Tim Croce’s New York Times crossword
Where yesterday’s grid was split into five fairly distinct sections, today’s has seven zones. You might think the quartet of 4×4 zones would be a cinch, but no, they’ve got tough clues.
While the bottom row is mostly occupied by STRESS TEST—constructors’ go-to phrase for the bottom and right sides of a puzzle to make it easier to find crossings—there are plenty of livelier long answers, almost all of them multi-word phrases:
- 15a. I like HAD A BAD DAY, but I do not like having had a bad day.
- 17a. SIGN A LEASE might be on the border, but it feels like it’s enough of a stand-alone lexical chunk to pass muster as crossword fill. I think the words are paired up so often, they work as a unit.
- 20a. Biblical? Really? Never knew EAST OF EDEN was a [Classic novel with biblical parallels], but I suppose the title should have given that away.
- 24a, 24d. SPACE CADET and SPICE GIRLS are both fun, but feel somewhat dated. ["Wannabe" hitmakers] refers to the Spice Girls’ hit song, “Wannabe.” Yeah, I don’t know how the song goes, either. Thought wannabe was an adjective here and not a title.
- 50a. I’m torn on NFL UNIFORM. At first I loved it, but nobody wears an NFL uniform—they wear the uniform of a particular NFL team.
- 59a. My mom met someone today who went to high school with me (a year or two ahead of me). My answer to the [Reunion question] “REMEMBER ME?” is “Uh, no.” There were even classmates of mine who seemed not remotely familiar at my 25th reunion.
- 11d. JAMES AGEE, immortalized in crosswords thanks to his three-quarters-vowels surname, finally gets his whole name in the grid. Mind you, the only part of the ["Death in the Desert" writer, 1930] clue that helped me was “writer.”
- 34d. “IT FIGURES” is fabulous fill. Love it!
- In the “not long, but still likeable” category, I like the clue for 31a: THAI, [Language with 44 consonants]. Cute clue for 61a: weather VANE, [Source of current information?]. 30d: [Composition of some wads] could’ve been gross, but it’s TENS; honestly, wads of fifties are far superior. Also, the [Shuffled things] at 53d are FEET—nice!
Notable trouble spots:
- 18a. [Palma's place] is about the palm of your hand, or MANO in Spanish. Not palm trees on an ISLA.
- 19a. A RED, a partial from a Piers Anthony novel’s title? All crossings for me. Blech.
- The entire upper left chunk, actually.
- The two-part GIVE/VENT bit and VENT’s section.
Bruce Venzke’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Stale crosswordese takes me right out of the puzzle and into the Frowny Zone. To wit: 2d: RETE! Boring [Anatomical network]. 19a: TAE! That’s Thomas Edison’s initials, or [Menlo Park wizard, initially]. 13d: ATLI! That’s the [King of the Huns, in Norse myth]. That latter one is such old crosswordese, Tyler Hinman and I once thought it was hilarious to name our pub trivia team ATLI. And then it’s hard for the puzzle to win me back with fill like SNEED (apparently a golfer, 33d: [Ed __, runner-up in the first Masters sudden death playoff]), ETHN (50d: [Race: Pref.], desperately missing an O at the end), and VIS (10d: [As far as the eye can see: Abbr.], and no, I don’t know what it abbreviates)—not overused crosswordese but rather, underused-for-a-reason fill.
The long fill is good, but as I said, when the shorter fill kicks me in the shin, the whole solving experience suffers. Here are some of the long answers:
- 34a. Love MAYTAG REPAIRMAN, the [Lonely guy in old 60-Down], 60d being ADS. I’d rather the clue skipped the unpleasant game of cross-referencing, though.
- 41a. Would like LET’S STEP OUTSIDE ([Fighting words]) better if it were “You wanna take this outside?” or “You want to step outside?”
- 15a. Regarding the [TV host's segue], I don’t think a TV host would say, verbatim, “BE BACK IN A MINUTE.” First off, commercial breaks are longer than 60 seconds. Second, the host would probably have a “we’ll” in there. “Don’t go away, we’ll be right back after these messages.”
