If you’re a Facebook user, check out the new Crosswords app from PuzzleSocial. New ways to solve competitively or in tandem with a friend, plus the standard “solve online by yourself” and “print out the puzzle” options. The familiar CrosSynergy and Newsday daily puzzles, plus the indie/alt-weekly puzzles that are blogged here weekly. And all-new Celebrity crosswords, designed to be easy and fun pop-culture puzzles to get newbies just as hooked on crosswords as the rest of us already are. (Disclosure: I’m part of the editorial team for the Celebrity puzzles. But I’m also a picky solver, and I like PuzzleSocial’s solving interface and gameplay.)
Kristian House’s New York Times crossword
I didn’t quite catch onto the elegance of the theme until after I was done solving. A werewolf is a SHAPE-SHIFTER (though I don’t think of it as one—too many X-Files/Harry Potter shape-shifters of the non-lycanthropic variety have gotten into my head), and “shape-shifting” is what has happened among the other three theme answers. The Arctic Circle, Times Square, and the Bermuda Triangle become an ARCTIC SQUARE, TIMES TRIANGLE, and BERMUDA CIRCLE. Well-played! And keyed right to the Wednesday level of difficulty.
Lots of snap in the non-theme fill, too. DISCUS THROW and a VAGUE NOTION (raise your hand if you mucked things up with VAGUEST IDEA), SNO-CONE, IXNAY, DIORAMA, and the ACAI berry all pleased me. And CALVIN, of “Calvin & Hobbes” fame—I always think of “cartoon” as “animated film or TV show” rather than “comic strip,” even though cartoonists draw/write comics. Hard to figure out that one, but I love CALVIN.
Mind you, there’s also room for non-snappy fill—your AMIR NERO ALY SEGO DELA EREI CDII UNH stuff. Doesn’t “Unh!” sound like a grunt rather than a university in New Hampshire?
Overall reading, 4 stars.
Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Breaking Bad” – Sam Donaldson’s review
I am routinely told that Breaking Bad, the AMC series about a dying chemistry teacher who makes meth to pay the bills, is the best show on television these days. I haven’t seen it yet (I have Season 1 in my Netflix queue), but that’s high praise. My personal list of best shows would include (in no particular order) Mad Men, The Big Bang Theory, and Top Chef. Seriously.
All of those titles might well be seed for crossword themes, but those will have to wait for another day. Today, Patrick Blindauer pays tribute to Breaking Bad by giving us five long answers that have the B-A-D letter sequence spanning two words:
- 16-Across: The [Start of a nursery rhyme] is RUB A DUB DUB. I never noticed the badness that lurked within this saying. We learn all kinds of helpful things from solving crosswords, don’t we?
- 24-Across: [One who uses a certain tank] is a SCUBA DIVER. I have always shied away from scuba diving, and now I see that being bad at it is just inherent with the name. Maybe if it was called “scugoo diving” I would be more inclined to give it a shot.
- 38-Across: One [Annual sporting event] that I really enjoy, all kidding aside, is the NBA DRAFT LOTTERY. It is usually held during halftime of one of the games in the NBA playoffs. Over the years, it has been shortened to fit within an ever-decreasing amount of time. Still, I always enjoy the suspense of finding out which crappy NBA team lucks out to get the first overall pick. I remember being so thrilled when my Portland Trailblazers won the lottery in 2007. At the time, I hoped it meant “we” would draft Kevin Durant. Well, “we” didn’t, and the Curse of Sam Bowie lives on.
- 50-Across: A key [Part of a marketing campaign, nowadays] is a WEB ADDRESS. There’s a link to a good one in the last paragraph of this review.
- 61-Across: A [Connector from Radio Shack, perhaps] is a U.S.B. ADAPTER. At first I wondered why the clue specifically referenced Radio Shack. Then I remembered that the puzzle’s theme is “bad” and it all made sense.
Okay so there’s this convention that says there should be no extra words in the broken word gimmick. Thus, some will find fault with the appended LOTTERY or maybe even the extra DUB. I tend to agree that puzzles adhering to this convention are a little more elegant, but I have softened my view to accept the fact that in the grand scheme it really doesn’t matter. By adding LOTTERY, Patrick was able to have a fifth, 15-letter theme entry that could run by itself along the middle. If he had lopped off LOTTERY, he’s be stuck with the 8-letter NBA DRAFT. That can’t run by itself on the equator (it has an even number of letters, which throws symmetry out of whack), and there’s no readily apparent 8-letter theme entry that can run opposite it. So for a little less elegance, we get a puzzle that has more theme density. Since there were no sacrifices in the fill, I’d make that trade too.
And yeah, there are four “cheater” (or “helper”) squares and 40 total black squares (two more than the customary max of 78). What of it? Those alterations allow for the paired 9′s that run down two corners (I really liked COULD IT BE), and they facilitate entries like TAI-CHI, MISDEALS, ADD UP, B FLAT, and TIBETANS. So I have no beef with the arrangement of black squares. U.S. STATE struck me as a little odd (and redundant), but I can live with it. The clues have the usual zip that we expect from Patrick (I liked [Flubs on the flop, say] for the aforementioned MISDEALS), though maybe with [Cabbage distributor] we have to concede that all the clever clues for ATM have now been taken.
