Note to readers: If you submit a comment and it vanishes, e-mail me—your comment may have been snared by the spam filter. Spam volume is up, so I’m no longer skimming all the spam comments to look for innocent victims.
Alan Arbesfeld’s New York Times crossword
The 10 longest answers in this grid (9+ letters) are thematic. As in 37-Down, FINDING NEMO, you can find NEMO hidden in each of them, forwards or backwards. (E.g., NOT TO MENTION.) The Notepad message says that there’s a name hidden 17 times in the grid, word search style. So…there are another 7 NEMOs elsewhere, outside of those 10? Yeah, I’ll take your word for it. Not in the mood for a word search on my computer screen today.
Trickiest clue: 15d: [Notes to pick up on?] are the RINGTONE that tells you to pick up your (cell) phone.
Blechiest clue: 17d: [Mid 22nd-century year] is MMCL. Really? In 140 years, we’ll be using Roman numerals?
Favorite clue: 76d: [Field of stars?] is CINEMA. Seems obvious now, but I was stumped for a while there.
Most out-there pop-culture clue: 94a: [1936 Loretta Young title role] is RAMONA. My 68-year-old mom has never heard of this one. She’s simply too young. Now, Beverly Cleary’s classic Beezus and Ramona kid-lit, that was published in 1955. Is that too obscure a RAMONA? Too unfamiliar to solvers over the age of 80?
There’s some blah fill in here. It felt like there were a bunch of boring little words with I’s in them: IN ON, IS IT, IT I, I’M SO…even ISIS and -ITIC start to look like “IS IS” and “IT IC.” One wildly unfamiliar word in the grid is SIMA (54d: [Lower layer of the earth's crust]. Apparently (if the dictionary is to be believed) it gets its name from silicon and magnesia and it underlies the oceans and continents. Whereas the upper/continental layer of crust is sial, silicon and aluminum. Constructors, please don’t all rush to your computers to make sure you’ve got SIMA and SIAL in your word lists. I took geology in college and don’t recall ever learning these words. I have, on the other hand, heard of the Finnish town of OULU. Alas, it is only because I have been doing a lot of crosswords for a long time.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “Lara’s Theme”
Oof! My mom and I were solving this puzzle at the same time. What a treat for me to be able to say “Really, Merl? Really? Check out 112-Across,” and receive commiseration.
The theme is a nonmusical “Lara’s Theme,” with LARA hidden in each theme answer. That means a bunch of theme entries without wordplay, without puns, without humor. I suppose the theme’s denouement, 115a: [Q: "So, where are all of the LARAs in this puzzle, sweetheart?" A: "___"] “SOMEWHERE, MY LOVE,” might have something to do with the song. I have no idea what the lyrics are, so… The penultimate theme answer does have some humor—107a:[What we're living in, to Bush or Carter], NUCULAR AGE—but the rest of it, meh. Never heard of the DODGE POLARA (103a: [1960s muscle car]). DOLLAR AVERAGING, TABULA RASA, FORT LARAMIE, BURGLAR ALARM, SMELL A RAT, PULL A RABBIT OUT OF A HAT, DECLARATIVE SENTENCES, THE L.A. RAMS, and EXHILARATING round out the theme.
So, 12 theme entries is a lot by most constructors’ standards, but pretty much par for the Reagle course. Usually the fill is fun, but here, oof, I don’t know what happened. These ones pained me:
- 1d. Right off the bat at 1-Down, [Architect Paolo of Arcosanti fame] clues SOLERI. Who?
- 5a. Hop over a bit to the middle of the first row. [Argentine river that sounds like a fish] clues PARANA. What?
- 28a. [Swedish-born actress who played Candy in "Candy," ___ Aulin] clues EWA. Who? Oh, yeah. That European actress who has been in a couple crosswords.
- 37d. [Delaware, the ___ State] clues BLUE HEN. There’s a reason the Delaware state quarter doesn’t feature the Blue Hen: Most people outside of Delaware don’t think about its state bird.
- 63d. [In ___ (before noon)] clues THE A.M. It’s gettable, sure, but a weird-looking partial.
- 112a. [Town, lake, or dam in Panama] clues GATUN. Where, what, what?
I’m not sure what to make of A RIB (8d: ["Is this ___?"]). Is this a reference to something famous?
So overall, no, this puzzle did not make me sing TRA LA, that 20d: [Merry refrain]. (Of course, next time I’m feeling merry, I’m totally gonna sing “tra la.” Join me, won’t you? And if your mood is the opposite of merry, go with “OH, ME” or “AH, ME.”)
Cutest answer: 12d: MAMA BIRD, [She brings home the worms].
2.5 stars because that odd Maleskaesque fill was so off-putting.
Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” — Sam Donaldson’s review
This week’s 72/29 freestyle from Doug Peterson is just a ridonkulously smooth offering. What’s the most obscure thing in this puzzle? OPE, clued [Not shut, in odes]? Legendary [French actress] ANOUK Aimee? GDS, short for “goods” and clued as [Dept. store stock]? That’s an awfully short list for a grid that contains so many entries that are well-in-the-language and/or fresh.
The highlights, and other items of interest:
- [Ke$ha, for one] clues POP STAR. You can almost hear the clock running on her 15 minutes…tik tok, tik tok.
- The ACTUARY is the [Worker with tables]. I would have been an actuary but I wasn’t sufficiently extroverted.
- The [Burrower that barks] is the super-cute PRAIRIE DOG. I like how it sits vertically in the grid, just a like a prairie dog in real life (as illustrated to the right).
- CAPTAIN AMERICA is the [Superhero who wields an indestructible shield]. He’s one to Marvel at.
- Lest I come across as a know-it-all here, let me offer proof to the contrary: I started to type GERALDO as the answer to [Rivera known for saves]—hey, it fit!—and even got to the R before realizing the right answer was MARIANO.
- TAGALOG was the [Language spoken in Luzon]. Add an N and you have a great Girl Scout cookie.
- I really like the pairing of CREDIT CARD with TIME SHARES in the northwest. It looks so unforced and effortless, let both terms are great entries.
- A “savings and loan,” or S AND L, is a [Place of interest, briefly?]. Great clue. My other favorite clue here was [Vikings explored it] for MARS.
- Both [Fuddy-duddy] and FOGY are terrific words. Together they make for a wonderful clue and entry.
Peterson constructed one of the crosswords featured in the recent Lollapuzzoola 4 tournament. Being “stuck” on the west coast I was unable to attend, but I paid the modest fee to participate in the “at home” division. I solved the puzzles yesterday, and they were uniformly excellent. Peterson’s puzzle really stood out for incorporating a very fun word search element that simply had to be done on paper for the full effect. I won’t say more in case another member of Team Fiend plans to write about the puzzles here, as it probably won’t be me.
Pamela Amick Klawitter’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword
This “Scrambled Signals” theme has a little overlap with Byron Walden’s 2007 puzzle, “In Other Words.” Phrases that suggest (in the way that a cryptic crossword clue might) anagramming are partnered with anagrammed words that appear elsewhere in the grid.
- 24a. [91-Across?] clues GARBLED SPEECH, and 91a is [Aviary sounds], or CHEEPS—an anagram of SPEECH.
- 49a. [1-Down?] clues ALTERED STATES, while 1d is TASTES, or [Tries].
- 92a. [111-Down?] clues SHIFTING GEARS, and GEARS scrambles into SARGE, or [Barracks bigwig].
- 121a. [58-Across?] is MIXED BLESSING, 58a being GLIBNESS, or[ Lack of sincerity]. This is the part that made me think of Byron’s puzzle, as that one partnered MIXED BLESSING with both GLIBNESS and B SINGLES.
- 3d. [129-Across?] clues TWISTED SISTER, the ’80s metal band that I am delighted to find in the grid. It’s paired with RESIST, or [Put up a fight].
- 61d. [79-Across?] is a CHANGE OF HEART, anagramming EARTH, which is a [Milky Way planet].
Fun puzzle-within-a-puzzle. 4.5 stars for the theme.
Did you know 128a, that ALGERIA is the [Largest African country]? I could’ve sworn it was Sudan. Oh, wait! Sudan split into two countries (South Sudan and its capital of Juba are now fair game for crosswords) and Algeria got promoted to the top of the standings.
Likes: Buffy the HEROINE Vampire Slayer, in CAHOOTS, pesky IN BOXES, smooth cluing overall.
Dislikes: AH SO/ARE SO, the DERAT/IN B combo, the ELEA/SAPOR combo, and SERIATE sort of took me out of the enjoyable solving vibe.
Henry Hook’s Boston Globe crossword — pannonica’s review
They say the Boston Globe crosswords are published on-line six weeks after they appear in the newspaper, but it seems more likely this patriotic puzzle appeared in the 3 July edition (seven weeks ago) rather than the tenth.
In any case, each theme entry consists of a string of words, each the back part of a two-word phrase or compound word. The first halves of each string, which do not appear in the puzzle but hover over the proceedings, are red/white/blue.
- 18a. [Big Warning/Cocktail/Plan] ALERT RUSSIAN PRINT (red alert, white Russian, blueprint).
- 25a. [Complex procedure/Moonshine/Intellectual reader] TAPE LIGHTNING STOCKING (red tape, white lightning, bluestocking).
- 49a. [Mars/Bland/Duke] PLANET BREAD DEVILS (red planet, white-bread, Blue Devils). The Duke athletic teams were named in honor of the elite French military unit, les Chasseurs Alpins, formed in 1888 and nicknamed “les Diables Bleus.”
