Byron Walden’s New York Times crossword
Some friends and I were just talking about the relative difficulty of the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday NYTs. Some agreed with me that the Fridays have been easier than usual in recent months. I was surprised that yesterday’s puzzle put up a bit of a fight, and then surprised again when this long-awaited Walden took me only a few seconds longer than the Friday. (I say “long-awaited” because Byron’s last NYT was over 6 months ago, and that was his only one last year. He does have periodic themed Onion A.V. Club puzzles, but I’m a themeless fan.)
Anyway! The grid design breaks this into two Scrabbly 6×5 corners, two 8×3 corners, and long answers spinning out from the center zone. Lots of good stuff here: AIR SIGNS, BRAIN ROT (which, wait: is that a “thing,” or is it just “you’ll rot your brain”?), and a ROCK CAVE crossing NOVA SCOTIA and a STEAK QUESADILLA. The southwest chunk is super-smooth. UP TO NO GOOD travels down for some good.
I can’t say I really knew that HAIR LACQUER and ARMY GROUPS were “things,” and 18a: IT’S BIG feels like a stretch for [Promotional description for a coming show]. The stuff that smacks of crosswordese is all familiar, not obscure to Saturday solvers–ABRA, YSER, ENDE, OMSK, OLEO, LIANA.
- 9d. [Dogs that ought to be great swimmers?] are SPITZES, no relation to Mark Spitz.
- 10d. If you’re in a LATHER, you’re in a [State of nervous tension].
- 13d. [Old country name or its currency, both dropped in 1997] has nothing to do with the Euro Zone. It’s ZAIRE, now Democratic Republic of Congo and not particularly democratic.
- 53a. I learned something about the crosswordese Nye who isn’t Bill Nye the Science Guy. LOUIS NYE was the [Steve Allen sidekick with the catchphrase "Hi-ho, Steverino!"]. (Not to be confused with Ryno, aka RYNE [Hall of Fame Cub Sandberg].
Gail Grabowski’s Los Angeles Times crossword
This puzzle’s midsection, with the 15-letter PERSONAL TRAINER working out with the 11s, PEA-SHOOTERS and GONE HAYWIRE, is super-smooth. I like all three of those answers, and their crossings include five solid answers of 8+ letters and assorted 4s and 5s with no clunkers. You can gripe about the partial at 24d, but this lands in my “zippy Merl Reagle partial” zone: ["If I ___ so myself ..."] clues DO SAY.
The top and bottom sections are all right but there’s not much zip there outside of OH DARN, POST-IT, and DON’T ASK.
- 17a. MARENGO is the [Italian town where Napoleon defeated the Austrians]. Byron Walden and I once concocted a theme with horrifying letter-repetition meat recipes, like MARE MARENGO and YAK YAKITORI.
- 18a. ALADDIN is a lamp [Rubber of myth]. You were wondering if the Trojans played a role in Greek mythology as well as history, weren’t you?
- 19a. ALEXIA is the [Loss of the ability to read]. You don’t hear much about this.
- 40a. [Couples can break it] refers to PAR on a golf course. That’s capital-C Couples, Fred Couples.
- 1d. I dispute PIMA as a [Bedsheet material]. It’s Pima cotton, no? Does the content label just specify Pima, or does it also say cotton?
- 2d. [Magnitogorsk's river] is the URAL. Ugly clue. (No offense to the people of Magnitogorsk. I’m sure they’re lovely.)
- 20d. A CATTLE CAR is a [Stock holder]. I figured it was livestock, not stock shares or soup stock, but had CATTLE PEN at first.
- 40d. [It's usually a little sticky] is a good clue for a POST-IT note. Indeed, it’s not very sticky, just a little sticky. And people often call Post-Its “stickies,” and they do come in little sizes.
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Missing Pieces” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Today’s puzzle is designed to make us feel a little better about all we have going for us by making us pause to remember that others are missing important things:
- 17-Across: The [Walrus cousin] with something missing is the EARLESS SEAL. It’s okay to talk about it in front of one–it can’t hear you anyway.
