Ned White’s New York Times crossword
Whoa, Nellie! Either this puzzle is super-tough or it’s a damn good thing my family doesn’t attend the ACPT to holler behind me. The more I hit dead ends in this puzzle, the more I flailed around the grid looking for toeholds that kept slipping away. At last, it all came together, but dang. And this is the Friday crossword, not the Saturday?
The fill included plenty of unexpected letter combos, but I think the clues were really where the difficulty lie. The grid doesn’t hold any words I’d never seen—I just couldn’t piece them together so readily. Among the toughest parts:
- 1A. JASMINE TEA is a [Flower-scented refresher]. The words tricked me into thinking only of air fresheners, not palate refreshers.
- 1D. J.S. BACH was the [“Original father of harmony,” per Beethoven, briefly]. Now, with these J words in this corner, who’s gonna expect a Q just downwind? And yet there’s 15A: [Flimflam’s antithesis], a SQUARE DEAL, crossing the constellation AQUILA, 2D: [Heavenly neighbor of Scutum]. Is there a constellation called Sputum?
- 17A. Really? Old-time sci fi’s BUCK ROGERS is our [Longtime battler of the Mongols]. I was thinking Genghis Khan, Marco Polo…anyone who lived centuries ago.
- 18A. [Antony’s love] isn’t CLEO, no. It’s AMOR, Latin for “love.” I totally walked into the CLEO trap.
- 31A. I had this narrowed down to the general region of the Mideast and North Africa, but didn’t know that ARAFAT was the [Leader whose full name included Abdel twice]. That’s Mohammed Abdel Rahman Abdel Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husseini, if you were wondering.
- 60A. On the radio, among other places, an [Alternative to alternative] is MAINSTREAM. Did you know this about FM RADIOS—[They utilize high bands]? That’s 29A.
- 63A. Omigod, I love the word TROGLODYTE! It’s clued as [One who used to go clubbing?] because the cavepeople were wont to club their prey, I presume.
- Money, money! 3D: [Former Ecuadorean money] clues SUCRES, while 46D: [100 centimes] clues a Haitian GOURDE.
- 7A. Love this clue: [Guest in a library] is writer EDGAR Guest.
- 10D. [Lyricist Dubin and others] are ALS. Who?
- 11D. I knew [Clock] was going for a 4-letter synonym for “punch out,” but DECK and SOCK didn’t work with the crossings. SWAT? All right.
- 14D. The Sargasso Sea gets its name from the [Floating brown algae] called SARGASSO.
- 23D. Eww, the KLAN. They’re a [Group in the Bogart film “Black Legion”]. I hope he was on the anti-Klan side.
- 25D. ARTOIS? A [Historical region on the Strait of Dover]? Not at all familiar to me.
- 28D. Oh, this one stumped me. An ERASER is [One way to take back one’s words?].
- 35D. ADELAIDE, Australia, is a [Capital on Gulf St. Vincent]. Not a gulf in my ken.
- 36D. BRONCHIAL wouldn’t fit for [Like some thoroughly examined passages]. BIBLICAL! Brilliant clue. I also like the CADILLAC clue in this corner—[Something that’s the most luxurious of its kind], as in “a Cadillac health plan.”
- 47D. [Where semis aren’t typically seen] is in ALLEYS. I’ve seen good-sized trucks in alleys making food or beer deliveries. Getting in and out of alleys can be hard for a truck. The driveway next to my building is sort of an alley—juuuust wide enough for a moving van to squeeze through if it backs in slowly. When the truck has that incessant beep-beep-beep in reverse, it is brain-busting. Imagine hearing that for a solid half hour in your home office.
- 48D. With all the clues relating to “Eri tu,” why didn’t I know RENATO was the [Opera character who snigs “Eri tu”]?
Do I hear an “Oy!” for the two rivers? The AIRE is clued [It flows through Knottingley] and the AAR is clued [River past Solothurn]. I needed all the crossings I could get for both of these.
