Andy Kravis and Victor Barocas’s New York Times crossword, “Stolen Produce”
Terrific NYT debut from Million Second Quiz champion Andy Kravis and his cruciverbal colleague Victor Barocas. Both of these guys are terribly clever, so when I heard their puzzle was coming out today, I had high expectations. Which were met! Congrats, Andy and Victor. Too many 21×21 puzzles end up feeling like slogs, but this one was a quick treat. (Don’t miss Andy’s notes over at the Wordplay blog.)
The “Stolen Produce” theme takes phrase that start with a fruit and end with a word that can also mean “goes away,” and then the phrase is paired with another from which the letters of that fruit name have been extracted. It’s a juicer of a crossword theme, basically.
- 23a. [Many service dogs, after 29-Across?], EMNSHEHRDS. German shepherds without G-R-A-P-E.
- 29a. [They get stuffed at Greek restaurants], GRAPE LEAVES.
- 40a. [Serious break, after 48-Across?], COMPOUNFRCUR. Compound fracture.
- 48a. [Schedule planners], DATE BOOKS.
- 60a. [Legendary Scottish swimmer, after 66-Across?], OCHNSSSTER. Loch Ness monster.
- 66a. [Tart treats], LEMON DROPS.
- 81a. [Circus founders, after 89-Across?], RUMDBILEY. Barnum and Bailey.
- 89a. [Ice cream treats], BANANA SPLITS.
- 99a. [Where Margaret Thatcher studied chemistry, after 108-Across?], OXODNVERSIY. Oxford University. Misread that as “Margaret Sanger.”
- 108a. [Short-lived pests … or an alternative title for this puzzle], FRUIT FLIES.
Brilliant, no? I only had one pairing where the fruit name and the phrase clue let me quickly fill in OCHNSSSTER, and I enjoyed the back-and-forth/work-the-crossings play of the other pairings.
Outside of the theme, the puzzle fell swiftly. There’s a modicum of zippy fill—I’m partial to IXNAYS, J. COLE, EN GARDE, NAVY YARD, MISS JAPAN, TO HELEN, I’D LOVE TO, FINE-TUNES, GO DUTCH, and CATAMARAN. Actually, that would be several modicums. And no fill (!) that made me grumble (bits like ORLE, meh, but they weren’t numerous).
A few more things:
- 56a. [Greek goddess of witchcraft], HEKATE. The K spelling is new to me.
- 21a. [Company whose logo was, appropriately, crooked], ENRON. Ha!
- 1d. [Car with a lightning bolt in its logo], OPEL. So apparently I have no idea what the Opel logo looks like. Here it is—it’s a horizontal lightning bolt, which looks more like a stretched-out Z to me.
- 36d. [Saints’ home, for short], NOLA. New Orleans, Louisiana.
Did you enjoy this puzzle as much as I did? 4.5 stars from me. Maybe Andy and Victor should work together again, eh?
Frank Longo’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 187”- Sam Donaldson’s review
This week’s Post Puzzler has an interesting design. It’s a 70/30 puzzle that has a much more open feel than your typical 70/30 grid. It’s not just the triple-11s in two corners of the paired 10s in the other corners–it’s the run of 5-6-7-6-5 Downs sprouting off the central 15 that also contributes to the openness.
I have this pet theory that says a freestyle grid is a window into a constructor’s thought process. A constructor’s choices when not subject to the constraints of a theme are interesting to watch. Sometimes, for instance, you can tell that a puzzle was built around one or a couple of interesting “seed” entries. Frank’s freestyle puzzles almost always have an interesting grid, though, so I wonder whether he usually starts by plunking down some black squares and then making the fill fit the design. At least it doesn’t seem like there are any “seed” entries here that are supposed to be the stars of the show. Here we get an expertly filled grid employing an interesting design, and that works for me.
