Andre Chaikin’s New York Times crossword, “It’s Only ‘A’ Game”
The theme this week is words and phrases that contain only one vowel, A. The theme answers’ clues are also univocalic (one-voweled).
- 22a. [*Grand-slam drama that stars Bacall's man], CASABLANCA. “Grand-slam” suggests a baseball plot.
- 24a. [*Half an Xmas "Halls" chant], FA LA LA LA LA. I think it’s more like 5/9ths than half.
- 38a. [*Astral saga that has a Darth part], STAR WARS.
- 63a. [*Fab "backward-gram" à la "Sam, aha! Bahamas!"], A MAN, A PLAN, A CANAL—PANAMA! “Backward-gram” standing in for the word palindrome.
- 87a. [*Black cat that packs grass and chants "Jah"], RASTAMAN.
- 106a. [*Landmark vassal law act], MAGNA CARTA.
- 108a. [*Warm mask/cap amalgams], BALACLAVAS.
- 4d. [*"M*A*S*H" star], ALAN ALDA. Four asterisks in a single clue.
- 28d. [*Haphazard], CATCH AS CATCH CAN.
- 36d. [*Gala that saw "Black Swan," "Avatar" and "Ab Fab" attract claps], BAFTA AWARDS.
- 37d. [*Bar glass that's half Bass, half dark malt], BLACK AND TAN.
- 38d. [*Lama's art that can't last], SAND MANDALA.
- 39d. [*"Shazam!"], ABRACADABRA.
- 81d. [*Flashback and halfbacks], ANAGRAMS.
- Quasi-theme answer: 89d. [TV/movie group associated with this puzzle's theme?], A-TEAM. With the unfortunate E.
That’s a lot of theme answers. It’s mildly discombobulating that there are plenty of A-only shorter answers (AMAS, CARATS, CHAP, SLANT, SPASM, SATCH, RAPS, etc.) scattered throughout the puzzle, but with any old vowels in their clues. Usually a puzzle with starred clues has some other clue that explains why the asterisks are there, but “starred clues” has non-A vowels and perhaps there wasn’t a logical all-A’s phrase to tie it all together. BRING YOUR “A” GAME is one letter too short to replace the central Down themer.
Favorite fill includes PYROMANIA, TOADIES, POTPIES and STRUDEL, and THE PITS. Not really seeing anything else I want to talk about. I’m tired. Liked the puzzle okay, but the constructor and editor got a lot more wordplay action in making this puzzle than I got in solving it. 3.5 stars.
Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Seventy word themeless that’s just a Y short of a pangram:
A few random thoughts:
- My FAVE entry has to be [Tailless pet] or MANX CAT – I’ve actually been to the Isle of Man, but saw no tailless cats on my visit there.
- [Pristine water] or AQUA PURA seems an unusual entry to me. I’m assuming it’s Latin, but is it an adopted phrase in our argot? I thought at first it might be a brand name for bottled water.
- ["Scruples" author] was JUDITH KRANTZ – I was familiar with the name, but have not read any of her books.
- I at first thought there was a typo in the clue [Comedy compeer of Colbert and Stewart] (which was Bill MAHER), but “compeer” is definitely a word that is similar in meaning to companion or compadre.
- Lest one consider today’s [Seat of Wyoming's Albany County] or LARAMIE as yesterday’s WAUKESHA; Laramie was the home of murdered student Matthew Shepard and was the inspiration for the play The Laramie Project. [Edited to add: And apparently famous from various Western novels set there, including even a television series from the early '60s.]
Samuel A. Donaldson’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 197″—Janie’s review
For those of you who may be new(er) to the site and/or solving, Samuel A. Donaldson is none other than the Fiend’s own blogger extraordinaire Sam Donaldson—a first-class constructor in his own right as well. Which is why, no doubt, his puzzle was selected for this quarter’s WaPo guest-contributor slot. Great choice, Mr. Editor!
