Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Wednesday, November 30, 2016, Molly Young


I am big fan of this puzzle. I enjoyed it while solving, and I enjoyed it anew while looking it over just now. I really like the "i-___" theme, many of the answers are interesting words, and the clueing was clever and amusing. Let's dig right in, shall we?

First of all, the IBALL-related theme. We've got no revealer, per se, but the six theme answers (running both horizontally and vertically, which I also like) are all marked with the "from Apple?" tag, so a revealer isn't really necessary. They're all amusing, and some are even a bit daring - ILIFT (14A: New push-up bra from Apple?) and ILASH (66A: New whip from Apple?). Those answers, and others like TWEE (67A: So, so cute), 29A: "Get. Out. Of. Here!" (OMG), TEED (34D: Plenty angry, with "off"), and even TED (55A: Kind of talk) give the puzzle a youthful feel. (ARIL, IBID, and ORE notwithstanding, but at least those have straightforward, almost understandingly apologetic clues.)

Lots of great words in the fill - THREATEN (6D: Jeopardize), FORETOLD (42A: Predicted), LEGION (56A: Numerous), DISPOSE (41D: Scrap, with "of"), RAPPORT (39D: Friendly relationship), and others. Many of the clues made me smile, like 68A: Massage joints (SPAS), 69A: Money makers (MINTS), and the symmetrical MOM and DAD clues - "Having a baby makes one." That's a nice touch. Ms. Young states in her brief commentary on xwordinfo that she constructs by hand, and the care that she puts into her work is plainly evident, as this puzzle SHINES.

1A: Rings up? (HALOS) I will give an A-. My first solid answer was IBID (10A: Footnote abbr.) which, in hindsight, probably could have been something else just as easily.

I could go on, but I'll just call attention to two more things. First, the amusing recurrence of OFTEN after Colum's comment on yesterday's puzzle. And BOTA (30A: Leather bag for wine), which was new to me, but which makes the "Bota Box" brand of wine make much more sense. It's always so nice when one's leisure activities end up bringing new information or understanding. It reminds me of all that I learned from Monty Python when I was younger. Some of which I only understood years later.

My month's up, and Colum takes over tomorrow. May December be filled with many more puzzles like this one. Happy Solving!

- Horace

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tuesday, November 29, 2016, Jacob Stulberg

0:07:39 (F.W.O.E.)

A tribute to one of my favorite books, THEJOYOFCOOKING, which is 85 years old this month! My well-worn copy comes off its shelf at least weekly to sit on the counter and help out with one thing or another. Most recently, it was rolled biscuits, to go with turkey soup. Mmm.... biscuits... I've never made TURKISH DELIGHT or CORNRELISH, but I do use a zester from time to time.

So good theme, but was there any other ENERGETIC (11D: Peppy) fill? Some. PENITENCE (8D: Display of remorse) is fancy, and I enjoyed seeing the word LIABLE (49D: Apt (to)). The "(to)" in its clue seemed appropriate, but do we really need the "on" in 6D: Commit arson on (TORCH)? Maybe. It is a Tuesday, after all. And speaking of a Tuesday, I was tripped up today by the Jewish cross of HAMAN (35A: Purim villain) and MOSAICLAW (36D: Contents of the Torah). Goyem that I am, I was not at all familiar with HAMAN, and guessed, somewhat amusingly, hopefully, "jOSAICLAW," I guess thinking it was something like "Josannah-ic." Sheesh. What a maroon.

Anywho... 1A: Croquet needs (PEGS) was tricky. I'll give it a B. My first confident entry was ATOP (5A: On), which, were I to grade it, would get a C-. But I don't.

Overall, I guess I wish for more to honor the book. The recipes are related by their mood - zest, delight, relish, and "joy," come to think of it. Well, ok, that's cute, but I don't like the split answer. And for this we have kind of a lot of crosswordsy-type stuff: ECRU, ASP, CLIO, ADO, ORCA, ENO, NAS, ARF, YALIE & ELIHU, NTH, AHA, etc. I like REDEYE (30A: It might end with an early touchdown) (great!), but there was a little too little of that today. 

- Horace

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Monday, November 28, 2016, Kristian House


Hah! This theme made me laugh out loud. A duck, a duck, and a goose are hidden in three long theme answers. TRIBU[TEAL]BUMS, APARTH[EIDER]A, and SWOR[NENE]MIES. Very nice.

The long down fill is full of good answers, too. GUSSIEDUP (11D: Dressed to the nines), NOGOODNIK (34D: Baddie), SLICKERS (41D: Rain jackets), PETUNIA (Flower that's also a girl's name) (could have been so many things…), all of these are strong. And yes, ENACTOR (44D: Legislator) is not good, but I'll take it, because we've also got SCRIMP (23A: Be extremely frugal), ROGUE (43A: Go ____ (no longer follow orders)), and PAGAN (9A: Wiccan or Druid). It's a high-quality grid, I'm telling you. And this is a Monday! I even like the bold ABORC (2D: Multiple-choice options)! And all we PAY is a little ESO HERE, a little ALA there… that kind of thing leaves no SCAR.

1A: Taxis (CABS) gets a C+. The plus is for not cluing it as wine. It was my first confident answer.

Thumbs up, AMIGO, thumbs up.

- Horace

Sunday, November 27, 2016, Matt Ginsberg


I was hoping that the theme would revolve around different mixed drinks, but no – the mix here is two answers, each independently clued, woven into a third answer, also clued. Sometimes, when I was a little stuck, I tried to just solve the combined clue, and then verified with the parts. Nothing particularly funny or entertaining about the theme, just three words. Still, not bad. And since it's Mr. Ginsberg (creator of the crossword-solving computer program "Mr. Fill"), I wondered if the puzzle were just created as a way to test, and possibly improve, Dr. Fill.

I very much enjoyed some of the clues today. 128A: Makes it? (TAGS) brought a big smile. Likewise, TREAT (106D: October option) seemed very youthful. And the third clue/answer in 119A, "network with 303 stations" (P[A]RI[S]ME[T]R[O]) had me stumped for a long time. That whole SW corner was tough, filled as it was with obscure lizards, foreign languages, and proper nouns (AGAMA, EDDAS, TARDE, ADEUXOMAR, MTADAMS, and OSA). Oh, and 107D: Counterpart of "stand" (HITME). Whew! That took me forever!

