Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sunday, May 31, 2015, Tom McCoy


I knew something was up when I confidently put in "Mount Everest" at 4D (Peak that's known as "the Great One") - confident, even though I had no idea if it was right (and it wasn't). It became clear quickly that something wasn't working out. Furthermore, the instructions indicated that there would be a phrase reading clockwise around the edges, and I didn't see how the words I was putting in (TEACH, PILLS) would fit into a phrase.

I got the idea at 15D: Catcher of some waves, where I had ADI____, and figured that had to start with [R]ADIO. The answers with the "projections" are symmetrically placed, with one extra at the start point, at the top central letter. It's always a challenge to figure out a clue when a letter is absent, but a fun one in this case. My favorite of the theme answers is DROPDOWNMEN[U], for the appropriateness of its direction.

And there's a nice payoff when you read the phrase around the edges: the added letters stick out like a SORE THUMB.

With so little in the way of actual theme, the puzzle is freed up to be a good one. It's almost like a 21 x 21 relatively easy themeless. This is best shown in the remarkably chunky middle section, where there the answers range from five to eight letters. SUHWEET was a fun surprise. COLOURS was clued nicely with the British ways of spelling gray and ocher. KELVINS is something we don't see often in the puzzle. 63D: Something you might get a kick out of? (KARATE) is a bit of a stretch from a cluing perspective. 66A: Gets harsher (HOARSENS) was not the kind of harsh I expected at first.

There are a fair amount of long answers that weren't theme related. 76A: Hockey team with a patriotic name (MAPLELEAFS) plays on our America-centric thinking to trick us. 78A: Distraction for many an idle person (SMARTPHONE) is well done and modern. SEMIANNUAL, ITSNOWONDER and HIBERNATION are all good words.

My hardest cross was at 5D: Rare notes and 20A: Kurt Vonnegut's "Happy Birthday, ____ June". The latter was made more difficult by 7D: Further, where I had put AdD instead of AND. I finally figured that the notes in the first clue were bank notes (TWOS for two-dollar bills). WAdDA didn't make sense, so I got the N. The SE corner was filled with question-mark clues, but they weren't terribly difficult.

Well, it's the last day of May. I guess we can look forward to some TOMFOOLERY when Horace takes over again tomorrow.

- Colum

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Saturday, May 30, 2015, Samuel A. Donaldson and Brad Wilbur


This has been a really great end of the week, from Thursday through today. A great way to usher in the end of my month of blogging - I hope Sunday lives up to it!

I love this kind of grid: from NW to SE flows with open spaces. The NE and SW corners are a little isolated, but the entrees into those areas are high quality words. Very little in the way of fill I didn't like. Let's get to it.

I knew 1D: Footwear donned on camera by Mr. Rogers (KEDS) immediately, and put in EMINENCE at 15A off of that. I got 6D: The bigger picture: Abbr. (ENL) with my Saturday solving hat on, but got stuck in that corner for lack of knowledge of Hagar the Horrible's dog's name (SNERT) or Newsman Holt et al. (LESTERS). As is often the case for me, the NW ended up being the last section I solved.

I got a smattering of answers, wrong (lewd for RACY, swirls for TWISTS) or right (MYNAS, ASHY, AWL) throughout the puzzle, but didn't really get going until Mr. Bertrand RUSSELL, which led naturally to 42A: Heads for the garden? (LETTUCES) and 38D: Cultured ones? (BACTERIA). I liked both of those.

ERUPTIVE was a guess, and the SE corner fell. I enjoyed the pairing of 33D: Where you might lose an hour (STATELINE) and 34D: It might gain you an hour (TIMESAVER). Mr. Isaac Asimov is always welcome in a grid, even if only represented by his BOLOTIE. I corrected the soft-serve ice cream answer, which helped find ADORATION, and completed the NE. ATANYRATE is a nice answer also.

52A: Chalked warning left for custodial staff (DONTERASE) is funny and highly unexpected. We also get ONESIE and the excellent 46D: Burn the midnight oil, e.g. (IDIOM), the sort of clue that gets me every time. I looked at ID_O_ for quite some time before twigging to the trick.

NONSTARTER and SMELLTEST go well together, the former not passing the latter. Who knew that OTTERS congregated in "rafts?" Well, I guess I do now. 36A: Pirates' place (DIAMOND) is another nice trick. I'd seen DIXIECRAT before, even referring to Mr. Strom Thurmond, but I needed much of the last syllable in crosses before I could fill it in. IMUPFORIT is a nice piece of vernacular.

My last word was DUXELLES, crossing ACEAWARD.

Best clue? 9D: Noted employee of Slate (FLINTSTONE). Way to hint at an up-to-date reference but actually go seriously retro.

- Colum

Friday, May 29, 2015, Patrick Berry


And here is the aforementioned Friday puzzle blog. I did not finish because of time constraints. And it's a shame, because Patrick Berry's puzzles usually fit right in my wheelhouse. I was doing great until the very last section, and I couldn't leave it and come back to it later.

In any case, it's an outstanding puzzle, and I have very little to complain about.

Lovely chunks of three 10-letter or three 9-letter answers make up the corners, and the center is approached through two more 9-letter answers. It makes for a nice chunky puzzle, with only three 3-letter answers.

I got off to a rough start when I confused my hecklephone with my euphonium and put "tuba" at 14A (OBOE). I put SUES in at 19A, and then moved elsewhere. I couldn't find purchase in the NE either, so I moved to the middle. I got ATE (28D: Took a course? great clue for a 3-letter), then put in SAINTHOOD (27A: Judas never attained it - nice clue) as well as GOTTO, KITS, and KIA (25A: Soul producer - also clever).

I recognized THEHEAT (pretty hilarious movie, actually), but then moved into the SE. HORSEHIDE fell immediately, and I put OZONE____ in at 31D, not knowing exactly what the end would be. Everything else in that corner went pretty quickly, including the two brand names HIHO and IZOD. I got out of the corner into the SW with all three downs at 45, 46, and 40. UPSTHEANTE was clear from that, but the other two took some time.

At this point, I remembered Lee TREVINO (never been a golf fan), and was able to clear the NE. INRAREFORM and STONEHENGE are nice answers. 11D: Very sad turnout (NOONE) is perhaps my favorite clue-answer pairing of the month. Brilliant. And look! LENTO makes a reappearance from Thursday, referencing Chopin obliquely, so I'm happy.

Now I remembered ABOUTABOY, which allowed me to correct OBOE, and fill in the NW. I even got the SW. ABUZZ (one of the rare A- words I'll accept) next to TYPEB is fine construction. So where was the problem? Why didn't I finish the puzzle?

It all comes down to 36A: Four-hour tour features? (EYERHYMES). I recognized that the clue was getting at the fact that the first three words ended in the same three letters. I've never heard the term before, but I get what it means, and I would have gotten there eventually, but I also had GusSIES at 34D (Broadway chorus dancers, informally). Which is pretty obviously wrong. As in no way close to being correct. It's not even a noun. But anyway, I couldn't see around it. And I couldn't parse 37D: Sub entries (HATCHES), so the H escaped me.

Anyway, awesome puzzle.

I'm back on schedule!!!

- Colum

Friday, May 29, 2015

Thursday, May 28, 2015, Jeff Chen


Wow, it's been busy up Albany way. My apologies for the extremely late Thursday blog entry, especially after reading Wednesday's comments. I'm looking forward to what people have to say about this puzzle too.

Before we get there, if anybody's around Albany June 5, 6, or 7, my daughter's acting group is putting on the really excellent Broadway musical, Once On This Island. I am the music director and band leader, and will be playing in the pit orchestra as well. Should be a lot of fun.

