Monday, June 30, 2014

Monday, June 30, 2014, Ed Sessa


Boy, I loved this puzzle. Thick, interesting corners, and a nicely done progression of "FL" followed by the five vowel sounds in order.

The puzzle started very quickly. I don't think I hit anything that I didn't fill in immediately until I was past TSETSEFLY (39A: Insect that causes sleeping sickness), but I was already loving it. EMBALMS (1D: Mummifies, e.g.), AMBIENT (3D: Surrounding, as sound), THRILLA (11D: ____ in Manilla (Ali/Frazier fight) (excellent), and SPANISHFLEA (25A: Theme music for TV's "The Dating Game") (I didn't know this previously, but it's perfect!) were all great. Also in the "didn't know, but hilarious" category was YUPPIEFLU (66A: Dismissive term for chronic fatigue syndrome).

OK, so it starts with the very crosswordsy ELAL, and there's more where that came from (SSTS, DELE, SOI, DSL, ISP, etc.), but there was plenty to offset it. Even the very odd YEST (18D: Tues. vis-à-vis Wed.) doesn't bother me. It's got a funny-ish clue, and like I said, there's more good than bad.

We've seen Ed Sessa's name a lot, but I never really have a good handle on him. I just searched his name on this blog, and we (and Colum) have reviewed nine of his puzzles, from every day of the week except Sunday, and I see that we've liked far more of them than we've disliked, and many we've liked quite a bit. I'm already looking forward to the next one.

- Horace

p.s. Is it a problem that he clued two words that basically mean the same thing with the same clue?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sunday, June 29, 2014, Byron Walden



It was no surprise, given the title, that some of the Down answers would involve a 90-degree turn to the right at the end. What was a surprise, sort of, was that some (CHRISTMASIN/DIXIE (50D: 1982 holiday country hit by Alabama)) would end at a black square, and some (CHIVALRYISD/EAD (8D: Lament about modern men)) would not. Also, there were some long downs (SPIKEDACES (17D: Ray-finned fishes of the Southwest U.S.) that did not involve any right-hand extension at all. Perhaps this was all part of the "tricky!"-ness of the puzzle.

Lots of stuff I didn't love - SORB (79D: Collect on the surface, in chemistry), COXING (98D: Directing a shell) (ok, maybe rowers say that, I don't know. Chemists probably say "sorb," too. I don't.) UPTIME (9D: When computers work), CANONI/ND (13D: Pachelbel classic, familiarly) ("familiarly," it's just "Pachelbel's Canon."), EMU (42A: Lean meat source)… ok, I suppose rowing chemists eat emu, too…

I think "12A: Map feature" is a weak clue for SCALE. It's like "Shirt feature" for "sleeve," or "house feature" for "front door." And Frannie argues that a MOLD is not a 68: Jell-O maker. It's a Jell-O shaper, sure, but maker? Howzabout "Form of Jell-O" instead?

The big question I had was how ELCID's NAME (108D: Spanish hero whose 113-Down is represented enigmatically six times in this puzzle) was represented enigmatically. I had to look to the Crossword Fiend to realize that all the themers started with C.I.D., and turned to make an El. So there you go.

Sorry to be all BICKER and BILE, but if you were to guess that I didn't enjoy this one, I'd have to say, YESINDEED/BRA!

- Horace

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Saturday, June 28, 2014, Josh Knapp


A fun Saturday puzzle that fell almost too squarely into my wheelhouse. APRICOTJAM (1A: Tangy fruit pastry filling) went in immediately, perhaps because we had so many such pastries in France not long ago. And AZERBAIJAN (17A: Georgia's neighbor) came immediately to mind as well, not because we have been there, but because I have finally learned to think outside the U.S. when I see a state-like clue in a late-week grid. ("Minnesota neighbor," for example, is much more likely to be "ONT" than "WIS" on a Saturday. It took me a while, but I'm there now.) Anyway, things just kept falling. PRIAM (41A: Father of Paris), DOGE (46A: Ruler with a palace near St. Mark's), TORREY (47A: San Diego's _____ Pines, site of the 2008 U.S. Open)… all went in without hesitation. Even GUITARSOLO (15A: There might be one after a bridge) (considered "last chorus" for a bit), TEE (44A: With 51-Across, end of the London blitz?) and ZED (51A) didn't take too long to see through. And haven't we seen KAFKAESQUE (60A: Bizarre and alienating) somewhat recently?

I was dialed in. Perhaps the one downside was that it was over so quickly. There was no time for TEAMWORK (40D: Company asset). But still I enjoyed it. XRAYVISION (12D: Superpower) was good, MEOW (56A: Cry over spilled milk?) was cute, and NOME (20A: City whose name is pronounced like the natives' word for "Where is …?") was interesting to learn. I wondered briefly if there were a "Dové, Italy,"  (probably not) or an "Ouay, France" (possibly).

The hardest thing for me to see today, and the last thing completed, was BADSANTA (27A: 2003 Billy Bob Thornton crime film). That's a tricky clue for a hilarious movie.

Lastly, the upside of this being so easy was that we were then able to go back and complete the Saturday that we missed while we were away (6/14). I liked this one, but that one was even better! I'm going back to see what Colum had to say about it now.

- Horace

Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday, June 27, 2014, Peter A. Collins


Saved from a DNF by Frannie realizing that GIMEL was more likely than "gimol" for 25A: Dreidel letter, since I had guessed "Ugarto" for 8D: "Casablanca" crook" (UGARTE). (My mistake there should amuse ET59, assuming he still checks in from time to time.) And speaking of GIMEL, the first letter was tricky too, as it took a while to remember GTE (25D: Bygone telecom).

