Derek Bowman’s New York Times crossword, “Going for a Run”
I played this one like a themeless. Yes, I saw that a bunch of answers had starred clues, but none of them had alphabet runs (e.g., CDE, RST) in them and the theme was eluding me. Anagrams? No. I kept looking at the starred answers after I finished the puzzle and it finally dawned on me: We have 13 two-word phrases that begin with the complete alphabet, in order from A.B. (ARMY BRAT) to Y.Z. (YEAR ZERO). Like so:
- 22a. ARMY BRAT is [One constantly switching schools].
- 23a. CARBON DATING is an [Age-revealing method].
- 29a. EXHAUST FANS are [Stale air removers].
- 33a. GRAY HAIRS are [Supposed results of stress].
- 58a. INSIDE JOB is clued as [Embezzlement, e.g.].
- 60a. KITTY LITTER is a [Pet shop purchase].
- 68a. MIXED NUTS are a [Party bowlful].
- 78a. OUTER PLANET described [Pluto, e.g., before it was plutoed]. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are the outer planets; Mars, Earth, and the hot pair are the inner planets.
- 81a. QUICK READ is clued [Harlequin romance, e.g.].
- 101a. SPEED TRAP is a [Leadfoot's downfall].
- 106a. USED VEHICLE is clued [It's got some miles on it].
- 117a. WINTER X-GAMES are an [Annual sports event since 1997].
- 120a. YEAR ZERO is the [Beginning of time?].
My goodness, it must have taken Mr. Bowman a long time to come up with a workable list of word pairs that would mesh together symmetrically. With 13 theme entries, he still found space for a couple wide-open sections of the grid, and didn’t include anything I couldn’t at least get via the crossings. A lot of the fill is uninspired short stuff, but nothing deadly. So many of the Down answers must fit across multiple theme entries, which limits the constructor’s flexibility.
- 16a. [Muckety-mucks] are POOH-BAHS.
- 42a. [Newer, as a car] clues LATE MODEL. I have a late model Ford Fusion Hybrid, you know. And so does my 7/5/09 NYT crossword co-constructor.
- 67a. [Words a house burglar doesn't want to hear] are SIC ‘EM.
- 2d. I always appreciate a little OOMPH, or [Zip]. I’m lacking in both today.
- 3d. ["You bet!"] clues “OH, YEAH!” Anyone else hearing Kool-Aid Man? Or Duff Man?
- 10d. I learned more than I knew before about Egyptian gods at the engrossing King Tut exhibit in Times Square. Tut’s dad Akhenaten replaced the pantheon of gods with a single god, Aten, the solar disk god figure. When the boy king took over, the people were glad to get their other gods back. Like AMON-RA, [Egyptian god of the universe]. (Also spelled Amun-Ra and Amen-Ra, so you need to check the crossing for the third letter each time it’s in a crossword.)
- 14d. Can it be? Am I really singling out a Roman numeral year clue? I am. [900 years before Queen Elizabeth was crowned] is 1053, or MLIII. I knew this because of the recent Sporcle quiz about QEII.
- 49d. Maybe it’s not technically a great entry, but ONE POTATO is fun. It’s the [Start of a popular children's rhyme]. (I don’t want to see THREE POTATO, though.)
- 51d. [Hog] is a Harley motorcycle, or BIKE, rather than a boar, pig, or oinker and rather than the verb.
- 57d. Trivia! TRINIDAD is [Where the limbo originated].
- 70d. [Citation's end] is “UNQUOTE.” (Not STUD FARM or GLUE FACTORY.)
- 100d. ZIGZAG is clued [Many a path up a mountain].
- 6a. VELMA [Middleton who sang with Louis Armstrong] is undoubtedly cooler than Velma from Scooby-Doo, but the cartoon Velma is far more familiar to me.
- 26a. [The Wildcats, for short] could be any of a dozen or two colleges. It’s KSU. Kansas State? Kentucky State? Kent State? You tell me.
- 35a. HRH, meaning “Her Royal Highness,” is also a [Danielle Steel novel about a European princess]. Never heard of it.
- 52a. DANSK is today’s [Big name in dinnerware]. Spode, Lenox? Not today. Maybe another day.
