Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Wednesday, April 1, 2015, Sharon Delorme


This one had some tough spots for me. AROMA (14A: Drawing of a bakery?) took me forever to see (maybe because the wording is just a little too tortured?). And the Y of LOYAL (8D: True) and JOYBUZZER (18A: "Put 'er there, Pal!") was also tricky, even when that was all I had left. And I owned one of those buzzers! I didn't have a SQUIRTINGFLOWER or a DRIBBLEGLASS, but I bought itching powder (which was terrible - so itchy!), soap that made your hands black, and a whoopee cushion... yeah... it was a phase, I guess. I'm not proud, but I am over it. I wasn't cut out to be a PRANKSTER. I even felt bad about it when I did use TRICKCANDLES, and people thought they had blown them all out, but then saw them relight. I guess I prefer being tricked by tough crossword clues and other word games. Call me what you will. Still, it's an appropriate theme for April Fool's Day.

Some kind of junky fill - I'm looking at you ORTO, OTRO, ABOO, and ONUP - but really, not that much, and we've got some decent non-fill with GAGORDER (5D: Silencer), LOVEHATE (42D: Kind of relationship), and COBWEB (9D: Sign of disuse). Heck, I even like OKOK (47D: "All right, already!"). It must be that I'm still giddy from the weekend's activities. The final at the ACPT, if you didn't hear, was won by less than one second! It was so very dramatic! But more than that, just being there and getting to meet some of the constructors I've enjoyed over the past couple years, and a couple of the bloggers that I read and link to on this site, and, of course, trying my hand at the tournament puzzles... well, it was a great time. I'm already looking forward to going back next year. Maybe all three of us will be able to make it, and maybe, just maybe, we'll make T-shirts. 

- Horace

Tuesday, March 31, 2015, Gary Cee


One second faster than Monday's time, FWIW. Actually, it does sort of seem like yesterday's puzzle should have been a Tuesday and today's should have been a Monday. But I guess one second's too minimal to be picking such nits.

This is a fine themed puzzle to be finishing out March with. VERBALGYMNASTICS is the revealer and presumably the seed, as it's a 15-letter answer. And each of the long across theme answers has a gymnastics element as the second part of the phrase. I guess they're "verbal" in that they're all words. It would have been too much to ask to have each phrase reference both gymnastics and linguistics, and to have them be recognizable phrases to boot.

As it is, each one is entirely acceptable as a phrase. The two plurals are plural because the gymnastics item are usually referred to in the plural; to wit, the rings and the (parallel) bars. I like HIGHHORSE best because of the funny visual of a gymnast attempting to vault an elevated horse. Second best is ONIONRINGS because I'll nearly always order them if they're available.

There are no clues that are in any way amusing or misleading, which is probably why I did so well on time. Some nice words in the grid include the two long down answers, TORTELLINI and LARYNGITIS. I like when the creator can stick in a couple of fine non-theme entries like that. NOWWHAT and YOOHOO are fun exclamations. Cece got two of those, as well as HONEY and TERRA.

I like seeing ALISON Krauss represented, as well as BERT. I like some of SARA Bareilles' music. Things I didn't like so much include ASTIR (not really a word, is it?), CONT and TEL (two barely acceptable abbreviations), and the partial AFAN.

Happy belated to Horace! He's taking over again tomorrow. Here's hoping he's recovered from his crossword bonanza over the weekend.

Signing off,

- Colum

Monday, March 30, 2015

Monday, March 30, 2015, Bruce Haight


This was an odd bird of a puzzle, if you'll pardon the expression. I got the visual theme, and the three long across answers fit into the concept, along with GOOSE. But then I wanted all those lovely long down answers to be in the theme also, and they just weren't. I couldn't make them belong!

That being said, the long answers all cross three long answers, so that's lovely. And the really unusual grid shape allows for large chunks of answers in three corners. And with the exception of EASEFUL, they all are good entries. I like AIRMAIL and CAREENS.

In exchange, there are an awful lot of short answers in the rest of the grid, but nothing I really hated, honestly. Well, I didn't much like AYLA, although it's better than seeing her author's name, Auel, in the grid. And IRED is ugly.

On the plus side, CECE's in the grid today.

Got not much else to say.

- Colum

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sunday, March 29, 2015, Alan Arbesfeld


There was a lot to like about this puzzle. So why, then, did I feel unhappy over all when I finished it? Because there were pockets of really unpleasant fill, which just felt like it didn't need to happen.

The theme is a straightforward one, and one which became clear very early on. The NW corner was not difficult and had some nice bits in it. I put TABORS in at 1A and TASTEBUD was a nice followup. I feel I've seen that clue for this word before (1D: It may be on the tip of your tongue). We got another repeat with ODEON from a recent grid. I very much liked 3D: It holds a lock in place (BARRETTE) - I like a misleading clue which doesn't rely on a question mark, as I may have mentioned in other blog posts.

So I found STREAMINGINCA shortly thereafter, and got the idea of adding CA to a well-known phrase to create a wacky new phrase. Unfortunately "streaming in" is hardly a well-known phrase. And another phrase, "Really big shew", which is a reference to Ed Sullivan, feels incredibly recherche at this point. Even though the resultant answer, REALLYBIGCASHEW is pretty funny.

On the good side, you get the brilliant YOUMAKEMEWANNACASHOUT. That's outstanding, and I suspect it was the seed for the entire puzzle. First, you have the immediately recognizable original phrase; then, the upshot creates an entirely new sense due to the creation of two words where there had been one before. I find CASTELSEWHERE very clever, and DEEPSPACECANINE is fine as well. The other two, BACALLHANDLER and THELIFEOFPICA are okay.

