Happy Friday the 13th, everyone! As someone who turned 13 (and 30) on Friday the 13th (February, thanks for asking), I don’t suffer from triskaidekaphobia. So I expect nothing but good luck in solving the Friday puzzles!
Manny Nosowsky’s New York Times Crossword
“Yay! Manny!” I said aloud as I opened the puzzle on Across Lite. Five minutes later, it was “Dammit, Manny!” I struggled for a long time with this 62-word freestyle puzzle before it cracked open. Like most puzzles of this sort, once you make some headway, additional progress comes more quickly.
If you’re going for an uber-low word count in your grid (62 answers or less), you basically have two choices: (1) segment the grid into quadrants with narrow passages connecting them; or (2) be Frank Longo or Patrick Berry. Manny chose the first option. Each quadrant provides only one opening to the center, and crossing three-letter words in the center are your only hope to proceed from quadrant to quadrant. These kind of grids scare me much more than those with triple- and quadruple-stacked corners of 10+-letter entries or grids with only 20 or so black squares. White space I can handle, narrow inlets make me nervous. I guess I’m claustrophobic and not agoraphobic when it comes to crosswords.
Like most, I started with the answers of which I was sure. The [Mother who never had a delivery?] had to be THERESA, never mind that I always thought it was spelled “Teresa.” [Calms down] was certainly SOOTHES. And [One not seated?] Oh, c’mon, Manny and Will, you can’t fool me–that’s ELECTEE, one who has yet to assume office and thus is without a seat. I’m on fire!
I finally, finally got a right start in the southwest corner, entering EARLESS for [Like many seals]. I seemed to remember that from somewhere, and those letters are awfully nice to have at the bottom of a stack. Still thinking that SOOTHES was right, I reasoned that the word above EARLESS ended in -ED, meaning I had –DS for [ABC newsman Potter and others]. I know my ABC newsmen (when you’re confused for one all the time, you kinda learn these things), so NEDS was next. I knew the clue [A pound of Turkey?] referenced currency, but it seemed strange that the answer was seven letters when LIRA is only four. Oh, I see, ONE LIRA. Then I got stuck, so I went to the middle. Once I had SATIN, [Like some bedding], I was able to figure out that the [Midpoint of morning watch] had to be SIX A.M. (remember, I still thought the S was right from SOOTHES). Coming back to the southwest, I saw at last that SOOTHES was likely wrong since that would make the [Meat curer] end in -HE, and that looked wrong. When I finally tumbled to the right answer, SEDATES, the southwest soon fell. Whew! Wait, there’s three more corners?
Next up was the southeast. I figured out that [Get moving] was ANIMATE, and [Castro's "enemy to whom we had become accustomed"] was probably KENNEDY. That led to SCENERY, [Trees, hills, etc.], then SCOOTER, the [Two-wheeler]. My only real pause here was POWER ON, clued as [Start up, as electronic equipment]. I figured it couldn’t be right only because RELY ON was sitting directly atop of it, and there’s no way the “on”s would appear one on top of the other. But lo and behold, there it is.
I headed next to the northwest. I knew that 1-Across, the [Homo found in 1891], would probably be the last thing I’d place into the grid, so I hunted around for other stuff. I figured the [Noted password user] was ALI BABA, probably because Will and company used a similar clue for OPEN SESAME in a freestyle puzzle of my own published earlier this year. With the second B from ALI BABA, I thought [Adjacency] was some version of ABUT, so I entered those four letters and went elsewhere. Almost tried EWOKS for the [Fangorn Forest race], but quickly got my sci-fi/fantasy straight and realized it was ENTS. For some reason I got lucky with NAPE as the answer to [It's often cleaned by a barber], and before I knew it I had ABUTTAL and then I tumbled to JAVA MAN. Turns out 1-Across wasn’t my last entry after all–that was J’ACCUSE, the [1898 Emile Zola letter]. Muttering to myself, “Who the f&^% is AL ROSEN?” I headed to the northeast.
THERESA was there waiting for me, and boy did she disappoint. Thanks to tenth grade English, I knew TESS was the [Literary title character called "a pure woman"]. I guessed that the [Combining workers] ended in -ERS, a helpful guess that fed INSURE and SMEARER. Then it hit me–could the “combining workers” be reapers? You know, workers on a combine? But that would mean THERESA is wrong. Fortunately, my confidence was low enough to let myself erase it and play with REAPERS for a while. Good thing, too, as soon the only thing holding me up was resisting LINE ONE as the [Start of a form to fill out] since, after all, ONE LIRA already made use of that number. Shirley there wouldn’t be duplicate “ONE”s and duplicate “ON”s in the same puzzle, right? Well, wrong, and don’t call me Shirley. Literally the last word I got was the correction to THERESA–the mother without a delivery was an ADOPTER. I simultaneously wanted to scream “Arrgh!” and “Aha!” “Aharrgh?”
