Annotated reading list:
- Ben Tausig’s essay at The Awl, “Solving the Broken Crossword Puzzle Economy”: A look at alternatives to the traditional “submit your puzzle, hope it’s accepted, sign away all rights, receive wee fraction of the publisher’s revenues” stream that most crossword puzzle constructors participate in.
- A Buzzfeed piece by apparently non-American Dick Wisdom (whose name I am henceforth using as a pseudonym), “Technology And The Times Crossword”: In which the writer declares “almost all setters work under an assumed name” and that Rex Parker’s constructing pseudonym is “Michael Sharp.” (Psst: Will Shortz’s policy is to eschew pen names in NYT puzzle bylines.)
- Zachary Seward’s “The history of AOL as told through New York Times crossword clues”: Clues from 1997 to 2011. Not sure why there are no 2012 clues there, because the entry hasn’t gone away this year.
Barry Silk’s New York Times crossword
Yep, I thought yesterday’s puzzle seemed like a Saturday puzzle so of course today’s feels like a Friday. It’s a tough act to follow, too, what with Peter Wentz’s zing-zang-zoom themeless on Friday. This puzzle was mildly challenging, mildly interesting, and mildly enjoyable.
I have a nit bone to pick with the 7a clue. CAST-IRON [Like some alibis and stomachs]? Like stomachs, sure. But my husband agrees that air-tight alibis are iron-clad, not cast-iron.
The category of “Is that really a thing?” is rather more crowded than I’d expect in a Barry Silk creation. 15a: ECOCAR, or [Green wheels], remains something I encounter only in crosswords. 18a: [Telephone connectors] are TIE LINES; not in my vocabulary. (Plus it intersects A-LINES. Too many LINES!) Plural KALES at 25a, really? 50a: [Series after the opener?] isn’t baseball at all, it’s just BCD, the series of letters after the opening A; meh, I say. 58a: BYSTREET, [Part of many a detour], is a real word but not one I’ve ever had cause to use. 2d: SCRAMJET, [Boeing X-51 engine, e.g.], is defined as a ramjet in which combustion occurs in a stream of gas that’s moving at supersonic speed; never heard of it. 38d: TERAWATT, [A whole lot of juice?], feels like an arbitrary pairing of metric prefix and unit; the average total power consumption for the entire US was 3.34 terawatts in 2005. Why, that’s only a few!
Top stuff: AL PACINO, the HEDGEHOG; ICE QUEEN; GEORG OHM clued cleverly as [German resistance leader?]; HOTHEADS; the NEWSEUM ([Washington attraction with a punny name]); and the best of all bone names, the COCCYX.
Freshest clue for HANOI all year: [Bank of ___ (institution the A-Team was jailed for robbing)].
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Tough Act to Follow”- Sam Donaldson’s review
The four theme entries are all two-word terms where the first word can also follow TOUGH (making each, I suppose, an “act” that can “follow” TOUGH–assuming you take a liberal view of “act,” that is):
- 17-Across: The [“Sesame Street” character] is GUY SMILEY (“tough guy”). Yay, Guy Smiley! He was the go-to game show host on Sesame Street sketches, and since that was my vocation of choice as a lad I had no choice but to adore him as my favorite muppet.
- 28-Across: TIMES SQUARE is the [Popular celebration site at year’s end] (“tough times”).
- 47-Across: The [Near-the-belt excesses] are LOVE HANDLES (“tough love”). Sometimes it’s fun to apply the substitution test for clues: wouldn’t it be fun to refer to love handles as “near-the-belt excesses?” Well, until you got slapped, anyway.
- 62-Across: To [Have income and expenses match] is to BREAK EVEN (“tough break”).
Highlights in the fill include MYSTIQUE, NOT BAD, DAHLIA, STIRS IN, and MOSHE Dayan. As one of maybe four people in the country who never cared much for The Sopranos, I didn’t know LIVIA, [Tony Soprano’s mother], but the crossings were easy enough.
Favorite entry (aside from GUY SMILEY, of course) = [“The Brady Bunch” creator Sherwood] SCHWARTZ. Talk about a puzzle in my wheelhouse! Favorite clue = [Farm animals?] for ANTS. And I say that as a myrmecophobic.
Doug Peterson and Brad Wilber’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Andy’s review
I feel like we’ve been seeing a lot of these constructors, especially Brad Wilber, on Saturday in the LAT! Not that I’m complaining, of course — this team always comes up with some solid themeless fare. So quickly, before I start thinking too much about my seminar GRADE at TERM’S end and start getting TEARY — let’s blog a puzzle.
