Paula Gamache’s New York Times crossword
Paula seems to be specializing in themeless puzzles without corners, with 11/13/15 stacks at the top and bottom. Why don’t more constructors use this sort of grid design? Is it an esthetic antipathy to the “cheater squares” look? I rather like how this design allows interesting 11s and 13s to get more play in themelesses.
- Pretty much everything in the stacks. GAME CHANGER is contemporary jargon. BITE THE BULLET has been around for ages. A CAST IRON STOMACH is probably a dangerous thing to have. NAPOLEON COMPLEX is brilliant. BORDER TERRIER would strike me as boring except for constructor/blogger/humorist Deb Amlen’s colorful tales of the exploits of her Very Spunky Border Terrier. (SAID A PRAYER, past tense? I could do without.)
- 37a. “SAME HERE” is one of those things people say but that never used to show up as a crossword answer.
- 37d. ["Psycho" feature] isn’t the shower, scariness, or anything at all from the Hitchcock movie. No, it’s the SILENT P that starts the word “psycho.” A first-letter-of-clue-is-capitalized mislead + a quote-marks-don’t-always-mean-a-title mislead = my favorite clue today.
- Well…nothing else in this puzzle really drew me in. Foreign-language MEINE, EINE, ETRE, ELA, OLE, ORA, ETE, KÖLN (that’s Cologne in English), and DEI use German, French, Latin, Italian, and Portuguese? Every time I look at the grid, another one pops out at me. Partial A FILE. Unfamiliar OLLIE, crosswordese name NALDI. Inflected words—BALANCER and STETTING? None of these things were fun.
Gareth Bain’s Los Angeles Times crossword
The theme redefines phrases that end with words that can also mean “a class or course”:
- 18a. Take that LUNAR MODULE as [Part of an astronomy degree?].
- 24a. You’d better pass the CUTTING CLASS if you want to finish [Part of a surgery degree?].
- 36a. That COLLISION COURSE is [Part of a physics degree?].
- 47a. [Part of an economics degree?]is the MONETARY UNIT.
- 55a. [Part of a theology degree?] clues GRACE PERIOD. This one stands out a little as not including a word I’d use when talking about a class. You might have science class in second period, but I wouldn’t call it “science period.” So I like four fifths of this theme.
I wonder if Gareth’s veterinary school classmates call a surgery unit CUTTING CLASS.
- 14a. [Calder Cup org.] is the AHL. Old hockey league? Lesser hockey league?
- 4a. [What some chambers hold] in a gun is AMMO.
- 20a. [All of us, to Bugs] clues DOCS. I call foul. Bugs Bunny hasn’t met me, so it’s impossible to say whether he’d call me “Doc.”
- 29a. [Shot target] clues the FLU. I was thinking of the ARM the syringe is aimed at rather than the disease the syringe’s contents is supposed to built immunity against.
- 58a. [Code word for "N" in the old U.S. Phonetic Alphabet] clues NAN. I know nan the bread, Nan Talese, Nan the Bobbsey Twin; I know not NAN the phonetic alphabet member.
- 59a. Dan [Rather, once] was a news ANCHOR.
- 64a. Nice long trivia clue for REO: [The car in Thurber's 1933 story "The Car We Had to Push"].
- 1d. [Repeated cacophonic sound?] was hard to get when I had NHL at 14a. *NRDC?? Nope, HARD C in the word “cacophonic.”
- 11d. [Type of poker?] is a horse rider’s SPUR.
- 19d. [Bit of kindness from a bank] is a RELOAN. That’s a word?
- 29d. [Clementine's dad, for one] was a FORTY-NINER in the old song. I had “Oh, Susanna” and banjo playing on my mind by mistake.
Is it just me being tired tonight, or is this puzzle surprisingly challenging? I’ve had Saturday NYTs that I’ve finished faster.
Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Just a Trim” – Sam Donaldson’s review
This one will make your hair stand up on end–only to get trimmed. Peterson’s puzzle features three three-word expressions where the first word is a synonym for “trim:”
- 20-Across: [Brings under control] clues CLIPS ONE’S WINGS.
- 36-Across: [Gives a little leeway] clues CUTS SOME SLACK. Like we bloggers do when we review puzzles.
- 52-Across: The [Part of "what little boys are made of"] is SNIPS AND SNAILS. The third ingredient, as I recall, was puppy dog tails, one typically available only at Whole Foods and other elite grocery stores.
Simple theme, but typically Peterson in its excellent execution. There’s lots of gorgeous long entries, including SNAPPED TO ([Stopped daydreaming]), OIL SLICK ([Result of a tanker leak]), USER NAME ([Password's partner]), and OPENS UP [(Speaks frankly)]. Two of these are tied to a couple of long last names: Cyrano de BERGERAC, and Peter Sellers’ Inspector CLOUSEAU.
There wasn’t much that slowed me down. I mistakenly had OIL SPILL instead of OIL SLICK, which made the otherwise easy clue [Touchy-___] just impossible when staring at an entry ending in -EPY. I also tried PAGE for the [Sheet of stamps], but that is PANE. On the other hand, I’m quite proud to have answered [Honey ___ (kids' breakfast cereal)] right off the bat with no crossings (it’s SMACKS, for those who grew up in oppressive parental regimes that forbade the consumption of sugary cereals).
Victor Barocas’ Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Latin Squares” — pannonica’s review
I hope this puzzle held your undivided interest. That is, it was well-made, with strong clues, pleasing fill, and a clever rebus theme; it deserves attention.
The title explains how the four themers work; each includes two squares with a 2- or 3-letter Latin word squeezed in and these two words constitute a commonly used phrase.
- 18a. [Lorgnette] OPERA GLASSES. Per se: by, of, or in itself or oneself or themselves : as such : intrinsically. Thomas Keller’s much-lauded restaurant at the Time-Warner Center was not intended to be an East Coast “French Laundry,” per se. Crossings: AMPERE, IBSEN.
- 27a. [1974 Italian comedy directed by Franco Brusati]. BREAD AND CHOCOLATE. Ad hoc: (‘for this thing’) set up temporarily for a particular purpose. The film’s been on my ‘to watch’ list for a long time. Crossings: NADA, SHOCK.
- 48a. [Much mid-April mail] INCOME TAX RETURNS. Et tu [Brute]: (“thou too, Brutus”) exclamation attributed to Julius Caesar on seeing his friend Brutus among his assassins. The shortened form without the name is commonly used and recognizable as an expression of perceived betrayal. This was the most anomalous of the four because one of the rebus words spans two of the phrase words and because the Latin phrase is more conversational than the others. IDES appears at 21a, but isn’t clued as the unhappy-for-Caesar March date. Crossings: YETI, STUN.
- 62a. [Age at which Gerald Ford, the longest-lived U.S. President, died in 2006]. NINETY-THREE. In re: in the matter of; concerning. A good way to clue a fairly uninteresting answer: relatively contemporary and an interesting bit of trivia. Crossings: SINAI, ARENA.
As I said, a very neat theme and one well-matched to the Chronicle’s readership (and solvership). The rest of the fill is pleasing, with minimal dross. Very often the clues, as befits the Higher Education vibe™, are pitched with a highbrow spin. Why clue 41a BAILEY with a comic strip or actor when you can reference the venerable Old Bailey courthouse in London? Why clue a defunct Dodge automobile when you can clue a defunct science magazine (15a. OMNI)? There’s more:
- 20a. KNIT is clued as [Emulate Madame Defarge]. That’s from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. His books frequently feature WAIFs (6a).
- 67a. ["Full fathom five thy father lies..." singer] is ARIEL. The lyrics come from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. There’s even more Shakespeare at 63d: “‘TIS better to have loved and lost…”] edit: As Will Nediger points out in the comments, the line is from Tennyson.
