Joel Fagliano’s New York Times crossword, “Take a Break”
I’ve done (essentially) this puzzle before and it was memorable. Back in 2006, it was one of my favorite Sunday puzzles of the year. Cruciverb members can see Michael Shteyman’s terrific pool-table puzzle here. Heck, I’ll just take a picture of what’s on Cruciverb so you can compare the two on this page (lower down in this post).
Joel! I wish you had found the earlier theme before you embarked on creating yours, because while yours is indeed a great puzzle, you got there second. I know it kills you.
Joel’s theme, like Michael’s, has the following:
- Six POCKET rebus squares where the pool table’s pockets are. (Half of the rebus answers are the same in the two puzzles.)
- Phrases that include pool-hall terms: VERBAL CUE, SIDEWALK CHALK, WALT WHITMAN BRIDGE, DRESS RACK, and HEARTFELT. (Misha had AMERICAN ENGLISH, SPERM BANK, POOL TABLE, FIVE-MINUTE BREAK, EIGHT BALL, and SPICE RACK.)
- Rectangular grid. Joel’s is 17×25, while Michael’s was 19×23.
- Some sparkling fill (ILLUMINATI, T.S. ELIOT) and a bit of clunky fill, but not so much that it detracts from the solve. Both Joel and Michael have tremendous talent as crossword constructors. (Actually, I’m seeing more iffy stuff in the 2006 puzzle. Joel hits the high standards of demanding 2013 solvers. We put up with a lot more subpar stuff the further back you go.)
- Both constructors got their start as published NYT puzzlemakers in their teens.
Where the puzzles differ:
- Joel adds a visual “rack” that spells out POOL BALLS and uses the grid circles to an excellent end. No, there aren’t 15 balls here, but the crossword squares don’t cooperate in taking a staggered arrangement the way pool balls do. It’s a cute feature all the same, and it’s surprising to see a chunk of letters spelling something out this way.
- Joel’s puzzle has left-right symmetry, while Michael’s used standard rotational symmetry.
- I do have to give the edge to Joel for smoother fill.
So let me assign a retroactive star rating to Michael’s puzzle as well as rating Joel’s new offering: 4.5 stars for Michael’s, 4.8 stars for Joel. Anything in the 4.5+ range is both excellent and memorable.
Technical note: Anyone else find that the .puz file rejected their solution with a P standing in for the POCKET rebus?
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “Animals House”
This week’s theme is animal puns:
- 21a. Bird lover’s favorite Cole Porter song?], I LOVE PARROTS. Substitute Paris for PARROTS.
- 24a. First thing zoo employees learn at the reptile house?], LET PYTHONS BE PYTHONS. Bygones for PYTHONS.
- 41a. Tale of a widow and her disappearing tin cans?], THE GOATS AND MRS. MUIR. Ghost for GOATS.
- 65a. Rarely seen film about scaly anteaters?], MARCH OF THE PANGOLINS. Penguins for PANGOLINS.
- 90a. Another way of saying “Preyed-on animals of the world, unite”?], CAST OFF YOUR JACKALS. … No idea what this one’s a pun on. To the Google! … Shackles for JACKALS.
- 110a. Words on a weasel’s résumé?], PLAYS WELL WITH OTTERS. Others for OTTERS.
- 118a. Toy for a hunting pet that doesn’t get enough exercise?], FERRET’S WHEEL. Ferris for FERRET’S.
The theme, like many a pun theme, is somewhat amusing. Seven theme answers isn’t a lot by Merl’s standards, but five of them are really long, and two pairs of theme entries are stacked. The fill was less appealing to me, in general. Between the DENIERS and the ANNEXER and the BANTERER, I felt all ERred out. HAMSTRUNG (13d. [Hobbled]) is a great word, though.
Seven more things:
- 2d. [They're between G's and B's], A NOTES. Not sure I’ve seen “A notes” as a phrase before. This is about music and not currency, right?
- 1d. [Leafy houseplant], COLEUS. Lots of gorgeous variegated leaf colors with coleus, which my mom grew when I was a kid. The clue isn’t particularly specific, though.
