Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Wednesday, May 31, 2017, Jacob Stulberg


Each puzzle this week has played hard for its respective day. I hope it continues through the turn! Of course, that won't be my responsibility, as either Horace or Frannie will take up the reviewing reins tomorrow.

I can't say why this took as long as it did. I had a hard start, but once I got into the NE corner and got SIAM, THINE, and HEIGL, I figured out 9D: What might tempt the answers to the six starred clues? (IIIIIIIIIIIIIIJ). I just really really really wanted to type that out. And how silly it looks as an across answer. I was busy filling in Is when I hit the bottom and said to myself, that should really be a J as the hook, and lo and behold, 70A was in fact JOY, which is what I felt on looking at that answer.

3D: Warning for easily provoked types ... or for the answers to the six starred clues? (DONTTAKETHEBAIT) sets us up for the six fish scattered down the center of the puzzle, each clued as an alternative meaning. My favorite was, of course, 44A: *The Mikado in "The Mikado," e.g. (BASS). I didn't recognize the starring initially, and thought the answer might be "role". It wasn't going to be "star", in any case. Although I love the part, he's only in half of the second act.

An interesting result of all of those Is adjacent to each other on the eastern half of the puzzle is how many of the crossing answers have to have two consecutive vowels - seven of the fourteen, in actuality. That's a consequence of how English works, for you linguists out there.

In reviewing the clues and answers, I'm now sort of astonished that I immediately entered FIVE at 1D: Solid orange ball. My mind instantly went to pool rather than to any other possibilities (basketball? the sun?). Was that the same for others?

In other areas, I'm not so fond of 4D: Cardiologist's concern (CLOT), which seems to imply a special connection between heart specialists and blood clots. Whereas in reality, that's my major concern on a daily basis in managing stroke patients. Maybe I'm being touchy.

1A: Ice Bucket Challenge, in 2014 (FAD). D. It's true that it became a fad, but it was an important movement that drew attention to funding for ALS. Couldn't they have been even more contemporary and talk about the ubiquitous fidget spinners now?
Fave: DISCI (29A: Things hurled at the Olympics) - the plural -I is a winner for me.
Least fave: BYPATH (43D: Indirect route). Yes it is. And nobody says it.

- Colum

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tuesday, May 30, 2017, Neville Fogarty


Here is an example of a theme that almost makes it. At first I thought it fell completely flat, when I had misremembered that [MEREDITH] and [ZANE] spelled their last names with an A, not an E. But no, all four examples spell their last name as in GREYMATTER.

Only, did we really need a revealer at all? Wouldn't it have been neater and more satisfying to have a fifth example of a Grey, say Lady Jane, or Jennifer, or Joel? Then, the revealer would simply have been that their first names were in grey squares. I grant you that the three I just suggested don't necessarily lend themselves to being hid in longer answers, but that's not exactly my problem. It's the sort of thing a critic can blithely suggest without concern as to whether it's even possible.

And why GREYMATTER? The "matter" is strangely vague here.

Finally, LIPIZZANER and MILKOFMAGNESIA don't hide the names across split words, while REARLIT (in a workman like manner) and HAMMEREDITHOME (in a brilliant fashion) do.

Otherwise, there are some good things here. I like MARLA standing next to ISLAM. I like to think she might wish to oppose her erstwhile husband in these matters, but I actually have no idea what her politics are. Darn, apparently she's probably conservative.

There aren't a ton of long non-theme answers here, but I enjoyed TMOBILE, despite the brand name, because of the justaposition of the TM__ at the start. BASETEN is also welcome. I'm impressed by the very center of the puzzle, where three theme answers are separated by only one row each. There is no "glue" there, except ADLAI, that old standby.

1A: Peruvian of long ago (INCA) - C-. There haven't been many standouts at 1A recently, have there?
Fave: KAHN (13D: Madeline of "Blazing Saddles") - she was always outstanding, even in a dud of a movie like "Clue".
Least fave: ATAB (59D: Open ____ (start at the bar, maybe)). Yuck.

- Colum

Monday, May 29, 2017

Monday, May 29, 2017, Jeff Chen and Seth Geltman


This is a great puzzle that probably ought to have been a Tuesday, but that doesn't really bother me. Really. The fact that I finished it in over 5 minutes is a tribute to the creating skills of the authors, not a reflection of my solving skills at all.

The theme is fun: the answers all have time periods in them, arranged in order from longest to shortest as you move through the puzzle. The phrases are all positive in connotation, thus the revealer is PRIMETIME. I'm not sure that the clue for REDLETTERDAY is exactly right. The definition from Wikipedia is a day of special significance or opportunity, so I suppose the date might be circled on a calendar, but it seemed just a bit off for me.

The puzzle really shines in the fill, though. Despite the abundance of 3-letter answers in the middle, there are few answers that felt questionable. HED is a bizarre partial from an uncommon phrase, and GOA is clued with a reference to Psycho instead of the classic crosswordese Indian state.

Leaving aside 1A (CBS - C-), those first three down answers showed me the quality of today's fill. 1D: More evasive with the truth (CAGIER) is great. 2D: Marilyn Monroe, notably (BLONDE) is also excellent, even though she, like many, was a bottle blonde. 3D: Something you reach out and take? (SELFIE) is brilliant.

Other nice fill include SCYTHE, RUBNOSES, MAILITIN. 41D: "You agree with me?", informally (AMIRITE) is cute.

My fave today is 61A: Substituted "math" for "mass," say (LISPED). My least fave is 48A: Concepts not meant to be questioned (DOGMAS). I don't like the plural on that. To me, it seems that "dogma" on its own encompasses multiple concepts typically.

- Colum

P.S. Aha! It's a 16 x 15 grid. No wonder it took longer to complete.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sunday, May 28, 2017, Andrew Zhou


This might be one of my favorite Sundays in a while, although it certainly played very easy. I finished it in a little over half my typical Sunday time. But the theme made me chuckle, and I thought it was carried out nearly flawlessly.

We get a set of idioms for how things might go badly in various ways. Taking the first word from each, you get a set of directions that might be found in a cooking manual, thus setting up the revealer, ARECIPEFORDISASTER. Very nicely done, with a perfect revealer.

The only issues I had with the list of idioms are these: first, MIXONESMETAPHORS feels so mild as a bad outcome compared to the others. The worst it will get you is a mild look of distaste, and when done intentionally, might even get you a laugh. And to top it, there's that "one's" in the middle of it, which doesn't show up in the other idioms.

My second issue is a total nitpick. SERVESTWOMASTERS is the only answer in that verb form. All the others are in I/you format, while this one is in he/she format. That just makes the final run of directions feel a little off: stir... mix... beat... pour... cut... ...serves?

The rest of the puzzle is reasonably smooth with only an annoying URBANII or a silly CTS here and there. I found most of the clues and answers to be very straightforward, with few misdirections to challenge me. 23A: Vertical part of a plane (YAXIS) took a second, in part because it crossed 3D: Prepare to take off (TAXI), which made me misinterpret the meaning of "plane" in the clue. I also took a moment or two around the crossing of GLAM and GNAR, which gets my least fave answer for today.

1A: "____ Davis Eyes," 1981 #1 hit (BETTE) - B. I am reminded of the Dire Straits lyric: "Don't know how you came to get those Bette Davis knees..."
Fave: OCTAVES (67D: Scales span them). Nicely done.

