In case you missed it in T Campbell’s weekly crossword news roundup, there’s a new puzzle collection for sale called “20 Under 30.” Last spring, Ben Tausig announced a contest for young constructors, a bunch of people submitted puzzles, and an esteemed group of judges selected the 20 winners: Gareth Bain, Evan Birnholz, Alex Blum, Peter Broda, Michael Doran, Tyler Hinman, Jonah Kagan, Josh Knapp, Andy Kravis, Natan Last, Ian Livengood, Caleb Madison, Tim Polin, Anna Shechtman, David Steinberg, Finn Vigeland, Alex Vratsanos, Peter Wentz, Zoe Wheeler, and Matthew Wyatt. Congrats to all of you clever whippersnappers! You can try sample easy and hard puzzles, or just go ahead and order the PDF here for a lousy five bucks. Five dollars! That’s pretty cheap. Support the future of crosswords and get a great batch of puzzles to do. (True confession: I’ve bought the puzzles but haven’t even peeked at the PDF yet. But all the buzz I’ve heard from solvers is good, and Ben Tausig is a terrific editor, so I have no reservations about recommending “20 Under 30″ to you.)
Raymond Young’s New York Times crossword
The Monday and Tuesday puzzles played like Wednesday puzzles, so it stands to reason that the Wednesday puzzle would be something entirely different. It’s sort of a themeless stunt puzzle, where each letter of the alphabet appears at least FOUR (25a. [Minimum number of times each letter of the alphabet appears in this puzzle's solution]) times in the grid. That’s what you call a quadruple pangram, so the fill is extra-Scrabbly. There’s SQUISH, NU JAZZ, JONQUILS, FUTZ, KUMQUATS, and KARL MARX, for example. But I don’t tend to count the number of times each letter shows up in a puzzle while I’m solving it, so the quad-pan brought me barely a soupçon of excitement. (I’m sure others’ eyes were boggling while they solved.)
Four particularly nice bits:
- 20a. [Paper view?], OP-ED PAGE. Clue sounds like “pay-per-view” but gets at opinion-type views.
- 47a. [Rihanna's record label], DEFJAM.
- 61a. [Mess around (with)], FUTZ. I use this Yiddishy word all the time, but rarely ever see it in a crossword.
- 4d. [One to speak of?], THE DEVIL. You could argue that the “THE” isn’t needed here, or that it makes the answer essentially an 8-letter partial, but the clue/answer combo provided a note of humor.
Could have done without the fustier bits, such as SEQS (no seqs appeal), KYSER, KEPI, DUB IN, OSTE-, LTR, ECRU, QUES., COATI, ESAI, and AMEBA. And AGAZE! Come on. Nobody says that. Yes, it is in the dictionary, but it’s not a word that our novelists and our newspaper reporters are wont to use.
Mystery word: 41d. [Rum named for a Spanish literary hero], DON Q. New to me. Named after Don Quixote, obviously.
You may be wondering what pannonica thinks of 29a: CAVE BAT, clued as [Upside-down-sleeping mammal]. Is this a legitimate mammal term? Here’s our IM chat on the topic:
p: Also, also, CAVE BATS??!!??
A: I second your punctuation.
p: Granted, there are some species called cave bats, and that describes (part of) their lifestyle…
But here it’s goofy. Makes me think of prehistoric cave bears and cave lions.
A: And the cavemen.
“No playing ball inside the cave!”
p: Is this a Far Side cartoon?
So in sum, I think CAVE BATS is just a term for a pile of baseball bats in the dugout.
3.33 stars. As quadruple pangrams go (…), it has its redeeming features, but if I don’t have a theme to play around with, I’d like the clues to be Saturday-tough. Wednesday-level cluing in an essentially unthemed grid doesn’t hit my sweet spots.
Amy Johnson’s Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s write-up
The beginnings of the four long across answers are rounded up and contextualized by the last across entry, 71a [Agts. who might use the starts of 20-, 34-, 42- and 56-Across] G-MEN.
