Five post-ACPT remarks:
- I laid eyes on the rarest of cruciverbal unicorns, His Honor HH, Henry Hook. He was perfectly genial when we chatted, but of course, if I had said something dumb, he’d surely have insulted me. (I would expect no less.) We marveled at the people who will publicly proclaim their ignorance by asking what something means when they would get an answer much faster if they’d just Google it. Henry, here’s a handy link for Let Me Google That For You.
- If you didn’t attend ACPT and you didn’t take part in the online tournament, I encourage you to take advantage of the “play by mail” option. $20 gets you the full set of puzzles (… which are good training for next year’s ACPT), and you can submit your solutions and solving times to find out where you would’ve placed at the tournament.
- I also met another cruciverbal unicorn, pannonica. She came to the Brooklyn Marriott for a day and attended the Team Fiend dinner. (Team Fiend is awesome, aren’t they? Those of you who’ve supported Diary of a Crossword Fiend over the past year covered the expenses of running the site as well as treating the team to dinner. Many thanks to all of our supporters!)
- Speaking of Team Fiend, we will soon be seeing contributions from a couple more writers. The first is the ebullient Adesina Koiki, a sportswriter and play-by-play broadcaster. Ade first attended the ACPT in 2012 and quickly fell in with a rowdy crowd, so you know he’s good people. He’ll review some puzzles for us. And constructor/editor/writer/ethnomusicologist Ben Tausig will write the occasional thinkpiece, classing up the joint immeasurably.
- Part of the Saturday-evening events at ACPT was a talk by teen constructor/editor David Steinberg about the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project and about historical trends in crossword constructing by women. I wasn’t in the ballroom for David’s talk but heard a summary. Suffice it to say, I’ll put up another Women in Crosswords post on the topic after there’s a YouTube video available for us all to watch.
Edited to add: And a sixth thing I meant to mention—Regular Fiend commenter Ben Coe won the B finals on Sunday! Congratulations to you, Ben, and welcome to the A division!
Mel Rosen’s New York Times crossword
First of all, I resent this puzzle for appearing too early in Chicago’s spring to be botanically relevant. The theme revealer is 49d. IN BUD, [About to bloom ... or a hint to 20-, 33-, 41- and 52-Across], and there are zero buds on my block. Zero sprouts of Scylla or crocus, either. The four long answers are “in bud” in that they start with BU and end with D:
- 20a. [Idles], BUMS AROUND.
- 33a. [Allied supply route to China during W.W. II], BURMA ROAD.
- 41a. [Having a rounded end, as pliers], BULL-NOSED. Heard this term applied to snakes, I think, but never a tool.
- 52a. [Sycamore tree], BUTTONWOOD. Dang! I know my American trees pretty well, and I impressed my high-school biology classmates with my labeled-leaf-collection project. My family had a sycamore tree in the front yard, and I’ve heard them also called planes. Have never encountered BUTTONWOOD and I wonder if it has a regional bent.
Not particularly adventuresome or fun theme (when do I ever get enthused by an “other letters inside a short word, making a longer thing” theme?), and the theme phrases are rather dry. Verb + preposition, historical term, unusual adjective … and a tree nickname.
In the fill, I liked PARDON ME, the BEANBAG chair, BILBO, and UPTICK. Yesterday’s hypothetical whipping boy in my comments, ANIL, makes an appearance in this Tuesday puzzle ([Blue dye source]); siiiiigh. Good gravy, the N crosses the Spanish “Monday,” LUNES. I don’t think ARIL is any better or worse than ANIL (at least until Anil Dash becomes a household name), but LURES certainly is more reasonable Tuesday fill than LUNES. ANIL also crosses 38a. [Olympic skating champ Kulik], ILIA, at an I. And ILIA also crosses LULU, 27d. [She's back in town, in a Fats Waller song], which I needed every crossing to piece together. Kulik medaled 16 years ago and he’s no longer any sort of a household name, so this entire chunk is feeling rather suspiciously difficult for any newer solver who doesn’t already know the usual ILIA and ANIL clues.
