Kevin Der’s New York Times crossword, “Musical Play”
The “musical play” happening here is deft puns that work composers’ names into familiar phrases. Pun themes often tread a thin line between appreciative amusement and disappointed UGH (107d: [Cry of distaste]), but I cast my vote with the music-pun appreciation crowd today. The theme answers are:
- 22a. BIZET AS A BEAVER plays on “busy as a beaver.” That’s fine.
- 29a. THINK OUTSIDE THE BACHS goofs on “think outside the box.” The clue is great: [Embrace more than just a family of Baroque composers?]. Johann Sebastian Bach was just one of the famous Bachs of music, and of course the Baroque period had more than just Bachs to choose from.
- 39a. A CHOPIN SPREE builds on “shopping spree.” Solid, and musically clued.
- 55a. FLYING OFF THE HANDEL (“…handle”) doesn’t have as successful a clue as the others. [Singing a “Messiah” piece too quickly?] feels off. Flying through would be more idiomatic, but “flying through the handle” is meaningless.
- 66a. A “Nationalist Party” splits a word to become a NATIONAL LISZT PARTY. Solid.
- 83a. “Hide and go seek” yields HAYDN GO SEEK. Eh.
- 93a. The movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding goes musical as MY BIG FAT GRIEG WEDDING. Heh. I like that.
- 105a. Another good clue. [Try to capture the Waltz King?] clues GRASP AT STRAUSS.
- 77a. OH, DEAR. My son and I have taken to saying this one a lot. It’s quite useful, really, in all sorts of circumstances.
- 42d. [It can be popped] is an intriguing clue. PILL wasn’t my first guess. Corn? Champagne corks?
- 47a. [Bass part] strays from the musical theme. Part of a smallmouth bass is a FIN.
- 48d. [They’re worth their weight in gold] is a quite literal clue for INGOTS.
- 56d. [Something of yours you’ll never see] is an OBIT. Unless, of course, you’re famous and you have a friend at a major newspaper who is willing to pull your pre-written obituary from the file for you.
- 84d. [Sell quickly] is a much better clue for GO FAST than, say, [Speed] would be.
- 81a. MARIETTA is an [Ohio city named for a queen]. Oh, of course. Queen Marietta. Everyone knows her!
- 101a. [Climactic] clues APOGEAL. I’ve seen apogee plenty, but this adjectival version? Not so much.
- 102a. [Cousin of a goldeneye] clues EIDER, so I gather that a goldeneye is a type of duck. Is that what that James Bond movie was about? Was his nemesis a duck?
- 14d. INDRA is a [Hindu god of thunder]. It’s time for a refresher course on Hindu deities. You can read up here.
Henry Hook’s Boston Globe Crossword, “Six and the City”—Sam Donaldson’s review
Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox finally made its way to the top of my Netflix queue, so I watched it last week. Conservatively, it’s at least fifteen times better than Up, the Pixar movie that won Best Animated Feature at the most recent Oscars. My favorite part was the running gag where the characters say the word “cuss” in lieu of actual swear words, as in “The cuss you will!” and “Cuss me?? Cuss you!” I mention all of this because this is one solid cussin’ crossword: a theme that’s denser than it first appears, paired with some super fill and really fun clues.
At first the puzzle’s title meant nothing to me. Yes, the theme entries feature the names of American cities. But if it’s called “Six and the City,” why are there ten theme entries? Only as I started writing this review did it sink in: all of the cities are six letters long! With that added restraint, the theme seems substantially tighter than I first thought. Let’s take a closer gander at the theme entries:
- The [Mexican food brand] is OLD EL PASO. The Old El Paso brand is now owned by General Mills (pictured at right).
- [“Wow!”] clues HOLY TOLEDO! Toledo is the setting for the upcoming new sitcom, Melissa and Joey, starring Melissa Joan Hart. Melissa Joan Hart appeared in Drive Me Crazy with Stephen Collins, and Stephen Collins was in The Big Picture with Kevin Bacon. So Toledo has a Bacon Number of 3.
- The [Custard-filled treat] is BOSTON CREAM PIE. I’ve never eaten Boston cream pie, and now that I’m looking at recipes online, I’m not sure why. Cake, custard, and ganache are only three of the best creations known to human civilization. It’s probably good that I’ve never had it–if I had a slice I don’t think I could ever go back to any other dessert.
- The food mini-theme continues with DENVER OMELET, the [Brunch entree].
- I had never heard of STELLA DALLAS, the [1937 Barbara Stanwyck movie]. Stanwyck landed a Best Actress nomination for playing the title role, only to lose to Luise Rainer. The part was originally offered to one Debbie Benton, but she turned it down because she had already “done” the Dallas role.
