Thursday, March 31, 2016

Thursday, March 31, 2016, Ellen Leuschner and Jeff Chen


We're a quarter of the way through 2016. Enjoy it while you can: according the New York Times, by 2100, New York will no longer be above water, so this crossword may be NULLANDVOID. I'm feeling a little morose today, in case you hadn't noticed. If there is any UPSIDE, though it's that ILOVEPARIS, and will be there before the next month is finished. TRESBIEN, non?

This grid did not start out so great. 1A: Elected (OPTED) is such crossword triteness, I give it a D-. It's compounded by the questionable OVOIDAL at 1D. Isn't this a term that is unnecessarily long? Wouldn't "ovoid" describe it just fine? On the other hand, here is London City Hall:
That is pretty cool. Not worth the extra syllable, though.

Anyway, things could only look up from there. 2D: Robert Galbraith and J. K. Rowling (PENNAMES) is interesting. The first is clearly a good example, in that Ms. Rowling chose that name to publish her mysteries under. The second is actually her name, though, even if she's using her initials instead of her given name, Joanne. Wikipedia says it is a pen name. I'm not convinced.

The theme is fun, though. Standard phrases in the form "[blank] and [blank]" where the blanks are synonyms are reinterpreted by clues in the form "double..." All five clues are definitely recognizable phrases. I like 17A: Double solitaire? (ONEANDONLY) and 33A: Double take? (SNATCHANDGRAB) the best. Impressive to fit five examples in. Not to mention that vim, vigor, and VERVE are all in the same grid.

36D: How conflicts are best resolved (AMICABLY) would be good advice for the Republican presidential candidates. 47D: Current events? (TIDES) is maybe a little off, but I enjoyed it anyway. Well, that's it for my month's reviews.


- Colum

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Wednesday, March 30, 2016, Andrew Reynolds


First off, happy birthday to Horace. I understand you're freaking old now. Congratulations.

Meanwhile, we have a much better puzzle than yesterday. I love the concept of the theme, and it's carried out very well. 34A: Environmentalist's concern ... or a hint to the shaded letters (CLIMATECHANGE) is the centrally placed revealer. Since it's 13 letters, I don't think it could have gone anywhere else.

Then, in each of the other theme answers, the letters of "climate" are anagrammatized, in each case across the two words that make up the phrases. Always nice to see that consistency. The M and the C take this exercise out of the trivial rearrangement of common English letters. I don't love CHEMICALTESTING as a phrase: it seems a bit ad hoc. But the other three are all strong answers. I wonder whether MEALTICKET was the seed entry.

The puzzle had an exotic flair to it, what with ALGERIA (really the largest country in Africa? 919,595 square miles, per Wikipedia, making it the 10th largest country in the world! Although that includes Antarctica, so really the 9th), TIRANA (capital of a country makes it fair game, not to mention that Albania is another country that begins and ends with; apparently there are 12 - can you name them?), and NORSEMEN.

SKEEBALL is a big favorite of ours when we go to Lake George for a late summer Saturday frolic. I have found a ludicrously successful technique of bouncing the ball off the left wall just before the lip of the incline. With the right spin, I can almost always get 30 or more. Good times.

It's a nice pairing with SEMPERFI, and I love the crossing of that and PILFER. Such chunky feeling answers. THORAX is another nice one, although it comes at the price of XED.

1A: So last year (PASSE) is pretty good. I'll give it a B+.

- Colum

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Tuesday, March 29, 2016, Peter A. Collins


A bit of an odd bird for a Tuesday; heavy on the golf lingo, which leaves me feeling rough... maybe a bit teed off? I don't know, though. Mostly the theme answers were relatively easy putts.

Enough of that, don't you think?

Yes, I agree. LADIESTEES was clued confusingly, made more difficult by the inclusion of STIPES. Oof. Apparently a stipe is the stalk of a mushroom. That's completely new to me. But considering the _TIP__ was set in place, you can see where things were constrained.

Strangely, in the midst of all of these golf terms, there are four six-letter dog names, each in the shape of DOGLEGS, those angled golf hole shapes. It's all of these that really make the puzzle hard to fill in. It's how we end up with INGLE (30D: Hearth). And POOHS, not really an allowable plural. Not to mention IGOT, ELIE, and AONE.

It's a cute thing to do, and there are some other remarkable entries, such as 34D: Rascal (SCOUNDREL). That's very nice. I also like HALOGEN, which feels marginally more modern than just about all the rest of the puzzle. (62A: Suffix with disk (ETTE) - really? It's been an awfully long time since anybody's had one of those.)

1A: Volleyball actions between bumps and spikes (SETS) is really kind of a theme answer, so I don't know if I can really grade it. If I was going to, it would get a D-. Just above failing. Why couldn't it be clued mathematically or something?

My favorite clue-answer pair today is 21A: Cat in a record store (STEVENS). It's a nice surprise, even though he's not gone by that name for almost 40 years (1977!). At the same time, the inclusion of LIBYA right beneath made me look twice on reviewing the puzzle, because it was Ambassador Stevens who died in Benghazi. So that's maybe a little tone deaf.

All in all, I feel this puzzle just missed.

- Colum

Monday, March 28, 2016

Monday, March 28, 2016, Gary Cee


A very APPEALING puzzle for a Monday, that played hard for this early. It's all those sections of chunky words in the corners. And when I didn't get 1A: Bills and coins (CASH) [I'll give it a C+], it took a little longer than expected. My first entry I believed in was ION, but having put in Swarm in for STING, I had to move on. Fortunately SAGA and STAN soon put me right.

So. Four fruits or vegetables you can peel, in standard phrases. All of the phrases are solid, and the revealer is cute. But I'm a big fan of the fill in this puzzle, which is impressive given the five theme answers.

1D: Like rock music from the 1950s-'70s, now (CLASSIC) is fine, although I think most of the radio stations that specialize in this music include 1980s music as well, such as U2, The Police, REM. We used to consider that stuff alternative. I personally am working on my STAMINA as I train for sprint triathlon.

AMINOR and VIOLIN are symmetrically placed, which is nice, considering how common the key is for stringed instruments. There's a Bach violin concerto, as well as the wonderful Dvorak violin concerto. Also, Brahms' double concerto for violin and cello. His last symphonic work! Ahhhh... Brahms. I could listen to his music all day. And I have.

BAREBONES is  great. And 40D: Bring home the bacon, so to speak (PROVIDE) is good, because bacon, am I right? Although I don't think the clue really needs that "so to speak".

Anyway, I enjoyed it.

