Barry Silk’s New York Times crossword
I had trouble finding Barry’s wavelength here, which meant the puzzle felt decidedly Saturdayish rather than like a Friday crossword. Those central 15s slaughtered me. A [Fielder's dramatic play] is a SHOESTRING CATCH? Baseball terminology I don’t know. Shoelaces, yes. Shoestring budget, shoestring potatoes, yes. And [Where chromosomes gather between poles during mitosis] is called the EQUATORIAL PLANE, even if those chromosomes are dividing in the Arctic Circle. Go figure.
Other moderately tough bits:
- 1a. [He said "I don't want my album coming out with a G rating. Nobody would buy it"] clues an OSMOND. Donny, I’m guessing. Were you thinking it was a Tipper Gore-era rapper?
- 16a. [Fudge ingredient in "The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook"], HASHEESH. Weird spelling.
- 33a. [India leads the world in its production], GINGER. Who knew?
- 42a. [Like X, XX or XXX], ROMAN. 10, 20, 30 in Roman numerals. The earlier “G rating” clue primes the mind to thing of X ratings here.
- 54a. [Title French orphan of film], LILI. I don’t know the difference between LILI and GIGI, frankly.
- 67a. [Give some relief], EMBOSS. Wasn’t thinking of that kind of relief.
- 1d. [Where to find departure info?], OBIT PAGE. Does anyone call it the “obit page”? I’ve heard “the obituaries” and maybe “the obituary page.”
- 2d. [Low figure for a nerd], SOCIAL IQ. You know what? It really depends. Some nerds just love math and whatnot, but do have social skills.
- 3d. [Starting point of a phone tree], MAIN MENU. The thing you “press # to return to.” I was thinking of “phone tree” as a network of callers, such as at a school that lacks the capacity for automated calling. (E.g., principal calls her direct reports, who divvy up calls to the rest of the staff, who divvy up calls to all the parents.)
- 10d. ["Old ___" (country music classic)], SHEP. Never, ever heard of this.
- 26d. [River waterfall], SAULT. So that’s what Sault Sainte Marie is on about.
- 41d. [Some quotation marks], ELLIPSES. Can someone explain this one to me? I’ve never encountered quotation marks made of either … or oval shapes, whichever ELLIPSES this is.
- 53d. [Combs of Murderers' Row], EARLE. Faint suspicion this is an old baseball thing.
Love 60a: BALD SPOT (also the name of part of Carleton College’s campus), 64a: BRAINIAC, and [It may be worn in the shower] cluing RAINCOAT.
Question raised by 21d: [Weed eliminator, for short?], DEA: What happens when federal and state drug laws are in conflict? Is it insane that Colorado and Washington just legalized marijuana, and not merely for medicinal purposes? Is it bizarre that those ballot measures even made it to Election Day? I’m perplexed.
Patrick Blindauer’s Mall Street Journal crossmord, “On the Flip Side” — pannonica’s review
For the theme answers the Ms of the original phrases have been rotated across their horizontal axes to become Ws and the resulting wacky phrases have been clued.
- 23a. [Bluecoats who get up early?] DAWN YANKEES.
- 34a. [Cross a stream under an elm?] WADE IN THE SHADE. Sometimes the crosswordese automatic association of elm and shade can be useful.
- 50a. [III, perhaps] THREE ON A WATCH. My introduction to this phrase was courtesy the Hitchcock film Lifeboat (1944), although there was an earlier movie (1932) with that title which I believe is most notable for Humphrey Bogart’s first role as a gangster.
- 66a. [Was like a lark with laryngitis?] LOST ONE’S WARBLES.
- 83a. [Break Sleeping Beauty's curse?] KISS AND WAKE UP. Slightly difficult to parse as intended when it lacks the pronoun.
- 97a. [Movie about the most gorgeous oboe?] A BEAUTIFUL WIND. Another wink to the solverati, choosing from among all the wind instruments the one that is a crossword staple.
