Monday, May 29, 2017

Monday, May 29, 2017, Jeff Chen and Seth Geltman


This is a great puzzle that probably ought to have been a Tuesday, but that doesn't really bother me. Really. The fact that I finished it in over 5 minutes is a tribute to the creating skills of the authors, not a reflection of my solving skills at all.

The theme is fun: the answers all have time periods in them, arranged in order from longest to shortest as you move through the puzzle. The phrases are all positive in connotation, thus the revealer is PRIMETIME. I'm not sure that the clue for REDLETTERDAY is exactly right. The definition from Wikipedia is a day of special significance or opportunity, so I suppose the date might be circled on a calendar, but it seemed just a bit off for me.

The puzzle really shines in the fill, though. Despite the abundance of 3-letter answers in the middle, there are few answers that felt questionable. HED is a bizarre partial from an uncommon phrase, and GOA is clued with a reference to Psycho instead of the classic crosswordese Indian state.

Leaving aside 1A (CBS - C-), those first three down answers showed me the quality of today's fill. 1D: More evasive with the truth (CAGIER) is great. 2D: Marilyn Monroe, notably (BLONDE) is also excellent, even though she, like many, was a bottle blonde. 3D: Something you reach out and take? (SELFIE) is brilliant.

Other nice fill include SCYTHE, RUBNOSES, MAILITIN. 41D: "You agree with me?", informally (AMIRITE) is cute.

My fave today is 61A: Substituted "math" for "mass," say (LISPED). My least fave is 48A: Concepts not meant to be questioned (DOGMAS). I don't like the plural on that. To me, it seems that "dogma" on its own encompasses multiple concepts typically.

- Colum

P.S. Aha! It's a 16 x 15 grid. No wonder it took longer to complete.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sunday, May 28, 2017, Andrew Zhou


This might be one of my favorite Sundays in a while, although it certainly played very easy. I finished it in a little over half my typical Sunday time. But the theme made me chuckle, and I thought it was carried out nearly flawlessly.

We get a set of idioms for how things might go badly in various ways. Taking the first word from each, you get a set of directions that might be found in a cooking manual, thus setting up the revealer, ARECIPEFORDISASTER. Very nicely done, with a perfect revealer.

The only issues I had with the list of idioms are these: first, MIXONESMETAPHORS feels so mild as a bad outcome compared to the others. The worst it will get you is a mild look of distaste, and when done intentionally, might even get you a laugh. And to top it, there's that "one's" in the middle of it, which doesn't show up in the other idioms.

My second issue is a total nitpick. SERVESTWOMASTERS is the only answer in that verb form. All the others are in I/you format, while this one is in he/she format. That just makes the final run of directions feel a little off: stir... mix... beat... pour... cut... ...serves?

The rest of the puzzle is reasonably smooth with only an annoying URBANII or a silly CTS here and there. I found most of the clues and answers to be very straightforward, with few misdirections to challenge me. 23A: Vertical part of a plane (YAXIS) took a second, in part because it crossed 3D: Prepare to take off (TAXI), which made me misinterpret the meaning of "plane" in the clue. I also took a moment or two around the crossing of GLAM and GNAR, which gets my least fave answer for today.

1A: "____ Davis Eyes," 1981 #1 hit (BETTE) - B. I am reminded of the Dire Straits lyric: "Don't know how you came to get those Bette Davis knees..."
Fave: OCTAVES (67D: Scales span them). Nicely done.

- Colum

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Saturday, May 27, 2017, Damon Gulczinski


I couldn't believe I had COLPORTEUR correct, but all the crosses worked. Happily, when I filled in my final square at the crossing of EGAN and ASSN, I got the happy little tune. Clearly it comes from French, where it apparently means a peddler, and then got associated with religious literature. Definitely a new word for me.

Melbourne is in Florida, apparently, not Australia. That fooled me for a while. I enjoyed all three long across answers, but should the clue have had a "familiarly" attached to it for FLORIDATECH? The full name is Florida Institute of Technology. Not that that bothered me. I wouldn't have gotten it without most of the crosses. Meanwhile, FLEXITARIAN is lovely, and PALEBLUEDOT is of course, excellent.

DONTTHATBEATALL? I'd say. I love that phrase, and it's a wonderful 15-letter crossing answer.

The rest of the puzzle has some nice high points. 10D: Be subtly and snarkily insulting (THROWSHADE) is great and contemporary. EGOSURF has been seen a number of times by now in the puzzle, so it's a little less sparkling.

