Friday, September 30, 2016

Saturday, October 1, 2016, David Woolf


Rabbit rabbit, everybody! It's October. And I'm ringing it in a couple of hours early. I feel like September was a pretty good month, crosswordwise, other blogs notwithstanding. And the way the last few days were going, I was hoping for a good start on this Saturday themeless.

Well, I'm not going to say I was blown away by this effort. It felt a bit like a slog. There are some nice bits, and a lot of answers that just feel neutral or worse.

I wandered through a lot of clues before finally hitting on one I was sure about, at 37D (ARIANNA). That didn't net me much, though. I actually jumped over to the eastern half of the puzzle to get any real traction. Iraklion is not the way I think of CRETE's capital - usually I see it spelled Heraklion when it's put into the Latin alphabet. Because of the odd spelling, I briefly considered putting in Kriti, but ERIC (Dickerson or Decker) put me right.

I kind of worked my way crisscross up to the NW, which actually became the first corner to fall. So... those two decks: POOP and ORLOP. Huh. And all of these down answers, like BOLOTIE (okay), IRONORE (oof) and NOSTARS (don't love it).

I'll give it up for BIGSPOON (1A: One of a pair of cuddlers) because that's oh so sweet (B+ for the corn syrup), and 15A: Handel bars (ORATORIO) is a cute clue. I actually wanted ORATORIa, because it looked plural-ish to me. But what is this LOGROLLS? Apparently a political term I've never heard of. And I didn't like ONREPORT at all.

The rest of the puzzle has much the same quality to me. STRESSEATS is good. GOODREASON is okay. TEARGAS (unpleasant clue there) and CAMEL (unpleasant product) not so much. ONETOTEN feels forced. HAHAHA and DADADA in the same corner?

Well, anyway, I guess it just didn't hit my spot the right way. How about that partial TINIES? Love the Edward Gorey original, so here's a picture from it.

- Colum

Friday, September 30, 2016, James Mulhern


Frannie and I solved this one together late last night with cousin Kenny. As luck would have it, Kenny does a lot of golfing, so he overruled my suggestion of "even par" for "1A: Golf handicap of zero" in favor of the correct answer, SCRATCH (A-). Coincidentally, Kenny is also from ALABAMA (14A: Where Forrest Gump played college football), and I remember joking about the 16A: "Funky Cold Medina" rapper (TONELOC) with one of his step-siblings, so that whole NW corner went quickly.

Frannie worked out most of the rest while Kenny and I worked on the bottle of Clyde May's Alabama style whiskey that he brought as a house-warming present, but as I review it now, this puzzle really has a lot of great answers! ANTEATER (12D: Creature that Dalí walked on a leash in public) (which Frannie threw down off the first A!) (and yes, which merits mention in print as well as a photo), GHETTOBLASTER (33A: Source of break-dancing beats), HACKATHON (7D: Collaborative computer coding event), DIVEBAR (23D: Seedy place to drink), INKBLOT (19A: Test pattern)... all good. Less good, in my opinion, is ESOTERY (52A: Arcane matters), which must itself be somewhat esoteric, as it does not appear in my "Webster's New World" dictionary. But the ratio of questionable glue to solid material is highly skewed to the good, so I'm not complaining too loudly.

It's the end of the month again, so I'm hoping that Colum will take over tomorrow. And if Frannie takes November (as she has hinted), I'll see you again in December. Happy puzzling!

- Horace

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Thursday, September 29, 2016, Jonathan M. Kaye

0:24:09 (F.W.O.E.)

Today's puzzle came with a dire warning to those solving on an iPad: "This puzzle contains an element that cannot be reproduced digitally. However, the puzzle can be solved and understood in digital format. ..." Undaunted, I launched in, quickly finding purchase with the guess SCOPE (9A: Brand of mouthwash) and its confirmation, SHAH ( 9D: Noted exile of 1979).
Things progressed smoothly from there, and I soon realized that we were dealing with some kind of a rebus at 2D: Kind of fertilization (IN[VI]TRO), but I couldn't really understand what was going on with 1D: Pals (BU[DD]IES). I was thinking that maybe all the letters in the word "DIVIDE" would be used in different places? But why not in order? Anyway, I knew something was up, and I pressed on, eventually getting to WEE[VI]LS (51D: Boring things) and FRE[DD]IE (50D: Big Mac?). Again, the letters were those of the word "divide," but it didn't really make sense. Why were they exactly the same as the ones above? Where was the "e" of divide?

So anyway, long story short - or, at least not quite as long as it might have been - I eventually put in the letters of the Across words, which always ended up being "BY." As in, BOOBYTRAPS (46A: Staples of Indiana Jones films) and MADEBYHAND (29A: Artisanal, maybe), but I did not get the "Congratulations!" screen. Sure of my solution, and thinking of the puzzle warning, I thought maybe there was some technicality that was not allowing the app to register the solution as correct, so I went to, where I saw that I had a typo at 34D: Actor Idris (ELBA) and 34A: Lawful ends? (ELS). I had "aLBA," but in my (feeble) defense, I had considered "ELS" for 34A, but did not think the construction of the clue perfectly fit that answer. Wouldn't it have to be "lawfuls' ends?" or something equally tortured, to get the plural ELS? Hmph.

So that's my sob story. The puzzle's true solution, by the way, is to pile up the Ds and the VIs of the Down answers on top of one another so that they look like Bs and Ys. It's pretty clever, and, as yesterday, I wish that I had been solving on paper, but I'm still not sure whether or not I would have come up with that elegant solution, or whether I would have just left in the rebuses or the BYs and called it a day.

Overall, I really like the puzzle. There's tons of non-theme material that I like: STRASSE, SECLUDE, MAESTRO, STONEAGEANCIENT, GIST (56D: Meat) (tough clue!), and even M[DD]EGREE (42D: Operating requirement?). It's a lovely piece of work.

