You see the high ratings up there for Fireball and AV Club? You can’t get Fireball without subscribing for the whole year of puzzles, but nonsubscribers can get Caleb’s AV Club puzzle for a measly dollar.
Patrick Berry’s Fireball crossword, “Ten’ll Get You Twenty”
You know the puzzles we’ve taken to calling Schrödinger crosswords, where some letters can be changed to form a different answer with still-valid crossings? The best-known of these is Jeremiah Farrell’s 1996 CLINTON/BOBDOLE puzzle. Patrick takes it up a notch by having two valid answers for the two-part 5a/67a, and then connecting the two words with a chain of other Schrödingerified answers.
The nub of the theme is 5a. [With 67-Across, a cream-filled chocolate snack cake], the Hostess DING DONG or the RING DING. I think Ring Dings may be more of an Eastern thing; Chicago has always been Ding Dong turf. Working our way down from DING/RING, we get:
- 5d. [House blueprint feature], DOOR or ROOM.
- 20a. [Competitive challenges], DARES or GAMES.
- 20d. [Member of a 1996 presidential ticket], DOLE or GORE. Welcome to your second Schrödinger puzzle, Bob!
- 26a. [Spout off], BLAB or BRAG.
- 27d. [Lavish party], BALL or GALA.
- 42a. [Defrosts], MELTS or HEATS.
- 42d. [Hoofed animal], MOOSE or HORSE.
- 48a. [Cleans, as dirty dishes], SCOURS or SCRUBS.
- 49d. [Film character who's hunted in a forest], RAMBO or BAMBI. What a great find!
After I hit 62d. [Number of distinct solutions this puzzle has], TWO at the end of my successful solve, I stopped the clock and went looking for all the alternative answers. BAMBI/RAMBO was my first one, and SCOURS/SCRUBS, both of which I’d entertained while initially solving. However, I took to highlighting the changed words rather than just the changed letters, so the puzzle’s title wasn’t adding up for me. And I had considered alternative answers in other spots in the puzzle, and ripped out the fill in those sections to refill with alternatives … to no avail. EBON for ONYX, STAGE for EMCEE, SAGS for EBBS, SANTA for CLAUS, DAYAN for EGYPT? Tried ‘em all but nothing was coming together. Peter’s PDF solution grid displays the 10 changed letters in red; I looked at the official solution page only when I despaired of getting new fill for the left side of the grid.
Did not know there was such a thing as a ROLLER MILL, and seldom see anything called a CORN SALAD. But the fill is super-smooth—where are the awkward abbreviations, the obscure words, the partials, the underfamiliar foreign vocabulary, the difficult proper names? Not here. Sure, we get ACRID and ROTTEN EGGS, but they don’t make the puzzle stink.
Fill is good? Check plus. Clues are well-written? Check plus. Theme is ambitious and well-executed? Check plus. I didn’t necessarily find the puzzle a hoot to solve, though, so I will dock it a bit. 4.9 stars from me, or maybe 4.95. Nothing at all wrong with the puzzle, but I do like it when a crossword amuses me too.
Timothy Polin’s New York Times crossword
The theme is TWENTY QUESTIONS (17a. [Classic 1940s-'50s quiz show]), and 20 of the clues are phrased as trivia questions. There’s also a big question mark in the grid. There are, unfortunately, also five tricksy question-marked clues (15a, 62a, 7d, 27d, 36d) that aren’t phrased as trivia questions, and that makes the theme much less clean. There is also not a tremendous distinction between the trivia clues and the regular clues. Why is ENORME [What is French for "huge"?] but ETO is just [W.W. II initials]? Why not [Huge, in Havre] and [What initials are associated with Eisenhower's WW II command?]? I don’t get it. So much of a crossword can be deemed a trivia quiz, and the choice of 20 to get the quiz treament seems arbitrary to me.
Much of the fill, with those long answers bracketing the big question mark, is nifty. CONTORTIONIST, CUE STICKS (sticklers may tell you that the stick in billiards is simply a cue, but come on, we all call it a cue stick), a set of GRANDPARENTS, SPIT AND POLISH, POWER LINE, and ELEPHANTS pleased me.
- 60a. [Mercedes roadsters], SLS. Needed the crossings for all but the plural S.
- 45a. [States of madness], DELIRIA. Seldom seen in the plural.
- 44d. [Neighbor of Teaneck, N.J.], LEONIA. Never, ever heard of this! You’d better know your MELISSA trivia (42a. [What notorious 1999 computer virus was named after an exotic dancer?]) for that L. It’s a borough of 9,000 and you are hereby excused from being expected to know that.
You know who else made a question mark crossword? Patrick Blindauer, for the New York Sun in 2008. Patrick had the big punctuation in the grid, plus three squares containing small question marks linking two actual questions that appeared as answers in the puzzle. The puzzle’s title was “Twenty Question Marks,” and those 4 question marks were joined by 16 question marks in the clues. Those clues tended to be tricky question-marked clues rather than trivia questions.
