Peter Collins’ New York Times crossword
I don’t quite get the theme here. Five Beach Boys songs that were hits in 1963-’65, but not necessarily all enduring, major hits—no “I Get Around,” “Barbara Ann,” “Good Vibrations,” etc.—and running on August 31 maybe because it’s the last day of meteorological summer and Northern climes limit their Beach Boysiest days to the summer months? The songs included are the classics “CALIFORNIA GIRLS” and “HELP ME / RHONDA,” plus three songs I don’t know: “IN MY / ROOM,” “DON’T / WORRY / BABY,” and “LITTLE SAINT NICK.” I Googled beach boys august 31 to see if there might be a tie-in with the date and I found this awesome webpage documenting their 8/31/91 concert at the South Dakota State Fair. The traffic counter says the page has received 411 hits already, in a mere 20 years! C’mon, people: let’s take it over 500.
I would be more inclined to overlook the inclusion of the 60% of the theme I wasn’t familiar with if (1) three of the songs weren’t split up into multiple answers, applying a cross-reference madness overlay to the puzzle, and (2) the surrounding fill were great. When 1-Across was crosswordese LAPP, we were off to a worrisome start. I suspect that choreographer LAR Lubovitch was ethnically neither LAPP nor IBO, that he was no TEC, that his home was seldom ICICLED, and that he was no AMORIST of prefixes and suffixes—OVI-, -IATE (okay, that one’s clued as a partial, but it looks like yet another suffix here), -ARIAN, ECTO-.
Matt Jones’s Onion A.V. Club crossword
At first I thought the theme was just changing an initial F to a T based on TACTS OF LIFE, but then I reached the second theme entry and reconsidered. A month or two after Hugh Hefner’s far, far younger fiancée called off their nuptials, we’ve got a DITCHING HEF theme. (We would also have accepted DUMPING HEF or JILTING HEF as the theme revealer, though it would dictate a different length for theme answer #1.) So:
- 17a. [Refinements gained by experience?] turn the facts of life into TACTS OF LIFE. The base phrase is both a dictionary-grade thing and a TV show title.
- 21a. [With 23-Across, what Bridgestone says in response to Goodyear's history?] is WE DIDN’T / START TIRE. (“We Didn’t Start the Fire.” What is that, a Billy Joel song?)
- 39a. [Limiting one's legal liability?] clues HOLDING DOWN TORT (…the fort).
- 52a. [My response to feeling bad about Maynard James Keenan's band?] is I PITY TOOL (Mr. T’s “I pity the fool”). Maynard James Keenan? Never heard of him. I may or may not have heard of the band Tool.
- 55a. [Sticky part of the roof?] turns the comic “The Far Side” into TAR SIDE.
Fairly big theme, occupying seven different entries in this grid.
- 8d. I didn’t recall the full name of [Chinese artist and political activist Ai ___] WEIWEI, but minutes after finishing this puzzle I encountered his name again on Twitter. Do read his thoughts on the city of Beijing. Beijing sounds absolutely dismal through this dissident artist’s eyes.
- 30a. [Go all out at a party] clues DO IT UP. Wait, can that float out there without a “big” or “right” or “Chicago style” after it?
- 66a. [Chicken ___ Biskit], Chicken IN A Biskit? I don’t think I want to know what this is. Please let it be an indie band.
- 42d. [Science magazine started by Bob Guccione's wife] is OMNI. I knew it was a Guccione publication but not that it was Guccione’s wife who was behind it. Apt in a HEF-themed puzzle to have another pornographer cited.
- 53d. ["Why don't you discuss that with your urologist instead of me? Sheesh ..."] clues TMI, “too much information.” Did I ever tell you about the time I edited a urology paper about STDs? That was 25 pages of TMI. T, T, TMI.
I like this puzzle’s bottom line: DAN SASSY ASSED. I think [Sex columnist Savage] would approve. I give it a sassy-assed 3.75 stars.
