Thursday, September 21, 2023

Thursday, September 21, 2023, Dan Caprera

Fun start to the Turn today, with six answers going south. To me, the resulting crooked answers can also look like geese on the wing, only here they'd be flying out the northeast corner, which isn't perfect, but still, I like it. Another thing I especially liked is that all the second halves were clued on their own. Some of the beginnings were left as non-words, but there was no reason to use dash clues, because they actually did work, you just had to figure out how. Nice.

The trickiest of the six theme answers for me was "Center cut?," which turned out to be MOHAWK. Hah! 

NEC headquarters

And in crossover news, the Watergate hearings, which soon followed the "Infamous presidential denial" IAMNOTACROOK, preempted the airing of the first season of "The $10,000 Pyramid," hosted by DICKCLARK. Is Dick Clark still a household name? Does his New Year's Eve legacy continue? And was anyone else briefly confused by thinking of Michael Strahan, who hosts the $100,000 Pyramid? I was.

"Competitive poker?" was a fun clue for good ol' EPEE, and "Natural find with a cavity" was an interesting one for GEODE. "Capital of Washington?" was a stretch for ONES, and the singular GALOSH (Rubber overshoe) was odd. When I was little, we just called them "rubbers." "It's raining, put your rubbers on!" And here's a question - do SEAMEN wear rubbers? ... sorry.

Anywaayyyy... nice tricky Thursday. Just like we like.

- Horace

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Wednesday, September 20, 2023, Gina Turner

Who doesn't love a good POWERBALLAD? Well, me, apparently. When I ran through a list of the top fifty, I only knew a handful. I guess they just weren't my thing. Luckily for me, I didn't have to know any for this puzzle. I only had to know words that can precede "power" to make familiar phrases like "Black Power" "superpower," and "higher power." I wasn't familiar with "love power," but I looked it up, and the first thing that came up were two songs. Is that power enough for theme material? I guess it's like Virgil said: omnia vincit amor. And it's a nice touch that all the theme answers that can be broken apart are songs.

Is it just me, or did you all chuckle at "Who blows thar?" (SHE). Those in the Northeast might remember a restaurant called Yoken's in Portsmouth, NH, the sign for which was a neon whale with "Thar she blows!" written on it. When I was little you could order a "whale burger" that was, I believe, made with real whale meat. Sigh.

Marisa TOMEI makes another appearance today, and we get some fun trivia in "Onetime capital of Poland" (KRAKOW), "Ingredient in Roman concrete" (ASH), "Creatures that are often catadromous..." (EELS), and "Like AB negative, among all blood types (RAREST). We also get a couple of deep-cut crosswordese answers in ASCI (Saclike structures produced by fungi) and OVIS (Sheep genus). And I've never heard of GIA Carangi (considered by many to have been the first supermodel) or RENEE Elise Goldsberry (who won a Tony for Hamilton), but I really ought to know both of those names.

I'm an ADMIRER of this one.

- Horace

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Tuesday, September 19, 2023, Gia Bosko

It's funny, isn't it, that in order to cram in a famously long word, the width of the puzzle had to be shortened by a square. ANTIDISESTABLI SHMENTARIANISM (Opposition to the removal of ... state support from the church) is something I have heard many times (from people just wanting to show that they had memorized a long word) but never really thought much about. In fact, this is the first time that I have ever really considered the specific meaning of the word. So thanks for that, Gia.

EDIE Falco

SESQUIPEDALIAN (Having many syllables ...) is one I have never heard before. I remember when I was little we celebrated the sesquicentennial of something or other ... I can't quite remember what ... but that was 150 years, and "one and a half feet" doesn't really work for "many syllables." Maybe speakers used to be very lazy, and if they had to say anything over a single syllable they would get exhausted, so "one and a half" was enough to mean "many."

OK, let's move on. OBSTREPEROUSLY (In a noisy and unruly manner) is one that I actually did know. Maybe from SAT prep - the same reason I still know words like "dearth," "plethora," and "INURES."

I've never read IVANHOE, or MARY Shelley's famous work, but I have HADABITE of POTATO

Wow. Did I just make that stretch? It's almost like cluing IRAN with "Country whose name looks like something a marathoner might say." Perhaps it's time to go.

- Horace

Monday, September 18, 2023

Monday, September 18, 2023, Keven Christian and Andrea Carla Michaels

COLORCOMMENTARY at 62-Across explains the colorful language in TALKABLUESTREAKTELLAWHITELIE, and RAISEAREDFLAG. And speaking of flags, I learned today that the Netherlands is thought to be the first country to use a red, white, and blue flag, and that their flag inspired those of France and Russia. Now loads of countries use those colors on their flag. LECH Walesa's Poland uses only two of them, but that's not important now.

So let's see, what else... I just saw Marissa TOMEI and EMMA Stone in Crazy Stupid Love on the way back from PORTugal. It was an entertaining film to watch on a plane, filled with stories of EROS (God of romantic love). I know I don't usually include a picture of anything or anyone that I mention in the review, but I will make an exception today. 

This one went by quickly. I could tell I was moving right along, but then I had to hesitate for a moment at "Event suffix similar to '-Con'," and when I finally put in FEST and looked up at the time, it said 3:09. Sigh. Someday I might break three...

Still, the time isn't important, it's how you enjoy the puzzle. And today, it's a nice tidy theme, not ALOTOF junk fill, and a few nice bonuses like BUSYWORK and DARKMEAT. I'd be LYING if I said I preferred Monday to Friday, say, but this was a good Monday. Let's see what tomorrow brings.

- Horace

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Sunday, September 17, 2023, Jill Rafaloff and Michelle Sontarp

Sometimes puzzle references seem aimed to a particular demographic, and today's song titles all seemed aimed at me. The most recent one is, I think, DONTBRINGMEDOWN (Entreaty to Hades (Electric Light Orchestra)) (1979), and even though that was the one I was least familiar with, it was still easy enough with a few crosses. 

That said, I did enjoy the fun "Classical" clues. The best two are "Warning to Icarus" (HERECOMESTHESUN) and "Criticism of Narcissus" (YOURESOVAIN). Hah!


Not a lot of great bonus fill - REITERATE and ARMBONES aren't exactly scintillating. But I did learn that AVON is "London-based," and I ended up reading a lot about the "vocal fry range" after looking into the notation of vocal ranges, as in "Vocal range from about F3 to F5" (ALTO). And are the suspected portmanteau elements of PARSNIP "parsley" and "turnip?" And is that not the oddest clue today? I think maybe it is. The best one? I offer "Smoke detector?" (NOSE). Counter-offers?

- Horace

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Saturday, September 16, 2023, Jonathan Kaufman

Another themeless, another doubly symmetric grid, another poser of a puzzle! Fun to finish out the week on a high note.

It's funny how a solve goes. You can break in, get a lovely long answer in pat, and then feel completely stymied nonetheless. For me, I got the cross of STAGS and EGALITE (nice crossing there with the "sans" in the down clue), figured out BALDCAP and then saw 14D: What cucumber slices and seaweed can be part of? and plunked in SPATREATMENTS. Okay, I thought - this one's going to go fast! 

After running down the crosses of my long answer and only putting in 39A: Good thing to stretch out before doing yoga (MAT) (hah!), it was time to move on.

Next I got 10D: "That sound isn't just in your head!" (IHEARIT - what a strange C/AP), then IRAS and IRIDIUM (there aren't that many elements that are 7 letters long and start with I - I certainly didn't get it from the ROI clue). This led me into the SE corner, with the excellent clue 37D: They might make it difficult to compare notes (TINEARS), and now I was able to get all of the long answers in the middle.


I love GOINGTOETOTOE and 34A: Nihilistic query (WHATSTHEPOINT) is so great. I feel reminded of Lucy Van Pelt pulling the football away from Charlie Brown. HERDMENTALITY is also excellent, as are LOANSHARK and DIDASOLID. Such high quality center fill here.

The other three corners fell in the order of NW, NE, and SW to finish off. SOLANGE is Beyonce's sister. 1D: Site of a sea change? (CABANA) is cute.

