Jeremy Newton and Tony Orbach’s New York Times crossword, “Either Way”
That asterisk by my solving time is because it took me a minute and a half to root out my typo (no, the word isn’t OOULENT, it’s OPULENT). Hate when that happens in a Sunday puzzle. Takes forever to spot the error.
The theme entries are palindromes. Now, self-titled master palindromist Barry Duncan, profiled here, casts aspersions on palindromes with doubling in the middle—”which he calls a ‘near-fatal error’ and the mark of an inexperienced palindromist.” My mind having been poisoned by that view, I cast a jaundiced eye on the fact that all of Jeremy and Tony’s palindromes have central repeated letters. But Duncan is just one man, and nobody else necessarily has to follow his palindrome rules.
These palindromes all take the form of one half being a single word and the other half being two words. PUPILS SLIP UP and PERSEUS SUES REP are reasonable sentences. BUTTRESSED DESSERT TUB is a little strange, because how would you buttress an ice cream container, exactly? SUBPAR RAP BUS posits the existence of “rap bus.” And isn’t it a poor choice to put Snoop Dogg in the clue? He has his tour bus, sure, but also a tricked-out school bus for his youth football league. Snoop would never opt for a subpar bus. WARSAW WAS RAW is likely a valid statement about the weather for the winter months. I don’t like this DEROGATIVE EVITA GORED, because who ever uses the word derogative? Derogatory is so much commoner. GIGOLO’S SOLO GIG is the only one with an apostrophe. And “XERXES, SEX REX” is a command. None of the palindromes gave me the giggles.
There are some juicy answers in the fill. I had trouble getting 8d: SUPERBAD with its James Brown clue (would’ve found it easier clued as the raunchy teen comedy) and had SUPERFLY at first. 32d was either EIRE or ERIN, and with FA*T in place for 37a, I feared that [Temptation] somehow clued FART crossing ERIN. Whoops! EIRE crossing BAIT crossing SUPERBAD.
“SO LAST YEAR” is, like, so five minutes ago. WHAT A SHAME, those BLOOPERS. But I know you won’t GO POSTAL, because it’s not as if you have NO HEART. You WANT OUT? YES, LET’S. Why? Let’s not get into that. Somethings should GO UNSAID.
Other longish answers that seem colorful feel iffy to me. Is BEACH BABE a thing people say? And what is a SCENE SHOP? And what about this “DO P.R.” (30d: [Send out press releases, e.g.])? Is this a solid lexical chunk or an iffy contrivance?
Favorite clue: 41a: A [Foreign tender?] of children is an AU PAIR.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Washington Post/etc. crossword, “Adopt-a-Highway: My Story”
It’s time for another patented Merl Reagle fill-in-the-story puzzle, this time with the key words in familiar phrases all relating to highways:
“As a parent I immediately saw the SIGNS. Any thoughts I had of having ‘free time’ quickly WENT SOUTH. By age 4 he was already an expert at DRIVING ME CRAZY. At age 8 he got interested in some weird kind of street music, which I hoped would be A PASSING THING. But for him, regular rock and roll was A TURN-OFF. At age 12 he started traveling with a fast crowd, which began TAKING A TOLL. Luckily, things did get better DOWN THE ROAD. We never stopped talking. Communication may not always lead to understanding, but at least it PAVES THE WAY. So, now that he’s in trucking school, I just hope he MAKES THE GRADE. At least, now when we talk he’s SEMI-INTERESTED. Well, TARNATION! Here he is now! Everybody, this is my son, the highway. (Tell ‘em your name, kiddo.)” “MILES.”
Cute. The entire puzzle fell quickly for me, but I wouldn’t say that the fill is Monday-easy. I’d say instead that the less common words in the fill are regular suspects in crossword puzzles, so long-time solvers will plow right through. Things like DINAR (19d. [Kuwaiti money]) crossing DIVAN (19a. [Settee's cousin]—and settee is another word I learned from puzzles), OYEZ (11d. [Courtroom cry]), TOPO (14a. [TV mouse Gigio]), ASTA (34a. [Mystery dog]), Italian saint Philip NERI, and TOR (63a. [Craggy peak])—those are all words I learned from crosswords. Oh, and STOLA! If you don’t know that 109a: [Ms. Anderson] means ’70s TV star LONI Anderson and you don’t know that a [Roman robe] is a STOLA, you may have plunked a random vowel in there. Lani and Leni are also semi-famous names, but I don’t know of any STALA. And a STELA (more crosswordese) is an upright, inscribed slab of stone often serving as a gravestone. Also for the crossword regulars, we have the 5-letter version of ENROL (45d: [Register for, with "in": var.]). Outside of crosswords, we enroll.
