Mr. Doug Peterson, themeless-crossword specialist (you may know him from such venues as the NYT, LAT, Newsday, and Washington Post Puzzler) and man about town, had been blogging the syndicated Sunday Los Angeles Times crossword for PuzzleGirl over at L.A. Crossword Confidential. Please give a warm welcome to Doug, who will rock on with his bad self by continuing to review the Sunday LAT here at Diary of a Crossword Fiend.
Joel Fagliano’s New York Times crossword, “Getting in Shape”
Wow, this kid has some major chops. This is his eighth NYT puzzle in his first two years, and his first Sunday puzzle. (Take a look at Joel’s set of puzzles at XWord Database.) Sometimes Sunday puzzles make me weary because there’s just so much stuff to fill in and it’s not always much fun. But I really enjoyed this one. It’s impressive from a construction standpoint, too. Each theme answer contains the name of a shape, and also intersects that shape formed from circled letters that spell out the word that partners with the shape name. So where you have the first of these [See highlighted letters intersected by this answer] clues at 24a, there’s a heart shape that spells out ARTIFICIAL, and it’s traversed by the phrase ARTIFICIAL HEART. Same deal for the OVAL OFFICE, ARCTIC CIRCLE, LOVE TRIANGLE, SQUARE INCH, and DIAMOND NECKLACE.
Imagine, for a minute, that you’ve never seen this puzzle and you come up with the same idea. How long would it take you to work out a set of six symmetrically placed theme answers in a grid that would accommodate shapes of the proper size, intersecting their partnered phrases?
And then, imagine that you’ve got six sections of the grid with three-way checking of the circled squares. Surely, you say to yourself, the solver will forgive some terrible fill in those sections. But no! The collegian constructor somehow wrangles the letters such that “TRUE FACT!,” Harvey KEITEL, “COME QUICK!,” and “AFRAID SO” include some circled letters. But wait, there’s more! There are also a bunch of good 8-letter answers, some of which pass through the shapes without touching the circled squares (see ALGERNON and EIGHTEEN) and some of which just sit there looking rock-solid. The closest thing to junky fill is by the diamond, where OR NOT, ERE I, and A RED intersect (but at least consist of familiar words, as opposed to being uncommon names or abbreviations).
Cute touch: PAC-MAN as a [Well-known maze traveler] (I was thinking of the Minotaur’s labyrinth) tied to GAME OVER.
The entire theme is sort of a cross-referenced dealio, and besides the PAC-MAN pair there are two other cross-referenced pairs: PEI and the LOUVRE, NFL and TDS. I didn’t find any of the x-ref action to be bothersome.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “The 4-H Club”
This is one of those themes that makes me go “ehhhh….” Each theme answer contains four H’s, along with a bunch of other letters:
- 23a. HARD-HEARTED HANNAH is an [Unfeeling vamp].
- 38a. [Elephant's tale] clues HORTON HATCHES THE EGG. I am more familiar with the pachyderm Horton who hears a Who.
- 58a. [Top secret] clues VERY HUSH-HUSH. Usually you wouldn’t want to see “very” tacked onto a crossword answer, but this one feels exactly right.
- 67a. [Magazine in which I solved my first crossword (at age 7)] is HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN. Great 21-letter grid-spanning answer, plus a touch of autobiography.
- 77a. [Which one is Ren?] Stimpy’s the cat; Ren’s THE CHIHUAHUA. Not a fan of the “the” tacked on here.
- 98a. [Come what may] means THROUGH THICK AND THIN. I had pizza for lunch—thin crust. Yes, I know they’ve sold you a bill of goods and you think Chicagoans eat nothing but deep-dish or stuffed pizza, but most of us seem to prefer thin crust.
- 117a. “WHO HAD THE HAM ON RYE?” is a [Deli query]. Not kosher, though.
Not your usual Merl theme, with seven long answers rather than 10 to 15 shorter ones packed in. The fill is standard Merl, with a handful of longer-than-5-letters partials that he (as his own editor) permits. There’s 27a: AND SING, ["Awake __" (Isaiah 26:19)], fair enough. Less savory is 12d: EDNAST. Ed Nast? No, poet EDNA ST. [__ Vincent Millay]. In the shorter partial department, we have Bugs Bunny’s UP DOC at 20d and 33d: I AM A [__ fine musician…"]. No idea what that’s from. There is another 6-letter partial, but it’s completed by another answer (WAG THE / DOG).