The last answer I got was 35D: Credit lines? (HATTIPS). I spent many minutes after filling in the P staring at the clue to figure out why it applied. See, you tip your hat as a way of giving credit to someone. Boy, that is a stretch. 

It's been a fun week! Hope you enjoyed the puzzles as well. Horace takes over tomorrow.

- Colum

Friday, September 15, 2023

Friday, September 15, 2023, David A. Rubin and Lee Demertzis

Happy birthday to my mother! 85 years old and going strong. We'll be celebrating together in a couple of weeks.

As a little birthday gift, today's puzzle is a highly unusual grid shape. I don't recall ever seeing this setup before. There are six 15-letter answers spanning the grid, and there's a double symmetry in place. I think that the constructors have done an amazing job setting things up so that the quality of the fill is not compromised.

But let's start with those grid-spanners, with a classic ranking. As always, this is entirely subjective, but because I'm the one writing the review, it has all the imprimatur of official canon.

6. 18A: Pair for each state (SENATORIALSEATS) - I actually have nothing to complain about here, except I suppose for the fact that in common parlance we'd just say "Senate seats." Nice clue.

5. 39A: Backstabber (SNAKEINTHEGRASS) - this is really a lovely answer. Which just speaks to how good the rest are.

4. 20A: Creature prized for its long legs (ALASKANKINGCRAB) - assuming you enjoy crustaceans on your plate. I love the pair of Ks in this answer.

3. 52A: Draft announcement? (ICECOLDBEERHERE) - boy, I hear that in a Southie accent, yelled from the aisles of Fenway Park. Also great clue.

2. 16A: eBay feature (LOWERCASELETTER) - I did not see that coming! I love this clue.

1. 42A: Magic 8-Ball response (SIGNSPOINTOYES). Magic 8-Ball responses will always come out on top.


In the fill, there's fun stuff like HELLSNO, 14D: Some complainers in modern lingo (KARENS), and 37D: They're smart these days (PHONES). Also note there are no 3-letter answers in the grid at all.

Pretty amazing!

- Colum

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Thursday, September 14, 2023, Vasu Seralathan

Good morning, and welcome to The Turn, the set of three challenging puzzles we get from Thursday through Saturday. It's a bright and sunny day here in upstate New York, a perfect opportunity to get into... math?

Sure, why not. The theme today is SOLVEFORX. The clue alerts us to the fact that 5 squares in the puzzle are tricksy. It turns out that the letter X is used five times to mean different things in one direction (and to be an X in the other direction). We've seen puzzles play on this concept before, so let's remind ourselves what the letter can stand for:

1. A kiss (14A: Affectionate gesture that might get some blowback? (AIRX)) - fun clue, too!

2. The mathematical operation of multiplication, or "times" (13D: 60 minutes, for example (XPAN)).

3. A strike, as in bowling (35A: Tenants' collective protest (RENTX)).

4. A cross (55D: Sport with a stick (LAXE)).

5. The number ten (53D: Rabbit ears, e.g. (ANXNA)).

In addition (see what I did there?) we get 10D: Problem that may have several factors (EQUATION), and 38D: Unknown quantity in a 10-Down (VARIABLE), as well as 17A: Where students may be plotting (MATHCLASS) to round out our early morning math quiz.

An example of SARIS

Did anybody else blithely put in BASSoon at 8D: Low-pitched woodwind (BASSSAX)? That took me a minute or two to unravel, but the rest of the puzzle went pretty quickly.

Some fun clues with 9A: Noted figure in genetic research (HELIX) - not a person but a shape. 20A: Customer service state? (ONHOLD) hits awfully close to home. I liked ISRAEL crossing the DEADSEA (seemed apt), and so close to a RABBI! Happy Rosh Hashanah, everybody, a day or two early.

- Colum

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Wednesday, September 13, 2023, Guilherme Gilioli

Not to overshadow a fun Wednesday puzzle, but the big news out of Albany, NY is that I won't be in Albany for much longer! After many years, I have taken a new job in Hackensack, NJ. I will be starting there in January, so big changes coming down the line.

As for the puzzle, I was surprised at how challenging I found this grid, mirroring the theme answers too literally. I was well over my average Wednesday time. How about you?

It's a great theme, though, where the answers inadvertently answer the questions posed in the clues. Thus, 19A: Paradoxical answer to "What is 'Golf' in the NATO alphabet?" (GEEIDONTKNOW) - see, the answer is the letter G. Similarly, the meaning of the Russian word "Nyet" is "no," the source of oil (in many cases) is a "well" and the island between Ireland and Great Britain is the Isle of Man.

It's a classic Wednesday style theme, neither in the relatively simple camp of Monday and Tuesday, nor in the super tricksy camp of Thursday. And I think Mr. Gilioli carried it out beautifully.

Some areas of difficulty for me today included wanting Redye for 24D: Change from green to red, maybe (RIPEN); wanting mAsK for 7D: Scuba need (TANK); wanting longA for 30D: Start or end for Alexa? (SCHWA); and putting in ateUP for EATUP. It was just one of those days. Perhaps a lack of sleep is contributing to this solver's muddled brain.

One thing I would love to do in my life is to play Franz LIZST's "La Campanella." It is fiercely difficult and extremely beautiful when played well. It also featured in "Station Eleven," which we recently watched with Cece on HBO. 

- Colum

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Tuesday, September 12, 2023, Ella Dershowitz

Hee hee... I do like a silly pun. Much like the other bloggers in this column, I think you'd all agree. 

I didn't pay any attention to the circled letters as I was solving. It was going by too quickly. I hit the revealer at 37A: Aquatic denizen ... or a phonetic hint to this puzzle's circled words (SEACREATURE), and didn't bother to look at the answers. I figured they'd be animals that live in the ocean, and thought no more of it.

When I finished the grid, and looked back, I saw the four organisms in question: a SPONGE (reminds me of Auntie Mame), an URCHIN, a TURTLE, and... a MONKEY?! Because, you see (see what I did there?), the creatures are formed by their circles into a letter C, thus becoming C-creatures. Hah!

I almost don't care about the rest of the grid after that. I laughed out loud!

There's a PULSAR somewhere in there

Okay, so. Yeah, the rest of the puzzle. Of course, there's going to be some difficulties due to those triple-checked letters in the circles. But honestly, Ms. Dershowitz avoids a lot of the challenges with some well placed black squares in the NE and SW. ORTS and UTILE are classic old time crosswordese. AER was fine, and NARUTO is a classic manga. So really no complaints to speak of.

And we also get a nice nod to the amazing Patty LUPONE, some fun math EMPTYSET bits, as well as the classic ANKARA and Anne BOLEYN (referenced by the musical Six, which we saw in London. It was not at all what I expected, and highly enjoyable. And highly LOUD).

Which character in Hamlet is not a DANE? Fortinbras. There's your ROI for the day. (Also some minor characters from Norway and England, but they don't even have names.)

You're welcome.

- Colum

Monday, September 11, 2023

Monday, September 11, 2023, Hoang-Kim Vu

Good morning everybody, on a Monday that is the anniversary of a dark day in American history. I can't believe it's been 22 years since that morning. Maya Angelou's poem that is the theme of today's puzzle reminds us of how terribly short this nation has fallen in upholding the ideals that inspired its founding. But we can continue to aspire and strive.

STILLIRISE is beautifully illustrated in several ways. The most salient is the diagonal southwest to northeast line of circled Is, but the other way is as kind of anthropomorphized self-descriptor for 17A (BREADDOUGH), 28D (BALLOONIST), and 57A (UPANDCOMER), three objects that definitely rise. 

Also, did you notice that the grid is devoid of the letter I outside of the circled ones (and the two in the revealer answer)? That makes for an extremely tight theme. Color me impressed!

LOU Rawls

The grid starts with the classic Dad humor NACHO cheese. There's a tiny mini-theme of camera related stuff with SLR and LENSCAP. Mr. ALBERT Einstein, lately portrayed in Oppenheimer to good effect, makes a nice appearance.

18D: Word before tape or after tear (DUCT) is a great example of this kind of clue. I usually find myself stymied by them, because my brain wants so much to make the two words in the clue work together, when it is the exact opposite you need to do. Also, I wanted the noun "tear" to be the verb "tear," which made it impossible to figure out.

