Good news! Next week’s New York Times dailies (Monday through Saturday) will be part of a contest. You won’t want to miss any of these crosswords because even if you don’t win one of the prizes (a new collection of Will Shortz’s favorite puzzles), they’re all by one of my favorite constructors. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in store for us in a few days.
Caleb Madison and the J.A.S.A. Class’s New York Times crossword
This isn’t the first time Caleb has taught crossword construction to a class of seniors at JASA, nor the first time a Caleb/class puzzle has been published in the Times. I think this is the first one that’s themeless, though. There are some juicy answers in there—KRISTEN WIIG, “SHALL WE?,” FACEBOOK PROFILE (though I think of a Facebook profile and Wall as distinct areas, more than the Wall being part of the profile), MATING CALL, VACLAV HAVEL (the AL GORE clue below made me read Vaclav’s clue as [Vice president who became a playwright], which left me clueless, rather than as [Playwright who became a president], which makes perfect sense), and IF YOU WILL.
The good stuff was generally overshadowed by the parts that were offputting. Crosswordese/repeater sorts of answers include SAAR, EMU, ELI, ARAM, ERTE, HIREE, and NAVE. 41a: CRONIN is one of two wildly unfamiliar names. [A.J. who wrote "The Citadel"]?? A 1937 Scottish novel about medical ethics? I have never, ever heard of this. Now, Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon, he’s famous, at least to my generation. The other “Who? What?” name is PETULIA, a 1968 Julie Christie/George C. Scott movie I’ve never heard of. Other proper nouns in the grid include ITALIA, CESAR ROMERO, SYR., GEER, DEBRA, ICKES, ARES, ERIE, BARR, CALIF., and MALLE. That’s more names than usually end up in a single puzzle.
Gene Newman’s Los Angeles Times crossword
This celebrity/food pun puzzle involves consonant changes in each theme answer:
- 17a. Actor Stacy Keach turns into STACY QUICHE, [Mike Hammer portrayer's favorite food?]. The final consonant sound changes.
- 62a. [Sportscaster's favorite food?] lops off Bryant Gumbel’s final consonant to give us BRYANT GUMBO.
- 10d. [Cabaret singer's favorite food?] clues EDITH PILAF, merging Edith Piaf and rice pilaf by inserting an L sound.
- 28d. [Tennis great's favorite food?] crisps up the D in Ivan Lendl to make IVAN LENTIL.
Now, I’ve been snacking on those nutritionally useless orange slice candies tonight, but I wouldn’t call them AMY CANDIES. Cluing these theme entries as the famous person’s favorite food seems a bit off kilter. I wonder if the theme approach would work better if we lost the first names: KEACH QUICHE, GUMBEL GUMBO, PIAF PILAF, and LENDL LENTIL feel a little closer to what the clues are getting at.
- 37a. [It's always 13-Across: Abbr.], 13a being the awkward ATILT, clues ITAL., short for italics. ATILT is such a clunky, crosswordy word. Why make it pull double duty as an answer and a clue key word?
- 43a. [Fire blight victims] clues PEARS. I’m guessing there is a plant disease called fire blight and it affects pear trees? Yep, it’s a bacterial disease.
- 3d. [Phillips who played Livia on "I, Claudius"] is SIAN Phillips. I learned this name from crosswords, and only in the last couple years.
- 42d. [Disposed to laugh] clues RISIBLE. Dictionary suggests that usage is “rare”; more commonly, RISIBLE means “such as to provoke laughter.” Slapstick is risible and makes you laugh, but I wouldn’t say you were risible unless you were hamming it up.
- 44d. [Hull fastener] clues RIVET. That’s for the hull of a ship. Good luck to you if you try to rivet a popcorn hull.
Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Garden Duty” — Sam Donaldson’s review
Happy Friday the 14th, everyone! Hope you’re reveling in all of the good luck this day is supposed to provide. Today’s crossword for Patrick Jordan has a seedy element to it. It features four entries each beginning with a gardening-related verb. For an added touch of elegance, the gardening verbs are presented in order (i.e., they trace the steps one takes in gardening):
- 21-Across: I can’t say I’ve ever heard anyone say DIG YOU LATER, the [Slangy "So long!"]. But it describes perfectly my tendency to procrastinate when it comes to taking care of my garden.
- 30-Across: A [Factory staff member] is a PLANT WORKER. I blame my many years in academia for the fact that I first read the clue “faculty staff member.”
- 40-Across: One way to [Declare ownership] is to STAKE A CLAIM. Other ways include filing a deed at the country recording office, shouting “Dibs!,” or simply swiping it when no one is looking.
- 51-Across: One [Fruity pastry] is a PRUNE DANISH. Some doctors might recommend that you have one on a regular basis.
There’s a very nice assortment of rare letters sprinkled throughout. I thought for a moment that the grid might be a pangram, but I can’t find the X. But hey, pangrams are overrated; what counts is juicy fill, and this puzzle has it in spades (get it? gardening?). I love EASY CHAIR, PAY DIRT, and CASH COW, but even STABILIZE, GETS BY, TIED OFF, SQUATS, and REFUGEE have that nice, “we don’t see this very much” feel.
Notable clues include [Marx in a Tyrolean hat] for CHICO (I like easy clues that still teach me something), [Eon segment] for ERA (the three-letter time periods are almost always ERA or EON, so I find it playful that Patrick used one to clue the other), and [Pop star born as Helen Adu] for SADE (my list of four-letter singers consists of ENYA, SADE, BONO and CHER—am I missing others?).
Harvey Estes’ Wall Street Journal crossword, “I’ve Got U Under My Skin”
If you’re a fan of Harvey Estes’ puzzles and you miss his themelesses, you’ll be glad to know he’s a contributor to the Crossword Puzzle Pack I’ve been editing. (First refill pack has already been printed; second refill’s being edited now.)
Harvey’s WSJ theme entails inserting a U into various phrases:
- 26a. [Woodworker in one's family tree?] = CARPENTER AUNT.
- 47a. [The last "Amen!"?] = PARTING SHOUT.
- 68a. [Markers in calm waters?] = STABLE BUOYS.
- 89a. [Avignon avengers?] = FRENCH FURIES. I like this one.
- 111a. [Coercion after curfew?] = EVENING DURESS.
- 16d. [Rehab center?] = SUPPORT HOUSE.
- 62d. [Computers on the "Star Trek" set?] = FAUX MACHINES. My favorite theme answer.
Note the length of the answers at the top and bottom of the grid: stacks of 6s and 7s running Across. Last week’s WSJ puzzle had a similar grid, but with the stacked 6s and 7s running Down (and all 4s and 5s going Across). I dunno, are they punchier when they account for the first bunch of Across clues? The present grid is also pretty low on 3s.
- 13a. [Work like the devil?] clues POSSESS.
- 101a. [Cabin setting] had me thinking of the woods, the mountains, out by the lake. Wrong sort of cabin: the cabin is the passenger area of a PLANE.
- 123a. AL CAPP was [Jubilation T. Cornpone's creator]. George Lucas lacks Capp’s gift for character naming.
- 82d. [Pen holder?] clues CELL in that a cell holds a prisoner at the state pen.
- 102d. [Fowl ball?] is an EGG.
Answers I didn’t know from the clue:
- 64a. The RUBLE is a [Coin depicting a two-headed eagle].
- 74a. FARUK was the [Egyptian king until 1952]. More commonly spelled Farouk.
- 122a. [This is the glass straw] sounds like “this is the last straw” but refers to a glass PIPETTE in the chemistry lab.
- 15d. [Figurehead location] clues STEM. I don’t get this at all. Dictionary entry for “figurehead” is unrevealing. Let’s look up “stem”: ah, there it is. Definition 4, the main upright piece at the bow of a ship.
***For the write-up of this Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, please see the post of October 18th.***