Just got done baking a Spiderman cake and a magic hat cake for a birthday party tomorrow (two brothers). Fondant and sugar and homemade buttercream are all over the place! I hope my fingers don’t stick to the keyboard….
John Farmer’s New York Times Crossword
Perhaps more than any other day, my solving time on a Saturday depends entirely on whether the content is within my wheelhouse. Give me a puzzle filled with opera and literature and I’m in for an all-day slog. But give me a grid with DORITOS, DENNY’S, and FIST BUMP, and I can coast along smoothly. Farmer’s 70-word freestyle puzzle had a few gimmes, a few teasers, and a few Lord-I-need-me-some-crossings entries–just the right balance for a most enjoyable solve.
The gimmes? Maybe I shouldn’t be proud of ‘em, but here they were:
- The [Hirsute sitcom relative] is Cousin ITT from “The Addams Family” *snap* *snap*. Hirsute is a terrific word–it sounds much more flattering, right? “He has a hirsute back.”
- The ["World News Now" airer] is ABC TV. It changed the name because “World News Tonight” sounded so slow. Why should you have to wait until evening for the news? How did I know this? See yesterday’s post about my forced familiarity with all things ABC News.
- DENNY’S is the [Chain offering Moons Over My Hammy]. Someone told me that the Denny’s menu provides pictures of everything so that illiterate customers can point to what they want. Anyone know if that’s true? Like our fearless leader, I prefer IHOP to Denny’s, but I’ve been known to patronize a Denny’s or two. (Speaking of pancakes, I wish Bob Evans was on the west coast. Best. Breakfast. Ever.)
- [Filmmaker Apatow] is JUDD, the creative force behind “The 40 Year-Old Virgin,” “Superbad,” and “Knocked Up,” among other movies. All three of those are among my favorites.
Luckily, these gimmes were scattered throughout the grid, so I had a decent toe-hold in nearly every corner. ABC TV fed AZTECS, the [Some pyramid builders], and anytime you get a word that starts six other entries, you’re
faring well. The Z in AZTECS yielded ZEROED OUT, [Reduced to nothing], then came BESTOW, [Award], and, little by little, the rest of the southwest. That’s three straight NYT puzzles where I’ve conquered the southwest first. That’s probably a sign of something. I’ll go with genius.
Got a little stuck making the transition to the southeast, as I stayed with GOT for [Landed] waaaaay too long before realizing it was WON. I guessed that the [Gloria Estefan hit whose title is Spanish for "Listen!"] was OYE and that [Some temple utterances] were OMS, leading to STET as the answer to [Leave without changing]. I correctly surmised that the [Lawn care equipment] ended in -ERS, so I soon got TRIMMERS. That led to SAD STORY, the [Weeper] (though I initially wanted something along the lines of “crybaby” here). I remembered that Verizon acquired MCI (a company founded in the year 1101), so soon the corner was complete.
Off to the northeast. I guessed AL GORE as the ["Take it from me, elections matter" speaker], and with the -GN in place, ASSIGN, [Fix], was no problem. I guessed NON as the [Only word spoken in Mel Brooks's "Silent Movie"], largely because I had a feeling ELINOR was the [One of Austen's Dashwood sisters], even though I’ve never read the book. (“Sense and Sensibility”?) Finally I got HUNKY-DORY, [O.K.]–terrific fill!–and it was off to the great northwest.
I sat in the northwest for the longest time. Couldn’t make heads or tails of [Pound of flesh?], but suspected it was really good, being 1-Across and all. A lucky guess with UZIS, the ["Munich" arms], led to the other lucky guess, AT THE ZOO, the [1967 Simon & Garfunkel hit] that I know only because the Washington Park Zoo in Portland used to use the song in its commercials during my childhood–back before we cared much about commercial misappropriation. It was only after I figured out that PODIUMS were the [Stands above the crowd?] that I finally saw 1-Across: FIST BUMP! A superb entry and a great way to finish the puzzle! Yeah, yeah, most people started there. But I liked that I got to end with a great entry and a terrific clue.
Other items and clues of note:
A terrific Saturday treat and a great way to start the weekend!