Fun Monday grid.

- Colum

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Sunday, September 10, 2023, Adam Wagner


Gosh, it feels like a long time since I sat down to write a review. Thanks Philbo, for a fun week of blogging! Here in the muggy muggy New York upstate, it's nice to settle down with a good puzzle for a bit.

Today, Mr. Wagner plays a fun game with detours in the grid, which are represented with striped orange squares for the spaces you can go around. The clues contain both the original entry and the detoured entry, where you would go around the striped squares. Very nicely, every detoured segment (in gray squares) is a synonym for something you could steer a car down.

Thus, 22A: Dickens clerk DETOUR: Theatrical success (BOBCRATCHIT / B[ROADWAY]HIT) has the term "roadway" highlighted below the detour squares. I love USBORDERS / USB[DRIVE]S as a beautiful reparsing of those first letters, abbreviated in each answer. FILMSPEED / FIL[LANE]ED is lovely because of how "lane" is broken up across three answers. 

ELASTICBAND / E[STREET]BAND is not quite as good just because "street" is not hidden at all in the second answer. Still, the reparsing of the word "band" is clever.


Any puzzle which crosses HODGEPODGE with BADASSERY is going to get a thumbs up from this reviewer. My esteemed co-reviewer Horace probably enjoyed the pairing of APERTURE and FILMSPEED

4D: Hunt-and-peck types? (BIRDSOFPREY) was a fun clue, and it was also a fun movie, it turns out. 97A: Cells are covered in it, in brief (BIO) took me forever to figure out that they were talking about the subject in school.

I'm a big fan of the song "Come on, EILEEN," but I will not suggest that JOSEF Strauss should be considered in the same breath as his brother Johann (or even in the same neighborhood as their unrelated co-composer, Richard). 

- Colum

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Saturday, September 9 2023, Robert S. Gard

This was a fun and fairly straightforward puzzle today, made trickier by some errors right off the bat.  As I progressed and encountered one uncommon letter after another, my hopes of a Pangram grew - and it almost got there, missing just a 'J' in the grid.  I feel for the setter - he probably tried quite hard to find a place to fit that letter in.  A slight whiff of a LGBTQ theme as well, with QUEERTHEORY, GAYEST and (dare I say) FAIRY making appearances.  

What tripped me up (somewhat) was trying to be too cute on the very first clue, "Many opera villains, traditionally".  BASSI wouldn't fit so I entered BASSOS instead instead of the more straightforward BASSES.  Quickly followed that up with HOVERCRAFTS for "Some futuristic personal transports".  D'oh!  HOVERBOARDS it was.  With that damage repaired, progress became smoother.  I liked "Clipper's bounty" (COUPONS) as I was misled by thoughts of marine piracy.  

OVA ("Monthly releases?") was clever, and "Folds" was a good misleading clue for CAVES.  I found GOODFELLA acceptable for "Family man?", although I had to think about it a bit.  KELVINS was a welcome bit of physics as a unit of temperature.  The core part of my Master's research, back in the day, was to cool a certain crystal down to a few Kelvins, apply a gigantic magnetic field to it, and then bounce neutrons off it to see what would happen.  ("Spin waves", is what.)  All very elaborate, looking back.  

On the educational front, I did not know the aforementioned QUEERTHEORY was an actual branch of study.  BEREA as "the first coed/racially integrated college in the South" was new to me.  I had never heard of "Whim-whams" (NERVES).  Not having ever watched Greys Anatomy, LEXIE was an unknown.  So I come out of the other side of this puzzle a better man!  :)

Thanks for the week!  Tomorrow the esteemed Colum takes the reins...


Thursday, September 7, 2023

Friday, September 8 2023, Rachel Fabi and Ken Stern

Well, here we are at the start of the "turn", where the crosswords become themeless and consequently, somewhat harder to blog (and to solve).  My approach becomes, instead of riffing away on the theme, more of a narrative on how the solve went, snags and pleasant discoveries along the way.

To wit: I got a great start to today's puzzle with TORTELLINI, the pasta whose shapes are reminiscent of little cakes.  (My wife's half Italian, so this was a gimme.  It's her birthday today!  Happy birthday, dear wife of mine!)  The NE corner yielded quite readily after that, even though I had BTEAM not CTEAM for "J.V. benchwarmers" and, with the 'L' in place, wrongly guessed ELIOT as the playwright of "Three Tall Women".  (It's ALBEE, as I quickly discovered.  When it comes to my knowledge base, the play is not the thing 🙁 )  EARLYBIRDS (recipients of dinner "specials") set the whole thing straight...

And so it went.  I liked THELITERALWORST ("Awful, awful, awful").  BOO for "Scare quote?" was kinda weird.  The FIC "Skip it!" (ROPE) got a smile.  But the best was at the very end - "X, as in Ximenes?" (BESO) - brilliant!  Took me a while to clue in, and I had RAWSTORY instead of RAWSCORE in the crossing clue "Figure that's not weighted" - duh! - which led to a whole two minutes poring over the SE corner and a very unremarkable 8:31 solve time.

Also liked the misleading "You might take one to a new friend" (SHINE), and I didn't immediately see "One-a-day, for Dunaway" as the SPOONERISM it was.  Never heard of an "al pastor" TACO or JET magazine, or the hormonal IUD MIRENA for that matter.  Live and learn!

Overall a fun challenging solve.  See y'all tomorrow!  Ordinarily I blog these crosswords when they come out, the previous night, but Saturday's will be posted later because Friday evening I will be celebrating a certain somebody's birthday!  

Ciao for now!


Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Thursday, September 7 2023, Ryan Patrick Smith

Methinks the setter doth protest too much!  Today's puzzle has a suspiciously synthetic theme - a lot of ominous references to the world of robotics and artificial intelligence, apparently clued by an AI which has reached a sufficient level of self-awareness to throw in a whole bunch of clumsy misdirection to convince you, the solver, that it is actually a human doing the setting.  Just the kind of tactics you'd expect from a robot, or android, to throw us off the scent.  The scent of overheating silicon, that is!  

Really, this was a whole lot of silly fun.  The theme clues are all quite lengthy, each containing "I'm a real human, honest!"-type disclaimers, so I won't transcribe them here.  In addition, though, there are other little "slips" sprinkled throughout the grid, as though our mechanical setter just can't help revealing its coe identity.  Hilarious!  The whole thing starts out with IROBOT, which the setter assures us he isn't - and culminates in TURINGTEST, the famous thought experiment conceived by computer pioneer Alan Turing, as an indicator of the "intelligence" of a machine.  Of course, the setter assures us that he'd pass the test, and why wouldn't he - he IS a human after all :)  I rather think that today's AI such as ChatGPT would pass the Turing Test with flying colours, certainly by the standards originally conceived.

Much to appreciate in the rest of the grid, as well.  I think my favourite QMC was the brilliant "What often has a heart beat?" (SPADE).  And in yet another possibly unintentional reveal, "Two, for the binary number system" (BASE) refers to the ones and zeros that comprise the very lowest level of a computer's operating system - its brain, if you will.  A real human would know that a prankster says "GOTCHA", not GOTYA, but of course it wouldn't have fit into the grid in its "correct" form.

Full disclosure - FWOE today, thanks to OHOK instead of AHOK for "I get it now", which survived a careful review of the puzzle post-solve.  NERTS to me!

I'm not doing this puzzle the justice it deserves.  Good work Mr. Smith!


Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Wednesday, September 6 2023, Blake Slonecker

To this puzzle I say, "Right on!!"  In a very clever homophonic juxtaposition, Mr. Slonecker has taken four common phrases, each containing one of the four homonyms of the word RIGHT, mixed the RIGHTs around among the phrases to create new made-up ones, and then invented clues to fit the mutations.  And so we get...
  • GHOSTRIGHT not GHOSTWRITE - "Cut off communications, but do it nicely?"
  • CIVILWRIGHTS not CIVIL RIGHTS - "Cordial shipbuilders?"
  • WRITESOFPASSAGE not RITES OF PASSAGE - "Pens a seafaring tale?"
  • RITEBROTHERS not WRIGHT BROTHERS - "Sacramental friars?"
All of this SOUNDSGOOD, per the revealer in 57A.  I find it whimsical and humourous and fully approve!  

