401 Diaries: 10/04/2013 – 5:45PM – West of Bowmanville

401 - Bowmanville - 10042013 - 545PMLess of an abrupt or memorable change from the small flat green expanses to the west and more of a slow and ultimately unfulfilling transition from a slightly more gnarled and poetically rural landscape, the berm-like knoll slowly exposed its backside as it faded past the passenger side.  The divots, piles of crumbly stones and spotty bare small trees could easily absorb a stray grazing cow without notice.  From a closer perspective the perceptible edge of the hill against the growing even more grey sky gave a more lasting impression than the abutting fields leading to more fields and then trees.  And for that it was worth remembering.  And it looked a bit like Scotland.

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401 Diaries: 09/04/2013 – 6:47AM – Pickering

401 - Pickering - 09042013 - 647AM

Toward a yellowing horizon filled with silhouettes, a living one was almost hidden by a structural one.  Slowly advancing above the eastbound lanes one commuter had almost reached the south end of the pedestrian arm.  The green-blue tinted glass of the pathway concealed any detail that speed hadn’t; only a heavy backpack bump gave indication of character.  The commuter was hidden behind an obvious tint like eyes behind transition lens peering into the sun or a gerbil inside its exercise chute.  The seeming convergence between people and cars meant little to the few that created it.

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401 Diaries: 08/04/2013 – 6:04PM – East Oshawa

401 - Oshawa - 08052013 - 604PM.jpg

The corrugated green tin barriers separating both sides of the relationship removed, the whorl of traffic is left to bounce off the corrugated siding of the houses back to where the ears of drivers were.   Skeletal fingers awaiting upgraded skin provide none of the protection from the illustrations of the homes that had lain hidden.  Blurry glimpses down short streets leave no impression of architectural consistency; low-rise sandy coloured apartments and old bare trees bounce in and out of line down the north facing streets butting against the highway.  The white sills on the 2nd floor of a large brown house provide what is likely only perceived contrast against the cluttered dirt breathing free from melted snow.

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Crossword Review: USA Today – 01/01/2013

I spend too much time criticizing the authors of the relatively unchallenging online crosswords that form one of my daily diversions from responsibility to sit by idly.  And while I feel that because I honestly shy away from the solve button until the breaking point of frustration I have at least some modicum of qualification, I will never pretend that my skills are advanced to the point that I could seriously considering myself truly qualified to really review these or even attempt the Times or whatever the hell a cryptic is.

Title: Hoop It Up     Author: Troy Benning    Size: 15 x 15

Theme Answers: Nets Bulls Paces, Bob Cats Warriors, Celtics Heat Suns

The percentage of my life that I devout to the NBA and to a lesser degree the NCAA  is so unsettlingly high and my long-running interest in the league so rampant that upon reading the title of this puzzle I had to consciously bring down my expectation levels in fear of the puzzle featuring some genius’s hilarious take on butt-holes, hula hoops or dream catchers.  I also expected that if the puzzle’s theme were to be focused on basketball that my expert knowledge would finally have an application outside of the odd jeopardy category and the strangely in-depth conversations I have with similarly interested friends that sound to outsiders as if we have many shared close friends that we enjoy passing judgement on.  Wrong.  The only knowledge required to complete the theme answers could have been gleamed from reading the standings or perusing the NBA store for team wear slippers.  The great numbers of possibilities for hilarious basketball theme answers makes this terribly unchallenging mashup of team names that aren’t even obviously or wittingly connected (I’m sure there’s someway to play seven degrees of Kurt Thomas to connect pretty much everyone in the league) even more disappointing.  One possibility: Current Team Rosters – e.g.  Nash Bryant Gasol, Rubio Shved Barea, Calderon Derozen.  Another possibility: Hilarious Before and Afters – e.g. Kevin Love Buzzes (Cobain’s strong feelings for T’ Wolves Rebound Machine), Grant Hill Valley (Clippers Statesman’s Home for a Delorean), Brandon Rush Hour (Warriors Guard Tucker / Chan Buddy Flick).  Perhaps the only saving grace for the disappointing, actual theme is imagining what a Bob Cat Warrior might look like. Bob Cat Warrior

Classic Carls:  Errs, Hero, Elan, Eric AND Erik, 

Enough people ski and/or snowboard.  Of these people, I’m sure enough of them either own or have seen skis, boards, bindings or apparel made by the Slovenian company.  Why the clue for this Classic Carl response always focuses on the French definition of zeal, desire or in this case Flair to lead one to Elan is as perplexing as imagining how in 2004, a real book was published that outlines how the imaginary psychic powers of imaginary characters, including Elans are supposed to be imaginarily dealt with in imaginary scenarios in imaginary worlds.    Elan Skis

Hoffas (large useless vertical clues):  Air Riffle, Impudent, Sweatier, Reliable

Yes, Christmas has just passed and for many children and some annoyingly cheerful adults, the most painful part of the season is realizing just how far away next Christmas is; however, in most of these tinsel zealot’s homes, enough indoor foliage, still boxed bummer gifts and leftovers probably still exist to allow for the season to still be quite relevant as the calendar turns.  For this reason, it’s completely asinine to avoid the opportunity to reference the famous BB Gun in Christmas lore with the clue for Air Rifle as Ralphie is still in season and much more of an interesting clue than B.B. Gun e.g..

