Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday, July 31, 2015, James Mulhern and Ashton Anderson

28:20 (FWTE)

It's the last day of July, which means yet another month has slipped by. I will be handing the blogging duties back over to Horace and Frannie, starting tomorrow. Every time I start blogging, I think I might do a theme of the month, but I haven't gotten around to attempting it. Honestly, I'd probably run out of steam well before the end of the first week.

In any case, before turning over the title of crossword14 blogger, I have one final Friday to write about. It's a pretty darned good one, with nice chunky corners and open connections from area to area. My errors came from carelessness, where I had guessed something early on then missed the correction later on.

Things started auspiciously enough with 1A: It often features diva impersonators (DRAGSHOW), which I entered without pause. I figured out 8D: It may be shot on a range (WESTERN), a great clue, and thought I'd be off and running. But no, it was a dead end. I got a little stuck thinking about Ant Man (and Paul Rudd), so ATOMANT took almost until the end of the puzzle to get.

Somehow the next area I got entry to was in the SE. Usually I work in a clockwise fashion in these puzzles. But 60A: Drawer of paradoxes (ESCHER) was a gimme, and I got the wonderful TOODLES off of it. I love 38D: Mouth (LIPSYNC). And 36A: Cry after a holdup (ATLAST) is brilliant. I only just now got that it wasn't about a bank heist.

I got into the SE completely independent. This time my entry was PACHISI. I then confused myself by entering iPad at 40A: What many designers work on (SPEC). You see, I was the one working on an iPad. When I figured that out, I then when with COMMENt instead of COMMEND for "Kudize". I must have been thinking of "kibbutz".

Eventually I worked my way up through the NE and across, with lots of help from Hope, who got both RASCALS and ONLINEAD. My errors came at HULASKIRT, where I had the "hipster dancers" wearing a HULAShIRT, crossing hERB, and at TOdLET for the "reading room" (all our librarian friends are either flipping their lids or nodding sagely at that answer). AdD made sense for "support", but AID makes more sense.

There is a ton of other good stuff in this puzzle. The only downs for me were OMAR and OONA.  Two big thumbs up from me, and until I come back in September, STAYDRY!

- Colum

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Thursday, July 30, 2015, Brendan Emmett Quigley

14:20 (FWOE)

One thing this puzzle was not, was PLUGUGLY, as ET59 described yesterday's corners.

I generally am pleased to see Mr. Quigley's name associated with a puzzle. While there are a few answers in today's puzzle that I did not like much, the majority worked very nicely.

It's a cute theme, adding the names of Louisa May ALCOTT's Little Women to phrases to create new silly phrases. The two outstanding answers are the 14-letter answers at 28A and 44A (BIGAMYBUSINESS and MACBETHNCHEESE). The other two are not as funny, but work all right. The answers are also balanced in that two of them add the name at the end of the phrase while the other two add the name in the middle. I also liked that the revealer is the simple addition of the author's name.
Things started off well with 1A: Chronicler of the English Restoration, which could only mean Samuel PEPYS ("and so to bed..."). 4D: Something to meditate on (YOGAMAT) is delightfully straightforward, and un-question-marked. UNEARTH is a very nice word, as is KNELLED. 12D: Ones in the closet? (MOTHS) was unexpected, and slightly disturbing.

I had some difficulty with 15A: Baby ____ (MAMA), and I didn't want JAMUPS to be correct, because that's not such a great answer. LANATE, ACCRUAL, MACRON, and ILEAC were unusual and not very aesthetic. I wanted ILEAl for the last one. My error came at 58D: Cartoonist Mayerik who co-created Howard the Duck (VAL). I had VAd, which seemed to work for 65A: "Follow" (HEEL), since I had HEEd.

29D: One doing the dishes? (YENTE) is a cute clue for an all-too-common crosswordy answer. Some good clues for 3-letter answers include: 25A: Booster for a band (AMP), 33A: School closing? (ELL, and it took me too long to get), and 6D: Small price to pay? (AMT), which was a very clever way to get around an "Abbr." marking.

I liked the entire SE corner, and it's amusing that 60D: Last ____ (ONE) is in fact the last clue.

The more I look at it, the less I like some of these things, but I still enjoyed the puzzle overall.

- Colum

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wednesday, July 29, 2015, David J. Lieb


I don't want to get jaded or anything. There were some good things about this puzzle. It's 16 by 16, which gives a little more room for the six theme answers. DOUBLEDOUBLE is okay (not as good an answer as "triple double" would be from a basketball perspective). The other 5 theme answers are solid phrases, and the use of "double" before each word makes a solid new phrase. Nothing very amusing or surprising about any of them.

GOLDENBOY is a fine answer. I like 9D: Like some showers (BRIDAL). 13D: It lacks depth (PLANE) is cute. It's unusual to have a puzzle with this guy in it:

But there are an awful lot of proper names: AGNEW, ABRAM, ABBAS, EUBIE (?), THERESA, KYLE, NEGEV. And the puzzle starts on the wrong foot with UPCAST. Blah.

I guess that's the way I felt about this puzzle. Just not that exciting.

- Colum

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tuesday, July 28, 2015, Caleb Emmons

5:42 (FWTE)



I've got nothing against a good gimmick. And there is something impressive about a puzzle that uses only one vowel per row, in order of AEIOU, then does it again, and then again. So I acknowledge the artistry of the gimmick. But that's what it feels like in the end, a gimmick, in large part because of the compromises that have to be made to make it work.
Let me start with my errors, which came in the same word. I don't know why I thought CSI would be Cis. That stands for "clinically isolated syndrome" in Neurology, which is the first episode of symptoms in what might or might not become multiple sclerosis down the line. Regardless, it's not a television show, so all of that is just hot air.

