Hello! I’m heading to New York tomorrow for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, and I look forward to seeing many of you there. I’ll leave the blog in the capable hands of guest blogger Gareth as well as pannonica, but you’ll still see reviews from me and other members of Team Fiend. Gareth will be blogging the NYT puzzle for the next few days, but he’s over in one of those African time zones where the NYT comes out in the middle of the night. So the posts will likely go up a few hours later than usual. But they’ll have that transcontinental cachet!
You can follow tournament standings at the ACPT website starting on Saturday afternoonish.
Kristian House’s New York Times crossword
What’s up with all these extended solving times for a Thursday puzzle with no trickery? I’ll hazard a guess that the 1-Across corner slammed the brakes on while the puzzle was still in the driveway. [Language in which "hello" is "kaixo"]?? What-what? Turns out it’s BASQUE, but I wasn’t anywhere close to figuring that out before 5d: UTEP (meh) and 6d: ESSE (meh) gave me the UE at the end. The clues for BAM and SNL were rather open-ended too, and “AW, NUTS” is a highly unusual (but great) crossword answer.
Also in the “slow everyone down” category are the [City where William Tell shot an apple], ALTDORF (which I initially lugged out of my memory as ALTDORP), right next to uncommon word SORORAL ([Sisterly], equivalent to “fraternal”). And EULA Varner crossing ILL USE.
Cute enough theme, anticipating St. Patrick’s Day with an Irish O’Leprechaun wordplay. “Speed of light” becomes SPEED O’ FLIGHT and “Bill of Rights” BILL O’ FRIGHTS. GOSPEL O’ FLUKE takes a somewhat less common phrase and throws in a less familiar fish. And I didn’t know there was such a thing as the “Master of Laws” degree.
Best clue: The ICE AGE is the [Period when Long Island formed]. The Lawn Guyland accent did not arise until the Bronze Age.
Not sure why 59a: ETS is [Score keeper?]. Does ETS still exist as the keeper of SAT scores and whatnot? Yes, indeed.
I’m declaring a new rule: When a puzzle has an overtly gendered word like SEXPOT in it, other words that can be clued neutrally should be clued neutrally. Libraries have PATRONS. The arts have PATRONS. Premium tequila, in Silver and Reposado and Gran Platinum? PATRÓNS. [Sugar daddies, e.g.]? Gross.
Alan Arbesfeld’s Fireball crossword, “Follow Instructions”
Neat theme. It’s another variation on the “word that connotes anagramming + an anagram” theme concept, but in this case each of the connoters is also part of a longer word whose second part can be anagrammed to the clue word. [Oreo?] is the ol’ SWITCH “EROO.” ["Action?'] is ALTER “CATION.” The other three theme answers are clued with [Gin?], [Aleut?], and [Sines?]. Extra credit for some of those clue words–I’m looking at you, Oreo and Aleut–being overrepresented in crosswords but given fresh crossword life via this gimmick.
Highlights in the fill include FORTISSIMO, “I’M GAME,” and EAST OF EDEN. This is the second time (and I think the first was also in a Fireball) I’ve seen a “Fox means Matthew Fox on ABC, not Fox TV” clue for LOST ([Fox series that ended in 2010]).
Lowlights include RSTU, ALETA, APER, and CMII.
Peter Wentz’s Celebrity crossword, “Top 40 Thursday”
The Biebs! He just turned 18 on March 1 (and his manager gave him a $100,000 a Fisker Karma electric luxury car on Ellen DeGeneres’s show), so what better time to devote a crossword puzzle to him?
- 15a. NEVER SAY NEVER, [3D concert film starring 30-/32-Across: 3 wds.]
- 30a/32a. JUSTIN BIEBER, [With 32-Across, pop star who turned 18 on March 1]
- 44a. NEVER LET YOU GO, [Single from 30-/32-Across whose video has over 150 million YouTube views: 4 wds.]
Note the key word in both titles in the theme answers, Have I ever listened to a Justin Bieber song in its entirety? Never! Has my son been a Bieber fan? Never! Does my son gladly tolerate the Beliebers in his sixth-grade class? Never!
