Peter Collins’s New York Times crossword
My general sense as I worked through this puzzle is “The theme is crosswordese.” The INNER CITIES in the theme—RENO, ENID, ERIE, TAOS—are most notable in crosswords for the frequency with which they’re convenient tools to fill a corner. I didn’t notice until after finishing that the longer answers that include them are all in California. I dunno. Would be cooler if the letters of the INNER CITIES appeared consecutively rather than randomly spaced out. And the thematic unity created by sticking with California towns means we get California towns of no particular fame—Oceanside and Bakersfield, Santa Rosa and Garden Grove. Anyone ever vacation in any of them?
The crosswordese vibe first struck me at 1-Across. Who among us learned of the ZEBU first from crosswords? Let’s see a show of hands. (Crossword nerds, in the house!) The EMUS, ARNO, ELOI, UZIS, ESS, ESO, OPE, ENS, NEC, ITT, ETA, ETTA, AMIE run keeps the vibe churning along throughout the grid.
Good stuff: RUBBERNECKS is a colorful word. It’s crazy to turn IRAN into two-word FITB answer I RAN from the ridiculous ’80s New Wave band A Flock of Seagulls, but I’m a sucker for circa-1982 New Wave. What can I say? It was on MTV.
I look forward to the day when REEDIT gets edited out of a grid in favor of the website REDDIT, but that’s probably too obscure for most crossword solvers at this point. If you don’t know what it is, you owe it to yourself to skim through the Brendan Emmett Quigley Q&A at Reddit.
Brendan Quigley’s Onion A.V. Club crossword
Really a clever theme, though I am out of my league when it comes to knowing who these bands are. The multilevel concept takes band names that could be conceived of as inspirations for crossword-theme wordplay, and clues them with a handful of potential theme entries. Basically, what Brendan’s done is create seven different themes and collapse them into one puzzle. Given how challenging it can be sometimes to concoct a single decent theme, is Brendan showing off here?
- 18a. [Title of a crossword with theme answers like OVERHAND KNOT, BUTTERFLY EFFECT, and CRAWL SPACE] clues THE STROKES, as all three begin with swimming strokes.
- 23a. [... HIT A RA(W)(N)(E)RVE, ARE (W)(E)(N)OT ME(N)(W)(E) ARE DEVO, and SPOK(E)(N)(W)ORD] clues NEW ORDER, as each lively phrase contains the letters in NEW in a different order.
- 29a. [... TAN XMEN, MINX AND MATCH, and PEPSI MANX] clues ADD N TO X. What is this, an algebra tribute band? Never heard of them. Your base phrases in this one would be tax men, mix and match, and Pepsi Max. Could be hard to clue those N+Xers as theme entries, no?
- 34a. A CIRCLE JERKS theme could put synonyms for “jerk” inside circled squares, as in [... I(D)(O)(L)(T)RYOUTS, GOD H(A)(S)(S)POKEN, and MASONI(C)(L)(O)(D)GE]. If you don’t know the lewd meaning of the band’s name, Google with extreme caution.
- 42a. [... MANDY MOORE, MARILYN MANSON, and MIKE MYERS] are M PEOPLE with M.M. initials. Never heard of this band, either.
- 50a. [... QATAR AIRWAYS, DJ QBERT, and IRAQ WAR] are phrases that contain Q AND NOT U. Who are they? And more importantly, does Trip Payne listen to them?
- 56a. PORTISHEAD can be parsed as “PORT is head” of the following phrases: [... PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT, PORTERHOUSE STEAK, and PORTMANTEAU WORD]. Hey, those would make a great trio of crossword answers. Too bad only one is as short as 15 letters.
Never heard of 25a: ALAINA ["Smallville" actress Huffman], either. But you know what? I’m making a mental note of that name. It’s two-thirds vowels and thus gridbait to constructors. She just needs to get a skosh more famous.
Julian Lim’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Went through this entire crossword without grasping the theme, since I didn’t quite read the final theme answer’s explanatory clue. The post-solve take-another-look leads to an “Oh! They start with words that can precede club” epiphany:
- 17a. [*Title role in the 2009 Tony winner for Best Musical] is BILLY ELLIOT. Not a fan of billy clubs.
- 24a. [*Advantage of some military goggles] is NIGHT VISION. When’s the last time I went to a night club? Boy, I couldn’t tell you.
- 45a. [*Freetown is its capital] clues SIERRA LEONE. The Sierra Club! I approve.
- 11d. [*Unauthorized stories written by devotees] is FAN FICTION. Great, fresh crossword answer. I believe slash fiction is the term for fan fic that crosses the line into erotica.
- 28d. A stubby little GOLF PENCIL is a [*Pro shop freebie]. Golf clubs have multiple layers of meaning for Tiger Woods.
- 55a. “JOIN THE CLUB!” ["That's exactly how I feel" ... or what each starred clue's first word can do?]. Super-fresh and fun, just like FAN FICTION.
The fill’s pretty smooth overall, and the clues have some zip to them. Four stars from me.
Tony Orbach’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Can Do” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Customer service is at the heart of Tony Orbach’s latest puzzle, as it features four common expressions clued simply as synonyms for ["Can do"]:
- 17-Across: MY PLEASURE.
- 24-Across: AT YOUR SERVICE.
- 53-Across: HAPPY TO OBLIGE.
- 65-Across: NO PROBLEMO.
There’s a certain elegance in the theme’s simplicity, and the expressions all have a light and entertaining air to them. Still, I would have preferred a little more pizzazz to it, like maybe hinting at the type of person who would use each of those expressions. Something along the lines of ["Can do" from a member of the armed forces] for AT YOUR SERVICE or ["Can do" from a server at a tapas bar] for NO PROBLEMO is what I have in mind. Of course, adding this extra layer might well take the puzzle’s difficulty beyond the original intent so maybe I’m asking too much.
As we have come to expect in Orbach puzzles, there is plenty of good stuff. My favorite was probably UP TOP, the [Words said when requesting a high-five]. IN THE LEAD and COPS A PLEA are fine long Downs, and I’m a sucker for BLOOPER, having seen more than my share of those specials that Dick Clark and Ed McMahon co-hosted. Lastly, I realize there’s probably no intended connection, but I like how the first two Across entries were ABCS and CBS TV—if only the third one could have had NBC or FOX in it.
There’s an abundance of abbreviations and acronyms here (CTA, BOS, ACLU, MISC, OTS, HMO, MSG, REO, OSS, et. al.), but nothing that seems to interfere with the solving experience. I like it when easy puzzles teach me new things—I still feel smart for breezing through the grid but I also get to learn something new. I don’t think I had ever seen the [Beatles tribute band The Fab] FAUX before, and I think I would remember a clever name like that. I slipped for a while as I insisted that the [Rodeo rope] had to be RIATA instead of its variant spelling, REATA, but this didn’t cost me too much time (I’m a big fan of ICEE, the [Frozen drink brand], so I knew something was up at the crossing). Finally, the [Lad, in Irish slang], or BOYO, was new to me. I was a little cheesed off for having to know Irish slang, but perhaps I was a bit knackered at the time.