Thursday, May 31, 2018

Thursday, May 31, 2018, Dominick Talvacchio


Happily, the Greek wasn't all Greek to me, once I caught upsilon the trick of it. Each theme answer is a string of two or more letters from the Greek alphabet clued as if they were English words or phrases. To wit: 23A: Hired vehicle that's only as big as a potato crisp? (CHIPSIZETAXI). That one gets props for using the most Greek letters, but I thought the funniest one was 17A: Wager one's sculpture of the Virgin Mary cradling the body of Jesus? (BETAPIETA). The clues all struck me as something of a stretch, but I give it an alpha for effort.

It seemed to me that a lot of thought went into all, or most, of the clues in the rest of the puzzle, too, often with excellent results. Some of my favorites are:
20A: Stacked quarters?: Abbr. (APTS) - Home run!
46A: It takes a toll (EZPASS)
5D: Cher, e.g. (AMI) - this one had me going for a while. All I could think of was the singer.
56D: Adjective and adverb, for two (NOUNS) - Grammtastic!
65D: One whose office has an opening to fill?: Abbr. (DDS) - a gas!

Less recherché, but one tailor-made to AMUSE this solver:
41D: Answer to the riddle "What cheese is made backward?" (EDAM) - ha!


Other clues were well crafted and fitting, like everyone likes:
43A: What to expect (NORM)
61A: As expected (ONCUE)
68A: Embrace fully (OWN)
1D: Filler for une pipe (TABAC)

In other nus, there were a few clues, however that *were* Greek to me, or rather, I thought the clues were less apt than I like them to be.
19A: Napkins and such (LINEN) - when used in this context, LINEN needs an S
40D: Do-it-yourselfers (AMATEURS) - OK (obviously), but not fine.
57D: Opposite sides (FOES) - Ditto.

Overall, though, I was psixi'd about this one. Beta nu didn't see that gamma now did you? Iota stop now.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Wednesday, May 30, 2018, Sande Milton and Jeff Chen


I think an apt title for today's puzzle could be Salute to Scrabble(TM). Apt! Four clues mimic Scrabble trays of BDEJLMU EELRSTT which AELPRSY had to AAEGNRR to find the correct word to enter into the grid. The four "rack" answers are nicely placed, one on each side, around the center block, which is itself surrounded by black squares that I think are supposed to resemble the bag of letters used in the game. The "bag" contains three arrangements of t, e, s, i, and l that make the words ISLET, STILE,  and TILES.

When the rack clue answers are read in order by number, as suggested by 31D: "Game described by this puzzle's four racks," we get a spot-on account of the central action of SCRABBLE:
20A: Rack #1: AELPRSY" (PLAYERS)
56A: Rack # 3: BDEJLMU (JUMBLED)

Taken all together, it's a lot of theme material - a fitting homage from one word game to another. Elsewhere in the grid I liked ACETATE, MIASMA, SABOTEURS, and AMPLE. The clue "Gooey vegetable" for OKRA did not make me want to rush out and get some.


I had a slight hiccough where TEES crosses with ABIE. I had TiES at first (Links things), but the wrong-looking ABIi caught my eye before I completed the grid. I still don't know what or who ABIE is (Irish Rose's love), but I realized the clue was referring to another kind of links AUJUS in the nick of time.


Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Tuesday, May 29, 2018, John Lieb


One of today's theme answers can also describe the theme entries: ODDDUCKS, which, according to the revealer at 66A are "Certain spears ... or a curious spelling feature of 1-, 20-, 26-, 45-, and 53-Across?" (TRIDENTS). I get the spear part, but was a bit perplexed when trying to figure out how it applied to theme answers, in each of which one letter appears three times in a row. It crossed my mind that all the repeated letters could be "dentals" in the phonetic alphabet sense, but I don't think vowels (FREEEMAIL) are ever dentals, so, that's probably not it. Anyone? My personal confusion not withstanding, I liked the super weird looking triumvirates. The aforementioned ODDDUCKS is my favorite, but I also like SUEANNNIVENS and DRESSSIZE.

The grid includes some possible themish also rans - additional fill with double or repeated letters - like NOOGIE, ALANALDA, LATTEART, and ANDEAN.

Imagine with what elan I espied 33D: Jai __ (ALAI)! When was the last time we saw that old chestnut? (September 10, 2017 - thanks XWord Info!)


Are there clues that could use a DUOver? Sure, maybe a few, like COL, SYST, PSAS, IAM, MSN, and SHUNT (I really don't like that word!) but any puzzle that includes PALMEDOR, DRAB, ZEST, SAUNA, and SONATINA BINGES along with those wacky triple-letter theme answers is okay with MESAS.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Monday, May 28, 2018, Alex Eaton-Salners


Today's theme may be all grins and good spirits - highlighted by the smiley face in the center of the grid - but I was not too happy with my time - very slow for a Monday. Heck, I did Friday's puzzle in under 18. Of course, it's not all about times or competition, it's about the fact that doing puzzles makes one FULLOFGOODCHEER, am I right?

There were some RUFFS areas that slowed me down, especially the cross of 14A: Hinged part of an airplane wing (AILERON) and 9D: Prince ___ Khan (ALY). I have added airplane parts and representatives to the United Nations to the list of things I need to learn to improve my solving abilities.

Things that made me BREAKINTOASMILE:
62A: Medium strength? (ESP)
63A: No-goodnik (SOANDSO)
10D: Ones whistling while they work? (REFS)
52D: Big top? (AFRO)

I also liked the DEB/REB cross in the bottom right corner. I was amused by the  parallel answers HADAMEAL and BIGMOUTH in the west and east. I happily entered flOaTie at 22A: Inflatable item for water fun instead of the correct POOLTOY because the clue made me think of Blue Floatie, my favorite swimming accessory at our villa in Italy.


There were a few YAWNS today: IDA, DSL, EPI, TIS, AAS, ESS, PDAS, and GOA. And I am inclined to GROWLAT 17D: Travel aid made obsolescent by GPS (ATLAS) because I love consulting a map, but if I were writing this review as a single emoji I would PUTONAHAPPYFACE. :)


Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sunday, May 27, 2018, Andrew Chaikin


A relatively simple-seeming, but sometimes hard to guess, Sunday theme today of six ways to define “21,” with bonus material at 1A: New Hampshire’s is 21 kilometers long COAST) (Nice find, that), 41A: Famous writer who entered West Point at 21 (POE) (That didn’t go well), 97A: 21st-century currency (EURO), 94D: “21 Grams” actress DuVall (CLEA), 102D: Scandium’s is 21: Abbr. (ATNO), and possibly 50D: State whose capital is 21-Down: Abbr. (NSW). Whew! Nice work with all that extra stuff! Of the six 21-letter answers, I think my favorite is SPOTSONALLSIDESOFADIE, because it was the least expected.

