In the title of this post, I almost entered the date as 8/8/64. My parents cleverly picked a perfect square for their wedding date and had it engraved inside their wedding rings. I have a lousy anniversary date. 5/4/91 isn’t clever at all (and that includes those Star Wars nerds who declare “May the Fourth be with you” on May 4).
We have some bloggy news to report: Sometime guest blogger Sam Donaldson is taking over the weekly review of the Boston Globe crossword. Sam will also be covering for me during most of my NYC/Lollapuzzoola trip next week—Jeffrey will take Wednesday, and Sam’s signed up for Thursday through Sunday.
Pam Klawitter’s New York Times crossword, “3 x 8”
Often when theme entries read more like crossword clues (and the one-word clues read more like crossword entries), I don’t like ’em. And themes that hinge on cross-referenced clues can drive people batty. But this particular approach is fresh and fun. The clues for the long theme answers instruct you to see the three circled letters in another answer. Those letters are the sort of 3-letter initialisms we often see in the puzzle, and the long theme answers are the sort of phrases that might be used to clue the initialisms. I enjoyed the game of hopping around, playing the short abbrevs and long descriptions off one another and guessing at the 4- to 6-letter words that contain the circled initialisms. It’s especially elegant that all eight 3-letter circled jobbers are initialisms—no plain words commingled there. Here are the theme bits, in their pairs:
- 1a. FABIAN, the [One-named teen idol of the late ’50s/early ’60s] contains the FBI.
- The corresponding long entries’ clues all begin “See circled letters…” and 111a’s clue, […in 1-Across], gives us CRIME FIGHTERS.
- 22a. [See circled letters in 96-Down] goes with TELEPATH’S GIFT.
- 96d. [Prevent] means ESTOP, which contains ESP in the circled squares.
- 39a. […in 79-Down] WEB GIGGLE corresponds to—
- 79d. LOL, part of LOLL, or [Laze].
- 61a. The “LOST” NETWORK and […in 13-Down] pair up.
- 13d. ABC is in ABACI. [They can always be counted on].
- 65a. PIOUS, or [Very reverent], contains IOU.
- 16d. An IOU […in 65-Across] is a PROMISSORY NOTE.
- 70a. […in 62-Down], RN SPECIALTY is—
- 62d. TLC, in TALCS, [Rash remedies].
- 88a. CASH CACHE is linked to […in 89-Down], which is an—
- 89d. ATM, half the letters of ATOMIC, meaning [Wee].
- 48d. MARCIA [Cross of “Desperate Housewives”] contains the CIA.
- 50d. And what’s […in 48-Down] is an ESPIONAGE GROUP.
I love this theme. I don’t have to love a plural like TALCS or a description like ESPIONAGE GROUP to love the way the theme comes together.
Here are a mere five more clues, because there are so many other crosswords awaiting me tonight:
- 109a. DIORITE is an [Igneous rock] not of my acquaintance. Luckily, the crossings weren’t obscurities.
- 114a. ECUADOR is the [Home to Mount Chimborazo], which is beyond my ken.
- 115a. The 7-letter answers at the bottom of this puzzle, sheesh! [Brachyodont perissodactyls]?? Those are TAPIRS. I won’t bore you again with the tale of the time a tapir peed on my family.
- 21a. [Heads], as in one side of a coin, clues OBVERSE.
- 24a. BARRON’S is a [Dow Jones publication].
Henry Hook’s Boston Globe Crossword, “Double Features”—Sam Donaldson’s review
Howdy, pardners. As the only member of Team Fiend without a weekly gig in these parts, I was feeling a little guilty. So I asked Amy if she would be willing to part with one weekly puzzle from her regular diet, and I struck gold with the Sunday Globe. I have always admired Henry Hook, Emily Cox, and Henry Rathvon (and occasional guest constructor Liz Gorski), so this is a treat. First up: Mr. Hook Goes to Hollywood!
We’ve seen this gimmick before: two movie titles joined at their common word, a la the “Before and After” category on Wheel of Fortune. Hook’s version has only six theme entries, but four of them span the 21-square-wide grid, so the puzzle doesn’t feel light on thematic material.
