Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword — Matt’s review
I didn’t spot the trick here until the revealer, which is what’s supposed to happen. But I knew there was something brewing, since five grid-spanning theme entries is an awful lot, and they’re vertical instead of horizontal, so there’s gotta be a reason for that. They are:
3-D [Expansionist doctrine] = MANIFEST DESTINY. As the great Roland Orzabal put it, everybody wants to rule the world.
4-D [Election loser’s cry] = I DEMAND A RECOUNT. Great entry, but who ever wins on the recount?
7-D [Text on tablets] = TEN COMMANDMENTS. Old-school tablets there, not those iPads folks carry around.
9-D [Big 1975 boxing showdown] = THRILLA IN MANILA. Ali vs. Frazier. Ali won.
11-D [Darwin work … with a hint to three consecutive letters in 3-, 4-, 7-, 9- and 11-Down] = THE DESCENT OF MAN. We’re all apes! Don’t tell anybody.
So you can see the word MAN descending in orderly fashion through the five theme entries, as illustrated in the solution grid.
Let’s appreciate the masterful touches here: 1) the key trio of letters in the five theme entries progresses uniformly through the grid, instead of arbitrarily; 2) there are five 15-letter entries involved, which is visually pleasing for consistency’s sake. The authors could have snuck a couple 11’s in at the second and fourth theme columns and no one would have complained, but this looks nicer. 3) This one is the really nice flourish: the final entry is both the revealer and the logical final piece to the puzzle, as MAN occupies the bottom three rows in the grid, and THE DESCENT OF MAN tells us what we’re looking for.
It certainly doesn’t have to be done that way; for example, in a very fine 2011 example of this theme type, Joel Fagliano used a central revealer that wasn’t part of the theme itself. Which is completely legit and in fact the normal way to do it, but it’s also cool that Mary Lou and Jeff found a perfect 15-letter phrase that both explains and finishes off the theme. Bravo.
Now, let’s take a look at the fill. With a quintet of grid-spanners already in place, it’s going to be tough to keep this clean; let’s see if our constructors can limit the carnage. First, the good stuff: RUBIK, STIR UP, OH THAT?, KAFKA, HIT UP, SONY, HYATT, PANINI and ASHANTI. Not bad work sneaking a little elegance in there amongst those five giants.
And yeah, there are some grid compromises, as expected, but they’ve been kept to acceptable levels. The Five Worst Entries Test produces ASSADS, ESSES, OUT A, A TUNE and ERNE, which isn’t bad considering the theme constraints. I’m much more forgiving of rough patches when the theme is ambitious and interesting, as here, than when it’s pedestrian, as it was yesterday
The clues seemed less musty than yesterday’s, though as I look through them now I see that, yet again, not a single one of them couldn’t have been written 10 years ago. Actually, not true: [“The Rachael Ray Show” creation] for MEAL works, since that show debuted in 2006, eight years ago. But still.
Clues I liked: hmm, well. [Gator’s tail?] is good for ADE, but that’s the third time this exact clue has been used for this answer in the NYT in 2014, so no points there. [One with a checkered existence?] for CAB is good, though the phrase is “checkered past,” not “checkered existence.” Not much else fun here, so the clues are pretty lifeless on the whole.
Excellent theme, excellent execution of said theme, very good fill considering everything, just OK clues: 4.45 stars. That’s a very nice crossword.
Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Backrest”—Ade’s write-up
Welcome to Hump Day once again!
Today’s puzzle being a Bob Klahn grid meant that I went straight to putting my thinking cap on while going to battle with the tough clues that I was sure to encounter! The grid’s theme was straightforward enough, with each of the theme answers containing a letter combination of T-S-E-R, or the word “rest” backwards. After getting the first two theme answers at the top relatively quickly, the other two themes (which were harder for me to get) became a little easier to chip away at knowing that I had four of the letters given to me.
- GET SERIOUS: (18A: [Stop fooling around]) – Something that I rarely do!
- CONCERT SERIES: (27A: [Kennedy Center package])
- KNIGHTS ERRANT: (45A: [They traveled widely in search of adventure])
- LIST SERVER: (59A: [It can distribute daily digests])
Of all of the answers that I got in which I pulled it out of my, um, posterior, the one I was proud of the most without needing any of the crossings was ABERDEEN (6D: [Scotland’s “Granite City”]). Don’t know why or how the word/city popped in my mind, but thank goodness that it did. BOTTICELLI was not one that readily came into my head, at least as a game, but it was a fun entry to gaze at in the grid (3D: [Yes-no guessing game]). Also, how awesome was the sight of IDIOT LIGHT (29D: [Dash bulb for a dim bulb])? Well, if you own a car that constantly needs service and has idiot lights flashing on the dash like Christmas lights, like my Ford Taurus, then an idiot light is far from an awesome sight. What a great piece of information in the clue to UNICORN (10D: [Genghis Khan reportedly decided not to conquer India after meeting one on a mountaintop]). That’s the type of clue/answer combination that makes you stop for a couple of minutes and ruminate over it, which I totally did after that one. Overall, I didn’t struggle too much with the grid, despite my time suggesting as such. (Anything under 25 minutes for a Klahn puzzle is considered hyper speed for me.) Now it’s time to think about the COMBO that I might get for breakfast and/or lunch today (1D: [Fast-food twofer]).