NUMBERONEALBUMBYADELE isn’t bad either, because, well, she’s great.
The grid itself has an interesting look. It appears to be fully symmetrical, which we don't see all that often. Other things I don't see all that often are the names SLIWA (69D: Guardian Angel Curtis ____), CHITA (13A: Actress Rivera), LONNOL (91D: Bygone Cambodian leader with a palindromic name), and EXON (33A: Former Nebraska senator James). There seemed to be a few other stress points that were smoothed out by foreign words or partials - ELRIO, USTED, TERNI, MOT, TGI, SSTS, SNCC, ITA, OCC, OESTE, ETD, PCT... and more. Perhaps it was ONETOOMANY. TRISTE, but true. Even with all that, I didn't mind it. The grid is pleasing, and I kind of liked the simplicity of the theme.
It's been a fun week, but I'll let Frannie take it from here. Over and out.
- Horace

Horace said this morning, "who's next on the review schedule?" and I said, ISITI? Apparently, it is. So, here's I am, taking up the reviewer's MANTLE this fine Sunday afternoon. I think Horace ALLTOLD concerning the theme, so I'm going to focus on the fill.

One of my favorites today was 10D. End of an illness? (ITIS). Ha! While it does fall into the oft-lamentable category of partials, I still liked it because it's amusing. I thought the clue for 9D. (Bit of scolding) improved the old standby TSK as well. I liked both clue and answer for 5D. Hellion (TERROR). FACSIMILES and MALEFICENT are both good grid fillers, or gridlers.  40A One might be cast in a Harry Potter film (SPELL) was also nice.

I FWOE'd in the northeast thanks to a lengthy struggle with actress CHITA Rivera. I wanted her name to be CHIrA, which lead me to put rELayED in at 16D.Sent an important message, once (TELEXED). My apologies to Mr. James EXON for never having heard of him. I hope the almost 2 million Nebraskans who dropped that answer right in will boost his spirits. That whole area also suffered from my mistake at 20D (Monopoly pieces) where I entered tOkEnS instead of HOTELS. It was a classic CASEOF overconfidence, which caused me another little spot of trouble over in the mid west. For "Brand of wafers" I dropped in Nilla, which, in retrospect is not so much a brand of wafer as a type, but the correct N (for NECCO) made me reluctant to JETSON my error.

Let me give Horace a SHOUT out for a great week of reviews. I know I had ABLAST. I hope he did, too.


Saturday, May 26, 2018

Saturday, May 26, 2018, Peter Wentz


Well, this one went along pretty smoothly. I think I got started up in the NE, with DENADA (18A: Literally, "of nothing"), BIN (27A: Trash holder), and, believe it or not, NERTS (22A: "Dagnabbit!"). Those three allowed me to correct my incorrect entry of "IVewon" for 16A: Election Day declaration (IVOTED). First of all, does "Election Day" really need a capital D? And second of all, is this Election Day? Because I sensed a micro theme with 35D: Question pundits discuss after a presidential debate (WHOWON) and DEM (36D: Certain voter ID).

I enjoyed the surprise when I finally got KEEL (23A: Bottom of the sea?), and REELIN (61A: Not leave at the end of the line) took me forever to parse correctly! DOTGOV (30D: End of a presidential address) was entertaining, as long as you didn't accidentally think about the president, and THELEGOMOVIE was, indeed, a CROWDPLEASER.

I liked HOMEROW because it is about typing ("Typing" has turned out to be perhaps the most useful course I took in high school), but when I learned to type, we used the term "home keys." And I've never heard of OMELET station. Is that a thing at a hotel breakfast buffet? "I'm going over to the omelet station to see if they can just make me a couple of fried eggs." .... My favorite clue today is 43D: It's perfect (UTOPIA). It's perfect!

- Horace

Friday, May 25, 2018

Friday, May 25, 2018, Jeff Chen


How have I never heard the term NUCLEARFOOTBALL before? And why now? Why like this?

I don't actively take in much news. I don't watch televised news or listen to the radio, and I don't receive any newspapers. What I do know about world affairs, I get from the first piece in The Talk of the Town in The New Yorker. Or someone calls to tell me. (When a water main broke near our house a few years ago, three different people called to tell us we should boil our tap water.) And now, I can say that some of my information comes from crossword puzzles! After finishing this puzzle, I Googled NUCLEARFOOTBALL and found that it is the suitcase carried at all times by an aide close to the U.S. president that allows nuclear missiles to be launched. Great.


So why is it the only 15-letter answer today, and why is there a goalpost in the center of the grid? Is it a theme? Is there any more of it? Are the "targets" between the uprights? "Radicalism" embodied in Bobby SEALE? The "old ways" of our ELDERs? (Probably not, given the clue "Someone to respect.") TSARS is a little too obvious, maybe. And too soon? And are KNEELS (7D: Time-killing plays for quarterbacks) and DLINE, because they're football-related, also thematic? What about ENDERS Game?

So maybe there is no theme... but why, then, spend all that time working around the goalpost? As with many things, maybe someone will call to tell me.

Theme or no theme, there's some very good stuff in here. I tried "too hard" at 1A: Frustrated solver's cry (IMSTUCK), but that was (ironically) soon corrected by the Downs. TEDNUGENT (4D: Rocker nicknamed "The Motor City Madman") was a gimme, and the rest came eventually. I really liked ONADARE (17A: How bugs may be eaten), and HATESON (15A: Verbally abuses, in slang) was nice and modern. And I loved all the Downs in the lower left - ANDES (43D: Long range) (more theme material?), HUEVO (44D: Spanish omelet ingredient) (Hah! I kept trying to think of what might be in a "Spanish omelet," but really they just wanted a Spanish word for what's in every omelet!), BCCED (45D: Secretly included, in a way), and LLOSA (46D: Author Mario Vargas ____) - those last two look great side by side.

I'm not super happy with DEEPFAT (8A: Frying need for French fries), as I'm not sure that's a thing by itself without the word "fryer." Wouldn't the need simply be "fat?" or even "oil?" Still, that one small quibble - and the weirdness of the theme - aside, I enjoyed this Friday offering. It's always nice when I learn a little something about nuclear war. Right?

- Horace

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Thurdsay, May 24, 2018, Erik Agard and Andy Kravis


Since I wrote so much about the constructor yesterday, I will start this review by reminding readers that Erik Agard is the reigning champion of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (A.C.P.T.). And I don't know anything about Andy Kravis, unfortunately. Let's just assume that he and Mr. Agard are friends. Or, if they weren't before, they probably now have at least a passing familiarity with one another. (Boy, that's a great start to a review ...)

On to the musiness at band!, er, righting the wee view ... I mean, ... oh, never mind!


This theme of SPOONERISMS, the base phrases for which require a spoon to eat or serve, is both ludicrous and oddly tight. I mean, the very idea! Good SPOONERISMS are hard enough to come up with, and to force four from foodstuffs requiring a spoon is either very impressive or insane. Or a little of both. The pour fairs are:

WHINNYMEETS (Mini-Wheats) 18A: Horse races?

JERRYCELLO (Cherry Jello) 25A: Seinfeld's stringed instrument?

