Greetings, people of Earth! I’ll be leaving the blog in the capable hands of Team Fiend this weekend. I can’t stand the heat in Chicago any longer. I’m going to Atlanta, where it will be 10° cooler.
Second announcement! To celebrate Neville’s birthday today, drop by his new blog and download his new crossword. He’ll be posting a new puzzle every Friday. Hooray for another indie/self-published crossword site!
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s New York Times crossword
This week is a special Theme Week at the New York Times, and the theme is … OTARU! Here it is again, that Japanese port [City on Ishikari Bay]. I’m all for learning geography, but not so much for geographic knowledge that is likely to serve you only for doing crosswords. Otaru has two sister cities, in New Zealand and Russia. I’m going to petition Mayor Emanuel to get a Chicago-Otaru connection going. Wait till I tell the Otaruans how popular their town is in American crosswords! So popular, its O can cross crossword-friendly town ORONO.
Martin’s grid is built around that giant plus sign of intersecting triple-stacked 15s. WILMA FLINTSTONE may well be the best crossword answer all week; that [Maker of gravelberry pies] clue didn’t help me at all until I had enough early crossings to show the way. I don’t know the old musical I MARRIED AN ANGEL (Wikipedia tells me that the actress with the most bizarre combo of first and last name obscure crosswordese, Taina Elg, was in the 1964 productions), but NOTES ON A SCANDAL provides more contemporary oomph. FAMOUS LAST WORDS is a great, colorful phrase. GENERAL ELECTION is solid, while AS STUPID AS CAN BE feels a little less solid as a phrase.
The grid accommodates six more long answers and a pair of 6s, and then the rest is 3s, 4s, and 5s ranging from lively (TRIX) to flat (AGER, XOX, ERTE, FIS, OBAD) and unfamiliar (["Diaspora" author Greg] EGAN, [Christie detective Parker ___] PYNE). There’s good flow from section to section, thanks to the 10s that spin off from the 15 stacks.
3 2/3 stars.
David Steinbergs Los Angeles Times crossword — Gareth’s review
David Steinberg’s Friday doesn’t have question-marked theme clues, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t trickery afoot! I’m sure you quickly realised something was missing in the long answers, but what? Turns out David is claiming that the 59a, [Ones responsible for what's missing from certain puzzle answers?] are VEGETARIANS. Those pesky VEGETARIANS, they’re now censoring the daily crossword! All the answers are colourful idioms, and all have at least 3 words, if you include the redacted meat product. They are:
- 17a [Calm and kind], ASGENTLEASA(LAMB)
- 24a [Earn a living], BRINGHOMETHE(BACON)
- 37a [Completely different situation], ANOTHERKETTLEOF(FISH)
- 48a [Suddenly stopping], QUITTINGCOLD(TURKEY). When an omnivore renounces meat, they quit cold turkey.
However, 60d [It's legal to poach one], EGG Makes it into the puzzle!
61 Theme letters is not to be sneezed at, and yet David managed to fit four long downs in as well! 5d [Newt with a large vocabulary], GINGRICH has a clue that’s trying too hard, IMO, but including a figure from the news (at least from the news when the puzzle was made…) is great! 39d [2012 animated movie promoted by IHOP], THELORAX, is a children’s classic, was recently made into a film, and has an X in to boot! 28d [Super Bowl XXVII MVP], TROYAIKMAN continues the recent trend of puzzles I write-up the blog for having full-names of US sportsmen.
A few other short answers I’d like to highlight:
- 43a [Insight provider?], HONDA. Off ??NDA, I tried QANDA.
- 48d [Country once known for pearl diving], QATAR. News to me! There’s a scrabbly country mini-theme going on with 31a [Suva is its capital], FIJI.
- 50d [Part of UNCF], NEGRO. Wins the most surprising answer award! I’ve shied away from using it in puzzles before. It’s clued in the tamest and driest way possible, except maybe as a
“South American river”. Anyone feeling offended?
Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “S.A. Questions” – Sam Donaldson’s review
DATELINE- San Antonio, Texas. What do the answers to the four questions posed in today’s crossword and the continent of South America have in common? They all have the initials S. A.:
- 17-Across: [What do you call things like irons and toasters?]. I call them HOUSEHOLD OBJECTS WITH WHICH I HAVE BURNED MYSELF. You call them SMALL APPLIANCES.
- 28-Across: [What’s the constitutional addition cited by gun owners?]. It’s the SECOND AMENDMENT. “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Insert your own commentary as to whether this language supports a right to carry handguns here. Better yet, don’t.
- 48-Across: [What do you call unexpected acts of violence?]. I call them PRE-WEDDING JITTERS, but you might call them SURPRISE ATTACKS.
- 61-Across: [What’s a one-room abode called?]. Why it’s a STUDIO APARTMENT.
There are lots and lots of possible theme answers here, so Patrick went with four 15-letter entries. For many constructors, 60 theme squares would be awfully constraining, but Patrick never met a constraint he couldn’t overcome. Notice how he makes it all both smooth and whimsical. Highlights include PEACOCKS, the [Pheasants’ male kin], PEA PODS, the [Legume holders], and APE MAN, the [Hypothetical hominid]. Besides the duplicate PEAs in PEACOCKS and PEA PODS, did you catch how ESP and ESPN sit side by side? Cheeky! But wait, there’s more sass. TREE is a clever answer to [House location, maybe], and I like [Start to pick?] as a clue for NIT. And then there’s the treat for Inner Beavis: ASSES clued as [Boobs]!
Favorite entry (perhaps of the month so far) = Mayor McCHEESE, the McDonald’s character. Favorite clue = either [Hand holder?] for ARM or [What Spock suppressed] for EMOTION. I’m finding some success playing Spock in rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well crossword “Yo-Yo Diet” — Jared’s review
I enjoy a crossword puzzle with a narrative. This one, Yo-Yo Diet, is about those pesky pounds that keep showing up in places they shouldn’t, even as you work hard to remove them from others.
- 17a. [Middle-earth?] – BILBOSPHERE. Biosphere. My wife had to explain the entry to me – apparently Bilbo is a character in The Hobbit or something.
- 26a. [Put on a show for a Beantown campus?] – FLASHBU. Flash bulb. The cluing feels somewhat off to me – flashing someone usually lasts a second or two while “put on a show” connotes a more lasting experience.
- 37a. [Meals shipped from Maine with every fleece vest or backpack?] – LLBEANCUISINE. Lean Cusine. I enjoy truly absurd clues that will never appear again in any crossword as long as humanity survives. This qualifies.
- 50a. [Rear part of Martinique?] – ILEBACK. I’ll be back.
- 58a. [Online video of a 1960s president talking to aliens?] – LBJETSTREAM. Jet stream. This one took me a bit to parse. In case you’re as dense as I am: see, an online video can be a “stream”, and if it’s a stream of talking to an extra-terrestrial then it’d be an ET stream. If the video is of Lyndon Baines Johnson doing said activity, well, I think you can take it from here. This is my favorite theme answer.
Fun theme. I’d have preferred the first theme entry to lose a pound rather than to gain one, as diets don’t generally start by gaining weight, but I’m guessing it was too hard to come up with more passable phrases obtained by dropping “lb”.
- 1a. [Elbows on the table, say?] – PASTA. Totally transparent, even to a bottom-ten-percenter like me (see me bio), but fun nonetheless and it’s always nice to start a puzzle off with something amusing.
- 15a. [Unusual belly protrusion] – OUTIE. More unusual than I thought. Cursory research suggests that outies only make up 10% of the population. As a child I actually thought it was the norm, probably because I have one and am very self-centered.
- 21a. [Everyday outfits for some little kids] – TUTUS. Really? I’ll let you know when my 1-year-old son starts insisting on wearing his tutu every day.
- 29a. [Tom’s neighbor] – SNARE. I’m guessing this refers to snare drums and tom tom drums. It could also refer to the techno group Tom Snare.
- 32a. [Winter ennui, e.g.] – BLAHS. Do you associate “the blahs” with winter? This seems off.
- 46a. [Early copy] – DRAFT. Not sure if this was intentional misdirection or not but I had MIMEO at first.