This 70-word/26-block free-style has wide-open corners chock-a-block with the best kinda fill in those triple NW and SE 10-stacks, and NE and SW 9-columns. Among the best ANSWERS there (because of their scrabbliness and/or just plain-old solid phrase-iness): BUZZ-WORTHY, SEX PISTOLS, TV TIME-OUT, SAT NEXT TO, OPERA ARIA, CRACKPOTS, THANKS A LOT, HOME AT LAST, SUIT TO A TEE.
Other highlights? (and there are lots…):
- The lively interlock that artfully takes in “YES, DEAR,” “BEATS ME,” SQUARE FOOT, GUMMO and QUISP (!); “R” MONTHS and the fabulous CAKE POP.
- The snark factor in MOCK and SMIRK AT.
- The more gentile, socially inclined ASKS TO [Invites for] and DROP IN [Visit].
- The kinda highbrow/high-concept concept ["A lie that makes us realize the truth," according to Picasso] for ART and the reference to [Musée de l'Orangerie muralist] for MONET. (Ever been there, btw? Heaven on earth! [Well, for us "Water Lilies" lovers anyway...])
- The [Some in prayer look...] duo of EAST [...toward it] and MISSAL [...at it].
A closer look at some other clues leads me to cite some sneaky misdirects, starting with [Norman conquest?] for the aforementioned OPERA ARIA. So that’s “Norman” as in the great Jessye Norman and not a reference to the Battle of Hastings. Then there’s [Doesn't call, maybe] for FOLDS—which makes this is a poker reference and not part of a complaint lodged against an uncommunicative type. [Maelstrom setting] nearly did me in. All that came to mind for me was IN A POE VOLUME, which clearly exceeds the five-square limit. Nope. Apparently it’s a ride at EPCOT. Well, now I know. (Whether or not I remember is a whole other story…) And ["Blue" singer]. JONI MITCHELL, right? Not. LEANN RIMES. Welcome to the ’90s, Jane. And this is more of a fill issue than a cluing conundrum, but [They make 3-D possible] are Z-AXES and not, as I insisted on reading the fill, ZAXES…
But how about [So sharp?] for A FLAT? I can see where this is a clever idea (OF SORTS), but omma not “so” keen for this. Just a few weeks ago there was a lengthy discussion (on this very site, no?) about “so” v. “sol” in the music world. I fall into the camp that supports the latter and could really live without the former. Even if it does get a lot of play. That doesn’t make it completely kosher. With me, anyway.
Then (and here’s where I go lowbrow…), how about [Skid mark trick]? Turns out this is not (as I first thought) wedgie-related (sorry—so much for the “breakfast test”!), but refers to a driving maneuver resulting in a torus-shaped tire track a/k/a a DONUT. Don’t try this at home, kids! (A little of this video goes a looooong way…)
Finally some comments about the solve overall. I did this in one sitting but had three experiences along the way. Fastest swath filled in went from BUZZ-WORTHY diagonally down to LETO. This was very smooth for me and deluded me into thinking I was possibly brilliant… But then… But then… Reality set in yet again as I found myself having to slow down quite a bit to conquer the area bounded by UMM, “R” MONTHS and SETTE (maybe because I’d first entered SIETE for that last one). And for the remainder? Well, I was almost afraid it wasn’t gonna HAPPEN at all. Already talked about EPCOT; but there was also WAKEN, whose middle “K” I had to search for the old fashioned way—by running the alphabet through my head. D’oh.
Ooh. And just now I’m noticing that really lovely crossing of CAKE POP and CRACKPOTS. Sweet!
How did it go for you? From where I sit, all-in-all, this was one beautiful puzzle and one terrific solve. Definitely BUZZ-WORTHY. Thanks, Sam—and thanks, Peter! See y’alls next month!
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “So What?”
There are a lot of things we say that begin with the word “so”:
- 22a. “So ___?”] YOU WANT TO PLAY ROUGH, EH?
- 34a. “So ___”] THAT’S THAT.
