Monday, February 29, 2016

Tuesday, March 1, 2016, Freddie Cheng


Happy March everybody! It's a favorite month around Horace & Frances (Featuring Colum), as two of us celebrate our birthday during it. I thought I'd get a jump on the blog tonight while it's still Leap Day, because any other year, it would already be March, see. I heard a great report on NPR about 52 year old Jewish people born on February 29 who are having their Bar or Bat Mitzvahs today. Finally, they are men and women!

Anyway, today's (or tomorrow's) puzzle features one of the great films of all time, ALLABOUTEVE. Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night! There are some 15 uses of the three-letter string EVE in the puzzle, which wouldn't be so amazing in and of itself, but the examples are very strong on the whole. I particularly like SEALEVELS and PETPEEVES crossing EVELKNIEVEL. On the other hand, it also means we get a number of 3-letter words such as GOV, HOV, AVE, VEE, and so on. I've never heard of EVENSTEVENS, but any reference to Shia LaBeouf is okay in my book.

UNPC seems to be much in the news nowadays, at least if you care about Donald Drumpf (c.f. John Oliver if you want to know more #makedonalddrumpfagain). I love 16A: Tri and tri again? (HEXA) - what a great clue for a terrible bit of GREEK crosswordese. Perhaps Huygens enjoyed SEXED? Or maybe the educational portion of it removes it from being risque?

Chris Rock was pretty great as HOST last night of the Oscars, which otherwise was flat out a BORE. I'm glad Spotlight won. It was definitely the best of the three nominated movies I saw (the other two being The Big Short and The Martian, both excellent in their own right).

1A: "Put a tiger in your tank" brand (ESSO) gets points for the motto, loses points for being a brand name, and loses more points for not being a brand in current usage, and even more points for being actually ExxonMobil now. So it gets a D+.

All right! That was fun. Good night.

- Colum

Monday, February 29, 2016, Joel Fagliano


Well, I was hoping to end the month with a time in the threes, but a little bit of flailing on the keyboard put me just over four. Still, I'm not complaining, because although I may have frowned at my typos, I was not frowning (much) at the actual entries.

The theme today is inspired by today being LEAPDAY. Four recognized "days" from the calendar year are broken across a gap in the grid. Let's see if I can convey this somehow in text form... "46A: Gullibility" is NAI[VETE] and [RANS]OMS is "48A: Kidnappers' demands," and when you read the circled letters (here bracketed) you see "Veterans." That's a particularly nice one. Others rely on more questionable phrases like HERSTORY (18A: The past, from a feminist standpoint) and PHONEBOX (60A: Once-ubiquitous red fixture seen along London streets). As a theme, though, I like it. It's unusual and pretty cleanly done, but I can't decide whether it's helped or hurt by the inclusion of MAYDAY (69A: Call for help) in the very last Across spot. Often I like bonus material, but this is another day that doesn't leap any black squares... still, I'll give the theme a B.

I enjoyed the many paired answers today - RAM/EWE, SAGA/TROY, WAXES/WANES... and I also liked some of the longer Down answers - GROUNDZERO, ARMYANT, ODIUM, and IAMBIC.

1A: Apelike (SIMIAN) I will give a B+. It's a decent enough word. And my favorite clue/answer today is 53D: It's postal abbreviation is also an exclamation (OHIO).

Colum takes over again tomorrow for the month of March, and then Frannie and I will be back on April 1st, when, in addition to commenting on the daily puzzles, we will be issuing reports from the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, CT!

- Horace

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sunday, February 28, 2016, Timothy Polin


An amusing theme today, taking terms used in basketball and giving them wacky clues to force a different reading. It's one of the standard tropes, and it's done well here, we thought. There's quite a bit of it - eleven answers - and a couple of them are Down answers, which is always nice. I especially liked SHOTCLOCK (58A: Busted timer?). It's so simple. But NOTHINGBUTNET (101A: Lament from an unlucky shrimper?), FREETHROW (79D: Rug dealer's special?) (Frannie's favorite), and BALLHANDLER (66A: Desi Arnaz?) are also quite good.

With so much theme, it's not too surprising, I guess, that we get a more than our usual allotment of 25-cent entries that you don't see every day - BAIZE (12D: Card table cloth) (Frannie knew this one!), AQUILA (19A: Eagle constellation) (you don't say...), MAGDA (81A: One of the Gabor sisters) (the forgotten Gabor), ALECTO (94A: One of the furies), and GIMBAL (52D: Stabilizer of a ship's compass). We also see, as usual, some less-than-perfect fill like OCTAL and WARBOW, but you know what? The more I look around at this grid, the more I like it. I've been sitting here trying to concentrate on this review during the acceptance speeches, and I keep seeing clues like 58D: Mobile home resident? (SNAIL), 21A: Runway model? (AIRPLANE), and 42: Quaker of note? (ASPEN). Some are critical of the "question mark clue," but I don't mind so much...

OK, that's all I've got. I'm sorry this is so late.

- Horace

p.s. 1A: Make less dangerous, in a way (DECLAW) - B.
Favorite clue/answer - 31A: Confer (POWWOW). Love all the Ws.
Least favorite - 28A: Trickle (OOZE). Not the same thing!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Saturday, February 27, 2016, Julian Lim


This grid, to me anyway, is a little like yesterday's, but reversed and opened up. Do you see what I mean? There's a line running diagonally down the middle, but the openings are wider and the flow is the other way. Oh... never mind....

1A: Anchor line (THISJUSTIN) (A) gets us started on the right foot. It's clever, kind of amusing, and perfectly normal. And off of that, we have a reference to "Casey at the Bat," (THAYER) which one of my brothers memorized and recited at school one time, I believe, so that brought a smile. HATERS (2D: No fans) is good and fresh, and SEL (4D: Frites seasoning) reminds Frannie and me that we will soon be having frites at Manneken Pis with our friends in Utrecht, where we will be staying at an AIRBNB!

I've never heard of TAMIAMI (8D: Florida community with a portmanteau name), or HALVA (30D: Crumbly Midwestern dessert), and REATA (24A: Bit of vaquero gear) is always a little wince-worthy, but like yesterday, I'm willing to overlook the junk when there's so much good to overpower it.

The NE, for example, held together as it is by OLEO, ILE, and COSTA boasts a lovely eight-stack of ALPACINO, LEASHLAW (13D: Dog checker?) (nice clue), and FORKEEPS (14D: Permanently). And down in the SE we get the amusingly clued STAMPALBUM (61A: Book with profiles of many people) (I had "photoALBUM" for a while), PARISIENNE (64A: Coco Chanel, par exemple), and the ironically comforting, given the clue, ANDSOTOBED (66A: Words before crashing?) with hardly any glue at all. Well, except maybe for DIPSO (54D: Sponge). What the hell is that? Is a drunk called a sponge? Hmmm...

