Sam Buchbinder’s New York Times crossword
This puzzle is packed with theme, with four 15s, a pair of crossing 7s in the middle, and a circled diagonal 2-letter bit:
- 17a. [IBM's Watson, essentially], ARTIFICIAL BRAIN. The Scarecrow was looking for a brain. Is it just me or does ARTIFICIAL BRAIN sound contrived? (There’s a Wikipedia article but it’s not a familiar phrase for me.) Artificial hearts have been implanted surgically, and artificial intelligence is a thing.
- 26a. [Embolden oneself], GET UP THE COURAGE. The Cowardly Lion sought courage.
- 37a. [23-Down of a classic L. Frank Baum novel], DOROTHY.
- 44a. [Dear], NEAR TO ONE’S HEART. Tin Man wanted a heart.
- 58a. [Path taken by 37-Across to find the ends of 17-, 26- and 44-Across in [circled letters]], YELLOW BRICK ROAD. There are two circled letters spelling OZ.
- 23d. [See 37-Across], HEROINE. Utterly useless as a theme component. Just put “heroine” in DOROTHY’s clue and loosen up the grid a tad. The cross-references add nothing.
For a Tuesday puzzle, this grid sure has a lot of what I bundle in the crosswordese category. A TOI, AVER, EIRE, OTOE, WEI, ARA, ROAN, ENID (of Oklahoma), AER, and not-quite-a-household-name Mike ENZI? That’s a lot to throw at newer solvers who are still getting the hang of crossword vocab. Plus one of the two answers with UP in it is really unusual—LIFT UP is fine, but what’s this UPREAR? DAT’S just weird.
Now, granted, GROUPONS, QUASH, KIX, NAKED EYE, KLUTZY, and HECKLE are all terrific. But when the Scowl-o-Meter kicks in too often, it makes me … scowly.
Congrats on the debut, Mr. Buchbinder! Please bring us more puzzles with the juicy fill and maybe one third less theme material so the fill can breathe a little more. 3.33 stars from me.
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle, “Alphabetic Sextet”—Janie’s review
The “alphabetic” part of the title refers to the vowel progression that today’s themers fall into—you know, words where the first and sometimes second (or last…) letters remain the same, but whose successive (or interior) vowel changes. Alphabetically. Bag, beg, big, bog, bug. Or even: brag, brew, blitz, blog, blue. You get the idea. La Liz takes things one step further. Well, two, if truth be told. Each of the two-word phrases begins with the consonant pair “cr-” (+ vowel); but then there’s the “sextet” part of the title. Oh, yeah. “A, E, I, O, U … and sometimes Y.” This is one of those times and, oh boy, does it pay off nicely. Straight-forward, image-making clues allow the theme phrases (each marked with an asterisk) to shine.
- *17A. CRACKS OPEN [Gets ready to drink, as a can of beer]. Vivid imagery and a lively phrase. Perfect for the summer, too. During the school year I suppose this could be clued [Gets ready to study, vis à vis one's textbooks]. I vote for a little more summer…
- *23A. CREAMED POTATOES [Rich Thanksgiving side dish made with spuds, butter and milk]. Wait, wait—we’ve still got about five weeks of summer left! But really: yum! (Oh, and the first of two grid-spanners.)
- *30A. CRIME DOG [McGruff's career]. Never hearda him (or don’t readily recall him anyway), but “Take a bite out of crime!” is advertising gold (and something that does sound familiar).
- *41A. CROP TOPS [Midriff-revealing shirts]. Hey—if you’ve got the belly for it, bare it! But unless you’ve a desire to be a Glamour “Don’t,” please think about forgoing the look if you’re someone described as [Having a large endowment?] BUSTIER… (which only means you might be someone who could make the most of a bustier!).
- *47A. CRUSHING DEFEATS [Devastating losses]. Oof. Sure hope none of you will be taking any of these. We hear the term a lots in sports talk—and war talk—no? Great phrase, even if it has the potential to conjure up unsettling thoughts. (And the matching grid-spanner.)
