More linky goodness! Constructor Brad Wilber posted this month’s free themeless at his blog. You can opt for the smooth or the crunchy clues, depending on your preferred level of rigor. Now, I haven’t done the puzzle yet, but Brad’s a themeless specialist and his New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Newsday crosswords are generally top-notch so I’m not afraid to recommend this puzzle sight unseen. Enjoy!
Also, on the non-puzzle front, I’m doing a fund-raising walk this Sunday morning for the NephCure Foundation, which is devoted to advancing research into FSGS and nephrotic syndrome. Anyway, it’s likely to be cold and rainy this Sunday, but it will be worth the damp chill if I can deliver a healthy donation to NephCure. If you can spare a few bucks for a good cause and sponsor my walk, I’d be most grateful.—Amy
Mike Nothnagel’s New York Times crossword
Mike Nothnagel’s themeless puzzles run the gamut from “really quite good” to “wow, awesome.” This 70-worder is in the 4.5-star zone, and I liked it a lot. I wouldn’t have minded some tougher clues along the way, but there are so many colorful entries to entertain the solver: A STANDING “O”vation. Hitting THE SAUCE in your SPARE TIME? You can blame that on the BOSSA NOVA. Watching GAME SEVEN while listening to ABBEY ROAD. A chintzy ZIRCON ring? “IT’S A LIE!” “Hey, matey, STOP STARING AT ME!” “AYE, AYE, SIR!” I also like how those GLUTEI are parked right below the ENDS; they belong together.
- 43d. [He famously asked “Why didn’t you burn the tapes?”] clues FROST. That’s poet Robert Frost, of course, in his famous poem “The Road Not Taken.” Or maybe interviewer David Frost talking to Nixon. You choose.
Do you understand 52d: [Some govt. issuances: Abbr.]? The answer is STDS. I’m pretty sure Will Shortz and/or the constructor were going for “standards,” but this also evokes the Tuskegee and Guatemala scandals in which the U.S. government issued syphilis infections.
Daniel Finan’s Los Angeles Times crossword
The theme is a twist on a clue/answer flip-flop theme, because not only are the theme answers more like what you’d expect to see in the clue column, but the clue numbers play a key role. In the Across zone, the theme clues read like so:
- 20. [questions] means “twenty questions,” which is a FUN GUESSING GAME if you like that sort of thing.
- 36. [hours] is the same as ONE AND A HALF DAYS.
- 49. [ers] refers to the San Francisco 49ers, a squadron of FOOTBALL PLAYERS. This answer feels a hair too generic for the specificity of the 49ers.
Highlights in the fill include GANGLAND, WET NOODLE, SLY FOX, BEER BELLY, MOWGLI, and IDLE HANDS. Less pleased with DONEE, ODER, ELHI, FLAM, ENE, and OENO.
- 5a. A noted Susan [Dey job?] was L.A. LAW.
- 18a. [Blanche __, pseudonymous author of the 1983 best-seller “Truly Tasteless Jokes”] clues KNOTT. Get it? Despite the tastelessness of the humor, “blanch not.” I bought that book when I was a teenager but I don’t remember the author’s name or that pun. KNOTT’s not great fill, but I enjoyed the clue.
Gail Grabowski’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Catch a Wave” – Sam Donaldson’s review
63-Down says that a PERM is the [Do found in this puzzle’s four longest answers]. It’s no lie, as the letter sequence P-E-R-M straddles the words in these four entries:
- 17-Across: The [Bingham Canyon operation] is a COPPER MINE. I don’t think I have ever heard of this mine, but THE NET (a [Popular place to browse around]) says it is located just south of Salt Lake City.
- 66-Across: [“Ocean’s Eleven,” e.g.] could be the clue for many entries, including REMAKE and ENSEMBLE FILM. But the answer that fits with this theme is CAPER MOVIE.
- 11-Down: In two words, a PEPPER MILL is a [Kitchen grinder]. In one word, the Peppermill is the hotel at which I stayed during an earlier trip this week to Reno. It’s one of the better hotel-casino options in town.
- 30-Down: The clue for PAPER MONEY, [Wad contents], greatly appealed to my inner 10 year-old, but my external 43 year-old found it a little distracting.