Barry C. Silk’s Los Angeles Times Crossword
This 72-word freestyle puzzle features two triple-stacks of 11-letter answers plus 16 additional answers of 7+ letters. On the other hand, there’s also 16 three-letter answers (stacks of 11-letter answers necessitate more three-letter entries than one typically wants in a freestyle puzzle). Most of the three-letter entries are fine, especially TAZ (the [Toon, familiarly, who debuted in "Devil May Hare" (1954)]), IMS, EPA, and even PUN (clued as ["I'd really like to study philosophy, but I just Kant," e.g.]). But a few hurt the ears and eyes, most notably ARB and ARD. (And, as crossword fill goes, their cousin, ARE, isn’t much better.) Of course, the Roman numeral, MCC, is fine by me (see Thursday’s post), though I prefer a mathematical clue a la Peter Gordon (like [XXX x XL]) to the [Year in Pope Innocent III's reign] variety employed here.
Highlights in the fill, from my prespective, included GO ASK (clued as ["Find out"]), JELLO MOLD, PIPE CLEANER, SODA JERK, and the pairing of CONCAVE next to TWEEZER. It wouldn’t be a Barry Silk puzzle without a baseball reference, and I rather liked UNEARNED RUN, clued as [Error result, often].
From the “Stuff I Didn’t Know, At Least Not While Solving” file:
- News to me that FAVA is a [Bean named for the Italian word for "bean"]. A few days ago I had some liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. Why the horrified look?
- Had I paid more attention to the clue, I would figured out that noted anthropologist Margaret MEAD was the ["Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies" author]. I simply stopped reading after “Temperament,” figuring, “Ah, heck, I dunno any title that begins like that–better move on.”
- I think I knew this once, maybe even twice, but almost certainly only from crosswords: Abe BEAME was the [1970s New York mayor]. I see “1970s New York mayor” and I think only of Ed Koch.
- ALOW? ALOW? Can anyone hear me? ALOW? Anyone else in a fog over this? My dictionary says “alow” means “in or to a lower part of a vessel.”
- Apparently, MRES, clued as [G.I. fare], means “meals ready to eat.” It couldn’t be “ready-to-eat meals” because then the acronym would be REM and Michael Stipe et al would have a claim for commercial misappropriation. Two commercial misappropriation jokes in one post–only at the Fiend!
- Interesting trivia: MAHATMA is [Sanskrit for "great soul"].
- At first, [AQI calculator] threw me for a loop. When I settled downed and sussed it out–Air Quality Index–the EPA was an easy get.
- LEMMA is an [Auxiliary proposition], you say? I’ll take your word for it. Merriam-Webster says it’s “an auxiliary proposition used in the demonstration of another proposition.” I’m still lost. Would someone kindly furnish an example of this in the comments?
Doug Peterson’s Newsday Crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
Lots of interesting fill in this 68-word freestyle puzzle. The triple-stacked eight-letter entries are solid, especially the trio of RAZOR CUT, [Salon request], THE MEDIA, [News group], and SIDE BETS [Additional action], in the southeast. The letter K makes many appearances in the midwest and east, especially with KEOKUK, the [City on the Mississippi] that was my last entry into the grid.
Usually when I muster the courage to tackle the Stumper, I start all over the grid, trying to find an opening upon which I can hopefully build. This time I managed to get off to a good start in the northwest, reasonably confident that the [Utah State athlete] was AGGIE. That led to IGNORANT, [Out of the loop], ENIAC, the ['40s computer], and EGOMANIA, the [Personal preoccupation]. Once PASTIMES, [Diversions], landed in the grid, MANUAL LABOR, [Sweat]
wasn’t far behind. Then came STARCHY, [Hutch's doughy partner], and there was enough to peg STANLEY KUBRICK as the ["Spartacus" director].
[MNO, on a "telefono"], refers to the number six, so the answer is SEIS. I tried to head from there to the southwest, but that corner put up a bit of a fight. I thought [Is all wrong] was ISN’T SO, but it proved to be WON’T DO. I’m a little embarrassed that it took so long to suss out WALL-E as the [2008 Academy Award film]. Though it did not win Best Picture (that went to Slumdog Millionaire), it did snag the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. I know I’m probably the only one who feels this way, but WALL-E is my least favorite Pixar film. I think Toy Story 3 may be my favorite (but wow did I cry lots of tears at the end), and Finding Nemo is pretty close.
