New feature we’re trying out at Diary of a Crossword Fiend: star ratings! Let the world know how you feel about each crossword. We’re counting on everyone to be decent and just rate each puzzle once rather than stacking the vote. Thanks to Pete Muller for the suggestion.
My suggested ratings rubric, as a starting point:
- 5 stars: Truly exceptional puzzle that knocked you out; one you’ll remember months later. A++.
- 4 stars: A very good puzzle that’s quite well done but not as perfect or memorable as a 5er. A solid A.
- 3 stars: Decent puzzle; nothing to write home about but not noticeably flawed. B.
- 2 stars: A big “meh,” with an inconsistent or flat theme, sloppy fill, or poor execution. C.
- 1 star: Really, none of the puzzles we blog here is truly terrible so there probably won’t be too many 1-star ratings. D or F.
Thanks for the technical wizardry, Evad! He has toiled away diligently in the back-room sweatshop, hammering out the HTML code for this ratings tool, so I hope it works as expected. It would be a real shame if Evad had to spend the weekend shackled to his sweatshop desk, wouldn’t it?
Will Nediger’s New York Times crossword
See? You can make a super-Scrabbly puzzle packed with uncommon letters without bothering to make it a pangram. Will’s crossword has five Z’s, three X’s, three K’s, and two J’s, but there’s no Q in sight. This is not a shortcoming at all.
This 70-worder has limited interplay between the north/west half and the south/east half, which makes it tough to progress smoothly through the grid. That’s part of what makes it a Saturday-grade challenge. Tough clues and fill that isn’t often seen in crosswords further ramp up the difficulty.
These were my favorite bits:
- 1a. I was expecting one of those quaintly colorful synonyms for [Balderdash], like poppycock or tommyrot, but instead we have the two-word CRAZY TALK. “That’s crazy talk!” is something I say fairly regularly.
- 14a. I like XENIA, OHIO, because my friend Kristin introduced me to the word xenial and it’s etymologically akin.
- 17a. “I’M ALL EARS” is a great colloquial phrase.
- 29a. Love the clue! [Woodstock artist] is Peanuts cartoonish Charles SCHULZ, not someone who played music at Woodstock. The other Woodstock is Snoopy’s bird pal.
- 40a. [It's the same old story] clues a REMAKE.
- 54a. SATIRIZED is clued as [Swiftly written?]—timely with the Swiftian REMAKE of Gulliver’s Travels on the big screen. Anyone else read the clue as looking for the adjective SATIRICAL?
- 4d. ZILLIONS and ZILLIONS. It’s [A ton].
- 9d. KOSCIUSZKO is the [Highest mountain in Australia], named after a Pole.
- 12d. Not sure I’ve really heard of JOSE JIMENEZ, but I like the J-J-Z name.
- 24d. Put your hands together for the LIBERAL ARTS, people. [They're not technical].
- 25d. FLAT STOMACH? I’ll take it.
- 38d. To BUM A RIDE is to [Hitch] a ride or hitchhike.
- 40a. Love Calvin and Hobbes! ROSALYN was Calvin’s baby sitter.
Mystery items included 29d: SCLERAL clued as [___ buckle (eye surgery procedure)]; 58d: ["Porte ___ Lilas" (Oscar-nominated 1957 film)] for DES; 10d: CADENZA, or [Virtuosic improvisation]; and 6d: [Square- (prim)] TOED. Despite having seen the word [Operculum] in my dental-editing past, LID did not come to mind; in dentistry, the operculum is a bit of gum tissue that covers a tooth that’s not fully erupted.
Harvey Estes’ Los Angeles Times crossword
It’s a treat to see Harvey’s byline again—it’s been too long. This 68-worder has even less flow between sections than Will’s NYT puzzle—it’s essentially four discrete crosswords joined by square pairs surrounding the central plus sign. This being the L.A. Times crossword, the clues were more forgiving and it was not difficult to gain purchase on some answers in each section.
- 14a. An ICE MACHINE is a [Motel convenience]. We were mean parents and didn’t let our son fill the ice bucket in our Key West hotel. The plastic liner bag was wet from the get-go! That’s a no-go.
- 32a. [Spot remover, at times] isn’t about stains and laundry, it’s about advertising. When an advertiser pulls its commercials from a program, it ceases to be a SPONSOR.
- 48a. [Mixed condiment] confused me, as I live in a house full of condiment mixers. A little balsamic glaze with your mayonnaise? BBQ sauce blended with mayo? Ketchup with Cholula hot sauce? My menfolk love all such combos. Harvey was going for GARLIC SALT, though.
- 55a. [Cause of senselessness] is the ANESTHESIA that dulls your senses to the point of unconsciousness.
- 57a. The puzzle’s talking to me. “IT’S USELESS,” it says. ["Don't waste your time"]. Is it talking smack about the USA Today or Universal crossword? It just might be.
- 11d. [Being supportive] clues AT YOUR SIDE. Omigosh! It finally happened! We get the word YOUR instead of ONE’S, making the phrase feel so much friendlier.
- 15d. [What fans do] is BLOW, if you plug them in or they run on batteries. If they’re unpowered, they just CLAP like appreciative people.
- The IMP people appear near each other. There’s a WIMP, or 23d: [Unlikely hero], alongside SIMPS, or 27d: [Ninnies].
