Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Tuesday, May 31, 2016, Sarah Keller


At first, I thought the theme would be phrases or names that start with a single letter. Then when I hit 35A: Phrase on the back of a buck (EPLURIBUSUNUM) - great clue, by the way - and saw the repeated E, I knew where we were going. I liked it a whole bunch. I could complain about having AOSCOTT in the grid, because of the extraneous answer with initials to start, but it doesn't bother me.

I was going to say that the I of ILOVEPARIS is an outlier, but the E in the Latin phrase is likewise a standalone word. OHENRYTWIST was immediately understandable, although I've never heard of it referred to that way. There is also an O. Henry Prize, which would have fit in the same space. But I can see there would have been possibly insurmountable difficulties in filling in that corner.

I zipped through this puzzle, so I hardly noticed some good stuff. I like both KLEE and MIRO, and they're placed symmetrically to boot. MAESTRO is fun, and reminds me of Mozart In The Jungle (worth it just to watch Gael García Bernal, even if his attempts at conducting are laughable). ASTUTE reminds me of Paul Simon and "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes".

MAGGOT is unpleasant.

1A: "Gotta run!" (IMOFF) - I know people come down on both sides of the debate on the use of colloquial exclamations, but I enjoy them. I give this a B+. I also want to add that I put CRass in at 14A: Potty-mouthed (CRUDE), and for a while was very pleased to notice that the word has "ass" in it, which seemed appropriate. Until it was wrong. Then I was no longer pleased. It's not nearly as much fun that the actual answer has "rude" in it. But that's me.

YIKES! It's the end of May. Let's all welcome Horace and Frannie back into the driver's seat for tomorrow.

- Colum

Monday, May 30, 2016

Monday, May 30, 2016, David Woolf


TOSSEDSALAD! Yes, I love this kind of theme, even when I had it figured out about half-way down the grid. Great to have five solid theme answers with different anagrams of "salad". Four of the five have the anagram across two words, all except PINACOLADAS - I'm inclined to let that pass. Turns out there are 60 possible permutations of this letter string, so it would definitely be too much to include all possibilities.

Plus also we get DOUGLASADAMS in full, one of my favorite authors of all time.

  • "The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't."
  • "What's so unpleasant about being drunk? Ask a glass of water."

One could go on. But in any case, I like the theme. And I don't think the fill suffered much at all. Things I didn't like: AVIA, LADED, and the fact that KIA and KOA are both in the same grid. And there's also KEEPITREAL and LAZYSUNDAY.

1A: Funny Groucho or Harpo (MARX) didn't need the first word in the clue. I give it a B-.

I don't have too much else to say on the matter. I think it was a good Monday puzzle. Happy Memorial Day!

- Colum

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sunday, May 29, 2016, Kevin G. Der



We've seen many puzzles with themes similar to this one, especially surrounding Oscar winners for Best Picture. This is the first I've seen like this: take a film title and change one letter, forming a new word and phrase, which is then clued accordingly. There's an incredible density of theme here, with no fewer than nine theme answers, including two pairs which are actually stacked on each other. That's a lot of constraint, and I think the fill suffers accordingly.

So let's look at the theme answers first. I got 24A: ... inaudible metrical poetry, with "The"? (SILENCEOFTHEIAMBS). So that's pretty funny, to be honest. I don't love that the definite article is left out of the answer (for purposes of symmetry, of course), and that's true of two other answers as well. BEERHUNTER doesn't have the same panache.

My favorite of all of them has to be 67A: ... a reed and percussion duet? (GONGWITHTHEWIND). I absolutely love that. It's a ludicrous image (a gong and some woodwind instrument going at it together), and it's the full title of the original film as well. MYHAIRLADY comes second.

1A: 2013 Best Picture nominee in which a main character isn't human (HER) plays into the theme. Wouldn't it have been interesting if it had been an actual theme answer? Like this: 1A: Best Picture adaptation about ... a crossword puzzle constructor? (DER). That would have been hi-larious. As it is, it gets a C+ for a good clue.

There is not much that sparkles in the fill. The two long down answers are both quite good (RAVEREVIEWS and RANLIKEMAD). Otherwise it's a ton of 3-letter answers (forty of them!), and there's only so much you can do with all of that. EYE and EAR. UNA and UNI. ENT and ENE. OEO! I feel like I'm singing a song from The Wizard of Oz.

I wish we could get rid of answers like STARER. It adds nothing for me. Plural ALEROS... Yeah, you get the idea. On the other hand, I had no idea that you needed a Dutch EDAM to make queso relleno.

So I liked the theme, but I wish there had only been 7 theme answers. I bet everything would have been better for it.

- Colum

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Saturday, May 28, 2016, Frederick J. Healy


I really enjoy this shape for a grid. There's so much flow between sections, and there are the staggered stacks of 11-letter answers crossing each other in the middle, which allows for some nice sparkle. I've learned from reading Jeff Chen's blog that those triangular sets of black squares makes the construction much easier.

My first solid entry came at 14D. I tried "Andre Agassi", which fit, but I was pretty sure that even in Portuguese, South would start with S (SUL). Thus PETESAMPRAS, which made a lot more sense, because he really did live and die by his serve. RON Rivera was a gimme (he did coach the losing team in the Super Bowl), and with HADST and ROSETEA, I recognized that the 60s sitcom family in 21D was ____MUNSTER, but I couldn't recall her first name.

I worked into the SW corner, where ELOISE was a help (has rawther been a family favorite in this household). I ran into the [Spoiler alert!] Horace referred to yesterday with HANSOLO. It wasn't until I came around the corner here that I found the clue for 31A: 1999 parody featuring the starship Protector (GALAXYQUEST). Not only is that a wonderful entry for the puzzle with all of those fun letters, it's also one of my favorite all-time movies, so the puzzle is a winner in my book, just because of that.

The other longer answers aren't quite as exciting. 34A: What 28 states are (NATOMEMBERS) confused me because I was thinking of various states of this country. HIPHOPMUSIC is straightforward. DELUXEMODEL is good.

1A: Case closer (ZIPPER) is fine, and I like the unexpected straightforwardness of the clue. I give it a B+. ATTELET is entirely unknown to me, so I've learned something new today. Will I remember it, say, three days hence? Hard to say.

I tried RETRead and RETRACk before I got RETRACE. I like 36D: Like many cheeses and tablets (COATED). I wanted it to refer to iPads, but it was not to be.

- Colum

Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday, May 27, 2016, Damon Gulczynski

11:51 (FWOE)

I definitely had the most difficulty with the NW corner, which took up about 3 minutes of my time at the end. My first attempt at entry came at 4D: Not straight up (ATILT), where I tried "on ice", funnily enough (see below). I saw that was wrong immediately with Don LARSEN, owner of baseball's only postseason perfect game. I got none of the downs off of that answer, but 21A: "Bluebeard's Castle" composer (BARTOK) was a gimme for me, and I was off to the races.

