By (recent) popular demand, the star ratings widget now offers the .5 increments in addition to whole numbers. I will continue assigning my own star ratings in the text without regard for a standard degree of mathematical fineness. If I’m feeling like going to four decimal places, I’ll do it. Tenths, quarters, thirds of a star? I’m on it.
Here’s link to a Gaffney on Crosswords post I missed earlier this month, “Flag on the play.” Take particular note of Matt’s second and third items, and see how simple it often is to markedly improve a puzzle’s fill.
Fans of vowelless crosswords, take note: Peter Broda, aka Bananarchy, is posting his third vowelless puzzle at his site tonight. I just downloaded the 12/16/13 puzzle this evening and loved it—tons of zippy phrases, not much in the way of blah stuff. Fifteen minutes and 16 seconds of brain-busting good times. All the answers make sense to me except 14d; I am not up on my astrophysics and can’t figure out what the letters expand to with vowels. If I were officially blogging the puzzle, I’d give it about 4.5 stars; I’m a sucker for a well-filled vowelless puzzle. (Next I’ll do the 12/2 puzzle, and then tonight’s addition.)
Tracy Gray’s New York Times crossword
Straightforward anagram theme, with the letters AEGLR scrambled into words at the end of each theme answer:
- 17a. [Being extravagant and self-indulgent], LIVING LARGE.
- 24a. [“Ragged Dick” author], HORATIO ALGER.
- 37a. [Illumination in “The Star-Spangled Banner”], ROCKETS’ RED GLARE.
- 47a. [All-malt beer], PREMIUM LAGER.
- 58a. [Scotch whisky brand], CHIVAS REGAL.
A lot of anagram themes are tied up in a bow with a theme revealer combining a word that means “scrambled” with one of the anagrams, but this one flies solo. Works for me, though I could see an anagram-averse solver not being quite sure what connects the long answers.
Highlights in the fill include “MY BAD,” the [North American finch] called the JUNCO or snowbird (it’s charcoal gray with a white belly), XANADU (good gravy, the Olivia Newton-John music video from the movie is woeful), IBIZA (the original clubbing island), CANOODLE, and BLING.
Rex Parker and I disagree on the crossword suitability of 11a. [Food preservative, for short], BHT. He finds it obscure and out of place in a Tuesday puzzle (indeed, a check of the Cruciverb database shows its absence from the NYT puzzle for a decade); I find it a gimme. What do you say? It’s one of those junky chemical additives that, when I see it in an ingredients list, I put the product back on the shelf. “Contains BHA and BHT to preserve freshness”? Pfft. It’s crap. You can do better.
Jack McInturff’s Los Angeles Times crossword
The theme phrases end with words that can follow “sweet”:
- 20a. [Hopes that weren’t meant to be], BROKEN DREAMS.
- 31a. [Concern before changing lanes], BLIND SPOT.
- 40a. [Locker room motivator], PEP TALK.
- 49a. [Kids’ game with a quickly passed object], HOT POTATO.
- 56a. [Jackie Gleason catchphrase, and a hint to the ends of 20-, 31-, 40- and 49-Across], “HOW SWEET IT IS.”
Lively enough batch of phrases in this theme set.
The fill, on the other hand, is weighted more heavily towards Words I Mostly Encounter in Crosswords than to zippier vocabulary. I do like DREIDEL, MISS USA, the TORRID SPEEDO, and KAPUT. And the 6d. [Beetle with four wheels, slangily], VEE DUB (short for VW, without the “-ble ewe” part) is kinda fun. But I felt the less exciting fill more acutely—AVISO INGE AEONS ESAU AERO- AVI- PEAU SNEAD TYROS ESTOP SONE OSSA ONO? The average educated American could go aeons without encountering any of these outside of crosswords. A handful of those words, no problem; a dozen and I grouse.
Three stars from me.
