Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sunday, January 31, 2016, Yaakov Bendavid


I found this puzzle both delightful and a little too easy. But I don't mind that combination. First, make it entertaining. And the NYT Sunday puzzle isn't meant to be as much of a challenge as the Friday-Saturday pairing, so that's fine.

I was very impressed by the large amount of long non-thematic entries. Look at that middle diagonal going from NW to SE. It's all 6-, 7-, and 8-letter answers. I'm not sure I've ever come across ADAMANCY in any actual conversation, but I figured it out well enough. 58D: Nadir (LOWPOINT) is very nice.

The NE and SW corners have quite a set of combined down answers, all of which are very strong, with the possible exception of BANDOLERO, which I needed crosses to get, and the L (crossing STOL, which stands for "short takeoff and landing", never heard of it) was a guess for me, fortunately correct.

How about AENEAS and AESOP sharing a puzzle? That's a rarity. There's a pair of "squirrel away" clues, with CACHED and STOW. 91D: Unsmilingly (DEADPAN) is excellent, and probably my favorite clue-answer pair. There are some unfortunate entries, such as LEOVI, BSED, TTOP (as always), and my least favorite, 83A: Numerical prefix (OCTA). Never seen one of these prefix type answers end in A. I get it: "octagon" - no doubt it's an A at the end there. But not in crosswords. And RANGO slipped my mind, so I had an error there.

1A: Aspect (FACET) is perfectly serviceable. I give it a straight C. I was amused by 1D: Steak cut (FLANK). I tried "t-bone" and "filet" first.

Oh, wait! I haven't talked about the theme yet. I really enjoyed it. Each one is a phrase you might find on instructions or on the outside of a box (or in one case, in an advertisement?), and then reclued in a completely silly way. My favorite, by far was 113A: Desert supermarket? (STOREINADRYPLACE). Ha! That is hi-larious. I also liked CONTAINSSMALLPARTS and BATTERYNOTINCLUDED.

I'll give this puzzle a hearty thumbs up, and turn blogging duties over to Horace, who gets 29 days this year in February.

- Colum

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Saturday, January 30, 2016, Samuel A. Donaldson and Brad Wilber

25:04 (FWOE)

Wow, what a tough pair of themelesses we got yesterday and today. There were segments of this puzzle I was completely lost in for a while, and some words I needed every cross to get.

The NW corner is a thing of beauty. 1A: One of a trio in a children's story (MAMABEAR) gets us off with a bang. I give it a B-, if only because the clue is so straightforward, and the answer difficult simply because there's so much to choose from. I love 15A: Lacking sides (ALACARTE). I did not pick up on the menu reference until it was essentially completely filled in from the crosses. And 19A: Mixing and matching? (SPEEDDATING) is cute.

I actually broke into the puzzle with 9A: Bar order after a very hard day, maybe (DOUBLE), which does sound good, right about now. LETHE was also a gimme, but ETHAN I never would have gotten except that how many men's names in a Western fit E___A_? 10D: Shorts popular in the 1920s and '30s (OURGANG) got me completely. I was stuck on the clothing. My one error came in this section, at the crossing of DAWNRAID and AUKLET. I had DoWNRAID, which really doesn't make any sense, but there you go.

I remember books with BLACKSTONE's magic in them. I don't know if I owned any (magic was mostly my oldest brother's domain), but it helped recall the name. VISIGOTHS I got without a cross, although I tried to stick "ostrogoths" and "vandals" in there first. VIZSLA I needed every cross.

I had the hardest time with the SW corner. I got the section above without too much trouble (although it took me way too long to figure out OBAMAS - who else could it have been?). 28D: What isn't working? (METIME) is great, both the clue and the answer. But I couldn't see ABSTAINERS, even with the ABST___ set up for me. I was stuck on "abstract art" or something, which doesn't even make sense, because why would that be dry?

I don't know SPIEGEL as a line of clothing, but rather as Der Spiegel, the newspaper. SICEM was hard to see (I had "fetch" for about 2 seconds), and all three of the 6-letter across answers were tough to pick up.

The SE corner, however, is maybe better than the NW, with 54A: Following the beat? (ONPATROL) being the best.

Phew! Tough going, but fun.

- Colum

Friday, January 29, 2016

Friday, January 29, 2016, David Phillips

23:41 (FWOE)

This was a real struggle for me. A lot of stuff I didn't know, mixed with some pretty tricky cluing. And it's a ton of open space, which means fewer clues, which means fewer points of entry.

Anyway, to give you an idea, I started on the wrong foot at 1A: Shout when there's no cause for alarm? (IMUP). I guessed "wolf". You know, like the boy who cried wolf? It seemed like a clever answer, and it fit. Even after I finished the whole puzzle, it wasn't until I was on my walk with the dog that I finally got it. See, I was thinking of what you might say as you're striding to the plate to take your at bat in a baseball game. But it's referring to a person who just woke up.

That's a ton of explanation for one answer. I give it a B+ for the cleverness.

I also put in NayS at 27A (NOES). So the first correct answer I had was 6D: Selene's Roman counterpart (LUNA), but that was not enough to counter my incorrect answers. I got a foothold in the NE corner, where 13D: Shortest-serving U.S. vice president (31 days) was a gimme (TYLER). Because William Henry Harrison got pneumonia on the day of his inaugural address and died.

It's a good thing I know my college mascots, because after a while of headscratching, I got BEARCATS. I could see the UCincinnati jersey. Some great stuff in this area. I mean 10D: Battery container? (CAKEPAN). Right? That's funny. It reminds me of one of my favorite jokes:

Q: What's brown and sticky?
A: A stick.

Laughter all around.

Also 21D: Tart flavor (PECAN) - that is, the flavor of a kind of tart (pie), not a flavor that is tart. DRPEPPER is nice, and maybe my favorite answer of all, 8D: Powerful foe of the Man of Steel (GENERALZOD). As played by Terence Stamp:

Okay, so maybe it was that trio of 7-letter across answers in the middle, namely MACLEAN, DENIZEN, and CELADON. They're all completely fine answers. Just tough. And 30D? DEVRY? Oof. My one error came at the intersection of that and UNITY. I had UNITe. Ah well.

ITISDECIDEDLYSO is great. A lovely throwback to my Magic 8-ball. Why was it an 8-ball? What was the thinking there? Wikipedia is not particularly helpful.

Looking through the grid, I see a lot of good stuff. I'm not sure why my feeling wasn't great about the grid. Maybe sour grapes.

- Colum

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Thursday, January 28, 2016, Elizabeth C. Gorski


Ah, Thursday. Repository of the rebus. And who better to carry it out than Liz Gorski? I had heard that she was no longer composing puzzles for the NYT, but I am heartily glad to see her back. This is her really strong suit: not just the rebus, but the extra layers of meaning that she puts into it.

I knew there was going to be a rebus when I saw 9D: This puzzle's special squares, e.g. (OCTET), and it was confirmed when I couldn't fit ALC[HE]MIST in at 11D: Seeker of the elixir of life. It was just a matter of where the rebuses would be, and that took quite a while to figure out. In fact, the first rebus square I placed was the crossing of TUNA[HE]RO and AC[HE]FOR.

