Natan Last’s New York Times crossword
Whoo, great crossword! Look at all those wild entries in there. Let me share my Top Ten List:
- 57a. “SOME PEOPLE! Pfft!”
- 11d. I might’ve thought that Trump’s “YOU’RE FIRED” was played out, but then the bizarrely coiffed man inserted himself into the national conversation this spring. Shame he couldn’t enjoy the jokes at the White House Correspondents dinner. Some wags have given Trump a slogan: “We Shall Overcomb.”
- 31a. Love the word SKIRMISH.
- 32d. Apu’s KWIK-E-MART is not, I do not believe, an e-tailer.
- 15a. SENIORITIS is a cute entry for a young constructor to use. You hardly even notice that it’s all vowels and super-common consonants.
- 61a. “I’ll take Kickass Women in History for $800, Alex.” Muckraker IDA TARBELL was the [Exposer of Standard Oil during the Progressive era].
- 27d. Don’t know my Miles Davis, alas, but KIND OF BLUE makes for an interesting phrase. Wait, let me guess: This is his album about the Navy? And he likes his album titles to read like clunky crossword clues?
- 50d. ADELE! I’m one of those moms who often lets the kid listen to top-40 radio in the car. And that is how I was introduced to this [One-named singer with the 2010 hit “Rolling in the Deep”]. The song came out at the end of the year, and it’s still a hit in May 2011. Adele is a 21-year-old British singer who sounds like a far more seasoned American folk/country rocker (at least on this song). Here’s the official video of “Rolling in the Deep.” Go watch it. You’ll like it. Really.
- 51a. TIMBUKTU is a smallish town in Mali that had its heyday back in the 1500s. It’s also become shorthand for [Nowheresville].
- The alphabet party takes 10th place: B-SIDE, A AVERAGES, G-SEVEN, K-TEL.
There’s a good bit of blah short fill in there, but I was so captivated by the fun big answers, it didn’t bug me.
Easy puzzle for a Friday. If I’d had quicker reflexes for clicking the applet’s “Done” button, I would’ve just cracked the four-minute mark, which is a rarity for me on a Friday NYT.
An enthusiastic four stars.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Day of Cerveza”
Today (the Thursday when I’m writing this) is Cinco de Mayo, that one special day when everyone in Mexico chugs a fifth of mayonnaise. What? Is that not right? “Fifth of May,” you say? Well, all right, then.
Ben’s theme takes a Mexican beer, DOS EQUIS, as the inspiration for his theme. Dos Equis is Spanish for “two X’s,” and each of the theme entries has a pair of X’s:
- 18a. [A Fun Dip alternative] in the category of “candies made of an acidic, sugary powder” is PIXY STIX. Mmm, the orange Pixy Stix are the best. As for Fun Dip, I prefer the dipping stick to the candy powders.
- 23a. [Certain tryst] can be EXTRAMARITAL SEX.
- 34a. [Commemoration of a 19th century Mexican military victory] is what CINCO DE MAYO is all about. That, and tequila and cerveza.
- 49a. The boring part of the theme is [Idiom], or FIXED EXPRESSION.
- 54a. [Popular choice for 34-Across, and things found in 18-, 23-, and 49-Across] clues DOS EQUIS.
Who doesn’t like a theme that peppers the grid with X’s when it’s not busy sneaking a Q in there?
Among the non-U.S. content:
- 1a. AREPAS are [Venezuelan treats]. I’ve never had one.
- 16a. BAO [___ Dai (exiled Vietnamese emperor)] is less tasty than the steamed buns offered by the Wow Bao carryout chain.
- 39a. [People of eastern Siberia] are the YAKUT. In related news, the capital of Yakutia is Yakutsk, and the region is the world’s coldest inhabited one. Siberia! Brr.
- 55d. [Dynasty that unified China] clues QIN. “Pardon me, but you’ve got some melted qeese on your qin.”
Three and a half stars.
