For the moving back-story behind Merl Reagle’s Wednesday L.A. Times puzzle, please click over to L.A. Crossword Confidential. If you thought the fill seemed clunkier than you’d expect for something from Merl, you’ll find out there was a good reason for that.
Brendan Quigley’s New York Times crossword
I’ve often said that themeless crosswords whose corners are packed with 7-letter answers tend to be dull. Correction: They can be lifeless if they’re filled with boring words with lots of RE-type prefixes and giving-up-on-the-fill suffixes. They can also be a heckuva lot of fun if the constructor instead chooses to jam lots of cool entries into the grid.
Did somebody say “jam”? Oh. My. God. 7D, the [Digital detritus], that’s not about bytes, it’s about TOEJAM. Gross. I told my husband it was in the puzzle and read him the clue and he laughed out loud. Congratulations, TOEJAM! It is your time in the sun. Now, for Pete’s sake, people, please clean between your toes in every shower.
- In the category of “This puzzle is talking to me,” we have several answers. 1A is “SAY WHAT?”/["Huh?"]. 3D is “YOU JEST!”/["C'mon, that can't be true!"]. 17A is “AMUSE ME”/[Request for entertainment]; not fond of that one. 14D is “WELL, YES”/["Actually, it's true"]. 18A is “ALL HAIL…”/[Words of acclamation]. 61D is “YOW!”/["Man, that hurts!"]. Even the Beatles get in on the action, with their song title “I’M A LOSER”/8D: [Second song on "Beatles '65"].
- Shiny new (or not often seen) crossword entries are here too. 20A: LA JOLLA, Calif., is [Home to Torrey Pines Golf Course]. 38A: SQUAD CAR is a [Place for a collared person], and “collared” means “arrested,” not “sporting a clerical collar,” which was my first thought. 42A: FLY-BYS are [Means of obtaining data about planets]. 65A: THE WIRE is the [Gritty TV series set in Baltimore] that all the cool kids like Brendan watched; when the series ended, I think many of the same people moved over to Mad Men. 1D: SWAHILI is clued by way of ["Kwanzaa" comes from it]. 24D: AIRWALK is apparently an elevated sidewalk, or [High passageway between buildings]; in Minneapolis they call ‘em skyways, I believe. 43D: BON JOVI was the [First hard rock band to score a #1 country hit]. 45D: SPYWARE is a computer [Virus kin] (insert obligatory mention of Apple computers’ superior resistance to virus and antivirus hassles here).
- There’s some branding with 27A: LASIK/[Shortsighted solution?], 35A: WNBA/[The Sun and Mercury are in it: Abbr.], and 60A: CRAYOLA/[Marker maker]. That WNBA clue is excellent, isn’t it? Comes on strong with the misleading astronomy bit, especially with the FLY-BYS planet clue hot on its heels.
There are some oddball, weird, obscure, or crosswordese answers tucked in here too, but they’re definitely outnumbered by the picante fill. I’ve never heard of 53A: ENDY/[Outfielder Chavez]. 8A: [Rule without exceptions] clues IRON LAW, but that is just not sounding like any sort of phrase I’ve ever encountered. The Italian NEL usually gets a different clue, so 22A: [Bellini's "___ furor delle tempeste"] made me use all the crossings. 31A: ISTRIA always asks me if it can pretty please be ILYRIA (which needs a double L); it’s a [Peninsula south of the Gulf of Trieste]. 55A: [Certain pitch] isn’t baseball or sales, it’s COAL TAR. I’ve seen 51D: ["My Fair Lady" actor Robert] COOTE a couple times in crosswords, and I’m still not remembering his name.
Other great clues: 62A: EN ROUTE is clued as [Neither here nor there]. 9D: [Drum set?] clues ROLLS, as in “Drum roll, please.” 44D: [Producer of high and outside pitches?] also isn’t baseball (or sales); it’s a YODELER.
I’m seeing some gnarly Saturday solving times on the applet leaderboard, which suggests that a number of folks are hitting the skids somewhere in this puzzle. Where was your quicksand? And what did you like best or least about the puzzle?
Dan Naddor’s Los Angeles Times crossword
- 17A. [Battlefield success strategy?] is INFANTRY FORMULA. Not sure too many armies these days rely on infantry for their battlefield successes.
- 21A. VESTRY POCKETS are clued with [Church pool table features?]. Are vestries fun?
- 35A. The [Downside of grits and chicken-fried steaks?] is all those COUNTRY CALORIES.
- 43A. “Sent packing” turns into a SENTRY PACKING heat, or [Armed guard?].
- 50A. PASTRY PRACTICES are [Customs of dessert chefs?]. Labor lawyers are probably more familiar with the phrase past practices than I am.
I didn’t see any particular rationale behind the theme other than “some words become new words with -RY added.”
Highlights: 1A: TIDINGS/[News] puts me in mind of the Christmas carol “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” Trivia clue for 15A: RAIN-OUT, [From 1988 to 1999, a record 856 consecutive games were played in Dodger Stadium without one]. (Drought!) The colloquial A WEE BIT means 16A: [Slightly]. Also colloquial: 36D: “THE NERVE!”/["How dare they!"].
