Even if you get an error message when you try to load Cruciverb’s main page, the LAT archives page should still work, and at the appropriate point in the evening (10ish Eastern time?), the Saturday puzzle should be there. If that doesn’t work, let me know—I can post the Across Lite file at the forum if needed.
Mark Diehl’s New York Times crossword
I commend him for these salient accomplishments:
- Making a really tough puzzle. We don’t get such chewy challenges so often.
- Making a puzzle in which everything was (to my mind) fair. No pushing things too far, no dirty tricks.
- Making a puzzle with tons of lively entries. Lots of long answers, only four 3s.
- Making a 64-worder with—this is key—no tortured fill. I don’t love most 64-or-below puzzles. Too often, compromises are made and we end up with extraneous prefixes and word endings stretching words out to fill the grid. My fictional example: REAMUSER. Nobody uses “amuser” and nobody uses “re-amuse” and certainly nobody puts REAMUSER in a grid. But some low-word-count puzzles come perilously close to that. Some include strained abbreviations that nobody likes. Not this one, though—Mark Diehl joins Patrick Berry, Frank Longo, and not too many other people on my short list of constructors who can make a 64-worder that has the same mouthfeel as a 72-worder.
So yes, I was impressed by this crossword. And you?
My favorite answers:
- 1A. CAT HAIRS are an [Allergy source] and a crazy answer to piece together.
- 17A. RATTLER wouldn’t fit, but apparently the [Diamondback, for one] is a PIT VIPER. You’re not skeered of snakes, are you?
- 19A. We escape AJA and instead get the band STEELY DAN, clued as the [Group whose 1972 debut album "Can't Buy a Thrill" went platinum].
- 30A. To WARM ONE’S HEART is to [Make a person feel good]. Just one of three solid 13s stair-stepping across the middle of the grid. This whole crossword warmed my word-nerd heart, honestly.
- 45A, 51A. ED MCMAHON atop BLOOPERS? Didn’t he co-host some of those earlier bloopers shows with Dick Clark? If so, is this where the fill began? ED is the [Late entertainer who was known for his laugh], and BLOOPERS are given a sports clue, the plural noun [Overthrows, e.g.].
- 8D. STRAP ON A FEEDBAG, y’all. [Get ready for chow].
- 34D. DODGIER. Americans should use the word “dodgy” more often. The clue, [Relatively hard to pin down], suggests that dodginess is about dodging things rather than being generally shady. I like the answer more than the clue.
Hard trivia, tough clues, things I contemplated Googling but managed to figure out on my own:
- 34A. [Sources of some Zimbabwean exports] are DIAMOND FIELDS. I came at this entry from the back end, so I was waiting for some sort of agricultural crop to sprout at the beginning.
- 35A. [Alternative to Beauvais] is ORLY, a French airport. Never heard of Beauvais.
- 39A. [Part of una salsa] is PASO. Say what? The PASO that’s part of the El Paso brand name of salsa, or a PASO that’s an ingredient? Help me out here, people.
- 43A. GODEL (of Escher, Bach fame) was the [Co-winner of the first Albert Einstein Award, 1951]. I had the *O*EL and considered NOBEL. Had no idea what the answer was.
- 5D. I got [Navy relative] through the crosses—crosswordese blue dye ANIL. The answer is not ARMY. ARMY shows up as a [Major employer]—employer of people with the rank of major—at 31D.
- 6D. I SPY is a [Game with a spotter]. Weightlifting and gymnastics just wouldn’t fit.
- 20D. [Macduff, to Macbeth] is a NEMESIS. Do you have a crossword constructor nemesis?
- 24D. [California peak], 6 letters, fourth letter is S…SHASTA? No, LASSEN. That held me up.
- 30D. For [Blame-diffusing words], I needed the crossings. Sadly, for many of the crossings, I needed the crossings. This corner of the puzzle was my toughest. But hey, man, WE ALL DO IT. What, you’ve never rolled through an intersection without making a complete stop at the stop sign? Come on. WE ALL DO IT.
- 41D. [What a loser may be out of]—the running? the race? No, out of SORTS. Perfect: the clue works, the answer is a common word, and the clue sends your mind down blind alleys.
- 50D. This one actually wasn’t too hard. It’s like a little gift to the solver. Two clues for the price of one! [Preserve...or get rid of] clues CAN. Canned tomatoes, canned employees.
Now that I’m done writing the post, I see that Howard Barkin and Byron Walden are on the applet with eminently respectable solving times, nothing out of the ordinary for a Saturday NYT. So, which is it: This is an ordinary Saturday puzzle (albeit quite a good one), or this is uncommonly challenging?
