Randolph Ross’s New York Times crossword
SOLENT? Wow, I’ve never seen that before. Wikipedia explains that “The Purbeck Ball Clay contains kaolinite and mica, showing that in the Lutetian stage of the Eocene water from a granite area, probably Dartmoor, flowed into the River Solent.” So now you know a little of the geology behind the channel that separates the Isle of Wight from England! But don’t fret about committing SOLENT to memory, because I can’t say I expect to see it in other crosswords.
Who wants highlights? Here they are:
- 16a, 17a, 27a, leg madness. A desk’s KNEEHOLE gives your legs room to stretch, and your legs are supported by the TIBIAE. Careful you don’t pull your HAMSTRING doing those contortions under your desk.
- 33a. A D-PLUS grade comes with a test score or [Figure in the high 60s].
- 34a. ODOMETERS are [Things rolled over by cars], in a way.
- 49a. Have you ever called someone SWEETPEA? Try it sometime. But do not misspell it as “Sweatpee.”
- 52a. [Subway line] isn’t about trains, it’s about fast-casual food mottoes like EAT FRESH.
- 4d. CLEAR AS MUD is my favorite answer today.
- 15d. Great clue for STATE: [Only one bears the name of a U.S. president]. That state, of course, is Fillmore.
- 26d. The famously arty Parisian district is MONTMARTRE. The French vibe spills over into two abbreviations, STES and MMES.
- 28d. Oh, abomination of APPLE PIES, “[McDonald's offerings].” Pies are round.
- 5d. LEHR, [Specialty oven], übercrosswordese. I started with FEHR first because I don’t find LEHR to be particularly memorable.
- 8d. STEN GUN, old crosswordese STEN with a GUN tacked on. Not sure I’ve seen that before.
- 34d. -ONYM isn’t really the suffix that means “word,” -nym is, right?
- 43d. A-TEST and its cousins N-TEST and H-TEST are still overused in crosswords. Nobody likes these, do they? I always feel a little ripped off when a question-mark clue—such as [Mushroom grower, for short?]—leads to a blah answer.
- 37a. Partial A LAD. At least the clue goes with Shakespeare instead of the old ["When I was ___…"] clue.
- 41a. AGA isn’t seen much in America outside of crosswords. I would have been lost with the clue, [Title in Topkapi], except that Topkapi Palace was recently in another puzzle and so I learned that Topkapi was Turkish, and if crosswords have taught me anything, it’s that a Turkish 3-letter title must be AGA. Except when it’s BEY, of course.
- 44a. Crosswordese APIA further takes root as APIA, SAMOA. City/state or city/country entries are best when the city is a familiar one, and ideally not familiar mainly as crosswordese.
Overall, this puzzle’s a good bit easier than yesterday’s was. Some fresh fill and clever clues lent spice, though the relative obscurity of fill like LEHR and SOLENT will likely have many solvers scratching their heads, wondering if that can possibly be right.
Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “Marching Bands”
I feared I would be stuck in a couple areas of this puzzle, but eventually they yielded. Row 3a and 13a were the twin eyes of the storm of Not Finishing and whaddaya know? Those are perhaps the trickiest clues in the whole puzzle. [Show stopper, of a sort] has nothing to do with show-stopping musical numbers—it’s a TV REMOTE control, which you might use to pause a program. And racking your brain for 7-letter Shakespeare characters in the Danish play will do you no good when it comes to [Hamlet's cousin]—that’s a VILLAGE, which is like a small-h hamlet. Last time I saw this clue, it was in a killer Bob Klahn NYT puzzle. Love it! I also love that VILLAG(e) feeds into GALLIVANTS going around in Band A—that’s such a cool word.
I never noticed before that the letter counts of the bands increases by 8 with each iteration.
Special variety puzzle bonus this week! Patrick Berry just posted another “Some Assembly Required” puzzle (#2) at his website. I solved that one right after the WSJ puzzle tonight, and it took around 24 minutes (so, more than twice as long as the “Marching Bands”). No spoilers on that one—I want you to print it out and enjoy the many bends of that crossword variety. But I will say that my favorite clue is the second one in row F, [They don't let you go (2 wds.)].
Will Johnston’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Top This”—Janie’s review
And we close out the week with another synonym puzzle. This time the last word in each of the four theme phases is another word for “top”—not in the sense of something you wear on your head, but in the sense of altitude/height/distance upwards. Those words are cap, crest, summit and peak and they appear with non-height related meaning in the phrases:
- 17A. BATHING CAP [Swimwear option].
- 10D. FAMILY CREST [Coat of arms]. Hmm. Lotta references to coats of arms this week: Sunday, [Heraldic beast] for LION; Tuesday, [Heraldry emblem] for COAT OF ARMS; yesterday, [Aussie coat of arms symbol] for EMU. Curious. Makes it all the more fitting, then, to see EARLS today though [British nobles]. Many earls have a family coat of arms. And their wives are probably in possession of a TIARA [Diadem] or two.
- 25D. PEACE SUMMIT [Antiwar meeting].
- 63A. WIDOW’S PEAK [Eddie Munster's hairline]. Here’s Eddie with the whole fam-dam’ly.
