Heads up! Today, Matt Gaffney’s blogging Patrick Blindauer’s February website puzzle, and tomorrow he’ll blog Patrick’s March puzzle. So if you want to read tomorrow’s review without spoilers, get on that today! Patrick’s puzzles are available here. (Patrick also has a weekly puzzle each Sunday on PuzzleSocial’s Crosswords app on Facebook. So this weekend can be a total Blindauerpalooza between his website and Facebook.)
Scott Atkinson’s New York Times crossword
You may have noticed the unusual grid, as I did, without realizing that the black squares are all arranged NONCONTIGUOUSLY. That word makes for an ugly crossword answer, but I kinda like it as a thematic extra.
The layout includes seven other 15-letter answers, stacked in pairs that frame the grid. Highlights include “KATIE, BAR THE DOOR,” the Panglossian ETERNAL OPTIMIST, MOONLIGHT SONATA, and a SPIRAL STAIRCASE. The latter lends itself to creative clues; today’s is [Round-trip flight?].
The short fill is largely undistinguished, with plenty of regular stuff and some clunkers. What crossworder doesn’t have a special fondness for the [Second-largest city in Finland], ESPOO? (“Hey, whassat smell?”)
Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Shoot!” – Sam Donaldson’s review
In preparation for the upcoming ACPT, I have been trying to solve more puzzles on paper. It’s my preferred way to solve, actually. There’s something about the tactile feel of the solving wand and the energy expended in erasing that really appeals to me.
This particular puzzle, however, I happened to solve on my computer, and I think that gave me a significant advantage. Had I solved on paper, there would have been one blank square for sure and perhaps as many as four. The blank would have been at the intersection of [Bit attachment] and [Massachusetts school where Franklin D. Roosevelt prepped]. For the [Bit attachment] I had -EIN, but not the faintest idea how it would start. And I figured the missing letter in G-OTON could be E, H, I, L, O, R, W, or Y. I tried the L first only because it seemed to make the most sense as the start to the crossing -EIN. Fortunately I got it right on the R, giving me REIN and GROTON, respectively. Had the software not told me I was right, though, I never would have known.
I nearly needed the same help elsewhere, figuring the answer to [Thomas the Tank Engine lover] had to be a proper noun, as if there was some sexy little caboose named LIZ or MIA or NAN that liked to chase after Thomas. Alas, the lover is the viewer, a TOT. It didn’t help that it crossed that GROTON place and the [Libyan port whose siege by Rommel lasted 240 days]. For that gem I had -OBR-K staring at me for the longest time. Even with the starting T from the crossing TOT, I couldn’t come up with TOBRUK until I sussed out another mini-mystery: the language clearly being asked for by the clue [Like "banjo," "bongo," and "marimba"] and its intersection, the -GIRLS that double as [Tavern tempresses]. I haven’t dwelt much in watering holes, so B GIRLS was new to me. Fortunately I had enough confidence in some of the nearby entries that I finally cracked BANTU as the language, giving me the final letter in TOBRUK.
Those little mysteries probably consumed 30-40% of my solving time. The rest fell in the typical plodding fashion I have come to expect in solving Bob’s crosswords–nothing, nothing, nothing, fear, desperation, denial, anger, bargaining, LIGHT BULB!, crossing, crossing, crossing, then back to nothing, where the process repeats another dozen or so times.
The theme was cute–gun puns! Klahn waxes pun-etic with five terms containing words that sound very close to guns:
- 17-Across: Gatlinburg, Tennessee, becomes GATLINGBURG, the [East Tennessee gun mecca?]. The Gatling gun was one of the first automatic weapons. I’m not sure how I knew the pun was playing on Gatlinburg, as I’ve never been there before. But the name felt familiar enough to me.
- 25-Across: One reason to give up firearms “cold turkey” is because you never know when you may end up firing a COLT TURKEY, a [Gun that turns out to be a bomb?].
- 34-Across: I don’t know anything about guns, so it was news to me that there’s such a thing as a “carbine,” what appears to be a smaller version of a rifle. That sort of slowed me down here because I was hesitant with the answer CARBINE DATING (a play on “carbon dating”) for [Lead-in to a shotgun wedding?]. I’m sort of disappointed in myself for not knowing this, because if I had I think I would have loved this entry and it’s masterful clue that much more.
