Martin Ashwood-Smith’s New York Times crossword
This is an unusual grid for a themeless, and an unusual approach for the master of the triple stack. Instead of triples, Martin goes with four double stacks of 15s framing the puzzle. Here are the long answers:
- 14a. [Dangerous thing, supposedly] clues A LITTLE LEARNING. This is my favorite of the 15s.
- 17a. [Vis-à-vis] means COMPARED AGAINST.
- 54a. To [Take five] is to PAUSE FOR A MOMENT.
- 58a. [Battlefield attendant] is a STRETCHER BEARER. Hmm, grim.
- 2d. If one has [Many things to juggle], one has A LOT ON ONE’S PLATE. Not a big fan of the “one’s” phrases. A little “your” would be good.
- 3d. [It’s often pushed back before taking off] clues the TIME OF DEPARTURE. Isn’t it sad that the “often” in this clue isn’t a stretch?
- 11d. [Spying aid] is a MINIATURE CAMERA. When in D.C., check out the International Spy Museum. Crowded and not free, but fascinating for all ages.
- 12d. This clue rhymes with the last one. [Flying aid], if you’re a pilot rather tan a bird, is an INSTRUMENT PANEL.
Together, these eight answers occupy more than half of the puzzle’s real estate. Getting them, though, doesn’t help with that middle section.
- 5a. [People magazine’s 1991 “Sexiest Man Alive”] was Patrick SWAYZE. Most of the past honorees I could think of didn’t have 6-letter names, and boy, was I glad the answer wasn’t GIBSON.
- 11a. Vague Italian clue: [Parmesan possessive] doesn’t tell you what person’s doing the possessing. It’s me, and MIA, as in “mamma mia,” means “my.”
- 19a. The last 20th Century Fox movie I saw was The Simpsons Movie, last weekend. [Spoken word that’s a sound trademark of 20th Century Fox] is Homer’s “D’OH!”
- 21a. I didn’t know “moot” was also a verb. MOOTED means [Brought up for discussion].
- 23a. Suddenly I’m in the mood for crackers. First name of Mr. [Ritz of the Ritz] hotel business is CESAR. (And yesterday, we finished up a bag of RUFFLES here. No, not [Irritates]. Ridged potato chips.)
- 33a. [He tried to have Capone killed in 1926] clues MORAN. Bugsy? Not Erin. Definitely not Erin.
- 34a. Didn’t know “mawashi,” either. [Mawashi wearer’s activity] is SUMO. So, is that the name for the wrapped buttcrack turban?
- 37a. Heh. OREL is the [Oblast between Kursk and Tula]. All this clue tells me is “Russian place name.” An oblast is a region or administrative district in Russia. Tula is not to be confused with Toula, Nia Vardalos’s character in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. OREL, of course, is also former pitcher Hershiser. If you combine Kursk and Tula, you wind up with Shari Lewis’s Burr Tillstrom’s (thanks for the catch, Neville!) puppet, Kukla.
- 38a. Definitely there are easier ways to clue SEPT. M.A.-S. went with French: [Third of vingt-et-un]. That’s 21 and 7.
- 42a. [Brit’s bender] is a BOOZE-UP. Not a term I’ve seen before.
- 53a. KAMA is a [Hindu love god]. Where is GANESH? I want to see him in the puzzle some day.
- 60a. Also never heard of the SCOTIA [___ Sea (part of the South Atlantic)]. It’s between Tierra del Fuego and Antarctica, says Wikipedia.
- 21d. [It may create a buzz in the morning] isn’t about alarm clocks or caffeine—it’s about the MIMOSA, O.J. with champagne. A bar near me also offers the “man-mosa” on weekends. Same drink, but in a manly pint glass.
- 32d. [One may demand attention: Abbr.] is a tough clue for SGT. As in a drill sergeant, or any sergeant? “Sergeant,” by the way, is the word that killed me in a spelling bee. I won $1,000 the previous year with “mesquite,” if you can believe that.
- 43d. [It’s superior to bohea] is talking about PEKOE tea. Bohea? Dictionary tells me it’s Chinese black tea from the last crop of the season, not the good stuff.
Favorite clue: 4d: ST. PAT is a [Green party VIP?]. Cute!
