Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Wednesday, December 31, 2014, David Woolf


First of all, I'd like to thank Colum for stepping in on very short notice to do the last two reviews. Our router gave out, and Verizon kindly offered to UPS a new one, which should arrive in 4 or 5 days. Jerks. (I'm at Colum's house, using his internetz to write this!) Anyway, what I was going to say in today's review, even before the router debacle, is that Colum would be taking over the reviews for the month of January! Frannie's going overseas, and, well, you're probably sick of my drivel. This will provide a nice jolt of "something new" into the whole thing. It was my idea that maybe he and I would trade off months for a while - but I guess I've got to get his ok before actually announcing such a thing. He's a busy guy, with a real job and a family and actual responsibilities, after all, but he's also just crazy enough to agree to do a month, so who knows, maybe we'll get this every-other-month thing going after all. Stay tuned!

But now, let's get down to brass tacks. Cece, Colum and I breezed through this thing in about 8 minutes, but then we didn't get the "Congratulations" page, and spent quite a bit of time questioning things like RAT, and EYRA (41A: South American wildcat), before Frannie finally said - without having the puzzle in front of her - "What about PLAT (54D: Map showing property divisions)"? And what do you know, she was right! PLAT?! Hmpf. We had PLoT, of course, but, of course, that was wrong.

The theme was fun, and I like that Mr. Woolf started the whole thing off with the proper alternative to PRNDL, which is STICK (1A: Manual). The rest of the theme entries were all decent fill. My favorite was GENDERNEUTRAL (34A: *Like you or me), but SWEETNLOW (57A: *Equal rival) wasn't bad. Another one that had a good clue was MAIDS (59A: Some help they are!). Hah!

LIMAPERU (9D: Home of the oldest continuously functioning university in the Americas) was interesting trivia. Who knew? And NAWAB (50D: Muslim princely title)? Wha? It was kind of weird that DENIM (17A: Material that can be acid-washed), LEVI (40D: Big name in jeans), and LEE (47D: Big name in jeans) were all in the same grid - but I suppose that was done intentionally. Derp.

OK, we've gotta get back to the New Year's Eve festivities. Namely, the wine. And the baked brie. Mmmm... baked brie....

Thanks again, Colum, and have fun with the reviews in January. I'll see you in the comments!

- Horace

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tuesday, December 30, 2014, Jeffrey Wechsler

10:52, FWTE

That's correct, finished with two errors. It all came about due to that very poor middle south section. I chose TENto instead of TENOF, a reasonable choice in my opinion. The crosses were helpful only in retrospect. Yes, I should have known that PLt (68A: Olso Accords Grp.) wasn't quite correct, but I forgot (once again) that the PLO were involved in the Oslo Accords. And OOo seemed reasonable, although OOF is clearly superior. Regardless, too much isolation for such blah fill. I mean, who clues HARPO with 54D: ____ Productions (Oprah Winfrey company)? And who cares about OCELO (55D: Big name in kitchen sponges)?

So maybe you've cottoned to the fact that there are some sour grapes going on in the Amory puzzle-solving world. But to be honest, this puzzle lacks something. It starts with the grid which has zero flow because each corner and middle section are almost completely isolated from each other. Then there's the theme with the less than scintillating reveal. I can see that each quartet of circled letters represents a "looped" LOOP, but where's the third looping? I guess it's that all of the quartets of circled letters are in a circle within the grid.

And then, we have to deal with all of the words with LP in them. POOLPUMP, CPL, ALP opposite ALPO, RALPH, PLO. RUMPLE and DIETPLAN are better on the whole than the preceding six. So what did I like? I liked the pair of Food for Fido, perhaps clues (SCRAPS and ALPO), and the matching pair of Toon dogs (one chihuahua, REN, a favorite; one beagle, ODIE, a major dislike). I liked the mention of Hugh LAURIE, an all-time favorite for his pre-House Britcom life.

Meh from me, once again proving that theme density is not a good trade-off for high-quality fill.

- Colum

Monday, December 29, 2014

Monday, December 29, 2014, Peter A. Collins


I have returned! This is Colum, filling in for Horace and Frannie, whose router has apparently betrayed them, such that they are unable to post. Fortunately, they are coming to visit the day after tomorrow to ring in the New Year in sunny Albany, New York, and they can chime in on my witty and urbane musings at that time.

Speaking of which, this was a surprisingly difficult Monday puzzle. Sure 1A: Titanic victim John Jacob ____ (ASTOR) was a gimme, and I filled in the remainder of the NW-most corner until hitting 5D: 1970 John Wayne film (RIOLOBO), crossing 14A: Havana hero José (MARTI) and 21A: ____ nut (Chinese fruit) (LITCHI). And don't we usually spell that "lychee?" Seems litchi chinensis is the scientific name for the genus. Well, no issue, I worked away from it, but many more un-Monday like entries loomed.

MOTT, ROUX, ZEROG, XOUT, SHEP all gave me more than the usual pause. 55A: Second-stringers (BTEAMS) is not okay. A B-team is already made up of second-stringers, plural, You don't need more than one. On the other hand, 13D: Enjoys Joyce, Carroll or Oates (READS) was a fun clue. 30D: Like integers of the form 2n + 1 (ODD) was an oddly long clue for such a short answer, and I liked it.

Which brings us to the theme. I liked all of the answers, although TEACHEST is the poorest fit. And SPELLITOUT is a good revealer. Overall, I'd say not the best Monday, and I think the six theme answers are responsible. For me, fill trumps theme, unless the theme is outstanding, which is not the case today.

- Colum

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sunday, December 28, 2014, Joe Krozel


After the first couple gimmes - THETOP (1A: Where it's lonely at, it's said) and CABS (7A: Semi parts) - I found it difficult to get much else of substance on my first pass through, and the theme remained completely opaque to me. Luckily, Frannie was able to fill in about 70 percent of the grid, working methodically from top left to bottom right, and she broke the theme with MISSINGPERSON (26A: Su____ic). "Supersonic." I had been thrown off by the use of four underscores, even though that's the same convention we use in this blog for any amount of missing material. Tricky, though, isn't it? Well, it was to me.

