Patrick Berry’s New York Times crossword
Anyone else think this 66-worder felt like a mashup of a standard Berry themeless and a scholarly Chronicle of Higher Education crossword? The ALMOND JOY, obviously, is straight-up sweet fun, but I felt like my knowledge base was being found wanting with several old names:
- 1a. [Visigoth king who sacked Rome] isn’t ATTILA, not at all. It’s ALARIC, which sounds like a gentle name rather than a Visigothally sacking one.
- 2d. LAVINIA was the [Second wife of Aeneas]. Pop quiz for classicists: What happened to his first wife?
- 34d. AGRIPPA, [Victorious fleet commander at Actium]—doesn’t Actium sound like the name of a prescription drug, and is anyone else thinking of capital-F Fleet, the enema brand?
Let me now proceed to make a series of random observations.
Crossing UPs? I’m surprised to see that in a Berry puzzle. TEAMS UP crosses UPROOTED. The clues for 52a, [Forced to leave home], and 32d, [Have a home-cooked meal], also duplicate a word in 16a’s answer.
Favorite answer: CRISIS MODE. Honorable mention: “YE GODS!” Favorite clues: [One that's in your field?] is a HOME GAME. MAVEN is [Yiddish for "connoisseur"]. [Think of, to some surprise] captures the non-making-a-pass-at HIT ON, as in “Wow, I just hit on the perfect solution!” An EGOMANIAC is a [Number one fan?] who is mostly looking out for number one.
Best “Wait, where is this going?” answer: [Female impersonators use them], starts with FA…FAKE something? No, FALSE ****. FALSE what? Eyelashes, wigs, boobs? FALSETTOS, voices. I bet more of them go with a sultry, husky voice rather than squeaky falsetto, though.
Least pleasing question-mark clue: [Screws up totally?] for MISADDS. I see what it’s doing, but…no. “Totally” because you’re adding up totals? No, I’ll pass on that little wordplay.
Four stars. Smooth, but not especially zesty. Like lemon bars without enough of the lemon.
Robert Harris’s Los Angeles Times crossword
What this theme is doing is solid—take five phrases in a given category, and redefine them all as if they’ve got nothing to do with that category. Alas, the category is “technical terms relating to computers,” and for me that dampens the enthusiasm quite a bit:
- 17a. [Correspondence between philistines?] is YAHOO MAIL, yahoos being uncouth boors. It’s not as if we also have “friend mail” and “relative mail,” so this one falls flat.
- 25a. [Telecommuting congressional aides?] clues HOME PAGES. Now, would pages (in the Senate—the House of Representatives discontinued its page program) who work from home be called “home pages”? That feels off, too.
- 38a. [Grand Central waitstaff?] clues TERMINAL SERVERS. I haven’t even heard this particular computer term. Terminal, yes. Servers, yes. But not TERMINAL SERVERS. It is frightfully non-zippy as crossword answers go.
- 47a. [Drum major's concern during a parade through narrow streets?] is BAND WIDTH. Okay, that’s cute. I like this one.
- 59a. [Single-cut and rat-tail?] clues FILE TYPES. I was thinking of office-supply file folders rather than metal files on a workbench. I have never heard of “single-cut” and “rat-tail” files. Are these tools?
So I’m coming down pretty firmly on the side of “meh” here. I want to talk about a lot of the clues today:
- 14a. ["El __ brujo": de Falla work] clues AMOR. I don’t know what brujo means in Spanish. Anyone?
- 15a. [Prefix with foil] is AERO? All righty. Turning to the dictionary for help: Aerofoil (which I’ve never heard of) is Brit-speak for airfoil, which a curved structure designed to produce lift, as seen in airplane wings and tails.
- 19a. A COLON is an [Analogy symbol]. As in “dog : cat :: puppy : kitten.”
- 21a. [Poetic time reference] clues ERE. I don’t care for this clue. Since when is a preposition like ERE or “before” a “time reference”?
- 30a. [Fin. neighbor] is NOR., or Norway. Why is a perfectly good three-letter word being clued as an abbreviation?
- 41a. SLEEVE is clued as a [Record holder]. This clue is for people aged 40 to 100.
- 45a. [The Tupolev Tu-144, e.g.] is or was an SST, a plane for supersonic transport.