Really did not like SNAILED (64A: Moved at a crawl), and there was kind of a lot of SCLERA, ELKO, SERE, APIA, OTERINEHI-type stuff. But then there was also flashy fill like EMBLAZON (46A: Adorn brilliantly) and SEXTANTS (95A: Mariners' aids). And I kind of like ATEATON (77A: Overindulged) (perfect for Thanksgiving) and GETAB (57D: Do pretty well gradewise).

1A: They often have small tables (CAFES) was my first answer, and I'll give a C+. And that's maybe what the puzzle should get, too. Or maybe a B-.

- Horace

p.s. You can read Mr. Gaffney's commentary at In it, he tells that Dr. Fill "found the puzzle very easy," because all of the combined words are, in fact, words, and Dr. Fill knows words. He did make one mistake, though, which is odd, but you'll have to click through to read about that.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Saturday, November 26, 2016, Paolo Pasco


Tough Saturday. Frannie and I passed this one back and forth, which is rare these days. I did most of the top, she most of the bottom, and we both stared long and hard at the last two squares - the cross of NATAL (27A: Brazilian state capital) and LAMPED (28D: Clobbered, in British slang). LAMPED? Really? I call foul. And the other cross, which Frannie eventually got, was AKA (46A: Going by) and CAKEPOP (37D: Snackable treat on a stick). AKA is good, but if CAKEPOP is a thing, it's a thing I don't know.

Things I liked - TINFOILHAT (56A: Stereotypical wear for a crackpot theorist), CARAMELS (10D: Sticky treats), TERENCE (38D: Ancient playwright who specialized in New Comedy), NIGERIA (35D: Country of 180+ million people that has never participated in the Winter Olympics) (interesting), ATEASE (44D: Chilling), and TIGRIS (25D: River flowing from the Garden of Eden, in the Bible).

Things I didn't like RURALIST (34D: Definitely not a city slicker), MOMMAS (30D: May honorees, colloquially), MAGE (15A: Dungeons & Dragons class), the repetition of "up" in PRIEDUP and RARESUP, the backward cross-reference in 1D and 4D, and the two entries mentioned at the start.

1A: Facebook acquired it in 2014 for $19.3 billion (WHATSAPP) gets a C. It should have been my first answer, but I couldn't come up with the name immediately, so THEMARTIAN ended up being my first confident answer.

I guess I'm a little down on this one overall. I didn't particularly like the long diagonal of black squares that cut the grid in half, there were those dislikes, and I don't know... it just didn't do it for me. Not all bad, of course, but not my perfect Saturday puzzle.

- Horace

Friday, November 25, 2016

Friday, November 25, 2016, Patrick Berry


Patrick Berry is back today with a typically high-quality puzzle. It took me quite a while to get going in this one - I think my first truly confident answer might have been HAMLET (40D: Play containing the line "Good night, sweet prince"), which gave me HORATIO (37D: Speaker of the line in 40-Down), and I worked my way back up to the top from there. I finished the puzzle where it began, in the NE, where ALCOHOLRUB (13A: Sore muscle treatment) (not a thing I know about) and TRAWL (19A: Drag out of a bed?) (nice!) were very slow to come. In fact, the very last thing I figured out was the excellent 1D: Immersive experience (BAPTISM).

Lots and lots of good seven through ten letter fill. PARTIALITY (17A: Special fondness), SCRAPES (3D: Difficult situations), BRITANNICA (35A: Pax ____ (century preceding W.W. I)), HEAVENSENT (40A: Arriving at just the right moment), and SPACESUITS (56A: Landing gear?) were all quite good. And I like the idea of ALEXANDERS (24D: Creamy cocktails), but I've never actually made myself one. It just always seems like such a waste to use only an egg white. What do you do with the yolk? Make custard?

BYPRODUCTS (15D: Unlooked-for results) was another nice long answer. TAX RETURN (34A: Prepared statement) had a fun clue. There was a lot to like.

1A: Strongly disparage (BASH) I will give a B-. Why? BECAUSE

Very little to complain about. Thumbs up.

- Horace

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thursday, November 24, 2016, Brian J. MacDonald


Happy Thanksgiving, Dear Reader! If you are like me, this puzzle will have taken you less time than a Thursday grid usually does, leaving you plenty of time to both cook, and eat, a lot of turkey! But first, since you blew through this so quickly, let's take a minute or two to review it. That way, you'll be prepared when the table talk turns, as it inevitably will, to the New York Times crossword puzzle.

The theme revolves around pronouncing both letters of STATE POSTALCODES before a regular word to make a common expression. That sounds more cumbersome than it really is, so let's show an example. My favorite is 44A: *Air passenger request, maybe (ILLINOISSEAT). That's I-L-seat, or "aisle seat." Get it?

So there's the main course. What about the sides? Well, there are lots of good ones on this table. First of all, who knew Gregory Peck was in the OMEN? And I thought 33D: Victim of murder one (ABEL) was cute. RATFINKS (4D: Stoolies) and ALLSMILES (11D: Happy as a clam) are both strong, and I enjoyed the SASSY-ness of SMELLTEST (34D: Basic scrutiny), GOTOTOWN (40D: Really have at it), and ONPAPER (42D: In theory). Not to mention NOT (65A: "As if!") and BEEF (20A: Gripe).

1A: Male hedgehogs (BOARS) is somewhat interesting. I'll give it a B. My first confident answer was ROSSI (22A: Martini's partner). Overall, I enjoyed this Thursday puzzle. Now go enjoy some turkey, goose, tofurkey, duck, stuffing, or whatever you like most to eat!

- Horace

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Wednesday, November 23, 2016, David Steinberg


Kind of a funny theme today of adding "ster" to one word in a common two-word expression, as in DRAGSTERQUEEN (44A: Female street-racing champion?), and FLASHMOBSTER (52A: Ostentatious member of the Mafia?). That last one would be better as "Flashy mobster," but there's no such phrase as "Flashy mob." And that's the drawback here - the answers ought to be funny, but the wacky cluing just doesn't quite work.

Aside from the theme, though, we have two nice long verticals - PARATROOPER (11D: High military figure?) (again, the clue just seems a little off) and RECORDLABEL (24D: RCA, for one). FOSCLE (6D: Ship part spelled with two apostrophes) is short for "forecastle," and Wikipedia actually has it abbreviated with three apostrophes, thus: fo'c's'le. SQUEEZE (43D: Tight hug) is good, as are CHASESCENE (17A: Standard feature of an action film) and OPENSEASON (58A: Prime hunting time) (isn't it not prime, but legal hunting time?), but having such long Across answers adjacent to theme answers seems a little odd.

