Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday, February 28, 2014, Martin Ashwood-Smith


The week so far has been on the easy side, but today we were served a real toughie! That SW/S area was a killer! I don't know how many times I put ROCKIE (60A: Coors Field player) in and then took it out again. I mean, I knew they played there, but I couldn't make anything work, and who knows, maybe somebody else plays there too? No. Probably not. Also, we had "bible" for TORAH (52A: Text with Numbers) for a long time, which yielded nothing. ABBE (43A: Title for Liszt) was very tricky. ION (59A: Bond bit) only came after we had every cross. REHEAR (63A: Try again) and OVERT (54A: Patent) were both slow to come. In short, it was a mess down there. We probably spent over half an hour just working on that section. None of it seemed especially unfair, it was just hard, which, actually, is usually pretty fun. Especially when, like today, we eventually get there.

In other areas, we don't know what ATP (26A: Mitochondrion-made material, briefly) is (tried RNA and DNA), nor SSGT (10D: Squad cmdr.). I am guessing that Colum can explain the first, and Huygens the second. And speaking of Huygens, I'm sure he will enjoy XXX (62A: Really dirty).

Mr. Ashwood-Smith went easy on us in one way today, however, by only going with the one central quad-stack. Frannie got NATIONALANTHEMS (40A: Many of them play at the Olympics) (very nice, and timely!) first, and then we picked away at the other three.

In all, a satisfying puzzle, but I'm a little worried about tomorrow.

- Horace

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Thursday, February 27, 2014, Stanley Newman


"Don't talk about yourself. We will do that after you leave." A quote, running through four long spaces, thought funny enough to carry the puzzle. I guess I agree.

But let's get right to the elephant in the puzzle, shall we? YELLOWY (22D: Blond). (Slightly related to 20D: Like some blonds (DYED.)) So? What do we think of that? I started with outrage, but slowly was converted to acceptance, and then even appreciation. We puzzle-doers want the grids to be fresh, with current language, right? I'll gladly accept TOOTOO (47D: Overdone), and SLOMO (41D: Time-stretching effect), but I frowned at "YELLOWY." Why? No more! I don't want to see it every day, but every once in a while, something like "YELLOWY" is fine by me. Especially in a puzzle with a decent amount of other strong material.

SCARCE (1D: Pretty hard to find), CABAL (9D: Ring of rebels), APPALL (29A: Severely consternate), and SHRIVEL (43D: Contract) (Oh! conTRACT! Not CONtract...), are all good words. We could do without ODISTS (42A: Some Coleridge colleagues) and OAS (52A: Alliance HQ'd near the White House) (?), and I guess I have to accept that "Epicurean" no longer has anything to do with philosophy, but those are small things. DIURNAL (11D: Active when the sun goes down), AZORES (10D: Columbus stopping point of 1493) (tricky trivia!), IDIOCY (50A: Folly), MASTS (17A: Spars) (Good clue!)... they're all solid.

It was a solid puzzle. Better than solid. What do you think?

- Horace

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Wednesday, February 26, 2014, Ruth B. Margolin


1A: Fare in "blankets" (PIGS) took me a couple crosses, but when it went in I smiled, and had a good feeling about the puzzle from then on. I like the related clues, like 15A: Bahamas cruise stop (NASSAU) and 16A: South American cruise stop, for short (RIO) (even though neither came to mind immediately), and 42D: It carries a shell (SNAIL) and 51A: Shell carries it (GAS). Those are nice touches.

The theme is, I guess, the addition of "IST" to various phrases. Is "Cub Reporter" a thing? A young reporter? A reporter who only reports on the Cub Scouts?... The other three are all good, especially POMPOUSASSIST (26A: Help from a jerk?). That, and STARKISTNAKED (44A: Canned tuna without mayo?) are both nicely risqué.

I liked a lot about this one. The Orwell reference - EURASIA (10D: "1984" superstate), CALYPSO (41D: Harry Belafonte genre), GUEVARA (24D: Compadre of Castro), SPORK (29D: Picnic utensil) (!), and more. Sure, there are a few ORA, ESE, CAF, and EEL (!!) -type clues, but not too many, and the overall good vibe outweighed them. At least for this reviewer.

A fine Wednesday.

- Horace

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tuesday, February 25, 2014, Matthew E. Paronto and Jeff Chen


Just yesterday, or the day before, I said to Frannie that I would try to make a puzzle for my family using nothing but tired crosswordese, and then lo and behold, this arrives! Even before we got to 20A: EPEE (FENCINGBLADE), I had noticed a trend. ORBS, IBIS, ONO, REFI, IPAD, SATE, NIN, LIN, TAPA, AFRO, ANAT, even GOTTI (17A: John known as the "Teflon Don") was seen within the last few days.

I wondered, at first, why they bothered to put the theme clues in all caps, but then I thought, if they didn't, how would you know there even was a theme? Hah. I kid. But really, putting those words outside the grid, instead of inside, was a nice change, and the usual clues for those words -  NEEDLECASE (20A: ETUI) and ARABLEADER (47A: EMIR) (and the aforementioned FENCINGBLADEare at least decent fill.

There are a couple of fun non-theme answers - CLOWNAROUND (25D: Be a goof) and BANANASPLIT (10D: Fountain treat with cherries on top) both outshine the theme itself - but I like to think that the entire grid is acting as theme support. On the bottom half you get OBOE, REVS, REE, ALA, EXE, RENO, INN, and ANEW.

An interesting idea (I guess I have to say that, since I have already claimed a desire to construct such a grid), but in the end, maybe a bit of "imitative fallacy," as our old creative writing teacher used to say. If you're writing about someone who is boring, don't make your writing boring.

Plus, no EEL!