- Colum

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sunday, March 27, 2016, Patrick Blindauer


This is an awfully cute theme. Take a well known catchphrase from an advertisement, anagram one of the words, and clue the resulting phrase with a wacky result. I think the theme started with the highest point, with 23A: Warren Buffett's rule about hugging? (DONTSQUEEZETHERICHMAN). Not only is the original catchphrase a classic, the result is just plain ludicrous.

The others don't nearly reach the same level. I laughed at OBEYYOURTSHIRT, but the remaining four are merely okay. But that's okay. I like the idea and the results are reasonably good. I'd never really registered the phrase "the fabric of our lives", advertising for cotton. There's a minor duplication in the theme, in that "We love to see you smile" and "You deserve a break today" both are from McDonald's ads.

There are some nice long down answers scattered through. CANNELLONI matches up with PENNE for a dual pasta punch. EXACTITUDE is good, but UNFRIENDED is very good. I like the modern terminology.

1A: Comment after a bull's-eye (NICESHOT) is pretty good. I give it a B. Much better is 129A: "Perfecto!" (NAILEDIT). I wish they had been reversed.

IMPEDERS is problematic. Not only is it an -er word, it's unnecessarily pluralized. "Look at all of those impeders in the Senate!" is a sentence that no one said ever.

Also, JEOPARDOUS. Phew. That feels really awkward. It googles fine, but I just don't think anybody since 1450 has every said it.

ROSSSEA is fun to look at with all those Ss.

Anyway, it was pretty fun to solve, and took me about the average time, so that's fine.

- Colum

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Saturday, March 26, 2016, Damon Gulczynski

26:13 (FWOE)

There were some very good parts to this puzzle, and some other parts I was not fond of. I'll start with the construction of the grid. Both the NW and SE corners are as isolated as you can get in a standard crossword, with only one square connecting them to the middle diagonal swath. I understand how that was necessary, but I like more flow.

That being said, the middle section is pretty impressive. I don't like RATINE, and DOTERS feels iffy. I just now realized for the first time ever that LAMESA is actually "La Mesa", not "Lamesa". That's so much more preferable. I have enjoyed visiting San Diego, but I don't know that I've ever been to that particular section.

I was actually able to get into the grid in the NW, which is unusual for me on a late weekday. 1D: Sight after a blizzard (DRIFT) seemed much too straightforward, but it was correct. ROSIN and IDYLL confirmed it. I couldn't get out of the corner though, because 1A: Produced heat? (DRAWS) was too oblique for me to understand. I give it a C-.

Anyway, I tried leEchES at 12D: Frightful little suckers (TSETSES), but realized my mistake immediately when I knew that the "hours" clue at 19A had to end in T. I also had difficulty when I put "gorgon" in at 16D: Petrifying figure (MEDUSA), and then compounded my mistake by entering "greatdane" for MARMADUKE. Figuring out that error finally opened things up.

I love 14A: What some women are waist-high in (MOMJEANS). 6D: Many a West Jordan resident (MORMON) was very misleading. I worked my way SW and then around the bottom. It took many crosses to get FERRARIS. INCAHOOTS is excellent.

The SE corner is fine except for ATILT. I wish we could get rid of these words that are not really words. Awhirl. Et CETERA.

My mistake came at SAUCEPANS crossing CST. I had a T there. I will defend it, even though there is no Texan Standard Time, or whatever. Fine.

- Colum

Friday, March 25, 2016

Friday, March 25, 2016, Ian Livengood

10:11 (FWOE)

Isn't it great when you solve a puzzle and realize you had fun the whole time? It's not so fast to be thoughtless, nor is it so hard that you spend time just staring at blank space. The clues are funny or challenging, and the answers are interesting.

I've come to expect this sort of puzzle from Mr. Livengood. Every long answer is topnotch, and the corners are filled with interesting stuff. There are a few short answers I could do without, but very few.

I stuck LES in at 6D, but nothing else came out of the NW, so I moved on. I guessed LOPS and HATS, which then led to 19D: Supposed morning remedy (HAIROFTHEDOG) off that H. The whole middle of the puzzle opened up quickly from that.

35A FTW.

I also enjoyed 40A: Knee jerk, e.g. (REFLEX) - right up my alley. HOUSED got me into the SE, where the full name ABUDHABI was inferable from crosses. I like 37A: A, B or C, but not X, Y or Z (VITAMIN). MOA is the low point of the puzzle. Never heard of it, but all the letters were easily gotten from the crossings. I love JACKLEMMON and his full name in the grid.

My mistake came at the crossing of WEREON and POL. I had an I there, which made no sense in either direction, so a true error. 17A: Slice from a book? (PAPERCUT) - yes. Very excellent. 12D: Chill in bed? (AGUE) - also great, using the expected slang when what's needed is the literal meaning.

STATESAVENUE is great. I always thought of these properties in Monopoly as purple, not pink. But when I look on Google Images, they certainly look pink now.

I moved into the SW, with the entirely unexpected term HATERADE. Completely unheard of for me, but I love it. Even better is 60A: Schiller work set to music by Beethoven (ODETOJOY). "An die Freude" in the original German. And then HASHTAG to complete an excellent triplet.

I ended up in the NW. 4D: Some blonds (PALEALES) is very nice misleading cluing. 1A: Far and away one's favorite writer? (PENPAL) gets an B+. I like the clue, it's just a little tortured.

So nice.

- Colum

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Thursday, March 24, 2016, David Liben-Nowell and Tom Pepper


I'm not sure what the online experience of this puzzle was like, but it was plenty clear from the blinking I in the upper corner and the text there, what was expected. The upper third went very quickly, so I had LOGICALFALLACY in place before too long. Then it was just a matter of figuring out what went in the "-" clues.

Because I had AVEC going down into the shaded square, and then a few of the next letters, I got CIRCULAR / REASONING... nearly immediately. The latter part of the circular phrase took more guessing, and was in fact the very last thing I filled in. I like that it goes around and around and around and...

BEGTHEQUESTION feels just a little bit off. We usually say: "That begs the question, though, doesn't it?" We say that all the time. We really do. Exactly that. Maybe "begging the question." It's an odd phrasing, but I got the point.

Anyway, there's a fair amount of blah in the fill. EEC crossing ESTD. AGR. NAT, ECRU, IGO. AGEE and AGER. APOP.

NYT was sort of funny, clued as "WSJ competitor" rather than "Where this puzzle is found". I also enjoyed 1A: Film character who says menacingly "I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do" (HAL). Good reference, great quote. I give it a B+ because it's hard to give an A to a 3-letter answer. Did you know that HAL is IBM less one letter each?

Some good 8-letter answers in 12A: Mom's All-American partner (APPLEPIE) and 19A: Modern form of customer support (LIVECHAT). CRASSEST, on the other hand... not so much. I very much liked 26D: Ones making a big scene? (EXTRAS). And Luis TIANT!

