Happy Christmas Eve to those who celebrate it, and Happy Hanukkah to its crowd too. And Happy Festivus (it was December 23)—when I complain about crossword fill, what is that but an Airing of Grievances? Team Fiend’s Jeffrey will be in charge for Saturday night and Sunday morning while my family and I are doing Christmassy stuff. Thanks, Jeffrey!
Ned White’s New York Times crossword
My favorite answer is also the first one I plunked into the grid: [What may be visualized via a bumper sticker?], of course, is WHIRLED PEAS. I like this variant on the pun bumper sticker: “Stop the violins. Visualize whirled peas.” HARPO MARX takes second place to 15a. SNEAK OUT, CAB RIDE, a retro POWERMAC, and “I’M ON A DIET” are nice too.
Now, there are other entries that had me scratching my head. OIL OF GARLIC? That’s a thing? I had no idea. The 1988 Prince song “When 2 R IN Love”? Also new to me, as is YA fiction author Lynne RAE Perkins. Sure didn’t recall that [Tennis's Zvonareva and others] are VERAS (and that’s not a great plural name, because how many famous Veras can you name?). [Spaghetti end?] for AN I, a letter “I”? No. The spaghetti end is just “I.” 51a: OOPSIE DAISY as a [Cry over spilled milk?]? I suppose people say that but I have “upsy-daisy” on the mind. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone refer to a neurologist as a BRAIN DOCTOR. In Chicago, most Spanish speakers are of Mexican descent, and for them, a TORTA is a sandwich. [Cake, in Cali] is accurate as TORTA means “cake” in South America, but I’ve only ever seen the word used for a sandwich. Not sure what SKIBOBS are—tried SLEIGHS and SKIDOOS here first. 38d: [Tempted] clues LURED ON, but I’m having trouble envisioning someone being lured on. Led on, lured into? Have zero recollection of the SAYRE [__ fire (destructive 2008 blaze in Los Angeles)], but my grandma used to live on Sayre Avenue so I can’t hate the answer.
Jack McInturff’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Whoa. There’s a lot of out-there stuff in this puzzle:
- 18a. [Keyboardist who founded Return to Forever] is jazz’s Chick COREA. To clue him without the first name or the word jazz? Whoa. Never heard of Return to Forever.
- 19a. [Rembrandt van __] RYN? I prefer the van Rijn spelling, personally. What good are Dutch names without doubled vowels or a wait-how-is-that-pronounced J?
- 32a. [Rug with a long pile] is the Swedish crosswordese rug called a RYA. Someday I will move to Amsterdam and open a Scandinavian rug boutique called Rembrandt van Rya.
- 48a. [Town across the Connecticut River from Springfield, Mass.]? Really? I used crossings to get all 6 letters and still wound up with something that looks not remotely plausible. AGAWAM? Population 28,500. Its ZIP code is 01001! No town has a lower number.
- 65a. ["Sharky's Machine" author]? I know this was made into a movie somewhere around 1980. Had no idea the author was DIEHL. William Diehl also wrote Primal Fear, which became a Richard Gere/Edward Norton movie. “I-I-I lost time.” The movies, I fear, are more famous than the books’ author.
- 2d. ["Tumbleweeds" cartoonist] is T.K. RYAN. I forgot Tumbleweeds existed and am surprised to learn the strip ended only four years ago.
- 7d. [2011 Canadian Open champ Sean] O’HAIR? Who?? I’m not even going to Google him. I’ll just say that the Canadian Open is most likely a curling event.
- 9d. ["Chariots of Fire" executive producer] is circa-1981 trivia. Now, if you’re going to put DODI FAYED in the puzzle, for Pete’s sake, clue him as Princess Diana’s beau. That is what we remember him for. (Also? People, wear your seat belts. They save lives.)
- 10d. [E-7 Army personnel] are SFCS. An SFC is a Sergeant First Class.
- 37d. [Poe poem written at the time of the California Gold Rush] clues ELDORADO. I thought I knew my Poe but that doesn’t ring a bell for me at all. Clue this as a Cadillac model and I’m all set.
- 61d. [New Deal home loan gp.] clues NHA. National Housing Act of 1934. Do people going on Jeopardy! study their New Deal program abbreviations, or is this info just not going to come up?
I like DODI FAYED and ELDORADO as crossword fill, but those clues both mystified me. I like the ORANGE/ORANGS combo (“Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?”). MARJORAM looks good in the grid. Most of the rest of this puzzle was just sort of there for me. 2.5 stars for all the unfamiliar proper names.
