If you like contest crosswords with meta answers, you’ll want to check out the new weekly Vulture Crossword Contest. Vulture is the online arm of New York magazine, which already runs a crossword by Cathy Allis and has just become the coolest magazine around by adding a second crossword that includes a meta! Matt Gaffney will now be making two different contest puzzles each week. I did the first Vulture puzzle already and hope to be selected at random to get a New York print or iPad subscription.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s New York Times crossword
Oh, man. I really tried to give this puzzle a fair shake but I just did not enjoy it. Three fourths of the 15s in the central quad-stack include -TIONAL? Come on now. (Is that a record? There’s also a TION in 5d. Does Xword Info track word fragment records?) And the one that doesn’t is the not-dictionary-grade phrase MALARIA PARASITE (38a. [What a tropical tourist definitely doesn't want to bring home])? That’s the sort of phrase that should reside in the clue; I’d be fine with PLASMODIUM FALCIPARUM in the grid. (I enjoy the show The Monsters Inside Me, so bring on the parasites!)
- 18a. [It'll keep a roof over your head], LIVING WAGE.
- 23a. [They soar at the opera], HIGH NOTES.
- 56a. [Street view], STOREFRONT. I am partial to neighborhood places like the Unabridged Bookstore or Rocks Lakeview that have spread over time to occupy three storefronts. I use “storefront” as a unit of measure.
- 19d. [Finder's query], “WHAT IS THIS?” I like this not in the way it’s clued, but because it EVOKEs the Internet meme “what is this I don’t even” for me.
And then there’s this:
- 24d. [Couldn't hit pitches], HAD A TIN EAR. … What is this I don’t even. Can we also use HAD A DIET COKE and HAD A PUPPY?
- 41a. [Some Windows systems], NTS. Wait. Been seeing this for a few years, but can you pluralize Windows NT like this? If you can’t have plural “iOS 7s” or “Maverickses,” then no.
- 32d. [Suffix with Edward], IANA. Or is that an -a tacked on to Edwardian? Not sold on -iana as a discrete suffix.
- Too much boring (to me) stuff like ATP, AFT, NTS, CII, ABBE, REHEAR, T-MEN, A DIET, IANA, XENIA, and AT ‘EM. Don’t get cute with your little-known Scrabbly Ohio towns with a clue like 48d. [City with major avenues named Cincinnati and Columbus]; there’s no payoff. Wikipedia informs us, “As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 25,719. Xenia is the third largest city by population in Greene County, behind Fairborn and Beavercreek.”
Did not know: 27d. [Singer who's a Backstreet Boy's brother], AARON CARTER. I have heard of erstwhile teen-idol singers Aaron and Nick Carter, but don’t ever ask me to name any of the Backstreet Boys or the New Kids on the Block. They were after my time and there are too many of them. See also: One Direction. Five is too many!
There were a lot of groany bits in this grid and, for my money, nowhere near enough “Oh!” and “Aha!” or “Ha!” bits to tide me over. Three unenthused stars from me.
Alan Arbesfeld’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Downloads” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Welcome to the last day in February, unless this is a leap year… Even if your long division skills are a bit rusty, knowing that presidential years fall on leap years (with the notable exception of the upcoming year 2100), helps. Today’s CS puzzle features either 3 or 5 theme entries (see below) in the down direction, which end with a word that is a synonym of LOAD:
Let’s start with the three I am sure of:
- [1955 #1 hit by Tennessee Ernie Ford] was SIXTEEN TONS – dig the finger snappin’ rendition here.
- [Mule, for one] had nothing to do with shoes as I first thought, but BEAST OF BURDEN
- [Boxing division] clued HEAVYWEIGHT
So what about these two that seem to be the right length and position to be additional theme entries?
- [Restaurant companion] was a DINNER DATE – scratching my head here how “date” relates to “load.”
- [Nervous wreck] was a BASKET CASE – same question here about “case” and “load.” Or maybe “basket” is the operative term here?
