This winter, I edited T Campbell’s huge (50×50) crossword, the Ubercross “Fiddy.”. You can solve it online at that link if your monitor is biiig, or you can set yourself up with a hard copy for $14.99. (Makes a nice gift for a crossword lover, but maybe not one with a dainty sensibility.) Constructor T has been profiled in the Virginian-Pilot newspaper. Will Shortz provides background info on other giant crosswords. Check it out.
Alex Boisvert’s New York Times crossword
Ahh, a perfect Tuesday crossword. Smooth fill and clues, nothing too tough? Check. Theme entries you can (mostly) get from their straightforward clues? Check. Theme that’s completely obvious from the get-go? Nope. There I was, working the crossings to piece together the answer to 58-Across, and finally the theme’s purpose dawned on me. Aha! And there you have it—your crossword “aha” moment, a treat that not every puzzle delivers.
Maybe I’d have caught onto the theme sooner if the rest of the puzzle had put up a fight, but I whooshed through the grid and kept my mind occupied with enjoyment of the overall fill.
58A is KIND OF BLUE, a Miles Davis album that describes the first words of these theme answers:
- 17A. The POWDER ROOM is a [Place to freshen up]. Powder blue.
- 22A. [Sport involving a chute] is SKYDIVING. With the SK part in place, heli-skiing intruded into my brain and made it hard to summon up the right answer. Sky blue.
- 37A. [Britney Spears’s debut hit] was “BABY, ONE MORE TIME.” (Maybe the comma isn’t part of the title, but if it isn’t, it should be.) Baby blue is pretty close to both powder blue and sky blue.
- 45A. The NAVY SEALS are an [Elite military group], and navy blue finally takes us out of pastel territory.
I like the wide-open feeling of those six zones on the left and right sides of the grid, and I like the general Scrabbliness of the venture. Highlights include a slew of answers—SPLENDOR and SPORK, MEWL and the MOJAVE, GINSENG and VEGAN, musical names NATALIE Cole, JIMI Hendrix, and SADE. Favorite clues include 21A: [French-speaking African nation] GABON (I’m a sucker for geography clues) and 52D: [Early Jesse Jackson hairdo] for AFRO.
Among the dim spots, we have UNGLUES in the present tense. The adjective unglued is great, but how exactly does one UNGLUE something? Little bits of crosswordese pepper the grid and may make beginning solvers scowl—the ORNE ([Caen’s river]), SMEE ([“Peter Pan” pirate]), and ELIA ([Director Kazan]). These are far outweighed by the good stuff, though. Two thumbs up for this Tuesday puzzle.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Repeat Offenders”
The theme is names and titles in which a given letter is repeated 3 to 7 times. Of the seven theme entries (split among eight answer spaces), I was familiar with just four. The teeny middle of the puzzle was like quicksand as a result. Here are the theme answers:
- 1a. [1973 snake movie starring Dirk Benedict] is SSSSSSS. A classssic.
- 16a. [Former Campbell’s Soup slogan] is “MM-MM, GOOD.” We could also have had the three-M “MMM-Bop.”
- 23a. [With 31-across, quadruple platinum R&B album of 1992] clues OOOOOOOHHH / ON THE TLC TIP. Yow. That second half was not easy for me to assemble. The OOOOOOOHHH crossings at least didn’t put up a fight.
- 42a. [1953 Looney Tunes short where a student daydreams] should have been more obvious than it was, but I got Taz on the mind and turned a student’s nap into something about TAZZZZ. Er, no. It’s “FROM A TO ZZZZ.” Makes perfect sense with the clue, even if few of us could be expected to know the cartoon title off the top of our heads.
- 47a. [Some all-female band members] are RIOT GRRRLS. I hereby declare myself to be a Riot Grrrl of the crosswords division.
- 61a. [1990’s “Groove Is In the Heart” dance band] is DEEE-LITE.
- 67a. [Last name of Southern rapper Bubba] is SPARXXX. I had no idea.
The little space between TLC TIP and FROM A killed me. Sure, 38A is AS I, no problem. But 32D: [“The other,” in Spanish] and 33D: [Newspaper published since 1908, for short] killed me. I tried EL OTRO for the first one but it turned out to be LA OTRA. And for the paper, the date seemed wrong for NYT (not to mention the middle letter was an S), so I tried WSJ. Does the Christian Science Monitor really have a well-known abbreviation, CSM? Oy.
