especially for CELS (31D: Ones drawn to film?) and WOOD (67A: Covered club, usually).

Somebody ought to do a study on French in American crossword puzzles. It's been a while since it was the foreign language to take in school, right? So why not more Spanish? Today we've got two French and one Italian. Four French if you count OSIER (28A: Willow twig) and ESPRIT (25A: Quick wit), and, what the heck, let's throw in EDICT too. On second thought, maybe that comes straight from Latin, but anyway… all that to just one Spanish, and that's only if you count OAXACA (53A: Modern home of the ancient Zapotec civilization), which I don't, really.

All in all, an enjoyable Tuesday.

- Horace

Monday, November 25, 2013

Monday, November 25, 2013, Kevin G. Der


Decent Monday theme and Monday puzzle. Nice nod to EDNA (19A: ___ Krabappel of "The Simpsons") who (Marcia Wallace) died recently. And the clue for PSIS (10A: Greek letters resembling tridents) in that same area was a nice change from a plain old "Greek letters," or the like. SIDEBENEFIT (11D: Secondary advantage) was a nice 11-letter entry, and the symmetrical 8s weren't bad either. My favorite of those was probably EXPELLED (9D: Kicked out).

All the bumper sticker starters were perfectly acceptable. We've all seen all of those.

Lots of little nuisances in the grid, with MITE, GNAT and ANTS, but no real complaints.

- Horace

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday, November 24, 2013, Gary Cee



This was a fun theme - song titles with women's names clued by referencing famous people with those last names. For example, COMEONEILEEN clued with 37A: "Hurry up, Ms. Brennan!" I'm not really sure who Eileen Brennan is, but I am quite familiar with the song. On the other hand, I'm not familiar with the song SARASMILE (55A: "Cheer up, Ms. Teasdale!"), but I am quite fond of the poetry of Sara Teasdale.

Nice little nod to the season with 1A: Parade organizer (MACYS), but the other Thanksgiving-related clue, 26A: Turkey isn't one (REDMEAT), seemed kind of flat. Same with 51A: Market makeup: Abbr. (COS), and why is AYEAYE clued with 66A: "Sí!" at sea? Why use the Spanish there? And why is Spanish not used for OLE (70A: "Hurrah!")? Is "Olé" just thought of as common enough crosswordese that it has lost all association with nationality? Probably. And while we're talking about nationalities, is BRITCOM (100A: "Absolutely Fabulous" or "Father Ted") really a thing? Not that we mind it, but we've never heard it before. And speaking of Britain, that seems to be where the term SHORTTON (5D: 2,000 pounds) is used. Over here, where this puzzle is published, we just say "ton."

Some clues we liked:

34A: Eight, for starters? (OCTO)
49A: Like some queens (APIAN)
42D: Older form of a word (ETYMON) Never heard that before, but it's interesting.

Overall, the clueing seemed either lackluster (118A: More Solomonic (WISER)), a little off (9D: Cuffed (SMOTE)) or very obscure (10D: ____ de Nil (EAU)). Not our favorite Sunday.

- Horace

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Saturday, November 23, 2013, Frederick J. Healy


We came home last night, tired and tipsy, and finished all but a handful of squares in fifteen minutes or so, then fell asleep. By the time I woke up this morning, Frannie had finished it off. This must be the first time all year that our times went backwards from Thursday to Saturday. Very odd.

This wasn't terrible, but I didn't like several pieces of it. The crossing of SPICA (24A: Star in Virgo) and LITA (21D: Grammy-nominated Ford) ("nominated?") seemed especially unfair. Frannie says she tried "I" simply because the rules of the English language made it seem plausible. "E" was equally plausible, I think, but either way, it was a crapshoot. Another quibble was BOOTEES (18A: Couple seen at a baby shower). Who has ever spelled "booties" that way? And RESHOES (57A: Does some farrier's work on) was weak, but not horrible. TABUS (30D: They're off-limits: Var.), on the other hand…

On the bright side, I enjoyed that "Irani" fit into 28A: Modern Persian (FARSI), and that either could have been correct. I liked SALTON (31A: California's ___ Sea (rift lake)), because I haven't thought of that in a while, but why did they feel that adding "rift lake" was a good idea? or necessary? or helpful? Just because it's not really a sea? Does that matter? I also quite liked the three esses in a row in 13D: Tepid consent (GUESSSO). That looks great.

Tons of "scrabble letters" in the grid today. Maybe Mr. Healy was going for the highest scrabble point value ever in a puzzle. Is that a thing, I wonder? I'll check over on Wordplay after I write this. They'll mention it if it is. It might explain the unevenness and relative easiness.

ULALUME (2D: Title name written "on the door of this leg ended tomb" in poetry) twice in one month? And as Huygens pointed out recently, a knowledge of French comes in handy when solving these. Today's SAIS (44A: "Que ____-je?" ("What do I know?": Fr.)) was one of the tougher ones (although still pure French I stuff) that we've seen lately. And right after that, AUSSI (48A: Too, to Thérèse). He could have gone one step further and clued SOI (6D: "____ see") with French, too, but perhaps two was enough.

Bottom line: too easy for Saturday.

- Horace

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013, Patrick Berry


We have a good feeling when we see Patrick Berry's name. I believe Frannie once called one of his puzzles "Berry clever," and today he didn't disappoint. It went down a little fast for a Friday, maybe, but at least we had a smile on our face while doing it.