Okay. Back to the blog.

I always am happy to see Mr. Chen's name on a puzzle, because I know it will be clean and interesting, and this Thursday did not disappoint. The theme is very well done. EVEN ODDS is put across the middle, and each theme answer is made up of two shorter words whose letters, when placed in ALTERNATION, create a larger phrase.

We've seen this sort of thing done in Games magazine, of course, but it's very well done here. I love 16A: Hits hard + famed spokescow = some Bach compositions (CELLOSUITES, made up of "clouts" and "Elsie"), as well as 54A: Duke's ride + slowly = this puzzle's theme (the above mentioned ALTERNATION, made up of "A-train" and "lento" - we'll get to that latter answer in tomorrow's puzzle blog).

The others are very good as well, although not as virtuosic. I like BLUETITS the best, both for the strange image it brings to mind (if your mind is in the gutter) and the fact that it uses the word "butt". Heh heh... he said butt.

In the meantime, the remainder of the puzzle is pretty interesting as well. CLERISY was an unusual word, defined as "a distinct class of learned or literary people" on the Interwebz.  I like the informality of 3D: "Whoa, whoa, whoa - go back" (IMLOST). And 18A: Exceptional start? (BUT) is a clever clue for a common 3-letter answer.

I don't much like EINK (another blah E- answer). OOP is clued awfully strangely as an abbreviation for "out of print". I'd never heard of the Olympic Australis OPAL, and its crossing with UAE, clued as the location of Umm al-Quwain, was perhaps a bit unfair, but attainable.

Other great clues: 35A: Superior woman? (ABBESS). 31D: Bye line? (ADIEU) - short and sweet. Strange clue for HAITIAN - second oldest independent country in the New World is a lot of trivia. I love ENTROPY next to MESONS. That's some out there stuff.

- Colum

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Wednesday, May 27, 2015, Jim Quinlan


This is an odd theme, to be sure. We take common words (well, sometimes common, sometimes not, as I'll discuss below) where the second part of the word can be reinterpreted as a verb, and then make them contractions with "not" to amusing ends. I liked it very much when I first came across CATSCANT (23A: Jazz players are incapable). I liked it less with BUSHWASNT (35A: W. never existed). I mean, "bushwa"? Is that the underlying word? Apparently it means nonsense, which is what happened here. Where did the S in the final answer come from?

KATYDIDNT (55A: Singer Perry opted out) is straightforward and acceptable. ANIMUSTNT (18A: Singer DiFranco should heed a warning) comes close to working. But the T is again added in, and the word "animus" does not sound like "Ani must" because of that missing T. And then we get MATHISNT (49A: Calculus disappears). "Mathis"?! This is not a common word. It is a name (Johnny Mathis springs to mind), but then it's the only name used in the set of theme answers. I'm going to cry foul. I will say I liked the clues a lot, but I'm not sure why they're in italics.

I have to say that I thought I was going to love the puzzle from the NW section. OBAMA crossed with BIGEARS is great. I like ADOPTED and any reference to MARISA Tomei is a winner in my book. And there's lots of great stuff in the rest of the grid as well. SASHIMI next to TINYTIM. TOTEBAG and VANGOGH. I like PEERAGE, and OCTET above LOWNOTE is fun.

I didn't like the middle section, with OASES and OESTE right near each other, but they support CROUTON and KENNETH, so I can't complain too much. I've never heard of a SKIBOB, but it looks like a ton of fun.

There's some crosswordese scattered around, but I won't complain too much about it. Overall, the fill made up for the strangeness of the theme, and I guess that's what Wednesday is all about.

- Colum

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tuesday, May 26, 2015, Gareth Bain


This one had me at hello (1D: Lawn sport - BOCCE), and kept me happy all the way through. The theme is straightforward and reasonably well carried out. The Beatles revealer (ALLYOUNEEDISLOVE) tells you to put love before each half of each theme answer to get separate phrases. Some of them work better than others ("love game"? I'm not sure what that is), but each of the original answers feels genuine.

But it's the fill where this puzzle really shines, and it makes me feel that, more and more, it's the fill that makes me enjoy solving a crossword. I can appreciate a really well executed theme. But I like uncovering unusual long answers. And this one abounds in them.

9D: Cooked in a clay oven, as in India (TANDOORI) was very nice. I didn't need the portion of the clue about India, but it's a Tuesday. 23D: Like the best bonds (RATEDAAA) was excellent. I balked at putting those As in, but was happy when it turned out to be the right answer.

40D: One who's fluent in both JavaScript and Klingon, say (UBERGEEK) is outstanding. Hurrah for that clue and answer in every way! I like the pair of flowers, MAGNOLIA and DAHLIA, so close to each other. And Germaine GREER and Graham GREENE represent all the Gs you'd ever want in a pair of names.

The NW made me happy. TUSHES, above "Michael, row the boat ASHORE" above Alfred E. NEUMAN. Wonderful.

Are there things I'd rather do without? Sure. TERR is iffy. PLAX I've never heard of, but inferred pretty quickly. MLLE and BCE and ENS and MPAA are less than interesting abbreviations.

But how about that clue for ENTS? (65A: Foes of Saruman in "The Two Towers") So much better than "Tolkien creatures". And AOUT. I love it.


- Colum

Monday, May 25, 2015

Monday, May 25, 2015, Jennifer Nutt


And on this day we celebrate those men and women who have gone to fight in wars, the New York Times publishes a puzzle about... fingernails. Seems a mite trivial, but even in the grand scheme of things, a hangnail can really ruin your day.

That being said, the theme was definitely not clear until I finished the puzzle, and then not even until I realized that INAILEDIT was not "in ail edit" but rather "I nailed it!" That made more sense. And then I got that the last word of each of the other five long across answers are things you do with finger (or toe) nails. I like CIRCULARFILE the best of these, and SOCIALPOLISH the least. I wanted "social skills" to answer the clue "What a boor sorely lacks".

Six theme entries are a lot for a puzzle of this size, but it's nice that the fill is not sacrificed too much. Just looking at 1D, 2D, and 3D: HAVOC, ALIBI, NADIR. Those are some nice words. I don't like PRIER at all, although I see how tough it would have been to put "prior" in there. INURE is pretty tired fill by now, and TRINI has to use the Wayback Machine to find its way into 2015. But otherwise, nice stuff.

I like BABYLON, COVEN, SPRITE, and QUIP, which doesn't feel like it's shoved in there so that a Q can be represented. SIZE across SEIZE is a little redundant feeling, but they're independent words. Glad to see NORA refer to Ms. Ephron, rather than Nick and...

I think this puzzle felt a little like a Tuesday, but it was a good fun grid to work through.

- Colum

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday, May 24, 2015, Kevin G. Der


FWOE (32:24)

No theme is worth this.

But let's talk about the theme first anyway. In a 23x23 grid (big for a Sunday, I think) we get eight very long down answers, two 14-letters, four 19-letters, and two 20-letters, each of which hides, not necessarily in consecutive order, the names of well known cities. The cities, San Francisco, New York, London, Suez, Bombay, Calcutta, and Yokohama, are organized in a west to east fashion as you would on a world map, split at the International Date Line. Turns out which cities have been chosen is an important point as well.

Next, to make things more complex, there are 25 circled letters, which spell out "Around the World in Eighty Days. It is clever that the starting and ending points of the book's title are in the long clue that contains London, as that is where Phileas Fogg starts the titular journey. The pathway outlined by the letters is not an attempt to recreate a map of the world, thank goodness. Fogg visits each of the cities listed above in the course of his circumnavigation. Which explains why Suez (at only 500,000 population, the smallest of the cities by several hundred thousand. SF is next at 875,000, and all the others are over 3 million), and why Mumbai is called Bombay. Finally, as an extra touch, JULES VERNE is in the puzzle at 1D and 141D.

