Jonathan Gersch’s New York Times crossword
Aww, Muppets! Not the ones from The Muppets, but the ones from 19a/63a: SESAME STREET. How cute is this theme? Five long answers begin with first names that also belong to Muppets, and just for the heck of it, ELMO sneaks in at the end.
I like how two of the theme answers are people who’ve become modern-day crosswordese: BERT LAHR and ERNIE ELS have grid-friendly names. OSCAR MADISON was nearly as curmudgeonly as Oscar the Grouch. GROVER CLEVELAND is far less delightful than blue Grover (c’mon, who doesn’t love Grover?). And TELLY SAVALAS brings us Telly Monster, who joined the cast after my early childhood (around the same time that Elmo joined, it turns out).
The theme is so adorable, I forgive the puzzle’s ventures into crosswordese. Yes, SORER, VIERS, TSETSE, and ERTES all made me scowl, but who can be mad when there are Muppets about. Four entirely subjective stars.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “I’ll Go Last”
As the title suggests, if “I’ll go last,” then you can put ME at the end—and that’s exactly what happens in each theme answer, which is a mashup of two phrases, [word 1+ word 2] and [word 2 + ME]:
- 20a. [Phrase telling off a blood-sucking bug?] is “MOSQUITO, BITE ME.”
- 37a. [Punishment of having to wear a paper sign on your back?] is a PENALTY “KICK ME.”
- 55a. [Time-sensitive demand on a dirty car?] clues “PRESSURE-WASH ME.”
I like the variety of ways the phrases read, each one giving a different vibe.
Six more clues:
- 3d. [Add machines and conveyer belts] confused me with its wording. “What the hell are ‘add machines’?” I wondered. “And shouldn’t it be ‘conveyor’ with an O?” The answers are “Duh, ‘add’ is a verb, and what’s being added is machines and conveyer belts, that being another acceptable spelling.” So if you add that sort of factory equipment, you AUTOMATE things.
- What’s that noise? It’s MWAH if it’s an [Air kiss noise], HISS if it’s a [Rattler's noise], and TOOT if it’s how you [Make steam whistle noises]. Am now having uncomfortable flashback to horrible “Silly Train Song” on Caillou.
- 50a. [Wilberforce University's affiliated denom.] is AME, or African Methodist Episcopal. Wilberforce is a historically black college.
- 40d. ETAGERES are [Shelves for knickknacks]. My sister calls it a “curio cabinet,” but who is she kidding? It’s an étagère, and she might as well start filling it with pretty etuis.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “It’s Sizzling Inside” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Just like yesterday’s CS puzzle from Bob Klahn, today’s Martin Ashwood-Smith offering is a very well-executed take on a very simple theme. 22-Down is HOT TIME, clued as a [Fun experience, or alternate title for this crossword?]. That’s because each of the three 15-letter answers running across the grid contain the letter sequence H-O-T at some point:
- 17-Across: HEARTBREAK HOTEL is the [Elvis hit of 1956].
- 32-Across: TELEPHOTO LENSES are [Camera attachments].
- 51-Across: My favorite of the group, a SAWED-OFF SHOTGUN is a [Shortened weapon].
There’s no unity to when the H-O-T sequence appears–first it’s at the start of a word, then buried inside the first word, then pretty plainly within the last word. The precise location of the H-O-T sequences likewise appears to have no pattern–first it’s in squares 11, 12, and 13, then 6, 7, and 8, then 10, 11, and 12. Sometimes you can kinda hear the “HOT” (as in SHOTGUN) and other times you can’t (as in TELEPHOTO and HOTEL). So the theme offers little beyond “hey look, here’s three words that: (1) have the letter sequence H-O-T in them; (2) have nothing to do with temperature; and (3) can be added to other words to make common 15-letter expressions.” And yet I really loved this puzzle.
The wide-open corners and mid-section give the grid the look and feel of a Sunday Challenge freestyle. Sure enough, it’s a 70/28 grid, well within the typical limitations for word counts and black squares in a freestyle (nee themeless) puzzle. You don’t often see four 10-letter non-theme entries and six eight-letter non-theme entries in the same grid, and it’s this impressive grid that makes me like the puzzle so much. The long entries themselves may not pack much wallop (LET-DOWNS was my favorite, probably followed by LATE FEES, but TABLE SET and AT THE OPERA felt less zippy to me), but note how none of the crossings are obscure or trite. The only two compromises appear to be ENNA, the [Central Sicilian city], and GAIA, the [Greek earth goddess], but neither rises to the level of a party foul.
My favorite clues included [Places with many loafers] for SHOE STORES, and, for personal reasons, [Sandra Bullock techno-thriller of 1995] for THE NET. The only reason I even know that is because, back in 1995, I joined a “movie of the month” club–you know, one of those gimmicks where you got 20 movies for 20 cents and then had to buy four more movies at full price over the next two years? The fine print said that a new movie ships automatically every month (along with a bill for full price) unless you affirmatively elected out. I missed the deadline one month and that’s how I got my VHS copy of The Net. Still shrink-wrapped, in case there are any collectors out there.
Mike Nothnagel’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review
Mike Nothnagel! One of my favorite constructors is writing for the LA TImes today. I’m not sure that I remember his last puzzle for the LAT – just his work for the New York Times. Regardless, this is a winner of a Tuesday puzzle that reeks of Mike’s usual sparkle.
- 3d. [*Where evidence is gathered] – CRIME SCENE
- 18a. [*Strikers' formation] – PICKET LINE
- 35a. [*Severe reprimand, in metaphor] – RIOT ACT
- 28d. [*Extremely easy task] - CHILD’S PLAY
- 55a. [1963 hit for the Drifters... or where you can see the ends of the starred answers] – ON BROADWAY
- 48d. [Setting for this puzzle's theme] - STAGE
This is a cute little theme. I think we’ve seen the play/act/scene/line bit before, but I like the two-timing theme reveal at the bottom. The theme answers are all fun answers I’d be happy to see in an end of the week themeless. In fact, I see great entries all over:
- ARMY TENT
- HOLY WAR
- JET PACKS
- STAND PAT
- LAP DOGS
- CLEAN AIR
These are all great entries, and my jaw just drops that we’ve got all of this in the same puzzle without any compromising fill. The worst thing I see in this puzzle is NANS, and that’s nothing. A couple of notes before I resume studying for final exams:
- DORIS Day’s new album “My Heart” drops stateside tomorrow. It’s been out in the UK for a few months, and it has bestowed Ms. Day with the honor of being the oldest artist to enter the UK Top 10 with an album featuring new music.
- SINE is a [Trig class ratio]. Mike is a professor of math at the Culinary Institute of America when he’s not constructing crosswords (or is that vice versa?) – do your students use the sine function, Mike? Does anyone not involved with mathematics use the sine function? Do you know what it is? Do you care? (Fortunately, there should be no sine problems on my exams.)
4.2 stars – points off only for a familiar theme.