Monday, November 30, 2015

Tuesday, December 1, 2015, Dan Schoenholz


Earlier tonight, Frannie and I had dinner with a woman who saw the Beatles live in concert, not once, but twice! And now we've got this NORWEGIANWOOD theme! What are the chances?!

All was immediately obvious once I had about four or five crosses through the first part (IONCEHADAGIRL), but I suppose that will be true for many people, it being Tuesday and all, and the Beatles being the Beatles and all. So the theme is fine. How can you knock it?

The rest of the fill is a little hit-or-miss. Huygens will certainly enjoy BALI (16A: 1952 Hope/Crosby "Road" movie destination), not because he loves the movie (he might, I don't know), but because he himself will be on the road to Bali very shortly. Perhaps if he hasn't seen it he'll put that movie on the queue! 59A: Long ago, long ago (ERST) is clever, and was the runner-up for favorite clue. I also like HADOUT (2D: Borrowed, as a library book) partly because it is nicely colloquial, partly because I now work in a library, and partly because it took me a long time to figure out. And speaking of that, 12D: Wield (PLY) is a little tricky for a Tuesday, no?

I enjoyed the paired Hope/Crosby clues, the paired "Kind of tide" clues, and interesting tidbits like 9D: Marc who painted "Russian Village Under the Moon" (CHAGALL) and 47D: Daughter of King Cymbeline in Shakespeare's "Cymbeline" (IMOGEN).

Overall, a decent Tuesday.

1A: Picked (CHOSE) - meh. C.
Favorite clue/answer - 15A: Something that might come to light? (MOTH) That's good, even with the question mark.

- Horace

Monday, November 30, 2015, Ian Livengood


My last blog post of 2015, and I break the 3:30 mark! Tomorrow I turn the reins back over to Horace and Frances to finish out the year. Is this really the second year I've done this? Yes, in looking back through the archives, I see that we started switching months in January, 2014. It doesn't feel that long, and I'm still about 29 years old in my mind, too, so that's how that sort of thing works.

Today's puzzle went by quickly (clearly), but I did notice the odd pairs of As in the middle of each long answer. And thus, the revealer: MIDASTOUCH, or, reparsed, MID "A"S TOUCH. That's awfully clever, Mr. Livengood. It is certainly true: each theme answer is ten letters long, with the pattern [4 letters]AA[4 letters]. Of these 5 answers (and that's a lot, along with the revealer), two are topnotch, namely FIONAAPPLE and PAULAABDUL. What an odd mismatched couple these two popstars make!

LHASAAPSOS is perfectly acceptable, although that pluralization was needed to fit the pattern. SANTAANITA is likewise acceptable: I guess I'm docking it slightly because I've never heard of it, but it's been in operation since 1934 and it's been hosting the Breeder's Cup for the last 4 years. Finally, OPERAARIAS is just a made up phrase, and pluralized to boot. While there are arias outside of opera (oratorio, cantata, even individual songs; the famous Bach "air" from the Orchestral Suite is also an "aria"), you'd still call a solo in an opera simply an aria.

Despite the large amount of theme, there's still room for some nice fill, such as LAKEGENEVA, CLIPBOARDS (although pluralized again), and SIXTEEN. 1A: Add alcohol to, as punch (SPIKE) is very nice, and I give it a B+. Of course there's enough of the OLIO ARG CCCP ORES ARAL stuff, but my nose was not turned up by it.

Some good clues abounded, especially for a Monday. I liked 49A: C minor, for Beethoven's Fifth (KEY) and 32A: Union man? (GROOM). My favorite though, was 6A: Caesar dressing? (TOGA). Nice.

- Colum

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sunday, November 29, 2015, Alex Vratsanos


As I'm sure all of you know, because you've been counting along, this blog post is the 1000th on this site. The first entry was on March 13, 2013 (the year was not included in the post title, perhaps an indication of how long Horace thought the blog might go on?). It was a Wednesday, and the posted time of 39:22 certainly says something about how far we've progressed in terms of solving ability.

I know Horace and Frances wanted to create a blog which catalogued the efforts of "normal" solvers of the NYT, rather than the incredibly fast times posted on other similar sites. The more you do something, however, the better you get at it. I know my times have definitely gone down over the past year or two of doing each puzzle.

I do want to point out that this is not the 1000th puzzle solved. There were at least two posts which were not attached to a puzzle: Horace's summary of the ACPT he attended, and my own summary post of September's grading system. So the honor of discussing that landmark grid will go to Horace on December 1, which is only fitting.

Anyway, on today's puzzle. The theme is interesting: there are four 4-letter words, though not of the sort we all expected on reading the title. If you take them in order from left to right, and top to bottom, you get OVER, HEAD, LONG, and SHOT. By combining them in all possibilities where no word can go before a word ahead of it, you get 6 combinations: overhead, overlong, overshot, headlong, headshot, and longshot. Each of these then provides the clue for the longer theme answers, in order from left to right and top to bottom.

I like the setup: it's rigorous and interesting. I don't love BEYONDTHETIMELIMIT as a definition for "overlong"; although in thinking about it, I get that, for example, a presidential candidate in a debate who runs past the buzzer, well, his or her answer would be overlong. I was thinking more along the lines of a quiz show or something.

YEARBOOKPHOTOGRAPH is an interesting choice for a "headshot". Normally I'd think of a publicity picture for an actor or dancer. NOTAGOODBET for "longshot" is my favorite of the answers. How hard would it have been to have every single combination of words represented? That would be 12 entries, and the words would have to be chosen very carefully.

There are a number of nice 9-letter and 8-letter down answers scattered through the grid. I liked ABRASIVES, STATUETTE, SANITIZER, and SKELETOR the best. I don't really like AGEMATES at all. I don't buy it as a real term, although it Googles perfectly well. I also don't like 45A: Workers on the board (IRONERS) - the clue is fine, the answer is just one of those -ER words, and it's pluralized as well.

27A: What a driverless car drives (ITSELF) is great. Right to the point. 49A: It covers everything quite clearly (SARAN) is also very good, although do we ever say just "saran" and not addend the "wrap"? Glad to have OGDEN Nash represented, as always.

I can't give a grade to 1A, because it's a theme entry. Maybe my favorite clue-answer pair is 34D: Mustard, but not ketchup: Abbr. (COL), referring to the game Clue. Nice hidden capital.

- Colum

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Saturday, November 28, 2015, Ned White


This is an incredibly smooth grid. The shape calls for no answers longer than seven letters, with 36 seven-letter answers, 16 three-letter answers, 12 five-letter answers, and 8 four-letter answers. The corners are not isolated, with nice chunks connecting them together, so you're not left with four mini-puzzles.

I broke in at 2D: Compound in apricot pits (CYANIDE), and followed with UNI and LOL. I looked at 6D: Jack holder, and thought, "could that be TRUNK?" When I saw 25A: Clinton successor (KERRY), I knew I was right. The only answer in the NW I don't like too much is IFSO. Otherwise, they're all solid. Ah, SCHLITZ. I remember you well from watching Sox games in the 1970s. I give the answer an A- for nostalgia's sake. Mind you, for me, Christmas is a solidly SECULAR holiday. However, I get the point of the clue.

The NE followed naturally. I got SATIRIC, and put in AGESAGO off that A. Amazingly, I recalled AGOUTIS with just the G, and the rest of the corner fell pretty easily. SAZERAC is a fine answer. I never watched "Three's Company", but the answer was pretty obvious from the crossings. ROTO doesn't Google at all, so I suppose the clue is as good as any could be.