So, let's see: the SW corner had some great long answers. REALTROOPER is great, but NOTAGBACKS is outstanding. GRETZKY is great to see in a grid. It has to be paired with NAACP in order to make all those consecutive consonants work. The price we pay is AME (which apparently refers to African Methodist Episcopal, a title I'd never seen before), RIAL, and SSR. I'm glad HARPY was not clued in a demeaning to women way, or at least not overtly so.

I was able to work the middle at this point, coming off Simon LEBON. 34A: Attraction temporarily shut down and partly moved to Siberia during W.W. II (LENINSTOMB) gets top marks for that great piece of trivia. What did they move? His beard? His suit? Enquiring minds wish to know. Ah, just his body. How boring.

Amusing to cross the hallmark of Communism with GERALDFORD. But it allowed me down into the SE. This is an outstanding stack of three 9-letter answers. OPIONEERS, RICOCASEK (well known to Boston area folks), and DESDEMONA. We pay for it a little with partial APIE and standard Spanishism ESO. But how about 54D: Motor problems (TICS)? Love me some Neurology in my Friday puzzle.

I really love 12D: Uses flowery language (WAXESPOETIC). That's a wonderful entry. IND is a good reminder of where our beloved Bernie came from. I will not let politics enter the blog. I will not! Bad.

EMBANK and TAXON... whew. Not so great. And OVATE isn't wonderful either. I do like HOTMESS and HAWED though.

I finally broke the NW when I put SWf in. I fixed the M before the end of the puzzle. I do like 1A: Anagrams (SCRAMBLES), although I think of those more as "jumbles". I'll give it an A-. WHATAJERK is also great, even more so because it allows the divine BJORK into the puzzle. And that's a nice pair of "single-named artists" with ERTE. I tried Enya at one point.

And SKINFLICKS! Very nice. It ended the puzzle for me, only it didn't, because I'd put oNICE at 28D. And that's why it was funny, see, because I was wrong twice in the same puzzle with the same answer.

- Colum

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Thursday, May 26, 2016, Andrew Zhou


There are times when a Thursday themed puzzle is more difficult than a Friday themeless. Today is not one of those days. I sort of figured out the theme fairly early, with 4D: When shortened, winning symbols (VITALSIGNS). You see, what's going on here is that a standard term that begins with an initial has been "expanded" to another standard phrase where the initial apparently stands for the first word. V-signs, see.

I like the idea, especially when I hit on the second theme entry at 34D: When shortened, topic in sexology (GUESTSPOT). That's... pretty darned racy. I also liked TAPASBARS because it expanded on a too common crosswordese term, t-bars. We could have also done "tubetops" for "t-tops".

The theme is really dense, with seven answers. There are two pairs that cross each other, and also abut parallel to two other theme answers. The last fits neatly in the middle. It's a very nice set up, with minimal strain on the grid, except in the middle section.

I had some difficulty with the eastern half, mostly because I put BroaDSIDES in at 31D (BLINDSIDES). Once that was corrected, there wasn't much more of a fight. I like the two battle sites (ALAMO and SARATOGA), mostly because I guessed them both quickly and correctly. I'm not as fond of the three consecutive Greek letters (RHO, SIGMA, and TAU). Meh on that.

1A: Foe of the Ottomans (SLAVS) could have been nearly anything, considering that Empire's reach. It's fine, a B in my book. But I liked its symmetric clue and entry at 67A: Grateful? (ASHES). That's very nicely done. 6D: Titles of lawsuits?: Abbr. (ESQS) saves a pretty blah answer.

UNPC seems to be the theme of the political season, at least on one side. Certainly, I can imagine that candidate making dumb blonde jokes. I'm not sure I agree with 37A: Music box music (LILT). For one thing, I don't usually find music boxes to have a pleasant sound, although I recognize that's my own opinion. But still, it seems like the term is not quite accurate.

PAAVO Järvi is not as familiar to me as his father, Neeme Järvi, whose recordings of Prokofiev's symphonies with the Scottish National Symphony have always been a favorite of mine.

Also, chicken tikka MASALA. Yum.

- Colum

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Wednesday, May 25, 2016, Andrew J. Ries

6:29 (FWOE)

Everybody knows KARAT is spelled with a K. When it's referring to gold, that is. Why I chose to spell it with a C will be a mystery forevermore.

Four people with the first name Johnny, with their last name used in a standard phrase. I get the idea, but how does JOHNNYONTHESPOT refer to this? I was looking for places where "Johnny" could be hidden in a black square. That fits better. That being said, the four individuals are all well known, if a little outdated. When you google the name, first up is Johnny Depp, followed by Johnny Manziel (yuck), and then Johnny Cash. So that's one anyway. Johnny Rotten was born John Lydon, but is best known by his stage name.

There are some nice entries in the fill. ONSLAUGHT is excellent, as is 6D: Spanish steps? (FANDANGO), with a nice reference to Rome (ROMA?) there. A hidden capital redeems 14A: Sessions, e.g.: Abbr. (SEN). I also like the clue for 30A: Class with many unknowns: Abbr. (ALG). It's just too bad there had to be so many Abbrs. 37D: Bad name for an anger management counselor? (STU): hah!

1A: Start of a Latin 101 conjugation (AMO): D. Okay, I like Latin as much as any of us, I think. But to start a puzzle off with this sort of ancient (see what I did there?) crosswordese doesn't make us look forward to the remainder. And indeed, there is a lot of crosswordese: AJA (fine album), EDINA (there was a shocking Minneapolis suburb in the Sunday puzzle: Eagan), ADLAI, AMATI, SEGER.

I thought it was funny that UTURN almost made the full turn, crossing URN. You could read it either direction and get the same answer.

I didn't love it.

- Colum

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Tuesday, May 24, 2016, Jonathan Gersch


I like the idea of this theme. I had no idea where it was going at all, so the revealer was a nice twist. But, and this feels like a big but, I don't like the way the revealer had to be clued to make it work. It's so awkward: 71A: Bugle tune ... or what one does to [theme answers]. One TAPS things. Yuck.

Then, there's also the issue that the way "tapping" is used is repeated in 1A (KEGS) and 62A (MAPLETREES). In both cases, you are inserting something into something else in order to allow the liquid within out. I wish they'd left 1A out of the theme answers. That would have been cleaner. All the other uses of the verb are unique.

Otherwise, the fill is hit and miss. I definitely liked DAEDALUS and GLOWWORMS. William BREWSTER is a well-known member of the original settlers of Plymouth Colony. I'm pretty sure I knew one of his descendants some years ago. Assuming, of course, that any Brewster living in and around Boston is in some way related. EZIOPINZA is a staple of crosswords for as long as I can remember, but it's nice to see his whole name.

There are a ton of proper names (including the three above). I see EGON, LIDO, ENNIS, JONAH, ALEXA, BARR, ODIE (sort of), REDD, ZAPPO, ALPO, and EZRA, not to mention ITINA. Oh, and EZEK, an unpleasant abbreviation. There are also both ATH and ASSOC. Oh, yeah, and SUPE. Huh?

