nb: Last week’s CHE puzzle has been published and the write-up is now posted.
Brad Wilber and Doug Peterson’s New York Times crossword
Happy Bastille Day! This blog’s household finished our observance of Bastille Day last night, when my husband ran the B.D. 8k. Why wasn’t it scheduled for July 14? I do not know.
Seeing the byline made me look forward to a smooth, clean grid and creative clues. The puzzle had some of that, but it also had some weird, non-Braddy, non-Dougish stuff I’m surprised to see, especially in a 70-worder. ISERE, INEZ, unfamiliar KONRAD people, STLO, ESSEN (but finally! A clue that everyone who ever took German has been waiting for: [City whose name means "eat"]), the woeful REPAD … well, I guess that’s all the icky stuff, but it’s still more than I was expecting to see from these two prolific constructorial powerhouses.
- 1a. CRAFT FAIR, which I like to slightly mispronounce as “crap fair.” There are crafty people who make incredible stuff, it is true (I’m partial to glass paperweights, nice wooden things, and interesting pottery I never actually buy), but there are also craft fairs in which nearly everything is schlock or kitsch.
- 15a. “OH, SUSANNA,” don’t you cry for me. I’ve left you for a career as a bluegrass banjo player.
- 60a. ERIC CARLE, with such lovely illustrations in his books for small children.
- 63a. COCK-A-HOOP, [Triumphantly boastful]. The term derives from the phrase “set cock a hoop,” which has to do with turning on the tap and letting liquor flow. None of the taps in my house run with hooch.
- 4d. [Nap kin], fun clue for FUZZ. As in the nap on a sweater, little bits of fuzz.
- 13d. CPR CLASS, [Revival meeting?]. Cute clue. Answer begins with five consonants.
- 29d. [Rice served after him], starting with P? My first thought was PILAF. Wrong rice. Colin POWELL.
Interesting combo in the southwest: AIR MEDAL is an [Honor for an ace] while AIREDALE is the [Pet kept by Wilson, Harding and Coolidge]. They’re AIR(m)EDAL(e) twins. Fraternal, of course.
Alan Arbesfeld’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Not Up for an Attachment” – Sam Donaldson’s review
This little one proved to be something of a challenge, but I very much liked the theme and the placement of the theme entries. Alan Arbesfeld (or “Double-A” as he’s known to…well, no one, I suspect–I just made it up) simply adds DOWN to the ends of four common terms. Naturally, then, the four theme entries appear in the Down position:
- 3-Down: Add some DOWN to a variety show and you get VARIETY SHOWDOWN, the [Crisis at a Hollywood publisher?]. In a wonderful memory lapse, I kept thinking the name of Variety was VANITY. Seeing as my goof contains one fewer letter, this was really giving me problems. But I think the mistake is hilarious. Isn’t Vanity a terrific name for an inside-Hollywood paper?
- 5-Down: An ordinary wisecrack becomes a WISE CRACKDOWN, a sign of [Intelligent law enforcement?].
- 11-Down: The good times of spring break turn to the more dour SPRING BREAKDOWN, the [Cause of a mattress collapse?].
- 19-Down: If you’re wondering what’s in your milkshake, you might be interested in the MILK SHAKEDOWN, [Extortion at a dairy farm?].
So I lost a good thirty-plus seconds playing “guess-a-letter” at the crossing of TABLA, the [Small Indian drum], and SABRAS, the [Native Israelis]. That’s what I get for going in keyboard order instead of alphabetical order–who put the stupid B on the bottom row, anyway?
The other challenges in this grid were entirely my fault, like typing in IDLE as the answer to [Idle of Monty Python fame] instead of ERIC. That’s just sloppy solving. And it led to another error, for when I saw that the answer to [Genesis brother] started with the E at the end of IDLE, I plunked down ESAU and didn’t give it any more thought. Um, CAIN turns out to be the right answer. But hey, Esau had a brother (right?), so I don’t feel too badly about this one. Likewise, RETRO seemed like a fine answer to [Not an original, to a dealer] (and the crossing gave me STRING- to start the theme answer at 11-Down, which looked promising), but obviously REPRO is better.
For some reason, I keep blanking on SERE as a crossword answer, even though I have seen it before. It occurred to me that Siri would know about sere. Nope. She kept insisting it was a verb meaning “to char.” But my dictionary confirms that [Bone-dry] is just about the most direct and terse clue there could be for the word.
David Steinberg’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
I think this is David’s first Newsday themeless, though I haven’t looked at all the themed puzzles and don’t know if he’s been in the Newsday stable for a while. He’s super-young (just finished his first year of high school but has already attended the ACPT and met tons of crossword people [including me]) and “super-young” is not the general Newsday vibe. This puzzle fits right into the Stumper zone of “lots of answers you can’t possibly get, but then you get a crossing or three and a word starts to take shape, and eventually you may slay the beast entirely.” This particular beast is four mini-beasts connected only by intersecting long answers (the ones that frame the A in the grid’s center), which means four separate times of desperately searching for a foothold or two to get moving. Those four chunks of black squares? They’re the hammers hitting you over the head again and again.