- 54a. FIGARO is [Count Almaviva's valet, in opera]—The Marriage of Figaro, One of the two operas I have seen.
- 67a. [First name in humor] is ERMA. Did you know that Wordplay blogger Deb Amlen will be teaching a workshop on humor writing at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop?
- 9d. [Molecules that respond to stimuli] are RECEPTORS. I never think of receptors as molecules. Some are molecules in cell membranes, apparently, while others are organs or cells.
- 10d. ["Wheel of Fortune" purchase] in Spanish is ANO.
- 22d. [Oxalic acid, e.g.] is a REAGENT? I had no idea. I do know that spinach has a lot of oxalates and that not everyone should gorge on foods with oxalic acid.
- 26d. [Teacher of spoken language to the deaf] clues ORALIST. Given how iffy lip-reading is (the recent trend towards bushier mustaches is no help here), oralism really is not a full approach to communication for deaf folks.
- 29d. [Balance beam?] is the KEEL of a ship, the beam around which a ship balances between left and right? I guess.
- 48d. [Hello, to some Americans] is ALOHA. It’s disconcerting how many people are unclear on the fact that Hawaii is one of the 50 states.
While I like the BAND WIDTH themer and while LIVE WIRES and JOHN DEERE make for great fill, overall I was disappointed with this outing. Call it 2.5 stars from me; your mileage may vary.
Nina Rulon-Miller’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Mother Tongue” — pannonica’s review
As 40-across [Language that the starred clues' answers come from] reveals the theme: YIDDISH. I don’t fully understand how the title reflects this, unless it’s referencing the trope of a stereotypical Jewish mother; if so, I’d say that’s pretty tenuous.
- 17a. [*Overdone sentimentality] SCHMALTZ. Also, rendered poultry fat.
- 18a. [*Generous person] MENSCH. The clue sounded errant to me; my perception of the word aligns with m-w’s definition: “a person of integrity and honor.”
- 30a. [*Cheap trinket] TCHOTCHKE. Trinket, gewgaw, knickknack, gimcrack, kickshaw, whim-wham, bauble, fribble, bibelot, gaud, bric-a-brac, doodad, curio.
- 48a. [*Luckless bungler] SCHLEMIEL. As the old explanation goes, the schlemiel is the one who always spills the soup and the schlemazel is the one who always gets the soup spilled on him.
- 65a. [*Complain chronically] KVETCH, which, more even than Yiddish words in general, has an onomatopoeic feel to it.
- 67a. [*Unmitigated gall] CHUTZPAH. Also, noive.
All of the themers contain the letters C-H in sequence, but I assure you that that isn’t a requirement for Yiddish words. I guess it’s another layer of theme? My take on the theme? Blah, possibly meh, but not feh.
No long answers, the puzzle is solid middle ground all the way, though there is a dollop of that lofty Higher Education vibe™ with philosophers HUME and HEGEL; LOEB references the classical library imprint from Harvard; and double-duty clue [Greek consonant] for RHO and SIGMA.
Cleverest clues: 27a [Crow's home] TEPEE; 49d [Potentially valuable drawings] LOTTOS. Less successful are the question-marked 56a [Something hastily made?] WASTE and [Show stopper?] REMOTE. Most crosswordese: NEHI, ADZE, REEDIT, OLAN.
Really, I have nothing much to say about this puzzle, other that the grid construction flows well and the fill is generally of above-average quality, but not remarkable.
Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Up in the Air” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Resting atop the grid’s equator is 37-Across, a JUGGLER. It turns out that’s a [Performer who might use the last words of this puzzle's four longest answers]:
- 21-Across: [Some Halloween social events] are MASKED BALLS. All jugglers work with balls, it’s just that some have more than others. As for “masked balls,” you can often find them in ghost towns. Other guests will compliment you on your costume, a tradition known as a treacle treat.
- 52-Across: COFFEE RINGS are [O-shaped breakfast cakes]. Okay, first of all: isn’t a coffee ring a stain and not a cake? Secondly, assuming there is such a thing as an edible coffee ring, just how the heck is it any different from a donut? Are coffee rings just bigger donuts, or is there something more to it? My Dunkin’ Donuts treat of choice is the egg-white flatbread sandwich with turkey sausage. Yum!
