Saturday, January 31, 2015

Saturday, January 31, 2015, Tim Croce

Untimed, about 45 minutes

Completed with my mother in NYC. A story of two halves of a crossword puzzle. The diagonal split things pretty well, with the SW half being far easier than the NE half.

The first entry was ALLES, with 2D: Plant called "rocket" outside the U.S. (ARUGULA) being a quick second. And here is where we made our first mistake: I suggested "rUglach" for 17A: Alternative to a babka (NUTCAKE). In fact, that answer didn't make its appearance until 5 minutes before the ending. Instead we merrily completed the SW corner and the SE corner, and even worked our way up the east side.

My favorites in these sections were 54A: Himalayan food, perhaps? (CATCHOW), 36D: General figure (BODYTYPE), 48A: It's not much higher than a D (EFLAT), and 33A: Part of a goth dude's look (GUYLINER). That last I'd guessed "eyeLINER" off of the L of BLOKE, but was corrected by Phoebe, who from across the room suggested the appropriate gender-modification.

Things I didn't much like in this section: EMSPACE, a less than interesting entry; OMER, your standard 4-letter Hebrew option; and ALOHAOE. Don't much like FOTO, either. We also had a little Huygens material with BREASTS.

So, all well and good, we're motoring along, not even 10 minute into it at this point, when we come up against it. Sometimes it's like that. Even with BLAME and GUYLINER in place, the NE corner mocked us. 29A: Shortening for shortcuts (CTRL)? 22A: Beethoven's fifth? (SOL)? Both took forever to figure out. I guessed TRISTAN, but erased it several times, mostly because we'd entered "trustME". Later, we tried "eatsoME" as well.

For 8D: "I'd like some of that, bro", we had "fillMEUP" for a while. Another error was at 1D, where we guessed "rAmADA". Finally, I erased everything we weren't sure of, and when my mother suggested CANADA, we quickly finished the NW. Unfortunately, I thought MELIKEY was spelled with two Es at the end, so that made for more difficulty. Mom suggested RED for 11D: Ketchup, e.g., and that finished it off.

I like the colloquialisms: HOOKMEUP, YESBOSS, IMAWARE, all of these more than MELIKEY. CARLSJR, a restaurant chain that operates "predominantly in the western and southwestern states", per Wikipedia, was unknown to me, which really slowed us down.

Overall, it's a well-made puzzle with a good grid, and few complaints. A good challenge is well worth it. Others may have found it easier, I'm sure.

Signing off as blogger until March!

- Colum

Friday, January 30, 2015

Friday, January 30, 2015, David Phillips


I found this an odd puzzle. On my first passthrough, I had a number of down answers entered (incorrectly in several cases), but almost no acrosses. I like the shape of the grid, with nice open chunks of real estate and connections between sections that are several spaces across usually. Somehow, though, it didn't play as enjoyably as I might have hoped.

2D was my first entry, with a nice quotation from Desmond Tutu, which didn't hide the love of my life very well (HOPE). ETHAN was an easy answer, and a reference to an outstanding movie. Then I entered 8D: Not much, as of salt (ADASH) and the straightforward BLEU at 10D. I toyed with putting AINT in immediately, but held off. Next I erroneously entered lAttE at 22D and AWAIT for 23D: Expect. I put in AWHIRL unhappily (my first across entry!), and then wanted RHein, which slowed me for a while because of ETE.

Anyway, then it was on to the central east section, where I once again erroneously entered "Cleopatra", who shares the same number of letters, remarkably, as NEFERTITI. I knew LOMA and guessed "erect" for 27D: Upright. That answer later morphed to "build" (?! - not a synonym for "Upright", but it is a synonym for "erect" so I clearly lost sight of my clue), and finally much later to the correct ONEND. But with the incorrect Queen of the Nile, I was stuck there too. I should have known sooner, as I immediately had thought of ALLEMANDE for 41A from all of those lovely J.S. Bach solo keyboard suites.

Where I finally started getting traction was in the SW, where FRERE was another French gimme (one of three in the puzzle, thank goodness). I couldn't immediately recall Anna FARIS's last name, but ENTERIN was the thing that opened everything up. After Horace's recent comment on how to solve a crossword puzzle (thank you, sir!), it should come as no surprise that it takes a crossing to make things easier. PEP, PASTES, Ms. FARIS, OFFHOURS, and then SLOE, and then recognizing that Caffe and Cleopatra were wrong. Etc., etc.

I guess the lesson from a solving perspective is when a section refuses to come together, be prepared to "kill your darlings," and erase something.

1A: Sharp (SHREWD) is a great opening to this puzzle. 13A: Take for the road? (HOTWIRE) is another very fine clue-answer pairing. But I have issues with EPEEIST, although it's a great clue. I briefly entered "spearer" and very quickly erased it, but the true answer is not much better. And that was a pattern elsewhere.

CARTOONED - blah. AWHIRL - yuck. FAINTLY, FINESSES - excellent. The pair of heavy metal clues were unknown to me. I like SCHOOLSOUT but not PANTERA. Who?

Anyway, maybe I'm splitting hairs. It's a pretty well done puzzle with just a few things I didn't like.

- Colum

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thursday, January 29, 2015, John Farmer


Before I figured out the theme as a whole, I came across 20A: Best Picture between "The Last Emperor" and "Driving Miss Daisy", and I thought to myself, that must have been right around Rain Man, right? But it didn't fit, so I moved on. I did briefly wonder whether there would be a rebus.

Later on I noticed the presence of several "man" triplets throughout the puzzle. Somehow the theme eluded me even then. I had a strange time staring at 53A: Central American capital, and wondering what on Earth was going on when I could think of no city that started with Ag__.

So, really, a pretty darn clever theme, once revealed by CUTOUTTHE/MIDDLEMAN. The missing "man" from three answers is in between two other "man" in other clues, thus giving us RAIN[MAN], THEICE[MAN]COMETH, and [MAN]AGUA. I love it!

It was unfortunate to start with 1A: Maria's "those" (ESAS), which I think I may have complained about in the past. And there are 24 3-letter answers, which will stretch the ability of any puzzle crafter to come up with excellent fill. Despite that, there was some good cluing, including 6D: Queen's pawn? (ANT) and 43: Span of attention? (ERA). I still don't get 24D: Chapter seven? (ETA). I get that eta is the seventh Greek letter, but why chapter? Anybody explain for me?

Other things I liked: 32A: Offer? (HITMAN). That's pretty darn funny. SACKLUNCH is a nice non-theme entry. EMAILLIST is okay. GHERKIN and LUNATIC are a couple of great longer down clues. Kind of weird to have MODELA cross SCLASS. We also get Columbus represented twice in PINTA and MDII (Year of his last voyage).

And what's with the obsession with the movie Rio recently? I didn't even see it.

In keeping with the theme of the week in pictures:

- Colum

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Wednesday, January 28, 2015, Gary Cee


My Wednesday time is faster than my Tuesday time this week.