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “31 Flavors” – Dave Sullivan’s review
The title comes from an old Baskin-Robbins ad campaign (are they even still around?); here we say goodbye to 2013 with famous 31’s:
- [31st state] was CALIFORNIA. Once you get past the first 13, I’m lost.
- [31st best film of all time, according to AFI’s tenth anniversary edition (with “The”)] clued MALTESE FALCON. No reason anyone would know that, but once the letters started to fill in, I was able to guess it.
- [Winners of Super Bowl XXXI] were the GREEN BAY PACKERS. Welcome back, Aaron Rodgers!
- [31st president] clued HERBERT HOOVER. Perhaps a bit more gettable by trivia buffs, but pas moi.
- [Best Actor winner at the 31st Academy Awards] clued David Niven. Was this the one when a streaker ran across the stage? *sighs* Those were the days.
So I’m wondering if this puzzle was chosen because 31 is ’13 backwards, or it’s December 31st? In either case, some interesting trivia, but a bit of a random set. Seemed to be a lot of V action going on–AVA/AVILA, JAVA/DIVAN, VERVE, VCU, CLEVER and KIEV and finally, VIM and TEVYE. I voraciously vanquished the very virtuous vocabulary! My FAVE clue was [Colonial newscaster] for CRIER, I guess because of the odd juxtaposition of modern newscasting and colonial America. The entry for [Doctor’s aid] or PAGER seemed a bit dated; wouldn’t most of them have some type of smartphone by now?
Best wishes for the New Year, everyone! See you next year.
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle, “Why Bother?”—Janie’s review
What’s this? “Why bother?” Is our Constructor-in-Chief (Jim Horne’s Constructor of the Year, thank-you-very-much!) “fighting vainly the old ennui”? No, no. She’s simply sending a message by way of homophone, where the word why is the sound-alike for the letter Y; and the letter Y makes for a fresh and—thanks in no small part to Liz’s signature, sly cluing—humorous addition to five familiar names / titles / phrases. Here’s how:
- 17A. [Rocky Balboa film inspired by a Willa Cather novel?] YO PIONEERS! Now when I said “sly cluing,” I wasn’t (consciously) referring to Sly Stallone, but the thought of his adapting Cather really does give me pause! And make me laugh. Hey—I’m sure there’ve been odder “odd couples”! But the penners of “Yo, Adrian!” and O Pioneers! ? Priceless.
- 23A. [Visitors get a rise out of this White House attraction?] THE YEAST WING. You know—where all the baking for those State dinners at White House is done… Love the aroma! I imagine the First Lady and her staff do as well! (The real thing; the almost-had-me-fooled not-the-real-thing parody.)
- 37A. [The bright side (according to Chinese philosophy) of an Oscar-winning film director?] YANG LEE. Taiwanese-born Mr. Lee had to work for his success. Lee-style brightness is an earned benefit of vision and perseverance!
- 49A. [Burglars who are spoiled rotten?] CODDLED YEGGS. Hah! Another laugh-out-loud entry for this solver!
- 61A. [12-month subscription to a punster’s groan-inducing newsletter?] YEAR OF CORN. Boy—a great way to finish off this fab theme set. Given all the “Year of…” options out there (fruit, flowers, cheese, etc.), this looks to be one whose time may have come. Any takers?
Other tasty morsels in the puzzle? Coulda been thoughts of that ear of corn or those coddled eggs that led our constructor to the [“Have some quiche!”] “EAT!” combo. And thoughts of “Eat!” to the inclusion of [Deli-style pickles] DILLS and [Coleslaw or fries, at a diner] SIDES (or even SPUD and YAM). Just glad we got to top it all off with a Stella D’ORO cookie!
Looking at some of the longer fill, really liked seeing WHITTLE and its active clue [Create wood sculpture] in the grid. PHILISTINE and [Lowbrow type] is right up there, too. Ditto SCRAWLS and TODDLES. Especially like the way toddles crosses coddled. (And the way [Golfing icon Sam] SNEAD abuts PGA [Links tour org.]; and LESS is followed by MESS in the bottom row, too.)
