I’ve been awake since 4:15 this morning and would like very much to lie down now. Mind you, it’s just past 7 pm as I write this. Will go ahead and post the Fireball write-up, plus an NYT placeholder, and if I conk out before 9 pm (when the NYT comes out), then, well, I’ll see you in the morning. Perhaps one of my esteemed colleagues will post the NYT solution for you.
9:30 update: I am awake!
Matt Ginsberg’s New York Times crossword
Okey-doke. I knew there would be a gimmick from Eric Maddy’s Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest recap, but had no idea what the gimmick would be. It turns out to be easier to wrangle the clueless answers than to figure out what to do with a bunch of the clues that had been provided normally! IF A CLUE / IS MISSING, USE THE / NEXT ONE is straightforward enough—1a is missing a clue, while 6a is clued [Does yard work]. So one’s RAKES and the other is MOWS. Those two were similar enough that I kinda figured there was an adjacent-clue pairing going on.
I like Saturday clues that bend your brain by making you think of alternate definitions of a word, discarding your first impulses. So this theme offered tons of that—but you could actually use two senses of a word, not just one. Such as [Rank], which clues both NASTY (adjective) and STATUS (noun).
Where I struggled was here:
- 22a. ARETE ain’t just a ridge in a mountain, it’s also [Excellence as a virtue, to ancient Greeks]. Been a long time since I’ve seen the non-mountain usage.
- 35a. [Business TV newsman Ron] INSANA is a name I learned (albeit faintly) from crosswords.
- 42a. To [Set right] a chunk of text, you INDENT it.
- 43a. To [Broadcast] something, throw it out widely, is to SOW it. Wow, tough. SHOW was nudging me here.
- 8d. [Dish-washing aid] clues WET SPONGE? Hang on, that’s not a lexical chunk at all, is it?
- 26d. [Exhibitionist] clues FLAUNTER, which is one of those add-an-ER words you don’t really use.
- 29d. [Bambini], plural of “bambino,” clues TOTS. Where TOTS met SOWS was my biggest sticking point.
- 36d. SINISTRAL = [Left-handed]. Cool word.
- 30d. [Return to sender?] = ECHO. Nice.
- 44d. The RAT’S TAIL hairdo would be a highlight if it didn’t traumatize me. Horrible hairdo! (What was George Lucas thinking, giving young Anakin Skywalker this look?) Kid at my son’s school was sporting a retro rat’s tail do until a year ago. I think his parents are bikers. Which is, of course, no excuse for that hair.
- 21d. BURNSIAN, [Like the poem "Tam o' Shanter"]. Ooh, literary.
Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Themeless 36″
Whoa. Tough corner down there on the right, with the SCARPIA/MERE/MOPE/RUIZ/SNEEZY pile-up. Never heard of SCARPIA, and never knew SNEEZY’s French name, and the crossings’ clues weren’t helping me much.
Love MITTELSCHMERZ, ITZHAK (that Soil clue mystified me!), “HATED IT!”, PIZZA BOXES, KING COTTON, REKINDLE, CHEETOS.
Not wild about IRONER and CARESSER, but that’s really the worst I’ve got to say about this themeless grid. Oh, wait. THNKS FR TH MMRS is weird. Never heard of it. But I do appreciate having a little vowelless action busting out in a regular crossword.
Good, fresh clues throughout—of course. Peter Gordon’s puzzlemaking studio is the World Headquarters of New Clues. You see plenty of that in the Washington Post Puzzlers he edits, and in the old New York Sun crosswords. If you’re reading this and not subscribing to Fireball Crosswords, well, if you are every bored to tears by the same ol’ clues in puzzle after puzzle, you owe it to yourself to drop the $16 and try Fireball. They’re generally as hard as late-week NYTs. Oh—and Peter has rigorous standards for fill, so you’ll be spared horrible abbreviations and a reliance on OLEO.
Lynn Lempel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Show ‘Em What’s Wheat”—Janie’s review
And “what” is “wheat” when you add the letter “E”–which is key to understanding today’s gimmick. Each familiar two-word base-phrase ends with an “_AT” word; that second word is then converted to an “_EAT” word, humorously twisting the original phrase. Something that distinguishes this particular “addition” gimmick is the way all the “befores” and all the “afters” rhyme. Because of the vagaries of English pronunciation and spelling, that doesn’t always happen (“what,” e.g., doesn’t rhyme with many other “_AT” words…). That it does today is an added bonus. Anyway—with that additional “E”:
- 17A. animal fat → ANIMAL FEAT [Many a circus act?].
- 29A. vampire bat → VAMPIRE BEAT [Cop's territory while pursuing Dracula?]. Love this one. I think it’s because of the strong visual that the clue suggests.
- 45A. welcome mat → WELCOME MEAT [Prey for a hungry carnivore?]. Grizzly. Very Hannibal Lecter, no? Another terrfic clue/fill combo.
- 62A. cowboy hat → COWBOY HEAT [What a rancher packs?]. And how nicely this one works in combination with the proximate, crossing ARMS and AMMO, both clued as [Combat supply].