SEX gets another really great clue today: "I don't know the question, but ___ is definitely the answer": Woody Allen. That's two days in a row. Shall we make it trifecta tomorrow?

- Colum

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Wednesday, March 23, 2016, Alex Boisvert and Jeff Chen


It's about timeliness, folks. As in, each of the theme answers has three words that can be used in front of "time" to make a commonly used phrase. We've seen this done before with two word theme answers, but this might be the first time I've seen it done with three.

Do I want to pick a few nits? Sure, why not. What's the point of these blog posts if we don't dissect every little thing? So...

First, TRIPLETIME. Yes, it is "minuet meter", or waltz meter or mazurka meter. Although I'd be more likely to call it "three-four". "Triple meter" googles better. But that's a little thing. It works for the puzzle's theme, for sure.

Second, LONGLOSTFATHER. Huh. Yeah, I guess it could be a "recurring soap opera plot device". I have no way of knowing if this is that common, because I don't watch any soap operas. I certainly think of long lost twins, so this is probably not a stretch. It just feels ad hoc, unlike the other three answers, which are more likely to be in common usage.

The best is definitely ABOUTLASTNIGHT, because it is a real movie, and it had Demi Moore and Rob Lowe. Who by the way is outstanding in Parks & Recreation. Also apparently Elizabeth Perkins and Jim Belushi.

1A: Fritter away (WASTE) gets a B+, just because it reminds of Time by Pink Floyd. "Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way..." I also love SLITHY! What an unexpected addition. In general the fill is pretty good. How about 3D: Congress (SEX)? How many of you saw that coming? I think the fill shows Mr. Chen's fine eye for avoiding most ugliness. ABLE and EVER get a pair of cute clues from how adding a syllable to their beginning creates a synonym. Good stuff over all.

- Colum

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tuesday, March 22, 2016, Don Gagliardo and Zhouqin Burnikel


Okay, I had no idea what was coming. I could not get a sense of the theme as I was solving. I saw there was a 15-letter answer across the bottom, which I assumed would make things clear, but it wasn't until I finished the whole grid and looked back at the clue did it become clear.

And let me say for the record, it's kind of cool. All of the consonants in the English alphabet are represented, in order, from left to right in rows 3, 6, and 9. Thus, ordered by ALPHABETIZATION. Although I didn't understand the theme entirely, as I entered PIQUE and QUAY, I thought: "Boy, it really looks like they're gunning hard for the pangram." In fact, they've done it one better: they achieved a pangram in just three rows. That's 26 letters out of 45 available (actually 38 white squares).

Well, guess what. In order to do that, you get a puzzle that's chopped up, with little flow, and a ton of 3-letter answers. The fact that it's as smooth as it is is impressive. ELIZ? ETO... ODON, IDS and partial ITA. The rest I can deal with. Although, what's with cluing BEN with an obscure 1972 horror movie? You have Artoo DETOO just above. Why not ___ Kenobi?

Things open up in the bottom third of the puzzle, and that section was much more enjoyable. I have a longtime desire to visit WATKINS Glen State Park. It looks gorgeous. VESPERS is a lovely word. It's unfortunate having HARDEES and PIK (along with SKOR, TARGET, and DASANI) shilling for their respective corporate products.

1A: Fail big-time (BOMB) is a boring if fine entry, made less appetizing by the ongoing atrocities committed by the self-titled Islamic State. I give it a B-.

- Colum

Monday, March 21, 2016

Monday, March 21, 2016, Michael Hawkins


Shh... Listen. Do you smell that?

Ah, Ghostbusters. Hope says you can find a quote from Auntie Mame for any situation. The same could perhaps be said of Ghostbusters.

Anyway, it's not a common thing that the revealer of a puzzle conforms to the theme as well. So I enjoyed that HUSHHUSH had the "shh" present as well, although the clue was a little too self-satisfied for my taste. All five theme answers are solid. I will say I knew what the theme was going to be before I got to the revealer, more or less.

The rest of the puzzle is reasonably solid as well. There are only two 8-letter answers, and a whole bunch of 7- and 6-letter answers, so nothing razzle-dazzle, really. I like NORTHSEA and RUTHLESS, both of which have to make use of one of the doubled Hs in the theme answers.

1A: Psychedelic drug (LSD) gets a C-. Just below average. I never like starting a puzzle on a 3-letter answer.

How sad to have ALTAR and PRENUPS in the same puzzle. Very cynical. If you're going to have SOFA and SAT in a puzzle, it's nice to clue them in parallel fashion (with a Davenport). IGNEOUS is very good. Does anyone have some Chateau LAFITTE we could sip on?

- Colum

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sunday, March 20, 2016, Joel Fagliano


I just want to start by saying that we are spoiled. The collective we that solve the NYT crossword, I mean. Sure, if you read other blogs out there, you might come away thinking the the NYT crossword has gone through a major decline in quality. This is not a decline that I have witnessed, having come back to this puzzle after a long time. Over the past several years, I continue to be astonished by the majority of puzzles.

You may also have read that there are other crosswords out there that outshine in inventiveness and cleverness, that don't make sacrifices in quality of fill. This may well be true as well. I don't have the time to spend solving many puzzles a day, so I have little to compare to.

Except now, I have received a subscription (again after many many years) to World Of GAMES magazine. I love most of the puzzles in this publication, but the crosswords show me just how consistently high quality the NYT is. So while I may moan about a few things here and there, it's worth it to remind myself how much fun it is to look forward to the chunk of time I devote to solving this particular puzzle.

All right, from the general to the specific. What an impressive theme this Sunday puzzle has. There are ten starred clues, each of which has pairs of each letter save one. When the orphaned letters are read from each answer from top to bottom, you spell out the word REMAINDERS. Wow.

The actual starred answers are mostly high quality. I might quibble with BARMEMBER (I don't think I've ever heard of a lawyer referred to this way, but it is true that each lawyer is a member of his or her state bar), and PRETTYPENNY really needs an "a" before it to make full sense. But look at the first and last answers (the longest). HIPPOCRATICOATH? GOESUNDERGROUND? Those are solid answers, and that each has all doubled letters save one, and they are the R and S of the metatheme answer, AND the two answers are the same length? I'm blown away.

So. Of course, with all that theme material, there's bound to be a fair amount of not so great fill. I made an error at the cross of UTRILLO and LOSALAMOS (I put in LaS____ and didn't recognize my mistake). TIPPY... hmm. LIEUP, UPLIT, UPTOYOU. That's three UPs. INBAD is sort of strange. ELIDERS... yeah, well.

But you know what? I'm giving it a break. Plus, there's SPEECHBUBBLES and NICOTINEPATCH. And 108A: South side? (OKRA). Funny!

