Michael Shteyman’s New York Times crossword
I bet a lot of you don’t know Michael Shteyman’s backstory. He came to America from Russia at age 12 or thereabouts, and set about learning English. Then he made his crossword debut (the first of his 43 NYT puzzles) at age 16. And his crosswords are really good—not just “quite good for one not working in his first language,” but better than most native English speakers’ crosswords. Now he’s almost 28 and still cranking out the occasional puzzle.
Today’s theme is about someone well known to me—but whose Titanic demise I didn’t know about, which meant I had to work through a ton of crossings with Thursday-grade clues to piece the theme answers together. CLARA BARTON founded the RED CROSS / AMERICAN (not sure why these entries are intersecting with the thematic 11s, because it locks them into reverse order and also limits the grid’s flexibility). BLOOD DONORS consign their vital fluids to the Red Cross even today.
As I was saying, the four theme answers intersect in two T’s, and then the 72-word grid is filled with a bunch of 7s. There are a number of blechy little answers contaminating the puzzle’s blood supply—the biggest offenders are RANEE, [Department of NW France] ORNE, and ONE C (does anyone call $100 that? The clue is [10 sawbucks]).
There’s a smattering of medicalese, Michael’s natural lexicon (LEXICAL = [Vocabulary-related]) these days and nothing that would throw Clara Barton for a loop. There’s his LAB COAT, BERI beri, and XEROSIS.
The shiniest clues include trivia (HAMEL = [Actress Veronica who was the model in the last cigarette ad shown on U.S. TV]), extra meanings (THROATS = [Clearance sites?]), geography (KABUL = [Capital of the country that's alphabetically first in the United Nations]; ALABAMA = [Georgia's on its side] and I know some of you figured you were too clever to fall for that trick again and filled in ARMENIA), snicker-inducing reminders (ISUZU = ["Go farther" sloganeer, once]—and do you remember how the slogan’s letters appeared one at a time, so you could pause the commercial when it said “Go fart”?), Slavic mystification (STOLI = [Alternative to Putinka, briefly], and no, I’ve never heard of Putinka but gather it must be a vodka brand), and Shakespeariness (HORATIO = [He is "more an antique Roman than a Dane," in literature]).
Imagine my surprise when I considered BRAS as an answer for [“Judge Judy” coverage?] before ROBE, and then the very next clue was [Victoria’s Secret merchandise] and BRAS found its true home. Now, let me tell you something. Although the Victoria’s Secret = BRAS shorthand is handy in the world of crossword cluing, Victoria’s Secret bras suck. They have a limited range of sizes and Victoria’s Secret is anathema among women who prize good brassieres. If you’ve got a Nordstrom or a smaller boutique with trained bra fitters, you’re better off going there, with a much wider selection of brands, styles, and sizes. Skip buying those shoes and splurge on a top-quality bra at least once. Your girls deserve no less.
I’m sorry, where were we? I was about to tell you about my many misfires on 14a. What is the [View from Casablanca], 3-letter abbreviation? Duh MORocco. No, wait. Maybe the MEDiterranean? No, starts with an A so it’s gotta be ALGeria near the border, somehow? Fourth time’s the charm: the ATLantic Ocean.
Bill Thompson’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review
My least favorite thing about solving most puzzles on a computer is that when there are really long clues, sometimes you can’t read it without some finagling. Checking out two key clues in this puzzle gave me a little grief, but it was worth it:
- 17a. [*Place for after-dinner courses] – NIGHT SCHOOL. Darn cute clue, this one.
- 25a. [*Repress] – BOTTLE UP
- 51a. [*Skating exhibitions] – ICE SHOWS
- 64a. [*Delta’s aptly named monthly] – SKY MAGAZINE
- 33d. [With “and” and 40-Across, emissions-reducing method whose first word (this answer) can follow the start of the answers to starred clues] – CAP and…
- 40a. [See 33-Down, and word that can precede the end of answers to the starred clues] – TRADE
I still can’t get over how awesome the clue is for NIGHT SCHOOL. Why do we have to wait this far into the week for clues like this? The symmetry of HIGH COURT and REHNQUIST is great, especially the clue of [Burger follower] – that’s Warren Burger, former Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.
I’ll admit to falling for a trap at 53d. [She’s not for you] was leading me to an answer like EX-???, but it’s just ENEMY. Curse my male-centered mind! I don’t feel so bad trying PLENTY OF for [Overabundance] instead of PLETHORA. Plethora’s a great word.
[Star] clues ASTERISK, a word it seems that many people can’t spell or pronounce. S before K! I’m probably preaching to the choir here, right?
General good use of odd letters here – ERSATZ, KUDZU, EXTRA and ROUX are all good reasons to add in some fun letters. This doesn’t feel like a failed attempt at a pangram – it’s a puzzle made fun by an appropriate use of interesting words. Great work, Mr. Thompson!
Tony Orbach’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “On the Ball” – Sam Donaldson’s review
This crossword has some balls. Four of them, to be precise. The grid “honors” four famous men bearing first names that are also brand names for tennis balls:
- 20-Across: WILSON PICKETT is the [Cowriter and singer of “In the Midnight Hour”]. I wonder whether Tom Hanks plays tennis using Wilson balls.
- 29-Across: SPALDING GRAY is the [“Swimming to Cambodia” monologist]. I am much more familiar with Spalding tennis balls than with Spalding Gray.
