Byron Walden’s New York Times crossword, “Downright Tricky!”
This 22×21 puzzle’s title gave a hint about the theme answers—the trick involves going down and to the right—but it still took me a while to parse the revealer. 108d. EL CID is the [Spanish hero whose 113-Down is represented enigmatically six times in this puzzle]? Eventually it dawned on me: Each theme answer has C.I.D. initials and appears in an EL shape.
- 8d. [Lament about modern men], “CHIVALRY IS DEAD.” The -EAD portion runs to the right.
- 13d. [Pachelbel classic, familiarly], CANON IN D. Boy, I was prepared to accept CANON I! (What? You know classical music is a blind spot for me. Or not so much blind as hard of hearing.)
- 32d. [Major African humanitarian concern of the 2000s], CRISIS IN DARFUR.
- 38d. [Like the contents of many attics], COVERED IN DUST.
- 50d. [1982 holiday country hit by Alabama], “CHRISTMAS IN DIXIE.”
- 71d. ["Right away, boss"], “CONSIDER IT DONE!”
Check out the sort of fill that intersects with the theme answers. There’s a microwaveable HOT POCKET (have you ever watched Jim Gaffigan’s stand-up bit about Hot Pockets?). A MAN CAVE, clued trickily as an [Area with XY coordinates?]. “I’VE MADE A DECISION” is parked in the middle, tussling with five of the six themers. The Hollywood and Bollywood (we would also have accepted Nollywood) FILM INDUSTRIES cross three themers. MS. PAC-MAN and a PADDED BRA each cross one. WINN-DIXIE is well utilized. SPARE KEY and YEARLY PHYSICAL cross two theme answers. Plus there’s BRITCOM, MOSH PIT, SAM SNEAD, a HOG CALLER … we don’t get a lot of hog callers in the NYT crossword. And then we have “I HAD A HUNCH” and “YES, INDEED” floating freely without touching theme answers.
Five more things:
- 12d. [European coastal plant once thought to be an aphrodisiac], SEA HOLLY. I don’t know it.
- 17d. [Ray-finned fishes of the Southwest U.S.], SPIKE DACES. Or SPIKED ACES. Hang on, let me check. Single word, SPIKEDACES. New to me.
- 4d. [Quince, e.g.] NUMERO. It’s 15 in Spanish, not the fruit.
- 52d. [1960s pop singer Sands], EVIE crossing 58a. [Stay inactive over the summer], ESTIVATE and 64a. [Early Chinese dynasty], HSIA? Right where the 8d theme answer makes its down/right tricky turn? I suspect this spot was like quicksand for some of us.
- 102d. [Half a star, maybe]. RATING. It’s as if Byron is psychic! He is predicting my rating for this puzzle. Or a ninth of it, anyway.
Speaking of Byron, he is one of the constructors lined up to contribute puzzles to the Crosswords LA tournament, for which I am this year’s Puzzle Wrangler. I can’t tell you which of the puzzles anyone is making, but I can tell you what constructors are involved (for either a competition puzzle, a warm-up puzzle, a game, or whatnot): Todd McClary, Andrea Carla Michaels, Melanie Miller, Trip Payne, David Quarfoot, Merl Reagle, John Doppler Schiff, Dave Shukan, Marc Spraragen, David Steinberg, Patti Varol, and Byron Walden. What a lineup, right? I’ll be sure to post a link to register for the event when that’s available. In the meantime, pencil us in for Saturday, October 18.
4.5 stars from me.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “Three-Character Play”
Very close to half of the white squares in this puzzle are in theme answers (I counted 173 theme squares and 176 non-theme squares). So a very dense theme, consisting of phrases with C.P.B. initials (provided you ignore prepositions and articles):
- 16a, 19a. [With 19 Across, a nonprofit org. whose short form is the theme of this puzzle], THE CORPORATION FOR / PUBLIC BROADCASTING.
- 36a, 43a. [With 43 Across, Paris-born poet and Poe translator], CHARLES PIERRE / BAUDELAIRE.
- 54a. [Noted duchess, formerly], CAMILLA PARKER BOWLES.
