Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tuesday, February 28, 2017, Jacob Stulberg


It's the last day of February, which has brought home to me two things; to wit, that it's not a very long month, so the blogging went by quickly, and also that I have a hard time typing February. Just about every time it came out Feburary. I will henceforth call the month that, especially every time I go to the liberry.

So, heads up, am I right, menfolk? Our theme is STANDUPGUYS, with three synonyms for a male personage hidden backwards (or upwards, really) in other phrases. In all three cases, the hidden word is split across words, so thumbs up there. I'm not in love with any of the three phrases though. NETNEGATIVE ("gent") is a thing, certainly. RADICALLEFT ("fella", my favorite) is fine. And ILEDUDIABLE ("dude") is a rarely heard thing. Anyway, they're all fine, just not really Tuesday level, I guess.

1A: ____ jacket (bit of casualwear) (JEAN) gets a D+ for starting the puzzle with a partial. Although my daughter is sporting a fine example of said casualwear even as we speak. 2D: Start of many a doctor's visit (EXAM) is just plain wrong. I don't know of any doctor who starts out a visit by examining a patient. You always need to set the tone with conversation and relieving a little tension before you go setting hands on a person. So thumbs down for that.

On the other hand, I'm always in favor of HOBBES, one of the best comic strip characters of all time. Weird to have BOB and NAN, palindromic names. Otherwise I don't have much to say here.

Tomorrow, either Horace or Frances will take over, I'm sure. Enjoy March, the best month of the year! Am I right, Horace?

- Colum

Monday, February 27, 2017

Monday, February 27, 2016, Zhouqin Burnikel


Two word phrases where the inverted phrase (with one homophonically replaced word) makes a new phrase? CANDO! ("dew can"?!) B+ for the 1A colloquialism.

There are four such pairs presented today: STARESDOWN and DOWNSTAIRS, which is very nice; PEACETIME and TIMEPIECE, not quite as good, just because that first word feels not used much (not a comment politically, mind you); PAPERPLANE and PLAINPAPER, pretty good; and REDSEA and SEERED, which was a nice bonus.

I was working through the puzzle pretty quickly when I noticed the repetition of the word "time" in the middle. I thought: "that's an odd duplication..." I didn't realize the theme until I reached the SW corner from the NW. It would have made things much quicker overall if I'd figured it out earlier. As it was, the SE corner zipped by when I put in the theme answer.

Now, SEENOTE, which I like a lot (reminds me of "Adelaide's Lament" from Guys and Dolls), that is a duplication with SEERED. These things don't bother me so much, but it's slightly less elegant to have it there. I also suppose DOLAPS and SWIM are not cross referenced because it's a Monday puzzle.

The NE and SW corners suffer the most for the closeness of those theme answers. Despite that, there's little to complain about. EXP is SAD ("...nobody knows crosswords as much as I do; lame"), but otherwise pretty good. I laughed at 69A: Ones in suits? (ACES), both for the cute little clue, but also because my college friends used to joke about that word showing up in crossword puzzles. Guess that says something about the type of people I hang out with...

Nice Monday.

- Colum

Sunday, February 26, 2017, Josh Knapp


Oh, when a Sunday theme hits on (over) half of its answers, it feels like a missed opportunity. I loved some of the answers today, but others were just meh at best.

It's an anagram bonanza! Standard phrases have one word anagrammed, and the resulting phrase gets clued appropriately. As we love to say around here, wackiness ensues. When the anagrammed word is particularly long, the results are definitely more interesting. Nobody's interested in TALESOFOWE (anagramming "woe"), are they? And HAVENOFARE (anagramming "fear") is just blah.

Better though is 25A: Assault involving a hatchet? (TINYAXEATTACK - for "anxiety"). Runner up is 82A: "The king really wants to be around people right now"? (MYSIRELOVESCOMPANY - for "misery"). And the winner today? Running away with it, 44A: "Stop insisting Ra doesn't exist!"? (CURBYOURSUNATHEISM - for "enthusiasm"). This had to be the seed entry, didn't it? I just love imagining the conversation where that phrase came up.

Oh, wait! I just realized that the anagrammed words are all feelings: thus the title. That's fun! It makes the less exciting entries a little better. Not great, but better.

1A: Word before "Ooh, didn't mean to make you cry" in Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" (MAMA) has to be the longest clue for that word ever dreamed up, and nets it a full increase of one grade from C+ to B+. Because who doesn't love "Bohemian Rhapsody?" Nobody, that's who. I dare you to find one person. ONE!!!!!


Sorry. Anyway, in other news, some nice long answers like SAKEBOMB and the unexpected ALEATORY (there's a fair amount of aleatoric music from the 1950s through 1990s in modern classical music). I liked the clue for DAHLIA and even more for MOMJEANS.

I don't love SHERIF (strange spelling - I wanted SHaRIF). I'm also not convinced by 100A (ANIMALS) - some SHED, others don't.

Over all, I enjoyed it.

- Colum

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Saturday, February 25, 2017, Mark Diehl


So much to like here! I broke in with 5D: Cross-outs and others (EDITS), and then when I put in TOYCAR, I was able to get TOMRIPLEY, which really opened up the NW. 1A: Reject someone, in a way (SWIPELEFT) gets an A+. Great clue, contemporary answer, made me laugh. Hit the trifecta. I also love ARMADILLO.

With the NW filled in quickly, I was able to hit the NE fairly well, because EXCALIBUR was a gimme with the X and the clue. ABORIGINAL is excellent as well. 14D: Keeps the beat? (PATROLS) didn't fool me for a second, but it took a while to figure out 24A: Without having a second to lose? (SOLO). Pretty clever stuff!

