Note from Amy: Jared’s review of Peter G’s puzzle in The Week is entertaining and the puzzle itself is entertaining. To extract maximum value from Jared’s write-up, go here to print out the puzzle. You have to download the puzzle as an image, or open the image in a new window, and possibly do a little trial and error to get it to print out in a workable size. But Jared swears that it is worth the hassle.
Laura Sternberg’s New York Times crossword
We’re on a roll with good NYT crosswords. Thursday’s was an accomplished début, Friday’s is one of the highest-rated themelesses this year, and Saturday’s is a good themeless by, as Deb Amlen points out, a woman. (This is fairly rare in the themeless department.) I miss the golden era of fiendish Saturday Times puzzles by Sherry Blackard, and I wish Karen Tracey hadn’t eased up on her constructing efforts. In her notes at Deb’s Wordplay blog, today’s constructor, Laura Sternberg, says her themeless constructing is informed by David Quarfoot’s advice to use interesting new entries. Well! Anyone who’s striving to be Quarfootian should absolutely keep making themelesses.
SASSAFRAS is nice to see in the bottom row. It’s heavy on the S’s, yesss, but with more flavor than a REASSESSES or STRESS TEST.
I like the opening Q and the double vision of SNAKE EYES and CAME TO SEE. (Though the EYEBALLS—[They're found in orbits], you know—are an unfortunate duplication. But then, both EYEBALLS and SNAKE EYES are great entries, so if you’re going to have duplicative fill, make sure they’re not boring.) I am more familiar with “Q rating” than Q SCORE, but what do you know? Q Score is the official term.
I like the geo-trivia in the northeast corner. [Like the developers of Skype] clues ESTONIAN. I don’t know their names, but I’ll bet this puts them in the upper echelon of Estonians who are famous in the U.S. Not sure how I feel about CORNELL U as an entry, because I’m not sure how many people call it that rather than just plain old “Cornell.” Other puzzles have had YALEU, DREWU, CLEMSONU, and DRAKEU—meh. In checking the Cruciverb database for other School U. answers, I began to amuse myself. The famous mustache academy, Fumanch U. Suntz U., where you can be an art major (in the art of war). Jiujits U., which should be the name of a martial arts school. Got a joke for Sudok U.? WONTONS and TWO-STEPS lively up this corner, while RESOW is firmly in the “meh” category.
Jumping to the southwest quadrant, I like HAVE A COW. And if you’re going to have plural first names, go thematic: We have female journalists this time: ERINS on the TV sports front and GWENS on the PBS news front. RADIO DJ amuses me—surely this is a retronym, a phrase that didn’t exist before. Because what else was a DJ but someone talking on the radio? And now DJs spin records at nightclubs, program recorded music at wedding receptions, or (correct my ad hoc definition if I’m off base) provide the beats for rappers. Oh, and play music on the radio.
Updated Saturday morning:
Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “The Morning After” – Sam Donaldson’s review
The title gave away the theme, but I’ll take any help I can get with a Bob Klahn puzzle! Each of the five theme entries is a wacky phrase composed of a normal two-word term appended at the end by the letters “AM:”
- 17-Across: An “attack ad” becomes ATTACK ADAM, clued cleverly as [Pounce on the first mate?]. I failed to think of “first mate” as Adam (some say he was the first to have “relations”), so this one took me a while to suss out.
- 23-Across: “Steaming mad” becomes STEAMING MADAM, a [Boiling bordello biggie?]. Great clue.
- 39-Across: “Corporate jets” become CORPORATE JETSAM, the [Fortune 500 castoffs?].
- 52-Across: [Poking fun at a former flier?] clues ROASTING PAN AM, a supplemented “roasting pan.” Critics roasted the television show Pan Am too. I wanted to like the show, as I adore Christina Ricci. But it hit turbulence early one so I hit the ejector seat after the second episode.
- 63-Across: The [Bit of supplement-al security?] is not just “vitamin C” but VITAMIN CAM.
One of these days I will pay attention to capitalization in clues. I read the clue to 1-Across, [Star wars starters], as [Star Wars starters], so I was completely lost. I needed every crossing to get this one, because I refused to accept EWOK (like any right-thinking Star Wars fan)I had to play guess-a-letter with the crossing -ATES, clued as [Passes through a wall?] before tumbling to GATES, which in turn gave me EGOS. Oh, those star wars! (You know, the ones when divas collide.)
