The Trip Payne puzzle cited above is a variety cryptic called “Minefield,” posted in PDF form last month at Triple Play Puzzles.
Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword, “Yin/Yang”
All right, this is a neat puzzle. The full breadth of the theme didn’t hit me while I was solving (and it was a quick solve, as there was nothing to figure out in order to be able to get the theme answers into your grid). A dictionary tells me that in Chinese philosophy, the passive female principle of yin is associated with earth, cold, and dark. (Hey! I resent that!) The active male principle, yang, hogs up heaven, heat, and light. And so it is that the white half of this pretty yin/yang grid contains the yang theme answers while the dark side has the yin answers:
Yang takes SUMMER BREEZE, DAYDREAMER, SUN YAT-SEN, LIGHT AS A FEATHER, and HOT AND HEAVY. Yin contains the symmetrical partners of those answers with their opposite qualities: OLD MAN WINTER, “ROUGH NIGHT?,” HONEYMOON, AFRAID OF THE DARK, and CAUGHT A COLD. Jeff elegantly carries the theme to its full potential by having the yang answers all begin with their key words while the yins end with theirs. The theme is further elevated by the thematic answers all being excellent entries in their own right. Predictably, as a yin woman, I find myself preferring the cold and dark answers.
Outside of the theme, there are savory bits like “FOR SHAME!,” a STEGOSAUR, and FU MANCHU. That latter answer is joined by some other Asian answers, including HONSHU, TSUNAMIS, and AHI (all Japanese), Chinese moo SHU pork, and Thai kings named RAMA (I had the Rama special for lunch today—peanut sauce, yum!). 48d: SUN YAT-SEN pulls double duty as a Chinese name and a yang/SUN representative.
Trip Payne’s variety cryptic crossword, “Minefield”
If you’ve never ventured into Triple Play Puzzles, you’ve been missing out on a wealth of puzzle fun. There are plus-sized themelesses, cryptics of the regular and variety sorts, his silly “Something Different” crosswords, and assorted variety grid puzzles (Squeezeboxes, Spiral, Marching Bands, Rows Garden, etc.).
Four weeks ago, Trip posted “Minefield,” and I finished it a couple weeks ago but just pulled it off the clipboard stack this morning. In this cryptic, no answer enumerations are given, and some answers don’t appear to fit the spaces allotted for them. For example, 2a is [Insidiously sabotage United Nations day with fur]. You can work that out as U.N. + d. + ermine, but the space is only 6 squares, not 9. And 16a is [Actor cooked semolina (2 words)]. Semolina anagrams to Sal Mineo, but the space is 5 letters, not 8. Do you see the common letter string? There’s a MINE in both, so the MINEs get entered rebus-style into single squares, and then everything fits into the grid just fine.
After completing the grid, the solver blocks off a margin of safety around each land MINE (my safety zones are marked in red). There’s one safe route through the minefield maze, which I’ve marked with highlighter dots.
Cryptic crossword + rebus crossword + maze = three kinds of fun and one terrific puzzle.
My favorite clue is 36a: [Death ray blasted environmental event (2 words)] for EARTH DAY.
Trip Payne’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 86”
I like it when a little piece of junky fill is redeemed by a clever clue that doesn’t overreach and make the answer a letdown. 57d is a choice example: [Southwest terminal?] evokes airports but is actually looking for the directional suffix –ERN. (Bonus points for reminding me of last weekend’s perfect Southwest flights, capped by a flight attendant serenading us with “Good Night, Sweetheart” during the descent.)
Highlights in the >3-letter range:
- 1a. [“Battlestar Galactica,” for example] is a SPACE OPERA. I’d like to see a horse opera that is a Western-themed opera rather than a mere Western movie.
- 11a. [Its mascot is Bobby Banana] cluing DOLE? That clue’s as fresh as a green banana.
- 15a. [“How dare you!”] = “WELL, I NEVER!” Perfect outraged equivalency.
- 39a. [Moniker of the author of “Experiments for Young Scientists”] is the zippy MR. WIZARD.
- 54a. [One who takes the minutes?] in the New Year’s Eve countdown is FATHER TIME.
- 1d. [Language in which “jenga” means “build”] is SWAHILI. Who doesn’t love etymology clues?
- 2d. A [Bike-racing group] of cyclists riding in a dense pack, with most of them drafting behind other riders to benefit from reduced wind resistance, is a PELOTON. The hard workers in front rotate to the back. (Any Tour de France fan knows all this.)
- 5d. [Cardinal for Cardinal Ratzinger] is the cardinal number one in German, or EINS. Smart, tricky clue.
