Xan Vongsathorn’s New York Times crossword
What we’ve got here is a bunch of lively long fill in a sea of shorter answers that we see in a lot of crosswords. Nobody’s craving a ST. LO/ENOS intersection, but then again, no seasoned solver will have much trouble piecing them together. And there are a couple odd-job answers that detract from the overall gestalt of “cool puzzle.”
Here’s the most entertaining content:
- 17a. [One might perform behind bars] is the rather alarming clue for GO-GO DANCER. Really? Women in cages? Who came up with that idea, and why hasn’t it been roundly rejected by every society?
- 21a. [Gentleman's partner?] is SCHOLAR, as in the phrase “a gentleman and a scholar.” (See? How can the gentlewoman be a scholar when she’s been sent into a cage to dance? It’s no fair.)
- 26a. OCCAM’S RAZOR gets a tricky clue, [Cutting edge of science?]. I always thought of it as more a philosophy term than science. Yes? No?
- 30a. “WANNA BET?” = [Words before "You're on!"]. The clue had me wondering what you say before you give someone a cue to go on stage.
- 42a. SMITHEREENS is an awesome word, meaning [Bits].
- 45a. Don’t think back to your college lit classes for [Literary character who's "always good-tempered" and "not very clever"]. It’s MR. TOAD.
- 50a. [Twitter] has meaning beyond social media, of course. CHIRRUP is related to chirp.
- 56a. The MASON-DIXON is a [Kind of line symbolizing a cultural boundary].
- 3d. [Alternative to a cup] at the ice cream parlor or gelateria is a SUGAR CONE. You can also get a plain cone or a waffle cone. Your call.
- 4d. ODOR-EATER (in the singular? looks odd) is a [Product associated with the annual Rotten Sneakers Contest]. Aptly crossing REEK OF.
- 5d. Business clue for geography? That’s a new twist. The OZARKS are a [Range near Wal-Mart's headquarters]. Not sure what the NYT’s style guide calls for—maybe Walmart is OK when referring to a bricks-and-mortar store, but they use Wal-Mart for the corporation?
- 8d. Can you do math in French? The [Cube root of veintisiete]…wait, that’s Spanish, isn’t it? Can you do math in Spanish? The cube root of 27 is TRES. Yes, I had myself convinced that these words were French.
- 11d. [Stopping point for a train?] on a wedding gown is the ALTAR, and hopefully the other half of the couple will not JILT (55a: [Drop without warning]) the one wearing the train.
- 12d. The first letter of this answer was the last square I filled in, and I was playing the alphabet game to get it. [Ball-bearing types?] are SEERS with crystal balls. The crossing is 9a: YEAS, or [Floor support?], as in supporting votes on the Senate floor. “Support” wasn’t screaming “plural answer” to me.
- Okay, I can’t do math in English. [Number system used by the Babylonians] is BASE SIXTY, which I didn’t know existed. Still learning!
- 46d. RHINO is a [Record label named after an animal]. Some rhinos are African, and they have horns. Africa also has a Horn, where Somalia pokes out.
- 57d. The SEA is a [Source of rays]—manta rays. See what they did there?
There’s a MCJOB in the grid, but that’s not one of today’s odd jobs:
- 20a. SPARERS, [They let people off]. Those sparers and their leniency!
- 49a. TAMERS, [They're good at breaking things]. This feels naked without LION before it. Are there generic TAMERS who handle a variety of different types of animals? Lion, tiger, wild mustang?
Here’s some high-end fill:
- 15d. ARCHONS are [Ancient Athenian magistrates] not in my ken. See? That’s what makes this a Saturday puzzle. I was kinda feeling like it was a Friday puzzle, but that’s a Saturdayish answer.
And here’s some old-school crosswordese dressed up with a high degree of specificity:
- 37d. Swiss town or canton URI is clued [It's between Bern and Graubunden].
For the most part, I really liked this puzzle, but it would have been great to have more exciting short fill. (Don’t ask me to refill the grid. I have a summer cold and am in no mood.)
Joe DiPietro’s Los Angeles Times crossword
First up, here’s what rocks:
- 4a. The STAIRMASTER, a [Workout apparatus], good stuff. It’s the Kleenex of stairclimbers—the brand name people apply as a generic.
- 16a. [Old fortune-telling site] is the clue for PENNY ARCADE, which makes me think of the movie Big but probably makes a bunch of you think of the webcomic by that name.
- 34a. Cute clue: SPOUSES are [Union members].
- 38a. Who doesn’t love a BUS PASS? I hope you didn’t think of theme parks when you read the clue, [Multiple-ride ticket]. Thumbs down to Washington, D.C., for having a great Metro whose passes are no good on the bus. CTA cards are good on the El and the bus.
- 51a. [Called with chips] is the sort of poker clue that doesn’t bug me, because it’s tricky but doesn’t demand much specialized knowledge. “I SAW his X and raised his Y.” Is that the proper usage?
- 61a. [Dramatic way to go?] clues APE, as in “goes ape.” You know what they say—once you go ape, you never go back.
