Chris A. McGlothlin’s New York Times crossword
I love the theme of short intersecting pairs (laid out with perfect symmetry, too) and the way it allows all those long answers to pop (RIGHT TO VOTE, FILE SERVERS, WENT SOLO, etc.). The heavy-duty cross-referencing in the clues was annoying at first but then the pairs started laying themselves out and I began looking for “X and Y” phrases that would fit the clues and the answer locations. But I don’t like how the tradeoff is a smattering of junk fill.
The theme pairs appear in symmetrical places, and each and every one follows the same directionality—for every “X and Y,” X is the Down and Y is the Across. The pairs are:
- 2d, 13a. THEN and THERE, [on the spot].
- 7d, 14a. KITH and KIN, [family]. Uh, not really. KIN is family, but the KITH includes your friends and acquaintances.
- 11d, 15a. MEET and GREET, [get-to-know-you gathering].
- 25d, 36a, DEATH and TAXES, [two of life’s certainties].
- 28d, 37a. CHIPS and DIP, [snack option].
- 31d, 38a. BREAD and WATER, [meager meal].
- 48d, 59a. ROOM and BOARD, [lodger’s fee].
- 51d, 60a. NEAR and FAR, [all around].
- 54d, 61a. FAST and LOOSE, [one way to play]. How come I never noticed that “fast and loose” includes two antonyms if you go with fast = “firmly attached” rather than “speedy”?
In the debit column, we have the plurals (including a possessive that looks like a plural in the grid) TOMS, MTS, AMYS, EFS. We have an funky obscurish word, 6d: SKEG, [Surfboard fin]. Not common knowledge, methinks. Crossword overuse victims ATRA, PABA, LETT, ARA, SHERD. OENO, STYE, and SNEE. Unfamiliar characters Mr. HANEY (saw him once in a crossword) and MAXIE. The TOMS/THOM near duplication. Foreign OESTE. That’s a lot of forgiveness that the theme has to ask for.
I don’t know whether a Patrick Berry could pull off the same theme with markedly better fill, or if the criss-crossed answers locking down nine chunks of grid makes it inevitable. I’d love to have more seasoned constructors than I weigh in on the subject so I can decide if this is a 4-star puzzle because of its nifty theme or a 2.75-star puzzle because the fill places it in the below-average category.
Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Middle C” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Great theme! If I have seen this gimmick before, I don’t remember it. Doug finds six- and seven-letter words that can be converted to new seven- and eight-letter words through the addition of a C at the front. He then pairs the before-and-after words together to make new, wacky phrases that get their own creative clues. Because the longer word always comes after the shorter word, the C always appears in the middle of the answer. Check it out:
- 17-Across: Add a C to the front of HARMING, then pair up the results. You get HARMING CHARMING, or [Doing injury to a fairy tale prince?].
- 27-Across: Repeat the same procedure with LIMBER for LIMBER CLIMBER, a [Successful cliff scaler, usually?]. This is the only pair in the set where the words don’t rhyme, and as a result it lacks the same roll-off-your-tongue effortlessness of HARMING CHARMING. But even with the inconsistency I’m still allowed to like it, and I do.
- 48-Across: Just the other day I was wondering what to call a [Vehicle for a bunny in a biker gang?]. Turns out it’s a HOPPER CHOPPER.
- 62-Across: One who has [Walked onstage with calm confidence?] has ENTERED CENTERED. If you exit with a split personality, perhaps you have LEFT CLEFT.
The repeating letters in each theme entry facilitated a speedy solve (for this comparative tortoise, at least). You know what else facilitates a speedy solve? Clean fill and lively clues, that’s what. And this grid is uber-smooth. Geography is usually one of my many weak subjects, but today’s assembly of TEMPE, TORONTO, FLA, WACO, and IDAHO were all within my wheelhouse. True to form, there’s some baseball references here, with both an AT BAT and a Baltimore ORIOLE. I loved the conversational southwest corner with YEAH, YEOW, and OY VEY. Best of all, there was the nice shout-out in SAM I AM, the [“Green Eggs and Ham” character].
Favorite entry = TIM TEBOW, the [NFL quarterback known for kneeling]. Favorite clue = [Destination for yellow buses] for SCHOOL. I don’t know why, but I remember this clue putting a smile on my face. Honorable mention to [Hathaway of “The Dark Knight Rises”]. Any guess as to what movie Doug’s looking forward to seeing in a couple of weeks?