OHGEE. There's a term I'd like to see removed from crosswords.

Well, the more I look at it, the less I like it. Let's just finish with SAYWHAT?

- Colum

Monday, May 23, 2016

Monday, May 23, 2016, Ori Brian



I knew I was zipping through this one, but still...

I only hesitated with ENMESH (yucky answer), EXPECTEDLY (because I wasn't looking for an adverb given the clue "as predicted" - I think the clue's a bit off), and POWDERED (great clue here at 40D: Like some doughnuts and wigs). As you can see, I was mostly working off of down clues, but not to the exclusion. I mostly like to use the answers which have the longest unfilled areas, on the theory that getting them right will fill the grid more rapidly.

The theme is fine, with four solid answers of the form ____OFTHE____. I thought after the first two that there might be another part to the theme, in that the first word was body-related, and it turned out to be true, although I didn't really see that until just now. BUTTOFTHEJOKE is obviously the best of the bunch.

HOVERBOARD is the best non-theme answer, with a nice nod to the second Back to the Future movie, which was set in 2015. No hoverboards to be seen around here. The Cubs might win the World Series this year, which would only be off by one year.

1A: ____ browns (breakfast order) (HASH) gets a C-. Yes, they're nice to eat. But a partial with an unnecessary parenthetical is not a great way to start the puzzle. Is there anything else in the world that could fill that blank? Even on a Monday, we didn't need the "breakfast order".

My favorite row in the puzzle? SEX SOAR STOOP. How vivid.

- Colum

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sunday, May 22, 2016, Victor Barocas and Andy Kravis


Great theme, I'll say right off the bat. The revealer, the gridspanning MOUNTAINHIGHVALLEYLOW is a song I always get confused with Marvin Gaye's Ain't No Mountain High Enough and and Ike and Tina Turner's River Deep, Mountain High. In any case, it describes what's going on perfectly. In the upper half of the grid, in circles arranged like peaks, are three mountain names. In the lower half of the grid, in circles arranged like vales are three well known valley names.

But what's really nice is that the placement of the mountains and valleys are symmetric, three pairs of equal numbers of letters. That's paying attention to detail. Even better, Mt. SAINTHELENS is echoed by SANFERNANDINO valley. That's two saints! Very nice.

The challenge of a theme like this is that every circled square is triple-checked: i.e., each letter has to be part of three words. When letters are on the diagonal like that, it throws off the typical pattern of consonant-vowel-consonant that thrives so well in crossword puzzles. Thus we see things like PARTIII, AAARATING, NFLERS, and TVGUEST. These are all clever ways of getting around the issue. How about DOEEYES? That looks great in the grid, IMO.

1A: "Hooked on Classics" record promotor (KTEL) - well, I'm in favor of anything that promotes classical music, but this was a travesty of a disco mash-up of popular themes. Shame on you, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. I would prefer to have a Veg-O-Matic (also promoted by K-Tel). So, yeah. How does C- strike people?

There are some nice long answers worked in, such as PROTAGORAS and the odd but compelling HEARTELLOF. I'm not convinced by MEOWERS (both an -ER and an -S ending!). I had a Natick moment at the cross of GLOSSA and MATTEA. In actual anatomic terminology, the muscles of the tongue all end in -US, such as genioglossus and hyoglossus. When you're talking about the nerve, it ends in -AL, such as the hypoglossal nerve. So I chose -A, and was happy to see I was right, but I was thinking about -I.

My only complaint was that the puzzle was too easy. I finished in about 75% of my typical Sunday time.

Oh, and love love love SIRDUKE.

- Colum

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Saturday, May 21, 2016, Jason Flinn

17:16 (FWOE)

Lo! Quad stacks! I thought Mr. Shortz had moved on from this sort of thing. I have spoken out against the double quad stack puzzle in the past, so I will refrain from saying all the same things I've said in the past.

I ran through all of the downs on the top section, and could only be sure about ____ER at the end of 7D. I have a strange lacuna in my lexicon for ATEMPO. I put in AprimO, which helped and hindered. So I found my way by working the middle section first. That R led me incorrectly to RAja at 24A: Eastern sovereign (RANI), but it was enough to get me started.

My mistake came at 37A: Presidential moniker on "The West Wing" (JED). I put in JEb. Perhaps I was influenced by the current travesty of a Presidential campaign? In any case, I had 26D: Zone, so to speak (NOD) as jOb. I corrected the J later, but never the B. I actually really like that clue and answer. At the same time, has anybody heard of the term ROLF in massaging? It Googles fine, but that's a new one for me.

Anyway, I broke the north quad after PRINCIPLE and PETAL and SEVENTHDAY came out of the middle. 1A: Pockets (MISAPPROPRIATES) is excellent. I give it an A- for good cluing. It's the only 15-letter answer that ends in -S, and I don't have a problem with it.

The remainder of the north quad is also very good. THEGREENLANTERN (odd to see it with the article in front) is fun. I was stuck thinking of Sauron, Bilbo, and Frodo (and Gollum, I suppose). GAVEITANOTHERGO and ETERNALOPTIMIST are both strong.

AGER is weak, but the clue is great (have you seen how much Obama's hair has changed to white?). ONNO is also saved by the clue. Partials INHIS and IHATE are not great, and REALER shouldn't exist at all, but overall, I'll give a thumbs up to the top section.

TUSCALOOSA was my entry to the bottom section. With LORRE and IDENT (the ugliest of the bottom downs), I was able to guess ___REMOTE and ___REASON. The rest was just working things out. GIVEMEONEREASON and STARSTUDDEDCAST are both excellent. Interesting usage of the past tense to fit things in, both in the north and the south quad. HADAHEARTOFGOLD is pretty good.

ANIT and ASOU made me shudder. SLAVER is unpleasant. Wouldn't the definition based on drooling be preferable, as funny as that sounds? AHEMS pluralized... Yeah. So, again, plenty of compromises made to accommodate the quads, but those are some pretty darned good 15-letter answers, so mostly I'll forgive the compromises.

- Colum

Friday, May 20, 2016

Friday, May 20, 2016, Kristian House

12:39 (FWOE)

I like the bones of this puzzle quite a bit. There are two lovely 15-letter down answers connected by EGGMCMUFFIN. In addition, the corners are nice and chunky. The down side is all that short stuff in the middle section, which is where my error occurred. Crossing FTC with ITO is pretty rough. I guessed FcC, which really doesn't make much sense, but there you go.

I broke in with HANG and AMI (cute clue with Renoir and Monet). I was able to infer __NIK and __RAMA, which helped. What didn't help was guessing __oRAMA. Also spelling SOHN with two Ns. So I had to leave the NW corner.

My next mistake was kind of interesting, actually. At 35A: Restaurant breakfast innovation of 1971, I put in EGGowaffles, which fits exactly. Not that they're something you'd get at a restaurant. Turns out they were introduced in 1953 directly to supermarkets. I didn't know they'd been around that long. Anyway I corrected it when I got BOOMBOX.

