Mike Nothnagel’s New York Times crossword
Whoa, tough puzzle for a Thursday, no? (Hmm, the applet says “No, Amy, it’s just a regular Thursday puzzle. Don’t know what your problem is.”) Mike has PEACE breaking out all over the grid as he removes WAR from each theme entry:
- 18a. A HANDSOME RED derives from “handsome reward.”
- 22a. Hang on a second, stacked theme entries? Show-off. “Game wardens” give us GAME DENS, [Cozy rooms for playing?].
- 56a. “Buyer beware” turns into BUYER BEE.
- 61a. [Diatribes from captured criminals?] are ARREST RANTS (“arrest warrants”).
- 3d. This was, I think, the third theme entry I filled in, but the first one where it clicked. ACADEMY AD was so obviously “Academy Award” without WAR, but 18a and 35d had mystified me.
- 35d. [Expose oneself to a former U.S. president?]…hmm, FLASH plus a 4-letter president. FLASH BUSH? Er, not quite. FLASH FORD (“flash forward”).
- 40a. PEACE is the [Opposite of 33-Down].
- 33d. WAR is [What's broken out of the answers to starred clues].
A smart eight-part theme with stacked theme entries and plenty of cool fill? Yep, that’s Nothnagely, all right. Highlights beyond the theme:
- 27a, et al. “COME NOW…” The puzzle’s rather dismissive in how it talks to us today. Add a blasé “SEEN IT” and you’ve got real attitude here. The puzzle tries to make amends by reassuring us: “NOT BAD, kiddo.” And it launches us into our competitive crossword racing by saying “AND…GO!”
- 34a. CARFAX is that company that gets you facts about used cars.
- 54a. THE WASH, as in [What dirt may come out in]? Yeah, I’m good with the definite article in the answer.
- 10d. THE DOORS. Another definite article, this one required if you’re talking about the band.
- 39d. PRETEENS watch Nickelodeon, yes. So do a lot of teens and a lot of preschoolers.
Things I didn’t know:
- 23a. [Tax collector, e.g.] is an EXACTOR? Sounds like the name of a comic-book villain—especially around April 15.
- 4d. Thank goodness for crossings, because I could piece together ASHLAND and recognize that the name has Kentucky cred, but [Henry Clay's historic Kentucky estate] wasn’t evoking any sort of memory.
Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Space Out”
You can interpret that title two ways that both makes sense with this theme: A word is “spaced out” into a first and last name, or you take a “space out” of the names to generate the single words. I like this theme, which captures a delightful bit of coincidental wordplay: You’ve got ADAMANT ADAM ANT of ’80s pop music (I had a crush on him, thanks to that amazing bone structure), baseball’s ALKALINE AL KALINE, and filmdom’s BAILING BAI LING.
I filled in GO-KART at 3d, since that’s the spelling the crosswords usually use. Turns out it was supposed to be GO-CART. Yes, I know RAKY isn’t a word. I was willing to suspend my disbelief and let it be a variant of “rakish.” Right, because Peter Gordon (a) uses variant spellings in his puzzles and (b) then fails to flag them as nonstandard. (Uh, he doesn’t do these things.)
- HUPPAH (though I much prefer the CHUPPAH spelling), GUAVA, TEA BAGS, STYMIE, TARANTULA, KIRIBATI, BLITHE.
- 1a. [Monotremes' starter homes?] are EGGS, monotremes being egg-laying mammals (the platypus and echidna).
- 11a. [Like some fails] uses the modern “fail” = noun. What kind of fails? EPIC fails.
- 43a. [They often come with strings attached] clues not conditional offers, not kites, not yo-yos, not guitars, not tampons, but TEA BAGS.
Hang on here. 23d: [When people whose birthstone is carnelian celebrate their b-days] clues AUG. The carnelian may indeed show up on lists of traditional birthstones, but I’m here to tell you that the modern August birthstone peridot is far more likely to be considered my birthstone. Sardonyx is the only stone in that list of four traditionals that I’ve ever seen affiliated with August—and that only rarely.
