Caleb Madison’s New York Times crossword
You know what’s a BUZZKILL? When you’re traipsing through one of Caleb’s lovely themelesses and come screeching to a halt in the bottom right zone. The horse! OY VEY. (Or, as some say, yev yo.) I didn’t recall the last letter of that [1942 Preakness winner]. I blanked on the [Word after many presidents' names] (why on earth did I try ESQ when there was no hint of an abbreviation? why??). I couldn’t figure out which sort of “lead” was meant in [One taking the lead?: Abbr.]. Wasn’t sure if the [Old revolutionist] was a RED or maybe a REB. And the 59a/61a combo meaning ["Nothing new to me!"] had too many blanks. *EENTHE**, *ONETH**. Oh, sure, now it looks obvious. But despite SIGHT‘s clue mentioning “seeing,” I was guessing that 59a started with SEEN. (Come on, don’t tell me that ALSAS looks ridiculous while ALSAB looks utterly plausible as a horse name.) Oof! I spent at least a minute trying to unravel the ALSAB/ERA/DETective crossing the super-fresh BEEN THERE / DONE THAT. Sigh.
Favorite bits, besides BUZZKILL and 59a/61a:
- 28a. GOSSIP GIRL, [Teen series whose title character is never seen]. Friend of mine loves that show, but I never knew the Gossip Girl was not seen on TV.
- 35a. I love the word CAHOOTS. It instantly classes up any crossword. Etymology unknown? Even better.
- 36a. [Doesn't lie gracefully] gives a nice visual for SPRAWLS.
- 60a. [They get picked] is a solid clue for AFROS. I’m always grateful for an AFRO clue that doesn’t pretend the hairstyle hasn’t been seen since 1975.
- 9d. MALINGERED is also a great word.
- 11d. TAYLOR SWIFT‘s new single hit #1 this week, my son tells me. “Do you like Taylor Swift?” I asked him. He replied, “Is it opposite week?” “Yes.” “Then yes.”
- 21d. TOPSPIN is nice, especially in proximity to that TENNIS ACE. But in tennis, doesn’t everyone just call it an ace and not a “tennis ace”?
- 22d. Casual GUAC, good entry. I could do without avocados, personally.
- 24d. The movie THE HANGOVER, great entry. Haven’t seen the movie.
- 28d. Aww, GOO-GOO EYES! Love.
In the guacamole category of things I could do without, we have [Football Hall of Famer Bobby] LAYNE, who I’ve never heard of; APNEAL, [Like some sleep disruptions], which has dictionary validity but I reckon apneic is far more often used in medical circles; and the plural abbreviation PKS.
Overall, though, I’ll grant this four stars.
Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Georgia On My Mind” – Sam Donaldson’s review
The postal abbreviation for my new home state, GA, is added to four common expressions, converting them to wacky ones that get related clues:
- 20-Across: “Pan-American” becomes a PAGAN-AMERICAN, a [Salem witch?]. (Notice I chose a peachy shade for Georgia.)
- 27-Across: Pierre Cardin becomes a PIERRE CARDIGAN, a [South Dakota sweater?]. I like this one. Hey, it’s the second theme entry to reference a place outside of Georgia in the clue. If this keeps up, that will add a pretty elegant layer.
- 43-Across: So much for that. Here, [Deserters?] are a RUNAWAY BRIGADE, a play on “runaway bride.” I’m glad my bride chose not to run away. Hopefully she doesn’t regret it.
- 51-Across: A “vale of tears” becomes the much more interesting VALE OF TEAR GAS, the [Result of a riot in the dale?]. Yeah, yeah–the one-word TEARS becomes the two-word TEAR GAS and that doesn’t happen in any of the other theme entries. But the added zip from a lively theme entry like this compensates for the inconsistency, in my book.
I can’t be a disinterested critic here because I used this very same gimmick in a puzzle I made as part of my wedding contest earlier this year. (If you missed it, the puzzles are here, though it’s too late to claim the prize.) I think two of the theme entries were especially clever (PIERRE CARDIGAN and VALE OF TEAR GAS) and I liked a lot of the fill, notably PET PEEVE, SLAPSHOT, MIX-UP, and EXACTA.
I was less thrilled with seeing both ELVIS and ELVES in the grid (same for the crossing LEAVE and EAVE), and it seemed like there was an abundance of awkward entries like EXEC, NATL, AM I, SKED, and GARS. But overall the puzzle worked fine.
Today’s installment of Name That Constructor Month will be a challenge. To my knowledge, none of the CS constructors lives or is from Georgia, so no obvious names comes to mind. I’ll follow my (admittedly unsuccessful) pattern of late by guessing names we haven’t seen in a fortnight or so:
1. Bruce Venzke 2. Gail Grabowski 3. Ray Hamel.
Finally, I’m off the schnide with one point! If I’m going to make my goal I need anything I can get at this point. Name That Constructor Stats After 25 Puzzles: 8 correct first choices (3 points each), 4 correct second choices (2 points each), 3 correct third choices (1 point each); 35 points total so far; adjusted score to beat = 50 points.
Jeff Chen’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Like Friday’s NYT puzzle, this one’s got 11/13/15 stacks at the top and bottom. The RITARD TERN POI row beneath the top stack kinda turned me off, though. Overall, I had a 3.4-star experience here.
- 1a. [Bout with padded weapons] made me think of the giant Q-tips on American Gladiators, but it’s a gentle PILLOW FIGHT. A great 1-Across.
