Happy Father’s Day to those of you who are dads or have dads! If you’re one of the people for whom Father’s Day is fraught because your own dad wasn’t the sort the greeting cards are aimed at, don’t miss Saturday’s NYT column by Charles Blow.
Patrick Berry’s New York Times crossword, “Say What?!”
Berry publishes a lot of crosswords, and it’s rare that I find even a couple of his theme entries to be “meh.” (Remember that Greek letter rebus puzzle? That was another rare letdown.) Granted, he packs in 10 theme entries today—each turning a phrase into a spoken remark addressed to various non-living entities by the addition of a comma and emphasis—but I only liked eight of them. “Close up shop” sounds so much more familiar to me than SHUT UP SHOP, though you would be far more likely to demand that someone “shut up” than “close up.” And ROGER BACON is, if you ask me, far less famous than the two Francis Bacons.
The Masters golf tournament has its AMEN CORNER (as do some churches, the dictionary tells me). “FREEZE, FRAME!” has the brio of the J. Geils Band song. I love “DON’T LEAVE ME, HANGING!” the best. The others are all fine, modestly entertaining, and frankly surreal. (Who apologizes to a gun sight or bosses around restaurants?)
The fill is, as you’d expect in a puzzle with this byline, super-smooth.
It’s late, so I’ll leave off here.
Four stars, or maybe just 3.8 because of those two theme answers I didn’t care for.
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Sam Donaldson’s review
This week we have a 72/38 from Bruce Venzke that features a unique grid design. There are stacked 15s running along the top and bottom, together with triple-stacked 7s down the west and east alleys. Then there’s the center section, with only four squares for entrances and one of only five 3-letter entries in the grid. It’s hard to believe that a grid with so many long entries also has 72 total entries (the typical maximum for freestyle puzzles) and 38 black squares (the typical maximum for themed puzzles but higher than usual for a freestyle). On the plus side, though, there are few abbreviations and no partials.
The 15-letter entries are fine (for reasons unknown, THREE-MINUTE EGGS is my favorite of the group), but some snazzier cluing would really help. STEALTH FIGHTERS, for instance, deserves better than [Radar-evasive aircraft]. Yes, that’s what they are, but a little more evasiveness would bring it to life. I’m thinking something like [They fly under the radar] would be better. It adds just a smidgen of toughness that might give more solvers a miniature “aha moment” when they tumble to the answer. Before you counter that this puzzle is intended to be easier, note that STL gets clued as [Cardinal letters]. I’d submit that this clue is just as indirect as the one I suggested for STEALTH FIGHTERS.
Perhaps it seems I am being a bit tough on the clues, but freestyle puzzles should, in my view, have above average clues throughout. Yes, yes, all puzzles should have above average clues–what I’m saying is that we justifiably hold our standards higher for freestyle puzzles. If there are fewer words and no theme to help solvers fill in the squares, then the clues necessarily become more important in the solving experience. I don’t question a straight definitional clue like [Radar-evasive aircraft] when STEALTH FIGHTER is a theme entry (four phrases starting with synonyms for “sneaky;” or four phrases ending with synonyms for “boxer”), but as the star player in a freestyle puzzle, I need a more interesting clue.
</soapbox speech> Okay, let’s check out some entries and clues:
- 19-Across: As a native of the Pacific Northwest, I think TROUT when I see [Mackinaw, e.g.]. But those of you outside the northwest likely had no trouble coming up with COAT right away.
- 36-Across: The [Fed. fiscal agency] is OMB. It stands for “Oh. My. Bankers.”
- 52-Across: I have just a slight quibble with [Modify, as rules] for BEND. To me, one “bending the rules” is not modifying them; rather, one is consciously choosing not to observe or enforce the rules. A rule is bent on a special occasion; when it is changed for everyone, then it has been modified.
- 4-Down: SEA WALL as the [Beach protection] really had me flummoxed for a while. I tried SUN HATS, then SUN WEAR, then SEA WEAR. I made good time on this puzzle but it would have been better had this not slowed me down.
- Loved the combination of FLU SHOT, FANTASY, and SWELTER, but see rant supra–they deserved better clues.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “Read Any Good T-shirts Lately?”
