Thursday, April 27, 2017

Thursday, April 27, 2017, Todd Gross

0:11:27

I don't know about you, but I'm perfectly happy keeping my puzzle types separate. I don't particularly need a SUDOKU PUZZLE in the CENTRAL SQUARES of my crossword puzzle. But I will say that it was only because I know how to do SUDOKU puzzles that I was able to get HERAT (25D: Afghanistan's third-largest city). Say "New York's third-largest city" and you've probably stumped me. Move it to Afghanistan, and it might as well be letter salad. (See what I did there? I adapted something I learned about just days ago!)


I enjoyed the "sentence" answers IHATEYOU (65A: Cross words) and MEFIRST (66A: Like a selfish attitude), NAUTICAL (15A: Seafaring) is exciting, FANTASIA is classic, and ANTEATERS (16D: Animals whose tongues flick about 150 times a minute) was interesting, if gross. 

I was not familiar with steak DIANE, and today saw a new (to me anyway) clue for ONO (55A: Hawaiian fish with a palindromic name), so that was something. But the cluing for some things, like DFLAT (38A: Note just above C) and ITERATE (31A: Do over and over) seemed a bit DFLAT. 

1A: Thematic. Not graded.
Favorite: KEY (45A: Manual opener). Clever! I kept wanting something like "step one" or "how to..."
Least: I guess, NUM (15: ____ Lock (neighbor of Page Up), but really, that's got a decent-ish clue, and nothing was really that bad.

I do, however, have a bone to pick, as it were, with the clue for ULNA (13D: Part of the body whose name is both English and Latin). That's a little like cluing "silhouette" with "portrait style whose name is both English and French." Sure, it's in English dictionaries, but it's a loan-word. There are thousands of them. And what's more, there are several body parts that are essentially Latin words. I don't know... it just seemed a little language-nerd-pandering. Is that even a thing?

But really, I think this puzzle was fine. 

- Horace



Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wednesday, April 26, 2017, Trenton Charlson

0:08:15 (F.W.O.E.)

In the late 1980s, Ernest and Julio Gallo put out a series of commercials that seemed to be on TV all the time. My brothers and I frequently mimicked (mocked?) the people in them, and sometimes, even today, when tasting a new wine, we will exclaim "Ahh... Gallo!" even though it is not - was not and never will be - a Gallo wine. It is for this reason that I cannot believe I was stumped by 42A: Grenache, for one (VINROSE). But 35D: Degree of expertise in martial arts (DAN) was no help, so I tried something other than an N at first, before running the alphabet and kicking myself.


Other than that, though, this was a pretty good puzzle with an unusual DOSEQUIS theme. I got REDDFOXX (17A: "Sanford and Son" star of 1970s TV) right away, but didn't know NEXXUS as a "High-end shampoo brand," so it wasn't until EXXONMOBIL that I started to think about the theme.  The revealer finally gave it away, and then TJMAXX and ANTIVAXXER (38A: Shot blocker?) (Tricky!) became clear.

I like the staggered sevens and eights falling through the middle. BAGHDAD (44D: Second-largest Arabic-speaking city after Cairo) gets a good trivia clue, GONDOLAS is lovely, and ARRIVING is fine, and I'm looking forward to sitting in a BOXSEAT at Fenway on Sunday night!

A few bits of RIA, ANNO, ORU, AGGRO and MADERA (Ma-where-a?), but we've also got ELIXIR, APEXAM, NSFW, AVIARY, and POX! It's a debut puzzle, and it's a good one. Congratulations!

- Horace

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tuesday, April 25, 2017, Gary J. Whitehead

0:08:12 (F.W.O.E.)

Six theme answers today, plus a revealer! Home-body, home guard (?), home game, homeboy, home computer, home port... you get the picture. Some are definitely better than others, but with so much theme material, I suppose that's only natural. My mistake came when I guessed that the smallest NATO member might be Ireland (it's ICELAND), so I ended up with some "home ire." Heh.


Some of the fill, too, was better than other. Take MENT (14A: Suffix with refresh or replace), or HELOT (16A: Spartan serf), for example. That first is pretty weak, and the second is some deep Greek! And for what? MENT crosses REORG and ANDIE, which both cross EGESTS, and while I applaud the courage to reference "Dawson's Creek," I think that all that just to get "homebody" and "home guard" (whatever that is) might not be worth it.

