Tip jar time! I want to put a good word in for my buddies Brendan Emmett Quigley and Matt Gaffney, who provide us with absolutely free, consistently excellent crosswords on their ad-free websites. The only money they make from their tireless ventures comes from their unobtrusive (no interruption to the stream of puzzles!) annual pledge drives. Brendan’s tip jar is open for a month, Matt’s for just one week. If you love their work and can spare a few bucks, show your love with a donation. Click their names to find the donation pages.
Elizabeth Gorski’s New York Times crossword, “Fast Track”
I began this puzzle with a skeptical eye roll when I read “Complete the puzzle. Then connect the circled letters alphabetically from A to S to get an image related to the puzzle’s theme.” on the NYT puzzle page. And then I solved the puzzle and discovered that while the horse-racing theme was a tad dry (as a factual/trivia sort of theme can be), the fill was quite good throughout and the connect-the-dots game drew a good likeness of a horse’s head. The zones with the circled letters ran the risk of being lousy, and yet they were solid. The four wide-open corners outside the horse head were also filled pretty well, with theme entries penetrating all four corners.
The theme is straightforward:
- 31a. [Like 64-Across, in sports annals], CELEBRATED.
- 64a. [95-Across who made the covers of Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated in the same week], SECRETARIAT. That was in 1973, after winning the first two races of the Triple Crown.
- 95a. [Time and Newsweek's cover description of 64-Across], SUPER HORSE. Newsweek went with SUPERHORSE as one word.
- 13d. [What 64-Across holds in the three legs of 46-Down], ALL-TIME RECORDS. Not a lot of speed records have endured for 40 years, and it’s nuts that this horse set records in all three races and not a single horse since has topped Secretariat in even one race.
- 37d. [Straightaway for 64-Across], HOME STRETCH.
- 46d. [What 64-Across won on June 9, 1973], THE TRIPLE CROWN.
- There’s also 90d. [Victory wear for 64-Across], WREATH.
Perfect anniversary puzzle, 40 years to the day, and with the puzzle coming out electronically right around the same time that the 2013 Belmont Stakes was being run.
For the record, I think the horse racing industry is terrible and largely abusive to horses, pouring “milkshakes” down their throats and injecting them with all manner of potent performance-enhancing drugs, and leading to the premature death of far too many horses. (Twenty-four deaths at racetracks each week, the NYT reported last year.)
Back to the crossword. One of my favorite answers, 15d: KEYTAR, [Hybrid musical instrument with a shoulder strap], crosses my least favorite, 38a: OMER, [Biblical dry measure]. Keytar! Other highlights include PET DOGS; CARPACCIO (bonus theme material!); TIRE MARKS; BURPS clued as 70a. [Pats on the back, maybe]; the JONESES, up with whom you must keep; the two [Dumbwaiter part]s, PULLEY and TRAY; HITHERTO (sorely underused word); “I PRESUME…”; and 97d. [Passport producer] as the clue for HONDA.
Mystery item: 85d. [Game involving matching cards on the table], CASINO. There’s a card game called casino?
4.5 stars. Not everybody loves a crossword that expects them to connect the dots afterwards, but if you’re going to have such a puzzle, you want it to be executed as well as this one and have it draw a picture that’s better than you could draw freehand.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “Product Placement”
Did you figure out the theme without peeking at the hint? Each of the 11 longest Across answers contains a 5- or 6-letter brand name. Hence the “Product Placement” title.
- 23a. [Watch this?], TELEVISION.
- 25a. [Subject of a famous benefit concert], BANGLADESH. Funny story: I was thinking to myself, “Wow, there have been so many famous benefit concerts in the last 30 years, this one wasn’t even on my radar.” So I asked my husband: “Subject of a famous benefit concert?” And he said “The one with George Harrison, for Bangladesh.” The first one, apparently, to put the weight of pop music into major fund-raising efforts.
- 32a. [Spoke up, finally?], LEARNED TO TALK. Somewhat arbitrary phrase by crossword-fill standards, perhaps.
- 51a. [The Oscars, e.g.], ANNUAL EVENTS. The Oscars are an annual event. I feel like the clue should list two different ones, like the Oscars and the Kentucky Derby.
- 60a. [Subject of the 16th Amendment], INCOME TAX.
- 69a. Truck stop offerings], PUBLIC RESTROOMS.
- 85a. [Historic Colorado mining town], LEADVILLE.
- 92a. [Kristen Johnston's role on "3rd Rock from the Sun"], SALLY SOLOMON.
- 106a. [It might include all nine of Beethoven's symphonies], CONCERT SERIES.
- 119a. [Chophouse order], T-BONE STEAK.
- 122a. [Expert of a sort], SPECIALIST.
