Mike Nothnagel’s New York Times crossword
Oof! One (fixed) typo at the end, plenty of wrong turns, and all sorts of “Huh?” reactions to clues. Before moving on to the qualitative, let’s kick it quantitative. This is a 70-worder with 32 black squares. Had Mike lopped off the legs of those L-shaped areas of black squares, he’d have had broader swaths of white space, but it would have jacked up the difficulty of getting good fill. Among the long fill (8+ letters), I count 10 answers I really like and just three that leave me unmoved. I’d hate to sacrifice any of those 10 in the service of a lower number of black blocks.
These are a few* of my favorite things:
- 15A. [Pinch sources] are SNUFFBOXES. Great word, that.
- 17A. Full name IAN FLEMING is ["The Diamond Smugglers" author, 1957]. Note the absence of an obviously James Bond-y title. Hello! It’s Friday, not Saturday.
- 18A. [Results of bad trips?], as in stumbles, are HEADERS, as in tumbles.
- 23A. [One often planted on a window ledge?] is a CAT.
- 32A. One sort of [Overnight accommodation?] is NEXT-DAY DELIVERY. Not a hotel of any sort. That’s reserved for 3D: MOTEL SIX, the [Chain whose name derives from its original room rate].
- 48A. Peter O’Toole’s HENRY II is ["The Lion in Winter" role] opposite Katharine Hepburn’s Eleanor of Aquitaine.
- 50A. This [Logging tool] isn’t for lumberjacks, it’s a RECORD BOOK you log things in. Some of you keep those for your crossword solving times.
- 55A. [Very abrupt meetings?] is a terrific clue for COLLISIONS.
- 57A. Love the answer KNEE SOCKS. Less wild about the clue, [Athlete's foot applications?].
- 9D. “I BEG TO DIFFER.” Lovely! ["That's what you think!"] No, really, I do like it.
- 19D. Not the easiest title to evoke the writer’s name—["When You Are Engulfed in Flames" essayist] is the funny and moving DAVID SEDARIS. Have you read his “Big Boy”?
- 35D. ROTH IRAS are [Suze Orman recommendations].
- 49D. YAWP is an awesome word. Too bad I had CARP for [Complaint].
*And by “few,” I mean “a lot.’
- 16A. [Where the word "Christian" is first used in the Bible] is ACTS. There are a number of 4-letter books of the Bible, aren’t there? I’m thinking of buying The 100-Minute Bible to brush up on these things.
- 25A. [Doctor Who and others, briefly] are ETS? Doctor Who is an alien? Is he a human from another planet or an alien lifeform?
- 37A. I didn’t see where [Single halves] was going for the longest time. A SIDES and B sides are halves of 45 rpm records.
- 2D. Aw, why isn’t [Burger request] NO ONIONS? NO CHEESE means you want a hamburger, not a cheeseburger. Are there places with only cheeseburgers on the menu, that make you beg for NO CHEESE?
- 4D. [Wagner's ___ of Brabant] is ELSA. Brabant is a former duchy of Belgium, you know.
- 6D. TUNS are [945-liter units].
- 31D, 34D. LYDIA is the [Ancient Anatolian kingdom where coins are said to have been invented]. It’s in modern-day Turkey. EDOMITES made up [Petra's population] long ago. Today, they’re Jordanians.
- 47D. This feels like an age-old crosswordese flare-up. TOLE is an [Old lampshade material]. It’s painted, enameled, or lacquered tinplate.
Brendan Quigley’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Is This a Title Which I See Before Me?”
If you’re intimately familiar with the lines in Macbeth, you may have zipped through this puzzle. Me? I knew one of the theme entries and had to battle through the crossings to get the other four. Here’s the cauldron of theme answers:
- 17A. ALL MY PRETTY ONES is the [1962 Anne Sexton poetry collection whose title comes from "Macbeth"].
- 23A. LIGHT THICKENS is a [1982 Ngaio Marsh novel whose title comes from "Macbeth"].
- 39A. Hey! I know this one! [With "The," 1929 William Faulkner novel whose title comes from "Macbeth"] is SOUND AND THE FURY.
- 48A. THE MOON IS DOWN is a [1942 John Steinbeck play whose title comes from "Macbeth"].
- 59A. [With "The," 1973 Alastair MacLean novel whose title comes from "Macbeth"] is WAY TO DUSTY DEATH.
On the bright side, I have heard of all the authors in question, just not those four titles. Other tough clues:
- 1D. DO-ALL is a [Manager of everything].
- 4D. ELM is clued as the [Sylvia Plath poem featuring the line "I know it with my great tap root"]. My son’s been learning about tap roots in fourth grade, but not Plath.
