.puz/Across Lite solvers: Be sure to read the Notepad entry for the Thursday NYT. It won’t really spoil the solve for you, if you’re one of those people who prefer to solve without benefit of explanatory notes. It will make the theme clearer if you don’t figure it out on your own.
David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword
I’m blogging this from a tournament copy of the puzzle, before the electronic versions are released. I have no idea how well the various formats grappled with this puzzle’s gimmick. I also have no idea what it’s like to figure out the gimmick while solving, as I had perused the answer grid before ever seeing the blank puzzle. (The travails of a tournament judge!)
This 72-worder is essentially a themeless puzzle with 11 intentionally blank squares—left blank so that the clues make sense. If you overruled the clues, you could plunk an R into each blank, and you’d have plausible fill in both directions. The note atop the puzzle says: After this puzzle was created, the constructor did something to 11 squares—as suggested by a two-word reading of 63-Across before alteration. So you take 63a: [Moderates], E*ASE*S, you add two R’s where the blanks are to get ERASERS, and then parse that as “erase R’s.” Every instance of an R in this grid is blanked out, with legitimate words left behind.
Now, the theme could also have played out with the words-with-R being clued rather than the words-without-R. Then you’d have to go and erase all the R’s to get that “Oh! They’re still legitimate entries without the R” epiphany. Is that to be preferred over filling in a puzzle and leaving blanks, and piecing together the theme via ERASE R’S? I can’t say. Either way is tricky.
Those with a keen eye will see some erased letters in my blank squares. At 7d, I had appended the first T in TEST above the E, rather than two squares above. At 9d, I approached the 5 squares for [Wise] with SAPID instead of SA*GE, blithely ignoring the fact that sapid means “tasty” and it’s sapient that means “wise.” I was also tempted to complete 60a: [Bath locale] with MATINEE despite the clue; it’s MA*INE*, which R-completes to MARINER.
Neatest find in the puzzle: 36d [Munchies from Mars] clues M*ANDM*S, and with the R’s added you get MR AND MRS. I wonder if that was the seed for the whole puzzle, rather than ERASE R’S. Perhaps David will tell us.
4.5 stars. The fill is good, with freshness like CEDILLA, PAD THAI, BENGAY, MANIACS, and those M AND M’S (though the AND-for-ampersand swap remains bogus outside of crosswordland). And I appreciated the blank-square angle, which does not get much play. It’s nice to be all done with a crossword despite not having filled in all the squares. I can envision commuters being done with the puzzle and having onlookers think they’re unable to finish!
Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Character Assassination” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Constructor Patrick Jordan has put together a set of four (now) well-known actors who played victims in a movie earlier in their careers. Sort of reminds me of the classic Star Trek maxim: if you don’t recognize one of the security members of a landing party on a foreign (perhaps hostile) planet, they’re done for by the end of the show.
- I had all sorts of trouble parsing the first theme entry, [Then-obscure actor who played a victim in "The People Under the Stairs" (1991)] or VING RHAMES – I wasn’t sure if the crossing [Reek] was STANK or STUNK, and that NGRH sequence made me first think letters were being removed from actor’s names (namely vowels in this case), perhaps to symbolize their character who was offed in the clued movie. Though I didn’t recognize the name, I certainly recognize his picture and his role in Pulp Fiction.
- [Then-obscure actor who played a victim in "Friday the 13th" (1980)] was KEVIN BACON – I guess that would be Kevin Bacon number of zero.
- [Then-obscure actor who played a victim in "Anaconda" (1997)] clued OWEN WILSON – I love him in every (more recent) movie I’ve seen him in, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris tops among them.
- [Then-obscure actor who played a victim in "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984)] clued JOHNNY DEPP
Not sure how uncommon it is for famous actors (but perhaps more so for actresses) to have played a victim in a movie before they became famous. Anyway, nice take on the title “Character Assassination.” I also thought the fill in this was above par–having MORBID in particular was a nice echo of the theme entries. EQUALIZE above LOCUSTS and DOWRIES were nice features of the open middle area. “GIDDY UP!” and the crossing J action of JOWL and JOVIAL were also enjoyable finds. But my FAVE has to go to FAVE! I mean, how perfect is that?
Brendan Quigley’s website puzzle, “Trim the Tree” — Matt’s review
The Lorax’s nightmare comes true today: you’re not trimming the tree per se in Brendan’s puzzle today, you’re trimming it out of existence. Three of our forest-dwelling friends remove themselves from the three grid entries, leaving treeless hilarity in their wake:
19-a [Let out a melody during a bath?] = SING IN THE TUB, trimming the OAK (31-d) from “soaking in the tub.” It’s a helpful touch that Brendan included the three trees we’re trimming, since otherwise the base phrases might’ve been tough to decipher.
