Wednesday, September 30, 2015

September's Theme of the Month

I thought I'd take a look back at this month's theme, where I evaluated the clue and answer at 1A and gave it a highly subjective grade.

First, to round off the month, today's 1A: "____ goes it?" (HOW) was just nothing inspiring at all. It gets a C.

Without further ado, I present all of this month's 1A in order by grade.

Book whose last line is “Ask me tomorrow but not today”
Dream acquisitions for huge fans
“I am not ____” (1975 show business autobiography)
Shop class cutter
Inhaler user’s malady
Product of Champagne country
Italian scooter brand
Recharged, so to speak
Related thing
Like all students of Morehouse College
Almost a controlling interest
Like Blofeld in Ian Fleming’s “You Only Live Twice”
Emperor after Nero
“We must go”
One raised in church?
Meows : cats :: ____ : dogs
Chophouse orders
Fancy wheels, familiarly
Platform for a drum set
Has debts
Buddy of “The Beverly Hillbillies”
“____ goes it?”
Hiking trail reference
Not much, but better than none
Small group, as of trees
Leader with an –ism
1969 and 1986 World Series champs

My quick analysis notes that, of the 6 C- answers (I never got the guts to give any answer a failing grade), four came on Mondays or Tuesdays (the other two were Thursdays). Of the 6 A or A- answers, four came on Fridays or Saturdays (with one Sunday and one Wednesday). 

In retrospect, I'd give GALBA a lower grade, BENZ a slightly higher grade, and HALF a lower grade for sure.

I was definitely influenced by nostalgia, because SPOCK and HOPONPOP got very high grades, as did VESPA. Meanwhile, METS is at the bottom. Simply on the merit of the actual answer, I'd give VIPPASSES and PINOTNOIR the top marks. The best clue is "Shop class cutter."

Well, it's been fun. I'll come up with something different for November.

- Colum

Wednesday, September 30, 2015, Freddie Cheng


Let's see... 30 days hath September. Yup, that's right. The end of another month. Nine months in the books of 2015. And I've blogged five of them, with one left to go. I'm actually going to write two posts today, one about the puzzle, the other about my theme of the month.

So here's the one about the puzzle. I was certainly concerned by 1A, which didn't bode well. But really, overall, this was a pretty smooth puzzle. I'm surprised, given the six theme answers, along with three other long across answers that aren't themed, that Mr. Cheng managed to avoid too much ugliness. Although there is some, for sure.

The theme is... well, fine. Each answer has a first word that can fit into the pattern "break a ____". I'm just not entirely convinced by the revealer at 62A: Extra-care items for movers ... or a hint to the starts of [theme answers] (BREAKABLES). What exactly is "breakable" about the starts? If you take the actual definitions of the idioms in question, only "break a fever" and "break a record" actually mean that the items in question are broken. "Break a leg" means "good luck," "break a sweat" means to cause a sweat to happen, while "break a fall" means to cushion something.

Meanwhile, I do like the actual phrases. Although, FALLSEASON is kind of a thing of the past as the standard introduction for new shows. There are too many other choices, especially on non-commercial television, which is what I mainly watch nowadays anyway.

I welcomed FIREDANCE and OWLETMOTH. They definitely broke the mold for a themed puzzle (see what I did there?) by being only one letter short of the theme answers. The two long down answers were even better. 30D: Huge amount, slangily (GAZILLION) is fun, and 11D: Like many mainstream economic theorists (KEYNESIAN) is very nice. I wish more economists were Keynesian.

I didn't like RARES, EMBAR, ALIFE (although it's clued better than "Get ____"). ITE, OIDARECA. Yuck. Or, as this puzzle might say, YIPE.

Oh, well. On the whole, it was pretty good.

- Colum

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tuesday, September 29, 2015, Kurt Krauss


Things didn't start out well aesthetically today. 1A: Surrender (CEDE) went in without a second thought, unless you count the thought: "Oh, it's going to be one of those puzzles." Not an auspicious beginning, and I give it a C-. And indeed, shortly thereafter, I had entered ANON, ENNE (feminine suffices should be eliminated from the language entirely), HIRER, ERIN, and IFI, and I was not out of the NW.

If there was a silver lining to the increasingly dark cloud, it was 1D: One checking you out (CASHIER). I love that clue, and the word is very nice as well. Too bad it's accompanied by ENTITLE and DOORONE (I doubt they ever called it that on "Let's Make a Deal" - it should be "door number one").

Fortunately, we moved out of the NW. There were an extraordinary amount of words ending in -O: LOGO, ARNO (have I mentioned recently that I visited Firenze last year?), ESPO, ITO, ELNINO, VIDEO, NUEVO. TOO? SOO? And what are the Soo Canals? Apparently, they are artificial waterways connecting Lake Superior and Lake Huron, although Soo Locks Googles much better. Perhaps this should not have been a Tuesday clue.

