Brendan Quigley’s New York Times crossword
This is a crossword that tells a story about the time two lovely people met through INTERNET DATING, got drunk on far too many a FROZEN DAIQUIRI, passed out, and woke up honeymooning on a whaling ship. That 51a is my favorite part of this puzzle, even if I have to come to a dead halt in the middle of typing “daiquiri” every single time. The drink’s spelling doesn’t want to be the way it is.
I cut back on caffeine today. Can barely stay awake long enough to blog this puzzle. What I didn’t know:
- 21a. BEHAN, presumably the Irish Brendan Behan, is [“The Scarperer” author]. Have you ever scarpered? What’s the most scarperiest thing you’ve ever done? Did you know “scarperer” was a word?
- 44a. GUS, [Lead character in Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove”]. Never read it, nor saw the filmic version.
- 35d. MARSALIS, [First jazz musician to win a Pulitzer Prize]. Certainly know the surname, but not the Pulitzeriana. Pannonica surely knows which of the Marsalides the clue refers to. I’m guessing Wynton.
- 8a. [Key for someone with 20/20 vision?], C SHARP. Get it? “See sharp.” Did you groan when you got it? Me, I’m just glad the clue didn’t pretend to demand actual musical comprehension, of which I have none.
I like JASMINE, RANG TRUE, SAVE FACE, THE PEQUOD, the 15s, CATNIP, and MARSALIS … and the rest of the puzzle was sort of just there. I blog about 50 BEQ themelesses from Brendan’s blog each year, and most of them feel a good bit zippier and energetic than this puzzle. The 1-Across corner has two -ER words (EVADERS and the urgh-nobody-uses-that EVENER), crosswordese (ADZES), and a spelled-out letter answer (ZEES)—two actual Z’s but they aren’t put to grand use. It’s really remarkable, the quality level Brendan maintains for his blog puzzles.
Jim Holland’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Strange Days” — pannonica’s review
The subtext for this puzzle unquestionably was “stretch.”
The ostensible theme consists of five punned entries incorporating a term for a chunk of time. As is often the case with puns, some are a bit of a stretch. To accommodate the two longest themers, the grid has been stretched to 15×16. The original phrases constitute a variety historical stretches and indeed they stretch all the way down to the murky depths of the earliest days on Earth. And last, for snaggy reasons in the upper- and lower-left regions, my solving time was stretched beyond what I would have expected for a puzzle of these dimensions.
- 3d. [When emotions could still be controlled?] PREHYSTERIC TIMES (prehistoric).
- 10d. [When Scarlett’s plantation was all-powerful?] REIGN OF TARA (…of Terror).
- 11d. [When people relied on many hunches?] ERA OF GUT FEELINGS (…Good Feelings).
- 26d. [When actress Radner captured the zeitgeist?] GILDA AGE (Gilded…).
- 30d. [When everyone wore fur?] MINK DYNASTY (Ming…).
With the exception of prehistoric times all of the base phrases refer to specific time periods, although three of those remaining—all but the Ming Dynasty—can and have been used generically. That sort of variation is fine with me. The puns are rather good and the theme is successful.
The ballast fill has a minimum of dross and frass, which contributed to a pleasurable solving experience, although the grid design itself was a tad too fragmented to be called smooth.
Essentially, two bits of fill (and associated fallout) held me up. Relatively early on, I plunked in SECANT for 55a [Circle division] and the misspelled (or perhaps geographically misallocated) RIALS at 17a [Cambodian cash]. The correct answers are OCTANT and RIELS. Since each crosses PREHYSTORIC TIMES at strategically confusing places (or so I claim), and I also struggled a bit with ASTRID [Lindgren who created Pippi Longstocking] and ARM [Aconeus muscle location], I had trouble “seeing” the correct long answer.
- One-across starts things off with a halfhearted misdirection, perhaps in an attempt to evoke those seemingly ubiquitous diet-related crossword answers such as lo fat, but I was confident right away, without any crossings, that [Lighter choice] pointed to ZIPPO. Would have been much more devious, yet still acceptable, if the clue had been [Lighter fare]. Then again, it is one-across. Wasn’t fazed by one-down either: [There are six in a million] ZEROS.
- 19a [Took a few seconds] ATE. 41a [Gambler's problem] DEBT.
- 25a [ __ of Nails (college football trophy)] KEG. I’ve looked at a photograph of it. Not as distinctive as the Old Oaken Bucket, which was introduced to me in Henry Hook’s “Deutsch Treat” puzzle this past February.