I had newyorkBAY for a while at 40A: Giovanni da Verrazano discovery of 1524 (CAPECODBAY). I daresay the Wampanoag tribe would cavil at the thought that Verrazano "discovered" the water they'd been fishing in for centuries. Perhaps they should have clued it: Verrazano was the first European here in 1524. In any case, I went for New York, thinking of the Verrazano Narrows, across which is the bridge connecting Staten Island with Brooklyn.

34D: "Ya got me?" (CAPISCE) is excellent. Somehow the clue sounds like it's in a Brooklyn accent. The MINIATURE dollhouse furniture reminds me of the character Lester Freamon in The Wire. I'd like to point out that I got 29A from Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire" ("Dien BIEN Phu falls, Rock Around The Clock...").

For some unclear reason I tried Brisket at 36D: Entree often served with a moist towelette (BBQRIBS). Sure, you can get brisket at a BBQ joint, but it's a lot cleaner usually than those ribs. In any case, FAQS helped clear that up.

I love 55A: 60s sorts (DSTUDENTS). I did not see that coming, and the DST at the start had me scratching my head for a while. I finished in the SE corner, where ALMADEN was unknown to me. Things I did not like included DEWED, which seems like a possible but never actually used word, and and maybe BLU, but we get so much French and Spanish, it seems reasonable to do Italian once in a while. Otherwise, I liked it all.

- Colum

Friday, February 24, 2017

Friday, February 24, 2017, Andrew Zhou


So, I get back to upstate New York from Houston, where I've been for a conference. Lovely weather down there, upper seventies, no humidity, sunny. Simply gorgeous. Only when I arrive in Albany, the temperature here is 73. February, people! Upstate New York and it feels like Summer.

Anyway, today's puzzle, to take a break from more global concerns, has a pretty impressive setup of 15-letter answers in rows 3, 5, 11, and 13. Rows 7 and 9 have 10-letter answers. All of this to say that that's quite a challenge.

Of the 15s, the best by far is 21A: Their tops can produce "power output" (QWERTYKEYBOARDS) - get it? You can spell the words "power output" using only the top row on a standard keyboard. Very nice work there. I'm sure we've seen BRITISHINVASION before. I'm not sure how I missed the clue on my first pass. I likely skipped the long clue in the interests of filling in easier stuff, but that was a gimme and would have shaved minutes off my time, I'm sure.

44A: Workout area? (EXERCISESCIENCE) is reasonably good, and 52A: Usually anonymous newspaper worker (EDITORIALWRITER) is solid without being exciting. I was definitely impressed by having OLDMASTERS and ORANGEZEST in there as well.

These are crossed in the SW by DRIVETIME and MASERATIS, two things that likely don't really go together in actual life (idling in rush hour traffic in your hot sports car seems like a waste of time) and in the NE by DESIARNEZ (nice full name) and MAINROUTE.

I broke into the puzzle with SEINE (Henry Miller, France, 1930s). 1A: Take a while to wear off (LAST) took a while to enter. I give it a C for a remarkably dull entry to a fairly lively grid. KITER I'd heard of barely, but the definition (a person who writes a check knowing there are insufficient funds to cover the amount) is fun. I don't like plural RENES or the peculiar ENROOT, but otherwise an enjoyable puzzle.

- Colum

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Thursday, February 23, 2017, Jeff Chen


How much work must this theme have taken? After I finished the whole puzzle and finally figured out what was going on, I realized the challenges Mr. Chen faced in his construction:

1. Find pairs of phrases which share the same second word, and where one of the phrases' first word is one of "ten", "twenty", "thirty", or "forty".
2. Place the other phrase's first word in the appropriate slot in the grid which has the matching clue number from the first phrase.
3. Each one of those clues has to be a unique clue: that is, it can't be at a place where both the across and down clue share the same number.

All four actual theme answers are strong, as are the hidden theme answers. I love the [PET]ROCK turning into THIRTYROCK.

So there's a ton of work to begin with, but also note that two of the misplaced words cross theme answers, while a third is directly parallel to another. That puts a fair amount of constraint on the grid.

And the end result of that is you get areas like the SW corner, where ITZA, OWEN Wister (he wrote The Virginian, so he's definitely crossword worthy, but unknown to me) cross ZELDA and IOWA. That's a lot of proper nouns in a small area. Other corners fare better: the NE has SFPD (with a great clue) as well as classic crosswordese ERSE and NTH. In all, I count 19 answers that are proper nouns. That seems like a lot.

Still, there's room for IDLEHANDS and AIRSTRIKE, both solid answers. 1A: Joan nicknamed "The Godmother of Punk" (JETT) gets a strong B for the excellence of the personage invoked. I also was pleased with the pair of "What might get the ball rolling" clues (INCLINE and PUTT). Oh, and I was totally gotten by 27D: Capital of Sweden (KRONA) for the millionth time. Because it was a Thursday puzzle, I was convinced for a period of time that there had to be a rebus to account for fitting Stockholm into 5 spaces.

I definitely enjoyed this one.

- Colum

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Wednesday, February 22, 2017, Kyle Dolan


Okay, this is excellent. Instead of your typical word ladders where the rungs are scattered through the grid, we get the word ladders as clues for standard phrases of the form ____to____. All four phrases are well-established ones. SLIMTONONE (and Slim just left town) is my favorite. You could quibble that the theme would be stronger if the word ladders were all equal length, but that doesn't float my boat.

Other than starting with an obscure person's name (to me, anyway - GINA Carano has also been in a number of well-known movies, including Deadpool this past year; still, C+ from me), I thought the fill was pretty good. I liked 20A: "... shall not ____ from the earth": Gettysburg Address (PERISH), especially in its entirety - "that government of the people, by the people, for the people..." Good words for these days. Do you think RENEGE right next to BREXIT is also a political statement?

I enjoyed 39A: Impulse transmission point (SYNAPSE) for obvious reasons. ANTISEPTIC was a nice long down answer. The pair of tennis clues was odd but interesting (MATCH and SETS).

