Hey, look! Erik Agard has been profiled in the Washington Post. I have hung out with Erik at a few crossword tournaments and I had no idea he was shy. (I think a lot of puzzle people are unshy around other puzzle people.) What the article didn’t mention (unless I missed it) was Erik’s website where he publishes a weekly crossword. Check it out.
Joel Fagliano’s New York Times crossword
The theme takes famous people’s first names and converts them to sound-alike two-initial substitutes:
- 17a. ["Laugh-In" comic], RT JOHNSON. Arte Johnson. Famous to those 45 and up. Although “Arte” is probably pronounced more like “R.D.” to most of us, no?
- 21a. ["Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" author], EN FLEMING. Ian Fleming. I dunno. “E.N.” sounds like ee-en to me, while “Ian” sounds like ee-ən, with a schwa.
- 36a. [Daytime host starting in 2012], KT COURIC. As with Arte, I think most Americans pronounce “Katie” a little more like “K.D.”
- 46a. [Punk rock icon], DD RAMONE. DD for Dee Dee? All right, that works.
- 56a. [One of two acting brothers], KC AFFLECK. Casey. Subtle difference in the stress applied to the syllables, no?
- 66a. [Noted groom of 10/20/1968], RE ONASSIS. Ari Onassis? Between him and Arte Johnson, the theme feels like a throwback to 40 years ago. Although Casey Affleck was only born 38 years ago.
So, no, I don’t care for this theme. Sound-based themes really need to nail it, and this one fell short of the mark.
- 19a. ["Is Shakespeare Dead?" writer], TWAIN. Didn’t know it but the clue is entertaining.
- 10d. [Sequel to "Twilight"], NEW MOON. We would also have accepted a lunar phase clue.
- 22d. [Rapper with the #1 hit "Money Maker"], LUDACRIS. His friends call him Chris.
- 24d. [Fly over the water], PARASAIL. Hey! I did that once, in the Caribbean. In the Bahamas. Never going on a cruise again, I don’t think. I got landsick upon my return.
- 45d. [Batman villain who makes decisions by flipping a coin], TWO-FACE.
- 57d. [Oscar winner Blanchett], CATE.
Outside of a handful of zippy entries, though, the rest of the puzzle was underwhelming. SIAM, OHM’S, OBIS, ALP, UTICA, OKEMO, SKUAS, AMON, SLOES? I suspect this is one of Joel’s earlier constructions because some of his other recent puzzles have really sparkled.
2.75 stars from me because the theme didn’t hit its mark and I found myself frowning at some of the fill. I know Joel’s capable of much more polished work than this!
Updated Wednesday morning:
Victor Barocas’s Los Angeles Times crossword
So at first I thought the theme was just [Legend with a >THING<] and I wasn’t too impressed. Especially as it’s quite a stretch to call TARZANOFTHEAPES and HUGHHEFNER legends. Then you get to the revealer, SWING, [Important word for 17-, 23-, 36-, 46- and 57-Across] and the puzzle becomes a lot more elegant. I still don’t like the way the clues for each theme answer have been forced to be homologous. There are some wildly different meanings of SWING to be found among the five “swingers”. PAULBUNYAN and MICKEYMANTLE swing their axe and bat using a swinging motion. TARZANOFTHEAPES swings from his vine. BENNYGOODMAN plays swing. HUGHHEFNER is a slut.
Most of the puzzle action is happening in the very dense (64 letter) theme. There isn’t too much longer non-thematic fill, which is understandable considering, but the rest of the puzzle is well-constructed and as clean and interesting as it can be. We get an interesting, inferrable geography tidbit in the clue for IBERIA – Did you know part of France was considered to be on the Iberian peninsula? On the other hand, the clue for SLAIN was rather unhelpfully odd to me: [Like many characters in Shakespeare's dramas]. The two worst fill offenders were the partial ITON and the as-far-as-I-can-tell-not-used-in-natural-English ADES; that’s a short list, though.
