Hearty congratulations to Ben Tausig on the publication of a gorgeous new book, The Curious History of the Crossword: 100 Puzzles from Then and Now. I have barely had a chance to look through it yet, but have already marveled at the crosswords that Ben chose to illuminate the topic. A Merl Reagle puzzle from a non-ACPT tournament in the ’80s, a Matt Gaffney “Saturday Stumper” from Stan Newman’s Crossworder’s OWN Newsletter (1994), a Trip Payne puzzle from GAMES magazine in the ’80s, Maura Jacobson puzzles from New York magazine, the diamond-shaped crosswords from nearly a century ago? All sorts of blasts from the past, along with more recent puzzles in the indie vein. This is perhaps the wildest and widest selection of crosswords ever gathered in a single volume.
Ben discusses all sorts of issues in the crossword world—gender, themes, the breakfast table test, the business angle, mentoring relationships, indie crosswords, and more. I can’t wait to dig into the book—and work the puzzles.
Jules Markey’s New York Times crossword
Nothing personal against Mr. Markey, but I am surprised to see his byline a mere six days after his previous puzzle. The current theme is time-sensitive, but the previous one could easily have run months ago or be held for a few more months. This would also give the constructor the advantage of getting distinct attention from friends and family for each puzzle instead of melding the two publications into one event.
Here’s the holiday theme:
- 17a. [Source of easy money], GRAVY TRAIN.
- 24a. [One of a pair in a court], SQUASH RACKET. Okay, I never think about squash rackets, and we never eat squash at our family Thanksgiving dinners.
- 39a. [Setting for the starts of 17-, 24-, 51- and 64-Across], THANKSGIVING DAY. We would also have accepted THANKSGIVVUKKAH. (I know, the double-V is bogus, but I was trying to stretch it to 15).
- 51a. [Locale for a big mirror], DRESSING ROOM. I call it stuffing (though it is never stuffed into anything).
- 64a. [Old ragtime dance], TURKEY TROT. Speaking of old dances: 29d. [Dance from which the Lindy Hop developed], CHARLESTON.
A few more things:
- Is BUICK SEDAN (10d. [LaCrosse, for one]) a crossword-grade term? It feels shy of the mark to me.
- 25d. [Old Nestlé brand], QUIK. What? Nestlé Quik isn’t a thing anymore? Apparently the brown powder I grew up with is no more, but you can get bottles of Nesquik in addition to Nesquik powder. Bleh. That’s an ugly brand word.
- 21a. [Salon supplies], RINSES. Women of puzzledom! When you go to the salon, are you seeing many “rinses,” or just shampoos and conditioners and product? Because my stylist never pulls out anything called a “rinse.” (Much prefer to see this word clued as a verb.)
Not in love with the fill, in general. You’ve got your OTOS, NEOS, AGA, YMA, OVI-, -ISH, -ETTE, ACRO- —lots of words and fragments that most solvers rarely use in any context other than filling a crossword.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “A Few Seconds of Music”
- 17a. Shakespearean drama set in a dojo? (-Kid)]. KARATE PLAY. Kid ‘n Play were a hip-hop/comedy duo about 20-25 years ago. The Karate Kid, of course, was a movie.
- 28a. Shortage in the cellar? (-Iron)], WINE DEFICIENCY. Horror of horrors! Better visit the local wine emporium and restock. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia, and apparently Iron & Wine is a single bearded singer-songwriter.
- 43a. Ellington rolling in dough? (-Big)], RICH BAND LEADER. Big band leaders were all the rage back in the day, and Big & Rich are a country duo.
- 57a. Valentine’s Day gifts that have to go back at the end of the night? (-Guns)], HIRED ROSES. Hired guns, the band Guns N’ Roses featuring Axl Rose, Slash, and friends.
When I test-solved this puzzle, the missing-word hints weren’t included in the theme clues and boy, I had no idea how the theme worked. I got as far as parsing HIRED ROSES as HI + RED ROSES (uh, no). I suspect it’s still tricky to figure out if you’re not well attuned to recording artists’ names.
