JOON PAHK and Brad Wilber’s New York Times crossword
(Gotta help JOON meet his uppercase quota. Every LITTLE bit helps.) Excellent puzzle from this pair, combining science, literature, and fun phrases.
Science! 16a: OCTOPI are [Experts at jet propulsion], whereas the Jet Propulsion Laboratory seems more rockety. 17a: DRAGONET is a [Colorful marine fish with spiny, fanlike fins] that I’d never heard of but it sounds like a neat fish family. (Treat yourself to a Google image search on “dragonet” and marvel at the wild assortment of colors and patterns.) Who knew that [Nickelodeon's Stimpy, e.g.], was a 41d: MANX CAT? Yes, I suppose he does lack a long tail. The 45d: SPIREA is a [Shrub also called meadowsweet], and the astronomical definition of a 48d: METEOR is, of course, [Hunk noted for streaking].
Literature! 44a: [Christie and others] clues ANNAS, after the O’Neill play’s lead, Anna Christie. 2d: PORTIA is [Balthasar's true identity, in Shakespeare]; Merchant of Venice, yes? 7d: Ian MCEWAN is your ["Atonement" novelist, 2001]. There’s Dr. Seuss’s THE LORAX. Tolkien’s INNS of Middle-earth count, too.
The fun stuff: UP IN ARMS makes for a terrific 1-Across. Its I crosses 3d: [Start for Friday?], “I’M A COP.” “I’m a cop” is the line my cousin Brian uses when people ask what he does for a living, because everybody understands that; he actually works for, I dunno, a hedge fund or investment banking concern or something. The I’M is duplicated in 29d: “I’M ON IT,” [Gofer's pledge]. That one amused me because I enjoy the @NYTOnIt Twitter feed (sample tweet: “GUYS, it gets a bit cooler at night during fall, and The Times is ON IT. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/15/nyregion/autumn-slips-in-under-cover-of-darkness.html”). 55a: DON’T JINX IT is a beauty.
For the clue 35a: [Famous higher-up in admissions?], I wondered if Nixon had admitted wrongdoing, but it’s not that kind of admissions that ST. PETER is famous for. For 13d: [Delivery room shot], I was pondering whether there’s an 8-letter term for “photo of the baby crowning], but it’s not that kind of shot, it’s an EPIDURAL. (Obligatory caveat: If you or someone you love gets an epidural and has the worst headache in their life afterwards, fetch an anesthesiologist for a “blood patch” to remedy the problem. Learned this one the hard way.)
Also liked the hardboiled film angle of De Niro in RONIN, Stallone playing NITTI the CRIMINAL, and the TANGIERS Casino featured in Casino.
Pop music clue that I’m thinking didn’t come from Joon and maybe also not from opera buff Brad: 22a: ["Cherry ice cream smile" wearer, in a Duran Duran hit], is RIO. Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand, you know. Me, I bought that album with my allowance.
You know it’s a super-smooth puzzle when the worst thing in it is the world capital (of Samoa), APIA. Even small world capitals are fair game on the geography front, as are teeny nations like DOMINICA. (I give thanks to Sporcle and its North American countries quiz for putting Dominica firmly in my mind.)
Oh! And then there’s the wackiness of the spelling for DWYANE WADE. I freely admit that I started keying in DWAY… before I remembered that Wade is an all-star in the crazy-spelled athletes league.
Jeffrey Wechsler’s Los Angeles Times crossword
This puzzle is sort of a hybrid between old and new. Clearly 31d: FiOS, [Verizon communications service], is current, and the woeful 14a: E-SALE, [Virtually done deal?], did not exist pre-internet. But then you have full names of two people who were most famous several decades ago—35d: IRA LEVIN, ["Deathtrap" playwright], wrote some terrific stories, so he’s still relevant, whereas I don’t think I would know of 18a: URI GELLER, [Mentalist who failed to bend Johnny Carson's spoons], if it weren’t for a life of crossword solving. (Apparently Geller still has a career in Europe. Who knew?)
