Today is “thank the whole Crossword Fiend crew” day! The smart and entertaining folks who are currently reviewing puzzles here regularly are pannonica, Gareth Bain, Matt Gaffney, Joon Pahk, Sam Donaldson, Dave Sullivan, Andy Kravis, and Janie Smulyan. Dave also holds down the fort as our capable webmaster. Past and future contributors include Jeffrey Krasnick, Doug Peterson, Neville Fogarty, Angela Halsted, T Campbell, Jared Hersh, Seth Grossinger, Wade Williams, and Sara Kaplan. (Who am I forgetting here?) I couldn’t maintain my sanity without everyone’s help. Let’s have a rousing round of applause for the entire corps de Fiend!
As of 11 am Central time on Saturday, there are 29 hours to go on Peter Gordon’s Kickstarter venture for Fireball Newsweekly Crosswords. A mere $5 will get you all 20 weekly puzzles for July to December! Peter’s close to the goal but still needs another $990 pledged to make the project a go. Think of all the disappointed backers who will get no puzzles if the $10,000 fund-raising goal isn’t met.
Ned White’s New York Times crossword
I have some doubts about this puzzle. Or douts. Two nearby answers with OUT in them, one a total oddball answer I’ve never, ever encountered before? 28a: LOUD OUTS, [They result when solidly hit baseballs are caught]? Huh. And then there’s 38a: HEAD OUT, [Go], which would have been fine if I hadn’t just spent time trying to tease out 28a’s answer.
I’m feeling unfocused in my approach to this puzzle, so bear with me as we march randomly through some stuff. For 13d: [Herpetologist's supply], I wanted ANTIVENIN or ANTIVENOM, but it turned out to be ANTISERUM. That looked vaguely fishy to me but it pans out. (The linked antiserum is no good for boomslang bites, but you’re all set for mambas and cobras.)
I think the accent mark in 11d: [Fêmur, por exemplo] is pointing us towards the Portuguese OSSO rather than the Italian osso.
I love the BAOBAB TREE (9a. [With 25-Across, it has a huge trunk]). My favorite tree-I-learned-about-as-a-kid-that-doesn’t-grow-around-here.
4d. [Water board] clues AQUAPLANE. No idea what this thing is. Looking it up … it’s a board you ride on in the water, being pulled by a speedboat. Huh.
My vote for Most Likely to Mire Solvers in Tough Crossings: 62a. [Site of a 1944 British Army defeat], ARNHEM. The H is in BAHN, 53d. [German way], and the M is in ULTIMO, 45d. [Last month].
I reckon pannonica will be along later to shed some light on 9d. [Saxophone great Sidney] BECHET.
Things I learned from crosswords back in the day: ESSENE, ELEA, REO, EL AL, ALER (ugh—this one is newer than the others), UTE as shorthand for sport utility vehicle, ATLI the Hun king, and the ELAND. Eleareoelalalereland is not a place I’d like to vacation.
Gail Grabowski’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Slice of the Action” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Today, we literally “slice” (or take out) the words “OF THE” from four theme phrases:
- [Estate attorneys?] are WILL PEOPLE. One might argue that the “will of the people” is less and less represented by those who serve in public office, at least this particular reviewer’s will.
- A [Hot flash?] is also a HEAT MOMENT. Something done in the “heat of the moment” is often regretted later.
- [Tin Woodman's focus?] clues HEART MATTER. Didn’t constructor Bob Klahn recently spoonerize this to “Mart of the Hatter,” or am I mixing up my commentaries?
- A [Magician's profession?] could be TRICKS TRADE. “Tricks of the trade” are not widely known ways of doing something in a particular industry, like how car salespeople come up with a price of a new car.
I had a hard time figuring out the theme device at first, half expecting a revealer at the end to clue me in. But finally the somewhat awkwardness of the resulting phrases led me to how they were developed. (I wonder if in a remake of The Sixth Sense, might Cole Sear, when seeing dead heiresses walking around, say “I see WILL PEOPLE”?) Luckily, the puzzle is redeemed by some quality fill like STOP THAT!, BLAST OFF and home to some great iced tea, the state of ARIZONA. I am a bit curious about cluing ECO as [Start to babble?]–is “ecobabble” a thing or is this referring to an ecosystem’s “babbling” brook? My FAVE entry was SET SMILE for [Candidate's expression while working a room], which I can totally envision. My UNFAVE has got to be the latest installment in playground retorts (here as [Juvenile rebuttal]) or ARE SO. These type of entries ARE SO ready to be retired, don’t you think?
Brad Wilber’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Andy’s review
Happy U.S. Open weekend, and happy early Father’s Day! (Oh, and, uh, happy birthday to me!) A return to normalcy this week, as Brad Wilber once again takes the reins of the LAT Saturday puzzle.
I was shocked to discover that this grid had only 70 words. It looks (and solves) like a higher word count puzzle. I think my surprise came mostly from the fact that the grid is novel: it’s not like most of the LATs, which have 10 or 11 stacks in the corners, nor is it like the Saturday Newsday standards, which have four 7×7 blocks in each corner. This one has just four 10-letter marquee entries, stacked in pairs, and they’re all beauties:
- 21a, LIQUID SMOKE [Barbecue sauce additive]. Liquid smoke is created through a process called destructive distillation, which basically sounds like mad science.
