I probably won’t get to the Sunday NYT crossword till 10 pm or later. In the meantime, I’ve got Merl’s puzzle, and I can pass along Sunday NYT constructor Eric Berlin’s advice to avoid reading the hint if you want more of a challenge.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “Head-to-Tail Words”
Terrific theme—familiar phrases are reworked by moving the first letter of a word to the end, thereby forming a new word.
- 21a. [Dine a la koala?], EAT LEAVES. “Tea leaves” with the T moved to the end behind the EA.
- 23a. [My first try at making a dessert?], LUMP PUDDING. Plum pudding.
- 29a. [One who can overact in any language?], UNIVERSAL EMOTER. Universal remote.
- 43a. [Road rage?], DRIVING ANGER. Driving range.
- 62a. [Name for a discount sundae shop?], TOPPINGS ON A DIME. Ha! I like this one. Stopping on a dime.
- 75a. [Italian version of "The Rubaiyat"?], ARRIVEDERCI, OMAR. “Arrivederci, Roma.”
- 91a. [Skydiving discounts?], LEAP BARGAINS. Plea bargains. Four rows above, TUTU is clued as 68a. [Skirt to leap in]. Too much leap!
- 108a. ["I wouldn't sit there if I were you," for example?], WORDS OF DAMOCLES. Sword of Damocles. Don’t sit there because there’s a sword hanging right above you. Love this clue/answer combo.
- 117a. [Designer who popularized the "block" look?], LEGO CASSINI. Oleg Cassini. There are actually some color-block Oleg Cassini dresses for sale.
- 120a. [Alternate title of an Electric Light Orchestra song?], VILE WOMAN. “E-e-e-evil Woman.”
Ten solid pieces of wordplay. Seven first words, three last words—not a big deal at all, a well-mixed bag. I suspect Merl has a notebook full of other candidates for this theme, but what I like about it is that it isn’t stale and overdone, it’s a little tougher to figure out than “the same letter(s) removed or added each time” theme.
Five more things:
- 12d. [The Nautilus, for ex.], N-SUB. Short for nuclear submarine, I suppose, but “N-sub” is not a term I was familiar with. My mind went straight to the Jules Verne Nautilus, pre-nuclear era.
- Unfortunate crossing #1: 13d. [V-shaped fortification], REDAN meets 20a. Abba of Israel], EBAN at the E. I suspect most non-Israeli non-inveterate crossworders don’t know Abba EBAN, and REDAN is a castle/fort sort of word I know only from crosswords. The RAJA/[Royal Indian] crossing at REDAN’s R isn’t helping that much, either.
- Unfortunate crossing #2: 29d. [Eskimo knife], ULU meets 35a. [Siberian river], LENA. Good gravy! If ever there was a place for an over-obvious [Actress/writer Lena or singer Horne] clue, it’s at a crossing with Inuit crosswordese. Siberian rivers are not very well-known among Americans.
- Fill I liked includes DRAGNET, BLUTO, EARSHOT, FROWNS ON, and EL GRECO.
- 112d. [Molecular oxygen], O TWO? No. O with a subscript 2 is not “O two” in written form. I had no idea another elemental answer with the *TW* pattern could bug me even more than AT. WT.
Despite the rough bits in the fill, the theme’s a winner. 4.25 stars overall.
Eric Berlin’s New York Times crossword, “Moving Parts”
You don’t see a lot of themes that make you think, “This is so elegant, it reaches Berryesque heights.” With this theme, as I kept uncovering more with-and-without-those-2-letters word pairs, I was really digging it. There are nine such pairs, as the solving hint (which I didn’t read before solving) details: “The answer to each starred clue must have two consecutive letters removed before it is written into the grid. These letters will move to a pair of circles elsewhere in the puzzle. (In all cases, new words will be formed.) The nine letter pairs, when properly arranged, will spell an appropriate answer at 72-Across.” I liked starting out at a loss for understanding the import of the starred clues and eventually piecing it together. Here are the theme answers:
- 8a. [*Turn, as a wheel], ROTE. That’s ROTATE missing its TA, which wound up in 39a. [Idea], NOTATION, which is NOTION with an inserted TA.
- 21a. [Burger go-with], FRIENDS, which is FRIES with a circled ND stuck in it to form another valid word. The ND was stolen from 86d. [*Old West robber], BAIT, or BANDIT.
- 43a. [*Words of praise], PAN, or PAEAN without the EA, which appears in 96a. [Plain to see], OVEREAT, or OVERT + EA.