Anyway, if you'll allow me to gloat a tiny bit, I just feel like I've been firing on all cylinders these last two days after my recent DNF. I've been totally INTUNE (49D: Connected (with)) ATALLTIMES. OK. enough gloating. I hope you enjoyed it, too.

- Horace

Friday, February 26, 2016

Friday, February 26, 2016, Paula Gamache


I enjoyed this puzzle. The transitions between the three sections were tight, and the four linking entries - GEMINIS (26A: Kennedy and Bush 41, but no other U.S. presidents), BETWEENUS (29A: "Mum's the word"), ESCAPEKEY (35A: It's in the far northwest) (that's a little cheap, I think), and SUBARID (38A: Moderately dry) - did not come quickly, but the sections were thick enough so that you almost always had a cross for something - provided, of course, that you could get a few starters! One such, for me, was GOMPERS (21A: Pioneering labor leader Samuel). I wasn't positive about it, but it fit, and hey, it worked! I also guessed RES (20A: ____ nullius (no one's property)) without crosses - but needed a few for JURIS (24A: Nullius ____ (of no legal force)). That's a nice Latin pairing. And on the "non-high-fallutin' side, I also dropped in ROBOTO (41A: "Mr. ____" (Styx hit)). Hah!

Some lovely fill today. POMPOUSASS (3D: Blowhard) is, I think, my favorite, but NOTORIETY (9D: Unwanted attention), GALOSHES (34D: Couple taken out on a rainy day), VAMOOSED (17A: Amscrayed), and NOSTRIL (42A: Blow hole?) were also quite good. Lot's of "quote fill" today - OHDEARME, SUREYOUARE, BEPATIENT, IMLIKE (love it), and the aforementioned BETWEENUS. I always find these types of answers a little more difficult to guess, but I don't really have a problem with them. I guess I used to, but I've come around.

There's a little glue, like SMA and EMP (who knew they were considered "Emperor of India?"), but with so much quality material, I don't care at all.

Overall, thumbs up!

- Horace

p.s. 1A: 1991 Scorsese/De Niro collaboration (CAPEFEAR) - meh. C+.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Thursday, February 25, 2016, Joel Fagliano


I made four mistakes in this grid, all in a little block in the right center. Early on, I guessed "ArtS" for 35A: Affectation (AIRS) (better), and when I came to my last couple squares - the first two of 38A: Veterinarian's branch of sci., I couldn't think of anything but "biOL," so I put that in. It took me a minute or two to realize that both words were wrong, but it really shouldn't have, because even though I didn't know IBIZA (28D: One of the Balearic Islands) off the clue, I should have known that IBrbA wasn't right. Same with TUtiW... So, in short, a DNF.

Aside from all that, the theme didn't really do much for me. Sure, I use Amazon - who hasn't? - but I've never visited POLITICO or GAWKER, and I've never even heard of a Web site called VULTURE. So the wacky cluing that I usually love so much was diminished today by my own ignorance. I hope that this kind of thing brings in the young folks, but for me, the one doing the rating today, the theme fell flat. I'm giving it a C-.

1A: Squelch (STIFLE), on the other hand, I'm giving a B+. Both clue and answer are unusual and interesting.

I liked seeing AUNTIEEM  (17A: Neighbor of Miss Gulch), I loved seeing POETICS (11D: Aristotle work that began literary theory), and CREAMPIE (56A: Boston specialty) was fun and local. LECTERN (39D: Stand taken by one making a speech) was cutely clued, but RHEUMY (42D: Watery, as eyes) is gross. That's the way it was today - kind of up and down. Still, I didn't hate it or anything. Thumbs up. Just not way up.

- Horace

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Wednesday, February 24, 2016, Ruth Bloomfield Margolin


A theme last Friday, and now a trick puzzle on a Wednesday? I don't know what the world's coming to, but I like it!

Today's revealer is 37A: Goes underwater ... or a hint to the answers on the perimeter of this puzzle (SUBMERGES). From that we learn, eventually in my case, that the understood prefix "sub" merges with each theme answer in the grid to make the proper answer. As in: 1A: Lofty in thought or manner (LIME) = sublime; 10A: Puts down by force (DUES) = subdues; or 68A: Take away (TRACT) = subtract. I love that each entry actually in the grid is a real word on its own, and it's nice that it runs all the way around the edge. Overall, I'm giving the theme an A.

Looking through the answers now, I think it would be rather easy to be full of complaints. STAGG (22A: Football legend Amos Alonzo ____) is a bit of a stretch, and ENBANC (28A: With all judges present) and 54A: Mens ____ (criminal intent) (REA) are two pretty deep foreign-language entries. Then there's stuff like VOA, INME, EMAC, ULT, and GEST (38D: Tale of adventure), but you know what? I still ended up liking this puzzle. I looked up that Stagg fellow, and find that he "developed basketball as a five-persron sport" and is also in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Sooo... that's interesting.

Any Bach clue is ok in my book (BOURREE), I liked TEAHOUSE (33A: Twinings in London is one), and who doesn't like SASHIMI (43D: Sushi bar option)? OK, Frannie doesn't, for one. And probably millions of other people who think raw fish ought to be either swimming or soon cooked. But that's the way it is, not everyone likes everything the same. Me, I enjoyed this puzzle. You?

- Horace

p.s. Favorite clue/answer today? 24A: Number of states that border the Mississippi (TEN). I put it in immediately, because it wasn't "one" or "two." I suppose some might have guessed "six," which I hadn't thought of... but anyway, it's a fun way to clue a number.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Tuesday, February 23, 2016, Elizabeth C. Gorski


A tasty theme from Ms. Gorski, naming seven different kinds of cake: six edible, one audible. I prefer the edible, especially CRUMB and CARROT. Mmmm.... CARROT CAKES.... And all the cakes are "LAYER"ed in little stacks, which makes the revealer (LAYER CAKES) work. So B+ on the theme.

And maybe it's the fact that the theme is so compact and segregated (one block in the middle and the rest on the edges), or maybe it's just Ms. Gorski's skill, but the non-theme material seemed especially nice today. I loved coming across such words as SKULK (8D: Hide in the shadows), PLUNK (39D: Drop heavily), CARNATION (51A: Pink shade), and KLEPTOMANIA (11D: Problem with lifting?). That last one is my favorite clue/answer today. When I first looked at it, I already had the K at the top, and my first thought ran to something like "Knee pain..." Ha!

And do you ever notice that if you've already been put into a good mood while doing a puzzle, maybe by answers like LORELEI (20A: "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" blonde), TRIUMPH (30A: Come out on top), or SALVO (24A: Volley), that things like III (69A: Sundial three), and LALA (43A: ____ land) don't bother you at all? And the clues for ANTI (33A: Non-pro?) and UMPS (38A: Ones watching their plates?) are good, too. I've never heard of the HAI river basin, or SAMSA (40D: "The Metamorphosis" protagonist) (I really ought to read more...), but I don't care. I liked it.

