Xan Vongsathorn’s New York Times crossword, “Getting Around”
Really a neat theme, with a 19-letter kicker across the middle. The theme entries are nine two-word phrases that include a word that connotes encircling something, and the other word is circled in a more literal/visual rendering of the phrase:
- 23a. In GIFT-WRAPPED, the word GIFT is “wrapped.”
- 25a. For INNER TUBE, the word TUBE is “inner.”
- 47a. Baseballese INSIDE FASTBALL puts FASTBALL inside circles.
- 51a. SELF-CONTAINED, self contained.
- 66a. Crazy NINE-BANDED ARMADILLO as each of ARMADILLO’s 9 letters inside its own band. I wonder if this was Xan’s seed entry.
- 86a. The RINGED PLANETS are indeed ringed.
- 90a. Those INTERNAL ORGANS are internal.
- 113a. BUBBLED UP has put the word UP in bubbles.
- 116a. And to sum it all up (bringing things full circle), GO in this entry and the circled words in the other theme answers all GO IN CIRCLES.
Looking at these theme answers, none of them are making me grouse “that’s not really in the language” or “this one is inconsistent” or “that one doesn’t work as well as the others.” 66a is a little bit of an outlier, but it’s basically going to a crazy extreme rather than being a clumsy attempt. The theme’s got a bit of that “puzzle within a puzzle” game to it—you work on the circled part of the answer and try to get the other word by thinking of words that connote interiorness.
Tough 1-Across. St. ANSELM is the [Benedictine monk who founded Scholasticism]. That’s parked on top of 19a: [Lunchtime errand], or NOONER. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary folks, a NOONER is a midday event, particularly sexual intercourse. “Honey, I’ll be back in an hour or so. Just need to run some errands over lunch.” The clue’s “errand” kept me from going with NOONER here, and then I got distracted by conversation with my husband instead of, you know, just moving to another section of the puzzle to make headway. Slowish solve. Oh! And I had PARIS for the 3d: [World capital that’s also a girl’s name]. SOFIA! I thought it was a sly clue because Paris is unisex. That Paris Hilton, always causing trouble.
The fill’s pretty good overall. 16d: VOUCHSAFE is a word I think I have never had occasion to use. HOT DOG BUN crosses a Homerian “WOO-HOO!” “MR. ROBOTO” is a sop to my teenage self, and how can I not like LIKE LIKE? As in “Do you like Dylan, like, as a friend, or do you, like, like like him?” It’s not so much that the puzzle’s got a zillion cool non-theme answers to point out, just that there’s no obvious concentration of junk fill either.
Favorite clue: 86d: [Parks with no intention of moving] for ROSA Parks. Well played, capital P, well played.
Henry Hook’s Sunday crossword, “Branching Out” — pannonica’s review
As astute readers may have noticed, I was less than thrilled by the Warren Buffett quote as the theme of this past Friday’s Wall Street Journal offering, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I was underwhelmed by this likeminded specimen.
- 102a. [Speaker of the quote] WARREN BUFFETT.
- 22a. [Start of a quote] SOMEONE’S SITTING IN
- 27a, 58a, 65a, 70a, 108a: THE SHADE TODAY | BECAUSE | SOMEONE | | PLANTED | A TREE A LONG TIME AGO.
Wow. I may respect the guy’s success and his stance on the lax taxation of the wealthiest in this country, but—at least judging by these two examples of his wisdom—what platitudinous tripe he comes out with! It isn’t even charmingly folksy.
The WSJ puzzle quote was 80 characters long, with an additional 26 for Buffet’s name and nickname; this one is a relatively skimpier 68 letters, plus 13. On the other hand, constructor Hook arranges his quote very differently, with extreme overlaps. Ten letters for the polar binaries, and the three seven-letter words forming a stepped node in the center. Quite spiffy!
Moving on to the… wait for it… athematic matériel, it’s quite good but doesn’t strain too far, with a low percentage of longer fill. Among the best are indeed the lengthiest: 11d [Free from blame] VINDICATE, with the ambiguous “free”—noun or verb?; 75d [Lying down] RECUMBENT (not RECLINING, as I had for a while); also floating around are LOBSTERS, CAROUSEL, GRANULES, TOP-HEAVY, and the deliciously Scrabbly SQUEAKY vertical in the center. The triple-seven stacks on the flanks are less than captivating: LOCATED | ACADEMY | SCRAPES, and ABILENE | DESIREE | DRESSER.
