Finn Vigeland’s New York Times crossword, “Weather Report”
Let us address the elephant in the room: Brendan Emmett Quigley’s inclusion of this sort of theme on his list of “Ten Bullsh*t Themes”: “Randomly circled letters that spell out some kind of word ostensibly making a non-theme a theme. I don’t think this would be a bad theme per se if the entries that are containing the circles had something connecting everything together. To me this theme just seems completely arbitrary and inelegant.” Yes, the theme answers that embody “IT’S RAINING CATS AND DOGS” are entirely unrelated except for those circled letters. Also in the debit column, only five of the six cats and dogs in the circled squares are breeds—CALICO is just a fur pattern, whereas PERSIAN and MANX are cat breeds and POODLE, BOXER, and BEAGLE are all dog breeds.
On the plus side, Finn has built a grid with lots of white space. Same word count as Merl’s puzzle (below), but with many fewer black squares allowing open zones around most of the outer edges. Among the excellent fill this facilitates, we have COLD CASE, PHALANX, EMOTICON, DEUS EX MACHINA, EARMARKS, DRY-ERASE, PREACHY, FINAGLE, LIMEADE, and GOOBER. Fill like this maintained my interest while solving what felt like a themeless puzzle—I didn’t really check to see what the circles spelled out before I’d filled in 66-Across and most of the puzzle. How about you—Did you piece together the cats and dogs, or just fill in the long Downs after reading their clues?
For the record, I have never dreamt of a CASTLE IN SPAIN, clued here as [Dream setting] though I think [Daydream setting] would be a better clue. Speaking of dreams, a friend of mine who’s been playing a lot of the MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic had a pop-culture mashup in his brain the other night—he dreamed that Mad Men‘s Don Draper was a spy for the giant evil bugs called Geonosians. Apparently the Geonosians weren’t smoking and drinking at an old ad agency, however.
10d: [Nudists] are rarely called ADAMITES these days. I believe the term relates to nudists being as naked as a Biblical character who’s wearing nothing, not even a fig leaf.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated crossword, “Just Sew”
Fourteen terms that have to do with sewing, fabric, and fashion are clued mostly as if they are entirely unrelated to sewing, but a few of the theme clues do references seamstresses or sewing. It feels uneven as a result.
- 19a. [Jogger's pain?] = RUNNING STITCH.
- 21a. [Seamstress's favorite Thanksgiving activity?] = BASTING.
- 29a. [No longer being tortured?] = OFF THE RACK. This phrase is more about fashion than sewing per se, no?
- 33a. [Cuttin' hair?] = BOBBIN’.
- 40a. [Zigzagging move before a lay-up?] = BASKET WEAVE. You can weave threads in a basket-weaving pattern.
- 54a. [Printer's purchase that never wears out?] = PERMANENT PRESS.
- 59a. [Thoughts about becoming a seamstress?] = NOTIONS.
- 64a. [Compete in a crayon contest?] = COLOR FAST.
- 73a. [Hesitating to sew, perhaps?] = HEMMING. Why “to sew, perhaps”?
- 77a. [Juvenile arrest, in police jargon?] = PETER PAN COLLAR.
- 88a. [Emphasizing?] = UNDERLINING. This is a sewing term too? I had no idea.
- 99a, 102a. [What a fan of Slinkies might have in his basement?] = SPRING / COLLECTION. Again, fashion rather than sewing.
- 111a. [Defeated, as a team of seamstresses?] = WORSTED. I like this word for its duality: the fabric called worsted and the past tense of the verb “to worst” (which, it bears noting, is a synonym of “to best”).
- 113a. [Early stage of crossword construction?] = PATTERN LAYOUT. I’ve never seen this term before (I don’t sew).
Weird grid, with all those chunks of black squares breaking things into smaller sections.
Ten more clues:
- 24a. [Opp. of rejected] clues ACC., short for “accepted,” I gather. Wouldn’t “Opposite of rejected: Abbr.” read a little better?
- 34a, 36a, Two word fragments in close proximity. [Prop addition] is -ANE, as in propane, and [Pomp addition] is -OUS, as in pompous. Meh. Two rows down is 47a: INS, [Word with sit or stand].
- 4d. [Snow melter] clues SUN. Yes, please! Bring me the sun and some temps above freezing.
- 6d. [Slider, e.g.] clues PITCH. I think this is about baseball, but “slider” mainly means “White Castle burger” to me.
- 13d. [Slow tune on "Meet the Beatles"] clues THIS BOY. Here’s a B/W video clip of the Beatles performing the song. Huh! I never knew that was a Beatles song. I knew it from the a cappella group The Nylons.
- 38d. [Transgresses, Bible-style] clues SINNETH. I wanted something like COVETS.
- 49d. [Joe's jolt, briefly] clues CAFF. I’ve never, ever seen this two-F spelling. “Half-caf,” “decaf,” yes.
- 70d. [House mbrs.] clues REPS. Again, wouldn’t [House members: Abbr.] be less distracting? That “mbrs.” bit is ugly.