1A: Fast-food chain known for its root beer (AANDW) gets a C. It was also my first confident answer.

I guess I didn't love this one. There's a lot of ELOI, ABEL, NYE, OPEC, IBET, TAUAAH kind of stuff, as well as proper nouns like ESTES, ROCHE, STYNE, and EISNER. And can we count DOPEY (35D: One of a Disney septet) in there too? I really disliked 41A: ____ cent (PER), but I smiled at 53D: "Choosy ____ choose Jif" (ad slogan) (MOMS).

Not all bad, but not all good.

- Horace

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Tuesday, November 22, 2016, Andrew Zhou


What a tasty Tuesday puzzle! Today we're served up ham, lard, pork, and bacon, all from a single, wonderful, magical animal.

Wouldn't it have been kind of cool to feature all different food themes on Thanksgiving week? Well... I think it's a good idea. But maybe there just aren't that many food-themed puzzles... hmmm.

Anywho, 1A: Musical talent, informally (CHOPS) could be considered part of the theme, too, although it was not grayed out in the online version. Likewise 65A: Opposite of 57-Across (NONKOSHER), to Muslims (HALAL) seems, also, to belong to the theme. But not officially, it would appear.

The theme-encapsulating answers are pretty strong, I think. A[HAM]OMENT (18A: When you get it) (I had one on this clue!), POPU[LARD]EMAND (23A: Something might be brought back by this), and S[PORK] (37A: Versatile eating implement) are all solid. N[BACON]FERENCE (47A: Eastern or Western, for hoopsters) is a lot less exciting, but how else are you going to hide the bacon, as it were?

Speaking of less-than-exciting, I didn't love POPPA (59A: Momma's partner), the singular BORA or the plural NOELS, and there's a staleness to AMOSNANDY, HARPO, and CAPRA, but aside from that (and "that" isn't really all that bad), there's quite a bit of strong non-theme material. MAJESTIC, FIELDMICE, MARKSMEN, (they love to pluralize!), PINOCHLE, TRADEWAR,  MINNESOTA... all good. PINNUMBER (4D: What's punched into an A.T.M., redundantly) was amusingly clued.

1A: gets a B, and my first entry was SOTS (6A: Drunkards). Heh. Er, I mean, Hic!

Entertaining Tuesday with a fun theme. Thumbs up.

- Horace

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Monday, November 21, 2016, John Lieb


Five answers including even numbers running from zero to eight, and a revealer, AGAINSTALLODDS (60A: How an extreme underdog wins ... or this puzzle?), making, happily, six theme answers. Kind of cute, I guess. I like ZEROVISIBILITY (16A: Driving condition in a blizzard) the best of the bunch, and it seems to be involved in an unofficial "winter" sub-theme. We've got SNOWTIRE (4D: Michelin winter product), SKI (9D: Compete in the Nordic combined, say), and POINSETTIAS (10D: Traditional Christmas plants) all running through it. And today when we woke up and looked out the windows we saw, for the first time this year, a dusting of snow! Coincidence? You tell me.

Decent fill overall, with only a few bits of glue like ENV, ORL, and the slightly-esoteric-for-a-Monday OSSA (59D: Greece's Mount ____). I actually like NOGO (26D: Canceled, as a launch), PSYOP (12D: "Hearts and minds" military maneuver, briefly), and MWAH (24D: Air kiss sound), though I can imagine others thinking of them as glue, too. TURNSIGNALS (27D: Blinkers) was fancy (if, like the other long down, plural), but FLATSODA (42D: Pop with no fizz) seemed a little, well, like flat soda.

1A: Taste or touch (SENSE) was my first confident answer, and I'll give it a B-. It's fine. It could work as a verb or a noun, so that's something. This played about like a Monday does, but with more interesting fill. It AMUSED me.

- Horace

p.s. The uncommon 14x16 grid today also avoids odd numbers. Nice touch.

Sunday, November 20, 2016, Ed Sessa


Kind of a fun theme of people who have famously crossed things. I kept waiting for "Caesar" and "Rubicon," but it never came. Instead we have MAGELLAN crossing the PACIFIC, WASHINGTON crossing the DELAWARE, and LINDBERGH crossing the ATLANTIC, among others. I like to think, also, of a CLERIC crossing a SLIPNSLIDE, Ben VEREEN crossing his EYEs. OK, those are just ridiculous and I didn't really think of them until just now. Sorry. I guess I enjoyed it, but I tend to want a little more fun in my Sunday themes.

1A: Like good whiskey (SMOOTH) I give an A-. I put it right in, but I was not 100% sure of it. I think my first definite answer was PEPA (26A: Rap's Salt-N-____), a name I will always associate with Patrick Stewart, because I can still hear him announcing them as the musical guest on SNL. Just imagine it. It's awesome.

The fill included some things that I did not love, like XOUTS (63A: Deletions), LDRS (38D: C.E.O. and pres.), and IDED (75A: Picked as the one, say). I complained yesterday or the day before about assumed apostrophes, and now they've combined an abbreviation with an assumed apostrophe. Yuck.

I did like BEAUXGESTES, CHURN (13D: Milk shaker), PLACARD (27D: Protester's sign), and others. Let's call it a wash.

- Horace

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Saturday, November 19, 2016, Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen


Wow. This was great. A struggle the entire way, but so satisfying to finish! My final letter was the B of BOSN (52D: J. M. Barrie's Mr. Smee, e.g.) (which makes me think, Isn't it interesting that the NYT puts a space between the initials of a name, but not between the initials of the abbreviated "exempli gratia?"... but never mind that now).
Just like a good Saturday puzzle should, this grid gave up very little in the first ten minutes. I think I guessed at SRTA (20A: Miss, abroad: Abbr.) first, but I wasn't sure of it, because it almost seemed too easy. Then SLAW (30A: Dish made with mayo) went in, and then, finally, two confident answers: FRAT (34A: It seeks pledges annually) and MAHAL (42A: Hindi for "palace"). But nothing was really connected, and it would be a long time before things slowly, but surely, came together, sort of from the NE back west, and then down.

I like the framework of six (!) interlocking fifteens. I liked the meta-ness of THENEWYORKTIMES (11D: It sold for a penny at its 1851 launch), and gave an audible sigh when I finally understood NBAALLSTARGAMES (62A: Where East meets West?). Yikes!