When I took it over again, I put in FORFEITEDnAME for 91A: Li____nt, which seemed to work pretty well, but which made GUESSNOT (93D: "So much for that") difficult to work out. Another cross through that word - NONONO (124A: "That's completely wrong, you idiot!") was one that I thought of immediately, but waited to enter until I had a little backup.

So overall, we enjoyed the theme. The clues look a little weird, though, like 50A: ____t (UNUSEDMINUTES). I mean, what is that? … but if you just let it wash over you, it's a fine theme, and a decent execution.

LENOS (25A: Host Jay and family) was a little weak, but there aren't too many other cheap shots. Well, maybe PARTVI (42A: "Friday the 13th" sequel subtitled "Jason Lives"). Wasn't the whole title actually "Friday the 13th, Part VI" and not just "Part VI?" Meh.

Wanted "Mad Libs" for HANGMAN (35D: Fill-in-the-blanks activity), and again, in Hangman the exact number of blanks is important, whereas in Mad Libs, it's just one blank for an entire word. Oh well.

I liked the obscure clue for MEANINGS (24A: Imports), and 17D: Apple picker's pick? (IPODNANO) was pretty tricky! Finally, are they really putting ALOEVERA into drinks now? No more "lotion ingredient" clues?

I guess I sound like I'm complaining a lot here, but we enjoyed it overall. A nice challenging Sunday.

- Horace

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Saturday, December 27, 2014, David Phillips


A very smooth Saturday. A couple of gimmes to get the ball rolling (MARIANO (17A: 19-season Yankee Rivera) & ANAHEIM (5D: Home to "The Happiest Place on Earth")) and we were well on our way! Frannie and I passed it back and forth in a relaxed way, ending up in the tricky SE with ADAK (56D: Alaskan island or its principal town) and ADAWARE (59A: Popular pop-up preventer). We took an educated guess on the D and got it right. Yippee!

Loved 33D: Limited expense? (TRAINFARE), 63A: Big name in air circulation? (SKYMALL), HOTTOTROT (12D: Turned on), MAPLELEAF (8D: 11-pointed national symbol), 57D: Pre-texts? (IMS), and VEHEMENCY (34D: Fire). Also enjoyed the pair of "Batting targets" clues resulting in PINATAS and PITCHES. SLAKE (21A: Assuage) and its clue are both lovely words, as are FERAL and 37A: Savage.

We tried OIL/paint at first, of course, for OIL/COLOR (27A: With 46-Down, common canvas coater), and frankly, what is "oil color?" Isn't that really oil paint? So that wasn't great, but there wasn't much else to complain about. Sure, some obscure stuff like KLOSS (7D: Supermodel Karlie), SNELL (52D: Tackle box accessory), and MALTHUS (8A: Economist who wrote "An Essay on the Principle of Population," in 1798), but that's just the kind of thing you're supposed to run into on a Saturday. That and ATARAXY (41D: Serene calmness). And furthermore, we loved ETERNAL (15A: Like Rome, supposedly). And AMOROSO (16A: How one might play a love ballad). And SAIL (54D: Junk mover). HAH! Excellent.

- Horace

Friday, December 26, 2014

Friday, December 26, 2014, Patrick Berry


We tend to enjoy a good Patrick Berry offering, and that's what this was. Not his greatest, but certainly good. The stutter-stepped 14s in the middle around the cutesy RENTMONEY (33A: Letter's capital?) looks very "Patrick Berry-ish" to us. Frannie uses the expression SEATOFTHEPANTS (30A: Based on instinct and guesswork) a lot, and SAVINGSANDLOAN (34A: Thrift) echo's "It's a Wonderful Life" nicely on this, Boxing Day. (See also: MRDEEDS (20A: Frank Capra title character.)

Some good thought in the clueing, as in - 14A: One who gets upset twice (SORELOSER), 39A: Page with many views (OPED), and the ridiculous stretch 57A: In the pit of one's stomach? (EATEN).

In the "things that went right in" category, I got ANGIE (18A: Love ballad from the 1973 album "Goats Head Soup") and Frannie got HERMES (48A: Caduceus carrier) and EMMA (15D: Miss Woodhouse of Highbury), of course. We both wanted FIVE (45A: Maximum on a hurricane wind scale) immediately, but didn't have the confidence to leave it in until we had a cross.

A few ARID (31D: Uninteresting) entries - ICIEST, OVATE, STEN - but SOFTSCIENCE (23D: Psychology or sociology) and INAMORATA (17A: Ladylove) are both great, and the "Hide/Hides" pair was good (PELT/VEILS). Overall, it's a clean, chunky-ish Friday puzzle. Looking at it now, it's hard to find concrete criticisms, but I guess we just expect miracles from Mr. Berry. Perhaps that's unfair. Especially on the day after Christmas.

Thumbs up!

- Horace

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Thursday, December 25, 2014, Xan Vongsathorn


I think I was confusing the cassava, which does, indeed, look kind of like a YAM, with a casaba melon, which looks more like a melon. Maybe a visual aid will help me to remember.

But really, I guess, I should have chosen a photo of some mixed nuts, since that's the theme. Frannie figured it out when SP[UTN]IK (26A: Startling newsmaker of 10/4/1957) crossed CH[UTN]EY (37A: Samosa topping) (mmmm.... samosa....) and the rebus was laid bare. It took her another couple, I think, before she figured out the "mixed nut" thing. 

Some favorites from the fill include: ORIGAMI (61A: Artwork from a folder), PE[TUN]IA (40A: Flowery girl's name), and it's always nice to be reminded of 46A: Joe Quimby on "The Simpsons," e.g. (MAYOR). 

Frannie found the near repetition of HAHAS (25D: Rib-ticklers) and HAR (55D: Laugh sound) a bit off-putting, and the same, sort of, with SUDS (23A: Brewskis) and ALE (67A: It may be blonde). Of course, the latter was mitigated by its proximity to another "blonde" clue - 40D: Blonde's secret (PEROXIDE), and there were some other nice pairings, like the TRIED / HEARD set (Presided over, as a case), and the PEN / LEG pair. 

