Contest crosswords abound this week!
- The Fireball is a crossword of moderately rigorous difficulty with a meta puzzle I haven’t cracked (and neither will be blogged today); meta deadline is Sunday.
- The Thursday BEQ also has a meta contest, deadline next Wednesday; ergo, Matt will not be blogging it today.
- Erik Agard’s got a contest puzzle on his website this week; deadline is before he posts a new puzzle next Wednesday.
- There is, of course, Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest on Friday, as usual.
- And then on Sunday, for much higher stakes, there’s Merl Reagle’s National Brain Game Challenge, raising money for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. $25 to register, a chance to win as much as $2,500. The puzzle will be released Sunday afternoon and while the contest officially ends Monday afternoon, really it will be over when the fastest people in each solving division have submitted their answers.
Joel Fagliano’s New York Times crossword
Gnarly Thursday puzzle! A Thursday that takes me as long as a Saturday puzzle is a treat. A challenging treat.
56a serves up a toggling ON/OFF SWITCH that holds the key to the theme: Toggle each theme answer’s ON into an OFF and change its OFF into an ON. Did you realize there were at least three solid phrases that would work here, one of which didn’t have either of those as a stand-alone word? 18a: [Sports team management group] is the FRONT OFFICE, which toggles to FROFFTONICE. (Anyone else thinking of Sid & Marty Krofft characters in an ice show now?) 29a: [Digress] clues GO OFF ON A TANGENT, which is presented as GO ON OFF A TANGENT. And then 45a: [What a mayor wins, usually] is an OFF-YEAR ELECTION (not so many local races are decided on the same November ballots for the presidential and congressional races), or ON-YEAR ELECTIOFF. Nifty theme. It was a real turn-off.
Elegant touches in the grid include a three-S BASS SOLO, foreign policy issue AL FATAH, a slow GLACIER (which moves faster, a snail or a glacier?), SCOTSMAN, MR. FREEZE, YO-YO MA, DARE I SAY, and PAMELA clued literarily as [Classic 1740 romance subtitled "Virtue Rewarded"]. I can’t say I’ve ever encountered CAT YEARS before, though (8d: [Age calculation at a vet clinic]). I had DOG YEARS and also wanted 1d to be either DOG-[eared] or LOP[-eared], but it turned out to be JUG[-eared].
Things we don’t see every day in the Times crossword include the word CANCER, cross-referenced zodiacally with LEO; RON clued as [__ Swanson, "Parks and Recreation" boss]; DEL clued as [Singer Lana __ Rey]; TEBOW, ["America's favorite active pro athlete," per a 2012 EPSN poll]; and the answer UFC, a [Mixed martial arts org.].
4.5 stars. I like that the theme stops at three examples and an explanatory answer, rather than packing in more and making compromises in the fill.
Gail Grabowski’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword – Sam Donaldson’s review
I eked out success in yesterday’s installment of Name That Puzzle Month but I have my work cut out for me today. The theme is straightforward enough: take the -AL of the end of the first word in four common two-word nouns and then re-clue the slimmed-down expression. Et voila:
- 17-Across: A “feudal worker” becomes a FEUD WORKER, a [Labor-management negotiator?]. I don’t get the reference to “labor-management.” Is that the prototypical example of a feud? I would have preferred something like [Hatfield-McCoy peace broker?] or [Family-herding grunt on the set of a game show?].
- 55-Across: “Dental school” becomes DENT SCHOOL, an [Academy for body shop students?]. Now that’s a good clue.
- 10-Down: A “final decision” becomes a FIN DECISION, a [Verdict about a suspicious five-spot?]. Now that crosswords have forced me to accept ABE as slang for a five-dollar bill, I kept wanting to see ABE somewhere in this answer. Prior to regular solving, “fin” was familiar but “Abe” was not. Rookie Sam might have solved this one faster.
- 24-Down: A “postal carrier” becomes a POST CARRIER, perhaps a [Lumberyard specializing in fencing material?].
