Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tuesday, October 25, 2016, John E. Bennett

5:40 (FWOE)

Now, nobody likes a good alcohol-related theme more than I do... well, except perhaps Horace.


Nobody likes a good alcohol-related theme more than Horace or I do. And this one is fun: a circle of different names of alcoholic drinks, shaded in just so you can see that it indeed is a circle. All six exemplars are well chosen. And I like that GIN and STOUT, the two that aren't diagonally displaced, are clued without reference to the drinks.

And yet. And yet. THEROUNDSONME... it almost hits the nail on the head. Only, how does the "on me" fit in? Maybe I'm just being nitpicky. It just bothers me a little.

There is a ton of theme here, and all of those diagonal answers require triple-checked letters, which makes for some challenging fill. Thus, MASTIC. That was my error: I hadn't heard of that before, and I chose an L to start it with, crossing it with 9A: Leaky parts of an old tent, often: SEAlS, right? Well, SEAMS works better, I can see now.

That being said, I like MARIPOSA, HOTMEALS, and JAUNT is very nice also. EAGEREST is fine, although I'd probably say "most eager" in actual conversation.

1A: Common name for a cowboy (DUSTY) is cute, and I'll give it a B. My first answer was 1D: Opposite of births (DEATHS).

Horace and Frances will know that MACHU makes me think of another spirit: Pisco. A pisco sour is a very fine mixed drink.

- Colum

Monday, October 24, 2016

Monday, October 24, 2016, John Guzzetta


This is a really beautifully done Monday level puzzle. I am particularly impressed because of the closeness of the three middle theme answers, that there isn't more junk in the fill.

The theme is straightforward: take the endings of several well-known phrases, and connect them in some way. In this case, they are the segments of a news show. I like that in each case, the word in question is not being used in the sense that it is on the news. Or at least, not anymore. NEWPORTNEWS is speculated to be called that because of happy information that arrived in the form of new supplies to a starving colony. I liked SPOILSPORTS the best, in that these unfortunate individuals make playing sports much less fun.

The revealer, MORNINGSHOW, seems just a tad off. I think of that type of television program as being a talkshow, with lighthearted banter and interviews. But I understood it well enough.

There are some nice long crossing answers, especially ALGORITHM and TOPSECRET. 5D: One often seen standing just outside a building's entrance (SMOKER) was unexpected. I also liked the answer JETLAG, if not the actual sensation. Although it usually accompanies a vacation, say to Paris, or even Italy, say.

1A: Molars usually have four of these (CUSPS) gets a B. It was not my first answer, which elevates it for a Monday, in my mind. My actual first answer came at 2D: In ____ (unborn) (UTERO).

So we had a few items like AFTA, RIAL, HESS, JIF. On the other hand, DARCY. Oh, and I would have preferred MEL clued by this person (she's in the yellow):

- Colum

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sunday, October 23, 2016, Ellen Leuschner and Jeff Chen


I just want to point out that my niggle with yesterday's test tube answer is borne out by today's last across answer at 123A: ____ dish (PETRI). Boom. Mic drop.

Oh, wait. Right, I have to write a review.

The theme here is very well worked out. There's no real trick to it: the clues explain the way each answer is going to work. But there's a nice consistency to the overall thing: three "over" and three "under" answers. Each time, the answer is actually appropriately under or over the word that acts as the key to the answer. Very nice.

I love NOSPRINGCHICKEN for "over" the HILL. It's definitely the strongest of the answers. Coming in second is INSEVENTHHEAVEN for "over" the MOON. The others just don't have the same sparkle, but they're fine.

There aren't a lot of marquee answers in the fill. I love DADBLASTED at 2D: Gosh-darn. OPERACOATS doesn't feel as good. I wanted it to be a gown, not a coat. It does appear to be a real thing, just not one I knew.