But the theme is much cleverer than that. See, all eight of the rebus squares make a circular shape, much like a BALLOON, and they're all filled with [HE]LIUM! I love it. The symmetry of the placement of the rebus squares means that once you've got the gist of it, the rest are placeable without figuring out the words, but that's a minor point in my book.

Before getting the theme, though, I did have "emu" at 36A: Ostrichlike bird (R[HE]A). And that's sneaky. It's great that several bits of crosswordese are repurposed here by the theme, namely T[HE]A, C[HE]R, and T[HE]O. There's also a trio of words ending in "the" in SEET[HE], BAT[HE], and TIT[HE]. She manages a couple of clever clues as well, such as 37D: Dyeing wish? ([HE]NNA) and 20A: Response to "How'd you get the answer so fast?" (IC[HE]ATED). Ha!

There is, as you'd imagine, a lot of filler that leaves something to be desired. Plural PXS, strangely past-tensed OKD, partial ANICE. But look at SHIATSU, DEADSPOT, and RETRACTS. Those are nice. Probably my favorite clue-answer pair is 25D: Drawing room? (ATELIER). It's a great entry right down the middle of the puzzle.

1A: Stop daydreaming (SNAPTO) gets a B+ in my book. It's a good clue, and the answer is exactly right for the definition.

I enjoyed this one quite a bit, in case you didn't realize it...

- Colum

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Wednesday, January 27, 2016, Adam G. Perl


Very strange to have this puzzle following yesterday's David Bowie tribute. Today we have a tribute to a song by Mr. Bowie's older and still extant contemporary, Bob Dylan. Funnily enough, Dylan also is not his real name: he is actually Robert Allen Zimmerman, and was born Jewish in Duluth, Minnesota. What a peculiar combination. One of my best college friends was from Duluth, and he was about as far from Jewish as you can get.

Anyway, a song title that is splittable into 8/7/8 letters is a boon to crossword creators. When I had THETIMES, I filled in THEYARE and ACHANGIN immediately, which opened up large areas of the puzzle. And then Mr. Perl takes the title literally and creates anagrams of the word "times" six times in the puzzle. I am mighty glad that he chose 1A: *Do in, old-style (SMITE) as his first entry, because that's a fun word, and by far the best of the list (B+). Is 1D the past participle of "smite" (SMOOT)? No, I'm just kidding.

ITEMS, MITES, EMITS, ITSME, IMSET. Lucky that the word's letters include 4 of the most common letters in the English language. Because of the setup of the puzzle, there's a bunch of crossword glue to make those areas work, including EAT / MRE / SDS in the NW, which was a little painful. Still, I enjoyed the idea of the theme quite a bit.

And there are those two lovely lovely long down answers, 3D: How Buddhists strive to live (INTHEMOMENT) and 26D: "Colorful" folk duo (INDIGOGIRLS). Very nice. Always been a fan of both of those entities. That last ends up being my favorite.

Okay, so going through the rest of the puzzle again, I'm discovering a ton of stuff I could do without. I don't mind ISAO or ELIA. They're pretty standard bits of crosswordese. FTLEE is getting a little old. ERIES is painful. Wouldn't you just call that tribe, or even several of its members, the Erie? Partials IMAT and IGO. Plural abbreviation GES, RDAS, and ATNOS. AANDE and CTEAM.

So this is the sacrifice you make for a dense theme. Your mileage may vary.

- Colum

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Tuesday, January 26, 2015, Sam Ezersky


I'll always welcome a tribute to DAVID / BOWIE. This is actually pretty darn impressive. There are five theme answers, four of them stacked in pairs, and the first word of each spells out the first line of Space Oddity ("Ground control to Major Tom..."). In addition, we get the Thin White Duke's full name (although not his given birth name, which was David Jones), AND the key of the song, BFLAT. That's a ton of theme material.

All of the theme entries are solid. I'm partial to TOMFOOLERY, as it is the title of the musical revue of Tom Lehrer's music. I had a friend when I was a kid, Sam Linsky, who knew Lehrer's music as well as I did. We sang all the songs in the back of his mother's car. I don't know how she put up with us.

With so much theme material, there is, as you can imagine, a fair amount of compromise in the fill. It's astonishing that the two long down answers that cross three theme entries are so good: IPODNANO and TABLOIDS. IMODIUM not so much, because it's both a brand name and it treats grossitude.

IHEARYA is great. NUMLOCK I didn't love. Crosswordese includes EBAN, OMAHA, IDED, ILIA.

1A: Hearty har-hars (YUKS) - hmm. I like the clue, and the answer is unusual. I'll give it a B.

Favorite clue-answer pair is 51D: They may be blown by a magician (MINDS). Had all kinds of thoughts running through my own mind with that clue. Second favorite clue is 65A: The duck in "Peter and the Wolf" (OBOE). Great music.

I forgive any issues with the fill for Mr. Bowie's sake.

- Colum

Monday, January 25, 2016

Monday, January 25, 2016, Ian Livengood





I'm done now. You can take your fingers out of your ears. Really.

But, seriously, folks. Fastest by far for a Monday, beating my former fastest by nearly 20 seconds. The puzzle is straightforward, although it kind of breaks up into three separate sections. Since it's a Monday, that doesn't bother me as much. The NE to SW stretch is nice and open.

The theme is pretty loose: standard phrases where the second part only is a kind of CHEWTOY for a dog. I like 35D: *Inaptly named part of the elbow (FUNNYBONE) the best. I also like how the theme answers are placed: by crossing two in each corner, that open diagonal section is almost like a themeless. The center is particularly nice, with SKEWERS, HERESY, and KARMA. You also get the nice long downs at 15D: Mass assistant (ALTARBOY) and 33D: "Where does that guy get off?!" (THENERVE), my favorite clue-answer pair.

There are some strangely weak crossings, such as AVID and AVIS, DINER and DINERO, ONUS and OPUS, NEW and NEWT (!).

I enjoyed ATTILA next to Dan'l BOONE next to CONEY Island. A very strange juxtaposition, those three.

1A: Liberals, with "the" (LEFT). Well, I don't like having the "the" in the clue, so that knocks it down a few grades. I'll give it a B-. Feel the Bern!

- Colum

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sunday, January 24, 2016, Francis Heaney and Brendan Emmett Quigley


I have just a few moments to comment on this puzzle, in between dinner after the Patriots' loss and Downton Abbey. I suppose any run was bound to come to an end, and I'm not referring to the football season, but to the puzzles this week.

The idea behind this theme is cute: take a common phrase that begins with a three letter word, switch the second and third letters of that word to create a common crosswordese acronym, and reclue the resultant new phrase. Only, see, the issue is all of that crosswordese. I just found them annoying for the most part. I enjoyed GTOMILK because I wasn't expecting it, as well as BYOWONDER, which avoided some sort of racist thing in the clue.

And too, there is a ton of crosswordese glue outside of the themes. NCR. IBAR, TMAN, SOTO crossing ISSO. And on and on. Meh.

All right, time for Downton Abbey.

- Colum

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Saturday, January 23, 2016, Kameron Austin Collins


I feel like I've been on a run of very enjoyable crosswords lately, other grumpy bloggers notwithstanding. I always write my own blog entries before going to look at others' reviews. I don't want to be biased. It sometimes astonishes me what some people find objectionable.

