Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you—particularly the sweethearts who write puzzle reviews here!
News flash: Michael “Rex Parker” Sharp has put together a Red Cross fundraiser of a puzzle book. You can download the book’s PDF at American Red Crosswords for free, and then click the Red Cross button on the website to donate to Sandy disaster relief. (Suggested donation is $20, but you can set your own amount.) The puzzles were donated by all sorts of fabulous constructors and Patrick Blindauer deftly edited them.
Jules Markey’s New York Times crossword
So I was working my way down through the puzzle, and finally reached the theme-revealer: 61a. [Welcoming symbol … or what each part of the answers to the six starred clues can do?]. I knew it started with OPEN and what else could it be but OPEN ARMS? That even works perfectly with the first theme answer—firearms, sidearms. But actually, I looked at the final starred answer first, and “back arms” and “stage arms” were clearly not what was intended. OPEN DOOR! There you go.
- 16a. [*Comfy place], FIRESIDE. Fire door, side door.
- 20a. [*Alternative to a Crock-Pot], DUTCH OVEN. Dutch door, what is that? And oven door.
- 27a. [*Metaphor for a sharp mind], STEEL TRAP. Steel door, trapdoor.
- 36a. [*Gathering spot for the upwardly mobile?], ELEVATOR CAR. Elevator door, car door. The clue feels perhaps too playful for something as prosaic as an elevator car.
- 45a. [*Campaign from town to town], BARNSTORM. Barn door, storm door.
- 55a. [*Where a cast may be found], BACKSTAGE. Back door, stage door.
I liked seeing the algebraic SOLVE FOR, the Jewish SHABBAT, and Richard ROEPER (who is reviewing movies on Roger Ebert’s site while Roger recovers from a hip fracture that makes it hard to get to screenings) in the grid. There were a number of compromises, though, which are not easy to avoid with seven theme answers occupying 63(ish) squares and a word count that’s on the low(ish) side at 74. The answers that made my face crinkle in dismay were 19a: ECASH, 30a: DEFAT (a real word, yes, but it just has an icky feel to it), 65a: ALAI, 29d: AFTRA (a real union, but I don’t hang out with a lot of broadcast workers), and 48d: RELOAN (I prefer to keep “loan” in the noun lockbox and let “lend” carry the verb weight, and the RE- tacked on feels off). There were a number of other words-I-mainly-encounter-in-crosswords, including EELED, ARB, BEL canto, and SLUE.
- 18a. [Rick who sang “Together Forever”], ASTLEY. Huh! I’m surprised that it’s this song and not his other famous one. For a video of “Together Forever,” click here.
- 67a. [Big do], FRO. I don’t usually watch Jeopardy! these days, but the Teen Tournament’s been going on and one of the finalists has a commanding ‘fro. Click here to read the gripping tale (illustrated with lots of screen-caps from the TV) of Leonard Cooper’s finals performance. If you liked Joon Pahk, you’ll love Leonard.
- 8d. [Four-time Pro Bowler Ahmad], AHMAD. “What? Ahmad Rashad is a professional bowler, too?” Er, no. He’s a former football player who was selected to play in the Pro Bowl.
- 37d. [Limerick scheme], AABBA. You know what? CONTEST! CROSSWORDESE LIMERICK CONTEST. RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW. The funniest limerick (as judged by me, with an assist from Evad if he’s not too busy) featuring crosswordese wins a copy of Ben Tausig’s book, Crosswords from the Underground. I’ve had the book for nearly a year and always intended to give it away as a contest prize, and this AABBA finally lit a fire under me. (So at least it’s good for that.) The deadline is midnight Thursday; leave your limerick in the comments on this post.
x.xx stars for the puzzle. (My unspoken rating for yesterday’s was 0.15 stars off from the average. I think the Thursday puzzle will end up averaging a good half a star more than my x.xx.) Sometimes I just want the fill to be able to breathe more easily, and sometimes I grow so tired of words that, near as I can tell, do much of their living inside the boxes of a crossword.
Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Themeless 59”
How long did this puzzle take me? Maybe it was 5:30ish and maybe it was and maybe it was less. I thought I wrote it down. No matter—I really liked so much of this puzzle. To wit:
- 1a. [Island whose capital is Gustavia, familiarly], ST. BARTS. Gustavia didn’t ring much of a bell, but how many St. ***** islands are there?
- 18a. [What lending money to a friend is said to cause], AMNESIA. Yes! Never lend money to a friend or relative unless you are prepared to have amnesia yourself. Forgetting is better than resenting.
- 26a. [Police officer, to a Brit], PEELER. Live and learn. Are Irish cops called potato peelers?
- 30a. [Fastens or fascinates], RIVETS. Great sound echo in the clue.