Overall, a few EHS, so not a RAVE review, but the good features OU[TNU]MBER the bad, so we won't throw it into a OPENPIT. OK. I should stop now. Time to go back to looking at all the presents...

- Horace

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Wednesday, December 24, 2014, Adam G. Perl


Well, I got an early Christmas present today from Mr. Perl - a true gem of a Wednesday puzzle! I LOVED the theme! CRYMEARIVER (17A: 1955 Julie London hit) opposite CRIMEARIVER (62A: Certain waterway to the Black Sea?)? Beautiful. PARASALE (21A: Glide, in a way) vs. PARISALE (55A: Left Bank quaff?)? Lovely. And GOBETWEEN (33A: Intermediary) paired with GOBITWEEN (44A: 11- or 12-year-old Mongolian desert dweller?)? Hilarious. Boy, oh, boy… thank you for that, Adam.

And aside from that, we see some fine cluing too, as in 42A: Eye-opener? (ALARM) (This took me a while!), 52D: Bank security figure? (LEVEE), and 54D: Horns in on? (GORES). Sure, there's plenty of the usual stuff, like EPEE, NEENOBIS, EST (fooled again by the clue here!), etc., and there's even some stuff that is downright obscure - I'm looking at you, OOLA.

The NE had one of the trickier parts, with IQS (10A: Figs. on a bell curve) crossing QEII (11D: Royal who's notably a crossword fan, for short). I was worried about that until I got the double I on the down, and then it all made sense.

Very nice.

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Peaceful Kwanza. Happy Solstice!

- Horace

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014, Bruce Haight


I don't know… "Fee" "Fi" Fo" Fum," and Jack, the Giant, and the BEANSTALK (21D: Storied locale for the circled letters in 8- and 65-Across)? I guess when you spell it all out it seems like a lot, but it doesn't really seem like a lot when you look at it. I might not go so far as to say it RANKLES (54A: Vexes), but it's not a GASSER (47D: Real hoot), so to speak. Gasser. Hmph. And I suppose BADSEED (38A: Wayward offspring, informally) is supposed to be theme material, too, in a way.

It must have been tricky to work it out, though, because we end up with lots of EZINE, AGAR, ILLE, NANU, CAF, SARG, GABLER, RARA, GLO, and whatnot. On the brighter side, I'll take SINEW (13D: Muscle), RETRACT (59A: Take back, as a false charge), ESCALLOP (39D: Bake in a sauce), EARTHY (28A: Coarse, as humor), and ENABLER (20A: One helping an addict) all day long. 

So… not really my cup of tea, but not terrible. Perhaps you enjoyed it more than I did.

- Horace

Monday, December 22, 2014

Monday, December 22, 2014, Lynn Lempel


This was one of those themes for which I got the revealer - PEDXING (39A: Something often seen on a street corner, briefly … or, literally, something seen in each corner of this puzzle) - and then briefly looked to the NW corner, didn't see anything, and moved on. Now that I look at it, I find that it's a little in from the extreme corner, but sure enough, SPEDAWAY (19A: Hurriedly left by car) crosses IMPEDIMENT (3D: Roadblock) (nice fill!), and the "PED" part crosses right at the E. The four PEDs are symmetrical in the same way that the puzzle is, so that's nice and clean. It's a minimalist theme, or so it looks, but I like it. It's just a little extra thing on a decent puzzle, and not some big ungainly thing that takes over and ruins everything. Plus, you get a bonus PES, which is Latin for "foot" (and, obviously, the origin of the "PED" in PEDXING) in GAPES (16A: Stares open-mouthed), so that's nice.

The fill, as I sort of said already, was on the good side, especially for a Monday. SNIT (24A: Pique performance?) is nice, and it got a tricky/funny clue! And DUEDATE (4D: What a pregnant woman or a library book has) was cute.

Sure, there was some usual crosswordsy stuff, like ERGS (unfortunate plural), EARP, RNA, TMEN, ESO, and ASHY, but those fall more into the category of "stuff you see frequently but wouldn't be objectionable if this was the first crossword you ever did," rather than, "oh come on, nobody says/knows that!" Just about the most objectionable thing was ALGA (11D: Simple aquatic plant), and, well, if that's the worst, then this was A-ok.

- Horace

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sunday, December 21, 2014, Joel Fagliano

Season's Greetings

I think it took quite a bit of ESPRIT (97D. Lively intelligence) to come up with today's theme answers, especially my favorite, 117A. Stuff your dad finds ridiculous? (HOKUMTOPAPA). That clue is quite a stretch, but it works and it entertains. Many of the other theme-related material had enjoyably unusual parts to them: HOKEY, HOEDOWN, HOBO, and DINGER. I noted two additional theme-related clues in the grid - kind of a meager haul. At least there wasn't any coal. :)
88A. "It came __ a Midnight Clear" (UPON)
46D. Some Christmas decorations (HOLLIES)
There were a few other answers I enjoyed:

7a. Without a mixer (NEAT) - right in my wheelhouse because I take my drinks neat, like my men.
30A. Majors in acting (LEE) - six million dollar answer.
96A. Seeks change (BEGS) - See, change can also mean coins, or money.
110A. Where the big buoys are? (OCEAN) - Ha!
13D. Return to one's seat? (REELECT) - Nice one.

I learned a few things about Italian word origins from Mr. Fagliano. He included two food-related items of interest:
38A. Sauce with a name derived from the Italian for "pounded" (PESTO)
77D. Pasta with a name derived from the Italian for "quills" (PENNE)

I did have a few quibbles:
70A. Soon gonna (ABOUTTO) - the informal nature of the clue doesn't match the answer.
102A. What vinegar has a lot of (USES) - I can name quite a few other things that have a lot of uses.
103A. Proctor's charge (TESTEES) - this one was wrong on several levels, as I'm sure you are all aware.

I have to sign off now - my Pad THAI (45A. (noodle dish)) has arrived!