Apologies if my brain seems to be stuck in the frozen weather that has gripped the northeast recently. I’m completely expecting a head-slap AHA moment once someone explains all of this to me in the comments section. Speaking of the northeast, I enjoyed the FRISBEE / BEANBALL action there, whereas the partial A COG (as in [Slip ___ (blunder)]) has got to be one of the stranger partials I’ve seen. I grimaced as well on [Very wide shoe sizes] or EEES–eek! Ending on a high note, though, I did like the consonant-rich TV SPOT / RSVP crossing at the V.
Jacob Stulberg’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Growing by Degrees” — pannonica’s write-up
Glossed over the title, completed what was inferably the revealer (no circled letters) without reading the clue and before seeing any of the theme answers in full. So perhaps it’s understandable that I worried it might be another version of Yakov BenDavid’s recent Sunday NYT crossword (“Passing Grades“) or Anna Schechtman’s Wednesday offering from a few years ago (“Grade Inflation“). Thankfully it turned out to be a different animal.
49-across is [Process that yields the answers to 19, 24, and 43 Across?] GRADE INFLATION. But instead of “promoting” typical grade-letters (A, B, C, D, F) appearing in in fill, the answers feature base phrases that have typical abbreviations for postgraduate degrees inserted. (addendum: as pointed out in the comments, the answer is actually GRAD INFLATION (which I can attest is easily misread!). In this light, the degrees augment graduates, not grades.)
- 19a. [Nicorette connoisseur?] SMOKING GUM FAN (smoking gun, MFA (Master of Fine Arts)).
- 24a. [Spurn, as a just-opened present?] JAM BACK IN THE BOX (jack-in-the-box, MBA (Master of Business Administration). My favorite of the lot; evocative image.
- 43a. [Prepare to connect printers to a computer?] ADD SERIAL CABLES. (aerial cables, DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery). This one was the most difficult for me, and in fact encompassed the last part of the grid I completed. Serial (and parallel) cables are nowadays obsolete, replaced by USB, wi-fi, and Bluetooth, and “aerial cable” is not a phrase I’d encountered before (though it’s certainly a thing).
Unusual 13/15/15/13 breakdown, and possibly as a result there are no non-theme fill longer than eight letters: a pair of those, a pair of sevens. And I was dearly tempted to write in STRINGED or STRUMMED for 37d [Like some instruments] SURGICAL, but discretion and patience won out. Ditto for SHRED vs RIP UP at one-across.
Nothing very zippy in the ballast fill, but nothing overly clunky either. A detectable sense of playful style throughout much of the cluing (e.g., [Word before or after house] for BOAT; cluecho for 34a BEES and 63a ANTS; [Looks into?] for X-RAYS) elevates the solving experience.
Alice Long’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Interacting Oscars” — pannonica’s write-up
In the main, the theme answers were all fairly easy in this timely crossword, but I never fully acquired my sea legs for the ballast fill, at least in certain stowaway parts. Right off the bat with one-across [Call from a cutter], which turned out to be the nautical AHOY. But let’s recap the feature presentation: repurposing the surnames of Oscar-winning actors. In the process, modifying nouns and compound word components are transformed into verbs (hence the “interacting”—also, acting!).
- 23a. [Steer clear of Oscar winner Holly?] DUCK HUNT.
- 25a. [Provide accommodations for Oscar winner Peter?] HOUSE FINCH.
- 41a. [Make Oscar winner Geraldine a dame] TITLE PAGE.
- 43a. [Boycott Oscar winner Frederic's movies?] PROTEST MARCH.
- 63a. [Do a caricature of Oscar winner Jeff?] DRAW BRIDGES.
- 74a. [Fight with Oscar winner Sally?] BATTLE FIELD.
- 94a. [Hold Oscar winner Helen dear?] TREASURE HUNT.
- 97a. [Make Oscar winner Maggie secure?] LOCK SMITH.
- 116a. [Stick Oscar winner Jeremy in a sauna] STEAM IRONS.
- 118a. [Ring up Oscar winner Shirley?] PHONE BOOTH.
Ah, but then the puzzle takes on the quality of an epic, featuring a supporting cast of seeming thousands:
- 19a ["Peyton Place" nominee Turner] LANA.
- 60a [Oscar-winning director Kazan] ELIA.