Outside these permutational shenanigans, I found this grid a bit of a challenge.  Not sure why, as everything seems fair and KOSHER... I appreciated SHOULDI ("Fence sitter's question") as an inventive way to get a word into the grid ending with the letter 'I'.  Of course ESSO was a gimme for this Canuck.  I had forgotten that SITONIT has its origins with the Fonz.  I think I'll try saying it around the office tomorrow.   My older colleagues will get it; the young 'uns will be mystified.  I may try WKRP out on them, as well.

This and that : Can someone tell me why Con Ed is UTIL? ... I find AROAR a bit of a space-filling groaner ... "Lightens up" is IRRADIATES?  Ummm... okaaay.... I was all ready to cavil at a SKOR bar being a shelfmate of a Health bar, but caught myself just in time - it says Heath not Health - a bar I've never heard of, apparently quite similar to the aforementioned Skor.  So ok fine, then 🙂

Loved this puzzle overall.  Hope you did too!


Monday, September 4, 2023

Tuesday, September 5 2023, Alan Siegel

An interesting and informative Tuesday offering today - with SYMBIOSIS the theme!  Three intersecting pairs of answers are living things which mutually benefit from each other's existence:

  • CLOWNFISH lure prey to ANEMONEs, which in turn provide stinging protection.

  • TICKBIRDs repay RHINOs for their skin-borne insect meals by keeping an eye out for poachers.  (This one is interesting in that it is such a recent arrangement, evolutionarily speaking..)

  • FRUITBATs feast on the fruit of the FIGTREE, and in doing so, spread their seeds.

CHOCOLATE and PEANUT BUTTER also come to mind, but there was no more room in the grid, plus it's a little off-theme (but, mmmmmm 🙂)

I like this kind of edifying theme.  (Certainly didn't know about tick birds!)  Neat to have them fit together like that.  

Other fun stuff on the way:  "Optical device with segmented mirrors" is an interesting, modern way to describe a TELESCOPE.  Certainly it applies to the James Webb Telescope, which continues to astound, sitting out there in its Lagrange point.  "Arm wrestler's bone of contention" (ULNA) was cute.  I liked the MORAY reference.  The last few times I've vacationed down south, I've been lucky enough to find + photograph moray eels, with their spotted skin and menacing underbites.  Two "Absolutely"s in a row was a nice touch!  Finally, when was the last time any of you put your thumb into a disctionary's NOTCH?  It's been a long time for me.  

Speaking of time, this took me a zippy 3:01 to complete.  (The crossword, not the review)

Until the morrow my friends!


Monday, September 4 2023, Tom Pepper and Zhouqin Burnikel

Hello and happy Labour Day everyone!  I'm back after a lengthy hiatus from the crosswording world.  Apt to climb back into the saddle with today's alpinist crossword, in which the theme answers end in mountain climbing obstacles, in plausibly ascending order.  I guess our climber is ascending the east face of the mountain!  

I blame rustiness for my very first entry in 1D - "ITSONME" instead of ITWASME as a sheepish mea culpa, which bogged down the entire NW corner, and led to a hunt-and-peck kind of solve for me, instead of my more usual flow down the grid.  Really not much that stood out, upon review.  Looking for extra-clever or misleading clues, and not finding much of anything.  I think for 5D, I might have clued LOO as "Elton's john?" instead of "John for Elton John"...  As a Canuck, I had never heard of OAS ("Western treaty group") but that was no impediment thanks to the straightforward crossers.

Maybe it's just me (of course it's just me!!) but I didn't love this puzzle.  I get my kicks from a bit of cleverness and I thought it was in short supply today.


Sunday, September 3, 2023, Dylan Schiff


This Sunday's theme uses old-school rebuses to play with four computer terms, then uses four more answers to explain what's going on. As in 22A: "Derby, for one" (HAT[EMAIL]). The answer to 22A is HAT, and 65A: "What a paper clip may indicate online ... as represented in 22-Across" explains the rest. And then, as a bonus, HATEMAIL is also a thing on its own.  

35A: "Chicago neighborhood with a namesake zoo" ([LIN]COLNPAR[K]) is combined with 100A "It may lead to a 404 error page ... as represented in 35-Across." Or, a "broken link." It's a fun little theme.


In non-theme material, BRANDISHES (Waves aggressively) and CANDOR (Honesty) are good words. ILLUSAGE (Bad treatment) is nice and stuffy. "Diamond theft" was a tricky clue for STOLENBASE, "Paris is found in it" was a good one for ILIAD, and I'm not sure I've ever seen "Zhuzh (up)" (SPRUCE) spelled out before. Zhuzh... yeah, I guess that's good.

In QMCs, "Tours with?" (AVEC) is a classic, and I thought "Match making?" (FIRE) was clever. "Something that's hand-cut?" (DECK) was trying a little too hard, but "Unionized" (WED) was solid. And "Amazon wrappers?" (BOAS) might have gotten a chuckle.

I think Philbo will be back for the Monday review. I'm not 100% sure though, so you might be seeing me again. And while I'm here, I'll just say that São Miguel is a beautiful island. We've been having a lovely time here, but it's off to the mainland tomorrow. Lisbon and Porto. 

Hope you're enjoying the last of the summer.

- Horace

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Saturday, September 2, 2023, Rebecca Goldstein

Although definitely not a "No-brainer?" this puzzle solved smoothly, but with a satisfyingly level of challenge. I didn't always get the answers right away but filled in the grid little by little, with the northwest being the toughest and final section for this solver. I was stymied until I finally woke up and got ZOMBIE at 1A, which broke the things open for a final solve time of 22:15. Once I got it, I liked "One means of gaining access" (BADGE). MOODSWINGS is good fill. 

"Lost at strip poker" (GOTNAKED) was funny. I also enjoyed "Gives a leg up" for BOOSTS, "Mantel piece" for URN and"One crossing the line" (SCAB). "Gets dirty" for SOILS was good, too, in a way.


The pair of "triangular" clues - SEDGE and EPEE was neat. OTOH, One answer that was too much for this solver was TRIPLETAKE. That must be some shock to be one more than the usual double take. Another oddball for this solver was "They may be held during the national anthem." Without any crosses to conunterindicate, I first tried noteS, but the answer turned out to be BRIMS - not that hats don't have brims, but that's not the first thing I think of saying I'm holding when I remove a hat. I also didn't know that a "Nickname that can be a diminutive of a family member" is TITO.

Any chance that FLUTE ("Alternative to a tulip glass") is a tie-in with Connections? Not a spoiler - I'm referring to yesterday's edition.

On a personal note, I'm feeling temporarily SETFORLIFE while on vacation here. One might even say I'm in GOBLINMODE, gorging on pineapple and CHEEZITS, but you won't catch this word nerd ordering GARLICFRIES.


Friday, September 1, 2023

Friday, September 1, 2023, Robert Logan

Bom dia, dear Readers! I didn't have much trouble with the puzzle today except as far as the app itself is concerned. Day one of our vacation and I am forced to update the NYTX app from the crossword puzzle-only app to the NYT Games app. I won't bore you with the details, but the upshot was trouble in both getting to the puzzle grid itself and with the "Keep trying" and "Congratulations!" portion of the program. Sigh. 

Anyhoo, I completed the grid in about 17 minutes, but apparently had a FWOE. I say apparently because took me a while to figure out why the timer kept running, but no message appeared. Once I figured out that the still-running timer meant that I must have a FWOE, it took me another little while to find my FWOE. Turns out, I had guessed 'lES' Montgomery at 56A (instead of WES) and never checked the Down, "Index since 1896, with 'the'". Derp. Final time was 19:22, but even with a couple of minutes devoted to problem solving, that's a relatively fast Friday for this solver. 


One C/AP slow down occurred at 25A: "Disaster" where I entered duMPsterfire, thanks mostly to already having entered DYNAMO and SOLARPANELS giving me the MP. Interesting that COMPLETEMESS has the same number of letters. 