- 28-Across: The [Abyss] that’s missing something is a BOTTOMLESS PIT. But is a bottomless pit really missing something? Isn’t a bottomless pit supposed to be the mother of all pits? No pit is more menacing, more prominent (or more impossible) than a bottomless one. So other than having the -LESS in place, I’m not sure that this one is all that consistent with the theme.
- 47-Across: The [Aldous Huxley novel] with something missing is EYELESS IN GAZA. I’m not familiar with the book. Apparently it takes its title from a Milton poem about Samson. I understand the random ordering of chapters in Huxley’s novel will make you want to pull your hair out.
- 62-Across: I think the missing thing from the [Sphynx] was its nose. Then I realized that’s the Sphinx. The one with a Y in its name is a HAIRLESS CAT.
Although the theme doesn’t seem optimally consistent, I liked many of the goodies in the fill. OH BOY OH BOY is a fun entry, and I felt the ["Goody, goody!"] clue was perfect since “OH BOY OH BOY” was my first thought with only the first O in place. I don’t think I have heard of LIZA WITH A Z, the [1972 Emmy-winning concert film], but it’s another great entry. Other notable entries include THE NET (I have riffed on this one before), BILOXI, I’LL SEE, and ELIXIR.
It was a little jarring to see [Jay or Kay] as the clue for JOHN. I know John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, but John Kay, the Steppenwolf front man, was new to me. The clue was jarring because Jay and Kay are the names of my siblings. That’s just weird, right?
Stan Newman’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
Unusual grid design, for Stan and for anyone. The 11/13/15 stack and the triple-stack of 15s are more common than this 13/14/15 stack, which isn’t pleasing to the eye but brings some tasty fill. The six big answers are:
- 1a. SEMICLASSICAL, [Like Gershwin's orchestral works].
- 14a. Delicious PAIN AU CHOCOLAT, [Patisserie purchase].
- 16a. CORNED BEEF ON RYE, [Reuben's cousin]. Fresher fill than the HAM ON RYE concept that was in another puzzle this week.
- 50a. IMITATION OF LIFE, [Fannie Hurst novel]. Who? What?
- 54a. CAFE RESTAURANT, [Source of casual fare]. This just sounds wrong to me. Surely there is ample justification that this is a term, but it sounds stilted.
- 55a. NEEDLESS TO SAY, [Obviously]. Totally jam-packed with boring, suitable-for-the-bottom-row letters, and yet fresh and lively and in-the-language. We seldom see a 13-letter answer on the bottom of a grid, but if we did, this one would show up as often as STRESS TESTS.
Trickiest and toughest clues, juiciest fill, etc.:
- 29a. [World Series participant] is a CARD PLAYER, not a ballplayer. World Series of Poker.
- 32a. A SCAREDY-CAT is a big ol’ [Chicken].
- 36a. [Fly-by-nighter, typically] is a MOTH rather than a shady operator.
- 42a. [Pro who coached Lendl and Federer] is ROCHE. I kinda follow tennis, but this one was a mystery to me.
- 49a. [Jury's conclusion] is RIG, as in “jury-rig.” What’s the verdict?
- 3d. I thought [Long-hand indication: Abbr.] was about writing in longhand/cursive. It’s the MINute hand on a clock.
- 22d. [Democracy Day cosponsor] is the NEA. No idea what Democracy Day is.
- 24d. [Organiser II was an early one] clues a PDA, personal digital assistant. Smartphones have supplanted non-phone PDAs.
- 26d. Was GARY SINISE in Apollo 13? He was. Is that why they hired him as [Narrator of "When We Left Earth"], a TV miniseries about space travel?
- 31d. Never heard this one before. ["La Dame de __" (Eiffel Tower nickname)] clues FER. “The Lady of Iron.”
- 47d. [A standard shown on a Royal Observatory wall] demonstrates the official length of a YARD. Off the Y, I tried YEAR first, but it’s hard to visualize a year, isn’t it?