1A: Joke's target (BUTT). Butt. Heh. Heh heh. He said butt. B+ (for butt). How many times can I say butt in one paragraph? Apparently a bunch.

- Colum

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Saturday, March 19, 2016, Byron Walden

24:09 (FWOE)

Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. I'd been (slightly) complaining that this week's puzzles were on the easy side. Well, this themeless was a great challenge with some delightful surprises in it.

It's rare that I'm able to get my first entry at 1A this late in the week. But 1A: Patron for the desperate could only be STJUDE, the patron saint of lost causes. I give that an A-, the best 1A of the month so far. I was able to get JEANAUEL and THEODORE off of that, which led me to think that perhaps I was going to make quick work of this puzzle as well. However, things sputtered to a stop.

I've never heard of CHENIN blanc, and my error came at the cross with DIETH. There I'd put in DoETH, and couldn't quite get why ENDS would be a synonym. Perhaps, I thought, it's some sort of modern slang I've not come across. I also couldn't get TREEHUGGING until I have just about every cross. The clue ("extremely green") is open to multiple different interpretations - jealous? new to?

I actually put bits and pieces in each corner before the puzzle finally came together. As you might imagine, when I got SCHMALTZ, and ZELDAFITZGERALD leaped out at me (an answer I did not know from the clue), that helped somewhat. But it was breaking the NE that really got things going.

I had put in 12D: Good name for a girl who procrastinates? (TAMARA), an old knee-slapper, but still raised a smile here, along with SNARE and DYAD. On my second go through, I put in UVEA ("Pigmented layer" just shouted out anatomical answer), and then saw 7A: Ones seeking maximum exposure? (NUDISTS). I'd thought about "tanners" earlier. Finally I got ISLAND (a nice misdirection there), and then LOVESEAT.

But how about 17A: A priest, not a beast (ONELLAMA)? That's awesome, and definitely wins best clue-answer in my book. I almost wish it had been clued: A priest ... or a single beast, so it could be parsed as "one-L lama" or "one llama". Still, when I finally figured it out, I laughed out loud.

Now I was able to see the beginning of 15D: Getting totally confused, idiomatically (LOSINGTHEPLOT), as well as NONCITIZENS. 24A: Stocking stuffer (SANTA) was so literal! MICHELLEWIE came next, finally helping me finish the SE. I'd had nItwIt in at 52A: Twerp (WIENIE), which had slowed me down. I bet Huygens would enjoy 33D. When is he coming back, BTW?

And finally, the SW. I'd already put in much there, having gotten AMFM from the clue, and MARON from Hope's obsession with his podcast, WTF. In fact, I had everything except the last two letters of SINESTRO (never heard of it, but Green Lantern is not an interest) and PROPOSAL, which I just couldn't see. Once I got MAGICCHARMS (I'd had MAGICCreaMS for a few seconds - WTF indeed), the rest fell into place.

And ... SCENE.

- Colum

Friday, March 18, 2016

Friday, March 18, 2016, Michael Wiesenberg


This week has seemed a degree easier than usual, it seems to me. Horace noted yesterday how Thursday's puzzle solved more quickly than typical. Today's followed suit. In fact, I had the entire puzzle except the NW finished in under 6 minutes, and spent the remaining time staring at that corner.

In fact, let's start with where I finished. At 1A: Subcompact (MINICAR). Huh? Has anybody ever called a small car that? I tried tinyCAR first, because even that silliness made more sense. I give this a D, which is a real shame. There was much I liked about this puzzle, but every once in a while, a peculiar answer made me shrug in annoyance.

The marquee answers are all strong. PENCILPUSHERS is undermined somewhat by its appearance not so long ago. Let's see, when was that? Ah, yes, last Saturday. I have never watched anything on TRAVELCHANNEL, which delightfully, does not have "the" in the title. "Hotel Impossible" is essentially the hotel version of Gordon Ramsay's "Kitchen Nightmares".

Any person who has won the Nobel Peace Prize is fair game. I've never come across LESTERPEARSON before, but according to Wikipedia, he organized the UN response to the Suez Canal crisis from his position as prime minister, not of the United Kingdom, but of Canada! SILVERBULLETS is fine, especially when clued as "Miraculous solutions". I thought of "Deus ex machina", only that's not pluralized, and plus also, it didn't fit. Well... actually, in the singular form it fits perfectly, but you know what I mean.

I actually broke into the grid with STRAFE at 8A, and then figured out the slightly hidden capital in 11D: Kings' supporters (ANGELENOS). The rest of the corner went fast, including the oddly named IBANEZ guitars (odd because they're a Japanese company) and the annoying ELOI / ERNST crossing. With all the ends of the long answers, it didn't take long to fill them in, which gave the long down as well.

My favorite answer in the puzzle comes at 52A: Decision debated for decades (ROEVWADE). That is awesome. It's the third time that answer has appeared in the NYT crossword, and not since 2011, which explains why it's so fresh.

Things I didn't like: CARERS - ugh, and pluralized. NTEST, never a favorite. NOTA and ITE. I did like the guitar wood duo to go with the name of the guitar company. And VERBOSE, which reminded me of the clue for "terse" not so long ago.

- Colum

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Thursday, March 17, 2016, David Woolf


Happy St. Patrick's Day! I hope everything has been green for you.

I did not have much difficulty with this puzzle at all. It helped that I had put in OPENTABLE as my first entry at 5D: Restaurant availability. I would have liked a reference to the app, and I suspect that was how it was clued initially. So when I was working the acrosses in that corner and came to 17A: Like many disasters, in hindsight, I thought, well, that should be "preventable". And indeed it was.

I found the other answers that turn corners mostly by process of elimination. I like that they are not symmetrically placed, so their discovery was part of the fun. I did not get the point, even after the revealer, until I had finished the puzzle and looked it over. See, each one has "event" at the corner, so they are an example of TURNOFEV[ENTS]. I like that one answer turns at V, one at E, and one at N. Unfortunately, the revealer also turns at E, so not as smooth as I'd like.

Other than the theme, the puzzle is really pretty good. I don't love VAR crossing AMT, and the NE and SW corners are all 3-letter answers. But you get a large number of really nice answers in exchange.

20A: Devilish sorts? (SATANISTS) is fine. 34D: Act out (DRAMATIZE), very good. 18A: Without consideration (UNADVISED). NBADRAFT. NESTEGGS. There is a muchness of goodness.

1A: Sauce for linguine (PESTO) - well, I do enjoy pesto. But I'm just not convinced that it's a common sauce for linguine. My first thought for that particular pasta is clams, and in fact that's what googles best. I'm giving this a C+.

AUF Wiedersehen.

