If you’re one of Santa’s elves and you’re dreading staying up late wrapping presents, take heart! Today, I told my kid, “I heard Santa’s elves are going to be cutting back on the gift wrap this year. They’re going green.” He was glad to hear it—and now I don’t have to wrap! Am quite proud of my industrious laziness. Go green!
Alan Arbesfeld’s New York Times crossword, “Inside Dope”
This puzzle was a bit of a snore, truth be told. The theme’s inspiration is the phrase “inside dope,” interpreted as “inside” INFO hidden within assorted phrases. The theme entries are clued straightforwardly, for the most part, and puzzle is not long on humor. The bulk of the fill is stuff I’ve seen before, sometimes too many times (e.g., 32D: SLOANE/[Everett of “Citizen Kane”]). The grid was maybe a little heavy on people’s names, which made it easy for me but might’ve driven the anti-names-in-crosswords folks nuts. 93A was completely unknown to me, though—RENEE [___ Vivien, British poet known as the Muse of the Violets].
Oddly enough, I finished this puzzle up by 1-Across. The [Crib cry] is “WAAH,” which is of indeterminate spelling, and which could also have been MAMA. 1D didn’t help me—[Target of salicylic acid] is a WART, but salicylic acid’s also in aspirin, which has its own targets, and in acne medicines. 3D is ABIE, the [Title fellow in a 1922 Broadway hit], Abie’s Irish Rose, and 4D has the generic clue [Shop tools] for HANDSAWS. Kind of a weird bunch of clues for the starting corner—I quickly moved along to 5A ISIAH Thomas and his crosses.
By the way, if you wondered why the applet time differs from what I’m reporting, it’s because my browser spun its wheels idly for 12 seconds. Honest.
I loved seeing the chatty “HELLO AGAIN” (16D: [“Oh, you’re back”]) and “OKEY-DOKEY (74A: [“You Bet”]). There are a bunch of question-marked clues for shortish answers, but they tended not to be too tough. [Lab inspector?] is a VET(erinarian), [Takes to the hills?] is SKIS, [Meteor trailer?] is -OID, and [Having I trouble?] is EGOCENTRIC—these feel familiar. [One who might be left holding the bag?] is not the usual clue for AIDE, but then, AIDE is a boring little word. I do like the tricky [Counter view?] clueing the bar STOOLS seen along a counter.
Some of the theme answers felt a little iffy as crossword-worthy phrases. Here’s the full set:
- 23A. [It has a large canopy] clues the RAIN FOREST.
- 25A. PLAIN FOLKS are [Average Joes].
- 35A. [Republicans in 2008] were MCCAIN FOLLOWERS. This and 25A don’t quite pass the bar as fill…or, if they pass it, they’re laboriously pulling themselves over the bar rather than vaulting over it like an OKEY-DOKEY does.
- 55A. [Busboy’s assignment] is NAPKIN FOLDING. Is that a thing? Or is it just noun + verb?
- 78A. [Stop a trip?] clues REGAIN FOOTING. Again, stumbling over the bar rather than vaulting.
- 96A. TOPSPIN FOREHAND is a [Rafael Nadal specialty]. Never heard of it, but my husband, who pays more attention to tennis than I do, gives it the thumbs-up.
- 112A. [Expect, everything considered] is BARGAIN FOR. The preposition looks sad dangling there like that. I’m feeling as if I usually see this in the “more than he bargained for” past tense.
- 114A. JOIN FORCES is clued as [Unite].
Merl Reagle’s syndicated (Philadelphia Inquirer) crossword, “Puzzle Party”
The note accompanying this puzzle reads: The crossword puzzle turns 96 years old Monday, Dec. 21, so here’s a puzzle celebrating the first word across in that first-ever 1913 brainteaser. That word is FUN, and it appears in 15 theme entries (I’ve circled the hidden FUNs in my answer grid):
- 22A. FUNK AND WAGNALLS are a [Reference duo]. Bring in da noise, bring in da Funk, bring in da Wagnalls.
- 25A. [Big bay east of Maine] is the Bay of FUNDY. In the plural, that’s Fundies brand edible underwear or fundamentalists.
- 31A. TV puts the FUN in DYSFUNCTIONAL: [Like George or Kramer on “Seinfeld”].
- 48A. ALLEN FUNT of Candid Camera is clued as a [Reality show pioneer, perhaps]. Interesting slant.
- 56A. Never heard of this one. THE FUNERAL is a [1996 gangster film starring Christopher Walken].
- 65A. “FUN, FUN, FUN” is a [Beach Boys hit]. See also: 89A.
- 79A. FUNNEL CAKE, the [Carnival treat], is gross. There are better ways to execute the fried dough concept.
- 89A. Annette FUNICELLO is a [Beach-movie fave].
- 102A. Love this answer: TOSHIRO MIFUNE is an [Icon of samurai cinema].
- 115A. FUNGO is a [Type of bat used in baseball practice]. I have no idea, really, what a fungo bat is. I acknowledge that “fungo” is an awesome word, though. There’s fun, and go, and a general air of mongo fungus.
- 117A. OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN is clued [From who-knows-where]. In medicine, FUO is short for “fever of unknown origin.”
- 3D. That’s right: Merl’s got four Down theme answers, and each one intersects two other Across theme answers. I’m not sure how Merl managed that. There’s not room for anything really FUN in the non-theme fill, and some of the short stuff is pretty “meh.” But the themers are cool. FUNAMBULIST is the big-vocabulary way of saying [Tightrope walker].