In any case, today's X-shaped grid was beautiful. I love the flow of it, and I never felt boxed in or unable to progress to another area (except briefly moving from the NE to the SE corner). The first 40 seconds or so were spent trying to find an entry. I had put in "noble" at 16A: Rightmost column of the periodic table, e.g. (GASES). That would have been a very obscure way to clue "noble".

Then I saw 19D: Sprint Cup awarder (NASCAR) and I was well and truly in, especially when I was able to put REAGONOMICS in off that N. My mistake in the NE corner meant that I was forced in the other direction, and I was able to take it all the way around the corner.

1A: "This is the life!" (AHBLISS) is such a great opener. I give it an A-. 11A: Canal problems (EARACHES) I immediately sussed as referring to ears, but my first guess, which I didn't put in, was "otitides", which really is the plural form of "otitis". Seemed so unlikely I left it out. I'm glad. 6D: Donkey's mate (SHREK) is brilliant cluing, especially since there's actually a hidden capital there.

I love FAMOUSAMOS, both the clue and the cookies (chocolate chip and pecans particularly); kind of sad that they're owned by Keebler, which itself is owned by Kellogg. Yuck. Also, ZOESALDANA is great, both from the two movies (Guardians much much much better than Avatar... also she's Uhura in the new Star Trek movies) and because it's her full name.

I think SARDINECAN, while correct, feels weird. It's "a can of sardines" in my mind. I have felt exactly like a sardine in a can, mind you, especially on a Monday morning returning from an overnight call at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens back to Manhattan. BELLEVUE was where we sent all the patients from Riker's Island who needed admission after they were triaged in our Emergency Department. So that was a gimme.

41D: Certain heiress (NIECE) is peculiarly specific.

I enjoyed this puzzle as much as a "salty gulp" of SEAAIR, which is to say, a lot.

- Colum

Friday, January 22, 2016

Friday, January 22, 2016, Paula Gamache


I really enjoyed this puzzle! It has a CASTOFTHOUSANDS ("picked him out of thousands... didn't like the rest... too flat"). And that's a great clue as well (16A: Epic number).

I broke in with 3D: Byzantine art bit (TESSERA), which helped me to recall 1A: Viking girl in "How to Train Your Dragon" (ASTRID), which was a great movie, by the way. A- for the reminder. But then we also get SWEEPEA and CLARICE ("And what did you see, Clarice? What did you see?"). And nice hidden capital in 15A: Starling of book and film.

Each of the 15-letter answers are strong. 6D: Appealing figure? (DEFENSEATTORNEY) is very good, but I love 7D: Rice elbows, e.g. (GLUTENFREEPASTA). It's so contemporary. But maybe even better is 28A: Its main characters go to hell (DANTESINFERNO).

I found the solve to be very smooth. Everything flowed from section to section, and the connectors were fun to figure out. 48A: Snowflake or crystal shape (FRACTAL) is lovely. 38D: Fairly clean, so to speak (RATEDPG) is very nice. My favorite is 54A: Like Charlie Brown's kite, ultimately (INATREE). It's so blunt.

EDATES is annoying. I don't love ONEOCAT. ACDELCO isn't great. And what's a SKIBIB? Just what you think it is. There are a scattering of 3-letter answers like KEL, REA, and KTS which I could do without. But it's a fun themeless, and I give it thumbs up.

- Colum

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Thursday, January 21, 2016, David Phillips


So. SIDE / BARS. Do people use this term in life outside of, say, apparently in a court of law, where a conversation between judge and lawyers that the jury does not get to hear, is in fact, a sidebar? I definitely see its use in magazines (say ESPN, the magazine) where extraneous related material is placed in a separate section to the side. But I've never thought of using it in the sense of an "off-the-record discussion".

On the other hand, it could have been clued thusly: "Cocktail made up of vodka, triple sec, and chambord ... or 12 answers in this puzzle?" That I would have been more appreciative of, and it would have followed nicely from yesterday's theme. In fact, why aren't all the themes about cocktails? We had a very nice Manhattan the other day, with maraschino cherries and all. Teetotallers excluded, would anybody complain?

That little issue aside, I really like the double columns of answers that end in "bar" to complete them. I did not cotton to the theme ahead of the revealer, despite already having 1D: Concession stand (SNACK[BAR]) and 2D: High-carb bite (POWER[BAR]) in place. We've seen themes where the outside edges are all the theme answers, but the doubling up adds to the difficulty here without taking from the general goodness of the fill.

Because of having twelve theme answers of four to five letters each, there's a paucity of lengthy answers in the grid as a whole. We just saw AAARATED not that long ago - no, strike that: it was AAABONDS in Sunday's puzzle. FIREOPALS is fine. I've never heard of a TRIMOTOR before. Here is one for future reference:
Perhaps not surprisingly, it has three motors.

I had a strange moment when I saw DIETER crossing ENGEL, thinking of Mike Myers as the German talk show host of Sprockets meeting up with Karl Marx's collaborator, Friedrich Engels. Neither of these things is correct. On the other, hand, 49D: Weather phenomenon named for baby Jesus (ELNINO) reminded me of this:
Yeah. Anyway, 1A: Edit, as tape (SPLICE) is such a fun word, and so completely out of use, that I give it a B+. The more I look through the grid, the less I see to really love. IGUESS my favorite will have to be 13A: 3 Musketeers filling (NOUGAT), because... well, let's just say that my oldest brother liked Snickers the best, and my middle brother liked Milky Ways the best, and that left 3 Musketeers for me.

- Colum

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Wednesday, January 20, 2016, Herre Schoewerwou


Here was another puzzle that played hard for me (note that my time is slower than last Friday's!). I broke into the puzzle at 7A: Late-night host before Carson (PAAR). And the puzzle played a little old-timey, just like that answer (Jack Paar hosted from 1957-1962). YENTL (1983), AJA (1987), PIA / ZADORA (1982 for the movie "Butterfly" - I can't show any pictures from this movie because they're too shocking), Charles READE ("Peg Woffington", published 1853).

Perhaps it's because of the theme? I mean, who actually drinks a DRYMARTINI any more? Okay, I'm kidding, because I know a few, including people who write in this blog or comment. I liked the hidden ingredients in EXTRAVIRGIN, RIVERMOUTH, and DIAPERSERVICE. I had no idea what the point of those answers were until I hit the revealer. And then we get a final twist, as it were. OLIVERTWIST, to be exact. That R is bothering me, though. There's a mini-theme addition with PEACH Schnapps at 45A.

Anyway, I'm not sure why this puzzle took longer. Yes, there are mildly tricky answers like PARTV and RVERS. The NW corner was actually pretty straightforward, but I just couldn't find any purchase initially. 1A: Soaks so as to extract flavor (STEEPS) is a reasonable answer saddled with an overly wordy clue (gets a C+). PEARLE is annoying because of the brand name aspect.

Later on, I put ArMs in for AMMO, which slowed the NE somewhat. I like POPMUSIC next to the death of good sound, AUTOTUNE, especially as the former uses too much of the latter for my taste. My favorite clue-answer is 38D: Scenes in shoeboxes, say (DIORAMAS). Nothing particularly tricky about it, but reminds me of a couple of school projects in my kids' years.

Shout out to IDRIS Elba right next to ETTA James. I love both "The Wire" and "At Last".

