Bernice Gordon’s New York Times crossword
Today’s constructor is 97 years old, which means there’s an 83-year spread in NYT crossword constructors’ ages. Isn’t it cool to have an ageless hobby?
The theme’s a little hazy to me. It appears to be a vowel-progression theme, but the vowels aren’t in alphabetical order and the words that spotlight those vowels have three common consonants but otherwise are a mixed bag. CLIVE BARNES is perhaps not a household name, but he was the NYT’s theater critic in the ’60s and ’70s so he’s at home in an NYT puzzle. I know EDD BYRNES only from crosswords, as his big show was on before I was born. The next theme answer is the old card game MILLE BORNES, so that’s three in a row with the B*RNES layout. But then the next three words have different endings after the B*RN— start. DAVID BIRNEY is best known for having been married to Meredith Baxter, who was great on both Family and Family Ties. Three people, one game. A ST. BERNARD is a dog, and then a FRONT BURNER is a mighty prosaic thing. Overall, this is simply not a theme that caters to the avid teenage solvers out there…or those in their 20s, 30s, or 40s, for that matter.
Did you know VERMONT was the [First U.S. state to abolish slavery]? Aww, Hurricane Irene’s flooding couldn’t have happened to a nicer state. I hope any Fiend readers who ran afoul of Irene are drying out and have electricity.
Not much in the fill is calling out to me. Plenty of blah 3s: SRI REY MAL CCI TOV NOL (NOL?!? [__ pros. (court record abbr.)]?? What on earth is that doing in an NYT crossword?) ELL ENS NEE ORY RST NEB.
Nancy Salomon’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Neville’s review
- 17a. [*Sydney's locale, familiarly] – DOWN UNDER
- 21a. [*Man, according to a longtime Desmond Morris best-seller] – NAKED APE
- 33a. [*Bluntly] – STRAIGHT OUT
- 42a. [*Skip-over-ads button] – FAST FORWARD. I just got DVR, and I’m loving this whole skip-over-ads thing.
- 55a. [*Hosting squad] – HOME TEAM
- 61a. [*Overachievers, and a hint to the word that can precede both words of the starred answers] – GO GETTERS
So GO can precede any of the 10 words in the other theme entries. Some of these work better for me than others. GO HOME & GO TEAM are great. GO STRAIGHT is pretty eh. I didn’t know GO NAKED, but a Google search brought up “Would you rather go naked or wear fur?” – a PETA campaign. I think my decision would depend on the context. Six theme answers – a lofty goal. I just wish these were all great GO entries.
Growing up we didn’t have SWEET TEA – we had iced tea that you put your own sugar in to sweeten it to your likening. Sure it was sweet after that, but I never heard this name for it until college. Great entry, though, as is SERIES E. I parallel parked for the first time in years about two weeks ago, and fortunately I remembered to begin by lining up with the car in front of me and then going in REVERSE. Only took me two tries. Some thoughts in bullet form:
- Who’s your preferred HANNIBAL – the [Memorable Alps crosser] or the Red Dragon character?
- Tired lateral clue of the day: [Ain't right?] is AREN’T (or ISN’T if you only have four blanks).
- [What a treater picks up] is certainly THE TAB, but do we need the THE in the answer here? Kind of, I guess. Not thrilled by this.
- I like all four uses of the Z: GAZES AT, ZULUS, ADZE and HAZE.
- [Doggone] and DADGUM are wonderful – and they’re both variants on damned.
With just a little bit off on the theme in my book, I’ll give this one a 3.8 out of 5.
Randolph Ross’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Add Nine” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Here’s a very well-executed example of a letter-addition theme. Ross “adds nine” (that is, IX) to four well-known terms, in each case giving us four lively new phrases that get clued as though they’re quite real:
- 20-Across: [Spayed a Siamese?] is the clue for FIXED THE KITTY, a variation on “fed the kitty,” an expression meaning “contributed money.” I like when the base phrase (here, “fed the kitty”) is interesting to start with–it almost always ensures you’ll get an interesting theme entry.
- 28-Across: The [Term of endearment for Tinkerbell?] is SWEETIE PIXIE, a play on “sweetie pie.” See Julia Roberts’s portrayal of Tinkerbell in Hook.
- 46-Across: The [Idealist on Wall Street?] would be a STOCK QUIXOTE, from “stock quote.” That’s my favorite of the bunch.