- 25a, STUDS TERKEL ["Hard Times" chronicler]. “Hard Times” = Dickens, right? Not always. This “Hard Times” is, ironically, subtitled “An Oral History of the Great Depression.”
- 46a, FLOOR MODELS [They're often discounted]. As in price, rather than as in ideas. I misread this at first as [They're often discontinued], but fortunately enough that clue also leads to the same answer.
- 51a, RAN THE GAMUT [Skipped nothing]. I expected the more crossword-common RAN FROM A TO Z, and was pleasantly surprised when it wasn’t.
Other good stuff:
- 32d, PAN FLUTES [Folk instruments named for a Greek god]. Fun fact*: In Spanish, “pan flutes” means “bread flutes.” [*Fact may not be factual.]
- 12d, I LIKE IT ["Thumbs up!"]. I like it! Thumbs up!
- 13d, GAZELLE [Epitome of grace].With the G and final E in place, I had to keep reminding myself that giraffes are not particularly well known for their grace.
- 6d, ARBITRARY [Capricious]. For most law-ish people out there, this was probably a gimme. Arbitrary and capricious is a well known standard of review, and they’re forever linked in my mind.
- 22d, QUILP ["The Old Curiosity Shop" villain]. There’s the Dickens I was looking for earlier.
- 23d, MR. SLATE [Prehistoric toon boss].Who else? Fun fact*: When I went back to my completed grid to blog this entry, I briefly wondered who Mrs. Late was. [*Fact may not be flattering.]
It’s rare that so much of the good stuff in a themeless is in the down entries, but it makes sense with this grid, given that almost everything over six letters long is there. I was a big fan of both of the 7×3 stacks: ALFREDO/PILATES/ADONAIS and MOLOKAI/I LIKE IT/GAZELLE. The trio in the SE of TREACLE, AIRHEAD, and CRISPY evokes an interesting combination of textures. I had very few hiccups while solving: the big one was that Bennett CERF, [Random House co-founder], was new to me. I’m more familiar with Vint Cerf, one of the “founders of the Internet.” Another possible sticking point is LIDO [Lagoon of Venice resort]. Other than that, nothing too crazy: HANA Mandlikova is pretty standard crosswordese, the suffixes OLA and ERN are fine by me, and DEI was clued in pretty much the easiest way possible, [Agnus ___].
3.5 stars from me. Until next week!
Brad Wilber’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
Feh. I got through the puzzle, though the majority of it felt like a struggle/slog. Tons of tough clues, but not many that made me go “Ah!” with pleased appreciation. Much more in the way of scowls at the misleads rather than grudging acknowledgment of having been outwitted.
One error, if you ask me: 38d. [Trial-conducting org.] clues FDA. Does the FDA actually conduct clinical trials, or does it just review the trials conducted by drug/equipment/etc. manufacturers? I think it’s the latter.
All these clues gave me pause:
- 8a. [Wheel operator, at times], PET RAT. Using “operator” pretty loosely here.
- 14a. [Court gaffes], AIR BALLS. Basketball court, not tennis, volleyball, or law.
- 16a. [Where liberties are typically taken], ASHORE. On shore leave. “Liberty” can mean leave granted to a sailor. Who knew?
- 19a. [Prelude to a new course], UEY. A U-turn before changing course? Meh.
- 23a. [Dressing aid in a shop], ADZ. Wood shop. No salad, no clothes.
- 31a. [Successful stumpers], ELECTEES. ELECTEE is a word I see in crosswords far more often than in political writing. Meh.
- 33a. [Big __], OLD. Huh?? This can stand alone? Is it “big old” or “Big Old”?
- 52a. [Practice advocate], AMA. Medical practice.
- 57a. [Something pulled by farmers], ROOT CROP. Pulled up/out of the ground, not pulled along the surface.
- 61a. [Without allies], SOLELY. This doesn’t feel like a reasonable equivalent to me.
- 2d. [Name derived from a Gaelic goddess], EIRE. I did not know that. I also did not know the word had two syllables.
- 8d. [Quaint, necessarily], PASSE. Can’t something new be old-fashioned in style without actually being passé? For example, a lacy wedding gown might be quaint, but who would call it passé?
- 10d. [Setting for a Puccini opera], THE WILD WEST. For real? Had no idea.
- 11d. [Showed supreme satisfaction], ROARED. I think this only works for a pleased crowd. Can one pleased person roar approval?
- 13d. [Knotty problem], TESTER. Checked a dictionary that does not include this sense of the word TESTER. Any help?
- 36d. [Baguette unit], ONE CARAT. Baguette-cut jewels. The unit of measure would be CARAT, though. ONE CARAT assigns a specific value to the number of units.
- 42d. ['70s Polaroid camera], PRONTO. No recollection of this.
The fill is certainly solid, 4 stars, but the overall unpleasantness of the cluing makes me drop the puzzle to 3 stars. That’s one thing that distinguishes the tougher Saturday NYTs, Fireballs, BEQ Themeless Mondays, and Klahn CrosSynergy “Sunday Challenges”—the most difficult clues make you admire their cleverness or surprise. The tougher Newsday “Stumpers” merely try to stymie the solver rather than showing off the cluer’s wit.