Peter Collins’ New York Times crossword
On occasion, we get a themed Friday puzzle:
- 1a. [Begin], GERMINATE, and
- 61a. [End], TERMINATE, are partnered up. To get from [Begin] to [End], just:
- 29a, 36a, 39a. [With 36- and 39-Across, go from 1- to 61-Across], CHANGE ONE LETTER.
That is not terribly exciting as word games go, though it’s mildly interesting that GERMINATE and TERMINATE can be used as opposites and differ by only one letter. There are other such pairs, aren’t there? Drawing a blank right now, but it feels familiar.
There’s not much in this grid to wow the themeless fan. I like to have plenty of zippy answers, and I didn’t find them here.
Five more things:
- 12d. [Unit charge], CONDO FEE. Is that a real phrase? We have a monthly assessment in my building, not a “condo fee.”
- 33a. [Robert W. Service's "The Cremation of Sam ___"] MCGEE. I have no idea what this is. A poem?
- 40d. [One-two in the ring?], TAG TEAM. Professional wrestling, mostly, no? Freshest phrase in the puzzle.
- 6d. [___ Romanova, alter ego of Marvel's Black Widow], NATALIA. I pay almost no mind to comic books.
- 4d. [He'll "talk 'til his voice is hoarse"], MR. ED. I remain weary of the TV show/horse character Mister Ed being presented in crosswords as MRED. You can’t monkey with titles like that.
AGA plus AGAR, and TECS and OLIOS? Bleh.
I note that ASHER/ASHES, ALA/AGA, and AGNES/AGNEW are other pairs that differ by one letter. I’ll bet you a dollar that Peter was well aware of them when he made this puzzle.
Mark Feldman’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Shakespearean Poetry” — pannonica’s write-up
Nay, I prithee now, with most petitionary vehemence, tell me who it is.
– Rosalind, As You Like It, III, ii*
Shakespeare was of course a poet as well as a playwright, but the titular reference here is to simple rhyming, specifically to the names of characters in his plays.
- 16a. [Shakespearean jester after winning the lottery?] EUPHORIC YORICK. You can bet that there were a lot of people claiming to know him after that.
- 29a. [Shakespearean king after a night on the town?] DRUNKEN DUNCAN. ‘Twas the chamberlains who were the worse for wear on that account, I’d say.
- 35a. [Shakespearean Moor after a day at the spa?] MELLOW OTHELLO. I don’t think it’ll take.
- 52a. [Shakespearean prince after receiving some bad news?] JOYLESS TROILUS. “Hey, your noble brother Hector was slain by Achilles, and the bastard’s dragging him around the city walls behind his chariot.”
Cute theme, great rhymes. Have to admit that some of them sound like rejected Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavors. Obliged to note that all four personalities are male, though Shakespeare created many memorable female characters. But what’s with the huge blocks? They’re monstrous! Two six-square ELS (43a)! Two six-square Oklahomas! And a five-spot blistering the middle! I used to use xwordinfo to analyze puzzles so I could easily find out the fill/squares ratio (and check letter frequencies), but that feature is no longer free to non-subscribers. Nor do I have Crossword Compiler or a similar program, and while I may be dedicated to this blog, I’m not so in its thrall as to manually calculate those numbers.
If she be black, and thereto have a wit,
She’ll find a white that shall her blackness fit.
– Iago (to Desdemona, speaking of his muse), Othello, II, i
Worse and worse!
– Desdemona (in response, obviously)
- Slickest clue: 48d [Rises in the west] MESAS, though for it to be fair it should have had “west” capitalized.
- Northeast: ILLER crossing REHEM; both are legitimate, but it’s clunky to see them both, so proximate.
- Longest non-theme fill are the paired VEHEMENT and PRECLUDE, which seem to have a Shakespearean air about them. The central vertical quadrille—a curious formation brought about by the aforementioned parcelling of black and white squares—of CHINOOK, DICTATE, HEARTHS, and TRIPS UP is decent.
- Just a little in the way of That Higher Education Vibe™: 26d [Sister of Charlotte and Emily] ANNE, 29d ["A __ House"] DOLL’S, 45d [Theater critic Barnes] CLIVE. Arguably: Zeno the STOIC (32a), Galileo’s crime of HERESY (42a), and Tanzania’s Olduvai GORGE in Africa’s Great Rift Valley.
