Merry Christmas! And Happy Hanukkah-was-weeks-ago! Diary of a Crossword Fiend will adhere to a holiday blogging schedule for the next week that may be haphazard, inattentive, or scattered at times. At the very least, my share of the posts will likely be briefer than usual.
Stan Newman’s New York Times crossword
Wait, what? Two days in a row of themed Christmas crosswords on days normally reserved for themeless puzzles? Dang, I guess Santa had me on his naughty list. Who’s gonna think the Saturday puzzle will be easier than the Friday one? On the plus side, I’m liquored up with holiday dinner vino so it’s a good thing this isn’t a trademark Stan Newman killer puzzle.
The theme is three “Santa ___” places in California, Santa CATALINA ISLAND, the Santa MONICA MOUNTAINS, and the Santa ANITA RACE TRACK.
- 20d. ANDROMEDA, [Wife of Perseus].
- 1a. CBS NEWS.
- 57a. [Schmaltz], or TREACLE. Listen, if you have a nice Jewish recipe that calls for schmaltz, don’t substitute treacle. It really won’t have the same flavor at all.
Doug Peterson’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Cute mini-theme for Christmas! SANTA CLAUS and NICK AT NITE bracket the puzzle at 1a and 60a. NOEL pops up at 3d, too.
- 17a. The GREEN ARROW, one of those superheroes I don’t know a thing about but a lively entry all the same.
- 12d. DOUBLE CHIN! I’m thinking that even the most vigorous gum chewing won’t do a damn thing to tone the jowl zone. Would be nice to see DOUBLE CHIN and MUFFIN TOP or SPARE TIRE in a theme, but…I can’t think of other anatomical fat deposit idioms. Wait! SADDLEBAGS! We need another 9 to go with the waist entry.
- 44a. Love the name TYBALT. Gee, wonder why that never caught fire as a baby name.
- 32d. Only time I ever saw GENTLE BEN on TV was dubbed into German on Austrian TV in 1997, when really, for the love of gravy, couldn’t they find a more current American show to run?
- 58a. EPSOM SALTS are a handy [Bath additive] if you just ran a marathon. Husband took an Epsom salt bath after running the Chicago marathon several years back, and he wasn’t achy at all the next day.
The middle of the puzzle’s anchored by a 15-letter answer, OFF-SPEED PITCHES ([Surprises for some swingers]). You know what puts me to sleep? Baseball terminology. And the clue seemed so racy.
Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Nick Names”—Janie’s review
Bob’s puzzle is as nice a Christmas-morning present as one could hope for (and, conceptually speaking, looks like it coulda come from the same play-book Stan was using). Not only does it have a holiday-related theme, but I think you’ll find it a very smooth solve as well. Brief solving times should give solvers more time to spend with their families—and new toys! You’ll see SANTA tucked into 73-Across. This is the key to the theme—the ["Nick" name that goes with the first names in the grid's six longest answers]. In this “before and after” we get:
- 17A. Santa BARBARA HALE [Street player for four decades]. That’s Della Street, Perry Mason’s accomplished, stalwart and most loyal secretary.
- 26A. Santa ANA ORTIZ [She plays the older sister in "Ugly Betty"]. And, in keeping with the day, she was featured in the 2002 (probably forgettable) made-for-TV movie Meet St. Nick…
- 33A. Santa ROSA PARKS [1955 civil rights headliner]. 12/1/2010 marked the 55th anniversary of the Alabama Bus Strike incited by Ms. Parks’s refusal to surrender her seat.
- 46A. Santa ANITA LOOS ["But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes" author]. BGMB, of course, is the sequel to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which gave us Lorelei Lee, that gold-digger with a heart of gold.
- 52A. Santa CLARA BOW [Sex symbol from the Roaring Twenties]. Ditto Lorelei Lee…
- 65A. Santa MARIA CALLAS [Soprano voted the greatest of all time by BBC Music Magazine]. Tyne Daly will be returning to Broadway this spring in a revival of Master Class, Terrence McNally’s Tony-winning play about the diva during her stint at Juilliard conducting, yes, a master class.
First of all, I love this particularly lively selection of theme women. Then, you know what’s cool about the “before” component? With the exception of Anita, all of the Santa names are also towns in California. And Santa Anita? Well, that’s one of California’s most celebrated racetracks. So they all work together.
Highlights today would have to include mention of [Emily] LITELLA, [Radner's "Never mind!" persona] and her grid opposite, the [Ritchie Valens classic] LA BAMBA. Especially nice the way La Bamba crosses its almost-anagram ALABAMA ["To Kill a Mockingbird" setting]. (Nice, too, how Ms. Parks is right there below her home state.) Symmetric to that is ECLIPSE and its wonderfully visual and twisty clue [High-level cover-up?].
Other clues and clue/fill combos that caught my interest:
- [Boxcar hoppers] for HOBOS, because this brings to mind the Preston Sturges film classic Sullivan’s Travels. And, look—we really go from rags to riches by way of RAG MAN [His tatters are what matters] and OILMAN ["Texas tea" tycoon].
- [Title derived from "Caesar"] for TSAR. And that would include KAISER, too…
- [Member of a rhyming Greek group] for ETA. Other members of that “Greek group”? Beta, theta, zeta…
Here’s hoping that the lights atop your trees (or the fires in your hearths—or hearts…) are [Burning brightly] ABLAZE. Thank you for yesterday’s kind words about Team Fiend, which made for a lovely gift indeed, and ’til Wednesday, ["Sayonara!"] “SEE YOU!”
Eric Berlin’s “Wry Tangles,” New York Times second Sunday puzzle
This crossword variant bends each answer. You know where the first two letters go, but where the word travels after that is a crapshoot and you need to get a critical mass of answer beginnings into the grid to piece things together. It reminds me of similar puzzles in Games magazine, though those ones break the words up with lots of black squares. Henry Hook has made puzzles where the answers bend 90° but everything runs diagonally; if you’re up to the challenge of gnarly variety crosswords and haven’t solved his Terribly Twisted Crosswords, get yourself a copy as a New Year’s present.
Eric’s first grid came together without much difficulty for me, but its partner puzzle took me more than twice as long. I had a zillion wrong guesses in the second puzzle, versus good first guesses in the other one. I had Amelia Earhart as an aviator (instead of AVIATRIX), Indonesia being south of Malaysia (answer is SINGAPORE), leapt (for LEAPED), bests or outdoes (answer is OUTSMARTS), pizza or lasagna (PAELLA), inhale (BREATHE), and Stetson (SOMBRERO). In contrast, I crossed out only four wrong answers in the first puzzle, and they were shorter: bisects/HALVES, Yemen/EGYPT, calc/TRIG, slat/STRIP.
The real treat was that even though the space available for the second Sunday puzzle is limited, Will Shortz managed to get two Wry Tangles (“right angles”) crosswords in there. Double the fun! I’d definitely like to see more of these puzzles in the New York Times in the future. (Still waiting for another Matt Ginsberg mindbender, too.)
Brad Wilber’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
The last three puzzles I expected to be themeless—Friday NYT, Saturday NYT and LAT—all had Christmassy action in them instead. So it was a holiday treat to have an honest-to-goodness tough themeless puzzle here! But it’s time to get on with the day, so just a few highlights before I sign off for Saturday:
- AT SYMBOL, GETS REAL, old-school KGB AGENT, HARLEY clued as [Certain chopper] (did you think of Apache helicopters or teeth instead of motorcycles?), SPINOFF, BOER WAR, CHEW TOY.