It’s time for another puzzle in which Merl packs a ton of theme entries—here, he’s got the punch lines from 12 t-shirts:
- 17a. “My dog CAN LICK ANYONE”
- 22a. “Rehab IS FOR QUITTERS”
- 33a. “I see DUMB PEOPLE”
- 40a. “Hysteria REPEATS ITSELF”
- 52a. “I have the body of a god. Unfortunately, IT’S BUDDHA”
- 59a. “He who laughs last THINKS SLOWEST”
- 72a. “Where there’s a will, I WANT TO BE IN IT”
- 85a. “My other house IS CLEANER”
- 91a. “On the highway of life, I chose THE PSYCHO PATH”
- 98a. “I’m a menace TO SOBRIETY”
- 115a. “I am in shape; ROUND IS A SHAPE” (no problem with the clue/answer repeat of the word shape)
- 121a. “Practice safe food: USE CONDIMENTS”
My favorite is 72a—haven’t seen that one before.
There’s some juicy fill here and some clunkers:
- I like the algebraic X TIMES Y, Ben Kingsley’s SEXY BEAST, SWINE FLU, and Jon KRAKAUER.
- Favorite clue is 64d: [Literary dropout?] for ELISION, with involves the omission of a sound.
- Wait, what? 6d: [Half of a Heyerdahl title] is AKU? This isn’t even crosswordese! I’ve never seen it before. Gotta go look this one up: It’s Aku-Aku: The Secret of Easter Island.
- 100d/114d. [Deciding game, often] and [See 100 Down] served only to confuse me. SEVEN is the “deciding game” not because there’s a game called “seven” but because a best-of-seven series of games may culminate in Game Seven. And then VII is the Roman numeral version of SEVEN.
- 80a. [Instant-coffee brand] clues KAVA. I am not up on my instant-coffee brands.
- 14a. Speaking of coffee, [Starbucks subsidiary, familiarly] clues SBC. I have no idea what that’s about.
Let’s call this one 3.9 stars.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Boston Globe crossword, “Short and Sweet” — pannonica’s review
Perhaps I should have highlighted 116-Across in the solution grid, for it certainly describes my current addlepated condition. The solving time was on the slow side and I couldn’t figure out what the theme was. Fortunately, an appeal to a blogger at a higher volunteer pay grade was met by the answer, which turns out to be straightforward enough.
- 23a. [Bashful] DIFFIDENT.
- 25a. [Doc] COACH RIVERS.
- 43a. [Sleepy] READY FOR BED.
- 52a. [Grumpy] OUT OF SORTS.
- 87a. [Sneezy] ACHOO PRONE.
- 93a. [Happy] ON CLOUD NINE.
- 116a. [Dopey] LAME-BRAINED.
- 118a. [Snow-white] ALABASTER.
- 67a. [Song of seven dwarfs] HEIGH HO.
Sure, it’s obvious when you see it listed that way, but I have a bad habit of searching for themes in the grid rather than in the clues. Despite my barely-excusable difficulties with it, this is a solid theme, even if those entries are, in fact, on the short-and-sweet side for a 21×21 grid. It seems 87a should have had a question mark in the clue, but that would have spoiled the format’s consistency.
The overall fill isn’t particularly Scrabbly (which I interpret as loaded with ‘high-value’ letters), but it samples the alphabet admirably. Another plus is the low CAP Quotient™ (crosswordese, abbrevs., partials), although I didn’t care for the GATT/TERI crossing (74a&75d) or NEUR. (38d). The cluing is aimed slightly-tougher-than-average and there are many fresh ones for familiar answers.
124a [Musical gender bender] YENTL and 7d [Queens, in chess] MEN are kinship clues, as are 34a [Hotelier Helmsley] LEONA and 77a [Paris from New York] HILTON, scion of that hotel’s namesake family. There are a handful of cross-referential clues, which I in general find to be more of a distraction than anything else. Last, I’m curious why 2d is clued as the awkward [Scrabble vowel pick] for U TILE when utile is a fine word as it is.
Karen Tracey’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 63″
Ouch! When you have a baseball player name of no particular importance crossing a name and a frightfully obscure plant name, you have a recipe for disaster. Fairly easy puzzle except for those two squares I had wrong.
30d: [Closer for the Arizona Diamondbacks with repeated initials] meant nothing to me. I generally know my crossword plants, but 29a:[Alternative name for cowpea] meant nothing to me. And I spaced on 41a: [Clinton press secretary Mike] and went with MCCARRY rather than MCCURRY. CATJANG just plain looked wrong, so I decided that the “repeated initials” weren’t JJ but PJ, with a P in CATPANG repeating his last name’s initial letter. P.J. PATZ looked every bit as plausible to me as J.J. PUTZ, which is a truly unfortunate name given the Yiddish connotations of that last name. If you were quick to recognize Putz’s name here, you may have been enchanted. I was not.