- Worst solving gaffe: chronic misreading of 36d [Creature in a pod] as [Creature in a pond]; that’s one immense pond if it’s going to contain a WHALE. Yes, I was all 56a ["What the …?"] HUH? And don’t give me that cutesy UK–US term for the Atlantic Ocean, either.
* The Shakespeare concordance I consulted returned six instances of the in-grid VEHEMENT, but this single occurrence of vehemence seemed far more apt.
Nancy Cole Stuart’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Military Invasion” — pannonica’s write-up
Brace yourself for an influx of general infantry, because they’ve abseiled their way into a bunch of base phrases, to completely subvert them.
- 22a. [Staples at a young mouse's birthday party?] MA(GI)C AND CHEESE. Really, is there any other way this could possibly be clued? Well done.
- 32a. [Juniors and sophomores on a Texas campus?] MIDDLE AG(GI)ES. Aggies, nickname derived from “agricultural.” Many schools have adopted it but the most famous is probably Texas A&M University—that’s agricultural and mechanical. Has it ever broached crosswordom in its TAMU form? Let’s hope not.
- 43a. [Maker of towering tables?] CARPENTER (GI)ANT. Carpenter giant? Giant carpenter? Canteger paint?
- 64a. [More grimy bill of fare?] DIN(GI)ER MENU.
- 75a. [Bedtime remark in a Gale Storm sitcom?] ‘NIGHT MAR(GI)E. Vaguely recognize actress’ name, but not the show.
- 97a. [Ron Moody in "Oliver!" compared to others who played the part?] NUMBER ONE FA(GI)N. So I guess he originated it. London stage? Broadway? Don’t know, don’t care.
- 105a. [Green, for Spock's blood, of course?] LO(GI)CAL COLOR. Clue doesn’t make sense as it is. It’d have to be longer, but if it mentioned that the blood contains—what, copper?—instead of iron, then maybe we can talk.
- 121a. [Waiter's question to a chef concerning a mushroom soup order?] AIN’T WE GOT FUN(GI)? More like a rhetorical demand than a question, no? Or maybe it just seems that way to me because it’s alien to my way of speaking.
So. Not the most exciting of themes, but fairly well executed for what it is. For instance, pretty good variation of the infiltration point (though it would have been nice to have at least one with the GI at the beginning of one of the phrases—ideally at 22-across—to complement the one finishing 121-across. Or perhaps one that spanned two words? A good amount of the new phrases are entertaining.
Perhaps it doesn’t bother other solvers or commenters, but I dislike when aspects of the theme mingle with the non-theme sections of a crossword. Such as ANGIE at 16d. Obviously, the GI-less “ANE” is not much of a thing, but the presence of the one critical theme element elsewhere is distracting. See also 103a YOGI and 107d GIRLS.
- The longest non-theme entries, both downs, have particularly playful clues: 14d [Work done on the convertible?] EVANGELISM, 76d [Reunion shows?] HOME VIDEOS. I do wonder if the former is a bit too much of a stretch, even with the question mark.
- Toughest section to complete: left-of-center, with [Chesterfield, e.g.] OVERCOAT, [You may part with it] COMB, [Alternative to noir] AU LAIT, themer ‘NIGHT MARGIE, [Personal sketch] BIO, [Part of many email addresses] AOL, [Field pest] LOCUST, [Bookbinding leather] ROAN. Sure, some are obvious in retrospect—or even with a crossing letter or two—but as a whole it was difficult this solver to break into.
- 32d [Patrick of "Barry Lyndon"] MAGEE. He changed his name from McGee for some reason unknown to me. Had been looking forward to experiencing that film for years, finally saw it in 2011 and was disappointed once again by Kubrick. Aside from Dr Strangelove, I find his oeuvre (what I’ve seen of it) to be tedious and uninteresting, unstimulating, unprovocative, and not a little pretentious.
- 26a/117d [Crikey!] GOSH / EGAD.
- Most temporarily bewildering clue: 52a [Fat mule marking, perhaps] EEE.
- Crosswordesiest fill: INRŌ. Think of it as a Japanese sporran.
- A lotta alliteration littering the clues.
- 40d [Frigid forecast] TEENS, which happened to be my first guess for 107d [Many Justin Bieber fans] before I sussed out that that was GIRLS.
- Most snarkily ironic clue: 122a [Piece-loving org] NRA.
