Bruce Sutphin’s New York Times crossword
If you haven’t been doing the Newsday “Saturday Stumper this year, you’ve probably missed a bunch of Bruce’s themelesses. This one actually looks like a “Stumper,” what with the lots-of-7s-and-nothing-longer grid. Let’s see what it’s got for us:
- 1a. [Hall-of-Fame rock band or its lead musician], SANTANA. Anyone else try BON JOVI? (Not yet inducted. If they ever will be.)
- 8a. [It sends out lots of streams], NETFLIX. Nice clue.
- 15a. [Very long European link], CHUNNEL. Also a good clue, although mystifying to me on first read.
- 20a. [One who may be on your case], GUMSHOE. As in a detective. Are police detectives included in the ranks of GUMSHOEs, or just private detectives?
- 26a. [Chocolate bar with a long biscuit and caramel], TWIX. Again, if you have figured out how to make a tasty, crunchy gluten-free Twix knockoff, send it my way.
- 30a. [Subsist on field rations?], GRAZE. I like the tricky clue.
- 41a. [Noodle taxers?], IQ TESTS. I dunno, I find them more energizing than taxing.
- 48a. [Last band in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, alphabetically], ZZ TOP. Who else?
- 61a. [Theodore Roosevelt Island setting], POTOMAC. I was thinking NYC, with its Roosevelt Island, but no. (Holy schnikes, Roosevelt Island is only 800 feet wide and yet 12,000 live on it??)
- 63a. [Colorful cooler], SNO-CONE. I went with KOOL-AID first.
- 5d. [Mediums for dummies, say: Abbr.], ANAG(ram). Aughh! You got me. I still couldn’t see this when I had the ANA* in place.
- 7d. [Ex amount?], ALIMONY. As opposed to X amount.
- 8d. [Appointment disappointments], NO-SHOWS. Lovely clue.
- 9d. [Nationals, at one time], EXPOS. This one’s for our sad Canadian friend, Jeffrey. He’s shaking his fist at the puzzle, I just know it.
- 24d. [Giant in fantasy], TOLKIEN. Ah! Nice clue.
- 26d. [Bar that's set very high], TRAPEZE. Another great clue.
- 38d. ["Don't joke about that yet"], “TOO SOON.” Great entry.
- 43d. [What might take up residence?], TORNADO. I don’t like this clue because “residence” needs either an article or a pluralization.
- 44d. [Truncated trunks?], SPEEDOS. See also: brief briefs.
- 47d. [Zero times, in Zwickau], NIE. Never, in German. Never heard of Zwickau, but it’s a nifty-looking name.
The fill here is markedly zippier than most 7-heavy “Stumpers,” and I daresay the clues were more fun than the typical Friday NYT. Well played, Sutphin. Well played. 4.5 stars. All the good stuff allowed me to look past 52a: [French river or department], EURE.
Updated Friday morning:
David Poole’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review
Wow am I ambivalent about this puzzle… The theme is gorgeous! I’ve seen these sort of positional wordplay puzzles before, but the extra levels of symmetry and the answers themselves take this to another level!
If you haven’t figured it out yet, the two or three one-word answers, plus their positions in relation to each other, form a phrase. I think it’ll be easier to explain each entry individually. [Verified in advance, literally], CHECKS/HAND is CHECKS [BEFORE] HAND. Its symmetrical partner is the [1975 Best Picture nominee, literally] NOON/DOGDAY or DOGDAY [AFTER] NOON. The next pair are [Warm apparel, literally], WINTER [OVER] COAT (this appears to be a (tautological) thing, although I’m not familiar with it myself), and [Former "American Idol" winner, literally], CARRIE [UNDER]WOOD. The best answer of the lot is smackdab in the centre – [Nosh literally] is MEAL/EAT/MEAL, or EAT [BETWEEN] MEAL[S]. I love how this ingeniously flouts the no repeated answers crossword convention! Okay, I’m sure you’ll agree this one of the cleverest Friday LAT puzzle themes we’ve had all year!
On the other hand, this ambitious theme appears to have created serious grid constraints. If one actually counts up the theme squares, it doesn’t seem so bad – 51 is about average these days. But breaking them up into 11 small chunks and also the contortions required to fit all these answers symmetrically appear to have upped the difficulty. Whatever the case, I found myself frowning a whole lot more than I do during most LA Times solves.
