Thursday, December 31, 2020

Thursday, December 31, 2020, David J. Kahn

On this, the final day of 2020 we are treated to a rebus puzzle emblazoned with the grid-spanning entry SMALLBUSINESSES, the backbone of local economies and some of those hardest hit by the pandemic. The four theme answers, hinted at by the revealer, contain common business abbreviations compacted into one small square. I caught on to the trick relatively early at 4 Down, "Diner or sleeper," which I knew had to be TRA[INC]AR. The hint to the theme was still three clues away, so at that point, I had no idea what part of the answer should be rebus-ized. My initial public offering was [CAR], but, a due diligence check of the Across answers resulted in a correction, which was confirmed when I hit 7D.

Thanks to the early identification of the rebus, I thought the puzzle was going to be smooth sailing, but as I went along, I found I had used up all my SAVOIR in the north, and my solve started to WORSENS, particularly in the south west. After 10 minutes or so, the rest of the puzzle was complete, but I could get nothing in that corner even after several passes. My eventual break came from the rebus itself. I guessed that the fourth business abbreviation would be LTD so I played around with those letters in that corner until I finally saw WA[LTD]DISNEY ("Winner of a record 26 Oscars) and its Across counterpart, ME[LTD]OWN ("Epic collapse"). Even after that things were looking pretty blank, but then, based on the "and others" in the clue "'Flash Gordon' and others" I added an S in the last square of 36D, which gave me ANTSY at 54A "Squirmy, maybe" and the rest, as they say, is history. :)

Elsewhere in the puzzle, I found many enterprising answers including STAVES, DEMURE, PLY, HE[LLC]ATS, and SPUME - you don't see that everyday. I particularly liked VISAVIS and WINGEDIT.

I thought Huygens might enjoy the "Game of Thrones" clue at 15A, now that he's a veteran of the series. Because GOT was such a big hit, I did try to watch it sometime back, but it didn't seem to be quite my cup of tea - I didn't even make it through the first episode. Maybe I should give it another go, though, to improve my crossword solving abilities. I could make a New Year's resolution for 2021 to up my crossword game. I'll watch GOT, pay more attention to sports, and study world capitals. That ought to do it. :) I'll also look forward to being able to frequent local shops again and enjoying company in the coming year. 


Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Wednesday, December 30, 2020, Kate Hawkins

Today's theme answers are two-word phrases whose first words are the last names of famous Billy's, so we have Billy OCEANVIEW, Billy CRYSTALBALL, etc. The revealer, imagines all such people paying dues to belong to a BILLYCLUB, which, is more amusing to think about than its more common meaning. 

The puzzle went pretty smoothly for me, but I hit a couple of sticking points, and ended up with a FWOEversight. :( My first ERA was at 5A: "First courses, for short" I entered AbcS, but a different kind of course was intended and the answer was APPS. Ha! At the bottom of that block, I hit another snag. I know the first two letters of "That: Sp." are ES, but because the third letter could be an 'o' or an 'a', I try to remember to look at the Down answer that crosses it. Unfortunately, the Down in this case, was "Southwestern evergreen," which I didn't know. I chose 'o' as the more likely option, but I wasn't super confident, which is why, after completing the puzzle and I got the "Keep trying" message, I focused my attention on that spot. However, I was in the completely wrong AREA. Whereas I had been careful to check the cross on the third letter of ESO, I failed to check any of the the Downs when I entered seES for "Watches" at 69A. It fit with the two Downs whose clues I actually read and entered answers for, but I never looked at the results in other two cases. IFONLY I had checked, I would have had a clean solve. 


An ECO of the same situation occurred in the northeast. At 18A: "Put up" made me think of canning, but it was the building context that was wanted (ERECT). I think "Do with a pick" at 41A was also intended to mislead, too, but in this case (FRO), I was ONIT

But enough about my ARTLESS solve. There was enough good fill in the puzzle to form an association including FORAGE, FORBID (not to mention NONO), BAUBLE, and, of course, DUNS.


Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Tuesday, December 29, 2020, Matthew Trout

ONCE upon a time there were four clues in a puzzle. Each one tried to conceal its true identity by hiding behind descriptive language. Adventurous solvers who successfully deciphered a clue were rewarded with a theme answer containing a fabulous element as its second component, or, in other words, a FAIRYTALEENDING. Gallant solvers thus wrested a WARRIORPRINCESS, a KOMODODRAGON, the CNTOWER, and GLADYSKNIGHT from obscurity and they all lived happily ever after. 

The moral of the story is: crossword puzzles contain lots of great words. I enjoyed both the clue and answer words in "Salacious" (LEWD) and "Cantankerous" (CUSSED). Also, WOO, RASPS, LIP for "Sass," NAAN (everyone's favorite) are also nice. However, if I'm not mixing SIMILIES here, I did spy a couple gremlins. I thought the clue "Half of a Monopoly pair" for DIE was weak, and is CALI "The Golden State, familiarly"? I sure hope not.


There was a moment when I found myself ATSEA, facing down a fearsome FWOE in the southwest. I didn't know "Spiral-horned African antelope" or "'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' actress Kemper," leaving me staring into a square,  empty abyss. Upon reflection, however, I decided that ELLIE looked promising for the latter, and NYALA not impossible for the former. The guess was correct, and I was heralded for my mythic efforts with the trumpet of congratulations. 


Monday, December 28, 2020

Monday, December 28, 2020, Alan Massengill and Andrea Carla Michaels

What's the most important part about telling a joke? Timing. What's the most important part about solving a crossword puzzle? Time spent enjoying words and word play, not timing. :)

I started today's puzzle in the northwest, at 1A as I usually do, and I was able to read the clue and enter the answer until I got to 22A. Without any crosses, I couldn't immediately think of an 8-letter equivalent for "V.I.P.s", but after checking out a few of the Downs, BIGSHOTS asserted themselves. After that, I decided to see if I could complete the remainder of the puzzle looking only at the Across clues. The answer was no, no I couldn't. I hit another road bump almost immediately with "Stand-up comic Margaret" at 27A. Regular readers of this blog may be surprised to learn that I had heard of her, and her last name (CHO) was somewhere in my brain, but I couldn't access it it in a timely manner, so I skipped that one and moved on. 

I didn't have to skip again until I got to 61A "Like Satan and some owls." I couldn't come up with their common denominator right off the bat, but when I got HORNED, I enjoyed it quite a bit. 

The southwest corner contained the only group of Across clues that I didn't immediately know the answers to. My first thought on reading "BBQ spoiler" at 64A was 'ant' which didn't fit, so I moved on to the more grid-matching-but-also-incorrect 'gnat.' In company with the BBQ planners of the clue, I forgot to consider the weather (RAIN). I drew a complete blank on "Shoestring woe" at 68A. I can't remember a time when I've had a knot in my shoe lace. In fact, my most serious shoestring woe is that that they won't stay tied, so suffice to stay that KNOT didn't leap to mind. And with the Brady Bunch, I went wrong thinking of 'sibs' or 'bros' rather than SONS. A glance at the Downs quickly resolved those quandaries. Good ole Down clues. :)


 CAP's of note today included "Quibbles" (CARPS) - both of which are great words ; "Found groovy" (DUG) ;  and "Be sociable" (INTERACT) - notably not my specialty! Fill-wise I liked SHEAF, CERISE, and DOGE. I was entertained by the game show triad of TREBEK ("Late 'Jeopardy!' host Alex"), SPIN ("'Wheel of Fortune' play"), and DOOR ("Choice on 'Let's Make a Deal'").

Although it was fun to try to solve the puzzle with the Across answers alone, it meant I missed out on (while solving) what turned out to be four excellent grid-spanning Down answers, including PEAKPERFORMANCE and HEIGHTOFFASHION. My favorite, though, was TOPOFTHEMORNING a "quaint greeting" I can actually use today, dear readers, thanks to the timing of the review. :)


Sunday, December 27, 2020

Sunday, December 27, 2020, Daniel Grindberg


A clever Sunday theme today of a variety of different "____ and ____" answers tangentially clued with familiar "____ partners" or "partners ____" clues. SUCHAS

Silent partners (PEACEANDQUIET)

Writing partners (PENANDPAPER)

and Partners in crime (BREAKINGANDENTERING)

It's quite nice, really, and there are a lot of them, which led, no doubt, to a few HAPS (Unfortunate events, old-style) such as HAPS, ISSO, NTHS, ROES, BIENNIA, INREPAIR, and SPECIE (Money in coins rather than bills). 