Peter A. Collins’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Stout and Thin” – Doug’s review
Hey, crossword fans. I’m getting a late start on the blog today, so this might be a quickie. I blame it on the three-day MLK Day weekend.
I trust you were all able to parse the title after seeing a couple of theme entries: “ST” out and “TH” in. Clever. Say the theme entries aloud in a Daffy Duck voice for extra fun. And there were many good non-theme entries among the Downs. Nice puzzle.
- 23a. ["My priest has met Pulitzer-winning playwright Henley"?] - FATHER KNOWS BETH. Do you know much about Beth Henley? I sure don’t. I used BETHS in a grid once, and when it came time to clue it, I discovered that there aren’t many famous Beths out there. Playwright Henley, musician Orton, golfer Daniel. I think I ended up with a Hebrew alphabet clue.
- 39a. [Dinner served on a wooden strip] - THE LATH SUPPER.
- 41a. [Blast from Babe?] – RUTH BELT.
- 71a. [Compliment to a young genius?] – WHY YOU LITTLE THINKER. I can’t see “Why you little…” without thinking of Homer strangling Bart. Classic.
- 100a. [Small compartment for lifting self-esteem? ] – EGO BOOTH.
- 102a. [Nonsense talk from an inner city?] – GHETTO BLATHER. Is the base phrase, ghetto blaster, an acceptable crossword entry? I wouldn’t use it.
- 122a. [Reason for foggy coop windows?] – BREATH OF CHICKEN.
A few more entries that caught my eye.
- 1a. [See-through dessert] - JELL-O. Fun clue. Yep, you can see the corn, peas, and carrots in there. That’s my kind of salad. The picture is from James Lileks’s Gallery of Regrettable Food. Hilarious site.
- 52a. [Made a jumper, maybe] - SEWED. I love this clue. My mind immediately went to basketball.
- 24d. [Powdered rock used as an abrasive] – ROTTENSTONE. Never heard of this, but it makes sense. The constructor didn’t have a lot of options here because this entry crosses three theme entries. That’s a nice touch. I like the other triple-theme-crosser better: 60d. SAINT JOSEPH [Patron of workers].
Other cool entries include LOBLOLLY, SNEAK PEEK, WATERLOO, ADAM WEST, TRASH CAN. Sorry for cutting it short, but breakfast is beckoning. I’m having hard-boiled eggs and bacon in a nice lime Jell-O. Delicious!
Lynn Lempel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Sam Donaldson’s review
This week’s Sunday Challenge is a 72/27 (hey, a numeri-palindrome!) from the Queen of Smooth, Lynn Lempel. Although the grid was certainly smooth, my solving reflects the challenge I faced in navigating the grid.
Three things stand out to me about this puzzle:
- Milking the dairy motif repeated clues. There’s the [Dairy farm container], a PAIL, and the [Dairy farm output], CREAM. And [Plantation yield] works for both BANANAS and PINEAPPLE.
- The pale chain. Start at the midsection and go down to see PAIL, PALER, and PALIN in nearly consecutive order. That may not have been intended, but I liked it.
- Hard stuff (to me). I couldn’t remember PERNOD as the [Anise-flavored liqueur]. Not surprisingly, then, RETSINA, the [Greek wine], was, well, Greek to me. Because I insisted on SASSY as the answer to [Flippant], it took a while to find the MOHICAN as the [Hudson Valley native in Henry Hudson's time]. How fitting that the answer was SMART and that it eluded me so.
Since I had YDS as the (eminently logical) answer to [Giant achievements, briefly], I knew the answer to [Tailor's meas.] couldn’t be YDS. So I tried INS (looks like a reasonable abbreviation for “inseam”) and then BTS (as long as I was making up abbreviations, that looked as good as any for “bolts” of fabric). Of course, YDS was the answer for the tailor, leaving TDS for the NFL Giants. Until I unraveled that knot, the northeast was just impenetrable.
Despite my struggles, I have to give props to the smooth grid. When the most awkward entries are RETELLS, SRA and ALAR , you know you have a remarkably well-constructed puzzle. I really liked REM SLEEP, SIGN HERE, LAY IT ON, LINE JUDGE, GET AN A, LEADED GAS, IN A LATHER, MIND GAME and NO REGRETS–and that’s a lot to like in any freestyle puzzle. My favorite clue was [Where you might find running mates?] for horse TRACKS.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Sunday crossword, “Spelling B” — pannonica’s review
Yet another phonetic grapheme theme, of the sort that William Steig popularized in his book, C D B! One-across plays low-key revealer: [Sign that an answer is spelled trickily] STAR, or asterisk.
- 23a. [*Obviously jealous] GREEN WITH NV (envy).
- 27a. [*Life of Riley] EZ STREET (easy).
- 30a. [*What flossing fights] TOOTH DK (decay). Check out this gem.
- 50a. [*Down to the fumes] RUNNING ON MT (empty).
- 59a. [*Cause for an airline fee] XS BAGGAGE (excess).
- 63a. [*Etiquette maven] MLE POST (Emily). The sole three-letter combo among the themers. Looks a lot like mile post.
