Ben Pall’s New York Times crossword, “On a Roll”
Well, that could have been handled better. The Premium Puzzles page has no link for the PDF version. If you solve the puzzle in the applet or Across Lite without first reading the notepad—as is the wont of many of us—you have no idea there’s visual aspect on the PDF and in the newspaper that is utterly missing from the online version. So I went off looking for the PDF after solving and went to the Wordplay blog, which spoils the gimmick completely by depicting the end result. [Edited to add: Pat Merrell made a point of hiding the visual behind the cut, but the link from the Premium Crosswords page goes to the Sunday post, cut-free.] (Which, if you’re averse to printing out the puzzle, does a terrific job of clearly demonstrating the gimmick.) So I guess there’s no point in printing out that PDF, copying over all my letters in the grid’s midsection, cutting it out, filling in the O’s, and folding it up. It will make a sketchy die (as in one of a pair of dice). That’s neat, but I just wasted my time doing a crossword for no real reason.
The theme entries are the instructions: CUT ON BOLD LINES. SHADE THE CIRCLES (meaning the letter O where it appears). FOLD ALONG DASHES. And USE TAPE ON EDGES. Boom, you’ve built a cube with 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 filled-in O’s on the sides. So basically the other thematic fill is every letter O that appears within the zone that’s to be folded up. It doesn’t make for lively fill.
Yep, this was a sour experience, thanks to the New York Times muffing the technical end of things. Wordplay blogger Patrick Merrell has the PDF hosted on his own website (that’s the link I have above). It remains patently ridiculous that one of the world’s most prominent media organizations doesn’t manage to serve its paying crossword subscribers better. Let’s pretend there are 10,000 of us who subscribe to Premium Crosswords at $40 a pop. For $400,000 a year (conservatively—it’s gotta really be upwards of $1 million a year), the NYT can’t do better? If not for the Wordplay bloggers, the NYT might forget all about posting PDFs altogether.
I applaud Will Shortz for publishing innovative crosswords with visual themes that the online solving modes can’t accommodate. They’re often a ton of fun—but not when you miss out on the visual aspect.
Sorry the technical issues interfered with my experience of young Ben’s crossword. The open corners filled with 6s and 7s are mighty smooth and suggest Ben’s got a knack for this crossword constructing gig. He’s only in ninth grade! Puts plenty of grown-ups to shame, I tell you.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Boston Globe Crossword, “Treehouses” – Sam Donaldson’s review
This puzzle is all bark and no bite, but that’s a good thing. The grid features ten trees, each containing the first name of one or two famous people hidden inside. Thus, each tree “houses” one or two celebs. Let’s branch out and discuss the roots of each of the theme entries. (If you don’t like tree puns, you might as well leaf now. I grew up on a Christmas tree farm, so I’ve got a trunk full of ’em.) Okay, I’ll stop.
- The [Tree housing Sandler?] is the MACADAMIA. I may be the only person with this opinion, but I think the only good Adam Sandler movies were Happy Gilmore and Funny People. To his credit, that’s two more than Will Ferrell can claim. [Amy interjects: What? Come on, Elf is pretty good!]
- The [Tree housing Gore and Nunn?] is the BALSAM FIR, with AL Gore and SAM Nunn. I hear it’s common for former Senators to bunk together after leaving office. I wonder if Orrin HATCH and Robert BYRD ever paid a visit to this tree.
- The [Tree housing Jong and Tyler?], of course, is the AMERICAN OLIVE, with ERICA Jong and LIV Tyler. The connection that would have Erica rooming with Liv may elude some, but not a blogger with high-speed internet! Let’s see. Erica Jong wrote Fear of Flying. Former football commentator and legendary coach John Madden has a well-documented fear of flying. John Madden appeared in the 1987 film, P.K. and the Kid, in which John Perryman played the seedy role of a “watermelon contestant.” John Perryman played “fat cowboy” in Footloose, a 1984 movie starring Kevin Bacon. And Kevin Bacon appears in Super, a film starring Liv Tyler (and Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page) that’s scheduled for wide release in 2011. So there’s your connection! Take that, Ken Jennings!
- The [Tree housing Meg and King Cole?] is a POMEGRANATE. Notice this tree contains not only MEG Ryan and NAT King Cole but also a dorm supervisor, an RA, between them.
- The [Tree housing Sumac?] is a NORWAY MAPLE, a gimme for grizzled crossword veterans.