One of Calvin's ALTEREGOS, Spaceman Spiff
But we also get a new clue for ERIE (Lake largely fed by the Detroit River), an obscure cooking term, SHIRR (Bake, as an egg) (Yes, "as an egg." I think what they meant was "To bake an egg," because you're not going to SHIRR any cakes or brownies), and the excellent clue "Subject of a Magritte work (or not?)" for PIPE. Also into the "strong clue" category I will add "Big game changer?" (LIONTAMER). Clever, that.

I never really liked the who, but I heard "My Generation" plenty in my youth, and I don't really remember any BASSSOLO. But that's probably just me. 

So there was both "Sweetness and sourness" (TASTES) in this one, but overall, maybe I'm just a HUMBUG, but I didn't come away loving it. The theme is interesting, but I think there were a few too many concessions. Or maybe it was just that I was reminded of ZOOM, which I find troubling. I mean, it's great that we can all see each other so easily now, while we are forced to stay in our houses, but at the same time, when I think of ZOOM while I'm not actually using it, it gives me a deep feeling of sadness. It symbolizes, for me, this whole time of isolation, sickness, fear, and death. Anybody else get that?

Sorry to end on such a such a bad note. Things should get a lot more cheery when Frannie takes over the reins of this sleigh tomorrow. So until I see you again, Happy Puzzling and Happy New Year!

- Horace

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Saturday, December 26, 2020, John Guzzetta

2-Down today - ESHARP (F equivalent) - started me thinking about a possible reformation in music notation. It seems sloppy that we should have two (or more) ways of indicating the same note. But then I thought that music is certainly not alone in this. Just look at 57-Across - FAUXAMIS. It's another way of saying "false friends," and both are colloquialisms for "false cognates." And speaking of false cognates, it could be that CARDSHARKS is a corruption of "card sharps," the use of which preceded the former by about half a century. Both terms can alternately mean "swindler" or "expert." So much for singularity and specificity of meaning. 

But without such variations, crossword puzzles wouldn't be much fun, would they? If words only had one meaning and each thing or concept only had one word to define it, there would be no way to clue anything other than by simply using the word. My mind would not, for example, run immediately to potato chips when I saw the clue "Ruffles" (IRKS), or to some kind of wool when I read "Cap material" (POLARICE). ... So much for my ELEVATOR pitch about musical notation reform.

Of course, alternate meanings are just one way of cluing entries. Another is through comical deception or misdirection, as with "Organizer of a couples cruise?" (NOAH) and "Like some queens" (APIAN). Yaaasss Queen! Those are good clues!

And when there are no false friends, and jokes would be very hard to come up with, we get clues such as "Basilica di Santa Chiara locale" (ASSISI) and "Creators of quipus, knotted strings used to record census data and other information" (INCA). 

So in the end, let's keep it so that a MALLET can strike the same metal plate and sound ESHARP, F natural, or G double-flat. Context is everything, and sanstext, I've got nothing.

- Horace

Friday, December 25, 2020

Friday, December 25, 2020, Erik Agard and Wendy L. Brandes

"This is the year 2019. This is not the time and place for dreams. This is the time to wake up. This is a moment in history where we need to be wide awake.


Today's present from the NYTX is a chunky themeless from a former A.C.P.T. champion and a newcomer. There were some gimmes (Book club leader on TV (OPRAH)), and some that took every cross (Rebecca in the Basketball Hall of Fame (LOBO)); some tricky, end-of-week stuff (Labor leader? (DOULA)), and some things squarely in my wheelhouse (____ Bay (place mentioned in "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" (FRISCO)). OK, IMOLD, I'm wearing my "Readers, e.g.," but I've been putting off joining AARP.

Lots of variation in answer length today. No grid-spanners, but lots in the 4-11 range. Is that the way it is every day? Maybe, but somehow it just seemed more obvious today. Now that I look, there were plenty of threes, too. Sheesh - what a great review... more like IDLECHATTER, or just plain NOISE, IMO.

I don't love GALOSH (Wet-weather footwear) because I've never heard anyone use that singular form, and LILLY (Pharmaceutical giant, informally) seems a bit too informal to me, but FIRELIT is warmly evocative, and who doesn't like thinking about "The Sound of Music?" (ABBEY) (Who else tried to justify "Alpes" in that spot?)

If you're celebrating Christmas today, I hope you have a lovely time. If not, I hope you are enjoying your Friday. I'm going to go have another cup of coffee and Zoom with my family now. I'll catch up with you again tomorrow.

- Horace

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Thursday, December 24, 2020, Billy Ouska

"The trouble is, you think you have time." - Jack Kornfield

Yesterday, a rebus, today, an anti-rebus. Didn't you, when you got to 17-Across (LETTHEGOODSROLL), feel that something was missing? Yes, it was that one thing that we all seem to have too much of lately, and yet still not enough.

Riding the PINE

CANTFINDTHETIME (Is unable to get away, say ... or a hint to 17-, 24-, and 40-Across?) is a perfect revealer for these three phrases, all short on time. And if you enjoy crossword theme details, you might find it pleasing to notice that time was taken from the middle of the first theme answer, from the beginning of the second, and from the end of the third. There's nowhere it can hide where it won't be plucked away.

Before I run out of time, let's review all the great Down Fill: 

HATTRICK (Series of goals) - great clue.

RIDDANCE ("Good ____!") - said no one about time ever

STOICISM (Endurance of hardship without complaint) - Always aspired to, rarely achieved

PREDATOR (Polar bear, to seals) - Could probably have also used "Human" in the clue (on either side)

Interesting trivia in "There are more of these in the U.S. in October than any other month, surprisingly" (BRIDES), and kind of an odd "forced trivia" clue for TWICE (How often Bette Davis won Best Actress). I'm not complaining about the clue, just noticing its arbritrariness and moving on.

And one last bit of odd trivia - who knew a baby rabbit was called a KITTEN? What about bunny? At first I thought maybe KITTEN came down from a word meaning child, like the Dutch kind, but no, it seems to be a diminutive of a word meaning cat. So why should it be applied to rabbits? And foxes? Well, maybe because foxes look kind of like cats? Who knows. Be careful, though, because a baby hare is not called a kitten - it is a leveret. Obviously.

This is a strong debut for Mr. Ouska. The fill is interesting, the cluing is spirited (note the clever internal deception of 11D: Advantages (PROS) and 26D: Cons (FELONS)), and there's almost no junk. 

A fine Thursday.

- Horace


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Wednesday, December 23, 2020, Juliana Tringali Golden

An early Christmas (or a late Hanukkah) present - a Wednesday rebus! And one that, like Winter can, contains periods of rain, wind, ice, and sun. Let's dive right in, shall we?

Lawless figure with legendary fighting skills (Great clue)

Starting things off with a mint JULEP is never a bad idea. I hadn't actually had one of these until late in life when I started attending a yearly Kentucky Derby party at a friend's house. When we arrived, we were handed a beautiful, pewter vessel with a sprig of fresh mint sticking out of sweetened Kentucky bourbon. What's not to like? One might even go so far as to compare it to SL[ICE]DBREAD!

And immediately following (HEREON) that, we run into a lovely KAFKA quote: "I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us." You know, when asked recently what I would be reading over the winter holiday, I replied that I had received the complete stories of Kafka earlier in the year, and that I would be reading more of that. Well! I might as well have said I'd be reading FAUST in the original for all the sighing and the "What about something a little lighter?" that I got back. If you ask me, KAFKA is a comic genius. I have never read anything like it. He's just so ... I don't know ... different!

Anywho, let's move on. Remember sitting in a RECLINER in a movie theater, eating popcorn? Or going to the HOTELBAR at the A.C.P.T.? Sigh. I hope that can happen again in 2021 ... maybe in the fall?

