Matt Ginsberg and Pete Muller’s New York Times crossword
These two creative constructors have teamed up with a doozy of a theme. I like the theme a lot (though I’m not sure if there’s a particular reason that the circled words go around the bend in the grid, having never read the book in question) and I like some of the fill in this 72-worder, but I also loathe some of the fill. The Scowl-o-Meter was clanking away like crazy tonight.
First up, the theme: Reading clockwise from the upper right (odd corner to start in), the circled letters spell ELECTRIC KOOL-AID ACID TEST. Wait, where’s the “The” from the start of the title? It’s a book by Tom WOLFE, about Ken KESEY and his band of MERRY PRANKSTERS. (Always a “band.” Why are they never called a gaggle of Merry Pranksters?) MERRY PRANKSTERS is one of the coolest 15s ever, ain’t it?
Good stuff in the fill includes SIDEKICKS, KLUDGE, “YOUR MOVE,” “TOODLE-OO,” APRES-SKI, AVOGADRO, and retro I’m-in-the-last-generation-who-had-these DITTOS.
In the “Uh-oh, not that” category, we unfortunately have too many things. 1-Across kicks off with STU ERWIN, 1930s actor? I don’t know a darn thing about STU Erwin, CLU Gulager, or Joanne DRU except that they are probably the commonest 3-letters-ending-with-U crossword-answer people. U NU, where R U?
The next line gives us the roll-your-ownish word IRONER. A Google search suggests that ironer is a hardcore machine used for ironing, but the [Press agent?] clue makes it sound like a person and nobody would call a person an “ironer.” Line 3 brings TRACTILE, a rather unnecessary word since the more familiar tensile and ductile are in wider use. Then there’s a bunch of regular stuff and theme answers until line 11, where we get the super-obscure fictional IVA and the roll-your-own RAISABLE. Tough row to hoe!
Line 14 has the weird incomplete phrase “I LEAVE.” I’m gonna start saying this instead of “I go” (another scowl-inducing entry, once clued as something you’d say in a board game). Moving to the Downs, we get another first-person weird incomplete phrase, “I’LL NEVER.” You’ll never what? “I never” is fine, but “I’ll never” wants a verb after it. Not sure how I feel about 22d: A FIRST, which is in the language but looks awkward in the grid with that A. Plural SESAMES? Meh. And what is this dreadful O’ TEA at 26d? To that, I can only say “PTUI!”
Also in the Downs, lots of crosswordese material: TARE, NYE (fresher as Bill Nye the Science Guy than as the Nevada county), ENATE, ERSE. If the rest of the grid were smooth, I could look past these, but with all the other compromised areas they just made me scowl some more.
Bill Thompson and Anne Thompson Richter’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review
What am I – chopped LIVER? You’ll find LIVER chopped in two and placed at either end of this puzzle’s theme entries. The LIVER gets chopped differently each time, too.
- 18a. The [Portrayer of the Elf maiden Arwen in “The Lord of the Rings”] was LIV TYLER. Liv’s original last name was Rundgren (as in Todd), because her mom wasn’t being truthful about the babydaddy, who was actually Steven Tyler. Oh celebrities.
- 26a. [Exist like a mob informant, say] is LIVE IN FEAR
- 49a. [Enjoy leisurely] is LINGER OVER
- 60a. [Solon] was a LAW GIVER - shouldn’t there be an “e.g.” in this clue?
Great wordplay, great execution, great fill:
- 51a. [1988 Radio Hall of Fame inductee] – AMOS ‘N’ ANDY. Holy mackerel there, Kingfish! Love the show – I listened to it on cassette growing up – and I was quite pleased to see it in this puzzle. Fun non-theme entries aren’t reserved for themeless puzzles!
- DANG IT, the POOR DEVIL’s INNARDS are everywhere! Three more fun entries that probably shouldn’t be put in a sentence together.
- 9d. [Bucks shots] had me imagining those flavor shots they have at Starbucks, even though I don’t quite know what those are. Oh well – turns out it was LAY-UPS. A great (though perhaps unintentional) misdirect to a sports clue. (Welcome Milwaukee visitors!)
- I didn’t know the word 24a. [Torchiere, e.g.] – but FLOOR LAMP made plenty of sense.
- AXILLAE means armpits. I’d rather see ARMPITS in the grid, but c’est la vie. BOOB is here next to a pair of BVDS – this is puzzle is very secure with its body, no?
Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Puh-leeze!”