Overall, a very good Tuesday.

- Horace

p.s. Remember MITT? He seems so normal and almost acceptable in retrospect...

Monday, February 22, 2016

Monday, February 22, 2016, Ed Sessa


A daring, DOWNANDDIRTY Monday theme! The three Down clues run from a profession that'll give you dirty clothes, to dirty tricks, to a dirty movie. I like it and I'm giving it an A-. And you know the minus is just there to save a little room. 1A: Indian in many an old western (APACHE) is a pretty good clue for a nice Indian tribe name... let's give it a B. And my favorite clue/answer? Let's say 49A: State of thinking (MINDSET) because it brings to mind my old college advisor, who is one of the creators of the Beloit College Mindset List. (Shameless plug alert!)

There's quite a bit of typical Monday stuff: RAJ, EWE, VAT, SOS, APE, IONS, INGE, ATEE, RITE... and some less-than-great stuff like UAW, CLV, FIXE, ASKA, EAU, and VON, but I also enjoyed some of it - ELPASO (12D: Texas city on the Mexican border) (it's nice to have the whole thing in there), AMTRAK (46D: Northeast Corridor service) (oh Amtrak... when will you grow up?), DAWSON (30A: Former "Family Feud" host Richard) (always brings a smile), and the long Acrosses (unusual!) are also decent. POKINGFUNAT (17A: Teasing) and UNITEDFRONT (61A: Coalition with no infighting).

Let's say on balance, it's a thumbs up.

- Horace

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sunday, February 21, 2016, Patrick Berry


An amusing Sunday theme from Mr. Berry. By changing the spelling, but not the sound, of certain words, we get different, wacky, interpretations of (mostly) normal phrases. I'm not sure I know what "Pod People" (PAWEDPEOPLE (87A: Owners of large enthusiastic dogs?)) are, but the rest of them are perfectly normal. 23A: Burlesque Theater? (BAWDYBUILDING), 31A: Moviegoers who can't afford concession stand snacks? (POPCORNPAUPERS), and 106A: Supporting actors in a Bea Arthur sitcom? (THEMAUDESQUAD), are three good ones. With eight theme answers in all, it seems like a lot of theme, but, as is to be expected when one sees this byline, the fill was not only decent, but filled with some great material.

Mr. Berry is ADEPT at making it look easy to somehow work in great fill like CURVEBALLS (39D: Trick questions, e.g.) , BOUTIQUE (83D: Posh shop), CLOUDSCAPE (46D: Heavenly painting?), SHERPAS (13D: Ones helping people up?), WALLOP (60D: Strong punch), CHUGS (55D: Finishes all at once, in a way), and LADYGAGA (4D: Her fans are called Little Monsters). And is it intentional that STYLISH (5D: Smart) is right beside LADYGAGA?

Lots of Shakespeare-y stuff today, with OPHELIA, ROMEO (82A: Ardent lover), and OTHELLO (69D: Game with a 64-square board) (Chess and checkers came to mind long before the real answer did) all in the grid. The glue is at a minimum, and the smile factor is high. Very good Sunday.

1A: Harmful aspects (EVILS) gets a B. It's good, and well-clued, but it is a plural, which detracts slightly. My favorite clue/answer is the simple but beautiful 83A: Can of worms? (BAIT). The theme gets an A.

- Horace

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Saturday, February 20, 2016, James Mulhern


Frannie and I solved this one side-by-side on the couch this morning with our coffee. We both wanted "fixed gear" for FIXIEBIKE (17A: Single-speed two-wheeler) (it's either "fixed gear" or just "fixie") and "earpiece" for EARPHONE (14D: Bit of Secret Service gear), and it was a while before Frannie remembered REMARQUE (12D: "All Quiet on the Western Front" novelist). I tried "Bea" for DEE (44A: Girl's name that sounds like a letter)... but slowly things worked themselves out.

We bristled at a few answers, but BRISTLES (35D: What toothpaste goes on) wasn't one of them. XIPHOID (43D: ____ process (sternum part)), on the other hand, is pretty far outside the ken of most solvers, I'd be willing to bet. SIXTHS (3D: Pie wedges in Trivial Pursuit, e.g.) seemed awkward, as did NANA (38D: Babe watcher, maybe). Does that refer to "Babe," the movie? And DIKTATS (8D: Orders) was another toughie! Queen ALETA? And what the heck is a RENTROLL (36D: Lessor's log)?

But we can't complain about things we don't know. Not on a Saturday. That's what Saturday is all about. Let's focus instead on the things we did enjoy, like OFFYOUGO (37D: "Run along now!"), BUTLER (26D: Murder mystery staple), EPIDERMIS (15A: It has you covered), STATUSQUO (29A: The way it is), and AJAX (42A: Homer's "bulwark of the Achaeans"). 1A: Lives the dream (HASITMADE) is quite good. Let's hand out another A- for that one. And my favorite clue/answer might be ELGAR (64A: Master of the King's Music under George V) for the clue alone.

Two more things - BERTH (26A: Salt sack?) ("sailor's bed") and LOB (31A: Alley-oop starter) (basketball reference), were both pretty tricky.

Some bad, but more good, I guess, today, and the grid is nice and open, so let's give it a thumb's up.

- Horace

Friday, February 19, 2016

Friday, February 19, 2016, Jacob Stulberg


Yesterday I ended by saying "Onward to the themelesses," and today, as if to spite me, we get a rare Friday theme. It fooled me for a while, but once I latched onto it, things fell neatly into place.

The trouble was that I figured out that the Italian-born composer ended in "VERDI," but I couldn't fit "Giuseppe" into the five remaining spaces, and I really didn't think there'd be a rebus on a Friday, so I went elsewhere. It didn't help that I had entered "Dr. Evil" at 1D, even though it forced me to remove OBLADI, which I had entered immediately for "23A: Start of a Beatles refrain." Oh well... that would all be straightened out eventually.

I think it was with SCHOENBERG (59A: & 60 Austrian-born composer) that the trick finally became clear. Very clever to find three composers whose last names contained other composers' last names within them, and then to put them together in such a lovely puzzle. I'll accept the occasional ENNIS (13A: Town near Ireland's Shannon Airport) and SRIS (25A: Eastern titles) when the rest of the puzzle is full of things like DAWDLES (44A: Takes one's sweet time), TENFOUR (31A: "Understood"), GORSE (63A: Spiny shrub), SUCCOR (47D: Aid), and the beautiful NOMDEGUERRE (21A: Carlos the Jackal, for one).

1A: Order (FIAT) is strong as well. I'm giving it an A-, and the minus is really just there to save some room "just in case." My favorite clue/answer is probably the NOMDEGUERRE that I mentioned previously, but I also very much enjoyed VOIDOF (18D: Without) because it was so unexpected.

