Patrick Berry’s New York Times crossword, “The Football Fan”
Just in time for Super Bowl Sunday, we get a supersized (23×23) crossword with a theme riffing on football terms. The football terms fill in the blanks in a continuous story told in the theme clues, so it’s the kind of theme we see periodically from Merl Reagle. Here are the missing pieces in the tale of “The Football Fan”:
- 25A. FIRST DOWN is the iffiest of all the theme entries. It’s the FIRST button the fan pushes DOWN on the TV remote. Where’s the FIRST button on a remote, exactly? Thumbs down on this one.
- 28A. He makes a SUPER BOWL of popcorn. Not exactly in the language, as we might make a giant or delicious bowl of something but not so much a SUPER BOWL.
- 31A. DRAFT PICKS are his beer choices. While I commend the fan for having two brews on tap at home, I demur on the beers in question. Bud and Michelob? Meh.
- 48A. IN THE POCKET works perfectly for both football and where you find pizza money in your jacket.
- 50A. LATE CALL for pizza? Nobody would say that. But I’ll work with Berry here.
- 67A. Again, nobody asks for topping COVERAGE on a pizza, but I’ll go with it. My resistance is wearing down.
- 73A. SUBSTITUTION works perfectly for football and food ingredients.
- 89A. The “wife is moving around in front of the TV, making SCREEN PASSES” bit is goofy in a Merlesque way. I wonder whether the wife is also making passes at the football fan as she walks in fron of the TV.
- 96A. She’s BLOCKING his view of the set.
- 113A. The pizza delivery guy crosses the YARD LINE to approach the house? The referee assesses a penalty here. The edge of your front yard is not called a YARD LINE. And on the football field, can “yard line” stand without a number, or is it, for example, a 40-yard line?
- 115A. Ah, this one is good, it’s very good. The QUARTER BACK is the 25¢ change the fan is waiting for. That’s a penalty on the football fan, who is a damn cheapskate not to give the delivery person a tip—but a perfect pairing of football term with football fan’s story.
- 132A. Nobody would call it an ONSIDE KICK to kick a TV on its side, but ONSIDE KICK’s a solid football term. The poor fan’s TV is showing snow, and on game day! What, he doesn’t have cable?
- 137A. [...and it works – the RECEPTION is good!"] is perfect. TV reception, reception of a football.
- 141A. In the exciting denouement, the fan achieve TOUCHDOWN by sitting his rump in his chair, with pizza, popcorn, and beer close at hand and the TV picture clear.
I tell you, it was a real Hail Mary pass, filling some of those squares. I got the whole puzzle filled in correctly on the first go, but I was really expecting to have one or two or three squares wrong. Which ones? These:
- 93D. DIRAE is [Another name for the Furies]. Really? Whoa. New to me. The crossings all made sense, but I have no recollection of ever seeing DIRAE before.
- 115D. Again, the crossings all worked for their clues, but I have no idea why QUARKS is the right answer for [Up and down]. Is this some sort of grievous clerical error, or some sort of grievous physics I don’t know?
- 82A. LENITY is [Mildness]. If you’d quizzed me on the meaning of “lenity,” I might not have had an answer for you. It’s etymologically related to “lenient,” but the dictionary labels “lenity” a poetic/literary word. In other words, not a word used in common discourse.
Berry being Berry, this grid makes the long Down answers do some heavy lifting. I counted 16 Down answers of 7+ letters that intersected two or three theme entries apiece. If you took a highlighter and yellowed all the theme answers and these 16 Downs, you’d have a pretty heavy matrix holding everything together. And how many theme answers are there? Fourteen? Granted, some are on the short side, but that’s 14 theme entries arranged in narrative order with symmetrically paired lengths.
Holy schnikes! I just saw the grid in thumbnail size when adding it to the post, and noticed that the middle of the grid resembles a football with the stitches down the middle and, I think, a pattern or shading where the passer’s fingers and thumb would be. Do you see it, too?
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “Is There a Problem Here?”
This crossword’s alternate title is given in the 13th and final theme entry, 129A: MATH TEST. Each of the other 12 theme entries contains a hidden MATH, and not all the words and phrases are familiar ones:
- 20A. AROMATHERAPY is a [Treatment using natural essences]. I tend to think aromatherapy is hooey, but don’t you dare get between me and certain lavender-scented toiletries.
- 23A. An OPSIMATH is [One who begins learning late in life]. Whoa. Cool word.
- 24A. ["Teacher, Teacher" singer] is a strikingly unhelpful clue for me, as I’ve never heard the song title—but JOHNNY MATHIS is a very familiar singer whose name includes MATH in it. (Fancy constructin’: This entry is stacked below 20A, and there’s another stacked pair of 12s in the opposite corner.)
