Caleb Madison’s New York Times crossword
This was the finals puzzle at last weekend’s Chicago Crossword Tournament. The winner finished it in 8:14. How long did it take me? I have no idea. Probably less than that. But it wasn’t a “Whoosh! And…done!” sort of puzzle. Rarely does a rebus puzzle fall as quickly as a regular crossword. This time, the rebus is unusual—it’s the two-word THE SPOT replaced by the letter X, which plays the part of a mere letter X in the Down crossings. Here’s the theme:
- 24A, 40A. [With 40-Across, key to the “map” of this puzzle] is X MARKS / THE SPOT.
- 18A. [One who’s available when needed] is JOHNNY ON X, meaning “Johnny on the spot.” (I know why Johnny can’t read. Johnny’s on X all the time and goes to raves more than he goes to class.)
- 55A. [Asked a hard question in public, say] clues PUT ON X, or “put on the spot.”
- 63A. [“Mmm! So satisfying!”] clues THAT HITS X, or “that hits the spot.”
Now, I’ve studied the “map” of this puzzle, and I see any number of words but dammit, no hidden treasure. I’d dig in the upper left corner, but I’m pretty sure the DELUXE ALARMS will go off.
Coolest entries, clues of note, and other miscellany:
- 1A. This one snagged me, and it snagged plenty of tournament-goers too. [Like saddle shoes and bell-bottom pants] clues RETRO, right? No, wait. PASSÉ! No, that doesn’t work with crossings either. They’re DATED.
- 17A. Speaking of snags, [Israeli political party], 5 letters, starting with L? Gotta be LIKUD, right? But I know 5D: [Zoolander of “Zoolander”] is DEREK. Wait, that’s gotta be wrong. Eventually I worked out LABOR, which I hadn’t realized was a party name in Israel.
- 29A. In football, [Rushing goal] is YARDS. Gotta pick up the yardage to get the first down and retain possession of the ball.
- 48A. [Be Ciceronian] clues ORATE. Over in the Chicago suburb called Cicero, ex-mayor Betty Loren-Maltese just got out of prison. She took a job as a restaurant hostess but subsequently landed a radio gig. I wonder what job is in Rod Blagojevich’s future. Probably not the restaurant business, given his poor burger showing on Celebrity Apprentice. I tell ya, I’m a little piqued that New York has been giving Illinois a run for the “worst and most venal politicians” title.
- 6D. [Certain trekker] clues a Muslim pilgrim or HAJI. (Star Trek allegiance optional.)
- 11D. Great clue—[It may be on the tip of the tongue] clues a SHOELACE.
- 13D. SEX DRIVE’s a terrific answer. It’s [Libido].
- 19D. NEV. (Nevada) is the [Battle Born State: Abbr.]. I sure don’t know which battle that was.
- 30D. AREAR? That’s worse than answers like ATIPTOE. The clue is [Backward], but I just don’t know when I would swap in the word AREAR.
- 37D. “LOOK AT ME!” I’m as helpless as a kitten, and this is my [Cry for attention].
- 38D. “I BEEN HAD!” This corner of the grid is so talkative. (Clue is [Dupe’s shout], which works but sure looks weird.)
- 39D. LADY GAGA! She’s the [Singer born Stefani Germanotta]. Is this not the coolest crossword corner of the week?
- 46D. An [Alky] is short for “alcoholic,” or SOT.
- 50D. [“La Clemenza di Tito” composer] is MICHAEL JACKSON, who wrote the opera about his brother. No, wait. It’s MOZART. My bad.
- 64D. TIM is the [Enchanter in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”], the dialogue of which I have not memorized. I sure didn’t know this answer, but the crossings made it clear enough.
Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords, “Themeless 13”
At the Fireball Crosswords page, Peter says, “The puzzles are typically tough 15×15 themeless crosswords by me, but there are a few exceptions to that.” I hereby declare that this week’s puzzle is one such exception. Why, it’s only Saturday-LAT hard! That ain’t tough. I crave tough. Where is my tough?
