Quick recap of the Marbles Chicago Crossword Tournament: Eric Maddy took first place, Marty Howard placed second, and Kent Brody came in third. Congrats, gentlemen! Anne Erdmann was Chief Paper Collector and Bob Petitto was Head Clock-watcher—thanks to Anne and Bob for judging, thanks to Marbles: The Brain Store for hosting, and thanks to Will Shortz for providing the crosswords!
Matt Ginsberg’s New York Times crossword, “End of the Line”
What’s the best part of a quip puzzle? The punch line. So why not assemble seven wry jokes and make crossword solvers piece together the punch lines? It’s much more fun than a quip theme with a standard sprawling quote that entertains only at the end. I’d heard a couple of these before (the Groucho and Stephen King lines) but the rest were fresh and all seven are funny. Lots of working the Downs to piece together the words, yes?
Hey, do any of you live in Eugene, Oregon? Constructor Matt Ginsberg is running for a seat on the 4J school board there. Check out Matt’s website if you’re a Eugenian…a Eugener…a person who lives in Eugene.
The theme entries…eh, I don’t feel like retyping all the jokes. But they’re good, no? There were some gnarly spots when it came to figuring out short words and parsing things correctly. “I used to do drugs. I STILL DO, BUT I USED TO, TOO” threw me off with the weird-looking TO TOO end, and I started with YOU TAKE THAT BACK in place of “You know what I hate? Indian givers. NO, I TAKE THAT BACK.”
I think the toughest part of the puzzle was the southwestern corner. The AXIOM/ST. MALO/TOOLED (not TOURED)/USAR/DOEST/TWINJET/SUPERDOME zone felt a lot slower to me. I don’t know about this USAR business—I figured [Org. for part-time soldiers] needed some abbreviation for the Reserves, but I’d never seen USAR as shorthand for the U.S. Army Reserves. It’s in their URL, but it looks like “Army Reserve” is their lingo.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “Box Lunch”
So, if I understand this theme correctly, Merl has gathered up a bunch of food items whose names contain boxing-related words:
- 23a. [Waitress: “What’ll ya have, Rocky?” Rocky: “Let’s see … some diced ___ …”] BELL PEPPERS. Ring the bell to start the round.
- 25a. [“Some ___ …”] ROAST DUCK. Duck or you’ll get hit.
- 33a. [“Order of ___ …”] ONION RINGS. Boxing ring.
- 43a. [“Plate of ___ …”] BRAISED RIBS. Punched in the ribs?
- 57a. [“Pile of ___ …”] COLD CUTS. As in an uppercut? Or sustaining various cuts and lacerations?
- 68a. SOCKEYE SALMON [“___, grilled …”]. Socked in the eye.
- 77a. [“With ___ on the side …”] BLACK-EYED PEAS. Get a black eye.
- 85a. [“Chicken wings, lightly ___ …”] BATTERED. General battering of both boxers.
- 99a. [“Tall glass of ___ …”] CHERRY PUNCH. Lots of punching going on.
- 111a. ROUND STEAK [“___, rare …”]. Can you go all 10 rounds? Then maybe put a steak on that black eye.
- 120a. [“And for dessert, a slice of ___ pie.”] MINCEMEAT. One boxer may make mincemeat of the other one. Metaphorically speaking. I hope.
- 123a. [Waitress: “In other words, the One-Two ___. Comin’ right up.”] COMBINATION. Are one-two punches called combinations?
I’m not a fan of boxing, or of most of the foods in this theme.
Crosswordese on parade! These two used to show up in crosswords a lot more than they do now:
- 97a. [Mountain lake] is a TARN.
- 109a. [Old-style peep show] is a RAREE.
Not sure if 100d: [Counsel, old-style (anagram of DEER)], or REDE, belongs in the crosswordese parade too. I think I may know the word more from being an English major than from doing crosswords three decades ago.
Henry Hook’s Boston Globe crossword, “Your Humble Serpent”
At the Marbles crossword tournament today, Bob Petitto was showing me some old photos from mid-’80s crossword tournaments. Henry Hook was a young baby-faced thing back then! (No idea what he looks like now.)