The long answers are, for the most part, completely acceptable. SAINTFRANCISCOLLEGE is pretty obscure, but I was able to infer it relatively easily. THENEWYANKEEWORKSHOP ran from 1989 to 2009, so that's recent enough, and it's a nice complete title. I don't like the "one's" in LETTINGONESHAIRDOWN. LEMONSQUEEZERS is fine, despite the unnecessary plural.

BORNTOBEMYBABY and THELONGKISSGOODNIGHT are both acceptable in their entirety; the former made it to number 3 on the Billboard top 100, although I didn't recognize while listening to it just now. The latter I never saw, and it gets a 67% on Rotten Tomatoes, so that's not terrible.

YOUKNOWWHATIMSAYING is a nice piece of vernacular. SPECIALCOURTMARTIAL is exactly what the clue says: a midlevel military trial, rather than a summary (for minor misconduct) or a general (for major crimes). So overall, the theme does exactly what it sets out to do, and it's pretty clever, and clearly a lot of hard work.

The downside is the huge (and I mean immense) amount of junk you have to slog through in order to get there. There is no section of the puzzle that is free of stuff I do not ever want to have to see. And how many of them cross each other? FANON and RAO?! (The A was my FWOE). NAHUM and OSH?!?! UHOH, OHOK and OOH; NABE, YAWL, KCAR; ERIN, ERIS and IRIS; EROO; UHURA right above OHARA. I could go on. And on. And on. I did not enjoy it.

A few clues that raised my spirits a little: 89A: Act the rat (GNAW) - I was looking for "tell". 91A: It's folded before a meal (TACO). A Mikado reference (KOKO). 154A: One following an order (FRIAR), without any annoying question mark. 162A: Do a body scan? (OGLE). And the best one of all: 125D: A neighbor (GSHARP). That's fine stuff, there.

- Colum

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saturday, May 23, 2015, Peter Wentz

16:30 (FWOE)

A very enjoyable Saturday themeless. I broke in with AESOP, fresh off of Thursday's use of the same entry, and immediately put ESKIMOKISS in at 17A. I even entered HYENA, NOEL, HIM, and TSKS in the same quadrant, but my mind couldn't parse what was necessary for the other long acrosses, so I moved on. I do feel that, like Horace has mentioned in comments recently, if I had done this puzzle cooperatively, I would have finished a good deal faster.

The next place I found purchase was in the SW. I like the dual "Wager" entries of PLACEABET and OVER, and 59A: Solution for poor eyesight? (RENU) is cute. LERNER is a gimme for me, as was THECURE. I love SNARFS! What a great word. EBOLA is not as pleasant an image. In any case, this gave me the entire SE quickly.

It's a nice set of 3 long answers: ROCKGARDEN, FLOODLIGHT, and SANDPAPERS; although I dislike the use of the last in a verb form, the clue is good ("Takes the edge off?"). 44D: Retweeting of rave reviews, possibly (EGOTRIP) is outstanding. On the other hand, the use of ONEHR is not great.

Working into the middle of the puzzle, I had OINK (another nice clue), but no feeling of how to proceed. I got the trick in 36A: Something to keep a watch on (WRIST), and 29D: Colon, on a test (ISTO) briefly had me thinking of gastrointestinal procedures before I cottoned to the SAT reference. FREECLIMB is excellent: I initially had "soloCLIMB" before getting that without assistance means with no ropes, etc. My one error in the puzzle came at 30D: Modern collection of vendors (ETSY). I had MTn at 40A, and I thought, oh yeah, "Etny", that website where you can buy directly from the artists. Oh, well.

Got CLOWNCAR (very nice clue there), which opened up the middle, and helped me finish the middle W and then the NW. HATCHETJOB is very good, as is YEAHIMSURE. Has anybody ever eaten a SCOTCHEGG? Looks a little artery-clogging, don't you think?

Other nice things to mention: 22A: Not together (APIECE) in the same row as 25A: All together (ENBLOC). 38A: Used as a base (STOODON) was not what I was thinking about at all when I first saw the clue. 10D: Words before a date (BESTBY) always gets me. 14D: Part of a countdown (SONG) made me want to put a number in. CHESHIRE is a nice entry with a good piece of trivia clue.

Very nice.

- Colum

Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday, May 22, 2015, David Woolf


Wow, this went by fast. It helped that I put in SEALEDWITHAKISS as my first entry. And can I just say that this puzzle shows how stacks can work? First off, there are 6 really solid 15-letter answers, with only one of them using a plural to fit in. And the clues are pretty darned good for those entries also.

16A: Like a hot mess (ALLOVERTHEPLACE) is fine, but 17A: Where everything has been checked (BAGGAGECAROUSEL) is better. I had the first part of the clue entered on its own for a short time until I got more down answers later in the stack.

The lower set of three are better. 50A: They're good for the long haul (TRACTORTRAILERS) is the lone plural, but it fits well. The best clue is at 53A: Game with one round (RUSSIANROULETTE). That's superb stuff there. And no unnecessary question mark! 54A: Like many floor cleaners (ONHANDSANDKNEES) is clever in the exchange of the inanimate "floor cleaners" products for the ones doing the floor cleaning.

So, having put together some fine stacks, do the crosses suffer? Sure, we can pull out some questionable items. 6D: U. wish? (DEG) is a stretch. MILERUN is what the race is called, but feels awkward. Don't we just say the record for running the mile? 52D: I.R.S. employee: Abbr. (AUD) is really not good. Why is that "Abbr." in the clue? Isn't the abbreviation of Internal Revenue Service enough to express an abbreviation in the answer? DTEN is marginal: I like the reference to Battleship, but the mixture of letter and number, not so much.

But in other answers and clues, there's some excellent stuff. 7D: Get a lock on, e.g. (WRESTLE) is a nice piece of misdirection. 39D: Light bite site (BISTRO) was a cute clue. I love 49D: Web content (SILK). Did not expect that direction at all.

Weird to have ELANTRA and TANTRA both in the grid. HANGS is right next to HOMIE, which makes sense. ACUPS is a Huygens entry, IASSUME. And how about 18A: F-, H-, and I-, but not G- (ANION)? That's a pretty clever clue.

Those are some pretty serious muscles, there.

- Colum

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Thursday, May 21, 2015, Peter A. Collins


Well, this was a welcome respite from the last three days of so-so puzzles. I had a sense that something was "up" when I got to 16A: Scarlatti's style and couldn't figure out what they were looking for. Especially since I was pretty sure 10D: ___ nova was BOSSA.

In the end, I didn't figure out the theme until I'd gotten the revealer (RAISEDTHEBAR). I love that. It's a clever theme and a nice genuine phrase that explains it. Once that showed up, I went around to the places that didn't make sense and filled in the BAR above each answer. Obviously [BAR]OQUE is my favorite, but [BAR]TSIMPSON is excellent for the use of his entire name. [BAR]RIERREEF leaves a wonderfully peculiar collection of letters at 36A. [BAR]BIES is the least interesting. I should also mention that four of the five words with the raised "bar" are nicely done: BARK, BARGE, BARE, and BARNSTORM, while the last, BARO, is just meh.

