I have some astonishing news, people: I went to the DMV today (technically the Driver Services Facility, as Illinois doesn’t use “DMV”) and spent 40 minutes with three employees (for title and registration issues, not getting a license), and they were delightful. Each one cordial, helpful, and efficient. And on a Friday afternoon! I share this with you so that you may venture out into the world to find more good karma like this. I was in a foul mood when I got there because of horrendous traffic, and these folks rejiggered my day completely.
David Quarfoot’s New York Times crossword
Yay! DQ is back! It was dreadful, positively dreadful, when he published only two puzzles in all of 2009 and 2010. This is his third NYT this year, and I hope there’s a new onslaught beginning. Because I love me some Quarfoot puzzles. They’re crunchy and fun in much the same way as Mike Nothnagel and Byron Walden’s themeless crosswords. This one is par for the (excellent) course.
All the good stuff! Juicy fill, fun clues. It’s a mark of the DQ style that I loved this puzzle. I mean, look at the grid: It’s one of those ones that’s built around a slew of 7-letter answers, and that sort of grid too often bores me when the puzzle is filled with boring words. But David brings us LA BAMBA (nice trivia clue) and HUMP DAY right off the bat. Pretty SYLVAN with a tricky clue, [Shady, say]. ROE V. WADE with a tennis clue ([Frequently disputed court call?]) echoing the TOP SEED elsewhere in the puzzle during U.S. Open week. A BATGIRL. Israeli writer AMOS OZ. A mug of HOT COCOA, now that autumn is upon us. The like-her-only-in-a-crossword DR. LAURA. The two initial writers, H.G. WELLS and W.H. AUDEN. Fresh GROUPON with a nice clue, [Marketing giant with a portmanteau name].
I like the EROTICA and “OOH LA LA!” one-two punch, though the latter might’ve benefited from a different clue as ["Hot!"] is certainly good but duplicates HOT COCOA’s heat.
I spent the end of my solving time trying to figure out 65-Across where it met 48-Down and 61-Down. The [Setting of many plots] isn’t a community garden or a writers’ workshop, but the X-Y PLANE. Whoa. That’s an actual phrase? Leave it to a math teacher (Mr. Quarfoot) to toss the math terminology at us. Didn’t know the horror movie was JASON X, which it would be great to see on a double bill with Malcolm X. And the French NUL sounds like “null” but I wasn’t at all sure of that. Mathematics, French, and slasher movies? Not my three favorite things.
Bad stuff: Eh, it’s all fine for a Saturday puzzle. I was even pleased to see U NU after alluding to him in my STU/CLU/DRU comments on Thursday’s puzzle. I’ll give this one 4.5 stars for all that fun stuff.
Brad Wilber’s Los Angeles Times crossword
You know how some constructors sneak little autobiographical tidbits into their puzzles? Judge Vic Fleming sometimes has legal terms, Barry Silk tips his hat to Philadelphia, and both Barry and Peter Gordon make clear their love of baseball. Brad has done that here with 16d: GENIAL, because he is so stinkin’ [Good-natured]. If you don’t believe me, read the New York Times article about Brad being eminently GENIAL towards the Metropolitan Opera this summer. He’s a peach.
Speaking of foodstuffs, I have never, ever heard of SHELL STEAK (64a. [Cut with the tenderloin removed]). Wikipedia lists all its other more familiar names—such as strip steak. Yes, I’ve heard of that.
- 15a. For [Pompous], I first tried OVERBEARING but was pleased to be wrong because OVERWEENING is such a great word. You know what? I think Brad may be just a hair underweening.
- 18a. A LIVE EPISODE makes for a [Risky telecast]. Who can come up with a good cryptic crossword clue for this answer that involves 51, a vice president, “is,” and “ode”?
- 19a. I expected an -ED ending for [Reduced in status] but it’s the Frenchy adjective DÉCLASSÉ. If you call someone déclassé, you’re probably kinda overweening.
- 62a. [1988 film set in a New England pie maker's shop] is MYSTIC PIZZA, starring Lili Taylor, Annabeth Gish, and a newcomer named Julia Roberts. You can get frozen Mystic Pizza at Treasure Island stores in Chicago. It ain’t half bad.
The fill’s not as splashy as Quarfoot’s but the cluing is great. Here are my favorite clues:
- 4a. [Range barrier] clues BARBED WIRE, but I was thinking more mountain ranges and numerical ranges than “Home on the Range.” Misdirect!
- 37a. Neat trivia: UCLA is a [Sch. whose students have won more than 200 Olympic medals]. Who knew?
- 2d. [Where the batter goes] is in the CAKE PAN. Yum! Thank you for using the word “batter” and having it not be about baseball, Brad.
- 25d. [One who's now right-brained?] is a NEOCON. Are all the current neocons middle-aged or older now? Are new neocons still being minted?
- 30d. [Sci-fi character named for an Asian sea] is Mr. SULU. That’s so Takei! (Ooh, look, at the 00:47 mark in that video, George Takei is parading past Sidetrack, a bar in my neighborhood where Evad and I have had cocktails.)
