Matt Ginsberg’s New York Times crossword, “Breath-Taking”
Long day, late arrival on the puzzle page, big yawns, short post.
Theme concept: Take a phrase, add an initial H sound to one of the words that starts with a vowel, clue it accordingly, and then take the H back out. This way, nothing really makes sense but the surrealism fails, I find, to be entertaining. (h)AIRLINE TRAVEL, NIGHT (h)OWLS, STATE OF THE (he)ART, (h)ARM TO THE TEETH, SEVEN-YEAR (h)ITCH, (h)OLD SCHOOL, FOREST OF (h)ARDEN, LONG (high, not hi)ISLAND SOUND, (h)ALTAR BOYS, and (high, not heye)EYEBROW TWEEZERS never enchanted me, and some of them were just plain off-putting. ARM TO THE TEETH is awkward because “armed to the teeth” is a phrase. There is not a familiar verb phrase, “arm to the teeth.” You’d need an object for the verb. Plus, “harm to the teeth” is clunky (which, truthfully, a lot of the other H’ed phrases are too). FOREST OF ARDEN is okay by itself, but “forest of harden” is grammatically just bizarre. Would also prefer either more spelling changes for the H words or fewer. Six instances of “just add and then subtract H,” one “it’s H + silent E,” the island/highland and highbrow/eyebrow shifts, and the halter/altar pair with a vowel change in a different syllable? Too imbalanced/inconsistent.
Oh, and the theme is tied together with 28a/78d: ELIZA DOOLITTLE, of “‘Enry ‘Iggins” fame. DOOLITTLE is opposite ALTAR BOYS but ELIZA sits outside thematic symmetry.
The fill didn’t do anything to make amends for the theme not grabbing me. ENOUNCE ALIENEE ESCARPS? Meh. HYER clued as [Actress Martha who played Sinatra's love interest in "Some Came Running"] fairly screams “BWOOP-BWOOP-BWOOP! Obscure name alert!” HYER? Never seen the name before, to the best of my recollection. TAINA clued as a [2001-2002 Nickelodeon sitcom] I’d never heard of is marginally better, perhaps, than cluing it as Taina Elg, an actress whose name gets about 80,000 Google hits, vs. 440,000 for Martha Hyer! Ouch. Plenty of the 3- to 5-letter fill also left me cold.
Am I giving this one two stars because I’ve had a long day or because the puzzle didn’t work nearly hard enough to please me as a solver?
Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Here’s a 72/30 freestyle that doubles as a checklist for all the things a good freestyle puzzle should have:
- Sparking fill? Check. Three of the first four Across entries (SLIM JIMS, HUT TWO, and I SWEAR) are terrific. And that’s not all. I liked TAILOR-MADE, CSI: MIAMI, ELTON JOHN, and WATER-TIGHT are wonderful as long fill, and there’s even some gems like JEB, IRAQ, EGGY, SLOSH, and AU JUS in the short fill. As my TV channel guide says every time I hit channel 66, Bravo.
- Entertaining clues? Check. I liked [Make red-faced?] for SLAP, [John, Paul and George] for SAINTS, [Make history, in a way] for TIME TRAVEL, [They're scheduled for court sessions] for TENNIS PROS, and my favorite, [Words before a hike] for the aforementioned HUT TWO. My only “beef,” so to speak, is that SLIM JIMS were clued with reference to car thieves instead of Randy “Macho Man” Savage. Oh yeah.
- Learning moments? Check. Didn’t know ADAM BEDE, the [Title carpenter in an 1859 novel] (though I’m proud to say I nailed KARENS as the answer to [Black and Carepenter]). I had forgotten BROMIDES, a term for [Overused expressions], though there’s something encouraging in the fact that “bromides” is not itself overused. Didn’t know OTTAWA was the [Parliament Hill locale], but just a few crossings give away the unique letter pattern. Also unfamiliar with STA-[Flo (liquid starch brand)]–one wants one’s liquid starch to “stay flowing,” I assume? Finally, I couldn’t have told you going into this puzzle that a TAPIR is a [Fleshy-snouted mammal]. On a good day I could figure out the “mammal” part, but that would be about it.
- Overall smoothness? Check. With the exception of STA and possibly maybe NNE, everything flows very well. It may have helped that I plunked down the central Down, SPECIAL OLYMPICS–that toe-hold let me branch off in all kinds of directions. But you just don’t see any compromises in this grid. Maybe that’s what you can expect in a 72-answer puzzle unconstrained by a theme. But it’s always nice to see.
To recap, then, this one goes four-for-four on the elements to a great freestyle puzzle. Not surprisingly, it comes from fellow Fiend correspondent, Doug Peterson. Doug’s puzzles almost always find my sweet spot and entertain me from start to finish.Was your experience similar?
