Matt Ginsberg’s New York Times crossword
So, what is this? It’s a 72-word puzzle with lots of long fill, lots of sparkle, lots of zippy Friday-grade clue. And then it’s got a small ALCHEMY word ladder, changing LEAD to GOLD by way of LOAD and GOAD, so it’s not quite themeless. It’s sort of a new take on the two-related-answers “mini-theme” concept. I like it.
The byline unsettled me and made me leery that there was some insane, difficult twist I was about to run into. But no. Pretty straightforward, actually. (Which reminds me: Will Shortz, may we please, pretty please with sugar on top, have Matt’s next “Takeaway” second Sunday puzzle soon? We’d be ever so grateful. We’ve been waiting patiently for a year and a half now.)
Let’s spotlight my favorite parts:
- 25a. A HERMIT is [Definitely not a company man?].
- 27a, 10d. LUMMOXES and BOLLIX UP! Two great tastes that taste great together.
- 36a. GYPSY, the musical—I like words whose only vowels are Ys.
- 37a. Molten LAVA is [Rolling stone?], in a sense.
- 46a. To [Put right?] some text is to INDENT it.
- 1d. Religious [Service centers?] are ALTARS.
- 9d. How many people know what THERMOPYLAE is largely because of the movie 300 or its spoof, Meet the Spartans? (Hand meekly raised.)
- 24d. I’m not sure that this phrase can really stand alone without its pursuant verb phrase, but TIME AND TIDE (which wait for no man) has a good sound.
- 45d. Heh. The [Secretive group?] that secrete hormones comprise your GLANDS.
I had no idea that there was a German superhighway called A-TWO. Begging your pardon, but shouldn’t this A2 be spelled out only as A-ZWEI?
Pam Klawitter’s Los Angeles Times crossword
- 20a. [Where a witch's influence ends?] is the SPELL BOUNDARY.
- 25a. DEADLY SECRETARY is an [Office employee to avoid?]. “Deadly secret” wasn’t sounding like a stand-alone phrase with a distinct meaning to me, but it Googles up respectably.
- 47a. [Shuttle evangelist?] clues SPACE MISSIONARY. Imagine the space missionary attempting the missionary position in zero gravity.
- 53a. [Bird in a landfill?] is a GARBAGE CANARY. This is the only one of the four theme answers in which the with-ARY and without-ARY words are not etymological kin.
Seven more clues:
- 23a. [River past Memphis], Egypt, is the NILE.
- 45a. PUNIC is a [Phoenician dialect]. Tough clue! Punic means “of or relating to Carthage,” obviously. (Actually, it’s etymologically related to Phoenix.) The Punic Wars were Carthage vs. Rome.
- 65a. [Kate __, a.k.a. Batwoman] clues KANE. I did not know that.
- 3d. KELP is the [Source of the food thickener alginate]. Which sounds less appetizing: kelp or alginate?
- 13d. I don’t get why [Saturn drivers?] are ETS, or extraterrestrials. Are we to assume that there are aliens driving around on Saturn, which is a gas giant rather than a solid rock planet?
- 30d. [Insurance company named for a mountain] is AETNA. The mountain’s more commonly spelled Mount Etna, and it’s the primary volcano of crosswords.
- 32d. I had to work the crossings thoroughly to get YANCY, ["The Waltons" handyman Tucker].
I like the intersection between ANGST and AGITA. Does it make you antsy or angry?
Michael Ashley’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Better Late Than Never”
So, I did the L.A. Times crossword and this one within minutes of each other. Lots of coincidental echoes! This one’s got Elvis’s birthplace, TUPELO; Hester Prynne’s daughter PEARL; author Amy TAN; and another football name ending with -eau, [2010 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Dick] LEBEAU. Plus AETNA in the LAT echoes [The Decade Volcano] ETNA here. Wild.
The solid (if unexciting) trivia theme gathers five books (four of them novels) that were published posthumously: Austen’s NORTHANGER ABBEY, Kafka’s THE CASTLE, Forster’s MAURICE, Machiavelli’s THE PRINCE, and Tolkien’s THE SILMARILLION.
Three more clues:
- 1a. [Distance runner’s closing stretch] is called the GUN LAP, apparently. I didn’t know this.
- 38a. [Slime ___ (hagfish’s nickname)] clues EEL. *shudder* These critters exude a hydrophilic protein that forms a massive amount of creepy clear slime. Here’s a demonstration video from the Scripps Institute.
