Martin Ashwood-Smith’s New York Times crossword
The King of the Triple Stack makes a quadruple stack, and stretches the grid to 16 rows to accommodate the quad stack in the middle. For added oomph, Martin puts a couple more solo 15s above and below the quad stack.
But! I must hereby declare a moratorium on quad stacks that include A LOT ON ONE’S PLATE (38a). Remember seeing that in last Friday’s Krozel NYT? What’s more, the two previous uses of that entry in the NYT crossword were in other themelesses by Ashwood-Smith and Krozel. Guys! We’re done with that one now.
As you expect to see with triple or quad stacks. there are plenty of short answers in the “blah” category—ANEAR, ITT, PALO, OLIN, LOTI, AT ‘EM, SESS, CITER, DAE, A PIE, NEI, and D’ETRE were the ones that jumped out at me. The only ones that forced me to use all the crossings were LOTI (31d: [French novelist Pierre], whom I’ve never heard of) and NEI (54a: [Verdi's "__ giardin del bello"]).
- 17a. “SOUND THE RETREAT!” Or, as they say in Monty Python Land, “Run away!”
- 22a. LOW-RENT, colorful term.
- 39a. I like LITERARY STUDIES, but I’m not sure how it’s a [Concentration for an English major]. I figured it would be something along the lines of American lit or British lit.
- 4oa, 56a. ON INTIMATE TERMS and ANTIDEPRESSANTS are also cool entries.
- 1d. [What the narrator "threw up" in "The Night Before Christmas"] is the SASH of a window. No, he did not eat it. The clue amused me.
- 3d. Excellent clue/answer combo: ["Seriously?"] = “Really?” = “YOU DO?” I believe the instigating comment was “I like to do crossword puzzles.” *gasp!*
- 4d. Columbarium is a pretty word, though its etymology leaves me cold. From the Latin for “pigeon house”?!? What on earth are people doing putting a funeral URN in a pigeon house? [Columbarium object] is the clue.
Worst clue of the month:
13d. TEASE is clued not as an innocuous verb, but as [One likely to get men's attention]. Really, Martin and Will? Really? It’s a blatantly sexist term, and I’m not the only one who has recognized this. There’s a website called Name It, Change It devoted to rooting out sexism in political discourse, and they’ve singled out “tease.” (Of course, sexist language sullies everything else too, not just politics.)
Crossword constructors and editors: TEASE can easily be clued as a verb—not just ribbing someone, but also teasing hair and teasing out the truth. I’m a huge fan of Ben Tausig’s approach to including offensive terms—his clue will call out the word as a term people used to use that alienates others, rather than presenting it without judgment and thereby furthering the word’s ability to marginalize. Longtime readers may remember my criticism of COED clued as a noun meaning “college girl” rather than an adjective meaning “containing both men and women” (as in a college dorm). Turn off Google’s “safe search” and do a search for the plural “coeds” and you’ll see that the noun is incredibly demeaning (via porn) to women, who now make up a majority of college students and need no special designation as an exotic species. If you’re gonna put it in the puzzle and it has to be a noun because it’s plural, for Pete’s sake, clue it as a word that was used in the ’50s and ’60s and don’t pretend it still just means “female college student.”
- 9d. DRESS FASTENERS—is that a “thing”? Or is it just standard fasteners that happen to be affixed to a dress?
- 32d. Didn’t even see CORMS while I was solving, or its clue: [Bulblike bases of stems]. I’ve encountered that botanical word before, but I can’t say the clue would have directed me to the answer!
- 53d. Never heard of [Tom T. Hall's "Mama Bake __"] A PIE, but somehow guessed it. This mama doesn’t like pie, except for pecan pie.
Victor Barocas’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Middle Schools”
The “middle schools” of the title are the abbreviated colleges and universities that appear in rebus squares in the midst of the answers to the starred clues. USC (University of Southern California, where my cousin Alison became an engineer) joins COUSCOUS and ETRUSCAN. NYU (New York University) is found in two two-word phrases, PONY UP and AGONY UNCLE. (Never heard of an “agony uncle,” but I like it!) MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where lots of puzzlers went) sits in UNCOMMITTED and SEMITIC. RIBCAGE and CLUB CAR have BC (Boston College). Tyler Hinman and Dave “Evad” Sullivan’s alma mater is RPI (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), and that’s hiding in MR. PIBB and AFTERPIECE. This brings us back to the top, where GW is in SONGWRITER and BIG WIG. I don’t know what “GW” is. Is it not missing a “U”?
Anyway, the answers that secrete the rebused schools are a lively bunch, and the phrase LEARNING CENTERS also appears in the puzzle to fill out the theme some more. (Not that it needed it.)
Donna Levin’s Los Angeles Times crossword
This theme makes me feel young! There are four puns on old game show titles, and I think the shows are all older than I am.
- 17a. [Game show about bribery at a checkpoint?] is SALE OF THE SENTRY. I don’t know what Sale of the Century is. It might not even be an especially old game show. It isn’t! But I missed all its incarnations.
- 27a. Queen for a Day is old, though, I’m sure. [Game show about an Algerian governor's search for his spouse?] turns it into QUEEN FOR A DEY, and we get one of those Middle Eastern/North African ruler crosswordese words to boot. Don’t forget that both BEY and DEY are words along the lines of AGA/AGHA, EMIR/AMIR/EMEER/AMEER, and PASHA. I have a soft spot for PASHA, personally.
- 48a. [Game show in which "Stuttering pig" might be a clue?] clues NAME THAT TOON (Name That Tune). That show was still on when I was a kid and boy, it’d be hard to find a game show I am less suited for than that one.