I give the edge to the picture of a question mark in Timothy’s grid (it’s smoother, perhaps because expanding to 16 rows facilitated a better picture) but must say that I preferred Patrick’s overall approach to getting to 20.
At least I managed to work out all the trivia questions in tonight’s crossword. I had less luck in an online trivia league this spring and am being relegated to a lower division. Oof!
3.75 stars from me.
Caleb Madison’s American Values Club crossword, “Put the Gun Down”
If you’re not subscribing to the AV Club crossword already, I encourage you to. $18 a year gets you 52 weekly puzzles, plus the occasional bonus puzzle. You can also buy any individual puzzle for a buck, here. So if you see particularly good ratings for the AV puzzle, even a nonsubscriber can get in the game for $1. Also, note that the AV write-ups will probably move to Wednesdays when the Ink Well puzzle goes gently into that good night.
Moving right along! Caleb’s theme is ingenious. He takes five familiar phrases that include synonyms for “gun,” drops all but the first letter of that synonym to form a new phrase, and ”puts the gun down” in the grid by having PIECE, HEAT, GAT, ROD, and MAC (only that last one was unfamiliar to me) running down from their first letter, always within longer Down entries. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a theme like this, and it’s super-elegant from a cruciverbal standpoint. Well worth the oddball 18×19 grid size.
- 20a. [London venue where plays based on "Make 'Em Say Uhh!" and "Mr. Ice Cream Man" are performed?], MASTER P THEATRE with PIECE running down from the P. Originally Masterpiece Theatre. Master P is a rapper and entrepreneur with a net worth of $350 million. (So if you think he’s obscure, note that Harrison Ford’s net worth is only about $200 million. Master P is taking care of business.)
- 25a. ["Believe" singer after hanging out in the pigsty?], DIRTY CHER with HEAT. Dirty cheater (a somewhat contrived base phrase).
- 54a. [Powerful Ottoman ancestor of a certain republican governor?], AGHA CHRISTIE. Agatha Christie and a GAT meet an agha and Chris Christie. Love it!
- 86a. [Circus performers who emerge from vintage cars?], REO CLOWNS. ROD, rodeo clowns.
- 95a. [Tropical treats best enjoyed when stranded on an island?], COCONUT MAROONS. Coconut macaroons, mystery MAC. No idea what sort of “treats” these COCONUT MAROONS would be.
Five more things, all ridiculously fresh and lively clues:
- 38d. [Papaya salad eater, perhaps], LAOTIAN.
- 10d. [Part of Katniss's look in "The Hunger Games"], BRAID. I want to steal this clue.
- 3d. [Honor for Washington or Harrison], BEST ACTOR. Denzel Washington, Rex Harrison, not the US presidents.
- 60d. [Strings often shown as black dots], PASSWORDS. The clue completely perplexed me and when the crossings revealed PASSWORDS, I had a definite “duh” moment.
- 62a. [Shell station?], RAW BAR. Oyster shells and whatnot.
Terrific theme, great fill, wonderful cluing. 4.5 satisfied stars. No, wait. Make it 4.75 stars. I’m adding .25 for the fun factor. I really enjoyed solving this puzzle. It was more fun, I thought, than the Fireball.
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Loss Leaders”—Ade’s write-up
Good morning (or afternoon/evening) everyone, and I hope your Thursday is going very well so far!
I’m coming to you from Arlington, Va., as I’m staying in Château de Angela (a.k.a. PuzzleGirl). She and I, along with a couple of other good friends (including Finn Vigeland, a New York Times Crossword constructor and recent Columbia University graduate), attended last night’s baseball game between the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals. Lots of fun was had, despite my favorite team (Astros) losing. PG and I are going to do it over again tonight (weather permitting) as the Atlanta Braves are in town. Should I root for the Braves just to be the contrarian in the stands and annoy all of the home team’s faithful sitting around us? Hmmm, I’ll think about it…
As for the grid itself, penned today by Mr. Bruce Venzke, it was far from a loss despite the theme; each of the four theme answers start with words that can preceded the word “loss.” Very straightforward…well, almost…
- PAPER LION: (17A: [1966 George Plimpton Book]) – Here’s where the almost comes in. I had never heard of the term “paper loss” before, and had to look it up just now. Guess it’s investing/stock market technology: loss which has occurred but has not yet been realized through a transaction, such as a stock which has fallen in value but is still being held. Umm, sure! (From paper loss.)
- WATER BISCUIT (28A: [Hard cracker usually made with no shortening or fats]) – A good number of times when I was young, my dad would have a box of these types of crackers in his room. And yes, biting into them, they were HARD! (From water loss.)
- HAIR OF THE DOG: (49A: [Supposed hangover remedy]) – (From hair loss.)
