Dan Schoenholz’s New York Times crossword, “Olden Goldies”
This one took a long time to crack. Not only was each theme answer a puzzle unto itself, but the non-theme fill seemed to be clued harder than usual. The theme is spoonerized titles of “golden oldie” songs:
- 23a. [Traffic cop's answer upon being asked "Describe your job"? ], I CITE THE WRONGS. “I Write the Songs,” Barry Manilow. Nice find!
- 32a. [Post-tornado highway detritus, perhaps? ], RAFTER IN THE LANE. “Laughter in the Rain,” don’t know the song (apparently it’s Neil Sedaka). Had assumed the answer would involve car/truck pieces rather than a building RAFTER.
- 50a. [Remark about a female stoner? ], SHE’S SO HIGH. “He’s So Shy,” Pointer Sisters. There is also a 1999 Tal Bachman song called “She’s So High,” pannonica tells me.
- 72a. [Roast pig after a pig roast? ], DOWNED HOG. “Hound Dog,” Elvis.
- 89a. [Napa Valley excursion, maybe? ], FUN WINE DAY. “One Fine Day” … the Chiffons? Yes.
- 108a. [Data request from a good ol' furnace repairman? ], YOUR HEATIN’ CHART. “Your Cheatin’ Heart” … somebody classic country. Hank Williams? Yes.
- 122a. [Frontiersman awakening in a foul mood? ], MAD BOONE RISING. “Bad Moon Rising,” Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Allow me a moment to take umbrage at a 1980 song being included as an oldie. Why, that song is from my teen years! Which just happened, like, yesterday.
You know why the puzzle was so much more challenging than the usual Sunday puzzle, apart from the theme? Look at the grid. All those zones filled with 6- and 7-letter answers instead of the usual plethora of 3- to 5-letter answers that we see all the dang time and know all the common clues for. Let’s eyeball five of them:
- 60d. ["Truthiness," e.g., before Stephen Colbert], NONWORD. Indeed!
- 94d. [Cure, in a way], DRY-SALT. Didn’t know this was a verb.
- 41d. [Backless seat for one], TABORET. Faint memories of these from college art classes—except it was the other definition of taboret, the rolling cart/table. I don’t know the stool definition, just the cabinet one.
- 87d. [Like clockwork], EVERY TIME. Also has an “on time”/”smoothly and easily” meaning.
- 51d. [Input], ENTERED. This is a Newsday “Saturday Stumper” sort of clue—one word, ambiguous in terms of the part of speech (noun or verb?) and the verb tense (present or past?). Past-tense verb was third on my list.
Overall, the puzzle’s got smooth fill. I recall scowling at one answer—but just one. I forget where it was. A 21×21 grid that doesn’t entice me to list the fill I didn’t like? A Sunday puzzle that makes me work hard? I’ll take it! Four stars from me.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “Puzzle Party”
The theme answers are all edible things clued somewhat vaguely (as items served at a “puzzle party”). What binds them together is that each contains a short piece of crosswordese in its midst (circled letters):
- 23a. [We had some breakfast food ...], RAISIN TOAST. Nope, I don’t encounter OAST outside of crosswords.
- 25a. [Some Mexican food ...], BEEF TACOS. Ditto EFT.
- 34a. [A dessert with frosting ...], VANILLA CAKE. Ditto ANIL.
- 37a. [Some crunchy snacks ...], SUGAR COOKIES. Maybe I see the GAR on occasion? Or maybe not.
- 52a. [Some hot food in a bowl ...], BEAN SOUP. SOU is hardly worth a sou to me.
- 56a. [A hot beverage ...], ESPRESSO. ESS, spelled-out letter? Bleh.
- 68a. [Some soft drinks ...], SODAPOP. ODA, not much in need.
- 72a. [A dessert that quivers ...], JELL-O. ELL, spelled-out letter? Bleh again.
- 74a. [A dessert in a glass ...], PARFAIT. AIT, pretty much useless to me outside puzzles.
