David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword
It’s a mystifying theme until you grab some scratch paper and get to work on decoding the central answer. There are a bunch of clues tagged with asterisks, and those answers are all 4 letters long. What they also have in common is that they can be parsed as three words: Rather than just the word HISS, you can read that as “H is S.” That’s the secret to cracking the code. HISS, MISO, LISP, WISH, VISE, DISC, RISD, and FIST instruct you to change HLMFFWVDMRV into SPOT THE CODE. That’s a weird little phrase.
Lots of longish answers in the four corners of the grid. BON JOVI, SANGRIA, “I’D SAY SO,” DOMINO’S, IQ TESTS, JIGSAW, and MIDWEST enhance the puzzle. The shorter stuff includes some clunkers, though. [Two-time Oscar nominee J. Carrol __] NAISH?? Let’s Google him. He was active from 1926 to 1971, and was a white dude cast repeatedly as “ethnic” characters. Do you think he knew Leo Gorcey and Lila Kedrova? Also in the “meh” category (for me) are ANADEM, AERY, OZMA, OF ID, XOO, LIQ, ESA, SERT, AIRE, N-TEST, assorted abbreviations, and ERODENT.
I mostly prefer themes that reveal themselves during the solve, rather than having the crossword’s entire point be saved for the post-game period. Bonus points for a creative approach to devising a theme (never seen anything like this before, part crossword and part cryptogram), but I’m going to go with three stars for my rating.
Bill Ballard’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review
If I could vote for my favorite themed puzzle in the LAT this year so far, I think that this puzzle would get my vote.
- 17a. [Schubert’s eighth, aptly] – UNFINISHED SYMPHony
- 27a. [Reference book, aptly] – ABRIDGED DICTIONary
- 48a. [Burnout sympton, aptly] – DIMINISHED INTERest (also a bailout cause)
- 65a. [Logical principle that applies to 17-, 27- and 48-Across, aptly] –REDUCTIO AD ABSURdum
For those not in the know, REDUCTIO AD ABSURdum (Latin: “reduction to the absurd”) is a form of argument in which a proposition is disproven by following its implications logically to an absurd consequence (courtesy of Wikipedia). My favorite version of this is of course the mathematical technique of proof by contradiction, in which you state, “Suppose not. QED.”
I love this theme for three reasons:
- Look how tight it is – each in the language entry starts with a word that means shortened, so it gets cut off at the end.
- There is a tying-together entry that also gets the same treatment.
- Each entry is truncated by exactly three letters. Wow! (The removed letters anagram to UNDO A MYSTERY, which is what the unifying entry does.)
Bravo, Mr. Ballard. I didn’t recognize the name, but I see that he’s been published more than a few times. I hope this is part of a comeback, but I really liked this puzzle! No stellar long entries otherwise, but that’s okay.
I had an extra 30 seconds on my time trying to find an error I had – I spell BOCCI with an E, so that led to some confusion. And GAR isn’t a lovely 1a, but the rest gave me a smooth solve. Some favorite entries and clues, since I have nothing else to grouse about:
- 1d. [Caesarean conquest] – GAUL, as in “GALLIA est omnis divisa in partes tres.” – De Bello Gallico.
- 25a. [Sue Grafton’s “___ for Lawless”] – L IS for this biography of actress Lucy Lawless. Seriously, I appreciate these clues because you can’t miss them. Free licks.
- 37a. [Puppet dragon of early TV] – OLLIE, as referenced on “Match Game” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1avf8jlAsU
- 49d. [Its Hall of Fame is in Charlotte, N.C.] – NASCAR. I’m a bit proud to say that I didn’t know this one immediately.
I give this puzzle A FOUR AND FOUR-FIF…
Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Multitudes of Amys” – Sam Donaldson’s review
This puzzle should have been run on August 15, which, if I remember correctly, is our fearless leader’s birthday. Today there are indeed “multitudes of Amys” (paging Stephen Sondheim!), as ten of them are crammed symmetrically into this grid:
- 1-Across: Amy TAN is the [Amy who wrote “The Joy Luck Club”]. I saw the movie when it was in theaters many years ago but never opened the book.
- 17-Across: Amy DICKINSON is the [Amy who writes the advice column “Ask Amy”]. Just ask her.
- 26-Across: Amy AQUINO is the unknown (to me) [Amy who was on “ER” and three episodes of “Judging Amy”]. That’s a cute way to re-reference “Amy,” but c’mon…three episodes?!? I wasn’t much of an “ER” fan, so her name is just not on my radar. Fortunately, the crossings were easy.
- 38-Across: Amy MADIGAN is the [Amy of “Field of Dreams”]. If you watch it, she will act.
- 40-Across: Amy SEDARIS is the [Amy of “Strangers With Candy”]. I’m aware of this show but have never seen it. I know her from guest appearances on Letterman and other shows. According to Wikipedia, “In addition to acting and writing, she runs a cupcake and cheese ball business, Dusty Food Cupcakes, out of her home kitchen.” Ham and eggs, peas and carrots, cupcakes and cheese balls.
- 53-Across: Amy LOWELL is the [Amy who posthumously won the Pulitzer for Poetry]. Pray thee, the posthumous Poetry Pulitzer prizewinner penned plenty of pretty, picturesque passages. Pity she perished.