- 64a. If you [Had an in], you KNEW SOMEONE and that’s how you finagled that coup.
- 4d. ["Imagine, Zeke ..."]—hey! That’s me. My nickname in college was Zeke. You know how Minnesota collegians roll, with the drawled “S’POSE” and all that.
- 5d. TENT DRESSES are [Garments lacking waistlines]. The letters are blah, but the concept is fun. Anyone else try to figure out how to squeeze EMPIRE WAIST DRESSES into that space despite the “waist” duplication?
- 25d. I had no idea SOPHIA LOREN was in that and was waiting for the crossings to tell me who the ["El Cid" co-star] was.
- 43d. ATROPOS is my favorite [One of the Fates]. She’s the one who cuts the thread to end your life. They named atropine after her but rarely use it to kill people.
- 44d. [See Tears for Fears?] isn’t getting at “go see an ’80s band in concert.” The answer is MISREAD, and capital T and F do kinda look alike. We all have stories about crossword clues we’ve misread, right? (Mostly boring stories.)
So that’s a lot of good stuff, to be sure. But while I was solving, it was these other parts that pushed to the fore:
- 18a. [Carried out by] clues ON THE PART OF. I can’t come up with an equivalency sentence for these. I’m sure it’s out there, but the entry lacks zing.
- 23a. Maybe [1940s-'70s bandleader Edmundo] ROS is more familiar to older solvers than Icelandic band Sigur Rós, but I don’t know Mr. Ros. I have likely seen him in a couple other crosswords and promptly forgotten the name.
- 58a. [Sought some shelter?] clues OPENED AN I.R.A., which is pretty much just a verb+noun phrase. It doesn’t feel (to me) like a stand-alone phrase—it feels like the HELD A SEANCE Brendan Quigley included just to be silly in his recent blog themeless.
- 14d. [Carb-up days, to low-carb dieters] are REFEEDS? I eschew the low-carb thing, so I’ve never encountered this term. They use refeeds in the NICU to mean something entirely different.
- 29d. EDESSA is a [Greek regional capital]. If you know this name, do you know it only from crosswords? I do.
- 38d. So, I guess [Detroit Red Wings coach Mike] is the most famous BABCOCK we have. Huh.
- 39d. [Consume with regard to] clues the awkward USE UPON. What are you going to use that BBQ sauce upon = what are you going to consume that BBQ sauce with regard to? Or is it USE UP ON, three words? I used up all my goodwill on 64a = I consumed all my goodwill with regard to 64a? Neither of those work. I’m not seeing the meaning here, I don’t think. Help!
Now, the rest of the puzzle pretty much falls squarely into the “yeah, this is fine” zone, but I had trouble with that last batch of fill. How about you?
Special Note for Those Who Have Done Both the NYT and LAT
Whoa! Both puzzles have REEK OF in similar spots—one [Exude] and one [Really smell like]—and an IHOP—[Chain with links] and [Chain with many links]. And when you go to IHOP, you generally come out REEKing OF whatever they’re frying in the kitchen. Do they eat pancakes on the crossword-conspiracy show Rubicon?
Updated Saturday morning:
Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Happy B-day”—Janie’s review
Well, yes. Today is the birthday of LeAnn Rimes and Jack Black and Leo Tolstoy… but the “B-Day” Doug has in mind is instead a celebration of the name of the letter itself, from its smallest form to the only slightly larger ones. Here’s how this works. There’s:
- 20A. B IS FOR BURGLAR [Sue Grafton novel]. How far into the alphabet is Ms. Grafton and her star sleuth Kinsey Milhone? Looks like she’s sliding into home. The last one published (2009): U is for Undertow.
- 35A. BEA ARTHUR [She played Maude Findlay]. The late, great Ms. Arthur not only had an Emmy Award-winning TV career, but for years was a mainstay of the stage—on and off-Broadway—garnering awards for her distinguished performances there as well. (Riffing on the lady’s surname as a given name… [Carney and Garfunkel] yield us today’s ARTS. Okay, maybe a bit of a stretch—but a more playful than egregious one I should hope!)
- 42A. BEE POLLEN [Nutritional supplement touted as “health from the hive”]. While Burt’s Bees has made a pretty high-profile, popular industry of it, you may want to see what Quackwatch has to say about pollen products. Or not…
- 57A. BE MY VALENTINE [Message in a heart-shaped card, perhaps]. A nice message even now—five and a half months (or some 165 or so shopping days) away!
The only SNAG [Unexpected problem] or metaphorical SPEED BUMP [Parking lot feature] I encountered in this otherwise smooth solve was created when I entered “YIKES!” instead of “YIPES!” for [“Omigosh!”]. Seems fitting that that was where it crossed that final “p” of speed bump. And on the subject of colloquial interjections, I’m mighty fond of seeing the expressive “OH, BROTHER!” [“You’ve got to be kidding!”] there among the non-theme fill.
Some mellow-type crooners are summoned up in the puzzle, [“Prisoner of Love” singer Perry] COMO, [Musical Mama] CASS and the honey-voiced Karen Carpenter, who delivered [“]WE’VE [Only Just Begun”]. Speaking of delivery: that [Early-born baby] is a PREEMIE.
