Thanks to the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project that teenage constructor David Steinberg (recently profiled in the Orange County Register) is spearheading, we can now see—and solve—Maleska-era NYT crosswords online. Jim Horne is an enthusiastic member of Team Pre-Shortzian, and he’s just posted a hardcore crosswordese quiz at his blog. How many of the 34 words—used more than once a year in the Maleska era but never during Will Shortz’s tenure—will you guess based on their Maleskan clues? I got 5, should have gotten a handful more. And the rest? Pfft. (Helpful hint: the 3-letter [Nigerian native] is not IBO this time.)
If you like eleven-part puzzles that require you to crack codes and unscramble secret messages, you’d better get cracking on Smithsonian.com’s “Great American History Puzzle.” The deadline is November 1, and other puzzlers have been hard at work on the seven puzzles that have been released so far. Jeopardy! legend Ken Jennings designed the puzzle and provides clues in his puzzle blog.
Bill Thompson’s New York Times crossword
I feel there’s not much of a difficulty jump from Monday to Tuesday in NYT crossword land, but Wednesday is a notch or two harder. Well, this Tuesday puzzle screams Wednesday to me. There is so much in it that feels out of place on a Tuesday. More on that in a bit—first up, the theme.
The surnames of FASHION DESIGNERS are hidden in four phrases:
- 17a. [Cows, pigs and chickens], FARM ANIMALS. Giorgio Armani. Often referred to by his last name alone.
- 24a. [Location of Mount McKinley], ALASKA RANGE. Donna Karan, who I feel is called by her full name more than just her last name. Also? “Alaska Range” is in fact the name of a mountain range in southern Alaska, but I’ll be damned if I’d ever heard of it.
- 54a. [A.M. or F.M. news dispatch], RADIO REPORT. Christian Dior, who has last-name-only cred. “Radio report” feels a little bit like two words that can be joined, but aren’t a dictionary-grade phrase.
- 63a. [Sprain, say], or what happened to Jeter the other night, ANKLE INJURY. Ow! Calvin Klein (and his and Donna Karan’s fellow New Yorker, Ralph Lauren) is another designer whose last name looks weird without the first name attached to it.
I wish that [Gucci rival] FENDI and [Inits. on a bottle of Parisienne] YSL weren’t in the fill. Seems a little distracting to have a couple extra non-theme fashion names in the puzzle.
Okay: The things that aren’t so Tuesdayesque include 1-Across. Right off the bat, thousands of solvers tomorrow morning will probably scan the first three clues—[Verdi duet "Madre, non ___?], [Gucci rival], and [Wheelwright's tool]—and put the paper down. DORMI is an opera song title word, so it’s fair game for a crossword, but that is mighty rough at 1-Across. That ADZ isn’t helping much, either. (And it’s stacked on top of RIA, another of those words that many of us encounter only in crosswords.) On the other side of the grid, there’s 68a: CARRE, [French square]—having been to New Orleans, I would have gotten this more easily if clued by way of the Vieux Carré.
In the category of “fill you’d prefer not to include if you don’t have to,” we have a plethora of names (FENDI, LEO, EBSEN, E. LEE, ALI, YSL, plural TROYS, ISAO AOKI, King FAISAL, NIA, KOBE, ARTURO, KEN) and foreign words (DORMI, UNA, CARRÉ, NUL, ALLA), sometimes intersecting. Let’s change 49d’s clue from [Pro wrestling fans, frequently], to [Some solvers, upon encountering a good chunk of the fill in this puzzle.
Hey! You know who I learned about last week via public radio? Richard Aoki, a Japanese-American who was imprisoned in an internment camp during WWII, went on to take a leadership role in the Black Panthers, and may have been an FBI informant. So crossword constructors, if you're looking for an alternative to [Isao of golf], try this Asian-American Black Panther. He is the subject of a documentary called Aoki, too.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “It’s a Scream”
You know those words that, thanks to movies and TV and general cultural literacy, you feel compelled to yell? Like top crossworder Stella Daily Zawistowski—if she had a dollar for everyone who ever let out a Stanley Kowalski/Elaine Benes-esque “Stelllllaaaaaaa!” in her presence, she would be absolutely loaded. (If you should ever do that to her, I suggest you be ready with apology cash.) Matt has taken those screamable words and paired them up to make goofball crossword answers:
- 17a. [Dancer Ailey, in his upstate New York home (as screamed on "Chipmunk Day Afternoon")?], ATTICA ALVIN. I know the cinematic prison chant, “Attica! Attica!” and think of it every time I see my nephew Atticus, but if it’s from Dog Day Afternoon, I did not know that. The man character in those recent chipmunks movies shouts “Alvin!” a lot, I think. I have tried to limit my awareness of that franchise.
- 28a. [Number of Belgian beers you plan on drinking (as screamed in "A Futbol Named Desire")?], STELLA GOAL. Stella Artois beer is the frame of reference for the exultant soccer yell “Goal!” (or, if you prefer, “¡Gol!”) and the aforementioned Mr. Kowalski’s wail.