- 36a. [Engorged], TUMID. Sure, tumescent is a more familiar cousin, but who doesn’t love the -id adjectives? Perfervid, turgid, stupid, torpid, et al.—and their -or noun forms.
- 45a. [It comes up from behind], ENEMA. Didn’t see that one coming.
- 11d. ["This register's open"], NEXT IN LINE. Would you rather be next in line to the checkout counter or to the throne?
- 27d. [Dr. Jekyll's alter ego and family, were he to settle down with an evil wife and kids], HYDES. This is just plain silly, and I like it despite my general bias against pluralized name answers.
- 28d. [Enclose, as with bricks], WALL IN. Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado,” yes?
- 41d. [Horrible cartoon], HAGAR. Because the title is Hagar the Horrible or because the comic strip is terrible? You make the call.
3.5 stars from me.
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Repeat Performance” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Last name homophones are featured today:
- [Comedian Foxx punches Boston ballplayers?] was REDD SOCKS RED SOX – try to say that 3 times fast! Even harder would be Redd Foxx Socks Red Fox Sox.
- [Singer Frankie got the pole position?] clued LAINE WON LANE ONE – I was thinking of Frankie Valli first, and thought Valli could be changed to Valley as well, but that had nothing to do with pole positions. Frankie Laine, OTOH, sang Rawhide. You have to be of a certain age to have that one tug at your memory cells.
- [Actress Roseanne got a pub position] clued BARR MADE BARMAID – hard to imagine someone “making” this position as a promotion from something else. Perhaps if you were previously cleaning dishes in the kitchen?
I liked the first entry (as a Boston fan, I have to admit), but the other two fell a bit flat for me. Interesting concept all the same, I wonder if someone from Boston would go for PAHK RODE PARK ROAD, with sincere apologies to fellow fiend joon. I had to look twice at HI-TEST for [Premium, briefly], since I had trouble parsing the entry as not a superlative at first. I enjoyed the downs of EASY MARK, SUPERMAN, and LEMON LAW; ALAN ALDA, OTOH, has had his fair share of crossword coverage and he needs to sit out a few.
Marti DuGuay-Carpenter’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review
I loved the theme, totally didn’t see it coming and loved the quirky final answer DAHDAHDAHDAHDAH! The end syllables of this and the previous four answers spell out the song ZIP-A-DEE-DOO-DAH from Song of the South, a film that gets very little love these days… The answers are:
- 17a, [Line on an envelope], CITYSTATEANDZIP. I’m going to assume this is the standard way of expressing this and thus that the answer is solid.
- 23a, [Pago Pago's land], AMERICANSAMOA.
- 40a, [Paul Hogan role], CROCODILEDUNDEE.
- 52a, [Classic cartoon shout], YABBADABBADOO.
- 62a, [Zero in Morse code, any part of which will finish the title of the Oscar-winning song found at the ends of 17-, 23-, 40- and 52-Across], DAHDAHDAHDAHDAH… is all I want to say to you.
The theme answer breakdown is 15/13/15/13/15, which is adds up to an extremely high letter count of 71. The fact that all the answers span the grid helps somewhat, but the rest of the fill is still under a lot of strain. Additionally the sequence of the theme is locked-in – Ms. DuGuay-Carpenter couldn’t change their order because of the nature of the theme. The theme answers are interesting in of themselves, which is important because the amount of space they occupy means everything else is mostly there because it fits. Obscure fill doesn’t normally irk me, provided it is well spaced, as it is here. On the other hand, contrived answers do bug me. In one corner there is ENTOM (has anyone actually seen this abbr. in use much?) and OCOME. There are also OENO, NOI, ONEB, ILED, and ADAMN. ONEB is a particularly arbitrary answer, even if it is an inferrable one; of course, there aren’t any better options for O??B – and that’s the problem when your theme answers can’t be shuffled around!
Although the theme answers are interesting, I feel this puzzle overall would’ve been better with a more modest theme. I say this having made a few overblown themes myself, that I have come to regret.