I definitely struggled with some of those, but it was the fill that rubbed me the wrong way. I'll just list some the issues:

  • BENZ, EOLITH, ENZI. Okay, so a senator, even from Wyoming (a bit of regional chauvinism there), shouldn't be unfair; Karl Benz is clearly well-known if only from Mercedes fame; and a chipped flint nodule is of interest. But still, I had B_N_ and both of those letters felt for some time like they would be just guesses.
  • PLICATE, LUMIERE, ETYPE. Once again, as above. I got the brothers Lumiere from crosses, and the E of E-type couldn't really be anything else. But I don't like PLICATE. And also, I'm upset because I put "cabinet" in for 25A: Washington post? (EMBASSY).
  • AWACS, ADAGES, SAGA. The first is a whatever answer - stands for "Airborne warning and control system". 35D: Major account - took me a long time to see what this was getting at, and maybe I'm being hypocritical in that I just said I like this kind of misleading clue, only I'm in the middle of a rant, and I'm allowed to be that way, because I'm writing the blog.
  • NYALAS, ALEUT, SADCASE. 81A: Sealer, maybe - is definitely misleading. A nyala I'd never come across in a grid before, and actually it's pretty cool looking next to OOLALA. I'm just upset because I wanted "SADsack".
  • ALETAP, MEDE, DNY, ETNAS. An ugly set of answers next to WAYLAID, which is pretty great.
  • STATIC. Why is this clued as "Criticism"? I don't get it.
Okay, I'm done ranting. I liked the SE corner with the trio of HIRELING, ENTRACTE, and WEEKDAYS. I liked 95D: Board's opposite (GETOFF). That's very nice. 106A: Hold it! (HILT) was not what I expected - how many people put HaLT in first?

And OYSTERS made an appearance the day after I'd wanted to put it in the puzzle.

- Colum

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saturday, March 28, 2015, David Steinberg


What a chunky Saturday we have here. The corners are wide open, with a ton of Scrabble-filled letters. Each corner has at least one Z! And I didn't feel like Mr. Steinberg sacrificed a lot of ugly fill to make it happen.

2D: Big chill? (ICEAGE) was my first entry, and I followed with LALO as a guess. I incorrectly thought goTO for 4D (____ pieces), but the T was enough to give me DEATHSTAR. But the G did mean that the NW corner had to wait to get finished.

So the gimme SCARUM followed at 34A, followed by POM and TORSO at 48A and 61A respectively, the latter with the fun clue Six-pack container? OMANIS came next and NAPA, an answer I must have put in and taken out about four times through the course of the solving of this puzzle. I still did not have my breakthrough.

I guessed "oysters" at 32A as the "jeweler of kings," even though in retrospect, that should have been a singular oyster. It came out pretty quickly. The NE corner gave be ONCEOVER and BOZ, which led to YEARZERO as well. I had not heard of DUANE Hanson (the picture to the left is of one of his sculptures) or ERICA Hill, but their names became clear via the crosses.

The break came when I entered PIC at 24D and figured out SNAPCHAT for 34D: Disappearing communication system? A modern answer and a clever clue there. So the remainder of the SW fell, which allowed me to get WITSEND and then BIKINIWAX - I'm not sure that that's really a "hair-raising" so much as a "hair-ripping" experience, but I'll go with it.

I figured out LITCRIT at 49A: Novel opinions, informally?, although I nearly second guessed myself with the PC of PCGAME. I'll finish with a number of good clues and answers - 29D: Best successor (STARR) took way too long to figure out. 33D: Change color, maybe (REACT) is very good - I initially expected REdye and much prefer the actual answer.

40D: Need to practice? (BAREXAM) is very good. I thought "license" at first. 12D: Under-age temptation (JAILBAIT) was unexpected. I had hoped for something a tad more innocent, such as "alcohol". How 1950s of me. And last, but certainly not least, 57A: They're taken to go (LAXATIVES) was a real hoot. It was the second to last answer in for me, with the B of BAREXAM finishing off the puzzle.

Outstanding, in my opinion. Good luck to Horace! I hope the solving went well today.

- Colum

American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (ACPT) - Special Report

Hello Crossword Puzzle Lovers!

Horace here, reporting from the bar at the Marriott hotel in Stamford, CT, where from my perch I see among the crowd none other than Brendan Emmett Quigley, Ian Livengood, Jeff Chen, Deb Amlen, Amy Reynaldo, Dan Feyer, and many, many other crossword constructors, bloggers, and solvers. It's a lively scene, full of boisterous discussion, boasts, excuses, commiseration, and camaraderie. Sounds a little schmaltzy? Well, okay, I might be a tad tipsy, but can you blame me? I faced Jeff Chen's "Puzzle #5" today, and I live to tell the tale. Of course, I can't tell much of the tale, since I didn't finish it, but I dare say that there are few here who could tell it all.

Ready for the first puzzle.
As I learned the hard way last year, at the hands of B.E.Q. (who told me last night that his puzzle #5 was edited to make it easier), puzzle five is the one (of the seven puzzles we all face) that separates the wheat from the chaff. Five hundred and seventy-eight of us were given thirty minutes to finish a devilishly tricky grid. It's brutal, but it's part of what makes this event memorable. Last year, Frannie and I solved together online, and after the timer went off on number five, our score was calculated, but we soldiered on and eventually finished. This year, they collected the papers and I'm left with more of an empty feeling, but I have been told, by Will himself, that all contestants will get copies of the puzzles to bring home with them, so someday, eventually, Frannie and I will finish that thing.

