Thursday, November 30, 2017

Thursday, November 30, 2017, Trenton Charlson


I had absolutely no idea what was going on for almost the entire puzzle. I had figured out that the circles were to be filled with Xs, which sped things along, but I couldn't get why they were that way, even when I knew the terms that were supposed to go there. And then I finally filled in 60A: It's four units long in a popular board game ... (BATTLESHIP).

And then it became clear. The destroyer is 2 units long, thus CONANTHEXX is actually Conan The Destroyer (the real name of the movie). The cruiser is 3 units long, thus PTXXX. I really never liked that car. Looked fake 50s. And so on.

The theme is excellent, strong work for a fun Thursday, even though there aren't any rebuses. All those Xs made for faster work as well. There are 12 answers with Xs in them (one has 2). Some were bound to be less strong. For example, JOHNX and RXS. On the positive side, though, you get one of the top clue-answer pairs of the year, in my opinion, at 9D: Congress (SEX). Mm hm. That's right. You heard me.

Also very nicely done is the inclusion of JUKEBOXHERO (another X word), and its symmetric opposite LOOSECANNON.

Other nice entries included 44A: Opened one's mouth but didn't speak? (YAWNED); 30A: It's measured in cups (BRA), and 12D: "Oh, cry me a river!" (BOOHOO).

I messed up at 1A, and it was falsely confirmed with an error at 1D as well. I put in "adder" at 1A: Venomous African snake (MAMBA), and thought "air" was a good answer for 1D: Word after hot or open (MIC). Fortunately 2D: Blood letters had to be ABO, and corrections were made. So I give 1A a B+ for being tricksy.

Lastly, I'd like to say that Cece and I watched Speed with KEANU Reeves and Sandra Bullock this past weekend. On rewatching, it was incredibly flimsy in plot, but a ton of fun, and the two of them were so young! Keanu had started down the road to wooden acting, but still had a bit of his Bill goofy walking.

- Colum

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Wednesday, November 29, 2017, Erik Agard


Hmmm. I like celebrating MOTOWN. A ton of great music was produced in Detroit in the 1960s and 1970s. I also like the four theme answers, even if I've never heard of a CONTOURKIT before this puzzle (although I see it's actually something quite common, by Google).


Isn't it a problem that the groups were called "The Supremes," "The Contours," etc., and that we only get a singular version with each theme answer? Or are we to imagine it's a singular representative of each group heading up each one? I'm a little underwhelmed by that.

That being said, the grid is reasonably clean. There's something of a Japanese mini-theme going on with RAMEN, UDON, TAIKO, ANIME, and AKIRA. There's also a mean streak, what with MAIMS, TRAUMA, and SADISM.

But the real reason I liked this puzzle came with 1A: What you see when you look up? (ACROSS). That gets a flat out A. I was not expecting it, and it's precisely correct. Excellent start to the grid.

Not much else to comment on from my perspective, except that 7D: "The following is completely true:" (FACT) reminds me of Dwight Schrute.

- Colum

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Tuesday, November 28, 2017, Andrew J. Ries


Hee hee! UTURN, that much maligned crossword answer (at least it's better than "uey" or "uie") gets its turn in the spotlight (see what I did there?), being reinterpreted as names of universities ("U's") making a 180 degree change of direction. It does mean that we get the less than desirable circles to show us just where the cleverness is happening, but I'd have had a hard time finding them otherwise.

The four centers of higher learning are placed symmetrically, and represent Clemson, Cal Tech, Princeton, and Notre Dame. Nicely spread out geographically, although only one from west of the Mississippi. These kinds of answers cause letters to be "triple-checked" because they have to play a role in three different answers at a time. I'm sure Mr. Ries would have preferred not to have both CHEERON and STARTON in the grid, but I suspect it was necessary because of the constraints of those letters.

That being said, I was impressed by the presence of EVIDENCEBAG, TRADEROUTES, PARISMETRO, and ADULTERANT, all fine answers. And my favorite answer in the grid is 10D: Kind of motel (NOTELL). Never heard of it before, but it makes all kinds of sense.

We also get everybody's favorite dog, GROMIT (much better than that brainless Odie), and GOTYE, who wrote the song that we must have listened to 6 million times in 2012.

I don't love ACER, a longtime piece of crosswordese, or TAPA, which seems awfully lonely. Nobody has just one when they go to a tapas bar, right? Also ISS seems ish to me. But I did chuckle at 2D: Lovers running to each other may be shown in it (SLOMO).

1A: Molded jelly (ASPIC) - C-. Yuck.

- Colum

Monday, November 27, 2017

Monday, November 27, 2017, Kevin Christian


In celebration of the MULLET, we get no fewer than six movies (well, nine, if you include the sequels to RAMBO... oh, and there were four LETHALWEAPON movies as well, so that makes, um, twelve?!) squeezed into the grid. Of these movies, clearly DIRTYDANCING is the best, followed by PULPFICTION. CONAIR gets last place, even though it was entertaining. But still, Nic Cage...

All of those theme answers makes for some unfortunate fill. There are a full twenty-three 3-letter answers, out of 78 total. And OHBOY, those include both TOR and CLE, as well as UTA and CPU. But even so, those aren't terrible. I'm more disturbed by EREI and INST (the dreaded abbreviation from an abbreviation).

On the other hand, it is impressive to have both STREETCRED and JUSTINCASE, alongside SCORPION and DOGFIGHT.

The print version had thumbnails of each actor sporting his iconic hairdo, which could not be reproduced in the app. But, just in case you wanted more, I'm pretty sure the DUO of Hall & Oates were known to have similar hairstyles...

- Colum

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sunday, November 26, 2017, Jeff Chen


This is what I call a classic Sunday puzzle theme. It's right out of GAMES magazine from the old days. One word is put inside another to make a new word or phrase. What elevates this particular theme is the cleverness of the cluing: it's almost cryptic crossword style, with the exception that there is no reference to the finished product. Still, in each example, there's some term to indicate that one word is inside the other.

My favorite example is 68A: Flourishes around monsoon events (BRAINSURGEONS), or "rains" inside of "burgeons." Very nicely done. I also very much liked 28A: Neighborhoods surrounded by crime (THEFAREAST), or "areas" inside of "theft."

