Henry Hook’s New York Times crossword
Always fun to find a mini-theme lurking in a purportedly themeless puzzle. Henry dishes out history with 19a: THE DIET OF WORMS (a [16th-century assembly]), then rolls out his punch line at 44a: [Detractors' comment concerning 19-Across?] is “IT’S FOR THE BIRDS.” Cute! (Henry, if you don’t want that word being applied to your puzzles, then you shouldn’t make them cute. Go for “wicked” or “nearly impossible” next time, will you?)
- 1a. MASALA—I need to get some masala. My kid likes to add curry and lemon pepper from Penzey’s Spices when cooking his ham and eggs, and I’m sure he’d groove on masala too.
- 22a. Never really heard of SLAVE ANTS before, but I think we can all liken ourselves to slave ants when we’re feeling unappreciated.
- 32a. CANARSIE has such a quintessentially Brooklyn sound to it. Can it be pronounced without a Brooklyn accent?
- 37a. NOTRE DAME, the cathedral, is A-OK. Notre Dame, the university, is currently on my “shaking head sadly” list.
- Who doesn’t like a non-S plural? COLOSSI are [Enormous statues]. Think Easter Island.
- 31d. An [Opportunity for privacy] is SPACE, as in “I need some space.” This may be Henry Hook’s motto, as he hasn’t shown his face at the ACPT in years. Maybe this year he’ll come. He’s like the Great Pumpkin, keeping us waiting year after year.
Clues of note:
- 36d. [Bench, for example] is a baseball CATCHER, Johnny Bench. No idea how I got this one so easily.
- 42d. [Calypso, e.g.] is a NEREID, or sea nymph. Were you thinking of the musical genre or the Jacques Cousteau vessel?
- 43d. POSSE is clued as an [Entourage] and not with the old Wild West connotation.
- 27a. Talk about your wrong turns. For [Becomes cracked], I had the **APS in place and entered SNAPS, as in “goes mad.” Then 28d: [Followed a trail, maybe] seemed like it could be NOSED and I was just stumped on 27d: [Washington Irving character]. Turns out 27a is CHAPS, like lips; 28d is HIKED, and 27d is Ichabod CRANE.
- 7d. RAMFIS? [High priest in "Aida"]? Had no idea.
The grid’s sort of branched off into six separate zones, but they’ve each got two to four answers bleeding into them from the middle so it’s not too rough.
Peter Collins’ Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Alternate Endings”
Cute literary theme: Five works of literature (high and low) have “alternate endings” in that the final word of each title has been anagrammed. Like so:
- 17a. TARZAN OF THE APSE, [1914 novel about a wild man in a church recess?], made me think the theme involved transposal of the last two letters.
- 26a. Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying becomes AS I LAY DINGY, or [1930 novel about sleeping in dirty pajamas?]. Been there, done that. Not just a switcheroo of the last two letters. AS I LAY DYIGN has no oomph at all.
- 37a. [1929 novel about aliens leaving home?] turns Hemingway into a space opera, A FAREWELL TO MARS.
- 45a. [1939 novel about residue from King Kong’s dinner?] clues THE BIG PEELS, playing on Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. Not the first time I’ve seen this theme entry, but you’ll need to wait for the Penguin Classics literary-themed crossword book to come out (I think later this year) to see that puzzle.
- 59a. [1887 novel about analyzing red wines?] turns the Sherlock Holmes story into A STUDY IN CLARETS (originally Scarlet). Isn’t it neat that CLARETS are a shade of SCARLET?
Favorite entry in the fill:
- 9d. [Forty minutes past the hour], or TWENTY TO. Horribly arbitrary phrase, sure, but it hit me just right tonight.
Are you studying?
- 2d. [Major portion of one’s grade, often] is an EXAM.
- 32d. TESTS? [They have a lot of questions].
- 62a. Yes, [Tester’s choice] duplicates the root word of TESTS, but it kinda sounds like Taster’s Choice instant coffee. One tester’s choice is FALSE.
Annemarie Brethauer’s Los Angeles Times crossword
This theme is a breath(auer) of fresh air! Easier than I was expecting on a Friday, but breezy doesn’t have to mean dull. Appropriately for the L.A. Times crossword, an LA sneaks into each of four familiar phrases:
- 16a. [Move from Crystal to Caesar's?] clues CHANGE OF PALACE (“change of pace”).
- 28a. [Antelope of questionable virtue?] is a LOOSE ELAND (“loose end’). When it comes to your elands, gnus, oryxes, and okapis, who doesn’t appreciate loose morals?