- 36A. Let me use our new vocabulary word in a sentence: “The OPSIMATH was in her 40s before she’d ever heard of ARIMATHEA.” ARIMATHEA is [Joseph's home, in the Bible]. My handy little reference book, The 100-Minute Bible, says Joseph lived in Nazareth, but it does show Arimathea on the map in the middle of the book.
- 54A. [It may showcase art films] clues CINEMATHEQUE.
- 58A. The AFTERMATH is a [Postmortem phase]. Being behind on work and errands is the aftermath of the ACPT, I find.
- 69A. Spanning the full width of the grid is “I’LL SHOW HIM A THING OR TWO.” That’s a [Promise of payback], and I couldn’t get Wimpy’s “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” out of my mind. This is the first theme entry in which the MATH is broken up among words.
- 86A. JOE NAMATH was an [Early Super Bowl star] for the New York Jets, who are not playing in this year’s Super Bowl.
- 92A. COTTON MATHER was the most bizarre name in the U.S. history textbooks of my childhood. He was an [Infamous Puritan]. Maybe he would’ve been more fun if his parents had named him Velvet Mather.
- 104A. An [All-out e-mail campaign] is called a SPAMATHON? Not familiar with this usage.
- 126A. KLAMATH FALLS looks funky in the grid. It’s a [Southern Oregon city]. I wonder if Joe Namath ever went to Klamath.
- 131A. The great EMMA THOMPSON also splits up a MATH. She’s the ["Sense and Sensibility" screenwriter, 1995] as well as the star. When Ang Lee directs your script, you know you can write.
Joon Pahk’s New York Times second Sunday puzzle, a diagramless crossword
So, I used my standard approach on this one, and it took forever to figure out where the starting square was. I didn’t look at the starting square hint, nor did I know whether the puzzle had standard crossword symmetry. I started jotting down answers on a separate grid, as is my wont, and 13 rows into the venture, the fill still didn’t occupy all 17 squares of the width, just 16—so I didn’t know if the starting square was the first or second one. I finally looked to see if the last few Acrosses were going to be 5s and 9s like the first Acrosses were, and yes. Then I had my “duh” moment and realized 38A: STRIKEOUT had to be centered and boom, 1A scooches over one to the left and starts in the first square.
The theme is summed up by 71A: the whole shebang is a HIT PARADE, and the other seven theme entries (all with starred clues to tip off the less observant solver) begin with words that mean “hit” in other contexts (but not in the contexts as clued):
- 6A. [Gag's end] is a joke’s PUNCH LINE.
- 31A. [Squarely] clues SMACK DAB.
- 38A. To [Utterly fail] is to STRIKE OUT.
- 52A. [Umpire's cry at the start of an inning] is “BATTER UP!”
- 4D. A single [Tuxedo shirt accessory] is a CUFF LINK. That CU start led me astray, down the CUMMERBUND path.
- 31D. A [1950s social] is a SOCK HOP.
- 47D. SWAT TEAM is an [Elite police unit].
Bonus elegance points for every theme entry being a two-word phrase. Now, I wanted PUNCHLINE, CUFFLINK, and SOCKHOP to be single words, but they’re not.
Trickiest clues for me:
- 19A. The crossings gave me this, which is good because TURF for [The sport of horse racing, with "the"] is not in my vernacular.
- 56A. [1:50, e.g.] looked like some crazy ratio, but it’s the time, TEN TO.
- 62A. ["That's the right thing to do"] wasn’t pointing me anywhere in particular, but eventually the terrific entry “FAIR’S FAIR” revealed itself. Not sure the clue and answer match up as well as I’d like, though.
- 33D. [Raging mad] clues BERSERK. I was mentally mired in trying to think of a word with the BE- prefix, which got me nowhere.
- 39D. Say what? A [Beat for a maestro's baton] is an ICTUS? ICTUS is a seizure in medical terminology.
Dan Naddor’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Heros Welcome”
Why is it spelled “heros” in the title? I think the plural of a hero sandwich is heroes, not heros—but the main thing is that it’s not the possessive “hero’s welcome.” A hero sandwich, aka a SUB, is welcomed into each theme entry, to good effect:
- 23A. SUB + Rosa Parks = SUB ROSA PARKS, or [Confidential town green projects?]. Love it!
- 28A. SUBSTANDARD OIL is an [Inferior salad dressing ingredient?]. I like this because I still think of one of Chicago’s tallest buildings as the Standard Oil Building.
- 33A. [What a white flag indicates?] is COMBAT SUBMISSION.
- 50A. [Pine tar?] is an apt clue for BATTING SUBSTANCE.
- 65A. Ooh, history jokes. [Early 1600s threat to the English throne?] clues KING JAMES SUBVERSION.
- 82A. This one’s good, too. The SUBPRIME MINISTER is the [Government overseer of the mortgage crisis?].
- 94A. [Dannon disciples?] make up a YOGURT SUBCULTURE. Actually, I think the Fage Greek yogurt adherents are more of a SUBCULTURE than the Dannon folks.
