Gary Cee’s New York Times crossword
Six widely spaced 15-letter answers anchor this grid, which also has two 8s. Everything else in the entire puzzle is in the 3- to 6-letter range, which doesn’t give it a strong “whoo, Friday themeless!” feeling.
The 15s include a BACKWARD MESSAGE, all right. An apparently viral-from-5-years-ago PIANO-PLAYING CAT. The awkward-with-BE phrase BE AT A STANDSTILL, that makes me remember my late grandma’s caregiver, Beata. Love the SECRET HANDSHAKE; I have one, of course. Like IN DRIBS AND DRABS. And CLAIRE McCASKILL is two thirds consonants, and not the sort of name that typically occupies crosswords; her opponent, Todd Akin, had hopes of becoming crossw0rd-famous as an alternative to the usual adjective, but no such luck. I like the lower 8, ON DEMAND, as that button is a wonderful cable remote button if you have access to VOD service (that’s video on demand–crossword-friendly 3!). The other 8 was a big fat “meh”: BAT AN EYE wants the LASH that must have fallen outside the grid.
Okay. I found much of the rest of the puzzle to be firmly in the “meh” category, too. Holy piano-playing cats! Did you get a load of that proper name crossing? ISADOR, [Early psychoanalyst Coriat], not only is reasonably unknown to the educated solver (hey, I’ve never heard of him), but also has an unusual spelling of his name. And then! His D is hopefully inferrable for anyone stuck on [Actress Thompson], SADA Thompson. Her heyday was in the ’70s, on the series Family. I loved the show, but if you weren’t watching TV in the late ’70s, you’d scarcely have reason to know her.
Outside of that crossing, there are lots of blah answers. STEN. EELED. OPEL. ENOS. N-TESTS. MEA. MATA. ALEE. TERN. Felt like there were too many of those spread all over the puzzle, getting in the way of a good time. I’ll call this one 2.75 stars.
Jim Holland’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Do the Math” — pannonica’s review
Modest theme this week. Random mathy terms creatively redefined. In all but one case a plural noun is interpreted as a present indicative verb.
- 17a. [Nerd cheers the team on?] SQUARE ROOTS.
- 27a. [Abbie Hoffman inks a book contract?] RADICAL SIGNS. Yippie? Steal this?
- 37a. [Religious symbol pops up in more and more places?] CROSS MULTIPLIES. Odd one out, in terms of construction (and length—it’s a central spanner in the works, ha-ha-ha). Here, the first part of the phrase is reimagined, as a noun rather than an adjective.
- 45a. [Jet airliner does some reckoning?] PLANE FIGURES.
- 59a. [Conservative group goes fishing?] RIGHT ANGLES.
The ballast fill is strong, with a minimum of junk. The longdowns include a splendid mathematical term—VERTICES [Intersection points]—paired with PAGEANTS, clued not-so-cleverly as [Contests with fair competition?].
- Gratuitously literary clues (for that Higher Education vibe): 42a [Final word of Joyce's "Ulysses"] YES, I said; 66a [Troublesome orphan in "Little Men"]
BENDAN. Two obvious missed opportunities: 11a SIC, 8d BOO.
- 11d [Prophets] SEERS, 20a [Medium quality?] ESP. 16a EMU, 54d RHEA (but clued in unrelated senses).
- 49a [Liquor in a paloma] TEQUILA. Not familiar with this cocktail. Esquire magazine informs me that it’s composed of TEQUILA, lime juice, grapefruit soda, ice and salt. No comment. The definite article la seems to be a frequent cohort in the name.
- Symmetrical nexus, 33a and 43a ALL | ELL. Kind of like it.
- Did not care for the clue for 26d [Unfortunately named fruit] UGLI, because that name was deliberately chosen by producers and marketers to emphasize the aesthetically challenged nature of the citrus’ outer appearance, to suggest how good it is in spite of that. Similar to, but not quite the same as the slogan of Smucker’s preserves, “With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good.” In that case, the name was already there and not exactly negotiable, so the advertisers cleverly had to sowsear it.