The clue at 45D featured some nice misdirection, at least for me. Even though I am currently on the continent, my mind was stateside when I read "City east of Montpellier" and it was only after I got a few crosses that I realized the answer was ARLES. Another such was "Tears up," which ended up being RENDS, but could as easily have been something like 'cries'. Neat.

I enjoyed the answer GEEKEDOUT, although I don't usually do my out own geeking over video games. Also interesting to me that HATHA means "force." References of interest-wise, I liked Alice PAUL

Well, people are waiting for me to GETSTARTED vacationing for real. 


Thursday, August 31, 2023

Thursday, August 31, 2023, Freddie Cheng

Happy Thursday. This review is coming to you from the middle of Atlantic Ocean, as half of team HAFDTNYTCPFCA(Now with 25% more Canadian content! (Hi Philbo!)) is in the Azores! I've agreed to take the travel day reviews from Frannie (Hi Kelly!), but she'll be back tomorrow, when you'll all be yelling TGIF! For now, though, you get my sorry, jet-lag-ALTERED self. Yay!

The Thursday trick today is using the clue number with certain answers. It came to me early with "2002 film that earned Eminem two MTV Movie Awards" ([8]MILE). And hey, we were in Providence while they were filming [27]DRESSES. Just for a day, and we never actually saw the movie, but still...

Best clue - "Shade that might be made in the shade?" (FAKETAN). I also love JAW (Where to find canines). And while we're talking about that body, NUDE (Undergarment shade) is also nice.

JONI Mitchell

I don't really remember a ton of NEON in the '80s. Pink and green, sure, but NEON? Maybe some, but maybe I just wasn't all that fashion-conscious in those days, when I was wearing hand-me-downs and shirts that I either batiked or spray-painted myself. I was a hot mess. Probably could've used some NEON...

Anywhooo. It's too bad TENFOUR ("Understood") couldn't have been at either 10-Across or 10-Down, but, well, I suppose not everything is possible. 

OK. This AirBnB is kind of like a SPA, so I can't spend too much more time on this. Oh, and speaking of, we'll be going to a hot spring that supposedly EATSAWAY at your bathing suit. That should be fun. :/

Oh! I forgot one more fun clue - Noted head turner (OWL). Hah!


- Horace

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Wednesdy, August 30, 2023, Alex Eaton-Salners

A lovely little Mad Lib-style, mid-week love story is told in the puzzle today. The "fill-in-the-blank" clues used to be the ones I looked at first when I was just starting to do puzzles. God ... When was that? Maybe when I was ten or eleven? Maybe even earlier. My brother Bobby used to deliver the papers, then he'd come home and work on the terrible AP puzzle that was included in the Worcester Telegram. I was probably just five or six back then. Anyway...

We start, appropriately, at the beginning, with "Once UPON a time," and end with "happily EVER after." just like every love story should. And along the way we get such fun crosswordese as OBOE, EDEN, IDLED, and ADO. I like that the two main characters are in band, and that they enjoy silly puns. It's a relationship made in crossword heaven. 

So, when I read it, I thought of Ava and Dana as women, but Dana doesn't have to be female. I wonder, though, if there isn't some side-theme in "Oberfell v. HODGES, Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage." But I suppose if we're just tying in any old fill, we'd have to consider ENDINTEARS (Conclude miserably), and we wouldn't want to do that. And who knows how old these two are. There could be a big gap, because AGE is "Just a number, it's said." Oh, and one more fill-as-possible-theme entry could be LEOV (Pope after Benedict IV), because it's an anagram of "love." And RIDABLE? ... 


I laughed at "Knuckle-headed gesture?" (NOOGIE), and NERFBALL (Round, squishy toy) brought back fun memories. There were some little things, like EDD Roush (Last played in 1931) and UMIAK (Inuit skin boat), but all's fair in love and war, right?

- Horace

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Tuesday, August 29, 2023, Michèle Govier

Today's theme answers are all people or characters famous for wearing a BOW TIE, including KRUSTY THECLOWN, COLONEL SANDERS, CHARLIE CHAPLIN, and THECATIN THEHAT. In the app I use to solve the puzzle, the black square between the two parts of each theme answer is linked by a couple of drawn lines to the blank square diagonally below, making the two black squares look like a bow tie. NICE! Ascot on pretty quickly to the theme giving me a bolo average time for a Tuesday. HOHOHO.


I guess I'll take a cravat making a list of today's favorite clues. They are (in no particular order) "Feature of a garden or novel" (PLOT), "One way to be taken" (ABACK), "Corduroy feature" (WALE), and "Costing an arm and a leg" (PRICEY), but the Windsor is "Apt rhyme for 'stashes'" (CACHES) - ha.

At this point, I know you are wondering, dear Readers, and I am asking myself the same question, "CANI?" Can I work in four-in-hand? Knot today. 


Monday, August 28, 2023

Monday, August 28, 2023, Brian Callahan

Quite a fUN puzzle today. The theme revealer was "Disconnects ... or what's found in the answers to the four starred clues?" or UNCOUPLES, but, of course, the UN couples in each answer rather serve to connect the two parts of each theme answer rather than separate them. That's why it's funny, get it? Of course you get it, dear Readers. 

I coUNt many other good clue-answer pairs throughout the grid, plus some UN-fun fill. I enjoyed "'Hop to it!'" for ASAP, "Feature of an Uber ride ... or an Uber East order" (FARE), "Motto for a devil-may-care type" (YOLO), and CARP for complain. I especially liked "Chicken's counterpart in a causality dilemma" for EGG - ha!

Another nice couple is NYUK and NOOKS in parallel Down answers. And how about the theme-adjacent USHAPED ("Like some bike locks and magnets"). 


The RESULTS of my solving efforts (5:43) were nice numerically, if not personal-bestly. 


Sunday, August 27, 2023

Sunday, August 27, 2023, Rich Katz


The theme today almost seems like it could have been an afterthought. Just make a themeless Sunday, then figure out a way to clue the long answers in some way that connects them, like by doing something fun with the first letter of each one. As in:

Seasickness? for COMMONCOLD

It's amusing enough, and I'm sure that much more went into it than I can even imagine. And I always like a theme that occurs in both the Across and Down answers. (Depose? (DOWNWARDDOG) is good.)

What about the rest? Well, I always like being reminded of the "Trees whose berries flavor gin" (JUNIPERS) (I've always seen it as a low-growing shrub), but nobody likes being reminded of the SCIATIC (Kind of nerve that runs through the leg). NONHERO (Unconventional protagonist) isn't a term I'm super familiar with, but then, I'm not what you'd call a big reader. 

I wondered about "Snoopy grp." for CIA, but then I laughed, because they're all snoops. Heh. And I was soooo fooled by the ol' "Neighbor of Georgia" clue. I dropped in "AlabamA," which looked good with ARFS (Canine calls) and MAUL (Rough up), but when I finally got the "Protagonist of a touching story?" (MIDAS) (Hah!), I finally realized I'd been duped! It's the other Georgia, and they wanted ARMENIA. Derp.

It went very quickly today. Before I write the review, I tab through every clue and answer in the puzzle, and today there were many that I didn't even see as I was solving. Like "Way to get ahead in Life?" for example. It's SPINNER. Do they still sell the board game? And does it still have that spinner that you use instead of dice? Heh. I haven't thought about that in a long time. Filling up the car with all those little children pegs... Good times.

OK, it was a decent enough Sunday. That's it for me. Frannie comes back tomorrow, but I told her I'd take Wednesday and Thursday - two days we'll be travelling - so I'll see you again in a few. 


- Horace

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Saturday, August 26, 2023, Adrian Johnson

I felt good about myself today when the first answer I put in was ERITREA (Country where the oldest human skull (circa 1,000,000 B.C.) was found in 1997), but it didn't get me any of the top crosses, and that NW section was where I ended up again, fifteen minutes later. But so it sometimes goes with a Saturday. 


I "dropped" LSD (This might change your mind) in, too, and that, along with TOPO ("____ the mornin'!") and MERE (Woman with enfants), led to the fun Downs LOVELETTER (Hot lines?) and SPARETIRES (Remedies for blowouts). And in the symmetrical area in the SW, it was the Downs that came first: "It dots the 'i' in the Ohio State marching band's spelling of 'Ohio'" (SOUSAPHONE) and "Troublemaker" (HELLRAISER). And those helped with SHINEON (Deceive so as to deflect) - a phrase I was not familiar with.

