Liz Gorski’s New York Times crossword, “Country Road”
This centennial puzzle taught me a lot about a road I grew up a mile south of. If you’re local to the south suburbs of Chicago, you may know it as 211th Street or Route 30. It’s also called LINCOLN HIGHWAY (122a, 124a). Never ever have I heard it called “the Lincoln Highway”; we just said “Lincoln Highway.”
- 25a. [Nickname for the 122-/124-Across], MAIN STREET ACROSS AMERICA. News to me.
- 40a, 105a. [With 105-Across, historical significance of the 122-/124-Across], THE FIRST MAJOR MEMORIAL TO / THE SIXTEENTH U.S. PRESIDENT. Really? The Lincoln Memorial didn’t come around till later? (Edited to add: Thanks, Michael, for catching my missing “U.S.” But “sixteenth U.S. president” sounds slightly contrived to my ears.)
- 148a. [Follows the east-west route of the 122-/124-Across?], TRAVELS FROM COAST TO COAST backwards, or TSAOCOTTSAOCMORFSLEVART.
- The circled letter pairs provide the postal abbreviations for the states that Lincoln Highway passes through: CA, NV, UT, WY, NE, IA, IL, IN, OH, WV, PA, NJ, NY. I wonder how long it took to travel Route 30 (or whatever it was called outside of Illinois) from New York to California back in 1913. Before the interstate system came around in the ’50s, were there enough gas stations and big enough gas tanks to make the trip without detours?
Apparently Route 30 and Lincoln Highway duplicate each other for long stretches, but Route 30′s termini are in New Jersey and Oregon. And it wasn’t until 1928 that Lincoln Highway included West Virginia and dropped Colorado. Route 66 went from Chicago to California, and did not follow Route 30′s … route.
I have now exhausted my interest in old highways.
This 23×23 puzzle has left/right symmetry, four grid-spanning theme answers, two 7-letter themers, and an asymmetrical highway trail. The rest of the fill is split between solid to lovely stuff (highlights: ATM CARD, CASTANETS, ORANGE TREES, JANEANE “Spell That Name” Garofalo, and Scotland’s RED LION) and borderline crosswordese (I’m looking at you, [Italian writer Vittorini] ELIO, LODI OOOH, STEROLS, OLLA, ARHAT, SMEWS, ILENE, EMAG, CCCL, ELLO), plus a smattering of partials.
- 121d. [Big flap in 1970s fashion?], LAPEL.
- 136a. [Wearing clothes fit for a queen?], IN DRAG. Unless you’re a woman in drag, of course.
Lynn Lempel’s CrosSynergy crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Constructor Lynn Lempel is generally known for her early-week themed puzzles, today we have a more wide open themeless from her, with lots of 8- and 9-letter entries:
- 1-Across is where a themeless constructor usually puts their favorite entry, and [Childish outbursts] or HISSY FITS “fits” that bill.
- Two entries below that, [Don't bet on it] clued a SURE LOSER – certainly the “sore” version of this phrase is the more well-known one, but this one was easy to infer based on the clue.
- Moving to the northeast, the double-A action of [One with a secret life] or a CIA AGENT was nice.
- The southwest was probably my favorite stack, including both [Means of avoiding reality] or ESCAPISM next to [Polish Nobelist's Latin-titled novel that inspired a 1951 film] or QUO VADIS. The latter is Latin for “Where are you going?” and is originally attributed to St. Peter, even though we all know he would’ve asked in Hebrew instead.
- The southeast features something I’ve never heard of referred to in that way, a [Crunchy candy snack], or a PEANUT BAR. Would this be peanut brittle? Perhaps this is a regionalism that’s not in my region.
- The center crossing entries had some nice highlights, such as SRI LANKA and the conversational IT”S A PITY and AS IF I CARE.
Pretty smooth overall, my only tough area was the SPEARS / FRESNELS area as I wasn’t that familiar with the latter name of [Lenses in lighthouses and stage lights]. Matt Gaffney recently posted about “hidden capitals” in clues, and the one in this puzzle for 6-Down, [Progressive pitcher] is a great example of that, as it refers to the insurance company and their ubiquitous spokesperson, FLO.
John Farmer’s syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “Grid Lines”
John parses various compound words that end with line as if they were two-word phrases, and provides a “line” that might be spoken in that setting;
- 23a. [Borderline?], “PAPERS, PLEASE.”
- 29a. [Deadline?], “I’M IN HEAVEN.” We would also have accepted “WOW, IT’S DARK IN HERE” or a series of blank squares.
- 43a. [Beeline?], “I LOVE YOU, HONEY.” Because bees, of course, talk to the stuff that they regurgitate.
- 60a. [Skyline?], “GET OFF OF MY CLOUD.” Was this a common phrase before the Rolling Stones song? (Click the link to see a black-and-white live performance from the ’60s.)
- 68a. [Dateline?], “YOUR PLACE OR MINE?”
- 90a. [Neckline?], “KISS ME, YOU FOOL.” Necking.
