- Over at Wordplay, Martin Herbach gives the lowdown on how exactly you get multiple letters into a crossword square when you’re doing the puzzle via computer. Everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask.
- Have any of you tried out this erasable Puzzle Pen? The Frixion pen’s ink vanishes over time (which is great if you want to reuse your puzzle books, I suppose, but…) and the EraserMate leaves the side of my pinkie ink-smudged. Puzzle Pen is retractable and has refill cartridges. I’m intrigued. What do you say?
Barry Silk’s New York Times crossword
I liked Milo Beckman’s sparkly Friday debut so much, an ultra-Scrabbly Silk offering almost feels like a let-down. Three Qs, two Xs, and some Ks usher in a degree of liveliness but there’s that PIELS beer sitting there taunting me, saying “You’ve never heard of this Pabst brand and yet here I sit.” Apparently it’s available only in the Northeast, while the NYT crossword is syndicated worldwide. Hmph.
- 7d, 10d. I like GAUGUIN and ANTIGUA, and I don’t think it’s just a fondness for the letters A, G, I, N, and U.
- 27a. WIKIQUOTE is good, though of course I filled in WIKIPEDIA when I had no crossings for the last five squares.
- 41a. I know the CHI-SQUARE statistical test from my medical editing. χ2! Never did take a stats class, so I’m fresh out of any more info on this topic.
- 21d. I just read that Phyllis Smith, who plays Phyllis on The Office, used to dance in a BURLESQUE show in the ’70s.
- 40d. Ha, Barry Silk puts in a SILK HAT. Frosty the Snowman wore one, didn’t he?
In the Grievous Clues category, we have 28a: [Like two Kennedy brothers] for SLAIN. That’s rather grim, no?
Have never seen the word EMBANK before, I don’t think. Embankment, sure, plenty of times. but not this [Keep from spilling over, in a way] verb. I also can’t say I’ve encountered the PEQUOT WAR before.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Being There” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Many, many years ago, when my mother turned 60, I gave her a birthday card with the following poem:
First you crawl and then you walk.
Eventually you learn to talk.
Then one day you start to stoop.
Getting old is pigeon poop.
That pretty much says it all. In today’s crossword, Ashwood-Smith gives us another life cycle summary, this one featuring three movies starting with a different phase of life. Read from top to bottom, the theme entries take us from cradle to grave:
- 17-Across: The [Bing Crosby film of 1941] is BIRTH OF THE BLUES. I’m not especially well-versed in Bing Crosby films, so even though I had “BIRTH OF” early on, I needed a lot of crossings to have confidence in the rest of the answer.
- 38-Across: The [Roberto Benigni film of 1997] is LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL. Never saw the film, but I remember Benigni’s reaction to winning the Best Foreign Picture Oscar for it.
- 59-Across: The [Meryl Streep movie of 1992] is DEATH BECOMES HER. Hmm, the theme could just as easily be “films I’ve never seen, starring three actors who have never been in my kitchen.”
Three 15-letter entries makes for an average number of theme squares, but it allows for more interesting fill. Ashwood-Smith takes advantage of this freedom by giving us lots of rare letters (four Xs, four Fs, three Js ) and two great eight-letter Down entries: GOT LOOSE and, even better, I DARE SAY. Points of interest:
- Using ["Every ___ winner!"] as the clue for ONE A feels wrong to me, but I suspect I’m missing something. To my ear, we need the word “is” or an “apostrophe-s” in there for it to make sense.
- I like how the grid has both ONS and OFFS and how they share the clue, [Switch settings].
- Today’s embarrassing confession: I spent a few seconds wondering who the “tenk” are or were. The clue, [Certain race, informally], had me thinking of racial backgrounds. I felt sheepish when I realized it was a TEN-K foot race. Oops.
Julian Lim’s Los Angeles Times crossword
This 70-worder is packed with chunks of 6- to 8-letter answers in the corners. There’s a 15 spanning the grid and a few long Downs bracketing the corners together. There are a few zippy answers but overall the fill felt rather plain.
First up, the best stuff:
- 36a. I wanted ["The sea was angry that day," e.g.] to be SEINFELD QUOTE but that didn’t fit. It’s PATHETIC FALLACY, and yes, I had to look it up to know what that means. It has to do with imputing human feelings to inanimate things. I don’t have to write any term papers any more, but it’s good to learn anyway.
- 42a. [One may be packed with Oreos, briefly] clues a PB AND J. Good to stash the Oreos in the clue instead of the grid for a change.
- ON A ROPE ([Like some soap]) is a borderline terrible answer, but its evocation of cheesy soap on a rope elevates it. Man, I haven’t seen soap on a rope in ages.
- 1d. ["Family First" author, familiarly] is DR. PHIL. I very nearly tried DR. RUTH but the book didn’t sound sexy enough.
- 8d. [Walter's "I'm Not Rappaport" co-star] is OSSIE Davis. If you’ve never seen their cinematic version, you must. Matthau and Davis are excellent in it.