Best clue today? Is it "Fit to serve?" (EDIBLE), "They're often worn long at public events" (FAKESMILES), "On a streak?" (NAKED), or "Takeoff in pole position, perhaps?" for STRIPTEASE? Heh. And then there's "See star?" (PONTIFF) and "Seeds may go down in them" (UPSETS). Clever.

Back in the NW, I guessed CART (Street food source) and TBAR (One way up, perhaps), which finally gave me enough to see BABAORILEY (Five-minute rock classic with an iconic organ intro), and that, finally, was that. 

Solid Saturday. 

- Horace

Friday, August 25, 2023

Friday, August 25, 2023, Rafael Musa

Friday has come. Chunky cornered themelessness GREETS the solver. 


It starts out strong with HELLSCAPE (Worst place imaginable) at 1A. And I dropped in BAILS off the clue (Backs out suddenly). I never really know these days whether my old slang is still viable. And speaking of - do people still take a MADLIB? I remember thinking those were so fun, but now they just kind of seem a little ... I don't know ... (adjective) _______?

So, why is UNLIT "Like something wicked and dark?" There's a question mark in the clue, so they have something in mind that I am not getting. What's the wicked part? [ed. I looked for this over on Amy Reynaldo's site. "Wicked" is to be taken as "with a wick" as in, a candle, and it's "dark" because it's unlit. Ummm... no.]

Clues I did understand, and quite enjoyed, included "Selling point" (SHOP), "Places to rub elbows?" (ARMRESTS), "What ties can get you into, for short" (OTS), "Spelling Bee feature" (PANGRAM) (ha!), and my favorite - "It's passable" (TEST). That's very good.

And Friday is often when the FICs (False Imperative Clues) start showing up, and today we've got "Shuck it!" for OYSTER. I originally thought of a corn cob, but maybe that's because when I have oysters - which isn't often - someone else has already shucked them for me. :)

OK, I tried to catch up on my SLEEPDEBT this morning, and I'll be saying IMLATE if I don't wrap this up soon. Happy Friday!

- Horace

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Thursday, August 24, 2023, Robin Yu

Welp, Thursday is wildcard day, and we've got an odd one today. Three squares in each corner are taken up by a big arrow. It's pretty easy to assume that the arrow changes the direction of a clue, but what isn't so obvious, even after you (or, I, at least) have the revealer figured out, is what ROLLINGBLACKOUT (Temporary controlled power shutdown ... or a hint to reading four of this puzzle's answers) actually means. It is, of course, to be taken literally. The arrow not only changes the direction, but also represents the word "out," as in "Activities that relieve psychological stress" (EMOTIONAL[OUT]LETS) and "Carried away by the tide" (SWEPT[OUT]TOSEA). 

In the top, I had guessed AVer for "Openly proclaim" (AVOW), and then I guessed that 20A might end with an "er." So when I got more of the answer to 2D "Suddenly fell through, as a plan," I had WENT[OUT]THEWINDer, and I wondered if the theme might be something about vernacular speech ... [eyeroll]. 

ADA Limón

I always love a little deep French in the fill, and today we've got "Je pense, DONC je suis" by Descartes. (Picture DeGaulle in his KEPI saying that.) And speaking of things foreign, I will be heading off to GLOBETROT soon, although we will not be staying in anything close to an ECOHOTEL. I would, really, but the whole global warming thing is a DONEDEAL. It's over. Might as well keep scraping TAR sands off the tundra to get that black ORO to race your HOTROD. ISPY the end of the road up ahead.

Wait, that's too dark for a simple puzzle review. Let's call out a couple things like IDED and ASHIER as less than TOTO TOP (Although the clue "Pale in comparison?" was cute for the latter), and then call out "Key worker?" (PIANOTUNER) and "When one might show one's age, informally" (BDAY) as UBER clever. And "House of reps?" for GYM - ACE!

I'm not sure how I feel about taking up real estate (or should I say AREA) for the arrows, but the three squares are still represented by three letters, so I guess it's all good. In any event, it's something new, and a change is better than a rest, right?

Happy Thursday, all.

- Horace

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Wednesday, August 23, 2023, Michael Lieberman

A good old-fashioned rebus theme today. Fun with letters.

Sandwich with wild rice (MONTECRISTO) is a good example. The answer is a sandwich, and the letters of "rice" are scrambled - "wild" - in the middle of it. And WESTERNOMELETTE (Egg dish with a lemon turnover) has the word "lemon" spelled backwards in the middle(ISH). It's a classic theme, well done. 

ALANA De La Garza

My favorite clue today is "Ones with chiseled jawlines, often" (STATUES). Now that's clever. The clue for ROOK (Chess piece with the second-highest value), however, seems a little off. I mean, the mind goes to the queen as the piece with the next highest value, but both queen and rook are subordinate to the king, surely, since without it, the game is over. I have seen phrasing that puts the king as the most important piece, and the queen (then rook) as the most powerful. "Second-highest value" doesn't really work, as the king has infinite value. Anywayyyy... I'm just doing my duty as a reviewer, right?

Someday I'd like to see the clue "Mardi Gras follower" (LENT) lead to "mercredi." Heh. 

Also, TAN M&Ms were the best. Who wants to eat a blue one? No one. 

Two more things: SALTINES (Square snack items) are underrated. I had some the other day for the first time in years, and they are delicious. And the clue for ADAM (First lady's husband) is cute, but were they really married? Was there a ceremony? Who officiated, God? Or is it just that any two people having sex can be called married?

OK, that's probably enough out of me. No one wants to hear these RANTS

- Horace

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Tuesday, August 22, 2023, Jay Silverman

Everybody likes money, right? And everybody likes music? Well, if that's so, then everybody will like today's theme of ordinary phrases describing royalties for specific singers. As in:

WONDERBREAD (Royalties from Stevie's "Superstition"?)
YOUNGBUCKS (Royalties from Neil's "Heart of Gold"?)
PETTYCASH (Royalties from Tom's "Free Fallin'"?)
WHITEPAPER (Royalties from Barry's "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe"?)
and the revealer of sorts
SOUNDCHECKS (Royalties for any musician?)

It's a solid theme. I laughed at the INANITY, and who doesn't enjoy money being called "paper." ("She want a whole lotta somethin' to fold.") 

I really like the blocks of sevens running down in each corner. I put the ranking as SE, NW, NE, SW, with the trio of BIPOLAR (Like magnets), ITERATE (Go over again), and GYRATED (Danced like Elvis) being the strongest. 

UZO Aduba

There's a symmetrical French pairing in Côte d'AZUR (French Riviera) and NAIF (Innocent sort). And what the heck is FROSE (Slushy summer drink portmanteau)? Frozen sewage? No, wait, I looked it up. It's actually frosé, and that makes it sound a lot more appetizing, doesn't it? I might seek that out.

OK, on that note, let's wrap this up. I don't want you to be LAT for work.

Fun theme, decent grid.

- Horace

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Monday, August 21, 2023, Jennifer Nutt

HOOHA what a theme! You need to DOO a little AURAL work on the OUTSET of each of the theme answers, then you'll hear what you might if you held a conch SHELL to your ear: the tide; a wave; the current; possibly an eddy. INANE, but fun.

Biblical sister of Rachel?

The bonus Down answers are all strong today: ANYTIMENOW ("We're waiting ..."), RAKESIN (Earns and earns and earns), URCHINS (Spiny sea creatures), and MALODOROUS (Stinky). 

I loved the clue for 1D: Drink sucker-upper (STRAW). Hah! And SLAIN (Done in, as a dragon) is a good word. So close to "Sláinte," but so far away. 

I don't suppose I should make any connection between SEXY and RACK. No - this is a PRIM blog now that Huygens has moved on. I don't want to jump start my own METOO moment.

Here, the ETE is two thirds over, and in Quebec it probably is already over. Heh. (Hi Philbo!)

