New meta crossword contest, one-week deadline. This one’s from David Steinberg, it’ll be a big 23×23 crossword, there’s a meta answer lurking within, and I have no idea if the puzzle embodies the “Maleska” vibe beyond being called “Metaleska.” (Personally, I could do without nearly all the Maleska-era puzzles). Details at the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project blog.
Joe Krozel’s New York Times crossword
So I gather that this puzzle may set or tie some sort of constructing record, but I certainly don’t give a rat’s patootie what the record might be. Whatever it is, it isn’t worth the many compromises in the fill. Good gravy, did you get a load of the eye-rolling stuff in here?
- 13a. [Cubs cap display], LETTER C. I think you can say “small C” and “capital C” without a definite article, but “the letter C” is needed here. Just LETTER C is not a thing.
- 16a. [Defeat in a jump-rope competition, say], OUTSKIP. Really.
- 19a. [Craigslist and others], AD SITES. Feels mighty contrived to me. It’s a site with ads, but who calls it an “ad site”?
- 35a. [Muscle that rotates a part outward], EVERTOR. I pulled out my copy of Stedman’s Medical Dictionary. It’s got the verb evert, sure, but no EVERTOR. When the go-to medical dictionary doesn’t list your anatomical terminology, you are on shaky ground.
- 37a. [“Standing room only”], NO SEATS. Contrived, yes? Only a couple notches better than NOSE ATS.
- 3d. [Pretends to be sore], ACTS MAD. Contrived. Make way for ACTS SAD, ACTS HAPPY, ACTS PEEVED, ACTS PETULANT, ACTS RESENTFUL.
- 7d. [Furnace part], IGNITOR. One of my dictionaries lists only the igniter spelling; MWCD-11 has an “also ignitor.”
- 15d. [Living like husband and wife], SHARING A BED. Contrived, again?
- 29d. [Elvis Presley, notably], SNEERER. Yes, it is a legitimate formation from the word sneer, but have you ever used it? Part of me wishes this were SNEEROR to be consistent with 7d and 35a.
- 30d. [Post-hurricane scenes, e.g.], HAVOCS. Not sure this is a noun that takes a plural. There is an archaic verb sense of havoc that could work, but archaic vocabulary is nobody’s first choice for crossword fill (unless it’s got literary cred, like icumen).
On the plus side, there are no lousy 3-letter answers.
- 11a. [Big name in folk music], Pete SEEGER. Loved his folks songs for children when I was a kid. Last weekend I met a woman whose grandchild is named Seeger, after the folkie. But that other kid I know of named Guthrie is not named after Woody or Arlo.
- 22a. [Rocker with the 1973 #1 hit “Frankenstein”], EDGAR WINTER.
- 24a. [Helpers for the deaf], HEARING DOGS. I wanted it to be “hearing ear dogs,” but apparently they’re just called hearing dogs. Service dogs are great.
- 10d. [Little orange snacks], DRIED APRICOTS. Really, I liked this one because it put me in mind of those chewy little artificially flavored and colored corn syrup delights called “orange slices.”
- 11d. [Sign over a car], STUDENT DRIVER. Always a little terrifying.
You make a grid that holds 70 words instead of 50, and you can fit in more of the likes and far less junk fill. I hate junk (read in the voice of Ed Asner as Lou Grant).
Mark Bickham’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Andy’s review
I have to admit, I didn’t recognize the byline on this puzzle. But avid solvers will recognize that Mark Bickham has been especially prolific in the last month or two. To my knowledge, he hasn’t had any themeless puzzles published until now, so this is a debut of sorts.
There were precisely five entries in this one that grabbed me in a positive way:
- 11d, DRY SEASON [When many grazing animals migrate]. In Niger, there’s apparently also more cases of measles during the dry season. Researchers think it’s because there’s a higher population density during the dry season, due to mass migration of farmers into the cities (can’t really farm if it’s dry).
- 19a, BLITZKRIEG [Powerful military tactic]. Also the name of the German team in Dodgeball.
- 32d, XBOX GAMES [“Halo: Reach” and “Kinect Adventures!” notably]. I never really got into first person shooters. Except for Duck Hunt–that game was my life when I was four.
- 43a, SAXHORNS [Tuba relatives]. No, that’s not just a weird way to say “saxophones.” It’s a different family of instruments entirely.
- 33d, ON IN YEARS [No spring chicken]. Who doesn’t love a good euphemism? (Answer: people who prefer dysphemisms.)
I (and probably Neville) loved the fresh clue for 27a, ULTIMATE [Team Frisbee game]. I also liked the clue for 1a, JIM [“Dad is Fat” author/comedian Gaffigan]. Much like me, the man has a lot to say about Hot Pockets™. JUXTAPOSE and MT. ST. HELENS are nice too, and I appreciated the clue for the former, [Place cheek by jowl]. Who doesn’t love a good idiom?
There’s some stacking of lengthy entries in the NW and SE (9/9/10 letters), but the stacks are fairly blah and, other than BLITZKRIEG, devoid of Scrabble-type interest. In the NW:
- 14a, UNAIRABLE [Not getting by the censors]. I liked this entry because it made me think of Monty Python.
- 17a, MARTINETS [Tough taskmasters]. I’m all in favor of a good eponym, but I’m more familiar with “martinet” as a thing rather than a person. For those unfamiliar, it’s a kind of whip.
And then there’s the SE:
- 53a, SEA ANEMONE [Clownfish host]. The clue evokes images of Finding Nemo.
- 58a, AUSTRALIA [Kakadu National Park site]. I would have preferred a clue referring to the Baz Luhrmann film. As of January 2013, Australia is the second highest grossing Australian film of all time, right behind . . . Crocodile Dundee.
- 60a, RETENTION [What many tests measure]. For example: the Bar exam.