Chen & Shortz
But I can't be too mad at Mr. Chen, because last night, when I introduced myself to him, and confessed that I have been blogging the NYTX for about two years, he asked the name of our blog. When I told him, he recognized it (!), and said "Oh, I think we just linked to that." (!!) And sure enough, Horace and Frances is now on the blogroll at xwordinfo.com. (http://www.xwordinfo.com/Blogs) It is partially a pay site, but it's completely open this weekend, during the tournament. I don't know if the blogroll is usually behind a paywall or not, but go check it out today or tomorrow to be sure to see us! Or better yet, sign up and get access to all that the incredible site has to offer!

Well, that's probably enough for tonight. Maybe I'll write another report tomorrow, when the whole thing is over. But before I go, I just want to say that this event is a blast, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys solving crosswords. I came here with no hope of winning and every expectation of having a good time, and both things have come true. :)

- Horace

Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday, March 27, 2015, David Kwong

FWOE (24:21)

Utah! Who knew? My first reaction to the black squares was that they looked like quotation marks, and I thought that might be a cute theme. Cece and I did this together. We got into the gird with the little section of 3-letter answers in the NW: STS, MIA, ENT, which lead Cece to get BEATSME, and me to get INLATIN. Nothing else was immediately apparent to us there, so we moved to the middle.

Cece immediately, without any crosses, suggested CONESTOGA. Wow. OAS followed, and ATMS (good clue there), and then ASSISTED and STMARYS (a guess, that).

So then we got the theme with UTAHSTATE, which led to the 2 15-letter answers, TABERNACLECHOIR and LATTERDAYSAINTS.

The corners, once again, were nice and chunky. Some answers I did not like: REPEALS, for the clue (The 21st Amendment and such) - why not make it the verb instead? As a noun it feels super awkward. ISOTONE is a real thing, but not something I knew. I went for ISOTOpE, which is actually two atoms that have the same number of protons but a different number of neutrons, so the exact opposite. And that was my error in the puzzle. DEME is a desperate piece of fill. I don't like the definition of TWEEDLE, even though I feel I've seen it before in the NYT puzzle.

BIGMAC is a nice piece of trivia. I wanted "Reuben" first, but that sandwich was invented in the 1920s. PEACHPIT is a fine answer. MAINE is definitely a "Big source of blueberries," and I always think of "Blueberries For Sal," a delightful book. 43A: Things you might enjoy with your best buds? (IPODS) is cute. 37D: One way to be held (HOSTAGE) was a shocker (not a SHANKAR).

Other answers Cece got: GRABSAT, STINKAT. We both had a strangely difficult time getting HORSE (23A: Mount), even with HOR__ in place.

So, TILSIT, IONBEAM, and ISOTONE. That made the SW the most difficult corner, and our stumbling block.

Mostly a thumbs up from me.

- Colum

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Thursday, March 26, 2015, Byron Walden


I like the theme here, revealed nicely at 57A: Part of washing... or what's exhibited by the circled (grey) letters from top to bottom (RINSECYCLE). It's a perfect cycle of five rotations of the letters in order from ERINS through to RINSE, each time part of another longer answer. SLYTHERINS was the first to go in, and while I had parts of each of the other words, I didn't get any of them until I answered the revealer. Then I saw the cycle, and was able to fill in enough to get all of the theme answers in short order.

NOSERINGS and SPINSERVE are both fine. INTENSERIVALS I don't buy as a real phrase, although I see how it was necessary given the constraints of the theme. Those constraints also lead to the necessary REEKS/REELS/REEFS trio down the middle.

The rest of the puzzle are four very chunky corners with minimal theme content, each making sort of a mini-puzzle of its own. There's no question which is the best corner. The SW with MALENUDE right above PHONESEX wins hands down, although the connection with SANTAHAT is tenuous if not disturbing. I wanted lIMPS, but had to switch to GIMPS once I made the connection with 1D (GOT APASS). In fact, you could put that term in with the other ribald terms if you want. Matt BIONDI was frequently a nearly nude male.

62A: Big name in western literature (LAMOUR) was clever. I was not expecting that sense of the word "western." 13D: Shot in the crease? (BOTOX) is quite nice. I was thinking maybe a vaccine or a booster, but the actual answer is much better. I suppose that 49D: Fish hook? (TALON) is referring to raptors who catch fish with their feet. '

I enjoyed the clue for LAYLA. ISRAELIS is a nice long answer. ABUDHABI comes from the same region of the world.


Kind of a fun puzzle.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wednesday, March 25, 2015, Jacob Stulberg


The theme became clear very quickly; in fact, I had that portion of the puzzle solved without answering most of the actual clues. The only part I had difficulty with was the end, namely, the "NO2". I had figured out the H2O, but second guessed myself because I didn't like REDNO2 as an answer (I wanted "red dye no. 2", and considered entering those extra letters as rebus squares, only that made no sense).

The family and I saw the painting in question in person last year at a recreation of the famous ARMORYSHOW at the New York Historical Society in NYC. It was truly the most remarkable piece of art there, arresting and astonishing, even now, a hundred years after the fact. I also recall really liking Edvard Munch's art.

With respect to the puzzle, I enjoyed the main theme section, which is constructed artfully, and allows for the very nice long answer BESMIRCHED and the less successful SEASCENTED. Of course there are a whole slew of 3-letter answers and crosswordese to make it work, including ENIAC, ODED, SARDI, LGA, and AST. But they didn't bother me much at all.

The peculiar aspect of the puzzle is the two separate mini-puzzles in the NE and SW. These were so much more difficult because of the relative lack of theme material and the large chunky areas of white space. I liked LATIN and AMEN next to each other, with the "prayers" pair of clues. How about ENAMORED and ESTEEMED together? I also enjoyed the reference to AIRPLANE, although "The Sequel" hardly lived up to the original.

