This weekend will be uncharacteristically puzzly for me. Friday, my son and I will be lunching with crossworder Katie Hamill and her family. (Our kids don’t start school until next week.) And on Sunday, Katje Sabin’s hosting a puzzle extravaganza party. I’ve never done a puzzle hunt or participated in any sort of puzzle extravaganza, so I’m curious to see if my brain works the way those puzzles demand.
John Farmer’s New York Times crossword
The easier stuff, for me, was the interconnected music fill. 53d is clued [With 62-Across, subject of "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)"], SEAN / LENNON. His mother, Yoko ONO, is clued as [Co-producer of "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)"]. Then at 3d, there’s the John Lennon album IMAGINE, which was released 39 years ago next week, only it’s clued with ["___ that!"]. And whenever we have a mystifying song title in a clue for a 3-letter answer, many of us think, “Is it ONO or ENO this time?” ONO crosses ENO at 39d, with a clearer (but certainly not obvious to most) clue, [1970s Bowie collaborator].
My first answers in the grid were NAS (22a: ["Hip Hop Is Dead" rapper]—thank goodness ONO and ENO don’t rap so we have an undisputed heavyweight champion of the world when it comes to 3-letter rappers in crosswords) and ARSENIO (7d: [Hall with a posse]).
In the category of multi-word phrases people might say, we have these three:
- 1a. [Question the morning after] is “I DID WHAT?” The freshest of the three and the least obvious.
- 15a. “SAME HERE!” ["That makes two of us"]. Nice!
- 36a. “SO SUE ME.” ["See if I care"]. This one’s been in a number of crosswords already.
Highlights, hitches, and whatnot:
- 19a. A [Sire] is one who begets, a BEGETTER. *grumble*
- 21a. I didn’t know this. ALI completes [Fassbinder film: "___: Fear Eats the Soul"]. You know who’s a huge movie nut? John Farmer, that’s who. Check out his website, Minute A Day About Movies.
- 27a. Baseball, shmaseball. A SINKER BALL is clued [It drops on the way home]. With only two letters different from TINKERBELL, I had fairy incursions in my head while trying to figure out this clue. (See also: TAG UP, UMPIRES. Too much baseball!)
- 44a. EXOPLANETS are [Far-off discoveries in astronomy].
- 59. Yum, RIESLING, a sweet and [Fragrant white wine].
- 2d. Huh? DANE LAW is [Part of England in the time of Alfred the Great]? Ah, Wikipedia to the rescue. One word: DANELAW is “a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the Danes held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with West Saxon law and Mercian law.”
- 10d. Never heard of the POLK, an [Annual journalism award, informally]. What is it with the P’s and journalism? Pulitzer, Peabody, and Polk.
- 11d. Not one of the usual clues for ILIA: [Mother of Romulus and Remus].
- 13d. OLD GOLD is the [Cigarette brand that once used the slogan "Not a cough in a carload"]. Yeah, right. You know what rhymes with Old Gold? Scold. As in “If you smoke, let me scold you about that. You’re taking huge chances with your health and making things stinky to boot.”
- 29d. Who doesn’t love the Mounties? The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or RCMP, are clued [Its uniform includes a red serge tunic and a Stetson: Abbr.].
This is a very good puzzle, with precious little you could point a finger at as subpar fill. A themeless with a word count of 68 to 72, that’s where it’s at, I say. Cool-looking grid, too, with triple-stacked 7s intersecting with quad-stacked 8s and 6s in each corner—not one of the usual layouts we see.
Nina Rulon-Miller’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Setting the Terms”
I always like a good PORTMANTEAU WORD theme, but this one surprised me by including two portmanteaux I hadn’t seen before. Here’s the foursome of theme entries:
- 17a. [R and R enjoyed at home] is a STAYCATION.
- 21a. [Close male friendship] is a BROMANCE.
- 51a. [Business model in which only the deluxe version of a product costs money] is FREEMIUM. This is one I hadn’t encountered before. It seems like an infelicitious marriage of words to me. The free part is free and the premium part costs money, so there’s nothing in it that, to me, embodies FREEMIUM. That sounds like free premium content.
- 60a. GRASSOLINE is a word for [Biofuel] that I havn’t heard.
Let’s check out a few other clues:
- 5a. [Pianist Rubinstein] is an ANTON I don’t know of.
- 26a. LAGOS is the [Nigerian seaport that was once home to Chinua Achebe]. I haven’t read Things Fall Apart, but I like the literary slant to the geographic clue.
- 34a. [Game that involves drawing] cards is GO FISH. Great entry.
- 44a. ADRENO is [The “A” in ACTH]. Adrenocorticotropic hormone, in case you were wondering.
- 55a. [“Jesus Hopped the ___” (Stephen Adly Guirgis play)] clues A TRAIN. Have you heard of this playwright before?