- 67a. [Great gift for one who likes writing letters?], CROSSWORD PUZZLE BOOK. Merl sells collections of his puzzles.
- 80a. [Has a storewide blowout], CUTS PRICES TO THE BONE.
- 93a, 103. [With 103 Across, surprisingly], CONTRARY TO / POPULAR BELIEF.
- 121a. [Certain creamy alternative], CHUNKY PEANUT BUTTER.
- 128a. [Errol Flynn role], CAPTAIN PETER BLOOD. Heard of Captain Blood, but had zero idea there was a first name involved.
I didn’t find the theme particularly fun at all, and the density of theme answers means the grid was also packed with a surfeit of 3s and 4s and partials and whatnot, including these:
- 34d. [The king, in Italian], IL RE. Not remotely common crossword fill.
- 37d. [Heyerdahl's second papyrus boat], RA II. Ditto.
- Partials OH BE, IF I, AS I, TO A, AT A, A KING, I TOO, BY IT, I DO (clueable as a stand-alone phrase, of course), and IT ISN’T.
- -EST, ESPO, -ISH, CCI, EPI-, AER, DOO-, ULT, EDW, -ETH? These are making SST and ENO look comparatively good.
Three stars from me. I don’t give extra credit for ambitious theme-packing because I want the words in the puzzle, as well as the clues, to do the heavy lifting of entertaining me. “Look at this grid when it’s blank” doesn’t do much for me.
Josh Knapp’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 221″—Sam Donaldson’s review
Veteran Post Puzzler solvers know there’s a rotation of regular constructors who delight us 48 weeks a year. For the other four weeks, editor Peter Gordon invites submissions from outsiders. The quarterly “contest” sees anywhere from ten to 30 submissions. Today’s puzzle, the first wild card winner selected in 2014, is a beautiful 72/29 from Josh Knapp. It was chosen from a pool of 19 total submissions. We don’t know what the other 18 looked like, of course, but it’s easy to see why this one would have stood apart. We’ve said it so many time it has been reduced to formula form: Fun fill + tricky clues = great freestyle crossword.
The stars of this construction are the corners. In the northwest and southeast you have triple-sixes feeding into a seven paired with stacked eights. (Yeesh, talk about your construction jargon!) I’m even fonder of the northeast and southwest, where triple-sixes meet triple-sevens in ways so ridiculously smooth you just won’t notice it unless you’re paying close attention.
But let’s not over-think the design on this one. It’s just plain fun. Among the highlights:
- I knew [One known for taking pictures] couldn’t mean anything as simple as PHOTOGRAPHER, but I figured it had to end in -ER. My guess was confirmed when KEGGER, the [Gathering with red cups, often] crossed perfectly at the E. But then it fell apart when RESTER just didn’t work as the answer to [Get worse and worse]. So I just moved along to another corner. When I came back (I had no other choice since every other section of the puzzle was done), it wasn’t until I figured out FESTER that it occurred to me the one taking pictures was an ART THIEF. By the way, this was a case where emphasizing different words in the clue helped a lot. For the first several readings, my mind emphasized “pictures.” Once I read it by emphasizing “taking,” the answer fell all too easily. I think the top solvers are better at trying these different mental pronunciations earlier and more often. Or they’re just smarter.
- I wanted VENICE for [It has an intense volleyball scene], but was most happy that the answer was even better: TOP GUN. I feel the need, the need for a clip!
- Every kiss begins with the [Alternative to Jared or Zales], KAY. If any marketing reps from Kay Jewelers are reading, your little ditty works.
- I might have saved some time had I known STANLEY / ELKIN as the [author of “The Living End”]–his full name occupied two answers in the southeast. I tend to like this sort of thing, whether it happens by design or accident.
- Great clue for X-Men “bad” guy MAGNETO: [Attractive comics hero?] That and TYCO, the [Old Magic 8 Ball maker] were just about the only entries squarely within my wheelhouse. Well, I should also add John TRAVOLTA, the [Mangler of Menzel’s name], as I’ve been milking that flub for all it’s worth in the classes I teach.
