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Matt Ginsberg’s New York Times crossword, “Hearing Double”
In a 21×21 puzzle, there are so many random words that you run the risk of smacking into words that evoke horror when yet another tragedy is on your mind. Luckily, the fill here did not trigger any unfortunate connotations. Sure, the inclusion of a dozen theme entries is associated with rather more compromises in fill than I’d like, but at least OLAND-meets-ALIOTO, variant AMEER, partials CAME A, A SOAK, and I’M THE, etc., kept the puzzle in the innocuous diversion category. I’m grateful not to have hit something like RIFLE.
The theme hinges on homophones, and each theme answer is a three-word phrase in which the first and third words sound like the words in a familiar phrase:
- 23a. [Souvenir from the Petrified Forest?], WOOD YOU MINED. Would you mind?
- 29a. [What randy bucks do?], NEED THE DOE. Knead the dough.
- 31a. [Agreement from the Gipper’s coach?], AYE OF KNUTE. Eye of newt.
- 42a. [Plucky housekeeper?], MAID OF METTLE. Made of metal. This seems like a nothing phrase.
- 56a. [“Well done, Sir Lancelot,” in Franglais?], C’EST GOOD, KNIGHT. Say good night.
- 64a. [Soothsayer’s shoelace problem?], KNOT FOR PROPHET. Not for profit.
- 78a. [Shorten a bar mitzvah by 50%?], HALVE THE RITE. Have the right. Also a nothing phrase.
- 93a. [Polar explorer, after getting religion?], BYRD OF PRAY. Bird of prey. Uh, no. A religious person is not a “person of pray.” Pray is not a noun.
- 95a. [Tagline for the biopic “Dudley” starring bandleader Brown?], LES IS MOORE. Less is more. Les Brown was born 23 years before Dudley Moore, so that would make for a strange biopic.
- 3d. [Book about the writing style of the Mongols?], PROSE AND KHANS. Pros and cons.
- 54d. [Abdicated?], THREW THE REIGN. Through the rain. Another nothing phrase.
Anyone else find it freaky that the 23a theme answer begins with WOODY, which crosses SOON-YI at an O? If Shere Hite or Rachael Ray have never gotten it on with the 90d: N.Y. METS, then there is no hidden subtheme there.
I wanted 1a’s [Food that jiggles] to be JELL-O, but no, it’s just ol’ ASPIC. Who among you have made an aspic? Anyone? … anyone?
I did not find much to engage me in this puzzle. Three stars.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated crossword, “The Last Sunday Crossword*”
The title’s asterisk links to the clues for the theme entries. I really didn’t see what was going on for a while, so I focused on filling in the answers surrounding the theme answers to piece them together. Laughed out loud when 23a came into view!
- 23a. [Mossy growth on a pterodactyl’s wattlebone *], OH, COME ON. WHO CARES?
- 33a. [Author of “Alphabetizing Your Spice Rack for Dummies”*], THE WORLD IS ENDING.
- 60a. [Smell of glass: var. *], I’M LOCKING MYSELF IN …
- 68a. [Park bench, to Shlomo *], … THE BATHROOM WITH MY …
- 80a. [Word on Gefurtney wine barrels *], … DOGS AND MY ICE CREAM.
- 104a. [Tallest dwarf maple in the Mbweebwee Forest *], ON THE BRIGHT SIDE, …
- 120a. [Star of TV’s “The Oxycontinental” *], … NO MORE KARDASHIANS.
A bunch of yahoos swear that because of the Mayan calendar not extending past December 21, 2012, the world is ending on Friday, making this the final Sunday crossword. Funny concept, and there were several parts of the theme that amused me. First off, the clue for 23a. “A mossy growth,” what? On a wattlebone? Of a pterodactyl? 60a, a variant spelling for … the smell of glass? What is the smell of glass? There’s a word for that? (No, there isn’t.) 68a … Is this a specific Shlomo, or a cue that the answer is Hebrew? The only Shlomo I know is Goldberg, the curly-haired hunk who was on General Hospital in the ’80s. Gefurtney, not Gewürtztraminer—what? Mbweebwee Forest? No mention of any maples in this Tanzania forest journal, but what longtime solver doesn’t enjoy a shoutout to the woefully obscure Maleska-era clues about Sulawesi bovines and Paraguayan frog poisons? And then 120a combines Christopher Walken’s “The Continental” character with a whiff of Limbaughean Oxycontin abuse.
