Two weeks till Christmas! If you’re looking for gift ideas for puzzlers in your life, or if you’re looking for recommendations to pass along to the folks buying you gifts, you could do worse than to peruse Michael Sharp’s suggestions. In fact, I’ve ordered Andrew Ries’s For the Birds Crosswords book for someone on my list.
Steve Savoy’s New York Times crossword
This was the third-round puzzle at last weekend’s crossword tournament in Arlington Heights, Illinois. It’s … a quote theme. Which means it’s a bit of a slog to work through the grid and try to piece together the words in the quote and the name of the speaker.
18a: [Start of a quote about creativity by 58-Across/39-Down] and the subsequent theme clues get you IF AT FIRST / THE IDEA IS / NOT ABSURD, THEN / THERE IS NO / HOPE FOR IT.—ALBERT EINSTEIN. It’s an interesting quote but the various chunks of it in the puzzle, viewed separately, all sound … absurd. HOPE FOR IT! I’m generally not a fan of quote puzzles, and I’m relieved that we see so few of them in the NYT nowadays.
My favorite wrong answer from the tournament entrants’ papers: 44d: [Like the potatoes in shepherd’s pie], MINCED. Picture, if you will, someone taking whole potatoes and cutting them by hand into teeny, tiny minced pieces. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but a potato’s definitely a rather large thing to mince. It’s bigger than a clove of garlic. (Correct answer: MASHED.) Speaking of mashed potatoes, my sister’s friend suggests taking your holiday dinner leftovers and layering them in a casserole pan with mashed potatoes on the top, and heating it up the next for an all-in-one leftovers dish. Let me know if it’s any good, will you?
Rather sassy to balance EINSTEIN with a BORDELLO, no?
Awkward fill includes AFTA, SUER, STER, SKAT, ENA H-TEN (24d. [Coordinate in the game Battleship]), ORT, and AER-. How many of you have ever played that 38d. [Trick-taking game], SKAT? It’s a game I never hear about outside of crosswords.
Hardest to parse: 5d. [End of an academic 28-Across]—28a being URL—clues DOT EDU. This feels markedly less in-the-language to me than the dictionary-grade term dot-com.
2.9 stars from me.
Sarah Keller’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Where Are They?” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Four idiomatic phrases dealing with a location are where we “find” someone:
- [Where the husband who forgot his wife’s birthday was found?] was IN THE DOGHOUSE – I think the stereotype of the forgetful husband needs to be shared with the distaff half of couples as well, as it can’t only be husbands who forget birthdays.
- [Where the employee accused of embezzlement was found?] was UNDER A CLOUD – I would like to see “of suspicion” added here; “on cloud nine” would be a better cloud phrase that indicates a location, imo.
- [Where the girl who received a much-awaited marriage proposal was found?] clued OVER THE MOON – I think men can be “over the moon” over something as well (I guess I’m on the stereotype patrol today!)
- [Where the student who couldn’t decide between prelaw and premed was found?] clued AT A CROSSROADS – oddly specific example of an instance of indecision.
Fun idea of repurposing idioms that are based on locations, but I might take the cluing a step further and actually put the protagonist in that actual location. (Something like [Forgetful husband’s sleeping place shared with Fido?] I mean.) As far as the fill goes, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the verb “conga” in the past tense, so thought that -AED sequence of CONGAED looked very strange. I have a visceral reaction to seeing Cambodian’s Prime Minister Lon NOL in my puzzle, not unlike Idi Amin, as I don’t think having crossword-friendly letter sequences absolves them of their dictatorial rampages. A MOO as an uncommon partial, [“Here ___, there …” (“Old MacDonald” lyric)] wasn’t much better. LAKE TAHOE and BIKE ROUTE did help assuage things a bit.
Rick Papazian’s Los Angeles Times crossword
This puzzle’s long answers all start with words than can complete “-ROOM” as signified by GETAROOM. They are PLAYMATE, DELIVERYSERVICE, LEGLOCK, and BATHTEMPERATURE (is that a “thing”?).
The puzzle has impressively “big” corners. PAVLOVS is a quirky answer, cool-looking in the grid with two Vs’s, but kind of limited in how it’s clued! I can see RHEBOKS being tough if you are American, especially as the variant spelling REEBOKS is used for the shoes. I don’t think I’ve actually seen one, they aren’t among the commoner antelopes. I saw rietbokke on the farm I was at last weekend. INLOVE? BEAPAL is a curious two-line story about the friend zone! CYCLOPS was also a particularly interesting answer.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Closeout Sale”
This is one of those “this word can follow both parts of each theme answer” themes:
- 17a. [New York City skyscraper name], FLATIRON. Flatware = silverware/utensils; ironware = household things made of iron. (The latter is new to me.)
- 26a. [Place in the office for giving away unwanted junk], FREE TABLE. Freeware = software that costs nothing; tableware = dishes/glasses/utensils collectively.
- 38a. [Something from the whole gang], GROUP GIFT. Groupware = … hang on, let me look this up … software that facilitates collective work by a group; giftware = goods sold as gifts, rather vague. The category likely includes a lot of things prone to being regifted. “Oh, a vase! In a style that clashes with my design gestalt!”
- 54a. [Chalk, e.g.], SOFT STONE. Not sure how in-the-language SOFT STONE is; feels a little like a random adjective + noun pairing. Software = computer applications; stoneware = a type of pottery/ceramics. I have some hand-me-down stoneware plates.
- 65a. [Small telescope], SPYGLASS. Spyware = software that spies on users, v. nefarious; glassware = stemware, tumblers, old-fashioneds, etc.
- 72a. [Goods, and what might follow either word in 17-, 26-, 38-, 54-, and 65-Across], WARE.
Solid, if not entirely exciting, theme.
- 3d. [Villain’s laugh], “MWA HA HA!”
- 42d. [Philippine language], ILOCANO. Entirely obscure to most Americans, yes, but my mother-in-law speaks it so I like it.
- 46d. [Trendy term meaning lots and lots of information], BIG DATA.
- The ANN and ABBY cross-referenced advice-columnist sisters.
Did not know:
- 18d. [Woody Guthrie’s “___ Koch”], ILSA.
- 63a. [Early electronic composer Edgard], VARESE. I know the name from a record label, Varese Sarabande.