Timothy Polin’s New York Times crossword
Plant names that start with animal names get clued playfully, based on the negative portrayals of people as animals:
- 18a. [Nursery worker's suggestion for a backstabber?], SNAKE PLANT. Aka mother-in-law’s tongue, aka that tropical plant that blew my mind the first time I went to the tropics and saw it growing along the roadside like a weed.
- 36a. [... for a scoundrel?], DOGWOOD. I much prefer the “scoundrel” insult of ”You dog, you!” to the appearance-related insult of “Man, he’s a real dog.”
- 57a. [... for a fall guy?], GOATSBEARD. This plant was unfamiliar to me.
- 3d. [... for a grouch?], CRABGRASS. Down in Florida, my in-laws overruled the developer’s recommendation of crabgrass for a softer grass … which didn’t do well at all. Now they have a lawn planted with some sort of crabgrass and it’s nice and green.
- 32d. [... for a lothario?], WOLF’S BANE. Poisonous, once used to kill wolves. Has a neurotoxin that can kill a lothario, too.
Interesting and fresh theme.
Among the more exotic fill, we have SOBERS UP, VIRAGO ([Shrew]? Who doesn’t prefer the older definition, “a female warrior”?), SEXTS, ICE FOG, MESTIZA ([Mujer of mixed race], mujer being Spanish for “woman”), MAMA’S BOY, BASS SOLO, XZIBIT, JOWLS, and OPIUM DEN.
Still wondering why LARUE keeps getting clued as 52d. [Lash ___ of old westerns] rather than ["CSI: Miami" actress Eva]. Two LASH LaRue clues in nine days in the same puzzle venue seems a bit much to me.
Four stars from me, in recognition of the non-stale thematic angle and the liveliness of much the fill.
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle, “Gender Bender”—Janie’s review
Tricky puzzle, no? Tricky and fun. Four themers and a little reveal tell the tale here. Taking a hint from the title, 62D. [SEX change (or a hint to the puzzle theme)] confirms the sometimes quirky, sometimes wonderfully humorous results that occur when a critical M in four familiar phrases is changed to an F—when the Masculine gender bends to become Feminine. Thus:
- 20A. “FASTER BLASTER” [Stevie Wonder hit about a quicker demolition expert?]. Man oh man—had never heard of this “Master Blaster,” a single from Stevie Wonder’s Hotter than July, a reggae-based album that was released in 1980 (also new to me). So even when the crossings confirmed I’d filled the grid correctly, I remained in the dark about why it was right. The light started to go on, however, after I’d completed
- 28A. CEMENT FIXERS [Handy folks with concrete solutions?]. I’ve at least hearda cement mixers, but what the hell? Cement fixers? The M is now an F? Is that the game? What’s next?
- 49A. “FAN OVERBOARD!!” [Emergency call during a groupie cruise?]. Yes—the M is now an F. Our man is now a fan. That is the game–and this is a particularly amusing example. The equally smile-making final one rounds out the set to perfection, too.
- 58A. HONEYDEW FELON [Convicted thief with a fruit fetish?]. Cute. You don’t really need me to spell this out for you, do you? I didn’t think so!
Before moving on to look at other highlights this puzzle offers, a tip o’ the hat to the clever cluing of the theme fill: “demolition expert,” the punny “concrete solutions,” “groupie cruise” (what a succinct way to describe one of those special-interest travel adventures!), “convicted thief with a fruit fetish”–funny stuff all, keeping the solving experience both groan-y and lively.
The puzzle also boasts two terrific, long downs: LAWN CHAIR [Patio recliner] and POOR DEVIL [Unfortunate type]. I also love that each of them is crossed by rhyming fill in matched/mirroring locations–the former by “I SWEAR!” ["It's the truth!"], the latter by Y-LEVEL [Rotating surveying tool]. Yikes. Has anyone here ever heard of/used one of these? This one was definitely in the “live-and-learn” column for me!
Other longer, likeable fill or combos would have to include EAT WELL [Enjoy a six-course meal] and its inverse DIETED [Deliberately lost?] (weight…presumably by not indulging in six-course meals, but maybe by opting for a FRO-YO instead of ice cream); the non-repast-oriented [Wines and dines, for example] for RHYMES (because they are and they do); TAI CHI, OSSIFY, RECESS, APTIVA (which keeps making me think of Activia…) and MYSTIC, with its cryptic-style clue [Occultist's favorite Connecticut tourist town?] (an occultist is a mystic and Mystic is a seaport tourist-town in Connecticut).
Enjoyed the double-dealings offered up by HOAX [Bamboozle] and LIAR [Super duper?]. Here are two shorter words that are given a boost by their colorful cluing: “bamboozle” is a great word, and the twist on the word “super-duper” means the solver has to think twice about what’s being looked for. Keeps the solve peppy; keeps the solver on his/her toes! Ditto the clue [First name in car-jumping] for EVEL. I don’t know about you, but my first thought here was about automotive services providing jump starts for a dead battery—and not the late dare-devil Evel Knevel.
Final observation has to do with some of the scrabbly letters we find in the grid—especially the Xs and Ys. In a puzzle calling itself “Gender Bender,” this possible resonance with male (XY) and female (XX) chromosomes seems like an added layer of theme development—no matter how serendipitous. I kinda doubt this is something Liz deliberately wove into the grid— but I wouldn’t put it past her either!
Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Surrounded By Idiots”—Ade’s write-up
Hello everyone, and a happy Tuesday to you all!
When being around the Fiend community, we know we’re surrounded by like-minded, smart, witty and engaging people. But in today’s puzzle, served up to us by Mr. Patrick Jordan, we encounter the absolute opposite. In it, four theme answers, when combining the first two and last two letters, spell out words that are synonymous with the word “idiot.”
