Patrick Blindauer’s new puzzle suite, Las Vegas Puzzlefest, was released Saturday. You’ve got two months to solve the set of 11 crosswords and tease out the meta answer lurking within. Hey, what else do you have going on in January? It’s cold. Stay in and do the Puzzlefest. $11.11 is less than the price of a movie and popcorn, and you’re probably looking at hours of intellectual entertainment.
Patrick Berry’s New York Times crossword, “Last Name First”
Once again, Patrick Berry disappoints. The theme is dull and poorly executed, the fill is stilted and clumsy, the clues lifeless. /The Onion
But seriously, folks: Once again, Patrick Berry shows how it’s done. The theme is crisp, fresh, and entertaining, and there’s not a stinker in the bunch. The fill is rock-solid throughout.
The “Last Name First” theme takes (reasonably) famous names, flips the first and last names, and clues the resulting two-word phrase as an entirely unrelated entity.
- 22a. [Entry in a metalworker’s personal planner?], WELD TUESDAY. Ms. Weld is past her prime fame, but look how nicely she fits into this theme.
- 24a. [Roast a red-breasted bird?], COOK ROBIN.
- 28a. [Pounds and pence?[, LONDON JACK. Jack is slang for money, then?
- 34a. [What misbehaving kids must have inherited from their parents?] WILDER GENE. Ah! V. good, v. good. This may be my favorite of the theme entries.
- 44a. [Napoleon, e.g., prior to exile?], FRENCH VICTOR. Sounds like the sort of phrase that would actually appear in a history book. Victor French is an old-time actor whose heyday had passed before I was born, I think.
- 54a. [Fishing spear?], BASS LANCE. V. good!
- 74a. [Moocher’s most valuable acquaintance?], RICH BUDDY. Buddy Rich is/was a drummer, I think. RICH BUDDY is great. We should all get one.
- 83a. [The Salt, in Arizona?], PHOENIX RIVER.
- 90a. [Coffee from Big Sky Country?], MONTANA JOE.
- 100a. [Smarmy preprandial blessing?], SLICK GRACE. In the comments, please compose a SLICK GRACE for us.
- 107a. [Official seal on a Havana cigar?], CUBAN MARK.
- 108a. [Beverage made by squeezing fruit-filled cookies?], NEWTON JUICE. Uh, the fruit filling in those Fig Newtons isn’t very juicy. Raise your hand, by the way, if you stared at NEWTON ISAAC for a moment. He remains famous, while Juice Newton had more of a ’70s-’80s thing going.
Fill I liked: TO WIT, SCOPES out, INVASIVE MEDDLER, BEDROOM EGOMANIA, G-STRING (that [Minor suit?] clue took me forever to understand), INNARDS, JOON non-Pahk.
Note also that the top and bottom of the grid boast stacked theme entries. Did that lead to stilted, clumsy fill? Of course not. Berry has rigorous standards for himself.
- 44d. [Turn signal?], FOGHORN. Turn or you’re going to crash into the rocks, Cap’n.
- 42a. [They might not be on the charts], ISLES. See also: Gilligan’s Island, uncharted isle.
- 57a. [Where many last names start with “O”], ERIN.
- 67a. [Spoke to one’s flock?], BAAED.
- 9d. [“Holy cats!”], EGAD.
- 105d. [Unable to pass muster, say], AWOL.
I reserve the full 5-star rating for a themed puzzle that goes above and beyond and is super-memorable. This puzzle doesn’t have, say, a big circular Chinese zodiac or a diagram of an eclipse, so it gets a still-impressive 4.75 stars. Of course, the ratings widget doesn’t do fractions, so I’ll be clicking the 5 button.
Mike Shenk’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 140” – Doug’s review
Hey, crossword fans. Doug here again. Typical Mike Shenk crossword this weekend. Clean, interesting grid and loads of excellent clues.
- 25a. [Marketing staffer, occasionally] – NAMER. The most famous namer I know is Andrea Carla Michaels. Click on the A in ACME to see some examples of her work.
- 35a. [One way to shoot] – AT SIGHT. I’ve heard of “Shoot on sight,” but not “Shoot at sight.” Seems awkward.
- 56a. [They go over rubbers on rainy days] – TARPS. Love this clue! Rubbers go over your shoes, and then something else goes over the rubbers… Huh? Then it hit me. Pitching rubbers!