GADGET opened up the SE. EARTHTONE was a guess which worked. When I switched UAe to UAR, I figured out TREASURED. This corner is the one that works the least for me. But I love 12D: Approachable, unglamorous sort (THEGIRLNEXTDOOR). That's a beautiful 15-letter answer.

16A: Sound of an everyday explosion (ACHOO) - that's fine cluing right there. Worth the price of admission all on its own. Also nice clue for SHREK in the opposite corner.

1A: "I hear you" (ROGERTHAT) - this feels outdated, clearly. Nowadays, my kids say "same" to mean this. Or even just "Me." The texting generation is so terse. Anyway, I like it fine, and will give it a B+.

Finally I figured out my mistakes and got GOFORTHEJUGULAR. NICEONE!

- Colum

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Thursday, May 19, 2016, Morton J. Mendelson


This week has definitely skewed harder than average! I've been above my typical time on each day. It's not much of a surprise for a quotation theme though. Essentially, you need a ton of crosses in order to get a foothold. Once one part goes, the rest tends to follow suit. I don't love these kinds of themes, but today's was super dense, with four 15-letter chunks and one 7-letter answer. That is a ton of theme, and all four corners have three 7-letter down answers in a stack.

The quip is... well, cute. THEPRIMESUSPECT / KNEWHEWASCOOKED / AFTERHE / WASGRILLEDBYTHE / POLICEDETECTIVE. Yeah... puns. I'm a big fan, in general. We had puns yesterday as well. This is passable.

I like a number of the down answers. Of course, Sweeney Todd being my favorite Broadway musical, JOHANNA was a gimme. I think 3D: Count of Monte Cristo, e.g. (AVENGER) is not so great. That ending with -er is awkward. And after all, you could clue it so easily nowadays, perhaps too easily. Or not? 3D: Vision, e.g. would be pretty tough.

11D: Some sneakers (REEBOKS) is fine, while 12D: They can be gross (INCOMES) is saved by the clue. Otherwise that plural is actually gross. 13D: Two-part letter (DOTTEDI) was my final fill. And it took forever to see it. It didn't help that I had BOy at 22A: Turing test participant (BOT). In my defense, one version of the Turing test, as proposed by Douglas R. Hofstadter, is to have one person try to guess the gender of a hidden participant through a conversation over a computer. And also, BOT is annoying. It really should be an A.I.

I like SWAPPED and LANEONE. My favorite down answer is 36D: Was unhappy (with) (HADABEEF). That's fun. BYITSELF was also a surprise, as I wanted it to end with -ly.

How about 18D: Pity (RUTH)? How many people got that one without all the crosses? It's the source of the term ruthless. I questioned that one all the way to the end of the puzzle.

1A: Unlatched, say (AJAR). I'll give it a C+.

- Colum

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Wednesday, May 18, 2016, Zhouqin Burnikel

6:48 (FWOE)

Having put in AVA at 1A (DuVernay who directed "Selma", gets a B+ for referencing an African-American female director and a great movie), I immediately fell for the trap of putting in Verizon, which is really not an "Internet-based phone provider" (VONAGE). Sometimes when I have entered something incorrectly, I have to move away entirely before I can see the correct entries.

My error came at the crossing of 6D: Crystal ____ (METH) and 21A: "As if!" (HAH), where I had put nAH and never came back to check it. Oh well. That's the bad stuff out of the way.

This is an odd and oddly satisfying theme today, befitting a Wednesday. The three 15-letter answers are unrelated to each other, but each is crossed by a pun that plays on the content of letters in that answer. Thus 4D: What 17-Across has, phonetically (FORESEES) is pointing out the 4 Cs found in ANTARCTICCIRCLE.

Each 15-letter answer is a solid one, and all three puns work fine, although FORTIES doesn't exactly sound the same to me as "four Ts". THATSAMOOTPOINT though. I enjoyed it.

Some really nice cluing in the fill also helped my good spirits. 25A: Daniel who created Friday (DEFOE) is very nice, especially without a question mark. Even better is 34D: Worrisome call at home (STRIKETWO). I love that sort of thing!

I'm not convinced by a single ANTLER and by multiple TESLAS. Kind of funny to have METH and Breaking Bad actress RHEA Seehorn in the same grid.

That's me, over and OORT.

- Colum

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Tuesday, May 17, 2016, Paula Gamache


I could not parse the NW corner, which took over two minutes of my total time. It certainly didn't help having DELWEBB and ALDO Gucci next to each other. More to the point, I had ISm at 5D: Suffix with human (IST), and that threw off the theme answer.

Fortunately, I finally recognized PATHE (shouldn't have been so hard; when you have PA_HE, how many letters can go in there?), and the rest fell. 1A: Thing on a string (BEAD) - I tried "yoyo" first. The actual answer is fine, and the clue is cute. I'll give it a B.
So anyway, the theme is pretty dense, with five nine-letter answers and one nine-letter revealer. It's a classic concept, a two word phrase, each of which can go in front of the revealer word, namely "head", to make two separate well-recognizable phrases. HORSEMEAT was pretty gross (although is it really that much more gross than "cow meat"?), and who wants to have to picture a "whitehead"? Otherwise it's fine.

I like three of the 7-letter down answers (all except the one in the NW corner). OTTOMAN is good, especially referring to Suleiman rather than a piece of furniture. And in the opposite corner, STPETER opposes the advance of the Empire. They didn't quite make it to Vienna, but their influence was felt in Mozart and Beethoven's Turkish marches (I love that section of the ninth symphony, and not just because it's a tenor solo).

Also in croissants, which may or may not have been developed to celebrate turning the attack away.

By the way, we ate a ton of croissants while we were in Paris recently.

Um, anyway, the crossword puzzle. I wish we could do away with YSER and SNERD. ULT seems particularly ad hoc. LBO stands for leveraged buyout. Whatever.

It wasn't the best Tuesday, in my book.

- Colum

Monday, May 16, 2016

Monday, May 16, 2016, Sam Buchbinder


Can a puzzle be categorized as "late Tuesday/early Wednesday"? I'm not complaining about difficulty. But I don't think this is really a Monday level puzzle. Witness 1A: Picking out of a lineup, informally (IDING). I don't like the answer at all, but having it at 1A on a Monday is unusually complicated to say the least. I give it a D.

Another example is 10A: Former "Meet the Press" host Marvin (KALB). Huh? Who? I see he's a fairly important person (who I've never heard of), but more to the point, he hosted this show for one year! I remember Robb NEN, who pitched from 1993-2002, but I imagine many had not heard of him either.

Anyway, the theme is good, in that I had no idea what the connection between the four initial answers would be, and the revealer, a common phrase (WEREALLSET) is a great twist. It's also nice that each item uses a different definition of the word "set".

I also enjoyed some of the down answers in the corners, including IMBEAT, LIBELED, SPAMMED.

