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


Thursday, August 10, 2023

Thursday, August 10, 2023, Natan Last and the J.A.S.A. Crossword Class

IMPULSE CONTROL. I have difficulty with it in real life, and - it turns out - in crossword puzzles. I was almost fifteen minutes into this thing before I figured it out, but once I did, it was over quick.

STAG skull

The trick, as you probably also know, was to contain the EGO and the ID together in one square. I think it was the RUB[EGO]LDBERG / OPIO[ID] cross that finally did it for me. Before that I had guessed at a rebus in a single direction, but not different rebuses in different directions. Fun!

Lots of fun in the fill, too. I guessed SCHWA (Most common vowel sound in English) off the clue, but it took me quite a few crosses before SLALOM (Race that winds down in the winter?) schussed by. "Long line on a face" was an amusingly tricky clue for UNIBROW, and HOUSEBOAT (Accommodations that a bank might float a loan for?) was fun too. "Its home is on the range" (FRYINGPAN) was a good Non-QMC, and LISSOME (Agile and flexible) is a lovely word.

"Strike ... or something that can be batted" (LASH) seemed aaalmost right. Would "Strike (out) ..." have given too much away? I had "obits" at first for "Dead lines?" (ELEGY), "office dirt" before OFFIC[EGO]SSIP, and "yell" before YOWL (Caterwaul).

These "Natan Last and the J.A.S.A. Crossword Class" puzzles are usually a lot of fun, and this was no exception. The end of my week of vacation is drawing closer, but the sadness about that is somewhat assuaged by the crosswords getting trickier and more fun. (My brother likes to voice support for "funner" as an acceptable comparative, and that last sentence would have been a perfect place to use it, but he's annoying me this morning, so I went with "more fun." :P)

I hope your day has started off well, that you enjoyed this crossword as much as I did, and that nothing is annoying you. It's a perfect day up here. I'm going to smile for a few minutes, and then look forward to seeing you tomorrow!

- Horace

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Wednesday, August 9, 2023, Caryn Robbins and Matthew Stock

Well, well, well. Now we're getting somewhere. A fun, language-y theme with punny clues. To wit, the wits came up with:

GHOSTLYPRESENTS, or "What's found under Casper's Christmas tree?"
NOCHANTSINHELL, or a "Rule that forbids singing hymns to the devil?"
"Doctor's concern when a rival clinic opens up next door?" - LOSINGPATIENTS
and "Evidence at the robbery crime scene?" - PRINTSOFTHIEVES

Ha! I laughed at each one of them in turn.

Jean ARP

Add in some CALZONES and a PITACHIP or two, a catchy tune (DOREMI), and the glamor of TINSELTOWN, and you've got a real fun puzzle.

I was briefly confused by "Famed backboard-breaking dunker of the  1990s," because by then I had stopped watching basketball and could only think of Darryl Dawkins, not ONEAL. Adding to the confusion for me was that I had never heard of OTTO Porter Jr. But that's the way it goes sometimes, and the crosses were fair.

I enjoyed the pairing of FAT (What "Gras means in "Mardi Gras") and TUE (What' "Mardi Gras": Abbr.). I like to think Jean Arp would have liked those clues too. It's almost like The Turn started early today. :)

- Horace

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Tuesday, August 8, 2023, Zachary David Levy

It's a rainy day today on the southern coast of Maine. The coffee pot has been emptied, and we're just sitting around on the porch discussing the seven deadly sins, the four cardinal virtues, and the difference between deadly and venial sins. But perhaps you'd rather discuss the puzzle? ... oh ok


The theme today is STATELINES. That is, heavy vertical lines in the middle of four theme answers, on either side of which are two-letter state abbreviations of abutting states. I like ROYAL|FLUSH, FANNY|PACK, and ANGKOR|WAT, but I am not a fan of STARBUCKS|COFFEE. The answer is fine, I know it's a thing and all, but I am not a fan of the brew.