So this puzzle is a neat whirligig of theme answers, all surrounding the central YOU, which partakes in each song title. The symmetry is beautiful: IVEGOT[YOU]UNDERMYSKIN mirrors IWANTTOTAKE[YOU]HIGHER, while ALL[YOU]NEEDISLOVE is countered by JUSTTHEWAY[YOU]ARE. It seems like this would take an awful lot of work to find titles that fit the necessary requirements. I even like the songs, especially the pair of The Beatles and Billy Joel tunes.

The excellence of the theme makes up, in part for the large number of abbreviations and crosswordese that dot the fill. Just to name a few: USO ILO AAU YTD NYS RIV EDT and then ERES EPEE EMIR ORLY ODAS.

But to focus on that poor set of words would miss the other very nice entries. KONTIKI was a favorite book of mine when a lad. GRAPENUTS is unpleasant to eat, but nice in the grid. RUNALONG is cute, IMPOSTER is nice.

Not much good cluing unfortunately. 7A: Popular game? (ELK) is clever. 35A: Producer of many parts would be a clever clue except for the following issue:

Q: What do you use to part your hair?

A: My HAIRCOMB, said no one, ever.

On the other hand, MAHLER. [swoons]

- Colum

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tuesday, January 27, 2015, James Tuttle


Definitely a long solving time for a Tuesday, but the puzzle didn't feel difficult. But let's talk about that theme. Clever, to have the sound "ro" represented five different ways, and with five very pleasant answers. DENISDIDEROT wins the prize for most recherche, and SUCHSWEETSORROW the prize for most excellent. Before I figured out the theme, I tried to squeeze JAMESMadison into 60A before I recognized the lack of available spaces. It would have been very amusing if they'd done "ro, rot, reau your boat"...

I like the fact that 1A/1D are both fine words, and OVID is a pleasing presence in the NW. 14A: Lead zeppelins? (AVIATE) is a hoot. So, good start, for sure, that put me in a good mood for the remainder of the puzzle. It allowed me to overlook such lesser fill as NOI, ELUL, EMER, OER, and LEA.

How excellent is it that 7A: Half-baked (DUMB) crosses 10D: Mae West or Cheryl Tiegs (BLONDE)? That's some fine construction there.

Not too many other fine clues: I liked 30D: It may be wild or dirty (RICE). I also liked the trivia of 46D: Indian state whose name means "five rivers" (PUNJAB). I'll admit to the fact that my first instinct on reading the clue was to think of Native American names. I've been conditioned by lo, these many puzzles.

I finished the puzzle in the SW, where I had a very hard time seeing 48D: Not broadcast (CABLE). it wasn't helped by thinking nTH rather than ETH, and not having the first clue what the Polish airline was (LOT).

I had fun with it.

- Colum

Monday, January 26, 2015

Monday, January 26, 2015, Ian Livengood


It's a sassy puzzle, really. The kind of upstart that likes to show off its knowledge. Like those "children who are up on dates and floor you with 'em flat."

Okay, actually, Mr. Livengood has produced a fine example of a Monday puzzle, with six theme answers that doesn't sacrifice the fill too much. Each of the theme is a reasonable phrase, although I'm not that fond of PERTPLUS, which is more of a brand name. FORWARDPASS is seasonable, given the big game coming up on Sunday. And I like "forward" as a synonym for "fresh." I like "froward" better, but that's archaic.

In fact, the worst piece of fill comes at 1A: Attendees (GOERS). The only time I've ever heard this term is in Monty Python: "Is your wife a goer, know what I mean?" Otherwise, it's a sad non-starter. Other answers on the same level include RUER, PARER, RISER, sort of. Things improved somewhat after that.

ERIECANAL, PADDYWAGON, SENIORPROM, and LEMONTART are all very nice long down answers, each crossing two theme answers, which does tend to put handcuffs on what's possible elsewhere.

You know, the more I look, the less I like the fill, which is too bad. I actually enjoyed doing the puzzle, so maybe I don't want to nitpick too much. Let's just say that OOO is not something I like. But at least Jean-LUC Picard is in there. And Hieronymus Bosch.

So, a mixed bag.

- Colum

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday, January 25, 2015, Alan Arbesfeld

Twist Ending

This went smoothly and easily, solved with my mother on a Sunday morning in NYC. The theme is straightforward, and obvious from the title. My favorite from a absurdist point of view is ANNIEGETYOURGNU. And the clue is so tortured as well. The best in terms of degree of difficulty is ILLEGALALINE, in that it's a five-letter ending word instead of the 3- or 4-letter words in the other answers. RAISINGTHEBRA is sort of an anti-Huygens answer.

There wasn't much of anything that gave us pause for long. Some nice clues are present, however: 25A: Something hard to drink? (CIDER) is good, as is 79D: Canine cousin (MOLAR), another excellent example of avoiding an unnecessary question mark. Another example of that is 45D: Where many people may follow you (TWITTER)

I'm not sure that 47A: Asked to come back, in a way (ENCORED) is quite right. I presume the meaning is that of "After the performance, the audience encored the performer several times," but is that really anything anyone would say?

123A: One in a tight spot? (SARDINE) is cute, and 124A: Did some edgy writing? (DOODLED) is all right, but neither were particularly difficult or amusing. I like ICEPALACE and WENTSOLO, but PILLARED is meh.

71D: U.S. city whose name becomes another city's name if you change both its vowels to A's (TEMPE) gets the award for longest clue. At 85 characters, it's longer than its answer by a factor of 17. It's almost tweet-length!

So overall, not particularly challenging nor particularly entertaining.

- Colum

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Saturday, January 24, 2015, Kevin G. Der

Around 25 minutes

Completed with my mother in NYC, prior to going to see the New York City Ballet with Phoebe, her 16th birthday present.

It took us a while to figure out entry into this puzzle. Mom immediately put GAIUS in, although we had it beginning with a c at first. That got us nowhere initially, so we switched to the NE, where ALHAMBRA was entered, along with mELD, unfortunately incorrect for the time being. I got STAREAT, and Mom got FAA, which allowed ____FIRS. Funnily enough, I said "noble" firs as a joke, never having heard of it. Later on it proved to be correct.

Even so, we had to switch to the SW, where things started moving. KENTISH was a gimme off of the clue, which led to the Aha moment of KIDSTHESEDAYS. A great entry, and reminiscent of Bye, Bye, Birdie, which Cece is performing in next weekend. The entire SW was filled in, with the excellent clue at 40D: Gay partner? (ENOLA). Having just finished Unbroken, the topic was very present in my mind.

So then we were able to break open the middle, and the rest went pretty quickly thereafter. The final square entered was the M of HOMEMATCH, a great clue demonstrating the way you can avoid the unnecessary question mark. Other such clues in this puzzle include 30D: They may put you to sleep (SEDATIVES), and 29D: Took down the garden path (LEDASTRAY). I recognize that these aren't being misleading in the cluing, but still I like the lack of question marks.