- Colum

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Saturday, May 27, 2017, Damon Gulczinski


I couldn't believe I had COLPORTEUR correct, but all the crosses worked. Happily, when I filled in my final square at the crossing of EGAN and ASSN, I got the happy little tune. Clearly it comes from French, where it apparently means a peddler, and then got associated with religious literature. Definitely a new word for me.

Melbourne is in Florida, apparently, not Australia. That fooled me for a while. I enjoyed all three long across answers, but should the clue have had a "familiarly" attached to it for FLORIDATECH? The full name is Florida Institute of Technology. Not that that bothered me. I wouldn't have gotten it without most of the crosses. Meanwhile, FLEXITARIAN is lovely, and PALEBLUEDOT is of course, excellent.

DONTTHATBEATALL? I'd say. I love that phrase, and it's a wonderful 15-letter crossing answer.

The rest of the puzzle has some nice high points. 10D: Be subtly and snarkily insulting (THROWSHADE) is great and contemporary. EGOSURF has been seen a number of times by now in the puzzle, so it's a little less sparkling.

DIETETICS and ANTENATAL are all right. I don't know why it took me so long to figure out the latter.

1A: Honor in a big way (FETE) - C. Nothing special to start a Saturday.
Fave: CHARY (16A: Word that's its own synonym when its first two letters are replaced with "w") - such an involved clue! It also reminds me G&S, namely Iolanthe:

A plague on this vagary
I'm in a nice quandary
Of hasty tones
With dames unknown
I ought to be more chary...

Least fave: ASSN (20A: N.E.A. member?: Abbr.). Yeah. Abbreviated answer from an abbreviation, not improved much by the slightly clever clue.

I'm not sure if the puzzle is quite TOPSHELF, but I enjoyed it over all.

- Colum

Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday, May 26, 2017, Robyn Weintraub


Oh, I do so like a well-crafted themeless puzzle. Fridays and Saturdays are generally my favorite puzzles of the week, although a really good Thursday (tricky, rebus, that sort of thing) can jump ahead once in a while.

Two triple stacks of 11-letter answers anchor the NW and SE corners. I broke in with the combination of ELSE and TORUS. I knew one of the "Something ring-shaped" clues would be the latter answer, but not which one without the combination of the former. That led to the outstanding 19A: Glass with bubbles (FLUTE - and who wouldn't enjoy one of those with bubbly?), and I was off and running.

1A: Living end (CATSPAJAMAS) gets a hearty and well deserved A+ from me. Not just a great term, but also so nice and Scrabbly. I love the clue as well. 15A: What doesn't have a second to lose? (ATOMICCLOCK) is a strong answer - I'm not sure I quite get the clue. Is it that this kind of clock can't lose time? Or is it that it doesn't have a second hand? I'm a little confused by that one. FORINSTANCE rounds out the strong corner.

I'm amused that ALARMED crosses the clock and TIMESTAMP. I filled in that small section with the definitely crossword-worthy TANEY, even if he was a reactionary racist. He was also the fifth Chief Justice, and he looked like a baboon.

I had to switch to the NE corner since I couldn't parse LACES for a long time (Puma the shoe brand, in a hidden capital). MOODMUSIC and FINEPRINT are nice answers here. I also really enjoyed FUNFACTS.

FORCEPS was easy; REEDED was not. I winced as I put it in. It's just not a real adjective, relating to clarinets or otherwise - it wins the coveted prize of "least fave" today.

But look at all those strong answers there. SOLDIERON, and the excellent trio of RIDESHOTGUN, KEEPTALKING, and ODDSANDENDS. So good, especially the clue for the first (52A: A back-seat driver can't do this - hah!).

I finished in the SW with 30D: Stayed out when you shouldn't have? (OVERSLEPT). That's good stuff.

NOTTOOBAD! I overlook all the short ugly stuff for the excellence of the long answers.

- Colum

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Thursday, May 25, 2017, Erik Agard


I know there are a lot of people out there who are just dying to start reviewing this puzzle. I can just see them all, champing at the bit. Fingers twitching. Planning out their humorous insights.


Okay, ILLGOFIRST. (Boy, that was a convoluted way to get into the review).

I'll start with the strange idea I had that a "dewlap" was something Scottish. I essayed that maybe the answer to 19A: Pet with a dewlap and a beret? would be FRENCHscotty. Not that such a thing exists, mind you. But it's a Thursday! Maybe we were imagining a series of answers with two nationalities in each? "American Turkey"? "Japanese China"?

But no, after some confusion, I figured out PURPLEIRAN, and got that we were looking at phrases where the second word was anagrammed. It wasn't until the revealer that I realized that in each case, the anagram put the I at the beginning of the word and left all the other letters in order. Thus: "version" becomes "iverson". That's some pretty cool stuff.

All four original phrases are strong, with "roll of coins" being the least recognized. The new versions are okay, and the humor in the cluing is not all that wacky, unfortunately. I'm most impressed with COVERIVERSON because of the surprise in the switch.
Knowing this movie helped a bunch
There's a bit too much RCA MCA MDI in the puzzle. I got weirdly confused by 9A: Letters on a bottle at the beach (SPF). I thought up Sos, which you wouldn't find on a bottle, but rather in a bottle, in a way. Think "Message in a Bottle" by The Police. But wouldn't that be a sad cry for help? Rather than giving any information of where you are, the note has only an anonymous and placeless SOS? I'm dropping a metaphorical tear for the pathos of the story I've just concocted.

GOLFRESORT I could do without. It's fine, I suppose, although I wanted GOLFcourse. And plus there's the reference to Trump. Is this the way more right-leaning NYT xword solvers felt the last 8 years? 29D: One who might get down to Alabama? (LINEDANCER) must be referring to the Southern rock band by that name.

I actually enjoyed most of the midlength answers here. DORITO was so brazen in its brand naming, I laughed aloud. 10D: Challenges for movers (PIANOS) is an unexpected way to get to that answer. I never thought of a dogie as an ORPHAN, but that's exactly what it is.

1A: Go on a little too long (DRAG) - C+.
Fave: ROUNDTWO (6D: Another go) - I had ARNO in place and was dreading a RE- answer here. So pleased with this instead.
Least fave: ASFOR (28D: Regarding). So dry.

- Colum

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Wednesday, May 24, 2017, Michael Hawkins


Just this morning, I was saying to myself, what I really need is a bunch of plumber puns. Where can I find some?

In the NYT Xword, it turns out! What a coincidence.

Actually, I really enjoyed these. Four idioms, tied back to the plumbing trade, all four standard and widely used. So the theme worked. My favorite was RUNSHOTANDCOLD.

But the puzzle really shone with the long fill. I liked every answer that was longer than 5 letters with the exception (mildly) of STOKERS, just because it was a plural.

The NE and SW corners have two pairs of excellent 9-letter answers. TOLLROADS had the peculiar clue of "Booths are set up in them". What a strange way to get at that answer! I liked its pair much better (12D: Have some trouble focusing - SEEDOUBLE, or as we say in Neurology, "have diplopia"). I got the added bonus of LOBE later on.

IMNOTSURE and GAGWRITER were excellent. 33D: One doing sketch work? is a very nice clue.

