Barry Silk’s New York Times crossword
For a while there, I forgot about Barry Silk’s fondness for all things Philadelphia, and I was stumped by 36a: [Cheese __]. Even when I had the STE** in place, I pondered cheese STEEL and a cheese STEIN. D’oh! The Philly cheese STEAK.
- 16a. [One whose crush was caped] is LOIS LANE. One of my favorite bits of The Incredibles was when superhero costume designer Edna Mode refused to include a cape and played footage of the many superheroes who met their demise thanks to cape mishaps.
- 18a. Max VON SYDOW played the evil Blofeld in Never Say Never Again? I had no idea. But VON SYDOW looks neat in the grid.
- 29a. The [Inner city, e.g.] is a CONCRETE JUNGLE.
- 52a. LIP-READERS are [People who see what you’re saying?]. You know how they see, right? With their 38d: EYE, or 27a: OJO en Español.
- 6d. This one fooled me. [Lead-in to some royal names], starts with HERMA-? All I could think of was the Hermanator. HER MAJESTY, the REINA (47d: [Palacio resident]), the CREATOR (5d: [Tyra Banks, vis-a-vis “America’s Next Top Model”]) to the rescue!
- 11d. I like that there’s a [Boxing class] for fellas who weigh 108-112 lbs. FLYWEIGHT!
- 28d. Didn’t recognize the lyric, but who doesn’t like the Duke, Duke, DUKE OF EARL?
- 30d. Nice clue. [Place for some car fluid] is the CUPHOLDER, not the transmission. No knowledge of engine innards required.
Dislikes: Turkish place ADANA; lesser-known California wine locale LODI; ANODE clued as [Part of an ignitron], whatever that might be; ANTA; ENGR; [Record producer Talmy], SHEL Talmy, whom I’ve never heard of and yet he came from Chicago and produced the Kinks and the Who; and the mysterious ALVIN (7d: [All-Star Dark of the 1950s Giants]). That last clue, all I see is giant dark stars and capital letters that make me think it’s fantasy fiction rather than baseball.
Patrick Berry’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “Double or Nothing”
I mentioned another “Double or Nothing” puzzle three months ago, one posted at Patrick’s A-Frame Games website but co-constructed with Eric Berlin. This one is a solo venture and a smart challenge. Every answer has an even number of letters, but you’re not told how many boxes it will fill. Some boxes are empty while the others contain two letters. (No single letters. Crosswords with single-letter squares are for pikers.) It’s similar to Frank Longo’s “One, Two, Three” puzzles in Games World of Puzzles and Trip Payne’s “Squeezeboxes” (“variety grid puzzles” #18 and #19 here), but with the nutty twist of leaving some boxes blank. That makes it harder to criss-cross the answers you’re thinking of—so the solving approach is to find a couple intersecting answers you’re sure of and figure out if they share two letters in the right spot or if that crossing will be left empty.
There’s even a theme: The middle entry and two others that are symmetrically paired spell out an 11-word axiom about gambling. I ended up working the puzzle from the bottom up to the top, so I had the quippy ending but had to piece together the rest of it. “The best throw of the dice is to throw them away.” But how will we play Yahtzee, then?
4.75 stars. I love a variety grid that takes time to muscle my way through (like Patrick’s “Rows Garden” puzzles and his “Some Assembly Required” creations in GWOP—there’s one waiting for me in the January issue right now!). The easier ones always disappoint me a little bit, as they’re only somewhat harder than standard crosswords rather than a whole heckuva lot more challenging.
Steve Salitan’s Los Angeles Times crossword
I think this is Steve’s first published themeless, isn’t it? Here’s my list of the five best parts of this puzzle:
- 1a. FATS DOMINO is the [R&B singer whose given name is Antoine]. Antoine Domino, Jr.! Who knew his last name wasn’t a stage name?
- 25a. [Hurt amount?] clues WORLD. Now, any time I say “You’re gonna be in a world of hurt,” I use an idiotic-guy voice. My husband can confirm this.
- 35a. [Strategy-change declaration] clues the menacing “NO MORE MR. NICE GUY.”
- 32d. NOSE RINGS can be [Unsubtle jewelry], yes, but a teeny jeweled stud can be surprisingly subtle. It’s the lip piercings that tend to be more uniformly unsubtle.
- 51d. [Head of a bar?] is FOAM. I think this clue works on two levels. The head on a beer is FOAM. And the suds on a bar of soap could also be considered a “head” of FOAM, no?
I’m also fond of the [“No clue”] clue for 8d: “IT’S ALL GREEK TO ME.” Have you seen a puzzle printout before the clues have been written? It’s a page of “No Clue” clues. Kinda wanted the answer to be IT’S A MYSTERY TO ME, but the crossings weren’t working there.
I don’t know about you, but I have no recollection of 15a: ICE PIRATES, the [1984 Robert Urich sci-fi comedy, with “The”]. It’s certainly a lively answer, but it’s hissing “obscure” at me.
Among the uglier bits in the puzzle are the DONEE (39a. [Charity, e.g.]) and the DOTER (23d. [Indulgent sort]). L. RON, LEAS, CCL, SONO-…meh.
Five clues I found tough:
- 23a. [St. with an arc-shaped northern border] is DEL., or Delaware. I can’t even picture that. But now that DEL is in the grid, I keep thinking of Del tha Funkee Homosapien.
