With Amy well on her way to New York for Lollapuzzoola 3: The Legend of Curly’s Gold, it’s me, Sam Donaldson, sitting in the captain’s chair through the weekend. Expect to feel much better about your own solving times over the next four days!
Barry Boone’s New York Times Crossword
Fun theme! Rare letters! Lovely stacked downs! Rebus squares! Roman numerals! And a great [Stadium sign], HI MOM! Boone’s terrific puzzle has it all. I hope this gets serious Oryx consideration at year’s end.
Strange that such an enjoyable puzzle would have a theme that’s kind of a downer. As we learn from four across entries, S.O.S., represented in the grid’s center as DIT-DIT-DIT-DAH-DAH-DAH-DIT-DIT-DIT, is the MORSE CODE message from the RMS Titanic to which the RMS CARPATHIA responded on April 15, 1912. The sinking of the Titanic is not the most uplifting moment in nautical history, but I felt remarkably buoyant throughout the solve. Maybe some solvers were put off by the cross-references in the clues, but they did not bother me one bit. Key to the execution of this marvel is the incorporation of the “dits” and “dahs” into the corresponding down answers:
- EDITS, clued as [Cuts and splices film, e.g.];
- “Iron” Mike DITKA, the [Longtime Chicago Bears coach];
- ADDITIONS, clued as the [New wings] added to a building;
- DOODAH, [Part of the "De Camptown Races" refrain];
- IDAHO, with the late-week clue, [Snake's place], a reference to the Snake River;
- DAHLIA, [Mexico's national flower] (trivia!);
- EXPEDITED, clued as [Rushed];
- END IT, perhaps the only way to [Terminate a relationship]; and
- EDITH, [Mrs. Woodrow Wilson] (and Mrs. Archie Bunker and Mr. Edith Piaf).
I learned Morse Code as “dots” and “dashes,” not “dits” and “dahs,” so once I finally tumbled to the rebus it still took me a while to realize that I was supposed to use “dit” and “dah.” That slowed my time considerably, as did my error in writing CREME as the [Caffe go-with] when it was CREMA. In my defense, I don’t know the [Joni Mitchell song with the lyric "She was swallowed by the sky"], so EMELIA looked just as right to me as AMELIA.
If you count the crossing down answers enumerated above, there’s a lot of theme material here, yet the fill doesn’t seem forced in the slightest. I’m almost jealous of the beauty that is the southwest corner–the stacked 7s of JAZZ AGE, EYE EXAM, and TEA ROSE create solid crosses like JET-SKI and ZEROES IN. My only hangup with the corner is clue for EMERY, [What might do a foul tip?]. It just seems to be trying a little to hard to be cute. But otherwise this corner is just a model of good fill. Other great fill in the grid includes EXOTICA, SAID I DO, and NATTILY, one of my favorite characters from “The Facts of Life.”
Is there anything wrong with this puzzle? Maybe the two consecutive partials, each beginning with “A,” is underwhelming (Give it A SHOT immediately precedes “A TIME to Kill”). Some cringe at any Roman numeral as if they are asked to swallow barbed wire, but I don’t mind them at all. So those seeking to pick nits over DLIX, the [Mid sixth-century year], should know that not all of us agree that Roman numerals are crap fill.
Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crossword, “Themeless 25″
We saw part of it last week in a Los Angeles Time puzzle, and now we get the full meal deal at 1-Across: “J TO THA L-O!”is the [2002 remix album that debuted at #1]. As Peter (better known in some circles as “P-to-the-G-O”) explains in the notes accompanying the solution, it’s an album by J-LO, or, if you prefer, Jennifer Lopez. And it’s a fun way to kick off an enjoyable puzzle pitched at the right level of difficulty, I think. I like my Fireballs like I like my Friday NYTs, clever and elusive on the first pass but ultimately fair and relenting. Some bloggers want their Fireballs much harder, and that’s cool. But they’re not here now, are they?
Like most rapid solvers (a rapid solver is one who will never crack the A Division at the ACPT but will rush the stage enthusiastically to take an E Division trophy), I started with the two fill-in clues: ["I AIN'TGot Time to Bleed" (Jesse Ventura book)] was a gimme for this former pro rasslin’ and politics fan. And [Hostess SNO Balls] is a gimme for any fellow solver inflicted with a sweet tooth. AIN’T fed MATTLeBlanc, the [Joey portrayer on "Joey"], which set up NATTIER (clued as [More dapper]), followed soon by STEEDS, clued wonderfully as [They live in a stable environment]. Then it was on to DENISE, [Lisa (bonet)'s role on "The Cosby Show"], I REPEAT, and BOX ELDER, and soon the southwest was vanquished. SNO and I REPEAT didn’t give me much to work with in the southeast, but I managed to get TATTOOER, [One who works on your body image?] fairly quickly, and somehow I was able to plunk down BORN FREE, the [1960 book who first chapter is "Cub Life"] off of only the final letter. That set up the fall of the southeast in short order.
