Jim Hilger’s New York Times crossword
This puzzle took me much longer than it ought to have (regular NYT applet hotshot “zachugly” edged me by more than 3 minutes) but I thoroughly enjoyed the search for meaning in this puzzle. The notepad mentions that 15 answers are missing something, and what’s missing is location-based words that buddy up with those 15 answers:
- In the top row, TOP precedes all three answers. The big boss is the top BANANA, Fred Astaire sported a top HAT, and top TIER means [Elite].
- In the middle row, [Oil source] is the Middle EAST, [Midnight to 4 a.m., at sea] is the middle WATCH, and [In the 40s?] clues middle-AGED. Two reactions: First, siiiiigh. I keep wanting “middle-aged’ to be defined as “50+, definitely not applicable to a youth of 45.” Second, I don’t know my Navy watch terminology at all.
- At the bottom, bottomLAND is defined as “low-lying land, typically by a river,” and thus is an [Often-flooded locale]. Didn’t know that term. Bottom OUT and bottom-FEEDER are much more familiar.
- The left side has a sideBAR, or [Writing in a box], as you might see in a newspaper or magazine feature. A medication can have a side EFFECT (or a bunch of ‘em), and a sideWALL is the side of a tire. Whitewalls have white sidewalls, yes? Too bad there’s no “bottom K***” phrase because sidewalk is a much more familiar word than sidewall. (Which is not to say that sidewall is obscure; it’s not. And who doesn’t like a shiny sidewall?)
- Over on the right side, we have a side ROAD, riding side-SADDLE, and a cocktail called a SideCAR.
One wonders whether the theme would be a mite more elegant with LEFT and RIGHT action rather than two SIDEs, but the left and right are indeed sides. I bet the constructor tried it both ways and liked the results better with this one. left out, left behind, left wing, right now, right angles, right turn? Hmm. For a minute I thought Mr. Hilger had gathered 15 nouns, which my left/right set violates, but then I noticed adjective “middle-aged” and verb “bottom out.” I wasn’t doing this pondering while solving—I was mainly just trying to figure out what was what.
Good fill throughout—those nonthematic 9s and 10s are nice, as are the crossing of Harriet Beecher Stowe names DRED and Simon LEGREE, and I love the brand names BIG RED gum and WET ONES wipes. And MR. SULU! George Takei has become a true gem of the internet in the last couple years. Favorite clues include [Key __] FOB—can’t use the old-fashioned watch FOB as WATCH is a middle-row theme answer. Didn’t grow up speaking of key fobs, but now that’s what many call the car key remote-control doodads. [Many a Monopoly property: Abbr.] is an AVE. [Like the origin of the names for some days of the week] clues NORSE—tell me you never ever think of Wednesday as Wodin’s Day. I misread the OTTAWA clue—[Capital whose name comes from an Algonquin word for "to trade"] had me thinking it said “captain” and I couldn’t think of a Chief Ottawa but went with it anyway. For [Port alternative], I was thinking of sherry and then I was thinking of coastal towns. Not STARBOARD, the nautical opposite of port.
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Baseball Closers” – Sam Donaldson’s review
An uncharacteristically speedy solve for me (remember, my times are posted in dog years), but I had no clue what the heck the theme was until I studied the completed grid for a half-minute or so. If you look carefully, you’ll see a professional baseball player lurking at the end of each of the four theme entries:
- 17-Across: FIDEL CASTRO is the [26th of July Movement leader], and he’s giving asylum to a Houston Astro. It’s a little strange to see someone seeking refuge with Castro rather than from him.
- 28-Across: ONE EIGHT HUNDRED is the [Start of a free call]. Nowadays, of course, there are so many ways to start a free call. 800, 888, 877, 866, and 855–but only 800 houses a Cincinnati Red. Speaking of toll-free call prefixes, does anyone else find the “Kars for Kids” jingle on the radio more annoying than nails on a chalkboard? If you don’t know the ad, you can click this link to hear it, but you have to promise that you won’t hate me afterward.
