Ian Livengood’s New York Times crossword
I’m partial to this sort of themeless puzzle—the kind with stacks of cool, longish answers in four corners and a word count of 68 to 72 (this one’s got 70). The 1-Across corner shines, with its BABE MAGNET sitting on ELI WALLACH‘s lap with an AFTERTASTE (great clue: [Side effect?]). And so does the northeast quadrant, with a happy EXHILARATE, SPACE CADET, and handy POWER TOOLS. We get literary and conversational in the southeast, with Mister OWEN WISTER partying with “THERE, THERE” and “EASY DOES IT.” A little more conversation in the last corner, with “I HAD NO IDEA” sandwiched between a SCHOOLMATE and FALSE START. When a writer’s full name is the most boring thing you’ve got in your 12 marquee spots, it’s a mighty fine puzzle.
Also nice: the CLASS ACT (that’s Howard Barkin, of course), metaphorical MARBLES, Stephen King’s THE STAND, and FOOTNOTE clued as [Where following a star might lead you]. I liked the SPF/FRIED combo—been there!
With such solidly interesting 10s anchoring each quadrant, I can forgive the modestly unattractive bits like RAO/DADO/BETEL, ECT, RESP, ADAR (Hebrew month when you least expect it! This [Month whose zodiac sign is a fish] clue made me want Pisces’ March), TERA, PERI, and SHE with a frightfully tough clue, ["__ being Brand" (Cummings poem)]. Capital-C Cummings? Is this e.e.? Yes, it is, and now I’m glad the clue sent me to investigate because that poem is a hoot. It’s all about sex but pretends to be about driving a new car.
Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Gaining Weight” – Sam Donaldson’s review
First thing’s first: the final solving time posted above is correct, but it would be more accurate to split it like so: 9:00 on all but the southwest corner, and 6:49 on that ^&*% southwest corner. And yet, as usual, once I FINALLY figured it out, it all looked so easy.
It started with 44-Across: [Hustler's hangout?]. The question mark told me it wasn’t something obvious like POOL HALL. (Well, that and the five squares told me POOL HALL was a no-go.) I figured it had to be a play on the “hustler” part, and good ol’ Inner Beavis made it so the only “hustler” I could think of was Hustler magazine. You have to admit, [Hustler's hangout] conjures up a variety of, um, interesting images when you read it that way. I had the O in place thanks to the crossing TELLS ON ([Rats out]), leaving PORNO as my only guess. I reasoned that a magazine with nekkid people would “hang out” in the “porno” section of a newsstand. Yeesh. (In case you can’t read the completed grid to the right, the answer was DISCO, because that is where one would Do the Hustle. Great clue, bad solver.)
It didn’t help that underneath sat 50-Across: ["South Street" singers, with "The"]. A complete and total unknown for me. I figured it had to end in S, so that helped me crack the crossing SIEVE and, eventually, the whole right-hand section of the puzzle. So it was some artist or group ending with -NS. Chiffons? Demons? Olson Twins? Nope, the ORLONS. Are they named after something made by Dow Chemical?
Beneath that was 53-Across: [White-sauce thickener]. CORN STARCH and FLOUR wouldn’t fit, so I tried TARO. Looking back, I suppose TARO was about as good a guess as OREO, but for some reason I felt vaguely confident about it. It was only after ROUX popped into my pea-sized brain that I started to make some headway. But, as explained above, that took a while.
One would think the little three-letter entries beneath these rough spots would offer me a gateway. But one would be oh so wrong. [His job is on the line] is a great clue for a football END who plays on the line of scrimmage. Yet without any crossings, all I could muster was the weak CPA, someone who would be concerned with the “bottom line.” Then there was the [Jetski?] beneath it. What kind of wordplay can be had with a jet ski, I wondered. Had I spent more time thinking about why it was one word and not two, maybe I would have tumbled to “Russian jet” (a “jetski,” nyet?) or MIG earlier. Okay, probably not. Finally there was [Clinch or cinch], and all I could muster for a while was WIN. Then I saw the crossing clue [Sounds of music], so I figured it had to start with S since the crossing answer was the end of a plural. Turns out it was ICE, as in “to ice the win.” Sigh. That made the crossing musical sounds DO RE MI. Double sigh.