81a. NEW MATH is clued as [Parent-puzzling arithmetic]. Today’s parents who are puzzled by their kids’ math curriculum probably grew up with the new math. What’s puzzling them now is called Everyday Math. My kid’s school doesn’t use that. I think this is a plus.
Trip Payne’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 80″
Solid 68-worder, but not a ton of the super sparkly stuff. Only the northwest and southeast corners are cut off at all, so perhaps the open flow through the rest of the puzzle accounted for a fairly quick solve. The last 40 seconds or so were actually devoted to playing the alphabet game to get the letter in DO*E OUT/A*ED. You gotta love it when the last answer you figure out is clued 15a: [Solve]. DOPE OUT is a phrase I have never used. And the crossing, 8d: [Did], turns out to be APED, as in “Jimmy Fallon did Neil Young.” Phew.
Among the tougher clues were these:
- 13a. [It opened with "Europa Riconosciuta"] clues LA SCALA, the famed opera theater. Boy, the clue didn’t help me.
- 16a. The star ANTARES is a [Class M supergiant]. I started out with OLD instead of OLE at 6d, so it was hard to find that star.
- 24a. This clue, [It's called "nihonshu" in Japan], was easy to figure out when I had three crossings in place already, but I wouldn’t have known it without those gimme letters.
- 27a. [Cuisine featuring "stinky tofu"] is HUNAN. I’m not up on my odoriferous soy products.
- 3d. ["My Road From Harlem to Hollywood" autobiographer] had me looking for an African-American star rather than a Puerto Rican one. Erik ESTRADA came from East Harlem.
Couple things I learned from crosswords past:
- 48a. [Victim of Joab] is ABSALOM. I got this off just the M. Who is Joab? A blend of Job and Moab? That name doesn’t seem at all familiar, and yet I got the answer. I’m going to have to blame crosswords here.
- 54a. [They worked in Sparta] clues HELOTS. Ancient Greek (Spartan) serfs, in the middle between slaves and citizens.
- 14d. [Proverbial saver] is A STITCH IN TIME.
- 33a. [Can, for example] is an AUXILIARY VERB. Who doesn’t love grammar?
- 4d. [They can be picked off] clues SCABS? Gross! I give this one points for willingness to appall.
Now, this one—36d: REAL MAN, clued as [Macho type, to some]—bleh. I don’t know about you, but I know a lot of real men who aren’t macho types at all.
Gareth Bain’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Give It Some Gas” – Doug’s review
Greetings, crossword fans. Doug here, making my Crossword Fiend debut! Amy was kind enough to hire me on after LA Times Crossword Confidential closed its virtual doors earlier this week. Losing my blogging gig was quite a shock, and I was ready and willing to #OccupyAngelasBlog, but fortunately Amy stepped in and created a job for me. She should run for office.
And boy oh boy, Fiend Headquarters is swanky! My favorite amenity is the soda fountain with eight different flavors of Nehi. I’m going to like it here.
Today’s puzzle is by Gareth Bain. He’s become a regular, and popular, LA Times contributor over the past couple of years, and I believe this is his first Sunday offering. Lekker job, Gareth! (That’s a little South African slang I got from the internet. I hope I didn’t insult his mother or anything.) Theme is pretty simple. “HE” has been added to familiar phrases. Let’s take a look:
- 23a. [*Dishonest kegler?] – ALLEY CHEAT.
- 33a. [*Inane Laconian serf?] - VACANT HELOT. Nice use of classic crosswordese. You don’t see many HELOTS or ESNES these days. But we’ve still got plenty of SERFS and PEONS, so the menial workers are well represented.
- 49a. [*Where to see historic tickers?] – HEART MUSEUM. Or a place to see Ann & Nancy Wilson memorabilia. Joon got a Heart question correct on Jeopardy! because he remembered seeing Ann Wilson in a Dan Naddor puzzle from 2008! If anyone but Joon told me that story, I wouldn’t believe it.
- 67a. [*Treat one's stye?] – BATHE AN EYELID. Stye = gross.
- 90a. [*Fights during breathing exercises?] – YOGA CLASHES. Didn’t I see this scene in a bad Adam Sandler movie? Are there good Adam Sandler movies? I remember enjoying The Waterboy, but I was younger and stupider back then.