- 62a [Tiki-bar libations], full name, no fill-in-the-blank, MAI-TAIS. Further, that entry seems to have a cohesive effect on some other fill. (1) The booziness of RUM and TIA […Maria]. Say, what would it be like if you put Tia Maria in your KONA coffee? Overkill? (2) Also, MAI-TAIS/TIA/TIARA/COATI.
- Less welcome: 12d OUT OF [Lacking].
- By far the worst clue was 21d [Decamp] for SKIDDOO. Doesn’t pass the substitution test: “23 decamp”? Outrageous! Criminal! Unacceptable! et ceterant.
- 76a [Intervening, in law] MESNE. Being practically illiterate when it comes to legal ARGOT (73a), I was lucky enough to think it might have something to do with the property term demesne, but it seems they’re etymologically unrelated.
- 54d ["You don't have to tell me twice!"] I’M ON IT. Nice ’n’ colloquial.
- 63d [Ladder rung] STEP. Hm. I’d never considered it before, but in my mind rung and STEP aren’t interchangeable in context, either literally or metaphorically. Certainly, ladder easily encompasses both stepladders and traditional ladders, but if the element is cylindrical—circular or elliptical—it’s a rung and if it has a flat upper surface (or is a parabolic cylinder?) it’s a step. No?
- 40a [Iris-out words] THE END.
Dan Fisher’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “C Food” — pannonica’s review
You know, if I had glanced at the title of this thing earlier on, I could have saved myself at least two minutes of solving time. It’s one of those letter addition things, in this case a juicy “C” is affixed to the beginnings of comestible phrases. Erm, phrases involving comestibles. At the end. Nearly needless to say, the curious new concoctions are what’s clued.
- 21a. [Salad dressing with a twist?] COIL AND VINEGAR.
- 32a. [Breakfast choice in winter months?] COAT MUFFIN.
- 45a. [Dairy product at the zoo?] CAGED CHEDDAR.
- 59a. [Sunday entree suitable for a baby?] CRIB ROAST.
- 66a. [Poached entree in a blob?] CLUMP FISH.
- 78a. [Small fruit that’s sort of funny?] CHUCKLEBERRY.
- 91a. [Sweet treat kept in a pot?] CROCK CANDY.
- 105a. [Breakfast serving suitable for the uninvited?] CRASHER OF BACON.
So there we are. Eight themers of middling-to-longish size. And they’re… there. Rather than being wry or droll or absurd, they’re mostly just functional. The big exception is CHUCKLEBERRY which appropriately garnered a chuckle. It’s also the only one with a phonetic change, the c and the h combining to form a new digraph and phoneme.
CRASHER OF BACON was my second favorite and although I like the clue I kind of wish that, rather than evoking a party crasher, it had done something with the collective noun for rhinoceros; it’s a much more facile image (even if they’re perissodactyls and not especially closely related to pigs).
Last bit on the theme: is clump all that different than lump? Technically, it doesn’t matter since the real phrase is unquestionably lump fish, but truly it’s a minor alteration and doesn’t feel up to par, even with the low standard set. Ironically, it’s the sole themer that’s actually a “‘c’ food.”
More congenially, the non-theme fill was more engaging and satisfying, and a bit tricky. More than once I found myself correcting answers that I had boldly plunked in with few or no letters in place. For instance: 71a [Biting] CAUSTIC for SATIRIC. 53a [Navel bases?] with only the initial O in place, OMPHALI for ORANGES. And I was simply careless at 93d [Grant in the movies] HUGH for CARY.
From the buffet:
- Interesting facts learned: 20a [Bambi's love] FALINE. I tend to forget that Bambi is male. 37a. [Transylvlania Company hire of 1775] Daniel BOONE; never heard of the company, but it makes eminent sense. 34d [City name that's Spanish for "ash tree"] FRESNO. Speaking of which… 94d [Arson aftermath] ASHES, 70a [Tennis star on a 2005 postage stamp] ASHE. Uhm..
- 77d [One may be hidden in a teddy bear] NANNY CAM. Cute?
- 83d [Caesar whose forum was television] SID. I see what he did there.
- Non-cross-referenced pairings! 51a [Cart pullers] OXEN, 107d [Cart puller] ASS (plus 68d [Kensington Gardens buggy] PRAM). 98a [Corp. VIP] CEO, 113a [Company high-ups] VEEPS; I would have preferred the two clues to be similarly worded, both for cohesiveness and to avoid the aural resonance of VIP/VEEPS. (Plus 37d [Pentagon powers] BRASS.)
- 85d [When Romeo first sees Juliet] SCENE V. No mention of which act? Does an unadorned scene number imply that it’s Act I?