Enough with that time-sucking corner. Let’s end with a brief recap of the theme and the other stuff of note. The three theme entries have “gained weight” in the sense that WT has been inserted into common terms:
- 17-Across: The “neon light” becomes a NEWTON LIGHT, or a [Fig cookie for dieters?]. My favorite of the theme entries.
- 36-Across: A “triple toe loop” jump from figure skating turns into a TRIPLE TOE LOW TOP, or a [Sneaker for sloths that has no ankle support?].
- 62-Across: An ordinary “peer group” becomes a PEWTER GROUP, or a [Colonial cabinet display?].
My only gripe with the theme is the inclusion of AT WT (short for “atomic weight”) in the fill. That kind of duplication detracts from the elegance of the puzzle, and it’s made worse by the fact that it intersects one of the theme entries right at the W. If it had to be that way to make the grid work, the clue should have at least found some way to tie it into the theme. Instead, the clue is [Na, Ne, or Ni no.], a superb clue on its own but not enough in this particular case.
As usual, I loved the strategic use of echoing clues–[Learned hands] (SAGES) immediately precedes [Learned Hand's field] (LAW), [Stern] (GRIM) right before [Stern's counterpart] (STEM). Klahn makes it look so effortless, and that’s his gift.
I wanted ["Mr. Magoo" star] to be BACKUS or JIM BACKUS, the voice of Mr. Magoo (and portrayer of TV’s Thurston Howell III), but instead it was Leslie NIELSEN. That’s okay, though. My favorite clue in the puzzle was [Where you can hear pins drop] for a bowling ALLEY.
Annemarie Brethauer’s Los Angeles Times crossword
The RAYS (64a. [Tampa Bay team playing in this puzzle's longest answers?]) are busting out all over this puzzle:
- 20a. A [Picasso in preschool?] may be a CRAYON ARTIST.
- 31a. [When only a synthetic will do?] is a RAYON OCCASION.
- 39a. [Double-cross Old MacDonald?] clues BETRAY THE FARM. This one’s my favorite. Fredo Corleone meets E-I-E-I-O and gets buried out in the back forty.
- 54a. [What Eddie did to warm up for his "Shrek" role?] clues MURPHY BRAYED.
Solid theme. Three of the four base phrases (con artist, bet the farm, and Murphy bed) are pretty lively (“on occasion” is more dry).
Five more clues:
- 18a. [Riffraff's opposite] is GENTILITY. Does the U.S. have gentility?
- 24a. [Critic who's a Chicago talk radio co-host] is Richard ROEPER. Back in the mid-’90s, a coworker of mine had a crush on him because of his newspaper columns, perfectly attuned to her sensibilities and humor. He went on to do TV with Roger Ebert, but I couldn’t tell you what radio station he’s on now. I listen to Chicago Public Radio and turn to the AM talk stations only when I need the traffic info.
- 37a. [Television network with a plus sign in its logo] is ION. Terrific clue—it doesn’t require you to know what shows are on this channel, just to make an educated guess about a 3-letter word that a plus sign might evoke.
- 63a. [Sale, in Calais] is VENTE, French for “sale.” Related to “vendor,” not Starbucks’ “venti.”
- 41d. YARROWS are [Plants with flat-topped flower clusters].
Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Support Groups”
Good puzzle. I think of these “word hidden inside one answer, paired with another hidden word below it” themes as a Brendan Emmett Quigley specialty. I’m sure other people have made a number of these themes too, but there have been at least a handful of such BEQs. Brendan calls Mike Shenk (even under his Colin Gale pen name) one of the “Crossword Jesuses,” so I’m guessing that it really does require top-notch constructorial chops to pull off this stacked theme.
The song LEAN ON ME is clued at 104a as [1972 #1 hit, and what can be found nine times in this grid]. (Musical digression: Go enjoy the song, complete with Portuguese subtitles, but English singing.) I circled the LEAN and ME squares in my grid, and look at the lower right corner—Mike is showing off by including both parts of the revealer in the theme action, with TIROLEAN on the song’s ME and ESME below its LEAN.
At first I thought the theme was going to be “phrases connected by the word LEAN spanning two words,” thanks to LITTLE ANGELS and VARIABLE ANNUITY, but luckily there was more to the puzzle than that.
Highlights in the fill include CINEMAX with a little RED WINE, cheesy FROMAGE and PECORINO, the METALLIC EROTICA neighbors making me think of Metallica, and SCOTTIES. Back in the theme entries, I loved seeing HECKLE AND JECKLE and ELEANOR RIGBY—and NEW ORLEANS, since next Tuesday is Mardi Gras.