Lots to love in this grid, and very little, if any, glue. I suppose my first answer (SRTA) could be considered glue, and IPO, PSST, and IBN (51A: Arabic patronymic part). Yes, definitely that last... but on the other hand, I like all the foreign content (NOBLESSE, DICTA, SANS, ESSEERGO, MAHAL, FRAU, etc.), so why should I complain about that one? 1A: RANARISK (1A: Skated on thin ice) gets an A-. All it's missing is humor. ANOMALIES (14A: Blips) is good. TRANSLATE (33D: Decode) is good. And appropriate. TINGE, SNARE, GUFF... Loved it.

- Horace

Friday, November 18, 2016

Friday, November 18, 2016, Peter Wentz

0:20:12 (F.W.O.E.)

My years-long drift away from politics and modern popular culture, while blissful in many ways, is my undoing in the world of competitive crossword solving. Not that daily solving is or should be competitive, mind you, but I think ahead to the A.C.P.T. and the trouble you get into by having a single error! Well, today it was JCOLE (42D: Rapper with #1 albums in 2011, 2013 and 2014) crossing JONI (42A: Senator Ernst) - neither of which have I ever heard of.

But as I said, daily crossword solving is not competitive. It is, by contrast, one of the simple, relaxing pleasures that I enjoy while not thinking about politics or modern popular culture. And this chunky grid from Mr. Wentz afforded me twenty minutes of happy diversion.

1A: Go over again, as one's writing? (BACKSPACE) is okay. I'll give it a B+. My first entry, though, was not until 24A: Trending (HOT). From that one, three-letter entry, I was able to posit KMARTS (13D: Some big boxes), which led to other educated guesses, OMSK (10A: Site of Dostoyevsky's exile) and OBAMA (17A: Noted 1983 graduate of Columbia), and I was off and running.

I thought the central slanting stack was quite strong, and laughed out loud at GINGERBREAD (30A: Material for a seasonal house) when it finally became clear to me. The spelling of CONDOLEEZZARICE (8D: One of Augusta National's first two female members) (Darla Moore is the other) was surprising, but the crosses worked it all out. I don't particularly like KOD (36A: Put down on canvas?), because it assumes an apostrophe. That's unusual, right? I'm not just making that up? I mean, assumed periods (NCIS) and assumed spaces (BYANOSE) are one thing, but apostrophes seem different to me somehow. But that's a small thing. Overall, this was a quality Friday.

- Horace

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Thursday, November 17, 2016, Timothy Polin and Joe Krozel

14:40 (F.W.O.E.)

Strange grid today, with a totally unchecked word. The theme is, I guess, pyramids, or ancient Egypt, and thematic fill includes PYRAMIDSCHEME (17A: Common scam), TOMBRAIDER (21D: Video game featuring an archaeologist heroine), PHARAOHANT (23D: Insect with multi-queen colonies), TUT (28A: King of the 18th dynasty), the afore-referred-to, unchecked MUMMY, and, possibly, LOOTERS, LAWBREAKERS, CAGEDUP, and ALIENS (45A: Builders of the pyramids). Just kidding about that last clue, but I've gotta believe they were thinking about that.

I don't know about you, but this one didn't wow me. I like the wide open feel of the horizontally symmetrical X, and I like some of the fill, like the pair of public utility clues: MEGAWATTS (5D: Power plant quantity), and WATERMAINS (7D: Hookups for hydrants), and the science crossing of BERYL (3D: Color akin to turquoise) and RAREGAS (14A: Krypton, for one). I also enjoyed the clues for SOCKETS (13D: Eyes, shoulders and knees have them) (gross), CARE (9D: Give a rip), and the tricky 21A: Nice ideas come from them (TETES). Ideas formed in the city of Nice, that is. Heh.

On the other hand, I don't really like "22A: Leave in a bad way" for STRAP. Are they talking about whipping someone with a strap? Yikes.

My error came at the ABBA (33A: Bishop's title in the Coptic Church) and OPERASERIA (4D: Work not of the buffa style) cross. I went with the French ABBe, and "Opera Serie" seemed like plausible French as well, but "buffa," I see, should have indicated Italian. Oh well... tough cross.

1A: Mitch who wrote the best seller "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" (ALBOM) gets a C-. Don't read, don't believe in Heaven. My first confident answer was PEEPER (11A: Tree frog with a distinctive call).

So meh from me. The unchecked word was rather bluntly clued, and I guess the puzzles hidden charms remained sealed off from me.

- Horace

p.s. I chose the photo of Harold Ramis that I thought looked most like Colum. :)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Wednesday, November 16, 2016, Jim Peredo


Yeah... when I got down to 65A: Cool, in the 1960s (GROOVY), I had no crosses and I put in "far out," which, of course, is wrong. Not wrong wrong, but puzzle wrong. The trouble was that I got everything else in that corner from the Across clues, and never went back. I suppose I could have said "Finished with Six Errors," but at that point, why bother?

So anyway, the theme is BATMAN (71A: 1960s TV icon whose name follows a pair of letters found, appropriately, 16 times in this puzzle's Across answers), and I like it a lot. The sixteen pairs are "NA," as in, "Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na BATMAN!" LOL. And as if that weren't enough, we have the bonus BANG, BAM, POW, and WHAM from the fight scenes. Very nice, Mr. Peredo, very nice.

With all that theme material, you'd think things would get a little crossword-y, and there are certainly a few oddities - NITA, ANEG, ADES - but nothing terribly offensive. And on the other hand, we've got attractive bonus fill like TANKINI (5D: Modest two-piece bathing suit), ADONIS (8D: Dreamboat), BALLADEER (10D: Singer of love songs), ANYONE (48D: Question repeatedly posed by Ferris Bueller's teacher) (Ha!), and TABLAS (49D: Indian drums similar to bongos). If a girl I adored in high school hadn't played the tabla, I might have been stumped at the cross with NAE (67A: When doubled, a 2010s dance) (Huh?).

The long theme answers are lively today, too. It's quite a diverse group, from BANGALORE to WHAMMYBAR. And SNORT (54D: Embarrassing laugh accompanier) makes it in for the second day in a row, though I preferred yesterday's alcohol-related clue.

1A: Like a virgin (CHASTE) gets an A-. My first confident entry was NAM (7A: "Apocalypse Now" setting, familiarly). Overall, an entertaining Wednesday.

- Horace

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Tuesday, November 15, 2016, David J. Kahn


Holy Cow! It's a Cubs tribute puzzle! It's just 13 days after the Cubs won the World Series, and just three days since Mr. Kahn's last NYT Crossword byline (!), but none of that matters, because, well, it's the Cubs.

