Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sunday, July 23, 2017, Caleb Madison


It took me rather far too long to figure out today’s theme of one-named singers. From DION to DRAKE, and from CHER to BRANDY, they run the scale from old to new and from well-known to, well, less well-known. I was surprised, as I reviewed this, by just how many Mr. Madison was able to cram into this grid. I was also somewhat interested to see that HONOLULU, which contains LULU, also contains ONO, and that BECK is drawn from the musical performer Dave BRUBECK. And PRINCE isn’t exactly hidden in LITTLEPRINCE. Kind of makes it a little less perfect, but I guess it’s ok.

There’s very little over seven or eight letters that isn’t also involved in the theme, so there’s not a whole lot to talk about.

1A: Top (ACME) – B-. Mostly in the Bs for its reminding me for the second day in a row of Looney Toons.
Favorite: 113D: It’s inspired. (AIR) That’s an inspired clue!

Least: ALII (6D: Others of ancient Rome?). We have heard some defense of this form in the comments, but I argue that it is never found outside of crosswords. Et alia is the common expression, and there is no justification, in my opinion, for using the masculine variant. Have we ever seen “et aliae?” It’s been used once – Wednesday, March 18, 1981, under Eugene Maleska. (Thanks!) And “alii” has been used 229 times. I call gender-bias!

AGOUTI (69D: Guinea pig relative) is pretty obscure, and LANED, ONYXES, ASAMI, HEISTING, and ARCTAN are all a little crosswordsy. I didn't love it. 

- Horace

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Saturday, July 22, 2017, Zhouqin Burnikel


A modern day CLASSIC from Ms. Burnikel today. With its central cross of TWITTERALERTS and FRIENDREQUEST, the "new-to-me" BITMOJIS (10D: Cartoon avatars on Snapchat), and the answers LATTEART (13A: Pouring one's heart out at a coffeehouse?) and EPICWINS (29A: Awesome successes), this had a real contemporary LUSTRE.

Keeping it real, on the other hand, were such throwbacks as KOJAK (27A: Lieutenant of 1970s TV), SHA (45A: 1950s song syllable), and ROSEANNE (32D: Show for which Laurie Metcalf won three Emmys), although I hear that last one is coming back. I used to watch - and enjoy - the show when it was first on, and if I can figure out when the reboot is happening, I might just tune in.

I couldn't help myself with the two pictures today. Don't you just always think of Looney Tunes when you hear ALUM mentioned? Who knew it was also sometimes used as an "8D: Application to a cut?"

1A: Time-tested (CLASSIC) - B+. It's perfectly acceptable. (And speaking of CLASSIC, it's always surprising to me that VLASIC only has one S.)
Favorite: SICEM (19A: Biting words?) or LANDHO (2D: Shore line?) Sometimes I'm a sucker for a question mark clue.
Least: CROSSE (7D: Sports stick). I played lacrosse in college, and no one ever referred to the stick as a CROSSE. Ever.

There's a lot of good in here, and it was a decent challenge. Thumbs up!

- Horace

Friday, July 21, 2017

Friday, July 21, 2017, Paolo Pasco


Anchored by the musical duo of BIGGIESMALLS and METALHEAD at the bottom, and the amusing "spoken word" pair of NOMEANSNO and INEEDAMOMENT up top, this themeless was fun all the way through.

I was fooled early on by "14A: Waterway whose construction began in Rome." I should definitely have known better on a Friday, but I still couldn't help counting out "aqueduct" to see if it would fit. Not that there was any one that was famously called "aqueduct" or anything, but, well... what can I say. I was further confused for a while by my incorrect "ArM" answer to 3D: Quarterback's asset (AIM), but finally, ERIECANAL became clear. Nice! I also loved JIFF for "5A: Flash," and FLOATS (8D: They might be wished for at fountains), although the latter did not fool me as much as the Rome clue did.

Love the politics in 25D: Nationalism, per Einstein (DISEASE) and the gender issue awareness in MALEGAZE (35D: Topic in feminist film criticism). And damn if I wasn't taken in yet again by 46D: Lawful ends? (ELLS). See, "lawful" starts and ends with an L. Egad. When. Will. I. Ever. Learn?

1A: Many consultants, for short (MBAS). D. But the puzzle as a whole overcame this weak start.
Favorite: 53D: They're game (ELK). I just love this kind of misdirection, and it's even better here because the collective noun has no S ending.
Least: Nothing. There were some answers that I just did not know, like ZAYN, GALOP, and NAENAE, but these are not puzzle problems, they're Horace problems. Sure, I could pick on RAS, or REMS - ok, I don't like that plural - but I'm not going to today, because this was a really good Friday puzzle.

- Horace

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Thursday, July 20, 2017, Randolph Ross

0:24:57 (F.W.O.E.)

A punny name theme today, with three groan-worthy theme answers:

WATTSTHEPROBLEM (17A: James is keeping me from getting a steam engine patent?)
HOWESBUSINESS (35A: Hockey, to Gordie?)
HULETTHEDOGSOUT (56A: A former leader of China gave his shar-peis some exercise?)

Yeeaahh... now I like a pun as much as the next guy, but these are not exemplars of the form, in my opinion. The last one is the funniest, I guess, but only because that song is so ridiculous.

On the other hand, I liked many of the non-theme clues and answers. The NE corner, for example, had a lot of tricky ones:

16A: Wound up (SPOOLED)
21A: Discrimination (TASTE)
29A: Half-days, for short (AMS)

The first two had me totally fooled for a long time, and I couldn't make heads or tails of the last one until I had _MS, and then it finally came to me. Not a bad clue, I guess, to salvage a thing like AMS.

