Alan Olschwang’s New York Times crossword, “Bye-lines”
I should have made my prediction public a few days ago—when we had two NYT puzzles with Alan bylines (DerKazarian and Arbesfeld), I thought to myself that we’d have to have an Alan Olschwang Sunday puzzle to complete the set. And here it is, but I must rely on you to trust that my prescience is true. Secret weekly theme answer: 33d. [Keyes and King], ALAN.
The non-secret theme is (semi)famous farewell lines:
- 23a. [The Lone Ranger], “HI-YO, SILVER, AWAY!” And then he left, apparently?
- 47a. [Roger Ebert], “THE BALCONY IS CLOSED.” Said at the end of Sneak Previews and its successors.
- 64a. [Porky Pig], “TH-TH-TH-TH-THAT’S ALL, FOLKS!” Said at the end of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons.
- 79a. [George Burns], “SAY GOODNIGHT, GRACIE.” At the end of Burns and Allen routines, yes?
- 109a. [Red Skelton], “AND MAY GOD BLESS.” No idea. Wikipedia tells me this ’50s(+) TV legend closed out his show with “Good night and may God bless.”
That’s it? Five theme answers? That’s rather light for a Sunday-sized puzzle. I thought maybe this was balanced by a particularly low word count, but I count 134 entries (vs. the standard max of 140). There are lots of 6s and 7s around the edges of the puzzle, but it’s hard to pin down many highlights. These were my favorites:
- 9d. [Nickname for Huntington Beach, Calif.], SURF CITY.
- 85d. [What a judge might do during a hearing], SET BAIL.
- 66d. [Mr. Right], THE ONE.
It took me three tries to get the right S-word at 1d. [Downhill run]. I had SLALOM; no dice. Then I tried SLOPES; still no dice. SCHUSS! Dictionary says that word means “straight downhill run on skis,” so the clue is spot on. (Not a skier here.) At least I had the S solidly, thanks to years of crosswording teaching me that SABENA is the 1a. [Former Belgian national airline]. It went bankrupt in 2001.
2.75 stars. I was hoping for more oomph, and the theme is essentially a five-short-quotes quote theme.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “Veterans Day”
A simple and sweet theme in honor of Veterans Day, which is Monday the 11th. Merl notes, “Kind of a narrow theme this week — hence, the smaller grid — but a big shout-out to veterans everywhere.” Mind you, “narrow” for Merl means 10 theme entries with (if I counted right) 106 theme squares, which is not so terribly slight (the NYT has only 85). But I appreciate a 19×19 Sunday puzzle, which takes less time to solve than the usual 21×21.
Merl’s theme answers are phrases that include a hidden VET, clued with reference to veterans:
- 20a. Where some vets once flew], ABOVE THE CLOUDS.
- 30a. Take part in a salute to vets], WAVE THE FLAG.
- 39a. Plant with vet-friendly branches, perhaps], OLIVE TREE. Peace.
- 46a. Win a battle, for example], SAVE THE DAY.
- 53a. Iconic Rockwell subject], ROSIE THE RIVETER. Manufacturer of munitions, planes, and whatnot.
- 59a. Show appreciation to a vet], GIVE THANKS.
- 68a. Second lieutenant, slangily], SHAVETAIL.
- 75a. Survive, as a battle], LIVE THROUGH.
- 85a. Accomplish today’s objective?], SOLVE THE PUZZLE. I’ll bet a ton of veterans solve Merl’s Sunday puzzles each week. Are any of you reading this? Thanks for your service.
- 74a. [Word appearing in all nine theme answers], VET.
- 47d. [Plato's "Allegory of ___"], THE CAVE. No need to clue this as a partial title! It’s the full name of the on-campus bar at my alma mater.
- 17a. [Computer pioneer Ada], LOVELACE. If you don’t know about this 19th-century woman who is the founder of scientific computing and did her important work as a young adult (she died early, at 37), read up.
- 14d. [Old music-scene magazine], HIT PARADER. It’s still an active magazine. Looks rather metal-minded. Bah!
- 56d. [New Brunswick's county], MIDDLESEX. Middlesex County in New Jersey, city of New Brunswick—not the Canadian province of New Brunswick that abuts Maine. And that New Brunswick does have counties, but not one called Middlesex, which is also the title of the Eugenides novel about a person who’s a hermaphrodite.
- 78d. [Kvetcher's cry], OY VEY. “What is this? Is it a Northern thing?”
Favorite clue: 41d. [Apt anagram of "my car"], CAMRY. My car’s name is an inapt anagram of O IS FUN.
Weirdest answer: 97a. ["The Fly-Away Horse ___ ever and ever away" (Eugene Field)]. SPEEDETH.