Horseshit Answers:  Moue (Pouty Expression), Lobo (Timber Wolf), Aril (Fleshy Seed Jacket*)

Including Lobo in almost all puzzles other than this basketball themed one with a clue as easy as Timber Wolf would be as totally acceptable of a use of Latin as Ursa or Mensa.  In this case it is perhaps the most damming example of how dreadfully terrible this puzzle’s theme was applied.  Not only is there an NBA franchise in Minnesota named the Timber Wolves, but perhaps one of the most iconic early trail blazers (another NBA reference possible) of the WNBA was 6’4 New York Liberty center Rebecca g’d’in Lobo.  Say it Charles: TurribleRebecca Lobo Surrounded by Balls

What I Learned:

Not all that glitters is Golden State.  A basketball themed puzzle won’t always provide a rich application of in-depth knowledge of NBA rosters, idiosyncratic details of personal lives and catch-phrases.  Perhaps in this case I should have allowed the cover to be judged, as using the phrase ‘Hoop it Up’ in any application to do with basketball (as opposed to the fair use as a directive to a hairy-pitted woman during a music festival hippy jamborees) is as indicative of a lack of high interest and knowledge of the game as un-ironic short shorts and voting for Yao-Ming as an All-Star when he can barely walk.

Clues I Would Have Rewritten:

31 AcrossJack Sparrow, for one When he measures, he uses yarrrrds Answer: Pirate

40 AcrossChalet Overhangs What Samwise apparently wasn’t dropping Answer: Eaves

9 Down: Perspiring More Comparably, the rapist in the pew next to you  Answer: Sweatier

All in All:


Despite being ultimately disappointing, I would rather complete an NBA themed puzzle than most others, be them challenging and interesting or terrible and easy.  Trudging through a Twilight or Dancing with the Stars themed puzzle would be much more turrible regardless of how well the author integrated specific knowledge into the theme answers.  Nets Bulls Pacers will always beat Glittery Vampire. 


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Crossword Review: Newsday (via Toronto Star) – 12/25/2012

I spend too much time criticizing the authors of the relatively unchallenging online crosswords that form one of my daily diversions from responsibility to sit by idly.  And while I feel that because I honestly shy away from the solve button until the breaking point of frustration I have at least some modicum of qualification, I will never pretend that my skills are advanced to the point that I could seriously considering myself truly qualified to really review these or even attempt the Times or whatever the hell a cryptic is.

Title: Last Laugh     Author: Sally R. Stein     Size: 15 x 15

Theme Answers: Oracle of Omaha, George and Martha, Man of Lamancha

These three seemingly unrelated historical / cultural figures (sorry Mr. Buffet, but you were born before the Dust Bowl) aren’t hysterically dad-joked connected in some not so creative play-on-words fashion ala Rodney King, Queen Latifah, Jack Donaghy and Ace Frehley or even a trio more abstractedly linked like Kobe Bryant, T-Bone Burnett  and Angus T. Jones.  Instead, the ‘joke’ here is about the sound of a joke, or more specifically, the last syllable: ha ha ha.  If a bit more effort were used, a similar joke could be upped in  self aware criticism and before / after trickery with the four responses, Harvey Dented Fender (Two-Faced Accident Proof), Dee Snider Enfield (We’re Not Gonna Take This British Rifle), Harry Potted Plants (Wizard Ficus) and Hart of Dixie Cups (The WB’s washroom glass). Wizard Plant

Classic Carls: Auto, Menu, Halo, Tuna, Seoul, Euro, Reef, Algae

If the starting five of Carls (Aira, Oslo, Eels/Ells, Alec and Ions) had tired, found some trouble with fouls or either built up or succumbed to a sizeable lead in the 4th quarter, these Carls would earn the rest of the minutes.  Menu would provide the bulk of the scoring while Algae would garner the loudest applause upon rising from the end of the bench, ripping off the warmups and jogging to the scorers table.

Hoffas (large useless vertical clues):  Roulette, Montanan

The differences between Montanan and Mountain are so slight (same number of letters, same starting letter, same ending letter and similar guts) that it’s relatively inexcusable that the more befuddling answer was used.  Additionally, the most over dorm room posterized Al Pachino character could be used with the easiest addition, a pluralizing or possessive ‘s’ to avoid the stupid ‘n’.  Was is really that important that ‘Eaten’, which is quite awkward on it’s own, provides that super necessary ‘n’? Another slight adjustment and we could have had ‘Estes’ (American Photo-Realist).  I suppose it’s an oversight of these details that leads to a publishing date of Christmas.Richard Estes

Horseshit Answers: Nothing

I rarely time myself when completing puzzles – I wish I had this morning, as over half of the answers I filled in required no clues; they simply appeared as combinations of other answers.  This quickness is entirely to blame on such easily understood and leading clues like ‘Raton’ (Boca _____, Florida), ‘At it’ (Take a Crack ____(try))  and  ‘Tuna’ (____ fish salad) .  What other answers could fit in these blanks?  Boca Cini Florida? Take a Crack at Crack? Carp Fish Salad?

What I Learned:

A butte is a flat toped hill-like natural structure, this much I knew.  I also knew that there was a Crested one somewhere in the mash-up of squarish states west of Illinois and East of Nevada and a plain ole Butte somewhere else.  I now know which is which, so in a way, I know my Butte from a hole in the ground.

Clues I Would Have Rewritten:

59 Down: Massage Without the Tug, it’s Nothing to Hide Answer: Rub 

33 Down: Horned Barnyard Beasts Mischievous Chewers of Tin Cans Answer: Goats

35 Down: Escapee’s Shout  Desperately lonely man’s shrugged Friday night plans Answer: I’m Free

Flying Turd

All in All:

Considering the theme for this puzzle had absolutely nothing to do with the holidays and the entire puzzle read as if it were a three minute time trial, I have to assume that this gem was meant to fly under the radar like an airbourne turd dropped from a reindeer that escaped NORAD’s Santa tracker.

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