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Mel Rosen’s New York Times crossword, “Question Box”
Interesting concept—carve out a 5×5 mini-crossword in the middle of the grid and have the solver fill it with a set of 10 words from the rest of the crossword. The diagonal circled letters spell out the answer to the riddle posed in the theme answers. TTOPS, PORTS, OPERA, AN ERA, STASH, REPOT, TRAPS, SMASH, PARTS, and TEN AM are the words for the middle. With M only appearing in two words, that solidified the cross of SMASH and TENAM; everything else worked its way out from there. The answers could fill the center grid in two orientations, but the electronic solving options only accept one of them (really at random—both are equally valid).
The trivia question spanning four rows of the crossword reads: IF A GIRAFFE HAS FOURTEEN / MORE THAN A WALRUS AND / A SQUIRREL HAS HALF AS / MANY AS A PIG WHAT ARE THEY? Did you guess TEETH before you worked the 5×5 square? Because let’s be honest, there is nothing else anatomical that a giraffe could have 14 more of than a walrus. Assume a walrus has at least 2 and ask yourself what a giraffe might have 16 of. Testicles? Stomachs? Eyeballs? Vertebrae? Of course not. Teeth.
I forgot I had left an empty square in the southeast corner when I filled in the “question box” so I didn’t get the thumbs-up from the solving software. I also had one wrong letter beside the blank. 104a. [J.F.K.'s historic ___ Flight Center] meant nothing to me—I think now that this is about JFK airport (since the answer is TWA) and not JFK the president. The crossings are a bit of a nightmare if you can’t figure out 104a. 104d. [Old satellite-launching rocket]? Really?? That’s your clue for THOR, namesake of Thursday, Norse god, member of the Marvel comics Avengers team? There are a lot of avenues to take in cluing THOR, you go with a rocket used in the late ’50s and ’60s? Pfft. Boo. 105d. [Gave out] clues WENT, but I had LENT there. SENT would also work, no? “My legs gave out” ≠ “my legs went.” Again, pfft. Did not like this corner.
And in general, the fill did not captivate me. Too much TRINARY SIEUR ASSYRO IVANV MALABAR GIBERS and not enough of the zippity-doo-dah fun stuff. 3.25 stars from me.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated crossword, “Bang-Bang Words”
Boy, I could not figure out what the theme was (which was no impediment to a swift solve). Finally broke down and looked at the explanation, which may be shorter in newspapers than it is on Merl’s site, which in turn is shorter than on Merl’s PDF:
“I’ve noticed a tiny class of words that I call “bang-bang words” (clued throughout the puzzle with asterisks). Normally, when we describe something that, for example, catches our eye, we call it “eye-catching,” and something that beats eggs, an “eggbeater.” However, we call someone who takes charge a “take-charge” type of person, and someone who does nothing a “do-nothing” — in other words, in some cases, we don’t switch the words around and add -ing or -er; we just use them as is. These are bang-bang words — unaltered, simple and direct. (There are countless similar words that end with prepositions, such as “rip-off” and “run-through,” but precious few consisting of a verb and a noun.) So here they are in their American debut — the few, the proud, the bang-bangs.”
- 21a. [Role in a 1939 classic *], SCARECROW. “I got one of them crow-scarers out in the cornfield.”
- 23a. [Ruthless *], CUTTHROAT. “A real throat-cutter of a competition.”
- 29a. [Flat *], LACKLUSTER. “So luster-lacking.”
- 44a. [Stick-in-the-mud *], KILLJOY. “Hey, you joykiller, you.”
- 48a. [Battle of Britain fighter], SPITFIRE.
- 59a. [Battleship so big that it "fears nothing" *], DREADNOUGHT.
- 71a. [Traitor *], TURNCOAT. “What do you think—is Edward Snowden a coat-turner?”
- 73a. [Temporary, as a fix *], STOPGAP. Given jerry-built and jury-rigged, you’d think we’d have gap-stopping.
- 87a. [Subway shark *], PICKPOCKET. See also: picknose.
- 98a. [Type of deed *], QUITCLAIM.
- 100a. [Fast and dangerous *], BREAKNECK.