Favorite answer: 65d: S.E. HINTON, ["Rumble Fish" author]. I read all four of her YA novels that were available during my adolescence. I couldn’t have been more pleased when my son had to write a book report and chose The Outsiders.
Karen Tracey’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 84″
I like Karen’s puzzles. I like names in my puzzles. If you do not like names in your puzzles, you may not like this particular offering from Karen. Shall we review some of the 20-plus names of people (real and fictional), places, and brands?
- 9a. Ariel SHARON is [Founder of Israel's Kadima party]. Completely fair game. We’re supposed to know our world leaders.
- 15a. [Helen Seinfeld's brother] is UNCLE LEO. Semi-tough clue—I never gave much thought to how Uncle Leo was related to Jerry. Seinfeld was on so long and watched by so many, we’re supposed to know all the main characters and some of the secondary ones.
- 16a. [Puerto Rican playwright Miguel] PINERO? Not a name I know. He merited an NYT obituary when he died in 1988, and Joseph Papp hailed his talents.
- 19a. [Film with a 2010 sequel subtitled "Legacy"] is TRON. Tron: Legacy! On Friday’s Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions semifinal match with Joon Pahk, none of the contestants could summon up the sequel’s title. “Tron 2.0″ was a reasonable guess, no?
- 20a. ARTAXERXES was the [Name of several Persian kings]. Darius, Cyrus, Xerxes…I’m out. Artaxerxes was not on my short list.
- 25a. [Pokémon who evolves from Drowzee] is HYPNO. Sporcle.com trivia quizzes seem to assume that everyone has at least a passing familiarity with Pokemon names. I do not, and I’m waiting for Pokemon to go away (my kid never had any interest in it). At least the drowsy/hypnotic link helps here.
- 26a. [Wrap artist?] clues CHRISTO, who just got permission to cover miles of river for his next art installation.
- 38a. [Constellation whose name is Latin for "arrow"] is SAGITTA. Zodiac sign Sagittarius is “the Archer.” Sagittal is an anatomical word for the suture between the left and right sides of the skull, and for that plane of left/right symmetry. So next time there’s a crossword with L/R symmetry, look for that sagitta in the middle.
- 59a. HAVANA is the ["City of Columns"]? Home to most of Cuba’s op-ed writers, I presume.
- 65a. KRAZY KAT! Great answer. It’s an old comic [Strip with flying bricks], apparently.
- 37d. [Skin-care brand whose name is Latin for "snow-white"] is NIVEA. I wonder how many people go to tanning salons and then apply Nivea cream to their bronzed faces.
- 45d. DEENIE! The [1973 Judy Blume book] about an adolescent girl (big surprise there, right?) with a scoliosis back brace and an eminently normal masturbation habit (which spurred a number of schools to ban the book).
- 52d. [Rival of Rafael], 5 letters? ROGER Federer! No, wait, he’s passé now. It’s NOVAK Djokovic.
Henry Hook’s Sunday Crossword, “007 2.0” — pannonica’s review
The puns herein are almost, but not quite, bond the pale. The raw material is titles of everyone’s go-to MI6 operative with a “licence to kill.”
- 18a. [With 64-Across, Bond as a crossdresser?] THE MAN WITH THE | GOLDEN GOWN (The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), Roger Moore). But what would he do with the supernumerary nipple?
- 22a. [Bond on skates?] FOR YOUR ICE ONLY (For Your Eyes Only (1981), Roger Moore). It isn’t significantly better, but for some reason I’d have preferred “rice.” Perhaps because I’m cooking some now, con ¡Goya Sazón!
- 35a. [Satanic Bond?] DEMONS ARE FOREVER (Diamonds are Forever (1971), Sean Connery). “Forever, forever, ever, ever…”
- 61a. [Bond in a metal band?] MOONROCKER (Moonraker (1979), Roger Moore). Okay, but I’m picturing a lunar rocking chair.
