Oliver Hill’s New York Times crossword
Gah! This is a Wednesday puzzle, not a Thursday one. I got off to a fast start and then there may have been an alien abduction because suddenly it was in the upper 4-minute range and I had to root out a typo, and boom! Somehow it took 5:03 instead of a more Wednesdayish 3:30 or so.
The theme is BROKEN HEART (57a: [Lover’s woe…or something found, literally, in the 4th, 5th, 8th and 11th rows of this puzzle]), and the “theme entries,” such as they are, are in the four rows where the letters of HEART appear in sequential order, but with a black square or two breaking them up. The BROKEN HEARTs are found in CATASTROPHE ART, LEAH EARTHLY, NEATH EAR TENTH, and MISHEAR TASK. It’s a plus that the four HEARTs are broken in a different way each time.
Eight clues, some of which broke my heart:
- 43a. [Flirtatious one] clues COQUET. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this spelling before. Coquette, sure.
- 19a. [Subject of many Georgia O’Keeffe paintings] is the IRIS. (Flowers, not eyeballs.) I quizzed my husband on this one. His first guess had six letters. So I said, “Four letters.” He came up with a synonym of the first word that is a four-letter word in more than one way.
- 30a. [Word before and after “for”] is MEASURE, as in the Shakespeare play Measure for Measure. I’m embarrassed at how long this one stumped me.
- 52d. The ILIAD is a [Poem with approximately 16,000 lines].
- 41d. As a non-Easterner, I had no idea what [Slow alternative to I-95] was looking for. Turns out it’s ROUTE ONE.
- 49d. The PROLES are a [Lower class in “1984”]. I was lost here, as I mystifyingly had SWEETEN in place of SWEPT UP for 48a: [Made tidy, in a way]. See? That doesn’t even make sense.
- 15d. What the haul? INHAUL is a [Rope for pulling a sail]. It’s not in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. What is this nautical term from Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary doing in a Wednesday puzzle? Man, I do not care for nauticalese in crosswords, least of all the more obscure terms.
Matt Gaffney’s Onion A.V. Club crossword
Gah! One entirely plausible but completely wrong answer got in the way of my grasping the theme, which led to an uncommonly protracted solving experience. That wrong answer was BASSO for 33d: [Low voice], and it had me thinking that there was some crazy two-way rebus action going on and that Matt had both IS SO and SO SO in the grid crossing BASSO, when in fact neither of those entries was correct either. Turns out it’s TENOR intersecting ISN’T and OH SO.
So, what is the puzzle about? It’s a L*ST vowel progression/vowel shift theme: Five phrases start with L*ST words, but the vowels have shifted one down in the alphabet. Like so:
- 17a. [The cellar dweller in every single tournament?] clues LAST FOR LIFE, which promotes the original U in LUST FOR LIFE to the following vowel, A.
- 25a. “LAST I HEARD…” shifts A to E, or LEST I HEARD, [Why you shouldn’t have talked trash about me in a loud voice?].
- 36a, 38a. [Series of items constantly slipping our minds?] is a LIST WE / FORGET, changing the E in LEST WE FORGET to an I.
- 53a. [Sale numbers no one can locate?] are LOST PRICES, altered from LIST PRICES.
- 61a. This one’s the best. LUST IN SPACE is [The sex lives of astronauts?], building off LOST IN SPACE.
Least familiar answer word:
- 8d. ERISTIC, meaning [Controversial]. Characterized by debate/argument, the dictionary tells me. Sometimes with a goal of winning rather than reaching the truth.
- 3d. BUSY BEES are [People with little free time].
Dan Naddor’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Not only was I able to comprehend this theme without delay, but I also liked it. The phrase OFF TO A FAST START is clued 59a: [First out of the gate, and what 17-, 22-, 38- and 51-Across all get]. Those four phrases start with synonyms for “fast”:
- 17a. [It may be drawn without thinking] is a good clue for a HASTY CONCLUSION.
