Sam Donaldson’s New York Times crossword
Now that’s a solid 1-Across to start the game with—CRAPS TABLE is a [Place to use a rake]. It sits at the top of a 4×10 stack, and the adjacent corners have 4×9 stacks. Nearly all the 9s and 10s are great, though the crossing 4s (especially the two-worders) and 5s are sketchier.
Highlights, lowlights, midlights:
- 15a. [Shrine dedicatee] is a HOLY PERSON? That feels not at all “in the language”—except maybe as an interjection. Stub your toe? “Holy person, that hurt!” Someone walks on water? “Holy person, what a miracle!”
- 17a. The noun phrase [Plans to harm] clues EVIL INTENT. See also 50a: MALA [___ fide].
- 18a. Not crazy about IS AT for [Attends]. The ISAT is super-familiar to me, though—Illinois Standards Achievement Test is what they call this state’s version of the No Child Left Behind-mandated standardized tests.
- 20a. I had SALE for [Closer's triumph], thinking of Glengarry Glen Ross and “Coffee is for closers.” It’s the baseball pitcher type of closer, though, and a SAVE. Lots of pitching action in this puzzle, namely:
- 12d, 57a. “ON SALE NOW” is the [End of some pitches] and “AS SEEN ON TV” is the [Start of some pitches]. These other pitches are sales-related.
- 21a. [The "I" of E.I. du Pont] is IRENEE. Have seen it before (in crosswords), never seem to remember it.
- 22a. Not wild about this cattle-thieving clue: [Person getting into one's head?] is a RUSTLER. I think “head” is a plural here.
- 27a. [She loved Endymion] clues SELENE. Wasn’t sure exactly how this name would unfold. I think Cymbeline and Celine Dion were interfering.
- 28a. At the Holy See, [See people] are POPES. Except there is never more than one of these at a time at the See.
- 39a. REWON = [Took back]. Eh. Meh.
- 41a. If you don’t know Ilia KULIK, you might be stuck with K-TWO, a [Peak on the Pakistani-Chinese border].
- 45a. [Poles are found in it] clues EUROPE. Chicago also has plenty of Poles.
- 51a. THE NATURAL is a [Moniker for a ballplayer with a bat named Wonderboy], played by Robert Redford. (The ballplayer, not Wonderboy.) I found the movie cheesy and overly obvious in its light/white symbolism.
- 55a. Favorite clue: [Drives directly to the final destination?] clues HOLES IN ONE. “Drives” is a plural noun here.
- 3d. [Dennis the Menace's mom] is ALICE? Who knew?
- 8d. I would love BSED as the past-tense verb. Dull when clued as a [Teacher's deg.].
- 13d. VIA VENETO in Rome is clued as [Cafe de Paris setting], just to be tricky.
- 23d, 40a. A SEA / URCHIN is a [meal for a wolf eel]. Did you know there was such a thing as a wolf eel? I sure didn’t.
- 25d. [Donkey, in Dusseldorf] is an ESEL in German. I believe you can also use this word to call someone an ass (of the stubborn ilk) in German.
- 35d. JONATHAN is clued as [Swift, e.g.]. Great satirist.
- 42d. A WEASEL is a [Pop maker] in “Pop Goes the Weasel.” Would like the clue better if we didn’t also have POP-UP MENU in the grid.
Barry Silk’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Boy, a day like today makes one wistful for the WIND CHILL FACTOR (36a: [Heat index counterpart]). Between the sun and the humidity, it felt like it was about 96° this afternoon. Then, of course, it dropped 25° in an hour as crazy storms rolled through and blew some windows out of the Willis (née Sears) Tower.
In this puzzle of standard Saturday LAT difficulty, here’s the best stuff:
- 1a. A HERMIT CRAB is a [Shell seeker]. No real relation to the SHELL GAME that is a [Thimblerig cousin]. What the hell does “thimblerig” mean? I checked a dictionary. It says “another term for shell game.”
- 21a. “A bit of TALCUM is always walcum,” wrote Ogden Nash. TALCUM is clued as [Substance in the Nash poem "Reflection on Babies"].
- 58a. [Quebec export] is MAPLE SYRUP. Num, num, num. Don’t give me that “pancake syrup” mess.
- 12d. You may have wanted [Black Flag product] to involve punk music, but it’s the ROACH MOTEL. Breakfast test violation! But a great answer nonetheless.
- 27d. The LINE OF FIRE is clued [It's not safe to be in it]. Do you think the phrase demands a THE at the beginning, or does it sound good this way too?
- 51d. If you’ve gotta have an ETUI, you’d better clue it with something like [Bodkin holder]. Ods bodkins! What is a bodkin? It’s a thick, blunt needle, that’s what.
And the worst:
- 11a. I gotta put ERGS here because one of my college roommates had a truly dreadful “joke” based on a lame pun on [Dyne-centimeters]. (Dyne = “dying,” if memory serves.) I’m having flashbacks now. (No relation to LSD, 19A: [Trip starter]. The only LSD I take trips on is Lake Shore Drive.)
- 33a. STATOR COIL? Snooze. It’s an [Electric generator part].
- 22d. I don’t know why ANERA looks so blecchy in the grid to me. [End of ___] is clear enough.
- 28d. WALLA is nothing much by itself. [When doubled, an Evergreen State city] references Walla Walla, Washington. You know anyone who pronounces or, god save us all, spells “voila” as “walla”? It pains me.
- 35d. CCCLI, a five-letter Roman numeral, is clued as a random [Fourth-century date].
And the musical:
- B FLAT, a TREBLE CLEF, KIRI Te Kanawa, CLARA Schumann, KELLY Clarkson. I knew the people but not the first two.
