Announcement! Brad Wilber’s monthly themeless for August is now available in both crunchy and smooth versions. I did it this afternoon and it was as tough as a gnarly “Saturday Stumper.” (8:18 for me.)
Mark Feldman’s New York Times crossword
I am always pleased when a crossword demands that I enter words backwards. I’m pretty good at backwards spelling, and I like how insane the words look that way. In this puzzle, six Yiddish words are spelled from right to left, which—I just learned tonight—is how real, written-in-the-Hebrew-alphabet Yiddish is written. I had no idea that Yiddish wasn’t specifically a Jewish language using the Roman alphabet—but the transliteration from Hebrew letters to Roman ones explains the many spelling variances (schlep vs. shlep, for example).
I am infatuated with the many Yiddish words that have seeped into the English language, like the six in this puzzle. Chutzpah, or [Effrontery], comes out as HAPZTUHC. Schlep, or [Lug], is PELHCS. A yenta, or [Gossip], is ATNEY. Your [Butterfingers] klutz is rendered as ZTULK. Nielo becomes OLEIN—oh, wait, that one’s neither Yiddish nor backwards. Kibitz, or [Offer unwanted advice], clues ZTIBIK, which puts me in mind of rapper/actor Xzibit. And schmooze = [Shoot the breeze], sort of (there’s so much more to schmoozing!), and appears here as EZOOMHCS. The words are mystifyingly tied together by the central answer, LEARNING YIDDISH, which is clued as [Title on certain language videos ... with a hint to entering six answers in this puzzle]. Now, if you never knew that Yiddish came in another alphabet that travels the opposite direction, that theme revealer clue does nothing to explain why those words are backwards. And the “LEARNING” part of the theme revealer is utterly beside the point. Language videos? Learning? No, no, no. It’s just YIDDISH written in the direction you’d expect if it weren’t in the Roman alphabet … which it is. So it seems a rather muddled approach to the theme. Just putting YIDDISH in the middle and explaining something about the Hebrew alphabet’s direction in an overly wordy clue might have worked better.
So! I learned something new about Yiddish tonight. I am also finding secret messages in the grid. “Even so, R.E.M. isn’t learning Yiddish.” Stipe et al. are more “into Lao roadeo” these days. It’s the real reason the band broke up.
Bonus Judaic content: ELI Roth, mysterious Biblical word MENE, NAOMI, the BEAS Arthur (née Bernice Frankel) and Benaderet (her dad was a Turkish Jew), and ACRE clued as the [Israeli port].
Gareth and Mac were probably alarmed to see the answer to 42d: [Ski-___] in the grid. DOOS is a vulgar word in Afrikaans and Dutch. If you write it backwards, it’s merely SOOD and much less offensive.
Didn’t know that 14a: CIMARRON was an [Edna Ferber novel]. I looked at the 8 squares and said, “Dang! SO BIG is only 5.” Cimarron has a gorgeous movie poster.
I’ve got nothing else to say about this puzzle except 3.33 stars. How about you?
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well puzzle, “Inflitration” – Jared’s review
Last week we had six theme entries; this week there are only three but we don’t mind because there is a higher level of difficulty inherent in executing this theme, and more importantly, there probably isn’t a reasonable fourth entry that would work anyway. What happens, here, is each of the U.S. government’s three most well-known clandestine organizations “infiltrates” a base phrase.
- [Suggestion for one struggling with a particularly hard puzzle?] The NSA infiltrates the pop song CALL ME MAYBE to make CALL MENSA MAYBE.
- [Research journal for Middle-earth gastroenterologists?] The FBI infiltrates ELLE MAGAZINE to make ELF BILE MAGAZINE.
- [Supremacist group's media content?] The CIA infiltrates MASS RALLIES to make MASS RACIAL LIES.