39-a [Cover a lot of ground wittily?] = SPREAD LIKE WILDE, trimming the FIR (63-d) from “spread like wildfire.”
57-a [Richard Strauss tone poem about about one former politico Gore?] = AN AL SYMPHONY, trimming the PINE (8-d) from “An Alpine Symphony.” Which I’ve never heard of because I’m not particularly music-oriented. I’m 100% sure Brendan wanted to make this a two-word entry, but backed off because it would’ve messed with the original parsing of the base phrase.
***38-d [Latvian city where Mikhail Tal was born] = RIGA. No reason to make this a chess clue except to bait me, so I’ll give you a famous Tal fact: at the 1959 Candidates’ Tournament, Tal blanked the 16-year-old Bobby Fischer 4-0 (with no draws) in their four head-to-head games. When a fan asked him for an autograph afterwards he signed Fischer’s name, explaining that he’d beaten him so badly that he now had the right to sign autographs on his behalf. Bonus fact: Tal only had three fingers on his right hand.
***Your standard crazy-good BEQ fill in the 7+ letters range: WAY LESS, TAILPIPE, PORSCHE, HATFIELDS, COPS OUT, HARTMAN, IN A HEAP, ONE MILE. He’s the Steve Kerr of fill 3-pointers.
***And note how clean the fill is, even with three long theme entries and three required pieces of short fill. Here are the five worst entries in the grid: UNE, ON A, ON IT, CEL and…there really isn’t a fifth. There’s no crosswordese at all in here *and* the fill sparkles. Amazing. Millions of people should be solving this puzzle today instead of thousands.
Amusing and timely theme, above-average clues, textbook grid. 4.30 stars. And there’s no telling when the MacArthur committee will give Brendan his Genius Award — could be years — so kick in now to his annual Tip Jar drive.
Robert W. Harris’ Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review
I read the clue for 16a, and immediately suspected that 35a would be CROSSWORDPUZZLE. It is intersected with ARTHURWYNNE, which is very apt, even if his invention is (slightly) disputed. The other two 15′s were far less apt in my book. Who solves a crossword this way? Step 1: EXAMINEALLTHECLUES. Step 2: WRITETHEANSWERS. Anyone? I examine clues until I find one I know, then try to see if I know answers crossing it. I think that’s a more normal, if harder-to-put-succinctly-into-a-crossword-grid approach!
Spotting the theme early made the puzzle play quite easy for me? Under four minutes is unusually quick for a Thursday for me.
Answers I found interesting included CAVEMEN, FAERIE, DUNST and ONEDGE.
3 stars. If you didn’t know WYNNE, memorise the answer now, because I expect we will see him in the NYT in the near future!
Byron Walden’s American Values Club crossword, “Not Too Shabby”
I don’t get the title. I see that the theme answers all consist of a sequence of letters that is repeated with a B added to the start of the second iteration. But “Not Too Shabby” … “not too shab B”? “Not two sha B”? Someone bail me out here. — Ah, now I see. Having waded through the grid for the blog post, I discovered a revealer I had missed while solving with the Downs, at 61a. A B+ is not too shabby at all. — And now I see that I missed a short theme answer opposite 61a.
- 4a. [Turn on a diamond], AT BAT.
- 20a. [Noisy dispute, in British slang], ARGY-BARGY.
- 31a. [Crotch shot, say], LOW BLOW. Punch, not photo.
- 34a. ["Dead Man's Party" band], OINGO BOINGO.
- 38a. [1962 Paul Anka hit], ESO BESO.
- 49a. [Wee], ITSY-BITSY.
- 61a. Decent grade that could be given to this puzzle’s six theme entries], B PLUS.
- 11d. [Diet soda introduced in June 2005], COKE ZERO. It’s Diet Coke aimed at men, only with a sweetener I cannot abide.
- 34d. [Dark volcanic glass], OBSIDIAN. This is the stone that looks like chunks of glass rather than a rock.
- 36d. ["Too many OB-GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country," e.g.], BUSHISM.
- 45a. [Fruity red wine type], SHIRAZ. Also called Syrah.
- 47a. [Latin for "trumpet"], TUBA. Etymology!
- 32d. [Michael Scott or Mr. Slate], BOSS. The Office, The Flintstones.
Oddball fill: A REAR clued as a partial (better than the crosswordese-type word AREAR), ONE CLUB, YANKER, CBS EYE. Not a big fan of any of these ones.
It’s rare to have three theme answers stacked together in the middle of the puzzle. The 72-word grid is more wide-open than the typical themed puzzle, too. Four stars.