While all of the theme answers are clued well, I didn't think DRIVETRAINS stands up that well as its own phrase. Also, 116A: Crew found inside again and again (THROWINGRICE) doesn't work that well with the manipulated words. Why is "rowing" equal to "crew?" Shouldn't it be "rowers?"

Meanwhile, the rest of the grid is strong, as is to be expected from Mr. Chen, who pays very close attention to the quality of the fill. I feel sure he will remark on the "cheater" squares in the NW and SE corners, which likely improved those areas. Look at 18A and 18D, GRAVLAX and GROK. Beautiful combinations there. 1A: Per (APIECE) gets a C+, though, for its commonality.

Other nice entries include DOTTEDI, POSSECUT, and DULCINEA. 3D: Does his name ring a bell (IVANPAVLOV) and 124A: Need a lift? (SAG) are both GROANERS, but the former positively, the latter much less so.

I really have very little to complain about. Yes, there's AONE, NRA, and ECRUS (how can a color be pluralized?), but it was a fun Sunday.

- Colum

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Saturday, November 25, 2017, Kevin G. Der


Ooh, this was a tough Saturday. I'll point out some answers I'm unhappy with, but overall, who doesn't like a struggle on a weekend?

I entered through the ENSUITE, and followed with SAYPLEASE. At this point I thought things might be easier than expected. But I tried turnLANES for 1A: Places for drivers to get around (LEFTLANES). Okay, so that's actually a pretty darned good 1A. I'll give it an A- for the laugh, but a B for the fact that how many left hand lanes are there on a highway? Just one. So overall, that averages to a B+.

Anyway, I couldn't remember CALDERCUP, even though it was a clue on Thursday where it was called the Calder Memorial Trophy. So when things slowed down there, I moved via 21A: Engage in warfare (SPILLBLOOD) and LALO - how nice to have specialized music knowledge - into the SE corner.

I had TAKETIME and TREN as my entrees here. I like this corner a lot. 48A: Entertainers for whom lines quickly form (SLAMPOETS) takes the prize for my favorite clue today. But we also have two not so great answers in CASHAUDIT (I mean, I see that it's probably a thing, I've just never heard of it) and 55A: Producer of loose leaf notes? (TEATASTER). This latter is a real job, apparently, but looked to me as I entered it to be a completely made up vocation.

Anyway, the other answer in the puzzle I didn't like much was 38A: Consumers want to get their hands on it (TABLETPC). Oooooo-kay. I just don't think the clue really works.

Otherwise, the puzzle was quite smooth and well constructed. There's a mini-theme in Mexicana with ELMARIACHI, SOMBREROS, and LAREDO.

- Colum

Friday, November 24, 2017

Friday, November 24, 2017, Bruce Haight and David Steinberg


Friday themeless theme alert! The three sets of black squares across the middle are in fact meant to be a hat turning over, apparently with counterclockwise action. I imagine that is a more difficult way to go about FLIPPINGONESLID, but who am I to judge. Meanwhile, in the symmetric space across the bottom of the grid, we get ATTHEDROPOFAHAT, which I like much better (none of this "one's"). Also note that the grid lacks symmetry.

I solved this puzzle in the company of my mother, the day after Thanksgiving, down here in NYC. I recognize that for most of the country, NYC is not "down", but rather "up", or conceivably, "over there." We wanted SOFTcrab at 1D: Its shell isn't hard (SOFTTACO), but 22A: Sci-fi TV series before "DS9" (TNG) soon put that right. Even though we worked our way down to ONSITE, the top part of that corner was still too difficult, so we skipped to the NE.

Of course GANACHE is a favorite, especially chocolate truffle variety. I also very much liked 13D: Chip maker (CHISEL). Not the sort of chip I was thinking of. We slipped into the SE corner by way of 35A: Person picking a ticket (VOTER).

I will always come out against ENPLANE and similar words. I just don't see anybody using the term in real life. Similarly, 40D: Amateurs (NONPROS) is true, accurate, and never used.

We finally worked our way back up to the NW by way of 6D: Steady (MAINSQUEEZE), which is my favorite from today's grid. It's exact but the clue has enough ambiguity to be unclear, and the actual answer is very satisfying.

1A: Dish whose name means "pierce flesh" (SASHIMI) gets a B+ for the nice trivia.

- Colum

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thursday, November 23, 2017, Howard Barkin


Happy Thanksgiving to all! I hope everybody is feeling stuffed and happy, unlike our turkey brethren, who were stuffed and unhappy about it.

I had a really hard time with today's puzzle, and I can't exactly say why. The theme is relatively straightforward, although I could barely grasp it while solving. Essentially, each answer is derived from a well-known title, each of which has a number in it. That number is mathematically manipulated, and the resulting phrase is then clued using that manipulation. Got it?

Yeah, so I didn't see it at all for a long time. 20A: Halftime show? (THIRTYMINUTES) I was able to fill in from a lot of crosses and some logic, but I didn't see why. A show that lasts an hour? Okay, a lot of shows last that long. But no, the original title is, of course, "Sixty Minutes," a very well known TV show where the number has been cut in half. Very nice.

Especially well done is the fact that you have a TV show, a movie, a play, a plantation estate, and a band. The clues are brilliant as well. 30A: Double feature? (SIXAMIGOS) is very strong (from "Three Amigos"). 38A: Triple play? (RICHARDIX) is very good, especially that the number tripled has remained in Roman numeral form. 50A: Fourth estate? (THREEOAKS) is very good, even if "Twelve Oaks" from Gone With The Wind is not in common parlance any more. And finally, 59A: Fifth act? (THEJACKSONONE) is where I finally understood what the heck was going on ("The Jackson Five").

The place I spent the vast majority of my time was around the crossing of JODECI (who? when? I have no idea who these people are) and ACIDY (not a great answer, honestly). 11D: Declaration at the end of a chess game (IRESIGN) was hard to find. I was stuck thinking of "and mate." I had a very difficult time figuring out JIVE and VAC as well. So that whole corner took a long time.

Otherwise I don't have a lot to comment on. I broke in at MOVIE and MERYL, a nice crossing, especially with EBERT right below. I also liked BRITCOM.

1A: Completion of filming (WRAP) -B. Straightforward.

