Tip for online/.puz solvers of the Sunday NYT crossword: When keying in your solution, remember this: “Across is the boss.” If you solve on paper, disregard this.
It’s the beginning of June! That means Patrick Blindauer has posted another crossword at his website. Matt Gaffney will review it Sunday night (in the Monday post), so get yourself caught up.
If you enjoy variety cryptic crosswords (the sort that Cox and Rathvon publish once a month in the Wall Street Journal) and bemoan the fact that the only variety cryptic books out there tend to be reprints of old puzzles, you’re in luck. Roger Wolff, who self-published a 5-star book of variety cryptics a year ago, has put together a terrific team for a Kickstarter project. The Cryptic All-Stars project promises 45 variety cryptics from Henry Hook, Trip Payne, Bob Stigger, Mike Selinker, David Ellis Dickerson, Joshua Kosman, Kevin Wald, Mark Gottlieb, Roy Leban, Mark Halpin, Hayley Gold, and Roger Wolff. As with all Kickstarter ventures, the project will move forward only if the fund-raising goal is met. I’d like to get the book this winter, so please join me in sponsoring the project!
Merl Reagle’s syndicated crossword, “Swapping Spree”
The theme this week is swapped letters: A pair of letters within a familiar phrase change places and the resulting phrase is clued accordingly. There’s no particular focus to the sorts of phrases included (i.e., they’re not all movie titles, or verb phrases, or anything specific).
- 23a. [Typeface of choice on "The Simpsons"?], THE HOMER FONT. The home front.
- 25a. [Pot residue after making frijoles?], BEAN CRUD. Bean curd.
- 33a. [Stooges short about a balloon race?], TWITS IN THE WIND. Twist in the wind.
- 41a. [Disease that seems to occur only at the Edward Scissorhands dairy?], SCARED COW. Ha! Sacred cow.
- 53a. [Book subtitled "Sarah Palin's Makeup Tips"?], GOING ROUGE. Going Rogue.
- 61a. [Explanation at a Hawaiian gift shop?], THAT’S A PACK OF LEIS. “That’s a pack of lies.”
- 73a. ["Hey, I'm not afraid of commitment; I just don't care," for example?], THE LOUT’S POSITION. The lotus position. This one was the hardest for me to figure out.
- 88a. [Wool?], COAT OF RAMS. Coat of arms.
- 96a, 103a. [With 103 Across, a backstage Dollywood sign?], RESTROOMS / FOR PARTONS ONLY. Restrooms for patrons only. I dunno. Dolly seems too down to earth for that.
- 119a. [How King Kong orders bananas at restaurants?], A LA CRATE. A la carte.
- 121a. [One who can't help being a noodge?], MUST-NAG SALLY. Mustang Sally. Uh, no one would ever be called “must-nag” anything.
The toughest section to unravel crossed 73a. 76d: [Having a gentle glow] clues LAMBENT, not a very common word. Not only does its L cross THE LOUT’S POSITION but its B is shared by 94a: [Piece shaped for a particular cutting job], TOOL BIT—and that’s not really a common term, either.
The 1a/4d crossing might prove a little challenging for solvers, too: 1a. [San Diego air station whose pilots inspired "Top Gun"], MIRAMAR crosses 4d. [Famed Granada palace], ALHAMBRA. Not to mention 111a. [Saab or Tahari of fashion], ELIE, crossing 105d. [Ranchero's rope] right at the letter you must have the crossing for (because both REATA and RIATA are valid—this time it’s RIATA).
I might’ve preferred this puzzle with 6 to 10 theme answers instead of 12, with more leeway for smoother fill. 3.25 stars.
Elizabeth Gorski’s New York Times crossword, “Stir Crazy”
Neat theme. The 116a: [Alice Walker novel ... or a hint to 12 squares in this puzzle] is THE COLOR PURPLE, and what do you stir together to make purple? You mix RED and BLUE, which are found in each rebus square, each color applying in one direction. I’ve entered the Across colors into the rebus squares and Black Ink declared that to be wrong; perhaps the intended solution was just the first letter of the Across answer?
The rebus squares are not found in symmetrical spots or even symmetrical entry spots. This may make it a little harder to figure out where a RED or BLUE is needed, but the fill is so much better than you’d expect with a dozen rebus squares. I approve of the flexible approach to laying out the theme since I loathe puzzles with woeful compromises in fill.
Here are the purple spots:
- 22a. [Chattered on and on and on], TALKED A BLUE STREAK (meant to fill in BLUE rather than RED here; filled in the Down color a few times) crosses 8d. [Flubbed it], ERRED.