I thought all the rebus entries were good. The top two were fairly straightforward, but when I got to "53D: Scary cry on a beach" - even though I knew it had to have a rebus in that circle, I was still very tempted to enter "shark" and try to somehow justify the single H. As it turned out, T[SUN]AMI is much better, and TEARA[SUN]DER (Rend) is also strong. Some reviewers like it when a rebus is broken across two words (unlike in both of these examples), but I have never been the least bit bothered by thinking about that, and I believe it to be a non-issue. The symmetry of rebus answers, on the other hand, can really give away too much, but here, on a Wednesday, where we already have the circles, well, I don't see that as a problem either.

This is running long, but I did want to mention that the last rebus (C[ICE]RO / SL[ICE]DBREAD) took me the longest time to get! I was EVERSO stuck on the "Wonder-ful product" being "white bread," and I wanted "Caesar" as the enemy of Antony, but I couldn't make either work at all - partly because CLEO (Royal role for Liz) just had to be correct. Finally, I think I ran through other weather phenomena until I stumbled upon "ice."

Finally, the "no time" decision paid off big today, because I FWOE'd hard on QUEEN (Contestant on "RuPaul's Drag Race"). I had confidently, but erroneously, entered RtES for "They intersect in Montréal," not noticing the absence of an abbreviation indicator, and I thought "Sure, 'Q-Teen' could be a young contestant's name. Why not?" Sigh.

Fun puzzle. Great debut.

- Horace

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Tuesday, December 22, 2020, Amy Yanni and Jeff Chen

This puzzle strikes me as a good candidate for fellow blogger Amy Reynaldo's phrase "Tuesdays Gonna Tuez." A Tuesday is supposed to be accessible to new solvers by being fairly easy, but it also sometimes tries to coax those same new solvers into the deeper end of the pool by introducing them to crossword darlings like DESI (Arnaz of "I Love Lucy"), LARA (Dr. Zhivago's love), and NEO (Keanu Reeves's role in "The Matrix"). 


The phrase also conjures up a certain strangeness of theme, and I think today's mix of grid art and barely necessary circles fits that bill. Along with the central revealer, we've got a pinwheel of related entries including SHEERBLISS, HAPPYPLACE, and SHANGRILA. The clouds are darkened a bit, though, by having additional answers of the same length (or longer) appearing right beside the themers. In the SE, I was not entirely sure which of the long answers I was meant to focus on - WONDERLAND or INAGOODWAY. Also problematic were BADSCIENCE and SCRAPESUP (manages to gather, as cash) putting a bit of a damper on the ol' CHEERS-y atmosphere.

On the brighter side, I really enjoyed the clue for COW (Word with cash or holy), and "Take a risk when taking a polygraph test" was a fun to get LIE. And "A flat one is best to skip" is pure genius for STONE. That, by itself, made the puzzle for me.

Lastly, the Wikipedia entry for John von Neumann is a good read. According to one anecdote, the six-year-old Neumann, already able to divide two eight-digit numbers in his head, once saw his mother staring aimlessly and asked her, "What are you calculating?"

It was a bit of an odd duck puzzle, but what should I have expected, I guess, when it started with HOSS (Equine animal, in rural dialect)?

- Horace

Monday, December 21, 2020

Monday, December 21, 2020, Sarah Keller and Derek Bowman

Happy Monday! And Happy Solstice! I, for one, am very, very happy to have longer days to look forward to. And not just that - I feel we are at a point in time with many changes to look forward to, all of them (hopefully) good - astronomical, seasonal, yearly, national ... and hopefully virological, and then behavioral. 

(snow) ANGEL

Today also brings a change to the blog (at least for one of the three of us) - my solve time will no longer be the first thing I post in each review. When this blog was started, it was intended to convey the voice of an average solver. There were already (and still are), at least two blogs written by people who had finished in the top twenty at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, and I wanted to present a voice from farther down in the pack - the ones who solved puzzles for pleasure, not for time. And at first, putting the time up front made that clear right away. One of the early Monday puzzle times was over 15 minutes, and the first Saturday time posted here was over an hour and a half. I'm still not going to finish in the top twenty at the A.C.P.T. (I'll be extremely happy if I ever enter the top 100!), but my times have gotten pretty fast, and I worry that instead of being welcoming and inclusive, they might now appear to brag and alienate. I'm not promising I'll never discuss time again - I might - like if I ever break three minutes, you'll hear about it! - but for the most part, I will treat it as a side topic. This blog is written by three people, though, and I'm not the boss of the other two, so we'll wait and see together what they choose to do about times.

OK, that's done. If you're still with me, thanks for plowing through all that GOBBLEDYGOOK. Regular readers know I have a tendency to JIBBERJABBER. I hope, of course, that sometimes I'll trigger an EPIPHANY of sorts, but I fear that most of it is just BLATHER

Fun theme of nonsense words used in response to blabbermouths. And I thought there was fun to be found outside of the theme, too. "Where spiders get their information?" (THEWEB) was great. It's funny because it's true! And although BAAS might normally be dinged, its clue today (Neighs : horses :: ____ : sheep) made me laugh. And the blatantly clued SAILOR ("Popeye's profession") was also hilarious. He sings about it all the time! 

The clue for DRIP (Icicles and burning candles both do this) was clever (even if some burning candles do not DRIP), and it was pleasing, in a way, to see EDGER in the exact center of the grid. 

Overall, a fun theme plus some fun clueing will EQUAL a good Monday puzzle! Hope you enjoyed it too.

- Horace

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Sunday, December 20, 2020, Randolph Ross


What a fun puzzle to have just before CHRISTMAS. So many toys! All strewn about the big day sitting smack dab in the middle. Very nice.

OPAH (Moonfish)
What an odd fish. Looks like he might be saying IMSOMAD!


We had several of these toys in the house while I was growing up. My sister had at least one BARBIEDOLL, I had, and loved, and still love, the ETCHASKETCH. There were several eggs of SILLYPUDDY, and we had a PLAYDOH press that could extrude shaped strands of the stuff. There was an old MRPOTATOHEAD somewhere, and we played CANDYLAND and TWISTER many times. Things like TICKLEMEELMO, COZYCOUPE, TAMAGOTCHI, and even RUBIKSCUBE came out after our big toy-buying days. That leaves only CHATTYCATHY unmentioned. She came out and disappeared too early. My sister had another doll that spoke, and one with hair that could be pulled out and then dialed back into her head, and my brothers had trolls, for some reason. We also had a Pet Rock that was kept in a small cage, complete with straw for it to bed on. I'm a little surprised that didn't make the cut.

So anyway, a fun trip down memory lane for this solver. All that fun and only a few concessions, the worst of which was IODATE (A halogen-containing salt). (APEDOM was too funny to be bad.)

I finished today in the NE, where I had entered "ess" instead of ARC for "Curve," and I had no idea what Indiana governor Holcomb's first name was. I stared at ___DATE (Appointment that may be hard to change) (hot date? law date?) for a long time without success ... Finally, I did what has to be done when things just won't work out - I took everything out and started again with just SCI and then NIH, and with those two only I saw SANS (Minus) (kept trying "lesS," which also didn't help), and the rest fell soon after.

Fun theme, and lots of fun trivia about the toys. I recently read that bit about Johnny Carson and Eva Gabor playing TWISTER - maybe in Games Magazine. (Or, World of Games, as I think it is now called.) Add to that some fun clues in the fill - "They can elevate art" (EASELS), "Suffix suggested by the wiggling of one's hand" (ISH), and "Calf-eteria?" (LEA), for example - and you've got a good Sunday puzzle.

Thumbs up!

- Horace

Saturday, December 19, 2020, Caitlin Reid and Andrew J. Ries


Have you all heard about the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn that is happening in the next day? Apparently they will appear to come closer to each other than they have in 800 years. I find it amusing that an astronomer had to specifically allay people's fears that the two planets were actually going to collide. According to the New York Times, the best time to view it will be about 30 minutes after sunset tomorrow.

Today's puzzle is also a fine conjunction, here, of constructors rather than heavenly bodies (no offense to Ms. Reid or Mr. Ries). This is an amazingly smooth themeless. I found only OKED to sniff at, and even that is fine.

