Martin Ashwood-Smith’s New York Times crossword
It’s late (watched the vice presidential debate before the puzzle), I’m tired, let’s get this thing done.
By the numbers: It’s a 15×16 grid to accommodate the central quad-stack of 15s. Two more 15s appear at the top and bottom, and a vertical pair of 14s cross all the 15s. A 71-worder.
By the gestalt: Decent puzzle with some bright spots but also some flaws. Three stars.
Goods: JETSKI, KODIAK BROWN BEAR (tune in during the day Friday and see if there are any brown bears fishing for salmon at Brooks Falls on this live cam), SPIRAL STAIRCASE clued as [Steps around?], LONG JOHNS, JOVIAL, HOO-HA, DELIRIOUS, BRIEF ENCOUNTER, PREOP clued as [Before one's big opening?].
Things I didn’t care for: crosswordese like OONA, IPSO, ADE, ISL, STET, ILO, RATA; partials A MOO, AS IN, E. LEE, ON ON (I’d much prefer to see the number of partials capped at 2, though 0 would be even better); word dupes ONE-ALL and ONE-TWO; awkward UNDAM; outmoded CARRIAGE PAINTER; plural suffix -OSES.
Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “StoMP!” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Even though I saw the title right from the beginning, I didn’t figure out the theme until I was three-fourths of the way through solving. I saw the capitalized MP letter sequence in the title, but I didn’t realize the title is actually a three word hint: we are supposed to replace the S in four common terms with MP, thus it’s “S-to-MP!” The resulting theme entries are indeed whimsical:
- 17-Across: A “beta tester” becomes a BETA TEMPTER, a [Siren-in-training?]. Great clue, but one would expect no less.
- 30-Across: One is used to seeing “plus tax” next to many prices. Here it becomes the PLUMP TAX, a [Weighty imposition?].
- 49-Across: Take a “who’s who” list and watch it become WHOMP WHO, a [Thug's query as to his next target?].
- 63-Across: A proverbial “busy beaver” becomes a BUMPY BEAVER, a [Rodent phrenologist's dream patient?]. Ever thought you’d see “bumpy beaver” in your local newspaper?
The triple-7s in each corner is a nice touch. My favorite is the stack in the southwest with both CHIGGER and TOM-BOYS. The one in the southeast was more of a mystery to me, as neither PALAVER nor ETAGERE came readily to mind.
The big mystery section for me, however, was in the north and northeast. I figured [Mug] wanted FACE instead of PUSS, so I had AT IT for [Plotting], and that really bogged me down. I didn’t know either SAO TOME or Quintana ROO, so that whole section stayed blank for a long time. Over in the northeast, I figured the [LAX letters] had to be ETA, but it was ARR. And that one mistake really had me in a fog for the entire corner.
Favorite entry = HOT SPOT, [Where wireless works]. Favorite clue = [Butterfly, for one (abbr.)] for MME. But there are many honorable mentions, like [Thing to do at home] for BAT, [Mickey Mouse concern?] for DISNEY, [Beer barrel pokers] for TAPS, and [Be short and shy] for OWE.
Mark Feldman’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Mad Scientists” — pannonica’s review
Like the NYT, this puzzle sports a 15×16 grid. The longest theme entry, however, is the 14-letter one in Column Eight. Since there apparently and understandably wasn’t another themer of equal length, this one was essentially* obligated to be unpaired in the center. The constructor’s options then were to either increase one dimension of the puzzle to 16 squares or reduce it to 14. We all know which route is easier; also, solvers may feel shortchanged by a smaller puzzle with less content.
The theme is contemporary—though not always contentious, as the puzzle’s title insinuates—scientists working in the same fields.
- 6d. [Rival of Jonas Salk] ALBERT SABIN. Both were medical researchers who developed vaccines for polio.
- 10d. [Rival of Carl Jung] SIGMUND FREUD. Psychoanalysis.
- 14d. [Rival of Gottfried Liebnitz] SIR ISAAC NEWTON. Development of the calculus.
- 23d. [Rival of Robert Oppenheimer] EDWARD TELLER. Nuclear physics at the Manhattan Project; respectively, they are the “father of the atomic bomb” and the “father of the hydrogen bomb.”
