James F.C. Burns’ New York Times crossword, “Core o’ Nations”
I’m usually a sucker for geography themes. This one sneaks a nation into the core o’ each theme answer. No idea why most of the theme entries run Down rather than Across.
- 21a. A HUG AND A KISS makes me think of Bart Simpson calling Moe’s and asking him to page “Amanda Hugenkiss.” “I need a man ta hug and kiss,” Moe calls out. Did you see Uganda in there?
- 102a. GARDEN MARKET doesn’t feel in-the-language to me, but then I live in the city. We have plenty of farmers’ markets, but I haven’t seen the “garden market” term before. Denmark is there. And from left to right, these are the Downs:
- 50d. FAIR AND SQUARE tucks short Iran into it.
- 30d. TAKES PAINS takes Spain.
- 44d. SUNKEN YACHT doesn’t sound in-the-language to me either. Sunken treasure, yes, but Kentre isn’t a country and Kenya is.
- 26d. CATCH IN A LIE catches China.
- 46a. AS PER USUAL, Peru is subtle.
- 15d. INFORMAL TALKS are held in Malta, or vice versa. Not to be confused with Yalta.
I like how 1-Across begins with a SPLAT. Other goodies: the CISCO KID, the WALTZing MATILDA pair, sounds-like-a-regular-noun-phrase [Hall of fame] to clue MONTY Hall, and DEAR ABBY (as Sam blogged the other day, more in-the-language than DEAR ANN). It’s kinda fun to put Baba WAWA right on top of BABEL. Babel Wawa, anyone?
Hitches: 79a: [Bonaventures, e.g.] are MASTS? Wow, that feels like pretty obscure nauticalese to me. 61d: [Lord’s Prayer word] clues DEBTS, but that is far from a universal version of the Lord’s Prayer. It’s “forgive us our trespasses” in the Catholic version and, apparently, most Protestant sects. Seems like the clue should narrow things down a bit if it’s using the less famous Lord’s Prayer “debtors” wording.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s New York Times Second Sunday puzzle, “Marching Bands”
I usually don’t blog the Second Sunday puzzles because (a) I never do the acrostics, which account for about half of them, (b) I usually don’t do the cryptics (I like cryptics with more challenge, like the ones in the Nation and Hex’s monthly WSJ variety cryptics), (c) I don’t do the occasional “Puns & Anagrams” (because I prefer straight-up cryptics), (d) sometimes I do like the puzzle type but I don’t always get around to doing the puzzles, and (e) sometimes I do the puzzle but don’t find time to blog it. Friday night, I saw that this one was a BEQ and that got me to download it. Solved the puzzle six hours ago but somehow wound up watching Whitney Houston’s funeral at someone’s apartment and the next thing you know, here we are. And I have approximately a zillion other Sunday puzzles to blog, but I will make a little time for this puzzle because Brendan had some really cute bits in it.
Sometimes a Marching Bands puzzle can have a lot of stretchy answers that feel forced, but this one was good. Highlights:
- WARP and AT HEART join forces to go on the WARPATH.
- A WEDGIE! Ouch. The [Bunching of of the pants in the backside] clue had me befuddled for a while there.
- Who doesn’t like BRER BEAR and his brother Br’ers?
- The 11/b clue, [Word after one, two and three in a children’s rhyme], is a great way to approach the POTATO. Count it out: “One potato, two potato, three potato, four. Five potato, six potato, seven potato, more.” The lesson we learn here is that when it comes to peeling potatoes, you lose count after seven and could use a break. Pro tip! Buy one or two extra peelers so that you can have two or three people peeling at the same time. And don’t stick anyone with the junky peeler. Get three nice Oxos and reduce the complaining from the people you put on KP.
- Other good entries: SEXPOT, ON THE Q.T., “I’M SORRY,” SLY STONE.
