I caught up on some puzzles this morning while getting an oil change. My favorite was the “Double or Nothing” variety crossword by Eric Berlin and Patrick Berry. You can download the easier version (PDF) and get instructions for the puzzle, or take the harder one (PDF) and figure it out yourself. (I kinda had it figured out, but confess I peeked at the instructions to make sure.) Fun challenge! This is a five-star treat.
I’m also partial to the cryptic crossword from the August 1/8 issue of The Nation (the current issue is August 15/22). Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto managed to work the name of every country in the Arab League into the clues, so there was a themey vibe to it. Mind you, there’s no geographic knowledge required, just regular cryptic solving skills—but it was neat.
Joe Krozel’s New York Times crossword
I believe this is a Friday puzzle that has fallen into Saturday; easier than I was expecting. The grid is reminiscent of last weekend’s Paula Gamache NYT, and also those Newsday grids packed with 7-letter answers in the corners. I usually don’t much like those 7-heavy grids, but this is an improvement on them. Instead of crossing 7/7/7 stacks, it’s got 7/7/15 stacks that connect to each other, plus a mini-theme of paired 11s crossing in the middle.
Too often, Joe Krozel chases a structural goal in his themeless puzzles, and the smoothness of the fill takes a back seat to technical accomplishment. Today’s grid has a generous 70 words, so it’s not as demanding to craft as a 64-worder. The fill is pretty darned good. In addition to the porcine mini-theme (WHEN PIGS FLY and THE SWINE FLU, which doesn’t have a strong rationale for including the “THE”), there’s a lively quartet of 15s: HIT BELOW THE BELT and DOES A DOUBLE TAKE are solid verb constructions, PETER COTTONTAIL is sweet (though I question his Easter connection), and “I CAN’T SAY AS I HAVE” is delightfully chatty. Highlights among the 7s include “I GOTCHA,” AL ROKER, and TWO-FERS.
Some of the short fill is blah, particularly the plurals GUNNS, ETHS, and ISTS and the crosswordesey ETO, ET TU, and OENO.
Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Is There an Ech-O in Here?” – Sam Donaldson’s review
The other day I needed to do some research on the game of bingo. When I launched Google, it occurred to me that I should instead “Bing bingo.” Lo and behold, today’s puzzle engages in the same wordplay with four phony two-word phrases. Each consists of a repeated word to which an “O” has been added at the end, thus yielding the “Ech-O” alluded to in the puzzle’s title:
- 17-Across: DINER DINERO is [What to pay with at a greasy spoon in Cancun?]. “Cancun” must have been chosen because it rhymes with “spoon,” no? Maybe [A doubloon at a greasy spoon in Cancun?] would have taken the rhyming one step too far.
- 26-Across: Ever wonder [Where some stringed instruments get locked up?] Yeah, me neither. But for the record, it’s a CELLO CELL.
- 48-Across: The [Ad for a high-school dance?] is a PROM PROMO. Some popular prom promos include “The Closest You’ll Get to Third Base for Three More Years” and “25 Years from Now, You’ll Wonder What All the Fuss Was About.” Am I projecting?
- 59-Across: [Marlon’s trademark] would be the BRANDO BRAND. He was known for being tough in his trademark negotiations, but he usually got his way by making the other side an offer they couldn’t refuse.
There’s lots of good stuff in the fill, especially with EROTICA atop the OPEN BAR. This Trekkie liked seeing both MR. SULU and Lieutenant UHURA in the grid. And I liked seeing CANCER too. I don’t subscribe to the view that a word like CANCER has to be nixed simply because it’s also the name of a disease. Yes, crosswords should be fun and not depressing, but it just feels like we whitewash life in all its fullness a little too much when we discard a word like CANCER as taboo. We wouldn’t toss out AIDS (which we can clue benignly as [Assists]), so we shouldn’t toss out CANCER. But hey, I’m also in favor of using URINE (it could be clued innocuously as [What the club's bouncer says as he lifts the velvet rope], right?).
The cluing is Quintessential Blindauer™, meaning it’s crisp and lively. I liked [Greek musician with an honorary degree from the University of Minnesota] as the clue for YANNI. We usually get only the [Greek musician] part in YANNI clues; the added information is quirky and interesting. Even the typical ["I'm cold!"] clue for BRR gets dressed in snazzier clothes with [“I’m chilly-willy!”]. Maybe I would have preferred [Dan Gable, e.g.] as the clue for IOWAN, but [Davenport citizen] works just fine.
Brad Wilber’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Oops, I did it again. I hate it when I solve a puzzle late in the evening and then decide I’m too tired to blog it. By the time morning rolls around, I’ve lost my momentum and it takes hours to summon it up. (Or is this a procrastinator’s rationalization?)
Grids like this, with the stair-stepped 11/13/15 stacks, tend to be interesting. With most themeless grids, there’s no good way to include 13-letter answers. Now, I’ll grant you that VELCRO CLOSURE and STABLE ECONOMY (quit taunting! nobody even knows what that is anymore) aren’t the most exciting answers, but their neighbors are crisp. I have a cherry TOMATO PLANT (1a: [It may be caged or staked]) on my back deck (mine’s caged), and at last I have more than zero to three tomatoes to harvest at one time. (Thus far this summer, I think I’ve picked a total of five cherry tomatoes.) COMMITS TO MEMORY, the classic THIS IS SPINAL TAP, and UP FOR DEBATE are all good too.