- The [Futuristic Iraq-war movie?] is SOYLENT GREEN ZONE, a mash-up of Soylent Green and Green Zone. Soylent Green is a 1973 Charlton Heston film set in 2022, when the world is so polluted and overpopulated that natural foods don’t exist and most live off of a processed food called “soylent green.” SPOILER ALERT: the food is made from humans! There, I just saved two hours of your life. Green Zone, the other film referenced in this theme entry, is the recent Matt Damon vehicle rumored to be a poor man’s Bourne movie. It’s not in my Netflix queue (currently at 63 movies).
- The [Capra/Hitchcock collaboration?] is IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFEBOAT, a blend of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life and Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat. Man, this one had potential but the clue falls short. It needs something like “about a Titanic survivor’s gratitude” at the end to give it some punch. I wonder if editing constraints forced such a short, incomplete clue. Anyway, back to Hitchcock. He was famous for making cameo appearances in his films, but how could he pull it off in Lifeboat, a film set entirely on, go figure, a lifeboat? Easy—he’s in the “before and after” pictures in a weight loss ad seen on the newspaper read by one of the survivors. Check it out over there on the right. Clever!
- The [Movie about a pregnant prizefighter?] is MILLION DOLLAR BABY MAMA, the combination of Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby starring Hilary Swank and the Tina Fey/Amy Poehler vehicle, Baby Mama. I was able to plunk this one down in the grid sans crossings, thus giving me one of the many unique joys of solving: writing a 21-letter entry without hesitation. Why doesn’t this happen when I’m solving next to someone on the plane or the bus who’s clearly rubbernecking?
- The [Film about four women on a cattle ranch?] is SEX AND THE CITY SLICKERS. Here too I could write down the whole theme entry without needing any crosses. You can easily decipher the two movies combined into one here, but a compulsion for completeness requires that I spell it out: it’s Sex and the City, the big-screen version of the popular sitcom, and City Slickers, the first of three movies in the Billy Crystal franchise from the 1990s. Now I kinda hope the subtitle for the third Sex and the City movie is “The Legend of Carrie’s Gold.”
- The [Film about sleuthing at the Vatican?] is CHARLIE’S ANGELS & DEMONS. Here we have another cinematic adaptation of a TV series, Charlie’s Angels, this time mixed with the adaptation of Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons. Farrah had much better hair than Tom Hanks. Bonus points for incorporating the ampersand. To make it work, Hook uses the [TV crime drama since 1990], LAW & ORDER, as the crossing.
- But Hook’s not done showing off! The [Leto/Heigl movie?] is CHAPTER 27 DRESSES, a combination of Jared Leto’s Chapter 27 and Katherine Heigl’s 27 Dresses. Hmm. Chapter 27 is a pretty obscure film (Google tells me its worldwide gross was only $187,488!), and the resulting entry (“Chapter 27 Dresses”) doesn’t really make sense, which is why it has to be clued so dully. The entry is interesting solely because of the numbers. Hook uses 2PM, clued as [1400 hours], and 7oo, clued as [Pat Robertson’s “The ___ Club”] for the crossings. This is fine, but then then each zero from 700 reverts to the letter “O” for the crossings, POETS and MORES. Bonus points for the numbers, but demerits for the awkward entry, dull clue, and inconsistent use of the O/0.
Even though the theme is unoriginal, it’s one I like, and I had no problems with five of the six theme entries. The fill was generally smooth, save for the slightly forced (but to me, satsifactory) ROW G, clued as [Seventh row from the stage, maybe]. As Amy would say, this is a “roll your own” term–is ROW Q now legit fill?
My favorite clue was probably [Early bird?] for EGG. We have a fair amount of trivia-based clues here, which is fine by me. VENEZUELA, for instance, is the [OPEC member nearest the U.S.], and OBERLIN is [America’s first co-ed college]. But there were tons of entries that were new to me. Learn with me (or laugh at me) as we unveil this week’s Brushes with Lame!
- I didn’t know CANIO, the [“Pagliacci” role]. All I know about this opera comes from Seinfeld, specifically the episode where Crazy Joe Davola dresses up as the clown from Pagliacci. I think maybe the clown is Canio.
- The [“Criminal Minds” grp.] is BAU. Apparently that stands for the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. Haven’t seen the show—I think maybe it’s on at the same time as Mythbusters.
- The [“Brave New World” drug] is SOMA. Dystopian fiction is not my thing, so I’ve never read the Aldous Huxley novel. I have probably seen SOMA in puzzles before but obviously it has never stuck with me.
