I missed seeing Andy K. on Million Second Quiz tonight! Tune in Thursday night at 7 Central, 8 Eastern/etc. to see him on NBC. Possibly he will be in the big Money Chair going head to head with trivia rivals?
Peter Gordon’s Fireball contest crossword, “Head Start”
No review or answer grid, because it’s a contest puzzle with a Sunday deadline. I don’t know about you, but I am not great at metas and still found this one to be surprisingly easy. Toughish crossword proper, though, with a number of spiffy entries. 4.25 stars from me.
Ian Livengood’s New York Times crossword
Somewhat subtle six-part theme today, especially for those of us who don’t bother to read long, cross-referenced clues.
- 18a. [Film lead character featured in a Disney World attraction], JACK SPARROW.
- 24a. [Remark about the end of 18-Across], IT’S A BIRD. A sparrow is, yes.
- 31a. [Kind of printer for home or office], BUBBLE JET.
- 39a. [Remark about the end of 31-Across], IT’S A PLANE.
- 49a. [2000 N.L M.V.P. who played for the Giants], JEFF KENT. What?? Who? In my book, this is a nobody, not a name I am supposed to know.
- 56a. [Remark about the end of 49-Across], IT’S SUPERMAN. As in Clark Kent.
Highlights in the fill include JUMPSUITS, “ABOUT THAT…,” WAR ZONE, and JUICE BARS. Possibly GLAM UP. Definitely not the plural PLAN B’S.
Five clues to remark on:
- 11d. [View from Valence], RHONE. So apparently Valence is a place in France or maybe Switzerland, and the Rhone River flows by.
- 26a. [Hamlet's parts], ABODES. Wait. Hamlet as in “village”? Houses are not “parts” of a village. Neighborhoods are parts of a village, but people’s abodes are simply things that are in a hamlet. Like trees, and streets, and cars, and Slinky toys.
- 8d. [Tube inits.], ADA. As in the American Dental Association seal on a toothpaste tube.
- 3d. [Things that zip up to go down?], JUMPSUITS. Wait, we’re defining JUMPSUITS as outfits worn by paratroopers as opposed to the jumpsuits that may be worn by people sporting a retro ’70s vibe or car mechanics? That’s just weird.
- 21d. [___-Coburg and Gotha (former British ruling family)], SAXE. Uh, no. It’s the former name of the current British ruling family. They changed it to Windsor in 1917 because of anti-German sentiment in England.
Bonus points for the unusual and unexpected theme riff on the classic Superman line, demerits for the weirdness in the clues and a bunch of meh 3-letter answers (RAE UAE ABU ROM, anyone?). 3.9 stars overall.
Peter A. Collins’ Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review
This puzzle theme’s best part was its revealer, although I’d figured out what it was going to be by the time I got there: TOSSED SALAD! Anagrammed hidden word themes do come off feeling a hair arbitrary, but this does have impressive density (7 entries and 61 letters) and some consistency in that all the answers have two distinct parts, with the hidden words crossing the divide. I say “parts” – one answer is one word, one is hyphenated and the rest two. We have:
- A COBB salad hiding in BOB CRATCHIT. Nice entry that one! I only know COBB salads from American crosswords. BTW, an extended apology if my un-American-ness becomes too big a part of these reviews!
- A CAESAR salad hiding in SCARE AWAY.
- A TACO salad hiding in RIOT ACT. Another salad I’ve learned about from American crosswords.
- A GREEK salad hiding somewhat appropriately in DARK-GREEN. Now Greek salads, those are ubiquitous here!
- A TUNA salad hiding in SUNTANS. I have a great tuna salad recipe I acquired from a sister-in-law! Now I’m having cravings!
- An EGG salad hiding in BIG EGOS. This is on the border of being a random-adjective-plus-noun phrase, but I think on consideration it works!