I'm assuming the seed entry to this grid was 7D: The "she" of "Nevertheless, she persisted" (ELIZABETHWARREN). Funny that this statement, taken up by Progressives as evidence of the kind of spine the Democratic party has often been accused of lacking, was made by Mitch McConnell. It's only the second time this crossword friendly 15-letter senator has made it into the NYT puzzle. The last was five years ago. 

My favorite C/AP comes at 35A: Common material for a jacket (ABOUTTHEAUTHOR). That is a nice piece of misdirection. But I'll also note other fine examples, such as:

9A: Ones holing up in closets? (MOTHS) - this is just the sort of clue that deserves a question mark - you have to reinterpret a word in a punny way to get it to make sense.

19A: Round trips? (ORBITS) - here, the question mark puts a different spin on it, as it were. It's true that an orbit is already a full trip around and back to the start, but they also describe circles.

20D: Wax figure? (TUSSAUD).

58A: Not again! (ONCE). These types of exclamatory clues are fun.

There's a mini-ancient Greece theme with BEAR, ERATO, and ORESTES. I love BELIKETHAT and ONEMANARMY.

This is an excellent puzzle, nicely rounding out the turn. Tomorrow, Horace takes back over. Happy Holidays everyone, and see you in the new year!

- Colum

Friday, December 18, 2020

Friday, December 18, 2020, Damon Gulczynski


Today is a good day. Not only is it Friday, and there's a puzzle by the eminent Damon Gulczynski, but yours truly got the vaccine. It helps to be a frontline healthcare worker. In case there are any readers of this blog who are uncertain or hesitant about getting the vaccine, please believe that the work was appropriately done, the science is correct, and the vaccine is as safe as any widely accepted medical treatment. That doesn't mean that there won't be individual cases of poor reactions, but that the vast majority of recipients will do fine with it.

Boy, I've been preaching a lot the last couple of days. Which reminds me, I haven't done a good enough job of acknowledging our debut creators this week. Congratulations to all four Monday through Thursday constructors!

Meanwhile, today's is not a debut. We get six 15-letter answers set up in a lovely grid. And in time-honored fashion, I will now rate these in order of my personal opinion.

6. 17A: Using any means necessary (CATCHASCATCHCAN). The fact that this one is sixth tells you how good these answers are.

5. 37A: Setting for forensic investigations (SCENEOFTHECRIME) - I was thinking it would be in a DNA lab or some such, so this was a nice twist.

4. 3D: "Let's go!" (BETTERGETMOVING) - I do enjoy an exclamation C/AP.

3. 7D: People who might tell you to stop, but probably shouldn't (BACKSEATDRIVERS) - such a great clue, and a non-QMC at that. Not number one because it's a plural answer.

2. 11D: George Mallory's famous response to "Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?" (BECAUSEITSTHERE). Such a great answer, and who knew it was a 15-letter string? Mr. Gulczynski, that's who. Amazingly, never used before.

1. 60A: Stereotypical cry from a sailor (SHIVERMETIMBERS). Yes. So much fun. I chuckled as I put it in. 

Erin Doherty as Princess ANNE

But that's not all, folks! You also get the excellent 14A: Line outside the entrance? (OPENSESAME). That's a great example of a QMC, although it could also have been a non-QMC in my opinion. SCRUBNURSE is great, as is 67A: Some real heady stuff? (BEER). Throw in a reference to The Crown, and you had me at "hello." Sure, there's some ALEK Wek, YSER, SEGO crosswordese, but these are small prices to pay for the overall excellence.

- Colum

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Thursday, December 17, 2020, Kathryn Ladner


So. In case you hadn't heard, 2020 is the two-hundred-fiftieth anniversary of LUDWIG van Beethoven's birth. We don't know the actual date of his birth, only that he was baptized on December 17, and since typically that happened the day after birth, December 16 is often thought to be the day in question. 

Just for the record, I do really love and admire much of his music. His pieces are typically beautifully structured, with a wonderful sense of inevitability about how melodies and sections are built and how they come to fruition. I also appreciate how his working process is so well documented, so we know just how much work he put into making his music work the way he wanted it to.

I don't love his own self-image and the myth that has built around him of the tortured genius. No doubt going DEAF was an incredible burden to bear, but he continued to compose astonishing music despite that. And most of his torture was self-inflicted. It has contributed to the concept that genius has to come out of depression or loss or something like that. Whereas I think it mostly comes from hard work applied to some natural talent.


Anyway, I'll get down from my soapbox. The puzzle acknowledges BEETHOVENSFIFTH symphony in CMINOR, whose theme is often thought to represent FATE. We've seen in a previous puzzle, I think, the G G G EFLAT, although I like how the notes are presented here as if there is a musical staff starting in the fourth row and then proceeding on every other row until it ends on the eleventh row (thus symmetrically placed in the grid). Also, 2D: Key to this puzzle's theme? is a brilliant twist on a revealer.

The theme material is presented asymmetrically, and outside of the OBOE (and maybe AIDA? and why not ACH?) it feels a little sparse. On the other hand, we get the outstanding 18A: Items that are hard to throw away? (BOOMERANGS) and 58A: That's gnus to me! (WILDEBEEST). That last reminds me of the very odd Monty Python sketch (are there any other kinds?) about "Confuse-a-cat," a new product that does just what it says. At the end they rattle off multiple other related products, and one of them is "Bewilder-a-beest."

Anyhoo, I'll just end on noting that 1D is referred to by 22A, and this cross-reference works for me, both because the clue number is higher, and because it naturally comes later in the solve.

- Colum

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Wednesday, December 16, 2020, Ed Salners and Alex Eaton-Salners


Ah, just what we all need. A puzzle with multiple government agencies!

But seriously, folks, this is a pretty clever idea, taking the alphabet soup that makes up our various federal organizations, and finding phrases where the acronym bridges the gap between the two words. And then it's all tied together with GOVERNMENTBONDS. It's a clever concept. I could take the time (and blog space) to note that 23A: 2002 musical that won eight Tonys (HAIRSPRAY) and 37A: Very picture of idleness (SCREENSAVER) - great clue there - are both single words, so they don't need a bond to tie them together, but really, who other than a reviewer / critic / sometime blogger would take the time to do that? 

Nobody. That's who.

I appreciate the nod to Hanukkah (tonight is night seven of eight) with 1A: Dreidels, e.g. (TOPS) and 62D: Need for making latkes (OIL). These are examples of clues where I feel certain the editors changed them to fit the publishing date. But maybe I'm wrong.

11D and 45D (OBIWAN / KENOBI) work both from a numbering standpoint and the sequence in which you're likely to encounter them as you solve, so that's a referring clue success story. 

OHIOART was a pull from deep memory banks. I had to have many crosses before it came clear. Did anyone else just drop that one in? 

And how about 55A: How Russia ranks first among all countries (INAREA)? Well, sure. No question there. But also in barley production. And largest livestock of domesticated reindeer. But those aren't likely to show up in the puzzle. It takes some chutzpah, in my opinion, but I liked it!

Anyway, I'm a little SLEEPY, and my analysis is coming to a close. Looking forward to the turn. For those of you in the Northeast, stay safe through the snowstorm!

- Colum

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Tuesday, December 15, 2020, Adam Vincent


ASI WAS saying just yesterday, I much prefer split answers whose clues refer to another clue to be placed in order. So then, why was I fine with 21D and 13D (NAKED / EYE)? Because I got to 21D first. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said. As it turns out, he could have been AROUNDTHEGLOBE, at least for seven years at the end of his life.

The theme is simple: three phrases, common in the English language, where the last word is also the name of a well-known US newspaper. The clue is then worded with the newspaper in mind, hilarity ensues. I love UNDERTHESUN - it's where the desk is, because the newspaper is on top of it. And BEHINDTHETIMES works as well.

So a cute theme, but if you're only going to have three theme answers, the rest of the puzzle better be strong.


