Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Thursday, December 31, 2015, Ben Tausig

0:28:40 (F.W.O.E.)

I'm annoyed that I FWOE'd on this one, but in my defense, AGASP (31D: Audibly floored) is a dumb word. Well... of course I can't really say that. It Googles up well enough, and sure, "aghast" is spelled with an H... and "RtS" doesn't really stand for anything having to do with rotational speed, but still...

OK. Rant over. Let the fawning praise commence: I loved this puzzle. And perhaps more importantly - because it's certainly more unusual - I liked the fill better than the theme! Sure, PASSGO is a nice MONOPOLY theme, patented on this day, and symbolic of turning the corner on another year, as it were, but the resulting theme answers, like GOOGLEDOCS (20A: Enjoy the swimsuit edition of The New England Journal of Medicine?) ... well... ok, "ogle docs" is absurd, and if you've learned anything about me in the last three years, you've learned that I'm a fan of the absurd. I'm also a fan of Google docs. (This is new information to you. Don't feel like you should have known this, too.) So ok. But what about EGOMANIACS (56A: People obsessed with being online?)? "E-maniacs" is much weaker (and less absurd) than both "ogle docs" and "wan master."

But I don't want to spend too much time on the theme, because the fill is just beautiful. It's a pity it had to start off with a mere abbreviation - SNL (1A: Onetime gig for Wiig, in brief) (C) - and a crosswordesy one at that! But off of that we get 2D: Proscription (NONO), which is nice, and the even better LOCO (3D: Spanish nuts). And what about 14A: Low note? (MOO)? That's good clueing for average fill. And there's also good clueing for good fill, as in 4D:Wallop (SHELLAC), 29D: Bridge sitter? (EYEGLASSES), and 21D: They share the air (COHOSTS).

I wasn't fooled for a second, amazingly, by 55A: Half of us? (ESS), but 19A: Commercial leader? (ADEXEC) was one of the last things I got. I had the C at the end for a while and thought "They couldn't have two of these, could they? But no. They couldn't.

Did not like USH (25D: Escort, slangily), and SVU and IFC are weak, but jeez, what about the clue for tired old NEE (44D: Born on the bayou?)?! That's excellent. It should probably be my favorite, but I'm stuck on 70A: Swiftly built home? (NEST).

What a way to end the year. Here's to more of the same in 2016. May you all be happy and healthy.

- Horace

Wednesday, December 30, 2015, Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen


Ms. Guizzo and Mr. Chen are at it again! Last week it was a Christmas puzzle, and today they have given us a New Year's Eve puzzle. It's a day early, but I'm not complaining.

Today's grid has horizontal symmetry and, if I'm not mistaken, a smiley face with feet in the black squares. The words "auld lang syne" are hidden in three proper names. Translated roughly as "long, long, ago," they are taken from a Robert Burns poem (he took them from a traditional ballad), and used around this time to bid farewell to the passing year. In addition to those words, we find NEW YEARS EVE running along the bottom row. Very nice.

The fill is shakier than I remember it being in the Christmas puzzle. I thought VCHIPS and PCCLONE skewed a little old, and I didn't love the clues for ICEBOX (26A: Antarctica, so to speak) or ENDS (42A: Many rushers). The first is a bit of a stretch, and the second just seems off. I'm no expert, but isn't it other defensive linemen who do most of the rushing?

I did love, as I often do, the longest Down answers; HEALTHYGLOW (25D: Ruddiness) and BOBANDWEAVE (27D: Try to avoid getting punched, say), even though I tend to think of "ruddiness" as more unhealthy. I also like the MAN/APE pairing.

1A: "No ____" ("Sure thing") PROB. C. I guess I could give it a C+ for audacity, but that's it.
Favorite clue/answer - 5D: Something that makes a difference? (MINUSSIGN). Nice.

Frannie and I are ready to see the back side of 2015. "We two have paddled in the stream, from morning sun 'til dine, but seas between us broad have roared, since auld lang syne." This year had some great times, but also had more than its share of hardship. Here's wishing for better things in 2016, for us and, dear Reader, for you.

- Horace

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Tuesday, December 29, 2015, Jeff Stillman


KWAME Kilpatrick is set up in the very center of this grid, almost as a marquee answer. I looked him up just now, and he's not the kind of guy you want featured in a puzzle. His Wikipedia entry is one of the longest I've ever seen, most of it filled with details of the felony charges (and convictions) he has racked up. It's not a name I knew, it's not a name I'm happy to have learned, and it's not a name I want to see in a crossword puzzle.

Aside from that, the puzzle is PAR for a Tuesday. The long Downs of BARRELROLL (3D: Air show maneuver) and TRAMPOLINE (31D: Bouncer's place) (nice clue!) were both quite SPLASHY (27D: Eye-catching). And I did enjoy many of the other "W" answers, SWIRL, SWARM, STREW, CRAW, and OWLET.

The theme is fun. The first clue, "18A: Compliment for a fruit-of-the-month club?" (NOTBADATALL) is both tortured and absurd, but the others, especially "24A: Compliment for a planetarium?" (STELLAR) and "60A: Compliment for a charcoal seller?" (YOUREONFIRE) are good.

Nice to see STAD (8D: Dutch burg) in the grid, as both Frannie and I have been learning Dutch lately. And I like that "1D: Chillaxes" (HANGS) is used. That's a great word. Huygens didn't like "Turkey and roast beef" as the clue for MEATS yesterday, but at least those to things are meats. Today's "11D: Pepperoni or sausage" for MEAT could be challenged by some as being made up of many different things, only one of which is meat.

1A: Airport with many connecting flights (HUB). C.
Favorite clue/answer - 12D: Slug (BELT).
Least favorite - 62D: Suffix with differ (ENT). Bring back Tolkien if that's all you've got.

- Horace

Monday, December 28, 2015

Monday, December 28, 2015, Zhouqin Burnikel


Is it just me, or does something feel slightly wrong about building a theme off of a tiny, abbreviated bit of crosswordese? STS (63D: Aves. ... or the initials of 17-, 23-, 40-, 50-, and 63-Across) is the revealer that branches off of the final theme answer. And why is it ok to clue STS with "aves?" I know that in essence a street is a road is an avenue, but don't we have to keep up the illusion of a distinction? Or am I being too picky? The words "faucet" and TAP are both used for the same object, but a street just seems like it needs to be different from an avenue. Sure, maybe street and road, I might be able to get behind those two being identical...

Anywho... I found this to be just SOSO. Aside from a few nice entries like GORGE (58A: Pig out), POISE (51D: Aplomb), and OOMPH (54D: Pizazz), there just wasn't much oomph. Maybe I just reacted badly to the reference to the Bin Laden raid with SEALTEAMSIX, and it got me off on the wrong foot. But maybe it was the inclusion of both ELSA (26D: 2013 film queen who sings "Let It Go") and ILSA (27D: "Casablanca" woman), or the OHS, OLEOS, ACA, LGA, RELO, and ENDS (61D: Two slices of a loaf of bread). That last one is a little random, isn't it?

I don't know... it just seemed a little flat. I like the inclusion of ANNABELLEE (29D: Poe poem that concludes "In her tomb by the sounding sea") - a poem that I once committed to memory, and the theme answers (aside from the aforementioned personal aversion to the first one) are all fine. But overall, I didn't love it.

1A: Breaks the Ten Commandments (SINS). Meh. C+
Favorite clue/answer - 34A: Little matter (ATOM).

- Horace

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Sunday, December 27, 2015, Don Gagliardo and Zhouqin Burnikel


Often in puzzles, for me, the kind of clue that is the trickiest to see is the literally descriptive kind highlighted in today's theme, only the clue and answer have been reversed. Kind of. Take 23A: PP (SHOPPINGCENTER) - in a normal puzzle the answer would have been the clue, and then the answer would have been "pees." Well, maybe they wouldn't have had "pees," but you see what I mean. A better example might be 95A: ZZ (JAZZDUET), where the reversal of clue and answer would have given "zees." As Sunday themes go, I thought it was a good one.

The fill was a little choppy in places - AVIANS (21A: Grackles and grebes) and AGELONG (27A: Lasting for years and years) were not favorites - but overall it was decent enough. There were also some nice tricky clues, like the courtroom duo of 59D: Like courtroom witnesses (SWORNIN) and 87D: It's heard at a hearing (ALLRISE). Nice.