- The [“New York Times” crossword editor, 1977-93], of course, was EUGENE T. MALESKA. Eugene is the charming home to the University of Oregon, the school for kids who can’t get into Oregon State University.
- A [Tornado target, often] is a MOBILE HOME, and Mobile is Alabama’s third largest city. As a city, it’s really on the move.
- The [“Lilacs” poet] is AMY LOWELL. I had POWELL for the longest time until I finally realized that it was a theme entry and I couldn’t think of a famous town named Powell. Lowell, on the other hand, is the fifth-largest city in Massachusetts.
- [The Six Million Dollar Man] is, of course, “Stone Cold” STEVE AUSTIN. My Steve Austin action figure was one of my favorite toys as a child. He had a hole in the back of his head so that you could look through his “bionic eye,” and his rubber skin rolled up like a prophylactic so you could see and remove his plastic bionic parts. Coolest. Action. Figure. Ever.
- Finally, the [1985 Neil Simon play] is BILOXI BLUES. I never saw the play but did see the movie version. I don’t remember it well, to be honest–I remember Matthew Broderick riding a bus and that’s about it.
This grid is jammed with terrific fill–FAN CLUB, MIDDLE C, TIDE OVER, ZINC OXIDE, SIT BY ME, MAKES DO, and SQUIRMS all shine. And yet the clues are even better. My favorite five: [Friday request?] for FACTS (Sergeant Joe Friday from Dragnet famously asked for “Just the facts, ma’am”), [Vandyke’s home] for CHIN, [A little night music?] for TAPS, [Brown dog?] for SNOOPY (since Snoopy belongs to Charlie Brown), and [Party animal?] for PINATA. I really thought that last clue was asking for DONKEY, ASS, or ELEPHANT. Oh, and I like how 28- and 29-Across share related clues–the first is [It’s pitched high…] (for LOB) and the next is […and so is this] (for FALSETTO).
The only item that hurt my eyes and ears was LADYFY, clued as [Refine, as Higgins did Eliza]. It’s a perfectly proper word and gettable from the crossings, I realize, but it nonetheless strikes me as awkward. One would say “Higgins tried to make a lady of Eliza,” not “Higgins tried to ladyfy Eliza.” Maybe it’s just the -yfy ending that creeps me out.
Although my solving time might not indicate it, there wasn’t a whole lot here that was new to me. So for once I’m pleased to have a relatively condensed version of Brushes with Lame. Kids, don’t try Brushes with Lame at home–all of the boneheaded errors you see in this write-up have been made by a professional.
- The [“Serpico” author] is Peter MAAS. “Serpico” is the true story of a NYPD cop who testified against police corruption. Maas wrote other biographies, too, but he rebuffed a request from Keith Richards to work on the rock musician’s memoir. Looks like a Rolling Stone gathered no Maas.
- The [Bellini opera] is NORMA. The most famous aria from this opera appears to be “Meco all’altar di Venere,” which roughly translates to “With me in Rome before the shrine.” Catchy title for a toe-tapping tune.
- Hmm, what could fill in the blank for [O’Jays hit, “___ Be My Girl”]. So many possibilities. PLEASE? C’MON? WON’T YOU? I’M ON “MAURY” TO SEE IF THIS CHILD? Nope, it’s USE TA. Not USE TO, spelling enthusiasts, but the more lyrical USE TA.
- A [Touring car] is a PHAETON? Okay, the Phaeton is a Volkswagen model, but what am I missing to have the clue make sense? Is “Touring” a German word? A place in Germany? How was I supposed to know to put a VW model in here? From the crossings? Speaking of the Phaeton, Wikipedia says the name “derives from Phaëton, the son of Phoebus in Greek mythology.” Do you suppose the ads feature “Smelly Cat” as background music?
- [Ghostly] is a clue for EIDOLIC. This really killed me, as I was sure the crossing [Big name in insurance] was AETNA instead of the correct CIGNA. With an incorrect EE- to start, I was equally sure the “ghostly” term was some variant of “eerie.” But alas, it’s just a word I don’t remember seeing before. For that reason, it seems fitting to have it cross EUGENE T. MALESKA. Cuss me!
Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “The Short Form”
This is a cool theme: Take a phrase that contains a word that has a familiar, established abbreviation that—without a period—is also a word, and then clue the abbreviated phrase as if it means something. Like so:
- 23a. For [Gigolo conductor?], Merl extracts the ACAD. from “academy of music” and dispenses A CAD OF MUSIC.