Why might I have made that error? Well, let's see. 35D: Make a sibilant sound (SISS). This is not a word. This is not a sound. This is not anything. It has no place in the crossword puzzle. I had SsSS. That at least, somewhat makes sense. I'll admit that what I had at 34D: Call in place of a nudge (PSST) was PiST, and I knew that couldn't be right, but I went with it for some reason.
Other than that issue, the rest is essentially fine, but filled with multiple blah entries. Such as SSTS, RRR, TKT, TWOUP (never heard of it, and had to guess at the last letter), ARIL.

There are some fun answers, especially in the long acrosses. PHILIPIII is crazy looking. THECREEPS is good. I love POLTROON. It's right up there with "Nimrod" from yesterday. AAAMAP is barely acceptable, but I like the way it looks. 5D: Person with lines (ACTOR) is a cute little misdirect.

So, on the whole, okay, but that section mentioned above ruined it.

- Colum

Monday, July 27, 2015

Monday, July 27, 2015, D. Scott Nichols and Zhouqin Burnikel


Ahhh... that's more like it. I came so close, too!

I did not get the theme while I was solving. I generally don't like to spend too much time looking at the long answers on a Monday because it can really derail you. It almost happened today with GEORGETENET, a name I would never have been able to pull out of thin air, but recognized just fine once it was filled in. As PALINDROMES was the last entry I filled, I got the aha moment after I finished, which is better.
So, four full names, which is nice, including three women, all quite well known to my generation, perhaps less so to younger folks. After all, MONICASELES played her last professional match in 2003, and is unfortunately best remembered for being stabbed. YOKOONO is quite active in art and music circles, as well as being highly politically active, but is still best known for her relationship to John Lennon. DARYLHANNAH I've not heard of since her role in Kill Bill  One man, who, as I've noted above, was also recognizable. He served from 1997 to 2004. That's all. And that gets him the title of "second-longest-serving director" of the CIA, behind Alan Walsh Dulles, of Dulles airport fame.

Actually, the fill skews older as well. Outside of RORY McIlroy, Barack OBAMA, and possibly EMO, most of the references are hardly relevant now. REM's biggest days were in the 1980s. Jean-Luc PICARD last had a TV show in 1994. AMY Tan's book The Joy Luck Club came out in 1989, although she's written plenty since then. DESI, ERROL, MOE, NOLTE... ARARAT?

MAVEN and NIMROD are great words. I eat GRANOLA almost every morning. And I'm out.

- Colum

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sunday, July 26, 2015, Ellen Leuschner and Jeff Chen


There's an awful lot to like about this puzzle, but there are also a few flaws that come close to being fatal. Let's take it one element at a time.

First of all, the theme. I figured out what was going on when I got to 44D: Tire hazard (POT[HOLE]). I had already filled in 36D: Tax dodger's discovery (LOOP[HOLE] - and I'm not sure that clue is exactly correct - after all, loopholes are legal), but initially assumed that it was some weird shorthand. I like this kind of theme in general - we've seen variations on it in the past.

But it definitely got better when I got to the East side of the central hole and realized that gravity had turned the answers backwards. That's a nice piece of crosswordery, if I can coin a word. Obviously, the answers in the South section go from bottom to top as well. The twelve examples of words or phrases ending in [HOLE] were all acceptable examples.
I also like the four long theme answers that relate in some way to black holes. HEARTOFDARKNESS,  FATALATTRACTION, and CENTEROFGRAVITY all act as sideways definitions of the phenomenon, while DISAPPEARINGACT is more of a description of what happens if you get too close.

So I liked the theme quite a bit. The fill worked for the most part. In fact, the puzzle was a bit of rapid romp for me, up until I hit the SW corner, which seemed like it was at a level of difficulty higher than the rest. Of course, if I knew that LEANNRIMES had written that song, it would have been easier. ORAN was unusually clued with reference to Casablanca. ENID was a name from Arthurian legend I was not familiar with.
But the fatal issue was this: 108D: "Darn!" (DRAT) had already been filled in. Then you get to 87A: "Aargh!" (DARNIT). That's not allowed. And it would have been so easy to fix by cluing 108D with something like "Curses!" 87A was not made easier by the arcane plural of IAMBI. That's acceptable, apparently, but it's not the standard choice. It should be iambs, and I'll stick to that.

Otherwise, there's good stuff elsewhere in the grid. 13D: Change places (COINPURSES) is fun. 28A: Remove a piece from? (UNARM) is clever, although I'd prefer "disarm". 93A: 50 or more people? (AARP) is also nice, except for the fact that you start getting mail from an association designed for retired people at the age of 50.
KRAKENS is a great word (although I thought it was a singular beast, not given to running in herds, as there was supposed to be only one). Weird to see SCALA without "la" and LATOSCA with it. Typically we would have cross-referenced the one to the other, except this time they're talking about the original French play instead of the Puccini opera. Speaking of which, I got my classical fix with DEBUSSY.

22D: Greens ___ (FEE) got a "huh?" from me: apparently it's the fee to golf. OHMAGE is also a head scratcher. I understand it's referring to the unit of electrical resistance. I'm pretty sure nobody outside of electrical engineers use it.

A mixed bag. I wanted to really like it, but the SE made it untenable in the end.

- Colum

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Saturday, July 25, 2015, Kevin G. Der


Wow, this was a tough one! The clues were uniformly tricky, and even when I had an idea what they were getting at, the crosses were also so difficult that it sometimes took a break and coming back to the puzzle to get my brain in the right tack.

I broke into the puzzle with VIOLASOLO, an answer that was probably a "huh?" for most people, but which for me was straightforward as both my brother and his wife are professional violists. I tried smoOch at 31A: Sloppy kiss (WETONE), but figured out that was wrong when I put STAGESETS in. 26A: Loaded things? (BASES) took a while to figure out, especially since I wanted "peres" or "meres" for 26D: Members of la famille (BEBES). I never heard of a BIBELOT, so that took forever. And I misread 35A: Modern composer's constructions (TONEROWS) as "instructions".