And Mr. Vincent does not disappoint. I knew things were on the right track with Cal Ripken, Jr. and ORIOLE. The grid is RIFEWITH fun answers (that being one of them). I love TRUEDAT, UNCLESAM, and the beautiful AEGEANSEA. I have been there but not for some twenty years.

Did our readers know that OPRAH was named for a person from the Book of Ruth? Not I. That's a nice piece of trivia and a new way of cluing her name.

Some might wince at ZEBU, but I think all the crosses were reasonably straightforward. Although I can imagine some looking at ATO_ and not getting that the answer was in three parts. I had never heard of TOTIE Fields. But otherwise, I found nothing to get too upset over.

- Colum

Monday, December 14, 2020

Monday, December 14, 2020, Jessie Bullock and Ross Trudeau


I wonder if the editors of the puzzle take note of recent events and find ways to acknowledge things by editing the clues. I feel certain, for example, that 34D: Typical John le Carré work (SPYNOVEL) is a nod to the recent passing of the referent. But I doubt that the answer was changed in order to squeeze in the nod. I have never read any of his books.

Today's puzzle, however, is not a nod to male writers, but rather to WOMENOFLETTERS, which is then interpreted as finding women whose names are homonyms for letter names. I like that the creators found two with first names that fit the criterion, and two with last names. Of the women honored with inclusion, I am particularly fond of SAMANTHABEE and SANDRAOH.


Of the rest of the puzzle, I will note BALLET and a nice crème BRULEE. Also present are both the Greek and Roman gods of the dawn, EOS and AURORA

I am not fond of EARWIGS, as a rule. I ask our reading public what they think of clues where the referring clue is after the referred clue. This occurs with SERIF / SANS. I'd rather they came in the opposite order, but solvers can't be choosers, only constructors.

SHEHER is very odd looking, but quite contemporary. I will finally note that "Cher or Adele" has been used quite a bit for "alto" as opposed to DIVA.

- Colum

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Sunday, December 13, 2020, Dan Margolis


Hello all! After a refreshing two weeks off, I'm back for another crack at a week of reviews. You'd think I'd have figured this whole shebang out by this point, but it's a learning experience every time.

I've been solving of late with my daughter, Cece. Today, both she and my wife sat down to look at the Sunday puzzle. Truth is, this example was too easy for much interplay, however. Perhaps I need to give up my need for speed to enjoy the solving together. But honestly, I'm not sure I can. I don't like the concept of pausing when I know the answer to see if someone else will get it. It feels condescending. I'd be happy to hear others' experiences.

Meanwhile, the theme today is the American cinema, spanning from 1950 (SUNSETBOULEVARD) to 1992 (PATRIOTGAMES). That leaves nearly twenty recent years of films unrepresented, but you can't win them all. Here, the titles are punned on with clues that refer to genres or characteristics of films. Thus 26A: Indy film? (1981) (RAIDERSOFTHELOSTARK). 

The theme clues are cute, but none of them, sadly, made me chuckle. Isn't that sad? I do like a good chuckle. There are some extra theme-adjacent answers such as AGELIMIT and HAL Ashby.


I did, on the other hand, have a smirk for 1D: Wear off? (DISROBE). That's fun stuff. Another nice QMC is 99D: Bit of ranch dressing? (STETSON). 

There's a nice pairing of clues at 8A: Saturn or Mercury, once (CAR) and 124A: Saturnus or Mercurius (DEUS). 

Other than that, I found this a passable Sunday. I have a theory that the Sundays run on a rotation of their own, maybe over four weeks, getting more difficult, and then resetting. So perhaps this was just an early rotation offering. In my made-up theory. Which sounds more and more suspect having written it down. Goes to show that most conspiracy theories are much better kept inside the head than put out there on the internet.

- Colum

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Saturday, December 12, 2020, Sid Sivakumar and Brooke Husic


At first, I thought I had this puzzle's number. After the northwest went down without a fight, I thought, "thiSPLAYS pretty EASY," but almost as soon as the words were figuratively out of my mouth and I crossed the mid-point, ILOST steam and then hit STOPTIME. I ended up putting the puzzle down for a while. When I picked it up again, I was able to solve it on my second attempt, unlike yesterday's INONEGO. Still, it could have been WORSE

The main source of slow downs for me in this puzzle were the unfamiliar people and phrases: I drew a complete blank on Jazzy Jeff, THEDJ. I over thought "N as in Nissan?" and tried to come up with a meaning for N is some far-flung geographic location I'd never heard of, but it was NEUTRAL. I also spent time figuring out Latin for "and elsewhere" (ETALIBI), but with some success in that case. I don't know the phrases STOPTIME, or HOMERUNTROTS. The latter me chuckle a little. 

I also fell dupe to a few of the misdirection traps laid for me by the constructors, as in:
"Foundation location" (SKIN)
"Order in the court" (PLEASERISE)
"I, for one" (SUBJECT)
"Mustard, for one" (COLONEL) - ha!

I thought the 3 TUPLE L in SQUALLLINE looked cool. OTOH, it took me forever to correctly parse RUSTEATEN. I also liked BEQUEATH, DEBACLE,  and PLUOT. Also, I'm starting to think I should keep an eye on IBM


We've reached the end of another week, dear readers. If you're keeping track at home, you know that the only review I managed to post early was Monday's - thanks to the 6PM drop on Sunday evening. I'm LIBEL to prioritize other pursuits for a while, but I'll return in two weeks and try again to get the reviews up earlier. During the meanwhilst, I leave you in the capable hands of my esteemed co-bloggers, Horace and Colum. 


Friday, December 11, 2020

Friday, December 11, 2020, Ari Richter


If I had finished the puzzle 1 minute and 9 seconds faster, my time could have been 23:45. To me, that would have been cool, for reasons I can't explain and don't fully understand. Even though my time was not ideal, it's not too bad for a Friday for this solver - and that in the face of some very clever clues. 

A review of some of my favorites in this puzzle brought to mind the old Question Mark / Non-Question Mark Clue conundrum. The whys and wherefores of the question mark in clues continue to elude me, but today, I'm giving the preference to the NQMC's. Take a look at these beauts: 
"Still on the line, say" (DAMP) - I was stuck on the phone.
"Command that one shouldn't follow" (STAY) - totally boss!
"It requires some assembly" (QUORUM) - this one's a win-win for the excellent clue and unusual fill. 
"Take turns, say" (STEER) - I had STEE_ and I ran the alphabet twice before dawn broke over marble head, as Mother used to say. 

Still, there are some ZESTY contenders in the QMC category as well. It will not surprise our regular readers to hear that when I read 35A: "A home?", OAKLAND did not jump to mind. On the other hand, when I read "Crack jokes, perhaps?" I immediately thought of the notion behind (so to speak) POTTYHUMOR, but I thought to myself, "oh, they won't go there." I was wrong to DOWD them. And how about UTERI for "Fetal positions?"- another good one squeezed in there.

25D: PEAR (drop)

The grid-spanning SCRATCHANDSNIFF is nice fill, although if there's one thing I in this world that I wish would VAMOS, it's perfume. Any magazines that have scented ads go right in the trash. MOONQUAKE was also nifty; I don't think I've ever heard that term before. 

Perhaps I was able solve the tricky clues more readily because of the number of relatively easy clues in several places in the grid, some OBOE here and DOSE over dere. I was a most surprised by 2D: "Peek-__" this late in the week, because what else could the answer be but ABOO? "Deck wood" (TEAK) and "Pal" (CHUM) also seemed a little FLAT. DONTGETANYIDEAS, though, I'm not complaining! 


Thursday, December 10, 2020

Thursday, December 10, 2020, Jack Murtagh


Want to hear a joke about potassium? K. Want to hear one about sodium? Na. 

Today's theme features the 151-year old Periodic Table. It seemed to me that the clearest way to explicate the science-based theme was with equations. Thus:

Clue = Element symbol + word + ? 

Answer = [Element name represented by symbol spelled out] + synonym for additional word = common item or adjective. 

Example: 43A: Aground? Ag is the symbol for silver and 'bullet' is a synonym for a round QED: the answer is SILVERBULLET

My favorite was OXYGENSUPPLY for Oration? - ha! It reminds me of the old ads for Ken-L Ration. Anybody remember those?

