Will Nediger’s New York Times crossword, “Leading Articles”
You know how it is when you head to an afternoon wedding and drink wine and champagne instead of Diet Coke, and by the time you get home at 8:00 you’re ready for bed? I had a rough time rousing my brain for the crossword, but here goes.
The grid itself looks elegant, doesn’t it? I like the diagonals traversing the middle of the puzzle. Sure, they’re loaded with 4-letter words, but it looks good.
The theme takes two-word phrases that end with A-words and split off the A so that it’s a “leading article” before a noun. Thus, “resisting arrest” turns into RESISTING A REST, which is exactly what I am attempting here. The other theme entries include (but are not limited to) LOVE A FAIR (the counterpart to “I Love a Parade”), UPON A RIVAL, and RETURN A DRESS.
Good fill. I especially like the longer answers that make a pretense of being part of the theme: ALOH A STATE, AUTOR A CING, and GOOD A SNEW.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Boston Globe crossword, “Medium Message” – Sam Donaldson’s review
The theme this week is a quotation from magician PENN JILLETTE, [Teller’s talkative partner], who minces no words in explaining his views on seances and the mediums (media?) who perform them: CHANNELING IS / JUST BAD VENTRILOQUISM. / YOU USE / ANOTHER VOICE BUT / PEOPLE / CAN SEE YOUR LIPS MOVING. Given that our constructors are the First Couple of Acrostics, I wonder if they wanted to use Jillette’s quip in an acrostic but couldn’t make it work. (“Rather than scrap the quip altogether, let’s make it into a crossword instead.”) As has been documented several times on this blog, quotation puzzles tend to be irksome for a number of reasons. Let’s review all the main objections in one paragraph:
First, quotation puzzles require more work for the solver, as the theme entries are not necessarily the longest entries in the grid and are thus harder to spot. This puzzle, for example, has two six-letter theme entries because of how the quotation breaks for symmetry, so it can be tricky to track the quotation from start to finish. Second, the quotation itself is usually not very amusing or profound. As quips go, this one from Jillette isn’t too bad. Third, you necessarily get a half dozen or so bland “[Part X of the quip]” clues. Fourth, you get only one, sometimes two payoffs—figuring out the quotation and, sometimes, the speaker. Compared to the standard Sunday-size puzzle where you get eight to ten mini-payoffs from a theme involving wordplay, trivia, categories, or the like, this is relatively disappointing. Finally, quotation puzzles were so common a couple of decades ago that they often feel tired or too easy for the constructor to concoct. I remember Patrick Berry writing in The Crossword Bible that quotation themes are easier to construct because someone else does all the work for you in creating the theme. The same might be said of “Words that precede or follow” themes that have more recently become so cliche.
To some extent, however, quotation puzzles have a retro appeal now that they have been frowned upon for so long. Perhaps because they are so rare today they are refreshing to some solvers. Are quotation puzzles the crossword’s version of disco? I mention this because I confess that while I groaned a little on the inside when I saw the theme, I actually kind of enjoyed the solve. Maybe it helped that I’m a fan of Penn and Teller. Some years ago, I caught their Las Vegas show when it was housed at the MGM Grand. After the show, they hung out in the lobby to greet audience members leaving the theater. I remember Teller—the quiet one—being especially chatty with fans after the show. He was very charming and witty. Their post-modern magic act may not be for everyone, but if you share their dark sense of humor they are well worth seeing live if you can.
Post meridiem plans today are approaching post-haste, so enough with the post-mortem on post-modern magic shows and on with an analysis of the grid. The grid’s southern hemisphere featured some fun fill, including DEL MONTE, YO HO HO, BLEMISH and LOVE ME DO. The northern hemisphere felt very scrabbly with three Xs close in proximity to each other and to two Qs. I liked the intersection of WARTS and SALIVA, though I worry what that says about me. And I especially liked the double shout-out to me, with both DOLT and MORON. My three favorite clues were [Tow, to toe] for HOMONYM, [Digital weapon?] for TALON, and [Budding artist’s medium] for CRAYON.
Only a few words and names were complete unknowns to me this week. How many of these were foreign to you too?
- The [Eve with an Obie] is ENSLER. I don’t know her name, but I’m certainly familiar with her most famous work, “The Vagina Monologues.”
- Word of the Day Alert: EYRA is a [Reddish wild cat]. That’s an eyra up above. Not especially friendly-looking, is it?
- Acrostic fans may have seen this unusual arrangement of letters, but it was new to me: LASCAUX (one word) is the [Ancient art cave] located in southern France. It has Paleolithic cave paintings like the one to the right.
- In the western United States, there are no HESS gas stations. So this [Citgo competitor] was a complete unknown that required all of the crossings. Anytime I see a four-letter reference to gasoline, I instinctively enter ESSO, but that was only 25% accurate this time.
- The [Monokini designer] is RUDI Gernreich. I have never heard of him, but I love his work.