PASTYHOODING (Hasty Pudding) 37A: Particularly pale Ph.D. ceremony? - perhaps the most absurd cluing, but still, especially appropriate for today, as it is commencement day at Harvard, where the Hasty Pudding Club is a big deal, and where there will certainly be plenty of PASTYHOODINGs.

PAYGROUPON (Grey Poupon) 52A: Pony up for a certain online deal?

 And if that weren't enough, there's lots to like in the fill as well. Old-school ICHABOD and GARRISON are balanced out nicely by SRSLY (10D: "Are you kidding me?," in texts) and THEWEEKND (11D: R&B singer who had a 2015 #1 hit with "Can't Feel My Face"). That last is crossed well by HELEN (31A: Literary character with a powerful face) ("...that launched a thousand ships.") Clever. And what about ODE (62D: Opposite of a poetry slam?)!? Very nice.

I'm a fig ban!

- Horace

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wednesday, May 23, 2018, David Steinberg


As many regular readers and crossword puzzle solvers probably know, David Steinberg is one of the big names in crosswords. This is his 81st published puzzle in the New York Times, which puts him at number twenty-five on the most prolific constructors list, and he's still in college! He is also responsible for The Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project which provides a wealth of information about constructors and editors of the NYTX before Will Shortz took over. Furthermore, he won the C division final at the A.C.P.T. the first year that I attended it. In short, he is a veritable crossword wunderkind.

When I first started this blog, his late-week puzzles were a real bear for me, and sometimes I even felt that they were too difficult to be enjoyable. I'm not sure now whether I've caught up, he's toned it down, or it's something else entirely, but I seem to have gotten to know his style a bit. And one thing that I think is true of his style is that his puzzles can sometimes seem to skew a bit "young." The start today, with BUMS and then HAHA is what I'm talking about. Kind of reminds me of Mozart as he is portrayed in Amadeus. Brilliant, but coming across as a tad unrefined. Maybe it's all in my head - I know he's young, so I invent connections... I don't know.

Anyway, on to the puzzle at hand and its strange theme, in which the expected answer to the clue can be seen as an abbreviation and another word, and then that abbreviation is written out fully. Take 16A: Beginning, expanded? (STREETART) for example. "Beginning" can be answered with "start," and  the ST can be seen as an abbreviation for STREET, but is the actual answer STREETART somehow also connected to "beginning?" It doesn't seem to be. And "22A: Forming a crust, expanded?," the normal answer for which, "caking" has been expanded to CALIFORNIAKING. Why? What even is a CALIFORNIAKING? Somewhat interesting, but still, I don't think it's terribly elegant or satisfying. And the original "answer" for PRESIDENTELECT ought to be pre-select to go with "47A: Choose in advance, expanded?," but instead it's "pres-elect?" Weird.

Aside from the theme, the fill has some great stuff. EXONERATE (30D: Clear) and POWERPOSE (29D: Superman-like stance) side-by-side are strong, and the clue for APERITIFS (10D: They get drunk before dinner) was cute, but again, I put it into the "sex, drugs & rock and roll" category that I project onto poor Mr. Steinberg. Consider also, 39A: Like naughty privates? (AWOL), PONYKEG (9D: Quarter barrel of beer), and the surprising 6D: "Grow ____!" ("Man up!") (APAIR). Whither the MORAL compass?

On the other hand, my favorite clue today might be the punny 55A: Complaint about one's calves? (MOO). Guffaw! And 28D: Head covering (SCALP) is also quite good, if a little gross.

In the end, I applaud Mr. Steinberg's work. He won me over long ago with his brazen inclusion of his full name into this puzzle from 2013. I loved that move. And if his youthful puzzles attract more youthful solvers and crossword fans, so much the better.

- Horace

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Tuesday, May 22, 2018, Jeff Stillman

0:08:47 (F.W.T.E.)

It seems like it's been a while since we've seen one of these "picture" themes, and who doesn't like the BIGDIPPER? Nobody, that's who. Still, pretty much every time I see it in the night sky I am reminded of a traumatic experience I had in childhood, when, while looking through one of the books in my father's study, I learned that the stars would eventually shift (are ever shifting) from their current positions and that the seven-star saucepan (that's right, I see it as a pan, not a ladle) would someday lose its iconic shape.

I suppose I might as well worry about the Sun going out, which, incidentally, was the subject of a planetarium show that I took Frannie to on one of our first dates. "Springtime of the Universe," it was called, and it told the story of how our planet, now in its heyday, would eventually have all its lifeforms incinerated and its water boiled out into space when our sun turns into a Red Giant. While the Sun then cools, on its way to becoming a White Dwarf, life might begin to reappear, only to be frozen completely to death when the Sun goes out for good. So romantic...

Anywho, this theme is lovely, for now. Four pinwheeled answers and the circles that form a pretty decent representation make for a solid core. Things get a little spacy in a couple areas (BUTENE, RONDEL, ARYAN, and the 1962 Anka hit are a little far out for a Tuesday), but over all, it was pretty clean. When I got to 71A: Dispatched, as a dragon (SLEW) all I could think of was "slain," but that wouldn't fit, so I convinced myself that "slay" could also be the past participle. Unfortunately for me, EASa and DRAy didn't work for the Downs.

My favorite clue/answer today was 3D: Doesn't mind (DISOBEYS). That might have to go onto the favorites list.

Maybe not truly stellar, but certainly worth gazing at for a bit.

- Horace

Monday, May 21, 2018

Monday, May 21, 2018, Hannah Slovut

0:06:17 (F.W.O.E.)

I love this debut puzzle from Ms. Slovut. The six-entry, thematic progression of life from baby to ghost is a fresh new idea (or, I should say, at least I've never seen it before) that needs no revealer.


The long Down answers are also fun, with PILEITON (5D: Assign two projects, a long reading and several writing assignments, say), VERMONTER (32D: Bernie Sanders, for one), SLEEPSIN (39D: Has a lazy Sunday morning, say), and my favorite - HOTFOOTIT (9D: Run fast). I can imagine my mom saying that, which makes it seem kind of old-timey. Add to that SHARI Lewis, PEEWEE Herman, a Gran TORINO, and you've got a bit of an older vibe. Even NSYNC formed over twenty years ago.

But that's sounding a bit negative, and really, I don't want to. Sure, there were some oddities (like AFIRST (21A: What sending someone to Mars would be)), and I've never heard of DRU Hill, despite their having been formed prior to NSYNC, but, well, I just like the theme so much that I don't care, and will impose NOTAX for minor SLIPs.

My error, if anyone's interested, came at the cross of SIMILE and AIWA. I couldn't think of the erstwhile electronics giant immediately, and then forgot about it, and so when I came to 39A and saw SIM_LE, I dropped in a "p" without even looking at the clue. Rookie mistake, and one that took me more than a minute to find! Ah well... that's what I get.

In closing, I'd like to give a shout out to DUO Lingo, the free language learning app that allowed me to speak Dutch with the natives on our recent trip. It's like magic!

