Friday, January 31, 2014

Friday, January 31, 2014, Chris A. McGlothlin


This is a good example of a crossword that contains several answers that we simply did not know, but that was still quite doable thanks to fair crosses. LAHABANA (1D: Caribbean capital, to locals) (oooh... Havana! Was not parsing that correctly), PETERSEN (38D: "CSI" star william), SAMISEN (45A: Musical instrument for a geisha) (ok, maybe somewhere down deep we had heard this one), and LEU (54D: Romanian capital) (Currency. Get's me every time.) were all complete unknowns. And I'm not terribly familiar with NATAL as a 51D: Kind of star, either. But the rest of the grid moved along nicely, and eventually those lacunae were filled in.

Finally! I get something out of having watched all those Dawson's Creek episodes! (BEEK (21A: "Dawson's Creek" star James Van Der ____.)) And I really didn't want VALETED (26A: Parked cars) to be right, but I put it in anyway.

Of the fifteens, the best were probably LETSDOTHISTHING (1A: "No more wasting time!") (excellent) and ICANNOTTELLALIE (59A: Washington report starter). Learning that BANDEDANTEATERS are known as 56A: Numbats, was interesting, too.

Let's see… HOGTIED (8D: Immobilized) was nice - Frannie got that one right away, having once been hogtied at a San Antonio librarians party! - BAREXAM (22D: Practice test?) got a very nice clue. I thought MARACA was a little bit iffy for (43D: One of two in a  rumba). We had "dAncer" for a while. Are maracas really a necessary part of a rumba? Maybe they mean the music for one… but still.

Overall, a decent Friday.

- Horace

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Thursday, January 30, 2014, Dan Schoenholz


Welp, we had filled in 187 letters after about twenty minutes, but we didn't get the "Well Done!" confirmation. It was late, and we were tired, and I guess the joke was just such an old one that we didn't think twice about it. This morning, however, fuelled by caffeine, Frannie said to herself "Hey, what's that circle doing there?" and the puzzle was finally done. Whew!

Aside from all that, we enjoyed much of the grid, the old riddle, and the two answers, especially the one I hadn't heard before - ASUNBURNEDPANDA (63A: Answer to another spelling of the riddle). (I really have no idea how we missed that circle last night!)

I had "skin" for BURY (6A: Hide) for a short time, and wondered for a moment whether it was ADyA or ADIA for 52A: 1988 Sarah McLachlan hit. The "civilized man" pair was fun (NEMO & VERNE), but I want to know whether the clue for 54A: Author of the quote "I am not what you call a civilized man" simply refers to the quote by the fictional character, or if Jules Verne, at some other point in his life, made that remark referring to himself.

It seems rather cold to call a "1D: Hostage" a PAWN, but I guess I can't argue with it. The labelling of IMHO as the "2D: Modern 'methinks,'" on the other hand, is perfect. It beautifully captures the off-putting, affected quality of the abbreviation.

That whole NW corner, really started this out well. The clues for METEOR (4D: Luminary in a late-night show?) and ODS (5D: Has more than enough, briefly) were quite nice, and NOME (20A: U.S. city known to some locals as Siqnazuaq) was interesting, even though I guessed it immediately. I'm not sure the rest of the puzzle holds up to that standard (BALLYARD (6D: Home is one corner in it) seems a bit of a stretch, for example), but it's not terrible or anything. EPHEMERA (10D: Time-sensitive items) and JOHANNES (38D: Artist Vermeer) are both solid eight-letter entries. And, as ET59 pointed out in the comments on yesterday's grid (!), the SIDEA/SIDEB (43D: Elvis's "Viva Las Vegas," recordwise) give a nice continuity to the week.

Lastly, didn't I just warn that we would soon see "Downton Abbey" clues? Well, today we have DOWAGERS (40D: Violet Crawley of "Downton Abbey," and others). I don't mind at all, however, because Violet is easily the most entertaining character on the show. Without her, it would hardly be worth tuning in for.

Oh, I almost forgot one of Frannie's favorites, UNO (64D: Start for a Spanish count)! I guess there was plenty to like in here. On to the weekend!

- Horace

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wednesday, January 29, 2014, Michael Black


Two tough areas today! The first was the SW, where, if we hadn't just seen ENA (65D: Bambi's aunt) on Sunday, we might have been in some real trouble. Never heard of DEBI 64A: Mazar of "Entourage," nor ENOL "68A: ____ ether", either. What a mess! The other area was the center, where 29D: Joy Adamson's big cat (ELSA) was an unknown, but SINAI (42A: Battle zone of 1956 and 1967) was inferrable, so that wasn't as bad, but still, this is Wednesday!

The theme was odd. Frannie's not a fan of circles, and if I were basing my judgement on today's grid alone, I wouldn't be either. I guess it's a little bit neat that initials of things related to the theme answers can be taken out of their names in order, but I wouldn't go any farther than "a little bit neat," I don't think.

Nothing terribly remarkable in the fill. CABO (43A: Baja resort area) should excite at least one of our readers, and EATER (66A: What "-phage" means) would be interesting if I could think of a single word that uses that suffix. ?? Seriously, it's Wednesday, right?


Not my favorite puzzle.

- Horace

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tuesday, January 28, 2014, Jeff Stillman


OK, so I admit it. I enjoy ridiculous wordplay themes. STRUCKDUMBO (57A: Punched out a Disney elephant?) is hilarious, in a "not actually funny" way. PHONEBILBO (29D: Give a hobbit a ring?) is somewhat funny (the clue is clever), and the other two, well, they fit the theme just fine.

I did this late at night, half drunk and half asleep, but I seem to remember enjoying it while it happened. Clues like 70A: It's just one thing after another (LIST), 30D: It's about a foot (SHOE), and 41D: One known for talking back? (PARAKEET) (nice fill) offset the very few subpar entries like FORA (18A: Fit ____ king) and URGER (31D: Prompter). But heck, those aren't the worst we've seen. One question, though - Does anyone still remember or think about 68A: Politico Gary (HART)?

DRASTIC (44D: Extreme, as measures), MADCAP (4D: Like the Marx Brothers), COWLS (16A: Monastery wear), and even DROOP (40A: Sag), are interesting words that liven up a grid. I'm not sure how I feel about ALOT (25A: Oodles) and ALLOT (62A: Ration out), being in the same puzzle, but I do like the AVAST (24A: "Stop!")/ALOT line, so… it's all good.

It's a rather nice Tuesday, I think.

- Horace

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Monday, January 27, 2014, James Tuttle


Foiled by entering "KeBaB" instead of KABOB (43A: Serving on a skewer). And by my clumsy "thumb-typing." Sometime I'll have to try to hook up a keyboard to the ol' iPad Mini and see if that helps the speed at all… But, really, as we all know, it's not about speed. It's about enjoyment, right? And who doesn't enjoy clues like 48A: The "L" of L.A. (LOS), and 55A: "There ____ is, Miss America" (SHE)? Nobody, right?

