Star ratings lowdown:
★★★★★: A++, flawless and entertaining, perhaps innovative; you’ll remember it months from now
★★★★: a solid A, really quite a good puzzle
★★★: B, certainly a good puzzle
★★: C, some concerns about theme and/or fill
★: D/F, a real disappointment (and a rarity among the puzzles reviewed here)
Chris McGlothin’s New York Times crossword, “Letter Openers”
We’ve seen themes featuring terms with stand-apart single letters at the beginning, but I don’t think we’ve had one that featured all 26 letters before this debut puzzle. Like 95d says, [From __ Z (how this puzzle goes?)], from A TO Z, we get the full alphabet this time. Some allowances are made for the inclusion of a whopping 27 theme entries: Many of the entries are short, and a few of them wander astray from symmetrical pairing. Here’s the gamut:
- 28d. A-ONE
- 13d. B-MOVIE
- 125a. C-SPAN—Tricky clue: [*House coverer] that’s not a roof(er) or an insurer
- 29a. D-DAY
- 26a. E STREET BAND
- 72d. F-STOP
- 36a. G-MAN—Tough clue: [*Ace __ Stories (old detective pulp magazine)]
- 12a. H-BOMB
- 34a. iPOD
- 88a. J-LO
- 54d. K-TEL
- 112a. L-BAR
- 52a. M-DASH
- 42d. ‘N SYNC
- 17a. O-RING
- 127a. P. DIDDY—once dated 88a
- 83d. Q-TIP
- 6a. R-VALUE
- 73d. S-TYPE
- 100a. T-TOP
- 43d. U-HAUL—Clever clue: [*Thing that won’t go off without a hitch?]
- 68a. V-SIX
- 94d. W-TWO
- 115d. X-RAY
- 116a. Y CHROMOSOME
- 64d. Z-AXIS
Not every one of these theme answers is a lively creature, but things like L-BAR and T-TOP should be familiar fill for long-time crossword solvers. I’m not too concerned about the loss of theme symmetry because there are so darn many “Letter Openers,” I really couldn’t keep track of their locations in the grid while solving the puzzle. Not sure that’s a solid rationalization for being OK with the theme asymmetry. What say you?
- 16d. [Pointers] are BIRD DOGS.
- 57a. LUMP SUM is a [Payment type]. Yes, I’ll take my payout in a lump sum, please.
- 92d. Remember when we were familiar with the “NO DRAMA” [Obama nickname]? Totally fresh answer, but I’m not sure if it’s something we’ll all remember a decade from now (like “Slick Willy”) or something we’ll all have forgotten.
- 82a. The grand SEQUOIA seems to get clued as the [Toyota SUV] more than the tree these days.
- 4d. If you’re IN DRAG, you are [Cross-dressing].
- 6d. Love the clue for RABBI: [Bar mitzvah party]. You were thinking of a catered event too, weren’t you?
- 118a. BENAZIR is the first name of the late [Former Pakistani P.M. Bhutto].
- 75d. Who doesn’t love the word CAJOLE ([Coax])? C’mon, you know you love it! Don’t be shy.
Trip Payne’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 42”
Excellent themeless. Tougher cluing than we’ve seen in a lot of the Post Puzzlers, and a few names I wasn’t getting without plenty of crossings—but still no more rigorous than a Friday-to-Saturday NYT.
The trouble spots:
- 23d. [“Chicken Inspector No. 23” author] clues PERELMAN. “Chicken Inspector”??
- 48a, 49d. CLEON [Jones of the Miracle Mets] meets Anita O’DAY, the [Singer nicknamed “The Jezebel of Jazz”]. Throw in an animal from Greek myth (52a: HIND, [Animal in the third labor of Hercules]) and you just might have a tough corner. Well, unless the classics, the Mets, or jazz are in your wheelhouse.
- 58a. [Foghorn Leghorn wooed her] clues MISS PRISSY, which doesn’t ring a bell at all.
- 4d. My vote for the trickiest clue: [More and more, for short] clues MAGS. With the M and G in place, I tried MEGA. More is the title of a magazine. More and other such publications (“and more”) are MAGS.