- Comments are welcome as to whether I should read the trilogy of novels consisting of letters and postcards between [Griffin’s pen pal in fiction], SABINE, and, well, Griffin. I like innovative fiction formats (most recently I really liked Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), but I wonder whether this format gets tiresome fast.
- Will anyone admit to consuming POSTUM, the [Bygone powdered drink]? Wikipedia tells me it was marketed as a decaffeinated coffee substitute. “Postum was made from wheat bran, wheat, molasses, and maltodextrin from corn.” Eww.
- “Win the lottery and you’ll be spang on target to your financial goals.” Isn’t that a horribly awkward use of SPANG, [Smack dab], in a sentence? Come to think of it, isn’t “spang” a horribly awkward word all by itself? My dictionary says “spang” is an informal term of American and Canadian usage, yet I have never heard it before. Spanglish, yes. Spang, never.
- A HOODOO is also known as a “tent rock” or a “fairy chimney” because of its distinctive formation. I didn’t recognize it as a [Bryce Canyon spire]. The hoodoos at Bryce Canyon are pictured to the right. Breathtaking.
- Crossword devotees may know MULL as a [Hebridean isle], but I know Mull as the surname of comic actor Martin. As the grandson of a native Scot, I’m mildly embarrassed to admit that.
- Book lovers likely had no problem getting LEN as [Writer Deighton], but it was a struggle for me. I know Len Goodman, Len Berman, even Len Bias. But not Len Deighton.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “Reinterpreting History”
- 15a. [What two weeks of “Soy-Boy Doggie Yummies” resulted in?] is THE BOXER REBELLION.
- 19a. [Answer to the question, “Which part of your sinuses hurts the most”?] is that congested area, THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE. Note the tricky-to-manage stacking of long theme entries.
- 38a. THE GREAT DEPRESSION could be a name for [Crater Lake, to the locals?].
- 59a. An “air” is a tune, so [Plagiarizing of one of Irving’s melodies?] might be THE BERLIN AIRLIFT.
- 68a. This one’s my favorite. [Store that’s right next to Sofa King?] is THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE.
- 85a. Carmen Miranda is referenced in THE MIRANDA DECISION‘s clue, [“Carmen, you have the right to wear fruit on your head …”].
- 112a. THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA is a [Huge display of dishes?], in a way.
- 116a. [“There’s no such thing as a dress that’s too small”] references Marilyn Monroe and a dress so snug she had to be sewn into it with THE MONROE DOCTRINE.
Did you notice that each theme answer begins with the definite article THE?
Eight more clues:
- 56a. Can you conjugate your French verbs? RUINEZ is [Destroy, to Descartes] in some way.
- 66a. [Pennsylvania Ave. address, to Julius] means 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the Roman numerals Julius Caesar would’ve used, or MDC.
- 76a. [Poet like Pound or Lowell] clues IMAGIST.
- 84a. [Star warrior] refers to Star Wars and a JEDI.
- 1d. Jim [Thorpe was one], an ATHLETE.
- 34d. [Gold region of the Old Testament] clues OPHIR. Not to be confused with Oprah.
- 89d. DUNNOCK is the last name of [Actress Mildred of “Death of a Salesman” (1951)].
- 101d. The FOEHN is a [Warm alpine wind]. If you’re like me, you learned this word from crosswords.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Sunday Challenge”—Evad’s review
There’s been some talk of late on this blog about the value of 15-letter stacks in a themeless with questionable crossing entries versus shorter entries with more solid crossers. Let’s see if constructor Martin Ashwood-Smith pulls off the double-triple stacks without too much compromising fill.
- Well, it doesn’t start off so hot with ITALIAN ALPHABET. I mean don’t Italians use the same arabic letters we do? I suppose they have a couple of diacritics (like à and ò), but are those technically part of their alphabet? I know when we recited the French alphabet in class, there weren’t separate letters for the various e’s (accent-aigu and accent-grave).
- It gets much better in a hurry with the next two entries: ME TARZAN YOU JANE and Clive Cussler’s RAISE THE TITANTIC. Anyone read the book? See the movie? I got nothing.
- The lower triple stack also have, what I think, are two decent entries, WAXING NOSTALGIC (I can hear Pat Morita saying “wax on, wax off”) and EXISTENTIALISTS (why not just list two in the clue instead of saying “Jean-Paul Sartre and others”? There’s Nietzsche and Camus and Kierkegaard and…).
- STATE DEPARTMENT shows up a lot in this type of grid; I did enjoy the ambiguity of “Clinton’s domain”; Bill came first to mind before Hill and my mind started to wander across areas where Bill was master of his domain…
So did these showy stacks force the constructor into some tough jams?
There was a lot to like here, particularly the Z-action in ZLOTY, AZTECAN and ZOO (will let NAZIS slide with The Producers reference, how was this clued before the movie I wonder?). Also the consonant-rich MYRRHS, though a strange plural, was a nice lead-in to “Drat it!”, or the very fit-for-prime-time OH FUDGE.
