Did you all hear the good news for crossword constructors? The New York Times raised its payment for a daily puzzle from $200 to $300. (Sunday puzzles remain at $1000.) Peter Gordon promptly raised the Fireball contributor rate to a hair over $300, maintaining his status as the editor whose venue pays the most for crossword submissions. (He had the same policy back in his New York Sun crossword tenure.) Don’t ask what it works out to on an hourly basis, people.
Tim Croce’s New York Times crossword
I do like synonyms for “nonsense,” although this puzzle specializes in the shorter ones and leaves out malarkey, claptrap, balderdash, tommyrot, and so forth. The answers clued with [Nonsense] are JIVE, JAZZ, HOKUM, PRATTLE, TWADDLE, HOT AIR, BILGE, ROT, TRIPE, BUSHWA, BLATHER, HOGWASH, HOOEY, TOSH, BUNK, and in the Down direction, BALONEY. Well! Aren’t those fun.
On the down side, including about 85 theme squares tends to compel some unfortunate fill. Such as:
- 19a. DERAT. I was going to ask when you ever see this word out of crosswords, and then I Googled my way right to a mobile gaming app called Derat in which you fight rodent infestations. (Not that I’d ever heard of the game before.)
- 24a. [Near-prime seating], ROW B. If you say so.
- 4d. [Long ago, once], ERST.
- 9d. [Attacked], HAD AT. I’d love it if someone could find an example of this past tense usage in the wild, used in this sense.
- 34d. [Near, poetically], ANIGH. Whoa! We’ve gone one step beyond the usual meh fill of ANEAR. You know what I always say: anigh for anigh.
- 36d. [Inscribed stone slab], STELA. What’s especially “fun” about this old crossword word is that when you see “inscribed stone slab” in the clue, you still need to wait for a crossing to choose between STELE and STELA.
Interesting clue for Jared LETO, the actor whose big break was playing Claire Danes’ crush on a critically acclaimed but short-lived teenage drama, who largely dropped out of acting six years ago to focus on music (his band is called Thirty Seconds to Mars), and who won a Golden Globe award last night for his supporting role in Dallas Buyers Club. He plays a transwoman with HIV and apparently stayed in character the entire time the movie was being filmed. He’s got a lock on an Oscar nomination. 58d. [Actor Jared of "My So-Called Life"]? Sure, the clue is accurate, but it has a retro (1994-1995) feel. Anyway, the name LETO has bought itself a renewed shelf life in crosswords thanks to Jared’s 2013 star turn.
The usual cap for a daily puzzle is a word count of 78. This one’s got 82.
I find myself with nothing more to say here. 3.25 stars, and so to bed.
Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “We Have a Winner!” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Four phrases that begin with a type of award:
- [Horseshoe-shaped sausage] was a RING BOLOGNA – today’s NYT would’ve called that BALONEY. So in what type of contests do you win a ring as an award? Perhaps on ABC’s The Bachelor, but I can’t think of any others.
- [Traditional Christmas sweet] was RIBBON CANDY – I can picture this “traditional sweet,” but I can’t say I’ve ever tried it. Any reports out there on what it tastes like? I think it breaks off like brittle and you likely suck on it.
- [Beautiful woman with a financially solvent mate] clued a TROPHY WIFE – to be “financially solvent” seems to be just barely making ends meet, whereas I think of trophy wives as arm candy to the very rich and famous (or, why would else they waste their time with these megalomaniacs?)
- [Instant ramen brand] was CUP NOODLES – I kept wanting an OF or at least an O’ in there, but I see there’s none on the labeling. A “cup” is given to winners of horse races and in many other sports, including pro hockey’s Stanley Cup.
I’m not sure this puzzle will win any awards, especially with RING in the mix and TROPHY meaning the same thing in its phrase, but RIBBON and CUP were good examples. My trouble spot here was in the upper center, with the unusual EGG CANDLING, or [Checking for embryos] that I believe is done by holding a candle under an egg to see if it’s fertilized or not. I enjoyed seeing that diagonal row of 5 N’s in the center and wonder if that was an intentional Easter egg (speaking of eggs) on the part of the constructor. CLICHÉD, BEET RED, CARACAS and DEBACLE were all nice seven’s in the corners.
