David Kahn’s New York Times crossword
Straight-up tribute theme to Nelson Mandela:
- 8a, 68a. [With 68-Across, prison where 36-Across spent 18 years], ROBBEN / ISLAND.
- 18a, 60a. [With 60-Across, 1994-99 role for 36-Across], PRESIDENT OF / SOUTH AFRICA.
- 29a. [Predecessor of 36-Across and sharer with him of the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize], F.W. DE KLERK.
- 36a. [Late political leader who wrote "Long Walk to Freedom"], NELSON MANDELA.
- 46a. [Father, in Xhosa, and a nickname for 36-Across], TATA. Bonus themer, not symmetrically paired with another theme answer.
- 48a. [Bygone policy in 60-Across], APARTHEID.
- 3d. [Barack or Michelle Obama, at the memorial service for 36-Across], ATTENDEE. Lackluster bonus unpaired theme entry.
It’s fairly dense as tribute themes go. Including the bonus answers, 78 squares are crammed full of Mandeliana.
There are a few lively bits in the fill:
- 2d. [Be immersed by], WALLOW IN.
- 6d. [Unlimited latitude], FREE REIN.
- 24a. [Class of automobile inspired by the Ford Mustang], PONY CAR. What cars are in this class?
And then there are all the bits that scrunched my face up in displeasure: ILOILO, [Philippine seaport with a reduplicative name]; ESSO; CIE.; ARNO; STARER; REPACK/REMAP; and the only-in-crosswords TWO-D (properly pronounced twaahed, rhymes with aahed). Some of these are tough stuff for a Tuesday puzzle.
Clue that got me nowhere (nobody in my family’s been in the military in decades): 24d. [Enlistee with a chevron above an arc: Abbr.], PFC. Private first class.
Ray Hamel’s Los Angeles Times crossword
We’ve had NANO and IPOD in the grid so many times since Apple launched the iPod product line, it felt like a familiar, done-before theme. But it doesn’t show up in Cruciverb, so apparently the theme hasn’t been done in the main newspaper crosswords. (This doesn’t rule out one of the indie venues.) (Edited to add: Brendan Emmett Quigley, Jan. 21, 2009. BEQ puzzle #20! So 580 puzzles ago. SHUFFLEBOARD, TOUCH OF THE POET, NANOTECHNOLOGY, CLASSIC QUEEN. Fill rougher than Ray’s.)
- 17a. [Score before an extra point], TOUCHDOWN. Any of you watch the Bears/Eagles game Sunday night? Oof.
- 25a. [Ship deck game], SHUFFLEBOARD.
- 41a. [Microscopic bit], NANOPARTICLE.
- 54a. [Part of many a Mod wardrobe], MINISKIRT.
- 61a. [Popular Apple, versions of which begin 17-, 25-, 41- and 54-Across], IPOD.
The theme is executed well—each one is a compound word, no mishmash of compound words and two-word phrases as we so often see.
Highlights in the fill:
- 24a. [Ones who don't stay off the grass?], STONERS. Stoners! They hardly ever make it into the puzzle. Sure, there was a BONG in one of yesterday’s puzzles, but it was clued as [Sound from Big Ben].
- 9d. [Japanese city that hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics], SAPPORO. It’s not just a city—it’s also a brand of beer.
I like the unbroken swath of fill spanning the grid from the southwest to the northeast corner. It’s 5-letter answers all the way, except where the occasional longer answer pokes its way in. Despite the challenge of smoothly filling a grid without any pliable little 3s and 4s to lean on, Ray does an excellent job. The weakest stuff in the swath is HIREE and the actually-in-the-dictionary LIDOS (36a. [Fashionable beach resorts]), which makes me think of the lido deck on a cruise ship and gives a little echo to 25a: SHUFFLEBOARD.
4.25 stars. Theme plays out smoothly, and the March of Nickels pleases me. Plus, if you’re hoping Santa will bring you an iPod this year, you’ve still got time to print out the puzzle, circle the model you want, and hand the sheet to your Santa proxy.
Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Musical Bookends” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Mr. Hamel has a second puzzle today; three song titles that begin and end with the same word, with a small filler in between. (Hence, The Mamas & the Papas’ Monday, Monday or The Byrds’ Turn, Turn, Turn are non-starters.)
- [1979 hit for the Doobie Broothers] was MINUTE BY MINUTE. The only song of the three I’m very familiar with. Here it is. Isn’t “doobie” slang for a joint? I wonder if Michael McDonald chose the name of their group for that reason.
- [1984 Depeche Mode hit] clued PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE. Let’s take a listen to see if it’s familiar. Oh, yeah, it does bring back some memories.
- [1975 hit for Olivia Newton-John] was PLEASE MR. PLEASE. Again, I don’t recognize the title, here it is. This one isn’t ringing any bells for me. It’s no Xanadu!