Other notable items:
- This one took me way too long to figure out, but I loved it once the light went on: A LATHE is [What may make you bats?], because if you want to make a baseball bat, you need a chunk o’ wood and a lathe.
- Don’t know COLETTE, and don’t know the “Cheri” novel he or she wrote. Also don’t know ONDINE, the [1939 Giraudoux play], or its author. Right now I’m not especially inclined to find out about either one, though I suspect one day to see GIRAUDOUX in a Karen Tracey puzzle. Am I missing some great works?
- [Whatever happens, after "at"] clues ANY RATE. Wait, isn’t this a seven-letter partial?
- The only new-to-my-vocabluary word here is TONSURE, the [Clerical clipping]. I was thinking it’s a news article or an edict. Nope, it’s a clipping of hair. As Wikipedia explains: “Tonsure is the practice of some Christian churches, mystics, Buddhist novices and monks, and some Hindu temples of cutting the hair from the scalp of clerics, devotees, or holy people as a symbol of their renunciation of worldly fashion and esteem.” To think this is the only “new” word in this grid speaks to Manny’s skill as a constructor.
Grids with low word counts are best left to the pros because you often end up with a lot of -ER and RE- words, little in the way of rare letters, and even less in the way of compelling fill. Sure, this grid sports REDYED and SMEARER, but there are also no abbreviations and no unfairly obscure entries. We get an assortment of rare letters and interesting fill to boot. I’d still rather have wide open grids, but I trusted Manny to deliver an entertaining, challenging, but ultimately workable puzzle, and in my view he delivered.
Julian Lim’s Los Angeles Times Crossword
- 17-Across: [The animals were bored, and the cows suggested suggested a] MOO-VIE NIGHT. I have a beef with this entry, but I won’t milk it here.
- 20-Across: ["Great idea!" said the goats. "Let's watch] MAA-S ATTACKS. Don’t mean to butt heads with anyone on this, but these sound like Boston goats. No kidding.
- 35-Across: ['How lowbrow!" said the cats. "We much prefer] THE COLOR PURR-PLE. Those are some sophisticated cats. Perhaps they’ll overindulge on duck a l’orange as they watch the film. Then they’d be duck-filled fatty pusses! Moving on….
- 50-Across: ["Too serious!" said the pigeons. 'Why don't we go with] COO HAND LUKE. The good thing about going to the movies with pigeons is that they always know the way home. The bad thing is what they do to your car on the way.
- 55-Across: [But in the end, the sheep had their way, and they all watched] BAA-BAA-RELLA. I saw this one coming, so it didn’t pull the wool over my eyes. (If it’s any consolation, I had a sheepish grin on my face as I typed that last line. I had to use it–I rented that joke and the fleece is up at the end of the month.) Wow, it’s late.
Love how Lim stacked the theme answers at the top and bottom of the grid; one day I’d like to be able to pull something like this off so well. On top of that, the grid boasts only 74 words. Perhaps as a result, we end up with a lot of three-letter entries (19 by my quick count), more than 25% of the total words. But there’s some good fill and clues here. I CAN SEE is a great entry made even better with the clue, [Cry at a faith healing]. I like collision of consonants in NICK JR., the [Channel for little kids], as well as GETS IT, I’M COLD, and AT ODDS. And any puzzle with a COOKIE inside is alright by me.
[Weenie] struck me as an off clue for TWERP. To me, a twerp is a jerk, but a weenie is one who lacks strength, regardless of his or her attitude. I wanted “Tinas” for LANAS, clued as [Turner and Wood]. That there is no suitably famous Tina Wood (back off, G4 fanboys) didn’t deter me from wanting it. Lana Wood was unfamiliar to me until I Googled her and remembered that she played a Bond girl in “Diamonds Are Forever.” Oh, and she’s Natalie Wood’s sister. I also didn’t know ENDNOTE is the name of [Software for creating bibliographies]. That’s a hip clue for what could be a dull entry. Finally, I liked [Quaint "Yowza!"] as a clue for EGAD, only because I think “Yowza” is itself pretty quaint. Would [Quaint "OMG!"] be an improvement? (I think [Quaint "FML"] would be more precise, though not suitable for syndication.)
