Albert R. Picallo’s New York Times crossword
This is a neat theme…but it’s not new to those of us who also do the L.A. Times crossword. Last fall, Rich Norris published a puzzle (under his pen name “Meredith Ito”) with D.C. COMICS tying together four comedians with the initials D.C., and today the N.Y. Times does another version, changing two of the comedians. Mr. Picallo has DANE COOK (eww) and DANA CARVEY, like Rich did, but includes the great DAVE CHAPPELLE and the now-crotchety DICK CAVETT in lieu of Rich’s David Cross (whom I love) and Drew Carey. Great minds think alike, eh?
Boy, I couldn’t type to save my life tonight. Finished the puzzle and discovered there was a typo. Scratch that—three typos in the southeast corner of the grid. And I made typos while correcting them. Distracted by the Wrigley Field webcam picking up tonight’s Paul McCartney concert, visible in another window behind my crossword window. I drove by an hour and a half ago and heard “All My Loving,” as clear as if I were inside the ballpark. Strange to hear a song in concert that was first recorded before I was born.
Where was I? Oh, yes. Crossword. Fill highlights include the BAD BOY/ANACONDA crossing and the nice section opposite that where RIVER and ALLUVIAL are next to each other and then FLORENCE is clued with reference to the river that runs through it.
Fill lowlights include, alas, plenty of stuff, ranging from EEO/OLEO/ELO/LEO zone to INE, ONE-A, IRANI, GBS, D’ARC, and ANTH. As for 36d, doesn’t someone just “return to form” and not “return to OLD FORM“? It Googles up okay, so I guess it’s fine, but it looks peculiar in the grid.
Patti Varol’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Neville’s review
Lying in my bed I hear the clock tick, and I think, “Hey! This is a pretty cool puzzle!” This puzzle comes to us straight for Patti Varol, AKA the Paula Gamache of the LA Times, if you will.
- 18a. [*Delayed reaction] – DOUBLE TAKE
- 20a. [*Radioactive decay measure] – HALF-LIFE. I know that Patti has at least attempted to play Halo (courtesy of her Twitter feed) – I’m terrible at it, Patti, so there’s no judgment here. Anyway, I thought of this because HALF-LIFE is also a video game, but I’ve forgotten where I was going with this. Moving on…
- 31a. [*Aviation display] - AIR SHOW. This past weekend was the 29th Annual Quick Chek Hot Air Balloon Festival up here in New Jersey – I didn’t go, despite Meat Loaf performing.
- 44a. [*Military hobbyist's pastime] – WAR GAME, in which the only winning move is not to play.
- 58a. [*Prom time, to prom-goers] – BIG NIGHT. I call foul – do you see the problem? If not, don’t worry – I’ll explain it in a moment.
- 60a. [*Modern] – PRESENT DAY
- 37a. [Repeatedly... and a hint to the answers to starred clues] – TIME AFTER TIME. I like how this times everything together and alludes to the fact that all of the starred entry words can precede the word time.
My issue? The word time is in the clue at 58a. I’m not a big stickler for a common word in Answer A being in Clue B… but time is the whole theme here, so I’m not a fan of this clue. But hey, it’s a great construction nonetheless.
- Sport! BAD HOP and NO GOOD are fun entries in opposite corners that don’t require extensive knowledge of sports. BREWER doesn’t take that route, but is more along the lines of GALLOS – [Winemakers Ernest and Julio].
- BJORK gets a lot more play in crosswords than on my iPod thanks to those Scrabbly letters. Of course, the crosses are AJA and OAKEN, which aren’t as fun to me. I do like the PJS / JOLTS combo in the lower left… but not in my actual PJs.
- Eat your greens: KALE and CATNIP on the right-hand side of this puzzle. On second thought, don’t eat the catnip.
With all of the thematic content, there’s not much room for other sparkly stuff, but it’s a solid way to continue the start of the week. 3.9 stars from me.
Donna S. Levin’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Beanstalk Talk” – Sam Donaldson’s review
The honoree of today’s puzzle boasts of being able to detect the scent of British people. 65-Across tells us that the GIANT from “Jack and the Beanstalk” is the [Character known for uttering the first parts of] the other four theme entries. And yes, those entries begin with FEE-FI-FO-FUM (in that order):
- 20-Across: A [Halfhearted try] is a FEEBLE ATTEMPT. I like that phrase, even though it is often employed in describing my jokes (as in “That was a feeble attempt at humor”).
