Michael Shteyman’s New York Times crossword
Well, now. You don’t see too many Wednesday crosswords that have a simple theme packed into the middle of a 70-word, themeless-grade grid. It took me as long as a fairly easy Wednesday puzzle, but I recognize that a lot of the fill is off-the-charts non-Wednesdayish. For example, 16a: [Wassily __, Russian-American Nobelist in Economics], Mr. LEONTIEF? Never heard of him, nor have I seen the name in any other setting. Somehow 1a: ROSTOV [__-on-Don, Russian port of 1+ million], was a gimme. If you know that Michael immigrated from Russia (or USSR?) as a preteen, the Russian content is less surprising. (See also: ORNATE like the Kremlin, SAMOVAR.) He’s pursued higher education in Maryland: Here’s ORIOLE. And he’s in medicine, so [Cerumen]/EAR WAX and MOIETY tap into that.
Did you want to discuss the theme? There’s not much to say about FOOL ME ONCE, SHAME ON YOU. FOOL ME TWICE, SHAME ON YOU. There is the Bushism variant, of course. Trying to read the theme answers in the grid and get them in the right order will make you sound like you’re creating your own Bushism.
I wonder how many American crossword constructors are, like Michael, not working in their first language. It blows my mind when people solve crosswords in their second or third language, but making them? It’s nuts.
The overall Scrabbliness of this grid pleases me, and I like ON PAPER, DONUTS (I was promised a donut on Sunday morning but am still waiting for it to appear), CERISE (perhaps the prettiest color name, plus it’s French for “cherry” and I feasted on cherries all summer), ROLAIDS and its clue ([Product whose commercials ran for a spell on TV?], as in spelling R-O-L-A-I-D-S), IWO JIMA, and the underused word EXIGENT. (“Pardon me, but I have some exigent blogging business to attend to.”) Underwhelmed by the Russian one-two punch in the northwest corner, ENO, MNO, DAT, ONE-CROP, ADWOMAN, and TEC.
Gareth Bain’s Los Angeles Times crossword—T Campbell’s review
- [Leader for whom Houston's airport is named] is GEORGE BUSH, the elder.
- ["The Chimpanzees of Gombe" writer] is JANE GOODALL. Any time the title has a primate in it, Goodall’s a good bet.
- ["Superfudge" novelist] is JUDY BLUME. I read her books over and over as a kid, particularly Superfudge, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Freaky Friday. Superfudge made me a lot more nervous about having a little brother than I probably should’ve been.
- [Pro Football Hall of Famer nicknamed "Crazylegs"] is ELROY HIRSCH, who retired in 1957. Yay, another ancient sports figure like MEL OTT. My favorite thing ever. At least Hirsch seems to have had some lasting influence on the game, so there’s an argument for his inclusion on historical grounds. And there aren’t a lot of alternative “Elroys” either: Elroy Berdahl of The Things They Carried is about as good as it gets.
- [TV series that first aired 9/23/1962 whose family shares first names with 17-, 24-, 34- and 49-Across] is THE JETSONS.
Sometimes the stars just don’t align. By all rights this puzzle should be published on The Jetsons’ 50th birthday, but that will be a Sunday, and I get the impression that even if you added ROSIE O’Donnell and ASTRO Boy, the topic still wouldn’t generate enough excitement to be worth a Sunday. The Jetsons is familiar and fun, good Wednesday fare, but the last time anybody said “Oh my God, George and Judy!!” was probably around 1987. Maybe when their latest film adaptation gets out of development? At last report, it’s been delayed from 2009 to (maybe) 2014.
- [1983 movie about a taxi company]: D.C. CAB. I feel like this one is reaching its sell-by date: it’s Mr. T’s most obscure project (deservedly), and probably wouldn’t be used if not for its crunchy consonant combo. Let it go to its 20th anniversary and then… just let it go.
- [Speaker with a .345 batting average]: TRIS. This one had me racking my brains for Speakers of the House who’d had sports careers. And for God’s sake, Tris Speaker retired in 1928. Hirsch is a spring chicken by comparison and he’s been dead eight years.
- [Some McFlurry ingredients]: OREOS. Nice and current.
- [Like many Miamians, by birth]: CUBAN. This seems like it could be controversial.
- [Bit of background in a Road Runner cartoon]: Probably the best clue I’ve ever seen for MESA.
Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword – Sam Donaldson’s review
I’m reasonably sure there are four theme entries here, but after that I’m AT SEA, so to speak. At this point all I can see are four puns:
- 20-Across: Sweet Child O’ Mine becomes SWEET CHILD O’ MANE, a [Guns N' Roses song about a colt?]. That leads me to think the theme is switching vowel sounds, perhaps from a long I to a long A.
- 28-Across: STAGE WHISKERS is an [Actor's false beard?]. Okay, sure, but what in tarnation is that based on? The theme can’t be about changing long I’s into long A’s, only because I can’t imagine there is such a thing as STIGE WHISKERS. Maybe if I look at the others something will click.
- 46-Across: A “dress designer” becomes a TRESS DESIGNER, a [Hair stylist?]. Alrighty, then, the theme is not about using different vowel sounds, for this is a switch in the initial consonant sound. I’m officially lost on the theme, and now I have even less of an idea of what STAGE WHISKERS is about.
- 60-Across: An [Ocean trip for barbers?] is a SHAVE-DOWN CRUISE. Thanks to Wikipedia, I see there’s such a thing as a “shakedown cruise.” It’s “a nautical term in which the performance of a ship is tested. Generally, shakedown cruises are performed before a ship enters service or after major changes such as a crew change, repair or overhaul. The shakedown cruise simulates working conditions for the vessel, for various reasons. For most new ships, the major reasons are to familiarize a crew with a new vessel and to ensure all of the ship’s systems are functional.” Interesting, but not exactly helpful in getting at the puzzle’s theme, for here we replace a K with a V.
Maybe the gimmick involves the switched letters spelling something, a la a Matt Gaffney meta. But neither the old letters (I?DK) nor the new ones (A?TV) appear to spell anything, and this kind of gimmick would be a bit “out there” for a CS puzzle.
I think I have to crack the STAGE WHISKERS thing to make any headway. I’m guessing the word that’s changed here is WHISKERS, only because if the change is in STAGE it would leave SWEET CHILD O’ MANE as the only theme entry where the change is made to the last word instead of the first. Hmm, how about “stage whispers?” Hey, whaddya know–that’s a real thing! My dictionary defines a stage whisper as “the conventional whisper of an actor, intended to be heard by the audience but supposedly inaudible to others on stage.” A soft-spoken aside, if you will.
Aha, now I get it–MANE, WHISKERS, TRESS, SHAVE. We’re dealing with HAIR. And since a hairy word (gross!) replaces a regular word, the title for this puzzle has to be Hair Replacements. Yay me!
Whoops, scratch that! Turns out I missed the title after all. The puzzle’s real title is “Missing By a Hair.” Forgive the tooting sound emanating from my own horn, but I like my title much better.
I probably would have changed the clue to SWEET CHILD O’ MANE to make a more overt reference to hair, the way the other three clues do. Change the last part of the clue to something like [... colt's flowing locks?], for example, and there would be more consistency.
I admire the 8-letter corners and the long Downs like GRASS STAIN and ADULTERATE. And ICY STARE is a terrific closer there in the southeast corner. But there was an abundance of three-letter entries (27, in fact–that’s over 36% of all the answers), and many of them came from the Island of Misfit Fill (RTE, STS, TSE, RLS, EEO, SST). This left me with a stutter-stepped solving experience.
Brendan Quigley’s Onion A.V. Club crossword
This theme’s a simple, yet vulgar, sound-change theme. A short I sound is converted into a long E sound.
- 20a. [Croak after consuming a whole lot of acid?], EAT SHEET AND DIE. This one rewards the solver for a familiarity with LSD terminology as well as a hidden potty mouth. A two-fer.
- 34a. Little birds by the shore?], BEACH TITS. How I wish beach teats were the base phrase, but alas, the vowel change goes the wrong way for that.
- 43a. [Device on which Usain Bolt hangs his shoes?], CLEAT RING. That Usain Bolt sure is a fast runner!
- 52a. [Finding a dozen veggie burgers in the dumpster?], BIG FREEGAN DEAL. Hey! Friggin’ is a euphemism rather than an outright vulgarity. Freegan is the word for a person who doesn’t spend money on food, instead scavenging from dumpsters and whatnot.
Fave fill: CHEAP DATES, the subversive ROALD DAHL, the Wiggles’ FRUIT SALAD, THE ALPS with a definite article.
Short on time–wanted to blog the Fireball before the Thursday NYT comes out, but that gives me only 6 minutes. Eek! So: Three stars.