My last square today was the cross of SPEE (68A: Historic German admiral Maximilian von ____) and ORLEAN (49D: Susan who wrote "The Orchard Thief"). I figured E was the most likely, but that seems a pretty nasty cross, two obscure names.

1A: Savor, as a drink (SIPON). C. I would have preferred "nurse."
Favorite clue/answer - 33A: Court, for short (RHYME). I love that kind of trickery. Runner-up 2D: Has an inspiration (INHALES). Nice.

- Horace

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Saturday, December 26, 2015, James Mulhern

0:22:00 (F.W.O.E.)

A lovely Saturday puzzle today with open corners and a pleasing grid. The entry and exit points in the NW and SE are a bit narrow, but it didn't impact the solve at all, as ILLUMINATI (23A: Group in many conspiracy theories) and RIVERDANCE (45A: Traveling show with the number "Trading Taps") were gettable with adequate crosses. And speaking of gettable, the L of DOLTS (46D: Yo-yos) should have been so, but I didn't know LEVIN (53A: "This Perfect Day" novelist, 1970) and guessed nEVIN for some unknown reason. I should have run the alphabet in my head, of course, and will make it a New Year's resolution to do so more consistently when faced with such a square. Oh well. I'm not letting it dampen my spirits.

The rest of the grid was filled with enjoyable, interesting stuff. Right off the bat I said to Frannie "I don't know what the answer to 1A is, but I already know I'm giving it an A." This, if you're not familiar with this blog, was in reference to a system that our colleague Colum started of rating the first Across clue in every puzzle. A good clue in that spot can really set the tone, and today's "1A: His name was lengthened by God at age 99" (ABRAM) is just the sort of interesting factoid that can bring a smile, at least to this old trivia lover. Frannie posited "Moses," which fit, and off of which I entered "meetup" for 1D (Liaison/AFFAIR) and for 4D "Enmity" (Loathing/ANIMUS), which led to the NW being the last section I completed today, aside from the aforementioned "DOLTS/LEVIN" cross, but I still stand by my rating.

Loved the triple-nines in the NE and SW today. All six answers were good, but I especially like TROJANWAR (6A: Theme in much Greek art), FATALBERT (50A: Cartoon friend of Dumb Donald and Weird Harold) (or, "Sesame Street alter-ego who kills Ernie?"), and everybody's favorite, CASUALSEX (56A: "Benefit" of some "friends"). And speaking of that, I also very much enjoyed 37D: What "marriage is the chief cause of," per Groucho Marx (DIVORCE). Very clever guy, that Groucho. And speaking of Groucho, CIGARS (20D: Ones with big butts) had an amusing clue, too.

I won't go on and on, but there are just a couple other answers OFNOTE that I would like to highlight. I loved RHETORIC (14D: Stump speeches, often), especially as an "ending" word, as these are usually filled with Ss, Es, and Ts. And our prime-number-loving friend Huygens will certainly appreciate the inclusion of RIEMANN (7D: Mathematician with a hypothesis unproven since 1859).

A satisfying Saturday.

Favorite clue/answer - 39D: They'll stop traffic (SIRENS), but only when thought of as a tie-in with the TROJANWAR clue.

- Horace

p.s. Can anyone explain CALI (44A: City famous for bad traffic) to me?

p.p.s. Nevermind, I looked it up. It's a city in Columbia. One in which, I'm assuming, the drug trade is a problem. Tough fill!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Friday, December 25, 2015, Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen


What a nice Christmas present from Ms. Guizzo and Mr. Chen. The longer fill in this is outstanding! SEAMONSTER (17A: Scylla, e.g.) (which I put in off the clue, thank you very much!), HALFCOCKED (27A: Impetuous) (which I did not), OPERACAPE, TELENOVELA (54A: Latin American soap), and CHORTLED (34D: Laughed gleefully) are just some of the excellent entries. At one point I had "N_LO_..." for "11D: Deceptive court move," and I tried to fit in "nolo contendere." Ha! See, one could think of that as a tricky move in a courtroom... but no, it's NOLOOKPASS.

And on top of all that we have the fine mini theme of STNICHOLAS (6D: "A right jolly old elf") and CANDYCANES (29D: Four things represented visually in this puzzle's grid). Did you notice that "Santa Claus" fits perfectly into that first space? Well, it does, but it doesn't work perfectly with the crosses, I happen to know... :) Along with those two entries we have the candy cane shapes in the black squares, which allows for, or perhaps requires, four unchecked squares, and they spell out XMAS. Beautiful. I guess SLED (59A: Traditional Yule gift) is thematic as well, but it's not paired with anything symmetrically, so maybe it's not "officially" part of the theme. I'm not sure what the rules are.

It's a little odd, maybe, to have HALFCOCKED and TOKE (23A: Quick hit) in a Christmassy puzzle, but, well, I don't care. This is just so damned good that I give it a FREERIDE.

1A: Hurdle for a doc (BOARDS). B. Unusual, but not great.
Favorite clue/answer - How to choose? Maybe "38A: Like much court testimony" (REHEARSED). Not terribly clever, perhaps, but there was still an "aha" moment, which I enjoyed.


Merry Christmas!

- Horace

Thursday, December 24, 2015, Derek Bowman


Being something of a sucker for the Classics, this theme of PLAYS on the names of GREEK authors is right up my alley. I especially enjoy the fact that some stock crosswordese - "ARI" and "NES" - is broken out of the last two. And the first one is hilarious: HIPPOCRATES (17A: Packing boxes for heavyweights?). And to top it off, Mr. Bowman couldn't help himself and added two poets (symmetrically!) to the list of names, PINDAR and SAPPHO (16A: Whom Plato called "the tenth Muse"). How'd you like to have someone give you that epithet? And how about if it were Plato who gave it to you? Not bad. It would be nice if, someday when the technology allows, they find a scroll or two of her poems in that Hall of Papyri at Herculaneum. Maybe. Someday, they'll find more from the one who lived on that ISLA in the Northern Aegean...

So with all that highbrow stuff in the grid, it's a little jarring to look back and see that TOPCOPS (1A: Early 1990s CBS series about the exploits of real-life police officers) (C-) started it all off. And MMMBOP (41A: 1997 #1 hit with a nonsense title) seems similarly out of place, but at least that is crossed by MTETNA. The longest Downs, often a place to find high-quality fill, are today on the weaker side - PRICIEST (6D: Least affordable) & HAMSTEAK (34D: Slab from the meat counter). Nothing to write home about, but not terrible either.

But let's not dwell on the lesser material today. A theme this entertaining lets you overlook the pluralized TOSHES, the SEERS and ESSES, in short, the PAP. Let's BANTER instead about better fill like CONCOCT (38A: Come up with), SEATTLE (55A: Where Nordstrom is headquartered), and CREWCUT (26A: Buzz).

Overall, very good Thursday, even without a rebus.

Favorite clue/answer - 40D: Apt anagram of MY CAR (CAMRY). Ahh... crossword people... :)

- Horace

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015, Jim Peredo


A breezy Wednesday puzzle with a holiday theme,  cirlcles, and a bonus rebus. Not bad. It's a little odd, I think, to have PUSSYGALORE (27A: "Goldfinger" temptress) in the same puzzle as TINY[TIM]. THEVERYIDEA! And while we're on the topic, shouldn't the rebus just be able to stand on its own, without the "TINY?" Of course, that would be just one square, but still...

Love the long downs of EPHEMERA (9D: Things meant to be used and then thrown away) and RATSNEST (37D: Total mess). I also like EVOLVE (45D: Change over time) beside VENEER (46D: Facade), and DIABLO (8D: Dios's enemy) next to UNCOOL (7D: Like wearing socks with sandals, say). And really, the paucity of actual thematic fill leaves the grid ROOMY for a lot of interesting material, even in the Acrosses, where we find OLYMPIA (26A: West Coast capital), NOBLESSE (22A: French upper crust) (clued without the almost obligatory "oblige"!), and SKINTONE (53A: Complexion).

I don't like the clue for 28D: Not music to a chef's ears (UGHS). What does that even mean? Shouldn't it be something like "yuck?"

And finally, I am amused by the combination of "GOD," GODOT, and IDOL all hanging out in the NW.

1A: Singer Williams of the Temptations (OTIS). Is this known? Not by me. C
Favorite clue/answer - 55A: All hands on deck? (SEAMEN). Cute.

Didn't love it, didn't hate it.

