You don’t mind if a crossword constructor toys with the symmetry rules on occasion, do you? I don’t. Patrick Blindauer‘s posted a new puzzle, “Campfire Meeting,” on his website. I just did it and loved the never-before-seen theme.
Mark Diehl’s New York Times crossword
All righty, it’s still April 1 but the puzzles coming out now are dated April 2. No more pranks! Mark Diehl’s puzzle is just a straight-up themeless. The two 15-letter answers that pass through the middle almost make a mini-theme:
- 34a. THE CARDIFF GIANT is a famous hoax. You can get the gist of the story here.
- 7d. What would you say if presented with something purporting to be a 10-foot-tall petrified man? “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”
Those play together well. What else have we got in this 68-worder? Someone on the NYT applet who often outsolves me took more than twice as long as me, so presumably there are some highly vexing spots in this puzzle. Did you hit the skids somewhere? I found this one a smidgen easier than the typical Saturday NYT, so I’m not sure where the quicksand is. Surely it doesn’t help that a lot of us looked at 1a: [Start of a dogwatch] and moved on to a more promising clue to start with. I needed lots of crossings to piece together that FOUR P.M.
- 7a. The Katharine Hepburn movie ADAM’S RIB. I’ve never seen it.
- 16a. You don’t much encounter the colorful old word RAKEHELL these days. It means [Libertine], rake, or roue. I suppose it’s not clued as an archaic word because libertine captures that vibe too.
- 25a. BIKED is clued as [Competed in the Giro d'Italia]. My husband’s a cycling fan so that’s where I learned this one.
- 33a. Had a wrong answer at 25d (BLOWN like desert sand rather than BEIGE), so I had trouble guessing which is the [Animal whose tongue is long enough to clean its eyelids and ears]. Aww, man! OKAPI, why you gotta be so gross?
- 42a. EAST OF EDEN, a [Steinbeck novel]. Nice.
- 61a. Hey, look! I got a baseball answer. [Not home yet] clues ON BASE. Of course, I needed plenty of crossings for—
- 1d. The colorful term FUNGO BAT. Figured the [Pop-up generator] would be an online ad thing.
- 3d. A U.S. MARINE is called a [Devil dog].
- 24d. [Kilroy, e.g.] is a famous DOODLE, the “Kilroy was here” nose hanging over a wall.
- 56d. Yay, Pee-wee Herman! REBA, ["Pee-wee's Playhouse" mail lady], was played by S. Epatha Merkerson in her pre-Law & Order days. “Larry” Fishburne played Cowboy Curtis, and Phil Hartman was Captain Carl. I wonder if Merkerson and Fishburne hanker to do more goofball comedy.
If I had to identify an overarching theme for this puzzle, it would be EE. There are 11 double-E’s in this greed! I mean, grid. Eek, that’s a lot more than wee usually see.
- 49a. [Wallis and Futuna] is a mighty obscure geographical clue for ILES. Those don’t sound French at all! The Wallis and Futuna Islands are a French territory near Fiji. I very nearly had myself convinced that there was a British writer named Ian Wallis and a Samoan wrestler named Ian Futuna. It’s a shame these islands aren’t better known to American crossworders—they include kingdom districts and capitals called Uvea, Mu’a, Alo, and Mala’e. So many vowels!
Alan Olschwang’s Los Angeles Times crossword
This 72-worder has three 15-letter answers running in the Across direction, and I like to think that even though this is a themeless puzzle, those three answers constitute a theme:
- 17a. [Where few people live] is the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. Wouldn’t want to run out of gas there.
- 36a. [Debugging aid?] clues INSECT REPELLENT. Wouldn’t want to run out of that when your car’s out of gas in the middle of nowhere.
- 60a. [Pick wielder] clues the DENTAL HYGIENIST scraping away your plaque and tartar. If you’ve got dental anxiety, this clue scares you more than being lost in the middle of nowhere, pierced by mosquitoes. Me, I love my hygienist. I’ve been seeing Anita for years.
The fourth 15 is 7d: [2008 Adam Brooks romantic comedy], DEFINITELY MAYBE. I misread the clue as being about Adam Sandler. Good gravy, who the heck is Adam Brooks, and what is this movie? Ryan Reynolds, Rachel Weisz, plot that doesn’t sound remotely familiar. It grossed $32 million, so not a blockbuster. Might’ve liked this one clued better as a wishy-washy way of not committing to something verbally.
Today is the day of “What the…? I have no idea what 1-Across is.” [Island where florins are spent] turned out to be ARUBA.
- 10d. WAH is blah, but when you say it’s part of ["Do __ Diddy Diddy": 1964 hit], it gets a lot more fun. Here’s an old black-and-white video. I’m surprised that the whole “put the lead singer up high on a platform with maracas” bit didn’t get more traction.
