Thursday, July 31, 2014

Thursday, July 31, 2014, Jill Denny and Jeff Chen


It took us a while to figure this one out, but I feel it was worth the wait. We filled in all rebuses ([SPACE]), but I'm hoping that leaving the boxes unfilled will also work. If one of you tries that, let me know.

When I got to 10A: Captain played by Patrick Stewart (AHAB), I thought for sure that it would be "Picard," and that there was a rebus afoot, but I'm guessing that's exactly what they wanted me to think! Pretty tricky!

The fill started out tough, with the unknown (to me) LOEB (1A: Financial writer Marshall) and ANDREA (9D: Bargnani of the N.B.A.) (ditto), and went through some rough spots, like EARBOB (25A: Dangling piece of jewelry) (ok, ok, it's probably fine). I actually liked DEUS (46A: Mars, e.g.), but Frannie thought it a little "de trop."

Horizontal symmetry always looks a little funny, but it's not that bad.

There's more I should say, but I'm on a tight schedule today, so you'll have to look to our astute commenters for more about this enjoyable start to the Turn.

- Horace

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wednesday, July 30, 2014, Jean O'Conor


Well, call me easy, but I love this kind of silly, false definition theme. MEASURINGCUP (22A: Undergarment fitting device?) is just so absurd. I guess, since Jean O'Conor is female, she was maybe thinking of a bra cup, but my mind went immediately to the "sports cup," which made it even funnier, I think. MICROWAVE (43A: Hardly an attraction for a surfer?) is another funny one, but my favorite might be the last, CHAFINGDISH (56A: Attractive, but annoying date?). That's some quality material right there.

The fill, though it did contain a fair number of threes, was not that bad, I didn't think. I mean, if you're going to start with a three letter answer, it might as well be BLT (1A: Sandwich usually served with mayo). Heck, the theme must have put me in a great mood, because I don't even mind OHHI (19A: "I'm surprised to see you!").

TVCHANNELS (3D: Just 2 to 13, once) was tricky, especially since we never had a channel 13! And the other non-theme ten was also nice - GETAWAYCAR (27D: Aid for a bank heist). There's not much else that stands out - except, perhaps, for GHIA (55D: Karmann ____, classic German sports car) - and yes, there's a fair amount of AVEO, ELEV, SAXE, SIM, HPS, etc., but sue me, I still liked it. It was an enjoyable theme and it put me in a good mood. Can you ask anything else of a Wednesday?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to TOGUP and get to work!

- Horace

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tuesday, July 29, 2014, Timothy Polin


I rather like this plant-based theme. I also like that both Across and Down clues are used for theme material, which always makes it seem a little more complete. Or elegant. Or both. Mr. Polin also managed to squeeze extra plant material into two corners with FERN (14A: Bit of office greenery) and YEWS (56D: Trees for making longbows).

Some highlights: BIKE (10A: Transportation for Mary Poppins or E.T.), SOBERSUP (20A: Gets more clearheaded), JERKS (27A: Ones cutting in line, e.g.), SEXTS (44A: Responds hotly?) (seems like it's been a while since we've had any good Huygens material!), ICEFOG (47A: Atmospheric phenomenon during low temperatures) (sounds so MENACE(S)ing!), ARMANI (53A: Milanese fashion house) (more Huygens material, but in a different way). And that's just the Across clues! In the Downs we see plenty more good stuff, and even the less-than-perfect stuff is salvaged by funny cluing - DEEPER (9D: Like the diving end of a pool vis-à-vis the other end) - or by association - IGETA (30D: Sinatra's "____ Kick Out of You").

Oh, I wasn't going to single out any more answers, but I loved OPIUMDEN (37D: Old-time drug hangout), JOWLS (27D: Features of a droopy face), and Frannie always enjoyed watching "Pimp My Ride" when we could catch it while at a hotel, so XZIBIT (48D: Rapper who hosted MTV's "Pimp My Ride") was fun to have in there, too.

In possibly non-Tuesday material, we have VIRAGO (25A: Shrew), LARUE (52D: Lash ____ of old westerns), and MESTIZA (49A: Mujer of mixed race). Those last two I have never seen before!

Overall, this was a very good Tuesday.

- Horace

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Monday, July 28, 2014, Tom McCoy


Hmm… to me, string isn't cable, and string isn't yarn, and string isn't rope… but I guess I see what they were trying to do. And, to be fair, string has many definitions, none of which, in the dictionary I have at hand, specifically describes the white cotton object I think of when I hear the word. So, fine, have it your way, Mr. McCoy.

Now that we got that out of the way, let's get right to the word SENESCED (37D: Grew old). It's not a Monday word. Neither, probably, is ASSYRIA (52A: Nineveh's land). Nor ADELIE (2D: Penguin variety). I suppose many will, but I did not know that the 64A: Weasley family owl was named ERROL, nor had I ever heard of HEYARNOLD (30A: Nickelodeon show whose protagonist has a football-shaped head), or TRYHARDS (38D: Those who put a lot of effort into social climbing, in modern lingo) - but those lacunae should not surprise anyone who knows me. I didn't take much interest in Harry Potter, I don't have cable, and I certainly don't try to do much social climbing. There, now you know me, too. Happy?

It's funny, I didn't mind this puzzle while I was doing it - I enjoy the word GAUNTLET (12D: Knight's glove), and RIPSAWS (24A: Cutters that cut with the grain) and DEEPS (29A: Watery abysses) are nice. SPARKLER (25D: Hand-held Fourth of July firework) sparkles, and LOSELOSE (17D: Like a catch-22 situation) is good, and I loved the trivia in SUM (19A: 666, for the numbers on a roulette wheel), but the theme, once I paused to figure it out after solving, actually detracted a bit from the overall enjoyment. As stated above, I have a problem with the very idea, and then the phrases themselves are a bit random. ANYLONGER (44A: For even a second more)? VOCABLESSON (59A: Component of a language class, informally). For some reason, the informality annoys me.

I guess I liked more than I disliked, so it gets a thumbs up, but not way up. How's that?

- Horace

Sunday, July 27, 2014, Randolph Ross


We liked the theme just fine, and we also liked that it was quite a bit tougher than a normal Sunday, but some of the crosses seemed unfair, and there were a lot of obscure answers. Where to begin? Let's start with the killer crosses.

