Tom McCoy’s New York Times crossword, “Aladdin”
The “Aladdin” title means “AL” is “added in” to form each theme answer:
- 23a. [King’s move?], CHANGE OF PALACE. Eh.
- 37a. [Principles espoused during Women’s History Month?], IDEALS OF MARCH. Eh.
- 46a. [Ability to walk a tightrope or swallow a sword?], CIRCUS TALENT. Solid.
- 66a. [Dream for late sleepers?], A FAREWELL TO ALARMS. Good one!
- 89a. [Waterway leading to a SW German city?], CANAL OF WORMS. There’s nothing like “a SW German city” to really liven up a crossword, am I right, folks?
- 95a. [Slinky going down the stairs?], SPRING FALLING. Eh. I like the base phrase, spring fling, though.
- 118a. [Dissertation on people’s inherent spitefulness?], OF MALICE AND MEN. My second favorite one. I wonder if Mr. McCoy tried to come up with a theme adding AL to book titles, and had to widen his search to regular phrases to come up with a workable theme set.
When there’s a theme involving a particular letter combination, one hopes that said combination will not appear elsewhere in the puzzle. I reckon that AL is too common and too useful to be barred from a 21×21 without markedly coarsening the grid. And I had a handful of Scowl-o-Meter moments as it is, so additional constraints would have caused crankiness.
I don’t quite get this: 36d. [One who might stick his tongue out at you?], IGUANA. Do iguanas stick their tongues out like snakes flick theirs? Not fond of the “one who” and “his,” which lend a certain humanity to our reptile.
Ancient crosswordese, I presume—it’s gotta be, right?—strikes with 32a. [Anoint, archaically], ANELE. I didn’t recognize and it needed all the crossings. And yet! It has been in the NYT puzzle four previous times in the Shortz era, most recently on a Wednesday (!) in 2011. (It was also used 33 times by Maleska’s constructors, 1975-1993.) I clicked through to look at the 2001 Weds. and literally gasped when I saw that ANELE was parked right at 1-Across. Anyway, given the regular Maleskan use, presumably I merely blacked out all prior knowledge of the word, which I must’ve encountered in plenty of ’80s crosswords. Just call me a Terrible Crosswordese AMNESIAC. (I had not forgotten YMA, ENOL, UNIATE, OCA, ELL and ESS, and NYALA.)
The 9-letter Down answers in the non-theme fill work well together. Pussyfoot Longpants is actually my Bond Girl name.
Vocabulary word of the day: 15d. [In-between], LIMINAL. You can click Oxford Dictionaries’ “more example sentences” links to view some examples of this word in use.
Jeffrey Harris’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 217″—Sam Donaldson’s review
No man is an island, nor is any section of a crossword grid that follows the basic convention of “all-over interlock.” This is the standard that says every white square has to feed both an Across and a Down answer. All-over interlock is the signature feature of an American crossword grid that distinguishes it from the British-style cryptic grid.
But even grids with all-over interlock can sometimes feel like you’re effectively solving at least two mini-puzzles, as the black squares can be arranged so that you have few passageways connecting various sections of the puzzle. That was the case in this week’s Post Puzzler, a 72/33 gem from Jeffrey Harris. Your gateways from the northwest and southeast corners were just two squares each, and the central black square nearly isolated the other two corners as well. As a result, it felt to me like I solved four smaller crosswords. I’m not complaining–if anything, it seems I’m fast at solving mini-crosswords than those freestyle puzzles with great big swaths of white squares. Sure, there were lots of 11- and 9-letter answers in this puzzle, but they all contained lots of short, gettable crossings that helped the longer answers fall relatively quickly.
I broke into the grid through the oddest of means: an error. I plunked down LIT for [Comp ___ (college major)]. I figured Comparative Literature was as good as anything, and I’m sure folks with those majors are not above truncating the term every now and then. The correct answer, SCI, never occurred to me. When I went to college–with the velociraptors and t-rexes–we called it “computer science.” The only “sci” was “poli sci” (one of my majors, in fact, the other being history–or perhaps “hist”). Computer science was never shortened. I’m guessing “comp sci” is the cooler, hipper term for the major. In any case, it was outside my wheelhouse.
Go figure, none of the crossings were working with LIT, my original guess. So I tried the other short threes on either side. I figured [Tackle’s neighbor] was END, and felt like PAN was a good answer to [Look for gold, in a way]. But LIT between those answers just did not look right. When I realized that STOOD IN LINE actually worked as an answer to [Waited one’s turn, often]–well, with two of the three crossings anyway, I was now confident that LIT was wrong. I skeptically tried SCI, and snap–the rest of the corner fell pretty easily. Loved the clue for SHAKESPEARE, [Bacon, according to some]. I kept thinking the answer would be along the lines of FOOD STAPLE or ALWAYS BETTER. While we’re in that corner, I should mention that I’ve seen (and written) blackjack-related clues for HIT ME before, but [Request at 11] might be one of my favorites.