It's an odd bird of a puzzle, but I enjoyed it.

- Colum

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tuesday, March 24, 2015, Robyn Weintraub


I suppose this kind of theme is a lot harder to pull off than it feels like. I never get that excited by it. This puzzle is a perfectly workmanlike example, without a heck of a lot of pizzazz. And that's about all I can work myself up to say about the theme.

The rest of the puzzle is reasonably good, with some nice chunky sections in the corners. I like the NE the best, with LEGALIZED, AVARICE, and REZONED. It also has the unusual SLUICED as a cross.

Elsewhere, there was the unusual clue for MODE (41A: 6, in the set [3,5,5,6,6,6,7]), as well as the odd clue at 62A: Place where things get stuck (CRAW). 51D: U.S.S. Enterprise journey (TREK) was also a roundabout way to clue that word. It's fun to see clues that work their way around an answer like that.

The cross of BAHAI and SANAA is unholy for a Tuesday. I was left with that letter, and figured A was the only likely choice. I suspect many people would trip over it. There were a few other words that seemed hard for a Tuesday, but the crosses were all fair (HALAL, OCHS).

I wish LOKI could have crossed HERA, but clearly, that wasn't going to happen.

Well, that's about it.

- Colum

Monday, March 23, 2015

Monday, March 23, 2015, Michael Dewey


Anybody solving this puzzle has probably already gone round the bend if they can't figure out the theme. Really lost their marbles. Off their rocker. Rung down the curtain and gone to join the choir invisibule.

Um, what was I talking about?

Oh, yeah.

A timely puzzle as MARCHMADNESS has indeed taken over the nation. Well, the pool I was involved with at work has moved on without me. I think I was stuck a few years back when current Celtics coach Brad Stevens was working his magic with Butler. Suffice it to say that Butler did not even make it to the Sweet Sixteen, let alone win it all.

So we get a theme where the second half of each answer is a synonym for a state of insanity. Although I will nitpick with KLEPTOMANIA, where the second half of the word is not a metaphor for a mildly off-kilter state, but instead an actual psychological state of mental pathology. The other four are all acceptable, with MEDIAFRENZY being my favorite.

I was gliding through this puzzle in record time, with 2/3 finished in under three minutes. I found the SE section to be a slight degree harder than the rest of the puzzle. Even 1A: Malcolm-____ Warner of "The Cosby Show" only caught me for a second. Once I filled in JOKE, JAMAL came to mind immediately.

I wanted NUDIE for 50D: Movie whose genre is taking off? but balked at the outré risqué nature (I just wanted to have two words in a row with an accent aigu). Then CSINY did not come naturally, ANYA, GAFF, OZARKS, CZAR (spelled that way) and TYKE are definitely at a Tuesday level. So that's why I didn't come in under 4 minutes.

I liked the two long down answers, BICKEROVER and ARTHISTORY, and overall would call this an above average Monday puzzle.

- Colum

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sunday, March 22, 2015, Jeremy Newton


Untimed, completed with my mother and Cece in NYC.


I almost think that should be the entirety of my review today. I am highly impressed with the construction of this puzzle, without any major sacrifice in terms of fill. The complexity and density of the theme is astonishing, and a heck of a lot of fun as well!

We figured out the theme pretty quickly: we got into the grid in the SW, where Cece gave us Richard GERE. We recognized that 111A: Food processor? would have something to do with digestion, but it wasn't until my mother suggested something to do with "legal" for 107A: Driver's license, but not a credit card, e.g., that everything fell into place. I had gathered from the title that the long answers would take a ninety degree turn upwards, but I never expected that four answers in each section would do it. So we get LEGALI/D, DIGESTIVEA/ID, UNAFR/AID, and PANTY/RAID.

And it's done a total of six times in the puzzle, but to add to the complexity, on the right side of the puzzle, it's the ends of the words that turn left and go up, but on the left side of the puzzle, the ends of the words turn left and head across. And to top off the theme, there's a revealer set in symmetric spots at 38A and 91A (CLIMBING/THEWALLS). Because, in fact, the answers climb the left and right walls of the grid.

I liked 22A: They can knock out lightweights (ST/RONGDRINKS) because I was stuck on thinking about boxing. Cece suggested the answer eventually. Talk about a lightweight knocking one out! NOTE/TOSELF is good, as is DE/CISIONTREE, which almost feels like an added theme element, as each of these sections of answers is like a tree.

The rest of the puzzle is fine as well. Nice long answers like SCRAPHEAP, HASASMOKE, PEACHPIE and EDGINESS. The clue for NYSENATE was sadly non-condemning. I would have preferred "Grp. that causes shame in Albany". I loved the clue for 19A: Parks staying put (ROSA). We did not get that one until all the crosses were in place. I also liked 36A: Like sweat and some moccasins (BEADED).

High quality, especially for a Sunday.

- Colum

Saturday, March 21, 2015, Frederick J. Healy

Untimed, completed with my mother and Cece in NYC.

Apologies for the delayed post today, but it was a busy day yesterday. We got into NYC at 9:25 PM, completed the puzzle by 10:30, and then off to bed.

I was concerned when I saw the grid: three stacks of three 15-letter answers. And we all know my particular aversion to stacks. I am always disappointed in the short fill necessary to make the stacks work. In addition, the 15-letter answers themselves are typically hit or miss.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised by today's puzzle. Let's take the 15-letter answers first. The first one we were able to get was ONEAFTERANOTHER, and I can thank my mother for that one, because when I asked "What does 'seriatim' mean?", she immediately answered "one after the other." As is typical in a stack puzzle, once you get one of the answers, the others come pretty quickly. Both GETSTOFIRSTBASE and ISTHISSEATTAKEN are very acceptable phrases.

