Byron Walden’s New York Times crossword
I had heard that Byron’s Lollapuzzoola finals puzzle was going to run in the NYT and with an annotation that it was edited by Brian Cimmet and Patrick Blindauer. Well, I just did the puzzle on paper today (the solve-at-home Lollapuzzoola option) and I noticed very few clues that were different between the Lolla and NYT versions (clues for a Rihanna song, Hulk Hogan, and Luke Skywalker’s mom were made easier for the non-pop-culture crowd, but otherwise the difficult set of tournament clues reigned). The applet Notepad just says the puzzle was from Brian and Patrick’s tournament, not that they had a hand in editing it. Odd. The print/PDF version is clearer on that.
Anyway, had I known the puzzle was coming out tonight, maybe I wouldn’t have done it on my clipboard this afternoon. I decided to be a bozo and submit an applet time anyway (which I shouldn’t have done), but even the second pass through in five hours took me 3:30 to fill in. At Lolla, the champion (Jeffrey Harris) completed the puzzle in 8:something, up on the big whiteboard in front of 200 people.
Anyway #2! It’s good news for Byron fans that his Lolla puzzle is more widely available in the Times. Plus! There’s another Walden themeless in the pipeline, plus a few more submissions awaiting Will’s decision. The good Shortz willing, we will have a steady supply of Byronic fare.
Favorite entries: FAKE SMILE, STAY CALM (Emergency directive?] is a good clue), ATE ALIVE, YES WE DID, WALMARTS, PSYOPS, POLAR BEARS, and MICAWBER are great. SEVENTY-NINE is such a ludicrously random number, but it gets rescued by a pop music trivia clue: [Elvis and Mariah's record number of weeks at Billboard's #1].
- 42a. POLAR BEARS are [Ursi maritimi]. That is the Latin plural of Ursus maritimus, believe it or not. I never thought of polar bears as being more swimming-oriented than other bears.
- 53a. [Some of them are flukes] clues WORMS. Kinda gross.
- 1d. Bank HEISTS are [Withdrawals that may incur substantial penalties?], such a lengthy prison sentences.
- 4d. ALLEN is a [Wrench handle?] in that it’s the name of the Allen wrench. That’s the skinny handle-less wrench with the hexagonal cross-section and an L-bend.
- 26d. [In a bad place?] clues LAST. If you’re in last place, that’s not good.
Weirdest answer: 31d: EX-OUTLAW. That doesn’t quite feel like a thing.
Doug “Kouka” Peterson’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Lotsa good stuff in the expected Doug Peterson vein—you know how Doug likes the zippy fill. What am I talking about? This:
- 1a. You’re getting hit with some CHEAP SHOTS. [They're dirty pool].
- 17a. [Does a bit of informal polling] clues ASKS AROUND, thoroughly in the language in a colloquial way. (Not quite as colloquial as S’POSE.)
- 33a. Baseball legend NOLAN RYAN is now [Texas Rangers CEO].
- 38a. [Honey Ryder and Xenia Onatopp, e.g.] are two of Ian Fleming’s ridiculously named BOND GIRLS.
- 26d. The exxtra-Scrabbly EXXONMOBIL is a [Dow 30 company]. Is that the company that Apple just outdid in terms of total valuation?
Favorite clue: 51d: [One needing social work?] is a NERD. Just saw The Social Network last night, finally. I wonder if Mark Zuckerberg’s personal skills have improved.
Eight hardest clues:
- 15a. [Muse of sacred music] is POLYHYMNIA. Wait—she’s the muse of many (poly-) hymns?
- 36a. [Story writer/poet Grace who studied with Auden] is Grace PALEY. I recognize the name but wouldn’t have pegged her for a writer of stories and poems.
- 42a. [Some rectangular bars] are OLEOS, sticks of margarine. The pluralization feels rather bogus.
- 43a. [Feinting spells?] clues SPARS. The sparring of boxers can be called SPARS, plural noun? I had no idea.
- 3d. [Paul's "The Prize" co-star] clues ELKE. Elke Sommer, Paul Newman? Don’t know the movie. Here’s a clip of Sommer and Newman. And here’s a longer clip from the same movie in which Paul Newman hides out at a nudist convention wearing only a towel for 7 minutes on screen. The man was in good shape.
- 4d. [Bard's interjections] clues AYS. I dunno. “Ay” has more of an “Ay caramba” feel to me than a Shakespearean vibe. Have zero recollection of “ay” dialogue in Shakespeare.
- 12d. [It merged with Zanzibar in 1964] clues TANGANYIKA. They became one Tanzania. It was either that or Zanzibanyika.
- 22d. [Singer of complex songs] is a WREN. This means the small songbird rather than a professional singer, right?
Four stars. I could’ve gone a little higher save for those greasy OLEOS.
Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Fire Escape” — Sam Donaldson’s review
Yesterday we opened fire, today we’re putting it out. The three theme entries are expressions that normally end in FIRE, but in this grid the FIRE has “escaped:”
- 20-Across: For purposes of this puzzle, the ["Got to Get You Into My Life" band] becomes EARTH, WIND AND…nothing at all.
- 39-Across: The [Song that references Sputnik and "Wheel of Fortune"] becomes WE DIDN’T START THE, a Twentieth Century history lesson from Billy Joel. The song also references, among other things, Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray, South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio, Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, the Studebaker, television, North Korea, South Korea, and Marilyn Monroe.
- 53-Across: The [1996 film starring Denzel Washington] is curtailed to COURAGE UNDER.
I wonder if Blindauer considered LIAR LIAR PANTS ON as another 15-letter theme entry. That would have made for 54 theme squares, and perhaps that would be too unwieldy. And maybe it would be a tad inconsistent, as the others all have some connection to the entertainment industry. In any case, the theme entries work well as is.
And the fill is lots o’ fun. I really liked NEW KID, the [Recent neighborhood arrival], and it’s part of a nice triple stack of six-letter entries. I DUNNO, clued ["Got me!"], has a lively, conversational feel to it, as does CAN TOO, the [Braggart's assertion]. Earlier this week we saw JETSAM in another puzzle, so it felt like a nice touch to see FLOTSAM, [Jetsam's partner], here. For a grid with 76 words, it sure has an open feel. Check out the wide open swaths in the upper-right and lower-left sections.
I stumbled slightly with NEEDY, the answer to [Far from loaded]. I read “loaded” as “drunk,” so SOBER was the only answer I could think of before reading “loaded” in the correct sense (as “wealthy”). Otherwise, it was a very smooth solve. At times I felt like I was on….
Jeffrey Wechsler’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
Okay, can I just say that I can’t stand solving in the Newsday online applet? Every time I use the arrow keys to switch directions, it moves the active square instead of just changing directions (as it does in the NYT applet and Across Lite), which means I end up typing things in the wrong squares. The speed solver cannot be so speedy if the technology does not cooperate, and I hit so many keys in the process of trying to move an errant E, the browser crashed when I was 80% done with the puzzle. Stan Newman, please please please consider making the puzzle available in a .jpz or .puz format.
While this puzzle has some lovely stuff (SNOW ANGEL, “LOUIE, LOUIE,” IN THE SHADOWS, LATE PASS, KETEL ONE), the pluses were outnumbered by the minuses. Who ever says “LET’S NOT GET SMART“? If you accept “DON’T CALL ME A LIAR,” why on earth is 9d: LIE clued as deceit ([Imposture])? You’ve essentially got the same word in the puzzle twice. The ODDS that are [Fairly unlikely] are SEVEN TO ONE, but that feels so much more random than “10 to 1″ or “100 to 1.” The outdated interjection NERTS is clued as a [Defiant declaration], which isn’t at all the sense I thought it had; I thought it was more a “Nuts!”/”Drat!” kind of thing. And don’t get me started on MR. MXYZPTLK. This [Impish foe of Superman] is something I know of only from crosswords, and it’s rather mean fill. Most solvers are going to plod through the crossings one by one to piece together the spelling, and since I have zero fond childhood memories of the character, it’s not as if I enjoy seeing the crazy name in the grid. (But look how nicely LOUIELOUIE, with its ample vowels, partners with an all-consonant answer above it.)
- 6d. [Pole-vault filler] is the money, the ZLOTYS, that might fill a bank vault in Warsaw.
- 18d. A SNOW ANGEL is a [Winter depression], a body-shaped dent in the snow.
- 8d. [Small tower] is a small boat that tows things, a TUGBOAT.
- 29a. [Bug first discovered in 1989] is a nice science trivia clue for a VIRUS.
- 51a. DBA is clued [High degree recognized by the NSF]. Usually DBA is “doing business as,” a corporate naming abbreviation. The NSF is the National Science Foundation, so maybe this is a doctorate of b___ a___, but boy, I sure don’t have any idea what academic degree this DBA might be.
Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “Spell Weaving”
Easier than most of the other variety-grid types of puzzles, no? The fact that every answer is numbered so you can see exactly where it goes (no guesswork) and exactly how long it is really goes a long way towards making the puzzle more like a regular crossword. It’s just that the Acrosses and Downs wind left and right and up and down instead of in just two directions, and it’s a little harder to find the number of a crossing clue to double-check things. Four stars. Super smooth but (as is the case for pretty much all “Spell Weaving” puzzles) not particularly memorable.
Hey, Mike Shenk! If you’re reading this, can you shoot me an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org)? Cynthia Morris, who makes American Acrostics, has been having no luck reaching you via the Puzzability address and has a business question for you.