Victor Barocas’s New York Times crossword, “Capital L’s”
I enjoyed this theme very much indeed. There are eight state capitals, all of the 6-letter capital names, that are formed from the beginning of one L-shaped answer (which I’ve highlighted in yellow) and the end of another (in blue). You see how 20d: THOREAU, [He wrote "It is life near the bone where it is sweetest"], bends and the EAU shares space with the JUN of 37a: JUNIPER, [Berry used to make gin], to give us JUNEAU, the capital of Alaska? And you see how Victor has included some goofball pop culture in these bendy answers (BOSS HOGG, the MACARENA) for extra flavor? The same double-bend action is in play for TOPEKA, DENVER, BOSTON, AUSTIN, HELENA, PIERRE, and ALBANY. Those bendy theme answers are thus “Capital L’s” that form the capital cities.
And then outside of the theme action, we have still more zip with ROCK CONCERT, TRIPTYCH, GALAPAGOS, THIS IS A TEST, A BUG’S LIFE, and DOODADS. Overall, the fill is quite good. Sure, there’s one obscure 4-letter European river in the grid, the EURE, but it is merely part of the bending answer 9d: EUREKA.
- 1a. [Item whose name is derived from the Latin "aquarius"], EWER. That is the way to make me not grouse at sticking EWER at 1-Across—give it an interesting etymology clue.
- 103d. [It's been shortening for over 100 years], CRISCO. Vegetable shortening, the noun, not “making shorter,” the verb.
- 101a. [Epitome of cool, with "the"], FONZ. Super-dated, but then, my formative years of pop culture consumption were the ’70s and early ’80s.
4.75 stars from me. Love the inventive theme approach and the overall liveliness of the fill.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “Lady X”
Okay, I tried to solve this puzzle without looking at the notepad but I had the whole thing filled in and didn’t know what was going on with the theme. If this were a Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest puzzle, there would have been no instructions in the notepad and you’d be on your own for figuring it out. I was not expecting a meta challenge and don’t automatically think “I should approach this as a meta” when doing a Merl Reagle crossword. So I missed the opportunity to really stare hard at the puzzle and bend it to my will.
I saw the circled IN-GRID in the answers that provided the instructions: 60a. [With 85 Across, query about an aptly related 10-letter word that starts with C], WHAT CLASSIC MOVIE TITLE IS NOT HIDDEN IN THIS GRID? And so I figured it was probably Casablanca, but I didn’t know why and I didn’t see any hidden movies in the grid. Turns out I needed to look harder and find seven 8- to 10-letter single-word movie titles from Ingrid Bergman’s career. And it turns out Merl put them in roughly symmetrical spots, but I needed to consult Wikipedia to provide a list of titles to look for. There they were! And yes, Casablanca is the missing one.
The fill is kinda nuts, what with the constraints of the 42-letter question and seven rows with movie titles spanning multiple answers. But look how elegantly those titles are hidden! This is much cooler than a “word search within a crossword” gimmick. MAELSTROM BOLIVAR! NORIEGA SLIGHTS, CANASTA SIAMESE, PRINTER MEZZOTINT! I was less excited by the 6-letter partial MIND IS facilitating INDISCREET, the RE- of RESPELL in SPELLBOUND (although what else ends with SPELL, other than, say, CAST A SPELL, which uses the exact same sense of SPELL in SPELLBOUND and was thus to be avoided). ANNO TORI OUSTER is kinda neat, though.
The least familiar answer in the grid, for me, was ANTLIA, 10d. [Constellation near Hydra (anagram of LATINA)]. Never heard of it. The dictionary suggests that the constellation resembles … an air pump.
Actually, now that I’m looking over the finished grid, aside from ANTLIA (which crosses two hidden theme answers) and MIND IS, the fill looks rather ordinary and not really so clunky after all.
4.5 stars for the sneak-attack meta puzzle.
Mike Nothnagel’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 177 – Gareth’s review”
We have an unusually uniform, easy Post Puzzler today from Mike Nothnagel. The two stand-out features of the puzzle for me were the clues as well the close-to-clunker-free grid.
First off some favourite entries:
- 1a, [Genre of "Only You"], DOOWOP. That’s a great 1A!
- 16a, ["Boardwalk Empire" role], ALCAPONE. Except I have no idea what this film “Boardwalk Empire” is.
- 28a, [Creator of the label Obscure Records], BRIANENO
- 31a, [Cartoon Network show about a boy named Finn and a dog named Jake], ADVENTURETIME. The clue would be terser if it was from the Gen X / Baby Boomer era.