So anyway... overall, this was another mixed bag, we thought. I liked the 15s. DOUBLEENTENDRES (33A: Much of Mae West's wit) was good, and HOTASBLUEBLAZES (47A: Sizzling) is funny, but the many abbreviations (GTE, TPKE, DRS, PNC, SSGT, ALTINT, RTS, PSAT) got a little tiresome. Never heard of RENI (12D: "Crucifixion of St. Peter" painter) or ELORO (24D: Ecuadorean province named for its gold production) (but this, of course, was inferable), or ELY (31D: City on the Ouse), but then, STRIKEZONE (27D: What half of a battery is next to) (somewhat tortured clue), OLMEC (46D: Like some ancient Mexicans) (thinking of Burns's gift of an Olmec Head to the Simpsons always makes me smile), IMBUES (41D: Suffuses), and TASTY (30D: Easily taken in?) were all quite nice. Frannie enjoyed MENDEL (9D: Pea-brained researcher?), and I enjoyed the simple reduction of "54A: Ferrari or Lamborghini" to IMPORT.

I guess there's good fill in here, but it didn't feel all that great while we were solving it. Maybe it was stuff like CLOPPED (16D: Hoofed it?) (ok, ok, that's kind of funny), and partials like ITHAS and ASAN. How 'bout a thumb just slightly up above halfway?

What did you think?

- Horace

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Thursday, June 26, 2014, Pawel Fludzinski


Frannie did the bulk of the early work on this one, and she was not happy with the theme. She didn't like that there was no reason for the answer to be INBED (40A: How breakfast may be served … or how the answers to the eight starred clues should be entered?). Is there something we're missing, or is that it? I mean, I guess I find it mildly more interesting than Frannie does, but still, it just seems so arbitrary.

We were also a bit puzzled by some of the other fill, like AHEM (6D: Kiss interrupter, maybe). Whaa?  ALERTER (27A: Tornado siren, e.g.) Okaaaayyyy…. And OATSEED. Isn't that usually just called "oat?"

On the other hand, I loved 52A: Eight bells, maybe (NOON) - any reference to that method of telling time is A-OK with me - and the word 22A: Hillock (RISE) is always welcome as well. There are some nice full names - YOKOONO & EDMEESE, and I also like both 60A: Heretofore, and its answer ERENOW. Sue me. 21D: Group beaten in a battle of the bands? (DRUMSET) was good, too. It reminded me of the Dennis Miller bit on the SNL news when he was supposedly announcing the top ten bands. Number one was "Better than Ezra" and number two was, of course, "Ezra." HA!

AURICLE and AUREOLE were a nice pair, and 48D: One, for one (BILL) was a good clue. But there were a lot of obscure names (LALO, EDEL, RAMONA, and others), and the theme was odd. To be fair, I liked it more the more I reviewed it, but I'm still not 100% sold. Let's call it a mixed bag.

- Horace

p.s. I forgot to mention ROUNDER (29D: Habitual drunkard). I know this only through Doc Watson, and his singing of old bluegrass songs. The epithet is frequently used, and I guess I just thought it meant "scoundrel" or "no good person," but it's helpful to have the term defined a bit more accurately through crosswords. Another check in the "plus" column!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Wednesday, June 25, 2014, Patrick Merrell


Maybe it was partly that I was solving on my own couch, with a coffee from my own espresso machine, but I liked this Wednesday offering. It was trickier than I expected it to be, and clues like 1A: Breather (LUNG), 7D: Round one (FATSO), 17A: Where there's smoke (FLUE) (excellent), and 68A: Drop when one is down (TEAR) took a little longer than others like ESTEE and IPOS, both quite familiar to any regular solver.

I enjoyed the punny theme, and three fifteens running across the grid, while not a ton of theme, seems elegant enough. They're not terribly hilarious, and the first one doesn't even really make sense, but they get better as they go along.

There were a lot of good, longer down answers today, too. GREEKMYTH (4D: Story set on Mount Olympus), SLAPSTICK (38D: Buster Keaton genre), THEDUDE (26D: Nickname for filmdom's Lebowski), and OBSCENE (22D: Censorship-worthy) among them. I also liked the "trivia fill:" KNOX (69A: The "K" in James K. Polk), LUNA (65A: Lime green 25-Across (MOTH)), and the very interesting DEER (12D: Traditional meat in a humble pie). Who knew it was a real thing?

Lastly, I very much enjoyed ISSUE (51D: People output), because I first thought of it as "output from people," i.e. "offspring," sometimes called "issue," but then I realized it was probably trying to use a hidden capital for the magazine. Either way, though, it works!

A fine Wednesday.

- Horace

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tuesday, June 24, 2014, Heather Valadez


Hmm... I see now that there is a math theme in the circles. Huh. Not terribly exciting, and I only noticed it now because I am writing the review and saw the circles. Perhaps the practical non-existence of the theme allowed for a smoother puzzle, I don't know, but this one felt pretty good while it was being solved. At the end I just could not see what could happen with AE_OE! Frannie, however, saw it right away (AEPOE (15A: Author of Gothic short stories, in short)). The other square that was problematic, and which ended up being an educated (by vague memory of puzzles past) guess was the N in SANA (44A: Yemen's capital) and KENAI (38D: Alaskan peninsula). That was a toughie!

Nothing terribly exciting in the grid, but it's always nice to see our old friend EEYORE (61A: Mopey donkey of children's literature), and EURO (58A: Coin whose front varies by country) was nicely appropriate. (We fly home today, so these references should slowly fade out.) BESTOW is a nice word, as is GRIFT, and I like seeing 52D: Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse ____ (TYSON), in the grid, 'though it reminds us that we missed the last episode of the new "Cosmos." Oh well, something to look forward to upon our return.

Speaking of which, I've got to go pack! See you back stateside tomorrow.

- Horace

Monday, June 23, 2014

Monday, June 23, 2014, Brendan Emmett Quigley


It was something of a relief to see Mr. Quigley's name on a Monday, for a change. Some of you may remember us writing that his puzzle in the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament was particularly brutal, and ever since then, when I see him late in the week I am struck with a twinge of panic. Today, however, his very sharp edge was sheathed, and only the very interesting handle was visible. (OK, that metaphor was a bit odd, but I think you get the idea...)