This one almost enters the realm of a "stunt puzzle," with so many entries being tied to the theme in any way possible. There are the three fifteens, including WORLDSERIESRING (39A: 2016 award for each Cub), but there's also bonus material like EVERS (16A: Tinker to ____ to Chance (Cubs double play combo)), GOAT (17A: Curse of the Billy ____, Cubs "jinx" that ended in 2016), MOPUP (60A: Finish pitching in a lopsided game), and even RAMPS (49D: Stadium walkways).

And speaking of stadium RAMPS, it was on one of those in Wrigley Field, during a 1984 Pennant drive game vs. the Mets, that Frannie and I, with our "standing room only" tickets, sat and talked. We had gone to the game with other people, as it were, but we connected during a pregame walk through the stands to the IVYCOVEREDWALLS, then sitting on that ramp, then talking all the way home in the back seat of the rented van. The connection was ELECTRIC, and the rest, as they say, is history.

But enough about me, let's get back to the puzzle. It starts and ends Cubs, from 1A: "My Kind of ____ (Chicago Is)" (TOWN) (B) (First confident answer) to SOSA (69A: Cubs slugger with 609 home runs). Sure, we have TIGE (1D: Buster Brown's canine sidekick), CCLIV (30A: The year 254), the very odd-looking, but fine, I guess GOUP (56D: Ascend), and the regrettable STUBBLES (5D: Targets of close shaves?), but hey, whatever. GO CUBS!

- Horace

Monday, November 14, 2016

Monday, November 14, 2016, Zhouqin Burnikel


Animal expressions make up the theme material today. Pretty neat that Ms. Burnikel found four that would work symmetrically, and two of them are fifteens! It's kind of fancy to have two fifteens on a Monday, isn't it?

It's odd, though, that a puzzle focussing on animals would contain a reference to a product that has been deemed to be "Cheap, cruel, and indiscriminate" to animals by the Humane Society of the United States. I know that the puzzle editor probably does not want to take a stand one way or the other, but by casually cluing DCON with "16A: Rodenticide brand with glue traps," the idea is treated as normal. I would have liked "Maker of controversial glue traps" better, but if you want to skirt the whole thing, just say "Rodenticide brand" and leave it at that.

Moving on. I thought DCUNIVERSE (11D: Where Batman and Superman live) was a nice answer, and opposite that, the full PEARLSBUCK (30D: "The Good Earth" author) is also fine. The clue for ENTER (34D: Another name for the return key on a Mac) seems a little odd. I'm writing this on a PC, and my "return key" says "Enter." Was this puzzle originally constructed in the 1980s? Do any keyboards still say "return?"

My first answer was CAMP (1A: Group of tents in the woods), which I will give a B+. I like the clue. Interesting trivia about PUTIN (37A: Foreign president with a black belt in judo).

Overall, except for that one large problem about the glue traps, it was fine.

- Horace

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sunday, November 13, 2016, Joel Fagliano


Clothing puns. HAH! Nice one, Mr. Fagliano. It's something that seems so improbable, yet when you read all the theme answers you think, why haven't I heard these before? They're so perfect! Well, except maybe for 74A: The plumber wore a ... TUBETOPANDCLOGS. Can you just imagine? I know I'm supposed to think gender-neutral and all, and sure, maybe a female plumber would wear this combination, but the mind travels first, unfortunately, to the stereotypical plumber type, and there's already enough cleavage on view with that image, if you'll pardon me for saying so.

Still, if we're imagining these outfits, the TURTLENECKBOAANDCROCS (62A: The reptile expert wore a ...) would be, perhaps, even more disturbing to see. Hahhahahhaaha... The most plausible, and the funniest, perhaps, is saved for last - 103A: The happily unemployed person wore ... SLACKSANDLOAFERS. "APT!"

So great theme. What else? Well, 1A: Upbeat (CHIPPER) gets a B+. It's both a fun word, and it's the name of one of my brother's dogs. And that's not all - there's lots more to like in this. 1D: One looking to serve mankind?, for example - CANNIBAL. Ha! The word SPRITZED (13D: Applied, as cologne) is a lovely word, and MIASMAS (38D: Noxious emanations) is too, albeit unpleasant in reality. 81A: Two for a buck" (ANTLERS) is cute. TAPENADE (74D: Dip made with olives, capers and anchovies) is delicious. Like I said, lots to like.

LETATCESTMOI (15D: Famed claim from Louis XIV) went right in, but the other French entries - CANARDS (64D: Baseless rumors), SABOTS (35A: Wooden-soled shoes), and PISTES (82D: Downhill ski runs) (tried "slopes") took a few crosses.

There's very little to complain about. Thumbs up!

- Horace

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Saturday, November 12, 2106, David J. Kahn


A surprise Saturday rebus today! Well, is it really a rebus puzzle if it only has one rebus square, or is it something else? Either way, it's just the one center square, which I stared at for at least a full minute before the solution hit me. Thinking so much about politics lately, I started by wondering if it could be "second amendment," but then "New York [amen] New York" didn't sound like any song I knew. How much more familiar, on the other hand, is "NEWYORK,NEWYORK," and SECOND[COMMA]NDMENT, too, works better for "15D: Precept about idol worship."

Aside from that 15x13 cross in the center, there are four more 15s tying the whole puzzle together. And on top of that, the corners are pretty wide-open. Now, I've never made a crossword, but it seems to me that this kind of a construction would be quite difficult to fill in cleanly, and sure enough, there's quite few less-than-ideal entries. Take, for example, ISO, EXE, ENE, AFR, OSH, HET, ORC, ROOS, and RIDA. And moving into the longer stuff, we have ESSIE, ASRED, PLANA, REGNALEDENIC, and ASLOPE. Kind of a lot.

But on the brighter side, we have the disturbing pair of OPENFIRE (2D: Start to fight) and TEARGAS (Lachrymatory agent), and the always welcome SEXSCENE (15A: Part of a blue book?). Nice clue there. I actually considered trying "exam page" in there. Heh. And speaking of good clues, I really liked "25A: Overnight letter?" for INN. A letter of rooms, that is. And how 'bout "60A: Acting willfully?" TESTATE! Good stuff.

The crossing fifteens are fine, but nothing to write home about. Overall, I guess I come out in favor of this one, but it's not my favorite.