- 15A. [Bull session?] clues CORRIDA. Ah, yes. A session with actual bulls.
- 27A. [Happy coworkers] are the MINERS who work with Happy, Doc, Sneezy, Fusty, and the rest of Snow White’s diminutive housemates.
- 30A. [It gets picked out] clues ORE. BOOGER wouldn’t fit.
- 33A. [Caught cold] clues NABBED. “Yep, I nailed him cold.
- 66A. Is TIMECOP the movie I loved? No, wait, I didn’t see that [1994 Jean-Claude Van Damme film]. It’s 1992’s Universal Soldier I enjoyed.
- 11D. For my favorite Seinfeld character, it’s a tie between ELAINE BENES, the [TV character concerned with spongeworthiness], and George Costanza.
Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Be On Guard”—Janie’s review
A really nice puzzle from Ray today, in which the word “guard” can follow the first word in each of the four theme phrases. What strengthens the theme is that in three of the examples the resulting phrase is unrelated to the phrase in the grid, giving us a fresh take on the shared word. Let’s take a look as:
- 20A. [It relies on trust] HONOR SYSTEM → honor guard. Usually military in make up, members of the honor guard may participate in ceremonial occasions or in helping to protect national monuments. As for the honor system–that brought back memories of high school and the pledge we wrote at the completion of the end of any test (something like…): “I have neither given nor received any information on this test.” This always seemed weird to me. If someone’s just cheated, what qualms would they really have about lying about it?…
- 11D. [Where cons may exercise] PRISON YARD → prison guard.
- 29D. [Claustrophobic thriller starring James Stewart] REAR WINDOW → rear guard. The rear guard (like the honor guard) has a military association and is defined by M-W as “a military detachment detailed to bring up and protect the rear of a main body or force.” And here’s an interesting backgrounder on the Hitchcock classic (also starring Grace Kelly and featuring Raymond Burr and Wendell Corey) from TCM.
- 56A. [Bookie’s concern] POINT SPREAD → point guard. I love this pair, from the noir-ish feel of the clue/fill combo to the basketball context of the new phrase–to the fact that, who knows? The “bookie” may be lookin’ at the point spread of a basketball game, keepin’ his eye on the point guard who’s guiding his team on the court. It all works together and that’s nice! (Other “sporty” references in the grid: IN PLAY [Like a football, at times], RED [Color in the name of two Major League Baseball teams]–for Cincinnati and Boston–and LPGA [Org. for Karrie Webb].)
In addition to solid non-theme fill like LUGOSI and OPERAS, PURIST and AURORA (as in [ ___ borealis], I’m particularly fond of the cluing today. Highlights include:
- the lyrical [Clipper’s wind catcher] for SAIL;
- [Cattle lows] for MOOS, referring not to the four-legged’s emotional states, but to the sounds they produce;
- [Not slack] for TAUT, where “slack” is an adjective and not a slangy verb;
- [Fluffy precipitation] for SNOW (makes it sound so completely benevolent, no?); and
- three name-related/cool factoid examples–[Jump named for a skater], Norwegian AXEL Paulsen; [Mrs. Charles Darwin], EMMA; and [Showdown time for Marshal Will Kane], NOON. The fictitious Marshall Kane may even have had occasion to travel by STAGE [Old West vehicle] at some time in his life.
The hospitable nature of this puzzle is reinforced by ASKS IN [Welcomes at the door] and ADMIT [Allow in]. The best cross in this [Superior] A-ONE grid? It’s dead center, the cross-referenced: RIGHT and ANGLE.
Jack McInturff’s Los Angeles Times crossword
I had no idea where this theme was going until I made it to 57-Across, and then I was sold. LILY TOMLIN rocks, and I like tiger lilies, Easter lilies, day lilies, and water lilies. Those flowers are all named by the first words in the theme entries:
- 18A: [Father of Sam and Charlie] clues TIGER WOODS. Ooh, I don’t like using the kids as public figures like this. Presidential children are solid fill, but children of famous people should be left alone. Well, unless the kids have fabulous names, like Fifi Trixibelle, Apple, and the spoonerism-friendly Shiloh Pitt.