Congrats again to Ms. Slovut on this very nice debut.

- Horace

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sunday, May 20, 2018, Will Nediger


Hello, Dear Reader, it is I, Horace. I'd like to thank Frannie for another set of fine reviews, and thank Colum, too, for gamely swapping weeks with Frannie during the last leg of our European travel. Boy, that was some trip, but living out of a suitcase gets kind of old after three weeks. Some might conclude "travel schmravel," but that'd be going a bit too far. Anyway, since things are all jumbled up, I'm taking over a day early today and doing the entire review.


I've long been a big fan of the form of mildly derisive put down used seven times as today's theme. I will say, though, that once I cottoned on, it was easier than it sometimes is on a Sunday to fill in the theme answers with only a few crosses. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I'll leave that to you to decide. What am I, a critic?

Tricky clues that I enjoyed:

33A: Return to base (TAGUP) (Sport, not military.)
59A: Lose one's coat (MOLT) (I'm going to use this line at parties when I can't find my coat.)
89A: It has lots on the internet (EBAY) (Auction lots! Nice one.)
9D: Cavity filler (GROUT) (Tiles, not teeth.)

I was surprised by the word SNIGLET (114A: Term for a word that isn't in the dictionary, but maybe should be), and found that it was coined by a person named Rich Hall in the 1980s. That should be right in my wheelhouse, but maybe its having started on HBO kept it out of my purview.

I thought it was interesting/odd that the words "on" and "out" appeared next to each other, and that neither really needed to be included in its answer. "10D: Be a witness" could have been just "look," instead of LOOKON, and "11D: Exude" could have been "ooze" rather than OOZEOUT. Still, there's nothing wrong with the additional prepositions, except that maybe it will rankle frequent commenter Huygens, because prepositions are something he prefers not to end sentences with. Wait, though... now that i think about it, they're really adverbs here, so away that may all be dispensed with. :)

And speaking of adjacent clues, the SCREW/SCROD pairing was amusing. The first being clued as a verb, and the latter as "Fish whose name sounds like the past tense of 46-Across?" Hah.

I was expecting to see at least one CASTRATO in the choir at yesterday's royal wedding, but they seem to be favoring young boys now instead. Pity.

Lots of good material in here, and kind of an irreverent attitude (see "111D: With 112-Down, coupled). I give it a thumbs up!

- Horace

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Saturday May 19, 2018, John Guzzetta


Well, the top half of this puzzle had me on the ropes for a while. SLOTCANYON, AIRBAZOOKA, CAMBERS, and NORAD were on the obscure side for this solver. Entering"etd" at 4D (Sched. letters) early didn't help matters. AZARIA was my only confident entry in that quadrant for a long time. I was happy when BRAE (Scottish hillside), an answer I wasn't too sure about, snugged right in. Too much? Maybe I should leave that to the PHOTOBOOTH crowd (Where couples may be seen kissing).

The other problem area for me was kicked off by the tricky 25A. Ham go-with? I wanted Canaan, son of Ham, grandson of Noah, but it turned out to be the more entertaining CAMERA. Go figure. I pretty much had to guess my way down the lower left edge, starting with 25D. "Fruits also known as bottle gourds". CALABASHES exist only at the fringe of my ken. And if I have a ring of knowledge that is even more remote, activist LANI Guinier lives there. And, although for all you sports experts out there, 39A probably went in like a hot knife through butter but for me, "Diamond club" was a tricky clue for BAT. I only just understood it now upon review. Once I worked everything out, I liked it. MONSTERHIT (Mega-seller), HIHO (Cheery cry), ADEPTLY (With skill), and STRODE (Walked confidently) all make for a solid southeast.

Other fun clues include 34A. "Checked out before going in? (CASED) and
 My favorite clue/answer pair of the day might be. 38D. "Most easy to walk on" (MEEKEST). Ha!

The clue for 14D. One making deposits in a bank? (SPERMDONOR) is clever, but it may be best not to think too long or hard about that one. Thought about in a certain way, it's possible that one might construct something of a "blue material" mini theme, which could include the above, BED, and LOIN. Oh, NETHER mind.


52D. ___ piece (OFA) was weak, and it was odd to have YOKE and OKE cheek by jowl in the puzzle, but needs must, I suppose. Overall, though, I RATES this one pretty high.


Friday, May 18, 2018

Friday, May 18, 2018, Ryan McCarty


As hoped, this puzzle was 32D (SOLVABLE), and, in pretty good time for a Friday - for me, that is. I had finished all but one square around the 20 minute mark, but the timer kept ticking as I dithered over the cross between 45D. "Mischievous" and 54A. "Some Chinese teas." It was dumb to dither. The only letter other than H that even makes a word with ARC is S, but ARCs didn't work at all with the clue, but still I thought ARCH was a bit of a stretch for Mischievous. Plus, as a self-proclaimed tea aficionado, I balked at entering the name of a tea I had never heard of. It turns out HYSONS *are* a kind of Chinese tea. Who knew? At the risk of over-quoting the Wikipedia, I found this interesting chestnut when I searched it:
Despite often being considered of mediocre quality, hyson tea was highly prized by the 18th century British and tea tax on hyson tea was higher than for other teas. During the Boston Tea Party hyson tea represented 15 of the more than three hundred chests of tea that were destroyed. So, there's that.

I had an INSANA amount of trouble in the northeast. A couple of unknowns including "The Real ___" former ABC sitcom (ONEALS), surrounded by a several tricky clues, especially 10D. Not go off without a hitch? (LIMP) and 18A. Hog's squeal? (MINE), while excellent Friday fodder, slowed me down.

Mr. McCarty RUSTLEd up some additional fun fill with 8D. Bolted down (ATE), 27D. Industry filled with press releases (WINEMAKING) - ha!, and 12D. Gaelic spirit (BANSHEE), which I know thanks to my Mom.

We are one thurible short of a funereal mini theme, today, unless we group 50A. Perfume ingredients (OILS) along with 4D. Lying flat on one's back, in yoga (CORPSEPOSE ) and 23D. Ready for inurnment (CREMATE).


My small protests (PEEPs) include:
24D. Venomously biting (ASPISH) - has the sting of contrivance about it.
36D. Surround with an aura (ENHALO) - I am enhardened against this one.
43D. Inflection point - I just don't buy CUSP, it seems. Tooth much?


Thursday, May 17, 2018

Thursday, May 17, 2018, David J. Kahn

31:22, FWOE

For today's theme, we have the names of two cities, NEWORLEANS and SANANTONIO, tied together by MAY1718, the month and year in which both were founded, apparently. The numbers of the year are, or at least can be spelled out as rebuses. The theme is built up a bit with one sight from each city JAZZBANDS for NOLA and ALAMODOME - not to be confused with The Alamo - for San Antone. It's possible that WEWON (Champs' exclamation) and VOODOO (Expert spelling?) are also part of the theme - the former something that might be heard at the a 64,000 seat facility after a sporting event, and the latter reportedly practiced in New Orleans, at least according to our tour guide.