- Horace

Monday, December 21, 2015

Tuesday, December 22, 2015, Tom McCoy


It's a SINGULAR theme today. Items that are really just one thing, but are commonly referred to in the plural, are here given in compound words where they appear in the singular. I say again, it's nothing short of Singular! The most distant from normalcy is SUNGLASSLENS (24A: Something in a movie star's frame?), but the convoluted clue (glasses frame, not frame of view, or any other frame) kind of makes it ok. The other three are all quite normal and quite good. So thumbs up on theme.

In the fill we find lots of crosswordese: ALPS, RIAL, DEJA, NOM, ALOECLI, OCTO, IDESEKES, and OMANI, for example. That's kind of a lot. And I don't particularly like ROUSES (48D: Awakens), and would prefer "rousts." Yes, ROUSES is really fine, but as I said, I don't prefer it. It's my prerogative as a reviewer, right?

But there's some good stuff, too. ITSUPTOYOU (29D: Line of latitude) is quite tricky, and took me forever to figure out. GUITARHERO (30D: Popular musical game beginning in 2005) is fun, and speaking of fun, I also loved the clue for MESSKIT (46D: Collection that, despite its name, is orderly and compact).

I liked the mini-themes of "Valley of the Kings" and "Meh," and I wonder if Huygens knew 38A: Symbol for water potential (PSI). I didn't, and I thought it strange that water should have its own symbol for potential. Do other liquids use different Greek letters? And what about solids?

1A: Zealous (ARDENT). A.
Favorite clue/answer - 57A: Clog or pump (SHOE).

- Horace

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Monday, December 21, 2015, Bruce Haight


Fitting, perhaps, that on the shortest day of the year I should complete a puzzle in what I think is the shortest amount of time I have ever taken. And that's with making a mistake right off the bat by entering "afros" for 1A: Raised hairstyles (UPDOS)! (I'll give it a B, partly because it tricked me.)

I liked the theme of "unnamed objects," which gave such nice answers as CONTRAPTION, WIDGET, and WHATCHAMACALLIT. Perhaps because of Nelson Muntz I think of DINGUS more as a name a bully might call you, but Google supports the NYT pretty well here. So overall, I like the theme.

The fill was solid, too, with very little that got my dander up. NES (50A: Nintendo's Super ____) might be about the worst of it, and there were the standard ALOE, TET, and EELS, but they're not bad per se, just overused. And I suppose some might say that TWOEGG (11D: Like a medium-size omelet) is a bit random, but, well, I don't mind. I like eggs, so HEYYOU, don't OBSESS!

Mostly shorter fill today, but Mr. Haight makes good use of the space with fill like DEADEYE, ARABIC, MONALISA, and SLEPT.

Favorite clue/answer - 22D: Ivana's ex, with "the" (DONALD). I enjoyed how the "with 'the'" was completely superfluous. And I also like how it's diagonally touching MADMAN.

Thumbs up.

- Horace

Sunday, December 20, 2015, Peter Wentz


Grammar corrections made to ad campaigns is today's theme. Apple's famously controversial "Think Different" slogan is corrected to THINKDIFFERENTLY. And Staples' "Yeah, we've got that" is changed to YESWEHAVETHAT. Both slogans were officially retired more than a decade ago. And Sara Lee, which is officially defunct as of 2012, apparently had the slogan "Everybody doesn't like something, but nobody doesn't like Sara Lee," which is here amended to EVERYBODYLIKESSARALEE.

Now, I appreciate proper English as much as the next guy, but I don't particularly like this type of pedantry. Slogans are slogans. They're almost designed to be provocative so that you'll remember them - any publicity being good publicity, and all that. So I didn't love the theme. I know, it's just a theme, but, well... I didn't like it.

For those who did enjoy it, though, I suppose it's nice to see DATIVES (24D: Indirect objects, grammatically speaking) and RETRONYM (32D: "Acoustic guitar" or "terrestrial radio") in a puzzle whose theme is grammar. I wonder if they also enjoyed the uncommonly used LATEN (54D: Approach evening), CELLI (61D: Ma uses them) (Ha!), and SKED (109D: Short timetable?). And what about SINTAX? ;)

I don't know... maybe you liked it. Maybe I've just had too busy a weekend. I hope you're all having a lovely holiday season.

1A: Chipped beef go-with (TOAST). C

Favorite clue/answer - 57D: It makes a turn at the entrance (STILE). Runner-up "29A: Keeper of the flame? (WICK). That's good stuff.

- Horace

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Saturday, December 19, 2015, Damon Gulczynski


Another challenging puzzle, just like we like at the end of "the turn." (That's what we here at H&F&C call the Th, F & S puzzles, as a set.) It started very slowly last night, but this morning, with coffee, things came together. I had put in bits and pieces, and finally ended up filling it in backwards, from the SE up to the NW, where I had mistakenly entered AcKROYD for 1D: "Brother" player of old TV and film (AYKROYD). That gave the extremely problematic "cAH__" for 14A: Email option. I was open to the possibility that I had spelled his name wrong, and I showed it to Frannie. She stared at it a while, and we considered "RuLE" and even "namE" for 4D: Assumed thing (ROLE), but nothing worked. Finally, she gave it back to me, and when she no longer had to look at the erroneous C, she was able to think more freely, and finally said, "What if it's an email provider?" and that was it. YAHOO!

Our trials aside, I like the look of the grid with its cross in the middle and open sections throughout - nothing too fancy. The fill gets a little strained in places - Like the PEDI, OREN, TSOS block in the South, being crossed by the lamentable trio of REPOT, NABBERS, and ROADEO. Sheesh! MERLINS, too, is an odd possessive partial, but at least it's Merlin. Frannie loves the new show by that name, so I guess I'll let that one go. All that in the service of WIFFLEBALL (49A: Game named for a synonym of "strikeout"). I love WIFFLEBALL, but was it worth it? Maybe. :)

In other areas, though, we get sliding stacks like BELLYLAUGH (21A: Hearty har har) (nice), DISEASE (24A: Etiologist's study) (very Saturday-ish), and YOUGOGIRL (26A: Encouragement often given with a snap). The SW is nice, too, with its EXWIFE (42D: Split personality?), GAYICON (35D: Cher or Madonna), and OZZFEST (36D: Tour often featuring Black Sabbath). It's a little weird, though, that the end of that last one is right beside FESS (50D: Cop (to)). And isn't it "fess up," not "fess to?" "Confess to," sure, but "fess to?"

I guess in the end, I enjoyed the challenge, but reviewing it now I see a lot of EVILER, INSTR, OBS, and ENTS. But then there's also CARIBOU, NEMESIS, APOGEES, and LEGALPAD. Everybody loves a LEGALPAD. So I guess I'm torn. I guess I'll give it a slightly upturned thumb.

1A: Gulf of Guinea metropolis (ACCRA). C+
Favorite clue/answer - 34A: Foreign pronoun that sounds like a fish (ILS). Ha! They got "eel" in there without actually having to put it in! Hilarious.

- Horace

Friday, December 18, 2015

Friday, December 18, 2015, Andrew Zhou


Boy, last night this seemed intractable, but this morning Frannie said at breakfast that she was pretty sure "1A: Prison design that allows surveillance of any inmate at any time" was, in fact, what her first guess had been - PANOPTICON. (That's a definite A.) This forced me to remove two erroneous answers that I had entered. It also gave me, from the N (and the U of STUB), NOMOREMRNICEGUY (3D: "The gloves are off"), and from that point on, filling in what was probably more than half the grid, took only five minutes or so. It's amazing how detrimental a few bad answers can be!

As with yesterday's puzzle, I forgive such things as CAMS (31A: Reality show gear, informally), which I have never heard, and the French version of El Cid, LECID (48A: Massenet opera set in 11th-century Spain). I forgive the latter partly because they made the clue so direct ("Massenet" = French language answer, and "11th-c. Spain" = El Cid). I was all set to be mad about the clue for OHARE (4D: L's end?), but I checked the Chicago Transit Authority page and the official name really is "L," not "El." So ok, then.

The puzzle was made more difficult by the inclusion of several not-well-known proper names today: ROREM (36A: "Bertha" composer); KIROV (38A: Company for which Rudolf Nureyev once danced); CASS (49A: ____ Gilbert, designer of the Supreme Court building); DARE (23A: Virginia ____, first English child born in America (1587) (Wow! Tough!); INGA (55A: Actress Swenson); and HAYS (62A: Fort ____, Kan.). One name that was not so hard was SETHMEYERS (63A: TV host who succeeded Jimmy Fallon on "Late Night"). What is it that Stefan said about him? That he was "Engineered by gay scientists?"