- 82a. [Alcohol-wise, a choice of ___ ...], PORT WINE. ORT! Wait, I love ORT. I fully recognize its woeful crosswordese nature and yet I love it.
- 87a. [Or ___ ...], CABERNET. ERNE, much worse than TERN. (Remember: The TERN is a gull while the ERN(E) is an eagle.)
- 103a. [A cold dish ...], WALDORF SALAF. DOR … hang on. This is not often seen in crosswords. Is it the French partial d’Or? Or is it so terrible that it has hardly been seen in years?
- 107a. [Some Greek appetizers ...], GRAPE LEAVES. LEA has a new life with Lea Michele of Glee.
- 119a. [Some "mixed" drinks ...], SMOOTHIES. “HIE thee…”—Shakespearean cred but no real contemporary use, yes?
- 122a. [And a nightcap.], PEPTO-BISMOL. OBI, generally not encountered much outside Japan and crosswords. Nice capper to the feast, Merl! Beef tacos and port wine seem like a deadly combo.
Fifteen theme answers is a lot, but many of them are on the short side.
I hereby nominate a bunch of other answers in the fill for consideration in future playing-with-crosswordese themes: 14a ORBS, 22a FALA, 61a TSO’S, 75a STABAT, 126a EDDA (!), 71d ABABA, 19d ENIAC, 124d SAS, and 86d ENID. You may be fonder of some of these than I am.
3.75 stars. Longtime solvers likely have a keener appreciation for “inside baseball” themes like this—if you’re new to crosswords, the circled strings of letters may well look nonsensical!
John Lampkin’s syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “Oh, No!”
As the title suggests, an O has disappeared from each of the theme answers:
- 23a. ["$%*#& computer!"?], CRASH CURSE.
- 25a. [Spillane's inspiration?], MICKEY MUSE.
- 54a. [Like PETA members?], DOWN ON ALL FURS.
- 83a. [Sugar daddy?], FUNDING FATHER.
- 112a. [Keyboard technique suggested by the instruction "attacca"?], PIANO LUNGE.
- 116a. [Well-mannered sisters?], PROPER NUNS. As opposed to those rabble-rousing nuns who anger the hierarchy.
- 42d. [Short anchor?], CURT REPORTER.
- 37d. ["Thanks, Pierre, nice mug!"?], MERCI, BEAU CUP.
The presence of other O’s in some of the theme answers would be less troublesome if the entire theme followed the same structure, But 42d deviates from the rule the rest of the theme entries follow—that the O is dropped from the last word. And then 37d also deviates in that “beaucoup” gets split into two words for the answer phrase. Everything was so consistent through the six Acrosses…
We have a number of lively long answers in the fill—consider “OKAY BY ME,” SQUEEZE IN, NOT ON A BET, PAPARAZZI, PREQUEL, and TRUE LOVE. And I like CATKINS, a great botanical word.
We also have a cool John Lampkin nature photo that relates to the grid: 6a. [Egret kin seen in hieroglyphs], IBIS. The long-billed white bird. John also sent along a macro photo of a crane fly’s compound EYE (18d), but it gave me a creepy vibe. Big ol’ bug eye up close!
93a: SMELL OUT, [Detect intuitively]? It’s got dictionary support, but “sniff out” has a better Google presence.
Did not know: 59d. [Hawaiian storms], KONAS. “Kona” is not exactly a noun meaning “certain kind of storm.” It’s used to modify the word “storm” and it relates to the western side of the islands. You can read about Kona storms here.
Among my least favorite 7-letter crossword answers is 38d. [Like Crusoe], ENISLED. It’s a literary term that doesn’t get much use in modern vernacular.
Weirdest-looking answer in the grid: 56d. [Former Calif. base], FT. ORD. It looks like F-TORD, cousin to the F-WORD.
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Open 68-worder today in the CrosSynergy:
Let’s start with the crossing fifteens:
- [House coatings with a bit of shine] was SEMI-GLOSS PAINTS – so what is the difference between pearl and eggshell finishes, anyway?
