Ian Livengood and J.A.S.A. Crossword Class’s New York Times crossword
Ian took over teaching the JASA seniors’ crossword construction class after the even-younger Caleb Madison left Manhattan for college. Ian and his apt pupils devised a seasonal theme. It’s kinda funny because JASA stands for the Jewish Association Serving the Aging, and yet it’s a Christmas theme. Is that a Hanukkah bush I see in the corner?
- 17a. XBOX LUNCH, [Gamer's midday meal?], adds an X to a box lunch. Xbox, of course, is a video game console.
- 22a. M. NIGHT SHIFT, [Working hours for director Shyamalan?], adds an M to night shift for M. Night Shyamalan.
- 34a. A TRAIN OF THOUGHT, [NYC subway line in one's imagination?]. Okay, I don’t like this one. Yes, the A train and train of thought are both things, but “subway of thought” is not at all the way you would phrase a subway line “in one’s imagination.”
- 45a. S-CLASS CLOWN, [Bozo in a big Mercedes]. I tried to find a photo of Bozo in a Mercedes, but a clowntastic Dodge Avenger is the best I could come up with.
- 57a/63a. The extra X-M-A-S constitutes a CHRISTMAS BONUS.
I am virtually brain-dead tonight and kept losing track of what word I was trying to fill in. Was also close to nodding off, so I was sure I would have a dreadful solving time. I am glad to see that, as of this writing, the speed demons who trounce me on the applet haven’t done the puzzle yet! I shouldn’t be in first place when I felt so out of it while solving. (This is a Joon Pahk experience.)
Likes: The long SMOKING GUN, STIMULANT (yes, please), AU COURANT, and IN REAL TIME. Mehs: Lots of the other fill. The bottom 9-stack is crossed by LAHTI OSRIC STLO NANU and SSTS; the northeast has E-NOTE and N-TEST.
I knew 2d right off the bat: The Chicago CUBS are the [Team supposedly cursed by a billy goat]. Lived around here my whole life and I still haven’t ever gone to Billy Goat Tavern. Really not my kind of food.
Three stars. I wonder if any past JASA class constructors have gone on to submit solo puzzles to Will Shortz…
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Spread the 59-Down”- Sam Donaldson’s review
The title of this crossword tells you where to start. According to 59-Down, NEWS is [What’s spread in 17-, 25-, 32-, 45-, 51-, and 64-Across]. That’s because you’ll find the N-E-W letter sequence hidden inside each of these answers:
- 17-Across: A STONE WALL is a [Chain-link fence alternative]. One of my former neighbors wanted to erect a stone wall between out properties if I would split the cost. But I, um, stonewalled him until after I moved away.
- 25-Across: RHINE WINE is the [Cologne quaff]. Not “cologne” the fragrance but Cologne the German hamlet. Wait, wasn’t Werner Klemperer the German Hamlet?
- 32-Across: A LONE WOLF is the [Sort who doesn’t hang with others]. LOST BOY didn’t fit, alas.
- 45-Across: GONE WILD is clued here as [Like girls in Joe Francis’s films]. That’s a reference to the Girls Gone Wild soft-porn franchise. If you’re not familiar with it, you probably don’t watch basic cable after 10pm. I was mildly surprised to see a clue like this.
- 51-Across: JANE WYATT is the [Margaret Anderson portrayer on “Father Knows Best”]. Name another puzzle where Girls Gone Wild and Father Knows Best are both in the clues for theme entries.
- 64-Across: BONE WEARY describes both one who is [Spent] and a crossword blogger who has to come up with lines for six theme entries instead of the usual three or four.
It’s nice to see a hidden word puzzle that respects Accepted Crossword Construction Convention #13: In hidden word gimmicks, the hidden word should ideally straddle exactly two words and there should be no extraneous words with any theme entry. Naturally, they all break between the E and the W in NEW. An entry that breaks between the N and the E would be ugly. MAIDEN EWE anyone? Yeah, I thought not.
Indeed, this puzzle has no real LOOSE ENDS ([Unfinished business]). I liked the double use of [Laundry room brand] for BOLD and BIZ, even though I don’t think I’ve had a laundry room that wasn’t Kirkland Signature in ages. There’s also some interesting entries like ENJOINS, VOLLEYS, and CASBAH. Yes, we could live without USN, WE DO, OH BE, IDA as an abbreviation, TKT, OVI, and OYLS, but they didn’t overshadow what was going on in the rest of the puzzle.
Between Girls Gone Wild, the BODS that are […checked out at the gym], and EX-WIVES as [Stereotypical alimony receivers], I’ve got a nickel that says there will be some upset solvers out there. Do you think these items give the puzzle a misogynistic vibe?
Favorite entry = SHIRT TAIL, the [Clothing part that’s often tucked in]. Apparently, we’re pitching to the 40+ demographic and not the hipsters who can’t even lift their pants above their tushes (he said, shaking his fist). Favorite clue = [Shabby starter?] for NOT TOO. Nice way to minimize the impact of a six-letter partial.
Jeff Stillman’s Los Angeles Times crossword
After filling in the first two theme answers, I figured the revealer would involve “leave no stone unturned.” Interesting that ROLLING STONE and “a rolling stone gathers no moss” are also apt. Each theme answer ends with a “rolled,” anagrammed STONE:
- 20a. [Reason for detention, perhaps], PASSING NOTES. Fun entry.