My favorite part of this puzzle was being stumped by 30a: [Expense account item], which really looked like it was TAX-something, and 27d: [Bum wrap]. Eventually the TAX expanded to TAXI FARE and the spot where DHOTI and LOINCLOTH wouldn’t fit inherited a DIAPER. My favorite answer is 53a: UGLY AS SIN, [Repulsive], mostly because it looks like a verb in the grid. “Yeah, I know this shirt is stained. I don’t care. I’m ugly-assin’ it today.” Other good entries include LILY WHITE, I SURE CAN, and the consonant-heavy DVD DRIVE (which has a tricky clue, [Popular burning spot]). My favorite clue is 25d: [Emitted a backup signal?], for BEEPED. Pet peeve: When there’s a large truck trying to back into the narrow driveway next to my home office. When that beeping sound is 15 feet away from you for a solid 20 minutes, it’s crazy-making.
- 4d. [Bauhaus school teacher], Paul KLEE. “School teacher” looks too much like “schoolteacher” so this messed with my brain a little.
- 48a. [Crestor target, for short], LDL. Crestor is a brand-name cholesterol-lowering medication. Kinda looks like it should be related to the crosswordese words ARETE and TOR, no?
- 1d. [Therapist's challenge], SELF-HATE. Not such a common phrase, I don’t think.
- 12d. [Ont. site of a War of 1812 battle], FT. ERIE. I did not know there was a Canadian Fort Erie. It sounds so Ohio/Pennsylvanian to me.
- 41d. [Satellite's eye], IMAGER. You don’t say.
- 46d. VESTI ["__ la giubba": "Pagliacci" aria]. I never remember all the letters. (Hey, opera answer, what are you doing over here instead of in Brad Wilber’s NYT?
Alan Arbesfeld’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword – Sam Donaldson’s review
Today’s puzzle has these four theme entries:
- 20-Across: Something in [A more dilapidated state] is in WORSE CONDITION.
- 24-Across: A running back that [Got three feet on the gridiron] has GAINED A YARD.
- 45-Across: [Salvation, often] is a SERMON THEME.
- 54-Across: One [Full-time job benefit] is STEADY EARNINGS.
SERMON THEME really stood out as an awkward entry, and that led me to look more carefully for a hidden word or something similar to justify it. Sure enough, MONTH is hidden in there (SERMON THEME), and you’ll see other lengths of time likewise hidden in the other answers: WORSE CONDITION has a second, GAINED A YARD has a day, and STEADY EARNINGS holds a year. In an elegant touch, the four time periods range from shortest at the top to longest at the bottom.
So what is this puzzle’s title? That brings us to today’s guess in Name That Puzzle. The title I keep coming back to is Time Spans. Each of the hidden words is a time span, and this term describes how the units of time span the words in each theme entry. Splitting Time could also work, but I prefer Time Spans so that one will be my guess.
Nerts, I’m wrong again. The title is “Central Time,“ indicating how a unit of time is in the center of each theme entry. Except they aren’t, really. The SECOND in WORSE CONDITION isn’t “centered,” and neither is the DAY in GAINED A YARD (In fairness, the units in the other two theme entries are perfectly centered.) So I like my title better this time. But it took me 15 tries to come up with a better title, so it’s not like I’m really crowing about this one.
I liked a lot of the fill. OSSIFYING is a cool word, and TRUMPED UP, LET GO, TEN-TO-ONE and THURGOOD Marshall add some zing. The nine-letter entries abutting theme answers (TRIAL DATE and LAGUARDIA) contribute to the open feel in this 72-answer puzzle (remember, we’ve seen freestyle CS crosswords with 74 answers, so this grid could be a Sunday Challenge–yet it has 50 theme squares that don’t allow for many compromises. So SERMON THEME may be terribly weak, but the rest of the puzzle atones (ha!) for this weakness nicely.
Bruce Sutphin’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
I was not alone in struggling mightily with this puzzle—Michael “Rex Parker” Sharp also got stuck in the southeast quadrant. I did what I do less than once a year: I turned to software to both highlight my incorrect letters (those squares have green checks) and reveal one letter (the O with an eye icon above it) to give me a boost. My solving time would have been much, much longer without those cheats (I could also have Googled a few things to make a dent here, but didn’t).
Now, the northwest section was also tough, but I eventually managed to fill that in unassisted (STARKER for 8d: [More complete] feels so oblique that it was hard to crack into the corner, even with LEGIBLE in place).