It turns out I am not an expert speller, which made the MYNA/ILYA cross my Waterloo. Too soon? I had some trouble with the middle east (who hasn't?), where the first names of Congressman Schiff (ADAM) and Pro Football Hall of Famer MEL Blount crossed the, to me, mysterious DOME part of ALAMODOME. I finally figured out MELT for "Wrap alternative" and the rest fell into place, but "Congratulations" were not forthcoming. I spent a lot of time reviewing my answers, but could not find the error. I finally looked at the solution and found I had an "i" in MiNA where a Y belonged, but having never heard of 1958 Physics co-Nobelist ILYA Frank, I couldn't spot the problem. In honor of puzzle entry, BILLNYE the science guy, and for all of our GEEK readers out there, here's what the Wikipedia tells me that Mr. Frank and company won the Nobel prize for: the development of a theoretical explanation for the effect that occurs when charged particles travel through an optically transparent medium at speeds greater than the speed of light, causing a shock wave in the electromagnetic field. The discovery and explanation of the effect resulted in the development of new methods for detecting and measuring the velocity of high-speed nuclear particles and became of great importance for research in nuclear physics. Yay?


I liked CHADS (Polling place hangers-on?) despite the old trauma it evoked, LEMON (Cocktail slice) because who doesn't like a tart adult beverage, and INAWORD (Concisely) because the clue is apt. Apt!


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wednesday, May 16, 2018, Jonathan Schmalzbach and Bill Albright


Today we have a classic hairstyle, FRENCHTWIST, turned to our advantage. Spelling variants of the first names of famous French men produced a set of wacky nicknames. My favorite is CLODDEBUSSY (Nickname for a clumsy composer), but BLAZEPASCAL (Nickname for a fiery philosopher) made me LOL when I got it. TOOLOOSELAUTREC (Nickname for a sloppy painter) might be a tad obvious, but fits well with the rest of the group, which also includes JEWELSVERNE (Nickname for a glitzy author).

The clues themselves contained some interesting angles as well. In particular I liked:
19A. It contains M.S.G. (NYC) - which I only just understood now that I put my thinking cap on.
33A. "The bay in the fifth," for one (TIP) - somebody bet on the bay!
3D. Jigsaw, e.g. (POWERTOOL) - I puzzled over this one briefly.
10D. Miss identification? (SHE) - apt!
63D. Grand finale? (CRU) - classy.
The puzzle included a few people I'd never heard of: composer ARLEN, for one, although the Wikipedia tells me he wrote the music for "Over the Rainbow", soooo, my bad. On the flip side, I was happy to be reminded of MEL Tillis, who I remember from talk shows in my youth.


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Tuesday, May 15, 2018, Garry Trudeau and Ross Trudeau


A fun theme today, featuring the names of eight comics 'standing up' in the downs. The revealer, STANDUPCOMICS at 33A is thematically apt. Apt!

The fact that the puzzle was written by Mssrs. Trudeau, a father and son team, takes the aptness to a personal level because comics are big in Horace's family. Horace, Sr. (not his real name) is a longtime comics reader and aficionado, an interest he shares with one of Horace's brothers. I read the comics regularly in my youth, but I'm not so much a fan these days - I haven't even heard of TIGER, BABYBLUES, or MUTTS. My particular bête noire, though, if I may, is GARFIELD. Over the years, Horace, Sr. has saved occasional examples of the strip to discuss their merits with me, but I haven't been won over yet. On the other hand, I do enjoy some of the versions of Garfield such as Garfield without Garfield and live-action Garfield.

I thought the clue/answer pairs "Something to stand on" (LEG) and "Material for a mill" (GRIST) were appealingly reconfigured expressions. I also liked 11D. Alfresco theaters (DRIVEINS), 12D. Innocent-looking (DOEEYED), and
47D. Look at, as thou might (SEEST). I was able to drop JPOP right in thanks to another of Horace's brothers, who is a big fan of K-pop. I've never heard of 1969 Super-bowl-winning coach, Mr. Ewbank, but WEEB is fun. I also liked SERENADE and ASPIC as fill.


This puzzle had a couple of repeats from very recent puzzles including ___ Xing (PED) which appeared verbatim on May 9th, while "runt" was just in Sunday's puzzle and we had RUNTS today with similar clues - both puppies, no candies. I also thought it was a little odd to see both ORANGES and ORANG in the same puzzle, but still, IGIVE it a big thumbs up. :)


Monday, May 14, 2018

Monday, May 14, 2018, Andrea Carla Michaels


I wouldn't exactly call this puzzle a SNAP for me. I'm a little rusty after three weeks on holiday! Most of the puzzle went right along, though, including the theme answers. The clue for the revealer at 62A, plus a quick glance at nearby theme answer 52A PUNCHBOWL (Party vessel with a ladle), made short work of FIGHTCLUB (1999 Brad Pitt movie hinted at by the beginnings of 17-, 21-, 39-, and 52-Across. I hadn't yet completed 39A at that point, "Like some magazine perfume ads." I wanted to put in COMPLETELYAWFUL, but it didn't quite work with the downs. :( SCRATCHANDSNIFF goes better with the theme, too, I suppose. :)

EOSIN (36A. Certain red dye) seemed a little esoteric for a Monday, but I didn't actually have any trouble with it thanks to the down answers there, whereas I did get hung up for a time in the top right corner. I've never heard of Port St. LUCIE, Fla., and 3D. POULT (Fowl raised for food) didn't spring to mind. For some reason, I was thinking psST for "Word repeated by tapping a microphone" - probably because it's the the French word for TEST - kidding!

We do have some real French entries today, including 46A. Faux ___ (PAS) and 51A. Female friend of François (AMIE). Old and new Romans made appearances (ETTU, DIEM, ARTE) as did the Woman of the Haus (FRAU) to round out a mini Indo-European language theme.


There was a liberal sprinkling of abbreviations and partials throughout (OFA, PCB, TBSP), but most were, at least, less commonly seen (OBLA, BMOC, DIY). I was happy to see EELS in my first puzzle of the week!


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Sunday, May 13, 2018, Neville Fogarty and Erik Agard


Oh, this is too cute. I love the idea: standard phrases reinterpreted as names for specialized online dating sites. There are eight of them, all of them top drawer, really top drawer. My favorite however, has to be 57A: Good name for a dating site of massage therapists? (RUBBERMATCH). First, the sense of the two words are completely reworked by the clue. Second, it's a phrase drawn from the card game bridge, which always has a soft spot in my heart.

Also, shout outs to OPENFLAMES and ORGANICCHEMISTRY. Very nicely done.

I didn't love the flow of the grid. It's very segmented, probably so that those eight theme answers don't interact too much. That being said, twice in the grid, two theme answers are right next to each other, and another theme answer crosses one. That's impressive.