I love the first one. The second is great too but I can’t quite get over the fact that a research journal and a magazine aren’t even close to sufficiently synonymous to swap with each other. The third doesn’t work for me at all. For one, the base phrase “mass rallies” isn’t nearly strong enough. For two, I found the word “media” in the clue misleading, suggesting something more specifically media related than the answer gives us. For three, the payoff is in no way amusing or whimsical like the first two.
This is asking too much, but wouldn’t it have been great if it was the FBI that infiltrated the supremacist mass rally? It’s the FBI, after all, that is charged with investigating such groups.
- [Spliff contents] - GANJA. Until this entry I had no idea what a “spliff” is, and for that matter, the word “ganja” is borderline not in my lexicon either. This marks the second week in a row that I’ve learned something about pot from Tausig.
- [Sub's opposite] - DOM. I had to ask my wife what this meant. It’s “submissive” vs. “dominant” as in S&M. She gets out more than I do.
- [Sell on site?] - ETAIL. The cleverish clue sort of makes this more palatable but it still makes me sad. Some hate NLER and ALER – entries like ETAIL, ENOTE, ECASH, and the like, are my biggest pet peeves.
- [2012 gold medal winner over Maria] - SERENA; [Olympic weapon] - EPEE. Bless Ben’s heart for including two Olympic-related entries in a row. I’m still sad pretty much every night that the Olympics are over and am having trouble coming to terms with the fact that I have to wait nearly four more years until they’re back. Don’t tell me it’s only two – everybody knows the winter Olympics don’t count.
- [God of seafood restaurants] - POSEIDON. I actually googled this just to make sure this was a joke. I’ve been burned before.
- [Site's base] - USERS. Like you, using this site. You’re our base. And you belong to us. (A reference that I will never tire of.)
- [Put down a dog, say?] - EAT. Clue of the puzzle.
Tony Orbach’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “BT Express” – Sam Donaldson’s review
This is an interesting take on the standard vowel progression theme. The second word in each of the five theme entries starts with the letter sequence B?T. In each case, a different vowel comes between the B and the T. What makes it a “vowel progression” theme as opposed to a “vowel change” theme, of course, is having the vowels appear in alphabetical order from top to bottom:
- 17-Across: A DEAD BATTERY may be a [Likely cause of a nonstarter?]. That’s a clever clue, but we have to be careful here. A clever clue for the first theme entry has me expecting clever clues for all of the theme entries, and that doesn’t prove to be the case.
- 24-Across: When you say ["Get well soon"] to someone, you’re expressing your hope that he or she will FEEL BETTER right away.
- 37-Across: The ITSY-BITSY SPIDER is the [Waterspout climber of song]. It was all good until the rain came. (While we’re here, there’s another consistency issue, as this is either, depending on your preference for hyphens, the only three-word theme entry or the only theme entry where the vowel progression is not at the start of the word. Either way, it detracts from the tightness of the theme.)
- 49-Across: One who is [As low as it gets] has reached ROCK BOTTOM.
- 60-Across: SWEET BUTTER is one [Creamery product].
Vowel progressions aren’t the easiest to pull off because you need A- and U-based entries of equal lengths, symmetrical E- and O-based entries, and an I-based entry with an odd number of letters. (It gets even trickier if you go for the elusive Y-based entry too.). And while normally you have the “freedom” to move theme entries all around the grid to accommodate better fill, here you’re stuck with having the theme entries appear in a precise order.
All of this is to say that the non-theme fill in a vowel progression puzzle is usually subpar or at least not as sparkly as you would normally hope to see. This puzzle offers some interesting entries (I liked YER OUT, K-MART, THE LOT, and HOB-NOB best) but there’s certainly a good assortment of the unfortunate, like TELE, MOA, HIC, GRO, ON OR, RST, and BES. Again, you almost have to expect this in a grid that imposes so many additional constraints.
