Ashish Vengsarkar’s New York Times crossword
Ashish gives us a minitheme with the central crossers CROSSWORD SOLVER and CRUCIVERBALIST. We will cut him some slack even though the cruci- and verb- parts of CRUCIVERBALIST mean cross and word and we usually frown upon semantic/cognate duplications. We will cut him slack because he is totally pandering to the audience, and the audience is easy like that.
But the audience gets grumpy when 20A is tied in as something those crossworders like and it’s FRESH VOCABULARY. Is that an in-the-language phrase? I don’t think it is. The other 15s include MOBILE LIBRARIES, which are clued as [Ones with reading schedules], but that clue gives zero suggestion of the mobile nature of a library van so I call foul. OPENING SENTENCE is rock-solid. And a RADIO JOURNALIST, well, I like that because my friend Dean Olsher is a radio journalist and has taught future radio journalists at NYU.
What else do I like?
- 1D. ZARF! Not to be confused with “Narf!” A ZARF is a metal [Cup holder] that holds a glass so you can have your glass of hot tea and not burn your hand. Those cardboard sleeves at Starbucks? Those in the know call ’em cardboard zarfs.
- 30A. SET A DATE, [Make plans to tie the knot]. Probably a lot of that will be happening post-Valentine’s Day.
- 34A. [Like Cuba and Venezuela, e.g.] is an interesting clue for ALLIED, isn’t it?
- 45A. I didn’t know this about URDU: [It’s written right to left].
- 10D. A HALL can be a [Long way?].
- 26D. The [Honey badger] is also called the RATEL. It’s one of those animal names I know almost exclusively from crosswords, but if you can’t put an oddball crossword beastie in the CRUCIVERBALIST minitheme puzzle, where can you put it?
- 49D. I disliked OPTO- in another puzzle this week, but today, I like this [Prefix with -metry] because the new prescription sunglasses I got yesterday were awesome on a sunny Friday afternoon. No squinting!
- One of the intersecting minitheme 15s crosses two stacked pairs of 15s. This feat pales in comparison to Kevin Der’s quad stacks from yesterday, but someone had to follow Kevin, and Ashish drew the short straw.
What else don’t I like?
- 3D. [Endure difficulties, with “out”] clues RIDE A STORM. No. No, no, no. First of all, this is a 10-letter partial, reminiscent of the infamous 13-letter partial SCARES THE HECK. Second, what’s in the language is “riding the storm out,” not “a storm.”
- 57D. [John who pioneered time-lapse photography] horns in on the bailiwick of Mel OTT. Who is this John OTT? I never heard of him. But time-lapse photography is cool. Saw one recently showing the snowfall in the D.C. area—a large bush in the background flattened out dramatically under the weight of the snow. Got the link from Gary Krist on Twitter.
- 13D. DOTY is [Feeble-minded]? Must be related to dotage, but the two dictionaries I checked don’t have it. Better or worse to clue it as the American poet named Doty whom I encountered in another crossword and don’t know?
- 27D. FIVE-GUINEA as an adjective is kinda weird. [Like an old English coin worth 21 shillings] is the clue. Speaking of old English stuff, 29D: EDRED was the [Conqueror of Northumbria in 946].
- Too much clunky 3- and 4-letter fill.
Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Bear Hugs”—Janie’s review
Ya know, it’s the day before Valentine’s Day. It’s the perfect time for a puzzle full o’ hugs and Patrick delivers. The hugs come by way of the letter “O” which he’s added to four phrases you’re probably familiar with to produce four phrases of his own device. I’m not in love with the way he arrived at all of them, but bravo to the constructor who’s willing to RISK IT [Take a chance]. Here’s how the theme plays out:
- 17A. Pest management → PESTO MANAGEMENT [Job for workers at a basil sauce company]. I like the new phrase here a lot more than the base phrase. And I think that’s because I’m far more familiar with the phrase “pest control” than I am with “pest management.” The former, btw, gets 13,600,000 Google hits; the latter, 4,680,000. Now that ain’t small potatoes by any stretch–and I mean there’s even a National Pest Management Association. It’s just not a phrase I recall hearing. (Why am I getting images of ants and ladybugs in their offices, behind doors marked “Manager”?…) I feel like this charming theme phrase has been built on not the best base phrase. Yes. Even with all that support from Google…
- 28A. Teacher’s pet → TEACHER’S POET [Classroom rhyme reciter?]. Bingo. Crossword gold.
- 44A. Barn raising → BARON RAISING [Nanny’s job in a noble household?]. Another hit.
- 57A. Artificial limb → ARTIFICIAL LIMBO [Pseudo circle of hell?]. Now this one strikes me as both brilliant and very, very dark. That clue and fill are perfection. By process of elimination, the dark part is the base phrase. It didn’t help (except in that dark way…) to have the word SEVER [Cut off] in proximity (or probably even in the same puzzle). Perhaps this is why HAND is clued as [Flush, for example] and not as a body part.