I've never drunk UNICUM, but I like the green bottles. I like the fact that 31D: Graceful architectural curve (SWANSNECK) is not "ogee." And best of all, I love 50D: Brace (TWO). What a lovely pairing of clue and answer.

Thumbs up from me!

- Colum

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday, January 23, 2015, Ed Sessa


I had to fight every step of the way on this puzzle. Very little came easily. For example, I started off with "boos" for 1D: Fun house outbursts (EEKS). So while STOLE was a gimme, the rest of the corner was unknowable for a while. I got 14D: Huns by the hundreds, say (HORDE) and then had to move on.

Thank you, high school French, for it allowed me my NON, ICI, and DROIT. In fact, it was the last that allowed me entry into the SW, my first finished corner. And there's a lot to like immediately in this section! SELFIE crosses FACEPALM, two excellent examples of modern entries. ANAPESTS is great. My mind did not come up with that until much of it was filled in by crosses. I recalled trochees and dactyls, but that was it.

Unfortunately, finishing that corner, even with OVA in place, I was unable to move further. EFILE (an annoying example of the all-too-common E____ answers) opened up the SE. I love how RINTINTIN just flows down. And what an unusual clue for OLEO (Imperial bars?): I assume that was the company that produced the margarine that infests so many crossword grids. The fact that it crosses GERITOL is just hi-larious.

GOO led to the correct guess of SAGAMORE, and each clue in the NE was a challenge. 11D: Hot potatoes and cold fish? (IDIOMS) was far from clear. Whoever heard of Joe LANDO? Another obscure TV actor. BODED feels... off. I would say, "That doesn't bode well." But who ever refers retroactively to how something was forecast prior to now? ZIMBABWE's 16 official languages is a nice piece of trivia; it was given away when I got ZILCH.

The W of that country finally made NOSHOW clear (31A: Runaway bride, e.g.). That's a great clue: I'd wanted "eloper" which would have been terrible, but it was a nonstarter due to the N I had from my French knowledge.

GEOCACHING took forever! (9D: Coordinated activity?) Once I had that and IMALOSER, the rest of the NW finally fell into place. My last square entered was the L of PLEX.

I like the trio of nine-letter answers in the NW far better than the corresponding trio in the SE. LIGAMENTS is great, and its clue is outstanding also (66A: Hip bands). The other two I could do without. KALAMAZOO crossing KILOHERTZ is great.

I like a challenge, and this one forced me to work the whole way. Nicely done overall.

- Colum

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thursday, January 22, 2015, Timothy Polin


Again! This one I don't really mind. I entered rAFT at 8A (Go with the flow?), which is actually a good answer, I think better than WAFT. rAC is not a thing, but I didn't really notice, since I knew it was an abbreviation.

So, anyhoo. The theme was very good today. I didn't get it initially, even after entering the revealer, because the last corner I had to fill was the NW, where I had mistakenly entered orbITER for 1D (Planet). Thus the FIFTH portion of the COLUMNS was not evident. Only when I switched to JUPITER and saw how the clue for each of the shaded answers was missing the understood "fifth" did I get it. I recall being particularly confused at 59D: Month (MAY). That seemed incomplete, now for retrospectively obvious reasons.

How hard was it to remember PIERCEBROSNAN? I thought of all of the other Bonds first (once again, before I understood the theme). David Niven, Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Daniel Craig. But not Pierce. Of course Niven's in there because of the spoof film, Casino Royale, not considered part of the standard Bond films. Saw a funny bit in The Trip, where it's pointed out that only one of the Bond portrayers is actually British, namely Moore.

But enough of a digression. Speaking of actors, 56A: Bean, for one (ORSON) is apparently referring to a television actor I'd never heard of. His face is not even familiar to me. However, he went to Cambridge Rindge & Latin, so there you go. And I'd venture to say that much of the fill is not what I'd want to see in general. EMEER, LEM, ESS, MARM (?), YERS. And that's just a fraction of it.

On the other hand, there's some nice cluing. My favorite is probably 5A: One may be involved in phone tapping (APP). I had AP_ and still stared at it for a minute until I got it. I like 27A: Rhubarb (SPAT). And how about 35D: Go off line? (ADLIB). That's a nice companion for App: one's clue is deliberately old-fashioned, the other's is deceptively modern.

Overall I liked it, but it's a close balance.

- Colum

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wednesday, January 21, 2015, Jim Hilger


Well, this was one of the stranger grids I've solved in a while. First, there's the east-west symmetry. And the placement of the T-shapes make for peculiar little niches of answers. But I really like it! It's unusual, and therefore interesting.

The theme is T-FORMATION. At first, I wanted to have the revealer at 50A to say something like "form a T..." but the ION at the end just wouldn't work. Finally, I reread the clue, and realized that the BLATANTly obvious T in the middle of the puzzle is actually part of the revealer answer. A further layer of the theme is that the meeting point of each T-formation is itself a T. Clever! You even get a bonus answer in MRT, star of D.C. Cab.

All five of the theme answers are genuine phrases as well. WATER TIGHT is probably the most, well, watertight of the lot, with OFTEN TIMES feeling a little outdated. And does anybody use the phrase DUTCH TREAT? Even "going Dutch," which feels more correct, is out of style. Apparently, one suggestion for where that term came from is in the antipathy the English felt for the inhabitants of the Low Countries: thus, to go Dutch was to be a cheapskate. Some words of wisdom for Frannie as she makes her way through the Netherlands.

Some clues I very much enjoyed: 23A: History is recorded in it (PASTTENSE) is simply excellent. 48A: Alarm clock's purpose (AROUSAL) is a funny way of avoiding the more Huygens-ish (to coin a word) sense of the answer. 71A: Something in brackets (TAXRATES) is clever but not ha-ha funny.

There are a few very nice long answers, including IMPATIENT, SOULFOOD, TINSMITHS. I don't love your random Native American name in crossword puzzles, but ARAPAHOE is much preferable to Ute or Otoe (without making any judgement on the relative merits of said tribes).

Some very unlikeable answers include EDILE, whose presence I've not seen in a grid in quite some time, INUTILE (I wanted "futile" so badly), and NEWER/NEWEL, which are awfully close to one another, if not etymologically related.

And yes, there is a ton of not very nice 3-letter filler answers, especially AWN, MOL, and PUF. But overall, I'm taken by the theme and the way it's carried out. Put that in your bong and TOKE on it!

- Colum

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tuesday, January 20, 2015, Susan Gelfand


Nothing like a little COMICRELIEF to lighten up a Tuesday. I thought the theme entries were good choices, all fairly common answers, although I've never said or drank CRYSTALGEYSER. At least I've heard of it. We also had two Jewish comics and two African-American comics represented. The revealer was nice: I had no idea how the answers were related until I figured out 60A, and that's the best kind of revealer.

Beyond the theme, there were a number of reasonably good answers. I like the odd juxtaposition of CAMEROON next to the Japanese classic RASHOMON. MALAMUTE is another nice entry. I liked the clue for 40D: What some dieters do (YOYO), and the pair of Evita clues was okay, I guess. I'm not much of a fan of that musical or its composer. And I like SALAMI, especially in an Italian sub.

