Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Wednesday, August 31, 2016, Ned White

5:41 (FWOE)

We just watched Blazing Saddles. Gene Wilder will be missed and loved. So funny.

I was amused by this theme. It works really well in three out of the four answers, and the fourth one is pretty good too. You add "it" to the end of a standard phrase to make a new silly phrase. And the revealer is MAKEITLAST... get it? or should I say get "it"?

The idea works best when the addition turns the last word into another word, or reconfigures the phrase to mean something entirely different. Thus SWINGBANDIT and EMILYPOSTIT in the first sense, and SHORTSTOPIT (reparsing shortstop into short "stop it"). YESWECANIT changes the sense of "can" from "able to" into "put into a can" so that's pretty good. Just not quite as good as the other three.

It's a 78-word grid, which means there isn't a lot of room for longer down answers. But we do get both LEGSDIAMOND (full name gets extra credit) and IRSAUDITORS, which is pretty fun (not in real life, you understand). Both of those answers are next to two 7-letter answers. I like BEAHERO - it took a while to figure out where that was going.

ELOI makes another appearance. Methinks it's time this hoary bit of crosswordese went the way of the dodo. In other news, ANO becomes a partial, weirdly. My error came at 47 down, where I put EMt instead of EMS. ROSEt didn't look right, and it wasn't. Should have figured that out.

1A: Sty fare (SLOP) gets a B-. It's a terse clue which improves pig food. On the other hand, all that slop turns pigs into bacon... Okay, I talked myself into a B. It was also the first answer I entered.

I'll give it a thumbs up.

- Colum

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tuesday, August 30, 2016, Roland Huget


Have we never seen this theme before? Probably not in these exact terms. I like the idea: A phrase with the name of an element, whose periodic table abbreviation shows up to start the second word of the phrase. And you get the revealer of CHEMICALSYMBOLS across the middle.

Here's the age old question: would the theme be better if those darned circles weren't there? I guess, even with the revealer, some wouldn't get the extra layer. But it would be that much more elegant, in my opinion. I hate being struck over the head, slapped across the cheek (dope slapped?).

That all being said (a bit like a splash of cold water in the face, no?), of the four theme answers, only CARBONCOPY really rings true to my ears. I really had to struggle to Google COPPERCUPS. Only by adding "flower" did anything come up. SILVERAGE is a thing, just not a widely used phrase. And IRONFENCE is certainly a thing, but an ad hoc adjective-noun phrase, saved somewhat by the silly clue ("What hath the gardener wrought?").

Now, I can see that it might be extremely challenging to come up with phrases that fit the pattern and are well known. I tried briefly and came up with stupid stuff primarily (gold aura? neon necklace? oxygen Oprah?). Still, I don't create or edit the puzzles, do I? I just comment. Much easier from this side.

Otherwise, the grid was reasonable. 1A: Android purchases (APPS) gets a C-. The first answer I put in confidently was nFl. I was wrong, of course. The first answer I put in confidently and correctly was 14A: Lady of the Haus (FRAU). I like BIGBUCKS, and it's an odd bit of trivia for J.K. ROWLING. I didn't know that the list of runners-up for Time's Person of the Year was made public.

We need more names like EVONNE Goolagong in this world.

- Colum

Monday, August 29, 2016

Monday, August 29, 2016, David Steinberg


39A: Squarest of the 50 states (WYOMING) is the theme here. Does that mean simply in terms of geometry, or is there a snipe in there? Regardless, it's pretty clever to find four well known attractions or sights in the state, each of which is 11 letters long. And the four are placed to create a square in the middle of which is the state's name. Very nice.

It's odd also to see OLDFAITHFUL so soon after the Sunday, August 21 puzzle featured it geysering up through Yellowstone. I personally have never set foot in Wyoming, for no particular reason, so I have never visited any of these sites. DEVILSTOWER of course was the site of Close Encounters of the Third Kind's ET landing. Do you remember Richard Dreyfuss turning his mashed potatoes into a model of the butte?

In other news, the fill is reasonably good. Any mention of a SAMOSA and IMOKAY with that. I smiled at MANSMAN. Count me out for ECOLI though.

1A: Apple computers (IMACS) gets a C for average. I also put it in as my first confident answer.

And that's about that... Except, I learn that Mr. Steinberg actually placed the theme answers in geographically appropriate parts of the grid as well! That is a nice touch.

- Colum

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sunday, August 28, 2016, Paolo Pasco


Attention to detail, tricky cluing, chunky sections in the grid... Really, this Sunday puzzle has everything, except that I didn't really love the theme itself. But I really had a great time working through it, so I'm all in favor. It didn't surprise me when I saw Mr. Pasco's name at the head of the puzzle. I've learned to look forward to his efforts.

So, the problem first: the theme. It's a great idea, taking a standard phrase and placing the first letter of one of the words at the end to create a new phrase, and then cluing that phrase in a wacky fashion. My criteria for success in this sort of process?

1. The original phrase has to be instantly recognizable as a real thing.
2. The newly created phrase has to be humorous or an "aha" moment.
3. The cluing has to be wacky.

There are nine theme answers in this puzzle. I think only one answer comes close to all three criteria, and that's 65A: Soft drink favored by the Marines? (SPRITEDECORPS). It's a true phrase, "esprit de corps", and the rearranging is surprising, and somewhat wackily clued. Other candidates today meet some of the criteria: HEARPERLMAN is an "aha" moment, but the clue is not interesting. SENATEIDEA is cute, but "senate aide" feels too ad hoc. I do like DAMECHEESE, actually. Anyway, that's my take.

On the other side of the equation, I think the attention to detail comes through consistently. Here's one example: 49A and 77A are both clued Super ___. The answers, NES and PAC are glue of the most basic variety. But look: the answers are symmetrically placed! Very cool. There are all sorts of situations like this. HAS and ATE cross each other and are clued "Takes in" and "Took in" respectively. 30A: Hamiltons (TENS) comes just before 32A: Domain of "Hamilton" (THEATER).

Then there are the tricky and sometimes just plain silly clues. 69A: Sticky spots? (NESTS) reminds all of us here at Horace & Frances of one of our favorite stupid riddles. 73D: Passing remarks? (EULOGY) reminds me of a favorite scene from Zoolander. But my favorite by far was 80D: Something felt at Christmas (SANTAHAT). Brilliant!

Who knew that a MOTH was responsible for the term "bug" in computer parlance?

- Colum

P.S. Whoa! There's a meta element to the puzzle! Take the letter that was moved in each of the theme answers in order, and it spells out an appropriate bonus phrase!! Excellent work, Mr. Pasco. Wish I had figured it out on my own.

P.P.S. 1A: Ditch (SCRAP) gets a B-. First confident entry was 4D: "Selma" director DuVernay (AVA). Noted as I solved that the first two names I put in were African-American women.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Saturday, August 27, 2016, Jim Page


I forgot to mention in yesterday's post that I'm writing from the birthplace of this blog, the very cradle, if you will, of Horace and Frances. I'm proud of myself that I solved this Saturday at about 1:30 in the morning after many intoxicants were imbibed.