The rest of the puzzle ranged from fine to funky. The highlights:
- 1a. A QUOTE MARK is a [Double prime look-alike].
- 15a. [Duke player] is a BLUE DEVIL. I always preferred the DePaul Blue Demons, as my parents went to DePaul.
- 34a. [1970 Beatles compilation album] = HEY JUDE.
- 48a. [Pre-Depression era] = the very Scrabbly (except not possible to play in Scrabble, what with it being a two word phrase; you can fake the second Z with a blank tile) JAZZ AGE.
- 64a. [Spock, e.g.] is the famous PHYSICIAN who wrote the books about caring for one’s children.
- 7d. Interesting clue for AVARICE: ["That disease of which all old men sicken," according to Thomas Middleton].
- 12d. MATT LAUER is a [Morning star] on the Today show.
- 31d. MEGAWATTS are [A lot of power?].
Five more clues:
- 52a. I never even saw the clue for ["Dream" singer Priscilla] AHN, which is good because I’ve never heard of her. Apparently her songs are popular in TV, movie, and commercial soundtracks. Eh, not my type of music.
- 61a. I never saw this clue, either. ["Braxton Family Values" sister] is TRACI. Wha…? The reality show began this April and features singer Toni Braxton and her sisters.
- 31a. I hope at least a few people were tricked into trying MARY KAY for [Place on TV?]. Remember her? I liked her best on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. The answer, however, is MELROSE. Never did watch that show.
- 32d. [Geocorona setting] is the EXOSPHERE. Wikipedia explains, “The geocorona is the luminous part of the outermost region of the Earth’s atmosphere, the exosphere. It is seen primarily via far-ultraviolet light (Lyman-alpha) from the Sun that is scattered from neutral hydrogen. It extends to at least 15.5 Earth radii. The geocorona has been studied from outer space by the Astrid satellites and the Galileo spacecraft (among others), using its ultraviolet spectrometer (UVS) during an Earth flyby.” Got all that? My favorite part is the “seen primarily via” sentence. A marvel in clarity!
- 51d. [Germany's equivalent of Pittsburgh] is the industrial city of ESSEN.
Pamela Amick Klawitter’s syndicated L.A. Times crossword, “Broadway Showstoppers”
Each theme answer is a familiar phrase that “stops” (or ends) with a word that’s also the name of a Broadway show:
- 23a. [Airport pickup spot] = BAGGAGE CAROUSEL.
- 39a. [Norman landmark] = UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA!.
- 56a. [Troublemaker's credo?] = NO REST FOR THE WICKED.
- 82a. [One might prompt a curtain call] = BIG ROUND OF APPLAUSE.
- 99a. [Fleeting celebrity] = FIFTEEN MINUTES OF FAME.
- 120a. [Relax] = LET DOWN ONE’S HAIR.
There are only six theme entries, but they’re long ones. I like the utter familiarity of all six phrases. Presumably there are plenty of other phrases that end with Broadway show titles, but I don’t like to spend much time contemplating Broadway musicals, so we’ll move on.
- 47a. [Captain Hook's last words are its motto] clues ETON. Really? Doug Peterson looked this one up for L.A. Crossword Confidential and reports “Hook’s last words in the play ‘Peter Pan’ are ‘Floreat Etona’ which translates to ‘Let Eton Flourish.’ Is this while he’s being eaten by a crocodile? My ‘Peter Pan’ knowledge is a little hazy.” Mine is hazier.
- 72a. [Like a wake] trailing behind a boat is ASTERN. I was thinking of the wakes that precede funerals.
- 86a. I had the final D in place so I figured [Dressing target] was a WOUND. Whoops! It’s SALAD. If you’re dressing a wound, don’t use raspberry vinaigrette.
- 91a. A RITZ cracker is often a [Cheese holder].
- 93a. [Like most sandals] clues TOELESS. Did you know they’re selling toeless boots these days? I’m totally not kidding. They were available in 2008 but I think they’re more fashionable now. It makes no sense.
- 124a. [Many a chat room visitor] clues AOLER. Really? No. In its heyday, AOL had 30 million subscribers. Now it’s down to about 4 million. Comcast has 17 million Internet customers.
- 129a. [British tax] is CESS. Learned this word from crosswords. Not related etymologically to cesspool.
- 9d. [Splitting word?] clues GOODBYE.
- 64d. [Passing notes?] are a REQUIEM, a funerary song.
- 66d. A SNEEZE may be a [Blessed event?] or a gesundheited one.
The fill is smooth and interesting overall, perhaps a bit heavy on names.