1A: Rio dance (SAMBA) - C. I never like these South American dances because it could be this, or "rumba" or "salsa". It helped to have the Game of Thrones answer with STARK at 1D.
Fave: IMHO (53D: Initialism whose third initial often isn't true) - love the clue to death.
Least fave: NODTO (59A: Give the O.K.) - I just don't get this. When I nod to someone, I'm greeting them, acknowledging them. I'm not permitting them to do something.

Shout out to 5D: It's used to pave the way (ASPHALT) - nice non-question mark cluing.

- Colum

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tuesday, May 23, 2017, Zhouqin Burnikel


Things that come in PAIRS are represented by crossing two copies of the singular instance of same. Thus, we usually think of "tongs", "socks", "skis", or "pants". Here instead, [TONG] crosses [TONG].

Boy, that took a good deal of explaining. But what I liked about the theme was how the words were not used in their original sense within the longer answers. SOCKEYE was my briefest concern, but it turns out that's an Anglicization of the original word from Halkomelem, a language of an indigenous people in current British Columbia (thanks to Wikipedia for that bit of knowledge).

My favorite crossing was BREWSKI and HASKITTENS. It's much easier to do with a three-letter string, but I liked how the latter hid the word across two answer words. Also, it should be noted that in each of the other three pairs, the hidden word is placed at the outset of the answers. I suppose the circles were necessary on some level, but I think it would have worked just fine without them.

There was a surprising amount of lengthy answers in this grid, which made my time a little longer than I'd expect for a Tuesday. Not all of these answers are so great, such as COARSEN and IDOIDO. But you do get the nice IMINAWE and ALDENTE.
Travel porn, anyone?
53A: Audited, as a class (SATINON) is an odd one, isn't it? Since it's a Tuesday, we definitely needed the qualifier in the clue. Also, I keep on wanting to parse it as "satin on", as in "What the jockey had?" That would definitely be a clue for the ages.

Not such great stuff in the fill included things like NEUT, ALGA, and OHOK.

1A: Make a pass at (HITON) - C. It's fine.
Fave: IBEENHAD (10D: Informal cry from someone who is duped). You can see that they needed to adjust that clue. It should really read: ...from someone who has been duped, but that would dupe the been, if you see what I mean.
Least fave: NONPC (27A: Potentially offensive). I hate where so-called political correctness has taken us, from the strangeness of limited discourse in our universities, to the elevation of dingbats to the highest levels of political office.

Also, couldn't CORNER have been in the corner? It was so close.

- Colum

P.S. I had a sudden flash of Dirty Dancing as I was finishing writing the review, and now I see why. Nobody puts corner in the corner.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Monday, May 22, 2017, Gary Kennedy


How cool to have all the various tools on your SWISS / ARMY / KNIFE open out in various directions, just like in real life. I always took great delight in the way the TWEEZERS came out and went back into the tiny hole on the end of the knife. The toothpick wasn't nearly as exciting. And now, as an adult, it strikes me as more than just a little unsanitary.

I never used the CORKSCREW because I was too young to be carrying bottles of wine around with me while camping, but the CANOPENER did come in handy. I recall the SCISSORS not being all that useful.

So, great theme. The grid itself is very compartmentalized, but that's not much of an issue on a Monday when getting traction in a new area will never be that difficult. The corners are nicely chunky, and there are some nice long non-theme down answers, including EXORCISM and NOAHSARK. I like how that last one matches up symmetrically with SHIPLOAD, a less sparkling word, but which has more meaning in this context. So many animals!

Digression: I like kimchi. Yum KOREAN.

Back to the review: Speaking of symmetry, it's amusing to have PARTD opposed by NSYNC. Two entries with single letter portions.

1A is a theme answer, so no grade today.
Fave: WOTAN (2D: King of the Gods in Wagner's "Ring" cycle). Opera reference good.
Least fave: AVES (64D: Madison and Fifth in Manhattan: Abbr.). Plural abbreviation, but I really had to work to find something I actively disliked. Most of the less interesting fill was completely acceptable.

Overall this is a nicely done Monday. I approve.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday, May 21, 2017, Randolph Ross


This review will be a review of two parts. The first part will deal with the theme, and the second part will deal with the fill. After that, the two parts will be compared to one another, and the reviewer will take a stand on the whole.

Here is the first part:

I found today's theme pretty hilarious, and there are eight theme answers as well. First off, who here does not delight in stupid puns? I know I do! And don't volunteer it if you don't like puns. That's a sure way to stick out like a sore thumb. Even better, taking those punny bible quotations and cluing them in a wacky manner.

Looking at the actual answers, ASSAULTOFTHEEARTH is an unfortunate fail. The actual quotation is "the salt of the earth", so I don't know where that A came from. Some of the other answers are neutral over all: FALSEPROFITS is not particularly surprising or funny (and W.S. Gilbert used that pun over a hundred years ago in The Sorceror). AMARKUPONCANE is also meh.

But I loved FORBIDDENFLUTE. That's silly. ANAYEFORANAYE seems like great advice for our current situation in the USA. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a little more horse trading on Capitol Hill? I also very much enjoyed INTHEBIGINNING. Fun!

So, a modified thumbs up for the theme.

Here is the second part:

Oh, dear.

1A: Purchase via Charles Schwab: Abbr. (STK). This nets an F. I hate starting with an abbreviation, but really, do we need to abbreviate "stock" to "stk"? You save two letters, not to mention it takes longer to say the abbreviation than the original word. Things did not look good at this point, and we just started.

So many partials. ASIAM (?!). ILIE. ADDA. ITOFF. STE.

And then there are things like SAFARIED. NFLER. REMI and REFI (funny how those are pronounced so differently). REFEREED.

Of course I liked SCHUBERT showing up. And DOGSAGE is colorful.

Perhaps it wasn't as bad as I thought it was, in reviewing it. But still...

Fave? 8D: Rear half? (BUN).

In comparing and taking a stand? Better in reviewing the whole than it was when I was solving it.

- Colum

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Saturday, May 20, 2017, Paolo Pasco and David Steinberg

13:58 (FWOE)

You got your Pasco on my Steinberg!

You got your Steinberg in my Pasco!

Two great tastes that taste great together!!!

I was definitely excited to see two of my favorite crossword crafters working on a single grid, and I think the result lives up to expectations. Look at those two trios of 11-letter answers, and all of the nice 7- and 8-letter answers that cross them.

I broke into the grid with 7D: "That's cheating!" (NOFAIR), but could get no traction from it. Instead I really got going with VJS and VERIZON. I liked the answers JOYRIDE and SNEEZED, but something seemed just slightly off on both of their jokey clues. No matter, I rejoiced in AZIZ Ansari's presence. We just started watching season 2 of Master of None - he's a strange fellow in many ways, but he makes an outstanding show.

Then you get FACESWAP, a nice contemporary touch. It led me down into the SE section. My one error came here: I entered THEDUdE fairly confidently. Even though there's a cowboy in that movie, you'd be hard pressed to call The Great Lebowski a "Western legend". John Wayne, though... Anyway, I had a hard time deciding whether the author would be ALICEWeLdER or ALICEWALdER.