The northern hemisphere proved much tougher for me. I knew LINE TEST, the [Part of a telephone technician's diagnostic routine], from a previous crossword. I remember hating the entry then because I couldn’t get it for the longest time. This time, thanks to prior consternation, it came easily. Eventually the northeast fell once I remembered Robert DENIRO was the [Star of "The King of Comedy"]. The northwest, on the other hand, was almost my Waterloo. It wasn’t until I let mind broaden to think of other meanings of [Bolt, for example] that I made any serious progress in this corner. Once I tried JAMAICAN, it gradually started to come together.
Some other items worthy of mention:
- No clue about MANOLETE, the [Bullfighter killed in 1947 by a Miura bull named Islero]. Jeffrey, what’s the term you created for entries like this, where the added detail from the clue is of absolutely no help because you either know it or you don’t? Was it an “Olaf?” Well, you could have told me his favorite food, his favorite football team, and that Adrien Brody played him in a 2007 movie (it’s true) and I still would have needed every crossing.
- [Crib notes] is a superb clue for LULLABY, but doesn’t it need a question mark to signal the wordplay? I know, I know, we’ve been over the issue of when a question mark is required for a clue. But I feel like it was warranted here, even on a puzzle intended to be tough.
- If you’re stumped by [Danes and others] as a clue for ACTRESSES, I believe it’s a reference to Claire Danes. My so-called brain clicked with that clue right away.
- My favorite clue was one that stumped me for far too long. [Potter's replacement] had me thinking of Harry Potter. Having yet to read the final book in the series, I worried that I had tumbled upon a spoiler. Then I wondered if it was a reference to Colonel Potter from M*A*S*H. But he replaced Colonel Blake and no one replaced him. Finally, with the —DRA in place, I realized the Potter in question was Potter Stewart, an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court who was replaced by SANDRA Day O’Connor. Well played, Mister Gordon. Well played indeed.
- Thanks to many years in fantasy baseball, I knew ERSTAD as the [Angels All-Star Darin who's the only ballplayer to win Gold Gloves as an infielder and an outfielder]. And for some reason I knew not to think baseball when I read the clue [World Series game]. That was a reference to the World Series of Poker, and one of the games played there is Texas HOLD ‘EM.
Ben Tausig’s Inkwell (Chicago Reader) Crossword, “Another Way to Start”
Puzzle titles mean everything. To solve this puzzle correctly one must enter the first word of each theme entry backwards, thus providing “another way to start.” In addition, each theme entry is clued in a way that utilizes a different definition for the first word. So maybe “Two Different Ways to Start” might have been a more accurate title. Consider the five theme entries:
- A “strike zone” typically refers to the area between a baseball batter’s shoulders and kneecaps–it’s the area through which a pitch must be thrown to count as a strike in baseball. But here, the term is clued as an [Area of military retaliation?], employing a different definition of “strike.” Then, for the second part of the thematic two-step, we enter “strike” backwards in the grid, resulting in EKIRTS ZONE.
- A “weight room” is normally where one would find dumbbells (and the equipment they lift). Use a different meaning of “weight” and it can be clued as an [Indoor space filled with sandbags?] (a heavy room, man). Reverse the letters in the first word and you have THGIEW ROOM.
- Some hourly employees might still “punch the clock” at the start and end of their shifts. Get a little more violent with it, and you have the clue, [Not give in to a timepiece that swings at you?]. Then switch the letters in the first word, and just like that you have HCNUP THE CLOCK.
- In basketball, the “point guard” is often the team leader and the best ball-handler on the floor. She reads the defense, figures out the best strategy, and feeds the ball to the player in the best position to score. And she can shoot. When she’s the best in the world, she’s Sue Bird (pictured at right). But switch the meaning of “point” to “topic,” and you have a [Debate tactic that defends against opposing views?]. Reverse the letters of “point” in the grid and you get TNIOP GUARD.
- I don’t know about you, but I get “motion sick” in a car if I read aloud for an extended period. I learned this the hard way trying to be a human book-on-tape for my nephews once on a long drive. Switch the definition of “motion” to a courtroom request, and the clue [Nauseous about another court filing?] makes sense. Switch the order of the letters in “motion” and you get NOITOM SICK.
I’m pretty sure that’s the extent of the gimmick here; at least I don’t see a connection between the words that appear backwards. Is there more to the puzzle than these two layers? I don’t mean to imply that the puzzle has “just” two layers and thus falls short–I like that there are two aspects to the theme. I’m just hoping there’s not a third (or fourth) that I’m missing. The two (I hope) layers to the theme here took me a long time to crack–I had completed most of the rest of the puzzle except for the theme entries until the twist on “motion sick” finally helped me see the light. Often the theme entries help you crack the knottier fill–this time I needed the fill to suss out most of the theme.
