**Patrick Blindauer’s February puzzle is up. Matt Gaffney’s reviewing it tomorrow, so go get it! PDF only this month.
You might not recognize the name of puzzlemaker Mike Selinker if you stick to crosswords from the usual venues. He’s had a long-running series, together with Thomas Snyder, in Games magazine in which they teach us how to construct various types of puzzles. Their 89 (!) different lessons since 2004 are bundled together in the Puzzlecraft book, to be released on April 2. Crosswords, cryptics, sudoku, logic puzzles, word searches—and so much more. If you’ve ever wondered “How on earth do people make these things?,” at last there’s a book. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Mike’s Rows Garden how-to in Games, so there are all sorts of variety word puzzles and non-sudoku logic puzzles in store.
Mike has had another project in the works for 18 (!) years: a puzzle novel called The Maze of Games. “What the heck is a puzzle novel?,” you’re probably asking. I’m not clear on that myself, so let Mike explain:
It’s a puzzle novel where you jump from page to page in a “solve your own adventure” style. You use a series of mazes to tell you what pages to go to, solve those puzzles, and get back into the maze. Getting out of the maze is … harder.
The book isn’t for sale in traditional publishing channels. Instead, Mike gambled on Kickstarter, hoping that he’d be able to scare up $16,000 of funding and be able to produce a limited-edition run of the book by this November. Well! The Kickstarter people featured Maze of Games in their newsletter and the project has exploded (in a good way). Not only was the goal amount raised well in advance of the March 14 deadline, but more backers keep pouring in—at this writing, 913 people have pledged $56,931.
The $50 level gets you a hardcover copy, while $20 gets you a solvable ebook. I’m in for $50. I don’t really know what I’m getting myself into, but there’s a ton of excitement among discerning puzzlers. So click through to the Kickstarter page, watch the videos, scroll down through the page, see if it grabs you too.
Josh Knapp’s New York Times crossword
I really enjoyed this puzzle. So much PEP in the fill:
- 25a. [Pollen count plant], RAGWEED. Hay fever, anyone? Not me.
- 28a. [2011 Emmy-winning MSNBC host], RACHEL MADDOW.
- 41a. [Absent without leave?], PLAYING HOOKY.
- 58a. [Semi-opponent], FRENEMY.
- 2d. [The Stroll, e.g.], LINE DANCE. The clue only told me it was some kind of DANCE. Now, if the clue had been [The Electric Slide, e.g.], I would’ve nailed it right away.
- 8d. [Common], DIME A DOZEN.
- 11d. ["Soon"], “IN A FEW.”
- 29d. [Time-traveling 1980s film character], MARTY MCFLY. From Back to the Future. Cracks me up how many different dates have been Photoshopped into the Delorean’s time machine setting, and how many people have excitedly passed it around, saying, “Today is the day Marty McFly arrives when he travels to the future.” Um, no. Still a few years to go. October 21, 2015 is the date in the movie.
- 32d. [Common soap ingredient], MELODRAMA. Lavender is also nice.
- 40d. ["Seriously?!"], “WHAT THE…?” My son’s kindergarten classmates tried to rat him out to the teacher for swearing when he said “What the…?” Um, sorry, kids. You’re the ones with the dirty minds.
I also relished a number of the clues. My favorites, in addition to 32d:
- 15a. [Delta factor?], AIRFARE.
- 20a. [Cliffhanger locale?], LEDGE.
- 22a. [Bugged out], FLED. Slang for “got the heck out of there,” not just “popped, as one’s eyeballs.”
- 32a. [ID tag?], MST. Idaho is on Mountain Standard Time.
- 40a. [Roger's relative], WILCO.
- 45a. [Absence with leave?], R AND R. In counterpoint to PLAYING HOOKY.
- 1d. [What a dolorimeter measures], PAIN. My first thought was sadness.
- 26d. [Barbie greeting], G’DAY. “Barbie” is Aussie slang for barbecue.
- 42d. [Oscar, e.g.], GROUCH. With the RO in place, I tried TROPHY here.
- 53d. [Pop is part of it: Abbr.], FAM, family.