LALO (21A: "Le Roi d'Ys" composer) (ahh, yes, Le Roi d'Y…) and AGITA (29A: Gut feeling?) (this one, we recognized, but still…) both crossing DONAT (17D: Robert who played filmdom's Mr. Chips). Tough.

RAMON (37A: San ____, Calif.) crossing MENLO (31D: College in Atherton, Calif.). Inferable, perhaps, but still tough.

And finally, the one that did us in - LAO (73A: Pathet ____ (old revolutionary group) crossing FALA (68D: F.D.R.'s Scottie). A Laotian group from the '70s crossing a dog that died 62 years ago. Hmpf.

Other obscurities - FEHR (57A: Longtime baseball union exec Donald), FARFEL (99A: Small pellets of noodle dough in Jewish cuisine), LANDAU (44A: Vinyl-roofed car), SAMUEL (61A: ____ de Champlain, founder of Quebec), NORA (60A: Romance novelist Roberts), PRAHA (18A: European capital, to natives), HATLO (20A: Jimmy ____, "They'll Do It Every Time" cartoonist), DEKE (83A: Astronaut Slayton), IED (87A: Iraq War danger, for short), ETHAN (98A: Hunt in "Mission: Impossible"), NOTH (118A: Chris who played Mr. Big on "Sex and the City"), TROCHE (6D: Throat soother), NIOBE (24D: Weeper of myth), AAU (40D: Org. with the Sullivan Award for character, leadership and sportsmanship) … and I could go on. It's not that any of those is unfair in and of itself, but so many? I've only done a few of the Maleska-era puzzles, but this had that kind of a feel. Like they're just cramming things in because they can - because Hey, it's a real thing! It's fair!

Well, ok, it's fair, then, but it isn't fun.

Least favorite clue - 85A: Email virus, power outage, etc. (WOES).
Best clue - 48A: Butler's quarters? (TARA).


- Horace

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday, July 26, 2014, Julian Lim


A solid Saturday. Some of the clues I saw right through: 24A: Highlander, e.g. (TOYOTA) and 15A: A Ryder (WINONA), and some took forever: 30D: Fire sign? (SIREN) (lovely) and 7D: Common aspiration? (AITCH) (good one! and I was very glad that it wasn't "aahhh" or some variant thereof).

STOP (4D: Cry to a tickler) was fun, ASCETICAL (27D: Like the lifestyle of many a monk) is a lovely word, as are COSSET (40D: Baby) and RICRAC (48A: Zigzag ribbon) (Thanks, Frannie!). STALK (43D: Follow too closely) and MIRROR (38D: Reflect) were clued well, and 19A: Hot stuff (WASABI) was tricky, too.

In the middle, we noted that "SEAmonster" was too short, but once TRYON (32D: Check for size, say) and EES (33D: Some semiconductor experts: Abbr.) (one of the only bits of crosswordese in the grid) went in, SEACREATURE was easy enough to see. It's always nice to have a classical reference, and it's especially nice here to offset JERSEYSHORE (35A: Former hit TV show with the theme song "Get Crazy").

Overall, an enjoyable Saturday puzzle that caps of an outstanding week of dailies. Now, the real kicker will be a great one tomorrow. I'm crossing my fingers!

- Horace

Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday, July 25, 2014, Peter A. Collins


DOWNGOESFRAZIER (17A: Repeated cry in a 1973 fight) is an awesome fifteen, and it made me blind to this puzzles faults, if, indeed, it has any. Honestly, I'm not even going to look for them.

Let's talk, then, about the other good things. CHINCHILLA (15A: Fur source) - awesome. ASHTREES (44A: They might become bats), easy, but also great. BOLEYN (28A: Tudor who lost her head) - great. EROICA (42D: Work first publicly performed at the Theater an der Wien in 1805.) - great. DISSENT (35A: Minority report?) - great. TOLEDOOHIO (29A: The Glass Capital of the World) - huh. Who knew? Also in that category GOURDE (18D: Currency of 46-Down (HAITI)). Really? I don't suppose it's honest-to-god gourds, unfortunately, but maybe it comes from that? No… Wikipedia mentions nothing of the sort, so it's probably not true.

SHAGGY (9D: Like yaks) - well-clued. ELIZA (11D: The "you" in "On the Street Where You Live") - very nice, and it makes me think of recent guest blogger and recent visitor of Italy, Colum, who once sang this publicly to his wife (not named Eliza, and not at the Theater an der Wien). Isn't that the case?

Even the two "God" answers don't upset me today. That's how much this puzzle put me ONCLOUDNINE (24D: Elated).

Excellent. Loved it.

- Horace

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thursday, July 24, 2014, David Phillips


I'm not sure where to begin, there was so much I liked about this puzzle. Let's start with the nicely executed trick - PAINT[IT]BLACK (23D: 1966 Rolling Stones hit … or an instruction to be followed four times in this puzzle. The "four times" confused me for a bit, because I saw many more "-" clues, and I wasn't quite sure what to do with them. Would both letters be assumed for each one? I guess we should have figured it out as soon as we saw 41D: Don Quixote's love (DULC[I]NEA), because we each knew it immediately, but we each talked ourselves out of it when we saw only four letters. I, at first, thought "Well, is there any way it could be 'Dulcit… something?'" and Frannie thought "Well, maybe that was just what he called her, but he was crazy… maybe her real name was something else." Anyway, it came soon enough, when we got LET[IT]SLIDE (59A: Not worry about something annoying). It's funny how the mind will work against you sometimes.

The weakest of the "hidden" answers, we thought, was SELEC[T]EES (52A: Chosen people), but I was able to GETPAST (54A: Overlook, as someone's flaws) it right away, because of the almost apologetic next Across clue. Do you think that was intentional? I like to think so.

Another thing I liked about this one was the cluing, which really seemed a notch above the usual. Tricky things, like 29A: Flight setting (STA[I]RCASE) and 31D: Remote power source, maybe (AAABATTERY), funny things like 72A: Small price to pay (CENT) and 30D: Big bang maker (TNT), clever things like 45A: Wedding feature, in two different senses (BAND) and 7D: Picked locks? (AFRO), and good ol' nostalgic things like 75A: Evil "Get Smart" organization (KAOS), 60D: Rikki-tikki-____" (TAVI), and 21D: Corn syrup brand (KARO) (at least for me… I used to put that on ice cream!).