TRANQ and RUINOUS gave me KENOSHA. I didn't get 48A: Powerful board member (QUEEN) until just now. It has now become my favorite clue-answer pair of the day. The SE is my favorite corner of the bunch. Great clue for HEXAGON, and 52A: 10-ish? (SEXY) is funny. You also get the pair of "John" clues at 36A: John, abroad (IAN) and 60D: John (LAV). I wanted to put "loo" in at both places. I also like the NBALOGO and AERATOR. GARO Yepremian is an old-time reference. I needed all the crosses, but they were fair.

There's a nice sense of vernacular in the puzzle with CHINWAG, TOSSPOT, and PIEHOLE. That last makes me think of "the penguin sketch". Although, after watching the sketch, I realize that phrase is not in it at all. Oh, well. I'll put it in here anyway for the fun of it.

I finished in the SE. I think VOTERID laws should be AVOIDED, but I like the crossing of friendship (AMISTAD) with love (AIMEE). I've never had OHS brand cereal before. Why would you not just get Honey Nut Cheerios? I thought so. My last square was the crossing of LGA with SEGUE.

Thumbs up here.

- Colum

Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday, November 27, 2015, Pete Wentz

11:42 (FWOE)

Well, I really enjoyed this puzzle thoroughly. It's a quadruple triple stack of 10-letter answers, which means 12 long answers, all of which I liked with exception of one. That's pretty impressive. Then, in addition, there's a fine diagonal of 5-letter answers down the middle. Good flow, overall.

I broke in with 15A: Browse without comment (LURK), a term I remember well from the days of online bulletin boards and forums. Does anybody still use those in the age of social networking? Once I added BOKCHOY (very nice) and ELK, I suddenly saw 3D: Fall out of line (BREAKRANKS). 1D: Crosses, as a range (CLIMBSOVER) seems just a little off, but is certainly accurate. AUDIOPHILE completes this trio. I made my mistake here, where I put OHARe at 30A: John who wrote "BUtterfield 8" (OHARA). Should have realized SHIe made no sense.

1A: Napa options, informally (CABS) is referring to the wines, which moves it up a full grade to a B-.

Despite getting TODAY, I had no more purchase in the transition to the NE, so I moved to the SW. RESPECTS moved me in. 40D: Small bomb used for breaking down gates (PETARD) is wonderful. Now I now what they mean by "hoisted by one's own petard" means. 37D: What's the point? (DECIMAL) is also very nice.

48A: It might involve someone "so fat" or "so old" (YOMAMAJOKE) is a winner, as is 53A: What to grab for the road? (HANDLEBARS). I don't love 51A: Regular joes (AVERAGEMEN), just because it feels like two words stuck together rather than a widespread term. 46D: Home of "Christina's World," familiarly (MOMA) was opaque to me, and the first M was my last square entered.

43A: Halluces (BIGTOES) should have been immediately apparent to me, as we often test the extensor hallucis longus in Neurology. But I read it as a strange version of "hallucinates". In any case, 27D: One stuck abroad? (VOODOODOLL) wins for best clue-answer pair today. Any reference to Star Trek's a winner (ENGINEROOM), and 29D: Starting line (READYSETGO) is also great.

The NE has the best set of three answers, though. I love STIFFDRINK, NOSIREEBOB, and ADAGENCIES took me a while to parse correctly (18A: They get spots out).

Very well done.

- Colum

P.S. The new They Might Be Giants album is out on Spotify. I'm listening to it right now.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thursday, November 26, 2015, Ed Sessa

9:12 (FWOE)

Happy Thanksgiving! I'm writing this while waiting for the last cooking moments to arrive. There will be more sides than main courses, but that's how it should be, right? And of course, dessert. Yum.

Today's puzzle is a little odd, even for a Thursday. Our theme, apparently, is common misspellings. There are TEN examples in the clues, and five potential pitfalls in the puzzle itself. What's really clever about the shaded in squares in the puzzle is that if you did happen to misspell the long word, the crosses would work as well: thus 22A: Gently strokes, as a dog (PATS) crosses SEPARATE. If you misspelled it as SEPeRATE, the crossing would be PeTS, which works.

I'm not convinced by 35D: ____-faced lie (BALD) working with BoLD, but GRAY/GReY, CLICK/CLaCK, OHS/aHS, and my favorite, DREW/DRaW (again, it's that ambiguity of tense when using the word "set" as a verb). And how clever is it that one of the misspelled words in the clues is "mispelled"? Very cute.

When I got the message I'd made an error, I thought perhaps I was supposed to misspell everything. When that didn't work, I looked around and realized I'd put PEErAT at 9D: Eye quickly (PEEKAT), so there's your error.

Some things I don't like in this grid: UPRISE (15A: Revolt). Does anybody say that? "The peasants uprose." Nah. "The peasants rose up in revolt." Much better. That reminds me of Groucho Marx in Duck Soup. Also EBATE (ugh!), and EPOS (really wanted EPic here, and I'm still unsatisfied). There are a large number of 3-letter alphabet soup glue entries, such as 1A: Health-promoting org. (CDC), which I'll give a C-, only because I support said organization.

My favorite clue-answer pair is 18D: Drop, like flies? (UNZIP). Hah! I also enjoyed CYCLIC, the pair of OMSK and DACHA, and 57A: Carom (BANK).

Interesting puzzle.

- Colum

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Wednesday, November 25, 2015, Duncan Kimmel and Clara Williamson

5:12 (FWOE)

This went pretty smoothly, over all, so I was surprised when I got the error message. Turns out I'd put SoP in at 19A: One easily duped (SAP) and didn't check the crossing closely because it was in Spanish, which I don't know. Anyways...

The theme is okay: take a well known television show title (and all four are essentially contemporary, although Mad Men finished this year), and interpret it literally. Thus Mad Men becomes PSYCHOPATHS and House of Cards HALLMARKSTORE. These two are fine. I think I like Game of Thrones being MUSICALCHAIRS the best. The Walking Dead being PALLBEARERS is off. It is true that they carry the dead while walking, but it's not quite right.

By far my favorite clue-pair answer was 31D: "All but one" win, in bridge (SMALLSLAM). I keep on trying to get Horace and Frances interested in bridge. It's the best card game there is out there. And it has such a bum rap as an "old people's" game.

1A: Paris pyramid designer (IMPEI) is becoming a standard entry, but because of the topicality and the complete name (or at least complete as he usually went by), I'll give it a B-.

Don't like SINUS or it's clue (Stuffy site?). 18A: Grp. on the range? (NRA) isn't really clever enough to merit a question mark.

On the other hand, I was amused by KIRK crossing AMUCK, if only for the classic Trek episode "Amok Time". 3D: Disappearing conveniences (PAYPHONES) is so true. They're just not around anymore. I am reminded of the scene in Airplane! when all the reporters run into the payphones at the same time and the whole bank falls over. Good times.

Anyway, a ton of glue, and not much more. Didn't love it.

- Colum

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tuesday, November 24, 2015, Gary Cee


Okay, I loved this puzzle, for so many reasons. How rare is it to get such a high quality Tuesday? And with five theme answers, it's nicely dense as well.

So, that theme. You had me at HMSPINAFORE, of course. I had no clue what the theme was until I entered the revealer at 60A. The SPINCYCLE is extremely well hidden. It's a true progression from "pins" to "insp" to "nspi" to "spin". And, to make it even better, the four letters span every word in the phrases.