- 103a. [*Broadway tykes?] – THEATER TOTS.
- 119a. [*Throw tennis star Sharapova] – HEAVE MARIA. She’s 6’2″, so I don’t think I could heave her very far. But I’m willing to give it a shot.
- 16d. [*Where you might hear "Oy vey! I need a drink!"?] – HEBREW PUB.
- 80d. [*When mildly amusing sitcoms air?] -TEHEE TIME.
- 98d. [Light element, and a hint to how the answers to starred clues have been inflated] – HELIUM. I like the clever reveal here, especially the “inflated” part.
Nice selection of theme entries, and they were all well-clued. OK, the “stye” one grossed me out, but the rest are solid. With nine theme entries and a 6-letter reveal, there’s not much room for bells and whistles, but Gareth managed to slip in some nice ones.
- 14d. [Part of a support system] – BRA STRAP. Great entry & clue.
- 85d. [Bikini sizes] – C-CUPS. Hey, Gareth’s got a mini-theme going here!
- 83a. [Lifting apparatus] – HOIST. Umm, I’m going to quit while I’m ahead.
- 57a. [2000s drama set in Newport Beach] – THE O.C. If you add “The O.C.” to “racy,” it makes “theocracy.” I’m sure someone’s used that in a cryptic clue.
- 58d. [Lighthearted genre about womanhood] – CHICK LIT. Does Twilight qualify? I’m Team Esme, by the way.
- 97a. [Non-roaring big cat] – CHEETAH. Cool bit of zoological trivia.
- 38a. ["__ Touch This": MC Hammer hit] – U CAN’T. I want to dislike this partial, but it’s so awful, it’s good. Or maybe I should say it’s lekker.
I don’t want to overstay my welcome on my first day, so I’m going to grab some Apricot Nehi and get out of here. Today’s puzzle rating: 4 stars.
Tyler Hinman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Sam Donaldson’s review
It has been some time since we have seen Tyler’s byline here in the CrosSynergy puzzle, and he marks his return with a great 70/26 freestyle featuring both a pretty grid and some fun entries. The grid is anchored by the 15-letter entry running down the grid’s center: CHICKEN CHOW MEIN, the [Popular order when ordering in], but several of the highlights are in the host of six-, seven-, and eight-letter entries jammed throughout. Unlike a hair stylist, let’s start with the highlights:
- 1-Across gets things off to a hip and trendy start with SUPER PAC, clued as [Stephen Colbert recently started one]. One website describes Super PACs as organizations “officially known as ‘independent-expenditure only committees,’ which can raise unlimited sums from corporations, unions and other groups, as well as wealthy individuals. The super PACs were made possible by two court rulings, including one … by the Supreme Court, that lifted many spending and contribution limits. The groups can also mount the kind of direct attacks on candidates that were not allowed in the past. Super PACs are not allowed to coordinate directly with candidates or political parties and must disclose their donors.”
- FRISKY, clued here as [In the mood to play] is a great word. It reminds me of Happy Days, as Mrs. Cunningham used to tell Mr. Cunningham that she was “feeling frisky,” the 1950s way of saying, “Yo, dawg, let’s knock boots.”
- Interesting how RETCHES ([Heaves]) crosses the CHICKEN CHOW MEIN and ASHTON Kutcher. Hidden commentary, Tyler?
- A few years ago I had COCO CRISP, the [Oakland Athletics outfielder (not a breakfast cereal)], on my fantasy baseball team. I wonder how his stats would compare to ROSSINI, the [Composer of "La Cenerentola"], in Joon’s fantasy league?
- Okay, STUNTS by itself may not be in the same league, but the clue, [Double duty?], is a winner.
- ED NORTON was a surprisingly hard get, largely because I was having problems with the entry cross-referenced in the clue. The clue for Norton was [Character who worked in the 49-Across], and 49-Across was SEWER. But the clue for SEWER, [Escape route, in some movies], made it hard for me to suss out.
Plus there’s good stuff like SOMEHOW, TAKE TEA, L-SHAPED, NINE PIN, and the entire stacked trio in the southeast corner, NAMETAG, THIS ONE, and SI, SENOR.
While the grid is silky smooth, my solving experience was not. Here’s what slowed me down:
- NEHEMIAH as the [Book that tells of the building of Jerusalem's walls] was brand new to me.
- So was the LUNA MOTH, the [Delicate light green critter].
