Josh Knapp’s New York Times crossword
A perfect Friday puzzle, except for the fact that this themeless puzzle has a 39-square theme in it. But the theme is so fun–MAD SCIENTIST who’s a [Cackling loon with a white coat] (which sounds like a clue for a bird), SUPERVILLAIN who’s a [Mighty heavy] (heavy being a noun here), both hell-bent on WORLD DOMINATION (who isn’t?). It’s a 70-word grid with lots of long fill, though (consider DIMENSION, SLEEPER CAR, FISHING ROD, GIVE AND GO, GRAPESHOT, SMOKING GUN, BENEFICIAL, and ART CRITIC and you see what I’m saying), so it plays like a themeless too.
My top eight highlights:
- That fun theme. (Doofenshmirtz, anyone?) CLAPS for the good guy, HISSES at the bad guy, and the HE-MAN further add to the cartooniness.
- Contemporary slangy MEH ([Verbal shrug]) right at 1-Across, calculated to alienate the “That’s not a word!” people while delighting the younger crowd.
- [Means of dropping a line] is a great clue for 52a: FISHING ROD.
- [One preparing an oil pan?] as a fake-out auto mechanic/kitchen clue for 11d: ART CRITIC.
- [Strong proof] suggesting a boozy term when it’s the 27d: SMOKING GUN.
- [Fox ratings] suggests TV ratings, but it’s the perfect 30d: TENS you give foxy people when assessing their looks on a one-to-ten scale.
- 32d: NOBU [__ Matsuhisa, celebrity chef and restaurateur], fresh fill.
- If you gotta have ETHANE in your grid, why not cross it with ETHAN?
Lowlights: AWNS and APIA and IONA feel like crosswordese to me.
Overall, lots of fun to be had in this puzzle, with the theme, the liveliness of the fill, and the tricky (but not too tough) clues. 4.25 stars.
Patrick Berry’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Final Four Upset” — pannonica’s write-up
I will assume that the timely title of this puzzle inspired the theme, rather than vice-versa. The title only seems to refer to the semifinals of the NCAA college basketball tournament, commonly called March Madness. Here, constructor Berry takes the terminal quartet of letters and reverses them, forming a new word and, by extension, a new phrase. Since they’re all vertical entries, those letters are literally “upset.” Clever stuff.
To more easily accommodate the fill, the grid has been increased vertically to 15×16.
- 5d. [Cold rain that leaves no marks?] STAINLESS SLEET (steel).
- 8d. [Create part of a flower?] FASHION PETAL (plate).
- 11d. [Particularly impressive government investment option?] GRAND TNOTE (Teton).
- 19d. [Comedic duo that includes a multi-headed monster?] LAUREL AND HYDRA (Hardy). Oh yes, imagining that gives me a chuckle.
- 25d. [Female parent's annoyance?] MOTHER TEASER (Teresa).
- 33a. [Handgun?] PALM PISTOL (Pilots).
All are solid and above reproach, and of course some are more interesting or amusing than others. The ballast fill is similarly strong and entertaining.
- Because of the theme’s orientation, the long non-theme answers are horizontal: 18a [Legal woes?] CASELOADS. Because of its location and the question-marked clue, this could certainly seem like another theme entry, especially if the solver hadn’t completely twigged to all of the theme’s constraints. I speak from experience here.67a [Looks for bugs in] BETA TESTS.
- 72a [Coin featuring the Union Shield] CENT. As of 2010.
- 27a/45a [Female in a herd] DOE / EWE. To play further tricks on the solver, EWE sits above 48a [Chinese zodiac symbol], which—at the time—I had as RA– and so naturally was inclined to complete it as RAM when it turned out to be RAT.
- Absolute favorite clue: 24a [Abbreviated, for short]. With SYNO––– taking shape, I was sure it was some sort of very minor shortening of something like synopsis, but the clue was a devilish misdirection and the answer was SYNONYM, which accurately describes the relationship of its two main words.
- Clues I didn’t care for: 53d [Hexapod] INSECT. The two aren’t interchangeable. Biologically, there are non-insect hexapods (members of the Hexapoda); more generally, there are six-legged robots as well as other structures. Better the clue had read [Some/Many hexapods] or, to keep the disguised capital (if that was intended] [Hexapod, generally/commonly/usually]. 51d [Inner rind] ALBEDO. I know of ALBEDO only in the astronomical sense, as presented by m-w.com: “reflective power; specifically : the fraction of incident radiation (as light) that is reflected by a surface or body (as the moon or a cloud).” As ALBEDO comes from Latin for “white” or “whiteness,” I can understand how the word might also be applied to the (generally white) inner rind of citrus fruits, but I’m not familiar with it… Ah! Anu Garg’s Wordsmith to the rescue: sense 2: “the white, spongy inner lining of a citrus fruit rind.” I now dislike that clue much less, and will probably enjoy it if I ever meet it again.
- Was reluctant to fill in what turned out to be the correct answer to 59d [How lovers dine] A DEUX because I’d already come across 66a in the same section: [Billet-deux declaration] MY DEAR. Oh, dear.
- 46a [Much-criticized Pontiac model] AZTEK. In its own way, the word itself is just as odd-looking as the vehicle.
Very good puzzle.
Randolph Ross’ Wall Street Journal crossword, “Losing a Lot of Weight” — pannonica’s write-up
In crosswords, “a lot of weight” is very frequently a TON, and this one hews well. In the theme answers, the sequence TON has been dropped, leaving svelte but wacky phrases.
- 23a. [Auburn, to Heisman winner Jackson?] BO’S UNIVERSITY (Boston).