From there, the rest of the puzzle offered a little less resistance than what I normally expect from the Post Puzzler, but again that may be due to the grid’s island effect forcing me to tackle mini-puzzles instead of large bergs of white squares. (Today’s mixed landmass metaphor is brought to you by the good folks at National Geographic. Come for the photos, stay for the geography.)
Points of Interest:
- Was I the only one surprised that LILY formed no part of the answer to [Many a Monet]? The answer was OIL ON CANVAS.
- One of the things that makes the Post Puzzler so engaging is it’s fresh approach to common answers. Anyone can clue ADD as a verb, so a clue that instead treats the answer as the common short-hand for attention deficit disorder ([Concerta treats it, briefly]) really stands out. (Technical note: the Cruciverb database indicates 346 appearances of ADD over the past twenty years in the puzzles it tracks. In those cases, only seven times has the term been clued as the noun instead of the verb. More importantly: ADD has only been used 346 times in 20 years? A hair over 17 times a year? ADD certainly doesn’t belong on any list of tired fill.)
- No one is fooled by [West pointer, at times], right? “Pointer” wasn’t capitalized, so it can’t be a reference to a cadet. Still, I love it as a clue for VANE. It doesn’t have to be too tricky to be fun.
- I didn’t know that AXE is the [Brand known as Lynx in the U.K.]. I’m not a customer, but I’m aware of this men’s grooming brand. Lest you be confused, let me clarify: my hygiene is fine. I just use other products.
- But I’m completely unfamiliar with SO SAD, the [Song with the lyric “It breaks my heart to see us part”]. It’s by the Everly Brothers, which is a little before my time.
The one that really got me was finding out that VIOLET was a [Former flavor of Life Savers]. Wait, violet as a flavor? Not a grape flavor in the shade of violet? Hmm.
- I’ll confess that I first had USB as the [Thumb drive alternative, for short]. The clue pretty clearly wanted an alternative device and not just an alternative name for a thumb drive. Luckily the crossings gave me CDR, which I know only now is short for “compact disc – recordable.” I’m sure the comp sci majors got that one immediately.
- The first two words in the clue [Urquhart Castle loch] mean nothing to me. All I need is that last word to feel confident about NESS as the answer.
- I liked [Numbers after 1] as the clue for AREA CODES. And right next door, [Yankee quipper] is a fun clue for YOGI BERRA.
- I didn’t know that Richard Nixon’s first book was “Six CRISES.” I wonder if his editor told him that five wasn’t enough but seven was too many.
- I’m a carnivore and all, but [Lamb’s bed, maybe] felt like a mean clue for RICE.
- In case you’re wondering, PETTY is [Grand’s counterpart, in a sense] because, for example, there is “petty larceny” and “grand larceny.”
Favorite entry = IDLE CHATTER, clued as [Talk about nothing significant]. Arguably this review pays homage to that entry. Favorite clue = Lots of choices, as pointed out above, but [Chair person?] won my heart. It was the clue for LION TAMER.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “What Kind of Food Am I?” — pannonica’s write-up
Food puns based on song titles, single-letter manipulations. The title derives from Anthony Newley’s ‘What Kind of Fool Am I?’ Dig in!
- 23a [R. Kelly having faith in his skillet?] I BELIEVE I CAN FRY (Fly). R→L.
- 31a. [Paul McCartney not caring what you eat?] LIVE AND LET DIET (Die). +T. Guess he isn’t one of those sanctimonious vegetarians.
- 49a. [Beach Boys hoping it’s pilaf for dinner?] WOULDN’T IT BE RICE (Nice). N→R. Seems to me the phrase “would it be” satisfies the clue wording better.
- 65a. [Gene Pitney in sandwich hell?] TOWN WITHOUT PITA (Pity). A→Y.
- 82a. [K.d. Lang forever slicing the turkey?] CONSTANT CARVING (Craving). A↔R. Formatting glitch? Have never seen her initials rendered as one capital/one lowercase.
- 95a. [Nat King Cole at the nacho bowl?] I SAW THREE CHIPS (Ships) S→C. Liked the scansion and rhyme of the clue.
- 110a. [Dire Straits gets paid to eat?] MONEY FOR NOSHING (Nothing) T→S. The vowel change for this one felt too far a stretch to me. (For 65a, I’m familiar with a shorter i sound PITA, which is truer to the original Greek. For 82a, somehow the more radical shake-up obviates such a complaint.)
