Sam Donaldson’s New York Times crossword
I don’t get it. I understand the theme, but I don’t get how I finished this puzzle faster than most Wednesday puzzles despite some rough fill. First up, the theme is a straightforward “first word of the phrase can follow ___”:
- 19a. [Department store superevent], CLEARANCE SALE. I didn’t know superevent was a word.
- 32a. [Like photographable copy], CAMERA-READY.
- 43a. [Part of a stack at a bank], DEPOSIT SLIP.
- 58a. ["These allegations are completely false!," e.g.], BLANKET DENIAL. As when you are accused by a bed partner of hogging the covers.
- 66a. [Mall cop's job ... or a word that can precede the starts of 19-, 32-, 43- and 58-Across], SECURITY. Security clearance, security camera, security deposit, security blanket.
Alas, that rough fill. A HEAP, partials A BENT and I THEE, who-ever-uses-that ADRIP ([Sopping wet]), and the variant AMUCK? 56d: [Japanese colonel in "The Bridge on the River Kwai"], SAITO?? PIU AMAS CVI NEET ERO? Oh, it bums me out to find all these sharing space in a single puzzle—a tear goes adrip from my eye. The stacked 8s astride the theme 13s looked better in the empty grid.
‘Tis true, not all the fill is woeful. MOVIE BUFF, GORE VIDAL, I’M FINE, and ON FOOT are all appealing. But I fear that they cannot offset all the pieces I didn’t like.
For Sam’s puzzle today, 2.75 stars. I can’t help thinking that if Sam had blogged this puzzle rather than constructing it, he would also have been wishing for smoother fill. (For Sam as a person, 5 stars.)
(Edited to add: Rumor has it that Sam submitted this puzzle four years ago. I kind of suspected this was an early effort, because Sam’s more recent work has been infinitely more polished on the fill front.)
Howard Barkin’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Howard! Howard Barkin! Congrats on your debut puzzle. In the “write what you know” category, proud papa Howard brings us a baby’s nursery theme:
- 20a. [*"Jolene" singer], DOLLY PARTON. Not sure if “doll” or “dolly” is the intended first part of the answer.
- 50a. [*Rush hour jam spots], BOTTLENECKS.
- 11d. [*Residence in a park, often], MOBILE HOME.
- 29d. [*Rickety wheels], RATTLETRAP.
- 37a. [Illicit exam aids, and places where the first parts of the answers to starred clues can be found], CRIBS.
There’s also 61a: [Word heard in 37-Across], MAMA. Its symmetrical partner is WIPE, which of course is thematic but crossword editors don’t want to talk about baby poop in the puzzle.
You are probably wondering where Gareth’s review is. His entire city is having a power outage that may last for 8 hours. That’s one big blackout! We hope to have Gareth back on Friday for a “VHI Behind the Music” treatment of his own LA Times puzzle.
- 51d. [Hourglass figure?], TIME.
- 53d. [Beef, or a fish], CARP.
The fill is mighty smooth for a new constructor. We’ve got PHOTOSHOP and PITA CHIPS, both terrific entries, along with SMIDGE, CLOBBER, DEEPAK, SIX AM, TORNADO, and STYX/SPEX (my new glasses are actually from a business called Spex). On the down side, we also have APER and RESAW, neither of which is beyond the pale in daily crosswords but both are words I would never say in conversation.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well crossword, “Dark Points”
Well, it’s not a perfect PENTAGRAM, is it? But the circled squares can’t be in any random square that fits the drawing, they have to be in the center of the five -gram theme answers:
- 5a. [Prefix with "gram," in medical imaginG], ANGIO.
- 24a. [Prefix with "gram" for a darkroom-created piC], PHOTO. More commonly known as a photograph.
- 26a. [Prefix with "gram" for sharing shots on the weB], INSTA. Interestingly, they didn’t go with “Instagraph.”
- 47a. [Prefix that, with "gram," refers to a crossword using every letter of the alphabeT], PAN. I see a Q, Z, X, J, and K in this puzzle. It might well be a pangram.
- 48a. [Prefix that, with "gram," describes names like Vivian Darkbloom and Mr. Mojo RisiN'], ANA. Vladimir Nabokov, Jim Morrison.
- 37a. [Shape formed by connecting the circled letters in alphabetical order, plus one more connection back to A], PENTAGRAM.
You know how some records back in the day were said to have secret Satanic messages if you played the record backwards? The final letter of every clue, when read together in backwards order, spell “Warning: The crossword puzzle that you are solving might contain a hidden backward message.” I leave it as an exercise for the reader to tease out any secret Satanic message contained within the hidden backward message. (Don’t spend too much time on that.)
Tops in fill: SNOOKI, IN A HURRY, SWAT TEAM, SLIM JIM, ADAWARE, the outdated POCKET PC, TANZANIA, and the never-heard-of-it-but-it’s-a-cool-name SKYTRAX.
I was not particularly bewitched by the connect-the-dots or clue-gimmick aspects of the puzzle. At least doing the clue acrostic gambit in double reverse (backwards order and using the last letters, not the first) switches up the usual clue acrostic process. If this were a Matt Gaffney meta, those final letters wouldn’t have been capitalized and nothing would have pointed us towards them—how many people would spot the hidden message then?