Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Wednesday, November 22, 2017, Timothy Polin

5:10

Yesterday's puzzle was international, but today's is global. It appears that the grid is reimagined as a world map, with the edges of the puzzle representing the cardinal directions, while the two tropics and the EQUATOR go across the middle. I liked how the tropics were both split across two answers, namely ICAN / CERES and CAPRI / CORN.

The theme gave itself away on 1A: Home to Santa's workshop ([NORTH]POLE). Only one answer serves, but there was space enough only for "pole". Once I had the odious ODEA in place at 2D, the process was confirmed.

It's quite impressive to have three examples each of [direction]word along each edge. My favorite trio was [SOUTH]KOREA, [SOUTH]PAWS, and [SOUTH]BEND, because at least one of the terms was not truly directional in nature (yes, lefties have their left hand to the south when they pitch, but it's not a name of a place or an obvious direction like [EAST]WIND).

Anyway, there are some fine long bonus answers here as well. I myself like a LIQUIDDIET de temps à temps, although that's not the pre-op preference they're talking about here. SUGARSNAP and LASTINLINE were both good. EXTREMITY is a chunky word, though not with the same brilliance of the others.

I also very much enjoyed MEDULLA for obvious reasons, both professional and because of the really excellent Björk album of the same name. Symmetrically, I had high hopes for 47A: Queen in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (TITANIA) when I had the first three letters entered from the crosses. I still really love the final answer though.

On the down side, you get REQD, ABOX (Has anyone ever used the phrase "As dumb as rocks in a box"?), your everyday random NTILE scrabble tile clue, and the antiquated ENOW. All that was not enough to overcome the fun of solving though. I'm definitely in favor here.

- Colum

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Tuesday, November 21, 2017, Brian Thomas

4:28

Groaner car racing puns based on nationalities. Hmmm. The only one I actually liked was CZECHEREDFLAG. It looks excellent in the grid. The other three I grade as follows:

FINNISHLINE: C.
RUSSIANPAST: C-.
POLEINTOFIRST: D-. This doesn't even sound right. I thought it was a joke on "pole position".

So anyway, that gotten out of the way, we can instead pay more attention to the fill, which is fine, if nothing special. In the NW corner, there's the vague and fine clue at 1D: Diamond, e.g. (SHAPE). Many possibilities there. 20D: Rare grandfather clock numeral (IIII) is fun to look at, and I have seen it on some clock faces, so I'll accept what might otherwise seem like a piece of constructor desperation.

6D was unwelcome in my eyes, slightly misdirecting clue notwithstanding.

Happy to see HARRIET and the complete RASTAFARI in the NE corner. In the SW corner, 32D: Ponytail holder (SCRUNCHIE) was my favorite answer in the grid. In our household we call them "ucks" because that was the sound my wife made whenever our daughter's hair would escape from her grasp while trying to put the scrunchie on. 39D: Where China is (FAREAST) is obviously entirely relative. I don't think the Chinese would put it that way.

But enough ZANY remarks. I didn't hate it.

1A: Wound on a dueler (STAB) - C-. The English language itself is wounded by the syntax of that clue.

- Colum


Monday, November 20, 2017

Monday, November 20, 2017, Peter Gordon

4:19

ALLITERATION is the name of the game, to quote ABBA. Except it's hidden examples today, where the sounds are in fact the same, but the spelling is different. Ah, English!

I didn't know General Burgoyne's nickname, but it came easily enough based on the crosses. GENTLEMANJOHNNY is a much happier 15-letter answer than its symmetric opposite. I suppose KELLYANNECONWAY was due to show up in the NYT at some point, but the less said about her the better.

Meanwhile, PHOTOFINISH is excellent. CAESARSALAD is also good, although the classicists among us (Horace?) might complain that the initial C should be hard rather than soft. I know, I know, it's a common English phrase. But again, if we can't nitpick a little, what's the point of this blog in the first place?

Wait, don't answer that question. I don't want to put us out of business.

I really like the revealer running right down the middle of the grid, crossing all four theme answers. That's some nice construction there.