I hope to have better performances tomorrow and Saturday. Here's to the rest of the turn!

- Colum

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Wednesday, November 22, 2017, Timothy Polin


Yesterday's puzzle was international, but today's is global. It appears that the grid is reimagined as a world map, with the edges of the puzzle representing the cardinal directions, while the two tropics and the EQUATOR go across the middle. I liked how the tropics were both split across two answers, namely ICAN / CERES and CAPRI / CORN.

The theme gave itself away on 1A: Home to Santa's workshop ([NORTH]POLE). Only one answer serves, but there was space enough only for "pole". Once I had the odious ODEA in place at 2D, the process was confirmed.

It's quite impressive to have three examples each of [direction]word along each edge. My favorite trio was [SOUTH]KOREA, [SOUTH]PAWS, and [SOUTH]BEND, because at least one of the terms was not truly directional in nature (yes, lefties have their left hand to the south when they pitch, but it's not a name of a place or an obvious direction like [EAST]WIND).

Anyway, there are some fine long bonus answers here as well. I myself like a LIQUIDDIET de temps à temps, although that's not the pre-op preference they're talking about here. SUGARSNAP and LASTINLINE were both good. EXTREMITY is a chunky word, though not with the same brilliance of the others.

I also very much enjoyed MEDULLA for obvious reasons, both professional and because of the really excellent Björk album of the same name. Symmetrically, I had high hopes for 47A: Queen in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (TITANIA) when I had the first three letters entered from the crosses. I still really love the final answer though.

On the down side, you get REQD, ABOX (Has anyone ever used the phrase "As dumb as rocks in a box"?), your everyday random NTILE scrabble tile clue, and the antiquated ENOW. All that was not enough to overcome the fun of solving though. I'm definitely in favor here.

- Colum

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Tuesday, November 21, 2017, Brian Thomas


Groaner car racing puns based on nationalities. Hmmm. The only one I actually liked was CZECHEREDFLAG. It looks excellent in the grid. The other three I grade as follows:

POLEINTOFIRST: D-. This doesn't even sound right. I thought it was a joke on "pole position".

So anyway, that gotten out of the way, we can instead pay more attention to the fill, which is fine, if nothing special. In the NW corner, there's the vague and fine clue at 1D: Diamond, e.g. (SHAPE). Many possibilities there. 20D: Rare grandfather clock numeral (IIII) is fun to look at, and I have seen it on some clock faces, so I'll accept what might otherwise seem like a piece of constructor desperation.

6D was unwelcome in my eyes, slightly misdirecting clue notwithstanding.

Happy to see HARRIET and the complete RASTAFARI in the NE corner. In the SW corner, 32D: Ponytail holder (SCRUNCHIE) was my favorite answer in the grid. In our household we call them "ucks" because that was the sound my wife made whenever our daughter's hair would escape from her grasp while trying to put the scrunchie on. 39D: Where China is (FAREAST) is obviously entirely relative. I don't think the Chinese would put it that way.

But enough ZANY remarks. I didn't hate it.

1A: Wound on a dueler (STAB) - C-. The English language itself is wounded by the syntax of that clue.

- Colum

Monday, November 20, 2017

Monday, November 20, 2017, Peter Gordon


ALLITERATION is the name of the game, to quote ABBA. Except it's hidden examples today, where the sounds are in fact the same, but the spelling is different. Ah, English!

I didn't know General Burgoyne's nickname, but it came easily enough based on the crosses. GENTLEMANJOHNNY is a much happier 15-letter answer than its symmetric opposite. I suppose KELLYANNECONWAY was due to show up in the NYT at some point, but the less said about her the better.

Meanwhile, PHOTOFINISH is excellent. CAESARSALAD is also good, although the classicists among us (Horace?) might complain that the initial C should be hard rather than soft. I know, I know, it's a common English phrase. But again, if we can't nitpick a little, what's the point of this blog in the first place?

Wait, don't answer that question. I don't want to put us out of business.

I really like the revealer running right down the middle of the grid, crossing all four theme answers. That's some nice construction there.

In the fill, there are a number of answers that cross multiple theme answers, including ABNEGATIVE (I initially had ABposiTIVE there, which I suppose I should have known better - turns out it's almost six times more likely than the actual answer). Better even is IVORYTOWER, which is where I work, almost literally. Okay, not literally, but it is an academic institution. Yeah, but who wants to live in an institution?

Thank you, I'll be here all week. I mean, all month.

Favorite piece of trivia: Henry SHRAPNEL. Least favorite answer, and it will be every time it's in the puzzle: STYES.

1A: Three-syllable foot, as in "bada-bing" (ANAPEST) - A-. It's the poetic foot used in limericks. Such as:

A very sad poet was Jenny:
Her lim'ricks were not worth a penny.
In technique they were sound,
And yet somehow she found
That whenever she tried to write any,
She always wrote one line too many.

- Colum

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sunday, November 19, 2017, Tom McCoy


Themes are getting awfully creative lately. Here, the theme answers are clued, indirectly, by the number of letters in the answers themselves. Thus, MIDNIGHTHOUR is the answer for "12". However, the way we get at this meta-cluing is via the revealer at 110A: Something to count to understand [the theme answers] (ANSWERLENGTH). That's some mental contortions the solver has to do. Somehow, it feels like it could be done more simply, but that's okay.

In a way, it's too bad that the the theme answers obey typical crossword symmetry, because then we have two examples of "18" and "10", along with the one example of "12". Still it's pretty clever to have found VOTINGAGEINAMERICA and ARGONSATOMICNUMBER, both totaling 18 letters. DIVERSGOAL is somehow not precise enough, although I understand what it's getting at. REALLOOKER is fortunately not gendered, especially given everything that's going on in this country currently.

I did like the center answer, at 13 letters, BADLUCKSYMBOL.

Oddly, there is a bonus "answer", which doesn't follow any of the above rules. It's simply that there are four circled letters that spell F-O-U-R. In reading Mr. McCoy's notes at xwordinfo, I find that he was inspired by the fact that the number 4 is the only one in English whose name is it's own length in letters. So that's cool, but it's only just barely inferable from the puzzle.

Now, before I get on to any nice stuff in the fill, I have to call out several answers. First, 24A: Not definitely going to happen (EVITABLE). Wow. Yes, I get that it's a word, and that it in fact means the opposite of "inevitable," but nobody has every actually used this word in conversation.

