For another take on last weekend’s Chicago Crossword Tournament, read Ben Bass’s write-up.
Pete Collins’ New York Times crossword
If you missed Pete’s April 16 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, you can find that puzzle (and this week’s CHE puzzle) here.
This crossword was puzzle #3 at the Chicago tournament, so I did it last week. And loved it! I’m not sure if it’s tougher than the usual Wednesday NYT because I did it off the clock. The most notable achievement here is that even though six areas of the grid contain diagonal fill that markedly constrains the constructor’s leeway in filling those sections, the fill is pretty standard mid-week fill. There’s one ugly Roman numeral, but that’s the worst offense. All too often, puzzles with three-way checking for diagonal answers have such unpleasant fill. Now, it may be true that most puzzles with diagonal action have more than one orthogonal theme answer constraining things, and this one’s just got the central 15 and the diagonal bits. Better to do a lesser thing well than to do an incredible thing poorly—at least in crosswords. Not everyone agrees with me on that. Some love the incredible things even if they’re embedded in clunky fill, but I say fill is king.
Pete’s theme is DIAGONAL PARKING (40A: [Easy way of pulling in…and a hint to the six circled words]), and he’s parked six cars in diagonal spots that parallel one another. When those cars pull out, they’ll drive down 40A to leave the parking lot. Heading down and to the right from square 1, we have a FORD. The DODGE is next, starting in square 5. We get an import at square 9, a FIAT. In the next row of cars, there’s an AUDI (square 52), LEXUS (starting below 48), and SAAB (beside 60). Word to the wise: If you’re bad about opening your car doors and denting adjacent vehicles, stick to the first row. You don’t want the driver of the luxury car catching you dinging her door.
Let’s check out a handful of clues:
- 5A. Ripped from the headlines, [No longer insure] clues DROP. Were you trying to fit a verb form of rescission in here, rebus style?
- 24A. [Command to Rex] is SIT.
- 29A. Crossings! I needed ‘em. [Rigel or Spica]…those are stars. What kind is each? BLUE STAR.
- 34A. [Protection: Var.] clues EGIS, variant of aegis. Okay, nobody likes a variant spelling in a crossword. I barely noticed this one because I’ve seen it so many times before. The E joins it to crosswordese STEN, [British submachine gun].
- 49A. Sigh. SCOOPERS are [Items for urban dog-walkers]. I’m continually astonished by the disregard so many of my neighbors have for the state of the sidewalks. I think the worst offenders come out of the back driveway for the high-priced building on the next block. If they don’t walk on that sidewalk, why would they care if it’s a minefield of doo? I tell you, it’s worse than Paris.
- 56A. Okay, nobody likes plural names either. EZRAS are [Pound and others].
- 68A. My husband bought a great-looking pair of SANDALS (52A: [Toga go-withs) from ALDO ([International shoe company]), but only wore them twice.
- 1D. Fresh clue of the day: FLOW is a [Rap component, to a rapper]. Does the movie title Hustle and Flow relate to this?
- 6D. RON REAGAN is a [Liberal pundit with a conservative father]. Someone recently told Trip Payne he and Reagan the Younger resemble each other, and I have to agree. (Also: terrific entry.)
- 35D. Reagan’s partner in the grid is SPACES OUT, or [Visits la-la land].
- 59D. LXVI, or 66, is [M years before the Battle of Hastings], which was in 1066. Odd clue. I completely ignored the clue and worked the crossings.
Donna Levin’s Los Angeles Times crossword
- 17A. [Consequence of the subprime mortgage fiasco] is the REAL ESTATE CRASH.
- 25A. [Exit spectacularly] clues GO OUT WITH A BANG.
- 42A. [Punished severely, with "on"] is LOWERED THE BOOM.
I do like Donna’s clueing style. Among my favorite clues are these ones:
- 10A. [One of Hammett's Charleses] is NORA, of Nick and Nora and their dog Asta fame.
- 20A. ESS is a “meh” answer, but [Start of something?] sounds like something more interesting.
- 36A. [Blin, in Blois] is almost incomprehensible. The plural of blin is blini (which feels much more familiar to me), and a single blin is essentially a CREPE. Blois must be some place where French is spoken, but I can’t say I’ve ever heard of it. Oddball words in a standard alliteration clue—not the usual.
- 51A. [Hit or miss?] is a VERB. Yep, I usually fall for the clues that want you to come up with VERB or RHYME or SYNONYM but use words that have another meaning that sits in the forefront, distracting you.
- 6D. [Zippy watercraft] is a JETSKI. I love the word “zippy.”
- 7D. Trivia clue: [Like about 20% of Israeli citizens today] means ARAB.
- 24D. [Engage in retail therapy?] clues SHOP. I don’t shop for therapy. I shop because I want to acquire things.
- 36D. More trivia: The CORVETTE is a [Sports car named for a small warship].
- 41D. [They usually have strings attached] refers to the noun TEA BAGS.
- 53D. [Things for hanging things] are PEGS. I’m always glad to skip a [Cribbage scorekeeper] clue.
My favorite answer is BEEFCAKE (9D: [Stud muffin photos]), though I prefer chocolate cake when it comes to dessert.