First the best stuff: NOSEFORNEWS is a great long answer, helping to break up the shortness of the theme. I also liked GRIFTER, LETMEGO, SKORTS and the shorter CESAR and FRAGS. I’m also going to consider PERDIDO a nice answer, although I haven’t heard of it, because I’m jazz illiterate. Lastly, [Starr-struck one?] is a cute clue for DRUM.
Okay, the demerits. I normally try not to dwell on these, but as I said, there were a lot today…
- The LA of LACASA seems highly arbitrary. Could one clue CASA as [Place for una familia]? I think so.
- Crossing it is another bit of foreign detritus CES is [These, in Toulouse].
- MSC in an American puzzle is dubious although the clue, [Advanced math deg., in Canada] is an in-joke as David Poole is a) Canadian, and b) a mathematician! Hah!
- OTE is an awkward suffix.
- [Yellow butterflies, to Brits], SULPHURS seems a bit crazy for a long answer in a U.S. puzzle!
- DESC is an awkward abbr.
- SNEE is the type of old-fashioned answer that is best avoided. See also TAW.
- The TO in STEERSTO is a tad tenuous as far as forming a valid lexical chunk.
- ADE and SYS appear in one small area.
You could probably include others, but to me those are at worst minor offences and probably better considered legitimate short fill that to try and remove would lead to crosswords being unconstructable.
So, like I said, I’m feeling very ambivalent about this one. 4.75 for the theme -2 for some seriously painful filling moments. 2.75 Stars? This is the type of puzzle I wish could’ve been a 17×17. As I said before, I realise that this is utterly impractical for a syndicated newspaper crossword though.
Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy crossword, “Herd Mentality” – Dave Sullivan’s review
First an announcement–I’ll be away for 12 days traveling in England and Scotland beginning tomorrow, so fellow gracious fiends Matt Gaffney and Gareth Bain will be taking over the daily CrosSynergy commentaries until we return. Many thanks guys!
Today’s puzzle’s theme was revealed by the middle across entry: [Herd member that can precede the ends of the four longest answers] or BUFFALO:
- [Symbol of worthlessness] was a PLUG NICKEL – the “Buffalo Nickel” was minted between 1913 and 1938. Looks like it was really a bison, though.
- [Performance with two principal features] clued DOUBLE BILL – “Buffalo Bill” was a touring stage performer in a cowboy-inspired show, who hunted bison before taking to the stage.
- [G.I. Joe, e.g.] was TOY SOLDIER – I had “boy soldier” first! “Buffalo Soldier” is a Bob Marley tune. Interesting history of the term given to African-American regiments by the Native Americans they were fighting.
- [Beginning swimmer's aid] clued WATER WINGS – “buffalo wings”–yum!
Interesting theme idea; I’m surprised there are these many common things that begin with “buffalo.” There was also room for the spiffy BIG TALK, HALIBUT (one of my favorite food fishes), EXIT SIGN, JOWL, DELFT and my FAVE, STELLA!, or Marlon Brando’s ["A Streetcar Named Desire" shout]. I’ve only recently added ATRIP ([Just off the bottom, as an anchor]) to my memory bank, but I suggest beginning solvers do that as well, since it’s bound to reappear in a puzzle near you. See you guys when I come back from walking in the footsteps of William Wallace and Robert Bruce!
Jacob Stulberg’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Double Play” — pannonica’s write-up
ATTENTION: If you aren’t in the habit of solving the CHE crossword, I urge you to do this week’s; it’s rather special. Try not to glance at the solution grid below. Also, I’ve done it a slight disservice by not being able to write it up earlier.
I deem it special because it’s an example of what we’ve settled on calling a Schrödinger puzzle, one which is intended to be completed correctly in either of two ways. These designs are rare and, unlike many other stunt-like crosswords, are equally satisfying as feats of construction and as challenges to solve.
Only three theme answers, but the theme’s so elegant and the ballast fill is so robust that no more than this is needed. The framing thirteens at 18- and 52-across share the same clue [Author of 33 Across (maybe)]. And 33-across, a 15-letter spanning entry, is simply [20th-century play]. The trio—quartet, rather—is comprised by SAMUEL BECKETT, CLIFFORD ODETS, and WAITING FOR GODOT / WAITING FOR LEFTY.