Right off the bat, I tried "Quick" for 1A: Milk additive (BOSCO), but I couldn't make the Q work. Oddly enough, there was an "un-U'd Q"(Look, Colum! Now I've written it, too!) just a little ways away in that same quadrant! And it was in the NW that we started (albeit erroneously) and finished today. I don't know why, but the name AXTON (14A: Hoyt who wrote "Joy to the World") actually fell out of my head after we got a few crosses. URI (21A: Altdorf's canton), however, was entered only because OXNARD (2D: City that hosts the California Strawberry Festival) sounded plausible and a little bit familiar.

Other than that, though, there were no real trouble spots. I liked seeing JACKLORD (6A: TV actor who lived, appropriately, in Hawaii) in there, and I loved seeing OVALTINE (11D: Milk additive). Mmmm.... malty.... I think maybe Mr. Berry had "Quick" in mind when he put NESTLES (20A: Gets ensconced) into the grid, thinking about the milk trifecta, but then the clue got changed. OK, maybe not.

ABOUTFACE (17A: Reverse order?) was nice, 33A: On-deck circle? (LIFEPRESERVER) - also good, and what about 55A: Light-reflecting shade (WHITE)? Very nice. But the best might have been 58A: Unwelcome benchmark? (WETPAINT). Brilliant. I'll gladly trade a few ULNAE, URI, and STADIA for entries like those. I hated SLUMDOG (35D: Title sort of person in 2008's Best Picture), but DENEUVE (23D: Star of Buñel's "Belle de Jour") makes up for it.

Would it be too much to ask for puzzles like this on Wednesday? How about just three days of themes, Mon, Tues, and Thurs, (ok, and Sunday), and three days of themeless? It would open things up a bit, maybe, and Wednesday could shake its stigma of "red-headed stepchild."

- Horace

p.s. We read in the Wordplay blog that yesterday marked Will Shortz's twentieth anniversary as editor of the NYT Crossword. We each learned his name before we knew each other's. We both had subscriptions to "Games" magazine when we met, and for many years we each kept our own personal subscription, just so we didn't have to share the crosswords. Sometimes we would race each other, but mostly we each just wanted to enjoy them for ourselves. Eventually, we consolidated into one and learned to share, but sometimes, especially with a fun puzzle like this, one is left waiting, hoping, that the other will hit a substantial roadblock and be forced to hand it over.

Thanks, Will, from both of us, for so many years of quality puzzles.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thursday, November 21, 2013, Jules P. Markey


Excuse me, but did Mr. Markey just make a joke that says OBAMA is a 53D: President whose initials "stink?" Funny (-ish), but so wrong.

You can put me down as a non-fan of puzzles where four clues are given as "[ ]," and while I certainly didn't love this one, I didn't hate it either. There were a couple that I thought were borderline - ARC (4A: Go ballistic?) and NEE (24A: Formerly). I guess when you work with ballistics, you chart trajectories, which are arcs… that's what they're getting at, right? I like cryptics and all, but that seems a little beyond the pale. And "née" does, I guess, indicate a former name, and you wouldn't get any complaints if you said, "Mrs. Darcy, formerly Miss Bennet," but I don't love it. And then there's all that UAR, BAIN, ABA, LOD… 

On the bright side, however, ORANG (10D: Malay for "human") was interesting (I feel I've heard that before, but I never would have remembered it), and giving SIRI's birthday was cute (66A: Her "birthday" is Oct. 4, 2011). The Siri in my iPad has never been activated, so does that mean that when I do (if I do) activate her, that my Siri's birthday will be a date now in the future? No, probably not. I'm not even sure why I thought of that… or why I bothered to type it out.

Many things in this one had me stumped for a while, like COPYEDIT (52A: Ready for publication), and ESP (72A: Head-to-head contact, for short?) (nice!). It's that tricky verb/adjective thing for the first one, and for the second, well, I would have had it sooner if I hadn't errantly entered "Samoa" for 56D: Aegean island" (SAMOS). I know, I know… it's no where near the Agean, but I think I just saw "island" and went for it.

I liked how hard it was (at least for me), but I didn't particularly love much else about it.

- Horace

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wednesday, November 20, 2013, Peter A. Collins


I like the visual theme today, and the unusual, unchecked "E" and "F" were a nice touch. It didn't put up much of a fight, but it was not without a few tricky ones, at least for this solver. To wit, the "A" crossing of HABANERA (2D: Cuban dance) and WAC (20A: W.W. II female) was an educated guess. "Women's Army Corps?" OK, perhaps I ought to have been more sure about that.

I do not like seeing SUH (10D: Ndamukong ____, 2010 N.F.L. Defensive Rookie of the Year) in the grid. I thought Will Shortz maintained standards of decency, but apparently he does not watch enough football to realize that Suh is a dirty, overly-aggressive player.

On the other hand, I applaud the inclusion of the genius FEYNMAN (48D: 1965 Physics Nobelist Richard). Always nice to be reminded of him. And perhaps he could have explained to me how OBELI were 17A: Division signs. The obelisk is used in Greek and Latin literature to indicate corrupt or possibly corrupt words or passages. In the books I've lately read, the "dagger" (†) is used, and I thought that was an obelisk, but now I learn that it is the typographic equivalent of what I had previously called the "division sign" (÷). "Obelisk" itself, means "little roasting spit" and symbolized the skewering or cutting out of bad material. (According to Wikipedia.) Huh. Welp, I've learned something else through the puzzle!