So much for the good stuff. 25 3-letter answers makes for a lot of DRIVEL. Some examples are: ANALYZER, IRONER (?! - how's that for an interrobang?), SANELY. But the worst of all deserves its own paragraph.

35D: Antiquity, in antiquity: ELD. I just don't see how this could have been allowed. The clue is cute, the word unnecessary. If the constructor had changed the first letter to O, you would have had "old" and "one", which is always preferable in my eyes to the random direction clue/answer pair. You could have done alt/ane/cut, although I don't love the chemical suffix much. You could have done cue/ole/one. All sorts of possibilities, without resorting to "eld". Blah.

Oh, by the way, I didn't mind the ancient Leopold AUER or Franz LEHAR, but I can see how others might complain.

So overall, it was okay, but could have been much better. I'm sounding like Rex Parker. Oh, dear.

- Colum

Monday, January 19, 2015

Monday, January 19, 2015, Jean O'Conor


On a Monday, you ask? Yes! I reply cheerfully. Or not. I don't know. My error was as follows: 28D: Home of Cheyenne: Abbr. I had the W of BLEW, and haplessly filled in "Wis". I was aided in this silliness by typing in SiByL for SYBIL, apparently mistaking the youngest daughter of the Downton family for the ancient Greek seeresses at Delphi and other places. When I entered TOUSLES I noted how "Wis" no longer worked, and thought to myself casually that I'd get back to that, as I was zipping through so quickly. Even when I corrected the y to an I in Ms. Crawley's name, I moved on. Only to find the dreaded puzzle not correctly filled in box.

Ah, well. Once again, pushing for that low time results in an error.

The theme is fine. I like the reveal, SNOWCAPPED, and it is certainly true that each half of the long down answers works with "snow". With six long theme answers, it's not a surprise that some of the fill is subpar. I don't want to see SKUA in the grid (I initially entered StUA, but quickly corrected myself... why couldn't I do that with Wis? Let it go... let it go...). ACNES is questionable. NOTER and TOPER are answers I could do without.

But frankly, I really didn't notice the bad fill, and the longer non-theme answers are pretty good: BREWSKI, RANKLES, ATTACHE. I also liked TUSH, for which I tried both "rear" and "butt" first. No clues of interest in the puzzle whatsoever.

Anybody eaten CRABBALLS out there? I have not, and do not wish to.

- Colum

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sunday, January 18, 2015, Joe Krozel


I'm writing this review at halftime of the Packers-Seahawks game. Still 30 minutes to go, but it looks an awful lot like the Pack's going to the Super Bowl. Hope the Pats get there also!

This puzzle left me a bit cold. The theme is fine, as far as it goes. Twenty letters of four-letter words, differing by only one letter each time, with clues that attempt to make sense of the tortured results. The best one is KIDS/KISS/MISS/MOSS/MOST: at least it makes grammatical sense. On the other side, WILT/WILL/FILL/FULL/FUEL? It just doesn't parse. And LOUD/LOUT/LOST/LAST/CAST is just nonsense.

Once I understood the theme, figuring out the words was enjoyable in a Games magazine sort of way. The problem from a crosswording standpoint is that the extremely long entries are the only passage from one section to another. In fact, until I gathered what the trick was, I was essentially filling in random clues that I could just get, rather than doing what makes crosswords fun; namely, crossing words. It's the old problem of dividing a (large) grid into tiny 5x4 or 4x4 mini-puzzles.

And I suppose it would have been better if the remainder of the fill was anything to write home about. But instead we have Lena OLIN, Sheriff LOBO, NOTI, ISL, HULL, ALAW, ENOS, and a host of others, too numerous to enumerate here.

Clues I did like? 90D: Non-PC person (MACUSER). That's good stuff. Three different "This and that" clues, (1D, 12D, and 34D), leading to BOTH, OLIO, MISC. Unfortunately, the latter two are really things I'd rather not see in the puzzle. I enjoyed 52A: Word after camper or before Camp's (VAN). I also liked 29D: Bombay and Boodles (GINS), but what's with the unnecessary plural?

SAABS? That's what we're all doing with a puzzle like this.

- Colum

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Saturday, January 17, 2015, Josh Knapp


I had a much harder time with this themeless than yesterday's. It's a beautiful grid, with nice entries of nine or twelve letters from every corner into the middle, which is wide open. There are only ten three-letter answers.

My first entry was 5D, a nice French gimme (SOUS). So glad they use French rather than, say, Finnish in these puzzles. Nothing against Finnish, of course: I know there's some Finnish blood in the creators of this blog. Here's how you say "How are you?" in Finnish: Mita kuuluu. Looks great! On second thought, let's get more Finnish in these puzzles, Mr. Shortz!

I think I got off track there. Although I couldn't figure out 1A (Polishes) just yet, the S I'd entered let me guess at ____SUP for the end of it, so I got URN and PISAN, a great clue for Signor Fibonacci. No math in that clue-answer pair, more's the pity, Huygens. I got SNIT following that, but then was stuck, so I shifted to the NE.

13D: Ten commandments subject led to the correct guess of ADULTERY, and I surmised the unknown SYD from the context. I had wanted to put in BOSPORUS but had hesitated; now it went in, and REPOSTED followed. Funny clue for PLO: they are involved in much diplomacy, mostly because they and their opponent keep on being dragged into it. In that corner, I did not want to put DCCAB in, an answer I only know from doing this puzzle. Apparently Mr. T was in it. More reason to avoid.

Once again stuck, I switched corners, got 58A: Mother who had a bone to pick? (HUBBARD) - Ha! I can't believe I retrieved MUNGO Jerry from the recesses of my mind. The name comes from T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, the basis for the musical Cats (I laughed! I cried! It was better than Cats!).

Long story short, I ended up with junk in each corner without a connection until Cece looked over my shoulder and suggested TALE for 53A (Something not to be believed), at which point I finally opened up the middle. 40A: Provider of shock value? (RICHTERSCALE) is a lovely clue, and FORCEMAJEURE is a lovely answer. That ____EURE ending made me question OBE (26D: It's an honour: Abbr. - note the British spelling).

There are also the great entries SIRENSONG, SUBATOMIC, and CORIANDER, all right next to each other, crossing LIONIZE. I don't love AGRO, ROK, or Ad HOC, but they're small complaints.

Best of all? 4D: Cover of the Bible? FIGLEAF!

Thumbs up from me.

- Colum

Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday, January 16, 2015, Michael Wiesenberg


This was a strange solving experience. My final answer was NEWT, which was a weird aha moment, when I gathered suddenly that the "brew" referred to in 4D was a witches' brew, and the answer for 4D was not rYE but EYE. And that completed 1A: ?! (INTERROBANG) at the same time, a word I'd never heard of before but wish I had. What an excellent term.