- The [Tree housing Yastrzemski?] is a SCARLET OAK. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn about this theme entry. But tomorrow’s another day, so maybe I’ll like it better then.
- The [Tree housing Preminger?] is a COTTONWOOD. You can find a cottonwood tree at the home of Porgy and Bess, down the street Where the Sidewalk Ends. For the best in Otto Preminger jokes, go no further than Diary of a Crossword Fiend.
- The [Tree housing Arthur?] is a HORNBEAM. I’m all for references to the late, great Bea Arthur, but I have never heard of a hornbeam tree. [Amy interjects: Heh, heh. You said “hornbeam.”]
- The [Tree housing Lee and Brockovich?] is the TANGERINE, with ANG Lee and ERIN Brockovich. The Hollywood connection best explains Ang and Erin rooming together, what with Ang being a famous film director and Erin having a movie made about her life. We all know Julia Roberts played Erin, but who would play Ang (left) in his biopic? The best I could do after a quick search on Google Images was George Takei (right), but I think the only real similarity is in the hair. Anyone have a better suggestion?
- Finally, the [Tree housing Heyerdahl?] is a HAWTHORN. Thor Heyerdahl was an adventurous sailor known for the Kon-Tiki expedition. Whenever I see the name “Thor,” though, I think of the Marvel Comics hero, and then I think of this joke from college (for full effect, you have to read it aloud): Thor (the superhero) has a one-night stand with a stranger. He wakes the next morning and feels guilty, so he decides to take his new lover to breakfast and get to know her. “I’m Thor,” he says. “You think you’re Thor,” she replies, “I can barely walk!”
The lovely tree shape made from the black squares in the center of a grid with left-right symmetry instead of the usual diagonal symmetry is a nice touch. Most trees don’t have eyes and a beak, but this looks cute. Highlights in the fill include HAD A GAS, PAYDIRT, ANYHOW, OH GOSH, and EVEN PAR. My favorite clue was [Call for high flutes?] for TOAST.
Time for this week’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? segment, where we fill the seating chart for a dinner party with people from the puzzle that I don’t know. Last week we had eleven guests, but this time it’s only six, and two of them are fictional. A single round table will suffice for this more intimate gathering. Let’s play Eros and seat [Cecil’s cartoon pal], BEANY, next to the [Daughter of Menos], ARIADNE. Sure, she may not like being set up with a kid wearing a “beany-copter,” but given that her first husband ditched her while she was sleeping and that she gave birth to Oenopion (the personification of wine) with her second husband, I’m guessing she might welcome a little less drama. Just to be safe, let’s put the [Sam who sang], Sam COOKE, on her other side. Next to Sam we can place BERTOLT Brecht, the German dramatist. He might like discussing stars, so let’s put Thomas BOPP, [Hale’s comet co-finder], on the other side of Bertolt. (I don’t know Thomas Bopp, but I know the Cyndi Lauper song about his sister.) Our last seat goes to SIBYL, the Greek [Woman with ESP]. It doesn’t really matter where she sits, since she knows how the conversation will unfold anyway.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “The Latest Fusion Restaurants”
First off, let me say that some of these fusion restaurant concepts should not be brought into existence. For example, the erstwhile Makati Kiev, a Filipino/Ukrainian restaurant? It should come as no surprise that this establishment no longer exists.
Merl’s prepared a mixed bag of made-up fusion restaurants by taking a word or food associated with one language or cuisine and pairing it with a word/fragment/food from another land:
- 22a. [Romantic German-French eatery?] clues STOLLEN QUICHES, playing on “stolen kisses.” Mind you, an eggy quiche made with fruit/nut loaf sounds dreadful.
- 27a. Highbrow turns into HAI BRAU, an [Uptown Japanese-German eatery?]. Hai is Japanese for “yes,” and Brau is beer.
- 35a. [Jewish-Italian eatery?] gives you MATZORELLA, a mashup of matzo and mozzarella. That’s kinda funny. I’m picturing pizza on a matzo cracker crust.
- 47a. [Spanish-Indian eatery with unusual artwork?] clues SALVADOR DELHI, playing on artist Salvador Dali. Spanish person’s name + Indian city name? Okay.
- 56a. Czech tennis great Ivan Lendl inspires IVAN LENTILS, a [Czech-Middle Eastern sports eatery?]. See what I mean about the mixed bag? This one swaps part of a name with a food that is not exclusively associated with that region.
