Are you heading to the ACPT in a month? If you’re interested in joining the Cru for dinner on Friday, March 18, head here for event and reservation details.
Michael Barnhart’s New York Times crossword
We don’t see many 72-word Wednesday puzzles with ambitiously wide-open corners. I’m not sure those corners are worth the trade-offs, though, in that there are some unfortunate words in there. I found myself cringing more than appreciating.
The theme is 105, or 21 x 5:
- 17a. ["Twenty-One"] was a TV GAME SHOW.
- 24a.  hours is NINE O’CLOCK.
- 35a.  is the DRINKING AGE in the U.S.
- 51a. ["21 ___"] JUMP STREET was a TV show. I don’t like how the dangling JUMP STREET looks in the grid.
- 59a. [Twenty-ones] are BLACKJACKS, and neither the clue nor the answer really wants to be pluralized, does it?
Where this puzzle lost me was mainly the first and last Across answers. You want to get a puzzle off to a good start, and you want to close it out on a high note. 1a: ANELE, [Anoint with sacred oil, old-style], feels like ancient crosswordese. And 67a: RELED, [Took back the top spot], is a horrible RE+ word that is here because it fills a corner, not because it’s a word anyone would actually use. And 39d: [Blue], EROTICAL—who uses that word? This trio of words kinda ruined the puzzle for me, quite honestly. The names weren’t helping matters: Plural RENES, possessive ARTHUR’S, a HESS I’d never heard of (10a: [Physics Nobelist Victor who discovered cosmic radiation]—I’m making a mental note of that name because I suspect he’ll replace Hess Oil and Dame Myra Hess on occasion). The lower left corner is almost entirely names (five people, three brand names!).
Deb Amlen’s Onion A.V. Club crossword
I don’t quite get the theme here. Traversing a word ladder from ROAD to HELL is taking the road to hell, said road being paved with GOOD intentions and the various waystations having nothing to do with hell or roads? The purpose eludes me. The theme is pretty light on size:
- 1a. GOOD
- 23a. ROAD. Hey, I know GOOD isn’t part of the word ladder, but you’d need only GOAD or ROOD to connect it to ROAD.
- 32a. READ
- 45a. HEAD
- 56a. HELD
- 71a. HELL
So, it’s a 24-square theme. That’s teeny. But you know what? Deb kept the word count high (80, 2 higher than the usual limit of 78) instead of squeezing the theme into a themeless-grade grid. The payoff is these bits of great fill:
- 30a. “GEE WHIZ!”
- 42a. BAZOOKA Joe.
- 6d. WHOPPERS malted milk balls.
- 7d. Rude NO-SHOWS.
- 26d. AZIZ Ansari, comedian and actor.
- 42d. BUTT-DIAL! Crossworder Doug B. butt-dialed a couple Facebook posts from the BlackBerry in his pocket. And there’s this one relative, the only time she calls us is via butt-dial. Haven’t actually spoken to her in months, but her butt calls every so often, just to touch base.
- 44d, 47d. Two great ladies side by side: LUCILLE, the guitar, and PAMELA Harriman, the socialite-turned-ambassador.
- 16a. A football kicked [Not through the uprights] goes WIDE of the mark.
- 20a. [Mercury, but not Mars] is a METAL.
- 8d. [Overwhelmingly common way to pay for drugs] is a fresh clue for IN CASH. Dealers just don’t trust their customers not to bounce a check
- 33d. ["i" lid?] is the DOT on a lowercase I.
- 50d. To [Play a fast solo, say] is to SHRED. I believe this term is more commonly used in guitar circles than in clarinet circles.
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Close Encounters of the Bird Kind”—Janie’s review
Enclosed, cryptic-style, within each of today’s five theme phrases is the name of one of our fine feathered friends. For once, bird-watchers won’t need binocs for sightings of a loon, an owl, an emu, a dove and an erne (or is that simply an ern?). Randy’s hidden them within:
- 17A. [Ill-fated NASA mission of 1967] APOLLO ONE. Just about all the Spanish I know is what I’ve learned in restaurants and the puzzles. Which is to say, before I saw loon, my eye went to “pollo”… A bonus bird perhaps?