As with the WSJ Saturday Puzzle, my grid picture is upside down because apparently I was holding my iPhone the wrong way. Apple! Why you gotta play me like this? Why don’t you fix it without being asked? [edit: I fixed it without being asked directly. –p]
Karen M. Tracey’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 98” – Jeffrey’s review
Theme: 21A. [Harsh] – BRUTAL
This one killed me. Took a couple of sittings to complete. The bottom half went ok, and then full stop on top. Since I am blogging it, I kept at it and finally got it done, but with errors on bad crossings.
The good, the bad and the ugly:
- 1A. [Spanish for “watchman”] – VIGILANTE. Nice one across. Finally remembered it from the DC Comics character. Good.
- 15A. [Ordered] – IN A SERIES. Wanted On the Way or similar. Good.
- 16A. [Ethan Frome’s wife] – ZEENA. Who? Crossing what? Ugly.
- 17A. [Burger King combo] – VALUE MEAL. Happy Meal fit, but I knew that was McDonalds. Crown Meal fit and sounded plausible. Good.
- 20A. [Basilica of St. Severin city] – KOLN – Obscure place. Ugly.
- 22A. [Sneaker brand popular among skateboarders] – VANS. Never heard of it. KEDS? Crossing iron ore? Ugly.
- 26A. [John of the Velvet Underground] – CALE. Who? Crossing what at the first letter? Natick. Ugly.
- 28A. [Awaiting payment] – RECEIVABLE. Accounting terms! Good.
- 30A. [The New York Inquirer was featured in it] – CITIZEN KANE. Good.
- 32A. [When Janucá sometimes ends] – ENERO. What? Spanish for Hannukah and January? It ends in January maybe once every 20 years. Bad.
- 38A. [Holiday get-together] – OFFICE PARTY. Good.
- 44A. [Arrange for some financing] – FLOAT A LOAN. I can’t FLOAT A LOAN; I need a life jacket. Answer – good. Joke – bad.
- 61A. [Anticipation] – FORETASTE. Bad.
- 63A. [Destructive evaluation] – CRASH TEST. Good.
- 1D. [By word of mouth] – VIVA VOCE. Good
- 2D. [Actress who played Martha of Bethany in “The Greatest Story Ever Told”] – INA BALIN. Good.
- 3D. [Lead ore] – GALENITE. All I knew was —–ITE. Bad.
- 8D. [New York City suburb in New Jersey’s Bergen County] – TEANECK. Population 40,000. Bad.
- 11D. [Dean & ___] – DELUCA. Purveyors of fine food, wine and kitchenware, according to their website. A complete mystery crossing ZEENA, CALE and appropriately, BRUTAL. No doubt all of you shop there, but this ruins the puzzle for me. Bad.
- 31D. [Jazzman Sims] – ZOOT. Another unknown. I’ve lost interest. Bad.
- 41D. [Message you don’t want to see when restoring a backup] – I/O ERROR. Good.
- 42D. [Crater lake locale] – CALDERA. Whatever. Crossings were ok. Bad.
- 46D. [Tulsa suburb] – OWASSO. Population 18,000. Ugly. Ridiculous.
- 47D. [Magnetic alloy] – ALNICO. Ugly. Maybe Al Nico is mayor of Owasso.
This puzzle crossed the obscurity line for me. I have done many excellent Karen Tracey puzzles, but this isn’t one of them. Give me a quad stack with one or two iffy short words that are easy to get by the long crossings any day. **¼ stars.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated crossword, “Get Over It!”
Ooh, this is a funky theme. Six phrases that include words like “leaping” and “jumping” end up jumping over a black square that eats some of the letters in the verb:
- 25a, 27a. [Gift in a Christmas song …] and [… (See 25 Across)] clue TEN LORDS A-L—ING. The EAP has vanished into the pit the answer is leaping over. (Edited to add: No, it hasn’t vanished. Instead, those letters have aptly jumped over the square, appearing as part of the answer above. Thanks to commenter Andy for pointing out what I missed. Replaced the answer grid to highlight the key words. Color me even more impressed by Merl’s theme!)