On the other hand, LEOI. Also ELSAS.


- Colum

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sunday, May 15, 2016, Patrick Berry


I'm always happy to see Patrick Berry's name on the crossword, and today's did not disappoint. It's been a while since a theme answer made me actually guffaw out loud, and that happened not once, but twice in this puzzle.

The theme is a straightforward one: take a phrase where one of the words begins with the letter A, and split that word into two, such that the A becomes the indefinite article. Reclue the resulting new phrase, and voila. And yes, my favorite came at 46A: "Conger eel? Au contraire!" (THATSAMORAY). Completely ludicrous! I love the clue, with the snooty French phrase, and the flip of the song title is brilliant.

My other favorite came at 114A: "Major shopping centers aren't among the prizes!" (YOUCANTWINAMALL). Also very amusing. This is the only answer where the original phrase does not have the letter A in it. Otherwise, there is a nice consistency to all the candidate phrases in that in each one, the A of the original phrase is an "uh" sound, so the transition to the article is not jarring. The only possible exception is CHANGEOFADRESS, where if the emphasis is on the first syllable of "address", it doesn't work. But since the other pronunciation is also common, I don't have an issue with it.

None of the other theme answers had the same level of "aha!" on figuring them out, but they were still enjoyable. And the rest of the puzzle is pretty clean, befitting Mr. Berry's style. There aren't any real sparkling entries. I liked the pair of poets, both with quotations (PLATH and ELIOT). The two toy companies was also fun (KENNER and MATTEL). I've never heard of ROGERMUDD, but his name was inferable from the crosses.

1A: Tired runner? (CAR) - it almost works. I understand a car "runs". Still, it's a good attempt to liven a 3-letter answer, so I'll give it a B.

If you haven't seen Deus Ex Machina (6D - AVA), I highly recommend it. It's a really interesting movie, and the performance by Alicia Vikander is worth the price of the rental on its own.

- Colum

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Saturday, May 14, 2016, Jeff Chen


One of the more challenging Saturday themelesses in a while, and surprisingly so, considering that no answer is longer than eight letters! I actually thought things would move along swiftly at first, because I flashed through the NW. I incorrectly put in "audience" at 5D: They're often standing when the curtains are lowered (OVATIONS). I clearly understood the point of the clue; it's much on my mind because this weekend I'm playing in the band for Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Anyway, I fixed it when I saw 12A: Farm-to-table advocate (LOCAVORE). After that, the remainder of the corner went quickly. 1A: Colorful carnival offerings (SNOCONES) gets a B- from me. I like the idea, but on googling it, I don't really come up with that spelling except in a commercial context. So, downgrade.

I then hit the middle section. No purchase. I must have put SNOOZED in and taken it out five times. I just couldn't see 20D: Setting of "The Sun Also Rises" and "Some Like It Hot" (JAZZAGE). I was racking my brain for any way the two works overlapped. Did Jake somehow make it to Miami? Did Tony Curtis take Marilyn Monroe on a date to see a bullfight in Pamplona? Obviously not.

Then, even though I finished the NE corner fairly easily also (JOETORRE was a big gimme, as was its partner baseball answer, UNEARNED), the middle was still opaque. The T at the start of TOILED was another erase and replace adventure. I just couldn't believe that 16D: Lures with music (TWEEDLES) could start with TWE____. Turns out this is a correct if archaic definition. The Pied Piper is a prime example of a tweedler, and I presume there is an etymologic connection with Tweedledee and Tweedledum.


In the SE, I had etruscaN in for OLDLATIN (just wrong), but when I got CELLMATE, the corner finally made sense. This broke the center finally (NBATEAM as an answer for the generic clue "Bucks, e.g." helped). I've never heard of the very appropriately named COWBANE, but good to know if I ever go into the cattle business.

The SW is my favorite corner of the four. 33A: Tightener of locks (PERM) and 37A: Golf takeback, maybe (REPO) are two examples of great clues that did without question marks. 44A: Piano bar? (MEASURE) didn't take me in for a second (see above, with respect to my weekend activities). And the best of all? 29D: Shelled shill (MRPEANUT). Hah!

In the end, I enjoyed the corners, but didn't love the center.

- Colum

Friday, May 13, 2016

Friday, May 13, 2016, David Phillips and David Steinberg


Holy cow. What a wonderful Friday themeless this one is. I was impressed by every aspect of the grid.

I broke into the puzzle with 1D: Jeremy of "Entourage" (PIVEN), a gimme for me, anyway. This led to the only answer I'm down on, EZINE. But then I broke the long acrosses. How great is it that all three of them end in -S, but are not actually plurals? They each require that S to work. 1A: Bedroom set piece? (PAJAMABOTTOMS) gets an A both for clue and answer.

I didn't know IMAGINEDRAGONS by their album name, but my daughter saw them last summer and has a T-shirt, so the answer came to me pretty quickly. VANESSAWILLIAMS is likewise great, with her full name represented.

I moved down the upper diagonal but couldn't break the SW corner yet. In the NE, SNAREDRUM (excellent) and STEVENS (also great) came fine, but I put in SMARTies (?!) at 15D: Little something for the road? I mean, yes, they are little, but why would they be specifically for the road? SMARTCAR came later, and I love love love that entry.

So I had to restart in the middle of the bottom section. From TRUSTS and TSHIRT, I got THONGS and TAMIL and STINK. This made TALKSNONSENSE apparent. Here's another amazing set of long answers. DATINGAGENCIES is a plural, but I have no issue with it at all. Even better is 53A: Extra sauce order? (MAKEMINEADOUBLE). Hah! I love it.

There are a slew of 3-letter answers necessary to make all of this work. But look at the clues and how they make it fun to get them. 6D: Puzzle hunt?: Abbr. (ANS). 12D: "J'accuse!" reply (MOI). 56D: Place of corruption (DEN).

Two big thumbs up.

- Colum

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Thursday, May 12, 2016, James Tuttle


This is a pretty tight theme, actually. A two word phrase where the second word's letters are found in the first word. I like WRESTLING[RING] and TRANSPARENT[TAPE] the best because in the first case, the letters of "ring" are inside rings, and in the second case, it's like you're looking through the word "transparent" to see tape.

The wide open spaces in the NW and SE were tough to break into. In fact, the SE was the last to fall for me. Those sections are pretty much walled off, so it was hard to make much headway. I couldn't remember Boston's tune AMANDA. I tried AMeliA first, which helped a little. The ADELIE penguin and ALANA de la Garza were tough to come up with.

I love 37D: Sucker holder (TENTACLE). I was not going that way at all in my mind. I was thinking about a "toddler" or something. 41D: Filing target (TOENAIL) was likewise challenging.

The final letter I put in was the cross of SEACOW and TOWS. I had to run the alphabet to figure it out.

