Julian Lim’s New York Times crossword, “Vowel Play”
The theme’s made up of made-up phrases that have all five vowels sandwiched together in the middle:
- 23a. Paintings of French estates?], CHATEAU OILS.
- 28a. Carrier for Casanovas?], ROUE AIRLINES. The “airlines” plural and singular “carrier” threw me.
- 52a. Aid for a submarine séance?], UNDERSEA OUIJA.
- 82a. Hawaiian wine lover?], MAUI OENOPHILE. We would also have accepted MAUI EOSINOPHILIA. (What? You no like medical terminology?)
- 103a. Last words from a coxswain?], ADIEU, OARSMAN.
- 112a. Garlicky sauce in central Europe?], PRAGUE AIOLI.
- 36d. All the writings of a Persian faith?], BAHA’I OEUVRE.
- 40d. “Happily ever after” with Han Solo?], LEIA OUTCOME.
For what they are, they’re okay. If you’re going to have made-up phrases in a theme, though, it’s more entertaining if they’re all worth a giggle. None of these ones evoked a smile for me.
While I was working the puzzle, I was making a face. It was one part Scowl-o-Meter action and one part absolute befuddlement. The befuddlement came from the following bits:
- 68d. ["Operators are standing by" and "Call now!," e.g.], ADSPEAK. Is that a thing? I wasn’t aware.
- 65a. [Kings and queens: Abbr.], SOVS. Short for sovereigns, but not an abbreviation I’ve seen before.
- 117a. [Like some patches], SEW-ON. Should have been clued as a verb phrase. I Googled “sew-on patches” and the resulting Amazon page was full of iron-on applique patches and some velcro patches.
- 16/17d. AGIN and IRAE are blah by themselves, but sandwiched together, they had me making the face again.
- 5d. [Not far from, in poetry], ANEAR.
- 86d. [Hot herbal beverage], SAGE TEA. I never encounter this outside of crosswords. Is it a wicca thing or what?
- 1a. [Shade of brown], MOCHA. How does this differ from coffee brown? I tried UMBER and COCOA and considered SEPIA (but didn’t even think of OCHER). MOCHA does not appear to be one of the more common “shades of brown” out there. Rough start for the puzzle. The paint people seem to like it, but then they need many hundreds of color names.
- 108d. [Ski-___ (snowmobiles)], DOOS. This one entertained me because I know that DOOS is an Afrikaans word. It is … not a polite word.
Now, THE SOPRANOS is great fill, I like MEDIA BIAS (okay, I don’t like media bias, but you know what I mean), and “DON’T PANIC!” is all right. FIND PEACE (66a. [Achieve nirvana]) feels a mite contrived, though.
Did not know: 70a. [Skiing maneuver at a bend in the course], STEP TURN. I don’t ski, so….
Have any of you gotten a HENNA (46a. [Medium for body art]) ‘tattoo”? I want to do this sometime. The only person I know who gets henna tattoos is my son’s dentist.
2.5 stars from me. It’s not enough to sandwich vowels into phrases—the phrases have got to sing, to amuse. I was disappointed that this puzzle didn’t provide more entertainment.
Edited to add: Fans of Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest (of which I am one) will remember (unless they forgot, like me) Matt’s 2010 meta with the same theme. The meta challenge was to identify a comedian who would make an excellent theme entry.
Todd McClary’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 189″- Sam Donaldson’s review
Had I shut off the timer before heading into the last corner of the grid (that devilish northwest), I could have posted a respectable solving time of just under ten minutes. Alas, Crossword Blog Ethics forbid such chicanery, so the ugly solving time sits atop this post for your amusement.
But yeah, that northwest corner: home to a staggering combination of “never heard of it”s, “I’ve seen this before and I should remember it”s, and one plain “huh?” The three answers I don’t think I’ve heard before: (1) SLOW FOOD, the [Small-scale farming movement]; (2) HAD A LINE, meaning one [Held information] on another; and (3) WABE, which I know as my local NPR station, not a ["Jabberwocky" locale]. I’m disappointed in myself on the first one, as I consider myself something of a “foodie.” I know “farm-to-table,” “loca-vore,” and other trendy movements that tend to favor smaller, local farms, but “slow food” is entirtely new to me. Alas, I’ve consumed much more fast food than slow food in my day. Anyway, when you don’t know either of the first two Across entries in the northwest corner, you’re in for a battle.