Random Notes: As always, the fill and the clues remind the solver that the puzzle is aimed at the alt-weekly set. ANAL, for instance, is clued not as an abbreviation, but as [Uptight]. And the clue for KELLOGG wouldn’t pass the Breakfast (cereal) Test: [Corn flakes inventor (and anti-masturbation advocate) John Harvey ___]. I wonder if Kellogg hated do-it-yourself home improvement projects too. Am I the only one who wanted “harakiri” for the [Samurai ritual suicide]? It’s the more generic SEPPUKU. If that word sounds familiar, it’s also the next numbers-game craze coming to your local newspapers: fill in the numbers 1 through 9 correctly or you must disembowel yourself. It didn’t help to have SEPPUKU crossing both [Flamenco guitarist Paco] PENA and OSSIPEE, the [Certain Algonquin tribesperson], both unknowns to me. Loved the clue for RENA, [Good name for a nephrologist?], but [Combs, sometimes] is just a brilliant clue for P DIDDY.
Bruce Venzke’s Los Angeles Times Crossword
I had the pleasure of meeting Bruce Venzke during the wine and cheese reception at this year’s ACPT. He was exceptionally friendly (not unlike most at the ACPT), so I wouldn’t have guessed from chatting with him that his puzzle would have so much EGO. The theme, at 65-Across, is INNER SELF. We’re told from the clue that [A synonym for it is hidden in 17-, 24-, 40-, and 52-Across]. Sure enough, all of those entries contain the word EGO. See for yourself:
- ["Good job!"] clues NICE GOING. That’s a happy way to start.
- The [Hughes aircraft prototype] is the SPRUCE GOOSE. I’m not positive about this, but I think the original Spruce Goose sits at an aviation museum in McMinnville, Oregon, close to where I grew up. Most of the Willamette Valley is now known for growing grapes.
- To [Sermonize] is to PREACH THE GOSPEL. If you will indulge me, I will sermonize a bit here on the theme. Brothers and sisters, notice how Brother Venzke makes sure that EGO always spans two words. That’s why DIEGO RIVERA, DRAFT CATEGORY, and GREGORY PECK, for example, would be bad theme entries here–we can’t have the hidden word contained entirely within one other word sometimes and span two words other times. Model thyself after Brother Venzke and be consistent! But let us also learn from Borther Venzke’s slight flaw. All of the other theme entries are two words long, but PREACH THE GOSPEL is three words long. A second three-word theme entry would be acceptable, but the ideal solution would be to keep all the theme entries at two words. Alas, Brother Venzke is human like us all, but we must always strive for the tightly-themed, consistent life. Amen.
- The [Game with discs and baskets] is FRISBEE GOLF. We used to play this in junior high and high school, though I think of it more as a college sport. I wasn’t half-bad at the game, but that’s my own EGO talking.
I like hidden word themes, so this puzzle worked for me. I had to play the “run-the-alphabet” game at the first letter of 5-Across and 5-Down, as neither ["Man Plus" author Frederik] POHL nor [son of the Mikado] Nanki-POO was familiar to me. The POO I know is an object, not a person. Breakfast Test, anyone?
Other items of note from the clues and fill: I like [Eponymous salad creator] as the clue for 1-Across, COBB; SERAGLIO, the [Title setting for a Mozart abduction], was new to me; I didn’t quite get the clue for ELTON, [John of Middlesex], but now I do–Elton John was from Middlesex in England; I think the word “Former” should have preceded the clue [Judge of many 36-Across] (which was IDOLS), as PAULA Abdul is no longer a panelist on American Idol; does anyone else think the term OLD SAW is itself an old saw? Or is it now passe?
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “He Went Thataway”—Janie’s review
This is one of those mixed-bag-of-a-solve puzzles where we get a terrific theme idea that is almost, but not quite, ready for publication. Randy has removed the letters HE from the beginning of four well-known phrases, and when it works, it works—we get new phrases that sound as idiomatic as the base phrase. To my ear (at any rate) he’s not always successful. Here’s what we get:
- 17A. Head of state → AD OF STATE [Vacation infomercial?]. The “I Love New York” campaign comes to mind. That, though, is more polished than this theme fill which just misses for me.
- 28A. Hebrew language → BREW LANGUAGE [Barley, hops and yeast?]. Bingo. This one LANDS [Touches down] the way it should. Need a “how to”? Here’s a link to the Ale University (!) page on the brewing process. When you’re done, (depending on what you’ve cooked up) you may need a STEIN [Oktoberfest mug] or perhaps you’ll want only a SNORT [Shot of booze]—either of which may cause you to sleep soundly and emit [Night noise], or SNORE. Cheers!