- The [Crisp bread] is ZWIEBACK. It’s a sweet egg bread that, as its name suggests, is twice-baked. The internets say it’s often used as a teething biscuit.
- Normally I’m all over the comic strip clues like egg on zwieback. But I didn’t know [Comic-strip cowboy Rick] O’SHAY. Love the clever name. The Stan Lynde strip ran from 1958 to 1981. I don’t recall seeing it, even though I was well into reading the funnies before 1981. I didn’t get into westerns until much later, so I may well have skipped it on my way to Peanuts, Andy Capp, Herman, and Shoe.
- [“Did you ever see ___…”] A HORSE FLY? WTF? No, I haven’t. As best I can tell, this is the start of a children’s song that also asks whether you have ever seen a board walk or a tooth pick. Thank heavens most of the songs from my childhood came from “Free to Be…You and Me.”
- Finally, it’s PETER who’s the [Lord Wimsey of whodunits]. Wikipedia says his full name is Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey. Wonder why he never went by his middle name?
Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “Octopuzz”
Okay, this is fun—Merl gathers up a bunch of things with “eight” or “8” in them and uses just the numeral in each instance (sort of rebus-style, as you could also put EIGHT in each of these squares), so the crossings involve two things with 8s. And to further advance the octo-theme, the grid itself includes a giant “8.” Do you think the “8” is made of the black squares, or is it the fatter swath of 8-shaped white squares that enclose the black “8”? I think it’s the latter. Or both.
The theme kicks in right at 1-Across and 1-Down and marches all over the grid. Here are all the 8s, in order of the Acrosses and with Down crossings grouped with their Across:
- 1a. An [Octet] is an 8-SOME.
- 1d. [Four hours before noon] is 8 AM.
- 19a. 8-BALL is a [Type of pool].
- 19d. [Film about the Black Sox scandal] is 8 MEN OUT.
- 21a. [1992 Uma Thurman thriller] is JENNIFER 8.
- 18d. V-EIGHT ENGINES are [Power sources] for some vehicles.
- 27a. [2002 Catherine Deneuve whodunit] is 8 WOMEN.
- 27d. The [2002 Adam Sandler comedy] about Hanukkah is 8 CRAZY NIGHTS.
- 28a. [Part of a free call] is 888. Could also be 800 or 877, but the triple-punch 888 is cooler.
- 28d. [Cassette alternatives, once] were 8-TRACKS.
- 29d. [Giant spider flick starring David Arquette] is 8-LEGGED FREAKS.
- 30d. 8 ARMS is an [Octopus trait].
- 37a. 8 MM is an [Old home-movie format].
- 37d. [Sitcom about dating, for short] is 8 SIMPLE RULES (About Dating My Daughter). This was John Ritter’s last role before his shocking death.
- 67a. [2002 Eminem film] is 8 MILE, after Detroit’s 8 Mile Road.
- 67d. We get a Beatles FITB, 8 DAYS [“___ a Week”].
- 83a. [Extension-cord length, perhaps] is 8 FEET. This one sounds arbitrary to me. I feel like I see 6-foot or less and 10-foot or more cords. I could be shopping at the wrong place for 8-footers, though.
- 90a. 8-LANE is [Wide, as some highways].
- 83d. [Half-mile run] clues 88O, meaning 880 yards but having the zero double as the letter O in the crossing.
- 85a. [“Dinner ___”] AT 8 is what, a movie or a play? Or just a time for supper?
- 86d. [Bronc rider’s duration] is 8 SECONDS. Wasn’t that a movie about rodeos, too?
- 109a. [1970s sitcom] clues 8 IS ENOUGH. Does that count as a one-hour sitcom? It had plenty of drama. Was it more drama, comedy, or dramedy? My husband votes dramedy.
- 69d. [Legendary “dead man’s hand”] involves ACES AND 8S.
- 113a. [Cereal box info] clues NET W8. Merl plays around here with textspeak (where great becomes “gr8”) but in a phrase nobody would ever use in texting. Merl, you goof!
- 116d. Here’s another O = 0. [High temperature range] is the 8OS. We would also have accepted [Decade with awesome New Wave music].
- 117a. Rolling [Two 4s, in craps] is called HARD 8.