Overall, excellent fill throughout this puzzle. I could do without random [Second-century year] CLII, but other than that, this is a solid Saturday puzzle. This is, I believe, Ned White’s second NYT themeless, and both have been superb. Keep ’em coming!
Jim Holland’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Graded Rulers”
- 20A. Now, this clue is a bit of an Olaf. [Ruler of Norway, 1035-47 (grade: B)] and the answer isn’t an Olaf or Olav of some sort? The date range helps me not at all. It’s MAGNUS THE GOOD.
- 25A. PETER THE GREAT is our top student in the ruling class today. [Ruler of Russia, 1682-1725 (grade: A)].
- 36A. But not all tsars were GREAT. IVAN THE TERRIBLE was the [Ruler of Russia, 1547-84 (grade: F)].
- 44A. This French guy is only so-so. Or maybe he was blond and pale, or maybe he was particularly just. PHILIP THE FAIR was the [Ruler of France, 1285-1314 (grade: C)].
- 51A. [Ruler of Navarre, 1349-87 (grade: D)] clues CHARLES THE BAD.
It’s a good thing the letter grades are there to help out, because three of these five names were unfamiliar to me.
Highlights beyond the theme:
- 45D. Roger Ebert has been tweeting about Director Werner HERZOG a lot lately. Roger relates the fascinating story behind Aguirre: The Wrath of God at his blog. Go read that.
- 10D. ENIGMA gets a puzzly clue: [WWII coding machine].
- 9D. Wow, a CARE BEAR in the Chronicle of Higher Ed? Is this a first? Is there a field of academic study devoted to the Care Bears? Care ursinology?
- 37D. THIS LIFE is the title of the [1980 Sidney Poitier autobiography].
The “Omigod, CHARLES THE who?” crossing award goes to 48D: [Largest Greek island after Crete]. EUBOEA! Not a top-ten travel destination for the average American, who can neither spell nor pronounce the island’s name. I could find it on a map if the island names are printed big enough.
Jack McInturff’s Los Angeles Times crossword
When I figured out that each theme entry would have a PO stuck in it, I looked to the bottom of the puzzle for a reference to the Italian river Po. Instead, we have a PO’ BOY, or [N’awlins sandwich, and this puzzle’s title]. I don’t see any BOY aspect to the theme entries, however. The PO stuff is as follows:
- 21A. [Criticize a small town?] is SLAM PODUNK, which is slam dunk + PO. Colorful answer before and after the PO was added.
- 26A. [Checking for doneness at the grill?] is BURGER POKING.
- 42A. BELLY POACHER is clued as [Certain pork thief?]. Do people call it “belly,” or is it always “pork belly”? I haven’t heard the meat referred to as just “belly.”
- 49A. BEE POSTING is a [Spelling contest notice?].
- 38D. The [1950s-’80s Chevy utility vehicle], that big two-door car with an angled rear with a pickup truck bed, is the EL CAMINO. (Yes, I said “the EL.” Get over it. No, I won’t order anything “with au jus.”) That Wikipedia link shows El Caminos in colors other than yellow/gold and orange, but it seemed like those were the classic colors in the ’70s. Speaking of classically ’70s cars, we have an [Old Ford] here (23A), the PINTO.
- 28D. “OY VEY” is clued as [Kvetch’s words]. If you’ve seen Wordplay, you may remember Will Shortz reading a letter from a solver asking about the [Kvetcher’s cry] of OY VEY. “Is this a Northern thing?” (s)he asked.
- 41D. Whoa, drug paraphernalia! There’s a BONG here. Except it’s not clued as a water pipe thingie for smoking pot. No, it’s a [Big bell sound]. I like to have brunch across the street from Cafe Bong, and southern Wisconsin has a nature-packed Bong Recreational Area. Yes, they all make me snicker.