- 14d. I also have no idea who this PEARSON is. [1970s Pro Bowl wide receiver Drew]? Not ringing a bell. At least the crossings gave me lots of help.
- 31d. [Parallelepiped, e.g.] is a SOLID figure I’d never heard of—each of its faces is a parallelogram.
- 33d. [Boy Scout rank just below Eagle] is LIFE. Needed every crossing.
My favorite answers:
- 17a. GOO-GOO EYES convey [The look of love?].
- 35a. [Bieber Fever and the like] clues MANIAS. OMG! I just read the Vanity Fair cover story (yes, cover story) on Justin Bieber (excerpt). Take-home message from this hard-hitting journalism: He’s super-talented! He’s really cool! And he’s even better-looking in person than in his pictures!!1!! VF has got the Bieber Fever, apparently.
- 53a. Cute clue: [One who might be hired for a grand] is a PIANO TUNER.
- 56a. Little-known fact: What MC Hammer was singing about was ANTIMATTER. [You can’t touch this] unless you are Chuck Norris.
- 3d. [Brangelina, e.g.] are famous ADOPTIVE PARENTS.
- 21d. GERONIMO is a [Cry from the sky].
Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “Tower of Power” – Jeffrey’s review
[The puzzle came with this note:]
NOTE: Here’s a puzzle that breaks a lot of rules (which, given the subject matter, seems rather apt). Twenty-five years ago today a handful of people were the first to receive a certain honor. If you solve today’s puzzle correctly, you’ll discover who most of them are. Also, if you transfer the circled answers to their correct locations in the “tower” (all reading across), you’ll discover one more recipient (reading down), who’s a bit lesser known, but very worthy of the honor. (Kind of amazing that this works, but it does.) So, who is this nine-letter mystery person? Answers next week. [Actually, answer below – Jeffrey]
Hi, this is Jeffrey. As you may have noticed, I have been removed from reviewing crosswords on this site. That must be the case, because I don’t know what to call this. Let’s review the basic rules of crosswords (from Cruciverb.com):
- The pattern of black-and-white squares must be symmetrical. Mostly left-right symmetry, but the “tower” squares aren’t symmetrical. Fail.
- Do not use too many black squares. 114 black squares = 26% of the grid. Fail.
- Do not use unkeyed letters (letters that appear in only one word across or down). In fairness to solvers, every letter has to appear in both an Across and a Down word. We have six of those. Fail.
- Do not use two-letter words. The minimum word length is three letters. 13 two-letter words. Fail.
- The grid must have all-over interlock. In other words, the black squares may not cut the grid into separate pieces. A solver, theoretically, should be able to proceed from any section of the grid to any other without having to stop and start over. The tower is isolated. Fail.
- Long theme entries must be symmetrically placed. Also, as a general rule, no nontheme entry should be longer than any theme entry. Well, they are symmetric, but there are nontheme answers longer than some theme entries. Fail.
- Do not repeat words in the grid. The circled letters repeat in the tower. Fail.
- Do not make up words and phrases. Every answer must have a reference or else be in common use in everyday speech or writing. I give you TUVW. Fail.
Theme and circled answers: THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM, which is in 106A. [Appropriate city for this puzzle] – CLEVELAND.
1986 Inductees and theme answers:
- 53A. RAY CHARLES
- 58A. JAMES BROWN
- 110A. EVERLYS (The Everly Brothers)
- 4D. LITTLE RICHARD
- 8D. ROBERT JOHNSON
- 16D. CHUCK BERRY
- 19D. FATS DOMINO
- 71D. JERRY LEE (Lewis)
- 76D. SAM COOKE
- 91D. ELVIS (Presley)
- 96D. BUDDY (Holly)
- 6D. [Mystery Person] – ALAN FREED
Also inducted in 1986:
Special two-letter words listing:
- 24A. [La’s cousin] – EL
- 26A. [The Three ___] – R’S
- 29A. [Player’s spinner] – CD
- 34A. [Narnia creator Lewis] – CS
- 49A. [“The Once and Future King” author White] – TH
- 50A. [Sodium’s symbol] – NA
- 82A. [ Like the pope’s church: abbr.] – RC (Roman Catholic)
- 89A. [Initials of Playboy’s first centerfold] – MM (Marilyn Monroe)
- 55D. [Singer-guitarist Cooder] – RY
- 60D. [Home ___ class] – EC
- 64D. [May 8, 1945, ___ Day] – VE. Victory in Europe, WWII.