And on top of all that, you've got some nice ten-cent words like REPUTE (8D: Good or bad name), DELVES (71A: Digs deeply) and ELUDE (40A: Outwit, in a way). And I haven't even mentioned PETER[T]OSH (37D: One of the Wailers of Bob Marley and the Wailers)!

Thumbs up. I'll be watching for Mr. Phillips' name again!

- Horace

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wednesday, July 23, 2014, Howard Barkin


Everybody loves a BLANKCHECK (59A: Complete freedom … and a hint to each half of the answer to each starred clue)! The first half of the first theme answer, BODYDOUBLE (18A: *Movie stand-in) "body check" is the least familiar to me. Is that like a physical? Does anyone say that? But there's a bonus, non-starred theme entry TIMEOUT (20A: Toddler's banishment to a corner, say) - "time check" and "check out," (I know all the others come after…) so let's call it even.

The grid has some good non-theme entries, too. I particularly like TOCCATA (38A: Bach work), SWAGGER (32D: Walk with an attitude), ASKANCE (43D: With suspicion, as a look), BARTAB (1D: Tippler's account), and EQUATOR (10D: Where it's always zero degrees) (cute). It's nice, too, to see AGAKHAN (46D: Shiite leader who claims direct descent from Muhammad) in its entirety.

On the other hand, we see the startlingly awful RESEEKS (4D: Tries for again, as an office), and the chunks of threes in the NE and SW aren't too pretty. There's AMB, and DCIV, and can we all agree that we're oh, so tired of seeing ATRA (37D: First razor with a pivoting head) in a puzzle, even if we do learn something more about it with each clue? So, so tired of it.

But on balance, I think this had more good than bad. That's three good puzzles in a row! Now I've really got my hopes up for the turn. Here's hoping it delivers.

- Horace

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tuesday, July 22, 2014, Joel Fagliano


A very nice twist on referential clues, working both sides at once. For example, 6A: With 8-Down, lime shade (LIGHT/GREEN) and 8D: With 6-Across, approve (GREEN/LIGHT). Usually, I dislike this sort of clue, but this, I love. And to top it off, they all intersect, which isn't always the case with referential clues. What are there, seven of them? Really nice work, I say.

The rest of the fill is decent too. SYNCH (17A: Harmonize) looks a little odd with that H, what with so much "sync"ing going on these days. And even my old Random House gives the no-H version first, but really, there's nothing wrong with having the H. SMELT (18A: Refine, as ore) is good. Interesting trivia added to the old standby ADA (19A: Nabokov's longest novel), and we get up-to-date cluing on things like CREW (22A: Rapper's posse) and DIED (34A: Was incredibly embarrassed, in slang). REROLL (45A: Try to improve a Yahtzee turn) might ordinarily get an eye roll, but the clue saves it. It was a little surprising to see ADOLF (60A: Unpopular baby name) in there, but it was the first thing that came to mind for that clue, so even that made me smile!

As you can tell, I really liked this one. There was clever cluing, interesting cluing, and not much junk at all. NEEDI (21D: "____ say more?").

- Horace

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014, Matt Fuchs


Boy, I don't usually talk about trying to solve as fast as possible, but if I could type better with my thumbs, I think I could have been at least a minute faster on this. It put up absolutely no resistance. I'm guessing Colum has a good chance of coming in under four.

The theme of PRIVATEPARTS (55A: What unmentionables cover … or what 20-, 27-, and 44-Across all begin with?) is just fine, if we accept the commercialism of HIDDENVALLEY (20A: Big name in ranch dressing). And while we're on the topic, salad dressing is the easiest thing in the world to make yourself, and it takes less than five minutes. I know that at least two of our regular readers already make their own, but for those of you who don't, just save a jelly jar or something similar, clean it, then pour in oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper and shake. You can change it up however you want - different vinegars (sherry, champagne, apple cider, balsamic), add a little lemon or lime juice, a few spices or herbs… the possibilities are endless. And if you want ranch, just add a little mayo or sour cream, some onion and/or garlic powder, and go from there.

Where was I? Oh, right, the CREOLE (17A: Louisiana language) CLAMBAKE (18A: New England cookout)… sounds great! Where do I show up?

EDUCE (24D: Bring out) is a nice word. PICASSO (42D: Painter with a  Blue Period) is always welcome. BARHOPping is fun.

Nice Monday.

- Horace

Sunday, July 20, 2014, Eric Berlin


An interesting and more challenging than usual Sunday puzzle. Not knowing which two letters would be removed (until we had 72-Across, that is) made the solve slightly slower, but after we got it (the crosses gave it away), it was much easier to see what was going on. It's a little strange to have the new words with no clues, and I get that the downs ignored the circles altogether, but in the case of 90D: *Not rough (G[E]NE) ("gentle"), it seemed wrong, somehow, to have the circled letter there in the middle of the truncated word. Overall, though, the feat is an impressive one. The solve, however, was not especially fun.

Starting with ENWRAP (1A: Swaddles, e.g.) didn't help. And the down coming off it EDW (1D: One of eight Eng. kings) was no better. There were quite a few less-than-inspired words, actually. RECHAINS, ALICK, STRETTO (at least we knew this one this time, after having seen it in the plural very recently), ISITA… In fact, some of the most interesting fill - REBUKES, LEGION, GRAVITY, and HERALD were broken up and turned into lesser words. And other things that were somewhat interesting - GAROTTE and OWNGOAL, for example, were off-putting. The French was more esoteric than usual, with AMENDE (52D: French fine), and there just wasn't much that was clever or made us smile. Too much IDS, LST, PFC, IND, SRTA, OSTE, HGTS, AVI, STET, EMIR

Lastly, ERAT in Latin means "was." It's a simple imperfect. It does not mean "was to be." That's some kind of passive periphrastic or some such other horrible tense that I don't even want to think about. Why complicate things? Just say "Latin I verb" or something like that…

In short, not our favorite Sunday.

