There are two upcoming crossword tournaments on opposite sides of the country:
BACFill, née the Bay Area Crossword Tournament, this Saturday, September 8.
The 16th Westchester Crossword Puzzle Tournament, held at Will Shortz’s Westchester Table Tennis Center, on Friday, September 21.
Joel Fagliano’s New York Times crossword, “Pardon Ze Interruption”
Joel, who worked as Will Shortz’s intern this summer, not only has added a “zee” syllable to various phrases to mutate them, he’s also built a grid with lots of white space (all four corners would be at home in a themeless, and the zigzag center lane accommodates a bunch of 8s.
I dig the theme, especially the wide variety of spelling changes that the +zee wreaks:
- 23a. Chew toy -> CHOOSY TOY, a picky chihuahua. Before I knew what the theme was, for some reason I wanted BOY TOY to be part of this. That makes no sense.
- 25a. Holds sway -> HOLDS SWAYZE, Patrick Swayze. Gotta know your pop culture here.
- 32a. Asian flu -> ASIAN FLOOZIE. Floozie is one of those acutely gendered terms used to malign only women, but on the plus side, it’s quaint and goofy rather than in current use as a pointedly moralistic insult (compare slut).
- 52a. Carpe diem, seize the day -> SEIZE THE DAISY and [Begin a game of "She loves me, she loves me not..."?]. That’s just goofy. Not bad goofy, but goofy.
- 70a. Capital One, the bank -> CAPITAL ONESIE. Capital!
- 83a. Mountain Dew sugary caffeine -> MOUNTAIN DOOZY. Yes, [Everest?], is a doozy to ski down.
- 106. No man’s land -> NOSY MAN’S LAND. I wanted ZEALAND to figure in here somewhere, but no.
- 117a. Yacht club -> YAHTZEE CLUB. Yep, drop a C, add a ZEE, and there you have it.
- 119a. Scrub jay -> SCRUB JAY-Z. This one, [Drop a hip-hop star from the festival lineup?], was the hardest one for me to figure out, even with the JAY-Z part in place. There’s a Western scrub jay as well as a Florida scrub jay that is one of just 15 bird species endemic to the United States. The scrub jays don’t live near me, so all this info is new to me.
I like the Scrabbly opener, with 1-Across AJAX above Jamie FOXX, crossing the sparkly AFC EAST, JOHNNIE Cochran, and AXOLOTL gilled salamander. Other highlights in the fill include MORTICIA Addams, Stephen COLBERT, SIMPLETON, EEYORE, HOT SAUCE, MANI/PEDI, and the decade the AUGHTS. I’d have liked REDEYES/”SAD EYES” and ONE OUT/ONE-CAR better without those duplicated words, though it’s claimed that there is no rule forbidding this. (But don’t clue SAD EYES as [1979 #1 hit for Robert John that's about eyes that are sad].)
Of course, this being a 21×21 puzzle, there are plenty of lifeless and clumsy short answers holding everything together. Such as … such as … well, it really doesn’t get any worse than OTOE, XXO, and the German word NIE. So, Joel’s got nine theme entries and plenty of long, zippy fill but he’s somehow managed to avoid the usual ugly bits of mortar in constructing his puzzle. I’m impressed. I may need some WD-40 for the Scowl-o-Meter, which is beginning to rust.
Note the spelling changes: ew to OO with and -SY for the “zee” addition; -ZE; u to OO with -ZIE; ay to AI with -SY; -SIE; ew to OO again with a -ZY; -SY; acht to aht with -ZEE; and an added hyphen + Z. Lots of variation, but still embodying a consistent sound change throughout.
4.75 stars. I reserve the 5-star rating for the puzzles that do some wild thing that we’ll still remember a few years from now, but this is a mighty fine crossword.
Tony Orbach’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Sam Donaldson’s review
If you read yesterday’s CS write-up, you know we’re playing with a new gimmick this month, one called Name That Puzzle. I’m trying to guess a puzzle’s title based only on my best guess of the theme. Since Sundays are usually devoted to the freestyle Sunday Challenge, of course, this gimmick rests on the seventh day. It will be back in time for your (late) morning commute tomorrow.