The NW and SE corners are wonderfully open, and even the smaller SW and NE still have, essentially, seven-stacks. The extra tens in the middle - NOLOVELOST (33A: Mutual dislike) and WONDERBRAS (39A: Products once advertised with the slogan "Hello boys") - are both lively. Overall, it was a very good challenge, and an enjoyable solve.

Favorite clue/answer - 58D: Camel droppings? (ASH). Nice hidden capital!
Least favorite - 41D: Like E.T. riding Elliott's bicycle (REARLIT). What the? So convoluted, and for what?!?

- Horace

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Thursday, December 17, 2015, David Kwong


Ahhh... Thursdays. Back to the tricky puzzles. Back to a good, old-fashioned rebus. So comforting. So fun.

That being said, having back-to-back death themes is a little weird. The first themer today sounds kind of like a Jane Austen horror film: "Pride and Preju... DIE! DIE!" But no, one must put the dies together and call them "dice." And then it's all back to normal, and we're back to the BO[DIE][DIE](dice)RIPPERS that are the Austen canon. Heh. I can say that because I know Frannie hardly ever reads these things. :)

So the theme is at least a tricky one. When taken doubly the rebuses become "dice," but in the Downs, where they occur only once, they are simply "die." It works well in most places, with SPEE[DIE]ST (44D: First to break the tape) being the most strained. That whole SE corner, incidentally, is pretty damned strained. We have the EACH (55A: A head) running across the top, fine, and I kind of like how ADUE (56D: In unison, in a way) comes off of that, even if it is foreign. But CTRL (57D: PC key) is weak, and HEIL (58D: Greeting with a salute) must always give one pause, mustn't it? Even if they do try to "cheer it up" by putting the word "greeting" in the clue. And there's ASA, clued as a partial, and then the elephant in the grid, TSURIS (64A: Trouble, in Yiddish). Wow. That's digging deep into the ol' Yiddish bag, isn't it? OYS! They've got a lot of 31D: Chutzpah putting that in here. I don't believe I've ever heard it before. And if my quick etymological investigation is correct, it comes from the same stem that the name "Sarah" comes from. Interesting.

But you know what? I don't really mind an entry like that in certain situations, and here it is nicely balanced both by a fun, tricky theme, and by another "TS..." entry in the SW - TSARINAS (65A: Bygone royals). It's crosswordese stretched by making it feminine and plural, but the crosses on that one, at least, are all pretty good.

So what am I saying? That I forgive nonsense like NBAER, CALIF, GRO, AAS, ASSOC, and LAH just because I get a rebus? Yep. Pretty much.

1A: Like a banjo (TWANGY) - B+. Everyone loves the banjo!
Favorite clue/answer - 35D: Something to dispense with (URN). Cute.

Honorable mentions to 11D: Boy toy? (GIJOE), 40A: One making a lot of turns on the road? (AXLE), the Lucas-pandering 45A: Word repeated at the start of every "Star Wars" film (FAR) (It opens today!), and the absurdly clued 49A: Five fifths (ONE). Also, I liked how "gun" and "ski" both fit in where AIM (48A: Biathalon need) belonged.

Overall, there's plenty of good in this to make up for the bad. Thumbs up!

- Horace

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Wednesday, December 16, 2015, Paula Gamache


"Dead wood," "dead duck," "dead air," "dead body," "dead weight," "dead letter," "deadhead," "dead-eye," "dead ball," "Dead Sea," and "Deadhorse." That's a lot of death, even for a Wednesday morning. Solid DEADEND theme today. It's a common theme, but it's well done here. So full marks there, as they say.

Unfortunately, points will be deducted for 1A: Xbox alternative (WII). I'm pretty sick of that crosswordese, so 1A gets a D. 4A would too, if we scored every entry, but we don't. Thank goodness. But it is an indication of just what happens when the puzzle is almost all theme. LOTSA ENYA, ENTO, JDS, FFF, PXS, ANTHALKA, DOYA, and LEAS. NONONO! It's enough to make one CUSSAT the MIC.

There are some nice long downs: SAUTERNES (5D: Sweet white wine from Bordeaux), ONTHEMAKE (32D: Ambitious and unscrupulous), and even SHALLOT (10D: Food item often caramelized) (I like them roasted with a little balsamic vinegar) are welcome, but there's just a little too much that's either old (ENYA, EARTHA, LADE) or gluey (VOIT, LOEB, LLOSA). Even my favorite clue/answer - "8D: Let a hack do the driving" (CABIT) is kind of gluey... but as has been said before, bad fill can be saved by good clueing. Today, though, there just wasn't enough of that.

- Horace

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tuesday, December 15, 2015, David Levinson Wilk


Today's puzzle struck me as slightly out of the ordinary. For starters, it's an unusual theme, with the last names of four different people named "Bob" running up and down within the longest of the Down answers. The two running down are both, I would dare say, very well known, even though Bob HOPE's star may be setting, it's still quite visible to most solvers. The two running up are more obscure. Bob FOSSE died in 1987, and was a choreographer, so he's already got a limited audience, but he lives on in crossword puzzles. Bob VILA left "This Old House" (another limited audience occupation) in 1989, and though he's had other TV ventures, none have been nearly so famous. So, kind of an odd theme.

The material that encases the theme names is all quite strong. PRINCESSOFWALES (3D: Elton John's dedicatee for "Candle in the Wind 1997," and SMOOTHOPERATORS (10D: Don Juan types) both look good running from top to bottom.

The fill was peppered with interesting words like CLAMOR (16A: Hullabaloo), ERSATZ (12D: Fake), and DECOYS (25A: Lures), and the small stuff wasn't too, too bad. Maybe I could've done without TES and ORA, but YAZ (9D: Nickname on the 1960s-'80s Red Sox) (entered without crosses) always brings a smile. I was surprised by the clues for SOG (26D: Soak, in dialect) (never heard that before) and NEE (68A: Amal Clooney ____ Alamuddin). Who? Is that George Clooney's wife? Didn't I just hear that they are getting divorced already?

Anyway, it was a decent enough Tuesday. 

1A: Something a software developer develops (APP) - C-. 
Favorite clue/answer - 62A: Punch line? (OOF). Ha!

- Horace

Monday, December 14, 2015

Monday, December 14, 2015, Timothy Polin


PRESIDENT theme today, with three from my lifetime and one from a long time ago. I've never heard of a HOOVERVILLE (49A: Depression-era shantytown), and that whole entry seems a bit of an outlier, but what are you going to do? You can't put all 44 names in the grid (... you could save a lot of room if you just went with last names and used them only once...), and really, any of them should be fair game, right? So forget it, I can't complain about that. But even if Hoover can't be called "out-dated," maybe REDOCTOBER (11D: Submarine in a Tom Clancy best seller) can be?

I don't want to sound like one of the INFIDELS, but this whole thing seems a little SOFTBOILED. Lots of MARMIMAMREPOANTEORCONEGGMEN, and ELHI. Not enough SWAGGERSSCRUMVERGE, and POESY. I do like FUELROD (47A: Nuclear reactor insert), and the OGLE TATA connection is ... interesting. Especially followed by TEDDY. Or is that a hidden bit of theme?

1A: Exiled leader of Iran (SHAH) - F. This is some pretty stale crosswordese, and to hit it right off the bat is not a good feeling.

Favorite clue/answer - 40A: Competition in which the winner always gets the last word? (BEE)


- Horace

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sunday, December 13, 2015, Tracy Gray and Andrea Carla Michaels


Solved this with Frannie while we sat around with Huygens et uxor drinking coffee. The theme of concatenated band names is pretty well done. I guess I'm familiar with all the bands, now that I've looked up "Free."

At first I didn't realize that it was two band names in each answer, because CHICAGOTRAIN seemed perfectly reasonable for 22A: Elevated sight in the Windy City, well, all of them seem perfectly reasonable, come to think of it, which makes this quite a likable theme. The bands skew a little old, but that works well for this reviewer. YESNODOUBT (55A: "Absolutely!") might be the most unnatural, and EAGLESWINGS (62A: They're seen spread on the back of a quarter) is slightly marred by all the specialty quarters that have come out in the past few years. When is this constant changing-of-coin-designs fad going to stop? Can't we just have standard coins? Sheesh!