- 111a. [Tools for moles?] CLAWDIGGERS. Guess these are tools in the sense of “built-in” equipment, which of course suit their fossorial lifestyle.
Not an earth-shattering theme, but a well-executed one. Appreciated that the flipped letter was the only occurrence of M—or W for that matter—in each of the theme answers. Also it was a wise decision not to be fanatically purist and avoid use of Ms and/or Ws elsewhere in the grid; it certainly would have impacted the quality of the ballast fill, which as it is is quite good.
Typographical note: rotated (or reflected) Ms and Ws differ from each other in that Ms typically have legs perpendicular to the baseline while the outer segments of Ws are in general oblique relative to the baseline. A notable exception is the font VAG Rounded, which has been adopted by Apple for its computers’ keyboards. In it, the Ms do not possess perfectly vertical legs. I find this to be a terrible design choice for this particular application, in which the components of the alphabet are isolated.
There’s a lot of sparkle to be found among the ballast fill, especially with the long non-theme answers: PIED-À-TERRE (such an exquisite metaphorical term), LON CHANEY, SYNDICATE, Mario VAN PEEBLES.
Evidence of deft hands of the constructor and editor is to be found throughout the puzzle. Some of my favorite touches include:
- The “winks” mentioned above for the theme answers: oboe in a clue, and elm↔ shade.
- The inclusion of I AM NOT (42a) to supplement the appearance of ARE TOO (24a).
- Smooth cluing, such as 15a [Work with a number] OPUS, 41a [Pick a party, say] VOTE, 95a [Driving alert] FORE.
- Terse, alliterative cluing as a subtle style choice, such as in 31a [Bright blanket] SERAPE, 57a [Crimson corundum] RUBY, 61a [Comice cousin] BOSC, 82d [British breaks] TEA TIMES, 97d [Timeworn truism] ADAGE.
- From my Lifeboat association to 52d [Playground perchers in "The Birds"] CROWS to 79d ["Ungainly fowl" of verse] RAVEN.
- Personal missteps: With -E–, fell into the trap and put in CENT not SECT for [Small denomination] (78a); with E-T– at 96a ["Drop It Low" singer __ Dean] I could only think of musician ELTON Dean, but he’s not a singer (am unfamiliar with ESTER Dean); perhaps pushed along by 12d INERTIA, I confidently filled in AMNESIA for [Forgiveness of a sort], appreciating the clue’s drollery, but it turned out to be AMNESTY; finally, I rashly filled in GETS for SEES at 121a [Comprehends].
- Not a fanatic, but I think I learned somewhere that it’s never DR WHO, as the characters title is inevitably spelled out in full, and is often referred to simply as The Doctor. (100d)
- When the weakest and most distasteful fill in the grid are the suffixes -ETTE and -IST, and the abrrevs. ENGS and ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) you’ve got a damn solid puzzle.
- VENTS and (crossing) VENTI are not repetitious because they derive from different roots (“wind” and “twenty”). (67d & 72a)
- Cute clue: 86d [Pea coat, at times] WASABI.
Fun, fine puzzle. Mwah!
Sarah Keller’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Birds of a Feather”- Sam Donaldson’s review
Today’s mailbag question comes from Etta, an Adeni Yemeni: At last! I’ve found someone that can settle an argument with my boyfriend. Here it is: I like it when themed crosswords have extra thematic content strewn about the grid, even if it’s not symmetrical. In a puzzle about, say, American presidents, I wouldn’t mind seeing fill like OVAL, ELECTORAL, C IN C, and AIR FORCE ONE in the grid even if they were scattered about and even if they didn’t directly relate to the theme. My boyfriend, on the other hand, likes his rigid order. To him, a puzzle with these extras are either “cluttered” or “showing off.” Who’s right?
Great question, Etta. I tend to agree with you, though I would hate to see a constructor compromise the overall quality of the fill just to add in an extra thematically-related nugget. In today’s puzzle, for example, I think a little something-something would have been entirely appropriate. The puzzle, remember, features five famous people with avian surnames:
- 17-Across: SHERYL CROW is the ["All I Wanna Do" singer]. I’ve got a feeling she’s not the only one.