Tony Orbach’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Signs of the Signs”—Janie’s review
Among cheesy pick-up lines, “What’s your sign?” is one of the all-time cheesiest (though out of 3,120 reported attempts, 314 successes were also reported… ). Happily, Tony doesn’t try to draw us in this way, although he does use the zodiac signs as his jumping-off point. And here’s what he does with his three grid-spanners:
- 17A. [Warning sign of Aquarius?] SLIPPERY WHEN WET. Cute, no? Ironically, Aquarius, the water-bearer, is an “air” sign.
- 41A. [Carnival sign of Libra?] GUESS YOUR WEIGHT. Symbol of Libra? Scales.
- 64A. [Directional sign of Sagittarius?] FOLLOW THE ARROWS. Remember, Sagittarius is the archer.
I really like the freshness of this one. We’ve all seen these (theme-fill) signs, but I daresay most of us have not thought about them in this particular way. So, bravo. I’m a Pisces. Best I could come up with is DON’T FEED THE FISH. (Or [for a Sunday-size puzzle], there’s a Godfather post-mortem: SLEEPS WITH THE FISHES…)
And check out the lively 10s and eights Tony’s gridded: there’s DAIRY QUEEN [Blizzard producer] for starters. So that’s this kind of Blizzard and not this kind. (Because it’s an anagram of the first word of the name, I liked seeing DIARY [Account that might be kept under lock and key] in the puzzle. I also liked the “cloak and dagger” clue for the more ordinary item it was describing.) There’s also RIGMAROLE which practically sounds like its definition [Complicated process], STEPFORD [Fictional town with robotic wives] and the more than [Good enough] ADEQUATE. Ah, at least that’s a step above [Unoriginal and dull], the dreaded TRITE…
- The rhyming [Schmoes] for YO-YOS.
- A [Person who goes up]/FLYER and then [Came down]/ALIT.
- There’s a range of quantities with a [Bit]/IOTA, [Loads]/A LOT and [Full]/SATED.
- There are partial measures OZS/[Parts of lbs.] and FEET [Parts of miles].
- The legal profession gets a shout-out with LSATS/[Exams for future attys.] and ESQ/[Firm abbr.]. You might have thought [It may be open or shut] would resolve itself as CASE, but at four letters it’s one letter shy of the requisite five for MOUTH. (Well, shut mine…)
- And finally, an example each of verb-not-noun and noun-not-verb (“D’oh!”) items—the former being [Stores on a farm] for SILOS and the latter, [Hamper] for BIN.
Merle Baker’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
My favorite themelesses have an undercurrent of fun in them. Question-marked clues, surprising fill, head-slapper epiphanies where you finally figure out what a clue means and you’re delighted. The Stumpers of late have tended to be slogs rather than entertaining romps through The Field of Tough Nuts To Crack. There was a fun clue in this one, but now I can’t find it.
Lots of names in this puzzle:
- 25a. [Sanskrit for "awakened one"] is BUDDHA.
- 26a. [Diamond of note] is singer NEIL. “Of note” connotes both fame and music here.
- 31a. Katarina WITT is a [World Figure Skating Hall of Fame inductee of '95].
- 33a. [Jacob's father-in-law] is LABAN.
- 45a. GOETHE was a [Romantic-era writer].
- 49a. STINE, as in R.L. Stine, is ["The Stephen King of children's literature"]. I follow him on Twitter, and my son loves those Goosebumps books.
- 56a. [City near Orlando] is SANFORD. Would it have been better to clue this in relation to Mark Sanford, the South Carolina politician who hiked the Appalachian Trail in South America?
- 1d. Gwyneth PALTROW is your [Plath portrayer in a 2003 film].
- 4d. Oh, dear. [Basil, et al.] clues the plural TONIS. If ’80s one-hit wonder Toni Basil is the only famous Toni you’ve got, please don’t pluralize the name. Tricking people into writing HERBS isn’t fun, it just makes them feel ripped off when they figure out the answer is TONIS. (26d: [Brazil, et al.] is the other “et al.” clue, for NUTS.)
- 20d. [Exec who green-lighted "Star Wars"] is LADD. You don’t say. Fascinating.
- 39d. [Name meaning "good man"] is EVANDER. Eu + andro, okay, sure. It’s just that it’s such an uncommon name. Evander Holyfield, ask your agent why she’s not getting you more gigs in crosswords.
- 45d. [Director of the silent "Napoléon"] is GANCE.
- 14a. If something’s a [Bother] to you, would you ever dream of calling it an ANNOYER? No, probably not.
- 36a. I don’t know that I’d describe an ECOSYSTEM as a [Certain scientific niche].
- 43a. AVI is a [Multimedia file format].
- 50a. [Legal conveyor] clues ALIENOR. Snooze.
- 6d, 28d. Unfamiliar fill-in-the-blanks: OER = ["Rainbows __ yon mountain-river": Shelley], TWAS = [28d. "__ Christmas broach'd the mightiest ale": Scott].
- 25d. [Shrovetide fare] clues BLIN.
- 35d. BROMINE is [One of the halogens]. Snooze.
- 47a. JAMBALAYA gets a tough clue: [Hodgepodge]. Great words, both.
- 5d. Oh, here’s the clue I really liked. [Went platinum, perhaps] clues DYED. My first guess was SOLD, as in a record going platinum.
- 12d. For sheer craziness, I like seeing TANT PIS, or [So much the worse: Fr.]. I never quite know what the phrase means.
- 15d. [How something might be carried] is BY A SHOW OF HANDS.