Jonah Kagan’s New York Times crossword, “Front Flips”
Great theme this week: The first word in each base phrase is reversed to create the often amusing theme answers.
- 24a. [Tammany Hall corruption, e.g.?], EVIL FROM NEW YORK.
- 34a. [Try to see what you’re getting for Christmas?], PEEK UNDER WRAPS.
- 45a. [Academy for criminals?], PERP SCHOOL.
- 51a. [Journey from the nest to the kitchen, say?], RAT’S TREK.
- 64a. [Hidden drug habit, maybe?], POT SECRET. And just one day after 4/20.
- 76a. [Drink greedily?], GULP IT IN.
- 81a. [Playground apparatus of the Apocalypse?], DOOM SWINGS. The Four Horsemen are all, “Push me! Higher! Higher!” and “Race you to the teeter-totter!”
- 91a. [Be a lenient judge?], DIAL DOWN THE LAW.
- 105a. [Maligned merchandise?], REVILED THE GOODS. I like this. Reversed 7-letter word—fancy!
Did you notice the inclusion of 26a: [Patisserie offerings], DESSERTS? It’s “stressed” backwards. And 21a: [Neighboring bunkers?] looks like a missed theme entry; flip ROOMMATES to MOOR MATES and you’ve got [Desdemona and others?].
Highlights in the fill include MUSTACHE, PROMISE RING, GUINEVERE, SAY ANYTHING…, and FIRST KISS. Aren’t those great? It’s a bunch of romance … with a ‘stache. And SOBER UP.
Could do without anchors ATRIP, ESKER, and ENNIO, sure, but overall the fill’s smooth.
Did not know 91d: [Set of software components packaged for release, briefly], DISTRO. How about you?
Four stars. Good stuff, Jonah.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated crossword, “Oxymoronically Speaking”
The theme answers are oxymorons, though some are looser than others:
- 22a. [Oxymoronic pain], A TERRIFIC HEADACHE.
- 32a. [Oxymoronic amount], SMALL FORTUNE.
- 64a, 69a, 74a. [With 69 and 74 Across, oxymoronic advice], SERIOUSLY, YOU NEED TO LIGHTEN UP. Although this one just means “I’m really serious, you need to lighten up”—I don’t think it’s inherently oxymoronic.
- 103a. [Oxymoronic success], METEORIC RISE. Ah! Crashing to earth or burning up on the way down.
- 116a. [Oxymoronic change of pace], A WELCOME DEPARTURE. Hello, I must be going.
- 15d. [Oxymoronic attendee], UNINVITED GUEST. Another good one.
- 51d. [Oxymoronic masterwork], INSTANT CLASSIC.
I have never tasted the mint called SEN-SEN (78a. [Breath mint mentioned in “Ya Got Trouble” (from “The Music Man”)]), but a friend of mine bought a pack at a retro candy store because an older relative had eaten them. She tried one and gagged. Shouldn’t “breath mint” be “breath licorice”? My main reference for Sen-Sens is Billy Joel’s “Keeping the Faith”—and check out how many other works of literature and theater have also mentioned this “mint.”
Did I know that 33d: [Spondulix] was slang for MOOLAH? The clue kept me guessing.
Filled in SOAMES (66d. [1970 British sci-fi film, “The Mind of Mr. ___”]) all from the crossings, and then saw this strange-looking “SOAMES” entity in my puzzle. What do you know? It’s correct. Also difficult: 50d. [Jumped, in French (or a cooking term with an extra E at the end)], SAUTEE.
Did you get an EYEFUL of the EYEWEAR? You didn’t, because I haven’t shared a picture of my new glasses yet. Totally rimless, light as a feather, with some iridescent purple.
3.33 stars. Felt like there were lots of partials in the grid, and I wasn’t always feeling the true oxymoronic vibe in the theme answers.
Robin Stears’ syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Herbal Tease”
Instead of herbal teas, Robin teases us with herbal puns:
- 23a. [Observation about sprouting aromatic plants?], SOME THINGS ARE MINT TO BE. Substitute “meant” for MINT.
