It’s here! It’s finally here! Sunday, the Oscars, and of course the Orcas. Tune in here at Crossword Fiend at noon Eastern/9 am Pacific when Sam Donaldson posts the winners of the Orca Awards. Best easy puzzle! Best themeless! Best gimmick puzzle! Best Sunday-size crossword! Best puzzle of the year and constructor of the year! If you’ve wondered what the most divisive puzzle was, Sam has the details on that too. Plus the first Lifetime Achievement Orca. (Not included in Sam’s post, because he’s too modest: the year’s Most Valuable Fiend award, bestowed on Sam in recognition of his droll daily CrosSynergy reviews, his awards-show takeover, and the clever coinage of Orcas—those black-and-white crosswordese marine mammals who are an anagram of “Oscar.”)
I encourage you, if you haven’t already done so, to swing by americanredcrosswords.blogspot.com to download the terrific all-volunteer puzzle book Michael Sharp assembled to raise money for Hurricane Sandy relief. An iPad/iPhone edition is in the works, so we’ll hope to have an announcement of that soon.
Joe DiPietro’s New York Times crossword, “I Surrender!”
Nifty gimmick in this week’s Sunday puzzle, which will delight the people who love twisty Thursday gimmicks and mortally wound the people who hate ’em. I’m a lover, not a fighter, and I liked the theme. Each theme answer has the same clue: [Back down]. Each one is a phrase or word that is to be entered backwards in the grid, from right to left and then turning “down” to finish up in the perpendicular Down answer. 22-“Across” is BEAT A HASTY RETREAT, with the REAT appearing in 1d: FIRE AT. 24a is CAPITULATE. 43d is HEAD FOR THE HILLS. 53a is PULL OUT. 65a, LOSE ONE’S NERVE. 82a, WITHDRAW. 90a, GIVE SOME GROUND. 112a, CRY UNCLE. And at 115a, WAVE THE WHITE FLAG.
Many of these synonymous phrases are zippy idioms, which makes the theme more entertaining than if the backwards entries were all boring of their own accord.
- 77a. [Talks without sincerity], PALTERS. I’ve never used this word.
- 9d. [Certain grilling], ORAL EXAM. Really wanted some barbecue.
- 3d. [Slick ones?], FUEL SPILLS. The “fuel” part of that phrase doesn’t sound like a natural partner for the “spills” part.
- 32d. [“The Hostage” playwright, 1958], BEHAN. Borstal Boy is his most famous play.
- 33d. [Blooming tree], POPLAR. There are flowers? Notable flowers? News to me. And usually I know my tree clues.
- 67d. [Postseason football game played in Mobile, Ala.], SENIOR BOWL. I pay little attention to college sports.
- 12d. [Loudly lament], ULULATE. High-pitched keening, not loudly using your words to bemoan something.
- 29a. [Some seen in mirrors?], ARS. Letter “ars,” or R’s. Meh. Give me a Latin ARS any day.
- 38a. [Mrs. Miniver’s husband in “Mrs. Miniver”], CLEM.
- 120a. [Like some oil refineries], YEMENI. I thought we needed a technical adjective here.
- 75d. [Got ___ on (nailed)], AN A. Had the *NA in place and thought “got DNA on??”
- VINNIE Barbarino, MASTER PLAN, TWIX, SENIOR BOWL, ORAL EXAM, MOBIUS strip, LINGER OVER.
- 72a. [Joint committee?], STONERS. Smoking a joint, getting high.
Joe, I’m curious to know how you put this puzzle together. It seems technically quite difficult to plunk in backwards phrases, make them turn the corner, make the corner bits be part of valid Down answers clued as if nothing strange is going on, get the Across bits to hew to traditional theme symmetry, and build a solid puzzle around it all. Seems like one of those tear-your-hair-out-for-weeks-if-not-months ventures.
