Are you part of the Cru—a denizen of the various NYT crossword forums? Are you going to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament? The annual Cru dinner will take place Friday, February 19. Details here.
In her blog, Crossword City, constructor extraordinaire Elizabeth Gorski applies the words of Abraham Lincoln—”I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”—to crosswords. If you encounter a word you don’t like (or don’t know), you must “get to know it better.” This is what top solvers do—when we hit an unknown word, first we grumble, because what’s a word we’ve never seen doing in our crossword? And then we make a point of remembering that word. Wikipedia is a great tool for superficially familiarizing yourself with unknown quantities.
Joe Krozel’s New York Times crossword
Kevin Der holds the record for the fewest blocks in a crossword, at 18. Joe Krozel’s 64-word puzzle today contains a still-very-low 19 black squares. Usually I grumble at these feats of construction because the fill seems to take a back seat to the “look what I did” aspect—but Will Shortz has picked some good ones this week. Yesterday’s Matt Ginsberg puzzle had embroiled 98 squares in the theme/gimmick, which is an ungodly number of theme squares—and yet the fill did not suffer for it. Same thing today—despite the constraints of the grid design, Krozel’s fill is also quite smooth for a 64-worder.
The grid is anchored by stacked pairs of 15s framing all four sides (with 7s framing them in the outermost squares). There are a few clunky little bits of fill, but they’re largely offset by the good stuff. Here are the 15s, all solid:
- 15A. ONCE IN A LIFETIME is [Very rarely indeed]. ONCE IN A BLUE MOON is actually a good bit more frequent than ONCE IN A LIFETIME—but I’ll bet I wasn’t the only one who started with that answer. It was 9D: E-FILE/[Option for one's return] that ruled out the BLUE MOON for me.
- 17A. [They're often tipped on sidewalks] clues STREET MUSICIANS. Anyone else picturing sidewalk café patrons tipping their chairs back?
- 44A. [Stored something for future use?] clues MADE A MENTAL NOTE.
- 47A. An ELEPHANT TRAINER is a [Big-top worker with a big responsibility]. Easy enough.
- 2D. In diplomatic relations, a [Summit success] might be ENTENTE CORDIALE. I could swear I learned that second word from a crossword, but the only time it shows up in the Cruciverb database is a Klahn CrosSynergy from 2003, [___ cordiale]. This may well be the most widely unknown answer in the puzzle.
- 3D. [Like an extradition transition] is ACROSS THE BORDER.
- 12D. How do you feel about spelling out numbers in the grid? I don’t like it for BTWO and TWOD and USONE, but I’m okay with DIALS NINE-ONE-ONE, or [Calls for a quick dispatch].
- 13D. ["Try someone else"] clues “I’M NOT INTERESTED.”
Highlights from the rest of the puzzle:
- 30A. [They may get belted] clues CHAMPS. A boxing champ gets belted by his or her opponent’s fists, and also gets a belt for a victory.
- 31A. [Lane in a mall] refers to the Lane BRYANT womenswear seller.
- 33A. LOOK-SEES are [Quick surveys].
- 26D. The late, great Chicago newspaper columnist Mike ROYKO was a [1972 Pulitzer winner for Commentary].
- 29D. If you’re making soup, BROTH is a [Stock option].
- 40D. Umbilical trivia! [About 90% of people have one] clues an INNIE.
- Partials & Co.: A VOTE, OR BED, OR I, A NEST, IT I. GOES AT, WISE TO, and SAY TO aren’t partials, but they feel less natural than two-word TEE UP does. At least RUN IN is clued as [Drop by quickly] rather than as a confrontation or a verb meaning “take to the police station.” “I’m just gonna RUN IN and get that and then I’ll be right out.” I like this deviation from crosswordese
- Plurals: NTS/[Windows options], DECS/[Fourth qtr. enders], RAHS.
- Contrived-sounding answer: GOOD MEN, or [Marine Corps candidates, it's said].
A few other clues that may vex people:
- 19A. [Astra and Antara] are OPELS, European cars.
- 38A. [Podiatric problem] is not a CORN but foot ODOR? Ick.
- 40A. Unfamiliar name: INES is clued as [Conquistadora ___ de Suarez]. You can read her story here.
- 42A. A lumberjacks’ or [Loggers' contest] is a ROLEO. I learned the word from crosswords long ago.
- 48A. NERISSA is a [Maid in "The Merchant of Venice"].
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Cyclops”—Janie’s review
The distinguishing feature of cyclopes, a race of mythic giants, was the single eye embedded in the middle of their foreheads. The distinguishing feature of today’s theme fill is the single eye embedded in the middle of the phrase it appears in (and in the middle of the row, which is a fine feat of construction). Or, as is spelled out at 34D (creating a “cross-eye” condition…): [Cyclops feature found at the center of the three longest answers], namely EYE. And here’s how Martin does it:
- 20A. TWELVE YEAR OLD [Certain pre-teen]. Thought this was gonna be a phrase beginning with TWEEN…
- 36A. ERLENMEYER FLASK [Conical lab container]. Wow. Probably haven’t thought about Erlenmeyer flasks since taking high-school chemistry. Remember these guys? (Note, too, how nicely the defining theme-fill shares the “Y” at dead-center.)
- 51A. ORANGE YELLOWS [Amber colors]. This one got me thinking of those boxes of Crayolas, with their orange yellow and yellow orange crayons, blue green and green blue, red orange and orange red, etc.–although I see from this Wiki article that orange-yellow has been retired. Alas!! Take a look at this MARIGOLD [Colorful plant of the daisy family]. Looks like a pretty good example of orange yellow in nature to me!
