Peter Collins’ New York Times crossword
Ahem. Will Shortz, sir, do you realize this is the fourth Peter Collins puzzle you’ve run in the past month? how about giving some other folks a chance? I’m guessing that Peter’s crosswords don’t make up a full seventh of the puzzles in the acceptances pipeline, unless he submitted a couple puzzles a day during all of summer break.
Today’s puzzle should really be tomorrow’s puzzle, because it’s hitting a lot of us at Wednesday-plus level. Tougher than a Tuesday, no?
The theme is hidden COUNTRIES lurking inside the borders of various phrases, much as San Marino is inside Italy and Lesotho’s inside South Africa. (My inner geography geek would have liked it if the word ENCLAVE had been tied to the theme.) We have the following:
- 17a. KENYA inside CHICKEN YARD, which I didn’t know was a “thing.”
- 23a. ITALY inside DIGITAL YEARBOOK, which I also didn’t know was a thing. Is that on a website? An iPad or phone app? DVD? Replacing an expensive printed yearbook?
- 35a. PERU inside ROPE RUG. Huh? The [Braided floor covering]s I’m familiar with, those oval ones, are called braided rugs. Not sure what a rope rug is.
- 37a. TOO MANY hides OMAN. I’m not sure I like TOO MANY as fill. TOO FEW would be dreadful fill, but TOO MUCH sounds totally idiomatic. Maybe TOO MANY is somewhere in between.
- 50a. MALI is inside the good ANIMAL INSTINCTS.
- 57a. CHINA spans three words instead of two in CATCH IN A LIE.
I’m usually a sucker for geography themes, but before I knew there were countries hidden in them, the phrases had already rebooted the Scowl-o-Meter. They had lots of help from fill like OEN– (as if OENO- weren’t bad enough), ERN, EENSY, ESE, INURED, EEO, HST, NAST, ODOM, CEE, EDS, KATS, and PIPIT. Sometimes a 72-square theme brings with it a boatload of compromises in the fill.
Now, I did like THE WALRUS and the PIXIES having ME TIME.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Cornering the Market”
Ooh, I love this puzzle! The four theme answers round the bend in their respective corners, always traveling clockwise, and they’re in specific corners for logical reasons. The grid’s stretched to 16 squares high. I’m not sure why, but the result is that the Downs in the middle side sections are 4 letters long rather than 3.
- 1d, 1a. [With 1-across, space that occupies the upper left corner of a Monopoly board] spells out FREE PARKING, moving from square 27 up and around to square 6. The answer is in the same upper left corner the clue cites.
- 10a, 13d. [With 13-down, it’s placed in the upper right corner of an envelope] puts your POSTAGE in the proper corner.
- 52d, 70a. [With 70-across, it’s often seen in the bottom right corner of a TV screen] clues a NETWORK LOGO. Man, aren’t those annoying? Especially when the network starts throwing promos for other shows into that corner or the whole dang bottom of the screen.
- 68a, 56d. [With 56-down, state that makes up the lower left corner of the Four Corners Monument] is ARIZONA.
Did somebody mention a corner? Because nobody puts 34d: BABY in the corner, not when Johnny’s around.
The theme entries don’t occupy much real estate, which means there’s ample room for juicy fill like UNDERDOG crossing a BUNNY SUIT, GROUCHO Marx, CALYPSO music, and MISOGYNY intruding on Florence HENDERSON, who is crossing the SIDEWALK and having a NEAR MISS with some kid riding a Big Wheel.
The completed grid looks insane, doesn’t it? “Wait a minute, what on earth is OGOLKR? Is ANOZ referring to Dr. Oz? What does APEERF mean?”
Steven St. John’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review
Hey, why not write a puzzle including everything there is to hate about air travel? That’s evocative!
- 17a. [Invasive airline inconvenience] – BODY SCANNER. Not as bad as the pat-down, though.
- 29a. [Uncomfortable airline inconvenience] – CRAMPED SEAT, unless you have to pay for two seats.
- 46a. [Wearying airline inconvenience] – LONG LAYOVER. Better too long than too short, no?
- 57a. [Excruciating airline inconvenience (the last straw!)] – LOST LUGGAGE. As a frequent victim of this, inconvenience doesn’t even begin to cover this one.
