Peter Wentz’s New York Times crossword
Wow, I sure read a lot of clues before anything, anything at all, cracked. The northwest corner? Empty. Then I moved to the right and BOOM, who doesn’t love a KIT KAT BAR? Not that the candy bar led me on a rampage through that corner, though. And the bottom two thirds of the grid were similarly resistant. It’s as if I was 14 again, as the easiest parts of this puzzle were the candy bar and The Karate Kid‘s MR. MIYAGI, played by Pat MORITA. (If ’80s pop culture is your weak spot, you can be forgiven for not knowing that an M was the first letter of both of those surnames.)
Favorite fill: The above answers. HOKKAIDO, bringing more Japanese to the puzzle (though MORITA was born in the U.S., he’s of Japanese descent) along with a double K. I take my VITAMIN D daily. ZYMURGY, the study or practice of fermentation in the making of beer (which can be SKUNKY), wine, and liquor. A morning-radio ZOO CREW (which I have no interest in listening to, but it’s a lively phrase). Scrabbly pop culture in JC CHASEZ. A lovely BOOKWORM, clued as a [Bibliolater] (that’s today’s vocabulary word, meaning an excessive lover of books; zymurgy is the runner-up vocab word). TIZZY! Love that word. I would much rather be IN A GROOVE than in a TIZZY. “SEZ WHO?” Sez me. And THA is a definite [Article in hip-hop]. See? Lots of nutty and interesting stuff in this puzzle.
Mystery bits: James MEADE? David HARUM? The A2 highway in England, crosswordized into A-TWO? ERIC DANE? The REAGAN Diaries? The Sands of MARS? The who-what-where?? This puzzle teased out my WEAK SPOT many times.
Four stars for this surprisingly tough crossword.
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “You’re Fired” — Sam Donaldson’s review
Yesterday, Patrick Blindauer was giving us the AX. Today, Randall J. Hartman tells us we’re fired, but that’s because the starts of the four theme answers are all adjectives describing something that was on fire:
- 17-Across: The [Red Lobster order] is FRIED SHRIMP. Fried shrimp was one of my favorite foods as a youngster. Today I prefer them simply grilled with a spritz of lemon and some heat-packin’ cocktail sauce. Yum.
- 28-Across: SCORCHED EARTH is a [Type of military strategy] centered on the destruction of all that might be useful to the enemy while moving through an area, like burning crops. Now there’s a cheerful entry.
- 47-Across: I know a TOASTED ALMOND as something I used to get for free on an airplane flight. Apparently it is also a [Kahlua cocktail]. My favorite “food-that’s-also-a-cocktail” is the Tootsie Roll—amaretto and orange juice. It’s one of the few alcoholic drinks I can tolerate.
- 62-Across: The [University of Texas color] is BURNT ORANGE. Everything’s burnt—er, big—in Texas.
Even with 40 black squares, the grid has some wide-open patches like the three chunks that run down the center. And I love the two long Downs—both GRAVY TRAIN, the [Source of easy money], and CAN YOU TALK, clued ["Spare a moment?"] are terrific. There are also some interesting pseudo-parallels, like ADA /ANA and DEMEAN / DAMONE and HALF / HAFT. Speaking of which, [Thirty minutes, for a Cowboy] is a great clue for the HALF of an NFL game.
I didn’t know that AMAZON was the [Home of electric eels]. Guess you shouldn’t bother looking for them on other websites. I also didn’t know ADAM [Baldwin of "Chuck"]. This isn’t another Baldwin brother, is it? (And yes, I first tried ALEC.)
Barry Silk’s Los Angeles Times crossword
I don’t know why I do it: I take a Saturday puzzle, wait until I’m definitely too tired to blog it, and solve it before bed anyway. Is this puzzle really as hard as a tough Saturday NYT, or is it just that I was nodding off and unable to give proper attention to the clues?