I don’t care for ALEE, but you could swap out GLAZED, LUNES, ILIA for SHARED, TUBES, ALEE and get STAB, HULU, ABEL, REEL going down. I’m not a hotshot constructor, but I imagine lots of others can replace the ILIA/ANIL zone with much smoother fill than what I could do in a few minutes of noodling around. (STAB is already at 1-Down, so it’s a no-go at 32d, of course.)
Also on the tough-for-newbies end of the spectrum are ET TU, OLIN, AGIN, MHO, and OBIS.
Favorite clue: 23a. [Souvenir of Maui, maybe], TAN. We all wanted LEI, right? My second choice was TEE, based on a T from ESTATES. Got there eventually.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “A Spot of Tea” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Five theme entries with a spot of tea in the middle:
- [Protection for knights] was PLATE ARMOR
- [Tough] clued NOT EASY – from what I read, BEQ’s puzzle 5 in the recent ACPT fit this description as well.
- [Congressional helper] was a SENATE AIDE
- The unsavory [Shrivel to nothing] clued WASTE AWAY
- [Dodge City lawman] clued WYATT EARP
My thought is that this sequence is rather common in two-word phrases, but I do appreciate that there were 5 theme entries in this one, and the TEA in question split 3:2 in the TE/A vs. T/EA configuration. IRON CLAD is an iron clad entry, but I was less happy with the LA-LAS, ATNOS, NARCO middle downs. Off to a spot of tea myself!
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle, “Side Effects”—Janie’s review
Oh, this is a puzzle that I found so easy to love. Why? While there’s a familiar-type theme (the vowel progression), it didn’t jump right out at me. In fact, it took me quite a while to figure out what the game was. Because it’s done in a really fresh way: the change of vowel occurs at the end (or “side”) of the theme phrase. Then, those theme phrases themselves are winners—every single one. And there are five of them: two 11s, two 12s (all of which are Spanish-based) and one grid-spanning 15 (with a nod to its Japanese roots). That’s 61 letters of theme fill. If that doesn’t leave tons of room for a lot of long fill, Liz has filled the grid most resourcefully—and: there’s a lot of inter-connectedness within the remaining fill, which gives the puzzle a well-made feel and makes for a layered and satisfying solve.
For the uninitiated, a vowel progression puzzle scrolls through a, e, i, o, u (and sometimes y…) in a series of words or phrases. To demonstrate the former: bad, bed, bid, bod, bud. To demonstrate the latter, we have today’s themers:
- “LA CUCARACHA” with its punny clue [Catchy Spanish tune that might drive you buggy].
- CAFE CON LECHE [Breakfast order in Madrid]. Serve mine with Magdalenas, please…
- KRISTI YAMAGUCHI ["Dancing With the Stars" winner who's an Olympic skating champ]. A U. S. Olympic Hall of Famer, too.
- MACHO CAMACHO [Nickname of a Puerto Rican boxing champ]. Real name, Héctor Luis Camacho Matías.
- MACHU PICCHU ["Old peak" near Peru's Sacred Valley]. There’s a nice tie-in here, too, with the cross-referenced INCA at 39-Down. Then, given the sacred overtones of both the peoples and places, it’s interesting to have DRUID and Stonehenge sharing grid space here as well. By the way, where MP is concerned, not only are you likely to encounter a LLAMA or two here, but can you say “breathtaking”?
So: -cha, -che, -chi, -cho, -chu (with double the fun with the last two…). The pronunciation gives us the Italian vowel sounds of ah-eh-ee-oh-oo. No matter how ya slice it, this is a great use of a solid theme concept. In mine ‘umble opinion…
Then, I love the way (the punny way…) [Graphics in a baker's PowerPoint presentation?] clues PIE CHARTS. Ditto the way that 9-letter fill is balanced by JAMES COCO, a comic actor who was also known as a bit of an epicure. So it’s most fitting to see him opposite the pie in those pie charts—and to have SALAMIS and RAISINS within reach, too. I suppose, though, that if he ever had reason to [Complain about a fish dish?], uh… CARP (yep, another pun), he would simply devise his own recipe—or skip right to dessert, maybe after he’d [Prepared peaches for a tart], PARED them.
Love the image-making specificity of that clue, btw. We get more of that in the clue for HULAS, which are not merely “Hawaiian dances” but [Dances at a luau], i.e., dances at a very specific occasion. This kind of cluing gives dimension and liveliness to the puzzle. See also [North Pole belly laugh] for “HO-HO!” Oho!
