Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword, “Taken to Task”
Nifty theme, although those of us solving the electronic versions of the puzzle are instructed to pretend that one of the black squares is a black circle. (Here’s the PDF showing what the puzzle looks like in the NYT Magazine.) The myth of Sisyphus (You know that one, right? The gods sentenced him to forever roll a boulder up a hill, only to see it roll back to the bottom every single time—and doesn’t that metaphor resonate with all of us in some way?) So Jeff has spelled out SISYPHUS climbing the “hill” of black squares in the center of the grid, pushing that rock up to the top, and gathered thematic phrases to enrich the experience:
- 22a. [Movie franchise since 1996], MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE.
- 30a. [Setting for "Mork & Mindy"], BOULDER, COLORADO.
- 98a. [Violation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics], PERPETUAL MOTION.
- 108a. [Underdog's saying], “IT’S AN UPHILL BATTLE.” We would also have accepted uphill fight, struggle, job, or task.
- 15d. [Computer programming problem], INFINITE LOOP.
- 60d. [First publisher of Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"], ROLLING STONE. On my honeymoon, I met a college student attending my alma mater, and she’d had a summer job of hanging out with Hunter S. Thompson and, I dunno, typing things and fetching his coffee. Stands out on a résumé, no?
I love this theme. It’s fun, it’s visual, and it’s full of lively phrases grouped together in an unexpected fashion.
Lots of nice longer fill in the grid, too: DODO BIRD, LOTHARIOS, CAR KEYS (tricky clue: [Sonata starters] looks like a musical clue, but we’re dealing with the Hyundai Sonata here), MARY ANN from Gilligan’s Island, GET AHEAD and ON THE WAY (no applicable to poor Sisyphus), WINE GLASS, HEARTLESS (like the Greek gods), and CLEOPATRA. I also like “MWAH!” kissing Sisyphus off as he nears the top of the hill. And I’m quite fond of 10d. [___ Millan a k a the Dog Whisperer], CESAR—if you ask me, the Dog Whisperer’s techniques can be applied to people. If someone is misbehaving, they are telling you that they’re not getting what they need. Can you figure out what sort of feedback or guidance you need to give them?
Not as excited about DENEB, ESAU, single IKO (rather than “Iko Iko”), INSTR, ESO, SSN, SSS, ONER, IN ESSE, partials I’D DO and NEED A, plural TEDDYS, and C AS.
Updated Sunday morning
Alan Arbesfeld’s CrosSynergy crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Gareth’s review
The weekly CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge is something a bit unusual among regular crosswords: an easy themeless puzzle. I liked some of the gentle misdirection employed by Mr. Arbesfeld – [For all audiences] is MASSMARKET, [It may be brewing] for STORM, [Private dining locale?] for MESS, [Sam in a bar] being ADAMS the beer not Malone the bar tender or the Casablanca piano player. The trickiest thing for me was parsing LEAVE ALONE; I wanted it to be LEAVE A _ON_, and so that was where I finished up.
For the most part this was conservatively filled, with only mild examples of crossword-ese, but only a few fun answers; my favourites were NEILSIMON, DOUBLEDATE, MASSMARKET, MRSMITH and EGGROLLS. DOITATONCE sounds stilted to my ears, but I’m sure some people do say it somewhere.
One clue answer combination I’m curious about is TRAD. It always seem to be clued in relation to folk and not jazz. Not one of the 12 instances of it I have on database refer to jazz and yet “Trad jazz” seems a fairly familiar phrase, despite the fact I don’t know a thing about jazz… I’m just curious as to why that is?
Karen M. Tracey’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 184″—Janie’s review
“HEAVENS TO BETSY!” this one gave me a run fer my money. Did just fine with the puzzle on the whole (smugly plunking in BRICK AND MORTAR almost from the get-go), but, see—then there was that top center section. From SPANG down to ALVA. My powers of deduction, abilities to infer and/or recall, and inevitable knowledge gaps produced a perfect storm of bafflement, relieved only by googling the latter. Which was followed by a headslap and a series of “d’oh”s… “And so it goes” (thank you, Kurt Vonnegut).
So very much to like in this—dare I say?—PROMETHEAN [Daringly creative] 70/28 construction. There’s Promethean and “Heavens to Betsy!” and brick and mortar for starters. Or the fact that the “IT” GIRL (clued in a to-the-moment way with [Celebutante]) is sharing cruciverbal real estate both with Joyce Carol Oates’s FAIR MAIDEN and “LOLA,” the Kinks’, um, ambiguously fair maiden. And perhaps that HONEY BEAR could take some cues from the APIARISTS when searching out his food fave. There’s (literally) a cross-cultural food thang goin’ on with the crossing of FLAT BREAD [Naan, for example] and BRISKET, clued here as [BBQ choice] but which I more readily associate with Jewish High Holiday dinners (of days gone by). Whatever the preparation, just the thought of brisket dinners makes me think that TEN LAPS [...in an Olympic pool] might be in order!
