Happy Valentine’s Day, my dears! If I’d known you were coming, I’d have baked you a Valentine’s crossword cookie.
Bruce Haight’s New York Times crossword
I was thinking that this might be a debut, but over at Wordplay, Bruce Haight reminds us that he made the infamous BANDORE-crosses-DENARII puzzle. I admit that today’s puzzle is an improvement on that one, but I didn’t love it. The holiday mini-theme is cute:
- 36a. Phrase from Virgil appropriate for Valentine’s Day], LOVE CONQUERS ALL. Love can’t conquer death, though. (Sorry, dark mood. I blame Wednesday’s puzzle with the grim nihilist mini-theme.)
- 8d. Delivers a romantic Valentine’s Day surprise, maybe], POPS THE QUESTION. That answer made me wonder if this was one of those secret wedding proposal crosswords, but I had a hard time finding plausible names in the fill. Ponte Yertle met Theda Arpel at army camp and wants to spend his life with her? I’m not sold.
There are a lot of proper names in this one, which likely jacked up the difficulty level for many solvers. And they’re not really common ones, either:
- 18a. [1970s NBC courtroom drama], THE D.A.
- 20a. [Lupin of fiction], ARSENE. (This one gets a cross-reference, too: 27a. [20-Across, e.g., informally], TEC. Michael Sharp teaches noir/detective fiction and he assures me that tec as shorthand for “detective” is simply not out there in the literature.)
- 54a. [___ Vedra Beach, Fla.], PONTE. Golf town of about 30,000? Not particularly notable.
- 1d. [Adrien of cosmetics], ARPEL.
- 7d. [Fate personified, in mythology], MOIRA. Greek mythology (I would have guessed Celtic); plural is Moirai.
- 17a. [Line of suits?], PINSTRIPE.
- 11d. [TV listings info], GUEST STAR. Don’t recall seeing this phrase in a puzzle before.
- 32d. [It was used to make the first compass], LODESTONE.
- 36d. [Fictional island with a small population], LILLIPUT.
There are rather more of the ugly little things than I hoped to see. ENE, LADY’S, TEC, ESSO, ITO, -ITA, ABRA-, RAH (I know I’m not the only one tired of seeing RAH in puzzles), APO, EPI-, U.S. spelled-out number ONE, and TUN. Please! No more than four of these sorts of answers. Also a lot of foreign content: German OPA, Spanish REINA, French RUE and CRI, and an English plural of a Russian word in NYETS (Anyone here speak Russian? Is that remotely kosher?).
2.9 stars from me. I like juicier fill and I like fewer ugly bits.
Brandon Hensley’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Scraping the Surface” — pannonica’s write-up
The scraping of the title is a bit superfluous; it’s the surface that’s relevant here.
- 16a. [Deliverer of the Ain't I a Woman" speech] SOJOURNER TRUTH.
- 27a. [1927 lander at Paris] SPIRIT OF ST LOUIS.
- 44a. [Microeconomics concept] OPPORTUNITY COST, which I’m sure is a real thing, and which also sounds very Wall Street Journal.
- 55a. [Sellers of oddities] CURIOSITY SHOPS.
So what’s the link? The first word of each is the name of a (33a) MARS ROVER, described as [Explorer at the beginning of 16, 27, 44, or 55 Across]. The wording of the clue had me scratching my head, as I encountered it before any of the other four—was envisioning a singular explorer, a human one at that.
The five themers take up a sizable chunk of real estate—67 squares—yet the ballast fill doesn’t suffer overmuch in the affair. Certainly there are the abbrevs. and the fills-in-the-blank and the crosswordese, but only a handful. What there is a lot of is plurals, from ALS and AIMS in the top left corner to the bonanza of CURIOSITY SHOPS/SSTS/WONTONS/ESCAPES abetted by PSST in the bottom right.
- Quasithematic material: 30a [Common countdown start] TEN, 61a [Planets, poetically] ORBS, 18d [Feature of Earth's axis] TILT … Oh, fine. 31a also.
- Vertically stacked 7-pairs in each corner. From best to worst: APRICOT/SPELUNK, RATS OUT/OPHELIA, ISOTOPE/MAJOR IN, WONTONS/ESCAPES.
- Greatest CHE-vibe: 26a [Word sometimes written with a circumflex] RÔLE. Runner-up: 8d [Large body of text] CORPUS.
- Trivia: 19a [Country that had banana-shaped stamps] TONGA. In many versions over the years. See also 17d [Fruit of Jamaica] UGLI.
- Favorite bit: The symmetrical pair of 26d [MGM logo sound] ROAR and the later parody 33d [MTM logo sound] MEOW. The former is Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s iconic lion Leo, with the (frequently referenced in crosswords) motto “Ars Gratia Artis” and the latter was Mary Tyler Moore’s television production company, featuring Mimsie the cat.
- Oh, right. The banana:
- Whoops. Once more:
Alan Arbesfeld’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Valentine’s Day Message” – Dave Sullivan’s review
The first words of five phrases spell out the title to this Beatles’ tune, appropriate for Valentine’s Day.
- I first thought ["In any event..."] was “BE THAT AS IT MAY…,” but ’twas “ALL THE SAME…” – “THAT BEING THE CASE…” is another way of saying too. Where you live probably determines the most popular way of saying that.
- ["Really!"] clued “YOU DON’T SAY!” – I guess I don’t have much to say about this one.
- [Like some financial aid] was NEED-BASED – “needs based” seems the more appropriate term to my ear, but I don’t have the time to do a comparative search with 12 inches of snow outside waiting for me to shovel!