Five stars. It’s reminiscent of Ben Tausig’s Onion AV Club puzzle from last March in which there were both up and down turns in the theme answers. Joe opted for backwards and down instead of up and down. Both puzzles are true originals and expand the ways we play with crosswords.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “The Nominees Are …”
I skipped reading the notepad entry before solving the puzzle, but having the first few letters of 27-Across in place gave away the theme. [Oscar-nominated film of 2012] starting with ZEOD?? Quickly glance at puzzle title, see the word “Are,” suspect it’s there to signal the letter R, which is left out of each of the movie titles. ZEODAKTHITY gets my vote for strangest-looking crossword answer of the year! Merl placed the only Best Picture nominee with three R’s, Zero Dark Thirty, in the top spot to get us on our way. We also have AMOU(r), LINCOLN, SILVE(r) LININGS PLAYBOOK, DJANGO UNCHAINED, LIFE OF PI, LES MISE(r)ABLES, and BEASTS OF THE SOUTHE(r)N WILD.
I was looking all over the bottom of the grid for A(r)GO, but just eight of the nine nominated films were screened in Merl’s puzzle. The puzzle’s notepad says this: “Something is missing throughout this grid (as you’ll soon notice). This ‘something’ should help you figure out the one film that’s missing, also. (Here’s a hint: Where did every ___?)” Where did every R go? Same place Argo went—missing from this puzzle. Nowhere in this grid does the letter R appear.
Luckily, my fiend Mel Eagle did not extend the R-less gimmick to the clues. That would have been dreadful and stilted. The grid is a little clunky owing to the lack of this common letter—70d. [Sheetlike body of rock], NAPPE, anyone? THOLE, PH. NO., ELOI, ADAK, BASSY, SELAH?—but I enjoyed this stunt puzzle more than you might expect.
My husband has defined ZEODAKTHITY as a mangled “The audacity!”
Favorite point of confusion: 131-Across is TEA, with the cross-referenced clue [See 48 Down]. “Oh! That must be LIPTON,” I said to myself. But no, it’s LIPTON’s next-door neighbor, LEONI, [“You Kill Me” co-star]. I don’t recognize the movie title, but the Lipton tea/Téa Leoni hookup is cute.
Five other favorites:
- 11d. [Marie Antoinette’s hubby], LOUIS XVI. A Roman numeral that’s more specific than many a Roman-numeral year clue and more gettable than a papal numbering system clue.
- 90d. [Condemned stone-roller], SISYPHUS. Who doesn’t love the myth of Thithyphuth?
- 41d. [“Invisible” site in Harry Potter books where wizards buy their accessories], DIAGON ALLEY. You get there via a diagonal move, right?
- 14d. [“Flintstones” characters smoked them in early commercials], WINSTONS. This is where the idea for the chewable vitamins came from, I imagine. “Flintstones taste good like a vitamin should.”
- 73d. [Favorite boat in Dixie?], YAWL. Because it sounds like “y’all.”
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge”- Sam Donaldson’s review
I’m busy getting ready for my Orca Awards party later today, so today’s review will come in bullet point form. Let’s start our review of this 70/36 themeless puzzle with the three things I liked most:
- What’s the term for a grid that has both rotational symmetry (like most crosswords) and left-right symmetry? Whatever it is, it’s the first thing I noticed, and I like the visual appeal.
- Any grid with six 15s is interesting, and I thought three of them were especially snazzy–FOAMS AT THE MOUTH, KEEP AT A DISTANCE, and NO MORE MR. NICE GUY.
- Any grid with SLOBBER makes me [Drool]. In a good way.
And now three things that elicited UGHS, or [Grunts of distaste]:
- The clue for OILED, [Like some wrestlers], feels more than a bit creepy to me.
- There’s a little too much iffy fill like TO BAT, IN L.A., L.I.U., SRA, AN ERA, IT’LL, and ETTE.
- That 5×5 midesction connecting two of the 15s had a lot of offbeat fill: Pola NEGRI of silent films, figure skater IRINA Rodnina, the ORIEL window, and some BILGE, along with two of the partials and the icky OILED wrestlers. Not exactly my favorite 5×5 collection.
Favorite entry = PAPRIKA, the [Deviled eggs topper]. Favorite clue = [Six-foot worker?] for ANT. See you at the Orcas!