Sarah Keller’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Belt Lines”—Janie’s review
No, this puzzle does not celebrate rapid transit systems that “belt” urban areas. Rather we’re looking at familiar phrases (and one familiar name) whose last word describes a kind of belt. There’s the martial arts’ highest honor—the black belt; your automobile’s seat belt; an aquatic life belt; your automobile’s fan belt; and a handy travel accessory, the money belt. These come to us by way of the completely un-belt-related:
- 17A. IN THE BLACK [Operating at a profit]. No, the picture hasn’t been all rosy of late, but the Ford Motor Company can mostly [Take] A BOW [...] where once again operating in the black is concerned.
- 24A. CATBIRD SEAT [Advantageous position]. Ooh, that’s a good theme phrase. Here’s the Wiki backgrounder on its etymology. Thank you, Red Barber.
- 46. WHOLE LIFE [Alternative to term insurance]. Theme fill that’s more functional than fun…
- 51A. BASEBALL FAN [Yankees follower, e.g.]. Spring training 2011. It’s just begun.
- 60A. EDDIE MONEY [Singer with the 1988 Top Ten Hit "Walk on Water"]. Edward Mahoney was a policeman before following his desire to pursue a career as a musician. (His dad was a cop, too.) Not sure which path is riskier, but it looks like Mr. M. made a sound choice indeed (so to speak).
There’s even more music to be found in this puzzle, from the urban DRE [Dr. of rap] (whom we encountered yesterday, too, with the “gangsta rap” descriptor), to the more high-flown world of opera, with both ARIETTA [Short operatic melody] and SOLI [Operatic melodies for one]. All of which (or whom, as the case may be) provide a range of ways to SERENADE [Sing to] someone.
Brava on the bevy of bee-you-tiful sevens that run through the grid. There are the triple 7-columns NW and SE (each with a crossing seven as well) giving us the likes of BUNNIES [Playboy Club waitresses], ART SALE [Gallery event] (also, to judge by local TV ads, Marriott and Hilton Hotel events, too… “Original oils! Beautiful landscapes! Prices slashed!”…), DAPHNIS [Chloe's love in ancient Greek prose] and SAYS “YES” [Agrees]. Then, vertically at center, there’s the sparkling BEJEWEL [Decorate ornately].
Elizabeth Long’s Los Angeles Times crossword
So this is my day for making mistakes in puzzles, apparently. See, what I’m doing is exorcising the mistakes from my system before I go to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. I’ll be flawless there. Right?
My error was having PENDANT for PENDENT at 49d. Both spellings are correct for the sense [Hanging], but of course “by ROTA” is crazy and “by ROTE” correct. Check the crossings! (Which I will try to do better at during the ACPT.)
I wasn’t loving the theme of “words with END in them crossing” until I filled in MAKES ENDS MEET in the bottom row. That sold it. The theme’s elegance comes from the perfectly symmetrical placement of the six meeting ENDs (I’ve circled the ENDs to illustrate their symmetry). I’d rather not have the ENDs in 31d and 26d each meet two other ENDs, but at least they both do it.
While I give a thumbs-up to the theme, the fill was less successful. A teacher may indeed sit ON A DESK, but ON A DESK (3d) is not at all a “lexical chunk” that can stand alone. Similarly, SAME ONE (47d: [Identical item]) is jarring. I would also vote for having PENDANT/ROTA, despite ROTA’s relative unfamiliarity compared to ROTE, given that PENDANT is a far more common word than PENDENT. DARER, NNE, III, AS A, ANS, AFR, AMIN, SGT, NACRE, and CRAPE didn’t quite rise to the theme’s level, either.