Overall, a fun (and hardly BAD) puzzle. Oh, and while we’re talking about Patrick’s puzzle, be sure to check out his Musical Puzzlefest. There’s still plenty of time to participate in this contest featuring a suite of nine original crosswords (plus a bonus crossword from the Crosswords LA Tournament). I’m savoring this set of puzzles so I’ve only completed the first three. The rest of the puzzles are waiting for my next cross-country flight. So far, the solving experience is on par with that of his prior Puzzlefests (which were both superb). C’mon—this is one holiday treat you can give to yourself. No calories and no guilt—just hours of good crossword fun (well, for most of the other members of Team Fiend, maybe about 18 minutes of fun).
John Lampkin’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review
- 17a. [*Neat, practical types, so it’s said] – CAPRICORNS. That’s a pretty weak split, I think. Don’t just move the S.
- 10d. [*Ceremonial flag carriers] – COLOR GUARDS. Corduroy pants feel wonderful. Go on – rub a pair. You won’t regret it.
- 24d. [*Arch supports, e.g.] – SHOE INSERTS. Short pants; simple enough.
- 58a. [*Easter Bunny’s delivery] – JELLY BEANS. Two possible splits with the E here; I don’t mind it.
- The ISERE River? It’s a [Rhone feeder] in southeastern France. It runs through a department named after itself – so that might pop up soon.
- A DOSIMETER? It’s a [Radiation detection device] that measures exposure to something over a period of time – not just at a particular moment. At least that’s the impression Wikipedia gives me.
- “FLIED?” I NEARly flew off the handle when I saw this one (and you know I’m PRONE to do that). Yes, it’s a word. This article explains it much better than I ever could.
I liked the [Epitome of thickness] PEA SOUP a lot, but my favorite clue in this puzzle was [Keys for a music room?]. I thought it might refer to majors or minors, but it’s IVORIES that are waiting to be tickled. PEAT BOG just stinks. (See what I did there?)
Some of this puzzle just left me with a bad taste in my mouth. -ENNE looks an awful lot like ENE. 3.8 from me – have a happy holiday!
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “New Slants” — pannonica’s review
Theme entries have a base phrase acquiring an -IST suffix and a pejorative connotation. As far as I can tell, there is no orthographic aspect to the title, nothing to do with italics, vigules, et al. That means a definitional interpretation. Merriam-Webster reveals all: “(transitive verb) 2: to interpret or present in line with a special interest : angle <stories slanted toward youth>; especially : to maliciously or dishonestly distort or falsify.”
- 17a. [With 35-Across, mutant Klansman?] THREE-LEGGED | RACIST.
- 61a. [One who feels dodgeball is for the unwashed masses?] GYM CLASSIST.
- 11d. [With 43-Across, caveman who refuses to hunt with grandpa Grok?] PREHISTORIC | AGEIST.
- 25d. [One who thinks women make lousy operators?] PHONE SEXIST.
Well, nothing controversial there.
I appreciated that the themers, singly and paired, horizontally and vertically, occupy all the regions of this well-integrated grid. Overlooking the built-in touchiness, they’re rather amusing and entertaining. The only thing I can legitimately fault is the grievous misspelling of the late Cromagnonese Grok.
The construction allows for some robust areas, including the stacked sixes in the northwest, southeast, and lateral flanks. Speaking of which, I consistently misread the clue for 24d as “Intuit, rather offensively” and it took me quite some time to realize it was “Inuit,” and hence ESKIMO. Have I mentioned how much I like the French spelling, Esquimeaux?
- EYESORE crossing EARACHE? Very nice, but… ow!
- Likewise HAVARTI and AFGHANI, sans ow, but with “sometimes” and “often.”
- 39d. I guess South Park is too fuddy-duddy for the hipster readers, so Mr Parker was jilted in favor of Mr Songz for the TREYS clue (with Phish’s Mr Anastasio).
- I care for neither (56a) BOX SETs nor ice tea, but begrudgingly accept their widespread use.
- Youth-oriented pop culture things: Rapper RAH Digga, tattoo artist cum celebrity and cosmetics purveyor KAT Von D., singer AARON Carter in rehab, BMX bike PEGS.
- Some classicism with the Platonic IDEAL and noted Dualist (not duelist) RENÉ Descartes (that’s mind-body dualism). To offset the unexpected Platonic purity, the puzzle also contains a [Backdoor medical procedure?] ENEMA and [Remove the smell of B.O. from, say] AIR OUT.
Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Merry Christmas”—Matt Gaffney’s review
Editor’s note: This puzzle’s sort of a place-holder for Brendan’s new Thursday puzzle, which will be posted to the blog at 6 p.m. Eastern, after it debuts on the PuzzleSocial Crosswords app on Facebook. We may end up shuffling the review days for alt-crosswords at Crossword Fiend if their pub days change.
I remembered this one from a previous year, so my 7:05 time doesn’t count. Brendan puts four presents under a tree:
- At 17-a. he puts a toy under an OAK tree (TOY SPANIEL)
- At 29-a. he puts a sweater under a MAPLE (SWEATER GIRL)
- At 45-a. he puts books under a PINE (OFF THE BOOKS)
- At 61-a. he puts a game under an ELDER (ENDER’S GAME)
Two observations, since I’m under the gun here:
- SQUEEGEE, EUROPA, NOT AT ALL, MESSES UP, SKYY and IT’S ME are worth mentioning.
- OSI Umenyiora (7-d.) has every vowel, including Y, in his 9-letter last name.
Happy and Merry to Brendan and everyone else in crossword-land!