Freddie Cheng’s New York Times crossword, “Oh, Really?”
I like the theme well enough but the fill had too much in the way of AESOPIC TOTERS. The theme entries replace a schwa+L word ending with an O and reclue accordingly:
- 23a. [Ultranationalism?], JINGO ALL THE WAY. “Jingle all the way” is a line from “Jingle Bells.”
- 39a. ["Thriller" Grammy sweep?], THE DAY OF THE JACKO. Michael Jackson’s tabloid nickname was Jacko, and The Day of the Jackal is a movie, also a novel.
- 48a. [Speed at which the apocalypse is coming?], TEMPO OF DOOM. Indiana Jones partied at a Temple of Doom. Foreboding movie score music has a tempo of doom, doesn’t it?
- 64a. [Obsessive-compulsive soap purger?], RINSE PSYCHO. Washing machines have a rinse cycle. Wagner was famous for his as well.
- 74a. [Big gambling loss in the Biggest Little City in the World?], RENO FAILURE. Hey, there! Renal failure is no joking matter.
- 91a. [Bad precept for U.S. foreign policy?], AMERICAN EGO. (Eagle.)
- 99a. [Not a happy ending on the yellow brick road?], TOTO ANNIHILATION. Cripes, total annihilation is even more dire than renal failure.
- 121a. [TV detective with his unbalanced suspect?], HAMMER AND SICKO. No idea what TV show had a detective named Hammer. Sounds more movie/book/noirish to me. I wanted Columbo to play a role here, but “Columble” isn’t a thing. The hammer and sickle were the symbols of the USSR.
Wherever I glance in the grid, I find fill that triggers the old Scowl-o-Meter. I’ve never seen the word 51a: AESOPIC, [Having allegorical meanings]. It sits atop 61a: AURATE, [Gold-compound salt]. 128a: ENSEAT, [Opposite of dethrone]? Plural SONYS and O’NEILLS, crosswordese ANIL? 129a: RONZONI, [Big name in pasta]? I don’t think Ronzoni is actually such a big name in pasta. Barilla, Prince, Buitoni, and Creamette, yes.
2.75 stars. There wasn’t enough good stuff in the fill to make me forget about the clunkier entries.
Pancho Harrison’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Invitation to the Dance” – Jeffrey’s review
Theme: Tribute to 117A. [Song-and-dance man born 8/23/1912] – GENE KELLY. That makes him exactly 50 years and 4 days older than me. Will Shortz is 10 years and 1 day older than me.
- 22A. [117-Across film which he also co-directed] – ON THE TOWN
- 27A. [Film that earned 117-Across a Best Actor nomination] – ANCHORS AWEIGH/30A. [Prize hopeful] – NOMINEE. Perhaps hoping to be Best Actor.
- 43A. [Film pairing 117-Across with Fred Astaire] – ZIEGFELD FOLLIES
- 60A./75A. [Scopes Trial film featuring 117-Across] – INHERIT THE WIND
- 66A. [117-Across Oscar-winning film] – AN AMERICAN IN PARIS
- 91A. [117-Across film with a classic umbrella scene] – SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN
- 106A. [117-Across's film debut] – FOR ME AND MY GAL
- 14A. [Medieval Italian chest] – ARCA. Medieval crosswordese.
- 39A. [Garment district biz] – RAG TRADE. I wanted Schmata.
- 77A. ["Wonder Woman" star Carter] – LYNDA/70D. ["Still Me" memoirist] – REEVE . They appeared on consecutive episodes of the Muppet Show.
- 4D. [Sci-fi writer whose career spans more than 70 years] – POHL
- 5D. [Place for a patch] – POTHOLE. Take out a low digit from POTHOLE and you get a sci-fi writer.
- 76D. [Where Alice's adventures really took place] – IN A DREAM. Spoiler alert!
- 99D. ["I've Just Seen __": Beatles] – A FACE
- 118D. ["Little" '60s singer] – EVA
Nice tribute puzzle.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Here’s a most interesting 64/30 freestyle crossword. It features not only triple-stacked 15s at top and bottom but also a set of three 11-letter entries placed in staircase form in the grid’s center, with most of those 11s crossed by five-letter entries. That’s a grid that doesn’t allow for much compromise. It must have been daunting to construct.
