Joe Krozel’s New York Times crossword
Whoops, I clicked the wrong button in the NYT applet (the “check my solution” one) so my time doesn’t show up in the leaderboard. Not sure I’ve done that before.
This is an unusual grid in that (1) it’s got left/right symmetry and (2) it’s got 11 of those 15-letter answers running across. The fill is fairly smooth considering, but there are a few ugly patches. Plus two of the 15s include SLEEP—they would constitute a mini-theme if they were TOSSING AND TURNING and SLEEPLESS NIGHTS, but they’re TOSS IN ONE’S SLEEP and SLEEPLESS NIGHTS. Bzzz! (That’s the “sorry, wrong answer” buzzer, not falling asleep after the first letter of a word.)
Joe, Joe, Joe. You’ve gotta quit recycling fill that is conducive to the stacking! This is your third puzzle (the second in two months) with SCARLET TANAGERS in it. The thing about 15s is that they stick in solvers’ heads more than the typical 6-letter answer because they’re relatively rare. Your red birds are heading toward A LOT ON ONE’S PLATE territory now.
The 15s are all good entries, though I’ve never heard Mitch Miller’s 1953 hit “UNDER PARIS SKIES.” With the last 6 letters in place, I was fervently hoping Mitch’s song title had RUSSKIES in it. Alas, no such luck. My favorite answer is HARE-BRAINED IDEA, though FISHERMAN’S WHARF is close behind.
The Down crossings are all 3 to 5 letters long. Three partials: A TUNE, AN ASS, and GO ASK Alice, the book we all read when I was an adolescent that turns out to have been crafted by an adult rather than a teenage girl’s diary. Crosswordese includes variant spelling TIPIS, ITERS, and NABES. Another duplication: I’LL GO and I’LL BE (with a bonus ILL at 28a). I much prefer one-word LEGIT to two-word LEG IT. Do you think anyone ever called Ernie Banks (Mr. Cub) and his teammates “NLERS“? Hmph. HES is an ugly little plural but I’m fine with [Czech religious reformer Jan] HUS because I’ve visited Prague and seen his memorial. Perhaps the ugliest entry in this 66-word grid is RYS, clued as [Roads with train tracks: Abbr.]. Is this short for “railways”? If so, are those considered “roads”? I would actually have preferred [Guitarist Cooder and others], though I don’t know of any other notable Rys. If you’ve seen the movie Paris, Texas, you’ve heard Cooder’s phenomenal and memorable work. 14d: REICE looks like an ugly RE-word, but you know what? I had foot woes last month and I iced and reiced all right.
4.5 stars for the achievement of the 15s, minus .25 for the double SLEEP, minus .2 for the red birds again, minus .5 for the short stuff. What is that, 3.55 stars in the final analysis? Let’s round it up to 3.75.
Bruce Sutphin’s Los Angeles Times crossword
I could tell that the theme answers had lost an “RS,” but I couldn’t figure out why until I reached the explanation at the end of the puzzle: 66a: LOSERS are [Failures (and in another way, a hint to 17-, 27-, 44- and 57-Across)]. Ah! “Lose RS.” Got it. Thus:
- 17a. [Village with very little gardening equipment?] is a ONE-HOE TOWN (one-horse town).
- 27a. [Entrance purchases for a conditioning program?] clues FIT CLASS TICKETS (first class tickets). “Fit class” sounds off to me but there’s probably a health club that offers something called “fit class.”
- 44a. [What Ruth forgot to bring to pool night?], Babe Ruth, is the CUE OF THE BAMBINO. The Curse of the Aforementioned is something that vexed the Yankees or the Red Sox or somebody. Whatever. It was a long time ago.
- 57a. [Like calls between drudges?] clues PEON-TO-PEON (person-to-person).
Whoop-whoop-whoop! The siren has sounded. What’s this? There’s an RS still lurking in the midst? Yes, there is: 45d: OATERS, ["Hondo" et al.]. I really wish that weren’t in the puzzle, as it detracts from the theme and it’s not an answer anyone’s excited to see anyway.
- 24a. For [Jacket label letters], I was thinking of sportcoats and letter jackets instead of book jackets and the ISBN. I like a good misdirection.