In truth, I broke in with ATA after incorrectly entering "hold" for 8D: Restrain, as one's breath (BATE), and then guessed GROTTOES, off of which I was able to intuit SEEYOULATER and SWEETPOTATO. Then I had to work my way around the entire puzzle to end up back at the aforementioned 1A.

Every long answer in this puzzle shines, in my opinion. Two trios of 11-letter answers and two trios of 10-letter answers, and each is above average. ERYTHROCYTE is beautiful. HANDCRAFTS is great. LAPRESMIDI, an answer I needed no crosses for, is a nice reference to Debussy, but a piece I never had much use for myself. SAINTSDAYS is lovely, although isn't it true that every day is a Saint's day in the Catholic calendar? Certainly the two referenced (February 14 and March 17) are well-known for their individual saints.

There's a nice diagonal chunk of 5-letter answers in the middle, but unfortunately they're almost all of them plurals. JUICEBAR and VIBRATO are a couple of other nice answers. Clues I liked included 23A: Blood problem, maybe (FEUD) and 36A: Pair of elephants? (TUSKS). There were also some nice paired clues, including the violin duo of PEGS and VIBRATO, and the pair of heels (ROTTERS and RUPAUL).

There were a number of entries I didn't much like, including AWHIRL, ITI, DOABLE, and NRC. But they floated by in a sea of pleasurable stuff, so I overlook them.

- Colum

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Thursday, January 15, 2015, Herre Schouwerwou


And it's not the error you might think. For some reason I thought that 22A: Kings and Queens could reasonably be answered BEeS, ignoring the well-known lack of male royalty in the apiary. I remembered thinking that AGEe was a peculiar answer for 12D: Put in extra time?, but I left it for later, only not to get back to it at any time until I'd finished the puzzle. Ah, well.

So, it's an infamous quote puzzle. I tend not to like these themes, in that there's no entry until the quote becomes apparent, at which time it's just filling in. It can be particularly annoying because sections no longer connect with each other, and each section becomes a mini-puzzle. That being said, an Ogden Nash quotation is always welcome, and this one is a classic. The clue makes it clear that there's going to be at least one square with punctuation in it, but I wasn't sure how many. The dash fit well with SEA-DOO, so that was clever.

Difficulties abounded at the outset: I put in "shhhh" and then "shush" for 1D (CANIT), so the opening of the quote was obscured. 23A: Shade from the sun (TAN) is brilliant, and was not seen by me until after the puzzle was finished. I wanted "hat" at first. I also like the clue for 15A: Hardly fair (UGLY).

Other nice words in the puzzle include EUCHRE, SLOVENLY, and TYPESET. 33D: Leading folk figure (PIEDPIPER) is quite nice. And there's also the timely HAIL MARYS.

I don't love ESTOP or AGHA, but that's about it for quibbles. I was very proud when I had _U__ at 61A: (Sussex river where Virginia Woolf tragically ended her life) to pull OUSE out.

- Colum

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Wednesday, January 14, 2015, Caleb Emmons


Okay, this was fun. I love the turnaround: so often we have the random Roman numeral answer thrown into the grid, especially with some trivia related to the year, such as "Year Reccared I died" (answer 601, but who cares?). Instead, we have words made up of letters found in Roman numerals, interpreted as those numerals. My favorite was 11D: 501st royal daughter? (PRINCESSDI).

The other funny thing about a theme like this one is that it allows the author to Scrabble it up shamelessly. 5 Xs in the theme answers alone, with a Q, J, and 3 Ks scattered around. It's almost a shame that it isn't a pangram (no F, no Y).

A few notable things (and yes, I'm about to break out some bullet points):

  • I put "flop" in confidently at 1A, because I thought maybe Luke Wilson was in "Starsky & Hutch". Alas, no: it was OWEN, and his movie was kind of a BOMB (Do it. Do it!)
  • Subsequent to my mistake above, I wanted to put "petites" in at 4D (Many Swedish models). I have no idea of the relative size of Swedish models to others. BLONDES makes more sense.
  • I had a Kitwo moment at 24D: Review (GOOVER), but only for a split second.
  • STEREOS? Does anybody still use those? I mean, besides my oldest brother?
  • I love MAXEDOUT, but not as much as ONASTICK. I mean, how random, right?
  • Least favorite section was the far SE. ALCOA is something that should just go away. That being said, I entered it with just the A. OTRA is another annoying standby: you never know whether it's going to end in an O or an A.
  • A pair of "American____" next to each other, ending in ELM and IDOL.
All right, enough for now. Definitely a puzzle that fits into the weird Wednesday slot, and I liked it.

- Colum

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tuesday, January 13, 2015, Michael Blake


Sort of a 3/4-themed puzzle here: either you go with the NICKELBACK theme, in which case 58A acts as the revealer for 17A and 23A; or you go with American themed entries, where MONTICELLO, AMERICANBISON, and EPLURIBUSUNUM make an eclectic trio. I know the author's intention, I'm just not sure what to do with it. I like the revealer; the entries are fine.

The fill is reasonably good. Always nice to start with some MISO soup (1A: Soy-based soup), especially on such a cold day as it is here in upstate New York. Speaking of which, we're whipping up a batch of lentil soup even as we speak, so to speak. Mmm.

But back to the puzzle. The long answers are both good. 3D: Country in which English and Mandarin are official languages (SINGAPORE) escaped me for a bit, even though I knew what was being asked for. The same actually happened with 34D: Practice game, in sports (SCRIMMAGE). Guess I was having a blank spot for nine-letter answers beginning with S.

We do have a number of meh answers: ECRU, ERES, OSTEO. But let us be thankful: back in the day, it was commonplace to have clues with the annoying "comb." We don't see that any more; instead they're generally referred to as "prefix", "starter", etc. I don't love 6D: It's chalked in a pool hall (CUETIP). I'm not sure it's really a thing to call the end of the stick that.

But we should give a tip of the hat to 33D: Run out of rhythm? (AEIOU). See, the word "rhythm" doesn't have any of those vowels in it. Get it? Took me a while.

A reasonable Tuesday.

- Colum

Monday, January 12, 2015

Monday, January 12, 2015, Jason Flinn


This is the first puzzle I can recall doing by this author, and I'd like to say I enjoyed it, but that would be lying. It has the maximum number of answers in a themed puzzle, at 78, which means an awful lot of 3-letter answers. And it skews old-fashioned. We get James AGEE, 2001: A Space Odyssey's HAL, Peter GUNN, Cocoon's Don AMECHE, and Gomez' TISH. One of these might have been fine, but five feels tired. Not to mention ancient crosswordese ETUIIOTA, and SETTO.

A couple of things that work well are the two nine-letter answers at 3D and 36D, matching up so cleverly: THESCREAM and PSYCHOTIC. I also very much enjoyed the side by side 40D: "Don't count on me" (NOTI) and 41D: "You can count on me" (IMIN).

The theme works well enough, especially with five answers. My favorite is CRADLETOGRAVE, with SEATOSHININGSEA coming in second for the silliness of the clue: All, for an anthem writer. As if your standard anthem writer would typically use that phrase. That's cute.