Then, there's 43D: List-ending phrase (ETALIAE). A term that could conceivably be used to sum up a list of either all feminine nouns (in any language that uses gender in that way, i.e., not English) or possibly a list of only women. I'm guessing this term has not been used much if ever.

Finally, there's MANALIVE. Has any reader of this blog actually said this?

On the plus side, there's TONOAVAIL, NEVERMORE, and the excellent TOUCANSAM.

1A: Sports figures (STATS) - B+. It got me. I had STArS in place for quite some time.

- Colum

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Saturday, November 18, 2017, Sam Trabucco


I enjoyed solving today's puzzle, but I have to admit after looking over some of the answers here, there are some I'm not convinced by.

Let's start with 1A: Youngster in a stream (OTTERPUP). I mean, nobody's going to be upset by these guys:

But still, wouldn't they just be called pups? Or if you had a bunch of baby dogs and baby otters together, I could see having to say, "Well, let's only put the otter pups in the water, not the dog pups." And that might come up all the time in a perfect world, but to tell the truth, I've never come across that particular situation in my life.

So that's a lot of words to explain why I can only give 1A at B-.

I am similarly not particularly convinced by DATATYPE (would anybody ever say that?), while MSDEGREE sounds a bit off (it's something that would be written but not said: in conversation you'd just say "Master's degree," or even more likely, "Master's").

Fortunately, there's plenty here that's far more LEGIT. For example, my favorite answer (and the first one I put in with confidence after Kung PAO chicken) was 12D: Absence of preconceived notions (TABULARASA). And today, CHASEUTLEY makes a full-named appearance. I think of him primarily as a Phillie, but times change.

Similarly, 29D: The hardest part when making guacamole? (AVOCADOPIT) made me go YEAHDUDE! Not literally, mind you. I don't make a habit of shouting out my approval as I solve a NYT crossword puzzle. People might get TEED off.

The Pokémon slogan I could do without, but it's a nice 15-letter answer, so there you go. I guess that makes it inevitable that it would find its way into the puzzle, and today is its debut.

I finished in the NW, where I wanted ohpLEASE. The actual answer, PUHLEASE is much better. And UBERPOOL is nicely contemporary. On the other hand, I don't, as a rule, take a DEWLAP.

I give it a thumbs up overall.

- Colum

Friday, November 17, 2017

Friday, November 17, 2017, Zhouqin Burnikel


I will overlook the distinct lack of flow in the puzzle caused by the diagonal line of black squares from NW to SE. ASIFICARE, right? And overlook it why? Because this was a delight to fill in.

It starts with 1A: Wheels for rent in the Big Apple (CITIBIKES), which I give an A-. Anything that encourages bike riding in particular and exercise in general gets high marks in my book. I finally get to break the meh streak!

That triple stack is not the most brilliant (DONOTIRON in particular is a bit odd). But I knew I would be enjoying this puzzle with 2D: Emerges unscathed (ISOK). It's a little BIT of nothing much, but I liked how present tense of the clue does not result in an answer that ends in -S.

9D: Like many sick schoolkids (SENTHOME) is unusual, isn't it? I guess some people would say it's not enough of a standard phrase, but I enjoyed it. I liked OOHOOH next to GOOGLEPLAY. So many Os.

The triple stack in the SE is strong. ANALGESIA as an effect of marijuana is the reason cannabinoids are approved for pain relief. Many of the other purported benefits of marijuana for medical use are not particularly supported by research. 54A: They're embedded in temporal bones (INNEREARS) felt like the clue just missed being clever. TOKYODOME is very nice.

Throw in your KARATS and ATOLL (both "chain units, maybe"), your Chase UTLEY, and your LOWELL (Pulitzer prize winner twice 27 years apart), and you get a fun puzzle. Who knew ETRADE's been around since 1991? I had a modem back then, but the idea of performing stock purchases across it would not have crossed my mind.

- Colum

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thursday, November 16, 2017, Alex Eylar

12:45 (FWTE)

This is such a perfect theme. I'm deeply in awe. What a fantastic idea: those silly cross-referencing clues are used in a meta fashion. When I came across 17A: See 58-Across, and then went to 58A: See 17-Across, I was confused to say the least. Even once I intuited TAUTOLOGY for one, I was loath to put the same answer in at the other, until it hit me. It's describing the answers!

Thus, 25A: See 25-Across is RECURSION. 36A: See 66-Across is AWILDGOOSECHASE, because there is no 66-Across. Brilliant. And the one that made me laugh out loud came at 46A: See ??-Across (AMBIGUITY). Hah! Incredible. I might go so far as to say this is my favorite theme of the year, probably mostly because I can only remember the themes of the last couple of weeks. But still.

I am embarrassed to say that I left SAhARI in place and didn't discover it until the end. I was caught somewhere between SAFARI (the actual answer, of course) and the Sahara, which is sort of close to where you might experience the other. Well, they're both in Africa at least. I feel less bad about leaving ERIk in place. Except the clue specifies that M. Rohmer was French, so that K seems pretty out of place. Not to mention that CRISkO seems suddenly strangely Germanic.

My hardest section was in the W, where I had COUNTmeIn for a long time. Meanwhile, 24D: Come down hard? (HAIL) was a great clue, and I couldn't see it, while PONIED and GROANED were both opaque because of missing COUNTONIT. When in doubt, take it out, again. That's two days running!

Nothing much else to say, except to point out all of the HAMS and SYRUPS that are lying about. Oh, and 43D: Corn kernel, e.g. (NIBLET) is wonderful.

1A: Almanac entry (FACT) - C-. So meh. When, oh when, will I get an exciting 1A? Perhaps on the rest of this turn?

- Colum

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Wednesday, November 15, 2017, Steven E. Atwood


Were it not for the sort of SSE section of the puzzle, this would have whipped by for a Wednesday. But I was stuck because I had entered COSin for COSEC (it's been an awful long time since trigonometry), and had EPic for EPOS. Then when I looked at 70A: Beat people? I had n__c. I thought about "narc" - see? I didn't miss the joke, but then who is this Frida KAHLa?

