Joel Fagliano’s New York Times crossword
Easy puzzle with a simple theme that has inspired several different riffs: “Pro” and “con” are opposites that serve as prefixes for lots of words. Joel includes three word pairs that can share a clue despite their opposing prefixes:
- 17a, 18a. [Claim openly], PROFESS, CONFESS.
- 30a, 42a. [One might be seen around a construction site], PROTRACTOR, CONTRACTOR. Do construction contractors actually whip out protractors on the job site?
- 56a, 59a. [Fight back against], PROTEST, CONTEST.
So Joel’s riff can be summed up as “What in the bloody hell? How are these not opposites?”
Over a decade ago, Fred Piscop made a Sunday Newsday puzzle (here’s the grid if you’re a Cruciverb gold member) with five pairs ending with -DUCTION, -TRACTOR, -FESSION, -CESSION, and -TESTANT. Elegantly, each pro and con pair occupied symmetrical places in the puzzle diagram.
Last November, Pete Muller had a Fireball puzzle in which each rebus square was PRO in one direction and CON in the other.
And this February, Joe Krozel had an NYT puzzle filled with pro- and con- words and, but with the prefixes (or the same 3-letter sequence in non-prefix form) lopped off in every Across answer. So you had things like (con)IFER and (pro)HIBIT all over the place.
So what I’m saying is that this “pros and cons” business is a rich vein for puzzlemakers, and we probably have not seen the last crossword that mines this lode of wordplay.
Back to today’s puzzle: With the corners full of 7s it almost looks like a themeless puzzle, but it’s actually got a word count of 76. Tons of terrific fill: AFROPOP, ESTRADA, LOOFAHS, OLYMPIAN, SEAN PENN, BEESWAX, and “OH, STOP IT!” were my faves. SNEE was a bit of a pimple on the face of the puzzle, but it’s a small and lonely one.
The puzzle was too quick ‘n’ easy for me to have noticed the “pro and con clues are the same” twist while solving, so the theme felt a tad dry while I was solving. But in general, a smooth solve with lively fill. Four stars from me.
Sarah Keller’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Lyrical Conjugation” – Dave Sullivan’s review
We’re not talking amo, amas, amat here, but the conjugation of the English verb “to be” as used in musical titles:
- [Monkees hit composed by Neil Diamond which was later covered by Smash Mouth] is I’M A BELIEVER – what is it with musical groups misspelling animal names, anyway? Does that make them hipper?
- [Theme song of the film series in which Johnny Depp played Jack Sparrow] clues HE’S A PIRATE – from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean, of course.
- [Bruce Springsteen hit whose first words are "With her killer graces..."] clues SHE’S THE ONE – if I were to ever meet The Boss in person, I would ask him what “killer graces” are.
- [Carly Simon hit purportedly referring to one of her exes] was YOU’RE SO VAIN – read here about the speculation of who she wrote the song about. The names include Mick Jagger, Warren Beatty and Nick Nolte. Quite the celebrity line-up, eh?
I was a bit disappointed to see that the second two theme entries didn’t have that indefinite article in them, but perhaps there are no common songs that start “She’s a…” or “You’re a…” (or “We’re a…” or “They’re a…” for that matter). Funny that there were two entries in today’s puzzle that I would only have gotten by doing other CS puzzles recently–ÉLYSÉE for [French president's residence] (and I even remember that entry being in that same 13-Down position in the recent CS puzzle) and PELEE for the [Martinique erupter]. Guess I am absorbing something from my daily puzzle fix!
I enjoyed both SHMOO for [Al Capp creature] and the longer AS A WHOLE for [In total], but my FAVE entry was [It may accompany a parting] for AIR KISS. Can’t say I enjoy the alphabet soup of star types, so I’ll have to award my UNFAVE to K-STAR which was clued as [Relatively cool sun]. That first letter could be practically anything.
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle, “Back Packs”—Janie’s review
In a recent exchange I had with Liz, she expressed herself eloquently on the subject of titled puzzles (and I quote): “Being able to provide a title is luxury—it adds an additional solving layer to puzzles. Hopefully the title will help explain the ‘theme’ as the puzzle is solved. Sometimes I can skip the ‘revealer’ in the grid and simply rely on the title to ‘decode.’” So, did today’s title direct you or misdirect you towards successful decoding? For me, it was both. Even though I know that backpacks is a compound word with no space between the component parts, I allowed myself to think that perhaps this would be a puzzle about hiking or outdoor exercise. What can I say? I really enjoy hiking. No joke. Needless to say, however, I was ultimately disabused of that idea.
Here’s how my solve went. The first theme answer came easily enough when I saw THE MOB emerging at the end of that first grid-spanner.
- 17A. MARRIED TO THE MOB [1988 film with Alec Baldwin as "Cucumber Frank de Marco]. I don’t think Alec (or co-star Michelle Pfeiffer) did any hiking in that movie. What about the next themer?
