Robert Cirillo’s New York Times crossword
Not the first time I’ve seen this sort of theme—the type where both parts of each theme answer can precede the same word—and it’s not even the first time I’ve seen it where HOUSE is the compound in question (poking around the Cruciverb database with some potential theme answers, there were +HOUSE themes in both the NYT and LAT in 2008 and again in the LAT in 2007; I may well have missed others). Whether the key word is HOUSE or another common word, what these themes have in common is that they fail to engage me.
- 18a. [Military muscle], FIREPOWER.
- 20a. [Sign of change at the Vatican], WHITE SMOKE.
- 32a. [Functional lawn adornment], BIRDBATH.
- 40a. [Take every last cent of], CLEAN OUT. Unusual verb phrase in a theme of nouns.
- 54a. ["Go" signal], GREEN LIGHT.
- 57a. [Using all of a gym, as in basketball], FULL COURT. Sports-fan Steve Manion, give us a better clue for this one.
- 37a. [Word that can follow both halves of 18-, 20-, 32-, 40-, 54- and 57-Across], HOUSE.
Now, you know what I’m going to say next. I’m going to say, “When you include seven theme entries, you leave less wiggle room for good fill.” And so it comes to pass that we muddle through ASTRA, L-DOPA, OVI-, LIRAS, AGASP, ESTES, ASPERSE, ALB, O IS, TERNS, and plural TEDS.
I will grant you that OPEN BAR, “DREAM ON,” and SET SHOT are fairly lively fill, but the top of the grid was larded with blah fill and it colored the rest of the solving experience.
This is the second time this year I’ve groused about TROOPER being used to mean trouper, which [One who keeps plugging along]. The last time, it was REAL TROOPER and it would have been ridiculously easy to change that second O to a U to avoid irking everyone who cares about usage and spelling. In this puzzle, there’s no REAL appended to the word, so for Pete’s sake, clue it as a state trooper and be done with it! If this happens a third time, Mr. Shortz, I may have to cancel my subscription on principle.
Three stars. Please, o crossword gods, stop people from making so many puzzles with this theme type.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “In the Cards”
I paid no mind to the circled letters or the title until after I was done solving the puzzle. The theme is playing cards enclosing other letters to make famous people:
- 17a. [Pop artist who used faceless stick figures], KEITH HARING.
- 24a. [Jazz great with the album "High Priestess of Soul"], NINA SIMONE. Shouldn’t the word “queen” enclose her name?
- 33a. ["The Devil's Dictionary" author], AMBROSE BIERCE.
- 43a. [15th-century Flemish painter], JAN VAN EYCK.
- 50a. [He played Locke on "Lost"], TERRY O’QUINN.
Terrific bunch of people—two artists from wildly different schools, an actor, a musical legend, and an author. All creative types, no sports or science folks in the batch. No particular thrill with the sandwiching inside various playing cards, especially with the ACE KING JACK TEN NINE line-up missing a queen.
Let’s move on to the highs and the lows. First, highlights:
- 36a. [___ and Guilder (warring "The Princess Bride" nations)], FLORIN. Who doesn’t love The Princess Bride? I like that the countries have the names of old currencies.
- 33d. ["Gimme Shelter" speedway], ALTAMONT.
- 34d. [Oft-mocked treats], MOON PIES.
- 36d. [Dish served with a distinct sound], FAJITAS. They sizzle and disgorge stinky onion smoke.
- 40d. [Become available to the general public, as a new website], GO LIVE. See healthcare.gov. Unless you don’t need the site, in which case you should stay off it so people who need it can manage to get on.
- Short stuff: ISR, MOR, -INO, A TOE, AN E, STS, -EST, I THE, NEED A.
- 10d. [Of small organisms], MICROBIC. This is a real, in-the-dictionary word, but I’ve never run into it, not even in medical editing. Microbial, sure.
- Plural ROONEYS, [Andy and Mickey].