All right, these snake puns worked for me. Maybe it’s the antihistamines talking, but I liked how the theme played out. Speaking of puns and the Globe, check out Erin McKean’s column in the Sunday Boston Globe, reviewing the new John Pollack book, The Pun Also Rises. Back to the puzzle—here are Henry’s serpentine puns:
- 21a. ONE ADDER (at a) TIME.
- 36a. THE KRAIT (Great) PUMPKIN.
- 62a. BOA (bow) AND ARROW.
- 85a. GOOD VIPERATIONS (Vibrations).
- 106a. ANACONDA RAIN (on accounta rain). I like this one because I prefer “on accounta” to “on account of.”
- 2d. I REMEMBER MAMBA (Mama).
- 48a. “At the Copa, Copacabana / Music and passion were always in fashion.” THE COBRA CABANA.
- 49d. Shoe size EIGHT EE.
- 82a. IOM, [Irish Sea tourist center (abbr.)]. Huh? I know the Institute of Medicine. Googling around suggests that this answer refers to the Isle of Man, which I’ve never seen abbreviated thus.
Highlights include ANTIGONE, IDIOT BOX, KLIBAN, and OAXACA meets QATAR. Remember the Kliban cat cartoon books?
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Sunday Challenge”—Sam Donaldson’s review
This 68/30* freestyle grid showcases six 15-letter entries, four of which are fantastic and two of which are solid if not especially sparkly. Here is a ranking of my favorites:
- 15-Across: Something that [Is unpleasant to recall] certainly LEAVES A BAD TASTE. What a lively way to kick off the parade of 15s.
- 17-Across: To [Be ruthless in combat] is to TAKE NO PRISONERS. I sense a little bit of anger or aggression in these stacked entries. But I like it.
- 40-Across: [Really elderly] is AS OLD AS THE HILLS. Some might balk at the ageism in the answer or its clue, but I like it because it’s an expression my mother used on many occasions.
- 33-Across: One faced with [Difficult choices, figuratively] is on the HORNS OF A DILEMMA. It beats being on the horns of a charging bull.
- 59-Across: A [Government representative] is a DIPLOMATIC ENVOY. Nouns tend to be less evocative than expressions, so this one gets ranked a little lower as a result. But there’s nothing wrong with the entry itself, of course.
- 62-Across: A [Private, two-person meeting] is a ONE-ON-ONE SESSION. I’m used to it being called simply a “one-on-one,” so the addition of “session” feels just a little forced to me.
In my view, the litmus test for a good freestyle making use of several grid-spanning, 15-letter entries is whether the crossings for the stacked 15s are smooth. The lower stack is especially nice in this regard. The upper stack requires a few more awkward entries like STRS, clued [Ocean passages (abbr.)], and ALTE, clued as [Adenauer moniker Der ___]. But given the beauty of the 15s there, I think this is forgivable.
There wasn’t much that slowed me down—a seven-minute solving time on the Sunday Challenge is relatively speedy by my standards. I am embarrassed to say that I, an attorney, was most flummoxed by [Colleague of Sonia and Antonin] for ELENA (that’s a reference to Justices Sotomayor, Scalia, and Kagan of the United States Supreme Court, respectively). They’re pictured with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg there to the right. I thought the clue was a reference to characters in a Tolstoy novel or something else I had never read, so I relied on the crossings. I also drew a blank on the [Father of Leah and Rachel], LABAN. Leah and Rachel are interchangeable, it seems.
*“68/30” refers to the number of entries and the number of black squares, respectively. Whenever I solve a freestyle puzzle, I always make a note of these numbers. Don’t ask me why, I just do. Juicy entries with smooth crossings are by far the most important qualities in a freestyle puzzle, but I guess I’m even more impressed if that can be pulled off in, say, a 64/25 instead of a 72/36.