- 58d. [FBI capture of April 1996] – UNABOMBER. Trivia time. Why was he given the name “Unabomber”? Answer to appear later in this write-up (assuming I remember to look it up). Back in 1995, I was scheduled to fly out of LAX during the week that the Unabomber threatened to blow up a plane there. I wasn’t too worried. There are hundreds of flights into and out of LAX everyday, right? And I was flying to Montana. Surely the Unabomber wouldn’t target a flight to or from Montana. It was about a year later that he was captured at his lovely cabin outside Lincoln, Montana.
55d. [His belt is made out of Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka] – ORION. That’s cool. Batman’s got a cool belt too. I had to mention Batman so I’d have a reason to post this most awesome photograph of a princess party.
- 14d. [They may check you out] – SCANNERS. At the supermarket. Great clue. I’m a big fan of the self checkout aisle.
- 44d. [“World’s fastest water sled,” per its maker] – SEABOB. How many of you tried SEADOO first? I did. Never heard of a SEABOB, but if Bob says it’s the fastest, I’ll take his word for it.
- 49d. [Dirk DeJong’s boyhood nickname in a 1924 novel] – SO BIG. I read the clue and thought that “Dirk DeJong” would be a good name for an adult film actor. Then I got the answer from the crossing entries. Hmmm. You’re going to have to Google that one yourself
Other fun stuff: OXYGEN BAR, DEMI MOORE, IMBECILE, WANNA BET. And for anyone who’s playing along at home: The “Una” in Unabomber comes from UNiversity & Airline.
Lynn Lempel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge”- Sam Donaldson’s review
Here’s a delightfully smooth 68/28 freestyle puzzle from Lynn Lempel. Oddly, the longest entries in the grid, FOOTBALL SEASON and ARREST WARRANTS, are among the least sparkly (though I loved the clue for FOOTBALL SEASON, [When men are known to make passes]–OFFICE HOLIDAY PARTY was my first thought). Fortunately, there are lots of terrific answers elsewhere, including these:
- FAINT HOPE, the original title for Star Wars: Episode IV and a [Glimmer of possibility].
- RACE HORSE, especially because of the terrific clue, [Affirmed, e.g.]. Affirmed was the last horse to win the Triple Crown, as we are reminded seemingly every spring.
- EAT CROW, a great term meaning [Face up to being utterly wrong].
- DODDERED is a near onomatopoeia, meaning [Walked unsteadily]. You know, if unsteady walking made a sound.
- GOES TOO FAR is terrific, but my favorite long Downs are the pairing of SAINT SIMON and OVER-SIMPLE. Simple Simon!
- Interesting to see Romeo and Juliet’s LOVE AFFAIR and HEART SORE in the same grid. Everything okay, Lynn?
Today’s list of things I didn’t know included ANOLE, the [Color-changing lizard] (does this betray the fact I started solving in earnest in the Post-Maleska era?); AFR(ica?) for the [Home of H. habilis]; French philosopher MICHEL Foucault; and NEVA, the [River that flows by the Hermitage Museum].
Finally, two random points: (1) Can’t decide whether I like WEE TOT, but I’m leaning toward liking it. (2) I knew [Book keeping options] was a trap (this time I saw the space!), but it still took me a while to suss out E-READERS.
Favorite entry = SHOP TALK, the [Water cooler chitchat, perhaps]. Favorite clue = [Artificial light?] for UFO. And here you thought I’d pick [Bring up the rear?] for MOON.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated crossword, “Sounds of the Season”
Apparently the sounds of the season are not the incessantly repeated Christmas songs on the radio and in stores, but ringing bells. The Across theme entries contain embedded DINGs while the Down theme entries are pierced by DONGs. 46d: [Norman Vincent’s family (and an apt answer in this puzzle)], PEALES, ties in to the theme in a punny way.
- 23a. [Loose floorboard, perhaps], HIDING PLACE. Great for hide ‘n’ seek, kids. Only the beating of your hideous heart will give you away.
- 32a. [Land of the giants], BROBDINGNAG. From Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.
- 35a. [Doing a laundry chore over], REFOLDING. Yes. When people mess up the folded pile, there is refolding. If the people would just put away their things promptly…
- 53a. [Really hot], SCALDING.
- 72a. [Shopaholic’s problem], SPENDING. And not just any spending, but spending in the presence of incessant Christmas songs in the stores in November and December. (Not that I would know. I’ve been quite successful at avoiding the stores with Xmas music.)
- 88a. [Lulu], HUMDINGER.
- 94a. [Together], HAND IN GLOVE. Not a familiar phrase. It’s not HANDING LOVE, either. No, sir.
- 105a. [Dressage wear], RIDING BOOTS. See also: Ann Romney, Rafalca.
- 4d. [Comic drama by Mozart], DON GIOVANNI.