Perhaps it was that very state that enabled me to plop in 1A: Where to belt one down and belt one out (KARAOKEBAR) right off the bat. Or maybe that clue, as fun as it is, is too easy for a Saturday. Regardless, I like it and give it a B+. The other two answers in the initial triple stack are also well clued. 15A: No-so-firm affirmative (IBELIEVESO) is cute, and 17A: Ones hitting snares (DRUMSTICKS) was the most opaque at first.

The theme of this themeless seems to be great long answers at the expense of less than thrilling fill. REUNE, OIS, and KETT are the price we pay for those initial answers. BECLOUD is also a little less than exciting.

The SW trio is pretty good. I had not particularly noted, but both Horace and Frances said they didn't like the clue at 33D: Great point (SWEETSPOT). I suppose if you take it completely literally, a place that you think is really nice could be either. If you mean the place to hit a baseball really well, then that's not so good.

14D: Opportunity, e.g. (MARSROVER) needed a lot of crosses, as did 13D: Opening for an E.P.A. worker? (OZONEHOLE). I really didn't like ATOR. And was there actually a BATPOLE? Perhaps in the Adam West version (and is there any other one, really?).

The best trio is in the SE. I love SINEQUANON and SEXPISTOLS (but I think there should have been a "the" in the clue). 59D: One of about 1,000 in Lux. (SQMI) was found entirely by crosses.

My favorite answers are right across the middle, with SPACECADET and EISENHOWER. We were just discussing the ARNO over breakfast. I want to go back.

- Colum

P.S. IDA! Unexpected reference to the lowest tier of G&S.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Friday, August 26, 2016, Andrew Kingsley


I've really enjoyed this week of puzzles! There may be some folks out in the blogosphere who have been less thrilled by them, but I've found each one to be a ton of fun to solve, and today's is no exception.

I broke in with 1D: Fibonacci, notably (PISAN). We've noted before in this space how crosswordese is a useful language to know. Weirdly, TTEST is another such example. Probably the NW crosses are the least high quality entries in the puzzle (ENOUNCE, I'm looking at you), but it allows the trio of PINTEREST (gets a B+), INATRANCE, and SUPERFOOD.

Perhaps, the more I look over the puzzle, the more I recognize that it's the smoothness of the fill that made this puzzle enjoyable, rather than the brilliance of any of the entries. 33D: What emo songs may convey (TEENANGST) might be one of the better choices. I'm also interested in the phenomenon of the DROPCAP. The name is quite evocative, and immediately made sense to me, even though I'd never seen it before.

My favorite moment came after I finished the entire puzzle. See, I was working on the NE corner, and had __THERE at 41A: "You don't want to miss it!" So I naturally entered gETHERE, parsing it as "get here!" I had difficulty (as you might imagine) exiting this section into the SE. Working my way around, I came to 41D, and realized it was BASSETS. Thus, I now had BETHERE (correctly), but incorrectly parsed it as "bet here!" Later, I figured it out, and had a good laugh.

The clues include 42A: Bit of bronze (TIN), without any question mark needed. I also really loved 63A: Bought or sold, e.g. (PASTTENSE). I didn't see that coming at all. Otherwise, there wasn't much in the way of misdirection.

Well, I still liked it in retrospect, but perhaps not quite as much.

- Colum

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Thursday, August 25, 2016, Andrew Zhou

Untimed (got paged in the middle of solving and forgot to exit the app)

I'm going to come right out and say it: I love the concept of this puzzle! I had no idea where it was going for the longest time, either, because I put iCbmS in at 4D: Cold War missiles on mobile launchers (SCUDS).

It has been the week of triple-checked letters, with three puzzles out of five so far. And this one is a doozie. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions," said STBERNARD, apparently. Or actually, he said: "L'enfer est plein de bonnes volontés ou désirs." Which is a similar phrase, but not quite the same.

In this puzzle, we have the PAVEDROAD from the NW corner leading down one square short of the SE corner, where [HELL] sits in its own rebus square. It would have been just that much neater if 49D could have incorporated the rebus such that its meaning was hidden, as in SEAS[HELL] at 66A. Still, it was a great moment when I finally figured it out.

I love 30A: "Focus!" (SNAPOUTOFIT). Parsing that answer took a while. SATELLITETV is also really good (and a much better use of the TV duo than in 1D from yesterday's puzzle). Speaking of duos, RAPDUOS confused me so much. I had RAPperS there for some time, which made various things difficult to figure out.

So much to like. BETHERE! HEREIGO! Drinking a MIMOSA! GREENPEAS on the OPENRANGE! Speaking of which, we're getting a new cooktop next week.

1A: Grind (GNASH) gets an A-. I had no idea where that was going, and I love the word. The first two words I put in were ARC and ANODIC at the same time. Well, ARC was first.

Thumbs way up!

- Colum

Wednesday, August 24, 2016, Matthew Sewell

6:36 (FWOE)

FANTASYSPORTS... a sink into which you could pour all of your life if you let it. Or, in today's puzzle, a revealer for a set of games in four fictional universes. Only one of theme fits within the Fantasy genre, so I'll take the term to mean "the faculty or activity of imagining things, especially things that are impossible or improbable".

In that sense, I like that we get one near-contemporary comic strip, one science fiction setting, one young adult fantasy series, and one classic children's book. The clear loser here is PODRACING, as it comes from the least (by far) of the seven Star Wars movies. All we need say is Jar Jar Binks, and the rest is oblivion.

Otherwise, CALVINBALL is such a wonderful reference. It was really strange to come across it today, as my daughter and I were discussing it just last night. QUIDDITCH was an obvious choice. However, the all time winner has to be POOHSTICKS. Yes, it's that game where two people stand on a bridge and drop a stick over on the upstream side. They then race to the opposite side to see whose stick emerges first from underneath. And that's it. The best sport ever.

As for the rest of the puzzle, I love SOUNDTRACKS and CONTRETEMPS. Those are fine long down answers right there. And who doesn't like a good BAKLAVA? And it crosses FLAN (although I've never much liked that dessert).

I'm going to cry foul though on 1D: VCR insert (TVTAPE). Huh? What does that even mean? Surely it's a VCR tape, or a videotape, or video cassette. 1A: To-do list item (TASK) gets a C for averageness. As I started the puzzle, I was not at all sure about 1A, and then entered bLOG at 14A, which allowed me to enter the first answer I was sure about, KGS.

My error came at the cross of UNCAS and ROSEN. I had an L there, for no good reason at all.

- Colum

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tuesday, August 23, 2016, Joel Fagliano


This puzzle played much easier than yesterday's, despite the stacks of 9-letter answers. In the iPad app, the 3x3 squares are circles. I didn't look at the information button blinking steadily at me from the upper right corner, so I didn't understand the SWIRL incorporated in each section until I'd finished the puzzle.