It went by pretty quickly for a Friday, but I enjoyed it the whole way.


- Horace

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Thursday, February18, 2016, Bruce Haight


An intereresting visual theme to start off The Turn this week, with black squares forming large Is that are used as the first or last letter in all the Across clues that either end or start with them. As in 13A: Well-read folks (LITERAT[I]), 15A: Cube source ([I]CEMAKER), and 48A: One might get you in ([I]DBADGE). Those are a few of the good answers.

There's a lot I don't really get about this puzzle, though. Like the double revealer in the center. I guess 35D: "Now I see!" (AHA) is kind of a revealer in that you "see" the letter "I" twice in the grid, and maybe the plus signs indicate that you are to "add" the "I" to all the abutting answers... but why have 39A: "So THAT'S the trick here!" (OHO) as well? It doesn't really explain anything, and unless I'm missing something, which is entirely possible, it kind of confuses things. And in the end, the crosswordese crossing of AHA and OHO is a little dissatisfying.

Another thing that's dissatisfying about this one is that several of the "I" answers are pretty lame. [I]CAL (20A: Suffix with class) is maybe the worst, since it's not even really correct. It's not "class"-"ical," it's "classic"-"al," if it's anything at all. And there are too many proper nouns: ADELPH[I], MAU[I], PONT[I], JAMESI[I] (splitting the II is kind of weird, as well), NIKOLA[I], GOTT[I], TRO[I], and [I]ONIA, that's kind of a lot, and that's just the theme-related list! Then there's stuff like ENCE (37A: Verb-to-noun suffix), CRU (62D: Grand ____ (wine phrase)), ETDS (3D: Airport data, for short), LES (4D: French article), and more names - ELIE, DINO, EMILIA, MAZ, JADEN, MINSK, COPA, LON, LOTHAR (?), and KATRINA.

My favorite clue/answer, and one of the too-few bright spots, is 7D: Flat population? (TENANTS). I give the theme a D, and the puzzle a thumbs-down.

Onward to the themelesses!

- Horace

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Wednesday, February 17, 2016, Kyle Mahowald


Kind of a cute, wintry name-reworking theme today. If the thermometer outside our kitchen window still showed negative numbers I might not be so happy to see this, but as it now reads above 32F, I'll take it in stride and smile at answers such as EDWARDSNOWEDIN (20A: Informant trapped after an icy storm?), JODIEFROSTER (26A: Actress with an icy stare?) (I bet this is sometimes true), and BARRYCOLDWATER (52A: Next Republican nominee after Dwight D. Ice in Shower left office?) (wow... what a clue!). CURT CHILLING (44A: Pitcher of ice?) seems a bit like the one who doesn't belong, being, I'm guessing, slightly less universally well-known, but then, I could be wrong about that. Goldwater is from the 60s, Jodie Foster's work has slowed down since the 80s and 90s, and Edward Snowden has been "out of the picture" for a while now. So I won't presume to presume what people know or don't know. I will, instead, simply give the theme a B+ rating. I liked it, but I didn't love it.

1A: Derby sound (NEIGH). B-. If derby hats made any kind of noise this might have been a little more interesting, but as it is, NEIGH is a decent enough word to move it into the B range. And my favorite clue/answer today is the slightly absurd "42A: Like a trampoline" (BOUNCY). It made me smile.

The fill had some good, unusual bits, like NEWINTOWN (11D: Like a recent transplant), THEREALME (33D: Who I am inside), PHRYGIA (41D: Realm of King Midas) (!), and ONAWHIM (43D: Just because). I like all those, but is "the real me" really who you think you are, or who others think you are? I'd argue for the latter. It's certainly the more relevant.

There was a little of the usual junk, but overall, this was a fine Wednesday.

- Horace

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Tuesday, February 16, 2016, Ron and Nancy Byron


I'm not sure what this kind of theme is called, but it's that one where the first word in all the theme answers can be followed by a word in the revealer. Today the revealer is FIGUREHEAD (55A: Carved decoration on a ship's prow ... or a hint to the first word of 17-, 25-, 37- and 45-Across), so when we take the "head" of the other theme clues, we get "full figure," "action figure," my favorite - "stick figure," and my least favorite - "go figure." The material the "heads" are pulled from is pretty good. FULLNELSON (17A: Banned wrestling hold) is my favorite, both because my brothers and I went through a phase of using this, and the related "half Nelson" as often as possible on one another, and because I find it interesting and mildly humorous that a move has been banned from wrestling. I suppose they must mean "real" wrestling, and not WWF wrestling, and that would make it slightly less funny.

There are definitely some AWKWARD (29D: All thumbs) areas in the fill today. DIF, TUTEE, OYS, OVO, FER, INA, and COL (3D: One of 15 in a typical weekday crossword: Abbr.) to name several. Does anyone ever refer to, or even think about, rows and columns in a crossword?

But there are also some fun answers, like CULDESAC (4D: Dead-end street), RELIC (6D: Linotype machine, nowadays), SHERPA (10D: Everest guide), HOVEL (11D: Homely home), and GAMESHOW (39D: Where you might hear "Ding ding ding!"), for example. I also enjoy the words GABLE and FAUNA. My favorite clue/answer is 40A: Workplace often surrounded by trailers (SET) for the round-a-boutness of the clue.

1A: Record label for Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" (DECCA). C.
Theme - C+.

Finally, KAUAI is a weird spelling, isn't it?

- Horace

Monday, February 15, 2016

Monday, February 15, 2016, David J. Kahn


This Presidents Day tribute puzzle has a word ladder featuring three one-term presidents and several marquee answers relating to the nation's highest office. POLK, at 1A, a one-termer by choice, annexed Texas and much of the American southwest through war with Mexico, coerced the U.K. into giving up the Oregon Territory, set up an independent treasury system, oversaw the opening of the U.S. Naval Academy, the Smithsonian Institution, the groundbreaking for the Washington Monument, and the issuance of the first U.S. postage stamp. (Yes, I pay my Wikipedia dues every year.) TAFT was the only president who also served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and FORD was the only person to serve as Vice-President and President without being elected to either. So there you have it. And along the way we see the DARK underbelly of PORK and TORT. Hah.

As for those marquee answers, there's OVALOFFICE, LEGISLATOR, POCKETVETO, and QUESTIONER. QUESTIONER? ... Hmmm... I'd like to send that one back to APPEALS.

You know, I don't often think much about the construction of a puzzle, perhaps because I've never successfully constructed one (nor, for that matter, put much effort into doing so), but today I see the awkward PQR (32A: Letters between O and S) and I can't help but wonder if Mr. Kahn's original intent was to include "SPQR" (senatus populusque Romanus), since our government was inspired by those old timers in Rome.