When in doubt, take it out. Then STOMP went in, and the rest was history. Not helped by the "huh?" clue at 67A: Dagwood's bratty neighbor (ELMO). I suppose I should be grateful it wasn't clued with Sesame Street. In fact, a brief Google search of famous people named Elmo turns up hardly anybody I've heard of. How about Elmo Shropshire, who sang "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer"?

Anyway, I've been known to take some BRITISHISMS in my time. My daughters accuse me of being a wannabe Brit. It's a cute theme, with phrases that have words that mean something different across the pond, then clued that way. My favorite is probably 40A: *Catalog from a London raincoat designer? (MACBOOK). But really, mostly my reactions were polite smiles.

Still, I enjoyed the puzzle. It contains not only ANNIE Lennox but also DEBORAH (better known as Debbie) Harry, for a double dose of New Wave goodness. Add in George WENDT and there was a strong 1980s feel.

Strange that KAN appears for the second day in a row, this time not highlighting Manhattan but Dwight D. Eisenhower. Also, I prefer "tempi" to TEMPOS, but that's just me.

Ooh. I just noticed that ISM appears in the grid separately from BRITISHISMS. That's actually a major problem, really. Does it invalidate the puzzle? Weird that they let that go.

1A: Man's name that means "king" (ROY) - C+. The streak of "meh" 1A answers continues.

- Colum

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Tuesday, November 14, 2017, Jerry Miccolis and Jeff Chen


A very nice revealer here, in TRIPLE DOUBLE. This is in fact a common enough term among basketball statisticians and fans, although I'm sure the less sports-minded among us might be unfamiliar with it. But it describes the theme answers well, as each entry has three pairs of double letters in a row.

BOOKKEEPER has always been a well-known example of this (ever since early days of my subscription to Games Magazine for me!), and it's the only example which doesn't need a hyphen in common usage. Of the other examples in this puzzle, SWEETTOOTH (especially as it fits symmetrically opposite bookkeeper) and GOODDEED work well. The others I could do without.

Do we really think WOODDEER is a thing? I see that the other two search well on the Google, but this seems made up.

Meanwhile, I had some difficulty with the fill. Even after I entered HIDEF (70A: Far from fuzzy, for short), my mind insisted on misparsing it as hide-F, even as I knew all the crosses were correct. In fact, it's a clever clue which I like, now that I can see it the right way. I also couldn't remember CHROME (even as I enter this blog post on that very browser), nor could I see INCIDENT, especially as ACCT seemed opaque to me.

Still, I like the puzzle. LANDGRAB is very good. And my favorite clue might be at 65A: P ____ psychology (unhelpful spelling clarification) (ASIN). Way to make a partial sing!

1A: No longer a minor (GROWN). B-. I wanted "adult".

- Colum

Monday, November 13, 2017

Monday, November 13, 2017, Peter A. Collins



Except I always thought it was "...a failure to communicate." Turns out that's a routine misquotation, at least according to Wikipedia. Nice that Mr. Collins found space to put COOL / HAND / LUKE across the bottom of the grid. Great movie, great quotation.

That's a lot of theme material (49 squares!). In exchange, the grid is set up so that there are no long down answers (the longest being six letters). Only two answers cross two parts of the quotation, allowing for smoother fill. I am impressed that there are four extra 9-letter across answers, all of them right next to theme answers. REFASHION is not so great, but LETSSLIDE, OLDFLAMES, and ICALLEDIT are all strong.

I feel so nostalgic for the bygone days of DUBYA. DAPHNE and STREEP are two strong representations of the feminine. In fact, of nine real-life people's names in the grid, five are women. That's coming closer to representing the 51%. Mind you, I am no fan in any way of ANDIE MacDowell. Almost anybody in the role would have made "Four Weddings and a Funeral" ten times more believable.

How about 6D: One poked through the eye? (LACE)? Pretty clever there.

Almost nothing here that I could complain about.

1A: Things kindergartners learn (ABCS) - B. I've had no brilliant 1A answers yet this month. I hope it turns a bit in the second half.

- Colum

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sunday, November 12, 2017, Ed Sessa

"S-Q'S ME!"

I liked the title of this puzzle perhaps better than the puzzle itself. Once again, you take a standard phrase that starts with W, change the first word to one that starts with S-Q-U instead, and reinterpret the phrase with a wacky clue.

The only theme answer I really just do not get is 80A: Cuckoo or dodo? (SQUIRRELYBIRD). Why are these two particular birds described as being "squirrely?" To me, that term means fidgety, or maybe trying to hide something. Cuckoos are well known for taking over the nest of another animal. Dodos are primarily known for not existing any more. Does anybody have any guess at the reason here?

Meanwhile, my favorite is probably 102A: Prepares cube steak? (SQUARESTHEBEEF). Here we get a classic phrase ("Where's the beef?"), with an unexpected twist by the reinvention, and a fairly clever clue. Otherwise, the clues in general fall flat for me, as evidenced by this exemplar: 49D: Enumerations of things to be sat on? (SQUISHLISTS). That's a real stretch of a clue. And I don't "squish" most things that I sit on, as a rule.

Meanwhile, all of those Qs lead to such essential crosswordese as INQ (2D: Question: Abbr. - that's rough), REQ, SEQ, SHAQ, and QUE. At least we get TOQUE and PIQUE out of it.

There's some good stuff in the fill: AMHERST, a nod to Massachusetts and Emily Dickinson - not just her birthplace, but really the place she lived all of her life except for 10 months at Holyoke Seminary. I also liked ELBARTO, TOPTHAT, and the full name of URIGELLER.

I also appreciated 43A: Trouble maker (HASBRO). Excellent hidden capital there.

Some people might find ERECTILE above TAUTENED as a little much.

1A: Philbin's onetime morning co-host (GIFFORD) - B-. We're getting pretty dated at this point. She was co-host from 1985 to 2000. Nearly 20 years ago!