- Horace

Friday, November 11, 2016

Friday, November 11, 2016, Damon Gulczynski


Lots to like in this puzzle. WELLSHUTMYMOUTH (3D: "Huh, how about that!"), THATSABIGIF (36A: Skeptical rejoinder), and SOSUEME (43D: "I messed up ... what of it?!") are all SASSY entries! BASH (42A: Criticize in no uncertain terms) is brash, NOSEJOB (1D: Hook remover, perhaps) was unexpected, and PARKED (35A: Staying put) is well-clued. Everywhere you look, you can find something to like. Even that '80s crossing of MCRIB (26D: Fast-food debut of 1981 (which I dropped in without crosses) and NEWCOKE (29A: Noted bomb in a longtime war) (which took much longer) was entertaining.

For all this fun, long fill ripping through the grid we find some crossword dust has fallen into the crevices. ARA (5D: Only three-letter constellation other than Leo), which most of us probably came to know through crosswords, SPFOSH, OTHOSRS, and BTUS, but I think today it's a price well paid.

For me, things really slowed down in the middle South. I had erroneously entered JUSTDEssert, not realizing, I guess, that JUSTDESERTS (25D: Comeuppance) uses an old definition of "desert" meaning "that which is deserved, or merited, especially punishment." I really wanted TRICK (63A: Bridge unit), though, once I had thought of it, and so I removed "dessert" and put that in to see what I could see from there, and then, finally!, BOOMMICS (38D: Extended interview components) became clear. Wow, that's a tough one! SCLERA (46D: White of the eye) is not common, and REGIS (59A: Denver's ____ University) is not something I knew. Bill Murray apparently attended the school, but did not graduate. Anyway, AEGIS (52D: Backing), too, was tricky, but eventually it all came together.

1A: Amphibian once associated with bad spirits (NEWT) gets a B+. I tried both "frog" and "toad" before getting it right, but in my defense, I think many amphibians have been tarred with the ol' "bad spirits" brush at one time or another, haven't they? As for my first confident answer, hmmm.... I'm pretty sure I put in HOAX (16A: Crop circles, e.g.) off the clue, but I was more sure of the next one, SILO (17A: Part of many a rural skyline).

Overall, I rate this an excellent Friday puzzle. As Colum so nicely put it on Wednesday, each crossword is an oasis, a break from other cares, and when they're this good, it's extra nice because you get to savor them for a bit longer. Keep 'em coming, Shortz!

- Horace

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Thursday, November 10, 2016, Jonathan M. Kaye and Jeff Chen

0:24:32 (F.W.T.E.)

I caught on to the J = "hook" theme at the intersection of DMAJOR (11D: Key of Pachelbel's Canon) and RINGINGOFFTHE[HOOK] (18A: Getting tons of calls), and the rest of the theme answers went quickly after that. I didn't notice until reviewing the puzzle, though, that all the black squares form Js - or hooks. Cute.

There's lots to like in this puzzle. First of all, there's a great new clue for my favorite bit of crosswordese - EEL - 21A: Fish whose name is a calculator number turned upside down. I don't actually know that it's really new, but it's new to me.

I spent a lot of time in the SW and SE today. ABJECT (47D: The absolute worst) and SALVOS (48D: 21-gun salutes, e.g.) are both excellent, but they took me a very long time to see. And on the other side, XYZ (62D: History's ____ Affair) was totally unknown to me, and I'm very sorry that I didn't see TRIX (61A: Colorful corn balls). I was flailing, not sure whether 58D: Little Caesar in "Little Caesar" was RoCO or RICO, and not sure at all about the aforementioned XYZ. Oh well.

I like the theme, and I like the extra touch of making so many Js out of the black squares. Let's give the whole thing a thumbs up.

- Horace

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Wednesday, November 9, 2016, John Lieb

0:06:29 (F.W.O.E.)

I might as well write this review right now, since I can't look at the TV. And speaking of that, UTAH (1A: Zion National Park's state), which was my first confident answer, gets an F, because it is a red state. Oops, did ISLIP a little politics into the review? Sorry, not sorry.

Moving on.

The theme today is both sports-related and punny, so you've got a good chance of annoying quite a few solvers. I guess my favorite is BRINGTHEHEAT (25A: "Coach, get 'em to today's game" [N.B.A.]).

I like the non-theme material better today. ARTCRITIC (3D: Gallery-frequenting writer) and POWERSUIT (33D: Tailored wear imparting confidence) (Power pantsuit?) are two nice long verticals, and is DONTSTOP (10D: 1992 Clinton campaign song) also political?

My error in the puzzle came at PLOPS (38A: Falls into a La-Z-Boy, say), where I put in fLOPS and never looked back. But my real error was trusting the electorate.

I admit it, I SCARE easily, and sitting here in front of my muted TV is not good for my heart. If EVIL triumphs tonight there will not be enough UGGS in the world to describe how I feel. And even if Clinton does pull this out, the feeling will be far from JOYOUS. How can nearly half of this country support this year's republican candidate? Well, at least it looks like my home state will vote to legalize marijuana... but honestly, I might have to go straight to the HEROIN.

Good luck, America.

Horace out.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016, Michael J. Doran


A lot of theme today! What is that, seventy squares?! And I love the pinwheel shape. Obviously, with this much thematic material, one expects to find glue like OME (37A: Kipling's "Follow Me ____"), TECS (59D: Private eyes, in slang), IVE (36A: "____ had enough!"), and the unfortunate IKEAS (19A: Places to buy furniture to assemble), but it's not all that bad. Well... as I look around a little more I see ROILY (39D: Turbulent) and EELER (50D: Conger catcher) too... and IAMBI. Yikes!

But let's focus on the good stuff, shall we? I like the many different "houses" represented. "Tree house" is probably my favorite, but TREEANIMAL (11D: *Sloth, for one) is the weakest theme entry. Oh well. Incidentally, the "toll houses" have just been removed from many exits on the Massachusetts Turnpike! So that's nice. We still have to pay tolls, we just don't have to wait in lines anymore to do it. And "White House?" ... let's not talk about that right now.

In non-theme, I like POTLUCK (4D: Dinner at which everyone does the dishes?) (Cute.), GAIETY (53A: High spirits), BEEFY (32D: Like many bar bouncers), and CORDS (7D: Ribbed pants, informally).

1A: First instrument heard in the Beatles' "She's Leaving Home" (HARP) gets a B+. It should have been my first entry, I suppose, but I didn't want to take the time to think too much about it, so WATTS (9A: Bulb units) ended up being my first confident answer.

Overall, I guess I'll give this a thumbs up. It's got some pretty fierce crosswordese, but it's also got a dense theme, and more than a few nice non-theme answers.