Over in the southeast, I pulled ASAHI, the [Japanese beer], from somewhere deep and dark within the cerebellum. The two fill-in-the-blank clues tricked me at first. I tried BAR for [Sports ___], which was close to the correct answer of BRA. BREAD was my first thought for [___ basket], but once I realized [Byes at Wimbledon] was TATAS and not SEEDS, I figured BREAD was wrong. Right idea, wrong food group; it’s FRUIT.
Finally, in the northeast I had to make my way through UTRECHT, the [City southeast of Haarlem]. With the exception of the U from KEOKUK, though, the crossings were fair so eventually I figured it out. I tried BOIL as the answer to [Overflow, with "over"] before settling on BRIM.
Some favorites and tidbits worthy of note:
- I don’t care who you are, PIGGY-BACK RIDES is fun fill.
- My favorite clue was probably [East side?] for FRIED RICE, though I like [Row starter] for HOE.
- Tried GELS for [Solidifies] and then tried to convince myself that a five-letter plural could end in G. Fortunately I resisted, so SETS was an easy fix.
- [SAT options] is a clever clue for ABCDE.
- ["All footbal comes from ___"] STAGG? Not SWEAT? Amos Alozo Stagg, says Wikipedia, “was an American collegiate coach in multiple sports, primarily football, and an overall athletic pioneer.” And he lived to be 102.
- I was pleased to remember that PLUTO is a [Body in the Kuiper belt]. Pluto may be a dwarf planet, but it’s the biggest object in the Kuiper belt–the big fish in the small pond.
Tony Orbach’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “A New York State of Mind”—Janie’s review
No homage to the Billy Joel song, this puzzle’s five fine theme phrases nonetheless give a shout out to the Empire State by having the letters that abbreviate the state’s name neatly embedded in each one. Or, as it’s spelled out at 73Across, [String of letters found in this puzzle's longest Across answers], NYS. Behold:
- 17A. GUNNY SACK [Type of burlap bag in which Johnny B. Goode carried his guitar]. If you didn’t fire up the speakers for Billy, it may be the time to do so for Chuck Berry.
- 25A. RAINY SEASON [Likely time for a hotel bargain]. Any season is the time for a bargain at ECONO [Lodge]…
- 41A. BRITTANY SPANIEL [Orange and white sporting breed]. This looks to be one sweet breed. Intelligent, friendly, pretty. What’s not to like?
- 51A. GRANNY SMITH [Snappy apple named for its developer]. That would be Englishwoman Maria Ann Sherwood Smith, who developed her tasty pome in Australia, where she and her husband had emigrated in the 19th century. I was surprised to learn that the Granny Smith has only been around in the U.S. since the early 1970s. Talk about “far out.”
- 65A. TONY STARK ["Iron Man" billionaire]. Haven’t yet seen Iron Man II, but sure enjoyed that first one. If I don’t get it from the library, will be sure to check out SCI-FI, the [Video store section for "Iron Man"].
Balancing that bonus NYS (and final Across fill) in the SE is -ESE at 1 Across, clued (with an ear to the puzzle’s theme…) as [Suffix with Brooklyn]. Nice.
Nice, too, are the non-themed nines that run vertically in the grid: the wittily clued [Famous cubist?] for ERNO RUBIK and the more direct [Dodo] for BIRD BRAIN.
Then, for two experiences that could take your breath away, Tony gives us TSUNAMI, clued in an understated way as [Big waves] and WALLENDA, the ["Flying" family name]. They’ve had some serious accidents (my turn for understatement…), but family members of The Flying Wallendas continue to thrill circus audiences even today.
A [Reptile that may be reticulated] is the PYTHON, but did you know that giraffes are also “reticulated“? This simply means that their skins have a distinctive “network” pattern. I thought perhaps “The Equalizer” might use a python to extract punishment on his tormentors, but it seems that when it was his turn to AVENGE he was more of the gadget, gizmo and gun sort.
Fave clue? That’d have to be [Dressing down on the farm?]. This is neither about casual attire nor a verbal volley, but is about the way you cover your greens— with (the double-duty) RANCH, please. On the side.