Mike Nothnagel’s New York Times crossword
One thing I like about Mike Nothnagel is that he is so choosy about his crossword construction. He doesn’t make a puzzle unless he believes it’s really a worthwhile addition to crossworddom and it’s interesting to him. A tired “three long answers with the same clue” or other formulaic themed puzzle? Not gonna issue forth from his atelier. Now, one thing I don’t like about Mike Nothnagel is that he doesn’t make enough crosswords. But when he does make a puzzle, at least nine times out of ten I will really like it.
This is a cool theme. Mike interprets the phrase “BREAK RANKS” (9a, 65a) in a fresh way by having circled letters inside familiar phrases “breaking” up the name of a military rank:
- 17a. PER CAPITA INCOME is a little dry, but you knock out that first I and a CAPTAIN is lurking within.
- 26a. AMMAN, JORDAN splits a MAJOR. I like a nice geographic answer.
- 44a. The PERCENT SIGN has a naval ENSIGN.
- 59a. The hideous MARSHMALLOW PEEP, while an abomination unto nature, makes for a great crossword answer. Knock out the second M and you have a MARSHAL. You may be thinking to yourself, “Self, do we have marshals in the U.S. military?” And the answer is “Self, you’re right to ask. The answer is no.” The Mac’s widget dictionary (New Oxford American) defines marshal as “an officer of the highest rank in the armed forces of some countries, including France.” Nobody said the ranks had to be local.
Items of note:
- 3d. [Medieval close-combat weapon] is a straight-up factual clue for WAR HAMMER. Which reminds me: Now that the Arms and Armor collection is back on display at the Art Institute of Chicago, I need to take my son to see it. Though apparently it’s just a small fraction of the collection—here’s hoping that there’s a good complement of poleaxes and the like. Those things are awesome.
- 5a. Love the word JINX.
- 39a. BRITPOP! Poppy entry.
- 4d. “AY, CARAMBA!” I don’t think this [Bart Simpson catchphrase] has been heard on the show in years. (See also: “Eat my shorts.”)
- 34a. I’m anti-SPLIT PEAS on principle, but I don’t mind them in my crossword. Split pea soup would have to be on the menu at the BREAK RANKS dinner party, along with cracked lobster and mashed potatoes.
There’s more yucky fill in here than I’d expect to see in a Nothnagel creation. ACER ARA ACAT ESTE ELEM NMI E-NOTE EPEE? I just got a headache (unrelated!) so I leave it to you to ponder whether the 7- and 9-letter fill and the good stuff more than offset the filler that’s uninspired.
Gary Whitehead’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Jeffrey’s review
- 17A. [Marinara, for one] – TOMATO SAUCE
- 28A. [Pentagon bigwigs] – MILITARY BRASS
- 46A. [Not serious] – TONGUE IN CHEEK. Never around here.
- 60A. [Part of an axon (and what 17-, 28- and 46-Across each has?)] – NERVE ENDING
One-line review for those in a hurry: I’m galled by another axon part puzzle.
- 1A. [Techie talk, e.g.] – JARGON. “Star Wars” techie talk – JAR JAR JARGON.
- 7A. [They have guards on both sides of them: Abbr.] – CTRS. Football line stuff.
- 14A. [Nine follower?] – ONE ONE. Do not try spelling it out on your phone if you have to call 9-1-1.
- 23A. [__ II, king who founded Borg (now Sarpsborg)] – OLAF. Did Sarpsborg assimilate OLAF?
- 33A. [Philip __: 16th-century Italian saint] – NERI. Also know as Philip the Who?
- 36A. [Cheri who played Gail Hailstorm in "Scary Movie"] – OTERI. This clue is an OLAF. Cheri ___ is enough.
- 50A. [Mention with an ulterior motive] – DROP. Did I mention how Amy Reynaldo is the most wonderful blogger in the universe? And I don’t just say that because it is raise time.
- 53A. [Eldest Younger gang member] – COLE. Also known as COLE the Oxymoron.
- 66A. [One of a jazz duo?] – ZEE. Wrong. It is zed.
- 4D. [Commit a service infraction] – GO AWOL. Get your head out of the tennis court, soldier!
- 5D. [Toronto's prov.] – ONT. Wow, this was hard for me.
- 7D. [Winter Palace figure] – CZAR. Where did the Tsars go?
- 11D. [Intuition] – SIXTH SENSE. I just felt that was the right answer.
- 13D. [One of Poland's three most populous cities] – LODZ. One of the most important industrialists of Łódź was Karl Wilhelm Scheibler. In 1852 he came to Łódź and together with Julius Schwarz started buying property and building several factories. Julius Schwartz went on to edit Superman comics.
- 29D. [Unyielding] – INEXORABLE. Ugly word.
- 37D. [What the mouse did clockwise?] – RAN UP. And what did you do clockwise today?
- 44D. [Collision preceder] – SCREECH. Bam! Splat!
- 56D. ["Cotton Candy" trumpeter] – HIRT
- 61D. ["Strange Magic" band] – ELO. Electric Light Orchestra. I’m still waiting for the full name in a puzzle.
- 62D. [__-turn] – NO U. Obeys my any 3 letters law.