- 72a. [Pennsylvania-Louisiana eatery?] clues PHILLY GUMBO. More variance from the usual: a city and a state in the U.S. rather than two countries. Does Pennsylvania have a cuisine? Are there Pennsylvania-crossed-with-X fusion restaurants out there? Also: I have no idea what the original phrase inspiring this pun is. [Edited to add: Apparently it’s filé gumbo, or gumbo filé, a seasoning and thickener.]
- 79a. “Yankee Doodle” leads to YANKEE NOODLES, an [American-Chinese eatery?]. There’s an album by the Yankee Noodles, whoever they might be.
- 95a. [Japanese-Cuban eatery?] puns on “Ay, caramba!” with poetic dance restaurant, HAIKU RUMBA.
- 102a. Italian dictator Il Duce becomes EEL DUCE, a [Japanese-Italian eatery?]. Eel is not uncommon in sushi, though I’m guessing that other cuisines cook eel, too.
- 110a. [Italian-English eatery for kids?] clues AMARETTO TEAPOT, playing on “I’m a Little Teapot.” Parents! Do not give the children amaretto. Not unless it’s naptime.
Philly gumbo! No idea.
How about some more clues and answers from this puzzle?
- 18a. So, there’s a [Cole Porter musical] called ROSALIE? Had no idea.
- 42a. [Rose, for one, in Rome] is a FIORE, or “flower” in Italian.
- 1d. [Old phone trio] is PRS, the letters that appeared with the number 7 on the phone dial. I grew up with a phone number that, to the old-school crowd, began with PIlgrim (74).
- 23d. William [Penn’s pen, perhaps] was a QUILL. Penn? Gumbo!
- 37d. I majored in English, but A FABLE doesn’t ring a bell as a [1954 Faulkner novel].
- 48d. Is it legal to split off the OREAL part from [Cosmetics giant, L’___]? What does oreal mean in French, anyway?
- 49d. [M. Olsen was one] clues an L.A. RAM. That’s Merlin Olsen, not Monsieur Olsen.
- 66d. [“Holy guacamole!”] SHEESH! Criminy!
- 67d. [Makes presentable, as scribblings] clues TYPES UP.
- 94d. Ouch! The cheddar cut me! Can I get a band-aid here? [Cheese sharpener] is AGE. Now, Velveeta can age for years and yet it remains unsharp.
Patrick Berry’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 35”
Patrick Berry = maker of ridiculously smooth 66-word crosswords. There are a couple knotty English bits, but those are outnumbered by pop culture and literature that didn’t trouble me. Personally, I’d have liked to cluing to skew more to the wicked-hard side so I would’ve spent more time working my way through the puzzle.
- 15a. WALRUSES with long tusks grown out of their canine teeth? [They fight with canines]. If you’re a sick and twisted individual, you’ll want to see a walrus self-pleasuring video. If you are mentally healthy, I beseech you, do not click the link.
- 22a. “OR SO THEY SAY” means [“… but I’m not sure I believe it”]. Absolutely great four-word answer.
- 29a. O. M. G. The TENT DRESS is the [Garment that was No. 1 on Time’s 2007 list of “Fashion Must-Haves”]? Egad. I think I tried on a sundress in the trendy tent variety three years ago…and looked more pregnant than chic and comfortable.
- 37a. JEREMIADS are [Lengthy laments]. Isn’t that a terrific word?
- 42a. [Children’s game not played at school anymore] is the colorfully named MUMBLETY-PEG. That’s got to be a seed entry, right? A constructor doesn’t just chance into MUMBLETY-PEG. When I was a kid, this was more of a teenagers’ game and they called it “Chicken.” Kids these days, they need more knife-throwing games.
- 52a. Sure, I needed lots of crossings to find JULIET, the [Literary character born on “Lammas-eve at night”], but who doesn’t like a reference to Lammas-eve? Lammas is August 1, so Lammas-eve is July 31? And Juliet is a Leo.
- 32d. [Three-door Volkswagens] were SCIROCCOS, one of several VW models named after winds. The Bora (the Jetta’s name in Europe), the Passat (which apparently means “trade wind” in German)—and apparently the Golf gets its name from the Gulf Stream.
Question: Who can tell me why 12d: [Major no-nos?] is CARTS?
35d. [Year sixth] means 1/6 of a year, or 2 months. I have never heard of the BIMESTER, though. Who uses that word? Just learned that semester means “six months.”
Where’s the British content? Right here:
- 28a. [British subject?] clues MATHS, short for “mathematics.”