So that's a fair amount of theme material, all symmetrically placed (with respect to the answers below the "bar"). The exchange is really not too bad in terms of fill. AQI stands out as a "huh?" answer. The NW is filled with GAELIC (24D) terms and the unlikable ABBR, but it does have EGGO as well, and that's a winner. In the proper names dept. we have ERTE, REZA, ELIE, and ERNST, none of which are very aesthetic, but we also get AESOP (with the nice clue "Moral authority?).

Some words I don't particularly like are DEBTEE, which I presume is acceptable but never used except in legalese; CORING, which just seems like a stretch; THEFORE (5D: A place of prominence), which I've only heard in the setting of "to the fore"; and AXEHEAD (45D: Business end of a chopper), which, again, is truly what it's called, but seems awkward.

Words I did like include MRSDASH, REELECT, BARNSTORM, and EARTHSIGN. I liked the clue for 47A: Exclamation that's made up of two shorter exclamations (AHOY). Otherwise not too many interesting clues.

Well. After looking it all over, perhaps not as good a puzzle as I'd thought. But I liked the theme, and so I'll give it a thumbs up overall.

- Colum

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wednesday, May 20, 2015, Jacob Stulberg


I don't know that I've ever seen a theme quite like this one before: a 4-letter words is repeated three times and respaced to create a wacky sentence. The first one is the least successful: VISAVISAVISA (vis-a-vis a visa), in that the new splitting is not surprising enough. But it definitely gets better as it goes down.

ABELABELABEL (Abe label Abel) gets a nod for referencing the Simpsons. Although in looking it over right now, I realize I'd misrecalled the clue, thinking it said only "Grampa", not the full "Grampa Simpson." I would have liked the first better. This theme answer though still doesn't get it quite right, because the wacky sentence simply is weird rather than interesting.

The third theme answer is RIDERIDERIDE (rider I deride). This is much better. I like that the middle word disappears entirely in the reimagined phrase. It's not exactly wacky, but I enjoyed the use of the word "jeered" in the clue. It's also the odd one out because it's the only one where the original 4-letter word does not appear in the wacky phrase.

57A: Detective catches sight of bakery wares? (PIESPIESPIES, or P.I. espies pies) is the best of the bunch. It's amusing when you figure out the private investigator, and the concept of a detective being on the lookout for a bunch of pies is amusing.

So, yeah.

Anyway, the rest of the puzzle is pretty standard stuff. You get a threesome of baseball references at 1A (SACS), 12D (ASH), and 13D (MET). You get a duo of Huygens material with MESH and LEWD. That last has a very peculiar clue: "Off-color, plus" - is that meant to be "beyond off-color?" I think so. I've just not seen that usage before.

There's very little interesting in the cluing either. I like 55A: Wordless harrumphs (SNORTS) and 59A: It might make a shadow disappear (RAZOR). Otherwise, pretty bland.

I was amused by working out the theme. Beyond that, nothing much to rave about.

- Colum

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tuesday, May 19, 2015, Allan E. Parrish


It's a simple theme: rearrange the letters AEGLN into four 5-letter words and make 11- and 12-letter answers with the words. Does it work? I like JESSICALANGE. I do not like CONRADNAGEL (who? turns out he was in 54 silent movies and 57 talkies between 1918 and 1959). 27A: It's not right (OBLIQUEANGLE) gets best clue among the four. FALLENANGEL is very good. Three out of four is pretty good but not great.

Could we have done better? Let's see. Thomas Nagel is a well-known philospher and professor at Columbia, but that hardly seems less recherche than Conrad. I would have enjoyed "vein of Galen", which is one of the large draining veins of the brain. "Glean" seems essentially unusable. So perhaps I'm picking nits, but I would like all four theme answers to have the same level of "pop."

The rest of the fill is not remarkable exciting. AEIOU is sort of silly stuff, and RIATA is stale as they come. AZT, GEO, GRR, NAN (I'd spell it "naan", myself), OTC, OOX (!!!), UGH crossing UGG, and even FALALA, are all poor fill. And that's a lot. And seriously, ASTI again? That's the fourth time in a week. YAYA. Oof.

I like BOLSHOI. BRANDI and MIA fill the quota of women U.S. soccer players. AGGREGATE is a fine down answer, better than LETSDANCE, which I think most of us would like to forget is a David Bowie song.

Finally, what's with 57D (KNOW) being clued by a Minnesota radio station on a Tuesday? Especially with all of those annoying 3-letter answers providing the crosses. Seems out of line with the rest of the puzzle.

So I guess I'm giving it a thumbs down.

- Colum

Monday, May 18, 2015

Monday, May 18, 2015, Gene Newman


The only reason I was over 4 minutes was because I was seduced by the theme into trying to figure out the long answers from the clues instead of just working the down clues. But that's a good reason, in my mind. The four examples of Tom Swiftys are really quite good, especially since all four are 11-letter answers. Of course, my favorite is 61A: OFFHANDEDLY. That's laugh out loud stuff.

Meanwhile, the fill is reasonably good, Tom said puzzlingly. Sure, you've got your STS, OLA, YTD, TDS stuff, Tom said shortly, but you also get things like SEISMIC, Tom said querulously, SAMOSAS, Tom said mouthwateringly, and ANNIE, Tom said trivially. You know, that stuff is pretty hard to do well. Nothing along the line of: "Yeah, they had to amputate both at the ankles," Tom said defeatedly.

Enough of that.

I appreciate the middle swath of 5-letter answers, as well as the chunks of fill in the middle W and E. Otherwise I don't have too much else to add.

Tom said sparingly.

(Shout out to Cece for the last Swifty).

- Colum

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday, May 17, 2015, Joe Krozel


I've definitely seen this sort of theme in the past: the portmanteau-ing of several phrases. I like this version because of the way nouns are flipped to become verbs twice each series. My favorite of the words that play double-duty are "bus" and "coin". Others are fairly routine. We've seen many of these sorts of word-plays in Games magazine and elsewhere. "Return" would make the top of my list, only taxes.

The effect of all of these long theme answers (two 21-letters, two 20-letters, and two 19-letters) is that the grid becomes choppy and east-west oriented. The longest north-south answers are 7-letters, and there are only four of those. It wasn't really a problem, though, as the level of difficulty of this Sunday felt much more like a Tuesday than a Wednesday/Thursday (which I understand is the goal level for a Sunday).

Some nice clues, however, I'll take notice of. I liked the ambiguity of 11A: Racetrack figure (ODDS). I was expecting a jockey or something. Similarly, 32A: Put in a hold (STOW) was not what I'd expected. 80A: Additions (SUMS) made me want to put "ells" in. The real answer is better. 87A: Diamond worker (BATBOY) didn't fool me for a second.

114A: People with belts do them (KARATEKICKS) is one of my favorites, both for the silliness of the clue and for the fact that there are three Ks in the answer. The other excellent one (and symmetrically placed) is 19A: Group of companies (MARINECORPS). Took me a long time to get that one. 19A: And look! 117A: Herring type (SHAD) proves my point from a while back: no S at the end.

2D: Makeup of some sheets (RAIN) is great, and reminds me of a quote from Welcome to Nightvale (which see - it's a podcast). There weren't many ? clues, (for which I'm grateful) and the ones I saw were not particularly tricky. My favorite is probably 55D: Record of the year? (ANNALS).

I know some here will like the reference to KARENS (Carpenters), but I dislike the unnecessary S. In the same vein, I really dislike 118A: Pro responses (YESSES). I think it should be "yeses". I see that both are allowed, but I don't get why the extra S. Analogously to "buses", I would prefer, but on the other hand, "busses" is clearly a different word.

I would class this puzzle as a perfectly passable Sunday. Nothing special, nothing horrifying.