- Colum

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Wednesday, March 16, 2016, David J. Kahn


I wish I'd tied one on tonight so I could have been a drunken blogger. Instead, we get this cute set of synonyms for being sozzled in phrases relating to foods. I do like me some FRIEDONIONS, just not with liver (ugh!). Pickling is very in nowadays, so Peter Piper is looking highly prescient in retrospect. Wouldn't it have been HI-larious if 62A had been clued as "Julia Child ... or preparer of 17-, 27-, and 47-Across?" Too soon?

I didn't like the superabundance of 3-letter answers in this grid. I count 24 of 'em, which opens the door for a lot of not so goodishness. Biggest example is AON. It's a corporation, it's the name of the third highest building in Chicago (after the Willis Tower and some building named for some presidential candidate), and who ever heard of it outside of Chicago?

I did like 43D: Word often wrongly apostrophized (ITS). That's fine cluing. I also liked 33D: Some crossword clues (PUNS). I'm a big fan of meta-cluing. AMOEBA is spelled correctly.

The four 10-letter down answers are mostly very good. HONORROLLS is asking for it because of that questionable plural. Otherwise, PAULREVERE, PAGETURNER, and ILLBETHERE are all top quality.

DDAY, ERTE, ATRA, URL, all in the same section is pretty ugly. UTA?

1A: Upstate New York city where Mark Twain was buried (ELMIRA) gets a B+ for the nice trivia. It's about halfway across the state from me (just goes to show how much is included in the term "upstate New York").

- Colum

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tuesday, March 15, 2016, Gordon Johnson


Two early puzzles this week of higher than typical quality. I am impressed by this effort: very smooth fill with another fairly dense level of theme answers. I didn't expect that the two long down answers were going to be part of the theme also.

So, the scientists among us will certainly enjoy this STATESOFMATTER theme. The classic trio of ice, water, and steam are represented in three solid answers, and as a bonus, their three states are given at 52A (SOLIDLIQUIDGAS).

There are two very nice 9-letter nonthematic answers at 17A: Nut from Hawaii (MACADAMIA), which we very much enjoyed on our honeymoon, nearly twenty years ago (!), and at 60A: Bursting with joy (EBULLIENT). Some very nice 6-letter answers are scattered throughout as well, including DEBARK, AWEIGH, and SAILED, a nice trio of boating answers to go along with STEAMBOATS. I also enjoyed JESTER, HECKLE, and RAQUEL for their Scrabble letters.

REBOIL is acceptable sort of. EMIR and PASHA in the same puzzle also. ALCOA is very crosswordish. Is chili really ZESTY? Seems not quite apt.

1A: Tori who sang "Cornflake Girl" (AMOS) - I've always been a fan of her music from the 90s. I have not kept up with her at all since then. I'll give her a B+ for her connection to Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite authors, but downgrade it to a B for that particular song reference. I would have preferred a reference to "Precious Things".

Thumbs up from this point of view.

- Colum

Monday, March 14, 2016

Monday, March 14, 2016, Lynn Lempel


This is a really impressive Monday. There are six theme answers, two strong long downs, and not much to complain about in the fill.

The theme itself is fine. The weakest is IRONWOOD. I mean, I know it's a recognized name for a number of hard woods. It just left me a little cold. Maybe I wanted Ironweed, a reference to my neck of the woods, written by William Kennedy. Never read it, never saw the movie. So what am I actually complaining about? I'm not sure.

I liked FIREBIRD, especially since I read the clue ("Larry, shoot!) and put in FInEBIRD. As in Larry Fine. It's the bias of recent exposure (see Fridays puzzle). I somehow justified it with "shoot" referring to giving the finger? Thus, bird, see? Like flipping it? Anyway, OnEOS was very confusing. Until I recognized I'd missed the pattern. And Larry Bird is much more exciting than Larry Fine. Interesting Boston slant with BRUIN.

But of course the best is GRINDSTONE.

BOGGEDDOWN is great, with those pairs of doubled letters. SUBTLETIES is also excellent. I also like CATTY, WOBBLY, and LATKE.

1A: "Away with you!" (SCAT). Huh. It's okay. I wanted "Shoo" but got "Scat". I am looking forward to the first 1A answer I actually enjoy. I'm giving this a C+.

Otherwise a good Monday, for sure.

- Colum

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sunday, March 13, 2016, Tom McCoy


I kept on wondering what the theme was. Even as I filled in answer after answer, with the down entries forcing all those Rs into the little circles. About halfway through, I looked back. Aha! All of the first parts of the theme answers are trademarked names, thus requiring the circled Rs. Which, by the way, you can use only once the US government has granted a registered right. The "TM" is for unregistered names, and anyone can use it.

My favorite of the theme answers is TEFLONRPRESIDENT (even though it required adding "the" in the clue), simply because it's the only one where the trademarked name is used outside of its usual context. POPSICLERSTICK, for example, refers to the sticks in the frozen treats, and XEROXRMACHINE to the most common usage of the company's products. It would be hard, but not impossible, I imagine, to come up with 6 other phrases that match the interest of my first example. FRISBEERGOLF is fine as well.

Outside of these issues, it was a pretty darned good puzzle. It went quite fast, as I finished it in about 75% of my usual Sunday time (in large part because there was no real "trick" to the theme answers). There are two excellent 14-letter down answers, SUNDRIEDTOMATO (nice clue: Ingredient that's been left out?) and LOOKWHATIFOUND. Also another 13-letter answer, ROMANEMPERORS, which has the unnecessary plural justified by the clue (Source of the names of two months).

Other things I liked: OREO and HOHO saved by the black-and-white and brown-and-white matching clues; HIJINKS, because it's just an awesome word; CORTEX and TOE, two anatomic answers that weren't gross; and 96D: Crime stories? (ALIBIS). There were plenty of iffy partials, crosswordese, and ECARDS, but not so much that it bothered me.

What did bother me? 1A: It returns just before spring: Abbr. (DST), which I give an F, because I had to wake up early today to drive back from DC, and that lost hour of sleep was really annoying. Timeliness only hurt this answer!

- Colum

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Saturday, March 12, 2016, Josh Knapp

18:05 (FWOE)

Last night's blog entry may have been written after a number of alcoholic beverages were imbibed. I'm not saying for sure. It could have been one way or the other. Whistlepig rye may have been involved. Yeah.

Anyway, another strong themeless for Saturday. I was very concerned when I made it through the entire first half of the puzzle without any entries at all. My first came at 35D: Target of a trap-neuter-return program (FERALCAT), where I put in stRAyCAT. Despite the first part of the answer being incorrect, it gave me enough foothold to get going. I love 36D: Vial that a villain might withhold (ANTIDOTE). That's fun cluing. Once I changed my original answer to the correct one, I figured out PENCILPUSHER. I had briefly had stenographER there, although it is perhaps unfair to call that job a drudge.