A pretty straight-forward theme delivered in a pretty straight-forward way. And more repeat words today (IGOR, TASE and PORE all appeared earlier this week) that take away some of the fun of the solve. But there’s a good bit of pleasure to be derived from other examples of the non-theme fill, which pulls through with such goodies as NO-RISK [Sure fire] and WIN-WIN [Advantageous to both parties]. Sometimes a no-risk situation is also a win-win situation, so I like seeing both of these in the same grid. (Also like no risk for the axiom I most associate it with and feel certain is so: “No risk, no gain.”)
NET PAY [After-tax salary] ties in well, too, to DAY JOB [Regular employment, typically]. Unusual employment was typically the job of the PANEL ["What's My Line?" lineup] to discover. Did you know this show remains TV’s longest-running prime-time game show? Am surprised it hasn’t been re-conceived for the 21st century (though it’s probably only a matter of time…).
Did you know the word TAIGA, meaning [Biome next to tundra]? This was completely new to me. Ditto “biome.” Nice to know now that taiga is tied in to boreal forests and a biome is a particular kind of ecosystem ZONE [Defined region] (if I’m getting the gist of what I just read…).
That’s it FOR NOW [Temporarily], except to say how pleased I was that this phrase sent me to listen again to the charming final number from Avenue Q of the same title.
Barry Silk’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Aaand we’re back to the customary difficulty level, after yesterday’s tough (to me) themed LAT and last Saturday’s tough themeless. This one’s got some sparkle and only a couple 3-letter entries but also 28 4-letter answers, which sort of gives it a Tuesday-puzzle-fill vibe.
Barry likes it Scrabbly, so he brings us these:
- 37a. JUKEBOX, a [Classic diner feature]. CUJO, SAKE, and EXPO occupy the crossings for those rare letters.
- 54a. QUITE A LOT has a Q but is not so exciting. Its crossing is [Jordan's only port], AQABA.
- 61a. MUMBO-JUMBO is a great word that’s every bit as fun to say as [Gibberish]. Don’t give me any of that NINJA MUMBO-JUMBO!
Two 15s serve as a trellis for the Across answers:
- 4d. [It's radioactive] clues UNSTABLE ISOTOPE. I had the U quickly and thought 4d might start with URANIUM but wound up deleting the -RANIUM.
- 10d. ["Seriously"] clues “NO KIDDING AROUND.” I wasn’t seeing this as an established phrase at first, but it works in a context of “C’mon, knock it off now. NO KIDDING AROUND. Just get to work.” I don’t feel like the clue meshes well with the phrase, not the way I’d use it.
Five more clues:
- 17a. [Five-time All-Star second baseman] CHASE UTLEY plays for the Phillies, Barry’s favorite team. If you have no interest in Phillies trivia, you may encounter some uninteresting trivia in about half of Barry’s crosswords.
- 20a. A [Salt] is an OLD SAILOR, but is “old sailor” a lexical chunk unto itself?
- 39a. We need more currently famous BRENNANs. ["Private Benjamin" Oscar nominee Eileen] was nominated for best supporting actress in this 1980 comedy for her role as the tough-as-nails commanding officer. Her underlings humiliated her by putting blue dye in her shower pipe. Isn’t that mean?
- 56a. A NOMAD is a [Land rover] of sorts.
- 7d. [Some bass pieces] isn’t about singing or musical instruments. It’s fish FILLETS.
Stan Newman’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
Super smooth fill, no dirty tricks or excessive vagueness in clues, and a fair number of excellent entries earns this puzzle a 4-star rating.
- 17a. Willa Cather’s MY ANTONIA, [Conclusion of a 1910s "prairie trilogy"].
- 20a. Full name, SAM MENDES, ["American Beauty" director] and ex-husband of Kate Winslet.
- 22a. I’d like this better with an “it’s” before it, but ANYONE’S GUESS is still good. If the outcome is ANYONE’S GUESS, it’s [Still undecided].
- 29a. [Lady MacBeth, e.g.] is a FEMALE LEAD.
- 37a. “MY GOODNESS!” Those can be [Words of surprise].
- 53a. ANA’S STORY is a young-adult nonfiction [Book by Jenna Bush] about poverty and HIV in Latin America. I’ve heard good things about it.
- 56a. Ooh, pop-culture trivia. Lena OLIN is the [Actress who was Miss Scandinavia, 1975]. The clue narrows down the nationality and age range and tells you she’s conventionally pretty. I think Olin’s Swedish.
- 11d. [Senators' rivals] are Canadian hockey players, the Toronto MAPLE LEAFS, who compete against the Ottawa Senators. Not modern politicians, not ancient Roman politicians.
- 18d. I learned a new word. [Conduce] means TEND. You know the word conducive, a close relative. I was thinking conduct and physics at first.
- 26d. I like the slanginess of HANGS A LEFT. [Turns, perhaps] is sorta vague but works.
- 30d. I had no idea what [Einstein's "precursor of relativity"] was, but was pleased to see another full name emerge into the grid: ERNST MACH.
- 35d. POLESTAR is a rather poetic term for a [Guiding principle].
- 39d. Someone who audits a class doesn’t take the class for credit, so an AUDITOR is [One not getting any credit]. I thought about ghost writers first.
- 45d. Tricky clue: [They're held for questioning]—of students—clues EXAMS.
- 49d. Not sure what this one means. Was ZOLA a [French naturalist] in the vein of John Muir and John James Audubon, or just a practitioner of the naturalist school of writing? I suspect the latter. And yes, I did major in English.