Andrew Reynolds’s New York Times crossword
April Fools! You were expecting a trick, right? We’ve got five circled letters. The long Acrosses are clued 17a. [With 56-Across, common format for a wager], BEST THREE / OUT OF FIVE. The five here are coin tosses. (Although that would really just be “three out of five,” no? There is no way to flip a “best” tails or a “best” heads. But “best three out of five” is in the language. Anyone remember the scene in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure where they’re playing a game against the Grim Reaper and when he loses, he suggests “Best three out of five?” And then the teens win three games and he wants four out of seven or five out of nine. I forget what number they stopped negotiating at.) The central answer is 37a. [Winner of the wager in 17-/56-Across, depending on how you fill the circled squares in this puzzle], HEADS. Or alternatively, TAILS. Each of the circled squares can be filled with either an H or a T, with the Across and Down clues working with either letter.
Now, because the .puz file is generally dumb, it didn’t accept my various solutions. Make three H’s and two T’s and put HEADS in the middle? All five circled letters and the HEAD part are marked wrong. Change to T’s and TAILs, still wrong. They tell me the NYT’s in-house solving options would accept correct solutions, and presumably Puzzazz would make sense of it too. But I’ll keep solving a .puz with Black Ink because you know what? The ability to copy and paste clues and fills is handy when one is blogging a puzzle.
The H/T pairs are as follows:
- 19a. [Suffix with cartoon], ISH/IST crossing 3d. [Sudden outburst], GUSH/GUST.
- 21a. [Clobbers], BASTES/BASHES crossing 11d. [It may be landed with a hook], FISH/FIST. Ooh, 11d is particularly tricky.
- 24a. [Bring down], HUMBLE/TUMBLE crossing 24d. [Bit of color], HINT/TINT.
- 37a. HEADS/TAILS crossing 37d. [Improves, in a way], TONES/HONES, plus 32d. [Diner menu item], MALT/MELT; 33d. [Part of retribution, in a phrase], TIT/TAT; and 28d. [Antagonize], RIDE/RILE.
- 46a. [Blast], HOOT/TOOT crossing 46d. [Plague], TAUNT/HAUNT.
So that’s a total of 8 Schrödinger squares that could be one of two letters. The clues work pretty damn well for signaling both of the possible words.
Now, the theme involves 13 short answers plus the two 9-letter themers, and that’s on the high side. The price that’s paid is having some ungainly non-Tuesdayish fill, but I wouldn’t expect Will Shortz to hold the puzzle for a year when April 1 falls on a Thursday. We’ve got a Thursday puzzle on the #1 gimmick day of the year; can’t be helped. The ungainly stuff I mentioned includes SKAT, ERAT, MT. IDA, AMBI-, ROES, UVEAS, OST, and ENOS. Heck, the Monday puzzle had almost as many ungainlies, but (a) even earlier in the week and (b) without as many thematic constraints.
I like Reynolds’ trick here, and despite the bits that felt out of place on a Tuesday, I’ll award 4.5 stars.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “I Know It Forward and Backward”
I was at a complete loss as to what the theme was, and you know the rule in such cases, right? If the puzzle has a title, read it. Matt has paired 5- and 6-letter words that are in either alphabetical order or the reverse. The two words have no reason to be together, except that Matt stuck them there and came up with a way to clue them as a single phrase:
- 17a. [Stick with Mario (and not that dreadful hedgehog instead)?], ABHOR SONIC.
- 30a. [Still able to stay awake for a few more minutes?], ALMOST ZONKED. Apt description of my mental state right now.
- 40a. [Why there's now only a huge pile of banana peels left?], CHIMPS WOLFED. Uh, that verb needs to take an object.
- 57a. [Robot dance caller's instruction to folk dance?], BEGIN POLKA. I don’t consider polka a folk dance. It is the dance of my people! It’s the default! It’s Everydance.
Uh, okay. I guess that works. The made-up phrases didn’t enchant me, though, and I’m not excited by the alphabetical angle.
Tops: PARDON ME, the [Fitness program based on Latin dancing] called ZUMBA, TRIPLE-A, NFL DRAFT, BAR NONE, the clever clue for HALEN ([Van trailer?]), and 60d. [Student driver?] to clue a BUS.
Least favorite fill: 44d. [Sorkin who voiced Harley Quinn in the Batman animated series], ARLEEN. Who? She’s also been a soap opera actress. Her Wikipedia page says “Not to be confused with Aaron Sorkin.” Ha!
Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Legal Larceny” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Four phrases end with something that can be “figuratively” stolen:
- [Laughlin or Edwards] is an AIR FORCE BASE – Laughlin AFB is in Texas; Edwards is in California. Stealing bases is in the purview of a speedy baseball player.
- [Gaining courage] was TAKING HEART – to “steal a heart” is to have someone fall in love with you, yes? You might give that person the last theme item, which is…(wait for it)
- [As a demonstration only] clued JUST FOR SHOW – when I had the SH– there, I wondered what might be going on, but happily found SHOW, which can be stolen by an EMOTER. I’m thinking I might say “just for grins,” “a laugh” or “giggles” instead of show, but that might be a regional interpretation.
- [Foil-wrapped treat] was a HERSHEY’S KISS – kisses are “stolen” when the kissee is not expecting it.