Very quickly off of that entry I filled in the SE, which was definitely the easiest section for me. 33D: Not having many different parts? (TYPECAST) is cute. I recall ASHER from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphthali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, and Joseph). My one error however came here, and probably slowed me down quite a bit. I put in tESH at 51A: Grateful Dead bassist Phil (LESH). TYROL would have been much easier to see.

I did figure out IKEA at 22A (fun clue!) which reminded me of Mickey ROURKE (I was stuck on Marisa Tomei there), and when I got BBQPIT, I was able to figure out the acrosses. 1A: Spreads (BROADENS) is one of the least interesting clues and answers in the whole grid, unfortunately. It's fine, just not exciting, so I give it a C+.

I don't recall hearing the term BOXSOCIAL before, although I've seen Oklahoma! plenty of times. QUESTLOVE needed most of the crosses to figure out. Nice scrabble values in the NW. I finished the puzzle in the NE, which was fairly straightforward once I had entry. OLDNORSE was what opened it up.

REOIL, DYS, partial NYES. Otherwise no complaints here. 20A: Something a mother wears (HABIT), as in Mother Superior. Does that need to be capitalized in the clue? It's a title, and so I think it ought to be.

- Colum

Friday, March 11, 2016

Friday, March 11, 2016, Martin Ashwood-Smith


This is an outstanding themeless. I applaud Mr. Ashwood-Smith's move away from quad stacks (even if it has been forced on him). Perhaps it is slightly unfortunate that of all four of the 15-letter answers end in S, although only one is a true plural (two are plurals created through adding -ES or changing a -Y to -IES). I really love EZPASSTOLLLANES, if only for the triple L in the middle. I took CLAD out for a while because of that peculiarity.

But far better than the top and bottom sections are the staggered 12- and 13-letter answers in the middle. 31A: Quaint means of manipulation (FEMININEWILES) is saved by the qualifier from political correct policing. 34A: Fine source of humor, with "the"? (THREESTOOGES) is almost perfect. I love the reference to Larry Fine, but having to put "the" in the clue takes some points away.

Other nice entries include LACERATE and PAULKLEE (nice to have the full name there). Phylicia RASHAD is a little dated at this point, I suppose, and Cosby Show references have a slightly bitter tinge now given the revelations of recent news. Still, I'll give it a B.

I've never heard of TERNE. My first thought was pewter, but apparently that's tin and copper. Solder is also tin and lead, with antimony, apparently.

My favorite clue-answer pair is 31D: Debussy contemporary. I put Ravel in first, then switched it to Satie. Both wrong. FAURE! Excellent indeed. I also liked MICK (41D: Head Stone).

There are some compromises in the fill, but I didn't mind them much.

- Colum

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Thursday, March 10, 2016, Ed Sessa

14:53 (FWTE)

Well, I had gone back and forth between nOd and BOB at 10D, and settled on the wrong one, and all because I could not parse 19A: Rolls for dogs (BUNS). And in any case, in honor of the absent Huygens, that could have been clued in such a more interesting way. BARI, nARI. Who knows these Adriatic ports, anyway?

Okay, so enough griping. I loved the theme today, for the crazy way the Ws looked in the middle of the words; for the neat visual trick when your eyes start seeing the Ws as VVs; and for the fact that the grid has no Ws or Vs anywhere outside theme answers. Excellent consistency.

My favorite theme answer by far was HIWACCINE. I love the split of the Vs across two words. All the other answers are standard VV words. I think it might be 80 years since the word FLIWER was used in any meaningful way. TECHSAWY, on the other hand, is contemporary.

The downside to all of those Ws, of course, are words like RENEWER. Oof! Definitely the LOWTIDE mark of the puzzle for me. That whole NE corner, as noted above, right? Just not the thing. ALERO! Yuck. The SW is much better, with APRIORI and PEORIA.

I also enjoyed EPHEDRA and AEOLIAN, the latter particularly. The Aeolian Harp prelude of Chopin is absolutely brilliant... in fact:

Let's just go ahead and say that all the Chopin etudes are absolute musts. Looks like Schumann gave this particular one its nickname.

1A: Not much (ATAD). D-. Good lord. When am I going to get a really good 1A?

Favorite clue-answer: 46D: The drink's on me (COASTER). Yes. Rye, anybody? I think so.

- Colum

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Wednesday, March 9, 2016, John Guzzette


I think it's about time I clear up for myself the difference between these various synonyms:

Preserves: the most general term, refers to preparations of fruits or vegetables with sugar.
Jelly: derived from fruit, using the natural (or added) pectin of the fruit, typically without the flesh of the fruit.
Jam: derived from fruit, but with juice and flesh of the fruit involved.
Marmalade: made from citrus fruits, and includes the peel of the fruit.

All clear? I like a puzzle that makes me look something up. And I also like a puzzle where a straightforward theme like this one is not spelled out through an unnecessary revealer. I'm not sure why this puzzle took longer than typical for me to finish (for a Wednesday, anyway). It's got lovely open sections in the SW and SE corners with a total of eight down entries of 8 letters or longer, and each of those answers are really strong, in my opinion.

VOLTEFACE is great, PILASTERS is very nice. I love UPBRAIDED. And how about BERYLLIUM? Pretty impressive group of answers. I will say that 13D: Cons (PRISONERS) is slightly off, because not every member of one group is a member of the other group, or vice versa.

On the negative side, I don't like ECOLAW (doesn't google at all), and IRATER is unpleasant as well. 1A: Gift from 1-Down (SLED) is not great, in that it's an immediate cross-reference. I don't like having to look elsewhere on the very first answer in the puzzle. I'll give it a D+ for that reason. And then, wouldn't you say that SANTA's primary relationship to SLED is not one of giver, but one of rider?

It would have been fun to see 19A: Robin Hood's target (THERICH) clued in some way referring to Donald Drumpf (such as: Candidate's true constituency).

- Colum

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Tuesday, March 8, 2016, David Steinberg


If last week was Super Tuesday, is today Not-So-Super Tuesday? Less-Than-Impressive Tuesday? I find that the part of my brain that enjoys American politics (and I really do, even in the face of certain types of idiocy out there) is the same part of my brain that loves cheering for my favorite sports teams. Which means that it's an us-vs-them mentality, the very thing that has made our government so incapable of actually governing. That could be a problem.


So, the crossword, right? This was actually a top-notch Tuesday offering, spoiled by one little thing, which I'll get to soon.