Marti DuGuay-Carpenter’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review
- 17a. [Marshmallow-and-cookie layered treat] – SCOOTER PIE
- 27a. [Meteor shower phenomena] – SHOOTING STARS
- 45a. [Brunch fare] – SCRAMBLED EGGS
- 59a. [Small carpet] – SCATTER RUG
- 36d. [Stray that might evoke the start of 17-, 27-, 45- or 59-Across] – ALLEY CAT
Pretty neat that the four main theme answers all started with S, right? We’d still have had symmetric theme entries if we’d gotten rid of pluralizations, though. That’s gotten rid of the nasty big blocks on the left and right. I’ll bet MDG-C tried that, though.
Tough clue right out the gate with [Musing] for THOUGHT; that’s the old gerund trick. Likewise my first guess for an A word for [Reunion attendee] was ALUM, not AUNT. Today Tuesday is tough as TOENAILS.
We may have an AGGIE in the puzzle, but there’s another Texas university getting a spotlight in this grid: Rice.
- 10d. [Ristorante rice dish] – RISOTTO. I have a Pavlovian connection between Risotto and chef Gordon Ramsay, who seems to hate every risotto that people cook for him on his various TV shows. “Too much salt in the bloody risotto!”
- 42a. [Spanish saffron-flavored dish] – PAELLA. It frustrates me to no end when adults can’t pronounce this. Also: quinoa. If you’re reading this, you’re probably on board, though.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “The Big Build-Up”
Neat theme, which I confess I didn’t really pick up on when I first solved this puzzle. Why are those two letters added to each theme answer? DE, ST, HI, NO … that spells desthino, which isn’t a word. But the sequence of the first three letters is the key. FINE CHINA starts with an F, and the alphabetical sequence DEF becomes the beginning of DEFINE CHINA. Similarly, STU, HIJ, and NOP are also alphabetical chunks.
- 17a. [Write down “Vast Asian country with a population of over a billion”?], DEFINE CHINA.
- 27a. [Crazy situation in “The King’s Speech”?], STUTTER CHAOS.
- 42a. [Steal a parachute pants-wearing rapper’s plane?], HIJACK HAMMER.
- 55a. [Leader of the course “Denial 101”?], NOPE TEACHER.
- 33d. [Hundreds of rap videos?], BENJAMINS. Meaning “hundred-dollar bills, in rap videos.”
- 37a. [It ain’t nothing], ALL. This is true.
- 61a. [Favorite word of nitpicky grammarians], ITS. Or IT’S. One of those. English is really a stupid language, if you think about it. Possessives are made by adding apostrophe-S. The possessive of “it” would seem to be “it’s,” if you’re following the rules. But no! You have to ignore that clear logic, put it out of your head entirely. The possessive of “it” is “its,” and the analogue is another possessive pronoun, like “his,” which has no apostrophe. But this is bogus because the male pronoun is “he,” not “hi,” and it would make sense if the possessive were “hes.” But no. “It’s” is strictly a contraction of “it is,” but all that drilling into people’s heads that “apostrophes are for possession, not plurals” makes them really want “it’s” to be a possessive. And then! It gets worse. Single letters and abbreviations with periods get pluralized with … yes, it’s true, I’m not pulling your leg … apostrophe-S. “Mind your P’s and Q’s” has two plurals and no possessives at all. So quit giving the stink-eye to people who mix up their “its” and “it’s.” Our keyboard fingers have muscle memory for both, and all the wildly conflicting rules don’t make it easy for the brain to overpower whichever version the hands are trying to make. (But if they think its’ is a word, mock them mercilessly. But wait! What if you want to pluralize “its” or “it’s”? What then?)
- 43d. [Really inelegant], CLUNKY. I like this word.
- 19a. [___ Productions (“Skyfall” company)], EON. Don’t know Skyfall or Eon.
- 6d. [Chant from the cult horror classic “Freaks”], ONE OF US. Never saw it.
- 9d. [“Witchcraft” singer], SINATRA. Don’t know the song. Frank or Nancy?
- 18d. [“E! News” co-host Sadler], CATT. Who?
- 44d. [“Oracular Spectacular” band], MGMT. Have heard of the band but know none of its songs.