- 7D. ["Sayonara" star Miyoshi] is named UMEKI. First or last name? Miyoshi Umeki (she reversed her names for her stage name) is an actress who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Sayonara. You may know her as Mrs. Livingston from The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. She was born in 69A: OTARU, a [Hokkaido port].
- 20A. LAI is clued as [Chu ___ (USMC base in Vietnam)]. Nice to have a break from My Lai, but Francis Lai misses the spotlight.
- 46A. SOR is [Spanish guitarist Fernando]. Who?
Lynn Lempel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Take the Helm”–Janie’s review
Follow Lynn’s directive and you’ll “be in charge,” “run the show,” “hold the reins.” But (with one exception) you’ll do so with five-letter synonyms for being in control. They’re at the end of each of today’s five theme phrases and are ordinarily found at the beginning of the phrases that describe ways of taking charge. You may, for example:
- 20A. Pilot the plane, by way of SITCOM PILOT [Show trial, of a sort]. Here’s the pilot episode of How I Met Your Mother (that qualifies, right?).
- 11D. Steer the boat, which comes from BUM STEER [Lousy piece of advice]. I always associate this phrase with lines from “A Fugue for Tin Horns” from Guys and Dolls. As Frank Loesser wrote–and Nicely Nicely Johnson sang about his favorite pick at the track:
I tell you, Paul Revere –
Now this is no bum steer.
It’s from a handicapper that’s real sincere.
- 20A. Guide the, oh, SLED [Iditarod conveyance], via TV GUIDE [Couch potato's must-have].
- 59A. Captain the ship, from TEAM CAPTAIN [Leader in sports or industry].
- 39D. Drive the engine, derived from ZIP DRIVE [Old-style storage device]. I usta have one. I even installed it myself (true)–working for my merit badge in technology, of course. Not.
If this isn’t Lynn’s liveliest puzzle, it is well-made with lots of four- to six-letter fill that gives the grid a very solid feel. AFFIRM [Verify] is well-balanced by its symmetrical opposite SAID NO [Declined]. ODETTA [One-named singer of folk and blues] (but not so much BE-BOP [Jazzy genre]) makes an appearance, as does LESLIE [Actress Caron of "Gigi"], who has just released her memoir called (fittingly) Thank Heaven: A Memoir. I also liked ELUDE, JUNTAS and SCAMS–too many of which can leave one JADED.
We get a pair of crosswordese implements: both the ADZ, a [Wood-trimming tool] (which may also be spelled adze) and AWLS [Leatherworking tools; and ways of indicating a small amount: A FEW [Three or four, say] and a qualifier–MERE [Scant].
The [First instruction in many a homework assignment] is READ. It’s also the first instruction in many a written exam. Which, in college, is likely to be taken by a [Person filling a blue book], or TESTEE (and I know it’s legit, but that’s such a weird word…). Regardless, let’s hope s/he decided to PREP [Study (for)] it!
Mark Feldman’s Los Angeles Times crossword
We still seem to be hovering in Wednesday difficulty at the LAT, albeit on the harder end of the Wednesday scale today. The theme’s more intricate than most. DOUBLE PLAYS are [Baseball coups, and a hint to the homophonic relationship in the sequence of first words in...] the other theme answers. (“Homophonic relationship”! I support full marriage rights for all homophones.) At first glance I was confused and thought the WON/TOO/FOR/ATE (1/2/4/8) sequence was erratic. Where’s my 1/2/3/4? Yes, “three” lacks any good homophones. But the numbers in the 1/2/4/8 series DOUBLE at each step. Cool!
I didn’t love the actual theme answers so much, as they’re not super-duper zippy phrases. 18A: [Barely came out on top] clues WON BY A NOSE; this one’s good. 24A: [Overly taxing] clues TOO MUCH TO HANDLE; “too hot to handle” is better, but Feldman needed a 15 here. 54A: [Temporarily] is FOR THE TIME BEING; fine but static. 61A: [Really enjoyed something] is ATE IT ALL UP.
Fittingly, I got stuck at 21D: [Obstacle]. Ay, there’s the RUB. 66A: [Soft fleece] clues LLAMA; I know about alpaca wool, but the LLAMA escaped me. I did remember that POTSY is 69A: [Another name for hopscotch]. 26D: [It's reserved for ones in a pool] clues the HOV LANE, which is a regional term not in use in Chicago; I learned the term (“high occupancy vehicle lane”) from crosswords. Too bad “pool” is in this clue as well as the zingy POOL HALL (6D: [Place to find cues]). LINEMEN has a good clue: 44D: [They can be offensive].