- 36d. [Dixie dish] ain’t corn pone, y’all, it’s CATFISH. The deep-frieder, the better.
- 17a. [Legendary minstrel] clues ALLAN-A-DALE, who’s usually clued with a Robin Hood reference.
- 28a. [Descendants of fallen angels] are PERIS. These mythical Persian fairies aren’t usually clued this way.
- 49a. [Pulp heroes, often] are TECS, short for detectives. Anyone encounter tec outside of crosswords? I know Allan-a-Dale and peri from crosswords, too.
- 58a. [Battle of Britain introduction] is the then-new gun called the STEN. Crosswordese, pretty much.
- 3d. [Acronym format, often] is ALL CAPS. Completely obvious unless you’re not seeing it all. Took me a number of crossings to get.
- 11d. DADA is an [Movement from Zurich].
- 24d. [“Moral ___” (Adult Swim show)] clues OREL. Haven’t heard of the show. Orel Hershiser, move over.
- 41d. [Floral arrangements] usually means bouquets, but here it’s a botanical term, RACEMES. Lily-of-the-valley, with its stem sprouting teeny baby stems each with their own blooms, is an example of this type.
- 44d. [Get ready to run] clues REDACT, which means edit, and before you run that article in your magazine, it should be edited.
Did you notice the Christmas story trifecta? One [Gifted traveler?] is Santa CLAUS. Three [Gifted travelers?] are the Three WISE MEN, also known as the Magi. [One of the Magi] was named CASPAR.
Mark Halpin’s New York Times Second Sunday puzzle, “Ring Toss”
I don’t know Mark Halpin but various people have raved about his skills at making NPL-style puzzle hunt/puzzle extravaganza challenges. His website bears that out—six years of Labor Day extravaganzas, oodles of MIT Mystery Hunt creations. This “Ring Toss” puzzle is likely considerably more straightforward than most of Mark’s challenges. Fill in the Rows answers, use those letters to piece together the Rings answers, and transfer the letters inside the Rings to the appropriate spaces in the clue list. Voila! Your puzzle is done and you’ve got a neat final answer.
The two clues that stymied me the most were [Uncle Joe] and [Exchanges favors, votes or endorsements]. The latter is the political horse-trading term LOGROLLS while the former is Comrade STALIN.
As with a Rows Garden puzzle, I worked back and forth between the Rows and the Rings. It felt easier than a typical Patrick Berry Rows Garden, though it’s true I didn’t time myself. Do you agree it was easier? And if so, is it the orthogonal format or easier clues that made the difference?
When I transferred the circled letters inside the Rings to their corresponding spots in the clue list, FINDING LOOPHOLES aptly emerged.
I do like a good variety grid puzzle, and give this one five stars. I hope Mark makes more of these for the Times, as it’s the perfect size and a nifty format.
Ed Sessa’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Without Aspirations” – Doug’s review
Hey, folks. Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving and a sane Black Friday, Grey Saturday, etc. Did anyone besides me enjoy the Kohl’s ads featuring Rebecca Black’s “Friday”? OK, I didn’t think so. That was just me.
Today’s theme involves dropping an “h” sound from various words, presumably an “aspirated h.” I appreciate the fact that there’s a spelling change involved in each theme entry. HIGH to EYE, HALLOWED to ALOED, etc. None of them simply drop the letter h. That makes it more fun when you’re working out the altered phrases.
- 23a. [Wink?] – GIVE THE EYE SIGN.
- 27a. [Garden with soothing plants?] – ALOED GROUND. That’s a goofy answer, but I like it. Every crossworder should have aloe growing in their victory garden.
- 43a. [Components of a last call?] – ALE AND FAREWELL.
- 62a. [What you’ll see in a cornfield?] – EAR THERE AND EVERYWHERE.
- 80a. [Sniggler’s skill?] – THE EELING TOUCH. If this was the first crossword you’ve ever solved, you were probably thinking “Sniggler? What the hell? Is that anything like a Sniglet?”
- 97a. [Meditation training method?] – OM SCHOOLING.
- 106a. [How Popeye treats Olive?] – ACCORDING TO OYL.
And what’s in the rest of the puzzle? Lots of stuff.
- 22a. [“Honey, __”: Shania Twain hit] – I’M HOME. Don’t know the song, but it was easy to figure out. I wonder if Jeffrey knows Shania. They’re both Canadian, so they must have run into each other somewhere up there.