- 44-Across: PENN JILLETTE is the [Comedy magic duo’s speaking partner]. He’s the Penn of Penn & Teller. I saw Penn & Teller in Las Vegas many years ago when their show was at the MGM Grand. I loved how they mingled with the audience after the show. We all thought it was great how Teller was the more talkative of the two after the show, but, looking back, I can’t blame Penn for being sick of talking after running his mouth non-stop for an entire 90-minute show.
- 54-Across: PRINCE FIELDER is the [Baseball player who should have signed with the Seattle Mariners this past off-season.] Alas, he is also the [Slugger acquired by the Tigers in 2012].
This might be one of those themes where you like it if you get it but probably don’t if it has to be explained to you. I know my balls, so it worked for me. That all of the theme entries are names of famous men is a nice touch that elevates it beyond the typical “what do the starts of these entries have in common” theme.
Frank Longo’s Celebrity crossword, “Top 40 Thursday”
The easiest way to convey to you the impact of not listening to top 40 radio between 1985 and 2010 is to tell you that I don’t know any Mariah Carey songs. There are none that I like and none that I dislike, as I simply don’t know the songs, no matter how many of them hit #1 on the charts. Here’s the theme:
- 18a. ONE SWEET DAY, ["Song by 42-Across and Boyz II Men that spent a record 16 weeks at #1 in 1995-1996]
- 23a. PRECIOUS, [2009 drama film in which 42-Across co-starred as a social worker]
- 37a. MUSIC BOX, [1993 album by 42-Across with the eight-week #1 hit "Dreamlover"]
- 42a. MARIAH CAREY, [Singer with 18 #1 Billboard hits, more than any other solo artist since Elvis Presley]
I did read plenty of reviews of/commentaries on Precious, though I never saw the movie.
Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “B+”
Gareth here, filling in for Matt…
Today’s BEQ theme could just be your standard “Add a B” shtick, which has definitely been done many times before (I did it as NEWBIE, f’rinstance,) but it’s actually “add a different letter to a word in a phrase that starts with B…” Curiously, The BEQ eschewed the obvious “B to Bl” and “B to Br” changes and instead went for:
- 17A B(J)ORNFREE “Just-released tennis legend Borg?”
- 23A B(M)ICURIOUS “Thinking about leaving ASCAP, maybe?” This was very hard for me to parse, I don’t know about you… The UR of ALLURE were the last two letters and took some sussing out! B?RT could’ve been BART or BERT or even BORT (“We’re out of Bort license plates!”)
- 36A GOOUTWITHAB(H)ANG “Lose consciousness after downing some hallucinogenic beverage?”
- 51A RANGAB(C)ELL “Called up an antibody maker?” Medically accurate, but hard to believe, that one.
- 60A ERICB(W)ANA “Attorney general Holder’s title in Swahili?”
- 4A EDATE “Scheduled Skype convo,e.g.” I don’t want to believe this is a real word.
- 19A LOTTA “Whole slew of” Raise your hand if you tried LOTsA first.
- 30A ENURE “Harden: Var.” I have a personal dislike for this word spelled this way…
- 42A EMO “Like an insufferable, priveleged sophomore who hates everyone… and is melodramatic about it.” Did anyone finish reading this clue before writing the answer in?
- 44A RHE “Boxscore letters”. All crosses baby! Post-solve googling suggests baseball. OK.
- 47A XTILE “It’s usually needed to play SAX”… in Scrabble or its many online variants; I’m losing to Tuning Spork as we speak…
- 56A EUROPOP “Serge Gainsbourg’s style”. I guess… I think of EUROPOP as more disco-y, like Ace of Base, or these guys
- 58A SWAZI “One of the 11 official languages of South Africa”. I think I expressed happiness at seeing SOTHO in a Deb Amlen puzzle of 3/14…
- 66A ASHES “The ___ (trophy for the annual test cricket match between England and Australia). This clue is wrong on two scores. First it’s not a match, it’s a series, usually of five matches. Second it’s not played annually, it was last played in 2010 (spilling over into 2011), and will next be played in 2013. The next big series in cricket is England vs. South Africa (#1 vs #2) in July.
A few more great answers: PUTTOSEA, INSTORE, and WHATNOW…
Peter Collins’ Fireball crossword, “Tail Feathers”
Hidden birds theme, with birds embedded at the end of five people’s surnames, with just one non-avian letter at the beginning of each surname. ISAAC STERN, WES CRAVEN, CHARLIZE THERON, DICK CLARK, MERL REAGLE—tern, raven. heron, lark, eagle. V. nice! The Fireball, like the other indie, non-newspaper crosswords, is free to cater to hardcore crossword peeps by including Merl Reagle.
Didn’t realize until taking a cropped screen capture of the grid that it’s a 14×15.
We see a number of plural first names in puzzles, and they’re usually short names. When they’re short and unusual, they’re particularly odious as crossword fill. [Hagen and others], [Negri and others]—UTAS and POLAS are terrible because we don’t know any other famous people with those first names. PATRICKS is less bad because Messrs. [Henry and Stewart] are just two of many famous people with that first name, and it’s not relying on a short combination of convenient letters. That said, it’s still a plural name. (Great clue, though, since Henry and Stewart double as first names.)
[Females with pigtails?] is a cute clue for SOWS. [“The poor man’s polo,” according to Clifford Odets] is SEX. (Who knew? It seems to have markedly fewer horses of good quality, and usually fewer men in boots.) [Fuji attachments] is a tough clue for STEMS; think Fuji apples. [Done suddenly] seems like a weird clue for SNAP at first; think snap judgments.
Less fond of AGS, AZO (even with a DYE partner), EPEE, E FLAT (I never like the flat/sharp/major/minor note/key entries because they’re all random to me).