- 82d. A FIGURE 8 is an [Ice maneuver].
- 118a. [Klinger’s hoped-for discharge on “M*A*S*H”] is called a SECTION 8, which is also the term for subsidized apartments.
- 101d. The Nebraska [Cornhuskers’ conference, once] is the BIG 8. They just became the 12th team in the Big 10, didn’t they?
Holy cats! That is a lot of theme entries. Twenty-seven Twenty-nine, I count. Well-played, Mr. Reagle. “Merl Reagle” anagrams to “real gem (erl)” and we’ll just disregard that last part because this puzzle is a real gem.
Mike Shenk’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 18”
I had no idea what the 32d clue was getting at. [Someone you might thank in passing?] What could that mean? I had to play the alphabet game to get the first letter because 32a: [Flavor of quark] wasn’t remotely obvious to me, either. And then there was 43a: [Matronalia honoree]. JUN*, well, hmm, maybe this is about JUNE, which makes 32d *UTER. What’s the first letter? MUTER and a MOP quark? Finally the light dawned: TUTOR with an O, a TOP quark, and JUNO of Matronalia fame. I had never heard of Matronalia, so I looked it up just now. Roman festival for the goddess of childbirth? Awesome: because I just read Deb Amlen’s blog post about a contraption designed to use centrifugal force to speed childbirth.
Those three answers alone may have occupied 20% of my solving time. Yikes! Other clues and answers from this excellent 70-worder follow:
- 1a. [Start for Sophocles?] is the Greek letter S, SIGMA. I started with the “start” of the Greek alphabet, ALPHA, but that got me nowhere.
- 6a. As cute as you’re gonna get for a BAIT SHOPS clue: [There may be a catch if you buy from them].
- 16a. [Synonym of an anagram of 15-Across] is a tad convoluted. 15a is KNEAD, which anagrams into NAKED, and that’s what AU NATUREL means.
- 20a. [“Ah, But Your Land Is Beautiful” author] is PATON, Alan Paton, the South African writer. I’m fairly certain that I never knew he was South African.
- 28a. Fencing sport EPÉE is a [Sport that may end in a double defeat], whereas 8d: [How backgammon games can’t end] is IN A TIE.
- 39a. [Allowing no equivocation] clues EITHER/OR. Pick one: you can’t have both.
- 45a. [“Sounds good to me!”] clues “I’M IN!” I had AMEN initially but the right answer is so much better.
- 56a. The ESKIMO PIE is a [Treat first called an “I-Scream Bar”]. Who knew?
- 58a. [“What’s the point?”] clues my favorite answer in this puzzle: ‘WHY BOTHER?” I love crossword answers, like this and I’M IN, that talk to me.
- 1d. [Street props] are SKI POLES, as in props for skier Picabo Street. Gotta love the “first-letter-hides-its-true-nature top-secret capitalized word” trick.
- 4d. [Mother of a zebroid] is a MARE. Zebroids are half-zebra hybrids that tend to get great portmanteau names, such as zebrass, zebadonk, and horbra.
- 7d. [“Maid of golden hair” in an 1860s song] is AURALEE. Thank you, reasonable crossings, for helping me get this.
- 24d. A city street [Parker’s concern] is a parking METER.
- 35d. [Merlin voicer in “Shrek the Third”] is Monty Python’s ERIC IDLE.
- 36d. [Still’s antonym] is NO LONGER, as in “not anymore.”
- 41d. [Like Mr. Mxyzptlk] clues IMPISH. No idea what the background is here.
- 42d. MINSKY is the [Last name of burlesque brothers Abe, Billy, Herbert and Morton]. Never heard of them, can’t think of a more famous MINSKY. In one of Trip Payne’s wacky “Something Different” puzzles, this could be clued as [Like the capital of Belarus], couldn’t it?
- 46d. [He “won’t come this evening but surely tomorrow”] clues GODOT. But you know what? Spoiler alert: That bastard Godot will stand you up forever.
Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Sunday Challenge”—Evad’s review
Constructor Doug Peterson brings us today’s CS/WaPo “Sunday Challenge.” Not only is Doug an accomplished constructor, but a nice guy as well whom I had the pleasure of chatting with briefly at last year’s ACPT in Brooklyn. Let’s see if we can guess which entries were the seeds of this themeless.