- 26A. [1969 Sam Peckinpah western starring William Holden as Pike Bishop]. I’m clueless—and the crosses aren’t helping a lot. So I start playing around with the crosses that’ll help me with the fill for
- 46A. [2006 sports drama starring Dwayne Johnson and Xzibit], and again I draw a blank; or
- 58A. [1957 film starring Andy Griffith as Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes]. This one’s on the tip of my brain, but it’s not coming easily.
So, back to the crosses—and that’s when it happens. First I see BUNCH emerge, which triggers the memory of a movie I’ve heard of but never seen and that fits the pattern:
- THE WILD BUNCH. Yes. (It received two Oscar nominations.)
Now I have two of the four theme answers—plus that puzzle title. What’s the common thread (because hiking really seems to be out of the picture now)? How about words meaning pack at the back of the title? MOB? BUNCH? Check. Check. What are other synonyms for pack? CROWD? CROWD!
- A FACE IN THE CROWD. That’s what it was! The film that made Mr. Griffith a powerful presence in Hollywood. His movie debut to boot. But aaarrrgggh. What’s the final piece of the puzzle?
The crosses reveal GANG, but I need many more letters before remembering that Dwayne Johnson is also known as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. At last, I’m able to infer that this sports movie (another one I’ve never seen…) is
- GRIDIRON GANG. Ta-da! (It received no Oscar noms, but has an .8-higher IMDB rating than MttM…)
MOB, BUNCH, GANG, CROWD. Back packs. Great title, no “reveal” required, and one tight theme set. That each pack appears as the last word and in association with a movie title—and that each movie title represents a different genre over a five-decade period—only makes the resulting puzzle that much more layered and solid. Smartly done, no?
I want to take note, too, of some of the other fill and clues that make me like this puzzle A LOT. Love seeing HUBCAP—especially clued as the image-evoking [Auto wheel part repurposed as metal art]. Even the seemingly domestic/pedestrian JAR-OPENER gets new life when clued both literally and imaginatively as [Gripping housewarming gift?]. COPIERS also gets a great clue with [Machines with reproductive systems]. Then there’s the seasonal pair of HUMID [Muggy] and “PHEW!” ["Man, it's hot in here!"]. Don’t know how it’s been where you live, but, “PHEW!” we’ve been having one hot ‘n’ HUMID summer here in NYC. (Oh, for the ocean and the uncommon strength, agility, poise and daring of [Professional surfer] ALANA [Blanchard], who definitely GRACES [Lends beauty to] this sport!) And given the abundance of berries at this time of the year (blue-, straw-, rasp-, black-), I’m thinkin’ pies here when I say how I loved seeing FRESH clued as [Just-baked].
Once again, I’ve run on… Yes, there’s more that can be said, but I hope you’ll add your own thoughts below. My final one? OVERALL: GREAT WORK!!
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Magnetic Spin”
Five-minute review. Go!
Theme was tough to suss out. North and south are magnetic poles; swap adjacent N and S to make each theme answer:
- 20a. [What the phone ID tells you about Nolte?], CALL IS NICK. Call in sick.
- 37a. [Comes up with a plea, for short?], HAS NOLO. Han Solo.
- 55a. [Ancient Roman building where pigs made noises in pairs?], COSNORTIUM. Consortium.
- 11d. [Name for a pet-friendly brewpub?], PAWS ‘N’ HOPS. Pawn shops.
- 33d. [A good band pic on the CD, songs that will appeal to music producers, etc.?], DEMO’S NEED. Demon seed.
Peculiar theme, no?
Some good stuff in the fill (OAXACA, MOCKTAIL, SPEEDO, PSYCHO), some blah stuff (ERY, ANAT, OONA, TECS). 3.5 stars overall.
David Poole’s Los Angeles Times crossword
As with the Monday NYT, today’s LAT has a vowel progression theme. This time the U one has the “yoo” sound rather than “oo,” so each initial H is basically followed by the sounds of the letter names A, E, I, O, and U.
- 18a. [Subjects for Monet], HAYSTACKS.
- 22a. [Sounded like an donkey], HEE-HAWED.
- 38a. [Like someone needing a lot of attention], HIGH MAINTENANCE. Love this phrase.
- 49a. [Barn dances], HOEDOWNS. Three farm answers, two non-farm.
- 58a. ["Love Actually" actor], HUGH GRANT.
Five more clues:
- 42a. [Gourmet's prefix], GASTRO. As in gastropub, gastronomic. Maybe not so much as in gastroenterologist, gastroesophageal.
- 44a. [Self-described "short, stocky, slow-witted bald man" of "Seinfeld"], GEORGE. I would argue against the slow-witted part, actually, except for the episodes where he was boneheaded. He was often quick with a retort.
- 10d. [Flower with sword-shaped leaves], GLADIOLA. Huh? I’ve always heard Gladiolus, plural gladioli, glads for short. MWCD-11 says gladiola is a back-formation from Gladiolus, dates back to 1926.
- 39d. [Astronomer who discovered Uranus], HERSCHEL. William Herschel also composed 24 symphonies. Music + astronomy? I bet he’d have been decent at making crosswords if those had existed when he lived.
- 21d. [2011 Polanski comedy with an ironically violent title], CARNAGE. Is that truly irony? Discuss.
Solid puzzle. 3.5 stars.