- 35d. [You'll need more than one in a rib joint] clues a NAPKIN. Boy, you ain’t kidding. My son loves BBQ ribs. He just lets the sauce accumulate on his hands and heads to the loo to wash up after he’s had his fill. He probably leaves a trail of barbecue sauce behind him.
- 40d. [Very slim margin]…hmm, win by a NOSE? a HAIR? No, an EYELASH. Not sure I’ve heard that usage, but I like it.
Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Size Matters” — Sam Donaldson’s review
That’s not meant to express exasperation or discontent—it’s just the shortest available description for the theme in this Raymond Hamel puzzle. The four theme entries all begin with homophones of SIGH; the trick is that each has a different spelling:
- 17-Across: To be [Intimidated] is to be PSYCHED OUT. That’s a nice, zippy entry to get us going.
- 27-Across: The [Show of students' ingenuity] is a SCIENCE FAIR. I never participated in a science fair (but my first job was at a science museum), and I never went to prom. Did I miss anything important?
- 49-Across: CYPRESS HILL is a [Latino hip-hop group]. I have heard of the band but had no idea that they were Latinos. I feel like I should know that, but sometimes I’m insane in the brain.
- 66-Across: A CIDER PRESS is [Where applejack may start]. Huh. All this time I only knew “applejack” as “part of a nutritious breakfast.”
My favorite theme entry, oddly, is the puzzle’s title—though I suppose it would be tricky to clue SIZE MATTERS in a tasteful way.
Lots on the plate at home today, so let’s finish with a flurry of random observations:
- Anyone else have METS instead of JETS as the [New York team]? A credible case could also be made for NETS, especially if one believes it all but certain that the team will move from New Jersey to Brooklyn.
- In one word, ARTIS is the [End of MGM's motto]. In two words, “ART IS” is the start of a famous da Vinci quotation, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
- [Watchdog org.?] is a terrific clue for the S.P.C.A. My second favorite was [Pre-V formation?] for the letter sequence R-S-T-U. Yes, it’s lipstick on a pig, but the lipstick sure helps.
- Answers to consecutive Down entries: ESSE ([Latin being]) and ESS ([Common pluralizer]). Too bad one wasn’t ESE of the other.
Doug Peterson’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
I got off to a slow start, drawing a blank on a zillion clues, but then a few toeholds broke things open. I started with 4d: CITE, [Honorably mention], and 8d: ENS, [Half of nine]. Then the [Bausch & Lomb brand] RENU at 15a suggested that my shoestring potatoes come from a RUSSET POTATO, [Typical shoestring material]. The interconnectedness of the grid—lots of flow among the various zones—really helped me branch out from a small number of answers.
- 18a. IT’S SO EASY, [Ronstadt tune of '77].
- 35a. WOEBEGONE, [Lugubrious].
- 49a. TORONTO! I just went there, and yes, driving there from the Midwest, you pass London and then continue 34d: ENE towards Toronto. Take 401 to 403 to the QEW and you’re on your way.
- 7d. PETRIFIED FOREST, [Colorado Plateau attraction].
- 21d. DONKEY KONG JR., [Arcade star of the '80s].
Most quintessentially Stumperesque clues:
- 10a. If you take a bunch of metaphorical [Swipes] at someone, you give them a lot of FLAK.
- 20a. ["Suit of lights" wearer] is a TOREADOR. I have never heard of that phrase before.
- 31a. Of all the ways you could clue STACK, would you have thought of the vague [Breakfast order] of pancakes, with no mention of the pancakes?
- 33a. [Live], could be a verb or an adjective or an adverb. It’s the latter: IN PERSON. Or maybe that’s an adjective.
- 37a. [Put into formation] could be past or present tense. Here it’s past: DEPLOYED.
- 52a. [Cut off, in a way] is also vague. Could be sever(ed), could have to do with cutting someone off on the road or cutting off relations with them. Turns out to be ICED IN.
- 60a. [Twit] is probably more commonly used as a noun, but it’s also a verb meaning to tease or JOSH.
- 12d. Again with the multiple meanings: [Hall of fame] is the noted ARSENIO Hall.
- 28d. Trivia, usually dating back a number of decades, is a regular feature of the Stumper. Lou RAWLS is [Whom Sinatra called the "classiest" singer].
Solid 4 to 4.25 stars. A decent amount of sparkle, very little that could be called junk, nothing that activated the Scowl-o-Meter (well, I would have groused at APER if I hadn’t gotten it through the crossings and barely noticed it), no insane crossings. The entry I was least happy with is 13d: KEYED ON, clued as [Singled out for attention]. I don’t know that I’ve seen that verb/preposition combo before.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Wall Street Journal Saturday variety cryptic, “Loops” — pannonica’s review
Pinch-hitting for Amy on this write-up.