- Colum

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Saturday, November 11, 2017, George Barany and Michael Shteyman


It's an unexpected "meta" type of theme today. There are ELEVEN 11-letter answers in the grid, commemorating VETERANSDAY, as in 11/11. And thus came to an end one of the most pointless conflicts in human history. But let's not think about that. Let's acknowledge the very nice construction of today's puzzle, and have an unofficial ranking of all 11 answers, as follows:

1. PUSSYGALORE. Obviously.
2. VETERANSDAY. Would have won in most lists, if number 1 hadn't been present.
3. HORRORFLICK. I tried ____movie, then ____story. "Flick" is so much better.
4. GUADALCANAL. So many lovely vowels to fit in the grid.
5. PESTCONTROL. For the clue: 39A: Debugging? So simple.
6. MARENOSTRUM. Latin is always welcome.
7. ROBERTSTACK. A complete name, and he has such a great role in Airplane!
11. ACCOUNTSFOR. Too generic.

That's 10 out of 11 that I would say are pretty strong to very strong answers. Nice work!

In other news, I entered the puzzle confidently at 1D: "Yentl" setting (SHTETL), and enjoyed the Agatha Christie complaint about her own creation (POIROT). I am interested in seeing Kenneth Branagh with that ridiculous mustache on screen soon.

33A: Text alert? (NOTABENE) will surely appeal to certain readers of this blog. QUEENBEY is a winner, and I also liked INAPANIC.

There were a ton of 3-letter answers, necessary, I'm sure, to get all those 11-letter answers into the grid. 32A: Old union member: Abbr. (SSR) is an example of how to gussy up a somewhat tired old piece of crosswordese. I'm not so fond of DPI, URI, RMN, RIN. 45A: It doesn't come full circle (ARC) is really quite nice.

1A: Array in ancient battles (SPEARS) - B+.
Least fave: AWS (41A: Comments like "Yer joshin'!"). Huh? Is this actually any kind of real life term? Or was it just made up on the spot? I'm lost.

- Colum

Friday, November 10, 2017

Friday, November 10, 2017, Patrick Berry


This is my favorite product of Mr. Berry's in some time. So smooth, so filled with Berryish goodness. And definitely harder than the typical Friday fare in my opinion over the last few months.

I shot myself in the foot early on, though, but confidently putting boiSe in at 18A: City that straddles the Arkansas River (TULSA). That other city straddles... wait for it... the Boise River. Go figure. Anyway, I couldn't get anywhere in the NW.

In the NE, I had LAMAR Odom pretty quickly (sometimes the Sports knowledge helps out, no?), but that led to yet another confident error. At 17A: Uffizi work (OLDMASTER), I happily put in priMavera. I am correct, at least, this time, in that this specific artwork does in fact reside in the Uffizi. For a while I wondered whether the answer would be claMshell, which would be completely ludicrous. Nobody calls The Birth of Venus "Clamshell", do they? Anyway, it was much less specific an answer.

Funnily enough, it was HELLBOY that got me going finally. That and STEUBEN, which Hope knew off the clue (as it wasn't Tiffany). 6A: Standard position? (HALFMAST) is excellent. Even better is 30A: Covered, in a way (DECENT). Very nice.

All at once, I figured out 5D: Item dropped in the drink? (STRAW). The rest of the puzzle went very quickly after that, which just tells you how much time I spent looking at that NW trying to figure out what was wrong.

35D: U.N. member whose capital comes last alphabetically (CROATIA) - that would be Zagreb. I knew playing Sporcle quizzes on European capitals would be useful one day.

1A: Midway sights (RIDES) - B-. For a moment I thought it might be RubES. That would be much better.
Fave: POTTERY (39D: Final outcome of a firing). Hah!

NICEONE, Mr. Berry!

- Colum

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Thursday, November 9, 2017, Bruce Haight

10:32 (FWTE)

I've never heard of James or Luther INGRAM, and I had iCHAT instead of GCHAT, and I thought the Mob boss was Frank vITTI. So maybe IviRAM seemed unlikely, but who's to say?

Well, I guess the NYT and Mr. Haight are to say, and I support them, but this section in the middle N of the puzzle was the toughest for me.

I very much enjoyed the theme. I didn't catch on immediately, in part because I parsed the first word of 17A as "well" rather than "we'll." But once I had BOTH in place, WELLBETHGIR went into place, and the other theme answers became clear as well. I like that the word that is turned back is different in each them answer. I think the best is the grid-spanning THERESNOGNINRUT, both because it's a 15-letter answer, but also because it proves itself wrong. Lovely.

There are some wonderful answers in the fill as well. PRIMALURGES and INNERBEAUTY are a nice pair of 11-letter answers. I couldn't recall MORDECAI from the clue (I'm not terribly up on my Book of Esther facts, but this should have come to me much more quickly, seeing as how it's the basis of the Jewish holiday Purim. Think noisemakers and hamentaschen.).

Other answers I liked were UPTOP, SHIRT atop of PONCHO, and the immortal HOOHA.

I'm not convinced by YARNED as a verb. Of course I wanted fibbED there, but that made more problems than it solved. There's ALSO your standard ONAT, NOL, and REG, but I don't think these were placed out of SPITE.

1A: Delights (JOYS) - B+ for the J and the Y.
Fave: MVP (61D: There's one for every season, for short). I so wanted Man here, but that "for short" brought me up short, so to speak. Very nice clue.

- Colum

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Wednesday, November 8, 2017, Joel Fagliano and Sam Ezersky


You know it must be Wednesday when you get an oddball theme like this one. Honestly, it played mostly like a themeless, and it looks like a themeless as well. There are non-theme answers that are as long as the shortest theme answers. The organization of the theme answers is symmetric but non-traditional.

I don't know. It's a strange thing. Take a multisyllabic word which has a hidden word (or not so hidden) in its last syllable, with just three letters before it, and then find three examples of the hidden word whose first initials make up those three letters. Boy, that's hard to describe!

In any case, my favorite was PASSPORTS (P-A-S sports), because the hidden word is actually unexpected. HUSBANDS, less so. It still works, because the "band" portion of "husband" comes from the old Norse bondí, which means occupier and tiller of the soil (who lives in the "hús", or house), and that has nothing to do with a bunch of musicians getting together to play songs.

Etymology is fun.

Anyway, I really liked DADROCK (I do listen to those particular bands, actually). It's funny because it's true. CLEARSKY is good as well, as is YESORNO. I've been reading a number of books on bridge recently (the card game), so I see 40D: In this puzzle it starts B-E-L (ONEDOWN) and think of a different meaning. Is it odd that this clue echoes the theme clues? Maybe 1D should have been clued as "Blanc, Everest, Lachat"...