It's a clever concept: four 9-letter ice cream flavor varieties make tiny spirals inside the other answers. The swirls are not symmetrically placed, so you definitely need the circles to show you where they are. I'm not sure that any of the flavors other than Chocolate are ever swirled. Can you get a Rum Raisin or Pistachio swirl? I would never in my life eat Bubblegum ice cream, so I can't even begin to speak on that subject.

Just like on Sunday, these graphical representations create a ton of triple-checked letters. Do they lead to trouble in the fill? Let's CHEX. (Sorry).

The only area which suffers (IMO) is in the middle W section. There you have INRE crossing INULIN, which I would never in a million years get without the crosses. Otherwise, they all work remarkably smoothly. I particularly like 1A: Classic TV show with a celebrity panel (MATCHGAME). No "the" needed in the clue. I give it an A for nostalgia. My first solid answer came at 1D: Thomas who wrote "Death in Venice" (MANN), which once again, allowed me to go with my instincts at 1A.

BEELZEBUB appropriately descends in the NE corner. I very much like the quartet of 9-letter answers at 19A (VASSALAGE), 28A (MORTGAGED), 44A (REMAINDER), and 51A (IMPERFECT).

I don't much like ETDS, OSX, or SWAY crossing WAY. And I will type the remainder of this review in ZAPF dingbats.

I very much enjoyed this puzzle.

- Colum

(Darn - Blogger doesn't allow that font.)

Monday, August 22, 2016

Monday, August 22, 2016, Emily Carroll


It's a straightforward theme: the four main types of taste sensations are represented in the first words of the theme answers. I like all the phrases, but SOURPATCHKIDS is weaker than the other three because the word "sour" is used here to mean the taste sensation. In all the others, it's metaphorical.

The revealer wasn't really needed: I saw what was happening well before I got to the last answer. As revealers go, however, TASTEMAKERS is fine. I've heard the term before, so it's in common enough parlance to be of interest.

I had a little difficulty getting out of the NW and the middle N. UPTOSPEED wanted to be UPTOSnuff in my head, but I didn't put it in because it seemed a little... well, not up to snuff, if you catch my drift. Similarly, ONEBYONE wanted to be ONEatatime, but that didn't fit. I also wasn't sure about the ending of RUSHWEEK. No frats or sororities in my undergraduate existence.

So I was a little surprised that I hadn't posted a longer time. It helped that both the SW and NE corners I was able to fill in with only the down answers. Some nice answers elsewhere included NEATNIK and KODAKS (although I don't love the plural here; at least it's better than OMEGAS, or SPATES, for that matter).

I knew Nicolas ROEG's name, but didn't know he directed The Witches. I recall Walkabout as being a very good movie.

1A: ____ above (better than) (ACUT) gets an F, I'm afraid. It's a partial to start a puzzle. 1D: Jessica of "Dark Angel" (ALBA) was my first solid entry.

Not a bad Monday.

- Colum

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sunday, August 21, 2016, Kathy Matheson and Jeff Chen


Today's puzzle is an homage to the NATIONALPARKSERVICE, with several parks represented graphically... or just named... with one feature of one park represented graphically. Well, so the theme is not incredibly tight, but there's a ton of interest nonetheless.

I like the OLDFAITHFUL is represented geysering upward right through YELLOWSTONE. I'm very impressed that the park name sits so neatly above EXPEDITIONS. I also like that Half Dome sits atop YOSEMITE. It's fun seeing the mountains in Denali, and the arch and canyon in Arches and Grand Canyon.

There are a fair number of triple-checked letters. That leads to a similar number of compromises in the fill that are actually handled pretty well. I mean, sure, you have your WBOSON, SANDP; your AAA crossing AAH. I'm not fond of Henry W. SLOCUM (I've heard of him, but then I went through an intense Civil War history phase, and I couldn't recall his name).

Then, you have 59A: Highly rated Bond? (MOORE) - well, I don't particularly agree. I'd rate him third out of five Bond actors (not including Lazenby or Niven). BIONICEYE could have been bionic arm or bionic leg, so that felt a little ad hoc. It's not IMPRECISE, but it is vague.

1A: "It's a pity other cars aren't built this way"cars (SAABS) gets a D for a brand name and a pluralization. My first answer I was completely certain about came at 4D: Luncheonette order, for short (BLT), mainly because it gave me 1A. Funnily enough, after finishing this puzzle, I made BLTs. Mighty tasty too.

- Colum

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saturday, August 20, 2016, Mark Diehl


I'm going to get spoiled with all of these excellent themeless puzzles! I felt like I was absolutely in sync with Mr. Diehl's mindset through much of this solve. I mean, I got ODESSA off of __ES__. I'm pretty sure I never read that book. Meanwhile, each of the four corner stacks have two at least outstanding answers.

I broke in with 5D: Most TV Land programming (RERUNS), which gave me PREVUE, which I don't love. I actually skipped down to the SW, where 25D: Four-for-four Super Bowl-winning QB (JOEMONTANA) was a gimme, but great to see the entire name in there. ONEINFORTY is very fresh seeming, even if the clue was also a gimme. The SW fell quickly for me.

I like the clue for 30A: Girl's name in which the last three letters are equivalent to the first? (IONE), which has a cryptic crossword feel to it.

The SE has a good trio of answers. I tried SMOKeTOPAZ at first, but corrected in time to SMOKYTOPAZ. RUMBLESEAT is excellent. NAPOLITANO is a good find, just not as sparkly as the other two. I thought I had read Two Years Before the Mast by Richard DANA, but it turns out researching it, that I was thinking of the Horatio Hornblower series by C.S. Forester, which I loved as a kid.

The best clue and answer in the puzzle comes at 14D: Plot lines (XANDYAXES). Not only is it a clever bit of misdirection, the answer in its full form is so crazy looking! 13D: Like Alzheimer's disease (AGERELATED) is a bit off, in my professional neurologic opinion. It is certainly true that the incidence goes up with age, but people can get it quite young, and it plays into the myth that memory loss is a normal result of aging (it isn't). METALSTAMP felt a little ad hoc, but Google shows it's a true name for the tool.

The NW, which I finished last has the second best clue and answer at 1A: Like a Navy seal (WATERTIGHT) - note the lack of a capital on the last word of the clue. That "Navy" was completely unnecessary! I give the pairing an A-. AZALEATREE feels like a redundant term. Can't we just call it an azalea? Is it a separate plant?

I definitely enjoyed this puzzle.

- Colum

P.S. I always read the other blogs on the NYT puzzle after writing my review, which sometimes means I discover something about the puzzle that is really cool too late. Thus the PS...

Note the W-X-Y-Z in the four corners!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday, August 19, 2016, Pablo Pasco


I love seeing Pablo Pasco's name at the top of the crossword, because I know we'll get a clean and interesting grid, and today is no disappointment.

I broke in with the gimme at 6D: Reznor of Nine Inch Nails (TRENT), followed by the equally easy 23D: ____ Fierce (onetime Beyoncé alter ego) (SASHA). But there were few other gimmes.