Like most, I suppose, I started at the top, but all I could plunk down without crossings were EDAM, the [Cheeseboard choice], FANG, the [Vampire feature], FRIO, the word for [Cold, in Cordoba], and I MEAN, the [Clarifier's intro]. That didn’t give me enough to crack any of the Acrosses, understandable since I lacked the first five letters for all of them.
So I tried to build off the N in I MEAN to get a toe-hold in the equator. I figured the answer to [Most demanding] had to end in -EST, so I typed those letters in, and that helped me get STRINGS as the cutesy answer to [Cello quartet?]. From there, the equator fell somewhat quickly. I liked [Piece of digital jewelry] as the clue for TOE RING, and CUTS THE LINE was an interesting answer for [Releases, as a fish].
The south fell even more quickly. With Los ALAMOS and the [Radiator fill] of COOLANT in place early, the three long15s put up virtually no fight. I wouldn’t have known CHASSE, the [Gliding ballet step], but thanks to all of the easy crossings I didn’t need to know it.
So, at about the six-minute mark I had a good two-thirds of the grid tackled, so it was time to return to that daunting top section. I started on the far right, as STONED had to be answer to [Blotto]. I gritted my teeth as I typed ENTERER, my (correct, as it turns out) guess for a [Keyboard user, often]. I then figured RESTORES was the answer to [Brings back]. That gave me most of the ends of the entries. I remember one year at the ACPT when, as part of his always-great color commentary during the final round, Merl Reagle mentioned how much harder it is to solve a clue with the end of an entry instead of its start. I suppose that was common sense to most in attendance, but it really stuck with me. Now when I solve, I always try to find the entries where I have the first letter or two in place as opposed to those where I have the last letter or two. I don’t know if it has helped my solving times very much, but at least I feel more methodical about the whole process. Anyway, back to this puzzle: I could hear Merl tutting at me for going about this swath of the grid all wrong. But it was all I had.
I took a lucky guess that the [Acting ambassador] ended in -AFFAIRES. Good grief, I thought, 1-Across is a French term. Merde! It looked like the [Source of some benefits] ended with DEPARTMENT, but who knows what kind. And the answer to [Declare one's intentions publicly] appeared to end with TO, as in POUR ONE’S HEART OPEN TO, an answer I knew wouldn’t work for many reasons. Still, I wanted something like that. It was only when I got ATF as the [FBI cousin] that I saw the last word was really MANIFESTO, meaning the grid wanted a noun, not a verb. I figured it had to be WRITE A MANIFESTO. As you can see, it was ISSUE A MANIFESTO. I suppose that works, but it feels a little on the arbitrary side to me. In any case, that mistake on the first word really bollixed me up. It would have helped had I known ROUEN as [Joan of Arc's trial city] and if I could have cracked HAS OUT as the answer to [Is currently promoting, as a song] (I first tried ON TOUR). So that little corner took up nearly five minutes of solving time as I tried and re-tried various guesses until finally tumbling to CHARGE D’AFFAIRES as the ambassador and LABOR DEPARTMENT as the benefits source. I finished more with a sense of relief than triumph, though I had the triumphant feeling five minutes earlier when it felt I was cruising along.
Time now for the daily guessing game for Name That Constructor Month. This has to be a Martin Ashwood-Smith puzzle, right? C’mon–the triple 15s, the French-Canadian-like references (RICHE was also in there), the low word count? If this isn’t Martin Ashwood-Smith, it’s someone trying to be Martin Ashwood-Smith. So let’s go with this slate:
1. Martin Ashwood-Smith. 2. Ray Hamel. 3. Tony Orbach.
Well that was an easy three points!And that takes me past my adjusted goal score of 30.5 points for the month, with 12 puzzles left. I’m averaging about 1.6 points per day. If I can keep that going, 52 points is within range. I’ll set my final goal for 50 points. Having said that, I’m sure, here comes the cold streak!
Name That Constructor Stats After 19 Puzzles: 8 correct first choices (3 points each), 4 correct second choices (2 points each), 1 correct third choice (1 point each); 33 points total so far; new adjusted score to beat = 50 points.