- 57a. [Acronym used when you plan to BRB, say] – AFK. This one was a mystery to me. Apparently people use “AFK” to mean “Away from keyboard”. (In case you’re very old and aren’t up on the internet lingo those whippersnappers are using these days, “BRB” means “Be right back”.)
- 64a. [Legal pseudonym for Norma McCorvey] – ROE, as in Roe vs. Wade, it turns out. I like learning things. I had no idea that Roe wasn’t her real name.
- 5d. [Ruined Greek Market?] – AGORA. I only just understood this. I know that the agora was the name of the marketplace in ancient Greece but I didn’t understand the “ruined” part. I think it’s as simple as Greek Ruins.
- 11d. [Marine] – LEATHERNECK. Never heard the term. I couldn’t convince myself of a way to spell JARHEAD with 11 letters.
- 22d. [Where the FBI operates] – USSOIL. Feels arbitrary.
- 36d. [Pat-down agcy.] – TSA. I love this clue. That is, after all, pretty much what we think of them as, right?
- 39d. [One might snitch to a constable] – NARK. This entry had me all messed up for awhile. I wasn’t willing to consider that it could be spelled anything other than NARC, it being derived from “narcotic” and all. NARC out-googles NARK 10-1 but that makes it no rarer than an outie bellybutton which we’re all willing to concede is a thing.
- 43d. [“The dog is not a ___”!] – TOY. I think an owner of a pomeranian or chihuahua, say, may beg to differ.
Reading over my “bullets”, I’m a bit dismayed to see how many of them consist of me admitting that I didn’t know something. But that’s why you read me – to feel superior – right?
Robert Fisher’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Natural Misunderstandings” — pannonica’s review
No wordplay in the theme answers, but the clues swing a little fun with these “compound” animals. One, however, is not like the others—of course it’s the first, which hampers the fluidity of my exegesis.
- 17a. [This animal presumably spends its entire life in shell… correction: just the first part of its life] TURTLE DOVE. See below.
- 27a. [This animal presumably has large ears… correction: it’s earless] ELEPHANT SEAL. Would have preferred some quotation marks in this clue, since the descriptor for the so-called “earless” or “true” seals (as distinguished from “eared” seals, which include sea lions and fur seals) is misleading. They certainly possess fully-functioning ears, but lack external pinnae (never mind the confusion engendered by the group name pinnepeds, which shares the same Latin root). Elephant seals are so named because of their massive size and also because of the proboscis found on males.
- 48a. [This animal presumably moves about on eight limbs… correction: four limbs] SPIDER MONKEY. Their highly prehensile tails function almost as well as a fifth limb. Because their arms and legs are very long proportional to their bodies, they somewhat resemble spiders, which gave rise to their name. Of course, there are some spiders with stubby legs, but let’s not go there.
- 63a. [This animal presumably hunts its prey in the jungle… correction: the ocean] TIGER SHARK. Both tigers and tiger sharks are top predators, solitary and nocturnal, with distinctive lateral stripes.
And now to revisit 17a: turtle doves do not owe their name to the testudines, but are called such in imitation of their purring “turr, turr” call. To me it feels like a flaw in the theme though I realize it’s a subtlety that will presumably be lost on others. However, the venue being the Chronicle of Higher Education, I feel it’s incumbent on the publisher to not foster misinformation under its aegis, even in the context of a lexicological pastime. Higher education, higher standards. And as long as we’re sorting out our critters, Shakespeare’s poem “The Phoenix and the Turtle” is about a turtle dove, not a turtle, though I would think that most of this blog’s readership are aware of that.
It’s a cute theme, and our naming of the natural world is rife with such borrowed appellations, so there was a large inventory to choose from.
The ballast fill has its charms, too, with the regimental GENDARME and SATRAP. PARALLAX continues the recent and ongoing discussion on this blog about parsecs. Symmetrical partners CELEBS and CO-STARS seem to be aligned.
