Liz Gorski’s New York Times crossword
I don’t recall doing a themeless puzzle by Ms. Gorski before. Her hallmark is intricately themed puzzles with a visual aspect to them, but in this crossword, the vibe Lots of Answers Amy Knows. Good gravy! I’ve had plenty of Tuesday puzzles go slower than this. It’s been a long while since I’ve had a sub-4:00 themeless NYT. Right on Liz’s wavelength today.
Highlights in this 72-worder:
- 20a. [Coffee order], CREAM AND SUGAR. I don’t drink coffee, but that’s my husband’s order.
- 23a. ["Praise the Lord!"], “GLORY BE!”
- 37a. [Ganache ingredient], MELTED CHOCOLATE. Yes. I’ll eat some by the spoonful, if you don’t mind.
- 51a. [Dancers known for their Japanese street-style wardrobe], HARAJUKU GIRLS. Gwen Stefani is noted for using Harajuku Girls on stage. Some have been critical of her for using Asian women as visual props.
- 59a. [Singer whose first top 10 hit was "Where Does My Heart Beat Now"], CELINE DION.
- 60a. [In Australia her name is Karen], SIRI. Neat clue. Did you know this trivia?
- 4d. [Nursing locale], BREAST. Straightforward.
- 11d. [Plot device?], STORYBOARD.
- 28d. [Carnival ride since 1927], TILT-A-WHIRL! I love that. The following clue is [Ones going in circles?] but it’s entirely unrelated.
- 31d. [[Zzzzz]], HO-HUM.
- 44d. [They may be offered by way of concessions], SNACKS. Good clue. I concede … nachos.
If La Liz is going to seed her puzzle with such juicy long answers, then I say bring on more Gorski themelesses.
I have no idea what DEWLINE means as a 47a. [Cold war defense system]. To the Google! Huh. Distant Early Warning Line, a set of radar stations designed to detect incoming Soviet bombers. I also did not know this KAL, 12d. [Early "Doctor Who" villain], but the crossings were easy.
Things I would prefer not to see in subsequent Gorski themelesses include AGENA (50d. [NASA's Gemini rocket]), SNEE, EDSELS, K-CAR, and ULAN.
3.75 stars + 0.25 speed bonus = 4.0 stars. (What? I can’t give a bonus for a puzzle that gives me either the “wow, you’re so fast” ego boost or the “wow, that was really challenging but you finished” ego boost? Of course I can.)
Lynn Lempel’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Still Dirty” – Dave Sullivan’s review
A couple of things to note about Lynn’s puzzle today that sets it apart from your typical daily fare: first, the theme entries are not just phrases with one word that can precede/follow another word. Today, we have full idiomatic phrases that can be taken literally as “cleaning up.” (The title implies that despite the literal washing, the person spoken about is “still dirty.”) Secondly, we have an extra fifth theme entry in the middle (a quite long one, requiring those large swathes of black squares on either side). Though I don’t have the numbers to prove it, I think she features this more often than not, which is even more remarkable given her hallmark smooth-as-silk fill. On to the theme entries:
- [Likely to face punishment] was IN HOT WATER
- [Admits guilt] clued COMES CLEAN
- [Done for] clued ALL WASHED UP – I’m thinking the “all” here is optional, but it does make it sound a bit more final.
- [Suffers a big financial setback] was TAKES A BATH
- [Uses selfishly by mooching] was SPONGES OFF – I want an “of” to end that phrase I’m thinking.
Just a really excellent theme and examples. Brava! On top of that we have PG RATING beside GOTTA GO, the Scrabbly QUEUE and OXO and two entries with the same clue of [Pinheads]: DODOS and ASSES. I did have a slight question about the non-cardiac, non-”Eureka!” and non-musical clue for AHA, which in this puzzle was ["Told you so!"]. I’ve never used “AHA!” in that sense, have any of you gentle solvers?
Mark Feldman’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Letter Writers” — pannonica’s write-up
A potentially humdrum theme—a collection of authors with two initials and a surname—given a quiet panache by incorporating and hewing to some not-quite-draconian-but-still-pretty-darn-tough constraints. Namely, all have five-letter surnames and their placement within the grid is quite rigorous, having both rotational and reflective symmetry (though the grid itself has only the standard rotational symmetry).
Phalanx-like, paired authors appear across Rows 3, 8, and 13. The middle pair form crosses with an additional twosome of vertical themers. That’s 8 seven-letter entries overall.