And hey, do you think EVOLVE is also a little bonus fill referring to the word ladder? Probably, especially given the slant of other clues like "38A: President-elect, e.g." (TITLE), "45A: Nominates" (PICKS), and "54D: 'Garfield' dog" (ODIE). :)

When I first read "20A: Doesn't just throw away," I first thought the answer might be something like "incinerates" or "destroys," but no, it's REUSES, which is nicer. Would the clue have been better without the "just?"

See... now I'm thinking way too much about the construction. That's what I get for having a day off with no fixed plans or "to do" list...

OK, let's just say that DINETTE (26D: Breakfast alcove) is my favorite answer/clue, because Frannie and I had a great pancake breakfast today. Cue "Hail to the Chief," and I'm out.

- Horace

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sunday, February 14, 2016, Mary Lou Guizzo


Happy Valentine's Day, Dear Reader. If you're an old softie like me, seeing the heart in the center of the grid today made you smile. And maybe you read "1A: The Beatles' first single, 1962," and wondered for a minute or two whether it was "Love, love me do" or just [LOVE]MEDO, and it wouldn't be until you got down to IN[LOVE] (32D: Smitten) that things really started to come together. But right around that same time you started to get confused, because that very answer crossed the (sort of) revealer VALENTINESDAY (31A: Romantic date), but it also crossed "37A: Scapegoat for the Fab Four breakup" (ONO). Hmmm... The title "All You Need" seems to refer to The Beatles and love, and 1A, of course, is the same, but now we have a clue referring to The Beatles and breakup. And then there's 33A: Belittled (ABASED), "43: 'Enough!,' in Ensenada" (NOMAS), 10D: Declined (SAIDNO), CAREER criminal, and the HAGUE Tribunal. Yuck. The whole thing becomes an ENIGMA. I can't decide what it AMOUNTSTO. Is it a TEASER, or does it ENRAGE? So much impolite eyeing with STARESAT and OGLES... do I SHUN it or do I DEALWITHIT, let go of my TIRADE, and concede that Amor vincit OMNIA? I suppose I could revel in the more RRATED and/or BLU portions like LEI and CREAM...

*Ahem.* But seriously, there's a lot of less-than-desirable fill in today's grid. BARIC, UNAPT, ILIA, AERO, ANZAC (?), BABIYAR (?), RESAND, and my least favorite fill of all, REUNE. And since when is Q.E.F. mainstream? (Quod ERAT faciendum). I'm not sure I've ever seen that before in a puzzle. Then there's the duplication in OGEE and GEE, and so many three-letter answers. As I said, I liked the grid design, and I didn't mind the rebus, but the puzzle as a whole is kind of a HOTMESS.

Favorite clue/answer? 118A: Comedian Poehler (AMY). Well, it's really just more of a favorite answer.


- Horace

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Saturday, February 13, 2016, Peter Wentz

Unknown time, but probably less than 25 minutes

I no longer trust the time given online for my solves if I complete the puzzle over two separate sittings, or on more than one device. I am certain that I spent over ten minutes looking at this puzzle last night, and this morning I opened it again and finished it over coffee. I looked up to see the time and it said "12:40," which is probably what I spent on it this morning, but what happened to the time from last night? This probably happened yesterday, too, because 15 minutes is pretty fast for me for a Friday.

All that aside, however, this was another enjoyable themeless puzzle. I got very little up top at first, but JUDGEWAPNER (35A: Arbiter of 1980s TV) was a gimme, and provided a solid foothold in the center. ONENAME (24D: Something Rihanna and Madonna each have), RANK (33D: Malodorous), and the humorous WECARE (21D: Clich├ęd company slogan) all came quickly off of that.

1A: "Yes, I already know her" (WEMET) is a bit of a weak spot, since I'd much prefer "we've met," so I'm giving it a C. I've never heard AWK used as "7D: Aviary cry," but ZEE, for once!, didn't fool me (8D: One of two slices of pizza?). NOSYPARKER (17A: Buttinsky) is a thing I only know from crosswords, but Frannie seems to have heard it before.

Excellent clues for ADREP (43A: One dealing in space and time) and FSTOP (45A: Setting for Ansel Adams) (first thought it would be something "museum-y" and tried "Frame"), but INS (42A: Well-connected people) is weak no matter how it's clued, and I've just about OD'd on ODON. And speaking of ODing, what the hell is BUTTERBEER? Frannie tells me it has something to do with Harry Potter, but I'm much happier thinking of LIMEADES. Although we did have butter tea once at a Nepalese restaurant, and that wasn't half bad. (The tea part was good... [rimshot!])

Favorite clue/answer 40D: Negotiation's terse conclusion (NODEAL). I just love its terseness, for one thing, and it was a funny surprise. At least to me.

Good end to the week. Onward to the non-weekday, and then we start all over again!

- Horace

Friday, February 12, 2016

Friday, February 12, 2016, Brandon Hensley


Man oh man... the last letter I filled in today was the first E in TEES (53D: Butt end?). How. Many. Times. will I be fooled by this type of thing?! And I just mentioned this kind of clue yesterday in the review!! Sheesh! Anyway... well played, Mr. Hensley, well played.

Let's get right down to it. 1A: One inclined to patronize a farmer's market (LOCAVORE). Nice trendy word, good and long... Solid A material. And favorite clue/answer? Well, there are so many fine examples of clueing today, but I think I'll go with one of the marquee answers today - GOLDILOCKSZONE (25A: Region around a star "just right" for habitable planets). It's interesting, it's fun, it's my favorite today.

ALSORANS include ALSORANS (16A: Ones who don't take a seat?), ERASER (58A: Means of getting the word out?), 59A: When many fans come out (HEATWAVE), DYNASTY (40D: Bourbons, e.g.), and 32D: The discovery of penicillin, e.g. (ACCIDENT). And that's just some of the good material! There are excellent clues for oft-seen entries like BYE (19A: It leads to early advancement), ALI (36A: Subject of a museum in Louisville, Ky.), and OED (42D: Time magazine's "scholarly Everest," for short). And how 'bout that strong Gilbert & Sullivan vibe with IDA and SORCERER?

The only things I can think to comment on that were problematic were only so because of my own failings. I've never heard of "Play HOB" meaning to "be disruptive," (short for "play the hobgoblin," I guess), and I've also never heard of ODAY meaning "money" in Pig Latin. In fact, I've never heard of anything changing meaning in Pig Latin. I thought it was strictly a change in formation of words. I didn't know it had its own words. And finally, there's poor ol' Mortimer SNERD - a tired bit of crosswordese if ever there were one. But that's it, and most of it, as I said, is me, not the puzzle. Overall this is beautifully clean and crisp, well clued, and a fun Friday to solve.

