Jill Winslow’s New York Times crossword
Occasionally we see the awkward plural ONS clued as “switch positions,” as if anyone talks about “ons.” Here, the two main SWITCH POSITIONS are both featured in each theme entry:
- 17a. ON AGAIN, OFF AGAIN is clued with [Intermittent, as a relationship].
- 27a. IS OFF ON A TANGENT would sound better as GO OFF ON A TANGENT. [Leaves the main topic temporarily]? Oh, yeah. I do that sometimes.
- 48a. To GET ON THE OFF-RAMP is to [Start to exit an Interstate].
- 62a. To SWITCH POSITIONS (verb phrase, not noun phrase—I like!) is to [Trade places…or a hint to parts of 17-, 27- and 48a-Across].
You like tangents? 70a: [Negotiator's refusal] is NO DEAL. Hey, this morning at the gym, I watched some of Deal or No Deal. That show offers a most compelling demonstration of unsound decision-making. “Sure, the odds are against me winning big, but I’ll turn down that $4,000 offer now and keep playing. What?! Now the offer is $2,000? Pfft. NO DEAL. I’m feeling lucky. Come on, luck! Oh, crap. Now the offer is less than $1,500. I could’ve had $4,000 five minutes ago if I’d been smarter, but no.”
I don’t recall seeing AAAA in a crossword before. It’s clued as 11d: [Tiny battery]. This exists? It does indeed.
- 6d. The ORNE is a [River of Normandy]. This is one of many 4-letter crosswordese rivers of Europe.
- 32a. ELENA [___ Kagan, Obama nominee to the Supreme Court] is awaiting the use of KAGAN in crosswords.
- 33d. NOVEM is Latin, clued as [Caesar's nine]. You really kinda wanted IX here, didn’t you?
- 34d. A TWERP can be an [Impudent nobody]. Internet trolls are massive twerps.
- 50d. Do you think actor Dennis Farina has ever eaten the [Hot breakfast cereal] known as FARINA?
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Movie Madness”
- 17a, 24a. [Part 1 of headline], [Part 2 of headline]: MANY VIDEO / STORES CLOSED. That sounds rather nebulous for a news headline.
- 40a, 53a, 66a. Parts 1, 2, 3 of the headline’s subtitle: JOB LOSS CREATING / DISC-RENTALED / EMPLOYEES. Okay, so that’s playing on “disgruntled,” but the VHS-rental store employees who’ve lost their jobs—how exactly are they “disc-rentaled”? And if they’ve lost their jobs, they are no longer employees.
You know what headline theme I’d love to see? Crash blossoms. The linguists at Language Log brought this term for hard-to-parse headlines to my attention; Ben Zimmer sums up nicely in the Times Magazine, citing examples like “Gator Attacks Puzzle Experts.” These headlines are also being compiled at the Crash Blossoms blog. Granted, “Irish priest makes history by marrying own son” is far too long for a 15×15, but crash blossoms have so much appeal for the wordplay crowd.
What I liked:
- 6d. MAD PROPS! That means [Kudos, to rappers], and to me. If you have mad skillz, I’ll definitely give you props. Maybe plain props and not mad props, though. Wouldn’t want to overdo it.
- 33d. [One way to kick it] is OLD SCHOOL. When you do a crossword that’s rife with fill like ANOA, AGANA, and UNAU, you’re definitely kicking it old school.
- 10d. HOT POTATO is a [Game with a lot of passing]. You were trapped in the sports mindset for a while, weren’t you?
- 55d. SCHMO is such a great word. So is [Nincompoop]. A winning combination!
- 60a. Gotta love an Arrested Development reference. VODKA is an [Alcohol rumored to spoil after opening, in an "Arrested Development" episode].
- 27d. WWJD, short for “what would Jesus do,” is a [Faith-based acronym on bracelets]. I find WW_D to be a useful formation. Insert the initial of your choice.
Robert Fisher’s Los Angeles Times crossword
What have you been doing with your hair? This puzzle delves into that. Hey, did I tell you guys what I saw last month? A man sporting white-guy dreadlocks who had a Friar Tuck bald spot on top. I’d never seen the bald/dreads combo before. You know what? The dreads are probably contributing to his hair loss, via traction alopecia. The man needs a new ‘do.
