Martin Ashwood-Smith’s New York Times crossword
Hooray! I think this is the first time I’ve seen Ebla in a crossword clue instead of as undesirable fill in the grid. (61a. [Modern resident of ancient Ebla] clues SYRIAN. Raise your hand if you knew Ebla but only from crosswords. Raise both hands if you knew it from growing up in Syria.)
Favorite parts of this 71-word (15×16) themeless with a quad stack of 15s plus two more pairs of 15s:
- 1a. [“Spin the Black Circle” Grammy winner of 1995], PEARL JAM. Great 1-Across, though obviously I am not a true fan because the clue did not deliver me to the answer.
- 9a. [Sort who needs to button up], GASBAG. This is one of my favorite words. Do you know anyone who fits the title of “gasbag”? If you do but you hadn’t thought of him/her that way, I encourage you to do so for the inner amusement it brings. (But be nice to the person.)
- 17a. [Not have a hunch?], STAND UP STRAIGHT. I like the clue a lot, though it deprives the answer of its potential as a spoken command.
- 52a. [Catcher of the rye?], BIB. I’m picturing them good ol’ boys drinking whiskey and rye, wearing baby bibs to catch the drunken drool. (The clue confuses me, though. I’m not aware of any rye baby food.)
- 12d. [Military brass], BUGLE. Nice mislead in the clue.
- 28d. [They get stuck in corners], STAMPS. Postage.
- 32d. [Where Captain Cook landed in 1770], BOTANY BAY. Did you know: It got its name from Cook because his companion collected a slew of plants there. I would like to think that Botany 500 menswear has a similar backstory.
- French action: 44d. [Jacinthe or jonquille] clues French “flower,” FLEUR (hyacinth or jonquil/daffodil), and 6d. [Vingt-et-un, e.g.], or twenty-one, clues JEU (French for “game”).
AUTOMOBILE TIRES ([Atlas offerings]) is meh because I call ’em car tires and I’ve never heard of Atlas brand tires. ALEUTIAN ISLANDS has been in five NYT themelesses, including one of Martin’s; one more appearance in an Ashwood-Smith or Krozel puzzle and it joins the ALOTONONESPLATE/SCARLETTANAGERS club. (Although I do like the [Part of the Ring of Fire] clue because of Johnny Cash and volcanoes.) I don’t care for FOUR-WAY STOP SIGN (60a. [Light alternative])—in my book, you have four-way stops with four stop signs, but a “four-way stop sign” isn’t quite crossword-worthy. (Decent people may differ on this.)
In the short fill category, I didn’t much enjoy PAS DE; ESTER; AT PAR; MASHA (8d. [Gessen who wrote the 2012 Putin biography “The Man Without a Face”]—who??); or the utterly-unfamiliar-to-me RENE, or [Conductor Leibowitz]. And I have been mystified my whole life about this 46d. [Salon service], the RINSE. I assume it’s something more than just water rinsing of shampooed/processed hair, but what is it? Is this something that older women know about, that has vanished from contemporary salon business but lives on in crosswords?
John Farmer’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Andy’s review
Snazzy puzzle — a lot to like about this one. Quick review this week, starting with some factoids:
- 23d, SABRE [1999 Stanley Cup finals competitor]. The Sabres would lose to the Dallas Stars in six games, in one of the more exciting finals series of the 1990s — especially after the Detroit Red Wings had won the ’97 and ’98 Cups in 4-game sweeps. Dominik Hasek, goaltender for the Sabres, left Buffalo shortly thereafter for none other than the Red Wings, with whom he would go on to win two Stanley Cups.
- 62a, HARPER LEE [Author whose only published novel won a Pulitzer]. This is pretty much the quintessential literary trivia question. Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, but she never finished her second novel, The Long Goodbye. She also helped her good friend Truman Capote with the research for his book In Cold Blood.
- 16a, IMARI [China from Japan]. “China” means “porcelain” here. Imari, like Limoges, refers to a city; while Limoges porcelain was made in and around Limoges, Imari porcelain is so-named because it was shipped to Europe exclusively through the port city of Imari (though it was made in the town of Arita).
- 13a, BROMANCE [Modern-day male bonding]. One of my favorite bromances in recent pop culture is that between Denny Crane (William Shatner) and Alan Shore (James Spader) on Boston Legal. Most (all?) episodes ended with Denny and Alan sitting on a balcony, drinking and smoking cigars, and discussing the events of the episode.
- 5d, HULA [Dance in a raffia skirt] / 42d, LEILANI “Sweet ___”: Oscar-winning song from “Waikiki Wedding”]. It’s a Hawaiian-themed crossword! Everyone grab some poi and a mai-tai, and let’s watch some nenes and mahi-mahi.