There's much to like here. 1A: "Come again?" (WHATSTHAT) sounds like Grandpa Simpson in the tape recorder playing inside my mind. I give it an A-. I love 2D: Done for (HISTORY). That feels like such a fresh usage. 8D: On end, to Donne (ANAGRAM) is brilliant. I didn't see it coming until I had ANAGR__.

32A: Gendered "Seinfeld" accessory led me down the wrong road. I had MAN____ and decided to try MANsiere (also called "the Bro"), even though that was spelled with 2 Ss. Instead, it was MANPURSE.

I blinked at ERICA over DYNAST, figuring they'd put a duplicate in somehow. But closer examination of the clue at 26A showed no reference to the show Dynasty. Clever! Better, though, was BRINGITON over ITSGOTIME, both clued by "Let's do this!" I also love REBIRTH right next to DEMISE.

ESSENES is a bit of crosswordese, an unsurprising term to fit in at the end of a number of across answers with its crossword friendly collection of letters. Perhaps there's a reliance on too many names. But I still really enjoyed solving this puzzle.

Let's go Saturday!

- Colum

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Thursday, August 18, 2016, Parker Lewis and Jeff Chen

10:28 (FWOE)

Okay, I just love this theme. Take a 15-letter word and reparse it into three completely unrelated words, clue wackily, and there you are. I had no idea what was going on for a very long time, working my way around the theme answers in dribs and drabs. Then I had __MP__A__TALLY at 36A: Noodle count in one of Arizona's largest cities? I guessed the Tempe part of it, but put in "pasta" in the middle for TEMPEpAstaTALLY. That made no sense. Was it some sort of pun?

So then I figured out RECONSIDERATION. That's awesome: recon / side / ration, such excellent reimagining of that word, especially taking the two syllable middle and turning it into one syllable. That finally broke the theme, and I changed the middle to TEMPERAMENTALLY. Finally, came NONCOMMUNICABLE (noncom / muni / cable), which I found the least clever of the three.

But that's not all. Look at all of those long down answers! Four 8-letter answers, and four 11-letter answers. It took me forever to understand 9D: Faux bronze (SPRAYTAN) - hah! I also really enjoyed 24D: Did a tour after joining up? (HONEYMOONED) - way to disguise the answer. And how about 6D - Clark Kent's newspaper the DAILYPLANET. I got that off of IDRIS Elba (outstanding actor).

There are a ton of interesting and fun clues: the pair of old-time advertisements in ELLA Fitzgerald's Memorex ad and Willie the Penguin's KOOLS spot. Two that got me were 40A: Pounds, for example (MONEY - no final S here!) and 27D: Biblical mount (CAMEL) - not Sinai (note the lack of a capital M in the clue). How about 50D: Pen name (BIC)? Tough!

ROSHAMBO was the site of my error: I had put PINTo in for PINTA, and didn't know the cross at all. Apparently, that's a West Coast name for the game.

1A: One of the Coen brothers (JOEL) is a B - the name itself is neither great nor poor, but the works of the brothers include some of my favorite movies, so that balances out. The first answer I put in with confidence was 2D: Two-syllable cheer (OLE).

I had a lot of fun with this puzzle.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Wednesday, August 17, 2016, Mark McClain


Practitioners of the DARKARTS get their own puzzle today. Because I had AETNA already in place when I came to 38D: What sorcerors practice ... or a hint to interpreting five clues in this puzzle, I confidently put ___mAgic in, even though it was clear that "black" would not fit in. I figured that something would turn up. I still somehow got the theme from this, which is odd.

In any case, the theme clues were an initial with four black boxes after in the iPad app, which made it clear that four common letters were represented. Five theme clues of the form "_arts", and the answers were placed without crossing each other, and with only six total answers crossing any two of them. This clever setup made the fill much better than it might have been with this much theme material.

Of the theme answers, I love PUBPASTIME: the two words and the fun juxtaposition of B and P make it more interesting than your standard answers. BLEMISHES (w-arts) is the oddball, in that the word doesn't rhyme with the others.

1A: Airway or pipe (DUCT) could have been clued in a more fun way. The actual clue is fairly dry, so I give it a C+. The first word I entered was 14A: Part of A.D. (ANNO), which I was glad for, because the rest of that NW corner was rough. I'm not sure why I couldn't recall DAVE from 2001: A Space Oddysey, but I think it was because "Hal" came to mind first and I couldn't shake it.

The best part of the puzzle is the middle section. TROMPE is a more enjoyable partial than most, and DOILIES is such a fun word. And who doesn't like a little American history with Benedict ARNOLD?

LICE is unpleasant, and IRES is just silly. Otherwise I have no real complaints.

- Colum

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tuesday, August 16, 2016, Lynn Lempel


I definitely had no idea what was going on with the theme until the revealer, so that's a point in the theme's favor. On the other hand, the theme is anything but NARROWLYDEFINED. Two word phrases where the first word has two Rs in it (somewhere) and the second word has two Ds in it (also somewhere). I might be a little overly precise about this, but I would have liked it better had all the words had double Rs and double Ds (no jokes from you, Huygens!). Or all the letters beginning and ending their respective words.

In any case, the revealer, ARTOODETOO (or more to the point, R2-D2) describes the letter placement situation. Of the phrases themselves, ROGERMUDD drops to the bottom of the river immediately. I think I've mentioned this before, but I think Mr. Mudd's recognizability has dropped quite a bit, not to take away anything from the importance of what he has accomplished. SURFERDUDE on the other hand, definitely rides above the waves. REARENDED is neither much nor little.

I also find the fill to be hit or miss. 11D: "Um... excuse me?" (DOYOUMIND) is excellent, as is 35D: Group led by Richard the Lionheart (CRUSADERS). On the other hand, ABANDONED is okay, but we have to have both STROM and RYAN (as well as SDAK) to make it all work. Hmmm. CARDEALER is okay.

Otherwise there is a surfeit of 3-letter answers, with the rows of USB USO MOE and EDS DIE LIE being the most obvious examples. 1A: Sounds from schnauzers (ARFS) gets a D+. I wish the answer had been "waus", as a German dog is said to say either "wuff wuff" or "wau wau". With German Ws, that would be "vow vow..." 1A was not my first answer, as there were too many possibilities. I put in 1D however, which made 1A clear.

- Colum

Monday, August 15, 2016, Sam Trabucco


Traveling sucks. Sorry to have to be a downer, but I'm stuck in a stupid hotel at Dulles Airport because delays due to thunderstorms made me miss my connection. Gah.

In other news, I have Cake By The Ocean by DNCE running through my head because of endless ads for The Voice during NBC's Olympics broadcast. Why have so few companies purchased spots during these games? I feel like I've seen the same five over and over again. I think I hate Chevy now.

Oh, right. There's a puzzle today, and it's a smashing good one, in my books. The theme is one of those where each phrase's first word can be placed in front of another shared word to make four new phrases. But there's an excellent revealer to bring it all together in HEADSWILLROLL. Drum roll, please...