I have Comet, Crest, and Lysol in my house, plus generic forms of Advil and Aleve (zero reason to pay extra for brand-name over-the-counter meds).
So, both the NYT and Merl’s puzzle this weekend are puzzle-within-a-puzzle creations. I bet the LA Times puzzle have a more standard theme.
Wow, a fresh clue for 104a: AH SO, ["___, the point emerges" (from "Kill Bill, Vol. 2")]. Still a good entry to try to keep out of your grids, generally. A Tarantino usage doesn’t erase a racist history.
- 103d. [Boring thing], DRILL. For boring a hole, obviously.
- 15d. [Suffer a finger emergency], BREAK A NAIL.
- 34d. ["Credit or ___?"], DEBIT. The way this word is most often heard in America these days, I’d wager.
- 53d. [President Clinton without consonants], EIEIO. I kept trying to figure out how “William Jefferson Clinton” produced those vowels, and then I realized it was “prEsIdEnt clIntOn.”
- 9a. [Slangy reprobate], BAD EGG. Probably more effective to call someone a “slangy reprobate.”
Least favorite: 68d. [955 (when 58 Across was born, coincidentally)], CMLV. 58a is OTTO II. In the Daily Celebrity Crossword, we try to eschew any Roman numeral over XII.
Mystery item: 50d. [Michael Chiklis's role on "The Commish," Tony ___] SCALI. Never watched it.
Missed TV cluing opportunity: 102a. NARD is clued as [Ointment of old] rather than as part of the nickname The Office‘s Andy Bernard (Ed Helms’ character) uses to refer to himself, “Nard-Dog.” The former is more familiar to people who have been doing crosswords for decades on end; the latter is possibly more familiar to Americans as a whole.
Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Dave Sullivan’s review
When I saw today’s byline on the CrosSynergy/WaPo “Sunday Challenge,” I knew I had to set aside some serious solving time to rassle this one into submission. Man, was I right! Like ancient Gaul, I’ve divided up my solving experience into three parts:
Part the First, some early traction and misplaced optimism:
My first inroads were the upper right and lower left, smaller areas that were easier to fill than those crossing long entries in the other two quadrants. Having somewhat of a classical music background, “Papa” HAYDN was my first entry as I knew he was the ["Father of the symphony"]. Tornado ALLEY wasn’t far behind with all the recent (and sad) news from the devastation in Oklahoma. In the lower left, Kurt Weill and Bertolt BRECHT‘s “Three Penny Opera” (from whence “Mack the Knife”) was another gimme. I also recently recalled that Barack OBAMA‘s Secret Service codename was “Renegade.”
Other early finds were SMART SET for [Glitterati] and ELBOW ROOM for [Leeway], so I was feeling pretty good about things. Well, friends, that feeling was short-lived as I made little other progress. I knew the [Pink Panther costar] was L?M, having seen it in many crosswords before, but not recently, so wasn’t sure what that middle vowel was. I (incorrectly, as will later be seen) had SAFES for [Coin collectors?], knowing that [Patriots' gp.] was either AFC or NFL, so I was sure about that middle F. With the I of (the also incorrect) FINE for [Ticket] (but luckily the I was correct) and the K of UKES ([Small strings]), I surprisingly got LAPEL MIKE, but nothing else in the lower right.
Part the Second, sweating bullets twenty minutes later:
My next inroads were to complete the upper left. APES for the very ambiguous [Mirrors] and BABA for the cute [Rummy yummy] helped me see AMBULANCE for [Word you can read in your rear-view mirror] (there’s that “mirror” again…I was thinking it was one of the words of “Objects are closer than they appear” at first) and PIANO ROLL for the alliterative [Perforated performance product] (I was thinking “performance” in the sense of athletic performance at first). SOUSA for [Phone attachment?] (as in “sousaphone”), GODLY for [Devoted to devotion], and baseball’s FOUL for [It's not fair] (here’s where the athletic performance idea did work out) helped complete that middle section. But I was still stuck on SAFES and was guessing that [Divining rods] were DEAD something. I did get the O of LOM, and correctly assumed an [Outhouse, usually] was a ONE-something-ER (I was thinking “one-holer,” but that was too few letters), but got very little other traction in the lower right.
Part the Third, blessed completion:
Success finally came with SOFAS instead of SAFES for [Coin collectors?] (which makes a lot more sense; safes generally have bills, not coins in them) and ON DIT for the cleverly French-cued [Soupçon of gossip] (it literally means “one says”). That led me to complete DEGREE DAYS for [Temperature gauge of a sort] and the vaguely-recalled term DOODLEBUGS for [Divining rods]. Correcting FINE as CITE for [Ticket] led me to MARE’S NEST for [Hoax] (another faintly-recalled term) and finally ONE-SEATER for [Outhouse, usually] (“usually,” I thought? How about ALWAYS?) Anyway, the crossing ABEL TASMAN, who “eponymously” leant his name to Tasmania (but I had no idea he was Dutch, so that wasn’t helpful to me), On PAPER (“in theory”), ISTHMI ([Necks on the water?] had nothing to do with kissing, but “necks” of land) and SIAMESE for [Closely related?] were my final entries.