The theme also made me think of Fawlty Towers’ Waldorf Salad (not found in the puzzle) bit, but I can’t find a suitable link (either too short or the whole darn episode). Sorry about that.
We have theme invading every last corner of the grid today, with somewhat inevitable consequences. Two five-letter partials in MANOF and ASNAG for starters. Then a very high abbr. count, although most are fairly harmless in isolation: ISR, GSA, SCI, ASST, INSP, APR, SEN, USO, SMU, YMCA (included only for completeness’ sake, this is an entry I’d actively try to include in a puzzle), PSAT, SSE, STA, and AMA. As I started off by saying, none of those are really beyond the pale, but 14 abbreviations in one puzzle might be slightly on the excessive side? There were several foreign answers as well. Of them, ZEIT struck me as some high-end German. I’m sure this was a gimme for Amy, though! Thinking about it, I’m guessing zeitgeist means “time” something… “Time spirit?”
- The intersection of 1a and 1d proved tricky for me, although you all probably had no problems – the US spelling of kerb, plus very American clue for CAB was a challenge.
- AURORA is apparently the second most populous city in Illinois. I thought AURORA was in Colorado? I see there are multiple Auroras in the US (around 30 listed here) with the Colorado one having around 300,000 souls and the Illinois one around 200,000. Again, I am sure this one was a gimme for Amy!
- ATSTUD was a nice answer.
- So was BACKROW. Here’s a somewhat saccharine Drifters number (from their 70′s incarnation – The Drifters are one of those groups whose composition varied wildly over the course of their existence!)
- Another answer I liked was FORSALE.
- I liked the clue for ETE, [Le Tour de France time]. It made the familiar answer fun!
- TRUEUP sounds weird to my ears, but then I’m no carpenter.
- GETAC strikes me as contrived, although not terrible as an answer.
I’d call this 3.5 stars for the theme, minus say 0.75 for the slightly clunky fill, to come in at 2.75 stars. I do realise that the thematic density necessitated such fill, but I feel the puzzle would’ve been fine with just four salads instead of six and less constrained fill. Your mileage may vary.
Donna S. Levin’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Just Brows-ing” – Dave Sullivan’s review
So I’m trying to envision the thought process constructor Donna S. Levin went through to come up with this theme idea. “Hey, I wonder if celebrities known for shaggy eyebrows can be used symmetrically in a puzzle?” Well, I guess the answer was yes, with four entries clued as [X with notable eyebrows]:
- The first X is a [Curmudgeonly journalist...] or ANDY ROONEY – I think his eyebrows got more “notable” toward the end of his 60 Minutes stint.
- The next X is a [Former child model...] which was BROOKE SHIELDS – I wonder if Andre Agassi would agree?
- Then we have an [Academy Award winner...] cluing badboy JACK NICHOLSON – again, I’m thinking his eyebrows become more prominent as he ages, and that’s just because he doesn’t trim them.
- Perhaps the most unexpected entry is [20th century artist...] or FRIDA KAHLO – see below.
Quite an unusual theme, but I think a nice representative group which doesn’t omit any others that spring to mind. (Can’t say I’ve frankly thought much about this category, though.) SABRA for [Native Israeli person, cactus, or liqueur] had me scratching my head at 1-Across, as I only know it as the name of a brand of hummus. Since hummus is Middle Eastern in origin, I guess the Israeli connection makes sense. I had ZAGREV before I realized APLOMB (another unusual and FAVE entry) ends with a B. Is one spelling preferred over the other? My UNFAVE is the clue for PAYPHONES which implies they are obsolete. They are indeed still to be found, and I think it’s somewhat arrogant to assume everyone has a cellphone these days. But, I realize phone companies want to phase them out as they are likely money losers, as they require someone to come collect the accumulating change periodically.