All four theme answers are solid phrases with a down home feel to them. Who doesn't eat DRUMSTICKS in their LOGCABIN while watching a BARRELRACE on the tube while the kids are on one of their EGGHUNTS in the woods out back? Amirite, ladies? METOO.

I thought the fill was definitely above average. Two very nice long down answers in FAMILYTREE and ENDOFSTORY. I have to admit I was a little nervous starting out, though, with 1A: Droop (SAG), which I give a D+ (and was my first entry in the puzzle as well), and the strange looking STELMO leading down. But the puzzle recovered nicely with AEGEAN and GAGGLE.

Some nice clues saved the shorter answers, including 5D: What may help you make your move? (VAN) and 11D: "____ on a Grecian Urn" (ODE). References to Keats always help. I'm also inordinately fond of BLTS, and, to a lesser extent, PBJ. Amusingly, I went down completely the wrong path with 39D: Key's partner (LOCK). The obvious was apparently not where my brain was, as I typed in Peel. Never mind that he spells his name Peele.

A few less pretty answers are present (LTRS, EXT, ANI), but I didn't mind. Nice Monday.

- Colum

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sunday, August 14, 2016, Ian Livengood


Well, for much of this puzzle, even as I was filling in theme answers correctly, I was seriously underwhelmed by the quality of the theme. And that's because I was mispronouncing the answers. I had THINERROL and was thinking it was "thinner" with the L added. Instead it's "thin air" with the L added. In fact, all of the phrases have that long A, which works better with some answers than with others.

For example, 23A: Actress Streep playing a centenarian? (THEOLDGRAYMERYL) doesn't quite work, because Meryl is pronounced with an "eh" sound. BTW, we saw Florence Foster Jenkins last night. Streep was outstanding - she sounded just like the real Jenkins, and Hugh Grant was wonderful. I'm not sure the movie was all that good overall, but it was definitely enjoyable.

I'm also not sure any of the answers reached the necessary level of wackiness. I did not find myself giggling or even smiling as I figured them out. That's a shame. They're clever, just not amusing. So that's my final analysis.

On the other hand, the fill is pretty darn good. DRPEPPER and JCREW satisfied the need for multiple consonants next to each other. BIDET was a surprising choice for a bathroom fixture. 46D: Battle of Hastings participants (SAXONS) was a nice nod to British history, which I always appreciate. 1066 and all that, you know.

Speaking of British, you get 21A: Heads for Britain? (LOOS), contrasted with 68D: Arrondissement heads? (TETES). That's a fun way to take care of some longstanding bits of crosswordese. Did 40D Hell of a location? (HADES) need that question mark? I'll say no. I'd also say that TYRANT is not the first word that comes to mind when I think of Caligula, but it'll do.

Gotta go pour some DEWARS down my CRAW. Not really. I'm much more of a rye person, myself.

- Colum

P.S. Forgot to mention 1A: Southwestern cliff dwellers (HOPI) gets a C for basic stuff. Weirdly, 2D: Dept. of Labor branch (OSHA) was my first entry, but it was because I thought Hopi was going to be right that I put it in.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Saturday, August 13, 2016, Patrick Berry

17:43 (FWOE)

What a lovely gift, to get a Patrick Berry puzzle on a Saturday morning. They're always so clean, so smooth, with enjoyable cluing and interesting long answers. My only complaint today, really, is that the grid is separated into three sections with minimal connections between them.

I entered the grid at 1A: Player's fee (ANTE), which gets a C for being average. It's pretty rare that I can get into a Saturday in the NW, let alone at 1A, so I thought that boded well. And in fact, things moved along well in that corner. All three of the first down answers are very nice, especially NOUTURN. Looks so strange, doesn't it? I also liked that EILEEN / FISHER is placed symmetrically at 4D and 41D. Those are the little touches that distinguish Mr. Berry's puzzles.

Unfortunately, I put in LOUIePRIMA (I must have been thinking of Mr. Armstrong), which meant that STAN (never heard of the song) was ungettable. FRAN, by the way, refers to Kukla, Fran, and Ollie - a woman and two puppets. Never saw it.

I worked my way up out of the SW corner from BEINGTHERE (an easy answer for a Peter Sellers fan) and BSHARP. That's the second time we've seen that answer recently. CECILIA is awfully close to my heart as well, although we all know that's not the way you spell that name. 35A: Book collection? (CHARACTERS) was tricky, but not as tricky as 34A: Jailor, sailor and tailor (JOBTITLES). The clue is so oddly specific! Still, after getting JANE, what else could it have been?

33D: Hillary mate (NORGAY) is a wonderful misdirection in today's hyper election aware atmosphere. I was thinking of Bill at first, of course, then of Kaine. But no, it's Sir Edmund we should be thinking about, not Ms. Rodham Clinton. 33A: Filing centers (NAILSALONS) without a question mark is my favorite clue of the day.

The two long down answers are outstanding: CARDINALRED and STABATMATER. Very nice. I also liked EVENSTEVEN and YESHIVA, as well as the enlightening clue for 11D: Horror film remake released on 6/6/06 (THEOMEN).

Fun puzzle.

- Colum

Friday, August 12, 2016

Friday, August 12, 2016, Kelly Clark


Ahhhh. That's more like it. After yesterday's personal solving fiasco, it was good to get back in the game.

And what a lovely themeless to get me there. There are a ton of fun longer answers here to sink your teeth into, along with five different answers that utilize single letter abbreviations or words.

1A: Porcine paramour (PETUNIAPIG) gets an A- from me. The character is a little recherché (recherchée?) for a straight A, but it's a great reference to Porky Pig's sweetheart. Amusingly, if you look up the character, the clue is found in the exact same form in the description. I wanted Miss Piggy, but she didn't fit.

I actually broke into the grid at 5D: Full of butterflies (NERVOUS), because of the cross with 20A: Some zoo employees (VETS). 6D: Under water (INDEBT) is excellent. PAPS not so much, both for the peculiar pluralization and for the actual texture of the stuff. Yuck.

I had to break away from the NW at that point and jumped back in with SAKS (what other company could stand up to Lord & Taylor, am I right?). It led to SSTARS, the first answer with that extra letter. AGENTORANGE is appropriately and tragically right next to SICKASADOG. But it's a nice find to cross those two answers with DICKTRACY. I think I remember those characters from the movie with Warren Beatty and Madonna. Yes: Big Boy was played by Al Pacino and Little Face by somebody named Laurence Steven Meyers. Huh.

Anyway, the SE has the unexpected IINSIST and 40D: He succeeded two queens (JAMESI), which was not as surprising. The stack is pretty good but not that sparkly. I like 54A: It takes turns making dinner (ROTISSERIE) the best of the three.