Anyway, I had the entire NE filled in pretty quickly, so I thought things would go smoothly. Unfortunately not. I had TEENPOP going down into the SE, but I had BOXSters (?) at 33D: Some sports figures (BOXSCORE). I love that clue, especially as it misleads you into thinking the answer will end with an S. Finally, I guessed BAEZ for 45D, which enabled BOUNCEHOUSE. I actually think of those as bounce castles, but the entry googles well.

49A: Stopgap for an energy shortage (POWERNAP) is outstanding. I did not see it coming at all. The SE has very nice words in it, including ORANGINA, and ASANA right next to NEPAL.

Still, even with TIBIAS, _ALVES, and SNEEZE, I couldn't get any traction in the SW. It took a long time to see LIBRARIAN (sorry, Frannie), and 29D: Kosher (ALLOWABLE) was a tough get also. But the prize goes to 27D: Dog washers? (FOOTBATHS). Couldn't see it for the longest time! It took the breakthrough of seeing HOLY/GRAIL to open that section and finally break the rest of the NW.

  • 7D: Sliding door locales (MINIVANS) - very nice and not what I was thinking of at all. 
  • 8D: Sting, e.g. (BASSIST) - I'd tried British multiple times. 
  • 2D: Northern hemisphere? (IGLOO) - lovely.
  • 1A: One waiting to go off (TIMEBOMB) - I knew there had to be a bomb in here, but the answer is so perfect for the definition.
  • 25A: Majors, e.g. (BRASS) - very tricky!
The 3-letter answers in this puzzle are: 
  • ITS: common contraction, easily gettable from the clue, even though I don't know the song
  • LAG: common word, clued well enough.
  • ROM: dated word in just about every way. Who records on disks any more? Streaming, baby. That's where it's at.
  • IVE: common contraction, also easily gettable from the clue.
  • ARA: crosswordese, but really really really hard to get from the clue, which refers to a constellation, Norma, I've never heard of before.
  • TRU: title of a Broadway play that I got from the crosses.
Not bad, and the rest of the puzzle is an outstanding challenge.

- Colum

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday, July 24, 2015, Patrick Berry


Ah, Mr. Berry. If only all puzzles were as smooth and enjoyable as your themelesses.

I tried "edge" at 1D: Narrow margin (INCH), but took it out when I realized that there were no states that started with D and were nine letters long. After hazarding IMSOSORRY at 4D: "My deepest condolences", I hit upon NEWMEXICO. I did not know that Santa Fe was the oldest capital city in the country. Unfortunately, I had to step away from the NW on account of not being able to figure anything else out.

I got LEAR and ANG, and even ALEVE, but the rest of the W was also opaque to me, so I moved eastward. 13D: "X" signer gave me ILLITERATE, a nice use of an adjectival noun. Isn't 12D: Wood choppers of old (FALSETEETH) excellent cluing? I'm not sure how he got away without using a question mark. 10D: Cause of black eyes? (MASCARA) is nearly as good.

The hits keep coming with 32D: Nobody's home (GHOSTTOWN). Man, that's top notch. I didn't even get it until just now. When I'd had POTTY, SKELETONS, and SWEETNLOW in place, I'd tried putting isOlaTioN in there, but it didn't even make sense at all.

I don't love the brand name COMPUWARE, and ANTINOVEL was unfamiliar. To have SACS in there as well makes the SE my least favorite corner. Still, I can't be too upset when NERO is clued by Poppaea Sabina. And we just ate pesto tonight, so:

I was able to move back across the middle after this. I knew that 36A was referring to Hall & Oates, but it turns out that their names have the same number of letters in them. Once I had a cross in the last name portion, I was able to get it, especially since I couldn't remember Oates' first name.

Should TEARGASSED be spelled with one S? I think we've had this conversation before. In any case, now that I think about it, we'd all agree that "gassed" is correct, rather than "gased." I had some difficulty with GOTOIT as I'd wrongly thought the last three letters would spell "out". GOTOuT seemed like a terrible answer for 23A: "Get cracking!" And it turned out it was terrible, in that it was wrong.

The NW in fact, once I got back to it, turned out to be very strong. I love CHASTENED, which I'd had difficulty figuring out because I'd guessed MIxeS for 7D: Some M&M's (MINIS). 2D: Classic pop (NEHI) referenced the product I'd chosen a picture for earlier this month, so when I got that, the rest of the puzzle fell into place.


- Colum

P.S. Shout out to Cece, who finished today's Mini puzzle in 17 seconds. Future ACPT champ?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Thursday, July 23, 2015, Timothy Polin



Okay, I just wanted to type all of that out. It's a great idea for a theme, splitting the 13-syllable word into 13 squares using rebuses. I knew it was going to be a rebus when I got to 12D. I actually remember the Jackie Chan movie (THETUXE[DO]) although I didn't see it. But I didn't know where the rebus would be. And my first thought for a 1964 song was "Hard Day's Night".

It became clear when I got to 62A. I had no crossings but confidently entered MARYPOPPINS, and then went through the enjoyable task of figuring out all the rebusy crossings. SPE[CIOUS] and SUF[FRAG]E are my two favorites. I'm not fond of the clue for 39D: Microsoft Office, e.g. ([SU]ITE). And 36D: Not together (A[PI]ECE) seems off as well.

There were a number of really tricky clues, including 18A: 42, for Mo (ATNO); I feel I've seen something similar before, but this is great, because Mariano Rivera (Mo) had 42 as his uniform number. 3D: Workers with pitch forks? (TUNERS) is fun. That corner was made for difficult for me by having entered SHift for SHELF.

10A: Zealot (ULTRA) is weird. Can that word be used as a noun? It shows up on thesaurus. com, but I've never seen it used that way. I did, however, enjoy ROHAN.
There are four very nice long non-theme answers, including DEADBEAT, the well-clued INSTRUMENT, ASSOCIATES (did anybody else try "paralegals"? Same number of letters!), and 57A: Sharp shooters? (NAILGUNS). I also very much enjoyed 53A: What shadows become as they lengthen (BEARDS). Well done, sir. Well done.