- Horace

Monday, November 7, 2016

Monday, November 7, 2016, Bruce Haight


ISEE what you did there, Mr. Haight! Five, two-word answers where the words start with I and C. I think I like the first one the best - INNERCHILD (18A: What might make an adult jump in a pile of leaves), but I appreciate the dig at "big ink" in the clue for INKCARTRIDGE (23A: Home office item that's surprisingly expensive to replace). Heh. And even though the clue for IVORYCOAST says that the name is usually rendered in French, I still tried putting in "Côte d'Ivoire" and even wondered for a while why it didn't fit. Derp.

Aside from the theme, we find nice fill like EMOJI (1D: Symbol like "prayer hands" or "heart eyes") (nice and current), AVIARY (5D: Monkey house : monkeys :: ____ : birds), and ECHOES (10D: Repeats word for word). FIERCE (45D: Ferocious) and FARCE (51D: Many a Monty Python skit) are near rhymes, and ELITE and ELISE stand out as being quite similar in the SE. Not that there's anything wrong with that. FESTAL (47D: Celebratory), on the other hand, is, shall we say, "less than common."

My first entry was ETTA (1A: Jazzy James) (graded a C for being crosswordese, but no lower because, well, Etta James), and I had a few missteps by guessing "epic" for SAGA (34A: Lengthy narrative), and ARTshow for ARTFAIR (44A: Painting exhibition), but those were eventually corrected by crosses. Other than that, the puzzle went right along, as Mondays often do, without much to be troubled by.

Mr. Haight has been known, at least to some, for making "stunt" puzzles, and some reviewers (ahem) have not always been terribly fond of those, but this is a solid Monday, and I'm giving it an enthusiastic thumbs up.

- Horace

p.s. Hi Bruce!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Sunday, November 6, 2016, Joe DiPietro


This theme grew on me. The first one I got was SNOWSURPRISE (40A: A foot on the ground in Phoenix?), quickly followed by STUFFOUTTHERE (23A: "Do your taxidermy on the patio instead!"?), and I thought, Meh. But by the time I got down to SIOUXYOUKNOW (92A: Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and that's probably it?) I laughed out loud. That's a funny clue/answer pair! Reviewing all the theme answers now, I guess they're all pretty common phrases. The weakest has got to be SIPTOBESQUARE (113A: Slogan for wine geeks?). I just don't think anyone actually says that, and the clue is even more tortured than the usual wacky-type clue. On the other hand, my second favorite is SOURLITTLESECRET (17D: Mystery ingredient in SweeTarts?). People do say "It's our little secret," and the clue/answer pair is funny!

I guess the whole theme would be a little tighter if Mr. DiPietro had been able to keep answers like SPEDAWAY (12D: Left in a hurry), SCREWS (45D: Pressure, so to speak), and STENT (74A: Surgical tube) out of the grid, but not having any other words start with S seems like it would have been nearly impossible.

My first answer today was NADIR (1A: Point of greatest despair). I thought of it immediately, and figured I'd take a chance. I'll give it a B+ for being kind of a fancy word. But even with that quick start, this one ended up playing a bit long for me, mostly because of the opposite corner, the SE. I had entered "Xfactor" with the same bravado, but this time it didn't hold up. ROQUE (102D: Game with mallets played on a hard-surfaced court) was not known to me, and 78D: Drops to the ground? (LITTERS) was tricky.

Overall, I enjoyed this one after all. EIGHTIRON (52D: Rough choice?) ("sand wedge" also fits) was fun, as was DOUP (3D: Prettify). I'm sure eyes will be rolled at REFIX, REVALUE, and SCARER, but these are small necessary evils. I'm giving it a thumbs up!

- Horace

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Saturday, November 5, 2016, David Phillips


Beautifully thick corners today smash into each other in the center. There, the horizontals are broken up, but two nice vertical pins - FLATRATEBOX (7D: U.S.P.S. option advertised with the slogan "If it fits, it ships" and STREETSMART (21D: Not going by the book?) hold it together nicely. Not the most exciting entries, maybe, but certainly acceptable.

But let's get back to those corners. With the possible exceptions of TIRO (25A: Cicero's longtime servant and scribe), ANTA (37A: Nonprofit Broadway production grp.) (maybe more well-known by those in NYC), and TYNE (8D: Northumberland river), the fill was all good, and sometimes great. Take, for example STARDATE (31D: Enterprise standard). That's an excellent clue for a fun answer. And in that same SW we get SCABBARD (28D: Blade holder), ULTERIOR (30D: Intentionally hidden), and the ever-popular trivia, MONROVIA (29D: Only African capital named after a U.S. president). That's a quality stack!

1A: Take stock? (SHOPLIFT) gets an A-. The deduction is for the question mark. It's Saturday! Why must they cheapen these great clues?! Another such was 52A: Conservationist's field? (PRESERVE). Boy was that a tough one! I so wanted "preservation," but the making of preserves is also a method of conservation... well, ok. Maybe that question mark is more justified, but I still think on Saturday we could live without it.

ICECAP (19A: Martian feature) was tricky, MARINERS (50A: Other than the Nationals, only current Major League Baseball team never to have played in a World Series) was interesting trivia, and COHERER (36D: Device used to detect radio waves) could have been any old word. The only way it was getting entered by me was by getting all the crosses, which, fortunately, I could do.

A quality grid, and an enthusiastic thumbs up.

- Horace

Friday, November 4, 2016

Friday, November 4, 2016, David Steinberg


One of the youngest puzzle constructors working today gives us a juvenile-ish mini-theme of MARIJUANA-based clues to start this Friday puzzle. First we have 1A: Pot remnant (SHARD) (B), then 6A: Pot part (ANTE), then 10A: Anagram of "pots" (STOP), then simply 15A: Pot (MARIJUANA). Three misleading clues and one that hits the nail right on the head. Or is that just my own juvenile mind skewing what were three perfectly innocent clues? But 1A could have been "ashes," 6A could have been "leaf," and 10A could have been "opts," "tops," or "post." Not that that last one has much to do with the plant.

Other amusingly misleading clues today include 41A: Cutting edge producer (STROP), 31D: Top part of a trunk, for short (PEC) (nice one!), and 19A: Professional boxer? (MOVER). 26D: Caesar dressing? (TOGAS) is ok, too.

I like many of the long Down answers. ABOVEWATER (3D: Solvent), STOWAWAY (36D: Nautical nuisance) (lots of Ws down in that area!), SNOWCRAB (37D: Bright orange seafood delicacy), and SUNDRESS (10D: Informal summer wear) in particular.