- 5d. [U.K. biscuit brand] is BURTON’S. Never heard of it, but it’s not hard to piece together a common-enough English name with some crossings. The Burton’s website tells me they sell the Jammie Dodgers.
- 10d. The [Northernmost borough of London] is ENFIELD. Nope, didn’t know it.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Sunday Challenge”—Evad’s review
As I blog more of the CS “Sunday Challenges,” I’m becoming more familiar with each constructor’s unique style, as I believe the pool of constructors they use is limited to a small group. (Question to Bob Klahn: How many constructors are in the CS “stable” and how do you decide to split up the workload?) Anywho, I would likely recognize a Martin Ashwood-Smith grid even without the byline, based on his penchant for stacked (and often crossing) 15-letter entries. Today’s offering is no exception–we have six 15-letter entries in total, two stacks of three crossing in the center like the flag of Switzerland.
Let’s begin with the across entries:
- “It may help you sleep at night” is not Lunesta, but a CLEAR CONSCIENCE.
- That’s followed by ITALIAN STALLION or “Stallone’s sobriquet.” In Friday’s NYT by Matt Ginsberg, “Sly” was slyly clued as “Rocky, really.” And I was thinking of the flying squirrel…
- A “Pitchman’s problem” here is SALES RESISTANCE. Hmmm…never encountered this phrase before. Is it anything like stain-resistant clothing? Given the reported success of the “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” retail sales, it doesn’t appear that pitchmen (and women) are encountering much sales resistance out there.
And here are the stacked down entries:
- Cute way to describe “Unease”: ANTS IN ONE’S PANTS. That would certainly make me jumpy.
- “Former home of the Eagles” is VETERANS STADIUM (“The Vet”) in Philadelphia. They now play at Lincoln Financial Field also in South Philly. What do you think of enfant terrible Michael Vick’s success with the 8-and-4 franchise this year?
- Finally we have the “Robert Knight hit of 1967,” EVERLASTING LOVE. I’m more familiar with this similarly named duet between Lionel Richie and Diana Ross. So which is better–a love that is endless or everlasting? You be the judge.
Martin does a nice job shoehorning eight other double stacked 10-letter entries into the corners, each of which cross three of the 15-letter entries. The oddest perhaps is DOUBLE NINE. I believe they are the small blue areas on the “wedge” that is beneath the number nine on this picture, but I wonder if one of them is double and the blue area closer to the center is triple? (Obviously, I need to spend more time in pubs “researching” this…Amy, expect an expense report from me after I compile my findings.) Also are female ushers really called USHERETTES? I’m thinking the generic ushers work as well for them. Finally, I see statute and law as synonyms, so lawyers out there, please tell me what distinguishes STATUTE LAW as a “speciality.”
Rich Norris’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “CD Changer” (under the Nora Pearlstone pen name)
The theme is phrases in which the letter C has been changed to D, with a corresponding alteration in meaning. Thus does a coping strategy become a DOPING STRATEGY. The other theme entries include DASH ACCOUNT, FRENCH DUFFS (cute clue: [Derrieres?]), HAPPY DAMPER, the double-D DREAM OF THE DROP, DRAWL SPACE, TOWN DRIER, the hazardous GOLF DARTS, and CRAFTS FAIR. Most of these were not, to my mind, funny. Letter-change themes with more surprising or uproarious results are more fun.
The theme answers penetrate every section of the grid, which may help account for the presence of lackluster fill like ANIS, ECRUS, ASE’S, IGER, DCI, AGR., ACEY, FAS, A DRY, and A HOLE. (That latter would be utterly “in the language” if clued as a hyphenated word!) I don’t know that I’ve seen “LADY’S man” before, but it’s got plenty of attribution as a variant of “ladies’ man.”
Highlights in the fill:
- 49a. JERBOA! Not to be confused with a gerbil, this is a [Hopping desert rodent]. Little-known (to me) fact: The word gerbil derives from a Latin diminutive of gerboa, meaning…jerboa. Mind you, the pygmy jerboa is among the teeniest rodents, and I bet it’s smaller than your average gerbil. Science is confusing.
- 24d. [Nobody at all] means NOT A SOUL.
- 85d. [ChapStick, e.g.] is a LIP BALM. I’m a sucker for tangerine lip balms, personally. Or the unflavored Avon Moisture Therapy lip balm. ChapStick is kinda icky.
In the “Who?” category:
- 9d. I didn’t know [20th-century Canadian composer André] MATHIEU.