John Bennett’s New York Times crossword
37a. [Question asked by a customs officer or a kid on Christmas ... with a hint to this puzzle's circled squares] clues “WHAT’S IN THE BOXES?” Then the 2×2 “boxes” of circled letters spell out various 4-letter words that form compound words with “box” at the end: MAIL, GEAR, PILL, SAND, SHOE, and SALT. The fill in those six areas is surprisingly ordinary and unbad for sections where some squares are checked three ways (Across, Down, and in a “box”). The worst compromises are partials IS NO and IS ON, and those at least are eminently gettable.
Now, I am not wild about the 15-letter revealer. It sort of suggests that the 4-letter “boxes” will contain things that go in boxes, but a SALTbox house is not a salt container, a SHOEbox generally contains more than one shoe, and a GEARbox isn’t really any kind of box at all (I don’t think—what do I know about gearboxes?). The MAILbox, PILLbox, and SANDbox are all generally containers for those things, though.
The Across space is fleshed out with some long fill: WATER SNAKE (*shudder*), delightful WORDINESS, the FIRST LIGHT of dawn, an ICE CUBE.
Mystery item: 54a. [Tangent of 45 degrees], ONE. Been a while since I studied geometry. Here is an explanation; you mathy people can tell us if it’s correct.
And now we know why Will Shortz ran Martin and Joe’s double quad-stack puzzle this past weekend: so that we couldn’t complain that we’d never, ever heard of 57d. ["April Love" composer Sammy] FAIN before. Last Friday, SAMMY FAIN stretched down the grid and befuddled many of us. And here he is again! I would fain never see him again, but I wouldn’t mind having FAIN in the grid clued as the archaic adverb/adjective that Shakespeare was wont to use. I don’t enjoy all archaic vocab, no, but FAIN is cool.
38d. ["Game of Thrones" network] is HBO, yup. My sweetie is watching it via DVR right now. There be … screechy dragons.
Signing off for the night with a rating of 3.75 stars.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Square Meal”
The fancy snacks laid out at an art show are the stars of this week’s theme:
- 20a. [Refreshments at many a 57-Across, represented in two of this puzzle's corners], BLOCKS OF CHEESE.
- 37a. [Refreshments at many a 57-Across, represented in the other two corners], BOXES OF WINE.
- 57a. [Event featuring new work, and where the items in the corners might be found], GALLERY OPENING.
- The four corners of the grid contain 4-letter words in 2×2 squares of circled letters: two cheeses, BRIE and EDAM, and two wines, PORT and BRUT.
Now, I like the cheese blocks and wine boxes concept, but it is tricky to get BRIE in a block form outside of a crossword grid, EDAM comes in a flattened ball (from which you can cut a block if you try hard enough; otherwise it’s wedges), and I’ve never seen PORT or BRUT in a wine box. Brut Champagne requires a bottle, no? And chardonnay and cabernet are more gallery/box-friendly than fortified port.
Five more things:
- 4a. [Sites for skateboarding tricks], RAMPS. The oniony/garlicky wild veggies called ramps are coming into season in the woods now. Tasty, yes, but my family has found that ramps produce a cruel garlic heartburn for a day afterwards.
- 47a. [Brazilian football megastar with a reduplicated name], KAKA. Can’t help thinking that “reduplicated” should mean his name is KAKAKAKA.
- 54a. [___ Meow (Internet meme cat with extremely long fur)], COLONEL. I missed out on that meme completely, and now Colonel Meow is dead. Here he is in a retrospective.
- 62a. [[You should try some of this grass]], MOO. Cows, not stoners.
- 67a. [One of Puff Daddy's clothing labels], ENYCE. News to me. Wikipedia says: The pronunciation of the brand has been confused by many over the years. The origins of the pronunciation is from the phonetic spelling of “NYC” (en-y-ce) sounded out in an Italian manner. This was because the company started under Fila, an Italian based company. Employees asked how they would pronounce the word replied “en-ne-che”. It is the “correct” way to say the brand.
Highlights in the fill are not legion: AL GORE, HUT TWO, BACCARAT. The fill’s solid, though. 3.66 stars from me.