I feel like I just went through a therapy session and feel much better for it; hope those of you who also struggled with this can sympathize with my missteps but also rejoice in my eventual success!
Frank Longo’s's Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 166″— Janie’s review
I don’t know about you, but it’s not often that I complete a Longo puzzle without resorting to Artificial Intelligence (uh, Google) at some point. Today was no exception, but that interfered with my enjoyment of the solve not one bit. (Darn you, ATO Boldon; and “Rationell” for IKEA? Guess an umlaut-y line like “Fabrikör or “Vittsjö” woulda made it a dead give-away…) It’s a nicely open, 68/29-er that I completed first by filling in the NE to SW swath. Next, I went SE to NW; and last to go, that left of center section. And hey—it’s a pangram, too, which is no crime in my book. No compromises made to accommodate the alphabet in its entirety. So, bravo.
Frank’s filled the puzzle with lotso lively 9s—not only stacking them (triples NW and SE) and using them vertically (NE and SW) in the corner quadrants , but weaving two into the body of the grid as well. My faves? I’d have to include IN DISPUTE, LION TAMER (which “handily” crosses PAW and its cautionary, non-drug-use clue [One leaving a track mark]), the assonant ODOMETERS and ODDS MAKER, TENDER AGE (and not, as I first entered, SALAD DAYS…), EX TEMPORE and SMELL TEST. But wait, he’s gone the EXTRA MILE with the X-ellent NEXTEL CUP and HYPOXEMIA. With those four Xs in the west (thank you, FT. DIX), I consider myself seriously TIDED OVER where the X-factor is concerned!
Back to that HYPOXEMIA for a sec. I’m not a doctor (though I once played a nurse…) but if I understand correctly, the kind of shortness of breath this causes (as a result of [...altitude sickness], say) is not the sort that is treated with an INHALANT (which crosses HYPOXEMIA, btw). Interesting, too, that some medical sites use the term INHALANT in conjunction with its drug-related connotation (some aerosols and glue, e.g., fall into that category). The M-W (and other dictionaries), however, focus simply on the medical sense: “Something (as and allergen or medication) that is inhaled.” Regardless—makes me think this is all something for those CBC-ordering MDS. CBC, as in Complete Blood Count and not (sorry, Jeffrey! sorry, Martin A-S! etc.) Canadian Broadcasting Company.
Other highlights? Hmmm. LET’S SEE. Biology’s beautiful PAIR BOND, the biology-inspired HIVE MIND (a phrase found in sociology that’s new to me, but really makes so much sense and is so evocatively clued as [Collective consciousness]), and the up-to-the-minute KEY CARD (though a physical key—at a hotel, e.g.—can be rather a charming item these days…). Since the word “nooner” has a strong sexual connotation, I did have to smile at MATINEE as the fill for [Nooner at a theatre, say]. Which one? The one for Oh! Calcutta!?
One fave clue/fill combo, then I’m outta here til next month, and that’s—no, not the wistful [D-lister's dream] / STARDOM pair, but—the wish-I’d-come-up-with-that [Workers with registered domains?] / CASHIERS. Cha-ching!
Henry Hook’s CRooked crossword puzzle, “DC VIPs” — pannonica’s write-up
I haven’t lately been reporting solve times for the CRooked puzzle, but seeing as Evad and Janie abstained today, I’ve done so this time for those readers who need a fix. (Also, the timer started properly and I wasn’t making coffee at the same time.)
Had I bothered to look at the title I would have had an easy leg up in the solve, but alas I did not. As a result, moving through the grid via the dictates of following threads, I came across 29a ["SNL" alumnus ], 96d ["CSI:NY" alum Kanakaredes], and 35d ["CSI:Miami" star] and thought there was some sort of connection there: three-letter television initialisms, and perhaps something else.
Two of those are indeed themers, DANA CARVEY and DAVID CARUSO (MELINA Kanakaredes was not). Knowing the title (and glancing at any of the other long answers) makes it obvious that the theme is famous personages with the initials DC. Before I continue, though, what’s up with “alumnus” yet “alum” in those two clues, above? And what about 51d [Sleep phenom] for REM? Why phenom and not phenomenon? Phenom is almost always taken to mean a person, an embodiment. If it had a period, that’d make it an abbreviation of phenomenon, indicating the initialism of the answer, but it’s unnecessary because rapid eye movement is hardly ever referred to by the full name. Perhaps the reason is as prosaic as the clue was shortened for space.