Similarly, in the SE corner, I liked MALEVOLENT a lot, but 75D: Target customer of Yelp (STOREOWNER) feels not so great. I get it that Yelp wants business owners to put their operations on the app for people to review, but it's so nonspecific.

In other news, my first confident answer came at 1D: Signature Obama legislation, for short (ACA). That's a 3-letter abbreviation that's going to stay with us for a while. 1A: Take on (ADOPT) is straightforward, and gets a C. Highlights of the fill include CAPITALW, SEDARIS, and OCANADA. I'm not sure having the last one made EDEL and DANL okay.

I finished this puzzle in average Sunday time, and I enjoyed the theme, so I'll say overall thumbs up.

- Colum

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Saturday, October 22, 2016, James Mulhern


Here's a lovely themeless puzzle for a Saturday. There are two 15-letter tentpoles that are very strong, and a nice smattering of interesting fill and challenging clues. The downside is very small, just a few 3-letter entries that I raise an eyebrow at (NOS, EDS) but can't really complain about too much.

I'm proud to say that my first entry came at 4D: Daughter and half sister of Oedipus (ISMENE). Knowledge gained in high school! I stage managed our school's production of Antigone, by Jean Anouilh, and something stuck. It didn't help me that much, though. I had to come back to the NW later.

I gained another entry with BALSA, which gave me ENIGMA (nice clue with "Tough nut to crack"). Filling in that area allowed me down into the SW corner. I like 51A: Rollback events (EBBTIDES) - that was definitely unexpected. 54A: Squeaker (CLOSEONE) is also a nice clue. I like that ODOR crosses SEWERRAT - those two clearly go together.

With Hope's help, I figured out GRAVITYSRAINBOW, which opened up the NW. 1A: Rugby rival of Harvard (MCGILL) is a seriously roundabout way of getting to that college's name. I give it a B+, mostly for the nice collection of consonants in the corner there. 1D: Unhand or disarm? (MAIM) is somewhat unpleasant.

I moved to the NE next, coming off of BOOZE and BSIDE to get 7D: One who goes on to try to conquer the Universe? (MISSUSA). That's a few too many words for the joke, I think. Maybe "A queen who can no longer be Trumped?" Too soon?

MICKEYDS is apparently appearing in the NYT crossword for the first time today, so kudos there. I tried to fit McDonalds in, but there weren't enough spaces. I also tried to put Lebron where DURANT fit: the right number of spaces, the wrong number of scoring crowns (he's only won once, in 2007-8).

Love love love YOUREDARNTOOTIN, especially the dropped G at the end. That's a wonderful 15-letter answer. I also enjoyed 27D: Front-and-center section (VIOLAS) for many reasons, but the foremost being that I was thinking in terms of the audience, rather than those on stage. 35D: Aid in studying a culture (TESTTUBE) is clever, but I think it's off somewhat. You see cultures in Petri dishes, not in testtubes.

55A: Lift one's spirits? (IMBIBE) is awesome.

- Colum

Friday, October 21, 2016

Friday, October 21, 2016, Martin Ashwood-Smith


Either Mr. Ashwood-Smith is getting better at creating these puzzles, or I'm getting better at solving them. Or both. Could be both.

Well, it's the (once) dreaded quad stack puzzle. Quad plus two triples, making ten 15-letter answers. Since the meat of these types of puzzles are those long answers, it's worth looking at them a little more closely.

I'd say there are two fairly blah answers: those would be PURSUETHEMATTER and INTERESTRATECAP. The latter is saved somewhat by the clue: "It's of no concern to a usurer". And why is it of no concern? By definition, a usurer lends money at unreasonably high interest rates. So I liked that. Just the term itself feels like something a certified public accountant would say.

I'm sorry. I don't know how that got in there. The people responsible for the insertion of pictures have been sacked.

Anyway, the strong answers include IAPPRECIATETHAT, TOTALITARIANISM, ICOULDEATAHORSE, and TESTEDTHEWATERS. The others were in between. I'd say that's a good percentage for this kind of puzzle.