- 51d. [Cortese of “Jersey Shore”] – DEENA. Oh great. I thought I knew all the Jersey Shore info necessary for solving crosswords: Snooki, The Situation, and JWoww. Now we’ve got a new one. Apparently Deena’s catchphrase is “I’m a blast in a glass.” No clue what that means, and I’m afraid to google it further. That reminds me. I should start working on my catchphrase. “I’m the clues in the booze.”
- 63d. [Online commerce] – E-TAIL. The only way to shop for Christmas. You don’t even have to get out of bed.
- 78d. [R relatives] – PGS. Movie ratings. I had the P and S, and I was afraid the answer was going to be PQS, as in alphabet relatives: PQ(R)S. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when I got the G.
- 100d. [One who may eat her words?] – ICER. Great clue!
Cute, consistent theme. I’ll give it 3.75 leftover turkey legs.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Today’s the day for interesting grids, no? First we get Jeff Chen’s masterpiece in the NYT, and now it’s Martin Ashwood-Smith’s lovely 63/30 freestyle featuring left-right symmetry with lots of interesting entries.
The quad-stack of 15s along the top is interesting, though none of the entries really leaps off the grid. The MIAMI HURRICANES are probably the most interesting of the lot, though I liked the clue [Inside job?] for ATTEMPTED ESCAPE. I can’t say that I’ve seen the word ANTI-NATIONALIST all that much, except maybe in the Jeopardy! category of “15-Letter Words.”
More impressive (to me, anyway) is how the Downs throughout the quad-stack are so clean. A MAP and ESTS are the weakest crossings, and those aren’t exactly awful. In fact, the stack feeds some great entries like SCAMPERS, EINSTEINS, and PHASES OUT. And there are other highlights:
- [Window shopper’s buys] is a devious (but, ahem, transparent) clue for PANES. My favorite clue was [Produce more bass] for SPAWN.
- I didn’t know VIRAGOS are [Shrews]. Do Scorapios and Liabras have similar reputations?
- That whole stack in the southwest–LET’S START, PEACE PIPES, and A AS IN APPLE–is just superb.
- The tax lawyer in me liked [Tax table extreme] as the clue for TOP RATE, though terms like MAXIMUM MARGINAL RATE, and HIGHEST BRACKET also came to mind.
- If one has to use TSE TSES at the bottom of a stack to leverage all of the Ss, Es, and Ts (very common last letters), a fun clue like [Flies over the equator?] makes the medicine go down much easier.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Washington Post/LA Times/etc. crossword, “En-hancement”
The theme “en-hances” familiar phrases by inserting an EN at the beginning of a word:
- 23a. [Main job of bored employees?] is ENDURING BUSINESS HOURS. This one’s for all you clock-watchers out there.
- 31a. [Hollywood’s best?] might be the TOP ENGROSSING FILMS.
- 48a. [Really unappreciative of that last song?] clues ROTTEN TO THE ENCORE. This clue doesn’t do it for me. The audience is rotten to the performer’s encore song? No, the audience could act rotten to the performer. You can’t behave rotten to an inanimate entity, can you? Perhaps there’s a way to clue this with reference to the band stinking but continuing on to play an encore.
- 64a. [What germs do at cheap cafeterias?] is GROW ON ENTREES. Now, now. Even fancy restaurants can have health code violations. I hereby suggest [What mold does to leftovers left in the fridge too long?].
- 71a. [The “healthy colon song”?] is HAPPY ENTRAILS. Ha! Who doesn’t like intestinal humor?
- 86a. [Part 1 of the audition for “Night of the Living Dead”?] clues CATATONIC ENTRANCE. “Catatonic trance” doesn’t feel like a lexical chunk of meaning to me.
- 105a. [Produce-department sign that may need toning down a bit?] is ENDIVE, ENDIVE, ENDIVE! I don’t know what “dive, dive, dive” is from. Submarine movies? Breaking the Surface: The Greg Louganis Story?
- 115a. [What you probably won’t do at a DENSA convention?] is ENCOUNTER INTELLIGENCE. DENSA, of course, is Merl’s less intelligent counterpart to Mensa.
The theme’s modestly amusing but no great shakes.
A dozen more clues:
- 19a. [A national Parks] is ROSA Parks. The clue would have been tougher as [National Parks].
- 20a. [Do a sailing chore again] clues RERIG. Oof. Nauticalism + a clunky RE- prefix.
- 30a. [Most famous guy on the Planet] is star reporter Clark KENT.
- 56a. [Crossword diag. markers] clues NOS., or numbers. I thought “diag.” meant diagonal at first, but I think Merl’s aiming for diagram.