- 33a. “As a rule” turns into “ALAS, A RULE“—["Another regulation, sorry to say"?].
- 43a. [Greengrocer's grab bags?] are SALAD SACKS (“sad sacks”).
- 53a. Tying it all together is L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, the [1997 Kevin Spacey film, and a hint to this puzzle's theme]. I like to think this is a shout-out to L.A. Crossword Confidential.
Lotsa 7-letter answers in the fill, including these:
- 3d. Psychic [Medium settings] are SEANCES. Possibly [High settings] would also work here.
- 11d. [French president Sarkozy] is named NICOLAS. Have you seen that montage of Nicolas Cage’s evolving hair?
- 25d. [Jennifer Crusie's genre] is ROMANCE novels. Never heard of this author before.
- 37d. The [Jackson dubbed "Queen of Gospel"] is MAHALIA.
Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Heading into Overtime”—Janie’s review
I have a weakness for themes that use the add-or-subtract-a-letter-or-letters gimmick and today’s puzzle plays right to it. In the most delightful way. The title itself is Doug’s hint that familiar phrases will attach themselves (“head first”) to the letters “OT” (sportspeak for “overtime”). They do—and here’s how it all adds up:
- 20A. Arabian camel + OT = ARABIAN CAMELOT [Yemeni palace inspired by Arthurian legend?]. Doesn’t hurt when the clue evinces such a funny image either! (For a game of Charades, a friend once acted out the “whole idea” of “Camelot” by taking on the guise of an auctioneer selling dromedaries to the highest bidder. Maybe ya had to be there…)
- 25A. neat as a pin + OT = NEAT AS A PINOT [Nifty, to winetasters?]. If this a noir, then shades of Sideways.
- 45A. wrath of God + OT = WRATH OF GODOT [Anger that never arrives?]. Oh, boy. The best of the bunch in a bunch of strong contenders. The base phrase, the new phrase, the Beckett reference, the concept. Sweet. All of ‘em.
- 54A. wrecking ball + OT = WRECKING BALLOT [Vote cast to demolish a building?]. This “after” almost sounds feasible as an idiomatic phrase in its own right.
The best complement to strong theme fill? Why, strong non-theme fill, of course—and here, too, Doug more than obliges. “SO HELP ME!” [ "I swear it's true!"]. Among my faves today: HAT BAND [Fedora feature] (because it’s also a feature of Dooley’s “big Panama“); the poetic IDYLLIC [Picturesque]; the lowly but utile (and crossword-friendly) RUTABAGA [Root vegetable high in vitamin C]; VEHICLES, the non-John Candy-related [Planes, trains and automobiles]; SIDE BETS [Secondary wagers]; the scrappy FEISTY [Pugnacious] and the slangy VAMOOSE for [Skedaddle]. Think “IT’S EASY!” ["Child's play!"] coming up with so much of the good stuff? Just try it sometime… Keeping the fill from sounding STILTED [Like awkwardly formal speech] is no mean feat. Another plummy Peterson puzzle!
Harvey Estes’ Wall Street Journal crossword, “Extra! Extra!”
Is it just my addled head, or are the theme entries inconsistent? Sometimes there’s just an EX sound/letters added, and sometimes an initial S gets replaced by an EX. Granted, if you pronounced “ex-sporting chance,” you wouldn’t have a separate S sound there.
- 23a. [Opportunity for trade?] clues EXPORTING CHANCE.
- 45a. [Do well in music?] turns “sell for a song” into EXCEL FOR A SONG. But maybe you’re not really doing so well in music. You excel for only one song?
- 64a. “Herbs and spices” become EXURBS AND SPICES, or [Name for an outlying seasonings store?].
- 86a. [Gave a lot of praise to one of us?] changes “told you so” into EXTOLLED YOU SO, changing the meaning of “so” from “thus” to “so much.”
- 109a. Jimmy Carter’s hometown of Plains, Georgia, becomes EXPLAINS GEORGIA, or [Interprets O'Keeffe's work?].
- 16d. [Kicking out the boyfriend?] is the EXILE OF MAN, playing on the Isle of Man.
- 68d. Saving the best for last, [Remove all Hope?] turns “SpongeBob” into EXPUNGE BOB Hope.
Highlights in the fill:
- ACID TEST, STAR WARS, FOR FUN, HOME-FREE, ELLIPSE, TOP-SPIN, the ROANOKE colony.
Lots of fun clues. You saw ‘em too, right? Because I am out of time and unfortunately cannot wade through the clue list to single out my favorites.