Perhaps it’s much ado about a do, but I like the theme. The eight-letter entries orbiting the grid’s center are all terrific. There’s a loose theme to TAP WATER, TAILGATE parties, PEP TALKS and a BAR STOOL that I like even though I can’t quite seem to capture it in just a few words. But I can see one giving a pep talk at the tailgate party then consoling one’s self with tap water at a bar stool after the game. There’s some nice short fill too, including I’M OK, AS IF, NO END, and ANYONE. (Bueller?) The only entries that betray a little bit of desperation are IDEST, [That is, in Latin], and OEN, the [Vintner’s prefix]. Everything else is as smooth as…well, given the puzzle’s theme, let’s go with “a bald head.”
Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Puzzle 700” (bylined as Colin Gale)
Is this really the 700th crossword in the Wall Street Journal? So it’s been running for roughly 13.5 years now. The theme takes the Roman numeral DCC (700) and gathers seven phrases with D.C.C. initials:
- 23a. [Cash alternative introduced in 1950] = DINERS CLUB CARD.
- 34a. [Supervised spot] = DAY CARE CENTER.
- 46a. [High-ranking copper] = DEPUTY CHIEF CONSTABLE. You don’t say.
- 69a. [Many a 1990s start-up] = DOT-COM COMPANY.
- 83a. [Perchloroethylene and the like] = DRY CLEANING CHEMICALS. Toxic stuff, that.
- 102a. [Smartphone components] = DUAL CORE CHIPS.
- 113a. [Fizzy debut of 1986] = DIET CHERRY COKE.
I figured out that the answers were all D.C.C. phrases well before I landed on the revealer answer, 94a: [700, and the initials of this puzzle’s longer answers]—which is good because that happened to be the very last answer I filled in.
The fill doesn’t bring anything special to the table (hello, OSIER, AY TO) but as expected, there are some great clues. My favorites:
- 95d. [Hail fellow?] = CAESAR.
- 52d. [Cash on hand?] = BET, as in the cash you wager on a poker hand.
- 77d. [Neighborhood] as an adjective means LOCAL.
- 103d. [What are you looking at?], Mike asks. CLUES, as it turns out.
- 74d. [Kind of pride] clues GAY. I’ve been editing some puzzles and changing most of the [Kind of __] clues because really, an adjective that can precede a noun isn’t “a kind of” that thing. I think it’s a dodge to get around another fill-in-the-blank clue. We call this [Kind of] clue a “sea anemone,” as the sea is really not a kind of anemone at all. And when you have two or three [Kind of] clues in a single 15×15 puzzle, well, it’s just too much. But you can get away with one, and I like this one.
Jeffrey Wechsler’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Made in Japan” — pannonica’s review
This 15×16 puzzle offers up a modest lesson in the Japanese language, cluing well-known words with their salient and—depending on your experience—revelatory literal translations.
- 1a. [Literally, “big root”] DAIKON.
- 2a. [Literally, “soft technique”] JUJITSU.
- 32a. [… “divine wind”] KAMIKAZE.
- 34a. [… “great prince”] TYCOON.
- 36a. [… “thing to wear”] KIMONO.
- 42a. [… “squad leader”] HONCHO.
- 44a. [… “tray gardening”] BONSAI.
- 46a. [… “if it must be so”] SAYONARA.
- 70a. [… “empty orchestra”] KARAOKE.
- 71a. [… “arts person”] GEISHA.
Most of these were already familiar to me, but I was pleased to learn the fatalistic origin of sayonara. Short entries, but an impressive 10 themers in 66 squares in a more-or-less regular sized grid is nothing to kushami (nose storm) at. Is it my imagination, or does the concentration of themed entries spanning Rows 7 through 10 visually evoke an obi? We also get a toss-in bonus at 28-down, AKITAS.
This was a very enjoyable solve. Sometimes it’s refreshing not to have a wacky wordplay theme, but one that seeks to edify, no matter how modestly. What really put this one over the top, however, is varied and interesting supporting fill, with a winning combination of straight-ahead clues and clever ones. A minimum of stale crossword tropes never hurts either. (The hoariest in this category is probably the anemic misdirection of [Magazine staples] for ADS.)