In the meantime, we have a very interesting 70/23 freestyle from Tony Orbach to discuss. Like many of my freestyle solves of late, this was a tale of two puzzles. Six minutes on 85% of the grid, and another five and a half minutes on the southwest corner. Part of my problem was having ITEM as the answer to [Bit] instead of ATOM, and having FINALIST for [One of the top three, perhaps] instead of MEDALIST. It didn’t help that STRINGER, the [Tread and riser support], was totally new to me. Not knowing that seduced me into thinking the [Sportscasting family name] was ENBERG instead of ALBERT. As if there was another Enberg besides the legendary Dick. Um, I didn’t phrase that very well. But you get the point.
Oddly enough, I got my first toe-hold very close to this hot mess, plunking down MATISSE as ["The Dance" painter]. From there, ITAL, DIXIE CHICK, and BAXTER were gimmes. (I should pause here to note I’m not a fan of the singular DIXIE CHICK as crossword fill. Does this mean STATLER BROTHER and OAK RIDGE BOY are on the table too? I hope not.)
EELS then gave me my entry to the southeast, and it was off to the races from there. There were few missteps until hitting the Corner of Doom. I had NEATNESS for the [Felix Unger attribute] before tumbling to TIDINESS, and I liked how TIRESOME, sitting two rows beneath TIDINESS, had [What Felix's attributes can be at times, to Oscar] for the clue.
The stack in the northwest is especially nice, with BACK AWAY, IRAN-GATE, and ARMOIRES. I always think of IRAN-CONTRA instead of IRAN-GATE, so this one slowed me down a little. [Small reliefs?] strikes me as a little too cute for cluing CAMEOS. Is an acting role or a movie appearance really a “relief?” Maybe this is trade lingo to which I am not hip.
Other highlights included NOSE-DIVE, KNOCK KNOCK, and YES MEN. Hadn’t the foggiest with SIECLE, the [French century], or SCREE, the [Rocky rubble], but that’s what crossings are for.
Henry Hook’s Sunday crossword, “Chip Shots” — pannonica’s review
Each of the themers has undergone a change in vowel sound, from a long e /ē/ to a short i /i/. This suggests that the title was “originally” Cheap Shots.
- 22a. [What I, the pickpocket, claim to be?] DIP DOWN IN MY HEART (deep). I found this one the most problematic, which is unfortunate since it’s the first theme entry to appear in the grid. It seems the original phrase is incomplete, unless there’s a usage along the lines “[I'm feeling] deep down in my heart” rather than “Deep down in my heart, [I don't believe you.]” That is, with down as a noun rather than an adjective.
- 36a. [Big pout?] GREAT LIP FORWARD (leap). Excellent clue/answer. The original phrase was the name of Chairman Mao’s grand attempt at social engineering.
- 57a. [Mind the gap?] DON’T SLIP IN THE SUBWAY (sleep). The clue is the iconic phrase from London’s Underground system. In NYC, we’d say “on the Subway,” perhaps the way many natives say “wait on line,” although I long ago cured myself of that, because it makes more sense to say “in.” I don’t have an issue with ”on the Subway” and will continue to use that locution. On the OTHER (23d) hand, “don’t slip on the Subway” suggests that one might be “surfing” on the roof of the train cars…
- 64a. [Lecherous sailor?] WOLF IN SHIP’S CLOTHING (sheep’s). Good one.
- 88a. [Observation to a seedless grape?] “NOT A PIP OUT OF YOU!” (peep).
- 107a. [One meaning of a "safe" word?] “WHIP NO MORE, MY LADY” (weep). How safe is a BDSM reference in a mainstream puzzle? Another clever turn of phrase.