It's odd to encounter a single COCOAPUFF (Bit of chocolate-flavored cereal), and BANKGUARD (Security officer with an eye on teller transactions) isn't exactly what one would call "bonus material." My favorite fill might be COLIC and SKULK, just because they are so unusual. Although I do also fancy FANCY (Really like), and WATER (What more than half of the human body is composed of) does bring to mind an old Star Trek episode where one of the aliens calls the crew "ugly bags of mostly water." 

But on the whole, entries like TSLOT, REHANG, ETAL, and ULNAR dimmed the GLAM factor a bit. 

- Horace

Monday, August 7, 2023

Monday, August 7, 2023, Chloe Revery and Alissa Revness

Four "monsters" lurk in the Acrosses today:


It's a fun little theme for a Monday. No revealer, just monsters. 


A lot of typical Mondayish material to go along with it: NEON, IDES, ACNE, ORATE, ACME, EPI, but none of it annoying. Just noticing it, that's all.

In more interesting fill we have the always preferable ONTAP (Not in a bottle, at a bar), the French MERCI, the classy POISED (Having a graceful and elegant bearing), the somewhat gross SCALP (Where hair roots grow), and everybody's favorite philosophy - STOIC. Oh, and DYNAMO (Highly active person) was dynamite. 

I smiled to think back to the OCCUPY (____ Wall Street (protest movement), and speaking of throwbacks, where's the age cut-off for knowing what a dial TONE sounds like?

This was a fine Monday. I'm up here on vacation at Sea MIST, and soon it'll be time for me to grab my PAIL and head down the street to the beach, where everybody TANS

Until tomorrow, Friends.

- Horace

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Sunday, August 6, 2023, Lisa Senzel and Jeff Chen


I write this review while sitting a DROPLEAFTABLE that we got on Freecycle, but it didn't really help me very much! Given the title and the dash clues at the end of several Across answers, I figured it would be another one where the answers continue as they fall into the Down space. But no! This time the answers to the italicized clues start by coming up a Down answer, following along an Across, and then drop down the other side. I'm not going to try to depict it graphically, but I'm assuming you did the puzzle, and that you get the idea.


There's sort of a drop-leaf table in black squares in the middle. Or, at least something that, with some imagination, can be reminiscent of one. Or a table lamp. Or one of those hair-dryers in salons that you sit under. Enough? Ok.

"Aww!"-inspiring" was a cute clue for ADORABLE. And "Work on something you like?" was a clever way to get to ODE. Heh. Were you fooled, as I was, by "Tend to the sauce, say"? I dropped "tope" in, but they wanted the more innocent STIR. And for "Unpopular bill" I put in Tax, but no, it's the rarely seen TWO.

Speaking of tricky - "One in a black suit" (SPADE) was very good. And "You just broke my toe, SIS" (biology pun) is a real groaner. Wow.

Finally, the symmetrically paired SOCRATES (Who said "I know nothing except the fact of my own ignorance" and REALISTS are good together. 

I don't know. I didn't love it. Too many non-answers in the Downs. It's a clever thing, but it's not beautiful. See you tomorrow!

- Horace

Saturday, August 5, 2023

Saturday, August 5, 2023, John Guzzetta

A fine CODA to a fine week of puzzles with a TRESCHIC Saturday solve time for this solver: 15:45. By and large, the solve went very smoothly. I completed all but the northwest section on my first pass. The northwest ZONAL area was the one place I got hung up briefly. I was hoist by my own petard by entering "naG" for "Follow relentlessly" instead of the much better DOG. But, once it struck me that the correct answer to "Expert with a temper?" smite be SWORDSMITH, I was able to hack my way through to the end.  

Here are some of the RIESLINGS I enjoyed this puzzle so much:
"Play groups" (ACTS)
"They make compelling suggestions?" (HYPNOTISTS)
"They're there in the clutch" (EGGS)
"Defensive motions" (PLEAS)
And my favorite today: "One slow on the pick-up?" (SLOB) - ha!

