Paula Gamache’s New York Times crossword, “Hack Saws”
Paula has hacked various old saws in half, putting their beginnings into the theme clues and dropping alternative endings into the grid. Hey, that makes for an entertaining crossword. The new endings may be recycled from the hive mind or they may be Paula’s own doing—I don’t quite recognize any, so they all feel fresh to me. “A penny saved is…” NOT ENOUGH TO RETIRE ON. On the plus side, the penny is not subject to the depredations of a bear market. “Where there’s a will, there’s…” GOING TO BE A RELATIVE hoping for an inheritance. “If at first you don’t succeed…” REDEFINE THE MISSION. Say you’re struggling with a crossword. Why retain the goal of completing it with all the right answers when the grid will be just as full if you put random letters in the empty squares. I like this theme.
Highlights: PAINKILLER, yes, please; make mine a double. ([Didn't suffer in silence] = MOANED.) TABOULI salad, THE RIALTO, and a cute 1-Across, the HIPPO [with a huge yawn]. Not a ton of sparkle in the fill, but not a ton of compromises either so it balances out. Four stars from me.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “Refills”
Another fun theme from Merl. The solver’s knee-jerk reaction is to plunk in the usual answer to common fill-in-the-blank clues, but Merl upends that in a whimsical way:
- 24a. [Mauna ___] KEA and LOA step aside for monoNUCLEOSIS.
- 26a. Rather than ARS [___ longa ...], it’s I CAN’T WAIT ANY longer.
- 45a. ["Ben-___"] HUR? No, been THERE, DONE THAT.
- 64a. [Mai-___] TAI? No, my DOG HAS FLEAS.
- 78a. What usually precedes ["___ an arrow ..."]? A partial like I SHOT? Here, it’s THE STRAIGHT and narrow. This is the weak link in the batch.
- 97a. [Costa ___] RICA? BRAVA? No, cost of DOING BUSINESS.
- 120a. Instead of the partial A TO for [From ___ Z], we get SEA TO SHINING sea.
- 123a. ITSY [___-bitsy]? Try HEAVENS TO Betsy.
- 2d. Who needs a NE’ER [___-do-well] when you can say I CHALLENGE YOU TO A duel?
- 8d. OOM [___-pah] is lame fill but MA AND pa is better.
- 12d. [Tete-___] A-TETE would duplicate the clue’s “tete,” and the pronunciation is pushing it for a Ted WILLIAMS pun.
- 42d. ["Woe ___!"] IS ME? Nah. Whoa, WHOA, WHOA, FEELINGS. What a dreadful song. Great theme entry, but terrible song.
- 88d. Instead of MAL [___ de mer], the answer is HIS HONOR. This one took me a while to understand, which is silly because I live in Chicago and the Daleys père et fils were often called ”da Mare,” which sounds more like “__ de mer” than “the mayor.”
- 110d. Not sure what’s happening here. ["Alley ___"] OOP is the instinctual answer, and KAZAM follows…ala? Is “Alakazam!” one word or more?
Note that Merl has barred all nonthematic FITB clues from this puzzle.
Favorite answer: 99d: [Words after "There"], I SAID IT. Honorable mention: 55a: [Effusive love letter], MASH NOTE.
Thought 58d: [Eccentric type] would be ODDBALL but it turned out to be ODD DUCK. Quack! There’s also a duck in the NHL clue, 30a: [Org. of Ducks and Penguins].
Randolph Ross’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” — Sam Donaldson’s review
This week’s 68/28 freestyle offering is from Randolph Ross, a name I associate more closely with themed puzzles. That’s not a very accurate observation on my part, however; according to the xwordinfo.com website, 36 of Ross’ 96 NYT puzzles have been so-called “themeless” puzzles. Another 41 have been Sunday puzzles, meaning he’s only had 19 themed Monday-through-Thursday puzzles. (“Only,” says the kid with a whopping six NYT puzzles with his byline.) The point is that I’m wrong to think of Ross as primarily a constructor of themed puzzles.
Though there are a couple of 12s in the grid (MAIDEN VOYAGE being substantially more lively than TUNGSTEN LAMP), most of the action centers on the mid-range stuff. Here then is a look at the good, the bad, and the noteworthy. First the good:
- My favorite entry is right in the heart of the grid, with SO AND SO, clued [No-goodnik]. I don’t hear people being referred to as “so-and-sos” anymore, and I miss that. Earlier this weekend while sitting at a park, I heard a boy no older than 8 shout “Yoo-hoo!” to announce his arrival to friends. We don’t hear “yoo-hoo” enough anymore either.
- LET ME GO is a great entry. The clue was a bit of a downer, though. [Plea to a kidnapper] might be just a little evocative. I think [Plea to an older sibling who's holding you down] would have been a little softer.
- [Barker's longtime announcer] was Johnny OLSON. Game show references always win me over.
- I liked the opening clue at 1-Across: [Your fodder's place]. Nice way to make SILO an interesting start.
- I also liked the MGM LION, the [Movie studio mascot]. That’s a gnarly run of consonants up front.
