Pat Merrell’s New York Times crossword, “Again?”
“An add-a-letter theme, again?” Yes, in each theme entry, there’s “A gain.” The results are pretty decent as far as add-a-letter themes go. There’s a non-Biblical KING JAMES AVERSION, which is kind of amusing. No one can track down the RUNAWAY MODEL. The GENTLE “AMEN” doesn’t shout. The verb phrase AMASS MEDIA, well, that one’s mildly clunky. Having been on the receiving end of unfortunate squirrel mayhem, I am not horrified at this PEPPER ACORN prank. TONY AROMAS, meh; it plays on the Tony Roma’s restaurant chain, which I hope never to encounter. Another verb phrase, DART ABOARD, is not terribly exciting but I like the original “dartboard” all right. Prepositional phrase AROUND ROBINS, meh. ANABOLIC ASTEROIDS, well played—[What black holes swallow to bulk up?].
So I liked the theme but didn’t love it. The surrounding fill is solid and I was reasonably entertained but not knocked out. My favorite fill includes “NO PROBLEM” (110a: ["Consider it done!"]), the ZANIES/ZUNIS crossing, WEIRDO, and ESOTERICA.
And MR. APRIL! This [Springtime calendar hunk] might be a scantily clad fireman or a soccer player, but he might also be part of this set of calendar boys adopting stereotypical “sexy lady” poses. Vulnerable position, mechanic’s jumpsuit unzipped down to there, legs up in the air? Check. You can order your own “Men-Ups” pin-up calendar here.
- 10d. [It may get stuck in an eye] clues THREAD, in the eye of a needle. Not on your eyeball! The nearby 6a: [One with eyes for a cook?] is also eyeball-free; that’s a SPUD.
- 7d. [University of __, where Andrea Bocelli earned a law degree] is an off-the-beaten-path clue for PISA. I didn’t know Bocelli had a law degree and I didn’t know Pisa had a law school, but “4-letter place in Italy” clues are usually looking for PISA, ASTI, BARI, or ROME/A. So it’s a little random, but trivia clues are more fun than [Leaning Tower site] clues, no?
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “Bookstore Shopping Guide”
Hey! This theme doesn’t apply to my local indie bookstore. Most of the theme entries are covered by two clues: 21a: ["Today at the bookstore I bought a __ ..."] ["... and a ___ ..." (see 21 Across)]. The items one might buy at a bigger chain bookstore include a CROISSANT, COFFEE MUG, DILBERT DOLL, TWO T-SHIRTS, READING LIGHT, SINATRA CD, GUM ERASER, CHOCOLATE BAR, OUIJA BOARD, and DECK OF CARDS. 118a: ["Next, I'm off to the ___ ..."] DRUGSTORE ["... to buy a ___"] LAWN CHAIR. Now, you can buy Moleskine notebooks and similar items at the Unabridged Bookstore, but not food, toys and games, art supplies, music, clothes, or dishes. Just … books and a smattering of magazines and calendars. I love Unabridged.
I’ll run through just five clues this week:
- 20a. [Salmon's tail?] is -ELLA, as in Salmonella bacteria. It always cracked me up when my grandma would mention her friends, “Sam an’ Ella.”
- 32d. [Bluesy James et al.] clues ETTAS. Just learned today from Gary Krist (looking forward to his upcoming nonfiction book about 1919 Chicago, City of Scoundrels), who comments here as “animalheart,” that Etta James may be approaching the end of her life and that her name at birth was Jamesetta Hawkins. Nice work changing your name, Ms. James! You earned crossword immortality to accompany your musical legend.
- 9d. [Cell centers] are NUCLEI. Anyone else misread the clue as [Call centers]?
- 84d. [Children, to a department-store Santa] are LAPFULS. Now that is an awkward plural word. Who is counting lapfuls (or perhaps lapsful)?
- 111a. [Drew's great-aunt] is ETHEL Brees. No, just kidding. It’s Ethel Carey, of course. No, not really. Ethel Barrymore.
Jim Holland’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “E-Tails” – Doug’s review
Appropriate title for a puzzle that comes out a week before Christmas. Seven shopping days left. And it’s fairly easy to guess what’s going to happen with the theme. But the Es aren’t appended willy-nilly. Each extra E creates a surname. That’s a nice touch
- 23a. [Hockey legend makes a particular fashion statement?] – HOWE DOES THIS LOOK. Gordie Howe. Maybe he bought a new suit for his date with Mrs. Krabappel. (Simpsons fans will know what I’m talking about.)