Four stars. Nothing terribly exciting or groundbreaking, but a gentle thanks to veterans.
Gail Grabowski’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Working Overtime”
The theme answers work a little overtime in that the first and second words, respectively, end with O and begin with T:
- 27a. [Chocolate source], CACAO TREE.
- 29a. [One working with hammers], PIANO TUNER. I wonder if that is a full-time job for anyone.
- 49a. [Pest-snaring device], MOSQUITO TRAP.
- 64a. [Classroom reminder], NO TALKING.
- 83a. [Cold War concept advanced by Eisenhower], DOMINO THEORY.
- 101a. [Outdoor furniture piece]. PATIO TABLE.
- 104a. [Martial arts maneuver], JUDO THROW.
- 36d. ["That Girl" actress], MARLO THOMAS. Marlo! I just read a year-old series of Slate articles about the development of Free to Be … You and Me, a foundational cornerstone of my childhood.
- 40d. [Naval weapons launcher], TORPEDO TUBE. Is the tube itself doing the launching?
There’s nothing toO Terribly exciting about these “letters in the middle” themes, and the phrases are a solid grab bag of entirely unrelated things.
Five more things:
- 96d. [Sister of Peter], FLOPSY. Peter Rabbit, and his sisters Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail, from the Beatrix Potter stories. I guessed at FLOSSY first, since there’s no Rabbit hint in the clue.
- 38d. [Command posts: Abbr.], HDQS. Eh. I could see HQ and HDQRS, but I don’t think HDQS is so standard.
- 77a. [Big name in food safety], ECOLAB. Huh? At first, I thought this was going to be something like “E. coli B.” (The crossing for the A, 54d. [The classical elements, e.g.], is TETRAD. Earth, air, fire, and water.) I don’t know Ecolab but apparently it is a Fortune 500 company.
- 9d. ["Casino" co-star], JOE PESCI. He brightens up any crossword, doesn’t he?
- 28d. [They're secured in locks], OARS. Poor OARS. So dull, so utilitarian, so overused in crosswords that every possible cluing approach is called upon periodically. This clue is markedly more tricky than the typical OAR(S) clue.
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Pretty wide open 64-word themeless today:
Five FAVEs today:
- [Praiseful] clued LAUDATORY – nice 25-cent word there.
- [Regardless of expense] was AT ANY COST – are there things that you would pay any price for? We just saw 12 Years a Slave last night and Brad Pitt (and certainly Chiwetel Ejiofo–I can just imagine Peter Gordon beginning to work on his annual Oscar nomination grid with that name!) would answer that question with Freedom.
- The alliterative [Local lady legislator] was an ALDERWOMAN – can we use “alderperson” going forward?
- Two diacritical entries: [Start of a drink] clued PIÑA (who can forget this?) and [Intimate chat] was TÊTE-À-TÊTE. Does the Italian ALTISSIMO have an accent somewhere? Speaking of accents, how’s this week’s Fireball coming?
- [Greek temple completed in the 5th century B.C.] was the PARTHENON – now one has to use a lot of imagination to picture it as it once was.
Not much Scrabbly going on in this one, but with such a low word count, it’s to be expected. If you were like me, you had COME AFTER before COME LATER; the former seems a bit more natural to my ear for [Ensue]. I loved seeing the name Snorkasaurus in the clue for DINO; that brought back some fond childhood memories of watching The Flintstones. I first had VIVE for ["___ le roi!" (French Revoution cry)], but it’s actually just the opposite À BAS, which means “down with.” I’m down with that.
Henry Hook’s CRooked crossword, “Why Wait?” — pannonica’s write-up
How about a dollop of mordantly morbid humor to start off your day? We get a quote theme:
- 22a, et seq. [Start of a quip] THEY SAY YOU SHOULD LIVE | EACH DAY AS | IF IT’S YOUR LAST | SO TODAY I’M | HAVING MYSELF EMBALMED. Carpe mortem!
As in today’s NYT, only five theme entries, but I think the surrounding fill here is more impressive. Triple seven-stacks vertically at the flanks featuring Zs and Ks, a couple of eights, and an overall more interesting and Scrabbly feel.
Speaking of which… most Scrabbly fill: 92d [Pastime originally called Lexiko] SCRABBLE, though of course “Lexiko” is much more Scrabbly than “Scrabble.” It’s a hardscrabble world out there, people.
- Names I did not know: 68a [Ms. Balk of "Almost Famous"] FAIRUZA, 85a ["Scary Movie"'s Anna] FARIS, 16d [R.B. who recorded 1969's "Take a Letter Maria"] GREAVES, 105a [Red hog breed] DUROC, 14d [Boston suburb] DEDHAM. Wouldn’t be surprised if some solvers didn’t know 39a [Operatic baritone Sherrill] MILNES, 57a [Missionary Junipero] SERRA, 56d [Lamb pseudonym] ELIA, and some others.