A typical feature of these stack puzzles is that they tend to split up into mini-puzzles, and that is true here as well. Once you solve a section, you have to start essentially anew on the next one. We moved upwards to the middle section, where ORANGEPOPSICLES was the first to fall. That's a thing, I suppose, but not any more of a thing than grape or cherry popsicles, but whatever. TURNEDTHETABLES works well, although I don't think that the clue actually defines it well enough. Yes, if the picked on person goes to picking on the person who bullied them, that's turning the tables, but I initially took it to mean graduating from the hazed to the hazer, which has a much less acceptable tone. ATTENTIONPLEASE is a fine answer.

The top section has JUMPINJACKFLASH, which I ought to have gotten from the clue, but which needed a lot of crosses to figure out. AHOOSIERHOLIDAY is the only 15-letter answer I had no clue about, while NOCAUSEFORALARM is great.  So to summarize, out of 9 15-letter answers, 7 are high quality, 1 is high-medium quality, and 1 is medium quality, but only because I'd never heard of it. That's good work.

The crosses are for the most part also very high quality. I don't like the two "genus" clues (bluegrass, POA; Virginia willow, ITEA). There are a couple of partials, like IAL and ENES, and your typical abbreviations, such as SHAK, EDT, ADAS, and TBA. There's also EFS, which I find questionable. But there's also some fine cluing. 5D: Trooper, e.g., didn't become clear for a very long time (ISUZU). 15D: Service lines? (HYMN) is very good. 28D: Ally in a partnership (MCBEAL) is a nice hidden capital, even if quite dated at this point. 53D: Start of treason? (LESE) is pretty erudite.

On the whole, I was very pleased with this puzzle, and gratified at the point of completion.

- Colum

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday, March 20, 2015, Roland Huget


All right, so really this was a FWTE result, but the two errors were frankly excusable in my eyes. I'll get into those issues in a bit.

The NW was a challenge to get into. I guessed 1D was EBBETS (after all, we just had Peewee Reese as an answer in a recent puzzle). Then I thought that 16A: Like many movies on file-sharing sites (BOOTLEG) would be "pirated", so I erased the name of the Brooklyn stadium. Then I guessed that 3D: Private identification? would be DOGTAG, so I erased pirated... Then I left the NW corner entirely.

Things got going in the NE, where AREEL (7D: Spinning), RNS, and WILLIAM gave us ARROWS (7A: Ones taking a bow? - an all right clue, not as funny as it thinks it is). Cece got ONTIPTOE, and we were off and running. Since we had ______LOM for 31A: Event often with gate crashers? (A much funnier clue), GIANTSLALOM went in (although I thought it was "grand" initially).

In fact, all of the 11-letter answers were excellent. I recalled that Augustus was Julius Caesar's GRANDNEPHEW from I, Claudius (which Hope and I took to calling I, Clavdivs). The Robert Graves has the wonderful poem which includes:

     The hairy one next to enslave the state
     Shall be son, no son, of this hairy last...

And therefore, grand-nephew.

MISSMANNERS and SMARTYPANTS are good answers as well, but to cross these with GIANTSLALOM, MICKEYMOUSE, and COMEUPPANCE... well, that's some fine puzzle making in my book.

The corners are nice and open, with nice answers like SRILANKA, MONARCHY, and COMPUTE. I also like the connectors with REGIMEN, PEWTERS, and STAMMER. OILSEED is okay.

I don't know how 16A: Prime times leads to BIGYEARS. "Golden years," yes, or something like that. And SEALER is really not worthy of this puzzle.

My two errors? Oh, yeah. I'd hoped you'd forgotten. Okay, fine. So the first was the cross of LINEAL and LEYDEN. I had LINEAr, which certainly seemed logical, and much more acceptable than the actual choice, while a rEYDEN jar looked wrong, but I accepted it.

The other error was the cross of SEGER and RICER. I had dICER, which again seems more of a thing than a "ricer" which I do not own, and do not plan on owning. Meanwhile, SEGEd seemed plausible in a sense, as I'd never heard of Carole Bayer Sager. I see that she wrote the theme song for the movie Arthur, which won an Academy Award. Oh, well.

I enjoyed this puzzle a lot.

- Colum

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Thursday, March 19, 2015, Todd Gross


This one took a while to get going. I had SOCHI at 1D, SELA at 14A, and ISLAM at 34A (nice clue there, referring to Mr. Stevens). Then things started coming together in the SE, and when I got 21D: Encyclopedia volume on poverty? (RAGSTORICHES), I got the theme, and it went from there.

A lot of interesting answers and clues here. METACOMET was a chief in the 17th century in the Rhode Island area. His brother was Wamsutta, a name I recognize much more readily, as Hope likes to say it from time to time, although she's referring to the towels and bedsheets, I think. It's a nice parallel to another name, TIMBURTON at 30A.

MYSHARONA took a while to see - I had the M_S____ and couldn't get the Y in the middle. The song itself, as I recall, is on the catchy side. JERUSALEM is also a nice entry.

For clues, I liked 13A: Millennium starter (ONEAD), in that it's not the millennium you expect, and the answer isn't a Roman numeral. 24A: Republic founded in 1836 (TEXAS) was also a mild surprise. 27A: Paperwork? (ORIGAMI) is fun. 36A: What no two people can do? (SOLOS) is very clever.

55A: Stick by the front door (CANE) is very well done, and the kind of clue I'd like to see more of, where a word can pivot between noun and verb. Another example is 42D: Bugs might be seen in one (CEL), although that's more of a hidden capital. For the record, Cece got that one almost immediately. She's got a shifty mind, that one. I also like 52: Word of pardon (AHEM). That's some fine cluing.

