Barry Silk’s New York Times crossword
Love 1a: WIFI HOTSPOT, 36a: MR. KOTTER, and 38a: BEEF JERKY; like a bunch of other stuff (DIRTY RAT, a tornado EARLY/WARNING, I CONCUR, PIGS OUT); didn’t really scowl at any of the fill.
Favorite clue: 40d: STEPHEN [King with revolting subjects].
Didn’t know 11d: TEENA (Mulder got married??) or 24d: NEW BEATS. I also didn’t know that HYDROXY could mean [Like citric acid and lactic acid]. Hey, does anyone know how Hydrox cookies got their name?
I did know that RYE BEER is a [Cousin of kvass]. Ah, the things we learn from crosswords. And I also knew 5d: James HONG, though not from Wayne’s World 2. He was the Chinese restaurant host on Seinfeld (“Seinfeld, four?”) as well as appearing in the 1979 classic The In-Laws.
Minus 5 points for the I and OUT duplications of I CONCUR/I CAN and PIGS OUT/IRON OUT. Overall vibe, 3.75 stars.
Brad Wilber’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Classic Wilber crossword, with a fair number of Scrabbly letters (Qs, Xs, Ks, and a Z), some musical content, and a low junk quotient. First up, the highlights:
- 1a. ON THE QT means [In secret]. The “QT” is short for “quiet.”
- 38a. A TOXIC ASSET is a [Much-devalued holding, in modern lingo].
- 56a. GRUNGE is a ['90s Seattle-born music style]. I’ve been seeing more plaid shirts on people in Chicago lately. What’s up with that? (ALLEGROS and THOM provide more musical content. No opera this time!)
- 6d. QUIZ KIDS is a great answer, isn’t it? I have no idea when this [Radio game show with a panel of gifted children] is/was on.
- 9d. [Home of counterculture?] clues LUNCHROOM. Go up to the counter, get your food, hope you can’t culture bacteria in it.
- 14d. TALES are a [Raconteur's repertoire]. I like the double-Frenchiness of the alliterative clue.
- 28d. My favorite clue, for its oddball trivia nature: Edna St. Vincent MILLAY is the [Female poet known to friends as "Vincent"]. Who knew?
- 31d. I like a SEA CHANGE too. A [Dramatic transformation].
- 33d. [Plays for a fool] clues SNOOKERS. Clearly I need to snooker people more often.
- 34d. PIXIE CUT‘s a great answer. It’s [Halle Berry's hairstyle].
Pop culture from my childhood:
- 19a. [Caldecott Medal winner __ Jack Keats] clues EZRA, author of the beloved classic picture book The Snowy Day.
- 23a. KOTCH was a [1971 Matthau film directed by Jack Lemmon]. Uh, I was watching Disney movies in 1971.
I like the craziness of the word ORMOLU (1d. [Ornamental gilded bronze]). It’s from the French or moulu, “powdered gold.” Who doesn’t like a word that ends with a U?
3.5 stars. AIRE [Yorkshire river], AXIL [Stem-to-branch angle], LOI [Rule, in Rouen], and TEK ["__War": Shatner series] knock the puzzle down from the 4-star zone.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Film Trilogy” – Sam Donaldson’s review
One of my favorite childhood memories is the time my brother and I went to the local cinema and watched three different movies. This was long before the days of VHS tapes and Blockbuster stores (remember those jerks?), and no, we didn’t sneak from one theater to the next–we actually paid the admission price for all three movies (two matinees and an evening show), which seemed to engender much confusion among the cinema’s staff.
Today’s CrosSynergy puzzle contains its own trilogy, featuring three films that apparently should be watched in a particular order:
- 17-Across: The [Robert Mitchum movie of 1952] is ONE MINUTE TO ZERO. I haven’t seen the film, but I’m curious how they can milk that one minute into a feature-length film.
- 38-Across: The [James Stewart movie of 1961] is TWO RODE TOGETHER. Here’s the description from imdb.com: “The US Army is under pressure from the desperate relatives of white prisoners of the Comanches to secure their rescue. A cynical and corrupt marshal, Guthrie McCabe (Jimmy Stewart), is persuaded by an army lieutenant to assist in the negotiations with the Comanches. However, just two captives are released; and their reintegration into white society proves highly problematic.” I’m not sure if the two who rode together are the marshal and the lieutenant or the two released captives. Maybe both?
- 60-Across: The [Betty Grable movie of 1955] is THREE FOR THE SHOW. I think I once saw a movie on Cinemax with that name….