Among my fave clues today, there’s a particularly nifty example in [One who doesn’t complete a sentence?]. Doug’s not referring to a tongue-tied individual but to an ESCAPEE. That [Second 0 of 000] is TAC (as in tic-tac-toe); and while a LEI is a well-known [Floral souvenir], that [Red-hot flower?] is not the (Valentine?) ROSE lifted from the florist shop, but LAVA. Don’t touch!
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s variety cryptic crossword, “Digital Guide”—Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle
In the first 12 minutes, I had figured out 28 of the 38 cryptic clues but stalled out when it came to having the faintest idea how to enter the answers in the grid. But then my eye scanned the answers I’d jotted next to the clues and spotted some duplications—FIVEs in both NINE-TO-FIVE and FIVE-AND-TEN? And then: “Wait a minute…BALL FOUR, SEVEN-UP…numbers!” So that’s what the numbers are doing in the grid—each digit replaces a spelled-out number, so you can place all the Across and Down answers that include numbers. From there, you can begin to figure out where the non-numeric answers fit in, drawing in bars to delineate the beginning and end of the entries. Given the symmetry, every bar partners with another in the corresponding spot on the opposite side of the grid. Next thing I knew, the whole grid was filled in—except for the numbered squares, which need nothing in them.
I like the twist, and I don’t know how Emily and Henry continue to generate fresh ideas month after month. For that matter, it mystifies me how Matt Gaffney is able to come up with interesting new metas every single week for his Weekly Crossword Contest. He hasn’t repeated a gimmick in 117 weeks, I don’t think. These people are crazy-smart.
You know how ONEO or OCAT sometimes shows up as a partial in regular crosswords? And you know how most of us know of the game one o’ cat only from crosswords? With this puzzle, I learned that it’s also called ONE OLD CAT (or, I see on Wikipedia, cat, one ol’ cat, old cat, ol’ cat, or cat-ball). Interestingly, all the variations attested to in Wikipedia articles do not include the one we see in crosswords, one o’ cat.]
Brad Wilber’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
This puzzle was generally a good bit easier than most other recent Stumpers, except for that one square that torpedoed me. I don’t know Latin, so I didn’t know the final letter of 53a: ["Carpe" __ (take everything: Lat.)]. (Psst: the blank goes inside the quotes.) I went with OMNIA rather than OMNIS. You know why? Because 45d: BORS, the [Arthurian knight], is not a name I recall seeing before. I considered BORU (Irish king name) but OMNIU looked entirely wrong. BORA is a European wind and a name, so I took a chance on that. Turns out they had two Borses, the Elder and the Younger. Harrumph.
Aside from that square, everything else was aces. Smooth fill, plenty of fun tricky-but-fair clues. Highlights:
- 13a. [Violent or funnel-shaped] is TORNADIC. Weather! See also: EL NINO, 29a: [Climatologist's concern].
- 16a. HEAD RUSH is a great answer. [Vertigo] doesn’t quite capture it for me, though.
- 30a. [Start to fall] is a noun, not a verb: AUTUMNAL EQUINOX. Too bad this puzzle’s not running a few weeks later.
- 47a. ZIPLOC is a [Big name in storage]. They do both baggies and plastic storage containers for leftovers, y’ know.
- 2d. Sartre’s NO EXIT is the classic [Existentialist play].
- 7d. The DISCO ERA means [Circa 1974-80]. Gotta love the freshness of HEAD RUSH and DISCO ERA colliding.
- 11d. [Venice resident], as in Venice Beach, is an ANGELENO.
- 14d. [One motivated to change] the station is a CHANNEL SURFER.
- 29d, 30d. [Where zebras are found] does double duty in cluing both the genus EQUUS and AT THE ZOO.
- 32d. TAILSPIN pairs nicely with HEAD RUSH, doesn’t it? It’s a [Sudden collapse].
Ten more clues:
- 18a. [Like De Niro in "Meet the Parents"] means EX-C.I.A.
- 22a. NIKE is a [Mythical charioteer].
- 51a. [Cricket-bat woods] are crosswordese OSIERS.
- 52a. The RED RIVER is [Part of the Texas/Oklahoma border].
- 1d. ETHENE is the [World's most produced organic compound], and yet I couldn’t tell you anything about it.
- 4d. An INDIE film is made [Without traditional backing] by a studio.
- 6d. .EDU is clued as [Part of a dean's address to students]. I don’t care for the mislead of “address to students.” “Part of a dean’s email address to students” makes no sense; the “to students” part is there only to make you think the address is a speech, but it muddies the surface sense.
- 8d. A LYRE [__-back chair] has a lyre-shaped back, I’ll bet. Curvy. (See also: MANDOLIN, 10d: [Bluegrass staple].)
- 12d. [Covent Garden seating] is a ROYAL BOX at a London theatre.
- 43d. Not another name etymology clue! BASIL, the tasty green herb, is a [Name that means "king"].