I always learn a new word or two when solving one of Bob’s puzzles. This time it was MOMERATHS, clued as [They "outgrabe" in "Jabberwocky"], and NILES, Ohio, the birthplace of former President McKinley. Oh, and ISOS, which are apparently [Some sports-replay shots]. This is a straightforward clue and not some clever re-working of a common term, right? Right?
There were a number of abbreviations in the grid (OSS, ASSN, ACAD, DEV, MPS, TPK), but there was also much to like, like INSOMNIAC, YO MAMA, ADD IN, and STEVEN Wright. You can never go wrong with Steven Wright.
Favorite entry = FRIVOLOUS, [Like litigation lacking legal merit]. Favorite clue = [Room with IV-covered walls] for I.C.U. (Though I also liked [Handover for a hand] for ANTE.)
Peter Gordon’s The Week crossword for June 29, 2012—Jared’s review
Apparently nobody newsworthy died this week as there seem to be fewer long current-event entries than usual.
I imagine that the BACONSUNDAE [New dessert offering from Burger King] will at least indirectly contribute to some forthcoming demises, however. Amy recently made a controversial Facebook post that “Bacon ruins everything.” I’m on the dissenting side of that proposition, though in the case of a sundae I strongly agree.
Other theme-ish entries include PRIVATESECTOR ["The ___ is doing fine": Obama] (fun entry) and CALLMEMAYBE [Carly Rae Jepsen hit], which for my money at least, is one of the least exciting long Week entries I’ve come across.
We’ve also got CARTALK [NPR show that will stop having new episodes in September] (I guess they’ve run out of ways to laugh) and MATTCAIN [He pitched the 22nd perfect game in major league history]. There was no chance the latter wasn’t going to be mentioned – baseball entries are one of Peter’s calling cards.
I’m not sure if Peter is a horse racing fan too (“too” as in “in addition to baseball” not as in “in addition to me”), but this is the third week in a row that the sport (?) has gotten a nod. This time it’s ALYDAR [Runner-up to Affirmed in all three Triple Crown races]. Aren’t most horse names English words or phrases? Is this one the exception or is it just a word I don’t know? (I understand that I could google it. You need to understand that I don’t care enough to.)
Other, more common fill, but with especially up-to-date cluing:
- [Congressman Barber who took over the seat held by Gabrielle Giffords] – RON
- [Facebook's was in May] – IPO. How’d that go?
- [Syria's president since 2000] – ASSAD. OK, the clue isn’t super current but the entry is “newsy.” I see it as my mandate to point out the newsy entries.
- [Nickname of the ballplayer who recently tied Lou Gehrig's career record for grand slams] – AROD. See comment above re: baseball.
- [Newly named U.S. poet laureate Trethewey] – NATASHA
Other entries I have something to say about:
- [Motel freebie] – ICE. Yahoo, free ice! At home it makes up a significant part of my budget.
- [Mind reader's ability] – ESP. I’d strongly prefer the clue to be [Alleged mind reader's supposed ability]. Not one person, ever, has proven to have ESP in a properly controlled scientific study, and it’s not for lack of trying.
- [Former Sacha Baron Cohen persona] – ALIG. Far and away his best character IMO.
- [Immediately following this] – HEREON. I’ve never seen this word before. I had HEREBY and that got me screwed up in the SW for awhile.
- [Into the wind] – AWEATHER. Is the deal that you can put an “a” in front of pretty much any word and it becomes a nautical term?
Maybe next week you’ll actually do the puzzle too? I’ll reimburse you for the ink if that’s the sticking point.
Barry Silk’s Los Angeles Times crossword
I like the word UNGAINLY. It’s an oddball word. Its parts are all familiar but you can’t break the word down and make sense of anything. Gainly isn’t a word and there’s no such thing as ungaining. I looked up the etymology at Merriam-Webster: “obsolete gain direct, from Middle English gayn, geyn, from Old English gēn, from Old Norse gegn, from gegn,preposition, against; akin to Old English gēan- against — more at again.” So … we can liken it to unagainstly? That makes no sense. English is a weird language.
The grid looks ungainly but it’s actually a good layout—this 70-worder has lots of flow between sections of the grid. The 1/2/3d 8-letter answers cross the 7s at 30/34a, and those cross the 7 and 10 at 27/28d, which in turn intersect the 8 and 10 at 49/52a. If you can figure out any of those long answers, you get some help sneaking into the adjacent zones.
- 37d. [The Ohio River forms its southern border], ILLINOIS. Clue applies to Indiana and Ohio, too.
- 38d. [Candy once touted by a giraffe], CLARK BAR.