- Colum

Saturday, May 16, 2015, Byron Walden


An all-around excellent Saturday, I'd say. I have to acknowledge that without Hope's help, I'd still be muddling around.

My first entry was ADAMS, clued with a reference to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, so that's a winner right there, in my book. I don't recall if I guessed UPDATED immediately, or if I came back to that later. While it's certainly true that news blogs are "updated", typically, it's such a blandly a propos adjective, that I'm surprised I spotted it. LEAKING came next, and then EDGERS, but the rest of the corner took some time to get to. Didn't help that EPEE was clued via a proper name rather than the typical fencing reference.

I had NOOR in the SE, and ASHARP (a gimme) in the SW, without much traction. I put ASTI in at 37A (it's a plague of Asti!!), but misguessed INfact at 40D. That's when Hope said "Wasn't Deva a HINDUGOD?" The SW immediately fell, allowing SLEPTAROUND (nice answer), and clarified that 45A: ___-com was referring to ROM and not "dot".

In fact, the middle was filled out pretty quickly, including AVERAGESOUT, which is a very nice answer to the clue 28A: Moves toward the middle. I initially was thinking politically rather than statistically. The very tough NARIS took a long time to figure out - we know that body part more commonly through its plural, nares. Part of the problem was that 25D: "You ____?" had many possible answers. I tried "there" first, then switched it to "agree" before finally figuring out AGAIN.

I don't love CLOSETROD. I know it's what the item in question is called (and I knew it was what the clue was referring to), but it just feels like a nothing word. Nonetheless, The middle gave me BULLYFORHIM, which clarified the NE. I love the reference to Roberto CLEMENTE with a nice piece of trivia.

Hope immediately volunteered REDDIAPERBABIES for 31A: Children of American Communists. Clearly, this was the seed for the puzzle, and it's an evocative and fascinating phrase. It took some time to figure out the NW at this point, only because I'd put "hexa" in at 24A: Sixth in a series. I wanted CIRCE for 21A: Goddess of magic, but the ___RxED at the end of 3D wasn't getting me anywhere, until Hope suggested IMPORTED. 2D: Welcome out (REPRIEVE) was a really nice clue and answer.

Finally, the SE fell. BONESMAN is a lovely entry (although I don't like what it's referring to). TITMICE always gets me because of the alternative pluralization. SHRINERS is wonderfully clued with the reference to the Imperial Divan. And finally, 55A: Tail waggers? (MOONERS) is awesome.

- Colum

Friday, May 15, 2015

Friday, May 16, 2015, David Phillips


A really tricky Friday, all around! Initials were used in a number of places, along with a number of proper names I didn't know and a slew of smart clues.

Color me silly for not remembering that it was KIMJONGUN and not Kim Jong Il or Kim Il Sung, both of which I tried in one form or another. In addition, before I even got there, I chose to enter Bill Russell as the Celtics Hall-of-Famer, instead of KCJONES. It took me a long time to remember his name, despite watching him coach all those great Celtics teams of the 80s. Add in the obscure INACLAIRE, and that corner was tough. I did remember DARKANGEL though.

21D: Grp. of 300 people? (PBA) was seriously tough to get. The crosses were fair for a Friday, though.

The second part of GIGAHERTZ was the first thing I put in the grid with any degree of certainty. I got STRASSE, ART (cute clue there), and AGE quickly, but it took a long time to get into the SW. At first I put in usMAGAZINE, which frankly makes little sense, given the slogan. I got the GQ much later. Very racy answer at 33D, which I expect Huygens will enjoy. The QUEENIE reference I couldn't get without most of the crosses.

SYNTHETIC is a fine word, tough to get off the succinct clue ("Fake"). 53A: Families often share them (DATAPLANS) had me going down the wrong path for a while, thinking of genetic traits. 59A: ones getting passes (RECEIVERS) is precise and clever. Best clue in the puzzle, IMO.

LOCALTV, IMPEI, and ADAWARE added to the toughness of the SE corner. Fortunately, I knew ODIN, and could figure out PILSNER off a couple of crosses. Mmmmm... beer...

29A: Goes one step too far? (TRESPASSES) would have ranked up there with 59A, had the question mark been removed. Clearly unnecessary here. 20D: Top-secret disguises? (TOUPEES) is really excellent cluing as well. So is 27D: Experience a minor crash? (NAP). Great stuff.

I don't like RERATES, ATTIRER, or INSCALE (the last feels like it should be "to scale"). The two French possessives (ATOI, SES) are mildly annoying place fillers. I've heard of Stephen AMBROSE, but I couldn't have recalled him at all without most of the crosses here.

But despite all that, a fine Friday.

- Colum

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Thursday, May 14, 2015, Kameron Austin Collins


Thursday took more time than Monday through Wednesday combined! I loved this theme, but it was a real challenge for me to visualize as I was doing the puzzle. There were times I recognized that a theme answer was required in a particular section, but couldn't get any further.

The grid is designed to literally BURSTOUT/LAUGHING, with understood "ha"s sitting outside the boundaries of the puzzle. What's really nice about the layout is that half of the twelve theme answers have the"ha" at the beginning of the word and half at the end. In addition, the collection of theme answers are nicely varied in the way the "ha" is used.

Best theme answers for me are [HA]IRYLEGS, [HA]VEWEMET, YOUBETC[HA], and APOCRYP[HA]. I figured the theme out, sort of, when I came across 46A: Big ____ (W.W. I Weapon). I knew the answer (BERT[HA]), but tried putting in a rebus at first, which clearly didn't work with 40D. I came around to it eventually.

Other non-theme entries I liked include SHRIVEL and FERRERO, because chocolate.

Odd entries I liked included 32D (NOUNS), for the ludicrous clue. The "Trial and error, e.g." style clue is spurned for the insanity of multiple versions of the word "buffalo" (for a nice parsing of this sentence, go here. In related entries, 57A: Bases for basses (HOMONYMS) had me confused for a while.

How is it I always manage to choose the wrong answer for 19A: Lead-in to haw (YEE)? Once I chose hEE, I went with MANhouR for 3D, which threw the entire corner off for quite some time. I wished for a different clue for 49A: Shostakovich symphony "Babi ___" (YAR). Couldn't we have referenced Katharine Hepburn somehow?

I will go on record as saying that I do not think of a TOPKNOT as being a stylish hairdo, let alone a "bun" at all. The clue for 15D (ARTBRUT) is pretty much word for word correct, but I'd not come across the term before.

21D: "Late" news item (OBIT) was obvious with the quotation marks. In this case, I might have preferred "Late news item?" I liked the pair of 23D: Catch (NAB) and 40D: Caught (GOT) in symmetric positions.

A good, challenging Thursday (for me). Looking forward to the rest of the turn!

- Colum

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Wednesday, May 13, 2015, Jeffrey Wechsler


This played very easy for a Wednesday. I have to say, I'm pretty impressed with the density of theme in this 15 x 15 puzzle. There are 7 theme answers, with one 8-letter, two 9-letter, and four 10-letter answers. I had the theme filled in quickly, which helped my time a lot.

The theme is fun as well, in that it's the hundredth anniversary month of ORSONWELLES birth. His name was the first theme that I entered fully, only because I figured out THETHIRDMAN but before putting in the last two letters, I went to 61A. Weird the way the crosswording mind works. The only theme answer after that that I needed crosses for was TOUCHOFEVIL, and only because I needed some reference to figure out which movie was being referred to.

Pleasantly, though, the rest of the puzzle has some really nice parts to it. The NW and SE corners have outstanding down answers. KITTENISH is great, and OPALESCE is unusual, to say the least. I'm sure 37D: What the original Kama Sutra lacked, surprisingly (EROTICART) acted as a MOTIVATOR for our good friend Huygens.