DRAGS AND DROPS (27d. [Moves files, perhaps]) crosses three theme answers, but it’s just fill here. Lively fill, but not thematic. With 11 shortish theme answers, the grid has room to breathe, and the fill is pretty smooth as a result. SMOOTHIE and KING TUT bring a bit of sparkle, but mostly the grid is simply smooth.
Five more clues:
- 79a. [Old name for badminton (named for an Indian city)], POONA. Did not know that. The city is now spelled Pune.
- 26a. [Star seen around midnight], LENO. Not for much longer! And not in the Central time zone, where his show starts at 10:35 and is over before midnight strikes.
- 42d. [The Father of Mexican Independence], HIDALGO. In the Viggo Mortenson movie by that name, Hidalgo was a horse. The Mexican hero is Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a priest who led an army against the Spaniards.
- 5d. [Lecture hall], LYCEUM. Where do they call it that, generally?
- 88d. [Mandela's co-recipient of the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, F. W. de ___], KLERK. Not to be confused with P. W. Botha, who remained intransigently in favor of apartheid. Couldn’t their initials look more different to help me remember which is which?
3.5 stars. I was hoping for more humor in the puzzle. It’s a fine set of verb-noun words, but they were all clued so straightforwardly.
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Rather interesting grid design today that features both mirror and rotational symmetry, with two double stacks of 15-letter entries as its showpiece:
- [You first, facetiously] clues AGE BEFORE BEAUTY – something I’ve said before; for those unfamiliar with the phrase, it’s said while opening the door for someone who is probably much younger and more attractive than yourself in a kidding way.
- [Became highly worked up] is the equine GOT ALL IN A LATHER – shaving creams and bubble baths have that effect on me as well.
- [Start of a befuddled question from Chester to Mr. Dillon, perhaps] clues WHAT IN TARNATION? – one might be forgiven for not being familiar with this reference to the series Gunsmoke; Chester was played by actor Dennis Weaver and James Arness was Marshal Matt Dillon.
- The requisite “one’s” phrase is in the final long entry [Becoming less emboldened] clues LOSING ONE’S NERVE – thanks for the earworm, puzzle!
The medium-length fill in this one is solid as well–entries like singer Pat BENATAR, TIPTOES and Second City’s THE LOOP are all good. I also got a laugh with the ovine FLEECE next to the porcine OINKED, which were my FAVE entries. I hadn’t heard of Texas bluesman DELBERT McClinton, but the crossings were fair enough. Another new term was C STORE for [7-Eleven, e.g., in brief], which I’m guessing stands for convenience. Is this a regional thing?
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “Beantown” — pannonica’s write-up
Holy frijoles! As is my wont, or perhaps by virtue of my reliable absentmindedness, I didn’t initially look at the puzzle’s title. When I did, roughly a third of the way into the solve, I groaned, thinking that it was going to be a Boston-themed puzzle, keeping in mind the venue in which it’s published; I’m rather ignorant of Bostoniana.
But no, expectations were wryly subverted, as we’re talking about literal and not representative beans:
- 23a. [Beantown shop?] BLACK MARKET (black bean).
- 25a. [Beantown gallery?] WAX MUSEUM (wax bean).
- 35a. [Beantown ensemble?] STRING QUARTET (string bean).
- 56a. [Beantown prize?] RED RIBBON (red beans).
- 77a. [Beantown mount?] PINTO PONY (pinto beans).
- 92a. [Beantown verdicts?] SNAP JUDGMENTS (snap bean).
- 108a. [Beantown pitch?] SCREWBALL (screwbean). Had not heard of the screwbean, and for a time wondered if it could possibly be the anomalously-constructed “beanball” (a generic name for a hacky-sack?). Interesting how this is the only answer comprised of one compound word, and that derived bean answer is also one word. Screwy, huh?
- 110a. [Beantown sport?] POLE JUMPING (pole bean). Following the confusing 108a, this answer may be even more rife for misinterpretation, were it not for the consistency evident in the other themers. “Bean pole” is a common term, and “pole jumping” isn’t so much—another name for pole vaulting? an equestrian event? Turns out it’s the former.
- 16d. [Beantown brass?] FRENCH HORN (French bean). Nifty misdirection in the clue, suggesting perhaps municipal authorities.
- 69d. [Beantown beanie?] GREEN BERET (green bean).