This morning, I see that there are indeed a number of answers that wouldn’t come easily even if my brain was at its peak performance:
- 21a. [Pier gp.] is ILWU, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union of dockworkers. Not to be confused with ILGWU, the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.
- 26a. [Early L.A. Times publisher Harrison Gray __] OTIS? If it had asked for more recent L.A. Times publisher __ Chandler, I would have gotten the OTIS more easily. Presumably Chandler was named after his newspaper-family forebear.
- 62a. [Son of Aaron] is ELEAZAR. Not one of your top 20 biblical names. I knew an Eliezer so the ELEAZAR spelling looks weird to me.
- 2d. [Aptly named soda brand] clues BUBBLE UP. Do I remember this? Was it around in the ’70s? Apparently it has been around for nearly a century and still exists, but I haven’t seen it in decades.
- 11d. [Nick of "Heartbreakers"] clues MANCUSO. Who?? He has worked steadily since 1974 and yet I’ve never seen him in anything.
- 13d. ["The Odds Against Me" autobiographer John] SCARNE? Who?? Magician, card sharp, died in 1985, wrote that book in 1966. I’m calling it: terrible fill. Not even an inferrable name spelling, as he anglicized it from a longer Italian name and Scarne’s not a common name.
Yeah, I could do without most of those answers. I could also live without the plural RC COLAS (43d: [Pops since 1905]). Has anyone anywhere ever enumerated multiple RC Colas and not called them “bottles of RC”?
- 55a. NATHAN’S HOT DOGS are the [Subject of an annual contest held in Brooklyn], the horrifying gorge-yourself-till-you-nearly-puke eating competition.
- 58a. To SQUELCH something is to [Suppress] it. Great word.
Five more things:
- 61a. When EURASIA is your ["1984" superstate], it would be so easy not to clue 27d: SRTA as [Certain Eur. miss]. I know the point was to make solvers think, “Hmm, is it SRTA or MLLE?” But the vast majority of the world’s señoritas are not in Europe, they’re in Latin America.
- 17a. [20th-century Riyadh-born ruler] is IBN-SAUD. He was Saudi Arabia’s king from 1932 to 1953. The IBN part means “son of” in Arabic.
- 24a. [Inclement weather sounds] are PEALS of thunder, but we also have peals of laughter and ringing bells.
- 5d. HEAT = [Wave makeup] didn’t make any sense to me last night. It’s referring to heat waves, I see now.
- 35d. [Military bigwig] clues BRASS HAT.
Will Shortz’s New York Times second Sunday puzzle, “Split Ends”
I downloaded the PDF “Split Ends” puzzle the other day, thinking it was from last weekend and I was catching up on a missed variety puzzle. But no, it’s dated September 4, so it’s brand new. Well, not to people who already solved it this summer at the National Puzzlers League convention in Providence, where I’m told Tyler Hinman zipped through it in about 18 minutes. It took me a lot longer but I wasn’t racing anyone, and I was half-watching my kid play a video game, yadda yadda. Anyway, I loved the challenge and think you should all print out Will’s puzzle and spend some time with it yourselves.
It’s similar to the “Mixed Doubles” puzzles that Mike Nothnagel now makes for Games/World of Puzzles (and that he made for Lollapuzzoola in 2010). But a “Mixed Doubles” puzzle gives you two different clues for each answer, and you have to find the pairs, add together the clue numbers, and put the answer in the space with that new number. They’re split into Acrosses and Downs. In this “Split Ends” puzzle, each clue is cut into two, and often one half clue isn’t sufficient to guess the answer. Also, it’s one long clue list, Acrosses and Downs commingled. So it’s a more challenging format.
I won’t give you all the answers—as I said, I want you all to wrestle with the puzzle yourselves!