Doug Peterson’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 151” – Neville’s review
Neville here, pinch hitting for Doug Peterson, who wrote this weekend’s Post Puzzler. It’s got almost everything you could ask for from a DP puzzle. The only thing missing is a baseball clue! But we do have a little bit of sport in the grid with ROD LAVER, a [Name on an Australian Open arena]. On the other hand, the [Heat source] isn’t an NBA reference. It’s a spicy JALAPENO!
If you solved this puzzle yourself, you probably noticed a mini-theme for SEMITES. Doug tells me that it wasn’t planned – a likely story. Let’s take a look at those entries
- 22a. [Ceremonial snipper] – MOHEL. This is the guy who does the dirty work at a bris. Did you know that there are no appropriate fun facts for me to share here about mohels? We’ll move quickly along.
- 37d. [Mashgiach ruchani’s workplace] – YESHIVA. Who what now? A mashgiach ruchani is a spiritual supervisor – usually a rabbi – that works in a Jewish educational institution. And that last bit is of course a yeshiva.
- MISDIRECTS! 5d. [Rise] – KNOLL. After seeing all of these other clues and with a few choice letters in place, I tried KVELL. No luck! Also, one of the most fun words – KLATSCH, a [Casual get-together] – is from the German, not Yiddish. But it’s still a great entry.
My favorite clue/entry was right at 1a. [Discovery summer highlight]. Of course I’m a sucker for a TV clue – especially one referencing SHARK WEEK on the Discovery channel. CYBILL took me a surprisingly long time to get from just the clue [Self-titled ’90s sitcom]. I could’ve used a name-drop of Christine Baranski; then this one would’ve fallen straight away.
[Queen’s land in Kings] had me thinking of counties in New York City. But it’s the Queen of SHEBA who appears in the book of Kings in the Bible. “Prisoner of ZENDA,” the Anthony Hope novel, remains a work I know only from crosswords. Do I need to read it or see one of the movies? I’ve also never understood why the [Gooey dish] RAREBIT is often pronounced like the word rabbit. And the MANGO TREE is a [Poison ivy relative]? My mind is being blown over here!
Melanie Miller’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Excess Baggage”
The “excess baggage” here consists of the word BAG snuck into the midst of a familiar word or phrase, skewing the meaning by joining the BAG to a natural partner:
- 23a. [Self-defense overkill?], HANDBAG GRENADE.
- 33a. [Red wines aged in autos?], AIRBAG PORTS. I might’ve gone with places to plug in your smartphone or laptop in the car.
- 50a. [KEGO on your radio dial?], GASBAG STATION. KEGO would be the radio station devoted to talk show hosts with massive egos.
- 70a. [Direct route to Loserville?], DIRTBAG ROAD. Isn’t this a reality show on the History channel by now?
- 90a. [Entertaining show in a run-down hotel?], FLEABAG CIRCUS. I hear the circus’s elephants are actually stray cats.
- 104a. [Consumer Reports first aid recommendations?], ICEBAG PICKS.
- 121a. [Activist grocery clerk?], PAPER BAG PUSHER. Wait, what? The activist checkout clerks aren’t urging you to take a paper bag instead of a plastic one. They’re giving you the side-eye for not bringing your own reusable bags (ideally made of hemp).
Here are some things I wanted to mention:
- 1a. [Corn at a picnic], EARS. The clue felt a little odd to me.
- 22a. [Elephant in the Jungle of Nool], HORTON. Dr. Seuss reported that HORTON heard a Who.
- 56a. [Thread holder], ETUI. The comments section of this blog holds threaded comments. Can we call it an etui?
- 67a. [Part of the Constitution that describes Cong. powers], ARTI, meaning Article I. Tough to nail down the Roman numeral if you don’t know your Constitution and your 51d: [Hasbro reaction game],BOP IT.
- 84a. [California peak rumored to hide advanced beings called Lemurians], SHASTA. Is this about Scientology?
- 97a. [After Effects and Final Cut Pro], EDITORS. As in film editing software.
- 127a. [They’re popular in Japanese gardening], MOSSES. I don’t think I knew that.
- 12d. [South American arboreal snake], TREE BOA. Tree snakes and water snakes are the worst, man. Because they occupy places that we might go in order to get away from snakes.
