Note: The October 21 New York Times crossword is not available in Across Lite, the Java applet, or smartphone/iPad apps. If you’re an NYT subscriber with access to a printer, print out the .pdf. If you don’t have a printer, buy the newspaper. If the newspaper isn’t sold in your area, gnash your teeth and curse the NYT for not releasing a .jpz version, and take a gander at my solution grid (or the one at xwordinfo.com) when the time comes to figure out the contest answer using all six puzzles.
Patrick Berry’s New York Times crossword, contest day 5
This puzzle put me in mind of Tyler Hinman’s wonderful Lollapuzzoola 2010 crossword, a themeless puzzle where the answers that hit the edge picked up again on the opposite side. I imagine it’s fearsomely complex to construct one of these puzzles, but once you know what the gimmick is, it’s not all that much harder to solve. At least, it shouldn’t be.
This one, Berry’s fifth contest puzzle, has three 15-letter answers: TERRI FLEW INCHES, ELDEST ROY IN GANG, and CHARTER ISLES LIE. Those oddball phrases match up just fine with their clues, but they really circle around the back of the page and
pick up on the other side. You may be more familiar with a Winchester rifle, destroying angel (The dictionary tells me it’s a poisonous mushroom! Who knew?), and Leslie Charteris. Now, I couldn’t tell you for sure if Leslie Charteris is male or female—mostly before my time in pop culture—but I’ve seen the name.
Weird grid for Berry—he’s so good at low-word-count puzzles, but this week’s puzzles have flirted with maximum word counts and maximum block counts. Is this relevant to the contest? I have no idea.
Four stars. I love the crossing-over-to-the-other-side gambit, but the fill is mostly undistinguished stuff.
Don Gagliardo and C.C. Burnikel’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Whoa, I don’t know exactly why this puzzle took me so long. Was it surprisingly challenging, or am I surprisingly dim this evening?
The theme entries are phrases that start with two individually pronounced letters, only the letters are flipped:
- 17a. [Violent comic book protesters?] could be DC BURNERS, as in people burning DC Comics publications. CD burners are computer components.
- 26a. [The wind at Chi-Town's Wrigley Field?], whether it be blowing in or blowing out, is an HR FACTOR affecting the home run count. Rh factor is a blood antigen. I don’t know why “Chi-Town” is in the clue instead of just “Chicago.” It made me think the answer was going to do something weird.
- 33a. [Flintstone receivers?] hint at prehistory and BC RADIOS, playing on CB radios. I was confused here because there was just a Jeopardy! category about actual flint stones.
- 45a. A public address (P.A.) system turns into AP SYSTEM, a [News agency's betting method?].
- 50a. [Where horses box?] clues KO CORRAL, flipping the Wild West’s OK Corral.
- 64a. [Pleasure craft loaded with Charmin?] clues TP CRUISER, inverting the Chrysler vehicle called the PT Cruiser. Don and C.C. saved the best for last.
Highlights: 14a: Fred [Couples choice] is an IRON, a golf club. 43a: [Shout to an awardee] confused me until I remembered “SPEECH! Speech!” 3d is Dick Van Dyke’s character ROB PETRIE, [Fictional writer on the fictional "Alan Brady Show"], on The Dick Van Dyke Show. (“Oh, Rob!”) 52d: [War adversaries since the '70s] are COLAS, with the Coke and Pepsi taste tests.
Lowlights: 28a: EAT LESS feels like a random verb + adverb than a real lexical chunk of meaning. Don’t care for AERI (42a. [Gaseous: Pref.]), RUER (47a. [[Who's sorry now]), ILEA (6d. [Intestinal sections]), nauticalese ABAFT with a question-mark clue (11d. [Sailor's back?]) that leaves you hoping for something clever, RIMY (38d. [Frosted]), and the I-don’t-even-know-what-that-means EPS (41d. [Bottom line for stockholders, briefly], maybe earnings per share?).
Joe DiPietro’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Pay Up”
If you order something COD (cash on delivery), you’d better “Pay Up” or the delivery person isn’t handing the box to you. The theme entries all have C.O.D. initials:
- 22a. [Performs exorcisms] = CASTS OUT DEMONS.
- 36a. [New York nickname] = CITY OF DREAMS. Not one of the city’s top four nicknames. Husband and I haven’t heard this one before.
- 50a. [Starting to actually file things] = CLEANING ONE’S DESK.
- 68a. [Fixed-term investments] = CERTIFICATES OF DEPOSIT. All the plural does is make this fit a 21-square space.
- 86a. [Cable operator's offering] = CHANNELS ON DEMAND. We use Comcast’s on-demand service plenty, but I can’t say “channels on demand” sounds remotely familiar as a phrase.
- 104a. ["Calm down, my man"] = CHILL OUT, DUDE. Okay, this, I like.
- 118a. [Understand what's implied] = CATCH ONE’S DRIFT. My, that’s an awkward nonspecific pronoun there.
The theme’s one of those “everything starts with…” themes that basically has no inherent humor, no wordplay. It’s just…there.
Ten more clues, both “ooh” and “meh”:
- 55a. [From a central Swiss canton] clues BERNESE. Meh. A reference to the Bernese mountain dog might’ve been a little zippier.
- 60a. [Like an unlucky winter pedestrian] clues SLUSHED. Didn’t know that word could really be used like that. Are you SLUSHED by stepping in slush, or only by being splashed with slush by a passing vehicle?
- 91a. [Symbol on a University of Oregon football helmet] is the LETTER O, not an animal or other mascot.
- 103a. IAGO is the [Villain who says "I am not what I am"]. I don’t think I knew that.