- 90a. [Bond inspecting the workplace?] FROM OSHA WITH LOVE (From Russia with Love (1963), Sean Connery). Oh, that’s a hazard, for sure.
- 107a. [Bond taking precautions?] CONDOM OF SOLACE (Quantum of Solace (2008), Daniel Craig). The seed entry?
- 112a. [Hopi Bond?] KACHINA ROYALE (Casino Royale (2006), Daniel Craig, and (1967), David Niven). Had to wait for crossings to learn which variant spelling was called for. Katcina, anyone? Katsina? Bueller?
- 13d. [Bond with an antelope?] DOCTOR GNU (Doctor No (1962), Sean Connery). Isn’t that just beastly? Trivia: first name Connochaetes, née Gorgon.
- 74d. [Overly aggressive Bond?] OCTOPUSHY (Octopussy (1983), Roger Moore). If Connery had starred in this film, he might have pronounced the title character’s name this way. Not to mention that it crosses MOLEST, which precedes CONDOM OF SOLACE. Oh, and COCCYX and PEACOCK are nearby too. What a sordid-sounding little corner!
Theme’s cute, but it irks the purist in me that the cluing is relevant only to parts of the punny new versions, not their entireties. Even in a 21×21 grid, there isn’t much room left for significant non-theme fill; in fact, the longest are two pairs of eight-letter words, the aforementioned PEACOCKS and the oddish [Typist's stroke] KEYPRESS (websearch returns first the Key Curriculum Press, some various soft- and malware by that name, and this sequence of events). We also get the VIET CONG (cross referenced to HANOI) and Ninja-Turtle LEONARDO. Incidentally, there’s a “once-in-a-lifetime” Da Vinci show that’s just opened in London.
- Insta-Scowl at 1-across [DJIA unit (abbr.)] is STK. What, and what? … Oh, I see. Dow Jones Industrial Average, and “stock.” I’m definitely handicapped when it comes to financial clues. Nevertheless, yuck.
- 81a. [Kevin of "The Usual Suspects"] Nuh-uh, not SPACEY, but POLLAK.
- 31d & 65d. The 3-4 parallel of the symmetrical DON JOSE and ONE KILO strangely garnered my appreciation.
- In case you’re wondering what 102d [Old English letters pronounced like "th"] EDHS look like, heres one: ð. It’s still in use in Icelandic.
- Stacked 21a & 23a, LOCATE and OCELOT, are near-anagrams.
- Are twelve fill-in-the-blank clues too many? They wore me down.
- None of the clues really struck my fancy, so no favorite.
Jeff Chen’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Kewpies” – Doug’s review
Nice puzzle today from Jeff Chen. Through the magic of Facebook, I discovered that Jeff and I have some non-crosswordy friends in common. Pretty neat, eh? And besides being a guy with cool friends, Jeff has become one of my favorite LA Times constructors. He’s a pro at coming up with easy-to-solve themes that are interesting and fun. And today’s puzzle is no exception.
I picked up on the theme right away from the title, “Kewpies,” which sounds like Q-Ps. Kewpies are little dolls that were introduced about 100 years ago, and the name derives from a shortened form of “Cupid.” The dolls sort of look like the characters in the “Love is…” comic strip, don’t they? Did I really just reference “Love is…”? I hope no one finds out about my Hoarders-esque collection of “Love is…” newspaper clippings. No worries. Amy edits out all the embarrassing stuff.
- 22a. [Fast food item since 1971] – QUARTER POUNDER.
- 35a. [Market report detail] - QUOTED PRICE.
- 63a. ["'Sup, señor?"] – ¿QUÉ PASA?
- 92a. ["Shh"] – QUIET PLEASE.
- 108a. [Hawking field] – QUANTUM PHYSICS.
- 14d. [Fruity dessert] – QUINCE PIE.
- 20d. [Leg cramps treatment] – QUININE PILLS.
- 51d. [Template at a bee] – QUILT PATTERN.
- 74d. [Look that doesn't last] – QUICK PEEK.
My only complaint is that the grid isn’t as connected as I’d like it to be. In fact, you can divide the grid into three separate parts by adding a pair of symmetrical black squares. I’m sure the plethora of Qs ratcheted up the difficulty level, so I’ll cut Jeff some slack this time. He did a good job of minding his Ps and Qs.