Not too much in the way of clever cluing here. Both BON and BUS were clued with question marks, but neither were particularly tricky. This was a solid effort.

- Colum

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tuesday, February 21, 2017, Timothy Polin


Ah, APTESTS... in Spring
Many young persons study;
OSCINE songs taunt them.

It's a week of dense theme so far. Today, eight phrases with the initials AP cross each other in the corners, along with the revealer. That's a total of 76 squares of theme!

LACY leaf in Fall,
Its green color RUSTS away...
Caught on ARTPAPER.

I'm not convinced by TUNAOIL. And I like SEAEELS for the ludicrous letter combo, but otherwise, I feel like most eels are in fact in the sea.

CELLO music slips
past the KOI frozen deep down...
Winter grasps us all.

Cheers for AMYPOEHLER, American as APPLEPIE. I enjoyed having both LEIA and Obi Wan KENOBI in the grid.

Summer evening:
REST is deserved after all
that GORP on the hike.

AGAVES gets a C- for starting the puzzle with a plural. And I'm out.

- Colum

Monday, February 20, 2017

Monday, February 20, 2017, Ed Stein and Paula Gamache

3:39 (FWOE)

Eight presidents later...

On Presidents' Day, it's fun to have a little odd trivia about these men who were elected to our country's highest office. I knew the trivia about HARRISON, BUCHANAN, OBAMA, and TAFT, and guessed quickly about ROOSEVELT. CLEVELAND I got off the C at the start of his name, and FORD I filled in by crosses without even seeing the trivia.

TYLER had 15 children?!

Anyway, all of those presidents make for some tight spaces (can you imagine our heaviest president trying to fit into the tiny SW corner?). There are two long answers, MACADAMIA, which is lovely, and OZONEHOLE, which is fine, but an unpleasant thing to think about.
This is a pleasant thing to think about.
I thought the puzzle got off to a fine start, with Bobby DARIN and 1A: Sunrise (DAWN) - gets a B-. But I'm afraid there was a ton of ugly fill elsewhere. I'm looking at you, SMEW. My error came here, but it was just a typo, so I didn't notice it until I was done, but then I had to stare this Eurasian duck right in its beady little eye.


Yes, AENEID and ARAGON liven the fill, as does ERRATA. But overall, I feel like we had to suffer a bunch for all of our presidents. But never so much as we do for our current one.

And scene.

- Colum

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sunday, February 19, 2017, Bruce Haight


I finished with two errors today, both in the extreme SE corner. My first error came with 98D: Mother of Artemis (LETO), where I put LETa. I was definitely thinking of Leda, mother of Castor and Pollux, as well as Helen and Clytemnestra (all at the same time?!), who was impregnated by Zeus in the shape of a swan. (That's some definite dangerops prangent sex there...). Anyway, wrong person, for sure.

My other error came with 92A: Number of French kings names Charles (DIX). So, yeah. There's no clear indicator that we're supposed to be choosing a French number here, so I went with sIX. Seemed reasonable. Only sUDED made no sense.

Other than those little issues, the rest went smoothly enough, but definitely took longer than typical for a Sunday. The theme is clever enough: I guessed what it would be from the title. Phrases have an "uh" sound replaced with an "oh" sound. Wackiness ensues. I think my favorite was STONEDSILENCE, which seems completely appropriate for watching a Cheech and Chong movie. My least favorite is 75A: Two sights in a yacht's galley? (BREADANDBOATER). Major stretch here. It violates the humor clause of the rules that govern this type of theme.

1A: Bloblike "Star Wars" character (JABBA) gets a B+ for the great adjective in the clue. I get another point off for trying to make the plural of "dorsum" DORSi. I corrected it to DORSA before the end of the puzzle, so no final error there.

I'm amused by two answers in the grid: AWHECK, which my mind wants to see as "a wheck", a term that seems like it would have fit in Jabberwocky well. The other is APTESTS, which I want to see as more than one person who is the most appropriate for a given circumstance, as in: "He's the aptest person for the job, but so is she!"

I'm not a fan of ARTILY, meaning pretentiously artistic. I think it should be artsily. Isn't being arty just being interested in art? Perhaps not.

I give the puzzle a point off for having DWAYNE and DWADE in the puzzle. I know that Mr. Wade's first name is Dwyane, but that feels like a duplication to me regardless.

I liked 56D: Circular things that arrive in square boxes (PIZZAS), because who doesn't like pizza? And I also enjoyed TOTHEMAX and 40D: Changing room? (COCOON).

- Colum

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Saturday, February 18, 2017, Steve Overton


I am reminded of the old joke:

A gentleman arrives at Logan Airport in Boston, having planned his vacation in New England for months. He gets in a taxi to go to his hotel, and asks the cabbie, "Hey, can you tell me a good place to go get SCROD?" The cabbie lifts an eyebrow, and replies, "Mister, I've heard that question a number of times, but you're the first person to ask it in the pluperfect subjunctive!"
(http://tenser.typepad.com/tenser_said_the_tensor/2006/01/scrod.html is my source for this version.)

I would have finished this much faster, except I had entered the peculiar choice of OVERTurE at 12D: Suggestion (OVERTONE). That, combined with the incredible smashup of consonants at the crossing of FREEDVD and TVGUIDE made getting GIJANE near impossible, especially as I did not recognize Jordan as a woman's name.

I broke in with RATEDX, having seen "rated G" in Wednesday's puzzle. But I got nowhere with that (although in retrospect, WAX is pretty obvious). I restarted in the SW corner with ENERO having rejected "The Tramp" for 34D: Lady's counterpart (NOBLEMAN).

Cute to have DREAMON crossing NOCANDO. The whole middle section slanted to the negative, with the DTS, DREAD, and DONOT, not to mention 38D: "You'd better brace yourself for this ..." (BADNEWS).