- Horace

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Thursday, February 11, 2016, Zhouqin Burnikel


A rather odd Thursday theme of famous people clued with words that can be parsed in such a way as to give their initials and their sex. As in "17A: Malady?" (MARIEANTOINETTE), and "27D: Roman?" (ROYORBISON). Sort of clever, but sort of weird. That second one took me a long time to see because I had "OMyGOSH" at first, instead of the meh-worthy OMIGOSH (54A: "Wow!!"). Also, there's left-right symmetry today, which adds slightly to the oddness. Still, I enjoyed the theme well enough once I figured it out, so I'll give it a solid B. 1A: Undergoes recession (EBBS) is a tad bland, but tricky, at least. How about C+. Maybe even B-.

The fill has some highlights and lowlights, as is often the case. I enjoyed COYOTE (21A: Prairie predator), SPITTAKE (4D: "You did what?" reaction), TIMESINKS (34D: Mindless but addictive app games, e.g.), and LAYETTE (37A: Outfit for newborns). SILENTE (39A: Adventure's end?) is a nice example of a classic clue type, and I also enjoyed the misdirection in 56A: Odyssey, e.g. (MINIVAN). And speaking of misdirections, all I could think of was "tine" for 5A: Dining tip? (PRONG), and "art" for 10A: Works at the Guggenheim (OILS).

On the negative side we have the usual smattering of crosswordese (ERMA, EEOC, NANOS, ATON, TRAC (the Trac II is my preferred razor), and NEO), but overall, I think the positives outweigh the negatives.

My favorite clue/answer pair today is 15A: Hooch (SAUCE), because "SAUCE" is such a fun word for booze. Also, it's mirrored nicely with DRANK (62A: Took a shot, say) down there at the bottom. "DRANK" is a fun word, isn't it? In Dutch, the past tense is "dronk," which is even more fun. Sooo... there's that.

- Horace

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Wednesday, February 10, 2016, John Guzzetta


Way below my average time for a Wednesday.

Overall I don't have a great feeling about this puzzle. First of all, I don't particularly love the theme. Not just because it deals with numbers, but because the word "number" is strangely absent from the whole thing. "The first parts of 17- and 22-Across are always this..." "Natural" and "Whole" are always "INTEGER?" It doesn't make sense without "Numbers." The theme gets a D+, based mostly on execution. (Although I know this will upset a very high percentage of our readers.) (Huygens, you make up at least 25% of the known readership!)

1A: Many Latin ones end in -are (VERBS) gets a higher grade, mostly because I'm a big fan of Latin, but still it's not great. Let's say a solid B. And my favorite clue/answer pair today is 38D: It comes before one (NOON), because it tricked me. I suppose this works especially well today, since there was that whole INTEGER thing going on.

The fill doesn't do much to save this one either. Apart from a few interesting answers like BLUELAW (4D: Sunday shopping ban), NEIGH (25D: Sound from a stable), and ITALIC (13A: Right-leaning), there's a bit too much crosswordese like ETA, ELL, DNA, SRS, NEC, ARI, and SIREE. We also get two networks - CBS and CNN, two dated references LEROY (49D: "Bad, bad" Brown of song), and 66: Broom-____ of the comics (HILDA) (I understand it's still being produced, but this still skews old), and the unusual NAUTILI, STOMA, and WICCA. Then we have BIRTH clued with "Blessed event." Really? Blessed? Egad.

I'm usually not one to SNIPE or SNARL, much less ERUPT in a HUFF, but you can put me down as ANTI on this one.

- Horace

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Tuesday, February 9, 2016, Lynn Lempel


Since I forgot to score 1A yesterday, let's start with that. TALC (Soapy powder mineral) C-. I dislike the word "powder" as it is used in the clue. In its mineral form it's not a powder. It's often made into powder, but that's different.

The theme, on the other hand, is a type that I quite enjoy: The wacky misreading of a word. 17A: Detonates a weapon in the underworld? (BOMBSHELL) Hilarious. 54A: Puts up with one's family? (BEARSKIN). Hilarious. 61A: Scrutinizes the underworld? (EYESHADES). Meh. What is Ms. Lempel's fascination with the underworld?! (See also: 14A: Valhalla's ruling god (ODIN).) Aside from that duplication, I love the theme and I'm giving it an A-.

It's too bad that the long downs couldn't have played a part in the theme as well. "Jack Sparrow is one of the 'in' crowd?" PIRATESHIP, or "Husband made out the inscription on wife's wedding band?" REDHERRING. So close!...

Tried "burn" for ITCH (42A: Something calamine lotion alleviates) and "grub" for EATS (49A: Vittles), but other than that, things went along pretty smoothly. Didn't love RAH, ATRIA, OLESETTE, or AGUE, but WRECKS (30A: Junkyard jalopies), STANCH (41D: Stop the flow of), HEATH (26D: Moor), and FIEND (49D: Diabolical sort) (There she goes again, invoking the Devil!) are all good. My favorite is 67A: Equivocate (HEDGE). Why? You ask? Well... I like the... I mean... it's just that... the way it...

- Horace

Monday, February 8, 2016

Monday, February 8, 2016, Paolo Pasco


I like the unusual layout of the theme answers, and that they occupy both Across and Down space. Really fills out the grid nicely. I also like the detail of not having the letters "IT" appear anywhere else in the puzzle. The IT theme itself is a tad bland, but it's not offensive, and it's well executed, so I'm giving IT a thumbs up. (And a rating of B.)

The fill has some crosswordese (STYES, OJS, OKS, DRNO, ALI, ALOU), but there was some tension generated by wondering whether it would be "avers" or AVOWS for 25D: Boldly states, and I can never remember exactly things like ATP (22D: Org. for Nadal and Federer) and ACC (56A: Duke's athletic grp.), so I needed crosses there, but luckily, it's Monday, they were not long in coming.

My favorite clue/answer today is 51A: Gesture of sarcastic support (GOLFCLAP). I had never heard the term before, but instantly understood it and instantly LOL'd. That's some quality material. Also enjoyed CARTRIP, IMISSYOU, SNICKERS, and the LOMBARDI reference. So timely the day after the Super Bowl.

Solid Monday.

- Horace

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sunday, February 7, 2016, Alan Arbesfeld


Adding insult to a less-than stellar Super Bowl result, we have this so-so Sunday puzzle that disses some standard things and phrases. As in TABLEOFDISCONTENTS (29A: Ones giving the waiter a hard time?) and DISBARANDGRILL (113A: Question harshly after not allowing to practice?). Not bad, I suppose. A little tortured, but that's how these wacky themes often go. So how about a C+ for the theme.

The fill, on the other hand, is downright tortured in places. HURTERS (44A: Sadists, e.g.) is very poor, and many of the threes were either weak or obscure - FMS, OSE, REB (clued as 60A: Orthodox Jewish honorific), FLA (clued with "Hollywood's locale: Abbr.), OYL, SCH, SOR, and INE. Plurals include BABAS, DECAFS, FERNS, and ULNAR (45D: Kind of nerve). :) It almost feels like a plural, doesn't it? Lots of proper names, too, some of them quite old: OLAND (9D: Charlie Chan portrayer), DESICA (12D: "The Bicycle Thief" director Vittorio), and MESTA (36D: Legendary Washington hostess), for three.

