Yaakov BenDavid’s New York Times crossword, “Passing Grade”
The failing F is advanced to a D in this theme:
- 23a. [One who turned Cinderella’s pumpkin into pumpkin cheesecake?], DAIRY GODMOTHER.
- 49a. [Snorkeling bargain?], TWO DIVES FOR A TEN. *ahem* There is an unchanged F in this theme answer.
- 77a. [Transportation company that skimps on safety?], NO-DRILLS AIRLINE.
- 105a. [Stephen Hawking’s computer-generated voice?], SCIENCE DICTION. This clue feels off-base to me. Why not something to do with the actual diction of a scientist, such as Bill Nye or Neil DeGrasse Tyson (both on TV often) or Einstein? A computer-generated voice is not, in and of itself, diction.
- 15d. [Two things seen beside James Bond at a casino?], DISH AND CHIPS. I hate the word “dish” in this sense.
- 58d. [“Oh yeah? Let’s see you hold your breath for TWO minutes!,” e.g.?], DARE INCREASE.
Did not know: 5d. [Former 6’9″ N.B.A.’er Hayes, to fans], BIG E. Elvin, my husband says. Although NBAER shows up in the occasional crossword, good gravy! This “N.B.A.’er” monstrosity is ugly with all that punctuation.
While I do like MACHETE, MOLESKIN, COMO ESTA, BLONDE ALE, TWIX, LOVE NEST, BED OF ROSES, ORANGE OIL, RED ARMY, and JOB SEARCH, I felt like the Scowl-o-Meter got too much of a workout. One can argue that 1a: ADES isn’t really a stand-alone word, and it’s parked on top of the awkwardly plural LEFT SIDES and crosses the plural surname ALDAS. We have 6d: I DO TO (a partial) as well as 94d: SO DO I and nearby 96d: AS I AM (another partial). Crosswordese ANIL, STYE, PATEN; OTSEGO; partials A TEE and A LIE; nautical UNRIG and LATEEN; ILENE and SYD; roll-your-own JILTERS … all sorts of words with affixes (BALD+ER, AGITAT+ING, VILE+LY, NERF+S, and the abovementioned JILT+ER+S). With only six theme answers, I had hoped for more lovable fill. A few more black squares, a slightly higher word count, fewer blah bits.
Trip Payne’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 202”- Sam Donaldson’s review
The ACPT is just a couple of weeks away now, and based on today’s performance it looks like the top 200 are under no threat from me. This was a solve of fits and starts. Momentary breakthroughs with rapid, confident keystrokes followed by long lulls of open staring. At one gap I looked at the timer: 8:46. Not bad, not bad. But I was stuck, so I started looking around for other toeholds. When I came up empty I glanced again at the timer: 13:13. What?!? That was a four-and-a-half minute rabbit hole?!? No way. Uh oh. I can’t believe I haven’t been able to find anything in all this time. It’s not like I get distracted easily, like that guy I was sitting next to on the plane the other day who couldn’t seem to engage in any single activity for more than maybe five minutes. I’ve never seen anyone enter one number in an unsolved Sudoku grid only to set it down and dig into the Sky Mall catalog. I wonder how many people really buy anything from a Sky Mall catalog anyway. Is there a sizable segment of the population really craving a pillow with a built-in iPhone charger? Better yet, does anyone subscribe to Sky Mall magazine? That reminds me, I need to get my subscription to Will Shortz Presents WordPlay so I can get the first issue. Hey, I think Trip will have some puzzles in it. I really like Trip’s puzzles. Good thing I’ve already purchased his upcoming extravaganza–those are always so good. I should plug it in my write-up. Now, where was I? Oh yeah. What’s the time? CRAP!!
This 66/32 freestyle’s distinctive look comes from the cascading 11s running down the grid’s center, intersected by three 9s and a pair of 10s (a full house, in certain circles). The wide-open middle is set off by two really open corners–triple 7s feeding a 6-7-8 triple stack. The other two corners have limited access, and it was that northwest corner that proved to be my Waterloo. I hope I’m not the only one that had JEAN ARP as the [“Shirt Front and Fork” artist]. That was all kinds of wrong, and deep down I felt it. I mean, I knew AMOEBAE was the answer to the clever clue, [They multiply with division], so if JEAN ARP was right then the answer to [Store key of yore] must start with AO-. It also meant the answer to [Provide sanctuary to] would start with JA-, and that wasn’t ringing any bells. I took a flyer on ALOE as the [Word on some shampoo bottles], thinking maybe it was an attempt to give a new, hard clue to a common crossword answer. So yeah, that corner was a disaster. I finally scrapped JEAN ARP, thinking maybe Jean wasn’t his first name after all, and the freedom that came with deletion–coupled with taking a flyer on BLAB as the answer to [Be indiscreet, in a way]–eventually led me to figure out the corner. So the artist is HANS ARP and ye olde “store key” is NO SALE (say, that could be my favorite clue).