Other misleading clues include 3D: Colt carriers (MARES). How surprisingly literal! 30D: Beat it! (DRUMSET) was my first thought, but I couldn't figure out the last couple of letters until I got some crosses. 12D: Subject of a modern map (GENOME) was also good.

Never heard of ADE. ACE seems a wrong answer for Hole in ONE. STOA is crosswordese. Overall it was a pretty good puzzle.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Wednesday, May 11, 2016, Pawel Fludzinski






Apparently, these statements used to be found regularly on bathroom walls as graffiti. It's amusing as heck, and completely off the wall, as it were. It's fitting that BOYS is right in the middle of the grid, as I'm sure it was in that particular set of restrooms that the above statements were found.

Is there a single ARREAR? I've only heard it used as "in arrears". This was one of the few entries I had to think about. On the whole, this puzzle was much too easy for a Wednesday. But I enjoyed it nonetheless. I entered AnisETTe for AMARETTO, which is wrong, but only just - it is a liqueur, after all, just licorice flavored, rather than almond. I corrected it quickly, though.

And I like CIABATTA (a fine bread), making a pair of Italian 9-letter words. My father worked at Houghton Library (alongside Frannie for a while), so RAREBOOK is welcome. SCREW and ABED are suspiciously close to each other, but neither gets a Huygens style clue (24A: Where a couple might 9A?).

36D: Deuterium and tritium (ISOTOPES) is great, and reminds me for some reason of Star Trek. Did they use one of those in the warp drives? LARRY Bird is a reminder of the good old Celtics days.

50A: Possible response to "Gonna win?" (HOPETO) is peculiar. I thought of HOPEsO first.

Downsides include WEDGIE and BONDAGE. I want neither. There are a fair number of crosswordy stuff, but I'm ignoring it. ENTR this!

1A: Parks who sparked a boycott (ROSA) is very straightforward. I give it a B.

- Colum

Monday, May 9, 2016

Tuesday, May 10, 2016, David Kwong


I really, really like this theme. It's impressive that there are seven theme entries in a 15 x 15 grid. And each of the names is fully recognizable to me. JOHNJAY is referenced ever so briefly in Hamilton, this family's most recent obsession ("The plan was to write a total of twenty-five essays, the work divided evenly among the three men. In the end, they wrote eighty-five essays, in the span of six months. John Jay got sick after writing five. James Madison wrote twenty-nine. Hamilton wrote... the other... fifty-one!").

I didn't realize it was a theme entry, though (only 7 letters), and then I got EARLWEAVER off of the E. I still didn't understand the theme, until I got TONYHAWK. It had to be birds, clearly. So nice revealer at 51A (BIRDMAN).

Well, with that much theme, there are bound to be sacrifices in the fill. CTA (Chicago Transit Authority), NSA, NSW (New South Wales), and NBA - that's a lot of three letter acronyms. Partials such as INSO, DIAS, SADO. And INANER. That's probably the most inanest answer I've come across in a while.

Despite that, there's the MIGHTY MOOG in the puzzle, and I love 37D: Catchers of some waves (EARDRUMS). 38A: "Annie" characters (ENS) got me again. Damn you, spelled out letters!

1A: Some rote learning (ABCS) is actually well placed, starting off the puzzle. And giving it a grade is funny, because those are the grades, see? Get it? Huh. Well, I guess I'll give it a surprising B+. I'm sure some will disagree.

I think I liked this puzzle more than it deserved, but that's a good thing.

- Colum

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Monday, May 9, 2016, Dan Schoenholz


This is a cute theme, and one where the shaded squares didn't bother me. In each answer, the first part is found in the nickname for a state whose postal abbreviation is hidden in the second part. Thus BAYMARE implies the Bay State, which is Massachusetts, whose postal code is MA. Get it? Nice clue for this BTW, especially in combination with 50A.

There are five examples, four of which are very good. The base phrase is strong, and the nickname part is not inherently referring to the state. This is not true of ALOHASHIRT. This shirt is more commonly called a Hawaiian shirt. So not quite on that one.

I found the rest of the puzzle reasonably good. It was slightly hard for a Monday, but not in a bad way. Part of that difficulty lies in the several compound type answers, such as RANGIN, ACHEFOR, and ISSUETO. I like 9D: "You can say that again!" (SOTRUE) and 30D: Feature of a neat drink (NOICE). If that latter had been on a Friday or Saturday, it would have been clues simply as "neat", which I like also. And, come to think of it, I like my rye neat as well, so there you go.

LOOIE returns for the third time in recent memory. That's two too many times, honestly. Is IDA allowable as a state abbreviation? Or is it only cool because it's sneaky extra thematic material?

Which brings me to the unfortunate NW corner. 1A: Protein-rich bean (SOYA) is okay, and I give it a C. But in the same section with partial ASEC, weird YEOW, and dual Scandinavian proper names SAAB (well, it was originally an acronym for Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget) and OSLO, as well as last name of an actress I know by sight but not by name BOWEN, it's a bit much.

SEQUENCE and PARTYHOP, on the other hand, are very good.

- Colum

Sunday, May 8, 2016, David J. Kahn


I figured out the rebus portion of the puzzle pretty quickly today. I had 1A: Wise ones (SAGES) (gets a C+) and SASHA immediately, and then ATRIA. I looked at 3D: Somatotropin, e.g., knowing that was a GROWT[HHO]RMONE, but thinking: That doesn't fit. So I put in GROWTH____ and waited. Once I had KARATE in place, and ORONO / MAINE, I incorrectly put in GROWT[ho]RMONE and didn't notice the problem until later.

It was when I filled in the NE section and got CHANGEYOUR[H2O]WAYS (see what I did there?) that I went back and fixed my earlier mistake. The theme is clever, definitely. I like it a lot. The down answers read as a rebus for [HHO], while the across answers read that same rebus as [H20]. In addition, the across answers are common phrases with "water" added, and then clued wackily.

Some of these answers work much, much better than others. My favorite is definitely 95A: Conservative's opinion of the Republican presidential candidates? (GOODASGOLD[H2O]). Solid initial phrase, great twist when you add "water". Although from the recent news, I'd hazard to guess that a number of conservatives would disagree with this assessment of Donald Drumpf.

None of the other theme answers have the same Aha cleverness to them. SALT[H2O]OFTHEEARTH is pretty good, as is HOT[H2O]WIRES. On the other hand, DOGGY[H2O]BAG just has me quizzical. How is that a "Container to keep a canine cool?" Is the dog inside the bag? Is the dog drinking from the bag? A "water bag" is not something I'm familiar with.

I should also mention that the down rebuses are all strong examples of phrases with [HHO] in them, although the plural RUS[HHO]URS is less esthetically pleasing. JEWIS[HHO]LIDAY was the least expected.

There are a number of very nice long answers in the fill. THEHUSTLER is a great movie, especially considering Jackie Gleason's non-comic portrayal of Minnesota Fats. And Paul Newman, of course. HIGHOCTANE was not what I was expecting, and TRANSITION is topical nowadays.