3.5 Stars: Excellent, clever concept but I didn’t care for the clueing conceit.
Gareth, leaving you with some classic SKA.
Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Lug Nut” – Dave Sullivan’s review
If you’re not doing constructor Patrick Blindauer’s free monthly puzzles, get thee to his site immediately and join the fun. This month’s is called “Catching a Few Winks” and definitely worth the price of admission (and then some!) In this venue, Patrick offers us a letter movement theme, “lugging” the letter R to the right or left:
- [*Amazing facial hair?] clues WONDER BEARD – in elementary school, my class went on a field trip to the Wonder Bread factory, which was also in the Boston area, but I can’t remember which town as it’s long gone. A friend called this stuff “air bread” for its lack of substance.
- [*Blazers in Pairs?] are FRENCH FIRES
- A clue that may not pass the Sunday breakfast test, [*Ceramics chain with regular customers?] clues a POTTERY BRAN – here’s the fiber missing from the first theme answer. It all comes around, people!
- [*Vegetables grown by sailors?] are MARINE CROPS – “corps” becomes “crops.”
- Tying it all together, we have [Lug nut? (and a two-part hint to this puzzle's four starred clues] for MOVE R – “nut” is used in the sense of “fanatic” here–movers are nuts about lugging things I guess.
I like the theme entries and having a central revealer was a masterful touch. I personally don’t think the stars in the theme clues were necessary as they were the longest 4 entries in the grid, but I suppose those who don’t ever expect down entries to be part of the theme appreciated the asterisks. Patrick’s currency with popular culture was demonstrated at 1-Across, ["Property Brothers" network] being HGTV or the Home and Garden Network, my FAVE entry today. We’re big fans of another show on that same network, House Hunters, particularly the International edition which follows the rich and not-so-famous on their search for a retirement home in some far-flung seaside resort town, where they’ll spend their final days surfing waves and catching rays.
I have to say ["CBS News Sunday Morning" contributor Mo] ROCCA was the most difficult entry to come up with, although the name is familiar to me as I believe he is also an infrequent panelist on NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. That second C, which crossed the rather cryptic clue [Beat-nik] for COP (if “nik” can be used as a suffix implying an adherent, “beat” is what some cops walk), took a while to figure out. But, my real UNFAVE has to go Mr. REE (classic board game similar to Clue). If you’ve actually played this game, raise your virtual hand in the comments section and let me know what it is like. (How close to Clue is it? Is there a Professor Plum and a Colonel Mustard?)
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Debt Growth”
Four phrases pick up some debt (IOUs) and a new meaning. Spelling changes are carried out as needed to accommodate the debt.
- 17a. [Debauched tectonic layer?], LICENTIOUS PLATE. That Juan de Fuca Plate really knows how to have a good time. (License plate.)
- 24a. [Pegged as bad-tempered?], MARKED BILIOUS. (Marked bill.)
- 35a/43a. [With 43-Across, event where people say grace before shoving dozens of hot dogs in their mouths?], PIOUS / EATING CONTEST. (Pie eating contest.)
- 57a. [Interested in headaches, puking, and bloodshot eyes?], HANGOVER-CURIOUS. (Hangover cure.)
Six items of note:
- 33a. [North Korea, initially], DPRK. I love the 1984ishness of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). As Inigo Montoya said in The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
- 37a. [Travel through time?] AGE. Yes! We are all time travelers.
- 52a. [Oscar-winning 1978 song for Donna Summer], LAST DANCE. Video. Get up and dance!
- 5d. [Belieber, say], FANGIRL. Nice entry.
- 10d, 11d. [Bar entry requirement], VALID ID and EXAM. Nice two-fer.
- 24d. [Impressionist who painted people on lawns, in cafés, brutally murdering each other, etc.]. MANET. Those French sorts of things, you know.
I don’t love all of the fill but I liked the theme and the bright spots in the fill. 3.75 stars.