- 26d. How do you get your [Kicks], your JOLLIES?
- 38d. [Colombo's country] is SRI LANKA. Not to be confused with Columbo’s country, which is Trenchcoat Kingdom.
Huh. That’s a rather short list of highlights. The 15s constrained the rest of the fill, leading to more than the usual Saturday quotient of this sort of stuff:
- 22a. [Rural pro] = rural “for” = FER.
- 42a. [Bordeaux bottom] clues the French word CUL. Oh, dear. I had the feeling this was more obscene than a mere derriere, and when I went to google.fr to Google cul…oh, dear. I’m not fluent in French but it wasn’t difficult to tell that the entire first page of hits were for porn. Perhaps it’s best if the newspaper crossword sticks with [__-de-sac], eh?
- 52a. [Jai alai ball] is the PELOTA, and the basket for throwing and catching the pelota is the cesta. I don’t know about you, but I know these things exclusively from crosswords.
- 63a. [Three-time '80s speed skating gold medalist Karin] ENKE isn’t really famous, is she? Nope, don’t recall her at all. She skated for East Germany and was dominant in the ’80s. Bonnie Blair beat her in ’88 and proceeded to win a bunch of other gold medals in ’92 and 94. Enke won golds in ’80 and ’84 but dropped to bronze and silver in ’88, when the Bonnie Blair era began. Which is to say: ENKE does not make for great fill, does it? Plus, this whole row is ugly. ENKE ERBE NO-SEE partial? The question mark in [Um preceder?] doesn’t endear me to NOSEE.
- 1d. [Lawyer's suit?] wants to be a playful clue for ARMANI—suit of clothes, lawsuit, hoo boy—but there’s nothing at all lawyer-specific about the Armani label.
- 40d. [You'll be busted if you use it] clues LAST CENT. I’m not sure that rises to the level of crossword-worthy language. “Down to your last cent” is colorful, but the dangling LAST CENT feels awkward.
32 answers, almost half the grid, have 3 or 4 letters. That doesn’t make for a fun themeless experience, does it?
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Dime Store”—Janie’s review
(Looking for today’s CS? You’ll find it here.)
“Dime Store”! What a memory-stirring phrase that is. Is there anywhere in North America where one can still find a 5¢ and 10¢ store? Apparently North Conway, NH, can still make that claim to fame. I worked there doing non-Equity summer stock in the early–mid-’70s, but recall that building only vaguely. The good news is that this means a guy might find his “million dollar baby” there. Til then, he, like the rest of us, will have to content ourselves with the store (collection) of dimes to be unearthed in Martin’s embedded word puzzle. You’ll find ‘em in:
- 17A. SEDIMENTARY ROCK [Sandstone, e.g.]. (I wasn’t kidding when I said the dimes would have to be “unearthed”…)
- 36A. YEHUDI MENUHIN [Isaac Stern contemporary]. I do prefer it when the embedded word spans the theme-phrase words (or names, in this case). He didn’t only play long-hair music, btw, but enjoyed the “American songbook” composers and “world music” as well, notably playing and recording with Ravi Shankar.
- 59A. FOURTH DIMENSION [Time, to a physicist]. Do you know the little book Einstein’s Dreams? It’s by Alan Lightman (really) and imagines 30 ways of looking at a dream Einstein had about “time.” Worth a look.
Today’s bonus fill? Since the puzzle’s theme is numismatically skewed, I’d make that out to be ONE LIRA [Denomination no longer minted in Italy]. It’s value? Oh, about 5¢ (or half a dime…).
Other non-theme-fill highlights? Today, that’d take into account IMPERIAL [Regal], the adjacent NOT A SOUL [Nobody at all], the talky “BE A DEAR” ["Help me out, honey"] and “YES, YOU” [Response to "Who, me?"], and (probably more for its clue) TOENAIL [Little piggy's tip].
Speaking of clues, there are some other goodies that should be mentioned. Like the way [Sow chow] for SWILL follows the aforementioned [Little piggy's tip]. And [Shell movers] clues OARS. Saw those four squares and thought, “How’s he gonna get CARNY SCAMMERS in there?” Nope. These are the shells in question. Another goodie? [Dairy outlet?] for UDDER, which really did make me laugh out loud.
And on that high note, dear readers, I conclude blogging this week’s CS puzzles—and my tenure blogging the CS puzzles. It’s been two years almost to the day—and lemme tell ya: time flies when yer havin’ fun! I’ll share with you what I said to Bob Klahn (whose baby CS is), and that’s that I’ve learned tons in the process and have come to think of the CS constructors as “mine.” Simply put, they’re some of the very best in the biz; any “criticism” I’ve expressed—confusion or disappointment I’ve admitted to—has always come from a place of deep appreciation for the challenges they face. After two years, however, I think a change will be welcomed by all!