Interesting theme, but I wish there were some more recent examples; the most recent dates almost 30 years ago. I wonder if the crossing LUKE BRYAN (["Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye" singer]) had any song titles in this form? Also the B in BRYAN crosses the second B in GIBB, or [Any of the Bee Gees], so I’m also curious about their discography. DECOUPAGE (the art of gluing multi-colored pieces of paper onto something) is a nice twenty-five cent word to run across, but wasn’t as pleased to see EVA over EVE, though the latter is clued quite timely as [Brink of a holiday], which indeed today is! Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it and happy holidays to all!
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle, “Present-Day Topic”—Janie’s review
Current events, anyone? Nupe. If that’s what yer after, treat yourself to (what I think of as) Peter Gordon’s “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!”-in-a-Crossword. Instead, today’s puzzle celebrates what most solvers are likely to be celebrating this evening and tomorrow: Christmas a/k/a “Present Day.” And who is reputed to bring those presents? Why none other than the “topic” of this puzzle (and the five themers): Santa. But with the exception of his appearance in the reveal at the end, he’s a “mixed-up, shook-up” kinda guy today (i.e., anagram alert) who steals in quite under the NORAD in a eclectic collection of words and phrases. Check ‘em out!
- 16A. TAKES A STAND [Chooses sides]. F’rinstance, where do you stand on…
- 9D. PAT ANSWERS [Slick responses]. Man, I hate scripted, pat answers when placing phone orders or transacting almost any kind of business by phone. What’s happened to responding like a human being? [Rhetorical. <Sigh>] This excellent TEN-letter fill is matched with…
- 26D. STANA KATIC [She plays Detective Kate Beckett on TV's "Castle"]. Oh, wow. Completely new to me, but is that a great name for crosswords or what? Particularly for seasonal, anagram crosswords! Other entries that were new to me, btw, the homespun BATT [Quilt filler] (which maybe wasn’t entirely new, but was buried deep in the crafts-region of my brain…); and the clue [Interior designer Berkus with a Target line] for NATE. Clearly, I’ve failed to watch Oprah…
- 35A. FANTASY [Winning the Powerball jackpot, for example]. Yeah. But ya gotta have a dream! And lovely to have this word and all the positive images it EVOKES right there in the center. It’s also one of several entries beginning with “F” to give such “oomph” to the fill overall. My other faves? FITS INTO, FINESSE and FAN BASE. Fab.
- 56A. SECRET SANTA [Traditional gift-giver who's a bit addled in this puzzle]. Again: in this context, “addled” = anagrammed. Is Secret Santa a tradition in your family (or even your workplace)? I particularly like the concept as the USPS has understood it, with their efforts to help needy children through their “Letters to Santa” initiative.
So we’ve got this pitch-perfect holiday theme executed with really fresh fill—and to keep the picture bright, a grid that’s chock full of strong fill and clues. First of all, there’s the whole “seasonal” sub-set:
- TOYLAND [Magical place for girls and boys]. Thank you, Glen MacDonough and Victor Herbert. Your operetta may come from another era, but it manages to maintain its appeal. (Hmm…it doesn’t appear that ESA-Pekka Salonen has ever conducted a recording of it…)
- FIR TREE [Tannenbaum, often]. Please remember to keep yours hydrated!
- STAG [Lone reindeer at a Christmas party?]. Nice way to make familiar fill timely. And in anticipation of next week’s main EVENT…
- BIG BASH [Huge holiday gala], which—back in the day (and in the plural…)—were often held in DISCOS; and where you’re likely to see people in funny…
- HATS [New Year's Eve toppers].
Then, we “simply” (there’s some understatement for ya!) get a further spate of great entries with:
- “EASY AS PIE!” and the culinarily-connected clue [Pastry chef's "simple"].
- DEMITASSE [Strong black coffee]. Served in tiny cups (with tiny spoons). That’s how strong it is!
- DEE-JAYS (with that scrabbly “J”).
- NATASHA and ODYSSEY (the former with a literary clue, the latter recalling one).
- NOO-NOO [Vacuum cleaner-like "Teletubbies" character]. At first I was thinking I knew this and that he was one of the classic quartet, but no-o-o, no-o-o—he was new (new!) to me… See and hear him for yourself here.
- SPIRITS [Seance invitees]—and not what many’ll be indulging in at those big bashes…
Yes, there’s even more good stuff to be mined, but I’ll leave it to you to acknowledge your own faves. And if your Christmas isn’t “white,” at the very least (and as the song says…), “may your days be merry and bright”! See yas all next week!
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Full Houses”
A pair of one letter and three of a kind for another:
- 18a. [Howard Stern's producer/sidekick], BABA BOOEY.
- 24a. [Ground-water separator?], COFFEE FILTER.
- 39a. [Pest], MINOR IRRITATION.
- 52a. [Appetizer trays at a luau], PUPU PLATTERS.
- 62a. [Rapper who dropped part of his name after 2001's "Doggy Bag"], LIL BOW WOW.
Straightforward theme with a nice hodgepodge of theme answers. Fill is a little rough around the edges, with crosswordese INGLE and whatnot.
Busy day! So I’ll sign off with a 3.6-star review.