- Horace

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Saturday, July 19, 2014, Barry C. Silk


We expect good things when we see Mr. Silk's byline, and today's was definitely good. Not great, perhaps, but SOLID (48D: Not iffy).

I started it late at night, and got nowhere until AMADEUS (30A: Movie with the line "I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not") went in first. I worked down that SE corner of the grid without much resistance, but couldn't get much at all in the NW. Even when I filled in CARLSAGAN (31D: Noted 1-Across studier), I still couldn't get past wanting "universe" for 1A: It has many giants and dwarfs (COSMOS). I put that down to sleepiness. In the morning, Frannie took the iPad and finished it up very quickly.

The "preceder" clues were nice, now that I see what they are (1D: D preceder (CSHARP) and 3D: Tuesday preceder (SHROVE) (yes, "Monday" fits, but nobody actually tried that on a  Saturday, did they?). And are there roller coasters that feature a PRETZELLOOP? I love roller coasters as much as the next person, but that sounds like it might be a little much!

We didn't particularly like GASUP (36A: Do a 35-Across chore) being paired with CAR (35A: Hybrid, maybe), but I suppose you can imagine that the 36A clue refers only to the answer of 35A, and not to the fact that it's a hybrid. I mean, sure, you still have to GASUP a hybrid, but the whole point is that you have to do it less often… ok, I'm not going to win this one, but I just want a little more love for the hybrids. Is that so wrong?

All the long downs were very nice. OSMOSE (42D: Slip through, say) seemed a little strained, and I was a little surprised to see IUD (39D: Alternative to the pill, briefly) in there, and I have no idea what AGT (7A: Profit-sharing figure: Abbr.) stands for, but overall, as I said up top, it was SOLID.

Best clue/answer: 21A: Something pocketed in Italy? (RAVIOLI)
Runner up: 15A: [One who] Pour[s] it on (GOAL LOUT)

- Horace

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday, July 18, 2014, Ian Livengood


I gave the time, but really, we finished with an incorrect letter and spent some time hunting for it. Turns out, "InKS" had been entered for 11D: Needles (IRKS), giving "TERnELL" for 16A: 1998 N.F.L. M.V.P. Davis (TERRELL). Such is life.

Overall, I enjoyed this one, even though I tend to dislike a "quotation mark" clue - and this one had plenty! The first, at 1A: "Know what I'm sayin'?," in hip-hop slang (YAHEARD) was probably my favorite, even though I was not aware of its existence as clued. FRAIDSO (8A: "Yep, alas"), too, I can't really complain about, but having them both one after the other kind of rubbed me the wrong way. But then Mr. Livengood got back on my good side with the mention of an OPENBAR (15A: Feature of many a reception).

I suppose the quotation marks are ok, though, for what is really a very colloquial-seeming puzzle. CACKLED (18A: Laughed menacingly), SCRUNCH (23A: Squeeze) (Frannie wanted "skwunch" here), AAHED (30A: Sounded wowed) (I tried "oohed" first), and NUTCASE (62A: Crank) are all quite informal. Come to think of it, so is SLEAZEBALL and its clue 13D: Scuzz. Appropriate, then, that we should also find DELTAHOUSE (12D: Campus spot for Bluto, Otter and Boon) (it's funny to me that the NYT is such a stickler about many things, like the spacing of an ellipsis and the periods after initials, but they don't use the Oxford comma!) in the grid as well.

It was a clean grid, the occasional OON, AZO, and GEO notwithstanding. We enjoyed the cuting-up of the two Latin clues, and there were some fun ones, too, like FIREHOSES (27A: Things that wind up on trucks), and the too-too-obvious TEAMSPORTS (39A: Football and basketball). EYEBATH (63A: Certain solution holder) was gross, but STPETER (64A: Figure in many a New Yorker cartoon) was oddly and amusingly clued.

Overall, a thumbs up.

- Horace

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Thursday, July 17, 2014, Alan Arbesfeld


It took us a long time to get any of the theme answers, but finally, at around the 30 minute mark, we got one, then all of them, then the puzzle was done. Haven't we seen backward themes a lot in the past month or so? Well... two or three times, maybe, but I suppose it doesn't really matter. It still stumped us for a while! YGGIPRIDE (57A: Little kid's lift, literally) looks great, and RETRAUQSNEAK (42A: Gridiron maneuver, literally) almost looks like it could be something reading forward.

The first thing I got today was OGLE (15A: Inspect the figures?) which made me smile, but then the very next thing ENORM (16A: Huge, in verse), made me frown. ATT over ATTY didn't seem great, I don't know what ILA (29D: Pier grp.)is, and STN (30A: Place with a waiting room: Abbr.) is back (shouldn't it be "sta?"), SAS, ELHI, ESTEE and EPEE… and to top it off, we've got PROLIFE and QUAYLE in there too. Distasteful. And didn't NIKE (54D: Sponsor of Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods) drop Tiger after all that cheating and crashing the car stuff? And CDEF (21A: B's tail?)?!?

I did enjoy APOP (44D: How individual firecrackers are priced?), and 5A: Blood group? (CLAN) was nice. Does HEROIN (20A: "Smack") need the quotes in the clue? Isn't that kind of like an unnecessary question mark?

Overall, too many proper names, too much crosswordese, and not enough payoff. Not a great start to the turn, but as Ms. LEIGH (49D: O'Hara portrayer) would say, Tomorrow is another day.

- Horace

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wednesday, July 16, 2014, Daniel Raymon


Many of us enjoyed SCALENE (21A: Like the figure formed by the three circled letters in the upper left) when it appeared just two days ago, and I'm sure we'll all like it again today. It did, however, immediately give away the theme and the other two centrally-located longish theme answers, ISOSCELES and EQUILATERAL. And, to be thorough, the circled letters spell out TRIANGLES. It was an unusual theme, and I have no idea how hard it is to place circles with specific letters, but the fill in this one seemed on the high side, so either Mr. Raymon is very good at what he does, or it's not that hard. Let's be charitable and go with the first option.