The inclusion of two unrelated fifteens in this grid seemed a little odd, especially since they had nothing to do with the theme, but both were decent enough entries - I preferred SLOWONTHEUPTAKE (11D: A bit dense). And the eights (yes, even "Habanera") were all fine. Some short crosswordsy stuff, but nothing too egregious.

- Horace

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tuesday, November 19, 2013, David J. Kahn


Who doesn't like ABELINCOLN (3D: Prez who delivered a famous address on Nov. 19, 1863) and his GETTYSBURG (31D: Where 3-Down's address was delivered) Address? Well, aside from "The Patriot & Union" in Harrisburg, I mean… but now even they have retracted their own "silly remarks," and at last we all have that one thing to agree on.

Can we all also agree that this was a decent Tuesday puzzle? Nothing to be hallowed, perhaps… and the world will little note, nor long remember the fill, but even the circles today are altogether fitting and proper.

But, in a larger sense, I cannot review - I cannot denigrate - I can not worship this puzzle. It is for the commenters, rather, to be dedicated to the unfinished review having been thus far so nobly advanced. It is for you, dear readers, to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before you, that this Crossword14 blog, under Blogger, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that a system of crossword puzzle criticism of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the interwebs.

Horace Fawley
November 19, 2013

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013, Edgar Fontaine


Well, this was fun! We were greatly amused by the theme. Frannie's favorite was GREGORYSPECK (20A: Part of a bushel belonging to Dick?). And by the way, I forgot to brag about how my lifetime of Maine clam-eating let me put in "four" the other day when asked how many pecks were in a bushel. Ask me how much a peck is in regular terms, though, and I don't really know. All I know is that it's kind of a lot, but two of my brothers, my sister, and I can easily put away that many steamers. The other brother's a vegetarian, thank goodness, or we'd have to order more. Mmmm.... steamers....

... Oh, right, the puzzle. Maybe it was partly due to the likable theme putting me in a good mood, but I was also amused by the preponderance of stock crossword fare. TSAR, AERO, OGEE, OPIE, EXES ... sometimes it's enraging, today it was strangely comforting. Maybe also because it was cushioned by such ridiculously non-Monday fare as AMOURPROPRE (26D: Self-esteem, as the French would have it), OBERON (2D: King of the fairies, in Shakespeare), and IONIAN (49D: ____ Sea, body of water south of Italy). PARENTHETIC (3D: Like the end of this clue (in terms of punctuation)) was nice, as was SPECIES (9D: Homo sapiens, for humans), but EYEPIT (48A: Facial socket)?!? I don't even like writing it out! Yuck, Mr. Fontaine, yuck. Also, OSAMA (31D: ____ bin Laden) - too soon?

Anyhoo, even with "eyepit" (Egad! I wrote it again!), we both enjoyed this one. Nice start to the week.

- Horace

Sunday, November 17, 2013, Julian Lim



Only Old McDonald could have enjoyed the theme of this puzzle more than I did. I love that Mr. Lim thought of the idea at all and executed it so thoroughly. My favorite theme answer might have been ROUEAIRLINES (28A: Carrier for Cassanovas?), although MAUIOENOPHILE (82A: Hawaiian wine lover?) is also nice. So many vowels and such great words. OUIJA, ADIEU, CHATEAU, AIOLI. It may be that a surfeit of vowels makes creating a crossword easier because I didn't find much not to like. Here are a few of my non-theme favorites.

I enjoyed the juxtaposition of 72A: Like cutting in line (RUDE) with 73A: Savoir-faire (TACT). I thought 110D: Quit lying (RISE) was a nice clue/answer pair, and I always enjoy NOG (47D: Seasonal beverage) the word much more than I enjoy the beverage itself. 98A: Substantial shoe spec (EEE) made me think of my in-laws. :) And what's not to love about 49D: Girl's name meaning "loved" (AIMEE)?

I just ran through the puzzle again and found very few clues and answers I didn't like. There was really just this one:76D: "Almighty" item: Abbr. (DOL) - who abbreviates dollar like that, or at all, for that matter?

As I was doing the puzzle, I must have said aloud to Horace at least twice, '"sometimes you have to think about the clue words in a different way to get the answer." While I'm sure you'll all saying to yourselves, "totes obvi," it is always more obvious in principle than in particular cases. For example, it took me forever to solve, 32D: Extremely sharp (HAIRPIN), even when I had most of the letters. Go figure.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Saturday, November 16, 2013, David Steinberg


Well, David, now you've done it! You've gone and upset Frannie. I've hardly seen her so despondent over a puzzle. Usually it's me who bemoans our fate, but today, after each of us spent quite a lot of time staring blankly at a nearly empty West side, she thought we might never finish! But lo and behold, things slowly trickled in, and as it happened, it was she who drove the final nail with ABEYANT (7D: Temporarily inactive).

But it wasn't just fear of a DNF that irritated her, it was also things like DOUBLEBED (15A: Tight squeeze for a couple?). We fought long and hard to keep "single bed" in there, which would have made more sense, but eventually PUTTER (3D: Green piece) (actually tried "enviro" first) forced our hand. Maybe that's why the question mark was included on 15A? Another that she didn't love was FORCEQUIT (60A: Prevent a crash, say), both because it is usually employed only after a crash (albeit on the program level, not the system level), and because it offended her PC-loyalist sensibilities. I think that in their world, they just say "Control-Alt-Delete," or some other nonsense. Also, and this isn't such a big deal, but who uses the POKE (30A: Contact on Facebook) function these days? As the daughter of a friend once told me, "The festival of poking is over!"

