I’m a couple hours late to the posting party tonight because we were out getting an aquarium and a fancy goldfish for my son, and then had to set it all up. Ben has named the fish Frenzy Reynaldo owing to its propensity for swimming frenetically. The fish is white with an orange hat, much as Ben is tan with an orange Chicago Bears hat.
Hayley Gold, a Hofstra University student, wrote an article about crosswords in the digital age. She interviewed me for the piece, along with Brendan Quigley, Merl Reagle, Rich Norris, Brian Cimmet, Dan Feyer, and Matt Ginsberg. Whew! Talk about thorough sourcing. I just read Hayley’s accompanying interview with Will Shortz—she asked terrific questions and Will had some fascinating answers. Don’t miss either article.
Tony Orbach and Patrick Blindauer’s New York Times crossword, “Come to Order”
What an elegant and unexpected theme—familiar phrases have one word anagrammed into another word in which the letters appear in alphabetical order, and the resulting phrase is clued accordingly. I don’t remember seeing another theme in which anagramming’s purpose was to alphabetize the letters in a word. I imagine this dramatically decreases the list of potential words to build the theme around—and those candidate words have to form plausible, clueable phrases in the altered state. Here are the theme entries:
- 26A. [Slogan encouraging binge drinking?] is HOPS ‘TIL YOU DROP. The original phrase is “shop ’til you drop,” but in “shop,” dang it, those letters just aren’t in alpha order. (Some sticklers deride ’til because the word till is hundreds of years older than until, from which ’til is derived. Me, I like ’til better.)
- 42A. [What spectators high up in Ashe Stadium see?] is TENNIS BELOW (tennis elbow).
- 45A. [Tutorial on becoming a resident manager?] clues SUPER DEMO. Let’s see…the original phrase is…not mode…oh, the Superdome.
- 69A. The movie The Thin Man becomes THE HINT MAN, or [Alex Trebek?].
- 73A. The old TV show Green Acres turns into GREEN ACERS, or [Eco-friendly computers from Taiwan?]. We give thanks to Messrs. Orbach, Blindauer, and Shortz that this was not clued in relation to people with an enviable tennis serve.
- 98A. [Nashville neurosis?] is OPRYMANIA (pyromania). Heh. Good one.
- 101A. FLOW WHISTLE, building on a wolf whistle, is clued as [Teakettle's sound?]. This is my least favorite of the theme answers.
- 117A. [Clueless emcee?] is A HOST IN THE DARK (a shot in the dark). This does not pertain to Alex Trebek, mind you.
- 120D. A TO Z means [The works...or how each set of circled letters in this puzzle is arranged].
The coolest thing in the fill is that W.C. FIELDS and MAE WEST appear almost directly opposite each other. He’s the [Portrayer of Cuthbert J. Twillie and Egbert Sousé] at 16D, and she’s the [Portrayer of Flower Belle Lee and Peaches O'Day] at 99D.
And now, a dozen clues, give or take a few:
- 105A. ODIN is clued in a tough way: [Mount ___ (highest point on Baffin Island)]. Did not know that one.
- 10D. [Conrad of "Casablanca"]‘s last name is spelled VEIDT. That just looks wrong to me.
- 1A. One [Quarter deck?] of cards is the HEARTS suit.
- 13A. You like “NOW WHAT?” The clue ["And?"] doesn’t quite make that one obvious, and it doesn’t feel as impatiently demanding as “NOW WHAT?” does. Actually, I don’t use “Now what?” to ask for the next step. It’s more of a “What is it now, for Pete’s sake?”
- 22A. PLICATE means [Folded like a fan]. The words pleat and plait are related.
- 40A. EPINAL is a [French city on the Moselle River]. I wonder if the N crossing NERO/[Franco of "Camelot"] gave many people trouble.
- 62A. I didn’t see this clue while I was doing the puzzle. ONE is the [Number of states whose last two letters are its own postal abbreviation]. I just traveled across the map in my head and ruled out about 40 states before I thought of Kentucky, the KY Jelly state.
- 67A. Cute clue: [Pickup line locale?] is a train DEPOT where there may be a line of cars picking people up.