Still, these are merely QUIBBLES [Minor objections] and nothing that should lead to a SPAT [Tiff]. With fill like quibbles, and AVATAR and CHOP SHOP and DOG SHOW, I’m a happy solver. I also like the clue [Pussy foot?] for PAW and the way that cat’s paw shares its final “W” with dog show. Oh, and there’s a little more animal husbandry with LION, BURROS and AFLAC–by way of its clue [Insurance company with a duck in its logo]. Which means TEAM might qualify, too, since its clue is [Bulls, e.g.]. (I know, I know, that’s a sports reference. And also, it’s usually oxen, castrated bulls, that work in teams…)
Finally, I love the balance in the bonus fill. We had the “hugs” with the added “O”s, but Patrick has not neglected to include a KISS with [X, in a love letter]. Makes me wonder if maybe SPOON, clued today as [Small whirlpool source], was clued as [Bill and coo] in some earlier incarnation.
Barry Silk’s Newsday “Saturday Stumper”
(PDF solution here.)
This is a front-runner for the year’s toughest crossword, but (a) maybe it’s just that I haven’t had my caffeine yet and (b) the clues just weren’t fun. Is it just me? Looking at the finished grid, I really like the stacked 11s at the top, but it wasn’t fun getting the answers because the clues just got on my nerves. I mean, really:
- 15A. [One of the top film stars on the ’40s]? Could the clue be any vaguer? The clue says “The answer is a long-dead actor or actress. Can you guess which one I’m thinking of?” (LOU COSTELLO.)
- 1A. [It’s on a roll] is also a nonspecific clue, for CHEESESTEAK. This one’s rendered even worse by the crossing (!) of an unhelpful cross-referenced clue, 2D: [1 Across cousin]/HOAGIE.
- 57A. A MINUS is clued as [Not quite perfect], but an A+ is perfect, so a plain A is “not quite perfect” and a A- is something less than that.
- 28A. [Onset of evil?] is a question-marked clue. “Oh, good! It’s something clever,” you say to yourself. No, it’s only a masked fill-in-the-blank two-word partial, SEE NO. Question-marked clues for lame fill are overkill.
- 38D. [Most foolhardy] suggests RASHEST. The answer is HEADIEST. I don’t feel they’re equivalent.
- 58D. [Indian symbol] clues SARI. “Symbol”? No. The clue’s trying to hard to be misleading and opaque, and for what? Common crossword answer SARI?
- 6D. [Stylish finish] clues a dang suffix, ESQUE.
- 36D. [One way to cook] clues AU GRATIN. “Topped with bread crumbs or cheese” is an adjective, it’s a way to prepare food. It’s not exactly a “way to cook.” The clue seems to ask for a verb or adverb and it gets an adjective. Boo.
- 61A. DEF is clued as [Up-to-date “Great!”]. Up to which date?
- 8D. Boring TEA SETS are clued as [Service groups]. You thought of people, scouts, volunteers, the military, didn’t you? And you were disappointed that the “groups” are dishes?
- 46D. Touring and inspecting have different goals. [Comprehensive inspection] is a GRAND TOUR? Hmm, dictionary says a grand tour is a “guided inspection or tour of a building, exhibit, or inspection.”
- 65D. Roman numeral vagueness: [M fraction] is CCL, 250 being one fourth of 1,000. XXV is one fortieth.
- 23A. [TV Land Awards host in ’07] is Kelly RIPA. That’s not what she’s best known for, certainly, and I don’t know anyone who watches the TV Land Awards show. Enough people out there don’t know who Kelly RIPA is anyway—why give an obscure clue?
- 29D. The morning after the Olympic opening ceremonies featured a slew of Canadian celebs, you’d think [Canada’s Walk of Fame member] would be easy. But no. It’s hockey’s ORR. This clue is about as specific as the ’40s film star one. “There are over 100 people in this set. Guess which one I’m thinking of! No, guess again. Google it—that narrows it down to four people with 3-letter names.”
- 30A. YTTERBIUM is a fun name, but the clue, [Silvery metallic element], wasn’t telling me much. Neither was the cross-referenced RARE at 35A.
Mark Diehl’s Los Angeles Times crossword
(Excerpted from my L.A. Crossword Confidential post.)
I don’t have a good sense of how this puzzle’s difficulty compares to the usual Saturday L.A. Times rigor—I was doing it on paper, out of the house, while engaged in conversation. I didn’t really love it—I’m a big fan of ME TIME—47D: [Period of self-indulgence]—but the rest of the fill was just sort of there.
Bits and pieces:
- 1A: [Blended condiment] (GARLIC SALT). Yes, salt is a condiment, according to the dictionary. “Blended condiment” makes me think of my husband’s various blends of mayo and ketchup or mayo and barbecue sauce.
- 15A: [She received a Best Actress nomination for “A Man and a Woman”] (ANOUK AIMEE). She’s one of those film legends of crosswordese, along with Pola Negri and Nita Naldi.
- Military honors trivia: 17A: [2005 award for Leigh Ann Hester, the first woman to win it since WWII] (SILVER STAR).
- We don’t really like to see two answers including the same word unless it’s a teeny little preposition like ON or an article. Here we get 20A: [Blind dates, e.g.] (SET-UPS) and 51D: [Not likely to be talked out of] (SET ON).