Patrick Berry’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 124″ – Doug’s review
Hey, crossword fans. Doug here. We’ve got a particularly nice grid from Patrick Berry today: 66 words, and not one awkward entry or obscurity. It’s not a flashy grid, but it’s rock solid.
- 17a. [Pitching aid] - ROSIN. In difficult puzzles, I expect “pitching” to refer to salespeople. This one actually refers to baseball pitchers and their rosin bags. Psyched me out.
- 40a. [American flags that are worn out?] – LAPEL PINS. Great clue.
- 12d. [When Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving] - OCTOBER. That doesn’t seem so weird. The weird part is that they celebrate Thanksgiving on Monday, so they miss out on an awesome 4-day weekend. I’m sure Jeffrey can explain this oversight.
- 49d. ["Steptoe and ___" (British sitcom)] - SON. Remade in the U.S. as “Sanford and Son.” Trivia tidbit of the day: The theme song from “Sanford and Son” was written by Quincy Jones and is called “The Streetbeater.”
Henry Hook’s Sunday crossword, “O-L, What Can You Do?” — pannonica’s review
Phonetically, the “O-L” of the title evokes an exasperated “oh hell,” but on another level it questions the utility of those letters. Rather than an interjection, it thus becomes an address to the digraph itself. Accordingly, OL is inserted into base phrases and modifies their content.
- 22a. [Short Christmas song?] COMPACT CAR(OL).
- 26a. [Actors are in a 1940s movie?] THE (OL)DIE IS CAST.
- 56a. [Starlit stupidity?] F(OL)LY BY NIGHT.
- 65a. [June?] MAY F(OL)LOWER.
- 82a. [Simon Cowell?] WIZARD OF ID(OL). The original comic strip has a “The.”
- 112a. ["Ms. Kidman is in the waiting room"?] NIC(OL)E TO SEE YOU.
- 118a. ["The North Star is my fave"?] I LOVE P(OL)ARIS. Seems like a rather random phrase unless you know it’s the title of a Cole Porter song from Can-Can.
- 15d & 16d. [… storage site that smells?] (OL)FACTORY WAREHOUSE.
- 79d & 80d [… part of a mammographer's skill?] ARE(OL)AS OF EXPERTISE.
The wacky® new versions are a mixed bag—an olio, if you will—but for the most part entertain. I very much appreciate the symmetry of the vertical themers, that the pairs are stacked two-part answers, the only two two-part answers among the lot. Somewhat less appreciated, but infinitely more sticklerish, is that the sequence O-L is not exclusive to the theme entries; they appear in AEROSOL, APOLOGY, DOOLIE, GAOL, and AEOLIA.
Keen observers may notice in the accompanying solution grid a little black corner mark at the intersection 63a and 54d. That’s indication of an incorrect letter I couldn’t uncover during my solve, even after a minute or so of searching at the end. For the across [Drag] I had TOTE rather than TOKE, and thus TDT for [Big name in electronic gizmos]; I was aware of the manufacturer TDK, but couldn’t see it because TOTE seemed reasonable and my mind glossed over the other answer as “random company initialism.”
Also experienced a small delay in completing the crossing of 98a [Trygve's successor] and 98d [USAF newcomer]. Although the down fill could have been many things to my ignorant eye, I luckily surmised that DAG was correct. T Lie was the first elected Secretary-General of the United Nations, D Hammarskjöld was the second. Crossword fill such as this makes me glad I grew up seeing on a regular basis places like Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza and U Thant Island.
Revisiting a few of the non-theme OL-words mentioned above, I was struck by the entries that contained A followed by an unusual vowel (i.e., not I or U): GAOL, AEROSOL, TOGAED, AEOLIA. That last (60a) is an [Ancient country of Asia Minor], named for Aeolus (but which one?).
- The prevailing influence of 42d AMORE helped me to misread 92d [Ump's call] BALL ONE as “baloney.”
- 20a, unusual clue [Troubadour's tune] for simple fill: LAY. Played on a ney, maybe?
- Favorite clue/answer by far: 34d [Groovy] STRIATE.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated crossword, “Playing Post Office”
This week’s theme involves adding the letters PO to existing phrases and radically altering their meaning:
- 15a. [Instruction heard at a zoo exercise class?], HANDS ON HIPPOS. (Hands on hips.)