ATIP, however, is not so well done. Is that even a word ever at all in the history of language? I also don't love AOKAY, which I think of primarily as being written A-OK.

But otherwise, I liked the nod to English history with HENRYVI ("whose state so many had the managing/that they lost France and made his England bleed"). Not to be confused with this gentleman:
Who knew he had two Oscars to his name?

Fun Thursday puzzle.

- Colum

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Wednesday, July 22, 2015, Peter A. Collins


This puzzle felt like it played old, a little out of date. It started with SHAG, a remnant of the 70s. It then proceeded with AOL, a really retro company that honestly only lives on in crosswords due to its odd combination of common letters. RODLAVER and Mark SPITZ gave more love to the 70s. And why clue NOBEL to the 1984 prize given to Desmond Tutu? Why not reference Malala Yousafzai, a much more relevant personage, and well enough known to make it a straightforward clue?

Just to continue the GRIPE parade, I'm not sure about having EVE and EVA in the same puzzle, even if the latter is part of (yet another) obscure airline. And then we have a series of unpleasant abbreviations. INSP and IDENT are questionable at best. ADM is clued to Hyman Rickover, a naval officer whose dates are 1900-1986, and thus is unknown to probably half of the solving crowd (although I will give a shout-out to the Jewish admiral - didn't know we had any of the tribe in that position).

On the plus side, I enjoyed ROSSINI at 1D. I liked both the NW and the SE's trios of 7-letter down answers, although INHUMAN seemed somewhat misclued with "Barbaric". SHERPA and ZORRO were also welcome entries.

But I haven't even gotten to the theme yet. I love the revealer, CHOPPEDLIVER, although I would have preferred some kind of reference to the phrase, "What am I, chopped liver?!" The revealer was completely necessary, as the anagrams were split across two words in each of the theme answers, hiding them effectively. It's kind of funny that SUPERVILLAIN doesn't have "evil" inside of it, but DEVILRAYS does. SAVILEROW is a wonderful answer. NAVELRING, on the other hand...

I'm not convinced.

Definitely a mixed bag today. I'll give it a slight thumbs up.

- Colum

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tuesday, July 21, 2015, David Phillips


It's deja vu all over again! ABS makes a return at 1A, NEINS at 47D, and another tic-tac-toe at 36D (OOX). We also saw LADD again, but referencing Cheryl rather than Alan.

I found this puzzle to have some very nice bits and some other areas I could have done entirely without. The theme is fine, as far as it goes. 56A is the revealer (ITSINTHEBAG), which lets us know that the first word from the other four theme answers are things you can have in a bag. ICEROADTRUCKERS is a nice 15-letter answer across the middle, while 45A: Structure built from the ground up? (SANDCASTLE) is an cute clue. I don't much care for TEAPARTIER, either the item in question or the term, which I think is likely better represented by "Tea Party member".

9D: Big egg producers (OSTRICHES) is excellent cluing. No question mark needed, but it's misdirecting nonetheless. 10D: TV/movie lead character whose middle name is Tiberius (JAMESKIRK) is kind of a gimme, but a nice answer anyway. Does it count as a kind of duplication that TIBER is in the grid also?

The companion pair of 9-letter down answers in the SW are not as strong, but still pretty good: DECOUPAGE and ACAIBERRY. I also enjoyed 20A: Rush experienced during a movie? (GEOFFREY), with its nice hidden capital. 14D: Swiss sub? (AMERICAN) is pretty good.

I like having BACH in the grid, especially when the clue references the non-existent P.D.Q. Erik SATIE gives an extra classical boost. AUDACITY is a good answer.

On the downside, SESS is always an ugly answer. I don't like when an abbreviation clue yields another abbreviation, like with RET. And ASSNS is also in there, along with NEA and NRC.

Is OOZY really a word?

- Colum

Monday, July 20, 2015

Monday, July 20, 2015, John Westwig


And so the streak of sub-4 minute Mondays comes to a close. I was in trouble from the get-go, when I put "awaken" for 2D: "Rise and shine!" (WAKEUP, a much better and straightforward answer). Even once I got going in that corner, I put "weaK" for MEEK, which slowed me down. Plus I didn't know AKIOMORITA, a way-above-typical difficulty theme answer for a Monday.

Overall, I'd say this puzzle skewed hard, more like a Tuesday into Wednesday level, but I liked it. Both the NW and SE corners are solid groups of answers, including AGEGAP, DESADE, and SKEWER. The NE and SW also have pairs of 8-letter down answers that work very well. EDHARRIS next to NEUTRINO is lovely, and OLDMONEY and ROBINSON are fine as well.

Very little to complain about in the fill. I like how PHAT is clued as "dated slang". Excellent to recognize that we're in 2015, not 2001. And I certainly don't see it as a duplication to have FAT in the grid as well. INO is truly obscure, as is CLU Gulager. TIN is clued well with the symbol Sn (for the Latin stannum). I spent about 30 seconds staring at the cross of ROW and WARDS. I was stuck on actual chess pieces for 40D, missing the obvious, and _ARDS wasn't helping for a long time.

The theme was obscure to me even after I finished the entire grid. In fact, it's referring to the fact that each of the named personages have the initials A.M., thus making them MORNINGPERSONS of a sort. I don't know how impressive it is to come up with four people who have those initials, and whose names in their most familiar entirety are made up of 10 letters. All four are reasonably famous; ANDYMURRAY and ALMICHAELS are fairly relevant. ALIMACGRAW is famous for the movie she is clued by. And I already discussed the first.

I'd say a well above average puzzle, but maybe misplaced in the week.