I never saw UPINSMOKE (in fact, I don't think I ever saw a true Cheech and Chong movie, since I'm pretty sure you can't count "Yellowbeard", that peculiar Monty Python/Peter Cook/Marty Feldman/Cheech & Chong bizarre mix. I loved it when I was 13, but upon seeing it again with my kids, I found it mostly unfunny). How amusing was it to have TOKE cross it, though? Right? Very nice to have to complete names with KEVINSPACEY and STEVENSPIELBERG.

The fill is actually pretty good, given the density of the theme material. A lot of proper names, such as POTOK, NEGEV, ATARI, ELI, RABAT, ALI, and ESTEE. I'm a huge fan of Tina FEY, so happy to see it clued the proper way here. I know some folks around here like NOAM Chomsky as well. Ooh! And Sparky LYLE! I liked that reference to my childhood, even if he was a Yankee.

Hey, is LASS a nod to G&S also? It's the subtitle of Pinafore: The Lass That Loved a Sailor. Bonus from me.

1A: ____ Games (PANAM) was one of the few clues I didn't get right off the bat. When I had the P, I thought of "party" games, first; only the "Games" is capitalized, and so that didn't work. Where did I go next? "Panem" Games. Referring, of course, to the fictional dystopian future world of the Mockingjay universe. Only, see, those are called the Hunger Games. So, no dice. Anyway, too much about one clue. I'll give it a C-.

My favorite clue-answer pair is 9D: Baritones, typically (MEN). Awesome! Yet another much better clue than that stupid annoyed feminist nonsense from some time ago. I love that the door is open for those really deep-voiced women out there.

- Colum

Monday, November 23, 2015, Parker Lewis


I don't think I've seen this theme before. At first I thought it was counting down, but in fact we have increasing fractions from one fifth to the whole. I like all of the theme answers, although FIFTHELEMENT requires the clue to carry the "The" of the title. Frankly, four out of the five answers really require that definite article to be complete, but only the first supplies it in the clue. I like WHOLESHEBANG the best of the lot.

1A: Cover during a rain delay (TARP) is once again a very reasonable start to the puzzle, and I'll give it a B. There are two very nice 10-letter down answers in 11D: Hawaii's nickname (ALOHASTATE) and 29D: Paintings with fruits and vases, often (STILLLIFES). I like the three straight Ls in that one.

I never liked ODIE, either in the comic strip or in a puzzle. Otherwise I have no quibbles. Nothing much to exclaim about in the cluing otherwise, so for my favorite clue-answer pair, I'm going with 22D: Like a squirrel's acorns (STASHED).

Overall, it's a NICEONE. And the Pats won, so that's nice also. Good night!

- Colum

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday, November 22, 2015, Samuel A. Donaldson and Jeff Chen


What a pleasing and smooth puzzle. If I have any complaint, it's that it was too easy. I finished well under my average Sunday time, and I rarely had to hesitate even when filling in an answer.

The theme is nicely carried out: as the title suggests, each theme answer takes a right hand turn. But beyond that, if you take the portion that has turned and put it after "right on", you get an answer to the clue "exact". Thus, 25A: Threshold of major change (TIPPING[POINT]), and 26D: Exact ([RIGHTON]POINT).

Each theme answer is definitely a recognizable answer, with the possible exception of SNOOKER[CUE]. I also like that the answers are not symmetrically placed.  I take this back. The answers are symmetrically placed, but the right turns make them feel asymmetric. Nonetheless, it wasn't an issue to recognize the theme answers because of the "exact" clues. It was definitely cool that two of the answers cross each other as well.

1A: Big gasbag? (BLIMP) got a smile from me, so I'll give it a B+. I didn't love UTAHN or RUMBAED. Likewise, there are some standard meh fill, like AST, KIVA (never heard of them), and a few partials. But minimal, really for such a big grid.

And who can complain when DCUP is present? Not to mention the triumphant return of DDAYS. I hope that doesn't herald the start of a new streak.

I think my favorite clue-answer pair was at 93A: Modern spelling? (WICCA). I did think for a moment of Tori Spelling, but there was no hidden capital, and she's not very much in the current news.13D: It's in the eye of the beholder (IRIS) was an amusingly specific clue. 17D: Equity valuation stat (PERATIO) was not familiar to me, but the crosses were fine.

Anyway, I don't have too much to say, but I enjoyed it fine.

- Colum

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Saturday, November 21, 2015, Natan Last


Don't you love it when a mistake actually helps? It's so rare, especially on a Saturday.

Let me just say, before I get into all that, that I love this grid shape, with the vague S shape, with two open chunks going across just above and below the middle. The trio of 15-letter answers down the middle is a nice challenge that is met beautifully by Mr. Last.

So I got entree at 5A: ____ of Glamis (Shakespearean epithet) (THANE). I didn't need the parenthetical to get this reference to the Scottish play. Off of the H, at 6D: Modern-day "You can't please everyone", I immediately put in HAshtaG... figuring I'd get the ironic completion later on. As you can see, although I was wrong, I was in fact correct in two of those 7 letters after the H. Actually, now that I think about it, my mistake really didn't help me that much.

Nonetheless, I also put a partial in at 7D: Los Angeles-based clothing giant (AMERICANAPPAREL), getting the first part of the answer off of that A. Things were looking great! Considering I also put NPR and 9D: A slave to crosswords? (ESNE) quickly (BTW, I love the clue on that one!), I thought I was off to the races.

Actually, I had to leave all that and work in the lower section of the grid to get further purchase. 42A: Book with the line "My father can read big words, too. / Like Constantinople and Timbuktu" (HOPONPOP) was great - I remember that line with glee; after all, I was reading it to my kids. DOCTRINAL and GUAPOS are very nice as well, and it was those entries that got me THENOTORIOUSBIG. When I had ____WNHR at the end of 18A: Night-life industry bigwig (CLUBOWNER), I realized my mistake above, and corrected 6D to the excellent HATERSGONNAHATE.

Meanwhile, there is a ton of excellent fill elsewhere, including YOYOMA, BOLLYWOOD, PACKERS, and IDONTBITE. That last one I had a W in the place of the D which made the SW the final section to drop: I had _IOWE at 45D: Current path? (DIODE).

Wonderful cluing going on, such that there are three genuine challengers for best clue-answer pair of the day. Here are my choices: 32D: Seconds (SIDEKICKS); 58A: "Luxuries," not "necessities," per Cher (MEN); and finally, 30A: They may be put on a stretcher (YOGAPANTS). In my not so humble opinion, the first, while a great unexpected definition, it seems just slightly off in that I think of duellists as having seconds, and I don't think you refer to them as sidekicks.

The Cher reference is a nice rebuttal to the recent fooforaw over Wednesday's 71A: Exasperated comment from a feminist (MEN). This clue is far more interesting and non-offensive. Still, my favorite is definitely 30A, because I love the reinterpretation of "stretcher" from the sense of a medical transport bed to a person who is stretching. And, plus, well, you know. Yoga pants. Nuff said.

1A: Coddle (BABY) is pretty good. B. I didn't love PDS, OTO, or KYD. Otherwise, thumbs up all around for me.