- 33a. [“A revolution is not a bed of roses” speaker], FIDEL CASTRO. Happy Valentine’s Day! Roses and aged revolutionaries with woolly beards, a match made in heaven.
- 42a. [1970 hit for the Who], SEE ME, FEEL ME. “Smell you later.”
- 49a. MVP of Super Bowl VIII], Larry CSONKA. Who doesn’t love a name that starts with CS?
- 4d. Black Flag alternative?], ANTEATER. Yes. If you have ants in your kitchen, don’t mess with poisonous chemicals. Just bring in an anteater. Have any of you tried this approach? How did it work for you?
- 9d. Alternate nickname to “The Franchise”], TOM TERRIFIC. Terrific-looking answer, though the clue told me nothing and I had to Google to know that this was about Tom Seaver.
- 12d. Add HE’S A REBEL to the playlist begun in 42a. Interesting trivia clue: [#1 hit between “Monster Mash” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry”].
- 33d. Duck call?], FORE. To tell people to duck on the golf course because your aim stinks.
Lots of juicy fill and good Gordon clues with none of those juvenile “heh, heh” clues we sometimes see that I often find offputting. (HPV and WART are straight-up medical info, no sniggering.) 4.5 stars.
Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Punch Lines”- Sam Donaldson’s review
The four longest entries in today’s Scrabbly puzzle are common two-word terms ending with a word that can also precede “punch:”
- 20-Across: Something [Yielding results] is BEARING FRUIT, and a thoughtful party guest might be bearing fruit punch upon arrival.
- 31-Across: The [Wyoming tourism spot] is JACKSON HOLE, home to the famous office staple, the Jackson hole punch.
- 41-Across: I didn’t know that WELSH RABBIT is a [Cheese-and-toast dish]. In these parts, I suppose, we’d call it a grilled cheese sandwich. That one slowed me down, like a rabbit punch to the back of the head
- 53-Across: An ALL-DAY SUCKER is a [Supersized sweet treat], and an all-day sucker punch would be especially painful.
It’s a bit weird that two of the punches are blows to the body, but I can’t think of a fourth meaning of “punch” that’s still a noun like the others. Perhaps that’s a microscopic nit to pick.
As mentioned above, there’s a lot of rare letters in this grid. Three Zs, three Ws, two Xs, two Js, a Q and a V. Unsurprisingly, the grid contains all 26 letters, but happily, this extra touch doesn’t interfere with the fill. EASY JOB feels a wee bit arbitrary, but everything else is quite solid. (Yeah, HTS is ugly, but I can overlook it because [Short elevations?] is such a great clue.)
Favorite entry = BAD BOY, the [Guy who flouts social conventions]. I suppose [Sam Donaldson, e.g.] might not be the most helpful clue. Favorite clue = [Faucet flow, to a toddler] for WAWA.
Brendan Quigley’s website puzzle, “Love Sets” — Matt’s review,
I was half-expecting a Venereal Disease theme from Brendan today, but he’s an old romantic at heart it turns out. For the second puzzle in a row Brendan presents a fairly simply idea that’s only simple in retrospect: just a rebus with EROS as the keyword, but it took me until a minute after completing the grid to figure that out.
Things started off in extremely Scrabbly fashion as you can see from the grid at right. The first theme entry I got was Z(EROS)UMGAMES, clued incorrectly as [They don’t have winners]. (The whole point of zero-sum games is that they do have winners and losers; Brendan was probably thinking of “new games” which really don’t have winners).
I left that one alone since I figured HETS at 6-d [Straights] was some Brit-slang for heterosexuals, though you can see in retrospect that it was HET(EROS).
Next up was [Classic schoolyard song] for RING AROUND TH(E ROS)Y, which I also messed up because I had RAND instead of the correct RYAN for [Paul with a noteworthy budget]. This did not help me to uncover the EROS theme, especially since with GAMES and ROSES (?!) at the end of the first two themers I thought we had a Valentine’s Day gifts theme going on.
Finally grokked the deal when H(ERO SANDWICH) for [Submarine] fell in the bottom theme entry, crossing K(EROS)ENE. Then I went back up and put the Greek god of love into the top two themers and was done.
Not sure if my two stumbling blocks (HETS/HETEROS and RAND/RYAN) were put there on purpose by the constructor but intentional or not they made a straightforward idea tricky. It’s almost cliche to point out great fill in a BEQ puzzle, but here’s a top 5 list: RAUL JULIA, E(ERO SAARINEN), NEWS HAWK, SNAZZIER and WICCA.
4.40 stars. This guy is on a roll lately.