- 39a. [Gives credit where credit is due] is a lovely clue for CITES.
- 47a. Yeah, AFI is a 3-letter abbreviation, but it’s the American Film Institute and [Morgan Freeman won its 2011 Life Achievement Award: Abbr.], and who doesn’t like him?
- 6d. [Pistons' place] had me thinking of car engines instead of THE NBA. Misdirect!
- 10d. SQUAWK is an awesome word and Scrabbly to boot.
- 31d. Pronounce the start of [Nice compliment] as “neece”: It’s a capital N, Nice, France. “TRES BIEN!”
- 42d. [Ones who've got your back, in Internet shorthand] are BFFS, or best friends forever.
- 52d. [White partner] is BLACK. No, wait, it’s WHITE, as in White Stripes’ Jack White and Meg White. Gotta be STRUNK, but how can I fit that into four squares? The answer turns out to be an egg YOLK. I guess the yolk’s on me, then.
- 53d. Fresh clue for PELE! I guessed right even though I don’t recall ever hearing about ["__ Eterno": 2004 sports documentary]. (Please don’t Google and find out that I have previously blogged about this clue.)
I realize that going the private-investigator route is a better way to clue PIS, but I kinda always want it to be clued ["Tant __!"]. Oh, well, what are you gonna do?
Overall, the fill’s okay, though ISO SLA IZE OSHEA BUTIS ENLAI ANDS don’t elevate the venture. 3.5 stars.
Sarah Keller’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Driving Tests” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Would-be drivers would be well advised to have a go at Sarah Keller’s puzzle as they wait at the DMV. The common troika of driving exams serve as the starters for the three theme entries:
- 20-Across: Something that is [Permanent, idiomatically] is WRITTEN IN STONE. And usually the first step toward getting a drivers license is taking the WRITTEN test. The first time I took the written test I did so with great confidence–heck, I had seen my folks drive all the time and knew the rules of the road. The second time I was much less cocky and much better prepared.
- 40-Across: The [Calm storm center] is the EYE OF A HURRICANE. And after taking the written test, aspiring drivers undergo a quick EYE test to make sure they can read road signs and distinguish between pedestrians and yellow lights. Isn’t the expression more commonly “eye of the hurricane?” Yeah, yeah, that would be 17 letters, two too many for the grid–but it’s important to use the more familiar phrasing where possible. Maybe EYE OF THE TIGER would have been a better choice.
- 57-Across: The [Path for regaining good health] is the ROAD TO RECOVERY. And the last hurdle that stands between the teenager and the all-important license is the ROAD test, what folks in my corner of the country normally call the “driving test.”
Sure, there are “only” three theme entries, but it makes for a complete set. The only other “driving test” I can think of is a field sobriety test. Not only is that one different from the others because it is administered to keep a license (not to obtain one), but also I think there’s no common expression that begins with FIELD SOBRIETY (or even just SOBRIETY). So the theme content is just fine.
For some reason I like that the eight-letter non-theme entries in this puzzle are AGNOSTIC ODDBALLS. It isn’t often that you get an adjective and noun in these pairings, so it’s fun to put them together when it happens. (For the record, I highly doubt that agnostics are oddballs. Get it?)
Some random observations: (1) I liked [It could be jumped] as a clue for BAIL; (2) I wanted OVER-CHARGE for [What H&R Block employees do], but only E-FILE would fit; (3) TARN was new to me–it’s a [Small mountain lake] (darn that tarn!); and (4) STERE, the [Cordwood measure], may be a legitimate entry, but it sure has a Crosswordese feel.
Randolph Ross’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “School Openings”
Light, breezy puzzle this week. The theme ties to the first day of school (which was weeks ago for many of you suburbanites but was just this week for Chicago, New York, Boston, and who knows where else) by having phrases in which the first word can precede school:
- 23a. [Church outfit] is one’s SUNDAY BEST. Non-churchgoers’ Sunday best is often pajamas.
- 25a. [Dairy case buy] clues GRADE A MILK. Say what? Nobody calls it that. All milk sold in stores has to be grade A; grade B stuff goes to cut-rate cheese producers, apparently. I had to do some dairy research to find out what this answer meant. There’s a little “Grade A” designation on a jug of milk, but it’s generally anything but prominent. (I wanted GRADE A EGGS but the egg is down below in GOOD EGG.)