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Bored of Education”—Janie’s review
In no time at all, class will be in session once again. Let’s hope that those of you who do find yourselves in school will also find your instructors a tad more scintillating than the subject of Bruce’s 5-part “student comment” today, of whom it is said:
- 20A. A PROFESSOR IS
- 28A. SOMEBODY THAT
- 39A. OFTEN
- 48A. TALKS IN OTHER
- 57A. PEOPLES’ SLEEP.
(Ah, but if only that worked like the idea-planting concept of Inception. Or maybe it does…)
It might be disconcerting for the professor if the student [Made nighttime noise] SNORED (a thin variation of yesterdays SNORE/[Night noise] combo…)—so careful, and do your best to stay alert!
While we’re in academia, let me mention what I perceive to be some bonus entries: there’s EXAM, (the procrastinator’s) [Reason for an all-nighter] perhaps; and EFF, the possible [Terrible grade] that comes as a result. Let’s just hope that this worst-case scenario doesn’t cause the student to CRY [Break down, in a way]. Or, in a fit of self-pity, text his/her friends, “I WEPT” [Broke down, in a way]. There’s a moral in all of this, but I leave it to you to figure it out!
I like the way KOKOMO [City north of Indianapolis] is the grid-opposite of NAPOLI [Italia seaport] and was only hoping that perhaps they were sister cities. “BUT NO“—Miami is Napoli‘s sister city in the U.S., and Kokomo? Well, it turns out this town has a sister city in Braga, Portugal. Who’da thunk?
Coincidentally, it was some young men from the aforementioned Indianapolis who got together in the early ’30s to form the INK SPOTS ["If I Didn't Care" singing group]. This lively item has a natural complement in OLDIE [Como or Cline song, e.g.] and in LPS, those [Vinyl platters] all of ‘em produced.
I like seeing NEWS ITEM in the grid and I, ROBOT, too. Apropos of nothing, we get a double-helping of alcoholic beverages by way of BOOZE [White lightning, for example] and PORT [After-dinner drink, frequently] for the more refined palate. Finally, am not certain that the NAPE is accurately a [Shirt tag place]. While a tag may irritate one’s nape, it’ll probably be attached to the shirt’s neckline, but not to the scruff of one’s neck…
Annemarie Brethauer’s Chronicle of Higher Education Crossword, “Big Bend”
Next week is the 100th birthday of crossword favorite Eero Saarinen, and Brethauer commemorates the occasion with a puzzle featuring circled letters that spell out (and form the shape of) the GATEWAY ARCH. Three theme entries reveal the celebration at hand:
- 26-Across: [Shape described by the [circled letters] is CATENARY. To be honest, before solving this puzzle I would have defined catenary as the offspring of a cat and a canary. Now having researched catenary on Wkipedia, it would seem the Gateway Arch is more accurately described an inverted catenary. But that’s 16 letters long and more than anyone wants to know, so plain ol’ catenary works just fine.
- 38-Across: [Where to see the [circled letters]] is, obviously, ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI.
- 46-Across: The [Designer of the [circled letters] (b. August 20, 1910)] is, of course, SAARINEN, the puzzle’s honoree. Fittingly, this is the last, “reveal” entry.
I like the puzzle, but I must pick two nits. First, even if you count GATEWAY ARCH, the puzzle sports only 42 theme squares. It ain’t easy making the grid work when 11 of the letters are absolutely fixed by the visual element of the theme, but it still feels a bit light to me. Second, the Gateway Arch was the subject of a NYT puzzle not so long ago, so this doesn’t feel entirely fresh. But that’s not Brethauer’s fault, and in order to be timely this puzzle absolutely had to run right now. But I have to confess that the other puzzle was much in my mind while solving this one.
Highlights in the fill/clue department included: [Modest hit?] for BUNT; PHAT, clued as [Excellent, slangily]; the [Archie Bunker command] of STIFLE (I have only heard “stifle” used as a command in “All in the Family” episodes); [Handbell ringer of old] as a rich, evocative clue for CRIER; and [Sticks in the medicine cabinet] as a clue for QTIPS. I didn’t know that Irene ADLER was [Onetime Freud collaborator]–I wonder why Doctor Watson never mentioned this in “A Scandal in Bohemia?”