- 22a. The clue [Sylvester Pussycat nemesis] merely confused me, but the crossings brought SPEEDY GONZALES out easily enough.
- 38a. RAPID WEIGHT LOSS is clued as a [Dubious diet ad promise]. I dunno. Feels like a phrase encountered more in medical contexts than in the dieting world. Then again, I don’t hang out in the dieting world, so how would I know?
- 51a. QUICK ON THE DRAW means [Mentally agile]. I prefer QUICK ON THE UPTAKE, but that’s too long for a 15×15 grid.
The fill suffers a little bit as a result of the theme density (73 theme squares), but the theme is so lively I am inclined to forgive the shortcomings. The ONE STRIKE (67a: [First felony conviction, in some states]) for the theme is that 70a’s clue includes the word “off” and so does 59a. I worked 67a before I filled in 59a, so that felt a little…off. The lackluster answers include partials (AS NEW, ON OR, GO A), abbreviations (ESC, BTU, EPA, APPL, EEG, USO ST. PAT, AWOLS, SSGT, TER), and a prefix (INFRA).
In the PU food category, we have 5a: PUPU/[Kind of appetizer platter] and 3d:: HUSHPUPPY/[Item in a fried side with catfish].
In the Paul people category, we have Paul Newman (28a: ARI/[Paul’s “Exodus” role]) and LES Paul (10d: [Guitarist Paul]).
- 14a. A COURTESAN is a [Nobleman’s mistress].
- 69a. [Certain squad member] clues GEEK. Is this a reference to Best Buy’s Geek Squad, or is “geek squad” a generic term?
- 7d. [Co. that has sponsored many soaps] is P AND G, or Procter and Gamble. The and-for-ampersand substitution is one of those things you have to accept in crosswords.
- 27d. [Ivory units?] are BARS of bath soap. I prefer [South of France units?], personally. The lavender is heavenly.
- 33d. [Fire preceder?] is AIM, as in “Ready, aim, fire.”
- 39d. A DINK is a [Drop shot, in tennis].
- 51d. A QUOTE is a [Bit of term paper color] that livens up your term paper more effectively than printing it out on goldenrod paper.
- 60d. [Sylvester, to Tweety] is a puddy TAT.
Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Keeping It Together”—Janie’s review
- 17A. SAUSAGE LINK [Breakfast side dish].
- 27A. ZERO-COUPON BOND [Security sold for below face value]. Maybe not the most exciting fill, this is the only one that has appeared in a CS puzzle, where it was also theme fill (naming a candy bar). So it certainly is functional. Need to know more about the meaning? Try this link from the SEC.
- 45A. LOVE CONNECTION [Dating show hosted by Chuck Woolery]. Hmm. While I love the reference to this cheesy show, the meaning of the word connection is unchanged, which somewhat weakens this example. Happily that’s not the case with
- 60A. DESIGNER TIE [Fashionable menswear selection].
If none of these methods provides the connection you’re looking for, you can always WELD the pieces together [Join with a torch]…
There’s lotso good non-theme fill in the puzzle that keeps things lively, like EDGES OUT specifically clued as [Beats by a hair] and its grid opposite ELEVEN A.M. [Early lunch hour]. Or [Late breakfast hour]. Or [Brunch hour]… Loved the O’Neill reference for COMETH with [Shows up, like the Iceman] and also seeing ONESIE [Baby bodysuit] in the grid. Too cute.
They feel very weighty, but they make for good, strong fill, and that’s THEISM, LENTEN, DECREE and STIGMA. The flip side? Those dens of iniquity, CASINOS… Oh—I also liked the clue for STAN LEE, who is the [Co-creator of “Spider Man”]. The other “co-creator”? That’d be Steve Ditko.
Best fill today would have to be RODEO CLOWN. On its surface, you’d think this occupation would be about as light-hearted and “fun” as could be, but no-o-o-o. This [Performer who distracts bulls] does so at great risk to himself. In the words of the song, “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys“!