- 4d. Don’t recall seeing BOY SCOUT in the grid before. That can be a [Competitor in a pinewood derby].
- 40d. Did you know [Sir Walter Scott’s first novel] was WAVERLEY? Me, neither.
Anthony Salvia’s Los Angeles Times crossword
The theme is ID THEFT, clued as 36a: [Web danger, and a hint to this puzzle’s theme]—the four theme answers have had an ID stolen from them, forming new phrases. I never call it “ID theft.” I call it “identity theft.” And it can happen via the web, yes, but it can also happen via stolen mail, a crooked store clerk, or a purse snatcher or pickpocket. Aside from those concerns, I like the theme OK:
- 17a. “Accident-prone” becomes ACCENT-PRONE, [Like a dialect coach?].
- 53a. “Rapid response” yields RAP RESPONSE, or [Answer from LL Cool J?]. Might’ve been better to go with someone whose career is still devoted to rap—this guy is a TV actor now. (Of course, he’ll probably wind up recording again.)
- 11d. [Christmas?] clues PRESENTS DAY. At first, I thought this was taking “the present day” and adding an S, but it’s knocking ID out of “Presidents Day.”
- 25d. Collegiate sports’ Florida Gators evolve into FLORA GATORS, or [Herbivorous reptiles?]. This one doesn’t work as well as the others. The alligators that eat animals aren’t called meat gators or fauna gators, after all.
More clues? Why, yes:
- 6a. [1990s-2000s Irish leader Bertie] AHERN pops up in crosswords every so often.
- 14a. This one mucked up my northwest corner. [It may be blank]…well, surely that’s a SLATE. Except that it’s STARE.
- 44a. HAVANA, Cuba, is [Where the Maine sank]. Remember it!
- 63a. I don’t care for this clue. [Source of brown fur] for STOAT may be accurate—except in winter, when the animal’s fur typically turns white. What I don’t like is that the “fur source” part suggests humans are using the STOAT’s fur a lot. When’s the last time someone bought a brown stoat coat?
- 2d. And I don’t care for this clue, either. [Last letters on some lists] clues ETC. Yes, that abbreviation is made up of letters, the wording of the clue suggests that there’s a list and it contains a bunch of letters. ETC isn’t just three letters—it means something.
- 5d. [One at the edge of the gutter] isn’t about roof drainage or about sots passing out at the edge of the street. In bowling, the TEN PIN and the 7 pin are closest to the gutters on either side of the lane.
Updated Friday morning:
Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Prep. School of Music”—Janie’s review
Aww—what a sweet companion piece this is to the puzzle Tony Orbach gave us yesterday, “Prepositionally Phrased.” Today, Patrick gives us a jukebox array of song titles that start with prepositions. (So, in the title, that’s not “prep.” as in “preparatory,” or “school” as in “place of education.”) No quarters required to tune in to:
17A. UP, UP AND AWAY [5th Dimension song of 1967]. Listen here. Lyrics included.
34A. OVER THE RAINBOW [Judy Garland song of 1939]. This version was recorded three years later when she sang it on a radio show for the troops. Some vintage footage here.
41A. UNDER THE BRIDGE [Red Hot Chili Peppers song of 1992]. Full disclosure: this is the first time I’ve heard one of their songs or seen one of their videos. Soooo not what I was expecting to see or hear. The content is serious; the lyric poetic; the music, well-made “mature” rock. Potent stuff. See for yourself. (Note how the preposition in this title is the opposite of the one that PRECEDED [Came before] it.)
62A. DOWN TO EARTH [Peter Gabriel song of 2008]. Didn’t remember that this was in the movie Wall-E, which I did see… Especially like how this last title bookends the first one, bringing the concept full circle. All in all, this is a beautifully balanced set of theme fill.
There are a few clue/fill tie-ins I’d like to mention, starting with the royalty connection. This gives us SHAHS [Bygone kings], REIGN [Monarch's rule] (so that’s the span of time s/he’s in power and not some particular law or edict), and ADA—because that’s the [Org. with crowning achievements]. Groan….. At the other end of the social spectrum, we get THUGS [Goons], more than one of whom has been known to wind up in the [Pen] meaning CAN (and not the similarly clued STY…). And then, we get a pair of interjections (of the “catastrophic” variety): “OH, NO!” ["Curses!"] and “EGADS!” ["Yikes!"].
Patrick’s included some good, twisty-type clues today, notably: [Eva's half sister?] for ZSA (think about it…); [Riveting icon] for ROSIE, so “riveting” is a noun here and not an adjective, yielding “Rosie the Riveter”; and [Major Hawaiian plant], which gives us not some fabulous orchid, but DOLE, which produces pineapple products in a major way.
Fave connected fill would be JINX to LYNX (at that shared “X”) to LIONS’ DEN (at the shared “L”). The first pair rhymes; the second references two kinds of pussy cats—though neither is really of the domestic sort. Handle with care!!