Myles Callum’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Your Mileage May Vary”
When I finished this puzzle, I had no idea what the theme was and had to dig around for that short Down clue I hadn’t seen while solving: 108D is MPG, [What "varies" in position in the answers to the seven starred clues]. “Your mileage may vary” is popularly abbreviated as “YMMV” in online parlance, which makes the puzzle’s title seem current. But merely finding an M, P, and G in that order (nonconsecutively) in seven phrases seems a thin basis for a theme. MULTIPLY BY EIGHT? Several of the theme entries do sparkle, though—you’ve got your HUMPHREY BOGART (and who knew he was an [Actor who was once a chess hustler]?), BUNGEE JUMPING ([It involves a leap of faith]), the CAMPFIRE GIRLS (what ever happened to them? [Their motto is "Give Service"]), and “QUIT COMPLAINING.”
- 93A. ["The Fly" director Kurt] is Mr. NEUMANN. Not a huge name in Hollywood.
- 52A. [Like some newlyweds in Iowa] clues GAY. Cute!
- 24D. An INKHORN is a [Writer's accessory of yore]. I feel as though I know this word (albeit dimly) only from crosswords.
- 63A. Hans or Jean ARP was a Dada [Colleague of Grunwald and Ernst].
- 11D. [It's a matter of degrees] clues ANGLE. Forgive me for thinking of sub-freezing temperatures, as ANGLE crosses EIGHT and that was this morning’s temp in Chicago.
Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go”
Brendan recently asked for help deciphering his old notes about theme ideas. One was “Oh, The Places You’ll Go,” which looked to me like a potty theme. I sent Brendan a list of possible theme entries, like LAVa lamp, with no specific plans to make them into a puzzle myself. Brendan went with his own set of phrases starting with “toilet” synonyms, using stand-alone words rather than embedding the thrones at the beginning of longer words. Great quintet: “CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?”; W.C. FIELDS; HEAD FOR THE HILLS; POT PLANT; and JOHN QUINCY ADAMS.
Just because I knew there would be loo action in the theme didn’t make this a “medium” difficulty puzzle—dang, it was hard. Chess’s ARON crossing WAHS and CREW? [Bossy, famously] is an ISLANDER? (Is that about hockey? Is there an N.Y. Islander with that nickname?) [Hedone's father] is EROS? (That makes sense…hedonism, eroticism. A family thing.) ["Yes, ___ real"] clues THEY’RE, but I was thinking THIS IS; kinda want a “spectacular” added in there somewhere, but that would mean a “they’re” in the clue and that’s taboo. [Treat whose name means "lightning"] is an ECLAIR? Really? Wow. I’m learning all sorts of things in this puzzle. ALAN Freed’s nickname is MOONDOG? There are Lincoln and Obama CHIA heads?
Matt Gaffney’s Daily Beast crossword, “A Tiger in the Bedroom”
Crosscan’s vacationing in Orlando this week, so the Daily Beast coverage falls to me. (Sorry, no Canadian humor this week.) Thanks to Brendan’s recent blog crossword with a ‘Tiger Woods booty calls” theme, I managed to get through the names in this puzzle, which combines women who boffed the golfer with a larger theme of risqué animal puns:
- JAIMEE Grubbs, RACHEL Uchitel, CORI Rist, and KALIKA Moquin are the paramours in the puzzle. There could be more I didn’t notice.
- 22A. [Fastest land adulterers?] clues SERIAL CHEETAHS, playing on “serial cheaters” and Tiger’s feline name.
- 33A. [Hung like a humpback?] clues WHALE-ENDOWED (“well-endowed”). Heh heh, he said “humpback.”
- 42A. [Why guzzling grizzlies lower their sexual standards?] is BEAR GOGGLES (“beer goggles”].
- 59/68A. [Comment about a gold-digging rhesus?] is SHE’S ONLY IN IT / FOR THE MONKEY (“…money”).
- 84A. [Leo's method with the ladies?] is LION TO WOMEN (“lying to women”). The answer’s surface meaning seems a little off. What does “lion to women” mean? He roars? If Leo is himself a lion, what does it mean to be “himself to women”?
- 90A. [Ewe's comment to a ram while they're at dinner?] is I’M A SHEEP DATE (“…cheap date”).
- 105A. [Dirty dance with a hammerhead?] clues SHARK YOUR BOOTY. Now, “shake your booty” means “dance,” but SHARK? Not a dancing-related verb. So I’m not pleased with the surface sense here either.
That’s it for today—my kid’s home sick and now it’s lunchtime, and we have plenty of schoolwork to get through. Lesson learned: Talking about the density and mass of various objects (“Which would hurt more, getting hit in the head by an orange or an apple?” There, I think it’s more about the apple’s added firmness.) is way more fun than plural possessives.