SOFTPRETZEL is probably the best answer in the puzzle, but I also like SHAKENBAKE, which looks strange without the apostrophes around the N. There's a lot to like in the clues for the shorter answers. 1D: Sound from a cheater (PSST) saves the answer. Even better is 19A: Brady bunch, briefly (TDS). Do you think that crossing was intended? Mr. Brady will be sitting out the first four games of the season, you know. Odd that ACCRA shows up again, also with geographic trivia in the clue.

A DANE saying "hej" sounds like "hi". Just saying.

- Colum

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Thursday, August 11, 2016, Timothy Polin


Have you ever had a puzzle where you just didn't sync with it at all? I struggled through much of this grid, only to bog down in the southwest, where nothing made sense to me. Even the theme escaped me for a long time. So anyway, this is one of the first puzzles I haven't finished in a long time.

The theme is pretty clever, I think. The clue for the entry is a homonym for the paired and circled letters in the answer. Thus CONFISCATE is clued by the Cs ("seize"), while SCRUTINIZES is clued by its Is ("eyes"). All six (impressive) answers are well done, so there's nice consistency.

I didn't love the fill in general, though. 14A: Show in syndication, say (REAIR) is truly awkward. I understand the "show" is used as a verb rather than a noun here, but still, it feels not great. OBRIEN and OKEEFE in the same puzzle, neither individual immediately recognizable from their respective sources. SCHMO and NIMROD have a cute flavor to them, although I wouldn't have chosen either to mean "jerk". And SWAMI and GURU are "wise guy"s indeed, but I would have liked one of those answers to the clue to be about the mafia instead.

Some nice clues: 30A: Weight lifter (PULLEY) was unexpected. 16A: Something that may crash and break (WAVE) is well done. I really like 48D: Musical trio, often (CHORD) for the surprise. Although, I'd argue that any three notes you might choose create a chord of a sort, so the "often" is not needed.

Never heard the term SPYFI. UNITY was ungettable for me from the Kwanzaa clue. Apparently the seven principles of Kwanzaa are Umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith). Two of those are 5-letter answers starting with U, so I suppose that might have been a tricky answer for some. Not me, because I didn't come close to getting it.

Ah, sour grapes.

1A: Capital south of Lake Volta (ACCRA) gets a B+ for geography trivia. I got it off of 2D (CEO), which was the first answer I put in confidently. Oh, and I really liked IZZATSO. That's fun.

Here's hoping tomorrow goes better for me. Nothing against this puzzle, which I think is probably fine, but I can't see it clearly any more.

- Colum

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Wednesday, August 10, 2016, David C. Duncan Dekker


Wait, what?

This is a crazy, crazy (and three more crazies to get a total of 5 Zs) feat to pull off. The grid is a QUINTUPLE pangram. I didn't know you could do that. There's a little mini-theme going on as well with the addition of FIVEFOLD at 52A.

So... is it worth it? Well, the grid suffers, because each corner is completely isolated, making them all mini-puzzles. Not surprisingly, it's in these corners where some of the more difficult letters are isolated (J in the northwest, W in the northeast, X in the southeast and southwest). Using a random Roman numeral helps to get two Xs (DXIX), while there are more than your standard peculiarities, such as SQFT and DJED.

Still, I feel like on the whole it stands up. The SW corner is well done, with XEROX, OXEYE, MYOB, and SEXY. The middle diagonal section was fun and reminded me of some of David Phillips's crazy themeless concoctions. All of the long answers are strong, including WESTBANK and DOWNQUARK and ACIDJAZZ.

And best of all, it looks like the craziest Scrabble game ever played (if there were that many high-value tiles available). I'm sure some will dismiss this as a stunt, but if so, you have to admit it's a well-done stunt. I'm in FAVOR.

1A: Frequent flier (BIRD) is cute. So non-specific! I was thinking at least a specific species of bird. I give it a B. Strangely, the first answer I entered with confidence was 20D: Jaromir ____, five-time N.H.L. scoring leader (JAGR), in that I don't follow hockey at all.

- Colum

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Tuesday, August 9, 2016, Andrea Carla Michaels


The blurb tells us that this was a contest puzzle in Lollapuzzoola in a previous year, and had a 15 minute time limit. I suspect opinions will vary on the theme here, in that each theme answer is a one word said twice, but here split into two grid entries, each clued in a different way. Thus ZOOM / ZOOM is clued with the Mazda ad slogan as well as with "quickly". The former works better for me than the latter.

Other theme answers are likewise hit and miss. I accept the Al Pacino movie reference (although I'd never heard of nor seen the film in question), but the P.G. Wodehouse book AUTHOR / AUTHOR is merely a collection of his letters. How many people would be expected to know this? Perhaps I should take this as a goad to my trivia knowledge. I did not know the Aaron Copland ballet, but HEARYE / HEARYE as a "town crier's cry" is straightforward. Similarly, the Louis Prima tune is outside my wheelhouse, but SING / SING as a prison name is common knowledge.

In any case, the duplication of the answers made the puzzle much easier than expected. I do like the addition of CHINATOWN and YOUBETCHA (very nice). The rarely-used (in music, anyway) BSHARP is fine. I smiled at the classic 34D: What generals keep up their sleevies? (ARMIES).

On the other hand, ITNO and ERNO. I can't decide which is worse. Probably the latter.

1A: Computers that are un-PC (MACS) gets a C+. It's an old joke (perhaps it wasn't so tired when the puzzle first ran). It's also the answer I put in first with 100% confidence.

- Colum

Monday, August 8, 2016

Monday, August 8, 2016, Zhouqin Burnikel and Don Gagliardo


So close! I really thought I'd beat the 3 minute mark but got stuck briefly in the SE corner. I often try to enter the answers with the most blank spaces, figuring that will require me to look at fewer clues. But CALLACAB and BOLSTER were both too difficult to get from one or two letters. Ah, well.

I really like the theme here: there are five films named, each with a synonym for "big" in the title, thus leading to the revealer, BIGPICTURE. Only one of the theme entries required the definite article to be supplied in the clue. I particularly like the crossing of GIANT and TITANIC. That's a nice find.

1A: Home of the N.F.L.'s Dolphins (MIAMI) gets a B. I'd give it a B+, but it's a sports clue, which may leave some in the cold, and also, well, who likes the Dolphins, anyway? It was also my first answer I put in and was completely confident about.

The fill was on the whole good, with some very nice entries. ETVOILA has a nice ring to it, and is so commonly used in English we didn't need the "Fr." warning. IGNOBLE and INDIGENT are both fine words, despite the negative connotations.

There are a few crosswordese answers, such as OREM, NAN, ATRA, and COE. But I enjoyed this ROMP.

And here's a VIOLAS joke: Why do violists spend so long outside other people's homes? Because they can't find the key and don't know when to come in. Hah!

- Colum

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Sunday, August 7, 2016, Samuel A. Donaldson


Mr. Donaldson, you had me at 23A: "What's in your attic? And do penthouses have better resale value? Find out in today's____" (TOPSTORIES). Definitely got a laugh out of me. In fact, I think that was the answer I liked best of all of the theme entries. There are eight of them, and all but one of them feel completely standard as things a TV news anchor might say. The only one which feels constructed for the purpose of the pun is DETAILSARESKETCHY. Which is pretty amusing anyway.