Some of the fill is a little GENERIC, like REMAIL (25A: Forward, as a letter) and ONHIRE (20A: Available, as a London limo), and I don't particularly love NEONATES for 120A: Newborns, but it's balanced by bits of crossword ELEGANCE like PRIMROSES (3D: Early spring blooms), ISAACNEWTON (67D: Who said "Aristotle is my friend - but my greatest friend is truth"). 27D: Something bound to sell (BOOK) is good, if almost quaint, and I learned the word "ecdysis" with the clue for MOLT, so that's nice.

1A: Plentiful (AMPLE) - B-. It's slightly better than average.
Favorite clue/answer - 26A: Quest for the unknown? (ALGEBRA). Perfect for a puzzle solved at Huygens' place.

- Horace

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Saturday, December 12, 2015, Byron Walden


Another fun themeless! Beginning with 1A: Light shower (PRISM) (A), we're off and running. I love the surprisingly literal clue for SMITH (17A: Skilled forger), and the simplicity of "20A: How the operas 'Artaxerxes' and 'Iolanthe' are usually performed" (INENGLISH). What's more - OPERATIVE (16A: Private detective) is perfect for us because we just finished watching "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" (Gary Oldman is very good) less than an hour ago.

I wasn't fooled one bit by "2D: Balcony address?" (ROMEOROMEO), and from the R in MORAY I guessed IRISHPOUND (3D: One of the currencies replaced by the euro in 2002). GRENOBLOISE (9D: In a sauce of browned butter, capers, parsley and lemon), on the other hand, took several crosses. I will, however, be seeking out and sampling all dishes with titles using that modifier the next time I am in France. Another one that took me way too long was BRAHMS (25A: "Hungarian Dances" composer). I could only think of Dvorak, which didn't help at all. I'm guessing that if Colum beats me by five minutes, at least three or four of them will be because he got that answer off the clue.

Nice pair of "tone" clues ("lose tone" and "lose tones?") leading to SAG and GODEAF. And speaking of that, I didn't particularly love the "ear malady" mini-theme of that last one and OTITIS.

I tried proudWOMAN, then nakedWOMAN, before getting HORSEWOMAN for 27D: Lady Godiva, for one. Sort of arbitrary, that. Like CUPSOFCOCOA and OPENCOILS, but I don't really mind. This was a fun puzzle with very little junk. Even PMS got a somewhat more interesting clue (1D: Residents of 24 Sussex Dr. in Ottowa).

Favorite clue/answer? 4D: Job tester (SATAN). No question mark. Excellent.

- Horace

Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday, December 11, 2015, Barry C. Silk

0:22:23 (F.W.O.E.)

I thoroughly enjoyed this Friday offering from Mr. Silk. The long ten- and eight-letter triple-stacks are just chock-full of great fill. Led, perhaps, by VERTEBRA (14D: It's in the back) (excellent clueing), each one of them (except PARAPHRASE (60A: Put into new words), for me, at least), required at least one cross, and there was a pleasant "aha!" moment with several of them. For "15A: Store in the Middle East?" I kept trying to think of terms like "bazaar," but no, it's OILRESERVE. Nice. And "17A: Round numbers?" isn't anything about totals or averages, it's about rounds of golf - GREENSFEES. Very nice.

I got into this one with a smile at "16A: Erato played one" (LYRE), as that came up a few puzzles ago, clued the other way around, and we posted an image of Erato in this blog. My next entry was another bit of crosswordese - OTT (22A: Giant legend), and instead of rolling my eyes, I felt a kinship with solvers everywhere, many of whom might sometimes rely, as I do, on these well-worn entries as a way of getting a toehold in a late-week puzzle. I find it amusing, as I review the puzzle now, to see that AMATI (23A: Violinist's prize) is the very next clue. That, too, is oft used in grids, and you can almost see Mr. Silk (and perhaps Mr. Shortz, who must run into this almost daily) trying to disguise it just a little more for a Friday. Well, it worked on me today, and I've got no complaint.

A couple of entries seemed a tad arbitrary - FOODWEB (28A: System of what eats what) actually Googles up pretty damn well (764,000,000 results), but my brain kept refusing to move beyond "food chain" (A food web is the interconnection of food chains). And sure, I guess HEELPAD (44A: Runner's shock absorber) is also a thing, but it's not terribly exciting. Also, it's a little weird to have AAACELL (23D: Small power source) crossing TRIPLEA (42A: Excellent credit rating). Just sayin'.

My one error was way down in the very last square, and it took me over three minutes to find! I had DIMMEr instead of DIMMED (47D: Not so bright), and I guess I accepted "STARRYEYEr" as somebody who is "62A: Idealistic" (STARRYEYED). Oh well. Tough cross - especially if you get the Down first!

1A: Junk removal service (SPAMFILTER) - A-.
Favorite clue/answer - the aforementioned VERTEBRA. Although 25A: Like newspaper headlines, typically (TERSE) is right up there.

This is everything a puzzle ought to be. Hidden capitals (53D: Equal amts. (TSPS)), paired clues ("Removes from power," "Removal from power"), fun stuff, unexpected stuff... SOGOOD.

- Horace

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Thursday, December 10, 2015, Timothy Polin


One is always on one's guard on a Thursday, but today everything seemed to be going along pretty well until I got to "35D: Flynn of film," and there were only three letters. Something, was definitely up, but what? Well, it didn't take long to realize that the classic crosswordese [ER]NES (29A: White-tailed eagles) could be made with that same "ER" that was missing from Mr. Flynn's name. And DIN[ER] was much better than "DIN" as an answer to (28A: Greasy spoon). Soon I got STUMBLINGBLOCKS (36A: Obstacles seen four times in this puzzle's completed grid?) and it all made perfect sense. Er, er, er, er – what I mean is, I got the trick, and I like it!
Some may find it unfortunate that SHO[ER] (4D: Worker at a stable) is a part of the theme, and NETH[ER] is somewhat oddly clued with "19A: Infernal." The two words evoke one another, I guess, but I'm not sure I'd call them synonyms. I kind of like [ER]IEPA (59A: City ENE of Cleveland, OH), however, both because I originally just entered "Erie" there, and because the resulting "IEPA" is crazy looking. GLASSSLIPP[ER] (56A: Something lost and returned in a fairy tale), too, looks great with its three Ss and two Ps.

The fill was pretty clean all around. It had its share of ugly-ish small stuff, like SMU, TET, SLS, ESS, ISM, RCA, UNA... and who the heck is CIARA? Speaking of singers, though, it must have been at least a consideration to clue both 13A and 14A with the same "Blues chanteuse," but maybe that would have been too tough, I don't know. Sometimes I think that with a rebus, the clues are lightened up a bit to give people more of a fighting chance.

Overall, I had a good feeling about this. Maybe it's just because it's Thursday and I got a rebus, or maybe it was the spirit of the cluing. Things like "49D: Order out?" (DEPORT), 7D: Was an errant driver? (SLICED), and even "38D: Like the core of the sun" (ULTRAHOT). It's a somewhat arbitrary phrase, but I didn't mind it. It's funny because it's true!

1A: Young wolves (PUPS) - C. Utterly normal.
Favorite clue/answer 32A: Succession within an ethnic group? (AEIOU). Excellent, and in order!

- Horace

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Wednesday, December 9, 2015, Jacob Stulberg


It's an interesting theme today, with words that mean LIGHTNING in four different languages. We're big fans of languages here at Horace and Frannie and Colum, so put the theme squarely in the plus column. The BIRMINGHAMBLITZ (42A: Luftwaffe attack on the British Midlands, 1940-43) is probably known only to history buffs nowadays, but the other two foreign entries, especially CHOCOLATEECLAIR (26A: Custard-filled treat) are well-known by most people.

For the language theme, though, we pay with fill like PAP, DTS, NAM, CNN, and the horrendous UIES. EGAD. There were two cross-reference clues (or four, depending on how you count them), and a lot of the clueing just seemed a little blah.

There were ASPECTS (15D: Things to consider) (like that) that were more fun. NERUDA (6D: Poet Pablo who won the 1971 Nobel Prize in Literature) is always popular, and it's sort of interesting that WEEP is beside HAHA (2D: Laugh) in the NW. And how can you not like BEAMUP (42D: Bring back to the Enterprise, say)? But overall I didn't love the fill.

