Thursday, December 2 2010

December 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

Solving time: 57:55
[mostly solo, no solving aids]

# red squares (revealed): 18
# black squares (wrong on check): 7

Solidly got the NW and W. Almost got the NE but had silly things like ONESHOT and BENEITA until Lulu pointed out BENEATH.

Completely stumped by the E and never heard of STP (24a Onetime sponsor of Richard Petty and Mario Andretti). But it was all doable in hindsight, I even knew EARP and wish it had come to me sooner.

For some reason on RAM (61d Winning Super Bowl XXXIV player) it didn’t occur to me that it would be the name of a team and not a specific player. I also revealed SLAW (53. Raw side?), not because I didn’t understand the clue but because I had no reasonable way of getting to the answer. Rembered EWERS from Monday’s crossword though, off the W.

The SE was the last sticking point for me. I googled for GOLGI (52. ___ body (cell part)), because I just couldn’t remember the name. Once I got the answer it was exactly what I had in my head, even remembered propertly its function (transportation system of the cell). Even with GOLGI, though, I basically had the reveal the whole corner.

Anyway, cool puzzle. It’s set up as 3 pairs of 3×7 blocks where the three 7 letter words are clued the same.

For example:
Orient = FAREAST, SITUATE
Ace = AVIATOR, ONESPOT
Lower in stature = DEGRADE, BENEATH

The only advantage you got from the theme was that the clue was never used for the same meaning in both sides. Therefore the puzzle didn’t have the satisfaction of having it all come together. But I viewed it as more like 6 unconnected mini puzzles – some of which I solved and some of which I didn’t. As you can see from the grid, the sections are very unconnected, which is surely necessary for the theme.

-John

Wednesday, December 1 2010

December 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

Solving time: 39:19
[together, no solving aids]

# red squares (revealed): 3
# black squares (wrong on check): 26

I had what I thought was a great start, when I filled in ROMAS/TOMCAT, AZARIA, and a few others, in the first 30s of play. Then I discovered that 43% of the grid is theme answers, involving Woody Allen movies clued by year of release.

Basically ready to give up, as I don’t really know the names of any Woody Allen movies. Lulu joined and we did it together, sort of. At least Woody Allen movies have reasonable nice answers – so I found this puzzle bearable but incredibly frustrating.

Favorite answers: ELYSIAN, COHABIT, YEOMAN.

Least favorite: CLASSA, AAAMAP, ENHALO.

If only the author had put in fewer Woody Allen movies, I would have found it more accessible, and we also would have had better short fill. E.g. look at the upper left: 2d OSA, 3d OID, 4d DRI. Not the greatest.

Probably could have had fewer black squares, but I was a bit trigger happy with the check button as I really just wanted it to end. Lulu seemed to like the puzzle though.

Those movies do have cool titles: Radio Days, Manhattan, Bananas, Interiors. And I love the sound of ZELIG.

-John

Lulu says:

I think this calls for a Woody Allen marathon.
Annie Hall

Tuesday, November 30 2010

December 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

Solving time: 12:13
[solo, no solving aids]

# red squares (revealed): 0
# black squares (wrong on check): 0

Finished this in about 12 minutes, but for a while I was pretty stuck and thought I wouldn’t make it.

Started with ORAL/ALMA in the upper left, then AROD/DESI. I knew I knew KYOTO (24a Climate-change protocol city) and OCELOTS (7d Forest felines), but I needed more crosses for them to spring to mind. KAMA (44a) was a gimme and I filled in DISKS/STOPOFF/ONTAP with no trouble. My first breakthrough was remembering that a Toper is some kind of drunkard (used in 4d and 9d).

It started to fall apart with the theme answers, as I’d never heard of POSTNOBILLS (30a Sign on a construction site fence), and I wanted a W from ANYHOW (5d “Moving on then …”). Really not happy with the answer being ANYHOO. I also think THRUM (43d Rhythmic humming sound) is somewhat questionable.

It also hurt that my mind was blanking on ROSSINI (46d “William Tell” composer). Luckily I happened to know that YEWS are used for bows (a fact I learned from video games). From that I was able to get POTSOFMONEY.

That was only my 2nd theme answer after TOPSTHELIST, the others only being partially filled. (Actually I had STOPOFF and OPTSOUT but I didn’t know they were themes at the time.) At last I recognized that the theme involved shuffled first word letters, which basically solved the rest of the puzzle for me.