- 16a. ALIAS ["__ Smith and Jones": 1970s TV Western] is a show I haven’t heard of. Why reach back into the dated niche of ’70s TV Westerns to clue a word as common as ALIAS? And if you want to go with a TV clue, the more recent Jennifer Garner show Alias is likely to be more familiar to more solvers, no?
- 19a. I don’t like the use of “Easterner” in the NINJA clue, [Stealthy Easterner]. Who calls Asians “Easterners”? Where’s the fun in making people wonder, “What East Coasters are considered stealthy?”
- 54a. I always like a good TUSSLE, or [Skirmish].
- 69a. [It often involves steady losses] clues a DIET. I thought it was more typical to see plateaus and yo-yo increases rather than just steady weight loss.
- 21d. Since when is a VIXEN a [Sly female]? A fox can be a sly person and a vixen is a female fox, but I don’t think the slyness aspect applies to the word VIXEN.
Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Artificial Unintelligence”—Matt Gaffney’s review
It is my honor to be blogging Brendan Quigley’s Thursday puzzles, beginning now. Crossword theme ripped from the headlines: this week Jeopardy! featured a computer named Watson going up against carbon-based champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Brendan envisions three J! categories the computer “would suck at”:
- 20a. MUSIC TO YOUR EARS. Isn’t there an iPhone app that identifies virtually any song upon hearing? Yes, but Watson doesn’t have ears.
- 36a. HUMAN EMOTIONS. We barely understand these ourselves, so what chance does Watson have?
- 55a. READ THAT CAPTCHA. Hilarious kicker entry—Captcha and love may be our last two bastions against the machines. I at first had READ THAT CAPTION, which didn’t make much sense. Like the captions in New Yorker cartoons.
The grid itself is outstanding—HOW WEIRD!, I’M HOME!, RAY ALLEN, THE ROOTS, EX-BEATLE, EKE BY, and PDFS look great. All four corners are good, but the NE and SE are especially well-executed. This grid is a good example of a low word count (74) not merely being “worth it,” but indeed facilitating better fill by providing lots of 6-, 7-, and 8-letter opportunities. Which Quigley converts like 11-down under pressure.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Endwise”
The trick in “Endwise” is the “end Y’s” found in each theme entry:
- 17a. [Hipster gas station attendant's shtick?] is PUMP IRONY, which is made by adding PUMP IRON + Y.
- 21a. [Keep a beat after spinning around a bunch of times?] is to DRUM LOOPY.
- 34a. [Ask Jeeves after a night at the bar?] clues SEARCH TIPSY.
- 44a. [Bit of beefcake at the rodeo?] is that firm COWBOY BOOTY wrapped in Wrangler jeans. While BOOTY treads the “ass” path, there’s a BOOBY nearby that’s clued as the [Blue-footed bird]. And the TEATS are merely [Barnyard sustenance sources]. See? Classy!
- 58a. You know how state fairs offer those wildly implausible deep-fried foods?And you wonder how it’s possible to batter and fry something so liquid or soft? Ben ups the ante with [Dried Coke?], or SODA JERKY.
- 66a. [Malt liquor made with bark?] is a TREE FORTY. I can’t help thinking of mid-afternoon times when I read TREE FORTY.
Five more clues:
- 2d. ["Time to bat!"] clues “I’M UP!” When I use those words, I’m at the bowling alley.
- 4d. [Revealing magazine spread?] is an EXPOSÉ. Personally? I read magazines for the articles.
- 7d. [Jazz musician from either Saturn or Alabama, depending on whom you believe] is SUN RA. Given that adding a T to his name and scrambling the letters gets you Saturn, I’m pretty sure he’s from Saturn.
- 30d. [Long-distance runner Ron once married to long-distance runner Mary Decker] is Ron TABB. Never heard of him, but the crossings were all fair.
- 41d. BBQ SAUCE is a [Flavoring with regional variations across the U.S.]. We currently have a bottle of a sweet and tangy variety in our fridge.