The way I approached solving was to single out the biggest and smallest numbers in the grid, which would have the fewest possible pairings of clue halves. I.e., with clue halves numbered 1 to 88, the answer numbered 159 had to come from a pair of clues with numbers between 71 and 88. And the answer numbered 14 had to involve clues 6/8, 5/9, 4/10, 3/11, 2/12, or 1/13. With the highs and lows filled in, I had some crossing letters for other answers that helped narrow down my answer possibilities.
- Clue half 56 was [Crane], so I figured it was about a construction crane, the tall bird, or Frasier Crane. Eventually I encountered answer 78, which had I***B*D in it. Hey! ICHABOD. Clue half 23 is [In fiction], so it’s the Hawthorne character.
- 13/67. [College whose name is an anagram of]/[Hamster] is AMHERST. Man, I was looking at that [Hamster] for so long and not finding another clue half that went with it! ICHABOD’s H pointed the way toward AMHERST, though, and the [Hamster] finally found her home.
- 57/68. Two entirely unrelated clue halves turn out to offer two different definitions of the answer, rather than being two halves of a single definition. [Show to be false or] [ Push out of bed?] gives a straight definition of DEBUNK and a playful one.
Stan Newman’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” (pen name = Anna Stiga)
The Stumper lives up to its name this week, taking seconds longer to solve than today’s other themelesses. And I was utterly stumped by the northwest corner! I had everything else filled in, and…oof. Nothing at all in that corner. The clues were all so nonspecific (except for one trivia one that was super-specific but that I didn’t remember). Finally took a stab at filling in possible answers with RUN for 6d: [Streak] (turned out to be right) and SMOG for 4d: [Atmospheric aggregation] (turned out to be HAZE instead). That nudged me towards something-IRA for 1a: [Plan established by the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997]. Eventually I figured out that was the ROTH IRA, which I would’ve guessed began earlier. Other things that make perfect sense now but eluded me completely at first at the CALZONE at 17a: [Sort of turnover] and 2d: ORAL, [Slanderous by definition] (libel is written, slander is spoken). As for 5d: IRONS? [They're in the bag], the golf bag, because they’re golf clubs.
Eight more clues from the other zones:
- 20a. ["Surf" sources] are CLAMBEDS. Why? I thought “surf and turf” meant lobster and steak. My husband ordered the lobster boil last night. No steak, but assorted clam/mussel things. Does this have anything to do with this clue?
- 42a. A BAROMETER is an [Indicator of impending change] in the weather, at least if it drops precipitously.
- 50a. “WHAT A GUY!” is one [Exclamation of approval].
- 60a. Who knew A.A. MILNE was an [Author taught by HG Wells]? Lesson no. 1: Use two initials and have a 5-letter last name.
- 20d. CAST PARTY is a fun thing. It’s a [Post-wrapping tradition], after wrapping the show.
- 23d. I’m a big fan of having A BOMB clued as a two-word partial rather than as a hyphenated old name for a nuclear weapon. Much more pleasant and modern.
- 31d. [Berkshire Hathaway board member] seemed impossible, but I do know that Berkshire’s Warren Buffett has promised to give billions to the Bill and Melinda GATES Foundation so it makes sense that a GATES would be on his board.
- 33d. Italian Sophia LOREN is the [First Oscar recipient for a non-English-speaking role]. I don’t believe I knew that.
Patrick Berry’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “Seven Sages”
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this puzzle, but it didn’t really grab me the way many of his other variety grids do. The gig is entering a bunch of 7-letter answers in interlocking rings, but 7s aren’t as interesting as the longer phrases, names, and titles Patrick fits into his Rows Garden puzzles. And while the puzzle would certainly take a lot longer if we didn’t receive the +/– hints about which ones run clockwise and which ones go counterclockwise. Maybe I would have liked it better if I had to work even harder? I dunno.
It’s definitely an elegant touch to have a Shaw quote running around the outer ring: “Science never solves a problem without creating ten more.” Isn’t that the point of scientific investigation, to find more things to look into? Or did Shaw really think science was more trouble than it was worth?
Four stars. Less solving joy than I had hoped for.