Barry Silk’s New York Times crossword
Between a late supper (chicken pot piiiiie) and late work Skyping, it has become … late. I was shooting for Stella and Howard’s sub-4:00 solving times but it didn’t work out. On the plus side, I had pot pie. On the minus side, I burned my tongue. So it goes.
Crossword? Yes! Barry hits up my favorite grid pattern—stacks of long (9-11 letters) and lively answers in all four corners. HOT PASTRAMI, ISAAC ASIMOV, and Stephen King’s oddly spelled PET SEMATARY anchor the top. (New info-bit in my head: “pastrami” isn’t an Italian word, it’s Yiddish. Did everyone else already know this?) Old-time ETHEL MERMAN and the SHOW ME STATE are down yonder, AB POSITIVE and a New Year’s Eve NOISEMAKER hold down the northeast quadrant, and NEWFANGLED is the southwest’s highlight. I could’ve done without the geo-trivia quiz (or Do You Know Your Crosswordese Rivers? quiz) of the ODER-NEISSE Line.
- 28a. [Is in the can], DOES TIME.
- 6d. [Chutney-dippsed appetizer], SAMOSA. Had Indian food last night. Num!
- 13d. [One passed out on New Year's Eve], NOISEMAKER.
- 23d. [Having nothing to part with?], BALD.
I also liked the BASS/IST combo. At first I thought 23a: [Bottom part] was BASE, but BASEIST means nothing so I saw the error in my ways.
Also could do without: SAREE; the DNA TESTS clue [They can answer the question "Who's your daddy?]; fragments -ANE, -ESE, and -OSES; WHELM; and partial A CAT.
Didn’t know the Perry Como hit IVY ROSE or 47d: RENE, [Novelist Bazin].
Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Movie-Musicals” – Sam Donaldson’s review
The last time I solved a Patrick Blindauer puzzle, it was the infamous “Puzzle #5″ at last week’s American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. I won’t spoil it for those who choose to solve the puzzles at home (highly encouraged if you didn’t attend, by the way–I’ve done it myself in years when I couldn’t be there), but it’s safe to say that the puzzle was hard. I think the room was still a good two-thirds full (maybe more?) when time expired.
I was among the group still toiling away until the end. I was two seats down from crossword blogger emeritus PuzzleGirl when, as time expired, she triumphantly shouted, “I finished!” I couldn’t help but admire her accomplishment as I stared at my half-completed grid.
“Okay,” I said, leaning toward her, “explain the theme to me. I never saw it.”
“Oh, it’s super cool!” she gushed.
Fresh off being smacked around by the puzzle for 30 minutes, I couldn’t help but reply curtly, “I doubt you’ll be able to convince me of that right now.”
She politely explained the theme to about a half dozen of us who were sitting nearby and similarly mystified. Sure enough, I didn’t come away impressed at first. But within a short period of time, as I got some distance and took out my frustration by writing extra firmly on poor Puzzle #6, I realized that it was, as PuzzleGirl insisted, super cool. So much so that I made it a point to find Patrick later and offer kudos for the amazing construction. His puzzle defeated me, but it was still a work of art.
Today’s puzzle is easier, certainly, but also very entertaining. The theme consists of four “before-and-after” mash-ups, each of which starts with a film title and ends with a musical title:
- 17-Across: The [Movie about a disabled painter / Musical about the evils of dancing] is MY LEFT FOOTLOOSE (combining the film My Left Foot with the musical Footloose). I could see Patrick using a whimsical clue like [Pinocchio's complaint after Geppetto's lax assembly work?]. I wonder if that approach got nixed in favor of the more straightforward clues.
- 31-Across: QUIZ SHOWBOAT combines the [Movie about a cheating scandal (Quiz Show) and the Musical based on a Ferber novel (Showboat)]. I think I would have liked [Captain Wink Martindale's vessel?] for a clue.
- 41-Across: Oh good Lord, it’s DEAR GODSPELL, both a [Movie directed by Garry Marshall (Dear God) and a Musical based on a Gospel (Godspell).
- 55-Across: The [Movie starring John Cusack / Musical by Cole Porter] is SAY ANYTHING GOES. This one may be my favorite of the bunch.
Highlights in the fill include THE RITZ, ALL THERE, O’DOULS, PLUNGER, and IN USE. The clue for VERN, ["Trading Spaces" designer Yip] feels about ten years too old, but it’s way more current than [Ernest's unseen friend in movies]. I like how two crossword legends, Yoko ONO and Brian ENO, sit side by side in the southeast corner–I really appreciate that kind of “inside joke” for regular solvers.
Does anyone else wonder whether this puzzle was originally designed as part of Patrick’s recent Musical Puzzlefest? It certainly evoked fond(?) memories of my struggling to get the final answer. If you haven’t tried it yet, I recommend ponying up the small price and downloading them. Even if you never get the final answer (I didn’t), you’ll enjoy some entertaining and innovative crosswords.
Steve Salitan’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Hang on a minute: Two Saturday themelesses with SAREE ([Agra wrap] here) in them? No. This can’t be right.