- 35d. ["Helicopter" band ___ Party], BLOC. Name is apparently a play on “block party” and thus somewhat guessable, but I’ve never heard of this British indie rock band.
Most peculiar-looking entry: 52d. ["___ Mama Tambien"], Y TU. Legitimate partial.
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Odd Couples” – Dave Sullivan’s review
I had to check my calendar to see if it was February, since with yesterday’s “Repurposed Couples” and today’s “Odd Couples” we seem to be beginning a “couples week” in earnest. Let’s see what tomorrow brings before we confirm this. Back to today, we have four two-word (“couple”) theme phrases where the letters ODD can be found lurking within:
- A film I have actually seen, the [2006 DiCaprio film] was BLOOD DIAMOND – the film addresses how proceeds from diamond sales finance military conflicts in West Africa. Makes you pause when you stand in front of a jewelry counter looking at all those sparkling gems.
- ["Braveheart," for one] clued PERIOD DRAMA – Ah, William Wallace, where are you when we need you? Anyway, I think the phrase “period piece” seems a bit truer to my ear.
- [Source of some Hurricane Katrina insurance claims] was FLOOD DAMAGE – well, there’s also been Sandy and Irene since then if you want to look up here in the northeast. If they’ve started alternating names of storms with male names, why is it still the female ones are causing all the havoc? Bad luck, I guess.
- [Many a modern purchase] was IPOD DOWNLOAD – hmm, it’s not the iPod that is being downloaded, it’s generally a tune.
Two phrases seem to work well, two that missed the mark a bit. If this were baseball, I’d be impressed with a .500 average, but we strive for higher averages here. Extra points for including perhaps one of my FAVE actresses of all time, CATE Blanchett, who was just luminous in the recent Blue Jasmine. The clue for TELLER, namely [Note taker?], was also good. Not sure how to take [Self-conscious remark when packing too many pounds] or I’M FAT, if the first step on the road to recovery is self-confession, then I guess this is a good thing, but can we also allow I’M THIN or MY NOSE IS TOO BIG? I prefer positive self images myself, as we’re surrounded by advertisements telling us how we need to improve ourselves.
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle, “Skipping Stones”—Janie’s review
I tell ya—sometimes Liz makes theme development and puzzle construction look as easy as a warm, calm summer’s day. Today’s puzzle would be a perfect example. If we were lakeside, we’d be “skipping stones” for real. But since we’re not, we can engage in the activity cruciverbally. The four circled letters of each of the five themers spell out a kind of -stone; and once the circles begin, they appear in every other square, skipping the adjacent one. Believe me when I say the constraint for the constructor is considerable, but in never-let ‘em-see ya-sweat mode, Liz has given us five genuinely lively theme phrases containing five different kinds of -stones. In other words, this is a theme that delivers twice. And deliver it does. From:
- 14A. JUMBO LOAN [Banking transaction that generates a lot of interest] we get the rhymes-with-LOAN MOONstone, that “transparent or translucent feldspar of pearly or opaline luster used as a gem.” I like the misdirection in the clue, too. Is it referring to a particularly interesting transaction or one that will be a major money-maker for the bank? Rhetorical question at this stage of the game…
- 19A. STAINED GLASS [Tiffany's window art] delivers SANDstone, “a sedimentary rock usually consisting of quartz united by some cement (as silica or calcium carbonate).” Several examples of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s window art are displayed to great effect in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum in NYC.
- 36A. BOBS FOR APPLES [Participates in a Halloween party game] produces SOAPstone, “a soft stone having a soapy feel and composed essentially of talc, chlorite, and often some magnetite.” And yay! A shout-out to Thursday’s big event. This is probably the “funnest” of the themers. Oh, and there’s more about October 31st in the [Moves like a Halloween ghost]/FLOATS pairing.