- 35a. [Extremely exasperated], BLUE IN THE FACE intersects 35d. [Exchange for cash], REDEEM.
- 38a. [1990 Steve Martin/Rick Moranis comedy], MY BLUE HEAVEN meets 27d. [Prepared, as apples for baking], CORED.
- 44a. [Aqua], SEA BLUE crosses 45d. [Snoopy's archenemy], RED BARON. Interesting that SEARED would also work.
- 61a. [Final exam handout], BLUE BOOK runs through 37d. [Likely to win], FAVORED.
- 62a. [Formal military attire], DRESS BLUES crosses 51d. [Tatters], SHREDS.
- 65a. [Phase associated with Picasso's "The Old Guitarist"], BLUE PERIOD meets 65d. [Super-popular], RED-HOT.
- 86a. [Brutal castle dweller in folk tales], BLUEBEARD assails 86d. [Visibly embarrassed], RED AS A BEET. Bluebeard lived in a castle? I would’ve thought he was more piratical.
- 88a. [Thomas Gainsborough masterpiece, with "The"], BLUE BOY crosses 70d. [Matched (up)], PAIRED.
- 90a. [1929 Ethel Waters hit whose title is a question], AM I BLUE intersects 84d. [Belief system], CREDO.
- 102a. [One of four items worn by a bride, traditionally], SOMETHING BLUE meets 83d. [Nickname for Secretariat], BIG RED. I know the chewing gum and, I think, the Cornell team, but not the horse’s nickname.
- 114a. [Navy pilot putting on a show], BLUE ANGEL flies through 98d. [Strengthened], SHORED UP. Except not this year—budget sequestration has forced the military to cancel its expensive promotional exhibitions.
The RED answers that just use the letter R-E-D (as in PAIRED or REDEEM) are boring, but all the phrases in which BLUE and RED mean the color are lively. Liz gooses up the fill further with things like these:
- 1a. ["You Send Me" singer], SAM COOKE. Here’s a live recording.
- 55a. [Title song of a 1970 Van Morrison album], MOONDANCE. I like that song too.
- 14d. [Crummy advice], BUM STEER.
- 21d. [Sleuth, in slang], GUMSHOE. Makes up for 85a. [Sleuth, in slang], TEC.
- 56d. ["Fuggedaboutit!"], NO CAN DO.
- 96d. [Relentless fighter], PIT BULL.
- 94d. [Skating move], TOE LOOP.
While looking through the grid for these, I did spot a number of short answers that are utterly blah (APOS, A PEA, IRAE, ELHI), but the rebus challenge kept my mind focused elsewhere when I was solving. The color-combo theme played out with a degree of elegance, and the Alice Walker novel ties it all together beautifully. 4.33 stars.
Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “A Break in the Action” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Very smooth 72-word themeless from constructor Doug Peterson today, anchored by two 15-letter across entries which bound an 11-letter down entry.
- [Mint product redesigned in 2004, 2005, and 2006] wasn’t TIC-TACS, but the JEFFERSON NICKEL instead. So why all the changes? Did he think the picture made him look fat?
- [Bombshell] had me thinking of attractive women, but this instead was BOLT FROM THE BLUE. My ear wants an A at the beginning of that phrase.
- A beautiful crossing down entry, [Persian poet known for his quatrains] was OMAR KHAYYAM. No relation to the man “who bought the company,” Victor Kiam of Remington razors, but I heard a rare first edition of quatrains he wrote is now available on eBay.
Other nice long entries were TEAMWORK, PANATELA, Clint Eastwood’s UNFORGIVEN and ADMISSIBLE (I struggle with my -ibles and -ables and had an -able there in first, before I corrected it with the IBMS crossing.) My FAVE clue was [Party popper] (not “pooper”) for CORK, very cute. My UNFAVE is BLIN for [Pancake served with caviar], which I more frequently see in the plural, BLINI, or perhaps BLINTZ as well?
Doug Peterson’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 165″- Sam Donaldson’s review
It’s Doug Peterson’s turn in the Post Puzzler rotation, and he offers us a nice 70/28 freestyle that covers just about everything a crossword can: pop culture, history, language, current events, science, music, and MR. T, the [Letter-shaped breakfast cereal of the mid-’80s]. Doug’s working overtime today, it seems, with both the Sunday Challenge and the Post Puzzler. I think he’s saving up for a “Sanford and Son” lunchbox.