On the whole, I was genuinely amused by the majority of the theme entries. Not cheap at all. The two 19-letter entries near the center, combined with the —3—3—3— pattern of Row 12, which separates (or connects) them, has the visual effect of dividing the puzzle into upper and lower halves. Looks like a perforated sheet.
The NE and SW corners, devoid of themic elements, are allowed to run riot with some less common letters. Just look at them! FAQS, AQUI, RUIZ, GRAZE, FARROW, AQUA, QUIZ, SIZE. MIDAS, A TO Z, NEMO, X-MEN, MANX, (ITEM, DOME,) AMAZON. Wow! Also, 25a [Infamous marathoner Rosie] RUIZ has been in the news lately, as comparison of vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s misrepresentation of his own marathon performance. It’s purely coincidental, since this puzzle first appeared (on paper) six weeks ago.
- Yuck: 45a [Lead-in to a pennant race (abbr.)] ALDS. That’s “American League Division Series.” And I thought I was upset about (A/N)CLS for conference series (i.e., the pennant race)! 83a [Silicon chips (abbr.)] ICS (integrated circuits). 71d [Cockney's abode] ’OME. 43a [Wd. with a !] INTERJ. Ack!
- Favorite clues: 80d [Anything but that] THIS. 31d [Pathology of indecision?] IFITIS. 93a [Calliope, for one] MUSE.
- As per 107d ["Gimme their names!"] WHO: 112a [Impresario Sol] HUROK. Who? Apparently he was a big noise in an earlier era. Is he still well-known? 85d ["Mefistofele" composer] Arrigo BOITO.
MaryEllen Uthlaut’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Caution: People Overworking” – Jeffrey’s review
guess the constructor: i am going to guess MaryEllen Uthlaut, because her name is listed as constructor on the puzzle. yay, 3 points for me! this is her debut, if you ignore her previous published puzzles.
theme: the [name a profession] [phrase about going berserk due to overworking], resulting in amusement of varying degrees to the solver.
- 23A. [The border guard __] – WENT OVER THE EDGE
- 27A. [The actor __] – MADE A SCENE
- 49A. [The mechanic __] – BLEW A GASKET
- 64A. [The tailor __] – CAME APART AT THE SEAMS
- 82A. [The chef __] – CAUSED A STIR
- 100A. [The elevator operator __] – HIT THE ROOF
- 108A. [The baggage handler __] – COULDN’T GET A GRIP
- 37A. [Consonant such as "f" or "v"] – SPIRANT. never heard of this word, so i looked it up. it is another word for fricative, which is another word i have never heard of.
- 53A. ["A great __ indicates a great man": Cyrano de Bergerac] – NOSE. cyrano was very wise.
- 116A. [Vanilla-flavored drink] – CREAM SODA. did you know that canada doesn’t have sierra mist so you get 7-up in restaurants that sell pepsi products.
- 118A. [Like Rod Stewart's voice] – RASPY. see also bonnie tyler.
- 12D. [Oldest Gabor sister] – MAGDA. her full name was magda magda gabor.
- 24D. [Processional leader] – HEARSE. can you prove that, or is it hear se?
- 42D. [Ancient garland for the head] – ANADEM. never heard of this word, so I looked it up. it is an ancient garland for the head.
- 86D. [Old TV series with underwater scenes] – SEA HUNT. i am going by memory, but i’m pretty sure it starred patrick duffy as the man from atlantis and larry hagman as his evil brother flipper.
this puzzle is a vowelgram, with a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y appearing.
3 orange stars, 2 pink hearts, and one yellow moon.
Frank Longo’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 126″ – Doug’s review
Hey, crossword fans. Doug here. Many thanks to Janie for filling in last week.
Often a themeless constructor will place a seed entry at 1-Across, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the case today. MODE OF LIFE doesn’t scream “seed entry” to me. I’m guessing SOCK PUPPETS, WASABI PEAS, and maybe LIONEL TRAIN & WE ARE YOUNG were the seeds for this puzzle.