- Colum

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday, July 19, 2015, Tom McCoy



This Sunday puzzle is made up of mostly pretty decent answers, a reasonable theme, with only a few outstanding answers. And there are a few answers I could really do without.

Pretty much standard fare for a Sunday, no?

The best thing by far is the pair of colloquial long down answers at 16D: "Keep up the fight" (HANGINTHERE) and 65D: "Later!" (IMOUTTAHERE). It's a nice symmetricality, and both phrases are real and often used. I actually had IMOUTofHERE for a while, and couldn't figure out 94A at all, until I noticed that Hestia was was apparently Artemis' fUNT. That didn't seem right...

With respect to the theme, I like that one of the biggest downfalls of puzzles, namely, the abbrev. has been turned into a positive. My favorite two are APTCOMPLEX (apartment complex) and LOOKOUTFORNOONE (look out for number one), because the two answers are humorous. Runner-up is FIRSTPERSONSING. Otherwise, they left me mostly cold.

There are a few pluralized abbreviations in the actual fill, ET59's bugaboo. IQS is probably more acceptable than AMTS. I don't know what FIES is. How can you pluralize an exclamation? It just doesn't make sense. Would you say: "I love Homer's 'D'ohs'"? No, you'd say: "I love it when Homer says 'D'oh'."

Other less than acceptable fill: BITTERER. I'd say "more bitter" because it fits better in conversation. NTUPLE is apparently defined correctly by the clue, but I don't like it much. How about two Britishisms? TONNE and CENTRES.

All right, enough piling on. I did like ARIA and TOSCA, because I love Tosca, that's why. AMUR was saved by a bit of trivia I didn't know. 45A: It comes between ads (DEUCE) was clever and a nice turnaround from the crosswordese "ad in". HEINOUS reminded me of these guys:

Enough already. It was fine.

- Colum

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Saturday, July 18, 2015, Joe Krozel


I'm writing this review late in the evening after watching five stage productions at my daughter's acting camp starting at 12:00 and running until 9:30. They had three weeks to put these shows together, and they were pretty darned impressive. The day ran like clockwork.

Speaking of which...

A little mini-theme is presented in today's puzzle. I noted the unusual shape of the grid when I opened it up, but did not immediately make the connection to the face of a clock. In fact the entire west half of the puzzle yielded nothing to me. My first entry came at 17D: X'd out completely, in the game Battleships (SUNK). But it was the shape of the puzzle which made 24D and 24A gimmes (ONETHIRTY and OCLOCK respectively). That's too much on a Saturday.

The SE fell pretty quickly, although I had a hard time seeing SENDSON (31A: Forwards). In part, it was the oddity of DOMECAR, which I've never come across before, as well as the initially opaque 33D: What "///" may represent (SPARES). AILERON and STROPHE are two handsome entries, and ICANRELATE is reasonable colloquial fill, although my daughters have shortened it to either saying "same" or "me."

The NE had nothing much to comment on. RAMONA was clued in a near impossible way. I'd never heard of novelist or novel. But it became clear that it was the only choice because the crossings were fair.

On second pass through the western half of the puzzle, I actually found a few entries I should have gotten earlier, like the SHETLANDISLANDS and ALADDIN. I'm going to quibble pretty strongly about ATREAR. This is not a thing anybody says. Nor will they at any time in the near or far future. It's just not a thing.

In the NW which was the last part to fall, I liked ANATOLIANS and SALAMANCA right on top of each other. VETOES was a nice answer to "Sends back to Congress". How many people put "re-" in at the beginning without hesitation? I liked PASSINGINTEREST, did not much like VENAE, and RESP is poor stuff at 1A.

On the whole, I didn't hate it, but it paled in comparison to yesterday's gem.

- Colum

Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday, July 17, 2015, Paolo Pasco


I really really enjoyed this Friday pinwheel of a grid. There's a lot of great clues, some very nice long answers, and an overall sense of fun that had me laughing out loud and reporting clue-answer pairings to Hope. I did the puzzle at the outset of a long day's driving from Albany to north of Augusta, Maine. On the way, we stopped in Ogunquit, and walked the Marginal Way. Beautiful! I can't believe it's been 16 years since we last visited Vacation Land.

Anyway, I had some difficulty breaking into the puzzle. The NW was a mystery, even, you might say, an ENIGMA, an answer I should have gotten off the bat, but I was thinking about Turing's invention (called a bombe, by the way). In any case I moved to the NE, where I put in ESTOPS, TSO,  and surprising myself with ANITRA, which I recalled from Grieg.

I didn't get any more traction there, so I tried the SW without avail. It was the SE that finally caved for me. I put in ALOMAR off the clue, and REDPEN off of that. I'll admit that I had yet to uncover anything particularly interesting to this point, but the puzzle started to take off. 37D: It's a wrap (SERAPE) without a question mark was a good start. Hope gave me MAGELLAN.

I moved to the middle, where 29A: 1990s sitcom set in New York could have been just about any sitcom of that decade, but MADABOUTYOU fit. A few crosses allowed me to get WALTERMITTY and SOMERSAULTS. I particularly liked 22D: Like some chairs (ENDOWED) which took me a moment to get. Boy, that could have been clued for some ultra-Huygens material.

The NW went pretty quickly after that. BIGIDEAS is a decent entry. But the long downs in the middle are quite fine. MINORTHREAT, KICKSTARTER, and BECAUSEICAN. That accounts for six strong 11-letter entries.

Some good clues: 7A: Fix ... or damage (SCRAPE) is lovely. I did not see that definition of "fix" coming, due to the juxtaposition with "damage". 8D: Get cracking? (CHAP) is clever. 33D: Buff runner? (STREAKER) was perhaps too obvious, but I liked it anyway. And 48D: It might be worn by a hiking group (PATH) is great stuff. Not to mention 16A: Person having one too many? (BIGAMIST).

Very smooth solve.