On the “should have remembered” list are ODETTE, the ["Swan Lake" heroine] that I always want to be NATALIE PORTMAN, and EYE BOLTS, the [Picture-hanging hardware] I’ve used many times myself, of course, without really paying much attention to what they’re called. Then there’s the “huh?” answer for me: LAY LOW as the answer to [Deck]. Shouldn’t that be [Duck]? If it is a typo, I hope it’s just in my version of the puzzle.
Luckily for me, life outside the northwest corner was significantly less stressful and, indeed, enjoyable. There’s much to like in this 68/29 freestyle. You’ve got four open corners, several rare letters strewn about, and a host of lively entries or at least solid answers made even better through great clues. Some notable examples:
- Notre Dame fans no doubt liked seeing both LOU Holtz and ARA Parseghian in the puzzle. Like many, I tend to root for the teams that play against Notre Dame, but I liked how both were clued as [11-season Notre Dame football coach...].
- [Cell image of skin?] duped me into thinking about something on a microscopic level, even though the question mark should have been a giveaway that the answer would be something like SEXT. Is one who engages in such activity regularly a sextualist?
- I liked [Wallet photo subject] as a clue for one’s PRIDE AND JOY. Much more colorful than a straightforward definitional clue.
- Took an early flyer on IRAN as the [1979 "Canadian Caper" country]. Thank you, Argo.
- I knew that [Force creation?] would have something to do with Star Wars, but I was slow to figure out it would actually be STAR WARS. But now the clue feels a little off to me–Star Wars is not a creation of the Force, it’s what created the concept of The Force.
- Man, how I wanted the [Fondue pot fill] to be CHEESE or CHOCOLATE. Here I consider myself a foodie and I don’t even know that the typical stuff inside a fondue pot is OIL. I hereby relinquish my foodie credentials.
- Anyone else try ON THE DL for [Confidentially], thinking that ON THE QT probably wouldn’t work because of the rare letter? No? Okay, never mind.
- [Ball outfit?] is a great clue for the DESILU production studios of Lucille Ball.
The northwest corner didn’t have the “unknown” market cornered. There was also THULIUM, the [Element named for ancient Scandinavia], and TEMPEH, what looks to be a mediocre [Tofu kin] (though my dictionary says it’s pronounced more like a Canadian dish). Oh, and EN CROUTE, which sounds way fancier than ENCRUSTED, what I wanted as the answer to [Like Beef Wellington]. Again, you have my foodie credentials.
Favorite entry = SWEAT EQUITY, clued as [Bead work?]. Fine clue for a fine entry. But Favorite clue = [Mountain climber's strains] for YODELS. Loved the payoff when I finally figured it out. Er, when finally it was out that which I figured.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Dave Sullivan’s review
A bit different themeless grid from the master of 15-letter stacks, featuring 5 11-letter entries in the middle crossed by 2 other 11-letter entries.
Let’s start with the down entries:
- [Commercial-free, maybe] clued UNSPONSORED – I tried to shoehorn UNINTERRUPTED in there at first. I prefer my answer if it had fit.
- [Many doomsday cults predict them] was APOCALYPSES – can there be more than one??
And now the across entries:
- [Got even, in a way] clued SANDPAPERED – great clue for a so-so entry. I don’t think I ever use sandpaper as a verb. I “use” it.
- [Oaters] were HORSE OPERAS – one of those “binding” phrases often found in crossword stacks and not many other places, at least in recent parlance.
- [Some high schoolers] was SENIOR CLASS – nice misdirection with the plural clue and collective noun.
- [Seafood go-with] clued TARTAR SAUCE – the worst of this “go-with” is simply mayonnaise mixed with relish. There must be a better recipe for it.
- ["Not me!"] was SOMEONE ELSE – nice entry, although a bit high on the RSTNLE scale.