The rest I can do without.

- Colum

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sunday, January 11, 2015, Peter A. Collins

Personal Statements

Before we start, since I last posted, two pretty awesome football games were played, and I'm not talking about Carolina-Seattle. Very impressive Green Bay win, and I can't wait to see what happens in Seattle next weekend. And I though the Pats played their hearts out against one of the toughest opponents they could have faced.

On to the puzzle, though. This was very smooth, over all. The theme is straightforward: take celebrities whose last names start with S, and transition that S into a possessive and see what happens. My favorites were the ones where the last name had to be broken into two words to make it work. Thus, BOBBYSHERMAN, SYLVESTERSTALLONE, and MYLESSTANDISH, with my favorite being Sly's beer. Extra credit goes to those where the first name ends in S, and it still works. That being said, I had the theme within about 1 minute of starting the puzzle, so it loses some for being so straightforward.

The fill is overall quite good. Some excellent cluing was to be found: 15D: Challenge for a playboy (MONOGAMY) is fun. 37D: What toasters often hold: (BUBBLY) was predictable in its meaning but not in the way it was carried out. 48D: High-minded sort? (POTUSER) is an excellent entry in the recent run of marijuana-related answers.

And the clues keep coming! 87D: Have trouble with sass? (LISP) is very funny. 95D: Run out of gear? (STREAK) is quite good. And maybe my favorite: 71: I.M. sent to a construction site? (PEI). Ha!

Things I didn't love: OLORD is a peculiar partial. AMAIN is not a word I really want to see in a puzzle. And I could go either way with 63D: City in Los Lobos? (OSLO). Yes, I get the hidden word aspect, but it feels like a stretch.

With so few complaints, I think you have to call this Sunday a winner. Oh, and let's not forget our Auntie Mame reference: ASARULE. Hope would be so pleased.

 - Colum

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Saturday, January 10, 2015, Joe Krozel

FWOE (21:04)

Oh no! A dreaded three-sided triple stack! All those 15-letter answers piled on top of each other, meaning that the fill will have to be tortured to account for it, right?

Well, actually not so much today. The first 15-letter answer I got was 10D: Masterpiece designated "quasi una fantasia" (MOONLIGHTSONATA), which was a gimme for me anyway. I'm not sure about leaving off the word "the" from the start of the title, but I was particularly happy when I immediately got 11D: Per a 1942 song, "She's making history, working for victory" (ROSIETHERIVETER). Those two together made filling out the whole east side of the grid a snap.

The middle broken-up section was none too hard either. I like 27A: Gathering of stockholders? (HERDERS), and 7D: "Such gall!" (THENERVE) is a nice entry. I knew Vince VAUGHN's role in The Internship, although I never saw it. I like the reference to Celsius (SWEDE). There are a whole bunch of 3-letter answers in this section, but the cluing is fun, such as 40D: What might be grabbed in a rush (ORE), and 24D: Thick plank insert? (ASA), so I didn't mind them as much.

The lower triple-stack took longer to figure out, even with the ending letters in place from my good luck in the east. I'm not fond of VENGE, which feels not quite well enough clued. Couldn't a Shakespeare quotation have been used? I've also heard other bloggers complain about 15-letter answers that use "one's" as in RESTONONESOARS, but it doesn't bother me too much. The clue for ATTENTIONGETTER is nice (Big wave, e.g.), but it was given away by the cross-reference to 8D: Common 60-Across (HEY). And WASHINGTONSTATE feels a bit superfluous. Surely Washington by itself is sufficient?

That leads us to the west set of triples. All three are very nice, particularly CASUALTIESOFWAR. The only unfortunate cross on that side is TCCHEN. I'd never heard of him, but I'm no golf aficionado. EIEIO is a clever way out of a difficult set of letters.

Errors I had: "touareg" instead of ARABIAN, which seemed to work because of gSTAR. And the one error I finished with was oNICE instead of INICE. I certainly don't think of Champagne arriving "in ice." It makes no sense. But PINTO was obviously the choice instead of PoNTO.

So I'll give this puzzle a thumbs up over all.

- Colum

Friday, January 9, 2015

Friday, January 9, 2015, Patrick Berry


Mr. Patrick Berry produces yet another smooth delight of a puzzle, going down like a shot of Lagavulin, with much the same level of enjoyment. Your beautiful set of three long answers across crossing three long answers down, your expertly crafted clues, your nice pieces of unexpected trivia. Let's get to the highlights.

He knows to start off with a good word - 1A: Refuse on the surface (FLOTSAM), and immediately crosses it with 1D: Checks for heat, say (FRISKS), a lovely clue. 14A is also sweet, with RARAAVIS, and 17A: Amateurish was Cece's first get of the puzzle (INEXPERT). I don't love 2D (LANKER), and 3D (OREIDA) is a chestnut, but everything else in the NW is fine, including the nice trivia about KEDS and the quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes, which I happen to agree with.

Cece also got MIRRORMIRROR, which opened up the middle for us, but not much. 50A: "Milk" man (SEANPENN) is cute. Hope gave us STATIONHOUSES and sussed out SPACEINVADERS. I'm fond of 33A: Inaugural addresses? (STARTERHOMES), as well as the pair of brilliant clues in the NE, 12D: Hunting school (PIRANHAS) and 13D: Brought blessings upon oneself? (SNEEZED).

The list goes on and on. 30D: Hearts and spades, e.g. (GAMES). 33D: They make up poetry (STANZAS). 8D: Deviate from Hoyle (CHEAT). 9D: Fire place? (HELL). I didn't know Bobby RAHAL, but that's about it for issues I have with the entries.

By the way, did I mention that I was in NAPLES recently? Man, it's 2015. It's been almost a year since Italy. That's depressing.

Unlike this puzzle.

- Colum

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Thursday, January 8, 2015, Jacob Stulberg


What, two rebus puzzles in a row? Well, maybe yesterday's puzzle was only sort of a rebus in that you had to stuff a massive mythological beast into the middle square. Today, I made nearly a full pass through the grid before entering much of anything. And looking back over the finished puzzle, I can see why, as the NW corner is filled with unfortunate entries. Starting with 1A: Nobel-winning novelist ____ Kert├ęsz (IMRE), who I've never heard of, and then 2D: Actress Kelly (MOIRA) and 4D: African nation with a much-disputed border (ERITREA), not to mention the undefined clue for 3D, I was never going to make much headway without some help. In fact, the first square of the puzzle was the last I filled in.

All of this is to explain how I ended up starting up in the SE, where PEST was my first entry. Cece helped me out with much of the puzzle. She got 50A: One outsmarted by Odysseus (CYCLOPS), as well as figuring out 63A: Word with bar or bed (OYSTER). So I knew it was a rebus puzzle but not how it worked well before I came across any of the actual rebus answers.

