Kevin Der’s New York Times crossword
Hey! It’s a non–Patrick Berry 64-worder and while it has plenty of got-every-letter-from-the-crossings answers, I enjoyed it and found so much more to like than to grumble at. I spent some time at the beginning of the puzzle marveling at the grid—all that white space! Triple stacks of 15-letter answers at the top and bottom, joined together by the 15-letter 8d, with corner stacks of 7s and staggered 8s and a 9 across the middle. This, I tell you, is one crazy grid.
Let’s start our tour with the tough stuff—the answers I had to piece together via crossings because the clues certainly weren’t giving anything away for me.
- 21a. [Joined the swarm] clues HIVED. Yes, this is a bee-related verb I had no idea existed.
- 44a. RAFE [___ McCawley, Ben Affleck’s role in “Pearl Harbor”]. Didn’t see the movie, so I’m glad I puzzled out the crossings.
- 11d. UDOS are [Japanese salad plants]. I might’ve guessed this was a root vegetable, but once I had the U, the rest filled in as “that Japanese food that isn’t UDON noodles.”
- 35d. A PIANINO is an [Undersize keyboard]. Didn’t know such a thing existed, but piano + diminutive suffix made sense. Can I call my phone keyboard a PIANINO?
- 36d. [“Jeux d’___” (42-Across keyboard work)] clues ENFANTS, and 42a is BIZET.
- 38d, Whoa. CAELIAN is [One of the seven hills of Rome]. I think one might be called Palatine, and that’s about the extent of my familiarity with the hills of Rome.
- 42d. [C4H8] is the chemical formula for BUTENE, apparently. BUT- is a familiar chemical beginning (butane, butyl, butyric) and -ENE a familiar ending, but I suspect this BUTENE is not so well known. This is my pick for least savory answer…and given that NECROSED is in here (7d: [Dead, as tissue]), that’s saying a lot.
And now, the highlights:
- 1a. A [Christmas trifle] is a STOCKING STUFFER, a mere bagatelle.
- 18a, 25a. I like this combo. [Femmes mariées, across the Pyrenees: Abbr.] are SRAS, or señoras, femmes mariées being “married women” in French and France and Spain facing each other across the Pyrenees. [“___ Femme Mariée” (Jean-Luc Godard film)] clues UNE.
- 34a. Great clue: [Potential game stoppers] have nothing to do with sports. They’re the SPEARS you might use to defend yourself against a rampaging hippo.
- 37a. HAVE A COW is fun. Clued as [Wig out], equally slangy.
- 41a. I like HINNY, the [Rare equine hybrid] between a female donkey and male horse, because I just heard of a baby zedonk today (that’s a zebra/donkey hybrid).
- 49a. CUTESY is a cutesy word. [“Aww”-inspiring] is a rather cheesy clue, though.
- 52a. [It was put on decades ago] clues VINTAGE CLOTHING.
- And the other four Across 15s are solid, too.
- 1d. A [Bad traffic accident] is a SMASH-UP. Fresh entry.
- 2d. [Bullish], meaning “bull-like,” clues the adjective TAURINE. I like this clue better than the amino acid they put in those energy drink thangs.
- 6d. An INCA was a [User of a record-keeping device called a quipu]. This was one of my first answers. Gotta love a quipu.
- 8d. GREEN ARCHITECTS are [Ones concerned with sustainable design].
- 24d. [Mucho] and LOTSA are similar.
- 30d. [Ross, Lennox or Angus, in Shakespeare] is a THANE. Anyone else read this clue and think of Diana Ross, Annie Lennox, and Angus Young?
- 33d. LAZY SLOB. Hah! Fun answer. It’s an [Epithet for an annoying roommate].
- 39d. [Free of hormones, say] clues ORGANIC. ORGANIC milk tends to come from cows who have not been dosed with bovine growth hormone.
- 40d. Love the word WRANGLE. It’s clued here as [Have words].
Ron and Nancy Byron’s Los Angeles Times crossword
- 18a. Beef stew becomes a BRIEF STEW, or [Short-lived agitation?].
- 24a. Bail bond turns into BRAILLE BOND, or [Government security for the blind?].
- 34a. [Places to buy orthopedic products?] might be BRACE STATIONS, building on base stations.
- 50a. BROCK’S SEATS are a [Reserved section for an eight-time stolen base champ?]. The original phrase is box seats.
- 56a. [Place with thugs in tents?] is BRUTE CAMP, formed from boot camp.
I liked the mental work required to make sense out of each theme entry, though I can’t assign any bonus points for humor because the original and altered phrases tend to be fairly dry.
- 6a, 15a. [John follower] is the bible book ACTS and [K follower] is MART, as in Kmart.
- 16a. Can you name any cities in Qatar? How about its capital, DOHA? That’s also your [Qatar University city].
- 17a. [Cold] clues ALGID. This is one of those words I never use.
- 29a. [Whale’s blowhole, e.g.] is a NOSTRIL. What I’m wondering now is this: Do whales have boogers? I’ll bet Martin H. and Pannonica know the answer.