- 45a, 47a. [Olympic activity …] is POLE VA—ING, eating the ULT.
- 56a, 57a. [Going without the evening meal …] is SKI—NG DINNER. Lost PPI.
- 86a, 88a. [Had drinks in several locations …] clues WENT BAR-H—ING, with a hopped-over OPP.
- 95a, 96a. [Nogales novelties …] are Mexican JUM—G BEANS, catapulting clear over the PIN.
- 116a, 117a. [Taking the bait, perhaps …] is SPR—ING THE TRAP, leapfrogging over another ING.
We’ve seen themes that made purposeful use of the black squares, but not in quite this way. I like it a lot.
There’s a handful of tough stuff lurking in here:
- 70a. [Curtain material] is NINON. Know this only from crosswords.
- 78a. [Heavy silk fabric] clues SAMITE. Two less familiar fabrics in the same puzzle zone. Ouch!
- 93a. [City of ancient Palestine] clues SAMARIA.
My favorite answer in the fill is 65d: LITTERBUG, a [Trash-can ignorer]. Move that L up two letters in the alphabet and you’ve got yourself a dance.
4.5 stars, with lots of credit for the cool theme gimmick.
Henry Hook’s Sunday crossword, “A Case of the DTs?” — pannonica’s review
The DTs—which is common enough fill in crosswords—are delirium tremens, a frequent symptom of alcohol withdrawal. Had I solved this puzzle on paper, it would have been with a steady, if occasionally stymied, hand. In the theme entries, the initial hard-d sound in a word or words is “upgraded” to the even harder hard-t sound.
- 24a. [Form a link between babies?] CONNECT THE TOTS. This was the first themer I encountered, and I twigged to the gimmick right away. Definitely helped speed the solve in some places.
- 36a. [Nervous dwellers?] TENSE POPULATION.
- 92a. [Barmaid’s hair] COCKTAIL TRESSES.
- 107a. [“Roll your Rs, honey!”] TRILL, BABY, TRILL.
- 5d. [Having four flats and no spare?] IN TIRE STRAITS.
- 16d. [Graffiti artist undercover?] CLOAK AND TAGGER.
- 46d. [Tarzan’s version of a seat belt?] TYING ON THE VINE. I choose to think of the base phrase as describing grapes, which gives affinity to other fill such as NAPA and ZIN.
- 57d. [What queued dominoes demonstrate] TOPPLER EFFECT. [Imagine link to astounding video here]
One-hundred-and-twelve squares is a substantial but not overambitious amount of theme content for a 21×21 puzzle, which leaves plenty of room for interesting and exciting ballast fill, especially since said themers are well distributed horizontally and vertically. But before moving on, I’ll say that all eight are relatively strong and lively. The two weakest originals are dense population and in dire straits, the former because it’s nondescript and the latter because the preposition diminishes it. Fun that the base phrase for 107a is echoed in the two-part 109d/13a [Palin imitator’s phrase] YOU/BETCHA.
What have we got?
- PIQUANCY, CRINKLED, FANCIFY, BROCHURE, ZILLION, POTHEAD, SISSY BAR, AMY GRANT, SAVORY. Solid, varied and uncommon entries.
- Crossing—and cross-clued—elements in the upper-right corner in PISTIL and STAMEN. PISTIL is clued as [There’s a stigma to it]. In fact, such tricky cluing is rampant in the puzzle, which made for a challenging and absorbing solve. Some of my favorites:
- 19a [Ear borrower?] Marc ANTONY. “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…”
- 39a [Here and there] APART. Deceptive little clue.
- 64a [Cab alternative] ZIN, but with _ _ N, I was fooled into thinking it was VAN.
- 103a [Preps for a rainy day] SAVES.
- 40d [See somebody] POPE. He’s definitely a somebody in the Holy See.
- 91d [Debarking site for couples] ARARAT, the couples being the passengers on Noah’s Ark.
- 96d [Took out of context?] ERASED.