- 70a. [*The cardinal, in other words] HIS MNNC (Eminency). And the only four-letter combo, a nice one at that.
- 75a. [*Screen dinos, UFOs, etc.] SPECIAL FX (effects). This spelling has become so prevalent that I bet some youngsters don’t even realize FX is not a word unto itself. Similar to the way those whippersnappers say “vers(e)” instead of “versus” for vs. I blame Nintendo and Mario Bros. (pronounced, apparently, “bross” or “broze.” Get off my lawn!
- 87a. [*Written exams] SA QUESTIONS (essay).
- 104a. [*Fair prizes] QP DOLLS (Kewpie). I was going to cry foul on this one because I’d always believed Kewpie was a cute spelling of QP, standing for whichever company originally introduced them, something boring like “Quality Products.” It turns out the name is derived from a shortening of Cupid, aka EROS (109d). In any case, I find them creepy. Since I’m also acutely averse to mayonnaise, this is among my least favorite items on the planet.
- 109a. [*Boston College's motto] EVER TO XL (excel). The sizing complement to 59a. I doubt there will ever be an extra-medium designation. Boston College is local color for this puzzle, which originates in the Boston Globe.
- 114a. [*Comic with a talk show] LN DEGENERES (Ellen).
Well, I obviously can’t give the theme idea points for novelty, and some of the entries themselves are not exactly fresh or revelatory, so the puzzle is kind of meh as far as that goes. The ballast fill is and cluing is adequate, but there wasn’t much of a wow to the majority of them. Highlights include the longer entries THANATOS, NON-PROFIT, the full ETATS-UNIS.
- The syntax of two of the explicit clues for prefixes and suffixes was unfamiliar to me, using the preposition on. 34d [Prefix on botany] for ETHNO-, and 8d [Ending on ethyl] for -ENE. Did it strike anyone else as unusual?
- In the interim of the puzzle’s publication six weeks ago and its availability on-line, 70d [Czech poet/politician] Václav HAVEL died (18 Dec 2011). I like how he rests alongside with ITALO Calvino.
- 124a. [Malapert] for SASSY. Great word, malapert.
- Animals. You know I usually have something to say about animals in my write-ups, and more specifically, it’s usually mammals. Two items today. First: 19a [Heavweight grazer] RHINO. The clue is fine, but I’d like to mention that not all rhinoceroses are grazers. The black rhinoceros, with its prehensile upper lip, is a browsing specialist. So is the Javan species and the relatively small and furry Sumatran rhinoceros. Second: If you’ve been solving crosswords for a reasonable length of time, you might start to believe that the most common animals in the world are GNUS, ELANDS, and 56a [Yellowstone sight] ELK. Not so, and further, ELK are found in other places besides Yellowstone National Park. While the males will RUT in season, they unfortunately do not LEK. In crosswords, lek almost never appears in the biological sense, but rather as the Albanian currency unit, which is equal to 100 qindarka (yes, that’s Scrabble-legal). p.s. Hello, ONAGERS! (66a)
- 61d ENGLUT! Now that is a word that’s unappealing in both shape and sound.
- 22a [Knucklehead] DOLT and 32a [Numskull] LUNK.
- 48a [One of Frank's exes]. Often tricky in crosswords, because Sinatra was married to AVA Gardner and MIA Farrow, both three letters long.
- 46a. ["Be-Bop-A-__ ] LULA and 108a. [Humdinger] LULU.
- 2d TOOZ looks very strange once it’s in the grid. Return To Oz.
Patrick Berry’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 93″
I did this puzzle last night, so it’s not fresh in my head this afternoon. Short post!
- 19a. [Break cover] sounds like a spy verb phrase, but here it’s the PLASTER CAST that covers a broken bone. Do they still use plaster? I think orthopedic technology has changed more than Cynthia Plaster Caster‘s methods have.
- 30a. [Musical celebration of sorts] clues SUNG MASS. In the grid, that looks like one word, something Scandinavian with a soupçon of the Russian Tunguska blast. (It gets a little messy inside my head sometimes.)
- 47a. [Snuggie worn backward, essentially] gets you a ROBE. The Snuggie doesn’t get mentioned nearly often enough in crosswords. Have you seen its competitor, the Dutch Oven Blanket?
- 51a. BEATLEMANIA: a [Group hysteria?] in two ways, afflicting a large group and inspired by a rock group.
- 53a. POCKET PROTECTOR, mainly for engineering types.
- 26d. [Hideous humanoid] clues OGRE. Anyone else watching Grimm? My family and I watch it together each week. Friday night’s episode featured an ogre with dense bones and congenital analgesia (bullets didn’t bother him much).
- 42d. Who knew? The LEBARON was a [1930s Chrysler luxury model], not just a blah 1977-1995 car. Remember the Seinfeld episode in which George bought a used LeBaron because the salesman told him it used to belong to Jon Voight? Except it turned out to be a different John Voight, a dentist.
66 words, 25 blocks. Smooth but not particularly exciting or entertaining. Four stars.