- 66D. [Santa ___, N.M.] – FE
- 70D. [Pain-in-the-neck reaction] – OW
Special one-letter words listing: K, D, Y, O, E, A
You want more:
- 14A. [Butler’s slapper] – O’HARA
- 16A. [Alpine abode] – CHALET
- 20A. [Exclamation start] – HOLY Tour de Force Batman!
- 45A. [Envelope-pushing] – EDGY. This one shoved the envelope out the door.
- 47A. [Dirty film] – SCUM. Not what you thought./84A. [Dirty film] – SOOT. Not what you thought.
- 71A. [Pier, to Pierre] – JETEE. French for “pier.”
- 77A. [John Barth’s “The ____ Factor”] – SOT-WEED. TIME included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. SOT-WEED is a tobacco plant. Now you know. Now I know.
- 90A. [Baseball trio: abbr.] – RHE. Runs, hits, errors.
- 108A. [Pitcher Martinez] – PEDRO. Expo!
- 114A. [“Funny Girl” composer] – STYNE. Jule STYNE.
- 35D. [“If that don’t beat all!”] – DOG MY CATS! As in “dog my cats, this is an amazing puzzle.”
When I was a boy, I wanted to be a great goalie for the Montreal Canadiens like Ken Dryden. But I can’t even skate. So no hockey stardom for me. And no Hockey Hall of Fame. Then, I wanted to be a great singer. But I can’t carry a tune. So I’m doomed again.
Earlier this week, I decided it is time to try to become a constructor. And then Merl does this. Once again, I see how far out of my league I am. Is it too late to learn how to skate?
I do know what to call this creation – brillliant! If they ever create a Crossword Hall of Fame, Merl Reagle will be a charter member. And this puzzle will be on the wall. The lesson for anyone wanting to break a crossword rule? Your puzzle better be as good as this. Or go learn how to skate.
One more Hall of Fame performance: While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Henry Hook’s Boston Globe crossword, “Clue Search” – Sam Donaldson’s review
The clues for the six longest Across entries have all been replaced with [????]. But that’s because the clues themselves have been inserted into the grid. The solver’s task is to figure out what these clues are, but how? Well, there’s a hint in the form of two intersecting entries at the grid’s center–69-Across and 34-Down tell the solver [what to arrange to get each missing clue], and that turns out to be the LETTERS IN FOUR / CORNER SQUARES. The corner letters in this grid are P-T-S-O, and those letters can be arranged to form six common words whose crossword clues appear in the grid:
- 23-Across: GOOD NAME FOR A DALMATIAN, which would be “Spot.” Probably a better name than Stripey.
- 33-Across: KITCHEN VESSELS, or “pots.”
- 53-Across: HIT THE BRAKE, or “Stop!”
- 81-Across: UPPER LIMITS, or the “tops.” Hey, baby, you’re the tops!
- 103-Across: MAKES A DECISION, or “opts.”
- 117-Across: WASHINGTON D.C. NEWSPAPER, namely the “Post.”
Note that four of these six theme entries intersect with the hint, which itself instersects at the center of its two parts. Don’t try this construction feat at home, kids! Leave this kind of thing to the pros.
Beaucoup points for HUNNY BS, the [Kellogg’s cereal with Pooh on the box]. Read the clue aloud to your friend or partner, however, and expect a peculiar reaction. Other fun fill in the grid included SCOREPAD, BEAR HUGS, PATISSERIE, SMOKESTACK, and the [1979 Robert John hit], SAD EYES. (You can thank me for the earworm later.) My favorite clues were [Go site-seeing?] for SURF and [Oktoberfest crowd?] for DREI.
Anyone else notice how the 14th row of the grid tells an increasingly sad medical story? It starts with CLOTS, becomes a COMA, and ends with an OBIT. The other trio of entries is intentionally tied together: the clue for 101-Down is [They 102 Across 118 Down]. Wow, a double-cross reference! Sure enough, 102-Across and 118-Down simply say to [See 101 Down]. Eventually I was able to suss out that OCTOPI (101-Down) SECRETE
(102-Across) INK (118-Down). Whew!