Brendan Quigley’s website puzzle, “When in London” — Matt’s review
Being married to an Englishwoman presents Brendan with certain theme opportunities less available to the non-Brit-partnered. Today he brings mew meaning to six familiar phrases by using the British sense of one word in each:
17-a [Unbelievably good-looking women?] = BIRDS OF PARADISE. What’s the male counterpart, blokes? Is that their dude/chick equivalent?
23-a [Otis Corporation’s question?] = NEED A LIFT? Good one.
31-a [Very evil bus?] = BASE COACH.
44-a [Words written on a pacifier?] = DUMMY TEXT. That Brits call a pacifier a “dummy” is something Brendan would know.
50-a [Frozen fries?] = BLUE CHIPS.
59-a [Suspenders that really make a statement?] = BRACES FOR IMPACT. Didn’t know this one, but easy to figure out.
Six theme entries is a lot and even if not every one shone like daybreak over Stonehenge (BLUE CHIPS, BASE COACH) it was still interesting to learn a few things, so thumbs-up on the theme.
*** Took a wrong turn at SEN??? clued as [Nero’s advisor]. Put in SENATE and immediately planned to chide Brendan in this review for not making it “advisors.”
*** NEARD was new to me, but inferrable and interesting. Also called a “neckbeard,” apparently. Check it out!
*** PMS clued as [Time for violent mood swings and lots of chocolate]. I always clue this as [Major and Blair, e.g.] or the like, but I will tell you that my strategy for this meaning of it is to give my wife whatever she wants and apologize profusely if I don’t do it fast enough.
*** First row across is LIAR PORN, I FEAR. Sounds like a BEQ!
Anna Schechtman’s American Values Club crossword, “Flipping the Script”
This week’s AV Club puzzle comes from guest constructor Anna Schechtman, a recent college grad who’s working as an assistant to Will Shortz. First woman in that job, to my knowledge.
Anyway! Anna, who builds her crosswords by hand, has crafted a doozy. She ‘s built a LANGUAGE BARRIER ([Obstacle to communication ... or what separates this puzzle's top and bottom halves]) in the middle of the grid, and above it we learn that LATIN ([It's spoken in high school and that's about it]) and ROMANCE ([13-Down family]) language scripts are READ LEFT TO RIGHT ([Like writing in a 27-Across script]), whereas SEMITIC ([44-Across family]) languages like ARABIC ([It's spoken in North Africa and elsewhere]) are TFEL OT THGIR DAER ([Like writing in many 44-Across scripts]). If that wasn’t enough, every Across answer below the LANGUAGE BARRIER is, in fact, read right to left. The individual clues don’t hint at that, so there’s a nice “aha” moment when it all clicks.
Me, I always enjoy a puzzle that asks me to enter words backwards. This is one reason I enjoyed the hell out of the recent NYT hurricane-swirl puzzle.
Selected clues and answers:
- 14a. [Pooh-bah of childrens' lit, so to speak], A.A. MILNE, writer of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.
- 39a. [Suffix with cell or glob], ULE. Wait. Cellular is a word, but is cellule? Apparently it is, but I don’t remember seeing it ever before.
- 41a. [Partner in a Rocky marriage?], ADRIAN. “Yo, Adrian.”
- 61a. [They're two years past sophs], SRS. Hey! Palindromic words work the same in either direction.
- 2d. [Wife (and mother) of Uranus], GAEA. Eww.
- 9d. ["Cut Piece" Fluxus artist], ONO. Well! That one’s new. Fluxus was a global network of artistic people blending disciplines and media.
- 18d. ["The ___ La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana)" ("Banana Splits" theme)], TRA. Best TRA clue ever.
- 27d. [Breathing abnormality], RALE. Almost never seen in the singular in medicine. Rales = an unhealthy rattling sound heard via stethoscope.
- 42d. [___ Sweatshirt ("Doris" musician)], EARL. I know this only from a BEQ puzzle.
There is some meh fill in here, like ARAM and -ULE, AN E and IT A. But when you busy yourself filling in words backwards, such things are less noticeable. 4.5 stars.