The theme answers running up and down the grid like a yoyo (very nicely done) are all lovely, and when YOYOTRICKS (26D: What 5-, 7-, 10- and 15-Down all are) is highlighted, the grid is filled with the color of theme. And even with all that, the rest of the fill is quite good. EGYPTIAN (24A: Cairo native) is especially nice. There's some of the usual stuff like LOO, MAS, AMO, ASSN, etc, but it didn't bother me today. I'm calling it a good Monday.

- Horace

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sunday, June 22, 2014, Elizabeth C. Gorski



One of the first things I put in today was NORELATION (28A: Tyler Perry, to Katy Perry, e.g.), without any crosses. I wasn't sure about it, but I really hoped it was true, and it put me in a really good mood right off the bat. I filled in a fair amount on the first pass, as is often the case on a Sunday, but I got none of the theme answers. It was Frannie who figured out the C/I thing (we don't have the option of entering a ¢ sign in our older version of the NYX app (we greatly disliked the update so we switched back), and we spent a little time trying a [CI] rebus, then taking it out, then putting in all Cs, before we realized that the real problem was that I had entered "itty" instead of ITSY (112D: Wee, informally), and never noticed the error. I guess we filled in the rest of NAPES (121A: Scruffs) (nice) with the downs. In the end, the Cs worked just fine. Lastly, about the theme, I like how the first one, 23A: 2014, for Doublemint gum, doubles up on the "cent" theme with CENTENNIAL.

A lot of the clues made me smile, like the classic 66D: Shampoo instruction (REPEAT) and 85D: Times table? (MASTHEAD), and I like how SHIES is almost an antonym to the normal definition of 69D: Starts. If I weren't headed out to a garden party in a suburb of Utrecht in a few minutes, I might take some time to think of other words that can be antonyms of themselves. In fact, maybe it would be good garden party fodder. These Dutch almost speak English better than we do, maybe they'd like such a word game. We'll see!

Didn't love TSLOT and APISH right up in the NW, but I like the double "craving" clues (JONES (better) and NEED), and the French clues (SANS, AME), and overall, we both liked the puzzle.

- Horace

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Saturday, June 21, 2014, Brad Wilber and Byron Walden


Quite an enjoyable Saturday puzzle. I got very little on my first pass - I remember KAYAK (27A: Travelocity competitor), ANTHRACITE (28D: Stone coal), and TAUTEST (58A: Furthest stretched) going in right away. I considered TOLEDAN (34A: El Greco, after age 36), but didn't like it well enough to enter it until I was forced to. I also hobbled Frannie with such errors as "foreigners" for OUTLANDERS (4D: Xenophobe's bane), "Titan" for DIONE (44A: Moon of Saturn), and "prime" for CPLUS (18D: 79, say) (very nice). But she was unfazed. When I got it back, all of the bottom was done, and there was a lot to grab onto up top. Ahem.

Lot's of great, tricky cluing. 9D: One given to brooding (HEN), 13D: Spots likely to smear (ATTACKADS), 17A: Edible in a cone (PINENUT), and 33D: Dennis in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," e.g. (SERF), to name but four.

Two interesting new facts in the NW today, the first of which (the less interesting) being that TADLINCOLN was the 18A: Onetime White House resident with a cleft palate. The second, that Sam SNEAD was the 21A: Only man ever to win an L.P.G.A. Tour Tournament (1962). I read that he also entered the tournament in 1961, but lost to Louise Suggs. I thought that maybe he was also the only man to have lost an L.P.G.A. tournament, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Other men were, apparently, entered in the 1961 tournament. Very interesting. Oh, and I didn't know CHEROOT (15A: Cigar with clipped ends) either, but that's the least interesting of the three.

Loved CABOOSE (1A: Keister) starting things off (although it was almost the last thing entered), and overall, there was little to dislike.

A fine Saturday.

- Horace

p.s. I almost forgot to mention that we were driving along the banks of the ISERE just the other day!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Friday, June 20, 2014, Martin Ashwood-Smith


Another double quad-stack from Mr. Ashwood-Smith. I suppose it's good to be known for something, but there's also such a thing as over-doing it, isn't there?

The top quadstack was done in less than ten minutes, as we guessed 1A without crosses and got the others very easily, but two "one's" answers in the first four? That's at least one too many. And crossing the quad we have such gems as LETTS (2D: "August Osage County" playwright Tracy) (?), ROMS, OREO, THEE, OLIOS (plural, no less), and THES. Hmph.

After that, things slowed down considerably. It coincided nicely with our drive from Lille to Utrecht, which ground to a complete halt several times, starting around Antwerp, and continuing, for no visible reason, all the way to our destination. When I come to a complete stop on a highway for more than five minutes, I want to see multiple cars on fire or mangled beyond recognition, but these traffic jams had no visible cause. Most frustrating.

But I digress. Let's get back to the frustrating puzzle, shall we? I've taken a lot of Latin recently, and I've heard all about the Battle of Actium and the year of the four emperors, but I don't ever remember hearing the name CASCA (41D: First stabber of Caesar). I was also not familiar with the song "Janie's Got a Gun," (ok, it sounds a little familiar now...) nor did we watch "The West Wing," so that J was not going to come.

The lower quadstack had WISDOMOFSOLOMON (52A: Keen insight, with "the") and ASCENTOFEVEREST (53A: Peak performance in 1953) (Best clue, maybe, but we knew right away what it was about, even though we didn't get the wording immediately), which were both good, but the other two just seemed kind of blah, and again we get lovely crosses like OWAR, STAFFA, and ADOSE.

I don't know, maybe it was the bad day of driving, but this just wasn't to our liking.