I liked seeing AENEID (58A: Epic work by Virgil) in there, but it pains me a little, because I decided not to enroll in an extension school Latin class which was reading selections from that work this spring. What with this blog and all… where would I find the time to read Latin? Oh, I know… I should have made time. Stop hounding me, all of you!

Where was I? Oh, right. I don't like DOLCE for 39A: Softly, in music. Softly, in music, is "piano." Dolce, in music, is "sweetly." Sure, the sweet passage might also be played softly, but that's not the first thing it means. And while I'm complaining, I'd rather see UPENN than PENN (29A: Ivy League school in Philly), but really, that's not terrible, and I guess the "Philly" shortening opens the answer up a bit. And one last thing - they left out the zero in the beginning of the FIBONACCI (34D: Eponym of a number series that begins 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, …) sequence again, but the answer is still a good one. As is CLEOPATRA (11D: 1963 Elizabeth Taylor role).

It's a little amazing to me that on a Monday you can have USA (5D: It's between Can. and Mex.) (!!) two spots away from OLEIC (7D: Kind of acid used in soapmaking), but, well, you can, apparently. I guess I should just be happy to see 69A: "America's Finest News Source," with "The") (ONION) in there and call it a day.

- Horace

Sunday, January 26, 2014, Daniel A. Finan



Sometimes I can't decide whether I like Sundays or Mondays less. Or maybe it's Tuesdays, since on Mondays I can try to break the 4-minute barrier, but on Tuesdays that's rarely in play. And I guess on Sundays you've usually got a more interesting theme than in the early-week puzzles… Oh, when did I become so jaded?

Today did have an interesting theme, but it was initially irritating, because I generally am not a fan of references from one clue to another. When I see "6D: 73-Down, relatively" (NOWAYJOSE), and then look to find that 73-Down says "See 6-Down," (MYDEADBODY), well, it's just not that fun. It's kind of cool once everything is filled in, I'll grant you, to finally understand that "No way, José," being positioned directly over "my dead body," makes the two phrases equivalent. Sometimes it's "over," sometimes it's "under." OK. Clever. Is it worth it? Maybe. Frannie says it adds variety, and asks, "What, do you want every day to be a Saturday?"

Theme aside, the fill did have a few highlights. 21A: Summit planner (SHERPA) was lovely. I enjoyed the imagery in SCATTER (25A: What players do at the start of a game of tag), and we learn more and more about MRED (50D: He "will never speak unless he has something to say," in a song) every week, it seems! And speaking of learning, I don't think I ever heard before that YOKUM was 34A: Li'l Abner's surname.

Very tricky clue for ELLE (38A: Notre dame, e.g.) today! It's kind of a hidden non-capital. Hah! And a nice shout-out to BATES (74A: Maine college) (a brother went there), but I wonder how long it is until we see that clued with some kind of Downton Abbey reference? 83A: Tops off (BEHEADS) is nice, if a bit gruesome, 107A: A line in an A-line? (HEM) is cute, and 119A: Love to hate? (ANTONYM) is quite nice. Lots of hammock clues, a few clunker answers (IRED, KAS, DPS, ENA, ELOGE), but overall, ok, it was fun enough.

Favorite clue: 49A: He's 2, for one (ATNO) (Helium…). Very fine clue for a standard bit of crosswordese.

- Horace

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Saturday, January 25, 2014, James Mulhern


Another tough, tricky puzzle! Lots of great clues in here, and lots of ways to go wrong. I put in "looS" for IANS (5D: Johns of Britain), which might have contributed to the NW being the last to fall today. I kept doubting it, but it seemed so right… I even took it out to put in ANOMALY (14A: It's not normal) at one point, but I ended up taking out the correct answer again to put back the wrong one! Finally, Frannie got ONETOOMANY (2D: Drink that often makes a person sick) (reminds me of the classic George Burns joke - "It only takes one drink to get me drunk. The trouble is, I can't remember if it's the thirteenth or the fourteenth."), and MOTORCYCLE (3D: Road hog) (nice), and then ANOMALY had to be right. ZOMBIE (1A: Body that doesn't remain at rest) (I had "mObilE" in there for a while) was also slow to come, but is a nice pair with the lovely clue 26D: Restin' piece (TAPS). In the lower half of that section, I plunked down TACITUS (39A: Writer of the ethnography "Germania") without hesitation or crosses, and ATO (19A: ____ B) seemed almost too easy, but for a long time, that's all we had there. Never heard of ROCCO (27A: Chef DiSpirito), but after a while, it was all that made sense.

There was very little junk here, save, perhaps, the unclassy classic ELHI (42D: Primary and secondary, briefly), but it's nice to have such a gimme on a Saturday. I didn't love MUTISM (10D: Refusal to speak), nor WORDOFGOD for 8D: Bible. If ever a clue called for a question mark!… Also, the Americanos that I know contain espresso and water. I don't know what kind has SODA (20A: Ingredient in an Americano). And finally, I would have preferred either WNBA for LPGA (36A: Org. for female shooters), or a slightly different wording. Do golfers really "shoot?" Well, I suppose they "shoot for the pin," but it seems a stretch, even for Saturday.

But I digress. The cluing was, as stated earlier, on the whole, very clever - 68A: Producing zip (STERILE), 15D: Demonstrate a wide range on a range? (YODEL), 18A: Rare electee (WRITEIN), and 46A: Get off the drive, say (DELETE), to cite just a few. And who doesn't love a nice "Ninny" crossing of NUMBSKULL and BOOB?

It was a fight all the way, but that's just what we're looking for on a Saturday morning. Very nice.

- Horace

Friday, January 24, 2014

Friday, January 24, 2014, Ian Livengood


It's really all about the clues on the weekends, isn't it? I mean, take TINE, for example. An ordinary puzzle could clue that with "prong," or "fork feature, or even "piece of silverware," but "4D: Stick with it" is very tricky! I bet most people read that as "stick with it" instead of "stick with it." And it's a nice old-timey clue for SUE (30A: Petition) today. It makes me think of Gilbert and Sullivan - "Oh, the sighing and the suing..." And 48A: One who's trustworthy?" (HEIR) is fun, even if they do spoil it a little with a question mark. I mean, what's the material difference between "One who's trustworthy" and 49A: Doesn't just grab (AWES)? And 58A: Bank guards? (SANDBAGS) (!) gets one, but 15A: Miss out on a board (WAHINE) (!) doesn't. It almost seems arbitrary. Heck, on Fridays and Saturdays almost anything could have one. Or not.

And what about 48D: Drill bits? (HEPS)? I thought I was so clever, entering "ellS" for that one. I finally caught on! Well, I didn't, of course. And meanwhile CEE (6D: Civic leader?) went in with crosses, I think. Or maybe Frannie put it in, 'cause I sure didn't.

