Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday, February 28, 2015, Barry C. Silk


This one started slowly, but can you blame me? I opened the puzzle for the first time while seated at an outdoor table at a Brasserie in Paris, sipping a cold beer under a hot heat-lamp, waiting for Frannie to come back from her trip to the bookstores and bouquinistes of the Rive Gauche. I filled in about six things, at least three of which turned out to be wrong, then closed the iPad and people-watched for an hour.

The first thing I entered was "fist in air" for 15A: Classic symbol of rebellion" (IRONCROSS), but is an Iron Cross really a symbol of rebellion? It just makes me think of the Third Reich. I guess it's used by motorcycle gangs, but is that really rebellion?

But I don't mean to grouse. I liked this puzzle just fine. All the other nine-letter answers were very good. I loved the lower stack, with STRETCHER (62A: Battlefield transport), WEARISOME (65A: Yawn-inducing), and FRYOLATOR (67A: Greasy spoon appliance). Those are all excellent. The crosses are just ok, except for SMELTER (43D: Where to get the lead out?) - which I loved.

PHOTOBOMB (48A: Laugh-inducing pic) is great, SHOEBOX (40D: Holder of many a diorama) is nicely clued, and is unusually tied to 5D: Last name on a 40-Down (MCAN). And speaking of tie-ins, we noticed only after getting OPERA (16A: "Bluebeard's Castle," e.g.) that it was pretty much given to us with 53A: "Bluebeard's Castle" librettist Balázs (BELA). I mean, what else has a libretto?

Did not enjoy APODAL (11D: Without feet), SMEARER (47D: Mudslinger), or TITFER (49D: Bit of headwear, in British lingo) (huh?) (oh, ok... Cockney slang. Still, though...), but there was more bad than good, so thumbs up!

Favorite clue: 36A: Opening piece (KNOB). We needed K_OB before that one came clear.

- Horace

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday, February 27, 2015, Julian Lim


Boy, this one fell into line quickly. The first things I got were ANT (18A: Hill worker) and BOT (19A: Google worker), but soon bigger things started to come, like STEPHENJAYGOULD (52A: Evolutionary biologist who wrote "The Panda's Thumb"), which was a gimme. They could probably just have stopped at "Evolutionary biologist" and I still would have tried Gould. THISISSPINALTAP (14A: Classic 1984 film in which most of the dialogue was ad-libbed) took more crosses than it should have, but it eventually came, and then the whole top fell into place. Interesting that Sartre and Churchill were each once a PRISONEROFWAR. Churchill was a civilian reporter when he was captured in the Boer war, but escaped after just four weeks by vaulting over a wall and making his way to the train. Sartre, on the other hand, spent nine months as a POW before gaining release on the basis of his poor health. Quite a contrast.

I love the row containing YOUANDI (43A: We) and SHALLWE (48A: "Ready to go?"). SPARETHEROD (55A: Be lenient) is also nice. As is TRAMP (14D: Galumph). It's not often you hear the word "galumph." And I liked the combo of 17A: & 25D: "Certain shooter" (CATSEYE & BBGUN). I tried "aggie" for the second one, but no dice. (Get it, they're another "shooter." ... Groan.)

NONZERO (40A: Positive or negative) is odd, and REGLUED (36D: Fixed, as a model airplane) is downright poor. But there's not too much of that sort of thing.

Overall, I enjoyed it.

- Horace

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thursday, February 26, 2015, Caleb Emmons

FWOE (0:23:18)

The theme came quickly here, as I knew that the Kennedy half-dollar (KENNEDYDOL) was released in 1964, but at first I just entered "halfdollar," because I had not yet figured out the trick. Soon after, though, I got IDES (2D: May 15, e.g.), PAN (4D: Give two thumbs down), and then ELYSE (6D: "Family Ties" mom), and that was that on the theme. OLEMISS (5D: Oxford university, informally) took way too long, as I was thinking just like Mr. Emmons wanted me to, of England, and I kept thinking, "It's just Oxford!" But no. It was Oxford, Mississippi. HOODWINKS (8D: Tricks), on the other hand, came very quickly, (maybe because I had just been hoodwinked!) even though I worried, as I did with FACEVALUE (31D: 1¢, for a penny) that because it was so long it would also be a part of the theme. I guess the cut-off was ten letters today for theme material. 

And getting back to the theme, I didn't love SUPERBOWLTI (24D: Occasion for a much-hyped performance). I mean, I guess that halftime is the occasion, still I wanted "Halftime Show," but that, of course, would not have worked well. The other two, GOINGOFFCOC (10D: Acting rashly) and FLYINGATMA (54A: Signaling remembrance, in a way) were both good. 

I enjoyed the clue for HIKE (1D: Up). So tricky. And "1A: Nile wader" had me thinking of a stork, or some other fragile bird, not a HIPPO. Hah! And in the other corner of the grid, CHARGER (40D: Cell need) had us stumped for a good long while. Right next to that, GRIN (42D: Small beam) and TAILS (46D: Flip response?) were both excellent. But it was ELLEN (58A: Liberian president and Peace Nobelist, ____ Johnson Sirleaf) that got us. I made two guesses on letters in that name, and got what should have been the easier one, in retrospect, wrong. I put in "AgE" for 55D: Draft classification (ALE) (better), and then guessed correctly on KANE (52D: Rapper Big Daddy ____). Oh well. If I had just been more up on world politics, it wouldn't have had to happen this way.

Overall, though, a decent Thursday puzzle. Some zippy fill, and a fun theme. 

