Karen Tracey’s New York Times crossword
I loved all of this puzzle except for that one square that accounted for more than a third of my solving time. I went German without provocation and had ACH instead of ACK for 49D: ["Oh, no!"]. The crossing was 56A: [1-Down counselor Ann], 1D being L.A. LAW (["ER" replaced it on NBC's schedule in 1994]). HELSEY seems like nothing, but why reach back 20 years for a fictional KELSEY when Mr. Grammer is out there? (Sigh.)
But ACK or ACH aside, there’s much to admire here. Scrabbliness and interesting words and phrases (the inclusion of which is facilitated by the word count of 72) plus Communist Corner? 11D is [Lenin's body] of government, the POLITBURO, not Lenin’s body in Red Square. 12D: [Lenin, for one] was a BOLSHEVIK. (Head downstairs for 54D: NYETS, or [11-Down dissents]). Not specifically communist highlights:
- 14A. Pre-Lucy Desi ARNAZ trivia I never knew: [He starred as himself in "Cuban Pete," 1946].
- Fresh clues for crosswordese: 15A: OREO gets [Treat with a "Golden" variety], and the 61A: ARNO is a [River with historic flooding in 1966]. And a 34A: HEN is a [Source of valuable deposits] of eggs.
- 22A. The TO-DO LIST is an [Agenda] of sorts. Wonderful “in the language” answer. 23A, likewise. WALTZES OFF WITH means [Wins easily].
- 50A. “JIMMY CRACK CORN” was a childhood favorite of mine, on a Pete Seeger album of folk songs for kids. I have no recollection of these lyrics, however: [Old song with the lyric "When he would ride in the afternoon / I'd follow him with my hickory broom"]. You can read about the song here. The basics: blue-tail fly bites horse, horse throws rider, rider happens to be a slave master, master dies, slave doesn’t mind that he’s gone at all. I can get on board with that.
- 5D. Hands down, my favorite answer in this puzzle. TZATZIKI! Don’t know how to pronounce it, don’t know what it tastes like, but love to spell a word with two TZs in it. It’s a [Gyro sauce] made of yogurt, garlic, and cucumbers. (Do not want.) How is this spelled in Greek letters? Is there a zeta in it? Because I see one in 29D: Catherine ZETA-JONES, ["Chicago" Oscar winner].
- 9D. Most alarming clue: [Grunting, slimy-skinned swimmer] is the TOADFISH, a large-mouthed bottom dweller that can grunt loud, apparently.
- 13D. [Saves, say] is a good clue for STAT. A pitcher’s number of saves is a baseball stat.
- 38D. Eek! SNAKEPIT is a [Scene of horror and confusion].
- 41D. I like the word SAMISEN but good gravy, did you get a load of the clue? [Instrument played with a spatula] sounds like something that ought to be in a jug band alongside the washboard.
- 55D. If Nagasaki were in France, [Nagasaki noodle] would clue TETE. But few Americans know the Japanese word for “head” or “brain,” so we get the edible SOBA noodle.
The people who chafe at having a lot of names in a crossword may be needing some balm for that irritation now. The northwest corner has ARNAZ and LIVIA/[Wife of Augustus] crossing ERIKA/["Traffic" actress Christensen] (and TZATZIKI). In the northeast, 10D: AMELIAS are [Fielding and Menotti title heroines] and they cross 26A: ISABEL/[Archer of literature]. Below ISABEL is SUVA, [Capital on the island of Viti Levu]. In the middle of the grid, 48A: violinist ISAAC gets a misleading clue, [Stern playing?], and he crosses the little-known 32D: TESSA/[Actress Allen]. Who? Tessa Allen is 13 and she’s not one of those Disney Channel/Nickelodeon kid stars, so I don’t know who she is or if I’ll ever see her in anything. I didn’t know if 37A: [Responses of confusion] were EHS, UHS, or OHS, but TUSSA and TOSSA seemed unlikely.
Sarah Keller’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Up and Down”—Janie’s review
Something kinetic seems to be goin’ on at CrosSynergy. Yesterday was “Moving Day” and we stay in motion today, going “up and down” three different ways, each of which comes in at a grid-spanning 15 letters. How do we get there (and back…) from here? One way (the first) does the work for us; the other two require us to do the heavy (leg-) lifting. The methods of getting “up and down” include:
20A. FREIGHT ELEVATOR [Moving warehouse platform].
39A. SPIRAL STAIRCASE [Winding steps]. This is my fave of the theme entries. It’s the least utilitarian, most evocative of the three. Just look at all the variety! Are you a diy-type? Here’s a site that shows you how to build your own–step by step…
54. EXTENSION LADDER [Roofer's equipment with rungs]. Also the fire department’s…
This puzzle takes a very direct route in its cluing, so there’s not lots of wordplay going on today. A notable exception is [Bar room?] for CELL (see my post of 1/19 for my dopey “bar room” joke…). But the puzzle is not without its bright spots. There’s [Made of gold or silver, e.g.] for METALLIC and GELATO, a deliciously creamy [Ristorante dessert]. That kind of fill will always [Delight] ELATE me. I’m easy that way… though I confess it took me a while to realize that “delight” is a verb here and not a noun.