I'm guessing the potentially tricky little French stack of AMI (48A: Brest friend) (cute clue!) and ECOLE could cause problems for those who are both ignorant of French, and ignorant of middling movie stars.

My problem today came at EDT. I entered EsT somewhat confidently after my first guess of "bal" was thwarted by the first theme answer. Then, I guess, when I saw EXEsOUT, I did not go back to check the tense of the clue (15A: Edited, in a way). Rookie mistake.

This played a little tough, I think, for a Thursday, partly due to esoterica like LOBAR, ISAAC Pitman, NIT (37D: Coll. hoops competition) (?), and OLEOOIL.

1A: Hitchcock film with Laurence Olivier (REBECCA) - B. Nice trivia.
Favorite: Tough today. Maybe 48D: Big heart? (ACE) or 28D: Big butte (MESA). Or both.
Least: CUTTO (6D: Screenplay directive). Do. Not. Like.

Let's call it a wash.

- Horace

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wednesday, July 19, 2017, Michael S. Maurer and Pawel Fludzinski


It's drinks season at the NYTX! Just this past Sunday we had the "If the Spirit Moves You" puzzle, and today we have the theme of DRINKDRINKDRINK! I don't know "The Student Prince," but it hardly mattered. The toasts are positioned symmetrically throughout the grid - some vertical, some horizontal, in kind of an unusual pattern. It was a surprise, for instance, to see theme answers at 5A and 62A. I like it!
All the toasts were familiar to me except for KANPAI (44D: Japanese toast). That whole corner, in fact, was tricky, with ADONAI (42D: God, in the Torah), the difficult clue for MIDST (41D: Center), and it didn't help that I guessed "wanteD" instead of REWARD for "43D: Common poster headline." Sheesh!

Elsewhere, we have quite a bit of dated material - NEHRU (16D: Kind of jacket), MARIS (48D: Roger who set a home run record in 1961), EMAC (40A: Early 2000s Apple product), ROK (29D: Korean War soldier) (this is new to me), KCAR (38D: 1980s Chrysler offering), and ALICES (26A: "____ Restuarant" (hit 1968 album). APPOINTEES and MARKETED are a little bland, but I liked TIRAMISU and OVERWEIGHT all right. REDSHIRT (35D: Hold aside for a year, as a college athlete) is not a term I know.

1A: Speedway event (RACE) - C-. Boring clue.
Favorite: I guess GODIVA (45A: Bare-naked Lady)
Least: IDI (61A: Uganda's Amin). I'd like to never think of him again.

Like on Sunday, I appreciate the boozy theme, but the overall puzzle wasn't really IDEAL. Not even the mini-Italy theme of AMALFI and San REMO could save it.


- Horace

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Tuesday, July 18, 2017, Michael Hawkins


Just yesterday in Jeff Chen mentioned that he was once cautioned against using "stair steps" of black squares around three letter words, as the puzzle can be made to feel a little tight. Today, however, it's almost nothing but stair steps (!), leading up to (or down to) the theme answers of STAIRCASEWIT (17A: Cleverness thought of too late to use) (I like this phrase, and I feel like I've heard it before, but it's not something I ever think of), ESCALATORCLAUSE (30A: Flexible contract provision) (not familiar to me), and ONTHEUPANDUP (42A: Straight-shooting) (my favorite).

1A: Braided Jewish bread (CHALLAH) - B+. Who doesn't enjoy a challah?
Favorite: 26A: Place to find a pen and teller (BANK) - Nice elevation of an average word.
Least: REUNESASYLA was also in the running.

Mr. Hawkins makes good use of the long downs today, getting in such fine words as HESITANT (7D: Wondering "Should I? Should I not?"), the full ETCETERA with its fun clue "Latin phrase used listlessly?," FROWNED UPON (10D: Discouraged), and the disturbing ROCKOPERA. And in the small stuff, SCRY (27D: Foretell the future by using a crystal ball) isn't something you hear very often. For some reason, I like that better than REUNES and ASYLA, but as I write this I can no longer tell if that is justified. It really is just a shortening of descry, isn't it? Hmmm...

Overall, I like this one, I guess. I'm not sure just how to describe it, so I'll use one of Amy Reynaldo's phrases - "Tuesdays gonna tues." That about sums it up.

- Horace

Monday, July 17, 2017

Monday, July 17, 2017, Tom McCoy


A solid Monday puzzle. Simple theme, well-executed. What sets this apart, however, is that the theme density is quite high, but Mr. McCoy, whose name I have come to associate with solid construction, works around tight constraints to produce a pretty smooth result. A little WORSTS (5D: Opposite of bests) here, a little ENT (62A: Suffix with differ) there, but overall, nothing too CHAFING.

The theme phrases are all common, and the revealer is common, too, but it just seems a tiny bit odd itself. ODDSANDENDS (55A: Miscellany ... or a description of the final words in 15-...) gives you an overall feeling that we're dealing with odd numbers at the ends of phrases, but it doesn't really line up perfectly, if you see what I mean. But I suppose we should all be able to allow for such artful vagueness, shouldn't we?

Aside from the theme, I enjoyed HITORMISS (9D: Sometimes good, sometimes bad), MOXIE (11D: Gumption) (Excellent clue.), CROOK (6D: No-good thief), and even SPEEDO (12A: Swim meet coverage?). Hah!

1A: STRAW (Building material for the first little pig) - B+. Fine word, very good clue.
Favorite: 57D: Like some library books and babies (DUE)
Runner-up: 37A: "Mmm-hmm, mmm-hmm" (ISEE)

There was no least favorite. That's just how it was today. I enjoyed the clueing, I enjoyed the puzzle. Nice start to the week!

- Horace