The three corners not in the NW had much better sets of words. 45D: Written introduction? (NAMETAG) is cute. And we all like ASARULE, as a rule.

Oh, yes, the theme. All the long answers have a first word that goes well with "age"... "age"s well? Hmmm. Anyway, the best of these are STONEHENGE because Spinal Tap, and SPACENEEDLE, because "Space Age" is such an unexpected addition to the geological/prehistorical other ages. I would have liked the theme better if the clue for the revealer (69A: A very long time... or a hint to the starts of the answers to the five starred clues) didn't echo 39D: A very long time (EON). I feel that the revealer should be unique in the puzzle.

A lot of dross: AMS, PMS (right above each other, which lessens the blow), SRS, OSS, ENG, BVD, NENE, just to name a few. On the other hand I enjoyed the set of COLORIN, URGEON, and KEPTOUT. Probably a thumbs down on the whole, but just a little.

- Colum

Monday, September 28, 2015

Monday, September 28, 2015, Dan Bischoff and Jeff Chen


Excellent puzzle on a Monday basis. The theme is very well done. All five standard vowels ANDY (and Y) are placed symmetrically in the corners and the midpoints of the top and bottom rows, and the long theme answers use each of the six vowels once. Better, each theme answer is a strong phrase, well accepted and used widely. Even better, the Y in each answer is used as a vowel, not a consonant.

I did not get the theme until I was finished. This is often the case on a Monday, where I'm pushing myself to complete as fast as possible. It was nice then, to finish with the "revealer" in the SE.

But that's not all! There's room for six very strong longer down answers. 3D: Sideshow act that features "the smallest performers in the world" (FLEACIRCUS) is my favorite, but 40D: Attractive companion on the red carpet (ARMCANDY) is great as well. Note that the clue does not presuppose gender in the term, so everybody is equally objectified. Well done, sirs!

There was little in the cluing that was tricky. I liked the verbose clue for TMI. It was clever to have LIE cross TRUER. 31A: Person who regularly cleans his plate? (UMP) was a good clue for that classic bit of crosswordese. I did not like AFAR crossing ASEA, but the puzzle was locked into the vowels in the corners, so I can see how things might have been tight there. A 4-letter word in the pattern A__R that is Monday level?

Similarly, 1A: Meows : cats :: ____ : dogs (ARFS) is not the greatest opening clue, but I'll give it a little leeway for the puzzle structure, so a B.

- Colum

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sunday, September 27, 2015, Tom McCoy


Well. A puzzle can't be completed if the app doesn't have the keys necessary to enter all the required elements. So that's annoying. Or as this puzzle might put it, an"oying.

I understood from very early on that the necessary punctuation would be quotation marks. I tried to figure out why there were actual letters in those 12 squares, but without the visual of the quotation mark, I didn't get the "ditto" meaning. See, each of those quotation marks comes in an answer with double letters. And the mark stands for the second letter.

It's clever, but on the whole, not much fun to figure out without the mark in question. Did I mention that the iPad app doesn't have quotation marks available? Seems like a major oversight to allow this puzzle out.

And then there's SUB"O"K"E"PER. I have been well aware for a number of years of the oddity that is the word bookkeeper, with three pairs of double letters in a row. It would definitely be a mark of distinction to have one down answer cross all of the themed answers, so we get this mishmash of a word that simply doesn't exist in reality in order to make it work. I mean, yes, it Googles, but I suspect only in the way that it exists in this puzzle, as an example of an extreme peculiarity of the English language. Do other languages (besides Finnish, say) have this potential of double letters? Maybe Turkish.

So there's all that. The phrases used are all well accepted and familiar, which is fine.

I had "harmony" at 5D: Something that may have bad keys (KARAOKE). My answer didn't work. I'm not sure the given answer quite encapsulates the meaning of the clue either. The phrase we're looking for is "off key". But I get the gist. I was further fooled by having "arms" at 25A: First in a race? (ADAM). I like my answer a lot here too.

The two "shoot" clues are fun. I like that 32A: "Shoot!" (NERTS) gets the mildness right, while 6A: "Shoot, shoot, shoot" (OHCRUD) gets at the more desperate essence of that exclamation. But why no punctuation on that clue? 27A: Ones doing a decent job in the Bible? (FIGLEAVES) is pretty funny. I also enjoyed 16D: Tools for people picking pockets? (CAUSTICS). And 79D: Conviction... or what's almost required for a conviction (CERTAINTY) is good also.

I could do without REROSE and STENOGS.

1A: "I am not ____" (1975 show business autobiography) (SPOCK) gets an A.

- Colum

Saturday, September 26, 2015, David Woolf

34:27 (FWTE)

One of the great things about doing crossword puzzles, especially really tough ones like today's, is that moment when you figure out one answer and a domino effect happens. This occurred for me with 44D: 2013 Oscar-nominated frontwoman for rock's Yeah Yeah Yeahs (KARENO). I had K_R_N_; I didn't know her name off the top of my head, but some inkling seeped through, and then I put it in. I had 43D: How Viola dresses in "Twelfth Night" (ASAMAN), although I'd wanted "in drag" first. I also had 45D: Commercial command (ACTNOW), after I'd tried buyNOW.