- 33-Across: [35-10, for Super Bowl I], was the FINAL SCORE. A more devious clue might have been [Funeral soundtrack?].
- 41-Across: The [Marketer's research tool] is a FOCUS GROUP. I suppose the early pioneers of focus groups conducted one on the use of focus groups. That would almost have to have happened, right? I like this theme entry fo’ FO.
- 50-Across: To [Commit a certain gridiron gaffe] is to FUMBLE THE BALL. I’m not sure there should be two football-related clues among the theme entries. Both FINAL SCORE and FUMBLE THE BALL can be clued without overt references to football, so it makes me wonder why both of them were here. It just feels a little inconsistent.
The theme requires a lot of Fs in the grid, and F can be a surprisingly tricky letter with which to work. Levin actually gives us extra Fs, with AFFORD, FENDI, AFIRE, and AFRO. Yet the grid felt quite smooth. It’s nice to see LAILA ALI, the [Boxing legend's athlete daughter], get the full name treatment, and both REST PERIOD and ANNUAL FUND felt very unforced.
CABAL is at once an interesting and tricky way to kick off the solve at 1-Across. If you’re somewhat new to solving, you might want to get used to ALAE, or [Wings, to an entomologist] (for other folks, it’s a forgettable sitcom). I’m certainly not a fan of the word, but I confess to succumbing to the occasional moments of weakness and using it in crosswords I have constructed.
New to me was AUBERGE, a [Country inn]. It would have been Nice to know from the clue that I was expected to supply the French word meaning “inn,” but eventually the crossings left me confident that I had the correct answer. I also had not heard of “Doolin-DALTON,” the [Eagles song about an infamous Old West outlaw gang]. But with a couple of letters in place I took a flyer on DALTON figuring it might relate to the Dalton Brothers. Their little sister, B, later opened a mildly successful bookstore chain.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “We Now Interrupt Your Ads…”
I held off on blogging the puzzle this morning because I didn’t want to give away the Matt Gaffney meta before the contest deadline. 39a: [___ Maarten (Caribbean island)] clues SINT, using the Dutch name for St. Martin, the half Dutch, half French island—and the island’s name was the answer to the meta puzzle.
Matt J’s theme takes frequent repeater-answer brand names OREO, IKEA, and AVIS and plunks them into other brand names to change their meaning entirely.
- 20a. SuperCuts and Oreo make SUPER CORE OUTS, or [Really, really integral baseball stats (or a hair stylist ad interrupted by a cookie ad)?]. I can’t imagine anyone modifying the adjective “core” with the word “super.”
- 36a. [Dubliners add liquor to the circle (or a soap ad interrupted by a furniture store ad)?] clues IRISH SPIKE A RING, with Irish Spring soap and Ikea.
- 48a. I like the Burt’s Bees brand—their tinted lip balms make a nice substitute for lipstick. 48a. Reynolds’ impressions of an MTV dimwit (or a cosmetics ad interrupted by a rental car ad)? puts Avis in the middle to make [Reynolds' impressions of an MTV dimwit (or a cosmetics ad interrupted by a rental car ad)?]
I like the restriction to brand names, rather than the looseness of adding random crosswordese words to random phrases. The theme doesn’t really do much for me, though, in terms of entertainment value.
Using only three theme entries leaves Matt plenty of room for lively fill, of course. Fresher bits include DEFJAM, Ron ARTEST (the baller legally changing his name to Metta World Peace), EXCALIBUR (husband and I just watched the first half hour of the movie by that name—did you know a much-younger Helen Mirren was in it? It got too late for us to stay up until she appeared, but I want to see what she looked like in 1981), JUST BARELY, Steven SPIELBERG, UBERGEEKS, and a CLOUDBURST (if you like cool clouds, pick up The Cloud Collector’s Handbook, a beautiful little volume).
Super-old crosswordese makes an appearance in the grid, but with one of those Merl Reaglesque anagram clues so it doesn’t matter if you’ve never seen the word: 30d: [Like an old lady (anagram of ELIAN)] = ANILE. I’m a fan of this approach in puzzles that aren’t supposed to be too tough. Within reason, of course—not more than once per puzzle, not in every puzzle, not to include words so obscure that long-time solvers don’t even recognize them.