For my part, ever since Mr. Steinberg's puzzles of March 23, 2013 and April 20, 2013, the sight of his name on a Saturday fills me with a lot of hope and a little dread. I know he can be great, but, like in those other two, he can also be brutal. Take, for example, that SW corner. All the downs were very, very slow to come. We've never heard of ELEONORA (36D: Early tragedienne Duse), and Frannie just had some kind of vague idea that 35D: Pioneering underground publication of the 1960s (ZAPCOMIX) would end in "comix," but we really didn't have any idea how it would start. As for AEONFLUX (37D: 1990s sci-fi series), it might have eluded us forever had I not just spent the past two days in meetings about a software product named "Aeon."

As for the crosses, ALEYARD (39A: Long, slender glass for drinking beer) was first "pilsner," and then "tankard" (yeah, I know, they're not that slender), before the lesser known vessel was revealed. It seems to be lesser known even on Google, where the terms "yard glass," and even "yard of ale" are more easily found. After reading the Wikipedia entry for "Yard of Ale," I feel I should be on the lookout for "Sconce pot" in future Steinberg puzzles. Incidentally, the fastest downing of a yard of ale recorded in the Guinness Book of Records is 5 seconds.

Where was I? Oh, right... ONFIRE (53A: Killing it) and XAXES (64A: Baselines?) were both quite good, and in other areas, we chuckled at BADADVICE (63A: "Buy high and sell low," e.g.), and HAYSEEDS (14D: Provincials) brought a smile. Really, I thought there was quite a bit of good fill, and honestly, I think Franny did too.

Anyhoo... I, for one, have come to feel that all's fair in love and Saturday puzzles, and any time we can spend over two hours with the grid and then finish it, well, that's a good Saturday.

- Horace

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013, David Woolf


OK, now we're back on track. Not the trickiest of Fridays, but a good one nonetheless. Highlights for us included HOOTCH (41D: Still-produced stuff), PANGEA (45A: It broke up in the age of the dinosaurs), and, of course, NOONER (47A: Midday assignation, in slang). Wow, Will, wow. [*slow clap] The little mini-theme is cute, too. Who knew SODIUMPENTOTHAL (9D: What an interrogator might administer) was spelled that way?! Well, probably at least one of our readers did...

Had "hilt" for HAFT (4D: Foil feature), and we know TATARY (13D: Vast historical region controlled by the Mongols) better with two Rs. We'd never heard of OSCARWAO (15A: Novel title character with a "brief, wondrous life"), nor NIIHAU (16A: Hawaii's Forbidden Isle). The Wikipedia entry on the latter provides interesting reading. It is the seventh-largest of the inhabited Hawaiian islands (are there larger, uninhabited ones?), and is, apparently, privately owned. Who knew?

Nice to see the SEAOTTER (37D: It has the densest fur of any animal) again. He was last seen and commented on in the July 26 puzzle. ANYHOO (42D: Slangy seque) always reminds us of The Simpsons, and IDIOCY (20A: Three Stooges display) segues nicely with some of our recent comments.

Some junk (ACUTER (51A: More pointed), ABT (44A: Co. led by Baryshnikov in the 1980s), and LIA (55D: ____ Fáil (Irish coronation stone))), but even those aren't too bad. Oh, and HAPS (41A: Unlucky accidents, old-style). Huh?

- Horace

p.s. The Diary of a Crossword Fiend blog mentioned that this is Mr. Woolf's debut in the NYT, and it also links to his sister's blog wherein she says that one year he went to a Halloween party as a crossword. He made an actual crossword and wore it, so people could solve him. Awesome.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thursday, November 14, 2013, Tom McCoy


Was this, or was this not, the easiest Thursday of the year, and possibly the least interesting? Unless I'm missing something, which is, of course, entirely possible, all I see for theme are four unrelated words that are self-referencial in only the blandest of ways. UNHYPHENATED (28A: Like 28-Across)? Really? And to make matters worse, the clue is hyphenated, so there's an odd disconnect between clue and answer. (I know that the answers are describing themselves, but it's still odd to me.) PRONOUNCEABLE (20A: Like 20-Across)? Huh. Wow. I will be embarrassed, sure, if someone reveals the secret to me, the hidden joke that I'm not getting, but my embarrassment will be worth it, I think, if it makes this puzzle any less embarrassing.

Let's back up for a moment, though, shall we? At the beginning, I was encouraged by the clue 1A: Ersatz cocoa (CAROB), which I filled in immediately. One day, long ago, my family tried out various carob products, perhaps when they were newly marketed or introduced to the area. I remember vividly my revulsion, and I've scarcely had a single bite of the stuff since then. Anyway, off of that, the entire NW was done in a flash, and I worried that it felt a little Monday-ish. Loved the clue for OXEN (15A: The yoke's on them), and there's interesting trivia in the NE with (THELMA (10D: Pat Nixon's given name), but everything filled in quickly. Maybe Tuesday-ish, but definitely not Thursday-ish.

It's fun that the knight theme continues today with QUESTING (37D: Knight's activity). It provided for one of my few corrections, as I had originally written in "jousting," which, frankly, would have gone better with yesterday's "lance." The "knight" callback at 39D: Knight (SIR) was a nice touch.

So, a few nice things, (63A: Spread out in the kitchen? (MAYO) was good, too), but way too easy, and a theme that, at least to this solver, seems both weak and absurd.