It took me rather too long to solve the equation, but I finally figured it out with IRONMAN (Female?) when I had IRO_MAN. :) 

Elsewhere in the puzzle, there was a regular STEMpede of science-y fill:
Doctor's order (SAYAH)
What's anything but neutral? (ION)
Dermatologist's concern (CYST)
Injection units for short (CCS)
And, best of all, "A constant celebration?" (PIDAY) Genius. 


There were good C/AP's in other disciplines including "Were present?" (ARE), "Lacking bite" (TOOTHLESS), "Colonial workers, maybe" (ANTS), "It may be glossed over" (LIP), and everybody's favorite, "Frequent filers" (CPAS). 

I had some trouble in the southwest. I got the CARBON for the C in "Cold?" at 57A, but I lead myself astray trying to fit AgED or AgEr at the end for 'old', completely overlooking the D. It was a NOgO until I thought of HATER for "Curmudgeonly sort." Then, BOOMt!


Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Wednesday, December 9, 2020, Owen Travis and Jeff Chen


According to the revealer at 64A, today's four theme answers describe a LIMBO contest, including SETTHEBARLOW and BENDOVER BACKWARD. I didn't see that coming! I haven't thought about the limbo in quite some time. I looked briefly at the Wikipedia article for "limbo dance," and read that it originates from Trinidad and dates back to the mid to late 1800s. Traditionally, the limbo dance began at the lowest possible bar height and the bar was gradually raised, signifying an emergence from death into life. When we did the limbo in my youth, we always went from high to low. We also turned our heads in order to UNDERACHIEVE - talk about a CRICK in the neck! - which I now see is against the rules. Well, ILLBE.

There appears to be a 'stadium' sub-theme today, at least as far as clues are concerned - the constructors must have been ONASTREAK giving us "Like excited fans in stadiums" (AROAR), "Rude people in stadiums" (BOOERS), and "Groups in stadiums" (CROWDS). 

Some of the high points of the puzzle for this solver had nothing to do with either theme's answers. I liked "Cameo, say" (BITPART), the hidden capital in "Ivory, but not ebony" (SOAP), and "One taking a bow for getting couples together?" (EROS) - ha! I also liked "Bookstore section" (TRAVEL) because I like both bookstores and travel. And speaking of travel, I was interested to learn that Oranjestad is the capital of ARUBA. Who knew?


Fill-wise, some of the highlights were SALADFORK, BOILERPLATE, WAVEDHI. And for some reason, SAGGIER made me LOL. 

I did hit a couple of sticking points, but not for long. I first tried 'bread' for "Dough," but the answer turned out to be MOOLA. And for "Fix in place," I had to rearrange my thinking and make the switch from the 'repair' meaning of fix to the 'attach' meaning to get SECURE

The bottom line: a string of solid theme answers, a number of versatile clues, and  some top-quality fill. 


Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Tuesday, December 8, 2020, Enrique Henestroza Anguiano


Aloha, dear readers! How is this review like today's puzzle theme? It can be described by the opposites late and early - it's late compared to yesterday's review and early compared to my usual posting time. Okay, that's a bit of a stretch, but I was trying to match the today's edgy puzzle theme which offered strategically placed antonymic answers around the perimeter of the grid, using nicely paired clues to boot. In the very top northwest corner at 1A: "9-to-5 activity" gives us WORK and in the last across clue at the bottom, 69A, "Off-hours activity" gives us PLAY. Meanwhile, 1D had "Rainy" (WET) and 63D "Not rainy" (DRY). All together, the theme makes use of six pairs of POLAROPPOSITEs each with the same number of letters and placed in directly opposite locations in the grid. WILY! Today, I actually made use of the theme while solving the puzzle. When I got to 68A: "In hell, say," I thought, hmm, what do they want here, then I remembered the theme, looked at the top of the puzzle and saw ABOVE, so I knew the answer had to be BELOW


In other areas, I liked "Things that may be broken when moving?" (LEASES) and "They loop the Loop" (ELS). Fill-wise, I love RANDO and HASAT. I also fancy ASTUTE and ESCHEW

Overall, I'd say this was a relatively EASY puzzle with a clever theme. I suppose it's no surprise that I liked the theme. They say opposites attract. 


Sunday, December 6, 2020

Monday, December 7, 2020, Barbara Lin


Cheerio, dear readers! Frannie here, taking over from Colum and Horace after two weeks of great reviews that have kept them OCTOPI'd and you entertained, but today is the day we PASSTHETORCH. No, my friends, Horace did not "'Hand me a flashlight,'" but he did hand over the figurative keyboard and say to me, "it's your week to write the review, Frannie." As always, I've got some big brogans to fill, literally and figuratively, but I'm going to try to ACEIT. My first step in that direction is starting early. It's only Sunday evening and I've completed Monday's puzzle and I'm writing the review. EPIC

Today's theme clue/answer pairs feature words that have different meanings in British and American English. The clues contain the American version of the word and the answers are common phrases that contain the corresponding British TERM. Clear as cling film? Perhaps an example will help. At 17A, "Traveled by subway?" is WENTDOWNTHETUBE. Or how about the comical "Use French fries as legal tender"? CASHINONESCHIPS. Ha. 

It crossed my mind that this is just the kind of theme an EXPAT might come up with. Dare I POSIT an American flying from OHARE - or sailing by BOAT - to the Cayman Islands for some much needed TAXRELIEF, asking a hotel concierge, "CANIGETALIFT?" and being directed to a bank of elevators as the genesis of the idea? IDO dare. And I salute that person. She's one smart biscuit. 


Sunday, December 6, 2020, Tony Orbach


Or, to put it another way, "Here, get [take] out 'of.'" We here at HAFDTNYTCPFCA love a wackily clued theme, and this re-purposing of familiar phrases where the word "of" has been removed suits me just fine. 

The NONAME restaurant, Boston

The central STREAMCONSCIOUSNESS (Knowing everything that's available to view on Netflix?) is perfect for this shut-in, streaming era. And I also chuckled at COMEDYERRORS (Stand-up's bombs?). In all there are nine theme answers, and I don't have a problem with any of them. So very well done there. 

Aside from the theme entries, there's nothing over nine letters long, and even then, there are only two of those, so it's a little light on bonus material. Luckily, both of the nines are very good - MINDBLOWN ("Whoa!"), and the topical DEARSANTA (Start of a seasonal request). 

I like the look of ISSHE (Joe Jackson's "____ Really Going Out With Him?") in the center, but I got a little ANG OUI when I FWOE'd on "105D: Exclamations of regret." I had entered oYS, and, regrettably, did not know the name of the "Peninsula shared by Italy, Slovenia and Croatia" (ISTRIA). (Who exclaims "Ay" when they are regretful?) Nor did I know "Actor Rutger of "Blind Fury," (HAUER), so I found that whole SW corner very tricky. 

Overall, though, things moved right along, and I enjoyed it all right up until that last corner. So Thumbs Up.

Frannie takes the reins of this sleigh tomorrow, and I'll be back for the week containing Christmas. I hope your December is going as well as it possibly can be.

- Horace

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Saturday, December 5, 2020, Brendan Emmett Quigley


Brendan Emmett Quigley's byline used to strike fear into me, but today's puzzle went along quite nicely. First of all, it's a lovely grid, with the diamond pattern and the dot right in the middle, and a pleasing grid always puts me in a good frame of mind when starting a puzzle. Second - and this might strike many readers as unnecessary to say, let alone write down - I followed Dan Feyer's advice, given at the end of the recent Boswords Themeless League tournament (in which he finished a surprising third to Paolo Pasco (1st) and Tyler Hinman), which was to "use the letters you already have." I used to simply run through all the Across clues and then the Down clues, and then I'd get to work trying to add where I had some answers. More recently, I've tried the "Downs only" approach said to be a faster way to solve, especially in early week puzzles. But today, I went with the 8-time A.C.P.T. champ's advice and tried to work the crosses as soon as I had any foothold at all, and judging by my time - which, for me, is quite good for a Saturday - I'd say it worked well. (Is that the method you employed yesterday, Ms. Clark, to achieve your blistering 4:15 Friday time?)

one of those QRCODES - Try it!