- Horace

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wednesday, February 25, 2015, Michael Shteyman


The theme of Midwestern state capitals was fun, but very easy. I think I got LANSINGMICHIGAN (Midwest capital #1) off just a few letters, and neither of the other three took much more than that. So right away you've got those letters. I know it's only Wednesday, but it just played really easy. And this from someone who solved the puzzle at about 5:30am Boston time, after a six-hour flight, a 45-minute bus ride, and a twenty-minute walk to the hotel. But enough about me, let's talk more about the puzzle.

There are a lot of little three-letter answers in the NW, but I enjoyed ROLLEDR (1A: Part of "rico" or "roja"), and it is weird, as they say, that the praying mantis is ONEEARED. Over in the NE we have the less-desirable AMEBAE (8A: Lives in a cell?). I don't particularly like the answer or the clue. BONERS, meh. ARENA & ESSEN, common crossword entries. But MONTHS (9D: Their days are numbered) is clued well.

All over we have a mix of good and bad. I think of ADDIN (23D: Computer extra) as more of an "ice cream" extra, and IDEATE is nobody's favorite. Just across the grid, though, is my favorite section today. DARTS (33D: Game of motor precision that, strangely enough, is often played while inebriated) is great, and who doesn't love KAFKA (36D: "The Trial" author)? And almost in the same section was CLUBS (27D: Black suit), which I also enjoyed. It was one of those that I thought way too long about.

I like capitals, but it just doesn't feel like enough today. There's a a handful of interesting non-theme stuff, but also a lot of mediocre-to-blah fill. I'm giving it a "thumb slightly down" rating.

- Horace

Monday, February 23, 2015

Tuesday, February 24, 2015, Elizabeth A. Long


Egad. Fifty Shades of Grey infects the NYTX. EARLSSUNGLASSES (20A: Shades of Grey?) is particularly painful, but neither of the other two fifteen-letter answers was much better. I like a pun as much as the next guy, but this one, well, it just didn't do it for me.

Add to that, things like DANL (18A: Frontiersman Boone, familiarly), ESSES (51D: Pluralizers) crossing YESES (64A: Some R.S.V.P.'s) (A. Decide, is it two esses or one? and B. Just don't.), and ATIE over NOTA, and, well, there's more (ABU, AARE, NCO), and you just want to say BLAH.

On the brighter side, I did enjoy all of the long Down answers. SCULLERY (4D: Room where pots and pans are stored) (We call this the "kitchen"), MANGANESE (8D: Element between chromium and iron on the periodic table), INNOVATE (39D: Be creative), and even AMBULANT (38D: Able to walk). These all have some ZING! In fact, if I had solved this with just the Downs, this would be a rave review. CALLACAB is good. I love WOODSY. SEXED and AMOR and BLEEP are all nicely related. And you could throw in LEGS and FESS. No, wait, I'm thinking of fesses, which is French for—well, you figure it out. (I'll give you a hint, it's one of Huygens' favorite words.)

I'm sure some will be happier with the theme than I was. After all, how many copies did that book sell? Heck, maybe it'll even get my sister to take more of an interest in the puzzle. If that happens, this review goes right up to "rave." Until then, however, let's call it a wash.

- Horace

Monday, February 23, 2015, Joel Fagliano


A Monday morning puzzle for all those people who didn't win an Oscar last night. The revealer gives it away - 53A: Not sit well ... or what eating 20-, 32-, or 41-Across might do? (LEAVEABADTASTE). And a bonus, movie-related feature is that ROTTENTOMATOES (20A: Online aggregator of movie reviews) is, as they say, a movie review site. The connection to the Oscars is not explicit, but I gotta believe it's implicit.

Some nice, long downs in the grid - ANGORACAT (3D: Long-haired feline), ARTMUSEUM (33D: The Getty or the Guggenheim), and I like the trivia in 9D: Least populous state (WYOMING). Is there a mini-theme with ROPER (12D: Lasso wielder)?...

Nothing too terribly objectionable. I like CURIO (29D: Bit of bric-a-brac) next to TRILL (30D: Sing like a bird), and I also like the Ellen quote at the end - IMGAY (67A: Groundbreaking admission from Ellen in a 1997 sitcom).

On a personal note, I had to renew my subscription to the puzzle recently, and with the increased subscription price comes access to the puzzle through the Times Web site. (You also get a Ken-Ken, a Sudoku, and maybe one other puzzle.) If you start it on the iPad, for example, and then log in and look at it through the Web site, it shows the progress you've already made. It's quite nice, really. And furthermore, I love being able to type on a regular keyboard when doing the puzzle. Now, maybe, I can make a run for the elusive sub-4 time. I've hit 0:04:00 once before on the iPad, no less, so I'm hopeful. Not that it's a race or anything, but I am planning to attend the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament at the end of next month, and, well, it actually is a race there. So anyway... too much on that perhaps.

Good Monday.

- Horace

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sunday, February 22, 2015, Patrick Berry


Eight pairs of adjacent answers have sections - entire words that appear within the original words - that swap places. The revealer GOESUPANDDOWN (65A: What each group of shaded words in this puzzle does) gives another layer of complexity, in that each inner word that has been shifted up or down in the grid can be followed by the appropriate word, "up" or "down," to make a common phrase. END up, LIE down. Not bad. I don't particularly like that the Acrosses (as read normally) are rendered nonsensical, but I suppose I can live with it. It's a little odd, don't you think, but at least it's novel, and sometimes that's enough.

Every Across over seven letters is involved in the theme, but the Downs are still full of longish, decent fill. TERRACE (10D: Balustrade location), PITFALL (91D: Unseen danger), DUPLEXES (67D: Divided houses), and TAPENADE (8D: Appetizer with puréed olives) are all good. Mmmm…. tapenade…. SWAINS (64D: Courters), though it gets a slight deduction for being plural, is a great word.