- 47-Across: Another way to say ["Come by more often!"] is “DON’T BE A STRANGER.” Apparently it can also be a five-word instruction to a Texas Ranger not to act like an abbreviated saint.
- 63-Across: I was surprised that the answer to [X Games gear, often] was not JORTS or TATS but instead a CRASH HELMET. A New York Met sliding into second base might also benefit from one.
I liked the 6′s running along the top and bottom centers. FIRM UP, AMOEBA, BONSAI, and SWARMS all add some zip to the fill. I normally struggle with puzzles that have lots of geography (this one includes DAKAR, PERU, NAPLES, OMSK, and the ELBE River), but the crossings were straightforward enough to make them all gettable. I also liked how HIS got clued as a plural, [Hola and Aloha]. That’s just the kind of quirkiness that appeals to me.
Today my inner 10 year-old loved seeing a BOOB touching up against the ERRAND BOYS. A boy can dream.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “The Passing Year” — pannonica’s review
This puzzle’s a miniature version of one of those retrospective year-end lists, photo-essays, and montages of notables who have died. Or as the revealer in the final across clue (62a) specifies, [Letters for the names "buried" in this puzzle's theme answers] R.I.P. ‘Buried’ here means ‘hidden,’ although the names are indicated by circled squares in the grid.
- 15a. [1976 Steve Miller Band single (*cartoonist)] FLY LIKE AN EAGLE. That’s Bil Keane of Family Circus fame. Peachy-keen.
- 21a. [Follow-up album, perhaps (*director)] VOLUME TWO. That’d be the luminous Sidney Lumet.
- 33a. [Sturdy and powerful (*rapper)] HEAVY DUTY. Equals Heavy D, a.ka. Dwight Arrington Myers. Might one say he was a rapper of consequence?
- 47a. [Soul-sucking endeavor in a bad economy (*CEO)] JOB SEARCH. That’s soul-sucking coroporate visionary Steve Jobs.
- 55a. [Words on some checks (*First Lady)] FOR DEPOSIT ONLY. And that’s the redoubtable Betty Ford.
Good, timely theme, but in execution it doesn’t quite live up to its ambitions. After leading with the great 14-letter entry, containing a centrally-located and three-word-spanning name, then following with the pretty-good central two-word spanner, things rapidly go downhill. The next two entries, though the embedded name spans two words in each case, suffer because the hidden name begins with the first letter of the phrase and essentially duplicates its content and meaning: heavy equals heavy, and jobs is just a pluralized job. The last themer improves matters slightly; even though ford and for are distinct, it’s another front-loaded entry. Of course, it is fourteen letters long, which redeems somewhat.
A fairly smooth solve. I don’t remember encountering any real difficulties, so I was a bit surprised when my solving time turned out to be nearly six minutes. The pair of fourteen-letter entries—just one shy of the grid’s width—resulted in those large black blocks in the northeast and southwest corners. C’est la vie, c’est la mort.
- Could 1a ASP, symmetrical with the revealer, be considered a ‘merchant of death’?
- Just look at that funky-looking ALKY|FLYL pile-up!
- Talk about depressing! GO BROKE crosses JOB SEARCH. Another interesting crossing pair lies opposite: ASHES and ASHANTI; it felt a bit too much like a duplication to me. Great clue for ASHES [Word repeated in "Ring Around the Rosie"] (“Ashes, ashes, all fall down!”), which also has burial connotations (“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust”).
- HOUSE RED and BUGLE BOY make for a fun pair of longer entries, though I wonder if the latter is too generation-specific. I imagine both younger and older solvers will be mystified by it.
- 8d [NBC bust about paramedics] is TRAUMA, which I’d never heard of but was easy enough to guess. Unfortunately Third Watch, a more successful show which I also haven’t watched, kept plaguing my mind until I’d found the correct answer.