- 25a. [Little push to a first-time performer?] is a STAGE PROD (production).
- 36a. BALLPARK FIG (figure) is a [Game-day snack that never caught on?].
- 39a. “Example” is shortened to EX., so to [Divorce?] is to MAKE AN EX OF.
- 50a. THE PRINCIPAL’S OFF (office) is [Why students might get rowdier than usual today?].
- 67a. [Last man on earth?] is THE FINAL CHAP (chapter).
- 76a. [Whistle, rule book, striped shirt, etc.?] are REF MATERIALS (reference).
- 88a. [Tam-o-shanter?] clues THE CAP OF SCOTLAND (capital). This is the weakest theme entry, as “the capital of Scotland” isn’t really a lexical chunk.
- 104a. [Feature of Las Vegas’s new mermaid show?] might be a TEN-GAL TANK. We have a 10-gallon tank for our fancy goldfish.
- 108a. [“I’m getting off at the next stop,” for example?] could be a BUS DECISION (business).
- 120a. [One who doesn’t give blood?] clues A NON-DONOR. This splits up the abbreviation for “anonymous,” anon., into two pieces.
- 123a. Funny clue! NO CRUNCHING (number) is clued as [Sister’s rule about receiving Communion?].
Hang on. There are 12 theme entries in this puzzle? Hey, that’s a lot. It’s Merl. He likes to go big with themes.
A few more clues:
- 65a. [Eight years before Shakespeare’s birth] is MDLVI, or 1556.
- 5d. [“M*A*S*H” loc.] abbreviations “location,” so the answer is an abbreviated S. KOREA. But that’s an odd-looking answer to me.
- 17d. UTOPIA was [A Hope-Crosby destination]? Huh.
- 95d. [Deal with dough] isn’t about money, it’s about bread dough: KNEAD.
Tony Orbach’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Sunday Challenge”—Evad’s review
Breezy and scrabblicious offering from the atelier of Tony Orbach with this morning’s “Sunday Challenge.” (This one is a pangram, folks!) The highlights are the overlapping 10s and 11s running down the west and east of the grid, three of them having a game show connection:
- “People with all the questions” are QUIZ MASTERS. Now on Jeopardy!, the people with all the questions are actually the contestants, but certainly they could be considered quiz masters as well, particularly this young man who just broke the one-day record with his haul of $77,000.
- We also have the host of Jeopardy! as “Man with all the answers” ALEX TREBEK. That is literally true, as he reads the answers from the board. I find he looks much like another man with all the answers, our own Will Shortz (with another 10 years on him). Do you agree?
- The third game show tie-in is The Price is Right’s “invitation,” COME ON DOWN. I haven’t seen the show since Rob Roddy called down contestants with that phrase. I do remember reading about some smack prior host Bob Barker laid down against his replacement, Drew Carey.
- Our final entry, which has nothing to do with game shows (that is obvious to me, anyway), is Don Quixote’s sidekick SANCHO PANZA. (I don’t think they had game shows in Cervantes’ time, did they?)
Some interesting cluing also helped tie the shorter fill together:
- “Swab on land” gave me thoughts of sailors (what doesn’t?, an astute reader might ask), but instead it’s a Q-TIP.
- So who are Happy or Willy LOMAN? I’m thinking Arthur Miller, let me check. Yep, Happy is Willy’s son in Death of a Salesman.
- Enjoyed the meta-ness of “Greasy spoon’s greasy spoon” for UTENSIL.
- Is OZONE really “refreshing”? I think of it as something to avoid (isn’t it related to smog? (This site vociferously disagrees.). In fact, I thought the propellents in old cans of air fresheners actually helped destroyed the ozone (CFCs, as I remember). I better shut up while I go too far afield and show my ignorance of chemistry altogether.
- Liked the connection between “Architectural setbacks” (ALCOVES) with its symmetric cousin “Backlot setbacks” (I’m thinking movie sets, is that right?) for RETAKES. Nice touch.
- No idea of the “flop” nature of a CASINO. I bet it has to do with gambling. (*snickers*) Yep, it’s a type of poker. The things you learn from puzzles!
- “Wagner role” had me thinking opera at first, but this is Robert Wagner of HART to Hart.
Karen Tracey’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 24”
Karen likes Scrabbly fill, and she anchors this grid with three 15s: one has an K, one has a J and K, and the other has a Q. (Today’s Z is found in shorter answers.) Lots of unusual fill in this week’s Post Puzzler. Not necessarily obscure entries, but answers we seldom, if ever, encounter in the mainstream crosswords Consider the following:
- 15a. [Spanish novelist Pio] BAROJA? I don’t reognize the name.