Lots of medium-length fill in this one, and none of it particularly distressing, which is quite a feat. The grid features four 15s:
- 15a, SUNRISE SERENADE [Frankie Carle signature song that became a #1 hit]. You either know it or you don’t. I didn’t, but now I do.
- 17a, LET ONE’S HAIR DOWN [Cast off inhibitions]. Funny, DRINK WAY TOO MUCH fits here too.
- 46a, THE JOY OF COOKING [Popular household reference since the 1930s, as it's commonly known]. “As it’s commonly known?” What’s all that business? Off to Wikipedia… aaaaand, huh. Apparently the title is just “Joy of Cooking.” I’m in favor of the “The.”
- 49a, ALL OVER THE PLACE [Helter-skelter]. Or, how Queen thinks I wave my banner.
Four lovely entries. Other highlights:
- 29a, AFROPOP [Genre that influenced Paul Simon's "Graceland" album]. Graceland features a bit of Isicathamiya, as exemplified by Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Now that it’s been mentioned on a crossword blog, all I have to do is sit back and wait for the inevitable moment when ISICATHAMIYA pops up in a themeless.
33a, NO EXIT [Redirecting sign]. Since reading the Sartre play, I find this particular sign has taken on a more sinister tone.
- 41a, SASHA [First dog walker, maybe]. Beautiful clue. And if you haven’t seen this video of Bo, then prepare to have the cute center of your brain lit up like a menorah.
- 50a, MYSTERY [Queen's genre]. Ellery, of course. Although now I’m imagining Freddy Mercury as Freddy of Scooby-Doo fame.
- 22d, PEROT ["Waiting for ___": Time magazine cover of 5/25/1992]. This is hilarious. Spoiler alert: He never shows up.
- 30d, FOURTHLY [When Santa calls "Vixen," in poetry]. A cute holiday clue, but don’t start getting the idea that SEVENTHLY is a good idea just because that’s when Santa calls “Donner.”
- 32d, BEN HECHT [Screenwriter called the "Shakespeare of Hollywood"]. Among his credits are the original Scarface, Angels over Broadway, and Notorious. Six-time nominee and two-time winner of the Best Screenplay Oscar.
Also loved the FIRM/GO SOFT pair; the clue for LAOTIANS [Countrymen who kick off their rainy season with a Rocket Festival]; and KUKLA. Nothing in particular to complain about — MONTS and DUELER weren’t my favorite, but that’s really it.
4 stars from me. Until next week!
Stan Newman’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” (by Lester “Less Rough” Ruff)
This sort of grid—72 words, half of them 7-letter entries—tends to be fairly snoozy, I find. We see this pattern much more often in Newsday than in the Timeses NY and LA, don’t we? I am not feeling the blogging inspiration here. Without further ado, ten clues:
- 1a. [Pretty soon], JANUARY. Eh. Don’t care for this clue.
- 17a. [The eyes may have it], MASCARA. Be careful! Mascara goes on the eyelashes. Don’t apply the black goop directly to the eyes or you may blind yourself.
- 18a. [Anagram of ''gyrated''], TRAGEDY. There’s actually not much gyrating in this Bee Gees performance of “Tragedy.”
- 29a. [It may be fishing], NET. Nets can’t fish. They’re inanimate objects. Is this supposed to be descriptive in the [Type of anemone]/SEA way, referring to a fishing net?
- 45a. [Word from the Latin for ''is lacking''], CARET. Huh! Did not know that. I wonder if the word has any cognates in English.
- 1d. [Third most-populous English-speaking American nation], JAMAICA. Really? After the US and Canada? Indeed. Jamaica has a much bigger population (2.7 million) than Belize, Guyana, the Bahamas, or the other Anglophone Caribbean nations.
- 2d. [''Born Free'' author], Joy ADAMSON. Would any of us know her name if it weren’t for the Born Free lioness ELSA perennially appearing in crosswords?
- 21d. [Rest, with ''by''], LIE. “Lie by”? I never do that, despite resting plenty.
- 47d. [Pistachio portion], DIP. I measure ice cream in scoops, not dips. Regionalism?
- 44d. [With 37 Down, Judiciary Committee member], SENATOR SCHUMER. Nice touch for a puzzle whose home is in Long Island, New York. A tad surprised to have title/last name rather than first/last name.