- 6d. [Sarcastic Spanish response, "Gracias ___"], POR NADA. “Thanks for nothing.” Do Spanish speakers say this? It looks like PORN A.D.A. in the grid. The group that assesses the dental hygiene of adult film stars?
- 82d. [Mrs. Munster], LILY. I wonder if more Americans think of the Modern Family character, Cam and Mitch’s daughter Lily, when they see this name now. The show’s in syndication already, so I’m thinking that LILY will show up in clues soon enough. (Although the flower will still take up most of the LILY clues.)
- 63a. [Aromatic ointment], NARD. I would ordinarily hate this entry, but I see it as a shout-out to Arthur Wynne’s original Word-Cross puzzle (which included NARD).
- 99d. [Skin-care brand], AVEENO. Great for sensitive skin, I’m telling you.
- 23a. [High-intensity lights], ARC LAMPS. Keep seeing this in the grid as A.R. CLAMPS, which are not a thing.
Alan Arbesfeld’s CrosSynergy crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Incredibly smooth themeless today featuring two grid-spanning across entries:
- [Carole King classic] was YOU’VE GOT A FRIEND. Her entire Tapestry album was probably the most popular acoustic music of my high school days. I believe she just recently won a Kennedy Center honor, which was well deserved.
- [Just before it was too late] clued IN THE NICK OF TIME. A bit stretchier, but this album continues the musical tie-in.
The soundtrack continues with:
- ["You can get anything you want ..." opens the chorus of his most famous song] was ARLO GUTHRIE. The song is Alice’s Restaurant.
- [Opera on which "Rent" is based] clued LA BOHÈME. RIP Jonathan Larson.
- [Anderson who sang with Duke Ellington] clued IVIE. I tried WKRP’s LONI first. Here’s their Stormy Weather.
Lots of great non-musical stuff as well: AVERAGE JOE, THE SHINING, INFIELD FLY, ALEX / TREBEK, and CONFLICTED. Tougher stuff: the Austrian river ENNS, Sony founder AKIO Morita, [Actual surname of Roy Rogers] (Leonard Franklin SLYE) and [Himalayan legends] for YETIS. Yikes, are there more than one?? Remind me to cancel that upcoming trip to Nepal….
Trip Payne’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 195″- Sam Donaldson’s review
Trip Payne closes the year at the Post Puzzler with a relative breezy but super-fun 70/29 freestyle crossword. Fresh, fun fill throughout with some funny clues to boot. This one exemplifies all the qualities of a great freestyle puzzle.
Every corner boasts a triple-stack, with 10s in the northwest and southeast and 9s in the northeast and southwest. These stacks are gems. The northwest contains TASTE TESTS (clued cleverly as [Oral exams?]), ALL-OVER TAN (the [Nude beach acquisition], and PLANETARIA, the [Places where people have stars in their eyes?]. The last one was a gimme for me, as my first job was at a science museum that had a planetarium. But enough about that–look again at those entries (fresh as a newly-baked loaf of sourdough bread) and the terrific clues for them. What’s more, the crossings that make the stack possible are clean as an unblown whistle.
The northeast stack features SMALL ARMS (clued as [Carbines and such]), the uber-fresh PALEO DIET ([Atkins alternative]), and the ASTRODOME, certainly not an uber-fresh facility (it was the place [Where the "Battle of the Sexes" was held] in 1973) but still a great entry. The stack sits atop CAN’T STOP, the [1980s board game played on an octagonal board]. I like to think I know my board games, but this was unfamiliar to me. I think I have seen neither the box nor the playing board. Anyone here play this game and remember how it works?
In the opposite corner the FAST LANE sits atop ABORIGINE (clued as [Nunavut resident, typically]), DEMO TAPES (with the great clue, [They're filled with unknowns]), and STAY ALERT (clued as [Don't lose focus]). And then there’s the southeast, with ILL-FOUNDED ([Like some bad arguments]), SAID PLEASE ([Was polite, in a way]), and TINA TURNER, the [Singer with the so-called "hardest-working legs in show business"]. I wonder if James Brown resented that title.
Other bits and pieces:
- [Bunker-like, in a way] led me astray, as I was thinking of sand traps. But this is a reference to Archie Bunker from All in the Family, meaning the answer was RACIST.
