After I finish blogging the New York Times puzzle, I’m off to see Aerial Dance Chicago’s concert, UnEarthed. My cousin’s wife, Chloe Jensen, is the troupe’s founder and artistic director, and a talented dancer, aerialist, and acrobat. Dance that isn’t bound to the stage is inordinately interesting to watch. If you’re in Chicagoland, don’t miss the remaining shows—Friday 7/8, 7/15, and 7/22, and Saturday 7/9, 7/16, and 7/23.
David Levinson Wilk’s New York Times crossword, “T Mobile”
I made it through most of the puzzle without really observing that each theme entry involved one letter T moving forward or back one space. Yeah, the title, “T Mobile”? That’s a mighty big hint right there. Had I paid any mind to the title after filling in NEW YORK MINUET, I would have made quicker work of the remaining theme entries:
- 23a. NEW YORK MINUET is a lovely play on “a New York minute.”
- 33a. ALL BEST ARE OFF reads a little awkwardly. Nobody talks about a group of all-stars as “all best.” Maybe “all (of) the best,” but not “all best.” Lively original phrase, “all bets are off.”
- 40a. FETE OF CLAY, Cassius Clay.
- 55a. COWBOY BOOST, a little flat.
- 71a. I wanted CAST PAJAMAS to be what the actors wear to the slumber/wrap party, rather than the verb phrase it’s clued as. You wouldn’t “cast pajamas,” but you might “cast off your pajamas.”
- 81a. IVORY COATS of paint, flatter than 55a in more ways than one.
- 88a. I like how this one sneaks a comma into the works. “No great shakes” becomes “NO, GRETA SHAKES.”
- 102a. Ah, always good to save the best for last. [Love before war?] clues PRE-MARTIAL SEX. This was popular in ancient Greece, right? With all the soldierly lovin’?
My favorite bits are 1a: k.d. lang and 79a: “LET’S DANCE“—music that’s found in my iTunes library. Not that k.d. lang song—I’m partial to her All You Can Eat album. V. torch-songy; I recommend it highly if that’s up your alley.
3.5 stars overall. Time to get head out to Aerial Dance Chicago!
Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “Pattern Recognition” — pannonica’s review
The long theme answers comprise a message. 27-Across is the [Start of a query], which continues through 60a and 94a. Together they read, WHAT’S UNUSUAL ABOUT THE LOCATIONS OF ALL THE VS IN THIS PUZZLE. The notepad helpfully informs the solver that “the solution to the query will be revealed next week.” Since Merl seems very serious about this, I won’t spoil the fun.
Forget that, let’s see what we’ve got! As you can’t help but notice, I’ve already highlighted in Dark Fiendish Orange™ the twenty Vs in the grid. Hmm…visually there isn’t much to link them, although there is a distinct cluster of diagonals in the second quarter from the top. They don’t form any sort of “V” pattern or patterns. If not visual, then what? Well, all of them appear in numbered squares and upon further investigation each of those squares contains the number 5. In fact, every square with a five in it is graced by the letter V, which of course is the Roman numeral representation of five. Between 1 and 113, that’s 5, 15, 25, 35, 45, 50–59, 65, 75, 85, 95, 105. The quinquagenal run explains the accretion mentioned earlier.
It reminds me a little of the old game Buzz, which was played with sevens; players take turns counting upwards, but any number containing the digit 7 (or that’s a multiple of 7) must be replaced by saying “buzz!” It’s as straightforward as that when young children play it, but it’s malleable. Boys seem to like adding punches, it can be adapted to exercise routines (I’ve seen people—okay, boys again—stand in a circle tossing a heavy medicine ball randomly from person to person in time with the counting and anyone who flubbed it had to lie supine and have the ball dropped on his midriff from shoulder height. Did I mention these were boys?) The variations are seemingly endless, but buzz of course reaches its apotheosis in the form of a drinking game.
Quite a feat of construction to insert all twenty letters, no more and no less, in the appropriately numbered squares. I imagine it took a great deal of tweaky trial-and-error to jockey the grid and fill just so. Despite such constraints, the rest of the fill doesn’t feel overly forced or awkward; consequently theme and ballast combine to make a very satisfying puzzle.
Before I mention the highlights, two minor corrections. First, the query refers to “all the Vs in this puzzle” when technically it’s all the Vs in the grid; there are plenty more to be found in the clues. If only ‘grid’ were six letters long! The second is more trivial than that: just a case of poor proofreading. 103a (DANG) is missing the opening double quotation mark [Shoot!"].