Before continuing with any sort of analysis, I just want to reiterate how elegant this is: a natural theme that seems as if it was just waiting to be discovered. Two very famous plays with such similar titles, whose authors’ names have the same number of letters? Get away!
Coincidentally, the Odets work débuted in 1935 and the Beckett in 1953—a simple number reversal. Also, ODETS and GODOT are crossword fill regulars. And, thematically, the title character of each play never appears, Lefty because he’s previously been shot off-stage, and Godot because … well, that’s the rub.
A key aspect of a Schrödinger puzzle is that the answers crossing the wave/particle cells must also work in either configuration, with the constraint that a single clue must be appropriate for both:
- 27d. [Experimental musician John] CAGE / CALE. There’s a definite affinity between Beckett and Cage, as has been noted by some scholars.
- 28d. [Foreign article] UNO / UNE. Spanish, French. Also an affinity for French by Beckett.
- 36d. [Sit in the sun, perhaps] DRY / FRY.
- 37d. [One on a boat] OAR / TAR. Teensiest stretch for OAR, but still acceptable.
- 38d. [NFL stats: Abbr.] TDS / YDS.
Good medium-length stacking in all four corners. No stand-out clunkers in the non-theme material, low to moderate CAP Quotient™ (crosswordese, abbrevs., partials), smooth cluing. Favorite clue: 22a [Bouncing baby boy of children's literature] ROO. The weakest part of the whole thing? The title, which, though descriptive, is itself nondescript and tangs of baseball, the bane of crosswords (for some).
A really excellent puzzle.
Harold Jones’ Wall Street Journal crossword, “Fire Starters” — pannonica’s write-up
Nothing enkindling or arsonous going on here. Instead, the “fire” of the title is synonymous with informing an employee that they are no longer an employee. In crossword-speak, that’s often CAN, which is appended to the beginnings of phrases to alter them.
- 22a. [The fuse?] CANNON STARTER (non-starter). Awkward, replicating part of the theme title so prominently and early.
- 27a. [Waiter at a reception?] CANAPÉ MAN (apeman).
- 41a. [Diversions at Bergen's parties?] CANDICE GAMES (dice games).
- 49a. [Pop stars depicted on soldiers' flasks?] CANTEEN IDOLS (teen idols).
- 74a. [Swiss states known for their amusements?] CANTONS OF FUN (tons of fun).
- 79a. [Playing out all one's cards?] CANFIELD GOAL (field goal).
- 99a. [Feature of "The Venice Chainsaw Massacre"?] CANAL GORE (Al Gore).
- 105a. [Pancake flipper at a Southwestern bar?] CANTINA TURNER (Tina Turner).
Rather a weak theme, for these reasons: (1) the repetitive CANs become predictable, (2) some of the original words and phrases lack substance, (3) some of the clues for the new phrases are a bit tortured, to be kind, (4) it’s all right that two of the answers are based on a person’s full name, but having them appear together at the end unbalances the theme as a group.
On the other hand, a great many of the non-theme content is accompanied by typically playful and witty clues. Just a few examples:
- 9d [Sonata quartet] TIRES, as on the Hyundai Sonata.
- 30d [Forwent frugality] SPENT. Subtle rhyming hint.
- 23d/51d/ 61a [Flight feature] STAIR / NEWEL / RISERS (as [Flight features]). As I’ve previously admitted more than once, I have a mental blind spot for this particular ruse, and fell for it twice, perhaps two-and-a-half times here.
- Mildly surprised that the crossing OLD and STALE in the northwest were not also given the same clue; instead it’s [No longer amusing] and [Past its sell-by date]. But good ones nonetheless.
- 84d [They're simple gorges] RAVINES. groan
- 94d [Occupation of a sort] SIT-IN.
Least favorite items: the somewhat random ATE LATE [Dined at 10, say], the partials ALL I, A DIP, SUN IS (not that there aren’t others among the fill), Roman numeral CCCI. (24a, 47a, 89a, 32d, 38d)
All told, an average puzzle.