The tone of the clues is moderately playful, and five of them have the signalling question mark affix. My favorite is 12d [Piece of cake?] CRUMB. Trickiest is 22d [Unable to attend?] DEAF. 71a gave me a sense of déjà vu because the whence in the clue ([Whence Zephyrus blows] WEST) was strongly reminiscent of 9d THENCE. 49d [Eye ailment] IRITIS has an unusual letter pattern, with those alternating Is as the only vowels. A onelook query for “common” words with the same pattern yields but a few others: ibibio, ilicic, ilicin, iridic, iritic.
Anyway, to recap: a good puzzle with a “flaw” that irked me more than it will most other solvers.
Myles Callum’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Beware of Sharks” — pannonica’s review
A rather skeletal theme for this offering, unless I’m missing something. Each of the special entries has a clue ending in “with scattered money from a shark?” which indicates that the letters L-O-A-N—as in loan shark— appear in order within the answer, though not necessarily consecutively. The entries are no fancier than that; they don’t spell something else without those letters, and those letters are not unique in context (i.e., some answers have duplicates of one or more of the four).
It’s fairly insubstantial as a theme conceit and the associated letter count is low (85 in a 21×21 grid), so I’m tempted to view it as a themeless (which isn’t pejorative in my book, so I tend not to use “freestyle”). That said, many of the themers are quite nice, especially the one-worders with less common letters.
- 23a. [Student of fossil plants with scattered money from a shark?] PALEOBOTANIST.
- 48a. [Forensic clues with scattered money from a shark?] BLOODSTAINS.
- 65a. [Old military slogan …] BE ALL YOU CAN BE.
- 87a. [Officer …] POLICE WOMAN.
- 114a. [Commencement speaker …] VALEDICTORIAN.
- 36d. [Dockworker …] LONGSHOREMAN.
- 41d. [R&B singer …] KELLY ROWLAND.
The fill contains a good mix of interesting words, literature, history, pop culture, science, geography, and so on, fulfilling the ostensible purpose of a crossword, to pass the time while making one feel perhaps a bit smarter than one started. Forthwith, a scattering of observations:
- Up in the northwest corner I liked the paralleled Peter O’TOOLE [Eight-time Oscar nominee with no wins] and similarly apostrophed PO’BOY [Southern sandwich]. Poor Peter. And he’s just recently announced his retirement. I also liked those two because I quickly filled them in without any crossings as I was beginning the solve.
- More Os in that section with the fun OORT cloud and the very nice SOTTO VOCE, appearing complete rather than one element or the other in fill-in-the-blank fashion.
- 10d [Takes to the skies] AVIATES and 75a [Roll controller] AILERON (which I consistently misspell alieron. VINOS is referenced with the Italian [Borolo and Chianti], while OPORTO is clued as [Henry the Navigator's birthplace] but it’s also the original name of port, which is a shortening. I mean, it’s a wine—a fortified wine—not a shortening that you’d use in the kitchen. Well, wait, it isn’t uncommon for food, especially desserts, to be prepared with port. Oh, but shortening is a common ingredient in baked desserts and… I meant it’s a lexical shortening. *sigh*
- 56a [They call for change in your travel plans] TOLL GATES. Great clue, though the need nowadays is more and more rare.
- Some did-not-likes which seemed a bit arbitrary:
- 94d V BLOCK [Engine configuration]; isn’t it more commonly called a V engine?
- 118a AGE TEN [What many fifth graders have reached]
- 63d FBI MEN [Hoovers hires]
- 61a IN YEARS [For a long time]; as in, “I haven’t seen you IN YEARS.” Not enough to stand on its own, so it’s essential an unappealing partial. Not the only one in the grid, but the one that most rubbed me the wrong way.
- 59a NAUT. [Like a capt.'s charts]; and there’s a nasty abbrev.
- Over in the middle-left area, I had BLASTS for BLARES [Plays at high volume] and UTES for OTOS [Winnebago offshoot]; both close-but wrong answers persisted longer than they would have if they were completely off the mark, so the mistakes added significantly to my solve time.
- Vocabulary builders! [Articulate ] ENOUNCE, [Twentieth of a ream] QUIRE, [Narrow furrow] STRIA, [Fine networks] RETICULA.
- 28a & 30a TATAR | TAR.