Derek Bowman’s New York Times crossword
The famous people word ladder theme is placed in a 68-word grid with a ton of 7- and 8-letter answers in the fill (20 of ‘em). Given my fondness for themeless puzzles, you’d think this sort of grid would be right up my alley, but alas, there were too many questionable answers that took me out of the fun zone.
I caught onto the theme right away, when DONNA KARAN gave way to ELENA KAGAN—and the subsequent theme entries included the last names of CARL SAGAN, KATEY SAGAL, and ERICH SEGAL, taking us through a five-step word ladder of last names. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the existence of the word ladder, other than “isn’t that curious?”
I like the look of those corners jam-packed with 7s, but they were peppered with odd fill:
- 25a. RE-EDIT, or [Make a long story even shorter?]. What’s the word “even” doing in that clue? You can make a short story even shorter, but if you’re making a long story shorter, the word “even” doesn’t belong there. The RE- prefix is echoed by the affix action in JERKIER (+y +er), AMIABLY (+able +y), RENAMING (re+, +ing), REASSESS (re+), and the weird GRIPPERS (+er +s).
- 28a. ARSIS, [Accented part of a poetic foot]? Last time this word was in an NYT crossword was in 1997. I can’t say I’ve felt its absence.
- 38a. [2010 Olympic ice dancing gold medalist ___ Virtue] is named TESSA. Hmm, no recollection of that name.
- 2d. [Patricia who wrote "Woe Is I"], a grammar book, spells her name the atypical way: O’CONNER.
- 3d. I recognize that this has become an accepted and embraced word in many quarters, but oy! The word MENTEES always pains me. A mentor mentors. Now, if a mentor “mented,” I could see the word “mentee” making a degree of sense. Why isn’t it “mentoree”? The ugliness of MENTEES is that the word severs itself from its semantic roots. [Students with personal guides] is the clue.
- 10d. The [Georges Simenon detective Jules] MAIGRET has a cool name. I suspect a lot of Wednesday solvers won’t know it, though.
- 48d. ARIA is certainly a common enough crossword answer, but the clue stretches beyond the Wednesday zone: [A cabaletta is a short one] features a word I’ve never seen.
- 22a. Wait, how is INERTIA a [Reason to keep moving]? Doesn’t the presence of inertia suggest that you can’t keep moving? You ought to start moving, is what you should do,
- 11d. Fred ASTAIRE with a neat quote clue.
- 55a. I love the [Shakespearean term of address], SIRRAH. I am, regrettably, stifled in my ability to use this word in daily discourse.
- 40d. the SERRANO is a [Red hot chili pepper]. Does the clue have anyone else singing “Give It Away” and “Under the Bridge”?
- 36d. RAGTIME! It’s ["The Entertainer" musical genre]. The weird thing about decade-specific satellite radio stations is that you’ll hear songs like this on the ’70s channel. Now I’m holding out for that other instrumental hit, “Music Box Dancer.”
Daniel Finan’s Fireball crossword, “Location, Location, Location”
You look at the grid and see no entry longer than 8 letters. Where are the theme entries? They are all around you, with am elegant five-way riff on yesterday’s jack-less clue theme in the NYT. This time, the words top, bottom, middle, left, and right are omitted from the theme entries, which appear at the top, bottom, middle, left, and right of the grid, and the missing words always belong at the front of a phrase:
- 1a, 5a, 8a. TopLESS, Top GUN, top SECRET.
- 13d, 37d, 55d. “Right THERE,” right ARM, right ANGLE.
- 68a, 69a, 70a. Bottom DOLLAR, bottom OUT, bottom LINE.
- 1d, 31d, 49d. Left LANE, left OFF, left FIELD.
- 39a, 30d. Middle AMERICA, Tolkien’s Middle-EARTH.
Superb theme concept and execution.
Au courant clues:
- 24a. [Manny, to Jay, on "Modern Family"] is his STEPSON. A gimme for anyone who watches that show.
- 2d. Ignatiy [Vishnevetsky hirer in 2011] is Roger EBERT, for Roger Ebert At the Movies. A gimme for anyone who follows @ebertchicago on Twitter.
- 25d. [Siriusly ___ (satellite radio channel)] clues SINATRA. A gimme for anyone with satellite radio.
- Lively fill: FAN BASE, KNOPF, unusual GOT A TAN, WEIRD AL Yankovic.
- 56a. ["Yours truly is going to," much more informally] clues I’MA, as in “I’ma let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time.” Also spelled IMMA, but there’s no hard and fast rule.