Was able to get by inference but completely did not know (and especially liked the clue for) FHM [Mag with the slogan "It's great to be a man"]; or that Ari FLEISCHER had penned a memoir of his (G.W.) Bush White House days in Taking Heat. And then there was ALPESTRINE. Alpestrine?? Yep. The “alpe” part made sense from the clue [Growing at high elevations but below the timber line]
but, well, the latter part of the word got caught up in the mish-mosh I identified in the first paragraph. And while I got one of the [Squarely]s, SMACK (as in “smack in the middle of…”), spang eluded me. It’s not a word I think I’ve ever encountered before and I’m wondering if it’s a term that’s used more regionally than universally. Anyone? And “PRIVATE EYES”? Know the phrase, of course, but (as with almost the entire Hall & Oates catalog…) it’s a song that simply didn’t register with me.
If DEUTERONOMY is a long word, it’s also one that’s a tad dry. So be it. Fill like “HIT ME!” [Casino directive], TV IDOL, and the peppy crossing of the new, BFFS [Close pals, in teen slang], with the old, FATHA [Jazz pianist Hines, familiarly] kept things more than lively.
Bottom line: keep your mind OPEN TO learning some new words and facts, and it remains easy to see how a puzzle by Karen ASTONISHES time and time again!
Henry Hook’s Crooked crossword, “It’s a Crime” — pannonica’s write-up
Some say punning is a crime, even an affront to decent society. This crossword puts play to that notion in a direct way.
- 23a. [Trying to stay awake?] RESISTING A REST ( … arrest).
- 53a. [Emotion of the fashion police?] CONTEMPT OF COAT ( … court).
- 79a. [Kitchen installation task?] COUNTER-FITTING (counterfeiting).
- 107a. [Musical Chairs goal?] PERCH SNATCHING (purse …).
- 3d. [Theft at Home Depot?] PUTTY LARCENY (petit/petty …).
- 4d. [Extortion against a dentist?] PLAQUEMAIL (blackmail).
- 33d. [Artillery unit in Brunei?] SULTAN BATTERY (assault and …).
- 62d. [Form of rustling?] SHEEP LIFTING (shoplifting).
- 74d. [Refusal to go formal?] TUX EVASION (tax …).
I found this to be a very weird puzzle. Some parts were imaginative and great, others were tedious and awful. Even the theme answers, while mostly good as puns per se, lacked an overall consistency; why are some of the new formulations described as crimes (3d, 4d. 62d) while others aren’t? Of those three, only one (3d) would be difficult to clue otherwise, while a number of the remaining themers could be couched in more legally sinister ways.
As for the rest of the crossword, there’s a wild, whiplash-inducing mix of highs and lows. For every SYZYGY or VOX POP—showy stuff that most people know—there are drab letter obscurities like ALULAR and TINEA (both of which I happened to know but don’t expect most to); for every great clue [Friendly Islander] leading to TONGAN (note capital I in clue) there seems to be one that misses its mark: [Ford explorer?] for HAN SOLO (the character was a smuggler and reluctant hero, whereas Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones—anthropologist and overt hero was the exploring type. And so on.
- CLOUD UP, EAT UP, ACT UP, HIGHER-UP. At least two too many: away, away with the ups! (41a, 5d, 11d, 59d, YUP (29a))
- Rough intersections, often with tougher than necessary clues:Military initialisms! Now with more redundancies than ever before in history! 64a [Annapolis org.] USN (United States Navy), 98a [Post-WWII servicewoman] WAF (Women in the Air Force), 104d [USAF noncom] (United States Air Force) TSGT (technical sergeant). Bonus: 8d ["Constitution" inits.] USS (United States Ship).
- 39a & 39d: [Staminate] crossing [Capital of Lesotho], –ALE / –ASERU. Not too many ordinary solvers know their African capitals, and the needlessly erudite staminate, to someone understandably unfamiliar with the word, might seem to be more closely related to stamina rather than stamen (though they both ultimately derive from the Latin for ‘thread’), fill in HALE and not MALE. After all, HASERU seems as believable as MASERU.
- 85a & 73d: [Somme place] and [Done at the table] for AMIENS and MENSAL. I can imagine someone going with AMIENI and MENIAL.
- 48a & 31d: [Aquarium fish] and [One of the first TV networks]. Again, no trouble imagining a solver settling on POLLIE and DUPONT rather than MOLLIE and DUMONT.
- Favorite clues: 10d [Throw a ball?] HOST, 82d [Locale for Type-A behavior?] FAST LANE, 116a ["We shall __ the end": Churchill] GO ON TO (yes, it’s a six-letter, three-word partial, and I should by all indications and accounts despise it, but it just seems so cute), 22a [Dead giveaway?] ESTATE, 83d [Forefront] VAN.
