Gareth Bain’s New York Times crossword
Were it not for a mistyped letter, I would have finished this puzzle in 2:59, which is almost unheard of for a Wednesday puzzle. (For me! There are a handful of solvers who routinely break the 3-minute mark on Wednesdays.) I sure didn’t know what the theme was until a good bit after that first 3 minutes, however—Tuesdayish finish, but a Wednesdayish (at minimum) grokking of the theme. DOUBLE-HEADERS means that the other four theme entries have two parts (that’s the DOUBLE) that can be followed by HEAD (so they’re “HEADERS”):
- 16a. THUNDER GOD: thunderhead, godhead.
- 24a. WAR BRIDES: warhead, Brideshead.
- 46a. STEEL DRUM: steelhead, drumhead.
- 57a. DEAD LETTER: Deadhead, letterhead.
Do you see the ironclad consistency? Each theme entry is a two-word phrase (no compound words or hyphenates here), and each one forms a single word ending with -head (no two-word phrases or hyphenates). That is rare. The closest thing to an inconsistency in this theme is that WAR BRIDES is plural. The -head words are an interesting bunch, too, aren’t they? All of those would make good entries in a themeless puzzle, as would the four theme answers. Four stars from me.
Patti Varol’s Los Angeles Times crossword
All right, this is super cute! Thirteen theme entries, all shorter than the pair of 8-letter answers in the fill and thus marked with asterisks so you can find ‘em all. All 13 are part of the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs family and all but one is clued without a hint of the theme:
- 1a. QUEEN is your ["Bohemian Rhapsody" group] and the villain in the tale.
- 6a, 48a. WALT / DISNEY combines [Poet Whitman] and [He won 26 Oscars, including an Academy Honorary Award (consisting of one full-sized and seven miniature statuettes) for the film depicted in this puzzle's starred answers]. I wonder if the constructor originally had DISNEY clued in relation to theme parks.
- 23a. First dwarf in the puzzle: BASHFUL, [Painfully shy].
- 26a. Dwarf 2, SNEEZY, [Tormented by pollen, say].
- 31a. GRUMPY means [Cross]. Dwarf 3.
- 40a. DOC, [Medico's address]. Dwarf 4.
- 44a. Dwarf 5, SLEEPY, [Like a quiet town].
- 52a. HEIGH-HO, the joyful heading-into-the-mines song the dwarfs sang. Do you think this country would have stricter mining safety regulations if this song hadn’t given us all the idea that mining was a fun job? Clue is [Cry of surprise]; that’s the biggest stretch in the entire theme, the rest of which is smooth.
- 68a, 69a. SNOW / WHITE is [Frosted flakes]—clever clue—and [Chess side].
- 13d. HAPPY, dwarf 6, [All smiles].
- 48d. The 7th and final dwarf, DOPEY, [Not very bright].
I like this theme because it’s such a departure from the usual sorts of midweek themes and because there’s a fun “aha” moment when you figure out everything relates to Snow White.
I see many other potential toon dwarfs in this grid. COFFEE, the jittery dwarf. REASON, the philosophizing dwarf. STAGE MOM, the one coaxing better performances during the whole “Heigh-Ho” production number. VITO, the Brandoesque dwarf. WAFFLE, the dwarf who changes political positions more rapidly than Newt Gingrich last month. FURY, the most choleric of the dwarfs.
Four stars for fun.
I think this is a debut for today’s LAT constructor. Google tells me that she works as Rich Norris’s assistant and she’s funny. Hope to see more of your puzzles, Patti!
Lynn Lempel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Gorillas in the Midst”—Sam Donaldson’s review
I’d like to say that a Lynn Lempel crossword is as smooth as a good scotch, but I don’t drink scotch. So I went hunting for the right simile using Google. When I typed “smooth as” into the search field, Google helpfully suggested terms like “smooth as a cat,” “smooth as silk,” and “smooth as eggs.” Only “smooth as silk” was familiar to me. Smooth as eggs? What?
“Smooth as a cat” also struck me as odd, so I started to type that one into the search field to learn more about it. No sooner did I add the “a” to the search field than a whole new set of suggestions appeared, including “smooth as a baby’s bottom,” “smooth as a Ken doll,” and “smooth as a milkmaid’s skin.” Who knew there were so many similes for smoothness? At least now I’m equipped to offer helpful insight. So here goes:
A Lynn Lempel crossword is as smooth as a Ken doll. Hmm, that didn’t come out right. Hopefully you get the point. Her work always looks effortless and almost never contains anything awkward. Today, Lempel finds words and phrases containing the consecutive letters A-P-E hiding somewhere near the middle (thus’ “gorilla” are “in the midst” of the theme answers):
- 17-Across: The [Staple of many a slapstick shtick] is a BANANA PEEL. I like that you can find an “ape” straddling the words in “banana peel.” If only lions ate radical ions and cows ate loco weeds.
- 26-Across: The [Argentinian who inspired a musical] is EVA PERON. It’s nice to see her full name in the grid, because most of the time you only get her first name. But I don’t cry for her, at her request.
- 40-Across: The [Home to the Aleutian Islands and Katmai National Park] is the ALASKA PENINSULA. Go figure, you can find an ape in the Alaska Peninsula. Only in crosswords. (And probably Wikipedia.)
- 52-Across: The [Capital on the Danube] is BUDAPEST. I hunger to visit Budapest someday.