It looks sort of like this:
- 17a. [Creator J. Alfred Prufrock] TS ELIOT. Thomas Stearns.
- 18a. [Creator of the Hundred Acre Wood] AA MILNE. Alan Alexander.
- 39a. [Creator of Narnia] CS LEWIS. Clive Staples.
- 43a. [Creator of Clovis Sangrail] HH MUNRO. Hector Hugh. More commonly known by his crossword-friendly pseudonym Saki.
- 65a. [Creator of Adam Dalgliesh] PD JAMES. Phyllis Dorothy. Only woman in this anthology. Perhaps an AS BYATT or an AN HOMES could have been included?
- 69a. [Creator of Charlotte and Fern] EB WHITE. Elwyn Brooks. Only non-Brit, unless you count the pre-1927 ELIOT.
- 23d. [Creator of the Eloi and the Morlocks] HG WELLS. Herbert George.
- 26d. [Creator of Malin, Quant, Rosetta, and Emble] WH AUDEN. Wystan Hugh.
The upper and lower phalanxes are bolstered by being part of seven-stacks in their respective corners, complemented by triple-six vertical entries. With their evenly distributed placement the theme entries seem to occupy separate demesnes, yet the grid maintains a good flow from section to section.
Hardly any junk—or even questionable—fill, which is fine with me but some solvers may lament a relative dearth of eye-catching, Scrabbly letters: your Xs, Qs, Ks, and Zs.
Despite the academic venue and sensibility thereof, I might have preferred the non-theme material to avoid other authors. For instance, there’s no need to clue 45a NOEL as NOËL Coward, or as Noël Coward the author and not Noël Coward the actor, or Noël Coward the composer, or Noël Coward the singer. Further, it seems unnecessarily literary to clue the subsequent entry, 46a PIG as [Napoleon of "Animal Farm," e.g.]. Invoking Coward and Orwell just reinforces the 20th century male British author vibe. Perhaps I’m in the minority, or even alone, in my aversion to content overlap, or Theme Creep™
Least favorite fill: 68d [Home to Auburn U.] ALA. Cutest clue: 8d [Ivory platform?] SOAP DISH, though it has the slight fragrance of trying too hard.
Strong, solid crossword without much flash.
Marti DuGuay-Carpenter’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Gareth is in mourning for Nelson Mandela and asked me to cover this puzzle for him. (No, actually, he’s going camping or something, because it’s summertime down in South Africa.)
The theme revealer is an unusual one: 37d. [Audi rival, and, when spoken as a command, a hint to this puzzle's theme], BMW. Or: “Be ‘M,” W.” In four phrases, an initial W has been inverted and is now an M:
- 20a. [Odd way to check for ore?], MINE TASTING. Mmm. Tastes like uranium!
- 57a. [What you need when your car is stuck in the mud?], MIRE SERVICE.
- 11d. [Summons from the cosmetician?], MAKEUP CALL. That is sort of an actual thing—both the time an actor needs to be at the set for makeup and a sports official’s attempt to make up for prior bad calls by fudging a subsequent call.
- 29d. [Fix potatoes the hard way?], MASH BY HAND. “Hand-wash” is far more common than “wash by hand,” no? And why did I buy a hand-wash-only silk sweater? And is mashing potatoes by hand really “the hard way”? I always mash by hand and have never machine-whipped.
—quick break to solve this week’s Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest; if you’ve never tried it before, this is Week 1 of December and the meta puzzle is not too hard—
Interesting: I plugged in AMIGOS for 9d. [Pamplona pals] because invariably there is some hint in the clue if the female version of the word is called for. [Pilar's pals], something like that. And hey! The answer turned out to be AMIGAS. I am 100% in favor of a gender-neutral clue for either AMIGO or AMIGA. They both mean “friend” and there’s no earthly reason that the default should be the male word.
Did not know: 36d. [Herb that protected Odysseus from Circe's magic], MOLY. Dictionary tells me it’s a “mythical herb with white flowers and black roots, endowed with magical properties.” Sure, I read The Odyssey in high school. Doesn’t mean I remember every word in it. Please don’t tell Mr. Raftery or Mr. Claudon.