Seemingly a hard puzzle with a lot of weak spots, and a boring theme (although many theme squares!). Still, it managed to fall out quite nicely for me at the end, and it’s hard not to like any puzzle with that property.

-John

Lulu says:

I did not enjoy this puzzle. Maybe it’s because I’ve never heard of a “toper” which shows up often enough in this puzzle to warrant some kind of connection to the theme at least (4d Toper’s back-pocket item, 9d Toper’s expense, 26d Toper, slangly). But if there is one I don’t really see it (TOPS… toper?). And the theme is pretty worn out. Find a 4 letter word which permutes to form other words, make arbitrary phrases with them. This one is TOPS (POST, SPOT, POTS, OPTS).
The following theme answers did not come easily:
TOPS THE LIST (20a Is ranked #1)
POST NO BILLS (30a Sign on a construction site fence)
POTS OF MONEY (59a Megabucks)
I’ve actually never heard of the phrase “Pots of money”. Pots of gold or piles of money, maybe.
I don’t really have anything else to say. 2 puzzles in a row I didn’t like.

Monday, November 29 2010

November 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

Solving time: 11:25
[solo, no solving aids]

# red squares (revealed): 0
# black squares (wrong on check): 3

The theme: HEAD BAND – familiar phrases with the first word a band name. I like it because the phrases are nice and the bands are from the same general group/time period.
QUEENANNESLACE
KISSOFDEATH
TRAFFICCONE
CREAMOFTHECROP

Seems like despite the density of theme answers this could have been done with somewhat better fill. All the same. My favorite non-themes: NEWAGENDA (9d. Incoming administration’s to-do list), and IRAQWAR (1d It started in 2003 with the bombing of Baghdad) – although I feel like the author filled in IRAQWAR early on at the sacrifice of the rest of the NW corner.

Least favorites: EWERS, PFUI, ECARD (these were never really in style). Medium favorite: SHAFTEDBY – which would have been a favorite if only it was simply SHAFTED, instead of making it compound).

I didn’t know EWERS (18a Pitchers) or GOSS (24a Former C.I.A. chief Porter ___). So I tried a couple random letters for 9d, stupidly thinking it might be a phrase I wasn’t familiar with, before hitting on NEWAGENDA. Also didn’t quite know ALBS/DELUISE which I guessed on my 2nd try, or SOU (53a Nearly worthless amount), which I got from crosses.

-John

Lulu says:

Surprisingly bad puzzle, I thought, after a string of good ones. Maybe I’m just hurting from lack of sleep but PFUI (61a “Drat!”)? BOSH (5a “Nonsense!”)? DELUIS? SOU? HAI? EWERS? ALBS? IDA (28d Boise’s home: Abbr.)? The 7d clue: “Como esta usted?” language?

Is it just me or did someone stop trying?

Saturday, November 27th 2010

November 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

Solving time: 2+ hours?
[john]

# red squares (revealed): 0
# black squares (wrong on check): 8

This is actually the first time I’ve ever finished a Saturday puzzle by myself. It was really really fun. I think I should have gotten STEELJAW (31d Features of some bear traps)/WINERY (58a Aging establishment), and I then could have had fewer black squares.

Otherwise I have not much to say other than I really loved this puzzle. Obviously it must have been really in tune with me for me to finish it. Perhaps it was easy for a Saturday, but if easy means it just has all recognizable words than I think that’s perfect. These stacks (especially the 8 letter words in the SW and the NE) were really nice. I vaguely remember doing a Xan Vongsathorn puzzle before and being in tune with it as well, so I’ll have to remember this name.

Not sure if I understand THEBIGGESTLOSER (I get that it’s maybe referring to gambling, but is there actually a show called that?) Hardest part: SEZ (31a Casual remarks?), GELD (28d Deprive of vitality), BOZO (25d Chowderhead). I actually thought of BOZO, and I understood SEZ once I finally got it, so I probably could have cracked this area if only I knew the word GELD. PNIN (30a Nabokov novel) is mysterious to me, but was vaguely recognizable enough that I got it with my 3rd guess based on 30d ?ITT (British leader in the Seven Years’ War).

Lulu and I probably won’t do Sunday puzzles as they’re long and tedious, but we’ll be back soon with the Monday.

