Still wondering what was up with the Tuesday NYT? Here’s the explanation. The first letters of all the clues spelled out various colors and animals, and those tied in with an illusion that constructor/magician David Kwong did at his TED Talk on Tuesday. So the primary audience for his puzzle would appear to be his amazed lecture attendees rather than us solvers.
Sam Donaldson’s New York Times crossword
Oh, hi, Sam! Look, everyone: It’s Team Fiend’s resident wag, Sam Donaldson, in the byline of the NYT puzzle. The theme is slangy ways to tell someone to get the hell outta here, clued with apt recipients:
- 17a. [Go away as a marathoner might?], RUN ALONG.
- 18a. [Go away as a Michael Jackson impersonator might?], BEAT IT.
- 22a. [Go away as an outdoorsman might?], TAKE A HIKE.
- 37a. [Go away as a bumblebee might?], BUZZ OFF.
- 40a. [Go away as a speaker of pig Latin might?], AMSCRAY.
- 56a, 63a, 65a. [With 63- and 65-Across, go away as a soda jerk might?], MAKE LIKE A / BANANA / AND SPLIT. I’m more familiar with “make like a tree and leave.”
Cute. But an eight-piece theme means some compromises in the fill. I do like NO-HASSLE, PREMOLAR (what? I used to be a dental editor), MY GOSH, TOY STORE, SKI BUM, RATED X, Austen’s DARCY, and even TEN-DAY (topically clued as 52d. [Like some short-term N.B.A. contracts]—Jason Collins was recently signed to two successive 10-day Nets contracts before they signed him for the rest of the season; before Collins was signed as the first openly gay NBA player, I’d never heard of this 10-day contract idea, and I would have thought this answer was lame). The trade-offs are as follows:
- The unfamiliar SOLEA, 5d. [Form of flamenco]. Did many of you know this word? Seems tough for a Wednesday, but maybe the rest of you are flamenco aficionados who knew the word.
- Partial A SOU, 23d. [Not worth ___].
- Wildly unfamiliar AXION, 44a. [Particle theorized in 1977]. Maybe the rest of you know your theoretical particle physics along with your flamenco?
- 65d. [Prince Edward Island hrs.], AST. Atlantic Standard Time.
- 34d. [Worthless tic-tac-toe row], XOX. Meh.
- Plus ESS, IN AN, IT’D, IRR, LAO, SSGTS, TYE, A NO, ISH, ORU …
We all strike our own balance in terms of the importance of theme, the value of juicy fill, and the degree to which blah fill affects our enjoyment of the puzzle. This one had an innately entertaining theme (it’s mouthy! and it makes us see colloquialisms in the fresh light of Sam’s brain) and it had a lot of good fill, but bits like SOLEA and AXION do tend to take me out of my Happy Solver Headspace. So I will park myself at the 3.75 stars level for this one.
Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Hi Ho” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Today’s CS/WaPo asks us to say “hi” to the letters HO four times, added to the beginning of phrases:
- To “overcrowd” gets the HO treatment with [Fans of the 31st President?] cluing HOOVER CROWD – do they have secret decoder rings and a special handshake?
- A “key witness” becomes [Phony court figure?] or a HOKEY WITNESS – the Trayvon Martin trial comes to my mind when I hear this phrase.
- [Bus for prisoners?] was HOSTAGE COACH – are prisoners necessarily hostages? I think of prisoners as being convicted of something, whereas hostages are guilty of nothing but being in the wrong place at the wrong time. OTOH, if one thinks of prisoners as those held against their will, the clue is spot on.
- [Shelter storage?] clued a HOSPICE RACK – hospices have taken on a modern definition of places people who are terminally ill go to live out their last days with family and friends, eschewing aggressive medical treatments. We had a friend at one last year who died of adrenal cancer at the tender age of 48.
My first thought when reading the title was that HI would be added to the first word of two-word phrases and HO to the second, but that would be a much more ambitious (perhaps impossible?) theme seed. I’m not a big fan of arbitrary articles (a slippery slope to be sure), but I do like THE POPE since if anyone’s going to get a definite article around here, he’d be on my Top Ten list. COPSE or a [Bushy thicket] is an unusual word, it’s an alteration of “coppice,” which traces its roots to the French couper or to cut. Timely entry for [Fracking target] or SHALE as many communities are debating the ecological risks of injecting water at high pressure into shale to free the imbedded oil. Finally, I enjoyed seeing SKI BUNNY in today’s puzzle as I had just spent the day skiing yesterday.
Ben Tausig’s Chicago Reader/Ink Well crossword, “Upbeat Mixes”
The “Upbeat Mixes” in this theme are unpleasant words anagrammed into happier ones to convert familiar phrases into goofy ones. The parentheticals hint at the original pre-scrambled words:
- 18a. [Blitzen's seating instruction to his sleigh driver? (No dark forces at work here!)], GET BEHIND ME, SANTA! No need for Satan.
- 28a. [What a goofy, witty waitstaff provides? (Everyone is alive and well)], REAL FUN SERVICE. No more funeral.
- 48a. [The holiest of poker hands? (You screaming convicts can relax)], SACRED STRAIGHT. No “Scared Straight.”
- 63a. [Tender hugs and kisses, e.g.? (No hitting!)], PHYSICAL NICE LOVE. Much nicer than violence.
Two negative terms at the beginning, two at the end: good balance. 18a and 48a are kinda funny, and 63a sounds like something you’d tell a toddler to practice. A theme that’s at least half-funny is much more successful than a theme whose wordplay provides very little actual amusement.
Six more things:
- 52a. [Outrageous, briefly], OTT. Short for “over the top.” Gareth has been using this in his comments but it was test-solving this puzzle that taught me what it meant.
- 45a. [It includes Piccadilly and Victoria lines], THE TUBE. London’s subway system. Great entry.
- 69a. [Online clip-sharing site whose name is an anagram of MOVIE], VIMEO. Huh! Never noticed that. Wikipedia says, “The name Vimeo was created by Lodwick, as a play on the words video and me. Vimeo is also an anagram of the word movie.”
- 8d. [Drops in the bucket, perhaps], ADDS. Literally, as a verb. Not metaphorically as a noun, “just a drop in the bucket.”
- 20d. ["___, find me a crossword clue for yourself"], SIRI. Cute!
- 31d. [Jason Sudeikis, to George Wendt], NEPHEW. Trivia! Did not know this.
Solid fill, crisp clues, fun theme. Four stars.
Jeff Chen & Jim Horne’s Los AngelesTimes crossword – Gareth’s review
So this is the 3rd big central letter gimmick puzzle of the year for the LA Times. Strange. Here are links to puzzles 1 (by the same duo) and 2 (by Bruce Haight) if your memory needs refreshing. This one is the opposite of Horne & Chen’s E puzzle, but similar to Haight’s H puzzle, only not quite as tightly defined. There, every answer had an “H”, here answers either have no vowels or only I’s as vowels.
Not as much awkwardness as I anticipated approaching the puzzle. The worst moment was ISLS/ILS and that was right at the beginning! There were even a few neat answers like TBILISI, SPITSHINING, and WINGSIT. I have a personal affinity for TRINI, since I grew up with him amongst my mother’s 7 singles. WISHI [Words often heard before may and might] is contrived but at least cleverly clued.
Gareth, leaving you with this…