Caleb Rasmussen’s New York Times crossword
I heard something last week about a Caleb Rasmussen crossword spoiler that had been inadvertently leaked, so I avoided Googling for it until after I did his Sunday NYT contest puzzle. Whoops! The spoiler was for this puzzle. So I knew basically what the theme was, though I didn’t memorize what the long entries would be—thus my solving time has a McGwirean asterisk beside it.
Theme: TETRIS spelled out in the circled squares. Black-square formations are all standard Tetris blocks. DO NOT LET THE / FALLING BLOCKS / REACH THE TOP is the video game player’s objective.
While this is the first Tetris puzzle in the NYT, way back in the early days of Diary of a Crossword Fiend I reviewed a Tetris-themed crossword by Ben Tausig. I didn’t document his long theme answers but I still have the old puzzle file handy. Imagine that! (Digital hoarding for the win.) TETRIS, FOUR SQUARES / FALLING DOWN, ARCADE GAME / FROM RUSSIA. As I mentioned in that 2005 review, there’s some ugly fill. (Ben’s standards are higher these days.)
Caleb’s NYT puzzle lays out the Tetris blocks differently. His lower theme square count allows him to use a lower word count and somewhat better fill than Ben’s old puzzle. Not keen on TRURO, AGLISTEN, AN EEL, ORT, or BELS, but I like SMARTS, TUSHIE, GONE DARK, ST MARK’S, “but wait, THERE’S MORE!,” and “F-F-F-I-L, L-L-L-M-O, O-O-O-R-E, FILLMORE Junior High!” (You all saw that Brady Bunch episode, right?) There is zero reason to think that Caleb was aware of Ben’s prior puzzle, as constructors independently come up with the same theme ideas fairly often. But it’s good to document our cruciverbal history.
Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Dazzling Colors”
The grid’s bigger than usual and rectangular to boot (17×19). The theme entries are Crayola colors with double Z’s in them, and I probably don’t have to tell you that these colors are a sham and a shame. If it wasn’t in the box of 64 crayons in the 1970s, it’s invalid. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. In my day, none of the crayons had this ZZ nonsense. What, is Crayola trying to put children to sleep? Is it all a plot? And now Zzzquil is getting in on the action.
Pretty pleased with myself for guessing the correct answer right away and spelling it right for 12d: [Literally, "belly cut"]. HARAKIRI. It is not harikari, no, ma’am.
Did you like ZZ TOP sneaking into the grid in a place where the Z’s aren’t crossing any colors?
Likes: “Take the CANNOLI,” GRETZKY, APROPOS OF (which fought me hard), and IN A MOOD (which describes my current situation pretty well). Neutral: GORDITA sounds like it is the generic term for Peter Gordon’s daughters. Dislikes: CENTRI, DEPONE (I know it’s a real word, but it makes me think of Kramer’s claim that QUONE is a word when playing Scrabble on Seinfeld). 3.75 stars. The theme is Scrabbly, yes, and fresh, but as I said, those colors are a sham and I couldn’t get too excited about the theme.
Elizabeth Long’s Los Angeles Times crossword
I love the theme revealer, but I’m not sure that the theme answers really bring enough entertainment value. 58a: [Proper sort ... or a cry upon solving each of this puzzle's theme answers?] clues GOODY TWO-SHOES, or “Goody! Two shoes!” Each of the other three theme entries combines two kinds of shoes, clued as verb + non-shoe noun:
- 20a. [Question cads in their cups?], PUMP HIGH HEELS. The only place I encounter HIGH as a synonym for “drunk” (as opposed to high on drugs) is in crosswords. Is it older slang? Or regional?
- 28a. [Burden beasts of burden?], SADDLE MULES. Man! I haven’t thought about saddle shoes in ages.
- 47a. [Stumble over plumbing gunk?], SLIP ON CLOGS. This paints a horrifying visual.
65a: [Yankee great, familiarly, with "The"] wanted to be BABE, but it’s MICK. Say what? Mickey Mantle? I’ve never heard this “The Mick” nickname.
Clunkiest fill: AGUE, URIS, A TRUE, and the rivers OISE and UELE ([Ubangi tributary]).
Fishiest fill: MAHI MAHI ([Hawaiian for "very strong"], who knew?) and RED SALMON (I once had white salmon and I felt like I was cheating).
Least favorite clue, after the one for MICK: 9d: [Serious argument components], SCREAMS. SCREAMS as a noun goes more with scary movies than with “serious argument,” if you ask me.
Favorites: DOGHOUSE, PIPPI Longstocking, HOMONYM, and 1a: HARP because my cousin Heather plays the harp.
Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Supporting Cast”- Sam Donaldson’s review
My first sub-4:00 solving time! I know that’s nothing to brag about–all the other correspondents here at the Fiend routinely check in with solving times that start with a “3.” But I won’t hide the fact that I’m having my own personal Roger Bannister moment right now.
I’m not at all surprised that I set my personal best on a Doug Peterson puzzle. We all have a constructor or two with whom we share a common wavelength, and for me that’s Doug. This particular puzzle features four two-word entries ending with words that can also serve as supports:
- 20-Across: A [Station set up for surveillance] is a LISTENING POST.