- 102a. [Unemployment line?], “YOU’RE FIRED.”
- 111a. [Foul line?], “THAT’S NOT FAIR!”
The theme works fairly well, and it’s got a degree of surprise/playfulness to it. It’s also not a theme I recall seeing before, so that’s a plus.
- 25a. [McCarthy era paranoia], RED SCARE.
- 94a. [Source of "helicopter seeds"], MAPLE TREE. Waiting for the maple in my back yard (silver maple?) to change colors. Not a sugar maple, so we don’t get the orange and red.
- 95a. [1989 Roseanne Barr title role], SHE-DEVIL.
- 37d. [The Colosseum, the Forum, etc.], ROMAN RUINS.
- 6d. [Birthplace of the Italian Renaissance], TUSCANY.
- 13d. Reason to keep something under your hat?], BAD HAIR DAY.
- 85d. [Character in "Ben-Hur"?], HYPHEN.
- 46d. [Defend], GO TO BAT FOR.
Oftentimes, a Sunday-sized grid will not have a lot of juice outside of the theme, and it’s just sort of a long slog through a bunch of 3- to 6-letter fill in the interstitial spaces. It’s welcome to have some lively longer fill and crisp clues to maintain interest during the solve.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “Change of Season”
Merl wrote to me about this puzzle: “There’s a strict pattern going on in my puzzle tomorrow. I expect very few people (if any) to notice it, but it has to do with the letters in the circles and how the pattern enables the center answer, which is sort of the point of the puzzle. (It’s just a simple pun, but it’s the point.) None of this under-the-surface stuff is necessary to enjoying the puzzle (or not), but it’s one of those things that occurred to me to do, so I did it.” So I had to look deeper than “the theme answers all have the letters in FALL scrambled within then” to see what Merl wrought here.
If you look at the circled letters in each theme answer, you see that you have every possible permutation of F-A-L-L, starting with the three F—possibilities and cycling through the three A— and six L— options, with an extra FALL at the end. Merl chose this sequence to enable the central pun in 68a. [The perfect fall gift?], DROP-LEAF TABLE—trees drop their leaves in the fall.
Yes, it is slightly less elegant because there are extra instances of the theme letters in six of the theme answers, but the Merl circled the instances of those letters that fit his pattern of the permutations.
The otherwise-unrelated theme answers are As FoLLows:
- 22a. [Hardy blooms native to the Cape of Good Hope], AFRICAN LILIES.
- 25a. [Nirvana's signature fabric], FLANNEL.
- 33a. [Where copies of "The Grapes of Wrath" are stored], FILM LIBRARIES.
- 43a. [Frying option], SAFFLOWER OIL.
- 56a. [Waxed string], DENTAL FLOSS.
- 60a. [Decay concept, in physics], HALF-LIFE.
- 68a. [The perfect fall gift?], DROP-LEAF TABLE.
- 79a. [Court cost's cousin], LEGAL FEE.
- 83a. [Court infraction], DOUBLE FAULT. Tennis court, not court of law.
- 92a. [Emerson essay], SELF-RELIANCE.
- 100a. [End up being embarrassed], LOOK LIKE A FOOL.
- 116a. [Famous kid in shorts], ALFALFA. All his letters are in FALL.
- 120a. [In the ___ (ultimately)], FINAL ANALYSIS. Clued as a 13-letter partial, but I suspect the clue was chosen to make it easier to figure out in a puzzle that’s on the tougher end of the Reagle spectrum.
In the Mystifying Cross-Reference Zone, we have these people:
- 77a. [See 126 Across], LES.
- 90a. [See 126 Across], ANNE.
- 126a. [Actress 90 Across and bandleader 77 Across], BAXTERS. Les Baxter? I don’t think I’ve heard of him before. And Anne Baxter is only faintly familiar to me. I worked the crossings for all of these squares.
- 48d. [Bed occupant?], OYSTER.
- 65d. [Words after "the Queen" or "the Godfather"], OF SOUL. Sure, it’s a 6-letter partial. Merl doesn’t have a rule against those, and I loved the “aha” moment when I figured out the answer.
- 11d. [Canine companion?], MOLAR.
Funniest answer: 57d. Doughnut shop on “The Simpsons”], LARD LAD.
- 28a. [Dam-busting grp. of 1943], RAF. Royal Air Force.
- 86a. [Number with a line under it], NINE. To distinguish it from it upside-down partner, 6.
- 124a. [Civil War general Jubal], EARLY. I know him from crosswords, not history. If you’re going to clue the word EARLY, going the proper name route does make it more difficult.
- 15d. [Nytol alternative, Sleep-___], EZE. Doesn’t ring a bell.
- 61d. [Dirty, stinkin' item, perhaps], LIE. Figuratively speaking.
- 105d. [Cowboys Hall of Famer Bob who was part of the Doomsday Defense], LILLY. Drugmaker Eli Lilly, yes. Actress Evangeline Lilly, yes. Bob? Don’t know him.