- Horace

Thursday, June 19, 2014, Timothy Polin


I feared that this might happen, that we'd fall behind by a day while we were away, and now it has. And we don't even have a note from the doctor! All we have is a note from the bartender, and that note says, "The beer in Flanders is probably twice as strong as the beer we're used to back home." Delicious, but deleterious.

In the end, though, I guess it couldn't have happened on a better day. The question mark in the black squares of this 15x16 grid fairly called out for a further mystery, didn't it? I mean, TWENTYQUESTIONS (17A: Classic 1940s-'50s quiz show) is ok, but it's kind of a light Thursday theme.

That minor complaint leveled, however, this had some very nice long answers running through it. CONTORTIONIST (4D: Twister) (excellent clue), THINASARAIL (28D: Superskinny), GRANDPARENTS (23D: What were Russell and Anna Huxtable on "The Cosby Show"?), SPITANDPOLISH (10D: Fastidiousness) (hmmm...), ELEPHANTS (3D: What do mahouts ride?), and EROTICART (11D: Kama Sutra illustrations, e.g.) are all excellent. The fifteens running across were also good, as were ENTICINGLY (35A: A la a siren), RESOUNDED (38A: Thundered), KITTIES (57A: Pots), and more. In short, we thought the puzzle was packed with great long fill.

The flip side of great long fill is often some strained small fill, but it wasn't too, too bad today. We didn't know LEONIA (44D: Neighbor of Teaneck, N.J.), or POTSY (39A: What is hopscotch called in New York City?), but the latter was at least interesting to learn. (What, no "What was the name of Richie C. and Ralph Malph's friend?")

Lastly, this was the first puzzle that we have done together in quite a while, and it took both of us to finish it! The top center was the last to go. We both kind of figured HIQ (6D: What is the oldest academic quiz competition in the U.S. (since 1948)?) had to be right, but even doing the puzzle in France couldn't help us to get EAU (7D: Contents of Suisse banks?) (very nice), until Frannie finally put in TIARA (15A: Rock band?).

Very good Thursday.

- Horace

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Wednesday, June 18, 2014, Amy Johnson


Being a bit of a WORDFREAK (17A: 2001 best seller about competitive Scrabble), I enjoyed this puzzle's theme of Scrabble opening plays. It's kind of funny if you think of the theme as a way to get "scrabbly" letters into the grid, like some constructors seem to do. It's so obvious, it's tricky! My favorite themer might be SPAZZES (43A: Totally inept sorts (max opening score of 104 points), and not just because it's the highest value play. I also like how BLANKTILE (58A: What you'd need to play 26-, 29-, 43-, or 45-Across) ties in with the theme.

Most of the high-value letter crosses are fine, except maybe for JOADS (28D: Steinbeck family), but really, that's fine, too. I especially enjoyed XANADU (46D: Setting of Kubla Khan's palace), because I knew it immediately, and HOBOS (16A: Bindle toters), because "bindle" is such a nice word. AISLE (31A: Bridal path) is nicely clued, as is GEM (34D: It has its setting), and 57A: Wonderland cake message (EATME) is nicely answered (Huygens alert!) (see also: PRICK), but overall, this might have been a bit easy, even for a red-headed stepchild Wednesday. I would even have been a minute quicker, but I entered "POSSIBLe" for POSSIBLY (36D: "It could happen") and didn't notice that that left "eOUR" for 64A: M.Y.O.B. part until I was forced to look for it. To some, that means a DNF, but to us, it's a FWOE, or, "Finished with One Error." Whatever. It's all the same, isn't it? Why do I even mention the time? Maybe soon we'll drop that feature of the reviews...

Oh, and one more thing, it's a nice start today with TOMS (1A: Some gobblers). Speaking of gobbling, Frannie and I have been eating so much bread, cheese and chocolate lately! We are SATED!

- Horace

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tuesday, June 17, 2014, Zhouqin Burnikel


An unusual theme of movies that are not silent movies, but that all start with a silent letter. I like it.

I was tricked immediately, because after filling in SAP (1A: Easy mark), I looked at 1D: Beginning or end of "Athena," and wanted "alpha," so that whole quadrant took a little extra effort before I finally gave the two-schwa version of "aha" upon seeing SCHWA! After that, AFORE, PREK, and REMI aren't that great, but they're not terrible, either. Actually, I kind of liked REMI, in an "it makes me think of the Sound of Music, which is set in the Alps, and we were just in the Alps" kind of way...

Icaraus Fob et fils will surely have enjoyed SPINET (47D: Small piano), and I'm sure we all enjoyed CAT (17D: Subject of many a viral video). As I look this over, however, there seems to be a lot of the old stuff, but a few new clues - like the one for ALI (68A: Arabic name meaning "high") (I guessed "ArI" at first), and for our old favorite EEL (34A: Kabayaki fish) (never heard of it). And speaking of things I like, "The Big Lebowski" is my in-flight movie of choice. On the way over, I only got up to the musical interlude (set to "Just Dropped In") before I conked out. I'll see how it turns out on the way back. Anyway, I was happy to fill in JOHNGOODMAN without hesitation.

Favorite clue/answer: 53D: Jet fighter?/SHARK.

Now, MOI, je vais me promener un peu en ville, et chercher quelque chose à manger.

- Horace

p.s. It took me exactly one day to forget about adding an image to the review, but today I'm back on track!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Monday, June 16, 2014, Bruce Haight


It's too bad Mr. Haight's last name wasn't something like "Benson," because that really would have worked well with this theme. There were Bs everywhere! I'm not going to count them, but the theme was heavy, and I liked it. I'll even tolerate ABRIM (7D: *Nearly overflowing), and BUGBEAR (9D: *Bogeyman) (a word I hate) (two words I hate, really, if you count the clue), because I like the density so much.