- Horace

p.s. I have read elsewhere that the "pun" part of the revealer CROSSWORDESE (55A: What this puzzle's capitalized clues are, both by definition and pun) refers to all the theme clues beginning with the letter E (EPEE, ETUI, ERNE, EMIR). I didn't even notice that. I thought that it somehow referred to "crossword ease" because they were incredibly easy for any regular solver. Also, "Crossword Es?" Lame. Especially since the variant "AMIR" is nearly as frequent. Maybe if the only vowel were E - then they could have used "EMEER." And EEL! Dammit!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Monday, February 24, 2014, Adam G. Perl


Well, would you look at that, a Little Women theme! I thought for a second when I put in the name LOUISAMAYALCOTT (39A: Author who created the characters named by the starts of 17-, 24-, 49-, and 61-Across) about whether or not I had put in anything else literary yet, but I was trying to go quickly, so I didn't figure out the theme until I had finished it up. After consulting with Frannie, I can report that they are not presented in order of age (Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy), but hey, you can't have everything all the time. Just ask Beth. … What? Too soon?

I enjoyed the puzzle just fine as it went along. I like the word SCALENE (47A: Having sides of different lengths, as a triangle), and being reminded of old-timers GAVIN (44A: Actor MacLeod of old TV) and 55A: Three-time A.L. batting champion Tony (OLIVA) was ok with me, plus - I always like seeing ORONO (15A: Maine university town) in the grid, because my Dad went there.

I've never heard of "poppers," but AMYLNITRITE (61D: Chemical compound in "poppers") was filled in entirely by crosses, so it didn't much matter.

I liked the Latin clue, 23A: "____, vidi, vici" (VENI), because, hey!, remember when I said I was sad because I hadn't signed up to read the Aeneid? Well, I signed up after all! And it's going great, thanks!

Lastly, once I put in BYEBYELOVE (11D: 1957 Everly Brothers hit with the repeated lyric "Hello loneliness"), it became the SOUNDTRACK to my solve, and there's nothing wrong with that.

- Horace

Sunday, February 23, 2014, Victor Flemming



Frannie likes an old-movie theme, and even though these weren't the most recognizable old titles (with a couple notable exceptions, of course), it was still ok. She says, though, that it's like the "Golden Globes" puzzle - it was ok, but it ain't the Oscars. And speaking of the Oscars, shouldn't this have been run next week? They must have something big in store.

I was put off by the dual affront of ROBERTS (1A: Bush judicial appointee) and ALITO (15A: Bush judicial appointee). I know Roberts cast "the deciding vote" (a ridiculous term) on health care, but I'm still not convinced he's a decent guy.

SOLIPSIST (60A: Self-absorbed sort) was pretty, and it's an added bonus that "egomanIac" fits in the same space. RIPOSTE (126A: Comeback) is fancy, and I liked the modernity of BAILS (37D: Gives up, in slang) and EATIT (125A: Suffer humiliation, in slang), but overall, the puzzle seemed a little flat. NTESTS (78A: 2000s events in the North Korea, for short), DYER (58A: Colorist), ERE (92A: Odist's preposition)... I guess it's kind of a nice clue for LEI (99A: Award for Miss Hawaii, in addition to a tiara), but all in all, kind of a bland Sunday.

- Horace

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Saturday, February 22, 2014, Evan Birnholz


Well, we lit it up again this morning. Got ALCHEMISTS (1A: Ones who think things are good as gold?) and PIRATESHIP (15A: Feared sight on the Spanish Main) right off the bat, and then it was off to the races. Relatively, that is. I know there are folks who will finish this grid in under ten minutes, but for us, a Friday/Saturday combined time of under 50 minutes is startling.

Frannie didn't love RESOW (48D: Plant in subsequent seasons), I didn't love AREAR (52D: In the back), and neither of us was familiar with SALMI (53D: Game stew), but these are, I think, small prices to pay for such a nice grid as this.

On the quality side, we've got BLACKMAGIC (33A: Art that uses curse words?) contrasting with ARCHANGELS (61A: High spirits?), and a SAMARITAN (13D: Do-gooder) competing with a BADEGG (55A: No-gooder) and a DOMINATRIX (67A: Whip wielder) (Huygens alert!). HAYSTACKS (4D: Frequent Monet subjects), LIPREADER (34D: One getting messages by word of mouth?), and even WIDERIGHT (37D: Like some missed field goals) are all good.

The NE was where we ended up today. We were slowed considerably by two errant guesses - my "rArE" for BASE (11A: Like metals used by 1-Across) (I couldn't have been more wrong) and Frannie thinking a little too big with "Ship" for SEMI (18A: Big long-distance carrier?). The crossing composers, the TV reference to a show we don't watch, and the tricky James Bond trivia (AMERICANO (12D: First drink ever ordered by James Bond)) didn't give us much to go on. I think we got in at the bottom with WATT (37A: Volt-ampere) and COMEUNDONE (42A: Fall apart), and then climbed up from there.

All in all, a very nice Saturday.

- Horace

Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday, February 21, 2014, Patrick Berry


OK, I'm going to come right out and say it - Patrick Berry is my favorite puzzle constructor. His grids are oddly shaped, thick, largely junk-free, and intelligently and entertainingly clued. The three big thirteens today, CAMERAOBSCURA (30A: Provider of early projections) (love it), GOBIGORGOHOME (34A: Catchphrase that encourages extravagance), and CRESCENTMOONS (35A: Sky hooks?) (The question mark is justified there, I think), are all interesting and totally valid. Other long stuff, CYCLOTRONS (6D: Spiral-shaped particle accelerators), PENDULUMS (11D: Swingers), and PROPCOMIC (5D: One with a thing for laughter?) (great clue!) are all good, too.