- Horace

p.s. The constructor, a college freshman, writes a bit about the puzzle and his methods on the Wordplay blog today. Sadly, it did not add anything meaningful to my understanding of the puzzle. On the contrary, his statement that he needed to "find a place for Q, since Q is the most intriguing letter..." actually did further damage.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wednesday, November 13, 2013, Jean O'Conor


If only this puzzle had come out a few weeks ago, maybe my sister would have been reminded to take in the basil from her garden and process it as instructed here, instead of leaving it to blacken in the first frost! But I suppose the first frost is later in NYC. Maybe the Boston Globe ran a similar puzzle a month ago. (unlikely)

In general, I am not a huge fan of this type of theme, which is similar to the "long quote" theme, because it is so completely opaque at first, and then, at least in this case, or in the case of a quote that you recognize, can be filled in all at once. And here, there is quite a bit of theme material, so it felt at first like I'd be at this one for a good long while, and then all of a sudden it was done.

My favorite horizontal row was LANCE (49A: Tilter's weapon) and OBVIATES (50A: Renders unnecessary). Both good, interesting words. Thought 1D: Gem of a girl? (OPAL) was a nice clue. Didn't realize that THIRTY was the 4D: Minimum age for a U.S. Senator. For president it's 35, right? I don't know if they ought to perpetuate the misspelling of "biceps" with 6D: Muscle strengthened by curls, informally (BICEP). Maybe our doctor-commenter will chime in with his thoughts on that? And also on the difference between the EKG (8D: Heart test letters) and an "ECG," which is also seen with some frequency.

I didn't think I was familiar with the ALCAN 12D: ____ Highway (historic route to Delta Junction), but after looking it up, I see that I know it better as the Alaska Highway. Further, it starts in a place called "Dawson Creek!"

Overall, I like this puzzle more and more as I write it up. I don't even have time to mention ARNIES (5D: ____ Army (golf fans of old)), LAHR (26D: Cowardly Lion portrayer), or ASCOTS (41D: Items at a haberdashery), the last of which is notable for the fact that it reminds one of the end of "This is Spinal Tap." At least it does this one.

- Horace

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tuesday, November 12, 2013, Mike Doran


Meh. The theme material is nice enough, and HERMITCRAB (11D: Creature that adopts a seashell) was a nice entry (though obviously-clued), but I just never cottoned to this one. Answers like RADARS (5D: Some control tower equipment), DINOS (24D: T. rex and others), DOS (58D: Opposite of no-nos), STAN (54D: Persian suffix that ends seven country names), ATAD (47D: Slightly), and others, just seemed kind of blah. And that revealer, using the only numeral in the puzzle, well... David Steinberg had a puzzle earlier this year that only used one number, so I wasn't too, too surprised by it, but, well... it just didn't do it for me.

On the brighter side, although I usually dislike the referential clues, APOGEE (15A: Farthest point of a 50-Down) is a nice word, and I'm sure that frequent-commenter Huygens will enjoy that pair. 2D: Corny things? (EARS) is kind of a cute clue, but after that, it's kind of hard to find anything that isn't just run-of-the mill. It's not especially bad, but it isn't much more than that, either.

- Horace

Monday, November 11, 2013

Monday, November 11, 2013, Elizabeth C. Gorski


I haven't seen a theme just like this one before, with the first word of multiple theme answers being taken together as a separate quote, and then the author being the last theme answer. I like it.

The blatant (10A: Number in a quartet (FOUR)), the more interesting (53A: French words describing how roast beef is often served (AUJUS)), and the uninferrable (47A: Volleyball star Gabrielle (REECE)) seem to be well-balanced today, and maybe it even skews a little to the "tricky" side. One is not always (or even often) treated to such interesting words as CUPOLA (48D: Domelike top) and OXBOW (50D: U-shaped bend in a river) on a Monday. CREPEPAPER (3D: Party streamer material) is another uncommon entry.

I prefer the "briar" spelling of BRIER (61A: Bramble), but it's nice to learn that the "e" version is out there, and even given as the primary spelling in the first online source I found. And, although I'll never remember it, it's also interesting to learn that GENOA is the 40A: Italian birthplace of Paganini.

Overall, a very nice Monday.

- Horace

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunday, November 10, 2013, Alan Olschwang



Blah. What did I just say about 1A? SABENA (1A: Former Belgian national airline)? I say again, blah. RETAKEN, LAA, LIA, EAP, LBO (?), NONACID/ALKALI, XERO, OBLA, MUS, NOI, UAL, IVO... look almost anywhere and you can find something to dislike.

The theme was fine, but not especially challenging. Once you understood the idea, which was early, many could be filled in immediately. We have a fondness, of course, for THEBALCONYISCLOSED (47A: Roger Ebert), and THTHTHTHTHATSALLFOLKS (64A: Porky Pig) is a fun one, but overall, we just didn't love it.

On the bright side, though, FLEX (28A: Move a muscle?) is nice, as is INCENSE (18D: Holy smoke), and 104A: Animal house (BARN) took us forever, but we laughed out loud when we finally got it. So, a few nice ones, but not many.

Lastly, and I tried to end this on an up note with that last paragraph, but then I remembered YESITSME (80D: Possible answer to "Is that you?") Really? And what about CROSSES (94D: Bit of field sport equipment)? What does that even mean? It doesn't refer to lacrosse, does it? It can't.