I didn't know that BELABARTOK was the 46A: *Hungarian composer whose only opera is about 17-Across (BLUEBEARD). (I suppose the music majors did, however.) And I don't hear BACKBITERS (32D: *Ones who criticize others in their absence) as often as "back-stabbers), but I don't have any problem with it the way it is.

This was a good Monday.

Sorry the review is so short, but although we're back doing the reviews, we are still on vacation, and it's time for me and my AMIE (28D: French girlfriend) to go find somewhere to eat in Lille!

- Horace

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sunday, June 15, 2014, Tony Orbach



First of all, we both want to thank Colum for doing the reviews for the past week and a half. For the first time in a very long time, we didn't even start the puzzles for several days in a row. It was strange, and perhaps it made us soft, as we were unable to come up with TVAD (56A: Spot, maybe), and not knowing VANUATU (54D: South Pacific archipelago), that V square eluded us.

We split on the theme. Frannie didn't love that the original word or phrase without the EN had no relationship to the clue or answer, but I liked the wackiness in at least a few of them. The first themer, for example, PREPARATIONHEN (23A: Episode title for a cooking show featuring chicken recipes?) was kind of funny, in a gross way. And I enjoyed the mention of the former SNL writer in CANIBEFRANKEN (67A: Request to represent a Minnesota senator's side of a debate?), but yeah, ok, the rest of them weren't that great.

We both liked seeing SCHULTZ (7A: Bumbling sergeant on "Hogan's Heroes"), but TAT is not a 43A: Bit of needlework? as far as we understand tatting, which is traditionally done with spools, not needles. Great clue for SAAB (45A: What a 9-5 worker worked on?), and KNEE (68D: One might be brought up in a brawl) was very nice, but there were a ton of names we didn't know, and I don't love ARENOT and CANTOO. And, if I can be very picky, having STERN and ASTERN in a grid, no matter how they're clued, just seems wrong.

In all, it wasn't a great puzzle to come back to, but at least tomorrow's Monday - we should be able to finish that one...

Thanks again, Colum, for your yeoman's work. We appreciate you raising the bar here at Horace and Frannie, by adding some visual interest every day, and we'll try to keep up the good work. How 'bout we start by adding a photo of a typical scene for us during the past week.

It was a pretty great vacation. Thanks for making it even more relaxing.

- Horace

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Saturday, June 14, 2014, Alex Vratsanos


Today is the last day I will be filling in for Horace and Frannie. It's been a great week and a half, even if it was interrupted by an unexpected hospitalization. I've had a blast commenting on these puzzles, and I hope you (my few loyal readers) have enjoyed my remarks.

This was an outstanding Saturday puzzle, showing how you can have a grid with plenty of interesting long answers (four 12-letters) and not sacrifice really top-notch fill elsewhere. Take heed, o ye quad-stack lovers!

I started out incorrectly with "pis" at 4D: Greek consonants (NUS), immediately guessed 17A: Disappoints (LETSDOWN), and recognized the slyness of 5D: Some twins (BEDS). EDWARDNORTON showed I was on the right track. I didn't figure out that my Greek entry was wrong until much later, when I recognized JOANBAEZ as the singer clued in 1A. I had Neil Young in mind initially, thinking I suppose of his Rust Never Sleeps album. I like Joan much better. And what a great pairing with 15A (INNUENDO)!

34A: Part of many a symphony (SCHERZO) is simply a lovely answer, as is IDIOSYNCRASY. Those two answers alone make the whole puzzle glitter. And there was still room for KATMANDU, GOROGUE, and REDSOX (in a NYT puzzle!). I don't like 16A: Surround with light (ENHALO), and IZE and IVO are very crosswordese, but I'll forgive them given the rest of the grid.

A couple of clues I enjoyed: 42A: Some settlers, before settling (SUERS) is brilliant. And 55D: Group awaiting ones return, for short (IRS) is fun, although I cottoned to it right away.

Thanks for playing along with me, and let's welcome H & F back!

- Colum

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday, June 13, 2014, David Steinberg


Ugh. This was a sorry affair. I think it's actually a very well constructed puzzle that I just fell flat on my face trying to complete. I'd like to use my narcotics-addled brain as an excuse, so I will.

First off, I knew the star of "The Pianist," and entered it right away, only with ADRIaN BRODY. That "a" would prove to be a tough thing to overcome. Then I entered GOOGlePLEX, no doubt seduced by the ubiquity of the search engine. I was able to fill in the bottom half of the puzzle. I liked AUDIOVISUALAIDS, but had never heard of SOULJABOYTELLEM. Still, it's a nice current 15-letter answer. I love 47A: Like St. Catherine (SIENESE), cause I was there not so long ago. It's a simply gorgeous city.

I knew that SKINNER___ would be the start of 30A: Conditioning apparatus, but couldn't for the life of me figure out the last three letters. "ism" was my first attempt, but nothing fit in. Took a long time to get BOX. I've never heard of it, but its apparently just what is described in the clue.

Anyway, I thought 1A: would be MAfioso. MADEMAN was the same idea. So anyway, I'll just admit that I gave up after staring at the whole string of emptiness across the top half for a long time. For stacks of 15-letter answers, which I usually don't like, I think Mr. Steinberg has not sacrificed too much in the way of high quality fill. Enough complaining.

- Colum

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Thursday, June 12, 2014, Mark Feldman


Now onto Thursday! I almost wish this had been unthemed. It felt like an unthemed with one 13-letter answer across the middle, and the other theme answers each modest 8 or 9-letter entries. And while each entry makes sense with THEWHOLE (54A) preceding it, 18A: Business, informally (BALLOFWAX) is not a phrase I ever hear on its own. Turns out MEGILLAH (17A: Long, involved story, in slang) is a Hebrew word meaning scroll or volume, so each of the other phrases can stand alone. A nitpicky inconsistency, I suppose.