“Each of this puzzle’s eight loops contains four words totaling 24 letters and reading clockwise in order as clued. The starting points and lengths of entries are not given, so you’ll need to match intersecting letters in order to align the loops correctly. The phrase formed by the 16 border letters (in the loops’ protrusions) may prove useful.”
Another new style by Hex! This grid proved to be a tricky solve. I’ll do my best to elucidate my process, reporting the combination of insights and watersheds as I experienced them.
- As with many variety cryptics, this one required that most of the clues be solved before it was possible to enter them into the grid. The constructors made sure to include some that were easy to get right away, but of course many were inscrutable at first. The knowledge that each group of 4 answers totaled 24 letters meant that if the solver was able to get three, the length of the fourth—and most recalcitrant—could be calculated; sometimes that extra bit of information was enough to crack it.
- As the instructions indicate, in order to find a toehold for laying the answers into the grid one has to look for a unique crossing, or at least narrow down the crossings to a small number of unusual ones. In soon became evident that the best bet for this would be one of the relatively few Scrabbly letters (X,Z, J. Q) and further, that the potential intersectors would necessarily be one from Loops 1–4 (the horizontals) and one from Loops 5–8 (the verticals). Of course, it was possible that these helpful letters could end up in one of the 16 ‘protrusions’ or, worse, one of the 24 unchecked squares within the grid. Gambling somewhat, I reasoned that constructors Hex couldn’t possibly be that cruel. When I had about 22 or 23 of the 32 clues worked out, it felt so close I could almost taste it. I had two Xs in the Verticals (BEATRIX and BOXERS) and one in the Horizontals (COAXED); combined with a Z (v: MAIZE) and perhaps a J (v: JARHEAD, h: JERKIN)…
- The real breakthrough came when I hit on a Q-word in the Horizontals (SQUASH) to match the one I had in the Verticals (CLIQUE). Why was this so crucial? Because unlike all other letters in the alphabet, a Q almost always requires a specific cohort, the letter U. (That is, unless Henry and Emily were being cruel and naughty, and they’re far too provident for that.) Being shackled thus, the permutations for the Q-U binary were significantly fewer than for individual letters. They would intersect at the junction of Loop 2 and Loop 8 in one of four ways:
Q|U S|Q T|H U|T H|S S|A U|Q Q|S
It turned out that the fourth was the only one that worked in both directions. [edit: On further consideration, I believe I was wrong about this. Since the directions of the loops' contents are known, it doesn't matter that it's a ligated letter pair; it has no fewer permutations than a single letter would.]
- Once I had that key crossing in place (with 2 of the 4 answers of Loop 8 and all of Loop 2), it was simply a question of working back and forth between the grid and the clues. Gradually I was able to figure out the length of an answer here, partial letters there (for instance R–L–E– at 3c, and S––––E at 8a), and—at one point, to push it all over the edge—the apt border phrase, PERIPHERAL VISION.
1a. PAGES – double definition
1b. HAMPER – double definition
1c. ASGARD – (DRAGS A) reversal
1d. SIGNS ON (S(Sn+GI)ON) charade/reversal/container
2a. SQUASH – double definition
2b. WHEE – WHEE(L) curtailment
2c. FOIBLE – (LIFE BO) anagram
2d. YARMOUTH – (Y(ARM)OUTH) container
3a. JERKIN – (JERK+IN) charade
3b. TRANCE – (NECTAR) anagram
3c. RELIEF – (RE(LIE)F) container
3d. COAXED – (CO(A+X)ED) container
4a. BOOZER – (B(OOZE)R) container
4b. MILIEU – (MILE(I)+U) charade/container
4c. IVIED – (I+VIED) charade
4d. SEX CELL – (S(EXCEL)+L) charade/container
5a. EIDER – (RED+IE) charade/reversal
5b. KNIFING – (K(N+IF)ING) charade/curtailment/container. Puzzle’s most convoluted clue.
5c. SPOIL – (S(P)OIL) container
5d. BEATRIX – (BE AT(R)+IX) charade/container
6a. PEARLY – (P+EARLY) charade
6b. WIND – double definition
6c. FLIVVER – (FLI(VV)ER) container
6d. JARHEAD – (HEAR A DJ) anagram
7a. VOILE – (VI(O)LE) container
7b. BOXERS – (BO(X)ERS) container. First solved answer for me.
7c. ROGERS – (GORE SR) anagram
7d. SUMATRA – (TRAUMAS) anagram
8a. STIFLE – (STI(F)LE) container
8b. MAIZE – (MAZE/MAIZE) homophone
8c. CLIQUE – (CL(IQ)UE) container
8d. RAIMENT – (R(AIM)ENT container
Unlike a standard cryptic, variety cryptics by virtue of their intricate construction requirements tend to have different proportions of clue types. For instance, this puzzle completely lacks a hidden word while standards typically have at least one or two. Anagrams are generally the most common type, but this puzzle has a preponderance of containers. It also sports more double definitions, fewer homophones, and so on.
Fresh, challenging and satisfying.