I've never heard of SANGAREE before. The word apparently comes from Spanish "sangre", meaning blood, which is the same root word for sangria, but the two drinks are definitely not the same. Anyway, I'm not into spiced wine, so I doubt I'll be trying it any time soon.

1A: Was almost, with "on" (BORDERED) gets a C-. I hate these clues that have "with" some word. Love DERRINGDO. Very much loved 7D: Beam's path? (EARTOEAR). And DEWYEYED is an outstanding edge of the puzzle word. Thumbs up here. Debut puzzle yet again! Impressive stuff.

- Colum

Friday, February 17, 2017

Friday, February 17, 2017, David Steinberg


Color me impressed. Four triple stacks of 10-letter answers, one in each corner, and eleven of the twelve answers are strong, as far as I'm concerned. Very nice.

Before I go any further, I'm going to give a shout out to my lovely wife, Hope, who came up with SHAPELY and helped open up the SE corner. Cece offered the first word of NEONYELLOW as well, so this was a family affair.

I broke in right off the bat with REBA and AMO, both confidently entered. I remembered ELAINECHAO, although it took some crosses to get her last name right. 1A: Its ribs stick out (RACKOFLAMB) gets an A-. Beautiful answer, fun clue. 17A: Where to stick a stick (BUTTERDISH) is also quite good. I actually finished the puzzle in the connection between this corner and the SW. 5D: "110%" effort (ONESALL) took some parsing to understand, but now I love it.

I'm not convinced by TRON, although I appreciate that the clue avoids the over-referenced movies. Apparently a magnetron is what generates the microwaves in the eponymous kitchen appliance. It's just that the clue seemed a little CREAKY. Nonetheless, I love INDIANFOOD, especially right next to the STICKYRICE from Thailand. They're even geographically appopriately placed. And 14D: Dives (HONKYTONKS) has a great surprising clue.

CHAINEMAIL is my one less liked long answer. But TEXTALERTS and STEELYGAZE are wonderful. I'm also very fond of 51A: Colosseum crowd? (TRE) because, see, three's a crowd, am I right? 57D: Part of a gig (MEG) was likewise tricky, referencing gigabytes and megabytes.

Finally, I'll just say I found nothing INBADTASTE in this puzzle. And remember that HADES watches over SHADES.

- Colum

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thursday, February 16, 2017, Keith Redwine


What do you get when you cross Wednesday with Thursday? An odd duck puzzle with a rebus theme, of course! Although I was surprised not to see the "series" of celebrity crossword constructors announced yesterday continue today, I very much enjoyed this meta-puzzle.

The grid breaks the rules of crosswording because of its ASYMMETRY, announced at 35A (which I would have missed actually). There are extra black squares at the end of 6D, 13D, 52D, and 54D. But their symmetrical counterparts are rebuses of the word "black", thus making up the matching black squares! Very clever, in my opinion

I got the rebus idea very early on, at 1A with [BLACK]BOARD, which is ungraded due to its theme status. My first confident answer was actually 4D: "Modern Family" network (ABC). My favorite rebus crossing is INTHE[BLACK] and THE[BLACK]KEYS, both for the oddity of having the rebus in the middle of the down answer and because its a great use of a contemporary band name (yeah, they started in 2001, but multiple Grammys in the 2010s, right?).

I love TERMINATOR and AESTHETICS, and the oddly clued 18A: Grunts (PRIVATES) - only odd in that it seems like that word could be clued in a much bluer sense, and then the actual clue starts to look a little blue as well. Or at least to my eyes, suddenly.

I'll overlook bits like SES and AUS and LEV for a theme this clever.

- Colum

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Wednesday, February 15, 2017, Jesse Eisenberg and Patrick Blindauer


Hard to believe, but it's been 75 short years since the New York Times first ran a crossword puzzle. It doesn't look a day over 60, if you ask me. There is a nice recognition section on the front page of the NYT website, along with some 11 standout crosswords from over the years to try one's hand at, if you haven't already gotten the bug.

Clearly that's not going to be the case with the majority of our readers, I assume. So what do we get? A "series" of puzzles starting with today's, constructed by a standard constructor collaborating with a celebrity who enjoys solving the NYT grid. We all know Mr. Jesse Eisenberg from his recent appearance in an NYT puzzle, which does confer a certain sort of celebrity, but...

What's that?

Oh. I guess he's famous from his roles as a "Hollywood actor", if you catch my drift.

And the theme he and Mr. Blindauer have come up with is rawther silly. They've built a snowman using food items that share words with body parts. I'm not exactly sure how you could make CHERRYPITS work, but I'm enjoying the image of a HEADOFLETTUCE sitting atop an otherwise standard snowman.

I thought the NW was very promising, with 1D: Decidedly non-PC types? (MACS) and 2D: Comeback in a cave (ECHO). 1A: Doc on a battlefield (MEDIC) gets a C+. I was all set to give the creators props as well for the representation of women, but it turns out that only four of nine proper names in the grid are female (SARA Bareilles, TONI Morrison, Valerie JARRETT, and Paula ZAHN).

There's very little in the way of sparkle in the end, though, in the fill. I was not fooled by 41D: Cowboys, but not Indians (NFLTEAM). I enjoyed RATEDG and 9D: Single, say (BASEHIT) took a while to figure out.

Overall, a reasonable Wednesday.

- Colum

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Tuesday, February 14, 2017, Daniel Larsen


Happy Valentine's day! Unless you're a ROUE, RAPT when he SEES a PLUS-size model, we're flat out of luck for representation of this once religious, now aggressively secular holiday.

Instead, we get a humorous take on ELMERFUDD's speech disability, with standard phrases reinterpreted with wacky clues based on how he would say them. Thus, a treehouse becomes 17A: Small, cute, residence? (TWEEHOUSE). Clearly the best of the theme answers is 51A: What wakes everyone up in the morning at the duck pond? (QUACKOFDAWN). I am reminded of the crazy duck from the movie Babe.