~ Frannie

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Saturday, December 20, 2014, Kevin G. Der and Ian Livengood


Boy, this started out easy as pie - mostly on the east side - and then it ground down to a halt on the west. POTFARMS (1A: Where much grass grows) took a few crosses, for instance, and STARBASE (17A: Enterprise headquarters) took far longer than it should have! 19A: Place for a sucker (TENTACLE) was great, and ABBA (5D: Ones repeating "I do" in 1976?) was also fun. My only quibble with the NW is that I usually think of TRANK (3D: One delivering a knockout, informally) as being spelled with a Q.

The SW took the bulk of our time on this one, but as I look at it now, the downs just look so obvious! I mean, PARTYTRAY (27D: Caterer's preparation)?! We were making things for a PARTYTRAY as we were doing this one! Frannie's family holiday party was this afternoon! But could we think of it? No. My favorite in that area was the last one we entered - APLENTY (35A: In abundance). I needed every cross for that one. Honestly. (Did I mention that I was fighting a cold this week?…)

On the other hand, things on the other side, even things like DOCILITY (31A: Tameness), IGUANA (16A: Creature with a crest), UNODUETRE (13D: Italian count?) and CROSSWORDS (56A: Cross words?) went right in with a cross or two. Sometimes it goes that way.

Overall, a decent challenge.

- Horace

Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday, December 19, 2014, Brad Wilber and Doug Peterson


This is a strong puzzle with long, triple-stacked corners. Frannie got a foothold in the SW with DRACOMALFOY (56A: Fictional school bully with henchmen named Crabbe and Goyle), and from there we worked more or less counter-clockwise, ending with what is probably the weakest triple-stack, in the NW. But still, the weakest here isn't really all that bad. I didn't love POLOPONIES (2D: Ones involved in horseplay?), but ANKLESTRAP (3D: Stiletto attachment, perhaps) wasn't bad, and it might please at least one frequent reader.

I guess enough time has passed, because I actually cracked a smile when OJTRIAL (36A: Major media event of '95) became apparent. Heh. Slow-speed Bronco chase...

LEADVOCALS (28D: Frontman's assignment) was clever, in that obvious kind of way, and all we could think of for a long time for 62A: Track star of 1977 (SEATTLESLEW) were humans like Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett, and Bruce Jenner. Not that all of those would fit... but still.

SPIREA (45A: Flowering shrub whose name comes from the Greek for "coil") is one of my favorite plants, and I'm happy to have learned something about its name today. What the heck, let's put in another photo:

There, isn't that nice?

Anywho... there was the usual smattering of schlock, but overall, I liked this one.

- Horace

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thursday, December 18, 2014, Timothy Polin


Another tricky puzzle! We took forever in the NW today, finally settling on DIPS (1A: Nincompoops) and DOJO (1D: Good place to kick back) (Neither of us was terribly familiar with this word, and I thought it was actually a martial arts teacher), so when we got the error message, we thought a little more about what else the D could possibly before looking further into the grid. As it turned out, we had the very center square wrong, having guessed "ole" instead of OYE (38A: "____ Como Va"). It was only after Frannie put in the Y that BYE (34D: What a seed often has) made sense. I even thought of the sports context, but could not come up with "BYE." Oh well.

The eme-thay, we iked-lay just ine-fay. KNUCKLEDRAGGER (41A: *Outlay) is such a wonderfully descriptive term, and I've always like the expression "As I LIVEANDBREATHE" (32A: *eBay).

MIRAGE (64A: Rival of Caesars) was a tricky one, STODGY (8A: Opposite of hip) is a good word, and it's always nice to be reminded of the Stooges (SHEMP (6D: One of the original Stooges). On the down side, there were a couple proper names we didn't know - SEATON (67A: George who directed "Miracle on 34th Street") (How timely!), and MARA (56D: Rooney ____, star of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"), the MHO (15A: Former name of the physics unit siemens) wasn't on the tip of our tongues, we've never heard of GSN (63D: TV channel with the slogan "Get Smarter Now") (too bad, I guess…), and I prefer the old-fashioned "two-S in the middle" spelling of YESES (13D: Acceptances)… but not knowing things doesn't make for a bad puzzle, of course, it just makes for a tricky puzzle.

Overall, I guess I liked it. DOLLOP (33D: Spoonful, say) was fun, and REDUCEDFAT (30D: Attribute of the 1%) was brilliant. How could I pan a puzzle with pig Latin and that clue? Well, I can't.

- Horace

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wednesday, December 17, 2014, Stu Ockman


MAKEHASTESLOWLY (22A: Oxymoron for cautious travel) my foot! It seemed like a pretty fast solve for a Wednesday, but after my troubles yesterday, I'll take it.

ASTHICKASABRICK (50A: Simile for denseness) makes us think of the classic Jethro Tull album (although he didn't use the first "as"). So what is it, just a figure of speech theme? Hyperbole, Oxymoron, Litotes, and Simile? The only one that people might not know for sure, I'm guessing, is litotes, but who knows… maybe I overestimate people. Or underestimate them. 

GALLEONS (4D: Many Spanish Armada ships) is lovely. And speaking of overestimating people, you might have guessed I'd know whence "Ave Maria," but no, I learned it from this puzzle. OTELLO (12D: Opera with "Ave Maria"). 

I didn't love KUE (55D: Scrabble 10-pointer, spelled out). I think "cue" Googles a bit better (in my ten-second search), but I wanted "kew" instead, but then, that was already in the grid… KEW (52D: London's ____ Gardens). KUE sounds more European, where they don't have that diphthong-y sound, but say it more like "coo." Oh well. NENE (56A: Leakes of reality TV) was a tough clue I'd never seen for that before, nor was I familiar with ADELA (21A: Writer ____ Rogers St. Johns), or RITT (16A: "Nuts" director Martin), or LUKAS (6D: "Last Days" actor Haas), or UTHER (46D: King Arthur's father ____ Pendragon).

I guess four fifteens is a decent amount of fill, and the phrases are all decent, so even though the fill is a bit strained (TRITEST, EELER, ANIS), and it's packed with obscure names, I still didn't really think it was terrible. Let's call it a wash.