- Least appealing aspect of the puzzle? A preponderance of unappealing partials: IF A, A BEER, WE GO, A DISH, and—to my currently jaundiced eye—I RAISE. The first four are all clued as fill-in-the-blanks, two of those with ellipsis as well.
- Favorite clue: 18a [Spreadable stuff?] RUMORS. Least-favorite entry (yes, yuckier than EKU): 44d [Friends again, on Facebook] RE-ADDS.
- Did not know the [Jay-Z song that samples "Try a Little Tenderness"] OTIS, but it’s obvious that it’s honoring Otis Redding’s seminal version.
- Am picturing TYBALT (35d) being pulled along by a T-BAR (8a).
Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “From A to Z”—Matt Gaffney’s review
Enjoyable variety puzzle from Brendan today. Took me 10:47, the last 2.5 minutes of which was because I just couldn’t see GALLOWS HUMOR from ?A?L?W?H?M?R.
That was an excellent entry, as were IN A FRENZY, QWERTY, XERXES, OAK BARREL, YO-YO, BY A NOSE, and UTOPIA.
Kaidoku (a.k.a. coded crosswords or alphacodes) as a puzzle form was essentially laid bare as lacking by the introduction of Alex Boisvert’s solving applet, which filled all the 14s in the grid with C’s, for example, if you put a C in one 14 box. You could brute-force the answer out of any Kaidoku in a couple of minutes flat with that and it wasn’t much fun anymore. Which is a pity, because prior to Alex’s program Kaidoku provided some nice “aha” moments and sudoku-like tipping point rushes when you realized the whole thing was falling.
These “From A to Z” puzzles, which I believe were first created by someone called Shortz, are like an improved form of Kaidoku. Same mental rush, but with the addition of crossword clues which means you can certainly get stuck (even on an applet). What I’m saying is that I like these puzzles a lot and that if Brendan doesn’t write a book of them then maybe I will. (Amy adds: And I will buy that book.)
Mark Bickham’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review
Sorry for the delay, everyone – it’s FINAL EXAMS week at the University of Kentucky, and I’ve been grading calculus examinations all day long. This puzzle was certainly a welcome break!
- 17a. [Tomato-based concations] – CHILI SAUCES
- 20a. [Do-it-yourselfers' projects] – HOME RENOVATIONS
- 29a. [Birthplace of the Bauhaus movement] – WEIMAR GERMANY
- 41a. [Mughal emperor, 1556-1605] - AKBAR THE GREAT (it’s a trap!)
- 52a. [Lone Star State collegiate athlete] – TEXAS A AND M AGGIE
- 59a. [Show since 12/17/1989 whose five main family members are hidden in this puzzle's other long answers] - THE SIMPSONS
I think many of us remember the Simpsons tie-in puzzles from a few years back when Will Shortz and Merl Reagle appeared on the show, and puzzles that day had hidden messages and special themes. I don’t remember if we saw this theme exactly, but this is still a nice puzzle. Six long theme entries in this regular-sized puzzle—including two stacked pairs of theme answers. With the exception of Akbar, I think the theme entries are great. There’s something to be said for a world history–educating entry, though.
There’s other fun long stuff here, too—BLOOD TYPES and MIA SARA (who I knew immediately—what?) were nice. Not too much to complain about in this puzzle, but there was a nasty crossing at the bottom – D’oh!
- 48d. [Novelist Binchy] – MAEVE Binchy. I just skimmed her Wikipedia page, and I didn’t know any of her works. Apparently her Circle of Friends was made into a movie in 1995 with Minnie Driver. Didn’t see it. Her Irish first name was unguessable by me, especially that last letter.
- 64a. ["Waiting for Lefty" playwright] – Clifford ODETS. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew this once I had the other four letters, but I probably picked it up from crosswords or Jeopardy! That can be really frustrating sometimes.
That grievance aside, this was a nice puzzle. Four donuts out of… mmm, donuts.