I’d put the southeast quadrant as the easiest (which is not to say it was easy on the general scale of things–”easy” meaning “only as hard as a Saturday NYT”), northeast second easiest, then the northwest, and the southwest hitting me with hammers the most. So the SE rates one hammer and the SW four hammers.
I just checked the word count. 54?!? That is crazy low. The record’s 52, I believe. Okay, that explains the inclusion of the blah REROSE, ENISLED, and ANILINE; the over-S’ed SENSELESSNESS; the not-quite-a-a-lexical-chunk NEEDS REPAIR, and the unfamiliar ARIELLE (7d: [Kebbel of “The Grudge 2″). Take a gander at the difficult SW corner. It’s hard because of the clues—the fill is fiercely smooth. PIERCER is the only thing that isn’t unassailably smooth. I don’t like the plural ENAMELS (43a: [Crown toppers], as in teeth), but the word itself can also be a verb so the word is fine. Basically, this is a Patrick Berry section. So is the SE—each of these corners has only a single proper name (I’m not counting RAVENS since it can be a regular noun). The NE has the ARIELLE/NERISSA ([“The Merchant of Venice” maid]) crossing that might slow people down, but I is the only plausible letter there.
Ten items on the bulleted list:
- 6a, 6d. [Pontifical] = PAPAL was a gimme, unexpected in a Stumper but welcome with a four-part grid. The first P made [Original language of “The Rubaiyat”] = PERSIAN a snap.
- 19a. [Vain fancy], CHIMERA.
- 21a. [Took, as some cards], HONORED. No idea what this means. Is this bridge? Euchre? Ecarte?
- 25a. [Bud’s beginning], EAR. I was thinking botany rather than earbuds.
- 36a. [Stadiumgoer’s souvenir], PENNANT. I was thinking of concerts rather than sports, for no reason at all.
- 42a. [Rap response], IT’S OPEN. Rap on the door.
- 47a. [Not really nice], SEEDY. This is more about neighborhoods than people.
- 2d. [California pre-statehood land grants], RANCHOS. Reagan had a rancho, didn’t he?
- 28d. [Clean, to some sergeants], UNARMED. I think this is a cop sergeant, not a military one.
- 38d. [Picked up, as oysters], TONGED. Is this about wild oysters being caught, oysters in the kitchen, or oysters on your plate? P.S. Crazy to have 38-Down be the end of the Down clue list!
Three stars for the fun quotient, 3.5 stars for the overall fill quality (irrespective of word count), 4.25 stars for the Stumperish clues challenging me, 5 stars for the smoothness of fill with the word count in mind. Combined score … let’s call it 4.25 stars.
Barry Silk’s Los Angeles Times crossword
This 72-worder has room for a lot more fun fill than a grid like David Steinberg’s Stumper immediately above.
Here, for your amusement, is a video of dancing monkeys.
- 1a. [Rakes], CASANOVAS.
- 15a. [Chicago university founded in 1945], ROOSEVELT. My son’s wonderful fifth-grade teacher got her master’s degree there.
- 23a. [Justin Timberlake nickname], PRINCE OF POP. Really? Did not know that, am glad to learn it.
- CLAMBAKE/CRANKCASE combo.
- 39a. [1960s music phenomenon], BRITISH INVASION invading the middle.
- 47a. ["Casino" Best Actress nominee], SHARON STONE. Nice sound echo between Casino and the crossing CAMINOS.
There are many who hate NLER and ALER as crossword fill. I feel similar about AOLER—Google it and you get under 90,000 hits, meaning that it’s not really in broad use. The Urban Dictionary definitions are mostly insulting. And most of the first 10 Google hits are using it to mean “person working for AOL” rather than “person who pays AOL for their internet access.” As of 2007, Wikipedia tells me, AOL’s subscriber base was down to 10.1 million; by 2010, a mere 4.4 million. [Many an online shopper] hints at a larger percentage of the internet population than whatever AOL accounts for now, if you ask me. The clue feels like it’s from the 1990s. (Mind you, I love the 100% smooth and interesting crossings that AOLER has in this puzzle.)
- 44d: [Vietnam's Ngo Dinh __] meets 56a: [Japanese veggie]. I couldn’t get any of NHU (could only think of Dien Bien Phu) despite the name probably appearing in clues for NGO (which still gets clued as a Vietnamese name in the news decades ago rather than as an abbreviation for “nongovernmental organization.” Don’t a lot of crossworders listen to public radio and hear about NGOs? The veggie is UDO and that U was iffy for me.
Crossword-geekiest clue: 19a: [Prefix meaning "beyond"], META. As in Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest‘s meta puzzle, and the Pete Muller Monthly Music Meta. If you don’t know about these already, they’re crossword contests in which first you solve the crossword, and then you have to figure out the meta answer, which goes “beyond” merely answering the crossword clues. You might need to take the initial letters of the theme answers and anagram them into a country, or find a message hidden in the clues, or notice that crossing answers suggest primary colors and then blend those colors together to create secondary colors. It’s a mental challenge that requires flexible thinking, thinking outside the box, discarding what you think you know and finding something entirely different. I love ‘em, these puzzles with metas.
This meta monkey rates this puzzle with four stars.