- 13d. ["Not so fast!"], buddy. WAIT A SEC! This is the sophisticated older sibling to more frequent crossword answer IN A SEC.
- 36d. [Toaster brand] made me think of kitchen appliances rather than POP-TARTS. Far less tasty than the CREPES at 46d.
On the other hand, these bits left me cold:
- 15a. [Pigment used in some primer paints] clues RED LEAD. Does anyone other than a painter or chemist know this?
- 25a. [Byzantine emperor known as "the Armenian"], LEO something, hmm, could be I, V, or X, gotta wait for the crossing. LEO V is not tremendously famous, is he?
- 35a. [One putting on shows] clues AIRER. Google suggests that outside of crosswords, this word is used to refer to a frame on which you air-dry clothes, not to TV-show airers. How did this word move from clues to fill?
- 44a, 39d. I got [Uma's role in "The Producers"] and ["The Clan of the Cave Bear" protagonist]—ULLA and AYLA—but it seems unfortunate to cross two unusual names.
- 51a. [Hawks' contacts, perhaps] clues ARMERS, another awkward -ER word in the vein of AIRER.
- 6d. The [Papua New Guinea port] of LAE is best known for being a place Amelia Earhart checked in at before vanishing, and for being a crossword-friendly 3 that’s generally barred from appearing in early-week easy puzzles owing to its obscurity.
- 50d. [Fix, as brakes] clues REPAD. Not a single one of the first 20 Google hits for this word has anything to do with brakes. They’re mostly about musical instruments, with a few mentions of repadding car or motorcycle seats.
- 61d. Why clue NAN as a [Turkic flatbread] when most of us know it as an Indian flatbread?
Three stars. I’m usually so fond of Julian’s inventive and lively puzzles, and this themeless didn’t seem up to his standards. Compare the fill to what’s in his 3/26/11 LA Times themeless. That one knocked me out!
Stan Newman’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” (written as “Anna Stiga”)
There were few zippy answers in this puzzle, kinda like the the LAT crossword. Tough clues, though, for sure. The weekend’s most difficult.
First up, a big “Wait, what?” moment:
- 59a. [River through Ottawa] clues…OTTAWA? I suspect the clue was trying to be [River through Ontario].
- 42a. [Billboard's most successful female artist, 2000-2009], starting with K, had me stumped for the longest time. Beyoncé is far more first-name-famous, but KNOWLES is certainly fair play. Fresher than author John Knowles, too.
- 60a. I do like “I DOUBT IT” but I rather doubt that it’s entirely equivalent to ["Baloney!"]. Close enough to be fair play, though.
- 12d. OLIVE OYL doesn’t get her full name in crosswords nearly as much as OYL appears. Disclosure: I read blog comments about this entry before I saw the puzzle, so my solving time would probably have nipped over the 9-minute mark without this spoiler.
- 25d. I love “SAY WHEN” but it’s more a stopping-related instruction than a [Stopping instruction]. “When” is the stopping instruction, no?
- 36d. BAD SANTA, [Coen brothers film of '03].
- 40d. I run hot and cold on Newsday’s name-etymology clues. I like this one, [Name meaning "serene"], because placid and PLACIDO are both familiar and fairly obviously related. It’s when the name lacks a cognate in the English language that the etymology clue seems unfair.
- 43d. “WHAT IF” is a solid stand-alone phrase, not merely a [Speculation starter].
I had a conversation about puzzles with a potential client the other day. He stands firmly opposed to one-word clues. Today’s “Stumper” offers single-word clues with the following multifarious words: unitized, bread, accurate, amplitude (WEALTH?), pops, ate, over, kicker (LEG? meh), diverts, neutralize, apparel, strike, dresses, and laugher (ROUT?). My personal preference is for multi-word clues that manage to mislead rather than single-word clues that are more apt to confound. Each route offers its own solving challenges. Do any of you prefer the “correctly parse one-word” type of challenge?
I remain perplexed by HAM SALAD‘s multiple appearances in crosswords. I don’t recall ever seeing this at a family party or on a restaurant menu. This makes me wonder if ham salad has a regional bent.
Five more clues:
- 9d. [Eric the Red's putative birth year] is CML, or 950. Tell me this: Did the medieval Norse use Roman numerals? I don’t think they did. The Wikipedia article on Roman numerals lists crossword and cryptic crossword clues among the entities that still use Roman numerals. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.
- 32a. [Exit precrusors] are BYE-BYES.
- 34a. RIBEYE steak is [What Aussies call "Scotch fillet"].
- 49a. George M. COHAN was an [ASCAP charter member].
- 57a. A generic TIMORESE has been a [UN delegate since 2002]. Timor-Leste’s current UN ambassador is Sofia Mesquíta Borges, if you were wondering.
Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “Marching Bands”
Is it Sunday night already? Whoof, the weekend has flown by!
Tougher than the typical “Marching Bands” puzzle, if you ask me. A decent workout and a puzzle variety I like, but nothing especially zingy in terms of fill or cluing this time.