More clues and fill tied in to each other come to us from:
- The patriotic [Caesar's 1600] MDC and [D.C.'s Pennsylvania, for one] AVE. “Hello, White House…” (A stretch. I know. A corny stretch at that.)
- The ursine OSOS [Bears to Juan] and URSA [Bear in the sky]. And while we’re in the realm of heavenly phenomena, there’s also the lovely, lunar (and not the liquid) [Moon shine?] BEAM pair.
- The side-by-side depressed duo of MOROSE [Down in the dumps] and “ALAS!” [Woeful cry].
- The fitness-focused AVIA [Reebok competitor] and [Athletic shoe insert?] FOOT combo. On the subject of footwear, I wonder how ["Vogue" bigwig Wintour] ANNA feels about the [Wooden shoe] CLOG. (“Wooden shoe” like to know?……)
So for all of the reasons I’ve spelled out—the theme, the theme fill, the well-woven together non-theme fill—I LAUD today’s puzzle, and I hope your experience was equally rewarding. Keep solving and have a great week!
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Eeeeeevil”
Great puzzle! Matt’s 666th puzzle offers an “Eeeeeevil” theme that ditches the letter E. There are lots of bizarre clues, but if you take out the letter E wherever it appears, and change capitalization where needed, the fill makes sense. There are also theme entries made by dropping E’s:
- 17a. [Bathrooms brimming with lawn clippings?], LAVS OF GRASS. Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.”
- 31a. [Scandinavian fans of Wiggum's kid (in Simpsons-iana)?], RALPH FINNS. Ralph Fiennes.
- 46a. [Thousand dollar bills that fly and roost?], A FLOCK OF G’S. A flock of geese. Somewhat non-crosswordy/arbitrary as phrases go.
- 60a. [Location of what to ditch from all long solutions (and from Across/Down hints) for this all to work], AMIDST D AND F. “Between” and “betwixt” would sound better than “amidst,” but they contain E’s, and this grid doesn’t have a single E in it.
I’m often annoyed by stunt puzzles that put a restraint on the clues, but the inclusion of some E’s that you have to mentally remove added a puzzle-within-a-puzzle layer that I enjoyed. Here are my favorite clues with E’s:
- 20a. [Words prior to "touche" or "tureen"], OUT OF. Out of touch, out of turn.
- 23a. [Wheat bread Pitt almost took away for 2011], OSCAR. “What Brad Pitt…”
- 53a. [Folks who Owen Meany films, say], BUFF. “Folks who own many films.”
- 69a. [Brand Ides], TMS. Brand IDs, or identifications, are trademarks or TMS. Toughest one for me to figure out.
- 1d. [It usually starts with "wee wee wee"], URL. WWW.
- 4d. ["Ixnay" (or a conundrum in a tube?)], NO SOAP. Problem in a bathtub, not tube.
- 13d. [Toepieces of discussion], POINTS. Topics.
- 28d. [Bad guys pursuant of peace, man], GHOSTS. Pac-Man.
- 33d. [Code and sea-lemon, for two], FISH. Cod, salmon.
I have to ding the puzzle for cluing SPRANG as 27d. [Took a hop] when the partial A HOP is right there at 30a. [Took a jump] would have skirted the issue. The fill includes a bit of blah stuff, but the mental challenge of looking for E clues to edit the E’s out of kept my mind focused on the puzzle’s good stuff and not on, say, I IS and MLII.
4.75 stars. Congrats on a well-executed trick, Matt!
Kurt Mengel and Jan-Michele Gianette’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Straightforward vowel-sound progression theme with FLAT BROKE, FLEET-FOOTED, FLIGHT ATTENDANT, FLOAT AN IDEA, and FLUTE DUET (is that a crosswordable thing?).
Fill a little on the ungainly side. LAST LAUGH and FORKLIFT and MAN-TO-MAN are crisp, but ON OR, INIT, -OTE, FALA, OSTE-, RST, REL, AS TO, OTTOS, AGORA, AN O, E-BOAT, JAB AT, and REBID triggered the Scowl-0-Meter.
2.5 stars from me. The theme gets a B- but the fill isn’t at the same level.
Gotta run, ta ta!