- Horace

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tuesday, December 16, 2014, Joel D. LaFargue


Today we had an epic "kit-wo" moment, and because of it, the typo remained unfound for several minutes while we tried to figure out what DOOK (33A: Scrape by) could possibly mean. "Kitwo moment" comes from a puzzle we did last New Year's Day with Colum, where he, Frannie and I stared at the entry "KTWO" for a long time saying "kitwo?" back and forth, before someone finally said "K2!" Today, we finally said "Do OK!" Whew! So anyway, I had an E where the I goes in ARIA (35D: Puccini's "Un bel di," e.g.) and RONIN (43A: Robert De Niro spy thriller). Either one of those should have tipped me off, but I guess "Ronen" didn't look bad enough, and it got through.

So let's see... what was the theme? Oh, right, THEBEEGEES (60A: Trio whose members start 17-, 26-, and 44-Across). Very nice. Plus, they got a bonus ROBINWILLIAMS (26A: Late comic genius) tribute in, so that's nice.

I don't like GEWGAW (5D: Showy trinket) (I guess I would slightly have preferred "Geegaw," which is listed as a variant), but what are you going to do with all those Ws? And KEPI (53D: French army headwear) crossing SAPOR (63A: Flavor) seemed a tricky cross for a Tuesday. I did, however, like the clue for BULLMARKET (28D: Something you won't see many bears in), which was also tricky, until suddenly it wasn't. Heh.

Overall, I guess I liked it all right, even though I didn't really dook enough to finish without an error.

- Horace

Monday, December 15, 2014

Monday, December 15, 2014, Zhouqin Burnikel and Dennis Ryall


STOP is today's theme, or "S to P." It's fine, I guess. I like STEELTRAP (56A: *Sharp mind, figuratively) and SKINNYDIP (20A: *Go swimming in one's birthday suit).

Nothing too outrageous today. Maybe ERL (9D: Schubert's "The ____ King"), but I'm pretty sure Colum will know that, so I can't complain too loudly. ALAE, ESAI, EPEE… the usual stuff.

LASHES (29A: Punishment for a mutineer) was colorful, and took a few crosses, WEAPON (45A: One-third of a Clue accusation) was fun, and could have been "person," I suppose. And ALFAROMEO (34D: Sports car with a Spider model) was unusual to see, although not at all difficult.

Best clue: 50D: Trash-talking Muppet? (OSCAR).

- Horace

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday, December 14, 2014, Jim Peredo

"Well, Golly!"

While some of the theme answers were entertaining, I found the title not very representative of the actual substitutions required. In my experience "Golly" starts with a hard "g" sound (IPA symbol /g/), but the theme answers all require the /dʒ/ sound, as in judge (although we could argue about 52A. Strange pond scum? (WEIRDALGAE). So, unless the author was going for what would normally be spelled "Well, Jolly!", perhaps as a nod to the current holiday season, the title sounds a false note.

This inexactness contributed to my overall disaffection for the puzzle as a whole. Right out of the gate, with 1A, we have Bed cover, for which Mr. Peredo wants us to enter LINEN. Not impossible, but uncommon in terms of the fabric itself as a bed cover, and the more generic term is usually plural: bed linens. Another such example shows up at 49A. Orbitz offering: CARRENTAL. It's true you can rent a car from Orbitz, but it's not what I consider a signature feature of the service. There are many companies from which you can rent a car, and many other things you can use Orbitz for. And my least favorite of these vague pairs was 38D. Some queenly attire (WHITEGLOVES). Sure, some queens wear white gloves (although a quick search for images of queens on the Google reveals very few gloved hands among the royal portraits, and one instance of black gloves), but so do debutantes and butlers. And, queens wear many other, more salient, items of clothing such as crowns. I'm not saying that these clue and answer pairs are wrong, just that they don't embody the oh-so-right finesse that is a beautiful part of puzzling. For a puzzle that epitomizes the fine cluing I enjoy, please see the November 23rd. NYT puzzle. I could go on, but I won't.

There were some enjoyable clues. I did like 29A. Tofurky to turkey, e.g. (ANALOGUE), and  60D. End of a famous boast: VICI. But, as I entered many of the answers, I often sighed to myself, "good grief."

~ Frannie

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Saturday, December 13, 2014, James Mulhern and Ashton Anderson


Well, well, well… what a start. BUTTOCKS (1A: Cheeky couple). Do I even need to comment on that? The whole NW quadrant is excellent. TOUSLE (4D: Ruffle), TEQUILA (3D: 1958 #1 hit whose only lyric is its title word) crossing LIQUORUP (17A: Become ripped), KNURL (7D: Small projecting ridge)… it's all good. I don't love the broken up MORE ORLESS, and I like it less for it being upside down, but that's a small thing, really, in a very good puzzle.

HITMEUP (39D: Modern request for contact) is nice. SPOILER (13D: Surprise giveaway?) and SETLIST (14D: What keeps order at a concert?) were nicely clued… we were stuck for a bit at the very end in the SW quadrant, until Frannie had a EUREKA moment at last with 62A: Illumination indication. Hah! Nice one.

To be honest, as I look it over now, I don't see quite as much good stuff as it seemed there was while we were doing it, but I still say that it's a good Saturday. Maybe a little on the easy side, but overall, quite enjoyable.

- Horace

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday, December 12, 2014, Evan Birnholz


This was a satisfying Friday themeless puzzle. There were some very nice long answers, such as OKTOBERFEST (19A: Annual event held in the Theresienwiese), PLOTTWISTS (9D: Thickening agents?) (as in, "the plot thickens!"), FINISHLINE (28D: This is the end), KEEPITREAL (22A: Slangy goodby), and, of course, LEDZEPPELIN (46A: Their best-selling (23x platinum) album had no title), which I entered without crosses. There was a high entertainment value in many of the clues, too, as in 48A: Series of drug-related offenses? (THEWIRE), 28A: All hits all the time (FIGHT), 43A: Influential figure in upward mobility? (ELISHAOTIS), 30D: Tree huggers? (VINES), 26D: It has points of interest (LOAN), 1D: Start to play? (ACTONE), and, of course, 25D: Fictional corporation that made a jet-propelled unicycle (ACME). And that's just some of the good clues!