- 39a. “So ___”] DONT GET ANY IDEAS.
- 47a. “So ___!”] THERE!
- 55a. “So ___”] TO SPEAK.
- 65a. “So ___”] I LIED.
- 72a. “So ___”] MANY BOOKS, SO LITTLE TIME. Additional SO in the answer.
- 78a. “So ___”] SUE ME.
- 85a. “So ___”] LONG, PAL.
- 92a. “So ___!”] SORRY.
- 100a. “So ___”] NEAR AND YET SO FAR. Additional SO in the answer.
- 108a. “So ___”] FAR, SO GOOD. Third extra SO. Not really a problem unless you are dead-set that a clue word must never, ever appear in the answer.
- 120a. “So ___ …”] THIS GUY WALKS INTO A BAR…
The title is perfect, no? The theme clues’ punctuation gives little guidance for what follows each “so,” so it sort of plays like a 13-piece quote theme in which you have to lean on the crossings to figure out the theme answers. However, the puzzle didn’t take me any longer than the typical Merl puzzle—in fact, it was a quicker solve than many Merls are. So I declare that Merl must’ve done a good job in keeping the surrounding fill and clues clear and simple. And the “so” phrases are all familiar to me.
Closest thing I had to a problematic crossing: For 64d. [___ on the head], I filled in A LUMP (should be A BUMP), which gave me “so MANY LOOKS, SO LITTLE TIME.” But that’s not a thing we say, unless we are standing in a walk-in closet.
Now, the “so” theme puts me in mind of those goofy “doge” meme pictures, with a Shiba Inu dog and grammatically tormented captions, which are supposed to be in the Comic Sans font. But the meme creator tool I found uses a different font, and only white letters, and only two captions. If I could have had three, it would be “such crossword,” “so theme,” and “wow.” (Over at Yahoo! Tech, Deb Amlen can tell you more about the doge meme. That’s right, crossword blogger Deb is also a senior columnist at Yahoo!, writing the humorous Buzzology column.)
Most inside-crosswords clue: 4d. [Bird usually seen as a clue, not an answer], SEA EAGLE. Usually in a clue for ERN(E). If you don’t know your ERNE clues, this clue may have been confusing.
3.75 stars from me. I’d say more, but I solved the puzzle 12 hours ago and it’s no longer fresh in my mind.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “Don’t Do It” — pannonica’s write-up
The theme answers here, each answering a clue repeating the puzzle’s “Don’t Do It” title, play a sort of advisory role, but not as annoyingly as Hamlet‘s Polonius.
Here’s the rundown of what not to do:
- 23a. CRY OVER SPILT MILK. Note to Gareth: American English typically spells the word “spilled” but it usually retains this spelling in this phrase.
- 33a. KID YOURSELF.
- 48a. MINCE WORDS. Crossing ONION, cute.
- 59a. JUST SIT THERE.
- 64a. STOP THE MUSIC.
- 78a. GET ME WRONG, which I had as GET IT WRONG, and turned out to be the last pair of letters corrected in the grid.
- 88a. ROCK THE BOAT.
- 103a. TAKE IT PERSONALLY.
All strong answers, all fun, and most even furnish good advice. I practically flew through this puzzle; the difficulty seemed lowered, and there was so much fill that was in my wheelhouse, ensuring that there were no spots where I slowed down. Don’t HATE ME.
- Check out the spunky long fill: RUN AGROUND, MODEL T FORD, RATTLETRAP, DISREGARDS, POWHATAN.
- A bunch of clues and answers, often pairs, that seem to inform each other, not always explicitly via cross-reference or “cluecho”: wraps SARI and SERAPE, Muppets ERNIE and ELMO (back-to-back), RIATA and LASSO, CACAO and CAROB, AGENT and REP, Stella ARTOIS and ÉTOILE. Heck, I even liked the roughly symmetrical letter jumbles of BPOE and ROTC.