Just last night we were watching "High School Quiz Show" on WGBH, and one of the questions was "What country has the longest coastline?" I was saying something just then and couldn't hear the correct answer, so I looked it up on Google, and I was sure glad I did when I saw 41A: Country with the longest coastline (CANADA), because if I hadn't, I wouldn't have allowed myself to do it during the actual solve. Phew!

So, to sum up, an odd theme, but well done. Thumbs up.

- Horace

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Saturday, February 21, 2015, Doug Peterson and Brad Wilber


A solid Saturday puzzle, in my opinion. Lots of fun, interesting stuff in the corners: LEADSTORY (33D: It gets attention when it runs), LIMELIGHT (12D: Star's spot), SATELLITE (56A: Triton, to Neptune), and HYPERTEXT (61A: It connects two pages). ROSAPARKS (31D: She wouldn't take an affront sitting down) is a little troubling, because she was sitting down. Of course, that's the trick, I suppose. "Sitting down, she wouldn't take affront."

I loved ANTENNA (42A: Where the waves come in?), HELLOKITTY (39A: Animated character who's five apples tall), and RALPHNADER (31A: Who said "Power has to be insecure to be responsive"). I just took a class on security last term, and this statement seems right on. Security is a paradox, a pipe dream, even. The more secure you are, the less you are alive. To be totally secure is to be dead. Figuratively, or literally. Take your pick. And speaking of being dead and/or secure, there's lots of religious stuff on the bottom, with AMENBIBLE, and KNEELER.

As usual, there are a bit of less-than-ideal stuff, too. LESE (53D: Un crime de ____-humanité). We've heard of lèse-majesté, and I suppose it's just a small leap from there to imagine a crime against humanity, but before today, I'd never seen it. I suppose that's a good thing, though, right? Heh. UDINE (46D: Italian city near the Slovenian border) is a toughie. And MYERSON (21D: Former Miss America who ran for the U.S. Senate in 1980) is not someone I've ever heard of. RHOMB, too, is tough.

Overall, though, I found it a good challenge and a satisfying puzzle to finish.

- Horace

Friday, February 20, 2015

Friday, February 20, 2015, David Woolf


Well, this one flew by until the SE, and then I spent about ten minutes there before putting it aside and going to work. When I got home, I gave it to Frannie and it took her all of two or three minutes to correct my mistakes and finish it up. She'll be gone for a couple months, starting soon, and I don't know what I'm going to do while she's away!

So let's start off in earnest with the very first clue - 1A: Buxom (BIGBREASTED). How likely do you think it is that 1A in the New York Times Crossword will ever be 1A: Well-hung (BIGPENISED)? Probably not very likely. But since it's ok to objectify women in society at large, it's ok with Will Shortz and the NYT. So be it. Mr. Woolf almost seemed to regret it right away with 15A: With 17-Across, the B-side to "A Hard Day's Night" (ISHOULDHAVE/KNOWNBETTER).

In other areas, the four nine-letter answers are all good: RATPOISON, ACTNORMAL, SHRINKAGE (13D: Washing woe) (not "cold-water woe," we notice...), and TRUECRIMEAPPLEID (45A: Need for an iTunes Store account) took me way too long, especially since I've been doing the reviews for the past few days on a brand-new Apple product!

LEHR (55A: Glassmaker's oven) is a new one to us. Straight from Wikipedia - "lehr is a temperature-controlled kiln for annealing objects made of glass. The name derives from the German verb lehren meaning to teach and is cognate with the English lere also meaning to learn or acquire knowledge of (something)." Who knew? Other obscure - to many, probably - answers include PELOTA (46D: Jai alai ball) and LEILA (50A: Orphan in Byron's "Don Juan").

Overall, a decent enough puzzle with one major issue.

- Horace

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Thursday, February 19, 2015, Jason Flinn


Only three theme answers, but what a theme it was! A loop-de-loop that, at least from without, looks mighty impressive. Three things that either come in loops or make loops, written out in loops. P(APER)AIRPLANE (26A: Classroom projectile) is very nice, but it was R(OLLERC)OASTER (60A: Theme park part) that was the first one we got. At first I put in "coaster," but RCRUMB (50D: "Keep on Trucking" cartoonist) just had to be right, so things had to change. The last, SHOE(LACE) (62A: It may be on the tip of the tongue) isn't bad either. So - four stars on the theme.

So then, let's look at the fill... DAUB (1A: Put a coat on sloppily, say) is odd, but ok with us. Not because we like the clue (we don't), but because it reminds us of our (sort of) friend Dan, who we met in Tuscany when we were working on an Etruscan archaeological dig, and who was a specialist in wattle and daub construction. It's basically just like lath and plaster, but with sticks and mud. ASWAN (5A: City that supplied granite for Egyptian monuments), might have been ok with us if our dig had been in Egypt instead of in Italy, but it wasn't, and it isn't. And neither is AMARNA (2D: Archaeological site along the Nile).

I like the old-school 15A: Illegal motion penalty? (TILT) clue, and 17A: Former Washington heavyweight (TAFT) is nice, too. CRACKER seems a little too pedestrian for an 20: Hors d'oeuvre staple, but then, what do I know of high society? PIA (22A: ____ mater (brain part)), I have learned through crosswords and crosswords only, which is also true of SENNA (48A: Plant used in herbal remedies). See, blogging is good for you!

NAUSEATE (34A: Disgust) is awesome, and so is ATYPICAL (8D: Anomalous). And ABSCESS (36D: Certain infection) was too, even though it used "certain" in the clue and it's gross.

Overall, pretty nice.

- Horace

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

February 18, 2015, Ed Sessa


As is often the case with early-week puzzles, I didn't know what the theme was while I was solving, but now that I understand it, I like it. It's absurd and goofy, and, well, that's often enough for me. QUESTIONTHEDUCK (36A: Try to find out what's what at a pond?) made me laugh. Not "out loud," but still, I think I might have exhaled slightly harder through my nose. Does that count as "out loud?" I guess it was audible, within a certain radius...