There was very little that raised our hackles. Maybe AEROS (44D: Planes, quaintly) wasn't the greatest, and sure, there were a few names we didn't know - FEHR (19D: N.H.L. players' representative Donald), JONI (34D: Iowa politico Ernst), YENTE (45D: Broadway character who sings "The Rumor"), and ELAM (24D: Land east of Babylonia) (above), but that's a failing on our part, not the puzzle's.

HIJINKS (32A: Tomfoolery) is a great word, SALTINE (41A: Square snack) brings back fond memories of chicken soup and childhood, and we appreciate the nod to our home town in 3D: Common ground? (BOSTON). Overall, this was a very good Friday.

- Horace

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thursday, December 11, 2014, Joe DiPietro


We enjoyed today's visual "rebus" theme of words passing through other strings of words to form phrases. As in GOING through THEMOTIONS (54A: (&30D) Making a feeble effort). Nice. I actually got the first one (the one in the upper left) first, but I didn't fully understand the theme, because I thought CUTS THECLUTTER (Has an ad that really stands out) made enough sense, even though I thought the clue didn't make much sense. Is that what they say about ads? I'm so out of the loop...

Another clue I didn't love was 37A: What Germany's leader lacks? (HARDG). I've been burned many times by similar clues, but this time I don't think this one is quite fair, because it doesn't so much lack it as much as it simply isn't it. And while I'm complaining, I've never seen RIBOSE (46A: Biochemical sugar) before, and "21A: Defeat" is a synonym for WORST? Not in my world. I suppose it's the opposite of "best," in that way, but I don't buy it. I've never heard anyone say it. I can't believe anyone ever would say it. And what the hell is ESTERC (61A: Brand name in immunity boosting)? And PLU (47A: Like arts and crafts: Abbr.)? Huh?

On the other hand, we liked seeing ODETOJOY (17A: Highlight of Beethoven's Ninth) in there. OBLIGE (8A: Make indebted), EXPELS (19A: Throws out), and ZENITH (64A: Top) are all good words, and I loved IQTEST (33A: Measure of brightness), mostly because it took me so long to get it. Hah! 4D: They're on the record (GROOVES) was cute, and I liked the pair of "It's blue" clues leading to SMUT and SKY.

22D: Like notepaper and kingdoms (RULED) was lovely, and speaking of rulers, I especially liked THEBES (18D: Ancient site of the Luxor Temple), because I am writing a paper on Oedipus Tyrannus, who was, of course, made king of Thebes after he correctly answered the riddle of the Sphinx, thus ending the plague that the city was enduring. And then there was some other stuff about his family history, but that's not important...

DINGBAT (43D: Ditz) and RAPPORT (41D: Bond) are nice too. And I liked GAMY (56D: Like wild boar), even though all the cinghiale I ate in Tuscany never tasted gamy.

Soooo.... I can't decide. I guess it was a decent enough Thursday.

- Horace

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014, Tom McCoy


Imagine my reaction when Horace handed me the puzzle and I figured out the theme answers. Authors' initials as chemical symbols is a dream come true for a library scientist such as myself. My number 1 was 58A. "The Island of Dr. Moreau" author, to a chemist? (MERCURYWELLS). The book is very good: super creepy and a real think piece. Read it if you haven't yet. I am guessing that 43A. "The Children of Men" author, to a chemist? (PALLADIUMJAMES) is a tribute to the recently departed novelist.

There were a number of other nice clues that tied in with the science theme. 44D. What gallium will do at about 86 degrees F (LIQUEFY), for example. I particularly enjoyed 25D. Notable current researcher (TESLA). A real joule.

49A. Highly draftable ... or a feature of the word "draft" (ONEA) has a nice seasonal ring to it for me as it's what we hear Mr. Potter saying over and over again in "It's a Wonderful Life" as he reviews draft registration papers. I also like any reference to NED Flanders (72A. TV neighbor of Homer).

Huygens probably liked 41A. U.S. island with a royal palace (OAHU). Also, 9D. BVDs, e.g. (DRAWERS) supplied a little traditional Huygens material. He might have also chuckled at the answer to 6D. Followed up after recon (DEBRIEFED). I know I did. 

I don't have much to say about the rest of the puzzle. I only see the early-in-the-week puzzles periodically, so I don't know if the fill is usually this elementary. Most of it seemed Rn of the mill to me.

Ta for now.

~ Frannie

Bonus thematic material:

Want to hear a joke about sodium? Na.
How about a joke about potassium? K!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Tuesday, December 9, 2014, Paul Hunsberger


Kind of an odd theme, of circled letters forming words that are parts of a SHOE (67A: Item depicted by this puzzle's circled letters), and also in the shape of a shoe. With a bonus piece of GUM for it to step on. I like it! Very nice, indeed.

I'm sure doing this kind of thing puts restrictions on the rest of the fill, but here it doesn't seem to suffer too much. Well, ok. It suffers a little. I do not like AIRCON (47A: House cooler, for short), ODO (36A: Lead-in to meter), or EERS (35A: Plural suffix with musket), and having OSOLE (53A: "____ Mio") and RESOLE (56A: Fix, as a cobbler might) on the same row looks odd, but, obviously, it's necessary for the theme, so what are you going to do?

I like the pair of Caesar clues - 10A: Caesar's last gasp? (ETTU) and 14A: One was renamed in Caesar's honor (MONTH) (very nice), and there's interesting trivia in 6A: They're about 1 in 650,000 for drawing a royal flush (ODDS) and 13D: Guns first used in the Suez Crisis (UZIS). And maybe it's just me, but I kind of like DEUCED (29A: Doggone, quaintly). That's supposed to have two syllables, don't you think? "Deuce-ed?"

You know, the more I look at this, the more odd stuff I find. I've never heard of DLEAGUE (7D: N.B.A. farm system, informally), for instance, and EEN (42A: Poet's twilight) and LST (46A: D-Day craft: Abbr.) aren't all that great… I guess it all comes down to theme today. I liked it, so I'm willing to overlook a lot. Sometimes it goes that way.