- 31d. [Rival of Thomas Edison] NIKOLA TESLA. Both were prolific inventors, but the subject here is most likely the production of electricity, with Edison advocating direct current and Tesla offering alternating current. Over the past few decades, there’s been a general upswell in recognition of Tesla, at the moment culminating in impressively crowdsourced funding for a museum in his honor. There was definitely no love lost in this ruthless rivalry.
*NEWTON, the 14-letter answer I alluded to earlier, remains problematic. It’s the only one with a title affixed and by the tacit rules of themology should appear sans title, which would reduce the length of the entry to 11 letters. I feel the construction would have been better if it had been done that way, with two blocks on either side of the name, which still would have appeared in the center column (or row, if the puzzle had been oriented thusly). The current, expanded configuration necessitated those odd and distracting nine-square blocks.
I hope it goes without saying that the glaring omission is (Sir) Charles Darwin’s rival in introducing a theory of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace. Yes, his name is 19 letters long, so obviously that’d entail creating a large-format puzzle (i.e., 21×21), and that may be beyond the purview of the Chronicle. They might not have sufficient funding for that.
As Malcolm Gladwell and others have pointed out, simultaneous invention—which is a subset of overt rivalry—in science (as well as business, the arts, and many other pursuits) is not uncommon.
Back to the actual crossword. The non-theme long answers are, unsurprisingly, a highlight. BOLSTERED and ANALOGIST stacked in the lower right, the somewhat less spiffy PILOTLESS drones and SCOTT BAIO in the upper left. The lovely SUNDANCE and ESTRANGED, with assists from ALOPECIA and WISHBONE to round things out.
In the end, however, I found the crossword to be a disappointment. The cluing isn’t particularly engaging. The previously-discussed odd construction imparts to the puzzle a tattered appearance, as if a frustrated scientist had in a moment of passion torn up a sheet of paper filled with scribbled equations, then ruefully taped it back together. And yet, with so much looseness in the grid, so many blocks, there’s still a plethora of three-letter words. And many of them are not pretty. ILO [1969 Nobel Peace Prize winner: Abbr.], -ESE, AND, ALA., LES, RAI, to name some. Then there are the other odd fill: [Sweety pie] spelled DEARY and not “dearie,” [Franciscan missionary Junipero] SERRA, and the nearby SOLFA [Musical syllables]. Okay, I did like that last one, but it’s still rather obscure.
David Steinberg’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Word on the Street” — pannonica’s review
The word on the street is on a street sign and that word is STOP. I found a nice image to illustrate this puzzle, but I’m not going to pay to remove the watermark; you can look at it yourself if you’re just dying of curiosity.
Each of the theme answers consists of two parts, first a phrase ending with STOP and then one beginning with the same word. 104-across makes it explicit: [Theme of this puzzle/Visit briefly] FOUR-WAY | STOP | OFF. “Four way” because the intersections where these STOPs work for both the acrosses and downs.
- 27a [Marilyn Monroe film/Brake quickly] BUS STOP ON A DIME. 4d [Like some shopping/Bumper-to-bumper] ONE-STOP-AND-GO.
- 34a [Gradually lost speed/Faucet type] SLOWED TO A STOPCOCK. 14d [Not just a token deceleration/Freeze] DEAD STOP DEAD. Cute reuse.
- 66a [Site for eats/Blow the whistle] TRUCK STOP PLAY. 42d [Train bypass, usually/Makeshift measure] FLAG STOPGAP.
- 68a [Wedge, perhaps/"60 Minutes" symbol] DOORSTOPWATCH. 49d [Place to retire?/What lovers might like to do] PITSTOP TIME. Re-tire, get it?
- 99a [Clinton campaign song/Use any tactics necessary] “DON’T STOP” AT NOTHING. 75d [It's close to home/Broker order] BACKSTOP-LOSS.
- 78d [Something pulled at a church/Cry after a holdup] ORGAN “STOP HIM!”
Whew! That’s a lot of theme content. I’m ready for a break. With so much stuffed in, both across and down, there isn’t much room for flashy or long non-theme fill.