- Colum

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday, November 20, 2015, Mary Lou Guizzo

14:57 (FWOE)

Let's get that pesky little error out of the way to begin with. 7D: Pepsi Freeze is one of its flavors (ICEE) is pretty obvious in retrospect. I had tried tCby (for the frozen yogurt chain), and that T stuck around even after I fixed the last two letters. Somehow I had convinced myself that ALtA made sense for 5A: Others, to Octavia (ALIA). Maybe she was Italian? Even though that would be "altrui"? No, they were looking for the Latin version, and I failed.

The rest of this puzzle was a mix of really good and not so good. To get the latter out of the way, it's unfortunate to have not one but two RE- answers (51A: Pass again at Daytona (RELAP) and 43D: Keep treating, as a sprain (REICE)). The clues were fresh; the answers, not so much. Then, there's the very strange 3D: Math columnist? (ADDER). I'm not really sure what's being gotten at here. If anyone can enlighten me, I'd be delighted. Similarly, why are THRONES clued as "Going places?"?

On the other hand, it was a surprise to have GABRIELLE GIFFORDS complete in two different spots. I liked the two NASA destinations (CERES and EROS). 33D: Aegis (AUSPICES) is my nominee for best clue-answer pair. Both excellent words, nicely connected. We could have had TRUMP clued in a less pleasant way, so I applaud that. 1A: Event handouts (SWAG) is fine, but it would be better if I could get me some of that myself. B-.

I don't know. I think it was a good puzzle, but I didn't love it. And ILE is back again.

Always like REN.

- Colum

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thursday, November 19, 2015, Andrew Zhou


What, no axons or D-day today? I feel lost. Untethered. Adrift.

Actually, that's how I felt for much of the puzzle today. I couldn't figure out any of the themed answers, and needed the entire revealer answer less one letter before I could make heads or tails of it. But when I did... Color me impressed.

Things started smoothly enough in the NW, where I filled in the first three down and across answers without any issue. I got into trouble when I guessed TOPknot at 5D: Clip art? (TOPIARY). Things weren't much better in the middle N, when I guessed poet for 8D: One going on foot? (SHOE).

After that, I bounced around, getting very little traction in any area. I knew 27A was solar plexus, but couldn't figure out how to fit it in. Anyway, I got WHILEAWAY at 54A: Kill, as time (very nice!), and although the SW corner was confusing due to the nearly ungettable crossing at HOLI (never heard of it) and ILE (possibly because they're much better known as the Marquesas Islands, even though they're in French Polynesia, I worked my way across the bottom.

Finally, I had A_TOCOMPLETE. It wasn't until my mind made the leap to put in KATHIELEEGIF[FORD] that it all came together. Let me just say that SOLARP[LEXUS] and HELPMER[HONDA] are brilliant. STRINGT[RIO], BELON[GTO], and ANNODO[MINI] aren't at the same level, although the way the classic crosswordese GTO becomes part of something larger is good to see.

There's very little to dislike in this grid, IMHO. I'd never heard of 6A: Sigmatism (LISP), so that's a nice word to pick up. EELED is not great, and GIGLI is better forgotten than remembered, I imagine. Although I'm going entirely by reputation, never having seen it.

I think my favorite clue-answer pair is 18A: Cartoon character created by a marine biologist (SPONGEBOB). That's a great piece of trivia. 1A: Lead on (TEMPT) is pretty good too, and I'll give it a B+.

Thumbs up overall.

- Colum

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wednesday, November 18, 2015, Zachary Spitz


I have a feeling Horace commented on yesterday's puzzle after having finished today's. 16A: Nerve cell conductors (AXONS) and 35D: When the Battle of Normandy started (DDAY). Really? Does Mr. Shortz hold onto these puzzles in order to run them in a row? It's not even close to June 6.

Okay. So this is a cute theme, with one outstanding answer and three passable ones. My favorite is obviously 59A: It's remarkable! (DRYERASEBOARD). That's very clever. I entered 20A: It's striking! (LIGHTNINGBOLT) with just the first two letters in place. 33A: It's unbelievable! (BALDFACEDLIE) is not even a funny twist on the phrase. That being said, I love the actual answer. And finally, 43A: It's breathtaking! (ASTHMAATTACK) I like just because of the AATT in the middle there.

Yesterday, Horace also remarked on a series of 3-letter answers running across. Today's is worse: MPS LOD CHA END. The only thing interesting there was the chutzpah it took to use the airport abbreviation for TELAVIV. Seriously? I got it entirely from the crosses, all of which were fair, but just... no.

1A: "___ you in?" (ARE). Oh dear. I give it a D (or as some wag said recently, a 65). I wasn't fooled by RANDD for once. I didn't want to see IVANA Trump in the grid, any more than I want to think about her ex-husband.

My favorite clue-answer, by default, is 60D: "Lovely ____, meter maid" (Beatles lyric) (RITA). I love that song, and always have. But I hardly needed the parenthetical to get the answer.

VIACOM next to ETRADE. I'm out.

- Colum

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tuesday, November 17, 2015, Paula Gamache


This is the new me. I took time to check crossings! And no errors. Clearly, I can draw a solid conclusion from this test run of one puzzle to say this is the better way.

On the other hand, this puzzle was what I'd call pedestrian. The theme is cute: phrases that have "ear" hidden in the middle of them, thus, an INNER EAR. The revealer wasn't clever, unfortunately; no pun or some sort of twist. It wasn't even clued except as a revealer. I don't quite understand that. And while the word "ear" is split across the two words of each phrase, I can't imagine it's that hard to find such phrases.

It's impressive that there are six theme answers, plus the revealer, which is a lot of space devoted to the theme. I call a Natick at the crossing of EDDIEARCARO and ROC, at least how the latter is clued (7D: Miami Beach's Eden ____ resort). I happened to choose the C as an educated guess, and was fortunately correct. I didn't know the jockey's name, although I see he rode both Whirlwind and Citation.

The other theme answers are all much more accessible, but none stand out as marquee answers.

The down side of all of this theme is the remainder of the fill. The NW corner is the best because it is the least constrained. All of the answers there are solid, although the commercial GEICO and the hated TINO Martinez (at least from my Boston perspective) grate somewhat. 1A: Friend in a Western (AMIGO) is straightforward, and gets a B from me.

The corresponding corner in the SE has the additional constraint of the revealer, leading to HORNE and HELENE, either of which would be fine (especially Lena, divine), but which right next to each other is a little rough. It also has my favorite clue-answer pair at 55A: "Brandenburg Concertos" instruments (VIOLAS) - for my brother and sister-in-law. Also, the reference is particularly nice, because of the sixth such concerto, which in fact has two solo violas.

Otherwise, RLS, ESE, SDS, FAA, SSR, DDAY (again!). Strange to have ALASKA, ANGUILLA, and RHODESIA all running down in the puzzle, although the last has a number of ugly connotations to its name.

- Colum

Monday, November 16, 2015

Monday, November 16, 2015, Jim Holland

4:15 (FWTE)

Man, I've got to take a couple of seconds just to check crossings before putting the last letter in. I put StEAm in at 56D: What you do in a sauna (SWEAT). Both are acceptable answers, and they share three letters, so it looked pretty good! Sadly, only one is correct, and not the one I chose to enter. What's funny is that I actually "checked" the crossing at 59A, as it is the revealer for the theme, and my brain, marvelous machine that it is, filled in the last letter for me, without actually seeing it fully.

Damn brain.

And now, of course, looking over the puzzle again, I see that 4D: Makes furious (STEAMS) would invalidate doubly my chosen answer.

