Jim Horne shines a spotlight on his favorite NYT crossword of 2010, along with assorted puzzle achievements. We here at Diary of a Crossword Fiend will be sharing our favorites as well in January. Late January. (Or maybe February. What’s the rush?)
Jay Kaskel and Daniel Kantor’s New York Times crossword
One thing I adored about the old New York Sun crosswords was the weekly appearance of a tough themed puzzle. This one put off a similar vibe—harder than a Thursday NYT, hence officially “tough.” And it’s an unexpected themed Friday NYT. CHRISTMAS EVE falls on a Friday this year, so the holiday puzzle needs to have some bite.
The Christmas carol SILENT NIGHT is evoked a second time in the grid by the circled letters N, I, GH, and T—which are all silent in the other theme entries that contain them:
- 18a. CHURCH HYMNS is a bit of a pleonasm, no? Are there hymns of a non-churchy variety? At any rate, the N in HYMNS is silent.
- 24a. MICHAEL CAINE has a silent I in his last name. His Christmas tie-in is that he is a [Scrooge player of film].
- 38a. North [Polar opposites?] is a great Santa-related clue for NAUGHTY OR NICE.
- 51a. I thought [Time before the present day?] was looking for Christmas Past or yore, something like that, but it’s CHRISTMAS EVE, the evening before the opening of Christmas presents.
I blew it at 46a and 47d. A [Saw] can be an AXIOM just as well as an ADAGE—and [Blue] can certainly mean MOROSE as well as EROTIC.
I didn’t know where 1a wanted me to go. The dangerous answer to “Do these jeans make me look fat?” could be YES. Or DUH. Turned out to be HMM. The clue reminds me of that Geico ad with Abraham Lincoln evincing his honesty when his wife asks if her dress makes her backside look big. I love that commercial.
- The quartet of 10-letter Down answers that intersect pairs of theme entries. 2d: [Its capital is Nouakchott] gave me MAURITANIA (Sporcle geography quizzes helped there). There’s also a MUSIC STAND, ACCIDENTAL, and—particularly great fill—THE RIVIERA.
- 5d. A fresh, shiny clue for one of my least favorite repeaters, RAH: [Exclamation heard 12 times in Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance"]. Not that the clue helped me in the slightest, as I haven’t actually heard the song.
- 52d. Hah! [Ziering of "90210"] is curly blond-haired actor IAN Ziering. You know what he’s famous for doing in his career post-90210? Me, neither! But I appreciate a pop-culture gimme.
- 7d. A HARD C sound is at the [Head of cattle?].
Facts I didn’t know:
- 50d. [Peruvian pronoun] is a long way to go for ESO. Usually it’s clued via the song “Eso Beso.”
- 39d. USAC is a [Car-racing org.]. Okay, I know NASCAR, IRL, and NHRA. I know nothing of the USAC.
- 29a. [It has 3,750 "steps of penitence"] clues MT. SINAI. Doesn’t it seem cruel for a hospital to make patients climb 3,750 stairs?
Kenneth Berniker’s Los Angeles Times crossword
This is sort of a Yule theme in that Yule’s initial Y gets added to the beginning of five phrases to alter their meanings:
- 17a. [Those who outwit safecrackers?] might be YEGG-BEATERS.
- 26a. [1945 view for Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin?] is a YALTA VISTA.
- 39a. [Chronologists?] clues YEAR SPECIALISTS. This one falls flat for me, as I think people say “ear doctor” more than “ear specialist.”
- 50a. To me, “the dark side” connotes either Star Wars or cryptic crosswords. Here, [Core of the dark side?] clues YIN ESSENCE.
- 60a. [Paradise brewing aid?] clues YEAST OF EDEN. Sure, it could have been clued as a baking need, but I like that the constructor took the beer route.
The theme isn’t accompanied by any sort of rationale for why a Y is added. The more fully developed add-a-letter themes throw in that extra fillip.
Alas, the grid was riddled with fill that I found irksome. You can find ALVEOLA in some dictionaries, but this [Botanical cavity] has a much better-known cousin, the alveolus of human anatomy (lung sacs, tooth sockets). Obscure science words don’t lend zip to a crossword. (See also: ACETYL, [Like a vinegar radical].) I SAY SO also begged to be put in the past tense, I SAID SO. Short answers that I felt detracted from the overall solving experience include TAE, TEY, ERG, UNH, ERSE, EKE, ETD, NES, SARI, A DEAR, ENURE, and A-TEST.
Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “The Stocking Stuffers”—Janie’s review
‘Tis the (morning before) the night before Christmas and Doug has hung his stockings with care, placing them strategically throughout the grid. While none has been needlepointed, each is a SOCK, that [Bit of footwear that appears at both ends of this puzzle's theme answers]. Each has also been stuffed with letters that yield a familiar phrase, name or title. The goodies today are found at:
- 17A. SOUNDTRACK [Cinematic accompaniment]. Guilty pleasures: soundtracks from Standing in the Shadow of Motown; Good Morning, Vietnam; Easy Rider… Yours?
- 27A. SANDRA BULLOCK ["Miss Congeniality" star]. Like the best of Hollywood’s smart cookies (Goldie Hawn, Jodie Foster, La Streisand come to mind), someone who chooses her roles wisely, seeing many of her projects through by taking a role in the producer’s (and/or director’s) chair as well.
- 46A. SOCIAL NETWORK [Twitter, e.g.]. I know I ignore the phenomenon at my own peril, still thanks, but no thanks.
- 60A. SOCCER KICK [NFL field goal attempt, usually]. New term to me, but its meaning hardly comes out of left field (to further mix the sports metaphors…).
There’s a bit of a “guy stuff” mini-theme with an entry like ELKS CLUB [Fraternal order, familiarly]. Formally, this’d be the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. (And while they aren’t interchangeable, elks are related to reindeer, making this most appropriate fill for the day…) Then (if we’re to believe the ads), we get two things a lotta DIY-guys like to see as gifts on Christmas morning as well, such as: a TOOL KIT [Carpenter's collection] and a CHAIN SAW punnily clued as [Noisy feller?].
We also get a lotta guys starting with HIM—you know, [That guy], be it: Jimmy HOFFA [Union boss who went missing], or ADLAI ['50s candidate Stevenson], or [Surrealist Salvador] DALI (who was not so famous for works in WATERCOLOR [Alternative to oil painting]), or STEVE [Martin of "Shopgirl"] (who was shockingly dissed at NYC’s 92nd Street Y at the end of last month), or [William Wallace, for one] SCOT (whose exploits fueled the story of Braveheart), or EDs [Asner and O'Neill], or ISAO [Golfer Aoki], or—hey—even the PIE MAN [Whom Simple Simon met] or KLINK ["Hogan's Heroes" colonel with a monocle].
For anyone who’s built up an appetite after any last minute shopping or gift-wrapping or tree-trimming, Doug’s not the least bit APOLOGETIC [Contrite] (nor should he be) as he offers up a menu of SEAFOOD [Fish market fare], ICE MILK [Frozen dessert] and SODAS [Drinks from jerks?].
Gabriel Stone’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Hark! Who Goes There?”
The title isn’t about sentries but “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”—the theme entries are familiar phrases with an ANGEL wedged into them. At first I thought the theme answers were contrived phrases with stealthy ANGELs happening to join some words and was disappointed—but then I realized the ANGELs had been added. Much better, though not really a funny theme at all. Here are the theme entries:
- 23a. Orion’s Belt becomes ORANGE LION’S BELT, a [Leather accessory for ING's logo?].
- 34a. [Visit to farm country?] clues GRANGELAND TOUR, built from “grand tour.” Grange is one of those words we don’t encounter much these days.
- 49a. STRANGE LIKE A BALANCE reads awkwardly. The clue is [Comparable to an unexpected amount of money in an account?].
- 69a. Angelic infestation turns a chess set into a CHANGELESS SET, the [Result of stagehands going on strike?].
- 86a. Plato’s Republic yields PLAN GELATO’S REPUBLIC, clued with [Map out a democracy based on Italian ice cream?]. Stilted answer, but you know what? I’d pursue citizenship in the Republic of Gelato and fight courageously in the war against the Republic of Tea.
- 102a. Get to work! GET TANGELO WORK! [Find employment in a grove?]
- 117a. [Lay out the bottom half of the front page?] clues ARRANGE LOW HEADS, based on “arrowheads.” Is that how newspaper people talk, of arranging “low heads”?
Love the SPOILER at 1-Across! The clue gives away another answer, so it’s a spoiler. Pretty dangerous ground to tread—some solvers get mighty riled up if any part of their crossword is spoiled.
SPOILER is joined by a bunch of other 7-letter answers that are a pretty lively batch. SKYMALL! The near-twins KARAOKE and CURACAO, right next to each other. Patti LABELLE! SODA POP! Rahm EMANUEL and a passel of TOMBOYS.