I didn't love this effort. ITISSO. I prefer "Make it so."

- Colum

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Tueday, January 19, 2016, Byron Walden


This puzzle played more difficult for me than most Tuesdays. Perhaps it's because it's a 16x15 grid. I very much enjoyed it in any case, and I am especially impressed by some of the grid construction.

The theme is taking a species of fish that can also be used as a verb and coming up with a phrase with said verb. All the phrases are of the form: [past-participle][preposition]. The only one which doesn't feel like it quite fits is CARPEDABOUT. That is to say, the others suggest a movement of some sort, while this one doesn't. The central 16-letter answer, FLOUNDEREDAROUND, is excellent, though, and the others are fine.

The revealer is a bit odd: 59A: Classic out-of-office sign ... or what this puzzle's author has done? (GONEFISHING). It's a great first half for the clue. I imagine an old-time rural doctor's office with the sign on the door. But it doesn't quite work as a revealer for the theme. I mean, yes, there are fish in each answer. But why are they put in that form? It's a total nitpick on my part to bring it up, and I think I'm only doing it because I liked the theme overall.

More impressive to me are the four long down answers in the middle third of the grid. Each one crosses three themers as well as two other long across answers. 8D: Avoided phoniness (KEPTITREAL) is great. 30D: Noble knight who found the Holy Grail (SIRGALAHAD) will always be a favorite for this Monty Python enthusiast.

35D: Sneaky shelters (TAXDODGES) is very nice indeed. And my favorite clue-answer pair for today resides at 5D: They get the paddy started (RICESEEDS). P!nk would be very impressed.

I'm not entirely convinced by CANOEISTS, although it googles all right. I found a debate amongst aficionados of that form of transport as to whether they should be this term or "canoers". It reminds me of "detectorists", those people who use metal detectors as a hobby. And I definitely recommend the BBC series by the same name. Very sweet and lightly amusing. I've never heard of SALTDOMES, but that term googles very well, and the definition is precise.

There's a fair amount of glue, as Jeff Chen calls it, ranging from IME (which was an immediate fill for me, but which is a very strange partial) to ACAD, LCDS, APAL. But I enjoyed ETCETC and CLOUSEAU is of course wonderful. Although on rewatching some of those movies, I was struck by how out of date the humor is, and sometimes offensive.

1A: Boots, backpack, tent, etc. (GEAR): C-. Plus, that "etc." echoes 2D too exactly.

- Colum

Monday, January 18, 2016

Monday, January 18, 2016, Kathy Wienberg


Fastest time yet! Everything went in so smoothly, I really didn't have time to think about what those letters in circles meant, but I filled in 49A: Sublime physical performance ... or a hint to this puzzle's circled letters (POETRYINMOTION) when I had only a few blank spaces left in it, so this time I understood the theme before the end of the puzzle.

I like the three phrases or words that contain "poetry" in anagrammatic form; they're all acceptable as phrases. It's too bad that not all three could be made up of two words, where the anagram crossed the gap as in MINORITYREPORT and PARTYPEOPLE, but PYROTECHNIC is such a nice word that I don't really mind.

It's a lovely open grid, with two 9-letter words and two 8-letter words across and nothing longer than 7-letters down. But there are also only ten 3-letter words, and only one of those is an acronym (AKA). I like MAELSTROM and CHARGE next to ZODIAC. Very few proper names (AESOP, TONI, KENTS). Clean as all get out in my book.

1A: Bread with a pocket (PITA) is a perfectly fine Monday starter, and I give it a C+ for being just above average.

41D: Fictional pirate who shares his name with a bird (SPARROW) gets my vote for best clue-answer pair, because of this:

- Colum

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sunday, January 17, 2016, Jeff Chen


I really love this theme! It's well carried out in all aspects. The NYT xword app on the iPad tells me that there are little arrows in the print version which could not be reproduced in the app. I'm actually glad I didn't know. It would have made things much quicker, but taken out the mystery; first, the themers' locations would be revealed, and second, the clever CORIOLISFORCE "twist" to the answers would have been made too obvious.

Of course, the "-" clues should have given it all away sooner, but I didn't find them, so I was imagining 4D (the first obvious place for a theme, as the question could not be answered in 3 letters) taking some kind of snaking path down through other answers. I finally figured it out over at 14D: Spreading belief? (MANIF[ESTDES]TINY), when I had MANIF_ in the top part and TINY at 55D.

It's a very Games magazine type of theme. The only answer I didn't love was HASTH[ELIMEL]IGHT, which feels a little awkward. Shouldn't it be "is in the limelight"? My favorites are IS[THISTH]INGON and ONH[ANDSAN]DKNEES.

What with the center "revealer", there are nine total theme answers, and I think this is what leads to the less than enjoyable fill. 1A: World champion figure skater Thomas (DEBI) got me off on the wrong foot. The cross with BANHMI was a complete guess for me, mostly because I thought the figure skater was a male entity, whose first name was Thomas. Not so much - I got an error there. I give this 1988 world champion and twice bronze medalist a D for an answer, even though once I googled her, I recalled her.

STPAULMN - that's a stretch. ARRS. I'm really really not a fan of MUTTONY. I raised an eyebrow even as I entered it. And mirroring Ms. Thomas is 115D, Robert DAVI. Good lord, now that I google him, I recognize him immediately. How many movies was he in as the bad guy? And the answer, of course, is: "So many." Doesn't mean I ever knew his name, though.

There are a number of other such answers that I won't go into. On the plus side, there's ETYMOLOGY, NEONDEION, MALFEASANCE, and THEMIKADO, as easy a clue for the last as I've ever seen. Or at least for us G&S aficionados, of whom my regular commenters can all be counted. Oh, I also liked HOLODECK.

Well, I'll give it a mostly thumbs up.

- Colum

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Saturday, January 16, 2016, Sean Dobbin


Oh, come on. You didn't really think I was going to finish Saturday faster than Friday, did you?

What a great themeless today! The grid has a sort of pinwheel feeling to it, with the central wheel and the four corners spiraling off. I like very much, thank you, that each corner has a three-space wide entry into it. It gives each section a chance to break back into it if you can't get traction from inside the isolated area.

Speaking of which, nothing worked on my first look into the NW. I had OENO at 5D, that timeless piece of crosswordese I learned from struggling through Maleska era puzzles. None of the acrosses worked, and I kept wanting to put in motifS at 4D (TROPES). Even guessing 7D: It's superior to Superior (ONTARIO) didn't help much.

I got much better traction in the NE. 10D: Come-on comeuppance (SLAP) was straightforward, as was 21A: Exercise position that strengthens the abs (PLANK). I've been doing a few of those recently myself. I love ATTAGIRL, but 13D: Wryly amusing (IRONICAL) is one syllable too long, isn't it? DESKSETS is a very STAID third element in this stack of 8-letter answers.

36A: Breaks one's word? (SPELLS) is cute in its literalness. I also like 27A: Something paid by a hypocrite (LIPSERVICE). I was able to break the NW off of these entries, supported by 9D: Unsupported? (BRALESS) - see what I did there? This stack is the best of the puzzle. 1A: Drop-in shot? (PHOTOBOMB) gets an A+ and is my favorite clue-answer pair, all at the same time, both for the great clue and the contemporary answer. ROBREINER is great for the throwback references to All In The Family, as well as the complete name. And OOLONGTEA. Excellent.