- 46-Across: The [Gun that means Sirius business?] is a GLOCK RADIO, playing on “clock radio.” Here too I like the extra layer of punning presented in the clue, using a reference to Sirius-XM satellite radio as a little lagniappe.
- 55-Across: “Filthy lucre,” a term I know only from crosswords, becomes FILTHY LUGER, a [Gun that really needs cleaning?].
My five favorite clues from this puzzle: [Lettuce that sounds like it's for droolers] was a gimme for BIBB, but I’m not one to look down my nose at easy clues; [One-third of a Greek boating fraternity?] is perhaps the funniest clue ever for a common term like RHO (“rho, rho, rho your boat…”); [Good name for a minimalist] is LES; I thought [Where speech was an impediment] was a clever clue for BABEL; and I liked [Support staff?] for CRUTCH.
Frank Virzi’s Los Angeles Times crossword
This is a somewhat less ambitious version of the stacked-combo theme that Mike Shenk did recently in the Wall Street Journal and that Brendan Emmett Quigley has done at least a couple times. How often do we see the partial ON RYE or (less commonly) HAM ON? Too often. This puzzle improves on the partials by stacking HAM on RYE in three places in the grid, with the HAM sandwiched inside the three longest answers (CHAMBERMAID, FOURTH AMENDMENT, TUTANKHAMUN). Both HAM and RYE are included separately in the grid with this revealer clue: 19a, [With "on" and 59-Across, a hint to the theme hidden in three places in this puzzle]. Mildly disappointing to have the revealer HAM and RYE in opposite corners rather than stacked, though they do have symmetry when placed where they are.
Aside from that 19a clue, the rest of the puzzle plays out like a themeless. Anyone else slightly jarred to have THE BEATLES near YESTERYEAR instead of “Yesterday”?
In the debit column, we have the crossing of closely related words DUETS and DUAD, crosswordese bits of blah (EBRO, UTO, CRUS, SSE, EME, STER), the French/Italian crossing of ONZE and ENZO. (And UTO crosses the French word TETE—in general, it’s best to cross foreign words with familiar words so solvers who don’t know the foreign vocab in question can still fill in the crossing square confidently. UTO and ENZO are not friendly in this way.) In the plus column, MOTHRA! Also, don’t think I didn’t see the BOSOMS on top of that CHAMBERMAID.
Randolph Ross’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Short Changed”
Phrases with 2-letter words, abbreviations, or prefixes are reinterpreted as having different 2-letter abbreviations:
- 23a. [What taxpayers don't want to hear at school board meetings?] = B.S. IN EDUCATION. Bullsh*t instead of a B.S. degree.
- 27a. [Programs that won't insult anyone?] = P.C. SOFTWARE. Politically correct instead of personal computer. Who says “PC software,” though?
- 46a. [Series of battles within the last two millennia?] = A.D. CAMPAIGN. Anno domini instead of advertisement.
- 58a. [Where superheroes are found in our nation's capital?] = D.C. COMIC BOOKS. District of Columbia instead of D.C. Comics. But who says “DC comic books”?
- 79a. [Job as a Security Council translator?] = U.N. EMPLOYMENT. United Nations instead of the prefix un-.
- 90a. [Periodical published in America?] = U.S. MAGAZINE. United States instead of Us Weekly. The magazine’s URL is usmagazine.com, but it’s called Us Weekly so this one feels off, too.
- 104a. [Requested help from the computer department?] = ASKED FOR I.T. Informational technology instead of the pronoun “it.”
- 113a. [Expert at making fake passports?] = THE WIZARD OF I.D. Identification instead of Id.
- 37d. [Contact a member of the flock on AOL?] = I.M. A BELIEVER. Instant message instead of I’m.
- 42d. [High living on Rodeo Drive?] = L.A. DOLCE VITA. Los Angeles instead of Italian article “la.”
I don’t care for the unevenness of source material (word vs. prefix vs. different abbreviation) or for the inclusion of two answers with the abbrev at the end when the other eight start with the abbrev.