I’m grumpy. Is it the crossword or is it me? I think it’s partly each. Never heard of 17a: END AROUND, [Deceptive football play]. End run, yes. I don’t know how many of you still have chunky computer monitors on your desk, but I feel like CRTS really merits a clue that reflects the technology’s recent obsolescence; [Places for icons, briefly] doesn’t hint that most of us have long since moved on to flat-screen monitors. 30d: IN A SERIES adds nothing to a puzzle. Don’t know who 1d: GWENN, ["Miracle on 34th Street" Oscar winner], is. The 26a: STEN, [Old gun across the pond], has solid crossings but I bet only gun nuts and crossword nuts know STEN. What’s the age range for having personal knowledge of the 49a: STEELIE, [Shooting marble]? I know the steelie and taw only from crosswords. And 56a: ESSES! I’m officially sick and tired of seeing ESS/ESSES in crosswords and have taken to editing them out when I can. (Merl Reagle is perhaps the most notable voice in the wilderness opposing the spelled-out letter crossword entry.)
Now, to be fair, there were certainly things that I liked. [Like a Frisbee's symmetry] is a lovely clue for 51a: AXIAL. The slangy 55a: UP AND AT ‘EM and 12d: RARIN’ TO GO make good use of invisible apostrophes in the grid. 35d: [Mixes well with others] is a neat clue for BARTENDS. PERPLEXES is a delightful word as well.
Lars G. Doubleday’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
“Lars G. Doubleday” is a great pseudonym. It’s an anagram of the first names of Brad(ley) Wilber and Doug(las) Peterson, and when you see that byline, you’re getting a Double that day.
Highlights in the grid:
- 1a. CHARISMA, neat word, nice way to start the puzzle even if we have to take a demagogue in the clue.
- 21a. SFUMATO! Crazy Italian arty word for that ["Mona Lisa" tone-blending technique].
- 33a, 35a, 52a. Non-boring compound words that don’t see much play in crosswords: LOPSIDED and WINDBLOWN and DISHPAN. Okay, technically that last one is boring, but its clue, [Suds holder], hints at beer.
- 49a. Tricky clue for EPONYM, [Jim Beam or Jack Daniel]. The lack of apostrophe-S on the second name is your hint that the answer isn’t any sort of WHISKY at all. Speaking of eponyms, we’ve also got 63a; BOYCOTTS, [Won't deal with].
- 58a. FAUX-NAIF was hard to dredge out of my brain, and it kept looking horribly wrong when I filled in letters from the crossings. [Disingenuous] captures it well.
- 41d. BIT PART, nice entry, nice clue. [A line or two] is all that’s in the script for a bit part.
Being decidedly unmusical, I’ve never heard of 1d: C SCALE, [Beginner's piano lesson]. I had SCALES at first but that was a nonstarter with the crossings.
Mighty smooth grid, as we expect from either of these constructors. At the ACPT, Doug told me a bit about how he and Brad collaborate. One of them starts a grid, and when he’s having trouble filling a section, he sends it to the other guy. Between the two of them (and their high standards for fill), they’re bound to make great grids. 4.5 stars; nothing super-showy or memorable, but smooth, interesting, fun, smart, and challenging.
Mike Nothnagel’s Celebrity crossword, “Smartypants Saturday”
Mike Nothnagel teaches math at a culinary college, so it’s cute when he devotes a theme to a chef. He’s not the only Celebrity constructor to do so, but he’s got someone who’s not on Iron Chef on account of no longer being with us:
- 18a. “BON APPETIT!” [44-Across' signoff on 32-Across].
- 32a. THE FRENCH CHEF, [Popular cooking show starring 44-Across]. The show began in 1963.
- 44a. JULIA CHILD, [TV star portrayed by Meryl Streep in a 2009 film].
The non-theme answers tend to the Scrabbly side, with less common letters like X (X-RAY/SAX, ALEX/AXE), Z (JAY-Z, ZOE Saldana), and J (JAB/JUST, FIJI/J.LO, JULIA CHILD/JAY-Z). This allows us to get away from being awash in super-common crossword answers like OREO, ORE, and IRE. Nice stuff.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “Common Sense”
The “common sense” evoked in this puzzle’s gimmick is hearing. Some answers need to be changed to their homophones before going into the grid, while other answers have clues with a word that needs homophoning in order to solve. And then there’s the third category, clues with an extraneous letter in one word, and removing those letters gets you the phrase SOUND JUDGMENTS. Nifty gimmick. I wonder if deaf people have a much harder time identifying homophones and grasping the point of written puns based on sound-alike words.
I had trouble figuring out what’s going on in two of the clues. For 32-Down, [Wolfish look from part of dogsled], the S in “dogsled” is extraneous and the wolfish look is OGLE. I got hung up on wanted “dogled” to be a real word, but eventually I realized that removing 23-Down’s extraneous M in anagrammed “to ar(m)ors” also yields a non-word.
The other trouble spot was 19-Down. [Mick's Bar mistaken for state capitol] uses “capitol” instead of “capital,” and I spaced out on noticing that capital = city (BISMARCK) and capitol = building. Kept wanting to discover a homophone of BISMARCK, and the silent K in 38-Across: KNELL ([Dickens creation in Northern annex] = Nell = N + ell; homophonize to KNELL) wasn’t helping me.
Tough puzzle, right? It’s not just me who spent a good long while untangling things to finally piece them all together? I like a good challenge, and I also like a Hex cryptic that’s free of oddball obscurities. (That one puzzle from a few months ago that I never finished? It was marred by maybe five to eight weird answers, which is four to seven more than I can tolerate.) 4.75 stars. Nicely wrought variety cryptic this week.