Sarah Keller’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Three Questions”—Janie’s review
Today’s theme put me in mind of family road trips and “car games”–in the days before each family member (besides the driver…) had a personal DVD screen… “Auto Bingo” was a fave at our house–as was “20 Questions,” which (as I recall) allowed only one question that couldn’t be answered “yes” or “no,” and that was “Animal, mineral or vegetable?” These words are also the first in today’s theme phrases and are delivered by way of:
- 20A. ANIMAL CRACKERS [Popular children's cookies]. A classic, whose packaging has always managed to delight. Animals in today’s grid (human sort excepted) include ASPS [Horned vipers] and ENA [Doe in "Bambi"] a/k/a [Bambi's aunt].
- 38A. VEGETABLE MEDLEY [Mixture in a Birds Eye bag]. Another classic of sorts. When eating out, you might get something like this À LA CARTE [Ordering option in a restaurant]. Too bland an option? Try spicing it up with some TABASCO [Hot sauce] or including it when enjoying a dish AU JUS [How roast beef may be served]. And, yes, ROLLS are often [...served with salads], but they’re also mighty handy for sopping up that jus!
- 54A. MINERAL DEPOSIT [It's found underground]. TITANIUM [Steel toughener] is one terrific “element class” example; and while it’s clued in connection with a laundry-day chore, IRON [Pressing need] otherwise fills the bill as well.
Speaking of laundry day, we get not only OLEIC, the [Acid type used in the manufacturing of soap] but also LYE [Strong cleanser].
Hafta say, I’ve never heard of ["The Cloister and the Hearth" writer Charles] READE (or the book), but it seems that was the book Reade was most famous for. I only know what I read in Wiki…
I liked seeing (hearing?) both SPLAT and SLAP in the grid; and fave clues today include [Chip in a chip for starters] for ANTE (it’s fun to parse this one) and the rhyme-y [Digs of twigs] for NEST. Wish there could be more like those!
Francis Heaney’s Onion A.V. Club crossword
- 1A, 17A. [With 17-Across, Doors bee-side] is RIDER / ON THE SWARM. “Riders on the Storm” is the original title.
- 21A. [Michael Jackson bee-side] is YOU ARE NOT A DRONE. “You Are Not Alone,” is that the original title? I don’t know that MJ song.
- 31A. [Dire Straits bee-side] is HONEY FOR NOTHING. While it is true that bees pay no currency for their honey, they do work their stingers off to make it. Remember the ground-breaking computer-animated video for “Money for Nothing”? Ha. Interesting editorial choice to make Mark Knopfler’s cheesy headband far more prominent than his guitar work.
- 37A. [Savage Garden bee-side] clues ULEE, MADLY, DEEPLY. I had the last two words and couldn’t think of a bee word that sounded like “truly.” Crossword stalwart ULEE! Hello again.
- 49A, 68A. [With 68-Across, Nirvana bee-side] is SMELLS LIKE QUEEN / SPIRIT. “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Tragically, Teen Spirit is now a youth-oriented form of Lady Speed Stick in woeful fragrances like Sweet Strawberry. I just took the quiz for “Which Teen Spirit Are You?” It’s bullshit. The last question is something like “You forgot your deodorant at home. After gym, there’s a table with free samples of Teen Spirit. Which fragrance would you reach for?” and the choices are the four available varieties. Congratulations! You’re Berry Blossom!
- 58A. [Tom Petty bee-side] is FREE POLLEN. Ah, saved the best for last! “Free Fallin’” is the original title.
If only these remakes had all been on the soundtrack for Bee Movie.
- 12D. ["FlashForward" cocreator Braga] is named BRANNON. Missed that in Entertainment Weekly.
- 14A. [Hipster's zip-up garment] is a KNIT HOODIE.
- 37D. [Draw attention from, as in "Hamlet"] clues UPSTAGE.
- 11D, 34D. [Family members?] are MAFIOSI, while [Fam. member] is a REL.(ative).
- 48A. [Orville P. Snorkel of the comics page, familiarly] is SARGE, as in Sgt. Snorkel.
- 15D. [Singer Pallett formerly known as Final Fantasy] is OWEN. Who??
- 28D. [Letters after Senator Judd Gregg's name] are R-N.H.
Edited to add: Francis blogged about his puzzle, and mentioned a few key numbers. “Of the nonblack squares, 92 are themed and 91 aren’t. The word count is low too (74 words).” Holy cats! It’s mostly theme! That’s impressive. My excuse for not taking note of the theme density is that I was bamboozled by the theme’s lightness and smoothness. It didn’t feel like a puzzle that was trying too hard. You know, between Francis’s puzzle and last week’s Onion puzzle by Byron Walden, these two gents are ruining it for everyone. People will start to expect 90+ theme squares amid good fill.
Brendan Quigley’s blog—diagramless crossword, “Creature Feature”
Turns out the Black Ink application (a Mac program) doesn’t yet treat diagramlesses differently than other crosswords, so when I clicked the icon to open the puzzle, the black diagram was visible. D’oh! Big-time spoiler. I’ve let the good folks at Red Sweater (makers of Black Ink) know, so maybe the next update will handle a diagramless differently.
The theme is borne out in the diagram: the black squares draw a picture of a SPACE INVADERS alien from the video game. Aw, isn’t that cute? That title is in the grid, as are MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, GREEN MAN, STAR TREK, AREA 51, a UFO, and some ETS.
The grid’s got a ton of 3s and 4s, needed to draw the space invader. Though 3s and 4s are seldom anything special, three of them are thematic here. There are 18 long answers (7 to 17 letters) to liven things up, and only four of those are thematic. Most of the long entries are stacked together with other long ones, which is cool.