Funny that 24D: You can't focus when this is on (LENSCAP) echoes yesterday's "lens cover" clue and answer. It's more the standard term, I imagine as well.

I had ISSUES getting into both the SW and SE. Even after putting in DECLARE and FIRM, and then getting RENERUSSO (nice echo from the NW, with a full name with the initials R.R.). I never saw the film version of Rocky & Bullwinkle. Strangely though, it wasn't that long ago I put the cartoon version of Boris and Natasha on this very blog. It wasn't until my brain gave up Julie TAYMOR that I was able to finish the SE corner. Nice that the TUBA gets a nod.

I don't know who Bobby TROUP is, and I doubt I'll remember his name in future puzzles either. I wanted M*A*S*H at 51D, despite the clear evidence that the answer would start and end with S. I never saw S*P*Y*S. Odd that they did that with two movies. The former came out in 1970, not 1974. I don't know exactly why 33D: Had a chilling effect? (SHIVERED) has a question mark. It seems to me that the answer is a direct response to the clue.

Overall, a very enjoyable Saturday.

- Colum

Friday, January 15, 2016

Friday, January 15, 2016, Patrick Berry


Yow! Friday faster than Thursday! By this trend, I'll finish tomorrow's puzzle in around 5 minutes. I doubt that is really true, of course. But Patrick Berry's puzzles fit very neatly into my roundhouse, I think. Always so clean and enjoyable.

I broke in with 1D: Major quinoa exporter (PERU), giving me EPEE. Once I put in 37A: Dimwit (ASS), I got 3D: Carol king (WENCESLAS). That's a great clue, especially since Ms. King recently was honored at The Kennedy Center. And 2D: Boot hills? (APENNINES) - also great.

1A: Little man (PAWN) gets a B+ for the very nice clue. Anyway, I figured out the entire NW corner quickly, and with SISTE____ above ONLIN____, it was very straightforward to break the center. No clue tricked me much today: I had my themeless/Berry hat on. 28D: Handle again? (RENAME) and 29D: Eight-footer? (SPIDER) went in easily.

23A: Number of letters (ZIPCODE) is clever as well. I didn't even get it entirely until after I'd finished the puzzle. 12D: Old war story (ILIAD) I love. I was thinking of "rest in peace" for 18A: Grave words (INMEMORIAM).

Nice trio of clues at 44D: Not on base? (AWOL), 52D: Strong base (LYE), and 47D: On base (SAFE). Three different definitions of the word, which makes the crosswordese of the first two palatable.

My favorite clue-entry was 48A: Cab supplier (WINESELLER), both for the hidden capital and the product of the fermented grape. 56A: Shot blockers (LENSCOVERS) is clever as well.

I VETO anybody who has a problem with this puzzle. I think we should name Patrick Berry the official NYT crossword constructor.

- Colum

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Thursday, January 14, 2016, Jeffrey Wechsler


Odd when a Thursday time is faster than a Wednesday time, though I think todays theme runs right up my alley. Did you know THEBEATLES are now available on streaming services? I doubt Mr. Wechsler knew when he created this grid however many moons ago. It was fun to listen to Magical Mystery Tour the other day. It's a great album once you get past "Blue Jay Way." But then to have your older daughter come into the room and ask, "Why are the Beatles so great anyway?" Ouch, right to the heart.

I've always loved spoonerisms. So silly. "I'm sorry, madam, this pie is occupewed. May I sew you to another sheet?" I could go on. Thankfully (I'm assuming on your part), I won't. Definitely my favorite of the four examples here is 32A: Answer to "What's her job in the garden supply store?"? (SHESHEAVINGLOAM). Fun double question mark there at the end of the clue. And it's one of my all time favorite underappreciated Beatles songs as well. I did enjoy LEIGHSHOVESYOU, if only because I follow it in my head with "...yeah, yeah, yeah!"

It has to be noted that of all of the down answers, only 4D, 13D, 31D, 50D, and 56D do not cross two theme answers. Impressive then, how good the fill turns out to be. I don't like EVO (although world leaders should be fair game), and HALON is a never-before encountered word for me. Also, 38D: Language manglers, e.g. (MISUSERS) is hilariously self-referring, especially when it crosses ICER.

Funny that the answer that tripped me up yesterday reappears today, and I had not much difficulty with it. 50D: You might be recorded using them (ATMS) is not nearly as tricky. Does anybody else think 57A: Might (MAY) is odd? It's correct, but slight.

I love 40A: "____ a stinker?" (Bugs Bunny catchphrase) (AINTI). Way to make a partial fun. BORN / LOSERS crossing each other is cute. 52A: Some choice words (ORS) is great. 37D: Mason, notably (ATTORNEY) had me confused for a few moments before I recognized the nicely hidden capital.

I think my favorite today is 3D: Make beads, say (PERSPIRE). No question mark, and none needed. I thought it was going to have something to do with sweating, but I couldn't see it for a long time. Partly because I was stuck on 1A: Arctic resident (LAPP). I was thinking Antarctic. For those of Finnish heritage in the audience, I'll make that a B-.

ELY was a gimme, because we had a poster of that cathedral over our breakfast table growing up. The poster looked much like this:

- Colum

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Wednesday, January 13, 2015, Jeremy Newton

12:25 (FWTE)

I've noticed some feelings of guilt on my part when I don't get this blog post entered until late at night. This is silly on many counts, not the least of which being that Horace told me he really only wanted an entry posted every day. And this counts. But then I have this idea that maybe as many as 25 people are out there, waiting for the blog to post. Counting the seconds. Desperately sitting in front of their computers, obsessively hitting refresh.

Yeah, right.

Anyway, I'm just saying it's time for me to get over myself, and comment on today's puzzle.

I'll start with my two errors. 72A: Currency unit, briefly (ATM). I somehow convinced myself that it was referring to an electrical current, and entered Amp (i.e., brief for ampere?!). And then I even checked the cross at 67D: D.D.E's predecessor (HST). I said Harry S. Truman to myself (note the middle name, which was S, not an initial), and said, yup. HSm. Got it.

It was only when I'd finished and saw 51D: Oil spot? (MUSEUM - very nice clue!). MUSEUp made no sense at all. All the letters worked except the last one. Yet another reason for me to get over myself.

The theme is cute: take a phrase where the second word has THREERS (how great does that look in the grid?) and replace it with a "homonym". Reclue the resultant phrase with something wacky, and there you are. My favorite is definitely 29A: Priest getting what's coming to him? (CLERICALHEIR), both for the silliness of the phrase and the ludicrous nature of the clue. The others are fine, just not as funny (to me, at least).

I was confused by the fact that two of the theme answers have an equal length answer just above or below. It was especially confusing because 14A: Market not to be bullish in? (CHINASHOP) was also a joke answer. I got this one off _H_N____, which I'm actually kind of proud of, and it's why I'm making it the best clue-answer pair of today.

The fill suffers somewhat for the density of the theme, but there's plenty of excellent clues abounding, including 1A: Wraps around the subcontinent (SARIS). Nicely done, taking a tired bit of crosswordese and freshening it up. Good for a B+. 24A: Authors of fiction? (PENNAMES) is a bit of a stretch, but I liked it.