The theme is fun, but as Cece pointed out, once you get the idea, all you have to do is find where the TO will be, and it gives you more information. For example, at 7D, I had ___TON____. That meant that the first letter was going to be N also. Anyway, I liked NEXTTONOTHING and RAGSTORICHES the best of the four.

One down note came at 1A. I have no idea who David SELBY is, and I've never watched Dark Shadows. Similarly, 35A: "Dragonwyck" author Seton (ANYA) is a complete unknown. In any case, all the crosses were fair, so I have no issues. Nice puzzle.

- Colum

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wednesday, March 18, 2015, Timothy Polin


Mr. Polin and I were on the same wavelength on this puzzle. I started with 1A: Hats for Indiana Jones (FEDORAS), and the NW was completed in seconds. I had no idea what 19A: 1984 #1 Billy Ocean hit was (CARIBBEANQUEEN), and even after filling it in, I still don't know that song. In fact, after listening to it on Spotify, I still don't know that song. Still, it was a #1, so that counts for something, I suppose.

In any case, without the long answer to give me entry into the NE, I thought it might take me a bit to get going. Instead, SPILLIT (again!) and SPONGEBOB opened it up nicely. Apparently a MONOSKI is like a snowboard, only both feet face forward instead of to the side. I very much enjoyed the LOUISCK quote. If something appears frequently enough in the NYT crossword, does that mean that it's past its cultural peak of significance? I hope not for his sake.

27A: Minor keys? (ISLETS) is cute, but according to Webster, a key is a small island, even perhaps just an islet in its own right. There were a number of exclamations in the grid, from the aforementioned "Spill it" to WHOA, ITSASTEAL, and AMSCRAY, which I love.

The other two theme answers, DOMESTICWORKERS and PREDATORDRONES are both passable long answers. The revealer is in an asymmetrical location at 60A (BEEHIVE), but it works for me.

Other answers I liked included DIVISOR, OSIRIS,  and LIMN (when was the last time you saw that word used?). EVANDER held an apposite spot opposite Mr. C.K. (in that they're both names). It's not good that 1D (FED) use the same three letters as the opening of 1A. SOI is a terrible partial, and PLAT is ugly, along with MHO and INE. But on the whole, these are small complaints.

- Colum

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tuesday, March 17, 2015, David Phillips


Like yesterday, I had a hard time getting started in the NW. Probably because I entered tinS, then binS at 1A (Containers in a pantry - JARS). So, actually nearly a minute spent sorting out that mess. After that, nothing was too complex.

The theme is cute, with MIDTERMS being the revealer, and each long across answer having "term" hidden in the exact middle (i.e. the same number of letters on each side). In three of the four answers, the "term" is split across two words or two halves of a compound word. The last, UNDETERMINED, it's just in the middle. A little inconsistency there, but no big deal from my point of view. My favorite is MASTERMIND, because:

It's a little disappointing to have LATERMAN and LATELY in the same grid. I also am not fond of Marshal NEY, or BOL as an abbreviation of Bolivia. Apparently ILA is the International Longshoremen Association. Were they involved in all that mess regarding the California ports strikes recently? My kids don't like the word MOIST.

Outside of those issues, we had some fun long down clues, including METROAREA, and AASINAPPLE. BAILINGOUT and CLOSELOOK are also fine entries. I never read The Natural by Bernard MALAMUD, but I still knew who they were referring to.

I also very much like ALISON BRIE, who in addition to Mad Men, was in Community for some time.

The cluing was essentially straightforward and unremarkable, which, I guess, describes the puzzle as a whole.

- Colum

Monday, March 16, 2015

Monday, March 16, 2015, Ian Livengood


Another Monday, another ho-hum puzzle. I mean, when are these creators going to...

Hang on a sec.

Oh, yeah! I actually liked this Monday puzzle! Mr. Livengood has created a lively grid, despite the abundance of 3-letter answers (23 of them, all told). Part of what makes it so nice are the fairly chunky corners, with trios of 7-letter answers, all of which I enjoyed quite a bit. In addition, there are two 8-letter down answers, each crossing three theme answers.

For some reason I put BArb in at 1A: Streisand, familiarly (BABS), even though no one ever has called her that (or if they did, they've been quietly and efficiently removed). Even as I looked at 3D: Sunday liquor prohibition, and thought, well, that has to be BLUELAW, it took me a few seconds to convince myself. That corner also has BUSSTOP and ACQUIRE.

I had another spot of trouble getting into the NE corner. I couldn't come up with the seafood portion of FRIEDSHRIMP (scampi? squid? calamari?!?!), and TALENT wasn't coming either off of TAL___. That's a fine clue there, IMO - "Singing, juggling or performing magic" did not lend itself to that answer. Meanwhile, I'd entered "sweet" at 9A: Banana split or fudge brownie (TREAT). EDYS and TAO (a nice counterpart to ZEN) helped, then I got TOSSPOT off of the correct T at the end of my incorrect answer, and the rest fell into place.

I love ROOTBEER, and will always choose that as my non-alcoholic carbonated beverage. I'm also in favor of baseball, so ASHTREES was also good. I did not like ALTTAB, which feels a bit random. I love the trio of GYMNAST, GORILLA, and SNICKER.

Oh, and the theme was well done as well. Four synonyms for "small", with two answers where the synonym starts the phrase, and two answers where it ends the phrase. Again, FRIEDSHRIMP seems a little skimpy (scampi?!?!), but I really like PEEWEEREESE in the grid, all those Es.