Now the bad:
- Is there some historical context I’m missing here or is [They were once slaves] a so-obvious-it-has-to-be-wrong clue for FREE MEN? That’s like using [They were once kids] as the clue for GROWN UPS. Or [They were once younger] for OLD PEOPLE.
- I’ve never been a fan of ERIE, PA as an entry. Would we tolerate AKRON, OH or FARGO, ND or OREM, UT as fill? (Pause for angry mob to shout, “No!”) Then why we should we tolerate ERIE, PA—just because it’s two-thirds vowels? (Pause for angry mob to get angrier and light torches.)
- YACHTED? Now I’ve only been on one yacht ever, and it wasn’t for very long, so perhaps those in the boat-eratti can fill me in, but I would think no one would say, “I yachted yesterday” unless it was a euphemism for something gross or sexual. ”I rode aboard a yacht,” “I sailed on a yacht,” even “I went boating on a yacht”—all of those I can see. But not “I yachted.”
And the noteworthy:
- An otherwise weird/forced entry, APIARISTS, is substantially enhanced with the great clue, [They work with buzzers]. That’s how you put lipstick on a pig.
- I haven’t heard of [Salsa singer] CELIA [Cruz], but with a name having 60% vowels, I think I should make it a point to get to know her work.
- HILARIOUS, clued [Like a very successful comedian], reminded me of a bit from the comedian Louis C.K. He tells of his disgust for someone saying “That’s hilarious!” in response to a friend’s observation that a woman was back in town. ”That’s not hilarious,” says Louis C.K., regardless of what that particular woman looks like. He has a good point that we might tend to reach for the extremes in our descriptions of things a little too readily sometimes.
- I used to collect S AND H green stamps with my mom. I did not know that they were now called “greenpoints” or that you can still redeem any green stamps you might have sitting around.
It’s only because of crosswords that I knew [Discus champ Al] OERTER. Remember, kids, sometimes today’s mystery will be tomorrow’s easy answer.
Patrick Berry’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 71″ — pannonica’s review
I didn’t know I’d be blogging this puzzle when I solved it
this last Sunday morning, but even if I had—and been focussed on speed—I doubt my solving time would have been much less than it was, which I estimate to be somewhere in the high teens or low twenties.
Yes, this themeless was a toughie for me. A toughie, but a very satisfying solve. Zero dross. I mean, nothing. No unsightly partials, no hoary crosswordese, one well-known acronym (51d MCI), and one unforced fill-in-the-blank clue 26a ["Fortunate __" (Creedence Clearwater Revival song)] SON.
Aside from the tricky cluing, which I’ll write a little about in a moment, what slowed me down was some relatively early fill that I was reluctant to abandon.
- 15d. With _ I _ E_ _ _ in place, I was somehow convinced that [Romantic, in a way] was PIE-EYED, but it turned out to be FIRELIT.
- Ironically enough, at 15d’s symmetrical partner I was done in again. 31d [Pizza slices typically]. Seven letters, EIGHTHS of course! No, OCTANTS. And it isn’t the first time I’ve made that particular mistake in a crossword. I must have been pizza-pie-eyed.
All right, so it was basically two big blunders, but they were pivotal. Let’s look at the three long entries.
- 16a. [Forward-looking benefit?] BINOCULAR VISION.
- 30a. [Venture for small business owners] LEMONADE STAND.
- 50a. [Reading at a library, say] ROOM TEMPERATURE.
Strong, with subtly misleading clues, like much of those in this puzzle. Here are some others of that ilk which I found pleasingly vexatious: 17d [Things that come in sets?] V-CHIPS; 20a [Cardinal points?] CRESTS (birds); 12d [Pavarotti contemporary] SCOTTO (that’s Italian soprano Renata Scotto; I was fooled into thinking of another tenor) and the also singing-related 13d ["Rainbow Connection" singer] who was the man behind KERMIT the Frog, Jim HENSON; 25d [Order specifications] SIDES (food); and last, 41a [They never win at war] are the lowly TWOs in a deck of cards.
Then there were the interesting-trivia clues, including: 29d [First African-born winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature] is Albert CAMUS, born to French parents in Algeria (I knew that and it still flummoxed me!); 14a [Celebrity who owns a Cadillac decorated with silverware] URI GELLER, which makes perfect sense, in retrospect; 38d [Animated horse's surname], I could not for the life of me think of any animated horse, but when I finally got MCGRAW I of course remembered Quick-Draw McGraw from those ubiquitous Hanna-Barbara productions. Speaking of Hanna, I can never remember if the tennis player is ANNA or HANA Mandlikova (27a).
And on and on. IN TRUTH (21a), the cluing was clever and strong throughout and I could easily praise individual entries for another two or three paragraphs. Instead, I’ll just mention that in addition to its other virtues, this puzzle had dense structure and Scrabbly fill. Nothing not to like.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Boston Globe crossword, “Ham-Writing Analysis” — pannonica’s review
“What we have here is… failure to communicate.”