- One Across is always a good bet for the entry that the constructor started with, and today’s BOHO-CHIC is about as good as they come–lively and unusual. The prefix “Boho-” comes from “Bohemian,” and plays off the South of Houston (pronounced “How-” not “Hew-“) St. SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan.
- That is stacked over 2 other “great 8s”–IPOD NANO and GUTEN TAG. My German is pretty bad, but that’s one of the few phrases I know.
- So would you be IN A SWEAT if you were in a HOT SPOT as opposed to in SNOW FORTS? (HOT SPOT is clued more au courant referring to a wi-fi spot, like your local Starbucks.)
- My mother knit MACRAME back when I was growing up–I remember these elaborate knotted hangers that held flower pots that hung in front of our living room windows. After we had enough of those, she bought tools to pierce holes in leather to make purses–she was into crafts! The closest I came was to make gimp keychains–does anyone remember braiding these?
- Seeing E SHARP (“F equivalent”) reminds me, in a wincing way, of how I crashed on Matt Gaffney’s recent meta with notes as the theme entries. (I first wondered how the crossing PEPE in today’s puzzle could be considered “sharp”!) This also crossed the unusual four-consonants-in-a-row entry of ST THOMAS.
- I’m starting to tire of entries with numbers in them. Today’s LANE ONE isn’t the worst of the bunch (if you have to have a number, at least make it ONE), but it’s a slippery slope of arbitrariness when it leads to the recent THREE LETTER ACRONYM or TEN YEAR SENTENCE.
- NERO WOLFE is nowhere near as interesting as the name of the author of “Black Orchids,” Rex Todhunter Stout.
- PETERS gave me a slight giggle (here clued as “Fizzles (out)”). Anyone seen the Peter Pepper? I hear Peter picked a peck of ’em.
Dan Schoenholz’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Someting’s Missing
My editorial eye completely skipped over the missing letter H in the title, so it took a while for me to figure out what te teme is: familiar phrases changed by excising an H, thereby altering the meaning. Often a theme like this can fall flat, but I like how this one played out. Really, it was the hilarious SOCK ABSORBER that made me fond of this theme. Here are all the theme entries:
- 27a. [Plan a Big Apple heist?] is CASE MANHATTAN. Chase Manhattan didn’t leap to mind for me, so the theme remained hidden from me.
- 42a. [Snorkeling?] is a scuba TANKLESS TASK. I had the TANKLESS part first but didn’t know where the rest was going because I hadn’t figured out the “tHankless” bit.
- 60a. [Portfolio for retirement planning?] is a SAVING KIT. The SAVING part made sense, but it was only when crossings gave me KIT that my head said “Oh! S(H)AVING KIT!”
- 70a. [Do a Gap stockroom job?] clues SORT PANTS. Having figured out the short/sort switch, it took me a while to think of a “short (apparel)” phrase that would fit here.
- 86a. [Clothes dryer, so it’s said?] is a SOCK ABSORBER. Hah! I like that. Now, I have at least 10 socks at the stag party in my laundry basket, waiting forlornly for their mates to appear. I always think the lost ones are just under a dresser or something, and will eventually find their way home. It doesn’t seem to happen. At what point do you give up and chuck the loners?
- 101a. [Made off with the meat?] clues COPPED SIRLOIN. “Chopped sirloin” isn’t in my vernacular since I’m not a meat eater. I suppose it qualifies as “in the language,” though.
- 37d. [Iguana pals in Ecuador?] are TREE AMIGOS. “Jefe, would you say I have a plethora of piñatas?” The Ecuador part of the clue signals the Spanish aspect, and iguanas hang out in trees.
- 45d. [Shamu’s arena?] is SEA STADIUM. Ooh, I like the pronunciation change here, from Shea (“shay”) to SEA. You could argue that it’s inconsistent with the rest of the theme entries and therefore fails, but I liked the surprise factor. Solid “aha” moment when I figured this one out.
Highlights in the fill: That BAD PERM, Spiro “grow a penis” Agnew’s nattering NABOBS, a MUPPET, GOES EASY, fresh-entry YOGA MATS, and a T-BIRD. Oddest answer: 84d: BRA MODEL, or [Victoria’s Secret catalog poser]. Is that a phrase, “bra model”? My husband is claiming that he uses “bro model” all the time, alluding to the Seinfeld episode with the Manssieres.