- Horace

p.s. 1A: They're used for storage (BINS) gets a C.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Wednesday, September 28, 2016, Morton J. Mendelson


A rare Wednesday gimmick puzzle. Every time the same number is used for an Across and a Down clue, the clue is the same for both. With that kind of a theme, even though there are many theme answers, the result is that the puzzle has kind of a themeless feel, if you see what I mean. Anyway, I like it. The single clues need to be interpreted in two different ways each time, which is a nice touch. It's a little funny that clue 1. Zip and its answers all start with Z, but only, I think, because Z is so uncommon. I didn't think twice about "10. Bill" being answered with BEAK and BANKNOTE. So thumbs up on the theme.
Interesting trivia in 20. Mozart was the first major composer to write specifically for it (CLARINET), 3. Instrument with 18+ strings (SITAR), and 51. One of the six official languages of the United Nations (ARABIC). The five original languages are Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. Arabic was added later, by popular demand.

For glue today, we have a lot of four-letter names - LOTT, KETT, KOOP, IRMA, and RHYS, running the gamut from "becoming obscure" to "very obscure." I'll give ROMO a pass (heh) since he's still on an active roster. As usual, we GRIN and bear it, and the crosses were all fair.

Overall, I enjoyed it. Wednesday has been called the red-headed stepchild of the crossword week, but today's puzzle feels fresh.

- Horace

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Tuesday, September 27, 2016, Robert Cirillo


A word ladder today, running from SICK to WELL in six easy steps, with two bonus answer/clues in the center - ANAPPLEADAY (30A: How to avoid becoming 1-Across, so they say) and CHICKENSOUP (49A: Aid for getting 73-Across, so they say). The word ladder itself is neatly done, and the two eleven-letter answers tie it together. I like it.

There are a few unfortunate occurrences - GUNG (46A: ____-ho), LESE (36A: ____- majesté), and ATWT (43A: No. on a periodic table), for example. I'm pretty tired of that last one, but maybe not as tired of it as I am of AMTOO (41A: "Are not!" retort) or ATEAT (66A: Really bothered). ONS, on the other hand, is saved by its very tricky clue - "Switch ups?" That question mark is definitely justified!

But that last paragraph sounds awfully negative, and I didn't feel that way while solving. In fact, my experience was quite the opposite. I liked the long non-theme Downs CENTRALBANK (The Fed, for example) and DONTGOTHERE ("Can we not talk about that!"), and (ZIPLINES (Wires for thrill-seekers), COALESCE (Come together), and APOGEES (Orbital high points) are all quite zippy. I even like the two "un" answers UNLEASH (22D: Let loose) and UNREAD (47D: Not book-smart).

1A can't really be rated, as it is theme material, so I'll skip that. My first confident entry was THOS (5A: Pres. Jefferson).

Overall, another thumbs up from this quarter. Looks like the month is set to go out with a bang.

- Horace

Monday, September 26, 2016

Monday, September 26, 2016, Timothy Polin


The crossword week has started off strong with this fine Monday grid from Mr. Polin. It played slightly harder than normal for me, which is a plus, and the theme (STUFFIT) is dense, and runs both horizontally and vertically, which, in my opinion at least, is another plus. Down with uniquely horizontal themes! (pun intended)

1A: Diminishes in intensity (ABATES) gets an A. It's an interesting six-letter word, and on a Monday, that's all it takes, apparently, to get an A. Either that, or the picture of PEPPERPOTTS has put me in such a good mood that I'd have given an A to "erne." The first answer I put in confidently was ARAB (7A: Resident of Oman or Yemen).

Even with the dense theme - I count 71 squares, some of it interlocking - the fill does not contain any real clunkers (with the possible exceptions of SNAX and AGITA), and Mr. Polin has managed to get in some rather interesting entries. BUSHWA (10D: Complete rubbish) will be, I'm guessing, the most controversial, but I applaud the gutsy entry. It's another word that I will try to incorporate into my speech more often. Soon everything I say will come from the NYTX. Yes, I might be a DORK...

I enjoyed BADEGGS (47D: Perpetual troublemakers), DOWEL (12D: Carpentry pin), ROGUE (24D: Charming scoundrel), and speaking of French, I also enjoyed PRIX and ETOILE, though non-Francophiles might cry Mon Dieu!

Overall, I very much enjoyed this one. How about you?

- Horace

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sunday, September 25, 2016, Jim Holland and Jeff Chen


I smiled a lot while solving this puzzle. The theme of adding "-ing" to one word in each theme answer produced some very amusing wackiness. BUMSTEERING (68A: Hobo at the wheel?) and LUCKYSTREAKING (46A: Gangster Luciano performing a risqué prank) have somewhat obscure original sources, but they still work. My favorite theme answer is probably LIGHTSWITCHING (105A: Mild form of corporal punishment), but SQUAREROOTING (15D: Cheering done in a plaza?) is also quite good.

The fill has a lot of shortish material, but it's mostly solid. I liked seeing, for the first time ever, I think, "dunzo" written out, in the clue for GONER ("23A: One who's dunno").

25A: Dancer's leader (SANTA) was lovely. That and "86A: Drops a line" ANGLES had me fooled for quite some time. HA! And it's hard to justify now, but I kept reading 4D: How many college textbooks are bought (USED) as though it were looking for a quantity, like "a lot," and I think I needed two or three crosses before I could see it correctly.

1A: Lament after being backstabbed (ETTU) gets a B+. It's crosswordese, but it's well-clued. My first confident answer was ASSAY (10A: Test one's metal?). Cute.

So overall, the theme and the enjoyable cluing made for an enjoyable Sunday grid.

- Horace