Other clues I liked:

41A: Member of a southern colony (PENGUIN). Hah!
67A: Patty alternative? (TRISH). Dang, I only just got that one. Two different nicknames for Patricia. Very funny.
109A: First things to go into jammies (TOOTSIES). Cute.
125A: Ones passed on a track (BATONS). Not at all what I'd been thinking of.

I'm not sure where I stand on 53D: ' (FEET). (Sorry... I didn't mean it as a pun when I wrote it.) The reference is unclear to begin with, but what about the following mark: 1'. Isn't that "foot?" I think so.

And of course, the clue-answer entry that makes the whole puzzle worthwhile comes at 85D: Command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (MAKEITSO). I tried to squeeze "Enterprise" in there, but that was a no-go, obvi.

- Colum

I agree with your assessment of the theme. I heartily enjoyed it. As I am currently in Paris, I'll select FRENCHCONNECTION (Good name for a deep kissers' dating site?) as my top theme answer, but I enjoyed them all. ACTIONITEMS and STUDFINDER sound like they might be NSFW.

I actually entered "selma" at first for Patty alternative. Ha! And for 85D, when I saw that "enterprise" wasn't going to work I tried "starship" which fit, but was totally wrong. MAKEITSO is excellent.

I liked both the clue Noggin and its answer COCONUT. I also liked 105A. Certain layers (HENS), and RECESS for Swing time? (48D) Ha!

Our trip is winding down, and I am ready to take up the reviewer's mantle again starting tomorrow. Thanks for a week of great reviews, Colum, or, as the French would have it, merci!


Saturday, May 12, 2018

Saturday, May 12, 2018, Alex Eylar


After finishing this puzzle, I had a number of questions that begged to be asked.

1. Is a FALSEBOTTOM what occurs after plastic surgery?
2. In HORSEHOCKEY, how do you get the ice skates on their hooves?
3. Why is FENSTER clued from the German (and with an abbreviation to boot, which was confusing) rather than with the eponymous uncle from The Addams Family?

Well, I can answer that last one. It's because it's Uncle Fester, not Fenster. That answer is definitely an ANOMALY, though. This was fun, and tough.
Mount AVALON, in New Hampshire

Highlights included:

  • MNEMONIC: here's one for the cranial nerves - On old Olympus's towering top, a Finn and German viewed some hops.
  • 3D: Cooking title (IRONCHEF). I used to love this show, and I'm referring to the original Japanese version.
  • 49A: Something the Netherlands has but Belgium doesn't? (CAPITALN). I'm telling you, as I was solving this corner, I refused several times to believe this was what Mr. Eylar was going for.
The whole middle section is brilliantly done. And it's all worth it for 38A: Who once described puritanism as "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy" (MENCKEN). Well said, sir. Well said.

- Colum

Friday, May 11, 2018

Friday, May 11, 2018, Sam Ezersky and David Steinberg

7:35 (FWOE)

Looking for a TOPTIER puzzle from the youth movement in the NYT crossword? Look no further.

It was a fun romp through this puzzle. I finished with the one square I was unsure about, and guessed wrong at the crossing of INGEMAR and RTE. I guessed O, but in retrospect, 10D: "1" preceder: Abbr. could only have been the E. That's definitely my least favorite point of the puzzle, objectively speaking. I'm really not biased by the fact that I guessed wrong. Really.

I love the middle crossing of 33A: Product whose original slogan was "It floats" (IVORYSOAP) and 20D: Chewy, fruity candy (GUMMYBEAR). My first thought for the latter was Starburst, then Skittles. But I got there soon enough.

I'm also a huge fan of LACONIC and BILIOUS. What wonderful adjectives. I also very much enjoyed 1D: Left without leaving anything (STIFFED). Great clue.

I found the two longer answers a little less interesting. PTAMEETINGS is nice to see in a full sense, as opposed to the ubiquitous "PTAs" or other answers. But aren't they just incredibly boring in real life? And 24D: What's far-sighted? (SNIPERRIFLE)... well, I'd rather have fewer guns in America if possible.

My only other complaint is 53D: 45-Across divisions (ORE). I know we long for new definitions for timeworn crossword answers, but that makes me SADEYED.

- Colum

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Thursday, May 10, 2018, Caitlin Reid


Hey! Great puzzle today. And it's a debut for Ms. Reid. I love the theme, the revealer, the whole thing. Ms. Reid? Here's what I say to you:

47A: "You're clever!" (NICEIDEA)

The revealer today is DEADCENTER. Note that the black square in the exact middle of the puzzle is taken as a rebus square with "dead" in it, completing each of the four answers that either terminate or originate from that square. Thus, you get:


All four are strong answers, and all are 11 letters long, so they fit so well in the space. I particularly like the last one. Seems like we've been hearing about a ton of deadbeat men recently. EGADS. Meanwhile, the symmetric answer to the revealer is 21A: Well-aimed (ONTHEMONEY). Well played.
By Diego Rivera but not a MURAL
The only answer which IRKS me today really is 50A: Baseball's Lefty (ODOUL). Who is that, I hear you ask? I had never heard of him, and I love baseball. Turns out he was a pretty good player in the 1920s, even playing a couple of seasons for the Red Sox as a pitcher. Later though, he became a successful minor league manager, and apparently was responsible in part for making baseball so popular in Japan. Nevertheless, if you Google "baseball lefty," the first two players who come up are Lefty Gomez and Lefty Grove, and rightly so.

Meanwhile, if you Google O'Doul, you get the alcohol-free beer first. Nuff said.

Did any of you fall for 61A: Half of none? (ENS) It was my last answer, but I wasn't fooled.

- Colum

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Wednesday, May 9, 2018, Jeff Chen


Well, I'm no neurologist or anything... oh wait, yes I am. I am a neurologist, and ISAY that if you are SEEINGDOUBLE, every letter will be duplicated, not just one. Does that invalidate the entire puzzle in my mind? No. I just think another revealer would be better.

I like the idea of taking a common phrase, doubling one letter to get another common phrase. Clearly the best of the four examples here is VENTILATTE. That's a great find. AMAZINGGRACE works well also. But OVERRICE? Hmm. It can't stand on its own. And DEEPENDS? Do we ever pluralize the side of the pool by the diving board?


So I guess I didn't love the theme. Like most Chen puzzles, the fill is smooth. There's nothing here I'd complain about. 10D: Insulting designation from a pirate (BILGERAT) is excellent, as is 39D: High number? (EXPONENT). Otherwise, IDEAMAN is mildly questionable, but nothing to make me CRY.
Home of Eris, so they say
I was amused by 70A: Said "O-D-O-U-R," e.g. (SPELT).

Wednesday often makes me look forward to the turn. It starts tomorrow!

- Colum

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Tuesday, May 8, 2018, Ori Brian


A very late review today, after a frustrating late afternoon and early evening of traffic and a pointless car pool to my daughter's youth orchestra rehearsal that was canceled at 6:15, five minutes after I had left my driveway.

Ha! Bet you're missing that carefree European travelogue about now, aren't you?