Kelsey Blakley’s Los Angeles Times crossword
There are only four standard-size theme entries here, so you’d think the fill would be quite smooth. I dunno. I think the constructor was chasing lots of Scrabbly letters, with the end result being some compromises in the fill. I kept catching myself frowning while filling in the puzzle.
First up, the theme: Familiar phrases become something entirely different when you add an I to the end.
- 17a. [College administrator’s cocktail?] is a DEAN MARTINI. Given Dean Martin’s fondness for martinis, this one has extra resonance.
- 30a. [Still in love with a legendary giant?] clues NOT OVER YETI. The theme answer is funny, but the base phrase “not over yet” feels naked without “it’s” at the beginning.
- 47a. The PAYROLL TAXI is a [Vehicle delivering the weekly checks?].
- 63a. Saving the best for last, we have [Equine teacher of Japan?] clueing HORSE SENSEI. I like this one a lot.
What sort of fill made me frowny? ONE-A (2d. [Most fit for drafting]) right beside ADAS (3d. [Entry-level legal jobs: Abbr.], short for assistant district attorneys). E-ZINE (32d. [Surfer’s read])—I never encounter the term e-zine online, and even if you were reading an e-zine, you probably wouldn’t call yourself a surfer. Plus ERLE, ETO, ADZ, ON ME, NO PAR, EYE TO, MT. ETNA, ANSE (44a. [Addie’s husband in “As I Lay Dying”]), LORAN—those don’t send me.
- 25d. TORONTO is the [Leafs’ home]. Their NHL team is the Maple Leafs, not Leaves.
- 29d. Did you know IVORY was an [Old billiard ball material]? I didn’t.
- 40d. A SMOOTHIE is a [Blended fruit drink].
- 66a. [Sleep, in Sussex] clues KIP. I might’ve changed TYKE to TIRE, losing the K that forces KIP.
- MANURE (9d. [Soil enricher]) crosses AUTOPSY (21a. [Inspection requiring scales], to weigh dissected organs). Really, now!
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Tee-off Time”—Janie’s review
(From my vantage point, at least) Yay—this wasn’t a golf-themed puzzle! It’s the “-off” in the title that tells the tale. Each of the five theme phrases is a variation of a well-known phrase—minus the initial “T.” Whence “Tee-off.” As always, Martin’s created a smile-worthy set of theme fill for us as:
- 17A. Tape recorder → APE RECORDER [Simian’s steno?]. This one makes me laugh. Funny concept here.
- 11D. Todd Bridges → ODD BRIDGES [Mismatched dental fittings?]. Ouch. That must be uncomfortable. Hadn’t thought about Mr. B. in years (and I hope it’ll be that long ’til I think of him again), but his name does lend itself well to the theme! (Do you suppose he heard this from taunters as a kid?)
- 37A. Turnkeys → URN KEYS [Samovar openers?]. And as you see, they have ‘em.
- 27D. Tearjerkers → EAR-JERKERS [Heavy pendants?]. While I’m not wild for the clue, I think this is my favorite “before and after” combo. I kept thinking the clue should refer to people who tug their own (or someone else’s) ear lobes and not to jewelry. Weighty earbobs will pull the lobes down, but will they do so in a “jerky” way? I have some trouble with that idea. (Not that this is an “easy” one to clue in the first place…)
- 56A. Tissue papers → ISSUE PAPERS [Publish essays?]. Again, I’m not in synch with the clue and I think it’s because “tissue” is an adjective while issue is a verb. I think I’d've preferred something offering consistency with the established pattern, like [Birth certificates for one's children?]. But that’s what keeps things interesting.
There’s plenty of non-theme fill to keep things interesting as well. I’m talkin’ BOOB TUBES [TVs] and the medium-related CARTOONS [Saturday morning TV fare]; IDLE HANDS and UPSTAIRS. Nice, too, how the latter, clued as [Above the ground floor] has a home-architecture-design complement in [Basement’s opposite] for ATTIC.
There’s some terrific “tee-on” action, too, in TURBANS and TSE-TSE, TRIPOLI and TE-HEE.
Don’t know why this one brought me up short, but it did—and I was happy for the “d’oh” moment: [Travel route with no points in between], yielding A TO B. Yep. I was definitely being too narrow/literal in my thinking about the meaning of “travel” and “travel route.” Good one. D’oh. And a fine “second act” puzzle all around!