And now, in due course:
- 23a. [Bespectacled comic] DREW CAREY.
- 29a. ["SNL" alumnus] DANA CARVEY.
- 68a. [Bad boss in "9 to 5"] DABNEY COLEMAN. The character’s name was Franklin Hart, Jr. No word on whether director Colin Higgins was a tyrant on set.
- 104a. ["Hotel Rwanda" Oscar nominee] DON CHEADLE.
- 113a. [TV host whose middle name was Wagstaff] DICK CLARK. Who knew?
- 31d. [Self-help author] DALE CARNEGIE.
- 33d. [19th-century New York Politico] DEWITT CLINTON.
- 35d. ["CSI:Miami" star] DAVID CARUSO.
- 40d. ["Ageless Body, Timeless Mind" author] DEEPAK CHOPRA.
- 41d. [007, now] DANIEL CRAIG.
All right. TEN theme entries, all strong. Not only that, but half of them are acrosses and half are downs; excellent distribution. Not only that, but check out the superb, extensive stacking of the downs on either flank of the grid. And for a flourish, there is the 13×13 crossing of themers dead center. Seriously good construction.
Quasi-bonus material: 30d [With 104-Down, former Connecticut governor] CHRIS | DODD. 68d [Capitol caps] DOMES. 75a [Start of the VIIIth century] DCCI.
- 87d [Jellied weapony] N––––––. My instinct was NETTLES, but wisdom told me that was incorrect. Turned out to be NAPALMS. See also 6d [Battles with bombers] AIR WARS.
- 96a [Joule ÷ 10] is the odd-looking MEGAERG. See also, 106d [Billionth (prefix)] NANO-.
- Favorite clue: 74a [Went through channels] SLUICED. Runner-up: 9d [Moo goo gai pan pan] WOK.
- 46d [Tiara component] GEM, 65a [Haloes] CORONAE.
- Who knew, redux. 97d [One of e.e. cummings's E's] ESTLIN. Other unusual names in the grid: 21a [The Twins retired his #6] OLIVA, 22a [Brazilian author Jorge] AMADO. Honorable mentions to the more well-known MAHRE brothers, quarterback/commentator Boomer ESIASON, Roman general SCIPIO.
Basic theme, very solid puzzle with great construction and varied, smart cluing. Above average.
Ed Sessa’s syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “Strictly Speaking”
Familiar phrases that can embody familiar phrases in a literal sense, that’s the name of the game:
- 24a. [Heated words?], GREAT BALLS OF FIRE.
- 32a. [Blanket expression?], I’VE GOT YOU COVERED.
- 56a. [Formal request?], SAVE THE LAST DANCE FOR ME. Formal dance.
- 82a. [Frank talk?], HOT DOGS! GET YOUR HOT DOGS! Frank talk at the ballpark.
- 110a. [Bald assertion?], THAT’S GOT TO BE A WIG.
- 118a. [Mission statement?], REMEMBER THE ALAMO.
Solid theme. Fresh idea, well executed. Requires a little brain work to connect from the clue to the answer.
Notes on various clues:
- 50d. [Coat-of-arms science], HERALDRY. Uh, “field of study,” sure. But this is in no way a science.
- 58d. [Double-parker who gives out tickets], VALET. Claim tickets, not parking tickets.
- 61d. [Waiter's question ending], A MENU. As in “Would you like to see a menu?” “No, thanks. I’m just loitering here. Don’t mind me.” Do waiters ask, or just offer up the menus?
- 73d. [First name in spydom], MATA. Not first name as in “first name, last name.” I think Mata Hari is a two-part unit, if that makes sense. So the clue works only if you think of it as “first word in a two-part name in spydom,” right?
- 3d. [Seals that avoid water?], GASKETS. Rubber seals, not barking mammals who like the water.
- 21a. [British magazine founded in 1709], TATLER. With the first T crossing 8d: ITT, [Old comm. giant], I bet a lot of solvers will be running through the alphabet, trying BATLER, GATLER, HATLER, etc. Turns out that the ITT Corporation is still very much a going concern. It divested its telecom portion in 1986. Wouldn’t the company be happier if we didn’t clue it as what they stopped being nearly 30 years ago? For example, we could go with [First major defense contractor to be convicted for criminal violations of the US Arms Export Control Act, in 2007].
- 4d. [Cooperstown's Lake], OTSEGO. Bleh. We shouldn’t need to know this one, right?
I liked the theme all right, but the fill didn’t do much for me here. 3.33 stars.