If you have long yearned for your very own set of the Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest pen, pencil, and notepad, February may be your lucky month. This month is Literary February, and every solver who figures out all four meta answers this month will receive those MGWCC goodies. Most months, the prizes go to only 10 randomly picked winners, and the odds are against you when a bunch of other people submit the right answers. And your odds drop to nil if you fail to solve even one of the month’s puzzles. So put your thinking toque on and get cracking!
Mark Diehl’s New York Times crossword
At last! A week where the Friday puzzle’s easier than the Saturday puzzle. All is right with the world. It just took a Midwestern blizzard with 70 mph winds to straighten things out.
I didn’t find too much to delight me here, and there were a few answers that clanged dissonantly. First up, what I liked most:
- 53a. [Operations are performed in it] clues a MATH QUIZ.
- 58a. GLISSANDOS is a pretty word. They’re [Dramatic piano effects].
- 4d. SCROLLED UP means [Moved to the top, perhaps] in a computer window.
- 7d. [Company quota] is TWO. Two’s company, three’s a crowd. As for four: Don’t ask. Might be an orgy.
- 9d. CEMENT SHOES! I wonder how many times that gruesome murder method has been used. Is it still in use?
- 32d. TV trivia I knew! The [Run of TV’s “My So-Called Life”] was ONE SEASON. Two things the show is known for: (1) It launched Claire Danes’ acting career and (2) it featured a gay teen character back when that was a rarity.
- 33d. The KIA OPTIMA has that nice Chinese-looking IAO run in the middle.
Two things I didn’t know at all:
- 24d. DREAMSVILLE, the [Ohio town where “there’s a happiness” in an old Glenn Miller song]. Huh?
- 29a. [Allan who directed “Sands of Iwo Jima”] is named DWAN. This looks only faintly, dimly familiar.
On the grumpy-making list:
- 35d: [Struck] clues XED (as in “X’ed out) while 46d: [X] clues SMACK. I think the latter one means “kiss,” but I don’t like the X/SMACK equivalency without an intermediary “kiss,” and I don’t care for the X/XED echo.
- 1a. I have never encountered the CRISPY TACO. Taco Bell has a “crunchy taco.” If [Food that makes a crunch] is a taco, it’s a crunchy taco or a hard-shell taco, not a CRISPY TACO. C’mon! Who’s with me?
- 34a. SILEX is a [Mineral in the form of quartz or flint], or part of the Proctor Silex brand name of small appliances. What it is not is lively fill.
- 64a. [Cocktail attire] clues TEA DRESSES. The phrase tea-length dresses may sound nonsensical, and yet it is more “in the language” than TEA DRESSES.
Brad Wilber and Doug Peterson’s Los Angeles Times crossword
The second Saturday LAT in a row to take me 5 minutes and change rather than the usual 4 minutes and—am I slowing down or have the puzzles toughened themselves up lately?
I love the fill in this puzzle. You’ve got the quartet of 15s, all terrific—
- 13a. [Role for which its actor refused an Oscar] = DON VITO CORLEONE.
- 16a. [Actor who said “Some people have youth, some have beauty—I have menace”] = EDWARD G. ROBINSON. Great quote.
- 45a. [Offended parties in a long-running series of 3-Down] = THE GEICO CAVEMEN. 3d is TV ADS.
- 48a. [Experience sudden inspiration] = HAVE AN “AHA” MOMENT. What’s your frame of reference here: Oprah or crossword solving?
Also on the all-star roster (weirdly, almost all from the Downs):
- 43a. A BLAZE is an [Equine facial marking]. Hey, let’s use this term for people’s spots too.
- 1d. [Didn’t stay where it should, as a skirt] = RODE UP. What else rides up? Shirts, bras…and who can forget underwear? So much so that Hanes even sells anti-riding-up undies. The URL I clicked to get to that site was wedgiefree.com.
- 6d. [Reward for rolling over] = DOG TREAT. Love that answer. Not as a snack, no.
- 7d. [Unificationist] = MOONIE, as in a member of Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church.
- 11d. [Sitcom about the Conners] = ROSEANNE. Who can forget?