This is the Post Puzzler, kids, so the clues contain plenty of tricks and diversions. Here are some of the clue-answer pairings of note:
- [Grand Prix setting?] is a terrific clue for the GEAR in which the race car is set.
- [Holder of a high position?] refers to Attorney General ERIC Holder. By itself this clue gets a gold star, but then consider that it comes just before the clue for ELDER, [Holder of a high position, maybe]. Two gold stars!
- When you make a partial feel whimsical instead of forced, you’ve got yourself a good clue. So [Mac-PC linkup?] is terrific as a clue for OR A. Remember the ads?
- Speaking of Macs and PCs, this puzzle has quite the technical vibe. There’s also WIRELESS ROUTERS (you know [They can be hooked up to cable modems], right?) and MICRO, a [Small computer].
- I thought [Periodical figure] was ELEMENT, as in something from the periodic table. But no, this periodical is a magazine, so the answer is STAFFER.
- I was chagrined that the [Ornately embossed edibles] turned out to be our crossword staple, OREOS. Just when I thought I could sniff out every OREO clue from a distance!
- Anyone else want LEGO as the [Big name in building sets]? Right idea, wrong product. The answer was K’NEX
- [Loads, for many: Abbr.] is an impish clue for “synonym,” or SYN. “Loads” is synonymous with “many.”
The unknowns to me were KIR ROYAL, clued as a [Champagne-and-cassis drink], YEE sang (a raw fish salad that, sadly, abutted the champagne drink), and that “Godhead” is apparently synonymous with “Trinity,” which is why THREE-IN-ONE was the answer to [Like the Godhead]. Luckily for me I knew of the body of water referenced in the clue SIMON FRASER, [Eponym for a major Canadian river].
There’s some nice fill here, like AM I DREAMING, ANIMAL ABUSE, ASK FOR HELP, and even GREEK YOGURT, the [Strained dairy product] that doesn’t look very strained sitting at 1-Across. Good stuff.
Favorite entry = MAKE ME PROUD, clued as [“Do the great job I know you can do!”]. Favorite clue = [Where people get their kicks?] isn’t ROUTE SIXTY-SIX but SHOE STORES. If I tell you that “kicks” is modern slang for “shoes,” would I be right? Or would I be a few years late to the party? Either way, I loved the clue.
Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Dave Sullivan’s review
72-word themeless from constructor Patrick Jordan today:
- [Storied result of kissing the Blarney stone] was ELOQUENCE – did you try the also-9-letter GIFT OF GAB at first like me?
- [Places for clippers and high-stickers] clued PENALTY BOXES – I’m not a big fan of hockey (which is surprising, given that I’m a graduate of RPI, and have lived in New England most of my life), but “to clip” I think is to reach out with your stick to an opposing player, but that might be tripping instead. “High-sticking” is to raise your stick above a certain level (shoulders?) against a player perhaps? Obviously, I’m well out of my element here. I am pretty clear on the fact that hockey sticks should strictly be used to move the puck around, not to attack other players.
- Mad props to the [1995 Drew Barrymore film], which was MAD LOVE – with an E in the middle of that one, it would’ve garnered the dreaded R rating, I suppose.
- [More like a cygnet] was DOWNIER – I almost considered SWANIER at first, until I convinced myself that could not be a word.
- [Municipal money] or CITY TREASURY – a bit dull for a marquee entry in a themeless.
- I’m also not a big fan of these [First-floor apartment, often] type of clues, which in this case was ONE-A – the worst, though, are ones like TWO-B or THREE-C.
A serviceable effort, without a lot of pizzazz, but provided a bit of enjoyment on a Sunday morning where we have an extra hour to enjoy!
Arthur Verdesca’s syndicated Sunday Los Angeles Times crossword, “The Doctor Is In”
Utterly straightforward theme: Two-word phrases in which the first word ends with an M and the second word starts with a D (making an M.D. “doctor” who is “in” each theme answer) are clued straightforwardly.
- 23a. [Perry Mason story, e.g.], COURTROOM DRAMA.