- 36a. [Unexpected attack, as of dizziness], SUDDEN ONSET. Technically, the ONSET isn’t the attack itself, it’s just referring to the beginning of symptoms.
- 43a. [Melodious sounds], DULCET TONES. Quick! Name another word that can follow DULCET. Nothing else sounds as natural, does it?
- 57a. [Publication since 1967, and a hint to the end of 20-, 36- and 43-Across], ROLLING STONE.
I like the theme, and I like that it doesn’t do too much. It doesn’t overreach and force any stilted STENO or ETONS phrases on us; it just uses three common anagrams that reside at the end of very familiar phrases. Now, the odds are high that this theme has been done before, because it seems so “of course!”, but I don’t see anything else in Cruciverb for this entry.
My pleasure with the theme did not extend to the fill, which felt like it was packed with the sorts of words that I happen to encounter mainly in crosswords. To wit: BAAL, IRES, ENIAC, GELID, PEEN, AURAL, ANON, CEL, ODEON, YALIE, ETNA, NLERS, ANODE, ILES.
- 61d. [Pirate's booty?], a pirated DVD.
- 33d. [Hit back?], SIDE B of a 45 record. I don’t suppose current hit songs have B sides when they’re mostly sold via single-song downloads?
- 13d. [Hornswoggled], HAD. “I’ve been hornswoggled!”
- 30d. [Polish language], EDIT. With an Italian peak and Greek theater in subsequent clues, you can be excused for thinking it was the language of Poland and not polishing of language.
3.5 stars. I made faces at some of the fill, but I like the theme and cluing.
Brendan Quigley’s website puzzle, “Speaking in Code” — Matt’s review
Brendan is in cipher mode today, inspired by a codebreaking plea from a friend. His four theme entries each begin with a cryptography word:
16-a [Give someone the skills to do a simple cipher?] = SUBSTITUTE TEACH.
25-a [Rotating parts of the Enigma machine?] = SHIFT GEARS.
43-a [Person who saw how a Vigenere cipher was created?] = KEY WITNESS.
55-a [What you mean a code to conceal?] = LETTERS OF INTENT.
So that’s an OK theme. Lots of good fill as usual: I FEEL PRETTY, CHESS BOXING, DR. CLAW, SKIING, C’MON!, B-DAYS, and BAILEY’S.
Now, what about that SE corner? I am about to reveal the existence of perhaps the coarsest term in the crossword lexicon, so please avert your eyes now if such ribaldry would offend. You have been warned!
The term is “Scrabble-fucking,” and refers to an instance where the constructor tried too hard to fit an X, Q, Z or J into their grid. Crossword writers receive a satisfying ego jolt whenever we put one of these four into play, but these letters should fit smoothly, without obvious concessions.
Brendan has managed to cram three (!) Scrabbly letters into the wee (4×4)-1 block into today’s SE corner. But did he go too far? Is he a master cruciverbalist, or just another dimestore Scrabble-fucker? The across words are JAX, AFAR and ZETA, while the down words are TAZ, JEFE, ANAT and XTRA. The only one worth a raised eyebrow is the abbreviation ANAT, but when weighed against the three rare letters (and the fun words they inhabit) I think we can conclude that ANAT is worth the price of admission.
Brendan Emmett Quigley, against the charge of Scrabble-Fucking in the First Degree (with premeditation), we the jury find you: NOT GUILTY.
Ben Tausig’s AV Club crossword, “Light Eater”
The “light eater” in the title isn’t someone who typically orders just a salad. Nope: There’s a black hole in the center of the grid that is absorbing all the light like a powerful light-sucking vacuum pit of doom.
- 38a. [It lacks connections], DIRECT F(light).
- 40a. [Campfire catalyst], (light)ER FLUID. People! Please don’t use that toxic, monstrous liquid.
- 7d. ["Purple stuff" alternative, in '90s commercials], SUNNY DE(light). People! Please don’t use that toxic, monstrous liquid.
- 43d. [Source of frequent criticism, as it were], (light)NING ROD. Benjamin Franklin probably got a lot of grief for that.
- 4d. [Show that popularized the notion of a December 21, 2012 38-Down], THE X-FILES. Shoot, this is what’s happening tomorrow? I’d better put new batteries in the flashlights.
- 13d. 38-Down, perhaps], ACT OF GOD.
- 37d. [Thing in the center of this puzzle, and one suggested cause of the December 21 38-Down], BLACK HOLE.
- 38d. [December 21, 2012 event], DOOMSDAY.
The PDF version of this puzzle is prettier—the center square is a white square with a solid black circle in it. I think a square black hole works too, though.
Despite having eight theme entries and a black square in the theme, Ben reserved plenty of space in this 78-word grid for long answers, although 78ers usually don’t have open corner stacks like this. There’s “IT’S A DEAL!,” NO PICNIC, Ke-dollar-sign-ha’s “TIK TOK,” DROPS ACID, and a BOND MOVIE.
Four stars. No time to pick out favorite clues, as my stomach is growling and I must find sustenance. Until next time—