DIETETICS and ANTENATAL are all right. I don't know why it took me so long to figure out the latter.

1A: Honor in a big way (FETE) - C. Nothing special to start a Saturday.
Fave: CHARY (16A: Word that's its own synonym when its first two letters are replaced with "w") - such an involved clue! It also reminds me G&S, namely Iolanthe:

A plague on this vagary
I'm in a nice quandary
Of hasty tones
With dames unknown
I ought to be more chary...

Least fave: ASSN (20A: N.E.A. member?: Abbr.). Yeah. Abbreviated answer from an abbreviation, not improved much by the slightly clever clue.

I'm not sure if the puzzle is quite TOPSHELF, but I enjoyed it over all.

- Colum

Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday, May 26, 2017, Robyn Weintraub


Oh, I do so like a well-crafted themeless puzzle. Fridays and Saturdays are generally my favorite puzzles of the week, although a really good Thursday (tricky, rebus, that sort of thing) can jump ahead once in a while.

Two triple stacks of 11-letter answers anchor the NW and SE corners. I broke in with the combination of ELSE and TORUS. I knew one of the "Something ring-shaped" clues would be the latter answer, but not which one without the combination of the former. That led to the outstanding 19A: Glass with bubbles (FLUTE - and who wouldn't enjoy one of those with bubbly?), and I was off and running.

1A: Living end (CATSPAJAMAS) gets a hearty and well deserved A+ from me. Not just a great term, but also so nice and Scrabbly. I love the clue as well. 15A: What doesn't have a second to lose? (ATOMICCLOCK) is a strong answer - I'm not sure I quite get the clue. Is it that this kind of clock can't lose time? Or is it that it doesn't have a second hand? I'm a little confused by that one. FORINSTANCE rounds out the strong corner.

I'm amused that ALARMED crosses the clock and TIMESTAMP. I filled in that small section with the definitely crossword-worthy TANEY, even if he was a reactionary racist. He was also the fifth Chief Justice, and he looked like a baboon.

I had to switch to the NE corner since I couldn't parse LACES for a long time (Puma the shoe brand, in a hidden capital). MOODMUSIC and FINEPRINT are nice answers here. I also really enjoyed FUNFACTS.

FORCEPS was easy; REEDED was not. I winced as I put it in. It's just not a real adjective, relating to clarinets or otherwise - it wins the coveted prize of "least fave" today.

But look at all those strong answers there. SOLDIERON, and the excellent trio of RIDESHOTGUN, KEEPTALKING, and ODDSANDENDS. So good, especially the clue for the first (52A: A back-seat driver can't do this - hah!).

I finished in the SW with 30D: Stayed out when you shouldn't have? (OVERSLEPT). That's good stuff.

NOTTOOBAD! I overlook all the short ugly stuff for the excellence of the long answers.

- Colum

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Thursday, May 25, 2017, Erik Agard


I know there are a lot of people out there who are just dying to start reviewing this puzzle. I can just see them all, champing at the bit. Fingers twitching. Planning out their humorous insights.


Okay, ILLGOFIRST. (Boy, that was a convoluted way to get into the review).

I'll start with the strange idea I had that a "dewlap" was something Scottish. I essayed that maybe the answer to 19A: Pet with a dewlap and a beret? would be FRENCHscotty. Not that such a thing exists, mind you. But it's a Thursday! Maybe we were imagining a series of answers with two nationalities in each? "American Turkey"? "Japanese China"?

But no, after some confusion, I figured out PURPLEIRAN, and got that we were looking at phrases where the second word was anagrammed. It wasn't until the revealer that I realized that in each case, the anagram put the I at the beginning of the word and left all the other letters in order. Thus: "version" becomes "iverson". That's some pretty cool stuff.

All four original phrases are strong, with "roll of coins" being the least recognized. The new versions are okay, and the humor in the cluing is not all that wacky, unfortunately. I'm most impressed with COVERIVERSON because of the surprise in the switch.
Knowing this movie helped a bunch
There's a bit too much RCA MCA MDI in the puzzle. I got weirdly confused by 9A: Letters on a bottle at the beach (SPF). I thought up Sos, which you wouldn't find on a bottle, but rather in a bottle, in a way. Think "Message in a Bottle" by The Police. But wouldn't that be a sad cry for help? Rather than giving any information of where you are, the note has only an anonymous and placeless SOS? I'm dropping a metaphorical tear for the pathos of the story I've just concocted.