Fill-wise, I liked the new-to-me TAIKONAUT. I also liked ALPHANERDS (no surprises there, I suppose :), THROB, and the edge-to-edge ITSAFREECOUNTRY. Overall, nice KAPPA the week.


On a side note, Horace and I recently received via the USPS an envelope containing two copies of a crossword puzzle by John-Clark Levin that was published in the July/August 2023 MIT Technology Review. There was no return address on the envelope and no letter accompanied the copies - in short, a puzzle wrapped around two other puzzles! The only clues we have to the sender are the postmark, the form of our mailing address (which has changed slightly over time), and the fact that two copies of the puzzle were sent. The paper puzzle itself, which had as a sort-of title, "AI did not make this crossword, but ...", was excellent. Horace and I solved it separately together and finished it at almost the same moment. We agreed in advance to star clues we liked so we could discuss them later. We starred exactly the same two clues! I'm not sure if I am allowed to, or even should reveal the clues and their answers here. I did look for an online version of the puzzle to link to, so we could share the fun, but I didn't find one. Anyhoo, I wanted to give a shoutout to both John-Clark Levin for such a great puzzle and to our Larry Lurker out there who may possibly B. one of our dear Readers. Thanks!


Friday, August 4, 2023

Friday, August 4, 2023, Brandon Koppy

A fine puzzle to ENAMOUR almost any solver, including people who might spell it differently. :) There were so many ELIE good C/APs with just the right amount of stretch in the clueterpretation to make them challenging to figure out and satisfying and/or entertaining when you got there. For example, "Junior mint?" for PLAYMONEY, "Big sister?" for MOTHERSUPERIOR, and "Space scrap?" for NOGO. Nary a STINKER in the bunch. 

There was just enough relatively easy fill (for this solver), sprinkled here and there, to provide some ins and to help figure out the trickier clues, including  "'Same'" (DITTO), "_____ Eisely ('Star Wars' spaceport)" (MOS), "Queen of _____" (SHEBA), and "Small amount of whiskey" (DRAM). 


There was plenty of VIM in the non-QMCs including "Ineffectual sorts" (WETNOODLES), "How some deli meats are served" (ONRYE), "Asteroids system" (ATARI), and "Non-English 'Uncle'" (NOMAS), "Column on the far right, maybe" (ONES).

My favorite clue today, though, was "Things that can really make someone pop?" for PATERNITYTESTS. So clever and funny when you get it. I initially had the incorrect ONThe[blank] as a possible start to the answer at 28D: "A little taller than normal, say, as a kiddie" which gave me an "E" at the start of 44A and I spent some time trying to make some form of eating contest fit there, but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't cram it in. I eventually figured out ONTIPPYTOE and was thus better able to rise to the challenge. Things would have gone more smoothly for this solver if I hadn't blanked on the Kubrick movie "Barry LYNDON." It wasn't even NEWBS to me, I just couldn't remember it. 

To sum up, a STRONG Friday.


Thursday, August 3, 2023

Thursday, August 3, 2023, Simeon Seigel

Today's puzzle really got my number! The clue for the revealer zeros in on what the solver needs to do to make sense of each starred clue. To understand the theme answers, a person should TAKEFIVE letters from the Across answer just prior to the theme answer and add those letters to the beginning of the theme answer to make a word that matches the theme answer's clue. Barring that, you'll think you had one too many trying to make sense of the theme answers vis-à-vis their clues. For example, the clue for 15A is "*Complete fools" and the answer appears to be AMUSES. However, if you take the final five letters from the prior Across answer (13A) and tack them on the front of the word at 15A, you get IGNOR AMUSES, which matches the original clue perfectly. It's especially nice that the "partial" answers are also words that can stand on their own. Never mind take five, I give this theme a ten! :)

A boat race seen from the International Space Station, 2006

I am able to appreciate it all after the fact, but truth is, dear Readers, I FWOE'd. I was at sixes and sevens in the northwest because I hadn't sussed out the theme yet. I didn't know "Tennis star Gauff and I am sadly out of date on the legal ins and outs of receivers, so I had ASSIGNeR as the "Counterpart to a receiver, legally" and thus CeCO Gauff. Names can be anything if you don't know what they are, am I right? When I got the "keep trying" response from the app, it didn't take me long to pinpoint the problem area, as I wasn't super happy with CeCO, if I'm honest. COCO is much better. Another slow down for me in that section was GOOPY for "Cloyingly sentimental." I'm not saying 'goopy' isn't a thing, but 'sappy' would have been a more apt. Apt! The other weak C/AP  today - just my two cents - is "Closing parts" for TAILENDS. Not that it's not legit, just that it didn't sing to me.