Of course, it doesn't hurt to know a few things, too, and I was helped by remembering what QUARTERRESTS looked like (Squiggly musical symbols), and being aware enough of recent news to guess that the Vespa mandarinia was better known as a MURDERHORNET - once I had that MUR in place. I'm sorry to say, however, that I am not familiar with GEORGESMILEY (Long-running fictional hero who made his debut in "Call for the Dead"), which might have helped in the SE, where I spent my last few minutes.

I enjoyed the clue for MOTHERNATURE (Woman of the world?), and "One getting in on the hustle?" was cute for DANCER. And I couldn't help but notice that BARBEQUE contains the constructor's initials. I'm guessing he noticed that, too, otherwise he might have been more willing to try something else up in that NE corner to get rid of IDED, IDEATE, TETRAD, and ETAILERS, none of which is very scintillating. But I guess LIMBER and REDTIDE are ok.

Overall, I thought this was a smooth Saturday. There was a little glue (OTC, TAI, IVE, LUNESTA), but there were enough laughs (Dessert you might be "liable" to eat? (TORTE)) and ahas (One found among the reeds (OBOIST)) to make the small sacrifices worthwhile.

- Horace

Friday, December 4, 2020

Friday, December 4, 2020, Patti Varol and Doug Peterson


11-stacks in the corners - it must be the weekend. I thought all six of them were good, but my favorite is probably MINISTERING (Tending (to)) because it is so uncommon. I don't think I've ever seen it in a crossword before. Indeed, a check on xword info confirms this is its first appearance in the NYTX (and also Ms. Varol's first byline - congratulations!). It's also the first appearance of GRETAGERWIG's full name, but her first name was in just last month (with her last name in the clue), and since I used a photo of her to illustrate that post, I was able to fill it in today with only a few crosses. 


Can you believe that "Unforgettable ... With Love" is almost thirty years old? Sure, IGOTANAME is almost fifty, but that does seem pretty old, whereas I remember that video of NATALIECOLE singing with her father as though it came out maybe ten years ago. Sigh. I guess if you look around, it's a little bit of an older vibe, with CASSETTES (Tapes, say), ALIENS (1986 sci-fi film sequel) and FAGEN (Steely Dan singer Donald) also in the grid. (Of course, if all the cultural references were from the 2010s, I'd never complete a single crossword!)

Regular readers will know we here at HAFDTNYTCPFCA enjoy trivia like "World's deepest river" (THECONGO), and "Survivor at the end of 'Hamlet'" (HORATIO). For the latter, I initially thought of Fortinbras, but he only strong arms (see what I did there?) his way in at the end, whereas HORATIO actually survived the Act V bloodbath. 

It's funny about trivia clues, though, because there are definitely different levels. A reference to perhaps the most famous play in the English language, or the "world's deepest river," are certainly things that most people either ought to know, or ought to be happy to know, don't you think?. "Los Angeles suburb bordering Griffith Park" (GLENDALE), on the other hand, doesn't feel quite as satisfying. And I don't think I'm just being a SORELOSER for not knowing it. 

Lots of "double clues" in this one. Or, single clues with two answers. What should those be called? Like "Young woman" used for both LASS and DAMSEL, or "Long-legged waders" for IBISES and HERONS. The second example is more dastardly, because both (and egrets, for that matter) have the same number of letters!

Overall, this seemed a fine Friday. Not exceptional, but good.

- Horace


Thursday, December 3, 2020

Thursday, December 3, 2020, Jake Halperin


So today, Thursday the 3rd, we get a puzzle featuring FRIDAYTHE[13]TH as the first theme answer, and two more examples (all from CINEMA, if you want to look at it that way ... remember going to the movies? ... sigh) of a 13 rebus in APOLLO[13] and OCEANS[13]

At first I thought it was rather an UNLUCKYBREAK that it could not at least run on the 13th of some month, but it does have the rebus aspect, which you would expect to find on a Thursday, and I don't think there's a Thursday the 13th until January 2022. Not that a Thursday the 13th is anything anyway.

Which brings me to my second question - why is the revealer UNLUCKYBREAK? Is it because the 13 - thought by some to be an unlucky number (which is, in itself, absurd) - is used as a broken B? Or is it referring to the theme answers themselves? APOLLO13 had problems, yes, but was it unlucky? And I don't think I ever saw OCEANS13 - did the team not win out at the end of that one? ... so many questions.

So in the end, as much as I enjoy a rebus, the theme left me flat. Elsewhere, I thought PUNINTENDED was fun (and it makes me wonder if I could think of more "un-" words that could be turned into something wacky with the addition of a single letter), the factoid about IDAHO (The U.S. Forest Service owns about 38% of it) was interesting, and ... that's about it for stuff I liked. But, well, ... I guess it's always nice to have Constitutional refreshers like "Sixth Amendment right" (COUNSEL).

On the GRIEF side, POTTOP is not a thing anyone has ever said (and speaking of that, does anybody actually say "TOT up?"), an ACORN is not a particularly "Hard nut to crack," and "Busts" seems a bit of a stretch for TAMES. I suppose that in IDAHO they might talk of "busting broncos" ... That cross with EZER Weizman, who once headed the Israeli Air Force, was my last square. 

So overall, I guess it just seemed a little USUAL to me.

- Horace

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Wednesday, December 2, 2020, Will Nediger


"Skin," "peel," "zest," and "rind" - all words for the outer edge of a FRUIT, and all formed by the first two and last two letters of the long theme entries. 

When we're talking about a lemon, they all mean pretty much the same thing, but you'd never talk about the rind of an apple, or the zest of a grape. Although I usually think of zest as the grated outer rind, not the rind itself. It only becomes zest when it's been removed. Is that how you think of it? Same with "peel," I guess. So in the end it's a little strange, but at the same time, it kind of seems ok, right? Because when you first got to the revealer, you instantly understood it.

The author with DYED blue hair
So that's my professional opinion, "It kind of seems ok" - taking into consideration, of course, that I am not a professional reviewer. There's no paywall or "Donate" button on this page. If you want to make me into a professional, you're going to have to try a little harder than that. :)

So anyway, I like that the four theme entries are so very different from one another. SKETCHESOFSPAIN is an album, PEAGRAVEL is a mundane landscaping element, ZEITGEIST is a slightly arcane, highfalutin word, and then we've got the parental command, RIGHTTHISSECOND! If you're the type of person who likes to try to figure out a puzzle's theme as you go along with your solve, good luck to you today. SHEESH!

In other news, the NYTX continues its campaign to legitimize NOSOAP as an actual expression, and not just part of a famous joke. To that I say, "NOSOAP, Mr. Shortz!" 

And I did not know "Film auteur Miyazaki"'s first name was HAYAO, so that needed crosses.

Lots of nice fill today - THEWAVES (always nice to have references to Virginia Woolf and/or the beach), IRISHSEA (another SCENIC beach reference), COLOGNE, HERALDS, WRITHES, AVOWAL, RIOTOUS, and ZEPHYR. And I like the conversational OHSNAP and MAKEME side-by-side up in the NW.

Overall, I liked this one fine. Or should I say "It kind of seems ok." Yes, that's much more professional.

- Horace

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Tuesday, December 1, 2020, Byron Walden


Huge, theme today! Four grid-spanning fifteens and two nine-letter entries, all crossing and making the grid look like a plaid shirt. The middle looks especially impressive with those three "REC" centers all run through by PRESSURECOOKERS. It seems like Mr. Walden himself is the one bragging WHATMORECANISAY at the end. And what, indeed? That's some really nice work on the theme.

It makes me sad that I didn't know this from the clue.

So what happens to "everything else" when you use forty percent of your white squares for thematic fill? Well, often it's a kind of TRAP that makes you resort to legalese, (EMBAR), old video games (GALAGA), and televangelists (OSTEEN). But that's not the case today. Well ... obviously it is, but really that's about the extent of the weirdness, and that's not all that bad. It's really just "edge material" for crosswords. There's the stuff everybody knows, or ought to know, and then there's the edge material that some solvers will know - and possibly love - but others will need crosses for. What I'm trying to say is that it's not outright junk fill like CHANGETO (replace with), which is rather ADHOC (Formed for a particular purpose). 