- Horace

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Saturday, November 9, 2013, Michael Ashley


Mr. Ashley, you had me at BUTTDIALED (1A: Made a seat-of-the-pants error?). Just consider, for a moment, the difference between that kind of a 1A, and yesterday's "riatas." Night and day, I tells ya. All the ten-stacks are chock-full of interesting, unusual fill. ONARAMPAGE (15A: Rioting), BOBSLEDRUN (13D: Winter Olympics sight), CASSIOPEIA (60A: Mother of Andromeda), SMARTPILLS (65A: Nootropics, more familiarly)... all of them, very nice. The weakest set was maybe the SW, which is where we ground to a halt. I was completely stumped by ENIDBLYTON (29D: "The Wishing-Chair" series creator), but, fortunately, Frannie got RETD (58A: Like many a gen.) (that totally stumped me!), and then pulled the author's name out of her hat. She also fixed the mess I had created in the NE by entering "jIBE" instead of GIBE (11A: "Your mama wears army boots," e.g.) and "jaw" instead of GUM (11D: Where a canine sits?) (OK, I guess so, but I really would have preferred "jaw," or even "jawbone."). It was the terrible-looking "anos" and "wobs" that troubled her. Left to my own devices, this would have been a DNF, but Frannie pulled us out of the hole and we're back on track!

I've never heard of OLY (51A: Classic Northwest brewski), and I didn't know that SAC (20A: Eastern Woodlands native) referred (I guess) to a Native American tribe, but the most interesting answer today, for me, was TIDALBASIN (17A: Washington, D.C., has a famous one). First of all, I didn't realize that that body of water was tidal, nor that it was partially man-made. Further, upon reading about it on Wikipedia, I learned the story of former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Wilbur Mills, and his contretemps with Fannie Foxe, a stripper, who ran into the tidal basin after the car they were in was stopped for a traffic violation. The couple is referred to in the lyrics of a song by the Blues Brothers ("I Ain't Got You"), and I have heard it many times without knowing who they were. Now I do. It's funny how that happens, isn't it? I heard a lot of references in songs by Tom Lehrer, and skits by Monty Python, before I knew what they referred to or who the people were. I guess it even happened sometimes in the Warner Brothers cartoons. Heck, it still happens in The Simpsons...

Where was I? Oh yeah... I prefer the "double-a" naan to NANS (32A: Tandoori-baked fare) (mmm... naan....), but I also prefer a SALOON (48A: "Gunsmoke" setting) to a salon. So, there you go.

Favorite clue: 3D: Cry frequently made with jazz hands (TADA).
Least favorite: 57D: Din-din (EATS).

- Horace

Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday, November 8, 2013, Alan Arbesfeld


This was a toughie, but we would have been done twenty minutes earlier had I not misspelled OTTAWAS (39D: Pontiac and others). I think I was conflating them with the Otoes, another tribe seen frequently 'round these parts, but, really, I have no excuse for putting an O where the first A goes. And, sadly, TAMA (54A: Author Janowitz) was absolutely no help. I spent tons of time trying all the different tackles at 3D: Some N.F.L.'ers (RTS), and a little time thinking about whether the 40D: "Star Trek" extra (YEOMAN) could be anything else. Everything else seemed right. And, of course, it was. Oh well... so close!

Nice that ALBEIT (7D: Even though) and SOBEIT (43D: "That's that") are set up symmetrically in the grid, but I didn't think that having both RESTYLE (37D: Give a makeover) and RETYPE (46D: Fix a key problem?) was so hot. Nor did I particularly love ARFARF (36D: Pair of boxers?). And I only know LATHS (15D: Foundation for some roofing) as the foundation for some walls, but I'm no carpenter, so I defer to the editors on that one.

It was slow going in the beginning, but by the time we got to the bottom of the grid, we were able to put in FLASHINTHEPAN (59A: One-hit wonder) right away. (Not to be confused with the band "Flash and the Pan" whose big hit "Hey, St. Peter" might not even have been that much of a "wonder"... but anyway, we liked it.) And ESTATESALES (60A: Events for some antiquers) came pretty easily with a few crosses. That's often the way the long-stack puzzles go. You get nothing the first time through, then everything tumbles in all at once.

Frannie didn't love it. I thought it was ok.

- Horace

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thursday, November 7, 2013, Alan Derkazarian


A nice entry into "the turn," as I just now decided to call it. That is, the big three, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. We look for a little bit of fun on Thursday, and a decent challenge on the other two.

The first of the rebi that we got was [ARMED]BANDITS (18: Casino sights). We fretted for a while about the missing "one" in that phrase, but we kept on keepin' on, and eventually, the next one we got, [WAYWAYWAYWAY]STOP (62A: What an intersection may have) ("four 'way' stop") finally explained it to us. Pretty nice.

They've got a little vintage TV thing going on with ALF (16A: TV ET) and ORSON (23A: Boss of TV's Mork). And I was about to add FIVEO (40A: "Hawaii ____"), but it's back as a current show, right? Is that still going? But wait! KINTE (45A: "Roots" surname) could be added to the group!

AVARICE (9D: Shylock trait) is a nice word, as is FAIN (11D: Willingly, old-style). RULE (25D: Line at a stationery store) gets a clever clue, but my favorite clue today was 4D: + 6 (TEN). Pretty sneaky, Sis! (another old TV reference)

We finished up in the SE, at what has got to be the toughest cross in the puzzle - FIR (61A: It may be topped with an angel) (too soon) and ERGOT (57D: Cereal killer). Frannie was on the right track with cereal killer, looking for a disease, but it was the other one that she finally figured out to get that R.

RIATAS (1A: They're thrown from horses), even with the somewhat interesting clue, wasn't the greatest way to start this one, but it picked up nicely and turned out to be a satisfying Thursday.