In non-theme fill, I started entering "U.S.S.R." for 1A: Letters on Soyuz rockets (CCCP), but caught myself before I had even finished, and put in the correct answer. After that, almost everything went right in until I got a little more than halfway down. TEFLON (44A: Polytetrafluoroethylene, commercially) took a few crosses, and the same is true for ALTER (48D: Take up or let out).

Favorite clue, and best of the week, so far - 35D: It's all around you (SKIN). Eeewwwww! So gross, but so good. Also, speaking of the body, I thought it was a good clue for ULNA today (14A: Fifth-longest bone in the human body). 15A: One navigating the web? (SPIDER) was cute.

You might be interested to hear that I looked up "swab" as used in DECKTHESWAB (56A: Kayo Popeye?). It is slang for sailor, of course, and it's not far from "synecdoche." Heh. I've heard "swabbie" more often, but my "work" dictionary (a gift from Frannie when I got my new job!) says that "swabbie" can be used for anyone enlisted in the U.S. Navy, and that "swab" is specifically for a sailor. I don't know about that, but I guess I'll have to take Webster's word for it. And I suppose "Kiltie" can be used for any Scot? (2D: Kiltie's group (CLAN)). Webster does not agree. The only definitions they give are "n. 1. A flap of fringed and, sometimes, perforated leather extending from and folding back over the top end of the vamp of a shoe 2. A shoe with such a flap." I'll have to try that when we go to Scotland in a few months. "Hey Kiltie, got any scotch for me?"

Not perfect (STANDEE is poor), but fun enough.

- Horace

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tuesday, February 17, 2015, Bruce Haight


WHOLETTHEDOGSOUT indeed? A dog in the center of the grid, and several dog-breed related answers, all clued as something other than a dog. Cute, I guess. My favorite is HUSKY (*66A: Like Lauren Bacall's voice) because, Lauren Bacall.

This might be the first puzzle that I can remember that has no symmetry whatsoever. It's sort of symmetrical at the top, but the bottom is not, and the sides sort of look it at first, but really are not. I don't mind, though. I mean, who ever said that all crosswords had to be symmetrical? If you're going to concede on the symmetry, however, you might want to have better fill than HMO, OONA, ACE, YAO, OAT, XRAY, RCA and RHO. And that's just two consecutive rows. After the thematic 15 we find ORA and ISEULT. Yuck.

I'm not much of a dog lover, preferring their natural enemy the CAT, so the cockles of my heart were not warmed by the breeds or the central image. AMPM, NCOS, ATALL, UKES, IDUNNO, ENNE,  TYR, AMAH, MSU, CRAT, EWER

Roll over. Play dead. Good dog.

- Horace

Monday, February 16, 2015

Monday, February 16, 2015, David J. Kahn


A well-done Presidents' Day theme. Let's see, I find Polk, Ford, Obama, Carter, Tyler (tricky!), Nixon, Taft, and Grant. And a bonus ninth - Jester, which could, I think, represent many. And we've got a couple convention clues as mini bonus fill - CHI (6A: Site of the 1968 Democratic convention, informally) and ORLEANS (39D: New ____, site of the 1988 Republican convention. Not to mention a decent amount clues related to the president and politics - DATA (24D: Polling figures, e.g.), 43A: Like "All the President's Men," originally, per the M.P.A.A. (RRATED), the word "15A: Campaigned" as a clue for RAN, SAX clued with 20A: Instrument for Bill Clinton, informally), and even more I won't mention. Even congress is represented - 29D: Not working (OUTOFORDER).

The fill suffers a bit from the word find, I think, and we end up with BLU, URI, ENTSILE, BOURG, ETE, ODORED (yuck!), TEO, ATTA, and other less-than-ideal fill, but I'm going to issue an official pardon today. Sometimes knowing when not to ENFORCE the law is as important as knowing when to RANT about HACKS. We can all DREAMABOUT perfect puzzles … wouldn't that be NEATO? … but much like in politics, we are stuck with the president, the congress, the crossword puzzles, that we have until we rise up and do something to change them. Run for office! Construct a crossword! Dare to get off your RUMP, throw off that YOKE, and MAKE a difference that will be LAUDED!

- Horace

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sunday, February 15, 2015, Ellen Leuschner and Jeff Chen


A very nicely done theme today. The answers are all phrases that contain the word "or," and instead of including it, the choices branch out from the word before the "or." As in 1A: "Everyone who's anyone is attending!" (BE/THERE/SQUARE) (I have no good way of writing this out), 79A: Stickup line (YOUR/MONEY/LIFE), and 115A: Song by the Clash on Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" list (SHOULDI/STAY/GO). The down clues including the second part are all clued with a simple hyphen, which is a method we have seen numerous times before. There are only six theme answers, I think, but it's very well done, and the fill is quite good, so I'm not wishing for anything more.

Some standout clues include: 102A: Whistleblower's target? (TAXICAB), 3D: Cartoonist who wrote the caption "Well, if I called the wrong number, why did you answer the phone?" (THURBER), 16D: Rough position (LIE) (although it's called the same thing whether it's on the rough, the fairway, or the green), 47D: Virgil, for Dante (GUIDE) (as you well know, I'm a sucker for a classical reference), the odd 78D: Female with a beard (NANNYGOAT), and 106D: Things found in a pyramid (FOODS).