A few more clues:
- 13a. [Current relationship?] = OHM’S LAW. I keep seeing this in the grid and pondering Ohm’s recipe for cole slaw.
- 15d. [They're full of applesauce] = MOTT’S. So a company with a possessive name is a “they” rather than than “it”? How exactly are they “full of applesauce”? Is “full of applesauce” some figure of speech I don’t know?
- 6a. [Related to head cases] = CRANIAL. Great clue!
- 53a. [Lord who was Elizabeth's brother-in-law] = SNOWDON. Are you all watching Snowdon Abbey?
- 122a. [Cheese shop choices] = SWISSES. Swisses?
Mike Nothnagel’s Celebrity crossword, “Sports Fan Friday”
Clean and simple theme featuring sports trivia I had absolutely no idea about:
- 15a. HEISMAN TROPHY, [Annual award given to the most outstanding college football player]
- 29a. SUPER BOWL RING, [Prize given to each member of the team that wins the NFL championship game]
- 40a. ROGER STAUBACH, [Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame QB who was the first person to win both the 15-Across and the 30-Across]
Sometimes you get a Celeb theme with three parts and sometimes you get a Celeb theme with four or five parts and a bunch of short bonus answers that tie in. Keeping it simple, as Mike does today, allows wiggle room for juicy fill like ROY G BIV, the X-MEN, MAZE and PEZ with a Z, and IRAQ and HQS with a Q. There’s a smattering of other sports-related fill (ESPY, SLAP shot, WES Welker) but the only other item I see that’s at all related to Staubach is Dallas Cowboys BLUE at 20d.
Patrick Blindauer’s website crossword, “I Love U”–Matt Gaffney’s review”
Starting now I’ll be blogging Patrick Blindauer’s monthly website crossword. These are some highly imaginative puzzles and I’m glad to be Fiending them at the beginning of each month.
Today I’ll be blogging the February puzzle and tomorrow I’ll write up the March puzzle, which is called “Ode to Element #18.” If you’d like to solve them, click here and scroll down a bit to click on “Feb 2012 – I Love U” on the right sidebar. The March puzzle is at the same link, right on the main part of the page.
So on to “I Love U,” which at first solve I thought was just a puzzle with a bunch of U’s in it. An OK theme, I said to myself — but then I noticed the extra dimension: every grid entry has at least one U. Impressive. Yes, there have been puzzles where E or A is the only vowel, and I believe I’ve seen someone pull that feat off with O’s, but U’s are fundamentally harder to work with so that’s not going to happen. But this is the next best thing, and is a tougher constructing challenge than it may appear.
I especially like the two long entries, CULTURE VULTURES and LAUGHING OUT LOUD (note that all three of the words in that one have a U, a nice touch). Other good fill includes URANIUM, DU JOUR, CTHULHU, ENUF and UHURU. Yes, there is a bit of suboptimal short fill, but this is completely unavoidable while keeping a U in every entry, and it’s been minimized well.
- Almost have UTA HAGEN across the top row…but no U in HAGEN.
- Once you get hip to each word having a U, the puzzle becomes a snap to solve.
- [Bearded beast of Botswana] for GNU at 72-d was funny.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well crossword, “Spring Time”
I really like the concept and execution of this theme. Seven answers are formed by moving the first letter into position two and the new phrases are clued accordingly. Those seven moving letters (in circles) are S M T W T F S–Sunday, Monday, etc., in order. Thus, each is a 50a/40a: LEAP DAY, without which the 64a: CALENDAR would drift.
The leap days give fine results:
- 17a. [Pre-Soviet hike through the Caucasus?] = TSAR TREK.
- 20a. [Role-playing game featuring roadies?] = AMP QUEST.
- 26a. [Hip to the way Rembrandt worked?] = ETCH-SAVVY.
- 38a. [Big-box store for cobblers?] = AWL-MART.
- 46a. [Ice cream drinks on loan to developing countries?] = W.T.O. SHAKES.
- 51a. [Cracks about the coxswain, from the other end of the boat?] = AFT JOKES.