Brad Wilber’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Brad WilbEr’s puzzle reminds me of Friday’s NYT crossword by Doug Peterson—roughly the same number (14 here, 16 there) of long entries (8+ letters), tons of sparkle in the featured phrases and words, and some Scrabbliness. The clues were easier overall, this being an L.A. Times puzzle.
That’s Brad WilbEr, with an E, not a U. Lotta people spell it as Wilbur. Anyone have a good mnemonic for remembering that this guy’s name has an E? “WE like his puzzles.” Or “WE call him our nemesis.” These could work for NYT constructor Byron WaldEn (not Waldon), too.
- 17A: ["Fully loaded" purchase] is a DELUXE MODEL from the car dealer’s showroom. I’ve got my eye on the new four-door Porsche sedan, the Panamera. The turbo model will run you $132K, about 40 or 50 grand more than the base model. Oh, wait. It gets 15 mpg city. Better look into the Ford Fusion Hybrid instead.
- 25A: [Like "Marley & Me"] clues RATED PG. Neither SCHMALTZY nor SACCHARINE would fit.
- 27A: ["Heartland" autobiographer] is MORT SAHL. This political humorist’s last name shows up far, far more in crossword grids, so it’s nice to see the full name. The clue…the clue was no aid to solving.
- 37A: [Footwear ill-suited for stealth] includes clunky, cloppy wooden CLOGS. Now, the rubber-soled Merrell clogs, those are great for sneaking around.
- 55A: [Castaway's dream come true] is a RESCUE PLANE. Rescue planes have been in the news of late.
- 2D: ONE B.C. (aka 1 BCE) is the [Last year of its kind]. Calendars are weird, aren’t they? They look like neutral metrics but they carry more weight than that.
- 6D: Mnemonics! One [Geography-class mnemonic] is HOMES, for the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. Chicago’s Michigan Avenue crosses the other four Great Lakes street names, running SHEO from north to south. I need a mnemonic to help me remember that it goes Chicago, SHEO, Ohio, Grand, Illinois.
- 8D: [Drunk's chaser?] is not the beer chaser after a shot, it’s the suffix -ARD in drunkard. This is not the suffix in 9D: DIEHARDS, clued as [Hardly fair-weather friends]. Clueing them as [Hardly fair-weather fans] would have suggested the answer more strongly…but would’ve been easier. And we don’t want that, do we?
- Bing, bang, boom, three in a row. Isn’t this a great corner stack? 10D: [Some limo sharers] are PROM DATES. 11D: [Anti-diversity type] is a XENOPHOBE. (My son is a homophonophile.) And who doesn’t love a 12D: SNOWGLOBE, that [Popular paperweight]?
- 28D: [Consequences of one's convictions] are JAIL TERMS. I like the mislead. These are not your philosophical convictions but the ones wherein you get convicted of a crime.
- 30D: [Upscale Roman shopping street] is VIA VENETO. I don’t know a thing about it, but V-V phrases are nice, aren’t they? Dang, all I can think of is “va-va-voom” and a gynecological disturbance.
- And this is one of the zippiest answers. It’s not brand-new, no—other constructors have used it. But I still like it. 38D: [Homemade cassette with assorted songs] is a MIX TAPE. I haven’t had one since senior year of college. I think people still call ‘em mix tapes even though technology has moved past cassettes. No, wait. Do they just call ‘em “mixes”? Help me out here.
Tony Orbach’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Have a Ball”—Janie’s review
Yesterday we were asked to take one letter out of each theme phrase; today we’re asked to put three back in. And as is confirmed at 61D., those letters are form the word ORB [Sphere, and a hint to this puzzle's theme]. Follow the bouncing “ball” as it amusingly changes the familiar:
“It’s a living” → “ORBIT’S A LIVING” [Title of an astronaut's autobiography?]. Now that’s just a terrific combo.
Absent-minded → ABSORBENT-MINDED [Like a fast learner?]. Some days I’m far more the former than the latter and am astounded by the way the brain’s (not always comforting) “automatic pilot” function seems to override actual recall of having done something… <sigh>
Matched set → MATCHED SORBET [Color-coordinated frozen dessert?]. Hmmm. It may be best not to think about this one too literally. Not sure how one of anything can be matched to itself… “Color-coordinated,” yes–comme ça–but without the final “S” (for sorbets–and tasty as this image looks), this one feels kinda iffy.
No iffiness in the animated, wide-ranging non-theme fill. Faves in the fine arts include: SARGENT [American portraitist John Singer ___ ] (just about everyone’s familiar with “Madame X,” no?); TEATRO [Milan's ___ alla Scala]; SITARIST [Ravi Shankar, for one] (nice, too, how [Indian spiced tea] the clue for CHAI follows “Ravi”…); and F. SCOTT [Author Fitzgerald] (though I was initially baffled–then delighted–encountering the “FSC” consonant-cluster in the grid).