- Favorites: 1d [Burglar alarm warnings] DECALS; I was tricked into thinking of slashing lights and sirens, but I guess those are post facto elements and not exactly warnings. 9d [Flying class?] AVES. 67d [New Brunswick tribe] MICMAC, because it’s a fun name (also spelled M’ikmaq). 80d [Love of music] DARLENE; yes, it fooled me.
So, meh theme with mostly good ballast fill equals an average puzzle.
Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Stars in Motion” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Fun theme! Four TV celebrity surnames are reinterpreted as verbs, making them “stars in motion.” For added appeal, the clues reference their TV shows and are formatted as mini-story problems:
- 18-Across: [When the “Three’s Company” stage collapsed,] NORMAN FELL. Fell played Mr. Roper, the landlord in Three’s Company and one of the title characters in the spin-off, The Ropers.
- 64-Across: [When “Hot in Cleveland” finishes filming for the day,] JANE LEEVES. If you don’t get TV Land, you might not know about Hot in Cleveland. But you may well know Leeves from many years of playing Daphne on Frasier.
- 4-Down: [Whenever Erica Hill came on the set of “CBS This Morning,”] CHARLIE ROSE. As a Good Morning America devotee, I didn’t know this Erica Hill person, but I was aware that Charlie Rose had joined the morning lineup along with Oprah’s pal, Gayle King.
- 27-Down: [When the “Cheers” cast held a reunion,] GEORGE WENDT. Hopefully the guy who played Norm Peterson wasn’t the only one in attendance. I hear Shelley Long-ed to attend.
I suppose we have to issue a demerit due to three of the four newly-fashioned verbs being in the past tense, with JANE LEEVES as the odd one out. But hey, it’s nice to have the gender balance in the mix, and it’s not like there’s a ton of TV stars out there with surnames that can double as past-tense verbs.
In my best impression of Dug from Up, there’s lots to like in this grid, like FLY ROD, ZOOMED IN, and…SQUIRREL!! The southwest corner has all kinds of Scrabbly goodness too. Who cares that the make-your-own-word NOPES sits smack in the middle of the grid with the British DEMOB lingering just above–I liked the fill. I had QUELL as the answer to [Subdue] before changing it to QUALM (yeah, yeah, I know–totally wrong), and then finally QUASH. That clue’s not just a trap, it’s quicksand!
Favorite entry = I TRY (lately I’ve been attracted to unusual short fill). Favorite clue = [Penthouse attraction] for VIEW. Yep, my mind went straight there. And if you don’t know where that is, then it’s just as well I not be the one to tell you.
Don Gagliardo and C.C. Burnikel’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Today’s theme takes fives unrelated 7-letter gerunds, doubles the middle letter in each, splits the word into two 4s, and clues accordingly:
- 17a. BREW WING, [Where to find joe at the hotel?]. Hotels have wings? I think of hospitals and office buildings, and for BREW, beer comes to mind before coffee.
- 26a. DUMP PING, [Metal recycling center sound?]. I can’t even hear the ping when that recycling truck picks up from the big condo building across the street. Cans are a lot quieter than glass bottles landing in metal bins.
- 35a. BOARD DING, [Bit of surfing damage?].
- 49a. BEAR RING, [Gang of market pessimists?]. Less dangerous than a gang of grizzlies, but the alliteration of “gang of grizzlies” would’ve made for a nice clue.
- 58a. DUNK KING, [Basketball contest champ?]. “Slam Dunk King” appears to be in the language as an actual thing, and dunk king appears in a headline. Nice.
Literary mystery item of the day: 42d. SWEENEY, [Eliot's "__ Among the Nightingales"]. No idea. SCENE V, Kafka’s AMERIKA, GODOT, and YURI Zhivago were easier for me.
Five more clues:
- 47a. [iPhone current events app] is a tough clue for NPR NEWS.
- 8d. AT CAMP, [Where some kids spend summers]. Not really a stand-alone lexical chunk, is it? I feel like AT HOME and AT WORK are more solid units, whereas AT CAMP feels more like AT A PARTY, more arbitrary.
- 29d. LARGENT, ['70s-'80s Seahawks receiver Steve]. Remembered more for going into Congress after retiring from football than for his football career, no? Hmm, Wikipedia says he’s a Hall of Famer so I suppose football fans all know his highlights.
- 28a. NOSTRIL, [Air intake spot]. Is it weird that this might be my favorite clue in this puzzle?
- 45d. ARLEEN, ["America's Funniest People" co-host Sorkin]. Who?? This is not a big name. Wikipedia tells me she cohosted the show from 1990-1992. I hereby move that ARLEEN be banned as a crossword entry until such time as there is a famous Arleen.