- Seems a lot in this puzzle with a musical flavor. The title, as I’ve shown, “TRY A Little Tenderness”, themer 88a (“Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” from Guys and Dolls), “Aren’t we a PAIR” from Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” in A Little Night Music, themer don’t STOP THE MUSIC, themer don’t GET ME WRONG, a BARN dance, “…bombs bursting IN AIR …”, OB LA DI, LES Paul, ETTA James, Brian ENO, and plenty more depending on how willing you are to dig and stretch.
- Favorite crossing: VENAL and VANITY (86a/86d). Runner-up: DISREGARDS and INGRATES (7d/56a).
- Least favorite crossing: 51d [Volcanic mudslide] LAHAR and 55a ["Embraced by the Light" author Betty] EADIE, which I suspect may prove unfriendly to some solvers.
- Misfills: 43a [The way some suds taste] MALTY, not SALTY (hey, I grew up at the beach, all right?); 43d [Shopping spots] MARTS, not MALLS; 25d ["Witness" actor Haas] LUKAS, not LUCAS; 50d [Trig function] COSEC, not COSIN.
- Favorite clue: 80d [Serious flip-flopper] RENEGADE. Yep, that’s pretty serious.
- New to me (in clue): 89d [DEVGRU target of 2011] OSAMA bin Laden. DEVGRU = United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group of the Joint Special Operations Command = SEAL Team Six (which it turns out is not an official name since 1987).
Easy peasy breezy puzzle. Good theme, minimal frass. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, very much, but it wasn’t a challenge. Which can be nice on a Sunday morning.
Ed Sessa’s syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “Storm Front Coming”
I didn’t see what the theme was till I reached the revealer at the end. If we’re not clearly in a “talking about the weather” situation, the phrase “storm front” can be alarming, as it’s associated with one of those white supremacist groups. The theme answers, though, end with things that can be blowin’ in the wind:
- 23a. [*"Brace yourself"], HOLD ONTO YOUR HAT.
- 41a. [*Signal surrender], RAISE A WHITE FLAG. I wanted the wrong-length WAVE. An online dictionary offers wave, hoist, and show, but not raise. I think THE would sound more natural than A, too.
- 56a. [*1965 Rolling Stones hit], GET OFF OF MY CLOUD.
- 66a. [*Pasta choice], ANGEL HAIR.
- 71a. [*Image on a North American flag], MAPLE LEAF.
- 84a. [*Sloshed], HIGHER THAN A KITE.
- 101a. [*The company one keeps, often], BIRDS OF A FEATHER.
- 121a. [Bob Dylan classic, and what this puzzle's starred clues' answers' endings could be], BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND.
Except for the off-kilter 41a, it’s a solid theme, and the “what the ending words could be” angle is much fresher and less expected than the “ending words can precede/follow X word” sort of theme that bores me.
I’m surprised my solving time was as quick as it was, given all the answers that are not in common parlance. What this tells me is that I know so much crosswordese-type fill, it doesn’t even slow me down. But a newer solver could be thrown off by the heavyish inclusion of fill like ROUE, ANODAL, OSMAN, ATRA, ESSEN, EER, REOS, DELE, PINSK, SKEINS clued as [Geese flocks in flight] rather than bundles of yarn, STYE, EFT, SAGY, RESAW, AEON, LEM, the awkward and who-really-uses-that ONE C ([A hundred smackers]), AWK, ORA, HEME, NCR, IOS, ARA, TEHEE, and DELOS. Granted, it’s a big grid and most of the words are more familiar than these ones, but having more than 10% of the puzzle leaning on this vocabulary can be off-putting to the folks who haven’t already absorbed a huge dose of crossword lingo.
Somebody was recently saying they wanted to see DR. DEMENTO in a puzzle, and here he is: 4d. [DJ who first promoted "Weird Al" Yankovic]. Along with ANARCHY, ART DECO, KOREAN WAR, and GILDED CAGES, it’s one of the best entries in this puzzle.
3.25 stars from me, owing to what I would consider clunky fill and one semi-broken theme answer.