- Horace

Monday, December 8, 2014, Kevin Christian and Andrea Carla Michaels


Meh. This one felt kind of drab. Lots of small junk - TOR, ORA, ONA, CLE - and a lot of partials and ludicrously easy fill-in-the-blanks. The vowel-sound progression is nice enough, but not terribly exciting. There's boring old fill like DIODE (29A: Certain vacuum tube), TIARA (55A: Small crown), and EVERS (46A: Tinker to ____ to Chance (classic double play)). The last time that was said at a live game was in 1912. Heck, even the SAYHEYKID (17A: Nickname for Willie Mays), who retired forty years ago, seems like recent trivia compared to that! And then there's SEGO (25D: Lily with bell-shaped flowers) - is that Monday material?

There are some nice long downs, though, which is often the case lately. WHEREAMI (4D: Dazed inquiry), GETOVERIT (10D: "You have to move on"), and TIMEFLIES (32D: What happens when you're having fun?) are all quite nice. And let's see… MAGI (33A: O. Henry's "The Gift of the ____") will be timely in just under a month, so that's nice.

Oh, I don't know… it wasn't terrible, but I just wasn't feeling it today.

- Horace

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sunday, December 7, 2014, Jeff Chen


Who doesn't love ATLAS (102D: Mythological figure hinted at by the answers to the eight starred clues as well as this puzzle's design)? Nobody. And I guess by "this puzzle's design," they mean to imply that the central circle is meant to represent Earth. I guess that's fine, but the same puzzle could probably have been used with a Sisyphus theme. But I'm not complaining, I love all the theme material. There's the straightforward stuff - PILLAROFSTRENGTH (16D: *Comfort provider during difficult times) and WEIGHTOFTHEWORLD (37D: *Crushing burden), and then there's some humorous stuff SUPPORTINGACTOR (23A: *One who's not leading) and UPPERBACKPAIN (100A: *What a massage may relieve). Very nice.

The fill is good, too, with gems like SCATHES (27A: Excoriates), BEERSTEIN (43D: Something handled in a bar), REDLETTER (38D: Having special significance), DEEPWEB (78A: Content that's hard for a search engine to access), and my candidate for "clue of the week" - 7D: It's been shortening since 1911 (CRISCO). That alone would have made this puzzle all right by me.

Loved it.

- Horace

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Saturday, December 6, 2014, Josh Knapp


Frannie did the bulk of the work on this one, just calling me in to fill in about four or five squares at the end. Some highlights include EYEOFNEWT (14A: Classic brewing ingredient), HANKIE (20A: Cloth with tears in it?), IDES (26A: Middle marker?) - very nice clue for that oft-seen relic, POPO (40A: Law enforcers, slangily), and ASP (30D: Death on the Nile creator?) - ditto. The trickiest answer, in my opinion, was ADAMS (51A: Number one number two), which Frannie and I thought about and discussed for several minutes before coming to the conclusion that the "Number one" part means first, and the "number two" part means vice president.

Some lovely long fill today. SWANDIVES (10D: Elegant pool maneuvers), INDIRECT (12D: Glancing) (better clue than fill, but still…), ASPIRATE (32D: What Eliza didn't do for 'enry 'iggins?"), and CANTABILE (52A: Songlike). I like being reminded of the stubborn will of the Mahatma with SALTTAX (39D: Gandhi marched to the sea to protest one), and 38D: "The poetry of reality," per Richard Dawkins" is a nice clue for SCIENCE.

So anyway, it seemed like a good puzzle, but that's just my impression from reading through the clues, ex post facto. Plus, we've been out to dinner now with Huygens et ux., and I'm not really in any condition to write further on this.

- Horace

Friday, December 5, 2014

Friday, December 5, 2014, Tim Croce


Horace and I finished the puzzle together tonight after dinner. We started it over coffee this morning, but we had a little trouble with the northeast and southwest corners. Believe it or not, both of us had to work all day today, so no additional puzzling took place until this evening, thus this late review.

We eventually resolved the problems, but ended up FWOE. We didn't know 48A. Province : Canada :: __ : Russia (OBLAST) and we somehow didn't guess 45D. Options for target practice even though it seems obvious in retrospect. We might have been able to correct the error if one of the puzzlers didn't jump the BBGUNS by completing the grid before we were sure of our answer as is his wont. :)

There were some good bits in here, but I'd say that overall, there was more chaff than wheat. From 7D. They have 125 questions and last 130 mins. (PSATS) through 25A. Marks, as a box (XESIN) and ending with 63A. National coming-out day? (RELEASEDATE) I found much to cavil at. The triple threes at the top of the north east and the south west created dead zones. Sure, they made room for the triple stack of elevens, but the elevens lacked afflatus, in particular the set in the north west: GODIHOPENOT, ITUNESSTORE, and STEVECARRELL. Ho hum.

The puzzle contained quite a bit of foreign matter - one might almost call it a smörgåsbord - including 26A. One-sixth of diciotto (TRE), 44A. Title bird in a Rimsky-Korskov opéra (COQ), 10D. General-aviation alternative to Le Bourget (ORLY), a double whammy with 8D ETRE and 9D NOE (French soliloquy starter? and Arche de __ (boat in la Bible)), respectively, and my least favorite, 35A."Encore" (BIS). I am guessing that Hyguens won't like it, but maybe he was cheered up by 12D. Like any number by itself (DIVISIBLE).

On the positive side, I did like 30A. Certain union member (WIFE) and 32D. Aids for dating (TREERINGS). SUNTANOIL (31D. Browning selection?) had us stumped for a while as our thoughts ran to poetry rather than melanin seekers, but we liked it when we did get it, which is where much of the rest of the puzzle failed for me. How boring is this 42A. Athletic conf. for UMass (ATEN)? And, if asked if I "absolutely" hated 21A, I would say, YESIDO.

The puzzle did include EEL (58D. Gulper ___), usually a favorite because of its puzzling ubiquity, but in this case, the clue is as common as its answer. Shakespeare (or his ghost writer) may have hit the nail on the head once again when he said "many a man hath more hair than WIT." (29D.)