The first one of those I got was 42D: Funny Terry ([GILL]IAM), appropriate. Once I got the two squares there, I still didn't understand the cleverness, because who knows that two gills make up a cup? When I had [CUP]ID, I was under the misapprehension that somehow you had to switch the rebus into other answers (like the cup would go into RE[cup]ERATE somehow).  But no, two cups make a pint, and two pints make a quart. Definitely impressive!

So, clearly I didn't like the NW. How about the rest? 43A: Acrobat displays? (PDFS) is mildly clever, although I don't like the unnecessary plural. 54A: They're marked (EXAMS) is good without being punny. WRESTS is an outstanding word. On the downside, TAHINIS is such a stretch. You would really never be called on to use that word in the plural. ULEE, ONEK, ARETE are painful.

I like the down rebus answers, particularly RI[PINT]WO and TA[PINT]O in that they find different ways to split the letters. I guess the theme is smart enough to overcome the fill in my opinion.

- Colum

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Wednesday, January 7, 2015, Greg Johnson


I'm putting this time in because I finished the puzzle then. For some reason it took about another minute for the Congratulations! to show up, even though I changed nothing.

I don't love the theme here. I like that THESEUS and ARIADNE mirror each other. I don't like that Theseus' clue is treated like it's not thematic (13A: Maze runner?), and really there's no way to that figure out until you've moved through the puzzle, and found the other clues that refer to it. After all, the answer itself is no longer or shorter than the answer below it.

Then you have circled letters. I suppose if MINOTAUR had more unusual letters in it, it would be some kind of feat to scatter the letters through the puzzle. As it is, they're just random circled letters. And it's bothersome that KINGMINOS and his half-bestial stepson share etymologic underpinnings.

Finally, if the grid is supposed to represent a LABYRINTH, shouldn't there be some path in to the center where the Minotaur is hiding out? Otherwise it's just a cage. At least the home of the beast's lair made it into the grid as well (30D: CRETE).

Unfortunately, the fill didn't much make up for the theme either. Once again we have both NSA and NSC in the same puzzle. As if that weren't enough, we get the following alphabet soup: PDA (dated), AARP (aged), RRR (makes you want to growl), ATH (huh?), TDS (timely), MRI (more of a favorite in my life), SCI, REO, STP. I think I ran out of clever things to say.

In the category of more huh? 21A: Late TV newsman Garrick (UTLEY), 29D: Earthquake (SEISM), and 18A: Pink-colored, to Pedro (ROSA). Shouldn't that just be "Pink?"

All right. Not much to love here. Anybody disagree?

- Colum

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tuesday, January 6, 2015, Joel Fagliano


DNA runs through this puzzle like sands through an hourglass. There's a pretty nifty representation of a double helix using the black squares, and each long down answer has the genetic letters split in the same way across two words. I like TOOTHANDNAIL the best of them, with the clue for BRANDNAMES (29D: Wilson and Hoover, but not Eisenhower) making it a close second. OLDNAVY has appeared a number of times in the puzzle (with much the same clue), while ISLANDNATION feels arbitrary and GOODNATURE bland.

For all of those long theme answers, it's a very smooth grid. There are a ton of Os in the top and bottom third and weirdly only one in the middle third. All those Os really draw the eye: OOO crossing GOODNATURE, LOON crossing IDOTOO, BOOP near TOOTHANDNAIL. We also had the strange family connection of EVE, ADAM, and ENOS.

Huygens may enjoy the presence of NUDE (41A: Beige shade, right next to the aforementioned first couple, whose lack of clothes were revealed to them) and TITS (3D: Small songbirds). Me, I liked 8D: Speak Persian? (MEOW) and the hidden capital in 13D: Hall of fame (MONTY).  A reminder of Jodie Foster as CLARICE Starling is welcome too.

Oh, hey! I didn't even see the revealer until I went through each clue. I'd answered that small section entirely with acrosses. I kind of like it better without the revealer.

Thumbs up, on the whole.

- Colum

Monday, January 5, 2015

Monday, January 5, 2015, John Guzzetta


This puzzle was for the birds.

Besides the 5 theme answers, we also had EMUS (15A: Cousins of ostriches). Actually, it's not a bad puzzle for a Monday. I don't really know OLDBUZZARD (24A: Cantankerous fellow) as a phrase I'd use in conversation, but the other four are solid. On the plus side, you have the nice pairing of AMENABLE and QUATRAIN, mirrored in the other corner by SHOUTOUT and PANDEMIC. The NW and SE are likewise nicely chunky, with SEDERS an unfortunate unnecessary plural.

But the middle has some stuff I don't like. What's with 21D: Like many Mexicans' forebears (AZTECANS)? Wouldn't they just be Aztecs? I'm also not fond of 34D: Not touched, as a boxer (UNHIT). Can we just put "un" in front of words and make an acceptable entry? The two partials USEIT and IREST are at least unusual (the former clued nicely with a spelling bee reference).

Things I do like: 25D: One trying to grab a bite at the theater? (DRACULA), 59A: N.Y.C. home of Magrittes and Matisses (MOMA, because it's a great museum, if expensive. Helps to have a mother with a Met ID), and 49D: Like 18 1/2 minutes of the Watergate tapes (ERASED).

Well, they can't all be gems like last Friday and Saturday.

- Colum

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sunday, January 4, 2015, Finn Vigeland

The Descent Of Man

A Sunday puzzle is best solved in a lazy way, just after breakfast, with your family around. Hope started this one, and Cece and I finished it. It didn't take very long, as there were only one or two challenging spots, but it was enjoyably smooth for the most part.

The theme is cute, but surprisingly sparse for a Sunday puzzle: only five theme answers. If I were to quibble with it (and isn't that exactly the point of a daily NYT XWORD blog?), I would say it could have been more elegant had the answers avoided using the letters MAN in the original sense of the word. The first answer, BILDUNGSRO[MAN], does that perfectly. All the others, however, use them in a way that is directly or indirectly derived from its sense of humanity: IMONLYHU[MAN] most directly, MORGANFREE[MAN] most indirectly. I presume the seed of the puzzle was DOYOUWANTTOBUILDASNOW[MAN], which is pretty amusing.

To quibble further, wouldn't it be wonderful if all the down answers that supply the MAN also hid the original sense? And mostly they do: PAXROMANA, OTTOMAN, LEMANS. But SCHUMANN (an answer I starred because who doesn't love Schumann?) is not as clean, and AWMAN just blew it.

But these are just quibbles, really. I liked the concept and it's reasonably well carried out. On the plus side, the sparsity of theme material allows more clean fill. The puzzle started out well with 1A: The "1" of 1/4 (JAN), which for a 3-letter answer is pretty good cluing. And ANOMIA is near and dear to my neurological heart, not to mention 17A: Subj. that gets into circulation? (ANAT). I also liked 51A: What a hippie lives in? (THENOW), 100A: What may eat you out of house and home? (TERMITES), and 74: Summers of old? (ABACI), where I was initially looking for a hidden capital.