It started with a couple of partials on the first line, ATAB (1A: Run up ____) and OHTO (10A: "____ be in England") (ironically, the first one was the harder of the two for me to get), and then we quickly see such junk as TMEN and ARIS, and it ends with a dreaded "en-" word, although ENSNARE (68A: Sucker in) is, admittedly, one of the better ones. But the long downs make up for it, in my opinion. ANTWERP (1D: Belgian seaport) (Hey, did I mention that we were recently in Belgium?), is nice to see, and who doesn't enjoy any reference to "Stephen Colbert's 'I Am ____ (And So Can You!)?" (AMERICA)? HERONRY (11D: Nesting area for wading birds) checks out in the ol' Random House College Dictionary that I keep on the desk, but damn if it didn't take me forever to come up with those last two letters! By contrast, TRISTAN (12D: Isolde's beloved) went in off the T, and I didn't really even need that. I just had it.

It wasn't without it's problems, but overall, I'd say this was an enjoyable, if slightly quick, Wednesday puzzle.

- Horace

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tuesday, July 15, 2014, Zhouqin Burnikel


Don't you think that, if the answer is BCE, then the clue should probably be "Pre-C.E." (although, admittedly, it couldn't possibly be), and not "24A: Pre-A.D."? Well, I think so. In other areas, we have ENOTE crossing EMOTE, YSER alongside ETNA, and other distasteful things. EDO, EON, ETS...

The theme of mass commercialism is fine I suppose, although not symmetrical, but overall I had a terrible feeling about this one. Several clues rubbed me the wrong way, and, well... you get the drift.

I liked the word SCRAPES, but is it really equivalent to "just gets?" I know the actual clue is "43D: Just gets (by)," but it just seemed slightly off. I'd rather have either "scrapesby" in the grid (which, honestly, wouldn't be good), or a clue like "abrades," or "run-ins," that doesn't RELY (71A: Fall back (on)) (!!) on a damned parenthetical add-on. Also, 4D: Fill to the gills (SATE)? Isn't one more like "stuff," and the other more like "satisfy?" It was little stuff like that that turned me off.


- Horace

Monday, July 14, 2014

Monday, July 14, 2014, MaryEllen Uthlaut


As usual on a Monday, I had no idea what the theme was while solving, but looking at it now, I think it's a decent idea, with slightly light density. The UFO part always appears across word boundaries, which makes it slightly more elegant. The phrase YOUFORGOTME (23A: Annoyed "Hel-LO!") is a bit contrived, and I looked for UFOs in the last two long-ish across answers, PAGELAYOUT (18A: Web designer's concern) and CONFINEDTO (58A: Locked up in), but, well, that's the way it goes.

One possible result of the limited theme is a general decent-ness to the fill. It's not completely without its LAMER (19D: Less funny, as a joke) parts (LAUDING, AFAR, ISIN), but none of it is terrible, and you do get such gems as SCALENE (9D: Like a triangle with sides of different lengths), USURY (32D: Exorbitant interest charge), and FOGHORN (42D: Blast from a lighthouse) (Does it really come from the lighthouse, though, or does it come from a foghorn house, like at Cape Elizabeth?).

Least favorite clue today, and possibly ever: 57D: 21st word of the Pledge of Allegiance (ONE).

Not great, but a serviceable Monday.

- Horace

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sunday, July 13, 2014, Tom McCoy


(The circled letters, when read clockwise, will reveal a quote from Gertrude Stein.)

After seeing those two announcements, I entered AROSEIS immediately into the circled letters. It was the first thing I put in the grid. Other things that went in with just a cross or two and without a second thought were IYAMWHATIYAM (38A: Declaration from Popeye), ITAINTOVERTILITSOVER (72A: Famous Yogiism), and HATERSGONNAHATE (57A: Words dismissive of detractors), all of which felt too easy, and none of which were especially fun or welcome. I mean... I like Popeye references, and I like Gertrude Stein, but when there are so many of these ITISWHATITIS (105A: Expression of resignation) all together, they just seem stupider and stupider and, well, HATERSGONNAHATE. I didn't enjoy it.

In addition to my negative reaction to the theme, I also found a few of the clues to be a little off. 12A: Lives (ABIDES), 29A: Workman's aid (VAN) (yeah, I get it, but really?), 181A: Record stat (RPM) ("stat?" really?), and the lame "Follower of lop" clues. Hated it. ADDER, LILTER, EEW, EER, RETROD, REHEAR... ugh.

I did, however, enjoy the pairing of 28A: Mercury, but not Earth (GOD), and 7D: Mercury or Earth (ORB) (even though "ORB" is a little lame by itself), and 104A: Top choice (BLOUSE) was good.

I didn't love it. Now it's time for the World Cup Final. See you tomorrow.

- Horace

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Saturday, July 12, 2014, Tim Croce and Alex Vratsanos


Just like last week - an easier than normal Friday and a killer Saturday. It's been a while since a puzzle has taken us this long to complete! I liked the fifteens, and there was some good misdirection with clues like 2D: Plain variety (PRAIRIE), and 36D: Skips (DEPARTS).

We started out well, getting ORZO (6D: Pasta eaten with a spoon) and then TAPPANZEEBRIDGE (17A: Span since 1955) quickly off of that, and TILT (23A: Camera movement) was the first thing I thought of for that clue, but it's not common on many cameras, now or ever.

But lower down the grid, I put in "StLouisCARDINALS" instead of ARIZONACARDINALS (54A: Pro athlete in red-and-white uniform) (both fit!), and "cards" instead of NFLER (28D: 54-Across, e.g., for short), which slowed things down considerably. Also, I really wanted "solfège" for 24D: Sight-singing technique (SOLFA), and had never heard the variant before, so that took some time, too.

We didn't love REGRADE (12D: Move from A to B, say), and we both dislike clues in the style of "51D: Part of A.M.P.A.S: Abbr." (ACAD), but overall, this was a pretty clean grid, and we learned what 1D: Schnitzels, e.g. (CUTLETS) are, so that's good. I guess.

We liked it, but it went slowly. Maybe because of a slight hangover.

- Horace

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Friday, July 11, 2014, Sam Ezersky and Victor Fleming


It's not often that on a Friday I get the entire top row immediately, but that's what happened today. 1A: Displeases one's buds? (TASTESBAD) wasn't fooling me today. And DODGE seemed just so obvious for "10A: Dart maker … or dart." They've started making those again, right? Anyway, several more were entered after a MERE (48A: Enfant bearer) glance at the clue, and all of a sudden, it was done.

