David Kahn’s New York Times crossword
That’s odd. This is clearly a Liz Gorski puzzle. Erudite classical music theme? Check. Visual aspect? Check. Although Liz might’ve expanded it to a Sunday puzzle, giving the circle room to be rounder and less octagonal. And yet the byline reads “David J. Kahn”!
Kahn’s theme circles around WAGNER‘s RING CYCLE, the second part of which is “Die WALKÜRE.” It’s been conducted at the Met by James LEVINE, and the OPERA GOER hears SOPRANO and BARITONES singing the parts. (I quibble that there are more soprano parts than baritone parts, so the singular vs. plural split there is weird.) The circled letters spell out DAS RHEINGOLD, but before I peeked at the Notepad for a hint, I was eyeballing those letters clockwise and counter-, and I wasn’t finding a plausible phrase. The Notepad made me split the DAS out as a beginning word and boom, there was the RHEINGOLD. LOGNIEH R. SADD? IN GOLD DASRHE? I tell ya, I was mystified.
I like that the fill includes 10 more 7-letter answers that aren’t part of the theme.
- 32a. SVEN [___ Kramer, 2010 Dutch Olympic gold medalist in speed skating] isn’t obvious if you’re not Dutch or a speed skating fan (and my gosh, have you seen the Venn diagram for that? There’s massive overlap between the Dutch and speed skating aficionados). What the…? SVEN is a Scandinavian name, not a Dutch one.
- 39a. [Bottom line], 3 letters, ends with M? I had HEM for the longest time, but the answer is SUM. HOPRANO? ENTIRED? Oy.
- 57a. ELSTON is clued as [Yankee ___ Howard, 1963 A.L. M.V.P.]. New York baseball players from before I was born who are not crosswordese? Not in my wheelhouse. Now, if ELSTON had been clued as [Diagonal thoroughfare in Chicago], I’d have had it in an instant. (Lincoln and Clybourn aren’t 6 letters long.)
- 9d. [Mudder's fodder] is the HAY that a racehorse may eat. Remember the Seinfeld exchange? “Exactly, this horse loves the slop. It’s in his bloodlines. His father was a mudda’, his mother was a mudda’.” “His mudda’ was a mudda’?” A mudder loves the slop, and fodder is food.
- 10d. [Pac-Man centers] are the ARCADES where you camn play the game and not anything at the center of the Pac-Man screen.
Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Rear-Enders”
The “enders” of the theme entries double as “rears”:
- 1a. SKI BUM
- 18a. JUMP SEAT
- 25a. HILARY DUFF
- 32a. BIKINI BOTTOM
- 42a. PIRATE’S BOOTY
- 51a. I THINK I CAN
- 61a. TURN TAIL
- 71a. SHE-ASS
What, no ninth theme entry in the middle, CIGARETTE BUTT? How much do you want to bet that Peter considered beefing up the theme square count from 72 but couldn’t abide the compromised fill that would result? I like the surprise of “I THINK I CAN” changing it up from a two-word term, the pop-culture freshness of BIKINI BOTTOM, and the grocery-store freshness of PIRATE’S BOOTY. (If you like kale, try this snack’s green cousin, Veggie Booty, which I pronounce exclusively in a Belizian accent.) SHE-ASS is pushing it, but that’s the only remotely dim spot in a fun theme.
There are some really nice touches in the fill despite the meaty theme. Each corner has three-stacked 6s intersecting longer fill. Plus there are cool entries like IRON MIKE Tyson, MEET UP (which is rapidly transitioning into a one-word noun, thanks to meetup.com and the sort of gatherings it facilitates), PERONI beer from Italy, AT DUSK, and the “no, thanks, I’ll pass” radio option of LITE FM. Does every major city have a station that bills itself as “Lite FM”? Chicago does.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Odds-On Favorites”—Janie’s review
Lemme come right out and say it: I’m very confused about the theme fill. I get the first and the third entries (synonyms for the word “odd” begin the phrase), but that one in the middle has me scratchin’ my head. Before goin’ any further, however, let me also add that the theme fill is excellent (all grid-spanners) and this beautifully open grid (even the “enclosed” center has that triple 7-column feature at its core) is loaded with loooong non-theme fill of the liveliest, most satisfying sort. So while this was a mixed bag of a solve (where understanding the theme is concerned), it’s a pleasure to “ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive” so to speak. The theme fill:
- 17A. STRANGE GOINGS ON [Unexplained phenomena]. ETs, UFOs and the like…
- 38A. OUT-OF-THE-WAY SPOT [Little known area]. Help, please. Where’s the synonym for “odd” here? Something that’s out-of-the-way isn’t necessarily “odd.” Should I be focused only on out (as in “odd’ man out?). No matter. I have to question fill that requires a lot of ‘splainin’. Or maybe there’s something very obvious here that I’m simply blind to (and it wouldn’t be the first time!).
- 58A. WEIRD AL YANKOVIC [Singer known for his song parodies]. The guy is funny. Imoo. If you haven’t checked in with him recently (or ever) you may want to take a look at the impassioned, highly produced “Eat It” and/or, from a Tom Snyder late-night appearance, a more basic “Another One Rides the Bus.”
But where long, strong entries concerned, the best is yet to come. If, for example, you’re an AFICIONADO [Devotee] of fine fill, you’ll see what I mean. First, we get a passel of plosives with such goodies as PASS THE BAR [Become a lawyer], PERPETRATE [Commit, as a crime], PASTA SALAD [Cold noodle dish], and PIGTAILS [Pair of braids]. Even OK CORRAL [Noted shootout site]. On the softer side, there’s SOLACE [Ease of mind], SEDATE [Tranquilize] and AURORA [Light show in the sky].
