Two interesting things for you to consume:
First, on NPR Sunday morning, around 8:45 Eastern (not sure how airtimes vary in other time zones), Weekend Edition plans to air a story about crosswords and the younger generation. Indie editor/constructor Ben Tausig was interviewed for the piece, and possibly we’ll also hear from collegiate constructor Caleb Madison. I gave the reporter, Hans Anderson, some background info on the indie crossword scene, so I’m hoping it will be an uncommonly savvy media story about crosswords.
Second, did you know Matt Gaffney started a new blog? It’s called “Gaffney on Crosswords” and Matt writes daily on various crossword topics. Recent posts cover the “hidden capital letter” clue trick, singer John Mayer’s prowess in bed (it’s solving crosswords), a meta crossword contest from Neville Fogarty (the deadline passed without my figuring out the answer, siiigh), and whatever else has caught Matt’s fancy. Matt has published a number of incisive articles about crosswords, and I’m looking forward to reading him each day.
Peter Wentz’s New York Times crossword
So, Peter Wentz is one of those constructors who makes zippy themeless puzzles chock-full of pop culture from the ’80s to the present day, and I enjoy such puzzles. Some solvers (hi, Bruce!) have a keen dissatisfaction with such puzzles, as solvers are expected to know all sorts of stuff that they don’t deem truly crossword-worthy. This is a battle than cannot be resolved, other than by throwing up one’s hands and hoping for a more pleasing solve the next day.
There’s so much fresh, lively fill here (or, if you prefer, absolutely dreadful dreck):
- 1a. [1980 new wave classic], “WHIP IT.” Devo. “If a problem comes along, you must whip it.”
- 7a. [1996 hybrid animation/live-action film], SPACE JAM. Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan, together again.
- 15a. [Cole ___, 2008 World Series M.V.P.], HAMELS. I had a decent sense of the name but needed crossings to pull it all together.
- 17a. [Juices], AMPS UP. Contemporary slanginess.
- 19a. ["Bait Car" channel], TRU TV. Cable channels have worse spelling than rappers, honestly. Syfy, anyone?
- 38a. [1985 #1 whose video won six MTV Video Music Awards], “TAKE ON ME,” by Aha. Or A-Ha. No, those are both wrong. It’s a-ha with italicized a’s.
- 39a. [Rhode Island cuisine specialty], JOHNNY CAKES. If I were a guy and I joined the mob, I would insist on this for my nickname.
- 43a. [Rapper with the 2000 single "Party Up (Up in Here)"], DMX. Didn’t know this one.
- 51a. [Jockey competitor], JOE BOXER. Underwear brand. [Jockey's competition] would have been an even harder clue.
- 55a. [Rhyme for "drool" in a Dean Martin classic], FAZOOL. Rhymes with “old school.”
- 1d. ["How's it goin', dawg?"], “WHAT’S UP, G?” One of you young whippersnappers will have to tell me if “G” is short for something.
- 5d. ["___ It" (2006 Young Jeezy single)], I LUV. Meh. Weirdly spelled partial? At least it did go platinum, peaking at #14 on the Billboard pop charts. Rap is much more of a guy thing, isn’t it, generally speaking? Maybe we’d see less rap in the crossword if the editors were all women.
- 7d. [Dirt, in slang], SCHMUTZ. One of my all-time favorite Yiddishisms.
- 27d. [Supposed sighting off the coast of Norway], KRAKEN. “Release the Kraken!”
- 35d. [Soup line], “MM-MM, GOOD!”
- 36d. [Marketing mantra], SEX SELLS.
- 38d. [Return service], TAX PREP. Not pop culture, but fresh and modern.
- 42d. [First marketer of Cabbage Patch Kids], COLECO. An ’80s gimme for me. Did my sister collect them as a teenager for some reason?
- 46d. [Outrageously freewheeling], GONZO. Love that word, too.
Also nice: The inclusion of a whopping four full names. We have the 6-letter senators, JON KYL and AL GORE, plus KITTY KELLEY, the celebrity [Biographer biographized in "Poison Pen"], and ANNE RICE, the [Female novelist whose real first name was Howard].
Could’ve done without Ulan-UDE and NAUT., but that was really the only fill I’d consider moderately junky.
Did not know, in addition to DMX and I LUV, 10d. [Lewis ___, loser to Zachary Taylor in 1848], CASS, and 48d. [___ concours (unrivaled: Fr.)], HORS.
Also admired COCA-COLA, TR’s PINCE-NEZ, and IMPUDENT.