- 30a. [Sad place for monks to live?] DOWN ABBEY (Downton). Frown Filippo Lippi?
- 51a. [Election announcement of November 1948?] HARRY WINS (Winston). The Harry is the not-defeated-by-Thomas Truman. Harry Winston is the famous diamond corporation.
- 76a. [Bed buyer?] COT PICKER (cotton). See also 32d [Plantation pest] WEEVIL.
- 92a. [Cole's fiddlers, for example?] KING’S TRIO (Kingston).
- 104a. [Two-time Oscar winner in the tub?] DENZEL WASHING (Washington).
- 33d. [Train unit on the way to the dairy farm?] EMPTY MILK CAR (carton). Is “empty milk carton” enough of a stand-alone?
- 37d. [Critique of "Purple Rain"?] PRINCE REVIEW (Princeton).
Kind of cute. It troubles me that so many—but not all—of the TONs share the same origin, that of a modification of “town.” I believe only cotton and and carton are exceptions here.
While solving, it really felt as if I was slogging and sludging and expected a rather lengthy time, so I was surprised to see that it was a relative quick 11:41.
- 69a [Lohengrin's love] ELSA, 3d [She'll "always have Paris"] ILSA.
- Favorite stack: the southwest’s ST LOUIS / PROPANE / HEX SIGN.
- Long non-theme highlights: 84a [Remote and insignificant] JERKWATER, 82d [Gull's cry] I BEEN HAD – great clue! (see also 91a MEW, with a clue that I don’t understand: [Siberian sound], 42d [Be in a reciprocal relationship] CORRELATE, which is vaguely reminiscent of 52d [State of the union?] WEDLOCK, which is kind of an odd word.
- 10d/41d [Letter on an honor society key] PHI / KAPPA. BETA last seen sulking in some other puzzle.
- Worst abbrev.: 101d [3-D fig.] SPH.
- 61d [Come again] RECUR. I think this clue would have benefitted from a question mark, which doesn’t seem like it would have been out-of-bounds and would have created an artful misdirection.
This puzzle looks good … new hairstyle?
Sarah Keller’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Things Are Going Nowhere”- Sam Donaldson’s review
The four theme entries in today’s puzzle take the form of “(verb) A (noun),” where the “(verb)” can also be a synonym for “discard:”
- 20-Across: To [Indulge in some hocus pocus] is to CAST A SPELL.
- 32-Across: To [Mix greens] is to TOSS A SALAD. Don’t worry, I’m not touching this one with a ten-foot pole.
- 43-Across: To [Exhale deeply, as if disappointed] is to HEAVE A SIGH. Been there, done that.
- 58-Across: To [Show affection remotely] is to THROW A KISS. In my day, we blew kisses, we didn’t throw them. Kisses were fragile creatures to be sent aloft gently, not hurled at someone forcibly. Kids these days. And while I’m at it, they better get off my lawn! Like 4-Down says: BEAT IT!
I liked TV DINNER, though I never really think of one as a [Microwaveable meal]. Yes, all modern dinners in the freezer section of the store are for the microwave and not the oven, but I think right around the time we made the conversion from oven to microwave, we stopped calling them “TV dinners” and started calling them “frozen dinners.” So something about TV DINNER and “microwave” just feels wrong to me.
Alas, this grid sports too many sub-par entries like UPSA, A BLUR, ENTO, RIA, TRA, EEN, DOB, NOTER, LOPER, TILT-A, and perhaps the worst offender, AAAA. I’m not even including the entry that seems to bug just me and no one else, BOAC. Others might add IRANI to the list, but I’ve used it before, so I’m not about to diss it here.
To end on a good note, I liked how THROE, the [Pain spasm], intersects the THROW in THROW A KISS. It’s kinda in-your-face, right?
Favorite entry = HAYWIRE, or [Berserk]. Favorite clue = [Motion approval] for YEA.
Jack McInturff’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Gareth’s write-up
Jack McInturff uses the ole 3×1 black square trick to fit 14′s into rows 3 and 13, making his 14 letter revealer workable. Unsurprisingly, I haven’t heard of HOOPSFORTHETROOPS, though it elegantly demonstrates his letter change them of TR to H. It sounds a lot like the militarising propaganda that used to exist in Apartheid/National Service era South Africa if you ask me…
Wacky theme answer quality seemed above-average today:
- [Hide cyberspace crimes], COVERONES(H/TR)ACKS. Could also have used “your”, but “ones” is so much kinder on the crossing fill! Like the image this one creates in any case!
- [Amsterdam cops?],DUTCH(H/TR)EAT
- [Objects of poolside ogling?], SWIMMING(H/TR)UNKS. Get your own links…
- [Hayseed that doesn't tip?], CHEAP(H/TR)ICK. Cheap Trick is a late 70′s pop rock group.
Despite a dense theme, Mr. McInturff got in some great longer fill: BANTHEBOMB could be a seed in any themeless, plus we have FLAMBEAU, the retro MOUSEPAD (the only person I know who still uses one is in their 70′s…) as well as ARTDECO clued in a meta way as [Like the L.A. Times building].
- [Styptic stuff], ALUM. Alums are sulphate salts, and they have coagulating properties.
- ["Where ___": 1996 Beck hit], ITSAT. I expect this clue wasn’t Mr. McInturff’s for some reason.
- [Offer to one who's been recently blessed?], TISSUE. I thought Americans called them “kleenices” exclusively…
- [Seals's partner], CROFTS. Seals and Crofts – another 70′s pop rock reference.
I’m gonna make it 3.75 stars: well-executed, typical Friday theme, and a solid grid.