- The crossing opposite answers of 36a, [Negative response to "Want to go?"], NOTTODAY and 37d, [Positive response to "Want to go?"].
- 54a, ["I bruise easily"], BEGENTLE
My three favourite of the many great clues were:
20a, [It's often found under a Christmas tree], SKIRT
22a, [Calls out?], UMPS
26a, [Work with a pattern, maybe], OPART
Lastly, I’d to make a few miscellaneous remarks. NOMAAM, as usual, got the polite treatment; NOSIR, by contrast, always gets the military treatment. I understand what it means, but I’ve never encountered MDDEGREE as a phrase before. And ABS clued as an abbr. for “absent” is bizarre when there’s a perfectly familiar braking system is around…
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Dave Sullivan’s review
First off, I want to thank co-fiend reviewer janie for filling in for me yesterday. On to today, we have a smooth themeless from constructor Bruce Venzke, featuring two 15-letter entries
- [It's often a buzzer-beater] clues GAME-WINNING SHOT – I guess I think of this mainly in the realm of basketball, but I suppose it could happen in hockey as well.
- [Speaks wtihout reservations] was TELLS IT LIKE IT IS – “lays it on the line” has a similar meaning–I wonder if there is a themed puzzle idea in these seeds?
These were crossed by some nice longer entries as well, namely [Establish an attitude] for SET THE TONE and [Edible thistlelike plants] for ARTICHOKES. Those are some large thistles! I think of A.A. Milne’s character Eeyore, as I remember ate thistles, whose prickliness likely led to his characteristic weltschmerz. The triple stacks of eight in the NE and SW corners are also impressive, but I did notice an overabundance of double-E action in the puzzle. I’m looking at you SPEEDOS, FLEES, DEEDS, SEE BELOW, EENS, STEEPER and TE-HEE. These tend to dampen a more enthusiastic reception for the more interesting entries.
There was a double-E I did enjoy though, so I’ll award my FAVE today to I BEFORE E or [Start of a spelling rule]. My head-scratcher goes to [Capes] or NESSES–I’ve heard of Loch Ness, but not the use of this word to refer to a cape (or promontory) on its own.
Emily Cox and Henry Hook’s Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “Reshot Endings” — pannonica’s write-up
Pretty easy to suss out the theme and its workings, especially since I remembered to look at the title before diving in to the solve. Film titles in which the final letter has been replaced with a different one, for dramatic and/or comedic results.
- 23a. [De Niro involved in poppycock?] TAXI DRIVEL (Taxi Driver). The crossword was facile enough to be worked essentially top to bottom, so this was my first theme answer and I was speculating that it might be L(eft)–(R)ight exchanges. That hypothesis was quickly dismissed when I arrived at
- 28a. [Film noir of an icy sort?], to which I responded instinctively and a bit irrationally (since I had a mostly working appreciation for the theme), thinking that the original was The Big Chill. Of course it’s the noir classic The Big Sleep, here rendered as THE BIG SLEET.
- 44a. [Pet imitation at sea?] NOAH’S ARF. Probably the least known of the films here. In fact, I’m not sure what the original was intended to be: the 1928 silent epic Noah’s Ark directed by Michael Curtiz? The 1946 French comedy L’Arche De Noe (Noah’s Ark)? The 1995 European–Turkish Krima-Kerime: Noah’s Ark? The 1999 two-part television movie Noah’s Ark? The 2008 limited-release Noah’s Arc film expanded from a Logo television series? By process of elimination, I believe it’s the silent film.
- 54a. [Movie expressing mother love?] STAND BY MA (Stand By Me).
- 60a. [Biopic of Bjorn?] A STAR IS BORG (A Star is Born, any one of the numerous versions).
- 68a. [The tale of Immanuel?] CITIZEN KANT (Citizen Kane).
- 78a. [Musical, interrupted?] ANNIE HALF (Annie Hall). Anyone else drop in ANNIE HALT first?
- 86a. [Account of a plush bird?] TOY STORK (Toy Story).
- 100a. [Source of a cold-weather high?] WINTER’S BONG (Winter’s Bone).
- 109a. [De Niro wildly overweight?] RAGING BULK (Raging Bull). The actor did famously put on many pounds for the role of Al Capone in The Untouchables. Undecided whether I find the bookending De Niro vehicles an elegant touch or a distraction. Leaning toward the latter.
