Caleb Madison and the J.A.S.A. Crossword Class’s New York Times crossword
Teenage hotshot constructor Caleb Madison teaches a crossword constructing class to senior citizens in New York, and they make a puzzle together that’s of NYT caliber. This is the second J.A.S.A. class effort we’ve seen here. Word count of 76, 36 black squares, four funny theme entries? Yep, that’ll pass muster.
The theme entries have been formed by adding -ANA to the end of familiar phrases:
- 20a. [Title for a South American mensch?] is MR. NICE GUYANA. This was the last theme entry I filled in, and it’s my favorite. So I’m glad I saved the best for last, even though I did the puzzle upside down in order for that to happen. (I took the PROCOL HARUM express down the left side of the puzzle and mostly worked my way upwards through the theme entries.)
- 34a. [Result of heating a certain fruit too long?] is a SMOKING BANANA. Nice resonance with the old-fashioned “smoking banana peels” concept.
- 42a. [Informal headwear that can't be shared?] is a ONE-MAN BANDANA. Any evocation of a one-man band is good for a smile.
- 56a. Joan of Arc turns into JOAN OF ARCANA, or [Secretive singer Baez?].
Some more clues:
- 16a. Did this clue come from the senior citizens? Because I didn’t really know that CUBA was the [Destination of many 1960s-'70s airplane hijackings].
- 23a. I had the PIE in place and thought “MAGPIE!” Then I read the clue: ["Hair" extra] is HIPPIE, not a bird.
- Sprechen Sie Deutsch? 51a: [German "Oh!"] is ACH and 66a: [What a Katze catches] is a MAUS.
- 3d. Good clue for NOW: [When repeated, a phrase of reproof]. I could only think of TUT and TSK at first, but “now, now” is rock solid.
- 9d. STYGIAN makes me think of stinky stogies, which are indeed [Hellish].
- 11d. Didn’t know MUHAMMAD ALI was the [Self-proclaimed "astronaut of boxing"].
- 12d. African rivers to know for crosswords include the everybody-knows-the-NILE, the UELE, and the UBANGI, a [Congo tributary].
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ themeless crossword, “Crossing Over”
- 16a. [Do an entry-level job?] is a wonderful clue for GREET—as in the job done by a Walmart greeter at the store entrance.
- 17a. No, no, no. [Loses membership?] implies severance of the member proper, i.e., the frank. Whereas CASTRATES means the removal of the gonads, i.e., the beans. I like the playful intent, but the answer doesn’t fit the clue.
- Re: RE—27a: [Beats twice-over in a race] clues RELAPS, and 12d: [Bring on again] clues REINDUCE. Reno thanks.
- 36a. Did you have your [Lucky charms] for breakfast? Here are your FOUR-LEAF CLOVERS.
- 44a. Cute retro VW BUGS are clued as [Herbie et al.]—that’s Herbie the Love Bug, of course.
- 47a. [Microchip with thousands of transistors, for short] clues LSI, which stands for…no, don’t tell me, I’ll guess. Lonely Silicon Instructions? C’mon, computer geeks, help out the crossword blogosphere. No fair Googling. One of you knows this, right?
- 2d. [One place to keep candy] is IN A JAR. That’s the problem with freelancing—you can’t just walk over to somebody else’s desk and take candy from their jar.
- 4d. [Piers Morgan show, for short] clues an abbreviation that I don’t know any better than I know LSI. Oy! AGT must be a CNN show, because he’s the guy who’s going to take over Larry King’s slot, but I don’t know what AGT is short for. Always Gonna Talk: that’s my guess.
- 9d. LESKO? [Infomercial guy Matthew with those question mark-covered suits]? Yep, I used the crossings here.
- 28d. [Attacking, slapstick-style] clues PIEING. Um, have you been using this verb?
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Suggestion Box Bounty”—Janie’s review
- 17A. “COCKAMAMIE IDEAS!”
- 32A. “HALF-BAKED
- 60A. “CRACKPOT SCHEMES!”
They do RAM HOME [Stress strongly...] the message though. Shades of The Office, eh? They may not be QUICK [Sharp-witted] retorts, but what delicious fill the words of those malicious managers (DESPOTS [Oppressive rulers] really) manage to provide! The colorful cockamamie looks to derive from “decalcomania” and yes, this does have to do with (temporary type) decals. Who knew? Notice how all of them have the plosive “K” sound in ‘em. I think that’s another thing that adds to the bite of those emphatic put-downs (in the first and third examples especially).
There’s some nice image-making cluing, such as [Like ocean depths] for INKY (which ties in, however grimly, with AHAB [Fictional sea hunter]); or made me take stock of what was being looked for, as with [Gymnastic coups] for TENS. In four letters this could never be BACK HANDSPRINGS or STRADDLE SWINGS, but my first thoughts had nothing to do with scores.
And in case anyone was wond’rin’, there’s no SMUT [Salacious stuff] in the clue [Snakes and birds do it]. While he may be summoning up the witty (and in some versions, racy) Cole Porter lyric, “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love),” Bruce is simply reminding us that they MOLT.
Dave Mackey’s Los Angeles Times crossword
I wasn’t expecting a Tuesday LAT puzzle to take me longer than the Jonesin’ and NYT crosswords, but there you have it. I can’t really pin down a reason for the greater-than-expected solving time other than not quite hitting Dave’s cluing wavelength throughout the puzzle.
I like three quarters of the sub rosa baseball theme:
- 20a. COTTON BATTING is the [Quilter's layer] of padding between the two layers of fabric.
- 28a. [Camper's activity] clues TENT PITCHING. That phrase Googles up fine, but “pitching a tent” sounds more familiar to me. I never did get into camping, so maybe it’s unfair to discount this theme answer.
- 49a. IN THE RUNNING means [Not out of contention].
- 59a. ["Tom Jones" author] HENRY FIELDING is my favorite part of this theme. Who doesn’t like to combine baseball and 18th century English novels? Both seem slow to me, and probably both are improved by a little sunshine and cold beer.
Kudos for the theme listing the key baseball activities in a reasonable order. Though PITCHING comes a split second before BATTING, they’re nearly simultaneous and their order couldn’t be swapped without putting base-RUNNING at the bottom. FIELDING →PITCHING →RUNNING →BATTING, e.g., would be infelicitious.
Five from the fill:
- 25a. I drew a blank on this clue and instead solved this section via the crossings. Guess what? [Country with borders on three diff. oceans] is the good old USA. Alaska abuts the Arctic Ocean, yes?
- 37a. [Capital west of Haiphong] is HANOI. Have I heard of Haiphong? Heck, no, I haven’t. Hoo-boy. Hard clue, huh?
- 11d. NEW GUINEA is the [World's second largest island], and I’m embarrassed to report that I needed a good four or five letters in place before I got this.
- 35d. [Plea made with one's hands up] is DON’T SHOOT. Here’s how you know I’m a parent: I filled in DON’T SHOUT first.
- 51d. There are a couple more baseball references in the puzzle (RBI, GO DEEP), but this turns out not to be one. To UNYOKE is to [Break up a team?] of oxen.