- CLASS PERIOD: (17A: [School day division]) used to form CLOD: (47D: [Idiot "surrounding" the answer at 17-Across])
- JELLYSTONE PARK: (27A: [Home to Yogi and Boo Boo]) used to form JERK: (11D: [Idiot "surrounding" the answer at 27-Across])
- GOOD IMPRESSION: (42A: [Favorable image]) used to form GOON: (13D: [Idiot "surrounding" the answer at 42-Across])
- DOUBLE FAULT: (55A: [Tennis infraction that costs a point]) used to form DOLT: (49D: [Idiot "surrounding" the answer at 55-Across])
I remember when I was taking Spanish classes in high school, and in the used textbook that I purchased for the class, there was a picture of JULIO Iglesias inside of it that had been drawn on by the previous owners of the textbook (27D: [Crooner Iglesias]). From then on, I couldn’t see Julio Iglesias on television without imagining him with a mustache in blue ink across his face. Although I’m not allergic to any PEANUT (63A: [Snickers' tidbit]) or peanut OIL (59A: [Source of Jed Clampett's wealth]), and actually like the smell of peanut butter, I’ve never been a fan of eating any peanut byproduct. Once this was found out, my mom would just make me jelly sandwiches, without the peanut butter. There was a good number of three-letter words in the grid, and some of them weren’t so hot, like DET (62A: [NYPD employee]) and LBO (54A: [Corp. takeover strategy]). But there were some sightly answers in the grid, including IONIZE (25D: [Turn positive, chemically speaking]) and ALIENATE (38D: [Ruin a relationship with]). Somewhere between the three-word crosswordese and the great fill is ORKAN (21A: [TV's Mork, e.g.]).
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: STEWART (24D: [Jon of "The Daily Show"]) – Yes, we know Jon Stewart as one of the funniest and most insightful men currently on television, but did you know he was a Division One (D-I) college athlete? Stewart played collegiate soccer at his alma mater, the College of William and Mary. More importantly, there are pictures to prove it!
See you all at the top of the hump for Wednesday’s puzzle!
Pawel Fludzinski’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Oh! I forgot to blog the LAT and Jonesin’ puzzles. On the plus side, I got caught up on a lot of work.
Theme: 59d. [Battery found, in a way, in eight puzzle answers] clues AAAA, and the eight themers include 4 A’s apiece. At first I thought the theme answers all contained no vowel but A, and there were some Y’s that troubled me—but theme isn’t “only A,” it’s “four A’s.”
- 18a. [Undoubtedly], FAR AND AWAY.
- 23a. [Lawn option in warm climates], BAHAMA GRASS.
- 33a. [Straw topper first made in Ecuador, surprisingly], PANAMA HAT. 23a and 33a were my first themers in the grid, and I thought the others would also start with place names. (Though it’s Bahamas with an S…)
- 46a. [Twin-hulled vessel], CATAMARAN.
- 51a. [Sleepover with more giggling than sleeping], PAJAMA PARTY.
- 64a. [Island off Africa's southeast coast], MADAGASCAR.
- 4d. [Picnic staple], PASTA SALAD.
- 29d. [Missed the bus, forgot lunch, argued with the boss, etc.], HAD A BAD DAY.
With eight 9- to 11-letter theme answers and a 4-letter revealer, we’ve got … 84 theme squares? So by all rights, I should have felt besieged by lousy fill while solving, and yet I did not. ARAL, DADO, I-BAR, SLYE—those aren’t awful, and there are only four of them, and I really would have expected some unfortunate compromises. Well played, Pawel! Clearly you’ve got a knack for avoiding junk vocabulary when filling a grid. (I wonder if the profusion of A’s somehow facilitated good interlocking?)
Barely knew: 39a. [Crimson Tide coach Nick], SABAN. Have seen the name but don’t really follow NCAA football.
I’m in the mood for a fruity tropical drink, what with MADAGASCAR, PANAMA, the BAHAMAs, TAHITI, and the CAYMAN Islands here. (LIBYA and IOWA are not invited to the party.)
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Small Potatoes”
The theme is phrases/words that end with things that potatoes can be cut into:
- 17a. [Potato products on the golf course?], SAND WEDGES. Fat fries called potato wedges.
- 27a. [Potato products on the playground?], TINY TOTS. Tater Tots®.
- 44a. [Potato products on sprouting plants?], LEAF BUDS. Okay, this is gross little things cut off from your potatoes and not fried up and put on your plate. Outlier. Oh, or the brand name of Potato Buds, that icky flaky stuff that gets reconstituted into “mashed potatoes.” Dreadful substance.
- 57a. [Potato products in computers?], MICROCHIPS. Potato chips.
- 11d. [Potato products used as a term of affection?], BABYCAKES. Potato cakes are … is this the same thing as potato pancakes? Or is it hashbrown patties? Not clear on that.
- 34d. [Potato products that can't take criticism?], THIN SKINS. Potato skins stuffed with salty junk.
The theme doesn’t quite hang together in a way that pleases my brain. The ends of the theme answers can all follow “potato” on a menu or in a grocery store … except “potato tots” doesn’t work that way at all. I think I would have liked the theme better without the two 8-letter entries.
- 26a. ["America's Drive-In" chain], SONIC. If you have a Sonic near you, try the strawberry slush with chunks of real strawberries in it. And don’t forget to tip your carhop. Those folks earn less than minimum wage and need those tips.
- Top fill includes QUIXOTE, WU TANG, and THE RING.
- 1a. [Tilting, poetically], ASLANT. Not a great 1-Across. This one says, “Solvers! Move elsewhere for interesting fill. Come back here later.”
3.33 stars from me.