Dave Eckert’s Los Angeles Times crossword – CSI: Jeffrey
Happy Valentine’s Day! And, 2d.[Casanova] – LOVER, what could be more romantic than a puzzle about stout?
20a. [Stout] – TEAPOT ADJECTIVE
37a. [Stout] – WOLFE CREATOR REX
52a. [Stout] – GUINNESS PRODUCT
Enough about that. Let’s focus on the real scandal exposed in today’s puzzle. Yes, it is time for CSI: Crossword Scene Investigation.
6d. [Milkshake choice] – STRAWBERRY.
A 10-letter fill, nothing unusual about that, right? We’ve seen it lot of times in the New York Times, right? Wrong! According to www.xwordinfo.com, STRAWBERRY has NEVER appeared in the Shortz-era. Over 95,000 different words and not one appearance by STRAWBERRY. Hmm. This needs further investigation.
Perhaps it is just an odd anomaly. Let’s check out BLUEBERRY. Same thing! No Shortz-era appearances.
Is it a New York Times restriction? No, both STRAWBERRY and BLUEBERRY have appeared in the pre-Shortz era. In fact STRAWBERRY was seen on November 16, 1993, just five days before Will debuted! This cannot be a coincidence.
The explanation finally came to me. You have to look outside the box, where you can find Berry 170 times. Clearly Will Shortz made a deal with the devil to become editor. A demon that insisted no other berries appear. A devil known as the diabolical Patrick BERRY.
See you next week for another CSI, this one involving Doug Peterson, a teenager and …?
11d. [Ring insert] – SOLITAIRE
Ben Tausig’s AV Club crossword, “Dirty Mild”
(Are you reading about these nifty puzzles but not subscribing to them for $15 a year? I encourage you to sign up here.)
Well, I finished the puzzle with the four longest answers being kinda racy, but the software told me I was not done. So I pondered the title, “Dirty Mild,” and made my dirty mind more mild. The letters I’ve circled had been part of naughty words, but the clues for the Down crossings work for both the dirty and mild options. (And the theme answers themselves are also bi, in terms of having two possible answers that fit the clue.) If you’ve got a dirty mind, you let that lead you straight to the crossings that put the F-bomb in your grid. For shame! The switch works out elegantly for three answers and kinda clunkily on the other:
- 18a. [Go, in a way], TAKE A SHOT. Crossing 12d: [Formal] can be a PROM … or PRIM.
- 28a. [Dramatic transformation, of a sort], SET CHANGE. Crossing 30d: [Line in a grid system] can be X-AXIS or … bloody hell, I tried for SEA CHANGE (which is perfect for the clue!), but A-AXIS didn’t work. I ended up running the alphabet, hitting every key from a through T before the solution was accepted. SET CHANGE is so much less familiar than SEA CHANGE, and I have no idea what a T-AXIS is. Or is it TAXIS?
- 48a. [What someone impatient for booty might try for], QUICK BUCK. Yes, booty as in pirate’s booty. 50d: [Arrived by air] really wanted to be FLEW IN, but BLEW IN works in a slangy way.
- 61a. [Bed phenomena that are not necessarily the color their name suggests], BLUE BELLS. 52d: [__ time] can be TEA TIME or TEE TIME. How, I ask, are BLUE BELLS a bed phenomenon? Urban Dictionary has it as the result of finding out Taco Bell is closed, and BLUEBELLS are flowers. Oh! Flowerbeds in Texas, burgeoning with bluebells!
Ben labeled this one as having 4-star difficulty (on a 5-star scale). I dunno, I think this one’s a 5, don’t you? Or did you breeze through the puzzle because you refused to put in any naughty answers?
Fill highlights include SCROUNGES and SQUALID, KINKOS, IN TURMOIL, LOONY BIN (horrible, non-PC term, but the one my grandpa used after his psych hospital visit so I have a certain nostalgia for it), and the STATE BAR. My favorite clues were:
- 6a. [“OMG he is like thirty years older than her”], EWW.
- 17a. [Big name in grocery store impulse purchases], LINDT. Husband bought chocolate for Valentine’s Day and will hand it over tonight. I will surprise him with three small pieces of presumably stinky cheeses and smoked salmon (the latter being a treat for the kid, too).
- 19d. [Where Richard III was recently found in a parking lot: Abbr.], ENG.
- 28d. [Silverman of “Let My People Vote”], SARAH. Speaking of people with filthy vocabularies…
- 29d. [Introduction in the end?], ENEMA. Just saw a thing about a couple who share an addiction to coffee enemas. It’s not clear to me whether they’re absorbing the caffeine or not.
4.5 stars from me. If that *AXIS/SETCHANGE thing would have worked better, this would have crept closer to a 5-star rating. Still a creative, entertaining, and challenging theme.