I always love BACON. Just made a fine breakfast sandwich for my wife for Mother's day that contained lovely bacon. I use Coleman's, because the flavor is so fine. I also enjoyed 55A: How many a medical problem ends? (ITIS), but I imagine that your mileage may vary on this one.

On the downside, there were whole sections of fill I actively disliked. The SE corner, for example: plural NEALS, plural archaicism NAES, and never used plural ASYLA. Oof. Just above that: abbreviation of first name JAS, strangely plural STETS, never used exclamation YOWIE. Hmm.

I almost had an error: the last square I filled in was the cross of KROFT and REMI. I couldn't see the latter, thinking of hEMI, dEMI, or sEMI as references to a musical scale (not quite right, obviously). But I figured it out just in time.

- Colum

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Saturday, May 7, 2016, Kyle Mahowald


All right. I'm definitely not at the level of crossword solving of some of the other bloggers out there. But I'm beginning to recognize some stuff, little things that can give you a foothold, that previously I would have needed at least one or two crosses. Case in point: 1D: Where Fermi studied. I put PISA in without thinking. After all, Italian, four letters. We often see "Pisan" in the puzzle.

Another example: 55D: Where Bambara is widely spoken. I think I had the I already, so MALI was one of the only possible choices. ONEA also came in the same way. These sorts of answers can really open up a section.

I love 1A: Small, slim daggers (PONIARDS). Feels Shakespearean. I'll give it an A. I don't exactly dislike NOGOAREA. I just wanted "zone" in those last four letters. The clue for 4D: Not learned (INHERENT) seems just slightly off. There are many characteristics inherent to a thing or individual that are beyond learning: e.g. blue eyes.

I had some difficulty coming out of the NW because I put ARid for ARAB and TeeS for TANS. It made 21D: Show title shown on a license plate (LALAW) very difficult to see. I finally worked my way up out of the SE to get there.

RODMAN was a gimme for me. Oddly, when I played pickup basketball with my friends in college and after college, my nickname was "the Worm", for my ability to squeeze in to get rebounds. Maybe also for my inability to actually shoot the ball accurately. Later on, I acquired the nickname "old school" for my hook shots and set shots. But I digress.

64A: A good cure for it is sleep, per W. C. Fields (INSOMNIA). What a card, that W. C. WHATSNEWWITHYOU and MUSTBENICE are two smooth colloquialisms. DYNAMICDUO is another excellent star entry.

The NE and SW corners are too isolated for my taste, acting more or less as separate minipuzzles. 51A: Sharp's opposite (DUMB) was quite tough. I tried "flat" first. Although is that really opposite, even musically? I tried DUll next. RUMBLE is an archaic term for "Bit of gang warfare". Feels more appropriate on stage in West Side Story.

When I had MAC_RO at 9A: Apple variety, I thought: "huh... must be some hybrid name between a macintosh and a... oh."

Overall, I enjoyed this grid.

- Colum

Friday, May 6, 2016

Friday, May 6, 2016, Julian Lim


What a fun grid shape today, almost a figure eight. I loved the top and bottom, but found the middle sections much harder to break into.

I thought I was doing very well with CATSCAN and GOATEE gotten right off the bat. Even with LASSOES, I couldn't get going across the top yet (especially with mbaS instead of CFOS). And unfortunately I tried SEAbedS at 20A: Locales for deep investigations? (SEALABS).

I got going again in the SW. I couldn't recall the full name of Allison Janney's character on the West Wing, only that she went by CJ, so that started me off. 44A: Deadline in a western (SUNDOWN) is a very colorful piece of cluing. And how about the excellent misdirection at 47D: Clay, for one (WHIG). That's Henry Clay, of course. Very nice.

I finally got my first long across answer with DOAGOODdeed. Oops. 50D set me right (LSAT). 53A: Turn lemons into lemonades, so to speak (MAKETHEBESTOFIT) is a lovely 15-letter answer. Then, even though CHIFFON (nice) and HEROIN (not so nice) and INERT were clear cut, I couldn't break into the east middle section either. For some reason, ____HEN was opaque to me, even though I thought of Colbert. And NOGUCHI... well. There you go.

At this point, the obvious in hindsight GAMEOFTHRONES occurred to me, and that opened the top section. This is a really strong set of three answers, especially GOTINTOHOTWATER. 1A: Holder of many titles (CARDCATALOG) is very nice cluing as well. I will give it a B+.

Anyway, I erased my mistakes in the middle west section, figured out ARNO and got CJCREGG through crosses. The east section improved when I took out ISsue and replaced it with ISBNS. Good stuff for our library friends.

- Colum

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Thursday, May 5, 2016, David Poole


What a fun theme! I was definitely confused to begin with. I put "agar" in a 1A: Cel material ([ACE]TATE), misreading the first word as "cell". Even then, the answer I chose is odd. I recognized it was wrong immediately because of 1D: "L'chaim!" (TOLIFE). Ah, Fiddler On The Roof.

I worked my way off of that answer into the SW corner. ARIETTA and scattered answers in the bottom got me RELIESON. I noted the "-" clue at 56D, and then got the revealer at 52A: Hidden advantage that this puzzle employs four times? ([ACE]INTHEHOLE). Very clever idea, using the black square as the hole, implying "ace". And this answer is the only one where it actually means "Ace".

My favorites are ADJ[ACE]NTTO and CRET[ACE]OUS, not least because they have to be symmetric and thus the same length and (inverse) pattern. LIBER[ACE] and VERS[ACE] are fine, although they both rely on the Italian endings. Also very nice is AMAZINGGR[ACE].

What's really nice about this puzzle is that because the theme material is primarily on the outer edges, the rest of the puzzle plays like a wide open themeless. Two excellent 10-letter non-theme answers are BLACKSHEEP and JULESVERNE. I love the piece of trivia for the latter. Who knew? I'd have guessed J.K. Rowling nowadays...

There are some odd entries: IIN is one of the stranger partials I've come across. INDC looks mighty peculiar, but it was pretty straightforward from the clue. 49D would be better clued in another way, even if it is topical nowadays.
Trivia for the day: 6D: European country whose telephone directories list people alphabetically by first name (ICELAND). I presume this is because there are no last names in the way we think of them: instead every person is known by their father's name followed by -son or -dottir. And maybe because the population of Iceland is 332,000.

- Colum

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Wednesday, May 4, 2016, Jacob Stulberg


This puzzle has it all. I love the presentation of the quotation in a cascading set of shaded four-letter words. Better, each word is actually hidden in another unrelated word (well, mostly - LIFER and "life" are from the same root). The movement of the words from NW to SE brings to mind falling rain. Very nice.

Certainly because so much theme is crammed into that diagonal, there are a number of 3-letter glue answers in the middle. But they are surprisingly minimal (partial HOI, abbreviation ORU for Oral Roberts University, suffix ISM). You also get the remarkable pair of ten-letter answers NONSTEROID and RUMORMILLS running through three theme answers each.