In addition to the tight theme set, the puzzle is blessed with some great long fill: TEDDY BEAR [It's stuffed on a toy shelf] (“stuffed” here is an adjective and not a verb) which abuts EAGLE’S NEST [High perch for a sharp-eyed observer]; TREE TOPS (where you might see that eagle’s nest) and its poetic clue [Forest canopy]; PLAY LIST [Personal audio selections]; ELIE WIESEL for the reminder that he’s the ["Night" writer awarded the Nobel Peace Prize] (in 1986) and his grid-neighbor RAW CARROT [Pet rabbit's treat].
Was surprised to see NYMPH clued as [Nature goddess]. I didn’t think nymphs were the same as goddesses, and while it’s not the last word, this Wiki article would support that. A nymph does qualify as a “divine spirit,” however.
Annemarie Brethauer’s Los Angeles Times crossword
If you’re gonna make a crossword to commemorate something, why not liven things up by working it into another type of theme at the same time? This puzzle gives you Ronald REAGAN‘s famous line, “MR. GORBACHEV, tear down this wall,” but hides the TEAR, DOWN, THIS, and WALL at the end of non-Reagany phrases:
- 18a. WEAR AND TEAR
- 32a. TOUCHDOWN
- 38a. WATCH THIS—not a great phrase, but the others are rock-solid. U CAN’T TOUCH THIS is 14, MORE THAN THIS is 12. Hmm, I don’t have a -THIS phrase with an odd number of letters that could occupy the center row.
- 49a. China’s GREAT WALL
Lots of fill that’s not the ordinary stuff we see so much of: PUTRID ZEALOT! LICHEN, clued as an unholy [Fungus/alga union]. SENEGAL, which [nearly surrounds Gambia]; the Gambia’s a finger-shaped country with a wee Atlantic coast, with all its land borders occupied by Senegal. Two famous women of history: Golda MEIR, ELEANOR of Aquitaine. And a horrible, loathsome POTHOLE.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “ABBA”
This “ABBA” theme sort of looks like an anagram theme, but Ben’s actually taking 6-letter words that can be broken into two 3s, putting the 3s in the other order, and coming up with a clue that will get you to the pair of AB/BA 6s. Here’s another example: Ben Tausig’s last name flips to Sig Tau, which is a fraternity.
- 20a. [Bull’s hangup at the haberdasher?] is a RED HAT HATRED. You know the saying about a bull in a haberdashery shop, right? Glad the clue stays away from Red Hat (the Linux company) and the Red Hat Society, because why go around hating them?
- 27a. [Christmas scene in Berlin?] clues GERMAN MANGER.
- 49a. [Caption under a picture of Bergman on a horse?] is INGRID RIDING.
- 57a. [Souls of boats?] are VESSEL SELVES. You really want your boat to feel self-actualized.
More clues and answers:
- 1a. [Parliament alternative] is about cigarettes, not government: CAMEL.
- 40a. [“Ebert Presents At the Movies” network] is PBS. I caught one of the Ebert segments streaming online. He had Chicago newsman Bill Kurtis reading his words, rather than his computerized voice. Interesting solution for the technical problem of having a TV host who can’t speak.
- 53a. [Self-aggrandizing boast] is “I RULE!” Yeah, I could see that.
- 71a. XANAX is a [Palindromic benzodiazepine]. Doctors prescribe palindromic drugs for their patients who can only go one way.
- 29d. [He made WMDs a household word] clues GWB, George W. Bush. Now, the crossing NAW could’ve been NAH, which would make 29d GHB, gamma-hydroxybutyrate. Uh, I’ll take the GWB, thanks.
- 33d. [You may need a staff to write it] clues MUSIC. This is especially true for me. I would need to delegate that task for sure.
- 41d. [Bootblack’s need] is a SHINE BOX. Not a term I knew.
- 46d. [Andiron] clues FIREDOG. Again, not a term I knew.
Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, a “Marching Bands” variety puzzle
I am such a sucker for variety puzzles. When the challenge of figuring out the answers to the clues partners with the challenge to figure out where to place the answers, I’m a happy camper.
Now, my usual approach to evaluating a variety puzzle by most constructors is to compare it to the experience of solving the same sort of puzzle by Patrick Berry. A great deal of the time, I encounter a few infelicitous clunkers that wouldn’t be caught dead in a Berry puzzle. (There’s this one constructor who almost without exception has one or two abysmal entries in every one of his Games/Games World of Puzzles puzzles. It’s my puzzle-within-a-puzzle, hunting for the stinkers.) Kudos to Brendan for making a super-smooth Marching Bands! There may be slightly more reliance on short words to get the bands to work than Berry, but not bothersomely so.
Highlights in the puzzle:
- Chinua ACHEBE meshing with APACHE.
- Two-word ASWAN DAM. (Greetings to you, Egypt!)
- “Oh, NO REASON.”
- TECUMSEH, that’s a cool name.
- Tennis player PAT CASH linked to CASHMERE.
- BOOM BOX.
The Marching Bands only have 13-letter rows, so there’s less room for really cool long phrases and titles—by comparison, a Rows Garden puzzle has 21-letter rows, so a good Rows Garden can really knock my socks off. Hence, a Marching Bands puzzle won’t generally have as many highlights.
Super-smooth cluing today, too. Nothing awkward, and nothing too challenging. When tough clues are combined with answers whose locations you haven’t yet figured out, you’re in for an arduous experience. Now, I wouldn’t have minded if Brendan’s clues were somewhat harder, but a too-hard variety puzzle knocks too many people flat on their butt. This one’s smooth and kind.