- 66-Across: The uber-wonderful Amy WINEHOUSE is the [Amy whose “Back to Black” won five Grammys]. I can’t explain why, but I have a major crush on her. I find this woman’s talent intoxicating. (Oops, poor diction.)
- 73-Across: Amy RAY is the [Amy who is one of the Indigo Girls]. Crossword-solving indie rock bands rule!
- 12-Down: Amy IRVING is the [Amy of “Yentl”]. The clue reads like an Old English form of address: “Good day, fair sir, I am Amy of Yentl. Might you be Robin of Jumanji?”
- 48-Down: Amy LOCANE is the [Amy of “Cry-Baby”]. You may know her better as Brendan Fraser’s love interest in “School Ties.” Or maybe not.
I kept waiting for Amy Adams, Amy Poehler, and even Amy Chua of “Tiger Mother” infamy. But it’s not like this grid needed any more theme entries. The ten Amys here consume 60 squares (if you counted 62, remember that there are intersecting theme entries!), a heavy concentration of “themage” by any measure.
But it’s not just an Amy infestation, as plenty of other people find their way into this grid. Holy cats, there’s JANIS Joplin, CARLA from “Cheers,” architect Maya LIN, Emma THOMPSON, IDI Amin, Roberto ALOMAR, JANET Leigh, Hermann HESSE, NANCI Griffith, ORSON Welles, JOHN Q. Public (okay, I’m taking liberties by including this one), AVA Gardner, NELLIE Bly, Mark HAMILL, author Scott O’DELL, Irma ROMBAUER, ELIJAH Wood, and VANNA White! (As our own fearless leader observed, “BLOSSOM Dearie, ISLA Fisher, and fictional Liz LEMON are pouting because they could’ve gotten the clue-name treatment too.”)
Even without the Amys, this would be a very heavy concentration of names. With the ten Amys, it’s a veritable bumper crop of famous (and maybe quasi-famous) people. I’m not so sure this was such a good idea. Those who don’t know their Famous Amys (not to be confused with Famous Amos) might seek consolation from the fill, but when they find 18 more names there, well, I suspect they might just give up in frustration. You can almost hear the cranky “I don’t want NAMES in my crosswords” missives being written now. Personally, I love names in my crosswords, so this one worked just fine for me. On top of that, I thought the grid was very smooth given the extensive number of symmetrically placed theme entries. So I’m currently wearing a flattering shade of impressed.* It will be interesting to see the opinions of others in the comments.
Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword acrostic—Matt Gaffney’s review
BEQ goes acrostic today, with help from Mike Shenk’s snazzy and intuitive solving app.
The level of difficulty was just right for me; I got enough clues right on the first pass to gain a foothold in the grid, but not so many that the rest was mindless. Instead I got that nice clues-to-grid-then-back-to-clues oscillation that makes acrostics fun.
So the clues and answers were good: highlights were SHARIA LAW, KANGAROO COURT, A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and IRISH STEW. The only thing I didn’t like about the acrostic was the choice of quote: BEQ taps fellow Bostonian Bill Simmons’ famous Book of Basketball for the quote, but with such a superior writer as Simmons there had to be a more exciting quip around. I’ll type it out for posterity:
THE COMMISSIONER KEPT HIS LEAGUE IN COMPLETE CONTROL, GAINED SUCH POWER AND PROMINENCE THAT WE ACTUALLY WONDERED IF HE HAD FIXED CERTAIN GAMES OR BANNED CERTAIN SUPERSTARS WITHOUT TELLING US. JUST LIKE THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER MAGIC, THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER DAVID STERN.
OK, so the guy’s a talented control freak, but I just don’t feel the quote payoff. Not funny or intriguing, and it’s confusing, too — why/how could Stern have banned superstars without telling anyone? I understand the fixing games part of the joke, but given that ref who threw NBA games a couple of years ago under Stern’s watch, how funny is it to joke about Stern doing it?
My gripes with the quote choice aside, I’d like to see more acrostics from Brendan. As BEQ points out, Shenk’s program takes all the drudgery out of solving this puzzle form and keeps the enjoyment. Thanks for the puzzle, BEQ, and have a pleasant Thursday, everyone!
Tony Orbach’s Fireball crossword, “Solving, Schmolving!”
The title pretty much gives away the theme, but that’s OK because this 17×17 still took me longer than the typical 21×21. Terrific theme—phrases with a word that starts with the \s\ sound change the S into the Yiddish SCHM (as in “Solving, Schmolving”), with the rest of the word’s spelling usually changing too. “Best-selling” becomes BEST SCHMELING. “Babysits” is BABY SCHMIDTS. “Suzy Q” snack cake or the “Suzie Q” song becomes SCHMOOZY Q, and I love the word schmoozy. “Bath salts” (which have somehow become a drug of abuse, no lie) yield BATH SCHMALTZ, which, thank goodness, is clued with reference to the city of Bath rather than a bathtub of chicken fat. Bill Parcells’ nickname is Tuna, “seared tuna” is food, and SCHMEARED TUNA uses a non-cream-cheese meaning of schmear. The theme’s entertaining and fun to read aloud, and it works a lot of uncommon letters and letter combos into the grid. Love it!
The rest of the fill and clues keep pace with the theme. Fresh but not obscure, challenging but never infuriating.
A delight. Five stars.