- 14d. [Intended to attend], PLANNED ON GOING.
- 32d. [Kitchen detergent target], BAKED-ON GREASE.
- 47d. [Got ready for a showdown], STRAPPED ON GUNS. This is a phrase?
- 66d. [1987 Michael Douglas role], GORDON GEKKO. Greed, for lack of a better word, is what’s ruining this country.
Wow, blast from the past. 65d: [Govt. jobs prog. estab. in 1973], CETA. (And by “blast,” I mean yawn.) It was replaced by the Job Training Partnership Act in 1982, so you can be forgiven for not knowing CETA.
The strangest entry is 82d: SONLIKE, [One way to describe Pinocchio’s relationship to Geppetto].
The theme didn’t enchant me, as there’s no wordplay, no humor, just the happenstance of “these phrases contain these 4 letters or those ones.” When there are 13 theme entries but none of them provide any real oomph, and the surrounding fill doesn’t have much oomph either—well, mark me down for 2.9 stars.
Tom Heilman’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “In and Out”
Boy, this theme mystified me. Eventually I made sense out of it, but that didn’t stop me from concluding that the theme concept is weird and alienating. Assorted phrases that begin with “out” have that word replaced by the words that follow “in” in other assorted phrases. So each one is an “in”-less” “in ___” phrase followed by an “out”-less “out ___” phrase, clued as if the two partial phrases were a real thing.
- 23a. [Wolfing down burgers and fries while driving?], A BAD WAY TO LUNCH. In a bad way, out to lunch.
- 38a. [Rocky road from fad to fashion?] FITS AND STARTS OF STYLE. In fits and starts, out of style.
- 57a. [Solidarity among commoners?], UNISON OF THE ORDINARY. In unison, out of the ordinary.
- 79a. [Reenactment of a memorable scene from “The Exorcist”?], FULL SWING OF ONE’S HEAD. In full swing, out of one’s head.
- 95a. [“Dismount” or “settle”?], OTHER WORDS LIKE “ALIGHT.” In other words, out like a light. This one violates the commonality the other theme entries have by merging “a light” into one word. The established phrase is “out like alight.”
- 117a. [Food-fight evidence at the picnic?], A PICKLE ON A LIMB. In a pickle, out on a limb.
I don’t get the rationale for this theme at all. The beginning phrases aren’t funny. The combination phrases aren’t funny. There’s no wordplay in reversing “in” to “out,” as both prepositions bite the dust. Strange theme concept.
The grid capitalizes on only having six theme entries, allowing livelier fill like MAKE MY DAY, CHIMERA, HELL NO, SHEESH, SKY BLUE, and BELT OUT. But it also has the long partial phrase FISH TO FRY, the contrived HOW FAR, and AGALLOP. The entries UTTER and I HOPE SO are unfortunately joined by 90a: [Utterly] and 56d: [Sign of hope]. I know Will Shortz says this sort of duplication is not a problem (provided that an answer word does not appear in its own clue); either Rich Norris agrees or he simply missed these ones. There’s also the 84d: EAT/120d: ATE duplication.
- 20a. [Spanish novelist Blasco __] IBANEZ.
- 63a. [Offscreen friend in “Ernest” films], VERN.
- 75a. [Actor whose voice is emulated by Snagglepuss the Lion], LAHR. He played the Cowardly Lion. No idea who Snagglepuss is.
- 109a. [City near Anaheim], BREA. This was in another recent LAT puzzle, which is the only reason I got it.
- 123a. [Golf shoe brand], ETONIC. Haven’t seen that brand in eons. I spend no time on golf courses.
- 37d. [Packer with a strong arm], STARR. Bart Starr from the Green Bay Packers. Played in the ’60s.
- 78d. [Cinder receptacle], ASHBIN.
- 79d. [Issues requiring attention], FISH TO FRY. I have never seen this outside of the “we’ve got bigger fish to fry” setting. Without the “bigger,” it’s naked.
- 82d. [Chiwere speaker], OTOE.
- 94d. [Running swiftly], AGALLOP. You are not likely to ever use this word in a sentence other than “What does ‘agallop’ mean? Is that even a word?”
- 104d. [Food truck drinks], ADES. What?? My husband likes to hit the food trucks for lunch. They serve no ades.
Favorite clue: 107d. [Report generators], LABS. I was thinking of guns at first, but no, it’s laboratories. You get your blood drawn, you pee in a cup, they send your fluids off to the lab, and your doctor receives the report.
2.5 stars. This puzzle took me longer than usual, and it felt more like a slog than a fun challenge.