I felt there were real highs and lows in both the fill and the cluing, with many gems and a few clunkers. Longer entries of note are ALOPECIA, VICEREGAL, MAÎTRE D’S and FRENZIED. I also liked SELTZERS, but deem the clue [Club sodas] inaccurate, as there is a distinction between the two fizzy potables, Alex. Whoops, sorry! It’s so difficult to say that word by itself. Club soda is SALTIER (12d [More R-rated, as dialogue]). Additional niftiness in FLEUVE, VIOXX, YODEL above SWEDE, the colloquial pair SO SUE ME and ON A TEAR balancing each other symmetrically, the vertical neighbors I’M UP [Late riser's all right already!"] plus [Go __ (turn in)] TO BED, and the identically-clued [Not phony] pair LEGIT and VALID.
In the minus column, there were just a hair too many abbrevs. and awkward partials for my liking. VAR., ISR., VPS, FRI, SRS., LT.GOV., INTL, and A LOAF, TO BED, OR A. Just two or three fewer of these would have pleased me, most especially if the tepid OR A [" __ combination thereof"] partial were gone. I also want to mention that I disliked 70d’s clue, [Health-food-store greeting?] for ALOE. Random Roman numerals should be avoided at all costs, but there’s only one of them here. IC-Down [Total days in July and August, to Caesar] is LXII; a clever clue still doesn’t save it. The prefix clues at 102d felt a bit off to me since it lacked hyphens: [Bi or mo ending] PED.
With the preponderance of Vs required by the theme, it’s impressive how little weirdness sneaked in among that fill. Whatever ended up there is very much excusable, but the weaker parts were:
- VISA and VISTA alongside each other,
- The strange shortening of (Minnesota) Vikings to VIKES.
- VILNA as [Lithuania's capital], rather than Vilnius, without a ‘variation’ prompt.
- The unexplained plural of [Bass __ ] VIOLS.
To paraphrase 65d, va va voom!
Henry Hook’s Boston Globe crossword, “Clue Factory” — pannonica’s review
Straight up letter substitution gimmick in this one. As in the title, wherein glue factory becomes the crossword-appropriate clue factory, each of the theme entries is a familiar word or phrase in which the initial hard G in one of the words is changed to a hard C (via some strategic erasures?) and the result is clued.
- 25a. [Snow shovels?] COLD DIGGERS. Pretty good, puts me in mind of those depression era film extravaganzas like Gold Diggers of 1935.
- 27a. [Kangaroos lacking refinement] CRASS HOPPERS. Tehee. Oh wait, that’s 16d: TEEHEE.
- 54a. [Students with a bad rep?] STAINED CLASS. Great clue, fun phrase.
- 65a. [Eager to have seafood?] UP FOR CRABS. Cracking good!
- 68a. [1970s Georgia?] CARTER BELT. Meh.
- 76a. [Task for garlic exporters?] BOXING CLOVES. Grr.
- 106a. [Offshoot of ‘Ol' Man River’?] ANCIENT CREEK. Huzzah! A return to form.
- 108a. [Use 104-Across at a funeral?] BLOW A CASKET. Best to go out with a bang!
This is the part of the write-up in which the reviewer analyzes the theme entries, hoping to find inconsistencies that detract from the overall feel of the puzzle so as to have something to fill up a paragraph or two. Save for exceptional circumstances, praise is only good for a few sentences before it gets tedious and begins to take on a fawning aspect. Actors love playing villains too, you know. Far be it from me to break with tradition, so… Overall the theme and its representatives are good, but I do have some niggles to naggle:
- CRASS HOPPERS is the only themer in which the structure changes, from the single word grasshoppers to the two-word answer.
- More problematic is BOXING CLOVES, the lone entry where the pronunciation—for most people—of the transformed word doesn’t match the original: gloves and cloves? It’s a shame, because I thought the clue and answer were clever, the scenario easily visualized.
- CARTER BELT. Can one state constitute a “belt”? I think of a geographical belt as a string of states or, on a smaller scale, an extended section within a state.
- Unless there’s a good reason (read: thematic conceit) I generally don’t care for cross-referenced cluing. In the case of 108a I let it roll off my back because the pun is good and the referenced clue is sitting just on top of the answer, so there’s no need to go hunting across the grid or among the clues.
- It would have been really spiffy if the crossing answers could work with either a C or a G, but I realize that’s asking for much too much.
On the whole I enjoyed the puzzle, but there were more than the usual number of crossings that I suspect may be problematic for some solvers:
- 22a & 17d. [1838 Poe short story] [Having tendrils]. LIGEIA & CIRRATE.
- 34a & 34d. [Jerry Herman musical] [Maestro Riccardo]. MAME & MUTI. Some might be torn between Fame and Mame and “Futi” seems a plausible name. This could have been mollified by adding a date to the musical’s clue.