I know some people might complain that four of the theme answers are ten letters or less, and there are non-theme answers which are that long, but that doesn't bother me. The set up for the theme entries is very clear in the clues, such that you wouldn't get confused on other long answers. I'm not entirely sure I understand 118A: "With more about those defending the accused, our reporter is ____" (STANDINGBY) - is that meant to imply that the defenders are bystanders? I guess so. It feels a little strained.

Still, niggling details aside, I very much enjoyed the theme and the way it was carried out, so one in the plus column there. I hesitantly put in 1A: Fall birthstone (OPAL), which gets a C for being essentially perfectly average. 2D: Doggy (POOCH) was the first answer I was completely certain about, which had the secondary advantage of making me more confident of 1A as well. Bonus points for putting the ASPCA next to our puppy.

There are some very nice areas in the fill today. I particularly like the trio of 9-letter answers in the NE and SW. I do enjoy me some PINEAPPLE on my pizza, so that hardly fooled me at all. 79D: "Up top!" (GIMMEFIVE) is pleasantly colloquial. Other fill I liked included 76D: Historic headline of 1898 (JACCUSE), referring to the l'Affaire Dreyfus and Émile Zola's letter. Right next to that was 77D: Old Irish character (OGHAM), which is an ancient Irish alphabet, one which I have encountered in my reading on the history of the British Isles from 400-650.

Things I didn't like so much: ESTADOS and ETATS. So many useful letters there, so I understand why they find their way into puzzles so frequently. Only both in the same grid? Also ERES.

Then there are the partials: ASNO, ONAT, INAS. Oof.

On the other hand, 62A: Fighting a liar, e.g. (SPOONERISM). This is outstanding cluing and a wonderful answer. No question mark needed. I was off thinking about slander and libel (the former is spoken, the latter is written). Neither was correct. Beautiful.

- Colum

Saturday, August 6, 2016, David Phillips


A nice ending to the turn, with this outstanding themeless from Mr. Phillips. Unfortunately, today was also the ending to my vacation, so I'm writing this after 7 1/2 hours on the road. We had great weather and a lovely beach house in Delaware to share with family, so only good memories overall.

Anyhoo, this grid is very interesting with the pair of 14-letter marquis answers separated by only one row. 31A: Manipulative use of the Force (JEDIMINDTRICKS) was fairly obvious from the clue, although I was stuck by thinking it would end in "games", so I had to leave the last part of the answer empty for some time. The other, 36A: Someone always good for a few pints? (UNIVERSALDONOR) had me thinking about vampires for a while, so I needed more crosses to get it.

I incorrectly entered the grid with orgieS at 1D: Saturnalia events (FEASTS), but the S gave me SLR, and then AIRFARE (3D: Soaring expense? cute). So I was going to say that SLR was the first answer I was 100% about, but when I entered JEDIMIND____ and had that ____LJ ending at 2D, I questioned myself all over again. Thus, the first answer I was completely certain about was 28D: Gives credit (CITES), an answer after Frannie's heart, I feel certain.

The trio of answers in the NW are very nice. I give 1A: Spontaneous public gathering (FLASHMOB) an A+ for its freshness. I suspect that most flashmobs are not spontaneous, but rather planned out, or at least the ones that make it onto YouTube, in any case. ELIHUYALE presents crosswordese's prime perpetrator in full name format, and ACROBATIC is also nice. LLCOOLJ solved my problem noted above.

The SW corner is not nearly so pretty. NEODADA is a rough collection of unexpected letters, but Googles well enough. Jasper Johns is the archetype, apparently. ODIUM is also not something I recognize I feel much, if ever.

I liked the crossing of GIMLI with DIRKS just above DIAPERPIN. It seemed appropriate. 59A: Activity for when there's nothing going on? (STREAKING) is cute.

My favorite clue and answer is at 12D: One who's green after seeing red (THEHULK). Very succinct, no question mark needed. Well done. The NE was where I finished, with the crossing of CAIRN and CRUE. That's a tough letter to find, but when I had _RUE, there was really only one choice.

How about VROOM? Very nice.

- Colum

Friday, August 5, 2016

Friday, August 5, 2016, Brendan Emmett Quigley

16:41 (FWOE)

I'm going to get my one major complaint out of the way right at the start, because overall I simply loved this puzzle, as is to be expected from this particular creator. But 21D: Some mixtapes (RAPCDS) simply doesn't make any sense to me at all. If somebody can explain to me how the clue leads to that answer, I'll be appreciative. Unfortunately, the C came at the cross of CTA (which honestly I should have guessed, considering it reference Chicago without saying the city's name, in a clear attempt to avoid any duplication from clue to answer). For some reason I chose I instead of C, and that's my error.

The first answer I put in that I was 100% sure about came at 2D: "Army of ___" (recruiting slogan) (ONE). That I recalled from NFL games broadcasts, and allowed me to hazard INORBIT, which didn't seem like it really needed a question mark (15A: Going around the world?). That gave me STENOS (nice reference to Mad Men, taking the clue out of the realm of sexism). I bogged down there.

Only to rebound with 35D: Martial arts weapons that are two sticks connected by a chain (NUNCHAKUS). I went for the Japanese spelling, which worked out for me, rather than the Americanized "nunchucks", which also would have fit. CAHN into NOFAIR, and the southeast corner fell. Lovely answer and clue in 45D: There's nothing to it (NULLSET). I also really liked the way ANI was repurposed away from Star Wars nickname to 62D: What makes nose noise? Hah!

FRED Armisen opened up the SW corner, and the excellent 55A: Real hack? (FLAGRANTFOUL). I slowly worked by way up to JIGGLED from all the crosses, with the last letter found being the initial one. That enabled me to finally see the lovely JELLOSHOT. How about all those Js?

So many fun clues. 11D: Charge that may be high (TREASON) - no question mark needed here! 23D: Opposite of fine print? (SCRAWL). I thought it was clever to put HEIDEN and his 1980 gold medal haul right next to USAUSA!

I almost overlooked one of the best! 19A: Event where kids ask lots of questions, informally (TEENJEOPARDY). So tricky! Of course the kids are asking questions, as they answer the clues on the game show.

1A: Conflicts with combat (HOTWARS) gets a B from me. It's an unusual answer, but the plural is unfortunate.

Great Friday after a good Thursday. Here's looking forward to the end of the turn!

- Colum

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Thursday, August 4, 2016, Jonathan M. Kaye


Oh boy. I was not expecting this theme at all as I worked my way through the grid. It didn't become apparent until 52A: Incapacitated Lincoln? (NAVIGATQR). I was sure of the Q because of QEII (there can be only one longest-reigning British monarch - she's outlasted Queen Victoria by a little over a year at 64 plus years). And how clever: by replacing the O in four car names with a Q, Mr. Kaye has literally represented those cars "incapacitated" by a BOOT, a well-known site in New York.