- 53a. Who? NEALE is clued as ["Conversations With God" author ___ Donald Walsch]. That clue told me two things: (1) I would need to work all the crossings. (2) A lotta folks are gonna be Googling that this weekend.
- 56a. KENT is a [British American Tobacco brand]. I think the K crossing with TKT might be tough for a lot of people.
- 71a. Did you know AKRON was the [Highest point on the Ohio & Erie Canal]? Me neither.
- 126a. [Around the Clock is a version of this]: DARTS. I confess I’ve never heard of a game called Around the Clock.
- 1d. I don’t think of BORAX as an [Antiseptic agent]. The 20 Mule Team box doesn’t scream “Kills Germs!” It’s surprising in an era when antimicrobial ballpoint pens are marketed.
- 5d. DARK SHADE doesn’t feel “in the language” to me. [Navy, e.g.] means navy blue.
- 8d. Don’t know [Newswoman Logan]. LARA Logan is South African and reports for CBS News.
- 11d. This feels redundant: PADDY FIELD? For a [Rice source]? Isn’t it just a paddy? Reminds me of a Chinese restaurant in the ‘burbs called Pagoda House. “Building Building.”
- 31d. The [Donation location] called an ALMS BOX crosses three theme entries. Most of the Down entries, in fact, intersect two or three theme entries.
- 41d. [Is not as easy as it seems] clues the awkward HAS A CATCH.
- 54d. AT. WT., or atomic weight, is an [Elementary figure: Abbr.] in that it’s a number pertaining to a chemical element.
- 82d. ULM is the [Locale of an 1805 Napoleon victory].
- 84d. [Low-cost, lightweight autos of the 1910s-'20s] are CYCLECARS.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Boston Globe Crossword, “X Factor”—Sam Donaldson’s review
There are two reasons why crossword construction will always be a hobby and never a full-time vocation for me. Okay, maybe more, but two come readily to mind. First, I’m not that good. Sure, I can construct crosswords, but they take me a loooong time to make, and my acceptance rate is, I would guess, low. I just couldn’t survive as a professional constructor. Second, and more important, the Theme Muse rarely comes to visit me. All those hours she could have been visiting me, she was hanging out instead with Patrick Berry, Matt Jones, Liz Gorski, Matt Gaffney, BEQ, the late Dan Naddor, and all of the other prolific constructors. When I tumble to a theme, I cling to it like a forty-niner hugs a nugget.
More than once, I have watched others beat me to the punch and use the very same idea before I have the chance to complete a puzzle and send it off to an editor for consideration. A couple of weeks ago, for instance, I came up with a fun idea: take common expressions ending in -CKS or -CS or -KS and change those letters to X. Thus, CHECKMARKS becomes CHECK MARX, which can be clued as [Proofread "The Communist Manifesto?]. Hey, that could work!
Not anymore. Alas, Cox and Rathvon have used this very theme here, and it’s better than anything I would have come up with on my own. So while I’m disappointed to see the theme, I can’t hold it against Hex and really like the execution. (Incidentally, a short search on Cruciverb shows the same theme was used in a Sunday Los Angeles Times puzzle on July 31, 2005, by Arlan and Linda Bushman; there may be others too). Appropriately, Cox and Rathvon have ten theme entries (X = ten, after all):
- The [King on edge?] is NERVOUS REX (from “nervous wrecks”). [Crossword blogger at a loss for comment?] would be a little too inside, no?
- A [Big Apple turndown?] would be a NEW YORK NIX (from the pro basketball team, the New York Knicks). LeBron James pulled a “New York nix” by “taking his talents to South Beach.” I love how “taking my talents to South Beach” has become new euphemism for, um, er, “punching the clown.”
- A [Levy on officers?] would be a BRASS TAX (playing on “brass tacks”). Let’s get down to brass tacks about “brass tacks.” My dictionary says that the expression comes from Cockney rhyming slang for “facts.” Apparently, it has nothing to do with tacks made of brass.
- The [Traditional come-on?] is CLASSIC COAX, from Classic Coke. Confession: I liked New Coke. That’s right, I was the one. The one. There, I said it. Forgive me, I was but a child.
- [Salmon cured in jerk sauce?] is DREAD LOX. By tying the clue to the base phrase (“dreadlocks”), we have an extra-strong shot of the Jamaican vibe working here, mon. I think I would have preferred a clue along the lines of [Fear the salmon?]