- 3-Down: YACHT CLUBS are [Societies for certain sailors]. “Certain” meaning “affluent.” Lots of jugglers work with clubs. Some performing at yacht clubs work with diamonds. The ones on match.com might juggle many hearts. But the ones I most like to see are the jugglers performing at garden shows as they work with spades. Now I can dig that.
- 28-Down: [They're lodged in throats] can refer to lots of things. My first thought was FROGS, but that didn’t fit. I had the initial V in place, so I went with VOCAL CHORDS. That one fit, but I couldn’t figure out how one would juggle chords. Eventually I figured out it was VOICE BOXES. Can’t say I’ve heard of very many jugglers working with boxes.
Where were the juggling staples like torches, swords, and chainsaws? Oh well, there’s enough to juggle in this puzzle as it is. After all, it’s a pangram with some interesting terms (SLED RACE, GAS OVEN, MESS-UPS) and fun clues (my favorites were [Quick Draw McGraw, e.g.] for HORSE and [Short show?] for EXPO). No one dropped the ball here, that’s for sure.
Harold Jones’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Silent Movies”
What’s up with the WSJ crossword’s Across Lite version being AWOL again? (9:55 a.m. Central update: Should be there now.) Sure, we can print out the PDF from this page, but that approach just makes me feel like I really need stronger eyeglasses. Squeezing a 21×21 grid into a 4″ square is rough. Anyway! The theme remakes movie titles by adding a “SH”:
- 23a. Mystic River becomes MYSTIC SHRIVER, whose plot is ["Maria has a new news source: The Great Beyond"]. Maria’s dad Sargent was just in the NYT crossword. Tennis’s Pam has been left behind.
- 32a. PLANET OF THE SHAPES is this movie: ["Discover a world populated by Rhomboids and Ellipsoids!"].
- 48a. THE DEVIL’S SHOWN is a little awkward, changing a possessive “Devil’s” to a contracted “Devil has.” ["This gallery's artist-in-residence is the Prince of Darkness!"]. What movie is The Devil’s Own? Here it is. Brad Pitt as an I.R.A. gunman? How was his Irish accent? (Ooh! Apparently The Devil’s Own was also a 1916 silent movie, but I’m pretty sure none of the other original titles are also silents.)
- 70a. RAIDERS OF THE LOST SHARK. ["They're out to make off with a fabled great white!"] is the sort of phrasing that would never be heard in a movie trailer.
- 90a. ["Can the king of Persia survive the outback?"] clues SHAH WILDERNESS! B-b-b-but who would make a movie title by slapping two nouns together like this?
- 107a. This one’s the big winner. WHERE THE BOYS SHARE is one of only two theme answers with significant vowel changes (which I don’t think is a problem at all). ["Welcome to group therapy for Cub Scouts!"] is the clue. This one benefits from the innate fun of Where the Boys Are.
- 120a. SHOUT OF AFRICA, ["The long-awaited sequel to 'Cry, the Beloved Country'!"]. I like typing five punctuation marks in a row even when I’m not trying to swear via obscenicons.
Not much else to say about the theme, which is no great SHakes. There are some potential deadly crossings today:
- 1d, 38a. [Fool in an Isaac Bashevis Singer story] is GIMPEL, whose L is the first letter of [Baroque composer Jean-Marie] LECLAIR, whom I’ve never heard of. Am I alone in pausing at that square?
- 102a, 102d. [Corp. IDs] clues an abbreviation, and [Hellish place of punishment] is TOPHET. I was guessing at that first T, since TMS (trademarks) seemed good for 102a. Apparently Tophet has been with us since the days of Middle English, but I can’t help suspecting it was used more frequently in those days.
There are a few other clues I circled while solving:
- 86a. Have you ever called a [Drying rack] an AIRER? Me neither.
- 19d. [Name assumed by Jack Worthing] is ERNEST. Wha…? Wikipedia takes me to The Importance of Being Earnest, in which John/Jack Worthing has an Ernest Worthing alter ego, so apparently Oscar Wilde was working an earnest/Ernest wordplay there. I had no idea.
- 29d. [1887 novel set in the city of Kor] is SHE. Have any of you actually read this H. Rider Haggard book? I know it only from crosswords. Apparently it’s a classic in the fantasy/adventure genre, neither of which is my preferred reading.
2.95 stars. Those troublesome crossing knock this one below three stars.