In the fill, there are a number of answers that cross multiple theme answers, including ABNEGATIVE (I initially had ABposiTIVE there, which I suppose I should have known better - turns out it's almost six times more likely than the actual answer). Better even is IVORYTOWER, which is where I work, almost literally. Okay, not literally, but it is an academic institution. Yeah, but who wants to live in an institution?

Thank you, I'll be here all week. I mean, all month.

Favorite piece of trivia: Henry SHRAPNEL. Least favorite answer, and it will be every time it's in the puzzle: STYES.

1A: Three-syllable foot, as in "bada-bing" (ANAPEST) - A-. It's the poetic foot used in limericks. Such as:

A very sad poet was Jenny:
Her lim'ricks were not worth a penny.
In technique they were sound,
And yet somehow she found
That whenever she tried to write any,
She always wrote one line too many.

- Colum

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sunday, November 19, 2017, Tom McCoy

COUNTERPRODUCTIVE

Themes are getting awfully creative lately. Here, the theme answers are clued, indirectly, by the number of letters in the answers themselves. Thus, MIDNIGHTHOUR is the answer for "12". However, the way we get at this meta-cluing is via the revealer at 110A: Something to count to understand [the theme answers] (ANSWERLENGTH). That's some mental contortions the solver has to do. Somehow, it feels like it could be done more simply, but that's okay.

In a way, it's too bad that the the theme answers obey typical crossword symmetry, because then we have two examples of "18" and "10", along with the one example of "12". Still it's pretty clever to have found VOTINGAGEINAMERICA and ARGONSATOMICNUMBER, both totaling 18 letters. DIVERSGOAL is somehow not precise enough, although I understand what it's getting at. REALLOOKER is fortunately not gendered, especially given everything that's going on in this country currently.

I did like the center answer, at 13 letters, BADLUCKSYMBOL.

Oddly, there is a bonus "answer", which doesn't follow any of the above rules. It's simply that there are four circled letters that spell F-O-U-R. In reading Mr. McCoy's notes at xwordinfo, I find that he was inspired by the fact that the number 4 is the only one in English whose name is it's own length in letters. So that's cool, but it's only just barely inferable from the puzzle.

Now, before I get on to any nice stuff in the fill, I have to call out several answers. First, 24A: Not definitely going to happen (EVITABLE). Wow. Yes, I get that it's a word, and that it in fact means the opposite of "inevitable," but nobody has every actually used this word in conversation.

Then, there's 43D: List-ending phrase (ETALIAE). A term that could conceivably be used to sum up a list of either all feminine nouns (in any language that uses gender in that way, i.e., not English) or possibly a list of only women. I'm guessing this term has not been used much if ever.

Finally, there's MANALIVE. Has any reader of this blog actually said this?

On the plus side, there's TONOAVAIL, NEVERMORE, and the excellent TOUCANSAM.

1A: Sports figures (STATS) - B+. It got me. I had STArS in place for quite some time.

- Colum

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Saturday, November 18, 2017, Sam Trabucco

13:27

I enjoyed solving today's puzzle, but I have to admit after looking over some of the answers here, there are some I'm not convinced by.

Let's start with 1A: Youngster in a stream (OTTERPUP). I mean, nobody's going to be upset by these guys:

But still, wouldn't they just be called pups? Or if you had a bunch of baby dogs and baby otters together, I could see having to say, "Well, let's only put the otter pups in the water, not the dog pups." And that might come up all the time in a perfect world, but to tell the truth, I've never come across that particular situation in my life.

So that's a lot of words to explain why I can only give 1A at B-.

I am similarly not particularly convinced by DATATYPE (would anybody ever say that?), while MSDEGREE sounds a bit off (it's something that would be written but not said: in conversation you'd just say "Master's degree," or even more likely, "Master's").

Fortunately, there's plenty here that's far more LEGIT. For example, my favorite answer (and the first one I put in with confidence after Kung PAO chicken) was 12D: Absence of preconceived notions (TABULARASA). And today, CHASEUTLEY makes a full-named appearance. I think of him primarily as a Phillie, but times change.