- 131a. [Guest among poets] is poet EDGAR Guest. Wikipedia describes his work as “sentimental, optimistic poems.” I.e., not the stuff of English lit classes.
- 4d. [One method for discovering new places] is GETTING LOST. That’s lovely.
- 5d. [Bridge setting] is your NOSE. Ha! Not the card game, not a span across a river.
- 79d. [Having half as many digits as hex] clues OCTAL. I honestly don’t understand the purpose of having numerical notation systems other than the regular base 10 and the binary system.
- 88d. NODUS means [Difficult situation]? Did I know this? It seems like the sort of word that would get plenty of play in crosswords.
- 90d. [Investors' bonuses] are MELONS? All right, then.
Highlights in the fill include MR. SANDMAN and CONDE NAST in addition to the aforementioned GETTING LOST.
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “After Midnight” – Sam Donaldson’s review
According to the expression, nothing good happens after midnight. I’ll leave it to you to assess whether that’s exemplified in today’s Randall J. Hartman puzzle. The hidden theme here appears to be “three movies and a train.” The first word in each of the four theme entries can follow “Midnight” to form either the name of a movie or the name of a passenger train:
- 17-Across: The [1989 Madonna hit] is EXPRESS YOURSELF, and Midnight Express tells the story of a guy sent to prison for trying to smuggle drugs out of Turkey. Unlike some other movies we saw in our CS puzzle earlier this week, this one scores very favorably on Rotten Tomatoes with a 95% approval rating on the tomatometer.
- 25-Across: [Tony Lama product] meant nothing to me as a clue, but the answer’s the very familiar COWBOY BOOTS. Midnight Cowboy is the Oscar-winning film featuring great performances from Dustin Hoffman and Angelina Jolie’s dad. It carries a 90% approval rating on the tomatometer.
- 43-Across: The [Diamond stat] is a RUN BATTED IN, and Midnight Run is the Robert DeNiro-Charles Grodin buddy comedy with a 96% approval rating. This was back in the day when it was surprising to see DeNiro in a comedic role. Has any actor’s street cred faded as much over the past decade as DeNiro’s (for reasons that have nothing to do with extracurricular issues a la Mel Gibson)? Once upon a time I would have made it a point to see one of his movies. Now, not so much.
- 55-Across: An [Advocacy group's cause] is a SPECIAL INTEREST, and the “Midnight Special” is, compared to the other “Midnight” theme entries, well, special (meaning different). Wikipedia says it was “an American passenger train formerly operated between Chicago and St. Louis.” Best as I can tell, though, there was no movie called Midnight Special. The closest I could get on Rotten Tomatoes was Midnight Blue – The Deep Throat Special Edition, a 1970s porno that, shockingly, no critics have reviewed.
Until hitting that last snag, I thought this puzzle was a solid four stars. I didn’t expect the light at the end of the tunnel there at the bottom of the grid to be an oncoming train. Now I feel like it’s in three-star territory, but maybe I am being too harsh. I’ll end this post on a positive note by listing my favorite entries and clues in no particular order: (1) [Montreal or Vancouver] was, to me, an interesting clue for ISLAND; (2) DREAM ON is just a fun entry; (3) I like the musical lineup of JAY-Z and ALANIS Morissette, and especially the shout-out to Peaches and Herb with REUNITED (it felt so good to see that); (4) [Toothbrush handle?] is a super clue for the brand name (or “handle”), ORAL B; and (5) [Fanta size?] is a great clue for the otherwise ho-hum LITER.
Doug Peterson’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Varisty Matches” — pannonica’s review
Appropriately for the Chronicle of Higher Education, this puzzle’s theme features institutions of higher learning. The matches referred to in the title are not athletic contests of opposing teams, but rather the apposite names of teams for four schools.
- 20a. [Aptly named college team from Michigan] AQUINAS SAINTS. As in Saint Thomas Aquinas.
- 28a. [Aptly named college team from Florida] STETSON HATTERS. As in the famous American milliner. Originally called DeLand University, in 1889 it was renamed to honor said manufacturer and notable benefactor.
- 46a. [Aptly named college team from Massachusetts] BRANDEIS JUDGES. As in Judge Louis Brandeis, for whom the school was named upon its founding in 1948. Easily the institution with the highest profile among the themers.
- 54a. [Aptly named college team from Southern California] WHITTIER POETS. As in John Greenleaf Whittier, the Quaker poet and school namesake.
Well, I learned something from the puzzle, anyway. Solid theme, varied grid. Long down entries are KISS ME KATE (of course clued with a reference to Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew) and THE WAY WEST, clued as a [Pulitzer-winning novel by A.B, Guthrie, Jr.]. I was completely ignorant of the book and the 1950 film based on it, starring Kirk Douglas and Richard Widmark, but do know of the 1995 Russell Baker-narrated documentary because I have the soundtrack. MOLASSES is the [Rum base] (see also RYE [Whiskey-mash ingredient), while [Bones connected to the sternum] are TRUE RIBS (seven pairs in humans).
ETON appears as an entry, but I don’t know if the college’s athletic teams have names. My favorite apt college team name, the U. Conn Huskies, doesn’t appear, but also doesn’t quite fit the theme. Incidentally, minor league ice hockey once included the Macon Whoopee among its franchises.
The ballast fill is has a low CAP Quotient™ (crosswordese, abbrevs., partials) and many of the entries—perhaps slightly more than usual, even in the CHE puzzle—are given a literary slant: Jonathan Swift, Mario Vargas Llosa, William Faulkner, Seneca, Isabel Allende, P.J. Wodehouse.
Last, I could not for the life of me remember that a [Sundial's shadow-caster] is called the GNOMON, though at one time I knew that fact well.