Tim Croce’s New York Times crossword
Hey! Look at that: a themeless puzzle with triple-stacked 15-letter answers that I liked. Mind you, the short answers crossing the stacks are mostly blah, but I barely had a chance to notice them because the 15s were ridiculously smooth and clued in such a way as to make them fall fast. The only unknown I hit was [Cartoon busman Mann] for OTTO; no idea what’s referenced there.
NEED-TO-KNOW BASIS is a terrific 1-Across, and it’s stacked with an EDUCATIONAL FILM and the phrase AGREE TO DISAGREE. The crossing TAE/ILER/SMEE names are rather crosswordesey these days, but there’s also a KIOSK and an ONION ROLL, the winds called SIROCCOS, and the currency AFGHANIS with the FGH letter run.
The bottom stack has CLEAR AND PRESENT, which feels maybe a tad unfinished with its accompanying “danger” exiled in the clue, but it was easy enough to get. PERSONAL EFFECTS and a TREE-LINED STREET have lots of common letters, but they’re certainly not overused in themelesses and they’re both eminently familiar phrases. This stack’s ugly crossings include RCPT, ALER, ANI, EFTS, and MT ST, but they’re merely ugly, not unforgivable. I’m a big fan of AS IT WERE, D’ARTAGNAN looks great in the grid, and I love the way GREECE crosses LARD.
The only places that activated the Scowl-o-Meter were the two state abbreviations, KAN and N CAR.
Crazy easy, though. When’s the last time I broke 3:30 on a themeless NYT puzzle? That is a rare occurrence for me. (Don’t say anything, Dan Feyer.) Overall grade, four stars. An enjoyable romp through the grid.
Pancho Harrison’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Here’s yet another theme that hinges on pronunciation and clangs inharmoniously for some solvers. It took me forever to grasp the theme because I assumed 17a was changing FIREPOWER into HIRE POWER. But no, it’s supposed to be a homophone puzzle. And for me (and at least some dictionaries), three of the theme’s key word pairs aren’t pronounced the same while the other two are.
- 17a. HIRE POWER plays on “higher power.” One syllable versus two! The clue didn’t resonate for me, as I don’t ever think of baseball players when I encounter the word power. [Sign some new sluggers?]
- 24a. “Dire needs” (why would that be plural?) turns into DYER NEEDS, again with a one/two syllable difference. [Henna and such?]
- 40a. “Prior” and Pryor sound the same to me, so PRYOR ENGAGEMENT words as a homophone. I was misled by that GAG in the middle and having INGEST for ENGULF and 42d, which hid the answer for way too long. (D’oh!) [Stand-up gig for Richard?]
- 50a. DIRTY LYRE, one syllable, versus two in “liar.” [Instrument in need of cleaning?]
- 64a. DEEP FRIAR, “fryer,” works for me. Great clue: [Augustine, for one?]
Five more clues:
- 6d. [Hemmed but didn’t haw] clues SEWED. I love this clue.
- 49d. [Bs in the key of G, e.g.] clues THIRDS. I have no idea what that means. I like THIRDS as the helping that comes after seconds and as the amounts in which you and two others split the loot.
- 23a. [Wartime submachine guns] are STENS. Oof, old crosswordese. (See also OAST, REATA, AGNI.)
- 9d. Old ED WYNN, [He voiced Disney’s Mad Hatter], apparently. I have not followed his career, I admit.
- 58a. Raise your hand if you wanted WOOED instead of COOED for [Did a little courting], but didn’t know what sort of word would begin with the letters CYWL. Aren’t most of us more inclined to coo at babies and puppies than at love interests?
2.5 stars. The pronunciation thing got in the way of understanding the theme. And there’s too much in the ME A/IGN/A-RONI vein of ugly entries.
Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Getting the Ax” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Patrick Blindauer gives the AX to four common entries by inserting those letters into them:
- 20-Across: The expression “fit to be tied” is changed to FIT TO BE TAXIED, clued as [Like those with lots of luggage heading for the airport?]. I think the clue is using “taxied” to mean simply “transported” and not in the familiar airline sense (“moved from the gate to the runway”).
- 33-Across: Ordinary “garden hoes” (not rakes, right, Ken Jennings?) become GARDEN HOAXES, the [Fakes in a flower pot?].
- 43-Across: The Good Son, the 1993 thriller starring Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood, becomes THE GOOD SAXON, a [Story about an upstanding early Briton?].
- 58-Across: Ever wonder [How bison stay stubble-free?] The secret is BUFFALO WAXING, a play on “buffalo wing.”
Anytime the theme involves insertion of a rare letter (here, X), you’re nearly assured of some nice fill. Blindauer ups the ante by tossing in three more X’s just for fun. The highlight, for me at least, was REDD FOXX, best known for playing Fred G. [Sanford on “Sanford and Son”]. We often see REDD in our crosswords, and FOXX makes an occasional appearance, but the full name is a nice treat.