- 4D. RHOS look like [P's, but not Q's].
- 37D. GNOCCHI are a [Food whose name means "lumps"]. Does that sound as unappetizing in Italian as it does in English?
- 39D. [Game with racks] of antlers are ELKS. Anyone else play the game Racko when they were kids?
- 57D. I just learned this name in another crossword this weekend. ERMA [Franklin who sang "Piece of My Heart"] is Aretha’s sister.
- 66D. [Bratkowski in the Packers Hall of Fame] clues ZEKE, which was my nickname in college.
- 69D. Aww! ["___ Remember"] clues “TRY TO Remember,” the song most memorably performed by Tony’s dad Jerry Orbach. Here’s the song on YouTube—and my gosh, the YouTube user comments are actually sweet, which rarely happens on YouTube.
- 70D. HOTEP is [Egyptian for "be at peace"]. No idea how this relates to the Bruce Campbell movie Bubba Ho-tep.
- 89D. [Twin vampire in "The Twilight Saga"] is ALEC? Okay, puzzle, I’ll take your word for it. I know there’s a Jacob and an Edward and a Bella, but know nothing of this ALEC.
- 100D. [Angels are at home there] clues ANAHEIM, where the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Which Is in Southern California But North of San Diego Which Has Its Own Baseball Team play.
- 102D. A WITNESS is a [Court reporter?] of sorts. This is just one of many good clues in this puzzle. I tried to include all my favorites but left out some because I planned to include about a dozen and wound up with 19. Enough!
One thing I like about this puzzle is that the top and bottom sections have only three words in each row, vs. four in the next two puzzles. I like the more wide-open spaces Tony and Patrick give us there.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “Spaced Out at the Oscars”
Whoa, these theme clues are not easy. Each one is a phrase that contains the letters OSCAR spaced out in their midst. Each one is clued with a series of blanks and the letters O-S-C-A-R where they appear in the answer, but with nary a hint of what the phrase might be. And those letters do not always appear just once in the answer, so Merl lists the first instance of the letter in sequence. HOSTS THE ACADEMY AWARDS is hiding a spaced-out OSSCAAARS and not just OSCARS, for example.
I dunno, I kinda like to have clues for my crossword answers. This theme was not fun for me. There are nine theme entries, only one of which pertains to the Oscars themselves.
A dozen clues:
- 27A. Crosswordese ENA, Bambi’s aunt, is clued as the [Spanish queen born in Scotland].
- 42A. [William in "Body Heat"] clues Wiliam Hurt’s character NED.
- 45A. Wait, this name is biblical, not Hindu? VASHTI is clued with [Esther replaced her as queen, in the Bible].
- 64A. [Old information?] clues one’s AGE.
- 66A. Thor [Heyerdahl's second papyrus boat] is RA II. It predecessor was called Ra, and crossword constructors like to clue RA I with relation to that boat.
- 89A. [Sinatra was one: abbr.] clues VOC., short for vocalist. Not an abbreviation I encounter much.
- 1D. EATETH is clued ["___ of this bread" (John 6:58)].
- 18D. [Darned ending] clues EST, as in “darnedest.” This is not about the toes of socks in need of mending.
- 52D. One [Historic region of France] is PICARDY.
- 67D. [The same as mentioned, in Latin] clues IDEM.
- 71A. ETYMA are [Early word forms], plural or “etymon.”
- 102D. [Like Oscar night] clues YEARLY.
Henry Hook’s Boston Globe crossword (in Across Lite), “Iddle Do”
The theme is definitions for *IDDLE words, and there are five 21-letter answers. But hey! The theme is not complete. We have FIDDLE, GRIDDLE, MIDDLE, RIDDLE, and TWIDDLE, but not PIDDLE or DIDDLE. Breakfast test problems, perhaps?
I like the answer for 65A, [MIDDLE]: LOCATION FOR THIS ANSWER, aptly enough.
At 112D, there’s a terrific clue for NOD: [Affirmative action?]. It’s not a brand-new clue, but it’s still great.