It's true that the theme density requires a larger than usual number of 3-letter answers, especially across the middle section, where the three theme answers are adjacent, but none of them were terrible (maybe RRS), and I'm fine with them. ASTI two days running? Looks like I picked the wrong city to display yesterday.

I liked the clue for 10D: They're often seen nesting in the kitchen (PANS). Other than that, 47D: Bryophytic growths (MOSSES) gets the award for most overly erudite synonym usage.

I liked it.

- Colum

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tuesday, May 12, 2015, Paul Hunsberger


Why do we have to have circles? Wouldn't it be more fun to figure out the theme without the visual aid? In this case, I didn't really need the help, but once you get what's going on, the circles enable you to fill in letters without any crosswording skillz. Yeah, I'm just that street, that I can put a 'z' on the end of a word to make it look more interwebsy.

That being said, I liked todays theme, especially in that the first appearance of the word BAND is split across two words (URBANDESIGN). BROADMINDED and WHIPPERSNAPPERS are fine entries. I will pick a nit with HAREBRAINEDIDEA: I expect it's allowable, but I would more typically think of a "scheme" as being hare-brained, and in fact, that's what comes up on Google first. But it's a small nit, because "idea" works fine.

I really enjoyed LANDHO for some reason, as well as SWINDLED and USURPS. The latter gets real kudos for being put against the edge of the puzzle in the SE. Had to come up with two words that end in U, and the choices of URDU and NASSAU are both acceptable. I also liked the reference to LEN Cariou, who so masterfully originated the roles of Sweeney Todd and Fredrik Egerman on Broadway.

I really did not like REEARN. AIRER has been a longtime bugaboo of mine. No other frankly annoying words, but a ton of 3-letter answers, 28 of them, and that adds a lot of blah to a puzzle. ITA, ASL, ENS, AGR, MST, SNL, etc. NPR always is okay, especially when the clue references "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!" Speaking of which, how many of the loyal readers of this blog have listened to "Ask Me Another"? It's right out of Games Magazine, but funnier.

ELD, though.

- Colum

Monday, May 11, 2015

Monday, May 11, 2015, Joe Dipietro


Very little in this puzzle was objectionable: it's a fine example of a Monday, although it played just a bit slow for me. Not sure why.

The theme is straightforward: _ALLOF____, with good examples of the form in all four entries. CALLOFDUTY is the most modern (I suppose FALLOFROME has to be the most classic, right? See what I did there?). Is it a problem that one of the two long down clues also has a rhyming word in it (SMALLWORLD)? Or that WALLE is right there as well? I don't mind it.

I couldn't for the life of me recall GENESISKEL's name. I had Gary Siegel there for a brief and shining moment (shining for Mr. Siegel, whoever he is... okay, I just Googled the name, and came up with Gary Siegel Therapy, with brain mapping and neurofeedback, so that's pretty cool).

Things I didn't like: ENWRAP. I really hate this en- business. It's nearly as bad as the a- family of words, such as "awhirl". TARO,  RUHR, and OMAN are the daily groan of crosswordese (we're going to make this fly, folks!).

Things I did like: FLUFFY, CELLO (I love my Yo-yo Ma recording of the solo Bach suites), IMSET, and PAWSAT.

All right, I'm done. Good Monday.

- Colum

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sunday, May 10, 2015, Jacob Stulberg


What a massive dull struggle this was. For the record, I like the theme a lot. The idea of embedding a poem in its entirety is interesting, and WILLIAMCARLOSWILLIAMS is a poet I'm fond of. It's interesting that the poem's name, THELOCUSTTREEINFLOWER has the same number of letters as its author's name. The poem in use is the second version, much pared down to its essential images.

I don't really mind that sometimes the poem's words are embedded in longer entries, whereas in other answers, the word in question is a separate thing. That being said, the best ones are MASTIFF and CUCAMONGA. GREENING is not a word I want to see in the puzzle.

That's it for the theme. And the price we pay is the fill. My goodness, I was unhappy with the fill. So many, many, many abbreviations. How would you like it if I wrote the blog post entirely in abbreviations? It wd gt anyg qkly. And so does this puzzle.

TKT UNH VAC (I don't even know how that gets in) CPA MNO (better than the others) RRR (hmmmm) TLC SLR CTN AAA SPCA MSN YTD GTOS LTS BRB SOC TCM ANAT (not actually a subject on the MCATs, but whatever) REC EXO EDS GST. Wow, that's a lot. And when one abbreviation crosses another, it can be a total guessing game (like GST and SPCA).

Beyond those, we get ANGERER, IRONERS, ELIST, and SALIENCES, all of which I have major problems with for one reason or another. Not to mention your usual gaggle of crosswordese. You know, there really ought to be a collective noun for crosswordese entries. I nominate a "shrug of crosswordese." OTO, CYAN, NANO, EDO, IODATE (blah), etc. etc.

Things I liked in the fill: GLIA, for obvious reasons. 98D: What may make you duck down? (EIDERS). 71D: Harp's home key (CFLAT) - which I didn't know and would never have guessed. Why not B? Not clear even after research on the Interwebz. BUTCHERED is a good word. I enjoyed PEGLEG crossing ROLLINGGAIT, as I imagine those two would go together. And an opportunity was missed somehow with 99D: Certain salt, to connect in with those other two.

It was a slog, and I didn't enjoy myself.

- Colum

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Saturday, May 9, 2015, Kristian House


A puzzle that fulfilled it's purpose to ENTERTAIN me. I felt like I was on the same wavelength almost all the way through the puzzle, up until the final corner, in the SW, about which more later. It started with 1D: Like some castles and zoo exhibits (MOATED), which went in immediately. I had ONEofFOUR initially, which sort of makes sense, but isn't quite right. ONEINFOUR works better. I also put NFl instead of NFC, so that slowed the NW somewhat.

I moved down the middle, where REAM was a good guess, giving me METOO, but that was it for that section for a while. So then YUM allowed SPYGLASS (nice Jack Sparrow reference there - the first movie was a heck of a lot of fun, if only for Mr. Depp's performance), and then the too obvious SUTURE (25A: Surgeon's closing line?).

In very quick fashion, the NE and NW fell. I liked 10D: Royal who toured the U.S. in the late 1970s (KINGTUT) which was apparent from the ___GT__. BATARANG is a great entry, and EVOLUTION gave us DARWIN as well. I feel like we've seen ASIFICARE very recently, but it's still a fun answer. I didn't know ISADORE or SEAHARE from the three letters I had at the start of each, so I moved around to the SW.

This corner was definitely the hardest. Although, I did get PANTYLINE off of the P alone, which felt like a coup. The problems with this corner weren't really that the answers were unfair, it's just that there were so many proper names or foreign words in one area. AGHA, YENTAS, MARIN, SALINAS, HADES, and the completely unfamiliar AGENA (that final A was the last letter in the puzzle, and it was a shot in the dark).

That being said, I love GOESGAGA, and HUNKERED is an outstanding word, so I'm not too upset. In fact, I had BIDET before the rest of this corner, and that gave entry to the SE, which I finished first. DOCTORWHO was a gimme. I like the clue for 53D: Hamstrings or kneecaps (HURTS). ARCHIE Griffin was a complete guess off of _R__H__. REHONE is a blah answer.

Cece liked OWIE.

- Colum

Friday, May 8, 2015

Friday, May 8, 2015, Ian Livengood


Wow. Now this is a nice Friday themeless. I love all the long answers, and the fill is almost entirely excellent as well.