- Colum

P.S. I had not heard of the author of this puzzle, so I read Wordplay, to find out that yes, this is his first published puzzle, and he's only 15! Holy cow. Fine work, and I hope we'll see a lot more of Mr. Pasco in the future.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Thursday, July 16, 2015, Paula Gamache


Little Bunny Foofoo!

Come on, how many thought of this when looking at the long answers? Of course, then it should have been "Hare today, goon tomorrow."

[Thinks about it]

Kind of hoping I'm not the only one who thought of this now.

Anyway, I messed myself up at the beginning by putting in LETyourhairdown for 17A: Entreaty to Rapunzel (LETDOWNYOURHAIR), which was just a complete misrecalling on my part. It slowed me up for a while. I'm pretty fond of PSYCHOLOGYTODAY, because Hope publishes essays on their website from time to time. In fact, all four 15-letter answers are really solid, which adds aesthetic pleasure to the theme. And the revealer, WAX, is funny, but I guessed it ahead of time.

There are an awful lot of proper nouns in this puzzle. Let's see... eighteen of them! And some are really out there. Harold UREY? Alan LADD I've heard of, but Kirk ALYN? Wow, that's a deep cut.

Willie AAMES, Van CLEEF and Arpel, BRIGGS and Myers, ROY Disney. Meh. (Is ROI to close to Roy?) I didn't know that Lorde's real first name is ELLA (Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor), but to me, Ella will always be her:

I did not like the partials IANA and ZOA. NOES and YESSES are annoying but acceptable. ENOW with the ECOLI, already! Like I need to think about abdominal cramps. On the positive side, I like DEWDROPS, ANNEALS, BVITAMIN, and the obscure BIRETTA. Cluing was not great, mostly because of the plethora of names, but 18D: Punch line? (OUCH) was cute. And I like 28D: Sticking point? (CARET).

Theme good, fill okay.

- Colum

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Wednesday, July 15, 2015, Bruce Haight


If it's Wednesday, it must be "odd bird" theme day at the NYT Xword. It's fairly impressive to come up with four 10-letter answers whose letters all reside on the TOP ROW of a keyboard, but maybe not that impressive, considering four of the five vowels plus Y all live up there. In fact, of the 12 most common letters in the English language (ETAOIN SHRDLU), fully 6 are on the top row. 5 are on the middle row, and only lonely N lives on the bottom row. Clearly, the theme could not possibly work at all only using letters on the bottom row, as there are no vowels there, and the middle row would be next to impossible, utilizing A as the only vowel.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed all four of these words. In Scrabble, they are worth 12, 14, 17, and 18 points respectively, so the interest increases as you move through the puzzle. In addition, the big payoff happens with TYPEWRITER, an unexpected extra theme element. So, a well executed theme.

But there's more ARTISTRY displayed, with some excellent long down answers. EYESORES and TELLSTALES are good. I put in EATcrow first, but STADT put paid to that, so I came up with the correct EATDIRT.

You also have to admire the pair of clues at 20A: One working with an anchor (SAILOR - I tried Seaman and Seadog first before getting to the more obvious answer), and 27D: Ones working with an anchor (CAMERACREW). I love that twist, which was missing from last week's puzzle's pair of "Bikini" clues.

The puzzle started out nicely with 1A: Content of hate mail (VENOM). I actually broke into the grid with 4D: Occasion for amateurs to do stand-up (OPENMIC). We've been watching Louie on the Netflix, and it's hilarious. He's no amateur, though.

I will give props to ET59 for his excellent analysis of 3-letter answers. I don't know that I'll do this every day, but it's worth it to take a look today, since overall I felt very positive about the puzzle. Hang on, I'll be right back...

Ok, I'm back. There are sixteen 3-letter words, of which two are theme related, and thus exempt. Of the remaining fourteen, five are straightforward nouns (LEA, WAD, CAR, ROC, and PIG). Four are names or titles (ALI, DOM, YAO, and UTE). Two are foreign (MER and TIA), and three are abbreviations or suffixes (APO, EMT, and OSE). The clues are interesting (in my opinion) for three of the nouns, one of the names (ALI has a bit of trivia I didn't know), possibly one of the foreign words (and only because there's a circonflexe in the NYT), and none of the abbreviations/suffixes. That gives a success rate in my book of 35.7%. Not great.

Still, I liked the puzzle very much, so thumbs up.

- Colum

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tuesday, July 14, 2015, Kevin Christian and Brad Wilber


Happy Bastille Day!

Wait... not those guys?

Oh. I see. Anyway, today we're apparently celebrating this guy instead:

Not because it's his birthday or death day (he died 24 years ago!), but just because. Pretty nice to find three titles of his that are 15 letters long, although the third one (IFIRANTHECIRCUS) is not in the major arcana, as it were. We also have space for two more iconic titles, THELORAX, and HOPONPOP, which was always one of my favorites. And the author gets his name in at 54D.

That's 65 squares devoted to the theme, which makes the pretty decent fill that much more enjoyable. 20A: Easily bruised thing for half the world (MALEEGO) gets my nod for best clue and answer. I'm not convinced about EMOBANDS - do all such bands have songs with "confessional lyrics?" Apparently so, according to Wikipedia. Hmmm. I like some songs by Death Cab For Cutie.

I would have liked POGO to be clued to:

But do people know who that is any more?

TENTPEG took me a while to get for some reason, as did TOOGOOD. 25A: Satyrs' quarries (NYMPHS) is excellent classics stuff. I also enjoyed MRED and his HAY.

There are a few answers I could do without (DER, ESS, TES, RAS), but acceptable with the rest of the puzzle.

- Colum

Monday, July 13, 2015

Monday, July 13, 2015, Zhouqin Burnikel


Getting closer... Actually, though, I'm not sure how much time I can shave off! It felt like I barely paused, and there's only so much speed you can get with an iPad. Maybe if I did it on the iPad but with a keyboard?