- 32a. A NURSERY RHYME is a [Simple verse].
- 60a. [Temporary spot for one's possessions] is PUBLIC STORAGE. I won’t go that route! I won’t do it. If I need it so little that I don’t want it at home, why am I paying to store it elsewhere?
- 82a. [Expandable piece of jewelry] is a CHARM BRACELET. Charm school! Now available in new Gothic flavor.
- 90a. [Restricted zone] is a NO-GO AREA. This pertains to the NO-GO SCHOOL movement popular among truants. (Yes, I’m kidding. No, this isn’t a theme answer.)
- 110a. [Audiophile's requirement] is HIGH FIDELITY.
- 121a. [Hussein, to Obama] is his MIDDLE NAME. I’m calling my 6th-grader a middle-schooler even though he’s still in the same school (pre-K through 8th) and still with the homeroom teacher most of the day. I miss the days of calling those grades “junior high.” What happened to that, anyway?
- 123a. Sam [Spade, for one] is a PRIVATE EYE.
- 3d. [Last bit of decoration] is the FINISHING TOUCH.
- 56d. [Enrollees from the very beginning] are CHARTER MEMBERS. Did you read that NYT story about struggling Houston public schools adopting charter school practices? I’d rather see more of that than an expansion of charter schools.
Ten theme entries; solid, except for the slight clunk of GRADE A MILK that is technically a “thing” but that grocery shoppers don’t think about unless they’re also dairy farmers or processors.
Trickiest clue, for me:
- 57d. [Source of bars inside bars] means bars of music inside drinking establishments: KARAOKE.
Nicest entries: TRAIPSE, CLOBBER, HONDURAS, GOOD EGG, SWEE’PEA (who is usually used in crosswords as the lesser SWEE [__ Pea], STEVIE Wonder, and TRIPLE A.
3.5 stars. Not particularly memorable, but smooth and inoffensive. Sometimes that’s all anyone wants a crossword to be.
Mark Feldman’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Singing Praises” — pannonica’s review
Espying the first long across, 17a [Nocturnal singer] NIGHTINGALE, and keeping in mind the title, I naturally assumed the theme had something to do with types of singers, though the repetition of singing/singer was a bit queer. When I broke open 23a [Ancient Hellenic artifact] GRECIAN URN, it was obvious that the theme was in fact the crossword chestnut ODE, also seen as ODES, ODIST, ODISTS. (“Laudatory poem” is a common enough clue.) When I rolled over INDOLENCE in the center, I knew there was a single odist in the picture: John Keats. So I was a little disappointed when the revealer spelled it out so plainly: 62a [What 17, 23, 29, 37, 48, and 54 Across are each the subject of] KEATSIAN ODE.
- 17a. [Nocturnal singer] NIGHTINGALE.
- 23a. [Ancient Hellenic artifact] GRECIAN URN.
- 29a. [Fall] AUTUMN.
- 37a. [Laziness] INDOLENCE.
- 48a. [Cupid's love] PSYCHE.
- 54a. [Blue state?] MELANCHOLY.
61 letters of theme in a 15×15 crossword? That’s something indeed to sing praises about! I do wonder if some solvers will quibble about the -IAN repetition in Grecian and Keatsian. It doesn’t bother me much, especially since there’s an ostensible differentiation between a themer and a revealer. The ballast fill is a little weak and lack liveliness, which isn’t surprising considering the amount of theme packed into the grid; such a trade-off seems nearly inevitable.
- There are seven-letter stacks—doubles and triples—in each of the corners, but for the post part they fail to thrill.
- Oh, here’s a list of abbrevs. in the puzzle: NSA, THOS., NRA, COLL., LSU, EDS., MRI, SSN, GPA, USC, ILO; NBAER and SSE are honorary members of the club.
- Some clever clues, but I have the sense that they’ve been used many times before. I have in mind [When hands are up?] for NOON, and [Small piece?] for HANDGUN.
- Favorite clues: 44a [Took a powder] LEFT; 53a [Whom the Swiss Guard guard] POPE.
- Look! The last clue is 65d [Finish] END. How about that?