- 67a. “NO REASON.” [“I was just asking”]. (My favorite entry.) Other terrific entries include THE ROCK (Alcatraz, not Dwayne Johnson), ST. ELSEWHERE, PLANT A SEED, and a yippy POMERANIAN.
William I. Johnston’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Stat’s All, Folks”—Janie’s review
While the study of statistics is critical to virtually all sciences (social and physical)—not to mention the actuarial and accounting worlds—it’s never been a subject I’ve been required to study. It’s one, I venture to say, I’ve doggedly avoided. I know that numbers can be very sexy, but something about the jargon seems dry, dry, dry. Perhaps that’s why Will’s puzzle is such a treat. Each of his four theme phrases ends with a word that is part of the statistician’s daily vocabulary (mean, median, mode and range), yet each phrase has a life of its own, far removed from the realm of statistical applications. That’s how these phrases make it into the grid:
- 20A. THE QUEEN OF MEAN [Leona Helmsley, to some]. But not to her dog… Although the courts did reduce Trouble’s $12,000,000 inheritance to a paltry $2 million (with the remainder going into Helmsley’s charitable foundation…).
- 35A. ROAD MEDIAN [Divider for drivers]. Park Avenue in NYC manages to display a median colorful, no matter the season—but here’s a sample of spring.
- 42A. PIE À LA MODE [Dessert that may be hot and cold]. 15¢?!? <sigh> Those were the days…
- 53A. HOME ON THE RANGE [State song of Kansas]. Wow. I never knew that. It’s really a plaintive and very beautiful song. Have you heard it recently? Do take a listen. (This is Pete Seeger’s version, but there are others—by Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Marty Robbins, Bing Crosby[!]—that may also appeal.) So, yes, it’s something of a cowboy song—but not one that’s sung by LLANEROS [Colombian cowboys].
For definitions of mean, median, mode and range as they relate to statistics, I refer you to this handy on-line glossary.
Will has completed the grid with some very strong non-theme fill, especially words in the 6- to 8-letter, uh, range. This DENSE [Thickly packed] array would take into account the scrabbly RISQUÉ [A bit off-color] and BRAND X [Taste test competitor]. Then, if you [Get some sustenance], you EAT A MEAL—perhaps at TACO BELL, the ["Think Outside the Bun" chain]. Something that’s HOMEMADE (edible or non-) has been [Crafted domestically] and is, as a result, possibly (though not necessarily) GREENER [More ecological].
ECHELON‘s a great word, isn’t it? It’s defined as a [Level of authority]. And if someone dear to you has GRIMACED [Put on an unhappy face] a lot of late, perhaps a visit to some JEWELERS (smartly clued as [Ring masters?]) might just turn that frown into a smile.
Ken Fisher’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Big Game Hunting”
Dang, it took me longer to find 10 word search entries than to answer 144 crossword clues! That feels…wrong. What happened to my childhood word search skills? I couldn’t for the life of me see the TITANS in the northwest corner of the grid and was all set to rename the Redskins the Washington FEDS. (C’mon, that would be a good change!)
Ken Fisher (Debut puzzle? Or a return to puzzlemaking after a hiatus? Or a Mike Shenk pseudonym? It does anagram to…FIRE SHENK. Eek! Don’t do that.) includes a minimalist amount of theme content in the Across and Down axes. It’s just FIND TEN NFL TEAMS HIDDEN / IN THIS CROSSWORD / GRID IN WORD SEARCH STYLE. The fill is pretty smooth throughout despite the need for three-way checking of squares that appear in diagonal word search answers. I figure that’s because the 10 football team names that round out the theme appear mostly in unconstricted zones in the grid(iron). For example, RAIDERS shares one letter with the theme instructions, but the rest of it floats in an open area that is built to accommodate RAIDERS. You get uglier fill when there are more fixed theme answers running Across or Down that the diagonals must intersect. I could’ve done without the partials (e.g., TURN A, ERE I, HAVE A) and fill like ARNE and ESSO, but you know what? Those aren’t dealbreakers.
Given my fondness for themeless puzzles, I don’t mind reduced theme content in the crossword portion of this puzzle. Do you feel ripped off, or are you good with a big puzzle with just three theme clues?
Some of my favorite fill turned out to include football teams. The unusual WRIST LOCK has the COLTS running up, SMART PILL has the RAMS, and HELLIONS ends with LIONS.
Least familiar word: 83d: ECLIPTIC, or [Sun's path on the celestial sphere]. I don’t think I’ve encountered that word before. Elliptic and eclipse, sure. But not ecliptic.