- 23a. [Story of a soldier who's good but not great?], THE OK CORPORAL. (The OK Corral.) Cute.
- 26a. [Item on a safari guide's "least recommended activities" list?], POKING COBRAS. (King cobras.) See also 15-Across.
- 44a. [One of Al's ex-wives?], SUGAR CAPONE. (Sugar cane.) The inclusion of SUGAR here is entirely arbitrary, isn’t it? Why an ex-wife? As it turns out, Capone had one wife named Mae.
- 54a. [Simple way to answer a "favorite music" query?], SHOW YOUR IPOD. (Show your ID. Not your Freudian id, but your identification.)
- 63a. [Big name in hotel chocolates?], RUSSELL STOPOVER. (Russell Stover is a brand of boxed chocolates.) Meh. Seems to lack the faint plausibility that goofy answers should have, and if they don’t have it, they should be overtly surreal—but this isn’t that, either.
- 78a. [Raw deal at a music store?], GUITAR RIPOFF. (Guitar riff.) V. good.
- 86a. [Expert who really knows his dog food?], ALPO CHEMIST. (Alchemist.) Looks like “alpoche mist” in the grid to me.
- 104a. [Your one-stop shopping place for on-the-road utensils?], CAR SPOON CITY. (Carson City, NV.) Again, the plausibility is strained, but it’s not quite goofy enough to amuse me. Really wanted SPORK to get in here somewhere, though SRK is an unlikely sequence of letters to be found in any base phrase.
- 112a. [Nightly battle between a spouse who wants to read and one who doesn't?], CLAP-ON WARFARE. (Clan warfare. Wait, that’s a thing?) Assumes the couple has installed The Clapper to turn lights on and off. Humorous image, but the “clan warfare” root alienates me.
- 118a. [Extreme worry that the price of stamps will keep rising?], POSTAGE FRIGHT. (Stage fright.) Mildly vexed by the duplication between the “Playing Post Office” title and the word POSTAGE.
Overall, I didn’t much enjoy this puzzle. The theme answers were hit or miss, and the fill, constrained by the stacking of theme entries in the top and bottom of the grid, wasn’t clicking for me. Consider the first swath of Downs—Taft’s initials, WHT, [President-turned-chief justice: inits.]; ENE; EDOMITE; POCUS; ENOS. Three of these cross [Verdun's river], MEUSE. Meh. I’m good with 31a: [NPR film critic David] EDELSTEIN of Fresh Air, but then the 83a: STEINS provide too much of an echo.
A baker’s dozen of other clues:
- 12a. [Take the stand, ironically], SIT. Great clue!
- 59a. [Flour made from ground corn and mesquite beans], PINOLE. You don’t say.
- 73a. ["All for the glorification of your massive ___!" (George to Steinbrenner in "Seinfeld")], EGO. Fun clue.
- 98a. [Philip Ardagh children's book, "___ and Rubber Chickens"], TRICK EGGS. A 2010 book I’ve never heard of. The author’s other books look subversively goofy, though. There’s one about boogers and other bodily issues.
- 17d. [John, Paul and John Paul], POPES. How about the Alexanders? You’ve got the popes from Alexander I to Alexander VIII, as well as poet Alexander Pope.
- 32d. [Hospital pain reliever], DEMEROL. If you don’t know how to spell this med and you don’t know about Mexican PINOLE, that O might be hard to come by.
- 45d. [The loneliest numero], UNO. I tried to put ONE here first. I also tried to put ONE as the next answer, 46d: [Word on a dollar or coin], in place of GOD.
- 64d. [Remove duds from bags], UNPACK. Milk Duds come in boxes, of course, and need to get unpacked from your molars.
- 69d. [Typical Bond-movie home], VILLA. Fresh clue.
- 80d. [State utility regulator: abbr.], PSC. Huh? Details here.
- 87d. [Knee-slappers], HOT ONES. I have never called a joke a “hot one.” Maybe a bread roll fresh from the oven.
- 103d. [Fixed by an ed.], CORR. Not such a common abbreviation, methinks.
- 105d. ["Get ___!" (baseball exhortation)], A HIT. Sounds bizarre to me, but my husband says that yes, they do say that.