The whimsy seemed to osmose into the regular clues a little more than usual, even for Merl. A little more contemporary vibe than the standard Merl offering. For example:
- 19a. [City in Mexico, not an H&R Block rival], TAXCO.
- 41a. [“Check, mate”], AYE.
- 58d. [Industrial meat byproduct, pink ___] SLIME. Wait, that’s not whimsical, it’s gross.
- 109d. [2003 LL Cool J film, “Deliver Us from ___”] EVA.
- 30d. [Perennial question from Ferris Bueller’s teacher], “…ANYONE?”
- 77a. [Type of coat or cigarette], REEFER.
- 18d. [Bananas, crackers and nuts, e.g.], SLANG. Ooh, who’s hungry for a snack now?
This is the puzzle that inadvertently wound up being printed in the Los Angeles Times last Sunday, instead of the Merl puzzle the rest of the country saw. So the joke was ever so slightly spoiled for us with the Angelenos’ queries about this puzzle in the blog comments, and the joke’s timing was regrettably off for them last weekend. Still plenty of surprise factor for me, though, even though I’d guessed that the theme would somehow relate to the end of the Mayan calendar. 4.5 stars for a puzzle that, if you think about it, really just has a quip theme. But it also upends crossword conventions with that initial OH COME ON WHO CARES and the freakish obscurity of the theme clues, so it packs a lot more punch and pleasure than the typical “work through this puzzle until the punch line gives you a little payoff—but it might be an old joke with no humor left.” Each step in the theme had its own humorous payoff.
Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge”- Sam Donaldson’s review
The last time Bob Klahn had the Sunday Challenge, I showed you my solving progress every six minutes or so. There was some nice feedback to that in the comments, so I decided to do it again this time. Alas, I didn’t think of it until I was past the five-minute mark, so all you get this time is my progress at the ten- and fifteen-minute marks, along with the complete solution. I was pleased to finish the puzzle before I had to take a snapshot at the 20-minute mark!
On my first pass through the grid I had nothing in the northwest except for RODS, a lucky guess for [Fish sticks?], ERR, a savvy guess for [Mix things up], and Seth ROGEN, the [“Knocked Up” star]. (I’m really looking forward to seeing This is 40, the “sort of sequel” to Knocked Up.) As you can see, I had a few toe-holds in various sections of the grid, but nothing that was leading to anything big. So I came back to the northwest where it seemed I had more with which to work.
A flash of inspiration gave me YES OR NO as the [Basic choice], which then suggested that LEER was the answer to [Give the hairy eyeball]. I knew that there was nothing poker-related to the answer to [One who might advise you that a flush beats a full house?] since, well, a flush doesn’t beat a full house. But with LEER in place next to another lucky guess of USSR as the [Country founded in 1922 (abbr.)], it didn’t take much longer to crack PLUMBER. Or is it “plumber crack?”
Never heard of Agatha [Christie sleuth Parker] PYNE, but I knew the [Cash cache] had to be a NEST EGG, so I took a flyer on it (fortunately it worked!). [Prospect] gave me all kinds of fits. As you can see from the 10-minute grid, I was fairly sure about the answer starting with VIE-. For whatever reason I thought the only possible answers were VIES, VIET, and VIER. (At least I ruled out VIED!). But none of those made sense (“obv.,” as a student said in a final exam answer I just graded). When I finally — finally! — got VIEW, the WISCONSIN [Birthplace of Gene Wilder and Thornton Wilder] was a snap. That breakthrough managed to feed both the far left and the equator.
I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t get PERTH, the [Australian city named for one in Scotland], since I know maybe four cities in Australia and Perth is one of them thanks to Skylab. I was pleased to see that the answer to [Photographic, as memory] was EIDETIC, which I know from this (though I didn’t know about the silent E up front until just now).