We had a couple of 10′s as well (PEACE PIPES was my FAVE of these) and a nice 9 in the conversational HERE’S A TIP. I grimaced at ARIAN ([Suffix with sect]) and the rather obscure EASTON, PA (pop. 26,800 as of the 2010 census). Overall, a mixed bag for me, what did you think?
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “Double Doubles” — pannonica’s write-up
I found this crossword, at least as a solve, to be perfunctory due to the large amount of letter repetition in the theme answers and the general lack of excitement among the non-theme fill.
- 27a. [Dog dandruff?] CHOW-CHOW FURFUR. Furfur (pl., furfures) comes from the Latin for bran, or scales.
- 41a. [Cheerleading prop?] RAH-RAH POMPOM.
- 63a. [Catching the wrong train?] CHOO-CHOO BOO-BOO. ‘Samatta you? I told you: Track 29.
- 70a. [Kicks for some prisoners?] SING-SING CANCAN.
- 92a. [Shifting your golf ball?] PUTT-PUTT NO-NO. Is “putt-putt” the same thing as “pitch ‘n putt”?
- 110a. [How Dorothy rouses her pet?] WAKEY-WAKEY, TOTO.
- 15d. [Experts at walking the dog?] YO-YO HOTSHOTS. The sole anomalous themer, in that one of the components is not a strict reduplication of a base word although the letter sequence is repeated. Gave me slight pause during the solve, but ultimately I appreciated the unexpected change-up.
- 62d. [Stage getup for Stefani Germanotta?] GAGA FROUFROU.
- Liked the clue at 86a [Match for Agassi] GRAF. Tennis-marrieds. See also 106a ["Rafa" of tennis] for Rafael NADAL.
- One-across-and-down: [Decked out] for CLAD, and [Hot, style-wise] for CHIC. See also 110d [Sported] WORE.
- Misfills: 10d [Blemish on a plant], which I read as “on paint” and dubiously answered with LEAK SPOT; LEAF SPOT. 14d [Glance] EYEBALL for EYEBEAM, which wasn’t familiar to me. 102a [Sudden increase] SPLURGE for UPSURGE, and just below that, an again dubiously written ONE FEE for SET FEE at 109a [Prix fixe].
- Favorite clue? 82a [Pants, shortened] TROU.
This would probably be a good crossword for new solvers who may be intimidated by the large format 21×21 grid.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “It’s a Med, Med, Med-ieval World”
In this latest “Merl tells a story through the puzzle” theme, the story is sort of a medieval fairy tale and key words are (sometimes) puns and (always) brand-name prescription drugs.
- 1a. ["I bought this new sword and sorcery book. It's about a king, ___ Rex ..."], ADIPEX. Don’t know the drug. Pun on Oedipus (who, it bears noting, is not medieval).
- 7a. ["... his queen, ___ ..."], LEVITRA. Not a pun, near as I can tell. Just random. Erectile dysfunction drug.
- 22a. ["... and their two daughters, ___ ..."], PROPECIA. Baldness drug. Random.
- 23a. ["... and ___ ..."], ALLEGRA. Allergy med. Random.
- 42a. ["... They lived peacefully in the land of ___, until one day ..."], MERIDIA. Obesity drug. Random.
- 52a. ["... an evil warrior, Mighty ___, arrived ..."], LIPITOR. Cholesterol med. Random.
- 54a. ["... riding his shaggy, six-headed ___ ..."], VIOXX. Arthritis drug. Pun on ox. Abysmal crossing with 54d: [Squirrel fur], VAIR. If you don’t know Vioxx or crosswordese squirrel terms, you’re out of luck.
- 56a. ["... Of course, the cowardly royal son, Prince ___, ..."], ZOCOR. Cholesterol med. Random.
- 56a. ["... Of course, the cowardly royal son, Prince ___, ..."], ZOLOFT. Antidepressant. Random.
- 66a. ["... but the daughters acted swiftly and drank from the enchanted waters of ___ Falls ..."], VIAGRA. Erectile dysfunction med. Pun on Niagara, which the drug’s marketers were absolutely evoking when they named it.
- 77a. ["... and in less than a ___ they were turned into great hairy warriors ..."], PRILOSEC. Reflux drug. Half-hearted pun on “sec.”