In fact, you have to look kind of hard for anything to complain about. I suppose you could think about balking at the comparative form of WEIRDER (22A: Not so normal), or the relatively obscure INIGO (17A: Queen's chapel designer ____ Jones), but really, they're both valid. I suppose you could play the "crosswordese" card and call out OAST (56A: Brewery apparatus) or REESE (58A: Teammate of Robinson), but again, they're not the worst. The first is clued almost apologetically, and the second is given a more interesting clue than it usually is.

I'm glad I got CABS (6A: Much-hailed group) immediately, otherwise I might have been tempted to guess "dylan" for SEGER (9D: Bob in the Songwriters Hall of Fame). Bob Seger? Really? I would have thought he was "running against the wind" trying for a spot in there. Heh. And speaking of misleading clues, 36A: "____ fly through the air with the greatest of ease" (HED), was one where I recognized the song, but I didn't think of the verse in the past tense. I actually thought of it as being sung in the first person for a while...

I could go on and on citing the good parts - STREAKERS (50A: They run out of clothing), OEDIPAL (20A: Like some unhealthy relationships) - but I'll leave some of the discovery to you.

If there's one criticism I could bring against Mr. Berry's puzzles, it's that they don't last long enough. I finished before Frannie even got a chance to look at it, but, luckily, the iPad can be erased!

A great Friday.

- Horace

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Thursday, February 20, 2014, Zhouqin Burnikel and Dan Gagliardo


Ahh, circles. Frannie dislikes them. I don't mind them, and today, as on Tuesday, the theme actualy helped me to finish the puzzle. So there's that. I'm not quite sure I know what a "Wood MAN" (43A: "Phew!"), but the rest of them are solid. I like the symmetry, I like the revealer right smack dab in the middle. Nice.

I tried "putt" for 1A: One may follow a long drive (CHIP), but the constructors obviously aren't the big drivers that I am... and speaking of sports, I was thinking about complaining about AROAR (18A: More than loud), but can't you almost hear Al Michaels using that word? I bet he has. Not that Al Michaels is, or should be, the arbiter of what is good fill and what isn't. Take SLATER (5D: Laborer on an old roof, maybe), for instance. He has also said that, but only when talking about Matthew Slater of the Patriots. It is not good fill as it is.

PREDATORY and it's clue "20A: Rapacious" are both good words, and I liked ORIGINALS (52A: Things often left at copy shops) too. I had "tASED" for 48D: Zapped, in a way, but StANG didn't seem at all a reasonable 47A: Dictionary label. It took me an inordinate amount of time to realize it was SLANG.

So, nice theme, some junk (KER, UNI, WAWAS...), but not too much. Decent Thursday.

- Horace

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Wednesday, February 19, 2014, Michael Dewey

D. N. F.

Frannie and I each did this puzzle separately, and we each had the same mistake - IsIS for IBIS (16A: Object of ancient Egyptian veneration). 10D: Japanese P.M. Shinzo (ABE) was no help. Tough luck.

Didn't love TEHEE (33D: Titter), and we've never heard of 18A: "Maria _____," 1941 #1 hit (ELENA), but that's about it. The theme was enjoyable, and there was some quality non-fill. DIPHTHONG (9D: "Oy" or "ow") is lovely, IMPIETY (43D: Ungodly display) is solid, and THERMOS (5D: Lunchbox accessory) takes me back, and even though we never had the game, everyone loves 34A: "Hungry hungry" game creatures (HIPPOS).

The first three theme clues were, I thought, quite good. 51A: Motivational words for a boss at layoff time? (READYAIMFIRE), didn't seem quite right. Or at least not as funny. The startling repetition of a word in the grid - SIR - is a nice addition to the military theme.

So it was a pretty good Wednesday, we were just stumped by the one square. DNF sounds so... I don't know, so bad. Let's call it a FWOE - "Finished With One Error." How's that?

- Horace

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tuesday, February 18, 2014, David Steinberg


Well, this was a tough one. Usually one of us or the other will do the Tuesday alone, but today I needed Frannie to help with the SE. I could not think of NANA (62D: "Peter Pan" dog) for the life of me, but as soon as I said to Frannie that all I could think of was "mAid," the right answer came to me. Then Frannie suggested that maybe we should look at the theme, because we didn't know 60A: *2002 Denzel Washington drama (JOHNQ). We quickly figured out the very elegant alphabetic progression, and then the answer could really only be one thing, even though neither of us remembered the movie at all.

I didn't really love the puzzle as I was solving it, but the theme is really quite beautiful, so I have to reconsider my frustration with the obscure proper names (IVOR?, SHOLOM?), the '80s feel of HAKEEM (28A: Former Rocket Olajuwon) and ORK (56A: 1970s-'80s TV planet), and the "no-E" FONDU (36A: *Dish served with long-handled forks), ENORM (12D: Huge, in poetry), XDIN (32D: Marked, as a box), MTGE (35D: Loan insured by the F. H. A.: Abbr.), and other garbage. And what the hell is SLUE (43D: Pivot on an axis)?

It's cool that the progression was done in order with only Across clues. The fill wasn't perfect, and the solve wasn't especially pleasant, but I've got to applaud the effort, and it was an unexpected challenge for a Tuesday.

- Horace

Monday, February 17, 2014

Monday, February 17, 2014, David Gray


My goodness, I almost forgot to write this one up! I did it last night, but have since moved on (I went back and did an entire week of old puzzles, including a Saturday, with Frannie, on this holiday morning.) But let's see… ahh, yes… UNCLEBUCK (17A: 1989 John Hughs movie starring John Candy). Can any puzzle referencing "Uncle Buck" be all bad? Honestly, I don't think I've ever seen it, but John Candy is enough. And if he weren't, Eric Idle would be ("Say no more").