Lowlights: 26A: EAT IT/[Absorb a business loss, slangily] crosses 22D: EAT ON/[Use, as China]. (21D: [1970s fugitive financier Robert] VESCO hangs out in the eating corner.) Suffix -YER crossing ELSE’S, INRI crossing partial AIN’T I, partial I REST, plural abbreviations EES and PDS…and also 42D: ACETAL/[Alcohol-based compound used in cosmetics].
Gail Grabowski’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Sales Sites”—Janie’s review
I confess, my first response to this puzzle was that it was SO-SO, though I wouldn’t have described it as [Mediocre]. But you know what? On second glance, it’s considerably better than “middlin’.” With Christmas but a week away, Gail’s created a shopper’s smorgasbord, providing a bonanza of brick-and-mortar “sales sites” which lie at the end of each of her non-commercial theme phrases. Take your pick of the:
- 17A. CARD COUNTER [Unpopular player at a blackjack table];
- 28A. WITNESS STAND [Courtroom fixture]. I love that triple-S strand in the grid, too;
- 45A. TANNING BOOTH [Sunless site to get a sunkissed look]. Nice clue! Or
- 59A. SHOWER STALL [Bathroom compartment].
So, yes–a fairly straight-forward synonym theme. But with more to it. As mentioned, there’s the Christmas-countdown consideration. So it’s nice to see bonus fill, like DEAR SANTA [Seasonal wish salutation] in the mix; and since the theme is shopping-related, SPLURGE [Spend extravagantly] finds a welcome place here as well (but the economy still has a way to go, so easy does it…).
I also liked seeing MOONSCAPE [It's teeming with craters] in the grid. Here’s a glimpse at a “southern moonscape.” The Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC has not only an exhibit of some 75 moonscape photos that were taken by astronauts on the Apollo missions, but also a planetarium show that lets you take a “Field Trip to the Moon.” Cool.
Two exclamations are calling out for attention: “AHA!” [Successful solver's shout] and (nicely crossing at the “H”) “AHOY!” [Salt's shout]. While we’re on the briny (and having returned from outer space…), let me also mention SEA LABS, those [Aquanauts' workplaces].
ANOTHER [One more] clue/fill pair I’d like to mention is the almost symmetrical inclusion of two women who have had a huge impact in their particular political arenas. And they would be (gulp…) PERON [Eva of Argentina] and (Sarah) PALIN [She shared the ticket with McCain]. I don’t know about you, but I’m about ready to see Michael Palin dusted off and brought back to his previous position in the cluing hierarchy…
Dan Fisher’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Stocking Stuffing”
In my family, there’s not much in the way of TOYs stuffed in Christmas stockings. Stocking stuffers are candy, fruit, and other small things. Okay, fine, there are a few small toys in there, but mainly the toys are outside the stocking. The conceit of this puzzle, though, is a TOY stuffed inside each theme answer (but not inserted—just naturally present in a given phrase or word). We’ve got BLUEPOINT OYSTERS, a TOYOTA PRIUS, two Russian writers (LEO TOLSTOY and Fyodor DOSTOYEVSKY), the uncommon word CHATOYANCY (47A: [Iridescent quality of some gems]—picture the streaky shimmer in tiger eye quartz or moonstone), LATOYA JACKSON, and the seasonal [Carol wish] of GOOD TIDINGS TO YOU. TOY is tucked away at 108-Down as a theme revealer.
Phrasal fill highlights: SHOVE OFF, GET OLD (as in [Grow tiresome], not as in “age”), GO NUTS. Most surprising “that is too a word” answer: SAFENESS/[Important quality in products for toddlers] is a real word, just like safety is. Toughest clue for me: 18D: [First player to win tennis's Grand Slam] is DON BUDGE, and I wasn’t sure about his first name. The clue for the crossing ATOM was tough, too—[It has one or more shells]. Darwin College must be part of the University of Cambridge because [Darwin College student] clues CANTAB, which is short for Cantabrigian, meaning “one from Cambridge.”
Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “We Can Work It Out”
There are crosswords to work on (freelance gig) and holiday cards to send out and groceries to buy, so I’ll be quick. Theme entries end with weightlifting moves. Wanted generic CHEESE CURL to be brand-name CHEESE NIPS, which are also an unnaturally [Orange snack]. Lively theme answers, including VANITY PRESS, CAP’N CRUNCH, and DIDDLYSQUAT.
Favorite clue: [It might be done it stirrups] for EXAM. Shout-out to the ladies!
Favorite pop-culture ref: Juan EPSTEIN, Puerto Rican Jew from Welcome Back, Kotter.
Toughest section: Southwest corner. Didn’t know MC LYTE, YER, or LSU, but they all make sense. SPURTS wanted to to be SPASMS or SPATES.
Best wrong guess: With just the E in place, I guessed REHAB for the #4 song on Rolling Stone’s list of the decade’s best songs. Winehouse’s “Rehab” is, in fact, #8. (“HEY YA” is #4.)