How about 73A: Feeling sexually aroused (RANDY)? Huygens, it's almost too blunt!

I'm mostly pleased with this puzzle.

- Colum

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Tuesday, January 12, 2016, Zhouqin Burnikel


I had absolutely no idea what the theme was until I'd finished the entire puzzle and came back to look at the revealer. There's been some buzz recently about whether a revealer is necessary or not. But when it's as nice as this revealer is, I'm all in favor.

The grid is 16 x 15 in order to make space for 41A (INTERIORDESIGNER). And, in truth, in each of the other four long answers is hidden a well-known (and often grist for crosswords) clothes designer. In all four cases, the answer is a phrase of two words, and the hidden designer spans the gap between the words. So that's well done. I liked how "Klein" was hidden the best.

The phrases themselves... well, they're a bit ad hoc. FARMANIMALS is fine, as is SNOWANGELS. 52A: Aerial navigation beacon (RADIORANGE) googles fine, but is not a term I'd come across, likely because we don't need to use these kind of directional navigation aids and haven't since the 1940s. ANKLEINJURY is fine, especially as clued (Serious setback for a kicker). I tried ANKLEsprain first, which is much more acceptable as an answer, except you then lose the designer.

I liked the long downs, particularly BITTEREND and OSCARNOD. I amazed myself by recalling that 9D: The Blue Hen State was DELAWARE. It helps that we spend a week there each summer on the beaches.

Yucks: ARIAL. Never liked that font. Although I suppose in the spirit of full disclosure I should admit that all my notes from my clinic visits are printed in Arial. Ah well. Also, ARYAN. Really? I know it's clued in its original meaning, separate from the way the Nazis coopted it.

Loves: GILDA. She was awesome. Nice that another great SNL (female) star also makes it in (AMY Poehler). 17A: Tip of Italy, once? (LIRA). Way to make tired fill interesting.

1A: Like "War and Peace," famously (LONG): A-. I love it. I entered it without a cross.

Favorite clue-answer? 58D: "I rock!" (YAYME). That is beautiful.

- Colum

Monday, January 11, 2016

Monday, January 11, 2016, Howard Barkin


It's a new week, and I have to say I'm disappointed in myself for last week's steps output. I kind of thought that being in Triathlon training would help me get above at least 70,000 a week. Instead, I fell below. I know, I know, that's on me. Still, it turns out that you can't take your step-counting device (in my case, a Withings) into the pool with you. Damn shame.

Anyway, Monday's puzzle turns out to be a pretty good one. I like the progression of the ERODED theme, from "boulder" to "rock" to "pebble" to "dust". All four theme entries are solid answers, with ROCKLOBSTER being my favorite for nostalgia's sake. You could nitpick and say the last answer should really be "sand" based from an erosion perspective. Rocks don't turn to dust unless they're pulverized, right? But it didn't bother me too much, so I'll give it a pass.

There was enough room for two strong down answers, PAPERTRAIL and KNOWBYNAME. There wasn't much in the way of annoying answers. You'd think I'd know who Ron ELY was by this time, but honestly, I didn't even see the clue and answer until after finishing the puzzle.

I like 29D: [not my mistake] (SIC). So blunt.

1A: Online pics that often move (GIFS) gets a B+, because:

- Colum

P.S. RIP David Bowie. I look forward to listening to your latest, and as it turns out, your last record. 26 studio releases over 47 years. That's amazing.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Sunday, January 10, 2016, Patrick Merrell



This was a fun theme. Take a standard statement from a candidate on the campaign trail, and finish it with the unspoken truth. The first long answer, when I finally pieced it together, made me laugh out loud. None of the others were nearly as amusing, although the last one was good also. What's impressive is the smoothness of each answer. Not one felt forced grammatically.

On the other hand, because they're like miniature "quote" style answers, I had to work my way through each one piece by piece, relying on the crosses. That made for a slower solve than typical, but not by much.

On the whole, the fill was reasonably good. I don't like RNAS. SAE is a random fraternity chapter, apparently (Sigma Alpha Epsilon). I have no familiarity with that aspect of college life. The cross with EMBER was my one error, but I have no real excuse, because no one would ever say that aMBER GLOWS.

1A: Advisory panels (BOARDS) is a straight down the middle C. But I liked AAMILNE's entire name in the grid. 79D: Novices (NEOPHYTES) is great. I had ____YTES and couldn't get my mind off of acolYTES, which didn't even fit. Finally I put ONYX in and that made that little section fall.

ARAMIS returns again, as does STDENIS, who was in the first puzzle of the year (I recall because Horace and I were solving the puzzle at the same time).  My favorite clue-answer is 16D: Present day figure (SAINTNICK). When I first put it in, I thought, "That's strange. Christmas was some time ago, so that's hardly in the present." Then I got it. Nice lack of question mark.

Anybody know why a SANDER is a "Tool used in the evening?" Does it have to do with sleeping and the Sandman? Be happy to hear a better explanation than that one. Almost forgot to say how much I enjoyed 92A: Bridge table foursome (LEGS). How absurd that "Bridge" is in the clue at all! As if other tables have more or fewer legs. Excellent.

- Colum

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Saturday, January 9, 2016, Jason Flinn


I thought we'd seen the last of quad-stacks, let along dual quad-stacks. Readers of this blog may recall that I am not fond of this style of puzzle. Too often the fill suffers severely in order to make the stacks. In fact, this exemplar does better than many, but a scan across the top set of down answers shows what I'm referring to.

I actually got no purchase on my first run across the top. Instead I broke in with the middle section. 22A: Caps preceder (SNO) was my first entry, then SIR and SEA followed. 32A: Menu promise (NOMSG) was a peculiar repeat from yesterday's grid. As it was so fresh, it wasn't hard to get.

I filled in the entire middle section, with the very nice NEXTOFKIN right down the middle. This had the effect of creating two separate puzzles in the top section and the bottom section. I worked down off the end of MAITAIS to get the endings of all of the bottom quad stack, which made them much more approachable. 42D: Relating to the moon (SELENIC) is an odd choice, but acceptable.

I liked INTIMATEAPPAREL the best of all the 15s. LAIDITONTHELINE is fair, and ENTERINTODETAIL is also okay. STATEASSISTANCE is really a bland entry.

I liked the comparison of the NSA and the KGB, side by side. ASONANT looks very strange. Its linguistic cousin "assonant" is so much more commonly used. Love PARTITA. I tried "cantata" first. SORB is just unpleasant.

Getting 4D: College near Albany, N.Y. (SIENA) took way too long, considering it's just a few miles from my home. There are a number of colleges in the Capital District, including RPI, a common crossword entry, Union, SUNY-Albany, Sage, and Hudson Valley Community College. Still, none of those are 5 letters long. And I like listening to 88.3, Siena's college radio station ("We play anything...").

TELOS, MENES, ETATISM. Those are tough words, for sure. STPS feels made up. I liked ROSIETHERIVETER, although we've seen her in crosswords before. The other three were bland again. 1A: Center of a defense (THESISSTATEMENT) gets a C+, and that's because the clue is a nice, though mild, bit of misleading.

I guess overall it's better than some, but I still don't love this kind of grid.