And when we leave the theme aside, it's actually a really nice grid. Only 38 black squares makes for an open feeling, with each corner sporting matching pairs of 8-letter answers. Too many good clues and answers to list them all, but here are some of my favorites, bullet-style.
  • 2D: Relax (UNCLENCH). That's a great word.
  • 12A: Common flavorer in Italian sausage (FENNEL). We discovered how marvelous fennel is in salami while in Italy.
  • 40A: Modern term for "Roman fever" (MALARIA). Speaking of which... but also I like the historical reference.
  • 53D: Not be able to say "say," say (LISP). That's a great looking clue.
  • 57A: Mark Twain's boyhood home (HANNIBAL). A piece of trivia that leapt to my mind while solving, always a nice feeling. Plus Mark Twain's awesome.
  • 49A: One who's been tapped on the shoulder? (SIR). I was worried that I was going to have a square that was guessed, as I didn't know SERACS, but laughed when I figured out that last R.
So overall, I liked the puzzle a good deal.

- Colum

Wednesday, June 11, 2014, Ian Livegood


Funny story to explain my absence yesterday: I got appendicitis and had surgery last night. All is well now, thankfully, and I'm recovering. So I did both yesterday's and today's puzzle this morning.

This Flag Day puzzle is early by three days. Not sure why (because no themed puzzles on a Saturday?) but it is amusing that Mr. Livegood refers to the correct date in 67A: June 14, e.g. (DATE). I like the symmetry of STARSANDSTRIPES and HAMMERANDSICKLE. The first theme entry I got, however, was RISINGSUN, and not recognizing the reference to Flag Day, because, you know, it isn't, I figured the circled letters would read "land of". No luck...

Other than the peculiarity of the timing, I thought this was a well constructed puzzle. 9D: C. S. Lewis's birthplace (BELFAST) and 43D: Tlaloc, to the Aztecs (RAINGOD) were nicely matching bits of trivia. 10A: Pen, e.g. (SWAN) was something  I didn't know. I had to look it up to see why it was correct: a pen is a female swan. Similarly, I knew all the letters in 47A: Part of a round (HOLE) were right, but didn't get the golf reference for a long time. I don't like EEE, but that's the only bit of true crosswordese. Nice Wednesday.

- Colum

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tuesday, June 10, 2014, Pamela Klawitter


I didn't really love this Tuesday offering. Perhaps it was the odd pair of 10-letter non-theme answers that threw me. Perhaps it was the three theme answers of anagrammatic pairings, with the revealer answer that was not anagrammatic. Maybe it was all of those three-letter answers in the NW, SE, and the middle. On the other hand, the anagrams are fun, all three being of essentially equivalent humor levels.

Actually, going through the clues one by one, I realize my issue with the puzzle is it's too straightforward. There are simply no misleading clues at all, with the possible exceptions of 31D: You might pick one up in a bar (TAB) and 50A: Switch positions (ONS). Everything just feels deadly earnest.

At least we get a reference to AUDEN's Funeral Blues, a favorite of mine:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message 'He is Dead'.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

And with that I'll sign off.

- Colum

Monday, June 9, 2014

Monday, June 9, 2014, Tom McCoy


It took me a while to get started on this Monday puzzle, and it's not hard to see why, given the NW corner. 1A: Covered Greek walkway (STOA) is hardly Monday fare, although it's a common crosswordese entry. And 1D: Garbage boats (SCOWS), while familiar enough, wouldn't come to mind. I had to circle around.

But once I got out of that corner, I enjoyed much of the remainder. The theme is cute, with my favorite entry being EXTENDEDSTAY. God knows how women survived wearing these things. There are some amazing pictures showing what corsets did to a woman's internal organs. When I was in Philadelphia, I visited the Mütter Museum of medical curiosities, where you can see a woman's rib cage and how it was deformed from wearing corsets. Ah, good times...

Anyway, none of the other answers are as difficult as those first two, and there's really no other crosswordese to be seen. Some nice answers include SPLENDID, PIERRE, DEIGN, and VNECKS, which looks great in the grid. And didn't the puzzle feel just a little bit, well... racy? I think Huygens would approve.

So, after a rocky start, I'd give this puzzle a thumbs up.

- Colum

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sunday, June 8, 2014, Patrick Berry


I felt this puzzle was on a Tuesday difficulty level. Nothing too complex in the cluing or the answers, really. The grid is filled with 3-letter answers. And the theme is cute, but nothing too clever. After all, Mr. Berry gets to put in his punny answers with the X but doesn't have to cross the X with any answers containing X! It feels a bit like a cheat.

My favorite of the theme answers were: BEAUTYCONTE[S/X]T, EVERGREENTRE[E/X], and SKIPTOMYLO[U/X]. The very first thing I entered was the theme answer at 29A: Sun Tzu tome Madame Tussaud's specialty? (THEARTOFWA[R/X]). Very shortly thereafter I realized that there would be two letters in the crossed-out squares, and it was off to the races. I barely paused, except when I entered 24D: "Love's ____ Lost" (LABOURS) because I forgot the English added U. I had McAA at 34A (NC-17 assigner: Abbr.) for a while, and in fact that P was the last letter I got in the puzzle.

Other than that, not much to report. I know Huygens will like 123A: You'll see a lot of them (NUDISTS), and I loved the clue. I also enjoyed 82D: Raised on books? (EMBOSSED). And finally, I know 65A: Mohs-scale mineral (TALC) from helping my daughter study for Earth Sciences. I think Horace's father would enjoy that one as well. A very strange hyphen in there. I don't think it's needed.

Once again, Sunday fails to live up to the end of the week themeless puzzles.

- Colum

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Saturday, June 7, 2014, John Lieb


I completed today's puzzle with my mother, visiting from NYC. Together, we stared at the grid for quite some time. We tried "Baghdad" for 17A: "The Hurt Locker" setting (IRAQWAR), guessed ASARULE for 16A: Mostly, and fit TRISTE in for 48D: Blue, in Burgundy. Then we stared for a long time more. I wanted EMERITi for 65A: Professor_____, but it didn't make sense, as that would pair a plural answer with a singular clue. Still, we broke in finally with the SE corner when we figured out 67A: Solution for storing contacts? (ROLODEX). Now there's a question mark that wasn't needed. I also enjoyed 47D: One might get past a bouncer (FAKEID). And we were on to the middle.

