Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword, “A Little Extra”
The “Little Extra” in the puzzle’s title is the big X across the center of the grid. Those black squares mean X in 14 adjacent answers (symmetrically placed) and are appended to the beginning or end of the theme answers, always as a separately pronounced “X” or “ten”:
- 46a. [Je nais sais quoi], X FACTOR.
- 58a. [Four-time role for Patrick Stewart], PROFESSOR X.
- 60a. [Almost every man in the world has one], X CHROMOSOME. There are assorted chromosomal variations, such as XXY, so the “almost” is correct.
- 65a. [Followers of a boom?], GENERATION X.
- 72a. [More precise alternative to scissors], X-ACTO KNIFE.
- 88a. [Lunar mission commanded by Thomas P. Stafford], APOLLO X.
- 4d. [Excommunicator or Martin Luther], LEO X.
- 7d. [1992 Denzel Washington title role], MALCOLM X.
- 13d. [Quest of the astronomer Percival Lowell], PLANET X.
- 15d. [Beano competitor], GAS-X.
- 91d. [Novelty glasses], X-RAY SPEX.
- 94d. [G's opposite], X RATING.
- 112d. [Comic book mutants], X-MEN.
- 114d. [Wii alternative], XBOX.
I had to rely on that thematic symmetry to find several of the X’s. PLANET and APOLLO and LEO hadn’t jumped out at me as being incomplete. The theme entries make for a lively gathering of words and phrases, don’t they?
The grid’s got a bunch of non-Xed long answers, too. There’s ITALIAN ICE, HITS BOTTOM, POPEMOBILE, ENEMY LINES, END OF AN ERA, T MINUS ZERO, YOSEMITE SAM, CALLIGRAPHY, ONION ROLLS, PETE ROSE, GANYMEDE, and more—the sort of answers that would be welcome in a themeless puzzle and that don’t usually appear in such profusion in a Sunday puzzle. Not counting the big black X in the grid, the theme square count is super-low for a 21×21 (I counted ~88 letters). A while back, I think Will Shortz said he was open to puzzles with fewer theme squares and livelier fill overall. If Jeff’s creation is the sort of puzzle that results from that approach, I say bring ‘em on! I do enjoy oversized themeless crosswords, like Games magazine’s 25×25 Ornery Crossword, the annual Brendan Emmett Quigley gift to contributors, and Trip Payne’s 21×21 Themeless Challengers. Today’s puzzle was reminiscent of those treats.
4.5 stars from me. A Thursdayesque gimmick crossed with a jumbo themeless vibe and X-packed theme answers makes me a satisfied customer.
John Lampkin’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “East Enders”
East Enders is/was a British soap opera. John tacks on an E, which can be short for “east,” at the end of each theme answer:
- 23a. [Quit sugar cold turkey?], KICK THE CANE.
- 25a. [Small hawk that delivers papers?], PRESS KITE. John likes his birds, he does.
- 47a. [Water cooler gossip?], BUSINESS TRIPE.
- 91a. [Canadian hockey player's tantrum?], MAPLE LEAF RAGE. My favorite theme answer. You know what the Canadian hockey player does after the rage, don’t you? That’s right. Apologizes profusely. Even if he or she was completely in the right.
- 113a. [Tree for Scotland Yard?], BOBBY PINE.
- 118a. [Midlife issue for a big cat?], THE THIN MANE. Do veterinarians prescribe Rogaine/minoxidil, Gareth?
- 42d. [Terse Dear John?], FORGET ME NOTE. My second favorite themer.
- 37d. [Luxury lodgings at the zoo?], GORILLA SUITE. Almost tried to rationalize SUITE instead of TRIP at 47a.