- 22d. [Hideous hybrid of myth] = PRIUS. Nice alliteration.
- No, not really. It’s HARPY.
- 28d. [“Lie to Me” star] = TIM ROTH. Nice, short full name there. I know him more from Tarantino movie(s) than from Lie to Me, which is…I don’t remember what it is. A pay cable series? A movie?
- 30d. [Political blog feature, often] is a weird clue for PET PEEVE. Really? Political blogs are always going on about pet peeves? Love the entry, though.
- 31d. [Mrs. Norris in the “Harry Potter” books, e.g.] is a tricky (for those who haven’t paid close attention to Pottermania) clue for a HOUSECAT.
- 35d. FRACAS and [Donnybrook] are both awesome words.
Mysteries and challenges:
- 28a. [Gardener’s soil hauler] = TIP CART. Never heard of this term.
- 32a. For [Albéniz piano work], I suspected it would be something Spanish and rousing, like ESPANA, but it’s IBERIA. That suspicion was not based on any actual knowledge of Albéniz’s music.
Gail Grabowski’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Dig Deeply”—Janie’s review
What a nice way to close out the CS week this is. Gail’s given us a synonym puzzle, but lest you think that equates with “ho-hum,” think again. The word that’s the focus of attention is “dig”—in the jazz era and hipster sense of “like,” and something you “dig deeply” is something you might treasure, value, love or prize. You’ll do all of those today but you’ll do so by way of some mighty lively fill. Dig? I’ll spell it out:
- 20A. TREASURE MAP [Guide to a pirate’s spoils].
- 11D. VALUE MEAL [Fast-food restaurant offering]. Oh, man, good ol’ capitalism at work. Let the buyer beware…
- 34D. LOVE APPLE [Tomato]. I mean, really—what’s not to love? Seems this name derives from the French appellation pomme d’amour and may go back to their belief in the tomato’s powers as an aphrodisiac.
- 61A. PRIZE WINNER [Successful competitor]. Also the way I’d describe this entire theme set. There’s even a suggestion of bonus fill with ESTEEM [Think the world of].
You know what else is nice? Well, for starters there’re the rhymed pairs in the first and last rows across: “PSHAW!” and GNAW (clued as [“Fiddle-faddle!”] and [Nibble away]), and then TREY and PREY (clued as [Low poker hand] and [Quarry]). Speaking of poker, the Gail also throws in BETS, clued as [Pushes in some chips]. She’s not talkin’ Fritos and guac DIP [Bash bowlful] here.
For their assonance, I love the inclusion of AVALON and IVORY, [Arthurian paradise] and [Off-white color]. Almost sounds like “Ebony and Ivory,” no? (But what is with the dancers in silhouette in this video??) Which somehow gets us to [Two-tone treats], our old fave OREOS (whose singular form we saw earlier this week). APPS, IAGO and ALOE, all seen earlier this week as well make encore appearances today. But let me not be PETTY [Small-minded]…
Let me say instead that the pleasures of PIE SALE and HOT ZONE and FLAT-TOP and WEB ART more than compensate and (in conjunction with all of the examples above) make this puzzle a fresh-fill-lover’s treat. Hope you felt the same way!
Stan Newman’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
I believe Stan likes to reserve his “S.N.” byline for his toughest puzzles, but there were so many Stumpers in 2010 that were harder than this one! It’s still this week’s most challenging offering, but not a killer.
The big cats messed me up today. For 2d, I knew [Ben Stiller in “Madagascar”] was a LION. I left that answer in place far too long and thus made no headway in that corner. Then down at 58a, I made the [Liger’s mother] a LIONESS, without regard for that LION. Both, of course, were wrong. The cartoon lion is named ALEX and the hybrid cat’s mom is a TIGRESS.
- 1a. MA AND PA is crazy-looking 1a. I like it. They’re your [Folks], unless, of course, your parents are a same-sex couple.
- 15a. [Undistracted] clues ALL EARS, but I spent my time checking to see if the crossings would work out if 15a ended with -OUS or -LESS. Uh, no.