- 14d. [Least populous state capital], MONTPELIER, Vermont. I lunched with an old friend I’d never met before (this is what the blogosphere does—it gives you old friends you’ve never met) this week. She’s from Montpelier, population 9,000.
- 32d. [Plan to take off], DIET. Take off weight, not “I’m gonna take off now.”
- 44d. [Hair color immortalized by a Renaissance painter], TITIAN RED. One website tells me this is a bit lighter than auburn.
- 68d. [Battle on a log], ROLEO. Stand on a log in the water, run in place while the log spins. Lumberjacks have all the fun.
- 69d. [Tipped, as a dealer], TOKED. Is this about card dealers or drug dealers?
- 95d. [1969 Arkin/Moreno comedy], POPI. ?? This is not a frequent crossword answer.
- 120d. [Some Windows systems], NTS. I don’t care for this pluralization. “How many NTs do you have?” No.
The theme is solid and has a little bit of humor to it, and the fill has a number of interesting words in it. 3.75 stars.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked Crossword, “What Is It?” — pannonica’s write-up
A linguistic factette presented in the form of a segmentate quote! The first five theme entries comprise the [Meaning of 108-Across …]. Thus, the set-up is TO HESITATE WHILE YOU ARE | INTRODUCING SOMEONE | BECAUSE | YOU HAVE | FORGOTTEN THEIR NAME, and the “answer” is THE SCOTTISH WORD TARTLE.
As mentioned in my write-up of last week’s puzzle, quote puzzles are often maligned, especially when it turns out to be something trite or mundane rather than witty or interesting. However, I always appreciate learning something new, and what better SORTA nugget for a crossword puzzle than a lexicographic one?
Even though it’s a lot of squares—92—for a six-letter payoff, I feel it’s worth it for the knowledge gained. Plus, it’s rather elegantly done. Yes, there is the chopped-up seven-and-seven of BECAUSE | YOU HAVE, but the description reads naturally, and that counts for no sma’ amount.
There are a number of compendiums of so-called untranslatable words, from Howard Rheingold’s seminal (as far as I know) They Have a Word for It (1988), through Christopher J. Moore’s In Other Words (2004), and on to various recent titles by Adam Jacot de Boinod. They make for fun browsing.
Incidentally, back in 2004 the BBC reported that a team of linguists had determined that the most untranslatable word is ilunga from the Tshiluba language spoken in south-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The definition? “A person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time.” Also, there should be a single word that means, “untranslatable word.”
No truly long entries among the ballast fill, but there’s definitely some nifty stuff, like the consonant pile-up of baseball’s Lenny DYKSTRA, the [Rooster in a picture] COGBURN—which was filmed in Deschutes County, Oregon and alas not WYOMING—IMPETUS and ANORAK.
Stuffing the haggis:
- 29a & 28a. Oh, I could definitely see an ECLAIR AMULET. Sneaky clue for the former: [Oblong cream container]. Had me thinking more along the lines of skincare products.
- More fooled-me clues: 94a [Wake-up call] ALERT, not ALARM. 96a [Eaves nester] WASP, not WREN, 105a [Long NBA shots] THREES, not THROWS.
- YUMA (AZ) and LOMA (CA). (98a & 104d)
SKIMMED and SNOOTED. (6d & 39d)
18d [Does a slow burn] STEAMS. See also 118a [Bothered state] STEW.
55a [Fare that may be foul] GLOP, on top of 60a [Cold course] SORBET—now there’s a contrast!
- 15d [Teammate of Kobe] PAU. Who? Okay, whatever.
- Always like seeing TOLTEC rather than the more common mesoamerican AZTEC and MAYA. Not to mention the INCA (INKA).
- Not so thrilled with the seeming plethora of partials, quasipartials, and prepositional phrases, including BE A (although Ms Arthur does get quite the cruciverbal workout), OR DARE, TRA LA, STICK TO, AN EAR, MAY I, FOG UP, BEGS FOR, A CENT, OWE IT TO.
- TINA and AIN’T, anagrams one after the other at 21a and 22a.
Good puzzle, somewhere above average.