- POWER TRIP: (49A: [Self-indulgent exercise of authority]) – (From power loss.)
There might be a GAZILLION ways to say how awesome that entry was in the grid, but I’ll just leave it with mentioning it here (36A: [Big, big big number]). Had spent some time out in Springfield, Mo. auditioning as a general assignment reporter back in 2005, and Branson, Mo. is less than an hour’s drive, and both Show Me State cities are located in the OZARKS (50D: [Branson's backdrop]). There’s also a biting, tough answer up in the northeast with USURY (16A: [Loan sharking]), and that entry crosses another good entry in OUTSOURCE (11D: [Obtain elsewhere, as parts or supplies]).
Crosswordese included EYRE (13D: [Brontë herione]), AOL (57A: [@ follower, sometimes]), and IRA (39A: [Lyricist Gershwin]), and although UTA was in the clue and not the grid, HAGEN almost fits into this category as well by virtue of association (34A: [German-born actress Uta]). So a few parts of the grid were BLASÉ (31D: [Less than enthusiastic]), but all in all, not a bad puzzle, and not a bad day in DC/Virginia. IF ONLY the Astros had won last night (53A: [Words of regretful hindsight])!!
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: STARR (2D: [Green Bay football legend Bart]) – It’s not a stretch that, even with the exploits of former Packer great Brett Favre and current Packer gunslinger Aaron Rodgers, Bart Starr might still be considered the greatest Green Bay Packer quarterback ever, at least to some people that can’t stand Favre’s penchant for melodrama late in his career/playing for the hated Minnesota Vikings and are waiting for Rodgers to deliver another Super Bowl to Titletown (Green Bay). Starr was the MVP of the first two Super Bowls (after the 1966 and 1967 seasons) and is the only quarterback in NFL history to win five championships. (This does not include a quarterback like Otto Graham, who won seven championships with the Cleveland Browns, but four of those came when the Browns were in the All-America Football Conference and before the team joined the NFL.) Starr is also the highest-rated quarterback in NFL postseason history (104.8), ranking just ahead of Aaron Rodgers’ current mark of 103.1.
Thank you so much everyone, and will see you on Friday!
Take care, all!
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website puzzle, “Band on the Pun” — Matt’s review
Like the title says, puns on band names:
16-A [“Suicide Blonde” band after adding 999,994 members?] = INXS OF A MILLION. Slightly roll-your-own base phrase there.
34-A [“Hey, Bono and the Edge, check into the Hilton”?] = GET A ROOM, U2. Good one, and I like the Henry Hookian numeral (crossing 2PAC at the 2)
54-A [Two features of being tormented with endless replayings of “Dear God”?] = AGONY AND THE XTC. That was indeed a terrible song. What was XTC’s big hit again? It was this.
So that works. Highlights:
***TSINGTAO at 8-D [Beer with an image of Zhan Qiao pier in its logo] keeps popping on my radar in wordplay circles. It anagrams to TOASTING.
***Best two clues: [Door stopper?] for SENTRY and [Port authority?] for WINO.
***Best fill: timely NEYMAR (Brazil isn’t looking like a World Cup-winning team, though) the wild AARDVARK, SAID HI, ON FIRE and ON A DATE.
***I got excited when I filled in AARDVARK and thought we might get a chess player or some other Russian at the ?????V. But no, instead of KARPOV or PAVLOV we got pope URBAN V.
Jerry Edelstein’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review
Late post: didn’t get it done in my lunch break and then had a CPD (lecture) after work. I hope this isn’t interrupted, because I am also on emergency call this evening.
I had no idea where this was going until the reveal… A very creative theme idea! A collection of entries that are in one or another way OFFTHEWALL. A BROKENMIRROR and HUMPTYDUMPTY have fallen off a wall. CRAZYIDEAS are OFFTHEWALL as in the idiom. LONG/FLY/BALLS are off the wall too apparently. I googled ‘”long fly ball” “off the wall”‘ and a few entries appeared. It seems they could bounce off walls in baseball grounds. Why do baseball grounds need walls???
The fill struck me as more compromised than is ideal. A recurring mini-theme was plural abbreviations. In moderation, I wouldn’t count natural plural abbreviations as a negative. In the bottom-left corner there are 3: PACS, PFCS, ERS; RNS and AAAS are stacked in the top-left; HTS and RSVPS are to be found in the bottom-right. I don’t see that there should be a crowbar separation between words and abbreviations, but about half of those struck me as to some degree contrived.
The bottom-right in particular rubbed me the wrong way. I like BATRACK, even though I have never heard of it. It’s fresh fill! [Like septic tanks], ONLOT is also new to crosswords and me, but perhaps fresh isn’t the best word in that case! But propping that up is a RRR CCLV – to me you have to be pretty desperate to use an answer like that. A fresh entry is not enough justification.
4.5 Stars for a very imaginative theme less 1 for the infelicities in the fill.