I wouldn't be able to think of these names purely from their make, but the models are well enough known that I was able to infer them from a few crosses. I like that all four are American (not from any nationalistic preference, but simply for consistency's sake), and that the revealer is at 59D, well at the end of the puzzle. Only once is the Q used in its standard way in the crosses, at QUELLS (a very nice word). The other three, NASDAQ, SHAQ, and QEII are atypical, which adds to the enjoyment.

We also get two very nice 12-letter answers in PRACTICABLE and PRIVATEEYES (the last with a good clue, "Tails, of a sort"), as well as the unusually clued TRIFECTA - who knew you could even bet on Jai alai at all? I like 60A: Queen's mate (DRONEBEE), although it feels a little unnecessary to stick the "bee" on there. It's great that it crosses Queen Elizabeth as well.

Otherwise, there's a surprising amount of crosswordese. ARETE has ceased to be a stumper for me - it's an automatic entry. ESTD, LEI, ELI (along with ELIA), ESAU, and alternately clued ARNE (not from God Save The Queen, sadly, given the other answers in that corner). I don't like the strangely pluralized ANDS at all. TITHER is acceptable, just odd.

1A: Like the Miller beer logo (ASLANT) gets a D-. The clue saves it from an F, but honestly, I'd describe that as "slanted" if I had to, "Italic" otherwise. It's particularly annoying because it crosses ASWIRL. Oof.

The first answer I was 100% convinced I had correct came at 33A: Saints are part of it, for short (NFL). I had already entered ACDC and CANID, but I was reserving final judgement, even though I was over 90% sure of them.

Overall, the theme made this puzzle worthwhile.

- Colum

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Wednesday, August 3, 2016, Neville Fogarty


Another classic rebus (that is, old style rebus) puzzle. We just had one of these last week. I love this sort of thing, and Mr. Fogarty's example of it is very well done. He has chosen four song titles, all of them in the form [gerund] in the [noun], and reinterprets them as placing the gerund inside the noun. All four of the nouns are 4 letters long; even better, two of the answers' gerunds are six letters long because they're missing the G, while the other two are seven letters long with the G. Symmetry is maintained.

All four song titles are very well known, and represent the 1950s, 1960s, 1980s, and 2000s. I'm actually fond of all four, and would rank them as follows:

1. RASINGININ (Singin in the Rain)
2. WIBLOWINND (Blowin in the Wind)
3. DEROLLINGEP (Rolling in the Deep)
4. DADANCINGRK (Dancing in the Dark)

Your mileage may vary, of course, and I want to emphasize that the relative rankings do not imply that the lower ones are unappreciated.

The fill is pretty good overall. 11D: Where Venice is (LOSANGELES) was deceptive for a while. FOUNDMONEY is an odd phrase, although I see how it fits the clue "Change out of an old pair of pants?" I'm not sure I buy it as a real thing, but the clue is funny. 46A: How many try to capture Bigfoot (ONCAMERA) is very good, but ALOERTER was a tough get. Turns out he captured the gold medal for discus in four consecutive Olympics, from age 20 to 32, which explains why he is the only one ever to have done this.

The NE and SW 4x4 sections are completely isolated, which I don't like. On the other hand, both have an X in them, so that added interest.

1A: Mel who co-wrote "The Christmas Song" (TORME) gets a D+. The Velvet Fog's name is a well-worn piece of crosswordese, and is only redeemed here by a slightly more interesting clue. I entered it as my first answer in the grid, but I was not 100% convinced that it was correct, so the first answer that fit that description for me was 2D: '60s sitcom son (OPIE). Talk about two outdated answers! 1D: Hamlet's relative (TOWN) needed more crosses for me to figure out. Excellent clue.

- Colum

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Tuesday, August 2, 2016, Paula Gamache

6:49 (FWOE)

I feel like I've seen a theme like this in the past, but it's been well executed here. We take standard adjectives of the style ____LESS and reinterpret them as describing an individual lacking in something somewhat amusing. None of the theme answers made me laugh out loud, but I chuckled at HELPLESS. There are seven of them, which is impressive.

On the other hand, with all of those theme answers, there's little room for longer fill answers, and very little that sparkles. For example, in the SW corner, all three 6-letter answers going down are proper names (ALBERT, SHANIA, and PASCAL), and the fourth answer is also a proper name (GISELLE)! I never would have remembered the name of that character, but it's preferable to referencing the classic ballet.

10D: It has a tip for players in the game room (POOLCUE) was a clever, if wordy, clue. I like the pair of 7-letter answers in the staggered stack in the middle. ASARULE has a welcome resonance in our little group, it being a favorite saying of Frannie's. I've been reading about the British Isles in the years from 400-650, so PICT came very easily to me.

1A: Reaction to a crack (HAHA) gets a C+. But it wasn't the first entry I was sure about: that came at 1D: Sot's sound (HIC).

My error came at 19A: I mistyped OHMu instead of OHMY, and TRuSTS looked right, so I didn't check it against the clue. Silly mistake.

Anyway, overall, I thought it was solid, just not anything amazing.

- Colum

Monday, August 1, 2016

Monday, August 1, 2016, Kurt Mengel and Jan-Michele Gianette


The last thing I want on vacation is a TODOLIST. Well, in real life, anyway. In a crossword puzzle, it's fine.

Happy August! It feels like it's been a long time since I last put fingers to keyboard to produce a post for this blog. The family and I are in Rehoboth, Delaware (actually Dewey Beach, but more people have heard of the former) for a week, enjoying the beach. I hope the steadfast readers of this blog have also had enjoyable vacations this summer.

So, for this first Monday of the month, we get a theme of two word phrases where the first word starts with TO- and the second with DO-. The chosen phrases are all solid. TOYDOLLS is acceptable, although I suppose the "toy" is not truly needed. There are dolls that are not toys... or maybe we don't want to go there.

Otherwise, I'll remark on the cluing for 25A: Land, as a plane (TOUCHDOWN) which refers to a two word phrase, as opposed to the event in an American football game, which is a single word. I'm sure there is a large potential list of phrases that fit this pattern (I just came up with "tofu dogs", but with computers nowadays, it's probably not difficult to generate many more), but this list is fine.

I enjoyed the two long down answers TOOTHPASTE and COMETOREST, and the two shorter answers PSYCHOUT and YACHTING. In general the fill is good, although DATER is questionable in my opinion. 15A: Very rich ... or drunk (LOADED) gets a yuk for the clue. I also thought it was amusing to follow up 63A: "Immediately!" (ASAP) with 64A: "I mean ... this instant!" (NOW).

1A: Guacamole, e.g. (DIP) gets a B-. It's solid, but it's a 3-letter answer, which I'd rather not have right at the outset of a puzzle.

My new feature for this month is to identify the first answer I put in that I was 100% solid about - this is often not the same as the first answer I put in at all, which may be a guess or a complete stab in the dark. Today's answer (not surprising for a Monday) was DIP.

- Colum