Tony Orbach’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Packing Heat” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Three of the theme entries are “packing heat” all right, as each is a famous moniker starting with a type of gun. The closer tries to end all the gun-play with a bang:
- 17-Across: The [Nickname of a Prohibition era criminal] is MACHINE GUN KELLY. For reasons not entirely known to me, I tried MACHINE GUN EDDIE first. Was I thinking of Fast Eddie Felson from The Hustler and The Color of Money? Or was I just not thinking? Anyway, Kelly was most famous for kidnapping tycoon Charles Urschel in 1933. Wikipedia says that “The kidnapping of Urschel and the two [ensuing] trials … were historic in several ways: 1) they were the first, last, and only federal criminal trials in the United States in which moving cameras were allowed to film; 2) the first kidnapping trials after the passage of the so-called Lindbergh Law, which made kidnapping a federal crime; 3) the first major case solved by J. Edgar Hoover’s evolving and powerful FBI…; 4) the first crime in which defendants were transported by airplane.” My reactions: 1) that can’t be right; 2) interesting; 3) interesting; 4) opposite of interesting.
- 26-Across: The [Bubblegum comic strip character] is BAZOOKA JOE. Oh, great Wikipedia, what sayest thou about Bazooka Joe? “In May 2009, it was announced that Bazooka Joe was to be adapted into a Hollywood movie.” Sounds like the perfect role for Ryan Reynolds.
- 46-Across: The [Nickname for basketball great Maravich] is PISTOL PETE. See if you can fill in the blank from this Wikipedia note: “Maravich’s untimely death and mystique have made memorabilia associated with him among the most highly prized of any basketball collectibles. Game-used Maravich jerseys bring more money at auction than similar items from anybody other than ___”
- 59-Across: It all comes together here with SHOOTING GALLERY as the [Place one might expect to find] the other theme answers.
Decisions, decisions. On the one hand, we really didn’t need SHOOTING GALLERY to round out a puzzle that already carries a title–that’s a little overkill. And even if there aren’t any more suitable 15-letter theme entries (RIFLE MAXIMILIAN? REVOLVER RICHARD?), MACHINE GUN KELLY can sit by itself in the grid’s center and be flanked by the other two 10-letter entries. But on the other hand, if there had only been three theme answers comprising only 35 squares, someone darn sure would have complained that, tight though it may have been, it was light on thematic content. So what’s the better option? I probably prefer Orbach’s choice, but reasonable minds may well differ.
The first adjective that comes to mind in describing the fill is “gorgeous.” The long Downs, GO CRAZY FOR and THERE THERE are both terrific, but look at all the assorted goodness lurking here: MAHALO, PHEW, PINKIE, NOT YET, and FREELOAD. There’s even a little thematic bonus with NRA, the [Powerful D.C. lobby]. Most importantly, there are no crappy entries used to make the good stuff work. The most awkward entry is probably OSIS, the [Medical suffix], and it’s barely noticeable down there in the extreme southwest. So you have a remarkably smooth grid that features an abundance of rare letters in the northern HEMI-sphere and juiciness all around. That’s solid construction, and it’s becoming Orbach’s signature.
Gareth Bain’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Fresh theme idea: XOXO means “hugs and kisses,” with the X’s standing for kisses and the O’s for hugs. So the four longest answers end with words that are synonyms for “kiss” and “hug,” in the proper XOXO pattern:
- 18a. [Method of looking for keys?] on a keyboard is called HUNT AND PECK.
- 28a. [Finishing by the deadline, sometimes] is a TIGHT SQUEEZE. I like that phrase a lot.
- 48a. [Bad-mouthing someone] is TALKING SMACK about them. Great phrase!
- 64a. [Call waiting diversion] clues MUSIC ON HOLD. This has nothing to do with household “call waiting” service.
- 3d. [Penultimate element, alphabetically] is ZINC. Zirconium is the ultimate.
- 26a. [Working parts] are INNARDS. Thank you, Gareth and/or Rich Norris, for STEERing clear of the viscera for this clue. Appliances have innards that are considerably less gooshy.
- 20a. The term for a [Relay race closer] is ANCHOR. Could also go with a newscast reference without running afoul of my “not another nautical clue” griping. Yay for eschewing the nautical!