Terrible parts of this puzzle:
Donna S. Levin’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “We Finally Got Rolling”- Sam Donaldson’s review
Each of the four theme entries is a term ending with a word that can also follow “rolling:”
- 18-Across: Something [Spic-and-span] is NEAT AS A PIN. As this amateur baker and cake decorator can attest, a good “rolling pin” is an essential tool.
- 25-Across: SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK is the [Kids’ programming series that produced “Conjunction Junction” and “I’m Just a Bill”]. I can’t in good faith recommend watching the series with a “Rolling Rock” beer.
- 42-Across: BLOOD AND THUNDER is the new-to-me term for [Exaggerated melodrama]. “Rolling thunder,” on the other hand, is something with which I am familiar.
- 56-Across: What I know better as “scratch paper” ([It might be used for scribbling]) is here presented as SCRAP PAPER. You’d have to have a fine-point pencil or pen to scribble much on “rolling paper.”
I love all the long, non-thematic fill: OPIUM DEN, RAINCOAT, SMALL POX, STAGE SET–all terrific. NEON SIGN, already a great entry, gets that much better with the clue, [Krispy Kreme’s says “HOT NOW”]. Last month, by the way, I had my first-ever Krispy Kreme donut, and it was served hot. Despite my wanting to like it, I can’t say I’m a fan. If I’m going to eat something that will shorten my life by 10 – 20 minutes, I guess I want something a little more filling and with a little less of a film at the top of my mouth when I’m done.
Favorite entry = TUNA MELT, the [Cheese-topped lunch order]. Love cheese, love tuna, hate tuna melts. Not all good things get better when paired up. Favorite clue = [Kitty’s salutation?] for HELLO.
Alex Bajcz’s Los Angeles Times crossword (Gareth’s review)
Alex Bajcz’s theme today is ZEROG, [Weightless state, and a hint to 21- 34-, 41- and 54-Across]. The four answers lose their initial G sound. The puzzle has nice touches: all four lose their G at the beginnings of the word. All four require re-spelling, which IMO is more elegant, and also makes the answers tougher to suss out!
So, in order, we have:
- 21a, [British bathroom plant?], LOOFACTORY (glue factory). Weird disconnect as “bathroom plant” made me think flora…
- 34a, [Review July 4th festivities?], RATEBALLSOFFIRE (Great Balls of Fire). Brilliant! If only fireworks didn’t make me sad. So many scared/lost animals on days like that :(.
- 41a, [Headline about rudeness in the House of Lords], EARLINTERRUPTED (Girl Interrupted). Another zinger!
- 54a, [Academy for special operatives], RAIDSCHOOL (grade school). Those are what we here call primary schools yes?
- 1a, [F. Scott's spouse], ZELDA. One of the two z’s in the ZEROG puzzle. Obviously at least one was unavoidable, in ZEROG, the 2nd thus doesn’t bother me…
- 40a, [Disney duck princess], OONA. Didn’t know that. I thought the only Oona was O’Neill-Chaplin! This is why I am doing so badly in the Disney trivia thing I signed up for! It was a gimme for you, right Jeffrey?
- 63a, [Musician for whom New Orleans's airport is named], ARMSTRONG. One of the safer Armstrong choices these days. Here’s a musical interlude.
- 9d, [Show with a "Just Desserts" spin-off], TOPCHEF. Great entry!
- 44d, [Roller coaster guides], RAILS. Good, terse mis-direct that!
Elegantly executed theme plus a few other highs and hardly any downers translates to four stars from me!
Randolph Ross’ Wall Street Journal crossword, “College Tour) — pannonica’s review
You know, if I’d been smart enough to look at the puzzle’s title, I might have shaved a couple minutes or more from my solving time. Guess I bombed on the entrance exam. I suppose this is a timely theme, as it’s the season for parents and prospective students to visit various campuses of institutions of higher learning, preliminary to making decisions for applications, attendance, et cetera.
Here we have a rebus puzzle, with 11 squares taking more than one letter, those strings being the common abbreviations for well-known universities. A very commendable aspect is that the locations of these campus squares are arranged symmetrically, in five pairs with a singleton in the grid’s center.