I heard a rumor that Peter Gordon is the grandson of last week’s Tuesday NYT constructor, Bernice Gordon. (I heard it inside my head.) His theme makes perfect sense, though: add a schwa syllable and reclue accordingly. Plaster of Paris becomes PILASTER OF PARIS, the pilaster being the “projecting rectangular column” mentioned in the clue. Wait, what is it, exactly? Wikipedia explains: it’s a sham of a thing, a flattened-out fake column used to decorate a wall, not provide support. Moll Flanders becomes MOLL PHILANDERS; if you weren’t watching Night Court in the ’80s (I was!), you probably have no idea who Richard Moll is. The Star Wars cartoon for kids, The Clone Wars, becomes THE COLOGNE WARS. I was thinking THE SCENT OF A…something. And thunderclaps switches to THUNDER COLLAPSE. The theme works, though I didn’t find it particularly funny.
The last square I filled in was the one with 37 in it. [Sch. that Archie Griffin played for] means absolutely nothing to me, but I figured *SU was plausible. But then there’s 31d! [Slightly purplish black], SO*T. I went throught the alphabet. SOFT? SONT? SORT? SOOT? It’s SOOT? Another weird Peter Gordon color clue. Which OSU Archie Griffin played for, I couldn’t say. Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon State?
- 5d. [What a pilot causes to go up?] is the GAS BILL, as your gas stove or water heater or boiler will burn gas in its pilot light.
- 20a. TEEN BEAT! I used to read that and Tiger Beat.
- 36d. QUANDARY is a lovely word for a vexing thing.
I don’t get the clue for MARSH: [Buggy place, in more ways than one]. I don’t think there’s any connection to baby buggies or wiretaps. Yes, you’ll find dragonflies and whatnot in a MARSH, but what’s this “in more ways that one” bit about?
William I. Johnston’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “What’s in the Cards?” – Sam Donaldson’s review
I’ve taken a lot of tests in my day, but one I’ve never tried is a test for extra-sensory perception. Given how bad I am at sensory perception in general, I strongly suspect I would show no aptitude for it. That’s most unfortunate today because E.S.P. is [What Zener cards … are purported to test]. As the clue to 69-Across further explains, those cards [display the symbols at the starts of] the other theme entries:
- 18-Across: A CIRCLE DANCE includes an [Hora, for example], but I’m more familiar with “hora” as sixty minutos or 1/24th of un día.
- 24-Across: A [Dangerous exchange to be caught in] is a CROSSFIRE. It’s especially dangerous if it happens to be on cable television.
- 36-Across: A [Ripple in a pond, for example] is a WAVE FRONT. Wasn’t ripple the cheap booze that Fred Sanford used to crave in Sanford and Son?
- 53-Across: SQUARE ONE is the [Starting point, metaphorically]. That would have been a deceptive first theme entry, no? Too bad it didn’t work out.
- 60-Across: The [Court case standout] is a STAR WITNESS.
Having no familiarity at all with the Zener deck, the theme was of no help during my solve. But hey, this puzzle taught me something I never knew, and that’s always good. So I have no complaints with the theme. With five theme entries and 49 total theme squares, there’s a density I appreciate.
The real highlights, to me, were in the fill. I loved X AMOUNT, the [Unspecified quantity]. It takes x amount of skill to incorporate that kind of entry into a grid without compromising its smoothness. Indeed, we have to tolerate the not entirely common abbreviation DIAM (clued as [Radius doubled (abbr.)]) to get the payoff. But that’s a very fair price.
Then there’s KING TUT, the [Steve Martin song subject]. I’m old enough to remember the song well and young enough to say, embarrassingly, that the tune was my first exposure to the former Egyptian king. That’s probably true for many in my age cohort.
Other entries I liked include HYDRANTS, Q AND A, and FLY OVER (what I happen to be doing to the State of Ohio right now, in fact). My two biggest stumbling blocks were LOM, clued as [Actor Herbert of “The Pink Panther Strikes Again”], and SKAT, the [Three-handed card game]. I have blogged before about my trouble with SKAT, so I think it’s a mental block—it still sounds like a crappy game to me.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Hush-Hush” — pannonica’s review
Those of you who’ve read James Ellroy’s gripping L.A. Confidential or seen the masterful film adaptation will surely remember the unsavory character Sid Hudgeons, editor and proprietor of the notorious Hollywood scandal rag “Hush-Hush.” The paper’s knowing tagline, appearing in many of its stories, was “Off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush.”
In the center, 39-across reads [Ninja-like, and this puzzle’s theme] ON THE QT. Opinions differ as to the origin—whether ’qt’ is quiet or quiet time—but all sources agree that the idiomatic phrase means “quietly, in a secretive manner, clandestinely.” In accordance, the four long theme answers are two-word phrases with the initials QT.
- 17a. [Flip, in real estate-speak] QUICK TURN. Zig that house! Zag that condo‼
- 60a. [Customer service center approximation] QUEUE TIME. “Your call is important to us.”