- 21a. [Winter remedy of a sort] is a hot TODDY. Warm and drunken and sweet? I survived the Chicago Blizzaster this week. I even have a friend who was one of the hundreds stranded on Lake Shore Drive—she wasn’t rescued till 4 am but had left work at 3 pm the previous day. So I should have a toddy on her behalf.
- Double clue action, reminiscent of Matt Ginsberg’s Thursday NYT puzzle: [Skillful] clues both 24a: NICE (as in “Nice job!”) and 51d: NEAT (as in…I don’t know what). And then there’s [Shania Twain, e.g.] for both 3d: ALTO and 47d: VIRGO. The latter is mighty random. Twain’s birthday is not remotely a well-known household fact.
- 33a. Would like a different clue, something in quotation marks, for IT DOESN’T MATTER. [Dismissal] feels a hair inadequate here.
- 52a. A.C. NIELSEN is a [Big name in the TV business] of ratings.
- 1d. This is what finally broke open that corner for me. I kept thinking “[Like cobs], what could that mean?” Corn cobs, cobwebs—MALE swans!
- 5d. I sure didn’t know that Salvador DALI was the [Designer of the Mae West Lips Sofa], but just had to Google that after solving to see what the sofa looks like. Looks comfy!
- 7d. Last time I saw a clue like [Willow-tree derivative], it was the horrible answer SALICIN, so I put that in. (Yet another reason I was stuck in the northwest corner for so long.) Hey! It’s the chemical cousin ASPIRIN this time. Much better. Fixed the headache SALICIN gave me.
- 13d. General Mills, Kellogg, and [Post stuff] is COLD CEREAL, my breakfast most days. Today’s selection: Corn Pops. (Previously known as Sugar Pops, an infinitely superior name.)
- 34d. [Some wet bars] are SOAPS.
- 42a. Etymology clues are good, unless they’re for first names whose meaning I don’t know. TSUNAMI is [Literally, “harbor wave”].
- 57a. Given how many first-name etymology clues the Stumper has had in the past year, I was delighted with [Friend of Lars and Sven, perhaps] for NILS. Super-easy with the N in place, though, which will probably make Stan vow never to to use such a clue again.
In the not-so-fond-of-it category, we have the following:
- 39a. MARGARET TRUMAN was the [Christener of the "USS Missouri"]. I could only think of Harry S and Bess. Margaret was their daughter, and…boy, I know pretty much nothing about her. She wrote lots of books I never heard of. Apparently she christened the boat at age 20, while her famous-Missourian dad was still president. Did the Bush twins, Jenna and Barbara, get to christen any boats?
- 12d. I thought IN A DILEMMA ([Torn]) sounded clunky, but apparently it’s a totally solid phrase.
- 14d. This clue has a question mark and wants me to find it clever, but I can’t even tell what it’s getting at. (Please explain it so I’ll feel dumb.) [Moved away from the stern?] clues SWAYED. Does “the stern” mean “stern resolve against something”? (Because calling that “the stern” is utterly weird.) Does it mean “back of the boat”? Is this physical swaying or not?
Patrick Berry’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “Seven Sages”
Shoot! I forgot to blog this puzzle. Here goes.
I don’t know how he does it, honestly. It would be interesting enough to have the 36 words intersecting, but to further constrain things by having a quote spelled out in the outermost ring? A lovely touch, since I needed to figure out the quote (Fred Allen: “Television is a medium because anything well done is rare.” Nice steak-related wordplay there) to fill in some letters that would help me get the last couple answers.
Not a single one of the 7-letter answers is a real clunker, many are fairly lively, and a few have hall-of-fame clues:
- 26. [Capital O?] clues the BELTWAY that encircles Washington, D.C. Brilliant! I halfway considered WINFREY first.
- 33. [Online clip joint?] is YOUTUBE, full of video clips.
- 36. [One with a job opening?] is a DOORMAN, whose job includes opening doors.
- 10. The NEWSEUM is a [D.C. tourist attraction featuring the Journalists Memorial].
- Honorable mentions: AUNT BEE, DAS BOOT. We seldom see those two-word entries in crossword grids.