I do admire the open corners in the northwest and southeast. Any themed puzzle that starts with a 6-letter entry at 1-Across that feeds into Downs of 5, 5, 9, and 6 letters, respectively, makes me like it from the get go. So it’s with a tipped hat that I go in pursuit of the puzzle’s constructor in today’s installment of Name That Constructor Month. Let’s see…since I don’t associate this type of gimmick with any one constructor, I’m going to do this by process of elimination. It’s not Bob Klahn (I solved it in less than 10 minutes), and it’s not Doug Peterson, Randy Hartman, Patrick Blindauer, Martin Ashwood-Smith, or Alan Arbesfeld (all of them have had CS puzzles within the past week, and I don’t think anyone has bylines that close together). Beyond that, this is a BIT of a crap-shoot. I wouldn’t BET on any of these guesses, BUT I will still go to BAT with this slate:
1. Gail Grabowski (my first guess yesterday, so why not go with her again today). 2. Randy Ross (my second guess yesterday). 3. Donna Levin.
You may not believe it, but I was this close to replacing Randy with Tony as my second guess. Alas, close doesn’t count in Name That Constructor Month. Geez, where were the signature features of a Tony Orbach puzzle? Where’s the music (EROICA notwithstanding)? The wacky clues? Oh well. I guess I need to start associating Tony with ambitious grid constructions more often. Name That Constructor Stats After 23 Puzzles: 8 correct first choices (3 points each), 4 correct second choices (2 points each), 2 correct third choices (1 point each); 34 points total so far; adjusted score to beat = 50 points. The goal just got that much harder to reach.
Richard F. Mausser’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review
This puzzle plays out like a trip around the world… and the crossword puzzle!
So 17a. [Cairo's location?] is FIFTY ACROSS… and the entry at 50a is EGYPT. Confused yet? Me too. We also have [Jerusalem's location?] at TWELVE DOWN, which is ISRAEL, [Lima's location?] is THIRTY DOWN/PERU and [Havana's location?] is SEVEN ACROSS/CUBA. My brain is sufficiently bent, that’s for sure.
Let’s quickly run through some clues while my head stops spinning:
- [Place to fill a flask] - CHEM LAB. Did you go to the wet bar first like I did? Guess you shouldn’t take a big GULP out of a flask in the lab.
- [Breakfast in a bar] - GRANOLA. And here I am expecting some hair of the dog. Or a mimosa, at least.
- [Where some manners are important] - BEDSIDE. It’s either this or a table, right?
- [Marital challenge] – AGE GAP. The Internet tells me of a Malaysian couple who married in 2006 with an 83-year age gap. Yikes.
Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “[gulp]“—Matt Gaffney’s review
Brendan’s theme today is a quote from gravelly-voiced Tom Waits, chopped into five easy pieces: I DON’T HAVE / A DRINKING / PROBLEM ‘CEPT / WHEN I CAN’T / GET A DRINK. I’m not a medical professional but I imagine this sentiment would qualify Mr. Waits as an alcoholic.
Google tells me this line is from a song with the uplifting title “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart.”
In the fill BEQ hits more three pointers than Steve Kerr on Red Bull: COCAINE, PIXY STIX (a form of crack, some would claim), MOLIERE, the three-word symmetrical pair SAID NO TO and END IT ALL, I WANT OUT, CAVE-INS, HEINIE, OKTOBER, Texas legend Tom LANDRY (whom I grew up loathing/fearing, as a Redskins fan) and EYE TEST. From closer in we have OSAKA-SEXY-SHAKY-HINDI-LOX. All nice. After two minutes of Googling I’m not sold on RIDINGS as a valid plural, but my research wasn’t conclusive, either.
In my solve I was immediately steered astray by Brendan’s evil clue [Kevin of "The Usual Suspects] which was not SPACEY as I confidently plunked down but rather Kevin POLLAK, who also had a major role in the film (though didn’t win an Oscar for it like Spacey did). Also nice to see “epee” in a clue rather than in the grid (6-a).