John Farmer’s New York Times crossword – Sam’s review
Okay, before we start, remember that if you solve the puzzle in the paper, the numbers in your grid won’t match those in the snapshot to the right. Poor Across Lite can’t let some boxes go without numbers. So I’m guessing the print version, for example, has NCO as 5-Across rather than 6-Across. To avoid any confusion, I won’t make any reference to the specific locations of any entries–you’ll have to figure them out from your own memories or from the snapshot. But that shouldn’t affect the discussion very much.
Now, how to explain this theme to those who haven’t solved it or figured it out? We have three theme answers that are 18-letters long, and each answer contains the consecutive letters N-O-S-E. The answers, which begin as Across entries, veer down at N-O-S-E, then resume their trek across the rest of the grid. Why does each entry suddenly head down at the letters N-O-S-E, you ask? Because the answers all [Plummet], or TAKE A STEEP NOSE DIVE. That is, the N-O-S-E in every answer “takes a dive” (moves from across to down). Clever! Appropriately, this theme’s revealer is saved for the bottom of the grid. The other theme answers are these:
- [Find out what's wrong] is DIAGNOSE THE PROBLEM.
- ["Huh?!"] clues IT MAKES NO SENSE TO ME.
The theme answers are all fresh, in-the-language expressions that are interesting in their own rights. But I went from liking this puzzle to wanting its phone number when I realized that the three N-O-S-Es are placed symmetrically within the grid. As the cool kids say, that’s hawt!
Then when I examined the fill more carefully I started to become the puzzle’s stalker. If you count the theme entries as singles and not as three entries (two across and one down), there’s only 73 words in an over-sized grid. (If this took you a little longer than the normal Thursday, perhaps you can attribute it to the 16 rows it took to make the symmetry work–you had 15 extra boxes to deal with in this 15×16 construction.) You get really fresh fill like MAIL SACKS, the [Loot in an old train robbery], sitting beneath ETHIOPIAN, clued Thursday-esque style as [Like Moses' wife, per Numbers 12:1]. You get NBC TV, SEMIOTICS, SCARE UP, and LASAGNA. You get a grid with Jack NICHOLSON, the [Actor in the Best Picture winners of 1975 (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), 1983 (Terms of Endearment) and 2006 (The Departed)], ST. PETER, the [Subject in many a joke], and MR. SULU, the [U.S.S. Enterprise crewman, to Kirk]. That sounds like a joke right there – Jack Nicholson, St. Peter, and Mr. Sulu walk into a bar…. All that and only 73 words? Wow – this is just an amazing construction. And it was fun to solve. Lots to admire here.
If the grid seems a little too MANLY, [Butch], to you, the clues offer AKITA, the [Dog breed Helen Keller introduced to the U.S. in 1937] and PRADA, the [Milan-based fashion label]. We also have AUNTS [Clara and Harriet, in 1960s TV]. (I won’t count FANNIE MAE, the [Mortgage giant founded in 1938], as offsetting the overall masculine nature of the grid. After all, I don’t want the puzzle to think it’s perfect because then it will never return my calls.)
The only trouble spot that almost made me give up centered around REIMS, the [Site of Germany's surrender in W.W.II]. Never heard of it. The crosses weren’t helping much. I had trouble accepting [Downhill] as a two-word entry, TO SEED. But when I applied the substitution test (“Go downhill” = “Go to seed”), I realized it was right. And I’m a little mad at myself that I kept wanting some special kind of nail suitable for coffins when all [Coffin nails] really wanted was CIGS. I hear cigarettes referred to more commonly as “cancer sticks,” but “coffin nails” is not new to me. I should have been able to shave more time off of my solve. But then again, that would have ended my affair with this puzzle even sooner, and it was too brief as it was.
That’s okay. I’ll find another puzzle someday. There are plenty of grids in the ocean.
Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crossword, “Themeless 21″ – Sam’s review
The centerpiece of this puzzle (really, it runs down the middle) is the PRITZKER PRIZE, and until about an hour ago the only thing I knew about it was that [I.M. Pei won it in 1983]. Then I read the annotations that accompany the solution (does anyone else read these notes that Peter includes with the pdf version of the answers?), where I learned that the honor, “which began in 1979, is awarded annually to a living architect.” I gather it’s the Nobel-Pulitzer-Lifetime-Achievement Award in architecture. Very scrabbly, but otherwise not very satisfying because it’s so far outside my wheelhouse I need wheels to get to that house.
Fortunately there was plenty here to keep me satisfied. I thought this one hit at the “just right” level of difficulty–it put up a mighty fight but eventually yielded. My first entry was 58-Across, clued as ["Clan" of Ghostface Killah]. Why, my good chap, that would be WU-TANG, as in the Wu-Tang Clan. Since it’s hyphenated, I suppose it’s not a 6-letter partial, but it does look weird sitting in the grid by its lonesome. In any case, WU-TANG quickly led to ‘TWAS, ORGAN, ARISTA, CENSURE, NECCO, and IVORY COAST (in that order, actually), so the southeast fell rather easily. Next came the southwest. My blatant crush on ANNE Hathaway and my all-too-familiar knowledge that Pad Thai is garnished with LIME gave me the helpful MN pairing that served up OMNIVORE, deviously clued as [Badger, e.g.]. Then came comedian ALAN King, and before I knew it I was looking at PINCE-NEZ, the [Glasses without temple arms]. That corner then yielded CITY COUNCIL, the [Local lawmakers].
My first sticking point was in the extreme northwest, where Charlton HESTON took way too long to fall since I couldn’t parse OLE ELO and MIX CDS for the longest time. Why oh why do I always insist on entering ELUDE for [Pass over] instead of ELIDE? The other slow spot was the northeast corner. I got LENO as the ["This show is like a dynasty; you hold it and then you hand it off to the next person" speaker] and figured IOTA was the answer to [Whit]. But then I hit the brakes. Fitting, because it took wayyyyy to long to figure out that [Extremely slow] was GLACIAL. And for whatever reason I never remember ASOK as a [Dilbert coworker]. Only when Mr. Happy Pencil appeared did I confidently decide, “Yep, it’s Pritzker.”
This 70-word freestyle has 4 Zs (all in the seventh row or seventh column of the grid), 2 Xs, 2Vs, and a J. Here are some of the other highlights:
- I knew that the [Thing on the back of Connecticut's state quarter] was an oak tree, but that didn’t fit. Turns out it’s a WHITE OAK. Go figure. On my Connecticut quarter, it looks more silver than white.
- I’m not sure if I have ever heard of the CRUMPLE ZONE, the [Car part designed to absorb kinetic energy]. I figured out the “zone” part quickly enough but kept wanting something like “impact” at the top.
- Baseball references? In a Peter Gordon puzzle? Can’t be! And yet, we have HOJO, who [...played the hot corner for the '86 Mets] and [Former Philly ballpark] THE VET in the same construction. Oh, and there’s LINER (a line drive), the [Bloop's antithesis].
- I was surprised to see SPLEENY in my dictionary. It looks all kinds of wrong, but sure enough it’s a legit word for [Showing anger].
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Capital Infusions” – Sam’s review
Oh, methinks Amy would like this theme. Here we find world capitals infused into four words and phrases. Helpfully, the clues indicate which country’s capital is to be inserted. Geography! Wackiness! Pop culture trivia! All that’s missing to make this the perfect Amy puzzle is a reference to IHOP. Here are the theme entries:
- 17- and 60-Across: [Deliberate damage to a fruit company's promotional movie? (Uruguay)] clues DEL MONTE VIDEO MAR. This results from cramming Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, into Del Mar, the legendary racetrack. Not long ago, several solvers confessed no knowledge of QUINELLA, a common racetrack wager. So I wonder how many solvers know Del Mar the racetrack.
- 20-Across: [Artfully folded? (Latvia)] clues ORIGAMINOUS, a word formed by sticking Latvia’s capital, Riga, into the word “ominous.” This one felt a little flat to me. Folded … flat … never mind.
- 26-Across: [Failed jokes in Louisiana? (France)] clues PARISH BOMBS, a “fusion” of Paris, the capital of France, with H-bombs. If you just read that last sentence somewhere inside the Pelican State, I’ll bet you just read a parish bomb.
