Diary of a Crossword Fiend welcomes Liz Gorski’s weekly Crossword Nation puzzle (available to subscribers via email and Stand Alone’s Crosswords mobile app—links provided on the “Today’s Puzzles” page above) to the fold. The ever-genial Janie will be blogging the puzzle each Tuesday. Crossword Nation puzzles are on the easy end of the spectrum and feature “themes inspired by cinema, music, art, the classics, pop culture, today’s scandals and feel-good news.”
Kurt Krauss’s New York Times crossword
Today’s theme is MIDDLE INITIAL. President RUTHERFORD HAYES is missing his B., singer MARY BLIGE is missing her J., Dixie general ROBERT LEE is missing his E., and rich dude JOHN ROCKEFELLER is missing a D. Put them all together and they spell “BJED.” (Please provide your own juvenile joke and then keep it to yourself.) Samuel Jackson, Ulysses Grant, and Edward Murrow, call your agents; you are no less worthy than Ruthy, Mary, Bob, and John.
I was surprised to see the crossings for 14a. [Jesse who pitched in a record 1,252 major-league games], OROSCO. First off, that’s not a name everyone is going to know. Secondly, Orozco is a much more common spelling. 2d. [Tulsa sch.] is ORU, Oral Roberts University, but it would not be crazy for someone to guess OSU. 4d. [“Being There” director Hal] ASHBY is not up there with Spielberg and Scorsese in the name-recognition ranks. 5d. [Sharp-tasting], ACERB, is not such a common word. Along with 4d and 5d, the MOREL, 6d. [Gourmet mushroom], is also crossing 19a. [Songwriter Jacques] BREL, and I’m pretty sure I learned that name in crosswords. So this is a tough corner for anyone who’s uncertain about any of these crossings, particularly if they don’t know the name Mary J. Blige. Seems more like a Wednesday-grade pile-up.
Overall, the grid was a little dense with proper nouns (especially given that the theme answers already pack the grid with names) and crosswordese. OLEO ETNA ACERB ERNE SLOE EWER KEA ARIL NEE ENE? Yes, I’m calling these crosswordese. I’d prefer not to have more than a handful of these answers in any given puzzle.
I like the theme but the rest of the puzzle (except the fun “BEGONE!”) left me cold or at least tepid. The empty grid looked compelling with all the open space in the corners, but then I wasn’t excited by what filled in the space. Three stars.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Hunt and Peck”
Matt’s theme answers can be said to be TYPESET (71a. [Like the four theme entries in this puzzle, as it were]) in that the letters TYPE appear in the middle, joining two words together. But “typeset” doesn’t quite describe what happens, does it? Here are the embedded-TYPE phrases:
- 17a. [Precious coin?], PRETTY PENNY.
- 63a. [Celebrants “in the house”], PARTY PEOPLE. Raise your hands in the air as if you do not care.
- 11d. [“Firework” singer], KATY PERRY.
- 35d. [Local lockup], COUNTY PEN. Uh, is that an actual phrase? I Googled it and most of the hits on the first couple pages are about farm animal pens and pen pals.
Olfactory blast from the past: 41a. [Maker of Musk cologne and perfume], JOVAN. Who knew it was still out there? The maker’s webpage mentions that 1972 debut and the 1981 sponsorship of the Stones tour. Raise your hand if you have sprayed any Jōvan fragrance on yourself in the past 25 years. Anyone…anyone?
44d. [Glover who was banned from Letterman’s show] clues CRISPIN. The guy who played Marty McFly’s doormat dad is probably more famous than Crispin brand hard cider, which is a delicious potent potable if you ask me.
Least familiar word: 54d. [Sun helmets], TOPIS. From a Hindi word.
Not much is jumping out at me in the fill that’s fabulous or terrible. And I’m sleepy. So I’m calling it 3.5 stars and a day.
Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sweet P’s” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Four “sweet” confections that follow the pattern P.P.:
- [Thin chocolate-coated goody] is a PEPPERMINT PATTY – and also a character from the Peanuts comic strip.
- [Frozen treat once pitched by Bill Cosby] clues a PUDDING POP – never had one of these, but I do recall the commercials. I tried puddin’ before pudding.
- [Traditional Thanksgiving dish] is PUMPKIN PIE – though I like pumkin pie, I’d have to say apple or blueberry are my FAVEs.
- [Baked dessert made with tropical fruit] is PINEAPPLE PASTRY – really? I thought I knew my desserts, but this one is completely unknown to me. Not sure if it originated in Indian cuisine, but this chef seems to imply that it did.
I think my favorite part of this puzzle was discovered at 22-Across: [This puzzle’s title, e.g.,] for PUN. “Sweet P’s” is a great description for what is going on here. I just wish that final themer was more familiar. Though I didn’t notice it while solving (this is a good thing), I believe this puzzle is also a Pangram, let me check now….Seems to be short an F, which is ok. Lots of other P’s pepper the grid–PEN PALS, PARMA, PULSE, PAPA, POMP and the unfamiliar PELEE volcano of Martinique, and I’ve even been to that island!
My FAVE entry has to be [Slyly seductive female] for MANTRAP, though I do wonder if there is a parallel term for men who do the seducing. (My personal thought is that British actor and our new Superman Henry Cavill would be good at this.) STOP AND GO for [Like rush-hour traffic] was a close second. My UNFAVE was the crossword-friendly but old-timey STEN for [British submachine gun]. Would be nice to retire that entry for good, imho.