Entries I liked seeing include MOO SHU (1d. [Pancake filler]), “SIR, NO, SIR!,” AARON SORKIN, MASERATI (31d. [Quattroporte builder]—that’s the four-door Maserati, a practical family sedan), and PRIMEVAL. I would have been all over 57a: IRON MIKE if it had been clued as ear-biter Tyson, but 57a: [Pitching machine] meant absolutely nothing to me. A baseball gadget? Tar? Advertising? A boat pitching in the waves?
The southeast struggles involved these:
- 29d. [With 44 Down, success for 39 Down], TEN plus a 6-letter 44d. I figured out that 39d: [Alley cats] were KEGLERS in a bowling alley, but “TEN ******” as a bit of bowling terminology was a complete blank. When the various cheats allowed me to make progress in that corner, I eventually got STRIKE for 44d, but TEN STRIKE is not a term I’ve ever heard. The dictionary (MWCD-11) has it hyphenated: “1. A strike in tenpins. 2. A highly successful stroke or achievement.” I must say, cluing TEN and STRIKE together as part of a phrase and putting another bowling term in the same corner is not a ten-strike. More of a strikeout.
- 52a. [Contenders] isn’t ALSO-RANS, it’s ALLEGERS, people who contend that something is true. Meh. I have never, ever called someone making allegations an “alleger.”
- 55a. [''Gunfight at the O.K. Corral'' screenwriter], LEON URIS. Much of Uris’s oeuvre is novels set in other countries. If you didn’t already know that Uris also wrote a screenplay for a 1957 Western movie…you’re sunk. Or you Google it. This one is surprisingly Googleable for a Stumper clue.
- 59a. [Ad lib], short for ad libitum, usually means “extemporaneous” or “as much as desired.” I haven’t seen it meaning precisely AS NEEDED.
- 53d. [What Brits call a ''diver''], LOON. No idea. Now, if it had been clued [Bird that Brits call a "diver"], it might have been within reach.
- 49d. [Tapered tubes], PENNE. I view tapering to mean getting narrower at one end. Penne noodles are cut at an angle, but the geometric tube portion has no tapering at all. The clue pointed me toward CONES more than PENNE.
- 42d. [Clover, e.g.], LEGUME. My guess here was FORAGE, envisioning cattle foraging in the field and eating clover.
- 43d. [Laptop handle], USER ID. When I had an A where the E goes, I figured it was some laptop model/brand name and waited fruitlessly for the crossings to form the answer.
- 45d. [Retired with difficulty], TOSSED. I figured this was a baseball pitching clue and got nowhere. If you go to bed with difficulty, you may toss and turn.
- 42a. [Relish], LUST. To my ears, relish seems to lack the concupiscence of LUST.
- 49a. [Topping made in a mortar], PESTO. Had that C for CONES where the P goes, so I was lost here.
Other quicksand zones:
- 6d. [''It'll be __!''], partial A GAS. I might have preferred [Turkish leaders]. Oh! I have a relevant link here for A GAS. It’s an entertaining fart anecdote. No, really. Read it.
- 13d. [Accepts an invitation, perhaps], EATS OVER. Doesn’t feel like any sort of lexical chunk to me. Eat out, eat in, yes. But “Karen eats over at Bob’s house” feels like it’s just a verb and a preposition that happen to be near each other, no more a unit than “Karen watches Netflix over at Bob’s house.”
- 32d. [Rang], CALLED ON. Wanted CALLED UP, as in “rang on the phone.” But I think it’s CALLED ON, as in “rang the doorbell for.”
- 18a. [Upon seeing it, John Muir's ''blood turned to wine''], Mount SHASTA. It helps to know Muir is most closely tied to California’s natural wonders. In Muir Woods, it’s so shady and moist that 9d: MOSS grows on all sides of a tree, not just the north side. So the moss won’t help you find your way out if you’re lost there.
- 5d. [Prolific Hungarian mathematician], ERDOS. Enough of my crossword acquaintances are mathematicians and math professors that I know what an Erdös number is. It’s Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon for the math world.
- 26d. [Bogart played it by mail], CHESS. I’m thinking this was in The African Queen.
- 27d. [Aftermath of service faults], NO TIP. Restaurant service, not serving in tennis.
It’s hard to come up with a star rating for a puzzle like this. I’m thinking 3.25 to 3.75 stars for three quarters of the puzzle, and %#$* stars for the southeast.