Martin Ashwood-Smith’s New York Times crossword
All right. I’ll be honest. I didn’t much care for this puzzle. The SACAGAWEA DOLLAR is cool, but when it comes to money in the puzzle, I could do without ever seeing ECU again. I liked REAL ESTATE AGENT last weekend (in the Saturday LAT), but now we have PRIME REAL ESTATE and those common letters of REAL ESTATE are boring me, so I want them to take a break from themeless 15s for at least six months; that’s reasonable, no?
SEEDLESS RAISINS? Wait, you can buy horrible raisins with seeds still in them, and SEEDLESS RAISINS are something special? News to me. Also on the supermarket-news front, we have TENDERLOIN STEAK. Don’t people just call it tenderloin or maybe beef tenderloin?
And these fabric LENOS, [Soft, meshed fabrics]? Bleah. Lots of names (OLAV, TAKEI, TONI, REX, PATON, an ELENA I’ve never heard of, LANI, and LOEWE, plus NEPAL, KYOTO, and ERIES). Not to mention foreign vocab—Russian NYET, French SOIE and NEZ, German ARIE, and crosswordese ALER. And this PAL UP seems casual but also like a mishmash of two separate phrases, “buddy up” and “pal around.” I’ve never palled up.
A RIATA is a lasso, right? Not sure why the clue is [Neck tie?]. Because the neck of an animal is being cinched by the riata?
Now, on the plus side, I did like the hey-that’s-my-job EDITED OUT, Def Leppard’s PYROMANIA, the DJ’s REMIX, CAMP DAVID, and the clue for the abbreviation AT. NO., [He's 2, say] (meaning helium’s atomic number is 2).
The puzzle’s a row too tall, to accommodate the fourth 15 in the central stack. Word count is 71, which means it would’ve been a 70-worder without that extra 15. I don’t know that crossings like ARIE, CIRE, ALER, LANI, A TAN, and RELS make the fuller stack worthwhile. You know what? I usually order the short stack of three pancakes at IHOP. Four is too much.
2.5 stars because of the off-puttingness of the food answers, the clunky little stuff, and the short supply of really juicy answers.
Updated Saturday morning:
Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Block Busters” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Ever experience The Tale of Two Puzzles? It’s when the lion’s share of the grid falls fairly easily, and then you hit that one impenetrable patch that just won’t yield. It sits there, blank–mocking you and your feebleness. It tempts you to waive the white flag (or hit that solution button, if you’re solving on a computer). Even worse, when you finally work up the courage to try an answer it pretends to play along while silently cackling and thinking to itself, “Well that little guess is going to suck up a lot of time. Bwah hah hah hah hah.”
Sure enough, today’s puzzle was, for me, the best of solves and the worst of solves. I saw the byline and immediately sat up straight–this one would require focus. I tried CPU as the answer to 1-Across, [Base of computer operations], but that didn’t get me any traction. None of the crossing Downs were gimmes (surprise, surprise), so I turned to the Across entries underneath. The three-letter [Attractive little thing] could be anything, and I didn’t even try the one under that because when I saw the clue, [Like, like], I thought it would be too cute for me to get right away. The one under that was a theme entry, I figured, so no need to even read the clue until I had some crossings in place to help. Next came [Moscow's milieu], and sure enough my first thoughts were along the lines of ASIA and RUSSIA, neither of which fit. Fortunately, I got help with the last one in the group: TALE was the [Spinner's yarn]. But that only gave me the last letters of the first three Downs, and that’s a tough position from which to solve.
So I ditched the northwest in favor of the big block in the top center. Got SHMOO right away, and that ending O gave me all I needed to come back to Moscow for IDAHO. Somehow that gave me TIDBIT as the [Yummy nugget], which then yielded ION as the attractive little thing, then WOULDA as [Intended to, informally]. From there I was able to plunk down the first theme entry. Oh, yeah–the theme! This puzzle busts the word BLOCK three times over, with terms that begin with the first letter(s) (and end with the last letters) of BLOCK:
- 20-Across: To [Go through the roof[ is to BLOW ONE'S STACK.
