You see that “Best Puzzles of 2011″ tab up there? It takes you to a page Evad made for us today, with a list of the 25 top-rated crosswords from last year. If you missed some of them or you just want to reexperience the delight of solving these puzzles, you can click the links and work those crosswords. Special thanks to Merl Reagle and Rich Norris for providing #20 and #22, which were no longer accessible via their usual archives or Puzzle Pointers. The NYT puzzles, of course, are subscription-only as usual (but I think many of you will have seen those puzzles when they originally ran). The Fireball link for one of the #1 puzzles just takes you to my review of the puzzle; Fireball crosswords are subscription-only. Thanks, Evad, for adding this handy complement to Sam’s Orcas award write-up.
Kevan Choset’s New York Times crossword
The theme hinges on Broadway musicals–danger, Will Robinson!–but it uses show titles that are common words and places them at the beginning of familiar phrases so it feels markedly less like a “you’d better know your musicals” theme. Whew! My favorite theme answers are CHICAGO BEARS, clued as [Pessimistic Broadway investors?], and those CATS PAJAMAS. Also like the HAIR REPLACEMENT clue, [Understudy in a Broadway show?]. GREASE MONKEY is lively, and RENT CONTROL is super New Yorky.
Outside of the confines of the theme, the TWIN CITIES and TRICK KNEES sparkle (and bracket together pairs of theme entries). PAVLOV atop AGASSI makes for a cool 1-Across opening. And I like DA BOMB, though I wish the clue were [Awesome] rather than [It's awesome]. I feel “da bomb” means “awesome” more than it means “thing that is awesome.” You can say “she’s da bomb,” right? And “she” isn’t an “it.”
The five theme entries and spangly Down 10s may have locked the grid down a bit. There’s a bit more in the vein of THEA RAE ILE ESS ALEUT MT. OSSA STN OVI LST etc. than I like to see in one puzzle.
Also? I must deplore 63a. [Giggle] clues HEHE, and I know people type that all the damn time. “Hehehe.” “Hehe.” That is not a laugh. “Hee hee” is a laugh, as is “ha ha” or “heh heh.” But “he he” is just horrible. I loathe it. If you’ve been typing that to represent laughter, I beseech you to stop and thank you for your support.
Donna S. Levin’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Jeffrey’s review
Welcome to February 29, a day that only comes once every 4 years. I have a former colleague who is turning “12″ today. The LA Times crossword celebrates the event with a puzzle about a SWAMP. Clearly this is a tie-in to the fact that the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World (which is built on a SWAMP) will be open 24 consecutive hours today.
- 20A. [Shooter of soft confections] – MARSHMALLOW GUN
- 36A. [Minor motoring mishaps] – FENDER BENDERS
- 53A. [Strains credulity] – BOGGLES THE MIND
- 66A. [Overwhelm, or a relative of the first syllable of 20-, 36-, or 53-Across] – SWAMP
- 40A. [Exercise popularized by Jim Fixx] – JOGGING. Jim Fixx died at the age of 52 after his daily run. Go figure.
- 43A. [JFK alternative in NYC] – LGA. I am flying into EWR this year for the ACPT. Not the best choice, but I am using air miles. How do you get to Brooklyn from Newark? Practice?
- 58A. [Rock's partner] – ROLL.“ And I wrote some rock ‘n’ roll so you can move”
- 64A. [Mötley __] – CRUE
- 2D. [Dolt] – DUMMKOPF. I learned that word from “Hogan’s Heroes”.
- 44D. [Old-style "Cool!"] – GROOVY. Why did “cool” remain cool, but GROOVY is no longer GROOVY?
- 49D. [Domed home] – IGLOO. Like all Canadians, I live in an IGLOO.
Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Go to Joe” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Doug takes common expressions containing a word starting with a hard-G sound, morphs the hard G into a soft G sound, and clues the resulting shenanigans. Merriment ensues:
- 17-Across: “Played hard to get” becomes PLAYED HARD TO JET, clued here as [Disobeyed the flight attendant, say?]. Did others also have images of Alec Baldwin and Words With Friends dancing in their heads? In any case, that’s an awesome answer, though my money says it wasn’t the seed entry that inspired Doug.
- 26-Across: A “guest appearance” becomes a JEST APPEARANCE, or a [Stand-up comic's gig?].
- 46-Across: A “wild goose chase” becomes a WILD JUICE CHASE, clued here as a [Frantic search for a fruity beverage?], though I can’t help but imagine there’s a white Bronco involved. Okay, my money’s on this one as the inspiration for the puzzle.