Alas, the grid sports some warts. If your partner asks, “Honey, do these words make my grid look fat?” while showing you KERB, the [Pavement edge, in Portsmouth], E-MALL (is there really such a thing?), NISI, DOEST, REDIGS and REDYES (flights taken by people who emphasize the wrong syllable?), do everyone a favor and reply, “Sweet-ums, your grids always look beautiful to me, but these words just don’t flatter you.”
But those weren’t the biggest offenders, unfortunately. Try not to grimace when you get to HALI-, clued as [Salt (prefix)]. And be sure you’re holding your hair back when you reach the fugly -ITION, clued as [Tail for a pet?]. (Get it? Add “-ition” as a tail to “pet” for “petition.” Thank you, thank you. I’m here all week. Is this thing on?)
We have a small table for four in this week’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, where we imagine a dinner party among the people appearing in the grid that were heretofore unknown to me. This week’s dinner will be held on the Aleutian Island of KISKA, and our guests are SAMMI [Smith of country music fame], DANIELA [Bianchi of “From Russia With Love”] (that’s her with Sean Connery to the right–I’m sure you can figure out which one is which), [Trumpeteer/composer Neal] HEFTI (he makes a sturdy garbage bag, too), and novelist ITALO Calvino.
You can almost always count on the Sunday Boston Globe crossword to teach you some new words. Some solvers might decry the use of rare words as desperate fill, but I kind of dig it. Five cases in point from this week:
- ATTAINT. It’s clued as [Corrupt], but ‘taint in my vocabulary, that’s for sure.
- SEPAL. I hear it’s a [Calyx component]. Oh, right, of course. I was just saying the other day that my calyx was missing a sepal or two, but you can’t find a good calyx repair shop these days. Okay, I’ll ‘fess up–neither word means anything to me. You might as well tell me gafurdafump is a component of schmopalam.
- BABBITTS. [Smug conventionalists], you say? Okay, sure. But that’s not a term used by us trend-followers (he said dismissively).
- FEEB. A [Wimpy one], supposedly. I know “dweeb,” but not “feeb.” Would FEEB BEEF make for sloppy joes?
- SNEEZE. Yeah, yeah, I know that word. But the clue, [Sternutation], is new to me. I like it, though. Hey, if someone said “sternutation” aloud, wouldn’t you be tempted to say, “Gesundheit?”
Final thought: [Nude] as a clue for ALTOGETHER? As in “she’s in the altogether?” Would a movie with “full frontal altogetherness” be rated PG-13 instead of NC-17?
William I. Johnston’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Sunday Challenge”—Evad’s review
Generally I find Will’s “Sunday Challenges” pretty easy, and this one was holding true-to-form until I hit some pretty gnarly entries. Let’s start with the lobs over the plate:
- “Sitcom that featured Ernest Borgnine” was right in my wheelhouse—MCHALE’S NAVY. I remember that, Get Smart and F Troop as my childhood favorite series to watch on TV. I think Tim Conway, later of The Carol Burnett Show, may have gotten his start in this sitcom.
- “Game you play with missing pieces” was MAD LIBS; “pieces” is a strange stand-in for types of words—I remember “give me an adjective, then a noun…” They were pretty funny when you read them back with the inserted words. Here’s a site where you can play them online to bring back the memories of those parlor games; probably wouldn’t be as much fun as it was in a room full of people.
- “Contraction mark” couldn’t be anything other than APOSTROPHE, could it?
- I’m not a big online chatter, but TTYL (Talk To You Later) came directly to mind from “On-line sign-off.” I seem to recall Will being the first to include the also consonant-rich KTHXBYE or something similar in one of his earlier puzzles.
Where I had trouble was around the foreign spellings:
- I was familiar with MOUSSAKA (and have even made the dish myself), but wasn’t quite sure about the spelling. Having that cross the completely other-worldly IJSSEL river in Holland was a very tough spot. How on earth is that pronounced?