Gareth Bain’s Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, “All the President’s Men” — pannonica’s review
Namesakes on a (gridded) plane! The five vertical themers in this puzzle consist of people whose first and middle names are the same as the fist and last names of US presidents, though as far as I can tell, only one is a familial descendant of his nominal forebear. I checked the dates of birth and death of all the relevant parties; it seems likely that the appellations are more than coincidental.
- 4d. CHESTER ARTHUR [__ Burnett, bluesman better known as Howlin’ Wolf] was the 21st president and lived from 1829–1866. The Wolf’s dates are 1910–1976. Factette: the other pillar of Chicago blues, Muddy Waters, was born McKinley Morganfield: another presidential moniker?
- 6d. GEORGE WASHINGTON [__ Carver, botanist who discovered many uses for peanuts], the first president, lived from 1732–1799. Carver (1864–1943), whom I suspect is the only full name of the bunch that solvers will know immediately, was so much more than “that peanut guy,” but we’re taught the dumbed-down version in school. This entry required the puzzle to pull a long face and stretch to 16 rows.
- 9d. JAMES BUCHANAN [__ Eads, engineer who built the world’s first steel-truss bridge], POTUS no. 15, lived from 1791–1868. Eads (1820–1887) was named for his mother’s cousin, who was already in politics at the time of Eads’ birth.
- 20d. ANDREW JACKSON [__ Downing, landscape architect who designed the White House grounds], POTUS no. 7, lived from 1767–1845. Downing (1815–1852) was apparently an influence on 19th-century superstars Calvert, Vaux, and Olmsted.
- 22d. WOODROW WILSON [__ Guthrie, folk singer who wrote “Bound for Glory”], POTUS no. 28, lived from 1856–1924. For what it’s worth, Guthrie (1912–1967) wrote a song called “Christ for President,” which wasn’t recorded until long after his death.
It’s quite a feat getting five very long theme entries into a grid, especially since the surrounding fill doesn’t suffer too badly at their expense. Here’s the rogues gallery (RG? RoGa?) of abbrevs. and partials: SI UNIT, GPO, AMA, SHO, FDIC, FBI, TV-PG, AES, AH YES, BE NOT.
Considering the theme, I kind of wished the awkward 64a LINAGE [Editor’s concern] had been “lineage,” but such a seemingly minor alteration would undoubtedly have resulted in huge construction headaches. Bain betrays his scientific background in several answers and clues, including the aforementioned SI UNITS (Système international d’unités; both watts and volts are derived—as opposed to base—units; another echo of the theme?) and 59d WATER [What carbon dioxide reacts with to form carbonic acid].
- The toughest clue for me was 1d, [Naval yards, e.g.] yielding SPARS. A question mark might have been better than e.g. because here yards are not boat bays but beamlike structures on the vessels themselves. After I understood the clue, it became my favorite. I’m always entertained by the rhyme of John O’HARA (10d) and his book Appointment in Samarra (he also wrote BUtterfield 8 and Pal Joey). Perhaps O’Hara’s inclusion guided constructor and editor to clue 74a ONAN as the biblical figure rather than the contemporary literary author Stewart O’Nan, which might be more in line with that Higher Education™ vibe? 14d ABBIE Hoffman: who can not smile when encountering the word Yippies? …And back to O’Haraland: I was wowed by the stacked FJORD/BAHAI/IMAMS in the NE corner.
- 73a. This clue [Ethan Frome’s sickly wife] for ZEENA helped me not a whit and I would have been better served by a reference to avant-Downtown harpist Zeena Parkins, but I suspect I am once again in the minority.
- 57d. [Golden Age of Radio detergent brand] RINSO is the wayward crossword cousin of Ipana and Amana.
Finally, the title of the puzzle seemed somehow off, and I feel “Hail to the Chiefs” might have been a better candidate, but I won’t be demanding a recount.
addendum: Gareth asked me to include this information in the write-up:
“A lot of the credit for this puzzle should go to Patrick Berry. The theme was originally conceived when I learned Woody Guthrie was named for Wilson and wondered who else was named after presidents… only got as far as George Washington Carver on my own, but trawling MGs database and the internets added Eads, Muddy Waters [sic], and some baseballer called Grover Cleveland Alexander. These could only be arranged into a 13/16/13, so I sat on it for a month before finally sending it to Patrick Berry. He shot back, probably just from his head, the current 5-part theme and the awesome grid you’re looking at for me to fill.