- Horace

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wednesday, November 6, 2013, Jacob McDermott


Another side-by-side solve, and man, doing that makes a puzzle just fly by! (Especially a Wednesday.)

At first we were a little annoyed by all the "quote" clues, but once Frannie got the revealer (with very few crosses!) we enjoyed using the BETWEENYOUANDME (34A: "Let this be our little secret" ... with a hint to 18-, 23-, 50-, or 54-Across) theme to our advantage. All of the phrases are perfectly natural (once you add the first and last words), and I like the nod to Travis Bickle with (You)TALKINTO(ME) (50A: Wanna start somethin?). It would have been even better, mind you, if it had been clued with other, actual dialogue from that scene, but I guess you can't really clue it with "Faster than you, $#%@ son of a $%#$! ... Saw you coming you #$%#! ... #@!!#" And, of course, maybe Mr. McDermott wasn't thinking about Travis at all...

The fill is pretty clean. There's an occasional ARIE (24D: Indy racer Luyendyk) or EROO (39D: Suffix with switch), but overall, not too shabby. Oh, and we'd never heard of MOSSO (6D: Rapid, in music). I've heard "presto," "allegro," agitato," but never "mosso." So we've learned that now. We also learned the term 27A: Gives a stemwinder (ORATES). (?)

Frannie enjoyed seeing NANTES (40A: Edict locale of 1598), because she loves all things "Henri IV." The edict allowed religious freedom in France, but was revoked by his grandson, "Le Roi Soleil" (Louis XIV) several years later. Jerk.

Lastly, I didn't realize that the CAMARO was a 46A: 1966 Answer to the Mustang. Hah. Nice try, Chevy.

- Horace

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tuesday, November 5, 2013, Paula Gamache


Another fine early-week offering. Clues like the somewhat silly 14A: Giver of a hoot (OWL), and 23A: Cuckoo in the head (SCREWY), seem slightly irreverent, which I count as a good thing. And were you surprised, as I was, by the lack of any "abbreviation signal" in 44A: News items often written years in advance (OBITS). I would have expected "... yrs. in advance," or something like that, or has "obit" become its own word now? I was similarly jarred by the answer ANTINUKE (11D: Like a "Better active today than radioactive tomorrow" sentiment). I guess it's not really an abbreviation, and I had no problem accepting it as a perfectly fine answer, I just wasn't expecting it, that's all. And, that's another good thing. It's as though Ms. Gamache were saying IREFUSE (12D: "You can't make me!") to conform to your puzzle-y preconceptions!

The theme was fine. Its kind has been seen before, but again, the revealer WISECRACK (60A: Witticism ... or, literally, a description of the answer to each of the four starred clues?) just seemed a little, oh - I don't know... , surprising. WILDGEESE (17A: *Migratory flock) seems a little odd, in relation to "Canada geese" or just "geese," but it's not out of the question, I suppose, to say "wild geese." We had "flying horse" at first for WINGEDHORSE (36A: *Pegasus, notably), but there I think the given answer is the better option. And, oh, how I miss Amy WINEHOUSE (30A: *Singer Amy with six Grammys). Before she died I had concocted an elaborate scheme in which she would, in maybe ten or fifteen years, have removed herself from the crazy music scene, taken some time off, and then eventually have a comeback tour wherein she would play small coffee-house type venues. I would see her then, with her wrecked, but still powerful voice, and a more (not totally) sober, yet still original and vibrant interpretation of all she chose to sing, which, in my imagination, would be all my favorite songs. It was a beautiful dream, wasn't it? Alas.

- Horace

Monday, November 4, 2013

Monday, November 4, 2013, John Lieb


A pretty fancy Monday, with a fun theme, and the verticality is a welcome change. Some of the secondary fill is nice, too, like ALCATRAZ (30A: Former penitentiary in San Francisco Bay), PARMESAN (46A: Grated cheese), NUANCE (25A: Shade of meaning), SCOFFS (7A: Expresses derision), and others.

Fun clue for USHER (38A: One with a leading role?), nice crossing of 68A: Imbecile (ASS) and 48D: Imbeciles (IDIOTS), and I'll give extra credit for any puzzle offering a 17A: ____ and tonic (GIN).

There's a little crosswordese, sure, but it's a solid puzzle today. Also, when's the last time you thought of KALKAN (23D: Alpo alternative?).

Good way to start the week.

- Horace

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sunday, November 3, 2013, Andy Kravis and Victor Barocas



This one seemed easy in the fill and hard in the theme. That is, even with most of the theme material filled in, it still took some time to realize what was going on. Once we did, however, we thought it was a pretty good gag. My favorite, and the last one I figured out, was OCHNSSSTER (60A: Legendary Scottish swimmer, after 66-Across?) (LEMONDROPS (66A: Tart treats)). See what I mean? It's somewhat convoluted, but once you jam the letters of "lemon" back into that first one, you get the answer. Frannie wondered if getting to use horrible looking lines like "ochnssster" above, and EMNSHEHERDS (23A: Many service dogs, after 29-Across?) made it easier to keep the rest of the fill clean. I kind of doubted it, because the difficulty of making those things work, and then using another ten or eleven boxes on the other side to explain it and/or help it out, seems pretty tricky. Which is why the overall cleanliness of the rest of the fill seems so impressive. IACT (47A: "I don't know why ____ this way") being a notable exception (too bad they couldn't get one more space in there for "____ alea est"), but really, the rest is pretty solid. (OK, ANDA isn't all that great either, but the clue (8D: All that ____ bag of chips) makes up for it.)