So, despite the pretty-good theme puns and some thrilling fill, as well as the trademark stacked themers (here, among the verticals), overall this crossword impressed me as uncharacteristically ARTLESS and UNMOORED (40d, 81d).
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “Mm-mm, Good!”
Each theme answer contains two instances of “MM”:
- 23a. [Certain legislative panel], COMMERCE COMMITTEE. A snooze.
- 33a. [1980s nickname of the University of Houston's basketball team], PHI SLAMMA JAMMA. A classic.
- 49a. [Twosome of toondom], PEBBLES AND BAMM-BAMM. Aw, cute.
- 66a. ["___ Live!"], JIMMY KIMMEL. Exclamation point!
- 80a. [One place to buy a personal submarine], HAMMACHER SCHLEMMER. It costs $2 million. My credit card limit is too small.
- 96a. [Ab-device promise], SLIMMER TUMMIES. I Googled that phrase, “slimmer tummies.” It returned 406 hits. Once this post is updated, watch the number climb!
- 111a. [Oscar-winning 1966 film, originally], UN HOMME ET UNE FEMME.
Five more things:
- 42d. [Ancient Greek courtesan], HETAERA. Faintly familiar to me.
- 55a. [Scrabble 1-pointers], O TILES. That’s kind of an ugly-looking entry.
- 41d. [Hold ___ (meet)], A POWWOW. Unexpected long partial.
- 75a. [Items yet to be found or collected], WANT LIST. Not familiar to me. “Wish list,” yes.
- 16d. [Emancipate]. MANUMIT. I don’t know what it is about this word, but I love it. It has a hint of Inuit + malamute. The word APERITIF (74d) is also delightful to me.
Favorite clue: 84d. [Christmas and Easter] ISLANDS.
No idea what 36d. [Rocket-propelled video-game character], JETMAN, refers to. To the Google! Apparently there’s a Swiss guy named Yves Rossy who bills himself Jetman. Oh! I want to fly like Jetman does. I no longer care about the video-game character.
2.75 stars. The theme lacks wordplay and while a few entries are quite lively, SLIMMER TUMMIES lost me. I also raised an eyebrow at the plural PAMS and MICAHS. The latter is clued [The sheriff on "The Rifleman" and others]; I don’t know about you, but this one was all crossings for me.
Peter Collins’ syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “Cross Country”
I always like a good geography game, and Peter’s theme is pairs of country names smushed together with two overlapping letters:
- 23a. [Border sharers of Europe?], SAN MARINORWAY. San Marino, Norway.
- 41a. [Border sharers of Europe and Asia?], SPAINDONESIA. It rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?
- 52a. [Border sharers of South America and Asia?], CHILEBANON. The LE sounds entirely different in these two country names, so how would you pronounce this? Chee-lay-buh-non?
- 69a. [Border sharers of Europe and Asia?], UNITED KINGDOMAN. Because the grid is not wide enough to accommodate UNITED KINGDOMINICAN REPUBLIC (plus, that combo has three letters of overlap and would ruin the thematic consistency).
- 94a. [Border sharers of Asia and Africa?], NEPALGERIA. There is no cure for this dread disease.
- 101a. [Border sharers of Asia?], MYANMARMENIA. “Me and my shadow, me an’ m’ Armenia.”
- 124a. [Border sharers of North America and Asia?], JAMAICAMBODIA. Breezed past the clue and filled in JAMAICAMEROON. Given that the fill in that corner is flawless, I wouldn’t recommend trying -EROON out instead.
Ideally, the two countries would share geographic borders and not just letters—but Spain doesn’t border either of the In- countries, and Bahrain isn’t near them, either.
This is by no means a “tight” theme that uses up all possibilities. With about 200 country names to play with, there will always be an AZERBAIJANGOLA (or JAPANTIGUA AND BARBUDA, or BHUTAN…) or an ISRAEL SALVADOR. SAN MARINORTH KOREA. NAURUSSIA, MALIBYA, GUINEA-BISSAUSTRIA … we could play this game all day. (I like this sort of game.) So Peter winnowed down the possibilities to a reasonable number of pairs with symmetry-friendly letter counts.
I like the stacked 7s in four spots at the top and bottom of the grid. Could do without N. CAR. and SERT but the rest of the stacks’ crossings are solid.
Among the longer fill, I like PUMMEL, TAILGATE, TURF TOE, CAROUSE, FRONT DOOR, and WHEEZING. Least favorite: 90d. ["This guy ..."], “SOME DUDE….” Not quite “in the language” as a stand-alone phrase, that.
Did not at all remember: 36d. [Minorca's capital], MAHON.
3.75 stars. The theme engaged my brain and launched it into a “Cross Country” game of its own.