So apparently, the eyes have it…
It’s probably because of its particularly geometric/cheater-induced appearance, but once again, Martin’s grid calls to mind Navajo design–and I take this as a good thing. I also take as a good thing the pairing in the NW and SW (first position of top row and bottom row) JABS [Quick punches] and someone who, no doubt, threw his share of ‘em, [1930's heavyweight champ Max] BAER. (To judge from his record, most of his opponents felt the impact of his BRAWN [Muscle] and few received gentle POKES [Nudges])…) To [Stop fighting] is to CALL A TRUCE–though, of course, the usage here is more in the political or personal-negotiation arena rather than the boxing arena.
Of the longer fill, I also liked seeing WEED EATER [Popular lawn tool] and IMMORTALS [Gods, e.g.]. Among the lively, shorter fill are faves SWIVEL [Turn, as in a chair], “EUREKA!” [Solver's shout], LORAX [Dr. Seuss book with "The"] and X-RAYS winningly clued as [Pictures of health?].
I question [More like a sauna] as the best clue for STEAMIER as saunas are known for producing dry heat (even though water may be poured on hot stones, momentarily throwing off steam). “Go Ask Alice” explains. And although there are four examples today of fill that repeats what we’ve seen this week alone (ESTÉE, OLLIE, ARLO and X-MEN), the only (almost-)repeated clue is the one for Estée. Yesterday it was [Cosmetician Lauder], today it’s [Cosmetics magnate Lauder]. The clues for Arlo and X-Men are in the same (family- and comic book-based) territory (but take a different approach within it…) and Ollie, thank you very much, eschews Laurel and Hardy for [Kukla, Fran and ___]. More better. So to speak…
Gary Cee’s Los Angeles Times crossword
This puzzle has one of those stacked-words themes, like the recent NYT puzzle with “ONE under PAR” represented in the grid. Here, it’s BE ON THE BALL exemplified by having BEs atop BALLs hidden in longer answers. The words with BALL in them are a lively assortment—a BALLADEER and a BALLERINA, a BALLOT BOX and a CABALLERO.
Since nine answers were constrained by thematic content, perhaps some compromises were made. We don’t see crosswordese like ADIT, ATKA, and PATEN too often, and TELL A FIB sounds stilted to me.
Todd McClary’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Dance Number”
This is a brilliant theme—IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO is the inspiration, and the three ways to split TANGO into two words (T + ANGO is nothing) are represented by symmetrically paired theme answers that define those parts of TANGO. Like so:
- 23A and 114A define TA and NGO. The first is a BRIT’S WORD OF THANKS (and I know this thanks to @EditorMark’s Twitter feed), and the latter could be a nongovernmental organization like Doctors Without Borders but here it’s DINH DIEM OF VIETNAM.
- 33A and 100A split the dance into TAN and GO: a BEACH SKIN TONE and the MONOPOLY SPACE we all like passing. More interesting to clue GO that way than as a verb, no?
- 43A and 93A give us TANG, the ORANGE DRINK MIX I loved as a kid, and O, Oprah’s WOMEN’S MAGAZINE.
Highlights in the fill include the terrific triple-stacked 10s in the corner (feat. KANYE WEST, artist EMIL NOLDE, and TIT FOR TAT all together in the northeast), SHOOFLY pie, the unusual QATARI, SEQUINED, SATCHMO Armstrong, and ZENITHS.
Favorite clues: [Message for a pen pal?] for SOOEY, the call to a pig; [City name on the Wizard of Oz's balloon] for OMAHA; [Presidential address part] for GOV, as in whitehouse.gov; [Element of many murder mysteries?] for ARSENIC; and [Branch of the U.N.?] for the OLIVE branch in the logo.
Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Forecast for Miami”
Unfortunately, I encountered a spoiler before I did this puzzle—someone at the Crossword Fiend forum said this one was reminiscent of a certain 1996 puzzle. The only ’96 crossword anyone remembers is the CLINTON/BOBDOLE election puzzle, in which the crossing clues worked for either of those Acrosses so the puzzle’s political prognostication would be correct no matter who won. Here, Brendan kinda stilts the language to make the puzzle work two ways, but…it does work two ways. And if I hadn’t read that spoiler, it’s possible I would have been oblivious to the two-way business, so I guess I can’t complain. No, wait. I would have known, because Across Lite told me three squares were wrong.
The [Sports prediction] theme reads: QB FROM NEW / ORLEANS WINS A / SUPER BOWL / FOR NFL’S COLTS…or FOR NFL SAINTS. Only three squares have to be bi: 57D: [Devices that have speakers, for short] are PCS, personal computers, or PAS, public address systems. 43D: [They may be found in a shoot] clues either PISTOLS or a plant’s PISTILS. And 61D: [Term in tennis] can be either a LET or a SET. The way I read the clues, I went straight for the COLTS, but I’d rather see the SAINTS win. Brendan must agree because NFL SAINTS was the answer deemed correct by Across Lite.
This sort of theme is ridiculously challenging to pull off, so kudos to Brendan.
The fill is pretty free since the theme occupies only 42 squares and the two-way squares were tucked away at the bottom. Twenty non-theme answers are 6 to 8 letters long (KEN STARR goes nicely with SOAP UP, doesn’t he?), giving us a break from a flood of 3- to 5-letter fill.