1A: Brainiac (WHIZ) - Meh. C+ . The plus is for the Z.
Favorite clue/answer - 64A: Fudge, as a rule (BEND). I hate the expression "fudge the rules," but I love fudge, and besides, there's not much competition.

- Horace

Monday, December 7, 2015

Tuesday, December 8, 2015, Neville Fogarty


This took me more than twice as long as yesterday's puzzle, and it felt like a struggle the whole way! Right away things got off on the wrong foot when I couldn't remember RABBI (1A: Yom Kippur service leader). (By the way, that's a solid C 1A.) Things got better with EDAM (6A: Dutch cheese) and PENN (10A: Talkative half of a magic duo), but it was all fits and starts today.

The theme is one of the common ideas, and it's well-executed, I think. Each of the top four theme answers does what the revealer says it does: BREAKFAST. That is, each one starts with "FA" and ends with "ST." Like FATHERKNOWSBEST (40A: Classic sitcom with kids called Princess, Bud and Kitten). All I could think of when I read that clue was "Married With Children." Hah! Well, I never watched either show, so how was I to know? Also, it's kind of a weird clue for FALSEARREST (52A: Potential charge against a bounty hunter). It took me a while to figure out what they meant.

Elsewhere in underworld clues we find the interesting GRAFT (24D: Bribery and such). See also SEXTAPES (43D: Celebrity scandal fodder). And if a lot of them come out of California, say, can that be considered a BLUESTATE? And speaking of BLUESTATE, I like that it is perfectly symmetrical to REDSHIRTS (37D: Holds aside for a year, in college sports). That's not a term I'm familiar with, but I do like that kind of attention to detail in a grid.

MARTYR (9D: Thomas Becket, e.g.) is good. IDEEFIXE (5D: Obsession) was surprising on a Tuesday. I like the bluntness of "45A: 20" for SCORE. Let's even go so far to say that's my favorite clue/answer today.

Overall I guess there was a lot I liked in this one, and when that's true on a Tuesday, things are pretty good.

- Horace

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Monday, December 7, 2015, Jason Mueller


Sub-four even while half-listening to the Sunday Night Football game in the background, and what's more, even with IRENIC (43D: Peaceful) in the grid! (It's from Greek.) Who knows, maybe the background football helped with TROYAIKMAN (17A: He quarterbacked the Dallas Cowboys to three 1990s Super Bowl wins) - Mr. Aikman was in a pretty funny commercial during the first quarter.

My recent method for early-week puzzles is to start with the Across clues until I hit one that I don't know immediately, and then I move to the Downs, starting as close to 1D as possible. Today, the acrosses were going so well that one of the first ones to hold me up was the revealer! I had already gotten the first two themers, but I just didn't even bother to assign any brain at all to the theme. As soon as I saw it was the revealer I skipped it and moved on.

But now that I have gone back to figure it out I love it! Everybody loves the Classics, right? I heartily endorse this Monday theme focussing on the ILIAD. It was on my mind already today because of one of the theme answers in the Sunday crossword - "91A: Troy, in the 'Iliad'" (PRIAMREALESTATE). Heh. Funny.

The fill is decent. There are those nice side-by-side nines in the SW and NE - ELECTORAL (31D: Kind of map often colored red and blue) beside SOPHOMORE (32D: Many a junior varsity player) is the better of the two pairs, but the other isn't terrible. There is the aforementioned IRENIC, and ARON, SARI, ALOT, ADEN, FALA(!), and OMAN, but I'm giving it all a pass for the theme.

1A: Pirate's "Stop!" (AVAST). B. It's good, but not great.
Favorite clue/answer - 48D: The "fact" that the Great Wall of China is visible from space, and others (MYTHS). I like the sarcasm.

- Horace

p.s. There's a nice transcript of Will Shortz working on 1D and 2D from this puzzle over on It's an interesting look into the editing of a puzzle.

Sunday, December 6, 2015, Patrick Berry


I liked this theme quite a bit - common expressions changed slightly and clued humorously. I found it helpful to imagine that the late Shelby Foote was reading the answers, and I can just hear him saying things like BAYERMINIMUM (109A: Smallest possible aspirin dose?), NIGHTMAYORS (75A: Municipal leaders who work the late shift?), and PRIAMREALESTATE (91A: Troy, in the "Illiad"?). Anyway, I had fun with that…

The fill is pretty clean for a Sunday, but then, it's Patrick Berry, so we can't be too surprised. I spy certain crosswordese like PIA, EMT, TAO, OATER, UTES, and AULD, but it's kept to a minimum.  (Speaking of that, "slo" wasn't in today, but ROLO was, and it sure seems like that's been in a lot lately, too.) Another thing we shouldn't be too surprised about is very good cluing throughout. Witness "4A: Out patient's state" (COMA), "19A: Marriage agreement?" (IDO), "14D: Honey or pumpkin" (PETNAME), and "55A: Maker of indoor cars" (OTIS). We also find some interesting fill like TENSILE (35A: Kind of strength), EPICENTER (16D: Seismological focus), and MONASTERIES (3D: Brothers' keepers) - and all that is just in the top half of the puzzle!

Down below we find RAMPANCY (74D: Unchecked growth), ETHICAL (64D: Principled), the interesting trivia in 56D: Missouri's original capital (STCHARLES), and my favorite clue/answer pair today: POLEVAULT (8D: Attempt to pass the bar?).

1A: Butter? (RAM) - Solid A material.

Overall, an enjoyable Sunday.

- Horace

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Saturday, December 5, 2015, David J. Kahn


A pretty Saturday-ish Saturday. I started it late Friday night after getting back from a poker game (didn't see a single ACETEN all night!), and got off to a pretty slow start, but once everything started going it filled in pretty steadily. There's the mini-theme crossing of PINOCCHIO (33A: His first major screen appearance was in 1940) and JIMINYCRICKET (15D: Partner of 33-Across), but other than that, it's mostly medium-length fill, much of it quite good.

One of the first things Frannie and I got was BLUELINE (54A: Part of Boston's subway system that runs under Boston Harbor), and it was nice to see the T getting a little play in the puzzle. Frannie was also instrumental in getting MOREY (21A: Amsterdam of "The Dick Van Dyke Show"), HENNER (8D: Actress Marilu), and MARYS (30A: St. ____ parish (Crosby/Bergman movie setting). We've each got our strengths, and old movies and TV shows is definitely hers. And speaking of old movies, it's always amusing to think of Cleese's performance as LANCELOT. Richard Gere's, on the other hand, we are not familiar with.

Good cluing throughout today, with nice little touches like the sequential "Zip"s (PEP & SPICE), the two "clear" clues along the bottom "59A: What all the answers to should be clear?" (EYETEST) (ok, the clue there is slightly tortured) & "60A: Make clear, say" (STRESS), and cutesy question-mark clues like 7A: Was consistently in the hole? (SHOTPAR) and 51D: Result of a split decision? (SECT). 

1A: Company whose name, paradoxically means "shelter with no wall" (RAMADA). B. Interesting clue saves a corporate name entry from the derision it would normally receive. ("Rāmus" is "branch" in Latin, and RAMADA sort of means "branchify." It's basically a roof made of woven branches that you can sit under. At least that's what I think it is after a very brief Web investigation.) I actually prefer 1D: Position papers? (RESUMES), but we're not doing a systematic ranking of 1D, are we.

Favorite clue/answer - 13D: Put on something old? (REENACT). Even with the question mark.

- Horace

p.s. Oh, ok... here.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Friday, December 4, 2015, Martin Ashwood-Smith


We haven't seen Mr. Ashwood-Smith in quite some time, it seems to me, and it's nice to have him back! Today's puzzle features one of his signature quadstacks. (I should say that when I spoke to him about quadstack puzzles at the ACPT earlier this year, he informed me that the majority of puzzles with his byline were not quads.) In any event, this quad, with two bonus fifteens on the top and bottom, is one of the smoothest ones I can remember. Aside from outliers like LEPUS (4D: Hare constellation) and APIS (35D: Egyptian bull god), the rest of the grid is pretty normal. Well, except for this RAFE character. Isn't that just the way the Brits pronounce "Ralph?" Do we need to dumb it down? (No offense, Rafe.)