This theme is well done for sure. FACEBOOKBUTTONS is a good 15-letter answer, and I very much enjoyed how Ms. Burnikel twisted the meanings of the three buttons into different senses of the word. Of course, COMMENTCAVA gets the nod for most clever (and it's crossed by VOILA for a very French carrefour). LIKEWHITEONRICE is another great 15-letter answer.

There's some short fill which actually did make me pause: NORAH O'Donnell I'd never heard of, and Josep Maria SERT was an unknown before this.

On the other hand, I'm happy to see UPTON clued to her:

Rather than him:
Also liked LAKEGENEVA, ALMONDROCA, the Volkswagen BEETLE, and SUNSETS.

- Colum

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sunday, July 12, 2015, Patrick Berry


This was a pretty straightforward romp, for the most part. I only had difficulty in the far SW corner. It has Mr. Berry's usual fine touch with cluing, some of which I'll detail below. The one thing the puzzle lacks is the name of today's Wimbledon winner, in the way that yesterday's puzzle somehow managed to predict the winner of the women's singles tournament.

The theme is cute, taking a typical phrase or word and repeating the first syllable to make a new phrase that's silly. My favorite was MIMIANDMYBIGMOUTH. The reference to La Boheme did it for me. I liked the silliness of COCOACONSPIRATORS and CUCKOODETAT. I did not love CHICHIDEVIL, because the root phrase is somewhat derogatory.

Considering there are eight long theme answers, including two pairs that abut each other, I think the fill is well above average. There are only two words which span three theme answers, STUPID and INLUCK, which are both fine answers.

I got off on the wrong foot by confidently putting "town" in at 1A: Hamlet (BURG). I knew that 3D had to be RICE, however, so that came out. I worked on the next little section to the east and was able to figure out the theme from that area. I love 5A: Possible cause of red eyes (FLASH). That's fine cluing. I ended up working down the east side of the puzzle diagonally, and then filling across and back up the west.

Some nice answers include PERFIDY, SIMOLEON, and NOTABLES. We get both ORRIN Hatch and STROM Thurmond (always clued as a Dixiecrat). Thurmond was governor of South Carolina in the 40s and 50s, and a senator in the 50s and 60s. I wonder what he'd make of the Confederate flag coming down in Columbia?

There's a very nice pair of "Collared one" clues, with answers PERP and PET. I also like the Roget's style pair of clues at 21A: Nefarious (EVIL) and 25A: Fulminate (RAGE). 36A: Flipper? (SPATULA) is very good. 117A: Reserve (BOOK) I didn't get until after I'd gotten all the crosses. 122A: No-show in Hubbard's cupboard (BONE) is just silly. So much work for a 4-letter answer!

Don't like ODEUM (never have) or OREM. I had a hard time in the SW because POCATELLO is unknown to me. MAURY took a long time to see. I kept on thinking of Geraldo Rivera instead.

I had a fine time solving this one. Nothing too much to dislike.

- Colum

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Saturday, July 11, 2015, Joe DiPietro

22:11 (FWOE)

I enjoyed this Saturday themeless a lot. We've talked before on this blog about how when the turn comes around, your solving brain changes the way it sees clues in order to accommodate the trickiness you expect to find. Some answers here just popped into place because of that, and it's always fun to see how well you can think like the puzzle creator.

I broke in with what to me is a gimmie, namely Isaac ALBENIZ. I don't really like classical guitar music, but my local classical music station insists on playing it at least once an hour. That being said, Albeniz was more known for his piano music, so I suppose I'm just using this as an excuse to complain about the radio station. 27A: French Christian (DIOR) was one of those clues I mentioned above. INT and DEB quickly followed, as well as CANDIDE, which was the opera I saw on my first date with my wife.

I don't like SLABTOP. But I do like EZPASS. I worked from that end down to the middle of the puzzle. 35A: Game for cats (MICE) was another Saturday mindset clue, as was 36D: French bread (EUROS). With SCADS in place, I got 52A: "Hmm, let me think about that" (IMNOTSOSURE), which I liked very much for the subtextual response. I confidently put in LOSTpet (later changed to LOSTcat before settling correctly on LOSTDOG).

The entire SW fell into place next. It took a long time to parse 48A: Hacker's aid (COUGHDROP) as not referring to computer anarchists, so there my Saturday brain failed me. I also really love 42: Caesarean section? (GAUL), especially since the operation is usually spelled cesarean. My one error came in this area, where I fairly confidently put YENTlS instead of YENTAS. Once again mistaking Barbra Streisand's title role for the Yiddish gossiper. Cute clue there as well at 66A.

The SE wasn't too hard when after I put QUE in at 63D (What's what south of the border?), which revealed DIDSQUAT, a great answer. I made things difficult for myself by putting atpeACE in at 46D: Free from tension (UNBRACE, where the word "free" is being used as a verb). Also I tried "anamUNT" at 45D, only to realize soon thereafter that there wasn't actually room for all the letters I needed. XAMOUNT is one of my least favorite answers in the grid. It feels a little incomplete.

At that point I worked my way down from the NW again. I love LISASIMPSON's clue - a classic Simpson line, and only Lisa could have said it. TITLESONG was surprisingly straightforward. I had Mute for MIME, which I like much better. 16A: Star close to Venus (SERENA) is very a propos, now that she has won her sixth Wimbledon.

Very little to complain about, a lot to love. The shape of the grid is excellent as well, with no isolated sections.

- Colum

Friday, July 10, 2015

Friday, July 10, 2015, Barry C. Silk

17:56 (FWOE)

We're taking a trip to Baltimore! CHARMCITY! Home (previously) of ORIOLEPARK! Not Camden Yard, which I tried first, by the way. Well, it is the home of Camden Yards, which actually doesn't fit in the space provided. And was clearly wrong for many other reasons.