Anyway, today's puzzle is a reasonable Monday. The theme is phrases which contain three letters in a row. KLMAIRLINES will certainly appeal to certain core members of this blog. ABCANCHOR is fine, and XYZAFFAIR is definitely a thing, although its day is long past, such that I had to put it together primarily from the theme.

1A: Alternatives to PCs (MACS) is only okay, if only because, of course, it should be the other way around. Macs are the primary choice, and PCs are what you use when you can't get a Mac. So I'll give it a C-. My favorite clue-answer pair is 3D: Middle of 100,000? (COMMA). Otherwise, all the clues are straightforward.

Didn't like RELEE, ANAT, ISTO, EELY. Otherwise it's fine.

- Colum

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday, November 15, 2015, Alan Arbesfeld


Color me impressed: that's four days running with high quality crosswords, five if you liked David Steinberg's multiple R bonanza on Wednesday. Today's puzzle featured a wide-open grid, with a lot of lovely seven- and eight-letter words sprinkled throughout. I really enjoyed the STROLLS I took down its various paths. There was only one section of below average fill. Very nice.

I found this to be an easier than average Sunday, but that was okay, given the style of the fill and the humor in the theme. With only five across themed answers, there was room for two down themed answers, neither of which crossed any of the across themes. This is how you make a clean puzzle.

So, change a W in a phrase to a WH, changing its word to a homonym, and make a clue to make sense of the resultant new phrase. By far, my favorite was 41A: Roller coaster shout from Queen Elizabeth? (THEROYALWHEE). That's laugh out loud. None of the others quite match the lovely absurdity of that clue and answer. I liked that THEPRINCEOFWHALES made another British connection, and GETOUTOFMYWHEY is cute. WHICHDOCTOR is the least interesting of the lot.

The crossing of OCAT and IMARI could have been a Natick for any number of solvers, I imagine. One-o'cat is apparently baseball played on a cricket pitch, more or less. There's only a home plate and one base and you have to run back and forth. I never heard of it, much less played it. Plus, WNET is a guess for anybody outside of NYC. Granted, this is the New York Times, but still.

I also didn't like OGEES crossing ENSE. Both of these are well established crosswordese standards, but you don't like to see them that way. Otherwise, ENNEADS was a surprise, ARMERS is a little ugly, but I'll take just about everything else.

1A: Animals at a football game (MASCOTS) made me think of Lions, Tigers (college football - the Clemson ones are ranked number one currently), and Bears, oh my. So the actual answer was a twist I liked okay. I'll give it a B. How about 21A: Lay bare (UNCLOTHE)? That was very nice. Combine that with 52A: Make out (NECK) for a steamy evening.

My favorite clue and answer pair is 121A: You may want to stop reading when you see this (SPOILER). Very nice bit of cluing.

- Colum

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Saturday, November 14, 2015, Kameron Austin Collins


Dare I say it? I think this puzzle was better than yesterday's Patrick Berry grid. It's got a lovely mix of new and old, a smooth flow through the grid, and very little fill I didn't like.

I put 19A: Tut relative (TSK) in off of the presumed S at the end of 2D. It's a cute clue for a common crosswordism, just the slightest amount of misdirection. I thought PCAS (People's Choice Awards?) and then VMAS (MTV Video Music Awards). While the second one was wrong, with ODIN at 8D, I got IMAFRAIDSO, which led precisely nowhere, because of that V.

I next hazarded HISAIRNESS for 26D: Jordan, to worshipers. It's another nice little piece of misdirection, and I was pleased to see I'd guessed right when I put AREA, INA, and PEST in. I thought 51A: Staff at sea (MAST) might be MeSs, I'm not really sure why, since the mess is where you eat, and the staff serves you, at least if it's a luxury liner. Except then it's not really a mess at all, is it? It's a grand dining room. Right. Anyway, I figured it out when one of the few words I didn't like in the puzzle, LANATE became clear. I've always had a soft spot for THENATURAL, but I thought for a while they were referring to a still life with that clue (Picture about a pitcher). Truthfully, he's only a pitcher for a short time, isn't he?

What about 28D: Uses pickup lines, in slang (SPITSGAME)? That was a term I'd never come across before. I'm a little unsure whether it has a negative connotation, after researching on Urban Dictionary.

BTW, I once again got fooled by tense with a clue using the word "fit". 37A: Fit for (TAILORTO), I had as TAILORed for a long time. This meant that the very middle of the puzzle was the last to go.

I used CORNROWS to move into the SE. I guessed STATEflags at 54A: Where California and Missouri put bears (STATESEALS). I love WARONWOMEN. 36D: Secret enforcers (GAGLAWS) moved me up the E. I don't quite get 36A: Like players on opposing teams, often (GIBED). Are we to understand that they are taunting each other, and so each one then is a "gibed" person? Doesn't quite work.

But the NE corner works great. Each of the downs is excellent, from TINTIN to ICEICEBABY, to TAXSHELTER, to ONTHEROAD. That's great, and you get DOMINEER and CEVICHE across.

Finally, I worked my way back into the NW, where 1A: Place like Chicago's Boystown or San Francisco's Castro, in modern lingo (GAYBORHOOD) wins best clue-answer pair, and gets a strong A from me. The clue is a bit wordy, but it's worth it.

I can overlook HITAT, OSO, BLO, and a few others for top quality. Oh, and here's another great one: 24D: There's no sense in them (COMAS). That's outstanding.

- Colum

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday, November 13, 2015, Patrick Berry


A smooth and pleasing themeless from Mr. Berry. I've never seen Frozen, so 1A is something I know purely from these crosswords. OLAF is a classic bit of crosswordese, so I'm glad it's no longer clued with reference to the King of Norway. I'll give it a C-, and it's definitely one of the worst bits of the puzzle, so unfortunate it's at 1A. Fortunately, everything looked up quickly thereafter.

The NW corner actually fell into place quickly. I had ORBS, which led to BLEND____ (I misread the clue to be in the present tense. I like FENCERS, and ACEYDEUCY is really nice, although I wanted there to be another E before the final Y, so left it as ACEYDEUCe. This led to that small section being the final area I filled in.

19A: Words before taking a shot? (SAYCHEESE) was very good - I was thinking about "lights, camera, action", or "ready, aim, fire". Very nice clue at 8D: SpongeBob SquarePants lives inside one (PINEAPPLE) - which leads to the point that living in an underwater pineapple is pretty absurd.

There are a number of misleading clues. How about 41A: Time unit (ISSUE) - nice hidden capital there? And crossing it, 31D: South African game (GNUS). 44D: Ironic items to steal (ALARMS) is just plain silly, in a good way. And SMORE redux!

I think my favorite clue-answer is 42D: Given a raw deal (SHAFTED), just for the rawness of the answer. I also enjoyed 30D: Metropolis misidentification (ITSAPLANE).

I probably liked the NE the least, with FILLIP and LUIGI. AQUIVER is a nice word, though, even with that extra A.

Good Friday. Looking forward to tomorrow's!

- Colum

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thursday, November 12, 2015, David Kwong


A really challenging rebus puzzle, at least for me. And who doesn't love a good rebus puzzle on a Thursday? I like that the PA squares are randomly s[pa]ttered across the grid, making them unpredictable. I knew something was up when I hit 15A, and knew I wanted OOM[PA]H[PA]H, but I didn't know yet how to fit it in. It didn't help that the next rebus answer I knew was SAMPECKIN[PA]H, in that the final syllable was the same. It wasn't until 54A: Blanket remedies ([PA]NACEAS) that I figured it out.