- 63a. [Game show in which couples confess indiscretions?] turns To Tell the Truth into TWO TELL THE TRUTH. A.k.a. The Newlywed Game or more recent lie-detector shows in which one spouse reveals horrible things. Man, those all tread dangerous ground.
Oftentimes, what I like best about a Donna Levin puzzle isn’t the theme, it’s the way she clues ordinary words. (Granted, some of the clues may be editor Rich Norris’s work. But I’m pretty sure Donna’s got a strong cluing style that emerges from the other end of the editing process.) To wit:
- 23a. [Paragon of redness] is a BEET. “Wow, Beet, you are so incredibly red! You’re the very epitome of what redness should be!”
- 33a. SIAM is clued as a [One-time neighbor of French Indochina]. French Indochina is now Vietnam, Siam is now Thailand.
- 37a. [Arabic is one of its two official langs.] is an interesting and semi-surprising clue for ISR., or Israel.
- 68a. [Mobile one of song] is a really playful opera clue for DONNA, as in the aria “La donna è mobile.” I grew up with a LaDonna Bugg in the neighborhood. Apparently she changed her name when she got married, but unfortunately she’s not LaDonna E. Mobile.
- 30d. [Bonnie Blue's daddy] is RHETT. Butler, I presume?
- 40d. [Points of initial progress] is a straightforward clue, btu TOEHOLDS is a great answer.
- 47d. ATE CROW is great fill, too.
- 52d, 54d. [Out] works twice as hard to clue both DATED (as in “out of style”) and LOOSE (as in “out of the cage”).
In all fairness, there are also some stinkers in the fill. I’m looking at you, SUS- and -IANS and DEO. And you’re not off the hook either, stale repeaters—ECRU, HRE, ARI, IPSE, ENOS, ALTE, APSE, ELYSE, ETNA, and ARLO. But to Donna’s credit, instead of making frowny faces when I hit those entries, I blithely skipped past them because I was enjoying so many of the other clues.
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Don’t Forget to Set Your Clock”—Janie’s review
Just like yesterday, we’ve a calendar-related theme. The title reminds us that tomorrow night we “spring forward.” Daylight hours are comin’ back—yay! We may lose an hour of sleep (for one night), but this event is one of my faves of the whole year. No joke. And how does Randy mark the occasion? With an elegant anagram puzzle. It all gets spelled out at 64-Across, where [Daylight saving adjustment (and a hint to the starts of 17-, 24-, 39- and 51-Across)] clues TIME CHANGE. And what will you do when you encounter those clues? Why, change the letters in the word time to arrive at the appropriate response. This-a way:
- 17A. MITER JOINT [Frame job]. As in picture frame.
- 24A. “I’M TELLING!” [What little brother might say to big brother after getting beaten up]. Familiar familial scenario, no?
- 39A. ITEM ON THE AGENDA [Bullet at a board of directors meeting, perhaps]. No deadly munitions at this meeting, thank you very much.
- 51A. EMITTANCE [Ability to give off radiant energy]. Say wha’? Yep. M-W confirms it, but you might want to check out that “emissivity” link, too, which is a little closer to the sense of Randy’s clue.
Now my first reaction to all of these except “I’m telling!” was not particularly enthusiastic. I enjoyed the clues more than the fill. But then, when the “aha” finally occurred, and all the parts came together, I had to smile. And again, just about anything that celebrates daylight saving time will do that for me. If the fill is “more functional than fun” on its surface, it still makes for a solid theme set and with 64A. to pull it all together, a pleasurable solve.
Just like yesterday, too, but not in nearly so pleasing a way, we see “NO, SIR” in the grid and also (though it was in its singular form yesterday) MARTINIS. Those martinis do tie in well, though with BESOT [Make drunk as a skunk], MAI TAI [Curaçao cocktail] and [Where you might see a White Russian and a Blue Latvian] BAR TAB.
Clearly Randy aims to keep MORALE [Group spirit] up, including such word-playful clue/fill combos (that do tend to RIB [Poke fun at] the too serious solver) as:
- [Sundance's favorite Place?]/ETTA
- [Line of clothing?]/SEAM
- [Watchdog org?]/ASPCA and
- [Full moon display?]/REAR.
Ken Bessette’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Find Out”
Hah! This puzzle has the same title and theme concept as a recent syndicated Sunday LA Times puzzle. “Find Out” means “F in, D out,” and each theme entry has changed an F to a D. Both puzzles have a STAY-AT-HOME FAD and a FOG->DOG play, but are otherwise distinct. (This is one of those times when two constructors independently have the same idea—letter-swap themes are nothing radical, so it’s not surprising—and their puzzles are published in different venues.) I like some of Bessette’s theme answers better than the set in that LAT puzzle, while the others are comparably “eh”:
- 27a. [Bay Area warning sign?] immediately made me think of the tsunami warning/advisory in effect right now, but of course the theme entry has nothing to do with that: BEWARE OF THE FOG (dog).
- 43a. I wish ALL-NITE FINER (diner) were spelled all-night.
- 57a. [Telecommuting, these days?] is a terrific clue for STAY-AT-HOME FAD (dad). The LAT clue was [Craze for some moms?], which I found disappointing.
- 65a. ROLL OVER AND PLAY DEAF (dead) is funny, with its [Pretend you don't hear the alarm clock?] clue.
- 74a. [Something that might help a husband see more clearly?] clues WIFE (wide) ANGLE LENS. Well, that doesn’t make much sense at all.
- 91a. [Doing nothing but eating pasta?] is an easy clue for CARBO LOAFING (loading).
- 105a. Saving the best for last, we have the fabled LOST CITY OF GOLF (gold), [El Dorado Country Club?].
- LISA BONET and DAVE GROHL, “SURE CAN!,” GO POSTAL, LADY DAY (93d: [March 25, in the Christian calendar]).