- [A to I and K to W in Washington] is a fun clue for STREETS. In the span of about three seconds, here was my thinking after reading the clue: “Cripes, I lived in Washington State for 17 years so I should know this. Wait, this is probably the other Washington. Why is the J missing? It starts with S–could it be SENATORS? No, doesn’t fit. Doesn’t make sense either. I suck. And I wonder why I can never crack the top 200 at the ACPT. Say, that’s coming up in a couple of months. I better make my hotel reservation. I wonder if my wife can come with me this year. Will this be the last year the tournament’s in Brooklyn? Wait, it’s STREETS! ” Okay, armchair psychiatrists–have fun with that one.
- [It clears what's on the kitchen table: Abbr.] is a super clue for the FDA.
- Alas, neither MAJORS nor BOOTY CALLS was answer to [Tiger Woods has the greatest number of them]. It’s ESPYS. (This joke was brought to you by the year 2009.)
- I needed every crossing for ADELA, the [Character in "A Passage to India" surnamed Quested]. I flirted with AKELA and even ACELA for a while.
- [Avon's calling, in part?] is a fun clue for MASCARA, as is [Having a lot to lose] for OBESE.
Favorite entry = HULU, the [Netflix alternative]. That’s right, in a puzzle with a DALAI ([Ocean, in Mongolian]) of terrific long answers, I find myself most attracted to the four-letter online video site that helps me catch up on my required television regimen. Favorite clue = [It's usually close to the median] for the aforementioned FAST LANE. But in this one, you could make a case for maybe a dozen favorites. Now that’s a nice way to close the year. See you in 2014!
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “Au Pairs” — pannonica’s write-up
The title here is so much the opposite of 41d UNAPT that I have to conclude the theme developed from it. Top-down, if you will. Sometimes crosswords with this (presumed) genesis will seem strained, but it’s such a straightforward application and the theme answers are rock-solid enough to dispel any thoughts along those lines. Simply put, they’re names, phrases, and the like—typical long-answer fodder—containing the letters AU in sequence, twice.
- 22a. [Badger State home to Liberace, once] WAUSAU, WISCONSIN. It seems like a winking alteration of Warsaw, reinforced by the knowledge that Liberace’s given name was the Polish Władziu, but Wausau derives from Ojibwe, meaning “far away place.” Far out.
- 31a. [Cry after a smashing premiere] AUTHOR! AUTHOR! Learned this term when the 1982 Al Pacino film of the same name was released.
- 39a. ["Two Tahitian Women" painter] PAUL GAUGUIN. Not a favorite of mine. I prefer, for instance, “Jacob Wrestling with the Angel” visually, and “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” (“D’où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous”) both titularly and visually.
- 50a. [Educational assembly] CHAUTAUQUA. Was unfamiliar with this meaning, but knew the eponymous place (and environs) in New York State. Also, the jazzish musician Pat Metheny recorded an album called New Chautauqua in the late 1970s, which I know realize probably references the artistic and educational movement rather than the locale. Bill and Hillary Clinton may have a house in that area, if memory serves.
“The lake’s name has various meanings based on a variety of translations of the original native words of the Seneca Indian tribe. One translation means Bag Tied in the Middle, referring to the narrow portion between shore lines halfway down the lake. Other translations include Place Where Fish are Taken as well as Place of Easy Death.” (–Wikipedia)
Reminds me a little of the CRooked crossword, also by Hex, from November featuring Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg.
- 60a. [1985 Stephen Frears film] MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE. A good little film, that one.
- 76a. [Wiener add-on option] SAUERKRAUT. One of the few pannonica/NYC-approved hot dog toppings. Mustard and diced onions are the others. You can add chili, but then it’s no longer a hot dog sensu stricto [re-edited—thanks, NDE].
- 83a. [Sort of McMansion] FAUX CHATEAU. Great answer, but even SAUERKRAUT won’t make one more palatable.
- 88a. ["Améle star] AUDREY TAUTOU. Still haven’t seen this one. In fact, looking at her filmography, I have not viewed anything in her cinematographic oeuvre.
- 105a. [The southern lights] AURORA AUSTRALIS. Have not seen those either, alas.