- 61-Across: Ordinary “basketball games” becomes BASKETBALL JAMES, clued as [LeBron, e.g.?]. I suppose a reference to James Worthy would have been a little dated, huh? This was my least favorite theme entry, probably because the base phrase “basketball games” isn’t nearly as interesting as the other base phrases used in this puzzle; accordingly, the post-modification theme entry lacks the same sizzle.
There’s an interesting travel vibe to the puzzle. There’s some Spanish with ESTA and the clue for U.S. OF A., [Mexico, neighbor, informally]. Head over to Europe for some STOLI vodka and ASTI sparkling wine, only to find yourself experiencing ENNUI over being stuck in the BAYOU. Highlights in the grid were ESPNEWS, the [Cable channel with lots of highlights] that don’t include the correct number of N’s, CON JOB, GOOD ONE, and the boll WEEVIL.
I would have bet the farm that NOLAN would have been clued along the lines of [Pitcher Ryan] instead of ["The Dark Knight Rises" director Christopher] (bonus points for name-checking a movie that hasn’t been released yet!–tres au courant!). But don’t worry–there’s a baseball tidbit here in [2012 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Barry] LARKIN. Again, a very current clue!
I struggled with TRANCE as the [Electronic music genre], as the term was completely unfamiliar to me. I would have called it ELEVATOR MUSIC ON COCAINE, but that’s a bit more than 15 letters. Here’s a trance sampler for those seeking that let’s-have-a-rave-at-home feeling. Pass the X!
Byron Walden’s Onion A.V. Club crossword
It takes a little brain work to figure out what this theme is doing. The middle answer, GEAR SHIFT, is an [Automotive part ... and a hint to this puzzle's theme]. The other four theme entries begin as phrases that start with a gear, but the gear name is anagrammed and the morphed phrase is clued accordingly:
- 14a. Reverse mortgage becomes SEVERER MORTGAGE, [Effect of downgraded credit on a potential home buyer?].
- 17a. A neutral observer shifts gears to become an UNALERT OBSERVER, or [Watchman asleep on the job?].
- 49a. Remember drive-in movie theaters? I wonder how many people had trouble seeing the movie because their windshield was dirty. My windshield is never clean enough. VERDI IN THEATERS is clued as [Broadway productions of Rigoletto and La Traviata?]
- 53a. “Low” goes avian with OWL EXPECTATIONS, which might include [Comfortable perches and plenty of nocturnal prey?].
The fill includes a baker’s dozen of 7-letter answers. Fresh/unusual answers take the lead. MEN ONLY is a [Sign on some gay clubs]. OVARIES don’t show up in many crosswords; I like the clue, [Organs studied by Gabriele Falloppio] of tube fame. [When Mozart began composing] was at AGE FIVE; not a huge fan of the “insert any number here” sort of answers. Not only is 34d: NEW NEWT a [Rebooted political persona identified on the 2012 campaign trail], it’s also tied in with the EFT, a [Creature often clued in crosswords as a 34-Down]. EFT is crosswordese, yes, but it is wielded to excellent effect here.
Ray Hamel’s Celebrity crossword, “Wayback Wednesday”
- 15a. MACGRUBER, [2010 film with 49-Across as the bad guy]
- 26a. WONDERLAND, [2003 film starring 49-Across]
- 35a. REAL GENIUS, [1985 film starring 49-Across: 2 wds.]
- 49a. VAL KILMER, [Batman in "Batman Forever": 2 wds.]
- 10d. MISSING, [2003 film for 49-Across, with "The"]
- 31d. TEMPLAR, [Simon ___ (role for 49-Across in "The Saint"]
Not many of us saw Wonderland; it grossed less than $3 million.
Lots of pop-culture names in this puzzle. George WENDT, SIMBA’S, ENDORA, Liam NEESON, High PLAINS Drifter, FLO the [Woman in Progressive Insurance commercials], cousin IRA on Mad About You, LEA Thompson (I swear I just saw her on TV at the Oscars), Nicolas ROEG, ANNE Hathaway, ERIN Brockovich, SEAL, Cheri OTERI, and NORMA Rae.
Crosswordy words to remember if you’re a new puzzler: The NAVE is a [Main church section], a ROUE is a [Playboy] or lothario (though sometimes the answer is RAKE, which has the same first and last letters as ROUE), and AMIE is a [French girlfriend] as in female form of the word for “friend,” AMI. All three of these words are regularly found in mainstream crosswords, but seldom used in conversation.