Lots of fun fill in this crossword grid. A little PHAT, alphabetical food PBJ’S and T-BONES, “HEY YA,” “TEXT ME,” and–not referring to the George Burns movie in yesterday’s Celeb crossword–“OH, GOD.” Good stuff.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well crossword, “Musical Soundalikes”
Matt Gaffney here, pinch-blogging Ben Tausig’s puzzle today. And a lovely puzzle it is: Ben works goofily spelled band/artist names into phrases their homophones normally inhabit, and the wacky results are:
- 17a. [Dudes who promise you rides to nu metal shows but keep forgetting to show up?] are KORN FLAKES.
- 21a. [High grade in a class about West Coast hip-hop?] is not “Exhibit A” but XZIBIT A.
- 36a. [Super angsty church window art?] is STAIND GLASS.
- 55a. ["Don't stop the jam session now!"?] is GO PHISH.
- 60a. ["Make fun of how "Mr. Roboto" is played?'] is not the painful “needle sticks,” but NEEDLE STYX.
So that’s a well-executed theme idea, and it appears to be original (none of the theme bands led me to a similar puzzle on this blog, even in its old incarnation). Thumbs-up.
The grid is sparkling: SXSW, KOONTZ crossing IBIZA you-know-where, ZIP IT! crossing ZAGREB you-know-where again, EYE EXAM, OUI OUI!,WOODROW, LISZT, I CHECK – pause for breath – FELIX, WOODROW, BARISTAS, B.S.-ED and NUBILE. Phew! That’s some fine fill, and the impressively small amount of not-so-hot doesn’t even rise to a level where I feel the need to type it out. This is an excellent crossword grid and anyone who says otherwise is a total buzz-KIL.
The clues also got some 35d from Big Ben. My top 3 are [Row in church, perhaps] for ALTOS, [Roman III] for TRE, and of course the juvenile-but-you-know-you-laughed [Words that make privates less stiff] for AT EASE. Minor clue “meh” for me: [Pearl, e.g.] for HARBOR isn’t my favorite kind of clue. “Pearl Harbor” is a HARBOR, “pearl” is just a thing in a necklace. Anyway, that’s how petty I have to get to find something to complain about in this crossword.
Good/very good theme, stellar grid, very good clues; let’s call it 4.53 stars. And Ben’s got a new book out, so consider supporting your local ethno-musico-cruciverbologist here.
Randolph Ross’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Home Layout” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Today’s puzzle will make you feel right at home. Look carefully at the theme entries and you’ll see the basic layout of 37-Across, a SPLIT-LEVEL HOUSE, [Many a suburban home]:
- 17-Across: This Seattle resident loved seeing [Feature of Safeco Field] as the clue for RETRACTABLE ROOF. It’s pretty cool watching the roof get deployed into service when it starts to rain. In about two minutes, the place is completely covered, and yet it moves so quietly you hardly even notice it during the game.
- 24-Across: Growing up, I didn’t think it was a compliment to say someone had BEDROOM EYES. I didn’t think they were [Seductive peepers]; I thought they were baggy eyes with crusty mucous so thick they couldn’t be opened. (If you’re reading this review over a meal, bon apetit!).
- 51-Across: The ["Everything but" item, in slang] is the KITCHEN SINK. One website claims we the “everything but the kitchen sink” expression “comes from World War Two when everything possible was used to contribute to the war effort…all metal was used for the U.S arsenal. The only objects left out were porcelain kitchen sinks.” But the Cambridge Dictionary of Idioms says it is “based on the idea that if you brought many things to someone, a kitchen sink is one of the last things you would bring because it is difficult to move.” Imagine that–finding differing versions on the internet!
- 59-Across: [Real cheap] describes most of my wardrobe. It’s also synonymous with BARGAIN BASEMENT. “Bargain basement” is an interesting phrase–is there an “over-priced basement?”
Notice how the roof is on top–covering the bedroom–with kitchen on the main floor just above the basement. That special arrangement puts this puzzle a notch above the ordinary “Hey, look what the words have in common” theme. At first I thought a term like KITCHEN CABINET would have been better than KITCHEN SINK, but the only “bedroom” term of equal length I could find was BEDROOM SLIPPER, a “meh” entry at best. Plus, it would have added six more theme squares, and this grid already boasts an impressive 67 theme squares. So I don’t think there’s much room for improvement here.