As raised above, all these answers are appealing and strong, though I wouldn’t go as far as “studly.” Source languages are Latin, French, German, Ojibwe, Seneca, some necessarily more than once; so that’s a respectable variety.
- Any other solvers sensitive enough to be slightly put off by seeing non-theme entries such as ESAU, AURA, BEAUS, and AULD here? (2d, 37d, 62d, 82a) (Not to mention the AURA/AURORA eclipse.)
- Artist! Artist! (Depending on your definition of artist.) Salvadors DALIS, PAUL GAUGUIN, Robert CRUMB, Claudes MONETS, Hieronymus BOSCH, Samuel ALITO, James Merritt IVES. Also, CRUMB and IVES could easily be recast as musicians—composers, specifically—but there are a bunch of them in the puzzle already.
- Speaking of musicians, just yesterday I brought up crossword staple 44a NILS Lofgren in a comment apropos of and contra to Springsteen’s “Born to Run” (1975). Compared to that album’s sprawling bombast and self-importance, Lofgren’s self-titled release from the same year is a concentrated gem of pure rock and roll ethos. An operative word is DISTILL (4d).
- Funny how a clue like 42a [Some PCs] for IBM feels obsolete while 58a ["SNL"'s __ Sarducci] GUIDO doesn’t. IBM stopped manufacturing personal computers in 2002, and the heyday of Don Novello’s character was in the 1970s (though it’s possible he’s still schticking with it). This is the difference between the arts and industry, I guess.
- Selected misfills: 45d ["That's it for me!"] I’M OUT for I QUIT; 108a [Reunion group] ALUMS for CLASS; 28a [Move snakily] SLITHE for WRITHE (don’t ask);
- With partials A CARE, I HAD A, and A LOT already appearing, would have preferred to have seen “not MISS A beat” clued musically/religiously even though it probably would have remained a fill-in-the-blank. e.g., Missa Solemnis (Beethoven), Missa Aeterna (Palestrina), Missa Choralis (Liszt), the central African-flavored Missa Luba (Haazen); Missa Syllabica (Pärt), and more. Incidentally, I’ve just discovered that there’s a K-pop quartet called miss A, for whatever that’s worth.
- Crosswordiest fill/clue combo: 56a [Old English bard] SCOP.
- Favorite consecutive pair: 99d [Lot's wife, eventually] SALT, 101d [Mucho] A LOT.
Beyond the august theme, the ballast material is generally robust and as a whole doesn’t tip the CAP Quotient™ scales. Good puzzle.
Gail Grabowski’s syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “Interjection”
A “TER” is injected into a familiar phrase to create each theme answer:
- 23a. [Period after one round too many?], TEETER TIME.
- 28a. [Fertilized egg?], CHILD STARTER. Nice one.
- 53a. [Benefit from barn raising?], BETTER THE FARM. “Benefit” is a verb here, not a noun.
- 87a. [Where Monet got his physical?], PAINTER CLINIC.
- 109a. [Tipsy gym helper?], TIGHT SPOTTER.
- 120a. [Joking after a midterm?], TEST BANTER. Cute.
- 36d. [Need some trough repair?], BUST A GUTTER.
- 43d. [1970s presidential fundraiser?], CARTER RALLY.
The theme answers all work without bugging me or disappointing me, so while they didn’t have me laughing out loud, they do their job.
The fill is pretty smooth, too, and the cluing must’ve been quite smooth given how quickly I solved the puzzle.
Seven more things:
- 113a. [Flash drive connections], USB PORTS. Good fill.
- 10d. [Pre-1000 Celtic language], OLD IRISH. Anyone know any Old Irish words?
- 60a. [Paretsky's Warshawski and Grafton's Millhone, briefly], TECS. Blurgh … who really uses “tec,” anyway?
- 98a. ["Breaking Bad" lawyer Goodman], SAUL. He’s getting a spin-off show, Better Call Saul.
- 4d. [1945 conference site], POTSDAM. It’s near Berlin.
- 52a. [State legal VIPs], AGS. Short for attorneys general.
- 89d. ["Good Times" actress], ROLLE. I just saw an old magazine cover with Esther Rolle as Santa. She’s just one of many African-American celebrities who appeared on Jet’s cover dressed as Santa.