Wait, the crosswords keep coming, even though I’m busy watching the election returns? That can’t be right.
- The new Muller Monthly Music Meta puzzle is out now. Get on that … maybe tomorrow.
- Bad news. The Onion A.V. Club is discontinuing its crossword. Will the puzzle continue in the indie/self-publishing vein? Time will tell. In the meantime, thanks and condolences to editor/constructor Ben Tausig and his team of constructors, who have included Tyler Hinman, Francis Heaney, Byron Walden, Matt Jones, Deb Amlen, Aimee Lucido, Caleb Madison, Matt Gaffney, and Brendan Emmett Quigley. (Did I miss anyone?)
George Fitzgerald and Nancy Salomon’s New York Times crossword
Did anyone else assume the whole puzzle was going to be packed with A’s and B’s after filling in that *AAB/ABBA/BAB* stack in the corner?
The theme emerged quickly, despite the stacking of non-theme 8s crossing non-theme 9s. THE BLUES relate to BABY TALK, ROYAL FLUSH, NAVY SEALS, SKY DIVING, and STEEL DRUMS because those first words all partner with “blue” to make specific shades of that color. Lovely theme, made of a lively batch of phrases. I feel I’ve seen the same general “kinds of blue” concept at least twice before, but it’s likely fresh to the average solver.
It’s a tad surprising to see ABBA EBAN, [Israel's first representative to the United Nations], occupying a prominent spot in the grid. To many of us, he’s best known as “that guy whose first name is a Swedish band whose last name is in the puzzle a lot, but not as often as he used to be.” Also surprising to have two Scottish 3s, SMA and GIE (NAE is pouting in the other room).
In my “meh” grouping, we’ve got ESKERS, APSES, URIEL, RAE crossing TVA, MT. ETNA, GES.
Three stars. A four-star theme, but some of the fill brought down my assessment.
Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Taking Politics Out of It”
The theme entries have lost their R and D designations:
- 13a. [Hack that transports smoothing tools?], FILE CAB. This looks a lot like FILE CABinet, but eventually I figured out it started as fiddler crab.
- 30a. [Briefly expose oneself to a thug?], FLASH GOON. I first went with the thug’s hangout a FLASH DIVE losing an R, but each theme entry drops at least one of each letter. Flash Gordon here.
- 43a. [Actress Arthur adheres?], BEA STICKS. Bread sticks, single R and D loss again.
- 63a. [Snakes on a plane rudder?], AFT BOAS. Draft boards.
- 16d. [Outlaw allegiance?], BAN LOYALTY. Brand loyalty.
- 25d. [Heirs to a faucet fortune?], MOEN FAMILY. Modern Family.
Not particularly entertaining, but it was indeed a challenging theme to piece together.
I struggled in the lower left corner. BOSSY as a last name, capital-B Best hiding at the beginning of a clue for BEATLE, [Guts] cluing EASY A’S rather than ENTERA. Heading towards the center, ONA clued as [Munson of “Gone With the Wind”], meh. Left side, an R. Kelly song I don’t recognize, SEX ME.
Oh! And I had a wrong square. I’d had Les MIZ but changed the Z to an S to fit 27d: SHLUBS. Excuse me, ZHLUBS?!? The dictionary I checked offers shlub and schlub but no zhlub spelling. It wouldn’t have killed you to make MIZ into MES, Peter.
Not sure I’ve ever considered whether something that is [For sale] is “BUYABLE.”
Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Tree Huggers”- Sam Donaldson’s review
Today’s mailbag question comes from R.L.S. in Orono, Maine: Is there such a thing as too much pop culture in a crossword puzzle? I can only offer one person’s opinion, R.L.S. But here goes: I think pop culture references make puzzles hip and accessible to newer solvers. But pop culture is also in my wheelhouse. Others might feel the same way about classical music, military history, religious texts, and French words.
Ideally, there should be something for everyone in every crossword. One consequence of that ideal is that every crossword is bound to have something that a particular solver will find arcane, pointless, annoying, or simply dull. But one person’s obscurity is another’s welcome toe-hold. That’s why we should see some history, some lexicology, some geography, some sports, some science, and, yes, some pop culture in every puzzle. And fashion. And literature. And music. Crosswords are in their highest form when they’re welcoming to all disciplines and interests.
Alas, sometimes we critics focus more on the stuff we don’t know or for which we have little appetite. It’s like the teaching evaluations I get in my day job–in a class of 50 students I might have 47 say I’m doing an adequate job, but three will have sharper criticisms. Naturally I focus almost exclusively on those three critical evaluations, and they stay with me for much longer. Likewise, when I’m done solving a puzzle, the stuff that was unknown to me and the stuff I didn’t much like will stick out more in my mind. And since I write these posts right after I solve the puzzles, those critiques will get a lot more play.
