Ned White’s New York Times crossword
Hey! Yesterday, I specifically requested a killer Saturday puzzle from the New York Times, challenging enough to rival the Newsday “Saturday Stumper.” And what did I get? A puzzle that, while it is indeed filled with mystery answers, I could finish 15% faster than Friday’s. Let’s skip through the puzzle:
- 1a. This SCHMIDT doesn’t ring a bell at all. [Eric __, Google CEO beginning in 2001]? If you’re a Googler and your name isn’t Sergey Brin, that guy who’s Sergey’s partner, puzzler Wei-Hwa Huang, or Tyler Hinman, then I don’t know you.
- 8a. Total lucky guess that RAMADAN is the [Period between Shaban and Shawwal]. Sounded Arabic, and the only 7-letter Arabic period we might be expected to know is Ramadan.
- 19a. Ooh, unattractive answer. A IS is the [Start of some picture books]. B is for “boo.”
- 28a. Clever. To DUST something is to [Make clean…or dirty]. Does this count as a Janus word?
- 42a. EL ROPO is a [Cheap cigar, in slang]? If you say so. I don’t know what that means in Spanish even though I received, unbidden, a Spanish fashion magazine in today’s mail. The marketers are pretty sure I’m a Latina. (AMOR, OSO, and SRAS round out today’s Español selections.)
- 58a. Worked the crossings to get BANDBOX, or [Smallish ballpark, in slang]. There are so many “smallish ballparks” out there that there’s a slangy way to refer to them? Huh.
- 61a. Didn’t know [Lazuline] was a word, but lapis lazuli is a blue semiprecious stone so I took a gamble on some sort of blue, and SKY BLUE fit.
- 2d. Wow, CHAIR COVER may be one of the most prosaic nouns to ever appear in a crossword. No, wait, that title is taken by 23d: STERES, an all-time champion.
- 4d, 9d. Okay, this combo was a gimme for me since I cut my teeth watching ’70s TV. ALICE worked for MEL at Mel’s Diner and her fellow waitresses were Vera and Flo. I had a crush on the kid who played Alice’s son, Nancy McKeon’s brother, if memory serves.
- 29d. I love this: [Like the equation “x = x + 1”] clues UNSOLVABLE. Note that the clue does not refer to today’s crossword, not at all.
- 30d. I don’t care for the IT stranded in SCOPE IT OUT.
- 38d. EELGRASS? A [Freshwater plant also called wild celery]? I’ll take your word for it.
- 54d. I wasn’t around in 1960, so [Aircraft in 1960 headlines] was all crossings for me. It’s U-TWO, with the arbitrary spelling-out of the “2.” I like to pronounce this answer “ut-woe.”
- 59d. While STERES are [Volume measures] equal to cubic meters (which, I remind you, is a perfectly good unit of measure that hardly needs this “stere” label), when you’re measuring sound, your [Volume measures: Abbr.] are DBS, or decibels.
Gareth Bain’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Is it just me, or is this the toughest Saturday LAT in months?
I hereby nominate 20a as one of the year’s brightest crossword entries.
“YES! THERE IS A GOD” (clued as an [Ecstatic cry])is so colloquial, so fresh, so uttered-even-by-atheists, and such an unexpected pleasure in this puzzle.
Interesting grid design, with the stacked 15/14 pairs anchoring the top and bottom of the grid. Why is it that we don’t see this arrangement more often?
Gareth is the only African constructor of American crosswords I know of. Here are the answers with an African beat:
- 7d. [Shrub with tubular flowers] clues ALOE, and the aloe plants are native to South Africa. I know that only because of South African writer Athol Fugard’s work, A Lesson from Aloes, which I know from crossword clues for ALOES. I definitely don’t associate ALOE with flowers or the word “shrub.”
- 9d. [Arid] clues SAHARAN, like the Sahara Desert. Not Gareth’s area.
- 32a. [Peke output] is a high-pitched YIP. The clue kind of confused me. I’m not sure why. I know a Peke is a little Pekingese dog.
- 45a. [Go from 10 to 8, say] clues DROP A DRESS SIZE. Mondo fresh!
- 50a. [Angel’s concern] is how the BROADWAY MUSICAL she’s funding performs. I like my Broadway references to be very broad. Specifics, like 17a: [“West Side Story” duet] “ONE HAND, ONE HEART“? Meh. I have to fight through those with the aid of crossings.
- 53a, 54a. [Swarthy] means DARK, while PASTY is [Far from swarthy]. I love the words pasty and swarthy.
- 1d. Thankfully, [Bridge call?] isn’t about the card game (which I’m as fond of as a Broadway musical). On the bridge of a ship, one might shout “AHOY.”
- 3d. THE SUBURBS are an [End-of-day destination for many].
- 26d. [Riotous], as in hilarious, clues HYSTERICAL.
- 31d. [Some find it hard to carry] clues a TUNE. Mm-hmm, I can relate.
- 34d. [1955 treaty city] strikes me as a confusing clue. Weren’t all the big treaties signed by the end of World War II? This one’s the WARSAW Pact, the Communist’s bloc’s reaction to NATO.
- 37d. LEAP DAY is [Traditionally, when women were allowed to propose marriage]? Huh.
One geography note: Joon Pahk recently blogged that the only constructor who ever uses SOCHI is Matt Gaffney. Matt had it in his 2/12/10 Daily Beast and at least two of his Weekly Crossword Contest puzzles (2009 and 2011). Well, well, well! Gareth breaks that ground in daily newspaper puzzle territory at 9a: [Russian city to host the 2014 Olympics]. I know just as much about Sochi as I do about Nagano and Lillehammer (neither of which is well-known to Americans outside of being Olympic venues).