- 101A. The [Bookkeeper's gift?] is SUBTOTAL RECALL, being able to remember the subtotals.
- 115A. [Sensational sapphire, say?] is a SUBLIME STONE.
There’s no consistency on where the SUB appears, and there’s one stand-alone word SUB (with ROSA PARKS) and one SUB that breaks up the original word (limestone). But there’s some solid crossword entertainment in the theme, and entertainment is Job #1.
I can’t say how difficult this puzzle was compared to the other Sunday puzzles because I did it off the clock while putting my kid to bed and I kept nodding off. Yes, this is how I train for the ACPT—I curl up with a bunch of pillows in a dark room and solve by book light, napping along the way. Is this the same way you train for the tournament?
Here are a few clues I marked last night while doing this puzzle:
- 21A. [It's not free of charge] clues an ION.
- 35D. [It may be held at lunchtime] clues MAYO. Yes, please hold the mayo.
- 37D. [Get in the pool] clues BET, as in getting into the football pool at the office.
- 53D. BONE is clued as a [Token concession], as in “Throw me a bone here, wouldya?”
- 116D. [Guys] clues MEN. My nine-year-old gave me that one. “I think [Guys] is MEN.” Yes, indeed.
Tyler Hinman’s CrosSynergy crossword, “Sunday Challenge”
The youth vibe mixes with fill for an older generations:
- 17A. [Video game service from Microsoft] is XBOX LIVE. We’re a Wii/PS3 household, but I’ve heard of this. I suspect this is XBOX LIVE’s crossword debut, though XBOX has appeared numerous times.
- 16A. The clue [Able to hang (with)] feels young, doesn’t it? The answer is ON A PAR. “Tyler is able to hang with Klahn, Keller, Blindauer, et al. in the CrosSynergy crowd.”
- 3D. [Popular radio show that started in 1928] clues AMOS ‘N ANDY. This is decidedly not youth fill.
- 5D, 15A, 55A. The ISLEYS—clued as ["It's Your Thing" performers]—and the [Neil Diamond hit] “I AM, I SAID” are not from Tyler’s generation. LIL [__ Wayne (rapper)] is. Nice to see the Neil Diamond title used in its entirety—it gets more play in crossword grids in partial form (e.g., IAMI).
Clues and fill I liked:
- 39A. [14th-16th century empire] is AZTEC. I had OTTOMAN on the brain and was stuck.
- The math, puzzle, and game zone includes 43A: [Toy inventor Rubik]/ERNO, 38A: [Destination for a Trivial Pursuit winner]/HUB, and 36A: [Hungarian known for his prolific output of mathematical papers]/ERDOS. Erno Rubik’s Hungarian too, isn’t he? The “Erdos number” is something like “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” but linking authors of math papers rather than actors in movies.
- 56A. [MMM] clues MUS, plural of Greek letter mu (µ in lowercase).
- 10D. The “ONE-L LAMA” is a Tibetan [Priest, in a humorous poem] by Ogden Nash.
- 21D. [Law enforcement, with "the"] is THIN BLUE LINE. Excellent entry.
- 34D. Trivia I didn’t know: TEN POUNDS is the [Value of a note with Charles Darwin's picture]. I probably knew this when vacationing in England, right?
- 49D. A DIRGE is [Hardly a peppy tune], to say the least.
Henry Hook’s Boston Globe crossword, “Secret Santa”
Well, now I know for sure that we’re still getting 6- or 7-week old Globe puzzles in Across Lite, as we have SANTA Claus hidden in each theme entry. I feel like a chump blogging a puzzle so long after its publication. If we could just get the Across Lite version one or two weeks later, we might actually get some Bostonians conversing about the puzzle. But a month and a half later? The locals finished the puzzle and recycled the paper long ago. It’s too bad they can’t really make use of the blog that covers their crossword. And it’s too bad I can’t get any increase in blog traffic by covering this puzzle.
You know how old this puzzle is? CONAN is clued as [Jay's successor] rather than as ["Tonight Show" host in the interregnum between Leno terms].
Pluses and minuses:
- – There are only seven theme entries.
- + But the middle one contains two SANTAs, and the top and bottom pairs of theme entries are stacked 14s—nice.
- – But then again, all the theme answers are completely contrived phrases, and none made me laugh.
- + Lively fill includes BIG NUMBER, JULIE DELPY, JUMBO JET, and BAZAARS.
- – MEGRIM? That’s 95A: [Vertigo]. Dictionary tags it as archaic. + It’s a late Middle English variant of “migraine.” Holy cow, “migraine” is that old a word?
- – Three 6-letter answers end with TO: PASS TO, GETS TO, and TAKE TO. Two TOs could skate under the radar but three TOs announce themselves loudly.
- – I still can’t get over the fact that it’s a Christmas theme I’m doing on Super Bowl Sunday.