Gary Cee’s New York Times crossword, “Hits and Ms.es”
Kudos for the title going with the awkwardly pluralized “Ms.es” instead of the unfeminist “Misses.” The theme is past hit songs (mostly 30-50 years old) that include a female first name in the title:
- 22a. ["Greetings, Ms. Retton!"], “HELLO, MARY LOU.” I know this one from my mom. 1961 Ricky Nelson hit. 52 years!
- 31a. ["Very nice, Ms. Kennedy!"], “SWEET, CAROLINE.” The song lacks the comma that the clue calls for. Neil Diamond, 1969. 44 years.
- 37a. ["Hurry up, Ms. Brennan!"], “COME ON, EILEEN.” No comma in the song title. Dexys (no apostrophe) Midnight Runners, 1982-83. 30-31 years old.
- 55a. ["Cheer up, Ms. Teasdale!"], “SARA, SMILE.” Another comma insertion. Hall & Oates, 1976. 37 years old.
- 62a. ["Am I the one, Ms. Andrews?"], “JULIE, DO YA LOVE ME?” Never heard of this one, and neither has my husband. Bobby Sherman, circa 1970, apparently. 43 years.
- 74a. ["You look hot in a thong, Ms. Hawkins!"], “SEXY, SADIE.” Another comma addition. Gross clue. Who the hell talks about thongs? (Husband’s verdict: “Vulgar.”) Beatles, 1968 recording. Apparently not released as a single, and perhaps not officially a “hit song,” then? 45 years.
- 86a. ["I need a hand, Ms. Fleming!"], “HELP ME, RHONDA.” Beach Boys, 1965. 48 years.
- 94a. ["Leave it alone, Ms. Zellweger!"], “WALK AWAY, RENEE.” Comma added. Hit cover song for the Four Tops in 1967-68. 45-46 years old.
The theme worked all right for me while I was solving, though the clues suggest a lot of commas that aren’t in the original titles. I don’t know if pop musicians have strayed away from song titles containing women’s names in the last three decades, or if there are plenty of newer hits that could have taken part in this puzzle.
The crossword took me longer than the usual NYT Sunday. I attribute that to some rough fill:
- 12d. [Main cause], KEY FACTOR. Feels like an arbitrary word combo.
- 45d. [La ___, Dominican Republic (first Spanish settlement in the Americas)], ISABELA.
- 61a. [Person who holds property in trust], BAILEE.
- 27d. [Global commerce grp. since 1995], WTO. Its crossings had hard crossings.
- 11d. [Hound], ADDICT. Sandwiched between some tougher fill, this non-obvious answer to the clue was unwelcome.
- 59a. [Title character in an A. A. Milne play], MR. PIM. He’s no Eeyore.
- 15d. [Bread flavorer], DIPPING OIL.
- 54a. [Feature of Oz's Wicked Witch of the West], ONE EYE.
- 38d. [Sushi fish], OPAH. Find me a sushi menu with opah on it, will you? I checked the menus for my three closest sushi joints and they don’t have it.
- 41d. [Port city from which Amelia Earhart last flew], LAE.
- 10d. [___ de Nil (pale yellowish green)], EAU. That’s bizarre. Because Nile blue and Nile green are both in the bluish-green family. Why have the French gone chartreuse on us?
About 3.33 stars from me.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “A Piece of the Bird”
We get a TURKey pun theme the weekend before Thanksgiving. Kind of a mixed bag of theme answers:
- 19a. [Bird of Sherwood Forest?], FRIAR TURK. Friar Tuck.
- 23a. [How the bird was acquitted?], ON A TURKNICALITY. On a technicality.
- 27a. [Big bird of ancient Rome?], TURKUS MAXIMUS. Circus Maximus. Actual genus and species, Meleagris gallopavo.
- 45a. [Bird's term of endearment?], TURKLE DOVE. I never call anyone a turtle dove. I guess I’m just mean like that.
- 52a. [Actor who would have been perfect for "The Birds"?], TURK BOGARDE. Dirk Bogarde. How awesome would that Hitchcock movie have been with a rampaging turkey flock? (No idea what Dirk Bogarde has actually been in. He’s not the Dirk from the original Battlestar Galactica, is he? No, that was Dirk Benedict.)
- 63a. [Japanese bird dish?], BEEF TURKIYAKI. Beef teriyaki. “Turkeyaki”might look better, but the rest of the theme is TURK and never TURKEY.
- 75a. [Ex-football bird?], FRAN TURKENTON. Fran Tarkenton.
- 90a. [Bird in space?], CAPTAIN TURK. Captain Kirk.