- 20a. [Shot from the side] PROFILE PICTURE. Despite the admirable elliptical quality of the clue, it seems a bit awkward in that sense. Nowadays, of course, a PROFILE PICTURE is most commonly an identifying image associated with an on-line presence such as Facebook, LinkedIn, et cetera; akin to an avatar. This in turn is derived from a portrait that would be found in a file or dossier—a worked-up profile—which is closely related to the sense mandated by the theme. This proximity of meaning is presumably the reason such cluing was avoided. However, I can’t recall ever having heard of a painting or a photograph—such as those early 20th-century ethnographic portraits—featuring someone in profile identified with that collocation.
34a. [End of Ali's memorable boast] STING LIKE A BEE. The first part is of course “float like a butterfly…”
- 42a. [Diner's cell app] TIP CALCULATOR. Ah, there’s the digital calibration.
- 56a. [Makeshift radio antenna] WIRE COAT HANGER. <insert Mommie Dearest YouTube clip here>
The key words are as advertised, comprising elements that said “agts.” might avail themselves of, though it would have been more elegant if they appeared in an conceivably chronological order: TIP, PROFILE, WIRE, STING, perhaps? Incidentally, the six title cards in The Sting are: The Set-Up, The Hook, The Tale, The Wire, The Shut-Out, The Sting; FBI agents are (ostensibly) tangentially involved.
28-down seems like a possible retaliation, à la the theme, from the bad guys: HIT THE ROAD. Its partner in the grid is INCUMBENTS. Even though they’re shorter, I’m much more enamored of another vertical pair: CHAOTIC | BARISTA, which makes for quite an amusing mental image. Oh, and look! The Scrabbly and vaguely exotic ZAFTIG is in the mix. Plus the K-rations: STREAK / TREBEK, ASK / KATO, SKULL / …LIKE…, EEK A / KNAP-.
- 49a [ __ majesty: high treason] LESE, though it could also be LÈSE-majesté.
- 52a [Lamb's pop] for RAM is playfully reminiscent of “lamb chop,” but it’s unfortunately also closely reminiscent of 2d [Per] A POP.
- Row Five, all initials: LTD | TSA | MCA.
- Favorite clue: 4D [Island seating] STOOL. Yes, I was tricked into thinking about a South Pacific potentate perched on a palm-leafed throne. Runner-up: 58d [Branch locale] TREE.
- Speaking of which, there’s a perceivable predilection for alliteration among the clues: [Dainty drinks] SIPS, [Hitchhiker's hope] RIDE, [Bolt in the buff] STREAK, [Full-figured] ZAFTIG, [Hard head?] SKULL, [Ne or Na] ELEM. (neorna-elem! neorna-elem!), [Valentine's Day deity] AMOR, [Get a pound pooch, say] ADOPT, [Superstar search show, to fans] IDOL.
- -ENCE, -ESE, MICR-.
Good puzzle, decent Wednesday.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Break Fast”- Sam Donaldson’s review
The five theme entries in today’s puzzle all start with FA- and end with -ST; thus, they all “break FAST” in half:
- 16-Across: A FAMILY THERAPIST is [One who may help with domestic problems].
- 26-Across: FALCON CREST is a [1980s soap opera] that rivaled Dallas in popularity. I never watched it, maybe because I was then too young to enjoy trashy television.
- 33-Across: A FAREWELL TOAST is an [Offering at a retirement dinner]. I kept wanting this to be some version of a gold watch.
- 40-Across: The FALL HARVEST is a [Field gathering] of great importance to farmers. I grew up on a Christmas tree farm, so for us the fall harvest came very late–right at Thanksgiving.
- 55-Across: FATHER KNOWS BEST is a [Classic sitcom starring Robert Young] that was way before my time. Even the reruns in syndication were before my time. To me, Robert Young will always be Marcus Welby, M.D.