4.33 stars from me. A fun puzzle to solve, lots of Scrabbly stuff, but not a waltz. I don’t want a waltz on Saturday.
Randall J. Hartmann’s CrosSynergy crossword, “Soft Inside” – Dave Sullivan’s review
No, today’s CS puzzle isn’t getting all sentimental and mushy on you. Nor is it a tribute to every crossword solver’s favorite treat, the OREO. We have three grid-spanning theme entries that embed the word SOFT.
- [Hammer and screwdriver, to a carpenter] was TOOLS OF THE TRADE – do carpenters use hammers nowadays? I thought they all use these pneumatic guns to nail boards now.
- [Items covered in piano practice] clued NOTES OF THE SCALE – yeah that, and make sure your wrists are arched and not resting on the keyboard. (Can you tell I’m still smarting from my lessons when I was a young lad?)
- [Generational burden, biblically] was SINSOF THE FATHER – also a recent novel by Jeffrey Archer.
OK, I have to say this theme didn’t do anything for me. First, to have the actual word in the title that is embedded in the phrases is far too unsubtle–I prefer to have the title just hint at what the theme entries have in common and include a revealer in the grid when it’s not patently obvious. (Patrick Blindauer had one recently which had I DO as this common entry and titled the puzzle “Broken Promises.” He also had a revealer entry, which I didn’t think was necessary, but that’s just me.) Secondly, there are tons of phrases that are in the form [plural noun] OF THE [another noun]. It’s just not a tough enough constraint to build a puzzle around. These were all 15 letters which is something, but I would prefer zippier phrases that were varying lengths. (I’m looking particularly at you NOTES OF THE SCALE.)
EPIC FAIL was a great entry to include, so I’ll give that a FAVE; “IT’S ME!” and SAD TO SAY were runners-up.
Doug Peterson and Brad Wilber’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Andy’s review
Short review this week. Always a pleasure to see the Wilberson byline on a Saturday puzzle, and this was no exception. Let’s hit the high points:
- 17a, WHISKEY IN THE JAR [Irish folk song that was a Grammy-winning vehicle for Metallica]. When I think “Irish folk song,” I’d probably think ENYA before Metallica. Yet here it is, in all its glory.
- 53a, BLOOMSBURY GROUP [Woolf pack?]. Cute clue, influential intellectual circle of the early 20th century.
- 25d, DOT-COM BOOM [Late 1990s Nasdaq phenomenon]. And then, in 2000, the dot-com bubble burst.
- 38d, UFOLOGY [Focus of an annual festival in New Mexico]. Love this word, but not entirely sure how to say it. Yoo-foll-uh-jee? Yoo-eff-ah-luh-jee? I dunno.
- 12d, TAJIKISTAN [Asian aluminum exporter]. Tajikistan also exports a lot of apricots and cotton. FYI.
Other stuff I enjoyed: CHEVETTE, PRO TEM, the broken-up USED CAR/LOT, MIGRAINE, C’MON, KIRIN, HOORAH! My least favorites: MAKOS, TOS, AMBLER. That’s a low I-didn’t-like-it count, so I’m giving this one an even 4 stars. Until next week!
Stan Newman’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” (written as less rough Lester Ruff)
I solved this puzzle late last night, later than I should have, apparently, as I could barely stay awake while working the puzzle and was definitely too sleepy to blog it cogently. So tell me: Did you find it harder than the Saturday NYT too, or was I just in a stupor?
Nine nifty answers and/or clues:
- 16a. [Word from the Greek for ''healing''], THERAPY. I love me a good etymology clue. This one doesn’t include any surprise aspect, but that’s okay.
- 31a. [Checking in a tiny room], TRYING ON. Clothes in the fitting room. Not sure I’ve seen this entry in a puzzle before.
- 33a. [Fit for a King], BLUESY. B.B. King, in a particular. I like that we also have FOLKSY in this puzzle.
- 39a. [Short-term quarters]. CRASH PAD. Good entry.
- 43a. [Twist in ''Oliver Twist''], IRONY. Know your 22a: LIT.
- 41d. [Opposite of ''together''], ASUNDER. I love this word. It’s as good as akimbo and awry.
- 42d. [Source of the Rhodes Scholarship endowment], DE BEERS. Blood (diamond) money!
- 51d. [Roll for a hole], PUTT. I had baked goods on my mind.
- 57d. [One of an estimated quadrillion on Earth], ANT. Anyone else feel itchy right about now?
The fill was a tad drier than other recent Stumpers, no? EPEE IRE ALIT -INE?
3.75 stars from me.