- 53a. [*Royal messenger], HERD, really HERALD. The AL has moved to 51a. [Openly defy], FALLOUT, or FLOUT + AL.
- 72a. [See instructions], A L/IT/TL/E G/IV/E A/ND/ TA/KE. Your nine letter pairs from the word pairs make an apt phrase.
- 88a. [*Piddling], TRIAL, really TRIVIAL. The IV is in 133a. [Babble on], PRIVATE, PRATE + IV.
- 8d. [*Upbraids], REBUS. That’s REBUKES with its KE stuck in 138a. [Asparagus unit], SPEAKER, or SPEAR.
- 14d. [*Great in number], LION, or LEGION. Paired with 112a. [Indigenous], NEGATIVE, or NATIVE.
- 90d. [*Not rough], GENE, or GENTLE. 22a. [Yolk surrounder], WHITTLE, or egg WHITE.
- 115d. [*Newton subject], GRAVY. Well, sure. His mom’s gravy recipe has, sadly, been lost to the ages. (GRAVITY.) Its IT has gone to 121a. [Beast of burden], BURRITO. Originally BURRO.
Note that the theme words are all common words—no proper nouns, no phrases, no junk. The “steal 2 letters and put them in another word to make a new word” bit is nifty, but the kicker of “and put together, the bigrams all spell out an apt phrase” adds an overlay of elegance in execution. The word pairs don’t occupy symmetrical spots and the circled letter pairs don’t appear in sequential phrase order in the grid, but I wasn’t cognizant of that while solving.
Highlights in the fill include OWN GOAL, SPAMALOT, THE MAGI, and TOADSTOOL.
Toughest spot for me: 20a. [Former Nebraska senator James] EXON. Who?? With two theme answers in that section, it did not fall quickly. Runner-up: 52d. [French fine], AMENDE. Say what?? Apparently that’s the sort of fine that you must pay to make amends for an offense. Not a word I’d ever seen before. The amende honorable sounds creepy.
4.33 stars from me. There were some little bits of fill I didn’t care for, but overall it’s solid fill for an ambitious theme.
Mike Nothnagel’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 224″—Sam Donaldson’s review
I think Mike Nothnagel went shopping at Costco before he made this week’s Post Puzzler, a 70/28 freestyle. That would explain the three-pack of Zs and the three-pack of Xs used in the grid–he likely got a discount for buying in bulk. (Qs are out of season.)
If we were playing the old “Name That Constructor” game from my days of blogging the daily CrosSynergy puzzle, I would have guessed that this was a Patrick Berry puzzle. It’s just sick with smoothness. I see only one arguably sub-par entry in the entire puzzle: RIT, the [Big name in dyes]. It’s normally clued as an abbreviation for the musical direction “ritardando,” and a Google search of “RIT” brings up a lot of hits on the Rochester Institute of Technology. I had to add “dye” to the search query before a quarter-million hits on Rit Dyes appeared. So it’s legit, though still maybe not so great. Perhaps this was a gimme for craft-y solvers, but I relied entirely on the crossings.
We crossword bloggers are called out for harping on the blemishes of a puzzle, as though we fail to see a puzzle’s beauty. Lest there be confusion on this point, then, let’s be clear: this one’s a gem. You’ve got high-brow culture (ZENO, the [Figure in the Plato dialogue "Parmenides"], [Dickens orphan] Edwin DROOD, the [Early developmental period] known as the IRON AGE, and TEUTONS, the [Old Germans]), pop culture (BAT CAVE, HORCRUX, ATOM ANT), a dash of religion (CHALICE and ROSARY), a little cutting-edge material (SEX TIPS from columnist Dan Savage, the AREA MAN in stories from The Onion, TWEENER), and some politics (EAMON de Valera of Ireland, gerrymandered WARDS, IDI AMIN). A very nice cross-section of knowledge indeed.
Items of note:
- The northwest corner easily consumed 40% of my solving time. ATOM ANT, the [Character who shared top billing with Secret Squirrel in the 1960s] was a guess, and the only answer I could think of to fit ????BOU was CARIBOU, even though I was pretty sure it was not a [Silk variety]. Suffice it to say that MARABOU was new to me. I didn’t make any headway into the corner at all until I tumbled upon [Part of a flea-flicker] and correctly deduced the answer, LATERAL. Ade’s right: sports will make you smarter.