- 53A. WILLIAM PERRY [Former Chicago Bears player known as "The Refrigerator"] yields up the dependable LIMEstone, “a rock that is formed chiefly by accumulation of organic remains (as shells or coral), consists mainly of calcium carbonate, is extensively used in building, and yields lime when burned.” As for the popular and legendary Mr. Perry, he said of himself that “even when I was little I was big.” At age 11 he weighed in at 200 pounds; his Super Bowl ring size (a 25) “is the largest of any professional football player in the history of the event.”
- 64A. ALMOND TEA [Brewed beverage with a nutty flavor] gives us LODEstone, which is “magnetite possessing polarity,” hence, “something that strongly attracts.” Did someone say “nutty flavor”? Check out these nutty teas. Caramel almond amaretti herbal, anyone? That “strongly attracts,” too!
(Thank you, M-W, for those definitions, btw.)
And the remainder of the puzzle ain’t too shabby neither! Won’t go into great depth, but will note my affection for some of the clue/fill combos, notably: the colloquial ["Give everyone a chance!] “BE FAIR!” duo; ditto ["Take your time"] and “NO RUSH.” Cluing SCREEN as [It helps establish a no-fly zone?] cleverly gets us out of the military and back to that summer day I mentioned a few paragraphs back. Haven’t read ONE OF OURS, but as someone who’s read some Cather, was certain (certainly wrong anyway…) it would be O, PIONEERS!, which shares twinned placement of those first two Os and the final R-S. Cagey! Speaking of twinned items, I’m serious when I say those EMMAS [Peel and Lazarus] give us two exemplary “of their generations” brains-and-beauty combos to contemplate.
Two more points, then I’m gone. Still have trouble with that ELL-shaped [Kitchen layout]. Again, I’m coming from my provincial Manhattan perspective. But I’ve been to large homes. I know what a generously sized kitchen looks like. I just don’t recall encountering one with an ELL layout. An ELL-shaped studio apartment or living-dining configuration, yes. But an ELL-shaped kitchen seems more like the infrequent exception than the rule.
And finally, because I’m currently taking a class in American culinary history and we just read about (Mr.) Gail Borden and the mid-19th century creation of his condensed, canned milk, I was delighted to encounter ELSIE, [Borden's spokes-bovine] since 1937. Here’s a link to the chapter from Andrew F. Smith’s Eating History: Thirty Turning Points in the Making of American Cuisine that describes Borden’s contribution. It’s food! It’s history! What’s not to love?!
This is one really well-made puzzle. From the specific, lively language in the cluing (“razzle-dazzle” and “teeny-weeny” jump out at me) to the layered and wide-ranging thematic (and non-thematic!) material, this is what thoughtful construction is about. Thanks for the thoroughly enjoyable solve, Liz—and solvers, what say ye? Would love to know your thoughts!
David Steinberg’s Los Angeles Times crossword
I love this theme—it’s a riff on the vowel progression theme, but with the vowel sound changing rather than the letter. The last word of each theme answer is the relevant part:
- 17a. [Food Network's "Throwdown!" host], BOBBY FLAY. F, L, long A sound.
- 24a. ['60s song about an insect who "hid / Inside a doggie from Madrid"], SPANISH FLEA. Long E.
- 41a. [1996 R. Kelly hit], I BELIEVE I CAN FLY. Long I.
- 51a. [Difference between money coming in and money being spent], NET CASH FLOW. Long O.
- 66a. [Contagious dog malady], CANINE FLU. Long U. I have never, ever heard of canine flu, though it’s been around for 40 years.
So that’s a nice twist on a familiar theme type, and although NET CASH FLOW is a little boring, it’s better than Enya’s ORINOCO FLOW being elevated to theme-entry status.
Other good bits include CHUMMY, MILEY CYRUS (look at that quaint old clue, [Hannah Montana portrayer]—no twerking, no nudity, no obvious tongue), and … those were the main standouts for me, but the fill was solid and didn’t have me scowling. Actually, YMA would have evoked a scowl if I’d seen it while solving, but I didn’t.
Four stars from me, with fondness for the thematic freshness and variety.