- I’ll take the puzzle’s word for it that VERMEER is the [Artist from Delft]. I could try nodding my head and say, “Of course, of course,” as if I knew what a Delft is, but why pretend?
- I first tried SHIER for [More conservative] when the answer was SAFER.
- I had forgotten OTTER was [Eric Stratton's moniker, in "Animal House"]. Or maybe I didn’t know it in the first place.
- Had I seen a picture of a “frustum,” I probably could have figured out that the [Frustum-shaped candy] was a ROLO.
Henry Hook’s Boston Globe crossword, “Measure for Measure” — pannonica’s review
The theme here is things—not people or titles or phrases—in which one of the words is a unit of measure, which may or may not share an etymological history with said unit of measure. Despite that, in context the meaning of said unit of measure is not that of the unit of measure.
- 22a. [Updike hero] RABBIT ANGSTROM. One Å = one ten-billionth of a meter.
- 43a. [Oscar winner as Atticus Finch] GREGORY PECK. One peck (dry volume) = two dry gallons. Two pecks make a kenning and four are equivalent to a bushel. “I love you, a bushel and a peck/A bushel and a peck, and a hug around the neck/A hug around the neck, and a barrel and a heap.” Or perhaps a bustle and a peck (on the cheek).
- Suddenly veering away from proper names, 56a [Infantry] is the generic FOOT SOLDIERS.
- 63a. ["Love's Been Good to Me" composer] ROD MCKUEN, swerving back. A rod is 16½ feet, 1/320 of a statute mile. Grandpa Abe Simpson proclaimed, “My car gets forty rods to the hogshead and that’s the way I likes it!” If that isn’t odd enough, listen to this.
- 72a. [Evidence that time is money?] is a nice clue for PARKING METER. Wikipedia: “Originally intended to be one ten-millionth of the distance from the Earth’s equator to the North Pole (at sea level), [a meter's] definition has been periodically refined to reflect growing knowledge of metrology. Since 1983, it is defined as the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum in 1⁄299,792,458 of a second.”
- 83a. [Lanford Wilson play] FIFTH OF JULY. He died earlier this year. A fifth is one-fifth of a gallon, usually reserved for measuring alcohol.
- 15d. [A striking bunch?] BOWLING LEAGUE. A league was an elastic measure of length, approximately the distance travelled by someone in about an hour. If you want something slightly more exegetical, head on over to Wikipedia.
- 54d. ["American History X" actor] EDWARD FURLONG. One furlong = 40 rods, among other things. I wonder how long a norton is?
- Finally, a bit of a cheater entry in 107a. [Alternate title for this puzzle?] CAN YOU FATHOM IT? One fathom = 6 feet. Two fathoms are “mark twain.” Truly a literary giant.
As I may have insinuated, there are some seeming inconsistencies in the theme’s implementation. If three of the first four across themers hadn’t been people’s names, I might have been less bothered by that aspect. Not counting the cheater/revealer (not Chita Rivera), three have the measurement unit as the first word, and five have it second; not awful , but not perfectly balanced either.
There are a few sections of the grid where I cry “foul!” Especially since they collectively hung me up for a good many minutes.
- Toughest was the northeast corner, where the Italian SOLDI [Old 5-centesimi coins] crosses both the French AINSI [So, on the Seine] and the Italian RIDI ["'__, Pagliaccio,…'"]. Check out the punctuation in that last.
- 98a Actress SADA Thompson crossing [Legal deg.] LLD.
- 12a [Part of #33's name] JABBAR. I realize that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was one of the greatest basketball players of all time, but are we non-sports fans expected to know him based on his jersey number alone, no team, no sport?
Not necessarily “foul,” but grumble:
- 101a DORAS. Didn’t cause me to lose time, but plural namesake clues are not pretty.
- Another name from television, RAINN Wilson (74d) stymied me a little. I vaguely remembered the name, but couldn’t remember if it was creatively spelled with an extra N or an E.
- Had UPGRADED for REGRADED, though the latter is more accurate for its clue [Changed Bs to As, maybe].
The symmetrical partner to REGRADED, SHOEHORN [Squeeze (into)] is lovely, with a terse clue. Seeing MAGNUMPI as unpunctuated fill struck me as a plausible name for a character in the Leatherstocking Tales, along with Natty Bumppo.
Favorite fill? 71d [Aperitif made with quinine] DUBONNET!