Patrick Blindauer’s monthly puzzle for January has been posted (see http://patrickblindauer.com/play.html to download it). Sometime on Wednesday, Matt Gaffney’s review will be posted. If you don’t want a fun solve spoiled, be sure to head to Patrick’s website.
David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword
David is the teenage constructor who is also a crossword editor and instigator of the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project. His theme today is FROOT LOOPS, my very favorite of the artificially colored, artificially flavored, aggressively sweetened breakfast cereals. The circled letters in six symmetrical locations spell out fruits in, uh, luips: WATERMELON, BANANA, PAPAYA, CHERRY, ORANGE, and CANTALOUPE.
As with many puzzles that lean heavily on triply-checked letters (those letters that must work in answers in the Across, Down, and around directions), however, the fill is rendered as soggy as a day-old bowl of cereal. I mostly paid no heed to the fruit loops while solving, meaning there were only 10 squares that felt thematic; the rest felt awkwardly stilted and perhaps sometimes Maleskan. (I posit that it is dangerous to spend too much time with old crossword puzzles, filled as they are with answers that wouldn’t pass muster today, such as URDE and BEVANS.) This puzzle felt really rather unpleasant to solve, what with RARA RELABEL ALASS ODORIZE YAH TER NONARAB AYS SEGO JOANN ESA SOAPER DAH ONEC ITER ASO IRONERS OTRANTO and ARAP. Ideally, a puzzle will have no more than a couple such answers. Put in four or five, and my Scowl-o-Meter kicks into high gear. Nineteen! The Scowl-o-Meter shorted out and I need to get under the hood to fix the wiring. If the FROOT LOOPS were actually instrumental in the process of solving the puzzle, I might have enjoyed it more. Aside from using the O in CANTALOUPE (which I always want to spell canteloupe, and yes, I do blame antelopes for that) to nail down BOLL, the fruit circles were an afterthought in my solving process.
Nit about a clue: RELABEL’s clue is [Mark down for a sale, say]. I think of labels as things that are much more affixed to an item than a price tag is. The price is either dangling on a hangtag or stuck on with an adhesive price tag. Perhaps if you’re talking a garage sale where everything is labeled with the price, you would relabel the items.
2.25 stars. Plus, I might have to put Froot Loops on the grocery list now, and no good can come of that.
Robert Cirillo’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review
I didn’t really get the theme while solving. On inspection, the SOMETHINGFISHY concealed in each of the four theme answers is… [drum roll]… a fish. There is a TROUT spanning the two words in DIRECTROUTE, a FLUKE in GOSPELOFLUKE (never heard of the fish called a fluke… only the parasitic worm and the whale body part, so that was a bit confusing, speaking personally), a PERCH in SUPERCHARGER and a COD in a CINCODEMAYO. BTW, although the clue, [Annual Mexican celebration], would still be correct, I thought it was only celebrated in a small region of Mexico? (Amy adds: Heck, it’s celebrated in the U.S. too!)
That’s quite a lot of theme, 61 squares by my count. You know what you don’t normally see when the theme letter count is that high? Other flashy answers. Here we have NAMESNAMES and EUREKA. It’s not a criticism, it is normal and expected. Mr. Cirillo clearly worked plenty hard at the grid, I can’t see much that caused my eyebrows to arch, which in a tough grid like this is an achievement! It does make my job difficult, as there’s not a lot to highlight. I can’t be the only one who filled in BASSET off the B of BEAGLE, can I? I’d say that was a deliberate trap! 62a, ARAP doesn’t have to be a partial, as there’s [Daniel ___ Moi]; of course, crossing two other names, the partial is fairer to solvers by far. I kind of wish 4d, [Cracker that doesn't crack], DUD described all of them, although last night at the SPCA was far less problematic than we were expecting it to be. Yay!
I’m going to leave you with a song, although it’s connection to the grid is IFFY (29a, IFS, [They could happen])
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “This May Take a While”- Sam Donaldson’s review
Notwithstanding this puzzle’s title, it won’t take long to explain the theme: three two-word terms, each of which starts with a word that can mean “a long time.” See for yourself:
- 20-Across: [One who always sees the glass half full] is an ETERNAL OPTIMIST. So is one who keeps playing buying lottery scratch tickets despite never winning. When I was in Florida last week, I couldn’t resist purchasing some $3 crossword-themed tickets. I should have known I was getting robbed–the grids had no symmetry and lots of unchecked letters. But the theme was cute: I’M A LOSER.
- 41-Across: I had forgotten that EVERLASTING LOVE was a [1995 Gloria Estefan song]. I know this better as a Howard Jones ditty from the 1980s.