- Colum

Friday, January 8, 2016

Friday, January 8, 2016, Peter A. Collins

22:26 (FWOE)

There's some awfully good stuff in here, but somehow I didn't really love it. I'm a bit at a loss to explain why. I think it might be simply that it was the end of a long day, and I had to struggle with it. More's the pity.

I broke in, promisingly enough, with 4D: "Henry V" battle setting (AGINCOURT). That gave me YANNI, COSMO, LIEU, and ALARM, but no more love in that area.

I had to skip to the NE, where POSH led to 12D: Who wrote "There is no sin except stupidity" (OSCARWILDE). Good clue, excellent to have the full name in place. I was, of course, instantly reminded of the Monty Python sketch where George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, and James MacNeill Whistler compete to say the wittiest lines to the Crown Prince.

The NE has WSW, ODER, and ASTO to hold together the set of long downs. It's also unfortunate that ASTO crosses PASTO, which was, BTW, where my one error came about. I had PASTa crossing SHaRTO. I know it was wrong, but forgot to go back to fix it. As it turns out, 24A: Plot element? (SHORTO) is referring to the vowel O. I did not parse it correctly.

Perhaps it was this aspect that made me not love the puzzle. There are a number of great words, but in exchange, there's more than the usual amount of crosswordy stuff necessary to make it work. 30A: Bounty work? (ABSORPTION) - excellent. SSR, PSI, SEW, EEC - not so great.

IDIDMYBEST, great. 15A: Pet project for a 14-Down (DOGGIEDOOR) - cute as all get out. RONA, EGON, SRS. Humph.

Also weird to have the mini-theme of Broadway musicals that were made into movies, although it's interesting that DREAMGIRLS and JERSEYBOYS have the same number of letters and the symmetry of the gender references. I'm not rating 1A as it's part of that theme.

Couldn't ARGOS have been clued with something else? My initial thought was the one-hundred eyed giant of Greek myth; turns out he was Argus. Darn.

I wanted to like it more, I really did.

- Colum

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Thursday, January 7, 2016, Andrew J. Ries


Whew! What a tough Thursday. And I'm just going to say how much I loved it. Which is a lot. Just in case I wasn't clear.

To start off, how nice to put DOCTORS / WITHOUT / BORDERS in a symmetric slanted stack of 7-letter answers in the middle. You'd think that might cause some real ugly fill. But Mr. Ries goes even further and adds two high quality 9-letter answers in HUSHMONEY above and ANDREGIDE (nice having the full name there) below. With good clues, to boot! 31A: Sum for keeping mum... ha!

The only crossing entry that feels at all forced is 32D: Star of the short-lived reality show "I Pity the Fool" (MRT), which was pretty much a gimme (one of the few in the puzzle, IMO!). Come on, HOTDIGGITY? Awesome.

But then, we get the remainder of the theme, which is missing letters off the "border" of the grid, which spell out different "doctors". 9D and 10D ([O]REO and [Z]EROS) give us Dr. Oz. 37A, 41A, and 45A: (CHE[W], BOOT[H], and BRAND[O] (1950s sex symbol, surprisingly not a woman!)) give us Dr. Who. 50D and 57D (SAGA[N] and LEN[O] - cute having them both be television hosts) give us Dr. No. And 29A, 33A, and 35A ([D]ROVES, [R]OPED, and [E]DEN) give us Dr. Dre. Four completely recognizable examples of 2- or 3-letter doctors. Well done. And fun to figure out where they would be, even though they're symmetrically placed.

1A: "Yep, you're right" (TRUEDAT): A+. That's what I'm talking about. We need more of this kind of excellent entries to start off puzzles. It was one of the last ones I got, but still.

And the rest of the grid has outstanding clues as well. A few that caught my attention:

  • 1D: King's little cousin (TWIN) - really tricky.
  • 4D: Non-P.C. add-on? (ESS). Not Mac.
  • 11A: Boxer, e.g., for short (DEM). He means Barbara Boxer, democrat of California.
  • 38D: Sweets alternative (HON). As in, names a waitress might call you in a diner.
  • 42D: Stand outs? (ALIBIS) - my favorite of the puzzle. As in, ways you might get out of trouble while on the stand in a courtroom.
Excellent puzzle. Thumbs up all around.

- Colum

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Wednesday, January 6, 2016, Jules P. Markey


Aha! A crossword for the librarians among us. Or anybody who enjoys the Oxford English Dictionary. I was mildly disappointed that the OED crosses were replicated four times in the puzzle, rather than choosing a different "reference" to "cross". But really, what would they have been? Roget's Thesaurus (RT... uh...)? The Encyclopedia Britannica (...EB)? Bulfinch's Mythology (BfM! Nope). So, not terribly disappointed in actuality.

The revealer here is very nice. Would some like to nitpick that the OED is not so much a "reference" as a set of "reference books"? Not I.

I had some fun analyzing the words that contain the "OED" fragments. There are three past participles (SOLOED, HOED, and ZEROEDINON), two of which are from verbs that end in O, one that ends in OE. There is one adjective that derives from a past participle (PIGEONTOED). Then there is the adjective that derives from an abbreviation of a longer adjective (COED). There are two proper names, one of which is Greek in origin (OEDIPUSREX - I love that the entire name of the play is used), the other of which spans two names (JOEDON). And finally there is a phrase where the fragment crosses two words (RADIOEDITS). It's a nice mix of options, not repeating the same derivation over and over.

I really loved the flow of the grid. It moved very smoothly from one section to another. The NE and SW corners are isolated, but approached through a two square opening. I found myself starting in the NW and naturally moving all the way down to the SE. The grid-spanning revealer helped a lot.

I didn't like TEAC right next to ACER. Otherwise, I loved the two moons in nearly symmetric placement (especially PHOEBE!). I imagine some might have had difficulty with BROCA, but he is extremely well known in the world of Neurology. His "area" is responsible for generation of the motor aspects of language.

1A: Facebook entry (POST) is fine, elevated by the subsequent Facebook reference, but only a slightly. I give it a C+. A couple of nice clue-answer pairs, but my favorite is 47A: Name that Ogden Nash once rhymed with "No thonx" (BRONX). Ogden Nash FTW. I also liked SERAGLIO and PEZ.

Maybe I'll go partake of some DRY REDS now.

- Colum

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Tuesday, January 5, 2016, Jim Holland


Sorry about the delay in posting tonight. I just had my first triathlon training class, and it was a doozy! It's only going to get harder from here, but I think I'm going to enjoy it.

Anyways, today's puzzle by Mr. Holland, just like yesterday's, has a theme without a revealer. Maybe I'm more in favor of this than I thought. There isn't really a need for one today. By adding the letter T in front of a common phrase, you get a new phrase that requires wacky cluing to make sense.

My favorite of the four is definitely 26A: Early history of a drafting tool? (TSQUAREROOTS). The clue is silly, the reinterpretation of the phrase is clever. The other three don't reach the same level, but they're all acceptable. I did like the way TTOP, such an annoying piece of crosswordese, gets repurposed in a much more amenable way. It took a while to figure out the theme, and I questioned myself quite a bit when I had TSQ___ at the beginning of 26A.

Almost had a Natick today at the crossing of BIGA and EIGER. I'd never heard of New York's Aqueduct Racetrack. Turns out it's in Jamaica, Queens. So the nickname was even less known, but I guessed it when I reparsed the answer to Big A. Seems a touch tough for a Tuesday.