- 67a, PITY PARTY [Something to throw when you’re down]. Everyone grab a paper hat, and let’s start feeling sorry for ourselves!
- 56a, ZERO G [Cause of a hair-raising experience?]. Whenever I have ZE–G, I want the answer to be Zelig. I don’t know about you, but watching Zelig was a pretty “hair-raising experience” for me.
- 1a, LAUGH TEST [Trial run for a far-fetched argument]. At first, I really wanted this one to be LAUGHFEST, crossing FRAIL going down. But the more I think about it, the more I appreciate LAUGH TEST. It’s a great way to impute your opinion that an argument is farcical to hypothetical “other people”: “I think it’s a great argument, Johnson; I just don’t think it’s going to pass the laugh test.”
- 34a, “NO CHANCE!” [“When pigs fly!”]. Well, according to this commercial, this clue is not only inaccurate but also kind of offensive.
- 41a, IN DENIAL [Whistling past the graveyard, so to speak]. What a fantastic idiom. I’ve usually heard it used to mean “staying cheerful despite adverse circumstances,” but I like this darker connotation. It’s sort of like the opposite of memento mori.
- 61, OPERA [Philip Glass’s “Waiting for the Barbarians,” e.g.]. It’s based on the J.M. Coetzee novel of the same name.
The entry that stuck with me as fishy was IT’S MURDER, but I’ve warmed to it. A few partials and abbrevs., but nothing outrageous. A solid 4 stars from me. Until next week!
Brad Wilber’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
Oof! So many tough clues, but not really so many tough answers. I’ve never heard of SIDE POTS (35d. [Some poker accumulations]), but aside from that, I’ve seen everything in this puzzle before. Except usually not with such difficult, ’round-the-bend cluing.
I liked the Scrabbliness that I didn’t even notice during the arduous solve—MOJITOS (1a. [Drinks favored by Hemingway]) crossing JACQUARD (3d. [Intricate fabric pattern]), SNEEZE (42d. [Hiding place revealer, maybe]) and AZORES (59a. Island, not mountain [Chain on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge]) and ZOO/ZEDS (44a. [Jazz duo in Vancouver]), SQUALOR/AQABA, and JAGGER (8a. [Music icon knighted in 2003) meets JUROR.
- 15a. [Literally, ”little grapes”], UVULAE. I love a good Stumper etymology clue.
- 25a. [Something worn on a hood], CORROSION. As in rust on a car hood. I think corrosion is iffy as a “thing” in “something,” though. That suggests you can have “a corrosion.”
- 28a. [Fudge alternative], “DRAT!” Who doesn’t love a good drat ripple ice cream?
- 34a. [Purchase before going to court], RED ROSE for one who is courting a romantic partner. I was so sure this would be a piece of tennis paraphernalia.
- 40a. [’97 film with the tagline ”Coming soon. Honest.”], LIAR, LIAR.
- 57a. [Warning heading], NOTA BENE. Not your general “beware! your life is in danger!” sort of warning.
- 13d. [Only externally visible part of the central nervous system], RETINA. Science!
- 24d. [Boxer’s destination], STORAGE. Boxer as in “one who is boxing things up for storage.”
- 26d. [Any of 26 in 1959-60 prime time], OATER. Holy cats! There were 26 westerns on TV at one time? That seems wildly disproportionate, but I suppose big-screen westerns were also a bigger draw back then.
- 43d. [Wheedler’s refrain], “AW, C’MON!” Drat!
Toughest nuts not already mentioned:
- 46a. [Blackballed], UNWELCOME. Kinda wanted a past tense verb answer here.
- 49a. [Caper film narrator, often], TEC. That’s old slang for detective, known to me exclusively from crossword puzzles.
- 54a. [Carthaginian, e.g.], SEMITE. Carthage was near current-day Tunis, in North Africa.
- 6d. [__ delta (Concorde wing shape)], OGEE. Triangle with an S-shaped surve to the side.
- 7d. [Tom Cruise’s birthplace], SYRACUSE. I thought he was from the Great Plains for some reason.
- 11d. [Mass movement], GLORIA. Holy music.
- 12d. [Thing secured with a post], EARBOB. I don’t remember what an earbob is supposed to be. A particular sort of earring known primarily via crosswords?
- 51d. [__ ”second” (trance, in France)], ETAT. Second state?
4.33 stars. Smooth fill with some Scrabbly action but not many slam-bang entries. Stumpers, of course, aren’t known for introducing wild new fill—they’re loved and feared for the obstreperousness of their clues.