I liked NUZZLES (26D: Shows some affection), but that crosses SEZ, ZZZ, and LII. And elsewhere we find ONER (47A: Long, single take, in filmmaking)? COS (60A: Stock listings: Abbr.). IMAGO (53D: Insect stage)? and ZIA (41D: 1980s Pakistani president)? Sheesh! I usually don't like to be overly negative about a puzzle, but that's a lot of ... let's say, unusual entries.

1A: Country invaded in 2003 (IRAQ) - C+, elevated slightly because it uses the word "invaded," which paints us as the aggressor nation that we often are.
Favorite: PRIORY (29D: Religious abode). Good word.
Least: PAH (65D: Part of a tuba's sound). Oom.

I found this one rough. I've heard that some find this kind of theme to be pretty much played out, so I guess the thinking is that if you have a ton of theme, that will make it more worthwhile. I'm not sure that works out in the end.

- Horace



Monday, April 24, 2017

Monday, April 24, 2017, Gary Cee

0:04:06

There are a lot of flowers that have served as names over the years, but this is the first time I've ever heard PANSY put into that group. It was, apparently, once more common than it is today, but the site "babynamewizard.com" lists it as "0 per million babies" since 1950, and "babycenter.com" calls it the 15,285th most popular girl's name in 2015, and has "no data" for eight of the last ten years. I'm guessing it's just slightly higher on these lists than "Crocus."


But enough about that, what about the theme?! It, too, includes things I've never heard before. I'm learning! I am amused by NOTHINGBURGER (30A: Big fat zero), and WORDSALAD (17A: Gobbledygook) is wonderfully picturesque. The other two "food" expressions are OLDHAT, ISUPPOSE, so there's no need to repeat them here.

The fill includes a few THRILLS like PEGASUS, SWATH (18D: Path of mowed grass), ARPEGGIO, and HOTMIC (25D: It might capture an embarrassing comment), which makes me think of Will Ferrell. So that's good.

1A: HTML (Web designer's code) - D.
Favorite: 34A: Like Jefferson on a list of presidents (THIRD). I love these absurdly specific, yet out-of-left field clues.
Least: There's really nothing that bothers me too much.

Overall, a fine Monday.

- Horace

p.s. I also discovered in my brief Googling of "Pansy" that there's a character named "Pansy Parkinson" in one of the Harry Potter stories, so I guess I have no complaint. And I suppose that even means that the name might see a resurgence. Maybe. Well, whatever, I love pansies, so I'm all for it.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sunday, April 23, 2017, Olivia Mitra Framke

A CENTURY OF SONG

Ella Fitzgerald was a huge part of my musical upbringing, thanks to at least one older brother with an ear for vocalists. I was born more than 30 years after her debut performance, but the music she recorded on the Verve label (which was built around her) is as timeless as any I know. Cole Porter, Rogers and Hart, Jerome Kern... the Great American Songbook. How can you go wrong? And the first album she recorded with LOUISARMSTRONG ("Ella and Louis," 1956) is quite possibly my favorite album. Period.

Ella, Louis, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Herb Ellis, Buddy Rich... each one at the top of their game.

So you know where I stand on the subject. How did I feel about the puzzle? Well, I thought the theme was well done. I don't usually love a "connect-the-dots" feature, but the crown that appears when you follow the letters spelling out "queen of jazz" is symmetrical and attractive, and perfectly sits atop the central "LADY ELLA." And the four symmetrical long theme answers are all good. So thumbs up there.

The fill hits a few sour notes, as it were. I winced at ACETAL (96D: Perfumer's liquid), ENNUIS is an unfortunate plural, MISSEND (3D: Accidentally hit "reply all" on, say) is awkward, and the ISH/TUN/DESOTO/JAIME line isn't one to write home about, but the clue for ZINC (73D: Portion of a penny) was tricky, and OTOOLE (43D: Good name for an Irish carpenter?) was amusing. ... OK, so there wasn't a SACKFUL of bonus fill, but let's cut to another song, shall we?



See you tomorrow!