Toughest crossing for me: 83a meets 70d. I had no idea about 83a: [Cocteau film "The Blood of ___"] or 70d: [Blackford ___ of William F. Buckley Jr. spy novels]. A POET and OAKES? Alrighty then.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Back Two Back” — pannonica’s review
May as well just say it up front. I did not like this puzzle, for a number of reasons. The theme concept is fine: extend a familiar phrase by reversing a copy of the last two letters. Hence:
- 17a. [Pick 6 for witches?] SALEM’S LOTTO. Nice rhymes and near-rhymes in the clue.
- 60a. [Bolshevik at Radio City?] RED ROCKETTE. I didn’t know what a “red rocket” was, but was later tipped off that it’s slang for penis. This is all right in the context of independent weeklies, but I wonder if it has the same level of general recognition as the other three base phrases, even…
- 11d. [Food that "did fall on the Israelites most gently vexing those burdened with meathead pride (Exodus 17:17)?] GIRLY MANNA. I mean, even the Governator poked fun at himself on the national stage by adopting “girly man” from the ’80s Saturday Night Live, so I think it’s well enough known. However, the clue is rather tortured, and (yes, I consulted the Bibble) it appears that the edible precip occurred somewhere in Chapter 16 of Exodus.
- 27d. [Acting in adult films?] SKIN CAREER. Nice, clever clue, and the most interesting transformation. Too bad the original phrase is so nothing.
So. A motley collection of theme answers for an intriguing mechanism. To further muddle the issue, 40a -ENNE is clued as [Palindromic diminutive ending]. This practically screams for comparison with the themers, but no such connection is explicitly made. I can’t tell if it’s sloppiness or a “subtle” nudge to the solver. The symmetric partner—ODIN—is completely unrelated to the theme.
- I found 43d to be thoroughly offensive, even keeping in mind the place of publication. [Add a little life to?] KNOCK UP.
- Another one I can’t make head nor tail of: 61d [Former Vice President Quayl] DAN. Is it poor editing, or is this intended to poke fun at his “potatoe” incident? If it’s the latter, I don’t feel it succeeds.
- Some clues feel as if they’re trying too hard to be clever, risqué, or both. 59a [It may be pale and drunk in dark rooms] ALE. 20a [When a player doesn't score for a while, or when a player doesn't score for a while] DRY SPELL. 10d [Piece of shit?] STOOL; not certain how “piece” and “sample” work out there.
- Another overachiever is 58d, but I’m listing it separately. [Shockers in the "Journal of Biological Oceanography"?] EELS. First, let’s discount the fact that electric eels are knifefish and not eels at all; that’s uncommon knowledge and we make concessions to the colloquial. I don’t know if the intent for “shockers” in the clue to evoke underwater seismic activity or ichthyological exposé, but it’s beside the point. So-called electric eels (Electrophorus electricus) are exclusively freshwater denizens. The Journal of Biological Oceanography is “is devoted to the rapid publication of original and significant research in all phases of biological oceanography.” Biological oceanography “seeks to understand the life histories and population dynamics of marine organisms and how they interact with their environment.” That particular definition is from the College of Marine Science, St. Petersburg , Florida, but it’s standard. And last, to tittle ayes and cross tees, marine refers exclusively to the sea and seashore (m-w.com). I realize this critique is itself a bit of an overachiever, but the gist is simple and significant.
- Abbrevs. GCB and NLCS? Ugly. The former is an ABC sitcom that has yet to air, stands for “Good Christian Belles” but was originally “Good Christian Bitches.” Is it generating hype? Is it on people’s radar? I’m not in a position to know. NLCS is National League Conference Series and is an ugly—if perhaps useful—intialism.
Things I did like:
- 15a [Tool] IDIOT. Nice to have a different and vaguely hip clue for something so mundane (see 64a).
- 54a [Treat similar to a Wagon Wheel] CHOCO-PIE. Looks nice in the grid.
- Also cute were the simpaticoand clever clues down the right side of the grid. 13d [Garbage or Poison] BAND, and 33d [Adjective for some bloated rock] ARENA.
- 9d [Cause of some burned roofs?] HOT PIZZA. Roofs of mouths, and a dreadfully evocative clue.