Dry beans and green beans are both from the same type of legume plant, so there’s no reason to quibble on that score. In fact, the theme—though modest—is excellently carried out. Oh, and Mexican jumping beans? You knew they weren’t real beans, I hope. They’re seed pods from a shrub that a species of moth has deposited its eggs, which have subsequently developed into larva.
Not a theme entry: 104a [Celery pieces] STALKS. Would it have helped to distance this even further by cluing it as a verb, or would that be perceived as more disingenuous? Also not a theme entry: 65a [Flung all about] STREWED, which wants to be STREWN, I think. See also, 71d EPICAL.
- 17d [Bad way to run] AMUCK, which I still feel is a bad way to spell it.
- Fun fill: MOSAICS, SOBERLY, GYRATES, BICARB, RETINOL, JE T’AIME, DAREN’T.
- Huh? fill: 94d [Wrestler] MAT MAN (never heard the term, but makes sense), 79d [Guaneri violin epither] DEL GESÙ. “Bartolomeo Giuseppe Antonio Guarneri, del Gesù (21 August 1698 – 17 October 1744) was an Italian luthier from the Guarneri house of Cremona in italy. He rivals Antonio Stradivari (1644–1737) with regard to the respect and reverence accorded his instruments, and he has been called the finest violin maker of the Amati line. Instruments made by Guarneri are often referred to as Josephs or del Gesùs. Giuseppe is known as del Gesù (literally ‘of Jesus’) because his labels incorporated the nomina sacra, I.H.S. (iota-eta-sigma) and a Roman Cross.” (Wikipedia, again)
- Favorite clue: 55a [Till another time] ––––OW, not FOR NOW (oh, see 40d ERE NOW, which I came across later) but the slightly sketchy REPLOW. It’s my favorite, despite the answer.
Above average puzzle.
Gail Grabowski and Bruce Venzke’s syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “In a Fog”
Straightforward collection theme: phrases that begin with FO and end with G or begin with F and end with OG. The other letters are “in a fog.”
- 23a. [Sport on horseback], FOX HUNTING. That’s not a sport.
- 28a. [United States Army Infantry School site], FORT BENNING.
- 42a. [Enjoying one's Jeep Wrangler, say], FOUR-WHEELING.
- 65a. [Compactly built canine], FRENCH BULLDOG.
- 86a. [Procrastinator's problem], FOOT DRAGGING.
- 101a. [Clotheshorse's net reading], FASHION BLOG.
- 107a. [Amphibian that glides], FLYING FROG. I never hear much about these frogs.
- 32d. [Mail order shipment insert], FREE CATALOG. Very few catalogs cost money. Those that do offend my moral sense.
- 47d. [1964 Detroit debut], FORD MUSTANG.
- 50a. [Infomercial antitheft device], THE CLUB.
- 75d. [Squishy Hasbro toy used with a launcher], KOOSH BALL.
- 12d. [Spring break fun-lover], PARTY GIRL. Any of you see the Harmony Korine movie Spring Break? I didn’t.
- 87d. [Dress to the nines], GUSSY UP. I do use this phrase.
- 57d. [Caesar salad ingredient], CROUTON. I miss croutons. Not eating wheat at the moment.
Least favorite fill: The vaguely clued and seldom used EMAG, 29d. [Collection of Web pages].
Least familiar: 44d. [Prime rib choice], END CUT. I haven’t eaten red meat since the ’70s so I pay no mind to beef terminology. Many of them are well-known anyway, but not this END CUT.
Most off-putting for idiosyncratic reasons: 53d. [Waffle source?: Abbr.], BELG. I think it’s the “source” that throws me off. We don’t get our French fries from France, our English muffins from England, or our Belgian waffles from Belgium. Yes, the question mark signals playfulness, but I think it just misses the mark.
Trip Payne’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 167″- Sam Donaldson’s review
There are many occasions when a puzzle is simply better than me. I’m not referring to the instances where I just give up on a crossword after repeated solving attempts–a puzzle I can’t finish may or may not be good. Instead I have in mind crosswords like this week’s Post Puzzler–the puzzle itself is really very good, but I wasn’t very good at solving it. Overused crossword-blog-ese like “slog” and “plodded” very accurately describe my solving experience, but by no means was this the puzzle’s fault. Everything was fair (tough, but fair); I was cruising on a different wavelength.