The Post Puzzler is chock full o’ good entries and clues, but here are the ones that stood out for me:
- I cringed when I read [Diva Melba]. Curse you, opera! Turns out the diva in question is NELLIE Melba. Wikipedia says she was “the first Australian to achieve international recognition as a classical musician.” Her career continued until she caught a fever in Egypt. Following that, she was, er, toast.
- I hate myself when I misread clues. I read [Fiji rival] as [Fuji rival], and I just couldn’t come up with another film brand that fit with the few crossings I had in place. Once I realized what the clue really wanted, a water brand, DASANI came to me pretty quickly. (I live in Atlanta, and Dasani is a Coca-Cola product. You kind of see a lot it around these parts.)
- Five-letter word, starts with D, ends with S, and the clue is [Casino chips, e.g.]. I figured the answer was DEBTS, as chips are simply a cash substitute. To the extent they represent a right to payment of cash, DEBTS seemed to me a suitable answer. Classic case of over-thinking; the answer was DISKS.
- I’ve never heard of Jose OLE, which the clue tells me is a [(frozen food brand)]. Perusing their products online, I’m surprised I haven’t seen them before. The guy in the logo looks familiar, though.
- [Tag preceder, overseas] is a fun clue for GUTEN, as I’m sure most solvers, like me, initially read the clue’s first word to rhyme with “stag,” not “slog.”
- Inner Beavis loved [Rubbed out] as a clue for ICED. He also liked [Horny commercial mascot] for ELSIE the cow.
- [Longtime Lucci role] refers to Susan Lucci’s ongoing stint in pro wrestling as The Undertaker’s brother, KANE.
- I’m not sure that I’ve heard of a LIBERTY CAP, the term for [Headwear during the French Revolution].
- HARDTACK is indeed a [Sea biscuit (or Seabiscuit’s sire)]. Wikipedia has this to say about hardtack the cracker: Inexpensive and long-lasting, it was and is used for sustenance in the absence of perishable foods, commonly during long sea voyages and military campaigns. And yes, a horse named Hard Tack was the sire of legendary racer Seabiscuit. Thus the world makes a little more sense.
- [He had to wait a record 4,272 games as a player and manager before reaching the World Series] is a fun clue for Joe TORRE.
- I’ve never read any of the titles, but enough visits to local bookstores over the years helped SWEET VALLEY HIGH, the [Book series featuring identical twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield], come somewhat readily to mind.
- Talk about a great clue: [Simon and Garfunkel, once] has you thinking of all kinds of answers. FOLK DUO, CHART TOPPERS, that kind of thing. But not CLASSMATES. Fun trivia!
- Did anyone else have LECH WALESA as the [1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner]? All I had to go on was the W, so I thought it was a sure thing. But it proved to be ELIE WIESEL. Just not my Night, I guess.
All of that and the usual Doug-like smoothness made for a fun (if somewhat slow) solve.
Favorite entry = NO-LOOK PASS, the [Bit of court misdirection]. Whenever you see “court” in a clue, you know it’s referring either to a court of law or an athletic court, as in tennis or hoops. The trick is sussing out the correct meaning. Here’s a tip I can share from my own experience: it’s the never the one you think it is. Favorite clue = [Like some bulls] for PAPAL. Papal bulls, says my dictionary, are “formal proclamations issued by the pope.” And that’s no bull.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “Debt Forgiveness” — pannonica’s write-up
This would have appeared in mid-APRIL (68a [Filing month)], so its theme tangentially appropriate. Right there, across in the center, we learn the game: [Debt “forgiven” in eight theme entries] IOU. Accordingly, that trigram has been dropped from base phrases to create new ones.
- 23a. [Stand on buggies?] PRE-CAR’S POSITION (precarious). Pre-car? Really?
- 37a. [Fight over eyewear?] SPECS ARGUMENT (specious).
- 43a. [Damone's set of friends?] VIC’S CIRCLE (vicious).
- 54a. [Trite afterthought?] PS PLATITUDE (pious).
- 73a. [Routines of a he-man?] STUD’S HABITS (studious).
- 83a. [Jobs for Nugent?] TED’S CHORES (tedious).
- 88a. [Kicks for a cleric?] VICAR’S THRILLS (vicarious).
- 108a. [Alice's remark on a swearing duo?] “CURSER AND CURSER” (curiouser, curiouser). Of course this was my favorite; the original is a phrase I’m fond of … repeating.