I was tickled by having FEELS above FELL. Don't really know why. Also GROSZ (never heard of it) next to YEN (not clued as a currency).

1A: Rotten (BAD) - C.

- Colum

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Tuesday, November 7, 2017, Greg Poulos


Love this idea, although part of me wonders whether it is actually just a jaded attempt on the part of the constructor to come up with five answers that are debuting in the NYT xword. Just kidding. Actually, it's a little odd to see WORDOFTHEYEAR as the revealer, when only two of the theme answers are individual words rather than phrases.

Clearly the winner among the theme answers comes at 39A: Demoted [2006] (PLUTOED). Excellent and humorous at the same time. DUMPSTERFIRE is also a strong candidate. I'm not a huge fan in general of the SINGULARTHEY. I understand the desire for non-gendered pronouns. It just still feels odd in my mouth to say phrases such as: "When we pick CJ up to go to rehearsal, will they bring their own music stand?" And yet, there it is. My younger daughter has multiple acquaintances / friends who wish to use this.

Meanwhile, the puzzle played slow, I would claim in large part because of the hypersegmented nature of the grid. With six theme answers, all those black squares are necessary to provide separation. So we have 78 answers, with each corner approachable only through a single square. It also leads to areas like the NE, with ESE (opposite of WNW?!), ISM, WMD, and KEW, which I knew, but which could be a stumbling block for many.

On the other hand, I do like KINGMINOS and PIANOWIRE (don't get in the way of one of those if it snaps: there's a lot of force keeping them in place!). I also enjoyed GAYBAR and GRIFFEY (both Jr. and Sr. were apparently upstanding individuals).

1A: Facing difficulty (INAJAM) - B+ for the J.
Fave: ACRE (66A: One chain by one furlong). Excellent bit of entirely outdated unit measures.
Least fave: RSTU. Feels desperate.

- Colum

Monday, November 6, 2017

Monday, November 6, 2017, Max Lauring and Benjamin Lauring


It's a NYT crossword puzzle double premiere! By brothers no less, one in college, the other in high school. And their pictures look so very young (see them on

I'm pretty impressed: there are no fewer than 8 theme answers today, each one of which is a standard phrase which combine a kind of animal with a body part, thus PARTANIMAL. PIGEONTOES and HAREBRAIN are both slightly off. In both cases, the most commonly used form is adjectival, such as "pigeon-toed" or "hare-brained". But all the others are standard.

The density of the theme material and the multiple crossings or parallel rows makes for a lot of potential strain on the grid. But you still get SILENTP, AMIDALA, STRUDEL, and my favorite, of course, NEURONS (with a fun clue: "Those getting excited when thinking?"). I'll ignore the reference to the pinstripes and to a certain New Haven school.

1A: Deals with a problem (COPES) - B. Pretty straightforward.
Least fave: 59D: Chick-___-A (FIL) - partial of a brand name. Oof.

Overall, it went smoothly, and I enjoyed all the theme material, so I give it a thumbs up. Hope we get to see more from these two in the future!

- Colum

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Sunday, November 5, 2017, Natan Last


This didn't start well, with 1A: Popular web portal (MSN) (I give it a D+ for abbreviation and brand name), nor did 1D: Does course work? (MOWS) work for me all that well - I assume it's referring to a golf course. But enough carping. Let's get to the good stuff!

The puzzle definitely played hard overall, which is a nice change for a Sunday. And the reason is all of those triple-checked letters (the ones in the circles). See, they have to work in the standard across and down answers, but also in the diagonal theme answers. You'll notice that around these squares are a lot of consecutive vowels or consecutive consonants (c.f. USFL, FUEL, IDAHOES).

I really enjoyed the theme, though. First of all, who doesn't like Robert Frost? THEROADNOTTAKEN is almost certainly his most well-known poem, but I myself am particular fond of "Design," as well as "Mending Wall." Nonetheless, here we get a choice of diverging theme answers. Humorously, the road not taken here is THEROADTOHELL. Or I hope that's the one I didn't take.

In the four other theme answers, the initial word has a new definition in the divergent answer. I think I liked DRAGANDDROP vs DRAGSHOW best. In WAYNESWORLD and PATHFINDERS, the alternate answers actually change the entire word, which doesn't seem as clever. And DRIVEINARUN vs DRIVERSED, the initial words are too similar. Still, I liked the clue for 97A: Bring someone home ... I did not parse that correctly until I had the entire answer in place.

There was a minitheme about divinity, with GODHELPUS, LAWD, and YAHWEH. What do people think about "Lawd?" Is that okay? Seems like a stretch, and while I liked JAWA and JAFAR, perhaps "lewd" with "ewer" or some such mixture would have been preferable.

Why was 82A: Heads overseas? (WCS) a challenge? I was stuck thinking of actual heads, with "têtes" coming to mind immediately. Then my brain couldn't get out of that rut. The other answer I had a hard time with was 11A: Braggadocio (BIGTALK). I had BI_TAL_, and neither GIA Carangi nor the KARA Sea were known to me. Fortunately I was solving in the car with Hope, and she suggested it might start with "big". Good save!

It only remains for me to mention good answers NOYOUDIDNT, THEBEEGEES, and BELOWZERO, and this review is finished. The SOONER the better, no?

- Colum

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Saturday, November 4, 2017, Michael Shteyman


Completed with my mother.

Boy, this puzzle went smoothly. It helped that we guessed wrong on 1D: Strong Chinese liquor (MAOTAI) by entering MAiTAI, which opened up the NW corner pretty quickly. Turns out this is the most produced Chinese alcohol, and dates from the 1600s. Even after finishing this corner, I wondered about 23A: Big tower letters (AAA). Was it supposed to be FAA, for the airport towers? But no. They meant towing... very clever.

It's strange to have a theme on a Saturday, even though the puzzle would do just as well without it. However, the 15-letter answers, of which there are five, have the word TRUTH spread out through them, thus fulfilling the revealer STRETCHTHETRUTH. My favorite (for a number of reasons) is BUTTERNUTSQUASH. Such a lovely Q, which also plays into another nice clue at 39D: Need for sleep (QUIET).

