David Kahn’s New York Times crossword, “Simply Put”
This is an odd theme, isn’t it? LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP is expanded into an overlong, stilted rewording that occupies 103 squares and five grid-spanning entries: POTENTIAL CONSEQUENCES / OF A PLAN OR DECISION ONE / CANNOT REVERSE SHOULD BE / HEEDED PRIOR TO THE TIME / AN ACTION IS EFFECTUATED. Well! The “a plan or decision” feels a tad “What other word can I add here to make the entry length work?” to me. And I don’t know about “heeding the potential consequences”; what exactly does that mean? And I have never once “effectuated an action.” I did not find the theme to be entertaining or whimsical, though your mileage may vary.
Now, the long fill in this grid is a bright spot. TABLE-HOPS and the LITTLE TRAMP are particularly nice. But the pluralization of CLUB SODAS makes me wonder how many club sodas there are. Do we have a Coke vs. Pepsi sort of rivalry in club soda land? Meanwhile, most of the short and mid-length fill is unexceptional.
73a: [Full of animal fat], 5 letters? If you didn’t have any of the first four letters in place already when you first saw this clue, I’m pretty sure you assumed the answer was LARDY. But no! It is SUETY. This word does appear as an inflected adjective in the main dictionary entry for “suet,” but I am challenged to think of an occasion to use the word SUETY. I can think of LARDY uses, sure.
2.5 stars from me. The theme plays like a quote theme–meaning it’s a long slog of working the crossings to put the theme answers together. But the typical quote theme will have that one “aha” moment at the end. In this one, the ending felt as anticlimactic as that “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine” bit in A Christmas Story. Roughly a fifth of the grid is handed over to a stilted, long blah. The theme concept might play better if you had multiple adages involved–you could have a boring, stilted rewording of an adage in the clues, and the punchy adage itself in the grid. You’ve seen word puzzles like that, right? Some rewording of “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” and you have to guess the original adage? A single adage, splayed all over the grid, doesn’t have enough punch to carry a Sunday puzzle.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “Baseball Trades”
I don’t think I understand all of the theme entries here. I get the basic gist—take a word that is also a Major League Baseball team member and swap it for another team’s word.
- 22a. [Forger of paintings?], THE ARTFUL PIRATE. Swaps out from “the Artful Dodger.”
- 29a. [One who's happy just to be at sea, despite being constantly seasick?], THE JOLLY GREEN MARINER (Giant). I like this one.
- 49a. [Sight that made Jack do a double-take at the top of the beanstalk?], SIAMESE GIANTS (Twins). As in conjoined twin giants. This is the only one with a plural team name.
- 64a. [What walking under a bird might get you?], TOUCHED BY AN ORIOLE (Angel). Or, more likely, pooped on.
- 84a. [Spokesperson for Kellogg's Maizeflakes?], TONY THE INDIAN (Tiger).
- 102a. [Movie about sports stars who don't use deodorant?], LONELY ARE THE ATHLETIC. I need to Google “lonely are the” to figure out the source here. Also a little off-putting because they’re more commonly called “the A’s” than “the Athletics,” it would seem. Lonely Are the Brave is a Western from 1962 with a startlingly grim outlook, said filmmaker Alex Cox in the NY Times. Good article.
- 114a. [Least popular job at the circus?], THE TIGER CLIPPER. Oh! This one just dawned on me. The Yankee Clipper, an actual baseball reference. DiMaggio’s nickname, wasn’t it? Among other things.
Things that gave me pause while solving:
- 2d. [Still standing, in a way], UNHIT. As in … I dunno, a bowling pin? That’ll work.
- 98d. [Of an 87 Across ailment], 87a being EAR, OTITIC. The adjectival form of otitis? I do not need this word, no, sir.
- 101d. ["How now, ___?" (Shak.)], OLD LAD. Oxymoron!
- 14d. [Term for the dropping of an initial letter, as in "possum"], APHERESIS. Huh! I didn’t know that. I’ve heard of plasmapheresis, which must share a word root but not much else.
- 123a. [Least amount?], ONE CENT. I wanted ONE IOTA.
- 12d. [Strengthen anew, as muscles], RETONE. This one traveled with UNHIT from the Land of Roll-Your-Own Words. It is a bleak and unforgiving land, where OATINESS is the overwhelming sense.
- 70d. [Intro to metry], OPTO. Optometry.
Highlights in the fill include ATTILA THE / HUN, Scrabbly JUJITSU, BIG TO-DO, and THE GYM. I also liked learning APHERESIS, which ranks right up there with tmesis (examples: a whole nother story, abso-effing-lutely).
