Paul Hunsberger’s New York Times crossword
This theme gimmick was done before, by Patrick Merrell in 2005. Pat assembled three 15-letter answers that can be typed with just the left hand, and spelled out the gimmick backwards-acrostic style in the first letters of the clues.
Comparing today’s puzzle and the 2005 Merrell, I have to say that I prefer Hunsberger’s quartet of 10s to the somewhat less natural 15s Merrell had. But where the shorter fill comes into play, I think Merrell made it a bit smoother. When it comes to omitting half the alphabet from your crossword, you necessarily force a ton of compromises, and I can’t say the gimmick is quite cool enough to merit the trade-off. Although it was neat to type all my answers with my left hand, leaving the right hand free to navigate via the arrow keys!
Of course, the theme is probably mostly annoying if you’re solving on paper, and even solving online, I found myself making all sorts of frowny faces at partials like AS FAR, A RAT, SETS A, and A RAW. And the plethora of abbreviations—GER, BRAZ, SSE, STRS, SRTA, SERV (no! service is typically abbreviated as Svc.!), CTA and ETAS. And foreign words (ERDE, ARRET, ETAT) and overly crossword-friendly names (REBA, ERBE, ASTA). Not to mention the crosswordese (AGAR, RETS, ERAT) and the affixes (RESEWS, TAXER, TREATER).
On the plus side, I do like the four 10s: TREAD WATER, EXACERBATE, STAR-GAZERS, and the outdated STEWARDESS (deftly clued as [Old TWA hiree]). Also classing up the joint: RED SEA, QBERT (and the Q is a gutsy inclusion since the U is on the wrong side of the keyboard, along with I and O), SARTRE, DRAGSTER, CABARET, and CASSAVAS.
Every single answer in the puzzle is a theme answer (!), but only one has a thematic clue: 69a: WEST, [The half of the keyboard on which all of this puzzle's answers can be typed].
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “IQ Test”
The theme consists of phrases with I.Q. initials—some more familiar than others:
- 17a. [Nickname for a standoffish woman] is ICE QUEEN. Yeah? You wanna make something of it? Hey, you know what they call a standoffish man? “Sir.” He doesn’t get labeled with an insulting term.
- 21a. [2007 coin with a peregrine falcon on it] is the IDAHO QUARTER. You might say “Pfft! That’s not remotely ‘in the language,’” but I would say “Tcha! Who doesn’t have a collection of all 50 state quarters, plus some of the U.S. territories, the national park quarters, and some of those golden presidential dollar coins?”
- 38a. [It's hidden (but suggested) in job interviews] clues IMPLIED QUESTION. Huh? INTERVIEW QUESTION would be much better, but it’s too long for a 15×15 grid.
- 50a. IMAGE QUALITY is [Clarity measured in digital photos]. Yeah, I’ll go with that.
- 62a. ["How nice and peaceful!"] clues IT’S QUIET. This might not be “in the language” for you. Matt Jones has twin toddlers. I’ll bet it’s in his language—but hardly ever!
- 1a. BANKSY is the [Graffiti artist who didn't win a 2011 Oscar (which made the identity-reveal speculation a non-event)]. This is not a nickname for 30 Rock actress Elizabeth Banks. Super-fresh fill.
- 66a. [Packet near a soup bowl] clues SALTINES. This is one of those oddball answers that works way better in the plural. Yesterday at L.A. Crossword Confidential, PuzzleGirl complained about a surfeit of needless plurals. SALTINES is in a different category.
- 40d. I raised an eyebrow at this clue. [Body part that dangles]?!? Oh. It’s just a UVULA. Carry on.
- 46d. [Narrow in the light] clues SQUINT. Love that word.
- 54d. Well, that’s not the usual clue for ANTS. [Insects that can become "zombies" via different fungi]? I had no idea.
- 9d. [Latin abbr. meaning "he/she speaks"] is LOQ. No idea when this abbrev gets used, but it must be related to loquacious and norma loquendi.
- 10d. Right next to LOQ is CRU, [Hero of the 1986 BMX movie "Rad"]. I know neither the movie nor the character.