Where are SCREAMING BABY, FLIGHT DELAYS and AIR SICKNESS? This theme sure brings out some images, but not any pleasant ones. The parenthetical on the last theme clue is cute, but it doesn’t quite make up for the nastiness of this puzzle.
I do like a lot of the fill in this puzzle:
- 3d. [Awe] – BEDAZZLE. Used in a sentence: Those bedazzled jeans awed me.
- 48d. [Where YHOO stock is traded] – NASDAQ. A nice easy clue for Tuesday, and as a familiar abbreviation ending with Q, I like it. I can’t say the same for the crossing REQ.
- 39a. [Flippable card file] – ROLODEX. Rolodex was invented in 1956, but I can’t help but feel liked they’re being eclipsed by smartphones. They’re better for storing recipes, though, if you ask me.
- 39d. [Military day starter] – REVEILLE. Maybe I just like this word because it looks like my name.
Two KN words in this puzzle – KNAVISH and KNIGHT. You know, I just noticed that this puzzle is pretty Scrabbly, for better or for worse. As far as the fill goes, I think that’s a good thing. But still the theme doesn’t make me smile – it makes me cringe. 3.6 hours until this flight lands.
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Soft Touch” – Sam Donaldson’s review
The three theme entries are SOFT in the middle, so to speak, as each is a three-word expression in the form “___S OF T___.”:
- 20-Across: [Miniscule facts] are GRAINS OF TRUTH. For maximum nutritional value, they should be whole grains of truth. If the ingredient list on your loaf begins with “enriched white truth,” you can count on it being unhealthy.
- 37-Across: [Idea sequences] are TRAINS OF THOUGHT. Mine get derailed all the time.
- 48-Across: The [1990 Tom Cruise film] is DAYS OF THUNDER. As easy as it is for late-night hosts to skewer Cruise, you gotta admit that his portfolio of movies are generally quite strong. Days of Thunder, though, ranks close to the bottom on my list of Cruise’s best work.
The problem with a theme like this, in my view, is that it’s only workable by pluralizing expressions that are normally phrased in the singular. “Grains of truth” isn’t nearly as common as “grain of truth” (439,000 Google hits for the former versus 2.1 million Google hits for the latter) and “trains of thought” isn’t as common as “train of thought” (935,000 to 5.25 million). I’m not saying GRAINS OF TRUTH and TRAINS OF THOUGHT are invalid entries–I’m just saying that they are not nearly as common as their singular cousins, and that’s less optimal. During my solve, I resisted GRAINS only because I actually thought to myself, “No, it’s ‘grain of truth,’ not ‘grains.'” Same problem with the “trains” of thought (though I actually had CHAIN first, as I thought, not having glanced at the puzzle’s title, that maybe we were playing with the -AIN sound at the front of each theme entry).
Only Days of Thurnder feels like an unforced theme entry. I tried to come up with other unforced theme entry possibilities, but my list was limited to MEANS OF TRAVEL (a snore-fest of an entry), UNITS OF TIME (ditto), and RULES OF THUMB (but that’s the pluralization problem again). While it would seem like this kind of theme should yield dozens of possible entries, an appropriate insistence on sticking with the more common form of an expression wipes many of them off the list.
Okay, that’s enough dumping on the theme. The fill has some really nice parts, and they merit mention too. From the It’s-Always-Nice-to-See-Full-Names Department comes ANAIS NIN, the [“Henry & June” author]. I’m guessing many in my age cohort were first “exposed” to Nin through the Henry & June movie, the first NC-17 film I ever saw (and I think the first NC-17 film with a wide theatrical release). Then there’s EYE TEETH, ST. THOMAS, and PONZI schemes, all of which add a nice kick. Always one to appreciate the mash-up of crossword-ese, I was tickled by the crossing of EERIE and ERIE in the southeast corner.
I seem to have a hard time remembering PULE, here clued as [Whimper], even though it sounds an awful lot like “P.U.” when spoken. My favorite clues were [Cry from the Black Pearl] for AHOY, [Two in a row?] for OARS, and [Porgy and bass] for FISH. The one clue I didn’t like so much was [Yankees, to the Red Sox] for OPPONENT. RIVAL, yes. But mere opponent? That seems a little too loosey-goosey. A qualifier at the end like “at least 9 times a season” might have helped.