- 49a. [24 between Berlin and Hamburg, e.g.], AUTOBAHN. Had no idea how Germany’s highway numbering system went, but VIERUNDZWANZIG wouldn’t fit.
- 22d. [Super __] TUESDAY, the big primary election day. Wasn’t expecting to see a day fill in that blank.
- 1d. [They're rarely enforced], BLUE LAWS. Great entry, but I’m not sure about the clue. In 37d, at least, you can’t shop for a car on Sunday, and you have to wait until a respectable time on Sunday to buy liquor. It’s nuts. There are far more people who work on weekdays and would love to shop for a car on Sundays than there are car dealers who wish to keep the Christian sabbath.
Is it just me, or was the cluing easier than usual? I zipped through this one. Granted, it took me almost twice as long as Dan Feyer (2:06) and David Plotkin (2:00 flat), but still. That link goes to Dan Does Not Blog, Dan Feyer’s blog. If you’ve been hankering for a place to enter and track your solving times on all of the day’s puzzles (and not just the NYT and LAT, as we do in the sidebar here), Dan’s got that. It’s rather intimidating.
3.33 stars. There are more blah short answers than I’d like to see (MGRS SSNS EDO MST NTSB BLAS SLUE SGTS SSRS … that’s a lot of essy abbreviations), and the lively ones don’t hit the level of, say, yesterday’s NYT puzzle full of zippy answers.
Brad Wilber’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
I didn’t quite get around to this puzzle this morning, and then there were errands, lunch, planting thyme, and—whoops, suddenly it was time for the Sunday NYT. Now that it’s after dinner, here we go.
Good lord. I received a letter of complaint about this puzzle before I solved it and had one answer (STONE-COLD) spoiled, and the puzzle still took me a lot longer than usual. Three quarters of the puzzle behaved as expected, but then the southeast corner just got mean. The crux of it was 57a: [Electrical conductance unit]. ABMHO?!? Are you kidding me? Joon or other physicists or electrical engineers, tell us: Is this unit in wide usage? Wikipedia tells me it’s the same as a gigasiemens or absiemens—two more unit names I didn’t learn in college physics. Pretty much every clue in that area was vague enough that most of those squares sat there, vexingly blank, as the minutes ticked by. 65a: [Unable to progress], STYMIED? Yes, indeed:
- 44a. [2008 Mars probe discovery], OPAL. News to me.
- 49a. [Name on the cover of ''Midnight Bayou''], NORA. Uh, Nora Roberts, romance novel? I’m just guessing.
- 53a. [Seventh-century date], DCL. So we’ve narrowed it down to DCI, DCV, DCX, or DCL.
- 60a. [Phrase spoken with a wave], HERE I AM. Could be a helluva lot of things, couldn’t it?
- 63a. [Stretch], EXPANSE. Could be noun, could be verb. I had the initial E but that didn’t get me too far. Pondered ENGORGE and similar words.
- 37d. [Click-wheel device], IPOD MINI. IPOD NANO is more familiar so if you’ve managed to suss out the clue, you still only have the first 4 letters for sure.
- 38d. [Stunt work], CAR CHASE. CAR CrASh is a near match.
- 39d. [Navigated gates], SLALOMED. This refers, of course, to travelers’ maneuvers at airports.
- 52d. [Nag], HARPY. Or the verb, HARRY. Or the other noun, HORSE. All three with H*R**.
- 58d. [Light element], BEAM. Did you all try NEON as I did?
- 61d. [It often precedes a three-digit number], EXT., for a phone extension. I had ONE, for the number before a dialed area code.
Oof! I just was not on the Stumper wavelength this evening.
Fill I liked includes SCHMALTZ, RED ROVER, STONE-COLD, ART FILM, LONG JOHNS, PALAVER, CAR CHASE, TO WIT, DO LAPS, and IMHOTEP.
Oddball trivia of the day: 32a [Director that Lucas based Han Solo on], COPPOLA. I did not know that.
Hardest answer to parse: 47d [Doc Savage of '70s filmdom], RONELY. That’s Ron Ely, who played Tarzan way back in the day. Never heard of this 1975 movie, and I had a brief moment of crisis when I hit 50a: [Ear-relevant opener] and wasn’t sure what vowel the prefix would end with. R*NELY just looked bizarre. OTO to the rescue! I forgave Brad for this one after I did a Google image search for ron ely tarzan and saw lots of skin. Tanned skin atop toned muscles. Hel-l-lo, Tarzan!
3.5 stars. Would’ve been 4 stars if ABMHO had vanished from the grid.