I tried trApped at 1A: Unable to escape (INATRAP). But since PAX was obviously the answer at 7D, I took it out immediately. I give 1A a straight B. It's fine. But what about 15A: Cuckoo, from the Yiddish (MESHUGA)? How crazy is that (literally)? Yes, it's the NYT, so Yiddish, amirite? But still. I can only think of Billy Crystal and Martin Short. Darn. Now I can't find any references to this online. But it was a short film about two old Borscht Belt comedians at the end of their lives and a song they sang together.

Anyway, I love the four corners of this grid, each with a triple stack of 7-letter answers. I also enjoyed USURP right next to THANE (following up on Sunday's Shakespeare theme). STALEMATE was a nice gem right in the middle of the grid.

The theme was fine. A type of fur is found on the outside of each answer, thus acting as a "coat". Couldn't it be done without the circles? Once I had "sable" from SETTHETABLE, I was able to figure the theme out. I would have liked the surprise better. But I guess it's a Tuesday.

Problem? Oh, right. MAMIE crossing MAME. They're the same name. They are both a nickname for Mary. There is no question that's a flat out dupe, and they even cross each other! That's a problem, only made up for by the fact that, well, it is Auntie Mame, after all.

Otherwise, I enjoyed it.

- Colum

Monday, March 7, 2016

Monday, March 7, 2016, Damon Gulczynski


Does it count as an error if you put in FIVEO instead of FIVE0? If you think so, then you would say I finished with one error. I'm not feeling so harsh on myself today. Maybe it's my sore throat and annoying cough, but I'm giving myself a pass on this one.

Anyhoo, are the 90s officially retro now? I'm not sure. I think the decade is still too close. That being said, let's examine these examples of 90SFADS. First: TAMAGOTCHIS. My daughters had examples of these in the early 2000s, and they still exist, although as apps rather than standalone devices. They first were made in 1996. So maybe, maybe not.

THERACHEL is a clear example. No complaints here. Similarly with THEMACARENA, which came out in 1993 and made it big in the USA in 1996.

DRMARTENS, however, I will definitely cry foul on. First off, the shoes were first sold in 1947 (created by a German army doctor during WWII! I am surprised - thought they were British through and through). Second, I know they became popular in the 1980s, punk associated. Third, my daughter owns a pair, and they've become very popular again in the last 5-10 years. So this does not feel like a specifically 90s-centric phenomenon.

I like the fill on this grid, though. 1A: Exterior (OUTER) is very bland. Gets a C. It's been a dry run recently for the first entry into the NYT puzzles. But WHAMO is a favorite (if only for their discs). METADATA is a fine entry. Feels very contemporary. And I always enjoy a FUGUE.

So even if the theme is a little uneven, it's a good Monday.

- Colum

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Sunday, March 6, 2016, David J. Kahn


Well, I'd call this puzzle a hot mess. First off, I'm not in favor of having theme answers clued by "See blurb," even if in this case it became very clear what the theme was. Second, the answers EVILANTAGONIST and UNHAPPYMALCONTENT are redundancies. Third, Casca? I get all the other Shakespeare characters, but Casca's a pretty bit player as I recall it.

The best of the theme answers is BANQUETGHOST for Banquo, with MACABRETHANE close behind. Perhaps it's because they're symmetrically placed. I guess you could say about the theme in general that when you have character names that are at most 7 letters long, and you have anywhere from 11 to 20 letters to hide them in, maybe it doesn't seem that clever.

There are some other Shakespeare bits scattered around, such as Christopher SLY, BRUTE, SON (82A: Hal, to Henry IV), EER (113A: Always, to Shakespeare) and 83A: Titania or Oberon, in space (MOON).

But really, the main issue with the puzzle is that with 8 long theme answers, there is a ton of short fill, and a lot of it is pretty ugly. 1A: Spokesperson in TV insurance ads (FLO) is pretty painful. I'll give it a F. Commercial representation with random made-up character name. I love 1D: Rude thing to drop (FBOMB). That made me laugh out loud.

How can you have ABC (the television station) and ABCD in the same grid? That's sloppy. TRU, APAT, ITIN, ELOI, DADA, RELO, IONE, ADOS, NEOS. Anyway... AHEMS! I almost forgot that one.

I will also say that ONLINECHAT and VOICEACTOR feel like ad hoc terms. I did like ORRINHATCH (only because his full name was presented, not for his politics) and AUTOSTRADA, for memories of tooling down said roadways from Siena to Roma.

I've been reading The Year of Lear by Norman Shapiro. Outstanding explanation of the historical and political context for the early years of James I's reign, during which Shakespeare wrote King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra (all in one year!). So I enjoyed the serendipity of coming across the bard's characters. The rest I could do without.

- Colum

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Saturday, March 5, 2016, Roland Huget


Interesting article about a plagiarism scandal in the crossword world which you can find on Nate Silver's website here. It's the perfect sort of story for the wonky statistic type of journalism that site has perfected. The evidence is pretty strong, especially seeing the examples cited. Having done some 700 puzzles over the last two years, I definitely am impressed by the ability to avoid duplication of theme, and perhaps even more by the ability to craft new clues. Just to be clear, the scandal does not implicate the NYT; rather it is puzzles like these that have been plagiarized.

On to today's puzzle. How do Will Shortz and Joel Fagliano decide whether a themeless will be a Friday or a Saturday offering? Is there an algorithm which determines difficulty? Obviously, your mileage will vary from grid to grid. Certain composers' styles resonate more cleanly with my solving mindset, so it must be an imperfect science.

That being said, I thought yesterday's puzzle was more of a Saturday difficulty, and today's more of a Friday difficulty. The most clear evidence of that is in the relative solving times: today I was six minutes faster! But what is it that made it so much more straightforward for me?

It started at 1A: Like a drumhead (TAUT) - I give this a B-. The answer seems like it could be nothing else, really, in four letters anyway. ARNE Duncan was also a gimme. 2D: Body undergoing desertification (ARALSEA) took only a few seconds to interpret. So, in under a minute, I had the NW filled in, along with MENNONITE leading out into the center. ILOVELA was a rational guess.

In fact, I thought I might be under 10 minutes for this puzzle, but it got more complex pretty quickly. Probably putting in gaspS at 9D: Reacts to a bombshell (REELS) hurt somewhat. I couldn't get IMBRUE even with the ____UE in place. But when I got PETERFALK (nice to have his whole name there), it led all the way into the SE corner. I liked 38A: Bush native to the South (JEB). Only where was the exclamation point?

I managed to open up the SW corner by getting 34A: Husky fare? (TAMALE), referring to the corn husk that is usually the container for the food. I had wanted kibbLE at first, but that's a little too straightforward for the appended question mark. Not to mention that it was wrong.