- The [End of a jazz horn?] is a CUL-DE-SAX.
- The [Cat on the loose?] is a MISSING LYNX. And “Missing Lynx” was the title of Matt Gaffney’s superb weekly crossword contest puzzle last week.
- [What's after Groucho?] would be POST-MARX, from “postmarks.”
- [One's own fort?] is a PRIVATE DIX, a play on Fort Dix. Lots of jokes come to mind, but discretion is the better part of valor.
- The [Awfully chewy cereal?] is RUBBER CHEX, my favorite theme entry of the bunch. That would make an awfully bad party snack.
The theme requires ten intersecting Down entries with an X, so not surprisingly these comprise most of the notable fill. Otherwise, the fill was not especially spectacular, though it was quite smooth. Only STICKLER, CALYX and BAKLAVA stand out to me as sparkly. But there were several great clues, including: [Stern known for bowing] for violinist ISAAC (that’s bow as in “though,” not bow as in “thou”), [Believing, per a saw] for SEEING, [Fathom symbols] for READ (I wondered what Greek letter represented a nautical fathom, when “fathom” here is a verb), [Hamelin problem] for RATS (because, you know, KIDNAPPING, RANSOM, and EXTORTION didn’t fit), and [1969 target] for the MOON.
As always, there were many entries that required lots o’ crossings before falling. Let’s see some of the highlights in this week’s edition of Brushes With Lame (copyright 2010 by Samuel A. Donaldson, used with permission):
- The [Cardinal of 1515] is Thomas WOLSEY. Wikipedia says, “When Henry VIII became king of England in 1509, Wolsey became the King’s almoner.” I think that means he shelled almonds for the king.
- The [Operatic Gluck] is ALMA. My old Volkswagen Jetta was once serviced for operatic gluck.
- [Verity] = SOOTH. Hark! I would have preferred [Truthiness].
- [Zen Buddhist's enlightenment] is SATORI. Some well-dressed Buddhists have achieved sartorial satori.
- MAX ROACH is the [Drummer with Diz and Bird]. Does it betray either my age or my maturity to confess that I wanted ANIMAL here?
- [24 or 25 sheets of paper] is a QUIRE. That’s 1/20 of a ream. I suppose a small city of 24 or 25 people is a TOWN QUIRE. Or that 25 sheets shared by Austrian lads is a VIENNA BOYS QUIRE.
- [Muscat, for one] clues GRAPE, not RIFLE. I know, I know.
- The [2000 Nolte film] is TRIXIE, a fascinating biopic in which Nick Nolte convincingly plays Joyce Randolph.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “Fast Company”
A couple weeks after the annual motorcycle-palooza in Sturgis, South Dakota, Merl gives us a motorcycle-themed pun crossword. (How often do you s’pose “Sturgis” and “crossword” appear in the same sentence?) And in keeping with the puzzle’s title, it’s a fast solve. Here’s the set of biker-gang puns and what they’re riffing on:
- 22a. [Motorcycle club for women?] is HARLEY’S ANGELS. (Charlie’s Angels.)
- 26a. [Biker club for beer distributors?] clues LITERS OF THE PACK. (Leaders of the pack.) Since when is beer distributed in liters?
- 35a. [Motorcycle club for dairy farmers?] is CHEESY RIDER. (Easy Rider.)
- 43a. [Biker club for shrinks?] clues CYCLE ANALYSTS. (Psychoanalysts.)
- 60a. [Motorcycle club for martial artists?] is KARATE CHOPPERS. (Uh…less a pun than a mash-up of karate chop + chopper as slang for “motorcycle.”)
- 69a. [Biker club for Jewish guys? (This one's real; their shirts say, "This hog is kosher")] clues STAR OF DAVIDSON. (Mash-up of Star of David an+d Harley Davidson.)
- 94a. [Motorcycle club for astronomers?] clues STARRY KNIGHTS. (Starry nights.)
- 96a. [Biker club for press agents?] clues FLACK JACKETS. (Hmm. Flak jackets are military protection, flacks are P.R. reps, and…there are motorcycle clubs named “something Jackets”? Black Jackets? I don’t know.)