Even the tiredest of crosswordese get interesting clues, like 34A: Bird that's also the name of an Irish river (ERNE), 49A: Heavy metal band? (ORE), and 64D: One given the velvet rope treatment, for short (VIP). They're trying anyway! There are a lot of threes, though, and we still get some less than stellar clues and fill: 76D: Prefix with -form (AERI), 51A: Some fraternity men (NUS), 40A: Audible pauses (UMS), and 56D: I.C.U. worker (LPN).

Overall, though, this is a very good Sunday. It took our minds off the snow piling ever higher outside (and above the bottom of!) the windows.

- Horace

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Saturday, February 14, 2015, David Steinberg


For once, a Saturday Steinberg that we were able to almost breeze through. If not for getting bogged down in the SE, I think we would have been under twenty on this thing - but still, it was a pretty smooth ride.

Ten-stacks in all the corners are filled with some good answers. MAIDENFORM (17A: Brand that supports women?), WAFFLECONE (26A: Parlor product made with an iron) (I prefer the basic sugar cone), NIXONTAPES (63A: They have an infamous gap) (I kept trying to fit in "Dave Letterman's teeth"), and ANGRYBIRDS (12D: Top-selling app of 2010) are all good. I like SERIALPORT (13D: Where a techie hooks up) (Do these still exist?) and ICEBOXCAKE (61A: Treat with pudding and graham crackers) less. What on earth is "ICEBOXCAKE?" And there are little annoyances like ODIC (56A: Like many works with "To" in their titles), and DETECTO (52A: Big name in scales), but overall, this is a pretty decent grid. Not fantastic, but solid enough.

I liked NORM (60A: It's to be expected). TROY (28A: 2004 film featuring Paris) was cute, but it didn't fool me. (By the way, we're heading to the city version soon!) And there were a couple of nice pairs (the "blunt" and "hankering" clues). Not bad.

- Horace

Friday, February 13, 2015

Friday, February 13, 2015, Patrick Berry


We're always excited to see Mr. Berry's byline on a puzzle, especially on a Friday or a Saturday. This one has an interesting-looking grid with just six three-letter answers, none of which is especially painful. The corners are all chunky, and there's nothing longer than ten letters. All of which makes for a satisfying, and somewhat speedy, solving experience. I'm not sure if any of those things add to the speed of solving, actually, but we seem to be on Mr. Berry's wavelength, and as a result, his puzzles always seem to get done a little on the quick side.

The corners fell one after the other until we got to the NE, which took several false-starts before we finally got it. ENOS (23A: Biblical figure said to have married his sister Noam) ("sister Noam?"... but those sideburns!) isn't something we knew, nor was BOYLE (10D: Philosopher Robert who wrote "The Sceptical Chymist"). Nor INCAN (11D: Like the sun god Inti), though it sounds right after the fact. It was INNAMEONLY (15A: Supposedly, but not really) and ECONOMYCAR (18A: Not-so-big wheels?) (You know, I've started to just ignore question marks, I think) that finally broke it open for us.

38A: Ones hanging around in med school? (SKELETONS) was cute, as was 5D: Smashing result (PIECES). OBLITERATE (51A: Wipe out) is a fun word, as is EXECRABLE (3D: No good at all). Also ESOTERICA (29D: Specialized knowledge). I enjoyed a MISO (53A: Soup flavoring) soup today at lunch. And we have two Chinese zodiac animals (RAT, TIGER), but neither is this year's horse, or next year's goat - arriving a week from today.

There's nothing, really, to complain about, and even though Patrick Berry is something of an OBSESSION with us, nothing to fawn over, either. It's a very clean, visually and aesthetically pleasing Friday.

- Horace

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Thursday, February 12, 2015, Jules P. Markey


CORNERSTONE (36A: Where one might find a date … with a hint to this puzzle's theme) sits right in the center of the grid, and refers to the four corners. It took me all the way until I got to 49D: Part of many a mill (GRIND[STONE]) to finally realize that we needed a rebus today. After that, of course, things fell apart rather quickly. Some critics criticize symmetrical rebus puzzles, because finding one, as here, lets you know where all the others are, but today it didn't bother me. Maybe because I was solving this one during a lapse in my sleep, at around 5am, or maybe because I still found it to be a fun puzzle. The revealer clue (first sentence) is cutely phrased, and I like the related 11-letter entries.

I learned a bit of geography today, as I don't think I've ever heard ISTRIA (44D: Adriatic peninsula shared by Italy, Slovenia and Croatia). Italy just barely gets onto it, but Trieste is close enough, I guess. Other things I barely knew, if at all, are SIMI (58A: California's _____ Valley) and SAMI (58D: Laplander). Even though I'm half Finn, my people are from farther south, and I put in the S based on only a vague memory of seeing that California valley in another puzzle.

LIENOR (47D: Note holder, of sorts) and NITROCAR (25D: Certain dragster) are groaners, and TOPE (34D: Imbibe) is kicking it old school. I looked that one up for the review. It's from an obsolete form of "top" that also meant "to drink," and led to the phrase "top off." I never thought about it before, but "top off" doesn't really make much sense if you think about "top" meaning the uppermost part of something. I suppose you could think that you were continually taking the top off of the drink, but would anyone say that? Well, maybe. Especially someone who had taken the tops off of several drinks. Heh.

So I've gone on and on about the obscure and the odd, but really, I liked it. I liked WINESAP, ATLANTIC, ZIPCODES (23D: Letter numbers), EMOTICON (39D: Means of communication using dots and dashes) (nice clue), ATOM (16A: Topic of elementary education?), and IMEMINE (42D: George Harrison's autobiography). It's not perfect, but it was fun enough. Good Thursday.

- Horace

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Wednesday, February 11, 2015, Will Treece


After starting out with a couple of obscure names (for me, anyway), TODD (1A: Chuck of "Meet the Press" and CATT (5A: Suffragist Carrie Chapman ____), this one picked up nicely. Leave it to a crossword puzzle constructor to come up with an edited version of band names. And to be honest, it's nice to see them all spelled "correctly." Especially LINCOLNPARK (26D: "Meterora" band, to an overzealous copy editor?). Linkin Park just always seemed so wrong. 