Anyway, how great is the stack here? 67A: Metric for gauging female representation in works of fiction (BECHDELTEST) was a gimme. I love Alison Bechdel's graphic novel memoirs, the first of which, Fun Home, has recently become a hit Broadway musical as well. If you haven't read that and Are You My Mother?, go out and read them immediately. Wonderful stuff.
After filling this section in, I was stuck coming out of it, but found entry again with AESOP and the very silly CSHARP. With that terminal ___AC, SAZERAC came to mind, and I was able to crack the NW. 1A: Part of a modern circuit (SILICONCHIP) gets a B+. It's not nearly as good as AVOCADOROLL and the best clue answer pairing in the puzzle, 17A: Regional coverage plan? (ZONEDEFENSE). That's good stuff.

Finally, I figured out 39D: Bunny picker-upper? (DUSTMOP), and made it through the rest of that SW corner. I'd wanted that answer to be "tow-line" or "tow-rope", for the ski reference, but the other kind of bunny's funny as well.

- Colum

Friday, May 19, 2017

Friday, May 19, 2017, Matthew Sewell


I came close to CRUSHINGIT: I had all but the NW corner filled in within 7:30, but struggled for quite some time with these entries:

  • ALCAZAR - never heard of it, but it makes sense.
  • 27A: 86 or 99 (AGENT) - referencing Get Smart, am I right?
  • 19A: Sheet music abbr. (ARR) - so many possibilities here, I needed all the crosses to get it.
  • 4D: Some patrons: Abbr. (STS) - I still don't understand this. States? Saints? I think the latter.
  • 3D: Wrongly assumed (USURPED) - this is so good on so many levels. I loved it!
In any case, those held me up for four minutes! And that's why it's a Friday.

I broke in with ECHO, and then probably my favorite and least favorite answer at the same time: 6D: "The ponytail's hipster cousin," per GQ (MANBUN). 

I looked at ENGAGEMENTPARTY for a long time, trying to understand why the bride and groom to be were trying to become a celebration. That's another really good clue.

Anybody here play NBAJAM? I sure did. Big heads, basketballs on fire, shattering backboards. Good old-school fun.

Hope knew NELLIE immediately upon hearing the clue. It's nice to have an expert of old TV and books. I know Frannie is her own expert, but if she ever needs to, she can probably turn to her sister for instant access.

38D: What motivates people to get to first base during a game? (KISSCAM). Yup. That's awesome.

So while some of the stuff was a bit less fascinating, or frankly incomprehensible (ETO, I'm looking at you), there was enough great stuff that I liked this puzzle.

Oh, yeah. 1A: Walk all over (ABUSE) - C+. Wanted AmblE. Didn't quite work. I downgraded the answer for the unpleasant connotations. The same way I didn't really like IMALIVE.

- Colum

P.S. Huygens: SIX. So close.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Thursday, May 18, 2017, Jacob Stulberg

10:33 (FWOE)

I spent a long time staring at the empty crossing of BAREXAM and RENT. And why? Because I had entered BEAUs down below, rather than the technically but really only in French correct BEAUX.

Anyway, WHY did the [CHICKEN] cross the [ROAD]? We don't exactly get an answer in this puzzle, except that there is a graphic representation of a road diagonally in the middle of the grid, with the question crossing it. I put the fowl in each square, rather than the street. What did you do?

[CHICKEN] across, [ROAD] down. The rebus squares were symmetrically placed, just not in typical locations. I much preferred the across answers, such as [CHICKEN]OFTHESEA and NOSPRING[CHICKEN], which was the answer I actually broke the theme on. The best crossing however, comes at PLAY[CHICKEN] and [ROAD]RUNNER. Poor Wile E. Coyote. Was the darned bird that tasty looking? Seemed scrawny to me.

The long down answers in the NW and SE corners are okay. I like 3D: First, second and third, exactly (TRIFECTA). POLOBALL is fine, INSANEST is just not a term I'd use. I think I'd feel more comfortable saying "most insane". RENEGADE was another answer it took me some time to get because of an atypical plural, in this case NOVAE (where I had -S for a while).

23A: Polish target (TOENAIL) was a tough get. Part of me was looking for a hidden capital where none existed. The rest had a hard time seeing somebody "targeting" their nails with nail polish.

1A: Decides one way or the other (OPTS) - D+. Too common.
Fave: SIDLE (64A: Move furtively, in a way). Fun word.
Least fave: Probably SAC, although there were others in the running.

I'm noticing more and more stuff I was not fond of, so I'm going to end here. I liked the theme. Also, I found it odd how quickly I filled in 53D: "Le Coq ____" (DOR). That's d'or, as in "made of gold". An opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov that I have never seen, although I have heard music from it in the form of a suite.

- Colum

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wednesday, May 17, 2017, Paul Hunsberger


Wednesday faster than Tuesday? And that's even with not understanding the theme until I was finished with the whole thing and went back to look at the clues. So almost all of my theme answers were filled in by crosses, until the entirety could be surmised by the patterns.

I actually like the concept of the theme: two word phrases are set up in order from top to bottom such that the second word of each phrase links to the first word of the next one in another well accepted phrase. Thus: DOUBLEBACK is followed by COURTCASE, and the crossover of BACK/COURT is clued across the two clues as "Area that an N.B.A. team has eight ... ... seconds to clear".

I like the loop aspect of the answers, that it comes around from the bottom to the top at the end with SEEING/DOUBLE. To that end, the middle answer, CLOSEDCIRCUIT refers to the entire theme as well. That's nicely done. I wish I'd understood as I was solving, but that's a side effect of going for fast times. You could certainly argue about the benefit of time-based solving versus the enjoyment of working through a clever concept as it's being presented... For me, those aspects come into play more on Thursday through Saturday.

Some nice answers in the fill today. I was particularly taken by the pairing of IHEARYOU and TOMMYROT in the SE. SATCHMO is always welcome, especially as it crosses three theme answers. Nice find there.

1A: Muscles worked by bench presses (PECS) - D. Common and uninteresting.
Fave: OUTS (69D: Results of sacrifices). Good clue, unexpected answer, and it fits as the last answer of the puzzle.
Least fave: EHOW (Website for D.I.Y.ers). Just... well, I see it's a real thing, but it made me think of all of those E- answers popping up. Has anybody done a puzzle with this sort of thing? Clue: Online specks. Answer: "emotes". Clue: Online bon mots. Answer: "equips". Any other good examples?

- Colum

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tuesday, May 16, 2017, Bruce Haight


A tough Tuesday: I'm not exactly sure why. There were large sections of open space, and the theme did not exactly lend itself to quick filling in.

Speaking of which, what exactly is the theme? Take 5 state names, add one letter, anagram them into a phrase of no connection to the original state name. It's interesting, but it's not exactly entertaining. Of the resulting phrases, BANKRATES is really a letdown in its banality. The others are fine, with AFRICANLION being the best.

As to the fill, the corners are well done. All 16 down answers of 7 or 6 letter length are strong, with the possible exception of ARALSEA, which has been done to death (or drained of meaning?) in the puzzle. At least its the complete name, not just ____ sea, as we see all too frequently.