And, while were in that corner, CUTNOICE ("Carry zero weight, idomatically") took me forever. I've heard the phrase, but it's not on my speed-dial of expressions. OTOH, when I did get this one, I thought, "oh, that's good." I also liked "Becoming" for SEEMLY, "Lift up a mountain" for TBAR, "Light of the day" for SUN, and the clue/answer pair "Mooch" and BUM

As a side note, this solver was on cloud nine when she read "Language in which 'crossword puzzle' is 'krucvortenigmo'" and was able to drop in ESPERANTO. Fun! Fill-wise, I liked TINPAN, DEMIN, and SORBET. Call me goopy, but I also enjoyed the fact that TAD appears next to ABE in the southeast. 

Well, tomorrow, it's back to square one. 


Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Wednesday, August 2, 2023, Barbara Lin

Today's theme answers are flippin' good fun! I'm not quite sure how to describe them and there's no revealer to crib from, but essentially, the first two syllables a word or pair of words reappear at the end of the answer in reverse order for a entertaining result matching the clue. For example, "Become a leading citizen of North Dakota?" is GOFARINFARGO. Heh. I also very much enjoyed "Starting with an X in the corner, say?" for TICTACTOETACTIC. LOL. All in all, a wicket good turn style, IMHO. 


The fun doesn't stop with the amusing theme answers. I thought the clueing was top notch throughout. Here are some of my particular favorites in the non-QMC category:
"Unit in a duel" (PACE)
"Starters" (ATEAM)
"Ewe got it!" (WOOL
"Shelled out" (PAID)

But, my favorite clues of the day were both QMCs. I keep flipflopping about which one I prefer, but both are very good:
"End of the London Blitz?" (ZED
"Bread boxes?" (ATMS

Besides the theme answers there was also great fill like MEWL, MOLLIFY, OUTDOORSY, and STANK.

I'll turn it over to you, now, dear Readers. Let me know what you think. 


Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Tuesday, August 1, 2023, Kathryn Ladner

Today's puzzle is a real treet! The revealer, UPATREE, can be taken to literally describe the theme answers if you insert a colon and a space thus: UP: A TREE. Each set of circled letters spells the name of a tree from bottom to top, with the occasional hop over a vacant lot/fence post or two. The theme actually gave me a boost in the north west. Just about every other clue in that corner was unknown to me. Of course I know the song "Who Let the Dogs Out," but I didn't know the name of the group that sings it!, so getting an assist from the [MAGNOLIA], [ELM], and [ASPEN] in that section allowed me to branch out into some unfilled areas. Also, the clue "Tolkien tree creature" (ENT) crosses the revealer. To top it all off, the black squares form the shape of a tree. 


I enjoyed "Preserve, as documents" (ARCHIVE) for personal reasons. "Deets and dope" was a fun clue for INFO. "Military trim?" for CREWCUT was good. I first tried 'epaulet.' I guess that wouldn't need a question mark, would it? But the top of the heap today was "Part of B&B." I was duped for too long. I was sure it had to be beD, confirmed, as I thought by the very nice corresponding down "Move elsewhere in a hurry" (DECAMP), but it was the surprising AND. Ha!

I almost FWOE'd in the north east. I can never remember if the African antelope is ELeND or ELAND, and the key of Chopin's "Aeolian Harp" etude has always eluded me. But, I hit just the right note when I guessed A. 

I'm going to go out on a limb and say this puzzle leaves nothing to be desired.