Sabrina Walden’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Diner Sandwiches” (really by Rich Norris by way of his “brand new alias)
The theme here includes nine two- (or three-)word phrases that are contained by a BLT—either the first two letters are BL and the last letter is T, or they’re B and LT. The very last square I filled in was the L in 112D: BLT/[Diner order found "sandwiched" around the answers to starred clues]. Mind you, I’d figured out what the theme was long before I hit the BLT answer—but I wonder how many solvers happen to end at the theme revealer. Weird, no? I’m not a big fan of this kind of theme because there’s not much entertainment to be found in the theme answers. At least the “sandwiched” aspect gives a certain justification for the theme’s creation.
Here are the BLT sandwiches:
- 23A. BANK VAULT, [Site of illegall jobs?].
- 25A. BLOW A GASKET, [Hit the roof].
- 41A. BELOW THE BELT, [Not sportsmanlike].
- 64A. BLIND SPOT, [Unfamiliar subject].
- 87A. BLESSED EVENT, [Childbirth].
- 109A. BLACK MARKET, [Arena for illegal trading].
- 112A. BY DEFAULT, [Easy way to win a game].
- 37D. BLOOD COUNT, [Checkup component].
- 47D. BLUE BONNET, [19-Across brand]. 19A is OLEO, a [Spread selection].
What’s this P.B. AND J. doing in a BLT puzzle? It’s clued as 93A: [Lunchroom staple, for short].
Oh! 77A: [Wildly excited] clues IN A FRENZY. Like my kid’s fancy goldfish.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s Washington Post/CrosSynergy crossword, “Sunday Challenge”
I like the long answers here—a triple stack of 15s in the middle crossed by two vertical 15s, each of which also intersects a triple stack of 10s. Less savory was the short fill, which gave me a 1990 vibe. Here’s what I mean by that:
- 26A. LEK is worth [100 qintars]. Albanian currency! LEK is crosswordese with a long pedigree.
- 43A. Good ol’ YMA [Sumac from Peru].
- 44A. Random Roman numeral, CII is an [Early second-century year].
- 1D. SIDS, the plural first name ([Caesar and others]) rather than sudden infant death syndrome.
- 2D. The clue, [This was once enough], made me hopeful, but ENOW is old, old, old. Looks like it should rhyme with 7D: AROW/[In ranks], but no. They’re both just old.
- 4D. INGLE is old-school crosswordese meaning [Fireplace]. This word shares space in my brain with ISTLE, the rope fiber. Learned both words decades ago…in crosswords.
- 39D. RE MI is a [Scale sequence]. Not sought-after fill.
- 48D. LIANA! This [Jungle climber], a vine, is also old-school crosswordese. If only some R&B singer or folk-rocker would be named Liana, this word would get new life.
- 55D. ENOS is a Biblical name as well as a [Short-lived TV spinoff of 1980]. It may be time to retire the 30-year-old pop culture clue for this one. Why isn’t there a rapper named Lil’ Enos? He’d be in crosswords all the time, together with any singer named Liana.
On the plus side, we do have that wealth of long fill. Here’s the best of the batch:
- 15A. IN AN UPROAR is utterly familiar, and yet when I had a smattering of letters filled in, it looked bizarre and impossible to extract meaning from. The clue’s [Riotous].
- 34A. One [Communications problem] is a LANGUAGE BARRIER.
- 41A. The [Coaching cliche], of course, is THERE’S NO “I” IN TEAM. You can anagram TEAM and say look AT ME, though.
- 61A. Anyone else craving a banana split right about now? BANANA BOAT is an [Elongated dessert dish].
- 3D. MADE MINCEMEAT OF is clued as [Beat badly].
- 12D. [Helter-skelter] clues IN ALL DIRECTIONS—which is where the crosswordese is found in this puzzle.
I did not know that the ASCOT RACECOURSE was the [Home of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes]. I also didn’t know it was called the Ascot Racecourse. Ascot, sure, but not the other part.
DODGE COLTS’ starring role is kinda funny. These 17A: [Bygone American subcompacts] were pretty forgettable, weren’t they? There was never a Dodge Colt mystique. Can’t help wondering if there was ever a Dodge Colt in the background on Enos.