Tallying up the entrées, that’s 5 substitutions, 1 addition, and 1 transposition. Not the most balanced menu. The subject distribution, however, is more even: 3 foodstuffs, 4 actions. Songs skew predominantly oldie.
- 59a [Soft-shell clam] STEAMER, ’tis the season! 104a [Breaks for scones] TAKES TEA. 44d [Eat like there’s no tomorrow] PIG OUT. 74d [Edible tubes] PENNE. 88d [Salmon sort] COHO. 98d [Japanese mushroom] ENOKI.
- Less overt: 44a [Cow, with “out”] PSYCH; 92a [ __ Lee of cake fame] SARA; 2d [Laker all-star] KOBE (okay, reaching); 46d [“Tom Yum” cuisine] THAI; 47d [Hard-boiled genre] NOIR (reaching again); 70d [Not like pie?] HARD; 101d [“To your health!”] SKOAL.
- Additionally, there are a bunch of songwriters and performers in the puzzle, but no need to enumerate them because I don’t plan on suggesting punny food titles for their songs. Well, except for (105d) Paul ANKA‘s ‘Eso Beso’ to osso buco—undeniably a long stretch, but it tickles me.
- Longish fill sampler: SCHLEMIEL, PIN OAK, FIR TREES, SCRATCHY, VANISHED.
- Strangest clue: 120a [Item often knobbed] DOOR.
- Favorite clue: 92d [No-fly zone border?] SCREEN.
Moderately nutritious offering for your Sunday brunch crossword slate.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “Stretching Exercise”
Not your usual sort of add-two-letters theme—here, Merl adds a P.E. class that is “stretched” around a word (or two) to form an entirely different word. Hijinks ensue.
- 22a. [Singer after getting seasick?], WEIRD PALE YANKOVIC. Weird Al with P and E around AL.
- 36a, 38a. [With 38 Across, some guy from another planet?], PETE THE / EXTRATERRESTRIAL. E.T.
- 55a. [What members of the Three Stooges Fan Club call their secret greeting?], GIVING THE POKE SIGN. “Giving the OK sign” feels a tad uncrosswordable, not quite a lexical chunk.
- 69a. [Result of the fruit truck never arriving at the senior center?], PRUNE RIOT. Ha! Good one. Run riot.
- 77a. [Pasta-aisle product that says “Czech it out!” on the label?], PRAGUE TOMATO SAUCE. Ragu. I suspect this one was the germ for Merl’s theme.
- 98a, 102a. [With 102 Across, the only good news after the picnickers got drenched? (with apologies to Barry Manilow)], PIE MADE IT THROUGH / THE RAIN. There’s a Manilow song, “I Made It Through the Rain.” Is that supposed to be a boast?
- 114a. [Warning sign at a train station’s food court? (NOTE: The original sign, without my additions, actually exists. It’s in Grand Central Terminal in NYC, on the lower level — the food court level. The sign shows where diners should, um, go after they’re done eating.)], PTOMAINE CONCOURSE. “To Main Concourse.” Given Merl’s note, hmm, maybe this one was the seed for the theme.
I was going to complain about the obscureness of 40d: [Actor Santoni], RENI. But then I looked him up and was reminded that Reni Santoni played Poppie on Seinfeld. “My new sofa! Poppie peed on my new sofa!” It’s nice to place RENI next to OLESTRA, with its connection to another type of execretory leakage. Come on, Merl—break out the URINE and the ENEMA! We’re inching closer.
I find myself with nothing to say about the rest of the fill and clues. They’re largely fine. Not “wow!” and not “ugh.”
3.75 stars from me.
Rich Norris’s syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “The Sound of Victory” (written as Gia Christian)
V is for victory, so add a V sound to familiar phrases to form the theme answers, changing the spelling as needed:
- 22a. [Traveler’s nightmare due to a road crew strike?], PAVE AS YOU GO. (Pay as you go.)
- 27a. [Wait on a knight?], SERVE GALAHAD. (Sir Galahad.)
- 52a. [Rocky in a serious mood?], GRAVE SQUIRREL. (Gray squirrel.) At first I thought it was just an add-a-V theme and I had GRAVY SQUIRREL, which obviously does not match up with the clue. Gravy is, of course, jovial.
- 88a. [Make statues of leading reps?], CARVE SALESMEN. (Car salesmen. May I just say how irritating it is that the patently gendered “generic” term salesman is still in wide usage?)
- 113a. [Computer maintenance tool?], DRIVE CLEANER. (Dry cleaner.)