- 81a. ["... each armed with a double-bladed ___ (to cut both ways, of course) ..."], XANAX. Antianxiety med. Pun on ax.
- 89a. ["... With one swing they struck the evil one right in the ___! (dispatching him instantly) ..."], PLAVIX. Cholesterol med. No idea what sort of pun this is supposed to be.
- 99a. ["... So once again, there was peace in the ___ ..."], VALIUM. Antianxiety drug. Pun on valley.
- 102a. ["... and while the royal subjects now debated who would be ___ in line to the throne ..."], NEXIUM. Reflux drug. Pun on next.
- 114a. ["... the king said, 'Never mind that. Let's ___!'"], CELEBREX. Arthritis med. Pun on celebrate.
The theme entries are not all symmetrically placed. With 16 of them, that would have constrained the grid even further. As it is, all those X’s in the med names probably limited Merl’s wiggle room here. This could account for the unfortunate fill—consider 51a. [Head wreaths], ANADEMS; 71a. [World War II admiral], SPRAGUE; 90a. [Gift of a sort], DONATIVE (dictionary labels word “rare”); 93a. [Plant-filled, as lobbies], FERNY; 18d. [Macabre writer's inits.], HPL (that’s H.P. Lovecraft, and no, his initials are not so commonly used); 38d. [Massenet opera], MANON (crossing ANADEMS, ZOCOR, and ENE, which could easily be ESE); and the aforementioned VAIR.
I enjoyed the clue for the Roman numeral XIII: 6d. [Vnlvcky nvmber]. Alas, when a Roman numeral clue is the highlight of a puzzle, you know you didn’t love it. 2.5 stars from me. The concept is interesting, but I feel like it needed to go full-bore on the puns and not lean on a bunch of “hey, that sounds sort of like it could be a medieval story character’s name” plays. And I knew all but one of the meds! I could see a lot of solvers who don’t know a wide range of prescription drug trade names and their spellings beating their heads against this puzzle. Every letter in the medication names needs to have ironclad crossings, and that’s not always the case here.
Zhouqin “C.C.” Burnikel’s syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “Logical Connections”
I was feeling a little down on Sunday puzzles after the other two that I blogged this weekend, so my hopes were all on this puzzle to salvage my cruciverbal mood. C.C. to the rescue! It’s not the most exciting theme idea, but it’s well executed and the whole thing was so smooth and easy, I whipped through it in no time flat. (A speedier solve means less time to dwell on any rough spots. Go fast enough and you won’t even see any rough spots.)
Each theme answer cements its two words together with ERGO, which is the Latin word for “therefore” that is used to connect clauses in logic.
- 24a. [Imaginary kids' author], MOTHER GOOSE.
- 31a. [NFL commissioner since 2006], ROGER GOODELL.
- 49a. [Zeus or Thor], THUNDER GOD. I always think of Brian Cimmet and Ryan Hecht when I see this term, as they had some shtick about a thunder god in their erstwhile crossword podcast.
- 52a. [Job interview subject], CAREER GOAL.
- 87a. [Sport with orange balls, perhaps], WINTER GOLF. Wasn’t quite aware that was a “thing,” but yes, I have seen people golfing in the snow, and yes, a white ball would be easy to lose.
- 89a. [Lynne Cheney's predecessor], TIPPER GORE.
- 103a. [Hand-crafted belts, e.g.], LEATHER GOODS.
- 114a. [Vision-distorting condition caused by a few too many cold ones, slangily], BEER GOGGLES. Yes! Saved the best one for last—always a good choice.
- 122a. [Logical connection hidden in eight puzzle answers], ERGO.
The longest Down answers are a terrific bunch—GROUP HUG, BLOW BY BLOW, UP THE ANTE, POTPOURRI, TOLL-FREE, and KUNTA KINTE all shine. The rest of the fill ranges from ordinary crosswordese (EERO! OTERO!) and abbreviations (GSA! STE!) to regular daily vocabulary and somewhat zippy stuff like TEBOW, TAMALES, and SILENT E.
Four stars. Smooth sailing all the way through.