We have to put up with a bit of SSN and IDS, but I liked KIDLIT and LADYDI. 15A: Futures analyst? (ORACLE) is a nice little clue. POSTSUP is timely with the NBA in the playoffs, and the Celtics landing the number one pick in the draft. I don't think there's any chance of them making the Finals, but they're already a pretty good team.
A different NICKS
Hmm. Let's see:

1A: Whole slew (RAFT)  - C+. A bit above average.
Fave: POOPOUT (11D: Get dog-tired). My dog is currently pooped out right next to me.
Least fave: IDIG (31D: "Understood, dude). This phrase is seriously tired. IMSERIOUS. Time to retire it.

I would have liked this puzzle a good deal more if there had been some connection between the anagrams and the states they came from. Maybe that's too much to ask, but there it is. I'm asking it.

- Colum

Monday, May 15, 2017

Monday, May 15, 2015, Peter Gordon


Before we get much farther, I'd like to address the elephant in the room. I don't think of any Monty Python sketches as being FARCES. Most of the time nowadays we think of farce as being slapstick, which MP certainly did little of. But even in the classic sense of a light comedy centered around situations rather than around character development, this definition falls short. MP utilized absurdity and surrealism far more than situational humor. Fawlty Towers is much closer to a farce in that sense.

All right, I'll get off my pedestal, because I liked the puzzle overall. Once again on a Monday, I don't have much time to consider what the theme might be, but I had an insight as I worked my way down and had the following at 48A: ____TYKE_____. Just luck, but I knew there had to be a reason that was there.

The revealer is great: 58A: Part of a person's psyche ... or a hidden part of 18-, 23-, 39- or 48-Across? (INNERCHILD). This is exactly right. The four hidden children are a minor, a teen, an infant, and the aforementioned tyke. You could quibble that a teen is not exactly a child, but then you maybe don't have teens in your house. They're still children, believe me.

The four theme answers range from great (QWERTYKEYBOARDS, although that plural..., and CAPTAINFANTASTIC, which I highly recommend as an interesting if very odd movie) to the less interesting (PRIVATEENTRANCE and CAMINOREAL). But they're all solid, so the theme works well.

There's some strong fill here as well: SEXTANT is very nice (when I had SEX____, I thought it was going to be "sex tape". There's my mind, in the gutter again). I like me a good Star Trek reference, so STARSHIP was welcome. I myself like a raisin dessert from time to time, although I basically never buy a RAISINET.

There's another re- answer here, but RESENDS is at least reasonable.

1A: Fruit often seen in still lifes (PEAR) - C+.
Fave: AHME (54A: Sigher's words) - those words in the opening song of my favorite G&S, Yeomen.
Least fave: 26D: "High" times (NOONS). No. I don't understand a plural of a specific time.

- Colum

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sunday, May 14, 2017, Will Nediger


Well, I finished with one error, but it wasn't the one I'd thought I'd finished with. I stared for quite some time at the crossing of SAUK and ATESTS. And stared. What the what? I knew that _TESTS had to be either A-, H-, or N-. And none of them made any sense with S_UK. I played around with whether BUSS was correct. In the end I stuck the A in, and got the message that I had an error.

Which was at the crossing of EDINA and ELEA. I should have known better than to put an A in there. After all these years of crosswording, both of those are hoary enough to be in my wheelhouse, but I missed it anyway. But there are two prime examples of potential Naticks in the same puzzle, which doesn't bode well.

The theme is pretty good, actually. Two word phrases that start with "top", "middle", "bottom", "left", or "right" are placed in the puzzle such that the initial word can be inferred from where the answer is found. Thus, [LEFT]SCHOOL, [MIDDLE]ENGLISH, [TOP]BANANAS. That there are nine pairs of crossing answers is impressive. Since many of the answers are the same number of letters, there was some room for playing around in the creation of the puzzle, but still.

That being said, I kind of thought the answers in the center of the puzzle should have been... well, "central" rather than just "middle" again. Also, [MIDDLE]RANGE is just not a phrase that anyone uses to describe the Mezzo-Soprano. I'm not convinced by [BOTTOM]BRACKET. Otherwise they're all acceptable.
So much younger than in Trading Places
There's a moderate amount of less than brilliant fill, but some good stuff as well. I don't like ISSUER, ASHINE (ugh), or REMAPS - those re- words always feel ad hoc.

On the plus side, 116A: Aisle's head? (SILENTA) got me again. DRASTIC is a great word. 55A: Knightstick? (LANCE) just missed. There was no real misdirection here, because the K in Knight couldn't be left out.

1A: Necklace parts (CLASPS) - C. That plural.
Fave: CHASSE (13D: Gliding step, in ballet). My dance daughter would be so proud of me for getting this.
Least fave: PRICKS (33D: Syringe sensations) - oh, the missed opportunity here. Plus, how many sensations is that syringe giving me?

- Colum

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Saturday, May 13, 2017, Jeff Chen


What a strong themeless this is! And tough, too. I had to work hard in multiple places to get through. I don't think Mr. Chen missed on a single long answer, although a couple aren't quite as sparkly as the rest. Even so, excellent work here.

I broke in partially correctly with the cross-referenced 7D and 22A. I correctly put POI in, but had okRa for TARO. But the first was enough to get ZZTOP, which I'd thought might be correct but hadn't entered until I get the P. Even then, I had to work my way back into the NW by figuring out the NE.

I put Spool in at 9A: A thread winds around it (SCREW), which was clearly the misdirection intended, but again it was enough to get SWAMP. I actually took "spool" out almost immediately because RITE was so clearly correct. Then the rest of the corner filled in. CANDYCANE is a pleasant long answer, and I love the reference to Oscar Wilde with OPIUMDENS. Other fictional characters who have visited opium dens include Tintin, Sherlock Holmes, and John Jasper from Charles Dickens' The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Now I was able to complete the NW. I love the trio of answers here. 1A: Tiny cheese sandwiches, of a sort (RITZBITS) gets a B+ (points off for brand name). PICTOGRAM over NOOB gives a nice image of sorts: the computer wins by cowing the poor innocent. Cross those with the oddity of BOOBOISIE, and that's a winner in my book.

I had entries into the triple 15-stack in the middle but no purchase for a while. The gimme at 25A: Ironman race, briefly (TRI) helped - I just raced my first tri of the season last weekend, TRICK KNEE and all. But I undid some of that help by inexplicably putting in RABat, the city, in for RABIN, the person.

Eventually, I had enough crosses from EAVES, SPILE, SELMA, and TRYST that the long answers came into view. I'm surprised it took so long to recognize IBELIEVEICANFLY - great answer, with a hugely popular song, complete title. It is a little old at this point, mid-1990s and all.

40A: They're often upsetting (CINDERELLATEAMS) is very well clued. The plural is a bit of a drawback, but still a good answer. 36A: One likely to have a large collection of albums (RARESTAMPDEALER) is a somewhat ad hoc phrase, but I very much like this triple stack overall.

EATSRIGHT is a neutral sort of answer, but ELDERWAND is evocative.

Thumbs up from me.

- Colum

Friday, May 12, 2017

Friday, May 12, 2017, Bill Clinton and Victor Fleming


Mr. President, we acknowledge ye. Long known as an expert cruciverbalist, who routinely fills in his grids in pen, it's a pleasure to see his hand in the creation side of things.

And there's a nice minitheme going on. The most obvious is 25D: "It's the ____, stupid!" (ECONOMY), which Clinton's first campaign used as its refocusing phrase. Also present are GIBILL, a nod to his first name, and 21A: First lady after Lou (ELEANOR), referring to Herbert Hoover's wife, but also reminding us that had things gone slightly differently last November, this puzzle would have been written by the country's first First Man (First Gentleman? First Hubby?).