- Other fun entries include SNOW DAY ([What some might pray for after a storm)], CAPE COD ([Hook-shaped destination]), GAS MASK ([Vital World War I issue]), STAY DRY ([Casual farewell on a rainy day]), MINIVAN ([Ride around the suburbs]), and SAYS HI ([Waves, maybe]).
- My favorite entry and clue pair, however, was the terrific COBWEB: [Old network associated with horror]. Yes, I wondered whether I could think of any former TV network known for horror movies, just as TNT is known for drama and Cinemax for skin.
Favorite entry = SKYMALL, the crap-tastic catalog of junk like the “singing gondolier” and the “paper towel hub with USB ports” found in most every airplane seat pocket (not coincidentally next to the air sickness bags), clued here as an [Outlet for fliers]. Favorite clue = [Still having two views] for MUGSHOT. I couldn’t shake the notion that the answer had to be something along the lines of ON THE FENCE or WAFFLING. When it finally fell, the stupid grin on my face lasted for far too long. Well played, guys.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “MATER-IALISM” — pannonica’s write-up
This one has a whole bunch of modified cross-references, with designations from A through E. Rather than replicate them slavishly let’s review them in a narrative fashion:
- ANNA JARVIS was THE DRIVING FORCE in making MOTHER’S DAY a NATIONAL HOLIDAY in 1914 (this year is its CENTENNIAL), but a mere 11 years later, in 1925, she was ARRESTED FOR PROTESTING its OVERCOMMERCIALIZATION. Oh, and CARNATIONS are traditional presents for the occasion. (23a, 39a, 117a, 98a, 114a, 57a, 81a; 25a)
Of course, this puzzle appeared in print in early May, when the United States holds the celebration. My guess is the theme’s genesis lay in the observation that ANNA JARVIS and her dubious creation possess the same letter count. And OVERCOMMERCIALIZATION is a superb 21-letter spanner, eminently contextual. The CARNATIONS feel pinned on—as an afterthought or superficial ADORNment (100a)—but hey, the grid requires something to counterbalance CENTENNIAL, so why not?
Bonus mater-material: 1d [Man with no mom] ADAM; 71a [Bad mom of myth] MEDEA; 103a [Mom's moms] NANAS; 36d [Son of Sarah] ISAAC; 75d ["Philomena" star] DENCH. Plus [A pop] PER.
I’ve a busy day ahead, so will keep the remainder of the write-up brief.
- Crosswordese of the day: 58d [Ice pinnacle] SÉRAC. Can’t wait to see LEDOYOM, AUFEIS, and FIRN in upcoming puzzles. Runners-up are 42d [Early Russian dynast] RURIK and 66d [Fruity Easter cake] SIMNEL; see also 33d [Keep a fruitcake moving?] REGIFT.
- More linked clues for ALTO and TENOR; MAIZE and LIMAS; Andrew Lloyd WEBBER and EVITA.
- Amusingly mis-parsed 10d [Gets real] FACES IT while scanning the grid for things to write about.
- 68a [Thinker with a "razor"] OCCAM. Reminds me of the hoary old pun about ‘Hairy Reasoner.’ Might have appeared in Games magazine as a cartoon puzzle involving Rodin’s sculpture. I may have mentioned this previously.
- IN TOTO (41d [All told]), a moderately low CAP Quotient™ (crosswordese, abbrevs., partials), but COHEIR and A RAW both made me a bit queasy, notably.
Gail Grabowski’s Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “Let’s Party!”
Technically, the title in the .puz file didn’t include an exclamation point, but you can’t allow “let’s party” to languish without effusive punctuation. The theme answers are made by sticking LET inside a familiar phrase and cluing the resulting phrase. For example, COVER STORY turns into 22a. [Tale about the making of a quilt?], COVERLET STORY. Liked the BUDGET CUTLET and OUTLET OF AFRICA the best. Liked ARMLETS DEAL (we see “armlet” rather seldom) and TABLET HUNTER (entire generations of solvers will have no idea who Tab Hunter is) the least.