- Also in that corner was GEFILTE fish (“Poached Passover patties”). I’ve heard it pronounced “guh-felt-ah” so was sure the fourth letter was an E, not an I, again giving me no chance on that Dutch river.
- I was sure “Prevent from scoring” was BLOCK before SKUNK; in cribbage, a skunk happens not when one prevents the opponent from scoring, but when one player wins before the other player gets on the final “street” of 30 holes. A “double skunk” is when you win by at least two of these “streets.”
- So you’d think I would’ve run across the crossword-letter-friendly “worsted fabric” ESTAMIN before, but can’t say that I have. I see here it was used in Prussia for sack cloth and plush caps.
Interesting to see RENÉE Richards (“Second Serve” autobiographer, né Richard Raskind) appear—her sex-change operation was big news back in the 70s. Also enjoyed seeing WEDGIE, PET PIG and T-HOLE crossing U-SHAPE. I’ll leave you with this question: Do most SUPES live in the BSMT? Talk amongst yourselves….
Gail Grabowski’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Get In”
Gail finds the GET in each of the phrases in the theme— two-worders where the first word ends with GE and the second begins with T. This sort of theme does make it easier to guess at the subsequent theme entries, because you know GET is in the middle somewhere. But the clues are straightforward, no trickery, and the answers are all familiar nouns. The most challenging part of the theme is the clue for 31d. Here’s the theme:
- 23a. [Compelling read] = PAGE-TURNER.
- 28a. [Oberlin, e.g.] = COLLEGE TOWN.
- 43a. [Spa fixture] = MASSAGE TABLE.
- 66a. [Refinery sight] = STORAGE TANK.
- 90a. [Landscaping tool] = HEDGE TRIMMER.
- 106a. [Travel agency offering] = PACKAGE TOUR.
- 115a. [Airport freebie] = LUGGAGE TAG.
- 31d. [Site of some trash talk] = GARBAGE TRUCK. My poor garbage collector works alone. He has to trash-talk via his cell phone.
- 39d. [Dairy Queen option] = FUDGE TOPPING.
How about some more clues?
- 42a. [Short talk] clues WORD, as in “Can I have a word with you?”
- 52a. [Digital interpreter] clues MODEM. Does anyone talk about modems anymore?
- 57a. [Top in the ‘hood] is a DO-RAG.
- 75a. A Houston ASTRO is a [Former Colt .45]. Yes, that’s right. The team used to be named after a gun.
- 79a. [Magical start] is HOCUS, which precedes “pocus.”
- 1d. A toothpaste [Tube top] is a CAP. Clever clue.
- 8d. [They have fewer privileges] clues THE MASSES.
- 10d. My favorite clue is the idiomatic [Neither here nor there] being interpreted quite literally as EN ROUTE, between “here” and “there.”
- 16d. [Shuffle cousin] is the NANO. The iPod Shuffle, iPod Touch, and iPod Nano are all popular choices. Bizarrely, this blog’s spam filter catches a lot of spam talking about the Zune music player.
- 29d. A GIRL is a [Woman of the future?]. Cute!
- 37d. [Demain, across the Pyrenees] is MANANA. French and Spanish for “tomorrow.”
- 64d. [Cath. church eponym] is ST. MARY. The “Cath.” abbreviation signals the ST.
- 65d. To [Jinx] someone is to HOODOO them.
- 78d. [“Maybe, maybe not”] clues IT DEPENDS. Great answer.
- 80d. [Woeful cry] clues OH ME. Gah! Make it stop! Nobody says “Oh, me!” and nobody says “Ah, me!” and I want those answers to vanish from crosswords. I’m serious.
- 83d. ANTS are [Social crawlers]. If they crawl up the wall, does that make them social climbers?
- 88d. [It’s opposite the eye] clues the contrived entry SHARP END (of a needle). Can you see me scowling at that?
- 97d. [Parts of Alaska’s Denali Highway are built on them] clues the glacial ridges called ESKERS. I saw ESK— and I saw “Alaska’s” and I almost put in ESKIMO. Then I read the clue and was horrified. Then I remembered by favorite glacial crosswordese.
- 112d. [Hungarian castle city] clues EGER. I know it only from crosswords.