- 55-Across: A [Supporter of the 37th president?] might be called a NIXON-PARTISAN, from “non-partisan.” No doubt someone will cry foul because the base phrase here is either a single word or a hyphenated term, but the base phrases in the other three theme entries are all at least two (spearate) words. But this little incongruence did not detract from the entertainment value one little bit, so I don’t have a problem with it.
What makes this instance of the letter-addition theme so good? Let us count the ways: (1) one of the two letters added is a rare letter (hint: it’s not the I), and there are other rare letters in the two of the theme entries; (2) the wacky phrases are silly, yes, but they make just enough sense that they are discernible once the solver catches on to the theme (it’s not just an arbitrary forcing of unrelated words); and (3) the fill is generously stocked with ten entries of six letters or more, including some stacked 7s paired with a 6 in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Okay, so the list is only three items long. But they’re three important items, so this puzzle easily earns a blue ribbon.
It may not quite make the cut for Puzzle of the Year consideration, however. After all, some of the short fill has warts so ugly they have their own warts. RYA, the [Scandinavian rug], makes it second appearance in a relatively short time, and hopefully it will be a long, long time before we have to see it again. And then there’s EMK, short for Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, the [Sen. who served from 1962 - 2009]. I’ve said this before, but a little redundancy and repetition is not necessarily bad or ill-advised: monograms are fine in crossword grids, but they should be limited to situations where the person is known by the monogram as much as by his or her name. Thus FDR, LBJ, and GBS (had to get one non-presidential figure in there, right?) all seem fine, but RLS, TAE, BHO, and ONJ are sub-par. Sure, EMK’s brothers, JFK and RFK, pass the test, but I don’t recall ever seeing Teddy referred to as EMK. So that’s pretty sketchy. KOC, the [Catholic fraternal org.], works, I think, because I have seen the Knights of Columbus abbreviated as such more than once and in multiple settings. Still, it’s not exactly sparkly, and when you throw in ORT and ALIT and then finish the Acrosses with SSNS and EST, you get the sense that some heavy sacrifices were made to get the rest to work as well as it does.
Make no mistake, though–this is a great puzzle. I love the X-RAY EXAMS and the SCOOP NECK sweaters that form the long Downs, along with the wonderful verb GUSSY, here clued as [Spiff (up)]. My three stumbling blocks were PETTI as the answer to [Frilly undergarment, briefly] (hey, the only frilly undergarment I have are some well-worn boxer shorts that long outlived their useful life), MICAH as the [Book after Jonah] (I could never get past Jonah’s whale of a tale), and KETCH as the [Two-master] (yet another instance where both the clue and the answer mean zero, zilch, zip, and nada to me).
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “We Don’t Play That”
The theme mashes together playground equipment (sort of) with other phrases in “Before & After” style:
- 20a. [Playground equipment that'll move if you're really, really patient?] = WAIT AND SEESAW.
- 36a. [Playground equipment only the extremely strong can dive into?] = MEDICINE BALL PIT. I’ve never seen an outdoor playground with a ball pit, while the seesaw and swing set definitely belong outdoors. (The dictionary I checked defines “playground” as an outdoor area for kids to play.)
- 55a. [Playground equipment that incorporates boxing?] = TAKE A SWING SET.
I wish all three were outdoor playground equipment and I sorta wish the phrase combos hadn’t included two verb phrases but one noun phrase (medicine ball).
Eight more clues:
- 30a. [Sorta-striped feline hybrids] clues TIGONS, not to be confused with ligers. Which one was Napoleon Dynamite’s favorite animal?
- 66a. [School grouping, in some states: abbr.] clues ESD. I’m guessing this means “elementary school district,” but last night when I solved the puzzle I was stuck in “English as a second…wait, what?” This abbreviation can forevermore leave crosswords.
- 6d. [Sweet hook?] isn’t about boxing, nor about crossword constructor Henry Hook. It’s just a peppermint CANDY CANE.
- 10d. ["Whatever"]. “BIG WHOOP.” Love it!
- 31d. To augment with gold (Au) might be to [Au-gment?], or GILD.
- 36d. ["The Uplift ___ Party Plan" (Red Hot Chili Peppers album)] clues MOFO. Did you know the Chili Peppers have a new album out and have been getting top-40 radio play this summer?
- 53d. [Rob of "90210"] made me say “What?? He wasn’t on 90210, he was on Melrose Place!” Turns out Mr. ESTES has been on the new 90210 series rather than the Tori Spelling/Luke Perry one.
- 57d. ["Roseanne's ___" (reality show)] clues NUTS. Nice title: you can read it as “Roseanne is nuts” or as “the nuts of Roseanne.” I’m sure she likes the double meaning.