But getting that O allowed me to see 65A: Wet blanket? (SNOW) - nice clue, especially paired with the other "wet blanket" clue, and then EONS, and then the excellent 54A: Foam figures? (LATTEART) became apparent, and then suddenly 7D: Statement of political hubris (APRESMOILEDELUGE) shone through the clouds of my befuddled mind like a shaft of gold when all around is dark. (It was one of Shaw's... anybody know that reference?) And all the rest of the puzzle was filled in. Not correctly, as it turns out, but we'll get to that.

I was struck by how much the structure of the grid resembled yesterday's. There are four 12-letter answers in an offset stack in the middle, with one long answer crossing the middle. But what's different is that the grid is 15x16, and Louis XV's apocryphal statement is the obvious reason why. For a long time, I had _____MOILED____ for that long answer, and really was stuck. Was there something about "turmoil"? Was it talking about an "oiled" machine? Getting all of the long acrosses didn't help!

Speaking of which, that stack is outstanding. 33A: Uncharacteristic quiet spell (RADIOSILENCE) is lovely, and well clued. 37A: Get engaged, in slang (PUTARINGONIT) is great, and got a chuckle from me. 38A: Shooter's bagful (CAMERALENSES) had me thinking about BB shots, as well as marbles, before the crosses made the photography reference became clear. And 39A: Female snakes (VILAINESSES) was a complete surprise. I was sure it was a true zoological term.

There are a whole ton of tricky clues today. 1A: Related thing (TALE) was one of the last entries I made. Such an elegant turnaround from an adjective to a past participle. I'll give it a B+. Meanwhile, 1D: Group with many hits (THEMOB) took me until I'd gotten the error message to understand. In fact, I'd entered rANDs (?) at 27A: Travel mag advertiser (BANDB). I was thinking of Rand McNally, I suppose, and I'd never heard of BOBATEA, although I'm sure some here have. So, yeah.

I'll just highlight a couple: 18A: Passing scores? (DIRGES) is wonderful. I love 37D: Like 1[cent], as costs go (PALTRIEST). How about 57A: Old-school rapper? (FERULE), as in the item used to rap children's knuckles. That is crazy tough. Very little waste here. Two thumbs way up.

- Colum

Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday, September 25, 2015, James Mulhern

21:12 (FWOE)

I finished much of this puzzle in about 10 minutes, but the SW corner really did me in, and all because of one entry I couldn't see was wrong. And even after I corrected it and filled in the corner, my mistake was somewhere else.

Anyway, 1A: Product of Champagne county (PINOTNOIR) starts us off with a bang. I've moved away from that varietal recently, appreciating other French grapes, such as Gigondas and Cotes du Rhone, but the first truly great wine I ever recognized as great was a pinot, at a wine bar in NYC. I suspect I'd had other really good wines prior to that, but I wasn't as aware of them. I give this first clue-entry pair an A-.

I actually broke into the grid at 19A with AMINoS. I later changed it to the correct AMINES. When I put YANG in, PAPAYA was obvious. It took me longer than it ought to have to recall PAVAROTTI's name. I knew who it was, but my brain was stuck on Enrico Caruso, who could certainly have gotten a large number of curtain calls, but who could never have won a Grammy.

I spun out of the NW (rare for me to finish that corner completely first) with INTERNET____. I didn't know yet what they were getting at, but that was enough to find a toehold in the middle of the grid. I guessed that 32A: So-called (but not really) would start with "quasi". Strangely enough, although I was wrong, I got the QU right, which opened up some space. I love QUOTEUNQUOTE, and DOUBLETROUBLE and TOSOMEDEGREE are both excellent entries as well.

I was so proud of myself for knowing 21D: Heroine of "Fidelio" (LEONORE) - Beethoven's various overtures to that ill-fated opera are sometimes called the Leonore overtures - that I failed to notice that I'd chosen to end her name with an A. And since I still don't understand 38A: 2.0s (CEES), the fact that I had that answer wrong didn't register at all. There's my error.

I don't love the NE - PORNO was obvious from the clue, and IONE, ETNA, and ODO are the worst of the entries in the puzzle. The SE, however, is very good. 58A: Ones getting a Bronx cheer, for short? (NYYANKEES) is good, and MOGADISHU is an unusual entry. I had put "NPR" in at 39A: Certain fund drive holder, for short (PTA), even though I knew that Schnabel's first name was Artur. Once I fixed that, the rest of the corner went.

My problem in the SW was that I'd entered AciDIC for 37A: Like certain battery ends (ANODIC). It was only after staring at it for, oh, I don't know, eight minutes, that I realized OSOLEMIO. It didn't help that I'd put Strip in for SLOTS at the bottom.

- Colum