We especially enjoyed IXNAYS (34A: Eighty-sixes) (Pig Latin is always a good idea), and SHELLAC (93A: Clobber) (as are amusing fighting terms)(See also: 92D: Scrap (TUSSLE)). I didn't know the world ORLE (91A: Shield border), but a friend's son wrote a book on heraldry, which was given to us, so perhaps I should have. "98A: Begins to wake" seems an interesting clue for STIRS. Not sure whether it's better or worse, easier or harder, than something like "roils" or "turns," but I mention it nonetheless, just because it caught my attention. And speaking of odd clues, howzabout 80D: Lead-in for physics ... and pieman? (META). Nice. We also enjoyed the interesting trivia in 113A: Only inanimate zodiac sign (LIBRA) and 24D: Book in which Moses is born (EXODUS).

Lastly, I'd just like to say that this might be the first time I've ever just laid in an answer to a "58D: Jackson-to-Birmingham dir."-type answer without any crosses and had it stick. (ENE). I'm not sure whether I should be happy that I got this one, or sad that it usually takes me so long with all the others...

- Horace

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Saturday, November 2, 2013, Thomas Heilman


Well, this was fun. It seemed to push the boundaries of the language in spots, but we must assume that it is due only to our unfamiliarity with the phrases, and not to pure creative fancy on the part of Mr. Heilman. We refer, of course, to things like KIDULT (18A: Grown-up who's not quite grown up) and JAMCAM (9A: Traffic reporter's aid).

It was slow going for a while. The first thing I entered was ILLIN (27A: "You Be ____" (1986 hip-hop hit), and after that, CLOP (37A: Common sound in Amish country). That second I was so unsure of that I took it out again before handing the puzzle over to Frannie. Eventually, though, it went back in, and we slowly ground through the grid in a more-or-less clockwise fashion, starting in the SW and ending in the SE. AMELIE (64A: 2002 César winner for Best Film) was an educated guess. The year seemed about right (I thought it might have been even earlier), and it was foreign. With that, SEAGRAM (39D: Park Avenue's ____ Building) went right in (Love that this is in the grid, and it's a nice touch that the building's name is vertical!), and we were off to the races.

In the transition from SW to NW is a contender for "Clue of the Year" - 28D: Result of knuckling down? (NOOGIE). Frannie put that one in, even though I'm fairly certain that I have received many more than she has. (I grew up with older brothers, she with older sisters.) All controversy aside, however, that is some fine work, Mr. Heilman. Or Will. If either of you reads this, we'd love to know who it was! Another nice one was 1D: Determine the value of freedom? (SETBAIL).

It is especially cruel that the game of euchre can also be played with a deck where 7 is the lowest card, and for a while, that first E was all we had to work with down there. I threw in "euchre," and probably added ten minutes to the time, if not more, before in desperation it was taken out and we finally backed into ECARTE (50D: Game in which the lowest card is 7). I don't know why DECAYS (57A: Goes downhill) took us so long but, well, it did.

Some might QUIBBLE (2D: Carp) about UNPILE (49D: What a bunch of footballers might do) or STUCKUP (43D: Sniffling a lot) (would have preferred either "stuffed up" or a different clue), but I think that those are perfectly acceptable in a grid this full of clever clues and good fill. A satisfying Saturday.

- Horace

Friday, November 1, 2013

Friday, November 1, 2013, Brad Wilber


A lovely Friday offering, and one that I was almost ready to leave for dead because of the three-proper-noun cross in the SW, but we took a stab with ORSINO (57A: "If music be the food of love ..." speaker in "Twelfth Night"), and got it right. A cousin who stayed with us overnight thought that LORI (48D: Loughlin or Petty of Hollywood) rang a faint bell, but DUSE (49D: Italian actress Eleonora), was unknown. It was, however, a plausible Italian name.

Aside from all that, though, this was a fun puzzle to plow through. Lots of horrible-looking partial fill as we went along, like _BJR_NC_ and _AL_ENHE_, but eventually things came into better focus. Some fill, like VELVETELVIS (43A: Classic kitschy wall hanging) went in immediately (because, as the cousin said "When "Dogs Playing Poker" didn't fit..."). Others, like CLAWCRANE (22A: Arcade game prize grabber) (knew it was some kind of crane or claw, but didn't think of using both) and BRASSERA (54A: Pre-W.W. I in automotive history) (? Didn't know there was much of an automotive history before WWI!) were slower in coming. Still, though, there's almost no cruddy crosswordese (save, maybe, ULNA and ACER (yuck)), and there were tons of unusual entries. SMELTROE (34D: Orange garnish for a sushi roll), TORTREFORM (20A: Challenge to ambulance chasers), THWART (45D: Block), and many others.

Frannie knew that a "fiacre" was an old type of carriage, but she was not aware that the name was associated with a PATRONSAINT (24A: Fiacre, to taxi drivers). According to the Wikipedias, St. Fiacre is most renowned as the patron saint of gardeners. Here is what it has to say about the saint and taxis:

The connection between Saint Fiacre and taxi drivers arose because the Hotel de Saint Fiacre in Paris, France, rented carriages, usually to travel to the hospice at Saint-Fiacre, Seine-et-Marne. People who had no idea who Fiacre was referred to the small hackney coaches as "Fiacre cabs", and eventually as "fiacres". 

An interesting puzzle, and a good toughness for a Friday. Onward to Saturday!

- Horace