There were a couple of answers I didn't especially love - ARRAY doesn't seem like a particularly "56A: Impressive display," for instance, and HIPS (38A: They move around a lot at a square dance) don't move any more than other body parts (feet, say) at a square dance.

But overall, I enjoyed this while I was doing it, even though the only band I knew for sure was THEBEETLES (18A: "Rubber Soul" group, to an overzealous copy editor?). As I look through it now, I think the NE corner has too much URL, STE and ESS, but, well... I like that they define ITERATE (29A: Go over again) for us, and not "re-iterate," as most people say. And I love TANG (1D: Kool-Aid alternative)... so... oh, it's late... let's call it a draw.

- Horace

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Tuesday, February 10, 2015, Kurt Mengel and Jan-Michele Gianette


The theme answers today were something of a mixed bag, all "humorously" completing a sentence about a worker being sick with a pun. The best of the bunch was 38A: The ailing meteorologist was … (UNDERTHEWEATHER). The worst was 24A: The ailing rock star was … (FEELINGPUNK). Is that something anyone has ever said or heard? "Feeling punk?" for feeling sick? As Grumpy Cat would certainly say, "No."

In addition to the so-so theme, we've got such crossword gems as HAWS, ROTOODON, OLES, OSAY, STEN, DOHA, YSL, EEN, and APER, among others. And do you, like me, very much dislike clues that ask for slightly longer abbreviated forms of abbreviations? As in 29A: Part of N.B.A.: Abbr. (NATL)?

The one bright spot, for me, was ASTEROIDS (3D: Popular 1980s arcade game), which was a favorite of mine. Yes, I used to put quarters and/or tokens into large video game machines. And what fun it was! More fun, I dare say, than this puzzle. I don't mean to be a SNOOT, but this seemed WAYBELOWPAR, even for a Tuesday.

- Horace

Monday, February 9, 2015

Monday, February 9, 2015, Lynn Lempel


Trying for a good time on a Monday, I ended up making a hash of this one. I filled it in pretty quickly, I think, but I had so many things so completely wrong that my time nearly doubled by the time I had fixed it all. Oh well. So it goes, I guess.

As for the puzzle, now that I have it filled in properly, I think I'd like it better if the theme were never announced. Oh, that's too harsh. I guess it's cute enough, but it just seems a little random to have anagrams of WALDO in each of the theme answers. At least they are consecutive (unlike yesterday's minerals), and at least they are perfectly normal fill on their own. SUPERBOWLAD (17A: Expensive annual commercial) is somewhat timely (splitting the timeliness with LOVE (41A: Valentine's feeling)), and what New Englander doesn't enjoy thinking back on that recent contest? But Ms. Lempel won't let me bask in former glories, no. She pours COLDWATER on the fond memories by drawing attention to those who play in the MEADOWLANDS. Ah well… it was fun while it lasted.

The fill is decent, with fairly chunky corners. COVETOUS (11D: Greedy), REMORSE (13D: Guilty feeling), and FALSIES (40D: Part of Tootsie or Mrs. Doubtfire's costume) are all good. And I also like OFLATE (1A: Recently), FRUMPY (2D: Dowdy), SYNAPSE (29A: Gap crossed by a nerve impulse), and PYRAMID (45A: Resting place for a pharaoh). It's a little odd that MONOTONE (36D: Droning speech quality) should appear again so soon, but that's not really a criticism. In fact, I have almost no real criticisms, as it turns out. So let's say Thumb's Up!

- Horace

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sunday, February 8, 2015, Jeremy Newton


Boy, I liked this one a lot. First of all, I love the geologic nature of it all. Mr. Newton, you had me at "garnet." When I was in grade school I attended a day camp called "Nature Training School," and one of the activities we had was "Rocks & Minerals." We were given hammers, chisels, and goggles, and let loose on a rock ledge. Ha! Can you imagine that happening today? Anyway, it was mostly schist and quartz or feldspar, but occasionally you'd get a hunk of tourmaline, and if you were really lucky, a little chip of garnet. 

Where was I? Oh, right, the puzzle. So anyway, you've got the circled minerals, or semi-precious stones, and instead of having them in a jewelry setting, you've got the word "SET" running through them! Multi-faceted indeed! And, of course, there's the fact that gemstones are, themselves faceted. 

There's a ton of theme material - seven answers containing "SET" running through seven answers containing minerals, plus the two-answer revealer - all symmetrical! - and hardly any of it is tortured. I mean, GAMETHESYSTEM (67A: Exploit a loophole, say) is perfectly fine, and he found an "amethyst" in there! And POPAWHEELIE (85A: Lean back and enjoy the ride?) is great by itself, and pulling "opal" out is just a bonus.

The fill was very good, too. Some Huygens entries (SEXIER, DCUP, NYMPHOS), some fancy language stuff (111A: Company with two lameds in its name (ELAL)), and some fun stuff (18A: Bad recollection? (REPO)).

Favorite clue: 45A: You may put stock in it (SOUP). 

Very enjoyable Sunday!

- Horace

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Saturday, February 7, 2015, Byron Walden

FWOE (1:08:07)

It was a hard-fought victory today, or so we thought, until we didn't get the "Congratulations!" screen. Turns out we needed the Latin plural for AORTAE (8D: Arterial tree components) and NEWME instead of "new Ms." for 25A: Moniker after a lifestyle change. I don't feel too bad about it, though, because that's got to be one of the weakest squares in a grid filled with a lot of great answers.

