Bruce Haight and Peter Collins’s New York Times crossword
Here’s a grid-art theme inspired by Benjamin Franklin, with cross-referenced answer pairs that pair up with diagonal mirror symmetry and a picture in the black squares. Personally, I thought the kite made of black squares looked bogus—too square—but I asked my husband across the room what he saw and he said “a kite, with a tail.”
- 16a. [With 23-Down, what 27-Across/32-Down is often credited with], DISCOVERING.
- 23d. [See 16-Across], ELECTRICITY.
- 27a. [With 32-Down, person associated with the scene depicted in this puzzle's grid], BENJAMIN.
- 32d. [See 27-Across], FRANKLIN.
- 35a. [With 44-Down, advice to 27-Across/32-Down?], GO FLY.
- 44d. [See 35-Across], A KITE.
Highlights in the fill: DR. DOOM, OLD-TIMER, JELL-O, PHENOMS. Lowlights that made me scowl: Oh, good lord, two different [W.W. I river]s, MARNE and YSER? Partials A DAY and A TEST trying to taint the theme’s A KITE by their similarity. Crosswordese OLEO—hey! I was just admiring Stan Newman’s recent yard sale purchase. For a quarter, he got an empty oleomargarine box from 1925. Some of his Facebook friends defended the word OLEO, but they seemed to mostly be people in their 60s whose parents used the word.
I was perplexed by 19d. ["Buffy the Vampire Slayer" girl]. DARLA? I don’t remember a Darla other than the one from Little Rascals and the one I know in real life. I watched most of Buffy, too. Googled it to learn that Darla was a blonde vampire; zero recollection of her, but I’m sure the rabid Buffyverse fans will be delighted.
3.5 stars from me.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Three in a Row”
I’m guessing the theme answers were not terrifically easy to come up with, but the straightforward cluing meant the theme played pretty dry for me. ALPHABET RUN is clued 53a. [Group of three can be heard phonetically in the answer to each of the three starred clues]. (Shouldn’t there be a “that” before “can be heard”?) Here are those three:
- 20a. [Wind, cold, etc.*], THE ELEMENTS. Sounds like “the L-M-Nts.”
- 32a. [Pup in the Arctic*], BABY SEAL. Sounds like “bA-B-Ceal.”
- 40a. [Former Haitian president*], ARISTIDE. Sounds like “R-S-Teed.” Although I would pronounce the name more like “R-ees-Teed,” so the vowel sound in “ess” seems off base.
Fill highlights include an outmoded ROLODEX, SKUNKED (clued as [Won by a shutout]), DONE FOR, TEX-MEX, KABOOM, and GOSSIPY. Lowlights include STN., TOP O’, OONA, OSS, and A-ONE.
Lots of names in the grid, eh? I zipped through them. Familiar with OTTO, not so much with BEV clued as [Roseanne's sitcom mom]. Knew MAYNE, ARISTIDE, RAINN, KIDD, EMMYLOU, SAO, OONA, ATARI, OSLO, YMCA, HOYT, REBA, UTAH, LEVI, MORAN, MIDOL, DONOVAN, ERIK/SATIE, and NASA. Over 20 proper nouns! Definitely on the far end of the spectrum.
3.5 stars from me.
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “After the Ante” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Anyone up for a card game? Today’s CrosSynergy puzzle features theme phrases that end with the consecutive steps when beginning a poker game, after the ante:
- A song I only vaguely recall, [Jump 'N' the Saddle Band '80s novelty hit] clued THE CURLY SHUFFLE – let’s take a listen. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!
- [Failed to qualify for Saturday at a golf tournament] was a MISSED THE CUT – from what I recall about pro golf, major tournaments are four rounds, and there is a cut after the first two rounds, winnowing the field down to the top 48 or so.
- [Finalizes an agreement] clued SEALED THE DEAL – nice alternate meaning of the word “deal” here.
- After yesterday’s Polonius blunder, I grimaced when I saw ["Romeo and Juliet," e.g.] or a SHAKESPEARE PLAY – so where’s the -AN? Speaking of which, how many say LEAPED instead of LEAPT for [Began a bungee jump]?
Clever theme idea and a nice presentation, with the steps following in order from top to bottom. Timely, too, with the [Entertainment awards usually presented in March] or the OSCARS. (I tried the ORCAS at first, but was a letter short.) Not as big a fan of [Some Army NCOs] or the sibilant SSGTS, especially as it crossed the equally obscure (to me anyway), T-SLOT. Back in the plus column, I enjoyed ["Ready whenever you are"] or “I’M SET” along with BIG MACS. Finally, I felt the crossing between the [Hungarian composer Franz] LEHAR with the [Dockworkers' org.] or ILA at the L might be a bit harsh for beginning solvers.