- 53d. Spanish! [Una palabra ignorada en alfabetizacion] clues LAS. A word ignored in alphabetization is “the.”
Trip Payne’s Celebrity crossword, “Smartypants Saturday”
Simple culinary theme:
- 15a. LOUISIANA, ["Cajun cuisine" state associated with 28-Across]
- 28a. EMERIL LAGASSE, [Celebrity chef and "Top Chef" judge]
- 46a. DELMONICO, [Las Vegas steakhouse of 28-Across]. Emeril also has a Delmonico restaurant in New Orleans, one of his three N.O. joints.
Related Big Easy answer: 4d: SAINT, [New Orleans __ (NFLer who plays in the Superdome)].
Related culinary answer: 36a: BRAVO, ["Top Chef" network].
- 39a. PAPER, [It beats rock but loses to scissors in a game].
- 33d. EAR [__ candy (catchy pop songs)].
Patrick Berry’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “Section Eight”
Ooh, these “Section Eight” puzzles tend to be among Berry’s toughest variety puzzles for me. These and the “Some Assembly Required” puzzles. Both require the solver to think in non-crosswordy dimensions with some jigsaw puzzle aspects. With the “Section Eight,” you have to figure out where to place words in all the inner rings based on finding the letters you need in the surrounding ring, and there’s no way to know whether a ring will go clockwise or counter-. Always a gnarly challenge.
What elevates this puzzle to its five-star rating is the inclusion of so much juicy Berry fill. Ring 1 features MAGIC SQUARE (with a Q that travels down two more rings), BIG BLUE, and SNITCHED. Moving in, we find SECOND BEST, QUAGMIRES, TERI GARR, CHESTNUTS roasting, “I DON’T CARE,” and IN THE CLEAR. The rest of the words may be less lively, but not a single one of them evokes the slightest scowl. And then! The innermost word is ARACHNID, an [Eight-legged critter] that’s an entirely appropriate core for a “Section Eight” puzzle. Flawless puzzle.
I suspect it’s insanely difficult to construct these puzzles, especially with zero objectionable fill. There’s not a single compromise like including a proper noun that can only be clued by way of a person almost none of us have heard of. Just clean fill that ranges from quite good to excellent. I don’t know how Patrick Berry does it.
Patrick Blindauer’s website crossword, “Ode to Element 18″–Matt Gaffney’s review
I don’t know if I even have the moral authority to blog this puzzle because I gave up trying to solve it after about 10 minutes. It was right before bedtime, I was tired, and was getting the contours of the gimmick but hadn’t fully grokked it yet (thought it was something to do with argon’s chemical symbol, Ar). Didn’t want to go to bed without knowing what was up so I hit reveal all — and even then it took me a while to figure things out! Such are the many levels of trickery involved in a Blindauer crossword.
It’s really pretty simple once you see it, though: all the R’s have been removed from the crossword grid. The puzzle’s title is “Ode to Element 18,” which is argon — get it? “R” gone?
One interesting feature of the grid is that almost all of the R-less entries still leave cluable words. Like COPS OUT at 17a is really CROPS OUT, and GAMMA at 32a is really GRAMMAR without its Rs. There are (what appear to be) a handful of exceptions to this, though, so I don’t think Patrick intended it to be an across-the-board idea (AGI, NLE, OTA and NEI might be cluable somehow, for example, but not off the top of my head). Some other good ones: LEG IRONS become LEGIONS in the SE, and RESPIRES reduces to ESPIES in the SW.
What did you all think of this one? This isn’t really my favorite kind of theme to solve, though I can appreciate the artistry involved. For instance: echoing Patrick’s “I Love U” puzzle from February, every single entry in this grid drops at least one R. That can’t have been easy to pull off.
Best clue: [Coal porter] for T(R)AM at 7a.
(Note from Amy: Killer puzzle! I thought it was a crazy rebus for the longest time, and finally grokked the knock-out-every-R bit. I don’t know what to do with OTA (suffix??) or NEI, but I’ve seen AGI and NLE in puzzles before–adjusted gross income, National League East.)