Mike Nothnagel’s New York Times crossword
Ah, so Will Shortz doesn’t parcel out the heavily cross-referenced puzzles so that they don’t land in the same week. This one is simpler than the music one the other day, and elegantly simple: Three 5-letter answers combine in various pairs to clue the three longest answers. Here they are:
- 9a. [Erased] clues BLANK.
- 26d. [“Got it”] slangily clues “CHECK.”
- 61a. A chiding [“Don’t ___!”] POINT provides the final component.
- 20a. [61-Across + 9-Across] means POINT BLANK, or EXTREMELY CLOSE.
- 36a. [9-Across + 26-Down] gets you a BLANK CHECK, which is an UNLIMITED BUDGET.
- 49a. [26-Down + 61-Across] is a CHECKPOINT, or INSPECTION SPOT. I had SITE instead of SPOT. SPOT sounds weird here.
The long answers are the sorts of ungainly phrases that would customarily appear as clues rather than fill. Usually such themes 44a: [Bug]/IRK me, but I was OK with this one.
Highlights, tricky spots, etc.:
- 16a. [Jazz count?] refers to Count BASIE.
- 19a. [Sitting in a cask, say] clues AGING. I started with ON TAP.
- 24a. Ooh, fresh clue for ELO: [Rock grp. once promoted as “the English guys with the big fiddles”]. I did not know that.
- 56a. ZULU is the [End of the NATO phonetic alphabet]. Shout-out to South Africa.
- 3d. Did you know EAST BERLIN was the [“Octopussy” setting]?
- 4d. “WHERE AM I?” is a [Question asked in a foggy state]. Wasn’t that one of Ross Perot’s running mate’s questions at the VP debate back in ’92?
- 5d. Your [Lot] in life is your fate or KISMET.
- 8d. Had no idea I SPY was the [Best-selling children’s book series by Walter Wick and Jean Marzollo]. Needed to work the crossings here.
- 9d. [Hoops]! Slangy in both clue and answer, B-BALL.
- 31d. [Boppers] are CATS of a non-feline variety. Think bebopping hepcats.
- 37d. I like “I LIKE!” It’s a two-word way to convey [“Looks good to me”].
Dan Naddor’s Los Angeles Times crossword
This is among the easiest Naddor puzzles I can recall. The theme doesn’t tread old ground, with a three-pronged silent letters concept. SILENCE IS GOLDEN, clued as 36a: [Proverb for overwrought parents, and a hint to both ends of 17-, 23-, 47- and 56-Across], unifies the other four theme answers, which both begin and end with silent letters. Granted, they all end with silent E, but it’s an extra oomph of consistency for the foursome:
- 17a. [Rustic furniture material] is KNOTTY PINE.
- 23a. [Jogging technique?] is a clever clue for MNEMONIC DEVICE. Mnemonic is one of my favorite words starting with a silent letter.
- 47a. [Pressure-sensitive control mechanism] clues the rather dull PNEUMATIC VALVE.
- 56a. Not 100% in-the-current-language as a discrete unit of meaning, but fun nonetheless. “GNARLY, DUDE!” means [“Totally tubular, man!”]
Also admirable: The theme entries all begin with the “N” sound but have different silent letters preceding the N.
- 11d. ABE VIGODA! [He played Fish on “Barney Miller”] and, as seen on that Snickers commercial with Betty White, is not dead yet. I thought he was pretty old on ’70s TV, but he just looked older than his years. He’s finally the age he always looked (80-something).
- 12d. Excellent clue for LATECOMER: [Theater annoyance, perhaps].
- 22d. Cheesy ’80s pop culture references always grab me. RED SONJA is a [1985 Schwarzenegger film about a sword-and-sorcery heroine].
- 31d. HIT AND RUN is a [Baseball strategy]? Well, you certainly won’t score if you don’t hit the ball and then run the bases. My husband assures me that yes, HIT AND RUN is a specific strategy in the game, and not merely Baseball Basics for Those Who Really Don’t Know. I sure didn’t know there was a strategy by that name, but given the dismal nature of hit-and-run car attacks, the baseball clue is more chipper.
- 32d. [Like Big Brother in “1984”] is ALL-SEEING. A friend and I were discussing the number of eyes with which we supervise our sons. Because of our glasses, she thought we had eight eyes on the kids, but I pointed out the hidden eye we each have in the back of our head.
- 10a. [Skeptic’s grain?] is the grain of SALT with which the skeptic takes things.
