Friday, May 25, 2018

Friday, May 25, 2018, Jeff Chen


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

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


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

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

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

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

- Horace

Thursday, May 24, 2018

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm a fig ban!

- Horace

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wednesday, May 23, 2018, David Steinberg


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

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

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

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

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

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

- Horace

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Tuesday, May 22, 2018, Jeff Stillman

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Horace

Monday, May 21, 2018

Monday, May 21, 2018, Hannah Slovut

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

- Horace

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sunday, May 20, 2018, Will Nediger


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


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

Tricky clues that I enjoyed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Horace

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Saturday May 19, 2018, John Guzzetta


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

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

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

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


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