Things I didn’t know:
- 12d. [Lightly and quickly, in music] is what VOLANTE means.
- 33d. [1984 #1 country hit by the Judds] is WHY NOT ME. I SENSE (47a: [Perceive]) that Brad likes country music as well as opera (see next item).
- 5d. [“Vissi d’arte” singer] is TOSCA. I tried the generic TENOR, but Tosca is a female character, right?
- 11d. [Rainbow and Dolly Varden] clues TROUTS. Never heard of Dolly Varden and hope never to see VARDEN in a crossword grid.
- 41a. [Arlington, Va., post] is FT. MYER. I think that name wants to be the far more common Meyer or Myers.
- 32a. [Epoch in which grazing mammals became widespread] is the MIOCENE. Why was I thinking PIOCENE was more likely?
- 53d. [Org. with a pair of gloves in its logo] is the IBF. Uh, International Boxing Federation? Yes.
19a: [First name in travel] is MARCO, as world traveler Marco Polo. Is there a travel agency named after him?
Stan Newman’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” (under pen name Lester Ruff)
The byline hints that this puzzle is supposed to be “less rough,” but I dunno, it took me longer than the Saturday NYT so I’m calling the byline Les Quickly.
This is similar to the sort of 7-dense grid I was talking about in my NYT write-up, except that the stacks of 7s are crossed by 6s and 8s here rather than more 7s.
Weirdest-looking answer: a BIG IF, clued as 24a: [Problematic event].
Thought 34d: [Cold-war phenomenon] was ATOM-something, because 38a: [Sort of oven] screamed TOASTER. I have never heard any sort of oven called a ROASTER, but then I don’t do much roasting. The R points to ARMS RACE for 34d.
Literary trivia I didn’t know: Louisa May ALCOTT = [Author taught by Thoreau]. Mixology trivia I didn’t know: BITTERS are a [Mai-tai ingredient]. Corporate trivia I didn’t know: OMAHA, NE, is [TD Ameritrade’s headquarters]. Trivia book trivia I didn’t know: Franz LISZT is the [Composer seen on the last page of "The Book of Lists"]. TV trivia from the era of The Book of Lists that I actually did know: “SIT ON IT” was a [’70s TV catchphrase] from Happy Days. (See also “funny as a crutch”; “up your nose with a rubber hose” was from Welcome Back, Kotter, also in the ’70s).
Clue masquerading as movie trivia: [Lead character in “Jerry Maguire”] is the CAPITAL J that’s the first character/letter in the title “Jerry Maguire.”
Shiniest answers: SHOOT PAR, two-Z NOZZLES.
Trickiest clue: [Railroad aides] takes the long way around for FIREMEN. I would have pieced together BIG IF a lot faster with a hook-and-ladder or rescue clue here. Is this still a job on trains? Union Pacific says yes: “Member of the steam locomotive crew who feeds the firebox with fuel. On diesel locomotives, the firemen would monitor controls and assist the engineer.” So it’s still a job title even though there’s not much call for shoveling coal into a steam engine anymore.
I like 11d: [Literally, “small hook”] for HACEK. The haček, aptly enough, has a haček over its C. (It’s so meta!) In the name of Czech composer Antonín Dvořák, the haček tells you it’s not an \r\ sound but rather \rzh\.
Patrick Berry’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “Rows Garden”
Maybe the Wall Street Journal should start including the date or numbering the puzzles—if I were to keep my PDF of today’s “Rows Garden” puzzle, there’s no indication of when it was published. There’s no handy-dandy copyright line, either. (Hmm, looking at the NYT Diagramless for tomorrow, I see that PDF is similarly unmarked. I guess it’s easier to snip out what’s going in the paper without adding anything to it, but still.)
I like how Patrick clied LIVELY (a Will Shortz key word for describing good crossword fill) as [Full of sparkle], and then went ahead and filled his Rows Garden grid with sparkling entries and zippy clues. The fill includes titles (NATIONAL VELVET, “UNDERCOVER ANGEL”), old slang (THE CAT’S PAJAMAS, SECOND BANANA, LOVE BEADS), and geography (BRAZILIANS, PANAMA CANAL). ESPERANTO is clued with a funny Spike Milligan bit. GIRAFFE gets a historical-oddity clue: [Animal once believed to be the offspring of a camel and leopard, or “camelopard”]. From the class of 6-letter Blooms answers, my favorite is HOWLER/[Laughable mistake].
Odd observation: I filled in some Rows and looked at which Bloom clue I could cross off. NOT NOW? Where is that clued among the Light Blooms? Oh! It’s WON TON backwards. This could be the center of a palindromic dialogue about Chinese food. Or maybe not the center but the entirety. “Won ton?” “Not now.”
Giving this one the standard Berry/Rows Garden five stars.