From a crosswording perspective, it's a perfectly serviceable themeless. I had bits and pieces here and there - I had HiP at 8D, then ALEG at 22A, followed by GIBILL, but then it was the SE corner that opened things up for me. This corner is exactly what I mean by serviceable: I don't like TERR, ARA, or DRAWEE. The rest are average. 62A: In the way it used to be (OLDSTYLE) - I really wanted "old school", but it wouldn't fit.

The main long answer, THINKINGABOUT, is really meh. But you do get HIAWATHA and IGNOREIT. 38D: Residents of Cambridge, England (CANTABS) should really be Cantabrigians. 61A: Laceless, say (SNAPON) wanted to be "slip on", right?

Tough clues included 9A: Heavy metal shortage? (ANEMIA) - a very specific heavy metal being missed here, namely iron. I liked 9D: They're never minor (ADULTS) better. I'm not entirely clear on 4D: Order repeated before a hike (HUT) - I get that it's referring to football, but how is saying"hut!" an order?

1A: Jumble (MISHMASH) - B+. Fun word.
Fave: ATTHAT (59A: Where people are often told to look). This is so odd I have to like it.
Least fave: COS (30A: I.R.S. Form 1120 filers: Abbr.). Taxes, companies, abbreviations. Bad trio.

P.S. Oh, wait. I see now. No wonder that middle answer is so uninteresting on its own. There is a real theme going on here: DONTSTOP THINKINGABOUT TOMORROW. That makes the puzzle much much more interesting.

- Colum

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Thursday, May 11, 2017, Timothy Polin


I love this idea! Take three words which can be reimagined as '[verb]-me', and then apply those to an object or concept that might cry it out as an imperative. Thus, a VEGETABLEGARDEN might say "hoe me", or HOMEY. Better is that each one crosses its imagined order. I liked the third the best: can you imagine a LOSTOPPORTUNITY exclaiming "rue me!" (ROOMY)?

Also excellent that "homey" is not clued with the some reference to African American slang.

With a relative sparsity of theme material, the rest of the puzzle is more free to shine. Great crossing answers here include ACOLYTE, MEGAPHONE, and 35D: Dead reckoning? (ESTATETAX)! I was a little lost in the SE for a while until the light shone on that last one.

I'm also fond of a good SCHMEAR (as who is not?). Come to think of it, my father used to make celery sticks with cream cheese spread in the middle and sprinkled with PAPRIKA. I always loved those; they're a throwback to the 50s and 60s, it seems to me. Although I never ate them during those decades myself.

There are some fun clues here too: I enjoyed 14A: Good sign? (HALO) and 43A: Return fare? (RANSOM). 2D: It might be just a line or two (CAMEO) is nice. Oh! And how about 54D: Sewer of note (ROSS) - no question mark needed. Just a famous person who sewed the American flag.
A different NAOMI
On the downside are the two Greek letter answers (TAU and ETA), but very little made me say ICK overall.

1A: Rook or gull (SCAM) - B+. Not the greatest answer, but it took all the crossings to see where it was going.
Fave: BURP (56D: "Excuse you!" elicitor). I tip my hat.
Least fave: CIERA. I wish this answer would go away.

- Colum

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wednesday, May 10, 2017, Ned White

5:08 (FWOE)

For all of you who might be wondering, SNERT is the dog from the comic strip. SNERd is Mortimer, Edgar Bergen's ventriloquism doll. Both are from roughly the same time period... well, maybe the ventriloquism one is a good deal older, but they overlapped in the 1970s. All I'm saying is, check your crossings!

And speaking of crossings, I found this theme quite clever. There's a BADMINTONNET down the middle of the puzzle, and the BIRDIE, after one player SERVES, bounces back and forth across, each time represented by four-letter bird names, each clued in a way that doesn't reference the bird. Thus, 17A: Avoid a beanball, maybe (DUCK), or my personal favorite, 59A: Ice cream bar brand (DOVE), because yum.

And then, after it's rallied back and forth six times, on the seventh time it lands clearly beyond the line delineated by the net, and the other player calls ITSOUT! Fun stuff.

There are 60 squares dedicated to the theme. It's made slightly easier by the fact that none of the answers cross each other at all, but even so, that's a fair amount to deal with, and it leads to some of the clunkier fill, such as in the NW corner with RISD next to ACLU (I accidentally entered this initially as UCLA, which amused me), and also in the SE corner with ODED and ERSE.

But even so, there's some pretty good stuff here as well. I liked 41A: Not stressed (UNACCENTED) - that's a good misdirecting clue. IONBEAMS is fun, and I particularly liked 69A: Facetious subject of many articles in The Onion (AREAMAN). Who can complain when SPAM is clued with the Monty Python sketch?

1A (RACKET) is a theme answer, and so doesn't get a rating. That being said, it's not much fun to begin a puzzle with a cross reference answer to a theme.
Fave: the aforementioned AREAMAN.
Least fave: MATEO (36A: San ____ (Bay Area city) - for the partial and the fact that we had a California city just a few answers earlier already.

It's a Wednesday - it's kooky.

- Colum

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Tuesday, May 9, 2017, Peter A. Collins

5:54 (FWOE)

Hoo boy. I am of two very distinct minds about today's puzzle. On the one hand, there are four excellent non-theme down answers and six okay theme answers. On the other hand:


That's a lot of out and out true groaning style crosswordese. I mean, stuff from Maleska era crosswording. And I left out a number of borderline answers.

The theme itself is fine. That's to be said in the style of my daughter's high school style "It's fine" phrasing, where a certain degree of suppressed rage is included. I mean, yeah, each one is a rhyming phrase, but there's nothing all that special about any of them. They're pretty blah.

So with six theme answers, the fill inevitably suffered. But at least we got 3D: Takeout food together with a Netflix movie, maybe (CHEAPDATE), 10D: Obsolescent desktop accessories (ROLODEXES), 31D: Brothels (BORDELLOS), and 34D: Class that covers Reconstruction and Prohibition (USHISTORY). I liked each of those, and thus the puzzle was elevated somewhat.

In other news, the puzzle not only takes an opportunity to OGLE, but to LEERAT. While there is no gender associated with the shared clue (Look upon with lust), don't you just feel the male gaze?

1A: Social adroitness (TACT) - B-. It's fine.
Fave: KOALA (18D: Qantas Airways symbol). This was by default because Koalas are so dang cute.
Least fave: NEWT (60D: Politico Gingrich). Any other way it could have been clued? Any?

My error came at ARIL / AEROS. I automatically filled in the other crosswordese, namely AnIL. Never eaten the Nestlé bar.

- Colum

Monday, May 8, 2017

Monday, May 8, 2017, Zhouqin Burnikel


Here is an outstanding example of that difficult exercise: a fun and interesting Monday puzzle. I loved the theme, there's some great fill, and not too much crosswordese.

I did not see where the theme was going until I filled in the revealer. I often semi-intentionally leave the revealer unread and unfilled until as late as I can. If I see a clue light up multiple long answers in the app, I move on to another without reading it. I want to preserve the surprise for as long as possible!