- 80a & 80d. [Money in 72-Across] [Fallen candlepins]. WON & WOOD. 72a is KOREA, but not everyone may know its units of currency. I have no idea what candlepins are, so perhaps others might be at a loss as well.
- A couple of others are tricky but gettable. DOSSES & DIANE, ACELA & CLOS.
- 50d. [Bruins] UCLANS. That’s U.C.L.A.ns. And it’s so close to URSA in the grid; is that verging on duplication?
- 103d. [Hit high] SKYED. Really?
- 105a. [II to the IXth power]. DXII. “Ickth” is right.
The best thing about the puzzle is the grid. Despite that giant, divisive slash in the center, it’s super-tight and bursting with stacks: in the corners in both directions, on the flanks, stepping through the middle. It’s really quite marvelous; virtuosity in construction has always been one of Hook’s trademarks. Favorite clues:
- 53d. [Put on again] RESTAGED. Subtle ambiguity.
- 72a. [Home of the Chosen people?] KOREA. Chosen is an antiquated name for the country (peninsula?).
- 95a. [Flight components] STEPS. Nothing really special about this one, except that I always fall for that particular misdirection.
- 117a. [Labyrinthine] DAEDAL. Daedalus was pressured by King Minos of Crete to construct the Labyrinth to contain the fearsome Minotaur.
- The biological triumvirate winding down the right-hand side of the puzzle, CIRRATE/SETOSE/LACTIC [Having tendrils]/[Bristly]/[Milky].
And I couldn’t possibly leave out 38a & 39a [...Vinko Bogataj's downfall]
Lynn Lempel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Sam Donaldson’s review
One of the Monday Queens pops up a day early (or is it six days late?) with this week’s Sunday freestyle. I refer to Lempel as a “Monday Queen” because she is consistently one of the best at producing easy puzzles. Her grids are ridiculously smooth, her themes are playful but easier for novices to get, and she just makes it all look so darn easy. As is her wont, today’s 72/25 grid is very smooth, and the clues are kicked up just enough to put up a Friday-level fight (at least for me).
The grid’s design is something of a freestyle classic–the large “center X”: that features two 15-letter entries, each spanning blocks of triple-stacked 7-letter entries on each end. There’s few abbreviations, only one “partial” (TO A), and one suffix–the rest is all good in the hood. Let’s review the highlights:
- 17-Across: The [End-of-summer event] is, quite literally, the AUTUMNAL EQUINOX. Isn’t this the one that happens on either September 20 or September 21, depending on something all astronomical and such? I’m positive this is not the first time I have seen this entry in a crossword, so I’m cursing myself that I didn’t see it for quite a while. In my defense, my break into the grid’s northern hemisphere came through 7-Down, clued [TV Guide's #1 cult show, on a 2004 list]. I knew that was STAR TREK, and the intersecting A with 17-Across inspired me to try LABOR DAY TELETHON. (Jerry Lewis’s annual plea for the MDA was always my sign that school was going to start soon, so it always signaled the end of my summer.) But go figure, that’s one letter too many. The fog rolled in quickly and sat there for a while.
- While we’re in the top half of the grid, check out all those prepositions! There’s STOPS IN, TOPS OUT, and UPTURNS. No DOWNPLAYS?
- My three biggest mysteries in the top half were TUNIS, the [Site of a 2011 insurrection] (shame on me!), PIRAEUS, the [Part of Greater Athens and Greece's chief port] (a clue that seems to be trying a little too hard to make me feel like I’m supposed to know this), and NEXUSES, the [Connections]. I desperately needed the X for that last one to sink in, and my inability to suss out the equinox wasn’t helping me.
- 53-Across: The other grid-spanner is ENERGY EFFICIENT, clued simply as [Green]. I had the -FICIENT part in place first, so, for reasons I can’t really retrace and certainly cannot justify, I wanted something along the lines of HARDLY PROFICIENT. That’s a great entry if you’re looking to make a 16×16 crossword with forced, artificial phrases. Constructors, be sure to add this gem to your word lists.
- I really liked [Worrisome buzzers] as the clue for TSE TSES. Even though I fell right into the trap–I wanted something akin to alarm clocks–I appreciated the slight deception.
- One of these days–one of these days!–I swear I’ll get the correct MALE CAT for [Tom] right away instead of trying POLE CAT first. And no, I can’t explain how my mind works. Perhaps scientists will be able to do so after I die and donate my cadaver to medicine. (Though I think they’ll be more concerned with how my small feet disprove the adage about men with big feet.)