- 121a. [Throw out all your stuff?], SAVE NOTHING. (Say nothing.)
- 3d. [Ancient greeting?], WAVE BACK WHEN. (Way back when.)
- 65d. [Crack up during a jackknife?], DIVE LAUGHING. (Die laughing.) Probably hard to maintain proper diving form when laughing.
Solid theme, and the add-a-consonant-sound gimmick is carried out with no iffy pronunciation issues. (Pun themes and vowel sounds are full of such land mines.) I like that there’s a mix of spelling changes—half the themers go from *ay to *AVE, but the other four have four different changes.
There’s rather more crosswordese than I like to see in a single puzzle—STOAS, O RARE, ADZ, STOL, AGHA, RANI, AMU, UNRIG, SANAA … I knew them all, but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed them.
Mystery item: Never heard of 79d. [1966 A.L. Fireman of the Year Jack], AKER. Never even heard of “fireman” in baseball terminology, for that matter. Spouse tells me it means “reliever,” a relief pitcher. Aker won recognition from President Clinton for his later work teaching at-risk kids on Indian reservations; Aker is Potawatomi.
Most difficult clue to parse: 4d. [Buy for, as dinner], TREAT TO. If you buy dinner for someone, you treat them to dinner. The subject/object/preposition situation is just a mess here. You are treating the person *to* something, vs. buying the food *for* someone. I don’t have a good solution, other than not using TREAT TO in the grid. Can you come up with a smoother clue?
Three stars from me.
Bruce Venzke’s Sunday Challenge CrosSynergy crossword —Ade’s write-up
Hello there, hope you all are having good Sunday so far on this first day of June!
I’m starting to really like puzzles by Mr. Bruce Venzke. Now, usually, I like the Sunday Challenge format, since I thrive much more in the Friday/Saturday NYT-style crosswords, with the long entries/terms. They just seem to pop into my head much better than rebus puzzles and puzzles with tough misleads on clues. And this was no different, and I definitely had to marvel at some on the long answers, though one of the long answers, I hoped, wasn’t going to define my effort in doing this puzzle: POOR PERFORMANCE (3D: [Substandard effort]). Although it’s still brunch time, I absolutely wouldn’t mind a couple of CENTER-CUT STEAKS right now (47A: [Some premium butcher shop purchases]). Along with those, the trivia aspects of C.W. POST (1A: [Breakfast cereal magnate]) and SNUBNOSE (7A: [Revolver type]) were fun. I obviously had heard of the school, C.W. Post, as well as the Post cereal brands, but as I was doing this puzzle, I turned to my brother who was in attendance and asked if he knew that the person the school was named after was also in the cereal business. He turned and said to me that he knew that, but only became wary of it a couple of weeks ago when he saw a documentary which detailed Post ending up in a hospice-type setting run by the Kellogg family, which also became huge in the breakfast cereal business. Definitely a “wow” moment, not only because of the story itself, but my brother telling me that he knew of it just a few days before me filling in this puzzle. Also have seen snubnosed revolvers in movies, in person (don’t ask) and such, but never knew the term for them, until now.
Had this puzzle done, or so I thought, until I got to the clue which also was a nickname that you could use for me if you ever see my baby pictures: FATTY (26D: [Comic Arbuckle]). Couldn’t get the Garfield character, Jon, out of my head and never heard of the comic, so it was just a case of doing alphabet musical chairs until something seemed right. Stupidly had GRATES instead of GRAZES (18D: [Grazes lightly but steadily]), which made me not see FAZES quick enough (26A: [Disconcerts]). But what I did see, since I had “grates” as an entry, is that I had two FATES, which obviously, couldn’t happen (31A: [Mythical trio]). So once I completed that troubleshooting exercise, then it was a wrap. Another good Sunday!
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: DIONNE (15A: [Soul singer Warwick])– There’s a Game 7 tonight in sports, as the Los Angeles Kings play the Chicago Blackhawks, with the winner moving on to the Stanley Cup Finals. With that, our “sports” moment focuses on, arguably, the greatest player to ever play for the Los Angeles Kings (Wayne Gretzky included), Hockey Hall-of-Famer Marcel Dionne. Dionne played in the NHL from 1971-1989, with his glory years coming while a member of the LA Kings. (He started his career with the Detroit Red Wings and ended it with the New York Rangers.) He was the third person in NHL history to amass 700 regular-season goals and finished his career with 731 goals (4th all time) and 1,771 points (5th all time).
Now it’s time to head out and buy a turkey sandwich. Have had a craving for it that just came about within the last 10 minutes! I hope you all are doing great, and will talk with you all tomorrow!