Barry Silk’s New York Times crossword
Oh, look. The Friday puzzle we didn’t have yesterday because we had a Wednesday tribute puzzle instead has been moved to Saturday, only I swear it’s a few skoshes easier than the easiest Friday NYT. I have rarely, if ever, cracked the 4-minute mark on a Friday puzzle. And on a Saturday? ‘Tis madness.
By the numbers: 68 words. The short legs of the four L-shaped black square chunks are technically “cheater squares,” but I wouldn’t want to muck up the excellent assortment of long answers just to have fewer black squares on the page. Among the highlights:
- 15a. This clue is wrong. CALIFORNIA is not [Orange's place]. I live in Illinois.
- 17a. Here’s another color clue. [Blue, say] means ADULTS ONLY.
- 37a/4d. [With 4-Down, German equivalent of Time] is the news magazine DER / SPIEGEL. That’s German for “The Mirror.”
- 44a. Did anyone else’s college have a PRIMAL SCREAM tradition? At 9 or 10 p.m. during finals week, masses of students would let loose with a stress-relieving scream. [Supposed aid in curing neurosis]? Not exactly the way it was repurposed at Carleton.
- 50a. Who doesn’t love the CAPYBARA, a [Rodent that may weigh over 100 pounds]? If you don’t know what a capybara looks like, check out this video of a capybara…in a necktie…eating frozen blueberry yogurt.
- 55a. “HAIL, CAESAR!” is a [Senate cry]. There’s no crying in baseball, but in the Senate? Sure thing.
- 2d. Here’s the full name of SEAN O’CASEY, the [Irish playwright who wrote "Cock-a-Doodle Dandy"]. Boy, I sure never heard of that play, but O’Casey seems to be the primary Irish playwright seen in crosswords. Well, there’s also OSCAR WILDE, whose name is also 10 letters long. Ooh, I bet that trips up a lot of solvers.
- 9d. Interesting tidbit I’ve never heard before: the N.S.A. has a nickname, NO SUCH AGENCY. It’s a [Organization nickname that plays off the group's secrecy] and has the same initials. You could call it the National Security Agency, but are you sure it exists?
- 22d. I read the clue ["Get a little closer" brand] and the jingle began to play in my head. ARRID Extra Dry! Now, that’s just silly.
- 26d. Four-word phrase GET A READ ON is clued as the verb [Sense]. Not to be confused with “get a bead on,” meaning “aim at.”
Now, there’s plenty of short fill in the lowlight files. Abbrevs UTIL, GMT, SYS. Crosswordese ADIT, RILL, RANI, TAY. [Squad booster] RAH, which I’m not convinced anyone has actually uttered while cheering on a team in the last 50 years. (Is there a cheerleader in the house who can refute this?) Beginnings and endings UNI, ENNE, RONI and ADE. Italian (?) ANNI, 11d: [Millennio divisions]. Partials A CASE and AN ARM. These did not enchant, no, they didn’t. But the long answers fell so quickly I didn’t fully take note of all the shorter fill while solving.
Patrick Berry’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “Section Eight”
Ooh, these round “Section Eight” puzzles work me over. I keep plugging away and find myself almost despairing of ever finishing, having zero idea what the answer to a clue is. But then I remember that I can use logic to muscle through the last few answers—all the letters in an inside ring will appear in a segment, plus one of the two other letters included in the ring outside my blank zone.
Now, there were a great many clues I didn’t have answers to before I had suggestive batches of letters to work with. One of the last two answers I was able to fill in was RED CLOUD, the [Sioux war chief who declared war on the U.S. in 1866]. Who?? That’s not ringing a bell at all. LONG-LOST shouldn’t have been so tough, but the clue, [Unseen for years, as a family member], had me thinking the relative was locked in the attic or the basement rather than out of state. Also coming near the end was the Ingmar Bergman movie trivia: DEATH is [Whom the knight plays chess with in Bergman's "The Seventh Seal"]. That sounds sort of familiar—not that I’ve seen that or any other Bergman film.
Highlights include cool fill such as the GLOBE THEATRE, CREAM SODA (my favorite flavor of Dum Dum sucker), Aldus DUMBLEDORE, the GOLD STANDARD, a SAND DOLLAR (the [Echinoderm with a flat round skeleton]), and HAROLD AND MAUDE.