Wait, where was I going with this? Oh yeah–I tend to view those who say “this puzzle had too much pop culture” as saying “pop culture doesn’t interest me much.” For them, any pop culture is too much. But I dig it, so I welcome it. That said, if the puzzle was entirely pop culture, I’d probably wish it was a little more well-rounded (assuming the “all-pop-culture-all-the-time” gimmick wasn’t part of the puzzle’s theme, of course). So yes, there can be such a thing as too much pop culture in any one puzzle. But that’s not to say pop culture should be any more or less welcome than other areas of interest.
Speaking of which, today’s puzzle has a heavy dose of pop culture. Heck, three of the four people featured in the theme entries are pop culture icons. How are these people “tree huggers” as suggested in the puzzle’s title? Well, 60-Across tells that an ELM is the [Tree “hugged” in the names at 17-, 27-, 43-, and 56-Across]. So these people aren’t especially known for their eco-friendly ways; it just so happens they all have the E-L-M letter sequence spanning their first and last names:
- 17-Across: The [“There’s No Business Like Show Business” singer] is ETHEL MERMAN.
- 27-Across: MICHAEL McKEAN is the [“This is Spinal Tap” star who played Lenny on “Laverne & Shirley”].
- 43-Across: MARCEL MARCEAU, the famous mime, is the [Speaker of the only word heard in Mel Brooks’s “Silent Movie”]. We don’t need no stinkin’ dialogue.
- 56-Across: The [1975 inductee into the National Inventors Hall of Fame] is SAMUEL MORSE. Someone send him a telegram!
Other pop culture tidbits: SMURF, a reference to Popeye in the clue for RASPY, a reference to Bart Simpson as the OLDER sibling to Lisa, the EWING clan from Dallas, and a reference to Wile E. Coyote in the clue for ACME. I don’t think that’s too much at all, but others may disagree.
On the non-pop-culture front, I liked FAZED, FELT BAD, SHEKEL, PREYS ON, and BRIMMED. Favorite entry = JUST IN CASE, you know, [If it should be needed]. Favorite clue = [Early bird’s prize] for WORM.
James Sajdak’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Gareth’s review
Subtle theme today from James Sajdak. Five answers have multiple instances of the same vowel and no others; the five are in alphabetical (AEIOU) order. I bet Mr. Sajdak wanted to have LYNYRDSKYNYRD as the final answer, but couldn’t get the grid to work! Three of the five answer are good to great: PANAMAHATS ([Tropical headgear] had me thinking of that old-school answer TOPI!), FIGHTINGILLINI (I know it only from crosswords… It seems people from Illinois are Illini?), and VOODOODOLL. SWEETENERS and UNTRUTHFUL are a bit flat, but with the considerable constraints, I’d say its still a very nicely executed theme!
I was a bit slow to finish today, but I don’t think the puzzle was hard; rather I was feeling a bit dopey. Some simple clues made me smile: [Fan favorite] for IDOL, [Two pages] for LEAF, [Org. concerned with crowns] (dental) for ADA. Simple, like I said, but elegant. I do wish ROTATOR had an anatomical clue: [Barbecue spit, e.g.] makes it sound like a roll-your-own, rather than a perfectly legitamite answer.
That’s all I wanted to say: clever theme, with some fun theme answers; a few other splashy answers, but also very little to make one frown. Oh wait, I can’t sign off without linking to a song by THEPOLICE, can I? Favorite answer of the puzzle, BTW.
This just in: the puzzle is 16×15. Ashamed to say, I didn’t notice ’til now!
Francis Heaney’s valedictory Onion A.V. Club crossword
The weekend before last, my in-laws were cleaning out their basement. Dad came up the stairs with a 2′ stack of binders, and do you know how many women he had in them? Nary a one! Francis makes amends on his behalf by filling three BINDERs with women’s names:
- 21a. [Perfect plan if you love eating oniony rolls while watching medical drama reruns?], BIALYS AND ER. Alysa, not a common spelling.
- 32a. [One given to sprees on horseback?], BINGE RIDER. Hello, Aunt Geri.
- 40a. [Platform on which to receive a red dot on the forehead?], BINDI RISER. Iris.
- 51a. [With 65-Across, items in a puzzling Romney remark, and a description of three - no, four - entries in this puzzle], BINDERS FULL OF WOMEN.
Possibly related: 1a. [Catalog for polygamists on "Big Love"], JOY BOOK. Never heard of that, but it sounds rather like it’s a binder full of women.
Lots of good and fresh fill, as you expect from a Heaney puzzle: Amelia BEDELIA, COCONUTS, NEOPETS, BALDERDASH, IRISH STEW, SCHMO, and RAIN DANCES. Now, BABY EAGLE seems quite arbitrary as phrases go (“baby harp seal” and “baby panda” feel more legit, and perversely I want to start using “baby dog” and “baby cat” and “baby human”).
- 23d. [10%, if you're cheap], TIP. Personally, I feel I’m sending a strong negative message when I leave 14%.
- 20a. [Sadist Amin with six wives], IDI. Note the tie-in with JOY BOOK’s polygamy.
- 44a. [Prepare for evacuation?], DIGEST.
- 32d. [Person droning on about tax law, probably], BORE. Wait, what? I’m sure Sam Donaldson and Jeffrey Krasnick would disagree.