- 45a. [Symbol of a bettor’s certainty], BOTTOM DOLLAR.
- 54a. [Post-hurricane assessment], STORM DAMAGE.
- 73a. [Like some locomotives], STEAM-DRIVEN. Not sure I’ve actually seen this phrase before. “Steam locomotive” usually omits the “-driven” part.
- 81a. [Coen or Stone], FILM DIRECTOR.
- 103a. [Made-to-order], CUSTOM-DESIGNED.
- 32d. [Winners can be determined by one], RANDOM DRAWING.
- 36d. [Coffee break treat], CREAM DOUGHNUT. Say what? “Cream doughnut” is not much of a “thing.” Boston cream/creme doughnut, sure. Sour cream doughnut, yes. Cream-filled doughnut, completely standard. Do not care for this theme answer.
- 104d. [Puzzle title people hidden in eight long answers], MDS.
So the theme did not do much for me. I did like some other stuff:
- 59a. [“Fearful” feature of Blake’s Tyger], SYMMETRY. Interesting and literary. (See also: MARINER clued as [Coleridge storyteller] rather than [Seattle Major Leaguer].)
- 31d. [Spring toy], SLINKY. Who doesn’t love the Slinky? Except when it’s all tangled up.
But there were also a lot of multi-word partials, and some oddball stuff like these really-not-good crossings:
- 98a. [Brazilian range __ do Mar], SERRA. Everyone up on Portuguese cognates of the Spanish sierra? I hope so, because the S comes from 98d. [The Missouri R. runs through it], S. DAK., and the Missouri does indeed run through North Dakota too. Think people are Googling “Nerra do Mar” to double-check this one?
- 97d. [North Amer. WWII fliers], RCAF?? Say what? I’m going to guess that this is Royal Canadian Air Force, a group I hitherto had no idea ever existed. Yes. The R crosses 97a. [Irish tenor Tynan], RONAN, so good luck to any solver who doesn’t know their Irish tenors. I could see people guessing CCAF and CONAN, given Conan O’Brien’s familiar Irishness.
Plus there’s more crosswordese/old fill than I like to see (your mileage may vary, if you are partial to fill that was familiar 40 years ago): SSR, ALOU, plural ABELS, -ARIAN, ADAIR, TAWS, IRES, TYE, REO, ORSON (clued as [Small-screen Bean], which he was in the ’70s), FIVE-O, URSAE.
2.5 stars from me. There just wasn’t much that grabbed me in a good way, and those unsavory crossings are a problem.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “Music-Go-Round”
Highly unusual theme: A long string of musical instrument names meanders through the grid from 1-Across to 119-Across, with a CONDUCTOR appearing in the middle to coordinate them all.
1a. [“The music goes ’round and around …” (continuing at 7 Down, 28 Across, 15 Down (reading upward), 11 Across (reading backward), 11 Down, etc., forming an unbroken chain of music-related terms — changing direction only when it has to — and ending at 119 Across)] clues GLOCKEN– and the rest of the meander segments are clued [“… and around …”]. The thread spells out GLOCKENSPIEL, SOUSAPHONE, TUBA, BASSOON, CORNET, BALALAIKA (do conductors lead people playing the balalaika?), CHIMES, ZITHER, CONDUCTOR, HARPSICHORD, SNARE DRUM, FIDDLE, CELLO (tried BELLS first—eventually the harmonica emerged and turned the S into an O), CASTANETS, HARMONICA, OBOE, TRUMPET.
I wasn’t enjoying the puzzle at all until I figured out what to do with the theme spaces, and then it became an entirely different sort of crossword challenge, more like a variety puzzle where you have to figure out the starting and ending points of the answer words. I love variety puzzles (think of the Patrick Berry puzzles available at his A-Frame Games site, and the Saturday Wall Street Journal puzzles I have forgotten to do for a few weeks, and Trip Payne’s gems), so I appreciate a variety-grid riff in a standard crossword.