- The southern half put up a lot less resistance, and it was here that I finally gained some traction and confidence. To me, the [High peak in the Cascades] is RAINIER or HOOD, but I know that when there’s only six letters the answer has to be Mount SHASTA.
- There’s some great entries here, like MAGIC ACT, ALL-YEAR, and my favorite, HAIR NET, with the terrific clue, [It helps keep locks in place]. I also liked [Pad around the kitchen] for the S.O.S. pad.
- [Those making complex repairs?] is a cute-but-a-skosh-too-easy clue for SUPERS. Maybe it’s because “complex repairs” isn’t especially “in the language.” It’s not in mine, at least.
Trip Payne’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 64″
Excellent puzzle. Am super-crunched on time this morning, so let’s get right down to it. Overall rating for this 70-worder, 4.25 stars. Love the stacks at the top and bottom—lots of great 10s. Never heard of one of the 15s, so my pop-culture delight was knocked down from its ANGRY BIRDS level.
Thirteen lucky clues:
- 17a. [Challenging person?] is an ICONOCLAST challenging conventions.
- 37a. [Home wreckers' actions] are TEARDOWNS. This is literal wrecking of houses, of course.
- 40a. [Regis of "The Big Sleep"] clues TOOMEY. Meh.
- 45a. [More fully loaded?] clues RICHER. Cute.
- 58a. [Game involving a slingshot], a virtual slingshot, is ANGRY BIRDS. I don’t know. I just don’t love the game. I know a zillion people who don’t normally get into video games love their Angry Birds, but it doesn’t draw me in.
- 4d. [Hank and Dean, on Adult Swim] are the VENTURE BROTHERS. Who?
- 5d. [Wedding announcement] is “I DO.” Congrats to New York State for having marriage equality now (well, in four weeks, anyway). Makes Illinois’s new civil unions law look dorky and backwards.
- 7d. [He has 99 names] clues ALLAH. Clue made me think of the old song, “88 Lines about 44 Women.”
- 28d. [Line from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" that causes audience members to throw toilet paper at the screen] is “GREAT SCOTT!” Fun answer, funner clue.
- 29d. [Like many wetlands] clues FERNY. That’s a word?
- 33d. DEER are [Messengers to the gods, in Shinto]. When I had the *EE* in place, my first thought was FEET.
- 42d. Apparently CRAPS is a [Game with a stickman and a boxman]. I like the cluing parallelism with ANGRY BIRDS.
- 44d. In [Take it on the chin], “it” refers to a RAZOR. Let the record show that I have never once shaved my face. [Take it on the shin] works much better for me.
Mike Torch’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Hi Comedy”
This is my favorite Sunday LA Times puzzle in quite some time. Fun theme, plus plenty of fresh fill and clues. I’ll give it an enthusiastic 4.5 stars (as Joon said the other day, truly out-there, memorable puzzles like Patrick Blindauer’s Fireball crossword earlier this week are what the 5-star rating should be reserved for).
Confession: I accidentally glanced at L.A. Crossword Confidential before doing this puzzle, so I had a leg up on knowing that the theme changed -IGHT words to -IT words. It seems like (and is) an ordinary theme concept, but it’s executed with élan:
- 23a. [Unforgettable louse?] = A NIT TO REMEMBER.
- 33a. [Waterway for sinners?] = STRAIT TO HELL. This is where the theme won my heart.
- 44a. [Uncovers a serious flaw in municipal building plans?] = CAN’T FIT CITY HALL.
- 62a. [Barely visible English pubs?] = BRIT SPOTS ON THE HORIZON.
- 74a. Ohio sweaters? (KNITS OF COLUMBUS).
- 92a. Low cost pay-per-view match? (BOUT FOR A SONG).
- 103a. Where to get a copy of “The Communist Manifesto”? (RED LIT DISTRICT). Cute!
Now that I’m looking at the theme entries, they’re not knocking my socks off. But the whole puzzle was fun to solve. Highlights in cluing and fill:
- 5a. [Stuff in a box on the street] = SNAIL MAIL
- 41a. [Expensive outing, probably] = SPREE
- 101a. [Maid concerns] = METERS
- 108a. [Pennsylvania's state dog] = GREAT DANE
- 2d. [Immortal wife of Francesco del Giocondo] = MONA LISA
- 19d. [Waiting for tech support, often] = ON HOLD
- 45d. [Bo's'n's quarters] = FO’C'SLE (also punctuated FO’C'S’LE by apostrophe addicts)
- 49d. [Bananas] = GONZO
- 93d. [Cry of exasperation] = AARGH
Who can explain why 63d: [Place for a donut] is TRUNK?
Over and out.