-John

Friday, November 26th 2010

November 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

Solving time: 77 minutes 45 seconds
[working together]

# red squares (revealed): 5
# black squares (wrong on check): 21

I feel tired. 77 minutes was not how long it took for us to solve this puzzle. That’s not what “solving time” measures on Fridays and Saturdays. It was how long it took for us to give up on the puzzle. Luckily, we’d made some pretty satisfactory progress by then, so giving up didn’t feel like quite the kick in the pants it usually does.

SE fell first. PHD (37a Many a prof) crossed with POINTE (37d ___ shoes (ballet wear)) opened up the corner for us. So before long, we had ______ OF ZENDA (46a 1937 Ronald Coleman action film, with “the”). Unfortunately, that meant nothing to us, and the PRISONER part didn’t come until after we’d worked from the center of the grid into the SW corner and had all but the RI in place.

The theme, as far as I know, is action movies whose titles end in a Z-word (?). Three Z’s on the board altogether. ZZZ. I am feeling rather bloated and sleepy after dinner. A very subtle Turkey Day theme, perhaps?

Favorite answers on the grid:

SMASHER (13d Atom ______ ). Particle accelerator <3

LEARN (24d Wise up). For some reason this one took me by surprise.

INDEX FINGER (17d Telephone dialer?). What year is this, 1935?

IRENIC (3d Peaceful). Always glad to learn new words.

Happy POULTry Day!

John says:

I googled to figure out what icestation meant (anything like infestation?) and I had to stare at the results for a good 10 seconds to realized that they were all for the two word phrase Ice Station. I have heard of the latter two movies, I also remember that Ronald Coleman used to be a regular on the Jack Benny program, playing his neighbor.

This puzzle was full of a lot of good words. Also there’s a distinct ring to titles that end in a Z word. I’m going to remember that.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

November 24, 2010 § Leave a comment

Solving time: 42 minutes 2 seconds
[working alone and then stealing the SW from lulu]

# red squares (revealed): 2
# black squares (wrong on check): 6

Pretty good puzzle, the theme is workman in nature, but works. Especially since the critical letter is a word of it’s own.

Theme answers:
MALCOLMX (*Omaha-born human rights activist)
GENERATIONZ (*Today’s kids, demographically speaking)
SPECIALK (*Brand with the challenge to lose one inch from your waist in two weeks)
AVENUEQ (*”What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?” musical)
LLCOOLJ (*Performer born James Todd Smith)
ONE (Number of tiles per Scrabble set for the letter at the end of the asnwer to each starred clue)

The theme is unconstrained but makes up for it with high number of theme squares and good all around fill.

I landed AVENUEQ right away, having seen it with Lulu a few years ago in San Francisco. LLCOOLJ was a gimme and so was MALCOLMX. GENERATIONZ fell next when I realized that X was already used, SPECIALK (my favorite theme answer, actually) came after a while. It helped a bit that I know the scrabble tiles by heart. I’m pretty sure I got the theme revealer before any of the themes – it was straightforward enough.

The 3×6 stack in the NW was one of the last bits to fall for me, but it was also a highlight. No problems with any of the clues there, I’ve even heard of GENOA (from it showing up in a computer game). The lowlight, just East of there, was SWIT/TAXCO, which resulted in my two red squares for the day. I unfortunately wasn’t sure about LA_S (French for lakes).

Put in Elie at first although I sort of knew all along it was ELIA Kazan. I always kick myself later when I get extra black squares that I don’t deserve.

It was the NW that I got last, but it probably would have been the SW if I didn’t look over and see that Lulu had filled it in. AKIMBO? FTMEADE? EELSKIN – I guess. I had FERGUSON and thought of TEASETS but couldn’t cope with FT… (38d) and EE… (39d). Each of us always seems to figure out bits that the other doesn’t.

Good puzzle, it had the prime characteristic of a Thursday which is the optimal difficulty for us right now: falls slowly but eventually.

The Ancien Régime (French pronunciation: [ɑ̃sjɛ̃ ʁeʒim], Old Regime) refers primarily to the aristocratic, social and political system established in France from (roughly) the 15th century to the 18th century under the late Valois and Bourbon dynasties.

Lulu says:

A bouquet of pheasants.
A covey of QUAIL.
A murder of crows.
A peep of chickens.
A conflagration of cows.
A bolt of fireants.
A siege of herons.
A prickle of porcupine.
An ostentation of peacocks.
A parliament of owls.
A venue of vultures.
A seat of pandas.
A pandemonium of parrots.
A cozy of koala bears.
A slew of salamanders.
An exaltation of larks.

Some of those are made up.

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