Overall, I liked it fine while it was happening. The central 15 cross of ANAKINSKYWALKER (8D: Knight who fell to the dark side) (another gimme), and FACEBOOKFRIENDS (31A: They might like your comments) (took several crosses for this one!) was nice. BUTTS (29A: Moon views?) was shockingly hilarious (I actually tried "asses" at first!), and who doesn't love the term POPO (28A: Cops, in slang)? FRIDAY (23A: People thank God when it comes) was also amusingly clued. And on a Friday, no less!

It's been a while since JOECAMEL (47A: Ad mascot in sunglasses) reared his ugly head,… and what the hell is a DEMIJOHN (12D: Cousin of a carafe)? And let's see… TOWAGE (39A: Impound lot charge) isn't my favorite word, but I'm really reaching if that's all I can find to complain about.

Surprise of the day - that EDY (26A: Joseph of ice cream) is a man, and that's his last name! All these years, I had it wrong!

Really, the more I look at this, the better it looks. Lovely stacked eights in the corners, and not a clunker in the bunch! Good clueing, interesting, fresh fill. ERGO (5D: Accordingly), I give it a big thumbs up!

- Horace

p.s. A DEMIJOHN, sometimes called a carboy, seems to be any large bottle having a short, narrow neck, often covered in wickerwork. They used to be a symbol for chianti, basically. This picture is one Frannie or I took when we were in Italy several years ago. We fell in love with them, and now each time we go, we dream of taking one home, but they're just too big! Anyway, that might be the surprise of the day! I'm glad to have finally learned what those are!

Thursday, July 10, 2014, John Guzzetta


Kind of a quiet theme today. Starts off with barely a whisper with the silent P at the end of COUP (1A: Takeover). We see another silent letter on the other side in DAMNS (9A: Curses), in the middle with CZAR (29D: 3-Down issuer (UKASE)), and then, further down the grid with the lovely MNEMONIC (50A: "Every good boy does fine," e.g.). One could argue, I suppose whether the E (or is it the A?) is silent in AESTHETES (20A: Art lovers) (for most, one is, for the true aesthetes, it's a diphthong), the S in DEMESNE (43D: Lord's estate) (I'll come back to this), the C in SCENES (22A: Film series) (ok, yes, it is), or the I and/or E in SALLIEMAE (59A: Company providing financial assistance to college students), but whether you noticed all those (and more - PLAIT, KOHL, LIGHTS, LEAP, MOVIE, AWL, HONESTWOMAN, ELLISISLAND, NIGHT, OBOE, FOREMAN, HUE, and, importantly, LISTEN) (did I miss any?) or not, you will eventually have felt the silence present in [silent] SPRING (54A: Seminal 1962 book on the environment), [silent] PARTNER (4D: Business associate uninvolved in management), and maybe even [silent] HILL (5A: Hit 2006 horror film based on a video game series) (this was new to me). There are others as well, but I'll leave you to find those yourself.

That's some nice work!

But before I go, I'd like to go back to two words. The first is UKASE (3D: Decree). We both thought we'd have to go back up and re-look at that NW corner when we saw that that had gone in, but it crossed well, and what do you know?, it was right! Now that I've slept on it, the word rings a faint bell, but maybe only because I've seen it before in a grid? I don't know. Also, I looked it up just now, and hey, it's a silent E at the end. I should have guessed.

The second is a word that Frannie knew right off, but that I - despite my romance language experience - did not recognize, DEMESNE. I did, however, know to pronounce it so that it nearly rhymes with "domain," which is a derivative. Both spring from "dominus," "lord," in Latin.

So, overall, a jam-packed, entertaining Thursday grid. Very nice.

- Horace

p.s. The Crossword Fiend notes that the clues that need the hidden "silent" to work all cross a silent letter in another answer. Which means, I guess, that "silent" COUP (1A: Takeover) (that's a thing, right?) was not intended.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wednesday, July 9, 2014, Bruce Haight


A real STARSTUDDED (60A: Like the Oscars … or the answers to this puzzle's seven asterisked clued?) puzzle today! I had to look a bit to find the sixth and seventh asterisked answers! I kept looking at WISECRACKS (46 Words from class clowns) and MADAGASCAR (32A: Title island of a 2005 DreamWorks animated film), but to no avail. They are, instead, out on the perimeter - the amusingly dated (right? No one makes this claim anymore, do they?) LESSTAR (13D: *Cigarette ad claim) and the even-more-obscure ASTARTE (40D: *Ancient fertility goddess).

Even after the rough start in the NW, with DRJ, EAU, and PJS (none of which is terrible by itself, but the group together seemed a little much), this puzzle won me over with the excellently clued BEERGUT (11D: Opposite of six-pack abs, ironically). After that, it was a smiling solve.

Another thing I liked was TORTUGA (31A: Island setting for "Pirates of the Caribbean"). It's my favorite contrada in Siena, and when we were there to see the Palio a few years ago, their horse won! And COMTE (57A: Title for a French nobleman) is one of Frannie's favorite cheeses, and it was made in an area very close to where we spent time in a chalet earlier this Spring… even SORORAL (47A: Sisterly), which on another day I might well have found a bit much, today looks interesting and unusual. Such is the power of amusing cluing, I guess.

Nice clues for little stuff, too. TEE (66A: Driving need), EST (69A: Suffix for braggarts), ORE (48D: Some Scandinavian coins) (well… at least it's different!), DAS (69D: Hip-hop's ____ Racist) (!), KEG (45D: Bud holder, of sorts), and how 'bout that strange "Dennis the Menace" pairing? Where'd that come from? GIE (9D: Bestow on, to Burns), however, is pushing it. Any of those damn "Burnsisms" is pushing it, if you ask me… and I love poetry!

Overall, I liked this one. It wasn't perfect, but for a Wednesday, it wasn't bad.