I took some snapshots of my progress at the 10- and 20-minute marks in case you want some insight into how I tackled this beast. I skimmed the clues quickly searching for toe-holds. [___ sci] was POLI, [Former first baseman Galarraga] was ANDRES (helped that I had Mariners season tickets for a couple of years during his prime, so I knew my ballplayers much better then), and the [Wayne Manor employee] was obviously Batman’s ALFRED (though I’m partial to Archer’s Woodhouse). For some reason I just passed over the complete gimme for ALEXANDER, the [Kid-lit character who had a "Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day"], maybe because I wrongly assumed that longer clues were more difficult, so I didn’t get this helpful entry into the northwest corner until far too long.
The close proximity between ALFRED and ANDRES help me get through much of the north, except I couldn’t find much to get me into either the northwest or northeast corner. I took a flyer on ABOLISH as the answer to [Strike down] in the lower right, based on a similar hunch that the ["Live Free or Die Hard" director] was LEN Wiseman. They proved to be good guesses, but again I wasn’t getting any traction from them. STUBBED seemed almost too easy as the answer to [Hurt, as one's toe], but darned if it didn’t end up revealing most of the southwest corner. But after that, as you can see, all I could muster were S’s at the end of plurals along with an -ED for a past-tense clue and a RE- for the start of [Get back to business].
That B in the southeast corner kept bugging me. It’s a rare letter, so it should have been helpful in getting the crossing, [Half of a major 1999 merger]. But all I could think of was Time-Warner, neither of which worked. I’m not sure how it did, but somehow Exxon-MOBIL came to me, and having now three answers stacked atop each other helped the southeast corner fall. That led to me (finally!) cracking SELF-AWARE as [Individually understanding, in a way] and NORSEMEN as [Some rune readers]. And before I knew it, the northeast was done. You’ll see from the grid below that my last four or five minutes were spent on conquering the northwest corner and that pesky little hole in the mid-section that just wouldn’t fall.
Here’s a more complete inventory of the stuff I didn’t know:
- Robert DONAT was the [Best Actor between Tracy and Stewart]. He won for “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.” I should have remembered this because DONAT was in a NYT grid just a couple of weeks ago. Curse my short-term memory! Oh well, I’ve already forgotten why I was mad.
- There’s a site called U-BID and it’s a [Rival of eBay].
- Stenographers, or STENOS, may employ the Pitman shorthand method devised by Sir Isaac Pitman, making them [Pitman users].
- DAMASK is [Altar cloth material]. So where do all the altar boys in need of robes go? To Damask-Us. (Okay, so that jokes requires changing the pronunciation from “DAM-usk” to “da-MASK.” Throw me a bone here!)
- TOMS RIVER is a [Jersey Shore township]. If it doesn’t have “J-Woww,” “The Situation,” or “Sammi Sweetheart,” then it ain’t the Jersey Shore.
- I was stumped by GOUP as a synonym for [Scale]. SOUP, COUP, GOUT–those I had heard of. But GOUP?? Then it occurred to me–it’s two words: GO UP. Oh. Yes, that’ll do. Never mind. Move along.
- ICE-NINE is the [Substance causing a global catastrophe in "Cat's Cradle"]. As Wikipedia explains, it’s “a fictional solid polymorph of water from Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle.” Wonder if it’s related to Soylent Green.
- The ["I Gotcha" singer Joe] is TEX. Joe Tex or Tex Joe? Internet says it’s the former.
- Judge John SIRICA was the guy who ordered President Nixon to turn over the recordings he made in the White House. I suppose that’s what made him [Time's 1973 Man of the Year].
- I kept wanting the [Song from "Wicked"] to be DEFYING GRAVITY. But it turned out to be (the less popular?) POPULAR.
- The answer to [Rabindranath Tagore wrote in it] could have been anything. Turned out to be BENGALI. Whatever.
Favorite entry = SINCE WHEN, the [Disbelieving response]. Favorite clue = [Google language option] for KLINGON. Didn’t get it for the longest time, but I did giggle when it finally fell. Well done, Trip and Peter. Or as the Klingons would say, majQa’a.