- 56-Across: A PERMANENT MARKER is an [Item to keep away from kids]. I know a bulldog that will back me up on this–this morning at the dog park we saw that poor Buster had been the victim of a green permanent marker thanks to the four year-old daughter of his owner. It’s hard to look intimidating at the dog park when you have green hearts all over your back. Poor Buster.
The hardest patch for me was the northwest corner, where 1-Down and 3-Down combined to form a [dead serious look]. But since I didn’t know that a [Murophobe's fear] is MICE, I was stuck looking at GA?E FA?E for a little too long before I finally saw GAME FACE. I kept seeing the first word as GAZE, and it was difficult to let that go. Otherwise, my only error was having PANES as the [Windmill blades] instead of VANES. But the crossing DEVIL DOG cleared that one up in short order.
Kind of strange to see REV UP and REVUE at symmetrically opposed positions in the grid, but that’s the kind of strange I like. Incidentally, there’s a large concentration of Vs in this grid. I’m sure it’s unrelated to the theme, but it suggests a victory of some kind.
Favorite entry = MONA LISA, [The most famous painting in the world, many say]. I saw it in person last August, and while I kinda wanted to dismiss it as over-hyped, I have to admit it was pretty moving to be so close to it. Favorite clue = [Plopped down among] for SAT IN, though in some outlets it will probably read [Glossy fabric] for SATIN.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well crossword, “Off the Wagon”/”Slurs”
I test-solved this one with the “Slurs” title and had a hard time making sense of the theme concept. The new title, “Off the Wagon,” provides a stronger hint that Ben took phrases that contained the word “dry” and replaced each “dry” with an antonym—all the opposites being words meaning “drunk” rather than “wet.” (The PDF version of the puzzle has the original title; the .puz has the new one in the filename, the old one in the title field.)
- 17a. [Long, rambling jokes at the bar?], LOADED HUMOR.
- 24a. [Result of too much Molson on Boxing Day?], CANADA LIT.
- 38a. [Post-frat party bottle pick-up?], SMASHED CLEANING.
- 50a. [Do some indoor cycling with a few in you?], SPIN TIPSY.
- 62a. [Sloppy witch's curse?], BOMBED SPELL.
Did you easily pick up on how the theme worked? Slurring of words, hitting the word “dry” hard.
Seven more clues:
- 1a. [Convenience store connected to BP], AM/PM.
- 11a. [Its contents may be expired], URN. Cremains!
- 42a. [Big name in ketchup packets and such], SYSCO. Big in the food service industry.
- 2d. [Offer your seat to (someone)?], MOON.
- 8d. ["Star Trek" race], HUMAN. You thought you were going to need some hardcore sci-fi geek credentials here, didn’t you?
- 40d. ["Steve ___!" ("Arrested Development" catchphrase)], HOLT! I can’t wait for the new season to be released on Netflix.
- 46d. Outfielder Minnie who played professionally in seven decades], MINOSO. I see him once or twice a year in the neighborhood. He looks damn good for 80-something.
3.5 stars. I like the fill better than the theme this week.
Patrick Blindauer’s January website puzzle, “Drafting School” — Matt’s review
If you want to get really good at unusual graphics functions in Crossword Compiler, try blogging Patrick Blindauer’s puzzles on a regular basis. Every month I have to figure out some new feature of the program to convey the theme trickery involved.
This month’s idea gets revealed in the two long theme entries: THIS PUZZLE’S GRID / HAS MANY T-SQUARES. That’s the drafting item referenced in the puzzle’s title, and it’s meant to be taken literally: every single black square in the grid has a T in it, which is used in exactly one entry bordering that black square. So the clue for 5-across is [___ wave] and appears to be IDAL, but it’s really TIDAL if you use that first black square.
To give a couple of double-barreled examples: at 28-down, the five-letter entry clued as [1980 Stephen King novella made into a 2007 movie] is not HEMIS but THE MIST, while at 39-down the [Nautical danger] is not EMPES but a TEMPEST.
Having to figure out where the T’s go combined with the tricky cluing made for a brutal solve (17:53 for me). I’ll point out two particularly evil clues: I had the initial S in [March march king] and put in SOUS, since I hadn’t fully grokked the gimmick yet but assumed the initial A was going onto a black square, and what other answer could there be? ST. PA(T), as it turned out, to whose honor people indeed march to in March.
The other that got me was [Capital on interstate 70] at 62-a, where I had O???A and threw in OMAHA. Sure it’s not the state capital, but I thought Patrick had either made a mistake or that he was fudging, like it’s a county seat or something (just another self-delusional crossword solver here). But no: it’s (T)OPEKA. Even when I knew I was looking for black-square T’s, it was still tough to remember to use them.
It must’ve been tricky to get exactly one T-word in each black square, and it made for pleasantly maddening solve. 4.35 stars and a Happy New Year to everyone in Crosswordland.