TAKESIT (21A: Accepts punishment unflinchingly) was somewhat surprising, and it was a little weird that Leon Spinks was referenced twice (ALI (54A: Spinks foe) and LEONS (71A: Boxer Spinks and others)). Other than that, though, the downs were, on the whole, more interesting than the Acrosses (not counting theme material). I liked INCISOR (3D: Front tooth), ANKARA (8D: Turkey's capital), the full ETCETERA (9D: And so on), ALLSTARS (39D: Best of the best, sportswise), and SCOWLS (53D: Looks of displeasure), to name several. Long gone are the days when ETICKET (48D: Printout taken to the airport, maybe) could be clued with a reference to rides at Disney World, but that would have given it to me more quickly today.

I know it's Monday, but I will never stop being surprised by clues like 46A: Biblical garden (EDEN) and 69A: "Mona ____" (LISA). But it is Monday, so I can't complain. Overall, I thought this was a pretty good one.

- Horace

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunday, February 16, 2014, Yaakov Bendavid



Kind of a rough start with ADES (1A: Summer refreshers) and BIBI (5A: Israel's Netanyahu, informally), and I didn't realize that there was more than one actor in the family of ALDAS, but it perked up nicely, with the likes of MACHETE (28A: Crude coconut opener), BEDOFROSES (7D: Comfortable state), and CHIMERA (84A: Mythological monster). And the theme of changing Fs to Ds is fun. My favorite might be DISHANDCHIPS (15D: Two things seen beside James Bond at a casino?), but TWODIVESFORATEN (49A: Snorkeling bargain?) was also nice.

Things like BALDER (62D: Like Bruce Willis, in his later movie roles), JILTERS (81D: Altar no-shows), and SOLI (41D: Most arias) rub me the wrong way. The clue for the crosswordese ANIL (55A: What makes blue jeans blue), however, is interesting, and it's nice to see OTTO (39D: "The Simpsons" character with a habit of calling things "gnarly") getting into the grid.

Frannie liked it all right, and she did most of it, so let's give it a passing grade.

- Horace

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Saturday, February 15, 2014, Julian Lim


I had high hopes when I entered the first three Acrosses immediately, but the second one - "wants" - turned out to be wrong (LONGS (10A: Joneses)), and even with the other two in place, there were many, many more that took a long while. We passed the iPad back and forth between us, though, and eventually everything worked out.

SOLASTYEAR (14D: Totally out) and GRAVESTONE (13D: Where to read a plot summary) were good ones, and the top two in the NW, KAMASUTRA (1A: Position papers?) and EGOMANIAC (15A: Vanity case?) were fun, even though they were immediately obvious today, for some reason. Much of the rest either was completely unknown - LELAND (10D: Tycoon Stanford), ALANMOORE (63A: Writer of the graphic novel "Watchmen"), PENA (42A: Mexican president Enrique ____ Nieto), ERICH (31D: Longtime Cincinnati Pops conductor Kunzel), STAN (54D: "Mr. Mom" director Dragoti) (really? this is common knowledge in 2014?), NELLE (48D: Lawyer on "Ally McBeal") (again, when was that show on?..) - or kind of odd. Frannie didn't particularly love MILITARIES (27D: Engagement parties?) nor NIECE (41A: Clan female), and neither of us completely understand the clue for SWM (25A: Certain guy "ISO" someone). We get the "Single White Male" part, but what's up with that clue?

FORELIMBS (51A: Flippers, e.g.), TERRANOVA (20A: Newfoundland, in Naples and Nogales), and STBONIFACE (25D: Eighth-century Apostle of Germany) all seem kind of, I don't know… forced. Also, is Apostle always to be capitalized? KATY (36A: Steely Dan's title liar) was nice, as was KOP (36D: One of a silent force?) (Keystone Kops).

None of it was terrible, but it didn't really sing. It was, however, a good challenge, and one that we eventually finished, which is always satisfying, so I guess it satisfied at least that one important Saturday requirement (of being challenging, not necessarily finish-able). Let's say it was fine, and leave it at that.

- Horace

Friday, February 14, 2014

Friday, February 14, 2014, Bruce Haight


Well, they went ahead and had a mini theme on Friday and, being something of a romantic myself, I approve. Frannie got POPSTHEQUESTION (8D: Delivers a romantic Valentine's Day surprise, maybe) off of just a few letters, but I over-thought "36A: Phrase from Virgil appropriate for Valentine's Day," by mistakenly going to Ovid's (maybe I was thrown off by the sight of OVOID...) "If you want to be loved, be lovable" and, believe it or not, I actually tried to enter the Latin version of that quote (ut ameris amabilis esto) into the grid, despite Frannie scoffing at my vain hope for so much Latin. Luckily, it's not fifteen letters, or we would have been in big trouble! Ironically, omnia vincit amor is fifteen letters, but before I got there, the crosses gave us the English version, LOVECONQUERSALL. Whew!

This was a good fight, and Frannie and I went through various "guess stages" on a few clues, like LAKEPOET (32A: Wordsworth or Coleridge), on the way to finally hammering it out. First we had "deadPOET," then "LAtEPOET," before finally realizing that YOKELS were 24D: Sticks figures?. Tough clue, that 24D. And did you further notice that "EternalLY" fits in where ENDLESSLY (12D: Forever) ended up? And that "clapping" fits into the space where PUPPETRY (39A: Handy work in a theater?) belongs?

Frannie thought LILLIPUT (36D: Fictional island with a small population) was funny, and 31A: Standard offspring (ESSO) fooled us for a good long while. Overall, we liked most of the 9/8 stacks in the corners, and didn't have too many complaints, and now it's time to have another glass of wine, find a nice romcom on the Netflix, and settle in on the couch. Who knows, maybe we'll even put off the Saturday puzzle until Saturday morning!