I do have a few complaints, though. And I say "I," because Frannie and I have a difference of opinion on the meaning of ESPOUSED (52A: Public, as views). I hold that to espouse a view means to agree with it. Just making your views public is different. Obviously, you believe in them if you're making them public, but you wouldn't need to say that your views are espoused by you. They are your own. It just doesn't seem necessary, or parallel, to say that your views made public are espoused. Someone else's views made public that you agree with are espoused by you, and saying so publicly could be evidence of that fact, but it's not an equivalent word, I don't think. Frannie somehow argues that it can be, but I'll let her speak for herself in the comments if she wishes to.

One thing that we can and do agree on is that AMENAMEN (18A: Emphatic approval) seems odd as an answer. Not terrible, just odd. But if it allows WHATTHE (7D: "Beg pardon?!") (A shout out to Cali on that one! We think of Huygens' niece every time we say that, which is frequently.), and HOMEEC (8D: Shop alternative), then OK, it's fine.

Interesting about LSEVEN (28D: Square, in old slang, as indicated by forming a square with one's hands). I've never heard that before. And there was a lot of nice "doubling up" of clues, like 25D: Humble dwellings (HUTS) and 37D: Humble dwellings (YURTS), 36D: Red states (IRES) (no question mark!) and 45D: Turn red, say (RIPEN), and 49D: Away from port (ASEA) and 53D: Kind of port (USB) (nice).

Overall, a high-quality puzzle. Very nice.

- Horace

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Thursday, January 23, 2014, Michael Hawkins


This puzzle came with a dire warning, indicating that it contained certain "elements in the print version that cannot be duplicated electronically," but we had no trouble filling it in with simple rebus squares. Perhaps there is something in the print version that looks different, but for our purposes, the iPad seemed to work out just fine. We got the "Well Done!" notice, and everything seemed hunky-dory.

The "before and after" theme, as we're calling it, was fine, but we didn't especially like the way it worked in the NE Down, where an S was added to the rebus to make it act as a third person singular verb. Somehow that seemed worse than the addition of AGE in the SW, but I can't really say why.

There were answers that we liked a lot, and others that we didn't care for. I guess that always happens, but today it just seemed more contrasty than usual. HERALDS (27D: Royal messengers), MRED (11D: Black-and-white horse) (great clue!), DONALD (56A: Daisy's love) (cute clue), ABE (38D: Fin) (tricky!), and the salacious intersection of BRA (23D: It might be under a tank) and BUXOM (33A: Top-heavy) were all on the plus side. On the other side were such answers as ASTHE (7D: ____ crow flies) (really?), ABLER (48D: Less inept), BAA (34D: Barnyard cry), and LUNE for 42A: Crescent. Is that really a good clue for LUNE? And while we're at it, is "8D: Weather warning" a good clue for SLEET?

In the WHA? (32D: "Huh?") category are INO (13A: Sea goddess who rescued Odysseus), IDAS (51D: One of the Argonauts), SHEB (26A: Western actor Wooley), and ELEA (54D: Zeno's home) (??). ELOI (57A: "The Time Machine" people) would be in there too, if it weren't so familiar to us as crosswordese.

I don't know, it had LANDO (47A: Calrissian of "Star Wars" films), ALI (61A: Thrilla in Manila participant), and OVID (5D: Poet who wrote "If you want to be loved, be lovable") ("ut ameris amabilis esto"), and overall there was probably more good than bad, but I still can't fully get behind it. I mean, it was fine... but not great. What did you think?

- Horace

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Wednesday, January 22, 2014, Jared Banta


Is Wednesday the new Thursday? Last week we had some semi-rebus trickery, and today we've got two rebus squares and a trail of BREADCRUMBS leading HANSELANDGRETEL (35A: Story mapped out in this grid, from lower left to upper right) from the [WITCH] back [HOME], or vice-versa. Or does it matter? I guess they dropped them as they went from home, so it makes sense that the letters would read that way. And it's a meandering path, which is nice. OK, I like the theme just fine.

There's nice bonus theme material, too, with the symmetrical (sort of) HANSCHRISTIAN/ANDERSEN (20A: With 23-Across, giant in fairy tales) (Nice clue!), and BROTHERSGRIMM (52A: Publishers of 35-Across, with "the"), and EATNOFAT (11D: Emulate Jack Sprat). Even ABEAR (54A: Hungry as ____) seems thematic today.

I so wanted to enter "Acadia National Park" for 18A: "Where America's day begins" (GUAM), but it's interesting to be reminded that America still has territories. Is the U.S. dollar the official currency in Guam? Probably, I guess. And CESARRITZ (34D: Swiss "king of hoteliers") was also somewhat interesting.

Frannie called out LESSEES (40A: Flat takers) as especially hated fill, but I feel its terribleness is mitigated by its symmetry with EVICTED (30A: Kicked to the curb). And is an HBEAM (10D: Letter-shaped girder) the same as an I-beam when viewed a different way? Yes. Yes it is. The same type of beam can be called I-Beam, H-Beam, UB (universal beam), double-T, or RSJ (rolled steel joist). Ooh, I can't wait until we start seeing RSJ in the grid on a regular basis!

But I digress. This was a fine, if slightly odd, Wednesday. I wonder if the Wednesday trickery will continue next week?

- Horace

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tuesday, January 21, 2014, Todd Gross


It didn't come into play while solving, but we really like the word loop theme in this one, now that we see it. It's elegant, really, as it runs around the perimeter, and the fill, with one or two exceptions (RUPIAH (54A: Indonesian currency) and ADRIP (69A: Leaking, as a faucet) (yuck)), isn't badly strained. It's not terribly inspired, mind you, but it's not terrible, and, like I said, the theme is really kind of cool.

I had no idea that one of the pigs in Animal Farm was modelled on LENIN (45A: Inspiration for Old Major of "Animal Farm"). Interesting. It seems I missed a lot of the specific subtexts in that book, actually. I mostly remember the old horse, Boxer. Poor guy… and speaking of fictional characters, it's cool that WILEE (1D: ____ Coyote (toon)) gets into a grid, but it would have been much cooler if he were fully in there, instead of just partially so.

CORD (13D: Telephone attachment) will soon be obsolete, if it's not already (although, I answered a corded telephone while writing this review!).

Actually, the more I look at this, the more junk I see (AWEE, OBER, ISE, LETA, ORME), but there are also some nice downs. SVELTE (27D: Gracefully thin), SEXUAL (49D: ____ relations), NEUTRAL (46D: Car gear). The clues aren't much, but hey, it's Tuesday.

So, let's call it a wash. Decent theme, less than perfect fill.