With SLOUCHES and PC LAB in place, I felt sufficiently empowered to tackle the northeast. I knew the [Common hero] referred to a sandwich (do crosswords long enough and you just know), and it was apparent this one ended in SUB. But which once? I had the A from MANTAS in place, so I took a shot in the dark with TUNA SUB, which proved correct. I’ve seen LEV, the [Bulgarian buck], a few times before in crosswords, but darned if I could recall it today. Fortunately I managed to get LAST CHANCE, the [Phrase in the names of 19th-century saloons bordering dry areas], which helped the rest of the corner to fall quickly. Good thing, too, because I wouldn’t have derived the answer to [Thimblerig bits] without all four crossings. (It’s PEAS, btw.)
That brings us to the gnarly little southeast corner. Picking up from my 15-minute-mark grid, I got GAIETY as the answer to [High spirits], though at this point I was expecting some play on either “high” (maybe stoned?) or “spirits” (booze? ghosts?). Only in a Bob Klahn puzzle can one find oneself second-guessing every straightforward clue.
Had no idea about GYRENE, the answer to [Leatherneck]. Turns out it’s a member of the United States Marine Corps, served in a pita and topped with tzatziki. Given that GYRENE crossed my other big unknown (SIBYLS, the [Fortunetelling females]), I dwelt here for some time. Luckily, my cunning “guess random letters” strategy paid off, and eventually I got the good news that I was done. More good news: this review is done, too!
Trip Payne’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 141” – Doug’s review
Hey, crossword fans. Doug here. Busy, busy weekend. I had to do some Christmas shopping yesterday, and it was a nightmare. The worst part of my day was the Aéropostale store. All I needed to do was buy a couple of gift cards. No biggie, right? But I swear it was 90 degrees in the store, and all the clothing racks were way too close together. I’m a big oafish guy, so I could barely navigate the store. And seriously, the heat was cranked up to sauna levels. It was like being trapped in a mine with 30 twelve-year-old girls. And all the clothes from their closets. But I finally escaped! Wikipedia tells me that Aéropostale is “occasionally known as Aero,” so maybe there’s a crossword clue in there somewhere.
- 33a. [Parlor game] – CELEBRITY. Fun game. And even more fun if you download Peter Gordon’s iPhone/iPad app Celebrity: Get a Clue. I’ve played Peter’s game the past couple of years at the ACPT, and it’s awesome. One of the major reasons I don’t get to bed until 2 or 3 in the morning when I’m there. If I wasn’t so sleep-deprived, I could probably beat Dan Feyer one of these years.
- 55a. [Polka-dot bow wearer] – MINNIE MOUSE. For some reason, I read this as [Polka-dot bow tie wearer] and that screwed-up version stuck in my head even when I reread the clue a couple of times. OK, maybe I won’t beat Dan Feyer next year.
- 14d. [Dir. from Manhattan to Montauk] – ENE. The one fact I know about Montauk is that it’s near The Hamptons. And I only know that from watching Revenge. I’ve learned a lot cool stuff (even cooler than the geography of Long Island) from Revenge. I’m thinking about going to Revenge Camp next summer.
- 15a. [Personal wants?] – ISO. Very tricky. Refers to the abbreviation for “In Search Of” in personal ads. Anyone remember that cheesy old In Search of… TV show with Leonard Nimoy? Was he looking for a date? No idea.
- 59a. [“___ Is” (song from “The Pajama Game”] – HER. If you gave me a hundred guesses at that blank, I’d never come up with a song named “Her Is.” Weird. I’ll have to check it out on YouTube later.
- 19a. [Have time for thyme?] – MISSPELL. Lovely clue. This one brought a smile to my face.
Other stuff that kicks butt: OLIVE GARDEN, DANCE LESSON, WIIMOTE.
Gareth Bain’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Less Is More”
Gareth adds LESS to make more. While add-a-letter themes can pall, add-a-whole-word-as-a-suffix themes are more difficult to wrangle, but Gareth nails this one. The theme has humor to it, there’s excellent long fill, and the shorter fill is quite smooth.