No real marquee entry there. A quick scan reveals the usual suspects in terms of compromise fill: A TEAR, IN RED, ESSE, MNO, ALBS, SNERT, BEV, JUL, ENS, ALTI, RESELLERS, ADEE, ULLA, RTS, and SSE.
Overall, I’d say the puzzle was somewhere between fine and good-ish. 3.2 stars from me. Until next week!
Sarah Keller’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “The Write Stuff” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Constructor Sarah Keller noticed that three famous people have a last name that can precede the word PAPER:
- [Television’s letter turner] is of course, VANNA WHITE – as for what a “white paper” is, you can “read all about it” here. My eyes started to glaze over after reading about authoritative government and business-to-business marketing reports.
- [Secretary of State under President Bush] clues CONDOLEEZZA RICE – I always forget she has double E’s and Z’s in her first name. When I think of “rice paper,” I think of the semi-transparent screens that are on rolling doors in Japanese restaurants to separate various areas for private parties.
- [Leader in the American civil rights movement] clues JULIAN BOND – he’s been in the news recently defending the IRS’s targeting of organizations aligned with the Tea Party seeking non-profit status. “Bond paper” is a high quality paper used for legal documents.
I’m a little disappointed to only see 3 theme entries in today’s puzzle, particularly with two only 10 letters in length. However, without being able to come up with anyone with the last name of Toilet or Inkjet, this may be a hard set to expand. I also wonder if the title can imply that these are all people’s names–“The Write Stuff” just refers to paper itself. My FAVE entries this morning were the symmetrically clued and placed [Tabloid item, often] for both TWOSOME and SCANDAL. Not a fan of what I call the Sue Grafton crutch entry of E FOR for [___ elephant (alphabet book page)], particularly without an “is” in there. What children’s book would have such woeful grammar?
Bruce Sutphin’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
Okay, panelists: What say you? Is this the most challenging puzzle of 2013? I made it through all by myself, but it sure wasn’t fun. It was a struggle to pull words out of the clues. Lots of wrong turns, lots of doubling back to take out answers. The clues stymied me more than they impressed me with their slyness. The fill is fine, but I can’t help feeling that the clues tried a little too hard to stump. I like a good challenge but this one felt a little obstreperous to me.
Without further ado, here are 24 clues (a third of the puzzle!) that stumped me pretty good:
- 7a. [Bribes], SCHMEARS. Easy enough with lots of crossings, but without those crossings, I was on thin ice.
- 16a. [Small spinner], ELECTRON. That is quite small indeed. I was contemplating toy tops, fishing lures, and whatnot.
- 19a. [Informational distractions], NOISE. Good clue, actually.
- 25a. [End of a once-over], TOE. As in “looking him over from head to toe.” Not keen on this clue’s approach.
- 37a. [You might get a special one for Dad], RINGTONE. I was thinking of gifts for dads here. I barely used a cellphone when my dad was still alive, so this was not on my radar.
- 42a. [Current outlet], SEA. Where rivers drain.
- 43a. [Certain column writers], CPAS. “Column writers”? A bit of a stretch.
- 44a. [Quick start], WINCE. Not too specific, that clue. A “quick start” might also evince surprise or awe.
- 51a. [Actor with eight Oscar nominations], PACINO. I tried OTOOLE and DENIRO first.
- 54a. [Some occupations], PROTESTS. As in Occupy Wall Street.
- 1d. [Casts out], EMANATES. To me, “cast out” feels like an intentional act, whereas “emanate” feels more like something that innately happens without specific intent.
- 3d. [Questionable lead], ANTIHERO. Makes sense, but the clue was vague enough that it took tons of crossings for me to find the answer.
- 7d. [Go-around], SESSION. Rather opaque.
- 9d. [Start of some IDs], HERE’S. As in “Here’s the crossword constructor I’m most sore at, the one and only Br… Joe Krozel!” (Bruce’s and/or Stan Newman’s clues were vexing, but the fill here is rock solid. I am all about having good fill.)
- 11d. [Staples in pulp mags]. ETS. Do “pulp mags” exist anymore?
- 13d. [Stick to a schedule, possibly], ROTATE. As in “now it’s my turn to be in charge.”
- 23d. [Set for delivery], FLEET. I didn’t get this earlier, but I think “set” is being used here as a collective noun. The FLEET is a set of trucks that may be used for delivery. There are also fleets of naval ships and fleets of rental cars, so the clue targets one very specific sense of the word. Plus the clue uses a multifarious word: “set” can also mean “ready.”
- 24d. [Of historical importance], FIRST. There are probably dozens of ways to clue this word more easily. It wouldn’t be the Stumper if Bruce and Stan leaned that way, though.
- 27d. [Performer’s talent], RANGE. I wanted DANCE here, but that was 41a. Singers and actors can both have range.
- 32d. [Starting], SINCE. Having trouble thinking of a sentence in which these can be interchanged. I want a preposition after “starting.”
- 33d. [Categorical], POSITIVE. As in the “clear and unambiguous” sort of “positive.”
- 34d. [Set piece], ONE-LINER. Part of a comedian’s set, at times. You can see why Stan Newman expects constructors of easy puzzles to shy away from these insane words like “set,” which have so many meanings and fit so many parts of speech.
- 38d. [Opposite of ”dissipate”], SCRIMP. Doesn’t feel like a direct opposite to me. You can, however, dissipate your money, so scrimping is the opposite of that.
- 44d. [Metaphor for freedom], WINGS. I needed plenty of crossings, but this is a lovely clue/answer combo.
Four stars of pain. Sometimes it is good to suffer through a puzzle like this—your brain gets a strenuous workout and you are reminded of all the different meanings words can hold. In Stumperland, the first meaning you associate with a word is often the wrong one for the clue.