- 118d. ["To send a ___ ..."], FAX. I don’t get this clue. What would come after the ellipsis?
Patrick Berry’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 185″- Sam Donaldson’s review
Good (late) everning, everyone. Sorry for the late review of the Post Puzzler. Technical difficulties while traveling precluded a review until just now. And that’s a shame because this is a sickeningly smooth 66/28 freestyle crossword from one of the legends in the biz, Patrick Berry.
What’s the weakest entry in this grid? ELIA, the [19th-century London Magazine essayist]? What, just because the name may not be the most familiar? Look, when ELIA is your worst entry, it’s safe to say there is absolutely no junk in this grid at all. Sure, there may not be anything here that jumps off the grid, slaps you in the face, and proclaims, “I’m the star of this puzzle” (this week’s favorite entry isn’t exactly new to crosswords), but I’ll take a puzzle devoid of iffiness and chock-full-o’ chunky clues like this one any day of the week and twice on Sundays.
Good clue roll call, count off now:
- [Short on bread, maybe?] refers not to finances but to food that is LOW-CARB.
- [Sewer line?] for HEM. Those darn heteronyms!
- It seems like either [Duck down] or something like it is often a clue for EIDER, but I still liked it here.
- [Mud from the grounds?] first had me thinking of racing turf, but luckily I realized it referred to COFFEE in fairly short order.
- [Cold play?] was tricky for the 12-letter WINTER SPORTS. Got the first word easily enough, but I needed a couple of crossings for the second.
- [Bodies with arms] had me thinking of weapons, not of SEAS.
- [Scientific subjects?] lured me into placing an S in the last square. Rats! Er, I mean MICE.
Two entries gave me a toe-hold in the grid. I follow sci-fi juuust enough to know TENNANT as the surname of [David who played the Doctor], as in Doctor Who. And I’ve wasted enough hours watching televised poker that FIVES as the [Pocket pair nicknamed "speed limit" in Texas hold'em] was a gimme. There are nicknames for pocket fours (sailboats), eights (snowmen) and queens (Siegfried and Roy), not to mention “pocket rockets” (aces). These entries helped me crack the southwest corner first, and from there I tackled the southeast and the northeast. That northwest corner took me more than half of my solving time, though. Couldn’t parse THE FLOOD as the [Genesis event] for the longest time. I kept thinking maybe the clue was tricking me and that “Genesis” might refer to the Phil Collins/Mike Rutherford/Tony Banks rock group of “Abacab” and “Invisible Touch” fame. And the side-by-side pairing of HANS ARP and ERNEST Rutherford (related to Mike?) was equally vexing. It wasn’t till I tried Amelia EARHART as the [1932 Distinguished Flying Cross recipient] that I finally got some traction in that corner. But even she was missing for a while. Oops, sorry. Too soon?
Favorite entry = SIT ON IT, the [Retort from a 1970s-'80s sitcom]. That’s something you never said to Fonzie. Favorite clue, in a puzzle filled with great ones = [Sign seen on some islands] for SELF-SERVE. That could refer to gas stations or the dessert island at a buffet, but sure enough I was expecting something that could be found on a tropical island. Guess that shows where my mind has been lately.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “Parade of Workers” — pannonica’s write-up
Six 21-letter sequences march across the grid, forming a “parade of workers,” as per the title. Moreover, they total 26 occupations—one for each letter of the alphabet, and of course they appear in order.
- 21a. [First five workers] ACTOR BAKER COP DJ EDITOR.
- 34a. [Four more workers] FRAMER GI HARDHAT INTERN.
- 52a. [Four more workers] JAILER KEY GRIP LOGGER MD.
- 73a. [Five more workers] NUN OILER POET QUILTER RN.
- 87a. [Five more workers] SPY TAILOR UMP VET WAITER.
- 104a. [Last three workers] X-RAY TECH YOGI ZOOKEEPER.
No question, an impressive feat of construction, and the difficulty—even for this polished and accomplished duo—is evident not only in the wildly varied litany of workers—varied in type, representation, and style; more on this later—but also in compromises in the non-theme fill.
The easiest way to demonstrate the variation is to break them down into categories. First and most obvious, extreme initialisms: DJ, GI, MD, RN. Second, informal abbrevs.: COP, UMP, VET, and even X-RAY TECH. Third, synecdoche: HARDHAT. Some might opine that a few on the list aren’t full-blown professions, but to my mind they’re all defensible as such.
AMONG (84d) the ballast fill, the most notable and noticeable concessions to the constraints of the theme entries are: 75d [ECG dip after "P" rises] Q WAVE, 82a [Rhone tributary] SAÔNE, 84a [Some small rechargeables] AAAS, 28a ["Petits" veggies] POIS (factette: the singular pea is a back-formation, as the original singular was pease, 32a [Piratic sidekick] SMEE, 106d [Aunt, in Italy] ZIA.
addendum: Neglected to mention that (1) this puzzle appeared in print around Labor Day, (2) my favorite clue was: 50d [Seal that sounds like a swan] SIGNET.