- 49A. Heat exhaustion → AT EXHAUSTION [Completely tuckered out?]. Omma don’ think so. When you’re “completely tuckered out” I think you’re either “exhausted” or you’re at (the point of) exhaustion—but at exhaustion? This is not workin’ for me.
- 66A. Heart attack → ART ATTACK [Critical review of a museum exhibit?]. Better!
What does help this puzzle is some strong, longer fill and Randy’s way with a clue. Because I’m such a fan of the book, I was pleased to see first name and last of JAMES AGEE clued as ["A Death in the Family" author]. If [Fan's losing lament] is a little tricky to understand as the route to “NEXT YEAR…” think of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s charming memoir Wait Till Next Year, which recounts a childhood of living on Long Island in the early ’50s and being a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers. I get a strong visual when I see [Restrain, as a perp] cluing HANDCUFF; and an equally strong sensory response to ODOR EATER, [Shoe insert]…
Some fave clues include;
- [It gets chalked up] for CUE TIP (and not EXPERIENCE).
- For its specificity, [Number of provinces in Canada] for TEN.
- Someone who’s [On pins and needles] is TENSE and may be suffering [The heebie-jeebies] UNEASE—because s/he’s scared. What’s a [Scary finish?] here? Not a “EEK!” but the letter [WYE]…
- And saving the best for last, there’s the punny [Middle of the weak, maybe] for FLAB. Get those crunches goin’!
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Crossword, “Merge Records”
It’s summer rerun season at the BEQ site. Even Crossword Apostles must rest every once in a while, so we get a highlight offering from the past. Subtitled “It’s a two for one special,” BEQ spins five 15-letter theme entries by mashing up two albums with a common word in their titles, before-and-after style.
- An [Average place to buy a laptop?] is OK COMPUTER WORLD, a blend of Radiohead’s third album, “OK Computer,” with Kraftwerk’s eighth album, “Computer World.” The clues, by the way, signal the artists that recorded each album. I certainly wouldn’t know this information otherwise. To demonstrate how sheltered I am, the only Kraftwerk I know is macaroni and cheese.
- An [eHarmony employee's credo?] would be MY AIM IS TRUE LOVE, combining Elvis Costello’s debut album with the 2004 album “True Love” by Toots & the Maytals. Under the heading of TMI, I tried eHarmony very briefly a couple months back when friends encouraged me to get back into the ugly, infested jungle known as the Dating World. I got a creepy vibe from eHarmony, so I never finished the questionnaire.
- The [Guardian headline about the decline of a North London street?] is ABBEY ROAD TO RUIN, a mix of the “Abbey Road” album by some obscure group called The Beatles and “Road to Ruin,” the fourth studio album by The Ramones.
- The [Acela painted aqua?] is a KIND OF BLUE TRAIN. For those of us on the west coast, the Acela is, according to Wikipedia, Fountain of Truthiness, “Amtrak’s high-speed rail service along the Northeast Corridor (NEC) in the Northeast United States between Washington, D.C., and Boston via Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York.” The theme entry is the union of the album “Kind of Blue” from Miles Davis and “Blue Train” from John Coltrane.
- Finally, the [Signal that the game's over by the Irish ref?] is SIGN O’ THE TIME’S UP. Here we combine Prince’s “Sign o’ the Times” with Living Colour’s second album, “Time’s Up.” The game is over by the Irish ref? Then why are we standing here?
Music is not my specialty–I’m more of an NPR and sports radio guy. (SCIENCE FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS would be in my wheelhouse, but we’d need a 25x grid to accommodate it.) So when I saw the title, I shuddered a little, worried I was in for a near-vertical uphill climb. But the surrounding fill was sufficiently accessible and the theme entry clues gave enough hints that I made pretty decent time (by my standards, mind you) on this. The theme entries weren’t the only musically-related content in this puzzle: there’s “Pleased TO MEET Me” from the Replacements, the CBGBS nightclub, The Who’s “Magic BUS,” Weird Al Yankovic’s “EAT IT,” Pavement singer STEVE Malkmus, and U2′s “The Joshua TREE.”
Note that the grid devotes 75 squares to theme content. That forces some compromises in the fill, but BEQ’s a pro’s pro so the ugliness is kept to a minimum. Back-to-back abbreviations like REL and STD in the northeast corner are sub-optimal, and ALSAB, the [1942 Preakness winner], should be off to the glue factory–though he facilitates the fun I LUV U next door, wonderfully clued as [<3 <3 <3]. I’ve always thought the <3 symbol represented a broken heart because the carat and the three don’t touch. Perhaps I am projecting too much.