- I like when two of my favorite words appear in the same grid. I’m looking at you, RAREBIT ([Dish with a variation called a golden buck]) and HIRSUTE ([In need of some manscaping, perhaps]). They’re among my favorites largely because I had heard them for many years and had no clue what either term meant for the longest time. So it’s cool to see both in the puzzle, though the thought of a hirsute rarebit is, well, disturbing.
- I’m a bit chagrined that none of my first answers to [McCarthy colleague] fit: WALTERS, HASSELBECK, SHEPHERD. Then I tumbled on BEHAR and figured I had it nailed. Oops, wrong McCarthy. The answer was Mortimer SNERD.
- Many of the aforementioned rare letters come in the southern hemisphere, especially with Z-AXIS and the band every girl’s crazy about, ZZ TOP. This really gave the puzzle some legs.
Favorite entry = TOUGH LOVE, clued quite cleverly as [Grounding, maybe]. Favorite clue = [Tests that people look forward to?] for EYE EXAMS.
Alan Arbesfeld’s Sunday Challenge CrosSynergy crossword —Ade’s write-up
Good morning from the Tar Heel State!
I’m back with you after a day which saw me travel by bus from New York City all the way to Greensboro, N.C. (You know me, I travel in style!!) So yesterday was a wash for me, and today is going to be tough since I’ll be busy all day with sports media stuff. But I definitely wasn’t going to miss blogging a Sunday Challenge, even if the review is somewhat brief! I love the Sunday Challenge!
And this Challenge, authored by Mr. Alan Arbesfeld, is a beauty, with so much lively fill! Where do I begin? Well, since I just looked up and listened to Simon and Garfunkel’s version of SCARBOROUGH FAIR, I guess that’s my starting point (37A: ['68 song with a four-herb refrain]). This grid had a few stops and starts, literally, with WAIT A SEC (2D: ["Not so fast"]) and WHOA slowing us down (47A: ["Not so fast"]), and AT THE DROP OF A HAT speeding us up a lot (7D: [Immediately]). In this instance, the crosswordese in the grid, like ENA (6D: [Doe in a Disney film]) and EDSELS (14D: [Famous fifties flops]), helped open things up in the Northeast, especially with parsing out SEA ANEMONE (5A: [Tentacled marine creature]). Maybe my best clue/answer pairing came with HITS THE HAY (60A: [Turns in]), though CAPES, after a second look at it, is making a late-charge for that crown (24A: [Items stocked at Batman's haberdashery?]).
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: ANA (62D: [Tennis star Ivanovic])- Yes, this answer reeks of crosswordese, but few crosswordese-type answers come equipped with a 2008 French Open Women’s Singles title, which Ana won, on her way to becoming the No. 1 player in the world during that year.
Thank you so much once again, and I hope to have Monday’s review up bright and early before my media demands overwhelm me. Have a great Sunday, everyone!
Fred Piscop’s syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “Frat Pack”
In Hollywood, the Frat Pack is a group of comedian-actor dudes who cross-pollinate a lot, working together in numerous projects. Here, the Frat Pack is a bunch of otherwise unrelated phrases that have hidden (spelled-out) Greek letters in them. Not a particularly tight theme, as I imagine there are plenty of phrases in which those two-letter Greek letter names would span a break between words. For example, PI’s answer could have been GROUP INSURANCE or BUMP INTO, while NU yields DOWN UNDER, BUTTON UP, LIGHTEN UP, STRAIGHTEN UP, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY, and … TIGHTEN UP. But the theme’s quick and light, and it doesn’t much matter if you even notice those hidden Greek letters. Here are the themers:
- 23a. [*Hit that just clears the infield], BLOOP SINGLE. Not a familiar phrase for me. Psi.
- 25a. [*Recyclable metal], SCRAP IRON. Pi.
- 42a. [*Clara, to Tabitha, on "Bewitched"], GREAT-AUNT. Tau.
- 55a. [*Legislation of 2001], PATRIOT ACT. Iota.
- 76a. [*Hippo], RIVER HORSE. Rho.
- 86a. [*Half a team's schedule], HOME GAMES. Omega. Five-letter word! Nice find.
- 107a. [*Typical Western], SHOOT-’EM-UP. The only theme answer with more than two word chunks. The decent alternatives are all too short to pair up with these other theme answers. (Mu.)
- 37d. [*Delayed reaction], DOUBLE TAKE. Eta.
- 45d. [*Run into], HAPPEN UPON. Nu.
- 109a. [One spans two words in each answer to a starred clue], GREEK LETTER.
Five more things:
- 76d. [The Phantom's rival], RAOUL. I went with EDSEL at first … although the automotive Phantom is a Rolls Royce. It’s the Phantom of the Opera and a chap named Raoul.