- Appreciated the less-common senses clued for 9d APT [Quick on the uptake] and 32a ACUTE [Very serious]. For the former, see also 62d GOT [Picked up]. For the latter, compare ACUTE and grave accents; interestingly, neither is particularly serious (at least to those of us who aren’t linguists, editors, or typographers). I believe I’m straying.
I give this puzzle a solid “meh.” They can’t all be absolute winners.
Sarah Keller’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Doubles Matches”- Sam Donaldson’s review
The four theme entries are two-word terms, and it just so happens that both words in each term can also follow the word DOUBLE. That makes the four theme entries “doubles matches:”
- 20-Across: One asking you to [Provide questions for answers, perhaps] wants you to PLAY JEOPARDY (double play; double jeopardy)!
- 35-Across: [Lip] is a short term for BACK TALK (double back; double talk).
- 46-Across: To [Stop and smell the roses] is to TAKE TIME (double take; double time).
- 57-Across: [Glenn Close in "Albert Nobbs," e.g.] refers to CROSS-DRESSER (double cross; double dresser).
We saw a variation of this theme earlier this week. At the time, I confessed to being a sucker for this kind of gimmick. Go figure, then: I liked this puzzle.
The four theme entries take up on 40 squares, a comparatively light concentration of theme entries. That allows for smoother, more playful fill. Here we get triple 6s along the sides (I liked the TURNIP, ENIGMA, DE-SEED trinity along the right). We also get some 7s (notably KEY RING and my favorite, revealed below). But no 8s or 9s, not even in the Downs. That’s a little bit of a “down-er,” I suppose. I know, two of the theme entries are 8s, and some shun non-theme entries that equal or exceed the length of theme entries. I’m not in that camp myself, but I get it. A couple of 8s or some 9s in the Downs would be just fine, in my opinion.
Favorite entry = PALOOKA, [Cartoon boxer Joe]. Favorite clue = [If it fits, wear it] for SHOE. Nice way to start the puzzle at 1-Across.
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “It’s Time for an Upgrade” — pannonica’s review
Letter substitution theme, wherein a B is upgraded to an A, for questionably improved results. Only one B per entry is altered, although some contain more than one.
- 23a. [Gags about fair-haired Russian parliamentarians?} DUMA BLONDE JOKES.
- 33a. [Burr the burglar?] ROBBER AARON. Why did I think it was going to be Raymond? Was it because of the clue for 23-down in the CHE? ([ __ Constitution, nicknamed "Old Ironsides"] USS.)
- 42a. [Growing concerns of a Greek goddess?] HERA GARDENS.
- 68a. [Mum monks' specialty?] SILENCE OF THE LAMAS. Seed entry?
- 96a. [Salon chain that offers scarves along with hair extensions?] BOA AND WEAVE. Whaaat?
- 102a. [Designer Wang giving no resistance?] PASSIVE VERA.
- 118a. [Like an extinct bird's spouse?] MARRIED TO THE MOA. Uhm, sure.
I was thinking the upgrade was in the sense of academic grade inflation, but then—perhaps inspired by the self-referential clue at 10-down [Mkt. coverer] WSJ—I considered that it might have something to do with credit assessments, like those by outfits such as Moody’s, or Standard and Poor’s. Then again, it may simply be any old rating, such as for books, movies, crossword puzzles. Ultimately, it’s irrelevant.
Some very juicy long answers among the ballast fill. Verticals SULTANA raisins, BEEFSTEAK tomatoes, Sinclair Lewis’ ARROWSMITH with a trivia-oriented clue [Book for which its author declined the Pulitzer Prize], EGOISTICAL, I CAN’T WAIT. EXCLAMATION and SUMMER DRESS, each overlapping the central theme entry for nine squares.