- 15D. FUNICULAR is a [Railway of suspended cable cars]. I think I rode one in Prague, or maybe just looked at it.
- 70D. One sort of [Tree growth] is a SHELF FUNGUS. This “Steve, Don’t Eat It” post is perhaps the most entertaining tale of a shelf fungus in existence.
- 81D. “NO REFUNDS” is an [“All sales final” policy]. Aw, that’s a downer of a way to end the theme.
At 12D, JAS. is clued as [Madison or Monroe: abbr.]. Back in the day, my folks were listed in the phone book under “Zekas, Jas.” and my mom had a friend who assumed my dad’s real name was Jasper. (Like Madison and Monroe, of course, he was named James.)
Alan Arbesfeld’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Loose Lady”
In contrast to his NYT puzzle that I didn’t like, this Arbesfeld theme is more successful. The theme is “RUNAROUND SUE”—120A: [1961 #1 hit for Dion, and a literal hint to this puzzle’s hidden theme]—and the other seven theme entries have SUE running around their edges, either SU___E or S___UE. The answer phrases are a lively bunch:
- 23A. SHRIMP BISQUE is a [Seafood restaurant starter].
- 38A. SENTIMENTAL VALUE is an [Heirloom quality].
- 54A. SULFUR DIOXIDE is an [Acid rain component].
- 84A. In Latin, SUMMA CUM LAUDE means [Literally, “with highest praise”]. I’ll bet at least five of my readers graduated summa cum laude.
- 101A. [The world’s longest crosses Japan’s Akashi Strait] is a trivia clue for SUSPENSION BRIDGE. If you dig civil engineering feats, you can read up on the bridge here. It’s over 2 miles long and took 12 years to build.
- 16D. My favorite clue in the puzzle is this one: [Nickname heard in Manhattan]. It’s SUNFLOWER STATE, the Manhattan in question being a town in Kansas, not the NYC borough. Kept me guessing until the crossings led the way.
- 50D. The SUMMER SOLSTICE is a [June observance]. The winter solstice is coming up on Monday evening. Nothing like the days getting longer…as January weather sets in and says “Ha ha! The cold and snow are just getting started, sucker!”
What I do not like about this puzzle is the title and the three two-word, 6-letter phrases in the upper left corner of the grid. Oh, and the ELATER, 26D: [One who gets you up], which is now making me think of two 6-letter pharmaceutical brands. That’s not much to GROUSE about, mind you. I do like the BAHAMAS/RIOT ACT and INERTIA/MODESTY corners, REINED IN (boring letters but a good verb phrase), and these two whiz-bang answers: THE WAVE (11D: [It’s caused by standing fans]) and SQUAWK (102D: [Bellyache].
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Boston Globe crossword, “Digital Display”
This one’s got all sorts of echoes. The theme is, yes, another hidden-word theme. This time it’s a TOE in each of 10 theme entries, tied together by the explanatory 50D: TEN TOES are [What this grid’s Acrosses have]. Those 10 toes appear in Van Gogh’s THE POTATO EATERS, the Latin phrase COGITO ERGO SUM, author UMBERTO ECO, TIC-TAC-TOE, TOMATOES, the AUTO EXPO, MISTLETOE, author Fyodor DOSTOEVSKY, PHOTOELECTRIC, and the movie (and novel) WAITING TO EXHALE.
Besides the “another hidden-word theme” echo, there are these:
- Brendan Quigley’s NYT puzzle on Friday had TOE JAM. Toes! They’re everywhere. Time to get the crossword a pedicure.
- Dan Fisher’s Wall Street Journal puzzle on Friday had a hidden-TOY theme. Our pal Fyodor was there, too, but with his DOSTOYEVSKY spelling.
- HEX is a curse or [Whammy], and also the portmanteau of Henry Rathvon and Emily Cox. They are, of course, the Brangelina of crosswords.
EMO-POP, or 25D: [Upbeat punk kin], is a new word for me. P. DIDDY and ZOUNDS both look great in the grid. One of my favorite clue/answer combos here is 104A: [Towhee hue] for RUFOUS, the rusty color seen on the bird‘s side. I suspect not everyone’s mom made a point of teaching them about this bird; mine did.
Patrick Jordan’s Washington Post/CrosSynergy “Sunday Challenge”
Let’s run through some clues and answers:
- 14A. Eddie Murphy’s AXEL FOLEY is a [Transplanted Detroit detective of film], the film in question being Beverly Hills Cop. Gotta like a “detective of film” clue that’s for ’80s movies and not ’40s movies.
- 18A. [Zeus visited her as a shower of gold] clues DANAE. (No comment.)
- 31A. [“Beau Geste” extras] are ARABS.
- 36A. Nice to see OVERJOYED in the grid. [Thrilled to pieces] is the clue.
- 47A. LBJ is a [1960s D.C. trigram].
- 54A. This clue kept me guessing for a while. The [Vessel with a spout] is a GRAVY BOAT.
- 1D. HALE is [Frail’s rhyming antonym].
- 23D. CHARD is a [Large-leafed beet]. Also short for Chardonnay.
- 37D. JOURNEY is clued as [“Only the Young” band]. Say what? My husband and I were teenagers in the ’80s and don’t know this song. Ah, Google tells me it’s from 1986, when we were in college and far too sophisticated for the likes of Journey.
- 42D. JAPAN is the country whose [anthem is “The Reign of Our Emperpr”]. Did not know that!
- 49D. Also did not know the New York JETS are a [Gridiron group that began as the Titans].