Alex Vratsanos’s New York Times crossword
Happy Veteran’s Day, Remembrance Day, and Armistice de 1918 Jour to you all. Also known as November 11, 2011, or 11/11/11, which has been deemed Nigel Tufnel Day in honor of the This Is Spinal Tap character who famously touted his amp that “goes to eleven.” Because eleven is one louder than ten, right? This easy themeless puzzle has an asymmetrical grid thanks to the directionality of the two big number 1′s made out of black squares. I didn’t even notice them until I finished solving the puzzle—usually get straight to the business of reading clues.
The grid lends itself to having six 15-letter Down answers, which I got without too much effort. And you know what Deb Amlen says about a crossword with easy long answers that crumbles before you. ROAD TO SINGAPORE is one of those things I know about thanks to crosswords (all those “Road TO RIO” clues leading to awareness of the series of “Road to __” flicks back in the day). IN FITS AND STARTS describes my progress through a much harder themeless puzzle. CRIMINALIZATION is good—most 15s are multi-word phrases rather than single words. Alas, SURGEON GENERALS pains me; the plural’s supposed to be Surgeons General. AMERICAN IN PARIS pains me slightly because its preceding “An” is exiled to the clue; had no idea it was a [Carnegie Hall debut of 1928], though. And the SPRINKLER SYSTEM came easily; it gets talked about in Chicago in terms of the building code and the expense of adding sprinklers to an older edifice.
Stunt constructions often include a lot of clunky fill, and this puzzle is no exception. My “verba non grata” list cautions against old governmental abbreviations, and this crossword’s got two: 26a: OSS, [Bygone espionage org.], and 48a: OPA, [W.W. II rationing org.]. Both of these cross ROAD TO SINGAPORE in the puzzle’s Grand Tribute to the Early 1940s.
Troublesome proper nouns pepper the grid, too. ARIE Luyendyk and CALE Yarborough are both clued [First name in auto racing]. At least both have won more than one major event (ARIE, 1990s Indy 500; CALE, 1970s Winston Cup). 25a: DINA Merrill? I couldn’t tell you any of her acting roles. 44a: Carrie Chapman CATT, founder of the League of Women Voters, is a solid name from history but not quite a household name.
Now, 45a: NATES, that looks like a plural proper noun, but no. It’s clued as [Buttocks]. NATES is a plural noun, two syllables, from Latin. One buttock was a natis. Threatening “I’ll kick your nates” will only confuse people.
The “11″ is cute but it doesn’t make up for the iffy stuff you encounter once you move onto actually working the puzzle. 2.75 stars.
Don Gagliardo and C.C. Burnikel’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Regular constructing partners Don and C.C. interpret 36a: WIKILEAKS—[Julian Assange's controversial website, and a hint to what's missing from this puzzle's four longest answers]—as a cue to “leak” the letters W, I, K, and I from various phrases:
- 17a. [Jack Benny's 39?] clues (w)AGE FREEZE. The theme answer’s much more fun than its original phrase.
- 24a. [Mix-up among the peas?] is a (i)POD SHUFFLE.
- 51a. [Amorous ship leader?] clues CAPTAIN COO(k).
- 59a. [Bird with a droll wit?] might be a DRY MARTIN(i).
The “hey, let’s leak out the W-I-K-I” rationale feels rather tenuous, and the results are less whimsical than one might hope. “Shoot a dirty loo,” anyone? “Heel of fortune”?
Seven more clues:
- 40d. [Vessel with a hinged cover] clues TANKARD. Would’ve been a lot easier if it specified a drinking vessel.
- 5d. [Like some quilt kits] clues PRECUT. Not such a simple word to clue well.
- 3d. [Saxony's capital] is DRESDEN, Germany. Snoozy clue.
- 11d. [Big name on the ice] is the ZAMBONI machine that smooths the rink, not a famous skater or hockey player. Isn’t it weird that loathe and breathe and swathe take an E for the verb forms, but it’s not “smoothe”?
- 38d. [Craft with a mizzen] is a KETCH. See, I was thinking the “vessel” at 40d would be a boat, too.
- 39d. [7-Eleven beverage] is the classic frozen SLURPEE. By far my favorite answer in the grid, topping even ZAMBONI.
- 47d. [1950 #1 Ames Brothers hit] is RAG MOP. In the song, they spell it “R-A-G-G M-O-P-P.” I don’t know why. Have a listen.
