Mark Bickham’s New York Times crossword
If this were a CrosSynergy or Newsday puzzle, it would have a title like “TNT” and be able to dispense with the somewhat-off-base BANG revealer (66a. [Sound suggested by the first letters of the words in 17-, 26-, 44- and 58-Across]). Those four answers have T.N.T. initials:
- 17a. ["It just can't be predicted"], THERE’S NO TELLING.
- 26a. ["False!"], THAT’S NOT TRUE.
- 44a. ["Later"], TILL NEXT TIME.
- 58a. [Work containing 21 epistles], THE NEW TESTAMENT.
Whoosh! That was the sound of my head spinning at the discordant note struck by the fourth theme answer. Three spoken phrases clued with quoted phrases and … the New Testament. If the other three weren’t so, so similar in their feeling, 58a wouldn’t be so jarring.
As with yesterday’s NYT (are you seeing a trend here?), I was disappointed by the fill. While the four longest Down answers are great (SALES TARGET, THE DOORS, GUESS WHO, STAFF LOUNGE), so many other entries are partials (AM OF, I SEE A), foreign words/phrases (SES, BUENO, A MOI), awkward word forms or phrases (ONS, -UAL, OYS, I’M HIP, RIOS, RUER, PEN IN), abbreviations (NT WT—which is far more often seen as “net wt.” on packaging), or crosswordese (ERNE, ELIHU). I could overlook a puzzle’s inclusion of a handful of answers like these, but this just felt like too many undesirables.
2.5 stars from me.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “For Newbies” – Dave Sullivan’s review
So constructor Martin Ashwood-Smith claims today’s CrosSynergy / WaPo puzzle is “for newbies.” Do you agree? The idea is to find four phrases that have a synonym for newbie, namely TYRO, hidden within:
- ["Saturday Night" singers of 1975] are The BAY CITY ROLLERS. I read that this “tartan teen sensation” from Edinburgh got their name by throwing a dart at a map of the US and seeing it land near Bay City, Michigan.
- [Dean Martin hosted many] aren’t cocktail parties as I first thought, but CELEBRITY ROASTS, instead.
- [Packing component] clues STY ROFOAM PEANUT. A la Lays Potato Chips, can you just have one?
- [Areas on many campuses] is FRATERNITY ROWS. Funny, I’d like to see this singular and the prior entry plural, but then we’d have a 16 and 13 instead of the requisite 15 over 14.
Stacking those 14s and 15s right over each other is a master stroke and demonstrates Martin’s comfort with the themeless stacks he is well-known for. My FAVE entry was the long YAKETY YAK, not to be confused with the theme song to the Benny Hill Show, Yakety Sax. I’m not as pleased to see the one-ZSA ZSA, so that would be my UNFAVE today.
Gareth Bain’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Gareth and editor Rich Norris make use of circled squares, which are not too commonly seen in the LA Times puzzle, to make the theme more obvious. 35a: [X Games activities, and, in a way, what can be found in this puzzle's circles] clues EXTREME SPORTS, and there are names of sports to be found in the circled squares at the ends (extremes) of each theme answer:
- 17a. [For example, to Juan], POR EJEMPLO. Polo.
- 25a. [Idol worshipped in Exodus], GOLDEN CALF. Golf.
- 49a. [Casserole holder, perhaps], SQUARE DISH. Squash, the only sport that isn’t a 4-letter word split 2/2 in this theme.
- 58a. [Armchair quarterback's speed?], SUPER SLO-MO. Sumo. Great clue and great entry.
No complaints about this theme. I like the mixed bag of theme phrases, each one entirely unrelated to the other three.
Lots and lot of sparkle in the fill—we enjoy a SMOOTHIE with KARL MARX as well as combining OPRAH with Dr. PHIL, BR’ER Rabbit crossing that patch of BRIARS, Miss MARPLE and JIHADS, TWO ON ONE.
Favorite clue: 39d. [Pro pitcher?], SALESMAN.
There were a few grumbly bits in the fill, but they were not so noticeable because (a) there weren’t a ton of them and (b) the theme and the sparkle provided enough value to more than offset the occasional wan answer.
I don’t love 50d. ["__ Dream": Wagner aria], ELSA’S. But I saw Fast & Furious 6 last weekend, and I was wishing that Elsa Pataky’s part had been bigger. Does a supporting part in the last two movies in a massively successful franchise make her a solid cluing option for ELSA? She’s also married to Thor portrayer Chris Hemsworth.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well crossword, “Doubly Fun”
Reead the title as “double-E fun” and you’ve got the theme idea: double an E to change a word into two words:
- 17a. [TV show about a Trojan War hero's early years as a mobster?], ACHILLES: TEEN DON.
- 26a. [Director who had to have "Life of Pi" explained to him over and over before he agreed to adapt it?], OBTUSE ANG LEE.
- 45a. [Clique of cows who totally knew about this patch of grass before anyone else?], HIP STEER BAND.
- 59a. [Particularly pisslike cheap drinks?], GOLDEN SLUM BEERS.
Not an A+ theme, but the humor in the theme answers and clues keeps it at an A-, at least.
Top fill: SLY STONE, OMAR EPPS, U.S. HISTORY, PITA BREAD, FRISBEE, POBOY, BSED, F WORD.
- 25d. ["Yeah, obviously"], DER. We would also have accepted DUH and DOY, along with the masculine German definite article.
- 48d. [Like some Bach works], FUGAL.
- 26d. [Electrical impedance units], OHMS. I fill this in with a crosswordese reflex, but if you asked me to explain exactly what all this means … well, it’s been a long time since I took physics.
- 34d. [Nabokov novel about a Russian literature teacher], PNIN. This one I know primarily from crosswords.
- 18d. [Lioness profiled in the book "Born Free"], ELSA. Hoary crosswordese to me. How many people under the age of 50 have any non-crossword-derived familiarity with this? See also: My ELSA Pataky paragraph in the LA Times write-up.