The revealer is very well done today. 40A: Popular zoo attraction ... or a hint to 11 squares in this puzzle (PANDA). The two unchecked squares highlight the other way to read the answer, namely P and A. It makes for an unusual right-left symmetry to the grid, and also gives four 10-letter down answers in the top portion of the grid. I like 3D: Cold (IMPERSONAL) - a very succinct clue for a nice word. I'm also [pa]rtial to S[PA]NISHRICE. Yum.

I don't know if anybody who reads this blog knows that not so long ago I was in Rome, and visited the Vatican City. I did not get to see the [PA][PA]L[PA]LACE, more's the pity, but it wins my vote for best theme answer of the day. I also enjoyed the 16-letter answers shoehorned into a 15 x 15 grid.

The reason I had such an ex[pa]nsive time for this puzzle lies in the NE corner. I didn't see that I'd misspelled 12D, and the hidden capital in 18A: Hall of fame (ARSENIO) was just that, hidden, don't you see. Or you don't see. Or at least I didn't see, you see. Anyway, after I fixed that, I was left with 13D: Permanently (ININK). I really had ININ_ and just couldn't see it. [Pa]rtly because I was torn between STOic and STONY for 14D: Expressionless.

Oh, and also, I missed [PA]LIMONY for a while, thinking it was aLIMONY, which left aSSE for 50D: Out ([PA]SSE). Didn't seem right.

I obviously should love 1A: ____ nerve, the longest in the human body (SCIATIC), but it took far too long to figure out, seeing as I had fouLS at 1D for a while. I'll give it a B. My second choice for favorite clue-answer pair is 38A: Bygone European capital (LIRA). Took me too long to realize it was about money. My first choice is 2D: What's between here and the sun, in song? (COMES). That's really clever!

Didn't like MAMMY, but that's about it. Thumbs up.

- Colum

PS: Hang on! The grid's a panda!!!!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Wednesday, November 11, 2015, David Steinberg


I really zipped through this puzzle today. I had no clue what the theme would be (and neither did any of you, I'm sure), until I'd finished the whole thing. I recognized that there was a huge amount of icky fill, but it was all very straightforward, so nothing held me up at all.

Which made the reveal kind of awesome, to be honest. I'm sure there will be some out there in the NYT blogging world who will say it wasn't worth it. To me, it absolutely was. 62A: Old rush participants ... or a three-part hint to what can be found in this puzzle's grid or clues (FORTYNINERS)... or parsed a different way, forty-nine Rs.

Let's take a moment to appreciate the artistry here. Yes, there are 49 Rs in the grid, but even better, every single across answer and every single down answer has at least one R in it. And then, there are 49 Rs in the words that make up all of the clues. I may have miscounted, but I think the 49th is the R in Across. That's attention to detail.

Then, the two long theme answers, MARGARETFARRAR and REARVIEWMIRROR, each have 5 Rs, while the two shorter theme answers, RIGHTASRAIN and FORTYNINERS, each have 2 Rs. I like the symmetry. And by the way, how about the clue for 46A: Where you might see the word AMBULANCE behind you... I really enjoyed that.

Okay, so there was a price to pay, and it is a fairly hefty one. AFR RRS RCA NCR UAR ISR GRE GRRS SRO RUR ARG REI NPR ROY RWE AARP NRA, just on a quick glance through the grid. And even the longer stuff, such as BADPERM, is pretty iffy. And hey! MRED shows up yet again!

1A: Gooey campout goody (SMORE) gets an A-, because who doesn't love that stuff? And my favorite clue-answer pair is 22A: Prime oyster season (RMONTHS). That's quite a way to shoehorn an R into an answer!

So, for me, at least, I give it a thumbs up. It's way out there for a NYT puzzle, and I like the variety.

- Colum

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tuesday, November 10, 2015, Will Treece


Today's theme is a list of four complete names shared by more than one famed individual. I had noted three of them in the past, while the fourth, namely MATTHEWPERRY, had escaped my attention. Perhaps it's because I typically think of Commodore Matthew P. Perry, rather than the other fellow, whose work I enjoyed for a while on "Friends". Mind you, which one is better looking?

Myself, I'm partial to ANNEHATHAWAY. I bet there are no pictures of Shakespeare's wife on Google. Hang on, I'll be right back...


...Yes, I'm correct. There are pictures purporting to be her without any evidence. Meanwhile, the modern day actress has simply tons of pictures of her. But having put two such exemplars on yesterday's blog, I'll resist today.

Anyway, it's somewhat interesting that Mr. Treece was able to come up with four such names, all of which are eleven letters long. And outside of the little midsections due E and due W in the puzzle, the fill is pretty gratifying.

I very much enjoyed EUPHRATES above SCREECHES. I suspect Huygens might like the RACY NUDIST in our midst. We even have another reference to MRED, although I misread the clue on first pass as referring to a canine, rather than an equine. I couldn't think of any 60's sitcom canines, so moved on. Lo and behold, when I came back to it, I'd filled in the answer without having to look at the clue again.

I had some trouble in the SW corner with 56A: Risking calamity (ONTHINICE) and 60A: Front part of a jet engine (AIRINTAKE), in both cases because I couldn't parse the word breaks. Fortunately the only cross in that area I was unfamiliar with was ECKO. The long mark is over the O, it turns out.

1A: Jazz combo's cue (HITIT) was not immediately obvious: I was thinking "a-one, a-two", but that wouldn't fit. I don't love the answer, and will give it a C. My favorite clue and answer today is 36D: Redding of R&B (OTIS), because I'm now humming "The dock of the bay."

Oh, fine.

- Colum

Monday, November 9, 2015

Monday, November 9, 2015, Pawel Fludzinski


That's a breath of fresh air on a Monday. The theme is explained nicely at 61A: Babies (aww ...) ... or an aural hint to 18-, 32-, 39- and 57-Across (CUTIES). Each long answer is a two word phrase whose initials are QT. They're all solid phrases, although QUARTERTONE is a bit out there for a Monday theme answer. And are 36D: Actor's prompt (CUE) and 65A: Blow away (AWE) sneaky additional thematic material?

3D: Creature that attacked the Nautilus in "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" (GIANTSQUID) and 29D: Italian blue cheese (GORGONZOLA) are really outstanding long down answers. I also enjoyed 4D: Tree whose name contains all five vowels (SEQUOIA), almost enough to make it my favorite answer of the day.

The rest of the fill is fairly strong. I never like UTAHNS, and ADEE and ETTE are the kind of glue Jeff Chen likes to say are necessary evils. There's nothing I really hated. I enjoyed AQUA/LUNG, even though it wasn't referring to the Jethro Tull song. GINNIE Mae fooled me: I wanted faNNIE, of course.

1A: Game in which to cry "You're it!" (TAG) is saved by the liveliness of the clue, so I'll give it a C+. And my favorite clue-answer pair was 22A: Band aide (ROADIE). I love the lack of a question mark, certainly not needed here.

Thumbs up from me.

- Colum

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sunday, November 8, 2015, Tracy Gray


This is an odd bird of a puzzle. There are nine theme answers, each one containing a repeated set of three letters, one of which is dropped, thus the three-peat of the title. The idea is fine, and there are a couple of answers I liked okay. Although I would have been more impressed if the three-letter kernel had crossed over words. Instead, in each case, it's contained within one of the words, such as CONANTHEBAR[BAR]IAN.