Anyway, here in UNCLESAM's land, it's all fun and games, at least when it comes to solving the puzzle. Today's revealer is 61A: Ignite something ... or what the first words of 17-, 23-, 38 and 51-Across do? (STARTAFIRE). In each case, the first word can be combined with "fire" to make a common term. My favorite is certainly BONJOVI, not because of their music particularly, but because I did not expect "bonfire" to come out of it.

I liked IRKSOME and KNEECAP, and many people enjoy a good game of OTHELLO. The only entries I'd give a DPLUS to are 65A: ____ point (concise) (TOTHE) and... well, nothing much else. I might cavil at ACUP, but it's a nice quotation, one which I feel more people in today's society could stand to live by.

Anyway, I think we'd all agree that solving the puzzle BEETS sitting in traffic any day.

- Colum

Monday, May 7, 2018

Monday, May 7, 2018, Julie Bérubé

3:52 (FWOE)

Hey everybody! I'm back in charge of this blog, and I've had enough of all of this pro-Europe beautiful-photos high-quality-liquor stuff that's been going on around here. Sure, we'd all love to be visiting amazing places, getting spur of the moment tours, experiencing once in a lifetime opportunities, but life's not always so EASY!

Well, apparently this puzzle wasn't quite as much of a SNAP as I thought. I made the error of not checking my crosses, typical for a Monday. I put TORn at 2D: Ripped (TORE), mistaking the transitive for the intransitive. Or is the other way around? No, wait, it's actually just mistaking an adjective for a past participle, I guess.

Anyway, I loved this puzzle. It's a metaphorical TOOLBOX, containing six items hidden in longer words that you might find in one. Four of the six cross words, such as "tape" inside of EATAPEACH. Two of the six don't, like "drill" in ESPADRILLE. But I don't have a problem with that. They're all nicely hidden, and shows why some themed puzzles need circles.

I'm also really impressed by the pairing of two themed answers with equal length 10-letter answers. ASHBLONDES and GORGONZOLA are great answers in their own right, but to fit them in like that is great work.

Now I can't IGNORE that doing that led to some OLE OLD junk. Mostly I felt that SPH was no ASSET, and I don't know how you can really pluralize PTAS like that, but overall, it was a fun solve.

- Colum

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Sunday, May 6, 2018, Brendan Emmett Quigley


I'm fairly certain that the theme today is two games strung together. I'm not familiar with the game "Ticket to Ride," and "Acquire" is maybe an Avalon Hill game? I don't know. Honestly, the theme wasn't made entirely clear to me until I had about three squares left and got TABOOOPERATION. Two games I've never actually played, but that I knew were real games. Now that I look over the theme answers, I see many more that I know. BATTLESHIPRISK, MEMORYTROUBLE, and CONNECTFOURCHECKERS, for example. It's fine.

The rest of the fill had kind of a lot of crossword-ese-y type stuff: ABEAM, AYEAR, ATASKET, TARSI, ILIAC, MIS, ELHI, ORD... I did like RIOUTOUS (51D: Rollickingly funny), SIBELIUS (49D: "Finlandia" composer), and, of course, EXTRACHEESE (3D: Pizzeria order). Our diet has been about 50% cheese for the past week and a half! I regret nothing.

I have a slight complaint about PLAIT, because I prefer the un-plaited pigtail, myself. But I guess it can be braided...

I've had fun blogging from Europe, but now Colum will take over again, because Frannie swapped weeks with him. We're about to take a canal tour through AmsterDAM, and then it's on to Bruges and Utrecht. Frannie takes over again when we get back home.

Tot ziens!

- Horace

And from the entirely boring area of upstate New York, where my daily exploits are unlikely to fill you with the same kind of vicarious delight as Horace and Frannie's do, I'll simply add that I did not love this puzzle. The theme answers just aren't really funny enough. They all work, but then they just sort of lay there.

Well, it's back to the rainy Spring. At least we got some new rye at the Farmer's Market yesterday. I'm looking forward to trying it tonight.

- Colum

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Saturday, May 5, 2018, Damon Gulczynski


The theme today seems to be excellent horizontal fill. In the long spaces where we might expect to see associated answers we have:

ENDLESSLOOP (24A: Code violation requiring an emergency exit?)
ISAIDGOODDAYSIR (37A: "Take a hike, bub!") - I'm hoping this was the seed entry for this entire puzzle. I just love the answer, but the clue seems a tad informal. I might have preferred something more along the lines of "We're done here!" But still, I like it.
HIGHFALUTIN (49A: Fancy-pants)

Those are all fun, interesting, and somewhat unusual answers. And crossing them we have more high-quality material in GOHALFSIES (4D: Split the bill, informally) (Solving over here in the Netherlands, I thought immediately of "GOdutch," but, alas, it was too short. And perhaps too formal?), PARABOLA (26D: One with a focus in mathematics), and WHYIOUGHTA (31D: Vague threat from a Stooge).


ENDTIMES (11D: Revelation subject) was fun (fun?) (I prefer the term "end days"), and DIGERATI (12D: Tech-savvy group) is also amusing, but perhaps only because it reminds me of a MENSA-related episode of The Simpsons that includes the line "Let's make litter out of these literati." Hah!

In the "... well, maybe that's ok" category I include SPUMED (1D: Made bubbles, as an ocean wave), SOREHEAD (38D: Poor sport), ADOZE (65A: Catching some Z's), and MONAD (20A: Single unit). I accept those (and ENTR') for all the rest. Great clues for ITCH (37D: Target for nails?), OBS (60D: Delivery people, for short), and POGO (14A: Comics character who says "Having lost sight of our objectives, we redoubled our efforts"). Boy, what would Walt Kelly think of the political situation today?! Happily, we have this daily diversion to take our minds off of the news of the day, if only for a short time.

- Horace

Friday, May 4, 2018

Friday, May 4, 2018, Michael Hawkins


Nice start today with a stellar NW ten-stack of HACTIVISM (1A: Subversive use of computers to promote a political agenda), IMPRESARIO (15A: One who gets the show on the road), and STAYCATION (17A: What's not going anywhere?) (Something we are decidedly not on!). I got into the corner through the shorter downs, a few of which (CPA, TECS, ISAY) were, happily, gimmes. KRYPTON (4D: DC area?), SIOUX (9D: One signatory to the Treaty of Fort Laramie), and MONEYTALKS (10D: "Mere rhetoric is not enough") are all excellent.


The SE is not quite as impressive, but the triple-stack is strong, and FIELDTRIAL and SEASALT are both fine. I suppose I might as well throw in at this point that we picked up a little SEASALT from the Ile de Ré while we were in La Rochelle the other day. :) (And no - for those who were wondering, we are not going anywhere near TROYES on this trip.)

In other areas, we have the somewhat flat ONESTOPSHOP pinning down the SW, and the tastier CARAMELCORN working hard in the NE. REDEALT (38A: Gave secondhand?) looks odd there in the middle, and it's the kind of "re-," "-er," or pluralized word that can detract from the overall feel of a puzzle, but here it is saved by its excellent clue.