I also liked seeing MEDICO in the grid, Spanish for [DOC]; and there’s also REATA, another word of Spanish origin, hence the clue [Lariat for Luis]. We’ve an avian pair as well: GULLS [Coastal fliers] and ERNE [Coastal flier]. But my favorite pair today would have to be ["Oy ___] VEY["!] and its (rough) translation: ["Woe ___] IS ME["!], though for the full effect, I suppose the former would need to be “Oy vey iz mir!”
Robert Wolfe’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Usually I use Across Lite with the timer running, but I solved this puzzle on a clipboard during my son’s aikido class. My hunch is that many people will find it a little tougher than usual for a Saturday L.A. Times crossword. Yea? Nay?
My feelings about the puzzle are encapsulated by the first of the 15-letter answers: 17A: YOU CAN’T WIN ‘EM ALL/[Words of consolation]. Wolfe wins big with the three 15s and racks up some other wins with assorted clues and fill, but then there are a few clunkers and a whole corner (the upper right) of badness. First up, the other winners:
- The remaining 15s: 36A: ["Don't cry over spilt milk"]/WHAT’S DONE IS DONE and 54A: [Sassy reply to criticism]/IT’S A FREE COUNTRY. These, like 17A, are fantastic. They’re all things we say colloquially, and you can hear a “hey” or “ya know” preceding all of ‘em. Some L.A. Crossword Confidential readers have asked if the 15s don’t actually constitute a theme, and by gum, they sort of do. 17A: “Aww, too bad.” 36A: “Eh, too bad.” 54A: “Too bad, sucker!”
- 20A: [Día de San Valentín sentiment]/TE AMO. I think the L.A. Times crossword requires a little more Spanish familiarity than the New York–based puzzles do, which makes sense because there’s so much Spanish spoken in California. I’ve never seen “St. Valentine’s Day” rendered in Spanish, but it’s not too hard to work it out.
- 45A: [Good thing to be up to]/SNUFF. Other clueing options include the verb (negative, snuffing out) and the tobacco (bleh). “Up to SNUFF” is great, and the clue can lead you astray in a good Saturday-puzzle way. Up to no good, up to your ears, up to par, up to the challenge—are there any other 5-letter answers that make sense that you tried here?
- 4D: [Bounce]/RICOCHET. Cool word. You ever get Augusto Pinochet mixed up with RICOCHET? No? Me, neither. But they rhyme nicely.
- I like the clue in 23D: [Arm holder?]/HOLSTER. Not that kind of arm.
- 55D: [Old-fashioned word of disapproval]/FIE. I’m bringin’ it back! Join me, won’t you?
Fie on the northeast corner of the grid. TRIPS gets a great verb clue (9A: [Activates]), and PILOT (12D: [Fly]) and SEPIA (16A: [Brownish pigment]) are fine, but the rest of the fill there is…ouch. Nothing that’s a complete deal-breaker in isolation, but they’re all jumbled together in a heap of “meh.” Boring crosswordese ENOL and boring unfamiliar T-PLATE run across. In the down direction, we get authorial monogram TSE (T.S. Eliot), the RE- word REMELT, erstwhile toothpaste brand IPANA (known to people under 50 primarily as crosswordese), and the French word SALLE.
There were some other spots that grated:
- 39A: [Fish tales] (TALL STORIES). Wait, don’t we call ‘em “fish stories” and “tall tales”? TALL STORIES sound like the upper floors in a highrise.
- 48A: [Wasn't true] (LIED). I’m not convinced there’s true equivalency here. If you LIED about something, it’s not that you yourself weren’t true—it’s that what you said wasn’t true. The thing that isn’t true is the lie, not the liar. Yes? No?
- 61A: [View for 6-Down] (TREETOPS). 6D is SANTA. If you had the TOPS part of this answer, did you want ROOFTOPS rather than TREETOPS? Does anyone picture Santa flying over (and looking at) treetops? I would’ve clued this without a cross-reference to Santa, who isn’t closely associated with treetops.
- 18D: [Out of the running] (NOT IN IT). At first I really liked this answer. But then I got to thinking, is this used in the negative? Sports teams and candidates can definitely be still “in it,” with a chance to win. Does anyone say NOT IN IT? “Sadly, the Bears are NOT IN IT.”
Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal puzzle, “Snowflake”
It had been announced that we’d be getting a Patrick Berry variety grid every other week, but what I thought would be Berry’s first WSJ puzzle turned out to be a hexagonal Snowflake puzzle by WSJ puzzle editor Mike Shenk. People rave about Berry’s genius but Mike Shenk’s also famous among puzzle cognoscenti for inventing numerous different puzzle varieties so you’re not getting an inferior product when you get a Shenk variety grid.
