Paula Gamache’s New York Times crossword
This grid looks like a bear to put together, with the four Across 15s run through by four vertical 15s. Once you lock in more than 100 squares, there’s not much leeway on the remaining fill, so there are some short answers in the “meh” category. They’re more than offset by the grandeur of the 15s, though:
- 17a. The HAWAIIAN ISLANDS are Captain [Cook's final setting]. The clue suggests chef business, but no.
- 33a. I’ve never heard of MIGNONETTE SAUCE, which is an [Accompaniment for oysters]. I can’t say vinegar with ground pepper and shallots sounds appealing to me.
- 40a. [One with a growing hobby] made me suspect there was a 15-letter term for someone growing hydroponic pot in a basement, but it’s GENTLEMAN FARMER. My favorite radical feminist blogger bills herself as a gentleman farmer and spinster aunt. Linda Murgap, are you reading this? She’s another Texan with horrific centipede and scorpion tales. I tell you, cold winters kill those things off.
- 58a. SPUR OF THE MOMENT is clued as [Snap], as in a snap decision.
- 3d. LOW-HANGING FRUIT is my favorite bit of corporate-speak. [It may be picked first] because it’s an easy problem to tackle.
- 6d. [It helps show you when something is done] is a confusing and yet completely apt description of a MEAT THERMOMETER.
- 8d. [Symbol of pork] isn’t about meat, it’s about federal dollars: It’s Alaska’s erstwhile planned BRIDGE TO NOWHERE that Sarah Palin was famously for before she was against it.
- 11d. “MIND YOUR MANNERS” is a [Social admonition]. I hope you didn’t put MIND YOUR P’S AND Q’S there.
Ten to mention:
- 21a. I love seeing DO OR DIE ([Desperate]) all smushed together in the grid. Doordie…go ahead, say that a few times. “Doordie, doordie, doordie, doordie.”
- 36a, 27d. I wasn’t at all fond of the mystery [Actress Graynor] until I looked her up after finishing the puzzle. That 27d crossing, [Originated], was not so obviously SIRED, so I was hesitant about filling in the middle of ARI. Then I discovered that she played Caroline in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and she was the main comic relief. She had an overfond attachment to her chewing gum, and—spoiler alert!—when she threw up at the Port Authority bus station, she retrieved the wad of gum from the loo of barf…and popped it back into her mouth and blissed out again.
- 46a. [St. Louis landmark designer] was where I started filling in this grid. I almost went with EERO Saarinen, who designed the Gateway Arch, but there was no reason for the answer to be a first name. It’s James EADS, designer of the 1874 Eads Bridge. This is one of those names I know only from crosswords.
- 60a. ERIE is a fairly common repeater, but this clue is uncommon: [County west of Wyoming]. Apparently the state of New York has a Wyoming County beside Erie County. Pennsylvanians are welcome to kvetch about this, as their Erie and Wyoming counties are not adjacent.
- 2d. Amo, amas, amat, the singular conjugation of “to love” in Latin, includes AMAT as [Part of a loving threesome?]. Did you think about ménages à trois? Didn’t we all?
- 41d. TEA TREE is a [Source of an essential oil with medicinal properties]. Are you too old for benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, but not yet too old for zits? Try Desert Essence Blemish Touch Stick, a little tea tree oil roll-on that helps zap zits with natural antiseptic and antiinflammatory properties. I have it on good authority that pimples can continue into one’s 60s.
- 42d. [Phiz on a five] made no sense to me. The answer the crossings gave me is ABE Lincoln, who’s on a $5 bill. I just looked up phiz in the dictionary: British, informal, “a person’s face or expression,” derived from physiognomy in the 1600s.
- 50d. Who? [Pianist Pogorelich] is named IVO. Hey! I know a child named Ivo. Wikipedia lists plenty of “famous people named Ivo,” but they don’t tend to be household names in the U.S.
- 57d. [Women with auréoles: Abbr.] are French women with haloes, or STES. Not to be confused with women with areolas, though there is significant overlap. And speaking of which—hey! look at the pattern in the center of the grid.
Jack McInturff’s Los Angeles Times crossword
- 71a. KING ME is a [Board game demand, and hint to this puzzle's theme].
- 18a. Subpar becomes SUB PARKING, or [Temporary teacher's lot?].
- 23a. ORIGINAL SINKING is clued with [What it would have been if 10-Down went down?].
- 52a. Not crazy about ESPRESSO BARKING and [Brusque words about strong coffee?]. “Barking” isn’t all that commonly used in that sense. Dogs and coffee, anyone?
- 61a. AMY TANKING builds beautifully on author Amy Tan. The clue is [Blogger Reynaldo losing on purpose?]. I kid. It’s actually [Actress Brenneman losing on purpose?].
- 1a. Right there at the beginning, we get whacked with [Rhine tributary]. Four-letter European river at 1-Across? Yeow. I was guessing AARE but it’s the RUHR.
- 17a. [Hosp. workers] clues LPNS, short for licensed practical nurses. Another time LPN was in the NYT crossword, I was surprised to see that a lot of folks were unfamiliar with the term. Doesn’t everyone have three nurses in the family and an overriding familiarity with the profession? No? In any event, LPNs have less training and education than RNs.
- 30a. [Nat or Red] may have you thinking of Nat King Cole and Red Skelton, but it’s the Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds: NLER. Nobody’s favorite crossword entry.
- 46a. [Pond papa] clues a male duck, or DRAKE. Anyone else think of efts’ and tadpoles’ papas?