- 32a. [New England senator's winter tools?] - SNOWE SHOVELS. Olympia Snowe of Maine.
- 48a. [Author Thomas blows a tune?] - WOLFE WHISTLES. I wish this clue would have instead referenced Nero Wolfe, one of my favorite literary characters. You might argue that all the other theme answers contain real people, not fictional characters. But I’m not 100% sure Nero Wolfe is fictional. Maybe he’s real, and I just haven’t met him yet. I feel the same way about Batman and Heidi Klum.
- 65a. [Author Graham's lament?] – IT’S NOT EASY BEING GREENE. Great marquee entry.
- 88a. [Writer Oscar's groupies?] – THE WILDE BUNCH.
- 102a. [Routines that crack up patriot Thomas?] – PAINE KILLERS.
- 116a. [Maintain vital info on actor Rob?] – KEEP A LOWE PROFILE. Another one I really liked.
More answers from around the grid:
- 6a. [X3 and Z4] – BMWS. I have zero interest in cars, so this was a hard clue for me. I thought it was going to be AUDIS or SAABS or something. And those are totally lame names for cars, by the way. I’d be more likely to buy your cars if they had cool names, like BMW Blockbuster or BMW LaserLion.
- 91a. [Seductive greeting on the docks] – HI, SAILOR. Love this entry! Book cover is from Rex Parker’s vintage paperback blog, Pop Sensation. His write-ups over there will make you laugh out loud. I guarantee it. I like the site even more than that little crossword blog he does. And believe it or not, I’ve read this book. It’s as awesome as it looks.
- 107a. [Quarterback Tony] – ROMO. As a constructor, I’m glad to see this in the puzzle. ROMO is a very useful entry, and I’d like to see it gain some traction. The downside is that 15 years from now Tony Romo will be as obscure as Tony Lema and still appearing in puzzles.
- 98d. [Sewing pattern] – SLOPER. “Huh?” of the day. Apparently a sloper is “a custom-fitted basic pattern from which patterns for many different styles can be created.” The last time I tried to do any serious sewing was when I was in the Boy Scouts. I sewed (and I used the term loosely) a patch onto the pocket of my uniform shirt, and it didn’t turn out so well. So I ripped out all the thread and super glued it on. Worked like a charm!
Rating: 3.5 stars.
Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Alas, I spent the last three minutes of my solving time on this 70/28 Bob Klahn Sunday Challenge freestyle crossword trying to conquer the northeast corner. As usual, now that I have it complete, I feel foolish that I didn’t figure it out sooner. It all fell into place once I got NOW SHOWING, clued with the very clever [Pregnancy picture promo?]. Until then, I couldn’t suss out that Ethel Merman was BRASSY, that the answer to [Bushy-tailed] was not a noun but instead the adjective, SPRY, and that the [Ten below?] are the ten TOES below…well, most everything else on the body. Oddly I had no problems with the A.L. EAST, short for baseball’s “American League East,” the [Div. with O's but no A's] (as in Orioles and Athletics, respectively).
The triple 10s in the northwest are awesome. MARS ROVERS was easy enough for me thanks to the clue, [NASA's Spirit and Opportunity], but I really liked IF I WERE YOU, the [Suggestion's subjective segue], and SALAD GREEN, clued as [Bok choy, e.g.]. The opposite stock seems a bit more eccentric, with IRON MAIDEN, GINGER BEER, and MAKES MERRY, but I suppose there’s some charm in that.
It feels somewhat brave to have SWASTIKA in the grid, and I like how the clue, ["Inglourious Basterds" symbol], presents it in perhaps the least offensive manner (assuming one isn’t offended by the misspellings in the movie’s title). My other favorite entries were KANSAS CITY, the Heart of America and a great, friendly city, as well as DIATRIBE.
Let’s finish by running through my favorite clues not already listed above:
- I fell into the trap of wanting something along the line of EGOTIST for the [One with both a big mouth and a fat lip]. The answer is a EWER. Ewer probably quicker than me in figuring this one out.
- [Old Miss?] was a fun clue for MRS.
- I like the consecutive rainbow references for the clues in 1-Down and 2-Down: the [Rainbow producer] for MIST and [Somewhere over the rainbow] for AFAR.
- The THORN on a rose would indeed be a [Cause of sticker shock?].
Okay, two final notes: (1) In the puzzle I solved, the clue for ROE is [Name for the nameless]. Shouldn’t that be DOE? (2) My inner 10 year-old loved [They need rubbing out] as the clue for GENII. Okay, more like my inner 15 year-old.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Sunday crossword, “Drac FAQ” — pannonica’s review
…or, considering that the puzzle appears on-line six weeks after it appears in print, “Drac’s Back” (from the grave of Halloween past). It’s a wham-bam, higgledy-piggledy, stinky-pinky, rhyme-time theme scheme involving that most famous of vampires.