- Critical though short-lived misfills: 48a [Minor players] TOTS for COGS; 55a ["Ask away"] SHOOT for TRY ME; 101a [Small but feisty] RAGTAG for BANTAM; 111d [Weapon handle] HILT for HAFT (should have known better there); 2d [Flu symptoms] AGUES for ACHES (ditto).
- Least favorite fill: 37a [Topic for a Th.D.] RELIG.; 74d [Ensconced in a den] LAIRED, 5a [20 __ = 1 oz. troy] PWT (primarily for location, as the second across answer).
- What?! 49a [Gamemaster's event] LARP. Hmm, apparently that’s “Live-Action Role-Playing.” How about some larb instead? Chacun à son goût, as they say.
- Ancient Greek stuff: ORESTES, OEDIPUS, ILIAD. Let’s toss in ELIA and PSI too.
- Favorite clue, and one that perhaps bookends or counterbalances the theme quote, depending on your outlook: 86d [Show some pluck?] STRUM.
|Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
|What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
Entertaining puzzle, not a slog.
Trip Payne’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 188″ — Janie’s review
Trip has given us one solidly-constructed 70/28 today—with an iron-cast midsection that could give any set of gym-trim six-pack abs a run for their money. Right there in the center there’s JOE DIRT, a singularly forgettable David Spade movie (wait—is that redundant?) that nonetheless yields up a great character name. And seeing it sandwiched between the equally strong WHERE IT’S AT [Hot spot] and MORE OR LESS [Not exactly] only improves its appearance. Nor does it hurt that ECOTOURIST and SHELLED OUT run through all three vertically. Nor does it hurt that ecotourist and shelled out are clued so cagily: [Traveler who tries not to make much of an impact?] is not a milquetoast (one too many letters anyway); [Coughed up] is not pointing us towards a bronchial reflex.
Bracing that central core are the 10-letter double-columns in the NW and SE, where we get ADHERED TO next to MAIL ORDER and then SPACE RACE beside ARTIE SHAW– someone whose first and last names we don’t ordinarily encounter in the grid at the same time. While the SW crossing of OMITTED and EAST END is just fine, its opposite number up in the NE really shines. That’s where TAG LINE [Trailer phrase] crosses HIT LIST. Among the tag lines for Joe Dirt? “His name’s not mud… but it’s close.” Here are some more, if your curiosity is piqued… (We get another reference to the silver screen [and not to siding materials] in the pairing of [Clapboard numbers] and TAKES, btw.) Oh—and that clue for hit list? The “run-that-by-me-again, wouldja-please” and oh-so perfect [Group whose offing is in the offing].
Speaking of clues, this puzzle makes a great case for the power of brevity to misdirect. Prime examples include: [Spot] for JAM, [Toss] for CAN, [Bore] for TOTED, [Duties] for LEVIES. Not a one that couldn’t be read more than one way. I think my fave, though, is (yes…) the two-word [Small revolver] for EDDY. Could not get these kinda images out of my head for the longest time. Got me!
The other thing that got me was the crossing of our friend Joe Dirt with JON—Favreau as the puzzle would have it. That “J” was strictly an educated guess for me, having never heard of the David Spade movie and having never seen (heard of?) Swingers either. I figured Vince was Vince Vaughn, but darned if I knew who his co-star was. It was only during a post-solving visit to IMDB that I was able to fill in the <sigh> pop-culture gap that <sigh> seems so often to need filling in.
The biggest confession of all, though, is that it was only after solving that I could appreciate that terrific pair of grid-spanners that make their way across the top and bottom. At the top, again, a nice brief clue [Fluffy side] yields up WHIPPED POTATOES. Okay fill. A tad bland, perhaps, but just right in combination with the clue. Then at the bottom—first of all, that really long clue with a name in it that meant zero to me (the first one, not the second…). So I needed most of the crosses before I could be certain that that [Position held by Dirk Kempthorne before becoming George W. Bush's final interior secretary] was, in fact, GOVERNOR OF IDAHO. Okay. If you wanna spend 15 letters on some some governor of Idaho who made it into the Bush deux administration I guess that’s fine. A tad bland, maybe, but….. But no! D’oh! Idaho is not merely “The Gem State” but it’s also “The Potato State.” Headslap moment for me—and a whole new appreciation for the high-carb fill Trip served up for us today. This is good stuff!
As I said at the beginning, this is one solidly-constructed puzzle. It made for one satisfying solve; and between the cluing and the fill, a solidly entertaining one as well. So—see you next month; and if I failed to mention your favorite clues and/or fill (I didn’t get to all the highlights), by all means: speak up!