Pancho Harrison’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “A Matter of Import”
Wait, who tried to dumb down the theme with the confusing numbers? The numbers tell you which letters in a theme answer make up the hidden car make, but it’s not as if we’re used to seeing crossword clues that add a “(3-6)” to indicate that the third through sixth letters spell something important. Either circle those squares or leave off the hint.
The theme entries are mostly concocted word combos that aren’t “in the language” phrases, and there’s a car make spanning the two words:
- 22a. [Speaker cord, for example (3-6)] clues HI-FI ATTACHMENT (Fiat). Uh, wouldn’t you call that a stereo cord or wire rather than a “hi-fi attachment”?
- 31a. On a boat, a ROPE LADDER (Opel) is a [Boarding aid, at times (2-5)]. Hang on. “Rope ladder” is entirely in the language. It’s a dictionary entry unto itself. It’s the odd man out here.
- 40a. [Casual court shoe (4-9)] clues TENNIS SANDAL (Nissan). Do tennis sandals actually exist? If they do, I don’t want to know.
- 63a. [Maxing out one's card on shoes, say (3-6)] clues VISA ABUSE (Saab). Absolutely not in the language.
- 72a. [Sender of news messages, once (3-7)] clues TELEX USER (Lexus).
- 92a. [SEC investigation, maybe (3-6)] is a FRAUD INQUIRY (Audi). This one sounds real but I don’t know if it is.
- 100a. [Parka and gloves, e.g. (2-4)] are SKI APPAREL (Kia).
- 117a. [Competitor in an old endurance contest (6-10)] is MARATHON DANCER (Honda). “Dance marathon” feels better to me.
- 126a. An AUTO is the [Imported item found in eight answers (in the letters indicated)]. Do you like how the imports are “imported” into their phrases? I like that aspect.
Five clues of note:
- 23d. ATARI is the ["Don't watch television tonight, play it!" advertiser]. I don’t remember that slogan. I also don’t remember it as a crossword clue, so I appreciate the freshness.
- 54a. [Camp accessory] is a BOA in that a feather boa is right at home in a campy drag performance. Just saw this same clue elsewhere this week and didn’t single it out for mention then—but I like it.
- 8d. A LECTERN is a [Stand in front of an audience]. I had LECTURE, thinking that “stand” was a verb here. Anyone else?
- 57d. [Cosmic order, in Hinduism] is DHARMA. Its opposite, of course, is Greg.
- 17d. [Relatively cool red giant] is such a promising clue for a flatly scientific answer (S-STAR). Can’t you see the Jolly Green Giant hanging out with his buddy, the Relatively Cool Red Giant?
Shiny new answer: 95d: QUORA is a newish [Reader-edited question-and-answer site]. I think crossword-constructing hotshot Kevin Der works there.
- Two, count ‘em, two 4-letter rivers starting with O. 87d: ODER is a [German/Polish border river], and it crosses 87d: OUSE, [River near York]. OUCH.
- 41d: SLOE, [Plumlike fruit], crosses 56a: TOR, [Rocky pinnacle]. “The esne ate a sloe upon reaching the tor.”
- And there’s one crosswordese abbreviation, 91a: ENL ([Photo lab abbr.], “enlargement”), crossing a weird abbreviation that I don’t recall ever seeing before, 86d: CLAR., Benny [Goodman's instr.]. That there is what we call an ugly answer.
Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Double Features” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Today’s puzzle features four movies with names so nice they used them twice:
- 19-Across: RACHEL RACHEL is a [1968 romance starring Joanne Woodward]. It was a Best Picture nominee and was the directorial debut for one Paul Newman (he’s also found in the puzzle in the clue to ARI, [Paul Newman's "Exodus" role]). Hmm, I wonder how Joanne Woodward landed the leading role….
- 32-Across: ALFREDO ALFREDO is a [1972 comedy starring Dustin Hoffman]. Based on the title, I’m guessing Hoffman plays a restaurant patron who asks the title character, a waiter, for more white sauce on his pasta.
- 38-Across: CORRINA CORRINA is a [1994 comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg and Ray Liotta]. It’s also the only one of the four movies in this puzzle that I have heard of before.
