Corey Rubin’s New York Times crossword
Oh! Look at that! 1-Across is LEGO MEN. We have lots of Lego people (some are women) in this house. In fact, a couple weeks ago, I took pictures of my kid’s array of Lego humanoids, and I am pleased to be able to share that with you tonight.
Lots to admire here. Yes, it’s a 72-worder filled with nothing longer than 7 letters, but there are a bunch of fun and fresh answers. MOB TIES, “YA THINK?!?,” the intersecting TIO/Uncle VANYA and Cousin VINNY, full names for BO DEREK and ELI ROTH, nutty ol’ NEW COKE, the “MY TREAT. No, really. I INSIST” combo. And Uncle VANYA brings his Russian compadres—Big Ivan was an H-BOMB and Nicholas II was a ROMANOV. I like the interconnections between those bits of fill, particularly the way they mostly emerged into my consciousness on their own rather than being foisted on me via heavy cross-referencing.
Didn’t find myself scowling at anything. Yay! No Scowl-o-Meter. I grant you there is an ugly Roman numeral, CMLI, but I filled that in via the crossings and do not at all care when Otto I became King of the Lombards, Carole et al.
So yes, I enjoyed this puzzle. Four stars from me.
Robert Doll’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Why, thank you! I haven’t felt this young in, well, months. This puzzle made me feel like I’m decades too young to be its target audience. My working theory is that Rich Norris and Will Shortz (the two daily crossword editors with a completely open-to-all submission process) realize that a good chunk of their solvers are older and still prefer crosswords that remind them of the ones they used to do. And so it is that they accept some puzzles that sort of mystify me. They accept other puzzles with innovative themes or crazy new fill that delight me, but mystify that other solving demographic. So we can’t all have puzzles we like all the time, unless we are willing to just like every single crossword we encounter. So this one? It’s not for me. Your mileage may vary, to each her own, etc., etc.
This 72-word grid does its showing off with a nutty pop-culture answer that I have never, ever encountered: 31d: ELKABONG, [Quick Draw McGraw alter ego with a guitar for a weapon]. Is that El Kabong? Elka Bong? To the Googles! It’s El Kabong, and here’s a cartoon for you to watch. The YouTube poster says it’s the 45th and final episode of Quick Draw McGraw, which began in 1959. Before my time! Because I am young, very young!
Other fill that skews this puzzle toward the before-my-time designation includes the following: [Platoon provender] K-RATION, NRA clued as [Depression era prog.], crosswordese OSH ([Kyrgyzstan border town]) and TOR ([Perch for a puma]), a HOSIER ([Sock seller]), and HOKUM. And that [Tray carrier, perhaps], the BARMAID! One of the two longest answers in the grid is the lifeless NECESSITATED.
- 1a. [Engage in logrolling] gets you BIRL. This is literal logrolling—running on a log spinning in the water. Not the political horse-trading sort of logrolling.
- 15a. [1983 World Cup skiing champ McKinney] is TAMARA. It’s not old old, but the clue is from almost 30 years ago.
- 36a. I don’t think of LATE SHOW as [One arriving during the overture, say]. That’s a latecomer. LATE SHOW is David Letterman’s program.
- 45a. [Macavity creator's monogram] is TSE, for T.S. Eliot. Macavity is one of those darn cats.
- 12d. ["Teen Angel" et al.] are SAD SONGS. 1950s clue, is it? Or ’60s? Yes! 1959-60.
2.5 stars for me, but it’s probably a 4- or 5-star offering to its real target audience.
Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Oh, What a Circus!” – Sam Donaldson’s review
It’s getting close to the release date for Patrick Blindauer’s latest PuzzleFest, so today’s crossword makes for a fun amuse bouche. The puzzle features five people clued as [Circus performer #__]. The numbering suggests that there’s a reason for the order in which the performers appear in the grid, but if there is I don’t see it. To be safe, I’ll list the performers here in the same order:
Will no one send in the clowns? Where are the clowns? There should be clowns! Oh well, maybe next year.