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle, “Turning Green”—Janie’s review
“Turning Green.” Hmm. In what sense? With envy? With decay? From a touch of mal-de-mer? No. Nuthin’ unsavory here. Instead we get a subtle hint that we’re in anagramland, where letters to a word within the theme fill have been turned around—in the sense that they don’t appear in the sequence by which we conventionally recognize them. To up the ante of the challenge, there are no circles marking the location of the word in question or giving us a visual tip-off that the game is on. By virtue of terrific clue/fill combinations, Liz re-purposes five names/phrases—each containing a word synonymous with (but not referring to) a different shade of green and delivers one canny theme set. In this way:
- Key lime pie→KEY-MILE PIE when defined as [Dessert fed to runners at a strategic point in a marathon?]. Nice, too, how the clue gives a nod to the base phrase. Also, note that lime in the base phrase is a noun and not an adjective describing the color green. These two points are true of all the theme entries. That’s the kind of integrity that makes this such a strong theme set. Amused by the concept of runners carb-loading with/possibly stopping their race to enjoy pie—but re-fueling while marathon-running is highly endorsed (though I think the majority of competitive racers literally do it on the run)!
- Sea scallops→ASE SCALLOPS when they’re a [Fish entree named for Peer Gynt's mother?]. My only “beef” with this “fish” dish is that I’m hard-pressed to think of other named dishes in which the honoree precedes the food. Oysters Rockefeller, fettucine Alfredo, veal Orloff, beef Wellington, peach Melba. But then again…Lady Baltimore cake, Delmonico steak, Hillel sandwich… No, they’re not in the majority, but they exist. I stand enlightened!
- Petrified Forest→PETRIFIED FOSTER or [Actress Jodie who's numbed with fear?]. Funny—and a grid-spanner to boot. I know there are films in which Ms. Foster has been almost paralyzed with fear, but darned if I can think of one in which she somehow didn’t prevail—either rising to the occasion to overwhelm the opposition or somehow coming to terms with the forces that are against her and eventually turning them to her advantage. Wonder if she ever appeared in a live production of Robert E. Sherwood’s The Petrified Forest. Or if she ever contemplated a re-make of the movie… This is my fave of the themers, btw. I think that’s because we get more than a clever anagram; we get a change in the meaning/usage of the “non-green” word as well. So there are more layers to this one. (Paul Simon also featured “forest-green” in his rendition of a traditional lyric well-known to BRITS.)
- Olive Garden→VOILE GARDEN, a [Casual restaurant chain known for its semi-sheer window treatments?]. Not sure that Ramski & Company would go in for voile, but one never know…
- Pea jackets→APE JACKETS when they’re [Gorilla suit tops?]. Ya know something? Just for fun I googled both “ape jackets” and “ape coats.” To my surprise, it seems ape jackets are a real thing. Who’d a thunk? Nothing with ape fur (thank goodness), still, jackets comes up with both these and this. Coats, however, automatically redirected me to CAPE coats… Not a [Garment for Superman or Batman] in the lot. (As for pea-green, shades of Edward Lear…)
Loved the long fill to be found with PERCOLATES and GOLF LESSON. That latter one is also the headliner in a mini sports theme running throughout the puzzle. We also get a shout out to APOLO Ohno, the record holder for U.S. Winter Olympics medals (retired now from competition, but who will be a commentator at Sochi—so we may even have a RECAP or two from him to look forward to); to golfer Isao AOKI (newbies: learn this name!); baseball’s CLEveland Indians; a boxer’s record of TKOS; the [Football game extender]‘s TIE; and (since we’re in pigskin territory) the almost improbably clued [Dunkin' Donuts pitchman Manning] for ELI. Really?? Oh, yeah.