Donna S. Levin’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Snake in the Grass”—Janie’s review
Once again we have a Saturday puzzle that is the perfect complement to the Friday that preceded it. Yesterday’s “High and Mighty” brought us a puzzle with ALP embedded in each theme phrase. Today’s embedded word is more earthbound; or, as Donna spells it out at 53-Down [Venomous snakes lurking in each of the four longest puzzle answers] ASPS. Not only have we gone from the lofty to the low, but look—(disregarding that final “S”) only one letter has changed. Sweet. Here’s how Donna charms us with her secreted serpents:
- 17A. “GAG ME WITH A SPOON!” ["Ick!" in Valley Girl lingo]. Also what might be uttered upon encountering a snake in the grass. Quickly followed by “Eek!” no doubt. Then “UGH!” another [Expression of distaste].
- 26A. PLEASED AS PUNCH [Delighted]. Delightful.
- 44A. TEXAS PANHANDLE [Northernmost area of the Lone Star State]. Interesting. In 1915 this area sought to become the independent state of Jefferson. Also, because of its strong winds, it’s become “one of the fastest-growing wind-power-producing regions in the nation.” Thus spake Wiki.
- 58A. SARATOGA SPRINGS [Site of a historic New York thoroughbred racetrack]. As in perpetual fiancée Adelaide’s lament that instead of eloping when she and Nathan Detroit “get on the train for Niagara…they get off at Saratoga for the fourteenth time…” (For the musical-theatre-challenged, that’s a Guys and Dolls reference.)
The environmentalists get their day today first with [Chilean] SEA BASS [(Patagonian toothfish)]. Here’s a backgrounder on why eating this juicy whitefish has become controversial. Is it or isn’t it an endangered species? You be the judge—but note that the species is neither Chilean nor a sea bass, but that it is (as Donna correctly clues it) a toothfish. (Hafta say, though, I think the marketing folks were wise to re-brand this one…) Then there’s both the LORAX [Environmentally friendly Seuss character] and the ECO-CAR [Environmentally friendly vehicle].
Other items that caught my eye:
- PLATE, clued as [Full-page illustration]. Generally don’t give thought to that usage and found it refreshing as a clue/fill combo.
- SPIN-OUT, or [Lose control at the Indy 500]. Risky business that.
- The Good Book references [Biblical brother whose name means "hairy"] for ESAU (think of Beyond the Fringe: …”for Esau is an hairy man and I am an smooth man…”); and [Biblical figure who could read the writing on the wall] for DANIEL. Didn’t know that it was Daniel who read the proverbial “handwriting on the wall” predicting the end of the Babylonian Empire.
- [Ace in poker slang] for BULLET, because I enjoy learning new slang.
- GARETH, not only a crossword constructor and Fiend-poster, but [Knight of the Round Table]. Started out with GAWAIN here. Anyone else?
- And finally, APPLAUSE for [Sign of appreciation]. Consider yourself appreciated, Donna!
Harvey Estes’ Los Angeles Times crossword
- 15a. [Lemon source] isn’t a tree or orchard or grocery; it’s a USED CAR LOT.
- 17a. A RADIAL TIRE is [One lacking bias]. Kinda wanted something along the lines of an anti-racist.
- 45a. [Common chuckwalla habitat] is the DESERT. “Chuckwalla” is a cool-looking word. It’s a lizard, apparently. I might’ve guessed small desert mammal.
- 53a. [Quarter of a yard] is the old unit of measure called the SPAN. It’s nine inches, so a quarter of 36 inches.
- 6d. [Comics character who said "Some days even my lucky rocketship underpants don't help"] is CALVIN of “Calvin and Hobbes” fame.
- 13d. [Ann Landers or Abigail Van Buren] could be ADVICE COLUMNIST (too long) or NOM DE PLUME (which fits), but each is also a TWIN SISTER.
- 14d. For [Legendary swimmer], I was thinking of Gertrude Ederle (first woman to swim across the English Channel, 1926) and Olympians Mark Spitz, Ian Thorpe, and Michael Phelps. The SEA SERPENT has not, as yet, competed in the Olympics.
- 56d. [Place to find IBM] vexed me. “Starts with NY…Is it NY, NY? Or N.Y. St.? Ick. That’s horrible. [long pause] Oh! The NYSE!”
I had no idea what 54d: [Cóctel fruit] was going to be, and had “fruit cocktail” stuck in my head instead of “fruity cocktails.” PIÑA is Spanish for pineapple, and the piña colada is a cóctel.