Typically strong fill and cluing (Shenk standards) throughout keep this one in the above-average zone.
Updated Friday morning
Matt Skoczen’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s Write-up
The [Celebration suggested by words that end answers to starred clues] in Matt Skoczen’s puzzle is ANIGHTONTHETOWN. The six answers spell out TOP, HAT, WHITE, TIE, TAILS – or “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails.” OK, now is the part when you get to mock me for being an uncultured lout. I’ve never heard the phrase in my life before, but google spat this out. I don’t know if the crossword is referencing the song, or if the song and the crossword are both borrowing an old-timey phrase. I do admire the way Mr. Skoczen finessed the middle two theme answers into the grid using a 7/7 arrangement: having six answers with two locked in at 15 apiece is no laughing matter! As it is this comes in at a hefty 68 theme letters! Another symptom of this plus-size theme is, paradoxically, a near themeless block/word count of 35/74; to explain, this is because one mostly can’t introduce more black squares without dividing a theme answer: Mr. Skoczen’s options were limited to corner/side helper squares, which he eschewed. OK, now; here are the theme answers themselves:
- [*Doing more than is necessary], GOINGOVERTHETOP
- [*Where secrets are kept], UNDERONESHAT
- [*"The Elements of Style" co-author], EBWHITE. Better known as the author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little in my world.
- [*"We're even!"], ITSATIE
- [*Words before a flip], HEADSORTAILS
As I said yesterday, high mean your main goal thereafter is containment. The two big splashes of colour outside the theme answers are symmetrical YESMAN and PATAKI. PIGEONS and NUTTY were also somewhat fun answers.
There were a couple of names I flat-out didn’t know (as opposed to PATAKI who I vaguely knew, and could regurgitate once I few letters had appeared) were [Former and current Yankee Alfonso], SORIANO – baseball, no surprise there and ["Show Boat" (1936) standout], ROBESON: old-timey plays/movies (Wikipedia whispers that he was one of the supporting actors), again no real surprise there. I struggled at the junction of that answer and the trickily clued [Toledo thing], COSA.
For better or worse there’s a whole Roosevelt era theme going on in the short fill… OSS, the partial INOLD clued as ["__ Chicago": 1937 Tyrone Power film], the aforementioned ROBESON, [Actress Massey], ILONA. [Dog star's first name?] for RIN is slightly before Roosevelt, but gets an honourable mention.
The abbreviated rogue’s gallery today included two partials: the previously noted INOLD, plus ONEI; ENURE (without a var. tag for some reason, possibly because it’s Friday), awkward ISHOT (not clued as a partial because there were already the LAT maximum of two), already-noted OSS, plural name LOEBS, and GOR (like Amy, I’ve mostly seen COR, although I think it’s a regional thing. My encounters with COR were mostly in Beano and Dandy as a child.) Not the longest list, and as I said a result of a very dense theme.
My unfamiliarity with the phrase means I’m abstaining from voting; suffice to say, if it is familiar phrase, it’s a good theme concept and execution – but that the rest of the puzzle was slightly drab. It would be nice if these could be 17×17′s but I realise the logistical and slippery-slope problems this implies.
Donna S. Levin’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Reaching Nirvana” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Ah, this one brought me back. It’s a tribute to Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit:
- [Stops being oblivious, idiomatically] was SMELLS THE COFFEE – I read the clue as “obvious” before “oblivious,” so I was thinking of how one might hide something.
- [Sound way to sleep] clued LIKE A ROCK – I wonder what rocks dream about when they sleep? Do you think they dream of the parent rock they were chipped from?
- A great entry, ["Rebel Without a Cause" affliction] was TEEN ANGST – funny how both James Dean (24) and Kurt Cobain (27) both died in their twenties. Well, not funny, but sad really.
- [Lucky Lindy's craft] was SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS – I was looking for some indication in the clue to abbreviate “saint” as “st.” unless that’s how it was normally referred to?
Excellent theme idea and great fill to boot. I enjoyed the K action of [Culottes kin] for SKORTS as well as the appropriately musical (for this theme) [Card game that sounds like a style of singing] for SKAT. But my FAVE was the [Words on a Wonderland cake] or EAT ME, as I can imagine KURT Cobain saying that a few times in his short life. My only nit with this puzzle was to have the revealer at the end as I had figured out the theme before then and felt it wasn’t necessary.