- On the negative side, there are some clunkers, of which these are a few: partials ALL A, EAT A, R IS (didn’t I call for a moratorium on Sue Grafton titles?); abbrevs. EMP., LBS. (actually, it was the “anncmt.” signal in the clue); crosswordese AMEERS (a variation, to boot), LYS, ADZ, AGRA, ELKA (Betty White’s role in Hot in Cleveland, which must have been named with crosswords in mind).
- Then there’s the odd stuff. Words of varying obscurity, such as OXALIS [Wood sorrel] and BOHEA [Black tea variety], whose crossing was among my last fill. SCANTS as a verb. BAZOO [Piehole], JAHAN, AFLARE, FILAR, hockey players as ICEMEN, OMEI (crossing the M in MPEG, which could also be troublesome).
- Two clues that jarred a bit for me: 79d [Head Stone] MICK; many would accord at least equal stature to Keith Richards, although Jagger is the “front man.” 82a [Prestwick pattern] PLAID. I really would like to see people—especially erudite crossword people—get on board with realizing that the patterns are tartans and plaid is a specific garment. It’s probably a lost cause. Descriptive v. prescriptive.
- Last, the bottom right corner echoes the connectedness of the top right’s PISTIL/STAMEN crossing with SLICER and SALAMI side-by-side at 94d & 95d.. [Deli machine…] […often used on this].
Overall, a good puzzle with a flowing construction, solid theme, interesting fill, challenging cluing.
William I. Johnston’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Sam Donaldson’s review
This Sunday Challenge could double as a game of Trivial Pursuit:
- Geography: The [Coastal metropolis in northeastern Brazil] is RECIFE. If you were expecting a different word, it would be a recipe for disaster.
- Entertainment: The [1977 film role that Geena turned down] is Princess LEIA in Star Wars. The “Geena,” I’m guessing, is “Geena Davis.” Things still turned out okay for her. Don’t worry there’s some more entertainment trivia: The [Album whose cover prominently featured a zebra crossing] is ABBEY ROAD from The Beatles. If you missed that one, how about this: the [Object seen just before and after Kane says “Rosebud”] is a SNOWGLOBE. Also in the movies, there’s the [1922 Murnau film featuring Count Orlok] (that’s NOSFERATU, a film you can sink your teeth into) and [What one of Nigel’s amps goes to in “This is Spinal Tap”] (which is ELEVEN).
- History: The [Last of the Ptolemaic rulers in Egypt] is CLEOPATRA. (She played Elizabeth Taylor in a biopic that didn’t fare well at the box office.) Other items in this category include GRUBSTAKE as the term for [Funding for a miner] and AMEN RA as the [Theban deity]. And don’t forget OLAF I, an [Early Norwegian king].
- Arts & Literature: The [Representation of Jesus’s sufferings] is the PASSION. Not much else in the puzzle is so ARTSY (acting [With cultural pretensions]).
- Science & Nature: What’s the logical [Pearl diver’s destination]? An OYSTER BED, of course. And a [Set of points, in geometry] are FOCI. Oh, and [Pond scum] is ALGAE.
- Sports & Leisure: Did [Play-by-play announcer Dick] ENBERG ever call a figure skating event? If so, he might have announced the aerial exploits of TAI, [Skater Babilonia].
That’s a healthy dose of trivia for a single 70/28 freestyle puzzle. Two other non-trivia entries warrant mention: (1) I loved both UNDERARMS and the clue, [They might get the Axe] (as in Axe body spray); and (2) I liked YES DEAR, the [Two words to prevent an argument]. Thank goodness the clue wasn’t a reference to that awful sitcom of the same name.
