Richard and Judith Martin’s New York Times crossword
At first I thought this puzzle was by Miss Manners and her husband, but that Judith Martin is married to a Robert Martin, not Richard. In other news, the Sam Donaldson who makes crosswords and reviews them here is not the one from ABC News.
Before I review the theme, let me put this out there: 41a. [El Al hub city] is LOD and 38d. [Pittsburgh radio station since 1920, said to be the world's first] is KDKA. I have never heard of the latter and learned the other from crosswords, but even with that old crossword knowledge, I still paused for a seeming eternity. It’s so bizarre for me to hit a mystery square in a Wednesday puzzle. The only Pennsylvania radio station I know is WHYY, the public radio home of Terry Gross’s Fresh Air show. Why does KDKA start with a K instead of a W? It’s weird. Oh! And if you don’t know the skinny dog called the SALUKI ([Greyhound lookalike]), it’s the mascot for Southern Illinois University and Illinoisans know it. Given the lack of help KDKA provides, though, if you can’t complete SALU*I on your own, you’re in trouble.
Okay. The theme is “add GED”:
- 17a. [Senior softballers, e.g.?], THE AGED TEAM. You want them on your side when the RACE WAR (20a: ["The Turner Diaries" conflict]) comes, don’t you? I cannot believe RACE WAR is in the puzzle. *shudder*
- 25a. [K-9 Corps member?], BADGED DOG.
- 36a. [Former first lady sporting a different outfit?], JACKIE CHANGED. Nobody would ever refer to someone as “[name] changed” because they changed their clothes. Not sure why this isn’t clued as a verb phrase. It would be the only non-noun theme answer, but it would make more sense.
- 51a. [Small-screen performance of "Hamlet," e.g.?], TV TRAGEDY.
- 60a. [King, queen or jack?], VISAGED CARD. Dictionary tells me visaged needs to be used in combination to form adjectives. As in “a stern-visaged crossword reviewer.”
- 44d. [Many a H.S. dropout's goal ... and what's added to 17-, 25-, 36-, 51- and 60-Across], GED?
Now, I’m perplexed as to why the “getting your GED” concept isn’t evoked here in the theme revealer, as the revealer we have doesn’t explain why those letters would be added to anything. And I’m a bit put off by TRAgedY taking the GED in the midst of the word and all the other themers tacking it on at the end of a word.
You know how pannonica’s reviews discuss the CAP Quotient, of crosswordese, abbreviations, and partials? The CAPs are well represented tonight: OCT, SRO, ETA, LAT, DAR, PCT, DSL, EMAJ, maybe TWA, DNA, REW, and DRS are our abbrevs. We have two partials, AT A and A DRAG (peculiar clue, 21d. ["What ___" ("Ho-hum")]—I would say “what a drag” for something that was a hassle and a waste of time, and “ho-hum” for something that was yawn-inducingly dull). In the crosswordese category, I put the following: RHO, AEON, DENEB, LOD, BAHT, ETE, -ITE, LAH, OREAD, YEGGS. Then the General Unpleasantness Quotient gathers RACE WAR, MUGABE, roll-your-own SCARER, KDKA, LET DIE, and plural ERROLS. I once met a young woman from Zimbabwe and told her I thought it was ridiculous that so many people die prematurely and yet Mugabe continues on into his late old age, never struck down by a stroke or heart attack or cancer. Not that I wish disease or death on anyone, but dictators should retire young.
Anyone else have the end of 11d: [Dash component], ——METER, and try to figure out what possible unit of a 100-meter dash this could be? Car dashboard, SPEEDOMETER. The clue totally duped me.
I am going to take commenter Huda’s suggestion and make a mental note of my star rating, so as to avoid influencing voters. She asked if the averages were so close to my ratings because people were swayed by my remarks, or if I just accurately peg the general reaction to a puzzle. So in lieu of a star rating, I’ll just say that the theme missed a few opportunities to be better, and the fill left me wishing for something different.
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Adjoining Sweets”- Sam Donaldson’s review
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Today is Sam’s birthday!) Remember those ads for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups when a person carrying peanut butter collides with a person carrying chocolate? “You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!” “You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!” Today’s puzzle is a similar mash-up of sweetness, as each theme entry combines two candies to form three new, whimsical phrases:
- 20-Across: A Chunky bar combines with Pop Rocks to form CHUNKY POP ROCKS, clued as [Heavyweight dad is way cool?].
- 37-Across: What do you call [Beefcake giggles?] You call them BIG HUNK SNICKERS, that’s what. I’ve seen Big Hunk bars but I can’t say I’ve ever tasted one. Snickers and I, however, are on a first-name basis.