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: ODOR (14A: [“What died?” elicitor]) – First of all, what an amazing clue, and totally was on the answer the second I saw it. This season in Major League Baseball saw the MLB debut of minor league prospect Rougned ODOR (pronounced oh-DOOR), a Venezuelan second baseman for the Texas Rangers. Seeing his name on the back of his jersey for the first time made me do a double take, until I heard his name pronounced and it sounded different from the typical pronunciation of the word. As for the player himself, he hit .259 with 9 home runs and 48 RBI in 114 games for the Rangers this season.
Have fun for the rest of the day, and I’ll see you tomorrow!
Tyler Hinman’s American Values Club Crossword, “Drink Up!”–Sam Donaldson’s review
It’s a rebus, but it’s not really a rebus. Does that make it a faux-bus? 38-Across identifies KEG STANDS as [Campus party maneuvers, and features of six answers in this puzzle]. In six Across answers, you’re tempted to write KEG into a single square. (Hence the “ah, this is a rebus” sensation.) But with the crossing Downs, you realize that the K-E-G letter sequence “stands” upright, with only the letter G used in the Down answers. (Hence the “well, wait, this ain’t a rebus after all” sensation.) Ultimately, I left just the G in the six affected squares, and Crossword Solver told me I got it all right. So I’m declaring victory.
It might help to enumerate the crossing theme entries:
- To STRI(KE G)OLD is to [Get rich quick]. Here the KEG would need to fit into a single square. But it crosses KEGISELE, what appears to be a nonsense answer to [Scapegoat for some dumb New England Patriots fans]. But it’s really a KEG standing on GISELE Bundchen, the spouse of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
- TUS(KEG)EE is the [Alabama town with many connections to the civil rights movement], and here the KEG stands atop [Role-playing game pioneer Gary] GYGAX, resulting in the answer KEGYGAX. Imagine the Scrabble points you could get for that!
- Soren KIR(KEG)AARD is the [Philosopher who wrote “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom”]. Here the KEG stands on the G in PLUG, the answer to my favorite clue from the puzzle, [“Find more great clues like this in the author’s Winner Circle Crosswords!,” e.g.]. The resulting answer looks like PLUKEG, which, in turn, sounds like a Norwegian breakfast dish.
- The answer to [Prepared to build] is BRO(KE G)ROUND, and the crossing KEG stands on the G in LAG, the [Streaming annoyance]. That gives us LAKEG, which eerily resembles another lake entry coming up in a couple of bullet points.
- To [Succeed] is to MA(KE G)OOD, and the crossing KEG stands on the G in BOGEY, the [Scorecard blemish] that’s not nearly as bad as most of the blemishes I enter on a golf scorecard (there’s a reason my golf nickname is Mr. Snowman). That gives us BOKEGEY, a great name for a fraternity band.
- LA(KE G)EORGE is an [Upstate New York vacation spot], and to [Successfully prank] someone is to GET someone. With KEG on top we get KEGET, which looks like an alternative pelvic exercise.
I always appreciate how Tyler advances the art of crosswords. This strikes me a novel hybrid of the rebus (shape or multiple letters in a square) and visual interpretation (the word KEG literally stands in the grid) forms, both of which we have seen many times before. Not all crossword gimmicks lend themselves to mash-ups, and in less capable hands I fear this one could have been a disaster. But while it took me some time to figure out exactly what was happening with those Downs, and while I might have appreciated the puzzle even more if the six thematic Gs were the only Gs in the grid, I found it a very satisfying solve.
Keep in mind you have 13 theme entries here (occupying 79 squares!), and while the crossing KEG/G squares aren’t symmetrically placed, the six themed Across answers are. And yet you don’t see obscure fill or other signs of compromise. Indeed, you get fun entries like BIG TUNA, UNMASKS, VALPAK, and BR’ER BEAR. That’s the sure sign of a pro, people.
Oh yeah–Amy normally assigns a star rating that’s impossible for readers to submit using the voting menu. I should follow suit. Let’s see, innovative mash-up, intricate construction, solid clues. Check, check, and check. I’ll go with 4.724 stars.
Jeff Stillman’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review
An oddball phrase-completion theme today. Theme phrases begin with [___ ECLIPSE] words. They form two pairs, as the most commonly referred-to eclipses are LUNAR or SOLAR. Any eclipse in turn can be PARTIAL or TOTAL.
- [Rooftop energy generators], SOLARPANELS
- [Removable denture], PARTIALPLATE. I haven’t got to the point in my where I’m au fait with dental equipment…
- [Apollo 11 achievement], LUNARLANDING
- [Eidetic memory], TOTALRECALL. Small bonus for using the word “eidetic” in the clue.
- [Subject of a historic 1919 sports deal, with “The”], BABE. I thought he was much more recent than that… Like the 50’s or so. You can be shocked, provided you can tell me with which decade George Headley is most associated…
- [Farrier’s file], RASP. Horses also get their teeth filed with a rasp. Ouchy!
- [Mushy food], PAP. You can order a KFC pap meal here… Pap specifically being maize meal. Definitely a good choice for those looking for satiety for cheap.
- [“Bloom County” reporter], MILO. Haven’t learnt this from crosswords yet. Apparently an 80’s US comic strip…
- [Fraud], CHARLATAN. Nice vocab! [Filled with rage], IREFUL and [State of seclusion], ALONENESS on the other hand, are more clunky.