- [Prowl along a football field's edge] clued PACE THE SIDELINE – whoa! I can picture someone doing this (and will likely see much of it in the AFC and NFC finals tomorrow), but as a lexical chunk, it’s not really grabbing me.
If I’m counting correctly, there are no less than 10 other 10-letter entries: the stacked IMPALPABLE, NIA PEEPLES and UNCANNIEST and then SANTA ANITA, EDDIE MONEY and COARSENESS. Then we have the crossing STAGE NAMES, MINESTRONE, MASTICATES and CANTERBURY. I guess I found these [Unremarkable] or just SO-SO. Though the construction is impressive from a low-word count perspective, these entries seem a bit low on the Scrabble value index and not as jazzy as I would like to see in my themeless puzzles. One wonders if we had two or even four more entries if we could get some more unusual fill. What’s your opinion on that?
Karen M. Tracey’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 198″- Sam Donaldson’s review
Before we get to this week’s puzzle, I want to thank Janie for her kind review of my Post Puzzler from last week. I was so thrilled to have my offering chosen for one of the four wild card slots, and I look forward to the next one coming from Evan Birnholz in a few more weeks. Meanwhile, the Post Puzzler editor, Peter Gordon, recently announced that he will accept submissions for another four wildcard slots running from June of this year through March of 2015. If you’ve got a great freestyle puzzle that has never been published, why not try out for a wild card slot? The Cruciverb listserv contains all the submission specifications (look for a January 10, 2014, email from Peter to the listserv).
Okay, on to this week’s 70/31 freestyle from Karen Tracey. This was a pretty smooth solve throughout. I started with the fill-in-the-blank clue [___ Maria], a gimme for AVE, and, building off the V, I got OVERLONG ([In need of some editing], like The Wolf of Wall Street, a terrific film that about 20 or 30 minutes longer than it needs to be). My eye turned to the G, and luckily I knew that [Jets quarterback Smith] referred to GENO. The O at the end led to SFO, the [Calif. airport], and the F there naturally led to ANTIFREEZE as the [Radiator liquid]. Next thing I knew, the whole northeast section had fallen.
But I’ve done my share of Post Puzzlers, so I knew not to get cocky just because I was making good time at the start. Still, I was surprised to see few real obstacles the rest of the way. Luckily I was a fan of Genesis (the band whence Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins became famous), so for me ABACAB was the obvious answer to ["No Reply at All" album]. And while I’ve never read anything in TEK WAR, the William [Shatner series], I’m enough of a Trekkie to be aware of the novels. So the northwest didn’t put up a long fight. Even the names I didn’t know, Bobby HEBB and Abe Vigoda’s TESSIO, didn’t vex me for too long given the straightforward crossings.
Wait, that’s it. Straightforward. That’s the perfect adjective for this puzzle–nothing overly tricky (well, save for my trying both EEG and EKG for the [Hosp. test printout] before getting ECG, but that’s my fault, not the puzzle’s). And nothing especially hard, since the crossings were always there to give a helpful boost without asking too much in return. Even weird stuff like ENWOUND, SQUADRON LEADER, and the oh-heck-how-does-he-spell-his-name Eero AARNIO fell as it should. It was unlike the typical Post Puzzler, where some corner would have me willing to donate a vital organ for headway. While I wouldn’t want something this straightforward every week, this one was a welcome change of pace.
Other items of note:
- For my money, R.E. LEE is subpar fill. It’s not inherently bad, like SER, ICHIROS, SSSSS, or CTN, say. But still, it’s pretty ugly. But here’s where a good clue can be the lipstick to the entry’s pig. [Pulitzer-winning biography of a Confederate general] does this well.
- I like a little trivia in my puzzles, so [Approx. amount of heat given off by burning a wooden match] struck me as a great clue for BTU.
- Interesting to see a puzzle with both YOKE and OXEN, as well as both HEW and RAZE. They aren’t connected by their clues, however, so maybe this is something you only notice if you’re staring at a completed grid and wondering what the heck to write about it. Guess that means I should call it a post.
Favorite entry = OBSEQUIOUS, meaning [Fawning]. Favorite clue = [Inner opening?] for ENTO.