The NE and SW corners are nice and chunky, with four nice 6-letter answers in a stack. Otherwise, because of the six theme answers, there are really no major down answers of interest. Perhaps my favorite answer in the whole puzzle comes at 50A: "Stop joshin' me!" (AWGOON), which as I looked over the grid just now, seemed like a cry to your bodyguard: "Aw, goon!"


So, anyway.

1A: Helps (AIDS) gets a D because it looks like the epidemic of the 1980s.

But, really, the big news is that this puzzle is young Mr. Larsen's debut in the NYT, at age 13! Congratulations! We look for big things from you in years to come.

- Colum

Monday, February 13, 2017

Monday, February 13, 2017, Brent Sverdloff and Michael Blake

3:20 (FWTE)

Everybody loves a vowel progression puzzle! Here, we have H_LL working through each vowel. I'd say they hit on three of the five: HALLOFFAME, HILLSTREETBLUES, and HULLABALOO are all well known and acceptable phrases. HELLOHOWAREYOU is fine; it just seems a bit strung together to fit in the grid. I mean, would we accept "hey, dude, how's it hanging" as a phrase? Maybe I'm being nitpicky.

On the other hand, HOLLYWOODACTOR is just too blah. I wanted it to be "Hollywood star", but that didn't fit. I feel sure this could have worked just a bit more tightly with a little jiggering.

The grid has two long down answers that span three theme answers. ALLFEMALE is accurate, but doesn't feel organic. RULEOFLAW is very good.

Otherwise, the fill is reasonably good. I liked that both current ASTRO and retro OILER make it in. SIR, OFART, and the most peculiar partial I've seen in a while, ACAB, are not great. 1A: Name of five Norwegian kings (OLAV) gets a C-, because I had to guess whether it was going to be a V or an F at the end. In fact, Google likes the F better.

My errors were stupid. At 10D: Reduced, with "back" (SCALED), I put in diALED (off of ___LED). It works, but even as I completed the corner and saw dHAH at the top, I thought something's wrong there. Glancing at the clue for 10A, I misread the nationality of the leader in question as Indian, and thought, well, maybe dHAH works? I didn't check 16A, which was obviously COSA. Check your crosses! I need to start being more careful, especially if I want to go to the ACPT this year!

- Colum

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sunday, February 12, 2017, Lynn Lempel


The snow is coming down something fierce up here in the Northeast. It's nice to be inside, looking at all of it accumulating. Tomorrow, however, will be another story...

Today's puzzle takes standard two syllable words and reinterprets them as if they were two separate words, with one exception, but it's one that I didn't mind. Then the new phrases are clued appropriately with predictably wacky results.

I think my favorite is 36D: What a cash-strapped beau might take you on? (UNFUNDEDMANDATES). I like the idea of a man date. Appropriate for man lovers of all genders, I think, no? Also, the idea of telling addressing the author of The Masque of the Red Death, POETRYREADING is amusing.

What do people think about BRAINWAVES? It's the one answer that doesn't use a two-syllable word to start with, but the reinterpretation is brilliant ("Result of a serious wardrobe malfunction at the beach?"). I'm all for it. The phrase, I mean, not the actual occurrence. Unless it was done voluntarily, of course. Then I'm all for that too.

I did not like FATALATTRACTION. Poor Al Roker. Did he deserve that? Even if we're agreeing that he was winsome in his pre-surgical state? And did he actually undergo gastric bypass surgery? Apparently he did. I'm going to cry a foul on this one.
Kiddie lit? Aren't they just children's books?

Otherwise, the puzzle is pretty smooth. I like 73A: It may deliver a punch (LADLE) - no question mark needed. The two split names, cross-referenced, of IRA / GLASS and GENE / AUTRY are put in the correct order. I particularly like that Mr. Autry was clued using Frosty the Snowman. Did you know he also wrote Here Comes Santa Claus and the first to record Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?

There is a strange military aspect to the eastern portion of the puzzle, where a RAWRECRUIT crosses a TROOPSHIP, which itself crosses the chill-inducing GOOSESTEP.

1A: Topic for Dr. Ruth (LIBIDO) gets a B+.

- Colum

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Saturday, February 11, 2017, Frederick J. Healy




WAHOOS! (That last was multiple people speaking, apparently.)

Today's puzzle is peppy! A real pick-me-up! Running with a VTEN engine, it takes ONELAP around the circuit, snatching catches in MIDAIR, playing LASERTAG at the speed of light!

Whew, I'm exhausted. Let's take a moment and just STAYHERE. After all, if not now, WHENTHEN? I'm not terribly sure about that last answer. I feel like most people would say "then when?" There were more than a couple of answer like that. 28A: Cardinal topper (REDHAT) - oh, wait. They're not talking about the baseball team, who really wear red caps. They're talking about Catholic church cardinals. So yeah, I guess that one works, but it's definitely ad hoc.

GETSATAN I don't love (plus I keep on wanting to parse it as "get Satan!"), and SEINED is just such a piece of crosswordese. I loved HAVEACOW and BADKARMA. 21D: Part of many a submarine (SALAMI) got me again.

The 3-letter answers in this puzzle beg to be analyzed, so here we go. There are ten total, of which one is a standard English word (SKY). DOH is a modern term we've all accepted because of the popularity of The Simpsons. KEN is a dialect term from Scottish and Northern English. LAO is a foreign language name. I've put these in order of decreasing acceptability in my book.

The remainder are not standalone terms. TPS is the closest (The clue - 61D: Covers with some rolls - makes it better). RTE and SSR are accepted crosswordese abbreviations. 45A: ___ comparison (ASA) is rough. The clue is bland and the partial uninteresting. Better would have been "Crest-fallen ___ dried pear"- Shakespeare. Don't you think?

30A: Wharf workers' grp. (ILA) is just meh. The worst is 51A: The end of Caesar? (EAN). The clue makes it a little better, but still.