Hey, one last thing. Everyone knows the title, but I never remember who wrote "Twice-Told TALES." Well, it was Nathaniel Hawthorne. It has been called the "most influential book of 1837," and E. A. Poe wrote a review of the collection in which he said of Hawthorne: "... we look upon him as one of the few men of indisputable genius to whom our country has yet given birth." High praise indeed.

- Horace

Sunday, August 20, 2023, Michael Schlossberg

Somehow, I have managed to go through my life without ever reading, or having read to me, the VERYHUNGRYCATERPILLAR. In fact, when I was solving today, I was briefly stumped by confusing that title with the unforgettable classic "Hungry Hungry Hippos." We never actually had that game, but it was advertised during the Saturday morning cartoons, books were not.

TESSA Thompson

So anyway, apparently, the caterpillar eats various "tidbits," like "pie," "cake," and "cone." I'm not actually sure whether that's an ice cream cone or a pine cone, but I guess it doesn't make much difference. 

I read just now that certain members of my species have tried to get this book banned, saying it promotes gluttony, but "leaf," "pear," "apple," and "plum" sound pretty healthy to me. And if that "cone" really is a pine cone, then pine nuts are probably ok too. And what's life worth if you don't occasionally have "pie" and/or "cake?" NOM!

So anyway, as you can see, I loved the theme. 

In other news, I first tried ESCAPism for "Feature of an action comedy," but they wanted ESCAPADE. Heh. And I had a lot of trouble with ANTECEDE (Go before). 1A was unknown to me ("Wildfire season stat, for short" (AQI)). Turns out it's "Air Quality Index." Those who pay more attention to the news than me will probably have known that. "Hebrew letter on a dreidel" was also unknown to me (NUN). So all I had to go on was an educated guess for "Taylor Swift's "____ the Damn Season" (TIS). If that's her contribution to the lucrative holiday song genre, I will have to look it up. Sounds right up my alley.

One more thing - the number of times the word OUR appears in The Lord's Prayer varies, and as far as I can tell, it more often appears three times than four. Only in the "debts and debtors" version are there four. In the "trespasses" there are three.

On the other hand, I thought "Produce in bunches" (GRAPES) was maybe the best clue today. 

- Horace

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Saturday, August 19, 2023, David P. Williams

And so another week of reviews comes to an end on this gray and rainy Saturday. The farmers' market was undervisited, as the vendors huddled under their canvas tents. Plenty of lovely veggies and fruits available though. And an okay breakfast sandwich. Don't think I'll go there again.

But the weather was conducive to a pleasant relaxing Saturday morning crossword solve. Mr. Williams has given us a lovely pinwheel grid with six 11-letter answers crossing each other in the middle section in stepwise positioning. This was the kind of solve which was especially satisfying for this crossword lover: starting in corners and getting little hints to the long answers in the middle, which then suddenly became clear, leading to entry into the last two corners.

FAYE was my first answer placed, which along with the initial F in FIE (I didn't know whether it could be FeE or Fum also, so left those letters out), led to SPLIFF. I need to look at the actual lyrics to this song now. [Pause to Google and Wikipedia]. I see now that I misread the clue and thought it was a lyric from Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix (1967), because of that other lyric, "'Scuse me while I kiss the sky." Instead it's a song from 1978 by Bob Marley. Had I realized that, I might have gotten the answer directly from the clue.

Anyway, the NW corner fell pretty quickly (love HELLYEAH and PROSAIC). But I had to switch to the NE corner next. SLICE, LOONIE, and MITOSIS led to 7A: Theater backers (SCRIMS) (nice clue), and the rest of the corner followed. Now I had initial letters for a couple of long down answers and the ends of the three long across answers. I think the only other cross I had was MILAN, a guess for Leonardo Da Vinci that made sense because of The Last Supper mural being in that city.

A RIA (Naragansett Bay)

The first long answer I got was the lovely MOLLYCODDLE. That was followed by HOBBYHORSES, which is such a great answer for the clue "Preoccupations." After that, the rest became very obvious, as other crosses also filled in. 31A: Embellish something unnecessarily (GILDTHELILY) is beautiful. The other three answers aren't quite as good, but CABARETCARD is interesting.

Now I completed the SW corner, and finally the SE corner, which was the most challenging, and took an "aha!" moment with 46A: Bronze finish, maybe (SPRAYTAN). I thought first about coming in third, then about the concept of a patina before seeing where we were going. SIDEEYE is also a great term.

It's been a fun week. Tomorrow Horace takes over - or is it Philbo? I've lost track. In any case, see you in about a month!

- Colum

Friday, August 18, 2023

Friday, August 18, 2023, Kameron Austin Collins

Ooh I like a good Kameron Austin Collins themeless grid. My only sadness here was that it went by too quickly!

The highlight is the triple stack across the center. 31A: "I need at least a little justification" (GIVEMEONEREASON) is excellent. ANIMALSANCTUARY and LIVINGONTHEEDGE are also strong. And there aren't any major compromises in the crossing fill to boot. Nicely done!

Much to like elsewhere:

20A: Expression go support while keeping one's distance? (PROXYVOTE) is a fun clue and chunky answer. 

8D: Ones who haven't signed (FREEAGENTS). There were multiple directions that clue could have led us to. I like this one.

30D: Your wurst side? (SAUERKRAUT). Hah! I love it.

The pair of "It may follow praying" clues were fun, at 14A and 32D (AMEN and MANTIS respectfully). It really ups the cluing game when the same clue has to be interpreted differently in the two places. 

I'm not sure about VITALROLE as an answer. It is an accurate response to the clue, but just doesn't feel common enough to merit a two-word phrase answer in the NYT puzzle.

It's a strong Friday themeless, which zipped by in 5:55. At this point, I think Fridays rank slightly behind Thursdays in terms of time to completion on my stats board.

- Colum

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Thursday, August 17, 2023, Erik Agard

You know that feeling when you fill in a theme answer using the crosses, and stare at it, wondering why it might be the answer to the given clue? I had that two times in this puzzle. Even after getting the revealer, it took me a few moments to grasp what was going on.

60A: Baking ingredient used multiple times in this puzzle? (SHORTENING) is a clever revealer. It's telling you that in each of the theme answers, the specific meal in the clue is to be turned into an acronym at the start of the answer, and the second part is a synonym for "entrees." Thus, 16A: Cup of noodles, and others? (CONCOURSES) is "c.o.n. courses." 20A: Shrimp egg rolls, and others? (SERRATIONS) is "s.e.r. rations." And so on.

Wow! Five course meal and some leftover Crisco for a lot of theme material. My favorite is probable BRANDISHES. But, as is typical for Mr. Agard, there's plenty to appreciate in this puzzle outside of the theme.

Singers of CANDYGIRL

6A: Wow, that's upside down! (MOM) is one of my favorite FICs for some time (that's "false imperative clue," in case you were wondering - there's a glossary of our terms in the sidebar to the right). I liked the two consecutive "Watering hole, maybe" clues at 62A and 63A (DIVE and POND). 

How about 6D: Make out sloppily in the library? (MISREAD)? I had a feeling this would not be about public displays of affection. But that's a fun QMC. Another really good one was 67A: Department of labor? (OBGYN). That one didn't throw me as much, for this physician. What did throw me entirely was 4D: ( and ) (ARCS). I was thinking of Boolean search methodology for some time. But no. Just describing the shapes of parentheses.

As is often the case with Mr. Agard, there's a recognition of the underrepresented here. I was unaware of the acronym AAVE, which stands for African-American Vernacular English. Along with bryophytes (MOSSY), I learned a couple of things today.

An interesting and challenging start to The Turn.

- Colum

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Wednesday, August 16, 2023, Mangesh Ghogre and Brendan Emmett Quigley

If it's Wednesday, this must be AGRA.

Or not. We see that answer so frequently in puzzles, it could be any day. But the rest of the puzzle today is classic Wednesday material. It's an homage to the Taj Mahal, whose name can be found in the circled letter on the top of the grid art depicting an ONIONDOME. In my app, the central portion is in gray, making the architectural art stand out.