- 53-Across: BOEING BOEING is not just a chant from some proud Seattle factory workers. It’s also a [1965 farce starring Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis]. Here’s the plot summary from imdb.com: “American playboy Bernard Lawrence has cleverly designed a system using the airline timetables to keep going three affairs with flight stewardesses. However, his life soon starts to descend into a shambles after the arrival of a friend, Robert Reed, and a dreaded change to the flight order, whereby it becomes increasingly difficult to keep his three fiancées apart.” Any guess as to who played Lawrence and who played Reed? (And no, that’s not the same Robert Reed from The Brady Bunch.)
I think I spent a good 45 seconds stubbornly sticking to TASKS as the answer to [Duties]. It’s especially embarrassing because the answer proved to be TAXES, the subject I teach in my day job.
My five favorite aspects of this puzzle, in no particular order: (1) EL GALLO–it may not be the most familiar crossword term, but the clue, ["The Fantasticks" role originated by Jerry Orbach], is a nice tribute to the father of CrosSynergy regular Tony Orbach; (2) the intersection of cool entries like BOOK BAG, HOG CALL, and SOLARIA; (3) [Rummy pair?] as the clue for EMS, the two letters in the middle of “rummy;” (4) the Downs in the northeast, advising you to BRACE yourself for a FIGHT against a FOREST FIRE, by taking up an AXE; and (5) [Forty-third word of the "Star-Spangled Banner"] as the clue for RED, describing the color of the glare from the rockets.
Patrick Berry’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “I, For One …” — pannonica’s review
Another eleven-flavored puzzle for this notable calendrical.
I twigged to the theme fairly early on, but was wondering what AcrossLite’s preferred method for entering the rebuses would be. E, 1, 11, II? Had I properly interpreted the puzzle’s title, it’d've been obvious that II is what constructor Berry had in mind. In any case, elevens in one direction are double-Is in the other.
It’s a great feat, not only fitting three crossings to the central revealer entry [Date of this puzzle's publication, briefly] 11/11/11 = II|II|II, but including four more thematic pairs and laying them out symmetrically.
- Crossing the aforementioned 40-across, we have 20d [TLC show about Floridian tattoo artists] MIAMI INK, 36d [New York's Jacob __ Park] RIIS (famous for its nude beach, just a stone’s throw from where I grew up), 32d [Miso-soup mushroom] SHIITAKE.
- 1a & 6d: [World's largest convenience-store chain] SEVEN-11, and ["No really, this one's on me"] I INSIST. I usually not thrilled by “I INSIST” in crosswords, but I like it here.
- 26a & 27d: [Rolling while grounded] TAXIING, and [Last possible moment] 11TH HOUR. Although the phrase originates in the Bibble, it’s enshrined in modern times as the moment in 1918 when World War I hostilities ended; the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
- 53a & 24d: [Islam minority] SHI’ITES, and [2001 heist film with two sequels] OCEAN’S 11. Shi’ites, or Shias, are estimated to be 10–20% of the world’s Islamic population, versus Sunnis. Only a few countries have a Shia Muslim majority: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Iran, and Iraq.
- 71a & 51d: [Like a hendecagon] 11-SIDED, and [Ancient city excavated by Karl Weber] POMPEII. Without having the theme ensconced in my mind, I would have been hard-pressed to remember that hendeca- is the prefix for eleven.
Not only do we get an impressive themic feat, but the rest of the puzzle doesn’t suffer for it. Nice triple-eight stacks in two of the corners, CRABTREE | RELIED ON | EASTLAND, then OPERABLE over the churchy pairing of CARILLON | TRANSEPT.
- RICOTTA [Cannoli filler] balanced with APOLUNE, which is a bit obscure but relatively easily guessable.
- 9d [Ancient French region] ALSATIA. Is a bit tricky, since only the Romans called Alsace by that name. Perhaps the clue should have mentioned Gaul?
- For that Higher Education vibe, in addition to CARILLON, APOLUNE, and the historic ship EASTLAND, we see Max ERNST, and TRENT clued as the site of a famous ecumenical council rather than, say, Mr Reznor or the hipster from MTV’s Daria. On the other hand, there’s South Park’s MR HAT.
- Most crosswordese entries: OSIERS [Basketmaker's twigs] and URI [Altdorf's canon].
- Least favorite clue: 43d [Dental administration?] GAS. Is gas still used as an anaesthetic by dentists? Even if so, is it applied to the teeth, as the clue suggests? Bleah. The G was the last letter to fall in my solve, as the crossing clue (43a) was obscure to me as well: [Game with sets and runs] GIN.
Overall, an excellent puzzle.