Thumbs up from me.

- Colum

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday, March 15, 2015, Dan Feyer


I was not a fan of this puzzle. Cece and I did most of it together, but there was too much dross, not enough humor, and the theme didn't grab me. So there.

Let's start with the theme: Adding "IN" to the start of common phrases and cluing the resulting phrase in a semi-humorous way. The issue here is that even the semi-humorous level of funniness wasn't enough. The only one that made us laugh out loud was 112A: Diapers? (INFANCYPANTS). Now, that's great on a number of levels: 1 - there's the underlying phrase, "fancy pants," which is funny in and of itself; 2 - the resulting term works well as a definition of diapers; and 3 - the placement of "in" turns the first word into a separate word with no cognate with the original.

None of the other theme answers work nearly as well. They all succeed in the third part of the above goals (INFIDELCASTRO and INJURYTAMPERING are the best on that regard). Most of them fail on one or both of the other two goals. I'm not even sure how INFIELDGOAL means "Covering first, second and third base?". I guess I get that it's an aim of the players playing infield that those bases be covered, but whatever. The LINKEDIN reference I guess justifies the title of the puzzle.

Now, perhaps I'm being a little harsh. After all, in thinking about this puzzle while walking Milo for about 30 minutes, I was unable to come up with any examples of my own that worked much at all. But that's why I'm not making puzzles for the New York Times...

Then there's the fill. This was very uneven. There was SEAWAR (36D: What the Spanish Armada fought), which I would not call an acceptable phrase, right next to ASTAGE (37D: Shakespeare's world?), much better. FAIRUSE is obscure. ONER is meh, the clue (14D: Long, unbroken take, in film lingo) annoying. We get, in no particular order, AQABA, IMARI, AVEO, ERIEPA; blah partials such as IGAVE, IEVER. At least SCARJO allows me to do this:

There are some nice longer answers, such as COINFLIP, GROTTOES, PUSHBACK, and QUACKS. UNCARING is well clued as "Cold." Almost forgot to mention the best clue: 101A: Jack-in-the-box part (HYPHEN). Well done.

How about 68D: Three on a 6 (MNO)? What did you all think about that one? It felt amazingly outdated to me. Took me until I was reviewing the puzzle to understand that it was not some version of "M no.," or some kind of median or mean number in abbreviation. Astonishing that letters on the phone dial/buttons are so passe at this point.

Just not interesting enough for me.

- Colum

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Saturday, March 14, 2015, James Mulhern


Ahhhh... now, that's more like it.

Happy Pi day, everyone; the only one we're likely to experience of the full 3/14/15 version. At 9:26 AM, Cece and I got our math geeks on.

But back to the puzzle. An excellent themeless today, anchored by lovely sets of three 10-letter answers or two 10-letter answers with a 9-letter answer next. In addition, we have two excellent 11-letter answers.

Things would have gone much faster if I'd put LAMAR in at 1D when I first saw the clue. I thought that might be it, but withheld. I already had ONONE at 2D, so that could have jumpstarted everything. Instead, I went to the NE, where I mistakenly put huntsMAN in for 14D: Savior of Little Red Riding Hood (WOODSMAN). Astonishingly, I was able to pull ERICBANA from nowhere, but that didn't help too much.

I really got going with the SE, where Boston knowledge gave me The PRU, and then PRIDE, USERS, and THEINSIDER followed. I love EATENALIVE and CARTWHEELS. That's a nice set of answers there.

I had _____WASH, and Cece looked at it and immediately said "MACHINEWASH!" Smart kid, that one. This led, however, to the second mistake in the NE, where I had _AHA_EN, and entered BAHAtEN. I mean, come on, who cares about the Baha Men? Oh. I see they wrote "Who let the dogs out?" Yes, I agree with Rolling Stone. That is an annoying song, and an annoying answer.

One of the downsides of this grid is the relative isolation of the two halves. The connections hinge on the answers at 8D and 39D. I got STPETER easily enough, but it was a struggle to get going after that. My Jane Austen helped with EMMA, and finally I opened up the trio of SHOVELED (nice), WHACAMOLE (fine), and HARRUMPHED (excellent). 38A: Ones pulling strings? (HARPISTS) is a great clue. 24D: Division of biology (MITOSIS) was a good misleading clue.

Which leads us to TAYLORSWIFT - what a great answer, and such a peculiar clue! "Art of sly wit"...

LOBSTERBIB was fun, ANIMANIACS I had no idea about, and could care less about. And MONEYTALKS was good.

Really very little to complain about. I enjoyed it very much.

- Colum

Friday, March 13, 2015

Friday, March 13, 2015, Victor Fleming


I found this puzzle to be remarkably easy for a Friday, with the exception of the NW corner, which was a real bear. It didn't help that I guessed 2D: Ninth-century invaders of East Anglia as "Picts", or that I managed to convince myself that Germans spoke French ("eST"?). Even so, 1D: ____-Abyssinian War (ITALO), is more usually referred to as the Italo-Ethiopian wars (there were two of them). And who outside of France knows that Oceanopolis is in BREST? And that doesn't even get at the issue of TARBOOSH. Here is a tarboosh:

That's right, it's a fez.

Fortunately I got out of the NW with ESTADO, although I put an A at then end, continuing my miserable language run. In fact, I got no traction until the SW, where DEEDEE essentially opened everything up. I gritted my teeth at YLEM (47A: Matter in the Big Bang theory), a word I'd never heard of. I had TORnUP for a while, leaving me with RnARAREA - I tried to convince myself for a brief moment that 57A: Room in back, say was referring to some kind of space for registered nurses, but that was clearly wrong. I don't much like REARAREA any more. I don't think that's a real phrase.