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Hold ‘Em, Tex! “—Janie’s review
When the title of the puzzle is a play on the Texas Hold ‘Em variation of poker, you’re in card-game territory, thematically speaking. The first words of each of the four theme phrases are words you’ll also hear at the poker table—all betting LINGO [Specialized speech], and to be more specific: check, fold, call and raise. As it should be, all of the theme phrases have lives of their own, unrelated to the card table:
- 17A. CHECK KITING [Using the "float" illegally]. This article gets into some of the finer details, but for anyone familiar with the story of Catch Me If You Can (based on the exploits of Frank Abnagale, Jr.), that’s a real life example.
- 27A. FOLD ONE’S ARMS [Show determination].
- 44A. CALL IT A NIGHT [Retire to one's boudoir]. Some friends wrote a musical about club-date bands, and the band’s song signaling the end of any gig had the lyric, “If we don’t call it a night/We’ll soon have to call it a day.” Great colloquial phrase.
- 59A. RAISE A STINK [Complain big time]. Or, in the past tense, GRIPED [Bellyached]. Because sometimes, as my dad usta say, “the squeaking wheel gets the most grease.”
Look at some of the other great fill that’s in the grid. There’s a lively pair of 9s in JUMPS ROPE [Plays Double Dutch] and FOOLPROOF [Like a perfect plan]—though how much crow has been consumed in the aftermath of a “foolproof” plan? (The Watergate break-in comes to mind…) We get the excellent, symmetrically placed—PIGGISH [Gluttonous] and WIZARDS [Potter and pals])—and then crossing 7s, too: GHASTLY [Awful] and “WHAT’S UP?” ["How are things?"], and SNAPPLE [Popular beverage brand] and the (yeah, kinda cloying but still) image-specific “ICKY-POO” [Disgusting, to a toddler].
Two other crosses that are shorter but worthy of a shout out lead to MISS/USA [...name of a pageant winner], and then to two women who, by virtue of their marriages to very high-profile men, kept the tabloid presses running overtime: OONA [Charlie Chaplin's widow] and ONO [1969 Beatle bride]. Crossword constructors have been counting their lucky stars ever since!
Don Gagliardo’s Los Angeles Times crossword
I found this a fairly unpleasant puzzle to solve, and the way the theme unfurls didn’t do it for me. You’ve got the ingredients of a DRY MARTINI hiding in the ends of unrelated phrases, but not in consistent ways:
- 17a. [Delta location] is a RIVER MOUTH. Long word spanning two shorter words.
- 20a. [Source of showroom shock?] is STICKER PRICE. Short word found within a single word.
- 35a. [Standing by for an on-air appearance] clues ABOUT TO GO LIVE. Medium word spanning two short words. Since when is ABOUT TO GO LIVE a good crossword entry?
- 53a. [Risk calculation] clues SAFETY MARGIN. Another short word within a single word. And also a boring answer.
The theme felt uneven to me. PuzzleGirl liked the theme, so maybe it’s just me. Maybe I find martini themes as pointless as poker themes, just as a matter of personal taste.
In the fill, we had foreign words (DEI, ASADO), abbreviations (REGT, N.Y. METS, ACAD, APR, ADV, YMHA, ET AL, SSE, IRS), names (GWEN crossing WOUK and NEHRU, PEDRO, EMIL, ["Catcher in the Wry" author] Bob UECKER, OREL, GETZ, TYLER, MRS C beside AYLA) and a partial (A MAD), as well as odd bits like XIAN (43a. [Central Chinese city]), GAUD (40a. [Bauble]), and LYDIA (50d. [Croesus' kingdom]). And EATABLE?!? Yes, it’s a word, but not an interesting or particularly useful one. When nearly a third of the puzzle’s fill winds up in the “I didn’t love this stuff” paragraph, no, it wasn’t a fun solve.
Words I like:
- 34d. GONZAGA, the [Spokane university] that often fields a good men’s basketball team
- 32d. [Wheel securer] is a boring clue, but LUG NUT is just fun to say. Like nunchuks.
- 45d. AFEARD, also spelled afeared, is clued as [Terrified, to the bard]. Dictionary tells me it’s archaic and was used mostly by Shakespeare. Come on, people! Let’s bring this word back! It’s got more oomph to it than “afraid” does.
Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “In the Bedroom”
Brendan goes racy for today’s theme, featuring various sex paraphernalia (GAG, CHAIN, PLUG, WHIP, LUBE, and CUFF) with a decided S&M slant. Ooo-kay then.
Twenty-three 3-letter answers felt like a lot. Wasn’t loving the 3s. So many abbreviations.
- The knowing clues for TAL (36a. [The only chess player you need to know for solving crosswords]) and BAER (63a. [The only 1930s boxing champ you need to know for solving crosswords]). Now, LILIAN the [Romance novelist Darcy], she’s not the only romance novelist you need to know. In fact, you will likely never need to know that name again for crosswords.
- ROAD HOG is lively.