How often do you get three answers in a grid with 2 Xs each? 42D: Valentine letters (XOXO), 42A: WorkCentre maker (XEROX), and 36D: People plot things around it (XAXIS, one I'm getting used to seeing) were all very reasonable answers. I love TABOR and SWISH, and NOTES was clued well (34D: Las, e.g.). LEGOS was also a nice discovery.

In the NE, I don't like the cluing for FESTERED (14D: Decayed). It seems off somehow. Otherwise, we finally figured out what was to huarizo as donkey is to mule (LLAMA), which allowed us into the NW. MCQ (4D: 1974 John Wayne title role) I'd never heard of, but I liked the trivia that ANACIN was introduced in 1916.

Finally we made our way to the SW. FEARNOT had been entered already, which suggested FOOSBALL, and the rest spilled out quickly. I very much liked 38D: High (EUPHORIA).

It was a struggle for each step of the way, but a rewarding struggle, without much I can complain about.

- Colum

Friday, June 6, 2014

Friday, June 6, 2014, Kameron Austin Collins


Much to like about this; I'd estimate three-quarters of the puzzle was well above average. A themeless Friday, as is expected, with 73 answers and a grid that divides the puzzle into five semi-independent areas. I zoomed through the NW, breaking in with 3D: Rugby formation (SCRUM), and 4D: Subject of Spike Lee's "When The Levees Broke" (KATRINA), leading to the nice pair of ten-letter answers of ARCADEFIRE and MARTINAMIS, a pairing of recent and much less recent knowledge I like seeing in a crossword. 1D: Pickup line? (RAMS) took me forever to understand (referring to the Dodge pickup trucks).

There's a great connection into the NE with 5A: Athletic short? (FIVEK - this always throws me for a loop) and 9D: Gaga contemporary (KESHA). I love CHAITEA, and the rest of the NE is fine as well, although 15D: Old-fashioned shelter along a highway (SPITAL) is a bit off the beaten path as it were. The SE also was very smooth, with another pair of nice 10-letter answers (TYLERPERRY and SPECIESISM).

Somehow, though, the middle of the puzzle and the SW took a very long time to break open. I'd never heard of 41A: Exotic off road race (DAKARRALLY), so even though I had the last four letters, I had no entry there. I filled the bottom four letters of the SW quickly, although I had tuNEOUT instead of ZONEOUT for quite a while. 31D: Reanimation after apparent death (ANABIOSIS) was unknown, as was 30D: South African leader after 2009 (JACOBZUMA), although I really feel I ought to have known it (I'll blame that on the errant T from "tuneout"). So it wasn't until I realized that 36A: Tochises (HEINIES) was actually the beloved Yiddish word I'd always spelled tucheses that I was able to finish it off.

There are some obscure words in here, as noted above, and also KARST, and some crosswordy stuff such as RIS and IFA. But you have to love 53D: Printed slip (TYPO) and 43A: Dead reckonings? (OBITS). Very nice work over all.

- Colum

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Thursday, June 5, 2014, Ed Sessa


No mixed bag today. This might be one of my all time favorite rebus puzzles. What a great concept! The four main characters of LITTLEWOMEN (34A: 1860s novel that is the basis for this puzzle's theme) are hidden in the two 10-letter across answers and two 9-letter down answers. Although Mr. Sessa did not split Jo's name (DIRTY[JO]KES), he managed to split all of the other three across the answer's two words (BRIGH[AMY]OUNG, GLO[BETH]EATER, and [MEG]ENERATION). And really, I don't think you could split Jo in any meaningful way. The crosses work out well also, with 5D: Like a freshly drawn draft (FO[AMY]), 22A: "Attendance is mandatory" ([BETH]ERE, my least favorite of the four), 49A ____ Mission, Calif. (VIE[JO]), and 50D: Some Swiss watches (O[MEG]AS).

I didn't figure out it was a rebus until I entered 32D. I was stuck looking at that square where AMY would eventually go... Wait! I just realized. Horace and Amy are in the same northwest quarter! This is crazy. Didn't you just know that when Horace and Frannie left for vacation, they'd be missing some great puzzles?

I started on the wrong foot, by entering TMC at 1A (Presenter of "The Borgias", in brief), not ever having watched the show. That led to the questionable Tiffany for 1D: Audrey Hepburn title role and potentially okay "calimari" for 3D: Staple of Mediterranean cooking. It all seemed plausible for a short time, although I was shaking my head even as I entered each one. HORACES soon put me right.

I think the fill on this puzzle is really pretty good, especially considering the amount of theme material. I particularly liked 24D: Goes through a stage of babyhood (TEETHES), 26D: Trite comment (BROMIDE), and 42D: Place abuzz with activity? (APIARY), although the last has a unnecessary question mark. We did have to put up with SHO, AOL (a weird clue as well, considering Moviefone has gone the way of the Dodo), RHEAS, and NRC, but overall, I can forgive these.

- Colum

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Wednesday, June 4, 2014, Jim Hilger


Well, so here we go. I'm stepping into some very large shoes, considering the mass of daily blog entries Horace and Frannie have accumulated.

And what a way to start! With a puzzle devoted to its very own self, WORD GAMES, the letters of which are included in the circles. I wondered when I filled in SCRABBLE in the NW, whether Mr. Hilger was going to be very self-referential, by putting high-value Scrabble letters into the circles. Instead, we are treated to a hodgepodge of different kinds of word games, including TABOO, a party game; HANGMAN, a way to pass the time with your children while waiting in the airport; JOTTO, a game I've never played, but which seems to be Mastermind with 5-letter words; GHOST, another game I've never played, where players add letters to a growing fragment, trying not to complete a word; PROBE, a hangman variant; and ANAGRAMS, a classic game dating back to the time of Jane Austen, if I'm not mistaken. Or maybe it was just in a movie based on a Jane Austen book. I enjoyed the theme very much, even if the category is a little fluid.