The grid is sorta like an optical illusion–it appears at first glance to have left-right symmetry, but in fact it uses traditional rotational symmetry. Three Xs and two Zs spice things up in the fill. I like that there are two [Tubular pasta] entries, ZITI and PENNE. I’m a big tubular pasta fan–they both do a good job of holding a good, thick garlic marinara sauce.
HAZELNUT is the [Coffee flavoring]. I grew up on a Christmas tree farm, and there were lots of hazelnut orchards around us. (We called hazelnuts “filberts,” which is still the term I prefer.) I wouldn’t have thought to use SNORT to describe a [Horse laugh], but maybe it will catch on: I think this guy had a horse laugh of cocaine while he was in the restroom.
Brad Wilber’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
We’ve mostly been having tough Stumpers of late. The most challenging zone for me was where ROUGED / [Made up, maybe] and WED TO / [At one with] cross WOUK / [1952 Pulitzer novelist] and BERG / [Something tracked by satellite radar]. I played the alphabet game to figure out WED TO and all the consonants from B to V didn’t work out so well.
Eleven other hard clues:
- 1a. [Schools in morality], the verb EDIFIES. Not a noun.
- 8a. [Matisse painting of a hand-holding quintet] in a circle is LA DANSE. All five people are naked, of course.
- 20a. [E on some scoreboards] means PAR. In golf, on the leaderboard E means “even.”
- 33a. I didn’t know BELA was the [Name of four Hungarian kings], but between the Belas Karolyi, Bartok, and Lugosi, it’s one of the better-known Hungarian first names.
- 14d. [Apocrypha prophet] is ESDRAS, a name I know only from crosswords.
- 23d. [Even-__ (of similar height, as forest trees)] clues AGED. Have never encountered the term even-aged.
- 30d. ARENA comes from a Latin word meaning [Literally, "sand"], as in a sandy place of combat. I never knew that! I like learning oddball etymology.
- 37d. Wait, [Brynner's brother in "The Brothers Karamazov"] is William SHATNER? Yes, indeed, in 1958, years before his Star Trek shtick. Have a look for yourself.
- 38d. I don’t like [Hamper] as a verb clue for MANACLE. Although looking at the dictionary definitions for both, both are usually used in the “be hampered” or “be manacled” formation so I guess the clue is more apt than I thought.
- 39d. LARVAE are [Certain hatchlings], from smaller eggs without shells.
- 42d. [Features of top-level staffs] sounds like it’s about the management team, but it’s a music staff and G-CLEFS.
How do you pronounce “AAA”? I guess we all say “triple A” so the “a” is better than “an” to precede it in 17a: [Needing a AAA, perhaps], cluing BATTERY-OPERATED.
VEILED REFERENCE, or [Dig, often], is my favorite entry here. Overal rating dips below 4 stars because there’s not as much zip as there could be, but there’s also little in the way of junky fill; 3.75 stars.
Patrick Berry’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “End Game”
Neat puzzle, though the end game of “End Game” turns out to be a little grim. Using the Across and Down clues, you fill in the grid with answer words. Everything makes sense except for column 15, which is clued [Guesses] and reads XOELUICTYRBSDKN. Wait, what? The numbers to the right of those crazy letters simply tell you where to put the letters in the blanks below the grid. “1,3,10″ means to put an E in the first, third, and tenth spaces. Put it all together and you get EXECUTIONERS, though you probably won’t have to play Hangman to guess at the letters since the answer grid tells you that the L, Y, B, D, and K won’t get used.
Now, I think I filled everything in correctly, but I don’t get why the second 1-Down clue, [Percolates], leads to STEPS. Oh, hang on. It’s SEEPS. I was thinking STEEPS or STEWS so I had the T there, and figured that TRIN was right for 6-Across [The Isle of Man's Port __]. Why on earth use such an obscure clue for ERIN? (Port Erin has fewer than 4,000 residents.) Especially when ISLE is also in the grid in 14-Down and the ERIN clue duplicates that word. This feels like a rare misstep for a Patrick Berry puzzle.
Ugliest clue: At 10-Across, SDI is suggested by [GPALS predecessor]. Huh? Apparently the first Pres. Bush announced a GPALS initiative, Global Protection Against Limited Strikes. This really didn’t catch on, did it? Among the first 10 Google hits for GPALS, most are entirely unrelated to missile defense.
3.5 stars. The puzzle is missing the usual Berry variety grid cornucopia of interesting long fill.
Edited to add: Okay, this is not the first time I’ve skipped reading a long clue because the answer’s already filled in!
Okay, the letters in HANGMAN can be shaded to draw a game of Hangman, with the upright pole, crossbar, noose, head, body, arms, and one leg. This explains why the fill was less exciting than usual! Cute. Take it up to 4.25 stars.