Highlights in the fill include B.B. KING, FAKE IT, the NITWIT/TWERP name-calling crossing, ROTGUT, and the word BANDY. Do you bandy things about? I sure do. I also like a good glacial MORAINE. I just went off in search of a nice link for MORAINE and discovered the misspelling-prone Ohio town by that name. The top of the browser window says “The City of Moranie,” and the scrolling alerts tell us the city officials have “rolled out of” a new development “stragey,” and the snow alert was “lasted updated” this morning. (Ouch.) If you dig glacial geology, you probably already know what moraines are, right?
The least pleasant zone in the grid is where crosswordese PATENS and ALETA cross crosswordese RIATA and ONE-L and Spanish ESTA. On the plus side, those words are all spelled correctly (though I opted for the REATA spelling first).
Did you get the 74a: [Big-billed bird] promptly? John likes to share his terrific wildlife photos with the crossword blogs, and he’s got an interesting PELICAN shot.
3.33 stars. (Five stars for the avian action shot.)
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge”- Sam Donaldson’s review
Two things stand out about this grid: the four Across 15s intersecting two more Down 15s, and the dual symmetry (there is both the traditional 180-degree “rotational” symmetry and “left-right” symmetry).
The six 15s are like an old box of assorted chocolates. Some are good (WAIT JUST A MINUTE, CASH IN ONE’S CHIPS), some are so-so (ATTENTION PLEASE, LONG-NOSED PLIERS), and some are so strange that you assume they’re there just because they’re your gramma’s favorites (KITTEN ON THE KEYS, STAGE-DOOR JOHNNY). I’ve never heard of a “stage-door Johnny.” Sounds to me like a mafia hit-man standing guard at the bijou. Or the name for the pulley that raises the house curtain. But my dictionary confirms it’s “a man who often goes to a theater or waits at a stage door to court an actress.”
I feel like we’ve seen KITTEN ON THE KEYS before, and maybe it was in a Bruce Venzke puzzle. Speaking of kittens, we’re fostering two of them right now. Maybe I shouldn’t say “kittens.” They’re about six months old, and I’m not sure when “kittens” become “cats.” They showed up on our doorstep one rainy day just before we got married in July. They’re still looking for a permanent home, if you or anyone you know wants to come to Atlanta to adopt two of the most adorable
kittens cats you’ll ever see. They’re siblings, one boy (Norm) and one girl (Cliff). (I named them before we knew what kind of plumbing came with each.) They aren’t in any danger of breeding thanks to certain procedures, and they’re fun to watch. We would keep them but we have a jealous dog that simply won’t tolerate our divided loyalties any further. </public service announcement>
A grid with so many 15s is bound to force some compromises, and there certainly is evidence of such throughout: AAAA, ITZA, A CAST, D-LIT, ASSYR, HRH, ENGINE MEN (not engineers!) A BAN, INES, IDEO, and others. Depending on your feelings toward names in grids, you either loved or hated all the proper nouns: STACY Keach, Erica JONG, OLAN, JON Stewart, INES (again!), LANI Guineer, SANTO & Johnny (wait, is this stage-door Johnny?), LAIKA the Dog, HENRI Rousseau, and NGAIO Marsh all reside here.
Favorite entry = OOZY, [Like slime]. Favorite clue = [End of a certain road] for RUIN.
Doug Peterson’s Post Puzzler crossword – Neville’s review
A list of traps from Doug Peterson this morning:
- 10d. [Solo, for Ford] - PART. I knew it was Han Solo. I knew it was Harrison Ford. I knew it was ROLE… except it wasn’t. Fortunately, I erased it when I got to…
- 16a. [Japanese syllabary], which had to be KATAKANA, as a syllabary is a collection of symbols that make up words. Unless it’s the other one, HIRAGANA, which it is. (If it’s a five-letter word next time, try KANJI.)
- 11d. [Clutch item]/27a. [Sack] are both places where I tried BAG. It was wrong twice! A clutch is the group of EGGs all laid at once. Sack con mean pillage, plunder or ROB.
- 14d. [Goes on] is NATTERS, which is a new-to-me word; I’d initially tried PATTERS. It’s a fun sounding word, no?