- 48-Across: The [Contraction in Earth's galaxy?] is the MILKY WAY CRUNCH. I usually think of “crunches” as unpleasant abdominal exercises, so I’m happy to see a different take on the term here.
The two most important qualities of completely contrived theme entries are entertainment and remote plausibility. First, the whimsical theme entries should provide a modicum of amusement or display some cleverness. Second, they should be phrases you could actually imagine someone saying, even if it would require a very specific context. Thus, BUTTERFINGER JUNIOR MINTS would be an awful theme entry not only because it would require a 23×23 grid but more importantly because it makes no sense. The theme entries here, though, work just fine.
Favorite entry = CARFAX, clued as ["Show me the ___ (advertising slogan)]. Great entry! Favorite clue = [567-68-0515, for Pres. Nixon] for SSN. Yes it’s a gimme, but it’s a fresh clue for a very common crossword entry.
Janice Luttrell and Patt Varol’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review
Top-notch theme execution today by Ms. Luttrell and Ms. Varol! Patti Varol we all know, both as a constructor and as Rich Norris’ Commander Riker. Janice Luttrell’s name was less familiar to me, so I went through Fiend archives. This is her third LAT. If you need a refresher, here are her first and second puzzles. Oddly, she’s gone Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday so far.
Oh yes, the puzzle itself. DOUBLEFEATURE seemed to be implying FEATURE is in someway doubled, but in fact, the four theme entries are two-part compounds, both parts of which can be prefaced by DOUBLE. This is a well-worn crossword trope, but where the puzzle excels is that a) all the answers are fun and none forced, b) none of the doubles feel forced as phrases either. This is deceptively difficult to achieve, and something you possibly won’t appreciate unless you’ve attempted to make such a puzzle. Brava!
Here’s the obligatory theme entry list:
- 17a, [Titanic compartment on the lowest level], BOILERROOM
- 26a, [Setup of a sort], BLINDDATE
- 50a, [Country kitchen design option], DUTCHDOOR
- 60a, [Verify], CROSSCHECK
An olio of other musings:
- 19a, ["All ___": 1931 tune], OFME. I dunno about that, I think of this horrendous late-’80s pop tune. Don’t follow the link unless you enjoy hate-listening.
- 25d, [Mark on an otherwise perfect record?], ONEB is a cute clue, but the answer is utterly contrived, which makes it fall flat, IMO. It forms an awkward pair with 41a, [1% of a cool mil], TENG. I’d have gone with FENG myself…
- 11d, [Didn't quite close], LEFTAJAR is a creative answer. I went for LEFTAGAP initially…
- 18d, [Film Volkswagen with "53" painted on it], LOVEBUG. Top-notch answer!
- 36d, [Spa treatment], MUDBATH. Another great answer and another that I fluffed initially, going for MUDpAck.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well crossword, “Hidden Codes”
When I test-solved this puzzle, there were no circles to highlight where the codes were. I spent too long trying to find the last “hidden code,” as the 3-letter ones primed me to expect another 3-letter code and I couldn’t see “QR code” for the life of me.
Who knew the NAZI PARTY had ZIP in it?
- 20a. [2003 book subtitled "The Dark Side of the All-American Meal"], FAST FOOD NATION. DNA holds our genetic code.
- 34a. [Third Reich group], NAZI PARTY. ZIP codes are part of a postal program of zone improvement, of course. Did you notice that the other theme clues all begin with years? The Nazis don’t deserve a year.
- 40a. [1978 stoner film with "Low Rider" on its soundtrack], UP IN SMOKE. Cheech and Chong! Your PIN number is a security code.
- 52a. [2002 act that refers to "weapons of mass destruction"], IRAQ RESOLUTION. A QR code is one of those blotchy squares you’re supposed to scan with your smartphone’s camera to be taken straight to a website. The best QR codes, of course, are the ones on billboards beside highways.
- 4d. [He was Will Hunting, Private Ryan, and Mr. Ripley], MATT DAMON.
- 42a. [Job-type's question], “WHY ME?” That’s biblical Job, not a career-type job.
- 10d. [Negro Leagues great Buck], O’NEIL. He utterly charmed me in the Ken Burns documentary, Baseball.
- 31d. [Provocatively named clothier], FCUK. This amuses the 12-year-old in me.
- 30d. [Prideful sort?], DYKE. Gay pride, Dykes on Bikes, etc. Here’s the group in the Chicago pride parade in 2011. (The word is fine if it’s not being used as an insult.)
- 57a. [Noguchi of fuckyournoguchicoffeetable.tumblr.com], ISAMU. If you don’t know your ISAO Aoki and your AAMCO, this one could be trouble. I needed every crossing.