Some non-question mark clues also shone: 31: Award for Hunt and Peck (OSCAR) got a smile, and 34D: Its drafts may be crafts (BREWPUB) was also fun. Speaking of which, there was a definite beer-laden slant to this puzzle. Besides the aforementioned, we also saw ALEGLASS (is that even really a specific thing?), TENDSBAR, and PBR, which is apparently short for Pabst Blue Ribbon. Why is that a hipster beer? I couldn't tell you. I only had facial hair for one year, and it didn't quite work.

I'm not sure about 28A: Part of U.N.C.F. (NEGRO). It is, after all, still an ongoing and important organization. On the other hand, its website barely spells out what its acronym stands for, and that only at the bottom in tiny letters. Google says up front the word is "dated, offensive". I feel it could have been altered somehow (maybe in its crossing with ATWO?)

Props to Cece: she got ATEAM, TERRA, and TACKLES.

Overall, thumbs up for a relaxed Sunday solve.

- Colum

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Saturday, January 3, 2015, Sam Ezersky


Here's a classic themeless with symmetric stacks of three 9-letter answers in each corner, two 10-letter answers crossing them and crossing a 15-letter answer across the middle. I broke in with 5D: Traditional three-liner (HAIKU), giving me KEELS, but then skipped around a bit with 25D: Test letter? (BETA) and 25A: ____ Rebellion (colonial uprising) (BACONS, a nice clue to avoid an annoying plural). That then gave me MOZZARELLASTICK, a surprisingly easily clued 15-letter answer. The SE followed, and then the NW.

I wasn't fooled by 32D: Taste (SAPOR) as I had been in the past (having put a V in the place of the P had led me to a FWOE once). The hardest section by far was the SW. Even with SOFTTOP and HOLDONASEC in place, I had a very hard time finding any footholds. It took incorrectly putting SAidso in place to figure out BOGART to make any headway. My last letter was the H in the BOTHA/HUPMOBILE crossing. I'd never heard of the latter, but I see it is a handsome vehicle indeed.

Some nice clues: 22A: Notice after the expiration date? (OBIT), 33A: Rear of a disco? (BOOTY, answer supplied by Hope today), 62A: Eschewing a higher calling? (ATHEISTIC), and 29D: Flat sign (TOLET).

Some nice answers: SKYYVODKA, BYTHEBY, IDIOCY. So that I don't leave you with the idea that Hope's mind is only in Huygens territory, she also knew NEMEROV immediately.

Some things I didn't much like: 53D: Start to ski? (HELI) is nothing I'd ever heard of. ELUL next to VALS next to ENL is pretty ugly. And that's about it.

My final note is a shout out to Frannie and Hope's favorite movie, Auntie Mame, with AGNES Gooch. Fun when you can get an answer like that without much thinking!

Three good puzzles in a row! I'm a little nervous about tomorrow.

- Colum

Friday, January 2, 2015

Friday, January 2, 2015, David Steinberg


What a year 2015 is turning out to be! Two puzzles, two fine grids. Just 363 more, Mr. Shortz, and you'll have a perfect year!

A pleasant surprise for me today when I opened the H&F crossword blog to find I was featured right up at the top. If we really keep this month by month switch-off through the year, I suppose I'll deserve to be listed up there, but I don't know that I've earned my byline just yet.

But to the real stuff here. Interesting how yesterday's grid and today's grid mirror each other, although Mr. Steinberg, whose puzzles I've learned to anticipate with glee, has chosen a much chunkier middle section, with 5 11-letter answers offset on top of each other. Not satisfied with that, he's put two other pairs of 11-letter answers atop or below 2 15-letter answers at the top and bottom of the grid. You may have read my literary moans and groans when having to slog through a puzzle of quad stacks. How much more elegant and well managed this grid is.

My favorite long answers are 14A: They may be marked with X's (ADULTMOVIES) - a bit of Huygens material there; 49A: Hocus-pocus (LEGERDEMAIN); 33A: Brand maker? (REDHOTPOKER (ew)); and 34A: Classic computer game played on a grid (MINESWEEPER), a game I played an awful lot of when I was supposed to be doing work in the Serial Records dept. at Widener Library. As an aside, what's with the apostrophe after the X in that first clue? Is it really necessary? I don't like it.

DEMOCRATICPARTY took way way too long for me to figure out (I wanted something with "depression" after seeing the first D). I don't like 33D: It might change color (RIPENER) or 43D: New ____ (AGER). I'm not sure why 35D: Fist-pounding boss, say is a TYRANT; seems like there are plenty of other possibilities there.

Benefits of having kids around: I knew 54A: Newbery Medal-winning author Eleanor (ESTES) without any crosses. On the other hand, why was POTATOES (11D: Fries things?) one of the last answers I put in? The brain works in mighty peculiar ways. Glad I'm a neurologist.

- Colum

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Thursday, January 1, 2015, Jill Denny and Jeff Chen


Happy New Year!

So apparently, as per Horace, I'm going to be writing the crossword blog for the next month. This is something we discussed in October when my family was visiting Boston to look at colleges for my older daughter. And he sprung it on me again while we were consuming an astonishing amount of wine, beer, rye, and champagne last night. I think I can't be held responsible for decision making in those frames of mind.

Okay, seriously, I'm actually looking forward to it. And it was a good way to start off the new year, with this well-constructed puzzle. The first thing that struck me was the unusual shape of the grid. There are a fair number of extra black squares, making for long crosses across the top and bottom around the two 15-letter answers and then two chunky portions in the middle E and W. The downside to that sort of situation is that the isolated sections (NW and SE) can make for difficult solves if you don't get a solid entry.

This happened to me with the NW. I knew 17A: Neal Armstrong declaration was going to be THE[eagle]HASLANDED, only there were only three squares for the word "eagle". Was it going to be a rebus? I couldn't see any way to fit a rebus in. The down clues were no help. I got SAHL and TREY quickly enough, but 4D: Until (UPTO), 5D: Beginning (DAWN), and 6D: "Now____ shakes my soul": Sappho (EROS) were vague or obscure enough to make finding the crosses difficult.

I worked my way through the remainder of the puzzle, getting the other theme answers THEONEMAN and BYEBYEONE easily enough, so that even though they didn't make sense, the crosses were so solid I had to accept them. And the revealer at 53A: PARFORTHECOURSE made the substitutions of "bogey" and "birdie" clear enough. But what were these numbers?

Horace and Frannie had already solved the puzzle while I was frying up some bacon and eggs for breakfast, and after I had filled everything in, they pointed out that bogey is one over par, etc. But then I saw the PARs scattered through the puzzle. A long way around to figure out the clever theme, but worth it. Not to mention the extra theme answer of PGA.

And the fill is outstanding. I love 1A: Person close to 100? (ASTUDENT), and its symmetric clever clue at 61A: Game for which it's helpful to have hands-on experience (PEEKABOO). And then we have HOLYTERROR and KIDNEYBEAN, as well as POOLPARTY and WATERPARK pairing off.

Definitely thumbs up from me.

- Colum