- 43/44a. were both [Piece of eye candy]. I tried TEN before settling in on FOX for the former. After some crosses, I got STUD in the second spot.
After getting a foothold with UTILITY BELT, which is an [Accessory for Batman], I was able to get back into things. (I think that’s a debut for this entry?) I love a Greek mythology clue, like [Clotho, for one] for FATE. The other two fates are Lachesis and Atropos. Of course, you know DAEDALUS as the architect of the labyrinth who was a [Mythological wingman?] when he and his son Icarus attempted to escape their prison.
The big winner in this puzzle is the choice pairing of [They're not rocket scientists] with SPACE CADETS. I also like the stacked answers BLUE CHIP and EVEN KEEL. X FACTOR was nice if only because there are only so many possible entries starting with an XF. (X-FILES, XFL… does the list even go on?)
A fun one, Doug!
Merl Reagle’s syndicated crossword, “On the iPod Menu”
Bands, solo artists, and songs have all been named after foods and beverages:
- 23a. [1962 Booker T. & the MGs hit], GREEN ONIONS.
- 25a. [Studio group whose Alka-Seltzer song "No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach's In)" became a Top 10 hit in 1966], THE T-BONES. The Alka-Seltzer connection is much needed after the smorgasbord presented in this puzzle.
- 27a. [1964 Al Hirt hit], COTTON CANDY.
- 44a. [Singer of the 1993 No. 1 hit "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)"], MEAT LOAF.
- 46a. [1971 Rolling Stones hit], BROWN SUGAR.
- 60a. ["You Keep Me Hangin' On" rockers of 1968], VANILLA FUDGE. After the cotton candy and brown sugar, this vanilla fudge is making my teeth hurt.
- 72a. [Jefferson Airplane spinoff band of 1969], HOT TUNA. The “hot” part is distractingly non-foodish.
- 76a. [1958 hit by the Champs], TEQUILA! The Pee-Wee Herman movie scene is a classic.
- 84a. [Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass tune of 1965], WHIPPED CREAM. How many dudes bought the album in 1965 solely because of the cover? I think my dad had a copy.
- 102a. ["Play That Funky Music" group of 1976], WILD CHERRY. Possibly my favorite 1976 song. Wow, a lot of #1 songs that year were TV/movie theme songs.
- 104a. [Song on the Beatles' "White Album"], HONEY PIE. Is that an actual pie variety?
- 118a. [First of two groups that may come in handy for this puzzle?], THE COASTERS. For your tequila—hold the green onions.
- 123a. [1952 Hank Williams hit], JAMBALAYA.
- 126a. [Second of two groups that may come in handy for this puzzle?], THE PLATTERS.
Fourteen theme entries packed onto Merl’s buffet table? Eat up!
Among the less commonly seen entries in the fill, we have:
- 6a. [Old Chevy model], MONZA. You might have tuned in “Play that Funky Music” on the AM radio in your Monza.
- 40a. [Throat-protecting armor], GORGET.
- 53a. [Famed batting instructor Charley], LAU. “I’ll take Famous Batting Instructors for $1,200, Alex.”
- 112a. [TV part: abbr.], SCR. SCReen. Unusual abbreviation.
- 6d. [Earl of Sandwich's name], MONTAGU.
- 10d. [Handle-shaped], ANSATE. Ansa is Latin for “handle,” IIRC.
- 43d. [Anti-___ boots (sci-fi footwear)], GRAV. GRAVity. Not familiar with this shortening.
- 65d. [Pocket, to Pierre], POCHE.
- 89d. [Fill with courage, old-style], ENHEARTEN.
- 103d. [Pipe residues], DOTTLES.
- 108d. [Inverse trig function], ARCTAN.
None of these slowed me down much, despite needing to rely on crossings to figure out some of them. Overall, the puzzle had a light, entertaining vibe. 3.75 stars.