Barry Silk’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
Fairly easy by Stumper standards, but it still took me longer than the NYT and LAT did. So what else is new?
As usual, we have a plethora of knotty clues for answers that aren’t so out-there at all:
- 1a. I wanted SEA MILE for [Navigator’s measurement], but it proved to be AZIMUTH. It’s a cool-looking work, but I have never been able to work it into a spoken sentence.
- 8d. At first I wanted ASIAN/ASIATIC for [One of a billion or so], and then I counted and switched to AFRICAN.
- 19a. The SULU Sea is a [Sea west of Mindanao], which is one of the Philippine islands. Mr. Sulu of Star Trek is feeling sad to be left out of the spotlight.
- 29a. Slangy [Wicked] means “AWESOME!”
- 33a, 24d. For [Belittled, with “at”], I had SNEERED, and that was making 24d nonsensical. Eventually I realized the [Trucking specialty] was HAZMAT and changed 33a to SNEEZED at.
- 48a. The [National Bank of Georgia headquarters] is TBILISI, the capital of the Central Asian nation of Georgia. Yep, I considered ATLANTA too.
- 56a. [Garbage collection] clues FLIES, as in the houseflies that gather to feast on trash. Ick.
- 66a. James CLAVELL is the [Author of the “Asian Saga” series]. I didn’t know such a series existed.
- 2d. [Pike with a peak] is ZEBULON Pike, the namesake of Pike’s Peak in Colorado. How come Zebulon never really caught on as a boy’s name?
- 14d. [Resource on the horizon] is the NEST EGG saved for the future.
- 26d. I don’t really like this plural, KMARTS. Maybe as places to shop, maybe with a clue alluding to the old “blue light special,” but not as [Objects of a 2005 merger]. The clue just feels awkward.
- 30d. Just yesterday I was saying that WENT BY worked better with [Used the name] than it would with [Passed]. Hey, that’s this puzzle’s clue for WENT BY! “Wentby” would probably be more popular as a boy’s name than Zebulon.
- 39d. [Turns quickly], as in zipping through the pages of a book or magazine, clues RIFFLES.
- 40d. Why is ECOLOGY clued as a [Major at Cornell]? Is this a famous pairing?
Donna S. Levin’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Putting on the Dog?”—Janie’s review
Warning: Groan Zone Ahead. Yes, as it turns out, this is a canine-accoutrement pun puzzle. There are four theme phrases (two 14s, two 15s) that delightfully mangle the phrases they’re based on. That’s what puns do. Not everyone’s dish o’ tea. Me, I love ’em. I also love the twisted way the clues serve the fill. Here’s what Donna’s done:
- 17A. COLLAR BLINDNESS [Inability to see Fido’s neckwear?]. Get it? Not color blindness, but collar blindness. Collar color-blindness, however, might be the diagnosis for someone who couldn’t distinguish the red one from the green, or the blue from the green. (I know… I’m pushin’ it.)
- 25A. NEW LEASH ON LIFE [What Fido’s recently purchased tether gave him (with “a”)?]. Wasn’t “Get a new lease on life” part of some major analgesic or vitamin supplement ad campaign? Can’t find what I think I’m looking for and am wondering if this sounds familiar to any of you.
- 45A. FLEX ONE’S MUZZLE [Try to bark like Fido, despite being constrained?]. And look at how nice ‘n’ scrabbly this one is, too.
- 56A. INHERITANCE TAGS [IDs passed down to Fido by bequest?]. The silliness—and the subtlety— of this one just sneaks up on me and makes me very happy.
Bonus fill: LABS [Some chocolate-colored dogs, familiarly]. Is “Fido” the “John Doe” name of the dog world? When I googled “Labrador retriever & Fido” there were links to several shelter Labs with that name…
Fave (most colorful/evocative) non-theme fill and/or clue fill combos today include: WILLIE MAYS [“The Say Hey Kid”], FLY BY, [Fertile] CRESCENT [(Mesopotamia area)], MASCOT, ZESTED [Stripped the rind from], END ALL, “FREEZE!” [“Don’t move a muscle!”] (nice how the fill for that clue shares the second “Z” of the punny muzzle), and TIN CAN [Nosh for a goat, in cartoons]. The link’ll take you to a site that has some conjecture about the roots of the “goats eat tin cans” myth. Rest assured. They don’t. They may eat the laundry on a clothes line, but even a goat knows a tin can isn’t EDIBLE [Like a comestible].
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, the “Mixed Doubles” variety cryptic
I do most puzzles in a single sitting, but this one was a Friday night/Saturday morning combo. Not that it was uncommonly tough by Hex standards, just that it was late and I was sleepy when I started.
The grid turns out to be designed to resemble a tennis court—appropriate since the Australian Open is going on now. The pair of entries across the middle spell out the quasi-tennis-related COURTSHIP and LOVE MATCH. (And what a treat to have those final answers not in a Valentine’s Day puzzle!) The nine squares where two to four intersecting words share a letter all contain a big O, which kinda looks like a tennis ball. So the grid depicts a chaotic tennis scene with nine balls bouncing around the court.
Favorite answer: The unlikely PTOMAINE! (Unrelated to the next answer, MAINE.) Did you know the word is derived from the Greek for “corpse”? Eww. Tough to tease the answer out of the clue, I thought: a TOM turkey stuffed into a scrambled IN PEA to make “sickening stuff.”
No strongly resistant clues, no real grumbles at any of the fill, no obscurities, no particularly delightful clues. Solid effort all around.