- *54A. CRYSTAL SET [Early wireless radio receiver]. Oh, I love this one. So fresh, so evocative of another era, when “wireless” technology was really new. When adults put together their own radios and kids partook in the hobby just as eagerly and avidly—and families sat around a table, headset at their ears—to get the news of the world. What we now call a “diode” was originally a component made of a crystalline ore like galena. Hence (in part…) crystal set. (And no matter how lovely it may be, no mention of Swarovski or stemware either!)
All that great theme fill (66 letters’-worth to boot!) and we still get some fill and clues to write home about. PEACENIK and NO HASSLE top the list of the former; and the non-wrestling-related [Head lock?] for TRESS and non-Lennon-related [John ... to Paul, George and Ringo], the latter. Also liked seeing BROOCH and TIE CLIP, Siberia’s chilly TUNDRA and the warmer Roma’s FONTANA di Trevi. And speaking of warmer climes, “ALOHA” and POI make their way into the puzzle by way of twinned culinary-event clues: [Luau greeting] for the former, [Luau bowlful] for the latter. (Seems poi may be an acquired taste, having the consistency of GOO, and—when highly fermented—a tendency, perhaps, to REEK OF less appealing aromas… [but the health benefits are the stuff of legend!]). I bet KATNISS Everdeen wouldn’t turn up her nose at it. She’s one tough cookie (and no IHOP in her neighborhood either…)!
Finally, thanks for the shout-outs to jazzman Dizzy Gillespie a/k/a DIZ, and TAP genius Savion Glover who creates more rhythm with his feet than would seem humanly possible. Honest-to-goodness, I’m starin’ at his feet—which barely seem to move—dumbstruck at the complex and majorly rapid tap patterns he’s making. See if you don’t agree!
C.C. Burnikel’s Los Angeles Times crossword
A BACKDROP is a 62a. [Painted setting behind stage actors, or what the ends of 17-, 21-, 33-, 42- and 54-Across can literally have], and those five answers end with words that can precede “drop”:
- 17a. [Stuffy room need], FRESH AIR. Airdrops, such as on Sinjar Mountain in Iraq last week.
- 21a. [Smith, to Abigail Adams], MAIDEN NAME. Do you know any name-droppers? I do, but I won’t tell you who.
- 33a. [Mello Yello rival], MOUNTAIN DEW. Dewdrops. You know, I came into possession of a Mountain Dew this summer and had a few sips. It was surprisingly tasty for such an artificial formula.
- 42a. [Door-controlling sensor], ELECTRIC EYE. Eyedrops. I go with Zaditor for allergy symptoms and Systane lubricant eyedrops for dry eyes.
- 54a. [1984 Prince hit], PURPLE RAIN. Raindrops, we have them today. Did you see the epic extended live version of “Purple Rain” on YouTube in June? I think the video’s since been taken down, but it was the original live performance at First Avenue that was recorded for the movie soundtrack.
Solid theme. Crisp assortment of theme answers, with MOUNTAIN DEW and PURPLE RAIN particularly welcome.
Five more things:
- 19a. [Overly affected], TOO-TOO. Dictionary labels this “dated.” If only Jordin Tootoo were more famous in the U.S. (First NHL player to have grown up in Nunavut, formerly part of the Northwest Territories.)
- 46a. [Acidity nos.], PHS. This plural looks weird.
- 29d. [Traditional New Year's Day procession], ROSE PARADE. I always think of it as the Rose Bowl Parade, but I think I’m wrong there.
- 36d. [Author Gardner], ERLE. Rarely seen in puzzles without his middle name, Stanley. As fill goes, … meh.
- 43d. [Contributes for a joint gift], CHIPS IN. Good answer.
3.5 stars from me.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Bebop”
The theme is made-up two-word phrases where both words start with B and share a final consonant sound, and the vowels follow the sound pattern in “bebop”:
- 17a. [Packing the wrong clothes for the shore?], BEACH BOTCH. Yes, “botch” is also a noun.
- 64a. [Part of the neighborhood where all the downers live?], BLEAK BLOCK.
- 11d. [Undergarments that allow for air flow?], BREEZE BRAS. YES. WHY IS THIS NOT YET A THING? Somebody invent this pronto!