Pop culture gets its day too, with: ASTOR [Mary of "The Maltese Falcon"], HARVEY [Actor Keitel], RAMBO [Stallone role], “ED TV” [1999 Ron Howard film], ARETHA ["___ Now" (1968 album featuring "Think")], REO [___ Speedwagon], and ONO ["Walking on Thin Ice" singer]. Seems the Plastic Ono Band is in the throes of re-forming. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…
Other great fill comes to us by way of the refreshing LEMON ZEST [Tangy grated peel], RED INK [Indicator of a bad bottom line], STOOGE [Patsy], and the non-bubble-gummy BAZOOKA [Rocket launcher].
The colloquial fill, too, adds life to the party: “RATS!”/["Shoot!"]; “IN HERE”/[Words that might follow "psst"]; “I SEE!”/["Aha!"]; GONNA [Fixin' to]; and the defensive “LET ‘EM”/["Don't care if they do'].
And once again, had my head-slap moment processing [Stand or deliver?] as yet again, it’s a parts-of-speech clue, this time for VERB. D’oh!
Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal acrostic (Saturday Puzzle)
I will probably not make a habit of blogging the WSJ acrostic, just as I don’t blog the NYT’s acrostics. The WSJ one uses the same sort of online applet as the NYT—which is one Mike Shenk himself created, if memory serves—but it looks a little prettier. (Same obsequious applause when you finish.) The Java applet removes all the grunt work of transferring letters over to the grid, which is handy.
The clues were quite a bit easier than the NYT acrostic’s clues typically are. I could figure out about 80% of the clues on the first pass, so there was less of the back-and-forth toggling between piecing together the quote and working on the clues. The Cox/Rathvon NYT acrostics often skew thematic in the clues and word answers, but Shenk’s are an olio of unrelated things with straightforward clues.
The quote is from the unknown-to-me Helen Scales’ Poseidon’s Steed: The Story of Seahorses, from Myth to Reality. (On that Amazon page, the last-name-first author is identified as “Ph.D., Helen Scales.” Tsk, Amazon.) “There is something intangible yet intoxicating about the idea of seahorses. For a living creature to look so strange and yet so perfectly pleasing at the same time, we might assume it must be a magnificent feat of deliberate design, a fairy tale made real.”
Doug Peterson’s Newsday “Saturday Stumper”
(PDF solution here.)
Why, the Stumper was scarcely any harder than today’s LAT puzzle. How often does that happen? Hardly ever.
- Super-smooth double- and triple-stacks of 10-letter answers in the corners.
- Scrabbliness—the long answers pony up a Z, Q, X, J, and a couple Ks.
- 33A. JUNGLE GYMS is a great answer. [Spots for swingers] at the playground, not at a swingers’ club or where people swing baseball bats. (Is that the BATTER’S BOX, or [Rectangle on a diamond]?)
- 43A. [Pulse quickeners, perhaps] are NEAR MISSES.
- 46A. 50A, 52A. A [Turkey] is a real STINKAROO, but on the map, SYRIA is a [Turkey abutter]. But [They're often stuffed] refers not to turkeys but GLUTTONS.
- 59A. BURGER KING is a lively answer. Didn’t know it was a [Onetime Pillsbury unit].
- 12D. CHARTREUSE was a [Crayola color until 1990]. It deserved to bite the dust.
- 26D. The verb DJING is clued [Receiving rave reviews, maybe] because DJs play music at raves. Have you ever been to a rave, Doug Peterson? Inquiring minds want to know.
- 37A, 38A. [Surfer's choice, briefly] clues both DSL and AOL. Raise your hand if you still call it “surfing the web.” Lower your hand if you’re over age 60. Any hands left up?
- 49A. Weird clue for crosswordese ECUS: [Outmoded currency baskets]. I just looked up the word. No mention of “baskets,” but I learned for the first time that the ecu is not an old French coin akin to the sou, as I had always assumed. It’s short for “European currency unit” and the unit has been replaced by the euro. Did everyone else know this?
- 66A. [Grandfather portrayer, in "Peter and the Wolf"] is the BASSOONIST. The oboist plays the duck, and this concludes the listing of my knowledge about which instrument is which character in Peter and the Wolf.
- 2D. [___ fortis (nitric acid)] clues AQUA. Snooze.
- 8D. BEVERLY is a [City near Cape Ann] that I have never heard of. Other first names in the grid: OMAR, a [Name meaning "long-lived"]; Queen ANNE, [Last of the Stuarts]; YNEZ, [Santa ___ Valley, CA]; LILI, [Destructive hurricane of 2002]; and EVE, [Second of all] people in the Bible.
- Most obscure word in the grid: 54D: RUTA, [Part of a Spanish "itinerario"]. I suspect it’s Spanish for “route,” but the only foreign word for “route” I know is the French one…route.