That punny clue for GOLF LESSON also deserves some love: [Appointment with a driving instructor?]. Ditto the [House party?] TENANT (who may have been “party” to signing the deed to the “house”), [Throws away the salad?] TOSSES and [Zambian leader?] ZEE combos. (Again, newbies: take special note of that last one. This kind of sneaky letter-/wordplay is a smart constructor’s evil friend. You’ll see it a lot. And probably still get fooled by it. Join the club!)
So that about does it for today. I’d STAY, but I SEE it’s time for me to go…til next week!
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “A PX Upon You”
When the weather people began raving about this “polar vortex” dealio, crossword constructors throughout North America began pondering how they could spin a crossword out of that 11-letter term. Matt’s approach was to gather other words and phrases that start with P and end with X. (The PX is not involved here.)
- 17a. [House funding?], PROPERTY TAX.
- 36a. ["Her" star Joaquin], PHOENIX. I hope someone who’s seen both Lars and the Real Girl and Her will write an article comparing the two (guy in love with sex doll, guy in love with operating system).
- 58a. [Cause of subzero temperatures in the US in 2014], POLAR VORTEX.
- 11d. [The sin bin], PENALTY BOX. Not familiar with the “sin bin” term, but then I don’t follow hockey closely.
- 28d. [Economist's average], PRICE INDEX.
PRICE INDEX kinda puts me to sleep, and PROPERTY TAX is only somewhat spruced up by its question-mark clue.
Highlights in the fill include CARE BEAR, SCRAPE BY (better as an entry than being trapped in a clue for EKE), Sherman ALEXIE … well, there’s not a lot of other juicy fill. But there are some crisp clues:
- 21a. [No-wheel-drive vehicle], SLED.
- 22a. [It may be used in a pinch], SALT. A pinch of salt.
- 1d. [Doesn't throw back], SIPS. As in throwing back a drink, slugging it down.
- 25d. [Show off "these bad boys"], FLEX.
- 46d. [Block you don't want to step on in bare feet], LEGO.
- 48d. [Radiance, to the Secret Service], MALIA.
The indie puzzles do tend to shine on the cluing front.
C.C. Burnikel’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Zhouqin brings us a crisp puzzle for a Tuesday:
- 35d. [Supplier of software hidden in 16-, 23-, 45- and 54-Across], APP STORE. Each of those long Acrosses “stores” an “APP” within its midst.
- 16a. [Recycled sheets for scribbling], SCRAP PAPER.
- 23a. [End-of-filming cast event], WRAP PARTY. With these first two sharing not just APP but APPA (and RAPPA), the theme was not yet readily apparent.
- 45a. [Toy gun loaded with rolls], CAP PISTOL.
- 54a. [Scrubbing brand with two periods in its name, S.O.S SOAP PAD. “S.O.S.” with three periods couldn’t be trademarked, so the S.O.S folks dropped the last period.
The Downs include not just the lively theme revealer, but also the lovely “NICE GOING!,” ESKIMO PIE, TOP DRAWER, OP-ED PAGE, and LOST POWER (man, I hate when that happens). There’s also a BEANSTALK with the terrifically misleading clue [Jack's access]. Who among us did not first think of phone and stereo jacks, USB ports, and the like?
I don’t love GAO, GTS, ARTE, ACER clued as an athlete who gets aces, OAST, and AT PAR. Now, that’s not a lot of blah fill, and it’s offset by a solid theme and a bunch of zippy long fill. If C.C. hadn’t used what Rich Norris calls “helper squares” (and what others in the business call “cheaters”), presumably I would have been less happy with the fill. (Cheaters are blocks that shorten their adjacent answers without affecting the overall word count.) I’m fairly certain that the vast majority of solvers don’t give a rat’s patootie if the constructor has used more blocks than were absolutely needed to make the grid—but I definitely hear more construction-minded folks grousing about the use of cheaters. Would you rather have a 78-word puzzle with four cheaters and decent fill, or a 78-word puzzle with no cheaters and worse fill? I pick better fill. (Granted, the most exceptional constructors can wrangle better fill without using cheaters, but I don’t think their use impedes a good solving experience for 99% of solvers.)