My favorite clue was [Sewer depicted in “The Birth of Old Glory”] for Betsy ROSS. Did I fall into the trap of reading “sewer” as the rainwater conduit (rhymes with “fewer”)?Yep. Was that because I failed to read the clue all the way through? Probably. Did I figure it out once I took the time to read the clue in its entirety? Yes. Is there a lesson here? I guess, but I’m too lazy to figure it out. (Honorable mentions to [Body shops, briefly] for ORS and [Flight attendant’s prop] as a nice way to spice up SEAT BELT.)
Two things I did not know: (1) [“The Land Before Time” dino] is T-REX (the clue uses “dino” instead of “dinosaur” so I’m guessing the story just features some T-Rexes and there’s not a specific character withe the name “T-Rex”—anyone know if that’s right?); and (2) STYX is the [“Kilroy Was Here” band]. Thanks to the Barenaked Ladies, I know them principally as the “Mr. Roboto” band.
Ed Sessa’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Where the Wild Things Are” — pannonica’s review
Of course I didn’t read the notepad: “It’s recommended that you solve this puzzle on paper.” I was too busy confidently filling in all the animals that were part of the theme, though the bottom part of the grid was getting asnaggle…
- 17a. [*Flightless bird] CASSOWARY.
- 19a. [*Wild dog] DINGO.
- 21a. [*Monitor lizard] GOANNA.
- 35a. [*Egg-laying mammal] PLATYPUS.
- 43a. [*Animal known for “boxing”] KANGAROO.
- 55a. [Marsupial with a backward-facing pouch] WOMBAT.
- 61a. [*Eucalyptus eater] KOALA.
- 64a. [Where one may find each starred entry, literally] DOWN UNDER. Literally only if you interpret “Down Under” as the figurative nickname of Australia.
AUSTRALIA does, however, literally appear outside the borders of the grid, at the bottom. It’s commendably centered left-to-right and neatly broken into three chunks of three letters.
Fun puzzle. I appreciated that the constructor made the effort to include a variety of faunal representatives: bird (CASSOWARY), eutherian mammal (DINGO), reptile (GOANNA), monotreme mammal (PLATYPUS), marsupial mammal (KANGAROO, WOMBAT, KOALA). No reason to complain of the absence of fish, insects, and others. Doubtful that there are any specific to the region that have popular cachet. Might have been better if the non-thematic TERN (7d), RODENT (52d) and PIRANHA (24d) did not appear.
Smooth puzzle as well, with some nice ballast fill, such as the medium-length ISOGONS, PORTUGAL, TABASCO, SEXINESS, PRIORITY. A smattering of crosswordese, but nothing enough to diminish enjoyment of the solve.
Overall the cluing is fact-based and businesslike. Even the handful of clues adorned with question marks are not particularly wry or playful, not that it’s a requirement. As for the Higher Education vibe™ I learned only that Beethoven called BACH the “immortal god of harmony,” and was reminded that Vasco de Gama hailed from PORTUGAL. Perhaps other solvers were more edified in the experience, especially in regard to the theme?
Ken Fisher’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Labor Day”
I still don’t know if Ken Fisher is a real identity or a Mike Shenk pen name; His last byline was also in the WSJ, and the name anagrams to FIRE, REFI, or RIFE SHENK.
In any event, smooth puzzle, tilting toward the easy/light end of the spectrum. Each theme entry is made by adding WORK to the end of a familiar word or phrase and cementing the word/phrase’s end to make a compound WORK word:
- 23a. [Concern of boxing and tennis coaches?] = ATHLETE’S FOOTWORK. V. nice.
- 31a. [Bottle rocket that takes off like a flash?] = RAPID FIREWORK.
- 47a. [Expert at filling potholes, perhaps?] = ONE FOR THE ROADWORK.
- 60a. [Goya's "Disasters of War," for example?] = MARTIAL ARTWORK. V. nice.
- 84a. [Partial dentures paid for by insurance?] = COVERED BRIDGEWORK. Evocations of those damaged covered bridges in Vermont after Tropical Storm Irene. Really, who’s gonna be expecting a tropical storm in Vermont?
- 98a. [Top ten welfare screw-ups?] = WORST CASEWORK.
- 111a. ["Monarch of the Glen" airer?] = BUTTERFLY NETWORK.
Fill highlights include SLEEP LATE, TORI AMOS, “TIME WAS…,” WALK AWAY, and SNARK. Lowlights include ACETOL (16d.[Colorless ketone]), a trio of RE-formations (REWEDS, RERANK, RETAG).
- 94d. [Foreigner, for one] is a SEXTET. That’s the rock band whose heyday was in the ’70s and ’80s.
- Nice clues for a number of other answers, including SOMALI and I DO’S.
My trickiest crossing—where I had to play the run-through-the-alphabet game—was where 69d and 83a meet. Usually [Shade provider] is something like an ELM tree, and *YE threw me because an eyeshade is a thing. And [Mesquite feature]—I think of wood chips added to barbecue charcoal to impart a mesquite flavor. Apparently the mesquite tree/shrub produces edible PODs, which are not to be found in my local grocer. And it’s DYE that provides a hue/color/shade. Oof!