- 38- and 45-Across: [Self-help book for people trying to get over infidels? (Greece)] clues HEATHENS JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU, the terrific union of Athens, the capital of Greece, and “He’s Just Not That Into You.” Best theme answer of the set.
- 54-Across: [Dope blood drinker?/Rapper generating a lot of buzz? (Ecuador)] clues MOSQUITO DEF, a blend of Ecuador’s Quito and rapper Mos Def. Why pick between two funny clues when you can just offer them both?
That’s 75 squares of theme material, a high number that normally constrains the quality of fill. But Ben makes it look easy, as the fill hardly seems forced. Some of the best entries and clues include: ZOMG, the [Variation of an online term that supposedly originated with someone missing the SHIFT key], HOT LUNCH, the [School cafeteria offering], The MAX, the ["Saved by the Bell" hangout], and OVEN clued as [Place for an unborn baby, so to speak].
Three biblical references contributed to my relatively slow time, including HAMITE, the [Member of a certain biblical ethnic group], AS YE reap, and [Half of a vindictive biblical axiom], referring to AN EYE. I didn’t know TRAVIS as the [Scottish band with "Sing"]. I know Randy Travis. I know Travis Tritt. But plain ol’ Travis? Nae. The southwest corner may give some fits, with ASSAI, ADA, and QING all sharing space, but otherwise all seemed straight-forward.
John Lampkin’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Sam’s review
This puzzle lacks life. Before you accuse me of being mean, consider that the puzzle’s theme is four popular songs where “Life” has been removed from the end of their titles. It’s all tied together with 58-Across, the [Sinatra classic, and hint to what's missing from this puzzle's other classics], THAT’S LIFE. Here are the curtailed songs in the grid:
- 17-Across: The [Beatles classic], A DAY IN THE. Before I realized the theme, my rebus-sense (the crossword solver’s version of Spidey-sense) was tingling all over. Then I remembered, “This is the LA Times. It’s not rebus.” Then the subtraction theme dawned on me.
- 24-Across: The [Stevie Wonder classic], FOR ONCE IN MY.
- 37-Across: The ["Annie" classic], IT’S THE HARD KNOCK.
- 46-Across: The ["Dirty Dancing" classic], THE TIME OF MY.
Could we make a theme out of switching “Life” to rhyming words? A DAY IN THE FIFE [Tales of the piccolo?], FOR ONCE IN MY WIFE [ahem, maybe not the best one to clue], THE TIME OF MY STRIFE [Memoir from one who beat adversity?], et al? Anyway, I called this a subtraction theme, but it’s not really your typical subtraction theme where one or more letters or one or more words are removed and the leftovers are clued as if they were stand-along entries. Here, the titles just chop off “Life.” Somehow that feels a bit incomplete.
Some of the long fill makes up for the lack of life, although the best entry itself gets off to a bleak start: DEAD HORSE (clued as [Beating one won't get you anywhere]). There’s also SOUND BITE, ONE UP, and ARF ARF among the highlights. The longest downs are DETECTIVES and CONFIDENCE, neither one sparkling but both perfectly fine. In the clue department, I liked how IAN was clued as [James's creator] while [Bond creator] was saved for EPOXY. I was less fond of seeing [Centric opening] (for ETHNO-) only two clues beneath [Center opening?] (for EPI-). And I remain unsure why the clue for TRYST, [Hot meeting?], needed the question mark. Subscribers to the Cruciverb listserv will recall the very recent discussion over the proper use of question marks in clues. This one seems to me like it could have (should have?) dicthed the question mark. Is there some other “hot meeting” I’m not thinking of that warrants the use of a question mark here?
I struggled with HI-TEST, the [Regular alternative, informally]. I see it’s short for “high-test” gasoline. I know the alternatives to regular gas as unleaded, premium, super, and diesel. Is this a regional thing or am I just sheltered? It didn’t help that I lacked confidence in CHAR, the [Dover domestic], and WAPITI, the [American elk]. And I needed every crossing for SHEREE North, the actress [...once touted as "the new Marilyn Monroe"]. Wonder who will be touted as the new Marilyn Manson?