- 92a, 111a. [With 111 Across, a classical work for birds?], TURKATA AND / FUGUE IN D MINOR. “Toccata and…”
- 121a. [1989 film about a baby bird?], LOOK WHO’S TURKING. I know the other theme answers depart from reality, but I think this one fails because it invents a verb, TURKING, to pun on Look Who’s Talking. And also, the sequels to that movie were indeed turkeys. Also? Now I’m thinking about twerking.
- 125a. [What the bird comedian was?], HYSTURKAL. Hysterical. This theme is hysturkal.
What troubled me more than the theme was the awkwardness of the fill. Lots of tough stuff, unfamiliar names, and/or crosswordese lurking in here:
- 56a. [Hawaii's state bird], NENE.
- 61a. [Italy's largest lake], GARDA.
- 88a. [Ex-P.M. Douglas-Home], ALEC.
- 95a. [First name in whodunits], ERLE.
- 102a. [Harem room], ODA.
- 108a. [Dies ___], IRAE.
- 127a. [Part of a "little" word], WEENY. Part of “teeny-weeny,” I think.
- 128a. [Conductor de Waart], EDO. His name crosses three other names, ROHE, SYD, and RATSO.
- 2d. [Czech Republic city], BRNO. Right in the 1-Across corner.
- 6d. ["The Sorcerer's Apprentice" composer], DUKAS. Not remotely familiar to me. Should it be?
- 10d. [Say something, in the Bible], TALKEST. Does the word appear just these three times, or is it common? (For comparison, “smite” gets 117 verses per that site, and “king” is in 1,917.)
- 14d. [Arkansas ore], BAUXITE. Significance?
- 15d. [Italian actress Virna], LISI. Why, I was just mentioning this to the woman next to me at the burger counter today. No, wait. I only mentioned silents stars Theda Bara and Nita Naldi. These 9-letter, vowel-rich, not-household-names actresses have names known to longtime crossworders but probably not to most others.
- 36d. [Possibly: abbr.], PERH. Not an abbrev I’ve used. See also: 119d. [Individually wrapped cheese slices: abbr.], SGLS.
- 43d. [Composer Smetana's river], MOLDAU. Except he would have called it the Vltava, in Czech.
- 55d. [Of Zeno's school], ELEATIC. Zeno of Elea, sure. But ELEATIC? News to me.
- 67d. [Babylonian abode of the dead (anagram of LAURA)], ARALU. Crosses two theme answers and an old British politician.
- 94d. ["Twilight of the Gods" author Erich von ___], DANIKEN. This guy.
- 113d. [Intro to mi], DORE. As in “do, re, mi…”
2.66 stars from me. Not enough fun in the puns, too much awkward fill.
Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Dave Sullivan’s review
After Bob Klahn, this Doug Peterson character (whom I’ve had the pleasure meeting on multiple xword event occasions) is my favorite themeless constructor. Let’s look at his silky smooth 70-word themeless offered up today:
- Starting at 1-Across (as most solvers do, I imagine), we have [Ingredient in some frighteningly hot sauces] cluing the dreaded GHOST PEPPER – hand up for CHILI before realizing why “frightening” was in the clue. I see here that it lost its title as the “Hottest Pepper in the World” to the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion last year, which in turn has been superseded by the Carolina Reaper, produced by the (no lie!) PuckerButt Pepper company.
- [Dinosaur with prominent horns] was the also frightful TRICERATOPS – if it were to return, not to worry as it was a herbivore.
- [Beefy burrito filling] clued CARNE ASADA – I wonder if PuckerButt has their sights set on Taco Bell as a consumer of their Carolina Reapers.
- [1988 Tony for Best Play] clued M. BUTTERFLY – starring John Lithgow, whom I enjoyed as a recent contestant on NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. Did you know he wrote children’s books?
- [Fort captured by the Green Mountain Boys in 1775] clued TICONDEROGA – go Vermont!
Other highlights included HARMONICA, DESI ARNAZ BABY STEPS and GREAT IDEA!. Really nothing to make one HURL in this one, TREE MOSS feels a bit obscure, but that’s it folks. A joyous romp!
Karen M. Tracey’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 190″
You don’t see Karen M. Tracey’s by-line in most traditional venues these days. Therefore, her continued presence in the WaPo roster is greatly pleasing to me. She has a great eye for finding delicious long answers! The grid itself was a balanced one – that is the long answers are distributed more or less evenly without obvious stacks (there are two sets of 10′s).