- 86a [Best Picture winner "Out of __"] AFRICA.
- 112a ["West Side Story" Oscar winner Moreno] RITA.
- 1d [2004 Oscar nominee Alan] ALDA.
- 3d [Film whose "Falling Slowly" won the Best Original Song Oscar] ONCE.
- 84d ["The French Connection" Oscar winner Hackman] GENE.
- 101d [James who won an Oscar for the "Titanic" score] HORNER.
- Honorable mentions to: 10a [Mrs. Butler's maiden name] O’HARA, 73a [Indiana Jones find] ARK, 113a [Laurel and Hardy. e.g.] DUO, 7d [Film critic, at times] RATER, 33d [Russell's "Tombstone" role] EARP
(first name/surname mismatch), 35d ["Frozen" snowman] OLAF, 68d [Name on a marquee] STAR.
These don’t feel forced or shoehorned, and they add to the celebratory hype of the event. But the breakout performances belong to the cluing:
- Continuing with the nautical introduction, there’s also 37a [Tender tenders] SAILORS, 40a [Arctic explorer John] RAE, 44d [They involve revolting hands] MUTINIES, 2d [Ferry, say] HAUL. More tenuously, 125a [Aboard] ONTO, 55a [Sea sound] ROAR, 9d [Baltique ou Caspienne, par example] MER.
- Favorite clue: 90d [Champagne pop] PÈRE. Runners-up: 64d [Cost of quarters] RENT, 99d [This answer is hard] CEMENT. Award of Special Merit: 75d [Engage in cerebration] THINK.
- Various echoic clue pairs and triples.
- Least favorite fill: REGRAB (91d).
- Tough spots: 69a [Erstwhile Treasury offerings] E-BONDS (before I could confirm the crossing TEL). 76d [Wetland bloodsucker] DEER FLY, not something hirudine. 106a [Flowering plant also called plumbago] LEADWORT.
- Lifetime achievement statuette goes to full name (for once) old-school crosswordese AL OERTER, 31a [Four-time Olympic discus champion].
Fun, immersive crossword.
Daniel Landman’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review
Thank you to Doug Peterson for filling in yesterday and for the kind words.
The best part of this puzzle by Daniel Landman is the cute, simple reveal: GIGI. It implies that the letters GG are added to the 5 longest phrases, creating new whimsical, fantastical answers. It’s subtle, but I also admired the sequence of the theme answers: GGLE, GGY, GGLE, GGY and then a rogue GGS. I haven’t investigated thoroughly, but I imagine most plausible “add GG” phrases will use the patterns seen in the first four. Anyway… the theme answers:
- 18a, [Non-magical "Harry Potter" animal?], MUGGLEDEER. Muggles are “regular” non-wizard people in the Harry Potter universe, FYI.
- 23a, [Camembert left out in the sun too long?], SAGGYCHEESE. You know, I don’t think this clue works. That’s not what Camembert would do if it were out in the sun too long. At least I don’t think so. Anyone posh enough to have Camembert available to test this?
- 37a, [Woman's enticing movements?], FEMININEWIGGLES. Sort of vaguely objectifying, but I can’t put my finger on why.
- 52a, [Miracle in the mire?], BOGGYWONDER. Doug Peterson will appreciate the shout out to Dick Grayson.
- 58a, [Periodical dedicated to stylish boots?], UGGSWEEKLY. Always good to finish with the best answer! I do dispute the use of the word “stylish” though!
The grid is soundly constructed and well-balanced to accommodate the five-answer theme. It doesn’t have any non-theme answers longer than six letters, but that’s a side-effect of what appears to be very careful placing of black squares to avoid hard-to-fill zones. Among those sixes, SUNGOD and OBIWAN were my faves. On the other hand, I was bit perturbed about [Annoy], MOLEST. Would you then also use RAPE and clue it as [Canola]??
There were a couple of mini-themes. LIONS, HYENA and GNU form an African fauna set. Mr. Landman also placed GEKKO and GREEK adjacent to each other, which is cute.
This puzzle is mostly about the theme. A cute revealer and a few fun puns make for around 3.5 stars for me.