By the way, I give 1A a B+.

- Colum

Friday, February 10, 2017

Friday, February 10, 2017, Kyle Mahowald


There's some really good stuff in this Friday themeless, and it was definitely tough as well, so I was pleased with it. I don't love the somewhat fractured nature of the grid: I'm used to more swathes of white squares on a weekend, but it flowed well enough.

I actually hit on 1A: Epiglottis, for one (FLAP), which I give a B, evening out the clever clue with the sort of nasty thought of an epiglottis in general. We all have one, just like Dan Ayckroyd said about your uvula on SNL ("It'll behoove ya to care for your uvula..."). Getting 1A didn't make things go much faster because of the way the corner is sectioned off. I liked the pair of "plugs" clues: odd that only MALEs are likely to use TOUPEES.

JESSEEISENBERG is fun to see in the grid, with all those vowels in a row, not to mention that it's his full name. I don't love him as an actor, but he was good in The Social Network. 15D: "You said it!" (ILLDRINKTOTHAT) makes me think of the "The Ladies Who Lunch" from Company by Stephen Sondheim. ("And one for Mahler!" You don't get to hear that sort of thing too much these days).

It took forever to see MINECRAFT because I had bEAT at 58A: Coup (FEAT). I was thinking of the definition of "blow or strike", so that B left me with _INECRAB_. Wine Crabs? Could it be some peculiar app, mixing alcohol and STDs? Seemed unlikely.
This was never me
11D: Waiter outside a seafood restaurant, maybe (ALLEYCAT) made me laugh. It works so hard to get there! DATASCIENTIST though was an unknown to me. I had DATA_C_EN____ for quite some time, and since BOITO was known to me only vaguely, I needed that S to figure it out.

My only real quibble is ACMES, which I've touched on before. Too many superlatives - for example: Tom Brady and Joe Montana are the greatests of all times. I don't buy it.


- Colum

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Thursday, February 9, 2017, Ross Trudeau

8:00 (FWOE)

Everybody who knows me, knows how much of an Anglophile I am. Gilbert & Sullivan, Monty Python, The Beatles. I mean, who wouldn't be? I'm even reading an immense 3-volume biography of Winston Churchill called "The Last Lion" (it's wonderfully written, by the way - if you like that sort of thing, I highly recommend it). I was inspired to do so after watching The Crown. You get the point.

So I love the concept here: Right down the middle of the puzzle, 15D: "Pond" - it's the ATLANTICOCEAN, dividing British English from American English. And we get four pairs of examples of how these two dialects differ, each neatly keeping to its own side of the "Pond". I've always loved KNACKERED: it's definitely the best example here.

But here's the issue: shouldn't the British English be on the eastern half of the puzzle and the American English be on the Western half? They're each on the wrong side of the ocean! It seems like a kind of fatal flaw to the whole undertaking. And I can't really think why it's set up this way. So that's a downer (kind of like all the theme answers! Get it?).
We are all Patriots
It's a fair amount of theme material (67 squares!), which probably dictated the choppy nature of the grid. The solve was therefore quite choppy as well, especially as the pairs of theme answers were cross-referenced, meaning you had to solve one by the crosses to figure out what the word was (although with some knowledge of the language differences, the other half of the pair became easily entered). And then the NE and SW corners are very isolated.

I liked the scattered bonus theme answers, including BREXIT, BOAR, NOBEL (clue is on my biography subject), MATHS, DECO, and even ESE (71: Oxford-to-London dir.). I suppose ETRAIN, EAST (from the East Village), and RUDEST are conversely thematic as well.

My mistake came with BOBO. I thought BOzO was a better answer. zOAR turned out not to be some archaic type of meat. Who knew?

1A: Bit of resistance (OHM) gets a B- for making the best of a bad 3-letter start. I also liked 33A: It has a top and a bottom with nothing in between (BIKINI). Hah!

- Colum

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Wednesday, February 8, 2017, Ned White


What do you know, it's Wednesday and we get an odd duck of a puzzle! Five "common" phrases where the letters TER are omitted from the end, and the resulting phrase is clued wackily.

So... I'm going to give nods of acknowledgement to the original phrases "Gimme shelter" and "straight shooter". These are well established. I guess "portrait painter" is fine, although it's somewhat ad hoc, as is "train spotter". The last I know better from "trainspotting", but I suppose to do that activity, you become the phrase in question.

I'd never heard of a "prairie oyster", but it Googles well. Let me just say for the record that I have no interest in trying one. Raw egg, worcestershire sauce, tomato juice, vinegar, hot sauce, salt and pepper. I'd be fine with that scrambled and cooked with butter and maybe a finely diced shallot, but not as a drink.

But I absolutely love the result of the puzzle's manipulation. 16A: Great Plains plaints? (PRAIRIEOYS) brings up the image of Lubavitchers on a covered wagon trekking to the west coast, kvetching all the way. Excellent. The other four are not nearly so interesting. PORTRAITPAIN's clue is directly related to the original phrase. TRAINSPOT is kind of boring. The reveal is good though. LETTERDROP, or "Let 'ter' drop!" Until I saw that the clue told you to split it into three words, I was trying to figure out which letter was dropped.
OSAKA never looked so real
Not too much to comment on in the fill. I had ABYSs for ABYSM. The latter is more familiar from "abysmal", but is clearly acceptable. I liked CHIMERA and the clue for META. I wanted LattE for LECHE, but the clue's "café" is clearly more Spanish than Italian (caffè). I also wanted AGORAe for AGORAS.

1A: Bottom topper? (TALC) gets a B+ for the funny clue.

- Colum

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Tuesday, February 7, 2017, Finn Vigeland

4:29 (FWOE)

Today we get four (somewhat) different definitions of "Queen/Queens". Somewhat, I say, because in all four cases, the word derives from the feminine royal title. I don't really count that against the theme though. I do like that there are two "Queen's" and two "Queens'". It is also odd that there are five answers and four clues, but that's okay.