- Horace

p.s. I learned from the Crossword Fiend blog that the Os used in the word loop (as the only vowel) are absent from the rest of the puzzle. OK, that will strain the fill a little, so I guess we have to be even more forgiving of the junk. But at what point does the sacrifice of fill at the expense of a trick become too much to bear?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Monday, January 20, 2014, Elizabeth C. Gorski


This played a bit harder than a typical Monday, perhaps because of things like PARI (10D: ____ - mutuel betting), EPOS (46A: Long narrative poem) (had EPic for a while), RIMIER (9D: Covered with more frost) and a few others. There was also a smattering of odd proper nouns (NIA, ARNE, BEDE, MIKA, APIA, ZOE, OMANIOMAR), and crosswordsy stuff (INKER, AMA, AROO (yuck)), but it was all in the service of paying tribute to the great MLKJR (38A: Annual Jan. honoree), so what is a reviewer to do?

The fifteens running through really are quite nice, and the symmetrical CIVILRIGHTS (30A: Cause associated with 38-Across) and IHAVEADREAM (49A: Repeated phrase in 38-Across's speech at the 17-Across) are perfect. Even the symmetrical downs of UPINTHEAIR (11D: Still undecided) and TAKEASTAND (29D: Get off the fence?) seem to be thematic today, as the fight for equality remains ongoing, and still needs the participation of every last one of us. So DEUCE (45D: Score before ad in or ad out) take the small stuff, I support this puzzle.

We have never yet included an embedded video in this blog, but today we do. Watch it again for the first time, and remember that we're all just humans, trying to live our lives, trying to get along, and trying to be happy.

Peace out.

- Horace

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sunday, January 19, 2014, Dan Schoenholz



Fun word-play-y theme today, with old song titles turned into funny answers. For example, my favorite, ICITETHEWRONGS (23A: Traffic cop's answer upon being asked "Describe your job"? [1975]). Frannie knew more of the songs than I did, but still, it was fun. My second favorite was YOURHEATINCHART (108A: Data request from a good ol' furnace repairman? [1953]).

Interesting clue for ATEASE (40A: Chilling). I might have preferred "chillin'," but really, the G is fine, and better, really, because it makes it harder. And maybe 75A: Stressed (TENSE) could have been something like "Not so chill," but really, I don't know why I'm obsessing over this. Let's move on. APIAN (3D: Generating some buzz?) was fun. The clue for ATILLA (16D: Supposed ancestor of Dracula) was interesting. And I liked the novel clues for EGRET (46D: Marsh hunter), and NAVE (73D: Mass gathering site).

Funny that our new knowledge of the existence of DRU (94A: R&B's ____ Hill) came in handy so soon! Didn't we just learn that a day or two ago? And before that I'd never heard of it. Ever.

I don't particularly like AGREERS (106A: Yes-men) nor NONWORD (60D: "Truthiness," e.g., before Stephen Colbert), even though the clue mentions a favorite comedian. And I have a beef with SEPIAS (131A: Some Civil War shots), because I don't believe that sepia toning was yet in use during the 1860s. Most Civil War photographs were probably either Ambrotypes, which were printed on glass and not toned, or tin-types, which were also not toned. Wikipedia seems to agree with me, claiming that sepia toning was introduced in the 1880s. Hmpf.

Still, though, a decent enough Sunday.

- Horace

Saturday, January 18, 2014, David Steinberg


It was a struggle getting started, as it often is on a Saturday, and I was starting to despair, but FACEPALM (41A: Nonverbal equivalent of "You have got to be kidding me!") made us start to really enjoy this puzzle. IFIDIDIT (36D: 2007 book subtitled "Confessions of the Killer") looks great with all the Is, and it's especially nice that ITISI (55A: Formal identification) comes right off of it. We also enjoyed the "false revealer" "51A: Like 36 of this puzzle's answers" (ACROSS). Very nice.

It's a juicy puzzle, if you'll allow me to use that word. Tons of Zs, Xs (or should that be XES (62D: One side in some chalk talks)?), Js, Vs... and the elevens in the NW and SE are all quite nice. TIJUANATAXI (17A: Cop car, to a CBer) is amusing, and everyone loves (SASHAFIERCE (67A: Beyoncé alter ego)). We think that TAXONOMISTS (60A: Professional organizers?) didn't need the question mark, but it's lovely fill, so we'll forgive that.

We had "cOiF" for POUF (31A: High style of the 1700s) for a long time, which made the NE difficult to finish. Slowly, though, things started to fall. I guess we've heard of MEGANFOX (14D: "Transformers" actress, 2007), and, ok, SEAROUTE (13D: Circumnavigator's way), fine. I say again, tough corner.

In other areas, ERASER (48D: Thing taken to a slip) was good, and 43A: Cannes neighbors (ENS)... got us again! 33D: Bow no longer shot (CLARA) is lovely, and ASPERSE (22D: Impugn) is a great word.

Frannie didn't like the product placement - (ZANTAC (49D: Ulcer treater) & ADOBEREADER (15A: It has a Page Navigation menu option) & BANANAGRAMS (1A: Fast-paced alternative to Scrabble) & UGGBOOTS (12D: Wear that was one of "Oprah's Favorite Things" four times), but overall, we thought this a very nice Saturday.

- Horace

Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday, January 17, 2014, Kevin G. Der


We quite enjoyed solving this one! It's a lovely, open grid, and the very few that elicited a slight groan (SANITARIA (18A: Psychiatric hospitals) was one) were really quite acceptable. BEETHOVEN (47A: Big name in classical education?) is always welcome, and it's very odd, but cool, to see him on the same line with RATSO (49A: 1969 role for Dustin Hoffman) Rizzo. Ahh, life… so varied. So wonderful.

And speaking of odd things, we enjoyed the word TOWELETTE (52A: Freebie often containing alcohol), for some reason. The two car-trivia answers were interesting, although SAABS (39A: Cars whose only color until 1952 was bottle green) was much moreso than EDSEL (5D: Car that offered Polar Air air-conditioning).

I don't usually think of OPARTISTs as "33D: One[s] employing tromp l'oeil effects," but rather optical effects, which, I guess, sometimes trick the eye. So ok, fine. MAKESOUT (34D: Pets), right beside it, was a little surprising, but in a good way. And running through both was the very nice DIMESTORES (45A: Bowling splits in which the 5 and 10 pins remain).

There were lots of good entries today - ANIMALFAT (16A: It's rendered in the kitchen) (this went in without crosses) was fun, in a gross way, and LISSOME (32A: Like a ballerina) is a lovely word, isn't it?

Best clue of the day? 19A: Hardly a free spirit? (GENIE). We LOL'd, we cried, we want to solve it again and again. It was better than Cats.

A satisfying Friday.

- Horace

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Thursday, January 16, 2014, Elizabeth A. Long


An odd theme of "DOT" appearing over the letter I in certain places. Is there anything more? Am I missing something?

Enjoyed the clue for ADAM (4A: First of all), but thought it should have had a question mark, since it assumes belief in an unsubstantiated book. 14A: Speaker's aid (ANECDOTE) was also nice. CANOEIST (17A: Paddle pusher), DICERS (21A: Kitchen gizmos) and UNBELT (42A: Start to take off one's pants, say) (my goodness, especially UNBELT) were less good. I saw that last one coming and I refused to enter it fully until it was forced upon me. And can someone explain why VAN is clued with 46A: Lead?