Looking back on the grid, it seems to have a fairly high CAP™ Quotient, but I didn’t notice that so much as I was solving. Yet there’s plenty of fill like ARM OF, EXOD., ADM., MCS, A LOSS, OCC., DYS-, ONEIR-. There’s also less-than-common foreign stuff: CEARA [State in Northern Brazil] and CIE. [Co., in Cannes]. And that’s just in the acrosses.
- Nice how 116a [Soft balls] NERFS echoes 16d [Softball] EASY ONE. Unfortunately, less nice that 16d follows 15d [At ease] RELAXED, which is otherwise a fine clue.
- 44d TWO LB?? Really? Really icky.
- Hm. I just spun through all of the clues and answers, and nothing else struck me as exceptionally good or bad. Sure, I could pick on some of the lesser stuff, more CAPpiness, slightly “off”-feeling clues, and so on, but I’d feel as if I were kicking the poor thing when I’ve got it down.
Mike Shenk’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 114” – Doug’s review
Hey, crossword fans. Doug here. I’m getting a late start today, so this’ll be short and sweet.
Not a particularly flashy grid, but it’s solid. I especially like the lower left corner with its DOODADS and SOY LATTE.
- 56a. [It’s a mix of 350 Hz and 440 Hz in the United States] – DIAL TONE. Interesting clue. You realize, of course, there are youngsters among us who’ve never heard a dial tone. Here are some other Sounds That Your Kids Have Probably Never Heard.
- 49a. [World leader who wrote the play “The Sound of the People Victorious”] – U NU. That’d be U Nu, first Prime Minister of Burma. Wikipedia tells us that “the play The Sound of the People Victorious that U Nu wrote while he was Prime Minister is about the havoc that Communist ideologies can wreak in a family. It later became a popular comic book in Burma, was translated into English, and made into a feature film at the height of the Cold War in the 1950s.”
- 50a. [Creator of Sam and Nick] – DASHIELL. Sam Spade and Nick Charles. Johnny Depp’s supposed to play Nick Charles in a remake of The Thin Man. If nothing else, we’ll get a few new ASTA clues out of it.
- 55a. [Plant famous for thriving in a rock-filled environment?] – ROBERT. Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. Clue of the Day.
- 10d. [1940s chief justice Harlan ___ Stone] – FISKE. Were any of you smart enough to fill in this one without any crossers? He was the only justice appointed by Calvin Coolidge.
- 34d. [1949 film in which Mr. and Mrs. Bonner are opposing counsel] – ADAM’S RIB . This puzzle has a lot of old-timey references, doesn’t it? That’s cool. It’ll make those never-heard-a-dial-tone young whippersnappers work a little bit!
Have a nice Sunday. I’m outta here.
John Lampkin’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Baby Talk” – Jeffrey’s review
Theme: Regular phrases with one word replaced with how a baby might say it.
- 23A. [Kissing game?] – SPIN THE BABA (Spin the bottle)
- 44A. [Thing sliding down an aisle?] – BRIDAL CHOO CHOO (Bridal train)
- 68A. [Popular party appetizers?] – PIGGIES IN BLANKIES (Pigs in blankets)
- 91A. [Dire circumstance, idiomatically?] – HELL OR HIGH WAWA (Hell or high water)
- 118A. [“Ego Trippin'” rapper?] – SNOOP BOW WOW (Snoop Dogg, coming soon to Victoria)
- 26D. [Waistline concern?] – WUV HANDLES (Love handles)
- 64D. [Romantic night out?] – DIN DIN DATE (Dinner date)
Pretty cutsie-wootsie stuff.
- 20A. [Anderson who sang with Ellington] – IVIE
- 28A. [Turner of records] – TINA
- 29A. [“__ a Lady”] – SHE’S
- 57A. [Brooks of comedy] – MEL. 15 – 10 Commandments
- 89A. [Animation pioneer] – DISNEY
In 1928, Walt Disney lost the rights to his most popular creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. He nearly quit animation, but on a train ride home, he came up with Mickey Mouse. In 2006, the rights to Oswald were returned to the Walt Disney Company in exchange for sportscaster Al Michaels [true story].
- 32D. [String quartet member] – CELLO. No reference to 96D?
- 77D. [“__ Is Born”] – A STAR
- 96D. [Musician with a 1712 Stradivarius] – YO YO MA
- 101D. [R&B’s __ Brothers] – ISLEY
The Fiend is starting its summer schedule so I will only be on Sundays from now on. Classic “Jeffrey’s Best” reviews will appear Monday and Wednesday, so you can relive the magic.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Coming to theaters this summer: Return of the Quad-Stack! From the constructor who brought you countless triple stacks (for beginners, that’s three 15-letter entries stacked one on top of another) comes a grid with a quad-stack up top!