The theme answers don’t do much for me–none really strikes me as clever. They’re all serviceable, but I would have liked at least one zinger that would suggest the inspiration or rationalization for the puzzle.
The fill, on the other hand, was terrific. WE’RE RICH, clued as ["Our Mega Millions ticket's the winner!"], is just superb. I’m also crushing on SAWDUST, PAID CASH (with its Orcas-worthy clue, [Opted for paper over plastic?]), SLOT CAR, PUSS, and LONG ODDS.
Most importantly, notice the absence of crud. The worst entries here are IZE, A SEC, ANAT, and maybe NCOS. In each case, though, they serve worthy objectives. That whole northern section with FWIW, OOZE, FORKS, and WOKE, for instance, offers so much goodness that IZE is a microscopically small price to pay.
Time to figure out the title. How does one cleverly suggest that we’re removing the letters -AL from the end of four words? This is where I’m hitting the wall. The best I can do is Al Gored, somehow equating “gored” with “deleted.” Sheesh. Let’s put an end to my strife and uncover the real title.
Close. It’s “Al Clear,” a play on “all clear.” That’s much better than Al Gored, but that’s not really saying much.
Alex Boisvert’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review
“In the game of baseball, the HIDDEN BALL TRICK is a play in which the runner is deceived about the location of the ball, in an effort to have him tagged out.” - Wikipedia, which explains things more easily than I could
- 17a. [America's most popular dining-out occasion] – MOTHER’S DAY
- 28a. [Place setting item] – DINNER FORK
- 33a. [Last chance in court] – CLOSING ARGUMENT
- 42a. [Where some plates are made] – STEEL MILLS
- 58a. [Political propagandist] – SPIN DOCTOR
I like the concept, especially the fact that we have five theme entries crossing a grid spanning revealer. But at the same time, only NERF (my favorite) bothers to span two words, as though it’s actually a hidden ball (not BAAL). I guess this comes down to having one letter of each theme entry locked in already, so that’s something to consider. I can forgive the use of circles since they look like little balls, though.
My favorite clue was 49a. [Rug often groomed] for TOUPEE; I was stuck on that one for a while. On the other hand, GIBLET gets [Kind of gravy], which is exactly what you’d expect to see for it. I’ve been to the [Han River capital] of SEOUL, so it was easy for me; it might not’ve been so easy for the average solver, seeing as there are at least four major Han Rivers in Asia!
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well crossword, “Middle Rank”
Don’t think about the central tier, no. Think about what’s really rank, and stick it in the middle of various phrases. Yes, let’s get some B.O. in the mix:
- 17a, 25a. [With 25-Across, party that sets out to watch paint dry?], FELLOWSHIP OF THE BORING. If you’re inclined to think that The Lord of the Rings trilogy is, in fact, boring, consider spending 99¢ on humorist (and puzzler) David Ellis Dickerson’s e-book, How Tolkien Sucks.
- 32a. [Victorian garment covered in plush?], FUZZY BODICE. Anyone else thinking of early-Idol singer Bo Bice? More important: Do any of you have fuzzy dice hanging from your rearview mirror?
- 43a. [Purple cow?], GRAPE BOVINE. She’s such a gossip. “I heard it through the grape bovine, not much longer would you be mooin’.”
- 48a. [Slogan to convince kids to buy U2 albums?], JUST SAY BONO. Just … don’t.
- 57a. [Horn-to-horn contact sport?], DEER BOXING. Hey! It’s real! Although to tell you the truth, that looks more like a DEER SLAP-FIGHT.
Simple theme with some entertaining results — plus, who doesn’t like to be reminded of B.O.?
- 33d. [Kentucky town with a college and a cornbread festival ... Christ, Wikipedia yields shitty clues], BEREA. Now, actually, it’s a cool college. You can’t go there unless you need financial aid for college (gotta be in the bottom 40% of family income)— but they don’t charge tuition. Every student has a work-study job. Also, I like cornbread but have never traveled to Kentucky for it.