Four of the answers involve geographic locations. By far the best clue of the themes includes one of these, namely 57A: Rose buds? (CIN[CIN]NATIREDS). That's outstanding cluing. All of the other clues are unfortunately straightforward. 33A: Bringer of peace between nations (ENT[ENT]ECORDIALE) is odd for a couple of reasons. First, because nobody ever uses that entire phrase to describe a state of treaty between two nations. Second, because the original usage came about after England and France created a treaty at the end of the 19th century which, in about 20 years' time, led to England coming into WWI on the side of the French instead of the German's, their natural ally due to royal bloodlines. So... ironic.

Anyway, I did not particularly enjoy the solving of this puzzle. It felt like a slog through much of it. JOANN and LEANNE. ION and IOU. BIC and LISSE (although I'm sure Frannie and Horace were all over that last one, given their Nederlandse leanings). ATILT (ugh!). 1A: Pushovers (PATSIES) is pretty funny, given the fact that the Patriots are 8-0. I actually liked that one okay. I'll give it a solid B+.

56A: 65 or so (DEE) gave me huge amounts of trouble. I didn't get the clue until just now. And ELENI was an educated guess, because who is Nicholas Gage? Apparently, a Greek-American journalist and memoirist. Speaking of hitherto unknown words, SEHNA was at least entirely inferrable through its crosses, because otherwise I'd have had no idea. SAMARRA crossing MASSON and AGNATE was rough, though. Oh, and can we please remove UIES (or "ueys") from the crossword lexicon?

On the other hand, I enjoyed the Annie Hall reference with 99A: "Well, ____-di-dah!" (LAH). and 118A: How some people break out on Broadway (INSONG) was fun. Probably my favorite clue-answer pair was 94A: Unhurriedly (ATLEISURE). I like that the adverbial -ly is missing from the answer.

Anyway, it wasn't as much fun as I wanted it to be, so there.

- Colum

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Saturday, November 7, 2015, Barry C. Silk


I can't in all honesty claim a finishing time of 12:22 for this puzzle, because I made too many errors. I entered backJUDGE at 1D: Offside detector (LINEJUDGE), off the bat, but switched it to sIdEJUDGE (kind of funny that all three names actually exist in a football refereeing team) to get IMO and EZPASS, but did not check to see that dAM made no sense for 17A: Where the VC fought. I did wonder whether sAC made sense for 1A: Mer d'Aral, e.g. (LAC). Especially in retrospect, that seems silly. On the other hand, why on earth would we refer to the Aral Sea in French just to get that term? Why not a true French lake, such as Lake Geneva? Well, maybe because that would have the word "lac" in its name. In any case, this was the low point of the puzzle, and I give 1A a D.

I made two other errors, one at 24A: Longtime record label for Elton John (MCA): I put in rCA. I also for some peculiar reason had TOEtAP at 39A, and didn't realize that tORSICA was wrong. Anyway, that's why I said DNF.

Other than these miscues, the puzzle went swimmingly indeed for a Saturday. The trios of 11-letter answers in the NE and SW are great. 18A: Mold in the freezer? (ICECUBETRAY) I entered off the B in GABE (a gimme for us longtime Sox fans). 16A: Disappearing word? (ABRACADABRA) is always fun to see in its entirety. RADIOGALAXY is an outstanding term I've not encountered before.
USSNAUTILUS took me a while to get, although recalling my Jules Verne, it should have been a little more obvious. PLEISTOCENE and PARAPHRASES are also very nice.

The two trios of 9-letter words in the NW and SE are also very good. My favorite is SALARYCAP (33D: Higher-up sports figure?).

All of these flashy words come at a price, though. ENS didn't fool me for a second. YAYS and YEA in the same puzzle; MIL and JOULE and MICRONS as a trio of measurements; OCULARS not so great. And ZIMA saw its heyday 20 years ago.

Anyway, I could go with many of the above noted for my favorite clue-answer pairing, but I'm going to choose 45D: They charge a lot for their cars (TESLA). It's not exactly right somehow, but I like the twist in the clue.

- Colum

Friday, November 6, 2015

Friday, November 6, 2015, Ian Livengood


This was a delicious romp of a themeless. This is Mr. Livengood's fiftieth published NYT crossword, and it's a keeper, for sure.

I thought things were going to incredibly fast when I filled in the NW corner in under a minute, rare for me on many counts. I threw in TSPS, and then got 17A: Treatment for peptic ulcers (PRILOSEC). The rest filled in quickly. 1A: "Given the aforementioned..." (THATSAID) is fun and a great intro to the puzzle. I give it an A-. However, even though I exited the corner with 4D: Dotted line? (TELEGRAPH) - very nice - I had to move elsewhere despite ___RY at 24A. In retrospect, the ANGRY was obvious.

I jumped to the NE, where 11D: Like many comic con attendees (NERDY) is becoming less true, I think, with each passing year and massive Hollywood and HBO presence. I actually had NERDs for a split second, until 23A: Home of the Beinecke Library (YALE) showed me wrong. Am I right, Frannie? Shout out!

BERLIN gave me NOBIGDEAL, and entree into the middle, with the three outstanding long answers, 30A: "Sorry, it was nothing" (FALSEALARM), 35A: Comment from one who's completely flexible (IMUPFORWHATEVER), and 37A: Pole game (TETHERBALL). I love the conversational nature of these answers, and the last one was surprisingly tough.

Ignoring CARBARN (whose definition is literally the clue, but of which I am nonetheless unfond), there's the outstanding FOREIGNER, clued to the band, in large part, I assume, because of 54A: Something an alien may have (WORKVISA). I enjoyed 53A: Cell transmitter (NEURON), although I'm not sure the clue is precisely accurate - I'd be more inclined to call it a transmitting cell; the clue points more towards a hormone or a molecule such as glutamine or acetylcholine... anyway...

LEGOMOVIE was fine, although I'm sad the "the" is in the clue instead of the grid. Yes, we get YSER, AVES, and IRES, but on the whole, it's a great puzzle.

My favorite clue-answer pair is 34D: Stable character of old TV (MRED). Or maybe it's 41A: 2015 Super Bowl winners, familiarly (PATS). Can't go wrong with either one.

- Colum

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Thursday, November 5, 2015, Samuel A. Donaldson


Wow, this was a complicated theme. I knew something was "up" when I wanted to put ALLI[NTH]EFAMILY in at 17A: Groundbreaking 1970s sitcom, but couldn't fit it in. Was there a rebus? What were those grey squares doing there? In fact, because of that, the NW corner was a blank for me with the exception of MPAA at 1D. I couldn't remember John Travolta's character's name from Saturday Night Fever: I got him confused with Danny Zuko from Grease. So MANERO gets a B- from me.

I wandered through the grid, not getting much until the SE corner, where EROS, SASSES, and the questionably clued 54D: Heads of the black community? (AFROS) - I was queebish about entering that with no crosses, but it turned out to be correct - led finally to getting HIGHERPOWER, and breaking open the theme.

The theme itself is extremely well executed. Note that the NTH (moved above the theme answer, just as an exponent should be) is split in three different ways in the overall answers. Thus, the sitcom has the break between the N and the T, while EVE[NTH]HORIZON has it between the T and the H, while ELEVE[NTH]HOUR is not split at all. All three theme answers are well accepted phrases, although I suppose you really say "at the eleventh hour" but I can let that slide.