- 70a. [Target of Hercules's second labor]. The dispatching of the monstrous HYDRA. This is one of the labors that was discounted on a technicality. In this case, because Hercules (or Herakles, if you prefer) had assistance in cauterizing the severed heads. The necks, actually.
- 2d. [Literary Nobelist Bunin] is IVAN. Did not know this.
- 4d. More Latin! [Hallux, more commonly] is BIG TOE. My favorite Latin name for a body part is oxter for underarm; it’s even better than axilla. See also The Oxter English Dictionary.
- 9d. [Garden of Eden fruit] isn’t the notorious item proffered by the serpent. It’s a FIG. Adam and Eve had to get their cover-ups from somewhere! At least, according to some prudish church officials.
- 19d. [One on the verge of a breakdown?] LEMON. A car. Not having seen 30 Rock, I don’t know if it applies to Tina Fey’s character as well.
- 23a. ["Don't tread __" (Gadsden flag motto)]. Not an awe-inspiring clue for ON ME, but I appreciated relearning the name of the thing. Also liked the ONME/ESME pairing for the row. Similarly, the consecutive 44a & 47a—OATS/ALE—have a feeling of kinship, especially in the cluing: [Stable fodder/Stout alternative]. Subtle touches like these definitely enhance the enjoyment of working a puzzle.
- 69a. [Hit the buzzer?] SWAT. Take that, fly!
KNAVES, WOODENLY, ALOUETTE, DARK MEAT. The neighboring rebus-crossers SHOCK and STUN. Didn’t understand the clue for 50d. ROSARY [Prayer of many decades].
Yes, the fill was also Scrabbly.
Pancho Harrison’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Power Trip” — pannonica’s review
Lot of theme content in this puzzle. There isn’t a reveal, but it’s easy to see what’s going on. Constructor Harrison has collected a bunch of words that can be preceded by “power,” strung them together to compose headline-style phrases [i.e., "powerful news stories"] that make a sort of sense, then clued these ostensible-but-unlikely results.
- 21a. [Powerful news story about...a mills' brown-bagging mandate?] PLANT BARS LUNCHES. Power plant, power bars, power lunches.
- 30a. [...a big increase in Vegas casino profits?] STRIP SURGES FORWARD. Power strips, powe… you get the idea.
- 49a. [...a market figure cooperating with the authorities?] BROKER PLAYS BALL.
- 65a. [...a Texas player's salary holdout?] RANGER HITTER WALKS.
- 84a. [...a factory store's employees frequenting a sleazy pub?] OUTLET PACKS DIVE.
- 98a. [...changing the routine at a military installation?] BASE SWITCHES DRILLS.
- 114a. [...cops snoozing at the precinct?] STATION HOUSE NAPS. (Redundant with 37a [Station] = POST?)
Okay, a lot of theme content, kind of entertaining, but it’s also kind of nonsensical, as these things often are. I wouldn’t describe the contrived phrases as funny either. Furthermore, their construction is inconsistent; five of them are subject-verb-object and two are [two-word] subject-verb. It’s better than a six:one ratio, but it would have been far stronger and more satisfying if they all possessed the same structure, or even if there were three of one, four of the other, especially in alternation.
The non-theme fill and cluing felt uneven, a mix of real freshness and stale crossword tropes (which I’d say is different from “crosswordese”). Solving the puzzle wasn’t exhilarating but neither was it drudgery. The averageness of the endeavor wasn’t helped by a 21×21 grid, a size which some solvers claim is tedious to work. I usually don’t react that way, but this time I felt a twinge of empathy.
89a NO WISER Still without a clue], 20d BREWSKI (as fill, not in actual speech) [Cold ones], 11d ASHES [Phoenix setting?], 46d SHOESTRING [Barely adequate budget] were highlights for me.
Incidentally, 36d can sort of play, too: FLOWER power GIRL power. Huzzah!