There is very little in the fill that I didn't like. RHEA, ERSE, and TAU are old school crosswordese. Some people might have difficulty with RUPP, but the University of Kentucky basketball team has been a powerhouse for so long, that I think it's fair, as are all the crosses. 8D: Compassion for the misery of others (RUTH) is a word that has lost its meaning in modern parlance, but is retained in the term "ruthless", so all good.

Mount Obama in ANTIGUA is 402 meters tall, and used to be called Boggy Peak until 2009, when it was renamed in honor of our former president. Meanwhile, other small areas of land are recognized in the puzzle with JUTS (about what a spit does), ISLE, and TENERIFE.

1A: Spelling aid? (MOJO) - B-. Didn't really get a chuckle from me.

- Colum

Friday, November 3, 2017

Friday, November 3, 2017, Kameron Austin Collins and Brendan Emmett Quigley


I was super excited when I saw the two triple-named crossword constructing superstars combining to create a Friday themeless, and I have to say, I was not disappointed.

I took a strangely scattered approach to today's puzzle, breaking in at 2D: With a guest, on a guest list (PLUSONE), and then via ANNES to SARGE, to ROBREINER. Any puzzle that reminds me of This Is Spinal Tap (you can't put an umlaut over an N using a Mac keyboard, apparently) is an immediate winner in my book. I mean, it's a catastrophe.

After that, I filled in the SW corner. Is AGUA really a chaser for Tequila? Not salt and lime? I wouldn't know anything about that liquor. I'm a rye man, myself. I also confuse myself for a short period of time by thinking there were seven Muses, rather than nine. Who are they, you ask? Why, let me enlighten you.

Calliope (Epic poetry)
Clio (History)
Euterpe (Lyric poetry)
Thalia (Comedy)
Melpomene (Tragedy)
Terpsichore (Dance) - which I always remember because of the Cheese Shop sketch
Erato (Love poetry)
Polyhymnia (Sacred poetry)
Urania (Astronomy) - which one of these is not like the others?

Now that we're all super more intelligenter, let's talk about GOOGLEHANGOUTS. Seems fake. Are they really pluralized? Apparently they are, but even so. Does anybody use them? Not to BEATADEADHORSE, but that's a much better 14-letter answer.

Anyway, there are some nice answers elsewhere, like UGLYCRY. I also love 16A: Half of the digits have this (TOENAIL) and 42D: Willful? (TESTATE). I'd rather not think about Minions. Let's do away with them, ONEEYED or not.

1A: "Save your excuses" (SPAREME) - B+.

- Colum

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Thursday, November 2, 2017, Peter Sagal and Mike Selinker


Well, I have to give a CHEER (and not of the Bronx variety) for the theme today, especially the way it's constructed.

My brother is considering running in the NEWYORKMARATHON, although I'm not clear if he's actually considering doing it this year. He's been volunteering for the NYC Runners' Club for some time, and has built up enough equity to run without qualifying by time. In any case, should he run in the race, it starts in the SW corner of the greater NYC region, in Staten Island.

You don't take the FERRY to get to Brooklyn (where the DODGERS once played), just to the NE, across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. You see where this is going, don't you? Each BOROUGH is placed in the puzzle exactly where it lives in New York City! That would be tough enough, but the theme answers actually all obey standard symmetry rules as well. That's some fine work.

The other two theme answers are [Queen's] ENGLISH and (The) [Manhattan] PROJECT. I'm not as fond of the last or the Brooklyn answer because of the need for an understood and thus omitted definite article. Still, very nice work here.

The puzzle is very segmented, likely to avoid really difficult crossings and poor fill. IDONTMIND this trade-off today. Note that there are no answers that cross three theme answers.

Fill I liked included WIKIPEDIA, with its SLY clue about teachers and footnotes. I also liked the trivia clue at 14A: Freddie Mercury or Martin Sheen (STAGENAME). Those two individuals were born Farrokh Bulsara and Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez. I can't imagine what societal pressures forced them to consider alternative names.

I'm not convinced by 17A: Little Dipper's place (URSAMINOR). It's not like the Little Dipper is a part of Ursa Minor. They are one and the same. 27A: Trump is often involved in these (BIDS) leads me to sigh as I realized we're going to have a lot of Bridge related jokey puns involving the President's name over the next three years.

1A: Any of the Galápagos, e.g. (ISLA) - C-. Although I have gotten to use option-E three times in this review now.
Fave: MOO (36A: "Why, yes, I am, in fact, a cow"). For the all time win.

- Colum

P.S. I'm not sure how I missed that Peter Sagal is that Peter Sagal, the host of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me! One of my all time favorite shows, also explaining the reference at 52D.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Wednesday, November 1, 2017, Herre Schouwerwou


Wow, is it November already? Months just fly by when you're not doing the daily blog. I have quite the large pair of shoes to step into. Frannie's posts this past month have had me chuckling all along.

Hey, look! ANIMAL / CRACKERS! Who doesn't like those? I mean, I liked them when I was a kid. I don't think I ever loved them. But today we get a puzzle where the term is taken literally. There are four exemplars split by black squares on that NE to SW diagonal, including a GOR / ILLA, a MON / KEY, a ZE / BRA, and my favorite, an ELE / PHANT. According to the picture below, three of the four were true crackers.
No zebra sadly
What I most enjoyed about this puzzle was that I had absolutely no idea what the theme was going to be. In fact, I wondered if a themeless had snuck into the Wednesday slot. And then the revelation. Very nice.

There was little to be annoyed at in the fill. I've never heard of SMAZE, but apparently it's actually simply a mixture of smoke and haze, thus the portmanteau of the clue. In other areas, LSTS is a golden oldie that's really a crutch for constructors. And nobody likes 63A: GPS part: Abbr. (SYS). An abbreviation from an acronym. Oof.

Clues I enjoyed: 21D: You might give him the business (SON). 41A: Houston of Texas (SAM). 47A: Southern side (PONE). Those are all very nice misdirections. I also enjoyed 27A: Japan's national fruit (PERSIMMON). A bit of unknown and interesting trivia is generally welcome round these parts.

I guess cluing PALSY with "____-walsy" is likely preferable to a reference to a nervous disorder. I guess. Maybe I'm biased.

1A: Chaney of horror movies (LON) - C-.

- Colum