There are a couple of different plants commonly known as ‘blue devils,’ including the Australian Eryngium pinnatifidum (Bunge, 1845) and the European Echium vulgare (Linnaeus, 1753); the scientific name of neither translates literally to ‘blue devil’ and I cannot determine when the common names came into use.
- 64a. [Phony clue/Crosby hit/Muffin type] HERRING CHRISTMAS BERRY (red herring, “White Christmas,” blueberry).
- 82a. [Schwarzenegger movie/Buyout saviour/Shipwreck story] SONJA KNIGHT LAGOON (Red Sonja, white knight, Blue Lagoon).
- 113a. [Clem portrayer/Burdensome possession/Elvis film] SKELTON ELEPHANT HAWAII (Red Skelton, white elephant, Blue Hawaii). Clem Kadiddlehopper.
- 118a. [Ceremonial courtesy/D.C. landmark/Outstanding] CARPET HOUSE RIBBON (red carpet, White House, blue-ribbon).
I don’t know if it was intentional on Hook’s part, but more than a few of the themers seem to go together to form an image or narrative (most especially 64a and 118a). Then again, they may simply be instances of apophenia. Regardless, I found the theme easy to uncover early on and fun to work, in that it aided and enhanced my solve rather than revealing itself post facto.
Nothing particularly remarkable, good or bad, about the ballast fill; mostly solid vocabulary and cluing in support of the showcased material.
Least favorite things:
- The ORR / RONCEY crossing (15a/16d) was tricky, as the former wasn’t clued in as the familiar hockey legend Bobby but as a ["Catch-22" pilot]. (Instead, we get 122a [Football hall-of-famer Bobby] LAYNE, which crosses the also-unfamiliar (90d) [Pale red wine] CATAWBA). Nevertheless, they were fairly easy to guess correctly.
- 89a [Multiple of XCVII] = MCDLV. I think by now you all know my opinion of random Roman numerals, especially arithmetic ones, as pretty much the lowest of the low in ‘legitimate’ crossword construction. Roman numerals as unspecific dates are just as distasteful.
- 53d [Recumbent one] LIER.
Some of my favorite things:
- CAPELET alongside ABSALOM and to a lesser extent the analogous symmetrical pairing of CHAIN TO and HANGARS. They just look nice.
- MOPSY, GLOBE clued as [Orrery component], ORGEAT, WISPY clued with [Gossamer].
Doug Peterson’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 72″
Man, Doug is busting out all over this weekend. Three themelesses! It’s a good thing I generally like Doug’s puzzles or this would be making me cranky. This one skews younger/hipper than the other ones:
- 1a. [Rapper with the platinum debut album "Pink Friday"] is the often oddly attired NICKI MINAJ.
- 20a. GORILLAZ are a [Grammy-winning band composed of four cartoon characters].
- 67a. NAOMI WATTS is your ["21 Grams" Oscar nominee].
- 11d. [Animated character whose name is an acronym] is WALL•E.
- 17a. CHARTREUSE is apparently the [Crayola color renamed Laser Lemon]. Really? Because lemon is more hardcore yellow and chartreuse has a definite green tinge to it.
- 34a. [See ___] ABOVE. Hey! It’s a cross reference that doesn’t actually make you refer to anything else in the puzzle. WIN.
- 51a. [Rocky road ingredient?] is GRAVEL. Great clue! And now I’m in the mood for that mint chocolate chip ice cream.
- 56a. [What may improve an actor's lines?] is getting a FACELIFT. I read that Kate Winslet, Emma Thompson, and Rachel Weisz have formed a group that’s against cosmetic surgery. Yay for them! That “uncanny valley” phenomenon is worse with plasticized actors than with human-like robots. Mickey Rourke, Nicole Kidman, Meg Ryan, Courteney Cox—all off-puttingly no longer themselves.
- 58a. The verb [Double's opposite] is HALVE. Simple yet tricky.
- 61a. [Loggerheads, e.g.] duped me. I was thinking of STANDSTILL and STALEMATES, the metaphorical “at loggerheads,” rather than, uh, SEA TURTLES.
- 66a. EDAM is a Dutch [Cheese burg]. Bonus points for this looking like the root of “cheeseburger.”
- 14d. [Raiders' targets] masks that capital R. It’s big-R Oakland Raiders, NFL players who aim at the END ZONES.
- 46d. [Single from Elvis Costello's "My Aim Is True"] is “ALISON.” Oh! What a lovely song. Elvis opened for the Police in the last concert of my life, and he sang “Alison.” Just wonderful. (But all too loud inside Allstate Arena.) Go have a listen.
- 57d. [Brownie's org., once] is FEMA. Brownie! Heckuva job with the cluing, Doug (and/or Peter Gordon). I really thought I was looking for the old initials of the Girl Scouts of America.
Least familiar clue: 44a: NBC is clued as a [Onetime DuMont rival]. Say wha…? It was an early TV network, from 1946 to 1956.
4.25 stars. Good stuff.