So the compromises? Two jump out at me: NAHA, capital of Okinawa and NASI as in “Nasi goreng (Indonesian rice dish)”. Here’s a site with a recipe for this dish, if you want to try it at home. Also, it’s funny for “Bruins’ letters” I wanted to put in BOS (for our local pro skaters), but it ended up being UCLA. BOS was (in my opinion) much more poorly clued later on as “Peep et. al.”
Verge’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Placing Changes”
The title is apt. It’s an example of the theme entries: The root words in “changing places” change places to become “Placing Changes,” and these word swaps are indeed changes in placement. My favorites included the BLOCKING CHOP, a MATCHING BOX, and the ornithologists’ BANDING MARCH. I confess to not understanding one theme entry: 78a: [Cause of a power tool failure?] clues BUSHING BURN. Let’s see if the dictionary sheds light…hmm, yes, bushing is a word for “a clamp that grips and protects an electric cable where it passes through a metal panel.” Presumably power tools contain bushings. Surely I’m not the only one who has never, ever heard of such a thing?
Also in the unfamiliar family:
- 49a. [Movement in some Bach suites] is a GIGUE. The word’s from the French for “jig.”
- 81a. SNACKED ON, or [Had between meals], reminds me that it is not yet lunchtime but I would very much appreciate a snack right about now.
- 79d. Full name action! GLENN FREY is the [Co-writer of many Eagles hits]. Is Don Henley the other co-writer? I had the G in place first so I knew this was GLENN, but DON HENLEY is also 9 letters long and ends with EY.
- 80d. A BANK GUARD provides [Financial security of a kind]. Great clue.
- 13d. BRAINWASH is a great word. Sometimes, don’t you wish you could give your brain a good scrubbing?
- 82d. KIM JONG-IL is the [Asian leader with a degree from a university named for his father]. It’s unfortunate that the son of the original Dear Leader has a name that looks like it ends with the Roman numeral II in sans-serif fonts. Il = II?
Frank Longo’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 31”
Hmm, I’m not sure about the northwest corner of this puzzle. I mean, the whole puzzle was packed with tough clues, but two of the long answers in that corner had much less sparkle than the rest of the long fill. AT OR AROUND (15a. [Not too far from]) and TEND TOWARD (17a. [Favor]) are so lifeless, whereas the nearly all the other 9s and 10s are much zippier:
- 1a. [Diva’s outburst] is a FIT OF PIQUE. Great phrase, that.
- 28a. My first thought for [It has no locks] was along the lines of BALD PATE. Well, SUEZ CANAL works too…
- 47a. Not crazy about “rigged” used as an adjective meaning “filled with many rigs/trucks” in the clue [Rigged highway adjunct?], but TRUCK STOP is solid.
- 60a. [Her Secret Service code name is Radiance] clues MALIA OBAMA. I do always like a good first/last name combo in the puzzle.
- 65a. [Wiseacre] is a SMART ALECK. I like the structural echo with its crosser, SAD SACK—adjective starting with S plus word ending with CK.
- 24a. [Like anchors] is ON TV. I was thinking of nautical things rather than TV news.
- 26a. [Hard thing to do in a jam] is to make a U-TURN in heavy traffic. I had the right setting but thought of WEAVE first. That wrong answer was like quicksand in that corner.
- 30a. [Neutrino, e.g.] clues LEPTON. The subatomic particles are not in my wheelhouse.
- 32a. [Birth year of France’s Philip I] turns out to be MLII, or 1052. Wasn’t sure what the first letter would be: D for 500, C for CM/900, or M. Nope, I don’t know the timeline of French rulers.
- 34a. [Song between “Hello City” and “Grade 9” on the Barenaked Ladies album “Gordon”] is a fresh clue for ENID, but certainly not something I knew without crossings. Anyone know the song? It charted as a single in 1992…in Canada.
- 50a. [Doctor Zhivago’s wife] is TONYA. Really? Spelled that way? I thought Tanya/Tania were the Russian spellings. I went with SONYA, which kept my ANCIENT dinosaurs at bay.
- 52a. [Holder of an important government office] is ERIC Holder, the current attorney general of the United States. Great clue!
- 7d. [Indianola inhabitants] would’ve been easy if I’d remembered seeing that Indianola was the name of a town in Iowa. IOWANS is the answer. Guess what? There are also towns named Indianola in Illinois, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Florida, California, Nebraska, and Washington, plus a ghost town in Texas. The one in Iowa has about 13,000 people and a hot-air balloon museum.
- 10d. I suspect [One of a Cartoon Network title trio] is a hard clue for those who don’t have children in the house around age 10. It’s EDD, of Ed, Edd n Eddy. His friends call him “Double D.”
- 11d. A hiatal HERNIA could be a [Gastroenterologist’s discovery] but I suspect most inguinal hernias are diagnosed by people other than GI docs.
- 23d. [Big name in serigraphy] is ERTE. I went with lithographer IVES. Serigraphs can look like paintings, but they’re produced by silk-screening.
- 29d. [Mug flaws] are ZITS on skin, not chips in a coffee cup.
- 38d. [Place on a game board] is ST. JAMES Place on the Monopoly board.