The central 15 of HOTSTONEMASSAGE (35A: Spa treatment favored by rock fans?) didn't do much for me, nor did EILAT or JAPED. But EGOBOOSTER, CHEAPDATE, SLOWDANCE, ASKANYONE, and WOWJUSTWOW are all solid. That's a lot of good and not too much bad. Thumbs up!

- Horace

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Thursday, November 3, 2016, Mel Rosen


OK, I finished, but I don't know why we have the AG rebus. Four theme entries, each containing a pair of AG rebuses. And all the downs that run through the rebuses, of course. Is it something having to do with silver? Is it the anniversary of statehood for Nevada? Is it about the Attorney General? ...  Let's move on.

1A today is a gross one. I was not familiar with the name "CALFS-foot jelly," but it makes perfect sense that it should be aspic. I had aspic once, many years ago. It was fine. I'll give the answer a B for interestingness. My first (very confident) answer was HELL (10A: Where to go "for the company," per Mark Twain). Frannie and I use that old quote frequently. (The corollary is "Heaven for atmosphere.")

Some nice fill in STEER[AG]E (5D: Inexpensive way to go) (this word will always make me think of Arthur Stieglitz, just as "6A: Draft" meaning SWIG will always make me think of Keats - "O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been / Cool'd a long age in the deep-delvèd earth"), HASHT[AG] (10D: Part of a tweet), and FLORISTS (37D: Glad handlers?) (gladiola, I presume), and some TIRED fill in IONE, AVEO, CANA, ATVS, and TAUS. I actually kind of enjoyed OJAI (36A: City whose name sounds like a surprised greeting),

but I'm not sure what to make of the strange pair of SALTII (6D: Carter/Brezhnev pact) and JAMESII (49A: English king deposed in the Glorious Revolution). BTW, I'm so nul in English history that I needed both crosses to get the number. For those of you as uninformed as me, there were two King Jameses in England. James I and James II. In Scotland, however, there were six of them, but don't get too sure of yourself, because the last Scottish King James became James I of England. Egad…

And speaking of "egad," I did not love ENTRAIN (sorry, Dad), EDERLE, LEGGO, or ABYSM (66A: "In the dark backward and ____ of time?": Shak.) (huh?).

So overall, I don't understand the raison d'être of the theme, and there's a lot I don't particularly love in the fill… so I guess that - even though I love a rebus - I will not give this one a thumbs up.

- Horace

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Wednesday, November 2, 2016, Andrew Kingsley


Another African capital learned today, N'Djamena, CHAD, but it was not my first entry - that was JAM (9A: Printer problem). I give 1A a B for geographic reasons. Off of CHAD, however, we get one fine answer, CROWN (1D: Feature of the Budweiser logo), and three slightly obscure answers, HATHA (2D: Kind of yoga), ARBYS (3D: "We have the meats" chain), and DESICA (4D: "Two Women" director). Why do we get these? Because the first part of the theme starts with "whyi:" WHYISARAVENLIKE AWRITINGDESK?

I read Alice in Wonderland and loved it, but I did not remember this riddle, which is apparently quite famous. Googling it brings up a lot, including this puzzle's given answer, BECAUSEPOEWROTE ONBOTHOFTHEM, which was (without the final "of them") the creation of Sam Loyd, a man once called "America's greatest puzzler" by Scientific American. He is also credited with this alternate answer: "Because the notes for which they are noted are not noted for being musical notes." Not bad, but harder, perhaps, to squeeze into a 15x15 grid.

So there's the theme. Quote answers are often opaque, and not our favorites, but the inclusion of the "Mad Hatter riddle" detail might have been enough for some solvers. Not for me.

The fill strains in several areas, with NOGS, AOK, SWEE, and SURER. The cross of TEENER (49A: Typical user of a transistor radio) (really??) and ERAGON (27D: First novel in Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle) was my last square, and I wouldn't be surprised if others finished there, too. TEENER?! Sure, I put a transistor under my pillow so I could listen to the ballgames back in the '70s, but has any other teenager used a transistor radio in the past decade? Would any know how to operate one?...

Still, I liked the riddle and its answer, and I enjoyed MILKDUD (I'm still working through that Halloween candy!), TEACOZY (Could, perhaps, have been tied to the theme), DEMEAN (tried "DEMote"), and a few other bits. On balance, thumbs up.

- Horace

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Tuesday, November 1, 2016, Ruth Bloomfield Margolin


An odd, rhyming theme today, with a pentad of absurd "possessive country" combinations. TOGOSLOGOS (15A: Commercial symbols in Lomé), which is interesting for exposing many of us to the capital city of Togo, and YEMENSLEMONS (19A: Basis of a refreshing Mideast beverage?), which may or may not be interesting because of the existence of a fruit called the Yemenite citron, which contains no juice vesicles in its segments. Sooo.... not that refreshing a beverage. FRANCESDANCES (36A: Gavotte, minuet and cancan?) is probably my favorite of the answers, both for its reference to France and its alternate reading of "Frances dances," ("Actress McDormand does a slow waltz?").

Another odd feature of this grid is that below the top and above the bottom theme answers, we have a non-theme answer of the exact same length. ALLOSAURUS (18A: Reptile at the top of the Jurassic food chain) is a nice answer. When I was little, I would pit the allosaurus figurine against a t-rex, and when I read this clue I wondered how allosaurus had been declared the top of the food chain, but in reality, the two animals were not on earth at the same time. Ol' T-Rexy wouldn't show up for nearly 100 million years after the last allosaurus keeled over. Still, had they been able to fight, I think the T-Rex would have won.

So anyway... Looking around the grid, I see such colorful answers as SNEEZY, CRIMESPREES, MOUSY, and INNERBEAUTY. And I like the multiple-word entries like ISAYSO, INHERE, TINEAR, and TOPHAT. Those are always slightly more difficult for me to see. I also see bits of glue, like ANIL, AMBI, THOS, and ACA, but overall, I give this odd duck a thumbs up.

INCH (1A: Tailor's unit) I give a C+. I tried "yard" at first, and its incorrectness made EBOLA (5A: African virus) my first correct entry.

Before I go, I'd like to thank Colum for a very entertaining month of puzzle reviews. To me, it really felt like he was firing on all cylinders most of the time. Here's hoping I can step up my game to continue that kind of quality. And maybe, just maybe, we'll get Frannie back in December.

Rabbit, Rabbit, readers. Happy November!

- Horace