Luckily the open section fell a little more easily, though I struggled with terms unfamiliar to me, like FOREIGN FIRM and SAFARI SUIT, because they seemed awkward and kinda made up to me. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I had PENALTY CARD instead of LOYALTY CARD as the [Comparison-shopping discourager], largely because I had -ALTY CARD in place and figured the first word just had to be PENALTY even though it didn’t seem to mesh with the clue at all. At. All. And yet there sat PENALTY CARD in my grid for quite a while. Again, fellow ACPT contestants, you have nothing to worry about from me this year.
Stuff better suited to bullet points than full-on paragraphs:
- [Sandwich with three pieces of bread] is a great clue for BIG MAC. Notice the misdirection: I think only McDonald’s would call the Big Mac a “sandwich.” And I think most of us would call the “three pieces of bread” a “thick bun that’s been cut twice.” Though [Burger with a thick bun that’s been cut twice] would be more descriptive, I prefer the harder clue here.
- Another tough nugget in that damn northwest corner: [Reserve] as the clue for SET BY. That’s tough. But I loved the intersecting clue for RESTART, [Freezing solution]. And here I thought I was clever in thinking the solution would be some kind of coat or blanket.
- Was the clue for INE, [Saturn follower], a pain in your anus too?
- I loved how BEBE Neuwirth, Frasier’s ex-wife on Frasier, sits next to JANE Leeves, Niles’s wife on Frasier. A happy coincidence in the construction, I’m sure, but I’m not so sure every constructor and editor team would have seen it come time for cluing. But of course we’re in good hands with Trip and Peter.
Favorite entry = JAWBREAKERS, the [Hard candies] I so enjoyed as a kid. But a close second goes to ENERGY BAR, the [Luna product] I’m more apt to consume nowadays. Favorite clue = [Far from the front, maybe] for ON LEAVE.
Lynn Lempel’s CrosSynergy crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Very smooth 68-word themeless from the reigning queen of early-week themed puzzles. Is there anything that this constructor can’t do well?
I had a few false starts with this one:
- [Springtime dupe] led me to APRIL THAW before APRIL FOOL – I’m not too happy about the non-possessive form of this, what about you?
- I was thinking of cities not ROCK BANDS with the clue [Chicago and Boston] – nice misdirection there. In fact, let’s take a listen to my hometown band and a staple of my adolescence.
- I actually spent some time wondering who “Guy Craig” or “Craig Guy” might be and why he’s leaning from the answer CRAIG to the clue [Guy with a list]. Umm, it’s this.
- [Like those who missed the group photo shoot] was NOT SHOWN, not NOT THERE.
- RANCH HAND before HIRED HAND for [Farmworker].
- Are YEA SAYERS a common name for “yes men”? I do like its gender non-specificity.
Nothing CRAPPY about this one! Probably my FAVE of the lot was [“At least that’s a start”] for ONE DOWN. Nice crossword-y meta reference as well. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “IQ Test”
First up: SPAHI?!? What? I don’t recall ever seeing this 105a. [Algerian soldier] in a crossword before. The word doesn’t even look particularly Arabic or Berber to me. You’d better know your French phrases or that P is hard to come by; 99d. [La Belle ___] clues EPOQUE, French for “epoch.” Tough zone.
The theme answers all contain the letter sequence IQ:
- 22a. [Bod examples?], PHYSIQUES.
- 24a. [Flow slowers], TOURNIQUETS.
- 46a. [Bar order], BANANA DAIQUIRI.
- 68a. [Groundbreaking book of 1963], THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE, by Betty Friedan. Great center to a puzzle.
- 90a. [Brief note?], DEMISEMIQUAVER. Lots of question-marked theme clues. Well, two, anyway.
- 116a. [Snits], FITS OF PIQUE.
- 120a. [Convert into cash], LIQUIDATE.
- 23d. [Angioplasties and such], SURGERY TECHNIQUES. I don’t like this at all. “Surgical techniques” is much smoother.
- 25d. [Specially suited], UNIQUELY QUALIFIED.