- Horace

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Thursday, February 13, 2014, Daniel Landman


Funny that Sid Caesar died yesterday, and now today's puzzle is a tribute (sort of) to ITSA[MAD][MAD][MAD][MAD]WORLD (15D: 1963 movie with the tagline "Everybody who's ever been funny is in it!"). I was already pretty certain of the rebus after 25A: Sportscaster who lent his name to a popular video game series ([MAD]EN), but that movie clue sealed the deal.

We got a good start when AKIMBO (1A: One way to stand) went right in (Frannie says that word a lot, for some reason), and, as stated, the rebus came early, so it didn't really feel that tough, even though we finished in a pretty normal time for a Thursday. (Our Thursday average is actually much higher than this, but I feel it is skewed by a couple of very long puzzles. I also think we've been getting faster after a year of doing the daily NYT puzzle.)

There were a few unfamiliar names, like EDONEILL (53A: "Modern Family" actor) and TINA (51D: "Glee" girl), CLAUDIA (11D: Italian actress Cardinale), and ROCA (42A: Almond ____ (candy brand), but they were all crossed fairly. Also, I tend to think more often of Shakespearean sonnets, which end in a couplet, rather than the Italian model that ends in a SESTET. Luckily, Frannie dropped that right in.

Overall, I have a good feeling about this constructor. The simple, but elegant 43D: Balance (SCALES), for example, is a high-quality clue. I like the tone of LAME (26A: Unconvincing), and UNTURNED (57A: In situ, as stones) is a questionable word redeemed by its clue. Further, I like the erudite nature of ACADIA (7D: "Evangeline" locale), and ARIADNE (35D: Titian subject with Bacchus). Plus, he uses the proper ICEDTEA (39D: Summer drink) instead of the bastardized "ice tea."

Sure, he also uses SERE and ODER, and are MIATAS even made anymore?... but overall I think this was a quality Thursday. Now, On to the Weekend!

- Horace

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Wednesday, February 12, 2014, Peter A. Collins


This puzzle seemed a lot harder than yesterday, and I actually ended up with an incorrect letter! I had guessed bAT for CAT (28D: Bopper), and I was not familiar with the CLIC (26A: ____ Stic (retractable Bic pen). I thought I remembered a pen called simply, the Bic Clic, but not "Clic Stic." Still, I could maybe have made the leap… oh well.

Anywho, as I said, this was not in my wheelhouse. SHARPEI (13A: Wrinkly-skinned dog) did not come without a fight, and almost every cross. Ditto for MALACHI (49A: Last book of the Old Testament) (Once Exodus was too short, I was out of ideas.) And that middle section, with SNELL (23A: Matt who scored the only Jets touchdown in Super Bowl history) (Wasn't that in 1969?) on top of TOTIE (27A: Comic Fields who was an Ed Sullivan regular) (Wha?)!

Much of the long fill (mostly vertical, except for the theme answers) was pretty good. STRIKEZONES (23D: They vary according to batters' heights) was nice, and I panicked for a minute when I had _K_Z_ in the middle. NIHILIST (7D: Believer that life is meaningless) is decent, as is HIGHNOON (6D: 1952 Gary Cooper classic), although the former came much more quickly than the latter.

I have a couple semantic problems, though. ADIEUX (39D: They're said at the end of a soirée) would never be said at the end of a soirée, except, possibly, facetiously. Adieu is similar to "farewell," and is reserved for serious leave-taking. When you don't expect to see the other person for a long time, or ever again. It is, literally, "to god," and the French people I know don't throw it around casually.

The other problem is INCISIVE (12D: Clear and direct, as reporting). I want the clue to have more of the "cutting" aspect that comes with the word incisive. "Clear and direct" just doesn't seem right to me. Maybe it is, though. I'm not so sure about this one, but I'd have preferred the clue to include "Probing" or "penetrating."

Finally, the theme - three phrases of three words each, with every word starting with the letter T - would be decent enough on its own, I guess, but it's added to considerably by the three giant Ts in the grid. The odd construction and side-to-side symmetry must have added to the difficulty in filling this, and in light of that, I think that the result is actually pretty good. I give it a thumbs up.

- Horace

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tuesday, February 11, 2014, Matthew E. Paronto and Jeff Chen


Let's see, what should we call this type of theme? A "word set?" I don't know. Anyway, it's the kind where either the first words or the last words of the theme answers are all related somehow. This time, the last words are all related to laundry. Fine. No help while solving, but somewhat interesting to notice at the end.

I actually wondered to myself whether Will Shortz was atoning for recently allowing "dolce" to mean "softly in music" in a previous puzzle with 15A: Piano, on a music score (SOFT). Heh. Maybe. Hopefully.

Nice clue for JAIL (31A: Monopoly square between Connecticut Avenue and St. Charles Place), and USAFB (41A: Edwards or Andrews: Abbr.) took a while to come into focus, even with the "abbr." in the clue. HERESY (63A: Reason for an inquisition) and its clue bring to mind Monty Python, which is nice.

Some nice stuff in the Downs, too, with IMPALES (1D: Stabs), AVENGE (20D: Take an eye for an eye for), HAIRS (25D: Unpleasant discoveries in soup) (gross!), JOINT (31D: 31-Across, slangily) (another ok referential clue), and BADEGGS (44D: No-goodniks). But even with all that, I still found myself groaning at things like ETA, OPIE, TAI, ULNA, URN, YAO, ELI, STS, and NEH (yikes). Overall, decent enough, I guess. Lots of good words, lots of standard fare.

- Horace

Monday, February 10, 2014

Monday, February 10, 2014, C. W. Stewart


An enjoyable Monday puzzle, with a nice clean theme. RECCENTER (62A: Gym locale … or feature of 17-, 24-, 38-, and 50-Across) reveals that "REC" is to be found in the exact middle of all the theme answers. And they're all perfectly normal things, which is good. 

