Now that I have a shiny new Mac running on an Intel chip, I downloaded Alex Boisvert’s Crossword Butler tool to fetch Across Lite versions of crosswords. Like others who wouldn’t do the puzzle if they had to track it down or if it weren’t available in Across Lite, I wouldn’t seek out the USA Today crossword.
But Tyler Hinman and Jeffrey Krasnick are so entertaining when pointing out (via Twitter) the woeful fill and themes they find in the USA Today and Universal crosswords (both edited by the same person), so I had to at least give USA Today a shot. Today’s puzzle by Alice Walker (not, I don’t think, the author of The Color Purple) is called “Color Coded” and the theme entries are BLACK BEAR, GRAYBEARDS, WHITE BREAD, and GREEN BEAN. Thematic concerns:
- GRAYBEARDS is one word, while the other three are two-word terms.
- GRAYBEARDS is arbitrarily pluralized.
- GREEN BEAN, on the other hand, really should be used in the plural, as people seldom contend with just a single green bean.
- The color quartet is so odd. Black, gray, white…and green?? Red, green, blue, and yellow make a great foursome, and black, gray, and white make a great trio. Even changing the BEAR to BROWN would make for a less jarring combination of colors.
Surprising answers in the fill:
- 5d. [Old fiddle] is REBECK. Whoa. I’ve seen REBEC in crosswords (and it’s not the sort of answer a constructor wants to include), but never REBECK.
- 18d. Right beside REBECK is KRAAL, a [Boer’s pen]. This answer makes 19A: KRAIT, [Poisonous snake], seem much more accessible.
- 48d. I’ve never seen the word NEBULE, or [Small cloud].
- 26d. I do know the BAOBAB tree and think it’s a terrifically cool word—but it rarely shows up in the other mainline crosswords. It’s clued here as the [Monkey bread tree]. Oh, look: the word “bread” also appears in a theme entry.
- 65a. [Been around longer] clues OLDER. This fails the substitution rule as well as violating the part-of-speech equivalency rule. “I have been around longer” = “I am older”? Fail. Verb phrase vs. comparative adjective? Fail.
There weren’t any deadly crossings, but the unfamiliar cluing style and the three out-there entries slowed me down to about 3:50, longer than the standard Monday-to-Wednesday puzzles.
I may be instructing the Butler not to open the door when the USA Today crossword comes knocking.