All four answers are standalone strong. RUPAULSDRAGRACE must have been the seed for this. I have never personally watched the show, but it's been going for 8 seasons, so it's clearly successful.

There's nothing terrible or really amazing about the rest of the grid, in my opinion. I liked BRUNOMARS, but ARROWHEAD is kind of meh. YALU is a bit of Chinese geography trivia: it's nearly 500 miles long, so somewhat longer than the Susquehanna but not as long as the Wabash. I don't know if that makes it crossword-worthy or not. The clue was semi-interesting.

My error came at LOCI, where I put fOCI (29D: Central points). I'd say my answer is more correct, but there's no singer nicknamed JfO, so there you go. 1A: Bear whose bed was too hard for Goldilocks (PAPA) gets a B for the effort. It's certainly better than referencing the Smurfs.

- Colum

Monday, February 6, 2017

Monday, February 6, 2017, Andy Hinz


I'm still floating on cloud nine after last night's game. I mean, come on. That was the most amazing thing I've EVER seen in sports. And that includes the Red Sox coming back from down 3 games to none in 2004.

So, yeah. Crossword puzzles. Monday. Got it.

Cute theme today: HIDDENCAMERA is the revealer for three examples of phrases with brand names of cameras in them. In all three cases, the camera brands are well known, and each name is split across more than one word of the phrase. ICANONLYHOPE and PRISONYARD are both reasonable answers. I don't love SPUTNIKONE. I guess I never thought of there being so many (there are three officially called Sputnik, with a multitude of others that the West called Sputnik as well). So it's acceptable.

If there's a downside though, it's all those brandnames. We here at Horace and Frances (featuring me) don't love to see so much commercialism in the puzzle. But I can look past that. Especially when there's the unexpected minitheme in the down answers: ESCAPEROUTE and NEARESTEXIT. That was fun. Also BASMATI RICE is tasty.

On the other hand, there's EPICS, ERIKS, and ERINS. I hate pluralized proper nouns. And nobody likes CHOLERA, even if it's clued using Gabriel García Márquez. Plus MTWTF, which just looks like it's asking us "what the f...?"
Here are some ERIKS for you!
1A: Submissive (MEEK) gets a C+.

On the whole I liked it, despite some blemishes. Further, I see this is a debut puzzle for Mr. Hinz, so welcome and good job!

- Colum

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Sunday, February 5, 2017, Sam Trabucco


Well, it's Super Bowl Sunday. I'd best get this review written before the game, because afterwards I'll either be too hyped up or too disappointed to give it the attention it deserves. But before I get on to the review, I'd just like to say that I am well aware how lucky I am to be a Patriots fan over the last 17 years. Win or lose, it's been a lot of fun.

So, the puzzle. Today's theme selects six women who in their respective careers were the ones to BREAKTHEGLASSCEILING. Of course, it feels a little sad to come across this theme a couple of months after the election, where it seemed like we were poised to break the toughest one of all, but let's acknowledge these women anyway.

I love the literal interpretation of the theme: here, all six names are in down answers (or is it upwards?), and their first letters actually split six examples of "glasses". But even better, in breaking that "glass" ceiling, they force the original word into a new one. Lovely! Thus, 6A: Material commonly used during cathedral construction, refers to "stained" glass, but with the shattering by Sally RIDE, we get STRAINED instead. This seems metaphorically apt, n'est-ce-pas? We have to reinterpret things when our expectations are destroyed.

The six women nominated here represent quite different fields: Sally RIDE and Marie CURIE in science, Madeline ALBRIGHT and Margaret THATCHER in politics, Sandra Day OCONNOR in law, and Kathryn BIGELOW in entertainment. I'd say that's a nice spread of representation.

My only complaint in the puzzle is the oddly isolated pair of sections in the direct N and S of the grid. Especially the north one, with NIETO and EFRON crossing EASTON. Too many proper names. There are a few smatterings of crossword glue such as PCT, ONEL (I hate that one), and weirdly pluralized ACMES (can there really be more than one utmost?).

But I really enjoyed 30A: It helps you achieve balance (INNEREAR). For a long time, I had the INNER___ and was sure that we needed "zen" or "peace" or some such. But no, it's the actual mechanism that allows us to balance. Very nice!

And, as a last note? DIDIWIN? Yes, ILOSE.

- Colum

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Saturday, February 4, 2017, Patrick Berry


I don't think I've started a month off with such a run of fine puzzles in my whole time blogging here at Horace & Frances (and me). It's always a delight to see Mr. Berry's name at the top of a grid. And today's doesn't disappoint, although the setup of the puzzle does separate it into three fairly isolated sections.

I broke in with DOMINUS - ah, Latin. Helps out from time to time. Especially for those of us who don't regularly (or frankly ever) attend church services. After I put OLE in, I hit a few snags. First of all, I was convinced that Count Count from Sesame Street might wear a bOlOtiE. I could even see it in my mind's eye. In fact, he wears a Central European type sash under his blazer and cloak. Hmph.

And then, I saw 14D: Post box's contents and tried usmaiL. Yeah. That was wrong. It's a lovely hidden capital, and CEREAL was the answer. So I started anew elsewhere. In fact, all the way in the SE corner.

39A: Tops of the Mounties (STETSONS) is a beautiful clue. No question mark needed. Have I made it clear prior to now how I think clues are improved by not using question marks? The bottom stack is brilliant. 45A: They're known as "Viennese bread" in Scandinavia (DANISHPASTRIES) raises the question of why nobody wants to claim credit for these delicacies? ELECTIONEERED reminds me of the outstanding Radiohead song. I don't personally enjoy STRAINEDPEAS, but it's a great answer.