Gail Grabowski’s syndicated Sunday Los Angeles Times crossword, “Neon Lightness”
The theme entries are all made by inserting NE—the letters in the chemical symbol for neon—into a familiar phrase:
- 27a. [Moniker on a box of pasta?], PENNE NAME.
- 29a. [Gala for players of small pianos?], SPINET BALL.
- 48a. [Kangaroo from a lab?], CLONED HOPPER.
- 65a. [IQ psychologist in the crib?], TINY BINET.
- 82a. [Player asleep on the sidelines?], PRONE ATHLETE.
- 101a. [Dollhouse wicker chair craftsman?], MODEL CANER.
- 104a. [Reality show judge in a pouch?], PANEL JOEY.
- 36d. [Cops' disagreement?], FINEST FIGHT.
- 40d. ["No military bigwigs allowed"?], BRASS BANNED. I like this one, as it doesn’t change its pronunciation at all and because it reminds me of my college’s Pep Banned group.
One of the first Down answers suggests the reverse theme, knocking out the neon. 4d: [Series of misses] clues PHONE TAG (great answer, that) and makes me think of PHO TAG, [Playground game played for Vietnamese soup?].
Seven more clues from elsewhere in the puzzle:
- 56a. [Stomach creation], PEPSIN. This is your main digestive enzyme. Now I’m thinking of a theme with PEPSIN COLA in it. [Soft drink that digests itself?], anyone?
- 77a. [Iago kills her in Act V], EMILIA. I should probably read Othello one of these … decades.
- 84d. [Where to see rows of booths], TOLL ROAD. I see staffed toll booths in Florida, but I haven’t seen them for years in Illinois. We have the baskets to throw a zillion coins into, and we have the I-Pass lanes you just drive straight through.
- 37a. [Strange duck], WEIRDO. You’ve been doing crosswords too long when that clue makes you think, “Smew? Teal? Merganser?”
- 10d. [Took off to team up], ELOPED. For marriage, not for forming a soccer team.
- 99d. [Butter-yielding bean], CACAO. Clue makes you think of butter beans, no? Mmm, chocolate.
- 110a. [Cold explosion?], ACHOO. Not cold fusion.
The theme answers didn’t bring me as much amusement as I always hope for from letter-change/drop/add themes. This seems to be a regular remark here. Am I expecting too much from these themes? I just want the occasional giggle to be induced. With the exception of UTAH JAZZ and the aforementioned PHONE TAG, the fill did not stand out. 3.25 stars.
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Other than the two zees found in [Portland NBAers, familiarly] (BLAZERS) and [Ken ___, US Secretary of the Interior] (SALAZAR), there’s not much to say about today’s “Sunday Challenge.”
I just found too many low-Scrabble value letters in the grid–I’m looking at you PRECEDENTS, SLINGSHOTS, SHARPENER, RETURNEES, TÊTE-À-TÊTE, SPARE TIRE, DISTRESSING and BEST SELLING. Other than the zees, I was somewhat hoping the answer to [Ricky Martin, notably] might have to do with his 2010 revelation that he is gay, but we just get LATINO instead. The term ALLOTROPE ([One of two or more existing forms of an element]) was new to me–after I got it with the crossing entries, I imagined a better clue might be [What a European might say when greeting a figure of speech?].
Happy Mother’s Day, y’all! Off to visit mine later today.
Karen M. Tracey’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 162″—Janie’s review
Hey, puzzle fans—am here with a look at Karen’s WaPo, a puzzle I liked and often admired, but never, I confess, fully warmed up to. A lot of you know I have a background as a lyricist—and for the last hundred years or so I’ve been a member of the BMI/Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop. I also had the privilege of being in the room for the last two years of Lehman’s life. When a strong, proven writer presented a song that was well-crafted and hit all the marks but never fully satisfied, Lehman would preface his comments by saying, “That was a perfectly wonderful song.” Karen’s puzzle today felt like the cruciverbal counterpart. Is it an inferior, unworthy creation? Let me be clear: not by a long shot!! When I’m fooled, because [Inability to distinguish different pitches] doesn’t refer to (a six-letter variation on) some shortcoming of the inept umpire but takes me instead to ASONIA, I have to smile. Good clue/fill combo.
Ditto [Tank top?] and GUN TURRET, [Get trashed] and GO TO WASTE, [Block party block] and BRIQUETTE, [Blood relative] and GORE. One of the reasons I like that last one is that there’s no question mark (coulda been KITH or [and, yes, I know this is wrong, but it was my first thought] SERA). (Makes me wonder why we do see one in [Support group?] for STAFF…) Amidst the predominantly straight-forward clues today, these make me sit up. I think my fave clue/fill combo, for being so evocative, would have to be [Ringside seat locale] and FRONT ROW. Bellows, anyone?