We'll start with those nice 11-letter and 12-letter entries. It's great to have two full names in the grid, both ROGERFEDERER and SIMONCOWELL. That last gets one of the best clues in the puzzle as well: Fox hunt leader of old. There's a hidden capital, and the "of old" makes you think further back than, say, 2010.

ANKLEMONITOR took me a while to figure out. I got the idea as soon as ICERINKS (17A: Checking locales - ha!) went in, but I couldn't parse the second half. STONEMASONS, ELECTRICFAN, and NOISEMAKERS round out the long answers.

But the rest is also high quality. SNAPCHAT (which my daughter uses continuously) gives a contemporary air to the puzzle from the start. GREEKGOD is an unusual word to find in the last across of the puzzle, and also allows the presence of COACHK which looks great in the grid.

I was always a big fan of the original IRONCHEF: totally over the top. Cece is into Cutthroat Kitchen, which is good fun as well, but it's clearly a descendant of the original cooking contest show. HESSIAN is a good piece of trivia (35A: Participant in the Battle of Saratoga, 1777) - they fought with the British. I am reminded of Patience: "While a lover's professions/When uttered in Hessians/Are eloquent ev'rewhere!" I suppose those Hessians are different - on researching it, apparently they are a style of military boots.

Some clues: 21A: Something well-kept? (OIL). That one took me until well after I finished to understand. It's tortured in a good way. I also like 9D: Total zoo (CHAOS) and 46A: Whole lot of nothing (VOID) as examples of straightforward but fun clues.

Didn't like HALITE or ETRADE, but they're a small price to pay. Here's hoping tomorrow keeps up the good feelings!

- Colum

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Thursday, May 7, 2015, Tracy Gray

16:30, or DNF

If you go by Horace's rule that running the alphabet is a DNF, then that's what happened here. Or, if you ascribe to the rule that a truly bad crossing of UAL and LAC absolves the solver of any discrediting, then it's a FWOE instead.

I ought to have figured out the theme much earlier than I did, which is usually the case when there's a rebus involved. I looked at 23A: 1932 Ford featured in "American Graffiti", when I already had DEU_____ and thought, that looks like "deuce coupe," but there's not enough room. And then again with 37D: Some New Orleans music (ZYD[ECO]). This time, I thought, that looks like a rebus, but would it be zy[de][co]? That seemed unlikely, so I moved on.

I finally broke it after having entered GOINGGREEN, and then figured out S[ECO]NDNATURE. I love the way the rebus is ensconced in the various answers, with WILE[ECO]YOTE being the best. It seems, shall we say, random, where the rebus squares are, which added a touch of unpredictability to the solving. When they're symmetrical, it gives too much away. On the other hand, I am not, nor have ever been, a fan of "eco" being shorthand for "green" or even "ecologically conscious." Too often it appears in puzzles as an annoying 3-letter answer.

Speaking of which, there are an awful lot of those in this puzzle. The aforementioned pair above, as well as LCD, and NSC, which I always confuse with NSA. It wasn't helped in this puzzle by the meh answer EOLIC. And the even more annoying ELHI also appears. Double meh. Not to mention EEOC. Blah.

38A: One going bald over time? (TIRE) is cute. Cece got 10D: Bye at the French Open? (ADIEU). 20D: Centipede creator (ATARI) was a nice nod to a bygone gaming system. Otherwise, the cluing was unremarkable.

Not the greatest Thursday, in my book.

- Colum

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Wednesday, May 6, 2015, Joe Krozel


Il quattro stagioni, as Vivaldi would have it. I love the diagonals, and the six lettered AUTUMN. The semi-revealer in the middle is a nice touch: 35A: Noted quartet (SEASONS). It puts me in mind of a magical evening I spent in April, 1985 at Sainte Chapelle in Paris, listening to the entire Four Seasons. That's over 30 years ago now, but it stays as bright in my memory as anything.

The grid is very nice, in my opinion. Each corner is chunky, with sevens and sixes abounding. What is most interesting is the difficulties that are created by forcing the season names into the diagonal. We get EEEE and IIII (I like the latter much more, because of its clue), not to mention MME, EPEE, and AANDW. I suspect with the progression of natural English spelling on the diagonal, the standard crossword style layering of English is stretched.

I love STRIFE at 1A, an excellent entry to the puzzle, although my first answer entered was the unusual TENTONS. Also nice in that corner is SNUB (27A: Not send an expected invitation, say) and STAIR (31A: It may be a step up).

The NW has the unfortunate ALUMINA and the hitherto unheard acronym OMB (even in its full sense, The Office of Management and Budget doesn't get a lot of press). Furthermore, I like neither the sentiment of 17A, nor the violence associated with it, although the answer GUNBELT is not bad.

I liked the entry into the SW with GUTHRIE, an excellent example of tolerance to oppose to the Texan xenophobic sentiment. I do not like UNRESTS. This is really not an acceptable plural. Would you ever refer to the recent difficulties in various places in the US as the "unrests in Baltimore and Ferguson"? I think not. LADINO is an interesting term which I've seen before, and is apparently extant yet.

The SE is much better. RESPECT, KNOTTY, WILDCAT, DIALECT. SHIRR is a word we only see in the crossword, but the definition is precisely what is given in the clue. AIRACES is a silly bit of nonsense. I do not accept the premise.

Overall, I thought the puzzle solved smoothly, despite the various issues above. I enjoyed it, and kudos to Cece who caught the theme before I did.

- Colum

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Tuesday, May 5, 2015, Michael Blake and Andrea Carla Michaels


This is a cute theme. I know some in the field of NYT crossword blogdom might decry the fact that the initial theme entry is split into two parts, but I say "Fie" to them. "Fie, sir, Fie!" Wouldn't it be great if we lived in the time when you could capitalize words indiscriminately? My goodness, I'm taken with the Idea.

SWEET/GEORGIABROWNIE won me over. Maybe it's because I made Brownies on Sunday. You may or may not know that our Domicile here in (recently) sunny Albany is a Haven for Chocaholics. So much so, Indeed, that Desserts of a non-chocolate Variety are frowned upon. Despised, I say! It makes one long for a Peach Cobbler (to extend the Georgia Metaphor).

The other them'd Entries are p'raps not so Highly esteem'd. You, Sir, or even Madam, I daresay, should any of my Priz'd Readers be of the Gentler Sex, may disagree with this Solver's Opining, but for my Part, each Entry went downhill as I solv'd Further. The Revealer, howsoe'er, has a Fine Ring to't. ADDIE. A fine Wit, Sir! A fine Wit!

There were, on the Whole, some Answers within the Fill, whose Quality escap'd me. CASITA seem'd forced, while ESPRITS was not a Noun I had, in my Sparse Experience, discover'd in a State of Pluralization ere now. More than one Brand Name from the East in a Puzzle, is, if you will Allow me to say, one too Many (AIWA and DAEWOO). I knew not MARLA Gibbs, though some of my Readers, whose age Surmounts my own, may have some Recognition of that fine Personage.

Enough is Enough, however. Peace, my Fever'd Brain. Let be, and Know that What is, is What is.

- Colum

Monday, May 4, 2015

Monday, May 4, 2015, Zhouqin Burnikel


I may have overvented some spleen yesterday in this space. Maybe the Sunday puzzle wasn't really that bad. Let's make up for it today.

Except... How come we're starting with 1A: Qatar's capital (DOHA) on a Monday? No, it wasn't hard to get with the crosses, although 4D: "The Passion of the Christ" language (ARAMAIC) took some time to come back to me. It's just that the puzzle played a little tough for a Monday.