- 36a. [“Yes, I’m positive this seed is in five-spice powder”?], THAT’S MY FENNEL ANSWER. “Final” for FENNEL.
- 55a. [“We should whip up some pickle flavoring”?], LET’S MAKE A DILL. “Deal” for DILL.
- 80a. [Like something even better than a pungent herb?], BEYOND BAY LEAF. “Belief” for BAY LEAF.
- 96a. [Incense hung in two places?], MYRRH, MYRRH, ON THE WALL. “Mirror” for MYRRH. Myrrh’s an herb? I thought it was a resin. Dictionary confirms this. And herbs are leaves, seeds, and flowers. Do you put plant resins in the herb category?
- 117a. [Getting by with a loaner herb?], LIVING ON BORROWED THYME. “Time” for THYME. I had *****GON for a bit and tried to think of what TARRAGON might be a pun on.
Only six theme answers, but two of them are 21 letters long and two others are 19 so there are plenty of theme squares.
Least familiar answer: ENYO, 86d: [Warrior companion of 19-Down] (19d being ARES). The O crosses OWN, which is plain English. Would it be better or worse to have New Ager ENYA crossing sort-of-crosswordese AWN?
Poker terminology I didn’t know: 38d. [Tossed in, as a losing poker hand], MUCKED.
Favorite fill: GIDDY SNEEZE RHINOS KIBOSH. I can’t quite make a sentence out of them.
In the sort-of-crosswordese category, we find OTOE, AMAH, DEBAR, ECLAT, and the SEVERN, 75d: [U.K.’s longest river].
Frank Longo’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 159”- Sam Donaldson’s review
Here’s a meaty 68/28 freestyle from the author of perhaps my favorite collection of crosswords. Like many rigorous themeless puzzles, it was a tale of two solves. Two corners offered little resistance, and the other two corners had me second-, third-, and fourth-guessing myself, which is quite taxing when you only have one or two guesses to begin with.
I managed only a handful of answers in my first run through the clues, and none were close enough together to get much of a toehold. Luckily, I managed to get both CHE ([Nickname among revolutionists]) and SLED ([Skeleton racer]), meaning CZARINAS just had to be the answer to [Bygone sovereigns]. That gave me the first letters for six crossings, and as Merl Reagle regularly observed when providing commentary at the ACPT finals, you can get a lot more traction with first letters than with last letters. Unless you’re kinda dim, that is. Right away I went to the Z, as I find it easier to work off of rare letters. Alas, I thought the answer to [Victoria Falls setting] had to begin with ZAMBIA. (Can I at least get partial credit for knowing that Victoria Falls separates Zambia and Zimbabwe?) That worked well at first, but by the time I reached the grid’s mid-section I realized something was wrong. As is always the case, that something wrong was me, not the puzzle. It turned out to be the ZAMBEZI RIVER, which was at least kind enough to offer two more rare letters as a consolation prize.
The northeast corner was the next to fall–well, most of it was, anyway. PERI Gilpen ([She played Roz on “Frasier”]), PASS, and CINCH were easy enough, and luckily that gave the important long Downs of I MEANT IT, BAR SCENE, and IRISHMEN. But I was all kinds of lost with [Reminiscent of Monk’s style]. MOPPISH? TOPPISH? COPPISH? All three spent some time in the grid until I eventually tried BOPPISH, an answer of which I was unsure all the way to the end. Part of me thought I would have to return to that corner to finish off the puzzle, but I guess I got lucky there. I take it the “Monk” referred to in the clue is Thelonious Monk, as I can she him “bopping” around.
The other corners took a lot more time, though they sure are lovely. The only gimme in the northwest corner was the UPPER GI, the [Aid in verifying acid reflux, familiarly] that I experienced first-hand a few months ago. I was surprised how quickly I forgot Manti TE’O, the [Notre Dame linebacker caught up in a dead-girlfriend hoax]. Are the 15 minutes up or is my watch a few minutes fast?