I guess I was disappointed something a bit more wacky was not to be discovered in this April Fool’s Day puzzle, but the idea of legally stealing something is kind of fun to think about. I can’t read OMAHA (clued here as [Mutual of ___ (Cigna rival)]) without thinking of Peyton Manning, as I believe the city designed a tourist campaign around his tendency to yell that at the line of scrimmage just before a play. Nice high-value Scrabble letters in LEXICON, AMAZON and JIHAD. TWO-BIT or [Cheap] refers to the phrase meaning 25 cents, as a “bit” was 1/8th of a dollar or 12-1/2 cents. BITCOINs, on the other hand, are worth quite a bit more!
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle, “Outside Joke”—Janie’s review
The calendar says April 1st and the puzzle’s theme is definitely a tribute to April Fool’s Day, so why did the puzzle feel like a valentine? Because (for starters) the range of answers in the theme set—and the alliteration—really hit a sweet spot. Just LEAN IN and look at it:
- 16A. KICK-BOXED
- 24A. KIND-HEARTED
- 33A. “KING OF THE ROAD”
- 45A. KIERKEGAARD (Kierkegaard, for pete’s sake! What a great little quote in the clue, too, that “Boredom is the root of all evil.” Worth thinkin’ about!)
And what do they all have in common? Each starts with “KI-” and ends with “-D.” Check out that title again. We all know what an “inside joke” is, but an “outside joke”? To “joke” is to “kid,” and sure enough, there’s kid (joke) on the outside of each themer. Or, as spelled out in the reveal (which also conforms to the pattern):
- 55A. KID AROUND [Act up on April Fool's Day ... or a hint to 16-, 14-, 33-, 45-Across and this clue].
Yup. This is the good stuff. And it just gets better thanks to long fill like CHERRY SODA (though I started with COKE, then moved to COLA before getting this right…) and even the agent’s TEN PERCENT. There’s no J or Q in the grid, but thanks to ALTITUDE and its grid-mate ZUCCHINI, we can say that the fill goes from A to Z. Given the theme fill, it also gives us SLEWS of crunchy Ks (“NO DUH!”)—and then some extras by way of KINKY and GEKKO—as well as the scrabbalicious VIXEN and another V in TRIVET.
I have the TEENIEST nit about CHAPEAUS (its grid-mate), since (as I read it…) the clue [Frenchwoman's hats] promises an X at the end. But… the S is definitely legit. Just wish the clue hadn’t been specifically Franco-centric. And yes, I first entered an X, but then noticed how [River seen from the Eiffel Tower] and SEINE make that impossible. Lovely piece of Franco-serendipity that—the way Seine peels off of (flows down from?) chapeaus. I’ll take it!
I’ll also take the zingy cluing, thank you very much. Here’s lookin’ at you:
- [Not ready for a commitment?] for SANE. Though some might argue they’re the same thing, that’s commitment to an institution (psychiatric, rehab, etc.) and not commitment to another human being.
- [Look backward?] for KOOL. Literally.
- [Think piece?] for IDEA. Since an idea is part (a piece) of a thought.
- [Nickelodeon's "incredible, squishable, squeezable" goo] and GAK. “Gak“? New to me, but it’s really for real. And—you can make your own!
- [Flirtatious chick] for the aforementioned VIXEN; also [Fruit-flavored drink with a fizz] for that CHERRY SODA. Love the colorful, image-making language in the clues. This always adds another level of quality to the puzzle as a whole.
- The illustrative ["Good as gold," for example] for SIMILE
- And then, not one, but two [Bed of roses?] clues, once for DIRT; once for SOIL. Hmm. So we get two of the cleanest dirty jokes around. Nuthin’ LEWD goin’ on here. Today.
Needed all of the crosses for ASIR [Province in Saudi Arabia] and never seem to remember if [Natives of Muscat] will be OMANIS, ORANIS or OBANIS… But I can scarcely fault the puzzle for the gaps in my memory/knowledge-base. Fortunately I was more geographically secure for that [Country with a canal] / PANAMA pairing.
Oh—and let me not fail to mention this puzzle’s loooow (themed) word count: 72. Which puts it at the high-end of a themeless. Congrats, newbies—”every day, in every way, you’re gettin’ better and better!”
So, no kidding (around or otherwise), all-in-all this kickin’ puzzle makes for one sweetheart of a way to usher in April. Visions of the Seine from/ AND/OR the Eiffel Tower don’t hurt none either!
Au revoir, mes amis!
Bruce Venzke’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Time for some cattle ranching:
- 20a. [Collegian's specialty], ACADEMIC FIELD.
- 39a. [Retire], PUT OUT TO PASTURE.
- 57a. [Kitchen appliance], ELECTRIC RANGE.
- 11d. [Prepares for the cattle drive], SADDLES UP.
- 33d. [Cattle drive concerns], STAMPEDES.
The FIELD, PASTURE, and RANGE can all be involved in a cattle drive. Simple Tuesday theme with the extra riff of 11d and 33d.
Today is marked by 41d and 42a, [Practical joke], ANTIC and PRANK. The only April Fools trick, though, is the inclusion of so many answers in the category I am now calling “ungainlies.” ASTA, SSTS, A B OR C, TARO, AM SO, ETON, TAM, discontinued vehicles AZTEK and ALERO, crosswordese UKASE ([Decree in imperial Russia]), ADZE, T-NOTE, and OGLER. Four of these in one grid pass with scarcely any notice. More than 10, the Scowl-o-Meter is not happy. In a Tuesday puzzle, one likes to see far fewer of these terms that are not in most people’s daily vocabulary.