After I got the bottom section, everything moved much more smoothly through the middle and up to the top. 29D: More south of the border? (MAS) is a well-parsed clue. I don't love the two car brands (XTERRA and LESABRE) but I was able to get both of them with little difficulty.

14A: Something work-related (COMPANIONPIECE) was a real challenge. I think the clue means something related to a work of art. I really wanted COMPANy to start the answer off. MOMMIEDEAREST is very good, but 1A: You'll see things in them you can't handle (DISPLAYCASES) gets a B for the cluing only, as the actual answer is a little dull.

Hardly anything to complain about (SEP is not really an abbreviation for September in my book), as is to be expected. Maybe Super Bowl Sunday's puzzle will delight as well?

- Colum

Friday, February 3, 2017

Friday, February 3, 2017, Paolo Pasco


Mmmmm... there's nothing like a really good themeless puzzle. Smooth and pleasantly warm, like the rye I'm drinking right now. Almost TOASTY, really!

I've come to expect lovely grids from this young composer, Mr. Pasco. And I have very little complain about in this one either. I broke in at 3D with UNHITCH, which let me to the really weird looking THEEU. It looks like something a teenager would say on viewing a zit in the mirror.

The NW stack is okay. I really like 1A: Call from a bar, maybe (DRUNKDIAL), which I give an A to. RENERUSSO has been seen a number of times before, although it took me some time to remember her as Odin's wife. And then YAHOOMAIL, which is a meh answer, but fine. I did not expect DRYERS at 1D, thinking instead about gymnastics for some time.

There were a number of connected and semi-connected answers in this puzzle. PEDALS and the less expected IVORY at 16A: Key ingredient? I was thinking key lime pie. Mmmmmm... there's something else that sounds good right now.

Also, I love 33A: Sci-fi shocker (DEATHRAY) and 59A: Real shocker (TASER). That's brilliant cluing, especially the twist hidden in the second clue. EVA and ISABEL are less inspiring.

FACEPALM is excellent. The SE stack is better than the NW one. I'm all in favor of BIKELANES. We don't have enough here in Albany. INAMOMENT is fairly neutral, but 65A: Crying for attention? (PITYPARTY) is very nice indeed. Trivia moment: who knew that Marcel Marceau's character was named BIP? Certainly not me.

There are a few less exciting moments, such as UTAHAN, BIS, and NEO, but overall I give it a thumbs up, especially for the shoutout to Parks and Recreation, PAWNEE, 76th best town in America to own a horse in.

- Colum

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Thursday, February 2, 2017, Alex Eaton-Salners


It's Groundhog Day, and Punxsawtwney Phil saw his shadow today, so enjoy more winter, everybody.

To celebrate, let's recognize Mr. Eaton-Salners who today publishes his debut puzzle in the NYT. And it's a doozy! The theme answers give directions to start answering subsequent across answers either INREVERSE or the more standard LEFTTORIGHT. A total of 12 of the across answers are to be entered backwards, or about a third overall.

I entered the puzzle confidently with PINKEYE (although I had to take it out later on until I was actually convinced I'd been right in the first place). I saw the clue for 20A: How a book in Hebrew is read [watch out now!] (BACKTOFRONT), so I had an idea something was going to be up, and when I entered "rEnEe" at 32A: Zellweger of "Chicago" (EENER) and then saw TSAR, I figured out that answers would be backwards.

I love how some of these answers look in the grid: DEOMED, ERITNE, MEDNAT.


It's a great theme, tightly done, and I enjoyed figuring it out. The fill is reasonable. 1A: Echoing sound in a hallway, maybe (STEP) gets a B for the clue's interest. Nobody wants to see MUCOUS (ick!), but I liked RECORDDEAL and the oddly singular INGREDIENT.

Of course I'm very fond of 45D: James Parkinson or Alois Alzheimer (EPONYM) as representatives of individuals who give their names to illnesses. Who doesn't thrill to Osgood-Schlatter disease, or Osler-Weber-Rendu? We had to give up Hallervorden-Spatz disease seeing as how these doctors experimented on Jewish prisoners during the Holocaust.

But nobody wants to end on a note like that. So let's watch some SDAOT hopping.

- Colum

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Wednesday, February 1, 2017, Matthew Sewell and Jeff Chen


Well, I'm up, so I figured I'd get a headstart on February, it being such a long month and all. So many days! So many reviews! What's a blogger to do?

I guess, start by doing the crossword puzzle. Which remains one of the best stress relievers, even if just for a few minutes.

And this is an outstanding puzzle to start the month. It is entirely befitting the strange class of puzzles that fall on Wednesdays for the NYT. Just like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. Although, TBH, most boxes of chocolates tell you exactly what you're going to get.

The NW corner was not altogether promising, though. 1A: Exoskeleton, e.g. (ARMOR) gets a B- for the interest of the cluing. ROTH (my first confident answer) and SOAMI are less exciting. But then I hit RIPOSTE, and we were off like a well-timed zinger!

HAROLDANDKUMAR got me to thinking about diversity in the NYT xword. See, Harold is Asian (played by John Cho, later of Sulu fame) and Kumar is subcontinental Asian (played by Kal Penn). Was this puzzle meant to be a balm for fevered liberal minds? Let's see... LAMA, also Asian (one-L)... PAPA, blue-skinned... USNAVY, latino character from Lin-Manuel Miranda's first hit musical, In The Heights... Yes! Let's go with it!

But actually, what we're dealing with is the extremely clever interpretation of Mark Anthony's speech from Julius Caesar: "Friends, Romans, countrymen... LENDMEYOUREARS." See, each long answer is an example of those three groups. The Romans are represented by the PRAETORIANGUARD, while countrymen (at least for us US citizens) are represented by the FOUNDINGFATHERS.

And we still have room for WENTYARD and STPETER. I also enjoyed 28D: Page in a Hollywood film (ELLEN) for the hidden capital.

- Colum