But I didn't hate everything about it. I loved the look of TOOOLD (119A: Past the cutoff age), those three Os look great. See also the double-N, double-EE in BEINNEEDOF (16D: Require). PROBOSCIS (43D: Schnozzola) is a fun one, and everybody loves BACON and TUNAROLLS. I also enjoyed TAILFIN (1A: Ornamental projection on some 1950s cars), and will give it a B. And my favorite clue answer was 108A: Major in astronomy? (URSA). Although the nicely misleading 80A: Monroe or Taylor (ACTRESS) was a runner-up.

Overall, not our favorite Sunday puzzle.

Poor Cam. I thought it was his year.

- Horace

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Saturday, February 6, 2016, David Steinberg

Unknown time - seemed like a good long while.

The online version of the puzzle seems to be undergoing some sort of transformation. One day it shows an empty square where you make a mistake, the next day it resets the time every time you it pause. Yesterday, my time was "0:03:24," according to the NYT site. Today it's 13-somehting... but it really felt more like an hour. We were entertaining tonight, so the solve was very disjointed and neither of us could really focus. Perhaps it was that disconnectedness that left me feeling a little lukewarm about this one.

It starts out well enough - I guess the ACIDWASH look was meant to look broken in, so sure, "Make look old" is acceptable. Let's give it a B-. And my favorite clue answer might be 58A: Piano (SOFTLY). It's a music clue that I entered immediately, unlike 3D: Its icon contains a pair of quavers (ITUNES), which took me forever! No one ever says "quaver" for "eighth note," obviously, but hey, it's Saturday, so I take my lumps there.

In other places, it's a little harder to do so. 28A: Five-time N.B.A. All-Star Pau GASOL  is completely unknown to me. As is LOCARNO. I had all but the first letter and I still needed the cross. And what a cross it was - "35A: Couple of star-crossed lovers?" LONGINGEYES. What does that even mean?!

Oh, well... we enjoyed PYRENEES (59A: Locale of the ancient kingdom of Navarre) (Henri IV FTW!) (and is it really that ancient?), and SERIESFINALE (7D: Pilot's opposite) was good. But as I said, I felt a little distant from this tonight. Maybe it's the $400 worth of wine that was consumed over dinner, maybe not...

- Horace

Friday, February 5, 2016

Friday, February 5, 2016, Mary Lou Guizzo

20:58 FWOA

Frannie here. I have been pressed into service while Horace cooks up a storm in the kitchen. Speaking of which, we had a storm here today - a snow storm. Six or so inches of heavy, wet snow. I wished I had a whole ECRU of people to help me shovel, but I Dent. The snow was so deep it was like taking ABAFT. Happily, it wasn't too KOLN. I UKES a scraper to clean off the car. ODIC, our neighbor was out clearing his drive at the same time. We both agreed our backs were going to ACRE tomorrow.

But seriously folks, it was a fine Friday for Frannie. For most of the puzzle, I was able to read the clue and enter the answer, rare for me on a puzzle in the latter part of the week. I did hit a couple two three snags, detailed below, but otherwise, it was pretty smooth sailing. I really liked SKIRT for Circumvent (38A).  I also liked the slightly unusual SONDE (35A. Balloon-based probe). I thought 34A. Frank narrative (DIARY) was a clever hidden capital. KOLN and SENAT brought a nice hint of Europe, which I always enjoy. And who doesn't like a NILLA wafer?

There were very few groaners, or as I believe our regular reviewers call it, puzzle glue. My least favorite answer was CSIS, (24D. Collectors of DNA, prints, etc.) Is that an acronym you really want to pluralize? I don't think so.

Infelicitously, I entered the Clean freak of sitcomdom's first name (9A) where UNGER belonged, which set me back in that corner for a minute until I got to 10D. Shetlands turndown (NAE). Another spot that held me up was at 1A, where a person might reasonably enter GApe, or GAwk, just to name two words that start with GA, before hitting on GAWP. So, today's 1A gets an A- from me. An A for trickiness and a minus for fooling me. :)

If it's not too forward of me, I have AMODESTPROPOSAL of my own. Never cross AMPAS with SHAILENEWOODLEY if you want me to be able to complete the puzzle without one assist (see FWOA above). This is the first I've heard of Ms. Woodley. And, although I have watched the Oscars every year for as long as I can remember, I had a vague notion that the acronym for the Grp. behind the Oscars would be composed of the letters A and M. Who'd a thunk we'd need a P or, more importantly, an S?

Anywho, Ms. Guizzo created a puzzle that was squarely in my wheelhouse. For me, a 21 minute all-but-completion on a Friday is pretty good. I didn't EXPAT such a good time.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Thursday, February 4, 2016, Jeff Chen

0:21:43 (F.W.O.E.)

A tricky Thursday from Mr. Chen! From what I've pieced together, he's something of a math/science/engineering sort of fellow, so it seems right up his alley to build a puzzle around square roots. And how beautifully done! The last one I got was the first in the sequence, and the funniest, because it's the same! HOLEINONE (17A: Ace) is the same whether you square the one or not. The others, though, progress up to four. FANTASTICTWO (28A: Marvel Comics group), ONCLOUDTHREE (45A: Elated), and SWEETFOUR (60A: Milestone birthday). It's a little unfortunate that a note was required (in the online version anyway... did anyone see it in the actual paper?), but even so, I'm still giving the theme an A. It's just so cleanly done.

1A: Loads (RAFTS) is kind of dull, but the words can be quite different, so that's a nice juxtaposition. B-
And my favorite clue answer: 2D: "Hi, Ho!" (ALOHA) because it totally got me, even after yesterday's "HI hi." I don't know what I was looking for, but I laughed out loud when I realized what it was.

The fill is relatively clean, too, apart from a few groaners like FILER and SUI. NOUNS (18D: Words ending in "o" in Esperanto) was interesting, I enjoyed BARACUS and ATEAM, and contrasting that lowbrow pair, we have AMBITS (32A: Circuits), CITADEL (27D: Bulwark), and ADHERE (44A: Accrete) which are all quite erudite. The long downs are all solid, and we get the entire name of LAOTSE. It's just one variant of his name, but still, I'll take it.

My error sadly came at PECOS (26A: River mentioned in Yosemite Sam's self-introduction). I must have put in NITS (22D: Snags) without really thinking it over and I never went back. Which brings me to my last topic - the online version of the puzzle now leaves my error square unfilled, forever exposing my shame. I like the change, actually, and I think it might make me a little more careful. That's the dream anyway. We'll see if it works.