- 31a. [Student's supper spot], COMMONS. My college had nothing called the Commons, but I like this one anyway.
- 34a. [Where Daniel was thrown], LION’S DEN. I like the non-Biblical, non-zoological uses of the phrase too.
- 47a. [Tavern order] for a beer might be “I’LL HAVE A COLD ONE.” Words I have never uttered, but the phrase is in the language.
- 50a. [Characterized by extremes], FEAST OR FAMINE.
- 51a. [Hybrid sport with seemingly incompatible components], the wildly implausible CHESS BOXING. The two seem further apart than feast and famine.
- 6d. [Turkey features], WATTLES. I love the word. Wattles—they’re not just for turkeys anymore.
- 9d. ['50s-'60s title detective whose show's theme was composed by Mancini], Peter GUNN. My kid has a classmate named Donovan Gunn, which is such an awesome name. He needs to be in action movies.
- 25d. TOP-SHELF, [Of the best quality]. I suspect this originated with premiun liquors stored on the bartender’s top shelf, but it’s applied to more than just hooch.
- 34d. LOW-CARB is utterly in the language now, [Like the Atkins diet].
Lowlights include the partials IT CAN, OH TO, and ON A and the playground retort AM TOO; the crosswordese MOAS, [Extinct kiwi relatives]; the obscure SALMI, [Highly seasoned pheasant stew]; suffics -ICS; [Button on older phones] PRS; and SROS clued as [Sellout signs] (don’t theater people tell us that SRO signs are a thing of the past? City folks know that SROs are single-room-occupancy hotels). SROS isn’t the only plural abbreviation here—there’s also GOVTS, or [State runners: Abbr.].
Did you know that 36d: [Leisurely walks] are PASEOS? The tourist trap known as the River Walk of San Antonio is also called the Paseo del Rio in Spanish. Isn’t it strange that a word meaning “leisurely walk” got slapped on a sporty Toyota car? Is that really a connotation that will lure buyers to a sporty coupe?
Brad Wilber’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
I liked the left side of this puzzle just fine but the upper and lower zones on the right really worked me over. My difficulty in the northeast was the intersection of those five proper nouns with out-there clues and my unfamiliarity with the attributes of yucca blossoms. And my blind spot at 20a—[Stunt __ (extreme sport)] is POGO, really?!—made it hard to crack into the northeast’s 9d. Eventually it all came together but it left me bruised:
- 16a. [1998 PGA Player of the Year], Mark O’MEARA.
- 18a. [Its logo resembles an odometer], CARFAX. Perhaps their CarFox is more visually memorable now.
- 9d. [Musical whose finale is a fashion show], COCO. Must be about Coco Chanel.
- 10d. [Cohost of the 2007 Peace Prize Concert with Kevin], UMA. She’s got to be Thurman, but who is this Kevin? I’m going to say Nealon or Meaney, because why wouldn’t a Buddhist-oriented actress team up with a comedian for a Peace Prize concert?
- 12d. [Honorary American citizen], LAFAYETTE. For a long time, I figured we were looking for a generic term rather than a specific person. I knew Casimir Pulaski was in that category, but did you know only seven people have been granted honorary US citizenship? So saith Wikipedia. Winston Churchill, Raoul Wallenberg, William Penn and his second wife, Hannah Callowhill Penn, Mother Teresa, and Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gilbert du Motier, aka General Lafayette. Only Churchill and that Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu were still alive when so honored.
- 17a. [It's filtered in Saudi Arabia], INTERNET. If I hadn’t had the final T from ESTONIA ([Where Skype was developed], which I got from figuring 15a ended with S, because what other 7-letter countries have an S in the second spot?), I surely would have leaned towards CRUDE OIL.
- 34a. [Not fancy at all], LOATHE. Fancy as a verb, not an adjective.
- 32d. [Mingle with concertgoers, perhaps], STAGE-DIVE. When a performer leaps from the stage and relies on the audience to catch him rather than standing clear and letting him thwack to the floor. MANHUNTS and HAS-BEENS have a similar “hi, there, I’m a fresh compound word” vibe. As does TAP-DANCE, clued nonliterally as [Equivocate], as when you tap-dance around an issue.
Things I don’t fancy:
- 19a. [Jam ingredients?], TOOTS. The ingredients of a traffic jam are the vehicles, the pedestrians blocking their way, and road construction barricades. They are not the horns tooting. Those are the jam reactions.
- 56a. [PDF file, e.g.], ECONTENT. What?? That’s not a word! Unless you’re talking about going camping with Paul Krugman and Milton Friedman.
- 6d. [Eliot's middle name], ANN. George Eliot, pen name of Mary Anne, Mary Ann, or Marianne Evans. If there’s no consensus that she was Mary Ann, the clue is subpar. And when someone is called both parts, is “Mary Ann” a first name followed by a middle name, or is it a two-word first name?
Random bird remark: 9a: [Long-billed wader] clues CURLEW. Last week, one of the finest themeless constructors ever, Sherry Blackard, posted a bird photo on Facebook, wondering what it was. Two of us guessed the curlew, but it turned out to be an American woodcock. (Which would have been right at home in Byron Walden’s Onion puzzle that included ANDY RODDICK and JOHNSON & JOHNSON in its theme.) Sherry found a funny woodcock video. Can you move your body while keeping your feet and head absolutely still? The woodcock can.
3.5 stars. There’s really no junk fill, so it should be a higher rating, but it wasn’t quite as fun as I’d have liked.