Robert Fisher’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review
Sometimes you just feel like a lunkhead – this was one of those puzzles for me! Robert’s taken HEAD START to be a [Racer's edge, or the ends of 17-, 23-, 39- and 49-Across, unflatteringly]. If you’re not a dunderhead, you easily figured out the theme entries:
- 17a. [Not so humorous humerus spot] is the FUNNY BONE. (BONEHEAD) Homonym humor at its finest. Sometimes you get a weird feeling when you hit your funny bone, or ULNAr nerve (clever working that in at 3d, Robert!). Other times it hurts like heck, though!
- 23a. [Exam taker's dread] is MENTAL BLOCK. (BLOCKHEAD) I haven’t taken an English class in a few years, but I’ve been having a recurring dream where I go to an English class, but I haven’t read the book. What’s worse, it’s an oral exam – but at least I’m still fully clothed. Dream analysis: What does this say about my odds at the ACPT?
- 39a. [Daydreams] are CASTLES IN THE AIR. (AIRHEAD) Cool grid-spanning entry, but I wanted the castles in the SKY to start.
- 49a. [Devoid of niceties, as some politics] – that’s BARE-KNUCKLE. (KNUCKLEHEAD) I’m not too familiar with this term – is that to say that if you’re filled with niceties, you’ve got hairy knuckles? That can’t be right. Maybe without gloves. I’d believe that.
I solved this puzzle with disregard for the theme, because it wasn’t apparent until I got to the bottom right. However, I got confused because I misread the connecting clue as [Racer's edge, or the beginnings of 17-, 23-, 39- and 49-Across, unflatteringly]. FUNNY HEAD? MENTAL HEAD? CASTLES HEAD? BARE HEAD? It’s true – you shouldn’t go up to someone and call them bare-headed, but that wasn’t the idea here.
Other points of interest:
- 5d. YO-YO MA has been in the Shortz-era NYT puzzle 3 times. YO MAMA! has yet to appear in the NYT puzzle.
- 57a. CBS is the ["The Amazing Race" airer]. That’s my favorite reality show on TV these days, and right now I’m rooting for Gary & Mallory. Plus, there’s an Amazing Race-type game Saturday night at the ACPT – prepare to be U-Turned, everyone.
- 58d. [Verve] clues BRIO. In my mind, Brio is a brand of wooden trains. The clue definitely didn’t give this away for me – I wanted ELAN immediately. Oops.
- 26d. Hey! Yesterday was the first day of ADAR Bet! (It’s still the proper Adar – this is a leap year.) The Hebrew calendar never ceases to amaze me.
And with that, Happy Mardi Gras, everyone!
Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Stall for Time”—Evad’s review
So the “stall” we’re talking about here isn’t the verb, it’s a noun, synonym of BOOTH or what can follow the first word in these four theme entries:
- [Fund-raising sight] is not Jerry Lewis but a PHONE BANK. I wonder if they give lollipops to their customers at that bank like they do at mine? A phone booth is of course where Clark Kent changes into his Superman duds…changing clothes in a phone booth is a superhuman task on its own in my book, have you ever tried it without scraping your elbows?
- [More or less distant family member] is a KISSING COUSIN. I’m not familiar with a kissing booth, sounds like something my parents might’ve stepped into. Do they still exist?
- [Alcohol-free cocktail] is a SHIRLEY TEMPLE. Shirley Booth played Hazel on the 60s sitcom with the same name. Though I was 5 or 6 at the time, I do remember watching it.
- [Mentally healthy state] is a SOUND MIND, or compos mentis to lawyers. A sound booth is a common fixture of recording studios and old gameshows, the latter used when someone was placed in isolation, listening, one assumes, to Muzak to distract them. The ACPT features a kind of sound booth, which is a basement room where finalists await their turns so they can’t see the grids being solved by the finalists in prior categories. Amy and Joon, do they play Muzak in that room?
All in all, the “booth” phrases skewed to the older generation, which is ok by me. I guess there aren’t any other phrases that start with John Wilkes, are there? I had some obvious trouble in the lower left, starting with CLAMOR before UPROAR for [Racket], which led me to ANKH befoe RUNE as an [Ancient symbol]. Liked POPTART in the dead center, my favorites growing up had raspberry jelly filling in them. To your left is a picture of EL GRECO‘s The Opening of the Fifth Seal; looks like that was one envelope that should’ve remained closed!