Bernice Gordon’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review
A very simple vowel progression today, using F?N*. A simple theme should be a vehicle towards interesting longer (theme) answers. I like FANNYPACK (South African English MOONBAG) and FONDUEPOT and FENNELTEA is definitely quirky; FUNNYBONE is solid. I’ve never heard of the middle themer, FINKOUT, before. I assume it’s old slang of some sort, and it sounds strange on the tongue! There aren’t a whole pile of other options at 7 letters though – FINEART has a long I and breaks consistency.
The rest of the puzzle was mostly solid rather than scintillating: TADPOLE, SERAPHS and STANZA are about as bouncy as it gets. There are only a few iffy spots though: strange partial ASAFE and unneccesary prefix EXO. I was looking weirdly at ADEPTS, but the I realised that it is actually a normal plural after all! Some people object to slightly obscure answers like [Leveling wedge], SHIM in puzzles. I don’t count those answers in the negative column at all unless there is a preponderance of them.
A few clues I’d like to highlight:
- [Lead-in for bird or walk], JAY. A nice mini-mystery clue to kick things off.
- [Custard dishes], QUICHES. Huh? I have two recipes for quiche and neither calls for custard… Are my recipes wrong? If so, I don’t care, because they’re delicious! (If anyone wants a quiche recipe with Paula Deen-esque quantities of butter involved, you’re welcome to email me!)
- [They may be done by ones who have gone too far], UEYS. I don’t remember seeing this clueing approach before, but it probably isn’t new if I check the database!
- [Puzzle video game with three heroes], TRINE. Never heard of it! Clearly Bernice Gordon and Rich Norris are far hipper than me!
- [River horse], HIPPO. That’s what hippopotamus means, despite a hippopotamus being an artiodactyl and a horse a perissodactyl.
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sware Words”—Ade’s write-up
A little rhyme time/letter replacement puzzle, with the first word in each of the theme answers taking a “S_ARE” pattern:
- SNARE DRUM: (17A: [Percussion instrument])
- SCARE FACTOR: (25A: [Fear element]) – Felt like the clue would sound better if the words “scare” and “fear” were switched around. But obviously, there goes the neighborhood on the theme if you do that, thus increasing the scare factor of not executing this theme.
- SPARE TIRE: (37A: [Dieter’s midriff target, in slang])- The only time I hear the word “midriff” is when watching coverage of European soccer matches and hearing the (mostly) British commentators use that instead of midsection.
- SHARE HOLDER: (52A: [Corporate investor])
- STARE DOWN: (62A: [Intimidate with a fixed look]) – Here’s looking at you, kid!
There’s a whole lot of 7- and 8-word crunchiness in this grid, and I particularly liked it. Thank goodness I missed the era of being given a PET ROCK as a gift, cheap trick, etc. (12D: [Popular ‘70s fad gift]). PYRENEES makes an appearance as an entry (38D: [Range separating France and Spain]) instead of a reference guide to figure out how to translate a word into a language spoken on either side of the mountains. Now looking at OLESTRA (50A: [Food fat substitute]) makes me think back to every potato chip I’ve eaten in the 20 or so years before I became aware of its effects and hoping not one of those chips was ever drowned in that oil. The odds aren’t in my favor on that one.
Maybe one day, actress Charlotte Rae will write an autobiography titled, I, Rae, but until then, we get our Latin friend IRAE (15A: [Wrath, in a Latin hymn]). There was one time a while back I saw two Volkswagen Beetles driving one behind the other. Don’t think I’ll see multiple PASSATS (40A: [Jettas’ cousins]) in the same vicinity, outside of at a dealership, anytime soon.
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: STOOD (35D: [Prepared for the national anthem])- Before Game 5 of the 1968 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers that was televised by NBC (24D: [“The Today Show” network]), fans at Tiger Stadium stood in honor of the playing of the national anthem, performed by singer José Feliciano. His soulful rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” surprised many in the stands and television viewers nationally, mostly negatively. Many radio stations across America responded by pulling Feliciano’s music off their airwaves. But ironically, a couple of years later, Feliciano was to release one of America’s most iconic tunes, the Christmas hit “Feliz Navidad.” Moreover, Feliciano’s off-key interpretation of “The Star-Spangled Banner” is seen as a landmark moment, opening up the door for other singers/groups to freely perform their own creative renditions of the national anthem before sporting events.
And just like that, IT’S DONE (45D: [“That cake’s been in the oven long enough”]). Time for cake!