- 37-Across: One's BIOLOGICAL CLOCK is a [Jet lag monitor, in a way]. So when it’s ticking, you don’t want kids. You just want a nap.
- 54-Across: A [Bellwether buy] is a BLUE-CHIP STOCK. Alas, my portfolio has more cow chips than blue chips.
I like how the BLOCK is broken in three different places. I’m not sure how you get a fourth theme entry in there, so the theme feels complete to me even with only three answers.
The upper swath fell into place in fairly short order, though I needed all of the crossings for HEGIRA, the [Flight from Israel]. My dictionary says the term stems from the “flight of Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in 622 A.D., marking the beginning of the Muslim era.” I decided to tackle the northeast section next, but all I could get there was the PASTIES, the [Semicircular British pies] and POPPA, the [Father, familiarly]. So it was off to the other sections.
RAVIGOTE sauce is new to me, but in my culinary world there are only four sauces anyway: red, white, Bearnaise, and chocolate. I also struggled with THYMUS, the [Gland at the base of the neck that produces and "educates" T cells]. But the crossings were gettable, especially SCHMO, a fun complement to the aforementioned SCHMOO. I found [Bastion with billions in bullion, briefly] a, hmm, let’s go with cleverly cute clue for FT. KNOX. So the whole southern hemisphere fell in short order.
But then there was my return to the northeast, and that’s where the second puzzle began. The timer said I had only used just over 8 minutes to get to this point, so I was feeling hopeful (but hardly sure–I’ve been defeated way too many times to have any confidence) I could crack the puzzle within my self-imposed ten-minute time goal for Klahn puzzles. But standing between victory and me was ALECTO, the [Alphabetically first of the Furies], and NANKIPOO, [Yum-Yum's love in "The Mikado"]. All I could get at first was the A to start ALECTO (though I thought any letter from A through E had a decent chance). I had DIMS as the answer to [Fades to black] so the answer to [Razz], I thought, had to end in M. Go ahead, try to think of an answer that makes that work.
By this point I was already closing in on the 11-minute mark. Sigh. So much for the 10-minute par. In a desperate attempt, I erased DIMS and tried KID as the “razzie.” That had me thinking that Paul ANKA could be the ["Fargo" score composer], but that couldn’t be right, could it? Yup, it was. My final entry was LAID, [Like eggs and cornerstones]. As always, it seems, I’m the last to get LAID.
Brad Wilber and Doug Peterson’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Fun puzzle! A loose 72-word grid is packed with pop culture and literary treats, so it’s right up my alley. (My alley is where I park my wheelhouse, by the way.) Just in those categories, we have all this:
- 1a. JEAN VALJEAN of Les Miz is our [Fictional Bagne of Toulon prisoner]. The clue didn’t help me until I had enough crossings to see the JEAN ending.
- 16a. ROO is a [Friend of Piglet]. Yesterday, pannonica and I were hashing out who on the Crossword Fiend team is which of Winnie the Pooh’s friends. Sam (see above) is Tigger, and young Neville is our Roo. We determined that the role of Rabbit is taken by some commenters, like the anonymous anti-Reagler who drops nonspecific venom days late.
- 17a. BRUCE BANNER is [The Hulk, untransformed].
- 20a. Midge URE, [Ultravox frontman Midge __]. Wait, man? I always assumed he was a she.
- 30a. Phil OCHS is a Bob [Dylan contemporary].
- 38a. IAN Fleming.
- 39a. Mario Vargas LLOSA.
- 65a. EMERALD CITY, Frank Baum’s [Yellow Brick Road terminus].
- 67a. Classic ’70s pop culture: KATE JACKSON was an original ["Charlie's Angels" actress] from TV. The movie Angels and the 2011 failed-TV-series Angels? Illegitimate!
- 8d. JANE Krakowski.
- 11d. NORAS [Dunn and Ephron of Hollywood].
- 26d. MARNIE, [Hitchcock's title kleptomaniac].
- 28d. Greg EVIGAN! From the same era as KATE JACKSON.
- 35d. Jimmy OLSEN? [His watch signals Superman]. I had no idea about the watch. Also? I can never remember if he’s Olson or Olsen. Same with the Olsen twins. Hey! They’re all Olsen with an E.(The Price Is Right‘s Johnny Olson has all the O’s.)