- 15a. [Picture of health?] clues an X-RAY. Great clue, but it makes me a little sad given how unlucky Dan was on the health front.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Offsides”
Soccer is one of several sports in which players can be offside(s). Offsides involves being ahead of where you’re supposed to be, so this theme involves the second part of assorted soccer-related phrases being placed ahead of where they should be, flipping the two parts of each phrase. The World Cup, as you all know unless you are incredibly effective at avoiding all news, kicks off on Friday so the theme couldn’t be more timely. Without further ado:
- 17a. [Store for athletes seeking protection? (And, onsides, what each of this puzzle’s starred entries refers to)] clues CUP WORLD. The World Cup flips to create the concept of a Yarbles Protectors “R” Us store.
- 23a. A tournament quarterfinal becomes FINAL QUARTER, or [*What an arcade-goer might want to make last?].
- 33a. [*Blogger’s quota?] is a POST GOAL. My new post goal is to write about as many puzzles as I can before I hit the sack (whoops, the sack may need to wear a cup) so my mornings are largely puzzle-free. It feels more sane that way.
- 41a. [*The left, to a southpaw?] clues BALL HAND. This, I did not know: that one-word handball means not only the sport of handball, but also the soccer foul.
- 48a. Penalty shots turn into SHOTS PENALTY, or [*Puking?]. I have not done shots since college. Wait, that’s not strictly true. I forgot about the free prize shots at pub trivia.
- 62a. Cape Town, South Africa, becomes the TOWN CAPE, an [*Item shared by a community of superheroes?]. I have a friend inside the computer named Tertia who lives there. Giraffes, elephants, and winters that barely hit the 50s (in °F)? One could get used to that.
Not an easy crossword, this one. For example, 16a: [Pakistani scientist accused of selling nuclear secrets]? One A.Q. KHAN? Don’t recall the name. 38a: [Cricket shape]? The sport’s played on an OVAL, apparently. South African Tertia would know that. 68a: [Tool’s Maynard James ___] KEENAN? Is this a guy in a band? 1d: [It’s for slangin’, in slang] clues ROCK? As in…what? Googling…it’s a rap song. ‘Round these parts, charley horse just means a cramp in your calf, but that’s not the term’s only meaning. 39d: [Gave a charley horse, maybe] also means KNEED.
- 7d. [“Bumper ___ Crop Spells Profit for Wafer Growers”: The Onion] clues tasty, tasty NILLA Wafers.
- 44a. [Style for Bob Dylan, once] is the JEWFRO. Ben’s Jewish, so he’s absolutely allowed to use an entry like this.
- 49d. [Berry native to Ohio] refers to actress HALLE, not fruit.
- 56d. Okay, maybe this one isn’t fun per se. But it’s an interesting and smart clue for NAZI: [Historical socialist in name only]. Nazi is short for Nationalsozialist.
Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crossword, “Themeless 19”
Peter’s Fireball puzzles seem to hit various people with marked differences. I say it was easier than I expected, and other top solvers say they couldn’t finish. I find it uncommonly tough, other people say it was right in their wheelhouse. This one felt like a tougher-than-average Saturday NYT (in difficulty terms—the fill and clues remain Gordonian in style) for me. Okay, Howard, Joon, tell me how easy this one was.
Let’s kick it categorical. First up, sports:
- The Chicago Blackhawks just won the Stanley Cup. Congratulations to those of you who care about hockey and like the Hawks. Tyler Hinman was pretty psyched—I think he broke the exclamation point key.
- 65a. [Worthy, as a professional] means NBA star James Worthy, an L.A. LAKER. Brilliant clue—but perhaps mystifying for anyone who doesn’t know the player.
- 3d. Arthur ASHE is the [Eponym of the ESPY Courage Award]. I was racking my brains to remember the name of that sportscaster or coach or whoever he was who died of cancer and was a nice guy. Who am I thinking of? Jimmy V-something?
- 9d. [Bolt with lightning speed] is runner USAIN Bolt. Great clue, but one I could not figure out for the longest time. Today, Facebook suggested that I become a fan of Usain Bolt and Tyler Perry, because many of their fans are also Facebook fans of Barack Obama.
- 10d. D’oh! The CHI-SOX are [“Pale Hose”]. My mind does not travel on the baseball orbit, so I just stared blankly at that clue. 20a: [Rank on] didn’t shout DIS to me, and those damnable [Greek consonants] (29a) wanted to be MUS or NUS before they were torn between PIS and XIS.