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Prep Talk”—Janie’s review
“Why,” I asked myself on completing this puzzle, “was this called ‘Prep Talk’?” I looked at the theme-fill, saw that each of the three phrases was a familiar one—humorously re-imagined with the addition of the letter “R”—and concluded that this was Martin’s way of reminding us that “the three ‘Rs’” (reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmetic…) are the building blocks of education that prepare us to undertake even higher learning. Several hours later it dawned on me that I was way into overthink and that the title, too had an additional “R” in its familiar base. Ah, well. Better late than never (I hope!!). The real lesson here, though, is that “simple” is almost always better. Look what a nice job Martin’s done, too, by simply adding one letter to the mix:
- 20A. Boy Scout camp → BOY SCOUT CRAMP [Problem in a packed jamboree?]. The National Scout jamboree is a tradition dating back to 1935 and is usually held every four years. This year’s event will also commemorate the Scouts’ 100th anniversary. While a Scout may attend “jambo,” this is not the same as being [In a] JAM [(mired)].
- 39A. An American Tail → AN AMERICAN TRAIL [Cross-country path?]. Sometimes they represent major routes of migration—like the Oregon Trail; sometimes they’re simply recreational.
- 57A. The Big Dipper → THE BIG DRIPPER [Outsize faulty faucet?]. Funny concept. And not as gross as [Cyrano de Bergerac with hay-fever]…
Yesterday we encountered pioneer wireless-telegrapher (Guglielmo) Marconi, one of the inventors we have to thank for our AM/FM dial. How nicely he paves the way for today’s RADIOED [Contacted by shortwave] and radio voice-procedure response ["Roger] WILCO["]. (Translation: “Got it. Will comply.”) I have to include HIT SONG [Chart topper] here as well, because even though MTV has been with us for almost 30 years (holy moly!), it was our friend the radio that was this listener’s introduction to the “Top-40″ format.
Am so glad not to have to think about my TAX RETURN [April 15 filing] until some time early next year; and while I really like JUMP CLEAR, I feel like the clue needs the added (with “of”). [Dodge, in a way] seems a preposition shy of being accurate…
The double-dip of Latin dances, however, more than compensates. In a two-for-one, Martin uses [Mambo's cousin] to clue not only SAMBA but also CHA-CHA. I was about to say, “Can ya DIG IT?” but in fact, that last one has been clued [Pinkie, for one] and the fill in question is DIGIT!
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s “TRON AND QUARTERED” – Jeffrey’s review
TRON AND QUARTERED — Puns for the arcade set
Puzzle and solution can be found here
Hi, Jeffrey here. A little technologically challenged this morning so no solution grid. Kind of like computers in the early ‘80s.
Brendan rated this hard but noted “this might be slightly easier if you were into video games from the early ’80s”. I was to some extent and indeed found this quite solvable
17A. [Oasis-themed space shoot-em-up?] – LIAM GALAGA. This stumped me both ways. Liam Gallagher was in Oasis and Galaga was a game I don’t remember.
20A. [Praiseful essay about the grandaddy of all video games?] – ON GOLDEN PONG. More in my area of expertise. The film On Golden Pond and the first real video game – PONG. Boop.boop.—boop. Boop.
34A. [Fighter craft shooter marketed to white people?] – ANGLO ZAXXON from anglo saxon. Vague memory of this one.
51A. [Groupthink for video gamers?] – PAC MANTALITY. Pack mentality and Pac Man. We all know Pac Man.
56A.[ "I only spend these quarters on video games that involving drawing partitions"?] – JUST FOR QIX (kicks). Qix is another vague memory.
Quick five notables:
16A.["Duty Now For the Future" new wavers] – DEVO
24D. [Place where "You can get yourself clean, you can have a good meal" in song] – YMCA
37D. ["Curly" of the Harlem Globetrotters] – NEAL
41D.[ “It's Not PMS, It's You!" author Amlen] – DEB. I want to read this. Not sure if it is available in Canada yet.
57D.[Neighbor of VT] – QUE. Speaking of Canada, maybe it should be neighbour.