- 60a. [Land of Tralee cars?] was the single most mystifying clue for me. The answer is EIRE, or Ireland, and Tralee is an Irish town, but what’s up with “Tralee cars”? I think it’s a pun on “trolley cars.” Ouch.
- 61a. [Pike’s first] clues ZEBULON, the first name of Zebulon Pike, namesake of Pike’s Peak in Colorado.
- 101a. [In ___ (peeved, British-style)] clues A PET. Usually crossword clues for APET or INAPET don’t hint that it’s a Briticism, which leaves American solvers wondering who the hell says “oh, he’s in a pet today.”
- 8d. [Josiah or Marla] clues GIBBS. Marla Gibbs is a TV actress, while Josiah Gibbs was one of two people I’ve never heard of: a theologian and witness in the Amistad trial or his son, a theoretical physicist, chemist, and mathematician. Plural proper nouns are cheesy fill, but [Barry, Maurice, Robin, and Andy] would probably be easier for most solvers.
- 44d. [“Flation” opener] is STAG. “Flation,” of course, is the anthem of the shire of Northumberland in England. It begins “Stag of Northumberland, mighty king of the forest, we give our thanks to thee.” (Really.)
- 63d. [Zero safety precautions, tightrope-wise] is NO NET. “Without a net” feels more familiar, but the clue/answer combo’s still zippier than [Large musical group].
- 68d. [Bolger’s guts in 1939] were made of STRAW. Ray Bolger played the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.
- 89d. TOKENISM is a [Minimal-compliance hiring practice].
Solid three stars. The eight theme entries are long, but there’s not much excitement inside or outside the theme.
Henry Hook’s Sunday crossword, “On the Cutting Edge” — pannonica’s review
Constructor Hook hones his punny bone with this offering, full of phrases altered to include cutting tools.
- 16a. [What a logger may do when he’s done?] DOWN THE HATCHET (down the hatch). I don’t buy “down” as meaning “to put down.” To bring down, as an enemy—say, helicopters: yes. To consume: yes. Even, as the dictionary also suggests, to simply defeat: yes. Unless…is the phrase meant to suggest that the logger eats his chopper?
- 21a. [How to know where to chop?] AXE MARKS THE SPOT (‘X’ marks the spot).
- 59a. [Where weed-cutters congregate after work?] SICKLES BARS (singles’ bars). Pun’s a bit of a stretch, and visually it compels me to think of Snickers bars.
- 99a. [“Keep an eye on that cutter”] DON’T BE A SAW LOSER (…sore loser). Good life advice.
- 105a. [Cute name for a cutting-tool store?] SCISSORS PALACE (Caesar’s Palace).
- 14d. [Supermodel who’s really “chipper”?] CHISEL BUNDCHEN (Giselle Bundchen).
- 27d. [Cutting tool that saves money?] ECONOMY SCYTHE (economy size). A way to cut your budget, no doubt.
- 35d. [Mail-order source for cutters?] SHEARS ROEBUCK (Sears Roebuck, a.k.a. Sears, Roebuck & Co.).
- 36d. [Lumberjack’s sunscreen?] CHOPPERTONE (Coppertone).
- 46d. [Wood tool the government can’t talk about?] CLASSIFIED ADZE. After working with a Tausig puzzle, it was a little difficult for me to read that clue straight.
The first aspects I noticed about the puzzle were the black squares in each corner and the spread-out distribution of the themers. The former can be understood and excused in light of the fourteen-letter (!) overlaps of the first and last pairs of horizontal theme entries. On the other, other hand, it’s uncommon in a 21×21 grid to see the numbers in the first row only go up to 15. those Utahs! Anyway, most of the puns were at least chuckle-worthy.
- 96a. [Skater Henie] I can never remember if it’s SONJA or SONIA or SONYA. Should be easy enough to know to use the J, as that’s the most natural for a Scandinavian language.
- New term to me: 2d [8- to- 14-year old] TWEENY. Is this different from a CHILD (42d) who’s a tween or tweener?
- Nascent word ladder! KALE and CALE as neighbors, not to mention COLE located approximately symmetrical to KALE.
- 29a [Would like to] for WANNA threw me, as there was no question mark or indication in the clue that the answer was slangy.
- Was fooled by [Swag-bag item], filling in BOOTY for GOODY (47a.)
- Variant suffix and prefix! -ITIOUS and RHIN-. The reduced -TIOUS and augmented RHINO- are more familiar to me. 70a and 66a.
- 76a [“Behind the Music” airer] is the crosswords-only spelling VH-ONE . Not to be confused with VC-Hip.
Fun, breezy puzzle. No sharp edges.