It's a nice triple stack of 10-letter answers in the SW. I like 56A: Try to win hands down? (ARMWRESTLE) the best. That's a fine entry. It was also around this time that I finally figured out 7D: Quiet after the storm, maybe (SILENTTREATMENT). I really love both the clue and answer here.

I also like the triple stack in the NE, only 5A: "Forget about it!" (NOSIREEBOB) doesn't seem quite right. I would say "not a big deal", or "no worries". 16A: What may hold a body of evidence? (CRIMESCENE) is my favorite in this puzzle. I wanted maybe a morgue, but this is probably a little more tasteful.

Good stuff.

- Colum

Friday, March 4, 2016

Friday, March 4, 2016, Evans Clinchy


This was a really nice challenge all the way through. There are a number of nice words and clever clues.

My first entry was at 22A: Fleck on the banjo (BELA) - didn't fool me for a second. I was able to get BLAB off of that, but even with RE_A_ at 14D, I got stuck and had to move on.

My next entry came at 60D: Almond ___ (ROCA), a candy my paternal grandmother loved, especially during her last years with Alzheimer's, so there was always plenty around her large house in South Natick, MA. I was able to complete the small corner in the SE. Unfortunately, I put wildCAT in for BEARCAT, so ground to a halt here as well.

Fortunately, the second of the Hemingway title clues gave me 63D (THE). I knew AGUN from the Aerosmith song, a somewhat unfortunate partial, along the lines of my complaints with "ammo" from yesterday. I misguessed veNi at 58D: First in a historical trio (NINA), but the N gave me ONETWOPUNCH, the first of the long answers. I figured out GARTERSNAKE, which corrected my earlier mistake, and then 61A: One who can see right through you? (RADIOLOGIST), which I loved. A very nice trio of 11-letter answers stacked.

I guessed correctly the Natick at the cross of ZAC and ADANA. Never heard of either, but A seemed by far the most likely vowel to fit in there.

At this point, Hope happened to be around, and she quickly gave me PROHIBITS, TOLERABLE, and DRACONIAN, so all props to her. Made things move along much more quickly. One amusing bit: while I still had wildCAT in place, I had _lRO_ at 41A: Pope John Paul II's first name, and was throwing around possibilities such as "Elroy" and "Elrod". KAROL made much more sense.

I can't believe how long it took for me to figure out ABDULJABBAR. I was thinking much more contemporary: LeBron, Kevin Durant, even Michael Jordan. This is another nice stack of 11-letter answers. CARTOONLIKE is a little less brilliant, but 18A: One involved in a pyramid scheme? (CHEERLEADER) is an excellent clue and answer.

I was very interested by the outflow from these stacks, particularly how 5D (BAHRAIN) and 44D: (LOUISCK) were almost forced into existence by the letter combinations.

1A: King or queen (BED) - makes the most out of a not great situation. 3-letter answers at 1A always leave me cold. I give this one a B-.

Favorite clue-answer: 1D: Something that's knitted (BROW). Uh huh.

- Colum

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Thursday, March 3, 2016, Andrew Zhou


For my birthday, I got a puzzle right up my alley, and it's a mighty clever one too. The surprising revealer comes at 7D: Having the same pitch but written differently, in a score (ENHARMONIC). It's not revealed as a revealer, though, and it doesn't stand out, coming in a trio of ten-letter down answers. Only, see, one of those answers is not really a ten-letter answer.

I had a brief moment of difficulty with 1A: Police rounds (AMMO), where I had put "beat". I corrected it once I saw 1D (ALMA) and 4D (ODE), automatic answers. I like the clue here for its misdirection, but I don't like the answer. Altogether too much gun stuff in our culture. I'll give it a C+. In any case, finishing the NW corner gave me MUSEUM____ at 16A. I knew what it was looking for, but couldn't fit it in, so I suspected a rebus type puzzle fairly quickly.

I got it when 6D: High-tech home gadget company was down to TH_ERIMAGE. See, that's TH[ESHARP]ERIMAGE, and the enharmonic of E# is F natural, leading to MUSEUMO[FNATURAL]HISTORY. That's some fine thematizing, IMO. The other two theme rebuses come in the SW and SE corners, where LOOKIN[GSHARP] and GET[AFLAT] cross, and D[EFLAT]EGATE and CAR[DSHARP] cross. I like that the enharmonic pairs are different in each case, that the rebuses are not predictable in placement, and that the E-flat answer does not use "flat" as a separate word.

The mirror image symmetry of the puzzle leaves a lot of area uncovered by theme. Unless, now that I look at it, 3D: One added to the staff? (MUSICALNOTE) and 9D: Dichromatic fad of the 1950s (TWOTONECARS) are sneaky theme answers.

In any case, some answers I did not love: EREADER is always somewhat annoying. STORESIGNS feels ad hoc. It's rough having both AQABA and BENIN (symmetric, no less!), even if they're finally becoming familiar to this solver. Likewise ABE and ITO, also symmetric. And RESOAK is iffy.

I do like 41A: Certain geek (FANGIRL) both for its contemporary feel and the way it flies in the face of gender stereotypes. 54A: Got nothing back from? (ACED) is cute - it's referring to tennis. I'm just not sure we use the word as a verb in that context - it's more likely to be "she hit an ace" rather than "she aced it."

- Colum

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Wednesday, March 2, 2016, Fred Piscop

6:08 (FWOE)

It turns out there aren't that many pasta names that can easily be used as puns. Ziti, orzo, and penne fit the bill well. I searched through a Wikipedia list of pasta names and couldn't come up with any others. That being said, three long answers feels a little thin. I think all of them are solid, if not incredibly original, both in terms of the puns and the phrases in question.

It is odd, also, that with only three theme answers, albeit long ones, that there are no answers in the fill that are longer than 6 letters! What it means is that there's very little zing to the puzzle. Can you believe that outside of the jokey theme answers, there's only one clue with a question mark? Even if you're not the biggest fan of the question mark in puzzle clues, the paucity here underscores the deadly earnestness of the cluing.

What I'm getting at, I guess, is that this puzzle is boring. Hardly Wednesday fare. I have very little to add, except:

1A: "Beg pardon ..." (AHEM) gets a C-. It was a perfect introduction to the puzzle in that it's dull all around.

I'm going with a "least-liked non-theme clue-answer pairing" today, and 64A: Philip Morris brand (MERIT) wins, both for its being a cigarette brand, and why couldn't we clue a perfectly good word in some other way, as well as the fact that my error came when I put bAS in at 64D, misreading the clue for undergraduate degrees, rather than post-grad degrees.

And finally, 39A: "Am I my brother's keeper?" brother (ABEL) is really odd, or maybe just wrong. The speaker of the line is Cain, and there's no way to deduce that we're supposed to guess Abel from the clue.

- Meh.