Californians! The Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest is in two weeks. On Saturday, January 29, there’s a day-long line-up of free (!) puzzle workshops on crossword construction, solving diagramless crosswords, sudoku, and more. Sunday, January 30, is competition day. You can try your hand at the sudoku tournament in the morning and the crossword tournament (future NYT puzzles) that afternoon, for a combined $25 donation. There are events for kids both days, too. Visit the svpuzzle.com site to register or learn more.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s New York Times crossword
I like the sinuous curves (well, as sinuous as you’re going to get in a grid made of boxes) that connect the two triple-stacks of 15-letter entries, with the 8/9/10 stacks stretching out. A grid like this doesn’t lend itself to shiny seed entries with crazy letter combos, though, and it’s got easier Friday clues rather than gnarly Saturday clues—so it’s a smooth but not particularly exciting solve.
- 17a. A LITTLE LEARNING is a [Dangerous thing?], they say. They’re right. If you’re not going to master a topic, it’s best to remain wholly ignorant.
- 44a. [Frosty's relative] isn’t about snowmen, it’s about the thick chocolate semi-frozen sort of MILKSHAKE they sell at Wendy’s. Good for dipping fries in.
- 66a. I, for one, had no idea where this [Union of 1284] was going. ENGLAND AND…who? France is too long, I don’t think it’s Spain. WALES? Okay.
- 3d. [One who knows the value of a dollar] is a COIN DEALER. Cute clue.
- 36d. To MAKE A CASE is to [Argue (for)] something.
- 47d. TOUCAN Sam is a [Bird on a Kellogg's cereal box]. Hey, do you know your cartoon birds? There’s a Sporcle quiz for that.
Things I didn’t know:
- 50a. [Auburn competitors] are REOS and no, REOS are not Oregon college football players. I don’t recall ever knowing that there were Auburn autos in the early 20th century.
- 60a. There’s such a thing as a NAUTICAL ALMANAC.
- 7d, 10d. That CHE isn’t just the recent Benicio Del Toro (that’s Spanish for “Benny the Bull”) movie but also a 1969 Omar SHARIF movie.
- 26d. [Violinist/bandleader ___ Light] was named ENOCH. You can read about his stereophonic accomplishments here.
- 39d. The isle of SKYE is an [Island along Cuillin Sound], which is a sound I’ve never heard of.
- 54a. INGE isn’t just the “of Bus Stop fame” writer. He’s also the ["Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff" novelist]. The book was made into a movie that sounds like a flat-out exploitation flick. “The film was released on videotape with these alternate titles: The Sin, The Shaming and Secret Yearnings.” Puh-leeze.
- 58d. ["All Fool's Day" writer] didn’t ring a bell, but when you’re inside a crossword grid and you need a writer with a 4-letter name, ELIA is never far from your mind.
- 64d. A MEW is a [Small gull]? Also a sound made by cats and birds, as in “the mewing of gulls,” the Mac’s widget dictionary tells me. “Mama in her muumuu heard the mew mew and the moo-cow moo.” Say that three times fast.
Annemarie Brethauer’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Author Ships”
Literary trivia is the name of the game: The theme entries are six fictional ships and hey! I’ve heard of three of them, the PEQUOD from Moby-Dick, Jules Verne’s NAUTILUS, and the JOLLY ROGER from Peter Pan. I didn’t know Kipling’s WE’RE HERE, Stevenson’s HISPANIOLA, and Conrad’s NELLIE. I will confess that the Pequod is the only ship for which I’ve actually read the novel that features it.
Lots of nice longer words (6 to 7 letters) in the fill. ESQUIRE, NUTMEG, and NEUTER in one corner; AMERIGO and FEDORA in another; ELYSIAN DAWNS down below; and an ASTOUNDing NIAGARA of GOSSIP on the last corner.
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Without Further Ado”—Janie’s review
This delight of a deletion-theme puzzle begins with four familiar phrases and names (ordinarily) containing the sequential letters “A-D-O” and proceeds to eliminate them, yielding (smartly clued) new and amusing results. That’s how:
- 17A. head of lettuce → HEF LETTUCE [Playboy founder's moolah?]. New phrase kinda brings to mind Milne’s Heffalump. (What a calorie-watcher adds to her tea?…) There’s more $-related slang fill with DOUGH [Bread], too.
- 29A. Boulder, Colorado → BOULDER COLOR [Gray?]. Love the economy of the clue.