- 25a. [Voice for the Dutchman in “The Flying Dutchman”] is a BASS BARITONE. ALTO is the most common singing voice in crossword grids.
- 29a. DR. WHO [“___ and the Daleks” (1965 sci-fi film)] has that cool DRWH consonant pileup.
- 64a. [Ogles] clues the odd EYES UP. I suppose this is equivalent to “looks him up and down,” but it doesn’t sound familiar to me.
- 1d. ABCB is a [Simple rhyme scheme], but usually the 4-letter rhyme scheme answers are just As and Bs.
- 4d. [European dragonet] is a FOXFISH. Now, Wikipedia lists foxfish as an Australian fish and the dragonet by plenty of other names, so I give up on this one. I’m sure there’s a reference somewhere that equates the two.
- 7d. Author JOHN DICKSON CARR is a [Locked-room mystery master].
- 11d. ANTIBES is a [Cote d’Azur resort]. The opposite of Antibes is Probes, of course.
- 41d. The indefinite article “a” doesn’t get included in too many answers. A TRIFLE is [Not very much at all], and it’s listed in my dictionary under “trifle” as an established phrase in its own right.
- 44d. “I REFUSE,” the [Stark turndown], is in the rap I’m writing. I plan to rhyme it with “J’accuse.”
- 47d. [Red Sox Nation’s anthem] is TESSIE? Of all the baseball teams I don’t follow, the Red Sox are right up there with the others of least interest.
- 49d. [Ricardo’s “Fantasy Island” co-star] HERVE Villechaize! “The plane! The plane!”
- 56d. [“Like Water for Chocolate” director Alfonso] ARAU is not the same as music’s Claudio ARRAU, whose name appears more often in crosswords.
- 48a. THIRTY is the [Score for a small straight in Yahtzee].
- 5d. [Spanish seer?] is OJO, Spanish for “eye.” Hang on a minute. Did you see all the foreign language answers?
- 8d. [Quelques-___ (some, in French)] clues UNES.
- 12d. [Under, in Italian] is SOTTO Sotto voce means “under the voice.”
- 13d. [Febrero preceder] is ENERO, “January” in Spanish.
- Plus the three Spanish names, BAROJA, ARAU, and HERVE, the OJO, and a French place name.
Jeff Chen’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Location, Location, Location”
“YOU ARE HERE,” it says on the mall map. In the texting generation, those words come across as “u r here,” and the theme entries all have U.R. initials. You’ve got your UTNE READER, URBAN RENEWAL, U-HAUL RENTAL, UNCLE REMUS, UNIVERSAL REMOTE, USER REVIEW, UNEARNED RUN, and UTTER RUBBISH. I bet there are more U.R. phrases that begin with the “un-” prefix (uh, UNFRIENDLY RABBIT?), but I like that Jeff included only one un.
Quick solve today—no need to use your wordplay brain to untangle the theme entries, as they’re all straight-up phrases with plainly descriptive clues.
- 1a. I started right off at 1a with an answer I didn’t know. [Game with triples and doubles] clues…DARTS? Okay!
- 25a. [Consequence of selfish acts, some say] is BAD KARMA. Terrific entry, that.
- 102a. [Recites effortlessly] clues REELS OFF, a phrasal verb. I like entries like this so much better than the ones that arbitrarily tack on an ON or IN or TO but don’t make a distinct lexical chunk. Something like, say, DRIVE TO. There, DRIVE holds the the essential meaning and TO is there just to fill two more squares. Whereas with something like REELS OFF, it’s not just REELing plus a random preposition.
- 7d. [Speaker’s title, perhaps] is MADAM, as in “Madam Speaker,” Nancy Pelosi. I was recently called “Ma’am Reynaldo” by an overseas customer service rep. It was charming.
- 13d. If you’re HOME FREE, it’s [“Smooth sailing from here!”].
- 14d. Lon [Chaney title role] is THE WOLFMAN.
- 15d. [Unwanted letter of fiction] clues RED A, which is a lame answer but has new pop culture relevance. That new movie with Emma Stone, Easy A, is about a chaste high-school girl who takes advantage of rumors of her sexual activity by claiming to have slept with boys who need the reputation boost. At some point in the tale, she affixes a RED A to her clothes, like Hester Prynne.
- 52d. EDSEL gets a fresh (and mystifying, frankly) clue: [Comet brand before it was reassigned to Mercury]. I used the crossings all the way here.
- 74d. [Boxer’s dream] is a TITLE BOUT.
- 81d. [Language involving fine print?] is LEGALESE.