Otherwise the fill seemed pretty much GOODTOGO. 37D: "Animal Farm," for one (ALLEGORY) is excellent. I didn't like AIRTO - that seems particularly arbitrary. REEDITS is acceptable.

1A: Marital ___ (BLISS) is better than average. I'll give it a B. My favorite pair of clues and answers were 38A: Musical finale (CODA) and 32D: "____ Fan Tutte" (COSI). I like the musical crossing. And also, Mozart.

- Colum

Monday, January 4, 2016

Monday, January 4, 2016, Herre Schouwerwou


Ah, Monday. Start of a new work week. And a challenge to see how quickly I can make it through the NYT crossword. I didn't manage to break 4 minutes today, but I see that as a good thing, mostly.

I recognized the theme part of the way through: two word phrases with the pattern P___ F___. I was surprised not to find any revealer, some way the pattern would be explained. And it turns out there isn't one. It really is just that: P___ F___. What makes up for it is the density of six excellent exemplars. Of course PINKFLOYD is my favorite. But PETITFOUR is nice, as is POPPINFRESH. It's slightly weird to see POUNDFOOLISH without its sibling, penny-wise. There are no duds in the theme, so that's positive.

The fill has a foursome of proper names: APATOW, which just about everybody knows; SETH MacFarlane, also well known; FARON Young, country legend, writing from the 1950s to the 1980s, also completely unknown to me; and SADA Thompson, from Family (1976-1980), which I never watched, nor had I heard of her at all - a little far fetched for a Monday. I wonder if that section could have been reworked with "dada" in her place, but I see how the crossing of the two theme answers close by constrained the fill.

Otherwise, outside of things like IDEO, NEGS, and EPOS, I think the fill is pretty good. 1A: Small jump (HOP) is very bland, and gets a D. My favorite clue-answer was 26A: "$&#@" and "%*&!" (CURSES). Nicely done. I also liked 10D: What the numbers 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 are in (REVERSE). Overall, I'll say I liked it.

- Colum

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Sunday, January 3, 2016, David Woolf


It took me nearly twice as long as usual for a Sunday puzzle today, and it was worth it. All of us here at Horace and Frances and Colum enjoy a good rebus. This one goes beyond a good rebus, in my opinion. We get all standard abbreviations for the twelve months, appropriately placed across the grid to create a calendar. Because each rebus is different, and further, because there is no predictability to the placement of the rebus, it made each section a challenge.

I will complain (but only very slightly) that the flow through the grid was poor. I recognize that it's thematic, in that each section had to be cordoned off to create the appearance of the calendar, and that's why I accept it. But at the same time, it created essentially 12 different mini-puzzles, some more isolated than others. For example, the sections for February and November have one square entries on either side.

I had a feeling something was up from 1A: Malicious computer programs (TRO[JAN]S). "Viruses" and "malware" entered my mind first, neither of which fit. I also confused myself by automatically throwing in "Arles" for 5D: Setting for van Gogh's "River Bank in Springtime" (SEINE). I mean, ever van Gogh reference in a crossword puzzle is to that town, no? I guess no.

Anyway, I jumped through the grid, throwing in GOTYE (but mistakenly putting in Gmail (?!) at 40A: Alternative to Facebook Messenger (GCHAT)), CILIA and CAL. I got traction with SASHA (I wonder how she feels being a crossword puzzle entry nowadays, along with her sister... both have very good letters for the grid) and filled in the entire September section except for the rebus. I didn't get it still, even with A_TIC. Attic? Antic? Doesn't make any sense.

So, anyway, I figured it out with [DEC]EIT, and then it was simply a matter of figuring out where each month rebus would fall. My favorite rebus was definitely 6A: Essence (LI[FEB]LOOD). That is so well hidden. Even when I had __[FEB]L___ it took me a long time to figure it out. The hardest one for me was MINI[MAR]T and I[MAR]ET. That bit of crosswordese eluded me. It was hard to get into that corner because of the pair of clever clues at 33A: Passing mention? (OBIT) and at 14D: One helping with servings (DIETITIAN). Nice avoidance of a question mark with the latter.

A number of tricky clues:

  • 21A: Band that doesn't play much music nowadays (AMRADIO) - didn't at all think of AM as a band. I was considering rock strata before radio until the _MRA___ forced my hand.
  • 30A: Battery parts (TESTS). Tough.
  • 66A: Dark horses (BAYS). So literal!
  • 11D: Emanation from a pen (OINK). Definitely was thinking about ink for the longest time, even though it just wouldn't fit!!!
  • 100D: Guy's thanks? (MERCI). Here's one where the question mark was absolutely necessary. I needed all the crosses but one to figure it out.
BTW, take a look at Gambia in that map. Weird! Completely surrounded by Senegal.

Very little glue here. Definitely thumbs up for me. Nice to see on a Sunday. 

- Colum

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Saturday, January 2, 2016, David Phillips


When in doubt, take out everything that you're not a hundred percent sure of. I struggled with the SW corner for the longest time because I forgot this piece of advice. I was so convinced that RIttEr was correct for 43D: German chocolate brand (RIESEN) that I was ready to give up on POSIES and OCTAD. Finally, I took it out, and the corner fell. Turns out the chocolate manufacturer has been around since the 1930s.

This is a lively themeless with some things I didn't love. It's centered around HATERSGONNAHATE, which was not difficult to get. I feel like we've seen it not that long ago. It's still fresh feeling, however.

I had my entry with YALE and IWILL. 31A: Roman leader? (GRECO) followed, and then I saw that ___SPICE would fit in at 4D: Jamaican jerk chicken seasoning (ALLSPICE). I've never heard of NESSES (19A: Promontories), but it's the only glue in the NW corner.

1A: Surf stuff (SPRAY) is okay. I don't love the clue, and the answer is relatively straightforward. I give it a C+. I also can hear the cries of anger at 20D: Devil or bear lead-in (SHE), so perhaps that could have been clued better.

Although I had the 15-letter answer across the middle, I had to restart in the SE as I could not get 27D: Mass master (JSBACH) from _BA__. Good to see him in the grid. He is probably the greatest musical genius in the history of Western music, although I'm sure others have their opinions on that point. Still the pair of 80s-90s TV clues were gimmes, so with WILLIS over NILES over INUSE, that section was not as hard as it could have been. I've never heard of MARCELLUS, but it was definitely inferable by the rules of Latin.

I enjoyed 35D: Still the most? (STEADIEST). I'm not sure about also having 21A: What most adjectives end in? (EST) in the same grid. It seems like duplication of part of speech as well as the same pun. On the same note, as it were, I'm not fond of ANN two answers over from ANAS, as well as the latter four answers over from another "Santa ____" answer (CLARA), especially as both the latter are proper names in Spanish.

I had a little difficulty in the NE, only because I'd put ARIa in without a second thought. ESSaX looked wrong. And I suppose because Die Fledermaus is in German, I suppose we can allow ARIE. But really. It's an aria.

My favorite clue-answer pair is 29D: Force on a nut (TORQUE). I like the opportunity to go the wrong way in the clue, and the loveliness of the actual answer, which sits so nicely in the grid.

- Colum