- 26a. [One punning on Dracula's author?] STOKER JOKER. Bram I Am?
- 28a. [Dracula's kiss?] NECK PECK.
- 43a. [Dracula's wardrobe malfunction?] CAPE SCRAPE.
- 47a. [Anti-vampire supply?] CLOVE TROVE. Garlicky!
- 60a. [Bad landing for Dracula?] BAT SPLAT.
- 63a. [Problem at home in Transylvania?] CASTLE HASSLE.
- 69a. [Dracula's peek at a seance?] TRANCE GLANCE.
- 74a. [The jugular?] BITE SITE.
- 91a. [Dracula's approach?] SLEEP CREEP.
- 95a. [Bad luck in stopping Dracula?] STAKE BREAK. In my book, when it comes to luck, a ‘break’ needs to be qualified as either good or bad.
- 108a. [Vampire group?] FANG GANG.
- 112a. [Vampire's phobia?] LIGHT FRIGHT. Photophobia. Fotofobia?
Not a knock-your-socks-off theme, and I suspect it’d be a little more entertaining and less musty had I solved it when it was more topical. Relatively short themers result in a well-integrated GRID (85a [What you're filling]) and a smooth solve.
Some Random Notes:
- Having a difficult time getting the image of Dracula struggling with CARAMELS (37a) out of my mind. See also 101d GNAWN.
- After for quite some time reviewing the Puzzles Formerly Known as Boston Globe, I’ve come to learn that the game of candlepins is a real thing, and is quite popular in New England and Canada’s Maritime Provinces. 59a [Candlepins bummer] SPLIT.
- I liked the phrase answers within. SHOW-ME, TAPES UP, LAID BARE, AT PEACE.
- One would think that a Dracula-themed puzzle might leap at the chance to loosely tie in 6d ENTRANCE with its seductive subject, but Hex judiciously resist temptation (and avoid entanglement) by cluing the homonym: [Arrival on stage].
- Was surprised to see Y’ALL clued as [Group pronoun] with no ‘regional’ or ‘informal’ qualification. 84a.
- The AGENA part of Atlas-Agena rockets was completely new to me. 105d.
Although in general the cluing is not exactly businesslike, it wasn’t particularly playful either. So, not what I’d call memorable, which tallies with my overall assessment of the crossword. Fair fare, no scare there.
Doug Peterson’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler. No. 89″
Fresh, fun puzzle from Doug, as usual. I just may have to put Doug in the ranks of themeless constructors who specialize in the zippity-zip sort of fill—folks like Mike Nothnagel, David Quarfoot, Karen Tracey, and Byron Walden. We’ve got a BABY SLING, “THAT’S A LAUGH,” the four-word PUT ON THE MAP, Annika SORENSTAM, and STAGE-DIVE as today’s highlights. Which is not to say that the other long answers are blah, just that I’ve seen “AY CARAMBA!” and SQUAD CAR in a number of puzzles before.
STAVES IN is fresh fill, but horrible at the same time. [Crushes by piercing roughly]? Yes, that’s about right. Can we limit our staving in to empty cardboard boxes, please?
- 10a. [Hussar's topper] is a hat called a SHAKO.
- 22a. ["Mountain, Table, Anchors, Navel" and others] are ARPS, works of art by Jean/Hans Arp.
- 45a. [Louis XIII, to Henry IV] is son FILS, or his son.
- 5d. [Future tots, perhaps?] are RUSSETS. Russet potatoes -> tater tots.
- 29d. [Curling venue] for hair is a SALON. The sport of curling is played on an ice “curling sheet.”
- 39d. [It's sold in 12-packs] clues PEZ. Although often you find Pez refills sold in three-packs of 12-packs, no?
- 40d. [Some fathers and brothers], the ones who are priestly fathers or monastic brothers, are HOLY MEN.
- 51d. NOVA ["___ Express" (William S. Burroughs novel)]? Never heard of it, personally.
- 52d. [City named for a railroad owner] is OREM, Utah. I guessed right off the O. “Four-letter city in a crossword puzzle, starts with O?” If you don’t think Oslo was named for a railroad owner, what with the city predating the development of modern railways, then you’re left with OREM.
4.5 stars. Smooth fill, fun stuff, challenging clues without real obscurities, a nice balance of the Peter Gordonesque “new clue for a familiar word” content.