John Lampkin’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “White House Counsel” – Doug’s review
Hey, crossword fans. Doug here. I have to admit that I was baffled by today’s theme for a while. When the first theme entry you fill in is COOLIDGE’S HIPPOPOTAMUS, you know you’re in for a strange ride. And I couldn’t figure out how the heck the pets related to the title, “White House Counsel.” I was having visions of the Space Canine Patrol Agents. (That’s a reference only Jeffrey will understand.) The whole thing clicked when I realized that each pet has its own advice to offer in a down entry. You know, that’s so crazy, it just might work! Let’s hear from constructor John Lampkin on the genesis of this theme:
“‘Fido’ in clues represents the generic pet pooch. Since I’ve never ever met a real dog named Fido I wondered how he got to be so famous. ‘Spot’ we can assume achieved recognition from ‘See Spot run’ primers from yesterday, but who the heck was Fido? The net unleashed (ha ha) the answer and inspired this puzzle. Fido was Abe Lincoln’s dog. Who knew? Historians sometimes wonder why some presidents have made questionable judgments. This puzzle makes clear the answer—they got advice from their pets!”
- 23a. [BILLY] – COOLIDGE’S HIPPOPOTAMUS.
- 80d. [Advice from 23-Across?] – SNORT.
- 41a. [OLD WHISKERS] – HARRISON’S GOAT. Benjamin Harrison, not William Henry. BILLY’s the hippo, but that’s a perfect name for a goat.
- 77d. [Advice from 41-Across?] – BAA.
- 57a. [FIDO] – LINCOLN’S DOG.
- 52d. [Advice from 57-Across?] – ARF.
- 82a. [SOCKS] – CLINTON’S CAT.
- 3d. [Advice from 82-Across?] – MEOW.
- 96a. [MAUDE] – ROOSEVELT’S PIG.
- 111d. [Advice from 96-Across?] – OINK.
- 114a. [DICK] – JEFFERSON’S MOCKINGBIRD.
- 39d. [Advice from 114-Across?] – CHEEP.
So what did you think of this one? Strange and wonderful, or just strange? It gave me a chance to use my favorite presidential pet picture, so I’ll award it a thumbs-up.
- 54a. [“__ a stinker?”: Bugs Bunny line] – AIN’T I. For years (decades?), this entry has been clued with the Bugs Bunny quote, but I recently saw it clued with a reference to the single “Ain’t I” by rapper Yung L.A. Thanks, Mr. L.A., for breathing some new life into an old crossword standby.
- 56d. [Insect stage] – IMAGO. John’s provided an image to go with this one. It’s a mayfly imago trapped in a spider web. Sweet. If you think bugs are cool (I do), check out John’s new self-published book, “Bugged Beyond Belief,” a collection of the 40 best of his 10,000 macro-photos of insects. I’m assured that “amusing yet factual commentary peppers the pages.” Contact info at John’s website. I wonder if any of the presidents had a bug for a pet. FILLMORE’S EARWIG?
- 84d. [Flower toxic to cows, ironically] – BUTTERCUP. My favorite entry & clue.
Adam Cohen’s Celebrity crossword, “Sunday Funday”
Did Doug mention Presidents’ Day? (This blog, like the rest of society, has not reached a consensus on the use of an apostrophe in this holiday’s name.) Adam riffs on the holiday Celebrity-style, with four actors who share 5-letter last names with U.S. presidents. Sorry, Cynthia Nixon. The other people have 3- and 4-letter first names so you don’t fit in this puzzle.
- 15a. HUGH GRANT, [“About a Boy” actor].
- 23a. AMY ADAMS, [“The Fighter” actress].
- 29a. PRESIDENTS DAY, [What tomorrow is, and a hint to what the last names in four of the puzzle answers have in common].
- 38a. LIV TYLER, [“The Incredible Hulk” actress].
- 47a. SEAN HAYES, [“Will & Grace” actor].
I like the even split between men and women. Too often, crossword themes are all male—and given the United States’ history of having 43 male presidents, it’s a treat to have a President’s Day theme that mixes it up a little. We may have had closeted gay presidents, but we have one out theme answer (SEAN HAYES) along withWanda SYKES, ROSIE O’Donnell, and Michael URIE in the fill. There’s also a shout-out to transgender Chaz Bono via the clue for his mom, gay icon CHER. (Do not ask me to speculate on Ed MEESE‘s personal life.)