For the record, the original letters are: R, P, K(C), E, N, E, L, Y, E, L. The “reshot” endings are: L, T, F, A, G, T, F, K, G, K. Pretty sure there isn’t anything going on with those.
Some tasty long fill throughout, but all perpendicularly touching the grid’s edges (noticed this in the wake of the “landlocked” countries in Matt Gaffney’s most recent contest puzzle): ALTAR BOY, MONOTONY, PT BARNUM, TRIATHLON, HE’S A REBEL; BALLADIC is bit scowl-inducing, LONG LIFE and EMINENCE are a bit meh, MALTREAT I somehow like. And at 83-down [Disco-era label] I wanted CASABLANCA but it’s better that it was POLYGRAM, as the other would likely have appeared to infringe on the theme.
- Toughest crossing at 59a [Kansas town with a woman's name] and 51d ["Tempest" artist]. The answers are IOLA and DYLAN, but I’d forgotten about ol’ Bob’s most recent release (the one with the notorious Titanic track) and was thinking IONA (DYNAN of course didn’t make sense). However, I was very much distracted by considering the newish opera by Thomas ADÈS (with the demanding parts for Ariel) and was AT SEA. Might it have been fairer to have foregone cutting-edgeness and used a more iconic recording?
- Can never remember how to spell that historical baseball player at 34a SPAHN. Inevitably I end up with SPA–N, remember that it’s spelled differently from brilliant blues piano legend Otis SPANN, but am inevitably torn between SPAAN and SPAHN.
- Misread 94a [Not as well done] as [Not well done], went with ROUGH before RARER. Oh, and failing to properly parse 13d [Wish of a toaster] I immediately though of TO FLY, ha-ha.
- 6d [Evita's farewell] ADIOS / 15d [Flaubert's farewell] ADIEU. Hmm.
- 55d ["Vanilla Sky" actress] Cameron DIAZ. But Penelope CRUZ was in it too, reprising her role from the Spanish original, Open Your Eyes. Fell for another misdirection with 61d [Archaeologist's find]: RUINS, not RELIC.
The cluing is for the most part restrained, with nothing too flashy, though there are occasional sly winks such as 69d [White house] for IGLOO. Good puzzle.
Gail Grabowski’s syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “Force Field”
I don’t quite grasp how the title applies to a theme in which -CE is added to a word. Although “plusce,” withce,” and “andce” aren’t words, so…. Here’s the theme:
- 23a. [Light for lovers?], ROMANCE CANDLE.
- 39a. [Coat with a "V" on it?], PEACE JACKET. Not happy with this clue because a “V” by itself has no connotations of peace. It’s the peace sign with two fingers in a V shape.
- 58a. [Op-ed page apology?], HUMBLE PIECE.
- 84a. [Flinch at the drop of a hat?], WINCE EASILY.
- 102a. [Astronaut's vacation spot?], SPACE RESORT. Is “spa resort” truly in the language?
- 121a. [Cruise destination for impulsive sorts?], ISLE OF CAPRICE. Cute!
- 16d. [Wipe out municipal coffers with a scam?], FLEECE THE CITY. “Flee the city” feels rather arbitrary to me.
- 57d. [Satiric video of a backyard gathering?], FARCE FROM HOME.
A friend of mine couldn’t finish this puzzle because he got entangled in that midsection of unsavory fill. Crosswordese 71a. [Dried coconut meat], COPRA—I told him you sit on the tropical beach under a SAGO palm and eat your TARO, COPRA, and POI while admiring your NACRE jewelry. (Tropical crosswordese!) Anyway, COPRA crossed 71d. ['80s-'90s Olds models], CIERAS, at the C, so if you don’t know either your Cars of Yore or your tropical crosswordese, that is a terrible crossing. Neighboring ECOLAB isn’t great, either.
Favorite fill: AL PACINO, “STOP HIM!,” BR’ER FOX (Br’er is short for “brother”), the figurative LOW ROAD, and “LOOK HERE.”
My pick for worst answer in the puzzle is not CIERAS or COPRA. It’s 82a. [Musical shortcoming], NO EAR. Do people say that? If they’re saying it about me, don’t hide the truth from me.
Least familiar name: 1d. [Steamer sunk by a U-boat in 1941], NERISSA. It’s the name of a Merchant of Venice character too, but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered it as a ship name. Turns out it’s Canadian history, so I’ll bet our Canadian solvers are more likely to know the story.
2.75 stars. The theme entries didn’t all work for me, and I was disappointed by some of the fill.