Henry Hook’s CRooked crossword, “By George” — pannonica’s write-up
A slew of puns involving the surnames of folks named George. All men, though. No George Eliot, no George Sand, no Phyllis George, no Inara George (neither of which fit the pattern anyway).
- 23a. [Music for actor George?] CLOONEY TUNES (Looney … ).
- 36a. [Put the squeeze on director George?] PRESSURE CUKOR ( … cooker).
- 61a. [Supply boxer George's wardrobe?] HABIT FOREMAN ( …-forming).
- 69a. [Seedy singer George?] SESAME STRAIT ( … Street). Cute clue.
- 93a. [Material for general George?] PATTON LEATHER (patent … ).
- 108a. [Friendliness from comic George?] GOBEL WARMING (global … ).
- 3d. [Coach George's handheld appliance?] IMMERSION BLANDA ( … blender). I remember seeing him identified as a placekicker in football, something like the oldest NFL player? I think he may have also been the coach concurrently. Was he more famous as a coach than a player?
- 45a. [Author George's autobiography?] ORWELL: THAT’S LIFE (oh well, …). I’ve taken a bit of punctuational liberty in reporting the title.
This is a standard type theme, puns about X, and it works just fine. Some of the theme entries are great, some not so much. CUKOR, BLANDA, and GOBEL may be toward the obscure end of the scale, but I knew two of them and I suspect other solvers will have a different mix of familiarities.
- Brassy, starting out at one-across with CHILIAD [Group of 1000]. Comes from Greek, as you might be able to guess.
- Oh, a note about my solve. There’s an asterisk next to my solve time because I couldn’t find my single incorrect letter, which the auto-checker showed me is the crossing of 8d and 19a, two television things. ["Wipeout" airer] and ["Everybody Loves Raymond" surname] – I went with AMC and MARONE; the former is a cable station and the latter seemed reasonable as a slight alteration of the star’s name, Romano. But the answers are in fact ABC and BARONE.
- More television: 1d [Crime-based cable channel] CLOO; new to me, but don’t most cable channels have a criminal, quasi-extortionist business model? 67a [Cat first seen on television in 1928] FELIX; yes, you read that right. a little statuette placed on a spinning turntable was filmed and broadcast for two hours each day.
- Industrial-strength crosswordese: Jewish months! 102a [Ab follower] ELUL. 12d [Sicilian commune] ENNA. 4d [Meadow (var.)] LEY.
- New to me: 74a [Disregard, in a chat room] IGGY. Presumably a “cute” shortened form of ignore.
- 47d [Wallflower-like] VERY SHY doesn’t seem a strong enough lexical chunk for a crossword entry. On the other hand, 95a [Inconvenient, and then some] for A HASSLE, to me, falls just barely on this side of acceptability.
- 86d [African pullover] DASHIKI; see also 15d [Blanket with a big hole in it?] PONCHO. 32a [Engage in histrionics] EMOTE; see also 2d [Scene stealers] HAMS.
- Can’t figure out what the clue for 97a is supposed to mean. [Like 600f us] ASIAN. Thought it might be another one of those transcribing-to-puz-format artifacts, but the pdf version is the same.
- 100a ["Be a voice, not __"] AN ECHO. Unfamiliar with this saying, and I guessed A NOISE. As in, “that’s-a no noise, that’s a sound!” which may be peculiar to my experience and not in general parlance.
- Cutest clue: 25a [Pair of pills, perhaps] DOSE, which is also the name of the Latin Playboy’s second album. – “Lemon ‘n Ice“
- Least favorite clue: 6d [Closer to being right?] ACUTER. Even with the question mark, it doesn’t make much sense.
- Favorite in-clue vocabulary: 33d [Pertinacious one] MULE.
Too much weak and minor fill for my liking, especially short stuff such as TRAC, ON ME, BE NO, IS IN, AS OF, ECTO-, and so on. Medium-length entries TOMMY GUN, PINAFORE, FLAMENCO, PALOOKAS, DASHIKI are fun but too fewandfarbetween.