- Horace

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tuesday, July 8, 2014, Bruce Venzke and Gail Grabowski


You could have knocked me over with a feather when I put in the R of EZER/REATA (9D: Israeli president Weizman) (22A: Bit of gaucho gear) and got the "Well Done!" message. I guess I shouldn't do these so late at night, just before falling asleep, because I was sure that that second clue said "Bit of Groucho gear," and my first thought was "fake glasses, nose, and mustache?" REATA makes little sense with Groucho, but I see, now, that it does with "gaucho." EZER, I still don't know. In fact, that whole North section seems a little un-Tuesday-ish. RUEDE (5A: Start of some French street names) isn't exactly well known, is it? (But it reminds me of the fun Frannie and I had last winter while putting together a puzzle that was a street map of Paris. We'd endlessly amuse each other by saying "I need a piece… it should say "Rue de... something" on it…" The joke being that about half the streets start with "Rue de.") And ARROZ (15A: Spanish rice) took a little thinking, too. And URIEL (6D: One of the archangels)? I'm not too familiar with him or her…

Like yesterday, there aren't any very long answers. The pairs of sevens in the downs offer a few interesting answers - well, one, PORTICO (11D: Colonnaded entrance), and I suppose YOGAMAT (12D: You might sit cross-legged on one) is fine, but SENHORA (44D: Lady of Brazil). Is that Portuguese? Maybe it gets a pass because of the World Cup. And speaking of that, Brazil should be singing their swan song today at around 5:30pm, EDT. They've had a good run this year, and a hell of a home field streak, but all streaks must end, right?

So, let's see, the theme was fine: BARS (67A: Signs of cell service … or a word that can follow both parts of 18-, 23-, 36-, 52-, and 58-Across), and they managed to squeeze in some interesting fill, like AMIDST (1D: Surrounded by), TRENCH (29A: Detective's coat, informally) (odd clue), and I even like GUFF (62A: Back talk), but there are some areas of the grid where it feels really strained.


- Horace

Monday, July 7, 2014

Monday, July 7, 2014, Lynn Lempel


It's somewhat unusual to have a female-based theme today, but I applaud the variety. (Or am I showing "gender bias" by assuming that men do not get a "set" when they have their hair done?) And the central REDYE (30D: Change back to brunet, say), although not the greatest word, fits well with the theme, even though it is not advertised as being part of it.

I thought the long-ish fill was decent, especially STATELY (38D: Dignified), RASCAL (51D: Mischief-maker), LIMBER (24D: Flexible, as a gymnast), ASPIRE (32D: Have as a goal, with "to"), and DOWSE (5D: Use a divining rod). That last one is a word I just like. Does that really work, or what? Why is that even a thing? Looking for water with a stick… seems so ridiculous.

The theme phrases were all fine, normal things. The compound words and the two-word phrases are even symmetrical, not that that matters. 

Overall, not much to say about it. It's a Monday. It was slightly unusual in its theme. It didn't have any egregiously annoying answers… let's call it a win.

- Horace

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sunday, July 6, 2014, Daniel C. Bryant


I enjoyed this Sunday puzzle. The theme of THESTARSPANGLEDBANNER (65A: This puzzle's theme, whose first notes are indicated by circled squares) was interesting - I don't remember hearing that bit about the PRISONEREXCHANGE (99A: Mission that 24-Across was on when he wrote 65-Across) before - and the first six notes positioned as though on a staff was a nice flourish. (As was getting in ORIOLE (94D: Player in orange and black) - another Baltimore reference!) For all that, I'll accept the unknowable (to us) GASOL (63A: Four-time N.B.A. All-Star Pau ____), BAI (69D: Political writer Matt), and RONAN (71D: Farrow of MSNBC).

Boy, as I look this over, I find a lot of questionable material - DISCI, SMEARY, AIT, ATWT, BES, STRETTI, UTERI, TITI, PLEASER, CRO, HEMIC… but, well, it's a holiday weekend. I'm too relaxed to get all up in arms about it.

There was a lot I did like, like COLDCASH (53D: Money in hand), NEOPHYTE (4D: Greenhorn), FACTOTUM (12A: General servant), ESCAROLE (86D: Salad green)… and I enjoyed the excellent trivia learned through 103D: City whose name was the source of the word "sherry" (XERES). Sherry is an anglicization of the town name, which today is Jerez de la Frontera, in Andalusia, Spain. According to the Wikipedias, sherry was previously known as "sack," so… progress!

It wasn't perfect, but hey, neither is the country, but dammit! It was good enough!

- Horace

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Saturday, July 5, 2014, David Steinberg


An appropriately challenging puzzle for a Saturday, but we guessed wrong on DINKS (18A: Hardly smash hits) and BIKEL (13D: Theodore of "The African Queen") (who?), going with a G instead of the K.

This felt kind of blah the whole way through, with answers getting a "Well, I guess that could be it" rather than a "Wow, very nice." Take, for instance, 1A: Neckwear slider (SCARFRING). Well, ok, I suppose it's that thing that used to hold my Boy Scout neckerchief on, but really? Scarf ring? See also BIKERCHICK (25D: Woman in a leather jacket, maybe). Frannie particularly disliked GEAROIL (23A: Tooth coating?), complaining that most people would just say "oil." 25A: Eschews money, say (BARTERS) seems a bit contrived, and is the NYT showing a little GENDERBIAS (9D: Male issue?) by clueing INGA with "7D: 'Young Frankenstein' girl?" I'm pretty sure she was over 18.

On the bright side, the pair of "Drill specialist, for short?" clues (DDS & NCO) was nice, and FAKEIDS (29A: Minor documents?) was funny. As was ARSONIST (31D: Ignition technician?). And I kind of liked CURLUP (38D: Get comfortable, in a way).

But the puzzle had a lot of stuff that was just kind of BORERSing (35D: Orchard menaces). Like OVIFORM (11D: Not quite spherical) (ok...), and ALSATIA (19A: Part of the Roman Empire in modern-day NE France) (ok...), GARDENA (40A: Los Angeles suburb once dubbed "Berryland") (whaa?). Also, JAVERT (27D: Broadway inspector)? Is this known by Broadway people? By non-Broadway people? Not by us.

I don't know... it just wasn't doing it for us today.