The fill skewed 20th century crossword to me—GOMER Pyle, DESI Arnaz, Bert LAHR, AGAR, EKED, “Dies IRAE,” NERTS, ERGOT, NEAPS, EDDA. I wouldn’t much notice if a puzzle had maybe two or three such words, but this felt a little heavy.
- 7d. [DDE and JFK, e.g.], INITS. My first thoughts were “some weird plural abbreviation for president” and “Did they ever hold the same title in the military?”
- 60d. [One seen in a store dish], CENT.
- 66a. [Maker of the Mighty Dump], TONKA. *snicker*
- 21d. [Trade item?], TOOL. As in “tools of the trade.”
3.33 stars from me. I didn’t love the execution of the theme (I liked it), but I’m always fond of a “flip the letter visually” gimmick. Not much zip in the fill aside from “IT’S OPEN” to counteract the fill that felt old to me.
Randolph Ross’ Wall Street Journal crossword, “Tour de France” — pannonica’s write-up
I wonder if Randolph Ross is a fan of Laclos’ Les Liaisons Dangereuses, because in this puzzle he takes on the très formidable challenge of punning with the names of French cities and towns for an anglophone audience—the style and quality of the connections are uneven and some are tenuous. In a way it’s une mission de fou because the whole thing is such a potential champ de mines. My sense is that there will be a wide variety of responses to the theme answers, both among solvers and among the answers for individual solvers.
- 23a. [Completely destroy a city on the Seine?] TOTAL ROUEN (ruin). \rü-ˈäⁿ\ Bit of a stretch, but this is nevertheless my favorite of all the ones presented.
- 28a. [Creative type from the French Riviera?] CANNES ARTIST (con). Perpetuates the very incorrect \ˈkän\ pronunciation; it isn’t amusing at all with the proper \ˈkan\ pronunciation. Nifty that MATISSES appears directly beneath it in the grid.
- 40a. [Weapons from a northwestern region of France?] BRITTANY SPEARS (Britney). Britney is just a cutesy respelling of Brittany, so this feels flat and insubstantial.
- 68a. [Emigrant from a city of southern France?] NO MORE MR NICE GUY (nice). No spelling change; this is more of a visual pun, but I suppose it also works phonically, about on a par with others here. Did have to suppress the urge to pronounce the entry as … \ˈnēs ˈgē\, though.
- 97a. [Pie topping from a town of northwestern France?] LE MANS MERINGUE (lemon). \lə-ˈmäⁿ\ This one successfully takes advantage of the correct pronunciation. Interesting that MERINGUE is a French word (of uncertain origin). Factette: “Slowly baked meringues are still referred to as pets (meaning farts in French) in the Loire region of France due to their light and fluffy texture.” You’re welcome.
- 114a. [Bird from a French port on the English Channel?] CALAIS PIGEON (clay). \ka-ˈlā\ This one works well.
- 119a. [Cheer heard along the Moselle?] “LET’S GO METZ!” (Mets). The French pronunciation elides the T, but that can happen for the English base phrase too. So this one works well, as well.
- 16d. [Notre Dame and the Louvre?] PARIS SITES (parasites). Tehee, but this is a pun of a different order than nearly all the others, forming a single word. Also, I got this one very quickly, with few crossings.
- 74d. [Setting item from a French port?] BREST PLATE (breastplate). So both of the vertical themers form single words, hmm. Admittedly, most of the acrosses are lengthier. What’s a “setting item”? (edit: it’s been pointed out to me that a “setting item” is a plate—I failed to separate the elements of the clue. Call it a brain pet.)
It’s a brave endeavor, but for the greater part I just wasn’t entertained by this galerie des rogues. And yes, my own punny offerings above are deliberately (and demonstrably, I hope) awful.
Among the ballast fill, the ones that clunked clunked louder than the singing of the ones that sang. Some clunks: E-BANK, -AROO, A ROW, AARE, ESAI, DIR, DO TOO, BRRS. Some songs: ASCRIBED, HYPHEN, MR PIBB, MOB SCENE, DOWNLOAD.
Possibly it’s just me, but was nonplussed by the contrast of 123a [Still being debugged] BETA, which from the clue seemed it should be “in beta”, and 64d [Hocked] IN PAWN which seems archaic and much less natural than “pawned.”
86a [Archaelogist's find] SHARD. I will always prefer the SHERD spelling for the archaeological context. Always.
Erose puzzle, but puns—never mind the added dimension of a foreign language—are highly subjective, so your mileage, as they say, may vary.