The marquee entries just kinda missed the mark, however. Could just be me, but my ear is more attuned to TRICK QUESTION rather than TRICKY QUESTION. And I was less than taken with the indefinite article in the (otherwise vivid) phrase CHAINED TO A DESK. When I’m [Overwhelmed with paperwork...], I’m chained to a specific desk: my desk. Or the desk. One is chained to one’s desk. I feel certain the argument could made for “a”—hey, it’s in the puzzle!—but it still doesn’t quite sing for me.
And (in a puzzle with a lotta proper names…) if I didn’t take to the run of ‘em occupying 1-, 2- and 3-Down (AGATHA, GUERIN and ENRICO [even if they do cross AEROSMITH]), I did appreciate the range of AEROnautic references Karen gave us in the NE and SW—from the humble but history-rich AUTOGIRO to the sleek NOSE CONE that lets a rocket cut through outer space. Now that I look more carefully, I see that the NW’s land-based [Tank top?] is balanced by the SE’s ONE-MASTED cutter (where AYES [Nautical agreements] must surely be heard). Whether it’s there by design or serendipity, I got a lotta love for the way this land-sea-air-and-space tetrad anchors the puzzle’s four corners. And on that high note, Happy Mothers Day—and adios ’til next month!
Henry Hook’s CRooked crossword, “Hooked” — pannonica’s write-up
I have to admit it, this puzzle’s theme has eluded me. Some people have suggested that crosswords that don’t explain what the theme is should be called “hookers,” after Henry Hook—and this one of his lacks a revealer—but beyond that, I’m frankly lost.
In lieu of a discussion of whatever theme is present, if in fact there is one, I’ll explore some of the puzzle’s highlights.
- 12a [Hazards for Wile E. Coyote] are CACTI, but in truth it’s potentially anything he interacts with.
- 23d ["Momma" cartoonist Lazarus] MELL. What is it with those syndicated cartoonists? They seem to have a perversion about adding or dropping letters from their first names. Hagar the Horrible’s Dik Browne, The Family Circus’ Bil Keane …
- 84a [UFO-watching org.] SETI. I don’t think so; the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence project is mostly occupied with electromagnetic radiation monitoring and the like, with a few optical searches for distant laser signalling. Wikipedia mentions in its entry: “The search for extraterrestrial intelligence is not an assertion that extraterrestrial intelligence exists or are visiting Earth, and conflating the two can be seen as a straw man argument. There is an effort to distinguish the SETI projects from UFOlogy, the study of UFOs, which many consider to be pseudoscience. In Skeptical Inquirer, Mark Moldwin argued that the important differences between the two projects were the acceptance of SETI by the mainstream scientific community and that ‘[t]he methodology of SETI leads to useful scientific results even in the absence of discovery of alien life.’” However, the cross-referencing clue 56d [Subject for 84-Across] ALIEN remains valid.
- 45d [Paris is there] TEXAS.
- 25a [Rice and Curry] TIMS. Liked this because it’s something I’ve considered often. Disappointingly, they seem never to have collaborated on a project. I know, because I’ve checked. More than once.
- 29d [Wise-sounding characters?] WYES. This one completely snookered me; I’m going to call it a “purloined letter clue.”
- 55a [City served by El Alto International Airport] LA PAZ, Bolivia. Alto means “high” in Spanish, La Paz is the highest seat of government city in the world (3,640 m / 11,942 ft).
- Interesting long fill: EXONERATE, BULL MOOSE, RETRENCH, FANCYING. There may have been some other long acrosses.
- Great, pithy quote at 1-across: ["Include __": Samuel Goldwyn] ME OUT. The presence of [Lash __ (attack verbally)] OUT AT (72d) later diminished my enjoyment of the former, alas.
- Speaking of alas, this grid contains two of the crosswordesiest four-letter crosswordese entries you’re likely to see: 45d [Mine entrance] ADIT and 103d [Old 1/6 drachma coin] OBOL. Oh boy.
- Loved the clue for 61a PAYOLA: [Money under the turntable?].
- Speaking of which, loved the sub rosa implied criticism in 17a [Mononymous New Age musician] YANNI. It’s easy enough—too easy—to read that as “monotonous,” and you can bet your moustache and/or gossamer shirt that that was intentional.
- 5d [Can makeup] TIN. Not for a long time, as far as I know.
- Toughest proper nouns: 35d ["Peyton Place" actress Diane] VARSI, 73a [City of western Kansas] LAKIN; these were among my final fill-ins.
Good but mysterious puzzle.