Outside of the theme, which occupies 129 squares that snake through all but two tiny sections of the grid, there is not much to remark on. Five things:
- 27a. [Juice ingredients?], VOLTS. Juice = electricity.
- 87a. [“Al Di La” singer], JERRY VALE. Really don’t know who he is, though the name is familiar (and probably from crosswords). Grateful that ALDILA is not common fill!
- 64d. [Ugly as ___], AS TOAD. People say that?
- 69a. [Raises cane, e.g.], FARMS. Sugar cane, not “raising Cain” and causing trouble.
- 85d. [Son-of-a-gun], VARMINT. I myself have never called anyone a varmint.
Four stars. I appreciated getting a different sort of solving challenge.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “A Mouthful of Water” — pannonica’s write-up
As the bizarre letters were undeniably, unrelentingly arraying themselves across the top section of the grid, I confess to being perplexed and faltering. It seemed like gobbledygook, equally senseless forward or backward, with no inclusions of “water” or significant aitches and ohs.
So it came down the task of letting the crossing fill work whatever magic they could. Fortunately, they did, and the middle and lower sections of the grid shed some light on the subject, but enough for me to see the theme while solving. (Even though I typically don’t report solve times for the CRooked, I often solve apace—this one was 10:56).
So what’s it all about? The first four segments of theme fill (23a, 29a, 55a, 62a) answer this clue: [ … a Bay State’s one-word name]. And that would be Massachusetts’ CHARGOGGAGO|GGMANCHAUGGA|GOGGCHAUBUNAGU|NGMAUGG. Oh, yes. The other themers (69a, 80a, 86a, 109a, 119a) comprise the [ … name’s purported meaning], and that is YOU FISH ON | YOUR SIDE | I FISH ON MINE AND | NOBODY FISHES | IN THE MIDDLE. Got that? Some people call the place Webster Lake, but where’s the fun in that?
Despite appearing roughly a month-and-a-half ago, a pair of answers near the grid’s center seem to be appropriate for today and the New York City Marathon, the world’s largest: 83d [Marathoner’s goal] FINISH, and 83a [Accomplishment] FEAT. Of course, they’re equally applicable to this crossword’s theme, and the reported proclivity many Webster locals have for “reeling off the longer names.”
I realize this sort of “flying blind” puzzle might not be to every solver’s taste, but I enjoy being made aware of odd and interesting facts. However, after learning a little more about the subject, I feel that an opportunity was missed to include the name of the Algonquin family language of that lengthy name: NIPMUC, which seems ideal for crossword fill, at least in this context. Too bad WEBSTER is a letter longer.
- 14d [Nori-wrapped rolls] are more accurately MAKI, not SUSHI (which would have required some qualifying elaboration in the clue).
- Misfills: BASH for ORGY at 6d [Unfettered party]; GENIUS for MENSAN at 30d [IQ test acer]; LAMB for RAGG at 46d [Wool for hiking socks]. I wonder if RAGG and L’EGGS (9d) were intentionally included to echo the numerous doubled Gs of the Nipmuc name.
- Least favorite fill: GET HURT, abbrevs. SYND and ESTH, MINICAM.
- Toughest, but ultimately favorite, clue: 114d [Part sometimes barked] SHIN, especially as it appears next to 115d [Yodeler’s station] PEAK, enhancing the misdirection.
- Unusual proper names: 64a [Golfer Calvin] PEETE, 60a [Electra’s grandfather] ATREUS (did the House of Atreus have an atrium?), 98d [Duoay-___ Bible] RHEIMS, 91a [Astronaut Eugene] CERNAN, 97a [Odin, Thor, et al.] AESIR.
- Overlap/dupe: 94a [Psyche components] IDS, 76a [Super excited] PSYCHED.
Despite the negative tenor of the above list, overall I enjoyed the puzzle and the cluing was typically strong throughout.