But I digress.
The theme entries are two phrases that begin with hair tools and two that end with ‘em:
- 21a. OCCAM’S RAZOR is clued as ["The simplest solution is usually correct" principle]. This term always makes me think of razor clams but never of sharp razors that can be used to cut hair or shave whiskers.
- 46a. A CLIPPER SHIP is a [Speedy square-rigger]. Do not ever ask me to use hair clippers on you. Mistakes will be made.
- 3d. [Bees' creation] is a HONEYCOMB.
- 32d. [Fast-spreading blaze, perhaps] is a BRUSHFIRE. Are you more a brush or comb sort of person?
- 50d. HAIR is the [Target for items found in the answers to starred clues].
A dab of POMADE (10d: [50-Down ointment]) adds some sheen to the grid, but I don’t think it’s intended to be part of the theme.
Nothing really jumps out at me in the fill, and you know what? That’s a good thing. While the fill’s not as showy as I’d like, there are:
- Only two abbreviations, FHA and ALTA.
- No two-word partials.
- Only one fill-in-the-blank clue (7d: [Pro ___] RATA).
- Not many people’s names: Larry BIRD, ERMA Bombeck, ADAM Smith, and Edvard GRIEG. These are all more familiar than, say, a Nita Naldi or Perle Mesta.
- No foreign words.
- No crosswordese like OLLA, OLEO, and ORIEL.
People, it takes real effort to pull that off. If you adorn the grid with lively longer answers but the trade-off is all sorts of crap in the crossings, who wins?
Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “On Your Marks”—Janie’s review
Well, here’s an approach we don’t usually get from Bob—a quip puzzle. When it breaks down into three 15s and the author of the quip is Garrison Keillor, you won’t hear me complainin’. Here’s how [Garrison's words...] are meted out:
- 17A. IT’S A SHALLOW LIFE
- 37A. THAT DOESN’T GIVE A
- 57A. PERSON A FEW SCARS.
That kind of mirrors the sentiment in the song “Try to Remember”: “…deep in December it’s nice to remember, without a hurt the heart is hollow.” Can’t imagine there’re many who’d disagree.
To add to the solving pleasure there are the cagey Klahn clues. I leave it to you to identify the alliteratives, the rhymes, the sequential repeat-word examples. I want to spend my time highlighting several of the others that caught my eye (and yes, almost all of ‘em are ones that are followed by a question mark). First, there were some that I call “groaners”: [Fat fish?] for CHUB (it looks like they come in all sizes), [Superman's sandwich?] for HERO and [One's thing] for BAG. This last one took me by surprise—and took me a while to parse and understand. Shades of the ’60s and ’70s, man, when your bag was not your purse but whatever activity or ideology you were into.
Here are the others:
- [Adult kit] for FOX—because it sounds like it could have something to do with erotica but is strictly rated G. And [Unalterably fixed] for DESTINY, because it sounds like it could have something to do with having your pet spayed or neutered. But isn’t, and is more about “kismet.”
- [Kind of shy?] for GUN. As in gun-shy…
- [Song sung singly] for SOLO. Looks like some kind of odd conjugation, no? No…
- [Tip zip] for STIFF. This one took me so long to understand, and then came the “aha.” For anyone else who may have been a little slow on the pick-up, it’s about leaving no gratuity for the waiter…
- [Spring summer, initially] for CPA. See—there’s that word “summer” again (we saw it yesterday, when it referred to an adding machine) this time referring to the person who does your taxes. How’s that for reinforcement?
- [It lasts for days] for WEEK. Yup. Sunday through Saturday in fact.
- [Supersized square meal for Seabiscuit?] for one healthy BALE of hay, please.
- [What to do when you see red?] for STOP. Lest you get a ticket for running the light…
- And finally, plugging the website where you can access the CrosSynergy puzzles (and many, many online games of all sorts): [www.pogo.com, e.g.] for URL. Check it out!