- 49A. tornado sighting → TORN SIGHTING [Red-carpet appearance of actor Rip?]
- 64A. Audrey Meadows → AUDREY MEWS [Catty remarks from actress Hepburn?]. Two outstanding Audreys here—one earthy, one ethereal.
I thought, perhaps, there was some counter-fill when I saw the clue ["Oklahoma!" role] and skeptically entered ADO ANNIE. But no, the correct fill is AUNT ELLER. Her grid opposite is the terrific FAIR SHAKE (not FAIR SHARE…) clued as [Equal opportunity]. The adjacent fill is the kinda scarifying combo of MAN-EATER and [Great white shark, for one]. Its (not inappropriate) grid opposite is GROSS OUT [Turn off, to the max]. The balanced placement in the grid of the “ST” starting STAMINA [Triathlete's asset] and STEEPLE [Cathedral tower] makes for a pleasing pair; then, with “INC,” the almost-symmetrical INCITE [Egg on] and IN CASE [To be safe]. As you’ve heard me say on more than one occasion, whether it’s happened by design or by chance, this kind of internal glue adds to a puzzle’s overall integrity.
Other highlights today come to us from SPEEDO clued as ["Dangerous" thing to wear on a water slide] (cue the HA-HAS [Laugh track sounds]), KEEPER with its new-to-me clue [Quarterback option], GET-UPS [Outfits] and the Norwegian pairing of HENRIK and OSLO ["An Enemy of the People" playwright] and [Scandinavian capital].
Dan Naddor’s Los Angeles Times crossword
The late Dan Naddor squeezed in a whopping seven theme entries by making ‘em shorter than usual. The name of the game is two-word phrases or compound words in which the first part ends with -CK but Dan lopped off the K, changing the meaning:
- 18a. [Apple delivery vehicle?] might be a MAC TRUCK. I bet they travel unmarked to avoid hijacking by Apple fanatics.
- 19a. [Lobbying gp. bigwig?] clues PAC LEADER. “Leader of the pack” feels a little more in-the-language to me.
- 39a. [Trap for large reptiles?] is a CROC POT. Anyone have a slow-cooker recipe for alligator soup?
- 58a. [Coalition celebration?] is BLOC PARTY. Political echoes of 19a.
- 61a. [Court dispute over footwear?] is a MOC TRIAL. The CROC POT could have taken a stab at the footwear category too but the reptile approach is better; I don’t know that the Crocs brand has a singular Croc usage.
- 3d. [Movie with style?] is a CHIC FLICK. Not a thematic inconsistency to have FLICK in there, I don’t think, as the theme changes only the first word.
- 35d. [Employee using a word processor?] could be a DOC WORKER.
Nice stacks of 8s and 9s with the theme entries, particularly the intersecting theme 9s and the spots where the 8s overlap by two squares with some 9s (e.g., 18a, 19a). Highlights in the fill include U.S. MARINES, AMARILLO, and OPPORTUNE.
Myles Callum’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Pat Answers”
This theme must’ve been put together less than two months ago—or else the theme clues were rewritten to be oriented to TSA pat-downs. TSA is what ties all the theme answers together: It’s 111d: [Whom the agents work for (and a chunk of each theme answer)]. The theme generally felt creepy to me, and muddles the same-sex facts of pat-downs. Why on earth would a female agent whisper TEN CENTS A DANCE during a pat-down of a female passenger? (Not to mention that the TSA agents aren’t trying to sexually turn on the pat-downees. Do any TSA agents do the WSJ crossword? If they do, I’m thinking they’ll find this one offensive.) And the clue for IT’S A MIRACLE—[What the agent said when Megan Fox showed up?], really? Why the hell does “agent” mean “male agent” here, when “agent” is a gender-neutral term? And again, the creepy man who wants to feel up actress Megan Fox is going to instead be patting down the 50-something male business traveler or the 12-year-old boy traveling with his family, because cross-gender pat-downs aren’t allowed.
The other phrases are so entirely unrelated to hands-on physical contact, it’s a stretch to clue them with reference to TSA pat-downs. I’m thinking Myles originally had a plain hidden-TSA theme before the “enhanced pat-down” was introduced, and editor Mike Shenk wanted to make it more timely and topical with the “Pat Answers” bent. However the theme came about, I don’t like it in its published form.
How about you? Did you get a kick out of the theme, or just an uneasy feeling?