- 20A: [South Pacific site of large stone statues] is Rapa Nui or EASTER ISLAND.
- 35A: [Continuously] clues DAY AFTER DAY, the first three words in the Violent Femmes song “Add It Up.”
- 54A: [Asian draft animal] is a WATER BUFFALO. My favorite water buffalo name is the carabao of the Phillipines, just because CAR*B** with three different vowels gets you the unrelated caribou.
- 57A: [“All of Me” actress whose first name is a hint to this puzzle’s theme] is the hilarious and talented LILY TOMLIN.
Let’s take a stroll through the grid, shall we?
- 16A: [Barely flowed] clues OOZED, as in “the pus barely flowed from the wound.” Oh, sorry—were you still having breakfast?
- 32A: [Some game enders] are MATES because your partner might turn off the TV when you’re watching sports instead of making yourself useful. Or maybe the clue’s about chess.
- 43A: [Rosemary’s portrayer] in Rosemary’s Baby is MIA Farrow. Is this a classic creepy movie that today’s young people know about, or is it dated pop culture? If you’re in your teens or 20s, tell me if you know this only from crosswords.
- 63A: The [Pointed end] of your tooth is a CUSP. It’s also an architecture and math term.
- 10D: [Robbery accessories] are HOODS. Cute earrings optional.
- 34D: [Mask] clues FALSE FACE. Say what? Checked the dictionary and that’s a term all right: “A mask, usually wooden, traditionally worn ceremonially by some North American Indian peoples to cure the sick.” Is that pretty effective? I’m partial to evidence-based medicine, so I’d love to see a meta-analysis of data on false face efficacy.
- 35D: [Ownership call] is “DIBS!”
- 52D: [Sweater synthetic] clues ORLON, but the clue should reflect the anachronistic reality. Wikipedia says Orlon is a former acrylic brand. I suppose you might find an old Orlon sweater in a thrift shop, but it is not currently a “sweater synthetic.”
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Oh, You!”
- 18a. [Lymphatic x-rays?] might be NODE PHOTOS. From “nude photos,” not “nude phutus.”
- 28a. FLAGRANT FOOL is [One who makes outlandish mistakes?]. Flagrant fouls are seen in basketball. Roosters and peacocks, on the other hand, are flagrant fowl.
- 38a. A lock-[Picking student’s first assignment?] is BEGINNER’S LOCK (luck).
- 47a. [Young horse wielding an atomic death ray?] clues DOOMSDAY COLT (cult).
- 61a. Star Trek‘s Mr. Sulu becomes MISTER SOLO, a [Musician who likes to show off?]. Not wild about the Mr.-into-Mister change, but it seems to be fair game for crosswords.
From elsewhere in the puzzle:
- 55a. [George Soros’s org.] is OSI. What’s that? The Open Society Institute.
- 72a. [Cobras and mongooses, vis-a-vis each other] are PREY. Hey, at least it’s a fair fight. Owls never pick on somebody who can really fight back.
- 5d. [Viggo Mortensen, e.g.] is a DANE. The -sen ending signals Danish or Norwegian, while -sson shouts Swedish. And -son in a Scandinavian-American’s name signals that the spelling was changed upon immigration.
- 9d. SAPPHO is the [Poet with a special passion for women]. Favorite clue of the day! Aptly, this entry sits beside HOMO, [Pride parade word], in the gay pride section of the puzzle.
- Look at the poor OSPREY (49d. [Dangerous “Odell Lake” bird ]), trapped between the primordial OOZE and a noxious MIASMA.
- 62d, 64d. [Homonym of a Bruins Hall of Famer] clues OAR, which sounds like Bobby Orr’s last name. [Homonym of a crew tool] clues ORR, which sounds like oar. I like the secret cross-referencing here.