- 39a. [Toast opening, across the pond] clues ‘ERE’S. Bleah. A valiant attempt to get past the usual ["___ Tu" (1974 hit)] clue, but a Cockney curtailment of “here’s” makes my head hurt.
- 41a. Ooh, good clue. [Stand-up guys?] who stand you up on a date are NO-SHOWS.
- 64a. [’60s-’70s Japanese leader] is SATO. Hmm, not so famous to Americans these days. Isn’t ice skater Yuka Sato better known now?
- 1d. Buster CRABBE is the [Actor who was a 1932 swimming gold medalist].
- 9d. STERNO, that flammable jelly in a can that caterers use, could be called [Canned heat].
- 11d. This one’s my favorite entry. “GOTTA RUN” can mean [“No time to talk now”].
- 13d. A SAWMILL is a wooden [Board producer].
- 31d. [Small hair piece] isn’t a wisp, hank, or fall; it’s a LASH as in eyelash.
Sarah Keller’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Capital Four”—Janie’s review
This is a very nice little puzzle. What do I mean by that? In this case, the theme is easy (maybe too easy…), yet the solving experience as a whole gets a real lift from the clues for the non-theme entries. The theme fill consists of the names of four well-known men (two singers, two actors—and they’re clued that way, too) whose last names also happen to be the names of state capitals. Unless I’ve missed something, there’s nothing beyond that to unify the guys or the capitals or take the gimmick to another level. The “capital four” are:
- 20A. [Singer who perfected the moonwalk] MICHAEL JACKSON, Mississippi.
- 25A. [“Rocky Mountain High” singer] JOHN DENVER, Colorado.
- 47A. [He’s known for portraying Wild Bill Hickok] GUY MADISON, Wisconsin.
- 52A. [Johnny Cash portrayer of film] JOAQUIN PHOENIX, Arizona. Best, scrabbliest name of the lot, with a J, a Q and and X—which makes for very nice fill.
I had more fun finding connections among the clues—and there are several today. There’s some “Good Book”-type action with [Biblical shepherd], [Genesis garden], [Possessed, biblically] and [Church official] for ABEL, EDEN, HADST and DEACON. We get crossing sportsmen with [Pro Palmer] and [Jockey Arcaro] for ARNOLD and EDDIE; and a baseball reference with [There’s a stretch in the seventh one] for INNING (though a [Break in a journey] wouldn’t be a stretch, but a LAYOVER). There are references to two modes of water transport, too: [Dinghy propeller] (noun) and [Propel a gondola] (verb), for OAR and POLE.
As for the arts, there’s a [Musical symbol] and [“La-la” lead-in] for REST and “TRA-”; and representing the world of dance, the niftily clued [Barre room bend] and [Ballet leap] for PLIÉ and JETÉ. For the fashion-conscious, you’re sure to be well-[Dressed]/CLAD in the latest [Clothing]/APPAREL.
While these days especially, the [Contents of some banks] is DATA, gold has a long history of making its way into banks. As any 49er coulda told us, gold can be extracted from ORE [Assayer’s raw material]. And what’s the [Gold standard]? Why KARAT, of course.
Finally, here are some “unconnected” clues—that are just amusing or well-put (and specific) in their own right:
- [Bad to the bone]/EVIL
- [Long lunches?]/HEROS (sandwiches…)
- [Blue shoe fabric for Elvis]/SUEDE
- [Book thickener?]/PLOT
- [Drops on the grass?]/DEW (noun not verb…)
Jim Holland’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Student Evaluations”
Before I get to the theme, let me say this: BLENCH?? Wow. I honestly don’t think I’ve encountered this word before. It’s clued as 8d: [Quail], and the Oxford American dictionary defines it as “make a sudden flinching movement out of fear or pain.” It derives from the Old English word blencan, and who doesn’t love words that come from Old English? If BLENCH were from French, I would be irked by it, but I’m glad to know it because it’s got that Anglo-Saxon cred. I sure was double-checking all of BLENCH’s crossings, though.
The theme is familiar phrases punnily reinterpreted as if they were part of students’ evaluations of their professors:
- 17a. [English Lit class: A — “All we had to do was read one book; a very ___”] NOVEL EXPERIENCE. I dunno. If I’m paying tuition for an English Lit class, I kinda expect to read more than one book. Well, unless it’s James Joyce’s Ulysses; you can easily spend 10 weeks on that alone.
- 28a. [Geography class: D — “Our instructor tried to cover too much material; he was ___”] ALL OVER THE MAP.
- 49a. [Electrodynamics class: B — “We thankfully skipped the history of the subject and jumped straight into ___”] CURRENT EVENTS. But what are the current events in the field of electrodynamics? Aren’t basic principles more important than any sort of “events”?
- 64a. [History class: F — “The professor ignored my attendance record and class participation, judging me entirely on ___”] PAST PERFORMANCE.
Besides BLENCH, one of the toughest clues for me here was 31d: [Side problem?]. All I could think of was a stitch in one’s side. THORN! Now, where did that phrase come from? Are people often being continually vexed by thorns piercing their flanks as they pass trees and bushes?