- RIHANNA, an Aztec RAIN GOD, Tom Cruisean JUMP THE COUCH, TBILISI from the other Georgia, SARDONYX (I love shiny things; did you know the sardonyx and the word sardonic both relate to Sardinia, etymologically?), ENGLISH LIT, ATOM ANT, and SNO-CONES.
- Plus FREAKONOMICS—I am reminded of that book every time I pass the new novel Insignificant Others in the bookstore window because the cover art has similar color schemes. Okay, so I guess Freakonomics is more orange and green while the neckties are yellow and green—but I love both covers.
Gail Grabowski’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Muscle Contractions”—Janie’s review
What a fitting workout Gail gives us today! The first letters of each of the five theme phrases are also shortened versions (“contractions”) of some of the human body’s major “muscle” groups. The letters appear in phrases unrelated to the muscle-groups-in-question—which is what keeps things lively. That’s how:
- 20A. [1969 Beatles album] ABBEY ROAD yields the rectus abdominus. And, yes, Abbey Road remains one of my all-time faves. Loved it then; love it now. Thanks for the memories…
- 11D. [Cha-cha, e.g.] LATIN DANCE leads to lattisimus dorsi—and, located in the back, happens to be the largest muscle in the body.
- 37A. [Eats like a bird] PECKS AT leads us to the pectoralis major—or chest muscles. This one at dead center nearly got by me altogether. The clue is to be understood literally and I took it figuratively, entering PICKS AT… Of course, I couldn’t make sense of TIARS where TEARS lives, but the error of my ways eventually dawned; ditto the fact that there were five and not four theme answers to be found.
- 27D. [Like soy flour, diet-wise] GLUTEN-FREE reminds us of the gluteus maximus (or minimus)—better known as “the butt.” Lotsa really good gluten-free products and recipes out there, for them as requires ’em especially. Still, gotta eat this stuff in moderation, too, lest one’s gluteus maximus bear the brunt… (In which case, you might want to try a [Low-] CARB [diet]. For a no-carb diet, there’s always that tooth-breaking [Turkish bread], LIRAS. Joke…)
- 51D.[1973 Helen Reddy hit] DELTA DAWN gives us the deltoid group, those upper shoulder muscles. I know Ms. Reddy was a phenom and has hordes of devotees, but somehow, while a moderate admirer, I was never an ardent fan. Ah, well.
There’s little about the non-theme fill that’s [Lackluster] DRAB. Not with the likes of CAYENNE, that [Hot condiment] or SUNDIAL, cleverly clued as [Old timer?] (I love that combo!). I also liked seeing a variation of that clue in [Old-time platters] for LPS.
STAR IN [Head the cast of] was a stand-out, and PRIMO, too, [Very valuable, slangily]; even the far more homespun MA AND PA [Rustic couple], like Ma and Pa Kettle. Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride were the original on-screen pair, btw, and appeared in a slew of pix as those characters—the first one being The Egg and I. Do check it out!
Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Kicking It”
Brendan labeled this one “Medium” in difficulty, but it struck me as being among the very easiest BEQ blog puzzles. And I’d never even heard of two of the theme people! The focus here is puns featuring international soccer/football stars’ names:
- 17a. [“The San Francisco Treat” à la English striker Wayne?] is RICE-A-ROONEY, playing on Rice-a-Roni. Sometimes I see mentions of Rooney on Twitter and I never have a clue what’s going on.
- 28a. [Spanish midfielder Creus’s nose for economics?] is BUSINESS XAVI. I presume Xavi is short for Xavier. (Wikipedia confirms. Also, his full name is Xavier Hernández i Creus, so should hebe clued as Hernández rather than Creus?) Never heard of Xavi, and I was playing a little round of vowel roulette for that A. The crossing, 11d: IL TABARRO, is a [One-act opera by Puccini] I’ve also never heard of. Tried XOVI/TABORRO first. The pun’s on “business savvy.”
- 43a. [Miserable split from Argentine striker Lionel?] is a MESSI DIVORCE and no, I’ve never heard of Messi.
- 57a. I’ve learned KAKA from crosswords. Probably more the BEQ/alt-weekly sorts of puzzles rather than the daily newspaper. [Loud noises from Brazilian midfielder Santos Leite?] are KAKAPHONIES (cacophonies).
My favorite non-theme answer is BOX WINE, or 22d: [Alcohol container brought to a picnic].