- 29d. [Report from a slow vegetable-purchasing day?], BEET BOUGHT. Um, nope. “Bought” has the same vowel sound as “law,” not the one in “bop.” Yes, there are areas where “caught” and “cot,” “bought” and “bot” are pronounced the same, but I checked two dictionaries and both support me on the aw/ah difference.
There was a guy on the Cruciverb-L mailing list asking how people pronounce “Ouija board,” because he wanted to use a sound-alike in a +JEE phonetic theme. Some other guy assured him that so long as the dictionary supports his pronunciation (even if it supports multiple ways of saying it), he should go ahead and make the puzzle. I disagree, because it really does rattle a solver to have a puzzle insisting on a particular pronunciation that one has never heard (if you’ve never heard someone say it “weejee,” it’s going to be tough to parse a theme answer that hinges on it). And when the dictionary doesn’t support it, as in this week’s Jonesin’, well, I can only sigh.
Lots of names in the fill. I wasn’t ready for ELIE to be clued as 57d. [Mario of the NBA] but I don’t object to that. I enjoyed seeing Shannen DOHERTY, Christina RICCI, ELLA Fitzgerald, and James SPADER in the grid, but could do without IRMA Rombauer.
- 45d. [Diner player], JUKEBOX. Great entry.
- 48a. [Early rock nickname, with "The"], FAB FOUR. Great entry.
- 1a. ["Cast Away" carrier], RAFT. I wanted a 4-letter airline “carrier” here! Tricked me.
- 25a. [Cracker with seven holes], RITZ. I don’t usually count.
- 27a. [Dance music with slow shifting bass sounds], DUBSTEP. Great entry. Subject of a hilarious and also gruesome Key & Peele sketch.
- 60d. [The cops, in slang], POPO. “You high, popo?” I picked this slang up from House and I love it.
3.33 stars from me.
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Tina Turner”—Ade’s write-up
Good afternoon from the Nutmeg State!
I hope everyone is having a very good day so far! Here in Connecticut covering tennis, and my apologies this blog is up late. The Internet connection here at Yale has been off-and-on all day long, and, finally, I’ve been able to experience a purple patch in terms of getting online now…after about five hours. Sheesh!
Still covering some tennis, yes, but I do have time to talk a little about Mr. Randall J. Hartman’s puzzle, which has a clever title and cool execution. The four 15-letter theme entries are terms in which the first four letters are T-I-N-A, but rearranged in each entry. Also, from first theme entry to last theme entry, the answers start with, in order, T, I, N, and A.
- TIANANMEN SQUARE: (17A: Site of the June Fourth Incident])
- INTANGIBLE ASSET: (28A: [Trademark or copyright])
- NATIONAL PASTIME: (49A: [Baseball, some say])
- ANTI-WAR MOVEMENT: (64A: [Alliance of peaceniks])
Let’s add WAUKESHA to the list of Wisconsin cities that have made its way onto grids or have been referenced in grid clues (10D: [Badger State city]). Honestly, which Wisconsin city hasn’t been in a grid? Green Bay? Whitewater? Guess I’m just marveling at the times I’ve seen Oshkosh, Fond du Lac, et. al in puzzles. Rest of the grid was smooth solving, especially after making sure to spell Tiananmen correctly. Best entry (well, clue) award goes to LINE (25D: ["Was that an earthquake or did you just rock my world?," for one]). Must use that one day and have someone laugh at how unbelievably cheesy it is! It may work!!
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: BENGAL (8D: [Super Bowl XVI loser]) – Yes, the Cincinnati Bengals lost that Super Bowl to the San Francisco 49ers at the Pontiac Silverdome in Metro Detroit (one of two Super Bowls the Bengals have lost to the Niners in franchise history), but in the game prior to Super Bowl XVI, the Bengals defeated the San Diego Chargers 27-7 in the AFC Championship Game in Cincinnati. That game is also known as the Freezer Bowl (a play on the famous 1967 Cowboys-Packers NFL Championship Game nicknamed the Ice Bowl). The game was played in the coldest temperature(s) in NFL history in terms of wind chill (-37 degrees Fahrenheit).
By the way, this was my point of view as I was blogging this puzzle today…
Thank you so much for your time, and I’ll see you on Wednesday!