Sarah Keller’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “The Four of Us”—Janie’s review
Homophones for the first person plural pronoun start each of Sarah’s four 15-letter theme phrases. And as I see it, there’s bonus fill as well. But let’s look first at those strong and lively grid-spanners:
- 17A. WE SHALL OVERCOME [Anthem of the civil rights movement]. Martin Luther King Day falls on January 17th this year. The origins of the song itself (attributions to composers and lyricists) are very interesting—a little complicated, but rich. It’s been with us in some form or another for over a century. I didn’t know that…
- 27A. WII FITNESS GAMES [Nintendo exercise activities]. Current research still says that unless you’re a senior citizen, getting “real” exercise is probably still more beneficial.
- 49A. WEE WILLIE WINKIE [Nursery rhyme nightgown wearer]. A Scottish “nursery rhyme nightgown wearer” in fact. Also tucked in the puzzle is SMA [It means little to a Scot]. And as SNL taught us, “If it’s not Scottish, it’s craaaapp!” (The puzzle also includes a direct shout-out to [One-time "Saturday Night Live" performer Cheri] OTERI, though I don’t think she ever appeared in any of the Scottish sketches.)
- 65A. “OUI, MADEMOISELLE” [Polite affirmative in Paris]. Nice, too, how “MOI?” ["Who, me?"] peels off of the first M of mademoiselle.
The “bonus” fill is also French in origin. Take a look at the center of the grid and that vertical ENNUI that’s clued as [Boredom]. How does that get pronounced? First option is ahn-wee—which makes me think that maybe the title could be “The Five of Us.” (Right next to ennui is [Rapa] NUI [(Easter Island)], but that’s pronounced rah-puh noo-ee.)
There’s another example of serendipitous proximity in the crossing of TOME [Hefty volume] and OED [Brit. lexicon]. Tomes don’t get much heftier than the Oxford English Dictionary.
Today is January 6th and the official end of YULE [Christmastime]. Depending on your cultural background, this 12th day of Christmas is also known as Epiphany, Three Kings Day or Little Christmas. Only 353 shopping days…
Brendan “Just Vacationed in York” Quigley’s blog crossword, “Upon Reflection, I Have a Change of Heart”
Brendan’s theme, as explained in the puzzle’s title, is reminiscent of the English style of cryptic crossword clues. The first 5-letter word of each theme answer’s pre-wordplay phrase is “reflected” (spelled backward), and then it has a “change of heart” (a doubling of the middle letter). I wonder if Brendan encountered clues with the “upon reflection” and “change of heart” tricks in the Guardian crosswords he was doing in England over the holidays. SALAD flipped with a doubled middle letter becomes DALLAS, so “salad dressing” turns into DALLAS DRESSING. A “sinus infection” becomes SUNNI’S INFECTION. (Anyone else muck things up by completing INF with LUENZA?) And who knew that the word “elbow” was “wobble” backwards with half the B’s? WOBBLE MACARONI builds on “elbow macaroni.” Tough theme—the puzzle took me as long as plenty of Brendan’s themelesses.
- ZULU clue, [Yankee follower]. Phonetic or NATO alphabet. With Yankee Doodle referenced later, I like the Yankee echo. Plus, thank Brendan, neither “Yankee” refers at all to baseball!
- SVENGALI. LAILA ALI would also fit that space if you disregarded crossings. Is there a Sven G. Ali in the Swedish-Arab community?
- WELSH clued as [Language in which "mountain" is "fynydd"].
- TONE-DEAF? *raising hand*
- Jazz trivia: EUNICE is singer [Nina Simone's real first name]. Who knew?
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “The New Year in Names”
As Matt Gaffney pointed out, there aren’t any words that contain MMXI, which is 2011 in Roman numerals. Ben takes a shortcut and assembles four names that contain XI in honor of the new year:
- 1a/67a. [With 67-Across, actress who played Rory Gilmore] is ALEXIS BLEDEL.
- 20a. PLAXICO BURRESS is an incredible name. Doesn’t it just sound great? Sort of rhymes with Mexico. He’s the [Former New York Giants star currently in jail after shooting himself in the leg]. I think the crime was having the gun, not shooting himself.
- 36a. [Imprisoned Chinese activist and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner] clues LIU XIAOBO. Yes, I needed a zillion crossings to piece together the spelling. Is Lucy LIU’s crossword dominance coming to an end with LIU Xiaobo’s arrival (virtually, what with the imprisonment) on the international scene?
- 53a. THE DIXIE CHICKS are the [Country band that loudly criticized George Bush in 2003].
Seven more clues:
- 18a. [Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael, for short] are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or TMNT.
- 38a. PANANG is a [Thai curry type].
- 45a. GRAYEST is clued as [Showing the most age]. My husband shows more gray than I do and yet he gets carded all the time. Even when we’re out as a family (and I don’t get carded). This leaves me to wonder if the server thinks he is my boy-toy and I’m a cougar, or if they think I’m out with my 19- and 10-year-old sons, the elder of whom is clearly adopted. You know how those teenagers are, ordering beer when they’re out with their mom.
- 60a. [Card game related to euchre] clues ECARTE. Tell me the truth: Have any of you ever played ECARTE or SKAT? I see them only in crosswords.
- 27d. [Monk, in French] is MOINE. Des Moines, Iowa, is “of the monks.”
- 39d. [Event for which one must take a bow before starting] is ARCHERY. Clever.
- 51d. More WELSH! It’s also the [Language that gives us "cromlech"]. That’s a megalithic tomb made of a giant flat stone atop smaller upright ones. I would like to see a cromlech resembling a house of cards, only made with stones. It goes without saying, of course, that “cromlech” is a perfectly cromulent word.