- 80a. [One of Mexico's 31], STATE. I kinda wanted ESTADO to fit here.
- 91a. ["King of the Bullwhip" star], LARUE. I group Lash LaRue with the silent-movie actresses who continue to populate crosswords nearly a century later—your Pola Negri, Theda Bara, and Nita Naldi. I can’t help thinking that a greater number of Americans know the name Eva LaRue. She was on All My Children for years, and she was a regular on CSI: Miami in seasons 4 through 10. Lash LaRue was in Westerns in the ’40s and ’50s, so the 65-and-up crowd probably remembers him but most of us younger folks likely know the name only from crosswords. And CSI: Miami was on CBS, the network of choice for older viewers! Come on! Eva is absolutely fair game.
- 27a. [City on I-5], SANTA ANA. I had the SANTA part and couldn’t think of any other 3-letter names that partner with SANTA. Don’t know I-5.
- 8d. [ERA part: Abbr.], AVG. From earned run average, not Equal Rights Amendment. I was trying to figure out a 3-letter abbreviation for “amendment.” I would have clued AVG differently in a puzzle that also included 99a. [Baseball's Steroid __] ERA, though. Yes, they’re different ERAs, but it messes with the head.
3.75 stars from me.
Henry Hook’s CRooked crossword, “Sodium Added” — pannonica’s write-up
The bigram NA, representing the element sodium (Latin: natrium) is inserted into various phrases, creating new ones, of the generally wacky type.
- 20a. [Two things at Ms. Gordimer's party?] WINE AND (NA)DINE.
- 36a. [Shag flies while talking with a twang?] (NA)SALLY FIELD.
- 68a. [Even more wealth?] (NA)BOB HOPE.
- 97a. [What racing fans cry into?] (NA)SCAR TISSUE.
- 116a. [Incendiary resort sites?] (NA)PALM SPRINGS.
- 10d. [Santa's elf, Italian style?] FAIRY (NA)TALE. See also, 109d ["__ Kalikimaka"] MELE.
- 14d. [Pushed Joe ahead?] ADVANCED (NA)MATH. Like a quarterback sneak, I suppose.
- 46d. [One with an igloo to himself?] SECLUDED (NA)NOOK. Got an internal chuckle from me, though ‘secluded nook’ isn’t a strong stand-alone phrase.
- 68d. [Enthusiasm in a Boston suburb?] (NA)TICK FEVER. An inside joke, a nod to the crossword-notorious Massachusetts locale. Some people eponymously call a crossing requiring specialized knowledge for both elements a ‘Natick.’ In fact, I experienced that sort of thing with 74a [Gulf of Aqaba port] ELATH / 75d [Scuttle] HOD, and had similar difficulties in a couple of other spots due to (reasonable) misfills. “Tick fever”—unqualified and unexpanded—doesn’t pass muster as a valid phrase. [addendum: HH points out in the comments that it's an entry in Webster's 11th (and numerous other dictionaries.]
Each of the theme entries involve a proper noun, the NA is always added to the beginning of a word. I’d thought that the key bigram was restricted to the themers and concluded that some of the questionable ballast fill was due to that restraint. But then I isolated 53d DNA, 101d UNAGI, and 110d NAYS; so no, no, no on that idea.
- Partially echolalic rows: 12: ELAYNE / ELATH. 9: -OCRAT / ONAN.
- Aforementioned rough spots: 87a [Played the hawkshaw] SLEUTHED (nearby to ELATH and HOD); proximal to that, 89d [Where, in the Forum] UBI, not QUO; 10a [Courtroom statements] FACTA, for which I’d initially gone with DICTA; 109a [Quark + antiquark] MESON, but I’d guessed BOSON first—I blame Higgs.
- Miscellaneous: 18a [Morning music] AUBADE, which nearly always makes me think of conductor Claudio ABBADO. 105d [Cassius' location] YOND. “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look / He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.” (Julius Caesar, I:ii)
- Amusing error: 100d [Register] SIGN IN, not SINK IN.
- 16a [Nuclear] ATOMIC, 98d [Mushroom makers] A-BOMBS.
- 122a [Wish granters] GENII. Feels like a mismatch between clue and answer, which felt as if it needed the more informal plural GENIES.
- Favorite clue (I think): 44a [Redundantly revolting] RISING UP.
- Roman numerals! 35d [Midafternoon, in a way] III, 60a [XVIIth-century midpoint] MDCLI.