- 60a. [Temporary right to insert a flash drive?] = U.S.B. LEASE.
My favorite parts of the theme are 17a, 20a, and the riff on “two shakes” (as in “hang on, I’ll be there in two shakes”). I should’ve bought ice cream yesterday so I could have a chocolate shake right now. Dammit. Now the puzzle has upset me.
Fave fill: THE BIEBS (who just turned 18) crossing BRECHT, NUDNIK, DEBUT LP, NEWBIE. Fave clue: The trivia of 42d: [All of China operates on its time zone] for BEIJING. Do any of you know how this plays out in western China? Do people go to work before dawn and finish in mid-afternoon to match Beijing’s work times, or do they start work at a proper time in the morning but it’s called noon? Most not a wordest: 9d: UNIQUEST, [Most special]. I’m pretty sure Ben knows that’s not a word but thought it would be fun and liked the crossings enough to keep it.
4.5 stars for the elegance of the theme.
Victor Barocas’ Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Ex Libris” — pannonica’s review
This is definitely a theme tailored for the Chronicle, taking the titles of very famous novels and cluing them by their Latin translations. Ex libris, commonly seen on bookplates, is New Latin, meaning “from the books.”
My supposition is that there will be three types of solvers for this puzzle: those who actually know Latin and will recognize the answers immediately; those who are essentially clueless when it comes to Latin and will rely heavily on crossings before perceiving the titles; and those—like me—who can muddle through enough Latin to be pointed in the proper direction while solving.
- 17a. ["Bellum et pax"] WAR AND PEACE (Leo Tolstoy). The first themer is a wise choice, a very famous title clued with Latin words almost everyone knows. The sacrifice, and it’s a minor one, is that it’s the only title of the five not originally in English. Война и миръ.
- 24a. ["Omnis viri regis"] ALL THE KING’S MEN (Robert Penn Warren).
- 39a. ["Domus laetitiae"] THE HOUSE OF MIRTH (Edith Wharton).
- 50a. ["Dominus muscarum"] LORD OF THE FLIES (William Golding).
- 62a. ["Dum iaceo moriens"] AS I LAY DYING (William Faulkner).
- 20a ["Saint Joan" playwright] SHAW.
- 13d ["The Shield of Achilles" poet] AUDEN.
- 18d [Wonka's creator] DAHL.
- 38d ["Frailty, __ name is woman!": "Hamlet"] THY.
- 46a [List-shortening abbr.] ET AL.
- 25d [In __ (completely)] TOTO. Though I wonder if the inclusion of 47d [Adds up to] TOTALS, infra, constitutes repetition. In any case, I’d say it’s IFFY (49d) at best. This could have been softened by cluing the former with a reference to The Wizard of Oz, or something. Did I just write that?
- Additionally, there’s a salubrious contingent of Italian fill in the puzzle (AMORE, ERI TU, et al.), but if I went there, I’d feel obligated to suss out all the English words with Latin roots, and then it would inevitably become an exercise in verberando mortuus equum.
The grid provides a smooth, flowing solve, but with 40 blocks there feels to be a little too much black in the picture. The cluing provides a good cross-section of subjects. This CHE is willing to go with a lesser-known-to-crossword-solvers hockey player (LUC Robitaille) rather than, say, author/critic LUC Sante. On the other hand, it may have been reluctant to invoke Sean John ‘Puffy’ COMBS Diddy-Daddy-wah-diddy at one-across; regardless, the clue used [Fowl tips?] is much better, using just about any criterion.
It did feel as if there were a few (a DAB? a DRAM?) too many -fixes and abbrevs. in the mix: RIP, SEN, AAA, ETD, IDIO-, NEO-, STL, USAF, MGRS,
- LELAND and LEROY (48d & 50d), even though their etymologies are different, put me in mind of the myth of the Fisher King. “The king and the land are one.” See also 34a [Round Table honorific] SIR.
- Again, the etymologies are most likely divergent, but I like the pairing of VOICE and AUDEN in the upper right.
- ODE and IDYLL.
- OMAHA clued as [Home of Creighton University], practically nowhere else but in the CHE.
Solid, enjoyable puzzle.