There’s 9-letter fill by way of REST STOPS [Some highway areas] and AT ANY TIME [Whenever], and then that terrific trio of sevens going down at center: WAR HERO [Honored soldier], ACTED IN [Was a cast member of] and NEW WAVE [Tradition-breaking].
Some fave clue/fill combos would have to include:
- [Greedy sort] for HOG as it ties into [Lion's share] for MOST, since it’s the hog that often gets the most…
- [Runs from the pianist?] for SCALES. Runs, here, is a noun and not a verb.
- [Like a romantic dinner] gives us the lovely FOR TWO.
- And [Hoo preceder] yields YOO. As in Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg. I don’t think the documentary was in wide release, but it’s now available on DVD. This superb film about Gertrude Berg—”the most famous woman no one knows”—will remind you about human potential and all one can accomplish (and generously do for others). But be warned: this first recipient of the Emmy Award for best actress sets the bar mighty high.
John Pounders’ Los Angeles Times crossword
- 20a. ["Oh, yeah?"] clues “SURE ABOUT THAT?”
- 36a. ["Oh, yeah!"] clues something I have never said: “I LIKE IT LIKE THAT!”
- 53a. ["Oh, yeah ..."] clues “I REMEMBER THAT.”
I am seldom enthused about themes that use the same clue for different entries. I like the variations “oh, yeah” in the clues, but the answers feel like a hodgepodge of phrases.
Crosswordese on parade:
- 34a. [Angler's accessory] is a SEINE. Is this commonly known? I feel like the Seine as a river is more broadly familiar to people, but then I’m expecting the American masses to know their European geography, and don’t those polls always reveal that too many Americans are utterly clueless about such things? Just not a word, SEINE, that I ever heard my dad use when talking about fishing.
- 42a. An ARETE is a [Sharp ridge] of a mountain.
- 51a. [Willow tree twig] is OSIER. Like ARETE, it’s old-school, won’t-die crosswordese. I’m hereby inventing a new rule of thumb: No more than one of these words per puzzle. (The same category includes OGEE, APSE, ORIEL, ISTLE, INGLE, and ESNE.)
- 55d. [Pout] clues MOUE. This word, like ROUE, is super close to qualifying for inclusion in the old-school, won’t-die crosswordese category.
- 11d. SKITTISH is a wonderful word. [People-wary, as a horse] captures its meaning, though the wording feels awkward. “Busy as a beaver,” “people-wary as a horse.”
- 30d. [1969 Super Bowl] is a fresher clue than [Afternoon hour on a sundial] for III.
- 46d. A BIHARI is a [Native of NE India]. Bihar is a state in India; Patna is its capital. Bihar’s next to Bangladesh.
Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “No Comparison”
The only Nobel-winning scientist well-known for humorous writing is RICHARD FEYNMAN, so 16a was pretty easy for me. I didn’t know the quote, though. “PHYSICS IS / TO MATH / WHAT SEX IS / TO MASTURBATION.” As an acquaintance of mine recently tweeted, “People who spell it ‘masterbation’ shouldn’t be allowed to do it.”
Gotta love “¿Qui es mas macho?” battles between various professions. You should hear what the pathologists say about heart surgeons:
- “They’re just tying pieces of spaghetti together.”—Pathologists on cardiac surgeons. And also:
- “It ain’t cancer unless we say it is.”—Pathologists emphasizing their importance, because don’t a lot of people think, “Oh, they must not have people skills since they chose a profession where they don’t see patients”?
Not crazy about I’M AMAZED as a crossword answer, but even with the uninspiring 3s crossing them, those stacked 8s in the corners are great. Favorite entry: ROCKY V, with its unusual letter pattern. I took German back in the day, so I also liked 7d: ["___ Deutsch, bitte" ("In German, please")] as a clue for AUF. I gather AUF has become a Heidi Klum-related verb in discussions of Project Runway, but I don’t watch the show.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Oh Brother”
This week’s theme is fraternity-related puns. Is this the time of year when pledges rush frats? I went to a Greekless school, so I don’t know such things. Here are the puns:
- 17a. [Random, casino-based way of deciding whether to admit a pledge?] is RUSHING ROULETTE, playing on “Russian roulette.”
- 28a. [Make the wiseass pledge look foolish?] clues HAZE A REBEL. This builds on the song, “He’s a Rebel.”
- 48a. [B.O. and week-old Miller Chill?] are FRAT SMELLS (“fart smells”). I just learned of the existence of a Sweet Farts series of kids’ chapter books. Gotta love the title, Sweet Farts: Rippin’ It Old-School. I like that title better than the pun at 48a.
- 60a. [Red Stripe drinking game?] clues KEG STAND JAMAICA, playing on “Kingston, Jamaica” in a rather tortured pun formation. I don’t think people were doing keg stands when I was in college. A handstand over a keg, drinking straight from the keg upside down? Is that the gist of it?
A few more clues:
- BLOGO by itself in the puzzle would be terrible. But 37a is clued as a [Prefix with 35-Across], and 35a is SPHERE. Yeah, that’ll work. Playful approach to language.
- 10d. The JOEY [Russo with the '90s catchphrase "Whoa!"] was Blossom’s brother, played by Joey Lawrence, on Blossom. Mr. Lawrence is on a new show with Melissa Joan Hart. Anyone planning to watch that?
- 25d. DR. EVIL is the character [To whom the "Me" in "Mini-Me" refers].
- 50d. [Leave that asshole zookeeper behind forever, provided you can find a way into the sewer] is not the standard clue for ESCAPE.