- 106a. [Motorcycle club for Marilyn Monroe fans?] clues NORMA JEAN BIKERS. (Norma Jean Baker, Marilyn’s real name.)
- 120a. [Club for guys who like really big bikes?] is MALES ON WHALES. (Meals on Wheels.)
Five more clues:
- 4d. STEPTOE ["___ & Son" (British series that inspired "Sanford and Son")]—see? Not every American remake of a British show is inferior. I recently saw a clip of Lena Horne on Sanford and Son. Fred lied to get her to stay at his house a little longer so his friends could see her and he could thus win a bet.
- 38d. ESTOC is an [Old French sword]. Whoa. Is this old crosswordese? I don’t remember seeing it before.
- 64d. [TNT's finish] is the -ENE suffix at the end of trinitrotoluene.
- 98d. You know what’s interesting? That a word as interesting-looking as JEJUNE means [Uninteresting]. The original meaning of the word was “without food,” and the small intestine section called the jejunum was typically found to be empty of food after death.
- 3d. Is [Antony of antiquity] of one of the clues the all-star solvers read in Wordplay? The answer is MARC.
Doug Peterson’s syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “El Week”
I’m not sure I get the puzzle title. “El Week” sounds like a pun on “Hell Week.” The letter L is inserted after an F in each theme entry. The first theme answer I filled in included a day of the week, but nothing else seemed week-oriented. So I’ll just move along to talking about the theme entries themselves:
- 23a. [Automatic whipper?] clues FLOG MACHINE. These gadgets are super-handy for self-flagellation, especially for the weak-willed.
- 29a. FLAT TUESDAY could be an [Early-week occasion for wearing sensible footwear?].
- 43a. [Country with the tastiest cuisine?] is the MOST FLAVORED NATION. I grant this status to…India.
- 67a. [Some food fighters?] clues CHICKEN FLINGERS.
- 95a. Ha! “FLEET, DON’T FAIL ME NOW” is a [Line in an admiral's pep talk?]. Minus one point for another F word that doesn’t take an L, but plus five for amusing me.
- 111a. The HALL OF FLAME might be [Where legendary firefighters are honored?].
- 119a. [Quartet of couch potatoes?] clues THE FLAB FOUR. Minus one point for FOUR not becoming FLOUR.
More clues? Certainly:
- 5a. [River through British Columbia] is the FRASER. Hey, we watched the kid flick Furry Vengeance the other day. Brendan Fraser is getting older and looking so much more like my brother-in-law.
- 60a. The UMPS at home plate are [Home bodies?].
- 77a. SUMACS are [Shrubs with small, reddish fruit]. Does sumac grow near you? I grew up seeing it in the nearby forest preserve or out in the country.
- 102a. Okay, how many of you find [NFL Network sportscaster Rich] a tougher clue for EISEN than, say, [Iron, in Innsbruck]?
- 3d. This right here was my favorite clue, because I thought [Matchmaker's supply] was ELIGIBLE SINGLES rather than PHOSPHORUS.
- 41d. [Trail mix tidbits] include DRIED FRUITS. Cranberries, cherries, apples, apricots? Yum. Just add nuts and chocolate chips and you’ve got a meal.
- 60d. U.S.S. MAINE is a great entry. [1898 sinker] is a tad depressing, though.
- 62d. [Stars in the sky?] clues AIR ACES. When’s the last time an air ace was a famous star?
- 74d. [Shenanigans]! TOMFOOLERY!
Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Sunday Challenge”—Evad’s review
GALLUP, NEW MEXICO seems to be the inspiration for this “Sunday Challenge” themeless. Unfortunately, it’s a place I’ve never heard of. (I was thinking of Truth or Consequences first.) Not sure if the Route 66 mentioned in the clue is the song or the TV series, let’s take a listen to the song and see if Gallup is mentioned:
Yep, right after Amarillo!
So it’s tough not having a good read on the center entry, but many of the crossers helped me piece it together:
- 6-Across, BANG UP JOB is nice. I wonder how this phrase avoided its surface sense of getting in an accident to become a “Fantastic performance”?
- OCEANSIDE was pretty easy to discover (the clue mentions surf and “fittingly”); but it’s a place I’ve never heard of. I bet they say HELLA there.