Where to start? How to proceed? I think I’ll make like Saraswati. On the one hand, it’s beneficial for a mechanical theme to be subtractive rather than additive, as it’s less predictable for the solver—no “free” squares (cf. this past Friday’s WSJ, which added C-A-R to the beginning of each themer). On the other hand, the first one (23a) is the weakest and most specs (37a notwithstanding); wrong-footing at the outset is often off-putting. On the other other hand, there’s consistency—essentially unavoidable, I reckon—in that the original words with the IOUs in place are adjectives. On the other other other hand, many of the base phrases are willowy and don’t stand well on their own. On the other other other other hand, there’s a good attempt at variation despite the constraints; only (I say this with no sarcasm) five of the eight render the original x-iou-s adjectives as apostrophed possessives. The remaining three become a plural noun, and abbreviation, and—in the case of the all-ways anomalous CURSER and CURSER, the issue is sidestepped altogether. On the other other other other other hand, VIC Damone is a rather outdated entity, and is perhaps too similar to the naughty (and superior) VICAR entry.
How do these vars handfuls balance out? Quantitatively, I have no idea at all. However, my impression is that the good outweighs the bad, primarily because I’m willing to forgive the debt incurred by the sometimes weak original phrases, since they aren’t actually in the puzzle.
- Had a devil of a time finding the final letter in 21a [108-Down general]. The referenced answer is CSA, but even with REL–E in place, I was stumped. RELLE? The abbreviated crossing at 12d [Astr. bodies flying close to us] N–OS wasn’t much help. NFOS, somehow akin to UFOS? Eventually and after much staring—both at the grid and into space—it clicked: the less commonly configured RE LEE (usually it’s ROB. E or ROB’T E, or of course ROBERT E, or just LEE). And then these NEOS must be Near Earth Orbiters, or something close to that.
- 45a [Touchscreen countertop] IBAR. A valiant attempt to avoid the hoary construction beam clue, but is this enough of a phenomenon to be a viable alternative?
- Tricky but good clue: 57a [Classic car brand] is not a particular make or company, but the literal brand that is a MARQUE.
- Risky quasi-dupe with 14a [Name at Tara] (see the prevsly mentioned 21a and 108d) O’HARA and 107a [Gogol's Bulba] TARAS.
- ABDUCT and EXTORTS, some definitely sinister goings-on!
- Unfamiliars: 24d [Titan __ (corpse plant)] ARUM, 100a [Pianist Rudolf] SERKIN.
- Unofficial bonus material: 84d [Cause of some bouncing?] OVERDRAW. (Shouldn’t that be “overdraft”? “Overdrawal”? “Overdrawing”?) 69a [Bank statement debit] ATM FEE.
Low CAP Quotient™, though the grid is not without cruciverbal frass. Good puzzle, all told about average.
Mark Bickham’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Hair Majesty”
The name of the game is hairSTYLEs, which appear at the beginning of each theme answer:
- 24a. [Leader of the Wild Bunch gang], BUTCH CASSIDY. Not sure what specific hairstyle this is. Just short overall?
- 26a. [Plush floor covering], SHAG CARPET. A ’70s classic.
- 53a. [Greet from a distance], WAVE HELLO. Not sure what the wave is. Just generic wavy hair? An old-fashioned “permanent wave”?
- 93a. [Dreaded musician?], BOB MARLEY. No, no, no. When another theme answer starts with DREADS, don’t put Marley’s dreadlocks in his clue.
- 118a. [Low-altitude delivery agent], CROP DUSTER. Again, not sure that crop is a specific hairstyle. Maybe the theme is just hair-related words, including specific hairstyles and other hair-related terms? That’s less elegant than a tighter all-hairstyles concept.
- 122a. [Fetal metaphor], BUN IN THE OVEN. [Fetal metaphor] is my favorite clue in this whole puzzle. It’s almost surreal, and yet it isn’t.
- 4d. [Hopes it never happens], DREADS THE DAY. Not sure that “dreads the day” can stand alone like this.
- 17d. [One way to decide], FLIP A COIN. Like Marlo Thomas’s hairdo in That Girl.
- 40d. [Scenic Massachusetts route[, MOHAWK TRAIL. Never heard of it, but the hair theme helped me piece together the MOHAWK part.
- 68d. [Four Corners nickname], BEEHIVE STATE. That’s Utah.
- 84d. [Rams], BANGS INTO. I like bangs.
Eleven theme answers is on the high side. The constructor still reserved space for the two corner stacks of 8s, although most of the non-theme fill didn’t sing. My favorite bits of fill were CASANOVA, GOLD MINE, NOSE RING, BAGHDAD, and MCFLY.