I don't know, it just seemed kind of blah. ONAN (2D: ____ incline (tilted))... ADE (4D: Suffix with orange). Blah. DAPS (51D: Fist-bumps)? Really? Daps? OK, so I guess I learned something new that I will never, ever use in conversation. BORZOI (43D: Russian wolfhound) is crazy, learned that today, too.

I liked PLATTE (62A: River to the Missouri), because I tend to enjoy geography, and RATCHET (10D: Wheel with sloped teeth) and FEUDAL (23D: Like England in the Middle Ages) (Frannie got this immediately) are nice words, but there was just too much junk in here for it to be truly enjoyable. DRU (61D: "____ Hill," 1996 platinum album). Did anyone get that without all the crosses? I mean anyone at all? Is putting the word "dot" over the letter I really worth all this?

- Horace

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Wednesday, January 15, 2014, Bernice Gordon


Horace and Frannie would like to congratulate Bernice Gordon today for becoming the oldest person ever to have a crossword published in the NYT (and, quite possibly, anywhere else, for that matter). Her first puzzle was published in the 1950s, and she is credited with originating the "rebus" style puzzle, in which a symbol replaces letters (& = AND, etc.), and she turned 100 last Saturday. There is a nice article about her on the Huffington Post Web site, from which I have drawn some of the above.

Her grid today was relatively clean, with a rebus-type theme of its own. We were a bit surprised to see such a thing on Wednesday, but perhaps it played a little too easy for a Thursday, and Mr. Shortz decided to grant a little leeway.

The theme entries are nicely symmetrical, with the central crossing of ONLYU (39A: 1955 hit for the Platters) and WELLG (30D: "Hmm, imagine that!") to round things out. We enjoyed the odd clue for SAP (20A: Sustenance for aphids), and who doesn't love that use of JAGS (1D: Sprees)?

YIELDING (40D: Soft to the touch) is a lovely entry, and it's always nice to include an interesting quote, this time by VOLTAIRE (34A: Philosopher who wrote "It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere"). Lovely.

A few crosswordsy-type things, but nothing egregious. A very pleasant Wednesday.

- Horace

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Tuesday, January 14, 2014, Tim Croce


Bushwhacked by BUSHWA (52A: Nonsense) and PAPAW (35D: Fruit also known as a prairie banana). And it didn't help that I had confidently entered STELe for STELA (36D: Inscribed stone slab). Never heard of either of those first two. OK, maybe we've seen PAPAW in another grid once, but I have never heard anyone say, nor have I ever read, "BUSHWA."

Now that that's out of the way, I did love the clue for ADOUT (37A: Score before a service break, maybe). Also, the more I looked at DERAT (19A: Clear of vermin à la the Pied Piper) the more I laughed, but really, that's not excellent fill.

And, that's about it. Nice to learn a new word for nonsense, I guess.

Onward! Wōden's day is ANIGH!

- Horace

Monday, January 13, 2014

Monday, January 13, 2014, Lynn Lempel


As I look again now at the revealer (58A: Everybody … or part of the contents of 18-, 25-, 36-, and 50-Across (ONEANDALL)), I actually quite like the theme, but I didn't notice it at all while I was solving.

GONEBALLISTIC (36A: Flown into a rage) and STONEWALLED (50A: Refused to coöperate) both seem a little odd (the former moreso than the latter) in the past tense, but both are close enough for puzzlement work, and the other two, RHONEVALLEY (25A: Wine-producing area of SE France) (ahh… the Rhone valley…) and PHONECALL (18A: An operator may help place one) (what century are we in, again?) are both perfectly normal.

I thought that GOOSES (28A: Pokes in the rear) were more pinches than pokes, but what do I really know of such things? Another thing I don't know much about is why Ms. Lempel would choose the numbers "33A: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 …, e.g." for a SERIES? Shouldn't that either start with a "0" or result in the answer "sequence?" Well, I guess "series" is fine, but the zero really ought to be there, otherwise the two ones don't make any sense!

Not much junk today, and I enjoyed much of the long stuff. The upper-left, with its ONTHEGO (1D: Always rushing, rushing, rushing), FORASONG (2D: Very inexpensively), and FLEWSOLO (3D: Went without a copilot) is quite nice. And for some reason, I enjoyed seeing CANISTER (40D: Flour or sugar container) in the grid. For a minute I was held up by trying to enter two Ns. Also, I looked up the word (the two-n spelling is given as a variant), and it comes through Latin canistrum (basket) from Greek kanastron (wicker basket), from kanna (reed). Interesting, no?

A fine start to the week.

- Horace

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sunday, January 12, 2014, Andrew Chaikin



A fast and charmant graph that has talk parts. The preceding sentence is the result of my efforts to summarize this puzzle using words that contain only the vowel "A". It's not as easy as it looks (ha!) I was forced to resort to French, even though I know Huygens dislikes it so. I hope 52A. One of die Planeten (ERDE) makes up for it.

We had no trouble with the grid. It seems to me that the challenge, in this case, was more on the side of the puzzle constructor than on the puzzle solver. I filled out the top half completely and then handed it over to Horace who promptly completed the bottom half. I haven't even looked at the bottom half, even as I write. I'm assuming I didn't make any mistakes. Well, I must not have, because if I had, I would have heard about it by now. :)

Recently, I've been running across the answer EXILE with some regularity associated with Napoleon in the clue (18A). It always surprises me because other associations come to mind more readily, like his stature, his reforms of the legal system in France, the way he seized control of most of continental Europe, and the ABBA song Waterloo. But, maybe that's just  me. Not that emphasizing his exile is inaccurate in any way, I'm just saying it's not the first thing that leaps to my mind.

There was a bushel of Apple products in the grid. The first one I came across, 34A. lead to another clue, 69-Across, e.g., The answer to 69A. Apple product was IPAD, and the answer to 34A. TABLET. So, imagine my surprise and entertainment when I got to 23D. Apple product, perhaps, and the answer was STRUDEL. Fun.

Other fun answers were BLACKANDTAN, a drink I enjoy on occasion and one of the theme answers - 7D. Bar glass that's half Bass, half dark malt; CHOCULA (54A Count __) and his CLOAK (49D. Item of attire for 54-Across); and 57A. King Arthur of tennis (ASHE). I also thought the clue for 33A.Captain Hook's right hand (SMEE) was quite clever.