- 63-Across: The [James Michener novel set in Maryland] is CHESAPEAKE. This Michener novel is unlike his others in that it spans about 400 years. (That’s sarcasm, folks. Poorly written, maybe, but sarcasm.)
I love the hidden word gimmick, but I’m a bit snobbish in that I like the theme entries in a hidden word puzzle to span two words. So to me, BUDAPEST and CHESAPEAKE are significantly less awesome as theme answers; after all, there’s lots of stuff with A-P-E in the middle, like TAPEWORM, GRAPEFRUIT, SKYSCRAPER, and PAPERWEIGHT (and even if you limit the choices to those where the “ape” is not pronounced like the monkey’s cousin, there’s still CHEAPENING, JALAPENO, and TRAPEZE, among others). And many of those other choices feel livelier.
Still, there’s some good stuff here too. I like NUDNIK, the [Pest], and SPLATTER, clued as [Dot with flying mud or paint], has that nice, onomatopoetic touch. And hey, there’s KEN, though this one is clued as [“Jeopardy!” champ Jennings].
[Grizzlies, Bulls, and Hawks] was a gimme clue for NBA TEAMS, but that’s because I grew up in Portland, Oregon, where the only major professional sports team was/is the Trail Blazers. And thanks to prior crossword experience, the intersection of ELGAR, the [“Pomp and Circumstance” composer] and AGEE, clued as [Depression-era writer James], posed little challenge. What did have me flummoxed briefly was NO SOAP, clued here as [“Fuhgeddaboudit”]. I see it has been used many times before in other crosswords (thanks, Cruciverb!) but I’m reasonably sure I’ve never heard it in any other arena. Is this a common expression on the east coast or in some other region?
Brendan Quigley’s Onion A.V. Club crossword
This puzzle was a delight—the theme entries tended to be funny (this is far too rare an occurrence in crosswords) and there were fresh and fun clues throughout the puzzle. The theme entries have an eavesdropping BUG planted in them, and that BUG is a MIC(rophone). Special K cereal becomes a SPECIAL MICK Jagger. The pole vault turns into a secure POLEMIC VAULT where political tracts are locked away. Actress Isla Fisher yields way to an ISLAMIC FISHER. e-Commerce transforms into the ambitious owl’s MICE COMMERCE. And a bathrobe slips off in the presence of a BATH MICROBE in the tub. An enthusiastic four stars, would be four and a half if there were a button for that.
Despite the abundance of 3-letter answers (I counted a whopping 37 of them), the puzzle didn’t feel like it was filled with junk. The clues go a long way here:
- 4a. Big quote from CHE Guevara lends flavor.
- 16a. [Space station that had a supply of vodka] is the Russian MIR. Did you know they drank vodka in space?
- 28d. NOM [__ de puzzle (crossword writer's pseudonym)] is good.
- 29a. Tai chi, mai tai, Tai Babilonia, tai the sea bream fish? No, let’s go with TAI the [Unhip "Clueless" girl], memorably portrayed by the late Brittany Murphy.
- 31a. State abbreviation? Bo-o-oring. Oh! But WIS. is [Gov. Walker's st.], much in the news of late.
- 35d. You won’t see this clue in the daily newspaper: TCB, “taking care of business,” is ["Getting shit done," initially].
Highlights beyond the theme:
- 15a. CLAIROL with a tricky “lock-changing” clue.
- 69a. SEXTET clued specifically, as [Iron Maiden, nowadays]. I have no idea how many members they had before.
- 3d. Long movie title, CARLITO’S WAY. Just featured in a Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest theme.
- 24d. CHEESE FRIES!
- 52d. The paintballer’s cry, “I’M HIT!”
Updated Wednesday evening:
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Flight Connection”
You need not race to another gate at the far end of the terminal for this “Flight Connection.” The repeatedly cross-referenced theme relates to paleontology:
- 20a. [What 38-Across filled, in 1861] is a GAP IN THE RECORD, the fossil record.
- 38a. The ARCHAEOPTERYX is the [57-Across between dinosaurs and birds, first unearthed 150 years ago].
- 57a. [Filler of a 20-Across, and what 38-Across is in this puzzle's clues] is THE MISSING LINK.
- Thirteen of the clues have a blank space (e.g., 24a: [Place for an i_is]—missing letter is R, and an iris’s place is the EYE). Taken together in order, the letters that belong in those 13 spaces spell out ARCHAEOPTERYX.
Certainly an unusual theme. I like having a puzzle within the puzzle, as we have here with the incomplete clues.
Six more clues:
- 18a. [Scottish area with many whisky distilleries] clues ISLAY, a place I’ve never heard of.
- 34a. [Fictional sketch comedy series with Tracy Jordan and Jenna Maroney] is “TGS” (“The Girlie Show”) on 30 Rock. As the story goes, “The Girlie Show” was Liz Lemon’s show starring her friend Jenna, but the network foisted movie comedy star Tracy Jordan on them. The show was renamed something like “TGS with Tracy Jordan.”
- 42a. [Intimate email signoff] is “MWAH,” a big kiss. Blurgh. I’ve never used that!
- 46a. [The "izn" in shiznit, e.g., to a linguist] is an INFIX, a formative element inserted into a word.
- 28d. [Feel a bit_, in a way] is missing an E. If you feel a mosquito bite, you ITCH.
- 55d. [Internal purge?] clues ENEMA. You see how the word’s pointing right up to the BUTT?