Karen M. Tracey’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 129″ – Doug’s review
Hey, crossword fans. Doug here. Today’s grid is anchored by a couple of fresh & scrabbly 14-letter entries. In fact, we’ve got rare letters sprinkled all around the grid. An X here, a Z there, a couple of V’s in the corner. Typically fun stuff from KMT.
- 3d. [Eponymous Austrian skater] - ALOIS LUTZ. This is the entry that kicked my butt today. I knew it was going to be Somebody Lutz, because Axel is a first name. I got 14a. COLA WARS (Long-standing advertising “conflicts”) and 20a. SAME (Unchanged) fairly quickly and “remembered” that Lutz’s first name was Klaus. Bingo! I can’t think of a more Austrian-sounding name than good old Klaus Lutz. I was so sure of myself, that it took me long minutes to finally decide to erase that #*&% name. Alois? Ach!
- 1a. [Feature of Jordan] – SPACE JAM. Love this clue. I’ve been working on my geography skills (through intensive study on sporcle.com), but I couldn’t think of a single feature of Jordan. Sand dunes? Camel races? Candy-coated almonds?
- 23a. [The Spokane Shock's org.] – AFL. Hmm, sounds like a WNBA team. Aha, the WNBA team is the Tulsa Shock, formerly the Detroit Shock. The Spokane Shock play in the Arena Football League. And then you’ve got the Wichita State Shockers, whose mascot is a big shock, or bundle, of wheat. Seriously. But after numerous protests by gluten-free food activists, they’re going to replace him next year with a bowl of quinoa.
- 6d. [Author of the children's book "Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born"] – JAMIE LEE CURTIS. Great entry. Never heard of the book, but that’s not surprising. I’ve finally moved on from picture books to chapter books.
- 19d. [Raid targets] – INSECTS. I thought bugs/insects were too obvious, so I tried to think about police raids…speakeasies, illegal casinos, brothels, etc. Turns out it was about bugs. Psych! I think someone should publish an allegedly difficult themeless puzzle in which all the clues are completely straightforward. Imagine a Saturday NY Times in which 1-Across is [Opposite of bad], 1-Down is [Grass color], etc. I’d be scared to write in an answer. How badly would that mess with your mind?
- 57a. ["How did I get on third base?" comedian] – COSTELLO. “You mentioned his name.” This never gets old.
More cool stuff: TruTV, DOUBLE AXEL, ARISTOTLE, TEQUILA SUNRISE.
Alan Arbesfeld’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Inside Help”
I zipped through this puzzle so fast, I didn’t have time to be irritated by the crosswordese content in the fill. Have seen SERT and ARETES and SABOT so many times over the years, they are in the “instant recall” category for me. Mind you, they don’t bring me the slightest joy. But they don’t slow me down, and I solved this one considerably faster than most 21×21 puzzles.
My browsers crash when I try to add a picture of my solution grid, so that’s not happening now. My Mail program (on the Mac) has also gone haywire, downloading maybe 3% of my emails over the last 24+ hours. I have not tried smashing the machine with a hammer, but may try that after I finished the ding-danged blog post.
Theme: Phrases with a hidden “SOS” letter string (the tip-off is in 120d). Straightforward. ALFONSO SORIANO plays for the Cubs so I know his name, but the clue, [Infielder traded by the Yankees to get Alex Rodriguez], didn’t help me at all. I don’t operate in a Yankees frame of reference. ESSO STATION, [Bygone U.S. fuel stop], easy in the context of the theme but blah/crosswordese-bound. Rudyard Kipling’s JUST-SO STORIES, ["How the Camel Got His Hump" et al.]—terrific! USO SHOWS, [Where Hope sprang eternal?], Bob Hope. MISO SOUP, [Japanese food staple], delicious. CHARLES OSGOOD, ["CBS News Sunday Morning" host], was nearly CHARLES KURALT but the theme stopped me from going that route. SARGASSO SEA, [Area in the North Atlantic]—North Atlantic? Googling … holy schnike! It’s in the middle of the ocean, with no shores, surrounded by currents like the Gulf Stream. How did I not know this? I am richer for learning it now. Mind blown. CALYPSO SINGERS, arbitary plural, arbitraryish phrase, mysterious clue: [Lord Kitchener of Trinidad et al.]. Name sounds like a colonial governor more than a mellow island singer.
I like the long Down answers plunked into the grid: PHONE TAG, GOES IT ALONE, ISOTONER gloves, TRAPDOOR, OFF-SEASON, and IT’S ALL RIGHT.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated crossword, “Middle Men”
Huh? Puns that work in the middle names of various presidents? This theme did not do it for me. I think it would have been a bit more successful if the clues had included the president’s last name instead of playing the game of “Guess a president’s last name! There are over 40 to choose from!”
- 21a. [President's favorite side dish?], PORK AND BAINES. Lyndon Baines Johnson, beans. I don’t find this at all amusing. Perhaps you do.