- 17a. [Sources of track reports] clues STARTER’S PISTOLS (or maybe STARTERS’ PISTOLS). ”Starter pistols” and “starting pistols” sound better to me. Following the possessive, the plural seems awkward.
May we talk about 21a: ASSY? It’s presented as an abbreviation for “assembly”: [It might be req. for some new furniture]. It could also be clued as part of a French place name. Friend of mine uses it as an adjective to describe certain cheeses (and she actually likes those cheeses!). Googling ASSY brought to my attention a cartoon (not for kids) that I missed when it aired from 2006 to 2008: Assy McGee. Assy McGee is a cop whose entire body is buttocks atop legs, and I love how he’s drawn! Apparently he never really turns around to display his front side.
Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Wing Tips”—Janie’s review
“Wing tips”? Not these, but the letters W-I-N-G at the tips (ends) of each of today’s four themed entries, divided into a W/ING pattern. We see this gimmick a good bit in the CS puzzles, but Bob turns it out with lively fill and with more than his “usual flair.” (Doesn’t hurt that the puzzle’s non-themed component is as strong as it is either.) I think one of the real strengths of the theme set is that it isn’t derived from gerunds, but from nouns (and a proper name). Here’s what we get:
- 17A. WALTZ KING [Johann Strauss, with "the"]. Everybody knows that, right?
- 28A. WHITE LIGHTNING [Hinterland spirits]. “Spirits” as in booze, hootch. The lightning here ties in nicely with THUNDERS [Booms overhead]. This makes “booms” a verb and not a plural noun for “a long movable arm used to maneuver and support a microphone” say…
- 41A. WARREN G. HARDING [First president to file an income tax return]. Nice piece of presidential trivia. Since the 16th Amendment was ratified in 1913, not sure why it took ten years for a U.S. President to file, but perhaps the President had been exempt from filing until that time. Anyone know the facts here?
- 57A. WASP STING [Target of peroxide, ice, and meat tenderizer]. Here’re some more home remedies to help offset any OWS ["That hurts!" blurts].
“EGADS!” ["Yoicks!"]—where to begin with the rest of the puzzle’s treats. Working off of that exclamation, let’s move on to “OH, WOW!” ["That boggles the mind!"], “NAG, NAG!” ["Will you stop bugging me?"]. Cooler heads seem to prevail with the less fraught “IT’S A GO” for ["A-OK to launch"].
The punny and funny [Boar belles] for SOWS made me laugh out loud. What can I tell you? The HOGNOSE [Snake with an upturned snout], is not just another pretty face… (The phrase “lipstick on a pig” is coming back to haunt me now…). (Yikes. Did you know that CHOWS are [Dogs with blue-black tongues]? It’s true…)
["]WHO DAT [say gonna beat dem Saints?"] is the chant that fans from New Orleans (also called “who dats”) use to let the team know who loves ‘em. But its colorful origins precede its present-day sports connection. Read all about it. And for some [Up-and-down fan fun] at the game, there’s always THE WAVE. Baseball gets the nod today, too, by way of MITT and its clue [Yogi had a hand in it] (since he was a catcher…). And the versatile Mr. ENBERG [Sportscaster Dick with an "Oh My!" memoir] gets a shout out as well.
If sports is not your thing, perhaps OPERA ["Lulu," "Louise," "Norma," or "Carmen"] is—with maybe AIDA [Verdi's enslaved Ethiopian] thrown in for good measure. Or perhaps you appreciate the textures of fabrics—something that’s SILKEN, say [Velvety smooth] or made of CHENILLE [Fuzzy yarn for tufted bedspreads].
Some great vocab within this one, too—like the Arabic word HEGIRA [Flight from Israel] and the Latin SINE DIE [Without setting a date to meet]. Not to mention some dee-lightful cluing—like [Good name for a demolition derby driver] for the punny REX and that “really big” trio at the end: [Big hand], [Big head] and [Big seller, supposedly] for PAW, EGO and SEX. “SPOT ON!” ["Exactly!"].
Brad Wilber’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
The fill here feels a bit like yesterday’s Berry NYT, right down to an AERO- word. The difference is that Brad includes two longer answers (12 letters apiece) and also some 3s, and Berry was pinned down by a low word count (62, vs. 70 here). I dunno. This one felt mostly ordinary to me, lacking the delightful punch of a typical Brad Wilber puzzle.