On the less fab side, we have BOT for 46A. Bit of Google programming and 7D. A bridge might have one (LANE), but overall, solidly entertaining if not mind-bending. I give it an A for effort.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Saturday, January 11, 2014, Martin Ashwood-Smith


Double quad-stacks. Always a challenge. Frannie got ELEPHANTTRAINER (60A: One who orders trunks to be moved) off the clue alone, but after that, we just chipped away at the small stuff, looking for precious crosses. Soon, Frannie guessed POTASSIUMIODIDE (59A: Kelp is a natural source of it) from the skeleton of letters, and soon enough, the bottom was done. Loved OBSCENEGESTURES (51A: They're usually pixellated on TV), and the clue for DENTALASSISTANT (61A: Member of a drill team?) wasn't bad either.

There was plenty of stuff we didn't know in here: DANIO (22D: Freshwater aquarium favorite), BOLE (52A: Woody trunk), ADAMA (4D: Native of Caprica on "Battlestar Galactica"), KERT (47A: Larry of the original "West Side Story"), GLEASONS (11D: Renowned boxing gym in Brooklyn), and PALESTRINA (27D: Renaissance composer of "Missa Papae Marcelli") (the end of the clue was as unhelpful as the beginning). And who the heck is NEALE Greasy? Wait, check that, it's "Greasy" Neale, apparently. Still nothing. Lastly, I've never heard anyone say "Poor as ARAT." We had "dirt" in there at first, obviously.

As we've said before, stuff we don't know is perfectly fair game on a Saturday. Today the crosses let us finish, and really, there was plenty of good material in here to keep us happy. Where to start on that? How about OPED (51D: Weigh-in section?). Took a minute to think of the Op Ed page. It was nice to see WAUKESHA (36D: Wisconsin county or its seat) in there. EAGLES (10D: They have bills and appear on bills) was nice, but we were blinded by loons, so it took us longer than it should have, perhaps. And speaking of money, CRISP (21D: Like new notes) was nice, crisp fill. 45A: Key contraction (OER) was a cute clue for oft-seen fill. And speaking of cute, CAPT (54D: Abbr. by Hook or by Cook) was good, too.

Did you notice that "Garcia" fit into "43A: Dead player?" We tried "hippie" at first, before coming around to POSSUM.

Overall, a decent, challenging Saturday.

- Horace

Friday, January 10, 2014

Friday, January 10, 2014, Patrick Berry


Patrick Berry is fast becoming one of our favorite constructors. His grids are almost always clean, meaty without being overly so, chock-full of fun stuff, and what's more … we seem to be right on his wavelength. This one starts out strong with two tricky clues 1A: Attaché feature (ACCENT) (why did this take us so long?!) and 1D: Bread boxes (ATMS) (Frannie nailed this one immediately). We ended not far from there at the intersection of another tricky pair, 23D: Flimsy lock (WISP) (we could only think of the locking kind of lock) and 23A: Not down with anything (WELL) (beautiful).

In the middle, we credit a year of NYT Crossword solving for our laying down OATERS (28A: Many old B films), and off of that (and maybe one other) we got COPACABANA (24D: 1978 disco hit featuring the warning "Don't fall in love"), which really opened up that lower middle section.

So many good clue/answer pairs today. PREACHERS (37A: They deliver on Sunday), PIGEONS (51A: Common gathering in a public square), OCTAVE (50A: La to la, e.g.), CHEATSHEETS (16D: Cribs), THENCEFORTH (14D: Ever since that time), and more! I also have a fondness for the very straightforward answer that is hard to see at first, a good example of which today, at least for us, was ELDERLY (4D: Aged).

A very enjoyable Friday.

- Horace

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Thursday, January 9, 2014, Caleb Emmons


Were you as excited as we were when we saw the two-letter spaces? I called out to Frannie immediately because it was obvious something was up. Something beyond a standard rebus, that is. The trick, or at least the concept of the trick, was brought to light quickly, though, when SANANDREASFAULT (7D: Site of slippage … both geographically and in this puzzle) (I thought immediately of "subduction zone," but no.) went in with just two crosses - the N of TONI (18A: "Beloved" author Morrison) and the L of ELMS (62A: Shade providers). Both were written straight across at the time, but luckily the important letters were in the right place.

Which brings me to my second point - didn't this, aside from the fault line, seem a little easy? I often think that when there is a trick in a puzzle (backward entries, rebuses, numbers, etc.) that they feel they have to be a little extra easy in other places. On my first pass through I filled in quite a bit immediately, and when I got it back from Frannie there was precious little left to do. Now, you might be asking, "But Horace, thirty-five minutes ain't exactly smokin', what happened?" Well, I'll tell you what. I spent a third of that time looking for an error! I tried shifting the fault around, I fretted about the single-letter answer T (65A: ____-square), and tried to see where I might put two Es… ( I guess they are a casualty of the earthquake!), I went through all the Acrosses and Downs, and on the second time through I came to SiD again. I had put in QUAi (40A: Unloading point) on that first pass through, and when I got to 36D: Barrett of Pink Floyd, I had thought to myself "Gee, I thought his name was spelled with a Y…," but at the time I was already lost in the idea of the "fault," and how it would play out, so I didn't think twice about it. Well, yes, this very long, boring, story is just to say that there is a Y in it, of course, and the fact that I knew that should have saved us nearly a third of our time. But sometimes it goes that way.

All that trouble notwithstanding, we enjoyed this one. It's a little disconcerting to look at the grid and see things like "TONH," "BRELO," and "SUTE," but then, the San Andreas Fault is a little disconcerting, too. Other bloggers sometimes complain about "nonsense in the grid," but I feel that one must accept a little unpleasantness now and then, in crosswords as in life. Once you understand it, you can get through it to see the beauty.

Lastly, just a few shout-outs: ENZYME (41A: Food processor?) (nice!), CUBED (44A: Like some numbers and beef) (odd & good), ZAPPA (1D: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee with only one top 40 hit) (interesting), PARSE (48D: Carefully examine) (Two days in a row!). The two "slip" clues were a nice touch. And, finally, I was glad to read that the answer to "16A: Who has scored more than 850 points in an official Scrabble game" was NOONE, 'cause that's a really high score.

- Horace

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Wednesday, Jan 8, 2014, Sam Ezersky and Victor Fleming


A puzzle for the kids today, featuring a cable TV star, "Spongebob Squarepants." Is that just two words? I have no idea.

Not my favorite puzzle. The theme seems kind of commercial, as does BOSSYPANTS (59A: 2011 Tina Fey autobiography), but that's probably just me being a crankypants. I suppose you really couldn't get any more commercial than TIMESSQUARE (52A: New Year's Eve hot spot), but I kind of like that one. I like THINGAMABOB (24A: Doohickey) too. But not so much BATHSPONGE (18A: Tub accessory).

PARSE (9A: Analyze, as a sentence) is a lovely word. And don't you think TORII (20A: Outfielder Hunter with nine Gold Gloves) made a lot of crossword constructors happy when he became famous? Not as happy as the Alou brothers made them, or Enya, or H.G. Wells when he created the Eloi… or the Gauls when they changed Latin into French… come to think of it, I don't remember seeing Torii Hunter in a puzzle before, but I can't believe this is his first appearance.