I also love 1A: "Dante Symphony" composer (LISZT). An unusual composition to reference, one which I've never heard. I would have expected a Hungarian Rhapsody or Liebestraum. For the wonderful Scrabbly density of his name, I'm giving him an A-.

What's really nice about this grid is the very open areas in the NE and SW, with only one theme answer each, which allows for some nice work. How nice is it that LONGFELLOW and FITZGERALD are the same number of letters? Any reference to the divine Ella is a win in my book, especially when her last name is so rare in crossword grids.

It's impressive that Mr. Stulberg matches these long theme answers with a second stacked 10-letter answer. 60A: Variety of sherry whose name means "little apple" (MANZANILLA) is excellent, especially because it reminds me of The Gondoliers. "Old Xeres we'll drink, manzanilla, montero..."

I'm inclined to overlook the proliferation of 3-letter answers at the corners. AFLICKER is mildly annoying. But whatever you might think of the puzzle, I'm sure it didn't cause you to go "ZZZ..."

- Colum

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Tuesday, May 3, 2016, John Westwig


I want to make something of the fact that all three of the answers along the top of the grid start with A and all three of the answers along the bottom of the grid start with S, but I can't for the life of me see what that might be. It's not terribly surprising about the bottom answers, because it's so useful to have an S at the end of words.

So, yeah. 1A: Laid up (ABED) is meh. I like the clue, and the word is acceptable although essentially out of common usage. I'll give it a C-.

Which is sort of how I feel about the puzzle as a whole. Cute theme, although I feel I've seen it before. All four examples are strong, and my favorite is ICHIROSSUZUKI. But the constraints from the two 15-letter answers and two 13-letter answers lead to fill like ALECTO (couldn't pull that name from my memory, even with ___CTO) and ROARK. References to Ayn Rand are not pleasant, in my opinion.

Also, YLEM. Oof.

I like 9D: Something to keep track of? (TRAINSET). 26D: Coyolxauhqui worshipper (AZTEC) and 25D: Where Toussaint L'Ouverture led a revolt (HAITI) are fun trivia clues. HYDROX is impressively Scrabbly. It just doesn't shine.

- Colum

Monday, May 2, 2016

Monday, May 2, 2016, Paula Gamache


I felt this puzzle played a little hard for a Monday. As an example, you have the symmetric answers at 21D and 42D (ASSAM and OKEMO). Two less-than-well-known place names, constrained by crossing two theme answers. There's also YVONNE Strahovski (who? - even after looking at the picture below, I don't recognize her). Many other proper names abound.
Then, there's the strange duplication of YOWZA and YOWIE. I recognize that they mean different things (barely), but still. So let's hope the theme makes up for it.

Well... I like the revealer (METOO). The rest are solidly recognizable two-word phrases where both words end in -ME. There is nothing incredibly brilliant about the phrases, but they are none of them stretches. I'd just like something sparkling somewhere, either theme or fill, and I don't get any. I guess that makes it Monday level, in the end.

1A: Coke rival (PEPSI) - D. Blatant commercialism is not acceptable at the first answer of the puzzle.

- Colum

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sunday, May 1, 2016, Joel Fagliano and Byron Walden


Guess who was up very early today, trying to overcome jet lag? Yup, that's me. Forced myself to stay in bed until 6:00, but it does give a leg up on the day. It's 10 AM and I've already unpacked, done the crossword, grocery shopped, and seeded the lawn. Ah, responsibility. Nothing like coming home after nine days in Paris to bring it home to you just how much has to be done on a daily basis.

Perhaps nobody is feeling pity for me.

Anyway, the puzzle today! It took me a while to get going on this grid, in large part because of the seven very long theme answers and my lack of any kind of aha moment until well through the grid. The theme is actually really straightforward. The word "star" is taken out of standard phrases or names and replaced with an asterisk. The answers are to the original phrase, but since the NYT has a habit of using asterisks to indicate theme answers (typically when there's a revealer), it was a nice piece of distraction.

The theme works best when the unstarred portion of the phrase stands on its own. Thus, 110A *Let's hope (ACTINGCAREER) is effective, as is 60A *Ted talks, say (BROKEREDASETTLEMENT), even if it's actually TED talks, and 42A: *Alliance member (UNITEDAIRLINES). Less successful are 39A: *Board (RIGHTSIDE) and particularly 87A: *Crossed pair (ROMEOANDJULIET).

Niggles aside, the grid is stuffed with excellent fill. There are a ton of non-theme long answers. Some might carp that GETANEDGE and TAPENADES are as long as the shortest theme answers, but since the theme is so clearly set aside, that doesn't bother me.

There are five down answers that cross three theme answers, including 3D: Clicker for Dorothy (RUBYSLIPPER: excellent), 20D: Celtic who was the M.V.P. of the 2008 N.B.A Finals (PAULPIERCE, a gimme for me, but welcome to see the full name), 37D: Revenue source for Fish and Wildlife department (LICENSEFEES, pretty good), 65D: Striven (TAKENPAINS, which feels a little strained to me), and 66D: What rugged individualists seldom admit to (NEEDINGHELP, great clue). I'd say that's four out of five strong answers in the areas that are most constrained.

But there's also MRMISTER, DERRIERE, and MUGGLES. I had fun with this puzzle.

1A: Grass and such (FORAGE) - I'll give a C+, better than average. I have to leave some room for stronger entries as the month goes by. I ought to look back over the months to see if there's grade inflation over the course of 30 days.

- Colum

Saturday, April 30, 2016, Mark Diehl


This took us forever! We just arrived at our rental property in the Finistère, and we solved this over several glasses of wine, cider, and beer, with our friends Carrie and Andrew, who, frankly, were little help, having just arrived from a full day of traveling.

So anyway, we finally finished it! My favorite clue might be 30A: They cast no votes (ANTIS). It had me fooled for quite some time, what with the emphasis on the wrong syllable and all.

32A: Key employer in England? (GAOLER) is tricky, but it doesn't seem quite perfect. And SHOPVAC (34A: Woodworker's device, informally) doesn't really need to have the "informally," I don't think, as the product is actually called a Shop-Vac. And that seems formal enough.

Franny was sorry to come up with TREPAN (9D: Bone-boring tool), since it's so gross. And GLOP (55D: Unappealing bowlful) might as well have been "slop," for all we knew. (of course, AVERAsING wouldn't have been a very good answer for "53A: Doing mean work?"...).

The 4x9 and 3x8 stacks are pretty strong, but we felt that MAGNETOS (37D: Alternators in some internal-combustion engines), 14D: They clean up well (SLEEPERS), and ABIE (54D: "____ Baby" (song from "Hair")) were a bit of a stretch. BUT, it's Saturday, so we can't complain.

1A: Result of a bad trip (FACEPLANT) gets an A. I love the fill, and I love that "flashback" also fits in the same space.

Sorry so cursory. Column will be back tomorrow for more insightful, colorful, and erudite reviews.

Signing off for another month,

- Horace