- Can we go back to the theme-encompassing PO’ BOY? Make mine fried chicken, please. Or catfish, if I’m in the right mood. I will eat it at Mother’s in New Orleans, among other venues, and I will eat it at Chicago’s Heaven on Seven.
- 25A. I have never called [Bad luck] HOODOO. There was a band called Hoodoo Gurus, though. Dictionary says “hoodoo” is an alteration of “voodoo.”
- 44D. Retail trivia! PENNEY, as in J.C. Penney, is the [Retailer whose middle name was Cash]. What were his parents thinking? Why didn’t they offset the Penney with a nickname of Dollar? He could’ve founded an upscale Neiman Marcus then.
Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Alterations”—Janie’s review
Ya know what IRKS [Exasperates] me? If you’ve spent any time reading my posts of late, you know. Repeated fill. Yep, we’ve got another today, EBBS [Abates], which we saw just three days ago. But that’s not what’s really eating at me today.
Now if you’ve been reading me longer, say for about a year now, you may recall that I complained kinda loudly when a good theme wasn’t developed in a consistent way. That I really don’t understand. Today’s puzzle is a perfect example of this kind of imperfection.
The gimmick today is the inversion of letters (those “alterations” the title alludes to) at the end of well-known phrases to create new phrases. This is is just terrific, and had the final example not broken the rules established by its two predecessors–or appeared with other like examples–I wouldn’t be feeling so cranky about the result. But it did and I am. (Get over it, Jane!) Here we go, and remember the title as:
- 20A. Cowboy boots → COWBOY BOOST [Stirrup?]. Beautiful. And love that very concise clue, too.
- 38A. Bullet-proof vest → BULLET-PROOF VETS [Indestructible animal doctors?]. Another winner. And the pattern is set. The last two letters of the phrase are reversed. Simple and, judging from the quality of the new phrases, clever, too. But then comes
- 52A. Morning coat → MORNING TACO [Mexican breakfast?]. Huh? Look. There’s a great synergy between the clue and the fill, but this lively “alteration” belongs in a different puzzle. Unlike the others, this one is an anagram and not simply a case where two letters are reversed. But good as it is, how did this one get in the mix?
Why does this kind of inconsistency make me cranky? Because the puzzle has been created by a pro and edited by pros who know that this is a less than perfect combination of theme entries; and because the puzzle is otherwise such a treat. Look at some of the other great fill/cluing Ray’s given us:
- BOLLYWOOD [India’s movie industry]. The very word conjures up a vivid image of film production in a culture so unlike our own.
- A 50¢-word in ACERBATES [Makes bitter].
- The assonant SOUSA and TUNIC and TUBER and AOÛT.
- The Spanish 101 words (perhaps working off that “Mexican breakfast” concept): ESTA and PESO and ENERO.
- The NOSH [Snack] items: you can have an OREO [Double Stuf. e.g.] or some NILLA [ ___ Wafers]. (I was torn between Nilla and Necco…)
- I liked being reminded that the [First little pig’s building material] was STRAW and that SLOP is another word for [Pig food].
- FROGGY for [Hoarse]. For reasons I could never explain, that one just delights me. Ditto the cross of CRAVEN (another good word, meaning [Cowardly]) and ESCROW. Somethin’ about that “CR.”
- And we have not only EMBER [Sign of a dying fire] but it gets RE-LIT [Fired up again]. And speaking of fire, I’m reminded of the cauldron over the fire in a segment of Fantasia–the one involving a BROOM [Item bewitched by the Sorcerer’s Apprentice]. Enjoy this clip!
So please, CS team—a little more attention to making sure the theme is really working at every stage of the game. It keeps the air in the puzzle and the solving experience the genuine pleasure (and/or challenge) we know you intend it to be.
Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “You Are Here”—a contest!
Hey, it’s a contest. I’m not going to give away the answers. It’s a Gaffney-style crossword-plus-meta-puzzle challenge, not crazy-hard like some of Matt’s but it does require a little mental workout. Enjoy!