But, as always, the tradeoff is in the crosses, which have to suffer to get all that fun stuff into place. Impressive then, that the top section only has RET and partial ITS to complain about in my book. I liked the Baryshnikov reference for MISHA. 3D: It comes with strings attached (APRON) is a nice clue. No complaint about Bob KANE or the excellent STAX record label.

The bottom section is also very good, with only DET and partials AWIRE and ILET to detract. I like the tin anniversary trivia for TENTH, and the ALICE quote is marvelous and immediately recognizable.

The middle section, though. Oof. TETE, AAHS, RTES, ISSET, and MERS. SEIDEL is pretty obscure as well, but that and OCULI I can accept. I was impressed by NAUSEAM. And I do have to take a moment to appreciate 13D: Labor day highlight (CHILDBIRTH) - very nice! The lack of a capital in "day" should have given it away.

Overall I actually enjoyed it, so here's to you Mr. Ashwood-Smith.

- Colum

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Thursday, October 20, 2016, Alan Arbesfeld


Talk about wacky! This was so over the top silly, I loved it. First off, having four 15-letter original palindromes (well, after googling all four, I see that the last two are at least searchable) is crazy. And I am still giggling over numbers 3 and 4. TOOBADIHIDABOOT! NOWAYAPAPAYAWON!!!!!

Okay, so your mileage may vary on this sort of thing. I personally enjoy the silliness. I also kind of enjoyed being able to work the back of the long answers after figuring out the crosses of the front parts.

There are some good stuff in the fill, and some... well, questionable parts. I'll start with the latter. Jesse UNRUH? The loser of the 1970 gubernatorial race in California? Apparently, he was known as Big Daddy Unruh, which wins for the best nickname. Not only did he lose that race, he also lost several other races, before becoming the State Treasurer of California for over a decade. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that's a stretch for common knowledge.

1A: Music direction meaning "with the bow" (ARCO) is good (A-). I always enjoy musical answers. It was also the first answer I put in confidently.

12D: Second cousin? (MOMENT) is a very nice clue. It took me quite some time to recognize what they were getting at there. 13D: Time out? (SIESTA) was not quite as good. But I liked 39D: Where some long runs take place (BROADWAY) the best. Hurray for the no question mark clue!

Anyway, this was fun, and I give it a thumbs up.

- Colum

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Wednesday, October 19, 2016, Tom Pepper


This is a very cute theme, which I chuckled over as I solved the puzzle. The clues are each a type of job, "by trade", each translating to a PRO___ word. I liked PROCURER best: I'd like to think that's my job description. And believe me, there are plenty of amateur curers out there on the interwebz. I liked PROPOSER the least, simply because the term (one who proposes) feels much less acceptable a term than the other three.

The revealer... works and doesn't work. If you think of it as a pure description of the form of each theme answer, namely pro-vocation, that's fine. But you can't have a pro at being a vocation in the way you can have a pro at filing, if you see what I mean. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the answer.

I was concerned in the NW corner that the puzzle would play hard. I got 1A: Twosome on TMZ, e.g. (ITEM) immediately, and give it a C+. But I didn't see a lot out of there at first. In addition, there were two of those crosswordy clues with the parentheses (Attribute (to), etc.) - there were two others in the rest of the grid as well, which struck me as more than average. And EVONNE Goolagong is still not something I can quickly recall (despite commenting on her in an earlier blog post, and putting up a picture!).

Anyway. I did make it out eventually, and the rest of the puzzle didn't play too hard. I like 45D: Word that brings a smile (CHEESE). I don't like 51D: Liberal, disparagingly (LEFTY). Is that actually disparaging? Just seems like a description. I also like HROSS, not because I had much interest in the man himself, but because it looks like Old English in the puzzle (Hrothgar and so on).

Also good: 35D: Person who had a major part in the Bible? (MOSES). Hah!

So I guess it was up and down, but I enjoyed solving it.

- Colum