So, take it away, Sam. Know your great style, humor and sharp insights will be a great match for CS team. Dave—thanks for being my partner-in-crime these last several months (picking up Amy’s Sunday CS gig and adding Monday and Tuesday). Amy—thanks for the use of the house; thanks even more for having created this terrific site and for the way you nurture/focus this particularly smart, funny, generous community of solvers. Sure do love the crossword world—and, as a substitute blogger here and commenter here and elsewhere, will see y’all ’round the board(s)! In the “words” of Dinah Shore: “MUAH!”
Stan Newman’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” (under the Lester Ruff nom de mots croisés)
Les Ruff = “less rough” in Newmanspeak, but this puzzle wasn’t really all that easy, if you ask me. No, it’s not the hardest of the week, but it was still harder for me than today’s NYT.
This 72-worder has 24 3- and 4-letter answers, a dozen 5′s, 28 7′s, and quartets of 6′s and 8s. The density of 7′s generally means fill that isn’t particularly zippy, though Stan tries to keep it lively:
- 1a. “THAT’S IT!” ["Perfect!"]. (30a: “BINGO!”)
- 15a. A.A. MILNE is a [Big name in kiddie lit].
- 58a. “SO SUE ME.” ["Tough!"].
- 3d. “AMSCRAY!” That’s a [Curt dismissal]. Slightly less curt than “Scram!”
Here’s a rundown of some other clues and answers:
- 17a. I figured ["A Place for Friends"] would be something Quaker-related. MYSPACE? Whoa. When’s the last time you heard someone mention Myspace? How about if it wasn’t about music? I think it’s been a few years for me.
- 27a. [Net payment] means internet payment, not net vs. gross. E-CASH…hmm, people don’t bandy that term around much either. This puzzle has a bit of a 2005 vibe.
- 31a. [Opaque clouds, to meteorologists], are SKY COVER. I’ve never encountered this term.
- 43a. ['80s world leader, in headlines] is GORBY, short for Gorbachev. This predates Myspace.
- 44a. [Side-dish center] clues a COB surrounded by corn.
- 50a. TOM, as in the “Tom, Tom, the piper’s son, / Stole a pig and away did run” nursery rhyme, is your [Poem's porcine purloiner].
- 54a. [Frat letter] is OMICRON this time. Slowed myself down my jumping on the -ON ending with *PSILON.
- 61a. SNOWDON is the [Eminent British photographer] here.
- 2d. [Forage storage] is a rhyming clue for the rustic HAY RACK. Have you got a barn? I don’t.
- 7d. On the golf course, TEE TIMES are [Starter's assignments].
- 9d. Went the wrong way with [Former Dow Jones Industrial]. It’s not ENRON, it’s EXXON.
- 12d. [Certain Grammy nominee] clues a RAP SONG. Had RAP STAR first.
- 13d. [Hamlet's cousin] dupes me every time! This is the third time I’ve thought about Shakespeare characters before figuring out that a VILLAGE is like a hamlet.
- 14d. EMERSON is the ["Hitch your wagon to a star" source]. I leaned on the crossings.
- 37d. [Kings notable] is the bible’s SOLOMON and not someone from the Los Angeles Kings hockey team.
- 40d. YEAR-END is a big [Holiday party time].
- 44d. CLONES? [They may be beside themselves]. If you’re not a clone, you can’t sit beside another copy of yourself.
- 52d. NERO is clued as [Pliny the Elder's "enemy of mankind"]. Oh, snap!
Patrick Berry’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “Riding the Waves”
Seems like this sort of variety crossword has a little less surprise in where the answers go. Sure, you don’t know exactly where the middle answers in each row and zig-zag wave go until you have some crossings, but the clues at the beginning and end give you a lot of toeholds in the grid. And the fill, I thought, had less in the way of “Ooh! Ni-i-ice!” answers. In fact, there was one thing I had to Google. [His puppet Emu famously attacked TV host Michael Parkinson (2 wds.)] clues ROD HULL, whom I’ve never heard of. Mind you, I would have had all the letters from the crossings if I hadn’t blanked on the [Lettuce-based dish generally served as a main course]. CHEF’S SALAD is not something I have ever wished to order, so it vanished from my mind as a C*E*S SALAD. Now, it was rather late last night when I worked on this puzzle.
So apparently Rod Hull and Emu appeared on the ’70s American kids’ Saturday morning show, The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show. I watched that, but I sure don’t recall the name Rod Hull! I may or may not remember Emu. Maybe you do—here’s a video.