Patrick Jordans’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Active Furniture”—Janie’s review
The theme fill today highlights three familiar objects of furniture (a table, a chair, a bench—all nouns) that are also verbs in familiar phrases. The first two are connected to matters procedural and can be tied in to one another; the third stands alone. Here’s how those pieces of furniture get movin’:
- 20A. TABLE A MOTION [Engage in parliamentary postponement].
- 40A. CHAIR A COMMITTEE [Demonstrate civic leadership, perhaps]. The tie in I mentioned? During one of those committee meetings, the chairperson might hear a motion to table a particular item of business…
- 55A. BENCH A PLAYER [Keep someone out of the game]. Aw, shucks—put me in, coach!
Now, while Patrick clues CEDAR as a [Common chest wood], it’s also used in making other furniture as this site makes clear.
Once again, we’ve got a grid that’s girded left and right at center with triple 6-columns. JASCHA [Violinist Heifetz] and JESTER [Court clown] (which peels off of the maestro’s name) are particularly nice there at left. The less savory LEERED [Looked like a wolf?] is among the fill at right. [Moreover] ALSO, there’s a (loose) lupine connection with the clue [Orb seen in werewolf films] (which gives us MOON, of course).
Though they’re pretty much in their separate corners (in more ways than one…), today ISRAEL [Solomon's kingdom] shares the limelight with YEMEN [Arab League nation]. And while [Certain woolen suits] are TWEEDS, I find that cross with the “W”-sharing TWEETY [Granny's pet, in cartoons] to have a leavening effect. Even better? What sounds like they could be comic book effects, mirror each other SW and NE: SLAM and WHAM. Clues [Insult slangily] and [1980s duo with George Michael] dispel that notion. But as the pix confirm, not entirely…
Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “Snowflake”
Me, I’m partial to the WSJ Saturday offerings that take twice as long as this “Snowflake” did. It can be tough to get started, but then the words start to mesh together like jigsaw puzzle pieces, and next thing you know, the grid is filling in nicely.
Having 42 7-letter answers means there are none of the blah repeaters (your ANA and OREO and AERIE) that populate regular crosswords, but with a cap of 7 letters, you also don’t get many knock-your-socks-off phrases.
[Crispy square] clues a SALTINE cracker. Last weekend, I was having unappealing airport food (I know! What are the odds?) and found myself dipping my husband’s soup Saltines into my son’s sour cream and salsa. I tell ya, it tasted a damn sight better than my “honey”-”lime” chicken. I’m not saying I’ll serve Saltines with sour cream and salsa at my next shindig, but if you’ve got only those three things left in your kitchen, you’ve got yourself a passable snack.
[Nanny (Hyph.)] was one of the toughest clues for me. I was thinking of child-care workers rather than the SHE-GOAT. If anyone called me a she-goat, they’d be in a world of trouble.
Plenty of opportunities for wrong turns in this puzzle, though the crossings help extricate you from your errors. I had IGNITES for EXCITES, BLOWOUT for SHUTOUT, SERAPHS for CHERUBS…and the one-word, totally wrong COASTER in place of the two-word COAL CAR to fill in the COA***R slot.
Doug Peterson’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
Not the toughest Stumper by a long shot, but still among the toughest couple of crosswords this week. The Saturday Newsday puzzle is pretty reliable that way—if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.
Doug likes fun fill and fun clues. Here are my favorite spots:
- 24a. CHIQUITA BANANA! That’s a [Toon first drawn in the '40s], but I don’t think it’s ever had a show of its own. It’s just a commercial spokesbanana, no?
- 46a. [A in science] stands for an AMPERE.
- 61a. Supreme Court Justice ELENA Kagan was a [Name in nationwide headlines, May 2010]. It’s great to have an ELENA who’s not an actress of yore to find in the crossword.
- 2d. I had absolutely no idea that an ARTICHOKE was a [Daisy relative]. I had A**IC*O*E and figured nothing else would fit. I kinda like it when puzzling out a letter pattern breaks a corner open, rather than just knowing the answers to the clues. It’s a different skill. There are a number of Sporcle.com quizzes that require you to work off of letter patterns. I’ll have to feature some on our Sporcle page here. (See the Sporcle tab above? We’ll try to swap out the quizzes every day or two so that those of you who aren’t already regular Sporclers can get a taste of the trivia fun.)
- 4d. At first, I thought Doug was talking smack about Stevie Wonder, but no. [Wonder's output, maybe] is ONE HIT, referring to those one-hit wonders. Stevie has had a great many hits.
- 7d. My favorite [Rib-joint servings] are the MOIST TOWELETTES.
- 33d. Does Chicago count as part of the HEARTLAND? We are within but not of the ["Amber waves of grain" area].
- 36d. Rowan ATKINSON of Mr. Bean fame is also the [Hornbill's voice in "The Lion King"].
- 50d. I hate the first-name etymology clues when I don’t know them but I like them when they’re gimmes for me. So I liked LINDA clued as [Pretty, in Mexico city]. Technically, it’s a foreign-language vocab clue and not a first-name etymology clue, though. There are quite a few names in this puzzle, aren’t there? PITT could also be a person, and there’s TALIA, EEYORE, DAHL, SPENCE, IAN, AMPERE (an eponym), ELENA, I.M. PEI, CORONADO, AARON, PAMELA, RHETT, and ABE. This suggests that a lot of people found this puzzle really challenging, but that the I-know-names crowd had an easier time of it.