- 11d. [“Shut up already!”] QUIT TALKING. Wouldja? I’m trying to write something here.
- 24d. [Literature read in a gender studies class] QUEER THEORY. Of the four themers, this—surprisingly, since it’s still somewhat marginal—is the only one that strikes me as a stand-alone, in-the-language thing.
Longtime readers of Crossword Fiend (i.e., those who were here for my review last Thursday) might recall that there was a minor flap about the profanity in the Ink Well puzzles. Amid the brouhaha Dan F helpfully linked to the About section of the official website, part of which amounts to a sort of mission statement; the relevant quote is “These days I am as committed to mild or explicit raciness as I am to contemporary references. Both are about equally important.” Even though I’ve been writing up these crosswords for more than a few months now, I hadn’t been aware of this explicit assertion, though I understood that there was an intentional transgressiveness to them. I commented on what seemed to me the excessive ribaldry and coarseness because last week’s puzzle struck me as such, that it was an outlier, as if constructor Tausig were trying too hard for puerility and salacity.
This week sees a return to form. In fact, it’s as if the pendulum has swung well past the midpoint; I don’t imagine it has anything to do with last week’s fallout. Only a couple of clues and answers are clearly risqué, and then only marginally—and self-referentially—so.
- 4d. [Adjective forbidden in crosswords because it's gross and bodily] MUCOUS. Well, not all crosswords, obviously.
- 34a. [Network television no-no, politely] TEAT. Not even a boob-tube reference? Back in the late 1960s and -70s Harlan Ellison compiled salient writings in a book called The Glass Teat: Essays of Opinion on Television.
Two other clues can, with effort, be construed of as prurient:
- 45a. [Feeling that might be aroused] IRE. You know, “aroused”? Nudge, nudge.
- 55d. [Love, to Sextus] AMOR. “Sextus,” get it? Wink, wink.
- Say no more! (Keep it on the QT.)
Let’s finally have a look at the rest of this crossword.
- Some very appealing longish answers: ETHEREAL, HOUSECAT, IDYLLIC, SAMARIA, ETAGERE, [Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas] KRISTOF. Is someone going to put acclaimed director KRZYSZTOF Kieślowski in a puzzle? ORISON. (God, can you hear me now?)
- Q-crossers are BBQ, -ESQUE, ENQUIRE, BARQ’S, IRAQIS; nice mix, not relying too heavily on use of Us.
- partials I MISS, IT’S A, AS RARE, OR LESS, DO SO.
- [Part of ETA: Abbr.] EST’D. I wish there were separate abbreviations for estimated and established. Both take est. and est’d.
- AAAA. aaaaaaaaaaah!
- Unknown to me: 28a [Portrayer of a teenaged Bluth] CERA. I assume this is man-child actor Michael Cera, but I have no idea who Bluth might be. 41a [ __ Nidre (Yom Kippur prayer)] KOL.
- Glad to see that 42a [Asset when shopping on a budget] is THRIFT and not CREDIT. Incidentally, 59a [Bread] is an aitchless MOOLA, not MONEY.
- 47a [Rolling in it] RICH has nothing to do with 55a ADELE [One-named singer with "19" and "21"], whose inescapable big hit is “Rolling in the Deep.”
- Favorite clues:
- 31d. [Bush or Clinton] GEORGE. The Mothership is here.
- 52a. [Condition in which one's arms are laid to the side?] PEACE. Condition, not position. Even with the question mark, it’s tricky.
- 54d. Always prefer to see MAUNA in a puzzle instead of KEA or LOA.
Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Pressing the Flesh”—Matt Gaffney’s review
Brendan’s puzzle today features a quote from the hilarious-though-extremely-juvenile English comedian BENNY HILL:
I’M NOT AGAINST / HALF-NAKED / GIRLS. NOT AS OFTEN / AS I’D LIKE TO BE.
Sounds like W.C. Fields or Groucho, but it’s Benny. Seven observations:
- This is not your grandma’s grossword: SPLIFF, LEZ, DJ SET, HI DEF, JONZE. If your grandma can solve this with no Googles, you should hang out with her more often.
- Grandma would certainly be familiar with the connected ERI/ARN/ESTEE sequence, however.
- I believe 18-Across is the preferred spelling of Utah’s demonym within that state. If anyone knows Mandarin they can e-mail Jon Huntsman about this.
- Don’t think we don’t see you hiding in the NW corner, my initialed friend.
- Scrabbly: JUAREZ, ZERO, YOB, Q-TIP, SHIFTY.
- Star clues: 47d, 49d, and of course 62a.
- It’s hard to hear the Benny Hill theme song and not laugh. It’s earwormish so be forewarned if you’re YouTubing.
Thanks for the puzzle, BEQ, and have a hi-def Thursday, everyone.