- Gratuitous WSJ-spun content: 33a [What you will] ESTATE; 86a [Company that helps executives rise] OTIS (the elevator maker); 83d [Black Friday sight, often] MAD DASH; 94d [Top bond rating] AAA; 107d [Financial District summer hrs.] EDT.
- 80a [Bohr theory subject] ATOM / 110d [It's not free of charge] ION. 76d [Put forth] POSIT / 87a [Put forward] OPINE. 61a [Running full speed] AGALLOP (agallop?) / 112a [Clop maker] HOOF. Also, 24a [With 119-Across, "House" co-star] OMAR, (119a) EPPS.
- Less common words: 85d [Lathe spindle] MANDREL; 88d [Fudgelike candy] PENUCHE; 35d [Port west of Hamburg] EMDEN.
- Favorite clue/answer combo: 74a [Cancellation fighters] FAN BASE.
- Did not understand 64a [Anchor for a bay] ROOT. I know it isn’t a bay horse, and bay (v.) → bark → bark/barque (n.) seems more than tenuous. Is it bay/laurel tree? Must be.
- WYO. and AMER.?? Ick. (32a & 82a)
- Originally had NIMRODS for RAMRODS at 44d [Martinets], but that’s probably just my anti-authoritarian streak.
Very good puzzle.
Joe Samulak and Peter A. Collins’ Los Angeles Times crossword — Gareth’s review
Very edgy puzzle, this one! Four of the five theme authors begin on the top row, which is certainly unusual! How did messrs. Samulak and Collins get that right? Well, the puzzle has left-right symmetry rather than normal diagonal symmetry! You all noticed this right away, amirite? Why is this so? Well the theme answers are 10/9/7/9/10 which would work in a normal grid, only there’s the small matter of the final 15. I’m guessing there are no (other) 10 (7+3) or 18 (15+3) letter answers that fit the theme. I really liked the change of rhythm the unusual grid provided in any case.
Now where were we? This is quite an intricate, layered theme, isn’t it? We have 60a, THEINVISIBLEMAN , an [H.G. Wells classic...] I haven’t read, though I have read his “The History of Mr. Polly.” I mention this because, well, I haven’t read a single book by any of the other authors. They’re all incredibly famous, revered novelists, so lets get the collective clucking at how narrowly read I am over with right now, shall we? All of the other theme answers are men, and all are novelists, and all have first names that fit the pattern “*man”, only the “man” part has been left out of the grid, i.e. is invisible. Now isn’t that just beautifully elegant? Plus the authors are all hugely famous 20th/21st century giants (even if I haven’t read any of them). I reckon that deserves a standing ovation, yes? Although, inevitably, a few of you will be grumbling over the male bias in the puzzle! For completeness, the theme answers are:
- 3d. SAL(MAN) RUSHDIE, [*"Midnight's Children" author]
- 5d. NOR(MAN) MAILER, [*"Armies of the Night" author]
- 25d. HER(MAN) WOUK, [*"The Caine Mutiny" author]
- 10d. TRU(MAN) CAPOTE, [*"Breakfast at Tiffany's" author]
- 12d. SHER(MAN) ALEXIE, [*"The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven" author]. What a fascinating title that is! Mr. Alexie’s “crossworthy-ness” has been the subject of “ranting” by NYT blogger Rex Parker, at least it etched the guy’s name in my brain!
What else do I want to comment on? Let’s see?
- 16a. HERSHEY, [Kiss offerer]. Very good brand recognition for me, even though the company doesn’t operate in South Africa. I find that curious. Many “Hershey” products are sold as “Cadbury” products here though… I guess I could go and look up why that is, but I’m lazy.
- 20a. ICER, [Writer of creamy messages]. This evokes a weird mental image.
- 23a. AMPHORA, [Ancient Greek storage vessel]. I don’t why, but I love the sound of the word!
- 37a. OVENS, [Pizza places]. Simplicity! Elegance!
- 39a. WWI [It didn't get its no. until 1939]. Puzzling clue (sorry, clew) until it emerged from crosses!
- 50a. THANKYOUS, [Oscar winners' lines]. Again, I’m not sure exactly why, but I liked seeing this answer in plural form.
OK, now’s the part where you join in with effusive praise / dissent radically, objecting to my shameless puff piece. Bye-bye.