- 29-Across: TONY HAWK is the [Much-medaled professional skateboarder]. Much-medaled? That’s much-muddled.
- 46-Across: CHRISTOPHER WREN is the [St. Paul's Cathedral architect].
- 43-Across: BOB CRANE is the ["Hogan's Heroes" star].
- 57-Across: DICK MARTIN is [Dan Rowan's partner in comedy]. I always thought of him as the funnier of the two emcees of Laugh-In.
Now couldn’t we change that lower left corner so that 63-Across was NEST instead of NEAR? (Doing so would sacrifice the best clue in the puzzle–see below–but with some elbow grease we can get some other good clues in there too.) Even if it wasn’t clued along the lines of [Tree house, suitable for each of 17-, 29-, 36-, 43-, and 57-Across perhaps?], enough solvers would probably catch the little wink and get an extra shot of enjoyment as a result. So I would be all for it even though purists like your boyfriend might scoff. Ditch the zero, Etta. You can do better.
With 51 squares devoted to the theme entries, it’s not so easy to make room for sparkly fill. In such a case, it seems the chief objective is to avoid junky fill rather than to find the especially interesting stuff. On the “not so great” menu we have IS A, ATOI, SSR, EAT A, and SCUT. I can’t decide whether I like or dislike HOTSY, the answer to [___-totsy]. I think maybe it’s the clue I dislike.
Who’s this South African playwright ATHOL Fugard? Well, he wrote Tsotsi, another term we tend to see in crosswords quite a bit. I wonder why Athol hasn’t caught on for a baby name in the United States. Hey, Athol, get out of my way!
Final observation from Inner Beavis: TOPEE really should have been clued as ["I have ___!" (anxious comment outside the restroom)] instead of [Pith helmet]. But I will say this: when you have topee you can take a wicked pith.
Favorite entry = TRADED UP, what nearly all of my ex-girlfriends did. Favorite clue = [Warm, in a seeking game] for NEAR.
Marti DuGuay-Carpenter’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Gareth’s review
The last time we encountered Ms. DuGuay-Carpenter, I think it was two weeks ago, she was giving us an innovative theme where single-word clues were interpreted to give phrase answers, e.g., BUCCANEER became “buck an ear”. This time we have two-word phrases as answers with only two measly letters as clues! Like me, I’m sure you were stumped on being confronted by [FL?] You probably had to work the crosses until one or more answers appeared and you could see the pattern emerge. “A-ha!” you said out loud. If that a-ha still hasn’t come to you, don’t be dismayed… [FL?] is a FLYINGSTART because the “start” of “flying” is FL. Very clever, hey! But, to ramp up the fabulous, Ms. DuGuay-Carpenter has carefully arranged the answers: the first two answers suggest the beginnings of words, the last two the endings and, in BREAKINGHEART, AK is in the middle, “heart”, of the word breAKing! The bigrams are all STATEs as indicated by [Kind of secret represented by each two-letter puzzle clue?]. Not sure if that extra layer was exactly necessary, but it does tie everything together.
The puzzle’s arrangement didn’t leave much room for long answers, two 7′s, and several 6′s. ROCOCO is my favourite sixer. It’s such a pretty-sounding word! The two GO answers, GOBUST and GOSOLO are close runners-up; the repetition bothers me a whole lot less when both answers are fun. You don’t see much nu-metal in crosswords, so KORN was a pleasant surprise. Loved the cluing angles on RICO [Psychotic penguin in "Madagascar"] and GREET [Do a Sunday morning church job]. There were three answers I felt really clunked: EFGH (with a cutesy clue too!), CRESC, and INB, and quite a lot of run-of-the-mill abbrs. too. I don’t know enough about the word KERF to know if it’s a bad answer or not; what do you say, DIYers?
I’d call that a 4.75-star theme, and a 3.5 fill. You can do your own weighting and come up with a number… Gareth out.