- 44a. [Genghis's 100%-wooden cousin (as screamed in "Lumberjack Trek II")?], TIMBER KHAN. You ought to shout “Timber!” when chopping a tree down, and “Khaaannnn!” was Captain Kirk’s anguished shout regarding Ricardo Montalban’s wrathful Khan in the second Star Trek flick.
- 57a. [Time leading up to doing whatever you want (as screamed on "Golf Course Braveheart")?], FORE FREEDOM. “Fore” is the golf equivalent of “Timber!” and Mel Gibson’s William Wallace screamed, “Freeeedom!” shortly before (*SPOILER ALERT*) he was beheaded.
There’s plenty of zippy fill here. I like VACLAV Havel and MOWGLI (an apt duo), Donald Trump’s oft-PURSY lips (can you make that face? I can), dismissive “LIKE I CARE,” POTHOLE, TWEAK, and the FAKED IT/PALOOKA/ABYSMAL stack.
- 41a. ["The Conning Tower" writer and Algonquin Round Table member, for short], FPA. Google will explain: Franklin P. Adams, wrote a newspaper column called “The Conning Tower,” is the guy who wrote that “Tinker to Evers to Chance” bit about the Cubs double play.
- 51a. [Bed, in Spanish], CAMA. Are there any cognates in, say, French or English? I don’t think Wikcionario has an established etymology for the word, but I don’t read Spanish so I can’t be sure.
- 61a. ["Morning Joe" cohost Brzezinski], MIKA. Yes, she is indeed Zbigniew’s daughter. I hardly ever watch the cable news channels. Apparently she is awesome, though, and tries to shred or burn worthless celebrity “news” story scripts.
- 1d. [1990s dance hit with that recurring line "Bada bwi ba ba bada bo"], SCATMAN. My go-to Scatman is Scatman Crothers, who was on Chico and the Man.
Tony Orbach’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Singing for Dummies” – Sam Donaldson’s review
We know Tony Orbach likes to incorporate music into many of his puzzles. You’ll often see musical clues, for example, or song titles used for longer fill. Today’s crossword takes it to a whole new level, as the four theme entries are two-word song titles ending with words synonymous with “dummy:”
- 20-Across: AMERICAN IDIOT is the [2004 hit for Green Day]. Now a Broadway musical!
- 31-Across: COOL JERK is the [1966 hit for The Capitols]. Never heard of it. You can listen to it here.
- 46-Across: THE JOKER is the [1973 hit for the Steve Miller Band]. This one I know, though I always thought it was called Space Cowboy.
- 54-Across: TEARS OF A CLOWN is the [1970 hit for Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, with "The"]. Didn’t know this ditty had “The” in its title.
This puzzle is Exhibit A in my case for Tony Orbach as one of the most underrated constructors out there. Look at the nice fill! You have JET SETTERS, SUPER-SIZE, UNWIELDY, TREASON, IDOLATRY, SLICE UP, and helpful ANTIDOTES anchoring long Downs, and interesting smaller bits like GO IN, NEW TO, TPS, FUROR, and POLKAS. A couple Zs here and three Js there, but nothing that feels forced just to cram in a rare letter. The uglier bits (BUI, WYES, INIT, LER) facilitate the livelier stuff–they don’t significantly detract from it. Notice too the additional musical elements worked into the fill, like ABBA and [Hip-hop impresario] IRV Gotti. This is the work of someone with serious constructing chops, and I don’t say this just because he reads this blog. (Did I get it right, Tony? I re-typed this paragraph just as you dictated it to me.)
The two items new to me were PRISED, clued as [Forced open], and LER, clued as [Celtic Neptune]. Ler Neptune was a relatively unimportant role player for the Boston Celtics in the late 1970s and early 1980s, perhaps most famous for his suspension from the league for chronic cocaine abuse. Click here for more.
Favorite entry = TWITTERATI, clued as [Ashton Kutcher and others with many cyber followers]. Props for the word, demerits for the reference to Ashton Kutcher. Favorite clue = [Tall order at McDonald's, once?] for SUPER-SIZE.
Marti DuGuay-Carpenter’s Los Angeles Times crossword
- 17a. [Ice cream headache], BRAIN FREEZE. Great answer!
- 31a. [Written permission to skip school], EXCUSE NOTE. Note from your parent, doctor’s note, absence note—those all feel more natural to me, but EXCUSE NOTE Googles up fine.
- 47a. [Elmer Fudd, at times], DUCK HUNTER.
- 63a. ["What a dumb idea!" (or what you might say about the beginning of 17-, 31- or 47-Across)], THAT’S SO LAME. Lamebrain, lame excuse, lame duck. Not crazy about THAT’S SO LAME as the revealer.
In the non-thematic fill, I like TRADES UP, VORTEX, and MAN’S MAN, but I could do without a whole slew of other answers. OCTAD instead of OCTET at 1-Across gets the puzzle off to a … lame start. MAA, REL, D’ETAT, ANON, TSARS, OCHRE, NEET, RKO, SSR, NUTRA, OTB, ABIE, SHU, ERNS, ETO, ITE, APER, ARLENE, IS TO, and ENE pepper the grid with yawns and make chunks of the grid markedly less entertaining.