The theme is nicely executed, but the star of this puzzle is the grid. Some of the highlights include SACAJAWEA, the [Shoshone who accompanied Lewis and Clark], IF I DO, TETE-A-TETES, SNARLED AT, and [Tarzan’s simian sidekick], CHEETA. The 9s and 10s abutting the 15s at the top and bottom make for wide open swaths that are fun to fill. It’s not easy to sandwich in the two 11s and the 13 that make up the other three theme entries, which explains why the central Down is the rather cumbersome CDLIV, or [454, in old Rome].
The shorter fill reveals some other compromises made to squeeze in the theme entries: FRA, WAHS, SEPT, EST, A SEC, LGE, TOS, ORT, FFF, WAL, and ANTA jump out after a quick review of the completed grid. While I wouldn’t want a steady diet of puzzles with this many sub-par entries, the occasional construction feat that manages to pull together 65 theme squares and a couple of nice open corners like this is perfectly welcome.
Favorite entry = IN LA-LA LAND, home of the [Daydreaming] sorts. Favorite clue = [Action figure?] for DOER. (And yes, my first answer was DOLL.)
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well crossword, “Code of Silence”
The stacked pairs of 15-letter answers are not part of the theme here. Instead, the hint appended to 1-Across’s clue holds the key: “Note: The circled letters comprise a three-word instruction that, when applied to one square in the completed grid, reveals a group who might follow a code of silence.” The letters in the circles spell out MISC, which looks like the abbreviation for “miscellaneous,” but the hint tells you it’s a three-word phrase: “M is C.” BUSINESS CEETING? CISS RHODE ISLAND? No. The center answer, 32a: [Unhelpful implements in janitors' closets], or DIRTY MOPS, might have stuck out as “hey, that’s not a ‘thing,’ it isn’t the sort of adjective + noun phrase that usually passes muster as a crossword answer.” Change that M to a C, and you get the DIRTY COPS who might adhere to a code of silence.
If you are new to this type of “meta” puzzle-within-a-crossword but dig the challenge, check out Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest. Matt’s puzzles come out every Friday, and the metas get increasingly difficult as the month goes on (March 29 will bring us an ungodly Week 5 puzzle that I probably will not be able to figure out).
Back to Ink Well. Fave
five eight clues:
- 4a. [Private invasion, with "the"], CLAP. “Private parts,” not a private in the Army.
- 30a. [Means of transport when you're late?], HEARSE.
- 38a. [Butt byproduct], ASH. Cigarette butt, not human butt.
- 48a. [Producer of material for bats], ALCOA. Did you think the same thought I did? “Wait, baseball bats come from ASH trees.” There are also aluminum bats, of course (and the wooden ones aren’t only made of ash these days, thanks to the emerald ash borer’s attacks on ashes.)
- 58a. [Exchange numbers?], RATES. I’m not sure what sort of rates and what sort of exchanges these are, but I know the clue’s about the world of finance and not phone numbers.
- 3d. [Runs through the neighborhood naked and covered in oatmeal, say], GOES MAD. That’s crazy! I mean, who would slather on oatmeal? Cream of wheat or grits go on much more smoothly.
- 46d. [Degs. that result in jobs, eventually, I hope], PHDS. Ben is working on his doctoral dissertation in ethnomusicology. Is that one of those growth areas of employment?
- 47d. ["No! No! Tzat guy's try to take my drink way but I not finisht!" speaker], SOT.
- 14a. [Major microcredit organization], KIVA. People with a few extra bucks can lend money via the Kiva website to people around the world who are trying to build a business (such as running a small grocery or catching fish). The borrowers repay the microloans in increments, and the lenders evnetually get their money back.
- 29a. [Texted question of concern], R U OK?
- 49a. [Pageant winner who also won at the "USA" and "Universe" levels in 2012], MISS RHODE ISLAND.
- 1d. [Fool], DUMBASS.
- 4d. [Perfume with famously racy ads], CK ONE. From Calvin Klein.
- 51d. [Only batted, briefly], DHED. Not a verb in my daily vocabulary.
I’m always pleased to see meta crossword action expand into new venues. Metas are like cryptic crosswords—something most crossword solvers don’t even know exists, but if you walk them through one, they just might get hooked. Four stars.