Let’s start with the stack, because that’s clearly the major feature of this grid (well, that and the atypical left-right symmetry instead of the traditional rotational symmetry). I liked three of the four entries in the stack. AFTER-DINNER MINT, the [Complimentary restaurant item], is an awesome way to start the puzzle. ROTISSERIE GRILL and AS OFTEN AS NEEDED are terrific too. But … DOO DOO DOO DOO DOO, the [1973 Rolling Stone hit substitled “Heartbreaker”]? Since I’m not familiar with it, my reaction to the entry was “Meh.” It looks kind of lazy to me. But I think if I knew the song, I would be singing a much different tune. So I think my tepid reaction to that answer is my fault, not that of the puzzle.
And let’s not forget: it’s a quad-stack for Pete’s sake! The Downs made from the stack are all legit–in fact, some of them lead to some really nice longer Downs like IDENTICAL TWINS, NOISE POLLUTION, and MORE AND MORE. It can’t be easy to make a quad-stack with uniformly clean crossings, so I really admire this one.
Interestingly, the iffy stuff in the grid comes not in the Downs made by the quad-stack but in the entries appearing beneath it. There’s a veritable rogues gallery of scowl-inducing stuff there: IEST, MAN A, A LULL, SLA, OR I, INE, NSW, and ORELS. Um, eww. Anytime you have to use the plural of a given name that has only one famous example, you’re in trouble. ENYAS anyone?
What do you think of NACHO CHIP? As a snack food, tortilla chips are unrivaled. But as crossword fill, I’m not sold. You can make nachos with tortilla chips, and you can refer to the corn-based goodies simply as “chips.” But does anyone call them “nacho chips?”
Time for a crossword Rorschach test: what are the black squares representing? I see an apple tree with two apples falling to the ground. Or is it a butterfly?
Favorite entry = LEAF-EATING, [Like many plant pests]. Favorite clue = [Old Chevy vehicle, briefly] for SNL. (Saturday Night Live, or SNL, was once a vehicle for comedian Chevy Chase.) I fell so deeply into that trap that I thought for sure the clue was an error! Oddly, I love those kind of traps.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated crossword, “Bawl Game”
The game here is to hew to Tom Hanks’ character’s admonition in A League of Their Own: THERE’S NO CRYING / IN BASEBALL. All the other theme answers relate to baseball but have had a “WA!” removed. This makes for a plethora of impossible-looking, “that can’t be right” answers:
- 22a. SULTANOFST, [Babe Ruth nickname]. Sultan of Swat.
- 28a. MILUKEEBREWERS, [They play near Lake Michigan]. Milwaukee Brewers. The Chicago Cubs play a lot closer to the lake. If the wind is “blowing in,” that means winds of Lake Michigan keep players from hitting homers at Wrigley Field. Does Miller Park get lake winds that affect play too?
- 35a. DEBOGGS, [Ex-Boston/New York/Tampa player with over 3,000 hits]. Wade Boggs.
- 38a. FENYPARK, [Baseball venue that turned 100 years old this year]. Fenway Park.
- 53a. HONUSGNER, [One of his 1909 baseball cards sold for $2.8 million]. Honus Wagner.
- 56a. LKEDINARUN, [Committed a pitcher’s no-no]. Walked in a run.
- 66a. HEREALLYLLOPEDTHATONE, [Announcer’s home run comment]. He really walloped that one.
- 85a. RNINGTRACK, [Grassless area on a diamond’s perimeter that lets a fielder know the wall is near]. Warning track.
- 88a. THROCURVE, [Try to fool a batter, perhaps]. Throw a curve.
- 98a. SHINGTON, [Home of the Nationals]. Washington, D.C.
- 103a. ISTHIGH, [Like a perfectly hittable pitch]. Waist-high. Not “is thigh”!
- 111a, 119a. THERESNOCRYING INBASEBALL, [With 119 Across, Tom Hanks line in “A League of Their Own” — and the key to this puzzle’s theme]
I liked the theme all right, and I liked the mental challenge of leaving things like LLYLL, DEBOGGS, and a word starting with RN right there in the grid. It was the TULIP (24d. [Flower by a windmill]) that pushed me tord (What? That’s how I pronounce “toWArd”) figuring out what the theme’s doing—S(wa)T and MIL(wa)UKEE.
Less enamored of the fill. This is the price to pay for having 13 theme entries in the grid. It’s Merl’s trademark (along with pun themes), to pack the grid with theme and then sort of look the other way as the remaining squares get filled in with BTLS and BREI, BAAL and REBAG—words that generally have reasonable crossings so the solver won’t hit an impassable roadblock, but that don’t really add anything to the puzzle.