So what do we get for those concessions? A computer-heavy set of 15s: COMPUTERMONITOR (16A: One showing resolution), OPERATINGSYSTEM (53A: Hardware manager), and APPLIEDRESEARCH (30A: Focus of industrial science). That last one at least makes me think of computers, even though it isn't technically a part of a computer. And a threesome of "historic trivia:" CELESTIALEMPIRE (36A: Old nickname for China) (sounds so lovely), ICANSEEFORMILES (37A: The Who's only U.S. top 10 hit) (almost impossible to believe), and DAYTONTENNESSEE (38A: Scopes trial city) (Who knew there were two Daytons?!)

I like RATSNESTS (57A: Hoarders' disorders) and it's rhyming clue, and 6A: Putting out a lot (PROLIFIC) is also great on both sides of the coin. LONGSTEMMED (9D: Like some roses and wine glasses) is a nice clue/answer, partly because it is, and partly because it was "Monday easy" and allowed a pretty big entry into the Northeast/central areas. Nice, odd clue for ALIEN (14A: Superman, for one), and I also enjoyed 33D: Quitting time? for LENT.

1A: Big drop of water (FALLS). Very nice. A-
Favorite clue/answer - 46D: Rap response (ENTER). Lovely.

- Horace

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Thursday, December 3, 2015, Patrick Merrell


A very nice Roman-numeral trick today. I can only imagine that in the paper there was no shading, which would have made it much more difficult, I think. As it was, I was duped into thinking it was a "number rebus" when RUNNING[one]MPTY worked just fine. And then DA[ten]IGHT worked, too, and I thought I was home free. Then, of course, came FLAGSO__FATHERS (38A: Patriotic Clint Eastwood movie) and everything went to hell. Adding to the problem was the fact that I hadn't figured out REMIX (7D: D.J.'s play) or TOX (22D: Food safety subj.) by this time, so the rebuses were not obviously wrong.

Eventually, things became clear. RUNNINGIMPTY, DAXIGHTFLAGSIVFATHERS, and my favorite, CAIIMAN (45A: DC Comics character with a whip) - these are excellent-looking theme answers. CBVIIINGNEWS (52A: Rather informative program, once?) took the longest to get, because I wasn't sure if it would be XII, LII, or something else. It's only just now that I notice it also has a nice hidden capital. Overall, I loved this theme. The fact that the number rebus works for the first two adds a nice layer of complexity. I also like that the numbers are random, and that they are not symmetrical. They do, however, all fall between two words (or in the middle of a compound word) which is elegant.

So the theme gets an A. The fill? Well, that's pretty good, too. PLIE (50A: Move often preceding a pirouette) puts me in mind of the Nutcracker, which we are going to see one of Colum's daughters in this weekend. (His other daughter, when she was very young, sang "Part of Your World" to Frannie and me, and I thought of her when I filled in ARIEL at 17A with no crosses.) PELICANS (5D: Expert divers) is unusual, and unexpected off the clue. EDAM (56D: Town whose exports are waxed) brought us back to Frannie's sabbatical in the Netherlands this past spring. Everyone loves an ORGY (6A: Occasion of overindulgence), and the gratuitous Z's in the NE might indicate what happens soon after the 6A.

EMIL (18A: Jannings who won the first-ever Oscar) was tough, but it's also great trivia, so it's ok with me. ODETS (24A: Group Theater playwright of the 1930s), on the other hand, is completely foreign, but if that's all I've got to complain about, I've got no complaints.

All in all, a solid Thursday. Now it's time for a "48D: Certain spirit." (It is Drinkcember, after all!)

1A: Tie that binds (STRAP) -- A- I liked it a lot, but I've got to leave a little room.
Favorite clue/answer - 3D: It can pull a bit to one side (REIN). Simple but elegant.

- Horace

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Wednesday, December 2, 2015, Alan Arbesfeld

0:11:04 (FWOE)

Ugh. I've got to check the crosses. I put in cOLA for 28A: Caffeine nut (KOLA), and never went back to check on TASK (18D: Job). Why would I put in "cola" for that? It's obvious from the clue that they needed that K. It's straigh-up crosswordese! I should know these things! Oh well. I've got start being more careful. Only four months until the ACPT!

So today we've got a space theme, wackily clued. If you know anything about me by now, you know that I'm a sucker for an early week theme with wacky clues, and when you combine that with outer space, well, count me in! What's an "17A: Easy two semesters at school?" A LIGHTYEAR. Who is "25A: Lech Walesa, for one?" A POLESTAR. Guffaw. And don't you love how the other celebrity theme answer is symmetrically placed? REDGIANT turns out to be "51A: Lenin, say?" Not bad.

I take points off for paired answers like LUNA MOTH when the second part comes first, numerically, and you end up hitting a clue like "See 14-Across" right on the second clue. Ugh. I also take off points for such a weak 1A. "Stuck, after 'in'" (AJAM) is pretty bad. I'm giving it a D. No, a D-. And what do we get off of it? Three proper names. It's a long way to go for LIGHTYEAR, but I guess it really is nice to have that as part of the theme. Well... until I actually create a puzzle, I'm going to keep on criticizing freely. Because, as we all know, "criticism is easier than craftsmanship!"

On the brighter side, ACROBAT (57A: One going head over heels?) is pretty nice. And FEISTY (11D: Spirited) is a good word. But I very much dislike ODING (33D: Going too far, in a way) (I would have preferred it be clued as "Feat of Keats" to pair with 16A. Hah!), and there's tons of INT, OBI, OOH, TIA, EXE, and LIRR.

Lastly, I would have preferred "Word after drunk or butt" as a clue for DIAL. Then it might have had a chance. Instead, 22D: It's full of tables for reading (ALMANAC) is my favorite clue/answer pair. Although 52D: Flight destinations? (NESTS) and 44D: Exercise piece? (LEOTARD) are also good (the bottom of the grid is better than the top), they miss out on the top spot because of their question marks.

Great theme, so-so fill. A wash.

- Horace

Monday, November 30, 2015

Tuesday, December 1, 2015, Dan Schoenholz


Earlier tonight, Frannie and I had dinner with a woman who saw the Beatles live in concert, not once, but twice! And now we've got this NORWEGIANWOOD theme! What are the chances?!

All was immediately obvious once I had about four or five crosses through the first part (IONCEHADAGIRL), but I suppose that will be true for many people, it being Tuesday and all, and the Beatles being the Beatles and all. So the theme is fine. How can you knock it?

The rest of the fill is a little hit-or-miss. Huygens will certainly enjoy BALI (16A: 1952 Hope/Crosby "Road" movie destination), not because he loves the movie (he might, I don't know), but because he himself will be on the road to Bali very shortly. Perhaps if he hasn't seen it he'll put that movie on the queue! 59A: Long ago, long ago (ERST) is clever, and was the runner-up for favorite clue. I also like HADOUT (2D: Borrowed, as a library book) partly because it is nicely colloquial, partly because I now work in a library, and partly because it took me a long time to figure out. And speaking of that, 12D: Wield (PLY) is a little tricky for a Tuesday, no?

I enjoyed the paired Hope/Crosby clues, the paired "Kind of tide" clues, and interesting tidbits like 9D: Marc who painted "Russian Village Under the Moon" (CHAGALL) and 47D: Daughter of King Cymbeline in Shakespeare's "Cymbeline" (IMOGEN).

Overall, a decent Tuesday.

1A: Picked (CHOSE) - meh. C.
Favorite clue/answer - 15A: Something that might come to light? (MOTH) That's good, even with the question mark.

- Horace

Monday, November 30, 2015, Ian Livengood


My last blog post of 2015, and I break the 3:30 mark! Tomorrow I turn the reins back over to Horace and Frances to finish out the year. Is this really the second year I've done this? Yes, in looking back through the archives, I see that we started switching months in January, 2014. It doesn't feel that long, and I'm still about 29 years old in my mind, too, so that's how that sort of thing works.

Today's puzzle went by quickly (clearly), but I did notice the odd pairs of As in the middle of each long answer. And thus, the revealer: MIDASTOUCH, or, reparsed, MID "A"S TOUCH. That's awfully clever, Mr. Livengood. It is certainly true: each theme answer is ten letters long, with the pattern [4 letters]AA[4 letters]. Of these 5 answers (and that's a lot, along with the revealer), two are topnotch, namely FIONAAPPLE and PAULAABDUL. What an odd mismatched couple these two popstars make!