And then the words containing the various NTHs are strong answers as well. 43A: Column that's beside the point? (TENTHS) is the best, but 25A: Threesome in a quarter (MONTHS) fooled me for too long. It's almost a shame that the clue for 25A couldn't also have worked in the word "column".

There are two pairs of 10-letter down answers in the NE and SW, both of which are strong as well. PEASHOOTER is my favorite. The rest of the puzzle is remarkably choppy, with a ton of short answers. I would have preferred 66A: Effeminate (FEY) - another queebish answer - to be clued to Tina, who is not in the least bit queebish in my book. (Did you ever think that you'd read a review that included the word "queebish" not once, but four times?) And is HEF really his bunnies' beau? Not anymore, I hope.

My favorite clue-answer pair is 32D: Bar entertainment? (LIMBO). Nice stuff. Overall thumbs up.

- Colum

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Wednesday, November 4, 2015, Ruth Bloomfield Margolin


Doesn't this one feel like it should have been yesterday's puzzle, and yesterday's puzzle should have been today's? I very much enjoyed this offering from Ms. Margolin. I see that this is her second accepted puzzle, according to X-word Info, and it looks like the various bloggers on this site enjoyed the first one as well. That bodes well for future efforts from this creator!

The theme is definitely hidden, and I don't know if I would have figured it out without the assist from the info button, which helpfully flashes at me when it has something to tell me. The word "game" is hidden in each of the four long across answers. We have two ancients of legend, GILGAMESH and AGAMEMNON, and two standard phrases, both well accepted. I would have preferred if the hidden word was split across the two words in both answers, as in MAKINGAMENDS, but I can see that might be difficult.

And then there's a second layer, in that each of the four corner across answers precede the word "game" in a standard phrase. For that reason, 1A is actually a theme answer, and I don't feel right giving it a grade. 8A: Watch it! (VIDEO) is sort of odd as a clue, but fine.

But it's the rest of the fill that make this puzzle delightful. I was surprised to see Wade BOGGS in there, formerly a Red Sox stalwart, subsequently a Yankee traitor and a Devil Ray. The long downs are excellent, especially THESHINING (nice that the "the" is included), DOWNUNDER, and DEARSANTA. GOLDMEDALS is only marred by the pluralization.

On the down side, EMAG reappears. I wonder if it is, in fact, a hidden theme answer? Read from bottom to top? That would be much more acceptable. DEADER is awkward. Otherwise I can put up with the rest.

My favorite clue and answer pair today is: 23A: One of Seuss's Star-Bellies (SNEETCH). I even appreciate the correct usage of the 's in the clue.

- Colum

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Tuesday, November 3, 2015, Brendan Emmett Quigley and Joel Fagliano


Seems like this puzzle ought to have been in the week of "never been done before" from last month. It's a strange mish-mash of KENKEN and crosswording. The shaded squares (without the operands that apparently appeared in the print version, but supplied in the info section in the app) act like the enclosed spaces in Ken-ken. Thus you get TWO divided by ONE to get the number 2 (as in 2D), NINE less FOUR to get 5, EIGHT plus THREE to get 11, and SIX times SEVEN to get 42. Which is after all, the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. Strange that five got left out.

It's definitely an odd duck of a theme, perhaps more fit for a Wednesday puzzle than a Tuesday, especially with the stretched nature of the fill. There were two potential Naticks: TWAY crossing GTO, and ALAN crossing MANN (although there was no real alternative in that crossing). Then you get such lovely (sarcasm implied) choices as REUNES, STS above PHU above REE, and the never before heard of OXENBERG, at least to me. Such a waste of an 8-letter answer.

There are a slew of partials, and references to both Karl Rove and Grover Nordquist. Hmmm. 1A: Off the shelves (GONE) is passable, so I'll give it a C+. My favorite non-theme clue and answer pair today is 19A: Christmas feature? (SILENTT). On the whole I'd say I was not terribly fond of this puzzle. So, on to Wednesday!

- Colum

Monday, November 2, 2015

Monday, November 2, 2015, Loren Muse Smith and Andrea Carla Michaels


My goodness, the NYT is getting edgy nowadays! Even risque, you might say. It's a cute revealer, with BOOBYTRAPS, and the first word in each themed answer goes with the word "bra" to name a type of brassiere. On that level, it's fun. I'm not sure about 47A: Be dead and buried, in slang (PUSHUPDAISIES). Seems to me that the term is "pushing up the daisies", which obviously wouldn't work for the puzzle. Unless somebody has a pushing-up bra. Anyhoo. I find it somewhat disappointing that all three types of bra are essentially the same thing. No "sports" bra, "strapless" bra, um...

Because there are only four theme answers, the puzzle feels open and unforced, for the most part. 1A: Place to swim (POOL) is straightforward and unobjectionable. I'll give it a C. The long down answers are similarly not terribly inspired, but not problematic. I liked 41:A Add more to, as someone's drink (FRESHEN).

I'm not fond of ODIST, SYS, or SYM. I felt that SLiLY is more correct than SLYLY, but I could be wrong about that. There were a number of brand names as well. Still, it was a pretty smooth solve over all.

My favorite clue-answer for the day is 30A: "Plan 9 From ____ Space" (OUTER). I've always enjoyed Ed Wood's work. Second place went to MYST, a game I very much enjoyed in the early 1990s.

- Colum

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Sunday, November 1, 2015, Zhouqin Burnikel


It's the start of a new month, and so I'm back on the job again. I have to say, I was envious last month of the puzzles Horace got to review, including the week of "never-done-before" style puzzles. Fortunately, today's grid was an above average Sunday offering.

I'm actually sitting at Horace and Frannie's kitchen table even as I type this in, and Frannie and I did the puzzle together. Horace didn't even get a chance to offer much, although he helped with the very last entries.

The theme today is occupations, split across longer theme entries such that they form the "frame" around the answer. I was all ready to be upset with 32A: Longtime California senator (BARBARABOXER) because I thought "boxer" would be the occupation in question. Instead, it's "barber", which is still one of the weaker answers. My favorites are the first one, with "actuary" and then 80A: Rap sheet entry (PRIORARREST), with "priest". That last one is really the best because the occupation is so well hidden.

The grid has a lot of lovely longer down answers. The two pairs of ten-letter downs in the middle W and middle E are excellent. SILLYGOOSE and CLEARASMUD both made me smile, while AMAZONECHO gives a taste of modern life, next to TRUMANSHOW, which is not as good because of the "the" missing from the answer. Meanwhile, I really love WRITLARGE.

1A: "I've heard enough" (SPAREME) is very nice, and it put me in a good mood for the puzzle. I'd give it an A-. 20A: Relative of a bug (WIRETAP) didn't fool me for a second, because of the recent references in puzzles in the last week or two. While there was a fairly typical amount of the not so nice fill such a large grid requires (REMS, BAROF, DILLS, RETIP), I was able to look past it easily enough.

I have a new theme of the month, starting today: I will nominate my favorite non-theme clue-pair answer in the puzzle. This will clearly be subjective, to say the least, but then, it's my pulpit, and I can preach how I please. Today's nomination is 65A: Kind of rock (GARAGE). I had the GAR___ and entered GARnet initially, and the switch from real rock to the music form was a very pleasing turn. I will welcome (and likely reject) other people's suggestions.

- Colum