Among the less obvious names in the grid are these:
- 16a. [Actor who turned down the role of Dr. Shepherd on "Grey's Anatomy"] clues LOWE. Rob, I presume, and not Chad.
- 36a. [Kleptomaniac film monkey] is ABU, from the animated Aladdin.
- 37a. DANTE was a [14th-century Florentine exile].
- 3d. The Venerable BEDE is the [Only native Englishman ever named Doctor of the Church by a pope]. Dr. Dre, I presume, is among the few Americans named Doctor of the Church, because he’s not a physician and the “Dr.” bit must’ve come from somewhere, right?
- 7d. ["Entertaining Mr. Sloane" dramatist] is Joe ORTON. Have any of you read or seen any Orton plays? I know him only from crosswords.
The other day, I missed making a note of the abbreviation TCHR in the grid. It’s a solid in-the-dictionary abbreviation, though it does make for an ugly crossword answer. And here it is in the clues today:
- 38d. [Tchr.'s notation] is ABS., short for “absent.” Meh. ABS as short for “abdominal muscles” is so much better than an abbreviation for “absent.” I’m thinking the average teacher’s form for recording students’ attendance has such tiny boxes that an A or an X is going to be used rather than a three-letter abbreviation.
Stan Newman’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” (writing as Anna Stiga)
This is two half puzzles for the price of one, what with square 23 and its opposite partner being the only connections between the two halves of the grid. There’s precious little flow between the two sides. I had the lower left half completely filled in and the upper right completely blank. I know this drives a lot of people bonkers.
Let’s take a stroll through some clues:
- 5a. [Shoot shout] is “THAT’S A WRAP!” As in what the director says when the film’s done shooting.
- 15a, 48d. [Old Line State symbol] clues two answers: the University of Maryland’s Terrapin, or TERP, and Maryland’s state bird, the ORIOLE.
- 17a. Did you know OKRA was a [Cacao cousin]? Two pods in a pod.
- 18a. Northern Illinois isn’t very piny, so PINE NEEDLE as a [Mulch candidate] wasn’t at all obvious to me.
- 22a. [Cohen of cones] is BEN Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, which is often served in cones. Got this one through the crossings.
- 23a. [Vineyard Cup competitor] is a CATBOAT, a type of sailboat I know nothing about. The BOAT part of the answer wasn’t so hard to figure out, but the CAT? Oy.
- 31a. [Once-fashionable tableware] is MELMAC, made of melamine resin. Also the home planet of TV’s ALF.
- 35a. [Marine-training subject] clues BAYONET. The sea OTTER above this entry is unrelated.
- 37a. [Morning moment] feels like a lame clue for SEVEN A.M. What, so SEVEN OH ONE A.M. is the following moment?
- 56a. DIA is clued with [It means "thoroughly"]. Not a foreign word—a prefix in English words. First dictionary I checked said only that dia- means “through,” but the unabridged lists several meanings, including “thoroughly, completely,” as in diagnosis. But then the first dictionary tells me the roots of diagnosis are dia/apart + /gignoskein/know. This…is a weird clue.
- 64a. [Victim of the '71 "rural purge"] is GREEN ACRES. What, the countryfied shows all went off the air in 1971? Apparently so. Looking at the list of cancelled shows and the shows that replaced them on TV, I gotta say…good call, networks!
- 1d. [It was used to discover fermium] clues the ATOM BOMB. Such a quaint term. We just call ‘em nuclear weapons now.
- 2d. PEKOE TEA is a [Term popularized by Sir Thomas Lipton]. Lipton = TEA, that part’s easy enough.
- 7d. [Emmy-winning role of '67] is AUNT BEE. See also “rural purge,” 1971.
- 8d. TRE, or “three,” is an [Italian cardinal] number.
- 13d. [Debra Messing, in "Garfield: The Movie"] played ARLENE. Waitress character, no?
- 24d. OLDS, of Oldsmobile fame, was the [Financier of Lansing's tallest building]. The car company was founded in Lansing.
- 38d. [Couric succeeded her on "Today"] clues Deborah NORVILLE, who went on to host that daytime tabloid show, Inside Edition.
- 40d. This is an insane answer. Three words, eight letters—and only one vowel. The [2001 Winter X-Games host] was MT. SNOW, VT.
- 42d. [American relative] is CHEDDAR cheese. My kid won’t eat American cheese, but he likes cheddar.