Mr. SPARXXX was no gimme for me, either. One of his crossings, 63D: [Transatlantic MTV honor, for short], stopped me cold. EMA? What is that, European Music Award?
I much admire the ZZZZ string in the puzzle. Where else can you combine Looney Tunes with the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, Korean War–style DMZS, a stuporous DAZE, and the early-’80s New Wave band Split ENZ? And am I the only survivor of the early ’80s for whom Split Enz and Haircut 100 are filed in the same corner of the brain?
Patrick Jordans’ CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Looking for Mr. Right”—Janie’s review
Well, this grid looks to be like something that Match.com might want to link to. The first word of each of the four lively theme phrases is an adjective describing a quality one might be looking for in a partner. Patrick suggests that “Mr. Right” be handsome, funny, rich, and smart; we find this wish-list in:
17A. HANDSOME SUM [It’s not chicken feed]. BUCK is in there today, too, clued not as [It’s chicken feed (with “one”)] but as [Imitate a bronco].
11D. FUNNY MONEY [Spurious currency]. (Let’s hope that handsome sum isn’t made up of funny money or any other sort of Madoff “special”…) While these first two phrases reference money, remember, we’re looking only at the first words for their TIES [Connections] to the theme.
28D. RICH PASTRY [Calorie-laden baked good].
53A. SMART REMARK [Bit of sass]. This phrase works in tandem with REPARTÉE [Witty exchange], because sometimes even a bit of “sass” can be “witty.”
Handsome, funny, rich, and smart… All of this kinda summons up “Matchmaker” and Sheldon Harnick’s lyric:
“For Papa, make him a scholar;
For Mama, make him rich as a king;
For me, well, I wouldn’t holler
If he were as handsome as anything.”
Only thing missin’ in the lyric is that funny bone. I’m glad Patrick made it one of his requisites!
Patrick also managed to include every letter of the alphabet, making this puzzle a pangram. Other appealing construction touches:
- Homophones ASH and ASHE clued as [Speck on a hearth] and [Wimbledon legend Arthur].
- Zodiac signs AQUARIUS and ARIES clued as [Valentine’s day baby] and (the non-astrological) [1980s Dodge model].
- The supernatural feel of [Ghostly utterances] cluing MOANS, [Shout abhorred by Casper] (the friendly ghost, remember?) “BOO!”; and the kind of oogly-boogly sense of MYSTICS [Swamis, yogis, et al.].
- The repeat-syllable clue [Baghdad dad, for one] for IRAQI.
Wasn’t thrilled about seeing ORES again today, as it made an appearance just yesterday. And I questioned cluing TIMEX as [Seiko rival]. Really? Yes, they’re both brands of watches, but you can buy a Timex for probably 75% less than what you’d spend on a Seiko. They’re in different leagues, seems to me. I’d buy [Swatch rival] as a clue, since that’s another non-luxury brand and more likely to be a “rival.” Imoo…
Amy here—nobody’s thrilled about seeing ORES unless they’re in the mining business. My approach to the dullest repeaters is much like my approach to online ads—they perform an important role for somebody, but I don’t really need to give ’em my attention.
David Cromer’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Gotta like a theme that makes perfect sense when you get it, but that isn’t hit-you-over-the-head obvious. This theme reminded me of today’s NYT puzzle, in fact—didn’t appreciate what the theme was until after I finished the puzzle and felt a moment of mystery. The 63a: [1980s Nell Carter sitcom, and a hint to the puzzle theme found in the ends of 17-, 32-, 39- and 46-Across] is GIMME A BREAK, which does not mean that you need to break anything in the other theme answers. Each ends with a word that can fill in the blank in “___ break”:
- 17a. [Manhattan rail hub] is PENN STATION. A station break is where you’ll find news updates and commercials.
- 32a. [Mattress support] is a BOX SPRING. Spring break, whoo-oo!
- 39a. [Cherished] is synonymous with NEAR TO ONE’S HEART. Heartbreak, aww.
- 46a. [“Hold your horses!”] clues “NOT SO FAST.” A fast break is, uh, a sportsy thing I can’t quite define. I’m better with breakfast.
Things I like:
- KIWI at 1-Across. Always good to start the puzzle off on a fresh note.
- The royal headgear, TIARAS and a DIADEM. One alone is “meh,” but two of ’em together seems better.
- The neutral ≠ male cluing for an ol’ SO-AND-SO, [What’s-her-name].