Great theme answers: 24A: "Thanks, Captain Obvious! (GEEYATHINK) is easily my favorite, both in clue and answer, but the others are all familiar and common enough. I regularly get members of my family BEEBALM products as stocking stuffers, so that wasn't hard to find.

But the revealer, LGBTQ, repurposes each answer nicely. The first word is a homophone for one of the initials, in order from top to bottom. Thus Elle Gee Bee Tea Cue. Having the revealer in the SE corner (and crossing one theme answer) is very well done.

As is typical in a crossword, there are a number of other acronyms, five to be exact. I don't suppose it would have been possible to avoid these particular initials across those answers. In fact, there is one G and one L across the 16 letters, so that's pretty well done.

I found all four long down answers to be pleasing. My favorite may be ONIONSOUP because yum. But WINDCHIME, NEILYOUNG (extra points for full name) and TETEATETE are all good.

I'll put up with an ELMST and a BYS for the rest of the goodness.

Almost forgot! What a strange little minitheme there was with KITTY, ANTES, and STACKS. Strange that they didn't include SEE in there as well.

1A: 4.0 is a great one (GPA) - C- for starting with an acronym.
Fave: OHFUN (8D "That sounds good ... NOT!"). Such a delightfully up to date phrase clued with a passé version.
Least fave: MALIK (Pop singer Zayn formerly of One Direction). Who? And who cares?

- Colum

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sunday, May 7, 2017, Natan Last, Finn Vigeland, and the J.A.S.A. Crossword Class


What do you call words that look like they should rhyme, but don't? An eye rhyme. "The tough coughs as he ploughs the dough," as Dr. Seuss said. And this puzzle is replete with examples, from the title, to the theme answers' clues, to the theme answers themselves. I love the execution here. That's 19 total eye rhymes used, but better, 9 of them are used to clue another 9, and that's quite clever.

Unfortunately, while the clues are fun in their couplet form, the actual answers fall kind of flat in my opinion. The only one that made me chuckle at all (and it was a fairly weak sort of chuckle) was BASELINEVASELINE. That's an amusing image. Otherwise they were fairly mundane.

But that's okay. I enjoyed the process of coming across each new one. Once I'd figured out the pattern, it made filling in the puzzle much easier: with a few crosses, I had more than half the theme answer filled because of the eye rhyme.

Given the density of theme material, there is a ton of interesting long fill. 16D: One working on the board? (PROSURFER) is cute. I also liked ACTUALSIZE. 40D: [!!!] (IMSHOCKED) is nicely done.

I was mildly confused by the cross reference between GUACAMOLE and TACOS, reading the clue for the latter as being what you'd serve to go with the "Party bowlful" of 76D, instead of just stuff that is often served with the dip. I was all ready to get up in arms about it, but talked myself off of the ledge. Whew!

I love the symmetric pairing of 45A: Cry to a cop (ARRESTHIM) and 88A: "Just be cool" (ACTCASUAL). Seems like the setup for a movie scene.

78D: "://" preceder (HTTP). I really really wanted this to be an emoticon. I had to get several crosses to convince me otherwise.

1A: Like the 30 Rock building (DECO) - C-. It's Art Deco.
Fave: SCHNOZ (90A: Hooter or honker). Great answer, great clue.
Least fave: MOOC (Acronym for a class taught over the internet). Stands for "massively open online course".

- Colum

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Saturday, May 6, 2017, Joe DiPietro


Holy cow, the clues were tough in this puzzle. I was fortunate enough to have entries into each section from a strange assortment of trivia type knowledge, or this might have taken much longer. But let me also say up front that this is really an outstanding themeless. I have almost no complaints at all!

I broke in with my first confident answer in a big way at 17A: Play and movie about a noted 1977 series of interviews (FROSTNIXON) - I've seen neither, but I remember reading about the movie. The NW corner was the easiest for me. With that in place, everything else fell quickly. I love 15A: Sly depiction, often (ACTIONHERO). It's a lovely hidden capital.

With SHIMON and HEXAPOD in place, 27A: 1983 7x platinum Billy Joel album, with "An" (INNOCENTMAN) was more than just a gimme for this inveterate fan. It's the last of his really great albums, with one of my alltime favorite songs, "Keeping the Faith".

Another bit of trivia knowledge helped me in the NE: recalling the RCADOME in Indianapolis. It was demolished in 2008, which is not as long ago as I'd thought. 25A: Composer of "Doktor Faustus" (BUSONI) is likely pretty esoteric for most people. I don't know this piece in particular, but the composer is familiar to me for his rather grandiose orchestral versions of Bach keyboard pieces.

For a few reason, I had to start over again at this point. I couldn't get the end of ONAKICK (too many possibilities, even after I guessed HAKE - and then took it out). 25D: Center of a blowout, maybe (BEERKEG) was really tough to see, even if you'd rejected the obvious sports-related feint. Fortunately 61A: One who won't give kids a shot? (ANTIVAXXER) was another relatively easy answer, and so I had traction in the SE.

The trio of answers in the triple stack here are the strongest in the puzzle. MARKOMEARA is a great name and certainly famous enough. And 63A: One who's gotten good marks? (SCAMARTIST) is a great clue. For a weird moment I wondered whether it would be a "scar artist" - is that a thing? I know there are some people out there into scarification as a form of body art, but... yeah.

43D: Urban lab transporter, maybe (PETTAXI) - woof. Literally. Turns out this is not referring to some kind of hirable vehicle to drive your animal to the dog park, although these exist in NYC, Google tells me. Instead, it's those crates with a handle you can carry your pet in. Anyway, nice reinterpretation of "lab" here. 45D: Noah's predecessor (STEWART) is referring to The Daily Show.

Finally, I broke into the SW when I realized that 38D: Herb of PBS's "Ciao Italia" (OREGANO) was not referring to a person. This is a rare instance of a reverse hidden capital! Also, I love CRANKCALLER. I did not understand this at all until I filled in the final letter (which I should have gotten earlier - KAY Thompson is a big hit in our household).

1A: Be on K.P., in a way (WASHDISHES) - C+. This is the least interesting of all of the long answers.

- Colum

Friday, May 5, 2017

Friday, May 5, 2017, Patrick Berry

9:34 (FWOE)

I do know how to spell HOULIHAN. I really do. Why would I put in HOoLIHAN? And why did I not catch RoNTO? One day I'm going to make it over to the ACPT, and it's mistakes like this that I would like to cut out.

Patrick Berry routinely makes DELOVELY themeless puzzles, and this one is very nice indeed. I don't love it as much as some of his others. You may have noticed that I have a thing about corners that are cut off from the rest of the puzzle. That's the case here in the NW and the SE. But that's a small bone to pick.

After all, we get 15A: Sea that Homer called "wine-dark" (AEGEAN). Yes. This is wonderful. And how about the absurd beauty of 30D: They meet at a summit (HILLSIDES). How literal! I'm also still chuckling over 50A: Agricultural outfit (OVERALLS). Definitely not what I was thinking.

It's funny that one day after I CARP about "o sole..." as a partial, we get the entire song title for once (OSOLEMIO).