- 48a. Whoa, I’ve never seen DES clued with [__ Arc, Arkansas].
- 49a. KIROV is the [Former name of the Mariinsky Ballet]. It changed names?
- 60a. [Where to get down] is not a DISCO, it’s the EIDER duck with its down feathers.
- 19d. [Circle constants] clues PIS. Wait, is there more than one PI? I don’t think there is.
- 42d. [Arctic predator] clues a seabird, the SKUA, which spells AUKS backwards.
- 56d. IDAHO is the [Only state that borders six states and Canada]. Let me guess: Washington, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, and…I’m short two states. Utah and Colorado? The Dakotas? Peeking at a map…it’s Nevada and Utah.
Doug Peterson’s Washington Post/CrosSynergy puzzle, “Inside Man”—Janie’s review
There is so much that is so good about this puzzle’s fill—themed and un-—that I want to get right to it. That “inside man”? That’s the pronoun “he” Doug has added into familiar phrases and which lead to results that made me sit up and take notice—in a good way! Here’s how he does it:
- 17A. THEATER TOTS [Youngsters in a playhouse playpen?]. The success of this metamorphosis stems from its complete change in meaning from the base phrase. No real connection to the Ore-Ida product any more—and an easily-visualized new phrase. Engaging young ones in theater games is a great way to stimulate their creative juices and usually appeals to even the most WIGGLY among them.
- 26A. CLASSIFIED HEAD [Leader whose identity is confidential?]. Like maybe someone who’s [Pentagon personnel] TOP BRASS? (And how do the top brass like their quarters kept? Why, they should be SPOTLESS [Immaculate], if you please!)
- 41A. BATHE AN EYELASH [Shed one very tiny tear?]. Funny clue/fill concept. As for the base phrase, its most common form is “(not) bat an eye” (i.e., show surprise), but it also appears as “(not) bat an eyelash” or “(not) bat an eyelid.”
- 54A. ALLEY CHEATS [Ones who pad their pin count?]. Again, because of the complete change of meaning to the base phrase as a whole, this one gets high marks. In case, like me, you were at first confused by this one, however, Doug’s referring to bowling pins…
The “he” factor can also be found in the non-theme fill. No added letters, but there’s a high testosterone count, thanks to fill like SPERM [whale], RATT ["Round and Round" rock band] and even MOB ["The Sopranos" group]. (That latter one aired on HBO, which is clued today as ["Def Comedy" network].) Members of the mob are often depicted as the ones assigned to WHACK [Belt] their enemies. They usually do this with their fists or the butt of their guns. In earlier days they might have resorted to SPEARS [Primitive weapons]. While we’re at it, take a look at whack‘s location in the grid. I love the way the rhymey TACKY sits above it and SMACKEROOS goes through the two of ‘em. (And notice how sperm shares its initial “S” with the sound-alike SPUR [Cowboy boot attachment], giving us more “guy stuff” in the process.)
LEAD THE WAY [Be a trailblazer] is beautiful long fill, and so is CRAB LEGS [Dish served with melted butter]. Yum. Where’s a great place to enjoy ‘em? Why, for the real thing, try Washington state or Maryland’s Eastern Shore—you know, places along the SEABOARD [Site of many resorts].
Patrick Blindauer’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Skipping the Country”
The theme works fine for what it is—reinterpreting “skipping the country” as “taking the letters USA and ‘skipping’ a letter by spacing them out within longer phrases”—but there’s nothing inherently entertaining in the theme entries and nothing else unifying them.
- 23a. [*It contains 64 parishes] clues LOUISIANA, with the spaced-out USA hiding within.
- 25a. [*Like some performances and debts] clues OUTSTANDING.
- 38a. [*Balboa, e.g.] was a CONQUISTADOR. I weary of highlighting the letters in color.
- 52a. [*Raider in the Pro Football Hall of Fame] is GENE UPSHAW. Never heard of him until he died and NFL players wore his initials on their uniforms.
- 69a. CIRCUMSTANCES—[*They may be beyond one's control].
- 87a. [*Mardi Gras, literally] is FAT TUESDAY in English. I’ll bet a lot of solvers tried to get the circumstances of the outstanding conquistador Gene Upshaw to have something to do with LOUISIANA and FAT TUESDAY. I deduct five points for the 23a/87a combo’s risk of misleading solvers.
- 100a. [*Like Indian summer weather] clues UNSEASONABLE. Would have been more timely to use [Like chilly weather in July].
- 117a. [*Major] means SUBSTANTIAL.
- 120a. [*Official who hears complaints] is an OMBUDSMAN. Is that just a newspaper position? Who else has ombudspeople?
- 47d. [Fourth of July noisemaker] clues CHERRY BOMB. You know what? They don’t just make noise. They also make chemical burns, and I’ve got the scar to prove it. Is there a cocktail with this name? Because I bet that would be tasty.
- 91d. “SHE’S GONE‘ is a [1976 Hall & Oates hit].
- 101d. A SKI BUM is a [Slopes fanatic].
- 59a. [Blessing preceder] is a SNEEZE. This morning, my son and I walked past an older man on his porch who let out a ferocious sneeze. I said “Gesundheit!” I hate it when strangers acknowledge my sneezes, yet find it hilarious to call attention to a stranger’s sneeze.
Mystery clue of the day:
- 16d. [Bombazine, e.g.] is a kind of TWILL fabric. Etymologically unrelated to the CHERRY BOMB—bombux is Greek for silkworm, and this “twilled dress fabric” is made of worsted and silk or cotton.