Peter Koetters’ Los Angeles Times crossword
I don’t think there’s any particular phonetic basis to this theme, just a letter change—four phrases with a double-D morph into phrases with a double-Z instead. If the DD’s were TH’s, you could argue that the theme was playing on some French speakers’ difficulty with the “the” sound, which can come out as “ze.” Here are the theme answers:
- 17a. [Moving like a dog in a narrow tube?] clues MUZZLING THROUGH. Not sure what the image is here. A dog wearing a muzzle, muddling through a pipe?
- 27a. [Dud sparklers?] could be FIZZLE-STICKS. Who doesn’t appreciate a play on the exclamation “Fiddlesticks!”?
- 41a. [One solving several crosswords simultaneously?] is a PUZZLE JUMPER, hopping from grid to grid. Let’s have an exhibition at Lollapuzzoola 4 of a hotshot solver working three puzzles at once. In Games World of Puzzles, Frank Longo makes those Siamese Twins puzzles—two identical grids, each seeded with one answer, and a combined clue list. Siamese Twins or Triplets, with tough clues? Those could break even Dan Feyers’ brain.
- 50a. [Brilliant bees?] are BUZZING GENIUSES. Bees, they’re really quite clever.
While the theme may not have a purposeful rationale behind it, it definitely brings the zed action. Theme crossers include ADZ, LIZ, OZARK, OZMA, OOZE, DOZE, BEZEL, and PIAZZA. I like that OOZE/DOZE couple.
The fill is also notable for ADDIS ABABA—breaking out of its usual crossword fill-in-the-blank action by having both words in the grid—and a GIANT PANDA. And JUBILEE! A fun word.
There’s a fair amount of crosswordese-type stuff: LOGE, ATRA, AGAR, ESSENE, UAR—but overall it didn’t slow me down the way the two previous LATs did this week. The Wednesday and Thursday puzzles both would’ve been at home on Friday!
Though the puZZle wasn’t so tough, it still felt like the cluing vibe was eluding me, perhaps because the constructor’s a new one and I haven’t had a chance to become familiar with his clue-writing style. For example:
- 47a. SORBETS are a [Häagen-Dazs array]. I was trapped in the land of cones and scoops.
- 5d. [One holding property in trust] is a BAILEE. OK, that’s not a factor of cluing style. It’s just an unfamiliar word.
- 7d. [Traveling companions?] are your BAGS. Cute.
- 10d. [Cache crop?] clues ACORNS, which a squirrel may cache away in the fall.
- 18d. [Rank and file movers] clues ROOKS. Chess…not sure why.
- 31d. [Blow one’s top] clues GO APE, not ERUPT.
Three and a half stars.
Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post Crossword, “Word Series” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Greetings from the home of the Kansas City Royals! (For those who aren’t baseball fans, that would be Kansas City.) Even though I live in a competing American League city (making me an AL-ER), I have a soft spot for the Royals. I like a team whose motto is, “There’s always four years from now.” Today’s puzzle, coincidentally, has a baseball theme. It features three theme entries that start with progressively better baseball hits:
- 17-Across: The [Hotel room specification] is SINGLE OCCUPANCY. (A single is a hit that allows the batter-turned-baserunner to reach first base.) My hotel room here in Kansas City features free wifi, which should be a Constitutional right.
- 39-Across: The [Common follow-up wager] is DOUBLE OR NOTHING. I always seem to be on the losing end of that proposition.
- 60-Across: The [Decadent dessert option] is TRIPLE LAYER CAKE. I think it says something about me that I could plunk down this answer into the grid without any crossings. Sure, I had cottoned to the theme by that point so I knew it started with “triple,” but I’m thinking only dessert die-hards like me will get this one so readily.