Let’s pop open the hood and take a look at this crossword:
- 14a. [Many a DC attraction] is a MEMORIAL. I was thinking DC Comics and IMMORTAL when I had **MOR*AL in place.
- 15a. Boo. [Pulp source] is a weird and aggressively vague clue for PAPAYA. Who thinks of papayas when they hear the word “pulp”??
- 18a. [Type of stabilizer] is a lifeless clue for SLING, the noun (as in a sling stabilizing a broken arm). Wouldn’t the verb sense be more fun?
- 23a. [Path starter] is looking for the prefix OSTEO. Sounds like it wants something like “the first step,” then lets you down with a prefix.
- 25a. [Skip] is short for “skipper” as CAP’N is short for “captain.”
- 26a. I do like LANTERN-JAWED a lot. Seen more often in clues for LENO than as a crossword entry itself. [Like Buzz Lightyear] is a good open-ended pop culture clue.
- 29a. Say what? DEP as an abbreviation for “deposit” is the opposite of “withdrawal,” not [Opp. of "take out"]. Nobody pairs “deposit” and “take out.”
- 38a. SPILT is clued as [Unexpectedly on the floor]. No use crying over milk that’s unexpectedly on the floor.
- 47a. I have no idea what [Universal-motor] means. Is it hyphenated as a compound adjective? The answer is AC/DC.
- 56a. Now, when’s the last time you encountered the term ILL-USAGE in writing or speech? There are so many synonyms for [Victimization] or abuse that “ill-usage” seems to have largely faded from use.
- 62a. How are EUCHRES the same as [Rooks]? Verb or plural noun? Checking dictionary…to euchre is to deceive, cheat, or outwit someone.
- 5d. To [Silence, possibly] a squeaky hinge is to OIL it. Glad there’s no cross-reference between OIL and 52a: OPEC, though the OPEC clue is tough: [Quota-setting org.].
- 13d. SAD ENDING is my second-favorite answer after LANTERN-JAWED. The former, but not the latter, is an ["Anna Karenina" feature].
- 20d. AEROBATS are [Fancy fliers]. Odd word. More common is aerobatics, used to describe spectacular flying stunts. The pilots would be the aerobats, but I don’t think they’re often called that.
- 24d. ["Don't follow me!"] clues STAY HERE, which…is that a lexical chunk? I don’t think I like it as a crossword entry.
- 25d. Had the M, so I filled in ARMY for the [GI outfit]. Whoops. It’s CAMO.
- 50d. CAEN is a [Town near the English Channel], on the French side of the Channel.
Patrick Berry’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “Rows Garden”
A commenter at the WSJ puzzle blog called this Rows Garden “ridiculously easy.” Is that where it landed for you? Because I had absolutely nothing in the top half of the grid for way too long. Maybe I wasn’t firing on all cylinders at 11 pm. Most of the answers looked far more obvious when I backed into them gradually than when I first read the clues.
Actually, I did have something in the top half early on. I figured E1: [Good judgment about everyday affairs] was either COMMON SENSE or STREET SENSE (whoops, that would be “street smarts,” wouldn’t it?), so I left six spaces and entered SENSE. It’s HORSE SENSE, so I was off in my placement.
I’d never encountered this STINK ON ICE phrase, clued as g1: [Perform irredeemably badly], which also slowed me down.
Then there were the clues that my eyes passed over uncomprehendingly. C1: [1895 novella set mostly in A.D. 802,701] could scarcely be anything but THE TIME MACHINE.
Favorite clue: J2: [Ball game that many have tickets for?] is the LOTTERY.
I do enjoy the process of solving a Rows Garden when I don’t have a bunch of gimmes in the Rows. Gazing at Blooms, eyeballing the letter patterns both clockwise and counterclockwise, scanning the answers jotted alongside the Blooms clues for promising letter combos, using those 3-letter bits of Blooms to help narrow down the possibilities for a Rows answer. It’s much more interesting than filling in half the grid with Rows clues and doing the rote work of piecing together the Blooms.