Chunky corners held such uncommon answers as BROUHAHA (18A: Hurly-burly), COALESCE (12D: Come together), SEAGLASS (14D: Reclaimed material used in jewelry) (I'm not sure I've seen any such jewelry, but I am a big fan of sea glass. Usually I just see it in jars, I guess.), TVDINNER (50A: Banquet offering) (Hidden capital!), GRIPPE (1D: Producer of a cough and shivers), and RUCHED (2D: Decoratively pleated and gathered, as some bridal gowns) (Thanks, Frannie!), to name just six.

The East was easier than the West for us, today, and held such lovely clues as 49A: Part of a suspended sentence? (EMDASH), 44A: Ball boy? (DESIARNAZJR), 39D: Good for rushes, say (MARSHY), and 32A: Providers of housewarmings? (BOILERS).

Did not love KAYS (40A: Some jewelry stores, informally), and although there are quite a few proper names, I didn't mind it as much as I sometimes do. Although, BOBKERREY, PIM, and HOBBS, are not exactly on the tip of most people's tongues.

Thumbs up overall.

- Horace

Friday, February 6, 2015

Friday, February 6, 2015, Kyle Mahowald


Boy, that SW corner was a toughie! Is it just me, or was LTGEN (45A: Geo. Washington was the U.S.'s first) not what you were expecting? I don't like the way SNAP is clued (55A: Get the picture), and CITRON (39D: Fruit historically used for medicinal purposes) isn't typically used as a fruit name in English, is it? We had "fanBOAT" for quite a while instead of AIRBOAT (42A: Everglades transport), and SCOURGES (38A: Burmese pythons in the Everglades, e.g.) took forever for me to think of, even when I had "___URGES." But, 'though it took up close to half the time, it did eventually come together, and I was very happy to see the "Congratulations!" screen. Whew!

The rest of it seemed a tad on the easy side for a Friday, but not so much so that I'm going to mention it here in the review. :) PANGAEA (32A: It underwent a long, massive breakup) went in without crosses, and Frannie finished up the SE corner before I even saw the puzzle. THISOLDTHING (36A: Question asked modestly in response to "That looks great on you") (or, to "That's some dress you got on there.") made us smile to think of Violet Bick.

Nice little inner theme of RIOT (22D: Real card), YOURETOOMUCH (27A: Comment to a card), OHGROWUP (3D: Response to a puerile joke), and the paired "Took command of" clues (1D: LED & 49A: SPEARHEADS) were fun. 

I felt a confidence beneath the grid, if I may, and was skillfully misled by nouns that I mistook for verbs, as in 11A: Book deals? (BETS) and 36D: Wear without straps (TUBETOP). I smiled at 7D; Tag base, perhaps (TREE), and was "sports fooled" by 21A: The Mariners, e.g. (PROBES), and "audio fooled" by 26A: Studio mixing equipment (PALETTES). D'oh! 

Didn't love SLUED (24D: Swung around). "Nautical term," eh? Well, I've never heard of it. And speaking of nautical terms, EXHILARATE, while being an excellent word on its own, seems a little strong for 15: Buoy. 

Overall, I'd say this gets a thumbs up. It was challenging, and it had many good pieces. 

- Horace

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Thursday, February 5, 2015, Mike Buckley


I didn't love it. It's Thursday, and I want something more than 15-letter song names. There, I said it. Plus, the whole thing lacked sparkle. Lots of names I am not familiar with - ERIQ (16A: La Salle of "ER"), SHERRI (23A: ____ Shepherd, former co-host of "The View"), DEEDEE (42A: Clinton aide Myers), SISI (40A: Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-____), OTIS (54A: Milo's partner in film), and RAYE (8D: Madcap Martha). Sure, I should probably know at least a couple of those, and Martha Raye's name sounds familiar even if I couldn't pick her out of a lineup... and really, it's not a crime to include names I don't know, but so many of them in one puzzle? That's a crime. And speaking of names, there are even more that I did know - ADELE, MILNE, ALOU, GERARD, STIEG, KESEY, IVANA, TROI... and then you've got trade names ARNEL, EBAY, SKYY, ICEE, SALS, and ENOTES. That seems like a lot.

On the brighter side, though, I enjoyed PARISIANS (3D: French capitalists?), and ANKLES (50A: They're just over two feet) was lovely. The aforementioned IVANA (14A: Trump caller, once?) was given a funny clue, as was ALOU (33A: Giant Jesus). That last one is my favorite clue today.

But overall, I did not enjoy this one. APERS, EDENS, AVOW... blah. SQYDS (13D: Flooring measure: Abbr.) looks great, and I like the old-timeyness of WHENCE (43A: From what place), but it's not enough.

- Horace

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Wednesday, February 4, 2015, Julian Lim


That's right, DNF. I was stumped by 14A: Green card issuer, informally (AMEX), and I somehow convinced myself that "EnCITES" was equivalent to "inCITES," neither of which was as good as EXCITES (4D: Fires up). Sure, it's only one error, and I could have called "FWOE," but I could not figure it out before going to work, and I looked at the Crossword Fiend to see what the hell was wrong. It's a fine line, I guess, but I feel I can only call FWOE when I can quickly look at the grid and see what was wrong - and usually it's a typo. If I have to look it up, it's a DNF.

So now that we have that out of the way, I can say that it's another one of those "Wacky clues for normal things" kind of theme, and you might remember that it is a type of theme that I usually enjoy. Some of these, however, seem a little more tortured than usual. 17A: Eye an election official? (CHECKOUTCOUNTER) is a bit of a stretch. "Counter?" And 48A: Warning shouted to a lacrosse defenseman? (LOOKOUTPOINT). Yikes. TAKEOUTORDER and WORKOUTROUTINES are both solid, though. Also, all the theme answers hinge on the word "OUT," with the last answer having a bonus second occurrence of the letters. Overall, the theme gets a half-hearted thumbs up.