Similarly, 29D: The hardest part when making guacamole? (AVOCADOPIT) made me go YEAHDUDE! Not literally, mind you. I don't make a habit of shouting out my approval as I solve a NYT crossword puzzle. People might get TEED off.

The Pokémon slogan I could do without, but it's a nice 15-letter answer, so there you go. I guess that makes it inevitable that it would find its way into the puzzle, and today is its debut.

I finished in the NW, where I wanted ohpLEASE. The actual answer, PUHLEASE is much better. And UBERPOOL is nicely contemporary. On the other hand, I don't, as a rule, take a DEWLAP.

I give it a thumbs up overall.

- Colum

Friday, November 17, 2017

Friday, November 17, 2017, Zhouqin Burnikel

7:53

I will overlook the distinct lack of flow in the puzzle caused by the diagonal line of black squares from NW to SE. ASIFICARE, right? And overlook it why? Because this was a delight to fill in.

It starts with 1A: Wheels for rent in the Big Apple (CITIBIKES), which I give an A-. Anything that encourages bike riding in particular and exercise in general gets high marks in my book. I finally get to break the meh streak!

That triple stack is not the most brilliant (DONOTIRON in particular is a bit odd). But I knew I would be enjoying this puzzle with 2D: Emerges unscathed (ISOK). It's a little BIT of nothing much, but I liked how present tense of the clue does not result in an answer that ends in -S.

9D: Like many sick schoolkids (SENTHOME) is unusual, isn't it? I guess some people would say it's not enough of a standard phrase, but I enjoyed it. I liked OOHOOH next to GOOGLEPLAY. So many Os.

The triple stack in the SE is strong. ANALGESIA as an effect of marijuana is the reason cannabinoids are approved for pain relief. Many of the other purported benefits of marijuana for medical use are not particularly supported by research. 54A: They're embedded in temporal bones (INNEREARS) felt like the clue just missed being clever. TOKYODOME is very nice.

Throw in your KARATS and ATOLL (both "chain units, maybe"), your Chase UTLEY, and your LOWELL (Pulitzer prize winner twice 27 years apart), and you get a fun puzzle. Who knew ETRADE's been around since 1991? I had a modem back then, but the idea of performing stock purchases across it would not have crossed my mind.

- Colum

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thursday, November 16, 2017, Alex Eylar

12:45 (FWTE)

This is such a perfect theme. I'm deeply in awe. What a fantastic idea: those silly cross-referencing clues are used in a meta fashion. When I came across 17A: See 58-Across, and then went to 58A: See 17-Across, I was confused to say the least. Even once I intuited TAUTOLOGY for one, I was loath to put the same answer in at the other, until it hit me. It's describing the answers!

Thus, 25A: See 25-Across is RECURSION. 36A: See 66-Across is AWILDGOOSECHASE, because there is no 66-Across. Brilliant. And the one that made me laugh out loud came at 46A: See ??-Across (AMBIGUITY). Hah! Incredible. I might go so far as to say this is my favorite theme of the year, probably mostly because I can only remember the themes of the last couple of weeks. But still.

I am embarrassed to say that I left SAhARI in place and didn't discover it until the end. I was caught somewhere between SAFARI (the actual answer, of course) and the Sahara, which is sort of close to where you might experience the other. Well, they're both in Africa at least. I feel less bad about leaving ERIk in place. Except the clue specifies that M. Rohmer was French, so that K seems pretty out of place. Not to mention that CRISkO seems suddenly strangely Germanic.

My hardest section was in the W, where I had COUNTmeIn for a long time. Meanwhile, 24D: Come down hard? (HAIL) was a great clue, and I couldn't see it, while PONIED and GROANED were both opaque because of missing COUNTONIT. When in doubt, take it out, again. That's two days running!

Nothing much else to say, except to point out all of the HAMS and SYRUPS that are lying about. Oh, and 43D: Corn kernel, e.g. (NIBLET) is wonderful.

1A: Almanac entry (FACT) - C-. So meh. When, oh when, will I get an exciting 1A? Perhaps on the rest of this turn?

- Colum