- We go back to the exclamatory ["Are you serious?"] for “IS THAT TRUE?” – I’m more likely to ask if someone has got to be $hitting me.
- [Billet-doux] clued LOVE LETTER – “doux” is sweet in French, so it’s literally a “sweet letter.”
- [Group whose message song may be found from the first words of...] clued BEATLES – should there be a “with the” in there? Nice pairing with their 50th anniversary celebrated last week.
Lots of theme material in this one, and the fill holds up well, too. I enjoyed the stacked SHUTEYE, CAPITOL and ACTS OUT in the northwest, as well as ROAD HOG, “NAME ONE!” and EXEMPTS in the northeast. Not so fond of DONEE or RAL, but let’s end on a high note with ABBA’s first hit WATERLOO. Dig the boots on the guitarist! Evad out.
Xan Vongsathorn’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review
It feels like a good while since I last saw Xan Vongsathorn’s spectacular byline! Today’s theme is quite imaginative: YOUFIRST tells us that Mr. Vongsathorn has taken phrases whose second letter is U and moved the U to the beginning of the phrase, clueing the resulting phrase “wacky-style”.
- 17a, [Vessel storing a cash stash?], URNFORONESMONEY. (Run).
- 25a, [Layered computer connections?], USBSANDWICH. (Sub).
- 44a, [Pet named for writer Sinclair?], UPTONTHEDOG. (Put).
- 58a, [Tantrum that devolves into hysterical gibberish?], UNCLEARMELTDOWN. (Nuclear).
- 62a, ["Lead the way!", and a phonetic hint to this puzzle's theme], YOUFIRST.
Quite a lot of theme acreage, but Mr. Vongsathorn still fit in a few nice long answers: IPODNANO, ADAMSRIB, and SCREWEDUP (waiting to see if there is one last person alive who thinks this is vulgar…) [Cozy spot?] for TEAPOT was my favourite clue, with the simple [Hedge row] for SHRUBS a close second.
["Lady Jane Grey" playwright], ROWE & ["Emperor of the Air" novelist], CANIN were a pair of high-culture unknowns for me. If CANIN was [Royal ___, dog food brand] though, I’d have been all over it though!
Very nice puzzle! 4 Stars. I’ll leave with [Actor Hugh], LAURIE at his finest in A Bit of Fry and Laurie…
Alice Long’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “A Kiss and a Hug” — pannonica’s write-up
In time for Valentine’s Day, this puzzle arrives with its one-two of a “kiss and a hug.” That is, a bigram of the letters X and O—common representations of the two affectionate gestures—are inserted into base phrases for new and interesting results.
- 23a. [Full-figured member of the herd?] BUXOM STEER (bum steer).
- 25a. [Correct the rhymes in a single song?] FIX ONE TUNE (fine tune).
- 44a. [Group of friars who invaded Britain?] SAXON FRANCISCANS (San Franciscans).
- 66a. [Mollycoddle a half dozen furry mammals?] BABY SIX OTTERS (babysitters).
- 86a. [Reorganize the staff under Larry Ellison?] MIX ORACLE WORKERS (miracle workers).
- 105a. ["Who should I get to tend my windmill" response?] NOT QUIXOTE (not quite).
- 108a. [Bad financial development for screenwriters?] TAX ON LINES (tan lines).
I can’t say that any of these thrilled me. They come across as one-dimensionally wacky. Aside from SITTERS to SIX OTTERS and QUITE to QUIXOTE, all the alterations occur in the first part of the phrases, which is to say the modifying portion. As such, the noun is unchanged and the new version doesn’t seem as distant from the original—WORKERS are still WORKERS, a STEER remains a STEER (I think), and so on. True, the TUNE goes from verb to noun, but even that doesn’t feel so radical.
Just a quick barnstorming analytic tour of the theme clues and answers: WSJ readers are presumably keyed in and know that Larry Ellison is the co-founder and CEO of the software company Oracle; why not indicate SAXONs as ancient Germanic people rather than invoking the conquests of some of them? it’s enough to clue OTTERS as merely “furry mammals”? “‘Who should I get to tend my windmill’”??
All right, moving on.
- NBA crossing in the southeast might be off-putting for non-fans. 115a [Porter of the Washington Wizards] OTTO, and the oblique 104d [Kidd's players] referring to coach Jason Kidd and the Brooklyn NETS. Fortunately, it’s a fairly obvious guess to fill in OT–O (as a name) and NE–S with a T.
- 102a [Brought up to speed] is CUED IN, which sounds odd to my ear, yet is reminiscent of CLUED IN, which has a slightly different implication. Google’s Ngram shows good support for both, so perhaps it’s a regional thing?
- Greatly appreciated the clue for 52a RITAS [Wilson and Coolidge]. Not only do we get the presidential misdirection, but both are singers (though the former is primarily an actress). See also 117a [First resident of the White House] ADAMS. John Adams, neither a plural first name nor a singer (as far as I know), but indeed a president.
- 114a [Crop circle creator] definitely needs something more for the answer to be ALIEN. At least a question mark, or better yet a “, supposedly”
In general, however, the cluing is typical for Shenkian ventures, which are AS A RULE (37d) varied, informative, clever. Representative examples: the twofold wordplay of 14d [They capitalize letters] TENANTS, the evocativeness of 75a [Landing sites for dragonflies] LILY PADS, the colloquial touch of 83d ["Do you see me laughing?'] NOT FUNNY, and the geographical trivia of 55d [About 7% of the United States] TEXAS. Style of this quality can overcome a mediocre or even subpar theme. Solid crossword.