But along with the forced concessions there are some NIFTY entries like CONSORTS, REPUBLIC, and LITIGANT. And I thought PAWNS had a particularly nice clue (Half the pieces in a chess set). I waited to fill it in, expecting either "black" or "white," but when I got the second letter (A) from ADIN, I had to re-think things.

Quite a good Tuesday. 

- Horace

Monday, November 30, 2020

Monday, November 30, 2020, Emma Craven-Matthews


A tribute puzzle for America's Hat, the Great White North, CANADA! Did you ever wonder how they came up with the country's name? Well, the story I heard is that somebody put all the letters into a hat, and then one person picked one letter at a time and shouted it out - "C, eh, ... N, eh, ..." 

I yearn, you yearn, we all yearn for a coffee URN!


So anyhoo, now that you've got that little SCENARIO in your head, we can talk about all the references to Cold Mexico that Ms. Craven-Matthews managed to cram into her Monday debut. There's the capital, OTTAWA, the country itself, also playing the part of revealer, and then a lovely pinwheel of four stereotypically Canadian things - HOCKEYNIGHT (think "Football Night in America," but with skates), TIMHORTONS (think Dunkin' with better coffee and greasier doughnuts), MAPLESYRUP (think Vermont, but even farther north), and SAYINGSORRY (there's no American equivalent). 

In addition to all that "official" theme material, Ms. Craven-Matthews managed to spruce up four more otherwise bland entries with references to Canadia: "D.C. player, formerly a Montreal Expo (NAT), "Toronto-to-Montreal dir." (ENE), "N.Y. airport with many flights to Toronto Pearson" (LGA), and "Weather often associated with Vancouver" (RAIN) (Well, it is home to the Great Bear Rainforest!)

Overall, I liked the clueing (any reference to Zeno of ELEA is ok by me), but I don't really think "Some brandy fruits" is perfect for APRICOTS. As I understand things, brandy isn't made from APRICOTS. Shouldn't the clue be something more like "Some brandied fruits?"

But maybe they do things differently up North, and I don't want to ALIENATE any Canuckleheads, obviously, so I guess I'd better wrap this up. On the whole, I thought it was a beauty.

- Horace

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Sunday, November 29, 2020, Eric Berlin


Well, here I am again on this merry-go-round. Do any of you remember the song "Horace, the Horse (On the Merry-Go-Round)"? We had it on 45 and I used to listen to it a lot when I was very young. I guess it might have been one of the (many) influences that led me to realize that situations have more than one interpretation, and perhaps also to realize that my reaction to a situation could be altered by changing the way I look at it and understanding it in a different way. Frannie often says that I can rationalize away any problem. I'm not sure that's entirely true, but it's certainly not false. :)

Anyway, yes, here I am following (or am I leading?) two clever and intelligent bloggers. And since 'tis the season, I will say aloud that I am thankful to have them both as friends, and also thankful that they have helped out with this blogging effort for the past many (going on 8!?) years. 

Today I start my week with a clever mash-up puzzle, wherein six letters from two consecutive words are packed together. "Very short-lived gemstones" are EPHEMERALDS. It's even funnier because (from Wikipedia) "Most emeralds are highly included, so their toughness (resistance to breakage) is classified as generally poor." Well, ok, maybe that only makes it funnier to a geologist's son...

Let's try another gem - "TV quiz program about an epic poem" GILGAMESHSOW ("It's the Gilgamesh Game Show! Test your skill as you rid Inanna's huluppu tree of creatures, and try to hang on to the mikku and the pikku, but watch out for the Bull of Heaven!")

 "Boy, it's going to be a loong week," I hear you groaning.

But seriously, these are quite good. First-rate strategy compressed to FIRSTRATEGY almost sounds like a real word, and the very silly HAMMERINGUE (Pounding on a pie topping), SUPERMANENT (Salon job named after a comic book hero), and OBAMACARENA (Dance celebrating 2010 legislation) are all excellent. And one more thing, I learned that there is a breed of terrier called Airedale. Who knew?

An excellent start to the week. I could go on and on about non-theme material (Dozens of them are sold (EGGS), for example), but it's already getting long, and I've got Sunday chores to attend to. I'll leave the additional praise for you to add in the comments. :)

This review is ATANEND. See you tomorrow!

- Horace

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Saturday, November 28, 2020, Nam Jin Yoon


Today's offering is Mr. Yoon's second puzzle in the NYT, and I think it bodes well for his future in this area. His debut was three months ago, with a grid that looked very similar to this one, with the 6 black squares sets of steps on each side to create the cascading long answers. We liked the first effort quite a lot, but I think this one is better!

Let's start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). 1A: Move to a later date, say (TIMETRAVEL) is such a great clue and answer. I dropped in "reschedule" and immediately took it out when I saw 10D had to be LES. It still took me some time to finish the rest of that corner. I also love 5D: Fabled beneficiary of a nap (TORTOISE). I thought briefly of Rip Van Winkle, only nobody would feel he was better off for his prolonged snooze.

In the middle, I liked FAIRSFAIR, a lovely bit of colloquialism. I smiled at 23D: One of a pair of interrogators (BADCOP). The whole SW corner is marvelous, with PLACEBOS, FROGPRINCE, and CARRELS, which made me think of where I first met Frannie, and through her, Horace. What a lovely way life has of creating opportunities for like-minded people to get to know one another.

The last TSAR, also Queen Elizabeth's 4th cousin once removed

Donna TARTT was a gimme for me, although I never read "The Secret History." I did read "The Goldfinch" and did not love it as much as many other people seem to have. Nor have I seen the movie. 13D: They're on the tip of your tongue (TASTEBUDS) was straightforward because I had many of the crosses in place already.

And let's give a nod and a smile to 55A: One who passes the bar? (TEETOTALER). That's fine cluing.

This is a very smooth grid and solve, and I enjoyed it immensely. What more can you ask for on a Saturday morning?

Enjoy the next two weeks of my infinitely superior co-bloggers, and I'll see you in December!

- Colum

Friday, November 27, 2020

Friday, November 27, 2020, Robyn Weintraub


How lucky can one guy get? Already a good week from a crossword perspective, and on top of that I get a creation of Ms. Weintraub’s for a Friday themeless! Also, it’s been a good week from a non-crossword perspective, just to be clear. We had a lovely Thanksgiving day yesterday, replete with way too much food. Sadly, the chocolate hazelnut pie was overdone (I thought I had turned the heat down as per the recipe, but unfortunately, I must not have pressed the final button...), but the rest of the meal was delectable.

Speaking of delectable, this puzzle was a delight. I had all but the final NE corner finished in about 3:30, and thought I was well on the way to a new record for a Friday, but that last section stumped me for a while.

I’d never heard of EEKAMOUSE, but I love the entry, and it led me to Wikipedia, as always. Apparently, it was the name of a horse he routinely bet on, and became his nickname, and then his chosen stage name. Sitting right below the classic British rock group STONEHENGE (which always reminds me of Spinal Tap), and crossed by NENE, there’s a strong musical connection going on here.

How about that clue at 26D: Page seen in a wedding album (RINGBEARER)? That’s some fine clueing. Similarly clever is the nearly symmetric 9D: Spot removers (ADBLOCKERS). Two very fine non-QMCs.

I’ve never had BANANASFOSTER before

I’ve often wondered about CFLAT, which only ever shows up in crossword puzzles in reference to harps. For those less musically inclined, the key is equivalent to B major, only instead of being notated with 5 sharps, it is notated with 7 flats (every single note). Thus it is cumbersome to interpret as you’re reading it.  In any event, key signatures are a boon to the modern constructor.

BILLTHECAT... well. Remember comic strips? Sunday funnies? Don’t see much of them any more, although our local paper still carries them. I enjoyed Bloom County back in the day, carrying shades of Doonesbury and Pogo. I never much liked Bill, though.

Here’s hoping for an equally fun Saturday. HINTHINT!

- Colum