- 30a. [Belgian leadership group, to some residents] is a SENAT. Some Belgians—the Walloons—speak French and would use that word. Others—the Flemish—speak Dutch. Perhaps Mac can tell us what the Flemish word for “senate” is. (The puzzle tells us that a [Dutch burg] is a STAD.)
- 41d. [Celebratory] clues FESTAL, which is a word I have never had occasion to use and have rarely even read.
- 50a. [Small red crawlers] suggested red ANTS to me, but the answer is young newts, or EFTS. Crosswordese! The ants miss another shout-out, with CARPENTER clued as [One working on a board] rather than [__ ant].
- 49d. [Pitcher’s success], SA*E. What do you pick for the third letter? I thought baseball and SAVE, but it’s the SALE made as a result of a sales pitch.
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Welcome Aboard” – Sam Donaldson’s review
63-Across invites us to JOIN THE CLUB, which happens to be […a hint to both words in 17-, 28-, and 49-Across]. That’s because the word “club” can follow each of the words in those three theme entries:
- 17-Across: Take some Canadian Club whiskey, add an idol’s fan club, then subtract both clubs. That gives you CANADIAN FAN, clued as a [Blue Jay strikeout?].
- 28-Across: Start with an Indian club (something we have previously discussed) and toss in a comedy club on the other side. Divide both sides by “club” and you’re left with INDIAN COMEDY, a [Bollywood romp?].
- 49-Across: Go work out at your local athletic club and then head to the stadium to watch your favorite ball club in action. Then think about what they had in common. No, not physical exertion and sweat, but and ATHLETIC BALL, a [Dance for Olympians?].
The double-stuff’d “words that can precede a common word” gimmick works better when the paired words form either a real term (like CHRISTMAS NIGHT) or something so wacky as to be entertaining on its own (like maybe STRIP TENNIS, the game where one shouts “Long!” in reference to both a shot and a player). The theme entries here certainly aren’t real terms (that’s really tough to pull off, especially with this particular “club” concept) but I wouldn’t exactly call them “wacky” either. They’re more like “things are kinda real, but the terminology is forced.” So I finished wanting something a little more.
I certainly couldn’t ask for more when it came to the fill. I loved the paired long Downs in both corners, with SOME NERVE! and SPEED DIAL up top and MUST-SEE TV and IN THE MOOD down below. MUST-SEE TV gets the clue [Reality shows, to many]. My reality TV diet has become much leaner of late. I still TiVo “Survivor” and “Top Chef” but that’s about it. (I confess to watching “Jersey Shore” too, but that’s hardly reality TV.) Am I missing anything good?
Brad Wilber’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
Well, it’s stumpy all right. I was stumped all over this puzzle. I can’t say I enjoyed it, though. Too many things I’ve just never heard of. To wit:
- 17a. LOOPERS, [Sewing-machine mechanisms]. What?
- 22a. ITT, [Major Defense Dept. contractor]. No idea what ITT stands for.
- 27a. ENDCUT, [Particular parquet piece]. I am not up on my parquet-tile manufacture terminology.
- 58a. WHIFFED, [Inhaled or exhaled]. Breathing in through the nose, sure. But exhaling? Haven’t seen whiff used that way before.
- 60a. IMPEARL, [Decorate daintily]. That’s a word? Never encountered it before.
- 63a. SPENDER is a [Brit who was a US poet laureate]. Hey, big Spender!
- 8d. ROD TAYLOR, [Churchill portrayer in a 2009 film]. Don’t know him. Tarantino loves him and cast him in Inglourious Basterds.
- 9d. ELOISE, [Nancy Drew’s aunt].
- 33d. AIRE, [Occupational suffix]. I am drawing a blank on what occupations take this suffix.
- 36d. HEDGEHOP, [Fly at low altitude]. Don’t think I’ve seen this word before.
- 41d. ENID, Oklahoma is your [“Queen Wheat City”]. Is there such a thing as “queen wheat” or is the town just boasting of being the queen of all wheat cities?
- 57d. TED, [FDR opponent in ’44]. This is bogus, using initials for Thomas Dewey. We call him “Dewey” for short, not T.E.D. Nobody likes initials in crosswords, least of all when they’re not even preexisting crosswordese (see: GBS, TSE, TAE, RLS, AES, DDE).
Okay, so now I know who Rod Taylor is (ever so faintly) and hedgehop is a cool word, but the rest of these? Didn’t entertain or enlighten me in the slightest.
Seven more clues to discuss:
- 12d. [Hollyhock hue] clues APRICOT. Entirely arbitrary. Hollyhocks come in all sorts of other colors.
- 13d. PIE TINS are clued as [Ersatz paint holders]. Wait, so you mean they don’t really hold paint? They’re fake? No, you mean makeshift, not ersatz. I see the definition for ersatz is “made or used as a substitute, typically an inferior one, for something else.” I can’t help thinking other solvers will have the same reaction I did and won’t bother looking in the dictionary to see that it works. If that were the only thing that had bugged me about this puzzle…
- 2d. TOOTING is a [Typical “Auld Lang Syne” accompaniment]? Except that nobody talks about tooting in the new year. You may blow horns.
- 6d. Interesting trivia clue: Agatha CHRISTIE was a [Novelist influenced by an early pharmacy job]. Poison!
- 20a. [Checkout-mag cover teaser] clues DIET TIP. Not sure why “mag” is shortened when the answer isn’t.
- 40a. No, there are no quotation marks around that first word. [Bonanza greeting] is “WE’RE RICH!” Not sure how exactly that’s construed as a “greeting.”
- 38d. [Talent that's in creasing] is ORIGAMI. Fun clue.