I feel badly that I needed to many crossings to get my new hometown Atlanta BRAVES as the answer to [Pro athletes given the ax?]. I’m not proud of the insensitive chant used to rally the team at the Ted, but I should have recognized it more quickly. Lest you think I’m all PC, however, WET T-SHIRTS, the [Focus of some spring break contests], came to me with lightning speed.
Speaking of inappropriate things, did anyone else find it amusing that the grid has BARE ALL right next to a XEROX MACHINE?
This puzzle was chock full o’ things I didn’t (and in some cases still don’t) know:
- I’d never heard of VEEPSTAKES, a cute term for the [No. 2 selection process]. 1-Across is kind of key to a quick solving time, so when it eludes you for so long it can be a little depressing.
- BIBI is the answer to [Moniker in Mideastern diplomacy]. That’s apparently a nickname for Benjamin Netanyahu.
- I don’t think I’ve ever heard of OMAR [Bongo of Africa]. He’s the former president of Gabon who died in 2009. In fairness, he only ruled for 41 years. Are we seriously expected to know such flash-in-the-pan politicians?
- I’m even more sure that I’ve never heard of ADELLE Davis, the late author of “Let’s Cook it Right.” She was apparently quite the famous nutritionist in her day, but Wikipedia explains that she generated quite a bit of controversy. “While lauded for her ability to open the public to the concept of science in nutrition, she was nevertheless heavily criticized for misusing the science in her nutritional works…. Amongst the many views not supported by nutritionists include her view that not only physical health but mental and social ills could be cured with the proper diet, stating alcoholism, crime, suicide and divorce were the product of mere poor diet. … Additionally, the 1969 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health labelled her probably the single most harmful source of false nutritional information.” That’s one way to make an impact.
- SABU is the first name of an [Actor surnamed Dastagir]. Thank goodness the grid wasn’t asking for the surname!
- ON AN ISLAND is a [2006 David Gilmour song and album]. Have a listen.
- Can I get some help here? The answer to [“Deliverance” ends with one: Abbr.] is SUFF. What does that stand for? Suffocation? Sufficiency? Suffering Succotash? I haven’t seen the movie, so I’m lost (though I’m getting a nagging suspicion that maybe it has to do with the word “deliverance” and not with the film
- I had no clue with BANDAR [Seri Begawan (Brunei’s capital)], but geography has never been my strong point.
Favorite entry = IN YOUR FACE, clued as [“So there, ha!”] Favorite clue = [Heat transfer?] for a basketball PASS made by a Miami pro cager.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Crooked Crosswords puzzle, “Portmanteau Words”
Pannonica is volunteering all day at the library book sale, so it’s Amy here with a brief review.
- 27a. [Hybrid fruit], TANGELO.
- 29a. [Super Bowl spot, maybe], ADVERTAINMENT. New to me.
- 43a. [Ballpark figure, e.g.], GUESSTIMATE.
- 45a. [Form of workaholism], AFFLUENZA.
- 62a. [Punctuated expression], EMOTICON.
- 64a. [Industry fat cat], STEELIONAIRE. New to me.
- 69a. [Hurricane Sandy of October 2013], FRANKENSTORM. New kid on the block.
- 74a. [Tent trip with frills], GLAMPING. New to me.
- 88a. [Racy adventure], SEXCAPADE.
- 91a. [Economic doldrums], STAGFLATION.
- 106a. [Café lunch], CROISSANDWICH.
- 109a. [Regular on the Web], NETIZEN.
Who doesn’t love portmanteaux? They’re wonderrific.
Slightly (but only slightly) jarring to have some 8-letter Acrosses when there are 7-letter theme answers. The BALLAST fill (5d: [Enhancer of stability]) includes a wildly unfamiliar [Subunit of the Bulgarian lev], 87d: STOTINKA. Hey! My son’s classmate Ivan is Bulgarian. Do you know any Bulgarians? Ask them to show you a stotinka. STERE and GORGER are meh, but MONGOOSE, GAME ON, HARD HATS, and SCIMITAR are great.
3.5 stars from Amy.