Of the marquee long entries, I liked POUNDSTERLING (I'm such an Anglophile - I just finished reading a 3 volume biography of Winston Churchill - fascinating stuff, running to over 3000 pages, but the authors disposed of the last 10 years of his life in some 120 pages). 31A: Instructions on where to go? (HOUSETRAINING) - I so wanted "potty training" instead, but this works well. SHIPOFTHELINE wasn't as inspiring.

1A: Radisson rival (RAMADA) - D. Brand name, clued with a brand name. Unfortunate way to start.
Fave: GADABOUT (47A: Restless sort). What a great noun. I tried Gogetter first, but recognized that didn't quite fit.
Least fave: MISDO (26D: Make a hash of). I just don't think it's a word anyone would use in conversation.

I'm getting hungry, looking at all those TAPAS, PITAS, and MISO. Dinner, anyone?


- Colum

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Thursday, May 4, 2017, Loren Muse Smith and Tracy Gray

8:23 (FWOE)

Always expect the funny twist on a Thursday, right? When I could think of nothing to fit into 21A: "Miss Manners," for one, I knew something was up.

In fact, I got the revealer very quickly. It helped to know VAN Cliburn, the first American pianist to win the prestigious Tchaikovsky competition in Russia in 1958, at the height of the Cold War. That led to NARY and ABLE, at which point I put BLizzard in at 44A: Winter driving hazard ... or a literal hint to four squares in this puzzle (BLACKICE). Well, I figured that out, and off we went.

Despite my recognition that something was up, I didn't actually look back at the NW corner. The first rebus square I found was at 66A: 11/11 (ARMIST[ICE]DAY). It's not actually a requirement nowadays that any standalone section of white squares be clued separately. We've seen a number of puzzles where the second portion of an answer is clued by "-". In this case, however, it's fun that each answer following one of the rebus black squares is clued independently.

The other three black squares are symmetrically placed. ADV[ICE]COLUMN and POL[ICE]VAN are well done. I also liked SERV[ICE]DOG and NOD[ICE]. The last set is a little more problematic, if we're being nitpicky (and really, what else is the point of these reviews, I ask you?). I don't really like [ICE]AGE, because the rebus square is not encompassed in a larger word and simply reiterates the meaning of the revealer. Second, 64D: Time's partner, informally (TEMP) is a big huh? for me. Is "time and temperature" a widely used phrase? I thought of "time will tell", "time and date", and "time and space" first. Certainly nobody would ever say "time and temp", right?


In other news, I enjoyed many of the bonus answers here. LILABNER is nice to see in his complete name form. I also like CATARACT, MONGOOSE, and ODORLESS, which will always remind me of The Princess Bride ("What you do not smell is iocaine powder..."). YSHAPE is also great looking in the grid.

Not as big a fan of BARCARTS. I think we call them drink carts nowadays.

1A: Harsh cries (YAWPS) - A-. Walt Whitman. Nice. "I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world."
Fave: ENNIO (69A: Film composer Morricone). Amazing scores for The Mission and Cinema Paradiso, certain famous spaghetti westerns, along with scores of others (see what I did there?). Also, this answer enabled a foothold into the SW isolated corner.
Least fave: OSOLE (17A: "____ Mio"). This old chestnut partial.

My error was a typo. I put an M at the crossing of JOAN and NEGEV by accident.

- Colum

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Wednesday, May 3, 2017, Alan Arbesfeld


I'm just going to come out and say up front that I am no fan of the quip/quote crossword puzzle. For one thing, you can't use crosswording with the long answers that make up the quip. I love the logic that plays into crossword puzzles, the recognition of letter patterns, the fact that every letter must work in two answers. When you have long phrases that are so unpredictable, there's no cross referencing possible.

So that being said, this one worked pretty well. Primarily because I was able to ignore the long answers entirely until the very end of the puzzle. I worked almost entirely using the down answers and a number of the non-themed across answers.

How's the quip? Hmm. WHENADENTIST / ANDMANICURIST / ARGUE / THEYMUSTFIGHT / TOOTHANDNAIL. It's cute, but why is there that "must" in there? I bet the original quip is: "When a dentist and [a] manicurist argue, they ... fight tooth and nail." But that doesn't split neatly into the required symmetric pieces. And that's the other downside of a quip puzzle: the torturing of the quip to make it follow crossword rules.

With five theme answers, there's a lot of glue. The two long down answers, POLEVAULTER and TICKETTAKER are less than scintillating (because of those -ER endings, in my book). I liked the clue for the former though - 3D: One with a high bar to reach. That's cute.
And here's another -ER ending!!!!
SIOUXCITY is pretty nice stuff. I'd forgotten that Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren were twins (and Russian Jewish!), so it's perhaps less shocking that they came from the same town... At the same time, that X ensures my least favorite answer in the puzzle.

The middle of the puzzle, around ARGUE leads to ASU RLS IOU and CUE. We also get NNE (I'm less deadset against these directions than I once was) and SPH(?!).

So on the whole, I think I come down on the negative side on this puzzle.

1A: Virgo/Libra mo. (SEPT) - D. Yuck. Hate starting with an abbreviation. Also, what's with all the months? ENERO and AOUT also present.
Fave: NONE (52D: Poor dog's portion, in rhyme) - for the clue. And how exactly does that rhyme with "bone" again?
Least fave: XSOUT (19D: Crosses off).

- Colum

Monday, May 1, 2017

Tuesday, May 2, 2017, David J. Kahn


It's a veritable feast of Broadway musicals! The awards won by these shows are of course the BESTMUSICAL Tony award. Nothing to do with the Oscars, which should have been apparent to me because there are two clues referencing the two Oscar winners for "Hannah and Her Sisters" (CAINE and WIEST - nice that both are 5 letters long, eh?). Let's just say that even after I'd filled in the revealer, I was stuck on the idea that somehow there was an Oscar for best musical movie. Which I know not to be the case.

Okay, now that I've revealed my thickheadedness, let's rank these six musicals.

1. Hamilton. Yes, I've seen it, and it's an outstanding musical. It's almost blasphemy that I'm putting
2. Company - second?! Yes, Sondheim, my all time favorite musical composer goes second here. If it had been Sweeney Todd, it would have outranked Lin-Manuel.
3. Rent. A super fun musical about AIDS and drugs and living in Alphabet City.
4. Once. Okay, I've actually only seen the movie, not the musical. But I did enjoy it very much.
5. Annie. A highly competent musical, with some great tunes, if you overlook "Tomorrow".
6. Nine. Never seen it or heard it. Maybe it would be higher if I had, but I haven't. So there.

The phrases the musicals are embedded in are almost all solid. Could I nitpick with ANNIEOAKLEY, as she is the main character of Annie, Get Your Gun (another musical)? I suppose I could. I also don't love RENTROLL as rent is used in exactly the same way in both the musical title and the phrase.
Painted by my ancestor
Otherwise, the form of the grid is brilliantly done, separating out the theme answers and allowing a few interesting longer answers. HAYFEVER is better than LAPROBES. There's a lot of meh short answers down the NW-SE diagonal, which were necessary to separate the five across theme answers.

1A: Like some basketball shots and unwanted calls (BLOCKED) - B+. Fun clue.
Fave: ESTONIA (70A: Country north of Latvia). I have been to Tallinn, which was a gorgeous city. Also, I thought of "Finland" first, which is technically north of Latvia, but not directly north...
Least fave: NRA. Nuff said.

- Colum