The non-theme has some highlights, too, such as SOUSCHEF (10D: Second-in-command in a kitchen) (and no, it's not perfect that "SOU" is also in the grid, but, well...), ADORABLE (39D: So darned cute), SNARK (26D: Cattiness), and SKEET (55D: Sport with clay pigeons). I don't know why they de-pluralized "25D: Hyundai and Kia" for AUTOS, when it didn't seem necessary. All they had to do was change the "or" in 4D: Like Hyundais or Kias (KOREAN) to an "and." Well, now that I think of it, "'Like' Hyundais and Kias" wouldn't really be "autos," it would be "like autos," which wouldn't be right. OK, forget all that. It's a nice pair of clues.

I found the cross-referenced clues less offensive today, too, because the first pair actually crossed one another (LENDA (33D: With 42-Across [HAND], help out)), and the second two were on the same line/row - ALEUT (57A: Native of 58-Across) and ALASKA (58A: The Last Frontier state). 

In short, it delivered as much as I ever ask of a Monday.

- Horace

p.s. The one-A spelling of ARON caught me by surprise, as I didn't remember it that way, and the Crossword Fiend blog (sidebar) links to a Wikipedia citation arguing that there is some debate, but that Elvis himself, as an adult, preferred the two-A spelling. It also appears with two As on his tombstone. I think that's probably enough reason to try to think of another clue for that in the future.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sunday, February 9, 2014, Charles M. Deber



I was briefly thrown off the scent in this one because I thought to myself, "No, Sgt. Pepper's came out in 1967, so this must be about something other than that." Well, it was, but then again, it wasn't so very different after all.

Since I run through the Across clues first, the first indication I had was ITBE (42A: "Let ____"), which was enough to get me back onto the Beatles idea. By the time I got to 70A: Much of the audience for 6-Down's show on 2/9/64 (TEENAGERS), I had enough crosses running through 6-Down to see exactly what was going on. The only tricky part left was filling in the circles. "John, Paul, George, and Ringo" was too short… Frannie quickly realized that it was to be the full names. And it's a nice touch that John Lennon and George Harrison are wrapped around a cross.

Some of the non-theme material amused us quite a bit today, but perhaps only because we are maybe thinking a little too much about crosswords these days. Just last night we were joking about fill like "Am too" and "Are not," so when I came to 4D: Schoolyard rejoinder (ISTOO), there was much rejoicing. Further, while watching the Olympics, we were discussing the Cyrillic alphabet and the Roman alphabet, and how we use the Roman alphabet, but Arabic numerals, and Frannie said that was because Roman numerals were terrible for math. We agreed, however, that they were great for crosswords. And then right after "ISTOO" we got LII (5D: Card count in Ceasar's Palace?)! It's a nice clue, but really, they probably didn't have to capitalize "palace." It was deliberately misleading, I know, but it doesn't seem quite fair. And speaking of capitals, shouldn't the "count" in 21A: Jazz count (BASIE) be capitalized? I know it wasn't his actual name, but still… Another one that seemed a little off just to be more cutesy was 80D: Apes (IMITATORS) (following 79D: Apes (OAFS)). Shouldn't that second one have been either "apers" or "imitates?" I guess you could call an "aper" an "ape," but… well… ok, whatever.

We enjoyed the unusualness of USUAL (27A: Bar order, with "the"). And speaking of unusual, you don't hear LOLLOP (32A: Move in an ungainly way), or THITHER (22A: In that direction) very much. Or VAS (43A: ____ deferens), for that matter. Ahem!

Frannie liked ACUTE (48A: Less than right), and NUISANCE (63A: Detour, e.g.). And she got ETATS (69A: Plural French word that spells its singular English form in reverse) off of just _TA_ _. I thought 107A: Queen who fell for Zeus' swan song? (LEDA) was a good one.

Overall, it was a pretty good Sunday. I mean, who doesn't like The Beatles, right?

- Horace

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Saturday, February 8, 2014, Doug Peterson and Brad Wilber


A challenging Saturday, just the way we like them. In the end, we guessed right on the W in PEGWOOD (7D: Watchmaker's cleaning tool) and WIE (21A: Youngest player to qualify for an L.P.G.A. Tour event) but, having entered hOWL for YOWL (25D: Protest vehemently), and not being familiar with YMHA (25A: Jewish community org.) (It makes sense now - it might be "Young Mens Hebrew Association"), we finished with an error after all. I guess that's a DNF, but it feels different to me than when you finish with actual gaps that you just don't know. I mean, we were able to fix it right away, and maybe, just maybe, if I weren't so quick to hit the "check" button, it's possible that we could have noticed it. But enough about that. It's not important.

We started very slowly in this one, just getting a few gimmies like BISHOP (34A: Piece in a fianchetto opening) :) , ITS (42D: "____ alive!"), and ISNT (22A: Ain't fixed?) (we've seen this a few times, now), but not much else. Frannie finally broke through in the SE, and we worked clockwise from there.

After finishing the NW, we had a hard time understanding ACH (15A: Dieter's beef?) (I had tried "soy" in here at first), until I suggested that maybe "Diet" is a town in Germany, and Frannie went a step farther and realized that it's a German name! ("Now's the time on Sprokets when we dance!") Very nice clue!

Kind of cute that 43A: "Check it out!," in Chihuahua (MIRA) follows 39A: Play with someone else's toy? (DOGSIT). They were giving us a clue, but we didn't realize it! 24A: Lock combinations? (DOS) (hairdos) was another tough one. And what about GOKAPUT (40D: Quit working)? That's some crazy fill right there.

The dreaded "one" makes an appearance in FLIPONESLID (4A: Snap), and I'm actually pretty happy that we didn't get JUKEBOXHERO (16A: Foreigner hit in the musical film "Rock of Ages") (boy I hated that band) until almost the very end.