Okay, I think I've gotten the not so great stuff out of the way. 27A: Unexpectedly (OUTOFTHEBLUE) was a good long phrase. Other fun entries included ANECDOTE, DARKAGES, SPECKLES, and LOOSELIPS. There was a nice sense of relaxed colloquialisms with SPILLIT, HASASHOT, and INASENSE.

Some good cluing was to be found as well. 24A: Hill people, for short (REPS) was unexpected. 54A: A little off? (TRIM) was not too difficult to figure out. 8D: Star role in many old films? (SHERIFF) was clever. But my favorite was 30D: One cast in a Harry Potter film (SPELL). That's great.

A mixed bag, given the NW corner, but I liked it fine overall.

- Colum

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Thursday, March, 12, 2015, Ellen Leuschner and Jeff Chen


A nice upswing from the last two days today. I enjoyed this puzzle much more. It always helps to start off with knowing 1A right off the bat (1962 Kubrick film: LOLITA). I guessed 1D: Head incorrectly as Loo, and only figured out it was LAV towards the end. ONASLANT was correct, but even with these guesses in place, the NW resisted me. I got 33A: Inter ____ (European soccer powerhouse) (MILAN) next, and filled in a few 3-letter answers including AXE without understanding the theme.

I got ARACHNID, a lovely word in the grid, MAWS, then MGM, and GRIP and MALI. Finally, I understood what 9D: Metaphor for quick-spreading success (WILD[FIRE]) was asking for, and I was off and running. I didn't understand the theme, exactly, just that each of those black squares in the 2x2 square would be filled with an understood "fire". I had, in fact, noticed the odd looking congregation of black squares at the outset, and wondered if they would have something to do with the theme.

It made the remainder of the clues around those spots easy to fill in, which meant that the NE and the SW went quite quickly. I enjoyed the two longer themed answers  PLAYSWITH[FIRE], and [FIRE]INTHEHOLE, the latter being the revealer that makes the theme work. Very nice!

In addition, we get some nice entries in VASSAL (which I insisted on spelling "vassel" for a while, nearly leading to a FWOE, but I figured it out before putting in that final A), ARBORDAY, and POOLSIDE. AXON is very much in my line of workl, so I liked seeing that.

I very much enjoyed the clue at 57A: Goes on Safari, say (BROWSES), although I'm not sure the "say" is needed with the capitalized app name. 27A: Things with rings... that may be ringing (EARS) is pretty good. I like the pairing of 30A: Inter (ENTOMB) and 33A: Inter ____. I don't know that I agree with the joke in 60A: Double doubles? (HOMERS). I suppose it's true, but not exactly right somehow. Finally, I did enjoy 64A: One working for Kansas or Alabama (ROADIE). That's nice cluing right there.

No major downers, so I'm giving it a hearty thumbs up.

- Colum

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wednesday, March 11, 2015, David Steinberg


On this, the one hundred and fifty-first year (hint: not a major anniversary) since the founding of the REDCROSS, we find an odd Wednesday puzzle devoted to examples of red things crossing each other in the grid. Generally speaking, I think I've liked Mr. Steinberg's efforts in the past, but this one left me a bit cold. I'm going to note a couple of quibbles with the theme first.

Are we talking about things that are always red, or typically red? Not every BRICK is red. NAILPOLISH is very often not red. A ROSE may be red, white, yellow, or other outlandish colors. Then, on the contrary, we'd all agree that MARS is "The red planet." A MERLOT is a red wine. A RADISH is a reddish veggie.

But CHILI? Yes, a chili can be red or green. But the dish as referenced in the clue is really sorta brownish, IMO. And then, we get REDCROSS, with the word red in the answer. I understand why, but maybe it shouldn't be in a cross.

Meh. I'm sounding like Rex. I think I started off on the wrong foot with 1A: WOMANISH. Nobody says this. Womanly, yes. Womanish? Not at all. And then you have the annoying OPALOCKA below it, which I required every cross to get. All this contributes a highly uninspiring NW, including ICEAX and SKAT.

Elsewhere, the fill is much better. PABST is a nice entry, as is PROSPERO. There's a little sense of colloquialism with ITSALIE, BUTWHY, and OOLALA (although I wanted an H at the end of OO). Some good clues include 17A: Something that's just not done at the dinner table? and 30D: One who's beyond belief? (ATHEIST). Well, that's me, and I'm out.

- Colum

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tuesday, March 10, 2015, Allan E. Parrish


Not one of my SPEEDIER efforts for a Tuesday.

We have an odd theme today: three longer answers where the second part is a synonym for a horse-drawn vehicle. MARTINLANDAU, very good in Ed Wood. PAPERCARRIAGE is a term I'd not heard before, and in my exhaustively brief Google search I just did two seconds ago, I did not find it. Typewriters have carriages, but they're not referred to as paper carriages. This is a scientific fact. Then you have BATTINGCOACH, which is completely fine. Is it enough? Yeah, it's fine, just not anything amazing.

Fortunately, the less theme, the better the fill, right? There are some nice choices here, including BABUSHKA, ACACIA and COBALT, ANCIENT, EXPOSE, and MISSPENT. Funny thing having TOSTADA across from TOSHIBA, Mexican meeting Japanese across a single black square (actually connected just below by GINSU).

Despite that, I didn't really GROK this puzzle on the whole. DCON and NAZI sit shoulder by shoulder. ORATES is an unaesthetic word. EXO crosses EXPOSE. I never heard of Karen GRASSLE, although Hope immediately knew she was the mother on "Little House on the Prairie."

An uninspiring theme, and fill I didn't love. On a Tuesday.

- Colum