Two clues raised a flag for me—which proved not to be such a bad thing. Seeing BART clued with [Frisco’s train system] reminded me of seeing “Don’t Call It Frisco” t-shirts, bumper stickers, etc. Would “San Fran” have been better? Not according to this. “SF”? Mebbe. Regardless, it was fun to ruminate on this for a bit, and recall a couple of memorable visits to the City by the Bay that I’ve been fortunate enough to make.
Also fun to ruminate on: STUB as a [Broadway show memento]. Why? Because these days, that particular source of a “remembrance of things past” is itself a thing of the past. On Broadway, at any rate. Today, tickets are scanned. You keep the whole thing. Nuthin’ gets torn off (unless the scanning system has broken down).* But, of course, this got me thinking about the stub (and Playbill…) I still have from the first Broadway show I ever attended in New York. February 1960. Michael Allinson and (the never-heard-of-since) Pamela Charles. It was a breathtaking and unforgettable experience for a sixth-grader who was enthralled with theatre and particularly (as it was known then) “musical comedy.” All of which is a long way of saying that while I’m not keen for the wording of this clue, I sure do like the way it triggered this particular memory. And triggering memories (not to mention testing one’s memory…) is something that good puzzles’ll do!
With that, readers, I leave you for the year. Whether you’re IN A [festive mood (ready to party)] tonight or spending a quieter evening to “ring in the new,” here’s wishing you and yours a year of joy, of good health, of fulfillment! Cheers, all!
*This just in (some eight hours after drafting this post)! At the theatre I attended tonight—a Broadway house, but one belonging to a not-for-profit theatre company—the shorter, perforated end of my ticket was torn off! No scanner!! Still, I was left with an otherwise complete, computer-generated ticket. While I wasn’t left with a classic stub (that torn half of a ticket I’ve retained all these years, e.g.), I amend my previous statement! ;-)
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Upstarts”
The theme answers are all Down answers, but parts of them are actually Up answers. The first word of each should be followed by the word “up,” but “up” is instead represented by running that word upwards. From left to right:
- 3d. [Game that’s sort of an ancestor of Jenga], KCIPSTICKS. That’s pick-up sticks.
- 40d. [Reality check], EKAWCALL. Wake-up call.
- 19d. [Place to buy a few compacts], EKAMCOUNTER. Makeup counter.
- 9d. [What to try if things aren’t working], KCABPLAN. Backup plan.
- 31d. [Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable” and Hall & Oates’s “She’s Gone,” for two], KAERBSONGS. Breakup songs.
Neat theme, isn’t it? I like themes where things look absolutely bonkers in the grid.
The two long Across answers are just random fill, not thematic. I was slow to fill in 18a. [Cinematographer’s concern], CAMERA ANGLE, because I figured there would be a “camera ___-up” twist—but of course, the “up” gimmick only works in Down answers.
Five more things:
- 20a. [“The Twelve Days of Christmas” musician], PIPER. “Eleven pipers piping…”
- 36a. [College town north of San Francisco], ARCATA. Quick, name the college. … Yeah, me neither. Googling … Humboldt State University.
- 68a. [Stranded, in a way], ENISLED. Not sure I have ever seen this word outside of crosswords.
- 37d. [Rice from Louisiana], ANNE. The writer, not a side dish.
- 52d. [Bruce who keeps up with the Kardashians], JENNER. Does he still? I think I heard that he and mama Kris Kardashian had split up.
Of the 80 entries in this grid, fully a third (27) are 3-letter words. Those were not particularly enjoyable, though I do remember buying LIK-M-Aid candy before it was renamed Fun Dip. (Two or three pouches of flavored, colored tangy sugar, plus a chalky white sugar/starch stick to lik and dip into the sugar.)