P.S. Deb Amlen has commandeered the Wordplay blog, effective immediately. She’s funny. I like her.
Ian Livengood’s New York Times crossword
Ack! This is only the second puzzle I’ve done since Saturday morning. The other one was one of Brendan Quigley’s crosswords in Southwest Airlines’ Spirit magazine. I had done the easy Puzzability crossword in the December issue on my way to Florida last week/year, so imagine my surprise when I flipped to the January puzzle page and found a pair of BEQs, one easy and one more challenging. I recently switched my allegiance from United Airlines (which used to have decent crosswords by John Samson but switched to crappy ones that pointlessly break crossword conventions) from Southwest, so I look forward to having a couple new BEQs to do when I fly to the ACPT in March.
Anyway, I missed all the Sunday puzzles. Printed out the NYT but left it in my father-in-law’s printer tray (Sigh.) and still haven’t gotten to it. Major thanks to Jeffrey, Sam, Evad, and Janie for keeping the home fires burning here.
“Ack!” is the theme: Seven phrases or compound words that end with -ACK. If you’re like me, you see STAND BACK and you picture a cheesy Stevie Nicks video with lots of lace-shawl-enhanced whirling. You know what? THAT’S WACK. That was back in the ’80s, era of the BRAT PACK. Rounding out the theme are CAR-JACK, a KNAPSACK, a SPICE RACK, and a THUMBTACK. I’m not crazy about the one word/two word mishmash, or the verb/noun mishmash. But the theme adds a lot of Ks to the grid, giving us KOJAK, LET’S TALK, and SHIRK. The CALLER ID/ZIP CODE tower is nice, too.
Victor Barocas’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Clever theme for a Monday, with one two-part theme entry entirely unfamiliar to me but all gettable via crossings. Once I had the BLACK beginning of 17a/25a ([WWI U.S. Army command nickname], BLACK JACK / PERSHING? Okay, I’ll take your word for it), the CHOCOLATE ECLAIR, and YELLOW SUBMARINE, I knew the rest of the theme had to be about the LABRADOR / RETRIEVER and lo, it was. It’s not a hit-you-over-the-head obvious theme, though, as the theme entries kinda sneak around to their main point.
Five more clues:
- 70a. [Attention to “pay”] is HEED, as in “pay heed.”
- 1d. [This ans. is one] clues an ABBR., or abbreviation. Do you like self-referential clues?
- 43d. [Florida’s crop] is ORANGES. Yup. My in-laws’ neighbors have orange, tangerine, and pomelo trees in their back yard. Did you know pomelos are big, fat, pear-shaped things?
- 44d. Not sure I’ve seen this answer in a crossword before. WE DO is a [Shared wedding vowe response].
- 47d. There’s something so pleasing about the word REPLETE. Not the meaning—[Abundantly filled (with)]—but the word itself. I think it’s that it looks so odd. But then, it shouldn’t. It occurs to me only now that deplete and complete are closely related.
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Spy Ring”—Evad’s review
Constructor Randall J. Hartman brings us into the world of espionage with four theme entries in which the letters of SPY “ring” a two-word phrase or name:
- “Priority mail service” is SPECIAL DELIVERY. Didya hear that the USPS might drop its Saturday delivery service as a cost-cutting measure? With the advent of email and paperless billing, I wonder how long the USPS will be in business at all? Other than for our annual batch of Christmas cards, I’m not sure I send out much snail mail.
- A “Tropical forest swinger” ain’t Tarzan, but instead a SPIDER MONKEY. Click here to learn about them and hear a sound clip of their hoots and howls.
- SPENCER TRACY played “Father Flanagan” in 1938’s Boys Town, also starring a young Mickey Rooney in his first dramatic role.
- SPECIFIC GRAVITY ends our series, water having a specific gravity of 1.0. Can you put the following substances in relative density order: Aluminum, Mercury, Lead, Balsa Wood, Gold? I’m also reminded of this scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian Holy Grail where the townspeople determine if someone is a witch by whether she sinks or floats in water.
Enjoyed the mild expletive OH RATS! and the Z action in PEZ, ZANY, ZEN and ZITI. I’m somewhat familiar with the CLICHÉ “Back to the salt mines” (in fact, that’s what many of us will return to later this morning), but I’m thinking there are other more common examples of the term. Another Green World musician BRIAN ENO appears with both first- and last-names for a welcome change. And I’m more familiar with actress EMILY Proctor from her recurring role on The West Wing than from her leading role on CSI: Miami, not ever having watched the show.
Brendan Quigley and Joon Pahk’s crossword, “Themeless Monday,” from Brendan’s blog
Aw, look at the cute New Year’s grid with the bold “11” in black squares. It knocks the symmetry out of whack, but doesn’t change the solving experience.
I was on vacation last week and missed going to the gym to get TONED UP (16a), but have a 9:00 appointment with the trainer this morning to get back on track. So I’ll make this quick.
Favorite clues and answers:
- 15a. [It’s heard at Raptors home games] made me ponder what sort of special team chants Toronto hoops fans might have, but it’s just “O CANADA” that gets played.
- 62a. Scrabbly clue for STAINER: [Best Scrabble rack for bingoing]. Huh, I thought it was RETSINA.
- 30d. SONIC YOUTH.
- 61d. BIV! I will always love [Bell ___ DeVoe] thanks to this Kids in the Hall sketch. Objectively, you might say that BIV is lousy fill. I know this. Love it anyway. SARAH PALIN is, objectively, a very good crossword entry.
- ONTO with a ridiculously over-mathed clue, athletes-I-never-heard-of ODAY and LIN, partial ONE O’, arbitrary NINE-SEVEN, EZIO as a video game character, contrived POLO ADS, plural YMCAS.