- Horace

Friday, July 4, 2014

Friday, July 4, 2014, Patrick Berry


In the immortal words of Charles Dikkens, I TAKESTO this puzzle right away. Mr. Berry and I appear to be on a very similar wavelength. So much so, that I ended up completing it before Horace even got a look at it. In this fine outing, we have all of the following:
17A. First-century governor of Britain, whose name was Latin for farmer - boom - AGRICOLA
50A. 1950 short-story collection by Asimov - long-time fan - IROBOT
12D. Not-so-fast food? - hilarious!- ESCARGOT
44D. "The Name of the Rose" setting - just read it last summer - ABBEY
56A. Phalanx weapons - Ancient Greece - SPEARS
43D. "Never trust a woman who wears ____" (line from "The Picture of Dorian Gray") - Wilde is a big favorite of mine - MAUVE

Along with the above-mentioned, Frannie-tailored clues were other great ones such as 8A. Summer hat (BOATER),  37A. Manhattan Project scientist (FERMI), 30A. Columbian Exposition engineer (FERRIS) - who knew? Substantive and interesting fill. 

Mr. Berry did not OMIT (9D. Pass over) humorous entries either. I was entertained by:
15D. Send-off for the dear departed? HAVEANICETRIP ; 8D. Upstanding one? (BIPED) ; 38A. All you can take with one hand - no question mark - POT ; 2D. Being in heaven (ANGEL) ; and 52A. Cork bar (IRISHPUB). HA!

I have not a single PETPEEVE to report (56A. Cause for complaint).


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Thursday, July 3, 2014, Luke Vaughn


Is it the anniversary of the MOUNTSTHELENS (39A: It left parts of itself in 11 states in 1980) eruption? No, that was on May 18th. So it's just a random reference. Fine. It's a good enough reason for covering the puzzle with [ASH].

The rebus came to me very early today, right when I hit 8D: Not go together at all (CL[ASH]). And then that quickly gave ON[ASH]ORTLE[ASH]), and I was off to the races. The top and bottom were done in short order, but I didn't have much at all in the middle. I started at it for a while, then fell asleep. This morning, Frannie took up the fight, and handed the iPad back to me with the "Well Done" message in just a few minutes.

Eleven rebus squares seems like a lot, and I liked that you had no idea where they would pop up. (Sometimes they've been symmetrical, which seems to defeat the purpose.)

I enjoyed REPTILE (27D: Cold-blooded sort), PAR (36A: It's not unusual), LOO (42D: Throne room at Buckingham Palace) (LOL), NOOSES (51D: Deadly constrictors), and THR[ASH]ES (52A: Licks) (even though it's oh-so-close to TR[ASH]ES (66A: Bad-mouths)).

Didn't like OWE (35A: Must give) or WEPT (43A: Had pity (for)) - both seem slightly inaccurate. And I can never remember any of those damn 61A: Brit. military decorations (DSO).

I don't have much more to say. I liked it fine. Not my favorite ever, but a fine Thursday.

- Horace

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Wednesday, July 2, 2014, Dick Shlakman and Jeff Chen


Kind of a cute homonym theme today. None of them were keel-over-laughing hilarious or anything, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would be IDYLLSIDLEIDOLS (54A: PASTORAL POEMS INCAPACITATE TEEN FAVES), just for the word "idylls." Not sure why the clues had to be in all caps, but maybe it was just to identify them as theme material.

The ALBA/ELBA sequence was fun, although both are crossword darlings, and it's a nice belittling of ART with the clue "22A: Caricatures and such." Kind of like clueing "literature" with "Crossword blogs and whatnot." In fact, now that I look at it a little more, there were other clues that seemed just a little off. 23A: "Now or never" time for DDAY? I guess I think of it more as "Now is the time" rather than, "it's now or never." A fine line maybe, but I draw it. And BROWSE is a 25A: Netflix menu heading? It's not one that comes up when I get to Netflix through the TV. "New Releases," "Comedies," "Because you watched..." sure, those are all menu headings. "Browse?" not so much. And 18D: Wisenheimer (SMARTY) really needs to have the "pants" part of "smartypants, doesn't it? And furthermore, what the hell is ASH brown?

But I didn't come here today to trash the puzzle. I thought it was fine while I was doing it, and a definite step up from yesterday. ORIT (40A: "Pics ____ didn't happen" ("Where's the proof?!")) was nice and fresh. And everyone loves a SATYR (62A: Lecherous goat-man) in the grid, right? The long downs: ABANDONSHIP (3D: Final order from the captain) and SETSARECORD (26D: Becomes worthy of the Guinness Book, say) were both quite nice. DADA (24A: "_____ means nothing" (1918 manifesto declaration)) was something I hadn't heard before, and the date really threw me off. Interesting, though. It was Tristan Tzara (photo) who wrote the manifesto. Other nice quotes of his are "thought is produced in the mouth," and "logic is always false." Interesting guy, Tzara. I'll have to look into him some more.

So, for that, and for the cute-ish theme, I give this a thumbs up. It wasn't great or anything, but it was a serviceable Wednesday.

- Horace

p.s. Over on the Wordplay blog today, there's commentary by Jeff Chen about comparing times with Dan Feyer (reigning ACPT champion) when solving his (Jeff's) own puzzles. It's worth a look.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tuesday, July 1, 2014, Gary Cee


This one was a little bit of a let-down after yesterday's. It might be that I only like two out of the five "Don't" songs (the first two), but should that influence me? Well, whether or not it should, it seems to.

It all just seemed kind of boring. Lots of short junk like TRAM, ALOE, AMO, POR, ERST, LES, IRA, ABC, ALMA… and nothing much to marvel at. And the stuff I didn't know, like PLUTON (8D: Mass of crystallized magma), RINGALEVIO (12D: Game similar to hide-and-seek), and MYLAI (23D: Vietnam War locale), wasn't all that exciting either. It's mildly interesting, I suppose, that MYLAI is somewhat similar to the name of the person who designed the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., Maya Lin. In fact, I was stuck there for a while because I kept inserting "memorial" into the clue in my head.

CANNONBALL (31D: Dive done with the arms around the knees) is good, and it's interesting to learn that RWANDA is the "49D: African country known as the Land of a Thousand Hills," but other than that… not much.

- Horace