Ned White’s New York Times crossword
Well. This puzzle didn’t slaughter me the way it slaughtered some of the usual applet hotshots, but good lord, this is one cracked-out grid. So many things I’ve never heard of that I’m not quite sure how I finished the puzzle in a regular Saturday amount of time. Some of those answers are piled together in deadly zones. To wit:
- 8a. BOBSTAY, [Rope holding down a bowsprit]. What? It’s stacked on…
- 16a. OPUS ONE, [1945 Tommy Dorsey hit]. What?
- 18a. RESTONS, [Journalists James and James Jr.]. There were two? We’re using plural last names in the grid now?
- 22a. CRI [__ de guerre] is less familiar than nom de guerre, is it not?
- 31a. OLD PAL, [Longtime ace]. “Ace” is a pal, not someone who’s good at something?
- 38a. AQUA TEEN, [Any of three title characters in a long-running Cartoon Network series]. I know of Aqua Teen Hunger Force but had no idea there were three “Aqua Teens.” Bleh. Looks weird without the Hunger Force.
- 53a. ZALE, [Big name in jewelry retail]. Um, no. The big name in retail jewelry stores is Zales, no apostrophe. It’s run by the Zale Corporation, but that’s nowhere near as famous as Zales-with-an-S.
- 13d. ANN RULE, [Author of "The Stranger Beside Me," 1980]. Faintly recognize the name; didn’t get it from the clue.
- 14d. YES IT IS, [Beatles tune that begins "If you wear red tonight"]. Never heard of it. Husband sang that first line and it sounds very early Beatles.
- 34d. IN B, [Having five sharps]. Bleh. Never like this sort of music clue/answer. Your mileage may vary.
- 36d. NEHI SODA, [Drink that had a Wild Red variety]. Don’t think I’ve ever seen the answer as a phrase like this.
- 39d. QUIRINO, [Philippine province on Luzon]. Luzon has about half of the Philippines’ 80 provinces, and I know several of them. This was not one of those. But Ilocano is a primary language there, and that’s my mother-in-law’s native tongue so I can almost forgive the province’s inclusion in a crossword grid.
- 43d. VEAL RIB, [Steak or chop choice]. Uh, does this show up on restaurant menus, at butcher counters, in cookbooks? VEAL RIB is not a term I’ve ever encountered.
Now, I know a lot of people who make themeless crosswords, and I could imagine they’d think that including more than a couple of these answers would be grounds for editorial rejection. So…the shiny parts bedazzled Will Shortz, then? Because PIZZAZZ, CUPCAKE, UC-DAVIS, OBELISK, I SAID SO, and BORA BORA are great. And the middle ground of answers—tough things that I have seen before—are fair game for a Saturday grid. That middle ground includes RHEBOKS, DELIBES, the RIVER PO, GAMBREL, and BUCKY / BEAVER (the spokesrodent for that old crosswordese toothpaste, Ipana).
Favorite clue, because it so confused me: 5d: [Drum and bass parts], FINS. Drum and bass are both kinds of fish, not just musical instruments. I also like the gentle mislead of 52d: [Alabama or Missouri], TRIBE.
Overall, the 13-car pile-up of unknowns felt off-putting to me rather than “ooh, fun challenge.” Two stars for them, four stars for the rest, and a resulting rating of, say, 2.8 stars. Bobstay Restons, old pal! Ann Rule veal rib? Yes it is, Quirino.
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Put Some Clothes On!” – Sam Donaldson’s review
40-Across says that NAKED is [In the buff (and a hint to the first word in 17-, 31-, 48-, and 65-Across)]. The first word in each of those theme entries is not synonymous with “naked,” as implied by the wording of the clue; instead, they are words that can follow “naked” in other common expressions:
- 17-Across: [Sodium pentothal] is also known TRUTH SERUM (the “naked truth”). Thirty years ago I would have been a big fan of “naked truth serum,” but with age comes the realization that few people really look good naked.
- 31-Across: The [Anathema to the NRA] is MICHAEL MOORE. But what’s a “naked Michael”–some kind of cocktail or something? Oh, wait. The answer’s GUN CONTROL (as in The Naked Gun). Now I get it.
- 48-Across: The [School cafeteria expenditure] is not PINK SLIME but LUNCH MONEY. This “naked lunch” thing sounds familiar, but I have to look it up–hold on. Okay, I’m back. The good folks at Wikipedia say Naked Lunch is “a novel by William S. Burroughs originally published in 1959. The book is structured as a series of loosely-connected vignettes. Burroughs stated that the chapters are intended to be read in any order.” The literary equivalent of a Quentin Tarantino film, it seems.
- 65-Across: The [Gorilla suit] is not a matching sport coat and tie, as I always thought. It’s just an APE COSTUME. Isn’t any entry in the form “___ costume” pretty arbitrary? And what of the naked ape? I see authority for The Naked Ape as both a film and a band, but I suspect it’s just a noun–you know, a “naked ape” as opposed to the “nattily attired ape.”
There are only a couple of entrances into the northeast and southwest corners from the diagonal swath running from the northwest to the southeast, so it’s three mini-puzzles in one. The highlight of the northeast corner is IN DISTRESS, but I liked ME TOO, ARABIANS, and TOMATO too. The southwest corner has all kinds of woes. There’s an INSECT BITE, THE BENDS, and a FLAT. Good thing there’s an OLD PAL near MONACO to offer sympathy.
But my favorite section was the diagonal swath, particularly the pairing of EVES, [12/24 and 12/31], next to DAYS, [12/24 and 12/31]. That’s a nice pairing and nice use of the same clue. It may have been serendipity, but sometimes the cool little coincidences like that can really make a puzzle.