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle, “Companion Piece”—Janie’s review
If you’re anything like me, when you see a byline that says “Elizabeth C. Gorski,” your “Ooh, That I Wanna Solve” radar starts beeping. You know that not only will the puzzle will be impeccably crafted, but more likely than not, it’ll be fun to solve. It’ll entertain. It’ll put a smile on your face. As you must have surmised by now, I don’t make that crime! Especially in an early-week puzzle. And the truth is, it’s the early-week puzzles that are most popular with the general puzzle-solving public. Quantitatively speaking, good early-week puzzles are not as readily available as one might think. Good early-week puzzles are a gift. So, thank you, Liz and Crossword Nation, for keeping the bar high and the puzzles a pleasure!
Now, if you’re new to solving (and I’m gonna bet there are quite a few lurkers out there who are), Crossword Nation (and the crossword nation…) wants you! These Monday-Tuesday level puzzles are perfect for honing and developing your solving skills: easy-enough themes, and clues that both challenge and delight. In other words, these are satisfying solves. And if you’re a more seasoned solver, these puzzles will probably remind you of why you started doing puzzles in the first place. Nothin’ like a good “aha” moment—whether it comes from having sussed out the theme or cracked the meaning of a question-marked clue—to brighten one’s day, right? So let’s take a look at the puzzle now, shall we?
First of all, we have that “easy-enough” theme. You’ll find a hint for it right there in the title, so we know from the start it’ll probably have something to do with “companions.” And sure enough, the first three of the theme-related answers bear this out:
- 17A. [Adam Ant’s first solo album] FRIEND OR FOE. Oh, gosh—besides a passing familiarity with his name, I know nuthin’ by Adam Ant. “First” solo album? So there are more?……. Yup. He’s no kid!
- 11D. [“That’ll be the Day” singer who’s in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame] BUDDY HOLLY. Him I know. And love. Real rock & roll—’50s-style.
- 29D. [Fish seen in the Yukon River] CHUM SALMON. Also new to me. But having caught on to the theme (and by checking my crosses) figured it had to be right.
And tying them all together, there’s a “reveal”:
- 61A. [1986 western comedy starring Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short (and a hint to the puzzle theme)] THREE AMIGOS. THREE synonyms for AMIGOS: FRIEND, BUDDY, CHUM. Get it? Good!
As for those clues that “challenge and delight,” here are some of my favorite clue/fill combos:
- 15A. [Drew on a book cover?] NANCY. “Drew,” as in NANCY Drew and the Case of the… Not talking about scribbling on or otherwise defacing the cover of a beloved dead-tree volume here.
- 25A. [Misters at a perfume counter] SPRAYS. “Misters,” as in spray devices, not FELLAS. And yes (as I learned), SPRAYS is acceptable. My handy M-W sez about SPRAY in the singular: “a device (as an atomizer or sprayer) by which a spray is dispersed or applied.” Which works in the plural as well!
- 27D. [“Mixed” blessing from a pound?] MUTT. Making that “mixed” as in “breed” and “pound” as in “dog pound.” Awwww.
- 39D. [Heated singles matches?] HOT DATES. Yes! So not Wimbledon’s Bartoli v. Lisicki, or Murray v. Djokovic, but maybe some (fantasy…) time with Patrick DEMPSEY (a/k/a McDreamy) or, from a previous generation, Ted Danson’s blown-dry Sam MALONE.
Want to wrap up as I feel I’m runnin’ long here and (as Polonius reminds us) BREVITY is “the soul of wit” (let’s blame it on the lengthy intro…), but hafta say, this particular puzzle has a strong feminine vibe, what with that ECRU lingerie, the EYE CREAM, the reference to the late NORA Ephron, the Rubenesque NUDE, NANCY Drew, and perfume SPRAYS (among others). And there are lots of names: DAN, TRU, DYLAN, MARTINA, DEEN and CLARE (among others). Not sure how I feel about this. Also know that this is one puzzle. And that Liz knows how to keep things fresh, balanced and surprising. Which is to say, I’m already looking forward to next week’s puzzle and hoping that if you aren’t a Crossword Nation subscriber, that you’ll visit the site, try the sample puzzles (they’re free!) and see if this isn’t for you.
Do weigh in with your own thoughts. That very warm welcome, Amy, was much appreciated. The, uh, generally-genial one thanks you. And ’til next time, “Adios, AMIGOS!”
Jack McInturff’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Shhh! This theme is rather [Hush-hush] (25a. COVERT)—phrases where both words start with SH.
- 20a. [12-gauge ammo], SHOTGUN SHELLS. Solid.
- 33a. [Little consideration], SHORT SHRIFT. Good.
- 40a. [Woolgatherer’s tool], SHEEP SHEARS. Uhh… what? That’s a thing? It is, but it’s not a term I’ve ever seen before.
- 49a. [Eye protection for a tot’s bath], SHAMPOO SHIELD. I know the concept—as a little kid, I wore sunglasses and held a washcloth over my forehead while my mom rinsed my shampoo—but I’ve never heard this term.
The SH-SH theme made it easier to piece together 40a and 49a, but I can’t say I enjoyed having them as half of the theme.
I also did not appreciate 1a. [Pequod captain], AHAB. You know why? Because I’m 40 chapters behind in my summer reading of Moby-Dick, that’s why. I should get back to that…
Highlights in the fill: SOY MILK, SWAHILI, LET ME SEE, FRISK. Lowlights: AGASP, SMA, ONEA, ARTES, B-STAR, HOER, ARIL.
Three stars from me.