- 17a. [Fun song] - WE ARE YOUNG. I Am Old, so this clue baffled me. “Fun” is the name of the band. Tricky! Especially if your pop music knowledge ended somewhere around 1992. And it didn’t help that I couldn’t get the Journey song “Only the Young” out of my head. That’s a fun song, but not a Fun song.
- 32a. [Dan of "Victoria's Closet"] – CORTESE. Does anyone remember him as the uber-annoying “Burger King guy”? I’m sure those ads are on YouTube. Search for them at your peril.
- 45a. [Sick kid's home remedy preparer] – DR. MOM. Ooh, I like this entry. I’ve don’t think I’ve ever seen it in a puzzle, and it’s a nice alternative to the tired old MR. MOM.
- 63a. [1989 Wilbur Smith novel] – A TIME TO DIE. Sounds like the title of a John Grisham novel. Wikipedia doesn’t tell me much, just that it’s a novel about the Mozambican Civil War.
- 3d. [Person in upper sales?] – DEALER. Cute. My first thought was a shoe salesman.
- 31d. ["Turnin __" (2009 Keri Hilson hit)] – ME ON. Don’t know this one, but it was gettable.
- 56d. [Rocker Ford] – LITA. Ah, finally! A music clue from the ’80s. Does anyone remember Lita Ford guest starring on an episode of the old Fox sitcom Herman’s Head? Probably not. But it was amazing. They’ve probably got it playing on a loop at the TV Hall of Fame, in the Herman’s Head wing. Now that’s something I need to find on YouTube.
- 42d. [Film featuring "America's hottest new actress"] – TOOTSIE. Ha, that’s an awesome clue.
Other goodies: SHEER AGONY, LLAMA WOOL, OCELOT.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated crossword, “What About Bob”
This is basically the same theme as last week: Take a 3-letter word and gather a bunch of words and phrases that contain it. Last week was PAC; this week is BOB. I’m surprised to see the same basic concept two weeks in a row—I was too primed to pounce on the theme and thus it was a quick solve. Here are your dozen BOBs:
- 20a. [Characters in a book series begun in 1904], BOBBSEY TWINS.
- 22a. Thingamajig], DEALYBOB. I’m more familiar with deely bobbers.
- 29a. [Flummoxed], DISCOMBOBULATED.
- 48a. [Lyrical incantation from Disney's "Cinderella"], BIBBIDI BOBBIDI BOO.
- 62a. [Certain Olympian], BOBSLEDDER.
- 66a. [Barbecue fave], SHISH KABOB. Also spelled kebab.
- 80a. [Common sentence structure], SUBJECT VERB OBJECT.
- 97a. [Part of an infamous description of the press], NATTERING NABOBS.
- 108a. [Dancers try to go under it], LIMBO BAR.
- 111a. [Ring figure], BILBO BAGGINS. As in “one ring to rule them all,” from The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
- 3d. [Type of quail], BOBWHITE.
- 84d. [Migratory blackbird], BOBOLINK.
It felt like there were more partials than usual. 46d: [George Peppard film, "One More Train ___"], TO ROB? Never heard of it. I wondered whether this was going to be another theme answer, and if you were giving One More Train to Bob. But no. The R’s crossing is bizarre: 55a: [Comic-book siren sound] clues RRR. Say what?? There’s also A PIG, A SOLO, A BIT OF, TO BAT, O SOLE, and A BRIBE. The TOBAT/OSOLE combo in the upper right corner was too much.
Some of the longer fill was nice (GIELGUD, for example), but other parts (ESPIALS, HABITATION, DRABLY) were blah. And the short stuff was also a tad creaky. Check out neighbors 112d and 113d: ODA/[Harem room] and BEY/[Turkish official or 1940s actor Turhan]. Who?? Turhan Bey, aka “The Turkish Delight.”
The opening corner warned me about this puzzle. When 1a is a 4-letter [Hamburg's river] and 2d is a 3-letter [Card game], you know what’s ahead. The ELBE and LOO clued as a card game made their intentions clear.