For some reason, we get to third base but no further. Just like prom. And, just like prom, I learned a few new things. I have seen the word OCARINA before, but I didn’t know it was the [Egg-shaped cousin of the flute]. The [Greaser rival in the novel “The Outsiders”], SOC, is also new. Given these two terms crossed, my time felt a little slow. (I solved this puzzle at 34,000 feet on my way to Kansas City, so I didn’t keep the exact time.) GAUSS, the [Unit of magnetic induction], is, I’m sure, a gimme for the physicists among us, but those history and political science majors among us (I’m raising my hand) may have had to tread slowly here.
I didn’t mind these unknowns (I kind of like it when puzzles show me how much I have yet to learn), and the rest of the solve was smooth sailing. The paired seven-letter entries in each corner makes for a nice alternative to the usual format for themed puzzles (three Across entries in the top row). I also like how CHITA RIVERA, the [Anita portrayer in the original “West Side Story” on Broadway] touches all three theme entries. If only she played baseball!
In honor of today’s theme, here’s One! Two! Three! things I liked in the old crossword:
- [Life mate?] is a terrific clue for LIMB. One risks life and limb to travel anywhere these days, it seems.
- I like how two clues begin with the same three words: the [Lee who created Spider-Man] is STAN Lee, and the [Lee who created Boo Radley] is HARPER Lee.
- [Clicks a “thumbs up” button, nowadays] as a clue for LIKES? Sam Donaldson likes this.
Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Corporate Restructuring”
Mike’s “Maryanne Lemot” pen name is an anagram of “not my real name.” Likewise, each theme entry is an anagram of the company name provided in its clue:
- 23a. [WELLS FARGO opens country clubs catering to attorneys?] = LAW GOLFERS.
- 25a. [WALT DISNEY publishes a tabloid for amphibians?] = DAILY NEWTS. Cute!
- 37a. [MORGAN STANLEY begins mining copper and gold?] = NON-GRAY METALS. “NON-GRAY” is pretty dull.
- 58a. [CATERPILLAR conducts fish censuses?] = CARP TALLIER. “TALLIER”? Nobody uses that as a word, do they?
- 73a. [DOW CHEMICAL supplies hospital meals?] = MEDICAL CHOW. Scary!
- 88a. [GENERAL MOTORS manufactures lawn ornaments for home sellers?] = REALTOR GNOMES. GNOME REALTORS would be funnier.
- 107a. [TIME WARNER takes on autograph-forging work?] = NAME WRITER.
- 109a. [MASTERCARD builds luxury buggies?] = DREAM CARTS.
The place I started this puzzle is where I ended—in the 1-Across corner. 3d: [“Beau Geste” novelist]?? P.C. WREN?? That doesn’t ring a bell at all. And the INCA clue, 19a: [Land of the Four Quarters native], slowed me down too, having never encountered the term “Land of the Four Quarters.” And then I was half-parsing it as land of “the Four Quarters native” and wondering if it was IOWA, though the N seemed solid.
35a: “DO I WORRY?” also slowed me down. [“You think it’ll bother me?”] is the clue. I don’t at all understand the context in which someone would say DO I WORRY.
- The 8×3 bricks at the sides, featuring SCOTSMEN/PANATELA/USA TODAY (the PANATELA cigar is a [Smoke shop choice]) and the lovely JUICEBOX/AREA CODE/BAR STOOL combo.
- 74d. [Gala holder] is a tough clue for APPLE TREE. Kept me guessing until I had so many crossings, I could no longer be confused. I like clues that do that and turn out to be so solid.
- 30a. “LOVE IT!” [“So adorable!”]
- 70a. [Pitching goals] are SALES. Yay! Not baseball and SAVES, but sales pitches.
- 83a. [Flat answer?] is a SPARE tire.
- 14d. RAY LIOTTA, [“Goodfellas” star].
- 48d. The BAR STOOL is a [Place for someone getting a shot] of whiskey.
- 71d. CEE-LO is clued as [Hip-hop star Green]. Ah, but he’s so much more than that. “Hip-hop star” suggests that he’s a rapper, but I love his singing voice and his melodies. Here’s “F#ck You” (you may need to log in to YouTube so they know you’re old enough for swear words).