STONED and PARTY seem timely, as we have just begun the Amsterdam portion of our trip. Not that we're here for that sort of thing, mind you. It's all museums and classical music for us!

Two final things: I love the clues 21A: Constitutional for WALK, and 42D: Gray area? for ANATOMY. Very nice.

- Horace

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Thursday, May 3, 2018, Emily Carroll


Well, Dear Reader, today we drove from just south of Paris up to Utrecht, parked the car, then took a train to Amsterdam and a tram to our AirBnB. I tried to get the review done before we left, but we had to leave ample time for driving through Antwerp (not recommended), and for cramming in as much of the last French breakfast (highly recommended) that we would eat before leaving the country. All this to say that the review is not being published quite as early today. Het spijt me.


In fact, before we left this morning, I could not even finish the puzzle. I got everything except for the AUDI square, which came as soon as I opened it up just now. Perhaps it was seeing the logo over and over again in my rear view mirror all day! We've driven a lot in Europe, and nine times out of ten when a car zooms up behind you and flashes its lights, it's an AUDI. It's never an OPEL. Those drivers always seem to be just struggling to keep the thing going. (Just kidding! We had an OPEL rental one year and I loved it!) And do they even sell KIAs in Europe? I haven't seen any!

So about the puzzle - everybody likes a rebus, am I right?! Even after getting the theme (with R[OPEL]ADDER), I was slowed down by the revealer COMPACTCARS (38A: Easy-to-park vehicles ... or what can be found four times in this puzzle) because I confidently entered "subcompactS," and tried oh so hard to make it work. COMPACTCARS is much better, of course, because it describes the rebus squares perfectly.

Lots of quality fill today - ACCLAIM (1A: Praise), FRAILTY (14A: Weakness), AF[FORD] with its interesting clue (1D: Meet the expense of) (I think I had "buy" here for a bit), DIRTCHEAP (21D: Bargain-priced), and ESPOUSE (68A: Support, as a cause), to name several. I liked the cute clues on LEASHES (62A: Reins cats and dogs?) and RNA (15A: Cellular carrier?), and CRU (2D: Word on a magnum) is nicely reminiscent of our recent time in Bordeaux. Which reminds me of another good clue - 22A: Got off the bottle (WEANED). Hah!

I'm not going to DANCEAROUND a decision today, because it's pretty much an OPENANDSHUT case of a solid "Thumbs up!"

- Horace

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Wednesday, May 2, 2108, Bryant White

0:09:15 / 00:12:05 (Horace / Frannie)

Frannie here, filling in for Horace today in an effort to early up the review posting (due to popular demand) while he steers us from Bordeaux to Melun over the autoroutes of France. I’m a little rusty on the review front, plus I’ve been speaking mostly French for the last week, so bear with me s’il vous plaît. :)
In today’s puzzle we find an unclued, but referenced answer snaking its way down the center of the puzzle. It is “accessed” by other two other theme answers including 28D. WALLSCONCE (Something you might secretly push in a 19-Across (TROPHYROOM)) on the left, and FALSEPANEL (9D. Something you might secretly push in a 24-Down (BOOKCASE)) on the right. Either might lead you to the HIDDENSTAIRCASE made up of three-letter sections of other answers forming its steps and risers identified by shaded squares, beginning with the first three letters of  HIDEAWAY at 20D (Secret spot).
Elsewhere, the puzzle was up and down (if I may). I thought the clue for 7D Quartets after some infighting (TRIOS) was unexpected and amusing. The clue for 66A. “Number two” (AIDE) made me LOL mostly because of what the answer wasn’t. I also enjoyed 4D. Not be a dinosaur (ADAPT), 70A. Good time for a pique-nique (ETE) (naturally), and 3D. Chianti or Asti Spumante (VINO). But, the top of the heap, clue-wise, was 24D. Where you might adjust the volume (BOOKCASE). Ha!
I also liked JOLT, SUMAC (as a nod to George Bernard Shaw), and CACHET (maybe another theme answer, or is just me?)
The barriques at Léoville-Poyferré.
I found some of the other fill to be more of an uphill climb like AUER (Violinist Leopold), YOWLS (despite the great word caterwauling in the clue), ONER (Extraordinary thing, in slang), and PAPA (Family nickname), not in terms of difficulty, but in their lack of élan. Overall though, it a fun solve.
~Frannie (& Horace (photo credit)).

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Tuesday, May 1, 2018, Jacob Stulberg


Reading the comments from yesterday, I learned that our vast readership is hungry for two things: An earlier posting time for our reviews; and more stories about our European travels! With that in mind, I am beginning today's review, at 3:45am, EDT, with a quick story from yesterday.
Mme. Lafitte drawing a sample from the '72.
Before we came to France, I had done some research and tried to find addresses for a couple of the most famous producers of Armagnac - the ones that all the best restaurants in Paris serve, and that are almost impossible to find in the U.S. We entered one of the addresses into the GPS in our rental CAR (it talks in French, and we have named her "Dominique"), and the seemingly AIMLESS directions took us down tiny little roads through deep woods and then into the very middle of rolling vineyards, eventually announcing that we had reached our destination as we looked upon a nondescript farm building with no signage whatsoever.

We sat in the car for a minute or two, cursing Dominique and wondering what we should do, when suddenly another car pulled up. Two young men got out, and then a woman I recognized from an article I had read. She came over to ask what a TOURIST such as I was doing there, and if I needed help. When I told her (in French, Mr. Haight!) that we were trying to find a certain kind of Armagnac (knowing full well who she was), she said "C'est moi," (It's me). I asked whether there were somewhere I might be able to buy a bottle, and she said that the store was at her house and that she was, obviously, not there at the moment, but she was about to give a tour to a buyer from a Paris, so if we didn't mind tagging along ("mind?!" EGADS!), we could go back and do the purchasing later. So... Frannie and I were given a tour that eventually ended at SHANGRILA, the keg warehouse, where the owner proceeded to ALLOT samples from about ten different vintages, going all the way back to 1968. Fifty years in oak! I was LOATH to leave that room!

Frannie decided that her favorite was the 1972, with 1985 being a close second. These two weren't quite as sweet as Cream SODA, but just as smooth. The '72 was over 500€. We OPTed for the '85, and PAID cash for a bottle.

So, still reeling from the incredible events of yesterday, and with just a touch of the DTS, I can now begin the review. :)

I like the theme of broken up names for roads, and the revealer - ROADBLOCK is perfect. As a photographer, I am a little bothered by FLASHLAMP - a term I have never used nor heard used - but overall, the fill was pretty clean. I think ELKIN/ILYA cross is pretty tough for a Tuesday, and I feel lucky to have guessed the L correctly. Not quite as lucky as I felt yesterday, but every day can't be Christmas.

Today is, however, a big holiday here, and we'll be lucky to find a boulangerie that's open, so we'd better get out there and start looking!

- Horace