The fill, on the other hand, has a lot of meh. ONEA, ALII, DIY, TAS... and then there are the gratuitous plurals IOTAS, EWERS, MARKS, STYES. I don't put REARS (22A: They may be paddled) into that lot because of its fine, Huygensy clue.

The sevens are mostly good, though, with FLUNKED (43D: Didn't make the grade?), HOTPINK (47D: Popular color at Victoria's Secret), FINEART (10D: Pricey pieces), and - now that I know it - EXCITES being my favorite. The inner sevens are ok, but not great.

I don't really even mind FIEF (10A: Overlord's domain) and LIEF (42A: Happily, old-style), but I might not get too many supporters there. And isn't it odd how LIE sits just above LIEF? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Oh, I don't know... I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it. Let's call it a typical Wednesday wash.

- Horace

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Tuesday, February 3, 2015, Joe Krozel


I first looked at this just before nodding off to sleep. I figured, "It's Tuesday, it'll be a breeze," but the Across answers were slightly unusual so I switched over and started with the Downs, and somewhere about halfway through them I fell asleep. Later, when I looked at it again, I picked up where I'd left off, and by the time I got to the bottom, having seen the Across answers out of the corner of my eye the whole way, I finally picked up on it with 69A: AA*P (RETIRED), and then it all made sense.

I like it. It reminds me of that word game where you have things like 52 C. in a D., or 64 S. on a C., and it was fun trying to figure out the acronyms. For some reason, the very common ones were some of the hardest for me to think of. Like 45A: R*I (BATTED) and 13A: I*S (REVENUE), the latter of which I briefly panicked over because I didn't know LUANA (6D: Actress Patten or Anders).

Sure, we get REV and TER and TORI and DOR and RIMES (53D: Layers of frost) … but for me, a good theme can sometimes trump the fill, and I really like this theme. I like that every single Across is part of it, and as a result, there's nothing objectionable going in that direction. The Downs suffer a bit, but you still find some good there, too, like SLAKED (9D: Quenched), PINOT (7D: Wine grape variety), TEARDROPS (20D: Things "on my guitar" in a 2008 Taylor Swift hit) (I don't know the song, and got it from crosses, but I still like it as fill), and ECCE (62D: Behold, to Cicero). I'm a sucker for Latin fill.

So anyway, as you can see, I enjoyed it. Hope you did too.

- Horace

p.s. ONTARIO? (17A: H*MES). What the?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Monday, February 2, 2015, Jeffrey Wechsler


It's all about NYC in the NYTX today. THEBIGAPPLE's (34A: Empire State Building locale ... or a hint to three letters in 16-, 19-, 52-, and 57-Across) locale gave me a little trouble at first, as I first thought "34th Street? ... 5th Avenue? ... How are they going to work either of those in?" But no, they went with the more general "NYC," which all theme answers contain. And they're all common enough. I particularly like DESTINYCALLS (19A: "I must do this") for some reason (even though it's rare that I like "quotation mark" clues), and TONYCURTIS (16A: "Some Like It Hot" actor) (no, not that kind of "quotation mark" clue...) makes me smile to remember an ongoing argument that I have with Frannie and one of my brothers as to who made the more attractive female. I used to favor Jack Lemon, but Rich liked Tony Curtis. I can't remember which one Frannie chose.

In non-theme material, I am happy to finally know the source of a phrase common to my youth WHATSMYLINE (23D: TV show that popularized the phrase "Is it bigger than a breadbox?"). I remember playing a version of "20 Questions" on long car trips, and we always started with that question. I just assumed it was something people said. And perhaps it was before the show, too, but everyone - or at least everyone over 55 - now associates it with that show. OK. Too much on that topic, maybe... Forgive me, I'm just getting back into this reviewing stuff...

Not too much junk today. A few too many proper nouns in the NE, maybe, but nothing too bad, I guess. I liked seeing AMY (21D: Tan who wrote "The Joy Luck Club") in the grid, and who doesn't like WAFFLES (38D: Dimpled breakfast items)?

Favorite clue: 47A: Aioli, mostly (VOWELS). Who else put "garlic" in right away?

A better Monday than usual, in my opinion.

- Horace

Sunday, February 1, 2015, David Steinberg

This n' That

Overall, I thought this was a more "normal" Steinberg puzzle, making it a good fit for Sunday. My reaction to the theme was hot 'n' cold. I liked 71A. Venti, vignt or zwanzig? (FOREIGNTWENTY), but was less fond of 17D Feathers, pointy bill, long legs, etc.? (HERONMAKEUP).

There were some fun clues, like 28A. Square meal? (RAVIOLI), 59A. Man of letters? (SAJAK), 2D. Three-vowel word that sounds like a fourth vowel (EAU), and 122D. Bit of old French bread (ECU). I liked BUFF (24D. Aficionado), FOSSIL (9D. Old Fogy), and FLORID (40A. Red-faced) in the center north segment, and their neighbor, 15D. Unceremonious removal (HEAVEHO). I enjoyed seeing Mr. Asimov mentioned (39D. Like Isaac Asimov), but it took some crosses before I knew what to enter (PROLIFIC) as he did so many things.

As happens with some regularity, I was duped by the clue that refers to one of its own letters, as in 111D. Circular opening? (SOFTC). When will I learn? The only clue/answer pair I can remember not liking was 104A. Like a dutiful sentry (ONPOST) - valid perhaps, but awkward.

We are late with this review due to a presentation by the NFL (43A. Patriots' and Seahawks' org.) It was MEATPIES and OUNCEs instead of puzzles for us tonight.

Go Pats!

~ Frannie