- 26a. [President's favorite thing to say after a lucky accident?], WHAT A QUINCY-DENCE. John Quincy Adams, coincidence.
- 42a. [President's favorite Bible passage?], HOWARD BE THY NAME. William Howard Taft, with an entirely common middle name, and hallowed.
- 51a. [President's favorite form of education?], THE SCHOOL OF HARD KNOX. James Knox Polk, knocks.
- 74a. [President's favorite TV series?], MILHOUS ON THE PRAIRIE. Richard Milhous Nixon, Little House.
- 84a. [President's favorite form of fishing? (The fish like it, too.)], CATCH HENRY LEASE. But there’s no “release” left in there to please the fish. The “catch and release” has vanished. (Not that the other theme entries really work much better.) William Henry Harrison.
- 101a, 112a. [President's favorite evasive answer?], ASK ME NO QUESTIONS, I’LL DELANO LIES. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “tell you know.”
Likes: SURE-FOOTED mountain goats, X-RAY EYES, “I MADE IT!,” TRICKSTERS.
Word I’ve never seen before: 63a. [Group of three lines of verse], TERCET.
No shortage of proper nouns in the not-quite-household-name department—OSSA, THAD, NEY, initials NAR (NAR!), LAKE TANA—and they fit right in with a grid full of things that did not delight me. This puzzle pleased me as much as the NYT did this weekend, which is to say: not so much. Two stars.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Sunday crossword, “Olympic Trivia” — pannonica’s review
This puzzle appeared in print six weeks ago, which would have been during the 2012 London Games. Nothing fancy, just what the title says: trivia on the occasion of the Olympiad.
- 23a. [Olympians leading the opening procession] GREEK TEAM. Makes sense.
- 25a. [Country never in the Olympics] VATICAN CITY. Yes, I guess that makes sense, too.
- 36a. [Igniter of the Olympic torch] CURVED MIRROR. All very symbolic. Then the travelling…
- 40a. [1900–1920 Olympic event] TUG OF WAR. Knew this one already.
- 60a. [Olympians only since 1900] FEMALE ATHLETES. Not happy with the “only” in the clue. The modern Olympics began in 1896 and women were included in the very next occurrence. The ancient games in Olympia originated with women’s foot races, although once they were firmly established, the Olympic Games allowed women to compete only in equestrian events. Factette: The 2012 Summer Olympics are “the first in which all disciplines had both a male and female equivalent.” (Wikipedia)
- 67a. [Ancient Olympic event] RUNNING IN ARMOR. Ooh, fun.
- 93a. [How ancient Olympians competed] STRIPPED. Not nude or naked? Hm.
- 95a. [Only nation with a win in every Summer Olympics] GREAT BRITAIN.
- 109a. [First prize for ancient Olympians] OLIVE WREATH. Olive or laurel?
- 111a. [Attribute of 1904 champion gymnast George Eyser] WOODEN LEG.“George Eyser (born August 31, 1870, date of death unknown) was a German-American gymnast who competed in the 1904 Summer Olympics, earning six medals in one day, including three gold and two silver medals. Eyser competed with a wooden prosthesis for a left leg, having lost his real leg after being run over by a train. Despite his disability, he won gold in the vault, an event which then included a jump over a long horse without aid of a springboard.” (Wikipӕdia again)
- “Bonus” theme fill: 9a [2008 Olympics tennis champ] NADAL; 27a [Relay's last runner] ANCHOR; 35a [Jumper's muscle] CALF; 84a [Olympic skier Smetanina] RAISA; 105a [1996 Olympic tennis champ] AGASSI; 120a [1/500 of London's Olympic Park] ACRE; 24d [Like 1998's Olympic host] KOREAN. 37d [Speedy Bolt] USAIN, 92d [1996 Olympic host] ATLANTA.
Okay, just a quick run-through of a small selection of personal highlights:
- Did not understand 9d [Ellsbury and others] NAVAJOS. It appears that Jacoby Ellsbury is a current Major League baseball player of Navajo descent.
- 90a [Beach cover-up] PAREU; 35a [Skirtlike trouser] CULOTTE.
- I SHOT / I MOVIE (119a / 94d).
- Didn’t understand the clue for 18d at first. [Monkee calls?] HEYS. I of course saw that it was the “Prefab Four,” but still couldn’t see it. Later, I remembered how the theme song goes: “Hey, hey we’re The Monkees …”
- Least favorite clue, by a long way: 85d [By columnist Herb] CAEN’S.
- Last part to be corrected before finishing: 116a [Stuff] CRAM, not CRAP. Ha-ha? It’s the truth, though.
Good but kind of dull puzzle. Perhaps it would have been more enjoyable during the Olympics mania? I didn’t even watch any of it yet still felt viewer fatigue.