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Thursday, December 4, 2014, Kacey Walker and David Quarfoot


If you are like me, as soon as you got to 26A: Play in 7-Across with the rack DEIORRW (WORRIED), you immediately knew 7-Across (SCRABBLE), and it took you only a few seconds to work out a word for 26A. Then, when you got to 36A: Play in 7-Across with the rack DDEEIRS (DESIRED), and then the third such clue, you thought "Gee… is that it? On a Thursday?!" Then (again, if you are like me) when you got to 63A: What the three possible answers to each of 26-, 36-, and 44-Across are, leading to 27 possible solutions to this puzzle (ANAGRAMS), you let out an audible "Oh. My. God." Then those three theme answers in the middle that seemed so cheap, suddenly appeared as jewels, mounted beautifully in the center of a gridded, black and white setting.

Sadly, I wasn't doing the NYTX every day when the famous "Clinton/Gore" puzzle by Jeremiah Farrell was run (if you don't know about it, there's lots of info online, including here), but I feel I got a little taste of what that must have been like today. The three anagrams of each themed entry are "WORRIED/WORDIER/ROWDIER" "RESIDED/DESIRED/DERIDES" and "DANGERS/GARDENS/GANDERS." Very, very nice. The variable crosses include such beauties as 46D: Something a lawyer might once have called on (NOTARY/ROTARY), 44D: Tip of Greenland? (GEE/DEE), and 28D: Plant that's not cultivated (REED/WEED). I love SKIS for "25D: What one might attach to a vehicle after a snowstorm," but SKID seems like a bit of a stretch. But hey, it's valid enough, and I'm not complaining.

In other parts, I was amused to learn that the EDSEL was the "14D: Car that famously debuted on 'E Day,'" AKIMBO (45D: How a superhero might stand) was funny (and so accurate!), and I enjoyed "20A: Like the rightmost elements" (NOBLE).

I'm happy. This was a fun one. Not difficult, but beautiful.

- Horace

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Wednesday, December 3, 2014, Patrick Blindauer


I'm going to come right out and say that a clue like "35A: What separates first from second" (BASEPATH) is what separates an average puzzle from a good one. From a slog through all the etuis, elis, Ayrs, and that kind of thing, to an enjoyable hunt to figure out just what the constructor has in mind, what he's come up with. In this case, BASEPATH ends up being just so… accurate, but in the time between first reading the clue and getting enough crosses to figure it out, your mind speeds up a bit. "Can he possibly be talking about dating?" you might wonder… "Fractions?"… "What is it!?"

So anyway… I liked this one. The theme of PANDA (38A: World Wildlife Fund logo … or a three-word hint to the answers to the four starred clues) is pretty much wide open, allowing fun two-word phrases like PARTYANIMAL (17A: *One who goes out seven nights a week, say) and PENNYARCADE (*Old coin-op locale). OK, that last one's maybe only fun for ninety-year-olds, but the symmetry of the theme answers is nice, and, well, it's fine by me.

The fill is generally decent, with LEVEE (25A: Breaking point?), THE (A cousin?), PEN (37A: Contract requirement), EDITOR (65A: People person) (hidden capital alert!), and ULCER (45D: Cause of a gut feeling?) being some of the more clever/tricky/funny entries. I was not at all familiar with SAL (27A: ____ soda), but I bet Huygens might be, and I was also unaware that the former Idol runner-up AIKEN was now 23A: Singer-turned-politician Clay.

I'd call this an above-average Wednesday.

- Horace

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tuesday, December 2, 2014, Timothy Polin


Wow! This is the hardest Tuesday I can remember. And sure, sixteen minutes does seem like such a tough puzzle, but things are all relative, right? But as you all know by now, I'm not complaining. I would favor puzzles of this difficulty being the new Monday baseline.

I finished at beginning, at the cross of ZOUNDS (1A: "Holy cow!") and ZEBU (1D: Holy cow). ZEBU. On a Tuesday. I had to look up this cow variety thought to be derived from the fabulously-named auroch. And it's interesting to have it right beside OXEN (2D: Wagon pullers), because Zebu are sometimes used in that same manner.

For some reason, my mind had a lot of difficulty moving from the exclamation to the defined word. BLAST (34A: "Fudge!"), for instance, took a while by itself (I much prefer BLAST as an exclamation to "Fudge!"), but for TREAT (35D: Fudge) I needed almost every cross! Same with BOWS (60D: Fiddlesticks) - it took me forever! Overall, though, I love the theme. I think it's clever and well-executed. And for that I'm willing to overlook ALGAL and ENOUNCE.

But honestly, I really liked a lot of the fill. HAL (29D: Drinking buddy for Falstaff) had a cute clue, DOHS (46A: Exclamations often made with head slaps) reminds one of the Simpsons, and it can also be seen as bonus "exclamation" material. Sort of. FEMBOT (56A: Seductive "Austin Powers" android) was nice (Whatever happened to Mike Myers?), and EMBITTER (39D: Alienate) is a good word.

Overall, thumbs up!

- Horace

Monday, December 1, 2014

Monday, December 1, 2014, John Guzzeta


I found this a rather unpleasant puzzle. Even the punny theme didn't cheer me up. SUITMYFANCY (11D: "You really ____!," said the adoring tailor). More like "Said no one in the past century." And speaking of last century, how 'bout that clue for DOOR (7D: One of three on "Let's Make a Deal." I'm pretty old, and that was before my time!

There's lots of TEC, DIR, ESL, SAC, OBS, MER, REATA, and URI, and then there's the PEE. UGH! My favorite word in the grid is ZEPHYRS (47A: Gentle winds), but it probably isn't a Monday word. And if it's not, REDOUBT (10D: Fortress) definitely isn't! But those two things make the puzzle at least a little more interesting.

Oh, maybe I'm being too harsh, but I didn't particularly like starting with 1D: Relative of a paddle (OAR), 2D: Con's opposite (PRO), and TEC (3D: Sleuth, in old crime fiction).

Let's focus on HIREE (46D: One landing a job) for a second, though, because today was my first day at my new job! It's a 9-5, 5-day-a-week job, and it's been a while since I had such a thing. I'm not sure yet how, or if, it will affect this blog, but even before I landed it there were changes being discussed - possibly for the new year. Stay tuned!

- Horace