Stan Newman’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
Holy schnikes. This puzzle slaughtered me. The first few minutes went by and the grid was…blank. Twelve minutes in, large swaths remained mostly vacant and I took a break. I came back to the puzzle later but no smarter. After a couple more minutes, I waved the white flag and Googled two things: 46a, [Scarlett's maid] PRISSY, and 14d, ['70s sponsor of Disney World's "If You Had Wings" ride], EASTERN Airlines (good gravy!). Those gave me enough of a foothold to make my way through the rest of the puzzle with a total solving time two to three times longer than my average Stumper times (and don’t forget, there was Googling here or my solving time might have been ∞.
Much of the difficulty comes from Stan’s efforts to make the most oblique and challenging clues imaginable, but then it gets even harder because of the grid layout. It’s basically five mini-crosswords with only the most tenuous connections between them, so there’s little of that brisk flow between sections that most puzzles have.
I didn’t even notice while solving that Stan achieved an impressive feat in the middle: five 7-letter answers stacked together, with EDGINGS (one of two [Buy for a lawn] answers, the other being an AERATOR) being the closest thing to a compromise in that section. There’s a reason we seldom see 5×7 grid sections and it’s that they’re not easy to make. No, wait–I don’t like 27a: DEALS TO, [Services at some tables] either (verb phrase in the clue, cards being dealt at casino tables).
Onward to some of the many tough clues:
- 6a. SHORT SALE, [Classified listing]. Mighty nonspecific clue.
- 16a. AEGEAN SEA, [Region once called Archipelago]. Fascinating. I was trying to think of island chains rather than a sea filled with Greek isles.
- 18a. BAR GRAPHS, [Plotter's work]. I was picturing someone plotting points on the X and Y axis. Is there plotting in bar graph land?
- 21a. FIAT, [Sanction]. I don’t see the equivalency. Anyone?
- 24a. S CURVE, [Display of diminishing returns]. Say what? Is it about this mathiness, the sigmoid function? The only S curves I know are on Lake Shore Drive.
- 33a. GASOHOL, [E10 blend]. Is ethanol fuel the same or not?
- 39a. NECKTIE, [Band over a top]. Mighty vague.
- 43a. EER, [Ending like -ist]. Ick.
- 48a. ST. PETE, [AL city]. Alabama has a St. Petersburg? Wikipedia doesn’t seem to know this. What the hell? It’s certainly a harder clue than [FL city] would be, innit?
- 59a. COOKIE TIN, [Where snaps may be stored]. As in gingersnaps. I need to get rid of my cookie jar. I never use it for my cookies and it takes up space. The handle’s chipped. Can I just throw it out?
- 61a. ARMY BRATS, [Gingrich grew up with them]. No idea. POOR IDEAS OF MARITAL FIDELITY wouldn’t fit.
- 5d. RAT, [Frequenter]. As in “mall rat,” “crossword tournament rat.”
- 6d. SABO, [Destructive op]. Short for sabotage, I gather. Have never, ever seen this shortening, but there is a baseball player named Chris Sabo whose name crosswords have taught me.
- 20d. CREAMERY, [Food processor]. Mighty vague clue.
- 28d. ASPCA, puppy [Mill fighter]. Tough clue without the word “puppy.”
- 36d. REPLICA, [Word from the Italian for ''answer'']. That doesn’t make much sense. Tried RIPOSTE first.
- 58d. NET, [Totally conclusive]. Now, that’s a bizarre clue for NET.
I don’t know what direction to go for a star rating here. The clues didn’t hit me with that “Oh! Now I get it!” appreciation of cleverness (other than the AEGEAN SEA clue being interesting). That’s the Stumper style: throw you off the track with oblique alternate meanings rather than engage in wordplay. So it was a struggle, mostly not a very entertaining one, but the fill is solid and the puzzle meets its goal of stumping solvers. Let’s call it 3.5 stars.
Doug Peterson’s Los Angeles Times crossword
All right, what’s up with the easy clues? I’m all for giving newer solvers the encouragement that they can finish a Saturday LAT puzzle, but I wouldn’t want them to feel bad the next week when the puzzle’s more challenging.
I also relish spending time battling twisty Saturday clues, and this crossword didn’t put up much of a fight. The fill has lots of sparkle offset by only a little bit of “meh.” The highlights:
- 1a. RED SQUARE, [St. Basil's Cathedral locale]. I just scored 157 points in Lexulous (a Scrabble-like game on Facebook) by connecting two red squares (triple word score, baby!).
- 33a. ZAPRUDER FILM, [Evidentiary home movie studied by the Warren Commission]. Strictly factual clue, no playful trickery to make it harder.
- 41a. CRASH COURSE, [Programs for quick studies]. Nice answer.
- 67a. A far-fetched FISH STORY, [Overdrawn account?]. Nice clue, nice answer.
- 4d. SCHLITZ, ["The beer that made Milwaukee famous"]. One vowel, six consonants.
- 24d. NO PICNIC, [Hardly easy]. Well, actually…
- 31d. RUFUS, [Chaka Khan's old group]. I feel for you. We don’t need Rufus. We just need Chaka Khan’s voice (that link is a 2008 C.K. performance).
- 38d. MAKE NICE, [Act friendly]. Nicely nice answer.
The other long answers are fine but not as zingy as these ones, and the short fill is mostly the ordinary sort of short stuff, with your OAR, RAE, UTA, LYE, and SER. The highlights elevate the rating to four stars but the easy clues and surrounding ordinariness drop the puzzle to 3.5 stars.