As I said, we love a challenge on Saturday, and even with the error, we enjoyed the struggle. It's just what a Saturday should be.

- Horace

Friday, February 7, 2014

Friday, February 7, 2014, Ned White


I call this one the "ugly American" puzzle. The grid kind of looks like a hamburger in a bun, and you've got USAUSAUSA (34A: Patriotic chant) right through the middle, with GIMMEGIMMEGIMME (14A: 1979 Abba single) and DOOBEDOOBEDOO (12A: Bit of nonsense famously replacing "strangers in the night") up top. That last, by the way, I do not love. I don't think I've ever seen it spelled that way.

DOUBLEBOGEYED (61A: Got a +2 on) (all I could think of was Google+ !?) had a nice clue, and UNTROD (41D: Not printed up?) was tricky. ARCTURUS (39A: Fourth-brightest star in the sky) made me do a little research. Here are some things that you might find interesting: The three brighter stars are Sirius, Canopus, and Alpha Centauri; "Arcturus" means "guardian of the bear" in Greek, which is in reference to its proximity to Ursa Major and Ursa Minor; It might be a binary star; and, it's light was used to start the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. Several observatories focussed the star's light onto photovoltaic cells, and the resultant electricity was sent to Chicago, where it automatically activated all the other, regular lights. The idea for this arose because it was thought that the light from Arcturus reaching Earth in 1933 had left Arcturus at the time of the previous Chicago World's Fair, in 1893. (Recent research thinks it would have been 1896, but hey, they were close!) And lastly, if solar energy (and, indeed, stellar energy) has been around that long, why isn't it more prevalent today?!

Interesting, too, about POMPANO (1D: Florida food fish). I am marginally familiar with a Pompano region in Florida, but I didn't know it was named for a fish. Other unknowns were SEGO (4D: One of Utah's state symbols) (a flower, apparently), OMERTA (13D: Code broken by some singers) (it's a mafia code of silence) (... and what if I did know? I ain't sayin' nothin'!), and I'm not terribly familiar with VIRAGOS (38D: Witchy women), thankfully.

Frannie liked EHLE (53D: Actress Jennifer of "Pride and Prejudice") (lots of J.A. this week!), and EBERT (3D: "Your Movie Sucks" author) and CSI (18A: Show with an early episode titled "Crate 'n Burial") had amusing clues, but there was a bit too much MDI, UEY, OER, OSE,... and it seemed too easy for a Friday. It wasn't terrible, but today was no yesterday.

- Horace

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Thursday, February 6, 2014, Joe Krozel


This puzzle was a breath of fresh air! It starts with a BANG (1A: Report of a shooting) (great clue) and doesn't disappoint. We don't mind so much the necessities of an occasional ORA (51D: "... ____ close second"), DROME (30A: Aero- completer), or OHME (36D: "Alas!") when the payoff is this good. WASSOBBY (18A: *Blubbered?) for wasabi!?! PSEUDOCOUP (35A: *Imaginary overthrow of the government?) for sudoku!? They're all brilliantly hilarious. I wish I had come up with something this absurd and fabulous.

The non-theme stuff is good today, too. Witness PHARAOHS (35D: Exodus figures) (there was more than one in Exodus?), MOMANDPOP (34D: Kind of shop), PLATEAU (41D: Level off) (nice clue), and the always Star Wars-y-even-if-it's-not-clued-that-way ITSATRAP (11D: Warning to the unwary). Heck, I don't even mind ENTHUSE (58A: Motivate), IMTHERE (21A: "Wouldn't miss it!"), or ARTIER (8A: Affected to a greater extent), because all are things I've heard people say. And I guess you can add to that list REORG, but I don't like that as much.

Nice tribute to CHRISTA (39D: Teacher/astronaut McAuliffe), and I love El Greco, so it was nice to have TOLEDO (24A: Home of El Greco) (adopted home, that is) in there. Also liked the advanced French of ALAMORT (2D: Gravely ill: Fr.), although some solvers might not.

In short, we loved it.

- Horace

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wednesday, February 5, 2014, Tracy Gray


Before all of you all get all up in arms about 17 minutes for a Wednesday, let me point out that it is Frannie's time, not Horace's. I can never get myself to hurry.

Now, on to the show. I thought the puzzle was quite sound. A Quiet Riot, if you will, filled with NOISE starting in the top left corner with ECLAT (14A. Dazzling success)  and finishing in the bottom right corner with YIPS (57D. Puppy sounds), with quite a bit of racket in between including BOOMs, Oom-PAHS, OLEs and KEYS.

Generally speaking, the answers appealed to me more than the clues. For example, 16A. RUBE (Con artist's mark), 33A. CREASE (Lacrosse goalie's area), and 49D. SKEWER (Shish kebab need). Other nice words include JEST (36A. Do some leg-pulling) and LARK (54A. Bit of harmless mischief). And you don't see PRATE every day (65A. Yak, yak, yak), although, I must say that one experiences it with some frequency. On a personal note, the puzzle includes several words that have featured prominently in my current romantic relationship. So, a thumbs up for that. :)

I also enjoyed the theme. SHREDDED is a cute way to describe the anagramization of  WHEAT (37A. Breakfast cereal ... or a hint to what's found in the answers to the four starred clues?)

Less popular with me today: REHABS (1D. Fixes up, as a fixer-upper). Does anyone actually say rehabs as a verb for domicile renovations? I thought, as I typed it in, this is so New York.34D. Add __ of salt (ADASH) - lame. 59D. Cinch __ (trash bag brand) no matter how you spell it, SAK is unappealing.

As I typed in TASSE (53D. Cafe au lait holder), I thought, Huyguens isn't going to like this! However, I hope he was cheered by 46A. Puts up (ERECTS).