- Quartet: JUKEBOX! LIVE ACT! OPEN BAR‼ IN ERROR! Wait, what? (Insert scratching record needle sound effect.) Great clue for OPEN BAR, by the way: [Place for free spirits].
- 19a [It may have many chapters] EPIC, followed by 20a [They may have many chapters] UNIONS; was too long trying to persuade myself how ONIONS could work.
- 27a [Grand cousin] SPINET. As in grand piano.
- 52a [Colorful songbird] TANAGER. Often scarlet didn’tcha know? Hey, that’s 15 letters long…
- 78a [Author Canetti] ELIAS. Winner of the NOBEL Prize in 1981, as per 121-across. While solving, I saw the cross-reference but brashly assumed without looking that it was pointing at [Kon-Tiki Museum setting] OSLO (71d). “Man of Mystery“
- Some icky partials and crosswordese that I don’t feel like enumerating. The CAP Quotient™ is reasonable for this puzzle, anyway.
- 69d [Avon fragrance line]
AMARIIMARI. Had no idea. Have seen basketball player AMARE and clothier ARMANI, though.
- KLAXON. 127a.
Kurt Krauss’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Gareth’s review
I’d describe Mr. Krauss’ puzzle as conceptually brilliant, though the last entry didn’t quite gel for me. Basically what’s going on is adjectival nouns, some of which have already become established as compound phrases, are re-interpreted as verbs to create “wacky” phrases. In each case, the new verb means “to mimic”, only I don’t feel MOCK is as synonymous as the other phrases. Also the second word in each clue is also an m-word either synonymous with or an example of the second part of the phrase. Other than my issue with MOCK, this theme is incredibly imaginitive and defined extremely narrowly. The answers are:
17a, [Mimic mackerel?], PARROTFISH.
- Real parrotfish are reef fish.
- 24a, [Mimic masquerades?], MIRRORBALLS.
- 33a, [Mimic magazine managers?], COPYEDITORS.
- 48a, [Mimic masquerades?], APECOSTUMES.
- 57a, [Mimic miseries?], MOCKTRIALS
Some tough answers:
- 20a, [Seed cover], ARIL. If you’re new to crosswords and didn’t study botany, try to remember this word. It’ll crop up again.
- 29a, [County bordering Mayo], SLIGO. Mostly know this from crosswords
6d, [Gold-medalist decathlete Johnson], RAFER. Is this Rafer Johnson or Johnson Rafer? Rafer Johnson suggests Wikipedia. 1960. I confess I don’t know the names of many decathletes.
- 32d, [Dick Cheney's eldest], LIZ. I’m not up on my former vice-presidential children, either.
- 1a, [John and Paul], POPES reminds me of the old Eddie Izzard joke that Pope John Paul II was going to be followed by Pope John Paul Ringo George.
- 6a, [Capital on its own gulf] and 16a, [Country on its own gulf] is a snazzy use of clechoes to freshen up two common crossword answers
- 22a, [Many an Everly Brothers hit], BSIDE. Are they particularly known for doing this?
- 60a, [Stationary surgical patient], TREE is a wonderful clue!
- 64a ICEE and 7D ICIER seem too similar to be in the same puzzle?
- 1d, [Tropical fruits], PAPAYAS is a fun word. They’re mostly known as paw-paws here; we don’t have papaws around to confuse us.
- 24d, [Letter run], MNOP. I think I hate this type of answer more than any type in crosswords. I’d rather see ESNE any day!
- 41d, [African dangers], TSETSES. The tsetse fly is largely extinct in South Africa as a by-product of the Rinderpest epizootic of the late 19th/early 20th century, although one or two species linger in Northern Zululand. Hello, hello! Wake up, everybody!
- 49d, [Irish lullaby start], TOORA. Feels like it has been appearing a lot in the last few weeks! I’m more of a Weile Waile type of guy!
That’s my two cents. Feel free to leave yours!