I had visions of a very rapid finish when the NW filled quickly... or so it seemed. 4A: Grass for cordage (ESPARTO) threw me for a loop. That's a word I've never come across before. And then in the middle of the east, we get 24D: Realm of Garfield (CATDOM). I have to call foul on this one. I just don't believe this is a real word, and I don't see how it implies a "realm" just because it ends in -dom. I'll also note 32A: Tend to another spill (REMOP) as being a poor entry. 23D: Bulblike plant part (CORM) was another unrecognized word. So anyway, things obviously slowed down for a while.

On the positive side, we have 10D: Bring up on charges (ARRAIGN), 44D: Clientele (PATRONS), and 41A: What to do when dealt a flush (STANDPAT). And I know Horace would be sad to miss 2D: Hic, ____, hoc (HAEC).

Nothing terribly misleading about the clues. I'd say overall I enjoyed the puzzle. Looking forward to the next 10 days of crosswording! Good travels to my hosts.

- Colum

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Tuesday, June 3, 2014, Susan Gelfand


Strange theme today, focussed on Thanksgiving (?) and things used to tie things up. A turkey, however, doesn't usually come with lace. Or ribbon. For me, the revealer didn't really work.

Also, starting with NCR (1A: Big A.T.M. maker) doesn't really put one in a hopeful mood, and indeed, there were more than a few well-worn answers. But, on the other hand, there were a few things that cheered me up. One was ENSOR (56D: Belgian painter James), made famous (to us, at least) by the song by They Might Be Giants. Now, whenever we hear of him, see one of his paintings in a museum, or even see his name in a crossword, we think of that song and smile. POBOY (57A: Hero of New Orleans), too, was nicely clued. When "Jackson" wouldn't fit, I was stumped. EXPRESS (45A: Local's counterpart) also had me flummoxed for a while.

Looking over the grid as a whole, I notice quite a few high-point Scrabble letters, so that's nice. And I guess I can't really dislike a puzzle with PABSTBLUERIBBON (17A: Brand with the tagline "Established in Milwaukee 1844") running right across top section.

Lastly, and more to the point, this puzzle has a couple pieces of fill that make my next few sentences very easy. ALPINELACE (51A: Deli counter cheese brand) introduces the topic of Frannie and I traveling (later today) to the home of many great Alpine cheeses (none of which is made by Alpine Lace), very close, in fact, to EVIAN. We will be in remote areas where, they say, there is no internet. Only cows with bells and folks blowing alpenhorns and yodeling back and forth across the valleys. And without the intertubes, how are we to review, or even complete (?!) the daily puzzles?

That's where a NEURO (7D: Prefix with surgeon) -logist comes into the picture. We are passing the keys to friend and frequent commenter, Colum Amory, who will keep this train on the tracks for the next week and a half. The blog has been firing on all cylinders recently, and we will miss seeing all the comments, but if we do happen to come across any stray internets, we'll check in.

Happy Puzzling, and we'll see you again soon!

- Horace

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Monday, June 2, 2014, Andrea Carla Michaels


Pretty straightforward Monday puzzle. Simple, but fine, theme of two-word phrases that start with S and A (ESSAY (66A: Kind of test … or a phonetic hint to 17-, 25-, 36-, 47- and 57-Across)). Amusingly, frequent commenter ET59 gets his wish answered today with one of the themers, SMARTALECK (57A: Wisenheimer) (nice clue). How does Shortz sleep at night running this and "SMARTALEC" two days apart? Make a choice or use the damn "variant" cop-out. "Put a sticker on it," as Frannie likes to say when a company (or whatever) just puts a ridiculous label on something to avoid a lawsuit. A candy cane, for example, that has the sticker "May contain nuts." (Yes, we have seen this.) That's "putting a sticker on it." "Mideast ruler: variant" is another example.

Not terribly scintillating. IMPEL (5A: Push) is SUPERB (45A: Top-notch), and I enjoyed SNOOZEALARM (25A: Sleep extender), but maybe just because it reminds me of Sunday's AFAREWELLTOALARMS.

Haven't seen SSTS or SOSA in a while. HELI, ATT, ALMA, ATM, USDA, ATRIA, SSE, MPS, … seems like a lot. WAHOO crossing MAGOO, though, that made me smile. Well, the MAGOO part anyway.

It's a Monday. It was over quickly.

- Horace

Sunday, June 1, 2014, Tom McCoy



I loved this theme. Many were hilarious, but the central AFAREWELLTOALARMS (66A: Dream for late sleepers?) might be the best. The other literary one, OFMALICEANDMEN (118A: Dissertation on people's inherent spitefulness?), though, was also excellent. Very nicely done theme. And isn't that what Sunday is all about? There are, what, seven of these? That doesn't seem like a whole hell of a lot, but I guess it seems like enough.

So, once the theme is good on Sunday, does much else matter? I guess anything more is gravy, right? And, well, there is some today. Gravy, that is. I enjoyed SMATTERING (57A: Soupçon) and its clue. As I did AMNESIAC and 4D: Unlikely memoirist. And who doesn't love an Ogden Nash reference? "2D: "The ostrich roams the great ____. / Its mouth is wide, its neck is narra": Ogden Nash" (SAHARA).

PUSSYFOOT (13D: Not be bold) - also good. LIMINAL (15D: In-between) - very nice. OLEANDER (growing outside her door) (91D: Evergreen shrub) - lovely. LONGPANTS (81D: Trousers) - love it.

I guess I liked it. You?

- Horace