That said, this puzzle wasn’t particularly challenging (took me maybe nine minutes on the sofa with my kid, not completely focused) and it wasn’t particularly fun, either. There are 42 interlaced 7-letter answers, clued fairly straightforwardly—the challenge lies less in answering the clues than in figuring out where the answers go (both the location and the direction). So the Snowflake format (and many other variety grids, too) ups the ante by making the solver take some risks in placing answers in the grid. Compare this to a standard crossword, where you know both how long an answer is (barring a rebus) and exactly where it goes—so the challenge comes from the clues and the vocabulary. And then there are plenty of unchecked letters that go in only a single word, so it’s harder to figure out an answer if the clue isn’t leading you to it.
My favorite clue in this puzzle is the only question-marked one: [Laptop accessories?] are NAPKINS. The N*P*I*S bits could be worked out from crossings, and the plural makes it likely that the answer starts with the N and ends with S. But conceivably a solver could plunk in something like SLIM PIN or SAIL PIN (neither of which exists, as far as I know) going the wrong way, or NAPPIES going the right direction, and have no solid confirmation that it’s right or wrong.
I’ll bet the Snowflake will be more popular with the WSJ readers who got all ranty last weekend when faced with the delicious Cox/Rathvon variety cryptic. The WSJ blog comments were a combination of (1) “this is an abomination” remarks from people who don’t (yet) understand cryptics, (2) raves from long-time Hex cryptic fans delighted to see them in a new post-Atlantic home, (3) pleas for help from newer cryptic solvers valiantly wading into a tough cryptic, and (4) hands-on coaching from Cox and Rathvon themselves. So in another three weeks when the next Hex cryptic comes out, if you’re looking for confirmation or hints, check out the WSJ blog. (Spoiler free on the weekend, explicit spoilers beginning on the Monday).
Merle Baker’s Newsday “Saturday Stumper”
(PDF solution here.)
Lotta folks, in the weeks leading up to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, focus on solving crosswords on paper (tournament conditions!) as fast as they can. I seem to be in a groove of doing more and more puzzles off the clock. Does this bode ill or well? Time will tell. But surely I would’ve been feeling some agita in the southwest corner of this puzzle if I were watching the clock tick away. I was tempted to give up but muscled through it—which is also solid ACPT training.
What’s in that SW corner?
- 42A. [Washes one's hands of] is ABJURES.
- 47A. TRUSTS TO is [Puts faith in].
- 51A. I guessed the AKE part off the K in FAKES (which turned out to be JUKES, eek), thinking it would be MAKE or TAKE something. Not quite: RAKE IT IN. [Fare well] is the clue.
- 53A. Good lord, AVERMENT? Really? That’s a not-so-handy word to have in one’s vocabulary. It’s a [Positive declaration] but I do wonder if anyone doing this puzzle has ever before written or spoken that exact word.
- 55A. Ah, Monopoly! [Turned a corner, in a way] means PASSED GO. Brilliant, that.
- 42D. ["It's ___!"] A TRAP, not A SNAP.
- 43D. [Word of approval] is BRAVA. Yep, that works.
- 44D. JUKES are [Football ploys]? My husband just modeled one for me, a fake-out move, but I didn’t know this term.
- 39D. [They're reflective], but not visually speaking: MUSERS, people who muse. Odd-jobber.
- 37D. AIRTIME is a [Need for commercial traffic].
- 45D. STING is a [10-Grammy artist]. Just listened to a Police song on my shiny new iPod.
- 48D. This was actually the spot that cracked the corner open for me. [Hang ___]…Hang SENG’s G looked unlikely for 55A. I decided to start going through the alphabet to consider answers that could start with each letter. Hang A UEY? The A looks bad for 47A. Hang FREE? Hang FIVE? Hang ON TO? Let’s see…That second O pushed me right towards PASSED GO and then everything else started to mesh. That’s a satisfying experience, when you manage to extricate yourself from a gnarly zone of blank squares.
The rest of the puzzle was more tractable, not too thrilling, intermittently annoying. Like IGORS at 27A: [Assistants in a 2008 film]. IGORS is plural because in the cartoon, Wikipedia tells me, there’s a class of citizens with hunchbacks who are called Igors. The movie grossed $30 million domestically, so….what, about 1% of the U.S. population has seen the movie? Not the most stellar pop-culture reference. Of course, the indie film in ["For Your Consideration" actress] grossed $5 million, but I don’t quibble with Parker POSEY being clued there. She’s an indie film legend, and I’m snobby enough to expect crossword solvers to recognize indie film references but not a poorly received animated movie even my kid refused to see.
Rambling now, yes? Until the Sunday puzzles emerge—ta ta.