It's probably not enough to qualify as a mini-theme. I actually found this puzzle to be a mixed bag. Plenty of great long entries, but with areas of fill I found UGLY (QUITE, to use a term that's more "pretty"). For example, SPEER (who? Apparently, he is the "Architect of evil", Hitler's official architect) below GROH (who?? Oh, yeah, random actor from a TV show I never watched), crossing AREOLE, a word I hate to see in the puzzle because I never know how they're going to spell it. I won't complain about PNIN, which I actually remembered, but I could see how it might make that section worse for some.

Other fill I didn't like: ARILS, a common crosswordese; NTESTS, which was the source of my one error, as I had rAGS for 22D: Rides (NAGS) and didn't correct it even though I thought rTESTS was wrong. Greasy NEALE I didn't know, but I didn't mind because the area around it was all gettable.

On the other hand, we do have the excellent pairing of FIBEROPTICS and DANACARVEY on one side of the puzzle, matched by POCKETWATCH (I love this entry, so chunky) next to LIONSSHARE. And we all liked BEEROCLOCK, didn't we?

RESORTAREA feels a little odd, but acceptable. ARIONASSIS should have been obvious by the middle name Socrates (had to be Greek, right? And how many Greek tycoons are there? Especially now, sadly), but it took me a while to see, probably because of the shortened version of his first name.

It's odd that Bikini Atoll was referenced twice in the clues: often when you have a word used more than once, the reference is changed. I liked 16A: Pen sound (OINK), though I wasn't fooled for a second on that one, anyway. A few of the question mark clues didn't even really feel like a misdirection. I mean, 22A: Point of a vampire story? If it wasn't "stake" it was going to be FANG. The pair of clues for STRIP/MINED (...scratched the surface for resources?) seemed more of a direct definition.

Well, I liked some of it. About 50-50.

- Colum

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Thursday, July 9, 2015, John Guzzetta



I'm just going to get this out of the way first. OES is not okay fill, especially when clued as "Latin diphthongs". Maybe that's tongue in cheek. Maybe there just wasn't anything else that was going to work. Maybe he just had to swallow the fact that he had OES in his puzzle, and he came up with a clue that was so ridiculous, it's funny.

I say that I just want to get that out of the way, because I flat out loved just about all of the rest of this puzzle. Yes, there are a few other entries I'm less enamored of, but I can accept LAI, EPH, ONS (really, as a partial?), or PEI when the theme is so excellent, and some of the cluing is outstanding, including my nominee for best clue of the year (and maybe the decade), which I'll get to in a bit.

I struggled for a while with the puzzle. I had scattered answers, with very little in the way of momentum. It became clear why that was long after it should have. I mean, I filled in the entire SW corner, including PEPSQ/UAD. I stared at PEPSQ, and thought to myself, "Huh. That doesn't make sense. Maybe it'll become clear later on."

Yes, really.

I even thought, "Shouldn't that be 'pep squad'?"

Well, they don't pay me to solve these puzzles.

Anyway, I got it when I filled in 61A: Prompt... or a hint to entering five answers in this puzzle (RIGHTONCUE). That's awesome. All of the theme answers are good phrases with a Q buried inside, and each of the right turn answers are answers in their own right, from QUAD to QUIPPED to QUASH to QUESTS to... yeah, I'll get there.

I was definitely thrown by the fact that there are three longer answers that are not theme-related. 17A: School bully's demand (LUNCHMONEY) is good fill, and 29A: Tosses (JETTISONS) is very good. 43A: One making waves (SPEEDBOAT) is also fine, with a good clue. And none of them part of the theme.

Some fine clues include 49A: Jersey delivery? (MOO) and 9D: Swift, in music (TAYLOR) which threw me for a long time, especially since it was right next to INE (8D: Having four sharps). Very nice hidden capital there. Not far removed also, from Taylor Swift's good friend, LORDE. 34D: Cause of some 911 calls (UFO) is a nice misdirect.

But the best of all comes at 10D: Army terror? (GIANTS/QUID). I'm still giggling at that one.

Thumbs way up.

- Colum

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Wednesday, July 8, 2015, Ryan Milligan


What is this, a metatheme? I have to confess to being fairly amused when I finally filled in the revealer at 60A: Question answered by this puzzle's circled letters (WHEREISTHETHEME). I had gotten the answer, but couldn't fathom the question until I had most of the crosses. The three phrases containing the phrase "Hidden in plain sight" are good solid entries, my least favorite being INDIANPLANTAIN. The grid is sort of odd because of the pair of 14-letter answers. So, a peculiar beast, befitting a Wednesday.

The fill has a number of really fine answers. I'm not a fan of ELIMANNING: I think he's overrated, especially because he beat the Patriots twice in the Super Bowl, but I enjoy seeing a full name in the puzzle. It's also good because it crosses three theme answers. The matching answer on the other side, AMSTELBEER, feels just slightly off, in that I've never called an Amstel that. But again, it crosses three theme answers, so there were constraints.

Other nice answers include WRETCHES, which took a long time for me to see, and NATIVETO (ditto); I had Choker for CRAVAT for a while, which kept me from recognizing those two. I also liked MOLDERS, which is evocative, to say the least.

On the downside, the two rows with four 3-letter answers have most of the worst fill. 21A: Letter after kay (ELL) was not clued well. ING, CVI, DJS all leave something to be desired. The worst offender is 26A: Santa ____ (some winds) (ANAS) - is wrong. They are the Santa Ana winds, already a collective plural. I don't see how you can further pluralize it. And it crosses ENNA. And ANNA is also in the grid. Blah.

Not a lot to report on clever cluing. 7D: What may be up when the police arrive? (JIG) is cute. 36D: Subjects of heightened interest, for short? (CDS) is more clever than cute, especially when you realize that interest rates on CDs currently are around 0.25%. I liked 47D: It's big in Japan (FUJI) much better.

I'll give it a qualified thumbs up.

- Colum