Quick write-up, as the pride parade comes through my neighborhood in an hour and a half and I want to snag a good watching spot. Five more things:
- 76a. [Sky god after whom a weekday is named], TIU. Huh? Never seen that name before. I’m guessing this is a variant name for Tyr, the Norse god Tuesday is named after. Tiusday!
- 84d. [Like sea lions], EARED. We would also have accepted [Like people], [Like dogs], or [Like warthogs]. Yes, I know there are “earless seals” the sea lions are being distinguished from here.
- 43a. [__:CON: Weather Channel twister probability index], TOR. New to me, but inferrable. TOR is also old crosswordese related to ARETE and les ALPES, also in this grid.
- 4d. [What a junker might be good for], PARTS. Broken-down car, scavenged for spare parts.
- 2d. [Theater near Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard], the APOLLO in Harlem.
The fill skewed a bit old/crosswordese-inflected. Theme works but wasn’t particularly amusing. Three stars, over and out.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s Sunday Challenge CrosSynergy crossword —Ade’s write-up
Hello there, everyone! Can you believe that this is the last Sunday in June already? Yikes!
And the last Sunday of June comes to a close with a strong Sunday Challenge crossword from Mr. Martin Ashwood-Smith. After last week’s cranium-crusher from Mr. Bob Klahn, this grid was a welcomed sight for me. Again, long answers on difficult puzzles pop into my head really easily, and the first answer I filled in on the entire grid was YO-YO DIETERS (8D: [Frequent losers and gainers]). After that, the two across answers starting with Y were a breeze, Y-SHAPED (8A: [Like a slingshot handle]) and YODELER (18A: [Peak performer]). The rest of the Northeast was a cinch.
Really liked the 15-letter entries in the grid, SHOTGUN WEDDINGS (29A: [Altar-cations?]) and REGISTERED NURSE (33A: [Ward worker]), and the cluing to the former was real slick! Last week, I took an Acela train from Washington DC to New York, and when I got in, I saw a few RED CAPS doing their work on other trains that were getting ready to leave the station on the opposite side of the track (33D: [Some porters]). At that time, because it was my first Acela train I took in years, I felt like sneaking onto that train because of how comfortable the ride was. Also liked HISSY, as I first was thinking about types of fitting that dealt with clothing, like slim-fit or form-fitting (22A: [Kind of fit]). Never heard of PALOOKA before (15A: [Oaf]), but when I saw the double O, was thinking GALOOT (obviously, that wouldn’t fit). But had a feeling that the answer would sound similar to galoot, and thank goodness, it turned out to be the case.
I’m a huuuge orange juice drinker, and, for a time, I switched over to the MINUTE MAID brand instead of Tropicana, because it cost less and wanted to save on groceries at the time (28D: [Five Alive maker]). That switch lasted about two days, and went back to old reliable, Tropicana. Oh, and lastly, do you pronounce POINSETTIA with three syllables or four (4D: [Flower displayed at Christmas])? For years, I pronounced it in the three-syllable way, but then, in 2007, I went to San Diego to cover the Poinsettia Bowl, a Christmas-time college football postseason game. The public address announcer and the media relations director for the game kept pronouncing it in the four-syllable version, and it stuck with me. Sadly, I was doing play-by-play for the game on a delayed radio broadcast, and during the game, I went back and forth between saying ‘POIN-set-uh’ and ‘POIN-set-ee-uh,’ and doing that as an up-and-coming broadcaster wasn’t necessarily the best thing to do, even unintentionally.
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: ROY (50D: [Siegfried's partner])- Arguably the greatest goaltender in National Hockey League history (this New Jersey Devils fan thinks it’s Martin Brodeur), former Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche net minder Patrick Roy (pronounced WHAH) just finished up an award-winning first season as head coach of the Avalanche. He won the Jack Adams Award on Tuesday as the NHL coach of the year. As a player, Roy won 551 regular-season games, won three Vezina Trophies as the league’s best goaltender and four Stanley Cups (two with Montreal in 1986 and 1993, two with Colorado in 1996 and 2001). In three of the four Stanley Cup wins (1986, 1993, 2001), Roy won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Thank you so much for your time, and I’ll see you all tomorrow!