- 50d. R.U.R. author Karel CAPEK is clued as ["War with the Newts" sci-fi novelist, 1936]. Salamander battle! Sounds awesome.
- 58d. [Romance novelist Elinor] GLYN, I know only from crosswords.
I had a brain malfunction and read 12d’s clue incorrectly. [Lemming predator] is an ARCTIC FOX, and I was trying to figure out how a fox pre-dates a lemming on the evolutionary tree. Predator! One who preys on another. Gotcha.
Also liked SAVILE ROW, the [London street known for high-end haberdasheries], and HOPE CHEST.
Brad Wilber’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
Oof! Tough puzzle. It took a leap of faith to get started in each quadrant of this 68-worder, as the clues weren’t giving much away.
In the northwest corner, I gambled that 3d: ERATO, crosswording’s favorite muse, was the [New Orleans street between Clio and Thalia], since those are also muse names. In the middle, I correctly surmised that 31a: [Rounds often for good] meant a PRO-AM charity golf tournament. The southwest needed our stalwart 33a: OMOO, [South Seas romance]—a crosswordese gimme clue. The lower right, only 41d: DATA SET ([Tabular file]) broke ground. And the upper right was the last to fall, with a what-the-hell-I’ll-try HATHA (32a: [Yoga branch]) leading me to 26d: CHAI. Most of the other clues? I drew a complete blank on at first glance.
- 1a. [Sea of Tranquility toucher] is the moon lander THE EAGLE. I wanted some moon geography.
- 20a. [Bernstein operetta], CANDIDE. I don’t know my operettas. I’m no Brad Wilber.
- 22a. Rarely see the word SHIISM. [It's prevalent in Azerbaijan].
- 23a. Delightful! [Island buyer's acquisition] is more COUNTER SPACE. This is a kitchen island, not an island in the sea.
- 5d. [Mbube, Cape Jazz, etc.] clues AFROPOP.
- 10d. [Plodding] clues DRONISH, which I didn’t realize was a word form.
- 22d. STATOHM, [Resistance unit].
- 24d. Cute! [What has a neck and a foot, but no hands?] is an URN. Ears are optional, no?
- 27d. [Film role for Fonda, Garner and Costner] is EARP. Tried NESS at first.
- 28d. BOSC pears are named after the [Eponymous French botanist]. I was thinking of flowers.
- 34d. [Anagram of "palimony"] stumped me until I had several letters in place in OLYMPIAN.
- 48d. Crosswordese weasel the STOAT is a [Predator of the kiwi]. At least in this puzzle, I read the word “predator” correctly.
Patrick Berry’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “Rows Garden”
Bravo! A perfect Rows Garden puzzle. Lots of full names (SANDY DUNCAN, ROBERT FULTON, PETER LORRE), plus colorful and sometimes Scrabbly phrases (POP QUIZZES, GOLDEN OLDIE, GRUDGE MATCH, UP TO SCRATCH, ROMAN A CLEF, AUNTIE MAME, RIBBON CANDY). And no weird or variant spellings or unfamiliar proper nouns lurking in the Blooms.
There was one unfamiliar word in the Blooms—I’ve never seen ROZZER used as [Policeman, across the pond], but it’s documented British slang.
My favorite clue was row B’s [Snow removers of old?], the TV antennas called RABBIT EARS. Chicago got 7″ of snow yesterday, so I had a hard time reading the clue any way but literally.
The solving process proceeded exactly as I like it to. I was able to get a handful of Rows answers in right off the bat, but only a few. The Blooms clues were mostly gettable, giving me enough jigsaw puzzle pieces to start working with the Rows answers I had in the grid. When those colorful Rows answers began to emerge, it was fulfilling. Eventually everything fit together, and I learned that beetles pollinate MAGNOLIAS and that the RIO GRANDE covers 1,250 miles of U.S. border. My British vocabulary was expanded not only by ROZZER, but also by LOUNGE SUITS, [Men's business outfits, in Britain].
Five stars. Nary a false step for Patrick Berry in this puzzle.