- 22a/3d. [Company with a lot of contacts] BA(USC)H AND LOMB, [One second in a restaurant?] SO(US C)HEF. Cute clues. (University of Southern California)
- 24a/15d. [Highly uncertain] NONE TO(O SU)RE, [Resolution] CL(OSU)RE. (Ohio State University)
- 36a/32d. [Kohl's competitor] JC (PENN)EY, ["In for __, in…"] A (PENN)Y. (Pennsylvania State University).
- 52a/33d. [Maker of Galaxy phones] SA(MSU)NG, [Outfits likely to go under] SWI(MSU)ITS. Wasn’t sure which school was the most prominent—Mississippi? Missouri? Minnesota? Michigan? Montclair? Montana? Technique: search for “msu football” and see which one dominates the results. Answer: unequivocally Michigan State University.
- 65a/48d. [Litigious threat] “I’L(L SU)E!” [Stoker's concern] FUE(L SU)PPLY. (Louisiana State University)
- 66a/41d. [Thorny subjects], no, not the Logical Foundations of Metaphysics, ROSE(BU)SHES, [Exciting sports game], no, still not the Logical Foundations of Metaphysics, BARN(BU)RNER. Nifty crossing nines there in the center. (Boston University)
- 68a/43d. [To the same degree] A(S MU)CH, [Plays, in a way] MAKE(S MU)SIC. (Southern Methodist University)
- 79a/66d. [Dome-shaped home] WI(GW)AM, [Athlete's foot, e.g.] RIN(GW)ORM, which one could conceivably contract a case of while living somewhere that has a dirt floor. (George Washington University).
- 92a/88d. [Headaches for car companies] RE(CAL)LS, [Climb] S(CAL)E. (University of California, Berkeley).
- 110a/100d. [Periods of intense pressure] CR(UNC)HTIMES, [Didn't clear] BO(UNC)ED, as a cashier’s check. (University of North Carolina).
- 112a/95d. [They're made of leather and lace] BASEBALL (MIT)TS, a bit of a letdown after the clue. See also 9d [Name in 2012 headlines] ROMNEY; have to admit that it took me a while to get that one. Perhaps the memory will recede even faster than I’d hoped. [Home wreckers?] TER(MIT)ES. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
A lot of theme content. Some of the containing words and phrases are on the blah side, but none are beyond the pale. They aren’t even close to the pale. And good variation among the locations of the abbrevs. (spanning words, within words).
- Pervasive baseball fill! The aforementioned BASEBALL MITTS, 81a [Drop the ball, literally or figuratively] ERR, 12d [Singles] BLOOPS, 45d [Leadoff successes] BASE HITS, 53d [Mariners' div.] AL WEST, 73d [Pitcher Hershiser] OREL, 102d [Go __ for (defend)] TO BAT.
- Fiscal stuff and taxes! 15a [Reviewer of books, for short] CPA, 42a [Dutch financial giant] ING, 71a [Taxes] TRIES, 86a [Second qtr. start] APR, 103A [Market pessimist] BEAR… actually, this is a culled list and furthermore I’m not even going to continue with the downs. One really shouldn’t be surprised by the preponderance of such fill and cluing, as it is the Wall Street Journal.
106a [Mobil Mart, e.g., for short] C STORE. Really? For “convenience store”? Never heard of it. An unsavory abbrev.: MT. ST. Helens. >shudder< Not going to enumerate the partials, but there were too many of them. CAP Quotient™ not so hot.
- 77a ARTIST – MONETS! MATISSES! ARPS! You want ‘em, we got ‘em. (51d, 80d, 74a)
- 18a [Rabbitlike rodent] AGOUTI, genus Dasyprocta. However, those animals in the genus Agouti are called pacas. Fortunately, that confusion was somewhat relieved when Agouti Lacépède, 1799 was ruled to be a junior synonym for Cuniculus Brisson,, 1762. And then there’s the acouchy, genus Myoprocta. Don’t get me started on fossa, Cryptoprocta, Fossa, malagasy civet. So much fun!
Above average puzzle.