Well, no. Not actually. It’s more like hypercommunication. The theme answers are common abbreviations or acronyms expanded to the NATO phonetic alphabet, which has been adopted by the ham radio community. It seems that ham in this context shares its etymology with the emoter of crossword fame; m-w.com lists them as subdefinitions a and b of sense 3, which is “short for hamfatter, from ‘The Ham-fat Man,’ minstrel song.”
Each of the clues for the theme entries is reminiscent of a cryptic crossword clue, in that it contains a hint for the ostensible answer as well as a “definition” for the original acronym or abbreviation. Each also contains “ham” in various guises.
- 23a. [Ham collegian's fall outfit?] NOVEMBER YANKEE UNIFORM (NYU: New York University).
- 38a. [Base for Canadian hams?] HOTEL QUEBEC (HQ: headquarters).
- 40a. [Decent pot for a Hollywood bash?] OSCAR KILO (OK: okay). Not quite sure how the “kilo” fits in.
- 58a. [Cyberspace for stewed hams?] WHISKEY WHISKEY WHISKEY (WWW: World Wide Web).
- 79a. [Ham doctor's order for a heartbreak?] ROMEO XRAY (Rx: alteration of R, from abbreviation of Latin recipe, “take”).
- 81a. [Ham radio host of lovesick blues?] DELTA JULIET (DJ: disc jockey). “Delta” references early blues from the Mississippi Delta (that’s the tributary delta, an alluvial plain up in northwestern Mississippi and Arkansas, not the gulf delta).
- 100a. [Ham's weekend plans abroad?] TANGO GOLF INDIA FOXTROT (TGIF: “Thank God It’s Friday”). Sounds like an action-packed, if slightly retro, time.
A rather twisted theme mechanism for a regular crossword, but it makes for a lot of fun. Solvers unfamiliar with cryptics won’t consciously notice the extra dimension, but will probably intuit it. In any event, it shouldn’t impair their experience.
Scrabbly fill and a good mix of the common and the esoteric. I was fortunate in knowing many of the less well-known or obvious proper nouns right away:
- 56a. [Totem-carving tribe] HAIDA.
- 94a. [New Age institute] ESALEN.
- 107a. [Home to some Sargents] TATE.
- 109a. [Shrek creator William] STEIG.
- 2d. [Earth-orbiting chimp] ENOS (but that’s kind of a crosswordese repeater).
- 61d. ['Riverdance' composer Bill] WHELAN. I have no idea why or how I knew that one!
- 88d. ['Man on Wire' subject Philippe] PETIT.
- 90d ['Le Fifre' painter] MANET.
Some others I seemed to magically seize on were (all downs) ZINC, ONE MILE, SEMINAL, DYNAMIC, TUNISIAN, LAIT, SKIP, DUGONGS, JUMBO, and UNWAXED. Was mostly mystified by 53a [Benedict III's predecessor] LEO IV; 88a [Hair goo for men] POMATUM; 25d [Swamp cypress feature] KNEE; 35d [Volcanic Aleutian island] ATKA; 92d [Thwacks] BIFFS. All of these were resolved easily enough (ENUF, 104a) with crossings, but the crossing of 19d and 46a truly had me stymied: [Chase in baseball] UTLEY and [Speaker in the Hall] TRIS. Searching the webs, I see Tris[tram] Speaker is another baseball figure; I cry “foul!”
Perhaps to compensate for the unusual working and presentation of the theme entries, the cluing throughout the rest of the puzzle is staid and lacks playfulness. Nevertheless, an above-average puzzle.
Matt Skoczen’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Keeping Quiet”
As the title hints, each theme entry has a “SH” tacked onto a familiar phrase—in this case, at the beginning of either the first or last word in the phrase. It looked haphazard to me, but Doug Peterson notes that it toggles between first and last word in an alternating pattern:
- 23a. [Where Persian rulers rough it?] = SHAH WILDERNESS.
- 34a. [Agnostics' reactions to grace?] = PRAYER SHRUGS. I like this one.
- 52a. [Vaudeville hook?] = SHTICK COLLAR.
- 74a. [Pet predator that survived the flood?] = NOAH’S SHARK.
- 76a. [Organization of river herrings?] = SHAD AGENCY. How else are you gonna clue “shad”? It’s not a fun word.
- 91a. [Analyst for Kings and Senators?] = HOCKEY SHRINK. My favorite theme answer, plus it’s got a great clue.
- 110a. ["Help, I'm stuck in this tree!", e.g.?] = SHOUT ON A LIMB. I once had to pull a Honda under a tree branch when a guy who had climbed up there couldn’t find his way down.
- 126a. [Where to find many cookie jars?] = KEEBLER SHELVES. I’m thinking mass-produced cookie factories have not got too many cookie jars.
The fill didn’t really do anything for me here. “I’M SO MAD” wanted to be tucked away somewhere, not emblazoned at 1-Across. Plural SLOES, AT ‘EM crossing TORA, RAL, SAV, IMARET, UTES and CREES, YSL crossing plural SLYS, ITAR—just a whole lot of that sort of stuff. Now, I’ll grant you that the HOT DISH/HASHISH crossing is awesome. (“Hot dish” is Minnesotan for “casserole” as well as a more generic “bring a hot dish to share.”)