LHASAAPSOS is perfectly acceptable, although that pluralization was needed to fit the pattern. SANTAANITA is likewise acceptable: I guess I'm docking it slightly because I've never heard of it, but it's been in operation since 1934 and it's been hosting the Breeder's Cup for the last 4 years. Finally, OPERAARIAS is just a made up phrase, and pluralized to boot. While there are arias outside of opera (oratorio, cantata, even individual songs; the famous Bach "air" from the Orchestral Suite is also an "aria"), you'd still call a solo in an opera simply an aria.

Despite the large amount of theme, there's still room for some nice fill, such as LAKEGENEVA, CLIPBOARDS (although pluralized again), and SIXTEEN. 1A: Add alcohol to, as punch (SPIKE) is very nice, and I give it a B+. Of course there's enough of the OLIO ARG CCCP ORES ARAL stuff, but my nose was not turned up by it.

Some good clues abounded, especially for a Monday. I liked 49A: C minor, for Beethoven's Fifth (KEY) and 32A: Union man? (GROOM). My favorite though, was 6A: Caesar dressing? (TOGA). Nice.

- Colum

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sunday, November 29, 2015, Alex Vratsanos


As I'm sure all of you know, because you've been counting along, this blog post is the 1000th on this site. The first entry was on March 13, 2013 (the year was not included in the post title, perhaps an indication of how long Horace thought the blog might go on?). It was a Wednesday, and the posted time of 39:22 certainly says something about how far we've progressed in terms of solving ability.

I know Horace and Frances wanted to create a blog which catalogued the efforts of "normal" solvers of the NYT, rather than the incredibly fast times posted on other similar sites. The more you do something, however, the better you get at it. I know my times have definitely gone down over the past year or two of doing each puzzle.

I do want to point out that this is not the 1000th puzzle solved. There were at least two posts which were not attached to a puzzle: Horace's summary of the ACPT he attended, and my own summary post of September's grading system. So the honor of discussing that landmark grid will go to Horace on December 1, which is only fitting.

Anyway, on today's puzzle. The theme is interesting: there are four 4-letter words, though not of the sort we all expected on reading the title. If you take them in order from left to right, and top to bottom, you get OVER, HEAD, LONG, and SHOT. By combining them in all possibilities where no word can go before a word ahead of it, you get 6 combinations: overhead, overlong, overshot, headlong, headshot, and longshot. Each of these then provides the clue for the longer theme answers, in order from left to right and top to bottom.

I like the setup: it's rigorous and interesting. I don't love BEYONDTHETIMELIMIT as a definition for "overlong"; although in thinking about it, I get that, for example, a presidential candidate in a debate who runs past the buzzer, well, his or her answer would be overlong. I was thinking more along the lines of a quiz show or something.

YEARBOOKPHOTOGRAPH is an interesting choice for a "headshot". Normally I'd think of a publicity picture for an actor or dancer. NOTAGOODBET for "longshot" is my favorite of the answers. How hard would it have been to have every single combination of words represented? That would be 12 entries, and the words would have to be chosen very carefully.

There are a number of nice 9-letter and 8-letter down answers scattered through the grid. I liked ABRASIVES, STATUETTE, SANITIZER, and SKELETOR the best. I don't really like AGEMATES at all. I don't buy it as a real term, although it Googles perfectly well. I also don't like 45A: Workers on the board (IRONERS) - the clue is fine, the answer is just one of those -ER words, and it's pluralized as well.

27A: What a driverless car drives (ITSELF) is great. Right to the point. 49A: It covers everything quite clearly (SARAN) is also very good, although do we ever say just "saran" and not addend the "wrap"? Glad to have OGDEN Nash represented, as always.

I can't give a grade to 1A, because it's a theme entry. Maybe my favorite clue-answer pair is 34D: Mustard, but not ketchup: Abbr. (COL), referring to the game Clue. Nice hidden capital.

- Colum

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Saturday, November 28, 2015, Ned White


This is an incredibly smooth grid. The shape calls for no answers longer than seven letters, with 36 seven-letter answers, 16 three-letter answers, 12 five-letter answers, and 8 four-letter answers. The corners are not isolated, with nice chunks connecting them together, so you're not left with four mini-puzzles.

I broke in at 2D: Compound in apricot pits (CYANIDE), and followed with UNI and LOL. I looked at 6D: Jack holder, and thought, "could that be TRUNK?" When I saw 25A: Clinton successor (KERRY), I knew I was right. The only answer in the NW I don't like too much is IFSO. Otherwise, they're all solid. Ah, SCHLITZ. I remember you well from watching Sox games in the 1970s. I give the answer an A- for nostalgia's sake. Mind you, for me, Christmas is a solidly SECULAR holiday. However, I get the point of the clue.

The NE followed naturally. I got SATIRIC, and put in AGESAGO off that A. Amazingly, I recalled AGOUTIS with just the G, and the rest of the corner fell pretty easily. SAZERAC is a fine answer. I never watched "Three's Company", but the answer was pretty obvious from the crossings. ROTO doesn't Google at all, so I suppose the clue is as good as any could be.

TRANQ and RUINOUS gave me KENOSHA. I didn't get 48A: Powerful board member (QUEEN) until just now. It has now become my favorite clue-answer pair of the day. The SE is my favorite corner of the bunch. Great clue for HEXAGON, and 52A: 10-ish? (SEXY) is funny. You also get the pair of "John" clues at 36A: John, abroad (IAN) and 60D: John (LAV). I wanted to put "loo" in at both places. I also like the NBALOGO and AERATOR. GARO Yepremian is an old-time reference. I needed all the crosses, but they were fair.

There's a nice sense of vernacular in the puzzle with CHINWAG, TOSSPOT, and PIEHOLE. That last makes me think of "the penguin sketch". Although, after watching the sketch, I realize that phrase is not in it at all. Oh, well. I'll put it in here anyway for the fun of it.

I finished in the SE. I think VOTERID laws should be AVOIDED, but I like the crossing of friendship (AMISTAD) with love (AIMEE). I've never had OHS brand cereal before. Why would you not just get Honey Nut Cheerios? I thought so. My last square was the crossing of LGA with SEGUE.

Thumbs up here.

- Colum

Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday, November 27, 2015, Pete Wentz

11:42 (FWOE)

Well, I really enjoyed this puzzle thoroughly. It's a quadruple triple stack of 10-letter answers, which means 12 long answers, all of which I liked with exception of one. That's pretty impressive. Then, in addition, there's a fine diagonal of 5-letter answers down the middle. Good flow, overall.

I broke in with 15A: Browse without comment (LURK), a term I remember well from the days of online bulletin boards and forums. Does anybody still use those in the age of social networking? Once I added BOKCHOY (very nice) and ELK, I suddenly saw 3D: Fall out of line (BREAKRANKS). 1D: Crosses, as a range (CLIMBSOVER) seems just a little off, but is certainly accurate. AUDIOPHILE completes this trio. I made my mistake here, where I put OHARe at 30A: John who wrote "BUtterfield 8" (OHARA). Should have realized SHIe made no sense.

1A: Napa options, informally (CABS) is referring to the wines, which moves it up a full grade to a B-.

Despite getting TODAY, I had no more purchase in the transition to the NE, so I moved to the SW. RESPECTS moved me in. 40D: Small bomb used for breaking down gates (PETARD) is wonderful. Now I now what they mean by "hoisted by one's own petard" means. 37D: What's the point? (DECIMAL) is also very nice.

48A: It might involve someone "so fat" or "so old" (YOMAMAJOKE) is a winner, as is 53A: What to grab for the road? (HANDLEBARS). I don't love 51A: Regular joes (AVERAGEMEN), just because it feels like two words stuck together rather than a widespread term. 46D: Home of "Christina's World," familiarly (MOMA) was opaque to me, and the first M was my last square entered.

43A: Halluces (BIGTOES) should have been immediately apparent to me, as we often test the extensor hallucis longus in Neurology. But I read it as a strange version of "hallucinates". In any case, 27D: One stuck abroad? (VOODOODOLL) wins for best clue-answer pair today. Any reference to Star Trek's a winner (ENGINEROOM), and 29D: Starting line (READYSETGO) is also great.

The NE has the best set of three answers, though. I love STIFFDRINK, NOSIREEBOB, and ADAGENCIES took me a while to parse correctly (18A: They get spots out).

Very well done.

- Colum

P.S. The new They Might Be Giants album is out on Spotify. I'm listening to it right now.