Caleb Emmons’ Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Living Legends” — pannonica’s review
Here’s an interesting way to get a list of celebrity names into the CHE puzzle: make reference to the organisms that have been named in honor of said celebrities. It’s a venerable tradition, employing scientific names in such service. At first it was other researchers, preferably relevant to the field or discovery, but it’s expanded over the years. It’s bad form to name an organism after oneself, but family members, firends, benefactors, and, yes, celebrities are fair game. I prefer names that are descriptive—of appearance, habitat, or behavior—to ones that are simply …erm… celebratory. Sometimes they are both.
- 17a. [An orb-weaving spider with black markings resembling a mustache was named after this musician] FRANK ZAPPA.
- 25a. [A solitary wasp was named after this actress] GRETA GARBO. “I want to be alone. I just want to be alone.” (Grand Hotel, 1932). “Solitary” is kinda ambiguous in the clue: just one individual, or does it describe the species’ habits? (I don’t have access to the full-text original description in Invertebrate Systematics.)
- 37a. [A scarab beetle with a heart-shaped mark on its wing covers was named after this adventurer] GIACOMO CASANOVA.
- 45a. [An arachnid that sucks the juices of its prey was named after this author] BRAM STOKER, author of Dracula. In truth, that feeding method is very common among spiders, arachnids, and in fact many arthropods.
- 55a. [A genus of shell-less snails was named after this noblewoman] LADY GODIVA. I thought that snails without shells were slugs, but it’s entirely plausible that some snails evolved shells, then eventually evolved to a shell-less state. After all, legless lizards aren’t snakes, even though they at first may appear to be.
As you can see, each of the five themers falls into the “both” category I mentioned, but I assume the prime reason for their selection was for the facility of incorporating extra hints into the clues, and not my aesthetic preference. Oh? What are those scientific names? Pachygnatha zappa Bosmans & Bosselaers, 1994; Rostropria garbo Early & Naumann, 1990; Cyclocepahala casanova Ratcliffe and Cave, 2009; Draculoides bramstokeri Harvey & Humphreys, 1995; Godiva MacNae 1954. Mostly recent.
Not exactly part of the theme, but gently complementing it, is 49d [Earlier forms of words] ETYMA. Compare this entry’s function to interfering nature of -ENNE, which I derided in the Ink Well puzzle, above.
Speaking of ETYMA, I orignally filled in ETYMS, which created a bit of a MESS, instead of MESA, for the crossing fill [California's Costa __ ]. Added significantly to my solving time, ferreting that out. I also had for a while MENU, not MINT, as [Hotel-room item] (38d).
In the ballast fill, we have the longish PANDEMIC and NOT TODAY, both solid answers. The former looks good in the grid, the latter is elevated by a lively clue, ["Maybe some other time"]. AGONIST and AGITATE are all right, too; glad to see they don’t share ETYMA. EXURB is a Scrabbly nugget.
- UNRIG and RELIT in the same puzzle aren’t so appealing, but the clues—[Strip, as a ship] and [Undid a snuffing]—somehow seem to normalize them from their inherent awkwardness.
- For the Higher Education™ vibe, we have references to Hamlet (DANES),ROMEO and Juliet, Niels Bohr (ATOM), Moby-Dick (STAB AT), Evelyn WAUGH, and Gray’s INN [British legal society], which seems needlessly esoteric but was easily gettable.
Good puzzle, but probably not to everyone’s taste. I wonder if constructor Caleb Emmons—who is new to Fiend records—is related to mammalian systematist, Louise H. Emmons.
Randall Hartman’s Celebrity crossword, “Sports Fan Friday”
Eh, I’ve moved on from thinking about Tebowing to yielding to Linsanity. (Especially since the football season is over now.) This week’s sports theme is about Tim Tebow:
- 15a. [NFL team Tim Tebow took to the playoffs despite an 8-8 record] is the DENVER BRONCOS.
- 26a. FIFTEEN is [Tim Tebow's jersey number].
- 37a. WILDCAT is clued as a [Northwestern or Arizona athlete], but it’s also some sort of footballish term that has been linked to Tebow and I don’t understand it at all. This article did nothing to enlighten me.
- 48a. [Tim Tebow's college team] was the FLORIDA GATORS.
I gave myself hip points for getting IVER at 1-Across: [Bon ___ ("Lost Highway" group)], but it turned out to be JOVI. I really don’t know the oeuvre of either. D’oh!