- 29A: [Bushmiller who created the comic “Nancy”] (ERNIE). My kid’s teacher this year is named Ernie.
- 32A: [Finns’ neighbors] (RUSSIANS). Both nations are represented in the Winter Olympics.
- 49A: [Parts of feet] (LITTLE TOES). I am not posting a photo for this answer. (You’re welcome.)
- Odd jobs! We have our SERENADERS (63A: [Wooers, perhaps]) and our TOOTLER (40D: [Flautist]) and a SNOOZER (43D: [Slumber party?]). There’s also a passel of TESTERS, but that is not an odd job, that’s an actual job. They can be 44D: [R&D employees] or software testers like my husband.
- 3D: [Arrives at last] (ROLLS IN) is terrific. The person who ROLLS IN is tardy and just doesn’t give a damn.
- I can’t say I am so familiar with the term EDITORIAL WE (11D: [Opinion page perspective]). I’ll bet newspaper folks know it much better than I do.
- 13D: [Old rubber?] (SCUMBAG). No, wait! That’s a terrible joke. It’s ALADDIN, who supposedly rubbed a lamp ages ago. Remember the time Will Shortz ran an NYT crossword with SCUMBAG in the fill? Most of us were fine with the word, but a certain subset (mostly men in their 60s, it seems) were aghast because back in their day, that word meant, um, an old rubber. Who knew? Crosswords sure are educational!
- 23D: Disneyland’s Matterhorn, once (E TICKET RIDE). Did Disney World ever do the E ticket thing, or was it always an equal-opportunity wait-in-long-lines sort of place?
- 39D: [McCartney hit about his relatives] (LET ‘EM IN). Oh, how we loved this song as children of the ’70s.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle cryptic, “Matchmaking”
I have rarely kept track of how long it takes me to work a Hex variety cryptic, but I jotted down my starting time today. I had figured out the meta part within 14 minutes, and that helped me fill in the remaining blanks within another 3 minutes or so. This is, I believe, uncommonly fast for a Hex puzzle. It’s partly that the grid isn’t huge, and partly that a lof of answers are short and not impossibly clued.
Each column has one square that takes two letters. When I transferred the letters I had to the margin so I could better see what sort of message emerged, it became clear that BE MY VALENTINE would not fill the heart at the middle of grid, even though it would fit there. I saw a lot of Xs and Os, but confused myself by reading them from top to bottom rather than left to right. Then I copied the non-O, non-X members of the letter pairs to the bottom of the grid (which is a clearer place to put those letters—my heart remains vacant and gray) and had HUGS __D_I____. Hey, Xs and Os are HUGS AND KISSES! So knowing that my missing letters were ANKSSES crossed with either X or O sped along the completion of the bottom and right zones.
These are clues that took the most effort to figure out:
- 39A. [A mostly eco-friendly match] = AGREE. A + GREE(n), meaning “match.”
- 30D. [A sign at a RR track’s termination] = AXING. A + XING, meaning “termination” from a job.
- 36A. [Company with popular mint product] requires splitting apart the “popular mint” unit. COIN = CO. + IN (“popular”), and a coin is a “mint product.”
- 23D. [Evil ruler going down] = SINKING. SIN + KING, meaning “going down.”
What else do we have here?
- Lots of container clues: CIRC(L)E, SI(EVE)S, UN(D)O, CH(A+RIOT)EERS, MO(NI)TOR, I+R(ON+OX)IDE, CU(TO)FF, RE(LEAS)ED, PL(I)ANT.
- A few sound-alikes: HART (heart), KNEAD (need), OWED (ode), EXETER (exiter).
- A handful of anagrams: SLIP (LP is), LINGO (log-in), MAGNOLIA (main goal), POUNCE (once up).
- Lots of combos: AG+LOW, TAX+I, F+LAX, P+EON, O+PENS, AXL+E, B+IS+ON, IN+CAN, COAT+IS, L+ARK, EASE+L, S+PRINT, LEI+SURE, S+TOKE.
- One reversal: SWAP.
- Three words clued with dual meanings: REST, TEAR, ELDER.
- Two find-the-hidden-word clues: landED GEntry, balLOON I Espy.
- Other: double “boo” BOO-BOO.
I wasn’t sure which WSJ puzzle was in store for me this morning, but I was delighted when it turned out to be the Hex cryptic. I love these puzzles even more than a Patrick Berry “Rows Garden,” and that says a lot. A WSJ commenter agrees that this one is easier than January’s Hex. I suspect they’ll be easier than the Atlantic puzzles for a few months to avoid scaring off the WSJ solvers who aren’t already hip to cryptics. While I do like a Hex that takes twice as long as this one, I’m absolutely in favor of anything that gets more people hooked on this type of puzzle.
Many thanks to Mike Shenk and his Wall Street Journal overlords for giving the Hex cryptic a new home and expanding the audiences for the Berry/Shenk variety grids as well. How many media companies are looking to invest more money in word puzzles? Probably just the one. I hope it pays off madly so other publishers will follow suit (and not just with sudoku and ken-ken).