Favorite clue: 35A: Washing up spot? (SHORE). Frannie had "beach" in there for a short time. She knew right where they were going.

Least favorite: 69A: All of these may be off (BETS). It wanted to be good, but it wasn't.

Lastly, in the games of tag that I participated in when I was little, there were no bases. It was just kids running around all over the place. Pickle, that had bases. There might have been a "home" or something in Freeze Tag… oh, maybe I'm just being BRATTY (1D: Like a spoiled kid) today. I'd better STOP (19D: Knock off) now, before it gets out of hand.

Just one more thing - ILO? ELENORE? (#1 in New Zealand!)… IRKSOME (41D: Annoying). I did, however, like how NEWISSUE (36D: Initial public offering) put IPO into the clues instead of in the grid. A little switcheroo! Let's end there. On a high(ish) note.

- Horace

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tuesday, January 7, 2014, Mark Bickham


Kind of a gross start with SACS (1A: Anatomical pouches), but it picked right up with 5A: Rocker Hendrix (JIMI) and 9A: Ingredient in a screwdriver (VODKA). Coincidence that FROS (15A: 'Dos you don't want to sit behind at movies) is right below JIMI? I wonder. Of course, it might have been better right above, but one can't have everything.

I'm not sure we've seen a theme just like this before - synonyms of a single word, "good," as given in the revealer. I kind of like it, especially because it asks the question ISTHISGOOD (62A: Question posed while pulling leftovers from the fridge … or a query about the initial words of 18-, 24-, 33-, 43-, or 50-Across?) in earnest, as the synonyms seem at first like antonyms, or at least not true synonyms. I like it. I like it a lot, actually.

All the theme answers are real things (the favorite might be RADICALSIGN (33A: Square root symbol) (Frannie got that one!)), and there's tons of theme material without a catastrophic effect on the remaining fill. KIEL (12D: German city on a canal of the same name), OOOLA (53D: "Alley Oop" woman) (honestly, though, all the Os down there - OHGOD and OOOLA right beside NOOIL and DOI - look kind of awesome), ENTR and ASCAR being possible exceptions. But really, it's mostly fine. Loved seeing SHOGI (1D: Japanese chess) in the grid. I got that game as a child, but it was hard to find opponents.

I thought INCUBATES (32D: Sits on to keep warm, say), VIRTUAL (9D: Almost ??? (again, it was cut off in the iPod app!)), and DRESSSIZE (11D: Number at a bridal boutique) (SSS!) were all good. ENDWISE (44D: How sausage links are connected)? Well, ok, I guess you can have that one, too. We went with "erRIP" first for ITRIP (16A: "Let ____!" ("Full speed ahead!")), and, frankly, we would have preferred that, but ok…

In my opinion, this was an above-average Tuesday. [I see now that I am in the minority among other crossword bloggers.] What did you think?

- Horace

Monday, January 6, 2014

Monday, January 6, 2014, Zhouqin Burnikel


Spent more than a couple minutes looking for an error at the end of this one. Turned out I had misspelled DEEN (57D: TV chef Paula), but isn't it really better that I didn't know how it was spelled? And how was I to know that EMILE (64A: Actor Hirsch of "Into the Wild") wasn't "EMILa?" Well, as Frannie put it - "I don't remember any women at all in that movie." … so maybe I should have guessed. Even without my spelling error, though, this played a little tougher than Mondays often do. MNIGHTSHYAMALAN (17A: *"The Sixth Sense" director) is a tough name to spell even when you know it.

We liked the coded "2014" in ROMAN (67A: ____ numerals (what the initial letters of the answers to the five starred clues all are)) numerals. Frannie and I sent out a New Year's card a few years ago that hid the year in binary code indicated by the color of the letters in the greeting. We probably sent out 75 or more cards. No one got it. But then, we didn't include a "revealer" like 67A. Without that, would we have seen the hidden message? Maybe. Probably. But then, we're always looking for themes in the early week puzzles.

KIRKGIBSON (29D: Dodgers slugger who was the 1988 N.L. M.V.P.) brought us right back to that Philadelphia apartment where we were watching the World Series that year - probably on a tiny black and white TV… I have no special love for the Dodgers, but it was nice to see Eckersley beaten after he had abandoned the Red Sox. Ahh… back when baseball mattered. Anyway, it's definitely a 1980s crossing there, between the slugger and VCRS (38A: TV hookups). Heck, why not clue ANITA (34A: California's Santa ____ racetrack) with a reference to Anita Hill and bring us up into the nineties! Well, I'm being unfair. I guess MILEY (33D: "Wrecking Ball" singer Cyrus) brings us up to date.

Where was I? HAVOC (14A: Mass destruction) is a nice word, as is GAM (31A: Bit of cheesecake). You don't hear that second one nearly enough. Ever wonder where it came from? Well, my Random House says it was probably a variant of the French "gambe" (jambe) which means "leg." Seems so obvious now that I write it down. See also: "Viola da gamba" or, in Italian, "viol for the leg." (It is a large viol that is held between the knees.)

All in all, it was a fine Monday. Not too much ELOI, EMIR, ANIM and INA, at least a few interesting ones, and a cutesy/clever theme.

- Horace

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sunday, January 5, 2014, Alan DerKazarian



Kind of a mixed bag today, we thought. The idea of closed-off "rooms" nicely mirrored the game, but I was half-expecting a secret passage of some kind, and it never materialized. I have no idea how that would have been accomplished, but I think of it as an integral part of Clue. Oh well. As it was, Frannie got all of the actual answers in the SE quadrant before many of the other circled clues were filled in, which made them somewhat easier to figure out. It was a little odd that in the NW, all the circled words could follow "scarlet," in the NE, they were all synonyms of "lounge," and in the SW they were all anagrams of "rope." At least they were internally consistent. So, overall, the theme was fine, but not really transcendent.

The fill had some nice high points. PTERODACTYL (15D: Prehistoric menace) is awesome. ABANDONSHIP (75D: Captain's last order) is lovely. ROLLINGPINS (80D: Cartoony clubs) is fun.

I thought it odd that, having been a Cub Scout once, I didn't know AKELA (19D: Cub Scouts leader), but I see know that it is a British term (we always just said "Den Mother"), so I'm not surprised anymore. That L crossing with NALA (33A: "The Lion King" queen) was the last letter we entered today, and it was an educated guess based only on past crossword experience.

Didn't know CRENNA (138A: Actor Richard), NADIA (105A: Tennis's Petrova), or SENNETT (144A: Director Mack of early slapstick), but we did know ALBANO (93A: Wrestling star Lou), EMERIL (71A: "Bam!" man), OLIVA (12D: Tony the Twin) (!), and LAHR (132A: 1939 Garland co-star), so I guess it's pretty much a wash on proper names.