No animals were harmed in this circus (though be careful of the CROC lurking between the human cannonball and the acrobat), and the puzzle is straightforward enough to be the perfect alternative to the crunchy fare usually offered on Saturdays. I’m guessing the hardest section for most will be the middle, as the clue for OH NO, ["Mon dieu!"], might intimidate some. The crossings won’t help newer solvers yet to be familiar with NOH, the [Form of Japanese drama], and OBI, ["The Mikado" costume part] that looks like the belt to a robe.
Brad Wilber’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
Well, three quarters of this puzzle was just a standard themeless crossword, some tricky Stumper-style clues but nothing too nutty. And then there’s the Desert Southwest, cruel and unforgiving. I may well have spent half of my solving time trying to break into that quadrant. It didn’t help that I mangled my cable-channels-for-preschoolers knowledge—there is a channel called Sprout, but it’s NICK JR. that’s the [Network once known as Noggin]. Let’s delve into that corner, shall we?
35d is clued ["Still Hungry After All These Years" autobiographer]. SIMMONS? What Simmons? There are a lot of them. Jean, Gene, or Russell? Ah, Richard. When I’m editing and trying to make a puzzle easier, I add the first name to a clue like this, or a year (this book came out in ’99). A clue without that identifying info is indeed much tougher.
48a is interesting trivia—MAIL ORDER is an [Industry pioneered by Ben Franklin]. 32a is trivia that requires knowledge of Ken Jennings—[Some of Ken Jennings' "Jeopardy!" winnings] sounds like it’s asking for prizes but it’s really about what he did with the winnings, giving a TITHE to his Mormon church. That initial T pointed me towards 32d TERRARIA for [Microcosmic ecosystems] (and that’s what made me change SPROUT). I wasn’t getting any help from 49d: [Like some beaver habitats]. LAKY?? That’s a terrible word. Great clue for 39a: IRS, though—[Group well-known for their spring collection]. As for 35a: [Perception, in Parma]—wow, I don’t recall ever seeing the Italian word SENSO before. 41d: [They'll get under your skin] is misleading because it’s not your skin you’re slicing with your PARERS. (Grr.) And! Let us not overlook 29d: ["People" cover poser, July 1980]. You ask yourself, “Who posed on the cover of People then?” but that’s the wrong “poser.” It’s “poser” = question, and the question posed on the magazine was “WHO SHOT J.R.?” Aargh! Mighty tricky clue.
In Anthropomorphic Land, we have a fish and a snake. A PISCES is a [Claustrophobe, supposedly]. And the [Shakespearean character urged to "be angry"] is the ASP, presumably the one who bites Cleopatra.
Weather word of the day: 36d: [Piercing] clues COLD. Hello! It’s 22°F here right now. And that’s with “warmer near the lake”—it’s 18° at O’Hare. (At 15d, the same clue yields SHRILL.)
I know the Mitsubishi MONTERO, but not the [Hunter's cap] by the same name. Surely I am not alone in that.
Two 3-letter sports city abbreviations have similar clues. DET. is an [AL, NHL, or NBA team] at 27a, and BOS. is the same at 34d.
Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “Snowflake”
Fairly straightforward challenge, as variety-grid puzzles go: Work off of the filled-in answer to place the other answers in clusters 1 and 3, and spin out from there through the rest of the grid. We’re so spoiled by those Patrick Berry creations that I was half expecting the innermost ring or outermost letters to spell out a hidden message, but no—it’s a “fill in the grid and you’re done” thing, like a standard crossword.
- One of the clues in Section 3 is misspelled. Horrors! Should be [Analogous], not [Analagous]. (Answer is RELATED.) Thankfully, it is rare to find an error in anything Mike Shenk has edited or constructed.
- My favorite clue/answer is [Stop following the party line] for GO ROGUE. Before Sarah Palin, was it mostly elephants who went rogue?
- Secti0n 1 has a PURRING Himalayan cat, so it’s appropriate that this word crosses the backwards TAKES UP. Doesn’t PUSEKAT look like a poor speller’s “pussycat”?