Solid Thursday - even without a rebus.

- Horace

p.s. TOM gets in for a second day in a row!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Wednesday, February 3, 2016, Tom McCoy


Another slightly odd theme today. I like the trend. For one thing, there are double revealers. MIDDLE-CLASS (31A: Bourgeoisie ... or a description of each group of circled letters?) and CENTERFIELD (42A: Baseball position ... or a description of each group of circled letters?). And in the circles, we see "ECON," "MATH," "LATIN" (my favorite!), and "THEATER." Even the arts folks are included! (See also: 21D: "____ washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life": Picasso (ART).) And the answers that these fields are hidden in are really quite diverse. From the full-name of actress UMATHURMAN (22A: Female lead in "Gattaca" and "Kill Bill") (I've seen both of these!) to the somewhat uncommon yet still acceptable ALLATINGLE (47A: In eager anticipation). I'm not too familiar with DEATHEATERS (60A: Followers of Lord Voldemort), but Frannie assures me that they were in those damned movies, and I'm sure that many, many people will find it to be their favorite of the four.

So let's give the theme an A. What do you know, two theme grades and two As. How long will it last? And while we're grading - 1A: Infomercial presentation, e.g. (SPIEL). I love the word, and it's uncommon and interesting, but it's not terribly clever or funny, so let's give it a B+. Better than better than average, but not great. And finally, my favorite clue/answer - 26D: Source of about 20% of the calories consumed by humanity (RICE). Very interesting. And sort of surprising to learn that it is not corn.

Not much long stuff outside the theme today, but there's still plenty to enjoy. The pair of fictional lands PANEM and EASTASIA, the paired "Cotton" GIN and ELI "Whitney," The paired "file name ending" clues make PDF and DOC slightly better, and then we have such fine words as ELICIT, CANON, EENSY and ICKY. And finally, a little something non-smutty for Huygens - AREA (21A: What pi may be used to find) and 15A: HI hi (ALOHA).

All in all, a fine Wednesday. Onward to The Turn!

- Horace

Monday, February 1, 2016

Tuesday, February 2, 2016, Peter A. Collins

0:05:21 (F.W.O.E.)

I knew it didn't feel right when I put in "aCS" for 1D: Windows runners (Saw "Window runners" and thought of air-conditioning. Idiotic, I know), but I never went back to check on it and, well, that, my friends, is how you end up Finished With One Error.

Apart from my own little problem, I really enjoyed this one. It's an unusual theme, with the HORIZON in the middle splitting answers about SEA and SKY. FLOCKOFBIRDS and SCHOOLOFFISH are so perfectly matched, and they're such normal expressions. And PLANE and CORAL aren't bad either. Overall, the theme gets an A. Hey, maybe I'll add that to the list of rankings that we (almost always) do here at Horace and Frannie and Colum. We already rank the entry at 1A - which today is problematic, because it's part of the theme. I believe we abstain on days when that happens. But the other thing we do is pick a favorite clue/answer pair (also non-theme-related). Today there's lots to choose from, including references to "Office Space," "The Wizard of Oz," "Happy Days," and grammar school (NOCUTS), but my favorite is 27A: Things spotted in a casino (DICE). I love that kind of cleverness.

As I said, there was a lot to like in here - KOOKS (7D: Nutcases), AVARICE (11D: One of the seven deadly sins), and the classic clue type 17A: Genius's head? (SOFTG) - which today didn't get me mostly because I didn't even see the clue until I started writing this review. There's a ton of small stuff in here, but none of it is too, too objectionable. And that SW stack is lovely, with HIPSTER, TRACHEA, EARHART, and, well... ok, SITONIT might skew a little old, but hey, I got it and I liked it, so... "Ayyyyyyy." 

Overall, quite an enjoyable Tuesday.

- Horace

p.s. After posting I read Mr. Collins' notes on this puzzle, and he mentions the unfortunateness of having Amelia EARHART down there in the water. OOH, that's EERIE. Too soon!

Monday, February 1, 2016, Gary Cee


How nice to start a new month on a Monday. Frannie and I have just been remarking that the Europeans tend to think of weeks starting on Monday, whereas the Americans like to start weeks off on Sunday. You wouldn't think it would make all that much difference, but when you start looking at online apartment-rental calendars that are actually set up in a different way than you're used to, well, it can get confusing. And speaking of confusing, what are we to make of the NYT Crossword? Does its week start on Monday with the easiest puzzle and culminate in the one that usually takes the longest? To me that seems the most logical analysis. One might accuse them of being European! And, well, that's how I choose to think of them.

All that to justify my first sentence...

Today's puzzle went pretty quickly. I had enough crosses to fill in SUNSETBOULEVARD (26A: Title locale in a 1950 Billy Wilder film noir) and MULHOLLANDDRIVE (44A: Title locale in a 2001 David Lynch thriller) without any hesitation, even though I've never seen either film. In fact, I never saw WALLSTREET either, but you needn't have seen them to appreciate this nice twist on the idea of ROADMOVIES. What does strike me as a little odd is the clue for the revealer - "58A: "Bonnie and Clyde" and "Thelma & Louise" ... or a hint to 18-, 26-, and 44-Across." I've never seen "Bonnie and Clyde" either! I did see "Thelma & Louise," but would I have called it a "road movie?" I doubt it. Wouldn't it have made more sense to clue the revealer with something like "A Nightmare on Elm Street," to match more with the theme answers? Or would that be giving away another level of pun? ... oh, maybe I just don't understand road movies if they're not the Hope & Crosby kind... none of which, incidentally, have I seen.

So anyway, if you're still with me after this rambling diatribe, I'll just add that CORA (14A: ____ Crawley, countess on "Downton Abbey") makes me think of the shockingly gruesome episode last night. Did you see that?! Did they really have to have him cough up all that blood?...

MYMY, where was I? Sometimes it's amusing to see a straightforward clue like "15A: One of the Great Lakes" for ERIE, after so many "lakeside tribe," or "War of 1812 battle site," or even "City of NW Pennsylvania" type clues. It's refreshing, in a way. URU and VIEIRA, on the other hand, are not all that Monday-friendly. I liked ALLNIGHTER (30D: Crammer's last chance), BUTTON (25D: Campaign giveaway) (Timely!), and SHOALS (23A: Sandbars), but the less said about ASSUCH the better, don't you think? Is it an exclamation? Is it a hard "ch?" I'm going to start yelling that when I sneeze...

- Horace

p.s. As Colum so kindly reminded me in the comments, I forgot our standards. Have I really been away that long? So let's set things straight -

1A: Switch that changes bands on the radio (AMFM) - C+. I dropped it right in, and I like thinking about the old dashboard radios, but wasn't that more of a button?

Favorite clue/answer - I guess I'll go with the fairly obvious 38A: "$500 on the roan nag," e.g. (BET) for the absurdity of it all.