Nice intersection of tricky clues at 93A: Thing in doubt? (SILENTB) and 84D: Part of U.S.: Abbr. (INIT). That second one took some thinking even after it got filled it in! Ohhh…. initial! And I liked seeing EUROVAN (140A: 1990s-2000s Volkswagen vehicle) in there. From birth to college and beyond my family had a VW bus (four actually), and a Vanagon. Normal cars always seemed so damn small!

Lastly, when we only had ___EM at 46D: "I don't care what they do," I briefly considered "F them" as a possible answer. HAH! As if. Soon Frannie got ALIENATTACK (45A: Early Coleco hand-held game), and LETEM showed itself. Not bad.

I guess I warmed up to this one while we were solving. It's a fine Sunday.

- Horace

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Saturday, January 4, 2014, Kyle Dolan


Whew! Another toughie, and we ended up with several educated guesses, all of which panned out. The LY crossing of DJPAULYD (6A: "Jersey Shore" housemate's music-biz name), LENDA (11D: "____ Paw" (Oscar-winning Disney short)), and YATES (12D: "Eyewitness" director Peter), all of which were total unknowns, seemed somewhat likely. And the ON crossing of DIXON (55A: Predictor of fame)(?), SEACOAL (37D: Constituent of molding sand)(?), and ELAN (42D: ????? - the clue was cut off and unreadable in the iPad app) was based on the idea that all three looked like acceptable English constructions.

Even with all that uncertainty, we really enjoyed this puzzle. The clueing was, for the most part, fantastic. We loved ADORKABLE (4D: Like cute nerds, in slang), PACKRAT (8D: Keeping buff?),  SENTENCE (62A: Life or death), PATDOWN (40D: Touching scene at an airport?)(lovely), and VERSO (63A: Leaf part), to name but a small number. Had "circus," which we thought too easy, then "Binder," which we thought brilliant, before finally coming back around to BIGTOP (26D: Three-ring setting) - nice! you got us. -, and had "livingroOm" at first for THECAPITOL (50A: House meeting place). Hey, you've gotta start somewhere, right?

Didn't particularly like the clue for ARENT (61A: Lack life), and we suppose that MINSK (19A: Where Lee Harvey Oswald was a lathe operator) is a city in Texas, as well as Russia. [Oops! Nope, he actually worked in Russia. -H] I was thrown off by 1A: Like cork trees and flying lizards (ASIAN), because the cork trees from which wine stoppers come (quercus suber) are native to the Mediterranean area, but after a while there wasn't much else the answer could have been. I guess there is also a variety native to China, quercus variabilis. OK, that's fine. And there's a Phellodendron, or "cork tree" which is also native to Asia. OK! Enough already! It's a fine clue!

Anywho, a smattering of unknowns is normal fare (and fair) for a Saturday. We'd rather learn obscurities than suffer through horrible crosswordese or partials (I'm looking at you, LENDA!), and the clues were entertaining and informative (44D: European president who attended Harvard (CHIRAC)), so we're giving it a hearty thumbs up.

- Horace

Friday, January 3, 2014

Friday, January 3, 2014, Barry C. Silk and Brad Wilber


A nice, hard Friday. We fought this one all the way, but happily got through it. Clues like 2D: Record glimpsed on Norman Bate's Victrola (EROICA) and 6D: Certain rate-hike circumvention (FOREVERSTAMP) had us worried, but slowly the crosses fell, and each was inferable in the end.

Luckily, Frannie knew LIBRARIAN (56A: Profession for Laura Bush before the White House), and took a guess at ANASTASIA (59A: "Cinderella" stepsister), which helped us gain a foothold, and from there we climbed up the grid.

It's been a while since we've seen Barry Silk's name, and when we do we expect great things. Brad Wilber we have less of a handle on, but we'll be watching him more closely from now on, because this puzzle was lovely. So much great fill - IRONHORSE (15A: Locomotive), DONNAREED (17A: 1950s-'60s sitcom headliner), WIPEOUTS (12D: Many "Jackass" stunts) (do they really plan the wipeouts? or are they just a result of bad execution?), and BRAISE (42D: Cook, as swiss steak). Frannie didn't love YAWPS (10A: Complains loudly), and we'd never heard of AAFAIR (43D: Erle Stanley Gardner pseudonym), or the WYCHELM (24D: Common British Isles shader), but the crosses were all fair.

Speaking of the WYCHELM, there was quite a cluster of proper names over in that area, but again, nothing unfair. Even though we started with MAINline for MAINROAD (34D: Artery), and ONtarget for ONCOURSE (35D: Not going astray), things eventually worked themselves out.

This is just what we look for on the weekend, a puzzle that challenges. This one delivered.

- Horace

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Thursday, January 2, 2014, Todd Gross


We'd like to thank Colum for filling in for us yesterday, and for hosting a lovely New Year's Eve party. Further, we'd like to wish Happy New Year to all our readers. Thanks for checking in, and happy puzzling in 2014!

Now, sadly, we must move on to today's puzzle. We get it, but we don't get why. I knew with certainty there was a rebus at 32A: Robert Frost poem that includes "Good fences make good neighbors" (WALLM) (Mending Wall), but I wasn't sure yet what it would be. Slowly, MACHINESV (17A: Food or drink dispensers) and LITIGATIONP (24D: Future court cases) appeared to fit the same pattern of the first letter of what should have been the first word being put to the end, or, "ending" the second word. To me, this is a terrible, nonsensical theme. It's a visual pun, I guess, but it's not at all funny, and it doesn't make any sense. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

In other news, I liked SKY for 36D: It goes around the world. I don't get RUSSIA for 41D: Don's place, and I've never heard of GROFE (43D: "Grand Canyon Suite" composer).

I will end on an up note, however, with a typical New Year's idea - Here's to tomorrow!

- Horace

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Wednesday, January 1, 2014. Peter A. Collins


HAPPY2014 to all of Horace and Frances' readers! Colum here, guest-blogging, even as H and F spend the New Year in Albany with me.

This Wednesday puzzle played harder for me than I expected, or was it just that I was completing it at one in the morning, after the champagne and rye? It started with 1A: Frank's partner in the funnies (ERNEST). What is this? I've looked it up and found it on, and I still have never seen it before. And 1D is no simpler. I may have heard of EGBERT, but even Wikipedia does not convince me that the ninth century king of Mercia is the nominal first king of England.

Other answers I was unhappy with: HOARSEN, which I wanted to be cOARSEN, and CAVER, which should just not be in a crossword puzzle ever. On the plus side, I liked PAULINA, wife of Ric Ocasek, and thus a nice Boston connection, DONHO, MADMEN, CHIMERA, and AUSTERE. That last answer took some time for me to see.

The central answer should have been much more obvious to me, and I think it's well managed for the most part, except for 24D: Achieved through difficulty (HARD1), which doesn't seem precisely correct. So I guess I don't love this puzzle, but I enjoyed blogging it! You may see my name here again in the future.