We also get SHAHJAHAN, the Mughal ERA emperor who commissioned the famous building as a TOMB for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. He also commissioned the Red Fort and the Shah Jahan Mosque. Prolific fellow! The final pieces of theme material are the FOUR MINARETS which surround the Taj Mahal, and the SPIRE atop each one. It's an impressive amount of the puzzle dedicated to the theme, and yet, even with the triple-checked letters, it's a pretty smooth solve.

I imagine the constructors were PROUDOF fitting in VWJETTA at 30D: Gold alternative, in brief. Especially with that nice hidden capital clue!

Other fun and unusual entries include 34D: No. 2 in the statehouse (LTGOV); 6D: Key with one sharp: Abbr. (GMAJ); and 57D: Focus of some cognitive therapy, for short (PTSD). 

There were a fair amount of answers like LBJ, ELHI, and FLA. But I didn't mind. And any puzzle which recognizes Stephanie HSU from "Everything Everywhere All at Once" is a winner in my book.

Fun stuff!

- Colum

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Tuesday, August 15, 2023, Malaika Handa

It's amazing how vacation makes work so much more difficult. Why work at all? That must be the best solution.

In any case, the NYT crossword always provides a balm to troubled souls, much like WITCHHAZEL does to troubled skin. 

Today's puzzle celebrates that Hollywood rarity, the FEMALELEAD. All three movies referenced in the clue are excellent in their own way. I'd rank them as follows: 1. Clueless (I mean, it's based on "Emma," so it's pretty much a shoe-in); 2. Alien (a classic); 3. Mulan (I assume we're talking the original animated rather than the live-action remake - if it were the latter, I wouldn't even rank it).

All of the theme answers start with a noun which traditionally has been female-related. That being said, only "goddess" is currently only associated with females any more. "Witch," "diva," and "queen" can all be male-associated nowadays, although perhaps more in queer or alt communities.

But we should also celebrate the appearance of DIVACUP in the NYT grid for the first time. How often do we see references to sanitary products? This sort of thing should be more mainstream, considering over half of the population uses some version of them. Although perhaps not this product in particular.


Some fun entries in the fill. I liked PALIMONY, PROSECCO, and ACQUIRES. Also, 50A: Queer feeling? (GAYDAR) is a fine clue. Also, 41A: Punctuation missing from "Let's eat Grandma"? (COMMA) is fun, but did we need the question mark?

Okay, FELLAS. Back to work.

- Colum

Monday, August 14, 2023

Monday, August 14, 2023, Simon Marotte and Trenton Lee Stewart

How about a little math for your Monday puzzle? It almost felt like a Wednesday instead of a Monday puzzle, both in terms of unusual theme and higher than expected difficulty.

Or maybe I just shot myself in the foot in the NW corner when I took out LAPS and put in "saga" for EPIC and "each" for APOP. Ah well. 

So, if you follow the instructions in order, you get GOTOELEVEN (11), PLUSONE (12), TAKETEN (2), and HALFOFF (1), leaving you with ONEANDDONE. Very nicely managed. All of the answers are common usage terms, and the order works perfectly.

If that weren't enough, the clue at 67A: You could tell how old it is if you saw it! (TREE) might be my winner for best clue of the year. And on a Monday!

Home to a SCOT or two

I struggled with OVERLOOK (wanted OVERview) and TEAMGAME (wanted TEAMsport but not enough letters). Otherwise, I liked THRILLRIDE and HIGHOCTANE is pretty good too. Strong puzzle overall. Did you immediately catch the hidden capital at 23A: Diamond with gold and platinum certifications (NEIL)? 

Good stuff.

- Colum

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Sunday, August 14, 2023, Manaal Mohammed


Hello everyone! Back again after some excellent reviews over the past few weeks from Horace and Frannie. I returned from our annual beach vacation in Rehoboth, Delaware yesterday. Such beautiful weather we had! 

Today's puzzle riffs on the inventiveness of pasta creators over the centuries. All of the different shapes have inspired English names which then allow for silliness as phrases using those names are reinterpreted as if they were about pasta. Does that make sense?

Sure it does. My favorite two came at the end of the puzzle, with 80A: Kitchen disaster with rotini? (SPIRALSOUTOFCONTROL) - the reparsing of the first word from a verb to a plural noun is excellent - and 100A/108A: Aftermath of a farfalle dinner? (BUTTERFLIES / INYOURSTOMACH). Indeed it is. I particularly liked the avoidance of the impersonal "one's" that so often crops up in these sorts of things. For once, the "your" was easier to use because of the two entries being adjacent.

The other five were serviceable, if not guffaw inducing. However, the real sizzle in this puzzle came from the cluing. I had to take notes as I went through for all of the fun examples.

19A: Collection of threads, of a sort (FORUM) - online, rather than sewing.

34A: Camel relative (TAN) - the color, not the animal.

52A: Competition for boxers (BRIEFS) - I did not see that one coming at all. I thought about the sport, I thought about the dog. I did not think about the underwear.

83D: Low digit (TOE) - yes, I went with Two first.

84D: Global revolutions? (ORBITS).

90D: One form of bark (ARF). Hah!

A very enjoyable puzzle that went pretty quickly. I also learned about MOCHAS and SHOEGAZE, a GENRE of music I was unfamiliar with.

- Colum

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Saturday, August 12, 2023, Rachel Fabi and Christina Iverson

OUROBOROS (Serpentine symbol of rebirth, from the Greek for "tail-devouring") is one of those bits of knowledge - like all the two-letter words, or all the words that start with a Q without a U for Scrabble players - that I should commit to memory if I ever want to move up out of the middle of the pack in crossword tournaments. But happily, I'm ok needing a few crosses for it. I'd rather save that brain slot for perfectly CROMULENT words. 


One such that will probably stick in my mind now that I've heard it is COPYPASTA (Block of text duplicated and reposted online, in internet slang). Ha! It's awfully close to PASTESIN (Affixes to a scrapbook, say), but the two are separated plenty by humor. 

I liked the pair of ITALIANO and AMORE, and the side-by-side PONYRIDES (Fair hits?) and "Equestrian princess in the 1976 Olympics" (ANNE). 

My ATTENTIONSPAN (Focal length?) was elongated by the cross with BALLETSLIPPER, as it made me realize that this puzzle has a diagonal symmetry along the NW/SE axis. It makes the black squares look a little like some kind of a bug crawling up that way. Strange, but cool.

It's been a fun week, but now IMSODONE. Colum takes over tomorrow for another fun-filled week of xwords. Enjoy!

- Horace

Friday, August 11, 2023

Friday, August 11, 2023, John-Clark Levin

Nice one! I loved the hidden capitals in here. "Turner once big in the music industry" (CDPLAYER) was great, but "Star close to Venus?" (SERENA) was brilliant. Also outstanding in the misleading department was "What many sentences end with" (PAROLE). Excellent cluing. There are some, like "Handled things outside?" (HOES) that are kinda cutesy. I mean, it's good, but it's not quite in the same league as those first three. And what do we think about "Sole employee?" (COBBLER). Me, I liked it. Oh, and another hidden capital is right next to that: "Continental, e.g." (LINCOLN). Solid.


And another feature of good clue/answer pairs (C/APs) is when two plausible answers would both fit into the given space. Like with "White Russian ingredient." I knew that both "coffee" and KAHLUA would both fit, so I waited until I had some crosses before entering anything. But with the very next clue, "Opens the door for, maybe," I didn't think about GREETS, so I went with the near-crosswordese "sees in." I often wonder how much these dual possibilities enter the mind of the constructor or cluer of a puzzle. I mean ... it must be something they think about from time to time. (See also: "London's ____ Park, near Epsom Downs." Since I have no idea where Epsom Downs is, and since I generally need to make a few guesses to get started on a late-week puzzle, I dropped in "Hyde," knowing full well that I might have to change it. The real answer, OAKS, was a park that I was not aware of, so in the end it relied entirely on crosses.)

So far so good. Add a little interesting trivia "Locale in Belmar, N.J. that lent its name to a noted rock-'n'-roll band" (ESTREET), a little foreign language "Tomato-and-basil pasta sauce" (POMODORO), and a little side-by-side clue connection, like "Pasta sauce ingredient" (OLIVEOIL) immediately following the POMODORO clue, and you've got yourself a very nice crossword puzzle.

- Horace