GOLFRESORT I could do without. It's fine, I suppose, although I wanted GOLFcourse. And plus there's the reference to Trump. Is this the way more right-leaning NYT xword solvers felt the last 8 years? 29D: One who might get down to Alabama? (LINEDANCER) must be referring to the Southern rock band by that name.

I actually enjoyed most of the midlength answers here. DORITO was so brazen in its brand naming, I laughed aloud. 10D: Challenges for movers (PIANOS) is an unexpected way to get to that answer. I never thought of a dogie as an ORPHAN, but that's exactly what it is.

1A: Go on a little too long (DRAG) - C+.
Fave: ROUNDTWO (6D: Another go) - I had ARNO in place and was dreading a RE- answer here. So pleased with this instead.
Least fave: ASFOR (28D: Regarding). So dry.

- Colum

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Wednesday, May 24, 2017, Michael Hawkins


Just this morning, I was saying to myself, what I really need is a bunch of plumber puns. Where can I find some?

In the NYT Xword, it turns out! What a coincidence.

Actually, I really enjoyed these. Four idioms, tied back to the plumbing trade, all four standard and widely used. So the theme worked. My favorite was RUNSHOTANDCOLD.

But the puzzle really shone with the long fill. I liked every answer that was longer than 5 letters with the exception (mildly) of STOKERS, just because it was a plural.

The NE and SW corners have two pairs of excellent 9-letter answers. TOLLROADS had the peculiar clue of "Booths are set up in them". What a strange way to get at that answer! I liked its pair much better (12D: Have some trouble focusing - SEEDOUBLE, or as we say in Neurology, "have diplopia"). I got the added bonus of LOBE later on.

IMNOTSURE and GAGWRITER were excellent. 33D: One doing sketch work? is a very nice clue.

1A: Rio dance (SAMBA) - C. I never like these South American dances because it could be this, or "rumba" or "salsa". It helped to have the Game of Thrones answer with STARK at 1D.
Fave: IMHO (53D: Initialism whose third initial often isn't true) - love the clue to death.
Least fave: NODTO (59A: Give the O.K.) - I just don't get this. When I nod to someone, I'm greeting them, acknowledging them. I'm not permitting them to do something.

Shout out to 5D: It's used to pave the way (ASPHALT) - nice non-question mark cluing.

- Colum

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tuesday, May 23, 2017, Zhouqin Burnikel


Things that come in PAIRS are represented by crossing two copies of the singular instance of same. Thus, we usually think of "tongs", "socks", "skis", or "pants". Here instead, [TONG] crosses [TONG].

Boy, that took a good deal of explaining. But what I liked about the theme was how the words were not used in their original sense within the longer answers. SOCKEYE was my briefest concern, but it turns out that's an Anglicization of the original word from Halkomelem, a language of an indigenous people in current British Columbia (thanks to Wikipedia for that bit of knowledge).

My favorite crossing was BREWSKI and HASKITTENS. It's much easier to do with a three-letter string, but I liked how the latter hid the word across two answer words. Also, it should be noted that in each of the other three pairs, the hidden word is placed at the outset of the answers. I suppose the circles were necessary on some level, but I think it would have worked just fine without them.

There was a surprising amount of lengthy answers in this grid, which made my time a little longer than I'd expect for a Tuesday. Not all of these answers are so great, such as COARSEN and IDOIDO. But you do get the nice IMINAWE and ALDENTE.
Travel porn, anyone?
53A: Audited, as a class (SATINON) is an odd one, isn't it? Since it's a Tuesday, we definitely needed the qualifier in the clue. Also, I keep on wanting to parse it as "satin on", as in "What the jockey had?" That would definitely be a clue for the ages.

Not such great stuff in the fill included things like NEUT, ALGA, and OHOK.

1A: Make a pass at (HITON) - C. It's fine.
Fave: IBEENHAD (10D: Informal cry from someone who is duped). You can see that they needed to adjust that clue. It should really read: ...from someone who has been duped, but that would dupe the been, if you see what I mean.
Least fave: NONPC (27A: Potentially offensive). I hate where so-called political correctness has taken us, from the strangeness of limited discourse in our universities, to the elevation of dingbats to the highest levels of political office.

Also, couldn't CORNER have been in the corner? It was so close.

- Colum

P.S. I had a sudden flash of Dirty Dancing as I was finishing writing the review, and now I see why. Nobody puts corner in the corner.