Five more things:
- 13d. [Higher number on a tag], PRICE HIKE. Wait: When does a price increase ever show up on a tag that still has a lower price on it? The clue suggests “the higher of two numbers,” no? And the price hike is the increase, it’s not a “number.”
- 48d. [Turkish statesman Ismet (anagram of UNION)], INONU. Ouch. See also: 119d. [Burmese leader, 1907-95], U NU.
- 61d. [Sherlock Holmes portrayer Jeremy ___], BRETT. Was his show also aired on PBS in the US, or was it strictly a British TV series? Football’s Brett Favre, actress/comedian Brett Butler—these are my go-to BRETTs. Didn’t know Jeremy.
- 66d. [Finger-painter], SMEARER. Have you ever once used this word outside of a crossword?
- 69d. [Baseball advice, “___ where they ain’t”], HIT ‘EM. Hit them (the balls) where they (the other team’s players) ain’t.
There are lots of nice 7s in the grid, including SOMEHOW, FROZE UP, ARMOIRE, NATASHA, and even a long but poetic partial, 93d. [“The woods are lovely, dark ___” (Frost)], AND DEEP. The oddness of INONU and SPAHI were a little more prominent in this solver’s head than the good stuff was, unfortunately.
Mike Peluso’s syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “Kidding Pool”
Turn “kiddy (or kiddie) pool” into “Kidding Pool,” and turn other final -Y syllables into -ING for this theme:
- 22a. [Taking inventory at the Tropicana plant?], ORANGE COUNTING.
- 39a. [Miniature golf with clowns and windmills?], SILLY PUTTING.
- 57a. [Boxer catching flies?], SHAGGING DOG. Baseball “flies,” not bugs.
- 81a. [Making bad wagers?], UGLY BETTING.
- 98a. [Part of a supermarket uniform?], BAGGING PANTS.
- 119a. [Nocturnal animal in a hammock?], ROCKING RACCOON.
- 30d. [Putting Tonka Trucks in the attic?], TOY STORING. The base here is Toy Story, not toy store.
- 53d. [Gently tossing rifles?], GUN LOBBING.
This theme plays out quite well. It’s a fresh concept, the base phrases are really a lively batch (Orange County, Silly Putty, shaggy dog, Ugly Betty, baggy pants, “Rocky Raccoon,” Toy Story, and gun lobby), and the -ING phrases are all clued plausibly.
A couple things caught my eye in a bad way:
- 9d. [Rocker __ Jovi], BON. No. “Rocker” connotes an individual, and Bon Jovi is the name of the band. Jon Bon Jovi is the rocker in question.
- 43d. [Lean], LIST right near 68a. [Listing], ATILT. Why not [Leaning] for the latter?
Favorite entry: 65d. [Converses, e.g., slangily], TENNIES. In Chicago, they’re called gym shoes; this is one of those terms that marks people very specifically by the place they grew up.
Lots of fill felt blah to me. Right in the 1-Across corner, DLR, ERN, and old-reference RIGBY crossing GLORIA clued as part of a Latin hymn title. OGEE, OSA, GOA, Italian ANGELI, YOST crossing ASSAI, MGBS, EHLE crossing EBRO, SADR crossing TWO-A, EN-LAI crossing ALAI? It gave me a 1990s-puzzle vibe rather than a 2010s one.
3.5 stars despite the fill, though. Two thumbs up for the well-executed theme.
Henry Hook’s CRooked crossword, “Don’t Knock It” — pannonica’s write-up
It’s a quote theme. In six segments, which is not uncommon. What is uncommon is the arrangement: a down pair, an across pair, and finally another down pair. Impressively, the two vertical pairs are stacked—though perhaps not-so coincidentally I had some difficulty solving those sections (more on this later).
The quote’s author appears vertically in the center, at 39-down: RENATA ADLER.
The quote? IF YOU’RE GOING | TO BE A CRITIC IT | ISN’T REALLY FAIR | NOT TO HAVE TRIED | THE THING YOU’RE | WRITING ABOUT. (2d, 3d, 42a, 92a, 55d, 62d)
What am I to make of this? As you may know, I haven’t constructed any crosswords yet week after week I write about them here at Amy’s blog. This is a fact not lost on some, and for which some of those some have given me heat. Make of that what you will. Also, Renata Adler is described by Wikipedia as “an American author, journalist, and film critic,” but of course in her long and distinguished professional time she hasn’t made any films, and somehow I doubt she’s tried.