So, come on feel, the noise, at least until the Librarians come along and SHHHH us.

~ Frannie

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Tuesday, February 4, 2014, David Steinberg


The theme of this puzzle seems to be the letter J. So many Js… It's probably really authors who are known by their first two initials, the first (at least) of which is J.

I don't know what to make of this. In a way, things like OOOH (10D: "I'm intrigued") and OOOLA (12D: Alley Oop's girl) just look so wrong, but in another way, they look kind of cool up there in the NE, being crossed by the equally odd-looking SODOI (15A: "Same with me").

MAHALO (21A: "Thank you," in Hawaii) is a nice word, as is HANKER (43A: Itch (for)), and ACHOO (32D: They often elicit blessings) was kind of funny, but on the whole, the puzzle might have had too much ANON, ILIE, JAI, CROCI, ARB, ARCOERS

Lastly, I've never seen the HAJJ variant of 1D: Muslim's trek. I usually see "hadj," but I really only knew that through Scrabble, and I see now that that is listed as a variant of the double-J version, sooo… my mistake.

Let's call it a wash. Interesting, but not great.

- Horace

Monday, February 3, 2014

Monday, February 3, 2014, Sean Dobbin


An inoffensive Monday puzzle. I appreciate the "keep it simple" theme and the elegant, central revealer (CANDY (33D: Checkout counter staple … or, when read as three words, what 20-, 31-, 47-, and 55- Across have in common)) that connects two of the theme answers.

19A: Mechanical man (ROBOT) is a nice clue, and I like the echo of the Sunday puzzle in 3D: "Double, double, ____ and trouble" (TOIL). I also like how that clue is symmetrical with 58D: Shakespearean king (LEAR). Nice little detail, there. And one more little detail that I like is the clue for PIA. Mr. Dobbin could have just gone with a simple "____ Zadora," and anyone who has ever done a crossword would have gotten it immediately, but he adds a somewhat ridiculous detail, and instead gives "40D: Zadora of "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians." We still get it immediately, but it's more fun this way.

There's not a whole lot more to call out, but that includes both good and bad details. In short, it's a solid Monday offering.

- Horace

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sunday, February 2, 2014, Dick Shlakman and Jeff Chen



Nice Macbeth theme, but we technically DNF'd on the O in HOREB (1D: Biblical peak) and OLINS (16A: Actors Ken and Lena). I guess that's what we get for being neither aware of minute details in the Bible nor up on whatever films or shows those two people are in.

I wonder if there is any connection between the direction HAWS (1A: Turns left), and YEE (81D: Cry before "haw")? (Yes.) And oh look, OLEIC 54A: ____ acid makes another appearance this week! Oh joy. And I tried to put in "FELICIty" for 76A: Girl's name meaning "happiness." I've never heard of anyone named FELICIA. (Phylicia Rashad doesn't count.)

UNUM (12A: One for the money?) was a clever clue, 94A: Second place? (TENS) is beautiful, and 49D: Army threats? (OCTOPI) is cute. WRITHE (77A: Squirm) is a good word. IONESKYE (80A: John Cusack's co-star in "Say Anything…" is good, weird-looking fill.

Interesting trivia about DURANDURAN (26A: Popular British band named after the villain in "Barbarella"). (It was Dr. Durand Durand in the movie.) And I love the oh-so-minimal nod to the Superbowl with TDS (62A: Super Bowl successes, for short).

Some good, some blah, a good theme… ok, it was fine. Now, on to the pregame!

- Horace

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Saturday, February 1, 2014, Will Nediger


Never really felt comfortable in this one, but still it flew by. Took an educated guess on 1A: Her 1994 memoir has the chapter "Desert Storm" (BARBARABUSH), Frannie pulled ERICAKANE (30D: TV antiheroine for 41 years) out of the (BROADCAST) air (waves), and I remembered the name ERIKSATIE (13D: Composer of several "Gnossiennes") with a few crosses, and with that kind of long fill in place, things just started to fall.

The SE corner was a total crapshoot. ESTES (45D: Business fraudster Billie Sol ____) (never seen anything other than ____ Kefauver, or ____ Park, CO), WAYNE (46D: General who won 1794's Battle of Fallen Timbers) (?), and MEW (44A: Persian language unit?) (??) - those are all pretty tough. And nevermind the questionable MISDO (44D: Screw up)…

The cluing overall seemed more obscure/esoteric than tricky/clever, and that doesn't really make for the most pleasurable solving experience. KOLN (48D: Severinsbrüke's city), AVI (5D: Prefix with culture), AQABA (2D: Great Rift Valley port), and EMILNOLDE (36A: Member of the German Expressionist group Die Brüke) (two umlauts in one puzzle!), are all fine, but not really exciting. Add to that the BEFOGs, the MISDOs, and OBES, and, well, … meh.

On the bright side, we enjoy the mention of Lewis CARROLL (33A: He wrote of a "vorpal blade"), KITES (38A: Sky boxes?) was nice, and any Simpsons reference is ok with us - MOE (26D: Dispenser of Duff Beer). The last box we filled in was the X of EXMET (40A: Strawberry, for one), because Frannie had figured out FLEXTIMER (32D: One whose shifts shift), after which, we had what we now refer to as a "Kitwo moment." This refers to an event that happened recently when we solved a puzzle with Colum Amory. The clue was "Peak on the Pakistani-Chinese border" and the answer turned out to be KTWO. The three of us spent a few moments saying "Kitwo?" out loud to one another, until Colum, I think, finally said "K-2!" That's what happened today, but for a briefer moment. Frannie and I said to one another "Exmet?" until one of us finally said "Ohh… ex-Met!" Ahh… puzzles. Or is that Aah… puzzles… HAH!

OK, that's all for today.

- Horace