- 32-Across: The [High-energy emanation studied by physicists] is a PARTICLE BEAM.
- 40-Across: The answer to [Tabloid feature, often] is GOSSIP COLUMN.
- 55-Across: PATRICK RAFTER is the [Two-time U.S. Open tennis champ]. Anyone else toy with Patrick McEnroe for a half-second? Fifty cents says this was the seed entry that inspired this puzzle. (And notice how it’s saved for the end, like a punchline.)
I can thank my couch for helping me save a lot of time here. But for the couch, I wouldn’t have the patience to watch so much cable TV, and that helped me nail [Celebrity chef Bobby] FLAY and STACY [London ("What Not to Wear" co-host)] right out of the chute. Lest you think I’m a complete TV addict, I didn’t know LORI Loughlin (never watched Full House) or LILA Kedrova, an Oscar-winner for Zorba the Greek.
I love the triple sixes in two corners, especially the one that places FROLIC next to LA-DI-DA. I’LL TELL is a fun entry too, as is the conversational JUST A SEC. Looks like Doug got a volume discount from The L Store–seven of them in the southwest corner alone!
Favorite entry = UPGRADE, a [Roomier airplane seat, say]. My choice for this entry just might be influenced by the free upgrade I scored for a flight later today. Favorite clue = [$50, on Boardwalk] for RENT.
Brendan Quigley’s website puzzle, “Whatevs” — Matt’s review
Quigley doesn’t wanna hear it, so tell it to the hand! He’ll just say “whatevs” if he’s not buying what you’re selling…or perhaps he’ll write a crossword where the letters EV are inserted into various base phrases, with cruciverbal hilarity flowing naturally therefrom. That’s the route he chose today to deal with your trifling attitude, the theme answers being:
17-a. [Thingamabob whose purpose is unclear?] = FUZZY DEVICE, not “fuzzy dice.” Scrabbly.
24-a. [Coastline after California falls into the ocean?] = NEVADA SURF, not “Nada Surf.” I’ll look that up so we’ll both know what it means. Shocker, it’s a band.
38-a. [Cheap fanzine about the "Whip It" band?] = DEVO RAG, not “do-rag.”
40-a. [Pecking order?] = BEVY LAW, not “by-law.” Tricky to parse, these short themers.
49-a. [Overhaul on the cloverleaf?] = EXIT REVAMP, not “exit ramp.”
62-a. [Analgesic with a peppery sweet taste?] = GINGER ALEVE, not “ginger ale.”
So that’s a decent add-some-letters theme set. The fill shines in the way you’ve come to take for granted from Brendan: COZENS, XEROX, KUDZU, THAT GUY, SEE YA, and of course ECZEMA (forward to 5:59).
Odds and ends:
***6-a. [German mark?] = GRADE. In junior high Herr DeRosa used to give out “megamarks” for extra credit, which came in handy when you’d messed up your ders/dies/dases on vocab quizzes.
***Clues I am not hooked in enough to the Zeitgeist to understand and am too lazy to Google: [Member of the a capella group Spizzwinks(?)] for ELI, [TV actress Olstead] for RENEE, and [___ Offer (ShamWow! pitcher)] for VINCE.
***BEQ, you’ll never fool a fellow constructor with an ELENA Kagan clue! [Colleague of John, Antonin, Anthony, Clarence, Ruth, Stephen, Samuel, and Sonia]
Stars? Somewhere between 3.85 and 4.00.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well crossword, “Fare Increase”
Supplement your dietary fare by adding vitamins to six edibles:
- 17a. [Treat that you were totally into before it was hip?], SNOB CONE, vitamin B.
- 21a. [All-beef patty served with comprehensive nutritional information?], FACTBURGER, vitamin C.
- 26a. [Boardwalk snacks for squirrels?], ACORN DOGS, vitamin A.
- 40a. [O! Baked treat! Warm and nourishing to eat!?], POET PIE, vitamin E.
- 48a. [Heavy dairy product made from reclaimed casino equipment?], DICE CREAM, vitamin D. I don’t think the science is there for this one yet.
- 54a. [Root-flavored salad green?], GINGER KALE, vitamin K.
- 64a. [Supplements added to each of this puzzle's theme answers], VITAMINS.
- 3d. [Certain open-air drinking establishment[, ROOFTOP BAR.
- 44d. [Pickup line phrase in a Ryan Gosling meme], “HEY GIRL.” Have you seen the meme? Here’s Feminist Ryan Gosling, and Hey girl. I like the library too.
- 37a. [Mississippi petulantly observes it in tandem with Robert E. Lee's birth], MLK DAY.
- 8a. [Sexually insecure gesture], BRO HUG. Is this the smack-on-the-back, disengage-in-a-hurry hug?
Least favorite fill: 10d. [Where seals might sun themselves], ON A ROCK. Not so much in the language as a discrete unit. The trio of EDA, GEER, and DIK can also take a walk.