- 23A. [This should slow you down] YELLOW LIGHT.
- 37A. [D'Artagnan's pals] THREE MUSKETEERS. Wow. What an unexpected and fresh way to get to emu.
- 45A. [Jumped past] SKIPPED OVER. Like the active feel of this fill. Then, too, verb phrases do seem to have an advantage that way.
- 58A. [Philly Pops conductor] PETER NERO. And its founding Music Director as well. Had no idea! Their programming looks to be thematic, and while there’s a ’50s concert, this’ll be a tribute to Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper. No [Elvis] ARON [Presley] this time. (Needless to say, no [Pink Floyd guitarist Barrett] SYD either…).
A few bullet-point highlights by of:
- the bow to the Eastern Hemisphere. We not only get three [Asian capital]s, HANOI, SEOUL and KABUL, but also a [Japanese metropolis], OSAKA.
- more things Japanese. [Shuriken or nunchaku] for WEAPON. While I’d heard of nunchuks, I didn’t associate the word with the form we see in the clue; and shuriken was a completely new term to me. I like having these new words in the puzzle. Keeps things lively.
- the [Lowe or Gere] clue for ACTOR. Is this a “low gear” pun? And while we’re in actor territory, say hey to ERROL [Flynn of "Captain Blood"]. I was amused by the way HERO crosses that second “R”—but don’t be fooled. Today that hero is not a [Swashbuckler, say] but a [Long sandwich].
- SOLACE. Today it’s clued as [Comfort], but it’s also the name of one beautiful Scott Joplin rag. Take a listen. Fans of The Sting may know it from the film soundtrack.
Donna Levin’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Another breezy Donna Levin puzzle with her trademark light and fun cluing. I figured out what the theme was when I had CHINESE CHECKERS and ARGYLE SOCKS in the grid and knew there was nothing that could connect CHINESE and ARGYLE. Checkers was Nixon’s dog and Socks was Clinton’s cat. The other PRESIDENTIAL PETs are Obama’s Bo in TAE-BO (clued weirdly as a [Trendy aerobics regimen], though I think it stopped being trendy at least a decade ago) and LBJ’s Her in AND I LOVE HER. I hadn’t noticed that TAE-BO was part of the theme, as I don’t usually study the “at the end of 17-, 25-, 37- and 44-Across” parts of theme-revealer clues, but when I thought about Bo Obama I remembered that TAE-BO was in the middle of the puzzle.
Highlights in the fill:
- THE TITANIC—good use of the definite article
- DOWNSTREAM, five consonants in a row (yes, I know the W isn’t functioning like a consonant there, but it’s not a vowel, is it?)
- Creepy OMEN IV—I like movie sequel Roman numeral answers much better than Pope Leo Roman numeral answers
- The silent-K crossing of KNOX and KNOT
Fred Jackson’s Newsday crossword, “Do Tell”
Longtime readers know that I don’t blog the weekday or Sunday Newsday puzzles, just the tough themelesses called “Saturday Stumper.” But last Friday, the central word in the Newsday crossword’s quip theme, DUE, was changed to CUE to make the neighboring fill better. This ruins the theme! You can’t have “CUE TO UNFORESEEN CIRCUMSTANCES,” you just can’t.
Martin H. and other readers have been reporting other instances of a late change to the fill not being accompanied by appropriate changes to the clues, which leads to a mystifying solve.
Today, we’ve got a whole 3×3 chunk that was changed. You can that see my fill matches up with the clues if you click on the grid image to enlarge it. And yet! The red lines mean the applet is telling me I’m wrong. Whatever the applet wants, it’s not what the clues are asking for. Here’s what the applet wants. Is it better fill? Yes. It gets rid of SOYA, SSTS, and a foreign word. But you’ve got to change the clues when you change the fill!
Maybe I should send editor Stan Newman my résumé?