- 17a. [Hershey's competitor] – BOSCO. Old-school chocolate syrup. Maybe it was a viable Hershey’s competitor back when Kewpie dolls were popular. Trivia note: Bosco syrup was the “blood” used in the Psycho shower scene.
- 52a. [Blowing in the wind, as hair] – UNKEMPT. I tried UPSWEPT first, even though it didn’t quite make sense. I’m glad it turned out to be UNKEMPT. I love that word.
- 53d. [Harlem Globetrotter great Curly] – NEAL. My favorite Globetrotter! He was the little guy with the shaved head. Well, relatively little. He’s an inch taller than I am.
- 81d. [Fish with a prehensile tail] – SEAHORSE. How cool are seahorses? So cool that I think they might be imaginary.
- 107d. ["Foucault's Pendulum" author] – ECO. I tried reading this once, years ago, but I didn’t make it very far. Worth trying again?
Other highlights in the fill include BAZOOKAS, WILD-EYED, EQUINOX, and “NO TAKERS?” Puzzle rating: 4 quite proper stars.
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Today’s 70/36 freestyle crossword features an interesting grid with two plus signs and two minus signs in the center. That’s an open invitation to list the pros and cons of the puzzle, isn’t it? Let’s start with the pros:
- The 15-letter answers in the middle, DRESS TO THE NINES and LET’S STEP OUTSIDE, are fun.
- TORTONI is an [Italian treat] you don’t see much in crosswords.
- I didn’t know that O CANADA was the [Song written by Calixa Lavallee]. Yet another clue for CALIXA!
- It’s not necessarily a “pro” about the puzzle, but I thought it worth sharing the mnemonic I just devised to remember ["A Confederacy of Dunces" author] John Kennedy TOOLE : How apt that a Toole would write about dunces. (Equally apt, it took a tool to devise this mnemonic.) You’re welcome.
- I liked [James Herriot, for one] as a clue for VET. He’s the author of the All Creatures Great and Small series of semi-autobiographical books that I enjoyed as a kid.
- My favorite clue was [Flip-flopped?] for SHOD. It wasn’t an especially devious clue, but it was a nice play on the expression. If you want a devious clue that required more than a few seconds for me to understand, try [Makeup, e.g.] for TEST (as in a make-up test administered after the regular exam). Shouldn’t there have been a hyphen there?
And now the cons:
- The other 15-letter answers have little pizzazz. STRESS AND STRAIN suffers from having too many common letters and being, I dunno, kinda dull. In researching whether this term is as common as, say, “stress and anxiety,” I tumbled upon a physics site on “Hooke’s law,” that “stress is directly proportional to strain.” A guy gets a law named after him for that observation? (Okay, there’s more to it than that. See for yourself.)
- Similarly, OPEN THE THROTTLE felt a little arbitrary to me. The addition of “the” makes all the difference. OPEN THROTTLE seems more natural, just as OPEN DOOR is better than OPEN THE DOOR. But apparently it’s just me, as a quick search shows “open the throttle” to be just as pervasive as “open throttle.” In fact, check out this cool t-shirt marketed to those recovering from addiction.
- That southeast corner of ETTE, NL-ER, and other very common letters is just not good. More on the common letters in just a second.
Ever guessed wrong twice on an answer? I had HURRIES for [Shakes a leg], building off the starting H-. But when I got the crossing ESTATES for [Expensive spreads], I changed it to HUSTLES. But no, it was HASTENS. Did I leave another plausible but incorrect guess on the table?
It’s been more than six months since we last played the Wheel of Fortune Bonus Round Game with the Sunday Challenge, so let’s pull that one off the shelf, dust if off, and give it a whirl. The idea is to see how much of the grid we can solve without clues by removing all the letters except for the six letters supplied for free in the bonus round on Wheel of Fortune (that’s R, S, T, L, N, and E). The bonus round grid appears to the right. If you haven’t solved the puzzle, give it a try. If you have, hand the bonus round grid to a friend and see how far he or she gets. I think most could fill in the bottom half of the grid in just a short time, but the northwest corner might take some more time.
Of course, the larger point is that a freestyle puzzle built mostly around these very common letters probably won’t sparkle as much as one that contains more rare letters. I think that’s very much true with today’s puzzle, unfortunately.