Patrick Berry’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 54”
In Donaldsonian parlance, this themeless is a 68/26 (see preceding paragraph). The numbers say this is a fairly forgiving grid for Berry (versus, say, a sub-64-worder). Rather than including super-splashy long entries (as in his Friday NYT this week), Berry more often goes for a smooth blanket of 7s and 8s. This puzzle has quad-stacks of 9-letter answers with perfect crossings (not a single abbreviation or OLEO in the bunch). Sears CRAFTSMAN atop Jane Addams’ HULL HOUSE atop INTERCEPT atop CLOSE-KNIT in one corner? That’s lovely, and the only entry I was lukewarm about (NET TON) has to cross this stack.
The two comparatives, GOOIER and NOISIER, are the closest Berry gets to “entries that make his job easier” here.
When I did this puzzle last night, I couldn’t make sense out of the clue for 10a: JUDGE: [One trying to make a living?]. Oh! I get it now. One who makes a living by trying court cases. Cute.
- 35a. [Suspect anecdote’s lead-in] is “AS I RECALL…”
- 58a. NOSTALGIA [“___ Isn’t What It Used to Be” (Simone Signoret autobiography)]—don’t think I knew that title existed, but it kinda fits in with today’s NYT punch line theme.
- 3d. [Bird song feature] is the ALTO SAX in Charlie “Bird” Parker’s jazz.
- 8d. ASPIC is a [Translucent edible]. Can you think of other translucent edibles? My husband’s first guess was Jolly Ranchers.
- 12d. [Locale for auto eroticism, maybe] is a DRIVE-IN movie theater, heavy petting in an automobile.
- 38d. GAS CANS are [Burdens for some walking motorists]. If you’re a motorist, why are you walking? Because your car ran out of gas.
Nice fill includes TALK SENSE, TAILBONES, UNDERSELL, MINIONS, COLOSSAL, and Warren ZEVON.
Dan Naddor’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Audiovisual Aids”
This is the final LA Times puzzle by the late Dan Naddor, who was such a prolific constructor that editor Rich Norris continued to publish his work regularly nearly a year and a half after Dan’s untimely passing. I’ll miss seeing Dan’s name atop the crossword. He had a knack for packing a grid with a ton of theme entries, and for making lower-word-count grids that are harder to fill. His humor always came through in the clues and themes.
Today’s theme entails inserting AV into familiar phrases to change the meaning:
- 24a. [Salon tool for recalcitrant customers?] is a STYLING GAVEL. I’m not sure bringing out the hammer is going to make the salon client feel better about going with layers.
- 30a. [Not the best purple flower?] is SUB-PRIME LAVENDER. I love lavender, but only certain lavender scents.
- 45a. [Where the experts hang out?] is the MAVENS’ ROOM. This is my favorite theme answer.
- 64a. [Colorado brewer’s rodent mascot?] could be the COORS BEAVER.
- 77a. [Culinary product of a French-Italian region?] is SAVOY SAUCE. I’m not up on my Savoy geography. “Stompin’ at the Savoy” is an entirely different Savoy; enjoy a little Louis Armstrong on this fine Sunday.
- 97a. [Group that ruins commercials?] is an AD HAVOC COMMITTEE.
- 104a. [Bad news about a tooth?] would be TWIN CAVITIES.
- 15d. [Prefer Hitchcock’s Bodega Bay classic to his other films?] clues FAVOR THE BIRDS. Let us never speak of this movie again. Too creepy!
- 52d. [Cryptologist’s rant?] might be DECODER RAVING.
Mystery word of the day:
- 82a. [Semicircular antenna housing] clues RADOME. The word’s a blend of radar and dome.
Highlights in the fill:
- 39a. [Birch leaf eater] clues LUNA MOTH.
- 108a. LIBERACE was a [Rhinestone piano player]. Liberace!
- 6d. [Pasta topper] clues PARMESAN. I wanted MARINARA, but I was wrong the last time a clue like this had an 8-letter answer too.
- 19d. I like the HEARTLAND, but [California’s Central Valley, e.g.] is not the way I would have clued it. California has a Heartland? Who knew?
- 86d. [Wings eaters’ needs] are WET-NAPS. I grew up as a Wash’n Dri girl.
Four stars from me.