I thought the quote might be part of her famously excoriating review of film critic Pauline Kael’s 1980 collection When the Lights Go Down, but it appears to have come from an interview she did last year on Kurt Andersen’s Studio 360 radio program, on the occasion of the reissuing of her two acclaimed 1970s novels, Speedboat and Pitch Dark (which I’ve been meaning to read, so I’m glad of the reminder). Not finding a transcript of the interview, so I can’t provide additional context for the quote without listening to it—perhaps later.
So, now that I’ve discussed basic context, it’s time to critically pan the puzzle. No, I’m not being glib and facetious, I really found too many parts of it to be sloggish and unfair.
As mentioned before, the vicinities of the stacked themers, the upper left and lower right margins, were fairly knotty—especially with the proviso that until the theme was completed a string of two letters were blank in each crossing entry. On the right side, we get such gems as 105a [Garnet used in laser technology] YAG, 91a [2009 Super Bowl number] XLIII, suffix -ENNE (96a), the interesting but arcane 116a [Fractional] ALIQUOT, the poorly-clued 120a [“It’s gaining on us!”] for LET’S RUN (I suppose the implication is that we were already walking, but that wasn’t so clear); I was so flustered by the persisting white squares that 85a [Two-by-fours?] took much longer than it should have to reveal EIGHTS.
Swinging over to the left, we get another Roman numeral with the vague 56a [Evening hour, in a way] VII, 31a [1970s Chinese premier] HUA Guofeng, 26a [Walk like a pigeon] for TOE IN (which strikes me as more commonly a hyphenated noun or adjective than a verb describing walking—not to mention toenailing in carpentry, in which one can TOE IN a nail), another interesting but rather obscure entry in DYBBUKS at 23a [Disembodied souls, in Judaism], the vexing-with-missing-letters mini three-worder 19a I FOR ONE [“Personally …”] (which incidentally crosses the similarly vexing 4d [Treat, Biblically] DO UNTO); even the unassuming 49a [Gambling games] LOTTOS and 72a [Gut reaction?] AGITAS ended up being recondite under the circumstances. Confession: it didn’t help that I’d mindlessly filled in MAYA for 64a [Subject of Atahualpa] despite the later revelation in the cross-referencing 71a [Home of 64-Across] PERU, which incidentally is located back in that troublesome right side area.
Elsewhere in the grid, there are desultory nasty crossings such as 43d [DHS division] TSA and 47a [Fe, in Frankfurt] EISEN (that’s iron)—it’s a lapse to have thought DHS was something like ‘Department of Human Services’ but in truth I encounter it almost exclusively as the full Department of Homeland Security (and in truth I try to forget about it as much as possible). Then the unnecessarily toughly clued 7d BESET with [Hem in] and the rare-even-in-crosswords 13d [Danube feeder] ENNS both crossing 24a [Ranks] which looked like this with those missing letters: –TATIO–S … sure, it looks like it should be STATIONS but the clue isn’t as helpful as it could be—that’s Stumper-level frustration, except that ENNS probably wouldn’t pass muster there.
- Oh, the puzzle’s title is meant to evoke the saying, “Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.”
- 75a [Re deportment] BEHAVIORAL. Great fill, but why use re like that?
- 99a [“__ libre”] VERS. This
LatinFrench version of “free verse” wouldn’t have been quite so tough had I recalled that clues in quotes are often renderings of italicized ones in the print edition of this puzzle. Also, I couldn’t help but think of cuba libre, especially after 36a [Options for Cokes] RC COLAS. Incidentally, in my world there are no “options” for Cokes. Just like the very specific recipe for the cuba libre, for me Coke means Coca-Cola (which is how I’m always sure to request it on those rare occasions when I have soda) and cola means all colas including Coke.
- Nifty triple-eight stacks top and bottom center: BREATHED, EARPHONE, STATIONS and the super SOUR MASH, SYBARITE, RATLINE.
- Also liked the symmetrical pair of 6d [Optimal] BEST-CASE and 90d [Gravity-operated trap] DEADFALL.
- Good trivia that I already knew: 51a [Literally, “empty orchestra”] KARAOKE. It breaks down as kara- (empty, as in kara-te, empty hand) and –ōke (which is a shortened form of the Japanized ōkesutora).
- 8d [“Phooey!”] RATS, 12d [Nonsense] HOOEY.
- Happy that 109d [Dashiell Hammett’s “The __ Curse”] DAIN was a gimme, even though it would have been easy via the crossings.
- Fitting, for this solver, that the very last clue was 106d [“(I Can’t) __ Satisfaction”] GET NO. Here’s Cat Power’s subversive interpretation.