- 25a. [Coward’s path?], GUTLESS COURSE. A gut course is an easy A, and Gareth switches the meaning of “course” from original phrase to theme answer.
- 32a. [Sleeping watchman, say?], POINTLESS GUARD. Basketball point guard becomes a useless security guard; different sort of “guard.”
- 44a. [Bro who cracks insensitive jokes?], TASTELESS BUD. A taste bud is no bro.
- 61a. [Chores done altruistically?], SELFLESS CLEANING. Self-cleaning is generally a burn-it-off oven cycle, as opposed to household tidying up.
- 74a. [Cruel school assistant?], HEARTLESS MONITOR. Heart monitor beeps, hall monitor eyeballs the school corridor.
- 93a. [Naive Romeo?], ARTLESS LOVER. Art aficionado becomes amorous fellow. Really like this theme entry.
- 107a. [Pixie whose dust lacks potency?], TOOTHLESS FAIRY. Tooth Fairy and generic fairy are a little closer together in meaning than the other before-and-after nouns here.
- 116a. [Stairway to heaven?], TOPLESS FLIGHT. Top-flight means excellent, and I think this theme is top-flight in part because this answer is clued as an endless stairway rather than as a plane full of half-clad women. Not sure if the “flight” in top-flight refers to stairs or not, but at least it is not used that way literally.
Top-flight fill: MERSEY BEAT, TOURNIQUET, SAFE SEX, “NO, MA’AM,” UNFAITHFUL, HIT THE SPOT, MULLAHS crossing IMAM.
Question about 12d: [Use color-coded cans, say], for RECYCLE: Are any of you seeing color coding for recycling categories? Maybe the color-coding is on the recycling bins rather than on the items to be recycled.
4.25 stars. I enjoyed the solve today.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Sunday crossword, “Anything Ghost” — pannonica’s review
Ectoplasmic puns! Which means that those inclined are encouraged to add moans to their groans. Perhaps these themed answers will rattle some chains, but at least they aren’t creaky.
- 23a. [Ghost at hotel?] INN SPECTER.
- 25a. [Ghostly gesturing?] PHANTOMIME,
- 34a. [Ghosts working together?] COAPPARITION.
- 49a. [Ghost at a track meet?] RELAY WRAITH.
- 64a. [Chief ghost?] HEAD HAUNTER.
- 82a. [“Boo!” shouter?] LOUD SPOOKER.
- 93a. [Two-headed ghosts?] DOUBLE BOGEYS. No spelling change required for this one.
- 107a. [Lotion for a ghost?] AFTERSHADE.
- 109a. [Profane in a ghostly way?] IRREVENANT.
Puns can be polarizing, drawing disdain as well as OOZE and aahs (95d). I felt that these were mostly all right. There are no “rules” for creating puns, so some irregularity among style , substance, and mechanics of the theme answers here is acceptable. And anyway, they hold together fairly well, even if they aren’t entirely solid.
Long nontheme fill includes TOODLE-OOoooOOOOooooo, AMAZONIA, BUS DEPOT, SET SCREWS, SPRINGS UP, LEG BONES, BOSC PEAR, ON A SPREE, INSTALLER, EXEMPLARY. Needless to say, not all of them are EXEMPLARY.
- 87a [What’s easy] PIE, followed by 88a [What doesn’t pay] CRIME. 10d [List of faves] TOP TEN, soon followed by 12d [Have a list] LEAN.
- Spooky fill, in a way?: SLOOP, TOODLE-OO, NO-ONE (not even!), OONA, ROOST, OOZE … uhm … PERU, RUBENS, U-BOAT, SUEY, ENSUE, MENU?
- [Macabre author] Edgar Allan POE, PALE as a ghost, SLAIN, SCARED [White as a sheet, maybe].
- Nifty how the plural 92a [Heaps and heaps] clues the singular A PILE.
Good but not particularly exciting puzzle. Feels workmanlike, not scary at all.