Did the high concentration of theme entries compromise the fill? Well, there’s YALU, the [Korean border river], LIANAS ([Jungle vines]), LTS ([West Point grads]), and two closely connected partials (OR A and A RAT), but I wouldn’t go so far as to say these suboptimal entries detracted from the solving experience. What I did notice was that none of the non-theme entries was longer than six letters, though there sure were a lot of six-letter answers. My favorites in the group were EVEN SO and MOTIVE, yet neither is especially sparkly. That’s okay, though, because I thought the fill was very smooth and accessible, an impressive feat with so many theme squares.
Michael Doran’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review
This theme is a capital idea:
- 17a. [Capital of 62-Across] – WELLINGTON
- 11d. [Capital of 62-Across] – KIWI DOLLAR
- 29/30d. [Capitals of 62-Across?] – THE LETTERS/N AND Z
- 62a. [Where "The Lord of the Rings" movies were filmed] - NEW ZEALAND
I jumped down to 62a after reading a linked clue so that I could fill in the mystery country right away. I don’t think that ruins any of the fun – do you? Of course, I happened to try putting WELLINGTON in KIWI DOLLAR’s slot, as 11d was the clue I had read. Soon enough I figured out where I had gone wrong and I had a good chuckle over it. That’s what I get for jumping ahead, I suppose. Still, I’ll be looking for theme-explaining entries this weekend for sure. (If you see me, please say hello!)
This is one of the cleaner pangrammatic fills I’ve seen in a while, so no moaning about that. Even if Google Maps has all but wiped out MAPQUEST, it still looks nice in the grid. EVIL EYE and BEATLES are winners, too. I would have thought that WATCHMEN would get a comic book or movie reference, but [First ones to spot the king's ghost, in "Hamlet"] was nice instead.
I have one cluing bone to pick, and it is trifling. 43d. [Images used by Wii players] are AVATARS in the technical sense, but they’re called Miis on the Wii. Avatar is a term for Xbox. I know. Picky.
Brooklyn or bust!
Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Hidden Cameras”—Matt Gaffney’s review
The title for this puzzle is so perfect that I’m guessing it was the
theme’s genesis: Brendan hides five brands of camera inside nonsense
phrases, like so:
14-a. [Threw down more money than the "Paradise City" singer?] is OUTSPENT
AXL ROSE, concealing a Pentax.
17-a. ["Like, take my bongos, man ... please"?] is your standard BEATNIK
ONE-LINER, hiding a Nikon.
37-a. [Pediatrician's book about a mythical flier?] is DR. SPOCK ON ICARUS,
which keeps a Konica in its jacket.
55-a. [Twist ending author after turning to symbolism?] is ALLEGORIC O. H
ENRY, who’s holding on to his Ricoh.
61-a. [Tramp stamp that's kinda quaint 'n all?] is CHARMIN’ OL’ TATTOO,
a clever way to disguise a Minolta.
Fresh theme AFAIK. You often get some grid flexibility on a theme like this
since the entries don’t have to be in any particular order and there’s
frequently a wide selection of goofy phrases to conceal your keyword in.
Brendan has used that flexibility nicely here, going to town on the grid
(five 15x’s, including two stacked pairs) while still not sacrificing the
funny (I like them all, but BEATNIK ONE-LINER and CHARMIN’ OL’ TATTOO I
think are particularly nice).
Camera brands were a good choice for Brendan to conceal since so many of
them are Japanese names, meaning you get unusual letter combinations to
hide among words (find me another word that ends in -COH or starts with
KONI-). Some of these brands have exited the rapidly-changing camera market
in the past few years, but they’re still familiar enough to use. So
thumbs-up on the theme.
Good fill: ST. JOSEPH, EXERCISING, COCONUT OIL, MENSCH, EATS UP, IN
A FOG, NWO crossing its OWN reversal, TECHNO, MARGARET (with its
timely clue), CLUING and SOMALI. You’d expect some sacrifices in a grid
this wide-open and full of 75 theme squares, but he’s kept them low — on a
second look, there isn’t a truly cringeworthy entry in the whole grid.
Top clues: [Degree in mathematics?] for NTH, [Target areas] for
AISLES, and 1-a. just because it’s such a nice tune.
4.35 on the starrage scale. Good luck in Brooklyn, Brendan!