- Brad Wilber’s posted another new themeless at his website. I haven’t solved it yet, but I’m so pleased that Brad writes two sets of clues: crunchy (my choice) and smooth. (Or croquant et crémeux, if you’re reading Canadian labels.)
- Blurb-o-rific! You may remember Les Foeldessy’s Next-Generation Crosswords by their original Canadian name, “Gryptics.” The puzzles help you hone your pattern-completion skills by leaving letters out of the grid, as there are no crossword clues to help you. The puzzles are small and generally quick, and who knows? They might improve your skills at figuring out crossword answers when the clues aren’t leading you anywhere. I just received an advance copy of the book with my first-ever back-cover blurb: “Canadian puzzlemaker Les Foeldessy’s new puzzle type is a cool one.”—Amy Reynaldo, crossword blogger
Patrick Berry’s New York Times crossword, “Pardon ‘E’ Interruption”
Despite my overtiredness, I can appreciate the smoothness of this theme. As usual with a Patrick Berry byline, it’s essentially a flawless puzzle and nobody seems to have any idea how he manages to pull that off so frequently.
Theme: An “E” sound/syllable is inserted into various phrases, the spelling is changed as needed to create real words, and the new phrases are clued inventively.
When filling in BEER BURIAL POLKA with its funerary clue, at first I thought there was a BIER-to-BEER change going on. But no, it’s just “Beer Barr-E-el Polka” reconfigured. That theme entry’s partly stacked with REIGN OF TERRIER (Terror). BOTANICAL GUARDIANS (gardens), KODIAK MOMENT (Kodak), LITTLE ORPHEAN ANNIE (Orphan—this one’s the weakest link in the theme, as “charming young musician” and the adjectival form of “Orpheus” don’t involve as quick a link), PARKING METEORS (meters), and MILES PER GALLEON (gallon) round out the theme. I like the assortment of spelling changes that happen when the “E” sound is incorporated. It makes for a more interesting theme than when you’re merely adding letters consistently. (Probably a good bit tougher for deaf solvers, though.)
Plenty of lovely fill. I like DESDEMONA beside the MAILMAN, [Foo Fighters frontman Dave] GROHL (there’s been a Foo Fighters song on my kid’s favorite top-40 radio station this summer), CITIBANK, SIDLES and NICKERS, PILING ON, and NOOGIE. I could do without ALKENE and TORII, sure, but their crossings were solid so solvers had another way to crack those.
I also liked finding Dennis RODMAN in the grid (93d: [Dennis of the court]). Did you hear his Hall of Fame speech? The bluster of yore was gone, replaced by emotion, candor, and admission of personal failings. Go see for yourself. Quite moving.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Today’s 69/33 puzzle features a “quad-stack” of 15-letter entries running through the grid’s mid-section. Most grids with a quad-stack in the center are 15×16, but this one sticks to a 15×15 format. To make the quad-stack work, Ashwood-Smith uses left-right symmetry for the black squares instead of the typical diagonal symmetry. (I think that’s what allows for an odd number of answers, although I confess that I may have miscounted the total number of entries here.)
There are two more 15-letter answers stacked near the bottom, and I found both of these entries (NO INTERRUPTIONS and CHOCOLATE SUNDAE) more sparkly than those in the quad-stack (LADDER COMPANIES, ATE ONE’S HEART OUT, MARRIAGE LICENSE, and STREET ADDRESSES). I also liked the long Downs running through the quad-stack, THREAT LEVEL and REPAIR SHOPS.
To make the quad-stack work, one has to tolerate some ugliness. EUSE, the [Suffix with chant] has to be used along with A-TAT, the [Rat follower?]. The question, ultimately, is whether these awkward entries detract too much from the impressiveness of the quad-stack. To me, they don’t.
Overall, I loved the uniqueness of the grid’s design and felt this was a good notch or two harder than the typical Sunday Challenge. Some of the tougher nuts to crack included:
- [“American Conspiracies” coauthor Ventura] is none other than ex-Governor JESSE “The Body” Ventura. I know his other book, I Ain’t Got Time to Bleed.
- I’m not at all familiar with [1980 running medalist Steve] OVETT. But he’s got good company, as this puzzle also introduced me to [Skater] JOJO [Starbuck] (do you suppose she drinks coffee?), and [Author Earl] DERR [Biggers].
- I’m usually fairly adept at college geography, but I didn’t know that ERIE is the [Home of Gannon University].
- I know generic tear gas, but the specific formulation, CS GAS, clued here as a [Riot-control weapon], is new to me.
- DRINA, apparently, is a [Serbian border river]. Which begs the question: to where does the DRINA DRAIN?
Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “Invasion of the Tree People”
I’m good with names and I like trees, so I mostly like this theme: famous people whose surnames are trees (or sound like them). Cute pun capper at the end—that the people are in this puzzle BY POPLAR DEMAND. Here are the tree people:
- 21a. [“Boyz n the Hood” co-star] = MORRIS CHESTNUT. He is, as they say, easy on the eyes.
- 27a. [Star of a 1970s cop sitcom] = HAL LINDEN. Barney Miller.
- 34a. [“Grumpy Old Men” star] = JACK LEMMON.
- 37a. [Cosmetics queen] = MARY KAY ASH.
- 47a. [“Other woman” in 1990s tabloids] = MARLA MAPLES. Plural tree.
