Bruce Sutphin and Neville Fogarty’s New York Times crossword
The New York Times crossword is known for many things—having a distinguished tenure for the better part of a century, being nationally distributed and syndicated, getting progressively harder from Monday to Saturday, and generally being very good. Now, Will Shortz also receives a huge number of submissions, and he accumulates a sizeable backlog of accepted puzzles. Neville mentioned that this was his and Bruce’s first acceptance, I think—a puzzle they sent in at least a year and a half ago. And in that time, Bruce and Neville have both honed their skills and published numerous puzzles in other venues (Bruce mainly in Newsday, Neville in the LA Times and on his own site, not to mention his Kickstarter board games crossword puzzlefest). This one … it’s not their best work. It’s their early work, when they showed definite promise but rather less polish than they have now. So if you thought to yourself, “Huh, I thought Neville and Bruce were better than this,” they are now. Same with David Steinberg—his latest NYT puzzle was, I think, the first one Will had accepted, and David too has grown stronger since then.
The theme is cool and makes excellent use of circled letters. (It’s the fill that tells us “not their latest work.”) Four long answers contain pairs of opposites, and this is perfectly executed, with the pairs in their conventional order and with the hidden words being intact rather than having random letters interspersed within them. WINDING TO A CLOSE feels a hair (just a thin hair) out of the language to me, but WIN and LOSE are perfect. STOREFRONT has TO and FRO. The brilliant entry COMEDY GOLD (“That’s gold, Jerry! Gold!”) contains COME and GO. And the lovely FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH hides IN and OUT. Sometimes circled squares feel rather bogus, cobbling together a theme where none really exists, but this is clean as a whistle. (See? These guys have a knack for crosswords.)
The fill triggered the ol’ Scowl-o-Meter with 21a: ["Miami Vice" informant] IZZY (who??); crosswordese 67a: NENE, [Hawaiian bird] (though there was some chitchat at the ACPT about NeNe Leakes, actress on The New Normal and reality TV figure on Real Housewives of Atlanta); 5d: [Prince Valiant's son], ARN; 12d: ["Born Free" lioness], ELSA; 19d: [Actor Lew] AYRES; 24d: [Enzyme suffix], ASE; 31d: [Vermont ski resort] OKEMO; 46d: [Oklahoma city], ADA; 58d: [Like Nash's lama (not llama)], ONE-L; and 61d: UTNE [___ Reader]. I don’t think Neville or Bruce would use more than one or two of these in any of the puzzles they’re making now.
On the other hand, I love WELL DONE, VW BUS, DADDY-O, and ED WOOD.
The extreme post-ACPT tiredness meant that I slogged through this Tuesday puzzle as if it were a Thursday. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out 1d: [Acts]—LAWS. And I struggled with 3d: [One of the 53-Downs] the whole time that 53d was blank, even though I would have filled in PE** with PENN if I had remembered to, you know, read 53d’s clue.
So I say 4.5 stars for the theme’s elegance, 2.75 stars for the fill. 3.66 overall? Sure. Good night, all!
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “That’s a Tough One”
Gah! I can’t go to bed before I review the Jonesin’ because tomorrow morning’s going to be too busy to do it then. So: will be brief. No complete sentences.
Did not understand theme when I did the puzzle hours ago. Glanced at title when entering header in blog post and suddenly grasped theme: both parts of theme answers can follow the word “tough.”
- 17a. [Five on a dude's foot?], GUY TOENAILS. Tough guy, “tough toenails” (which means “tough,” idiomatically).
- 36a. [Time off from the group?], CROWD BREAK. Tough crowd! Tough break. Had a few crowd breaks myself during ACPT weekend.
- 43a. [The right amount to be serendipitous?], ENOUGH LUCK. Tough enough, tough luck.
- 64a. [Ad line that caused a Muppet to answer "You bet me do!"?], LOVE COOKIES. Tough love, “tough cookies.”
Fave clue: 48d: [What this glue has], TYPO. “Glue” an intentional typo for “clue.” Most mystifying clue: 69a: [Nyan ___ (internet meme)], CAT. CAT a good guess for any meme-related FITB. Nyan Cat apparently relates to Nintendo’s Mario.
3.5 stars. Over and out.
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Diamond Jewel”- Sam Donaldson’s review
The very first crossword I made had this same theme, though obviously today’s puzzle is much better than my early construction. It’s a “baseball progression” theme where the hits get bigger as one moves down the grid:
- 17-Across: The [Highway warning sign message] is SINGLE LANE AHEAD.
- 23-Across: [Moles] are DOUBLE AGENTS.
- 40-Across: The [Red Scrabble space] is TRIPLE WORD SCORE.
- 53-Across: The [Moe’s Tavern habitue] is HOMER SIMPSON.
- 64-Across: One who [Achieves a rare baseball feat, delineated by part of each long puzzle answer] HITS FOR THE CYCLE. Does that clue feel a little stiff to you, too?
I don’t recall every part of my early construction, but I remember I had SINGLE PARENT paired with HOMER SIMPSON. I didn’t have the nice HITS FOR THE CYCLE punchline, that’s for sure. And I have no doubt that today’s puzzle has more rare letters and more interesting fill.
Some of the fill was a bit contrived (UNL, HA-HAS, ZANIES, USPO) and a couple of the clues threw me for a [Figure skating maneuver] (LOOP) (I didn’t know a [Young salmon] was a FRY, nor did I remember that ELMO is the name of the [Kid in “Blondie” comics]). But overall this one worked for me, and it validated my hunch from 2008 that this would make a suitable crossword theme.
Favorite entry = the blast from the past that was PTL, [Jim Bakker’s club letters] that stood for “praise the lord.” Favorite clue = [Contemporary drug or energy chief] for CZAR. I always like when a clue gives used fill a fresh makeover. The same could be said for [Vegas resort that sounds operatic?] for ARIA.
Bruce Venzke and Gail Grabowski’s Los Angeles Times crossword
It’s a two-fer day for Bruce, whom I just saw at the ACPT over the weekend (along with Neville and Bruce of today’s NYT, and Sam who blogged Bruce’s other puzzle). I haven’t met Gail Grabowski yet. Gail! We need to get you to the ACPT one of these years.
Simple and straightforward theme: Five phrases start with words that can mean “apex” or “acme”:
- 17a. [Prime hours for television broadcasters], PEAK VIEWING TIME. Didn’t know that was a “thing.”
- 23a. [Down in the dumps], CRESTFALLEN. That reminds me—I bought a tube of toothpaste today.
- 37a. ["Greetings, Paddy!"], TOP O’ THE MORNIN’.
- 53a. [Moonshine, or a soda named for it], MOUNTAIN DEW. Huh! I didn’t know that was a euphemism for homemade hooch.
- 61a. [Conduct observed during international negotiations], SUMMIT DIPLOMACY. Probably had a lot of that going on last May when NATO met in Chicago. Lovely to have the CONSUL crossing this answer.
The acme of the fill is populated by Dennis RODMAN (who just paid a visit to North Korea’s leader), MCJOB, AMARETTO (does anyone drink that ever?), and IPOD NANO. Down in the valley, the scree has piled up: SOTS, SAONE, EKE, USAIR, ONEA, LENTE, APER, OREM, and ERNS.
Favorite clue: 35d. [Hoops dangler], basketball NET. I was picturing hoop earrings and dangling earrings.