Outside of that issue, though, I think it's a pretty good grid with a cute theme: STEPMOM, with four sites (asymmetrically placed) where the word MAMA moves downward in a stepwise fashion. I would have preferred not to have the circles put in for you, because that gives away what's in them once you've broken the theme. It would have been more fun to find them, word-search style, after the fact.

I've never heard of IAMACAMERA, the DRAMA that inspired "Cabaret". It's an interesting bit of trivia. The other long answers are high quality, especially ASIFICARE (excellent) and AHAMOMENT. RADARBLIP is unusual, and LIONTAMER and HAMANDEGGS are fine.

My favorite clue was 54D: Bollywood wraps (SARIS), because it sounded like "it's a wrap," which you'd say at the end of a movie, see. How weird is it that we get EROICA again, so soon? Huygens might enjoy 8D and 70A (less so), but did we need 2D: Toilet seats, geometrically (OVALS)? Couldn't it have been "Cricket pitches, geometrically"? So much more tasteful.

I enjoyed the references to NAPLES (Anglicized) and ROMA (not Anglicized), as they were two places I once was... over a year ago now (sniff). Also PESOS right above ENERO made me wonder what a puzzle made up entirely of answers in foreign languages would be like. Probably not something anybody would really like.

- Colum

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sunday, May 3, 2015, Dan Schoenholz


Although there was much to like about this puzzle, overall it left me pretty dissatisfied. Too much junk in such a large grid with seven theme answers. I'll get to the theme in a minute, but first, I took the opportunity to write a list of the answers I liked vs the answers I didn't like in the fill. There were 20 in the not-so-good list, and only 10 in the good list. Some examples:

Once again the SW corner is questionable. You have HAMITE above OBOTE above MONT. As it turns out, the crosses were all approchable, so I had no difficulty with it in the end, but that's bunch of blah all right above each other. Just next to it, there is a very strong possibility of a Concord (where a square ends up being a guess) with BHOPAL crossing LIAO. Sloppy, IMO.

There are two really iffy unnecessary plurals. Would anyone really refer to OPENERS in poker? Yes, you need an opener to get the betting started, but more than one? And there are plenty of other ways it could have been clued. And then 91D: Looks inside houses (DECORS) just demands a "huh?" And there's even 21D: Herring relatives (SHADS). In my book, the plural of "shad" is "shad." On researching it, it looks like the -s is acceptable, but I don't like it.

I never heard of ADANO. That D was the last letter entered, for other reasons I'll get to, but my difficulty in that area was not helped by "random place name." I really really dislike YALEU as well.

So, the theme. If it's good enough, it'll more than make up for any glitches encountered in the fill. I liked 2/7 of the answers. ANOOKOFTHENORTH is funny, and EARTOONESHEART is funnier with the clue. I really actively hated ORMANCONQUEST. I guess they're referring to Suze Orman, but it just doesn't work for me. OISEPOLLUTION almost works, and EUROTRANSMITTER almost sounds like a real thing. Meh.

On the plus side: a lot of excellent long down answers, including ANOMALOUS, UNMERITED, as well as BANQUO and EROICA (although I've never loved Beethoven's third that much). 6D: Takes part in a joint session? (SMOKESPOT) has lost some of its thrill over the many times we've seen marijuana referred to in the NYT. I liked the clue for 98D: Canine protector (ENAMEL): a nice non-question-marked misleader of a clue. And CECE made it into the puzzle.

I entered wooING for TAMING (how silly was that?). I had some difficulty, as I said, with DOTTEDI. I had put in lOSs for COST, which I knew was wrong but held on to for too long. AlTI made no sense whatsoever for "Broadway opening." Got it in the end, but not until after filling in the grid, so FWOE, FWIW.

- Colum

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Saturday, May 2, 2015, Barry C. Silk


Ugh. Let's just say that I put the wrong GOOGLEPLEX in at 27D (instead of GOOGOLPLEX) and then tried putting in GOOGLEPLus in the other one, and everything just didn't work out. I stared for some time at HAeF at 46A: Hoops division, so really I have noone to blame but myself.

I didn't like the SW corner, and not just for the above reasons. There's a whole bunch of esoterica in there, from SAXE (which was the easiest one to get) to FOSSE, SDS, NIM, TEKTITE, and RACEME. Not to mention the questionable DEMURER. And on top of that, I really really wanted to put Milwaukee in for the 1970s-'80s sitcom locale.

Outside of that corner, however, it's a topnotch semi-themeless. It's sad I couldn't finish, considering I knew both 1D: Where Chamorro is spoken (GUAM) and 3D: "Lulu" opera composer (BERG) without any crosses. The former is big in the Neurology world because there is an inherited form of ALS-Parkinsonism-frontotemporal dementia endemic to the Chamorro population. More than you ever wanted to know, I'm sure.

25A: Series of unknown challenges? (ALGEBRAEXAM) is outstanding. I also liked ROOMIES. 51A: Exhibitionists? (CURATORS) is fun as well. 40A: Drawing people (DUELERS) took me forever to see. MAKETRACKS and ROYORBISON are great entries.

I had a hard time getting NEARESTEXIT, which doesn't exactly feel like an "Evacuation location." ALLORNONE is fine, but leaves me a little cold.

Best clue for a 3-letter answer: 16D: Acronym associated with retirement? (REM). That's making the best of a necessary evil. 59A: Jointly attacked? (KNEED) is pretty fun too.

- Colum

Friday, May 1, 2015

Friday, May 1, 2015, David Steinberg

17:34 (FWOE)

What, I come back to do the blog, and I get handed stacks of 16s? My least favorite grid style? Is somebody trying to tell me something? Do you think I could write this whole blog post only in questions? Is that rhetorical?

Yeah, okay, that got tired real fast.

Wait! 16-letter answers?! What just happened here?

So, I had to revise my blog post because I'd missed the fact that they were 16-letters long. Pretty cool, and Mr. Steinberg gets bonus points for breaking the rules. And for a stacking answer puzzle, I don't hate this one. Let's look at those 16-letter answers first. No "one's" in any of them, so that's pretty good. Out of 7 answers, I'd say Mr. Steinberg nails 5, with one pretty good one. I don't like ESCAPEMECHANISMS because I don't really know what that is (I understand the idea, but I've never heard that used as a phrase). I had the "escape" portion early on, but the rest required a bunch of crosses.

MONTECARLOCASINO is pretty good, in that you'd call it that in English.  Maybe. Even though it's officially known as Le Casino de Monte Carlo, which I'd translate as the Casino of Monte Carlo, astonishingly. I know! I'm pretty good at French, non?

The other entries are all solid, with a special nod to LEMONMERINGUEPIE, which always reminds me of Amelia Bedelia.

In the rest of the puzzle, the good fill is mostly in the middle of the grid. FEROCIOUS and ANGELDUST are fine. HOTSPRING is good, and JESUSALOU wins for actually having more than just his last name in the puzzle. We also get some fun cluing, such as 27A: Give to a bank (DONATE), 47A: Refuse at a bar (LEES), and 27D: Street in Hollywood (DELLA) for its hidden capital.

Unfortunately, as is typical, we get a whole slew of ugliness in the stacks. EMTS, CNET, ATS, ACL, NAE, MNEM (!!!), APO, UNS. Well, maybe its not an entire slew. Maybe its a demislew, and that's why I didn't mind this puzzle so much. I did enjoy seeing ELLERY, ERLE, and DAME all in one grid.

I'll give it a thumbs up overall.

Oh! My one error came when I put in hOEG instead of ROEG. I thought I remembered his name correctly, but I didn't. It was reinforced when I put in shAy for PRAM. Anyway, found it after I was done.

- Colum