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle, “Stirring the Pot”—Janie’s review
For these still-cold winter days, Liz has cooked up something warm and hearty for us: an anagram puzzle with four iterations of the same base word (which we get in a reveal). She’s “stirring the” letters found in “pot” ROAST [Sunday dinner that's "mixed up"...]. And behold the great range of ways our roast gets served up:
- 17A. LADY ASTOR [First female member of the British Parliament]. A beauty, and American-born, to boot, though (fortunately…) her sphere of influence seems to have been rather narrow since her political beliefs were, well, abhorrent. You can decide for yourself…
- 11D. KINDA-SORTA [Somewhat, informally]. I’m more familiar with “sorta-kinda,” so it was interesting to see that kinda-sorta gets some 3,520,000 Google hits and “sorta-kinda” lags considerably with 2,270,000. I stand enlightened!
- 30D. RATSO RIZZO ["Midnight Cowboy" role]. Nice. While Ratso gets lots of play as puzzle fill, it’s not often at all that this name shows up in its entirety. And those double-Zs make for some fine crossing fill, too, giving us MAZDA and BIZET.
- 66A. ASTRO POPS [Missile-shaped suckers created by rocket scientists]. Really! Also, “the longest lasting lollipop on earth.” Modeled on the three-stage rocket. Really! (I suppose dentists everywhere rejoiced when, after an eight-year hiatus, Astro Pops were “relaunched” two years ago.)
As if this theme fill weren’t strong enough, there is loads in the remainder to love as well. Perhaps most appropriately, that old chestnut “NUTS TO YOU!” clued as ["Go away!"] makes an appearance crossing Lady Astor. My sentiments exactly! We also get the meaty ULTIMATUM clued by example ["Stop fooling around, or we're through!" is one]. Another meaty word? CURATOR. SCREECH is a great word, too, especially when humorously clued with a pun that does double-duty: [Sound from a driver who's braking bad?]. What a smile-maker that is in combination with ["Breaking Bad" drug] for METH. (I’m not advocating drug use! I’m just talkin’ about well-crafted, big-picture cluing!) GOES APE [Freaks out] is another that keeps the non-theme fill lively.
And how do I love thee, [Let the air out?] BURP combo? How genteel! No doubt the very way Lady Astor herself would have spoken of the act. Me, I always think of my grandfather who, after releasing a mighty, meal-end burp (perhaps after a generous helping of pot roast…) would excuse himself by announcing to his giggling grandchildren, “Ugh—my shoes are too tight!” (As a kid, this never grew old…) [Gifts for Rapunzel] and COMBS is another wonderful, fresh pairing. Was a little surprised to see Jared LETO clued in connection with Mr. Nobody (which I was totally unfamiliar with—but which looks like something I want to take in) and not his very high-profile (and as of this past Sunday, Oscar-winning) appearance in Dallas Buyers Club. No more “Mr. Nobody” he!
Now, I dearly understand why this happens but I have to report that for my tastes, there was too much “alphabet soup” in the grid. SSNS, MSRP, RSS, RSTU (even with its cultural connection to concert hall seating… [and yes, I know this last example is not an ABBR, but I think you see what I'm getting at with the "letter-ness" of this fill]). I know they’re all legit and stand for something but when they appear in the same grid with LBOS, RCAS and HMOS (which are also legit and also stand for something), it’s a bit like piling Damian on Pythias (as a writing mentor once expressed it). More words are always appreciated!
And just to conclude a bit on the softer, less nit-picky side:
ACPT this coming weekend. You don’t have to be a speed-whiz to have a great time. If you love words (and if you’re solving and/or reading this blog, my guess is you do…), give it a go! “Come on in, the water’s fine!”
Jeffrey Wechsler’s Los Angeles Times crossword
It didn’t take me long to cotton to the theme, having run into mentions of paczki (that’s pronounced “poonchki,” and they’re Polish jelly doughnuts) and Carnaval and Ash Wednesday to see where this was heading. Today is Mardi Gras, aka FAT TUESDAY (59a. [What 3/4/2014 is, and a hint to 18-, 31-, 37- and 44-Across]), and the other theme answers have F.A.T. initials:
- 18a. [Eternally], FOR ALL TIME.
- 31a. ["Let's move on to something else"], FORGET ABOUT THAT. Possibly a tad iffy as crossword fill?
- 37a. [Building safety procedure], FIRE ALARM TEST. Feels contrived as entries go.
- 44a. [Some studio-based educators], FINE ART TEACHERS. I went straight to FINE ARTS and ran out of room for TEACHERS. I guess both forms work, but the entry feels a mite arbitrary, as “random subject” + TEACHERS.
I don’t have better/zippier F.A.T. phrases coming to mind, but these ones didn’t thrill me. Mardi Gras itself is a lot more fun!
The five-piece theme occupies a lot of space and locks down chunks of the grid, leading me to feel grumbly about the fill. -ITE, AÑO, IRONER, IT’S A, LORI, MEAS. and WTS., AN I, -ISM, Seussian WHOS … not my cup of tea. There aren’t any spiffy long entries in the fill to draw attention, but I do like the quaintness of SWAIN and PANSY in the northeast, and … well, that’s about all that caught my eye in a happy way.
Wonder why 53a: ASH isn’t clued with reference to Ash Wednesday (which is tomorrow). I’ll bet the constructor had it tied to the theme and the editor thought it was a distraction.