- Longer entries: ARUGULA (clued with ‘rocket,’ which derives from French, and ultimately Latin, as a diminutive of the same root as a ‘arugula’); INTERIM; TOE-TO-TOE; SOLUTION; NO-GO AREA; SNOBBIER (clued cutely and tersely as [Less common]); ALIASES; REDDISH (not to be confused with the DAIKON radish at the start of the puzzle. In the acrosses, we see the charming FORENOON, the well-clued OIL FIELD [Well-covered ground?]; ERITREAN; and … uhm … LEERIEST.
- There’s a run of four consecutive literary clues in 19–20 across (MAN, ET TU, OUR, CAMUS) as part of the Higher Education vibe.
- Interjectionary observation: Thanks to solving more and more crosswords of late, my instinct to associate Yellowstone National Park first with predators like wolves or bears is being subsumed by a proclivity for ELK. I think constructors and editors need to vary their cluing. For instance, in the other hemisphere—in palearctic areas—moose (Alces alces) are called ‘elk‘ (or a cognate equivalent). For ‘our’ elk, the Shawnee-derived ‘wapiti’ is used. Don’t ask me what they were called before the New World was colonized by Europeans.
- Speaking of mammals, NUTRIA (16a), while originally from South America, have notably been introduced in many other parts of the world (originally for food and fur), so the clue [Fur from South America] could have been clearer. The alternate name, coypu, is also excellent crossword fodder.
- Continuing further, albeit more tenuously, in this vein, I feel the clue for HUNT takes too great a liberty: [Go out to eat?] would have been better as [Go out for food?] without affecting the misdirection.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Do I Have to Spell it Out?” — pannonica’s review
If the title of this puzzle had been, “Do I have to Draw You a Map?” the mechanism would have been a lot more tricky, if not impossible, to pull off. As it is, five base phrases or words have been reinterpreted such that the first word (or a word’s first part) is treated as an acronym and the new meaning is clued.
- 20a. [Halloween request from a UN infectious disease control agency?] W.H.O. WANTS CANDY? Quite a mouthful, having to clue the World Health Organization.
- 20a. [Package paid for by its recipient?] C.O.D. PIECE. Constructor Tausig is making a naughty double entendre, as a codpiece protects a gentleman’s ‘package.’ Cash on delivery perhaps acquires a new connotation here.
- 37a. [Comment when Cheer gains a full detergent monopoly?] R.I.P. TIDE. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, grass stains to… clothes like new again! Requiescat in pace.
- 45a. [Drinking vessel in which pension funds are stored?] I.R.A. GLASS. Not much of a penny jar, but then again public radio hosts such as Ira Glass of “This American Life” are not known for their lavish lifestyles. Nevertheless, I think he does all right. He might even have an Individual Retirement Account.
- 54a. [Subject exam for future justices?] S.A.T. IN JUDGMENT. Well, pretty much everyone in this country who pursues higher education takes the Scholastic Aptitude Test.
The method of cluing doesn’t feel entirely consistent but without taking the time to actually parse them I can’t be certain. A certain looseness is in style as acceptable anyway, as long as solvers understand the gist. They’re all fairly ludicrous anyway!
Some very appealing ballast fill. Long single-word entries POTASSIUM and POLYNESIA, APPLEBEE’S ([Chain famous for slathering its walls with dumb crap] could describe many other places too, including Cracker Barrel, Hard Rock Cafe, Ruby Tuesday’s, et al., ad nauseam) and PUSSYCATS. Central stacks KORMA / U-BOAT / HITCH and DOUSE / ASKEW /SEEDY.
- Favorite: 6d [It runs when you pass] OBIT.
- Ugliest: A matter of degrees. Virtual tie between 8d MACC and 19a LLDS, the latter slightly worse because it’s also a plural.
- Worst: 40a [German 101 verb] IST. Clued that way, it tacitly requests an infinitive, but ist is the third-person present tense singular.
SeineSein (thanks, mg!) is the infinitive of this basic but irregular verb. Sehr schlecht!