- 58a. [“Saps at Sea” co-star] = STAN LAUREL. Comedy partner of Oliver Hardy.
- 67a, 70a. [“Twice-Told Tales” writer, with 70 Across] = NATHANIEL / HAWTHORNE.
- 80a. [Grammy-winning pianist-singer] = FIONA APPLE.
- 87a. [Actress in TV’s “Picket Fences” and “NCIS”] = LAUREN HOLLY. I think of the holly as more of a bush than a tree.
- 98a. [“CHiPs” actress, 1979-82] = RANDI OAKES. Not famous for nearly 30 years!
- 101a. [“American Beauty” co-star] = THORA BIRCH.
- 112a. [He played The Chief in “Dirty Harry”] = JOHN LARCH. Who??
Even outside of the theme entries, there are an awful lot of proper nouns in this grid. I counted about 30 more, and some of them are pretty ugly fill:
- 59d. [Japanese studio that made the original “Godzilla”] is TOHO.
- 75a. TOHO’s last letter crosses MATO, or [Brazilian highlands, the ___ Grosso]. I remembered (from crosswords!) that that something-Grosso word ended with -ATO, but needed the crossing for the M. I would expect that fewer than 10% of solvers would know either TOHO or MATO, leaving an unfortunate guess-the-vowel square.
- 1d. [“Cinderella Man” subject, ___ Braddock] is JAMES J. Uh, not really such a famous middle initial.
- 28d. [“The Conquest of Space” author Willy] LEY is a name I know only from crosswords.
Felt like there were more than the usual amount of partial entries, too. A STUMP, A STAR, IT’S A, A LEAF, OR US, HIT A? And two of those spell-out-the-number answers: the B-2 bomber is B-TWO (63d. [Stealth plane]), and right next door is 81d: I-TEN (I-10), a [Hwy. thru Houston].
Robert Doll’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Fish Heads”
The theme is phrases that begin with words that can precede “fish”:
- 23a. [Constant threat, metaphorically= SWORD OF DAMOCLES. Great phrase, isn’t it?
- 33a. [Confederate Memorial Carving site] = STONE MOUNTAIN. Have heard of Stone Mountain, but have no idea what this Confederate Memorial Carving is, nor what a stonefish is.
- 42a. [Pianist who claimed to have invented jazz] = JELLY ROLL MORTON. Jellyfish are, of course, not actually fish.
- 71a. [Doomed duo] = STAR-CROSSED LOVERS. Ditto here—”sea stars” aren’t fish.
- 97a. [Esso ad phrase] = TIGER IN YOUR TANK. Do any of you know this motto from real life, or do we all know it from ESSO crossword clues? Not familiar with the tigerfish, but do know the tiger shark.
- 105a. [Light dessert] = ANGEL FOOD CAKE. I need some to go with my strawberries. Fetch me the whipped cream!
- 123a. [Source of spy movie suspense] = CAT AND MOUSE GAME. Another great phrase. The last catfish I saw were on Conan O’Brien’s show. Andy Richter waded into a river to try some hand fishing, and he pounced on a giant catfish and caught it. Now, that’s good TV.
Highlights in the fill: SCALAWAG and DEAR SANTA. Not wild about the fill overall. It may be entirely ordinary and just bugging me because I have a headache.
Frank Longo’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 73”
Oof! One likes to have a zippy 1-Across, but one hopes it’s not something one has never, ever heard of. MINI NINJAS? [Video game in which the Evil Samurai Warlord is battled]?? Not in my wheelhouse at all.
- 51a. A DOPE SLAP is when you get [Hit upside the head for being a blockhead]. I’ve always been fond of the phrase “upside the head.”
- 59a. [One who might roast a ham?] is a DRAMA COACH. Was thinking of celebrity roasts first.
- 62a. [Secretary of labor before Hilda Solis] is ELAINE CHAO. Big fan of a surname that can be pluralized into the word “chaos.”
- 27d. [Was drunk] clues FELT NO PAIN.
- 45d. [Iberian letter addenda] aren’t postscripts but the TILDES on Spanish ñ and Portuguese ã.
- 19a. [Jim ___, Pennsylvania] clues THORPE. So Pennsylvania has a town named after Jim Thorpe? Had no idea.
- 53a. [August 1 Catholic observance also called the Feast of St. Peter’s Chains] is LAMMAS. The word’s from the Old English for “loaf mass.”
- 64a. [Managed by the host, in networking] is SERVER-SIDE. Logical, but not a term I’ve encountered. My husband uses it at work.
- 25d. [Szczecin Lagoon feeder] is the ODER River. Whether you use a fresh/obscure clue or a stale one, ODER is still going to be a boring answer. Maybe Matt Gaffney will clue it as the German word for “or.”
- 32d. [Oprah’s “Beloved” role] is SETHE. How else you gonna clue that? I could only think of her role in The Color Purple, CELIE.
- 34d. [Geraldine Page’s role in the 1964 film “Dear Heart”] is EVIE. I’ve heard of Geraldine Page and I’ve heard of 1964, but that didn’t get me any closer to the answer.
- 56d. [Kings Point, for one: Abbr.] is an ACAD. Never heard of it. Google leads me to the United States Merchant Marine Academy, located in Kings Point, New York. Never heard of that, either.
More roll-your-own formations than I’d expect to see in a Frank Longo puzzle. NIPPERS and FIRER and EFFACER? Meh.