The two long (14-letter) downs are both great: the perfume ELIZABETHARDEN and LIGHTNINGCHESS. I didn’t know the latter, but I assume it’s the same as SPEEDCHESS, only more so. Of the long acrosses, the top pair of ISRAELITES and GUILLOTINE both have interest. Ms. Tracey went with an old-timey surgical clue for GUILLOTINE, avoiding somewhat the gory aspects of the word. Have a look at a tonsil guillotine, though. The other pair are DRYMUSTARD and the tricky to spell MORISSETTE. I settled for two R’s and one S initially! THATSALAUGH and WILDEBEESTS are also fun, although the standard plural in South African English is WILDEBEEST. IMMORTALIZE shares a remarkable number of letters with meMORiALIZE, which is what I had first.
Among the clues, my two favourites were [Triangle removed before a break] for RACK (in most forms of pocket billiards), [Royal pain?] for PEA.
My weak answer column consists of LEOV (the clue says it all – [Pope briefly in 903]), and the contrived CROWER, ETHELS and ADMS.
Henry Hook’s CRooked crossword, “It’s a Mister-y” — pannonica’s write-up
Phrases that begin with names that follow “Mr.” If the theme seems familiar, that’s because (1) I suspect it’s been done quite a few times before, and (2) it was the basis of Lynn Lempel’s CrosSynergy puzzle – “Hey, Mr.!” – this past Thursday. That 15×15 crossword, with five theme entries, has four of them replicated here: all but Mr Coffee.
- 22a. [Cheap seats] PEANUT GALLERY.
- 31a. [Party snack] CHIPS AND DIP.
- 45a. [Weightlifting maneuver] CLEAN AND JERK.
- 60a. [Poppable packing] BUBBLE WRAP.
- 63a. [Movie based on (and an anagram of) "Rocket Boys"] OCTOBER SKY. Nifty trivia, that.
- 79a. [Tony Conigliaro, notably] RIGHT FIELDER. Not notably to me, not I.
- 92a. [Offense arrangements] T FORMATIONS.
- 105a. [Creation alternative] BIG BANG THEORY.
Despite the unfortunate coincidence in timing, the theme’s good and entertaining. Not that it really matters, but for the record this puzzle preceded the Lempel in paper print by more than a month.
Biggest complaint about the theme? The stunning lack of gender diversity; not one of the eight answers is a woman! Absolutely inexcusable and unforgivable. Shame, shame on you, Mr Hook.
In the ballast fill, the mix of familiar and unfamiliar, of clunk and funk, is balanced and the cluing’s well-pitched enough to keep it lively and interesting for solvers. The sole exception, in my opinion, is the crossing of 87d and 98a, both of which seem likely to be obscure to a majority: [Small wristbone] HAMATE, [Golf legend Jimmy] DEMARET.
Too many baseball clues, not enough Jewish months. Favorite clue: 87a [Hamburger heaven?] HIMMEL.
Mark Feldman’s syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “Cooked Books”
This is a pun theme with a twist: Various famous books have two key words changed to words that rhyme with them. So it’s more challenging than a theme in which only a single word is changed in the service of a pun.
- 25a. [Tolstoy novel about game hunting?], BOAR AND GEESE. War and Peace.
- 31a. [London novel about gentlemen coming to blows?], BRAWL OF THE MILD. Call of the Wild, Jack London. The London in the clue put me in mind of the slappy fight in England between Bridget Jones’s two romantic rivals in the movie.
- 52a. [Salinger novel about an alien abduction?], SNATCHER IN THE SKY. Catcher in the Rye.
- 70a. [Dreiser novel about a prominent British prince?], MISTER HARRY. Sister Carrie. Does anyone call Prince Harry “Mister Harry,” or did he go from young “Master Harry” to a “highness” of some sort.
- 82a. [Brontë novel about the rigors of ballet training?], SMOTHERING TIGHTS. Wuthering Heights.
- 104a. [Forster novel about the mysterious death of Tutenkhamen?], A TOMB WITH A CLUE. A Room with a View.
- 115a. [Steinbeck novel about a spiritual vegan?], OF RICE AND ZEN. Of Mice and Men.
It might have been neat if all the “cooked books” could have been morphed into being about food, like OF RICE AND ZEN and BOAR AND GEESE.
The various zones filled with 6-, 7-, and 8-letter answers make the puzzle a bit more difficult, as do some unusual words (MISMATE; ICEMEN; OGEE; TOSH; EDA; AES; ILIA; BRAE; 6d. [Crooks, in slang], GANEFS; 7d. [Unsettled feelings, in Frankfurt], ANGSTE, German plural) and less familiar names (most notably 87d. ["Scottish Fantasy" composer], BRUCH), plus various pile-ups of these sorts of entries.
2.75 stars from me. I like puns to be fun, and this theme didn’t bring me much amusement.