- Horace

p.s. Congratulations, Ms. Framke, on your debut!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Saturday, April 22, 2017, Adam Fromm

0:15:10

I loved this puzzle. I went through the whole thing again just now looking for rough spots, because after I finished I couldn't recall any. I found SAYA (44A: "Don't ____ thing"), and ILEA (5D: Guts, in part), which, after looking it up, seems a little too tricky. Our resident MD may want to weigh in, but when I hear "guts," I think of it as a collective noun specific to just one person. In each person, there is a part of the small intestine called the "Ileum." So to pluralize ileum to ILEA means that "guts" has to work as a plural collective noun, and I'm not sure that's quite normal.


But enough about that - accepting ILEA means that we get the lovely HEBRIDES (1A: Skye, the Small Isles, etc.) (a giveaway on a Saturday!), AQUILINE (15A: Eaglelike), JUKEBOX (17A: Brown-bag lunch item) (Not in my day!), and JACKASSTHEMOVIE (19A: 2002 "documentary" with "Don't try this at home" contents). That's a very nice NW corner! Being old and knowing RICKSPRINGFIELD (4D: Singer with a recurring role on "General Hospital") helped out in that region. Slowing me down, though, was my quick use of an alternate spelling of HAJJI (1D: Faithful pilgrim).

Everywhere you look there are strong mid-length entries and good clues. I'm sorry I started this review off looking for trouble spots, because really, it's pretty great. CUFF (41A: Strike sharply) is uncommonly good. CAREWORN (54A: Bowed with adversity), BADIDEA (35A: "No, you don't want to do that"), BITEME (40A: "Drop dead, loser"), SHODDY (57A: Third-rate), RODEO (25D: What may involve the calf muscles) (Ha!), MAXIM (28D: Saw), PILEUP (53A: Jam producer), TIPSY (43D: A little tight)... all good.

1A: HEBRIDES - A. Put "Decoy Bride" on your Netflix queue and watch it some night when you're in a good mood. It's silly, but adorable.
Favorite: END (33D: Patootie). So silly on a Saturday!
Least: MINICAR (38D: Subcompact). I've said it before and, knowing me, I'll say it again, I just don't buy this as either a generic term or the name of a specific car. Yuck.

OK, so it's not absolutely perfect, and I don't want to give Mr. Fromm a swelled EGO, but I say this one SHINED.

- Horace

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday, April 21, 2017, Damon Gulczynski

0:15:32

Funny that GOGOBOOTS (58A: Iconic part of Nancy Sinatra's early attire) appears twice in one week. Oh, ok... twice in two weeks. When's the last time you saw them in a puzzle before that? Not that I'm complaining, really, but Nancy Sinatra? THEFONZ? Zhou ENLAI? Even IMBAD is now 30 years old.


But then there's that SE corner. I like OPTIMIST (38D: Bull, essentially), HOTDATES (39D: Highly anticipated social events), and SPYSTORY (40D: Work with intelligence?), even if it does end up requiring ALITO. We also get HELLOKITTY (47A: Toon who wears a red hair bow) (tried Minnie Mouse first - does that say something about my age?).

In other areas, I enjoyed LINTEL (48D: Doorframe part) ("... And hold to the low lintel up/The still-defended challenge cup..."), HURTLE (11D: Rush) (the NE was very difficult for me!), and PLAGUE (46D: Hound). I did not particularly like the repeated "Heavens to Murgatroyd!" clues (GREATSCOTT & OMIGOSH). I don't know quite why exactly... I guess it just seemed sort of unnecessary. Sort of vague. I'm also done with the whole ____ nazi thing. Can't we just get past that kind of SMEARTACTIC?

1A: Areas where clerics are seated (APSES). C-. Meh.
Favorite: 44A: Quiet (down) (PIPE). This was said a lot in my family. :)
Least: UTA (16A: The Jazz, on sports tickers)

Finally, I will say that I was happy to see DAN clued with "35A: Savage of 'Savage Love.'" Frannie and I saw him speak at an A.L.A. conference a while ago, and he seemed like just as good a guy as he does when you read "Savage Love," which I used to see in a local rag called the Weekly Dig. (Side note - B.E.Q. had some crossword puzzles in there from time to time. Also, I had a couple crosswords in there!) I think that he would be amused to find himself so close to PEGGED. Too much?

- Horace