- “Tip of some tongues” is a cute clue for ESE. Here, tongues refers to languages, which tend to end with this suffix. (Funny romantic languages don’t, though. The first one that comes to mind is Japanese.)
- “Most of Martha Stewart’s sentence” was PROBATION. Hmmm…let’s check. She spent 5 months in the stir, another 5 months confined to her estate (some punishment, that) and 2 years on probation. Do you think the story is true that she taught her fellow inmates to cook using a microwave?
- TRANE is a brand of air conditioning compressor. I was thinking of explorers with Lennox and Carrier mentioned in the clue; not sure why.
- Steve REEVES always reminds me of this bit from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. “If you want something vizz-shu-al, that’s not too abysmal…”
- The late Susan SONTAG makes an appearance as well. I recently read her The Volcano Lover, set in Naples.
- Gotta love how the line starting at 47-Across reads: LAP SEX KEPT OUT. I guess this prohibition is from the puzzle running on Sundays and being obliged to abide by the Sunday Breakfast Table test. Please pass the pancakes!
Frank Longo’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 21″
- 1a. QUAD CITY DJ’S are a [Trio with the 1996 hit "C'mon N' Ride It (The Train)"]. Are these the Quad Cities at the Iowa/Illinois border? Nope: Jacksonville, Florida, Southern rap. The Village Voice chose this as the song of the year in ’96, and yet I don’t know it at all.
- 15a. ["Il Trovatore" piece] clues ANVIL CHORUS. Ah, yes. Anvils have the voices of angels. Of course. (??)
Not that 9d was much help. A DRAWEE is [One to whom a bill of exchange is addressed]. Ah, yes. A bill of exchange, right.
I ended up liking the northeast through southwest swath of the puzzle better than the northwest and southeast quadrants.
- 26a. [One of a candy box couple] clues IKE, as in those horrible little Mike & Ike candies. I never thought of Mike & Ike as a couple, but now I’m envisioning them as life partners, legally married in certain jurisdictions and awaiting broader recognition of their relationship.
- 28a. People in Toledo, Spain, are called Toledanos. (Did you know this? I didn’t.) Are there Ohio Toledanos too? [Toledanos talk in it] clues ESPANOL.
- 33a. BRONZE MEDALISTS look great in the puzzle. [Ones honored for showing?] refers to third place (win, place, show; gold, silver, bronze).
- 39a. WAGES, [They may be raised after striking]. This isn’t about raising a hand to someone.
- 47a. KEWL is a slangy spelling of “cool,” and I’m not sure I’ve seen it in a crossword before. ["Awesome, dude!"]
- 1d. [Umm Bab resident] is an insane geography clue. I got lucky guessing QATARI with that 2d starting with a U suggesting Frank might’ve snuck a Q in the first square. (More insane geography: 41d: ASTANA is Kazakhstan’s [National capital on the Ishim River].)
- 4d. [Like some magazines and martinis] is your clue for DIRTY.
- 10d. [Dissenters may hang them] clues JURIES. Ex-Gov. Blagojevich knows all about this.
- 13d. BEAT POET is a terrific entry, but [Gregory Corso, for one] didn’t give it away quickly enough for me. (Never read him.)
- 14d. A [Truism promoting hot spots?], meaning advertising spots, is “SEX SELLS.” Hot spot in the grid.
- 27d. I had to wait for that long crossing to remind me of the correct spelling for the [Gangsta rap pioneer who died in 1995 at age 31]. It’s EAZY E, not Easy E.
- 33d. [What might squeal as you slow down] is a BRAKE PAD. This clue seems ripe for misinterpretation.
I didn’t much care for the singular INLINE SKATE, plural GARYS, or OLD WOMAN as [Ma] (“my old lady” sounds slightly more “in the language,” but “my old man” = dad has got to be way more common).
Lots of music here, beyond 1a, 15a, and 27d: MARIAH Carey, ALANIS Morissette, and MCA are all explicitly clued with relation to music. Instead of being clued as a verb, GNARLS could have been [___ Barkley of "Crazy" fame]. And instead of being clued as an adjective, RENEGADE could have evoked the 1979 Styx hit.
This puzzle was nowhere near my favorite Frank Longo creation. I eagerly await his next at-bat for the Post Puzzler, though. Pretty sure it’s going to be great, because look at Frank’s track record.