Updated Saturday morning:
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “She Moves in Mysterious Ways” – Sam Donaldson’s review
If you ask U2′s Bono about this theme, he might say, “It’s alright, it’s alright.” But I have a much higher opinion of this fun anagram gimmick from Randall J. Hartman. The theme entries are familiar titles containing a woman’s name, but the letters in the woman’s name have been rearranged (thus, “she moves in mysterious ways”) to form wacky new expressions. Check it out:
- 20-Across: The [Television show featuring a tiny Fata Morgana?] is MY LITTLE MIRAGE, a play on My Little Margie, a sitcom from the 1950s. That’s okay, I’ve never seen it, either. Our friends at Wikipedia offer this synopsis of the show: “Set in New York City, the series stars Gale Storm as 21-year-old Margie Albright and former silent film star Charles Farrell as her widowed father, 50-year-old Vern Albright. They shared an apartment at the Carlton Arms Hotel. Vern Albright was the vice president of the investment firm of Honeywell and Todd. Mrs. Odetts (played by Gertrude W. Hoffmann on TV; Verna Felton on radio) was the Albrights’ next-door neighbor and Margie’s sidekick in madcap capers reminiscent of Lucy and Ethel in I Love Lucy. When Margie realized she had blundered or got into trouble, she made an odd trilling sound.” Apparently you can catch the occasion rerun on ION Television (one of those channels you get with basic cable that’s either so far down the dial or so far up the dial that you never really notice it).
- 37-Across: The [Movie about strength that withered away?] is MIGHTY ATROPHIED, a twist on Mighty Aphrodite, the Woody Allen film that launched my crush on Mira Sorvino. I liked this theme entry, in no small part because it helped me uncover the theme.
- 48-Across: The [Song Muppet Bert sings at bedtime?] is GOOD NIGHT ERNIE, a rearrangement of Good Night Irene.
I like how the theme entries play on a TV show, a movie, and a song. There were a number of fun clues worth mentioning, including [Sudan sedan?] for CAMEL, [Catcher for the mariners?] for NET (oh, how I wish it was DAN WILSON), [Company founded as Blue Ribbon Sports] for NIKE, and my personal favorite, [Playboy's plea] for RENEW. Maybe the trickiest part was the crossing of the [Former African capital], LAGOS, with the current [African capital], RABAT.
I usually don’t notice duplications in the clues, but [Finger or toe] as the clue for DIGIT stood out like a sore…well, you know…given that just a few squares over sits BIG TOE, the [Stub hub?]. Oops. But for that minor foot fault, this was a well-crafted and enjoyable puzzle.
Doug Peterson’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
I’ve long stumbled around in the Newsday applet on Stan Newman’s site. I change directions and think I’m in one square when I’m actually one over, and then the word STEAL reads “LSTEA” instead. (LSTEA is hardly any worse than STEAL when the real answer for [Rustle] is SWISH, mind you.) I got that far into the grid when I remembered hey! I can do Newsday in PuzzleSocial’s Crosswords app. The navigation works how I’m used to things working. (For those of you who find the navigation doesn’t work how you expect, let me know what the issue is and I’ll pass it along to PuzzleSocial founder Jeb Balise. He’s ridiculously open to making improvements.)
Anyway! The puzzle. Tougher than the NYT by two seconds. My 10 favorite clues and answers follow:
- ANACONDAS at 1a. I’m not sure why they’re [Mythical South American "giants"]—are they not really as giant and deadly as they were in those cheesy ’90s monster movies? Jon Voight and J.Lo haven’t worked together since then, have they?
- [RL Stine alma mater]? I follow @RL_Stine on Twitter (he picks up on the most bizarre, creepy news stories) but had no idea where he went to school. Luckily, OHIO STATE is easy to figure out with a handful of crossings. Oddball trivia is kinda fun, especially when you can find the answer with crossings and have no trouble spelling it.
- I didn’t know NASA programs had mottoes. 55a: ["Ex __, scientia" (Apollo 13 motto)] clues LUNA. “From the moon, science”? Makes sense.
- [Thing in a holster] at 60a is not a weapon. It’s a CELLPHONE. Duh! I had this blank for a long time.
- [Word on all US paper money] is TREASURER. Duh! I had this blank for a long time.
- A Gandhi quote to put things in perspective is always good. 1d: ["We are less than __ in this universe": Gandhi] clues ATOMS.
- 3d has a great clue. [Defensive line?] isn’t about football, it’s the ALIBI that’s part of your legal defense.
- 13d: [Plants with molds] probably made you think of spores, right? FOUNDRIES are factories where molten metal is cast into various molded shapes.
- World trivia. 31d: [First native-born leader of his country] is Israel’s NETANYAHU. Seeing his name always makes me think of the 1996 Dave Letterman Top 10 list with mispronunciations of “Bibi Netanyahu.” Yahu Netanbibi and Betty Needs a Yoo-Hoo are my favorites.
- 39d: [Deliberate] is a verb here, not an adjective. Deliberate, muse, ponder, REFLECT. Stumpers are loaded with part-of-speech misleads.
Patrick Berry’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “Gift Boxes”
Once again, a brilliant conceit from Patrick Berry. A grid packed full of “gift boxes,” but there’s something missing. The letters that don’t fit into the boxes spell out BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED. Perfect! (If you’re still wrapping Xmas presents and you’re giving toys and gadgets that need batteries, remember that it’s hugely thoughtful to tape the appropriate batteries to the package. Makes it so much easier for the recipients or their parents.)
Favorite clue: [Group with only four members since 2006 (5,7)]. I was thinking geopolitically and musically and that got me nowhere. Eventually I had a patch in the grid that was nudging me towards this answer: the OUTER PLANETS, of which Pluto is no longer a member.
4.25 stars. A delightful endgame message, but the rest of the puzzle felt smoothly ordinary (in the Berry way).